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!!!!