Best. Pickles. Ever. Period.

So right before it got too cold for the tomatoes to ripen I pulled all the green ones off the plant and made green tomato pickles. I had an idea in my head of how I wanted them to taste but I just couldn't seem to find a very good recipe anywhere on the net, so I just made it up as I went along.

First, I made my own pickling spice blend. I have an extensive spice rack and I wanted to do a flavorful, spicy mix, and in a large batch so I would have some left over for another batch of pickles. Maybe pickled eggs? I dunno... Anywho, here's my pickling spice recipe. It makes enough for 2-3 small batches (about 5-6 little jars) or one really big one.

Pickling Spice Blend

2 tbsp dried dill
1 1/2 tbsp dried whole coriander
1/2 tbsp dried whole fennel seed
1/2 tbsp dried tarragon
1 tbsp dried whole cumin seed
1/2 tbsp dried thyme
1/2 tbsp dried oregano
1/2 tbsp dried crushed red chilies

Put everything together in a mason jar and shake it up! You can double or triple this recipe if you want to have a lot on hand.

Now, on to the pickles themselves. I have never made pickles before and I was basically flying by the seat of my pants. I wasn't worried if they didn't turn out good because it was a small batch of otherwise not-very tasty unripe fruit, so what the heck? Turns out that pickles must be hard to mess up because these came out so freaking good!

Green Tomato Pickles

1 1/2 lbs green tomatoes, halved
1 12-oz bottle of white wine vinegar
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup (1/4 medium bulb) fennel, thinly sliced
1/4 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 large garlic cloves per jar
2 tbsp of pickling spice mixture
2 tbsp salt

1. I chose small wide-mouth jars for my pickles and sterilized them according to the instructions in a book I have on preserves. The basic idea is to put all pieces, including the lids and bands, into a large pot of boiling water and let it boil while you prepare your ingredients, or at least 10 minutes. I like to leave the ends of a pair of tongs in there to sterilize too.
2. In a large saucepan over high heat add the water, vinegar, salt, and pickling spices and bring to a boil.
3. Use the tongs to lift out the jars from the water bath and place them on a very clean plate and then pack the jar. (Just leave the stove on and allow the pot of water to keep boiling.) Put a layer of tomato halves at the bottom, then a layer of fennel, onion, and garlic, then another layer of tomatoes. Be sure to pack them as tightly as possible without damaging the fruit, leaving a little room at the top.
4. Remove the liquid mixture from the stove and carefully pour it over the tomatoes. Be sure to tap out air bubbles, then put the lids on the jar and tightly screw on the bands. Careful, they will be hot! Use a very clean tea towel to help protect your hands.
5. Using the tongs, carefully lift the jars back into the pot of boiling water and let them boil for at least 10 minutes. Take the jars out and let them cool completely on the counter until you hear all the lids popping. That means they're sealed, and when they are cold you can remove the bands and the lids should not come off easily.

These are great sliced on sandwiches or julienned on hot dogs instead of relish or sauerkraut. Or just eat them straight from the jar like I do!

Oh, one more thing: I made pasta sauce from the ripe tomatoes from the garden, and I used the old boiling water trick to peel them. But I saved the skins and dried them in a low oven as per Martha's instructions and then ground them up for seasoning. The result is amazing! Smoky, sweet tomato flakes reminiscent of sun-dried tomatoes that you can sprinkle on anything - deviled eggs, tuna sandwiches, pasta, etc. Try it!


Life is too short.

Warning: extreme downer content. Please ignore this rant if you want to.

I found out last Thursday that my ex-boyfriend Michael passed away. I'm going through pictures of mine to send to his parents... I wish I could say I'm sorry to him one more time, even though I said it for three years straight before I gave up trying anymore to win back his trust and friendship. He could hold a grudge like no one else I ever knew, though it was well deserved in my case. Even though we weren't speaking anymore I will still miss him very much, he was a big part of my life at a time when my growing pains tore us apart.
He taught me that every day is a gift, and we need to fill each one with as much as we possibly can. You never know when it will be too late to start living. The fact that he knew his time was short and yet he spent so many of his days with me makes me truly grateful, no matter how hard it was to be with him. He was diagnosed with type one diabetes when he was about two years old, and it made everyday life that much harder. I think we all knew the day would come when it would take him away from us, but I never expected it to be this soon. He was only 28 years old.
There's nothing to say or do that will make losing him any better, I just wish his family didn't hate me so I could call them and tell them how sorry I am for everything.
I wish I had been more grown up - more mature - when I met him. I don't think I could have been with him for a long time, but at least I wouldn't have been the stupid nineteen year old who broke his heart and then spent two more years doing everything I could to try to make it up to him.
I can't help but blame myself in some way. I know that the same thing could have happened any time he was home alone for a long period of time, but I still feel responsible. Because he moved out of his parents house to live with me, and because I left him all alone when I moved out. I always wished he would move back home or at least get a roommate so there would be someone there when he needed help, but he stubbornly refused.
He was always so stubborn, but he was strong in his convictions and beliefs, and I admired him for that. I doubt I will ever be as strong as he was. I will try to remember the happy times and forget all the bad stuff. He loved cooking and playing games of all kinds. He danced so silly and didn't care who was watching. He cared so much about everyone, maybe too much, but I don't know if he ever knew how much we all cared about him. Maybe we never tried hard enough to show it. I wish I could pretend that his death isn't affecting me as much as it is, but I feel horrible about how we treated eachother during and after the four years we were together. Neither of us could ever get our points across no matter how hard we tried, and it made us angry and bitter and destructive towards one another.
I hope that he is at peace now, and I hope his family will find peace someday. I know that when someone close to you dies, it feels like it's never going to go away... But memories fade and feelings become fuzzier and one day you wake up and it's almost all gone except for the good parts that we don't ever want to forget. I'm sorry for writing all this sad stuff on here, but I just needed to get it off my chest. I think I will write his parents a letter to send with the pictures, even though I'm sure they won't want to hear from me, if only to say I'm sorry.
I've learned a lot from all this:
If you love someone, tell them.
If you don't love them anymore, tell them. Before something bad happens or you do something stupid.
Never stop communicating with people, even if it's hard, because what we don't say is what comes back to haunt us.
Be thankful for every day and for every person in your life because they all matter so much more than we care to think about.
It's okay to be sorry.

Thanks for listening to me, I feel a little better now. And I promise I will be back very soon with more of the usual happier subjects. Right before I found out about Michael I was going to post my recipe for the green tomato pickles because they came out so incredibly good. I will be back soon to pick up where I left off, I just have a little bit of adjusting to do. We will all be all right.