I be Jamming: Standard Strawberry, Sweet Cherry, and Vanilla Black Raspberry Jams

Last year we decided to receive a summer fruit share from a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). It worked out fantastic! Ex-Hubby and I were eating a couple fruit smoothies a week and the whole family was enjoying fresh fruit with every meal. When I ordered it all at the beginning of the year, Ex-Hubby and I decided to give 1.5 shares a go (one week receive just one share, next week receive a double share). Since then we became a family of three, so 1.5 shares is to much for us to power through. Luckily, each week I have received fruits I can turn to jam or freeze, ensuring nothing goes to waste.

I do not generally water bath my jams. I am originally from England and grew up with jams that were set without the use of pectin and without the use of a water bath. So, use your best judgement. I have read blog posts suggesting that these jams be refrigerated and consumed within 6 months. 

Again, use your best judgement! I store where I have room.

Helpful items for canning jam:

 Standard Strawberry Jam

Now these strawberries were actually picked by myself, the rug-rats, and Granna from a local U-Pick… When you want like 8lbs of strawberries you kinda need to do that! The kids also ate their weight in strawberries. So good day all around. 

Ingredients

16oz Strawberries, washed and rough chopped
14oz sugar
1tsp (or so) of lemon (when using fresh you need more, 1tbsp)

Cook the strawberries low and slow until they break down. Sometimes I help them along with a potato masher. I often do this while doing other things around the house. Just stir occasionally so they don’t burn. No water needed, the juice will cook out. 

Once cooked, add your sugar and lemon juice. Bring to boil and stir. Keep a candy thermometer in the pot and cook to 220°F. Once it reaches that temp or close to it, you will start to see the bubbles change: have a film over them and don’t pop as easily. Take a small amount and put it on a cold plate (from the freezer) and cool. Test to see if it’s set. Jam ripples when touched and is like a thick jell. 

Pour into hot, clean jars, and allow to cool overnight. If the lid did not seal (button popped down) jam must be kept in the fridge and eaten first. Once cool, should not run once the jam when turned. 

Sweet Cherry Jam

My brother did not appear to think that you could make cherry jam without pectin and have it set. Wrong. Now you do have to cook it longer than strawberry jam, but move set without issue. 

Ingredients

16oz Sweet Cherries, washed and pitted
8oz sugar
1tsp (or so) of lemon (when using fresh you need more, 1tbsp)

Sweet cherries are 2:1 fruit to sugar. So you can do basically any quantity as long as it’s 2:1. Cooking the cherries down, reducing the juice from the fruit, is very important. You don’t want them to be burnt or overcooked, but you need the juice from the fruit reduced without draining the juice and losing flavor. 

Once cooked down, follow the same steps as with the strawberries. Cook to a setting point of 220°F and then can into hot, clean jars. 

I found this jam took much, much longer than my strawberry did. I think the amount of juice was too much from the start so I will need to make sure to cook it down further in the future. But it is set and amazing, especially with peanut butter… Don’t judge me, I have a five year old who lives on PB&J. 

Vanilla Black Raspberry Jam

Black raspberries have a slightly different taste to their red siblings, I found them to be less tart personally and more, almost bland but not in a bad way. I felt like they needed something to make them pop. Enter vanilla bean sugar. This is something so simple to make and adds so much to a dish. I use plain, white sugar and vanilla pods. Using kitchen sissors, cut down the length of the vanilla bean pod and put in a large wide mouth canning jar. Do this with 3-4 pods and then fill with sugar. Seal and store for awhile (think months). Shake every now and again to mix it up. Once the sugar takes on a vanilla taste, use the sugar as you would in any baking recipe for an extra kick of flavor. I’ve just topped with sugar once getting low and used the same pods a couple times.

Ingredients

16oz Black Raspberries, washed
16oz Vanilla Bean Sugar, instructions above
1tsp (or so) of lemon (when using fresh you need more, 1tbsp)

Black raspberries are 1:1 ratio with sugar same as regular raspberries. 

Wash the raspberries and cook on low to break down the fruit. Speed up with a potato masher once the fruit is heated through. 

As the sugar and lemon and bring to boil. Cook to 220°F as with the other jams and can in hot, clean jars once the jam sets on a freezer plate. 

I now have a small army of jam for my children to devour over the coming months, enjoy!

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Banana Sour Cherry Muffins


I’m going to jinx myself: tonight was good. Our area is flooded, so many of my friends and family are trying to keep their basements dry. But despite last night’s epic five-year-old-Monkey-meltdown and subsequent restrictions/consequences; we managed to have very minimal melt downs, played ball with the dogs (inside, the yard is a water logged, sodden mess), cleaned a bit, and I even finally baked my banana muffins! 

Yup, totally going to jinx myself. It’s started to rain. Should have just kept my mouth shut! 

I’ve been jamming my way through my CSA fruit share as, when I ordered my fruit share, we were a family of four. Not so much now and there is way too much for us to eat. My share this week was blueberries, sour cherries, and apricots. The blueberries will be eaten and/or frozen, same with the apricots. But what to do with the cherries? More jam? I had some rather “dead” bananas and decided to add some diced cherries to banana bread muffins.

I based my recipe off No-Fat Banana Applesauce Muffins. Couple changes: I used brown sugar not white, added the cherries (about 1/2 cup pitted and diced). I think next time I would increase the cinnamon and maybe add vanilla. 

INGREDIENTS

  • 34 cups flour
  • 12 cup brown sugar
  • 1  teaspoon baking powder
  • 12 teaspoon baking soda
  • 12 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 12 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 12 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup banana (about 3 very ripe), mashed
  • 12 cup sour cherries, pitted and diced
  • 12 cup unsweetened applesauce

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Coat 12-cup muffin pan with coconut oil or other similar oil.
  3. Combine the dry ingredients and mix well. In stand mixer bowl (or other separate bowl of hand mixing), mix all the wet ingredients until eggs are well combined. Add  dry mixture in slowly until combined. Using a spatula, fold in diced cherries (you don’t want to liquidize them with the beaters).
  4. Scoop into muffin tin.
  5. Bake for 15 – 25 minutes. (My oven baked right around 20 minutes). Test tops, if they “spring back” or a wooden toothpick comes out clean, they are done!
  6. Let the cool a few minutes in the pan, then transfer to cooling rack. Enjoy warm or cool. Freeze nicely too.  
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What’s for dinner: Broccoli and Carrot Soup

I had an abundance of broccoli in the fridge this week and didn’t have any ham to make my go-to scalloped potatoes dinner. It was a mix of stems and florets as I don’t generally steam the stems as part of dinner. 

But what to make?

I really miss the simple “cream of” soups and now that I’m totally dairy free, it’s not easy to find a replacement in the store. I found a very simple cream of broccoli soup and adapted it a bit. Worked out to five two cup servings at 98 calories for a serving! I cooked up some Italian sausage and tossed it in before serving. My two year old ate it up (but don’t call it soup… “No soup!” Call it sauce and put it on a plate… Whatever works) and my almost five year old… Well she never eats dinner. Hubby and I thought it was fantastic and I will make it again.

Ingredients
1 tbsp oil of your choice
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tsp herbs de provence
3 medium carrots, chopped
4 cups broccoli, chopped
4 cups broth of your choice
1/2 cup full fat coconut milk
Salt & Pepper to taste

Directions
Heat oil on medium low heat in a large pot, then add onion and garlic until fragrant and onion is starting to become translucent. Then add herbs de provence cook until fragrant, then add carrots and broccoli. Cook for a few minutes, the add the broth and coconut milk. Salt and pepper, then cover pot and bring to a boil. Once boiling reduce heat to a simmer and cook until.veggies are soft. 

You can either cool, then blend with an.immersion blender or carefully blend while hot. I was not eating right away, so I cooled, blended, and reheated. 

Serve with protein of choice.

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End of August: What’s in the Garden?

​This morning I picked more plum tomatoes. The Red Zebras are almost ready and the Salsa Hybrids are almost done. Still tons of cherry tomatoes despite the plants dying of early from disease, glad it doesn’t affect the fruit! The pumpkins are almost all orange, the butternut squashes are starting to turn too, and I still have tons and tons of Cupcake Squash.

I’m thinking I will try Zucchini bread with the Cupcake Squash. I could see peppers, but Hubby is sleeping so I didn’t want to leave the Munchkins inside to long! I’ll check more a bit later. Gotta take a look at the fall leafy greens I planted and see what needs thinning. 

I’ve started some canning, but I’m sure there is more to come in the weeks ahead.

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Winter Glove & Hat Decorative Drying Sign

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Making a play off all those cute “Free Dobby” lost sock laundry signs, this glove and hat drying sign was born. We have no where in our house to hang the snow covered, wet gloves and hats. I looked around last year on Pinterest for ideas and found a few, but nothing that screamed make me!

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What you need:
Wooden Sign
Wooden Pegs
Staple Gun (and Staples!)
Paint or Adhesive Vinyl and a Cutting Machine (Cricut etc)
Tracing Items, if using (tracing paper, pencils)

I had two signs left over from another project I did. They were pre-strung for hanging and already finished, so they did not need to be painted.

I took five large, wooden pegs from my laundry room and took one side off, allowing me to staple the pegs to the sign.

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I did not want to use glue because of the drying time and also I was concerned about longevity.

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Then I slid the removed part of the peg back in to reassemble it.

Once they were all stapled and reassembled, I started to transfer snowflakes and “Let it Snow” onto the sign in preparation for painting over it. To make an easy transfer, find the image you want or write/draw it yourself.

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If printing an image from the computer, you will have to first trace the image onto tracing paper (or wax baking paper), then flip the paper over and retrace the lines to transfer the image.

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If drawing directly into the tracing paper, you can skip that step. When transferring writing you do need to flip the paper over, retrace the lines on the back, and then flip it back over to transfer or your words will be backwards!

Once transferred, you can paint over the lines (which as you can see are very faint).

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I really like this technique as it gives the appearance of free hand painting, but a safety net for those that need/want it.

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Then get to painting. You could also use adhesive vinyl and cut out the words/decorations. I decided not to go this way due to the gaps between the pieces of wood. I did multiple layers of the white craft paint as it soaked into the wood. I then used another color to accent the white. Wanted to keep it simple, for once!

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Container Gardening: Building A Raised Vegetable Garden

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At the end of last year I decided that my 8×8 Vegetable patch needed some work. It was floor level and although we added a fence to keep the dogs out, it was hard to manage due to the size and layout. So I drew up some crude plans, researched lumber, and handed the project over to Hubby for him to determine the details.

I decided to go with something that was a bit more interesting to the eye verses two 4×8 beds with a path down the middle. I decided on two 3×6 beds with a 3×3 in the corner so I was able to work on both sides of the bed easily and also create some levels to give the structure something to catch the eye. I added a 3×3 in front with a path between to frame the space. Ultimately, I did not change the footprint of the space too drastically as I moved everything back toward the fence and closer to the shed.

After some research, I decided on cedar because of it’s durability without needing chemicals. It is more expensive, but it should last fifteen years.

Our local Menards had everything we needed and was able to cut the 12ft timber into more manageable 9ft and 3ft sections  (they then fit in my car). Hubby cut and assembled the frames over a couple of weekends. Prior to filling, we cleared the area of weeds with a strimmer and put a weed barrier down inside the containers and also along the path. Then we filled the beds with a nutrient rich dirt from a local garden center. I had them deliver it out front of the house and then we filled the containers. When I say we, I mean Hubby, Granna, and Grumpy as Bear decided she needed to nurse all day and only allowed me to supervise. We then soaked the dirt to settle it down and to add moisture before planting.

Granna a great idea and put down mulch for the path area instead of grass. It is holding up quite nicely. I do want to add a lip around the top to finish off the planters, but otherwise I am really happy with how it has turned out.

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Now everything has grown in and it’s a bit of a jungle, but the veggies are doing well. We have green beans galore right now!

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…and hopefully we will have tons of winter squash too. Had an attack of squash borer earlier in the season, so my vines are recovering and I had to reseed my summer squash.

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Recycled Shoebox Seed Storage

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A friend of mine posted this Seed Storage idea on Facebook, like a good and slightly obsessed pinner (aren’t we all?) I pinned the link for future use. This year my veggie garden received a facelift in the form of a complete rebuild (thanks Hubby!) and I was able to plant more veggies. I’m also starting more plants from seeds and at the end of this planting season I had three medium sized Tupperwares full of various seeds (with a few doubles…). It only took me two weeks to complete this project. A project that would likely take someone without a nursing-obsessed five month-old and a attention-starved three year-old (both perfectly normal, but no less frustrating at times) about an hour to complete.

But it is finished!

I now know I have every type of squash on the planet and need to buy parsnip seeds.

I did have to make mine slightly differently as my shoebox was not wide enough, so I did mine horizontally. Luckily, the Cheerios boxes from Costco and Sam’s Club were long enough to make the dividers. Since it was more tricky to make the dividers due to my box options, I opted to not cut the dividers tops into tab shapes. Instead I used paper cut into strips and taped to the tops of the dividers for labels.

Now I can’t wait for Spring so I can use my seeds!

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After Bump Bum: What’s on the Bum?

We are now in full swing cloth diapering #2. Monkey and Baby Bear are shaped differently and, therefore, the diapers fit differently.

Monkey’s chicken legs kinda, sorta filled out by the time she was three/four months.  At that point she was also starting to play with table foods (closer to the four month point and play is certainly the word) so her poop started to change. Baby Bear is chunkier than Monkey was, but still not a chunk (no baby rolls) and is three months tomorrow (how time flies). As for food, this kiddo will likely stay EBF (exclusively breast fed) until six months. She’s getting everything she needs right now.

With Monkey, at four months, gone were the days of EBF poop…

If you don’t EBF then you probably do not understand why this change was so important.  EBF poop looks like mustard seeds, has no real smell, and can just be tossed into the washer without washing the diaper.  Once food is introduced (or formula for that matter) poop becomes more solid and is no longer able to just go through the washer as part of the wash cycle (more about diaper washing another day!).

So what’s on the bum at this point? 

Flip Cover and Prefold

Flip Cover and Prefold on Monkey

With Monkey we relied on prefolds and covers. From newborn to young toddler we just upgraded to the larger sizes for the prefolds and moved to Flip covers and also some Econobum.  Personally, I prefer the Flip as I like the two tab snap option as I feel like it keeps the “wings” of the diaper from dropping better (the “wings” refers to the other snap and fabric area that sits on the hips that can make the diaper fit on a chunkier monkey). Monkey remained a skinny-mini all through her diapering years and did not fit into pocket diapers until she was around four months. Her legs were just too thin get a good, tight fit. I bought the Flip covers (mostly) as certified seconds.  They are perfectly fine, maybe a pen mark or two or a snag on the fabric… certainly worth it to me.  Cloth diapering does not need to be expensive, in fact it should save you money! Do I have a few that are not seconds or used? Of course, but the majority of my purchases are sale, clearance, or seconds.  Just keep your eyes out for deals!

For Baby Bear things a bit different. I still like prefolds, but as she is bigger pocket diapers fit her much better. It is also three years later and there are so many more options! Unlike Monkey, Baby Bear is a heavy wetter and pees through inserts that would lasted Monkey overnight. She has out grown her newborn prefolds I now use them to stuff her pocket diapers; which are a collection of Happy Flute, Sunbaby, Rump-a-rooz, Apple Cheeks, Bumgenius, Blueberry, and Diper Rite. We also use hemp and bamboo inserts from various companies. They all work about the same. Most diapers come with micro fiber (MF) inserts. I do not use them. Why you ask.

Compression leaks.

These are bad. MF is a very thirsty material. It soaks up the pee. Great right? Wrong. The material is also easy to wring out. We baby wear. This puts compression on the diaper… see where this is going? I don’t know about you, but I don’t want pee soaking into my clothing. Now paired with a slow to soak hemp insert MF is great. Allows your heavy, fast wetter to soak the MF and the slowly transfer to the hemp. Who knew this was such a science!

Snaps vs Velcro/Hook and Loop
I prefer snaps for older children, but for newborns I think you get a better fit with hook and loop.  The reason I prefer snaps is longevity.  Hook and loop can get caught on things in the wash, get fuzz in it, and the loops start to lose their ability to attach correctly.  Even using laundry tabs, I found hook and loop just does not last as well over time.  I prefer the snaps since I am doing this to not only do something better for the earth, but also to save money! Also, hook and loop is easier to take off. This makes unscheduled toddler naked time even more likely…

What about Daycare? 

Sunbaby on Monkey

Sunbaby on Monkey

We CD exclusively, meaning even at daycare. When Monkey first went to daycare using cloth was one of the requirements for the daycare we used. I did not want to use cloth at home and buy disposals for daycare, defeated the purpose of buying them. I ordered a couple different cheaper pocket diapers; often referred to as “China cheapies” because, they are from China and are cheap! Many people balk at this because they are worried about the lower regulations, poor conditions for the workers, not buying American made, and likely other things. I understand this, I also do not want to spend a ton on diapers for daycare when they could get damaged at daycare. There are many companies – Sunbaby, Alva, THX, Happy Flute, and Kawaii. I prefer Sunbaby for daycare as they, in my opinion, fit well (on my kiddos) and are simple to use. I like my Happy Flute diapers, but they are mine for at home… they have a different tummy panel and look less like disposals. I decided I wanted to get diapers that looked the most like disposals to help convince daycare that they could do this!

Note: You may have noticed there are no links to Happy Flute or THX. I purchased these diapers through co-ops on Facebook and could not find direct links to the companies. You can get them on Amazon or through co-ops.

Curious about newborn cloth diapering? Here is what we did.

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Toddler Crafts (Mother’s Day Edition): Terracotta Pot Butterfly Footprint

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Because I am that parent. You know the one, Pinterest full of ideas and actually tries to make them; and, as a result, my friends and family are constantly finding projects for me! I’m not kidding when I say that five different people sent/tagged/posted/told me about a post they saw about making butterflies from the kiddos feet on pots for the garden. Find the original post here (Footprint Butterfly Flower Pot). The writer does note she took inspiration from elsewhere and there are tons on Pinterest that are very similar.

Before starting this project I wanted to make sure it would last. We are a gardening family and a pot needs to be used as a pot. I find this site which gave me a starting point How to Paint a Pot. With that said, I did not paint the inside of the pot.

Two reasons:

1. I’m not painting the entire outside of the pot either so any moisture going out the bottom through the drainage hole would seep up the sides anyway.
2. I have an infant and threenager… ‘nough said!

I have done many footprint/handprint crafts, I feel pretty confident on the logistics. This was more tricky. The terracotta is not forgiving. With canvas you screw up and up wipe it clean. The paint sinks into the terracotta’s pores as soon as it touches, so beware!

Project: Terracotta Pot Footprint Butterfly
Difficulty: Moderate
Time: Varies (took me multiple days, because – infant and threenager)
Supplies:
IMAG0087Terracotta Pot (found all over, even in the Dollar Store)
Patio Paint (colors of your choice, found mine at Hobby Lobby)
Foam and Regular Paint Brushes
Willing Child(ren) (If doing with an infant, enlist help from an adult or older child)
Wipes (clean up)

Paint one foot at a time. I decided to do multiple colors, but would could just do one. The paint dries quickly so beware, the clock is ticking. After pressing the foot to the pot, clean up with a wipe and do the next foot. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect, you can fix it by painting in missing toes or filling in a heal. Or just leave it as is, up to you.

2015-05-09 21.51.00Once both feet are done let dry until touch dry. Does not take long, maybe a few minutes. Go over the footprint with a second coat of the paint, filling in any areas you want to. Also paint in the butterfly’s body in your choice of color. Some people used a permanent marker, I was concerned about fading so opted for paint. This should also have two coats.

2015-05-10 09.16.51Add your kiddos names and the date (mine is in the bottom) and voila!

Happy Mother’s Day Granna!

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Kitchen Sink Cooking: Jerk Chicken & Spinach Bake

During a recent trip to Costco I purchased a small ton of spinach with the intention of adding it to smoothies (which I have). It seemed the box was not decreasing quickly and I hate to waste food… So I went in search of a chicken spinach meal for dinner.

It also gave me something to use my RockCrok for!

Jerk Chicken & Spinach Bake
Adapted from Chicken and Spinach Bake

Ingredients
8 to 12 ounces fresh chopped or baby spinach, cleaned
salt and pepper
1/4 cup chicken broth
2 chicken breasts, butterflied
Jamaican Jerk Seasoning
1/2 cup diced onion
1-2 garlic cloves, crushed
1Tbsp Grape Seed Oil

Directions:
Heat oil in RockCrok (if you don’t own one, you can use a fry pan and transfer to an over safe fish or use some other multi purpose cooking product) and cook onion and garlic until aromatic.

Butterfly the chicken breasts. Season with salt, pepper, and jerk seasoning.

Add broth and spinach to the RockCrok and lay the chicken breasts on top. Cover and bake for 25 minutes, then uncover and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes until juices run clear and the internal temp is 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

Serve with couscous.

I’m not a Pampered Chef consultant and I purchased my RockCrok with my own money.

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