Sweet Pickles- Step 4

Once the pickles have sat for 10 days in vinegar, take them out of the fridge and drain off the vinegar.  Place the pickle slices back in the jar and for each of 3 days, add 3 cups of sugar.  Shake the jar to evenly cover with sugar and return to the fridge.  The sugar will dissolve creating a syrup.  Once those 3 days are complete, that’s it!

 According to my great uncle, these actually taste better if you wait 2-3 weeks after the last step.  Although, I’m not sure we can wait that long to give them a try.  So far it’s been 2 days since I finished them, so we’ll put them to the test tomorrow, maybe 🙂

Keeping Rosco

For the past several days we kept my sister and her husband’s dog, Rosco, while they went on their 1-year anniversary trip to the beach.  Rosco is a 4 month old vizsla puppy, and he kept our 3 dogs on their toes all week long!  Even our youngest pup Lily was getting pretty worn out by Rosco’s constant desire to play and wrestle.  It was good though. He really did well mixing in with our pack 🙂  We took them to the park, went on a nice 2-mile(ish) jog (Greg actually ran 6 miles, taking Jack for 3 and Lily for 3), and even went for a swim yesterday afternoon.  And of course I took tons of pics.  Partially because I knew Katie and Chuck enjoyed getting updates on their little man, but also because it’s just fun having a new dog in the house.


Homemade spaghetti sauce


 Last week I took our batch of tomatoes I picked from our garden and canned some diced tomatoes and then made the rest into a spaghetti sauce. 

The canning process (although it seemed long) was successful.  Both my cans sealed up nice and tight, but of course I didn’t want to claim it as a total success until we had a chance to eat what I had canned.  Well last night we decided to make spaghetti, so we used the sauce I made.  It was SO good!  I was actually a little skeptical of it just because it was something new, but we were both very pleased.  This will probably be our go-to recipe now for spaghetti sauce.  We just browned 1.5 lbs of ground beef on the stovetop and dumped it into a stockpot.  Then we added about half the jar of sauce, 1 6-oz. can of tomato paste and about 12 oz. water (because it started getting too thick) and stirred it all together.

The recipe for the sauce can be found on this amazing blog- My Crazy Life (as a Farmer’s Wife).  Please take a look at it! First of all, I’m IN LOVE with this lady’s blog! It’s so bright and colorful, and her photographs are gorgeous.  It’s light and airy.  Not to mention I’m swooning over all her vintage country stuff.  I don’t know how many acres of land they own, but her, her husband and their 4 kids live in this adorable house with a red barn, and they have tons of gardens where they grow all their own fresh fruit and veggies.  I’m obsessed.

Sigh.  Ok, back to the recipe.  It’s her Tangy Spaghetti Sauce recipe, but since I’m not a huge fan of really spicey stuff, I took out a few things to make it not-so-tangy.  The items in italics I left out of our sauce.  So if you like it tangy, keep those items in there 😉  Oh, and since I only had about 4 cups of tomatoes once I got them chopped (it calls for 16 cups), I quartered all the ingredients as well. (and I filled 1 quart jar for canning…plus some that I just threw into the fridge).

First, I diced all the tomatoes I had.  Ideally, you should probably remove the skins first, using the boiling then ice water bath method described here, but I honestly just forgot to until I was almost done chopping them all.  So of course I searched online and found out it’s not entirely necessary to skin the tomatoes (it just helps cut back on possible bacteria, and keeps the chewy skins out if you’re picky about that!).  But I did read that if you finely chop the tomatoes in a food processor, the skins are less noticeable later.  So that’s what I did.  I diced, then tossed them all into the processes for a few seconds, careful not to process too much and turn it into mush.

 And I found out this method of cutting tomatoes was much easier (and less messy!!) than my last method.  Cut all around the core in a “C” shape, trying to avoid the watery core and seeds. If I got seeds in the cut pieces, I just dug them out with the knife so you’re left with just the firm flesh.

This time I ended up with roughly 6 cups of diced tomatoes.  They went into the food processor, along with onions and green peppers, and then all the ingredients went into a stockpot.


Tangy Spaghetti Sauce for Canning
 -3 medium onions, chopped
-2 cups green bell peppers, chopped
-1 cup banana peppers, chopped
-2 pkg. fresh sliced mushrooms (neither Greg or I like mushrooms, so those got the boot)
-4 cloves minced garlic
-16 cups tomatoes, peeled and chopped
-3(12oz) cans tomato paste
-1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
-3 tablespoons brown sugar
-1 tablespoon dried oregano
-4 teaspoons canning salt
-2 teaspoons dried basil
-1 teaspoon black pepper
-1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
-2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
-1/2 teaspoon cumin

Mix all the ingredients in a large pot on the stove. Heat until boiling. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered for about 1-2 hours, stirring occasionally. If canning, fill clean, sterilized jars to ½” headspace at the top. Secure with lids. Process for 35 minutes for quart jars in a water bath.  

Enjoy delicious homemade spaghetti 🙂

Canning tomatoes

Today, I tried my skills at canning.  This was a first for me, so I read several sources on how to do it, and decided to buy this book from Walmart with all kinds of step-by-step directions and recipes for all kinds of things you can can.  I also bought a box of quart size wide mouth Ball jars, and a jar lifter (which is used to lift the hot jars out of the boiling water bath).

Now, I’m not gonna try to make this a detailed tutorial, because for 1) this is a complicated process and there are lots of steps!  And 2) this is the first time I’ve done this, and until I taste what I canned, I can’t guarantee I did everything 100% correct. But I will give you the rundown of what I did!  And I basically just followed these steps in the Blue Book.

First thing is to gather all your supplies.  You need:
    – jars (various sizes depending on what or how much you are canning)
    – lids and bands
    – water bath canner (or a deep stockpot will work if only doing 2-3 jars)
    – jar lifter
    – canning funnel

Before you really begin, you must clean all your jars, lids, and bands.  I just ran my jars through the sanitize cycle of the dishwasher.  If you do this option, leave your jars in the dishwasher until ready to use. This keeps them warm, which is important. If you hand wash them, heat the jars in simmering hot water on the stove until ready to use.  Because I didn’t want to damage the adhesive ring on the lids, I hand washed those. Then to heat them, I put them in simmering water until ready to use.  The giant black pot in the picture below is a canning pot for the water bath.  It holds up to 7 quart size jars.  But since I’m not doing massive amounts of canning, I was able to get by with the stockpot I already owned. So I may be returning the giant canner (which I simply found at Walmart).


Next thing is to prep the tomatoes for canning.  I had about 12 tomatoes, which to my surprise only filled 1 quart jar.  I can’t imagine the mass of veggies people grow in order to can multiple jars at one time! That’s a ton of tomatoes!!  You need to remove the skins, because they don’t preserve well. EDIT: After several trial and errors of learning how to can this summer, I’ve learned there is a better method for prepping tomatoes. Please follow these steps HERE!   So, blanch the tomatoes in boiling water for 30-60 seconds, until the skins start peeling off.  Remove them from the boiling water and drop them into an ice bath to halt the cooking process and ease skin removal. Unfortunately, 2 seconds after I took the below pic, I found out my wire basket didn’t actually fit down into my stock pot, so I just dropped the tomatoes in.

Peel the skins, and cut tomatoes as desired (either halves, quarters, or smaller).  This is a messy process (not if you follow THESE steps!)  There is so much water in a tomato, and it runs everywhere.  Be sure to cut the greens and cores out too.  Next you need to put the cut pieces back into the stockpot with just enough water to cover. Boil for approx. 5 mins.

Now you can remove the jars from the dishwasher (or warming bath), and using a ladle and canning funnel to spoon tomatoes into the jars. Fill the jar to 1/2 inch headspace. You need to slide a non-metal untensil between the tomatoes and the edge of the jar and press against the tomatoes to release any trapped air.  Repeat this several times all around the jar.  Then wipe the rims of the jars clean, place the lid on top and secure with the band.  Screw the band on just fingertip tight, not as tight at it will go.

 Next, lower your jar into the simmering water bath for canning. (Like I said, I just used my stockpot, but if you have several jars, you will need to get a large canner).  The jar should be submerged fully in the water, or at least to the very top of the jar.  Turn the heat to high and when water reaches a steady boil, start the processing time of 40-45mins.  (Different recipes have different processing times. Tomatoes require approx 40 mins).

When 45 mins is up, remove the jar from the canner and place on a towel and allow to cool for 12-24 hours.  As the contents cool it will create a vacuum seal within the jar.  You lid should no longer “pop” once it is fully cooled. If the lid still pops, you did not achieve a vacuum seal.  Luckily, mine all sealed!  That’s it!  Oh, except that once I completed all this, I went out to check the garden and came back with a FULL BASKET OF TOMATOES!  Of course.  Because any normal person would have thought to check the garden before going through a whole afternoon of canning.  So, my next adventure was to make them into a spaghetti sauce that I canned later that night.  I’ll be sure to share that later!

Video recap

I’m tidying up my video files on my computer, and I decided it would be fun to share just a few!

Last spring Greg’s roommate’s dog Lola had a liter of puppies and we went up to Jasper one afternoon to see the pups. They’re purebred labrador retrievers, and were probably about 4-5 weeks old at this point, I think.  John and Leah’s pup Josie is in there somewhere, although looking back now, I don’t remember which one she is! The pups had never been in water before, so we decided this would be a great day for a little swim!  As you will see, most of them were not fans yet.
This next one is from our honeymoon in Atlantis last October.  It’s one of the fish tanks at the Royal Towers where the giant manta ray lives.  This is probably the best representation I have of how HUGE he was!
Also on our honeymoon, we sat out on the beach for about an hour one afternoon as a storm was rolling in off the ocean.  This is definitely the closest I’ve been to lightning strikes (you’ll see it at the last few seconds of the video). They were striking the water a couple hundred yards off shore…and eventually, we had to leave cause the storm actually made it to shore.
And lastly, this was taken January 2012 when we were in Disney World for the marathon.  Katie ran her first half marathon with Chuck and Zach, and then the next day the boys ran the full marathon.  This is the only clip I have of Katie passing us during the run (which if I remember correctly, this was about 5 miles into the run!)

No-bake Banana Pudding

I’ve posted this recipe before on another blog (the Wooden Spoon)that I have been majorly slacking on contributing too for several months!! But I wanted to include them here on my personal blog as well, so over the next few days I’ll be posting them here. I am a sucker for homemade banana pudding, and I’m disappointed in myself for not making any yet this summer.  What’s summertime without banana pudding!?  If you ask around, almost everyone will agree that oven baked banana pudding is better than no-bake versions. I have made both, and let me tell you, if you stick with this no-bake recipe, you’ll never go through the hassle of a double boiler with a baked version again. This recipe is easy, and if you’re like me, the benefit of making a pretty presentation with your banana pudding will seal the deal.  (Yes, I bought a trifle dish just for this very purpose!)
1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese (room temp)
1(14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
1 (5 oz) package instant vanilla pudding mix 
3 cups cold milk
1 lemon (juiced)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 (8 oz.) container frozen whipped topping (thawed) 
3-4 bananas (sliced)
1/2 box vanilla wafers
In a large bowl, beat cream cheese until fluffy. Beat in condensed milk, pudding mix, cold milk, and vanilla extract until smooth. Fold in 1/2 the whipped topping. (Mixture will be thin at this point). Line the bottom of a 9×13 inch dish (or dish of your choice) with vanilla wafers. Dip banana slices into lemon juice (to prevent browning), and arrange slices evenly over wafers. Spread with a layer of pudding. Repeat layering, making sure to end with a pudding layer on top. Top with remaining whipped topping. Chill in fridge for a few hours until thickened.

Rustic home decor project

I love these rustic wooden quote signs that so many places are selling now.  Some of the quotes are silly, some are inspirational, romantic, and even down right sarcastic!  There’s been several I’ve seen and thought, “That’d be perfect for our house!”  However, every time I take a peek at the price tag I’m suddenly much less impressed.  And then in the back of my mind I always think, “I could just make that, right?”  Well, I decided to give it a shot!  And actually, I’m making it for my sister as her (very) belated birthday present!

First I needed to find a wooden sign to work with.  I contemplated using wood pallet slats or a sturdy canvas.  But the easiest thing to do was just go to Hobby Lobby and buy a wooden sign in the right size I wanted.  It didn’t matter what the sign said or had on it, because my plan was to just spray paint right over it.  And unfortunately I didn’t snap a pic of the HobLob sign I bought, but it was on of these “In this house…” signs.  And the one I got was red, tan and black.  So it was very similar to this one.

Then I went to the craft and paint section of Hobby Lobby and bought 2 inch and 3 inch stencils in Helvetica font, a sponge paintbrush, and black, tan, and white paints.  I wanted a true flat paint so that it looked more rustic when painted onto the wood, but the best I could find was satin finish.  I got home and laid out a drop cloth in the yard, and started spray painting the entire sign with the tan color.  Then when that dried, I sprayed over the entire sign with the black color.  That way when I sand down the edges, the tan color will hopefully be exposed from underneath the black.  The key is doing multiple thin layers.  So my first layer of black was a bit patchy, but after the 2nd coat is was nice and even.
While all that dried, I played around with the layout of the words I was going to paint onto the sign.  I found two quotes that I like a lot on Pinterest, one of which my sister Katie has pinned on one of her boards.  It says, “Home is wherever I am with you” and one I found says, “A house is not a home without a dog.”  They are both appropriate for her home, but I decided to go with the one she has pinned (since obviously she likes it!).  So I taped some pieces of paper together in the size of the wood sign so I could stencil out some options.  Here’s what I came up with… (sorry it’s hard to see, I tried to increase the contrast).

 I wasn’t a huge fan of the 1st option, but I still couldn’t fit all the words in the space right on the 2nd option.  So, I actually painted a 3rd option, which you will see shortly.

When I got ready to paint, I lined up my stencils, taped off the areas around the letters I didn’t want to get paint onto, and then painted my letter.  I used Americana acrylic paint in “White Wash.”

However, my first attempt was a bit sloppy.  So, I re-spray painted the top half, and tried again (with a bit more precision).  And even with a delicate hand, some of the letters still came out a little sloppy.  Stenciling is apparently not my best talent.
 But I kept going, and after a few hours (yeah, this wasn’t exactly the quickest project I’ve done), I had this….
And yes, I was snacking on some M&Ms towards the end!  At this point I was pleased, but it still needed some roughing up for character.  I decided to gently (at a distance) and sporadically spray both the tan and black paint across the whole thing so the white wasn’t so contrasted against the black.  Then I also sanded all the edges.  After all that, this was the result…

Sweet Pickles-step 3

I might have let step 2 go a little longer than the recipe calls for, but when 3 work days hit back to back, I don’t really have time for much else.  So, the 24 hour step on step 2 was actually a little over 48 hours , but I’m hoping that’s ok.  Alum is just a firming agent, so it’s probably the safest step to prolong.  This morning I moved on to step 3.

Remove the pickles from the fridge and go through the rinsing process again.  I took pictures this time…

Put them back in the jar again, but this time fill the jar with white distilled vinegar.  Place the jar back in the fridge for 10 days.

Happy 4th!

Would you believe it if I told you all these pictures came off my camera!?  Yep! It’s true. I just increased the contrast a bit to bring out the colors, but that’s it!  Independence day was a bit uneventful for me this year.  It was my holiday to work, and being on a Wednesday, it didn’t allow for any long 4th of July weekends.  But, Tuesday night Greg and I joined my family at Hoover Country Club for their annual fireworks.  I’ve always loved going to this show because you get to see the fireworks go off from only about 50 yards away.  So they are HUGE and right above our heads.

We realized once we got there that Greg had never been to a HCC firework show.  Last year we watched them at my friend Dana’s house (who lives right at the bottom of the hill from Vulcan).  The year before I would have had to work the 4th, and the first 4th of July we had together we went to his parents’ house at the lake.  Greg was pretty impressed.  Like I said, they are pretty incredible!


Sweet Pickles- Step 2

After sitting in the fridge for 48 hours (in salt and water), my pickles-in-the-making were ready for step 2 of the pickling process.  Since I only have one 1-gallon jar, I couldn’t empty the slices out bit by bit, rinse them and then place them into a new rinsed out jar.  So, to ensure all the slices were rinsed well, I just dumped them all into a strainer in the sink, and then rinsed them by the handful and placed them back into my gallon jar (that I rinsed out really well!).  Basically, you just want to get all that salt off.

Once they were rinsed and back into the jar, I filled the jar again with water and poured in 1 Tablespoon of Alum.  Alum is a pickling powder and you can get it at most grocery stores on the spices aisle.  So my little pickles are back in the fridge for the next 24 hours.  Then it’s step 3!