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WE BE JAMMIN'

          My mother tells the story that when she was growing up she use to trade her homemade bread sandwiches with the "city kids" for their store bought bread sandwiches. She loved Wonder Bread's fine texture and softness whereas the city kids longed for the hard crusts and hearty consistency of homemade bread. When my mom go married, she also got citified...at least for a while. My earliest memory of jams and jellies was Welches Grape Jelly. I can remember how this gelatinous substance wiggled in the middle of your bread until you managed to moosh it hard enough to spread the jelly, but, whenever we went to Bushia's house, our usual snack was homemade bread and jam. She covered her jams with paraffin wax, and I can still see her prying out the wax disc to reveal the fragrant and glistening jam below. Welches could not hold a candle to Bushia's jam. I remember one day I told her how delicious I thought her strawberry jam was. She picked up the mason jar and looked at it. "It's very pretty", she said. At the time I thought that a rather strange comment to make about jam, but after making my own, I understand exactly how she felt.

 

          I'm sure this appreciation for the aesthetic quality of jam began a long time ago. In Colonial times life must have seemed dreadfully bleak and colorless. Small windows on houses helped conserve energy but did little to bring light, thus color, indoors. To save precious resources, minimal artificial lighting was used. In keeping with conservative religious practices and lacking vibrant dyes, clothing was fashionably drab. So, what was a poor homemaker to do to bring some color into her life? Put up preserves.

 

            Okay, I know the primary reason for canning ISN’T to inundate a household with color…that’s just a lovely perk. There are few household tasks that I perform that bring me as much satisfaction as canning. When I CAN, I feel like I’m doing right by my family…giving them my very best. All right, maybe I’m being a little melodramatic, but I do so love saying, “I’m putting up strawberries today.” I feel like Aunt Bea on The Andy Griffin Show. (I can only hope you youngin’s got a healthy does of Aunt Bea on late night reruns!) The woman was incredible; a spinster lady that came to live with her nephew and his son. This woman could clean, bake, can, and iron a shirt in a dress and apron and actually smile! But I digress…

 

            If you have never canned, it’s hard to share the pride and satisfaction you get at the end of a long and tiring day, when you stand back, and look at rows of colorful fruits or vegetables, vibrating with color and luster, tightly packed away inside pristine jars. I especially love to look at the jams and jellies that we put up. As the season progresses, and we can more and more jams, the colors are disarming!  Yellows and golds from peaches and apricots. Reds and purples from berries and plums. There are even shades of green from mint jellies that will enhance that leg of lamb. To me they glimmer like the most precious jewels. Tie a piece of cloth on the top and you have a delicious photo op and the perfect Christmas token gift! I usually store my jams and jellies in open cupboards to truly partake of their beauty. Simple minds, simple pleasures, I suppose!

 

            So, you’ve never canned, and you’re thinking, "I want a piece of this Nirvana Kim’s talking about, how do I get started?" I won’t lie to you, getting ready to can takes a bit of forethought and some special equipment, although it isn’t expensive and you have to be ready to dedicate some uninterrupted time once you get started. To get the low down on how to actually make the jams, there’s a well written “how to” at http://www.pickyourown.org/jam.htm. Well worth reading over before you decide to become a canner! Also, Sure Jell has a helpful site, including videos. http://www.kraftfoods.com/surejell/sj_index.html After looking over these sites, if you’re still with me, get ready for a great experience!

 

            Join me on a typical “Jammin’ Day”. You arise bright and early…well, at least bright, and know that something magical is going to happen today. You head out to your favorite Pick Your Own farm and start gathering the bounty. We have our own garden, with raspberries and strawberries, but never get enough of a crop to can. Still, we pick a few of our meager berries and throw them into the farm batch, then we can honestly, and proudly say, “We made the jam with some of the berries out of our garden!” (Refer back to the simple minds comment made earlier!) Depending on the weather, bugs and crop, your picking experience can be easy peasy or a little more challenging. Children love to be a part of this. When we went strawberry picking this year my 5 year old grandson was extremely helpful, my 3 year old granddaughter was helpful in the beginning then proceeded to sit and partake of the bounty.

 As for my 21 month old granddaughter, she was quite content to watch the process from her mommy’s back!

 

            After you pick the fruit and get them home it’s time to prepare the fruit. You need to clean and get rid of stems, seeds and skins. I find strawberries to be the most time consuming because you need to hull them individually.

At this point the day is beginning to wear on you. You begin to wonder if you can store the fruit for a couple of days and get back to it when you’re feeling more enthusiastic, BUT you know for the best jam you need to can quickly, so you wolf down a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and meet the challenge head on. After you’ve made several batches of jam, syrup and preserves, you stand back and admire your day’s work…or in my case…you lean against the counter, holding the small of your back, and wonder what Aunt Bea drank to give her boundless energy!

 But it’s an extremely gratifying experience, and once you eat homemade jam, you’ll never go back!

 

Generally, we use the recipes found on the Sure Jell box. Sure Jell is natural pectin used to help jams and jellies, well, gel! Occasionally, we come across another recipe that we use. We have a new Mint Jelly recipe which we’ve never tried, but we have a bumper crop of mint so I think we’ll try this new one out. So, do tell. Are you a canner, a canner what-to-be, or perfectly content with the Welshes Grape Jelly you grew up with?

 

MINT JELLY

 

Ingredients

2 cups minced mint leaves

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup sugar

4 cups concentrated apple juice

Green food coloring

 

Directions

Wash and mince mint leaves to equal 2 cups. Add water and sugar, let stand several hours. Heat to boiling and strain.

Color 4 cups concentrated apple juice with green food coloring. Cook and when nearly to jellying point add 1 to 2 tablespoon of mint juice. Finish cooking, skim, pour into sterile glasses and seal.


BOYS!!!

            Is it just me or as a girl is it sometimes hard to totally get BOYS? I should. I didn’t have sisters. I was raised with 3 brothers, so by association, I probably did more boy things than many girls. And I had 2 boys of my own. But there’s this line…let’s call it, hmmm…common sense…that most girls won’t cross. I don’t mean to be sexist, but in my vast years, it has been my experience that boys will often do things that most girls wouldn’t consider. Before anyone says anything, yes, I know, many of us were “Tom Boys”, loved to run and play sports, weren’t afraid of spiders, and could spit with the best of them. What I’m talking about here is that unexplainable willingness to put your body at risk and do unimaginably gross things for, for, see, there’s my point, I really don’t get why they do some of the things they do! BOYS!!!

 

            Take the movie Jack *ss. Now, this isn’t a movie I would have gone to the theater to watch. This certainly isn’t a movie I felt the need to run out and buy. And, I would not have felt compelled to watch this movie even on the free movie channel. But, while visiting my son in South Carolina, he was flipping through stations and stumbled upon it. I sat there for about 20 minutes watching this movie with him and saw one man put a leech on his eyeball, another strap a rocket to his back and allow himself to be shot out into the middle of a lake, and another drink an unmentionable animal excretion. While watching this I groaned, but Tim and my son chortled, and used words like “sweet” and seemed to be cheering them on from the couch. I found myself asking “Who in their right mind would do something like that?” and the apparent answer…BOYS!

 

            Sure, you say. That’s a movie. Those guys get paid a ton of money to do stuff like that. Again, referring to my vast years, it has been my experience that men and boys don’t need an incentive beyond a dare to do something totally moronic! For example, one of my brothers’ favorite pastimes was playing a variation of dodge ball. In their version, they’d turn off all the lights in the basement, stealth around the room, and throw darts at one another. They encouraged me to join in the fun, but I was disinclined to acquiesce to their request! Common sense and a healthy fear of pain wouldn’t allow me. Tim's daughter’s boyfriend was relating a story about putting a pool in his parent’s backyard. They were unearthing tons of worms. At one point his dad held one up to his sister and said, “I’ll give you $20.00 right here, right now if you eat this.” She grimaced and shook her head. “No way,” she said. The boyfriend then offered to eat one for $20.00. When his dad refused, he shrugged his shoulders, and let one slide down his throat anyway. BOYS!

 

            Boys dare each other to put their tongues on batteries, jump off anything that is high, and sneak into any place they are forbidden to go. They also possess, what can only be a throw back from Neanderthal days, a fascination with fire. Every man I have every known has some horrific story involving fire. And if you think they outgrow this, look no farther than your backyard barbeque. It might be hard to get your hubby in the kitchen to throw together Mac N’ Cheese, but give him a slab of meat and a healthy fire, and wah-lah…dinner! (Of course any real man will make the distinction between cooking and grilling!) Add their incomprehensible fascination with blowing up things, and it’s no wonder they have to fight the urge to cut across 3 lanes of traffic whenever they pass a roadside fireworks stand! BOYS!!!

 

            As a young girl I did not question the adage “BOYS will be BOYS” I just had no idea that the average 65 year old man still possess a healthy dose of BOY. When traveling in a pack, grown up men still do idiotic things. Go to a chicken wings bar with a group of men. You’ll still hear comments like, “I dare you to put 10 drops of Diablo Hot Sauce on your tongue.” I can guarantee you there will be at least one taker, if not the whole table, that will do it. A couple of years ago, at a family backyard picnic, the men decided it would be great fun to take turns running across the backyard as the group on the sidelines tried to shot bottle rockets at them. The women watched, occasionally putting out a smoking shirt, and plotted the quickest route to urgent care. There is no doubt that men can be mature. They are doctors and lawyers; factory workers and mailmen; pilots and priests. They do their jobs…we count on them. But every once in a while, the 10 year old resurfaces, and they are invincible…able to leap tall building, jump through burning hoops, or eat a garden worm on a dare. BOYS!!!


You might wonder what inspired the theme for this week's blog. Well, with summer upon us, I'm sitting here listening to fireworks going off in our neighborhood. Besides trying to encourage our gun shy border collie to stop shaking, I have this unexplainable desire to keep our fire extinguisher at arms reach. Let's face it, with boys around you can never be too careful! So, what's the craziest BOY thing your dad, brother, son, boyfriend, husband, or other significant male has done that made you shake your head and say, "BOYS!"?


AVATARS

     BTW...In case anyone is interested in creating their own avatar (a little icon that will appear by your name whenever you sign into a site that supports avatars and you use your email address) go to gravatar.com. Many sites have free avatars you can copy or you can create your own. Have fun :) 

THE BIRTH OF THE BROWNIE

            What do Silly Putty, Toll House cookies, penicillin, microwave ovens, ice cream cones, champagne, post-it notes, potato chips, Slinkies, pacemakers, super glue and brownies all have in common? They are all unintentional discoveries that have brought great value to our lives. Okay, arguably penicillin has had a greater impact on humanity than brownies, but when you’re craving chocolate, chances are no one would be able to convince you of that! Story goes brownies got there start as a chocolate cake gone very wrong. Supposedly, some well intentioned novice cook forgot to include baking soda in her cake recipe and it “flat out” refused to rise; no pun intended…well maybe a little pun intended! With desperation and the optimism of Polly Anna, she hoped her underdeveloped confection would go unnoticed. But it was noticed, and as a matter of fact, it was praised…the rest is history. And aren’t we all delighted her “oops” has become the mainstay of chocoholics everywhere!

 

            Brownies have become as American as Mom, apple pie, and the flag! They satisfy our sweet tooth, they sate our chocolate yen, and they travel well. There are also a wide variety of brownies…with or without nuts, with or without frosting, brownies with caramel, and brownies with marshmallow…and teetering on blasphemy…brownies without chocolate, called blondies. And most people make brownies, even if they don’t cook anything else! When my daughter was in high school, there were many late night get together with friends, when they would throw together brownies, then sit around the table, talking about boys, as they passed the raw batter around…everyone finger dipping and lamenting men. The ultimate comfort food!

 

            I have a couple of very good brownie recipes, but I must admit I ALWAYS have a brownie mix in my house for those days when life side swipes you and you need a brownie…fast! But nothing is quite as good as a homemade brownie…warm and gooey, with a cold glass of milk! Sigh…life just doesn’t get any better. Here is the recipe my mom made for us when we were growing up. Two thumbs up in my opinion! She found this recipe in The Chicago Tribune newspaper back in the 60s. They are very moist and chewy and the frosting makes them very rich!

 

CHOCOLATE DREAM BROWNIES

 

Brownie Ingredients

1 cups shortening

2 cups sugar

4 eggs (well beaten)

1 1/2 cups flour

1 cup chopped nuts

4 squares unsweetened chocolate

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon salt

 

Frosting Ingredients

2 squares unsweetened chocolate

3 tablespoons hot water

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon butter

3 cup powdered sugar

1 egg

 

Directions for Brownies

Combine shortening and chocolate in top of double boiler. Melt. Add sugar, eggs and vanilla mixing well. Stir in flour and salt. Remove from heat and stir in nuts. Spread batter in a well greased glass baking dish 8 x 12. Bake in a hot oven (375) for 20 minutes or bake in 9 x 13 metal pan at 400 for about 17 minutes. Serve frosted or plain topped with a nut.

 

Directions for Frosting

Melt chocolate and water over boiling water. Blend in butter, sugar and vanilla. Beat in egg. Spread on chocolate dream brownies. Decorate with nuts.

 

            With summer upon us and picnics and family gatherings a given, we will be loading up the baskets or asked to bring a “dish to pass”. People balk if too many people bring potato salad or fruit, but chances are no one will ever complain if there is an over abundance of brownies! So, pull out your favorite brownie recipe and share! What better excuse for eating brownies than trying out a friend’s favorite recipe?   

 

              

 

 

WHEN THE COWS COME HOME

I have a singing voice with about a 6 note range…7 if someone steps on my foot real hard. I would never dream of singing for a room of adults, but I have no problem at all playing my guitar and singing for children. I’m not sure if their hearing isn’t fully developed or if it’s because their hearts are bigger than their cochlea, but they think I have a beautiful voice. Go figure! With the exception of food, which turns the kindest child into the most ruthless critic, children have a tendency to see the best in things. Dad can be just this side of a 90 pound weakling and his children will think he’s the strongest man in the world. Mom can be toting around 20 superfluous pounds, donning a sweatshirt smeared with baby snot and a ponytail that is sliding down the side of her head, and her 5 year old son will look at her and say, “Mommy, you’re so beautiful.” Clouds fill them with awe, as do garbage truck. Children are a dream audience!


So, when it comes to decorating for children, you don’t have to have great talent, just a willingness to be bold and adventurous. When Tim and I joined households, I claimed the basement. Earlier Tim had finished a third of the basement with drywall and carpet. I had him finish another third, turning it into a library/guest room/play room…a regular multi-purpose room. I needed somewhere to house the contents of my preschool plus all my children’s toys that I had saved. So I turned the “front” part of the basement into a playroom.


My first job was to come up with a “theme”. I wanted to create a space that was cheerful and encouraged play. When my children were growing up, we had a timeshare at a resort called Smuggler’s Notch in Vermont. One of the many regional things we discovered, long before they went “public”, was Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. Their ice cream is delicious, but we were just as enamored by their social consciousness and great imagery. To us Ben & Jerry’s was symbolic of close family times, beautiful scenery and awesome vacations. So, I decided to borrow Ben & Jerry’s motif to turn our basement into a pastoral paradise! (Visit their website and compare to our playroom!) Here are the steps I took to create our room.


  1. Begin by taking a pencil and marking “rolling hills” on your wall. (This should be about one quarter to one third of the lower wall.)
  2. Paint the sky using a light blue. Paint to the hill line.
  3. I sponged painted over the blue with a darker blue…more turquoise.
  4. Paint the hills using a light green.
  5. When the green paint dries, take a pencil and mark smaller rolling hills on the green paint.
  6. Using a darker green create the “foothills” by painting over the light green paint.
  7. Using large pieces of paper, at least 36 inches wide, refer to my cloud pictures or ones at Ben & Jerry’s and draw large, puffy clouds. Make at least 6 using different sizes. (You’ll be able to use each cloud multiple times.) Tape the clouds on the wall in a pleasing pattern. Make sure to make the pattern random. Remember, clouds don’t “line up” in the sky.
  8. Trace around each cloud and remove the paper.
  9. Using white paint and a large brush fill in the cloud. Start on the outside of the cloud creating swirling patterns. Keep working toward the middle with swirling brush strokes until the cloud is all filled in. It’s okay for some of the blue to show through. This gives a more authentic look to the clouds.
  10. We then found an image of the cow we liked and blew up the image on our printer. My daughter was more than helpful, especially with this part! We taped the finished image to the wall, tracing the outline and spots with a pencil. Push hard and you will make a slight indentation in the wall that you can use for your outline or from the backside, color over the lines with pencil or crayons, and when you trace from the front side, the pencil marks or crayons will leave the outline on the wall.
  11. Paint your cow black and white and ta-da, you’re done!
  12. Add any extra embellishments to suit your fancy. We added a picket fence gate as a way of keeping the kids off the steps. And for extra fun, we turned the wall coming downstairs into a “barn”. (There’s also a cat chasing a mouse up the stairs!) Go crazy with your own touches.

There are many motifs out there that would translate well into a playroom. Although most of the images are copyrighted or trademarked, as long as you’re only using them for decorations in your house, you’re reasonably safe! For ideas look through children’s books and internet sites. Remember…it’s just paint…and children will love your efforts…even if the end results aren’t Louvre worthy! Oh, and have fun!

If anyone has fun things they've done in children spaces, email pics to me and I'll get them included on the blog!