cooking

It’s like Violet Beauregarde in a jar

Quick confession time: I tackled cherry jam again this year.  After last year’s attempt, I tried making proper freezer jam using the basic instructions from the Certo box, and wow.  Wowee wow.  This stuff is good.  Not nearly as sweet as last year’s, and actually (ta-daaa!) a proper, jam-like consistency.  No more holding my toast perfectly level!  I did not, however, document the process in photographs, since the hour and a half leading up to jam-making found the two of us with red, juicy hands and increasingly cranky temperaments as pits kept shooting onto the floor.  (There must be a market somewhere for pre-cleaned fruit.)  Ah, well.  Suffice it to say it was worth the struggle.  And now on to today’s adventure.

I had fully expected the cherry jam to be my swan song for the summer.  How much jam does one need in one’s freezer, anyway?  But then this happened:

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A big ol’ box of blueberries for $8.99 seemed too good to pass up.  And with the holiday weekend, well – that could have meant blueberry waffles, blueberry-oatmeal bar…did I mention waffles?  Unfortunately, the bathroom was being redone that weekend, and the neighbour’s cats were being baby-sat, and so it wasn’t quite the lazy weekend I had in mind.  By the time I rescued them from the basement fridge the following Saturday, they were still holding up really well, but I wanted to get them dealt with while that was still true.  Did you know they make pectin especially for freezer jam?

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Well, they do!  And look at how simple it is:

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So, I got to a-washin’, a-crushin’, and a-measurin’.  Note my extremely sophisticated berry-crushing station.  I bet Smuckers hasn’t got a set-up like I have.

After adding my crushed fruit to the sugar-and-pectin mix, and stirring for three minutes, I got this:

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I left the fruit fairly chunky on purpose, figuring that if the pectin didn’t gel up the way it was supposed to, the fruit would give it some body.  I just noticed now that there’s a lot of vintage Tupperware gracing my pictures here – this is what happens when you have two former dealers in the family.  (Dealers?  Representatives?  Oh, holy spirit of Brownie Wise, what do you call those ladies?!)

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My jars are Dollarama specials – at $3 for a pack of three-250 ml jars, they’re slightly more expensive than the flats you can find in all the grocery stores at this time of year – but darn it, check out those adorable gingham lids!

I wasn’t sure how non-Certo pectin would work, but this turned out really well!  Because the recipe uses less sugar, it tastes pretty much exactly like fresh blueberries – like summer (or Violet Beauregarde) in a jar.

As always, thanks for looking! 🙂

Other Crafts

Far out, man!

When I was a Young Person™, I went through a massive hippie phase, but in the whitest, most uptight way possible.  No illicit drugs or free love for this honey badger; my hippiedom was confined to doodling peace signs and rikki-tikki flowers on my notebooks, wailing along with Big Brother and the Holding Company, and bemoaning the fact that I never got to Woodstock despite having parents who were barely old enough to attend (an older, more self-aware Witty Child knows this was probably for the best, since I like hygiene and dislike crowds, but still…all those musical acts…).  Oh, and tie-dyeing like it was going out of style (it was).  I eventually stopped doing it when I ran out of places to wear it and people to give it to, but still always liked the look of it.

When I found out from my friend a few months ago that he had tried it as a child, with limited success due to some faulty technique on his mother’s part, I decided it was time to break out the rubber bands again.  We turned his apartment into a sweatshop – literally: it was boiling hot out-of-doors, and because we were situated on the linoleum floor of the hallway in order to minimize damage from drips and to allow access to both the kitchen and bathroom faucets, neither of us benefited from any breeze the open windows might have provided – and got our hippie on.

We had to soak the shirts in soda ash in batches due to space constraints, but found that each 20-minute soak was approximately just enough time to get the current shirt finished and wrapped in plastic, and rinse off our gloved hands before starting all over again.

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Not exactly awe-inspiring, are they?  In order to shower, he had to gingerly remove them and try not to drip dye out of the ends while they did their overnight soak.

But when he unfurled them and rinsed them out the next morning, well:

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Has anyone ever tried this with children?  I’m appalled that they market some of these kits as a fun birthday party or day camp activity, considering the mess that two grown adults with fully developed motor skills made.  I can’t imagine that being relaxing!

This has slaked my craving for a while, but I’d like to get my hands on a softer, cotton-poly blend shirt rather than the $4 Fruit of the Loom special from the men’s department at Wal-Mart – now that we’ve got our technique down, spending a little extra on raw textiles wouldn’t break my heart.

Thanks for looking…and peace out! 🙂

baking, cooking

Hey! You got your chocolate in my peanut butter!

I try very hard to adhere to my Birthday Cake Rule (longtime readers, you know what I’m talking about!), but every so often, a wrench gets thrown into the works.  Take my dad’s July birthday; the first thought that popped into my head was, “Ugh, it’s too darned hot to bake!”

(In all fairness, I had that same thought last year and took what I thought was an easy out by ordering an ice cream cake from Dairy Queen.  Their regular decorator was on vacation – though no one told us this when we special-ordered it a week in advance – and the resulting dessert fell firmly into the “can’t-sleep-clown-will-eat-me” nightmare category.  But hey, all cats are grey in the dark, right?)

To my credit, I had a plan this year.  I had made the Peanut Butter Cup Icebox Cake from the Brown Eyed Baker for Father’s Day, and it was a resounding success.  Chocolate and peanut butter appear to be the way to his heart – so why not make it again?

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I’ve started to think of this as my “cardio cake” (which is really stretching to make something sound far healthier than it really is): because the instructions indicate that each layer needs to chill in the fridge while the next one is prepared, and because there’s never a 9 x 13″ chunk of spare real estate in the upstairs fridge, I had to keep running it down to the basement fridge for its solitary confinement and then back down to retrieve it when I was ready to proceed.

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But was it worth it?  Just look at those layers of chocolate-peanut butter-y goodness!

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It does generate a lot of dishes – and necessitates the dirtying of that clunky monster, the food processor – but for a cool and creamy finish to your meal, you could do a lot worse!

As always, thanks for looking! 🙂

cooking

Homemade preserves? That’s totally my jam!

For oh, years and years, I had ignored the random cherry-producing plant (logic would suggest it’s a tree, but it really doesn’t look tree-like) in the front yard.  It never really seemed to yield that much fruit, just a smattering that would be left for the birds.  Somehow, it decided to make up for lost time this year, and its branches became so loaded with cherries that it became impossible to weed-whack underneath as the sheer weight made the lower branches sag right to ground level.

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And that’s not all of them!  That front pail was full, and you can’t see the extra-large mop bucket likewise full on the bottom shelf of the fridge.  While they’re certainly edible, they’re tart as all get-out, which rather curbed the urge to try to snack on them unadorned (imagine trying to eat a cranberry straight up: not vile, but not something anybody ever does).

I had tossed around the idea of making Cherry Mountain Cake, a recipe given to me by one of the underwriters that makes for a spectacular and show-stopping dessert.  The logistical headache or storing the finished product, however, quickly struck that from my list.  Maybe I could preserve them somehow…

Full confession: I was a Jam Virgin.  I’ve always loved the idea of turning summer-fresh fruit into a lovely homemade spread to be enjoyed year-round, but it was an intimidating prospect.  Canners!  Water baths!  Making sure a tight seal is formed so you don’t inadvertently poison your lucky test subjects with botulism!  No, I needed something simple; maybe a freezer jam of sorts.  And so I happened upon this recipe.

What I Liked

  1. It was really, really simple.  If you have a pot and a spoon, you can make this.
  2. It’s a cheap recipe.  Granted, I got the cherries for free, and all I had to buy was the jelly powder in place of pectin.  Risk vs. reward ratio is excellent on this one.

What I Didn’t Like

  1. It’s so simple that it leaves out some really important information.  Cook for 15 minutes?  Okay, but at what heat?  Also, if your fruit is exceptionally juicy, do you have to adjust/eliminate the water, or increase the jelly powder?  Or do you drain the fruit?
  2. It’s sweeeeeet.  Crazy sweet.  I started out with tart fruit, and I find it sweet – I can’t imagine what a version made with a naturally sweeter base would taste like.

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Partway through the fifteen minutes of unspecific cooking.

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“Jarred”, and ready to eat-or-freeze.  Since the motto of simplistic jams the world over appears to be “use whatever containers you want, just leave me alone”, I opted for the sturdy yet versatile number seen above.  I had no idea if it was going to turn out, and I figured if it didn’t, I could at least wash these babies out and use them for something else; the last thing I wanted was to be stuck with a bunch of breakable Mason jars I’d never wind up using again.

It didn’t firm up quite the way I had hoped (and naturally, the recipe didn’t indicate what sort of consistency it should have or how long it should take to set).  But…it’s not completely liquid, either, which I consider a half-victory.

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It spreads nicely and pairs excellently with peanut butter.  Spills are best prevented by holding one’s bagel completely level.  And hey, it’s tasty!

Has anyone ever tried a recipe like this?

Thanks for looking! 🙂

baking

Happy Canada Day!

I think the name says it all – and I hope everyone is enjoying the day off!  (I know I am.)

I knew I wanted to bake something, but the question was: “What?”  I didn’t want to mess around with Nanaimo bars and all their layers, and butter tarts evoked a “been-there-done-that” response in me.

Ultimately, I decided on this:

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I’ve always been drawn to those American flag cakes done with blueberries and strawberries, but knew if I tried that I’d wind up with a terribly unbalanced fruit load, with some slices being covered in berries and others with none at all (and my poor maple leaf would likely come out looking all Picasso-esque).  Some simple coloured sugar made an excellent substitution, because who cares if they get or don’t get a little sugar?  It’s strictly decorative, with no real effect on the flavour of the cake.

But make no mistake; this is no ordinary cake with a handful of sugar tossed artfully on top.

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Ta-dah!  Poke cake!  Little rivulets of cherry Jell-o run through it, livening up the otherwise basic white cake considerably.  The test audience seems to approve wholeheartedly.

I hope everyone has a safe and happy long weekend – thanks for looking!

General Sewing, Other Crafts

Cleanliness is next to…patriotism?

I’ve always been drawn to those nifty kitchen towels with the crocheted tops that allow one to hang them from a handy hook on a kitchen cabinet or drawer pull – I think it’s because my grandmother used to make them, and we always had one around the house.  The only problem was that up until recently, I didn’t know how to crochet (this has since been remedied); discovering that you can sew a fabric topper pretty much opened up a whole new crafty avenue to me.

I had the perfect fabric in my stash: a cool, sparkly American flag-patterned cotton that’s a bit bold in large doses but adds just the right dose of flair to an otherwise utilitarian object.

Hanging in the backyard:

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I’ve put these for sale in my Etsy shop – I think they’d make a lovely hostess gift with the summer party/barbeque season heating up.

Thanks for looking! 🙂

cooking

Who needs the Good Humour man?

I did this a couple of weeks ago and only just downloaded the picture from my camera…oops!

Back in June, I scored a Cuisinart ice cream maker at a garage sale for $30.  Sweet!  And then…it sat in the basement for a couple of months, occasionally being moved if I needed access to something under/behind it.  I understand now why I never bought one before: it’s a bit of a one-trick pony, and takes up space (oh, the space!) when not in use.

While flipping through Hannah Kaminsky’s Vegan a la Mode, I found the perfect recipe to break in my new treasure: double chocolate fudge chunk.  Only I decided to leave the chunks out.  Why waste time making chunks if the base itself wasn’t going to work out?

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Well, it did, so darn it, I cheated myself out of chunks!  It was quite a simple recipe, and used both cocoa powder and melted semi-sweet chocolate for an extra rich flavour.  A single scoop makes a perfectly decadent mini-dessert.  And now that I’ve got my feet wet, more involved recipes await!

Thanks for looking!