Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Part of the fun of being a grown up is getting to choose from life's buffet. What do you choose?

I pick a bit of mainstream, some modern, a bit of crunchy hippy and some old fashioned. I guess my life would make a really snazzy Venn Diagram.

Last year I made a huge ton of applesauce in my crockpot and each time there was a race to finish it before it went bad. I considered freezing it but when I put things into my freezer it's a bit like jettisoning them out of an airlock in space. Near a black hole. A big one.

So this year I decided to learn to preserve applesauce. People refer to this process using alot of terms... putting up preserves, preserving, home canning (which doesn't actually involve cans, just in case you were curious) are just a few of my favorites. According to the USDA National Center for Home Food Preservation there are many ways to preserve food. Depending on the food, your needs and your equipment you can freeze, dry, cure & smoke or can your food. Canning refers to using glass jars (remember mason jars) with a two piece lid and either a boiling water canner or a pressure canner. Another informative site is the Ball Canning Supplies homepage.

I don't pretend to be an expert and mistakes in canning can be very dangerous so I'm not going to tell you how to can here. If you are interested in canning, do your research first. BEFORE you pick your fruit and get ready to can....

  • Buy or borrow one of the Ball books on canning (the Ball Blue Book and the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving) and read it cover to cover.
  • Assess what equipment you need and look it over. Understand what each piece does and how to use it.
  • Buy a dozen quality jars with lids and rings to begin with. Many people buy used jars from flea markets and thrift shops ... and that is FANTASTIC. But until you understand what a flawed jar looks like, starting with a fresh dozen is a good plan.
  • Understand that you can't wing it. Canning recipes are a balance of physics and chemistry - it's vital to follow directions precisely.
  • Start small. Many people begin by saying, I'm going to can all 40lbs of my apples this afternoon. Honey, that is alot of apples, alot of steps and alot of room for human error. Begin with one batch per day, work out the kinks.
  • Never, ever can when exhausted or when small children or infant are at your feet. Bad things can happen.
  • Create a Burn First Aid kit and keep it in a cabinet next to your stove, right at the front. It should contain burn pads (I like 2nd skin), rolled gauze and first aid tape. No creams, no goop. When you spill that apple sauce or boiling water down your arm, get it under cold water. Rinse it off, apply a burn pad as directed, wrap in gauze and tape up. Do not remove for at least a few hours (for a large burn, overnight). For severe burns, burns on face or abdomen or very large burns, get immediate emergency medical care.
Canning is comforting and fun :)

I was really intimidated by canning, honestly. I chose one single fruit (anyone remember my post about Simpling?) and one single recipe and I gave it a go. And it was so COOL! It felt alot like when I learned to make rustic bread. I could NOT believe I did this all by myself.

Projects like this comfort me. They give me something to immerse myself in, to have a small success. I'm so happy that even tho we can't have a garden, we can handpick local produce and put it by for the winter. I feel like I am preserving something for my children. Knowledge of traditional ways, sure, but also preserving their faith in the truth that differently-abled people can still do small, quietly amazing things.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Tea. It's safer than skydiving.

Oh my. It started out a rough day and it just kept going that way. On the plus side I have a hot new (to me) ride with a sick CD-changer. Yeah, I have a clue what I'm talking about. All I know is that people large and small have been barking/whining/yelling/apologizing at me all day, had a 1 hr drive to a far away dealership where we had to wait around for close to 3 hours yet I managed to trade in my van for a rockin deal on a car I can drive a wee bit and NOW I NEED SOME FREAKING TEA.

I poured myself a nice big honkin mug of tea before we left on The Mission and left it at home. Then I got home, refilled it from the lovely pot, went to help a crying small person and a large person inadvertently dumped it in the sink.


(** intermission music while I go put water on to boil ... **)

Ok water is set to boil and, much as I crave to brew another pot of Thin Mint Green, I think I've had enough caffeine today to power my snazzy new-to-me wheels. Soooo ... I'm making up a pot of Meditative Mind. I'm slightly dubious of any tea that contains alot of small whole rose buds but hey, we'll give it a go.

Since I have some time here while the water boils, then cools for three minutes (yes friends, it says that in the instructions), steep for 3 minutes and then cool so I don't add burned taste buds to my list of fun today, I'm going to see what else I can review before the small people begin screaming again.

Have you noticed that I tend to use exhaustive run on sentences when I'm exhausted?


Something I forgot to mention about Thin Mint Green (and some of the other teas available out there) ... you can brew it more than once. I heart this - I do I do.

Jasmine Green Pu'erh - Wikipedia has a ton of info on Pu'erh tea as does Teaspot. I've always been curious about trying some and I love jasmine green tea so I ordered a sample of this one. First impressions - the mini tea bricks are freaking adorable ... honestly, I opened one and just wanted to love it and hug it and call it George. The scent is fantastic ... not too light, not too cloying. The brewing instructions confused me a bit however. The package recommends 2-6 minutes while the website recommends steeping one minute the first infusion, adding 30 seconds each infusion (it can be infused three to four times). I steeped the initial brew for one minute, I think, and it was absolutely lovely. Luuuuuurvely. A nicely flavored green tea with a pronounced but not overwhelming jasmine scent.

On the second brew I couldn't remember what I had done the first time so I did it by the package and brewed it 2m 30sec. Eeeeeeeeeewwwwk. It was so strong and bitter that I could hardly drink it. Interestingly enough, when my husband tasted it he said, "Eeeeeeeeewkk" as well but not because it was bitter. He just couldn't stand what he considered "too sweet" ... the jasmine notes. Right then.

As I said, I really love this tea but I don't really love the tea brick concept. I think I'd really enjoy trying the Jasmine Pearls Green tea to have a jasmine green in my cabinet and the Organic Loose Black Pu'erh to see how I like loose pu'erh tea.

Bolder Breakfast Tea - This would be the tea I drank a bit of this morning, forgot at home and then had dumped out before I could enjoy it all of it. My first impressions were not super favorable. I didn't really dig the darkness of the flavors or the chocolate notes. This  is a true black tea and has the highest caffeine content available on the site. It is a blend of black teas mixed with black pu'reh and what they call "dark chocolate essence". Huh? Ok. Anyway I was writing the Thin Mint review while I drank my first mug of it, thinking, "Hrmph ... wish this was Thin Mint."

I honestly don't think I gave it a fair shake and I'm so happy that Teaspot samples make a few mugs of tea. I'll get back to you with more on this later when my body can handle a serious jolt of caffeine. For those who like cream or milk in your tea, this may be a nice choice. More to come on this.

And now the tea of the moment...

Meditative Mind - **drumroll** Ok, objectively, this is a gorgeous tea. It contains white tea needles, jasmine green tea pearls and a plethora of real honest to goodness pink rosebuds. It's fragrant and pretty to look at and, yes, very relaxing to drink. That said, I'm on the fence. I'm not big on "floral" and the rose taste isn't my favorite. It's an exquisitely done relaxing tea - the rose is well balanced with the jasmine and white tea without being cloying, bitter or overwhelming. I think I will reserve the rest of this sample pack for nights when I really need to relax. As it sits and cools the rose notes mellow and the jasmine scent lingers for a much more balanced taste.

Ok folks, that's four teas down and one mommy less likely to blow her top. I've been pondering the fifth tea, Climber's High, and I don't think it' a good idea for me to try it. I have high blood pressure so I need to avoid ginseng and licorice root :( I'm not out anything since it was sent along with my order as a free sample but fear not, it will find a good home ;)

Tea. It's more acceptable in your travel mug than tequila.

It's loose tea time in Casa di Gentile, folks. I'm not sure if its the early morning hustle for the school bus or the colder weather but either way, tea keeps me sane.

I was really disappointed last year to find my favorite tea company, Teavana, adding more and more nuts and/or sulfured fruits to their teas. Since I'm really not big on needing a Benedryl chaser with my tea, I had to start looking for a new source.

I found Teaspot through ... its a funky website offering group deals for unique companies. (Disclaimer: I do not represent Teaspot or in anyway, they don't know who I am and I don't get any sort of referral bonus or credits via that link). ANYWHO, awhile ago they offered a deal at Teaspot. Foolishly I didn't take advantage of it but when I found myself needing a new tea strainer for my pot, I wandered onto their site.

So. Cool.

I ordered a strainer and was thrilled to see them offer sample packs of their teas ... and $5 flat shipping. WOOT!

So since I have the attention span of a puppy (OOOH ... something SHINY! What where you saying?) I decided to write down my impressions of the various teas here so that I can remember what I liked when the samples are gone and I am ready to reorder. Because really, what is the point of getting samples if you then can't remember what you thought of them? Oh its fun being me.

So here is what I bought...
Thin Mint Green
Jasmine Green Pu'erh
Bolder Breakfast
Meditative Mind

and they awesomely sent me a sample of Climbers High, which was freaking awesome since I wanted to try that anyway AND it had no nuts or fruit in it (I'm still unsure of the sulfite status of the fruit in this tea but I love that there isn't fruit in everything). SCORE!

So here we go ... my thoughts on the first of these (the latter will come later). Keep in mind that I'm only posting my own opinions on these. I'm not a huge fan of green, grassy flavored teas or Earl Grey so I won't be trying any of those :P

Thin Mint Green - OMG yum. Ok I have to say that I am REALLY picking about my mint teas. I don't usually even bother trying them since they usually disappoint. In thinking about it, I realized that I like very complex, not overly sweet mint teas with alot of depth. For example Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime leaves me cold but their Sleepytime Vanilla is positively yummy (Celestial Seasonings has no idea who I am). In that case the vanilla still has a bit of sweet to it but it has enough depth that it's a perfect snuggly tea. BACK ON TRACK, MELISSA!! (See, just like a puppy ... SQUIRREL! ... what was I saying?) Ok, so Thin Mint Green. It. Freaking. Rocks. I'm going to order more ASAP because I don't want to face a morning without me. In fact its kinda killing me that I'm forcing myself to try all the others before I make another pot of this. It has a sharp, clear but rich peppermint taste with deep dark notes to it - the name really is perfect for it. While there is no chocolate in this tea, the website says the dark chocolaty notes come from the fact that the green tea leaves are roasted. I dunno. I just know that I tend not to like teas that have chocolate added but I heart this one. MWAH. Big kiss, Thin Mint Green.

Ok. More later. The cranky three year old needs to go to dance class :| Please feel free to message me with my errors in spelling or grammar. I'm exhausted but I do care about that stuff.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What can you accomplish...

... when someone believes in you?

Two years ago I began to have difficulty driving. My comfort-level and driving radius began to shrink as my energy, concentration and focus declined. I said goodbye to friends in Framingham, then Arlington... let go of grocery shopping, knitting classes and mom's nights out. Finally I let go of acupuncture and driving the children to school.

I drove as long as I felt safe, pushed myself to every safe limit and even tho I was never afraid I had to admit my abilities had changed.

One year ago, I stopped driving.

I still climbed into the van about once a month and piloted it down the street to the pharmacy or the natural food store to keep my nerve but I returned home each time exhausted and worn.

My family and friends rallied around me, offering rides and company. Some people are homebodies. Some people have to be on the move ... I am the latter. Not being able to hop in my car and drive the kids to the playground or the library was killing me. There is no helpful public transport nearby and nothing we can walk to.

About a month ago something changed. I began to wonder if I could look at this in shades of gray as opposed to black and white. Maybe I could get back to driving just a little bit. Maybe there was something I could change that would make it just a little bit easier.

It. Was. The. Van.

Why the heck do we have a van? My husband's SUV is a decent size for us with plenty of cargo space. I bought the van thinking we'd give rides to the girls' friends in the extra seats. Except... if I can't drive, then I can't drive my own kids, let alone extra kids. It was GREAT to get my heavy-heavy infant and little kiddo into their rear facing seat and I could easily get their double stroller into it. Except... they are bigger kids now, sit forward facing, can climb into their own seat and don't ride in a stroller any more. It was fantastic for carrying my huge babycarrier stash to conferences and babywearing meetings. Except... I don't teach any more because it's too fatiguing.

Why the heck do we have a van?


I was torn. Why trade in my van for something smaller, easier to manage when I haven't driven in a year? Should we really be car hunting right after having to replace my husbands car due to an accident? Can I handle the strain of another vehicle search and negotiation?

My husband said Try it. My mom and dad said Try it. I know all three of them said it with reservations ... I know they weren't convinced that a different car would make a difference. But what if it did? Tina and Lise said GO for it!

It had to be small enough that I could maneuver it without too much strain, a seat that was not to high nor too low, large enough to be safe and comfortably hold my family. Oy.

Research, comparisons, eyeballing cars in parking lots led to visiting car lots and then mini test drives (some cars I never even got out of the lot). Until today. Full serious test drive. For an accurate comparison, I drove Maddie to school first in the van. Still completely exhausting.

I know alot of people who get nervous driving a new vehicle ... try doing it out of practice. It was...


I'm not kidding myself. My body, my abilities are still the same. But if I can make driving just a LITTLE easier and be able to drive just a LITTLE bit, I know my family and I will be so much happier.

I know it seems bizarre that I didn't try this earlier but those who know me truly understand how hard I have tried to hang onto every possible shred of freedom these last fews years. And I did try other people's cars but never before realized all the components that impacted my abilities (tinted windows, low/high seats, large size etc).

So thanks, Paul, Lise, Tina, Mom and Dad ... its amazing how a person's life can open up because someone has faith in them and encourages them to try.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Girls Night Cheddar Dip

I just put this dip together in about 10 minutes while waiting for my brother in law to pick me up. My sister is having her first Girls Night at her house and I was at a loss as to what to bring ... I didn't NEED to bring anything but I wanted to. You know.

Sadly I forgot until the last minute that I couldn't drive to the store so if the fridge didn't give something up, nothing was happening.

I remembered I have a teeny 2.5c crockpot - more like an electric dip warmer really - that I received as a gift ages ago. And of course I have have cheese. Alot. Of. Cheese.

Well then ... cheese dip it is. Apparently the results of this experiment were good as the kids are currently fighting over the spoons :|

Once again, this is all to taste... measurements are for sissies and bread bakers. Because lets face it ... if you don't measure when you bake bread you end up with lovely fragrant doorstop.

Girls Night Cheddar Dip

Cream cheese - do it right, use the real stuff here
Shredded sharp cheddar
half & half (or heavy cream ... or milk I suppose...or beer - see beer variation below)
dried chopped onions
hot pepper flakes (I used Aleppo Flakes by Penzy's ... simply b/c they were in the front of the fridge)
hot sauce (Cholula all the way, baby)

In a small sauce pan over med-low heat, stir the two cheeses together until they melt. Keep stirring until mostly melted. Add in seasonings, stir well. Add cream to desired consistancy. Keep stirring, tasting and adjusting spices til its juuuuuuuuuust right ;)


I suppose you could eliminate the hot stuff but what fun is that?

*Beer Variation-
If you are going to use beer as your liquid, bring about 1/2c to a simmer and allow to heat for a few minutes THEN begin adding cheese and other ingredients. This takes the harsh alchoholy edge off the beer. Be sure to use beer you enjoy drinking as the flavor will come through.

ETA: This sucker needs to stay warm so either serve in a heated crock or a fondue pot.