Thursday, August 18, 2011

Fancy Free in Frederick

Last weekend Sean & I took a drive out to Frederick, Maryland's second largest city. It's a great little town, full of 19th century architecture, cool shops and tons of great restaurants.

We had a walk around their Carroll Creek Promenade, and came across the amazing Community Bridge. The plain concrete bridge was painted by a number of local artists in trompe l'oeil. The effect is so well done, you have to touch it to break the spell. There are dozens of hidden symbols within the paintings, see if you can find some! Here are a couple of pics:

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Full House

I write this morning from an allergy induced stupor that just inspired me to open up a cookbook, mistaking it for a laptop, and start typing in it. Needless to say, the autosave function was not so great. And folks, this is me before medication.

The past month was a busy one, and also super awesome; my in-laws came to stay with us. All of them.

So for most people, the idea of having their in-laws stay with them, in their home, is the stuff of nightmares. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't been a little worried. After all, since we used to live about 5000km apart, I'd only seen them on a handful of occasions. Plus, we'd invited the five of them to stay with us, in our 2 bedroom apartment.

All my worries melted away as soon as they arrived. It was so good to have family around and the apartment seemed to expand like a wizarding tent to contain us all comfortably. The week flew by much too fast as we enjoyed trips to the zoo & aquarium, science centre, fancy dinner out and family dinners in. Our nephew Sawyer was a pleasure to have around; he's so crazily well behaved and fun to do things with. Some of my favourite parts of the week were having a girls day out shopping with my sister-in-law & mother-in-law, and getting caught in a freaking monsoon at the zoo where everyone got soaked to the skin, jumped in puddles and laughed their asses off. Now that's family bonding.

We even got a couple of family pictures this week! Quite the feat as several of the subjects are notoriously camera shy.

I'm looking forward to our next family get together, which is only a few months away, and hope they'll all visit us again really soon!

The one not so good thing that transpired from the week was that our cat Max got really pissed off (pun intended) at having his kingdom invaded. He got his revenge by peeing behind our bed. I don't know when this happened (soo sorry Donny & Susan!) and if it affected our guests who might have been too polite to mention it, or if he waited until everyone was gone to let us know what he thought of us. Of course, to get back there to clean we have to remove the mattress and partially deconstruct the headboard and bed frame as it's too heavy to move. Next time, we'll have goldfish.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

This is My Jam Song!!

As some of you may know, I am a huge jam fan. I don't eat it very often, but when I do I love thick, sticky, lumpy jams like my Grandma Betty used to make. 

My Grandma used to make awesome jams. I have wonderful memories of staying with my grandparents for the weekend, and when I woke up in the morning my Grandad would make oatmeal, and Grandma would make me toast. There was a little jam caddy that would be brought to the table, usually with either plum or apricot jam, and we'd enjoy breakfast together listening to classical music on the radio and watching rainbows dance across the table. The rainbows were made by a little table lamp with a crystal base that my Grandma would bring to the table every morning just for that purpose.

Until last fall, it had been 20 years since I'd tasted jam like my Grandmother's. Sean & I stole away to Salt Spring Island for a long weekend to partake in their apple festival. The weather was not great, but we stayed at a very comfortable little bed & breakfast (really, you should go there) and drove around to the various apple farms to sample their crops and buy apples & preserves. At one of these little farms, I bought a jar of plum jam from someone's great-aunt and it took me back to my childhood. I even composed a song in honour of the jam, which I will sing for you one day if you get me very, very drunk.

I stumbled upon a blog last week (The Hip Girl's Guide to Homemaking) with a foolproof Plum Lemon Jam recipe. Later that week at the farmers' market I came across the first of the plums; some tiny red ones little bigger than cherries. I already had some unwaxed apples from the organic grocer (for natural pectin), as well as sugar and lemons. It was serendipity. I picked up a canning kit on the way home and got busy! The aforementioned blog recommended Tigress in Jam's blog for instructions on hot water bath processing which were extremely helpful.

Things I learned from my first foray into canning:

Horrible mess.
  1. Pick bigger plums. I had a bitch of a time pitting ten thousand little MFing plums to get enough by weight for the recipe. Bigger plums!
  2. If using apple peels for pectin, peel the whole apple in one long curl. Otherwise, when the jam is done you're stuck picking through the dark purple goo trying to tell the difference between apple skins (bad) and plum skins (good). The answer; there is no difference. Oh well, this batch might be a bit chewy.
  3. Steam is hot and steam burns are ouchy. Wear oven mitts even when you don't think you need them.
  4. Keep a full, boiled kettle on hand in case you need to top up the canner.
  5. It's very easy to make a horrific mess, so plan your space accordingly, and have everything you need on hand.
  6. It's not that hard to do. Sure, my jam will not be winning any awards, but it won't be giving anyone botulism either!

Here's the finished product! I'm happy to relate that all the jars sealed, so they should last a little while... so long as I can show some restraint.

By the way, the author of one of the blogs I referred to has their own book!

The Hip Girl's Guide to Homemaking: Decorating, Dining, and the Gratifying Pleasures of Self-Sufficiency--on a Budget!