Monday, October 29, 2012

Crafting Underway

Crafting Underway

I've been here.  Well, just not HERE.  I guess I should just say I've been around, and unfortunately I've been spread so thin I haven't been able to write like I usually like to, but that's about to CHANGE!  Thanks to all my viewers/followers.  As always your support is appreciated. 

More to come soon!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Sweet Corn Tutorial - Preppin' For Winter

All throughout the summer, sweet corn proves to be an all-American favorite, but the window of opportunity to get your corn on the cob eatin' in is quickly ending. 

But don't worry.  The party doesn't have to end!...

The deliciousness that all those sweet little kernels brings to the table can be transformed into something just as tasty as it once was your last BBQ.

So let's preserve the party!  Freeze your corn and I'm certain it will be a hit with your guests during holiday dinners, and will make the perfect addition to any comfort food (like mashed potatoes...mmm....).

On some of my earlier posts I've shared pictures of our garden which included a few rows of sweet corn.  We usually plant more, but this year we made more room for pumpkins for the kiddo.  After our first round of harvesting and freezing the corn from our garden, we decided that would not nearly be enough for the family members and friends we often share with.  So we made the decision to visit one of local farm markets, McMaster Farms, in Columbiana, Ohio.  Talk about amazing. 

If you're not familiar with freezing corn for the winter months, make sure you ask for "seconds."  Don't turn your nose up at this yet, because there's nothing wrong with it.  Seconds may have a bruise or a discoloration here or there, but it's perfect for freezing, and will save you a couple bucks (at least) for every dozen you get.  Just a few days ago, we bought 10 dozen.  As a matter of fact, McMaster's seconds looked exactly like FIRSTS!

Once you manage to get your giant bags of corn home, the work begins.  Now I have to admit, we had the troops out to help, so if you're going to attempt to do this your first time with about 10 dozen ears, recruit some help for yourself.  It's not entirely necessary, but the whole process will go much more quickly if you do.   Husking the corn proved to be quick with four people husking.  The next picture will show you what "seconds" look like when you buy them.

Once all the corn is husked, you're going to want to get a large pot of water boiling.  In the meantime, sanitize a tub with some bleach water and rinse it out thoroughly.  Fill it about halfway with water, and then the rest with ice.  An important part of freezing corn is blanching it first (boiling then immediately stop the cooking with ice water).  At our place, we don't mess around.  We use our handy dandy turkey fryer for nearly all our canning processes.  It saves on the electric bill from not using the electric stove, keeps the heat out of the house,  performs  much faster, and that large stock pot can fit a LOT of ears in all at once (and the pressure canner also fits right inside that ring).  Of course, use caution.  Do NOT use the turkey fryer inside your house or have it outside too close to your house.  Here's a picture of our set up:

Once your water has come to a boil, drop your corn in.  Once the water comes back up to a boil, set your timer for three minutes.  Boil away!

After three minutes, with your largest pair of tongs, grab the corn and quickly put it in your ice water.  This will stop the corn from cooking anymore, and seals in that flavor we're so fond of.  Let the cobs clear pretty well all the way though.  If you pick up a cob and after a few seconds can feel it getting warm in your hand, the center is still warm and it needs to polar plunge once more.

So much excitement can come to a screeching halt while waiting for the corn to cool.  So I easily found amusement in the cat laying on the dog's frisbee just to make him mad.   See?

Okay, okay!  The corn has cooled off.  Back to work!

Once you've plucked your corn from the ice water, let's bring it inside where you'll be cutting the kernels from the cobs.  Here's a picture of our set up in the kitchen.

It's a relatively simple set up. Lay down some newspaper, grab a few pots to catch all your corn, and put your corn cutters on top of the pots.  You'll notice two are yellow ones and the one farthest in the back (left side) of the picture is wooden.  We recommend the plastic ones - there is less friction than a wooden cutter when you slide your cob over the blades in the center of the cutter and will speed up the cutting process.  Grab an ear of corn and slide it forward and back again over the blades on the cutter while rotating it.  Your corn should look something like this:

There are a couple of ways of cutting corn.  Some people prefer the entire kernel intact, and others prefer it creamed like we do.  I find it easier to digest, and easier to eat.  However you can adjust the blades on the cutters to cut the hull off entirely.

With a few rounds of boiling, blanching, and cutting, 10 dozen ears of corn yielded about 51 cups of creamed corn.  We package 3 cups of corn in a Ziploc bag and freeze them on a cookie sheet so they'll stay flat while they are freezing, and then store away in the freezer until we're ready to add it to a meal.  Enjoy!

Of course you may have a different way of preparing your corn, and that's great - I'd like you to share by leaving me a comment!

Also, McMaster Farms LLC is located on 345 Old Fourteen, Columbiana, Ohio 44408.  Thanks for the lovely corn - we'll definitely be back for more produce!  And to all my readers, remember to buy local!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Now I can see it's about my Mom and not so much about Me...

This morning I had a serious case of the older you get, the more you realize.   And the first thing that came to mind was my Mom.  I've been wanting to write a post about her because she always bugs me about what I mean when I refer to her as the Mom in this blog.

So what do I mean by this?  A ton of things.  All good things.  As I sit here my brains are spewing out so many thoughts I want to share with you that I'm having a hard time deciding where I should start. 

I'll apologize in advance if this post has about 15 introductions before I get to my point and this post is out of order, but I want to set ya'll straight...

My mom Paula, is a vital part of Country Crafters and Crafting at the Round Table.  There probably isn't a day that goes by where I don't think of her or talk to her, or both.  We've had our ups and downs.  I've been through the silly teenage stage where moms are so uncool.  I moved out when I was 19 and did my own thing for a while, and now live about 5 miles away from her.  Most importantly, I realize more and more just how much she has influenced my life and just how much I am like her.  I guess the only way I'm going to sort this all out is if I start with the early days.

Before I was born my mom took a risk to take a test to operate heavy equipment (bulldozers, cranes, name it, she ran it).  Actually, during that time my mother was pregnant with me.  This was  a time when women in this line of business were especially unwelcome.  She has told me she wore baggy clothes so as not to show her pregnancy to avoid additional opinions and judgements cast in her direction.  As I grew old enough to understand,  she would tell me the times she was fired from a job her first day because they didn't want a woman on the job site, or would play mean tricks to get her to make mistakes, or would purposely set her up for disaster.  That didn't phase her.  She was determined to succeed.  My mom had some serious will power and woman power.  There were an endless number of times my mom preached to me that we girls have woman power.  My mom is no women's activist, though. She HAD to have woman power in her line of work.  Later on, I met numerous men my mother worked with over the years.  She was highly regarded and respected among her co-workers in the heavy equipment operating business.  While I may not have realized that at a younger age, I'm and awed and amazed today at what my mother has accomplished. 

From day one, my mom, like many other moms out there, has supported her child's hobbies.  Roller skating was mine.  I started skating when I was three, my first competition when I was five, and was competing in national competitions by the time I was nine.  That included traveling, making outfits, buying skatings, practicing, bringing toys during downtimes, doing my hair at 3:00 am for competitions, make up, contributing to skate clubs, and countless hours of fussing over everything and anything else that had involved my hobby.  I know it was exhausting and a ton of work, but the thing I remember the most is that my mom was there.

Growing up my mother wasn't strict.  She made it clear to me at a very young age that you get things you want by earning them.  She also taught me that anything worth having never comes easy.  By doing so, I also learned discipline and respect, and I will continue to uphold the lessons she has taught me.  To this day I have to give her credit for my confidence to pursue anything I desire.

Now that I'm grown and have a life of my own, I can't imagine what it would be like if she wasn't a part of it.  I feel awkward if a couple days go by and I haven't talked to her.  I still love to go visit.  At her place, the coffee pot is always on, and she is willing to lend an ear or a shoulder if need be.  Actually, it's not just me that comes over to visit.  It can start out with one person visiting, then the next thing you know there are four neighbors and five family members coming out to visit Paula.  We joke and call it grand central station, but it's always a good time.

I could go on and on about how important my mom is to so many people.  When it comes to needing help, she's there unconditionally.  And not just for me; for everyone.  I'm so blessed to have a mom like the mom, and just in case you don't have what I have, don't worry.  My mom will be your mom, too. (Seriously, just ask her!)

What I really want to say, though, is this:

You know how people ask children what they want to be when they grow up?  If I knew what I know now as a child, I'd have to say that I'd want to grow up to be my mom...

...the Mom

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Freezer Jam - Strawberry (so easy!)

Bright and Early Saturday morning a couple girlfriends and I picked about 24 quarts of Strawberries.  It was a beautiful morning and it was the last day to pick strawberries as the dry weather in Northeastern Ohio has yielded a short season for berries.  I admit I probably ate half a quart right from the berry patch, but this year the berries were sweeter than ever.

Out of those 24 quarts I took home 10.  The youngin' at home was bewildered by the volume of strawberries, and at first couldn't quite understand what I was going to do with all of them.  I explained to him that all he would see after I was done was a large bowl of berries for strawberry shortcake.  Some  I was going to freeze, some were going to the Mom (yes, I like to call her "the Mom" which can be explained in a later post),  some were going to be fresh to snack on, and some were going to be turned into jam.

My previous post included a recipe for freezer jam.  Growing up I have been around the Mom and my grandmother who are experts on making the stuff (and I, the expert on sampling!).  Before this past Saturday, I had only made cooked jam, which requires a sweat band during the summer as well as large pots, oven mitts, and quick fingers.  Don't get me wrong, it can be enjoyable and it makes for wonderful gifts, but freezer jam for us amateurs can be a Godsend on hot days.  I used the recipe in my previous post and successfully made 10 1-cup containers of freezer jam.  I was so excited I had to call the expert chefs in the family (again, the Mom and my grandmother) to tell them what I had done.  I'm still pretty pleased with the turn out and decided I must blog about it.  If you've never made freezer jam, you really really REALLY should.

So step 1:  I cleaned and de-capped what felt like millions of berries:

By no means is that all the berries in that picture.  YES, it can be a grueling task.  Rinse, cut off the cap, rinse,  cut off the cap, rinse, cut off the cap, rinse, cut off the cap.  But there are a few rewards to this  (I mean, at least there are for me):  1. You will have delicious jam during the winter.  2. NOBODY, and I mean NOBODY will complain that they're bored because if they are they will be HELPING me with the berries.  3. After de-capping that many berries, you will have super ninja skills with a paring knife.  Fruit Ninja, in real life.

Again, let me remind you that the recipe calls for two cups of crushed strawberries.  After I sliced some for the Mom and for myself, I froze about three quarts, and then had enough for two batches of jam.  The directions, in case you should remove your loyal eyes from my blog, are right inside the dry pectin box (eg. Sure Jell, Jel Ease). 

Step 2:  Squish your berries in a bowl (this is jam, so leave it chunky!) and measure out two level cups into another bowl.  I used a potato smasher, but you can use a food processor (no puree).  It was just two cups and potato masher is much quicker to clean up unless you're making a boat load of jam.  (I made two separate batches).

Step 3:  Measure 4 level cups of granulated sugar into another bowl.  I know, I know.  The whole 2:4 ratio with fruit being the loser seems a little overwhelming, but in moderation just like anything else, jam is a sweet treat and won't make you feel like you should fast after eating a tablespoon or so. 

Why into a second bowl when you're just going to dump it right into your berries (which is Step 4)?  Well, the recipe right on the paperwork in the pectin box will warn you to use EXACT measurements.  I learned the hard way and said to myself "I got this - I'm not going to dirty another bowl."  Then the dog barks at the door.  Then the phone rings.  The the kiddo asks me what I'm doing.  THEN I lose count of how many cups I've dumped into the berries.  Using a separate bowl means you can reverse your potential mistake.

Step 5: Mix the sugar into the berries and let sit for about 10 minutes.  During that time, measure 3/4 cup water into a saucepan (I used a medium one even though the recipe calls for a small one...just in case) and add your dry pectin into the water.

Step 6:  Turn on the heat and stir constantly.  The pectin will be lumpy at first, but keep stirring.  When it starts to boil (keep stirring!) set your timer for one minute.  After a minute is up pour the pectin right into strawberry/sugar mixture and then you want to stir vigorously until the sugar dissolves entirely.  The directions call for three minutes of stirring, which is pretty accurate. 

Step 7:  You now have JAM!  This sticky goodness will already start to set.  Put into some containers (I used some BPA-free, Glad freezer containers to give out to family and friends,  and some other small containers we'll use at the house).  Once you get your jam into your containers, you'll need to let it sit out for 24 hours, then put it in the freezer.

  • Don't double a batch of jam.  You can squish all your strawberries at once if you intend on making more than one batch.  This is recipe that may not work if you double it. 
  • Freezer jam is not as tedious as cooked jam, and I think it captures the fresh fruit flavor because the berries aren't exposed to heat like cooked jam.
  • There are reduced sugar/sugar free recipes, but they also require a special type of pectin. (So do your homework!)
  •  Sometimes this jam is too sweet for some people, but don't cut back on the sugar for this recipe, otherwise you'll have ice cream topping instead of jam because it won't set.
  • Once you put your jam into the freezer it will keep for up to one year.  Once you need more, thaw it out in your fridge.  Once it's thawed though, it will last for about three weeks.

Canning and preserving has been something my family has done for years and years.  Yes,  it's time consuming and picking your produce is just the beginning of the work to be done.  However, you know EXACTLY what's going into the food you eat. 

The popularity of canning has increased a great deal as prices at the grocery store only continue to climb and the great part about this recipe is that you can live anywhere to make freezer jam;  even if you can't pick your own berries you can buy frozen ones. 

If you're afraid of doing this by yourself, bring a friend.  I had two girlfriends come pick berries with me, and I had such a great time.  We caught up on stories, vented, and though there were moments of silence when we were engrossed in picking berries, it was nice to just feel the presence of good friends.

Hope this satisfies your sweet tooth!!!!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Strawberries - Get 'Em Quick!

I love everything about strawberry season!  Strawberries are really rewarding for novice gardeners, because they’re easy to grow, and they are one of the first plants to flower and yield fruit.  One of my first jobs was picking strawberries when I was in junior high school and being in the strawberry patch never fails to make me feel like a kid again.

However, in northeast Ohio the strawberry season will soon be drawing to a close again. We’ve gorged ourselves silly on strawberries at my house and now its time to preserve the rest before they rot. There is absolutely nothing like the joy of pulling a jar of strawberry jam, or some frozen berries from the back of the freezer in January that you put away during the summer. It makes the long cold winter almost tolerable.
In honor of strawberry season, I’ve posted my favorite strawberry jam recipe. It’s just like Grandma used to make it, with all the love and sugar (4 cups in fact)! It’s super simple. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Super Simple Strawberry Freezer Jam

2 cups crushed strawberries (buy 1 qt. fully ripe strawberries)
4 cups sugar, measured into separate bowl
3/4 cup water
1 box SURE-JELL Fruit Pectin

Make It!
Rinse 5 (1-cup) plastic containers and lids with boiling water. Dry thoroughly. Stem and crush strawberries thoroughly, 1 cup at a time. Measure exactly 2 cups prepared fruit into large bowl. Stir in sugar. Let stand 10 min., stirring occasionally.

Mix water and pectin in small saucepan. Bring to boil on high heat, stirring constantly. Continue boiling and stirring 1 min. Add to fruit mixture; stir 3 min. or until sugar is almost dissolved. (A few sugar crystals may remain.)
Fill all containers immediately to within 1/2 inch of tops. Wipe off top edges of containers; immediately cover with lids. Let stand at room temperature 24 hours. Jam is now ready to use. Store in refrigerator up to 3 weeks or in freezer up to 1 year. Thaw in refrigerator before using.

Courtesy of Kraft Brands:

-Ericka G.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Plantin' Party

I'm tired this morning.  Okay, beyond tired.  But it's well worth it.  The planting party has started.

I get so excited when it comes time to plant the garden over at mom's (she has the space and equipment to plant a large garden) and somehow we just can't fathom the thought of a small veggie patch.  All of our projects are big and I'm so used to it now, I pretty much like keeping it that way. 

Our veggie line-up from my Green Thumb Fever post has changed slightly.  Last night we planted peppers (hot and sweet), tomatoes (Heinz), cantaloupe, butternut squash, cucumbers, zucchini, Casper (white) pumpkins, assorted gourds,  and Cinderella pumpkins. 

Cinderella Pumpkin -

Soon we'll finish with with carrots, beats, a larger variety of pumpkins, Indian corn, and sweet corn.  We do buy a certain type of sweet corn.  It's called Illini.  The seeds aren't exactly cheap and can be difficult to find, but we've had really good results with that type over the years.  Aside from having the pleasure of walking right out to the garden to get corn that you know is  going to be delicious - you can only eat so much of it, we'll also freeze it. 

Illini -

I can't wait to do a post about how we prepare it for freezing.  It's relatively simple, and I'll give you a hint:  since we pick so much of it at once (remember, large projects), we utilize our turkey deep fryer.  The deep fryer comes with an enormous  stock pot (the pressure canner and cold pack canner also  sit perfectly on the burner's frame).  We'll boil the corn all at once if we can (outside on the deck, of course), let it cool enough to handle it by hand, and run it over a corn cutter that sits over another pot.  Scoop into freezer bags, and DONE.  I'll be sure to take pictures when we do this.  I can't begin to explain the difference between the frozen corn from the garden versus what's on the store shelf in a can, especially during the winter months.  I can barely stand store-bought canned corn anymore.  You may think I'm spoiled, but after all the work of getting that corn in the first place, I say I'm far from it.

As soon as the remaining seeds are purchased, the planting party will be over.......

Then the weeding party begins!

P.S.  Tonight is craft night.  Can't wait to get started with my new supplies from Fancy Gap!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Fancy Gap UPDATE!!!

Our girls trip to Fancy Gap, Virginia was a blast!  So many great memories have been made, but....

Remember from my last post that I stated that when we usually get together, something odd generally happens?

Well, odd would be an understatement.  Get your banjo out, because after this one you'll know what song you'll want to play!

It's a seven hour drive from Northeast Ohio to Fancy Gap, Virginia.  Antsy from being cooped up in a vehicle for seven hours, we arrived at our hotel.  We decided we didn't need anything elaborate as we didn't plan on spending time in our room other than just a place to crash.  As we pulled into our hotel's parking lot, the first thing that came out of my mouth was, "There's nobody here!"  When I mean nobody, I mean it.  No customers, no cars, no employees.  I walk to the front desk to check in and ring the bell, ring the bell, ring the bell....there wasn't anyone there!  I won't bore you with the details as I left a serious thumbs-down review on TripAdvisor, but one thing to point out was that when I was on the phone with corporate customer care, I had a hard time getting across the fact that there were no employees at the hotel.  To make a super long story short; an hour an a half later I demanded in writing to someone who did finally show up at the hotel that I would be canceling our stay at Days Inn and I would not be charged.  We ended up at different hotel just north of Fancy Gap. 

To sum this mess up:

First Lesson: DO NOT STAY at the Days Inn in Fancy Gap, VA.
Second lesson:  Don't let Miss Lindsey book the hotel.
Third Lesson: Call your hotel prior to arrival to make sure someone is actually at the hotel.  Hey, you never know!

Once we settled that ordeal, we grabbed a bite to eat and crashed early Friday night so get well rested for our shopping expedition at the Fancy Gap Fabric and Pottery Outlet.  I must say, they have awesome varieties (an entire warehouse full!) of fabrics and their prices were excellent.  The other part of that same building had craft supplies at ridiculously low prices.  We checked out and walked across the parking lot to their pottery section.  They have a lovely shop full of creations, tons of silk flowers, grapevine wreaths galore, and a ton of other various supplies that I could have easily gone home absolutely broke if I didn't manage to put myself on a budget before hand.

Three hours later we decided to hit up a few more shops along the way and made a wrong turn.  I must say though, we took advantage of the views that Fancy Gap has to offer:

We were trying to find this little shop called Mountain Plain Fabrics.  It is easy to find, we just turned off on a road too soon.  I have to admit, it's a real gem once you walk inside.  They, like the outlet store, had a ton of fabric.  It is quaint, family owned, and the people in there offered their genuine southern hospitality.  It's the type of place where you can find that item you've been searching forever for, and then could just sit down down and talk with the folks that run the shop.  It's hard to find places like that anymore.  I could have spent the whole day there just looking through their stuff.  I'd like to offer a special thanks to the generosity of Mountain Plains Fabrics.  Please take a moment to look at their website: 

Those two places, have made Fancy Gap an annual (maybe more) destination.