Thursday, August 22, 2013

Salsa - the food, not the dance

My mother makes an awesome salsa!  She perfected it many years ago and submitted it to a fundraising cookbook called Heavenly Delights for the Lakeland Christian Academy Class of 1996 (for any nostalgia buffs).  She called the recipe Hot Salsa and some years it was very hot!  I love the recipe and make it frequently, although with fewer hot seeds.

One of my daughters likes salsa, but doesn't care for the hot stuff. For a time I was buying Chi Chi's for an easy lunch option for her. Chips, salsa,cheese -easier school lunch than PB & J, and she loved it too. 

Over the last two years or so, I have been working to improve the quality of the food I provide for my family. I have tried to cut out high fructose corn syrup. Additionally I started realizing many foods contained unnecessary added sugar.  During the phase when I was purchasing Chi Chi's salsa I assumed it contained sugar and other ingredients typical of processed food, however, I was willing to live with that at the time to keep my sanity.  One day I finally got brave and read the ingredient list on Chi Chi's.  Imagine my surprise when I realized the ingredients were the same as my mom's recipe but in different quantities.  Thank you Chi Chi's for not adding sugar and weird ingredients to your salsa!

Since I had the ingredients and was making hot salsa anyway, why not try to replicate Chi Chi's milder salsa? So last summer I created this kid friendly salsa recipe. I had most ingredients on hand, making it a cheaper option than store bought salsa. We have never successfully grown jalapenos, so that is a small expense.
Here is the recipe:
 3 cups diced tomatoes
 2 cups diced onions
 1 1/2 cups diced jalapenos, remove all seeds for mild salsa
 3 cloves garlic, minced
 1 cup vinegar
 2 teaspoons salt
 2 small cans tomato paste
 Combine all of the ingredients except tomato paste in a medium sauce pan. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for five minutes.  Add tomato paste and thoroughly mix.  Process like you would process tomatoes - can or freeze.  (I have been working with tomatoes a lot this week. 'Tis the season... My research indicates that recipes like this with acidic and non- acidic vegetables together must be pressure canned as opposed to water bath canned.)

Some of our favorite ways to eat salsa are:
 plain with chips,
 mixed with cheese and sour cream as a chip dip,
 on potatoes,
 in chili,
 on chicken,
 on tacos, salads, and burritos,
 and my new favorite trick is to combine it directly with the taco meat for the flavor with less mess.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Energy Suckers - Life Lessons from Tomatoes Part 1

We currently have 1 Roma tomato plant, 1 volunteer Cherry Tomato plant, and 7 other tomato plants - normal round ones whose varieties we can't remember.  I know, what kind of gardeners are we, not remembering each tomato variety?!

But regardless of variety, tomato plants grow stems and leaves every which way.  And any place a stems branches off from a bigger stem, there is opportunity for a "sucker" to grow.  These are new stems/leaves trying to grow.  The problem is that they steal energy from the other stems that are bearing fruit.  For better fruit, you want as much energy as possible to make it to that fruit as it is growing.  Or at least, that is my understanding of the process.

Here is a picture of a sucker.  See how it is a small stem growing between two more established stems?  To allow more energy to go to the fruit supporting stems, I have learned to pinch these suckers off and remove them from the plant.  Once you start it's kind-of addictive.  These suckers are everywhere!

Just as removing suckers is good for the tomatoes, removing energy suckers from your schedule is good for your productivity and fruitfulness.  We are adjusting to a new school year and this is a great time to consider how fruitful our schedule is.   Are we rested enough and energetic enough to accomplish our goals?  Or are we involved in too much and running from activity to activity in a tired, whiney mess?  How many sports, clubs, lessons and other extra curricular activities can we really handle?  Will each child's activities coordinate with the other children's activities, or will they be in constant conflict?  As chief taxi driver, will I constantly be pulling my hair out trying to figure out how to get to that lesson that is 20 minutes away in only 10 available minutes?

A friend once told me not to do the good or the better, but to strive to do the best with my time and energy.  We have to pass on some sports opportunities, some classes, some social activities.  There are seasons in which I have to pinch off certain reading material or television viewing because it drains too much emotional energy.  I love to read food blogs, but sometimes I have to stop reading food blogs because it can suck too much time.  And I'm sure you've all seen the jokes about Pinterest - spending so much time at the computer "pinning" and not getting any real work done.  Yep, it can happen to anyone.  Sometimes you have to pinch off excessive amounts of time on facebook and Pinterest.   I have to trim away some good and better to strive for the best, so my life will bear more fruit.  I want to have the energy to serve my family and meet my goals.

 Do you have some energy suckers that you need to pinch off before your school year gets too far away from you?