Thursday, September 27, 2012

Jam... What It Is and What It Isn't?

Jam has got to be one of the most highly under-rated and overlooked, yet truly delectable foods on the planet. Or maybe I should reel in my grandiose opinion and simply talk about the under-appreciations and misconceptions that I'd like to debate on its behalf from my kitchen. For as much as I like jam, I don't really think all that much about it throughout the year until the time comes for jamming season. Then, you can bet that without a doubt, I am singing its praises.... but not for the reasons you may think.

Sure, I'll pull a jar of homemade jam out of the fridge and add a dollop to my toast or best store-bought, yeasty-baked biscuit, as quick as anyone who's feeling a little hungry. If I'm feeling extravagant, I may even plop a heated jam puddle on top of my favorite bowl of ice cream (#gourmet, I know.)

But the real reason jam and I have a hard-wired connection can be most definitively traced to those "How to Make Jam" Instructions that are tucked inside those Sure-Jell packages....

I hate those little yellow packages. Their instructions drive me crazy. Primarily because I am not the sort of person who really likes to follow instructions. Or more specifically, I am not the sort of person who likes to follow instructions that tell me I NEED TO FOLLOW the instructions EXACTLY as written or my jam will fail. #gasp!

#yah, right. By whose standards? Perhaps that is the important question.

Because we're talking jam, here. Just jam. Fruit. Sugar. Pectin. And these things were born to tango.

Instructions like Sure-Hell's bring out the worst in me; and you can be sure that every year I'll find a reason as to why I SHOULDN'T do EXACTLY what the instructions say.

First and foremost, although I love sugar, I don't see a need to go overboard on it. More often than not, those darned recipes call for nearly five pounds of the white tasty stuff. (Good grief! That's the whole bag!) And secondly, how do I know what kind of berries SURE*JELL used to test their recipe with? Where their berries like mine? Fresh from the vine, extra sweet, and not too needy in the sugar-boost department? Or were they more like those from my farthest neighborhood grocery store? Kind of bland and on the dry side? These are important considerations.

It's these sorts of considerations that get me into trouble (or not, depending on how you look at it). Because once I start considering, I start hedging. And once I start hedging, all the "shoulda and coulda and Must-Dos" get thrown out the window....

Which brings us back to making jam....

The great thing about jam--or MY JAM--is that it knows me. It knows that I'm not going to just be spreading it on toast every day. It knows that some days I might want to go gourmet. It knows that some days I might be inching toward boosting a smoothie with a pre-made blend of sugary-fruit confection. It knows that other days I might be wanting to perk up some pancakes with berry syrup, or infuse some cupcakes, or inspire a cheesecake.... The list goes on and on. And when those hunkerings arise, there is nothing better than my homemade jam--and all my variations of it--which I've made by NOT FOLLOWING DIRECTIONS.

Because in the end, as it turns out, Not Following Directions gets you some jars that are thickened just right, and other jars that are screaming for a higher calling (like syrup, for instance.) And I for one am more than happy to oblige; especially since my fresh-made, haphazard jam is ducking from SURE*HELL's expectations of what the perfect jar of jam should be.

That's why I love jam, or MY JAM. For everything that it is, and maybe even more so, for everything that those PACKAGES try to tell me that it ISN'T. As far as I'm concerned, it turns out that a jar of jam can be turned into whatever it needs to be.


Monday, September 17, 2012

Engineering 101: or, Why The Three Little PIGS Would be PROUD

We won! Second place, anyway.

According to the event organizer, the displays at the Nibley City Scarecrow Festival "were judged by a professor of sculpture from University of Washington and a principal of a design firm in SLC. Scenes were rated on the following criteria: ambition/investment, creativity/originality, craftsmanship/execution. As art is a very subjective, we truly believe beauty is in the eye of the beholder and scarecrow making is a very forgiving art form! That's what makes this so much fun."

Yes, I had fun.... despite the wind storm that sent Little Red's house flying end over end just after I had finished putting it up the night before the festival. #yikes! and #curses! All I can say is, Thank goodness I hadn't set up the cake which Macey's Bakery had made for the scene. (Thank you, Macey's!)

Since I hadn't signed on to do a scene from The Wizard of Oz, I ended up returning to the site the next morning at 6:30 am before work to get everything up again. All in all, it worked out. Big Bad is still one of my favorite characters.

My friend Judy Torres (a.k.a. children's author extradinaire) and I walked through the scarecrow festival on Friday afternoon. We loved the critters at Morgan farm. Here was one of our favorites.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Yellow Squash and the New and Improved Special K Plan, with Bonus Recipe

I never thought I’d see the day when I’d actually eat the yellow squash from my garden raw—as in, uncooked—and enjoy doing so. But that day has come. Usually I do my best to give nearly everything I grow of the yellow stuff away. After all, I thought I only liked it if I cooked it, and what’s the fun in that if I actually need schedule time to stir fry it or stick it in the oven?

These days, time to do anything is a rare commodity. And if I can put decent food into the mouths of myself and my babes where I get the biggest return for the least amount of work, I’m a happy person. Thus, you can imagine my joy at discovering more and more how good and satisfying fruits and vegies are when they come right off the vine, or bush, or tree, or what have you.

Okay, so maybe I don’t eat all my fruits and vegies raw. I do enhance the squash with a bit of ranch dressing, but still. Ranch dressing is merely a condiment, equivalent to topping off a burger with a dollop of ketchup and a swirl of mayonnaise. So in my book, it all adds up to a good thing at the end of the day.

Am I on a health kick? Kind of.

Some of you may recall a post a few weeks back where I abhorred the thought of going on a Special K diet, despite the plea from my children that in doing so might win us a trip to Hawaii. While the thought of losing a couple inches off my waist does sound appealing (and actually needed, lest I find myself looking to expand my wardrobe); the idea of having to eat Special K twice a day was approaching nightmare status, considering the fact that eating what amounts to “air” might actually end up killing me. (We can not live by flakes alone.)

Nevertheless, the Special K conundrum did get me thinking on how I might shed an inch or two without giving up life’s basic necessity of food (sugar and chocolate included). The fact that I actually had to spend time THINKING to come up with my latest game plan should NOT impress you, meaning, I should not have had to THINK at all to realize that perhaps I should get back to doing what I used to do in the past. Getting MOBILE.  I.E., exercise. Kicking my butt out of the office or out of the house in order to do whatever I can find to do Outside.

Seems like a simple solution. But I do have that Lack of Time issue. So I had to think a bit more. And I came up with this: Why not bike to work? It’s not far. The weather is still good. I’ll work on my tan. Plus, I’ll still be able to eat more than Special K. (BONUS!) All I’ll have to do is get up a bit earlier, and avoid drivers who text. #Don'tHitMe

Plus, I figured Chef John (who wrote a book called "Doughnuts for Amy") would be proud. He did show concern on my Special K dilemma and suggest I spice up my morning with a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice in a tweet. Lucky for me the grocery store serves up cartons of the Fresh Squeezed Brew.

So far, so good. As for Special K, it has redeemed itself. Thanks to the most amazing woman on the planet (a.k.a. my Mom), I now have a great recipe filled with what I call protein. My children, who are NOT SO KIND, call it Fat. (They are still hanging their hopes on Hawaii). But that doesn’t keep me from making it (when I have time) and eating it (when I need fuel). At the very least, it will keep me biking to work, and happy in the fact that I'm doing something normal with my life, like breathing air instead of eating it.

The "Might Not Get You There From Here" Special K Bars (That's up to YOU)

6 cups Special K cereal
1 cup Karo syrup
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter

This recipe is pretty similar to those beloved Rice Crispie treats. If you don't know how to make those, then read closely. If you DO know how to make those, then read even more closely. (Yes, I kind of messed up the first time ... #Don't Ask). Plus, unlike Rice Crispie Treats, this recipe has two steps (i.e., a topping). So, take care to see below.

> Cook the Karo syrup and brown sugar together on medium heat in a decent, medium-sized pot until they come to a jolly slow boil.  Turn down  the heat good-and-low and stir in that creamy peanut butter (no Nuts!), and make a mental note not to serve these bars to anyone with peanut allergies. Remove that pan with the goodies from heat and mix in that 6 cups of Special K. You might want to make it easier on yourself by approaching this as a step-wise process and only add two cups at a time. Finally, butter a 11x13 pan and press this sticky, greasy batter into the pan.

NO, you are not Done!

There is a topping.

1/2 bag of semi-sweet choc chips
1/2 bag of butterscotch chips

You'll want to heat these together in one pan on the stove. Or maybe you'll want to try melting them in short bursts of medium-radiation in the microwave (in a microwave-safe bowl). The path you choose is up to you, but after you have a bowl or pan full of gooey goodness, spread it on top of the bars.

Cover the pan and put it in the fridge to chill for a bit. Then cut into Bite-sized! squares. Freeze most, because you definitely don't want to go eating all of these in one sitting. As for the cutting, you'll want to use one of those long and strong, wedged knives that are often featured in Horror Films. This type of knife will serve you well in giving leverage as you press down thru the bars. (And That's Physics101, Baby!). Give yourself an A.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Brigham City Peach Days Festival, September 8th

Authors 4 Literacy is just one of the events / booths at Brigham City's Peach Days Festival  on Saturday, September 8, where you will be able to meet with authors, pick up some signed books, ask questions, and spend some time while participating in different activities related to reading and writing (if you're taking a break from other activities related to All Things Peachy)

It all adds up to fun! And better yet, Peaches!! (plus other fruits that don't get head-lining mentionability)

So see you there! Our booth will be by the Reflections Book Store at 47 South Main.

Have you Hugged an Author today? Have you Hugged your Book Store Owner today?

>>>> Catch up on that habit on September 8th, downtown Brigham City, Utah.<<<<