Friday, May 26, 2017

Strawberry Jam with Honey & Our Night in the Barn


   Earlier this month, we celebrated our tenth anniversary with an overnight trip to a rustic guest house full of charm and quiet, nestled against a scenic field of alfalfa. It was owned by an Amish couple who use it to host their own family and friends, and although we didn't have the opportunity to meet them in person, the Lady of the Place made us feel warmly welcomed with a chatty phone message that informed us about the coffee in the gas refrigerator and where to find the extra flashlight battery. I located a discreet extension cord to plug in my phone that was run from somewhere. It's funny when you stay at an Amish property, there's always an extension cord. They must all get plugged into one central outlet shared by the entire community. Anyway, we ate a delicious late supper at a restaurant without a crayon in sight. We recalled the some of our memories of the past ten years. We talked about the challenges of tearing down and rebuilding our home while living in it. The multiple unexpected health issues that arose over the years, such as the broken ankle debacle when Little Mister was two years old. Our honeymoon did not seamlessly glide into the decade that followed and we climbed many mountains together. 

   When we got back to our guest house, we marveled at how quiet it was despite not being far from a major road. It was the complete opposite of the sounds we are accustomed to hearing at home, situated along the raceway. I slept soundly in the deep, noiseless night, until...

   What on Earth? Where is that coming from? There it goes again! 

   I had no idea that our guest house shared a wall with the home of a loud and lively rooster. One that had a wildly different interpretation of the time that the thing called morning begins. There, in the dark, I listened to the rooster periodically sound off just ten feet from my head. Try as I might, I never did find the snooze button for that rooster. 

The tenants next door. 

   Well, I did say our first ten years was full of challenges. You didn't think I would fall into some blissful unawares full of hearts and magic on our anniversary, did you? 

   Later that day, when we were shopping in a bookstore, we found a suitable scripture verse to put on the wall back home. You can see a picture of it on my Instagram here. 

   Meanwhile, back in reality, it's peak strawberry and I'm picking morning and night, putting them up, giving them away, or selling them out. There is always a bowl of them on the counter now.  This year, I tried a new recipe for strawberry jam which contains no white sugar and is the easiest AND tastiest strawberry jam I have ever cooked. I am so excited to share it with you!

   Even better, it's so versatile that you can freeze or can it. It comes out fine either way. 

   I plan to spoon it into my yogurt, on top of ice cream, in smoothies, and use it in all the ways one can enjoy sweetened strawberries. It's so EASY and GOOD that I admit to eating it still warm in the pot with a spoon.

   You don't have to believe me. Ask my food critic. 

   "It's perfect." - Little Mister, age 5

Strawberry Jam with Honey

yield: 6 half pints

2 quarts strawberries, cleaned and hulled
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 box pectin for recipes with no or low sugar
1 3/4 cup honey

In a large saucepan, gently mash the strawberries with a mashing tool for desired consistency. Add the lemon juice and pectin, then bring to a boil. Add the honey and bring to a rolling boil. Stir for six minutes while the jam is boiling. 
Remove from heat and skim the foam. Place in containers immediately. If canning, process half pints for 8 minutes, and pints for 20 minutes. 

This jam is amazing and the honey really brings out the taste of the strawberries. This is my new go-to recipe for strawberry jam. 

Monday, May 1, 2017

Finding Rest and Rhubarb

   Did you have a relaxing weekend? I'm glad if somebody was able to accomplish it. I'm fond of saying no Sunday was ever a day of rest for anyone called Mom or Minister. I was trying to keep up with the housework while simultaneously getting our vegetable garden up and running, and spent Saturday evening joyfully making two dishes to bring to the potluck. Since the Little Mister and I also squeezed in an afternoon visit to Grandma, the house remained cluttered and the dirty floor grated on my gentle senses like a duck trying to peck me to death. 

   It was annoying, but I refused to worry about the state of domestic decline. Increasingly, I am seeking rest as I go about my day. One scripture I've been meditating on is Matthew 6:34. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
   Did you read THAT? Each day has enough trouble in it. Don't we know that to be true? God doesn't want me to worry about tomorrow. I'm so thankful. In truth, I don't even know what tomorrow's troubles will be yet. They don't fully exist. They are merely fragments of what might happen, or what could be, or some other maybes mixed in with things that haven't happened yet. I'm so glad I can choose to rest in the moment.

   It's funny how my child gets this in a way that most adults cannot. Recently, The Mister took him on a special Dad-Son day trip while I took my mother on an outing far afield. Later that night, I told him I had missed him and asked if he had missed me. 
"No, I was fishing and when I'm fishing I worry about fishing. I don't think about missing anybody," he calmly explained. 
Yeah, I guess if I was an excited little boy hanging out at the Bass Pro shop, I'd be fully immersed in the moment, too. What a gift, to be able to live intentionally in the moment, in an almost effortless way. 

   Like everyone, I've had some periods in my life of great uncertainty, times when the future was wide open before me and some frightening possibilities existed. Now that I'm a mother, I could really torture myself with a million possible scenarios for my child's future in exciting new ways. As a daughter, I could do the same if I try to imagine what care our parents may some day require. My natural inclination to be more of a Martha than a Mary doesn't help things, but I'm ready to sit at Jesus' feet. 

I am slowly learning to embrace rest.

   But you know me, I find rest in the kitchen. Last week I made a very seasonably appropriate dessert using stevia baking blends for both the white and brown sugar. I'm cautious using stevia baking blends for some things because I find they make cookies crumble very easy, but these bar cookies came out perfect. 

   Also, while the month of May is well represented by rhubarb, I think you could use almost any combination of fruit in these sweet and satisfying bars. It's a good time to get that fruit out of your freezer so you have space for this year's harvest. 

Strawberry Rhubarb Cheesecake Squares

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup packed brown sugar 
1/2 cup cold butter
1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups finely chopped fresh or frozen rhubarb and strawberries (NOTE: If you are using frozen fruit, allow it to defrost first but do not press the liquid out.)

You will also need a 9x9 baking pan, either greased or lined with parchment paper. Personally, I need parchment paper for decent looking bark cookies. 

In a small bowl, combine the flour, oats, and brown sugar. Cut in the butter until crumbly. Set aside one cup of the mixture. Press the rest of the mixture into the bottom of the baking pan and set aside. 

In a mixer, beat the cream cheese and sugars until smooth. Beat in the salt, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stir in the egg until just combined. Stir in rhubarb and strawberries. Pour this mixture over the crust and sprinkle with the reserved cup of crumbs. 

Bake at 350 for 35 minutes. Cool on w wire rack, and then refrigerate for at least one hour before cutting into squares. 

My son is not usually a big fan of rhubarb, but he definitely enjoyed these "root beer bars", as he pronounces it. It's way cute. 


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