Thursday, August 29, 2013

You Say Tomato, I Say Tamahto

Actually, to me it doesn’t matter how you say it as long as you don’t waste them. In fact, it may be illegal to waste yummy, red garden tomatoes. Okay, maybe it isn’t, but it should be!
Write your senator.
 
Anyhoo, this morning I spent two and a half hours making sure I didn’t waste one drop of my tomatoes (and my Mother’s) by canning tomato juice. Whenever I say this to my friends, they look at me like I’ve lost my mind and always say, I could never do that. If you are one of these people that believes they wouldn’t have a clue as to what to do with canning tomato juice then this post is for you. Trust me, it’s so easy you’ll wonder why you never have before.
I had about 10 pounds of tomatoes which made a little over a gallon of juice. The first step is to score your tomatoes like this..
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Then in a big pot, bring enough water to boil to cover about 4 or 5 tomatoes. Also, right next to it, take another pot with about the same amount of water and add ice to it so you have a ice water bath. Proceed to drop your tomatoes into the boiling water and wait about 30 seconds. No more than that, please! Take them immediately out of the boiling water and submerge them in the ice water.
Give them a few seconds and then pull them out and all that skin will just come off in your hand like this..
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Pretty simple, huh? Do this process to all the tomatoes and then core them and you should have a bowl of gloriously de-skinned tomatoes like this in about 30 minutes with little effort..
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Beautiful. Now, you could throw these in freezer bags and freeze them for recipes later, like chili or veggie soup…
OR you can go the extra mile like I did and juice them.
Lucky for me my Hubby bought me the juicing and grinding attachment for my Kitchen Aid mixer and so I hooked it up..
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If you don’t have one of these awesome, life saving contraptions, you can use an old fashioned tomato strainer like this one…
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It works just fine, so have no worries. Either way you should end up with about a gallon of juice.
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Isn’t that the biggest Bloody Mary you’ve ever seen?! Just kidding.
Okay, quickly…how many quarts in a gallon??
No fair Googling it.
The answer is 4, so I tossed 4 of my quart canning jars into my dishwasher and washed on high heat to prepare them for the canning process. In the meantime I had this going…
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From L to R : The lids to the jars are simmering away in the small pan, the juice is being brought up to exactly 190 degrees but not a boil, and in the back my canning pot is filled with water and starting to boil.
Once my jars have been sterilized, I set them next to the juice and started to fill them..
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Once they were filled, leaving a 1/4 inch headspace at the top, I added 1 teaspoon of salt and then placed a hot lid on top, screwed down the ring (but not tightly) and placed them into the canner to process for 40 minutes.
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Once the 40 minutes is up, carefully remove the cans from the hot canner and set to the side to finish sealing. You should enjoy the sounds of popping lids for the rest of the day! ..
and you should enjoy your garden tomatoes for the rest of the winter! As for any left over juice that didn’t make it into the jars…   well, drink it, or make that bloody mary, you’ve earned it.
One other tip.. if you have any questions or really like this canning business, go get this book..
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I call this my “Canning Bible”. I have canned and preserved my WHOLE life and every once in a while I still have a question or two or five. This has everything you could ever want to know about making jams, jellies, canning tomatoes, green beans, etc. If you can preserve it, it is in this book. It is usually sold anywhere canning supplies are sold and it will be something you keep forever.
Happy Thursday.
love,
Val

Friday, August 23, 2013

A Party Without Cake Is Just A Meeting.

This week I had a major Lucy moment.

Wednesday was my friend Kenzie’s birthday. Kenzie also happens to work for me at my salon along with Lacy, my other hairstylist. On Thursday, when she came to work, she brought in a single plate with a couple of pieces of birthday cake on it  and set it down on the counter. As she set them down she said, “I brought you girls some birthday cake!”  I remarked, “How sweet Kenz, thanks for the cake!”

We worked quite diligently for a couple hours and then I found myself with a few minutes to spare while I waited on my client’s color to finish processing. I walked over to the counter and sat down at the computer to do a little work, answer the phone, and …eat my cake, of course! So there I sat working and eating my piece of cake when I suddenly thought, Ugh, I can’t eat anymore of this icing, it’s just too much. Now this is something I NEVER think so I looked down at the plate to see just how much icing I had left and discovered the reason why I was on icing overload.

I looked at Lacy and yelped out, “OH NO! Lacy, I ate your piece of cake!! I’m so sorry!”

Yep, I wasn’t paying a bit of attention and ate BOTH pieces of cake off the plate. AND to make matters worse, Lacy is expecting a baby so I actually stole food from a pregnant woman.

Needless to say there was about a 30 minute frame of time when we couldn’t get much else done but laugh uncontrollably. I actually laughed so hard that my stomach hurt that night when I went home. I still can’t believe I ate all the cake.

So today is my Hubby’s birthday and it just so happens that my Grandmother made one of her famous Angel Food Cakes for him to enjoy. This cake also happens to be a favorite of Lacy’s ….so I had a plan. I knew Lacy was working at her other job this morning which happens to be at a bank. After I dropped off my Son at school I swung through the bank and made a deposit of Angel Food Cake to Lacy. She was very happy to see the cake while laughing at me actually sliding the cake through the deposit drawer.

I hope I made it up to her, but at least we all enjoyed a good laugh and  I think we all learned a few things during this experience.

1. NEVER put two pieces of cake on ONE plate. One plate = one serving. It’s a rule.

2. Never eat while doing something mindless. You eat mindless too and feel like a glutton.

3. If you’re gonna bring me cake, bring me two pieces. Obviously I feel it’s well deserved.

 

Happy Friday.

Love,

Val

 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

…and so it has begun.

It finally happened today. I knew it was going to, in fact, it’s happened to most of my friends already. I have to admit that I have been a little cocky in the fact that it hadn’t happened to me yet, but today I received my comeuppance.
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It all started out so innocent, you see. At approximately 7:47 am we pulled up to the drop off spot in front of my Son’s school. As always, I gently said, “Take your seat belt off and get ready.” He replied, “I did Mom.” As I rolled to a stop, I turn and look over my seat to say, “Have a good day and be a good boy. I love you.” It’s at this point that everyday for the past 3 years I have blown my baby a kiss from the front seat to which he has always replied, “ I will Mom, love you too.” Then he blows the kiss right back and proceeds to walk to the front doors of his school.
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Today was different. I blew him a kiss like always and I noticed that he didn’t blow one back. So I did it again. And again. Finally, after looking both ways to make sure no one was watching and turning a very light shade of pink, he blew one back. He blew one back so fast that if I hadn’t been staring him down like a hawk watching it’s prey I probably would have missed it.
Oh be still my aching heart. It has begun. That dreaded part in a Mother’s life when her Son will only kiss her if no one is watching. I laughed when I had friends complain about this in Kindergarten. I chuckled when my friends cried to me in First grade. Second grade was my down fall.
Don’t get me wrong, this child is the most loving, sweet and affectionate boy when we are at home. There are times I actually have to tell him to give me a few minutes because I feel like I have been wallowed to the point of no return. But I have a feeling that my days of getting a kiss before school are coming to an end.
What he doesn’t know is that I’m smart and resourceful and I WILL get my kiss!
Tomorrow I will be waiting.
I will be waiting beside the car before he gets in to head to school. Before I unlock the doors he will be forced to kiss his Mother (with no one watching, I don’t want to scar him.) I feel this is my right, you see. I did not deliver a 9 pound 6 oz. baby into this world to NOT get a kiss every morning. It’s a rule!
..or at least it should be.
Happy Wednesday.
Love,
Val

Friday, August 16, 2013

Sarah’s Pics

This week I have been a busy bee. I’ve taken photographs, went back to school shopping, made jelly and styled hair. Hopefully I don’t get too confused and think I’m styling hair while I’m really making jelly. That might not turn out too well.

This week’s glamour photographs were of my best friend. It was so fun to do her hair and make-up and take her pictures, I loved every minute of it!

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This is Sarah. We’ve been friends since we were very little. We’ve been friends so long that now she couldn’t get out of it if she tried.

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Isn’t she gorgeous?! It took me 6 and a half hours to get her ready for this shoot.

…Just kidding.

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It really wasn’t very hard to take great photographs of someone so naturally beautiful and it really only took me 20 minutes to get everything ready to shoot.

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She’s as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside.

..and I’m sure she’d say the same for me. At least she better or else I’m “photoshopping” a mustache on her, pronto.

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Just kidding.  Kind of.

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Hope you enjoyed my photos. Love you Sarah and thank you for letting me take your photos!

Happy Friday.

love,
Val

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Jalapeno Heaven

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My friend gave me a few jalapenos today.

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Okay, she gave me A LOT of jalapenos.

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A grocery sack full of them to be exact.

I was chomping at the bit to make some jalapeno pepper jelly but I hadn’t planted any this year so my friend Marva gave me the mother load. We had made a deal that I would make the jelly if she supplied the peppers so tomorrow I have my work cut out for me! I just couldn’t resist those peppers for dinner this evening after Marva told me her easy recipe for jalapeno poppers.

This evenings dinner got a little spicy.

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First you take your jalapenos (as many as you want) and cut them in half and take out all the seeds and ribs. Then fill those halves with cream cheese. Next, take some bacon and cut each piece in half length wise and then in half again. You’ll want one piece of bacon per popper.

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Wrap each cheese filled pepper with a piece of bacon and place on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 45 minutes.

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Now I did something a little extra to about half of my poppers that my friend didn’t tell me to do but I really liked it.  With about 15 minutes left to go in the oven, I sprinkled half the peppers with brown sugar. The results were so yummy.

They are delicious with or without the sugar, but if you like that salty-sweet-spicy combo, you’ll love the brown sugar on them.

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So easy and so delicious! Thanks so much Marva for the peppers and the recipe!

Happy Tuesday.

love,

Val

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Clingman’s Dome

We finally made it home to Illinois! We pulled in Monday afternoon and since then we have had a birthday party, registered for school, grocery shopped, I had a mini photo shoot and tonight we are getting ready to go to our local fair. Whew, back to the grind stone. I also go back to work tomorrow so I thought I would reminisce one more time about our wonderful vacation to The Great Smoky Mountains National Park and share some pictures that I took the day we went to Clingman’s Dome.

 

If you don’t know what Clingman’s Dome is, it’s the highest peak in the national park and the third highest peak east of the Mississippi River reaching 6,643 feet at it’s peak. On the drive up to the top, you can stop at Newfound Gap, the lowest passable point in the Smokies. It provides some spectacular views looking down on it..

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It is also the state line between Tennessee and North Carolina. So for all of my North Carolina family, I took a picture of the boys at the state line…

 

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(Chris wanted me to mention that it was his idea to pose that way. Seems I have a ham.)

A few more miles drive and you arrive at the dome. Don’t let this next picture fool you. You don’t just park, get out of the car, and walk up this observation tower. You have a half mile hike at about a 30 – 40 degree incline up to the point I took this picture. I decided every calorie I had consumed on vacation had been burned at this point because it was quite an experience. Take into account the thin air …and the hiking …..and the whining kids and I decided that I deserve a metal.

Actually the kids did great hiking this.

But I still want my metal.

 

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The concrete path makes almost a 360 curve to the top so once we got up there, I turned back and took a picture.

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There are no other words but spectacular at this point.

 

 

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This is the NC view..

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This next picture is the TN view and if you look very, very closely you can see Gatlinburg faintly in the distance.

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Just to help you out..

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The trip back down was much more enjoyable and I had to take a picture of my boys having deep discussions about their trip up to the tower and what they saw…

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It must be a very serious discussion.

It’s probably more a discussion some bug one of them has slipped into their pocket, but I’ll worry about that later.

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I had to stop and take a picture of the beautiful wild flowers and this butterfly. It beckoned me.

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And finally the birthday boy..

Happy 7th Birthday Benjamin!

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We had a wonderful time and we’re already planning next years trip to our next national park. If you’ve never been to the Smoky Mountains, it’s something you should definitely put on your bucket list!

 

Happy Wednesday.

love,

Val

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Great Smoky Mountains

This last week my family and I have been on vacation to The Smoky Mountains. We’ve had a great time and all the beautiful scenery in the national park has set the stage for some fun photography moments. Here are a few of my guys right next to some rapids in the park..

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We happened to stop at a ranger’s station to get a few maps and we talked to a very nice woman who gave us the idea to go to Grotto Falls. She told us that it’s only about a mile and a half of walking on a trail  to get to the falls, so we thought it sounded like a great idea. Friday morning we set off on the trail and walked….and walked….and walked. It was ALL uphill straight to the falls and was officially the longest mile and a half I have ever walked. I have never been so proud of my two little guys because they  handled it like champs. As you can tell, it was well worth the trek..

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We got to walk behind them too..

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More falls farther down..

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The view looking out..

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I’ll leave you with my favorite photo so far…

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So beautiful and peaceful, I may have to frame this one.

I’ll have more pics soon!

Happy Saturday.

Love,

Val