Jam Session

Today I made black raspberry jam. I make it a few times a year along with red raspberry and strawberry. We eat a lot of PB&J around here along with jam on bagels and toast. It is even used in my Christmas Linzer cookies. I am blessed to have a wonderfully thoughtful grandmother who cans organic berries in juice and gives it to me to make jams and jellies from. My grandfather grows and harvests the berries, my grandmother processes them into juice and I make jam. It is a family affair!

Here is a step by step tutorial on jam making, it is actually quiet simple and makes lots of jam. Make sure you gather all of your supplies before you start. This process goes fairly quickly but you cannot take your eyes off of it. And as a word of warning, don’t try to cut the sugar back to make this healthier – it is the sugar that allows the jam to set.

What you will need:
Tongs
Oven mitts for taking the jars out of the boiling water bath
8 small canning jars
8 brand new lids
8 metal rings
Approx 5 cups of crushed berries (whatever you like but strawberries, black raspberries, red raspberries all work well)
1 box fruit pectin (Any national or store brand)
Entire 5# bag of sugar (you won’t use it all but you will use a lot of it)
1/2 teaspoon of butter (optional)

Directions (taken from instructions in the fruit pectin box):

Wash all jars, lids and rings in the dishwasher right before starting this process. The jars should still be hot when you start. Put the lids into a small pot of boiling water and keep them there while you are making jam.

Bring boiling water to a simmer in a large stock pot.
Prepare your fruit using the charts included in the package of fruit pectin.

Measure exact amount of prepared fruit (or juice if you are making jelly) into a 6-8 quart saucepot. For black raspberry, I use 5 cups of crushed fruit in juice.

Measure exact amount of sugar into a separate bowl. For black raspberry, I use 6 1/2 cups of sugar but the chart on the fruit pectin will tell you how much sugar you will need.

Stir in 1 box of pectin into the fruit in the saucepot. Add 1/2 teaspoon butter to reduce foaming, if desired. I know this doesn’t look great but it is just the pectin powder floating on the top before I stirred it.

Bring mixture to a full rolling boil (a boil that doesn’t stop bubbling when stirred) on high heat, stirring constantly. This can take several minutes, be patient.

Stir in sugar quickly.

Return to full rolling boil and boil exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. skim off any foam.

Ladle quickly into prepared jars, filling to within 1/8 inch of tops. Wipe jar rims and threads with a damp cloth. Cover with metal lid and screw in ring.

Place jars upright in simmering pot of water and cover with 1-2 inches of water. Cover and bring to a gentle boil. Process jars for 10 minutes when making jam, 5 minutes for jelly.

Remove jars and place upright on a towel to cool completely. After jars cool, check seals by pressing middle of lid with finger. If lid springs back, the lid is not sealed and refrigeration is necessary.

New Years’ Goals

I do not make New Years resolutions. A resolution is a recipe for disaster and failure. Instead I make goals that are well defined and measurable. As you have read on this blog, our largest goal this year was to save 6 months worth of living expenses – to us that was in the neighborhood of $20k so we settled on the figure $20,010 for obvious reasons (being that it is 2010). I also had smaller goals this year, such as keeping up my exercise routine and starting this blog.

This week, John and I have been working on our 2011 goals and talking to the kids about setting their own 2011 goals. It is important to have something to aim at so that you keep trying to hit it. Without goals to push us on, we tend to get lazy and complacent. We are asking each child to make 5 personal goals for themselves this year. As we walk them through these steps we are hoping to teach them about making goals, defining them and putting a realistic plan into place in order to achieve success. They have already learned over the past 2 1/2 years of being a “Dave Ramsey” family that sacrifice is essential to hitting your goals. Nothing that was ever worth having comes easy.

As the New Year approaches, consider what your own goals are for 2011. Write them down, tell someone else about them so you are accountable and push yourself beyond what you consider to be reasonable. Then at this time next year, as you look back at 2011, you can see how far you have come and smile as you begin to plan even larger goals for 2012.

Seeing the potential in things….

What happens when my husband has a fallen tree and a saw? He can’t help but to see potential. In this case, a potential reindeer. He made this little guy in one afternoon with the help of my 9 year old daughter. He has taught both kids how to whittle wood with a pocket knife, so she whittled one of the leg joints. I even added my artistic flair, albeit much more limited, when I added the scarf one day when he looked particularly cold. Mr. Reindeer sits in our front yard and has attracted the attention and appreciation of several neighbors. He has even been a substitute horse for several neighborhood kids. I think this reindeer will remain in our yard even after the Christmas season, he is such a cheerful addition.

Some people would have seen the fallen tree as a liability. Something to be gotten rid of as soon as possible. But not John. He taught me a lesson when he brought me this little guy, to always be open to the see the potential in things. With the right attitude and a vision, even a fallen tree can be reborn into a little reindeer.

Barkley

Welcome the newest member of the Rodi family – Barkley!

Brittany has wanted a puppy for a long time now and not a day went by that she didn’t ask us for one. We had told her that we would get one next year but since we have 2 weeks off for Christmas break, now seemed a good time. So, last night she went on an outing with a friend and John made plans to get her a puppy for Christmas. He left work early and drove 90 minutes to get this cute little fur ball. He is 10 weeks old (born October 6th) and is a Lhasa Apso. Lhasas are a medium size dog (average 20 lbs), they do not shed and love to be loved one – exactly what my kids needed.

Here they are when they got home and found our newest edition:

This should be a fun Christmas! Merry Christmas from Barkley!

Mexican Wedding Cookies

Feliz Navidad!

Ok, I know it is stretch to call these a “Christmas Cookie” but these look like little snowballs which is how they made it onto my blog. This is a lightly sweet delicious cookie that is perfect with a cup of Joe. Super quick and simple to make too – especially if you have an egg allergy – no eggs in these!

Mexican Wedding Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more for coating baked cookies
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting hands
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped into very small pieces

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line cookies sheets with parchment paper or silpat.

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar at low speed until it is smooth. Beat in the vanilla. At low speed gradually add the flour. Mix in the pecans with a spatula. Using a cookie scoop or a Tablespoon form little balls.  Place onto prepared cookie sheets. Bake for 15-18 minutes. When cool enough to handle but still warm, roll in additional confectioners’ sugar. Cool on wire racks.

Be Rich.

We are rich. I am not sure if you knew that but we are. Rich is having more than you need. We have more shoes than we need, more clothes than we need, more food than we need – really more of everything than we NEED. That is the key – NEED.

Last night six people from my small group at North Point Community Church gathered at North Fulton Community Charities Santa Shop to help sort toys. We spent 2 hours taking in donations and sorting into piles by age group. What an uplifting experience! I was amazed at the amount of new toys, books, clothes and sporting equipment that was donated. There were at least 300 brand new bikes there! And this comes during a recession when the unemployment rate is at an all time high. People are so generous in their giving when people are in need.

Merry Christmas to all you rich people out there. Go out and do something with the stuff you have. Do something with your time. Do something with your money. Just put forth some effort and be a blessing in someone’s life.

Elf Antics

So, we have an elf that comes to visit our house each December. He normally shows up sometime after Thanksgiving and stays until Christmas Day. His name is Chris and he likes to make mischief. Every day and sometimes several times per day, he finds something to get into around the house. He has moved furniture, raided my pantry for snack and goodies, hung our underwear by the fireplace with care and anything else he can think of.

Last night, he made himself a little room and snuggled in for the night. It was very cold here last night so his choice of bed made sense – my dryer! I am not sure how he got in there or how long he has been sleeping in the dryer but there he was. The kids were thrilled to find him all warm and cozy.

Take a note from Chris and try to stay warm and cozy day today and stay out of trouble.

Christmas Morning Cinnamon Rolls

Yes, I know there are 10 days left until Christmas. And yes, I know that most people are overly worried about what they will serve for breakfast on Christmas morning. But since we are all friends here, I will let you in on a little secret. I like to have things done in advanced. So today I made cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning.

The trick is to freeze them. I am a big freezer. I have either genetically inherited my grandmother’s quirk for freezing everything or I learned it from her along the way or maybe a little of both. I am a firm believer that almost everything can be frozen as I am sure you will see in later posts.

These cinnamon rolls freeze beautifully and since you will be doing all the work now, there will be very little effort to put forth on Christmas morning. Take them out the night before and leave them on the counter to defrost. Pop them in the oven for 15 mins and you are piping hot fresh cinnamon rolls. Since my kids don’t like cream cheese icing, I cheat and slather on vanilla icing from a tub but I am also including the cream cheese icing recipe for those who are traditionalists.

Now, I can sleep well at night knowing that I will be able to  sit down on Christmas day with a hot cup of coffee and a soft cinnamon roll while listening to the sounds of my kids fighting with each other over who gets to play the Wii first. Ah, the joy of Christmas.

Unbaked cinnamon rolls

Clone of a Cinnabon

Ingredients

For cinnamon rolls dough:
* 1 cup warm milk (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
* 2 eggs, room temperature
* 1/3 cup butter, melted
* 4 1/2 cups bread flour
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 1/2 cup white sugar
* 2 1/2 teaspoons bread machine yeast

For cinnamon/sugar filling:
* 1 cup brown sugar, packed
* 2 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
* 1/3 cup butter, softened

For cream cheese icing:
* 1 (3 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
* 1/4 cup butter, softened
* 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
* 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
* 1/8 teaspoon salt

Directions

1. Place ingredients in the pan of the bread machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer. Select dough cycle; press Start.
2. After the dough has doubled in size turn it out onto a lightly floured surface, cover and let rest for 10 minutes. In a small bowl, combine brown sugar and cinnamon.
3. Roll dough into a 16×21 inch rectangle. Spread dough with 1/3 cup butter and sprinkle evenly with sugar/cinnamon mixture. Roll up dough and cut into 12 rolls. Place rolls in a lightly greased 9×13 inch baking pan. Cover and let rise until nearly doubled, about 30 minutes. Wrap in heavy duty aluminum foil and freeze them for later or preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
4. Bake rolls in preheated oven until golden brown, about 15 minutes. While rolls are baking, beat together cream cheese, 1/4 cup butter, confectioners’ sugar, vanilla extract and salt. Spread frosting on warm rolls before serving.

Salt Dough Ornaments

Crafts and Christmas go together like peanut butter and jelly! My kids love making these cute little ornaments to give to family, friends or just to hang on our tree. One of the best parts is that they are inexpensive and you probably have all the ingredients on hand in your pantry.

I am making 30 of these jewels this morning for the kids to decorate at my 9 year old daughter’s Christmas party tomorrow. These work well for almost all ages since the dough is all edible, even if it doesn’t taste very good. If you need a craft for a rainy, snowy or just cold day, try these and see what happens. Be sure to date them so you can look back at the work they did over the years. And as a bonus, they look so cute on the tree!

Baker’s Salt Dough Ornament Clay

Ingredients:

1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
1/3 cup water
Food coloring, optional

Directions: Mix all ingredients to form a dough. Add food coloring, if desired. Roll out and cut with cookie cutters. Make a hole in the dough using a straw, before baking. Bake at 275 degrees for 1 hour.  Once cooled, decorated using paint, glitter or markers. After decorating, tie on a ribbon to hang.

Undecorated Ornaments

Let it snow, Let it snow!

Ok, since we live in the South we don’t get much snow. So, if even one snowflake falls, my kids go crazy and want to get out the sled and begin making plans for building a snowman. It is crazy! They were so sure that school would be called off today since we got some snow flurries yesterday. Well, they are at school and I am making plans to surprise them with Monkey Bread when they get off the bus today. We have a tradition in our house that if snow falls, I will make Monkey Bread. I am not sure how this whole thing started since it is not hard to make Monkey Brad. Somehow my kids have determined that Monkey Bread can only be made if we have snow. Here is the recipe, it is easy and the kids gobble it up – not exactly health food but at least we only get snow a few times a year.

Monkey Bread

Ingredients:

1 can of refrigerated biscuits
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp. cinnamon
2 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup brown sugar

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.
  2. Melt the butter in a glass pie pan. Mix the brown sugar with the melted butter.
  3. Slice uncooked biscuits into quarters.
  4. Dip the biscuits into the cinnamon/sugar mixture, then place biscuits into the pie pan.
  5. Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes or until biscuits are done.
  6. Invert onto a plate before serving so all the sugary goodness drips down between the biscuits. Yum!