Saturday, June 30, 2012

GETTING ORGANIZED (PART 1) -- MENU PLANNING

Organized?  Me?  Sure!  Well, better than the average person, I like to think. Creating this blog and reading other people's blog, got me to thinking--I know, that can be dangerous.  I used to think of myself as very organized.  In my opinion, you have to be when your life is busy with your work, your children, your husband, your church, and any other things that you like to do and want to do.  That is, if you want to keep your sanity. Anyway, now that I am retired, I have let some things slip.  For the most part, I think, I'm keeping my sanity, but that might be in question some days.

Whenever we go visit our son and his family in COS, I can't help but see the calendar on their refrigerator where Sara, my dil, has written the menus.  We always eat out once or twice while we are there, so I can look at the menus and get an idea about when she had planned for us to go out. Every time I see her menus, I am reminded that "I used to do that...when I was working and the boys were home."  She has even done a post on her blog about how she plans their menus for two weeks and then repeats them to complete the month.  You can check her post out at Our Heartspun Homeschool

So when I got to thinking about getting better organized, I decided to start with something that is relatively easy for me to do since I know how to do, just have to do it.  That is plan out my menus for the month.  Yeah, I said "for the month".  

When I was teaching in CA, I was asked by the United Methodist Women at the church to do a program for them on how to plan their menus.  I didn't want to overwhelm them so I showed them how to start simple with just planning the menus for a week.  I don't know how many of them I actually inspired to do some menu planning, but they expressed appreciation for the information that I presented and the validation I received from the group made me feel good.

To begin the process, I gather several things together in my work area....my weekly/monthly planner---I don't leave home w/o it  and my phone in my purse.  The one I am using this year, is nicer than the ones I usually use because my son, Patrick, gave it to me for Christmas.  It is bigger and takes up more room in my purse, but I think of him every time I get it out. 

I bought a new 18 - month desk calendar that begins in July.  It is a little bigger than I really wanted to use, but I liked the colors, designs, and the lines that it had in the days.  Generally speaking, you need a chart that you can write the menus on for easy assess. 





I also had an inventory that I took earlier this week of what I had in my pantry and freezer.  (That's another reason I decided to start menu planning--I need to use up all this food I have bought!) I also had my list of Recipes I Want to Try Soon. 







Once, I have all these things gathered together, I fill in the desk calendar with activities that we have for the month.  P for me and W for my husband P/W for both of us.  This is important because it will help me see the days I need to plan what to cook, how much time I have left for cooking on certain days, and also days I don't have to worry about what to cook because we will be eating out(Love those days, but we need to reduce that number, too.)  For example, we always go to church on Sunday and then eat out afterwards.  I made that rule many, many years ago, when we would come home from church, and the "guys" would sit down watching tv and/or reading the paper, while I was in the kitchen "slaving over the stove".  I decided, I wanted to have the day off, too.  So, we always eat out for Sunday lunch.



Now that I have the activities on the calendar, I am ready to start choosing main dishes for the days and writing them down.  By doing the whole month at a time, for example, I can skip around and make sure that I choose a chicken dish for once a week,  have "breakfast for dinner" once a week, plan for leftovers, grill (now that it is summer), etc. I also choose dishes by the amount of time I have before dinner to prepare it.  For example, on Thursday, July 12th, I am hosting a group of friends for Mexican Train.  Now, on Thursdays, my husband and I have a standing "date" for the "Early Bird Dinner" at Golden Corral before going to play golf in a senior couples' league from the church. We play at 5:00 and don't finish until around 8:30.  I can't wait that long to eat so.... Anyway, on this day we won't be able to get to Golden Corral before 4, so I planned to cook a whole chicken in the Crock Pot that day.  It will be ready to eat when the "girls" leave and we will have enough time to eat some of it quickly before we head to the golf course. 

Before I know it, the month is planned out.


I always write in pencil because "life happens" as they say and that's ok.  I might end up switching a dish, or maybe not even cook the dish I had planned.  Sometimes my husband gets his own ideas about what he wants to eat and even cooks so "Hey, who's going to say no to that."  Activities will come up that I hadn't planned so that will call for a change in plans.  But you have to flexible in life.



Another thing I do when I plan my menus, is I only write down the main dish.  My inventory shows all the frozen vegetables that I have and the grocery store or farmer's market may have fresh vegetables that I will want to buy.  As long as I know what the main dish is going to be, I don't have a problem finding something to go with it.  










It amazes me how much stress is taken off me when I know what I am going to cook.  When I don't plan ahead, I wait until too late in the day and then ask the $64,000 question--"What am I going to cook for dinner?"  Now that we are retired, we usually end up going out to eat and so the outcome is, I have gained 10 lbs since we moved here almost 4 years ago.  AND it is true what they say,  "It's harder to lose weight the older you get!"

So I am hoping by going back to menu planning, I will feel less stress, eat out less, and lose some weight.  I can also do a better job with healthier eating because I have more control over what is in the food I am eating.  That has to count for something.

I don't know if by writing this post, that I have encouraged any of you to start menu planning, but if I did, please let me know.  I still need validation for what I do.  ****I left the pictures smaller when I didn't think you really cared about what specifically was on the page. Just let me know if you would like to know some of my main dishes.  I don't mind sharing them and their recipes.

Read Getting Organized (Part 2)  --  Your House HERE.  A realistic and doable process for getting organized (a place for everything) in your home.  

CINNAMON PEACH COBBLER



I decided to surprise my husband and make him his favorite peach cobbler.  Even though he was born in the south, he doesn't like the traditional cobbler with lots of liquid and real sweet. 

I found this recipe in a Woman's Day magazine at least 25 years ago.  When I would find another recipe for peach cobbler and make it, he would always remind me that he really liked the other recipe. It isn't real sweet and not real juicy, just like he likes it. (as my mother would say)  AND  I do have to say that it does taste really good, especially with an added scoop of ice cream.

CINNAMON PEACH COBBLER

5  cups sliced peeled fresh peaches
1  1/2  tablespoon lemon juice
1  cup flour
1  cup sugar (Splenda or truvia works)
1/2  teaspoon salt
1  egg, beaten
1  stick of (light) margarine, melted
cinnamon
            
                        Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Sprinkle the lemon juice on the peeled, sliced peaches and stir to coat.  Spread in a  8 - inch square pan.
                        
                        Mix flour, sugar, and salt in a small bowl with a whisk.  Add beaten egg and toss with a fork until the mixture is crumbly with no lumps.  Sprinkle mixture evenly over peaches.  Drizzle with melted margarine.


                        Bake in oven for 45 minutes.  If topping is not rich golden brown, turn on broiler for a few minutes.  Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle the top with ground cinnamon.  Serve warm with ice cream.  Serves 6.

                      
                     I'm sure I will be making this several times this summer. (Have I mentioned before how much I miss my fruit trees (peach tree esp. right now) from my yard at our house in CA?)  Hope you will try it too.  Would love to hear what you think.

Friday, June 29, 2012

4TH OF JULY FIREPOPS

Just in time for your Fourth of July Celebration!  FIREPOPS!

These things are so-o-o-o-o addictive.  Trust me! You can't eat just one.  They are so addictive that they are also called Reindeer Poop before Christmas and   Snowman Poop in  the winter.  I wanted some in the spring, so I created Easter Bunny Poop at Easter.  AND now Firepops!  
Wonder what will be created next?

It all started when Carol, one of the Kearney Girls, (that's what we call a group of friends who all live in Kearney) created the Snowman Poop and then, because who doesn't like chocolate, Reindeer Poop.  You use chocolate candy coating or chocolate chips to make the Reindeer Poop otherwise just the white candy melts or almond bark for the Snowman Poop.

Then because it is so addictive, I came up with Easter Bunny Poop using food coloring to create pastels.  As with the 4th of July Firepops, I worked with small portions of melted almond bark or white chocolate chips or candy melt wafers.  Control the color with the amount of food coloring you add...the more drops of coloring, the darker the mixture.


Here are the ingredients that you need to make this snack:

Corn Pops ( puffed corn)
Candy Coating--Candy Melts, Almond Bark, or White Chocolate Chips
Food coloring











Follow the directions on the package for melting the candy coating.  I have used both methods --a double boiler ( water in the bottom pan brought to a boil and then melt the candy coating in the top pan) and in the microwave.  This time I used the microwave.  I placed about half of the package in a microwave safe bowl and heated it for 1 minute at 50% power.  When you take it out of the microwave, it doesn't look like anything happened, but when you start stirring, the wafers start melting.  I had to repeat this one more time for 30 seconds at 50% power to finish melting it all.  I did the white color first.  I took a couple spoonfuls out to save for the red and just dropped the corn pops in the bowl and stirred.


I always start off stirring with a spoon and end up using my hands.  Once the puffed corn is covered, lay the pieces out on wax paper or I used parchment paper since I had it.

Then I repeated the process of melting the candy melts and added red-red icing color and royal blue.  I was afraid I would have to use the whole bottles of food coloring to attain a red and blue, so I purchased the Wilton icing color.  When I had the three colors done, I had a little candy melt left over, so I decided to do a little more red since I had done the least amount of it.  I didn't use as much red coloring as I had the first time, so this last little bit are not as dark as the first ones.  You might notice them in the picture. Here are the three colors waiting to dry -- this doesn't take long as they are practically dry by the time you lay them out.


If I manage to have any left, I can't help but eat one every time I go by them, I plan to take them to Hillcrest Thrift Shop for the other volunteers to enjoy when I go to work my shifts on Tuesday.

Now what holiday is next?  Will have to be thinking of some excuse to make them.  Got any ideas?Trust me, if you make these, you will be trying to think of ways to present them. too!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

ICE CREAM KRISPIE DELIGHT

I had the perfect dessert today at my friend, Dorothy's house.  It is 105 degrees today and it feels like it. She said it was a recipe she had gotten from a neighbor.  Dorothy especially likes that you can use any flavor of ice cream that you like.  She had chosen strawberry today.  (Good choice!) I liked that it is a wonderful way to serve ice cream.  The added Rice Krispies, coconut, and pecans also made it the perfect afternoon treat on a really hot day.

So when Dorothy served it today, I asked her if I could share it on my blog and she was delighted.  

ICE CREAM KRISPIE DELIGHT  

       Ingredients:

               1/2     gallon ice cream, any flavor, square block package
               1        stick of margarine
               2 1/2  cups Rice Krispies
               1        cup flaked coconut
               1/2     cup chopped pecans
               1/2     cup brown sugar

       Directions:

               Preheat oven to 330 degrees F.  Using a 9  x  13 inch pan, melt the margarine.  Then add the cereal, nuts, and coconuts.  Stir.  Return pan to oven and restir about every 3 minutes.  Watch closely that the mixture doesn't burn.  When it starts to brown, (may take 10 min or so) remove the pan from the oven and add 1/2  cup of brown sugar. Stir and let cool.

               After this mixture has cooled, remove half of it from the pan and set it aside.  Press the half that you left in the pan down evenly in the bottom of the pan.

               Tear the package from the ice cream and slice it evenly into 6 pieces.  Fit these slices on the crumb mixture in the pan.  Top with the remaining crumb mixture and freeze until serving time.

If you choose to make this dessert, I know you won't be disappointed.  Let me know how it turns out.




Wednesday, June 27, 2012

UP-CYCLED JEAN APRON

My latest sewing project for my granddaughters, Hallie and Sadie...Up-cycled Jean's Apron.  When my friend, Janice and I went to Jamesport recently, we saw these aprons for sale.  The woman who had made them had used blue jeans and khaki pants.  They were all so cute.  I carefully looked at them (there was a sign when we came in the store that said no picture taking was allowed) so I could see how they were made.  I looked at Janice and said, "I can make these for the girls."  I do this all the time so Janice is used to it.

Later after lunch, we drove out to the fabric store and found some material that we thought would make a cute ruffle and sash.  Also found some other material for more projects that I will be sharing when I find the time to get to them.

I needed some blue jeans that were bigger than what the girls wear so they would wrap a little ways around their waist AND that they can grow to also.  The aprons are too, too cute for them to only be able to use maybe one year.  So off to Hillcrest Thrift Shop I went to find some jeans with really decorative back pockets.  The first day I looked, I only found one pair.  I found a skirt that had cute pockets on the front that I thought I could use if I didn't find another pair.  But after I got it home, I decided it was just too cute to cut up so I will give it to Hallie for later.  I had to "work" the next day, too, so after my shift, I went back upstairs to check again....stuff is being "put out" constantly as the volunteers sort through donations, price, and then hang them on the racks for sale.  Well, I found another pair of jeans with stitching on the pockets for $3.  Since it was Wednesday and 55+ sale day (50% off clothes), I only paid $1.50 for them.  The legs are also stitched so I plan to cut them off and make a denim skirt for one of the girls.

These little aprons and so fast and easy.  Here is what I did:

The apron is made using the back of a pair of jeans. So, the first thing I did was cut on the front of the jeans as close to the side seam as I could. I cut down as far as the crotch went in the center and then just cut across to the other side.











Folding the jeans in half, I evened up the cut so that the distance was the same on the sides as the center.  This picture is before I evened it up.












I decided I would make the ruffle 2 inches finished and since I didn't want to do a narrow hem, I cut a strip 5 inches wide.  I folded the strip together with right sides facing and sewed the ends together with a quarter inch seam. 









To reduce the bulk in the corner, I cut diagonally across the corner with the fold as pictured.













I turned the ends to the right side and ironed them.














The next thing I needed to do was mark the half way point and the quarter points for the ruffle and the jeans.  This will make it easier to make the gathers evenly spread when I sew.  I just make a little snip. (on my tutorial for the patriotic t-shirts I have pictures showing this process)  Once I do this, I reset my sewing machine to the longest stitch length and sew the gathering thread 1/2 inch from open edge on the ruffle



I start the gathering process first by carefully pulling the top thread and make gathers just past the center point.  With right sides together I pin the ruffle at the center point.  This helps me see approximately how gathered the ruffle will be.  I also pin the quarter points and gather as I need to to make the ruffle fit the jeans.Then I go to the other half.  After it is all pinned, I sew the ruffle on using a regular length stitch making sure I backstitch at the beginning and the end.

Once I finished sewing and cut all my long threads off, I pressed the seam back toward the jeans.  Later I top stitched this so that the ruffle would lay flat after washing.

It wasn't necessary to do anything about hemming the side of the jeans because the side seam was left on the panel.  But I wanted to stitch close to the cut edge of the waistband where I cut it.  I backstitched this at the beginning and the end so it wouldn't come out.








All I had left to do was the sash for the tie.  I measured the opening with the belt loops and decided I would make the finished tie 1.25 inches.  So I cut a strip across the width of the material 3 inches wide.  I wasn't sure how long I needed to make the sash but I wanted to make it long enough that as the girls grew, the apron would still work for them.  I decided to make two strips across the width and sew them together  This made the length about 88 inches.  I cut off about 15 inches leaving the finished sash tie almost72 inches long.

I ironed the quarter inch seam open where I had sewn the two strips together and then folded the strip with right sides together and sewed down the open edge with a quarter inch seam.













Because the sash was soooooo long, I decided not to sew one of the ends together as you normally do when you are making a piece to turn.  So I started to turn one end by folding over the end of the strip.











I have these long handled tweezers I bought at an estate sale.   They work just great for what I need them.  (My husband says they are actually dental tweezers, but I don't care.)











I insert them down the "tube" and catch the material.  Then I pull the unturned piece with my left hand  and the tweezers in my right hand, pull out the turned piece.












Once I had the entire sash turned, I ironed it and top stitched a little less than a quarter of an inch all the way around so the sash will lay flat and look fairly good after being washed.

I threaded the sash through the belt loops and the apron was finished.

Here is a picture of both Sadie's (left) and Hallie's (right) finished aprons.  I wish I had gotten them made before our recent visit, because I would love to see their faces when they get them in the mail.

These were made for children, but you could make one for an adult using the same directions. I would probably make the ruffle bigger than 2 inches though.

The jeans that I made Sadie's apron with (the pair with the butterflies on the back pockets) continued the butterfly design on the legs of the jeans below the knee.  I decided to make Hallie an A-Line skirt using the two legs.  You can see how I did that and the results HERE.  

I would love to hear how your efforts turn out.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

PARMESAN CRUSTED CHICKEN

I have pinned and repinned many, many recipes on Pinterest.  Parmesan Crusted Chicken is a recent one.  The description for the pin gave the amounts of yogurt or sour cream to use to cover the chicken, but when I went to the site, there was no mention of either ingredient.  Instead it showed the Hellman's Mayo Recipe.  I don't know who decided to change the main ingredient from mayo to either yogurt or sour cream, but not having any mayo (we are salad dressing folks), I decided to try it using yogurt.

When I looked in my frig looking for the yogurt, I saw an opened container of sour cream that I had used part of in a previous recipe.  Knowing I needed to use it up, I decided to try the recipe as a pinner had suggested and use sour cream instead of the mayo.

I made the recipe using four chicken breast as called for in the recipe, but next time I will cut the ingredients in half and just make it for 2.   That way there won't be any leftovers to try to warm up.  Anyone know a good way to warm up chicken not in a casserole?  



PARMESAN CRUSTED CHICKEN FOR 2

                                        2     boneless, skinless, chicken breast
                                        1/4  cup of sour cream or yogurt
                                        2     tablespoon grated parmesan cheese   
                                        Italian bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Line baking dish with parchment paper.( Easy cleanup).  Lay the 2 chicken breast on top of the paper in the dish.  Mix the sour cream or yogurt with the parmesan cheese in a small bowl and then spread it on top of the chicken breast. Sprinkle the bread crumbs on top of the cheese mixture covering the chicken completely.

Bake for 40 minutes or til juices run clear.

This was so good and so easy. 

TIP ALERT!
I make my own bread crumbs from the heels left with a loaf of bread.  I break the heel up into pieces and then chop it up in the blender.  Then I store the crumbs in a freezer bag so I can take out how ever much I need, when I need it for a recipe.  I always buy 100% Whole Wheat Bread so my bread crumbs aren't seasoned as much as the Italian ones called for in the recipe.  BUT my husband loved it so I'm not going to go out and buy Italian bread crumbs just for the recipe.  

I am sure the yogurt would give it a sweeter taste than the sour cream.  If you do not like sour cream, try the yogurt or even mayo as the original recipe used.  I used fat free sour cream to reduce fat.

What I really like about this recipe is that it would be so easy to make to serve for a dinner group and simply increase the ingredients.  The ratio for the sour cream and cheese is 2:1 so for 4 chicken breast, use 1/2 cup of sour cream or yogurt and 1/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese.  

I'm sure I will be serving this the next time we have friends over for dinner.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

MULTI-GRAIN BLUEBERRY ZUCCHINI BREAD

Saturday I decided to make some Multi-Grain Blueberry Zucchini Bread from my first harvested zucchini from my garden.
I was so excited when I saw it growing in my garden because I had not been aware it was even on the plant.  Last year I tried growing zucchini but all the plants did was grow big leaves and then only male flowers.  Finally the plants were attacked by these gold/black ladybugs and I finally pulled them up and threw the plants away.  My friend Janice told me I couldn't plant any this year because they had given me too much stress, but I decided to try one more time.  If my experiences from last year repeated themselves this year, I swore I would never try again.  SO-O-O-O  you can imagine my excitement when I raised the huge leaves and saw the zucchini.  So far I have gotten two more and yesterday I saw two more forming.  As big as the plants are I should be having zucchini "growing out my ears".  But I won't get greedy!

Here is my recipe.  I have tried to reduce the calories as much as I can.  See notes below.


MULTI-GRAIN BLUEBERRY ZUCCHINI BREAD

     3        eggs, lightly beaten
     1/2     cup canola oil
     1/2     cup no-sugar-added applesauce
     3        teaspoons vanilla extract
     1        cup truvia Baking Blend
     2        cups shredded zucchini
     1 1/2  cups all-purpose flour
     1 1/2  cups whole wheat pastry flour
     1        teaspoon salt
     1        teaspoon baking powder
     1/4     teaspoon baking soda
     1        tablespoon ground cinnamon
     1        pint blueberries

Directions:

     1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Spray 4 mini-loaf pans with cooking spray.
     2.  In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, oil, applesauce, vanilla, and sugar substitute.  Fold in the zucchini.
     3. Combine the 2 flours, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon.  Stir with a whisk to mix completely.  Add to the liquid mixture and beat until blended.
     4.  Gently fold in the blueberries. Transfer to the four prepared mini-loaf pans.
     5.  Bake 50 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center of a loaf comes out clean.  Cool 20 minutes in pans on wire rack, then turn out to cool completely.

NOTES:
  • I used 1 cup of the truvia Baking Blend instead of 2 cups of sugar.  I am switching from using Splenda and Splenda Blend products for stevia products.
  • I also used a 12 - oz package of frozen blueberries that I had.  I didn't measure them as I slowly added them, but the package nutrition value chart said the package was about 2.5 cups.  I have made them only using a cup of fresh blueberries.  It tasted great just wasn't so full of blueberries.
  • I also use whole wheat pastry flour instead of whole wheat flour.  I like the texture better and taste

  • I have also made the recipe but substituted 1 cup of mashed bananas for the blueberries and also by substituting 2 cups whole cranberries for the blueberries.  I was very satisfied with both new versions 
I like to make my "breads" in the mini-loaf pans because I can freeze them and then get one out when we like, to eat.  I don't end up eating more than I really want/need to just to keep from throwing it out.  Plus, I can also enjoy more variety because I usually have several different recipes in the freezer.

Doesn't that look delicious?  Above in the pan. Below, out.


I hope you will try my recipe and let me know how yours turns out.  Also if you customize it, let me know what you did so I can try it, too.

TIP ALERT!
I can't believe I almost forgot to pass on a great tip to you....in case you don't have one.
This is a picture of my peeler that I have had probably since I graduated from college and had my own apartment.  I put it on the envelop to take this picture hoping the "age and condition" would show better.  Not sure if it worked.  Anyway, recently I was in the store and saw this Kitchen Aid peeler.  I must admit that it was the red that attracted it to me more than anything,  (I love a splash of red in a room)  and decided to get it and try it out.  OMG! It made peeling the zucchini so fast and easy.  My old antique peeler would have taken twice as long because I would have had to stop at least once or twice to re-aline the blade.  My hand would have been hurting because of the way I hold the handle for it to work.  Needless to say, I hate throwing my old peeler away, but this pretty new red one has definitely become my favorite kitchen tool.

HOPE CIRCLE

One of the things I like about Pinterest is how many ideas I have gotten from recipes to tips for sewing, quilting, decorating, gardening, helpful hints, entertaining, and things to do with my grandchildren.  I have learned to surf around the internet and even create this blog.  

Being a teacher most of my life and then retiring, I felt an emptiness.  Retiring doesn't mean that you no longer have creative ideas or expertise in areas.  The problem is finding a place to share them and feel useful.  When we moved to KC, we joined Platte Woods  United Methodist Church and immediately got involved with a Sunday School Class and Hope Circle, the United Methodist Women's unit for me.  My husband joined the Tuesday Golf League. 

In Hope Circle, I have been able to express my creativity and leadership skills with the quilting group.  Meeting once a week, we have two groups working.  One group is designing a quilt; laying out the 6.5 inch squares that we have cut from material that has been donated to us.  The other group is busy putting a quilt together.  We "tie" the quilt tops to the backing, which is a lot faster and easier than sitting around a loom making tiny little stitches.  Because we are called a quilting group though, some women don't consider joining us because they don't "sew".  

We actually create some beautiful quilts from our donated fabric.  We use donated bed sheets for the backing but do buy the batting that we use.  When my friend Janice and I go to estate sales, we are always on the "look out" for good, clean sheets that we can use.  Hillcrest Thrift Shop, a thrift shop where my husband and I both volunteer, also donates material and even finished or unfinished quilt tops that are donated to them, because they know we are giving them to people who are less fortunate.  A member of the church who doesn't attend our meetings, has donated several times, a quilt top that she has made for us to tie. We try to "design" and "tie" two quilts each month. Since a member, Vicki, moved to Atlanta, I have been taking the "designed" quilt tops home and sewing the squares together.  Another member, Gloria, adds the binding to the tied quilts to finish them.


Last year we donated 24 twin size quilts to Kairos Outside, a Prison Ministry for women, who have loved ones who are either incarcerated or have been incarcerated.  They have two weekend retreats a year.  The quilts adorn the beds for the weekend.


This year our focus is on church members or loved ones who are in wheelchairs AND a local organization called Sleepy Head Beds.  This group was started by two young women who felt that no child should have to go to bed at night without a bed.  They get hundreds of calls a day.  They donate beds and bedding to children up to 18 years of age.  We currently have 13 quilts of various sizes to donate to them.  The 42" x 48" quilts we make for use with a wheelchair are made without batting to reduce bulk.  We also are using flannel or fleece for the backing.  Hillcrest Thrift Shop has donated most of that that we are using.  It will still make a nice lap quilt without the wheelchair.

One of the things that I learned from this group is using bed risers to raise tables for a more comfortable work level.  
My back really appreciated this tip.  

I feel really blessed once a month when I meet these 6 to 8 lovely, Christian women to share the fellowship and create something that I know will be meaningful to someone.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

BELATED CELEBRATION

Since we weren't able to get with our son, Patrick, and his family to celebrate my birthday before we went to COS and we were still in COS for Father's Day, we met them this morning at Roxanne's in Platte City for brunch to celebrate.  They had a full schedule for the day as they were going to go celebrate Lori's grandfather's 99th birthday so I didn't get all the pictures I wanted.  The other problem was my camera battery pack died.  Seems like I just recharged it, but I have been taking a lot of pictures lately.  I will have to take them when we get together the next time.  Want to get a picture of the 3 generations of males in the family with Patrick as I did with Jeffrey when we were in COS.

Here are some of the cute pictures I got of Madison and Tyler.  Tyler will be 4 months old next Thursday.  Hard to believe.  
Miss Madison Lynn
 She is studying the crayon here.  She did color the picture on the other side, but she would stop when I picked up the camera.
Mr. Tyler James




He was chewing on his upper lip.  It was so cute!  I almost got a picture of his dimples in the top picture.
Here Madison was interested in the pickles that were on her plate with her grilled cheese sandwich and fries.  Mommy (Lori) is in the background.
Enough looking, ready to eat.  Yummy!!!!!

Here is a picture of Patrick.  Fatherhood seems to agree with him.

Lori had planned to take half of Madison's grilled cheese sandwich with them to eat later, but Maddy had other ideas! 
One last look at handsome Mr. Tyler.

Even though our visit was brief, it was great being with them again and a special celebration with Patrick and his precious family.

We are so blessed!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

MAKING APRICOT JAM

When we were visiting in COS, the Sunflower grocery store had apricots on sale for $1.77/lb.  Knowing this was a really good price, I decided to get some to bring back home so I could make some apricot jam.  One thing I miss from living in Ventura, CA is all the fruit trees we had in our yard.  We had one each: peach, lemon, plum, apple, orange, tangerine, fig, and apricot.  I would spend a considerable amount of my summer "off" (teacher) making jam. But that was ok as we love the homemade taste of jam.  Since we were growing all the fruit, the cost was affordable.  Even though I have to buy the fruit here, I don't mind.  I know what is in the jam and as I said, WE LOVE THE TASTE OF HOMEMADE JAM.

This morning as I made my jam, I decided to take pictures (as best as I could considering I was stirring with one hand and trying to take the picture with my other one) showing the process in case anyone wanted to try it.  I use Sure Jell premium fruit pectin and pretty much follow their directions until the "canning" directions in  step 9.  I sometimes use the No Sugar Needed Sure Jell and use less sugar or Splenda.  The "look" of the jam is different (not as pretty) and the jam has a different consistency, but my husband prefers the less sugar idea and says he doesn't care. So I do some for him.

The first thing I do is get EVERYTHING ready and set out before I start preparing the fruit.  Once you start cooking the jam, you don't have time to get things measured etc, as you need to be stirring constantly. The large glass bowl has the 7 cups of sugar and behind it in the smaller measuring glass is the 1/4 cup of lemon juice.  I did forget to get the tongs out ahead of time so they aren't in the picture.  The larger measuring cup in the picture is used to measure the prepared fruit. The jars are washing in the dishwasher so they will be ready and hot when the jam is ready to be poured.  It is important to have the jars HOT when you pour the jam in them to seal.


The recipe for apricot jam calls for 3.5 lbs of apricots or 5 cups of prepared fruit.  It took only about 3 lbs for me to have 5 cups, but you don't want to come up short.

I cut the apricots in half to remove the pit.  Do not peel the fruit.  I put 5 apricots at a time in the blender and pulse to chop. Too many will make it harder to just chop the apricot.  You don't want to puree them. It may be necessary to stir them up in the blender if they aren't being chopped.  Here is a picture showing the consistency of the chopped fruit.


 
When you have the 5 cups prepared fruit, pour into a 6 - 8 quart saucepot ( I use my dutch oven pot.) and add the lemon juice.  I SLOWLY add the Sure Jell and stir in between to make sure there is no lumping of the pectin (upper picture) and then add 1 teaspoon of butter.  The recipe calls for 1/2 teaspoon, but I have always put a whole teaspoon. The butter will keep down the foam that forms as the jam cooks.  (I had none with this batch.  Sometimes I have a little, but it is easy to lightly spoon it out as there won't be very much.)

To me, the next two parts are the hardest because you have to judge a "full rolling boil".  Cook the mixture over medium high heat until the mixture comes to a full rolling boil (a boil that doesn't stop bubbling when stirred) stirring constantly.  I also keep scraping the sides of the pan to keep all the fruit being used.  I think I rushed this step this morning because the mixture was "popping" out and burning my hand. It was boiling though.



Then dump the 7 cups of sugar all in at once and stir making sure all lumps are dissolved.













You can see how the looks and consistency has changed since you added the sugar.  If you have some  large pieces of fruit at this stage, you can spoon them up to the side and "cut up" with the edge of the spoon, if you like.









Return the mixture to a full rolling boil remembering to stir constantly and scape sides of pan.  Then set the timer for 1 minute and continue to boil the mixture stirring constantly.  Remove from heat when the timer goes off.









The lids have been boiling slowly in a pan while you have cooking the jam.  I actually boiled some water and poured over the lids in the pan when I started.  I turned the burner on to bring the water back to a boil about the time I added the sugar to the mixture.








I place a towel on the counter to work on as everything is hot that you are dealing with.  Using a hot plate, place pan with prepared jam, along with the jars from the dishwasher.  I also have a cup that I use to dip the mixture out into the jars and a wide mouth funnel.  Also place your lids still in water along with tongs for lifting the lids out.  The directions with the Sure Jell always made me feel like I had to ladle the jam into the prepared jars almost before I took the mixture off the stove, but I have learned that I can take a minute or two to get the jars out of the dishwasher (that way they are still HOT) and get everything else that I need.  (Remember I got everything out before I started so it is just a matter of gathering them together on my towel.)

Placing the jar as close to the pan as I can, and inserting the funnel, I carefully ladle the jam into the jars using the cup.












I fill the jar with the jam up to the bottom of the funnel - looking down in the jar.
Remove the funnel and place in another empty jar and rest the cup in it, while you wipe the top of the jar to make sure there isn't any jam on it.  Remove a lid with the tongs and place on the jar and then tighten on the ring. Continue until you have used all the jam.  The recipe says it makes 9 cups.  That means it will make 4 pints and a half pint.  I always wash 5 pint jars and several different sizes that I have of half-pint jars---just in case.  That means I also heat on extra lid.  You can save it if you don't need it and use it the next time.  The seal hasn't been damaged by the heat.  Just to make sure this last statement is clear, a lid that has been heated in water is safe to reheat and use later.  You should NOT reuse a lid that you had previously used to seal a jar.  You can see the impression on the rubber seal of a used lid.

When all the mixture has been poured (and if you are lucky, you may have a little extra left in the pan that you can just spoon into a custard dish and enjoy when it cools), make sure all the rings are on tight.  Use a wet towel to hold the jar as you tighten the ring, because the jar will be really hot to touch.  Also wipe off jar to clean away any jam that might have gotten on the jar as you were filling the jars.  THEN turn the jars upside down on the towel and set the timer for 5 mintues


After the timer goes off, turn jars right side up using the wet towel again and wait to hear that wonderful POP that indicates the jar has sealed.  IF a jar doesn't seal, don't worry, simply put that jar in the refrigerator and enjoy it now.










Note, sometimes a lid will end up sealing when you press on it--no POP.  That is ok.  As long as the lid stays "down", it is sealed.  As the jam is cooling in the jars, I will check a couple of times to make sure the lid has sealed by pressing down  the center of the lid.








I hope if you have always wanted to make your own homemade jam, but were afraid to try it, that this tutorial will help you.  I would love your comments on your efforts or any questions you might have.