Month: July 2009

Jam-making class

The Davis Food Co-op, a local food cooperative that I do most of my food shopping at, holds cooking classes which always look fun. I finally signed up for the jam-making class, lined up some last-minute babysitting, and went off for a fun experience!

I arrived at the teaching kitchen, which was a residential house across the street from the Co-op converted into a demo-type kitchen (imagine a cooking show set-up with a wall of sinks and appliances and an island with stove and counter space with a large area for chairs or tables). There was a row of chairs set up facing the island and I joined the other six women who were there.

The teacher, Dennis, showed us an easy, quick technique for making jam by using six cups of chopped apricots, two cups of sugar, and an envelope of pectin (although he pointed out that there was a no-sugar pectin available now if you wanted sugar-free jam). Here are the photos that I took during the session…

We did not use the sugar-free pectin, but he passed around a box for us to look at: Correction: We DID use a sugar-free pectin recipe but added 2 cups of sugar for taste.

First step – heating up a big pot of water with the jars inside — the water should be 1-2 inches over the top of the jars. Dennis forgot a rack to put inside the pot so he improvised with cookie cutters! This photo was taken before we put the jars in. I forgot to take a photo of the lids (the flat metal disc that seals in the jam, not to be confused with the “ring” that screws onto the jar), but they were in a small pan on low heat. You want to heat the lids so that the rubber seals get flexible but you don’t want to boil the lids and have the rubber come off. (Another person in the class suggested taking boiling water and pouring them over the lids in a bowl, then letting them sit. She seemed to have experience with canning so I’m not sure why she was taking the class!)

As a side note, I learned that you cannot reuse lids — you have to buy new ones each time.

While the water was heating up, we all helped to slice up the apricots (approximately 6 lbs of fruit ,I think). Even slightly brown apricots were okay to use — we threw out the obviously rotton or moldy ones.

Pits and yucky apricots went into a bowl to be composted later:

Dennis measured out the apricots, using the amount specified on the package of pectin — in this case, 6 cups of fruit.

The fruit was cooked and mashed with a potato masher until nice and smooshy. Because the fruit wasn’t very juicy, we added a cup of water (grape juice or apple juice are typically suggested, but water is fine, too). Dennis warned that fruit expands when boiling — especially strawberries, which get really foamy and can more than double in size — so you want to use a really big pot.

When the fruit started bubbling and boiling, we added the sugar.

More stirring and mashing. When the stuff came to a hard boil — i.e., you can’t stir down the bubbles — Dennis slowly added in the pectin. He’d sprinkle some, stir and talk, sprinkle more, stir and talk, so it took longer than I thought it would.

While the fruit was heating up again to get to a boil, Dennis explained the gear.

Sample jar (the ones we were using were in the pot boiling) and rings. The actual lid is the flat metal part that actually seals to the jar — the rings are to keep the lid in place while you boil the filled jars.

This thing here is what you use to lift the jar out of the boiling water. You can also see the plastic wand (laying down beside cutting board) with has a magnet on the end – handy for getting the lid out of the warm water.

By this time, the fruit had come back to a boil so we cooked it at a boil for one or two minutes. Then we turned down the heat and it was time to can!

Pull out a jar (empty out the water)… The jars were boiling in a special canning pressure cooker (very expensive) which is used for canning veggies (to get them cooking at a higher heat). For acidic food — i.e., fruit and tomatoes — you don’t need a pressure cooker. Dennis just used it because it’s a nice big pot and he wanted to show us what it looked like.

Put the jar on a wooden cutting board or towel — NOT directly on a cold counter surface which might crack the jar. Fill it up to the first “line” – you want about 1/2″ of “headspace” between the jam and lid. Note — if you have extra fruit left over that won’t fill a jar all the way, don’t try to can it, just eat it with ice cream later that day! It’s important to fill a jar to the right amount because that ensures that the jam gets properly sterilized.

Slide the handle of a wooden spoon gently around the sides of the jar to get out air bubbles that might be trapped against the sides of the jar. (Don’t stir it vigorously like one woman did, which may create air bubbles.)

Wipe the edges clean with a damp paper towel or clean rag.

Using the magnetic wand, pull a lid out of the warm water and gently place it on top, then put the ring over and screw it on. You want to screw it to a point just past when you begin to feel it tighten — but not all the way tight, because the jar might crack.

Lift the jar with the jar tongs and keeping it level, put it back into the boiling water.

Some of us asked questions and found out that: The jars heat up in the water mainly to warm them so that they don’t crack when you add the hot jam mixture. Getting them to a boil helps sterilize them, too, but for this particular recipe, it’s actually not necessary to fully sterilize them by boiling them for 10 minutes because the recipe itself calls for “processing” the canned fruit (boiling them after they are filled) for ten minutes, which is enough to sterilize the jars from the inside out. Other recipes might call for a processing less than ten minutes (like five minutes) in which case you WILL want to boil the jars for ten minutes first to sterilize them.

As the boiling water heats up the jars and the jam inside, the jam and the insides of the bottle get sterilized and air escapes from the jar.

But you have to make sure the water is at a ROLLING boil before starting your ten-minute count. And though you might be tempted to turn the heat down — don’t.

After the ten minutes, pull the jars out with the jar tongs. With the air pressure outside now greater than what’s inside the jar, the floating lids are sealed tightly to the jar. If you’re lucky, you might hear a “ping” sound as the lid indentation gets pushed down by the outside air pressure. Dennis assured us that we might not hear a ping immediately but it was okay — basically you only really know if you have a good seal after 24 hours of letting it cool all the way down and then testing it.

Some ways to test it — AFTER the jar is completely cooled (about 24 hours), push on the top of it where the indentation is. If it’s not sealed, you can push it in and it will pop back out. If it is sealed, the lid will feel completely solid. Or, you can thunk the top with a metal spoon. Sealed jars will “thunk.” Unsealed jars will sound different (try it out on an unsealed jar first). Finally, remove the ring (clean and dry well to avoid rusting). Dennis said that he stores all his jams without the ring — just the lid — so that he can easily see if one has a lid that comes off.

For those worried about botulism, Dennis assured that fruit preserves are very safe because if there’s something wrong, you’ll smell it or see it! Not so with veggies, which is why you want to can them at a higher temperature to be safe.

We walked away with a small jar of apricot jam and an informative handout that included some recipe notes, lists of gear and resources, specific steps to remember, and tips.

Overall, this was quite a fun and informative beginning jam-making class and took out a lot of the mystery and intimidation factor for me. I’m going to shoot to find cheap jam-making gear over the next year and be ready for canning my own stuff next summer!

Baby related thoughts: One year later

This is the eigth of a series of posts on pregnancy, labor, birth, and being a new parent. See intro and full list.

Okay, technically it’s been over a year since Steven was born and only nine months since my last post in the Baby Related Thoughts series, but it sort of averages out to a year! I thought now was a good time to revisit a few of the topics I’ve previously posted on and add some updates and comments.

On baby gear

After a year (and a few months), I’m surprised by how many things we still use on my original baby gear list. The things that we don’t currently use are:

  • cradle – which we didn’t use by the time I wrote the previous post anyway
  • swaddling blankets, sleep sacks – since Steven is no longer swaddled. However, we now use many of the blankets that we received as gifts. They were also useful for protecting the floor when Steven was starting to be mobile and was still spitting up quite a bit.
  • baby monitor – this would be helpful if ours worked when going to other places, but we’ve gotten along fine without it.
  • bottles and sterilizer, breast pump – we never did consistently bottle-feed Steven.
  • Brest Friend feeding pillow – didn’t use this after the first month or two
  • food mill – Steven doesn’t need mashed food anymore
  • some baby carriers – Steven has outgrown the Baby Bjorn, and the other carriers have been abandoned in favor of the free Sutemi carrier that I got from my sister. It’s similar to the Ergo Baby carrier. I think I’d like an Ergo better, but the Sutemi was free!

My current top “for sure” items:

  • Jogging stroller
  • Bike trailer – in our town, you can bike anywhere (and it’s nice and flat). Going on errands on the bike is a nice outing for both me and the baby!
  • BumGenius diapers
  • Feeding seat/high chair
  • Sippy cup – I got a small Klean Kanteen with the Avent sipper top and keep it filled with water. Steven will pick it up off the floor and drink from it himself when he’s thirsty.

Update 8/4 – One thing I just thought of that we use really frequently was the noisemaker from the “Sleep Sheep” that we got as a gift. It makes various types of white noise (45 min max time limit) and has been invaluable with helping Steven sleep in other places, since we use white noise at home, too.

On cloth diapering

Over a year later, we are still using cloth diapers with very few exceptions. I used Seventh Generation disposable diapers when we went camping and provided them for babysitters on our first weekend away from the baby.

We are still fans of the BumGenius diapers that we got — although I’m a bit sad that they came out with organic diapers and more color selection after we got ours. They have held up well through the multiple changes and launderings, although the velcro tabs started to curl after six or eight months and the laundry tabs – the small strip of cloth next to the tabs that allow you to stick them down for laundering — stopped being “sticky” after nine to ten months. (A friend mentioned that using a “sweater shaver” would get them fuzzy again, but I haven’t gotten around to trying that tip yet). I would still take the easy velcro tabs over other types of pocket diapers, however.

That’s all for now, but I have some ideas on future posts on sleep and solid food, so stay tuned!

Bad dream

I woke up this morning stressed out and angry from a bad dream.

I dreamed that someone had taken documents that I’d designed in Illustrator and “updated” them by printing out new information on slips of paper in Times New Roman and gluing them over the old information, then photocopying them.


Which reminds me of this xkcd comic that made me laugh out loud:

Reading: Miscellania

Photo taken 6/29/09

The Stay-At-Home Survival Guide by Melissa Stanton – I’m not sure when your average stay-at-home moms would have time to read this book, but I found that it was really helpful to read it because the author eloquently expressed the angst and issues surrounding defining yourself as a stay-at-home mom: how other people perceive you, how the marriage shifts, how your own self-esteem is affected, etc. While my personal experience as a self-employed professional cum stay-at-home mom doesn’t quite mesh up as nicely with the book’s intended audience, and though I’ve forgotten all of the “helpful tips” regarding socialization, exercise, food, etc., it did help me to process and label some of the things I’ve been struggling with.

Wild Things by Stephen James and David Thomas – This is a book specifically about the “art of nurturing boys.” While James and Thomas are Christian authors, the book is not overtly religious and contains what I think are good principles, including respect for the child and awareness of developmental phases. The authors label different phases of the development of a boy from age two through twenty-two (I think? I’m doing this from memory); although they are quick to point out that phases overlap and do not necessarily mesh up with specific ages, their discussion of the development of a boy from “explorer” to “lover” up to “warrior” made sense to me and will be helpful in the future. The book gives an overall picture of boys at each phase in Part 1, talks about boys’ brain development and learning in Part 2, then goes into the “heart” of the boy and his relationship with mother and father in Part 3. In particular, the last section of the book has “hot topics” marked out which were especially helpful for me to read, since I didn’t grow up with any brothers. I’m actually planning on buying this book with my next gift card!

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart – I was alerted to this book from Kim’s blog and thoroughly enjoyed it. Good, clean fun, rather reminiscent of classic children’s lit authors that I love such as Edward Eager or J.K. Rowling.

The Cheshire Cat’s Eye by Marcia Muller – Another Sharon McHone mystery. These tend to be thin and thus fast reads.

Heaven’s Prisoners by James Lee Burke – A new-to-me mystery author (though the book was published in 1988). Gritty and sad.

The Rose Labyrinth by Titania Hardie – This was an intriguing book because it came in a hardcover case that included a stack of parchments that the reader was encouraged to “solve” on their own. However, I lacked the mental energy to pore over the papers and just read the book, which ended up being sort of Da Vinci Code-ish (as anything which involves long-hidden documents, architectural secrets, and religious mysteries will inevitably be compared to). Apart from the fact that I thought some of the cryptic messages were kind of random and forced, I enjoyed reading through it — mindlessly — and letting the characters decipher the mystery.

Cold Case by Kate Wilhelm – Kate Wilhelm is one of my favorite mystery writers, and this new Barbara Holloway novel did not disappoint.

O’s Big Book of Happiness – This collection of articles and essays from The Oprah Magazine was a nice thing to keep on the dining table and browse through while I ate lunch.