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


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


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)


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.

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.

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.


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.


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.


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.

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



  • 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.

Clearance Produce Rack Joy

This morning I spent over an hour at my favorite produce market scavenging for discount produce and came home elated with my finds.  I have read on some websites and in some books on canning that buying produce from these racks is not advised because the quality of the product might not be as good.  This has not been my experience.  I try to be discerning in my choices and not make impulse buys just because the produce might be dirt cheap.  Today I would consider my best day ever as far as finding the best in quantity, quality, and variety.

My first stop was the discount corner.  There you’ll find a large make-shift table out of empty produce boxes topped with 1/2-full to 3/4-full flats of produce pulled from the floor stock that is no longer considered first-rate.  Each box is $2.00 regardless how full it is.  Most of the time when I get there I’ll find a box or two with some unrecognizable vegetable that is wilting and brown.  Occasionally though I come at just the right moment and might find a box of apples or oranges.

This morning I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw several flats of strawberries on the table.  Each flat held eight 1-pound containers.  There were several people clustered around the table, so I pushed my cart to the side and waited until they were done.  Unbelievably only one of the people took a flat, leaving three complete flats on the table for me to look at.  Quickly glancing at the contents of the plastic clam-shells I noticed a few moldy strawberries, but for the most part everything looked good.  I put two flats on the bottom of my cart.


Next, across from the discount table there’s a metal discount rack.  Items on this rack are $1.00 a bag or $.69 a quart.  The rack was empty except for four honeydew melons.  A man picked up one of the melons and put it in his cart leaving three for me to think about.  They were $1 each.  Not sure exactly what I’d make with them I thought, “For $3.00 it’s worth taking them.”  So into my cart they went.


When I arrive at the market in the morning, the staff can be found sorting through large bins of fresh fruit, throwing bruised fruit into boxes in their carts and tidying up the remaining salable fruit.  I watch them as they fill their boxes while I stroll around the store in search of great sales.  Today I didn’t really need anything other than what I could find discounted, so for 30 minutes I walked around carefully eyeing what was being pulled.

In watching the process of fruit being pulled, I noticed that several people were going right up to the men pulling the fruit and asking for the boxes.  The men would give them the box and then grab another box from the floor and start filling that one.  Seeing these boxes disappear into carts with no chance of seeing them in the discount corner, I decided to take a shot at getting my own box.

Near the front of the store there was a large bin of lemons marked 2 for $1.00.  There a man was patiently picking through the fruit, squeezing each lemon to see if it was firm, tossing soft ones into a box, and filling the bins on the table with the good fruit.  I made several passes with my cart trying to get up my nerve to ask for a box but was beat to it by an older man.  Figuring I’d better suck it up or leave I walked over and struck up a conversation with the worker.  I asked him if I was able to ask for a box of discarded fruit or how I would go about getting one.  He told me that he would gladly give me the next box he pulled.  For 30 minutes I stood and talked to him as he pulled lemons from the table and put them in what was soon to be my box.  In the end, I had more than 20 lemons, all for $2.00.  I thanked him profusely and headed to the cashier.


On my way out, I decided to give the discount table and rack one more pass, and found two quarts of jalapeno peppers, two quarts of okra, and two quarts of mushrooms.  Also, I passed the strawberry table where a worker was pulling more strawberry boxes for the discount table.  Seeing that one was full, I asked if I could have it.  Gratefully I put it in my cart.


How awesome is that!  I ended up with 24 pounds of strawberries for $6.00, a box of lemons for $2.00, 3 melons for $3.00, and 6 quarts of various vegetables for $4.20.  What a haul!  Now the work begins.  Strawberry-lemonade concentrate, strawberry-kiwi lemonade concentrate, pickled jalapeno, frozen okra, dried mushrooms, and maybe some honeydew jelly, jam, or syrup.  I am without a doubt — Simply Grateful.