Preparing for a “Perfect” Holiday Dinner

The holidays are rapidly approaching, my favorite time of year.  It’s the one time of year that I’m guaranteed to throw a dinner party.  Some people think that I’m crazy to want to host the whole thing myself, be it Thanksgiving or Christmas.  They find the whole affair quite stressful. There’s so much pressure to have everything be “perfect”.

I was surprised to find that some people only make these dishes on the holiday in question.  That’s not very much opportunity to practice, especially if it’s the first year you’re doing it.  I was fortunate to learn from my mom when I was a teenager, but even today, I’m always wanting to try new things.

Last year I did an experiment with my pumpkin pie.  I made one pie the old way and one pie the new experimental way.  I don’t recommend this for all dishes (nobody wants to make two turkeys).  It worked well for me because I was feeding a small number of people and I always make two pies anyway.

This year, I’m trying to improve on existing recipes.  I’ve never been quite happy with my makowiec recipe.  My current barzcz recipe also isn’t quite right for the traditional Polish Christmas Eve.  But, I don’t want to be making my new potential recipe the day of.  What if that one does not turn out well either?

So over the next month or so, I’m going to be practicing.  I’m starting with a new makowiec recipe and I’ll keep going until I find one I like more than my current one.  I will, of course, update as I test them out.  Please stay tuned.

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Adventures in Jelly making

You know grape jelly? That essential ingredient of childhood sandwiches and also the flavor of childhood medicine?  It has a very distinctive flavor that until recently I referred to as “fake grape” or “purple flavored”.  Despite purple being my favorite color, I hated that too strong taste.  And the actual grapes I had encountered in real life never tasted like that.  That’s probably true for a lot of people I think.  So imagine my surprise when I got grapes in my CSA basket.

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Aside from the fact that grapes aren’t commonly grown in Oklahoma, these were fragrant.  They filled up the kitchen with their scent once I got them home.  And you know what they smelled like?  Grape jelly!  Seriously!  I had true concord grapes sitting in my kitchen.

The first batch I took to a friend’s house to eat as a snack.  And they tasted all right, but they had these annoying little seeds in them.  Now I understand why they are typically made into jelly.

These were my first attempt at jelly making.  I normally prefer jams because you don’t have to worry about pectin and such generally.  I followed the recipe for Concord Grape Jelly with Green Apples from Canning for a New Generation.  The photos here are from my second, much smaller attempt.  The first attempt, I might have overcooked the jelly.  I won’t be sure until I open the jars.  This second batch I did not can; it went straight into the fridge when it was done.

Definitely put on your aprons for this one, and I wore gloves while cleaning and squeezing the grapes.

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One of the neat things about this recipe is that it uses green apples to boost the pectin content for the jelly.  I love this, because it feels more natural to me than buying a packet of instant pectin.  However, I have so little experience with jellies, that I’m not sure how it’s supposed to behave.  Jams seem a lot more straightforward by comparison.

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We tried this on toast the following weekend.  I might have also overcooked this one? The texture is strange compared to store-bought jellies.  It’s very spreadable and soft, and Andrew and I prefer it to the clumpy nature you usually see.

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Left: store bought cherry “spread” Right: homemade grape jelly

If anyone has experience making jellies, I’d love to know. I tried googling, but it seemed that for most people overcooked jelly went to hard candy mode and I didn’t see a lot of photos of the finished product being used.

Returning to Blogging

It’s been almost a year since I last posted to this blog.  In my last reboot, I gave the site a makeover, and thought I was going to move in a more food blog direction.  But, even though most of my projects are kitchen projects, very few of them were my own idea.  It was mostly me trying somebody else’s recipe.  I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, but generally, I want to contribute something new when I post stuff to the internet.  This makes me a lurker on a lot of the communities I frequent (including Facebook).

So that is  part of the reason I haven’t been posting.  I’ve been thinking carefully about whether or not to come back, and what kind of things I want to post if I do come back.  I’m not sure I have an answer.  I like posting to my blog. I feel like it offers a more long-form venue than Facebook or Twitter.  But I want to feel like I’m writing something interesting to other people, and not just echoing other people.  I’m not an activist, and I’m the first to admit that I’m not the most creative person.  So what then does someone like me write about?

I’m not quite sure yet. I spend a lot of my time on the internet, reading blogs, collecting projects and recipes.  I check out library books.  I work long hours during the week, and my weekend projects tend to be food related.  Lately, I’ve been focusing on exercising, eating well, and meditation.  I’m getting to a place where I feel really on top of my life right now.  So I want to add blogging again.  And NaBloPoMo (like NaNoWriMo, but for blogs) seems like good timing.  I hope you’ll find my new posts interesting enough to keep following.

If you have any ideas for content you’d like to see, please leave a comment or use the contact form on the side.

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Late post today, so just a quick photo of our Halloween/Fall decorations.  I carved the one on the left and my husband did the one on the right.  Sadly, we carved the pumpkins too early and they didn’t actually make it to Halloween.  So, for next year’s Halloween, carving will happen the day before or the day of.  I’ll have a longer post for tomorrow.

 

Exercising your Right to Vote

So, in case it isn’t obvious, I live in the U.S.  On Tuesday, we’re having elections.  However, since it’s not a presidential election, it doesn’t tend to get the same amount of focus.  But these elections are just as important as the presidential ones.  Now, I’m not a political scientist or anything, but from my perspective, the members of congress have just as much power making laws as the president.  That’s kind of the point.  They are the voice of your state on the national level.

More important that, though, are the state and local elections.  Your state governor and state legislature have more say on your day-to-day life.  They’re the ones making the laws that directly affect you, from education funding to taxes.  And yet, so many people don’t participate in these elections.

So, I’d like to take one of my 30 days of posting to encourage you to go vote.  I also would like people to make informed votes.  Please don’t just fill in bubbles randomly and even if you’re part of a party, think about why you’re voting for someone!  Here’s some links to help you research:

  • Some states have electronic sample ballots online.  Check your county election board website to see if that’s the case.  These are typically available a couple weeks before the election.
  • I Side With – This website is a great way to get started.  You take a quiz on major issues, along with rating how important each issue is to you, and it will show you what candidates in the major races align with your results.
  • Politics1 – This website can be a little hard to navigate, but if you search for your state, they list the candidates, with links to their websites.
  • I also found googling your state, 2014, and the name of the race also helps find information.

After this, you should have very few excuses for not voting.  Depending on your state, you may have needed to be registered a couple weeks ago.  So, that’s a valid reason, I guess.  But you really should participate in your next election.  The point of democracy is for everyone to have a voice in our government and you should exercise it.  People don’t participate enough, especially in their local elections.

Rebooting in 3…2…1…

Wow, has it really been over a year since I last posted something to my blog?  Crazy!  So much has happened, and I’ve been wanting to get back to writing.  It’s taken me a little while to feel like I could get some regular content happening, rather than the sporadic bursts I previously did. Then I found out about National Blog Posting Month or NaBloPoMo. It’s similar to National Novel Writing Month, but instead of writing a novel, you try to write a new post everyday. I don’t know if I’ll do every single day, but it seems like a good way to get back into the routine.

So, for my first post, we have some catching up to do. The biggest change in my life in the last year was that my husband and I bought a house!  With a backyard and everything.  It was a frightening and scary experience, and it may not be our forever home, but it’s more than comfortable for the two of us.  It’s been quite the learning experience as we adjust to the new place and the maintenance involved. I’ll have a post on a big project that we did out in the yard and in a few weeks we’re putting in some new trees.

I’ve also freshened some things up around here.  Obviously, the theme has been updated, but I want to customize it with my own photos.  The About page has also been updated with more details.

I’m very happy to get back to blogging.  Please look forward to more posts on my hobbies, goals, and, of course, food and recipes.