Monday, May 14, 2012

Hodgepodge Post

Things just never slow down around here for very long. Last week was a busy one.

The kids and I went peach and apricot picking at a local U-pick early Thursday morning. We had a storm the night before, so the temperature was actually pleasant and not infernal. The peaches were for eating fresh, the apricots for making jelly. 

On Friday morning, one of my produce peeps told me about a local produce store that was selling 8-lb flats of organic strawberries for $6 each. Typically, these flats sell for $24-32. I ended up buying a total of 6 flats  (48 lbs) for our family, and decided to make jam out of a couple of the flats. The rest were eaten fresh, or washed, hulled, and frozen for smoothies and ice cream.

Solomon's piano teacher, a friend of mine, also bought strawberries, and came and joined me for making them into jam. It was fun, and took us several hours. After she left, I finished making all my own jam. However, for some reason, neither her nor my jam "set". It just stayed liquid, even after it was all cool. Having successfully canned hundreds of jars of jam in my life, this baffled me.

I remade one batch of my jam according to the directions, and again, it did not set. This was beginning to frustrate me, as I did not want to waste all the time and money that had gone into the project so far. It dawned on me that I had always used a different brand of pectin (Ball), and that maybe the brand we used this time around (SureJel) was of poorer quality, since it neither worked the first time, nor the second time around. 

After searching high and low for Ball brand pectin, and finding none, I tried using Pomona's Pectin instead. Sure enough, the jam came out perfect. This was a relief, but as I am typing this, I have yet to remake and can 5 more batches of jam in the next couple of days, in addition to canning the apricot jelly now that the apricots have ripened enough to be processed.

Saturday afternoon was our church's annual Mother Daughter Tea Party at a local tea house. As always, the girls enjoyed themselves. It is such a blessing to have three daughters to go out to tea with!!! :)

By the time I arrived home, we had company (relatives of my husband, including 4 of our kids' cousins) which made for a fun evening. They all went swimming while I made cheeseburgers for dinner. 

Mother's Day was really nothing extra special, which is simply due to the fact the family is very sweet to me every day. The kids often buy me flowers or candy, write love notes and draw pictures daily, and are generally very loving. For breakfast, I was served in bed and showered in cards. Miriam and her Daddy picked up chocolate cake for all of us to have as a dessert after lunch. 

Today, I finally caved in and bought a commercial upright freezer on craigslist for a total steal. We already have two fridges (one side-by-side, one with the freezer on top), but with all the deals I have been getting on produce, all my freezer space was forever filled to the brim, and then some. Just last week, I got a box of "ripe" organic bananas for $4. Some of the peels were starting to turn brown on the outside, but there were no soft/brown spots on any of the bananas inside the skins. One night, I peeled all 128 bananas (which would have cost $40 or more at the store) and froze them for smoothies, baking, and ice cream. Did you know that you can make fantastic, healthy ice-cream in about 20 seconds with a high-power blender like the Vitamix??? We are SO hooked. I just blend up a bit of cream or milk, honey, and bananas and/or strawberries. I can see us burning through the abundance of strawberries and bananas in a matter of a couple of weeks.

All those jars in the door of the freezer are filled with fresh juice (orange, blood orange, and lemon), as well some homemade salsa We don't drink pasteurized juice, so this supply has to last us until the next citrus harvest starts in December.

Between the three freezers, I was able to really organize all their contents. One freezer holds all of our meat (except for what didn't fit, and had to go in the bottom of this freezer). Because we buy beef, pork, and chicken locally from organic ranchers, we have to buy them in large quantities (1/4 to 1/2 animal at a time). This new freezer is a sort of "pantry" for unopened bags of  fruits, veggies, and breads. The third freezer is where I keep all the open stuff I use daily.

Plus, with the birth of baby #7 on the horizon, I really need to precook breakfasts and dinners, and stash them in the freezer. That really was very helpful last time around. Somebody is bound to ask, so I will just say that yes, the freezer came with a built-in lock, and I gave the kids a big speech about never opening the freezer unless they are specifically told to do so. 

In totally unrelated news, everything is going well on the pregnancy front. My only "complaint" is that the nausea still rears its ugly head almost daily. My main triggers are heat, and lack of sleep. The heat is something that can not easily be avoided in Phoenix this time of year. I am thankful for the new windows my husband installed this spring, as they have helped keep the house much cooler. Sleep is a lost cause this time of year, what with the sun coming up around 5 am. The kids, eager to tumble out of bed and finish the last few weeks of school work, have been waking me up bright and early every day. 

On that note, I better hurry off for some much-needed rest. 

Have a great week, everyone.


  1. I love your daughters' hats. The girls look adorable!

    I use apricot jelly and/or preserves when I make glaze for duck. It is very good.

    Is your Dad still visiting?

  2. For Mother's Day, my husband and son just let me sleep UNTIL I WOKE UP!!! And all day long, my husband took care of things and allowed me to lie around and be "lazy." I would rather have that "gift" than anything else in the world! It was so nice. You are right, though, when your family is kind to you every day, there is no need to overdo Mother's Day! Great post.

  3. We love homemade ice cream! I make it all the time with my Nina blender, similar to the vita mix but not quite as powerful. Peach and strawberry are our favorites!

  4. You and your sweeties look ADORABLE! Love the hats! I love hats!!! They look good on everyone. Whatever happened to good looking, stylish hats these days? I wear fashion hats anyway, and straw hats when we are on holiday. We must bring them back into fashion, for both ladies and gentlemen!
    Sorry to hear that the heat bothers you, I know what you're going through. Have you ever tried wearing cooling pads on your stomach underneath your clothes? They are a blessing. I found some Japanese cooler patches for fever, they are jellyish, cool, refreshing, awesome. I highly recommend them.

  5. I have frozen bananas to use later in smoothies, but after about a week they turn dark and mushy in the freezer. Am I doing something wrong? Do your bananas stay yellow and firm?

  6. It was wonderful reading this made me a bit envious that I have no where to go to get great organic deals on fresh produce, I would LOVE to can all of those goodies and freeze stuff!

    Looks like we will be getting another freezer also. We just got our pig back from the butcher and after organizing everything into the freezer I cannot imagine where 150 meat chickens are going to go! Ahhh!

    Loved the Mother-Daughter tea pictures! Sounds like it's been a wonderful week :) Thanks for the update and praying for a continued healthy pregnancy !

  7. What I love about Solomon is that he always seems to be touching the person when he's on a picture. Right here he's got his arm around his brother's shoulders. He must be such a good big brother for them all !

  8. I'm curious as to how you make ice cream in your vita mix. Do you just blend then freeze? I have a vita mix and would love to try it!

  9. Chrissie, do you leave them in the peeling or do you peel and then freeze. No idea what Zsuzsanna does, but I peel, cut up, and then freeze... I think freezing them with the peeling left on turns them all black and yucky.

  10. Bananas are not meant to be frozen unfortunately. Older bananas are OK for smoothies but in the freezer their texture and color gets so nasty that would not even use them as a dough ingredient. I haven't tried freezing green bananas though. I wonder.

  11. Freezing bananas: I just peel them and pop them in a freezer bag whole.

    I have never had issues with them turning brown or gross, but then, we keep the freezer very cold. Maybe that is why? Because if the outside were to get even slightly soft, I agree, it would probably turn brown and mushy.

    In the picture of the freezer above, the bananas are on the top left shelf. They were frozen over 2 weeks before the picture was taken, and still look exactly the way they did when I first took them out of their peels.

    If you have a Food Saver, you could vacuum seal them before freezing them.

  12. Making ice cream in the vitamix: I start by adding about 1/2 cup of milk, or about 3/4 cup of cream (depending on how thick it is) to the blender, plus honey and vanilla if I am using it. I blend that on low first to mix it well.

    Then I add frozen fruit, such as bananas and strawberries, probably about 2-3 cups worth. Turn the blender on low, increase speed to the highest, and use the plunger to keep pushing the fruit into the blades. It's hard to explain, you just kind of have to experiment. The blender will make a different noise when the ice cream is done (about 20-30 seconds). If it is the right consistency, the ice cream will form 4 peaks, and not run out if you turn the blender over. If it is more runny than that, add more frozen fruit.

    For vanilla ice cream, I use about 3/4 to 1 cup milk/cream, honey, vanilla, dry milk powder and 4 cups ice cubes. For chocolate, add cocoa with the milk/cream.

    Do not attempt to make larger batches of ice cream at one time, though.

    If you have a costco membership, you could see if they have a vitamix roadshow near you. That's where I learned how to make the ice cream.

  13. Lovely photo of you and your beautiful girls! You are so blessed!

    I'm SO impressed with your fridge/freezer organisation! :)

    Note on the bananas: I once froze some with the skins on...when they defrosted they were mushy and horrible! Now I pell, cut up and they stay just fine in the freezer and I add them still frozen into my smoothies.

  14. I love the organic produce deals you get. It is so hard to find those kind of deals here. We picked strawberries which were not organic and they were pricey, $8 for only a couple of pounds. We love healthy ice cream in the VitaMix too! Blessings!

  15. I often freeze bananas. Our grocery store has them half price when they start to spot, so I buy up several bags of them at that time. I have found that they stay nice in the deep freeze - but when transferred to the self-defrosting top freezer in my kitchen (for convenience) they will turn brown. I just use them anyway for smoothies and they are fine.

    On ice cream - I haven't tried it as yet, but you can also use frozen banas for ice cream in a juicer. Not the kind with the basket - but the expensive ones (still saving for one of those.)

    On the jelly not setting - I had that happen before. (it was the Sure-gel) We used that jelly for topping ice cream or pound cakes - it was a happy accident as it made a great topping. I wouldn't mind if it did it again!


  16. I would love to have a mother daughter tea party it looks like so much fun , and I never knew you could freeze bananas , you just gave me something else to try :) Dawn .

  17. This is a very tardy comment, but as a devout supporter of home made strawberry jam I just wanted to add that in our family we've always used lemon pips instead of bought pectin. It works really well even in hot climates, but if the jam is being particularly stubborn and runny, a couple of slices of lemon peel can help it set.

    Might be of interest to you.


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