Tuesday, September 30, 2014

September Stuff

 1: For months I kept hearing, "They're building a Kneaders near us!" Um, a what? Apparently Kneaders is an awesome bakery I'd never heard of, but that would change my life. Well, it opened, and yes, my life is changed. I am fatter. Delicious sandwiches made on freshly baked bread, yummy bottomless cinnamon bread french toast, and a huge assortment of goodies. This particular box contains a peanut butter pie my mom bought for everyone to share one day...along with tarts, "croissants" (in quotes because they are SO not real croissants), and pretty much one of everything that looked good. Our favorites? The Napoleon, key lime pie, chocolate dome, and raspberry cream pie.
2: Chad loves reptiles. The first time we saw this house, before we even bought it, he said the built-in shelf in the loft would make a perfect spot for a terrarium. And when he found one for a great price at a yard sale, all that was left to do was fill it. He found this little guy in the desert one day. We kept him for a little while before Chad released him. Too skittish to make an actual pet.
3: I can't remember exactly why I snapped a photo of this plaque I saw at Kohl's. Probably because it describes me very accurately. And I'm not always silent about it either.
4: I was visiting a friend of mine, and when I saw her kids playing on this car (the youngest of whom is 6), I asked if she occasionally babysat a toddler. She laughed and said no, that her kids just loved it. But she decided it was time to let go, so she gave it to Lincoln! He LOVES it. You can see in the picture that he is taking his baby for a ride.
5 and 6: The range that came with this house was sub-par. The oven temperature fluctuated 100 degrees up and down, there was no window, no oven light, and there was only one large coil burner, which didn't work unless you hit it just right. We got a surprise early inheritance from my grandparents, which finally made a new range a possibility! The disgusting picture shows all the treasures I found when the old range was taken away: a long lost spoon, a toy car, 35 cents, 2 legos, 5 wine corks, and some cat food (the last two were leftover from the previous owner, which is awesome). I LOVE my new range! So much easier to cook and clean.
7 and 8: September 8th was a memorable day. "The kind of storm you'll tell your grandkids about," the headline said. More than 3 inches of rain fell in 24 hours, which is about half of our yearly rainfall in one day. We here in the valley can't handle that kind of precipitation, and consequently the roads were flooded, buses couldn't get through, and school was cancelled. Bree: "This is my worst nightmare, not being able to go to school." Mason: "This is the best day of my life!!!"
9: The view of the Sharing Down Syndrome Walk at Tempe Diablo Stadium. 4th year going, and lots of fun.
10: I'm not sure when exactly this picture was taken, but one of Bree's favorite things to do is go on walks with my dad in the desert. He has taught her about edible desert plants, and here she is helping him gather saguaro cactus fruit.
11: I noticed that peanut butter powder was on group special this month, and asked around hoping I could get other people interested so I could order the 12 can minimum. I ended up ordering 37 cans for 16 people! And that stuff is AWESOME in smoothies.
12: Lincoln is so little. SO, SO little. He makes me nervous climbing at the park, and I have to forcefully tell myself to just let him go for it. He has never fallen. He knows his limits, and he growing every day.
13: Is September 21st too early to decorate for Halloween? If so, clearly we don't care.
14: Mason: "I wanted to look like Duck Dynasty!"
15: I am obsessed with Febreze Air Effects. But this new Spiced Pear scent? It's obsession on a whole new level. (Not a paid advertisement)
16: I started a cooking group with a couple friends last month, and called it Amateur Chef (in homage to one of my favorite shows: Master Chef). This month Christie taught us how to make Hamam Ma'shi (stuffed hens) and Aish Baladi (Egyptian pita). So awesome! I LOVED the pitas. So easy, and delicious dipped in her dad's homemade hummus.
17 through 20: Snapshots from our visit to Vegas for Fall Break. The kids playing games with Grandma. Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay. Cousin Abby being so sweet to Lincoln. Grandma teaching Bree how to make her famous Chicken and Rice.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

4th Time Already?!

This year we participated in the Annual Walk for Down Syndrome for the FOURTH time. Somehow time has flown, and we are pretty well-versed in the special needs arena.

We've gone from dazed first-timers:

To old pros:

And we've had a bit of fun along the way.

And Lincoln's Heroes is still going strong:

Rock on Lincoln.
Saturday, September 20th

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Grape Jam

I'm not a fan of grape jelly--the kind from the store that spreads about as nicely as stiff jello might.

But grape JAM, made of concord grapes from a local friend's garden. THAT is delicious.

My family has become accustomed to homemade jam. It's my own fault, really. I usually make enough jam to last us through the winter. But I dropped the ball last year, and my kids complained when all we had was store-bought raspberry jam. We ate a lot of peanut butter and honey last winter.

This year, I decided would be a good jam year.

Armed with a box of grapes from my friends back in Globe, I got to work. Grape jam takes a little more work than something like raspberry. But it is worth it.

Wash your jars, and place them on a cookie sheet in the oven on its lowest setting, to keep them warm. Put your lids in a small saucepan with water, and heat over low heat (it should be just on the verge of simmering). Place a cooling rack or a towel on the counter near your stove.

Step 1:
After washing the grapes, put them in a pot with a cup of water, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes (if some of the skins slip off, don't stress, just throw the whole mess in--the skins provide the beautiful color so don't leave them out).

Step 2:
This next part is what separates the men (jam) from the boys (jelly). You'll want one of these babies:
It's my mom's heavy duty Champion juicer, and it has many uses (including grinding the wheat for the bread that I grew up on). I used it to squeeze all that grapey goodness out of my fruit, while removing the seeds...
So I'm left with a thick, wonderful slurry of grape puree. Not grape juice--that's what we'd use if we wanted jelly. But we're making jam, folks.

Step 3:
Combine 6 cups of grape puree with a box of Sure Jell (I use whatever type of pectin I have on hand, but I pay attention to the directions: measurements do vary).

Step 4: Bring to a rolling boil, then add 7 1/2 cups of sugar (this needs to be pre-measured in a separate bowl so it can be dumped in all at once).

Step 5: Bring to a rolling boil again, and boil for exactly 1 minute. (Sometimes I use an oven mitt; this stuff is super hot and can splatter)

Step 6: Take the pot off the heat, stirring for several seconds to ensure the jam doesn't scorch while the boiling subsides. Take your hot jars out of the oven, and place them on your cooling rack or towel. Ladle or pour the hot jam into the jars, leaving only 1/4 inch at the top (sometimes I break this rule, and skimp a little; it still works out fine).

Step 7: Wipe off the rims of the jars with a clean damp cloth to remove any jam that may have dribbled. Place the hot lids on the jars, and screw the rings on tightly. Flip the jars upside-down, and set a timer for 5 minutes. This will keep the rubber on the lids nice and hot, forming a seal (No, I don't do a water bath, and yes, the FDA would be shocked. But hey, what worked for my grandmother works for me.).

Step 8: After your 5 minutes are up, set your jars right side up, and allow them to cool undisturbed. Before long you'll hear random happy little popping sounds that will mean your lids are sealing.

This stuff is SO delicious. I've also made strawberry and raspberry jam, but I find myself reaching for the grape most often. I am finally converted to the almighty peanut butter and grape jam sandwich... but only if it's my homemade grape jam.
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