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Archive for the ‘Kitchen Fun’ Category

Fruit of Your Labor

Okay, I have a confession to make, and I’m going to make myself sound dumb.  But oh, well, we all have these moments!  I’m just not too proud to share mine.

One of my favorite times of the year is the beginning of June.  May rolls around, and I am anxious for it to end.  Why?  Because the beginning of June brings STRAWBERRY PICKING!  This is one of my all-time favorite things to do!  I started going strawberry picking with my mom in my teens.  It was always a big event, but I didn’t fully appreciate it until I reached adulthood!  The first year I was married, I decided I was going to be a grown-up and venture out on my own strawberry picking excursion!  I was ill-prepared for what I was getting myself into!  I went on a 90 degree day at about noon.  I went without sunscreen or bug spray.  And I went by myself.  Since then, I have learned that I broke all of the rules of strawberry picking.

There is a reason my mom dragged us out into the fields before 8 a.m.  It’s because by 10 a.m. it is scorching out there!  Rule no. 1!

I have an allergic reaction to mosquito bites, resulting in big, ugly red welts that are extremely painful and itchy!  In case you’ve never gone strawberry picking before, mosquitos love to live in the midst of those berries, where it’s all warm and damp, surrounded by layers of hay on the ground.  Mosquito paradise.  Rule no. 2!

While some people may enjoy the solitude of berry picking on their own, I believe it must be a group venture!  Go with your mom, sister, kids, or hubby!  Over the years, my kids and hubby have been my group, with a sister/mom thrown in for good measure.  It is so much more enjoyable to endure the back-breaking labor of berry picking with your loved ones!  You get to watch your kids gobble up the berries as fast as they pick them.  Your husband will appreciate that strawberry jam on a winter morning so much more if he has picked the berries with you.  But more than that, it’s the experience of doing it together.  It builds memories like no other.  Rule no. 3!

My first year of berry picking was a learning experience.  I made one or two batches of jam, sweating over the stove, hating every moment of it.  But something drew me back every year.  I think it is the satisfaction of hearing that lid POP on the fresh jars of jam on the kitchen counter as I sweat over the next batch!  Every year, the stockpile of jam grows!  And when I have filled up all of my jars with jam, I freeze the rest for strawberry shortcake in the dead of winter!

And so yesterday, my husband was a little annoyed with me when I announced that the ‘berry hotline’ said that berries were ready to be picked.  He clearly had other plans for the day, and he also despises the fact that I love to fly by the seat of my pants.  Plans?  What are those?  Plans are made to be broken.  But loving me means that when the berries are ready, we go!  The berry hotline clearly stated that due to a frost late in the season, berries were less than ideal and few in quantity.  After being almost jamless last year because of a bad berry crop, I refused to let it happen again!  So, we were ready and out of the house at a speed I generally do not move at 8:00 on a Sunday morning!

Unfortunately, I threw my back out 2 weeks ago and am still babying it along.  I decided we would just buy the pre-picked and head back home.  But Lulu Grace had other plans!  She was GOING to pick berries.  So we headed out into the field, and Jon and Lulu picked away!  Lulu resisted the urge to eat the berries for awhile, but by the end of the excursion she was in berry heaven – juice running down her chin, berry stains on her shirt!  I tried to pick, but my back squealed in pain after about 5 minutes!  So I had the joy of standing on the edge of the field and watching from the sidelines for a change.  It was fascinating to watch people work.  An older man with one arm helping his wife, very diligent in their task.  Two young families with 4 children under the age of 3, trying to keep their little ones from trampling the berry plants.  A woman who clearly had not been berry picking before, or she never would have worn the pants she had on (the worst plumber butt I have ever witnessed).  A couple on the heavier side, standing up every 5 minutes to soothe their aching backs and knees.  A mom and her teenage daughter working in silence side by side.  Each of them building their own memories.

Lulu insisted on picking a whole flat of berries, which I made into jam last night!  We had toast with fresh strawberry jam for breakfast.  As I was spreading the jam this morning, the verse from Psalms 128:2 popped into my head.  “You will eat the fruit of your labor.  Blessings and prosperity will be yours.”

So here’s my confession.  I paused from the busyness of life for long enough to fully understand the meaning of the verse.  Not that I didn’t understand what it meant before, but I actually realized how by fully living each moment and appreciating all that we are given each day, life has a depth and meaning that we can easily just stumble past as we live our lives.  Work is just work, unless you are able to find the joy behind it – sweaty brow, aching back, mosquito bites, and all!

We were blessed by our berry picking experience in more ways than I can count.  We had a wonderful morning together.  Lulu will carry those memories with her always, the way I have, of working side by side with her mom and dad.  Lulu got to visit with some newborn calves, even daring to let them suck on her little fingers! We carry that memory of what a warm, juicy berry tastes like fresh out of the field.  I thoroughly enjoyed people watching and gained a new perspective on the whole experience.  And we will all relive that experience with every bite of jam we eat over the next year.   In the end, the labor of picking berries and making jam is nothing compared to the blessings that pour from the experience and the feeling of richness and prosperity that comes with opening a ruby red jar of jam on a cold winter morning!

Berry picking season has just begun.  You should go today…

Fondant Made Simple!

I love decorating cakes.  It’s an awesome way to be creative and try new things.  I do NOT, however, have a gift for frosting cakes!  Actually, I just suck at it.  I try to be patient.  I try to make my hands create what I see in my head.  What I end up with is a big pile of buttercream frosting with chunks of cake mixed in for good measure.  Basically, a big visual YUCK!

So imagine my delight when my sister, Ruth, and I committed to making my sister, Beccee’s, wedding cake about 12 years ago.  In all of our cake decorating research, we discovered fondant.  It was not being widely used yet, at least not in our little part of the world.  Well, we gave it our all and created an awesome cake, full of as much character as my sister Beccee and her husband.    I was hooked on fondant!

Over the years I’ve used it a lot for kids birthdays and for two other weddings.  I have made it from scratch, bought it pre-made.  All of them kind of sucked.  They taste awful, kind of like mushy cardboard.  I finally cashed it in on the fondant, because it was a lot of work and seemed to bring down the quality of the cake with it’s icky taste.

When I volunteered to make my niece’s birthday cake last week, I knew to get the look I wanted, I would have to revisit my old friend, ‘Fondant.”  While researching some recipes, I stumbled across Marshmallow Fondant.  I have to say I didn’t have high hopes for it being successful.  It sounded like it would be one big huge mess to make.  But it seemed like the easiest of the recipes and required only 4 ingredients.  So, I threw caution to the wind, and our adorable puppy cake above was the final product.

I will caution that this recipe IS a mess to make, but it was worth the effort.  Super simple, lots of elbow grease, and LOTS of Crisco, about 10 minutes of your time, and BAM – you have fondant!  And while it still is not delicious, it tastes better than any other fondant recipe I’ve tried.

I did not take any pictures as I was making it.  I had Crisco up to my elbows.  But I will try to keep directions simple and straightforward.  If you have questions, please feel free to comment.  I will answer as quickly as possible!  I know how frustrating it can be to be all gung-ho about starting a project that you find online, only to end up with 10 questions that you can’t get an answer to!  But really, this is very simple.  And this is one time that if you have a big mess happening, you are on the right track!

Marshmallow Fondant

16 ounces mini marshmallows (go with name-brand, not generic/store brand)

2 to 5 Tablespoons Water

2 pounds Powdered Sugar (again, go with name-brand)

Crisco

Melt marshmallows and 2 Tbsp water in a double boiler.  (My double boiler is a large pot of boiling water with a stainless steel or glass bowl resting on top of it.  No need for anything fancy.)  Stir marshmallows until completely melted.  Remove bowl from heat.

Pour 3/4 of the powdered sugar on top of the melted marshmallows.  Begin to stir with a spoon.  Using Crisco, thoroughly grease hands (remove rings, grease in between fingers, thoroughly coating your hands).  You will need to continue to grease your hands as you work the fondant, so you may want to place a generous amount into a small bowl that you can just glop into!

Sprinkle counter generously with powdered sugar.  Once the sugar and marshmallows are fairly well combined, pour the contents of bowl onto countertop.  Again, at this point you will have a big, sticky mess!  Begin using your hands to knead the fondant.  You are going to continue to add the remainder of the powdered sugar and water a small amount at a time as you knead the fondant.  If the fondant seems to crack or tear once you have added all of the powdered sugar, continue to add a 1/2 tbsp of water at a time until it does not tear easily.  This will make the fondant really sticky again, but just keep kneading.  If you are stuck to the fondant, add more Crisco to your hands.  The fondant will stick to the countertop at times.  Just scrape with a spatula, sprinkle more powdered sugar onto the countertop, and continue to knead.  It takes a good 10 minutes of kneading to fully combine all of the ingredients.  Don’t give up!  If the fondant isn’t enough to keep you going, a side benefit is that the Crisco is going to give you soft, smooth hands by the end of the process!

The fondant will be done when it looks like a nice lump of firm playdough!  At this point, coat the outside of the fondant with a layer of Crisco to keep it moist, double wrap it with plastic wrap, and place it all in a plastic ziploc bag.  Let it sit for about 12 hours or more.  This step is not necessary, but it does allow time for the ingredients to fully combine.  I think it just makes it easier to work with the fondant.  The fondant will keep like this for several weeks in the refrigerator.

After letting the fondant sit, you can separate it into the correct portions you need to add your color.  I have always used Wilton’s cake decorating colors.  I think they are bright and vibrant and are easily obtainable.   Before incorporating the color, place the fondant into the microwave on a defrost setting for about 15 to 20 seconds.  This softens the mixture a bit, making pliable and easier to mix in your color and roll out for your cake.

And, voila!  You have just made fondant!  CONGRATULATIONS!  Make sure to take pictures and share your creations with us!