Monday, September 13, 2010

Is it worth it?

"Is it worth it?" ask The Pet Shop Boys.

Valid question.
As I veer ever more into the world of creating my own things from scratch - the world of my forebears, this question comes to mind. Well, really it came to mind as those damn jam globules were laughing at me from the otherwise beautiful pot of strawberries! Swearing, I thought, "Why the hell am I doing this instead of buying jam from the store?" That store jam - if you get a decent kind at least - is pretty good!

Other "old-world" techniques I have learned in the past few years:
• how to bake bread (without a bread machine)
• how to knit (nothing fancy, but a scarf and two sweaters for my daughter; a baby hat for a friend)
• how to can peaches and tomatoes
• how to make jam

So... is it worth it? Adding in the time, the money (yarn, pectin, and jars aren't free), the energy, the fun, putting it all together. Is it worth it?

Answers to come in the coming days! What are your answers?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Jam Results!

I couldn't wait to open one of those magenta, burgundy jam jars. They looked so pretty! Now was the time to see...

We got back from our trip to the mountains, and I pried open one of the lids with a spoon. I tentatively dipped the spoon in. And, Yum! Delicious jam. NO Globules! Hooray! My husband's vigorous stirring saved the day. Very good strawberry jam. Can't wait for the morning to slather it on my toast, where it belongs.

Canning, Jam, and Globules

Friday afternoon I canned three pints of tomatoes from my own garden. Having canned eight pints of peaches a few weeks before, the tomato-canning went quite easily and smoothly. Easier than the peaches - at least in prep work!

And then I went to work on the jam. Took Nora to Berry Patch Farms in Brighton Friday morning with another mom friend and her child - super fun! I highly recommend a farm visit whenever/wherever possible. We (well, let's be honest, I picked all the strawberries except about 15 that Nora picked!) picked just over 4 quarts of strawberries (that's four of those bigger baskets like you see in the store). We were leaving for the mountains the next day, so I knew that what we didn't eat, I would need to preserve, and pronto. So: my next venture: jam.

How hard could it be to make jam? I taught myself how to can; I could teach myself how to make jam. I looked at recipes. It seemed easier than canning! So I decided to go for it.
Again, most of the work is in the prep: hulling the strawberries. But you can get into a kind-of Zen state doing that, so it's all good.

NOTE: If you ever make jam, make sure you STIR VIGOROUSLY when the recipe says STIR VIGOROUSLY!! Lesson learned. I sprinkled the pectin in and stirred. Clearly not well enough. I looked down in panic as, almost immediately, these little white-ish globules formed -- like the kind you get in pancake batter when the flour forms little balls, that, if you don't break them up and if you cook them into the pancake, become little balls of pure flour that when you bite into them create quite an unpleasant sensation. CLEARLY no one wants that in their jam! Biting into globules of pectin, Yuck! So I picked some out, to make sure that was indeed what I was looking at, and not some white-ish part of a strawberry. The globule was in the spoon. I poked at it. Then again. And again. These were tough globules - almost plastic-like in their nature. Finally, I got it open, and uh-oh, it was filled with powdery pectin. Oh no!

So I called the emergency hotline: my mom. Doesn't everyone have some sort of cooking/crisis emergency hotline? And how often is that hotline one's mother?! She said: Stir Vigorously. A lot. It should sort itself out.

So I enlisted help: my husband. He stirred very vigorously as I added the sugar and as the hopefully-soon-to-be jam formed. We did our best. Into the jars it went. It looked pretty! Boiled in hot water for 10 minutes, and onto the cooling racks.

We left for the mountains before I could taste it, but I sure hope it is globule-free!
Stay tuned for results...

Thursday, August 26, 2010


Had great fun last night with five mom friends making pie! So fun to get together with a group, snacks, and wine, and make pie and chat all together. It's just so easy to make and super fun. One person asked if I've ever had store-bought pie crust. No, I haven't. It takes me under ten minutes to make this pie crust, and I know what all the ingredients are. So I haven't seen a need. Just a need for this recipe!

Pie Crust
This is for bottom and top. If you want just the bottom (like for pumpkin pie), halve this recipe.

2 cups flour
2/3 cup margarine or butter
1 tsp. salt
almost 6 tbls. ice water

Filling: ~ 5 cups fruit, ~3/4 cup sugar, ~1/8 tsp. salt, flour
Adjust according to sweetness, acidity, and juiciness of fruit.

350 F for ~ 1 hour - middle to lower rack

Friday, August 20, 2010

Summer-only Salsa!

I make this salsa as often as humanly possible in the summer because you just can't replicate it at any other time of year. It demands fresh, in-season corn and fresh, in-season tomatoes. I will say that I cheat a little; here in Colorado we start getting corn at least a month before local tomatoes are ready, so I will make it with California tomatoes just because it's hard to wait. But once the local tomatoes arrive? Shazam! It is AMAZING. Best are tomatoes fresh from your own garden picked the day you make the salsa.

I got the recipe from my mother. Sometimes that's where the best recipes come from, right?
Here you go:

3 ears corn, cooked and kernels cut off cobs
2 tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
1-2 fresh jalapeƱos peppers, seeded and minced
1/2 cup loosely packed, chopped, fresh cilantro or parsley
2 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp olive oil
salt to taste
Mix all and let stand at least 30 minutes.

Of course, like any other recipe, change it how you like it! I use about 1/4 of one jalapeƱo and less than 1/2 an onion. I prefer parsley to cilantro, and I love lime juice. Today I made it with only 2 ears of corn to get a more tomato-y salsa just because I had a ripe tomato from my garden that I wanted to taste really well!

Serve as an appetizer with a delicious light white wine and good chips. Yummy! Maybe you won't even want dinner?!

Thursday, August 19, 2010


The bounty coming in is just crazy.
Rocky Ford canteloupe - perfect wrapped in prosciutto - get the slightly saltier kind as it sets off the melon's sweetness much better.
Or try this for a dinner or two this week (courtesy of Real Simple):
Blend a whole canteloupe in a blender. That's right. Just blend the sucker up. You know what you get? Rocky Ford Soup! Serve it chilled, alongside a baguette - sliced in half, drizzled with olive oil, sandwiching fresh mozzarella and prosciutto. Wow! We've had this for dinner two nights this week, and I can't get enough.

Peaches to snack on during the day.

Fresh new potatoes and snappy green beans partner my grilled salmon in the evening.

I can't wait to learn how to make jam!

Happy Farmer's Market-ing!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Mid-Air Sustainability: Answers

When you jump off a cliff, metaphorically speaking, -- like take a risk, large or small -- how do you sustain yourself? How do you keep from flailing?

Many people take leaps and fall apart at the seams. There are parts of us we need to sustain, like eating, sleeping, breathing, not ending up a complete wreck in the process... There are so many ways of sustaining our selves, our bodies, in the process.

What tools do you use? Often when we take a risk, leap into the air, many things may happen: we get stressed, we may get physically tight, feel anger or fear, have digestive issues or sleep problems, etc. How do you keep the balance? Sustain yourself? We all have tools in the toolbox... What are yours?

Various answers:

Breathe, yoga, Nia, laugh, cry
close your eyes
make sure there's a soft landing
wine, sex, exercise, spend time with kids
faith, trust, gratitude
stay with your truth
support from friends!
talk it out with girlfriends
eat comfort food; make sure you eat well
use more energy; use less
use our voices!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Blackberries and Peaches and Corn, Oh My!

Came home with a flat of blackberries (12 boxes for $12), a box of peaches (seconds for only $10!), and two dozen corn. Wow!
Saving aside a couple boxes to eat and use in cobbler tomorrow, I placed the blackberries on two baking sheets in the freezer. Once frozen, I would scoop them into freezer bags for easy access. They would be great in scones, muffins, and jam later in the winter.

I knew we would eat most of the corn in the next few days, but I scraped some off the cob raw and froze that as well. Nothing like digging into that stash in January, tossing some corn kernels in with our fajita fixings.

And then I stared at the large box of peaches. Hmm. Okay, out come 8 or 10 for cobbler tomorrow (my husband makes a mean berry/peach cobbler. It can only be done with super fresh fruit.) And then I decided. It was time to learn to can! I had felt daunted for a couple of years, but a recent visit to my dear friend Dawn, who cans every summer, made me realize it wasn't as hard as I had thought. She directed me to the website of the National Center for Home Food Preservation. Easy instructions, and you can sort by what you're wanting to do (can peaches or tomatoes, make jam, etc.)

Leaving my daughter playing in her room and my husband painting the porch ceiling, I ran to the local grocery store and picked up the materials I needed: jars, a little canning equipment set for only $8, and "Fresh Fruit" - recommended by Dawn as the easiest and best way to add ascorbic acid to prevent browning. I got out of there for $35. Nice!

And then the process began! It was definitely easier than I'd thought. Poetically enough (for Dawn is a math instructor), it reminded me of algebra. Plug the numbers into the equation correctly, and you can't go wrong. Follow the steps for canning correctly, and you can't go wrong.

Except my quart jars wouldn't fit in my pot with enough water overhead for boiling. I tried it, it bubbled water, and extinguished the stove flame! Onto pints.

Except my pints boiled over too and extinguished the flame, but no one noticed till the allotted time was up. I re-boiled those for 20 minutes.

Other than not watching the pot -- you can't go wrong!

The end of the day gave me 8 pints of canned peaches plus two full pie-fillings. The peach-seller at our farmer's market recommended putting together the filling for peach pie and pouring into a pie pan atop plastic wrap. Once frozen, you lift it up and into a plastic bag. Mid-winter, place into freshly made pie crust, bake, and voila! (At least, I hope so! I'll let you know how that goes...)

So. 8:30pm. Exhausted but happy and satisfied. The porch ceiling is painted (thanks to my husband); the blackberries, peaches, and corn are all properly dispatched, and my daughter is asleep. Good stuff!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Backyard Bounty

Back from eight days out of town, and the garden is in full swing. After no harvesting for a week, there was a bounty of cherry tomatoes, carrots, basil, and a couple of regular-sized tomatoes. Dinner: farmer's market pasta with cherry tomatoes, shredded basil, a little olive oil, and parmesan. Backyard bounty indeed.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Pie Two

Farmer's market this morning. Loving all the local food!
Fresh corn. Tomatoes from Boulder. Honey from Fort Collins. Peaches from Palisade.

Today I had fun teaching my mother-in-law some of the tips I've learned over the years about how to make a good pie crust:
• Keep implements and ingredients cold
• Don't work anything too much; be light with the fingers
• Use good ingredients, like butter or margarine (not Crisco)
• And... I love my marble rolling pin. It's heavy, so it does a lot of the work for you, and it stays cool.
I made a quick little strawberry turnover with leftover dough. Roll out the leftover into a circle-ish shape. Cut in strawberries. Sprinkle sugar on top. Fold dough over and prick edge with fork. Cut off excess.

10:30 - Peach pie and turnover in oven.
11:45 - Strawberry turnover for dessert after lunch.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Blueberry Pie

8:48 pm: Decided to bake blueberry pie.
9:01 pm: Pie in oven; finishing cleaning up.

So... What's the point in store-bought pie crust? Don't tell me it saves time. I made a fresh, homemade, from scratch pie in about 10 minutes. No preservatives. No shelf-life. Tastes awesome.

9:48: Pie out of oven
9:52: Digging in. YUM!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

One Child: Please, No Grief

Every time someone I know announces they are pregnant (again), there is one reaction I am supposed to have: "Congratulations! That's so great!" I have congratulated the conception of 2nd, 3rd, and 4th children to friends and acquaintances. In our society - in this current world of almost 6.7 billion people - the addition of another human is supposed to be seen as an exciting, wonderful event.

Our daughter is four years old. She is our total love. I quit my job to stay home with her and raise her. My husband took a different job for three years so he could spend extra time with his daughter. We have sacrificed a great deal - financially mostly - to give our daughter the upbringing we feel every child should have.

We look around us and constantly see kids in families of two, three, or four children who are left to mediocre daycares, uninterested nannies, exhausted moms, and often two parents who work 50 hours a week. We look around us and see an Earth bowing under the weight of overpopulation and stress on the environment. We look around us and see a beautiful world in which we want to travel, a world which we want to explore and discover as a family. We look around us and see the perfect size family for us: three.

So recently, when my husband got a vasectomy and it came up in conversation with his friends and my friends, we were surprised and dismayed to receive these reactions:

"You know that's permanent, right?!"

"Wow, did you plan that?" (My husband's response: "No - it was so weird... I just stopped suddenly on my bike one day, and that was it!")

"Well, it's always reversible!"

And this one, from my own ob/gyn: "He can always get a sperm biopsy."
(Me: "What's that?" She: "Retrieve sperm by cutting into the testicles." Ouch!)

There were no "Congratulations!" or, "Good for you. You really made a responsible decision." Not even an "Okay," or some other neutral response like, "It was time, huh?" We don't need pats on the back. But we don't need the judgement or negativity. And we were so surprised that there were only clearly voiced opinions along the lines of "You can't be serious at stopping with only one child."

My husband and I have discussed how many children we want for five of the eight years we've been married. Most people we know who have had a third child planned it for fewer than six months. When my friends announce they are pregnant with #2 or #3, I don't answer, "Oh, wow... you know, you can always abort."

I don't begrudge others' decisions for multiple kids. So why can't our decision to have one child be just as great as someone else's decision to have three or four?

So please, next time it comes out that my husband - or someone else's - got a vasectomy, don't belittle the huge decision the couple has made. Believe me, they have thought it out. Not many guys get their private parts handled and punctured by a doctor just on a whim. Give the parents credit. And let me have one child without giving me grief.

Let it be a beautiful and courageous thing that we choose to have one child.
Just as it may be a beautiful and courageous thing for you to have more.