Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Awesome New App for Parents

By today's standards, I had my kids young (at 22 and 23 years old).While being a young mom has lots of benefits, one thing that is particularly hard to navigate is starting a career and making a name for oneself while also juggling motherhood. I realize this is a struggle at any age, and "mommy-guilt" (or "daddy-guilt") creeps in no matter what path one chooses.

I was fortunate enough to make a career shift just over three years ago and begin working for myself. It hasn't always been easy or fruitful, but I think it's been the best decision for my family. In order to make it all work, Edith and Eric go to a preschool/pre-K program three days a week. It has turned out wonderfully for us - the kids love their teachers and I feel they are receiving great educational and social benefits. Despite all of this, I can't help but feel like I'm missing out on all the fun they have! I can't monitor their sniffles or take part in some special milestones. It's a bitter pill.

Now I have an ally in the work/motherhood balance. It's called Karoo and it's a free app from the team that brought us Karoo is currently available for iPhone users, with an Android-compatible version out later this year. Karoo allows you to stay abreast of the details of childcare while you are away from your kids - everything from pictures to medical updates to sharing emergency numbers. Caregivers can post videos, pictures, and stories to your Karoo account and share information on how the day went on your child's carelogs. Parents can comment back on the updates and participate in the day, even though work and other obligations keep them away from the kiddos. But just like, this isn't just for childcare; use Karoo for eldercare and petcare, as well!

iPhone Screenshot 1

The features I like best about Karoo are that everything becomes centralized and I choose who sees what. No more sifting through all my text messages, or my Twitter or Facebook feeds (or emails) to see what's up with my kids. I only have to look one place to find everything I need. The same is true for my kids teachers and our lovely babysitter, Carissa; they only need to look on Karoo to find feeding, nap, or medication schedules or emergency numbers (because that chart on the fridge always gets lost!).

I also really like that I can choose who sees updates about my kids. My parents or Dave can sign-up for a Karoo account (ps - this is a FREE app, and all someone needs to use it is an email account for username verification and a password) and request permission to see updates about the kids. I control what they see (you can always deny access to anyone, at any time. This includes former childcare providers to keep sensitive or private stuff on a need-to-know basis) and can decide if they can see all updates on my Karoo page or just fun stuff like pictures or videos. I can also determine if they can comment or not, which is great. Even though I feel most people are good at heart, there are some crazy folks out there and we need to do whatever is needed to keep our kids safe. Karoo helps me do that by regulating how much information I share about my kids and family and keeps all my Facebook "friends" and Twitter followers from knowing everything about my life.

I definitely recommend Karoo. You can download it for free on the Karoo website or in the Apple iTunes store. If you try it out, let me know how you like it!

Oh, and just a heads-up: This post was inspired by my participation in a compensated program initiated by Women Online/The Mission List. All commentary and opinions are, of course, my own. Thanks for understanding my need for sponsored posts to support my family. I would use Karoo either way, as it is a really outstanding app for working parents, like me! You can learn more about Karoo and by following them on Twitter.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

On Letter-Writing


Joan Crawford’s unique loyalty to her fans is arguably one of her most famous traits. Even when receiving virtually thousands of fan letters by the week, she took considerable time out of her days to reply to as many as she could. Her awareness of the people to whom she owed her success was (and still is) a startlingly rare trait among stars of her caliber, but Joan did not see any benefit in being distant or lofty—and so the Crawford bond with the public was perhaps the strongest in all of Hollywood. The correspondence with the starry-eyed fans, and her acknowledgement of them, their admiration, and their gratitude, usually did not stop after just one reply. Often Joan would carry on writing letters back and forth with these strangers, soon becoming familiar with them and their lives. (One fan gives an account of writing to Joan in eighth grade and continuing the two-way correspondence until she graduated high school—Joan would often ask her about her school, her friends, etc.) This devotion to her fans continued well up until her death in 1977.Joan’s inimitable dedication to communicating with the people in her life extended, of course, most prominently to her friends. Joan never missed a birthday, an achievement, a congratulations—a holiday never went by for friends of Joan without a gift and a kind personal letter.In Conversations with Joan Crawford, Roy Newquist dissects this unparalleled part of Joan’s character with her, telling her that when he had spoken with Otto Preminger “he mentioned how you hand-write greetings to everyone you know well—hundreds of people—at Christmas and on their birthdays, and that it isn’t at all unusual for people to get a thank-you note in response to their thank-you note. There’s nothing hard or detached about this sort of thing. It shows an unusual degree of concern and kindness.”“I’m sorry that you have to use the word ‘unusual,’” Joan replies. “I don’t see why people can’t demonstrate, as a routine in their lives, their love or concern or respect for each other. It costs so little in time and effort and money to remember someone. I know how grateful I am when someone goes out of the way to pay me a kindness, and if they put some sort of personal stamp on it, so much greater the appreciation.“I’m sure all of us have suffered the loss of a loved one and felt guilty as hell because we didn’t do more for that person when he or she was still alive. … I’m not religious enough to believe they know how we really felt after they’ve gone; I want to do as much as I can while they’re still here. And there have been quite a few times in my life when I know I didn’t do the things I should have and could have so easily done. […] “But about the thank-you notes, or just the best-wishes—they’re no big deal. People deserve to be remembered on special occasions, and appreciate being remembered, so why not do it?”

I recently saw a post on Bittersweet Farm Girl about Joan Crawford and her letter-writing habits. Sometimes things really just speak to you, and this particular blog post was one of them. I've been criticized before for being "too nice" to people in terms of hand-written notes and other small gestures. Is it really such a bad thing to make the people you care about feel special? I'd say no way. Nada. Never.

I guess Joan Crawford felt the same way. Perhaps unmatched in her loyalty to her fans, she took great lengths to reply to as many of the thousands of fan letters she received as she could. She wrote thoughtful responses to her admirers, often continuing a conversation through letters with certain fans for years. She never let a friend's birthday or special date slip by without proper acknowledgement and commemorated special achievements with personal letters and notes of congratulations.

Roy Newquist's Conversations with Joan Crawford documents this dedication to considerate correspondence. In reply to a comment about her "unusual degree of concern and kindness," Ms. Crawford responds:

“I’m sorry that you have to use the word ‘unusual,’” Joan replies. “I don’t see why people can’t demonstrate, as a routine in their lives, their love or concern or respect for each other. It costs so little in time and effort and money to remember someone. I know how grateful I am when someone goes out of the way to pay me a kindness, and if they put some sort of personal stamp on it, so much greater the appreciation.

“I’m sure all of us have suffered the loss of a loved one and felt guilty as hell because we didn’t do more for that person when he or she was still alive. … I’m not religious enough to believe they know how we really felt after they’ve gone; I want to do as much as I can while they’re still here. And there have been quite a few times in my life when I know I didn’t do the things I should have and could have so easily done.
[…] “But about the thank-you notes, or just the best-wishes—they’re no big deal. People deserve to be remembered on special occasions, and appreciate being remembered, so why not do it?”

My sentiments exactly. 

Where do you stand on the matter? Do you still hand-write notes? Or do you have a favorite online source for sending notes? (I love Paperless Post when unable to send a proper note via post.) Please share!

*This excerpt was first posted on Orsons Tumblr.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Corn Cob Jelly

Please excuse the wild children and Cozy Coupe in the background.

File this under "Weird Things To Can" (perhaps along with Tomato Jam). Corn cob jelly sounds so, well, weird, right? How could that possibly taste good?

It does, I promise. In fact, it tastes remarkably like wildflower honey. I've heard others make that claim, but I didn't believe it until I tried it for myself. But kind of like Queen Anne's Lace Jelly, this isn't something I would necessarily want to add to my PB&J's. So after I made it I had to figure out how to use it. Turns out it tastes great on a cheese board, on fried green tomatoes, on hush puppies, and even on top of more corn (in the form of fritters). I'm sure it would be delicious on any other kind of pan-fried offering. I might even get brave and try it in place of honey in different sauce and dressing recipes. If you try to make it, let me know and tell me how you used it!

Oh, and my pal Jillian has a great how-to for freezing corn, in case you were interested (save those cobs, Jillian!).

Corn Cob Jelly
Makes 3 1/2 cups, or 3 1/2 half-pints

12 sweet corn cobs
4 1/2 cups water
3 1/2 cups sugar
1 packet liquid pectin

1. In a large pot, combine water and corn cobs. Cut the corn cobs in half (carefully!) if necessary. Cover and boil for 30 minutes. Allow to cool slightly.

2. Using cheesecloth and/or a fine mesh strainer, pour out the liquid and reserve it. Discard corn cobs (carve yourself a pipe, leave for squirrels and other critters, or simply compost). Rinse out the pot and add the "corn stock" back to it.

3. Place the pot over medium-high heat and add sugar. Bring to a boil and add pectin. Reduce heat to medium and continue to cook until the jelly is at preferred "set" stage (when it sheets off your wooden stirring spoon or congeals as soon as it hits a plate pulled from the freezer).

4. Carefully pour the hot jelly into desired vessel(s) (freezer jars, canning jars, or a dish for the refrigerator). Wipe rim(s) and cover. If you want shelf-stable jelly, process in a hot water-bath canner for time appropriate to your jars (5 minutes for quarter-pints, 7-10 minutes for half-pints, 15-20 minutes for pints). Jelly will last for 3-6 months in the fridge and up to a year in the freezer or pantry (if processed properly). Enjoy!

*Optional step: If you want your jelly to be more yellow, add a few drops of yellow food color to the corn stock before adding sugar and pectin.

Elderberry Cordial

I'm over at From Scratch Club today talking about finding elderberry trees on my property (awesome surprise!) and how to forage for your own elderberries. I also offered up two recipes: One for making an elderberry cordial, and another on an awesome champagne cocktail using your homemade cordial (picture above). Definitely check out the post, if you can!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Tomato Jam

When I mention to people that I'm making tomato jam, the reply is often "Huh?" Or, "Wha.." Or, "Tomato jam? You can't make jam out of tomatoes!" Someone once said that I've probably done enough canning for the year if I have to resort to jamming-up tomatoes. Listen, I get it. It sounds a little weird. But then once I explain the taste (kind of like ketchup) and how I use it (on soft cheeses, to top burgers, mixed with mayonnaise for sandwiches, combined with oil and other ingredients for salad dressing, or as a starting point to BBQ sauce), people are generally more open-minded to the recipe.

This tomato jam recipe is a great way to use up tomatoes, especially those times when you don't quiet have enough to make a batch of sauce, but eating them fresh just doesn't sound that interesting. Do not remove the skins and seeds from your tomatoes - you'll need them to create a nice, thick, jammy-texture.

Tomato Jam
Makes about 4 1/2 cups (4 1/2 half-pint jars)

4 pounds tomatoes (I used a mix of heirloom slicing tomatoes and plum varieties)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 red onion, peeled and diced finely
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoons fresh ginger, finely grated
1 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons bottled lemon juice*
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes (more, if you like spicy!)

1. Wash and weigh your tomatoes (remove any stems). Cut them into a large dice (remove hard hulls), set aside.

2. In your jam pot, heat oil over medium-low heat and add garlic, onion, and salt. Saute for a few minutes until the garlic is golden and onions begin to soften and look glassy (be careful not to burn your garlic! The taste will be too bitter to correct later in the recipe. If you blacken the garlic, rinse out your pot and start over).

3. Add to the pot the tomatoes, ginger, vinegar, lemon juice, sugars, cloves, cinnamon sticks, and red pepper flakes. Stir together and bring to a boil (over high heat). Once the mixture boils, reduce heat to medium and allow to simmer for 30 minutes. Stir frequently, scraping the bottom of the pot to avoid burning.

4. After 30 minutes, the tomatoes should be soft and easily squished with the back of a wooden spoon. The jam should also be thick, around the consistency of a chunky tomato sauce. Turn off the heat and allow jam to cool slightly. If you are freezing or storing your jam in the refrigerator, ladle the jam into desired containers.

5. To can this jam, ladle it into sterilized half-pint (or smaller) jars, leaving a 1/2-inch headspace. Wipe rims clean, use a chopstick or butter knife to remove air bubbles, and seal with lids and bands. Process in a pressure canner or hot water-bath canner (half-pint jars will need about seven minutes to be properly preserved). Canned tomato jam will last in a cool, dry place for up to 12 months. Frozen jam will last for about eight months, while jam in the fridge will stay tasty for three-to-four months.

*Lemon juice boosts the acidity of tomatoes to make them acceptable for canning. So, add the bottled lemon juice or... face uncertain death through botulism. Your choice.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Banh Mi-Style Pickles

A few years ago, I don't think anyone that I was familiar with knew what a Banh Mi was. Now all my friends rave about it, and rightly so.

For those of you unfamiliar, Banh Mi is a French-inspired Vietnamese sandwich comprised of a rice flour baguette, a hollandaise-style spread, various forms of pork, jalapeno peppers, cilantro, cucumbers, and a carrot-and-radish pickle mix. Call it Colonialism at its best: The essential French elements of crusty-yet-fluffy baguette and hollandaise mingle with the Asian flavors of Daikon radish and rice vinegar to create a sandwich many consider a new favorite.

Pickles seem to play a key role in many famous sandwiches - you can't really have a Cuban sandwich without them, and pulled pork just isn't the same if it doesn't have tangy slaw or vinegary pickled onions to top it. Banh Mi-style pickles are easy to make and incredibly versatile. Don't limit their use to just sandwiches. Get creative and try them over grilled meats or in salads for a bright, sweetly-acidic bite.

Bahn Mi-Style Pickles
Makes about 2 pints

2 cups carrots, peeled and julienned*
2 cups radish (Daikon is best, but any radish will do in a pinch), washed and julienned
1/2 cup, plus 2 teaspoons, sugar
2 teaspoons pickling salt
1 1/2 cups rice vinegar
1 1/2 cups warm water

1. Combine the carrot and radish in a bowl and toss to combine. Add 2 teaspoons of sugar and salt to the bowl, then "massage" the carrot and radish to release water and soften. When a piece of radish can be bent in half without snapping, the massage is done (about three minutes -- do not skip this step! Releasing moisture like this will help keep the veggies crunchy after pickling).

2. Place veggie mix in a colander and run under cold water for a few minutes to rinse away the sugar and salt. Drain thoroughly.

3. In a separate bowl, combine 1/2 cup of sugar, vinegar, and warm water. Mix until the sugar has completely dissolved (this is the "brine").

4. Divide the veggie mix evenly into two pint-size jars (or in one larger jar, if preferred). Pour the brine over the veggies, being sure to completely submerge the carrot and radish. Cover and allow to sit overnight in the refrigerator for best flavor. Banh Mi-style pickles will last up to six weeks in the refrigerator. Enjoy!

* To julienne is to cut into long, thin strips, like matchsticks or "shoe strings." For more information, watch this video.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Bread and Butter Pickles

Bread and butter pickles are kind of like sunshine in a jar. So sweet and so tangy at the same time. If you've never made them before, be warned: It takes a while. But it's mostly hands-off time. Unlike basic dill pickles, bread and butter pickles require several steps but are still pretty easy to make.

Bread and Butter Pickles
Makes about 4 pints

2 1/2 pounds pickling cucumbers
1 pound white onions, thinly sliced (about one large onion)
1/4 cup pickling salt
1 1/4 cups white distilled vinegar
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3/4 teaspoon celery seeds
1 inch cinnamon stick
6 allspice berries (plus a pinch of ground allspice)
6 whole cloves (plus a pinch of ground cloves)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
Grape leaves (optional)

1. Clean the cucumbers thoroughly and remove all dirt, debris and leaves. Remove the ends (cut off a 1/8-inch slice from each end), then slice the cucumbers into 1/4-inch thick rounds. Place in a large bowl along with onions and salt. Mix together, then cover with ice and allow to sit at room temperature for two hours (don't skip this step! It keeps the cukes crunchy after pickling).

2. Rinse cucumbers and onions in a colander thoroughly to remove salt. Drain.

3. In a large pot, combine the white and apple cider vinegar, sugar, and spices. Whisk to dissolve sugar and bring to a boil. Add cucumbers and onions and stir to cover with vinegar mixture (brine). Bring back to a boil.

4. Using a slotted spoon, place the cucumbers and onions in sterilized pint-size canning jars (if using the grape leaves, which are a natural source of alum and help keep pickles crunchy, add one leaf-per-pint to the bottom of jars before adding cukes). Fill to 1/2-inch from the top of the jar. Pour brine over the top of cukes and onions, leaving the same 1/2-inch headspace.

5. Wipe the rims of the jars clean and add sterilized lids/bands. Process in a hot water-bath canner for 15 minutes (20 minutes for elevations above 6,000 feet). Or, store in the refrigerator until ready to eat. Enjoy!