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(I just love my new pear apron from The Cupcake Provocateur. They are sponsoring an awesome Foodie Blogroll giveaway next month! So be sure to stay tuned for details about that!!!)

This year I challenged myself with some new cooking goals. Along with this blog I have grown, not only in culinary skills, but also in discovering the kind of life that I want to live – one in which I begin to produce more of my own food. Blogging has definitely changed me. Last year, I challenged myself to make our own bread and ice cream. Now that these have been easily assimilated into our lifestyle, I decided to add some more things. This year, as I have become more serious about it, I wanted to challenge myself to begin learning some skills that I will be utilizing even more when we finally have our a place in Vermont, and room for a big garden (and some goats and sheep) to go with it! Things are moving forward in that department! We are really looking forward to starting a new life up there and having a nice big kitchen and herb garden, and later expanding to animals. My eventual goal is to produce the majority of our food ourselves (with some food coming from our very rich local agricultural community) and raise sheep and goats so that I can make artisan cheese. But everyone has to start somewhere. So my challenge this year was to start making cultured dairy products, like yogurt, soft cheeses, kefir, buttermilk and creme fraiche that are easy to do in any kitchen. I started with the yogurt and cheese last week. This week, I am moving on to kefir.

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Another challenge was to start preserving, so that I could stop buying condiments and canned goods at the grocery store. I started by switching from canned beans to dry beans and utilizing the soaking method in Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats. I also started adventures in preserving by making some jam earlier this year, during the height of blueberry season. But with summer coming to an end, I really wanted to make some pickles and pickled banana peppers or peperoncino rings. These two condiments we regularly enjoy – on salads, sandwiches, burgers and more. These were both important challenges, as both store bought varieties are chock full of dyes, corn syrups and MSG. I have been buying Bubbies pickles for the past 6 months or so, but at $8 a jar, it was getting out of control.

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So I found pickle cucumbers at the farmers market a few weeks ago and bought several pounds to make refrigerator pickles. I used the recipe out of my Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.

It was really fun and quite easy. I got 4 ½ 1 quart jars. Each jar costing probably around $1. A great savings from buying Bubbies! Plus they tasted better (you know how homemade stuff always tastes better than even the best store-bought brands!). Something I will definitely be doing again. Although I would like to try some other varieties, especially naturally fermented pickles.

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As for the banana peppers, in the last few months I haven’t been able to find a single brand to purchase, and we have really missed them. We tried growing the peppers ourselves with preserving in mind, but our plant only produced a few peppers. With all the rain this summer, so many Florida gardens just got soaked and moldy.

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This weekend I went to a new farmers market near my mom’s and I bought almost 2 lbs of banana peppers (also known as Hungarian waxed peppers) for about $3. I could not wait to get home and pickle them! I had some help in the kitchen from our little dog Peperoncino (that is how much we love these peppers), who goes by the more pronounceable name of “Pepino” these days. Again, it took very little effort to do this, and I ended up with 4 1-quart jars, saving me a whole lot of money too!

I am really excited to continue learning more about canning and preserving and making it a natural part of our lives, just like bread has become. I am enjoying seeing the ratio in the refrigerator from store bought regulars like cheese, pickles, yogurt, kefir and condiments being slowly switched to homemade varieties! Soon I will begin canning seasoned beans, soups and condiments like ketchup and BBQ sauce. It is a wonderful warm and fuzzy feeling to get back to basics and provide the best quality food for myself and my family that I can.

If you have a blog, how has blogging changed you?