Pear Pickin’

I have the fondest memory of my mom, my sisters and my Nana all going apple picking one August many years ago.  I’m sure I was about 12 years old, and we drove to an orchard outside of town, and filled our garden baskets with as many gala apples as we could hold.  It was so much fun!  Even to this day, I only buy gala apples (first of all, cause they taste better), but partially just because of this childhood memory I have held onto.  Now what does that have to do with pears?  Not really anything (besides the pickin’ part!), I just wanted to share that memory 🙂

But we do have a pear tree in our backyard, and Greg has told me for the past few years that it actually bears fruit.  Well, Greg never bothered picking and eating the pears, but since I’m obviously on a farming kick this summer, I decided we will actually eat some fruit!  Last Friday I put on my gardening boots, grabbed the biggest basket and bowl we have, and started picking.  Some of the pears are still a little small, so I left those on the tree, and tried just picking the bigger ones.  I filled both baskets and then some!  And that was only what I could reach at an arm’s length.  I’ll have to get a big ladder this week to reach some of the higher branches.  All these pears went into a cardboard box, and into a cool spot in the house where they will finish ripening.  I did some pear research, and read that you actually want to pick pears when they are just firm enough on the tree to make a small indention with your thumb.  Then you bring them inside, place them in a cool spot, and let them continue to ripen indoors.

With that in mind, I had picked a small batch last week that has been sitting in a large bowl in the laundry nook, so they were nice and ripe on Friday.  I decided with this batch I would attempt to can them.  I LOVE pears, so if I can stock up our pantry full of canned pears for the winter, I will be a happy camper 🙂  Having never canned pears yet, I did a little research and mainly just went by the instructions in the Ball Blue Book of Canning and Preserving that I have. The process itself was really simple, however I grossly underestimated the time it takes to peel and cut pears.  (And keep in mind, this was a small batch of pears).  It took me TWO HOURS to peel and cut those suckers!  I finally just pulled up a stool to the counter to try to get comfy.  Next time, I think I’ll set up shop on the back porch and at least enjoy some fresh air during the process.

 

But anyways, you peel them, cut them into slices and cut out the core.  As you cut them up, drop the slices into a large bowl of anti-browning solution, which consists of:

  • 1/2 gallon water
  • 1 Tablespoon vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon salt (I went ahead and used canning salt)
 Once you get all your pears cut up and you have them soaking in anti-browning solution, you’ll need to start heating your clean jars and lids and make your syrup for canning.  You can do a light, medium, or heavy syrup depending on how much sugar you use. Not knowing which would be best, I opted for the medium syrup.  But here’s the breakdown if you want something different.
Sugar Syrup

Syrup Sugar Water Yield
Light 2 cups 6 cups 7 cups
Medium 3 cups 6 cups 6 1/2 cups
Heavy 4 cups 6 cups 7 cups

Begin heating the syrup on the stovetop.  Meanwhile, pour some of the pears into a colander to drain the anti-browning solution, then drop them into the syrup.  Bring syrup to a boil, and cook pears for approx. 10 mins.

Once cooked, fill your heated jars with pear slices, packing them in tight, then pour syrup over to fill the jar to the 1/2inch headspace.

 Remove air bubbles by stirring and pressing against the pairs with a plastic knife.  Then wipe the rim of the jar clean, seal with the lid, and replace jar into the canner over simmering water.



Once all your jars are filled,  bring the water bath to a boil, then lower cans into the canner and process for 20 mins.  Remove from the canner and let them seal!  I haven’t tried any yet, but they sure look good 🙂

 

More flea-market finds

I was out running errands today, and well, I couldn’t resist a little visit to Interiors and Antiques in Vestavia, AL.  As you saw from this post, I’m still on the hunt for a headboard.  But I also saw a lot of other things I was pining over, and then other things I just snapped pictures of to get some ideas.  I don’t know what it is about white/rustic furniture, but I just LOVE it.  We don’t even have room in our house for any of the things I saw today, but I contemplated selling what we currently have just to make room.  My name is Amy, and I have a problem.  Hey, at least I can admit it, right? 😉

I pretty much wanted everything in this whole booth.  All the white/dusky gray furniture just felt so light and airy, and it would totally brighten-up our house.

 How beautiful is this dresser?  There’s no way it would fit in our little bedroom.

 I rounded the corner and saw this mantle headboard, with soft burlap upholstered batting.  It was beautiful…. but in the $500-ish range :/  And then there was a wooden and iron gate (supposedly from India) that I thought might could work as a headboard…buuut, it was also $500.  What is the deal?!

 Then I started just looking around getting crafty ideas from things I liked.  Like this shutter made into a coat rack.  And these pictures printed on book pages.  And these birds nests in shadow boxes….totally DIY-able. 

 

 Then I came across this china cabinet.  And guess what.  It’s the exact same china cabinet in my Nana’s dining room set, except this one’s been painted gray!  And this is when I really started thinking I could just sell my black Ikea buffet and do this instead.  I was smitten.

So, that was my fun little trip for the day.  In other home decor news, I got my church painting hung tonight in the guest room, and I think it looks pretty darn good 🙂

Painting with Kendall

My mother-in-law is quite the artist.  She does these beautiful paintings, mostly angels and landscapes, but lately she’s been branching out and doing dresses, churches, and barns. You can check out Kendall’s blog here and see all her work!  She paints canvases in various shapes and sizes, and we’re lucky to have a few of her masterpieces hanging in our home…my favorite of which is a cross.  I LOVE this painting, and it’s one of the first things you see when you walk into our house.

Then when she started painting these churches and barns, I fell in love with them too and have been wishing and hoping she might paint one for me.  Well, this week she decided to host her very first art class and guess what she taught us to paint?  Her church painting!  I’m so glad I got to attend, and now not only do we have a beautiful church painting to add to our guest room, but I painted it myself 🙂  I was a little nervous about it because I’m very critical of my work…always have been. (I’m a typical first-child type-A).  I knew if I didn’t like my final product, I would still want a church painting for our house, but would have no excuse to ask for one.  Well, I will say I don’t love my painting 100%, but I like it enough to keep.  But before I go critiquing it, let’s take a look…

Here’s Kendall’s version
The first night we painted the whole picture.  We started with the church, then worked on the sky, then the grass, and then blended everything in.  By the end of yesterday, this is what I had…
And as you’ll see, my church is too far to the right and the top (in my opinion), which left no room for a cross on top of my steeple.  This is honestly the main reason I’m not 100% happy with my painting.  I wanted it to be a church, but a church needs a cross.  Hopefully when people see it they will still think “church.”
So tonight we spent the first half-hour tweaking our paintings from last night.  I thinned out my steeple a bit, added a little more shading to the grass, and rounded my door frame.  Then we added a layer on top that “antiques” the painting, as Kendall called it.  It’s a glaze of watered down paints that you wipe off after applying.  Then we topped it off with a clear varnish.  And here’s our final masterpieces!!
Posted in DIY

weekend mountain getaway

I know I’ve mentioned before that 2 of my good friends and I met Greg and his 2 buddies, and then we all ended up marring these boys.  So the 6 of us are of course still good friends, but we haven’t hung out just the 6 of us in a while.  Well we all took a couples weekend to head to the mountains and it was so much fun!  And I think the best part was that we brought our “children.”  Yep, we found a pet-friendly cabin to rent, and so the lab family and Lily came along with us.  I was so great having them all there, and we even joked about how it was good training for when we all have kids one day, cause we all chipped in and helped take responsibility of all the dogs.  John, Leah, Greg and I headed out of town Friday around noon, so we had time to explore the mountain area before getting to our cabin.  We stopped at Mercier Orchards country store, tasted and bought some home-brewed hard cider and fudge, and I stocked up on more cornbread mix.

We wound our way through the mountains, past the Ocoee River, then on into north GA to the Blue Ridge mountains towards our cabin.

 

Friday night it rained pretty hard, so once we unloaded everything, we just spent the rest of the night hanging out in the cabin watching the Olympics and waiting for Dana and Chesley to arrive.  And leave it to us to welcome them with a bang.  There was a Christmas tree set-up in the den of the cabin, so there might have been some dancing and Trans Siberian Orchestra Carol of the Bells going on upon their arrival.  We like to keep things interesting 😉

 

Saturday we slept in a bit, made breakfast, and then eventually around lunchtime made it out to start our adventures in the mountains.  We headed to Olympic park at the Ocoee River to get some maps and make a game plan for the day.

 We drove just a bit further down the river and found a trail along creek that fed into the river.  We hiked up through the creek and along a trail till we found the perfect waterfall and swimming hole for the dogs to play in.

 

 There was a waterfall that the guys slid down, and the labradors were LOVING swimming around and fetching giant sticks.  Lily, however, is not always a fan of swimming.  It’s hit or miss with her, and usually a miss.  It’s like it stresses her out that the other dogs are in the water.  She just paces and whines the whole time.  We’ll make her get in sometimes, but she usually jumps right back out and runs along the bank again.

 
 This is Jack and Lola. They are brother and sister. Jack is ours, and Lola belongs to Dana and Chesley.  The other black lab with us is Josie, one of Lola’s puppies from last year, and she belongs to John and Leah.
 
 
 
 Greg and Jack
 
 
 family photo (although we left Sophie at home with mom and Dwayne)

After hanging out in the river we headed back to the cabin to drop off the dogs and then we left again in search of a trout pond where we could fish for trout and just pay by the pound for what we caught.  Since we weren’t taking the dogs, all 6 of us just piled in Greg’s truck and we were off.  Greg was using his phone maps app to get us there, but after winding through the mountains, around farmlands, on dirt roads for almost an hour, we still couldn’t find it.  The phone would say we were there, but there was nothing.  We decided to head back, but when we passed a road sign that matched up with our map, we made one more last ditch effort to follow it and see if we got lucky.  FINALLY, we rounded a corner and saw a tiny sign for The Trout Pond!  But….

It was a fun adventure, nonetheless!  We all got a good laugh out of it.  Friday night there was an awesome meteor shower, and what better place to watch it than out in the woods at our cabin!?  It started around midnight, and there was a 2nd floor porch just big enough for all of us to lay flat on our backs watching for meteors.  It was pretty chilly outside, so we had pillows and blankets, and were thankful all the dogs were out there with us cuddled up keeping us warm.  It seriously might be one of my new favorite memories with my friends.  We had some quiet star-gazer music playing, and we just laid there for almost 2 hours chatting and staring into the sky.  And we saw a good amount of meteors!  One in particular was really bright and had a huge tail that streaked across the sky.  It was so much fun.

Sunday morning, the boys and Dana got up bright and early to head to the Ocoee for a rafting trip with Outdoor Adventure Rafting. We’ve been using this company for a few years now, and have been pleased.  Leah and I decided to sit this one out this time, so we stayed at the cabin to pack up and clean up before leaving the cabin.  We loaded up the truck and met up with the other guys once they were back from their rafting trip.  They had so much fun! They even rescued a guy who had gotten caught in the hydraulics of one of the rapids!  From the way they described it, it sounded like a scary situation!!  After rafting we had a quick little picnic on the OAR campgrounds and let the dogs get one more quick swim in before heading back to Birmingham.  And go figure on this little trip Lily decided to join in on the swim!  I don’t know if Lola not being there this time (Dana and Chesley had already left) made the difference, or if because it was really shallow and she could walk out into the water instead of jumping into the water did the trick.  But she was swimming like a champ and fetching the sticks!!!  Bless her heart, she was the only non-labrador on the trip.  I was so proud of her at this point 🙂

 

a little hometown history

One of the things I love most about my hometown is even though Birmingham, AL is one of the largest cities in our state, it’s not hard to find little gems within the city that make you feel like you’ve stepped into Mayberry.  I love that just outside the hustle and bustle of the city limits, you can get lost in some really neat historic sites, and it’s these places that make me feel like I still have some roots in a small southern town.  One of these places is On a Shoestring Antiques. 
It sits on the mountain top right in the heart of Bluff Park.  The building itself was originally a home built by William Wyatt in the 1930s.  Decades later in the early 1980s, his widow sold the home to Rodney and Lee Thursby, who then turned it into the antique shop it is today.  I’ve been to this shop several times before, but today I got to talk to Mr. Thursby, and what a sweet old man he is!  He just hangs out in the shop each day hoping to sell a few treasures.  And although I didn’t walk away with much, I did find a little vintage enamel bowl for my kitchen counter which will hold all our cherry tomatoes we pick next summer.

But there were plenty of other things I would have walked out with had I been willing to pay a pretty penny for them.  Like this 1940s wedding ring pattern quilt.  How beautiful is this!? I was in love. But not for $200.  Sad day.

Then I found 2 antique sewing tables that caught my eye.  Maybe if I bought one it would motivate me to finish cleaning out the guest room corner and set-up my sewing machine!  Although maybe sewing should be my winter project.  The garden and canning seems to take up enough time and energy these days.

 Ok, be honest, if you worked really hard and got through pharmacy school and graduated, would you not keep these little treasures?  Heck, pharmacy school is no walk in the park!  Class of 1974, you disappoint me.  On the other hand, any crafty people need a window? This is your one-stop shop.

And another cool feature about this antique shop is the old train boxcar parked right next to it. It is also open for shopping!

 One last thing.  The main reason for my adventure today was to look for a vintage secretary’s desk and something we can use for a headboard.  My ideas for a headboard include something rustic, like an old mantle or wooden beam.  Something like these…


 

But I saw these fence posts in the side shed at the shop and thought they would make a good headboard too if we lined them up side by side.  BUT, my good friend Leah has something just like this with deck boards that her husband built for their headboard.  And if it was me, I don’t know that I’d want someone else copying such a unique design element.  So the search continues.

 So that was my fun little adventure for the day.  I love poking around antique shops and flea markets.  There are so many neat things you can find.  I will certainly be making another trip someday soon 🙂

Homemade Sweet Salsa

Ingredients:
– 15 medium tomatoes
– 1 green bell pepper
– 1 red bell pepper
– 1 jalapeno pepper 
– 5 cups chopped onion (I used 2 sweet onions, but you could use 1 yellow, 1 red onion)
– 5 cloves garlic, minced
– 2 yellow banana peppers (I couldn’t find any, so mine didn’t have this)
– 1/4 cup sugar
-1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
– 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
– 1/4 cup lime juice
– 4 tsp. pickling salt
– 1 tsp. pepper
– 1 large can tomato paste (I actually added an additional 6oz. can)
– chili powder (if desired for extra spice)
– 1/2 bunch fresh cilantro

I prepped my tomatoes following these steps here. Then I chopped them in the food processor.  Luckily, a co-worker of mine warned me about working with spicy peppers.  Those boogers will burn your skin!  So, either buy some gloves to work with or you can do what I did and just slip a sandwich bag over your hands before cutting the jalapeno pepper.  I just cut the stem and bottom off, and then the inside looks just like a bell pepper.  Just cut out the white seedy portion and toss it in the food processor.

I like my salsa creamy and smooth, not chunky. So all my veggies (peppers, onions, and garlic) were tossed into the food processor then into a stockpot.  Then, to make sure all the spices were mixed in well, I put the tomato paste, pickling salt, pepper and a pinch of chili powder together in the food processor.  I cut the stems off the cilantro, chopped up the leaves, and tossed them into the stockpot.

All that plus the rest of the ingredients went into the stockpot to simmer for approx 45mins-1 hour, stirring often!  BE SURE TO COOK ON LOW!  I thought I would start mine on high and bring it to a boil then turn it down to simmer.  You might can still do this, but make sure you are stirring it to prevent it from burning on the bottom.  I have a nice burnt spot on the bottom of my stockpot :/  So, watch it carefully!

To can, process in a water bath 35 mins for pint jars, 45 mins for quart jars. This batch made approx 5 pint-sized jars.
For canning steps, read here: Canning Tomatoes.  Just follow the basic steps, skipping the tomato specific ones.

How to peel tomatoes (the right way)

After a few messy attempts to peel tomatoes for canning, I thought there must be an easier way to do this.  All it took was a quick google search and I found out there really IS a right way to blanch and peel tomatoes.  I’ll spare you the method I was using, which was basically drop the tomatoes in a boiling pot, peel the skins and cut.  Trust me, you’ll have a huge mess on your hands with tomato juice running everywhere.  So, if you’re canning tomatoes, follow these steps.

Step 1: Cut the core out around the stem.
Step 2: Slice a shallow “X” on the bottom of the tomato, just enough to break through the skin.

 Step 3: blanch the tomatoes by dropping them in a boiling pot for 10-30 seconds, till you notice the peels starting to slip off.

Step 4: remove from boiling water and drop into ice water to stop the cooking process.

Step 5: Peel the skins off (which is much easier with the “Xs” cut at the bottoms and the core already removed). They will slip right off!

Step 6: Cut tomato in half, then squeeze out the juicy seedy portion (or scoop out with a small spoon)
 Then just dice and can them to your heart’s desire!  I made this batch into creamy sweet salsa 🙂  Don’t worry, the recipe is coming!

Busy week with the family!

Wow, you might can tell from the lack of blog postings lately how crazy busy life has been the last week or so.  Except for last Friday, I’ve had to wake up between 6-6:30am EVERY DAY since last Monday!!  That’s 7 days of EARLY wake-up calls, and if you know me at all, you know I AM NOT A MORNING PERSON.  Seriously, I felt like death waking up Sunday for work.  I haven’t been working overtime or anything (HA!), but I spent last Thursday helping my youngest sister move-in at Auburn and then Saturday we were in Tuscaloosa for my brother-in-law’s graduation.  Both of those days I was leaving my house by 7am.  Then of course I came right back to work yesterday and today.  Needless to say, I am WHOOPED!  Sooooo ready to sleep in tomorrow!!!!  And our house has gotten just about as much neglect as my blog has, so I’m thinking it’s gonna be a cleaning/laundry day tomorrow.  But the best part is, I’m taking a vacation day this week and me, Greg, and 2 other couples are headed to the mountains of TN for a nice little vacation 🙂  I cannot wait!

But, let’s go back to last week.  Our dear Emily headed off to start her sophomore year at Auburn on Thursday, and her semester kicks off with a bang with her sorority’s rush week.  Auburn doesn’t have greek housing, but they have designated greek halls in certain dorms.  So she’s on the Alpha Chi Omega hall with her other “sisters.”

 She lives with 3 other girls in a small apartment-style dorm, but she gets her own room, which I think she’s happy about.  I just kept reminding her how I had to share a room until I was senior.  And I’m pretty sure she gave me the “did-you-walk-uphill-both-ways-through-the-snow-to-get-there?” look.  Haha.  I felt old watching all those sophomore girls, chit-chatting about their college drama, bouncing from room to room checking out each other’s setup.  Although apparently I didn’t look much older, cause the girl handing out room keys asked me if I was checking-in.  Story of my life.

 Then Saturday we went to Tuscaloosa for Chuck’s graduation.  He graduated with a degree in exercise sports science.  We were so proud of him.

Chuck has never been a huge fan of school.  He changed his major a few times trying to figure out exactly what he wanted to study, and I know he’s so happy to be done with school!  I’m excited to see what job he will find.  And I know Katie is happy to have him in Birmingham 100% of the time.  He’s been driving back and forth between here and Ttown ever since they got married a year ago.

So yeah, it was a busy busy week last week!  SO thankful for my vacation day this week and can’t wait for our trip to the mountains!  Until then, it’s cleaning and gardening on my current to-list.  Oh, and I’ll be posting a salsa recipe soon that got raving reviews (thanks to the boys!).