Friday, July 29, 2011

I Miss Harry Potter, So I'm Making My Own Magic: 'I Made It'

With this new found knowledge of canning, I'm feeling kindof magical lately which is so helping with my state of depression resulting from viewing the final Harry Pottter movie and that it is over. OVER! So sad.

If only I could fly through town, whoosh and flick my wand, and make everything better. I digress.

I don’t have a magic wand, but I do have a wooden spoon, empty glass vials, and for this potion, dill.

Today, we checked our book on potions for the proper way to transform cucumbers into pickles. According to Professor Alton Brown, this takes approximately 240 hours and 15 minutes in his formula for Dill Pickles.

As a wizard in charge of two house elves, I have been researching the proper way to easily make pickles in a house elf friendly manner (translates into "minimal heating and cutting involved" while still making it fun for them.).

So, armed with my formula from Professor Brown, the ingredients and two house elves, I set off to start mixing up the magic potion. With the exception of an additional clove of garlic and a little less red pepper flakes, we followed Professor Brown’s formula exactly.

Here is what we did:

1. Gathered the ingredients.

2. We cleaned the cucumbers. This was the perfect job for my oldest house elf.

3. Cut the ends of the cucumbers (Ok, so the recipe says to cut off the blossom end, and one would think that in my advance work of researching 500 ways to make pickles, talking to people who have made pickles, and visiting a local store to get a “crock,” that I wouldn’t have been too ashamed to clarify which end is the “blossom end.” Nope. Research online. Nope. Then the kids were there to help and it was too late to research lest they lose interest, so, I just cut both ends off.).

4. Put the spices in the crock. The house elves were rock stars at this task. I thought I was a wizard ahead of the curve when I started to divide spices in half (instead of a cup of salt, I poured 2 half cups so each kid could help. By the time I did that, the littlest one was off playing trains and didn’t care about pickles.).

(Aren't those ingredients so pretty together?)

5. Make the brine. Again, easy for the elves. Pour water, pour salt, stir. (Side note: There is actually special salt for pickling. It was in the same aisle as the jars are at Walmart. If you use regular salt instead, your liquid will be cloudy, which apparently is bad. Pickling salt isn't that much more expensive, so you probably want to get it.)

6. Add cucumbers to the crock. (More side notes: "Crock" is apparently just a fancy way of saying "container" used by people who write recipes to make it sound harder than it is. I wanted a pretty jar that would look nice on my counter for 10 days, but those are hard to find if you want one that is actually going to do the job properly. I have learned that some people even pickle their cucumbers in cleaned out 5 gallon buckets like the ones you get at Home Depot.)

7. Pour brine over cucumbers.

8. Pour extra brine in a ziploc bag and use it as a weight to hold the cucumbers down. (So many of the other recipes suggested using a plate to weigh them down. I thought the ziploc with brine was genius!)

9. We are supposed to visit this potion daily to check for bubbling and scum so we know the magic is happening.

According to Professor Alton Brown, check on your potion daily, along with the few other steps he mentioned in your Potions Manual. Then, taste them in 240 hours to see if they have become pickles.


I read many pickle recipes before deciding on this one and here is why I chose it:

- I wanted the kids to be able to help and this recipe does not require heat. (I will can these when they are done, without the helpers.)

- Most of the recipes wanted a LOT of cucumbers, like 8-10 lbs. This one required 3. (I don’t really even like pickles, but the rest of my people do and I’m hopeful that these will make me change my mind.)

- I don’t have room in my refrigerator for a vat of pickles to hang out for 3-4 weeks, but I can handle a few days.

- The hubs prefers pickles without the vinegar taste.

Many of the recipes call for a “crock” which at first made me steer away, but then I found out that this can be as simple as a plastic food grade container you can get from a restaurant supply store. I paid about $10 for ours after I went to a local store and asked the guy a million questions about making pickles. (I worried that I could have gotten one cheaper at Sam’s Club, but checked today and they didn’t have any as big as mine and the ones they had were more expensive.) Here are the other things I learned:

- Don’t pickle in containers with metal lids that aren’t proper for canning when using vinegar. Apparently, its not good.

- Don’t worry about the container being pretty even though it is going to sit on your counter for 240 hours. This is about function. (However, if anyone knows of a better looking container, please let me know.)

I will let you know the results in about 240 hours.

This is what Jack was doing after he lost interest. I was very surprised to find out later though that he was actually paying attention and knew what we were doing while he was playing trains.

Monday, July 25, 2011

'I Made It' Monday: Come Jam With Me!

"Canning has a way of making everything better."

In the past few months I have been trying to make a point to try some new things. My newest venture- canning!

My friend and “cousin-in-law,” Helen of Miss Mermaid Shop, used to make me laugh a little because she does things like tend to a garden and chickens, bake her own foods, and even paid attention to when fruits were freshest and would can them. Oh, and she has two young kids and a growing business like me and, I just had no idea how she could do all of these extra things. Well, some of it she had to do because of her daughter’s allergies, but I digress. The canning was optional.

Recently, I started researching canning and after finding some wonderful resources, decided I would try it.

Oh, my, goodness, it is so much fun!

Never have I considered myself a “foodie” as I would love to try to exist on pizza, grilled cheese, PB&J, and pasta. However, I have been paying a lot more attention to what we feed ourselves as we try to feed our kids better. Afterall, why would we not care what we feed ourselves but care what we feed our kids? That’s food for thought.

High fructose corn syrup, artificial colors numbered whatever, chemical names I don’t know, and who knows what else. If I can control what goes in, it will be better for us, right?

This project is a little more expensive initially than the others I have shared, but in the long run, I believe it will save you money if you enjoy doing it and capitalize by purchasing supplies in season.

After surfing the net, I had my list of needed tools:

Jar lifter


Magnet wand (every project should require a wand)



I went to a local kitchen store, Panhandlers Kitchen Supply (mom-owned!), hoping to find a great kit and hopefully clarify some of the process in my head. (Tip: When starting a new project, I love finding local experts to get information and tips. Going to big stores is practically useless for this, as they just sell stuff and don’t do it themselves.) Audrey, store owner, had the perfect kit with stainless steel parts (including the funnel, they are plastic in the popular Ball kit available at Walmart) and was able to answer my questions.

This kit cost just under $30, and will be used over and over again. You can pick up two kits at Walmart (one with a plastic funnel about $7, and the other with a silicon rack for about $11).

Here is what I asked:

1. Sterilizing jars- Do I sterilize them and then heat them up while I’m making the jar contents? Yes and most dishwashers have a “sanitary” cycle. You can use that.

2. Can I use a regular pot I already have? Yes. It is just important for water to go over the jars for the sealing process.

3. When I finish the sealing process, can I just keep the jars on a shelf? Yes.

She also introduced me to the University of Georgia web site on canning: National Center for Home Food Preservation. This web site has more information that one person could ever digest (yes, I had to insert a food pun) on canning.

My main resource for making Strawberry Jam was The Pioneer Woman's site- easy and fun to read, pictures, and humor. Great resource! I am not going to reduplicate her pictures and post on the process, just add some notes about how to do this with a kid. Links to her posts are below.

Ingredients I used (combo of what Pioneer Woman and The UGA site recommended):

5.5 cups of Mashed Strawberries (this took about 4 lbs)

7.5 cups of sugar

1 box powdered pectin

Lemon juice (I cheated and used the bottled kind)

Basic Steps:

1. Gather materials and ingredients. With jam making, things are more time sensitive than other cooking adventures, so its important to get your ingredients measured out as much as possible before you start. So, measure out your sugar, lemon, and pectin (if you aren’t using a box) and set it aside.

2. Read through Pioneer Woman: Making Strawberry Jam Part 1 and Part 2. (I will sum up some of what I did in relation to her directions and those from the National Center for Home Food Preservation

3. Wash your jars. I washed them by hand and then sterilized them in boiling water (Put on rack in pot. Turn on heat. After the water starts to boil, leave them in for 10 minutes.). This saved me a little time since I didn’t have to wait for the dishwasher. I put the jars back in the pot to warm them up for jarring too.

4. Hull the berries. I let what I cut off fall onto the cutting board. One kid picked up the cutting and put it in the compost jar. The other was handed the cut berry to put it in the pan. (He actually ate every 5th berry or so, and lost interest in helping very quickly. Oh to be two!) this is how our pan looked when we were down prepping the berries. (Pioneer Woman did this is stages, but we hulled, mashed, and measured all at once)

5. Mash the berries. We used a lasagna pan instead of a cookie sheet because I thought it would be easier to keep the berries contained while we mashed. It did. I recommend pulling your berries from the fridge about an hour or so before you plan to mash them as it makes it easier to mash when they aren’t cold. She and I had to alternate mashing.

6. Measure the mashed berries into the pot. You need 5 cups according to Pioneer Woman, and 5.5 according to the Preservation people. I used 5.5. (We had some mashed berries left. Instead of adding them in, I put them aside and used them as ice cream toppings after dinner.) If you didn’t listen to direction #1, then measure out your sugar now. Once you turn on the heat on the berries, there is no turning back.

7. Follow the Pioneer Woman pictorial and directions for making and jarring the jelly. I let my helper stir the pot of berries and ingredients. Then her daddy came home and she lost interest in making jam and I was left to my own to finish. (I was all torn up, really :)) All I had left to do was pour the jelly into the jars without eating it all first.

8. I sealed the jars according to Pioneer Woman's directions (which were the same as every other resource I checked).

9. Wait for the symphony of pops! Seriously, this part was wonderful. Now, try not to eat all the jam at once.

I so didn’t believe Pioneer Woman when she said “Canning has a way of making everything better” and I can see how this is going to be a new hobby. I was seriously amazed at the sense of accomplishment and yumminess that resulted from these couple of hours in the kitchen.

Here is the result, before I made all the jars pretty with a fabric accent, and after we had devoured one jar.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Doula Day: Doula Speed Dating THIS Saturday

Do you know that women who hire a doula are more likely to be satisfied with their birth experience?

Numerous clinical studies have found that a doula’s presence at birth

tends to result in shorter labors with fewer complications

reduces negative feelings about one’s childbirth experience

reduces the need for pitocin (a labor-inducing drug), forceps or vacuum extraction and cesareans

reduces the mother’s request for pain medication and/or epidurals

Research shows parents who receive support can:

Feel more secure and cared for

Are more successful in adapting to new family dynamics

Have greater success with breastfeeding

Have greater self-confidence

Have less postpartum depression

Do you want to meet some local doulas?

Come out to the Tallahassee Doula Co-op Speed Dating Event this Saturday, July 16 from 6:00 - 8:00 PM at Learning Express

Choosing a doula is an important decision, and scheduling appointments with different people is a lot of work. The Tallahassee Doula Co-op has made it so much easier to meet these local doulas and learn more about their services.

These fabulous ladies are ready to help you be in control of your pregnancy and birth. Whether you choose one of them or not, they just want to help you make the best decisions for your pregnancy.

Statistics are copied from

Photography copied from the Tallahassee Doula Co-op web site.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Sewing for the NICU

I am SOOO excited!

Last December, my great friend, Justine of HandmadeByJustine, and I got together and made a bunch of baby hats to donate to the NICU. They were adorable and we felt so great making them. Although I kept wanting to do something for the NICU, it was Justine who actually found out what we could do and got the project started. Here is a pic of the hats we made.

Since then, I keep wanting to do even more. A little over a month ago, another friend, Kristen, said that she wanted to make things for the NICU. It was just the "backup" I needed to get a plan rolling. Now, I have called the NICU; found a place where more than two people can easily meet to cut, sew, and create; and I'm starting to collect material donations. So fun! This time, the project is even bigger.

Here is what our NICU needs:
Isolette covers (10-20)
Swaddling blankets for the tiny babies (12" x 12", 18" x 18", and 25" x 25"- as many as we can; I've set a goal of at least 10 of each size)

I'm hoping that we will have minimal out of pocket expenses and this project gives so many people a chance to get involved.

We are collecting used baby blankets from our friends and will upcycle them into the items the hospital needs. We also need dark fabric (old sheets will work as well as any old solid fabrics that you aren't using), quilt batting, serger thread, and bias tape.

As I have written about previously in March for Babies- Ready to get your shoes on?, our oldest kiddo was born nine weeks early and spent about a month in the NICU. What I didn't mention is that the staff at the NICU was wonderful and they really are amazing. Besides the people there, the handmade items we got to use while we were there really warmed our hearts. The fact that someone, somewhere who didn't know us or our baby, and had taken the time to make things for her to use was so touching.

I have several people who are ready to sew, cut, and donate. In the next week we hope to collect over 40 blankets so we can make them into items the NICU needs. If you are local and want to get involved, let me know. My email is happylittlemonkey (at) comcast (dot) net.

A special thank you to Lynn from the Bernina Connection for letting us use their wonderful sewing space for this project. We really appreciate it. If you sew, quilt, or want to learn how, please check out this great local resource.

Please wish us luck!

The picture on the left is Caroline in an isolette, 8 days old and right after a bath so we were so excited to get a picture of her without the tube.

The picture below is last week, at the zoo!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Photo Friday

Photo Friday= shameless photo sharing featuring my adorable family.

I think this picture is foreshadowing of our future with these two.

Happy Friday!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Independence Day!

In celebration of our great nation, I decided to take a few moments to remind myself of the great bravery of so many people who have come before us and shaped our nation to the place it is today. A simple search of "Declaration of Independence," brought me to one of my favorite reference sites, Wikipedia. The words "Declaration of Independence," are a link to what I found and it is a great reminder of our history.

1823 facsimile of the engrossed copy

However you celebrate today, may it be happy, safe, and blessed!

Happy Independence Day!

God Bless America!


The Declaration of Independence: A Transcription

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.