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Happy 2nd, Adella

Two years ago, today, I was waiting outside a door for my sister to give birth to her stillborn daughter. Her angel daughter. She had found out just a few days before that her baby wouldn’t be growing older in this life. She had graduated to the Celestial Kingdom. It’s funny how much and how little can change in 2 years. Adella now has a sister who is growing leaps and bounds and screams and giggles and scowls. But not much else has changed.

I just wanted to share one memory, since I didn’t blog anything while all of this was happening. It’s reserved for my journal.

My siblings and I stepped into the hall for what we thought was a routine check to monitor progress. We weren’t planning on staying for the hard part, since that’s something we figured she’d want to do without a whole gaggle of people. But the routine check dragged on. At one point, the nurse came out and looked so sad and angry and urgent. All of her emotions must have been clashing inside of her. I don’t expect nurses have to deal much with the sad side of delivery, and I think it hit that nurse. Plus, things had escalated a little too quickly, and I don’t think the nurse had time to prepare. Since we had no idea what was happening, we waited in the hall. After a while, we were pretty sure that this was the part we weren’t planning on being here for, but it didn’t seem right to leave, so we just kept waiting. I am grateful for my perspective from the floor in the hall. I got to see the nurses. The hospital has this signal where they tape a picture of a flower to the door to notify the nurses of the situation without drawing attention to the mother and her pain. I will never forget the face of one nurse, as she left the supply closet and saw the door. You could see how much she ached for my sister, even though she didn’t know who she was. I’m glad the hospital had such a signal in place. And I’m glad that instead of having to deliver a still baby in the labor and delivery, they have these sad deliveries in the recovery section. It’s quiet there. No celebrations for all the mothers who get to take their baby home.

I’ll also remember a head full of blonde hair and paper-thin skin. She was real. She had a body. And now she is waiting in heaven.

Happy 2nd birthday, Adella. Do a couple of twirls for me.

Love, Aunt Keira

A Day in the Life

random thought of the day

So I’ve been killing time watching Chopped and I realized how much a mom’s job is like being a contestant on Chopped. You open the fridge and see what is in there to use for dinner. You have a time limit because your family will start a revolt. You present your dish before a panel of judges with picky (distinguished?) tastes. And if you don’t make it look good, you better believe they’re not going to touch it.

Canning/Harvest, Recipes

Classic Apple Fruit Leather

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Classic apple fruit leather is probably the easiest fruit leather you’ll ever make. It’s a good place to start if you’ve never made leather before. The reason it’s so easy? It’s simply applesauce poured into your dehydrators.

Since this leather is so easy, I’ll take the time here to discuss dehydrators. I have a Nesco dehydrator. I wish it were square. My grandmother’s was rectangular. My mother assures me that round is the best drying power because of the hole in the middle, and an even distribution from that hole. I don’t know. I still wish it were square like this one, but she’s probably right. There’s just no good way to keep a pie-shaped fruit leather in nice rectangular roll. My mom says I’m being silly. Isn’t dried-thoroughly better than cut-square? She’s probably right. But in the meantime, I usually just store mine in pie wedges. I bet if I sliced them a bit thinner, my kiddo would eat them better, because believe it or not, a whole pie shape is a lot of fruit to swallow. She’d probably eat them better if instead of dividing the dry fruit-leather pie into 5 sections, I divided it into 15 sections.

My dehydrator says to dry fruits at 135º. The internet says to make it 140º. Following either instruction will leave me with something rubbery and very undesirable. It dries the outside too quickly and leaves the centers still gooey and moisture-laden. Moisture means mold and spoilage. Bad news. I dried my leather between 115 and 125º, depending on the thickness. It actually took less time to dry at that temperature, because the dry was more thorough. It didn’t have to fight a hard crust to get to the moisture.

That brings up another point… Most ovens don’t go below 170°. I’ve never made fruit leather in an oven. I have heard it can be done, but I don’t know what happens to shelf-life. From what I can understand from the process, it will either shorten self-life greatly or it will give you a tough hart-to-chew product. The internet is full of how to dehydrate in an oven. Most say cook at 175º for 2-4 hours, checking after 1 hour. I think the oven is good in a pinch, but you really should consider a dehydrator if you like the idea of homemade fruit leather. It will give you safer results.

Also note, these recipes are the right size for my dehydrator trays. You may need to adjust the amounts for your own individual trays/drying methods.

Now, on a more specific note, classic apple leather is my daughter’s favorite. She likes things plain and simple. I personally think it’s kind of… boring. But if your kid (or you) like boring, you may love this leather.

The recipe? Just 1 1/2 c of applesauce. Smooth it onto the tray in as even layer as you can get. The smoother you can get the applesauce, the better it will dry. I think it’d be perfect for getting the layer smooth. My spatula doesn’t quite cut it for me. It works for now, but I’d like an upgrade.

I don’t have any fruit leather trays, and I am on the fence about getting them. Sometimes the food just sticks to them. Instead, I take a square section of parchment paper, place it over the dehydrator tray to mark where I need to make a few cuts to fit over the center vent and then mark the edge of the tray, as well. (I just set it on the tray and rub my fingers over the tray and let a crease form, then I use that as a guide to cut. It’s an imperfect art, but I like the results. I also don’t cut the center all the way off, but make lots of slits, so that if anything is runny, it has less of a chance of falling through the layers. That’s a mess.

 

Classic Apple Fruit Leather
Cuisine: snack
Author: Keira @ Searchforseven.com
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 c applesauce
  • Other tools:
  • dehydrator
  • Parchment paper (or fruit-leather trays)
  • spatula or bench scraper
Instructions
  1. Spread the applesauce evenly on the dehydrator tray lined with parchment paper
  2. Turn dehydrator on and let it do it’s work for 6-8 hours. I start the dehydrator in the morning and turn it off in the afternoon or evening, depending on when it’s done.
  3. Cut the leather into desired strips or sections. somewhere between 5-15 sections is ideal.

 

 

 

A Day in the Life

My friendly bird

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This little birdie likes to sing to me from my window. I have a feeling that isn’t about to change.

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I’ve done my research, he’s a red-shafted northern flicker (here’s another link). Apparently only the males have the red on the face. and I know I shouldn’t be happy to have a woodpecker hanging out in my trees, but I don’t really care. Yet, anyway. I haven’t seen much damage from him. And it sounds like if I start to hear him pecking my trees instead of singing to me in the mornings, all I’ve gotta do is give him a man-made bird house and he’ll leave the trees alone. Why do all the work when your shelter becomes free? Otherwise, he’ll keep the bug problem down. We have tons of ants in the summertime (so far I haven’t seen any inside, but we moved in during the fall).

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I never really see him anywhere besides my front window and occasionally a tree out front. I’ve never seen or heard him peck anywhere, even when he is hanging out in a tree, so I’m not worried about him, too much.

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He’s kind of hard to spot in this picture. Do you see him?

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Anyway, until I decide he’s destroying anything, I’ll just listen to him crooning outside my window.

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Canning/Harvest, Recipes

Lemon Pectin (citrus Pectin)

Having food allergies has taught me so much. It’s also led me to so many doors I otherwise would not have passed through. I never thought I’d be the type to WANT to make homemade pectin, because I didn’t much care for jam. Come to find out, what I didn’t care for was the pectin. It has corn syrup solids in it (called dextrose). No wonder I’d always thought jam was too sweet. I have made preserves, instead, for years, but my husband misses jam. And preserves are not easy! They require standing over a hot stove all day, usually in a hot month. They fog up my windows and the humidity lingers. And they just plain take forever. Still good, though. Just lots of work.

Interestingly, my daughter hated jam as much as I did, but when she tasted some without the added dextrose, she told me instead, “Well maybe I like jam… but only if you make it.” Someday, kid, you’re going to actually put two and two together. Hates marshmallows unless mom makes it… corn. Hates jam unless mom makes it… corn. Not a big candy fan… corn. Kid, you have a corn allergy, too!

I think she doesn’t want to put the pieces together yet. Especially because her other biological relation already ignores her other, clearly tested, and serious allergies. If she recognized this one, she’d have to starve for 2 days.

I’ve made apple pectin before, and if I had to pick just one method, I’d go with citrus from now on. It worked easier and I could see results faster. If you’ve got lots of green, unripe apples, though, you may want to look into the other pectin.

During canning season, I go through lots of lemons. That is one other thing that I have to do now because of allergies. Bottled lemon juice contains a sulfate. Sulfate-anything makes my mouth go numb and my throat swell up. Not a good combo. Plus, fresh lemons are so much better for you. I know that canning people usually say avoid lemons because you can’t guarantee the pH, but I’d rather not die from anaphylaxis . Some day, I might find a way to check the pH of my food and then find out what it’s supposed to be in canning, but I don’t know where to start; which always leaves me spinning in circles. I feel like Captain Jack Sparrow trying to find a certain chest when he doesn’t know what he wants. “Ah! A heading. Set sail in a… uh… a general… that way! direction.”

but I digress. Lemon pectin. Love it. Will never buy a box again. Easy-peasy.

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In order to help you understand, lets take a second and go over the parts of a citrus fruit. Biology lesson. Okay, these are not the terms you’d find in a biology textbook. But you would find them in old cookbooks.

partsoflemon

    • Zest: the oily coating on the outside of a lemon, lime, orange, or other citrus fruit. The part of the rind that has the color to it. Strong, potent flavor. Used in essential oils. It really only becomes zest after it’s been grated off of the lemon, but peel becomes so ambiguous and jumbled as part of the rind, that for my purposes, we’ll call it zest.
    • Pith: the white squishy part of a citrus fruit. Contains the most pectin. Pretty flavorless. Most often discarded (what a shame).
    • Fruit: the piece of a citrus most commonly used. Contains the juice and the pulp inside of membranes dividing the fruit into sections. Most often used for both consumption and juices.
    • Pips: the seeds. I don’t know why they’re not just called seeds, but pips sounds fun. Especially when you want both the pips and the pith.

It will be WAY easier on you to grate/peel the lemons first, before you do anything else. Seriously. And before you do THAT you will want to wash/scrub your fruit. You can’t be sure of how carefully that fruit was cared for or what is on the peels.

I took a regular peeler to my citrus, but you can get the colored skin off however you would like. I wish I had a channel knife zester (affiliate link. I have no proof that this is a good choice). There are so many uses for the zest. I, however, have not come up with enough ways yet. I’ve added the lemon zest to lemonade, before. That was great. I also want to learn how to candy them and such. My sister makes cleaners out of them. I haven’t tried that. I have dried them, but when I do dry them, they just sit there. Unused. Unloved. Wasted. I confess, this year, most of them ended up in my compost. Baby steps. Next year, I’ll try harnessing the lemony powers of goodness into something… good.

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anyway, after you’ve peeled the citrus (as you can see most of mine is lemons and limes. It was salsa season. Grapefruits work amazingly, too. So much pith, it only takes a few of them. Plus they have a milder flavor. probably because you get more pith and less oil residue), juice them and use the juice for whatever you had in mind. Or bottle it. I’ve seen recipes, but I haven’t tried it. You will need some lemon juice for your pectin, so it’s nice to have lemons in the bunch, no matter what other combination you have in mind.

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The more color you remove from the lemon, the better off you are. You can still see quite a bit of color on my citrus, but I’m not particularly worried about a lemon/lime taste in my jams.

After you’ve isolated the pith, throw in the pips (the seeds. They have tons of pectin, too). and add everything to a food processor. Chop, chop, chop.

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When you’re done, you’ll end up with something that looks like this:

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Now you have the base for your citrus pectin.

Measure out your pith into 8 ounce batches. Add 1/4 cup of lemon juice, and let it sit at room temperature for two hours. Then add about 2 cups of water and let it sit another hour. Transfer everything to a pot and rapidly bring it to a boil (stirring as needed). Once it boils, turn it to a simmer, and let it simmer for 15 minutes. Remove it from the heat and let it cool in the pan for about 20 minutes.

Then send it through a jelly bag or a few layers of cheese cloth (sorry, I lost my picture of this part of the process). If you squeeze the bag you will definitely get more pectin out of it (and I often find that it’s the pectin that will congeal the best), but your jellies will be cloudy. I don’t know why people care, but some do.

Test your pectin. To do this, I like to scoop out a spoonful and chill it in the fridge, so it cools faster than the rest of my pectin. Sources say you can’t test it when it’s warm (though I have gotten citrus pectin to set up even when warm. Never apple pectin, though), and then add a splash (my grandma’s terms) of rubbing alcohol over it. If it sets into a semi-solid blob that you can get onto a fork, you’re set. If not, reduce it down a little bit more (I’ve never had to do that with citrus, but I have had to do it with the apple pectin. Now you know why I prefer citrus pectin).

To Store:

Either bottle (which I’ve never done) or freeze your pectin. To freeze, measure into an ice cube tray. I know that each of my cubes will be about 1 1/2 Tbs. When solid, remove from trays and add to a freezer bag (they’re still kind of sticky when frozen. That’s not a bad thing. That’s pectin that works). It should store for 6 months to a year.

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My sources tell me that to bottle it, re-heat the pectin until just below a boil, fill sterilized jars with 1/2″ headspace, and then process for 15 minutes, depending on your altitude. I haven’t tried it. It seems a waste of cooking time to bottle pectin.

To Use:

Here’s where it gets tricky. With a box of pectin, it tells you exactly how much sugar to use, how much fruit to use, and how much pectin to add. With homemade pectin, it’s all a bunch of variables. Your pectin is different based on each individual fruit. I would definitely use a box pectin a few times until you know what you’re looking for (although, really, sometimes they vary, too. I’ve got some syrup downstairs in my fruit room that was supposed to be jelly. I also have some really soft-set jams. Both from store-bought pectin).

The most important bit is to add the pectin before you boil your fruit (I think store-bought pectin is added after). You’re going to need a whole lot more pectin than you add from a box, too. A good place to start is 3 tablespoons (for me, that’s 2 pectin cubes) per cup of fruit. You may still need to add some fresh lemon juice as you’re making pectin, but with this recipe, you get a head start because it’s already in the pectin. You could need up to a whole cup of pectin.  You will need to keep track of how much pectin to add because a good rule of thumb is equal parts pectin and sugar (more sugar, to taste). It all depends on how hard of a set you have. To test your fruit to desired thickness, freeze a plate in advance, and when you’re ready to test your jam/jelly, take a spoonful and drop it onto the plate. You need to be able to run something through it and it takes a while to re-fill the space. This is a soft set. If you want a really firm jelly, you will want to let it set on the plate, and then touch it. If it wrinkles, it’s good.  I’m impatient. I don’t want to wait for it to cool, because then the jelly in the pan is cooked much beyond the jelly I tested on the plate, so I usually keep track of how thick it is and how long it takes to lose its shape.

 

If all of this is just too much work for you, you can just throw a few pips, or a mixture of chopped pith and pips into a cheesecloth pouch and add it to your boiling jams/jellies. I like something I wont have to fish out, though. And I like to adjust the amounts as needed. both are harder with throwing in a bag. You get much less control.

 

Citrus Pectin
Recipe Type: canning
Author: Keira @ Searchforseven.com
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 1 batch
Making pectin from citrus peels. Easy Peasy.
Ingredients
  • 8 ounces chopped pith/pits from citrus fruit
  • 1/4 c lemon juice
  • 2 cups water, any temperature
Instructions
  1. Measure out your pith into 8 ounce batches.
  2. Add 1/4 cup of lemon juice, and let it sit at room temperature for two hours.
  3. Add 2 cups of water and let it sit another hour.
  4. Transfer everything to a pot and rapidly bring it to a boil (stirring as needed). Once it boils, turn it to a simmer, and let it simmer for 15 minutes.
  5. Remove it from the heat and let it cool in the pan for about 20 minutes.
  6. Send it through a jelly bag or a few layers of cheese cloth
  7. Can multiply recipe.