Violets Can Cure the Blues

Time flies.  Every day the earth turns, each of us has only so many hours to feel the warmth of the sun before the dark descends.  It seems like the further I get in life’s journey, the fewer hours are in the sun.

Spring is finally here, and summer right around the corner.  It’s been a long, hard winter.  I’m so ready to feel the sun.  I wanted to collect dandelions yesterday. Last year I made dandelion jelly (When Life Gives You Dandelions), and it seemed like a good way to bring that spring feeling back.  I must have collected 500 flowers last year.  Yesterday…I don’t know where they went.  All those flowers I’d seen in the rain last week were gone.  Instead, I have violets. DSCF5348

Lots and lots of violets.  I love them! They spread like weeds, and probably ruin the lawn, but they are spring to me.  Lawns are overrated anyway!  Goodbye dandelions;  I’d be making violet jelly instead.

I thought about trying to convince my dear, loving children to go out and pick the flowers for me.  Wouldn’t they love to go outside and harvest flowers, stooping and bending like itinerant laborers, rather than sitting in front of a laptop? No, I didn’t really think so either.  That wouldn’t stop me from trying.  What did stop me from recruiting more help was this: See these flowers? DSCF5347

These are violets.  See how the leaves are heart-shaped, and the flowers look like someone sat on them?  These are wild flowers that are totally edible.

Now see this one?        DSCF5350    This is periwinkle.  Vinca Minor.  It has longer, narrow leaves and perfect flowers. It’s also toxic.  I don’t trust those kids to avoid the flowers that the dogs might have watered, never mind the poisonous plants!

So,  I stooped and picked, over and over until I had 8 cups of flowers.  Poured boiling water over them and set them aside.  My friend Jan came over to help.  We went out to lunch, did a litle shopping, returned home…and they had just enough time to bleed out their violetness into the water.  After straining them and squeezing out all the flower juices, I had just about the right amount (3 1/2 cups) of liquid. DSCF5355

I used the recipe from Taste of Home.  The only change I made was to mix the pectin with the sugar before mixing it into the liquid.  It seems to mix in better this way.

I added 1/2 cup of lemon juice, then 4 Tablespoons of pectin mixed with 4 cups of sugar.  That sounds like a lot of sugar, but it wasn’t as sweet as I’d expected.  After they are thoroughly mixed, heat in a stainless pot until boiling.  Boil hard for 1 minute, then process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes.

Here’s the end result:DSCF5391

It’s a very nice jelly.  I actually prefer it to the dandelion jelly.  Avery tasted it first, and decided that she wanted to make “violet cookies”.  We stayed up that night and made thumbprint cookies.  She brought them to school as a peace offering to the kids in her class (This was a good idea, trust me).  It got thumbs up from all the other samplers.  If you have a field of violets mixed in with your lawn, then you really should consider making this jelly.  It looks lovely, and tastes lovely.  And I believe it might have healing properties for the soul.  A cup of tea, and a toasted english muffin with a spoonful of violet jelly… if you close your eyes you can just feel the light touch of the sun again.

To the Boys at the APCC: CHEERS!

In any marriage, there are things that you might “borrow” which rightfully belong to your spouse.  Sometimes it’s a well worn shirt.  Or a jacket.  Or a hat.  Or perhaps, sometimes it’s not.  Sometimes, you might just want to steal their relatives instead.

I grew up with a few cousins, mostly older, a few younger.  We moved, they moved. In the “pre-facebook” days of the 60s and 70s, I never felt like I really knew those cousins.  Some I haven’t seen or spoken to since I was a kid.

Grumpy grew up without any first cousins.  None at all.  His father was an only child, his mother’s only sibling died young.  Really small family.  His grandmother (mother’s mother), however, came from a big family.  She left them behind in Newcastle, England.  She, and then her daughter (my mother in law), were good about keeping in touch.  Mary (my MIL) went over for a visit, and met some of her cousins and their children.  This is how Grumpy and I came to know his (2cd…3rd???) cousins in the UK.  And I stole them.

I didn’t set out to steal them.  It started out with a visit from Hylton and his (new) bride Yve. They were great- the kind of people you have fun with right off.  Then we stayed in touch through FB.  This is where I met Allen.  Allen and Hylton are brothers; and also very competitive, in a friendly way (ahem- right?).

Somehow or other, we started having intercontinental challenges.Kelly's yorky pudd I’m not sure who started it, or even what the first one was.  It might have been the Yorkshire pudding challenge.  This one was the entry from Kelly, Allen’s daughter who lives down in Australia.  My own entry was not so pretty.  There was also the “Toad in the Hole” contest.  This is basically a nice yorky pudd with sausages in the middle. toad in hole

This here is the Toad in the Hole that I made.  The toads (sausages) were burnt nearly to a crisp!  It’s a sad thing compared to Kelly’s- all high here/ flat there, but  it does pull off a neat height of 5 inches on the high corners(that’s more than 10cm there Kell!).

marrsy's mud pieThen, there was the Mud Pie.  We used a recipe from the Hairy Biker’s.  Know of them?  Those guys can really cook! This is Allen’s entry.  

Here is a link to the official recipe for Mississippi Mud Pie from the Hairy Bikers Mississippi Adventure.  It’s not like the ice cream one.  It’s a decadent, rich, chocolaty treat.mud pie 5

My own entry into the contest is pictured here, but I’m clearly not going to win the award for best photo!  Not sure what the problem was that day- must have been the camera, surely!

Somewhere along the way I really started looking forward to these food challenges.  In between those times we found plenty to communicate about, getting to know each other as well as sharing jokes.  I think Allen shares my fondness for jokes.  I love a good laugh- life is just to precious to take seriously! Allen is a regular attendee at “Church on Sunday“.   Click on the link there to read about it in his own words at Wibbleblog.com.  On Sunday’s the guys get together at the Annfield Plain Cricket Club to watch the games.  There’s probably a great deal of cricket (or football) cheering going on, but there is a bit of pint pulling in the club on a Sunday as well.    The boys at the club have been bringing in a variety of foods (at one time Thursday was “cheese night”), following the goings on with the Hairy Bikers and the international foodie competitions among the cousins as well.  I’m not sure they are all on Allen’s side, either! ;-)

Recently I was made an honorary member of the Annfield Plain Cricket Club.  Me.  Not Grumpy.DSCF2070  And I couldn’t be happier.  In fact, just today I received a gift from Allen: a memorial cup from the APCC centennial.    I’m absolutely tickled pink!  I’d like nothing more than to hop a plane out there and join them on a Sunday.  I know less than nothing about cricket, but I’ll cheer for Newcastle United, or Sunderland (If they’re ever the underdogs) and I’ll bring my cup. I know it’s meant for tea- but it’s an official cup lads! It won’t hold a pint all at once, but it seems to have a promise of 2000 refills stated in the handle.  It may take me a while to get through soDSCF2073 DSCF2077 DSCF2081many, but I’ll have a great time coming to know you all in person while I’m getting there!  Thanks so much Allen and you fellas, for making me a part of the club and a fine gift of the cup.  I’m aware it’s a limited edition (and commemorative of the championship) and I’ll treasure it.  Thank you for the cup, and the honor.

Cheers Boys! XXX

“Severe Weather Alerts”- Who Has Time For THAT???!!!

Every year we hear these dramatic predictions.  Accuweather.com is talking about 18-24 inches of snow, with the “possibility of a blizzard”.  Some people are even talking in terms of the “great blizzard of ’78”.  Grumpy claims it’s going to be a whole lot about nothing again.  Who knows?

In the meantime, we prepare.  These storm predictions are the “black Friday”  of grocery stores.  All over New England, people scamper off to fill their home with food, water, candles and batteries “just in case”.

I know we could survive for  weeks on what we already have here.  Months, even.  But… I am leaving early tomorrow morning for a 12 hour work shift.  I know they’ll be fine, but, I still feel  like I need to make sure that the kids and Grumpy are fine in my absence.  So I went, like a lemming, to prepare. 

We have a huge, shiny new store in the next town over.  market basketIt was packed.  About 4,000 people pushing carriages all over the store.  I had no idea what to buy.  I just wandered up and down the aisles.  Usually behind old people.  I mean “tales from the crypt” old.  I could hear the clock ticking my life away.  I had to get something and get out.  Then, I got this great idea to roast a turkey.  It would stay fresh for them over the weekend, right?  If we lose power, they can always store it in the porch back-up refrigeration room.  Lucky for me- they had 2 fresh turkeys left.  It was 2pm, but if I hurried home I could get it into the oven and done by about 5:30; in time for dinner.  Perfect!

Well, by the time I got home it was 2:30.  Maybe if I cook it unstuffed it will be done in time. Then, there were dirty dishes in the dishwasher.  Can’t rinse a turkey with dishes there- so I had to put them into the dishwasher…which was, of course, filled with clean dishes.  So, putting away the dishes when the phone rang.  Run to my desk- it’s a robo-call from the school superintendent announcing that school is cancelled for tomorrow.  As soon as I answered the phone, though, I forgot what I was doing.  I started checking out Facebook.  And email…OMG! It’s almost 4 o’clock!  Back to the dishwasher.  Finished unloading, then reloading.  Chopping the onions, carrots, celery to put under the turkey in the roaster.  Finally got that bird washed, seasoned (no time to brine it) and into that oven.  At 4:49pm.

So now- I just have to make the stuffing, because what’s a turkey without stuffing? Oh- and I have to figure out what to do for dinner.  Because that bird isn’t going to be done for a long time.  Seriously- who has time for this???

Sometimes It’s Better To Be Lucky Than Good…

I had a buddy at work who said this all the time.  He was (and is) an anesthesiologist.  Sometimes he’d look at a patient and think “there is no way this epidural is going to happen” and in spite of everything it would just slide right in.  Lucky!

Parenting involves a lot of luck.  People who don’t have kids know all the right moves.  Let me tell you- “all the right moves” work just fine…when you’re lucky.  When you try the right moves on a kid who doesn’t like most foods…you learn quickly that you don’t know jack.  When you are lucky enough to get an eater…that is the best!  And I really believe that luck is what makes the difference.

My girls were eaters.  I was lucky there.  Syd took food seriously.  Her first real (solid) food was an avocado-swiss melt on sourdough bread.  I hadn’t planned this.  We were having lunch at The Black Dog on Martha’s Vineyard and she was just sitting there, Jonesing for my lunch.  She learned to love food.  She enjoyed the rituals of eating and taught me those rituals as well.  She’d put her face up to mine, grab my cheeks and order  “Mumma say ‘Would you like a snack now, dear?’! “.  Never “can I have; may I have or I’d like”.  Always taking me by the face and instructing me; feeding me my lines.

Avery was not an eater at first.  She didn’t want solid food at all and would vomit even the tiniest bite.  When she was 9 months old we were in a fancy hotel dining room (another story), trying not to horrify the people while we dined with 3 kids.  The hostess (aka: some crazy baby-switching gypsy lady) scooped up our Avery and wandered off to the kitchen with her.  My ‘mom alarm’ went off, but I tried to remain calm.  Then the woman brought back another baby.  This one looked just like ours, dark brown curls and a Betty Boop face.  This one, however, was eating.  She was sucking down a piece of melba toast slathered with goose liver pate’.  Like a champ.  This changeling went on to try anything and everything she was offered.  Loved mushrooms, leeks, garlic.  Loved food. I got really lucky with that girl, changeling or not!

My boys, however, were not adventurous eaters.  Matt went off to college with a repertoire of about 6 foods.  He wouldn’t eat sauces.  He ate pizza plain; just dough and cheese.  Pasta was plain with butter.  No BBQ.  No chinese food.  No kidding.  I think he ran into that crazy baby-switching gypsy lady while in college.  Another alien child returned from Maryland claiming to be my first-born.  He not only ate things like lentil stew, he knew how to cook them!  I was on to him right away.  This vegetable eating, sauteing, cheerful person is not the same boy we sent off to college.  I know enough not to complain when I am, in fact, lucky.

PJ, my baby, is a fairly good eater all things considered.  His first food was spaghetti, fed to him with love (by Avery) at the age of 2 months.  She couldn’t wait to feed him and would do so anytime you turned your back.  He preferred bland foods but gradually started to try new things.  Once he tried a new food, he usually liked it.  One food he would never eat, no matter how many times he tried it, was yogurt.  We tried the organic frufru baby yogurts.  We tried the crappy candy flavored stick yogurts.  Nothing doing- he wouldn’t eat it.   Until last week…when I got luckyDSCF1738 I made some blueberry yogurt and it was sitting  in the fridge.  PJ was doing his usual fridge inventory, and asked what the “purple stuff” was.  I said “yogurt”.  Then I added “it’s blueberry pie flavored”.  I don’t know what came over me.  I knew that boy loved blueberry pie.  He grabbed a jar, stirred it up, put a spoonful in his mouth and…smiled!  He loved it.  Since then he and Grumpy are eating it up faster than I can make it.  And I still feel lucky!

Blueberry Pie Yogurt…first the yogurt…

I’ve been making yogurt for Grumpy for a few weeks now.  It was easier than I’d expected.  Since our milk needs fluctuate without warning, it was a good way to use up some milk.  Now I “use” about a gallon a week making yogurt.  First – the skim or fat-free milk makes better yogurt.  I have no idea why, but I’ve tried them all and it’s true.

Pour all the milk into a large pot and heat to 115f (***if you use raw milk just heat until warm -not hot- bath temperature).   Now add some plain yogurt with live cultures.  Any good yogurt with at least 3 types of bacterial cultures.  Stir in 2 Tablespoons for every 1/2 gallon of milk.  After the first batch you can save some of your own yogurt to add to the next batch.  Stir it in thoroughly.  Now it needs to rest in a warm place to become yogurt.DSCF1757 If you have a gas oven with a constant pilot light it may be warm enough.  I use my dehydrater.  The dehydrater is usually about 130 degrees, which is a little too warm.  Through trial and error, I’ve learned that a canning lid under the top of the dehydrater raises it enough that it’s the perfect temperature.  The yogurt will be solid within 4-6 hours.  You can keep “growing” it for longer.  I like to leave it for about 8 hours to give it a tangy flavor.

Now you can use it like this, or thicken it to a greek yogurt consistency. I line a colander with a tea towel (you can also use an old clean Tshirt) and scoop all the yogurt into the towel. Place the colander over a tall bowl and store in a cold porch (here) or your fridge to drain. DSCF1762 After a few hours I pour off the liquid, put the yogurt into the bowl and whip with a hand mixer to a smooth, creamy yogurt.  Now I put it into jars with whatever fruit topping we have.  In this case…

Blueberry PieTopping 

In a medium saucepan I heated 1/2 cup sugar with 1/2 cup water, stirring until sugar was dissolved.  I added in 2 cups of frozen wild blueberries and 1/2 tsp cinnamon.
Continue stirring for just a few minutes, mashing some of the blueberries into the pan to release the juice.  That’s it! Tastes like fresh pie filling.

DSCF1742

Barm Brack: American Style

Barm Brack is an Irish bread with dried fruits, soaked in tea, inside the batter.  I was challenged to bake this  (see here) in Barm Brack…Challenge Accepted, by my cousin (via Grumpy) Allen of Durham, England.

The recipe he used was this one Here, from Allrecipes.co.UK .  Here is his offering:

Look! Allen has a dalek cookie jar in the background!

Look! Allen has a dalek cookie jar in the background!

It looks terrific, but I like to use what I have on hand, and chopped candied citron was not in the pantry! DSCF1746 I made a nice big mug of really great tea (Yes, Allen, we do have really great tea here! This is Constant Comment by Bigelow.  It’s the perfect tea for this operation-or so  I think ;-) ).  The dried fruit options included raisins (sultanas), applis, strawberries, bananas and cherries.  I just couldn’t picture strawberries and bananas in this recipe, so raisins, apples and cherries it was.   They soaked for 2 hours (a lot less than the “overnight” called for) in the recipe.  I hope it will be okay…..

So the original recipe calls for 8oz light brown sugar.  From what I could find that would be just a bit over a cup (7oz= 1 cup).  I used about 2 tablespoons of low sugar marmalade, and decided to try with about 3/4 cup brown sugar (this was just perfect).  After draining off most of the tea, I added the brown sugar and marmalade, then stirred it all together.

The recipe also called for 5oz of self rising flour.  The 5oz is about a cup in US measure.DSCF1750  I didn’t have self rising flour, so substituted one cup flour and 1 tsp baking soda. After stirring all that together, I had a nice thick batter.  It was rich, sweet and tasted of tea. Not bad!  I baked it at 325f for an hour and came up with… (tadaaa!)…

This is delicious! DSCF1755 Very moist, thick with plumped up fruits and a hint of tea.  Grumpy says it’s more than “a hint”, but he really loves tea so this was a good flavor for him.

I’m not sure how this version shapes up against our UK cousins, but we’re happy with the Bram Brack and will definitely be making it again.   What do you say Allen dear??? (XX ).DSCF1756

Barm Brack…Challenge Accepted!

When you marry, for better or for worse, you get a whole new family.  I knew that my Grumpy had 3 sisters.  All three went on to marry and through them I inherited additional brothers/sister-in-law.  The surprise gift was the family overseas.  He has “distant” cousins living in Durham, England and thereabouts.  Mainly I’ve come to know two brothers: Hylton and Allen.  They are roughly my own age (give or take).  Hylton is a great guy.  Loves his Yve, dogs, travel, and a good Stella.  Great fella to travel with; he’s been everywhere.  I don’t suspect he’s the primary cook in the house, but he and Allen have a brotherly love of competition.  That’s where Allen comes in. Allen is forever coming up with cooking “challenges” in which we can all compete.  Hylton, usually unable to refuse a challenge, works his tail off in these trials.  Allen is a rascal.  He’s tamed a bit over the years, I suspect.  He and his bride Susan have raised 3 girls who dote on them and share their love for good, old fashioned rock music (the stuff we grew up with). Allen isn’t a professional cook.  He’s actually an officer for Her Majesty’s Prison Service.   He’s also all about cricket.   And Dr Who (we have this in common).  He probably has dozens of other hobbies, but these are big.  He writes once in a while about life at his blog (www.wibbleblog.com).  One of my favorite posts is Church on Sunday , where he writes about Sundays with his “boys” at the local Cricket Club.  These men, all cricketers, drink and talk about all manner of things, including food.  Sometimes the boys of the Cricket Club get involved in these challenges.  We’ve had some memorable ones over the past couple of years.  One was a yorkshire pudding challenge.

Not a bad offering!

Not a bad offering!

Then, there was the “Toad in the Hole”

The sausages were overdone, but good marks for height!

The sausages were overdone, but good marks for height!

Here is the

Here is the “Hairy Bikers” rendition of Mud Pie

It’s been a lot of fun.  He’s challenged me to learn knew things, and we have other cousins, family and friends participating in 3 continents no less!

So now Allen has challenged me to bake a Barm Brack.  Stand aside Clyde, this girl is stepping up to the challenge!

I’ll let you know how it goes….after I find out what Barm Brack is! ;-)

 

 

 

Go Big or Go Home? I’ll Go Home!

Some people obsess about having the biggest, thinking it’s the best.  I went in a different direction for Thanksgiving this year.  We did have one big long table; with 17 people you kind of need that.  We also had one big turkey, about 19 pounds or so.  But for desserts…we went small and smaller, all the way.

I got an idea in my head about making individual pies.  My Grumpy, and our son PJ, love those nasty little pies that come in a box.  The ones that taste like they were shipped in from another continent.  Seeing them eat those things is just insulting.  I decided to make some of those things, but make them right.  I would make a big dessert table, where all the desserts were single serving sized.  It would be a “serve yourself” dessert buffet.

First I made a trip to the local “Savers” store, kind of like a giant thrift store.  I picked up dozens of little second-hand dishes for baking pies.  I had already canned a few pie fillings (apple, peach and green-tomato-mincemeat) as well as some canned pumpkin chunks.  I found a recipe for Banana-Caramel-Vanilla-Cream pie.  It looked amazing- and it was worth the effort.  It was about a week before Thanksgiving, and  I had some extra cream in the fridge. I made a batch of  sea-salt caramel and cooked it just a bit less than usual (recipe here).  I cooked it to the soft ball stage, then put it into jars to save for the desserts.  If you do this, trust me, don’t put “caramel” on the jars.  Label them as “prune sauce” and no one will touch them.  Anyway…the big easy on this thing is that the fillings were little or no effort, and you can do it all in advance of the big day.

The day before turkey day I made 3 separate batches of pie dough.  I used my favorite recipe (here) for dough.  After chilling, I rolled it out and cut it with an empty oatmeal box.  Apple and mincemeat were scooped straight from the jar, covered and baked.

These are the apple pies here….see those little things scattered around? Extra pie dough.  I cut it into “leaves” for fun.

 
And here are some of the

“green-tomato-mincemeat” pies.

This mincemeat is really different: green tomatoes, apples, oranges, lemons, dried cranberries, brown sugar and spices.  Yum!

 

Then, I whipped up some pumpkin chunks in the food processor.  I have to admit, I don’t know exactly what I added.  I think there was brown sugar, cinnamon, ground allspice and a pinch of nutmeg.  I added eggs, poured it all into a saucepan and I cooked it for about 5 minutes until it was shiny.  I added cream and butter, brought it almost to a boil. Then I added vanilla, poured it into the shells and baked it at 375f until it looked done.   This was the best pumpkin pie I’ve ever had.

The “banana” pie was simple. I prebaked the crust, placed sliced bananas on that.  Then, I poured a layer of the sea-salt caramel over the bananas.  I made a nice vanilla pudding that I found on here on “Lynn’s Kitchen Adventures”.  That was layered over the caramel, then the whole thing was topped by whipped cream. You can see a couple of them in the upper right corner of this photo- that was before the whipped cream.  This was a real surprise dessert- much better than I expected.

For the cheesecake loving crowd I made individual NY cheesecakes in muffin papers, and covered each one with a layer of pureed strawberries.  These were a huge hit with the Schmidt’s.

 

 

Finally, with all that extra caramel left over, I decided to make some caramel apples for all the kids.

 

Then, I decided I’d better make enough so the “big kids” would have one too.  Kids like Grumpy, as well as the little-uns.

There were some for those people who actually prefer not to eat nuts (I just don’t get it…)

 

 

So…that was the best Thanksgiving ever, and the dessert table was what made it fun for me.  I’ll definitely be making individual desserts again at Christmas.  I’m not sure what I’ll make yet, but I’m already looking forward to the planning!

50 Ways to Lose Your Pumpkin (part 2)….Can it Baby!

Canning pumpkins is a new venture for me.  We had plenty to work with, as I mentioned in “50 Ways…part 1“.  We kind of go overboard with some of the holidays.  That’s one of the things I love about Grumpy; he doesn’t hesitate to go overboard when it comes to holidays for the kids.  This is a photo of the early preparations.  Grumpy made those tombstones for me out of plywood and scrap lumber.  They’ve been holding up about 5 years now.  There is a lot of bloody looking stuff that gets added as the day goes on, and light up creatures in the trees and upper windows, “bats” flying in the sky (a light effect), fog machine, scary noises and (my favorite) we actually have a real creepy old burial ground across the street!  Halloween central- woohoo!  I’m not sure if it’s the burial ground or not, but we get slaughtered with crowds of kids here!

But back to pumpkins…..  So I managed to save one perfect sugar pumpkin to can this year.  These are the kind you want for pies and other baked goods.  Nice strong flavor, almost sweet and not grainy.  Pumpkin can only be safely canned in a pressure canner, and it must be in chunks.  Once you puree it the density is too great for canning, and you run the risk of not killing all the anaerobic bacteria (and you can get botulism!!! ).  Start by putting a kettle of water on to boil (or two); then start sectioning your pumpkin with a very sturdy knife.  Clean it out thoroughly, and scrape the stringy part out of the inside.  It’s easier to peel if it’s in strips like this photo.  (Okay- you caught me; that is a photo of a Jack O’Lantern type pumpkin.  The same principal applies.  I just didn’t get a photo of my sugar pumpkin in this state).  After it’s peeled, chop it into roughly 1 1/2- 2 inch pieces.

Next, put your pumpkin into a large stainless steel pot.  I usually use an 8 qt dutch oven.  This is not that one, and it’s not even stainless steel.  That pan was busy and I was lazy.  Carry on.  Now cover the chunks with the boiling water, heat on high, bring to a boil and continue to boil for 2 minutes.  While this is happening, check to make sure your jars are clean.  That’s all- you do not need to sterilize them!  They get totally sterile in the pressure canner.

Strain out the pumpkin and place in to jars (like the photo).  Fill loosely to about 1 inch from top.  When you’ve filled all the jars, pour more boiling water into them to about 1 inch from the top.  The pumpkin will settle some.  Use a chopstick or plastic tool to swirl out any air bubbles.   Put the metal lids (not rings) into HOT water to soak for a few minutes.

Prepare the canner by pouring more hot/boiling water inside (I like to put about 4 inches in because I’m paranoid about it running dry).  Add a couple of tablespoons of white vinegar to keep your jars sparkly (they get permanently cloudy if you forget).

Now back to the lids:  Wipe the rims of the jars first with a damp towel (cloth or paper).  At this point I like to wipe the rims with either a paper towel dampened with white vinegar or rubbing alcohol.  It doesn’t get into the jar (I said “damp”) and helps to ensure a good seal.  Put those lids on, tighten the rings to almost tight (called “finger tight”, not “professional wrestler tight”).  Place in canner and turn the heat waaaay up.  When the hissing starts to get noticable, put the weight on and when it starts jiggling, set the timer for 90 minutes (quarts) or 75 minutes for pints.  I chose quarts as I believe I’ll get no more than a can of pumpkin would have after draining off the water.  When the time is up, turn off the heat and leave it alone to cool.  You can cool it in the canner overnight if you have to.  Do not remove weight or lid if there is any pressure remaining and until they have cooled down enough to minimize burns.  If they are warm (or not too hot) after you remove the weight and lid, place them on a towel to finish cooling.  Wipe them down, carefully remove the rings and check the seal.  If you ever have a failed seal, even if it’s been cooling overnight, it’s still safe.  Just put it into the refrigerator and either use it or reprocess it within a week or so.   I got 4 quarts of cubes from one good-sized pumpkin.  If you look closely in the photo, you can just see a bit of a jar full of beans behind the pumpkin.  Since I still had some room in the canner, I popped some dried beans into pint jars to can.  I hate running a half empty canner- it just seems like a wasted opportunity.  Put the dry beans in until jar is 1/3 full, then top with boiling water to 1 inch from top.  Finish the sealing in the usual manner. 90 minutes later you have perfect canned beans!

There must be 50 ways to lose your pumpkins… Part 1 of 2 (with apologies to Paul Simon)

If you asked me where most of the world’s pumpkin supply was grown I’d say it was within 10 square miles of my front door.  Evidently, I would be wrong.  The town of Morton, (near Peoria) Illinois, is the self-proclaimed Pumpkin Capital of the World.  They claim to grow almost 90% of all pumpkins grown in the US of A.  I’m sure they must be correct.  I mean, after all, they wouldn’t have the gourds to make stuff up, right? ;-)

I still have my doubts.  We seem to be in pumpkin central.  You can’t drive in any direction from my house without passing a pumpkin patch or roadside stand.  I might have gone a little overboard myself.  It started with Halloween decorating.  First it was the Jack O’Lantern pumpkins.  Just a few (few being 6).  Then a nice sized sugar pumpkin (for “putting aside”).  Then somehow our Jack collection grew to a dozen, although some were just mixed into the mums around the house and driveway (and many were not even carved).  Then I just had to have at least a dozen smaller sugar pumpkins to place on the front porch railings (in exactly even spaces- I may have gotten carried away).  It was 2 straight weeks of pumpkin heaven.

And then comes November 1st.  I tried to convince Grumpy that pumpkin means fall; it’s not just a Halloween deco.  First, he got rid of the Jack O’Lanterns.  Then he started giving the hairy eyeball to the big, uncarved pumpkins mingling (hiding in terror) among the mums.  Finally he wanted to take down my sweet pumpkin menagerie from the porch!  Time for a compromise.  I convinced him that the porch pumpkins should stay until after Thanksgiving, and agreed to process (put aside) or dispose of the rest.

So…it started with selections.  Anything that didn’t make the “cut” was taken out to the woods for the enjoyment of the wood fairies.  Then the real cutting happened.  Two good sized pumkins were selected: a sugar pumpkin for canning and a Jack was set aside for more savory dishes.  That Jack was a Beast! I scooped, cleaned, sectioned, peeled and cubed like crazy.  Roasted just a small batch of seeds this year as we really just pick at them.  The rest always go out to the birds, who might not appreciate the sodium.  Half of Jack went into the freezer for future use (maybe some ravioli, rissoto, etc).  I chose freezer for the savory pumpkin as it should have a bit more texture.  The rest of Jack was destined for pumpkin soup.

I wasn’t in a “find a recipe” mood, more like a “just wing it” mode, but here’s the scoop: I sauteed a small chopped onion in a bit of butter (a bit= a hunk).  Then I added the pumpkin, chicken stock to cover (it’s actually floating in the photo), 3 Bay leaves, 1 tsp dried thyme and 1/2 tsp rosemary.  This was cooked until the pumpkin was soft.  I removed the Bay leaves, used a stick mixer (wand?) to whip it silky smooth.  Then I added some heavy cream; about a cup.  Then a good grind of pepper.

Then, just for fun, I swirled a tiny bit of cream in the center of the bowl when I served it to my unsuspecting tasters.  The survey says:  PJ says it’s “not bad”, Avery declined to participate (she’s 14, sigh),  Grumpy and Syd gave it 2 thumbs up (Bailey was not home).  My opinion: it can’t hold a candle to pumpkin rissoto, but it’s still a very tasty fall soup.  So this one will be a keeper.

 

 

Cereal Porn…American style

Recently in Sweden, Ida Riedel Palmer, bought a box of cereal because it was promising a free fitness cd inside.  It did come with a free cd, but when the woman played it she was shocked to find ” not soft porn…what I would categorize as unpleasant porn, not that I would know much about it”.  She contacted Nestlé who promised to investigate and find out how her “corn flakes became porn flakes”.  There were two things that struck me as funny in this story (which you can read here).  The first was that, after thinking she might have a computer virus (which I can understand) her next thought was to call her boyfriend and ask if he might have been using her computer.  This just brings up sooo many questions- none of which I need answers to, of course.  The second thing is the the last line of the article states that “No I haven’t changed cereal. But I have bought another packet”.  Go Ida!

Here in our little corner of America, when you say “cereal porn”, Grumpy pictures granola.  He likes it that much.  His favorite granola was really pretty good.   He was getting frustrated, though, with the huge increase in price (from $2.99 to $4.99) and the apparent shrinking of the box.  I decided a few months ago that I’d try my hand at making it at home.  After reviewing the 237 million recipes out there, I realized that it was really just a matter of personal preferrence.  Grumpy prefers the nuts and oats type of granola, but I’ve pushed his limits to get a balance of foods and flavors that the majority of our family will like.  In truth, the recipe changes depending on what is available on any given week.  We were talking recipes at work, and I promised Maureen that I’d actually measure and record the ingredients this time.  So here it is for Mo, Grumpy, and now you too.

These are the ingredients we had on hand today.  I make HUGE batches, as we go through a lot.  Feel free to adjust and decrease as needed.  The playlist here is: rolled oats (not quick oats or steel cut), crisp rice cereal, chopped nuts (walnuts today), raw sunflower seeds, flax seeds, shredded coconut, raisins, brown sugar, cinnamon, maple syrup, honey, kosher salt (*) and oil.  I prefer to use unsweetened coconut, but this is “use it up” time and we only had sweetened.

Into a huge bowl I measured: 6 cups rolled oats, 2 cups crisp rice cereal, 4 Tablespoons flaxseeds, 2 cups chopped walnuts, 2 cups raw sunflower seeds, 2 cups coconut, 2 cups raisins.  In a small bowl I mixed 1/4 cup brown sugar with 2 Tablespoons cinnamon.  I do this to make sure the cinnamon is more evenly distributed.  (*) I also add 1 Tablespoon Kosher salt.  It is just to add a bit of complexity to the sweetness, but can easily be omited.  Mix the whole thing until all the ingredients are well blended.

Now for the wet ingredients…Oil is something I struggled with.  The truth is, you won’t get the best granola without adding a bit of oil.  I use whatever healthy oil adds the least flavor.  In a measuring cup I add 1/3 cup oil, 1/3 cup maple syrup and 1/3 cup of good raw honey.  Stir it together, dump it over dry ingredients and gently fold it into the cereal until well mixed. 

As this is a huge batch, I need to either bake it on a huge pan or split it into two pans.  I spray the baking sheet with oil to make clean up easier.  I recently was indulged with a great big, shiny new baking sheet.  The puny looking, well used and beloved one beside it is a standard sized jelly roll pan.  The new one is 15″x21″.  I was able to get it all into the one big pan.

 

Spread all the cereal mix into the pan evenly.  Here is what it looks like before baking.  It already has a tiny bit of a brownish color.  This is much paler than the finsihed product.  Bake at 375 degrees, stirring as the top layer browns, until most of the cereal has a golden brown appearance.  If the layer is thick, as mine was, it can require many stirs and (in this case) as much as 35 minutes.  Thinner layers will cook much more quickly.

 

And here is what it looks like when it is done baking.  See the difference?

Now it has the rich, golden brown color that makes it “cereal porn” in Grumpy’s eyes.

Cool for no more than 5 minutes in the pan, then dump into a large bowl to finish cooling.  This helps prevent it from sticking to the pan- which can become quite a pain to remove.  Cool completely, then transfer to an airtight container for storage.  This filled a gallon sized container, with a little set aside for snacking.

I asked Grumpy how long he things it lasts before it gets stale.  His reply: “Who knows? It never lasts long enough!”

 

Sexy Beasts Like Real Food!

I try to balance my desire to feed my family healthy food (aka: paranoia) with my desire to give them the easiest thing I can throw together.  Being online makes the paranoia outweigh my inbred laziness.

Today, salad dressing tipped the scale for me.  Not the “OMG- I need a diet” scale.  That already happened last week.  Now I’m “low-carb” all the way.  So instead of pigging out on the grapes/pineapple/muffins and bagels that are calling out to me, I decided to have leftover chicken breasts and a salad with Bleu Cheese dressing.  The dressing that others have raived about tasted awful.  Not at all like my own; the one I haven’t made in years because it’s “fattening” (and yes, I am aware of the irony that it’s just fine and dandy on this low carb fiesta).

Sorry, I digress.  The scale it tipped is the “why make it when you can buy it” scale.  Look at this list of ingredients on the store-bought dressing.  I don’t know about you, but if “you are what you eat”, then I don’t want to eat that.  What would that make me?  Probably the product of a marriage between a Lithuanian porn star and a chemist!  Why would anyone want to eat something so foul tasting, especially when half the ingredients don’t appear to be real food?

So, for anyone who truly likes bleu cheese dressing, stay away from the prepared dressings section of the store and try this easy recipe made from only real foods.

If you have time to make your own (healthier, delicious) mayonaise, you’ll be even happier with the results.  I’m going to have to make do with a decent market brand.  Same for sour cream, bleu cheese…does anyone actually make their own vinegar?

Anyway…In a medium bowl combine about 2 cups of mayonaise, 1 cup sour cream, 3 Tablespoons cider vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon celery seeds, 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper (I like more pepper, but will add it to the salad as the kids aren’t big pepper fans). Now I’ll admit that it doesn’t look very pretty at this point.

But look how nice it gets with just a few seconds and a whisk?

Sooooo much better than that nasty bottled stuff already!  Now for the best part………

Time to crumble in about 6-8 ounces of bleu cheese (depends on how much you LOVE bleu cheese.  I love it about 94,279 ounces worth but I only had eight).

Now give it another quick stir; this time I’d use a big spoon so the chunks don’t get tangled up in your whisk.

That’s all there is to it!  It keeps for as long as the nearest expiration date for the fresh ingredients.  In this case, that would probably be the sour cream.

By the way- this stuff is as thick as molasses.  You could thin it out with milk, but when I do that I try to scoop out enough for that day and add milk.  This way it’s thick for those who prefer it that way.  Also milk usually has a shorter shelf life than the other ingredients.

This made almost 1 quart.  It also made a change in our dinner plans.  Now that we have fresh bleu cheese dressing, the kids want buffalo chicken wings and celery.  I think we can add a couple more raw vegetables and call that dinner!

***PS people: See how it says “bleu cheese” on that snazzy plastic lid? It’s in dry erase marker. Wipes right off.  It’s the easiest way I’ve found to make a temporary label. Washes right off.  I use crayons if I need it to last a bit longer.

“Más vale tarde que nunca” and Green Tomato Mincemeat

I grew up in an increasingly bilingual area of Southern California. I had 6 years of Spanish classes in public school.  I was profoundly unilingual.  My friends would speak to me in Spanish, and I could follow most of what was spoken.  I did well on tests, so my grades weren’t a problem. To translate my own words into Spanish while conversing was pure Hell.  My teacher, in the Brea-Olinda Unified School District, finally gave up on my language barrier and decided to focus on my relaxed attitude towards attendance.  She decided that if I could learn just that one phrase and use it upon entering the classroom she would forgive my tardiness, no matter how much of the class I had missed.  I learned it immediatly, and never forgot those magic words.

Más vale tarde que nunca.  It was 2 weeks ago today when I last wrote anything. I was exhausted.  I promised to write about our memorable weekend journey within a day or so.  I didn’t appreciate how exhausting the next 2 weeks would be.  I started a new job.  Since the “new” job is at the hospital I worked at from 1992-2003, it feels like coming home.  Long days, and still a shift or two to fill at the “old” job.  Besides work I am still coping with the lingering effects of whooping cough.  Then, out of nowhere my  computer flashes the “blue screen of death”.  Hour after hour spent on the phone with people who promised to rescucitate the poor thing.  People from America, India and Sri Lanka.  None of whom could bring it back to life.  I knew this would be the case, deep down inside.  It seemed so wasteful to just go out and buy a new one.  So not in the budget as well.  Now, I’m just glad to be back online.

Más vale tarde que nunca.  I will write about that weekend…later.  First, I want to write about time off.  Today, I have the third of 5 days off…..in a row.  This is my reward for working all manner of hours during the first 4 days of the week.  Day one was a blur.  I had sooo many things to do.  I was in the middle of at least 4 tasks, and running in circles, when I noticed the green tomatoes.  My poor, bedraggled garden, had been neglected for weeks.  In the meantime it grew a nice crop of green tomatoes.  It dawned on me that we would soon have a freeze.  Sometimes, nature dictates change.  This day, nature would change my priorities and my schedule.  All else must be put on a back burner, I was harvesting my green tomatoes.  I don’t care to wait for them to ripen, they are never as good as ripe off the vine.  I can’t eat that many fried green tomatoes either.  A good crop of green tomatoes equals: green tomato mincemeat.

Not everyone likes mincemeat  My own family won’t eat it with raisins ( I don’t know what’s wrong with them, either.  If I hadn’t been there at the welcome, I’d wonder myself whose kids they were).

I do apologize for the lack of “production” photos, and specific measurements.  I wasn’t thinking about writing this down when I started.  Just in a green tomato frenzy, I suppose.  This mincemeat starts with chopped green tomatoes (about 9 cups), and maybe 4- 5 cups of chopped peeled apples.  I put both in a heavy dutch oven.  Then added 1 peeled, chopped orange and 1 large chopped lemon (peels and all).  It might have been easier to remove the seeds from lemon before than to try picking them out after- there’s your warning.  Now add 1/4 cup white vinegar, 1/4 cup suet or oil (I used vegetable oil), 1 pound light brown sugar, 1 heaping teason each of cinnamon, ground allspice and ground cloves.  Since my family won’t eat the raisins, I snuck in 2 cups of dried cranberries and 1 cup dried cherries.  Heat the mixture at a simmer for about 45 minutes.  It will still have a lot of texture, but I prefer that over the mushiness of some canned mincemeats.   This is the one photo I managed to take once I remembered that I like to do that sort of thing.

After you’ve cooked it down a bit, transfer into pint jars and process by boiling water bath for 10 minutes.  This yeilded 7 pints plus a little left over for nibbling.

And nibbling…and nibbling…

It’s barely Fall, and I can feel Winter sneaking in…

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.”
Edith Sitwell

This year is going to be one long cold winter.  I can just feel it.  I’m preparing already.  I can appreciate spring cleaning, but it’s even more important in the fall.  Don’t get me wrong- I’m no cleaning Nazi.  I like to let it build a little so you actually notice the difference when I clean.  But, with winter coming, I like to start out with a nice clean house before we hermetically seal ourselves in for the long haul.

I go one room at a time, cleaning out, washing up and always moving furniture.  I take no chances on getting my effort noticed.  The need to clean came on at a bad time.  I had just done a “big” shopping trip and there were a lot of fresh things to cook.  On Monday, I realized that I wasn’t leaving time for “fancy” dishes, and wasn’t cooking all those meats fast enough.  I checked the date, made some plans and was left with a fresh pork shoulder that I wouldn’t have time to deal with before Tuesday (the OMG sell-by date).  I rinsed it and put it into a slow cooker.  That would buy me a little time.  I told asked Grumpy to please add water as needed over the next day.  Tuesday wasn’t looking like a “pork shoulder” night either, so I pulled the meat off the bones and put it in the fridge.  Wednesday I got home from work after midnight (oh yeah- those shifts hurt).  Today, I coffee’d up and racked my brain for inspiration.  Then it came to me: I’d make carnitas burritos.*** I wasn’t expecting anything special, and didn’t measure or take photos.  I’m really, really sorry.  I’ll try to remember as I go along here.

When I got home from work, I shredded that (cold) pork into a mixing bowl. There was a good 3 cups or so.  I added some cumin (maybe 2 tsp) and some thyme (1 tsp dried).  Maybe 1 tsp of garlic salt.  It seemed to need cheese, so I shredded some pepper jack- about 4 ounces (the result was really hot- you might want to use plain jack if you don’t love the spice). Then, I wanted some creaminess so I through in 4 ounces of cream cheese.  Then, 1 can of Rotel (a puree of tomatoes and peppers with spices- great pantry item).  I heated it all up in the microwave just to warm it and make it easier to mix.  After stirring it together it was ready to go.  I scooped about 1/2 cup and spread it into a small flour tortilla.  You can use corn, but we ran out and flour is nice too.  Roll each filled tortilla up and place them in a baking pan.  After I filled the entire pan (and ran out of filling- love when that happens together!), I poured a can of enchilada sauce over the whole thing.  I don’t usually have that hanging around, but there was a can staring me in the face, just begging to be used.  I baked it at 350 for about 30 minutes.  Then I pulled it out of the oven, sprinkled some sharp cheddar over the top, and some mozzarella (still using up the leftovers).  A few more minutes in the oven to melt the cheese, and ready to serve.

Everybody loved it! Grumpy had 2 enchiladas, then asked for 2 more. This is a photo of his “second serving”, that’s why the plate is such a mess.  He thinks it’s worthy of being added to that never-ending list of regular meals.  I smiled, realized that the next time I had a fresh pork shoulder that needed cooking, I could simmer it in a crock pot for 36 hours, retrieve the meat and abandon it to cold storage for another 36 hours, gather all the ingredients and make a great “super fast” supper.  Or not.  ;-)

On the good side, since it was a little cooler out tonight we took a break from eating in the dining room.  Instead we all enjoyed these in our newly cleaned (and rearranged) living room with a big, warm fire in the fireplace.  It was so nice and cozy.  Winter doesn’t scare me; I’m ready!

On Whining and Wining

Warning- I’m about to whine.  Not wine (okay..I’m doing that too!).  I’m whining like a sick baby.  Remember when I got the “man flu”? Well…it’s still there. It’s been 4 weeks.  Ugh!  I had an xray on Thursday and it’s still pneumonia.  Another round of antibiotics.  I took all of 3 sick days.  That’s ridiculous.  I work in a hospital, so they know I’m not really contagious anymore.  Okay- whine over.

So, I haven’t been writing a lot.  Or at all.  Not much going on in that head.  I’m taking moxifloxicillin.  It makes you dizzy.  On top of that, NyQuil.  With wine.  Only when I’m at home, of course.  It doesn’t really make you better, but it makes being sick a lot more fun.

I’m also playing with my new dehydrator.  That is a lot of fun.  The other day, I cleaned out my fridge.  There were some peppers that were getting a little wrinkly.  And some celery that was looking a little floppy.  Sounds appealing, right?  I decided to slice up a lot of veggies, and dry them.  We ended up with the red peppers, celery, green onions, green beans, broccoli and carrots.  Once they were totally dry I added them to a jar with thyme, fennel seed (I just love fennel), bay leaves, bouillon and dried mixed beans.  Some day this winter that will be a nice pot of soup.

That wasn’t the only thing we dried.  On Friday I met one of my senior daughters and Grumpy at Northeastern University.  She’s at the college tour time (my other senior saw exactly one college, fell deeply in love and married it forever and ever.  Sadly, it’s in Charlotte, NC. Sniff).  Anyway…after Syd fell madly in love with Northeastern (we’ll have to wait and see if this love is reciprocated), I had this great idea.  Why didn’t Grumpy go fill the car with gas, while Syd and I took the subway to the Haymarket?  I had promised princess Avery that I’d buy strawberries.  They had beautiful berries there, and we bought 4 pounds for $3. That’s right- we are awesomely lucky with shopping (and to quote my dear friend Dr Mikhail: “sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good”).

When we got home I cleaned and sliced the berries.  Most of them fit into the dehydrator.  I meant to get a picture of all those strawberries inside the dehydrator.  I’m not sure what happened.  I remember so little about things sometimes.  I’m blaming the NyQuil.  Totally.  Anyway, there were about a quart of dried berries when they came out.  Not bad.  Then princess Avery discovered the jar.  This is what was left.  About a cup at the most.  Ugh.  She ate the equivalent of 2 pounds of strawberries.  Is that even healthy?

Not all of the strawberries fit, by the way, so with the rest I rewarded us for surviving another day by making my favorite cupcakes- the ones with the strawberry-buttercream  filling that I told you about in the post “Insomnia“.  Don’t they look amazing? You can make them with any type of cake, but it’s a really light buttercream frosting mixed with about an equal amount of finely diced fresh strawberries.  I pipe the frosting into the middle of the cupcakes, dust them with powdered sugar and put half a berry on top to cover up the evidence.  Go back up there and click on “insomnia”(yeah- the blue one) for the actual recipe.

So that’s what’s happening around here.  Time for NyQuil, moxifloxicillin and a little bit more wine.  G’nite all!

 

 

 

I LOVE everything about Fall; from Apples to Oatmeal!

I love fall. It’s apple picking, hayrides (okay- not my favorite part), fresh cold cider and hot cider donuts. It’s pumpkins and Mums. It’s clear blue skies.  Leaves turning, fires burning.  I love the smells.  And did I mention apple picking?  We’re going to go apple picking in about 4 weeks, and bring home a huge haul of apples.  I can’t wait. This time I’ll be ready.  Apple pies.  Apple sauce.  Apple butter.  Even…dried apples? 

Back in the hot days of July my Aunt Jo came to visit.  I brought home a half bushel of peaches and she helped me “find a happy place” for all those peaches.  We talked about preserving, and how my other Aunt (that would be you, Kay Diane Johnson!)  was so inspiring in the way she was able to hunt/forage/grow and preserve her family table all these years.  I’d also mentioned that I was  curious about dehydrating, as my dear SIL Theresa pretty much dehydrates anything that won’t run away (AND she had already sent me an amazing 4 Qt supply of freshly dehydrated corn on the cob!).  I wasn’t planning to buy one yet as  didn’t know if I’d use it enough to justify the expense. About a month later, I received a box in the mail.  Aunt Jo had a dehydrator at home, and she decided that as she hadn’t used it in years, she’d forward it to me!  WooHOO!  Thank you Aunt Jo!!!

The dehydrator is many years old, but looks like new. 

I tried it out, to make sure it works and gauge how long a batch of apples will take.  The first load was with locally grown apples from the market.  They are on sale for $.79 a pound, which is not bad for our area. These are fairly big Cortland’s.  I peeled, cored and sliced them, then dipped them in a solution of citric acid and water (1 tsp per gallon).  This is to keep them from turning too brown.  You can also use lemon juice or vinegar, or just let them brown.  There are about 5 pounds of apples in here.  It said they would take about 6-10 hours.  I think I sliced them a bit too thick.  And maybe I might have lifted the lid a few times to taste feel the apples.  About 12 hours later they were almost done.  I decided to shut it off and check in the morning.  Next morning, I ran it again for about 3 more hours.  NOW they are dry.  No doubt about it! Lots of apples. 

You know what else I like to make with apples in the fall?  Oatmeal.  My kids used to hate oatmeal.  Now they love it.  I make special oatmeal,  Instead of cooking it in water, I cook it in apple juice.  With a bit of brown sugar and cinnamon and diced apples.  I usually do it overnight in a low crockpot with slow cooking oats.  With these apples…I decided to try making my own oatmeal mix.

I used 1/2 cup quick cooking oats, with 1 big teaspoon of brown sugar (kind of heaping…I love to indulge them sometimes), 1/4 tsp cinnamon, tiny bit of salt (optional) and 3 dried apple slices.  Each packet contains this, and each makes one bowl.  You sprinkle it into the bowl, add 1 cup apple juice and microwave on high for one minute.  My PJ gave it 2 thumbs up- ate the whole bowl and will happily have it again for breakfast. 

Homeland Security has Crabapples, and they WON’T Share!

The walk from North Station to my job is just over a mile.  At about the halfway point I pass the offices of Homeland Security.  They are impressive; tall, clean building and immaculately manicured walkways.  The walkway at the street level has grass of crayola green, and is lined with perfectly shaped crabapple trees.  Not only are they perfectly shaped, they grow purple fruit!  I’ve seen plenty of the red variety, and know of some trees that produce lots of golden yellow crabapples, but I’ve never seen purple before.

I decided last year that I would approach the guards to request picking privileges, rather than apply for official permission from this gi-normous agency.   It never seemed like the right time, however.  As the summer went into fall I saw the bounty from those trees drop onto the green carpet and get vacuumed away with the grass clippings.  What a waste!  I was determined that this year would be different.  I watched carefully until I felt they were just about ripe enough, then approached the guard.

It went like this:  “Hi there! So listen, every year I see these crabapples just fall to the ground and get sent out with the grass clippings. That’s sinful.  I’ve decided to take charge of the situation.  Here’s what we’ll do… I’m going to stop by after work, around 2:15, and pick all the fruit I can reach.  Do you have a step-stool? No? Well maybe I’ll just spread a sheet and shake those limbs a bit….Uh- yes, I do mean on the other side of the fence.  Don’t worry, that tiny fence won’t even slow me down.  I’ll just…What?…Well that doesn’t seem right.  This is ridiculous.  Listen friend…here’s what we’ll do…you help me pick these crabapples, I’ll take them home and bring you back some jelly.  Yes I will- I’ll give you my contact info.  We could be crabapple friends on facebook…that was a joke homie.  No, I know you’re not my homeboy…I said “homie”, that is short for homeland security-security guard. Kind of a long handle, you know?”

There are 3 things that I learned that day:  #1- Not to bother wasting time with the security.  Next year I’m going straight to the top.  As soon as the elections are over I’ll send a request.  #2- Security guards at Homeland certainly do not profile.  I am not on anyone’s shortlist of suspects for any crime, ever (unless it’s a crime to shave a few pounds off on your license).  #3- Security guards at Homeland Security carry both a walkie talkie and a weapon.  It’s a good idea to move on if they reach for either one.

So I explained my dilemma to Grumpy, and asked if (A) he knew anyone at Homeland Security or (B) he would be willing to help me pick those golden crabapples,  He wouldn’t comment on who he might or might not know (he knows a lot of people), but he agreed to help me with my foraging. What a guy!

MAKING CRABAPPLE JELLY AND BUTTER:  These are the crabapples we started with.  I wanted more…but someone (ahem) got tired of picking!  Notice that I’ve included lots of “not-quite-ripe” ones.  They have more pectin in them, so I’ll probably get good gel without adding any.  They’re not very large and perfect, but there were no threatening guards!  Some of them are fairly unattractive, although I found this one to be kind of cute–>

You need to take away the stems and deflower any that still have a lot of brown blossom stuff at the other end.  I find it easier to slice them all in half, then pulling away the stem is easy.  You also get a good look inside to make sure they aren’t occupied.  Now you need to add some liquid and start simmering.  I prefer to add apple juice, as I can use less sugar later to make the jelly. This pot is a huge dutch oven (the size is worn off the bottom), I’d say about 20 cups.  I added just enough apple juice so that it was about 1/2 filled.  Cover, let simmer for about an hour.  Then strain, save the apples aside for later.  This is the juice that was strained off.  Bring it to a boil, and boil for about 5 minutes.  Slowly add the sugar (I had about 8 cups of juice and added about 6 cups of sugar).  Crabapples are VERY tart, but there is about 1 Qt of apple juice in here too.  Return to a boil, boil one minute and process in BWB ***.  You can add more sugar if you want it to be sweeter, and try clicking here for instructions on how to test to see if the pectin is gelling enough before you can it.  If you don’t test, and it fails to gel, you can always reprocess with added pectin.

Now for the “Butter”.  In the past I’ve made crabapple “butter” and my kids don’t want to eat it.  This year I called it “crabapple sauce” and they loved it- kids!  You can make this with the cooked remains of the jelly making.  I have tried food mills and other ways of getting the crabapple flesh out, the only one that works well for me is the ricer.  It’s tedious, but worthwhile. You just keep filling the ricer with more of the little apples, and squeeze it out over another big bowl.  When I’m done, I squeeze it again through a fine strainer.  Those little seeds and cores can make it unpleasant.  When you are done, you’ll have a smooth-as-silk basis for the butter.  I add sugar and cinnamon.  I didn’t measure, so add it a little at a time until it seems “there”.   Add enough liquid to make it a runny consistency (I added about 2 cups of apple juice). Bring it back to a boil, boil for about 5 minutes and process in a BWB.  Here is the finished product: on the right, with the rosy tint, are 4 pints and 3 1/2 pints of jelly.  On the left are 7 pints of crabapple “sauce”.

Complete instructions for canning available *** here from the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

I’m actually still recovering.  I started writing this post before I got sick, and today had just enough energy left to get it done.  I’m still coughing up a storm, but breathing is a lot easier than on previous days. Thanks for reading folks!

OhhhMrrrGrrrd…I have the man flu!

I feel like such a wuss.  All those years of eye rolling, patiently picking up other peoples disgusting tissues and empty tea cups.  Backing away from the annoying hacking, sniffling and moans.  Now it’s my turn.  Ugh…. I hate this.  I woke up yesterday in the wrong body, and I don’t have the strength to move these limbs. Barking coughs make my brain knock around in there until I see stars.  This is awful.  I foolishly went to work. I spent the day doing mostly computer stuff, and clearing files.  And wiping everything around me with disinfectant, including me hands every few minutes.   I left a few minutes earlier than usual (I actually went in and started early).  As soon as I got home I raided the med cabinet and went to bed.  At 6 I wandered downstairs, got more medicine and told Grumpy “tag. You’re it.  Fajitas for dinner”.  Then I went back to bed.  I just got out of bed again and feel…sore.  But more alert.  I’m going to spend the day taking it easy, and indulging in my flu treatment.

I was planning to post about my foodie pen pal.  Somewhere I have a cute button you could click on…but I’m tired.  If you click on “foodie pen pal”, the blue one, you’ll get there.  I received a  lovely box filled with treats from this months pen pal Kathy.  In it were a bag of plantain chips (yummy! tried these before but they are a nice treat anytime.  I shared them of course).  There was a jar of fancy strawberry-rhubarb jam,a bottle of “Southern Style grill and cooking sauce” that looks like it will be a nice bbq.  What really caught my eye, and came in handy, was the honey.  I’m partial to raw honey, but never noticed one tasting much different from another around here.  The honey she sent was “orange blossum” honey from DePlanta’s honey in Lakeland Fl.  It has a different flavor from any honey I’ve tried.  Really nice.  Just right for my throat remedy.  Just in time.

So I have man-flu-brain today and can’t remember who I got this recipe from.  If anyone knows, or if I remember I’ll update with the name ….I found it! Here it is: it’s from http://catherineboley.blogspot.com/2009/08/preparing-for-winter.html (aka a little life) via one of my favorite sites:frugally sustainable.

I’m not well.  Here’s there recipe, I’m going back to bed!

Thinly slice one lemon
.  Peel and slice ginger; I like a bit less of this than the lemon. Place it all in a pint sized jar, pour honey over until it just barely covers.  Leave it in the refrigerator about a month before using, unless you are sick like me.  If that’s the case use it now.  Like me.  I feel so lousy.  Anyway, take a good tablespoon of the stuff (it will gel eventually in the fridge), put it into a huge mug (mine holds about 12 oz) and fill with hot water.  It helps to add a slug of bourbon,directly to the cup as well.  Up to you. I’m going back to bed anyway.  I’ll check back in when I’m human.

Boo Boo Bandaids for Their Injured Dignity

Yesterday I was a “sneaky itch” for fooling Grumpy with a zucchini filled “apple” pie.  Worse, he really liked that pie.  The recipe required a single pie crust.  Sometimes (always) I daydream, and doing things on autopilot, sometimes (a lot) I make mistakes.  I made my regular pie crust and forgot to halve it for a single crust.  I have some raspberries in the freezer, and an extra pie crust….that was all the excuse I needed to make another “Raspberry Pie” from The Minnesota Farm Woman(click here for the recipe).  The raspberries seem to give off a lot of juice as they thaw.  I thought to combine the lemon-water that I’d simmered all that squash in with the juice that dripped off the berries and make a batch of raspberry lemonade.  I just added some sugar to the pot of lemon-water, simmered it until completely dissolved.  You can go by your own preference on the sweetness.  I overdid a little, and decided to add the juice of one more lemon.  After adding a lot more water, I had almost 1/2 gallon of lemonade.  It was well received by the 2 fellas whose dignity was damaged by the apple pie fake-out.

A little lemonade goes a long was to soothing ruffled dignity.  A nice slice of pie doesn’t hurt either!

It’s Lucy in the sky and all kinds of apple pie*.

Today I rose at the crack of dawn to work yet another 12 hour shift.  I was resigned to the day, but then got lucky twice.  First, I had a really nice patient.  Second, I was not needed.  They sent me home a little after 11am.  This is really the luckiest part, because I’ll be leaving on Tuesday, right after work, on a road trip and I need a pedicure.  I still need to pack.  That means doing laundry. The house is really in need of a good cleaning and I really need a pedicure..  The dogs need a pedicure grooming.  And I really, really need that pedicure.

First, though, I went home.  I walked right into my kitchen and saw….a huge green zucchini.  My friend Jan brought me some beautiful cucumbers and zucchinis from her garden…2 weeks ago.  We have one big squash left.  Some of the kids (and Grumpy) believe that they don’t like squash.  I hide the squash.  Sometimes in the spaghetti sauce.  A little more obvious is in Ratatouille.  I also made some zucchini boats: hollow out the zucchini and treat it like a long pizza crust- anything goes.  As I stood there, on the brink of achieving domestic greatness by completing my laundry-packing-cleaning list, I remembered that somewhere, on one of the oh-so-many blogs that I really enjoy, there was a mention of zucchini-apple pie.  It’s a fake out- a zucchini pie the sells itself as apple.  I had to try this.

I was unable to track down the original blog.  This happens far too often; but whoever you are-you angel of zucchini cleverness, I would like to credit you properly and will update with the link if provided.  I searched online, and found one that sounded great at Food.com. Click here to see the recipe.

Start with a basic single pie crust.  I wasn’t thinking straight, and I made a double crust.  I seem to do this a lot.  While the dough is chilling, you peel, seed and slice the squash (I’m getting too tired to type zucchini, so from here on it will be officially be known as “squash”).  Simmer it in a saucepan with 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice and 1/2 cup water.  I also threw in some zest, to give it a little more lemonyness (yes it is too a word).  Then I just tossed in the rest of the lemon too because I really love lemons.  I simmered until they were translucent.  Then, strain.  I didn’t want to waste the lemon water, so I set it aside for later (I’ll get to that part later…or tomorrow).

Roll out your pie crust, or grab a premade one from the store if you absolutely must.  Then, toss together some sugar, flour and cinnamon (I left out the nutmeg, I just wasn’t feeling it).   Now mix in the squash, and pour the whole thing into the pie shell.  At this point Grumpy walked into the kitchen and didn’t even notice that it wasn’t his usual apple pie.  Snicker…..  Now you mix up the crumb topping.  This is my new toy.  I stopped by the crack house in Acton, MA.  It’s official called “kitchen outlet” or some such thing, but for me it’s a crack house.  I saw this baby and broke out in a sweat.  It’s amazing… anyway, I used it to shred the butter for the pie crust and for the topping.  Love, love, love it~  So here is the pie  after baking… And this is where I really wish I had a better camera!  It’s also time for someone to invent a camera with smell technology… But below here is my dear squash-hating PJ.  He stepped up to the plate for the very first slice of “apple pie”… and he loves it!  Grumpy joined him for a big slice, and declared it “a really good apple pie”.  I told him it wasn’t apple…and when I said there was (dreaded) squash inside he mumbled “sneaky itch” or some such term of endearment.  Meanwhile, I haven’t cleaned, laundered or packed.  I will be up for hours at this rate.  Oh my poor tired feet.  They really need a pedicure!!!*from “Julie’s in the Drug Squad” by The Clash

50 Shades of Brown

You know that joke...Woman: “I love you my darling…you are what makes my life worth living”…Man: ” Is that you talking, or the wine?”…Woman: “It is me talking…to the wine”.   That is how I feel about coffee. 

Well, also about wine.  But today I’m inspired to hijack repost some ecards about coffee from one of my favorite sites : Little White Lion.  This site is actually a group of writers and they are literally responsible for about a gazillion little tiny coffee-snort stains on my shirts.  I really shouldn’t read their stuff while I’m drinking!And here are a few more while we’re at it…

And just look at that…someone brought me a cup.  Sigh… :-)

And today I received another…the truest of truths and worth revisiting and updating this topic.