Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Summer Memory, Or Lack Thereof

I went to Target today to find a pair of sunglasses. They're cheep, and I'm not careful.

A side story: Many moons ago, I owned the most expensive pair of sunglasses ever. These suckers cost more than any article of clothing, piece of jewelry, or pair of shoes in my closet. Foolishly, I wore them. To the St. Louis Zoo (a delightful, free zoo... if anyone has a need for last minute vacation ideas). Taking in the sites and enjoying my day, I casually leaned over the railing to look at the water feature many, many feet below. And proceeded to watch helplessly, as my sunglasses became part of the exhibit.


Picking out a pair of sunglasses is no easy task. There's much to consider: size, fit, weight, and bling. Not one to stray far from the blacks and browns, I gathered six pairs that struck my fancy, and started the posing and eliminating.

First pair: crooked.
Second pair: too bling-y.
Third pair: oh, I really like you!
Fourth pair: a definite contender.
Fifth pair: too big.
Sixth pair: too tight.

Back on with the Third pair: Yeah, no question... I really like you.
Forth pair: You're good, but I think I have to hand the win, to pair number three.

One by one, the eliminated sunglasses were placed back into their faux-nose sales racks, and in my hand, I had the pair that made me the most happy, that framed my face perfectly, and put a little spring in my step, which hadn't been before. The most perfect pair of sunglasses in the whoooole world.

So, of course it's tag was missing. This is Murphy's Law of shopping.

Several minutes and some pretty frantic spinning of the faux-nose displays... I came up empty handed. It would seem, that today was not the day, for me to purchase my sunglasses. Sadly, I placed the perfect pair of sunglasses back into its faux-nose sales rack and walked away. (Stopping only briefly, to grab a Snickers bar.)

A few minutes later, back in my car, the sun is shining brightly. I'm squinty and for one moment, I lament my lost purchase. Rummaging around in my cavernous bag/suitcase/purse, my hand comes up empty in its search for an alternate pair of sunglasses.

And then it hits me.

The perfect pair of sunglasses... pair number three... without the tag... that sadly, I had to leave behind...

Yep. Those were the sunglasses I walked in with.

Let's just say, I'm glad summer's over. And all reminders of the day I lost my mind, will be safely tucked in a drawer, until next Spring.

So, with the last of the summer harvest coming out of the garden, I give you my final jelly recipe.

Jalapeno Jelly

(Technically, jelly doesn't have bits/chunks... and this has bits. But I've never heard anyone call it Jalapeno Jam... so.)

What you'll need:
12 Jalapenos, seeded and finely chopped in the food processor
1 and 1/2 Cups cranberry juice (full on juice... no diet cranberry or juice mix)
1 Cup white vinegar
5 Cups sugar
1 Package of Ball pectin (I'm being a little specific here... because over the course of the summer, I've found that Certo pectin has not produced the kinds of results that I've wanted. No doubt, this is "chef-error" and for as many Ball devotes that there are out there, I'm sure there are just as many Certo lovers. But for this recipe, I'd suggest using Ball.)

Bring the jalapenos, cranberry juice, and vinegar to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and let it cook, covered, for about 10 minutes. Set aside two cups of the jalapeno/cranberry liquid/bits and pitch the rest. Return the two cups of liquid/bits to the pot and add all five cups of sugar. Stirring constantly, bring to a rolling boil. (You know the kind where you can't "stir it away.") Quickly add your pectin and bring the mess back up to a rolling boil. Boil for one minute.

Ladle into prepared jars and return filled jars to the canner. Boil jars for 10 minutes (starting your timer, once the water is back up to a full boil).

It's no Snickers bar... but VERY yummy! An easy A-/B+. Sweet, with just a hint of hot. Unforgettable! Or so I say...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Muffin Tops

I've been going to the gym. For six weeks.

Real, bonafide, there's-an-hour-of-my-life-I'm-never-gettin-back, oh-good-now-I-can-eat-a-Snickers-bar, kind of exercise.

I've walked and jogged and lifted and rowed and squatted and sweated for SIX WHOLE WEEKS.

And I gained three pounds. GAINED.

My husband, on the other hand, looked at the treadmill the other day, and lost eight pounds.

Tell me... where's the justice, people?

So, I give up. Here's to Pear Butter Muffins. And muffin tops. Spilling out over the tops of my jeans. (Big ol' sigh.)

What you'll need:
1 3/4 cups ap flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup pear butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 Cup buttermilk
Raw sugar, to sprinkle

Preheat your oven to 325*. Combine your flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together and set aside. In your mixer (or a large bowl) beat the butter and sugar together until it turns white. Add one egg and incorporate fully. Throw in the pear butter and vanilla and stir until combined. Take a big whiff. Images of being snowed in, and aw-shucks, not being able to make it to the gym, will dance joyously in your head.

Alternate adding flour and buttermilk until just combined. Put a hefty spoonful (3/4 full) of batter into lined muffin pans, sprinkle with raw sugar, and bake for about 20 minutes.

Mmmmmmmmmm.... really, really good. Sooooo much better, than walking on a treadmill. Trust me.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

One Of Those Moments

Do you ever have one of those moments -- as you stand in the kitchen on a Saturday morning, peeling, chopping, stirring, cursing, covering, pureeing, and rue-ing the day the pear was made -- when you wonder why you decided make pear butter?

Do you ever have one of those moments -- as your husband sits outside on a beautiful day, writing his sermon, sipping his coffee, drinking in the delightful morning that God hath made -- when you wonder how he got so darn lucky, to marry a girl like you?

Do you ever have one of those moments -- when you've already spent half your morning on a recipe -- and you realize you're missing one of the ingredients and suddenly, find yourself regretting the bad names you were calling your husband? Names like Pear Man and Cinnamon Boy and... Nut-meg (Oooooh, harsh).

I am having one of those moments, while making Carmeled Pear Butter.

What you'll need:

1/4 Cup apple juice
6 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided
7 Pounds ripe pears
3 Cups (packed) golden brown sugar
1 Teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 Teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 Teaspoon salt

Combine apple juice and 4 tablespoons lemon juice deep pot. Peel, core, and cut pears, 1 at a time, into 1/2- to 3/4-inch pieces; mix pears into juice mixture in pot as soon as pears are cut, to prevent browning. Cook over medium heat until pears release enough juice for mixture to boil, stirring frequently, about 15 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer until pears are very tender, stirring every 3 minutes or so, for about 20 minutes (mixture will splatter). Remove pot from heat. Press pear mixture through fine plate of food mill into large bowl (which I did, but regret... next time I will use my blender). Return pear puree to pot. Add 2 tablespoons lemon juice, brown sugar, nutmeg, and 3/4 teaspoon coarse salt. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium and simmer uncovered until pear butter thickens and is reduced to 8 cups, stirring every 3 minutes to prevent scorching, for about 1 hour (yeah... I know... it's sort of insane).

Ladle pear butter into 8 hot clean 1/2-pint glass canning jars, leaving 1/4-inch space at top of jars. Remove air bubbles. Wipe jar threads and rims with clean damp cloth. Cover with hot lids; apply screw bands. Process jars in pot of boiling water 10 minutes.

Ever wonder why those jars of fruit butter -- in that speciality shop, where everything is overpriced, but you must walk out with something because the whole darn store is so inspiring -- are outrageously expensive? I'll tell you why. Labor.

Whew-wee. This process took, from start to finish, almost four hours. And made our house smell like Fall.

It has a great flavor (though I don't really "get" the hints of carmel) but is a little runnier than I would have liked. My husband gives the Pear Butter a B+ and I'd probably give it a B-, if for no other reason than the consistency.

So, do you ever have one of those moments -- as the end of summer draws near, and you've done your part to can and store the harvest -- when you start to run out of room in your cupboard, and wish ol' Nut-meg would build you a pantry?