Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Beginner's Guide to (the perils of) Peach Jam

A couple of weeks ago I ordered a half a bushel of peaches. I am not entirely sure why I did it, but they were cheap and freshly picked and I figured that I had a couple of weeks until they were delivered to figure out what exactly I was going to do with half a bushel of very ripe peaches.

They were delivered this week.

So there they sat, attracting every fruit fly in the state and tempting my one-year old to attack the box and take a single bite out of every single peach. Obviously, something had to be done. We are a family of three people right now, and one of those people eats very little. Simply bingeing on fresh peaches until they are gone wasn't really an option, so canning it was! Peach jam? Sure! Even though I have never made jam before in my life? Sure!

Well, I have now officially made jam for the first time. I have decided that if any of you are thinking about making jam for the first time yourselves, you might benefit from a little "Jam for Dummies," written by one who is, quite often, actually a dummy.

Ahem. Strap in, because we are about to get jammin'!

1. First of all, you need to pick a recipe to use. You can find about a million of them online, but keep in mind that due to incompetence and a really bad memory, you will end up mixing up about three different recipes you looked up while narrowing it down, so it doesn't really matter which one you choose in the end.

2. Gather your supplies. If you do not have everything you need, never fear! You can always make two trips to a grocery store and three trips to your friendly neighborhood hardware store- all in one day. That is not only acceptable, but highly encouraged when making jam for the first time. Bonus points if it is pouring rain all day.

Supplies you will generally need:
  • Fruit of some kind. Preferably fruit that is extremely ripe so that you get a cloud of fruit flies following your every move. It's the mark of a true canner*.
  • Sugar. A lot of it. Apparently jam uses a lot of sugar. Who knew?! Not me.
  • Lemon juice. Ignore any recipe that calls for "fresh" lemon juice, because by the time you get around to adding the lemon juice to the jam, the last thing you will want to do is actually cut up a lemon and juice it yourself. Trust me on this one.
  • Pectin. Any recipe that tells you that it is possible to make jam without pectin is spewing fiery lies of LIES and as penance they need to come to my house and wash every dish I used to attempt to make their recipe of LIES.
  • Jars. 
  • Every single pot, pan, and kitchen utensil you own.
*I made that up. I have no idea what the mark of a true canner is, because I am most certainly not a true canner.

3. Peel and dice your peaches. You might as well strip down naked now because by the end of this you will have a sheen of peach juice from head to toe. I only wish I were exaggerating, but my hair may never be the same again. I'll let you know if peach juice turns out to be some sort of miracle hair conditioner.

It all started so exciting and delicious-looking.

4. Put diced peaches in a pot and add the sugar and lemon juice. If you come up about half a cup of sugar short, you might think that you can just roll with it. You can't. Then again, maybe it wasn't the half a cup of missing sugar that did me in on that particular batch, but the accidental scorching. Those one-year-olds can be so dang distracting!

Now you know what burned peach mush looks like. You are welcome.

5. Bring to a boil. Don't let it burn. It seems so simple, and yet...

6. If needed, throw out your first attempt. Make your first trip to the grocery store to buy more sugar. Go back to step 3 and repeat.

7. Add the pectin. If, like some other first-time-jammers, you realize at this point that you forgot to buy pectin, never fear! You have all day! You don't have a life! All you have to do is push pause on the jam-making, make space in your fridge for a large stock pot of peach mush, clear a space on your counters and stove to make dinner for yourself and your one-year-old, feed yourself and your one-year-old, head out to the hardware store for the second (or was it third?) time that day, discover they are all out of pectin, head to the nearest grocery store for the second time that day (bonus points if you hit up the same cashiers as the previous trips!), buy the only kind of pectin they have there (bonus points if it isn't the kind your recipe calls for, but you could care less at this point!), head home, put the baby to bed, discover the second batch of jam is no good and START ALL OVER AGAIN! FOR THE THIRD TIME! AT EIGHT O'CLOCK IN THE EVENING!

(Step seven was pretty much my favorite step of the whole process.)

8. Go back to step 3 and repeat.

9. Admit to yourself that you wish you had never started, but now that you have you have to have something to show for it.

Something other than a kitchen that looks like this.

10. Call everyone you have ever met who has ever successfully made jam and ask them why your jam isn't thickening even though you added the pectin that you moved heaven and earth to obtain.

11. Decide you don't care if the jam is thick or not- you have had enough. It's time to end this.

12. Fill the jars using any combination of spoons and measuring cups you can concoct, since you apparently do not own a funnel. Ignore the fact that your "jam" is basically diced peaches in light syrup.

And there are loads of uses for diced peaches in light syrup, right?

13. Place jars in the rack of your borrowed canning pot.

They almost look like actual jam. Deceptive little buggers.

14. Realize that you forgot to boil water for the very large canning pot and proceed to fill it and boil it. This will take a while, so feel free to find something to watch on Netflix and try not to think too hard about whether or not this delay will interrupt the jars' sealing process.

15. Place the rack of jars into the boiling water and boil for however long it says in one of the many recipes you consulted that day. This varies according to the altitude of where you live, so take a moment to go Google that. My city is a whopping 75 feet above sea level. I was hoping for a bit more altitude than that so I could claim a lack of oxygen as why I am so bad at canning. This is sadly not the case.

If you were wondering how hot your house is after all this boiling of various liquids...
The answer is HOT.

16. Sit down to write a blog post about the utter failure that was your first attempt at jam-making and in the process forget about the jars you have boiling on the stove. Figure that boiling them twice as long as you were supposed to can't have done that much more damage than everything else you've done to those poor peaches, so....meh.

17. Remove the jars, place them on a towel to cool and try to ignore the strange popping sounds they make. I'm new at this, so I'm just going to ahead and pretend that popping is a sign of success, not complete and utter failure*.

*Update: popping or no, my "jam" was a complete and utter failure, in that it in no way resembles jam.

Diced peaches, anyone? I've got plenty.

18. Do whatever you need to to recover from 12 hours* of jam making.

*Allowing pauses for two meals, half a dozen snacks (for you and the baby), several diaper changes, five minutes spent extracting your son's leg from a hole in the peach box, fifteen minutes for putting the baby down for naps (twice), and ten blessed minutes when you let yourself ignore the peaches for a bit and sit and eat ice cream.

Have at it, kid. I'm not about to do anything with those peaches any time soon.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

How to Offend a New Mom in Ten Easy Steps

A follow up to my post about how to offend a pregnant woman. The good news is that you can still be really offensive once the baby is actually born, not to worry.

1. Comment on how bad she looks.

You know who's not going to win a beauty contest? A new mother. They're sort of busy, you know, keeping a tiny helpless human alive.

Neighbor: Are you getting any sleep?
Me: Oh you know newborns, not really, but that's ok.
Neighbor: Yeah I can tell, you look terrible.

2. Tell her to read a parenting book.

You know what new mothers need to be doing in their small amounts of free time? Sleeping. Eating. Maybe showering. End of list. If you want to give parenting tips fine, but please don't make someone read a 300 page novel to go along with it.

3. If this were olden times you and your baby would be dead right now.

My first baby was born via emergency c-section once the doctor discovered my pelvis was too narrow for my son's melon head. I so appreciate the medical knowledge and technology we have now but maybe the delivery room is not the right time for relatives to remark on how 100 years ago me and my new baby would have been toast.

4. My baby slept through the night at ______ days old!

Good for you. Your baby must be one of those special babies that don't need to eat. Also, maybe it's not the best thing to brag about how much sleep you're getting to a sleep-deprived, hormonal lady.

5. You named your baby what?

Insert comment of your choice here:
I had a dog named that! (According to how often I got this comment, every single dog out there must be named Cooper, just in case you meet a dog at the park today, its name is most likely Cooper.)
Have you considered this name instead?
How unusual...
Staring with your mouth open.

6. Insert weird irrelevant parenting advice here _____.

Tips on how to discipline your newborn.
Tips on how to get your three day old to sleep through the night.
Tips on how to make your newborn's hair grow.

7. When are you going to have another one?

Ask me again when I'm not wearing pants with an elastic waist.

8. Didn't you already have the baby?

Yikes. Never ask. Just smile politely, speak of the weather, and hope she says something about it.

9. Are you breast feeding?

Now this question is acceptable coming from your child's pediatrician or a good friend, but not really from a total stranger in the grocery store. Due to some personal issues my son grew up happily on Costco's finest formula. And in order not to discuss those personal issues with the breastfeeding police I simply lied and said yes ma'am, he nurses all day long and I'm the president of the la leche league, now can you tell me where the doughnut aisle is?

10. Your new baby looks like Gollum.

Courtesy of my husband who said this to his sister upon meeting his new niece. She must have still been slightly sedated with medication or surely she would have punched him in the face.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Rainbow Rowell, will you be my best friend? (A love letter)

Dear Rainbow,

May I call you Rainbow? It's such a beautiful name, and although I know you don't know me, after spending several weeks binge reading your books I feel like you are a dear friend. Is that creepy? Gosh, I hope it's not creepy. Now I'm feeling like a stalker. I promise you, I'm a fairly lovely person. At least that's what my mother tells me.

Last year at some point I went on a John Green binge and when I ran out of books he'd written I turned to his tumblr (by the way, I don't actually know how tumblr works or why it's spelled without an e before the r but it's all I had). He raved about your book, Eleanor and Park, saying :

"If you read a lot, you can get jaded. You can forget how a reader has to be generous to a book as much as a book has to be generous to its reader. You feel like maybe everything worth doing has been done, and nothing will ever blow you away ever again.
And then you read a book like Eleanor and Park, and you are shocked out of your complacency and grateful to be alive. As you can tell from my review in the New York Times Book Review, I really love this book. Months later, I’m still thinking about it."
Not hesitating for a moment, I purchased the ebook for a whopping $1.99 and dove right in, expecting great things. Because John Green. Unfortunately, my expectations were too high and I quit reading within the first chapter. Mostly because I was turned off by excessive profanity. I'm an old fashioned kinda gal, Rainbow. 
Flash forward to a year later and there is this nagging voice in the back of my mind telling me to try it again. I probably stopped and started three or four times, never making it past the first chapter, and then I read a review of Fangirl, so I decided to give it a try. I was hooked by the first page. If you knew me, Rainbow, you'd know that I am a Harry Potter Fangirl, and I connected with Cath's passion for Simon immediately. I devoured the book, and then I plowed through Attatchments, followed by Eleanor and Park, and then I started over again while I waited for Landline to be released. 
Occasionally I come across an author that really resonates with me.  Their ability to create a world that I could become so wrapped up in it that, for a while, I abandon my own, astounds me. You are a master at the character driven novel. I tend to gravitate towards contemporary realistic fiction, and you do it beautifully.

The thing I love about your characters is that they are unapologetically real. So many times I wanted to reach in and give Eleanor a hug, or nudge Lincoln in the right direction, or talk some sense into Wren. You give a voice, a story, to the powerless. You give strength where society would otherwise say there is weakness.

Here's the thing: I'd love to go out to lunch and pick your brain. And while we are at it, since you are well entrenched in the publishing world could you also invite John Green, Kate Morton, Jojo Moyes, and Melina Marchetta? I ask nothing more than a lunch. And a few dozen more novels. And I'd love it if we were friends. Best friends, who wear those heart necklaces split in half. I mean, I already have a best friend, but if you say yes, Rainbow, I'd drop her like a hot potato (kidding, she'd love you too). 


A devoted Fangirl

*If you could be best friends with an author, who would you pick? 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Tuning out the Stupidity

Sometimes the world just makes me want to pound my head into my desk repeatedly. Not over anything big or important. Mostly over stupidity. And that’s when I remember that I need to step back, unplug from the internet and all the stupid things people post, tune out the awfulness of the local and national news, pretend that email doesn’t exist, and remember to live. It’s amazing what simply taking a breath can do. It doesn’t fix the world’s problems, but it does help me remember to be a person. I can start to think about real things like goals, the future, the people I love. That doesn’t mean I ignore everything all the time, but even just 5 minutes away can help.

What helps you step back from it all? What are the important things that come to the surface when you’re able to tune out all the stupidity?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

How to throw a retro birthday party

Disclaimer: I truly am in awe of mothers who have the time, talents, patience, motivation, and money to throw extravagant, themed birthday parties. I am not one of them.

My daughter turned five this year, and like every other girl born between 2007 and 2011 she requested a Frozen birthday party. Fortunately, in the age of Pinterest, I found literally hundreds of ideas to make her birthday party a success. Unfortunately, I found hundreds of ideas that made me feel like a failure before the invitations were even sent out. Here were some of the birthday parties I found on Pinterest. Keep in mind that these parties were being thrown for CHILDREN between the ages of one to seven.

Admittedly, these are LOVELY parties, but personally, I don't have the patience or the will to throw a Pinterest worthy party. I can't even fathom the cost of these parties. Unfortunately for me, my children have been attending parties like this, so I have to say things like, "I'm sorry Hannah, I don't really have the energy to fill balloons with helium and confetti, along with a handwritten invitation to your party, and personally deliver them to nine different houses. I know when they pop them the invitation will fall out, along with lots of confetti which seems lovely and whimsical but also I don't want their parents to be vacuuming confetti out of their carpet for weeks."

So, if you are wondering how to throw a perfectly fun party for a fraction of the cost of a Pinterest party, look no further. In fact, it may take you back to days gone by to birthday parties of the 80s and 90s, when the object was to celebrate the kid by eating cake that looked and tasted mediocre at best.

1) Buy pre-made invitations, or better yet, print them off the internet. That's what I did. It takes between thirty seconds and five minutes and it will hang on the fridge of the invited for the same amount of time as those extravagant invitations that take three days to make.

2) Cakes can be expensive... unless you buy a mix in a box and make your own frosting. Sure, it might not look like much, but, like the invitations, the cake will be devoured by the five year olds in about thirty seconds and it might taste even better because fondant doesn't taste as delicious as cheap, old fashioned frosting. I thought about doing themed food for about six seconds, but then I remembered I had a one month old baby and I decided cake and ice cream would suffice.
Don't mind the chunks of frosting I tried to smooth over after my two year old got her hands on the cake. The five year olds didn't seem to mind. 
3) Keep the decorations simple. Streamers, balloons, maybe a cardboard cut out? Preferably something you can use for your next kid's birthday (which, in my case, is five weeks later).
My husband made this Olaf by hand. I think he did a pretty good job. Olaf is going to live in my daughters' room now. 
Note the store bought table cloth, plates, cups, and napkins. 

4) Play games. Keep them fun. I went to a gorgeous birthday party recently. It was Pinterest worthy with a capitol P, but there was nothing for the kids to do, so all the lovely decorations and themed food meant nothing for fifteen five year olds who had nothing to occupy them. At Hannah's party we played pin the nose on Olaf, we made snow globes and cut out snowflakes, and we had a snowball fight in July with snowballs purchased from our local Bahama Bucks. Party games are awesome.

5) Do favors, or not. My best friend feels very strongly about party favors, and she always does beautiful, generous favors. My daughters still have their Tinkerbell wings, wand, and jars of glow in the dark pixie dust and they love to play with them. I went to the great effort of going on Amazon to buy prepackaged Frozen favors, and Hannah was happy, so I was happy.

The birthday cost a grand total of $35 dollars to throw, the biggest expense being the mason jars for the snow globes, and the snowballs which cost me a whopping twelve dollars for sixty snowballs. It took a total of two hours to plan and execute, and five minutes to clean up the mess.
While Pinterest parties can be fun and memorable, so can the retro parties of our youth. I think I'll stick to keeping it simple for the birthday parties, and saving my energy and money for her wedding day.