Why Canning? And Our Favorite Canning Recipes

Marie Antoinette had a dairy cow at one of her country houses so that she and her friends could play milkmaid for fun. I try to remember that when I think that perhaps I am being a bit ridiculous.

Canning is one of those things that make me wonder what I am doing. It is hot, time consuming, and messy. But the real problem I have with it is that I am not poor, I am not dependent on my garden for subsistence, and if I didnt have home canned produce I would fork out the dollar for a can of crushed tomatoes and get some at the store. It feels pretentious, in the the truest sense of the word. That I am just pretending.


Here is where i could insert some silliness about treading lightly upon the earth and being self sufficient.  The truth is, I don’t believe that.  I don’t think canning peppers and tomatoes has any positive effect on the earth, nor will they save me in the event of economic collapse.  I don’t even think self sufficiency is a noble goal.

I can extra produce because I have the time and the materials, and because I like it.  Why canning?  Why sunflowers, or dogs, or golf?  I find it satisfying, and the end result gives me joy.  It is a natural extension of the garden.   There is no way around having too much produce to eat fresh.  When gardening is your hobby, every summer evening you are bringing in a basket that looks like this.   You can either give it away, preserve it in some manner, or throw it out.



So maybe doing this is a waste of time. But not doing it would also be a complete waste–of tomatoes.


Enough talk. Now some links!

Here are some of my favorite recipes.

They are all ones we actually use up, and have made over and over.  None require a pressure canner.

Crushed Tomatoes from Ball

Smooth Pizza Sauce (I do this in half pint jars, which is enough for two large pizzas, but the recipe calls for full pints)

Pickled Jalapeno Slices from the Survival Gardener

Annie’s Salsa

Whole Pickled Pepperocini or Cherry Peppers

Dill Relish

Refrigerator Pickles

Peach Raspberry Jam

America’s Test Kitchen has the best strawberry jam recipe, but it is only available to subscribers.




Making Use of Two Dining Areas

I like home architecture, and reading about building and designing trends. One trend gaining in popularity is doing away with the dining room and creating one casual eating area in or attached to the kitchen. A lot of people with older homes that have formal dining rooms are turning them into offices, playrooms, and hobby rooms. I think this is a good idea in general.  People too often get stuck on the label on the floor plan instead of rearranging spaces to work in their home.

I’ve just taken a slightly different approach that I am going to share.

We use our dining room as a dining room, and our casual “breakfast room” as a craft and office space.  

Kind of weird, I guess, but it really works for us.


Why we eat in the dining room:

There are a few benefits I’ve found to eating in a separate room.

-Everyone sits to eat. I don’t want to leave little kids eating in a room alone so I sit with them, even if they are just having a snack and I’m not. If they were in the breakfast room, I’d be in the kitchen doing my own thing. But since I can’t see them in the dining room, I bring a book and am forced to sit. At dinner time, there no TV asking to be watched in our line of sight.


(Lest you think it is all formal snack time at the table, I present this picture.)

-No looking at a messy kitchen while eating. Nothing depresses me more than a messy kitchen. Making dinner makes a mess than can’t be cleaned up right away.  Having to see it while I eat would ruin my mood, as I am crazy.

-A small change of scenery. No one likes to feel like they are in one room all day.

-Meals feel like more of an event, and break up the day, instead of having it descend into an endless stream of free play and snacking

Why our dining room works for us:

People would probably call it a formal dining room, but it is not formal.  What makes it work is it is directly off the kitchen. No hallway or butlers pantry in between, it is just a step away.


It has a pretty view toward the pasture in front of our house, along the road. Off the side we can see the play area, garden, and our 150 year old oak tree.


It holds a farmhouse style table with two extra leaves (only one is in now. All the other furniture is from Craigslist.  I like it, but from day one have never felt paranoid about kids using it, because it was already used and was not expensive.


The china cabinet holds our tablecloths, cloth napkins, and placemats that we use all the time. I don’t have any fancy table linens, because I am more likely to use paper napkins when we have company so they don’t think I’m weird.  One drawer has candles and a lighter, that we use in the winter and for birthdays.  AND THERE IS AN EMPTY DRAWER CAN YOU BELIEVE IT.


The top holds our formal china that we use every now and then, a few vases, some crystal we were forced to take from my in laws, and a teapot that has never been used. Oh well. I do use the cake stands for cupcakes on birthdays.


I still store my plates in the kitchen, because I lay things on them while I’m cooking, plate food in the kitchen, and they are right above the dishwasher for easy unloading.

So this is all very straightforward. We eat in the dining room, and the only things stored in the dining room and used in the dining room.

How we use the breakfast room:

This is where the kids color, do playdoh, and paint. They also do puzzles and board games they are trying to keep out of the reach of the baby, but those mostly happen on the floor. They use it for worksheets assigned by me, and homework for school.

I sit here for my weekly menu planning session, doing garden plans, dealing with paperwork, and writing thank you notes.  If I had a laptop I would probably blog and upload photos here too.

It is also our pantry.

Why this space works for us:

I like that all these activities can happen in the heart of the home, so the kids can be working on something while I am in the kitchen or living room.  If they need help or have a question, I am right there.  But they are occupied and have a place to easily store their things, both of which make me happy.


It works well as a pantry to hold things that need to be easily accessible but not right in the kitchen.  I don’t mind stepping in here for a can of something, a new bottle of ketchup, or a box of pasta.  I would not want to keep everything in here, though, as it is too far to conveniently store oil, vinegar, flour, and such.

We have a round table that functions like a desk. It was left in an apartment Matt lived in when we was single, and he painted and stained it. The chairs actually were bought with the dining room table, but got moved in here because they are the right size and they match.

There is a basket that hold their basic art supplies: crayons, pencils, a few glue sticks and pairs of scissors. This lives on the table full time, and they are welcome to sit down and color or glue whenever.


Inside the cabinet are their other craft supplies that I take out when I feel it is needed. Rain, a project I am working on, crankiness, or something like that will prompt me to go into this cabinet. There is glitter glue, s lot of acrylic paints, midge lodge for papier-mâché, markers (ugh), stickers, a Spirograph, things like that. There is also a stack of coloring books and the like.


(I did not clean this before taking this picture.  Obviously.)


The drawer above is a junk drawer with pens, stamps, batteries, and all that. (Isn’t this fascinating.)

The cabinet above that is another display cabinet. Why. I would like to have my cookbooks here, but they aren’t that attractive. I am constantly rearranging this cabinet because it isn’t that useful. Matt pushed for this to be just a plain cabinet with doors, but I had my heart set on this display area. He was probably right! I had envisioned it filled with creamware platters that I do not own, and never will. The little basket holds candy out of the reach of children.


The cookie jar, pencil sharpener, and strange collection of tools and wires rounds out this countertop.

On the right of the counter I keep a basket for papers and things I am currently dealing with. Grocery ads, coupons, catalogs, my weekly menu plan and to do list, pictures from the kids. Once a week I go through it and throw almost all of out, but some gets put away in the drawer below. I also put my phone and iPad in here when they are charging or not in use. (Ha.).

I have a drawer below that with folders for the kids. There is one for each kids artwork I am saving from that year (mostly it gets thrown out the day it’s created, only special ones make the folder), and a separate folder with their school stuff.  At the end of each year I put the folder on a shelf in my closet, to be found upon my death.


The rest of the cabinetry is my pantry. Drinks and drink ware to the left….


Snacks, extra things, canned goods, and pasta to the right. All my everyday ingredients are in the baking corner of my kitchen, not in this pantry.



I leave you with photographic evidence of the insanity of open shelving all throughout the kitchen:


This would be like living in crazy town.

What was the purpose of this tour? I’m not exactly sure. Just to show an alternate way to use a floor plan with two dining areas.  I would be very interested to hear how you use your dining areas if you have more than one. Or if you just have one, where do the kids color or where do you sit with a cup of coffee and a cookbook? Let me know!

My Woodlawn Blue Dining Room

I am finally done obsessing over this project.  I did all the painting myself and am very tired.  I am going to share too many pictures and then never mention it again!

When I was looking for a color for this room, I knew I didn’t want a neutral because I have those everywhere else in my house.  I wanted the house to feel cohesive, so I copied a color scheme I saw in this blog post.  I had plenty of brown and beige, and decided to add navy blue, colonial blue, and burgundy to give the house some life.  I thought burgundy would be too intense, and navy too dark, so colonial blue was what I chose to paint this room.

What is colonial blue you ask?  I don’t know.  But Woodlawn Blue was pretty, not too crazy looking, and had a colonial name.  Good enough for me!  (I am making this choice sound very casual but it was, shall we say….not.)

Woodlawn Blue is one of Benjamin Moore’s historical colors, which all seem to be a little bit gray to keep them from looking overly modern.  (Which, as it turns out is not really accurate, as 18th century paint colors were actually very vibrant.  Anyway.)  As an avowed color-fearer, something with a little gray was what I wanted.

This room faces northeast and northwest, so it gets light early in the morning and late in the afternoon in the summer.  In winter it gets some afternoon light but is mostly shadowed.   Woodlawn Blue looks like a pretty, calm blue gray when there is no direct light:


When there is direct sun, it warms up the color to more of a blue-green, and the gray seems to disappear:




The white I chose for the bottom half is Benjamin Moore Chantilly Lace, one their whitest whites, with no gray.  I would typically go for a warmer white, but I wanted something that would brighten up the gloom of this room and not look dull or dirty in the shadows.  And Chantilly Lace is obviously a beautiful name and must be obeyed.  It doesn’t match my existing trim at all.  I will repaint that trim when I work up the energy, probably when the garden is done.


In the background is a throw pillow I made this spring (three of them in total), and it matches!  As does the ocean painting above the bench.  Color scheme success.

Now it needs some burgundy.  I ordered this tablecloth, which should arrive next week.  Will it look right?  I think so.  Was it way too expensive for a house with three kids, one of whom eats hot sauce on everything?  Yes.


I have some burgundy flowers timed to bloom shortly as well.  (The sunflowers here are called Procut Plum, so are not quite right.)

And now I promise not to talk about paint colors until 2019.



The Power of Paint Color Names

Since I am searching for a paint color for my dining room, I have entered the strange internet world of choosing a paint color.  There is a lot of obsessing and not a lot of actual information.  Photographs do not accurately portray colors at all, and descriptions are fairly useless. These are facts that everyone knows but no one can accept. I am endlessly searching for real life pictures of colors I am interested in, just to find that they all look totally different from each other and from the paint chip.


But an odd thing that I’ve noticed myself doing is latching on to a color I have read about and wanting it to work in my room. This, my friends, is an example of good marketing.  A consumer being attracted to something and deciding it is “them”, having it take hold in their mind, and finally making them want to buy it.

And what is so powerful about certain colors that they appeal to me when I haven’t even seen what they look like? The name.

Isn’t that totally absurd? Here are some names that I think express my inner self: Kensington Blue, Homestead Green, Jamestown Blue. I guess I am a colonist, in some type of elegant plantation home, or maybe just the owner of a British estate. There are similar colors called Del Mar Blue and Scenic Drive, but those names don’t work for me.


Here are some other good ones from Benjamin Moore: Collingwood, Edgecomb Gray, Heritage red, Hale navy. What’s interesting about these names is that they aren’t terribly descriptive.  I read an article about named paint colors, and the namer said that they are always looking for descriptive names, like foods. The example given was strawberry parfait because everyone can picture what that color will be. A lie, or just bad marketing. The best color names don’t describe, they evoke.

When we painted the nursery I had picked out a beautiful soft yellow called Windham Cream. My husband took it to Lowe’s and found that it matched, pretty much exactly, a color Lilting Lily. Now that name is okay. But I had the name Windham Cream in my mind and I have never loved the color since. Lilting lily is just not the same feel. It does not say British country house.


Sherwin Williams is abysmal at naming colors. Our builder uses Sherwin Williams and we were allowed to pick a grand total of one color for every wall in the house. I wanted a linen/ oatmeal neural that would look good with white or gray, not too cold but not too warm. What fit the bill was Accessible Beige, a grayed down beige. That name though. Terrible. They have a few other colors that are pretty with awful names. Livable green, a beautiful shade I want to paint my girls’ room. Hate the name. I also like the beige/ gray/ green tones of Techno Gray and… get this….Chat Room. No.


So to cure my discontent over Accessible Beige, I have renamed it in my mind. (This is totally insane.)  It is very close to a Benjamin Moore color called York Gray. Now that works for me. Even better, it’s part of the Williamsburg Collection. Yes.  I like it better now, and that is the sad truth.


By the way, I starting painting my dining room. It’s Woodlawn Blue, and the color looks beautiful so far. Even the butler agrees.


Staging Home or Making Home

Do you like going to model homes even if you aren’t in the market for a house? I do, and if I am ever on an errand alone I slip into one if it’s nearby.  (There is always one nearby in our area.)  I don’t really enjoy the architecture of most of them, but I do like the decor sometimes. What I really find interesting is the staging.

Unknown.jpeg Photo from realtor.com

(A crystal gazing ball is essential to keep the towels from…blowing away?)

I love seeing things like fake fruit in bowls, cookbooks open on the counter, the never-used dining room table set invitingly. Sometimes there are bottles of champagne by the bathtub and Victoria’s Secret bags in the closet. The kids’ rooms generally have a boys room with an airplane theme, but no toys anywhere. The girls room is always princessy, and pink. I just find it all very interesting.

What is the purpose of all this stagecraft? To sell the house, obviously, but why include these silly props when they are not for sale? A lot of people will say it helps the buyer imagine how to use the rooms. I’m pretty sure the buyers are not that stupid. Or to make the buyer comfortable.  But being in an uninhabited house with the occasional sign of life is not comfortable. It is actually pretty creepy.


No, staging is used to sell the feeling of a brand new life. The home itself sells clean, storage space, new.  The staging sells happy marriage in the bedroom, neat and well dressed children, evenings entertaining at home. Of course, buying the house does not get you any of these things. The evenings drinking champagne in the bath will never happen.  It was all an empty promise.  We know this intellectually, but it is hard to separate the feeling from the product. We want how it makes us feel, so we buy it.

(I do firmly believe that a well designed home feels good, but ironically tract homes are very unlikely to incorporate any of the features that can accomplish this.)

And of course, this purchasing things based on our feelings is the root of advertising and consumerism. Advertising (good advertising at least) does not sell beer, or pillow covers, or houses. It sells a life, a feeling. It tells you “You have always wanted this. You need this to be who you are.”.  We don’t buy fondue pots. We buy the feeling of being a good hostess. Not picture frames, but a well collected family home. Not a porch swing, but idyllic family summer afternoons.  I say this as a person who owns all of these things.


(Why might a pitcher be above the fireplace?)

There are of course things we need to buy. Many things are useful tools, or truly beautiful and will improve our home. Sometimes it is hard to know if we are looking for a thing for our home, or a feeling. Impulse purchases driven by advertising are almost always based on emotion.

A homemaking book I like,  Home Comforts by Cheryl Mendelson puts it well: “Decor usually gets too much attention at the expense of other influences…there are ways of living in your home that make it homey as well…you want to provide pretty and good things and do something with them, beyond merely buying…When you talk, read and write, play music or games, or sew, you leave traces of this in the room…Faked signs of life make the room feel desolate and lonely.” (28-29)


(Like what is the point of this table in my house?  How much more homey would a simple bookshelf be, filled we things we use? This was an impulse purchase no doubt.)

It seems that only way to make a house feel like a home is to have it be a home.  You have to live in it, and occasionally buy things you like and need.  But you can’t buy them for the express purpose of making it homey.  I guess if we need a container for the blocks on the floor, and we want it to be an attractive basket, that’s fine. But if we see an attractive basket and we think “country…charming…the good old days”, well that is just another empty promise.  It might as well be a bowl of rubber pears on the kitchen island.  Buying a feeling will disappoint you every time.