For the Book Recipes

4 Important Canning Basics No One Talks About

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Read more about my passion for canning: Orange Marmalade RecipePlum Jam Recipe  and Homemade Chicken Stock Recipe

The biggest challenge in canning is overcoming the fear that you are going to screw up. I remember reading a handful of articles that scared the daylights out of me talking about unsanitary canning and botulism. I didn’t want to can because I was scared I was going to poison my family or waste 20 pounds of tomatoes.

Canning on the surface seems like a great deal of work, but it’s a hobby that I enjoy. I like that I can experiment with recipes and try different things while saving a little money and lowering the amount of processed food and chemicals my family is eating and ingesting. One of the biggest myths about canning is that it is time consuming. If you are organized in your efforts and love to multi-task, canning might just be your thing.

I decided to write about 4 “canning secrets” that are often overlooked in blogs, articles and other resources. If you are new to canning, these are 4 areas that you need to pay attention to because they are used most every time you are canning. The recipes are really secondary.

 Step 1: Sanitize Your Jars, Lids and Rings

I sanitize my canning equipment with a pressure cooker. I picked this up years ago at Wal-Mart. Your local Ace Hardware, big box home improvement store or Wal-Mart should have these on hand. You can also use a pot. I like the pressure cooker because it seems to work faster and alerts me to when the jars are sanitizer by “whistling.”

Place about 1/2 inch of water in the bottom of your pressure cooker. Place the circle rack in in the cooker that came with it. Add your jars, lids and rings to sanitize them. I suggest purchasing new lids for every time you are canning. You want your canning accessories to be clean prior to sanitizing.

You can add your kitchen tongs and funnel as well. Add your lid to the pressure cooker and slide to lock it in. For me, locking the lid is the hardest part of using the pressure cooker. Make sure you add your whistler top and ring the the cooker lid. Turn your stove top up on high. Once it whistles, you will slide your “whistler” to the side so the steam and pressure can leave the pot. Wait about 5 minutes. Slide to unlock and use your tongles to remove item. They are extremely hot!

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Step 2: Testing Your Jam

It’s really important to make sure that your jam or jelly has set. I’m not one to use a thermometer which you can absolutely do to determine if they have reduced enough to become jelly, jam or marmalade. Instead, I place 4-5 small plates in my freezer and chill them for 15 minutes. Once my jam has cooked for the recommended time, I pull my cold plate from the freezer and place a spoonful of my jam on the plate. I leave it for 2 minutes and then test to see if it has begun to set. If it doesn’t run off the plate or spread, then it’s time to place the jam in the canning jars. If it is runny, I cook my jam for another 4 minutes and test again.

The strawberry jam pictured below is almost ready. This is an important step for me when I am trying out new recipes. For example, I recently substituted 1/2 cup of honey for 2 cups of sugar and needed to make sure I got the consistency right. The cold plate test is the best way to make sure that your jam or jelly is done reducing and will set.

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Step 3: Seal Your Cans

After you fill your jars with jams, jellies or whatever canning goodness, you need to seal the jars. First, add the lid, ring and make sure they are extremely tight. This is key to making sure your canning goodies stay fresh. There are jar tighteners on the market that you can use.

Add your cans with the tightened lids back to the pressure cooker. Make sure there is enough water in the bottom to properly sanitize and seal the jars. I like to have a half inch. Slide your lid back on, place the cooker on a hot burner and wait for the whistle. The jars should make a popping noise when the properly seal. I like to make a mental note of how many jars are in my pressure cooker listening to make sure all the jars have popped. You can check them after you open the pressure cooker. Lids that are sealed should snap or bounce a little when you push the lid down.

 

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Step 4: Let Your Canning Sit

One step not to overlook is to let your cans sit and cool. I like to use a thick cutting board to set my hot jars on while they cool for about 24 hours before placing them in my pantry. This is especially important for jams and jellies. The sugars need time to cool so they can thicken. Otherwise, you have a bunch of syrup for your pancakes and french toast instead.

Read more about my passion for canning: Orange Marmalade RecipePlum Jam Recipe  and Homemade Chicken Stock Recipe

Life Lessons

The Corners We Paint Ourselves Into

We are not what we work. No matter how much we want to think it or others believe it. We are more. We aren’t who we are in a single moment. You can’t judge someone by observing them or talking with them for 5 minutes, 2 hours or 3 days.

Over the past few months, I have really enjoyed writing and specializing in a new industry and/or area that I do traditionally which is HR. The industry is niche and to be able to be knowledgable, it requires extensive research and/or the background of having worked in the industry. Most people can’t or don’t go to the lengths to fight and claw their way into an industry they are an interlooper in.

It’s good to mix things up. It’s a great idea to put yourself out there. Change things up and most importantly throw a curveball in the way you are living. These changes don’t have to be big ones. They can be small changes like my mom who after many years is committed to getting up before 8:00 AM. She’s been a night owl since I was a young girl as my dad worked third shift. Around the time I was 10 or 11 years old, he started working first shift and worked starting at 7:00 AM. My mom who has been self-employed or a stay at home mom most of her life, didn’t change her schedule. She always went to bed very, very late. I called her last week at 9:00 AM and was surprised that she had already had her coffee and finished reading her paper. I didn’t expect her to change.

The longer things stay the same the harder they are to change. This is how I have felt about my health and especially my weight. I’ve started traveling again. It’s conference season in the industry and vertical where I work makes it so easy for my healthy lifestyle to go off the rails. Old habits are easy to return to. Most importantly, wine and bad food choices are so easy to make when you are on the road. But now while I’m traveling I am signing up for one pilates class in the city I am at. Two weeks ago it was San Diego and this week it is Indianapolis. And for the first time, I’m excited to do this, and that’s because the change is becoming part of me.

The bad food choices sometimes happen and friends are always a good excuse to order another round of wine. Change is not easy because it’s messy. There is no quick path to the finish line. Once we commit to it, we realize that the process to change is long and often harder than we imagined, but for the first time in a long time I’m excited. I don’t see myself as the person I was. I’m not holding myself back or painting myself into a corner because it’s safe. I like being strong. I like surprising myself. I like the new story I’m painting and creating.

Recipes

Homemade Fresh Herb Pizza Dough Recipe

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Pizza for our family is a family activity where we spend time together making homemade pizza together. Using our pizza stone we can bake or grill our pizza which I love. It made sense to try our hand at making pizza dough that incorporates our love of herbs in a yummy and easy recipe.

Dough or specifically my grandma’s Thanksgiving croissant rolls are really complicated which is why I was really nervous about trying my hand at pizza dough. One Thanksgiving I made them successfully but have failed miserably to replicate the yumminess ever since. I was surprised at how easy it was to make pizza dough.

I make a double batch of the dough with each batch making 3 dough balls for a large pizza and freeze the extra. This recipe is a slight alteration to Paula Dean’s.

5 cups of all purpose organic flour

2 packages of active dry yeast

2 cups of warm water

1 tablespoon of honey (Paula uses 2 tablespoons of sugar)

3 tablespoons of flavored olive oil (garlic and basil olive oils are my favorites)

3 teaspoons of salt

1/2 teaspoon of pepper

4 tablespoons of assorted herbs (rosemary, basil, thyme and oregano)

Add your warm water and dry yeast to a large mixing bowl. Let your yeast sit for a few minutes until it’s foamy. While you wait, chop your fresh herbs. We pull these directly from our herb garden off of our patio (seen above in the cover photo).


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Add in your honey, salt, pepper, herbs and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Once your yeast is foamy, add in your flour using your bread hook on your mixer. Add in small batches over time and knead together. Pick up your dough with your hands. Make sure it can be rolled into a ball. Add up to 1/4 cup of flour if needed, if the dough is still too sticky.

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Once your dough is in a ball, coat it with the remaining olive oil to give it that additional blast of flavor. Place your dough back in your mixing bowl, cover it with a clean towel and leave it in a warm place for 1-2 hours allowing it to rise. We use our kitchen griddle and turn it on 150 degrees for 5 minutes allowing the bowl to get a little warm. It makes the dough rise higher and quicker.

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Separate the dough into three sections. Each batch will make 3 large pizzas. I place the extras in plastic baggies and store them in the freezer for later use. This makes for quick and easy pizza making with your guests or family.

The honey is a great way to limit your sugar intake. I substitute it for sugar in things like our french toast and homemade smoothies.

We like to label our dough balls and have fun trying new herb combinations. Just this week we made a batch of garlic olive oil with basil, chives and thyme. It was so tasty!

 

Mommas Outdoor

The Playhouse Makeover: Before

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This weekend I snagged this amazing kid’s playhouse on Craigslist. I’m beyond excited about how we are going to transform it and our backyard. Hooray, me!

Introducing The Playhouse

Often times I have insomnia and while I’m waiting to fall asleep I scour my favorite Craiglist app, called Daily for Craigslist for deals. It’s how two years ago we snagged our Pottery Barn outdoor sectional for $1,100 originally $5,000 as well as a handful of other awesome household goods. This spring, I broke down and purchased new replacement cushions for our outdoor sectional in navy blue. The cushions were originally in a stone color. Stone is not a good cushion color if you have pets. I tried everything I could to salvage then even going so far as to try and dye them a dark blue uneventfully. Three weeks in and the dark navy sectional cushions are holding up to kids, an Airedale terrier and a couple who wants nothing more than to sip wine on their patio.

pink-playhouse

Earlier this week I stumbled upon this super cute pink kid’s playhouse and after some back and forth we were able to bring it home. Fortunately for us the family who owned the playhouse lived in our neighborhood. We literally had to move and relocate the playhouse just a couple blocks. All told the process took an hour, a truck, trailer and 5 guys to move the playhouse, removing the fence panel and transport to our yard. I can’t wait to start the transformation process both inside and out.

pink-playhouse-inside

The playhouse is in need of a fresh coat of paint inside and out as well as some personal updates. You can see from the picture below that we are extremely light on indoor space. We will be repainting and refreshing the inside of the playhouse while focusing on organization. In addition to doing some serious time garage saling, I am eagerly awaiting an ikea order where we purchased the following:

  • Ribba Picture Ledge. I can’t wait to try this one out. Looking forward to decorating with an assortment of cute plastic plates and pictures. (Click here)
  • Norberg Wall-mounted Drop Leaf Table. The width of the house is 50 inches. The drop leaf table provides Ryleigh a creative art and playspace that also allows for her to camp out in her house for the night. (Click here)
  • Fintorp Rail and Hooks. I first used the hook, rail and pail kitchen organization system from ikea in my art organization station in my formal dining room. The rail, pails and hooks will provide Ryleigh both flexible and fun options to store her crayons, paints and other playhouse necessities along the wall making the most of the small space. (Click here)

The plan is to paint the exterior a nice forest green and deep pink for the trim. I’m painting the indoor a nice fresh coat of white paint and re-using pints of paint of deep blue, purple and bright pink from our frozen bathroom renovation.  We’re adding a deck and small patio. I’m hoping to snag a deal on some kid’s outdoor furniture soon. Additionally, we will be adding a secret shade garden behind the house. Ryleigh and I can’t wait to get started later this week.

Life Lessons

How I Healed My Pinched Nerve in Neck & Back

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As I quieted my mind, my body shouted loudly. I heard and felt its cries loud and clear. The pain in my back and neck sidelined me for nearly two weeks. I didn’t exercise but focused on eating right, healing and visiting my chiropractor daily. It’s week 12 since I first sat down with the chiropractor and listened to his diagnosis. It’s been 12 weeks since I faced the reality that a pinched nerve in my back and neck were worsening. I needed to be serious about my back and neck or live life as a bent over old lady at age 37 and counting.

My Plan to Heal My Pinched Nerve in Back and Neck

I’ve been extremely transparent about this journey. It’s not about weight loss although it would be great if it was just that. It’s about healing my body, eating right, exercising and strengthening. I want to live a long, healthy and fulfilled life. I have to do this for myself. I want to watch my daughter grow up. I want to be pain free. I want to have another baby.

  • Eating Healthy. I’ve been tracking my calories and eliminating most processed sugars. I have continued eating organic and have been committed to juicing kale, carrot and other vegetables adding them into my morning smoothie routine. I think it’s extremely easy to just drink a powdered shake, however, I prefer keeping it simple focusing on fresh and natural ingredients. At present I use a MyFitnessPal and Shine to track my progress, calorie intake and activity.
  • Increasing My Strength. The pinched nerves are not helped by my underdeveloped core, back and shoulder muscles not to mention my horrible posture. Pilates has helped me concentrate on increasing my strength in these areas while also focusing on my spine as well as listening to my body. At present, I’m doing machine pilates on the reformer and exo chair 3-4 times a week under private instruction and classroom setting. (More about Pilates classes here.)
  • Visiting the Chiropractor. Since early January, I’ve visited my chiropractor 3-4 times a week barring any crazy travel I am doing. At first, the 45 minutes I spent those days seemed to really cut into my work schedule, but I’ve come to realize how much he is helping me. I don’t take work meetings until 9:30 AM most days to make sure I can focus on the chiropractor and healing.
  • Organizing My Calendar. I seem to thrive best in the mode of procrastination. I love working on a deadline or multiple deadlines since I work with multiple clients and projects at the same time. I’ve come to believe this isn’t the most healthy place for me or my body to be. Changing these bad habits has taken time. In truth, I still have a long way to go. I’ve said goodbye to things I don’t have time to do and eliminated meetings on Mondays and Fridays so I can focus on my to do list and tackling projects interruption free.
  • Remaining Mindful. Every morning I’m taking 5-10 minutes to breath and clear my mind before I start my day. Sometimes I focus my breath on the aches and pains of my body, but other times I just relax and think of absolutely nothing. It offers a nice change of pace.
  • Improving My Posture. My pinched nerve in my neck and back isn’t helped due to my poor posture and years of sitting hunched over my computer as I worked. I’ve made small yet simple changes by sitting with my arms back while driving or on the computer. I’ve also invested in a belt often used for waist training for new mothers. I’m using it to gently remind me to tighten my core and sit up straight.

Nervously I visited my chiropractor last week to check in on the progress of my pinched nerve in both my neck and back. In just a short amount of time, he is seeing improvement. We are scaling back my visits to him now once a week and will reassess in 8 weeks.

My New 12 Week Commitment

Over the next two weeks my travel schedule is ramping up which means I have to be more vigilant than ever to just get this shit done. I’m tired of hurting and not being healthy. I have begun to see results from my pilates which is further driving my motivation to these new commitments and change.  I still realize I have a long way to go. I can’t use the excuse that I don’t have time to do these things.

  • More Exercise. Spring has arrived and I’m committed to spending more time walking outside, in the garden or at the gym. I don’t have an excuse not to work out on the machines when my daughter has soccer practice at least once a week at the Y plus games 2 times a week.
  • More H20. I’m just not a water drinker, but recognize that this is key to flushing out toxins, healing my body and strengthening. I am commited to 8-10 servings of water a day.
  • Finding a Hobby. My work and my family is what I live to do. I need decompress and down time away from the endless reading, writing and researching. I really enjoyed rollerblading and want to add this into my exercise and activity routine.

What will the next 12 weeks hold for me? I’m hopeful I’ll be shopping for a smaller pant size, feeling more fulfilled, happy and healthy. Plus, we are traveling a bit for the summer. I want to make sure I’m ready for trips to the beach, horseback riding and more time with family.

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