Monday, August 22, 2011

Monday Mingling

If this is your first visit to my blog, WELCOME!!! I do not advertise or hold giveaways or post deals, but I do blog what's on my mind and in my life. Read through my blogs and join up if you like what you see :)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

One Way to Clear Your Sinuses: Making Hot Pepper Jelly

My mom makes this fantastic jelly made with hot peppers. No, you don't just slather it on toast and take a big bite, unless you like self-inflicted torture. However it is delicious with cream cheese on crackers! Since my mom had a nice harvest of hot peppers and was coming to visit this weekend, I participated for the first time in the Making of The Jelly.

Anyone who has every cooked with hot peppers knows you have to look like you are about to perform surgery: gloves are a must so you do not get anything related to the pepper in your eye. From experience, THAT SUCKS!!!!

You start by seeding the peppers, chopping them into small pieces, and then grinding them in the food processor. This is the step that usually gets your eyes burning and sinuses tingling just from the fumes!! My throat even got a bit scratchy!

The you add the other ingredients, cook 'em for 15 minutes, add the pectin, cook some more, then finally jar the concoction using standard canning techniques.

Yet again, the jelly did not "gel." Although my mom said it has happened to her before, I think it is my fate. If the concoction is supposed to get thick, it will not while in my kitchen. It still tastes really good, and I'm sure I can find uses for it in it's current consistency (similar to my Chunky Peach Preserves "Topping"). I'm already imagining it on top of Brie and then dipping into it with a cracker. Yum!

Sunday Socialite

Now that I am back to work (I am a public school music teacher), I am limited to the weekends for blogging and hopping. Thanks for visiting my site and I would love to follow you back!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Blog Hop? I'll try it...

So I've stumbled on these things called "blog hops," which are introducing me to so many other blogs.

I thought I would a participate today. I'm still in my first month of blogging, so please be kind :)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

So, Would You Survive?

At two recent book club meet-ups, we've discussed "The Hunger Games" Trilogy. If you haven't read this trio of novels, you really need to do so - even though it is Young Adult Lit.

At the most recent discussion, the question arose of: "Do you think you would survive?" Survive what? The Hunger Games? Or any type of Apocalypse? Gut reaction to either: I'm toast. I can't run fast. I have only shot a gun twice in my life (thanks, Dad, for the self-protection lesson). I'm physically weak. I can only start a fire with a fire source. I'd probably eat the poisonous items in the forest. And I'd make myself sick with tainted water. No survival for me; I really hope my family is not depending on me.

So, I should really start learning some survival skills, eh?

Let's start with Wood-Working:

I bought some wall-size letters of my sons' initials to paint and decorate for their room. I am known to have lots of creative ideas, however my hands lack the creative follow-through. These turned out decent: not what I imagined, but not terrible either. Check 'em out:

Ian's theme includes a Monkey (that's my nickname for him),
a Lion, and a Palm Tree

Connor's theme includes a Jolly Roger, a Pirate Ship,
and a Treasure Chest (since he loves pirates!)

Next is Gardening:

A few years ago I showed my friends Brendan and Cathy how to use peet pods to start seedlings that can then be planted anywhere: planters, boxes, or in the ground. What started as a few herbs has now become about 1/3 of his backyard covered in herb, vegetable, and berry plants. I am guaranteed that sometime during each visit I will hear: "This is YOUR fault!" coming from Brendan's mouth. He has yet to let me down.

Prior to my latest visit, I was required to bring a basket to take some "surplus" home with me. So, I came home with a basket full of tomatoes. I forgot to take a picture of the basket full of tomatoes before prepping them for cooking, so you'll just have to use your imagination once you see the pics further down the blog.

On to Sustainability:

Over the past few years, I have become a true "label-reader" when I am purchasing groceries, to the point that I realize I can make most of the items healthier and with less cost than purchasing them prepackaged. So I try to "make" more items or "grow" more items than "purchase" items. Since we just completed fencing the back yard, I did not start my garden this year, however I have BIG plans for the next planting season. I have been supporting the local farm, including some wonderful and HUGE zucchinis recently.

The tomatoes became Marinara that I can freeze and use this winter. Here was the process:

First Step: Peel and Seed the tomatoes while retaining the juice.

Second step: Caramelize onions, add garlic, herbs, and wine, and simmer for a few hours.

And then you have Marinara.

The zucchini became three types of bread (and I still have 1 cup remaining!)
From left: Zucchini Bread, Blueberry Zucchini Bread, 
and Double Chocolate Zucchini Bread

So, given rough materials (wood, paint, vegetables) I can make things that are mood-lifting and tasty.

Still would not help me survive during horrible circumstances, but at least I will die with a full stomach surrounded by silly crafty things that make me happy.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Follow-up to Millions of Peaches

I must update you on the recipe contest and the results of my preserves.

First: the contest. It was cancelled! Boo!! I received an email message Thursday afternoon stating that the contest was cancelled due to lack of interest. Complete bummer!!! I was looking forward to baking something for a contest; I've never done that before. Oh, well. Perhaps another opportunity will come my way.

Second: the preserves. After 24 hours, I tested one jar of the peach preserves. Thankfully it was not soup or syrup, however it was not jelly or jam either. It was a thick liquid, more like molasses with a thinner consistency. So I put some on toast; it tasted great! The peach chunks were yummy and the liquid was sweet - a little too sweet, but I can fix that next time. My next thought was: what else can I use this for? So then I tested it on oatmeal: Awesome!! I just used plain oatmeal and the preserves were sweet enough to make it delicious. The final test: as an ice cream topping. After attending First Friday activities downtown (minus the peach recipe contest, boo!), I scooped myself some vanilla ice cream and ladled on the preserves. The verdict is: Fabulousness in a Bowl! So I guess I will be marketing this batch as "Peach Topping: Perfect for Oatmeal and Ice Cream."

Any buyers victims volunteers out there? I have 8 more jars...

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Millions of Peaches

A family tradition, going back at least as far as my grandmother's childhood, is an annual pilgrimage to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Every summer, various members of my extended family rent a cottage (or a few) for a week (or two) and enjoy some absolute laziness. Part of the tradition is to stop at Grandy's Greenhouse and Farm Market just prior to reaching the Outer Banks for lots of fresh produce and ... peaches.

Let me tell you something about these peaches: once you eat one of these, you will never eat any purchased at a grocery store or from a can. They are MAGICAL!!! So, of course, I had to bake with them while at the beach this year. I experimented with my mother's Peach Cake and tried a new recipe for a Vanilla Peach Custard Pie.

Above is my version of Mom's Peach cake: I call it "Peach Shortcake Pie"
Below is my version of the Vanilla Peach Custard Pie, which I made with mini-graham crusts :)

Based on my opinion (and hopefully my mother's and my aunt's) these were delicious!!! There is a Peach Recipe Contest this Friday (8/5/2011) downtown, and I have decided to use my Peach Shortcake Pie... wish me luck!!!

Somehow at the end of the beach week, I ended up with all of the remaining peaches. Mom and I stopped at Grandy's on the way home to pick up fresh peaches (she has about 100 people who specifically request these every year) and I snarfed a few fresh ones from her batch for the contest. But what was I to do with approximately 6 pounds of peaches that were on the far side of fresh?

Thus I began my first ever adventure with making Preserves. I found a recipe for "Chunky Peach Preserves" and decided to give it my best shot.

Peeling the peaches was a breeze, and the first step of mixing the peaches with sugar and lemon juice seemed simple enough.

Cut peaches, then mixed with sugar and lemon juice

The mixture needed to sit for several hours until the sugar dissolved and the liquid became syrupy. Next came simmering the concoction until the syrup thickens slightly... I really hate directions that include the word "slightly"... how do you know when it is "slightly?" Then the syrup needed to sit in the fridge overnight.

Today I got to separate the syrup from the peaches, and boil the syrup a while. How do I know when it is done? I get to pour some on a cold plate, place it in the freezer, and then a few minutes later it should have a soft jelly consistency... mine sort-of had a soft jelly consistency.

The last step was to return the peaches to the syrup and cook everything until 220 degrees... but, gee, mine puttered out at 215 and refused to budge the other 5 degrees!!! So I jarred it anyway. I'll find out tomorrow how well my test jar is becoming "jelly"... does anyone like peach soup? Perhaps a jar of Peach Syrup for your pancakes and waffles?

Monday, August 1, 2011

My first post!!!

So, a few of my friends have been blogging for many years, but I have never felt the need to do so myself. What do I have to say that should be put down semi-permanently and very publicly?

However, my life has been good lately and I feel the need to share. Not just through email. Not just on Facebook or Google+. But in a different setting. So here I am, attempting to blog.

My plan is to blog about the three main areas of my life (as listed in the description). As I type this, I am contemplating the contents of the next post, which will most likely have to do with peaches. You'll understand soon enough :)