Friday, June 28, 2013

Extolling the Pleasures and Benefits of Freezer Jam

This is our third year of making freezer jam.  I've always been interested in learning how to can things for real... but since I like to involve my kids (and they like to be involved!) I'm pretty sure we'll be avoiding activities that involve words like "meticulously sterilized jars and lids" (or meticulously sterilized anything for that matter) and "boiling hot water bath" for quite some time.  

So freezer jam it is.  And oh! how we love it!  Every year we make more than the year before because no one can bear to think of running out before next year's berry season.  Last year, even though the strawberry jam was a flop (used the wrong pectin and it didn't set... we used it as an oatmeal sweetener instead of on sandwiches) we still had almost enough jam to last us through the year.  (In fact, the above photo was taken on Monday - the day we used the last of the 2012 blueberry raspberry jam!)  

Freezer jam is so simple to make.  In my mind, it's the obvious choice for busy modern-day moms who like to play a little "Little House on the Prairie" on the side.  It makes me feel thrifty, industrious, and healthy.  And - super sappy mom alert - it's such a joy to see the kids "love" the jam that they made from the berries they picked!

I use Ball Instant Pectin.  This year before jam making I did some pectin-related research.  It's safe (don't eat it out of the jar, though.  Ugh, I just gagged.)  It's natural (most commercial pectin is extracted from apples.)  The instant pectin I use contains dextrose (obviously it's wise to limit added sugar in our diets, however one of the great things about freezer jam is that it requires very little sugar, period!).  The rest of the ingredients on the bottle are all on the "safe" list of food additives published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.  I checked several other websites and received similar information elsewhere.  Soooooo... after all that I decided to stick with the instant pectin again this year.  

Since you do not cook the fruit used for freezer jam, it retains its true flavor and sweetness.  For a traditional batch of cooked jam, recipes typically call for 4 CUPS OF SUGAR for ever 2 cups of fruit.  Insanity!  (Though I'm sure some of it is cooked out?  But I couldn't find that info.)  2 cups of fruit for freezer jam takes about 2/3 cups of sugar.  Big difference, right?  Freezer jam also retains all the flavor of the fresh fruit as well as all the nutrients that would be cooked out of the fruit while making traditional jam. 

Again, it's a kid friendly process.  Lots of measuring, chopping,  and stirring.  Kids can touch (or sneeze on) the jars and you don't have to hyperventilate about sterilization issues, because the jars for freezer jam have to be clean, but not sterile.  No fancy equipment needed... no giant pots, no foot-long tongs.  No sealing required.  Just fill those non-sterile jars, twist those lids on, and your done! 

You can freeze it for up to a year.  (Remember just this week we finished the last of last-year's August jam, so I know it's ok!)  Once opened it will last in the fridge about 7-10 days, but honestly, it won't last that long.  

Finally, the cost.  My thriftier-than-me husband did some figuring for me the other day.  At a local organic farm, we picked 10 quarts of strawberries for $25.  From those strawberries, plus the sugar and pectin, each half pint jar of jam cost a little over $1.  We did not add in the cost of the jars because we reuse them from year to year. 

So, those are my reasons to love and promote freezer jam.  And did I mention how delicious it is??  I'll probably go on and on about it again when blueberry-raspberry jam season rolls around. Only a few short weeks to go!

* * * * * * 

This year, I made several batches of plain traditional strawberry, but I also started to wonder if the freezer-jam method meant you had to forgo creativity.  Could I make specialty jams using the instant pectin??  I began some experimenting and will soon post my  three new "artisan" freezer jam recipes.  I can't wait to share them!   

* * * * * *  

PS - BONUS tip of the year:  I've always used a manual food processor to prepare our fruit (as opposed to a potato masher).  And every year it's been a super awful mess.  Until this year.  I used my new Pampered Chef manual food processor and those strawberries were jam-ready lickity split, with no mess.  I filled the canister about 3/4 full of berries and then pumped the chopper "handle" for 20 counts and the berries were the perfect consistency - chunky, but not whole.  I'm so happy to have a new perfect chopper!  Use yours if you have one!  If you don't, you can order one on their website, but it's so much nicer to support your local P.C. rep!  Call her (or him!) today! 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Strawberry Stained Fingers

This strawberry picking photo dump is brought to you by my children: the strawberry picking workhorse, the strawberry fields daydreamer, the eater of berries from other's quarts, and the trampler of berries.  They are from two different excursions - one to our regular berry place, and one to a new organic farm which is now our new regular berry place.  The berries at the organic place were better... and much cheaper.  Who knew?  

We had to do something with this harvest... so, stay tuned for my amazing new strawberry jam recipes!  Coming tomorrow, hopefully!  

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Theme Thursday: Water

I had to dig back into the dusty archives to find something decent for this Thursday's theme, Water.  We haven't had much outdoor water fun yet this year, so last year's water fun will have to do.  It's difficult to look on the bright side of a cold and rainy June, but we have been saving on the city water bill, right?  

My fav pic from LAST June.  Let me assure you we haven't had any shirtless sprinkler days yet THIS June.  :(  
 Don't forget to head over at Clan Donaldson to check out water pics from other fabulous folks.  

A Father's Day Tribute...

to the lawn mower Russ, who also happens to be the primary Lawn Mower in the household.  And if you ask my kids what their two favorite things in the whole world are they would probably say (1) Dad  (2) when Dad mows the lawn.

So here was our Father's Day...  

Pictures with Dad and Papa:

Hanging out with Dad:

Hanging out ON Dad:

And a lot of manly things, like...





Eating cupcakes (not necessarily manly, but still an important part of Father's Day):

And gifting (an idea I swiped from a friend and fellow blogger!):

note: it is very hard to find picture frames with four spots.  If it's important in your life to buy frames that have the same number of openings as you have children, than allow my hours of shopping experience/research to guide you.  Have three children, or 34...  

I'm running a little behind schedule, I know Father's Day was so four days ago.... but I hope it's not too late to mention how fabulous these men are.  Dad, you will always be the gold standard of fatherhood to which all other men are held up.  Russ, you hold that same high standing with your own kiddos!  (And boy are they lucky that you rank so highly next  to their Papa!)  Thank you to both of you for being such high quality family men and for being in my life!  Love, Theresa

Saturday, June 15, 2013

A Girl's Gotta Sew (a Pillowcase Dress)

Last week, Russ generously took the kids for a Sunday afternoon and I got up to my secluded attic sewing room for the first time in almost three months.  Getting time up there is akin to talk-mom-down-off-a-ledge therapy time for me.  It is so good for my general well-being to take some time away from it all and experiment with pretty fabrics and new patterns and original ideas.  Even Russ admits I'm a changed woman after I take a sewing break.  Sewing = sanity.  And I've got to keep my sanity.  Or at least the pretense of it ;)

I wasn't really sure what I was going to work on that afternoon until I spied a bin of the sweet prints I bought last summer.  I had intended to make some new dresses for Ruth.  Never happened.  But last week I was inspired to do a test run of a pillowcase-style dress that that's been taunting me on Pinterest for close to a year now.  (I am very fond of projects that require minimal supplies and can be finished in an afternoon!)  

You know the best thing about clothes for little kids?  They hardly take any material at all, so even after you're done, you still have material leftover to make a matching dress for Little Sissy!

This dress was crazy easy, and I'm looking forward to making a couple more.  Definitely a great play dress.  The little one I made for Clare was modified because I didn't have enough bias tape for her shoulder ties, and even if I did, I think the wide straps/ties would have looked goofy on itty bitty baby shoulders.  I used some narrow grosgrain ribbon I had lying around instead, but this required putting in a lining so that the seams would be finished and there would be something to sew the ribbon into.  I was fairly proud of myself because this was the first time that I sewed a bodice lining that wasn't entirely attached to the dress pieces.  I mean that the lining is attached to the dress at the neck and arms, but then it falls as it's "own" piece on the inside.  Does that even make sense... I don't know the technical terms for what I'm trying to talk about :) Anyway, I did that, thinking that it might provide for a little more air circulation in between the layers - good for hot summer days... of which we've had none lately, but they might get here.  Eventually.

The next time I make the "baby" version, I'll add a little length and width/flare so that I can nix the leggings and she'll have a little more room to play.  You can see it was a little narrow. I may even try the bias tape ties with a narrow double fold bias tape.  We shall see.  When it happens, I will of course, get some pictures up, 'cause it sure does make my heart happy to see a little one proudly wearing something I lovingly sewed up just for her!  (or him, but we haven't started letting the boys wear pillowcase dresses yet.)

Having the opportunity to do a little sewing recently has got me longing to have more time alone for snippin' and stitchin'.  My mental list of stuff to make is growing rapidly and this girl's gotta sew to keep her sanity!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Man, this "school" is pathetic... but our pencils are sure lookin' sharp!

We are slogging through this last month of school lessons... there's little that I can imagine that is more pathetic than what's happening here in the name of "school."

When June 1st hit we went to bare bones.  So long, ye poetry, sketching, singing, and history-grammar-literature-copywork-Bible reading-and narrations. We scaled it back to Math, Spelling, Reading, Handwriting.  I also threw in a refresher course on how-to-tie-your-shoes because Velcro got the better of us this past year.  We've also been sneaking in a little science here and there because... well, I just can't let it slide when I know it's on my IHIP that we're supposed to be studying human anatomy and about the only thing anatomy-ish going on around here is bath time.  

Here's an example of what a near-the-end-of-the-year Science lesson looks like:

(1) Mom quickly reads a few pages of the DK First Human Body Encyclopedia to the kids, trying to hit highlights like "There is blood in your body.  And, oh, yeah, somehow the heart is involved in... you know... that whole thing."  

(2) Kids sit down to watch Bill Nye the Science Guy's episode on Blood and Circulation.  Mom keeps her ears open hoping to pick up a few key points... but it's difficult to hear Bill over the hum of the microwave - Mom needs her mid-morning black tea and even though she recently read this article, this particular mom is willing to sacrifice flavor for speed.  

(3) Bill Nye ends.  Mom considers letting it play through again.  Instead, feeling guilty that her children have been sitting in front of the computer screen for 30 minutes, she directs them to go sit at the table instead.  "Write three things you learned from Bill Nye."

(4) Mom hops on the now-vacant computer to renew Bill Nye videos from the library.  USER BLOCKED????  UNABLE TO RENEW????  What the????  All 6 of the Bill Nye videos are two days over due????  (And so are the DisneyNature videos????)  I OWE OVER 16 DOLLARS IN LIBRARY FINES????  Me, who's never even known numbers like that could be generated in the library system????  How could this happen????  More importantly, with all the Bill Nye's returned, and my library patron status in question, how in the heck are we going to finish our Anatomy class before the end of the month????  (Note to self: Don't ever let that happen again.  For 16 dollars you could have practically hired Bill to come to your house for a speaking engagement.)

(5) Mom cools off and photo copies various pages from these Dover coloring books: 

(6) "Quick, quick!  Color the arteries red.  Coloring the veins blue.  I don't know what color "capillaries" are. (Is that a fancy word you learned from Bill Nye?) Just get it done, now!  June is almost over!"  

(7) While kids are coloring, Mom Googles things like building a balloon model of the heart, visual examples of a drop of blood using karo syrup, cinnamon red hots and white beans, kids create their own blood vessel dioramas.  Mom quickly and forcefully slams the lap top shut.

(8) "Great work today, kids!  We all learned a real lot about blood!  Can't wait till next year when we delve into topics like Where is the heart located and Is blood really necessary. Class dismissed!"

Now if you can just apply that to Math, Spelling, Reading, and Handwriting... you've got a pretty good idea of what our homeschool looks like right now.  It's June.  And it's not pretty.  

But there is one bright shining beacon of hope and joy, urging us to resist surrender and make it to the end-of-the-year finish line.  It is this...

Remember back in February when Dwija hosted the "Favorite Homeschool Supplies" link-up, and a genius homeschool mother introduced the world of stay-at-home-moms to this lovely item??? I put it in my Amazon shopping cart that very day, and there it lingered.  A month or so ago, our own pencil sharpener died.  A week or so ago, my husband got tired of coming home from work and being bombarded with "Dad, can you please whittle my pencil tip for me?  There's ten more after you're done with that one." So he surprised me with this beauty - even though he never reads my blog or peeks in my Amazon cart and had no idea it was the famous sharpener coveted by homeschool moms the world over.  Cool, huh?  

We actually returned the Office Max one Russ brought home because it's 15 dollars cheaper at Amazon (and I needed that cash to work my way out of Library Debtors Prison). The new one just got here Wednesday, so it's only been a couple days.

Because this is my blog and I can do whatever I want, and because I love taking pictures of colored pencils... 

Here are the colored pencils before the X-Acto School Pro came into our life...

And here's a fancy shadows-and-light pic I did in iPiccy of the pencils after meeting the X-Acto School Pro...

The sharp tips you see here are real and have not been enlarged or altered to show texture or pointiness.  

A brief review: So far, it's love.  It sharpens very well, and evenly, despite some of the reviews which said it sharpened un-evenly.  I hate to even say one moderately negative thing about it... but... it is a little bit of a pencil eater.  It seems to consume a little more pencil than our old (but now defunct) sharpener.  But otherwise, it works so well, that that's not a problem for me - our No. 2's and these colored pencils are not top-of-the-line art supplies, so I'm willing to sacrifice a little length for a usable tip.  (I would not, however, use X-Acto to sharpen high quality art pencils, fyi.)  Two more awesome things about the X-Acto - the multiple sizes - GREAT!  And the giant shavings receptacle - the BOMB!  

So, with this new addition to our home and school going's on... I think I can safely say we'll make it to the end of the year and we'll be ready to start summer school in... July... Late July.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Theme Thursday: Girls

Joining up with Cari at Clan Donaldson for Theme Thursday... this Thurday's theme being Girls... of which I have two.  

I almost posted some of the best pretty portraits and silly poses I found from the past week (it's easy to get great shots of my girls because they occasionally let me approach them with the camera, unlike the boys...)  But, last minute I changed my mind and went with "Sisters."  I took some liberties with editing... I played around with the focus and gave these a vintage quality because looking at them and pondering sisterhood made me get a little sentimental and vintage-y.  (ummm... Cari, are there rules about editing? Because I blew 'em.  Sorry.)  

I was hoping to find some pics of my own sisters and me, but that requires things like scanning or figuring out how to access our external hard drive... and even though I love you, dear sisters of mine, ain't nobody got time for that.  So, Sarah and Anna - if you ever read this - even though there are no pictures here to prove it... we've got a vintage-y kind of sister-love!  Miss you guys!

Head over to Cari's to check out all the other Theme Thursday girlies.
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