Hello, friends! It’s been a few weeks, but I have to say I really enjoyed my long holiday hiatus from blogging (and my laptop in general — I think I’ve opened it twice since Christmas).
Gemma was on break from preschool, which kind of forced me to take a break from work as well. We built a sled hill in our backyard after storms brought a few inches of snow in town. We cleaned out closets, donated boxes of clothes, and generally just tidied up for the New Year.
I cooked through the holidays, and found joy in the kitchen again after a hectic season of writing my cookbook. (Not that writing a book isn’t fun… but it’s full of pressure to meet deadlines and get things just right, when my usual mode of cooking is freestyling a meal from ingredients I already have around.)
We hosted a Friendsmas dinner party last month that was one of our most enjoyable evenings all year. To be able to get a group of much-adored friends together, a year after moving to a new town, was the best gift our family could hope for and it just made our holidays that much sweeter.
By now you’re probably inundated with all kinds of gift guides for gardeners, co-workers, kids, and various people who are hard to shop for, so know that this isn’t just another gift guide.
I honestly don’t know what you should get for your significant other, or what the latest must-have item is this year. What I do know is what I like, and what has worked for me in my home, garden, and travels.
That’s why I’m launching my Shop on Garden Betty, a one-stop shopping guide for all things gardening, chicken-keeping, cooking, camping, and road-tripping. (You’ll see it as a new link above in the blog menu!)
For the first time in many years, my husband and I are staying home for the holidays. With both of our families living in other states, I have to say it’s really nice not needing to worry about weather, traffic, peak travel prices, or a toddler’s sleep schedule.
We’re looking forward to hosting Friendsmas dinner in our home in a couple weeks and are even more excited to wake up in our own bed on Christmas Day.
Gemma’s at that age (just over two-and-a-half) where she’s starting to understand celebrations, family traditions, and — of course — presents, so it’s going to be especially fun to see all of her reactions on Christmas morning.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that my favorite gifts tend to be of the homemade variety — especially if they’re made to go in my stomach!
I’ve also found that jars of all shapes and sizes are the perfect vehicle for packaging such gifts. Sometimes they can even be the gift! (Remember these DIY jar koozies from last year?)
Some of my standbys to make for gifts are this rich and creamy chai concentrate, pickles of all kinds (especially quick pickles like these roasted beets, radish pods, or pineapple guavas), fermented foods like kimchi or sauerkraut, and my zippy grapefruitcello and orangecello (though these take time to age, so you need to think about making them at least a month ahead of time).
Today, however, I’m sharing a new recipe that actually comes from my book, The New Camp Cookbook. Because it’s intended for camping (or tailgating or cabin trips), you know that it travels well, keeps for a while, and is super easy to make!
If you’re as enthusiastic about the holiday season as I am, you probably like to decorate your Christmas tree early, and that means bringing home a live tree soon after Thanksgiving and hoping it lasts several weeks.
If you’re not diligent at the start of the season, however, you could end up with more fallen pine needles than presents under the tree by Christmas Day.
The creative process of shooting a cookbook cover is always inspiring, exciting, surprising, confusing, and nerve-wracking — all at once.
Take, for example, the first cover I ever shot — the one for The CSA Cookbook. We photographed three variations of essentially the same scene, and in the end, the publisher chose the cover that I was originally uncertain about (but have since grown to love).
Then, there was The New Camp Cookbook cover. After submitting our ideas to the art director and getting the green light on a concept that everybody was on board with, the publisher ended up choosing a cover image that hadn’t even been on our radar at all.
With my third book, The Backyard Fire Cookbook (now available for preorder!), the process felt a bit more fine-tuned as it’s intended to be a companion title to my second book.
I’ve been intrigued with alternative building methods ever since seeing the first container home featured in Dwell magazine.
Combine that with seven years of living near the Port of Los Angeles, where I used to drive over the bridge and watch containers stack up like blocks in the harbor, and you could say my quiet intrigue eventually turned into an obsession with all sorts of sustainable building designs, from domes and straw bale homes to cob and earthbag construction.
I love reading about new materials like hempcrete, studying the mechanics of passive solar design, learning how to incorporate permaculture principles into my garden, and generally trying to live in harmony with our ecosystem.
Will and I have daydreamed about building our own eco home “some day,” but in the meantime, we’ve settled for visiting some of the more unconventional structures so we can learn from their experiments and live vicariously in them. (Remember way back when we toured Arcosanti in Arizona?)
That was how we found — and decided to stay in — an Earthship one weekend while road-tripping through New Mexico.
In my experience, people usually fall into two camps when it comes to chili: those who staunchly believe that chili isn’t chili without meat (or with beans, for that matter)… let’s call them Texans, and those who embrace any kind of hot, hearty stew as soon as temperatures start dropping.
I’m in the latter group, and while some might argue that this three-bean chili is actually a bean stew, all I know is it’s the perfect recipe to have simmering away on a cold day.
At some point in your homemaking journey — whether you’re a cook, gardener, or full-blown homesteader — you’ve probably learned how to preserve food. And for many people, boiling water bath canning is the gateway to all other food preserving.
Though it requires more gear in the kitchen than, say, mason jar fermenting or oven dehydrating, there’s something about canning a batch of tomatoes, jams, or pickles that’s deeply satisfying.
Maybe it speaks to our off-grid fantasies of being a self-sufficient mountain mama (or mountain man). Maybe it’s because the distinctive pop of the lids brings a sense of accomplishment and joy, or the fact that we end up giving some of those jars away as gifts that brings even greater joy.
I learned how to preserve food just a couple months into tending an edible garden (before I learned how much I actually needed to grow to feed my family). That first summer, I canned 24 jars of tomatoes and 40 jars of jams and jellies. (These feijoa-white peach preserves were one of my first batches in the kitchen, and the first canning recipe I ever posted on my blog. Wild, eh?)
Almost a decade later, I’ve learned some useful tips and tricks for modern-day home canning, and even picked up a few time-saving habits as an ambassador for Ball Canning, America’s favorite mason jars.
Learn from these little nuggets of information I’ve gleaned from their test kitchen, as well as from my own experiences (hundreds of jars later!).
Growing up, I always ate Thanksgiving dinner with my friends’ families since my own family never celebrated it — not because they weren’t thankful on that day, but because it was never a part of their culture. So when that fourth Thursday rolled around every November, I couldn’t wait to partake in the classic American holiday.
I loved watching the grand entrance of the turkey, steaming hot from the oven and being carved up at the table, I loved the green bean casseroles with French fried onions, the marshmallow-glazed sweet potatoes, and especially the Marie Callender’s pies. (Pecan was my favorite.)
But most of all, I loved the cranberry sauce that came out of a can. It was so fun to see the jiggly relish scooped out of the can, ridges and all, plunked down into a serving dish, and sliced up into individual rounds.
I still get nostalgic for that molded cranberry jelly, even though I now make my own and my palate has shifted to fancy-schmancy cranberry sauces with ginger and bourbon and other delights.
I guess it’s the shape that I’m most fond of, and its appearance on the dinner table always brings me back to some of my favorite childhood memories.