05 August 2011

I Survived the 2011 Peaches and Blueberries!

My new favorite thing that resulted from taking advantage of Tree Ripe Citrus deliveries is fruit leather!

I have made and stored lots of little snack packs of peach leather.  It is a little bit fussy to make, but will be worth it when we can snack on yummy peaches this winter.

To make it, I added ½ cup of water to each pound of peeled, pitted, and halved peaches.  I just used an average of 3 peaches per pound so I didn’t have to keep weighing.  It isn’t rocket science, close works.  I brought these to boiling over high heat and then reduced the heat and simmered for 20 minutes while mashing the peaches with a potato masher.  Next, I lined a strainer with damp cheesecloth and drained off the juice until it quit dripping.  The juice can be used for peach jelly, sweetened with honey and added to iced tea, or just drunk straight.  The drained pulp went into the blender with a bit of honey until it was pureed.  I had to experiment with the honey…no honey left the leather pretty tart, which the kids weren’t crazy about and too much left the dried leather sticky and hard to handle.  Since I do everything completely by the seat of my pants, I have no idea how much honey worked; I just eyeballed it.  But if I had to guess, I’d say 1-2 teaspoons per 3 peaches would probably be in the ballpark.  Then I smeared the puree onto the dehydrator fruit leather trays and let her rip at 135°F (which is what my dehydrator recommends for fruit).  It would also work to spread it on wax paper on cookie sheets and dry it in a warm oven.


Here is the finished leather.


I cut it into strips with clean kitchen shears and stuck the strips to wax paper.  I folded the wax paper in half and then folded it up…


…so it would fit in a snack size ziplock baggie.  Since there aren’t any preservatives, I tossed all the baggies in the deep freeze.  I can grab a baggie or two out of the freezer and toss it into my bag when we go to playdates or open gym or the park.  They should be thin enough and low moisture enough to defrost pretty quickly.

From 5 half-bushels of peaches and 40 pounds of blueberries, the final tallies for peachy and blueberry-y goodness put away are:

  • Dehyrated Blueberries: 5 pints
  • Frozen Blueberries: 2 quarts
  • Blueberry Butter: 8 half-pints and 1-4 oz. jar
  • Blueberry Pie Filling: 5 pints
  • Blueberry Syrup: 6½ pints
  • Blushing Peach-Almond Conserve:  10-4 oz. jars
  • Honey Peach Syrup (for iced-tea): 8 pints
  • Frozen Peach Halves:  2 half-gallons
  • Peach Leather:  20 snack bags
  • Peaches in Light Syrup:  35 quarts
  • Zesty Peach BBQ sauce:  7 half-pints and 1 pint

19 July 2011

Peachy Keen

After taking care of the blueberries, I turned to lots and lots of peaches.  It wasn’t until I got into the third box of peaches that I discovered the brochures that the Tree Ripe folks had tucked in and learned that our blueberries had come from Luduc Blueberries in Paw Paw, Michigan and the peaches came from Pearson Farms in Georgia.

I started with Blushing Peach Almond Conserves, which is a freezer jam with toasted almonds and almond flavoring that I had made last year.  I learned my lessons from last year and packaged it in tiny jars as I discovered that it gets brown and tastes funny after being in the refrigerator even a few days.  It is completely yummy so it was extremely tragical to have to throw away stuff that had gone icky.

Next up was Zesty Peach Barbecue sauce.  Also extremely yummy and a half-pint has already been used on pulled chicken in the crockpot.  In the process of perusing peach recipes and flipping around in my canning cookbook I found a helpful tip that complete altered my life.  It turns out that you can peel peaches the same way as tomatoes…by dunking them in boiling water for about 30 seconds and then the skin practically slides off.  After some trial and error—if you go too long, the skin pretty much falls off and it is almost impossible to cut the peach in half and remove the pit since the peach is so slippery; if you don’t dip long enough, picking off the skin is annoying and piddly—I had honed halving, pitting, and peeling to a fine art.  When not distracted by kids or animals, I could do close to three peaches a minute.  Last year I peeled all the peaches with a paring knife and was almost ready to fling myself off something tall by the time I had gotten through all of them.

I applied my mad prep skills in putting up 14 quarts of peach slices in light syrup and 8 pints of honey spiced peach slices.  The leftover honey syrup practically begged to have more peach flavor and be put in iced tea.  There was enough left over that I made a couple small batches of peach juice to mix with the syrup and freeze.  The juicing left some lovely pulp that I pureed with a bit of honey to make fruit leather in the dehydrator.  I put the fruit leather slices on wax paper and then into baggies which went into the freezer.  They will provide a lovely taste of peachy goodness for snacks at open gym or running errands this winter.  When apple season rolls around, those will make great fruit leather as well.

The last few peaches got peeled, pitted, halved, dipped in lemon water and frozen on cookie sheets before going into two half-gallon canning jars in the freezers.  These will be great for smoothies or, as I discovered while packaging them up, a tasty frozen snack for the dog days of summer.

In between, I made two peach upside-down cakes, a couple batches of raspberry/peach popsicles (raspberries came from our CSA), and all of us just plain chowed down plain peaches.  Next Wednesday, the Tree Ripe folks will be back in Stoughton.  I am planning on getting more peaches and blueberries.  I would like to can both peach and blueberry pie filling, do a few more quarts of peach slices in light syrup, more blueberry syrup and butter, and more dehydrated and frozen blueberries!

08 July 2011

Feeling kind of blue

No, not that kind of blue…blueberry blue.  And based on how many I have eaten, I might be looking at least a little blue as well!  The truck we bought Georgia peaches from last year also had Michigan blueberries this year, so last Wednesday, the kids and I trekked to the local bowling alley and came home with 15 pounds of blueberries and 1.5 bushels of peaches.  In addition to all of us eating a lot of blueberries, I also managed to put away a quart of frozen berries, two pints of dehydrated blueberries, 3½ pints of blueberry syrup, and 4 half-pints and one quarter-pint of blueberry butter.  The blueberry syrup and butter come from one recipe…the berries are cooked down, the juice and pulp separated and then the syrup is made from the juice and the butter is made from the pulp.  The truck will be back once more at the end of the month and I really hope I can get more blueberries then!  I would love to do at least one more batch of the syrup/butter and freeze some more!
Since the peaches need at least a couple of days to start softening up, I have only made a dent in those.  Collectively, we have eaten quite a few and I have put up 7 half-pints of zesty peach barbecue sauce.  Tonight I will be doing some blushing almond peach freezer jam.  In the morning, I am planning on making a peach upside-down cake for a homeschool potluck tomorrow afternoon and evening and possibly start canning quarts of peach slices.  There will be a whole bunch of peach slices as we went through them VERY fast last winter!.  I will hopefully also get some frozen slices or chunks and maybe a couple batches of fruit leather…we’ll see!

ETA:  Blueberries came from Leduc Blueberries in Paw Paw, Michigan

20 March 2011

The Downstairs Playroom

We finally finished getting the great play room reorganization wrapped up.  I managed to weed out a few toys…not as many as I had hoped, but it’s a start and the drama and tragedy was kept to a minimum.  We now have a nice place for everyone to do their thing and as long as I stay on top of everyone, I am hoping we can keep it cleaned up and enjoyable.

We have all of the “play house” stuff along one wall with plenty of room to pull out the table and chairs to play kitchen.  It would be nice to keep it out, but this space is between the stairs and the rest of the basement, so everything gets tucked back in when we are done, so we don’t have to worry about tripping over stuff.


I found a chair and a loveseat at the thrift store, so there is a place to sit with a book and a blankie or a nice place for mommas to sit and chat now that we can actually have someone over for a playdate again without worrying about losing a child in the chaos.


And finally, the new shelves!  There is a bin for almost all of the rest of the toys, so there is a clear difference between put away and claiming to have picked up, but in fact thrown things any old place.  There are also shelves that are out of reach to some family members to make “Don’t take anything new out until you pick up the old mess” somewhat more enforceable.  The table is a good place for Lego building or art projects and there is enough floor space for trains or blocks and the like.


Although we are starting to get to the season of more outside time, it will be nice to have a welcoming space inside, especially in the cooler basement once the summer starts warming up!  Hopefully, I can remember to get some pictures of this space in action…

I am still puttering away at weeding out and organizing throughout the house, but the next big project to tackle is the downstairs bedroom.  If I can chip away at it, I am hoping to once again unearth the futon so we have a functional guest bedroom once more and get the rest of the space organized so I can have a welcoming place for crafting and creating.  The biggest obstacle is taming the clutter, so I just need to keep making progress on that…

19 March 2011

Spring has…

Well, not exactly sprung, but here in Wisconsin, we have pretty low standards.  Most of the week has been sunny and warm.  Shut up.  45°F is TOO warm.  We made our first trip of the season to our favorite state park on Tuesday.  The lake was still iced over.  It looked kind of slushy to me, but we saw a guy out ice fishing, so it must have been at least a little solid yet.  And there were still snow on the ground, but the playground was clear, so we had a nice time running around and playing.  We also looked at the tiny buds on trees and basked in the springy-ness of it all.

On Wednesday, we met friends at our regular homeschool Wednesday park.  Again there was snow on the ground, but Miss Bean decided that it would be good idea to go wading in the puddles.  We had a bit of a discussion about good decisions versus poor decisions after I had her put her damp socks and boots back on.  I was pretty sure little Mr. Beeb would think his big sister’s idea was great when he followed me over to lay down the law.  Fortunately, Bug did a good job distracting him away from the temptations.  My admonition that we were going home RIGHT NOW if anyone else went wading in the puddles, accompanied by the steam issuing from my ears may have had something to do with it.  Smart kid, that Bug.

The week ended with a phenomenal BANG last night with Late Night Knitting.  There was all of the standard good stuff about Late Night at the Ear:  good friends (like her, her and sadly blogless lovely daughter, her, and her), good food (including the vanilla cupcakes that actually restore my will to live every couple of weeks), lots of luscious yummy yarn, and beautiful and inspiring projects.  But, as an added bonus, the amazing, inimitable Franklin Habit was there to sign books and read a selection from “It Itches.”  And, as an added, added bonus, the wonderful Mr. Habit came and hung out in the naughty girls’ room* before and after the reading.  Life is good when someone you stalk admire is even more delightful and swoon-worthy in person!


*Don’t ask.  What happens at Knit Night, stays at Knit Night.  Like gravity, it’s not just a good idea, it’s the law.

17 March 2011

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!



02 March 2011


So tonight’s dinner is going to be Chicken Satay (aka Chicken on a Stick).  It’s one of those fuss a little, wait a little, lather, rinse, repeat kind of meal.  I had the defrosted chicken on the kitchen counter for cutting and putting in the marinade and Beeb pulls up a chair to “help.”  The conversation went a little like this:

Beeb:  What dat?

Me:  Defrosted chicken

Beeb:  Why-eee? [Definitely a two syllable word]

Me:  I’m making chicken on a stick for supper

Beeb:  Why-eee?

Me:  We needed something for supper and haven’t had this in a while.

Beeb:  Why-eee?

Me:  I don’t know, we just haven’t.

Beeb:  Why-eee?

Me (firmly):  I don’t know.

~I continue cooking and he watches for a few moments~

Beeb:  Me lub chicken.

Me:  You love chicken?  That’s good.

Beeb:  Me lub chicken and you.

Me:  Awwww.

~Another pause~

Beeb:  Wat loo do-in?

Me:  Cutting the chicken into strips.

Beeb:  Why-eee?

Me:  So I can soak it in the marinade.

Beeb:  Why-eee?

Me:  Because that’s what the recipe says.

Beeb:  Why-eee?

Me:  I don’t know…you’d have to discuss that with whoever wrote the recipe.

Beeb:  Why-eee?

Me (firmly):  Because that’s just the way it is.

Don’t get me wrong…I’m delighted that he’s smart and wants to know how everything works, but sometimes the endless “why” starts to get to me.  It’s fortunate that he’s so stinkin’ cute.  Yesterday he was singing “What do you do with a scurvy pirate?” (a Backyardigan’s song) and it sounded something like “Wat loo do scooby pie-yit?” and the last line is “Make im walk ker-lank.”  Hee.  I guess I’ll keep him around a little longer.

13 February 2011

Valentine’s Mischief

On Friday, when it was doing this outside:

100_2767We were inside doing this:

100_2769   100_2772

In order to do this today:


Which resulted in masterpieces by Bug:


And by Bean:


And by Beeb:


And me:


Plus some leftover house parts that just got decorated:


I think a good time was had by all.

11 February 2011


Forgot the action shot that follows this one:


in the previous post.  Clearly, relaxation is contagious:



Oh wait.  Not that kind.  I mean “catch up.”  We have a new furry family member that joined our family this Christmas.  May I present “Snowflake”:


We went to KittyDaddy’s mom’s house on Christmas Day and returned to Wisconsin with this little guy.  Three of the five kittens in the litter had already been selected by cousins, but Miss Bean got to pick him out and name him.  He is appropriately playful and silly:


Surprisingly patient with all three kids:


Even though wee Beeber has been known to carry him around the house just like Charlie Brown’s neighbor did with her boneless cat.  No pictures of that, but take my word, it’s stinkin’ cute.  I just don’t want to send mixed messages:  Don’t do that to the kitty, but wait a second while I take a picture.

Friend Molly Bees came by for a bit of knitting and, instead, deboned the cat.  She says she put all the bones back, but he’s been a little slinky every since, so I’m not sure everything got put back in the right places.


But at least Beeb has had the chance to study sunbeam basking with a master:


Kitty Chai has been doing her best to resist his charms, but she is putting up with a nap buddy begrudgingly.  She has been reminding him regularly that pouncing on the diva is ill-advised, but he seems to be a slow study.

My only complaint is that the vet has been pestering us for a <ahem> sample to analyze.  With two cats sharing a litter box, there is no way to get his sample without witnessing him in the act.  So last night we finally got lucky and he was taking care of business when KittyDaddy went to clean the box.  I ran and got a baggie and retrieved the treasure.  Since it was a bit, shall we say, fragrant, I set it out in the garage.  Then first thing this morning, I wrangled all three kids into clothes, grabbed my purse and the baggy, hied everyone out into the 2°F weather*, and trucked over to the vet’s office.

I went in to make the delivery, fairly pleased with myself that it had only taken a month and a half.  I proceeded to get LECTURED about how it had to be less than 8 hours old and that it couldn’t be frozen.  (Might have been nice to know that before).  The general tone of the lecture was that I clearly don’t have my priorities straight.  I should have brought it in within a couple of days of being asked.  I should have know that it needed to be delivered still steaming.  I am clearly a bad pet owner for, well, you know, living life, dealing with my children and the household, etc. instead of following the kitten around with a plastic bag.  If I were just a wee bit pissier, I would come back to the vet with the cat and a plastic bag and told them to call me when they have what they need.  Pardon me, if you need me I’ll be over here, rolling my eyes.

* Okay, perhaps I exaggerate.  I may have been as high as, say, 5°F.

10 February 2011

Making changes

2011 appears to be declaring itself the year of home improvement.  With three kids, we are living in constant chaos and I feel like I go into cranky-mommy meltdown mode fairly regularly to try and restore some order.  There have been times in my life where home was basically a place to eat meals and fall asleep between hectic here-and-there-ing.  As a homeschooling mom, I am finding that we need our house to be a place that is more conducive to creating and learning and just plain old living.  I am reading Shelter for the Spirit:  How to Make you Home a Haven in a Hectic World by Victoria Moran.  This book was recommended in one of the sessions I went to at the homeschooling conference last spring and has turned out to be just the right book at the right time to make our space more livable.

Being in a rental, there are some things that just aren’t going to happen.  It makes no sense for us to invest time and money in making things more like we like them only to have nothing to show for them when we move out.  So, early last month, I went through our place, room by room to figure out what we need to live with and what changes we can make to make things work.  A few things clearly fall in the need-to-live-with category are the dishwasher and washing machine.  Each has significant personality issues and after several requests to the landlord are as fixed as they are going to get.  So if you could send a good word to the deity of your choice for them to die completely so the landlord HAS to do something, I would appreciate it.

So I have developed my big list which includes simplifying and reducing stuff where we can and getting the stuff we have better organized, as well as creating spaces for our living to happen.  There is also a whole category of things that I am doing to keep things that were a problem when we moved in from getting worse and quick and dirty cosmetic fixes I can do to make things look nicer.

100_2764So far, I have made a bit of progress in our upstairs bathroom and in the basement.  Most of the bathroom had crumbly caulk and clear evidence of mildew under the linoleum.  After fight the futility of trying to keep water inside the bathtub for too long, I finally got it fixed.  Really the lino needs to be replaced, with some work on the floorboards underneath, but I did the best I could to get everything sealed tight so we can have splashes without aggravating the problem.  We also finally replaced the light bulbs above the sink with CFLs.  The bulbs were gradually burning out and I didn’t feel the love for having two types of bulbs going on, so we waited until half of them were gone and then replaced them all.  It is now possible to see in the bathroom again.  Very exciting stuff.  Since I have my fancy pants white caulk, I will probably go in and recaulk the sink just so it looks better at some point, too.


The basement has also been getting my attention.  We spent the better part of a weekend planning out shelves.  We currently have a mish-mash of shelves and storage containers and have accumulated just too many toys.  So the first job was upgrading storage.  Since we don’t expect to be in this place forever, we decided that it made more sense to go with something modular that can be taken apart to be moved or to be repurposed.  We have some of these shelves in the garage, so we spent a weekend planning out how many and what size of shelves we wanted and had our pantry shelves put up a couple of days later.  Now I have a good place for canning supplies and equipment, as well as a place to keep the full jars.

We also mapped out shelves for the play area, but the end pieces had to be special ordered, so we didn’t get them until just last weekend.  I have been working on them since.  Putting the parts together is easy.  The shelves themselves, however are a bit fiddly.  The narrower shelves above only needed a chunk about 1” x 1/8” taken off the sides at both the front and back edge.  After having done the ones in the garage, I have gotten pretty good at whacking out what I need to with the Dremel.  And the pantry shelves have only two shelves with a grand total of eight corners, so it went pretty quickly.  However, the shelves for the toy area are taking longer.  For the wider shelves, the premade shelves we are using are a bit too wide, so in addition to the four corners, I also have to take 15/16” of the long edge.  I wish I lived closer to family members who have a table saw or a radial arm saw, but I have gotten pretty handy with my Skil saw, so I am working away.  The other part that is taking much longer is that there are seven shelves, so that means sawing off seven edges and shaping twenty-eight freakin’ corners.  I finished four of the shelves today.  The bad news, however, is the reward for finishing the other three is that the next job is going through all the toys and getting rid of everything that is broken and winnowing down things that don’t get played with.  It is very likely to be not pretty as neither Bug nor Bean parts easily with belonging.

I am once again hoping to get back into the habit of blogging, but I’ve made that promise before, so don’t hold your breath!