Halloween Monster Cupcakes

Everything happens for a reason — I truly believe this.

Yesterday I was super busy, nothing new there, but on my agenda was to make some cupcakes for Grace to take to work for Halloween.  She works at a daycare and wanted to do something special for the children she watches.  I got up early, got the cupcakes all baked and then got side-tracked.  I worked on everything and anything it seemed except what I needed to definitely get done — the cupcakes.  I kept telling myself, “I’ll do it next” or “I’ll work on that after dinner.”

Finally, at about 4:00 I decided it was time to stop putting it off and get to work.  I knew I only had an hour before I had to take Grace to a sign language tutoring session up at the college, but figured I could at least get the frosting made.  As I was making it, Grace came in.  She got a big smile on her face and said, “Are you working on the frosting?”  I told her I was and that I would still be able to take her to tutoring but needed to know exactly how much time I had.  She hesitated.  I asked her what was wrong.

“I don’t really HAVE to go to tutoring today.  I could go next week instead. So you don’t have to take me to school until 6:15 for class.”  She told me.

“Good!”  I told her.  “Now I can maybe get the cupcakes all done before we have to leave.”

As I worked on mixing the frosting Grace stayed and watched.  Then, as I pulled out all the bowls for adding the food coloring and got all the decorating tips and sprinkles ready, Grace joined me.  For the next two hours we worked, laughed, and thoroughly enjoyed making the cupcakes TOGETHER.  As we were finishing up Grace told me that she had told one of her coworkers that I was working on the cupcakes while she was at work.  Her coworker told her that was so nice and what a relief it must be that she wouldn’t have to worry about trying to fit it into her schedule.  Grace told her, “Not really.  I really wish I could do it with her.”

My heart sank.  All this time I was trying to get the job done so Grace wouldn’t have to stress about one more thing to do, and what she really wanted was for us to do it together.

I grabbed her around the neck and hugged her tight.  As much as I enjoy doing things for my children, doing something WITH them is so much nicer.  Sometimes I forget that I am not the only one longing for some together time.

Grace and my MONSTER CUPCAKES!

Grace and my MONSTER CUPCAKES!

Yesterday I was reminded how important it is to live in the moment and appreciate everything that we are given, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Pomegranate Syrup

In the past, when I spent time juicing a pomegranate, I wanted to make that juice went as far as it possibly could.  Adding a ton of sugar, water, or other ingredients to increase the yield, was not out of the question.

Finding a new “EASY” method to juice them, however (see my recent post Absolute Easiest Way To Juice A Pomegranate), has changed my view on this.  Now I want the juice, only the juice, and nothing but the juice.  And just a bit of sugar because sugar does make everything a little better.

Seeing as the pantry still had some pomegranate jelly on the shelf, I opted for a syrup this year.  Even though I knew that this recipe would take a good chunk of the juice I’d just extracted, I didn’t hesitate now that juicing a pomegranate is no big deal.

As usual, I used Clear Jel as my thickening agent, so I could put in as little sugar as I wanted.  Hubby likes his syrups a bit on the tart side, so this recipe was definitely to his liking.  Surprisingly there is a lot more sugar than I have used in any syrups I’ve made since starting to use Clear Jel, but that was because the juice was so tart to begin with.

Pomegranate Syrup

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  • 7 Cups Pomegranate Juice
  • 5 Cups Sugar
  • 5 Tbsp. Clear Jel dissolved  in 1/2 Cup Water

Combine all ingredient in large stock pot.  Bring almost to boil, until thickened.  Remove from heat and ladle into hot jars.  Process in water bath for 15 minutes.

Adding this syrup to the pantry this year was definitely a hit with the family.  The tart, woody taste of pomegranate is a nice change from the typical sweet syrups I made over the summer.

I love finding new uses for fruits that may not be the typical ones used in canning recipes, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

The Absolute Easiest Way To Juice A Pomegranate

There is something to be said for too much of a good thing.  The other day while grocery shopping, I just happen to be strolling by the discount produce rack (and I do say strolling by — not making a bee-line for the discount rack the minute I get in the store, shoving anyone who got in my way to the ground) and was thrilled to find three full racks.  It was a dream come true!

One rack was filled with lemons, limes, and oranges all at ridiculously discounted prices.  Every bag of lemons and limes went into my cart.  The next rack was filled with avocados.  I had enough of this in the freezer, so as difficult as it was, I had to pass it by.  The third, well, they saved the best for last — a rack full of bags of pomegranates for $.25 each.  I couldn’t pass that up — every bag that wasn’t oozing juice from seriously overripe pomegranates went into my cart.

Last year I made pomegranate jelly and it was a real hit.  This year, I had other plans.  First and foremost though I had to clean them.  Seeding a pomegranate is one of those tasks that I do not look forward to.  Sure I’ve researched on the Internet all the claims of “easy” methods to seed one of these, and for the most part, about the only one I would recommend would be the underwater method.  It cuts down on the juice making a mess and does make the deed a bit more tolerable, but as for the juicing, there was nothing that sounded the least bit “easy.”

Every site I visited for “juicing” a pomegranate first offered their own “easy” method to seed it.  My favorite had to be the guy who claimed he could seed one in less than 10 seconds by whacking it with a wooden spoon.  I tell you what, if I’m going to whack a pomegranate, it ain’t going to be to get seeds out of it and there probably wouldn’t be much of it left by the time I got done with it.  Whacking it!  I don’t think so.

Not finding anything that would miraculously make the task before me “easy,” I set to work seeding the fruit using the underwater method.  I got to the third one and was done.  I’d had enough.  Honestly I’m not lazy, I just didn’t have time for this.  There were pumpkins to can, the last batch of jalapeno peppers from the garden, the final beet harvest, sauerkraut to make, and the best news of all…cranberries are back in season and I have tons of recipes I’m dying to try.  Spending a few hours seeding the 20+ pomegranates on the counter, was not an option.

Standing there at the counter, staring at the fruit I’d bought — a huge bowl filled to the brim with lemons and limes and a counter full of pomegranates, inspiration hit.  Why not juice the pomegranates the same way I juice my lemons and limes.  What’s the worst that could happen?  I could get the job done in record time with minimal mess and even less effort.  I had to try it.

I pulled out my handy-dandy juicer.  I don’t have one of those wonderfully complex machines that you feed your fruit into one end and a perfect juice comes out the other.  No, I’m a bit more of a hands-on type of gal.  I’ve got a hand-me-down juicer that my father gave me about 10 years ago.  It has juiced more lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruit than I care to remember and is still going strong (knock on wood).

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Next I sliced all the pomegranates in half.  This was pretty messy, but expected.

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Then I took one of the halves and placed it on the juicing part (I’d get more technical here, but I have no idea what you’d call that thingy on top that does all the work) and pressed down.  Within 15 seconds I could feel that the pulp was gone inside the pomegranate shell.  Looking into the base of the juicer, I had juice and in the top were a bunch of white seeds.  Wow!  Talk about easy.

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It took me about 10 minutes to juice every one of my pomegranates and  had about 10 cups of juice.  Had I opted to seed and then juice, I’d probably still be working on them.  As it is, I finished the juicing, made a batch of pomegranate syrup and a batch of pomegranate-lemonade concentrate (recipes to follow shortly) and started working on my pumpkins.

Just a portion of the juice I ended up with.

Just a portion of the juice I ended up with.

Now, if you are the type of person who wants that crystal clear juice that they sell in the stores, this is definitely not going to be for you.  This method gets almost all of the juice, without regard for how cloudy it is.  Most of my jams and jellies are cloudy because I want some substance in there, not just the crystal clear juice.  I believe that there are a lot of nutrients lost when you strain every bit of pulp from the juice. I’m not going for blue ribbons here, just good tasting, healthy food.

Also, being a waste-not-want-not type of gal, I couldn’t leave the seeds with the little bit of pulp on them go to waste.  I decided to heat them so more of the juice could release and ended up with another two cups of juice.

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I love being able to find new ways to make my life easier, especially when it involves using a favorite gadget, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

 

OOOOO That’s Scary! Spider Princess Cape

When my kids were babies, I loved making their Halloween costumes every year.  Bunny rabbit, princess, skunk, three musketeer, knight, pirate, vampire, and Red Riding Hood’s cape are just a few that come to mind.  Every year I looked forward to when the kids would finally decide on what to be and then I could start looking for just the right pattern.

When the kids became teenagers they were suddenly disinterested in me making their costumes and more enthralled with all the stores had to offer.  I was heart-broken.  Still, for several years I was able to make accessories or capes for their costumes.  It was definitely some consolation.

Now that the kids are adults, it’s hit or miss as to whether or not they’ll want a costume, let alone me to make them one.

This year, Grace decided to be an octopus and wanted me to make her costume.  There was no pattern, but with a picture found on the internet I figured I could muddle my way through.  As we searched the racks of fabric for just the right one, we found an amazing black organza with purple glitter spiders all over it.  I teased her (wishing in my heart she’d be interested) that she should be a spider princess.  DONE!  She loved the idea.  So we bought every bit of the material, black satin, and purple satin, and went in search of a pattern.  All Grace wanted me to make for her costume was an amazing cape. Everything else she told me she could find in her closet.

Unfortunately, none of the patterns we found were what she wanted.  All of them had hoods.  So I had to improvise.  Sometimes I really surprise myself.  For not being a seamstress, or anything close, I think fudging a collar and lining the cape turned out pretty darn well.

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Although the days of making my kids entire costumes might be over, I am glad that I can still contribute something every once in a while, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

They’re Grape!

Finding a new recipe that immediately becomes a family favorite is one of my favorite things.  When something turns out so well that everyone loves it, I don’t mind whatever it takes to make it.  Good thing, because this particular recipe using Concord grapes is not the quickest or easiest to prepare, but one that I’ve already made three times since I discovered that Concords could be used for more than just jam.

Concord Grape Muffins

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  • 2 Cups Flour
  • 1/2 Cup Sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. Baking Powder
  • 1/4 tsp. Baking Soda
  • 1/2 tsp. Salt
  • 6 Tbsp. Butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 Cup Milk
  • 1 Cup Seeded Concord Grapes

Crumble Topping:

  • 1/2 Cup Flour
  • 1/2 Cup Sugar
  • 4 Tbsp. Cold Butter

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Add butter and blend with pastry blender.  Add milk and stir until combined.  Fold in grapes. Spoon into greased or paper-lined muffin tins.

For topping, combine flour and sugar in bowl.  Add butter and with pastry blender, mix until crumbly.  Sprinkle on top of muffins.

Bake muffins at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.

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This might sound fairly easy, but seeding Concord grapes is not the easiest.  A sharp knife and patience is definitely a help, but I found that freezing them and then splitting and seeding also makes it much easier.

Using an old favorite to make a new favorite is a great way to start my day, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Concord Grape Muffins

  • Servings: 12 Muffins
  • Print

 

Ingredients

  • 2 Cups Flour
  • 1/2 Cup Sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. Baking Powder
  • 1/4 tsp. Baking Soda
  • 1/2 tsp. Salt
  • 6 Tbsp. Butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 Cup Milk
  • 1 Cup Seeded Concord Grapes

Crumble Topping:

  • 1/2 Cup Flour
  • 1/2 Cup Sugar
  • 4 Tbsp. Cold Butter

Directions

  1. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Add butter and blend with pastry blender.  Add milk and stir until combined.  Fold in grapes. S.poon into greased or paper-lined muffin tins.
  2. For topping, combine flour and sugar in bowl.  Add butter and with pastry blender, mix until crumbly.  Sprinkle on top of muffins.
  3. Bake muffins at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.

Cooking Notes

This might sound fairly easy, but seeding Concord grapes is not the easiest.  A sharp knife and patience is definitely a help, but I found that freezing them and then splitting and seeding also makes it much easier.

Recipe by: Tilly Frueh, Simply Grateful Housewife at https://simplygratefulhousewife.wordpress.com/ – 2014

Concord Grapes — Not Just For Jam

Have you ever had Concord grape pie?  Better yet, how about Concord grape muffins?  Well until you have, you just have not lived.

I’d never thought about using concord grapes for anything other than jam, jelly and syrup, until I started researching other options on the internet a few weeks ago.  Am I glad I did.  I came across several ideas, including the pie and muffins, that I could hardly wait to give a try.  The pie filling was an immediate hit with hubby.  I first canned the tarter of the two batches of Concords I had and he absolutely loved it.  As always, there was extra that didn’t fill a jar, so he used it on crepes.  Using what I considered to be very little sugar, the tartness of the grapes came through and made for a very interesting filling.

The second batch of filling I used the sweeter grapes.  These were so sweet that even cutting the sugar in half wasn’t enough.  It turned out very sweet.  No worries though.  With this batch I can either mix it with the tarter version when making a pie or better still, mix it with a can of homemade tart cherry pie filling or even rhubarb pie filling.  Having both of these in the pantry is certainly going to come in handy.

Concord Grape Pie Filling

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  • 20 Cups Whole Concord Grapes
  • 2 Cups Sugar for tart grapes, 1 Cup Sugar for sweeter
  • 1/4 Cup Lemon Juice
  • 1 Cup Clear Jel mixed with Water

The hardest part of making the pie filling is preparing the grapes.  This is definitely not for the faint of heart.  It is truly a labor of love.  Can you think of any other cliché’s I can put in here?  Hopefully you get my point — it’s a whole lot of work!

After washing and stemming the grapes comes separating the pulp from the skins.  It’s not difficult popping the pulp from the skins, just terribly time-consuming.  It took me over an hour to pop the centers from the skins of enough grapes for one batch and this was with the help of Grace.

Once the pulp is separated from the skins, place the skins in a stock pot and bring to a boil.  At this point I like to use my stick blender to make sure the pulp separates as much as possible from the seeds.  Once all the pulp is mush and it’s been boiling for about 10 minutes, strain out the seeds.  This can be done with a food mill, but I just used a mesh strainer.  The stick blender really made quick work of the pulp and after only a few stirs, all the pulp came through the strainer leaving only seeds behind.

Next, return the seedless pulp to the stock pot, add in the skins, sugar, lemon juice and Clear Jel slurry, and bring back to a boil.  Be very careful when bringing this to a boil.  Typically I cannot let it come to a rolling boil because it is so thick it splatters terribly.  Being that it has to be stirred constantly so as not to burn, medium-high heat until it just comes to a boil seems to be the best advice. It will already be very thick and a rolling boil isn’t necessary.

Then it’s time to ladle into hot jars and process in a water bath for 35 minutes.  That’s it!  Okay, that is quite an understatement, but it is truly worth the effort.

To use, pour a jar into a pie crust, top with another crust or crumble if you prefer, and bake at 450 for 25 minutes covered with foil.  Remove foil, decrease oven temp to 350 and bake another 30 minutes.  Of course using a jar on crepes, pancakes, or Belgium waffles is a great option as well.  Just open, heat, and serve.  Hubby even likes it cold!

Concords are far more versatile than I ever gave them credit for.  Next year I am most definitely going to be grape picking more than I have in the past.  Now that I know there is far more to grapes than just jelly, I can’t wait to explore all the possibilities, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

It’s A Great Pumpkin, Don’t You Think?

 

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So what do you think of my canning jar pumpkin?  Grace told me it looks like a salt & pepper shaker, but I didn’t think so.

I found this project at Country Living Halloween.  They did it on a real pumpkin, but I figured if I was going to spend all that time carving this, I wanted it to keep forever so I used a fake one.  It was definitely harder scraping the top layer of the fake pumpkin than a real one, but well worth the effort.  Now I have a new decoration that will last forever.

Incorporating my passion for canning into my decorations for any holiday is double the fun, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Comfy-Cozy For Halloween

Finally finished my second fleece swing coat — the Halloween version.

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Surprisingly, this second coat had more issues than the first.  I thought the second time around would mean a quicker project, but that’s not how it worked out. Still, I’m happy with the results.  Again it’s not perfect, but unless you’re really looking, I doubt you’d notice.

The coat is warm, comfortable, and when I wore it to the grocery store this morning the clerk greeted me with, “Don’t you look festive!”  That made me feel good.  I had decided because of the difficulties this jacket posed that I wasn’t going to make one for Christmas, but before I write off the possibility, I’m going to let it rest for a day or two.  I will need to make a decision soon though, as the stores are already starting to get low on their holiday fleece.

Another project off my to do list and into the closet.  It feels great to accomplish a goal that was set last January and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

First Frost

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Woke this morning to the first frost for eastern Michigan.

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A simple reminder that winter is coming.

Fall never lingers here in Michigan.  One day there are trees full of wonderfully colorful leaves, the next they’re bare and snow is in the air.

Today was a wakeup to enjoy the fall weather as much as I can for as long as it lasts, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.