Saturday, October 30, 2010

Just Say No...To Twinkie Babies And Man Boobs

Where does your food come from? Most people can't answer this question correctly. If you say "Well, my food comes from the grocery store," you're wrong. Your food ends up at the grocery store, but that is only the tip of the iceberg on your food's journey. Why should you care where there food comes from? Well that you mind eating food created a lab? Food that mold won't even grow on as it sits on shelves for years? Food that was grown in third world countries without proper washing and cleanliness standards? Food seeping with chlorine, gassed with ethylene, diluted with water and cheap, artificial preservatives? If you don't mind, go ahead and keep eating crap, but don't be surprised when scientists begin using you in their case studies as people in our society slowly become radioactive petri dishes of pre-packaged goo. You are what you eat, right?
 Awe Twinkie babies...that's adorable; but what about the little boy with man boobs?  Not so adorable now, is it? People don't realize how easy it can be for a company to get their preservative or additive approved for the market. Even pesticides, as long as they don't have any immediate effects on humans, can be approved before many studies can be done on possible long term effects. Why? Because time is money, and this is a free market with little regulation when it comes to studies on long term effects. The longer they wait to get out their product, the longer they will have to wait for the cash flow. Living in a capitalist society is wonderful, but as we are seeing, every great system has it's subtle drawbacks.  A good example of approving pesticides before adequate testing is Methoxychlor, relative to DDT and a pesticide banned in the USA in 2002 for it's neurotoxicity and effects on reproductive structures in pubescent rats. This chemical was used on many vegetable crops, grain crops, livestock operations, and even in the home for 54 years before it was taken off the market. A lot of damage can be done in 54 years. Sure, skeptics would argue that no human studies have been done on human reproductive effects from this pesticide, but the effects are "likely" given the findings from the rat studies and I would rather take an experts opinion, than risk being a human petri dish for the skeptics.

(Copyright: Jackson Laboratories)

Anyway, I'll get off my soapbox for now, but I encourage you to hug a farmer today. Check out your local farmers market! These are the people bringing you seasonal, local, unadulterated produce. If not for farmers, the world would starve.  And don't be afraid to ask them questions about their produce. After all they were in their fields from seed to harvest, so they know their product is safe, the best quality, and as natural as it gets. Most, if not all the farmers at farmers markets practice some sort of Integrated Pest Management, which emphasizes a variety of natural control measures while using pesticide only as a last resort, so you know your purchase isn't just healthy for you, but it's healthy on the environment too. The best time to get out to a Farmers Market is on the weekend, most of the big ones are on Saturdays, but if you are lucky you could find smaller ones during the week. So get to know a farmer, you will find they have so much knowledge to bring to the table. Check out the USDA search engine  for farmers markets in your area!

If you really want to practice being an Old Lady At Heart, start your own garden! Even if it's just one pot. You can even get small starter herb plants at the grocery store or any home improvement store. That's how I started out, I went to a hardware store and they were having a sale on their lettuce and broccoli plants, so I took one of each home,  planted them, had my first taste of garden fresh broccoli, and this year I planted a whole row from seed. I promise, once you've tasted home-grown broccoli, you will never want to buy it from the grocery store again. To figure out what you can grow in your area you first have to know your "zone" by checking out your zone map. Once you figure out what zone you're in, you can see what will grow in your area. Living in Bakersfield, I am zone 9. From there you can research what grows in your zone, and even the best times to plant from one of my favorite sites The Vegetable Garden. See, so easy! You'll have homegrown, sexy veggies in no time.

For those of you who like adventure, I found this really cool site where you can sign up and get your garden started by joining the Seeds of the Month Club. The first month they send you 8 packs of seeds, and the 4 packs any additional months you sign up for. It's a cool way to try new things, and it's way cheaper than buying seeds at the hardware store. Enjoy! :)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Everything Is Better Topless...

Not "Just Another Canning Blog"

Lots of things are better topless, canning is no exception. I have learned, if you want to minimize sweat, stay comfortable, and save your clothing, it's best to leave the shirt behind while working in the kitchen. Your significant other will be shocked at first, but they will get used to it...eventually. Although, if you have kids or easily offended house guests...maybe you should leave the sports bra on ;)

Here is the main reason to go topless:
Exhibit A: Imagine instead of bare skin, this was a shirt. When juicing pomegranates, unless you want to throw away a perfectly good shirt, best leave it in the closet. I would say wear an old shirt, or an apron...but where's the fun in that?! Seriously, if you've never worked in a hot, sticky kitchen without a shirt on, you are missing out (Unless you are a hairy guy...then, best leave the shirt on for sanitary reasons!) After juicing pomegranates for two hours my kitchen looked like a crime scene and I had juice splatter everywhere. All I needed for clean-up was some warm water and a paper towel, Instead of having to wash a shirt or apron at the end of the day. So before you begin your adventures of canning, put down plenty of towels, keep water and a sponge handy, and go topless!

More Juicing and Jelly tips...

Thanks to a fellow Old Lady At Heart, my best friend Ri, I no longer have to juice pomegranates by hand. As seen above, this little juicer, although slightly messier than hand squeezing, is a life saver! I juiced two grocery bags full of pomegranates in only one hour, and my hands weren't aching afterward. FYI: since these old style juicers were made to handle small fruit, like oranges, you have to cut the poms in quarters before smashing their guts out. Thanks to Ri and her mommy for letting me borrow such a cool little blast from the past! I am now obsessed with finding one of these old style juicers, since new ones don't have the cajones to stand up to the sturdy pomegranate. I literally just placed a bid on Ebay for a 1950's Juice-O-Matic for $10, wish me luck! :D  

So let me remind you again why you should try making jelly for yourself at least once in your life:

I'll do the math for you...

 I found that at approximately 2 1/2 Pomegranates makes 1 cup of juice, you will need 3 1/2 cups of juice to make one batch of jelly. So, to make one batch (6 half pints) you will need about 8-9 pomegranates (7 1/2 to be exact, but get more just to be safe). I hear pomegranates are pretty pricey this year, so if you aren't lucky enough to know anyone with trees, you will be paying close to $2 a pop. However, doing it yourself is still cheaper, and it will be better quality than anything you can find at the grocery store. Let me break it down for you. For one, finding 100% pomegranate jelly at the grocery store is almost as illusive as the unicorn. The label may say one thing, but the ingredients always tell the truth. I found a 10oz jar of raspberry, pomegranate  jelly at ( for all you Northern California people) for $5.99. That is  59 cents per ounce and your not even getting 100% pomegranate and raspberry! Here is the ingredient list: Red Raspberries, Pomegranates, Concentrated Grape Juice, Fruit Pectin. Grape juice? Always check ingredient labels, companies try to pass off all kinds of juices and jelly as one thing, but will commonly dilute it with apple or grape juice because it's cheaper.
Making your own 100% pomegranate jelly: pomegranates ($18) Sugar ($2.75) Jar($2) Pectin ($4.75)= 57 cents per oz. at most. However, if you can get homegrown fruit for free your only real costs are Sugar ($2.75)  Pectin ($4.75) and jar lids ($2.50)since you could essentially reuse jars and jar rings from earlier cannings (always use new jar lids and check the rubber seal before use). If you have the essentials you are looking at a cost of 21 cents per oz. So, not only is your homemade jelly cheaper, but you know it's the real thing, not some cheap knock-off made in a factory.

I Don't Think You're Ready For This Jelly...
 Breakin' it down for ya.

My pomegranate jelly recipe: yields 6 half pints
3 1/2 cups pom juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 pkg of pectin (powdered)
5 cups of sugar

Below are some pictures of all the supplies you will need, I suggest getting everything out ahead of time and laying them out in a logical order. My old cooking teacher in high school at the beginning of class used to say, "Everyone get out your Mise En Place", which I'm pretty sure is French for: all the sh!t you need to create your dish. You should also get your ingredients ready too, especially the 5 cups of sugar the recipe calls for because you will need to add that to your pot all at once.

You will need sterile jars, you can either wash them in the dish washer ahead of time of wash them by hand and boil them in your water canner for 10 minutes. Don't boil your jar lids! You could warp your rubber seal, so instead wash them with soapy water, place them in a small saucepan, cover with water and put on medium heat (this helps to soften the rubber so you get a good seal). Once your jars are sterile, you need to keep them warm by leaving them in your water canner on medium heat while you mix up your ingredients. Add the pom and lemon juice to your pot and slowly stir in your pectin until dissolved. Turn on high heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Remember to use a big a$$ pot, you will be happy you did after the next step.

Over high heat,  pour in your sugar slowly while stirring constantly, let dissolve. Boil hard for exactly 2 minutes. As soon as your liquid starts to boil it will immediately start rising towards the top of your pot. If this happens DO NOT PANIC (like I did the first time). Simply wait until it is about two inches from the top and turn your heat down. Let it drop down a couple inches, then turn the heat back up. You kind of have to play with it, because on the one hand you want your liquid to remain at a hard boil, but you don't want a gooey, black stove-top either. You only have to keep up this madness for 2 minutes and then you can turn it down to medium-low. Now you are ready to start filling jars!

Take out one jar from your water bath canner using your jar grabber and dump out the water from the jar. Place jar on top of a clean towel at your work surface and stick a funnel in it's mouth (all of the water should have evaporated off by now). Grab your laddel and scoop up some of your liquid into the jar leaving 1/4 inch headspace (canning term for 1/4 inch from the top of the jar opening). Wipe rim of jar with a clean, damp paper towel to get off any sticky stuff. With tongs, grab a jar lid and ring out of your saucepan. Wipe the rubber part of the lid with a paper towel and put into position on top of the jar, making sure the rubber part is making contact with the jar rim. Place ring over jar lid, use your finger to hold down lid firmly as you screw on the ring. Make sure you don't screw it on too tight or you won't get a proper seal. Your jar full of liquid will be extremely hot, so try and do this as fast as possible.

Repeat this process for your remaining five jars. Using your jar grabber, being careful not to tip your full jars, place each jar into it's place in the water canner (make sure the water in your canner is at least an inch above your jars). If you accidentally tip the jar just put it back at your work station, open lid, wipe rim, replace lid and ring, and put it back in the canner (The reason for this is the liquid could have worked it's way under your seal when it tipped which could mess with the sealing process). Then turn your heat up and process. If you are in a valley, like I am, your jars need to boil hard for 5 minutes, I always go for 10 minutes though just to be safe. But if you aren't in a valley, use this chart:

1,001 feet to 3,000 feet, add 5 minutes to processing times.
3,001 feet to 6,000 feet, add 10 minutes to processing times.
6,001 feet to 8,000 feet, add 15 minutes to processing times.
8,001 feet to 10,000 feet, add 20 minutes to processing times.

After that, turn your heat down, pull out jars (keeping them upright) with your jar grabber and place them on a towel to cool and set. This will take a full 24 hours, so don't touch them or move them until after that. Be sure to not adjust the jar rings even if they are loose, do not tighten them, this will mess up the sealing process. Then in 24 hours you will have some gorgeous, sexy jelly, that everyone will be asking for. Be strong and try not to be a push-over. If someone not on your X-mas list asks for some, just point them in the direction of my blog and tell them to learn for themselves :)


Monday, October 18, 2010

Baking Is For Chemists...And Math People

I for one am neither a chemist or a math person, so baking is one of my biggest challenges. For some reason if I have a recipe, I must tweak it in some way and experiment with other possibilities. That's just the way my weird head works I guess. I must substitute ingredients, baking methods, proportions, whatever, I just can't bring myself to follow a recipe exactly (This is why I always sucked at Chemistry and Math!). No matter how many times I've tried and failed at the evil art of baking, I still find a corner to cut somewhere. As a result, baking gods do not like when I stray from their recipes and tend to sabotage my efforts at least 75% at a time. You would think I would learn my lesson...but no.

So I try not to bake unless it's from a box, but in the spirit of this blog I've decided it's time I give it another shot. I've been stalking this abandoned house for weeks because I noticed a gorgeous apple tree that nobody was claiming. A neighbor had been watering the tree, so the apples were gorgeous and green. I wasn't sure what kind of apples they were but I tried one and I'm pretty sure it is, or closely resembles a Granny Smith...the perfect baking apple. I began to question the neighbor, and to my delight he didn't want the apples because they were too tart. So I brought home a grocery bag full of them and thought about all the stuff I could burn make.:)

I went to the Food Network site because they tend to have great, consumer tested, recipes. Then I found a few of Paula Deen's recipes and figured, if there was ever an old lady to get inspiration from, it would be her! So I found a recipe for fried apple pies, but it called for biscuit dough, and I wasn't going to buy some biscuit dough from the store that had a bunch of crap in it. So I cruised the site some more and found her pie crust recipe. Well, why couldn't I just make fried pies with real pie crust? What's so special about biscuit dough? Well...let me tell you what's so important about biscuit doesn't soak up the fryer oil. Nothing ruins your appetite faster than a mouth full of warm canola oil. Bleh! Thankfully I only fried two, one to test, and two just to make sure I didn't screw up the first one. So I threw the rest  of the raw pies in the oven.

Those didn't turn out too bad, but they definitely needed a glaze on top, Ice cream, or something. I still had some dough and sugar/cinnamon apples left over so I decided to try something different rather than making mediocre, pocket pies. I found a recipe for crumb topping, so I assembled my pie crust into the assorted tart dishes and souffle cups I have (even though I've never made a tart or souffle in my life...must have been wedding gifts :D), piled in the apple filling, and threw some crumb topping on top and baked them. Those were yummy. So I guess one out of three attempts isn't too horrible...:/

So I think next time my goal will be to stick to the damn recipe! Maybe I'll take a page from my husbands book, or at least make him stand over my shoulder. I tend to look at the small adjoining steps, while he focuses on the big picture. I really need to take a lesson from him...or at least figure out a way to miniaturize him and stick him in my brain, because three hours and three different variations of Paula's recipes later, I had a counter full of pies. The whole time I was focusing on improving my creations that I didn't realize how many freakin' pies I had made. So thanks to him, I took a step back and realized it was time to call it a day. I cleaned up my mess, and took some pies over to my mother-in-law's.

Fabulous---> Paula's Pie Crust Recipe

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Tricks of the jelly trade

First things first, why even bother making your own jelly when you can get it for $4 at the supermarket?
  1. A little bit of juice goes a long way! Fruit is relatively cheap, and a bag full of fruit could potentially yield 6 1/2 pint jars of jelly. You do the math, but that sounds like savings to me.
  2. You know exactly what is in your jelly. You don't have to worry about what kind of artificial crap could potentially be in there. Not to mention worrying about safe handling practices at the plant where it was made. Keep in mind that there is a survey indicating we pick our nose at least four times a day, how many times is that at work? In other words, you know your homemade jelly is mucous-free. :)
  3. Sharing is caring! Homemade jelly makes perfect Xmas or birthday presents. Plus its more thoughtful than a gift card or a sh!ty sweater they will never wear. Plus it's easier on your me, it will grow lips and kiss you after the holidays are over.
  4. You become a true Old Lady (or man) At Heart. It's a special club! Certain traditions are worth keeping alive.
  5. One of the most important reasons: you are truly in touch with your body when you know what you put inside of it. Everyone should view their body as a temple...or at least a McMansion, be kind to it, it's the only one you have. Why have a nice house when you fill it with cheap furniture, or shag carpet from the 70's?

First thing's first, good jelly is only accomplished with good, ripe fruit. To find good, quality fruit you must find what is in season. Picking fruit at their peak ripeness is ideal, so homegrown anything is better that whatever you can get at the store since most of that stuff is picked green and pumped full of Ethelyn gas in semi-trucks. Yummy, right? If you are clueless as to what's in season just remember if it has a really thin skin it is a summer fruit, like a peach or plum. If it has a medium skin on it,  it's a fall crop; apples and pears for example. Thick skins are most likely fall/winter/spring crops; Pomegranates & oranges. Of course there are exceptions like the watermelon, and what-not so when in doubt, ask a farmer. Where do I find a farmer you ask? Well for those who live in ag areas that's not hard, but for others who are in ag-challenged areas, try the farmers market. No farmers market? Try Wikipedia, it's a life saver.

Make sure you wash your fruit, even if you know where it came from. I use a special produce soap and use a soft bristled brush to ensure that all the crap is dislodged from my fruit. So, since it is Fall I thought this would be the perfect time to give some tips on making pomegranate jelly. Pomegranates are strange if you've never worked with them before. They have a nice thick rind and inside are little capsules full of juice which contains the seed; these capsules are called arils. I found the perfect website that shows you the best way to get the arils out of the rind. So check out POM Wonderful's site and click on the video tutorial--->  Pomegranate 101

Now let's get technical

Ok, once you have all the pretty little arils out, you will need some cheese cloth, a colander and a big bowl. Take a couple handfuls of arils and put them in two to three layers of cheesecloth. Tie up the ends of the cheese cloth so you have a what looks like a sack full of marbles. Place your bowl under your colander and squeeze the sack into the colander to extract the juice.  Just a tip, the fewer arils you put in your sack, the easier it will be to squeeze (your hands will thank you later).  The colander is there just in case a seed works it's way through your cheesecloth sack. Another tip: if you bypass the cheesecloth and just smash them in a colander, juice will squirt everywhere (I learned from experience, unfortunately). Those damn arils are explosive! Once you squeeze all the juice out that you can, dump the seeds in the trash and fill your sack with more arils. You may have to add another layer of cheesecloth, or make a new sack periodically. Once you have enough juice that your recipe calls for (see recipe for pom jelly in my last blog entry) it's time to filter your juice to get any little bits that may have accumulated on the bottom of the bowl. For this you will need a big jar with a fairly wide mouth (a pickle jar works great). Place two to three layers of cheesecloth over the opening of the jar, place a rubber band over the rim to secure your cheesecloth, then with your fingers, push cheesecloth down slightly to make a little depression (so the juice doesn't overflow before it filters). Then just pour your juice (SLOWLY!) over the cheesecloth and the pure juice will drain into the bottom and all the crud will be left behind on the cheesecloth. Ta Da!

Now just follow the recipe, and remember, USE A HUGE POT to boil your syrup in! Good luck, remember to sterilize your jars, keep your lids in a warm water bath to keep the sealing rubber soft, and pour one jar at a time, use a butter knife to remove any bubbles. Wipe each jar rim with a damp, clean towel, and don't tighten your jar ring too tight or it won't properly seal. As you finish filling each jar, place it in your water canner and once all jars are in, turn up the burner and let your jars boil for 10 minutes (unless you live in the mountains, altitudes change boiling times). Then let them cool for 24 hours on a tea towel, and you have homemade jelly that you yourself made. Trust me, you will be beaming. 
Have any tips for making pom jelly? Leave a comment! have any problems? Leave a comment! Let's help each other and grow wise together as Old Ladies (and Gentlemen) at <3.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Preserving the past, one jar at a time

Grocery shopping has become a chore for me. It was so nice before I actually started caring what I put in my body. I would almost skip down the isles tossing in peanut butter, jelly, and bread without a second thought. The only rule I had was, whatever was on sale was going in the cart. Life was so easy back then. This was until I started paying attention to all the research about food additives being linked to obesity and cancer, and how large corporations were taxing the environment and shoving corn in many shapes and forms into our bodies without us being aware of it. Thank you author, Michael Pollan and the creators of Food Inc. for that!

As I stared at the jelly section for a good ten minutes, picking up each jar and dissecting each label I thought, seriously?! I have way better things to do! How hard could this really be? It's science! all I need is a little acidity, a binding agent, sugar, and heat.  The acid helps draw the pectin out of the fruit when it's heated (all fruit contains pectin, some more than others, which is why you need to add liquid or powdered pectin for most recipes). The water from the juice is attracted to the sugar, so as those molecules combine it frees up the pectin molecules to bind with each other...then viola! Your jelly can set and get...well...jelly!

Even though I could understand the concept of canning, I was always scared of it because I've heard a lot of cautions about tainted food from canning things improperly and after getting on the USDA's website I was pretty much scared sh!tless that I was going to kill someone.  <---so don't go here. :) One day I just decided to go for it. I'll just try the recipes out on myself (and my poor hubby) just to be safe.  I work in agriculture and I am lucky enough to live in Bakersfield (yes, you read right, lucky), so there is always a farmer around with extra produce laying around. Last year I was given a grocery bag full of white pomegranates, a new variety that is currently being developed. I love pomegranates, but eating them can be a real pain in the ass and not to mention really messy. I had so many, I knew they would start going bad soon, so I checked out some websites and found a recipe for jelly.

It looked easy enough, and with just four ingredients, I was on board.,1723,146173-238199,00.html . Thanks to my grammy, who as soon as she heard of my desire to can went out and bought me my basic supplies, I was ready to roll! Everything went well at first, added the pomegranate juice (which I squeezed by hand) to a medium sized pot, added the lemon juice, pectin, let it simmer, then added the sugar...and that's when it happened! my sweet, sugary concoction started to grow, and grow...Expletives left my lips as I frantically added butter like the recipe said in case of unwanted bubblage. Yeah, that didn't work. I panicked, and as panic struck in, every braincell waived goodbye and shut down. It was too late to turn down the heat, that crap was moving fast. I lifted the pot off the stove, but in just enough time to watch helplessly as it boiled over and blackened my entire stove top. My poor little burners were covered in a gooey, scorched, gelatinous mess. So I cleaned up and started over...with a bigger pot!

I know what you are thinking, I don't have time for this, I work, I am a stay at home mom busy with kids all day, I____. Stop making excuses, just do it! I work a full time job and work ag hours, which those of you who are familiar with ag hours know our work week is usually 54-60hrs a week and no overtime until after 60. So if I can do it, you can too. You will be so proud of yourself after you did; and if you have kids, you will create lasting memories that they will always remember. Yes kids are great, they make perfect little slaves...helpers:). Kids could easily do the pomegranate juicing, which is the most time consuming part. Just slather the counter tops in PAM, let them work over the sink, and hose them down in the backyard when they are done. In the next post I will go over juicing pomegranates and the actual jelly making process.)

Here are the basic items you will need to start canning.

A. wire rack thingy that you put your jars in. Holds six at a time. You must have this because water needs to circulate all around the jar for adequate sealing.
B. Funnel thingy, makes pouring liquid into jars a lot easier
C. Jar grabber. Make sure to grab jars with curvy looking end, don't be an idiot like I was! haha.
D. Ridiculously large pot.
E. Booze! you will need it after your first canning session (trust me, it does get easier!)

Cool thing is, now you can find this stuff at the grocery store! I saw this starter kit at Albertsons (SoCal grocery chain) last week. You can also get fancy little magnetic lid grabbers, but I just use tongs. You will also need a LARGE pot for boiling your sticky goo, a ladle, plenty of clean tea towels, some cheese cloth (used for juicing), a spoon rest, sterilized jars (I recommend using the 1/2 pint jars to start), lids/rims, another smaller pot to simmer lids(I'll explain later), oh, and more booze! :)

Coming up next!
I will go into more detail for those of you actually wanting to try and can on your own. Don't be scared, like I said if I can figure it out, so can you! I will go over Pomegranate jelly, Jalapeno jelly, Tomato canning, canning your own sauce and salsa, and pickles. As long as you can acidic stuff, a basic water canner is all you need. Stay tuned

Blogs to get you motivated:


Welcome! My name is Candice and I am 25 years old. Like many other kids in America, I grew up with my own personal chef who I liked to call by his proper name, Chef Boyardee. Yes, we are a culture of convenience but at what cost? Now that I am married and will eventually start a family of my own, do I really want them consuming cheese product and high fructose corn syrup on a regular basis? I decided that change starts with me. Convenience is necessary a lot of the time, but to truly appreciate life, I feel you must let it simmer and savor it slowly. I wasn't sure where to even begin, there are so many things that I could learn and do myself. I decided to start with food, you can never go wrong with homemade food!

I began breaking down what "from scratch" actually means. I started looking at labels and thinking I could make basically the same thing at home, but without all the fillers and unpronounceable junk. The more I investigated and experimented, the more I decided not only was it rewarding, but it makes your heart smile. To know you are paying tribute to your ancestors is truly a humbling experience. I often wonder what my great grandma would think of my homemade pomegranate jelly. Would she have laughed at me the first time I made it when I let my sugary syrup overflow all over the stove? Or when I tried picking up the jars with the wrong end of the jar grabber?

So here we go, I will be blogging about my new favorite hobbies and the struggles and embarrassing mishaps that go with learning such strange new arts. My goal is to help those who are as clueless as I am. Together we will learn by trial, error and occasional research (asking Grammy). I have already started learning to garden and  basic canning and this year my main goal is learn to sew, crochet, bake and all other things that little old ladies are known for. Hopefully you will use this as a tool and learn along with me. Let's get back to the basics! :)