Monday, August 1, 2011

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

Now THAT is a big tomato.
If you like tomatoes, these are the best.
Just think BLT!
If you don't like them, well... you may not enjoy this post!  ;0)

 I love pictures of food!

 These aren't all the tomatoes,
but it gives you an idea of what we tackled.
Seven boxes, about 160 lbs.
What on Earth did we do with that many tomatoes?
You know, I'm glad you asked!
First up was SALSA!

 These are blanched and peeled and ready to go!

 Next, chopped onions.
And peppers, but I don't have a picture of the peppers.

 I added some cilantro and lemon juice.
It's a simple water bath process.
In no time we had this...

 Seriously HOT salsa. 
Of course we made a milder version
and a smooth version because my
punks don't eat chunks!

 Mmm, you can't buy mass amounts of tomatoes
and not make mass amounts of spaghetti sauce!
And a fair amount of plain tomatoes.

Here is my counter covered in all the tomato goods!
The funny little freezer jars in the front are tomato paste
that I made using this recipe from my friend at Our Best Bites.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Like a rocket, baby!

It may surprise you to read this, but recently, I did something totally crazy!  Well, crazy for me anyway.  I built a ROCKET STOVE!  Sounds cool, doesn't it?  It is cool, and I'm totally excited about it.  I must confess that I didn't do it alone, though.  My church women's group (The Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints) along with some very helpful husbands made it all possible.

The whole point of a rocket stove is to have a way to cook with very little fuel should you find yourself without power and a regular means of cooking.  Of course, I had to try it out, and my little punks were right in the middle of it!

 So here is the rocket stove with the fire going!
It only takes a few sticks to make a lot of heat.

 Our water is heating up, and we are excited
to cook up some mac n cheese!

 Let's hear it for boiling water:  Ooooh!  Ahhhh!

 In goes the macaroni.
(Or "mac-a-moi-ya" as one of my punks used to call it!

 Then we drained the macaroni and made the cheese sauce.
I know, the excitement is almost too much!

Believe it or not, they were very excited
 that we made lunch outside, on our rocket stove. 
Yeah, I'm a cool mom.

 Say "cheese!"

Or just take a big ol' bite!
Atleast I know we can live on mac n cheese if necessary!

Friday, July 29, 2011


While blueberry season has come and gone in the South, maybe it's not so for you.  I completely enjoyed picking and "putting up" blueberries this year.  Much more so than last year. 

Last year, we went every other day to a little (and I mean LITTLE by comparison... you'll see what I mean in a minute) patch of bushes that belonged to a friend of a friend and picked for 10 or 15 minutes.  Our rewards were a cup or two, if we were lucky, of berries at a time.  I am not complaining.  Just telling it like it is.  :0)

This year some sweet friends gave us about 3 gallons that we didn't even have to pick!  Then another friend said I could come on a certain day and pick all I'd like!  (This is where the story gets interesting!)

So my little boys and I headed out eagerly to pick some blueberries.  We were excited.  It was early, but not as early as it should have been.  I got lost on the way to my friend's house.  (Yes, some of you are laughing, others just rolling your eyes.  What can I say?  It's what I do.)  So, when we finally started picking it was about 9:00 and just shy of MELTING temperature outside.  It was over cast, which in the West would mean cool.  In the South it just means more sweaty.  Anyway, back to the picking of the blueberries.  My little boys started picking enthusiastically and worked like busy little bees for an entire 10 minutes!  Then they were hot and it was all over.  They went to play with their little friend who lives there and I was on my own.  Now, these people, the owners of this blue berry patch, are quite serious about their blue berries.  I say this because it took me 3 hours to pick all the berries.  AND, that was only one patch on their property!  I can only dream of one day living in the same place long enough to own fruit bearing plants!

So, hot, sticky and tired and happy as heck to have about 3 gallons of blue berries, I gathered my little helpers against their wills and headed home.  I poured out all the berries onto towels to allow them to sweeten before I put them up.

A couple of days later, I made blueberry syrup.  (I have a fabulous recipe for blueberry crisp, but that's another post!)

Start by blending 2 quarts blueberries.

Aren't they pretty?!

Here they are ready for the blender ride.

 I love how they are half blended and half not!

 Almost finished.  This whole process took less than 30 seconds.
Good thing my camera is FAST!

All blended and ready for step two!

Combine blueberries with 2 cups water and lemon peel in sauce pot. Simmer 5 minutes.

Oh, I love it all simmer-y!
 Now, "they" tell you to strain this liquid through cheese cloth. I didn't.  Not just because I am a rebel, but because I like how it looks with the bits of blueberry peel. I think it's pretty and adds texture. Whatever. Do what you want. ;0)

Don't forget to get your jars ready.  Wash them, with the lids and rings.  Fill them with boiling hot water (I just put them in the clean sink) and let them set. 

Boil the lids for at least 2 minutes to soften the rubber.

Then you combine 4 cups sugar and 4 cups of H2O in another pan and boil to 260 degrees.

Add the blueberry juice to sugar syrup. Boil 1 minute. Stir in 2 TBS lemon juice.

NOTE:  Be careful.  This hot, bubbly mixture is crazy
and unpredictable!  It will splatter you and anything
else it wants.  Seriously, I have blue spots on my ceiling. 
Just sayin'.
Here is my water bath canner. 
My water is getting hot so it won't take so long
to get to a boil once I add the jars of syrup.

Now, carefully ladle the HOT syrup into your jars.

Wipe the rims with a damp cloth and put on the lids and rings. 
All of this stuff is HOT!
Place the jars on the rack in your water bath canner.
Cover completely with water, plus an inch or two.
Process 10 minutes.  This means start your time once
the water has begun to boil.

Here they are all finished.
Aren't they pretty? 
Now, wait for that satisfying *PING*
and you know they are sealed!

Now, I will post the actual recipe for you without
my helpful (or sarcastic, you decide) comments.

Blueberry Syrup

2 quarts blueberries
6 cups water, divided
1 TBS grated lemon peel
3 cups sugar
2 TBS lemon juice

Crush blue berries. Combine blueberries, 2 cups water and lemon peel in a medium saucepot. Simmer 5 minutes. Strain through a damp jelly bag or several layers of cheesecloth. Combine sugar and 4 cups of water in a medium saucepot; boil to 260 degrees (adjust for altitude). Add blueberry juice to sugar syrup. Boil 1 minutes. Stir in lemon juice. Ladle hot syrup into hot jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace. Adjust two-piece caps. Process 10 minutes in a boiling water canner. Yield: about 3 pints.

*Recipe from Ball Blue Book of Canning.  You really should go buy one. 


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Off to see the Wizard!

As I've said before Jay is in love with the Wizard of Oz.  It just so happened I took him with me to do some errands this week and he saw a billboard with the Wizard of Oz on it.  Turns out one of the local High Schools was doing a production this weekend.  Of course we had to go!  Tickets were cheap, my husband was off, and there happened to be a kid movie that he and my other punk could go to.  It was meant to be!

Here is how our day started.  At 5:45 am, no less.

Jay:  Mommy today is the Wizard of Oz!

Me:  Yes, I know!

Jay:  Is it almost morning?

Me:  Yes, almost!  (Kind of chuckling to myself because to him it's not "morning" until it's light outside.  So why the heck can't he sleep until morning?)

Jay:  (In a panicy voice)  What if we miss the play?!

Me:  We won't.  We'll go after dinner.  (TWELEVE HOURS from now.  Heaven help me through this day!)

And at 6:30 am

Jay:  Mommy, is it starting yet?

Me:  (Already wishing I had surprised him rather than let him know we were going, but once he saw the billboard it was all over!)  Honey, I've got this.  We will be there on time, please don't make me crazy all day.

And surprisingly, he didn't.  We did talk about being excited many times throughout the day, and I loved that.  But, he didn't keep asking the "is it time yet" question.  Thank goodness!

So finally it was time. 

Can you tell he's just a teensy bit excited?  Gotta love the big grin!  We went inside, and there was already a line starting to form.  10 minutes later it was out the door!  We stood in line for about 20 more minutes.  I think those were the longest moments of his little life!  I asked him if he was nervous.  He said yes.  I asked him why.  He said he was worried about that witch!

Here he is just before we walked into the auditorium.  He loved the little tin man.  I may have to make one of those for him!

As soon as we sat down he grabbed my hand.  His excitement and nerves were getting to him.  Now we had another 15-20 minute wait before the show began.  Could time go any slower?

Some friends showed up and sat next to us.  She was kind enough to take our picture.  He is just giddy!

Finally his wait was over.  The show began, and it was incredible!  I've never seen such an amazing high school play.  Not a bit cheesy, fabulous back drops, props and costumes.  He's completely convinced it's all real.  Even though he still had my hand in a death grip, he LOVED every minute!

He did not let go of my hand until intermission!  Yes, it was a hot, sweaty mess.  The special effects were amazing.  The witch, Glenda and the flying monkeys all actually flew.  "The Oz Man" was larger than life, and according to Jay, the scariest part!  (And he was worried about the witch, heh, heh!)

 At the end, and I think this may have just been the very best part of the evening, he got to MEET all the characters!

Now, if you know my Jay, you will understand what a HUGE deal this is.  One, because he LOVES the Wizard of Oz more than anything else.  And two, because he is very shy and reserved.  He HATES Chuck E. Cheese, and all other characters.  But, he mustered up the courage to meet his idols!  I was so excited for him!

 Tin man

 Dorothy.  His very most favorite.  And she was so sweet to him!  I just wanted to hug her for making my baby happy.

 Seriously, THE most amazing lion I've ever seen!

 The scarecrow could not have been better.  The play had people dressed up as crows walking around singing on stage.  So fun!

 An "Oz Girl".  I know he looks less than thrilled, but you've got to remember how nervous he was!

 Toto!  That's his self assigned character when he's playing Wizard of Oz!  He was so impressed he's a real dog!

 And finally Glenda.  So kind and took her time visiting with him.  Amazing.

Material things in this life fade.  But memories are forever.  Someday he won't love Wizard of Oz like he does now.  My dad always told me to enjoy life and make memories NOW.  I am so thankful that I could make my little boy's dream come true.  He will always remember the time we went to the see the Wizard of Oz.  I hope he also remembers that I love him and love being with him. 

Wizard of Oz tickets: $20.
Making special memories with my baby:  PRICELESS!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

"O" is for Octopus!

This week is "O" week.  We have been learning about the ocean and the octopus.  After making some octopus critters to hang on my already overly decorated fridge, and reading stories about the ocean, I decided to try something special for lunch.  It was an idea I found online and thought was too great not to try!  I'd like to share it with you!

Boiled Octopus!

Yes, I know!  My boys were a little freaked out too.  But, just like I told them, TRUST ME!

Here goes.  Step by step.  Are you ready?

Start with regular hot dogs.  The bun-length ones would be great too!

Slice through the hot dog, leaving an inch or so at the top.  Then rotate the hot dog 1/4 turn and repeat.  You will now have four sections.  Cut each section one more time so you have 8 legs.

Your octopi (that sounds so weird!  Why can't we just say "octopuses"?  Who makes these rules, anyway?) are now ready to be boiled.

Drop them in the boiling water.  Don't worry, they won't feel a thing!

The legs begin to curl up as they cook.  Honestly, I don't know how long I cooked them for.  I was making mac n cheese at the same time, so you get the idea.

TA-DA!  Boiled octopus, and if your kids are like mine, they will LOVE it!  I wish I had that green ketchup (do they still make that?) for them to dip it in because it would have looked like algae.

Brave octopus eating boy.

And look, here's another one!  Of course, it helps to always have chocolate milk to wash your octopus down with!

Their dinner conversation was almost as entertaining for me as the octopus was for them!

Jared:  I don't know if I'd eat REAL octopus.

Me:  Shawna has eaten it.  She liked it.

Jay:  I ate alligator before!

Jared:  What did it taste like?

Jay:  (pause)...  ALLIGATOR!

Jared just gave him a look.

A few minutes later:

Jay:  They're gooder with ketchup!

Jared:  You mean BETTER!

Jay:  NO...  GOODER!

What can I say?  I always have a reason to smile!