Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Blueberries Canned!

Success! Monday night I rushed home from work after stopping to buy 5 lbs. of sugar, logged onto the Internet to check out how to can blueberries and called my friend Shauna to have her on stand-by to answer any "help me" questions. Shauna and her mother-in-law are Queens of Canning (I nearly said "Queens of the Can" but that wouldn't be accurate nor flattering).

I was going to can my blueberry pie filling, but there were technicality issues with using tapioca or cornstarch as the thickening agent. I didn't want to mess with any technicality issues on my first experience, thinking it's best to keep it simple.

Here is a simplified version of what I had to do, but please check out knowledgeable websites if you want to do this at home. There are a lot of safety precautions associated with canning.

1) First, I had to clean all the bottles and lids in hot soapy water.
2) Next, I sorted, cleaned and removed any stems of 2 gallons of blueberries (took a millennium). 3) Then I calculated my sugar and water ratio for the syrup using the handy dandy table on the pick-your-own website (for 7 quarts, I did 12 cups of water to 2.5 cups of sugar-light syrup).
4) Began heating the syrup to near boiling.
5) Added my 2 TBSP lemon juice to each of the jars.
6) Packed in the berries and heated the jars in very warm water so that when I poured the hot syrup into the jars, they didn't crack.
7) Tighten the lids semi-tight, but not very tight
8) Steamed the jars on a fruit steamer for 20 minutes (once the steam built up to full steam)
9) Remove jars and tighten lids tight, tight.
10) Shauna says that her mother-in-law says that flipping the jars upside-down afterwards is the trick to getting them to seal properly. It worked! None "popped" open as they are known to do sometimes.

Here are the blueberries with the syrup and lemon juice ready for steaming..

...on the steamer..
... and flipped to prevent popping, cooling overnight.
Note: don't uses any nice towels for this. Since the lids are not ultra tight on the steamer, the juice ran all down the jars and all into the steamer tray, so that when I took them out I got blueberry juice all over this nice white towel.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Blueberry Delight

The last few weekends have been so enjoyable. I think my relief at having a job and feeling more restful with a few months of no work travel has made me feel progressively happier. Paul and I have spent more enjoyable, quality time together rather than just chores.

Today we had early plans to meet up with some folks from my church at a somewhat local blueberry farm 45 minutes away on the backroads. Everyone came equipped with hungry tummies and busy hands ready to do the picking. Paul and I picked a gallon of blueberries each and had a great time with the group, chatting and eating and picking.

I had bought some mason jars last week in anticipation of bottling the berries to supply our blueberry pie cravings for the year, and I was suprised to see our 2 gallons, which should have been 8 quarts, actually turn into 9 quarts! Somehow our buckets must have been bigger than 2 gallons. I think that 9 pies is definitly enough for the year. Shauna is bringing me her steamer to church tomorrow and gave me some instructions on how to bottle fruit, so I'll be giving it a shot this week.

Last weekend we putzed around in the yard and worked on our own projects. Paul continued designing his Darth Vader costume.

And I worked on sewing the lining onto the backs of our curtain fabric.

Oh, yeah- and some embroidery too. I'm trying to build my embroidery portfolio one item at a time.

Tomorrow evening we have plans to go with Tracy to Jamie's house, and he's taking us all out on his boat for a ride around Lake Wylie.

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Blessed Weekend

This 4th of July weekend was an especially reflective weekend for me. As it is, it is one of my favorite holidays because it means so much to me that we are a free country. Watching the fireworks and seeing our flag always makes me so thankful to be where we are and for the sacrifices of many. It is also a subject of kidding between Paul and I because he likes to say that I feel I have an advantage over him as I am from the country that is proud to have kicked his country out!

This weekend I thought about many additional things that I'm thankful for, including my new job that I just started last week. I am one of the lucky few who finished a job on Friday and got to start my new job on the following Monday. With so many looking for jobs right now, it made me feel so thankful and also so sad. Saying that, the last few weeks were very stressful as we finished the house repairs, I was wrapping up my work at one company and the next week starting the stress of a new office culture that is drastically different from where I came from. I happened to run into one couple last week in my neighborhood as I was on a walk crying to vent some stress. They asked if I was doing good, and I was honest, saying I'm a bit stressed with my new job. The neighbor said, in a kind way, "you are lucky to have found one." I felt immediately ashamed, for I had forgotten that John had lost his job 6 months ago and has had no luck. How could I forget?

My weeken also involved having some good quality conversations with Paul and some time enjoying being at home together. He did the American thing for 4th of July and had a good 'ol BBQ for us.
And I honored his country tradition (in apology for kicking his country out) and made tea and scones for breakfast.We planted our newly arrived California Coast Redwood "Big Red III." If you recall, Big Red I died on transit to NC and Big Red II died last fall in the early frost and freezing temps we had.
At the same time, we ordered a Dawn Redwood, my favorite conifer in the world. I was stopped in my tracks when I saw one for the first time in all its splendor at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Gardens. Actually Dawn Redwoods, once thought to be extinct, have a very intersting history. They are such an old species, perhaps the oldest living conifer, that this species is actually in the fossil record. A small grove was discovered to be still in existence in China in the early 1900s I believe, and it has since been in cultivation. Don't quote me on this, though. They are unique to the conifer family because they are deciduous rather than evergreen, losing their "leaves" in the winter, and growing in new spring-green colored leaves in the spring.

We also finally Scotch Guarded the couches. We've had them for a year, but found that even a drop of water stains this fabric, so we have hardly sat on 'em, waiting for the opportune time to protect the fabric. It's a bear to get these out the door so I wore my respirator and did it inside.

We also finally buckled down and picked a fabric for the bedroom drapes. We had fabric picked out for about a year, but waited so long it's being discontinued and the price has soared up. So we picked a different one that we both liked (amazing) and bought it there and then (4th of July sale).

We had to put our heads together to see how we could get the 4 panels cut out of fabric and get the design to match up on all 4 panels. We got the last of the fabric on the bolt and weren't sure if it was going to be enough, so the store let us buy it with the allowance for us to bring it back (uncut) if we found we didn't have enough once we measured it out. In the end we had 4" left over! See top fabric, to the right of the blue tape.

Wow that was close!