A Summer Passing – Rhubarb & Strawberries Farewell

The humidity is not letting up here in eastern Michigan and the temperatures are at or above 90° depending how many clouds block out the sun. My cucumbers are climbing the a-frame and some tomatoes are showing the first signs of orange.

 

Cucumbers

Cucumbers

Roma Tomatoes

Roma Tomatoes

The plum tree is so thick with leaves that finding any plums is a challenge, but they are in there and getting big. Hubby’s been eating them green, but I’m waiting for August when they’ll be ripe and purple.

It’s hard to believe that July is upon us and half the year is gone. In just a few months the winds will start to howl from the north and bring fall and all it’s beauty to our doorstep. With fall comes harvest, which based on the heat and humidity plaguing our days, should be bountiful. The sweet potatoes are spreading, the beets are flourishing, the peppers are blooming, and the kale is thick and lush.

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet Potatoes

Beets

Beets

Peppers

Peppers

Kale

Kale

Strawberry season is coming to an end far too soon. I wish the sweet ripe berries could last longer than a few glorious weeks.

My strawberry plants

My strawberry plants

Rhubarb, too is starting to wilt. Be it the heat, the humidity or just it’s time, I fear these two will soon be gone for another year. My rhubarb is still small and young and I have no idea what to do with it. Not having grown it before, I’m wondering if I should harvest the tiny stalks or leave them until next year. My plants are nothing like the huge plants I harvested out at the orchard. Do I cut them down to the ground or leave them be until next year?

Rhubarb

Rhubarb

With some of the rhubarb I picked a few weeks ago I made a luscious Rhubarb-Pineapple Jam that truly was the best of both worlds — tart yet sweet.

Rhubarb-Pineapple Jam

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4 Cups Finely Chopped Rhubarb
1 Whole Pineapple Pureed
4 Cups Sugar
5 Tbsp. Clear Jel dissolved in 1/2 Cup Water

Combine rhubarb, pineapple, and sugar in large stock pot. Add Clear Jel dissolved in water. Bring to low boil and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring often. Increase heat and boil hard for one minute. Remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes.

Ladle into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space, seal and screw on bands. Process in boiling water bath 10 minutes.

The end of the week should bring some relief from the heat and maybe once again we can bask in the glory of summer instead of hiding out in the air-conditioned house. There is much to be done before fall, many days to enjoy, activities to pursue, and places to go. As winter was unrelenting and confining, so too has summer become — but this too shall pass, I’m sure of it, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

 

Mixed Summer Berry Lemonade Thirst Quencher

The heat and humidity of summer is in full swing today in Michigan. A good day to stay inside, allowing the garden to flourish out in the heat, and catch up on housework. As much as I love summer, I am definitely not a fan of humidity, but I know the garden is lovin’ it.

Days like today are perfect for mixing up a batch of Mixed Summer Berry Lemonade. I came up with this combination last week when I was down to my final eight cups of strained strawberry juice and wanted something quick and easy to can. Building off a recipe for blackberry-lemonade concentrate, I thought combing various berry juices would intensify the flavors and truly make this drink pop. I was right. I’ve been looking for a recipe for fruit punch concentrate to use for smoothies. This recipe is exactly what I was looking for.

Mixed Summer Berry Lemonade Concentrate

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2 Cups Blackberry Juice (strained)
1 Cup Strawberry Juice (strained)
4 Cups Lemon Juice
5 Cups Sugar

To juice berries, place in microwave safe bowl and heat on high for five minutes. Remove from microwave and puree with stick blender. Heat in microwave for additional three minutes. Run puree through food mill to remove seeds. Do this with both blackberries and strawberries.

Measure blackberry and strawberry juice and put in stock pot with lemon juice and sugar. Bring to boil slowly until it reaches 190°. Remove from heat, ladle into hot jars leaving 1/4 inch head space, clean rims, place lids and secure bands. Process in water bath canner for 10 minutes.

To reconstitute: Mix 1 part concentrate with 1 part water and serve over ice. It might be necessary to dilute this concentrate a bit more according to taste.

For the most part I try to serve only water, raw milk, and home-made juices to my family. Occasionally though it is nice to give them a special treat of something refreshing and sweet. This concentrate is perfect for that and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

“To Die For” Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie and Filling

Trying new foods, especially when it comes to canning, is one of my favorite things to do. I can’t say that I’ve always been open to trying new food though. As a child my parents were hard-pressed to get me to eat anything other than hot dogs, peanut butter and jelly, and chocolate. I hated everything and refused to even try most of what my mother put on my plate.

Over the years I’ve mellowed. Probably the main reason for this was when I began dating I was embarrassed by the fact that there was never anything that I could actually say I liked on the menu. On the first date with my now hubby, he took me to Greek Town in downtown Detroit and ordered gyros for me. Lamb (I had no idea what it was until after he’d ordered it for me)! I choked every bit of it down, claiming the entire time that it was wonderful. To my dismay, hubby then began taking me there at least once a month and each and every time I ate what was put in front of me too afraid to say that I didn’t like it. By the end of our first year of dating, I acquired a taste for lamb and many other foods that I forced myself to eat in order to save face in front of my would-be hubby, his parents, and his friends. What a girl has to go through!

Now-a-days there are not too many things I won’t eat, although I am not partial to seafood and raw tomatoes on anything or by themselves give me hives, literally. Besides that, I do try to keep an open mind and have found that some of the foods that I sat at the kitchen table staring at on my plate for hours after everyone else had finished eating refusing to touch as a child, are actually really good.

Every year I try to find at least one or two new foods to try, be it in a dinner recipe or a new canning recipe. Not everything I’ve tried has been “to die for”, some in fact I doubt I’ll actually ever eat again, but every once in a while I discover something that I’m sorry I didn’t try sooner.  So far this year guava, marmalade, and most recently rhubarb fall in the “to die for” category — especially Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie.

Fresh deep-dish Strawberry Pie has been part of my recipe collection for at least the past twenty-five years. My mother never made it while I lived at home, she was not a pie maker. Whenever my father had a hankering for it he either went to Big Boy or Baker’s Square. Never one to turn away from a challenge, I began making homemade strawberry pies as soon as I moved out on my own and taught myself to cook and bake. I especially loved making things that my father enjoyed because he was always willing to try everything I made. There were very few things he didn’t absolutely love, so this was all the inspiration I needed to keep me cooking — that and my desire to impress my would-be hubby with my ever-expanding culinary skills.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie was one of my father’s favorites, but rhubarb to me was exotic and scary. Because of it’s similar structure to celery, and my continuing dislike of that, rhubarb was one of those things I could never bring myself to cooking with. Finally though, after reading several blogs with tempting recipes using rhubarb, my continuing desire to want to put-up everything and anything I possibly can, and my father mentioning to me in passing that he was going to have to go out and find someplace to get some fresh strawberry-rhubarb pie now that strawberry season was upon us, I had to finally break down and try it.

I am proud to tell you, my father will never again have to eat store-bought, restaurant made, or chemically processed strawberry-rhubarb pie again. I made one last weekend when we celebrated Father’s Day with him. I had him over for breakfast, and for dessert (I truly believe that every meal should have dessert) I gave him the first slice of the first strawberry-rhubarb pie I ever made. He loved it. He could not say enough about it. His only comment other than it was perfect was that it would be even better when it was cold (I served it about an hour after it had come out of the oven).

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie

Okay, so this is the only picture I got of the pie before it was gone -- before I cooked it!

Okay, so this is the only picture I got of the pie before it was gone — before I cooked it!

3 Cups Chopped Rhubarb
4 Cups Sliced Strawberries
1 Cup Sugar
3 Tbsp. Lemon Juice
1/2 Cup Clear Jel dissolved in 1 Cup Water
Pie Crust

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Place in unbaked pie shell and cover with top crust. Cover pie with foil. Bake in 425° oven for 30 minutes. Remove foil, turn oven down to 350° and continue cooking another 20 – 25 minutes till golden brown.

Because the pie turned out so well and everyone loved it, I had to make some Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie Filling and can it so we will be able to enjoy fresh pies all winter long. Here is the recipe.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie Filling

I'll use one quart and one pint jar of filling for a 9" pie.

I’ll use one quart and one pint jar of filling for a 9″ pie.

9 Cups Chopped Rhubarb
12 Cups Sliced Strawberries
3 Cup Sugar
1/4 Cup Lemon Juice
1 1/2 Cup Clear Jel dissolved in 2 Cups Water
1 Additional Cup of Water

Chop rhubarb and slice strawberries. Combine fruit in pan and mix in sugar. Add lemon juice, Clear Jel dissolved in 2 cups water and additional one cup of water. Bring to a boil slowly over medium-high heat. Boil for one minute. Ladle into hot jars, remove air bubbles, seal and process in water-bath canner for 25 minutes.

To use: Empty jar of pie filling into prepared crust. Top with crust, seal edges, and bake as above pie recipe.

I am so happy that rhubarb turned out to be one of those “to die for” foods that although I might regret not trying sooner, is now a family favorite. The pie I made was gone within 24 hours and already hubby is asking when I’m making another. The pantry has enough filling for nine pies over the next year, so I think I’ll have to buy a few more stalks of fresh rhubarb this weekend at the fruit market before it is gone for another year and make one more pie before cherries are ready for picking and cherry pie will be on hubby’s mind. I planted two of my own rhubarb plants this past spring so next year I’ll be harvesting home-grown rhubarb to can, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Summer Canning Basics – Strawberry & Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam

Driving out to Blake’s Big Apple in Armada a little over a week ago to pick fresh Michigan strawberries, I could hardly wait to taste that first berry. Capturing that sweet flavor and canning it to enjoy all through the winter, I knew Strawberry Jam was at the top of my canning list. Last year I canned one batch of strawberry jam and one batch of strawberry jelly and ran out of both before the winter was half over. This year I was bound and determined not to allow that to happen.

Besides plain strawberry jam, I decided to try working with rhubarb. I am not a celery fan and because rhubarb resembles celery in looks, I had never tried it, let alone cooked with it. What a shame. After I got my first tart taste of rhubarb blended with the sweet strawberries, I was sorry I’d only bought four bundles of rhubarb while at Blake’s. This led to another trip to Blake’s a few days later and picking nearly 10 pounds of it, which actually turned out not to be enough. Next year I’ll pick at least 20 pounds, as I didn’t get to half of the rhubarb recipes I wanted to try.

Using Clear Jel as my thickener worked out great. I might increase the Clear Jel slightly for the strawberry jam, but the second version of the strawberry-rhubarb jam the amount was perfect. I made two versions of the strawberry-rhubarb because the strawberry flavor was too overwhelming in the first. The second version is much tarter and the rhubarb flavor was far more intense. Here are my recipes.

Strawberry Jam

DSCF2642

8 Cups Sliced Strawberries = 5 1/2 Cups Crushed
5 Cups Sugar
1/4 Cup Lemon Juice
5 Tablespoons Clear Jel dissolved in 1/4 Cup Water

Crush berries in large stock pot.
Add sugar, lemon juice, and dissolved Clear Jel.
Bring slowly to a boil.
Boil for one minute.
Remove from heat and let rest for 5 minutes.
Pack into hot jars, seal and boil in water bath for 10 minutes.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam (Version 1)

DSCF2643

2 1/2 Cups Crushed Strawberries
1 3/4 Cups Chopped Rhubarb (I dice mine)
5 Cups Sugar
1/4 Cup Lemon Juice
5 Tablespoons Clear Jel dissolved in 1/4 Cup Water

Crush berries in large stock pot.
Dice Rhubarb.

DSCF2536
Combine strawberries and rhubarb.
Add sugar, lemon juice, and dissolved Clear Jel.

DSCF2538
Bring slowly to a boil.
Boil for one minute.
Remove from heat and let rest for 5 minutes.
Pack into hot jars, seal and boil in water bath for 10 minutes.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam (Version 2 – Tart)

3 Cups Crushed Strawberries
3 Chopped Rhubarb (I dice mine)
4 Cups Sugar
1/4 Cup Lemon Juice
5 Tablespoons Clear Jel dissolved in 1/4 Cup Water

Crush berries in large stock pot.
Dice Rhubarb.
Combine strawberries and rhubarb.
Add sugar, lemon juice, and dissolved Clear Jel.
Bring slowly to a boil.
Boil for one minute.
Remove from heat and let rest for 5 minutes.
Pack into hot jars, seal and boil in water bath for 10 minutes.

I can’t believe I waited more than 45 years to try rhubarb. Why oh why was I so closed-minded? Well, I am definitely going to remedy this, starting this year. With two batches of strawberry-rhubarb jam in the pantry, we should be set for the winter. Plus, I just had to make a strawberry-rhubarb pie which then led to canning strawberry-rhubarb pie filling, those recipes coming tomorrow. Thanks Caitlin from The Babbling Botanist (http://thebabblingbotanist.com/2014/04/21/strawberry-rhubarb-jam/) for your recipes using rhubarb which inspired me to give this a try, for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Clear Jel is the Clear Winner

For the past seven days I have been picking, cleaning, cutting, crushing, juicing, slicing, cooking, and canning. Fifteen recipes, later I think I am due a break!

My next few posts will consist of mostly just the recipes and pictures I took while working in the kitchen. I’d put them all in one post, but that would be rather cumbersome to read not to mention write. For now, here is a list of the recipes to follow that will eventually have a link attached.

Strawberry Jam (no big surprise there)
Strawberry-Raspberry Lime Marmalade
Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam (2 versions)
Crushed Strawberry Syrup
Strawberry Sauce
Strawberry Lemonade Marmalade
Blackberry-Strawberry Seedless Spread
Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie Filling
Rhubarb Pie Filling
Rhubarb-Pineapple Jam
Fruit Leather (3 types: Strawberry, Plum, and Pineapple)
Mixed Summer Berry Lemonade Concentrate
Tropical Paradise Jam
Apple Pie Filling
Cinnamon Glaze

I think that’s all of them, but I won’t really know until I got through my pictures and recipes that are stacked on the kitchen counter in the “DONE” pile. There were several recipes for rhubarb that I didn’t get to because all I have left are four lonely stalks standing in a vase of water on the counter. Not enough to do much of anything with — but I’m sure I’ll figure something out.

One thing that I discovered through all this canning and cooking is hands down Clear Jel is the absolute best thickening agent for jams, jellies, preserves, marmalades, fillings, etc. No matter how much or how little I put in, everything jelled enough. Some times I might have wanted a little firmer set or perhaps a little softer, but it was still jelled. Even the firmest set jam I made, that doesn’t move when you tip the bottle upside down, is soft and spreadable.

DSCF2637

Plus, unlike when using pectin where you are not able to alter the amounts of sugar without risking the results being too watery or unspreadable, I changed the amounts of sugar in nearly every recipe I had in order to make the final flavors what my family likes. Some are tarter and some are sweeter. Clear Jel’s setting is not contingent on how much sugar is in the recipe.

Finally, the price factor. In order to make all the recipes I listed above, it would have cost me more than $30 in pectin. The canister of Clear Jel I have has enough left in it to make at least two or three more batches, plus I was able to make a triple batch of strawberry rhubarb pie filling and a double batch of apple pie filling. The cost for one canister was $20 including shipping. Economically speaking, I don’t know why I’d ever consider going back to pectin.

It’s been a fun week of canning, but I am happy to have my kitchen clear of all my canning supplies, jars, recipes, and fruit, even if it is just for a few days. I’m already making plans for next weeks canning agenda, raspberries should be in any day now you know. For now though I am going to enjoy waking up tomorrow morning to a clean, clutter-free kitchen with no pressing canning to get done, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Tiny Bee Visitors

The past four days have been spent picking, cleaning, prepping, and canning strawberries, pineapple, rhubarb, lemons, limes, mangos and apricots.  It has been exhausting, but satisfying.

So far I have canned ten different concoctions and still have a fresh flat of strawberries and some rhubarb that Grace and I picked this morning, six pineapples, a case of apples, and a few kiwi left to work with.  Tomorrow the strawberries will be finished along with the rhubarb and pineapple, I hope.  Then I’ll finally have some time to sit down and share some of the recipes with you.

For now, I took a break from the hot kitchen this afternoon to check out my garden and other plants and found some tiny bees on the flowers of my own strawberry plants.  I might not get many strawberries this year, but the flowers are certainly giving these tiny bees a workout.

First there was one!

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 Then there were two! 

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Finally, there were three!

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I love canning and everything that it brings me, but even with the urgency I feel to get all the fruit we’ve picked canned it was nice to take a short break and witness one of nature’s finer moments, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Strawberry Pick Me Up

It amazes me how little time I actually get to spend with Grace since she began working in February. She had a summer job last year, but having a job that requires her to be gone from home between 20 and 30 hours a week, plus working two evenings, leaves us very little bonding time. I knew I missed her, but not how much until we went strawberry picking yesterday morning.

Grace had to be at work by 11:30. The orchard where we were going opened at 8:00. It was going to take us 30 minutes to get there. Does this sound like one of those story problems from Algebra II or what?

I got out of bed at 6:00 and got ready. Grace got up at 6:30. I told her she could sleep until 7:00, but she was anxious to spend  time with me. Not as excited as I was. I made us a fresh pot of coffee, we filled our cups, and were on our way to the orchard by 7:15. I wanted to be sure to be there when they opened, giving us the most possible time to pick before we needed to head back.

The weather was perfect. 62° and sunny, with a light breeze. There was very little traffic on our side of the road, as all the cars were heading the way were coming from. Grace was in a good mood and we were both ready for some heavy-duty picking.

At 7:45 we arrived at Blake’s Orchard and there was a car at the entrance picking up flats. They were already open! I pulled in behind him and asked for three flats. Following the signs to the back of the orchard, we found row after row of strawberries for the picking. The car in front of us was the only other person there.

 

Strawberries as far as the eye can see.

Strawberries as far as the eye can see.

Looks like it's going to be an easy pick.

Looks like it’s going to be an easy pick.

With flats in hand and towels to kneel on we headed out into the field. Three or four rows in Grace started picking. Taking the row next to her, I put my towel down and the competition commenced. Somehow Grace got it in her head that she was going to pick more than me and find the biggest and reddest berry. Silly girl! I have years of experience on my side — she insisted she had youth on her side.

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For an hour and a half we picked, talked, caught up, laughed, teased, and enjoyed. All the while Grace kept telling me, “I wish I didn’t have to go to work, then we could spend all day together.” Music to my ears. How I wish she didn’t have to go to work either. Still, we did have the morning.

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After all three flats were full and I had picked the largest strawberry and Grace had picked the reddest, we headed back to the entrance to see what the damage was. We’d picked 35 pounds. At $1.65 a pound — math again! — you get the picture. We paid for the berries then headed into the store for fresh donuts to eat with our lukewarm coffee. You’d have thought the coffee would have been cold, but the car was pretty warm with the sun beating down on it.

I so love going to the stores at orchards. Although it is very early in the season, there are always hot fresh donuts, fresh pressed cider, and I even found fresh picked rhubarb. Perfect. Now I had everything I needed for strawberry-rhubarb pie and jam, plus any other recipes I could find to try with rhubarb.

Grace bought the donuts and we enjoyed a breakfast picnic under the outside tent at a picnic table. Nothing like hot donuts, lukewarm coffee, and my daughter’s undivided attention and company for an entire morning.

On our way home we stopped off at an estate sale (nothing of interest there), picked up a couple more cases of canning jars that were BOGO 50% off, and enjoyed the drive with the windows down and the country air blowing through the hair. It was absolutely perfect.

35 pounds of strawberries waiting to be canned.

35 pounds of strawberries waiting to be canned.

For the past couple of weeks I have been cranky and edgy when driving Grace to and from work, but couldn’t put my finger on why. I think I’m a little bitter that her work is infringing on “Our Time.” I know this is only to be expected more and more as she gets older and more independent, but yesterday I had her all to myself for an entire morning like the good ole days and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Driving Permit Woes

It has been 16 days since Grace turned 18 and got her driver’s permit. During that time she has driven five times, and mostly under protest. She does not like driving, is afraid of it, and if she had it her way, would never do it again, especially after today.

I suppose it’s a good thing to get that first accident out-of-the-way early in the game, right? Tell me it is? Please! I need to hear that this is normal and that she is just not the most terrible driver out there.

When I picked Grace up at work this afternoon, I told her she could drive home. She wasn’t happy and reluctantly got in the driver’s seat. Fastening her seat belt, she adjusted her seat and the mirrors. Then, as if it were some sort of race, she put the car in reverse and stepped on the gas. I don’t know how many times I have emphasized to her that the gas is not all that necessary when backing out of a parking spot. Plus, it’s as if she can’t multi-task when driving. Turning the wheel and slowly removing her foot from the brake are not something that she seems to understand can be done simultaneously.

After stepping on the gas for a few moments, she then started turning the wheels to back out of the parking space and missed the car next to us by mere centimeters. Of course all I could manage to sputter between my clenched teeth with my finger nails dug deep into the passenger seat was, “That was good.” There’s no possible way she believed me because I was white as a ghost and one hand flew to the top of the car through the open window as I braced for what I was sure was going to be a collision as she was backing out.

“I’m sorry.” she told me. Something that she constantly repeats the entire time she is driving. I keep trying to be supportive, pointing out the positive, reminding her of what she needs to work on, never yelling, but I’m not fooling either of us. Driving is just not something that is coming naturally for Grace.

Once on the main road, Grace only had about 10 seconds before turning off onto a side street leading to our subdivision. I reminded her to put her foot on the brake as she took the turn, but somehow she still managed to jar me to one side of the car as she came within a few feet of a left turner waiting to turn onto the main road. Actually this was better than the last time she took this turn. Last time she had to come to a complete stop in the middle of the turn and barely escaped having to back up in order to not hit a left turner and complete the turn. This is progress? I guess it must be, but my feet were dug into the carpet so deep that I swore they were going to break through the floor which when I think about it would be a good thing.  Then I’d be able to be like Fred Flintstone and use my feet as actual brakes.

Continuing down the side street I reminded her not to hug the curb. She doesn’t like it when there are any oncoming cars so she tends to ride the right side of the road so close that she will often end up going off the road onto the gravel shoulder. Today she only did this once or twice. Again, an improvement of sorts.

Turning into our subdivision was yet another experience. As we approached the turn, I reminded her to apply the brake and wait for traffic to clear. Two oncoming cars passed as we came to the street with another about a quarter mile further down the road. As she proceeded to turn, without stepping on the brake, continuing to accelerate, she asked me, “Is it okay to turn?”

Okay, now tell me if I’m wrong here but shouldn’t she have stopped the car before taking the turn and then asked me this — NOT WHILE DOING IT! Being that the oncoming car was a safe distance away, there was no harm, other than the fact that I had to brace myself with both hands in order to avoid being thrown out my open window.

Trying to compose myself I once again told her she was doing good and that her turn was definitely smoother. How could it not have been smooth. It’s not like she applied the brake at any point to jerk the car or anything. And seeing as I had braced myself securely with one hand clutching the dashboard and the other clinging to the hand grip above my seat, I’m sure I only suffered minor whiplash.

Finally on the home stretch, I silently watched the road as she continued to hug the right side of the road. Reminding her again that she shouldn’t ride so close to the curb, I was met with an exasperated, “I know.” It is completely understandable that she is frustrated. She wasn’t frustrated with me, she was frustrated because she is so afraid of hitting the on-coming cars, that she can’t seem to help herself.

Making the last turn onto our street, Grace commented there was a car that had been on her tail ever since we turned into our subdivision. She joked that he was probably going to follow us home so he could tell her what a terrible driver she was. I told her not to worry about it, because if he did, I’d take care of it. Never cross a mama bear when it comes to her cubs.

Within a few moments I could see our house and let out an audible sigh. You’d have thought we’d been on the road for hours, when actually it had been less than seven minutes.

Five houses from home an oncoming car approached. There was a parked car to the left and farther up another parked car to the right. There was ample time for us to pass both parked cars before the oncoming car would pass us. Unfortunately, Grace panicked.

I’m not sure if it was the stress of the car behind us, the fear of the car in front of us, or the pressure of the cars on either side of us, but it was too much for Grace to handle. She pulled over to the right side of the road, again without applying the brake, heading straight for the parked car. I said (or yelled, I can’t rightly remember now), “Don’t drive so close to the…” TOO LATE!

CRACK!

The mirror on my side of the car smashed into our neighbor’s mailbox, folding against the side of the car. Slowly the car came to a stop several feet from the parked car in front of us. Why the brakes weren’t slammed on is still not clear, but suffice it to say, I remember it more as coasting rather than a sudden halt.

The car behind us sped past between the parked cars before the oncoming car blocked his way. Grace and I sat there.

The oncoming car passed us. We sat there.

Finally, I calmly told her to pull around the parked car and head for our driveway. With tears welled in her eyes, Grace slowly pulled into the middle of the street, drove two houses down, and pulled onto our driveway, all the while telling me how sorry she was. I reminded her that hubby’s car was in the garage, so she needed to be VERY careful when pulling in. Slowly she maneuvered the car perfectly into its spot.

Turning the car off, Grace began to cry. I wrapped my arms around her, fighting my tears, and told her it was okay. She was shaking and sobbing. I held her while she cried and told me how she was never going to drive again. I laughed and told her that at least no one was hurt and no real damage was done. The side mirrors on my car fold in for car washes, so the only damage was a scrape mark on the plastic shell which we were able to remove with a soft rag and WD-40.

I know there must be some wonderful statistics out there about how most accidents happen within a mile or so of home, how teens have more accidents than any other age group, or perhaps even how most accidents occur within the first 6 months of driving — but this is no consolation today. Today I feel that I failed my daughter because I cannot make driving as easy as walking, talking, reading, writing, working, or any of the other hundreds of milestones she seemed to so easily conquer. Her confidence is shattered — or what little she had to begin with and I do not know how to get it back for her. I did tell her that she is going to have to drive again tomorrow, because the only way she is going to get better is to practice.

Grace told me tonight that she really “hates” driving and does not want to drive at all. I assured her this will pass and a year from now although she will still remember today, it will seem ridiculous to her that she made a mistake like this. Her first accident out-of-the-way, no injuries, no real damage (other than Grace’s confidence and my nerves), and a lesson learned — I hope, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Pineapple Days, Raspberry Nights

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Canning, canning, and did I mention canning! That is what I did today and if I hadn’t run out of sugar, I’d probably still be doing it. Plus my feet feel like they are on fire, my back is aching, and I’m tired, but heck, if I had sugar I’d probably never have stopped. So much to can and I haven’t even gone strawberry picking yet.

This morning I spent six hours making another batch of Pina Colada Concentrate without the pulp this time, a batch of Pineapple-Kiwi Jam, and a batch of Lemon-Pineapple Preserves. Any normal person would have called it quits after this, but I wasn’t tired of canning, just tired of canning pineapple. So I set my remaining seven pineapples aside for another day and decided to start working with raspberries.

Last week my favorite grocery store, Meijer’s had raspberries on sale for $1.00 per 6 oz. package. I picked up ten packages and stuck them right in the freezer. I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to do anything with them right then, so seeing that raspberries freeze quick and easy, they went in the chest freezer until I could get to them.

Taking the berries from the freezer I spent the next couple hours making Raspberry-Lemonade Concentrate and Raspberry-Lime Jam. I hadn’t worked with raspberries in a few years, but knew I didn’t like the seeds. This meant using my food mill to strain out most of the seeds. A few I can stand, all is just too much.

Following are the recipes with photos. The Pina Colada Concentrate update can be found in my prior post: Frozen Pina Coladas the rest are new. All of my jam/preserve recipes today used Clear Jel as the setting agent. This is only the second time I’ve used this for something other than pie filling.  I am still learning how much to use. Any changes that I’d suggest based on the final consistency are noted at the end of the recipe. I hope you try some of these, all turned out very tasty.

Pineapple-Kiwi Jam

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3 Cups Chopped and Peeled Kiwi (about 9)
2 Cups Fresh Crushed Pineapple with Juice (1 pineapple)
1/3 Cup Water
7 Tbsp. Clear Jel
3 Cups Sugar

Peel and chop kiwi.

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Core and puree pineapple.

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Combine kiwi, pineapple, 1/2 Cup sugar and Clear Jel dissolved in 1/3 cup water in large pan.

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Bring jam to boil, careful it does not stick. This is very thick so it will stick if you do not watch it closely.

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Once it boils, it will start to burn if you don’t add the sugar immediately. Add remaining sugar and bring to boil.

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Boil jam for 3 minutes. The mixture will be very thick. To thin you could add additional pineapple juice or water.
Ladle jam into jars and put on lids. Water-bath can for 10 minutes.

***This jam turned out much thicker than I like it. Clear Jel does leave it still spreadable, but I prefer a softer set jam and would suggest decreasing the Clear Jel to 4 Tbsp. next time.

Lemon-Pineapple Preserves

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3 Large or 5 Medium lemons, squeezed of all juice, strained (shells reserved)
3 Pounds Fresh pineapple, cleaned, cored, and pureed (about 2 whole)
2 3/4 Cups Water
4 Tbsp. Clear Jel
6 3/4 Cups Sugar

Combine lemon shells and seeds in a cheesecloth bag or jelly bag.

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Combine lemon juice, pineapple, and cheesecloth bag in large stock pot. Bring to boil and simmer for 20 – 25 minutes.

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Remove cheesecloth bag and add 4 Tbsp. Clear Jel mixed in 3/4 cup water. Add 3/4 sugar and bring to boil. Boil for 2 minutes.

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Add remaining sugar and boil for 1 minute more.

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Ladle into jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Cover and seal. Process in water-bath canner 20 minutes.

***The consistency was perfect, however, although tart, I could not taste “lemon” in this preserve. I might consider adding the zest of one lemon to see if it would make it more lemony next time.

Raspberry-Lime Jam

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5 Cups Raspberries
1/2 Cup Water
2 Limes
4 Tbsp. Clear Jel
1/4 Cup Water
5 Cups Sugar

Combine raspberries and 1/2 cup water in stock pot. Bring to boil. Turn down and simmer for 10 minutes to release juices. With immersion blender puree raspberries.

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Run berries through food mill. This should give you approximately 2.5 cups of strained pulp.

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Zest one lime and juice two.

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Combine lime zest, juice, raspberry pulp, 1/2 cup sugar, and 4 Tbsp. Clear Jel dissolved in 1/4 cup water in stock pot. Bring to boil for 2 minutes.

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Add remaining sugar and boil 1 minute longer.

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Ladle jam into jars, cover and seal in water-bath canner for 10 minutes.

***The consistency was good for this jam. The lime flavor however was very slight. I would use the zest of two limes rather than just one next time.

Raspberry-Lemonade Concentrate

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6 Cups Raspberries
4 Cups Lemon Juice, fresh or bottled
6 Cups Sugar

Combine all ingredients in large stock pot and bring to boil.

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With an immersion blender/stick blender puree the liquid till smooth.

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Heat to 190° over medium-heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.
Put the concentrate though food mill to remove seeds.

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Return concentrate to pan and bring back up to 190°. Remove from heat, ladle into jars, cover and process in water-bath canner for 15 minutes.

To reconstitute: Mix one part concentrate with 1 1/2 cups water. Or for a more refreshing alternative, try making a Frozen Raspberry-Lemonade Smoothie (recipe follows).

Frozen Raspberry-Lemonade Smoothie

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1 3/4 Cup Raspberry-Lemonade Concentrate
5 Cups Ice
1 Cup Water

Combine all ingredients in blender.

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Blend until smooth.

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Serve in a tall glass. Could garnish with fresh raspberries and a wedge of lemon.

The canning went fast and by 3:00 this afternoon I was done canning and on my way to making dinner. I was beginning to wonder if I was ever going to get out of the kitchen. Thankfully, dinner is done, I’m out of sugar, and tomorrow is another day, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Father’s Day Feast — Finally!

Grace was getting over food poisoning this past weekend, so Father’s Day was postponed. We won’t get together with my father until this coming weekend, but I was able to make a special dinner for hubby today reminding him how special he is to all of us.

The Menu:

  • Steaks on the Grill
  • Shrimp Scampi
  • Twice Baked Potatoes
  • Stuffed Mushrooms
  • Freshly Canned Pickled Beets

The Prep:

Steaks on the grill are a no-brainer, but the rest of the dinner took a bit of time and planning in order to get everything on the table at the same time, hot and savory. The first thing I had to do was bake the potatoes. Not wanting to waste the opportunity of running the oven, especially on such a hot Michigan day, I decided to bake as many potatoes as would fit in the oven. This way I could freeze some twice baked potatoes for other days as well as the extra potato shells for deep-fried potato skins.

Twice Baked Potatoes

  • Russet Potatoes
  • Salt
  • Butter
  • Milk
  • Cheese

Bake potatoes at 450° for 45 – 50 minutes depending on size of potatoes. Remove from oven and cool slightly.

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The warmer the potato, the easier it is to scrape out the stuffing. Slice the potatoes in half.

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Using a teaspoon, remove as much of the potato as possible without damaging the skin. Place potato pulp in bowl and set shell aside.

Once all the potatoes are hollowed out, mash the potato. Add salt, butter and milk until the potato is the desired consistency.

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I found that I don’t like to mash the potato to the same consistency as traditional mashed potatoes. These are “baked” potatoes after all, so I leave some lumps in the potato filling.

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After the potato is mashed, begin refilling the hollowed out potato shells. There will not be enough potato to refill all the shells, especially if you heap the potato in the shells as I do.

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Place the filled potatoes in a Corning Ware dish, top with a slab of butter and cheese, and return to oven at 350° for 20 to 25 minutes.

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With any extra filled potatoes, place on a cookie sheet and freeze until firm, wrap in plastic wrap then foil, and return to freezer. Do the same with any extra potato shells. These can be used for either deep-fried potato skins or can be filled with any leftover mashed potatoes in the future.
After the potatoes were done, I turned my attention to the stuffed mushrooms. These have become a family favorite and one that makes mushrooms a standard on my weekly shopping list.

Bacon & Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms

8 Slices Thick Cut Bacon Crumbled
8 oz. Cream Cheese
8 oz. Whole Mushrooms, stemmed and caps hollowed out
Parmesan Cheese

Cook bacon till crisp. Cool and then crumble. Place in small bowl.

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Clean mushrooms and stem. Make sure that the caps are hollowed out. Place in baking dish.

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Fill each mushroom with cream cheese, heaping the cheese on top.

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Dip each mushroom in crumbled bacon, pressing down so bacon covers cream cheese.

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Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes.

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With the potatoes and mushrooms in the oven, and the steaks started on the grill, I worked on the final part of dinner — shrimp scampi.

Shrimp Scampi

1 Pound Cooked and Cleaned Shrimp
2 – 3 Tbsp. Fresh Minced Garlic
1/4 Cup Butter

Melt butter in large fry pan.

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Add shrimp to butter and cook for 1 minute.

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Turn shrimp and add the garlic. Cook for 2 minutes more. Flip one more time, mixing the garlic and the shrimp thoroughly.

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Remove from heat and cover until ready to serve.

Hubby loved his Father’s Day dinner, even if it was a few days late. Enjoying this meal of some of his favorite foods with the kids, when everyone was feeling good, was wonderful. I’ve always believed that holidays should not be the only days to do something special for someone. If you aren’t going to treat every day like Father’s Day or any other “holiday” for that matter, doing it on that one day is not going to make up for the rest of the year. Of course, this doesn’t mean that I don’t love a good excuse to go overboard every once in a while. Today was special because we “celebrated Father’s Day,” but actually we celebrate being a family everyday and for this I am — Simply Grateful.