Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Taking a Stand for the Dreamers

Okay, I know this blog is usually about baking and canning and occasionally knitting or craftiness. But there has been some recent activity on Facebook that I feel needs to be addressed. If this all sounds insane or confusing, please feel free to click to a different page because I am about to go on about something I feel incredibly passionate about.

I have been writing since I was in middle school. I love the written word. I love to read it and I love to compose with it. It has been my art, my medium and my saving grace through many a dark point in my life. When I was in college, back in the early days of the internet and AOL, I began online role playing. For those of you who do not know what this is, it is best described as a form of cooperative writing. You create a character, get a few friends together, and you interact and weave a tale together. Its a great way to write, to vent and to meet amazing people. I still role play to this day with my long time partner,  Tori,  and together we have created a beautiful world that came from some of our brightest dreams and even darkest nightmares. You see this form of writing is more than entertainment or a way of creating. It is therapy. It helps to put your mind somewhere you never could in the real world and then work out whatever is troubling you in a healthy, harmless way. Sure beats drinking, drugs or injurious behavior. I would be lost if it hadn't been for some of the story lines that I had created with Tori to help me work out some of my more negative thought processes.

 Symbol copyrighted Sherrilyn Kenyon

So why exactly am I going on about this past time of mine? A little more back ground and you will understand. My dear friend Danyale recently got me into a wonderful book series by Sherrilyn Kenyon. And with this series there is a massive fan base! Beautiful, amazing, wonderful people that take time out of their real lives to create and maintain a profile on Facebook as one of the many amazing characters from this book series. And I know they are not alone. There are many character pages for various literary beings all over Facebook. Even I have one for my beloved long time role playing characters. Its amazing to interact with characters you love and see how their lives would have been long after you turned the last page of the most recent book.

But these people, these pages are now coming under attack. While Facebook is inundated with sales pitches for the latest weight loss fad, half naked young women seeking a liaison, or worse, predators seeking their next unsuspecting victim, the powers that be have deemed the profiles of book characters and role playing characters persona non grata. They have begun to, as the term goes, to flame these individuals demanding proof of their identity and shutting down their pages. Years of writing is being lost and friendships dissolved. I have seen profiles for pets, profiles for food, underage kids acting like some painted up pop star, and they are going after someone portraying a beloved book character? Where is the reason in that?! They aren't hurting anyone! In fact it is quite the opposite! They bring joy and light to the lives of fans all over the world. And the clincher, they have the support of the author. If anyone should have issue it would be her and if she's okay with it where is the problem? Disclaimers are clearly stated in all profiles that they are fictional characters and that material pertaining to the original work is copyrighted. So where is the problem? Where is the issue so huge that Facebook has deemed it necessary to target these people. And yes they are being targeted and it is time it is stopped. I am taking a stand for the dreamers, for the writers, for those that dare to reach out and interact with fans and creators and lovers of books alike.

Are they really hurting anyone, Facebook? Is it such a big deal for people to write as someone they fell in love with on the page? Why do you want to tear down this little fantasy world that we can all go for a few laughs, a few tears and ultimately an escape?

I appreciate everyone's indulgence in my slight deviation from the normal topics.

Brightest Blessings.

Monday, September 2, 2013

A Blast from the Past

When I was a little girl Summer was a time for roller skating with my friends, trips to the West Fort Hood pool, late nights of hide and seek, and an all time family favorite tasty treat: Finger Jello. The kids of the neighborhood loved my mother's famous Summertime treat that was cool, wiggly, creamy and so tasty after running around all day in the Texas sun. As we got older, moved a few times, and eventually grew up to marry and start families of our own, the joys of this simple Summer treat were long forgotten. Until now. Through the power of Facebook we have reconnected with one of the kids in the old neighborhood on Fort Hood and he went on and on about Mom's Finger Jello. This was brought up last night during a family dinner and the hunt for the long lost recipe began!

It took a while, but through some extensive searching on Google and sifting through recipe sites, I at last found the recipe. It was already planned that I was to go over to my sister Tara's house to spend the day with her and the kiddles, and our mom and her mother-in-law were going to stop in later in the evening. As a surprise, I stopped and got the ingredients to make this favorite summer treat!

To make Finger Jello you will need:
3 boxes of Jello
3 packets of Knox Gelatin
3 cups boiling water
1/2 pint of whipping cream
Cooking spray

Empty the Jello and Gelatin into a bowl and mix the powders together.

MeeMaw and Zachary helped on this part while I took photos. The surprise was mostly for our mom so it was great that Carla (MeeMaw/Tara's mother-in-law) could help!

Next add the boiling water and use a whisk to combine until the powders are dissolved.

Once the powder is completely dissolved, whisk in the whipping cream.

Spray a 9x13 inch pan or shallow dish with cooking spray and pour the mixture in.

Park in the refrigerator until it sets. It will separate into two layers, one cool fruity, other creamy dreamy.

We made peach and apricot flavors and it is just as good as we remembered! It was so much fun to make and share this treat with the kids, and certainly brought the rest of back to those days on Apache Court when the days were long and hot, and the nights were filled with fun, laughter, and a treat that crossed the years and length of the internet.

Brightest blessings!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Taters Precious!

"What's taters, Precious?" Golem queries Samwise over a bubbling pot of rabbit stew in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. This line, one of my favorites in the series, spawned a tradition in my family. We no longer call them, as Sam would say, "PO-TAY-TOES." They are taters precious.  Boil em', mash em', stick em' in a stew, they are taters precious. And man do I love potatoes. Love em'! I make some fabulous potato dishes all year round, but I am known for my potatoes of awesomeness come Thanksgiving and Christmas, but that is another blog. This is about the spuds themselves and how to preserve them, namely through my favorite preservation method, canning! I didn't know you could can potatoes! So I was just dying to try it out the moment I read about it on my favorite canning site www.sbcanning.com.

Now according to experts, the best spuds for canning are the same as the ones you would use for mashing. That would be your russets and yellows. I love Yukon Golds for a good mash, so I used those. Now you might be concerned about the potatoes taking on too much water. Certain kinds will, others won't, which is why the two types I mentioned are ideal for this method of preservation. This recipe will yield 7 pints minimum. However, using it, I had A LOT of potatoes left over, so I would maybe cut back by one five pound bag next time, but I did use what was left for a great potato soup. I am posting the recipe as I found it though.

You will need:

20 pounds of potatoes
Kosher or canning salt
Ascorbic acid (to prevent browning)

Method: Pressure canning

First thing's first, prep all your tools, wash your jars. For pressure canning there are some different steps than water bath method canning. Fill your pressure canner with three quarts of water and two tablespoons vinegar. Fill your clean jars with clean water and set in the canner, adding water to them so they don't float if need be. Turn to high and bring to a simmer and keep it there until needed. Also, get a big pot of water boiling for the potatoes. Next, peel your potatoes. I like to put a plastic shopping bag around a bowl to catch all the peelings. This certainly makes clean up easier!

Once peeled, give your potatoes a good wash. This was done in batches to make it easier.

You can can the potatoes whole, provided they are small enough, but with larger spuds like these, I opted to chop them up in about 1 inch chunks.

Plop the potatoes in water containing the ascorbic acid. Follow the directions on the label for the water to powder ratio. Ascorbic acid can be found in your local grocer's canning section.

Drain the potatoes of the ascorbic acid water.

Place in pot of boiling water and boil for two minutes. Do not over cook them and watch for those tiny bits! They will cook first and mush! Note: Your camera lens will fog up from boiling potatoes.

Remove the jars from the pressure cooker, pouring out the hot water. Use a jar lifter to do so as it is easier and safer than hot pads. Drain potatoes. Add one teaspoon kosher or canning salt to each jar.

Pack the potatoes into the jar. Leave a good inch of space from the top of the jar. The handy dandy canning funnel is great for measuring head space.

Top off the jars, maintaining the one inch of head space, with fresh hot water.

Run a plastic utensil around the edges to release air bubbles.

Cap the jars and screw on bands until finger tight. That nifty gripper there was a recent find in Wal-Mart's canning department. It keeps you from burning your hands on hot jars, and grips them tight while you screw on the bands.

Place jars in the canner, making sure they don't touch and have a little space between them and that they have a good three inches or more of water around them.

Place the lid on the canner and process at 10 pounds of pressure for weighted, 11 for gauged, for 40 minutes.

Once time elapses, turn off the heat and let the canner drop down from pressure on its own. Once that occurs, remove jars and let sit on a towel somewhere where they will be left alone for 24 hours. After that you can take off the rings, label and store them.

Note: Don't panic if the water becomes cloudy. Its just the starch from the potatoes leeching into the water.

Now I have my taters precious ready whenever I have need of them! If I want to pop some in a stew or mash some up, all I have to do is open up a jar of my very own canned spuds. If I want to mash them, I just pour them into a pan with some water and boil them until tender. So easy! I was so glad I found this recipe. I'm also glad Danyale didn't mind coming over to help me peel 20 pounds of these golden babies! This is a pretty big task, so I HIGHLY recommend having a friend come over to lend a hand or two! I think even Golem would be impressed these beauties!

Brightest Blessings!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Tons of Tomatoes!

I love to can. That is quite obvious to anyone who has been following this blog, my Facebook page or knows me at all. Apparently, this condition of chronic canning is contagious! I've hooked several of my friends on the joys of preserving homemade goodness. Besides, anything is better when you have people to share it with, right? So when I found some great deals through Sam's, the Farmer's Market and my local HEB on tomatoes, I figured it was high time to get some girlfriends over and get to work!

Now I think all together we had about 24 pounds of tomatoes. I use tomatoes in all kinds of recipes. Diced tomatoes are great for anything from pasta, to soups, to even topping a pizza. And you can never go wrong with tomato sauce for a quick pasta dinner on a busy weeknight. So I figured we could try both methods with this mass of ruby red goodness.

I will outline the method for both here. This was my first time doing any of this so I followed tips in my canning books on what to do. You can never read enough, that is my firm belief, and I tend to go a bit overboard on buying books to help me with all my hobbies. That being said, the book on canning that I HIGHLY recommend is the Ball Complete Guide to Home Preserving. Its available pretty much in any book store and also on Amazon and Barnes and Noble's website. If you plan to can, get this book!

Lets start off with the one that requires a bit more time and patience: Tomato sauce.

You will need:

Tomatoes (of course) I used about 12 pounds of Roma
Lemon juice
A food mill, food strainer, or a cheese cloth lined sieve
A Large non reactive pot
Knives and cutting boards
Seasonings and spices should you wish to flavor your sauce
*NOTE* You CANNOT use packaged spices, such as pasta sauce spice mixes in a pouch, UNLESS it is a pre-approved canning spice mix, which you will find in the canning section of your local Walmart, Tractor Supply or grocery store.
Jars (I used pint sized)
Water bath canner

First thing is first: wash everything! All your jars, tools and pans to clear away any dust that may be on them. Fill your water bath canner with water, and two tablespoons vinegar to keep off hard water marks, and get it on the heat to boil. Sterilize and heat your jars either by running them through your dishwasher on a sterilize setting and leaving them in on the hot drying setting, placing them in boiling water and keeping them there until ready for use. Place all tools in hot water, caps in a saucepan of water that has been boiled, and then the burner shut off or turned to low.

Now you want to quarter up your tomatoes, if you are using a food strainer attachment for your Kitchen aid, like I am, or a food mill, this makes it easier to work with.

Next run your tomatoes through the food strainer. I use my Kitchenaid set up as you see here in the photo, one bowl for the pulp, one for the seeds and skin, or as we call it "Fruit Poop". 

Once you have strained all your tomatoes, pour the pulp into a nonreactive pot. This can be messy, I learned. I got covered in tomato goo. Its a good thing my friends, Tracy and Danyale were there to take photos!

Now don't be put off if its watery, that is completely normal. The cooking process will cook off a lot of this water. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Once it is boiling, bring it down to a simmer and cook down until reduced by half, or it has reached the thickness you desire. This takes time, so be patient!

Once its as thick as you like you can go ahead and get ready to ladle it into jars, or season it for pasta sauce to your taste. I did mine half and half, filling up four jars and then seasoning what was left in the pot.

Before you ladle your sauce into the jars, add two tablespoons of lemon juice to each jar, whether its seasoned or not. This helps with maintaining acidity, color and freshness and prevents spoilage when preserving.

I remembered the lemon juice after I started on a jar! Whoopsie! Ladle the sauce into your jars, leaving 1/2 inch of head space. I found a neat funnel that does the measuring for me and helps keep your jars clean. But I still recommend wiping the rims before you cap them and twist on the rings.

Once your jars are ready, place them in the canner, ensuring that the jars are covered by at least one inch of water. Do not start timing until the water reaches a boil and process for 35 minutes. Remove from the water, set on a towel on the counter or table and do not move them for 24 hours.

While the sauce was processing we started on the diced tomatoes, which are rather easy, though require a tiny bit more work.

You will need:

Tomatoes (12 pounds here again, beefsteak)
A large pot of boiling water
A bowl of ice water
Knives and cutting boards
Jars (pints again)
Boiling water canner

Start by getting a large pot of water boiling.

Wash the tomatoes.

Remove the stems. You can core and seed them if you like, but I leave my seeds in.

Cut a shallow 'X' in the bottom of each tomato.

Get your bowl of ice water ready

Now place the tomatoes in the boiling water for a few minutes, or until you start to see the skin starting to peel away.

Once out of the boiling water, place in the ice bath to stop the cooking. Leave for five minutes. Drain the tomatoes. Do not pour out the water in which you blanched the tomatoes. You are going to use that.

Now peel off the skin of the tomato. Its super easy like this, they just pull away!

Dice up the peeled tomatoes.

Add one tablespoon lemon juice to each of your jars and fill about 3/4 of the way with diced tomatoes, topping it off with the water you blanched them in leaving one inch of head space. Run a plastic utensil, chopstick or bubble popper around the sides of the jar to release air bubbles.

Wipe the rims, cap and twist on rings to finger tightness. Process in boiling water bath for 35 minutes. Again don't start timing until it is boiling again and let the jars rest for 24 hours after they have been removed.

Tracy, Danyale and I spent the whole of a day in the kitchen making the tomatoes into canned goodness. We chatted about everything from husbands, to tv shows, music and of course food. We all celebrated the 'PING!' that announced the sealing of our jars and reveled in the fun of doing something together that would bring enjoyment to our families in the coming months. I was sore by the end of the day, and exhausted but I had so much fun I didn't care and went to bed with a smile. Something about canning just always brings out the best in me, even if I drag friends into it and we may have to start a support group...we already have a canning club, does that count? 

Brightest blessings!