Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Best Present

Bree: "Mom, I have a present for you."
Me: "What is it?"
Bree (as she hugs me): "Love."

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Orange Cupcakes

I've been looking for new cupcake recipes to try, and I came across a recipe for orange cupcakes with gorgeous two-toned frosting.  I'm still working on the frosting skills, but I think they turned out really pretty.  The cake recipe itself was a little dry, but the frosting was delicious.  It's the same buttercream that I usually make, but with orange juice and orange extract in place of milk and vanilla:
Orange Frosting:

1 cup butter (substitute up to 1/2 cup shortening to keep frosting soft)
4 cups powdered sugar
2 Tbsp fresh orange juice
1 tsp orange extract

Beat together until fluffy and smooth.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Down to business

My friend Amy and I have talked for ages about starting some kind of business.  We feel it's a shame to let all our talents and brains go to waste (not that motherhood is a waste...far from it...we just want our efforts to reward us with cash).  So, we're gearing up to sell jams and jellies, and all sorts of cute girlie stuff at the...wait for it...local swap meet!  Hey, it's all we've got here.  It's our town's equivalent of a cute farmer's market.  And the rent can't be beat.  So today we got together and made 30 jars of Prickly Pear Jelly.  What a beautiful sight.  Next week we're tackling peach and raspberry jams.  And if you're in Globe the first Saturday of September, stop by the swap meet.  Ours will be the booth that actually looks appealing.

Will it take?

This is what's been going on in our house lately.  Mason is two and a half, and is beginning to make the potty connection.  He's been earning stickers like crazy, filling up his chart to earn tractor toys.  Still no sign of that elusive number two cooperating.  We'll just have to be patient with that.  Apologies to any visitors that may catch a glimpse of a half- or totally-naked boy.  We're working here.

Nice to have around

Chad decided to make dinner on Saturday.  Perhaps he knew that I wasn't in the mood to cook.  He may have been motivated to come up with his own alternative to the inevitability of another leftover night.  Whatever the reason, we had the most delicious teriyaki steak and chicken kabobs, with squash from our garden, onions, and yellow peppers.  Some guys volunteer to cook, and you get a gloppy spaghetti.  Chad volunteers to cook, and you get kabobs.  He sure is nice to have around.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Recent Videos

Bree riding on Uncle Mike's knee at Bar D Chuckwagon in Durango:

Riding the little train at Bar D Chuckwagon:

The kids on the water slide at Grandma Wilkinson's house:

Mason, the daredevil:

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The desert is delicious

Yes, that's desert, not dessert.  The desert may appear to be a barren wasteland at first glance, but despite it's intolerable summer heat, it's actually rich in natural food sources.  Not that I'd eat most of them unless I was pretty desperate, but the prickly pear cactus fruit is one exception.

During years where we get a good amount of rain (good means we're no longer measuring annual rainfall in single digits), the cactus fruit is plump and juicy, and this year's harvest was a good one.

I went to my mom's this week to learn the ins and outs of the picking and juicing process.  To start, you must be in the desert.  This is essential.  Locate a fruit-laden prickly pear cactus (not to be mistaken for a barrel or saguaro, which also bear fruit, but of a different kind).  You want to look for fruits that are large and dark red.  Use a pair of tongs to pick them, to avoid the need for bandaids later.

If the fruit is nice and ripe, part of the pear will stay attached to the cactus.

Pick until you have a bucket full.  Or three buckets full.  It just depends on how much juice you want (for every three gallons of fruit, I got one gallon of juice).
Dump the fruit into a sink full of water, to wash off the dust and bugs.

Wear rubber gloves (the kind you wash dishes with) when touching the fruit.  They're not called prickly pears for nothing.  They've got tiny needles that can cling to everything if you're not careful, but the dish gloves will protect your hands as long as you don't grip the fruit too tightly.

Cut each pear in half lengthwise, then in half again.

Dump the quartered fruit into the top section of a steamer.

A steamer is a wonderful contraption, and thankfully, between my mom and my grandmother, we had three going at once.  The fruit (whatever you're getting juice out of) goes into the top pot, which has a sieve-like bottom.  You fill the bottom with water, and as the water boils, the juice is steamed right out of the fruit...

and collects in the middle chamber like magic.

The fruit comes out sad and dessicated, devoid of color and life.  Throw it over the fence for the resident cows to eat.

Pour the juice through a finely woven cloth, to strain out errant slivers.  Notice the gorgeous color.  Store in a sealed container in the freezer until you're ready to make jelly (I personally like to save the jelly-making for cooler weather).

Prickly Pear Jelly:

Wash/sterilize and then heat 5 half-pint jars in a warm oven.  Heat 5 lids in water that is barely simmering.

Mix the following:
2 1/2 cups prickly pear juice
3 Tbsp lemon juice
1 package pectin
1 tsp butter

Bring to a boil.

Stir in 3 1/2 cups sugar.  Bring to a full rolling boil, and boil for three minutes.  Ladle into hot jars.  Wipe rims of jars with a clean damp cloth.

Place hot lids on jars, centering to ensure a good seal.  Screw lid bands on.  Turn jars upside-down onto a towel for five minutes to "process" (no need to mess with a boiling water bath).  Turn right side up and allow to cool and seal (you'll hear the lid pop when the seal is successful).  The jelly will keep in a cool pantry for at least a year.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Dan the Meat Man

It may sound strange but we buy all of our steaks from out of the back of some guy's truck.  A couple years ago I was working in my yard, and a man stopped his truck in front of my house, and very politely asked if I was in the market for a good deal on beef.  Normally I don't give door-to-door salesmen the time of day, but it just so happened that at that time I had been very disappointed with our local supermarkets' lack of ability to provide my family with high quality steaks for a good price.  Chad likes his steak.  And I'm pretty picky about steak quality.  So I gave the guy the time of day, and it turned out to be so worth it.  Meet Dan ("Just call me the Meat Man," he said).  He showed me his price list, and pulled a huge box of meat out of a freezer in the bed of his truck.  He opened the box, showed me all the types of steak that were inside, and talked about the benefits of the individually wrapped, vacuum-packed, flash-frozen steaks.  Guaranteed to taste fresh after a year in the freezer.  I was sold.  I love having a freezer full of food, but I hate to have food and money go to waste because of freezer burn.  So I wrote a check, and Dan carried the box down to the freezer under the house.  And oh, how we have enjoyed the beef.  Delicious T-bones and Kansas City steaks, tender bacon-wrapped Filet Mignon, my favorite New York strip, and the best hamburger patties I've ever tasted.  Honestly.  I don't have to stress at the grocery store, wondering if the steak I'm buying will taste any good, or if I'm just throwing my money away.  And I'm always just a quick grill away from a juicy steak dinner (you can even put the frozen meat on the grill if you have trouble planning ahead enough to defrost).  The huge box lasts us almost a year, depending on how carnivorous we feel, and by that time Dan has either made his rounds again, or I just call him up to ask for more.  Thank you Dan, for coming into our lives.  Our arteries may not thank you, but our taste-buds do.

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