Sunday, March 6, 2011

Love Winter-Awaiting Spring

I LOVE WINTER!  I have always lived in Minnesota and therefore embrace all the beauty that the winter season brings.

A few weeks ago we had a swift change in our temperatures.  The feelings of spring were felt with temps in the mid 50's.  We lost about one half of our snow over the week.  After fighting it for a few days, I gave in.  I began to look at plans for the yearly Shimek vegetable garden, plan a new patio and landscaping project, the designs for a outdoor adobe wood pizza oven, new solar lighting for the trees in the back yard.  I even began to plan for dinner parties that we would again host for our fabulous friends & family.  I love to plan dinner parties!  I love to look at new linens, tableware, the latest in gadgets, study menus and the new cocktail of the season. 

I took some time to browse at some new flower ideas and shrubs for a landscaping project that will be done this spring and summer.  I am never impulsive and must think every possible idea to death.  I am still trying to decide on paint for the walls and carpet in the master bedroom.  I looked at samples until I could no longer say my full name and had to hang it up for a later date.  The plan was to freshen the master bedroom, install closet systems and do the same in Mike's bedroom this winter.  My husband Jim did his part.  He got everything ready to go and volunteered to do the painting before the carpet guys installed the new carpeting.  My job was one paint color and carpet for two bedrooms.  My part could take awhile.  I will pick my usual, a tone of beige/brown for both.  What can I say.....there are hundreds of tones for beige and brown.  Give me three choices and I can manage, more then that and I see spots.  It took me three months last year to pick new appliances for the kitchen, we did stainless so color was not a decision.  There are at least twenty brands with hundreds of options.

I was excited to put the inside projects on the back burner and embrace the outside ideas.  Just when I wrapped my head around an early spring, we got 15 inches of snow.  Oh, no.....back to paint and carpet.  The people at Home Depot see me walk in the door and quickly huddle playing paper, rock and scissor to see who is stuck with me.  As I compose this, it is once again snowing.  I think another 5-10 inches over the next few days.

Back to the garden.  I am no fan of gardens I wish to say.  We have a garden because Mike is autistic.

Mike, like so many autistics has real food issues.  He takes being a fussy eater to an entire new level. He does have a few dishes that he loves and are staple parts of his food intake.  The main one is spaghetti pasta.  He would eat it for every meal if I allowed.  I do not, however he eats it several times a week.  After much research on autistic diets, the consensus was that organic is the only way to go.  I would hit the local farmers market during the summer and cook organic when I could get it.  After going organic, then going jar/can the rest of the year we could see and taste the difference.  I took the time to really research what was on the labels of the food I was feeding Mike.  That is all that it took.

We live on a beautiful piece of property.  Just shy of 4 acres of waterfront property.  We had ample space.  It was time to plan and plant a garden.  If you want the best, then grown the best. 

Jim was the real force behind the project.  I would gladly water the garden and deal with it when it was harvest time. Otherwise, Jim was in charge of the garden.  He was nervous when I got near it and heavens for bid, I stepped in it and touched something.

Jim did the planting.  Carrots, onions, green beans, cucumbers, many variates of lettuce, kale, spinach, peppers and tomatoes.  We had 24 tomato plants the first year, even more the second.  I would soon learn the art of making "sauce" for Mike and freezing it.

As we began to harvest the garden, I looked into the best way to preserve our vegetables.  Freezing was the best.  We had a large chest deep freezer.  There was no way that would hold all of the food.  Off to Home Depot to purchase a upright freezer    ( again... paper, rock , scissor ).  I managed to pick one and have it delivered to the house.  I thought it was maybe a bit of over kill.  I was wrong.  Even with all of this, I was still calling friends to come rescue me from all of these veggies.  We enjoyed the fruits of the garden, fresh all summer long.  I then took to preserving the bulk of the harvest.  On to sauce making.

Twenty four tomato plants sounded nuts to me when Jim started planting.  I can tell you I was up to my waist in tomatoes for several weeks.  All I did was make sauce each day for weeks.  I made a "special" sauce for my "special" guy.

It took fresh tomatoes, finely grated carrots, green peppers, onion, kale and spinach to made my sauce.  I went to a butcher and got fresh beef and had them grind it for me.  I made the sauce, about 5 gallons a day I could manage.  I let it cool, the packaged it in freezer bags marked for Mike. I lay them flat each night on a large tray in the upright freezer.  In the morning, I retrieved the tray, stacked the frozen bags and started another batch of sauce. 

Making this much sauce each day, day after day was exhausting and messy.  I had tomato sauce on the walls, the floor and the ceiling.  I cleaned and scrubbed, just to make a mess the following day. 

To Mike, this is just pasta sauce.  He has no clue all the hidden vegetables that are in the "sauce".  He would  never eat carrots, peppers, onion, kale and spinach.  Because we control what goes into his food he gets only the best.  We use no chemicals what so ever.  Good soil, sun and water.  I grow my own herbs to add flavor and this year, we are going to try growing garlic.  Unsure if it will leaves or bulbs. 

We use our sauce for pasta, chili, soups, casseroles.  You name it, we use it from our garden.

It is unbelievable to me how much work it entails.  I cooked my hind end off the past two years making sauce and freezing veggies.  Every minute of it was worth it. 

Twenty six tomato plants were done last year.  I am unsure what Jim plans for this year.  It keeps getting bigger and bigger with new veggies added to the planting list each year.  I am excited to see what he comes up with and how I will incorporate it into my sauce for Mike. 

I have managed to make sauce to last Mike the fall, winter and spring.  Not an easy task.  I have about 30 gallons left in the freezer.  It should be just enough to get him to the first pick of this summers season. 

I encourage parents of autistic children to try if possible to grow your own food for your child.  If someone would have told me a few years ago, that I would be cooking for almost a month strait making organic, home grown food for Mike, I would not have believed you.  But I do, and he loves it.

1 days picking - this went on for about a month (24 plants )
In closing we have also taken to purchasing organic farm chickens from a local farmer.  We get on average 12 at a time. There is a HUGE difference in the chicken.  First of all they are about 2x the size and no hormones or antibiotics in the bird.  They taste fabulous.  We are slowly moving away from what is offered to us and seeking out what we want to have.  This year, organic beef will be added. 

I think I need a 3rd freezer............

Until the next time, I offer you all my best.

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