Thursday, July 14, 2016

Blackberry-Strawberry Balsamic Jam

The debate as to whether title this post Blackberry-Strawberry Balsamic Jam or Christmas in July raged on in my mind for hours I assure you.  "I've been having a year", or polite speak for I'm completely over "everything" and can we please move on already.  I'm hoping it's a case of riding out the bad in order to truly appreciate the good.  The weather here goes from tolerable to "welcome to the eternal inferno" in a matter of seconds it seems and I've been struggling to find my get up and go (because it got up and went ages ago).  The fruit orchards that surround the area I live have little tolerance for my journey to "find" myself.  Don't worry though, that fruit got a heated surprise: a bubbling cauldron of sugar and aged balsamic vinegar, bwuahaha.  (Wow, I really need to get a life or a therapist, not sure which?)

Probably the therapist, since I picked a 106-degree day to spend perched in front of the stove stirring pots of jam.  I always start out thinking, oh a couple jars should do me and before I know it I have three cases of jam staring at me and a few days missing.  I added some jars of Peach, Nectarine, Satsuma Plum, Blackberry-White Pepper, and Strawberry to the line-up for good measure.  Then I got to thinking about it, I made way more than I need for the year so I guess it's time to pawn some of this bounty off on kindly folks.  Then I got to thinking well the weather did drop down to a pleasant 102; might as well fire up the oven and bake cookies to send to the kindly jam recipients.  Poof, I think we now have Christmas in July.  (Poof, internal memo to sign up for that brain transplant when they become available straight away because mine is on the fritz these days!)

Strawberry-Blackberry Balsamic Jam
1 pound strawberries, hulled and cut in half
1 pound blackberries
16 ounces sugar
3 ounces balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon low-sugar powdered pectin (optional)

Add the strawberries, blackberries, sugar, and vinegar to a 4-quart saucepan; bring to a boil on medium-high heat.  Add the pectin at this point if using.  Turn the heat down a little if it is boiling over or scorching.  Boil and stir the jam for 15 minutes if using pectin, for 20-25 if not using pectin.  I usually prefer a looser setting jam so I forgo it, but it's up to you.  Skim the top of the jam for any "jam scum" as I like to affectionately call it (whitish foam also works) before placing in jars if you want a cleaner finished product.

Sterilize (3) 8-ounce glass jars and bands.  Also have on hand (3) jar lid seals.  Place the hot jam into the clean jars; wipe rims with a clean towel, place lids and bands on and process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.  The unopened jars will last for up to one year if stored in a cool dark place.  For more detailed processing instructions you may find this post helpful Apricot and Garam Masala Jam. It you plan on eating all the jam within a few weeks, you can skip hot water processing and store it in the fridge.

There is something so therapeutic about rolling out cookie dough, I find it hard to even explain.  Recipe for the chocolate crinkles if you so desire, these never fail to bring smiles. 

There is something so much more therapeutic about scarfing down a Peanut Butter and Blackberry-Strawberry Balsamic Jam, Oatmeal Shortbread Sandwich that is even harder to explain.  Actually I don't think I can ever eat a PB&J on bread again and ever look at it the same way again.   Funny how life changes us, for the better I hope. 



Thursday, May 26, 2016

Pumpkin, Brown Butter, Pine Nut-Rosemary Brittle Cookies

"Sometimes you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a real prince."  This saying fits perfectly with the journey these cookies went on before they landed here and were deemed worthy by the Queen to set before thou.  I baked these Soft Pumpkin Cookies with Brown Butter Buttercream and Pine Nut-Rosemary Brittle for Mother's Day gifts and to say they were received in royal fashion is an understatement.  I guess eating all those ugly frogs to get to a real prince was worth the treadmill time after all.

Proclamation from the Queen:  "Go forth loyal subjects and make your cookie calorie consumption for the weekend count."  Don't be like the Queen who will shove any old frog in her mouth for the benefit of her subjects.  (The shame is real.)

Soft Pumpkin Cookies with Brown Butter Buttercream and Pine Nut-Rosemary Brittle

1/2 cup unsalted butter
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature 
3 cups powdered sugar 
2-3 tablespoons heavy cream 
Pinch sea salt 

1.  Place 1/2 cup of the butter in a small pot and place on a burner on medium-low heat, let cook for 7-10 minutes until the butter is nice and browned. Place the pot in the fridge (or freezer) until the butter is firm again. 

2.  Mix and bake cookie dough while the butter is firming up. 

3/4 cup (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature 
2/3 cup granulated sugar 
2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed 
1/2 cup pumpkin puree 
2 eggs 
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour 
1 teaspoon baking soda 
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 

1.  Heat oven to 375 degrees F. 

2.  Combine in a large mixing bowl butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar, mix on low speed until well incorporated. Add pumpkin puree, eggs, flour, baking soda, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, salt, and vanilla. Stir well until combined. (If you have a whole can of puree you can freeze the remainder or use it in pancakes or waffles.) 

3.  Scoop heaping tablespoon sized balls of dough onto baking sheets that are prepared with parchment or silicone mats. Place balls a few inches apart, about 12 per sheet. Should get about 48 cookies from the dough. (A cookie scoop works really well for a soft dough like this one.)

4.  Bake one tray of cookies on the middle rack of the oven for 8-10 minutes, repeat for rest of trays. The cookie will just barely spring back when ready. Place cookies on cooling rack to completely cool, or just lift off the whole sheet of parchment and leave it on the counter to cool.

5.  Remove browned butter from fridge and add to the bowl of a mixer along with the additional 4 tablespoons of room temperature butter and start beating with a whisk attachment on low speed. Once softened add the powder sugar a little bit a time, starting and stopping the mixer to fully incorporate. Add the salt and cream and mix until the frosting is nice and fluffy. Add the frosting to a disposable piping bag with the tip snipped off and pipe on top of the cooled cookies. 

Pine Nut-Rosemary Brittle: 
1/4 cup light corn syrup 
1/2 cup granulated sugar 
1/4 cup water 
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened 
2.25 ounces (about 1/2 cup) pine nuts, toasted 
Pinch of flake sea salt 
1/2 teaspoon fresh rosemary, finely minced 

1.  In a small skillet toast pine nuts on medium-low heat until slightly golden. Remove from heat and let cool. 

2.  In a small pot add the corn syrup, water, and granulated sugar. Bring to a boil on medium-high heat and let cook until a candy thermometer reaches 300 degrees or until it turns light amber in color. Whisk in butter and fold in nuts, salt, and rosemary. Pour mixture onto a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or parchment and smooth to a thin layer with a silicone spatula. Once cool, break or cut into small pieces and place on top of the frosted cookies.

Go forth, enjoy your weekend, hang out in the company of some real princes for a change, you deserve it.  

The Queen!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Southwest road trip - it's not Italy, but....

One of the things I’ve been focusing on this year is flexibility. Adapting faster and letting worries fall away quicker. I’m nowhere near mastering any of these things, but I feel like I’ve at least taken strides. Last year I knew that our 25th wedding anniversary was fast approaching and I knew exactly how I wanted to celebrate it.

Sometimes though our plans and our budgets don't exist on the same plane.  A decision was made that just hanging out surrounded by nature and our two favorite four-legged friends would make us the happiest.  We rented an RV from a local rental place and headed out of California, drove through Nevada and headed for Utah and Arizona.  We spent 10 days driving and hiking sun up to sunset at Zion, Bryce, Grand Canyon, Arches, and Canyonlands Needles & Island in the Sky.  Imagine our delight when we pulled up to the gate at Zion and they told us that all the National Parks were free for the week in celebration of their 100th anniversary.  (I believe it is the equivalent of winning the money challenged folks lottery!  Yes!!)

Things have changed so fast and in so many ways around here in the last year, one of those changes has been the demand on my time.  I still scratch my head at the thought that soon we can call ourselves empty nesters.  Our youngest decided at the end of last year that she was ready to take on the world.   I’m still not sure if the world is ready for her, but I’m working on reconciling that one. Our oldest still lives here a few hours a week when she isn’t working or with her boyfriend.  So it’s just the two of us most of the time.  And yet we hadn’t really embraced our new status nor made any plans for filling the next 25 years. Just thinking that far in advance puts me into a cold sweat.

(At least I'm pretty sure these two will never move out since we've made them way too comfortable.  Although Ted is still a little peeved at us for bringing him and his brother to a Doggy Dude Ranch some of the days we hiked.)

I knew while snapping away with my camera that pictures could never do justice to what I was experiencing. The past was all around me, I spent the days not only hiking to see what was around every bend, but daydreaming about all of those who had come before me.  I’ve heard people describe being in the parks as a transcendent experience and it’s true.  I felt it and I also feel that I didn’t have nearly enough time in them. The parks we visited provided such a wonderful sense of solitude, there were so many quiet moments where I found myself completely lost, and I absolutely loved it.  

We would have to put hiking Zion National Park as one of our top favorites of all time, the landscape variation was incredible, there were so many different ways to view the elevations.  We hiked bottom of the canyon, middle canyon, and some upper fall areas, but unfortunately couldn't hike the narrows because of flash flood warnings.  My first impression was disbelief at just how much color and foliage was on display, not to mention the impressive canyon walls.

It was such a joy to be able to hike right underneath the falls and feel the spray kissing your face.

Bryce National Park was another favorite hike.  The night we arrived there were snowflakes falling on the ground, glad we had extra jackets with us.  We took a shuttle to the upper rim and hiked about half way down and then went on a trail leading us to the canyon floor.  It was a nice gradual downhill, but about half way back up I thought I was going to lose Hot Dog Dude.  I told him no way I was towing him back up.  

The Grand Canyon, I think the name pretty much says it all.  We arrived there our first evening at sunset and walked a little bit of the rim trail, it was eerily quite and sublime.  We went back the next day hoping to take a trail down into the canyon, but since I tried to kill Hot Dog Dude the day before (his words, not mine) we settled on rim trails.  I loved our rim trail hike, but the crowds during the day were big, the shuttle buses were packed, and slow was an understatement.  It took us an hour and a half to get back to where we parked at days end.  I felt we could have walked faster and probably would have had we not already covered many miles for the day.

We drove to Sedona the next day after leaving the Grand Canyon and were so disappointed when we found the trail parking lots full and the downtown overtaken by tour buses.  We couldn't find a spot to park anywhere. We wanted to at least enjoy a nice lunch in Sedona, but had to settle for a sandwich while plotting where to go next.  Sedona while beautiful was too Disneyland for our taste.  That is when I told Hot Dog Dude, "We messed up, I want to see more of Utah, and can we go back"?  He replied, "Let's go"!  We hit the road and drove hundreds more miles without stopping.  Way to kill the day, but live and learn.

We spent the night in a small town called Monticello, got an early morning start and headed to Canyonlands Needles where the cutest welcoming committee greeted us.  My best advice to you for being in such remote locations with spotty cell and internet service is that a road atlas is your best friend, it saved us from the "we need directions argument" many times.  

Driving into Canyonlands was not only beautiful, but watching the rock climbers scale the buttes was awe-inspiring.  We enjoyed hiking the mostly primitive trails to see some pueblo ruins, and even petroglyphs.  

We also stayed in the town of Moab, which has great access to Canyonlands and Arches.  It's four-wheel country up there and so much of the canyons can only be reached by off-road vehicles.  We spent most of our time on foot, but next time plan to rent an off-road vehicle in town so we can see more of the canyons.  There is something about finding a little bright spot in a desert landscape that is so enjoyable.  

Arches National Park

Arches National Park was another of our top favorites, the park while busy was so spread out and when out on trails we definitely got the sense of being the only ones out there.  Doesn't the photo below look like two turtles smooching?  Must have been the romantic sunset we were experiencing.  

Museums, pizza, wine, and gelato in Italy are still on my one-day list.  Soothing my soul in nature for 10 unscheduled days of peace, beauty and relaxation are crossed off my bucket list, at least for the moment.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

I give a crap; I just don’t give a shit.

My eyes slowly roll back into my head when someone starts off a conversation with, “Oh my gawd, did you see what so and so posted on Facebook.”  Well first of all, I don’t give a shit about Facebook.  That’s when I quickly realize I have to rephrase that last sentence.  I give a crap about the people I know, I just don’t give a shit about most of the nonsensical dribble that is posted most of the time.  Does anyone remember the good ole days of it?  Fancy me a hopeless romantic.

Let’s face it the only one laughing all the way to the bank is the Zuckster.

I mean honestly I adore your kid, but I could really care less that they shit in the big kid toilet today.  If we are being completely honest here, I like to shit in the big kid toilet myself.  Once in awhile though I like to pretend I’m a bear and squat in the woods just for giggles.

It sure is fabulous that you’ve jetted off to Europe again; I so enjoy you complaining about the hotel not being up to par.  The hotel I’m staying in at the moment “Su Casa Express” is a dump, you should stop by and stay here sometime then you’d really have something to complain about. 

Oh that selfie of you and your new boo is so cute (hold on a sec whilst I wipe the sarcasm from my lips).  I must say though he is scarily reminiscent of the previous 4-ex husbands you met online.  Whatever happened to the good old-fashioned method of picking a future potential ex through beer goggles in a bar?  But enough said already. 

The split-personality roller coaster, where one day you are so happy and you are telling everyone that you have the best life and family in the world, the next you are back to complaining in detail about your horrible sucky life.  Slowly back away from someone like that because when his or her shit finally blows the splatter will be felt for miles.

You’re my hero, seriously wow, only 46 miles of rugged terrain with bobcats lunging out at you from above all the while avoiding barbed shrapnel, mild hypothermia, and the need for mustard packets on your walk today.  Fuck, I’m exhausted just from going downstairs and getting more cookies when I ran out while sitting at my desk working. 

Holy soup dumplings that five-star meal your are sharing with me today is totes-mazing, It was only $300 a person and the wine was a steal at $200 a bottle, well I guess me complaining about paying an extra $2 for guac at Chipotle doesn’t sound quiet so ridiculous now. 

If you haven’t experienced Facebook for yourself you really should.  I mean where else in the world can folks get together and act like they like each other online, but don’t talk to each other in real life.  I think it is a lot like looking into a snow globe in the middle of a blizzard when all of a sudden you catch a glimmer of hope.

Disclosure:  I made absolutely zero dollars for writing this post, I accepted zero free products, there are zero affiliate links on this post, zero dollars in advertising revenues were collected from this post. 

Second disclosure:  Shit I just made absolutely zero today, does that make me a zero?  Perhaps I should have spent my time writing a GoFundMe page so people could contribute to a pity fund so I can experience the lifestyle everyone else on Facebook seems to be enjoying.

Third disclosure:  I have my qualms about the effectiveness of disclosures, I mean I may have not been smart enough to make a buck here today, but I'm pretty sure when you name drop 15 times that you are leaving on your road trip in a “Ford, Toyota, Chevy, etc.” or you make sure and name drop the cruise line your sailing, or the hotel you are staying at, etc. that you were being compensated to do so. 

Fourth disclosure:  My apologies to the uninitiated, but blogging innuendo humor never gets old around here.

Fifth disclosure:  The only truthful fact in entirety in this post is that I survived twenty-five years of my life sentence with Hot Dog Dude as of yesterday.  “Hello 1991 and the biggest sleeves on a wedding dress known to man”.  Truth two:  It was so heavy I could barely keep it up and it itched like crazy (I actually had a rash).  The dress sat at my mom’s house for almost 20 years until she forced me to take it off her hands.  When the guilt finally got the better of me that it would be cruel to try and guilt one of my girls into wearing it; off to charity it went.  Had I known then what I know now, it would have been blinged out wedding yoga pants and sparkly running shoes!

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