Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Smooth and Sweet Black Raspberry Jam

It's black raspberry season, my favorite harvest of the year. 


 A few years ago when we were visiting a friend in Ohio, she served the smoothest, most flavorful pie made from black raspberries. It was love at first bite. On that same trip I also found a delicious black raspberry jam, silky and seedless, a rarity in that type of jam. I started growing our own soon after that, but was never able to find good instructions on how to make a jam like the one I remember from a few years ago. Most of the recipes I found were either jellies, or they had instructions but no actual measurements. I read about a dozen recipes and created this one. If you have access to these delicious berries, this is a great way to stretch and preserve them so you can still enjoy them after the season is over.

This jam is equally delicious on breads or stirred into plain yogurt. It makes my morning!

There is one thing you can do to make this an even easier project: Cook the berries the night before, strain out the seeds by pressing the berries into a mesh strainer over a bowl with the back of a spoon, and let it the strainer continue to drip into the bowl overnight. The next day, you'll have your juice for jam making and can either freeze it for another day, or go ahead and cook your jam.


You will need 3 liquid cups of berry juice, which equals about 6 pints of berries.

Also:
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 tsp. butter
5 cups sugar
1/4 cup plus 1/2 Tablespoon pectin

Combine berry juice, lemon juice, and sugar in a stockpot. Add 1/2 tsp. butter to reduce foaming. Bring mixture to a full rolling boil over high heat that cannot be stirred down, while stirring frequently. Add pectin. Continue hard boil for one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim foam if needed.

Ladle into hot half pint jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Process in water bath canner for ten minutes.

Makes 6-7 half pints.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Strawberry Ministry

While the world stands in awe of box office beauties and other spotlight seekers, my intense admiration is aimed at two unlikely women. We shall call them Mary and Anna, and I came to know of them came from hastily digested news blurbs that I read late at night. Both in the ninth decade of their lives, Mary sewed something like ten dresses a week for the purpose of having them sent overseas for women who had little or none. Anna, in her lifetime, has sewn over 23,000  cloth bags which are then filled with donated school supplies or hygiene items and again, shipped out for relief efforts. I've actually sewn a few of those bags in my time, a very few, and if you had to sew even one thousand of them you would go mad.

Anna said something like, "Well, I'm home all day with a sewing machine, and people donate the fabric for free so it seemed like something to do...around here they call it my ministry."

And I was in awe, this time at her combined humility and sense of duty. She might have just as well declared that there was air, so she figured she better breathe it.

I find personal ministries fascinating, and am always interested in finding out what people consider to be their ministry. There's a lot of talk among wives and mothers about how our families are our ministries, and yes, a home ministry is important, too. Yet, it's always the unrecognized workers toiling in the fields that get really pique my interest. It's also a little frustrating. My imagination holds a hundred ministry ideas, everything from giving breaks to young mothers so they can get much needed showers, to animal therapy and organic farm co-op ideas. There can never be enough time on earth for all of my wonderfully under developed ministry concepts. 


The past two weeks have found me buried in berries. We had an enormous strawberry harvest this year. Every time I turned around, stainless steel bowls glimmered at me with juicy red jewels in need of processing. I did all my jams, and a pie, some strawberry bread, and stuck boxes in the freezer. I actually got tired of them pretty fast, and found joy in passing out quarts to friends and neighbors. That joy was multiplied when I found out the local berry farm was charging a whopping six dollars a quart this year. For about a week, it was fun to surprise our friends and family with strawberries, and while putting my bigger dreams of grand endowments for the greater good on hold, it was somewhat fulfilling to have a brief strawberry ministry. After all, there they were and we couldn't eat them all. It's comforting that I might have another fifty years to find my footing as a Marry or Anna. Until I do, I'll keep looking for more opportunities in small benevolence.

Do you have a ministry? I'd love to hear about it.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Recipe Box

Some years ago, I inherited a wild and wonderful thing. It was a well loved recipe box from an aunt, and it contained a wealth of information on 3X5 inch index cards. The box was in ill repair, with a broken hinge and made of unknown wood. The cards weren't in much better shape, and the ink was fading fast. Some of the cards had yellowed bits of recipes clipped from The Budget pasted on to them, while others had scrawled canning recipes that were only five sentences long. It was fun reading, but a real mess and almost a loss. Some of the cards were so worn from age that the ink was disappearing. I knew it was worth saving.

First, I bought a new box. A sturdy wooden one with a folksy scene hand-painted on it. Then I found a free online program that would allow me to type in the recipes and print them out on  card stock paper. I often did this in my free time when I worked at the library. Then I carefully hand cut the cards and filed them in my new box.

It was fun to type up many years worth of concoctions and tips, everything from a sour milk cake to a homemade fly repellant. An older cousin found out about my project and sent me a few of my great grandmother's specialties, which included an extremely simple pickle recipe and a instructions for bread stuffing that contained some suspicious store bought ingredients. Let's not look too closely at that one. Heirloom, indeed.

Over the years I've added some of my own favorites to the collection. Ten years later, there are still an awful lot of the original recipes I have never tried, while some have gone on to become family favorites. A few have been tweaked into something a little more special, but they all retain the basic, economical and no-fuss qualities that you would expect from a woman who wouldn't have had time to mess around in the kitchen.

One of my hands-down favorites is this hearty and easy to make skillet supper. You simply slice and layer the wholesome ingredients in a covered pan and let it simmer for an hour. It is often my go-to recipe when I don't know what else to make, or just need to throw something together. A lot of my cooking these days falls into the simpler-the-better category. One day, I thought to myself, I really need to share this recipe with the world. Surely, someone else might need it, too.


3/4-1 pound ground beef
3/4 cup medium shell pasta (white pasta works better than whole wheat)
1 cup sweet corn or peas
4 medium potatoes
3 Tbsp. diced onion
2 Tbsp. diced bell pepper
1/2 cup milk
cheese of your choice (cheddar is my favorite)
salt and all purpose seasoning

Heat a lightly greased skillet. Evenly spread hamburger (or sausage) in hot skillet. If using hamburger, I like to sprinkle it with some all purpose seasoning. Slice potatoes over the meat. Add onions, peppers, shell pasta, and corn or peas in layers. Sprinkle with salt. Add milk and top with cheese. Cover and simmer for 45-60 minutes.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

More Like This

Every day is different, and that's a blessing. I sure hope no one thought my last post is what an average day is like around here. To be sure, there are good days, too. Not every day is a whirlwind, most days are more like this...

It's seven in the morning and someone is stirring. It sure isn't me. This still qualifies as the middle of the night, by my standards. Are those little feet padding around? What's that noise? It must be the battery powered mini-quad that I brought inside to recharge last night. At least, I hope it is that, and not an appliance. Please don't let that be the blender.Whatever it is, it has got to be better than the morning I found a dozen eggs smashed in an empty laundry basket. Yup, see, this day is already off to a good start if the eggs are still intact.

At 7:05 a.m. he is bringing me a book in bed. My shift has begun.

 Little Mister nibbling on a waffle while I try to actually pour my first cup of coffee. I'm also folding bath towels and sorting through a bag of hand-me-down clothing from a lady at church. To be honest, I don't have a lot of luck with hand-me-downs, but this bag is a winner. There's a nearly new winter coat that Little Mister should fit into by next year, a pair of barely worn boots, and several tops and bottoms. Even a four piece suit set with the tags still attached to it. Wow!

The Mister should be arriving home from work soon. He works the night shift at a hospital three days a week. It's an unhurried morning because Little Mister does not have therapy today. It's nice not to rush to get the house in order before a therapist arrives. I'm checking my e-mail quickly, and trying to plan our day.

Also, I've been proof-reading a manuscript for a friend who is writing a memoir, and I send her a quick pm to let her know I'm definitely reading it and taking notes. There are also a couple e-mails regarding Little Mister's therapy program, one of which is about his upcoming annual review which will consist of several meetings and an astounding number of people. I feel like we need parking arrangements and a hall rental, and maybe goody bags. It's overwhelming to think about right now.

By mid-morning The Mister is home and I am trying to get Little Mister dressed in pants and a shirt. It is not going well. When will society recognize the plight of clothing-resistant toddlers and the moms who love them? We need an awareness campaign. There is much fussing. Dad is getting involved.

Another pressing concern: There is no interest in the hummingbird feeder I set out last night. I wonder if I did it right? I'm not much of a birder and this is my first attempt at attracting hummingbirds.

 We're on the road and driving behind a VW Jetta that has strong convictions about doing the speed limit, which fluctuates between 35 and 55, due to the presence of a state park. It's an exercise in patience, if not good exercise for the brakes. We're on the way to the local Humane Society to donate some paper towels and dish detergent. These are all things I get for almost free these days, and we have far more than we need, so I'm thrilled that animal shelters can use these items. I wonder if they take laundry detergent? I get a lot of free laundry soap, also.
Someone is having a blast pointing out tractors, animals and huge irrigation structures. It's a nice day and a lot of field work is happening today.

Someone is asleep. I make the drop off to a thankful shelter volunteer. Oh, and they take laundry detergent, too. I also need to find a local food pantry to work with, as I often come across free food items that someone could use.

At the farmer's market, I only have a little bit of cash and forgot to bring along the glass milk jug that I return for deposit for organic milk. My planning for this errand wasn't great. We'll just grab a few things and go, so it's still not a waste. The lunch crowd isn't here yet, so it's easy to get around with the stroller and there are no lines for anything. We're getting hungry. The man selling pickles asks if the Little Mister likes pickles and offers a pickle. Yes, and he also likes cheese, bread, and all kinds of salads. I wish someone would offer a sandwich.

Fuss attack in the parking lot. Here, have a doughnut. Poor lunch planning on my part.

It's early afternoon and a beautiful day. I'm negotiating to get Little Mister into the backyard for some outdoor playtime. I wonder if I should weed some of the garden today? The berry patch is a mess. The strawberries have flowers, and I'm betting on a lot of strawberries this year. Daunted by the weedy mess, I opt to put in a load of laundry.













Little Mister is having fun on his slide and is blowing raspberries at me. He indicates that he wants to to go for a walk in the back field where we can hear construction being done on an engine repair business not far from our house. Little Mister loves the sounds, and ultimately can't resist heading in that direction. Especially when he spots an excavator at the construction site.


 Visitor at the hummingbird feeder!



 

By late afternoon I need to think about getting back into the house. Whatever became of that laundry I put in? I also need to wake The Mister soon, as he has an appointment before supper.

The Mister and I are sorting through the mail. There's a huge tantrum happening, but it doesn't last long. A new book catalog has arrived, and even though I don't have much time for reading these days, I like to see what's new. I'm enjoying some iced coffee while looking through the catalog.

As The Mister is getting ready to leave for his appointment, I'm starting to prepare our meal. I know the little one will be hungry soon. Right now he's snacking on yogurt while I get ready to cook some fish. We have enough leftovers for sides, so it's an easy supper. I'm hungry but our youngest diner has just eaten one bite off of my plate and picked a few chickpeas out of his salad.


 Looks like dessert is going okay.

After our meal, The Mister begins the bath routine while I start washing dishes and cleaning the kitchen.

Our son has some pretty heavy sleep issues, and it can take anywhere from ten minutes to even as much as four hours to get him to bed. This is shaping up to be a tough night. We read some of his favorites, Good Night Construction Site, Corduroy, and some Little Golden Books.

Twelve hours after waking up, I'm cleaning the kitchen while The Mister and I switch off childcare/sleep routine duties. "Supper: The Sequel" is now playing at the table, and leftovers are being served.

 
8:16 p.m. Sunset

9:00 I'm finally folding that load of laundry I did almost nine hours ago.

10:00 Now I can finally get cleaned up. It's time for my hot shower, or as The Mister calls it, my "boiling".

11:10 It feels like I've been trying to go somewhere all day, but where? Oh, right here! Tucked in to my cozy, soft bed. It's like a cloud resting on a marshmallow, if marshmallows were made of feathers.

It wasn't an exciting day, it was just moderately productive, and not very memorable. But the next time the whirlwind flies through our house, I'll remark that we could stand to have a day that is more like this.

As an aside, let me express my regret for not accompanying this post with a lot of riveting photographs. I envy people who have posts full of cute pictures of themselves baking in the kitchen and reading to their children. How do they do it? Camera crew? Walking tripod? Sorcery? I want to know. Since I take all of my own pictures, I'm never in any of them. It's hard to believe that no one is following me with a camera, but my guess is 99% of you can identify with that.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

When Home-made comes Un-done

     It was the second batch of yogurt that was in the process of failing. I re-discovered it after I forgot about it two hours before, when my congested son woke up. Now the temperature was all wrong and I had to figure out how to save it. I was not going to waste all that milk if I could help it. 

     A few days later I discovered some soup stock I had made that never arrived at its destination, the freezer. Now it was spoiled and had to be thrown out. The wasted vegetables and effort broke my heart.

     Neither of these were as bad as the day Little Mister's therapist asked the most dreaded question on earth. 

"Can I use your bathroom?"

      Ugh, the bathroom! That room I had been trying to clean for ages and couldn't ever manage so much as a wipe down. What could I say? No, I'm sorry, the health department is conducting an investigation in there to see if it is the source of an outbreak? No, it's filthy? No, please don't put me in this awkward position? I can't just say no. 

      I wanted to jump up, run into the bathroom  and grab a sponge, but I was wearing an old skirt with a worn out elastic waist that I don't have time to replace right now. It would have dropped to my knees with too much sudden movement. There's no time to explain both the dirty house and the worn out elastic.

     "Monica! Don't you start cleaning in there!" she yelled as I began a fast tidying up. No worries, lady, I felt like saying. I can't get to this thing for the life of me and it's not going to happen today, either. 

      I silently prayed for room. Room for something more, room to breathe, and just one clean room. I'm not asking for storage space, just room.

      Then, Easter was upon us. Hope, resurrection, new life. My grandmother's violets bloomed spectacularly in the garden, and those same four stubborn tulips that I planted our first winter here came back to greet me. I walked out into the sun and breathed and found room. The room looked nothing like I thought, but it was so much bigger, the size of the whole natural world. 

In my Father's house there are many rooms. 

Oh, I see it with new eyes. Thank you for showing me. 



For Easter we had a large family gathering and I brought corn pudding. This isn't my favorite corn pudding recipe, but it is my favorite gluten free corn pudding, which was important for this event. It was very easy to make and everyone loved it. I tripled this recipe, but here is the original, which serves 8:



5 eggs
1/3 cup melted butter
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup milk 
4 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 can whole kernel corn
2 cans cream style corn

Preheat oven to 400 and grease a 2 quart casserole dish. In a mixer, lightly beat eggs. Add melted butter, sugar, and milk. Whisk in cornstarch. Stir in corn and creamed corn. Season with salt and pepper. I also added a pinch of cayenne pepper. Blend well. Pour mixture into prepared casserole dish. Bake for one hour.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

An April's Fool and Book Giveaway


     Next door to our house is an empty lot, and it looks like it was always just an empty lot perched on the edge of the neighboring field, since the beginning of time. It was a surprise to find out from a local old-timer that there was once a large home there that had burned to the ground. Sure enough, this time every year, you see the evidence that someone once lovingly planted spring bulbs around their home. The crocuses and daffodils return annually as a reminder that someone lived and planted there a long time ago. As I like to say, spring lays secrets bare.

      Here is another secret. I won't be spring 
cleaning, other than maybe a quick window washing. 
I am accepting that I am at the stage of domesticity
where maintaining the chaos and wiping down a dirty corner when I can, and not one minute before, is the order of the day. It reminds me of something I read about how we need to see our homes as a tool for living, and sometimes tools get well used. It was very encouraging be reminded that I'm not decorating a museum, but sharpening my tool. A tool that somehow functions as a central place to meet our needs, but should not become the need. I want to think like that all the time, about all kinds of things.



Have you read Saloma's new memoir yet? Bonnet Strings: An Amish Woman's Ties to Two Worlds is the sequel to her first book, Why I Left the Amish. It follows her to Vermont, where she starts a new life after leaving her Amish community, and then her ensuing struggle when she returns to Ohio to try again. Even though I know Saloma's story well, and how her life turned out, it was still a suspenseful story for me. It wasn't always easy to read about the agonizing decisions she faced at such a young age, and with such limited experience. When she makes her final decision after an epic struggle, you can be rest assured that it was not a decision that was made lightly.




Anyway, here is your chance to win a signed copy of Bonnet Strings. Simply leave a comment here for one entry. I will contact the winner in one week. If you don't have a blog, make sure there is a way I can reach you if you are the winner.




 Share on Pinterest or Facebook for one additional entry, and don't forget to tell me that you shared.







      It's too early to be thinking about rhubarb, but I saw some tiny red stalks peeking through the ground in our garden. It reminded me to use up what we had left in our freezer. I always wanted to make a fool, which is a British dessert of blended fruit puree and whipped cream. It was completely coincidental that I made it on April's Fool day. I made it with the last of our rhubarb and a few sliced strawberries. It was delicious! You can follow the link to the recipe.

Rhubarb Fool with Strawberries

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