Saturday, August 29, 2015

In a Fig Jam

It's fig season!

Our neighbors have a fig tree that seems to yield nearly endless quantities of figs for a couple weeks each summer. We shared a few of our peaches with them, and they sent over a huge pan full of fresh figs. Yummy!

We couldn't eat them fast enough, so we decided to make a small batch of jam. I make some jams with added pectin and some without; since this was a small quantity and would be delicious with a soft set, I made it without.

I used this recipe from the National Center for Home Food Preservation:
  • 2 quarts chopped fresh figs (about 5 pounds)
  • ¾ cup water
  • 6 cups sugar
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
I cut it down to accommodate our smaller quantity of figs. But other than that, I don't screw around with jam recipes (including doubling them - larger quantities don't always work.) I usually consider recipes more general guidelines than hard and fast instructions, but anything preserved is a little different.  I preserve my jams in a boiling water bath, and that's only safe for foods high enough in sugar or acid. Messing around with those ratios can result in bacteria growth. For preserved foods, always use recipes from reputable sources.

That said - don't be intimidated by homemade jams and jellies! They're actually very easy to make. The flavors and textures are miles ahead of store-bought jam, which honestly usually tastes like purple sugar glop. Homemade jam is bursting with the flavors and textures of fresh fruit. And it keeps, so just a few batches will let you enjoy straight-off-the-tree flavors all year. 

First, sterilize the jars and lids in boiling water.

Maybe I'll just eat it all right now.

Chop the figs, and toss them in a large pot with the sugar and water. Bring it to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Let it boil until it starts to thicken, then add the lemon juice. Boil for another minute or two.
Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble!

To tell when jam without pectin is done, I use the sheeting test. Basically, I dip a metal spoon into the jam and then watch it drip off the spoon. When it comes off in sheets instead of individual drops, it's ready. (Learn more about ways to tell when your jam is done - including a picture of sheeting - here.)

Pour the jam into the hot, sterilized jars. Leave a little bit of room (called head space) in each jar. Put on the tops and rings, then pop them back into the boiling water. Processing times vary according to your altitude. I'm more or less at sea level, and I boil most jams for about 10 minutes. This recipe only called for 5.

Take the jars out of the boiling water and set them somewhere to cool. Now no touching for 24 hours! They will seal as they cool. If the seal fails on a jar or two, that's ok - just keep them in the fridge and eat them right away.

I might as well not have sealed our jars at all, because I don't think they're going to last very long!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Counter Culture

One more room off the checklist! We installed the counter top over the washer and dryer, completing the mudroom.

We used a reclaimed piece of marble that we found at Ballard Reuse for an incredible price. Because it's thinner than a normal slab and has initials scratched into it, we think its first life was as the wall of a shower.

Marble is already fragile, and the thinness of this piece made it more so. And we own exactly zero tools appropriate for working large pieces of stone. Some random guy also perusing the stone slabs gave us the rather terrifying advice that we should just toss it on our table saw and hold the garden hose over it. Despite (because of?) that brilliant idea, we decided to go with a pro on this one.

Not a professional.
So after hefting a giant stone slab around in the back of our Jeep, then letting it sit in the carport while we tried to find someone willing to do the work at a reasonable price, I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly and well it all came together once we got going. (By the way, if you're local and need some stone counters, Allen at Unique Tops does great work.)

Here's how it looked before:

And now ... drumroll please ...

Reincarnation is sweet.
I'm actually enjoying folding laundry now, which I guess officially makes me a boring old woman. BUT, I'm a boring old woman with an awesome laundry room. So there's that.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

One Clucky Day: A Chicken Tale

Once upon a time, Brett and Audrey brought home 7 baby chicks. Over the next several months, they raised their girls into fine young ladies.

Then, one fateful morning, they awoke to this sound:

Yes, lovely little ladies Henny Penny AND Blanche had grown up into beautiful young ... men.

So Brett and Audrey changed the roosters' names to Henry Penny and Stanley, and will probably have to send Stanley away from the other Golden Girls to go live with a friend.

The End.

(Or at least it had better be the end. No more gender surprises, please...)

Saturday, August 8, 2015

I Sewed Something!

I made a slipcover!

I've only had the fabric for this project for oh ... a year? Two years?  But I've been putting it off for the teeny, minor reason that I CAN'T SEW.

Okay, I can sew. Kind of. I can stick some pins in a hem and run it through the machine in a more or less (usually less) straight line. But accurately measuring, cutting, and neatly lining up the fabric in preparation for this event is usually beyond the limits of my patience.

So I won't give you a tutorial on how to sew a slipcover, because I absolutely refuse to admit how long it took me to make a basic rectangle. But I will show it off, because no matter how ridiculously overcomplicated and fraught I made this process, I actually did make a halfway decent slipcover!

Saturday, August 1, 2015


The. Kitchen. Is. Done.


We just put up the final piece, the pantry door. The kitchen came with a nifty pull-out pantry, but it was missing its front. It's a custom size, so we couldn't find an off-the-rack cabinet face. But making it ourselves is better anyway, since we can do something unique and fun.

First, we cut a piece of white melamine to fit the door opening. Then we sealed up the cut edges with iron-on edging for a seamless look. We had talked about making the base door more elaborate, but our kitchen cabinets are simple flat fronts. This matches, and also blends nicely into the wall when closed. It's pretty slick.

And a simple door gave us space to play with funky handles. When we stumbled across a three foot long wooden fork and spoon at a salvage shop, I had to have them!

And you know I had to paint them red.
These were meant to be wall hangings, not handles, so we had to do a little tweaking. We used scrap wood to create spacers behind them, so they would look and feel right when mounted. Then we bolted the entire assembly to the door.

Brett contemplates an extremely large plate of spaghetti.
Also, yes, we are using the patio furniture as a sawhorse.
Once the door was built, I figured our work was basically done. This was, naturally, completely wrong. Since this isn't the way a door was meant to be installed on the pantry (and I think there are some pieces missing to boot), we had to get very creative with our installation.

Attempt #1. Cue imminent failure.
First, Brett tried stacking up some boards on the floor, so we could keep the door aligned with its closed position as we opened it up and screwed into the back. This made perfect sense in theory. Of course in theory, our floors would be level. In practice, they're so pitched they could make you seasick. If I ever lose my marbles, I'll know which corner of the house to search.

Time for Attempt #2.

So far, so good.
Our new strategy was to make a paper template of the door, marking the exact places we  needed to drill pilot holes for the screws. We cut the template carefully, then slowly and meticulously taped it into place and marked it. We had everything all set to drill. We laid the template against the back of the door.

That's when we realized we'd marked it upside down.

Classic Audrey and Brett style.

Time to walk away for a little while...
After having a minor nervous breakdown, we taped it back up in the correct direction (now with large arrows drawn in marker) and repeated the process.

After much adjusting, kerjiggering, and hefting, we finally got the door installed in just the right spot. And it was so worth it!

Food tastes more delicious when it comes from this pantry.