Overwhelmed by People Stuff

The last two weeks have been packed with people. From both work and personal perspectives, I’ve been inundated with human interaction. It is starting to put pressure on me. As the upcoming week’s schedule is also packed with people, I’ve decided to take today off and be by myself.

My husband had already decided to have sushi lunch with friends, so this works out well from a timing perspective. Sushi is one of the few food styles that I will usually pass on – surprising for someone from the Seattle area, I know – so it is no hardship to skip this lunch for leftovers at home. It leaves me with plenty of time to just exist and take care of internal tasks.

I do have a few goals today. Two of them are must-do items, while some are in the time-allowing category. My self-assigned, mandatory tasks are to complete the “read-alouds” for our D&D session this week and to finish my edits of book one. For D&D, I’m not sure which directions the party will go at this point. They could potentially reach the end of this level in either direction, so I want to have all the level one commentary completed in preparation. I can wing it at need, but I find I forget more details that way, and I prefer preparation that gives them all the initial information they will need to make decisions.

For the book, I only have the epilogue left. I need to edit what exists right now and add one perspective to it as recommended by an alpha reader. I should complete both of these today since the epilogue is shorter than a full-length chapter. With this timing, I’m also posting my beta reader request for a couple more readers today. I want them to focus on plot or character disconnects or areas that pull the reader out of the story rather than line edits. With those items as the focus, I’m hoping to have the book back from them within two weeks.

The timing becomes tighter now. I’m going to schedule a copy editor and will need to finish any edits before that deadline. While I’m going to have some buffer planned in the sequence, any beta reader delays mean less time for my side of the polishing work. I also need to work on the administrative tasks, but I will do that once the book is out with betas.

As for the optional weekend tasks left for today: one is related to how much effort I want to put into cooking dinner tonight, the other is canning some pickles. I purchased some pickling cucumbers the other day, and I want to turn them into pickles. We will see if I can dredge up enough energy to fit that in today or if I procrastinate until a time when it is either “do it now” or “they go bad.” Wish me luck!

Gardening

An update for the book’s progress this week would consist of: editing is still going strong, a few chapters left to go, and beta readers are still the next step. Rather than leave the post at one sentence, I’m going to share some progress on our garden that I mentioned earlier this year.

I am sad to report, the pickling cucumbers did not make it. My best guess is that they need to go out later in the season or have some sort of greenhouse cover to keep them warmer for longer. Other than that, the plants are doing well. There are some aphid battles being fought over the brussels sprouts, but we believe we have them under control for now.

The tomato and tomatillo plants are growing like crazy, and I will need to set up some support lines for the tallest branches soon. The romas are starting to come in now, and the others are already producing many of the fruits. Off to the left in the picture, you will also see the asparagus in all its tall fluffiness behind the cilantro in bloom and basil filling out nicely. We are letting the cilantro go to seed to plant again for a fall harvest.

These things are still too early to can, but we have done a couple of jams so far this year. Over the last couple of months, I bought rhubarb and mixed it with strawberries. A week or so ago we were also given some sour cherries. We decided to mix those with blackberries to sweeten them up. I prefer some tartness to my jams, so we use low-sugar pectin and only a bit of sugar (much less than the recipes show).

We made the black(berry) cherry jam this morning, and I think it turned out pretty well. We have about a serving or two sitting in the refrigerator that was not enough for another full jar. I have actually found I enjoy using the jams on bagels. I put a thin layer of cream cheese on half and some of our jam on the other half. Now I need to buy some more bagels!

Strawberry-rhubarb in the back right. Black(berry) cherry on the left.

More editing complete, jam jars sealed, and the new job starts Monday! Have a great week everyone!

Canning and Making Pasta

The book is out to beta readers and the cover art is in-work, so this week is all about family pasta night!

We are limiting our interaction to immediate family still, but that made an evening of making pasta and sauce with my sister and her two kids a perfect weekend event. I’m glad my husband and I planned ahead and did a test run last week. If we had tried this with all the refreshers needed for the pasta making with the two of them impatiently breathing down our necks, it would have never worked. We also did most of the preparation before they arrived.

Starting with the sauce.

The sauce we make is an old family recipe from my husband’s side. If you are going to use canned tomato sauce, they say the only possible option is Hunt’s. This is partially because other sauces often have sugar as an added ingredient, which is an absolute no. It is like he can taste the sugar in a sauce before the plate touches the table. So…no sugar. The Hunt’s loyalty goes beyond that; though, as even finding another brand without sugar is not an option. So, of course we bought eight of those giant cans for current and future sauce making needs.

Today it was only one giant can with some water added, then spices. Bring to a boil and simmer for eight hours. Yes, eight hours. If you were curious about the water add, this is why. We started it early in the morning so it would be ready for our family activities later in the day. Over those hours it evaporates down to a nice, thick sauce.

Ravioli Time!

The sausage and cheese stuffing also happened to be two-thirds spinach and zucchini, so we mixed it up ahead of time to avoid questions from the kids that might end with them judging the poor vegetables too harshly. My husband also made one batch of the pasta dough as they were expected to arrive. This was so we could distract them with the pasta machine when the time arrived for the long eight minutes of kneading.

Ten to fifteen minutes of corralling excited children later, we each had our pile of flour with egg and started mixing and kneading with varied success. All told, we made six batches for close to one hundred ravioli and a few nests of scrap mini linguini. About half would be frozen for later use with the extra sauce, depending on how many the kids ate.

Fortunately, they are pretty good about trying new things. They wanted to start out with only two each in case they did not like them. I am happy to report it did not stop at two. It ended up around eight to ten with all the work they put in making dinner and running around being told not to scream in the house driving their hunger up. Review from my niece: “It was really good. I would do this again.” High praise indeed.

Canning Our Sauce.

Canning is one of my periodic hobbies. I’m not an expert, but I have done a variety of canning with relatively good success. One of the reasons we buy the giant cans of tomato sauce is so we are able to can a good portion of it for future use. It takes so long, there is no reason not to make a larger batch.

I like to use the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving for my canning instructions. There is a larger and more detailed book I also have, but this one is small enough to move around easily and has the key recipes I need for my usual canning. I have enough jars at this point I only need to buy new lids regularly, and early on I purchased the bundle with the basket and grabber.

Of the sauce we did not use for dinner, we canned two quarts and two pints that all sealed up nicely. It is always comforting to hear the pop of them sealing shortly after removing from the water bath. I have done enough of these to know that if you have to wait too long, it is probably not happening even if you try to wait the 24 hours.

If my cucumber seeds ever sprout, maybe you will hear about some pickles this summer!