A Much Needed Reminder

My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute all my success in life to the moral, intellectual, and physical education I received from her.” ~ George Washington

So Grace began a beautiful card she brought to me this afternoon along with some flowers.

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It never ceases to amaze me how wise beyond her years Grace is.  At 18 she is intuitive enough to know that sometimes even mom’s need affirmation that they have done something right.  When I look at Grace, I know that for all my short-comings, with her I definitely did something good.

For years I struggled with feelings of inadequacy because of psychological games my parents continually bombarded me with.  Eventually I pulled myself from their toxic grasp, yet still allow myself to fall victim to their abuse because for some reason I believe that’s what “a good daughter” should do.  Grace, who has witnessed this for years and now sees it for what it is, tries her best to “make it better.”

No matter how bad I think things might be, all I need do is look at my husband and children and I know, my life is good and regardless of what my parents may say, so am I.  Some days, however, I do forget.

Today Grace gave me a much-needed reminder that what I do matters and so do I, and for this I am — Simply Grateful!

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Prelude To Christmas Decorating – Why I Do This

Tradition does not mean that the living are dead, it means that the dead are living. ~ Harold MacMillan

What is it about Christmas decorating that causes me to become consumed with joy from the moment I turn on the lights in my Christmas storage room until that fateful day sometime in late January when I finally turn that light off for another year?

Growing up with a grandmother who transformed her home with animated figures, rotating trees, flashing lights, and glitter on everything from ornaments to poinsettias into a Christmas wonderland, it was hard not to have some of the magic rub off on me.  Walking into her home Thanksgiving afternoon when all the lights were finally turned on for the first time, marking the beginning of the holiday season, made Thanksgiving my absolute favorite holiday.  I could hardly wait for her front door to open when we’d arrive for Thanksgiving dinner and be showered by the holiday spirit that began with the wreath on the front door and continued throughout every room.

From the tinsel curtains hung over every window to the rotating aluminum tree full of family ornaments to the light switch covers made by my grandmother, not a single detail was forgotten.  Banisters were covered with garland, windows were outlined with lights, and tables were transformed into scenes full of wonder and excitement.  Santa’s, angels, elves, stars, candy canes, carolers, and all the symbols of love and tradition that make Christmas special and irresistible could be found in every corner, in every room.  Everywhere you looked there was yet another reminder of why it was truly the most wonderful time of year.

In July 1999 we lost my grandmother, the matriarch of our family, the spirit that made Christmas more than presents, shopping, and hustle and bustle.  It was a devastating blow to our family, as is the loss of anyone, but the full extent of this loss was not to be felt until that November.  As I pulled the light cord in the Christmas storage area, a rush of memories flooded the room.  Standing there faced with boxes of decorations, frozen with grief, I cried.  Unable to bear the sorrow, I closed my eyes, pulled the cord, and shut the door.  How could there possibly be Christmas without my grandmother?  She was the reason I began decorating.  She was my inspiration.  She was Christmas.

The emptiness I felt from the loss of my grandmother was horrible but the loss of my Christmas spirit as well made it unbearable.  Days passed and I could find no joy…no reason to turn on that light in the storage room.  I pushed myself to get through each day, getting done what had to be done, but my heart ached and my will faltered.  Finding no solace in mourning, I began wondering what my grandmother was doing.  Was she watching me?  Was she anywhere other than in my broken heart?

It is my belief that no one truly dies as long as they are remembered in our hearts, yet the question remains, are they here with us, do they visit or is there reason for them to?  As I struggled to come to terms with the loss of my grandmother, I asked myself how my grandmother would feel if she knew the holiday traditions she had spent so many years establishing had died with her.

In the months after my grandmother’s death, I never felt her presence, only the emptiness. When I began remembering all the wonderful holidays I had with my grandmother, reminiscing about lighting plum pudding, decorating trees, singing carols, visiting her home and listening to the stories of every decoration–every ornament, suddenly I felt a warmth surround me.  I felt my grandmother’s presence as real as if she were standing right there.  Tears welling in my eyes, a lump hard in my throat, I realized I had to turn on that light.

Pulling out boxes of decorations and doing my best to carry on the tradition my grandmother has gifted me with, I know she is here with me, guiding my hands, holding the ladder, giving me inspiration.  I’ve even caught myself talking to her/asking for advise as I try to hide every wire or fix yet another set of lights.

My grandmother may not be here in the way that people readily accept, but there is no doubt in my mind that she is here. She is in every Christmas light, every mince pie, every strand of tinsel, every holiday greeting.  I know she will be forever in my heart and during the holidays her presence is strongest.

This year a new Christmas movie came out starring Harry Connick Jr. called When Angels Sing.  At the end of the movie, Michael, played by Harry Connick Jr., has a conversation with his son,

Michael:  Do you remember when you were in the hospital and you asked me ‘Do you think people can still see us after they die?’

His son:  Yes.

Michael:  I think they do, so let’s make it worth their while.

Every year I do my best to make my home look better than the year before and every year when I finally light the whole house on Thanksgiving day, I ask my grandmother, “So Gram, what do you think?”  As I stand there, looking at the memories filling every corner of the house I know my grandmother is with me loving every little detail.

I miss my grandmother every day, but know in order to keep her spirit alive I have to keep turning the light on, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

I’m Not Beet Yet!

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.  W. C. Fields

This evening I decided to once again take a close look at my beets and see if there were any I could salvage.  It has been nearly the 60 days since I planted, so something should be harvestable.  To my surprise, there were several beets worth picking that were not small and scrawny.  In fact, they were what I consider the perfect size.

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The seeds I planted said the beets would be about 3″.  I only wanted them around 2″ – 2 1/2″ because after that they tend to be woody.  Not a whole lot, but definitely enough to cook tomorrow and possibly have some fresh pickled beets with dinner.

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There is such a difference between these home-grown beets and those I’ve bought in the produce department at our local grocery store.  The smell was mouth-watering.  The moment I pulled them from the ground, the tangy scent began to surround me.  When I took them in the house and washed them — well, the whole kitchen smelled like beets.  It was wonderful.

Once again though, I am getting ambitious.  In reading on beets I was reminded that from planting to harvest it is about 59 days.  This gives me more than enough to plant another crop.  So you know what I did tonight?  You got it — I planted 34 seeds in small seed pots along with a few more bean plants that also have around a 59 day till harvest time frame.  This time I hope to remedy my mistakes.

How great it is to have even a few beets from my garden to enjoy.  I also have a special plan for all the “slivers” of beets that didn’t mature to their full potential, more on that when I pull out all the beet plants to make room for the new seedlings once they sprout.  I’m not giving up, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Quick Fix Monte Cristo

Hard work is often the piling up of the easy things you neglected to do. – Unknown

The weather did not cooperate today, so the garden will have to wait at least another day. The plum tree though is well on its way to full bloom.

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Instead of dodging raindrops outside, I decided to concentrate on finishing up a ton of little projects that have been accumulating since Christmas. Spring is the ideal time for deep “spring cleaning” so today was the day.

The first chore on my never ending to do list I wanted to get done was a trip to St. Vincent De Paul to drop off a carload of donations. It amazes me how much crap one can accumulate in a short period of time. I made a trip like this just before Christmas, and now I’ve got twice as much stuff to get rid off. Clothes, books, purses, shoes, bags, appliances, dishes, Christmas decorations, and even some exercise equipment — and that was just the first load. Next week I’ll fill the car again and maybe free up some extra space for my pantry.

Next on my list was a clothes basket full of ironing. I swear I let it pile up until there isn’t a clean shirt for my hubby to wear. Does anyone iron anymore?  None of my neighbors do.  How do they manage that?  Even hanging clothes outside on the line I need to run an iron across nearly every shirt and pant that I bring in.  At least it’s not as bad as when my grandmother used to iron — she ironed underwear and sheets.  I don’t take it that far.  It took most of the afternoon, but now it’s done until I clean the winter clothes out of the closets for the summer — yes that was on the to do list too, but I needed to enjoy the moment, albeit temporary, of an empty ironing basket.

All afternoon I checked little things off my list and really thought I was making headway, until I looked at the clock and realized I had only 30 minutes before dinner was supposed to rear it’s ugly head.

What to make? Although I don’t like to make a habit of serving sandwiches for dinner, the Monte Cristo sandwich is definitely filling enough to squeak by as a meal.

The traditional Monte Cristo is ham, turkey, and cheese dipped in egg, of course, as usual I did not have all the ingredients. Not being one tied to a recipe, I took all the lunch meat and cheese out of the fridge and viola! dinner.

Monte Cristo Sandwiches on the griddle.

Monte Cristo Sandwiches on the griddle.

Monte Cristo Sandwiches

  • Bread or Rolls
  • Lunch meat – I used ham, salami, bologna, and pastrami
  • Cheese – traditionally it calls for cheddar and swiss. I used spicy Fiesta Jack and Provolone
  • 3 Eggs
  • Milk
  1. Assemble sandwiches making sure to place the lunch meat in between two slices of cheese.
  2. Dip completed sandwich in egg mixed with milk.
  3. Cook on griddle until cheese melts and bread browns.
  4. Serve with maple syrup.

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I was the only one who ate the sandwich with syrup. Hubby likes his plain, Zeb eats his with ranch dressing, and Grace uses thousand island dressing. Served with a side of homemade French fries and a salad it was dinner.

Some days it’s nice not to spend hours in the kitchen making dinner and yet serving something that is hearty and fulfilling, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Jingle Bells, I Love You Too Much!

You can say any fool thing to a dog, and the dog will give you this look that says, “My God, you’re RIGHT. I NEVER would’ve thought of that!’ – Dave Barry

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Jingle Bells

It isn’t healthy how much I love my dog. She is with me every moment I am home. And when I have to go out, I worry about her. So much in fact that I am hesitating even planning a family vacation because I worry how it will affect her. These feelings are so close to how I felt about my children when they were babies and to some extent still now, I feel guilty. In fact, since my kids are getting older and less dependent on me, Bell has eased herself right into the would-be empty nest spots that they used to occupy.

Nearly two and a half years ago I decided I wanted a dog. Up until then my husband pretty much forbade me from getting one. I tend to get over attached to animals — okay, let’s face it, I am a sentimental slob and love them to a point well beyond what would be considered “healthy.” Every time we have had any sort of pet, I become so close to them, that when they leave this world, I am a basket case for weeks.

I have lost some close family members and a few close friends, but losing a pet is different. It is like losing a piece of yourself. This isn’t to discount losing family or friends, because that is also nearly unbearable, but for some reason I cannot accept a pets death as readily as I have been able to accept people’s. I hope that doesn’t sound harsh.

Death is never fair and I am never ready for it, regardless if a person has been ill or has lived a long life, but maybe because when a person dies, a piece of them is carried on in the people whose lives they’ve touched, it is somehow cushioned. My grandmother died nearly 15 years ago and I still think of her if not every day, pretty close. There are so many things I learned from her that I use in my daily life and traditions she instilled in me that it is as if she is still here. I suppose as long as I remember her and the gifts she left me, she will never truly be gone.

When our pet rabbit, Pepper died four years ago, I didn’t think I’d ever get over it. We found him after someone set him “free” at a state park. He was a domestic rabbit and would not have made it through the night in the wild. For seven years he was a part of our family. Not to the extent that Bell is now (I tend to think dogs are more loving than rabbits, at least in our case), but a loving addition none the less. Even though he died peacefully and I knew he had lived longer than most rabbits his breed, the loss was palpable. It left a hole in my heart that mere memories cannot heal. To this day I mourn his loss.

I’m not sure if it was the loss of Pepper or that the kids were finally old enough to join me in “ganging up” on my husband, but one night when he got home from work, we were waiting for him. He walked into the great room and found us sitting on the couch. He knew something was up. He cautiously sat on the opposite couch and I told him, “We want a dog.”

No begging, no justification, no preliminary conversation to cushion the blow, just “We want a dog!” He sat there a moment staring at us. I assume he was weighing his options. Before he could come up with a million reasons not to, I flipped open my laptop and continued. I told him I had found an 8 week old border collie/Australian shepherd puppy that needed rescuing. I turned the monitor toward him with Bell’s picture full screen. He looked at her and I could see him physically soften.

I’d done my homework. One thing my husband could not stand was a dumb dog. I think all dogs are great in their own way, but for my husband, a dog had to be smart. This breed was rated number 1. How much better could it get?

Without argument, my husband stood up, walked out of the room, saying over his shoulder, “If that’s what you want.” Done! He might have thought I would follow him to fortify my case for a dog, but I didn’t. I let it go. I didn’t say another word about it. I’d won. He didn’t say no and that’s all I was looking for.

The next morning after he left for work, the kids and I got in the car, drove 30 miles to where Bell was and brought her home. When my husband came home from work, I set Bell in the middle of the back hallway floor, right where he would come in. The kids and I hid around the corner and waited. The door opened and in a funny, baby-talk voice that I hadn’t heard since the kids were babies my husband said, “Well hello there! Aren’t you a cutie.” He was hooked.  Since that day, Jingle Bells has been our baby-dog. My husband refers to her as our “love child” and “the daughter that loves me.” My daughter loves him, but she is a teenager, so it’s only natural that there be a little friction from time to time.

Being a stay-at-home mom, I spend the most time with Bell. I feed her, bathe her, walk her, play with her, and twice a week when hubby is working, she sleeps with me. The other nights she sleeps with my daughter, Gracie. She is spoiled rotten and that’s the way I like it. I look at rescuing her as justification for making her life as happy, fulfilling, and easy as possible. She gives us unconditional love beyond anything I could have imagined, so the least I can do is let her sleep on the couch all day, walk her every morning, play with her, feed her healthy food, and love her with every ounce of my being. See — just like a kid, except my kid’s days of sleeping on the couch all day are numbered, they aren’t much into exercise, playing has nearly been outgrown, and healthy food does not always win over the junk food they try to sneak. Still, there’s the love.

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I can’t imagine what I’m going to do when something happens to Bell. Just typing that statement my eyes have filled with tears, there is a lump in my throat, and it is taking everything inside me to hold back the tears welling up in my eyes. So today, I am going to love Bell as much as I can, sneak doggie kisses as often as she’ll give them, and do my best to give her the “dog’s life” that she deserves, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Exercise Epiphany

“My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety-seven now, and we don’t know where the heck she is.” ― Ellen DeGeneres

This morning, as I was putting on my warm-up pants, t-shirt, and sweat jacket, it hit me:

There is more to “working out” than just wearing work-out clothes!

You could have knocked me over with a feather!

Most days I put on these clothes with every intention of working out, yet most days I end up wearing these clothes all day without hitting the gym. It’s almost as if I’ve convinced myself that if I put on the right clothes, I’ll somehow be motivated to go down into the basement and workout in our gym or God forbid drive out to Planet Fitness and actually use my gym membership.

I hate exercising. I don’t mind taking Bell for a walk or going for a three mile hike to get my blood flowing, but when it comes to weight training or going to the gym, I have never been good at maintaining a regimen. And this isn’t for lack of opportunity or equipment.

My husband has spent years building a professional-style gym in our basement with equipment off Craig’s List. We have machines that could put some gyms to shame. In all he has spent maybe $700, but retail for these machines is well over $10,000. He has gotten machines free or for next to nothing and to top it all off, he has sold pieces we’ve acquired for a profit to enable him to upgrade our gym without having to spend any money out of pocket.

Still, going into the basement to workout is not as easy as it sounds. Motivation eludes me most days. This holds true for the kids too. So, in order to make sure my son didn’t become a mush and to give him the motivation he needed, we joined Planet Fitness. This was exciting for the first four or five months. I went three times a week and was really dedicated. Then the holidays hit and I used them as an excuse to cut down on going. Then my father joined and he and my son started going to the gym together, making it all too easy to just stay home and find any excuse not to exercise.

“squats are a form of torture designed by people who don’t need to do squats in the first place”
― Nora Roberts, Bed of Roses

I know how important it is to exercise. I know it is not an option, but a necessity. Still, I cannot seem to make this a life-long habit.

Today though, I am going to workout. Before I clean one more thing; before I plan dinner; before I finally pick up that Kleenex sitting in the middle of the floor — I am going to exercise. But if I don’t, which I’m not saying is what is going to happen here but if for some unforeseen reason I don’t, at least I’ll be nice and comfy in my workout clothes as I promise myself, “I’ll do it tomorrow,” and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

 

Strawberry Guava Jam And Then Some!

“Time stays long enough for those who use it.“ – Leonardo Da Vinci

There was so much to get done today in so little time (I know the reality of time, but that isn’t going to stop me from denying it) that once again I got up well before the alarm clock and headed down to the kitchen.

Strawberry Guava Jam was first on my list of “Must Do Today” items. Having juiced all the guava yesterday, my job was fairly simple. All I had to do was slice the strawberries I needed to add to the guava and I’d be set. Here is the recipe:

Strawberry Guava Jam

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Ingredients:

  • 3 Cups Guava Juice/Pulp (see Guava Jam recipe for juicing instructions)
  • 6 Cups Sliced Strawberries (about 2 pounds)
  • 2 Cups Sugar
  • 1 Pint Apple Pectin Stock
  • 3 Tablespoons Lime Juice

Combine all ingredients in large stock pot and bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook 30 minutes or until strawberries are tender. With a stick blender, spot puree.  This is my cheat for not crushing one cup of the berries prior to mixing with the other ingredients.  Depending on how chunky you want the jam, puree to your liking.  Remove from heat and let stand five minutes. Ladle jam into hot 4 oz. or 8 oz. jars and cap with hot bands and lids. Process 10 minutes in water bath.

This jam is not very sweet. My husband loves it because he prefers jams on the tart side, but I don’t see why you couldn’t add more sugar if you wanted. The rule seems to be one cup of sugar for every cup of guava but with the addition of the strawberries, you could easily add two or three more cups to sweeten this up.

With the jam done and all the guava used, I moved onto my next project — corn. Over the weekend I came across two boxes of corn-on-the-cob on the discount rack. For $2.00 I got 77 ears of corn. This worked out perfectly because I just finished my last bag of frozen corn from last summer’s farmer’s market shopping.

Freezing Corn Pictorial

 

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Freezing corn is easy. The blanching only takes five minutes and I enjoy using my little kernel remover gadget to clean the cobs. In all, this project took an hour and half and yielded me 5 quarts of frozen corn — more than enough to keep us happy until July or August when Michigan corn starts showing up at the market.

The rest of my day was spent cooking dinner, cleaning the house (well that’s what I call it — others might say moving the dirt from one spot to another), driving my daughter to school and then work, and then finally I ended the day by making another batch of dehydrated apples. That was the other huge find on the clearance rack. I got three boxes of apples for $5.00. I haven’t even finished the first box yet and already I’ve gotten 4 quarts of dehydrated apple chips for the pantry.

Dehydrated Apple Chips

Wash Apples
Peel, Core and Slice

An apple/corer/peeler gadget saves a ton of time.

An apple/corer/peeler gadget saves a ton of time.

Place on dehydrater trays

Apples placed on tray - no touching.

Apples placed on tray – no touching.

Spray with lemon juice (both top and bottom of tray)

Love using a spray bottle with lemon juice - so easy!

Love using a spray bottle with lemon juice – so easy!

Set tray on dehydrater and leave for 18 to 24 hours
Let cool

Dehydrated Apple Chips

Dehydrated Apple Chips

Remove from trays and store in quart mason jars sealed with FoodSaver

It was a productive day — it needed to be. There is nothing worse than buying produce off the discount rack and then not doing anything with it until it starts to spoil. Yes, I have done this and end up suffering buyer’s remorse, canner’s guilt, and housewife shame for days after. Today I utilized the bargains I bought and added stock to the pantry, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Guava Jam – Thanks For The Memories

Everyone has a ‘risk muscle.’ You keep it in shape by trying new things. If you don’t, it atrophies. Make a point of using it at least once a day. – Roger Von Oech

It has been a hectic Sunday filled with canning, cooking, shopping, and laundry. All of this took precedent over posting this morning, but waiting provided me with something new to share.

Yesterday on the clearance rack at Randazzo’s I came across several quart containers filled with a fruit I’d never seen before. On reading the PLU sticker I learned it was a guava. I’d always thought guava were the size of a large pear. These were the size of apricots. Not having any idea what I’d make with them I had to have them, so I bought 3 quarts for a total of $2.00. I also got a ton of other things, very cheap — but more on them in another post.

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The moment I got home I went to the computer before even emptying the car. I had to find out if there were any great recipes for guava jam online. My search resulted in a few recipes that used a pink guava, one that used the larger green guava I was familiar with, and only one that used the small, creamy-textured ones I’d bought. Not much to go on, but I’d worked with less. I knew that come morning, I’d be ready to experiment.

Getting up early this morning, the only morning during the week that I can sleep in, I headed to the kitchen anxious to see what working with guava was going to be like. Not liking most of the methods I found on the Internet for “juicing” guava, I decided to use the method I was comfortable with and use for most fruits.

I started by washing the guava and cutting off the flower and stem ends. Next I quartered the fruit and put them in a large stock pan – peels, seeds and all.


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Then I filled the pot with just enough water to cover the fruit and brought it to a boil.

Quarter Guava and put in Large Stock Pot

Quarter Guava and put in Large Stock Pot

Leaving it simmer on the stove for 30 minutes, I tested the guava and found it tender.

Cover Guava with water and bring to boil.

Cover Guava with water and bring to boil.

I have found that in order to get the most juice out of any fruit, using a hand mixer or stick blender while the fruit is still in the pan does wonders. I pureed the fruit until all the large chunks were gone, leaving lots of tiny seeds and a thick creamy mixture.

Puree cooked guava till smooth and creamy.

Puree cooked guava till smooth and creamy.

Now, either because I’m too lazy to stand there with a strainer or too impatient to wait for the juice to filter through cheese cloth, I pulled out my Victorio Strainer. Fitting it with the berry attachment I poured all the boiling liquid into the hopper and strained out the skin and seeds. Some of the seeds did crack during the process, releasing a tiny poppyseed-size seed into the juice. This didn’t bother me, but if you wanted to I’m sure you could strain this out with a fine mesh strainer.

Pour puree in strainer to remove seeds and skin.

Pour puree in strainer to remove seeds and skin.

The three quarts of guava I bought yielded nine cups of strained guava pulp/juice. It was very thick and smelled almost citrusy.

Strained Guava Pulp/Juice

Strained Guava Pulp/Juice

I put 6 cups of the pulp back in the pan, added 3 tablespoons lime juice, and 4 cups of sugar. Bringing this to a boil I then added one pouch of liquid pectin and let it boil for one minute more. I’m not sure the pectin was really necessary because the jam already was fairly thick, but I figured it couldn’t hurt.

Return pulp to pan - add lime juice and sugar.

Return pulp to pan – add lime juice and sugar.

Finally I ladled the jam into hot 8 oz. jars, covered them with hot lids and bands, and processed them in a water bath for 10 minutes. I filled six jars and another small bowl that I put in the fridge.

Guava Jam

Guava Jam

There was a little jam left in the pan, which I left there for my next project — some sort of guava-fruit combo jam.

I tasted the jam while it was still hot and wasn’t sure what it tasted like. It had a bite to it, it was sweet, but unlike anything I’d ever made. The whole house smelled like guava. Then it hit me. I knew this fruit. I might not have seen it in its fruit form, but back some eight or more years ago we went to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic for a family vacation.  Every morning they served fresh squeezed juices in the dining room. The one that all of us drank and enjoyed the most was the guava. It was thick, creamy, white and very sweet. Obviously they had added lots of sugar and more water than I did to make the jam, but the flavor was certainly reminiscent.

After removing the jars from the canner, I tasted the cooling jam in the refrigerator. Wow! Cold the flavor was so much stronger. Very unique. I liked it. So what could I do with the rest of the guava pulp and the little bit of jam left in the pan?

Leaving the canning so I could do some grocery shopping, I headed to Meijer’s. I ran into several workers that I have come to know over the years. Going to the same grocery store for 20+ years, you make friends. Needing some input on my guava dilemma, I asked for suggestions for a fruit that would go well with guava. My thought was possibly pineapple, but one of the women ate guava regularly and thought that a perfect combo would be to add strawberry. Done. I picked up two quarts of strawberries and now have a canning project for tomorrow.

Trying new things is scary, but what’s the worst that could happen? I’d have wasted $2.00 and a little time. What I gained was a new recipe, the satisfaction of utilizing years of canning experience to “fudge” my own recipe, and I got to enjoy a trip down memory lane recalling  the wonderful family vacation we had in Punta Cana, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Pressure Canning Phobia — No More!

“Saw a little girl touch a big bug and shout, “I conquered my fear! YES!” and calmly walk away. I was inspired.” 
― Nathan Fillion

In 1999 I bought my first pressure canner with hopes of pressure canning anything and everything. Thinking that bigger was better, I went for the 22 quart model. Little did I realize how intimidating pressure canning would turn out to be.

I canned some beef stew and a few soup bases, but could never get over the fear of this pressurizing pot exploding in my kitchen. Silly, I know, but the fear stuck with me to the point that for twelve years the canner stayed packed away in its box.

Last summer I decided I wanted to can my own pinto and Great Northern beans. When I found out these had to be pressure canned, I nearly backed away from the challenge, but decided the pressure canner had been idle long enough. I couldn’t let fear rule me.  So I unboxed my pressure canner and set to work.  What I didn’t know however,  was that leaving such a pan idle for so long did have its consequences.

“To escape fear, you have to go through it, not around.” ― Richie NortonResumes Are Dead and What to Do About It

After preparing my first batch of beans, putting them in the jars, placing them in the canner, and closing the lid, I waited. For over an hour I watched steam escape from every place except the top little spout. How in the world was this pan supposed to pressurize, if the steam kept getting out?

Researching what the problem was, I learned the my gasket had more than likely dried out and this was making it impossible for the pan to seal. There were gaskets I could order, but what about the beans in my pan now? So, back to the Internet I went. Thankfully, there are a lot of people out there like myself that don’t have the patience to wait for parts or the desire to throw money at something when you are not entirely certain you’ve diagnosed the problem correctly. I found several people who described having a similar problem with steam escaping their pressure canner and they suggested using Vaseline to aid in the sealing process. I should have remembered this because I’d used this little trick before on hoses around the house.

I removed the gasket, rubbed it entirely with Vaseline, replaced it, and then pulled out the rubber spout on the top of the pan and greased that up too. Returning everything to the pan, sealing it again, I waited. It took some time, but as the steam increased, less and less came out the sides and eventually there was only steam coming through the spigot at the top. Success. My jars sealed and I was happy.

The only problem with my canner was the size. Most of the time, I didn’t need all the space in the 22 quart model I had. Sure it was nice to have when I was doing beans and could layer them, but if there were only a few pints that needed sealing, the time it took for this canner to pressurize was ridiculous.

That is why I bought a 12 quart model when I found it at an estate sale a few weeks ago. Of course, the only reservation I had with buying a used model was whether or not the gasket was going to be good or not. Knowing I knew how to fix it, I took a chance.

Yesterday I worked on canning green chiles that I found on the clearance rack at Meijer’s. I roasted the peppers on the grill, peeled them, seeded and cored them, packed them in 1/2 pint jars, covered them with boiling water and put them in the new canner. Thirty minutes after turning the burner on, steam was streaming through the top with only a slight leak under one of the handles. As the steam increased, the leak sealed itself and 45 minutes later I took the canner off the burner. Once the pan had depressurized I opened it and found five jars of perfectly sealed green chiles. Awesome! I can’t wait to do more. Now that I know this can be so quick and easy, I am going to add several vegetables to my Canning To Do List for the summer.

Here is what I did:

Start out by washing your green chiles and placing them on a hot grill.

Green Chiles Washed And Set On Grill

Green Chiles Washed And Set On Grill

Grill over high flame, charing the outer skin.

Green Chiles with Skins Chared

Green Chiles with Skins Chared

Place roasted chilies in a bowl and cover for 30 minutes. This will loosen the skins.

Roasted Chiles in Bowl - Steam to make removing skins easier - 30 minutes

Roasted Chiles in Bowl – Steam to make removing skins easier – 30 minutes

Remove the skins. Doing this under running water makes it easier.

Peeled and Washed Chiles

Peeled and Washed Chiles

Remove the seeds and membranes.

Seeded and Cored Chiles

Seeded and Cored Chiles

Slice or chop if desired.
Pack into hot jars, cover with boiling water, leaving a 1“ head space.
Top jars with hot lids and bands.
Place on pressure canner rack that has 2 – 3“ of water and put lid on.

Jars in Canner

Jars in Canner

Turn burner to high and leave until steam flows through top for ten minutes.
Place weighted gauge on top.
Process for 35 minutes at 10 pounds.
Remove pan from heat.
Let cool for one hour then open pan and remove jars.
Check seals.

Canned Green Chiles

Canned Green Chiles

Canning Green Chiles

Canned Green Chiles

Ingredients

  • Green Chiles
  • Boiling Water
  • Mason Jars & Lids
  • Pressure Canner

Directions

  1. Wash chilies.
  2. Grill over high flame, charing the outer skin.
  3. Place roasted chilies in a bowl and cover for 30 minutes. This will loosen the skins.
  4. Remove the skins. Doing this under running water makes it easier.
  5. Remove the seeds and membranes.
  6. Slice or chop if desired.
  7. Pack into hot jars, cover with boiling water, leaving a 1“ head space.
  8. Top jars with hot lids and bands.
  9. Place on pressure canner rack that has 2 – 3“ of water and put lid on.
  10. Turn burner to high and leave until steam flows through top for ten minutes.
  11. Place weighted gauge on top.
  12. Process for 35 minutes at 10 pounds.
  13. Remove pan from heat.
  14. Let cool for one hour then open pan and remove jars.
  15. Check seals.

 

Recipe by:  Tilly Frueh – Simply Grateful Housewife 2014

I am so happy this turned out and even more excited about all the canning I can tackle now that my fear of pressure canning is behind me. I can’t say that the thought of the pan exploding didn’t cross my mind yesterday as the steam built up and the gauge jiggled violently on top of the pan, but it didn’t explode and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Mexican Fiesta

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure.  In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” ~ Julia Child

Once I’d decided that Mexican was the choice for yesterdays menu, I went in the basement and pulled all the home-canned supplies from the shelves. The most exciting part of making the meal was being able to use the jalapeno peppers I’d just canned a few weeks ago. I’m not sure why I never thought to can them myself years ago, but when you start thinking one way…it’s almost impossible to change.

With the supplies at the ready, I opened first the tomatoes I’d canned last summer. Surprisingly these were my last two quarts. Good thing tomatoes are a constant during the summer. Having to wait until late August would be far too long a wait.

Once the tomatoes were pureed, I opened the peppers. Wow! My mouth began to water immediately. They smelled hot but I couldn’t control myself — I emptied the whole pint into the food processor and added the pureed paste to the tomatoes.

Here are a few pictures of the process:

My salsa isn’t very unique. My family does not like it chunky, so most everything in it is pureed so that the chunks are  small. I, myself do not like tomatoes. I eat them as a sauce mostly, but have never liked them raw. I think I have an alergy to them as well. Whenever I am in the garden trimming the plants or harvesting tomatoes, I end up with a rash all over me. Last year my daughter finally forbid me from going in the tomato garden. She took over so I wouldn’t spend the next day scratching and puffy.

I have added fresh onion and green or red bell pepper to the recipe on occasion, but for the most part, this is how we enjoy it. Here is the recipe if you’re interested.

Homemade Salsa

  • Servings: 3 Quarts
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

 

Ingredients

  • 2 Quarts Fresh or Canned Chopped Tomatoes
  • 1 Pint Jalapeno Peppers
  • 12 – 16 oz. Chopped Green Chilis
  • 1 24 oz. Can Tomato Puree

Directions

  1. Put the tomatoes, peppers and chilies through the food processor and process to a consistency of your liking.
  2. Put in a bowl.
  3. Add tomato puree (I add this to thicken the salsa, but if you don’t mind the salsa a little runny you can omit it).
  4. Stir and chill for at least an hour.

Cooking Note

This is really just a starter salsa recipe. There are so many more options with this base. You can add in freshly diced onion, peppers, tomatoes or our favorite — cilantro. You can make this your own with whatever your preferences are.

 

Recipe by:  Tilly Frueh – Simply Grateful Housewife 2014

 

I have to admit that the full pint of peppers made the salsa very hot. I will be adding more puree to calm it down once we’ve eaten more of it. I’d add more tomatoes, but that shelf is bare.

As luck would have it, yesterday I happened upon two bags of green chilies on the discount rack at Meijer’s. I had put canning these on my Canning To Do List for the summer. Of course, who can wait until summer when there are two bags for less than $2.00 staring you right in the face. I picked them up and plan on roasting them today and giving canning them a shot. They have to be pressure canned. I’m not as comfortable doing this, but I did just pick up a new 12 quart pressure canner at an estate sale, so no better time to try it out.

After the salsa was done, I worked on the Mexican Tortilla Soup. Not sure where this recipe came from, but I have changed it so many times over the years, I’ll call it my own. Here is that recipe, very easy and quite hearty (so hearty in fact that the family asked me not to make the tacos with it last night — they figured they be too full from the soup to enjoy them).

Mexican Tortilla Soup

  • Servings: 6 - 8
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

 

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 – 2 Pounds Ground Beef
  • 1/2 tsp Chili Powder
  • 2 tsp. Ground Cumin
  • 3 Pints Refried Beans or Canned Pinto Beans
  • 4 Cups Beef Broth
  • 2 Cans Enchilada Sauce
  • 1 Can Chopped Green Chilies (optional)
  • 1/2 Onion Chopped Fine and sautéed to translucent or 1/4 Cup Onion Flakes

Directions

  1. Brown hamburger in large pot. Drain grease.
  2. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for at least an hour. I leave mine on the stove all day just because I like to have my dinner done as early as possible so I don’t have to worry about it later. It needs to boil about an hour to allow the spices and flavors to infuse the meat and broth, but after than you can just put it on low.
  3. Garnish with tortilla strips or broken tortilla chips, sour cream, shredded cheese, chopped green/red bell pepper, diced onion, shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, and salsa — whatever you put on a taco or a burrito, will go great in the soup.

Cooking Note

This soup is really more like a chili. Definitely substantial enough for a meal, but if you limit everyone to just one bowl (good luck with that) you could serve a main course as well.

 

Recipe by:  Tilly Frueh – Simply Grateful Housewife 2014

So, yesterday’s dinner is under my belt and seeing as I didn’t make the tacos last night, dinner is planned for today, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.