Monday, September 1, 2014

Blueberry Jam with Mint and Lemon

I can't believe it. Labor Day is actually here. It's the unofficial end of summer, and as I mentioned in a post last week, I have very mixed emotions; I'm not quite ready to let go.


Now don't get me wrong, I LOVE fall; the cool crisp days, the sounds of leaves crunching under my feet, and the blazingly bright colors make the season one of my favorites. Nevertheless, I feel a sense of sadness at bidding farewell to this summer. It has been a good one.



To embrace the beautiful weekend, my friend A and I went blueberry picking; it was the last weekend to go before apple season takes over, and the picking was bountiful.


What's more, we couldn't have asked for a better day. The sun shone bright with a refreshing breeze throughout the blueberry patch and A and I picked, talked, and ate for much of the morning. With our buckets full of berries and our mouths stained blue, we took off for A’s house to begin the jamming process.


Now A is the jam maker. The pro. (Unfortunately, this is a kitchen technique I never seemed to master from my mom - she makes the best jams!) So I happily played sous-chef, copying each of A’s steps, as we made several batches of blueberry jam with mint and lemon.


Admittedly, I was a little hesitant about the addition of mint in my jam…I was pretty excited about straight forward blueberry, but A assured me it would provide just a hint of mint to compliment the blueberry-lemon flavor.


She was right, of course. This jam is incredible. Sweet, tangy, and full of flavor, it’s perfect on English muffins (my breakfast this morning!), toast, mixed in yogurt or oatmeal, or sandwiched with peanut butter between two slices of bread. I assure you that once you make the recipe, you’ll be looking for more places to use jam.


If you have never made jam before, there is no need to feel intimidated. I was pretty nervous about it, thinking there were far too many steps and that something would go terribly wrong. Luckily, the process is very straightforward; if you follow each step, you will soon have 6-7 8oz jars of lips smacking good jam.


What is particularly great about this recipe is that it’s completely natural; there are no weird additives lurking at the bottom of the ingredients list. It is simply blueberries, fresh squeezed lemons, granulated sugar and a sprig of mint. That’s it.


We chose our recipe from a wonderful cookbook called, "The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook” and followed it quite closely. The only adaptations we made were a slight reduction in sugar and number of mint sprigs. Even with the reduction, however, the jam is plenty sweet.  (As a side note, if you’re looking for an incredible jam book, check this one out. I’ve ordered my own already :))


Now that fall is unofficially here, I’m glad to know that I’ve jarred up summer’s fresh warm flavors in enough jam to last me through the cold winter months. Give this recipe a try and you’ll have that little bit of summer with you, too. Enjoy!


What is your favorite flavor of jam? Have you ever made your own before? Let me know below!


Paula’s Notes: Be sure that you sterilize your jam jars prior to canning. I have included our (very easy) method below.



 

 

Blueberry Jam with Mint and Lemon
Rascal's photo bomb!

Yields: 6-7 8 oz jars
Time: 1 hour active. Cool overnight.

Ingredients:
  • 1 8-inch sprig peppermint, washed and dried between a clean dishtowel
  • 2 lbs. 10 oz. fresh blueberries, rinsed
  • 1 lb. 8 oz. granulated sugar
  • 6 oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 6-7 8 oz. jars and lids
  • Funnel that fits on top of jar
  • Ladle
  • Large stainless steel pot

Directions:

Sterilize your jars: Oven Method
  1. Put your jars and lids through the dishwasher or wash by hand with hot soapy water.
  2. Preheat your oven to 250 degrees.
  3. Place open jars facing upright onto a baking sheet with enough lids and tops alongside.
  4. Leave in the oven for about 30-35 minutes. After 30-35 minutes, turn oven off, but leave jars inside. You want to make sure the jars are warm when you fill them with jam.

Prepare your jam:
  1. Put 3 spoons on a small plate in the freezer. You will use this to test the jam later on.
  2. Combine the blueberries, sugar, and lemon juice in an 11-12 quart non reactive pot.  I just used my nonstick skillet and it was fine, though A says these jam pots are really great. 
  3. Place pan over medium-high heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the juice begins to run from the berries.
  4. Once the juice starts flowing freely, increase the temperature to high. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the mixture boils. (See the different steps of the berry cooking process in my photos above.)
  5. Once mixture reaches a boil, cook it for 10-15 minutes more, stirring frequently, and decreasing the heat slightly if the jam starts to stick. Begin testing for doneness after 10 minutes. 12 minutes was perfect for me.
  6. To test the jam for doneness, carefully transfer about a teaspoon of jam to one of your frozen spoons. Replace the spoon in the freezer for 3-4 minutes. Tilt the spoon vertically to see whether the jam runs; if it does not, the jam is ready. If it does, cook the jam of another few minutes, stirring, and test again as needed.
  7. Turn off the heat but do not stir. Using a stainless steel spoon, skim any foam from the surface of the jam.
  8. Place the mint sprig into the jam and let steep for a minute or two. Remove mint and discard.
  9. Remove jars from the oven right before you wish to fill them. Turn oven back on to 250 degrees.
  10. Using a funnel and ladle, fill the jars with the jam leaving about 1/4 inch of room at the top. Wipe the rims with a clean damp cloth. Be sure to remove any jam on the rim so the lid closes securely.
  11. Put lids on, being careful to screw the tops on until they are snug. I use a hot pad to hold the jars, as they get quite hot.
  12. Replace the jars in the oven for an additional 15 minutes to ensure that they are completely sterilized.
  13. Remove jars from oven and place on a cooling rack to set overnight at room temperature. Try not to disturb them, as it may disrupt their ability to set correctly.
  14. As the preserves cool, you may hear a few little pops as the lids seal. Before putting your preserves away, be sure to feel that the top of each lid has sealed; the lid should curve in very slightly. Any that did not seal correctly should be stored in the refrigerator.
  15. Enjoy! 
Your jam will last for at least a year when stored in a cool dry place.
Recipe slightly adapted from "The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook

Friday, August 29, 2014

"Get Organized" Week One: 30 Day Challenge

This is it, the kick off to September's 30-Day Challenge, "Get Organized!"

With the summer coming to a close and people falling back into their regular routines, getting the home in order is not only a "good thing to do," it simply. feels. amazing.  I don't know about you, but my apartment is entirely too cluttered as of late; my closets are full, things are haphazardly put away, and long story short, I have WAY. TOO. MUCH. STUFF.  In fact, this 30 day challenge was inspired by my own need to purge the apartment; it's time to recycle years worth of dissertation drafts, donate excess clothes from my closets, and get rid of the countless kitchen gadgets I was convinced I needed, and then never actually used... Yes. The time has come for a serious overhaul of the home. 

To ease this rather daunting task, we will tackle a new room each week (there's no need to overwhelm yourself with everything at once!) Will you join us on our journey? We hope so!


The bathroom.

This week is particularly necessary for me...

My bathroom is a cluttered mess, and the culprit for this disaster zone is plain and simple - hair products. Perhaps some of you can relate. For years I have bought countless bottles of random hair products, hoping against hope that I will find "the one"...dreaming that I will find the perfect hair gel that holds a curl without making my hair crunchy, or the ideal smoothing cream that leaves my hair stick straight with flawless shine.

Despite my diligence, I have yet to find these ideal products (incidentally, if you have any recommendations please let me know!) Nevertheless, I don't have the heart to throw the bottles away. I've even moved these less-than-ideal hair products from one house to another. SERIOUSLY. This needs to stop, and it's ending this week.

I have equipped myself with storage totes, shelf organizers, and trash bags. It's about to get real.

Speaking of real, I am now going to share with you my before and after pictures for this challenge. I need to take a deep breath, because I'm about to reveal some horribly embarrassing "before" pictures of my bathroom. Nevertheless, you need to know what I was dealing with here... If you see my dire situation, perhaps you will realize tackling your own bathroom will be a walk in the park.  Here it goes...

As a side note - please excuse the lovely green, yellow, and brown motif going on here...ahhh, the joys of being a renter.


The Disaster Before...
The Sparkly Clean After :)

So Organized.
Insanity!

Order.

Okay, how can you tackle your project? First of all, now that you know your space no where near as bad as mine... hopefully that gives you an immediate boost of confidence. 

Next, try these six easy steps. If I could do it, you can too!

Hooray for labels!
1. Clean everything off your shelves and out of your of your drawers and cupboards. Do it. This is the only way to really get rid of stuff you don't need.

2. Go through your products. If you haven't used them in the last six months, put them in a separate pile.  I don't care if the bottle was only used once (or unused in the case of makeup samples). If you don't use the product, it's a waste of space.

3. Now look at your pile of unused items and ask yourself, could someone else benefit from this? There are many battered women's shelters and homeless shelters that would be happy to receive these products. Just because the hair spray or blush didn't work for you doesn't mean it wont work for another person! If you have some of these things, put them in a box and set them aside to donate.

4. Have a few easily accessible bins in which to keep your regularly used products. (I have one for straight hair products, curly hair products, hair brushes, and make-up.)

5. Get some storage totes with lids to keep less-frequently used items. Label these bins so you know exactly what is in them.

6. Put things away, but don't over-crowd your items. When there is too much stuff on a shelf - especially when you use the items often - it results in clutter on busy mornings. Simplicity is key.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Playing Around

I got this idea from the website HowDesign. This particular creativity exercise post was written by Stefan Mumaw.


One of my favorite exercises he writes about he titles, The Gamemaker.

The Rules:
  • You must create a game out of what is in your reach right now, like literally touch with your body.
  • This game needs an objective and rules. It must end in a winner and therefore a loser. This is not a game where everyone wins.
  • You have twelve minutes....Go!


The point of this exercise is to help with problem solving. So many of us feel that in order to solve a problem we need to reach to something we don't already have. Oftentimes the more limitations we have the more creative we can get. Look to what you already have to figure out your problem.  To quote Stefan, "Next time you're given a problem to solve, don't worry about what you don't have... focus on what you do have."

Can't wait to read your games on the facebook page.

Game on!