26 August 2008

Are You Jealous Yet?

After this weekend's crab apple jelly success, I decided to take advantage of a surplus of blackberries and make blackberry jelly. I've never made blackberry jelly before. Nor has my mother. Nor even the folks from whom I got the berries. Still, I like blackberries and this year's crop is particularly good (all the rain, I'm sure) so it seemed like a good idea. My sister and I went up to our cousin's farm and she borrowed one of their four wheelers to get to the berry patch. Which is less of a patch and more of everywhere along the four wheeler trails. We set to work picking berries and came out with 3 quarts, which is about what I figured we needed. Of course, our cousin gave us another bucketful because she'd been picking mostly for the sake of picking and had way more berries than she needed. It was difficult to walk away from all the berries. Everywhere I looked were big, fat, juicy, ripe blackberries.

I brought the berries home and washed them. Then I tossed them in a pot with some water and simmered them to mush. Despite how they look in the pot, they were BLACKberries when I started.

I mashed the mush, and strained it through a wire mesh sieve. It worked better than expected, and much easier than cheesecloth.

Look at all those seeds. Why on earth would anybody make jam out of these things? It wouldn't be a peanut butter and jam sandwich, it would be peanut butter and seeds. Jelly is a much better idea.

I added sugar. Lots of sugar. It's scary how much sugar is put into jams and jellies.

It's kind of cool the way the sugar absorbs some of the juice and then sort of creates a protective barrier around the rest of the sugar. It takes a lot of stirring to make it all dissolve.

Then the boiling and adding of pectin, as you'll recall from the crab apple adventure. We also have the "scary boiling up and almost over the edge of the pot." You're forced to turn the heat down, but you can't turn it down so much that it stops boiling. Very touch and go.

You'll have to remember the jelly pouring and wax pouring from the crab apple adventure, as it is most difficult to pour the jelly and take pictures at the same time. You'll also have to cross your fingers that the jelly sets up over the next couple days. Because if it doesn't, nobody will be getting any blackberry jelly good friend or not. If it does set up, it's some good jelly, I can tell you that much. I tasted it and it's superb. Sweet, sweet, sweet. Almost too sweet, but not quite. I may be forced to try another batch and boil it longer in the hopes it will set up better.

By the by, does anybody have any recipes for making juice out of this jelly juice? The juice I get for making into jelly is really more of a syrup. I think it would make a great juice for drinking, though. Same with the crap apple. Might be fun to make and can or freeze juice.

Again, I have calculated my approximate cost of making this jelly. Drum roll please: $1.50. But, that's only because I had to go out and buy more jars. If not for that, it would have been $0.50 a jar. Even at $1.50, though, it beats the grocery store prices. Now, if I can just find somebody with free raspberries, I'll be all set.


You've heard of the Localvore movement, I'm sure. It's becoming all the rage around here. We've had several articles in the local newspaper this summer regarding different people attempting different variations of the Localvore idea. I'm neither the cook nor the grocery shopper for my household, so I don't really worry about it. But, I'm feeling very Localvore lately. This past weekend, I made crab apple jelly. I love crab apple jelly. I hadn't had any for years and then a couple years ago I found an orchard with one crab apple tree. So, I made jelly. This year, we ran out of jelly and decided we had to make more. Except, those crab apples are expensive. Then we realized that the tree we walk by several times a week is a crab apple tree. And it was loaded with crab apples. Big, beautiful, red, crab apples. Free crap apples as it turns out, because the folks who own the property gave us permission to pick as many apples as we wanted. And that's exactly what we did.

We picked apples. (No, that's not me in the picture.)

Then we brought the apples home and washed them.

We removed the stems and quartered them, but we did not core them. We added some water, put them in a big pot, and boiled them to mush.

We mashed up the mush, strained it through cheesecloth, and measured out the juice.

We added sugar to the juice, poured it into a different pot and boiled it again. Once it reached a rolling boil, we added the liquid pectin, and let it boil for a couple more minutes.

We removed it from the stove, and scooped off the foam.

I let my mother pour it into the jars, because she is an expert jelly pourer and I totally suck at it.

We scooped off some more foam from each jar. We may not be taking it to the fair, but we want pretty jelly.

Because not all our jars are honest to goodness jelly jars (we're cheap and like to reuse store bought jelly jars. and pickle jars. and olive jars. and just about any kind of glass jar with a screw top lid), we have to seal some of them with wax. I let mom pour the wax, too, because she's so good at pouring. (Don't you just love my homemade loop loom potholders?)

And we now have lots of jars of beautiful, yummy crap apple jelly. If you're a good friend of mine, you're likely to get a jar at some point in the near future. If you're not a good friend, it sucks to be you. Perhaps your local grocery store will sell you some crap apple jelly, unfortunately, it won't be as good as mine.

And it's a good thing we didn't plan to take any to the fair, because one of the lids fell on the floor and was used even though it wasn't sterile any more. There may also have been a dog hair in one jar, but I think I managed to scoop it out. Everything tastes better with dog hair, though, so no worries.

If you're not a good friend of mine, but you do receive a jar of crap apple jelly, you might want to inspect it carefully. We've gotta do something with those imperfect jars.

For those interested, we calculated the cost of our jelly to be about $0.66 per jar. That's sixty-six cents people. There's still a whole tree full of crab apples. I should be selling this stuff; I could make tons of money. Home made jelly always sells for a premium. I might be able to charge a little more, or at least get more traffic by pointing out the oh-so-local aspect of this jelly. Of course, my costs might go up if I was selling it. I'd have to buy all pretty jars that could be properly sealed instead of pickle jars with wax. Still, though, I could make a definite profit on this stuff.

24 August 2008

Wasn't I Just Talking About This?

I certainly was. Sort of. Mostly I was talking about the distraction aspect of cell phones in classrooms. Then this article appeared in today’s Rutland Herald. (I’m going to warn you ahead of time of dripping sarcasm. You might want to don a hat if you want to avoid getting splattered.) So, Mr. Dad here used to be all concerned about cell phones in the classroom. He doesn’t say why he was concerned, but we can probably assume it had to do with distractions and the child not paying attention to the teacher. And when children don’t pay attention to the teacher it can quickly have a negative effect on the child’s grades. However, Mr. Dad isn’t at all worried about cell phones in the classroom any more. Not since he saw what his genius child uses the cell phone for: to take a picture of the home work assignment because he ran out of time to copy it down.

I’ll admit, it’s been a little while since I was in high school, and perhaps my high school wasn’t the most average of them, but as I recall teachers were usually pretty good about making sure there was enough time to copy down homework assignments. One might speculate as to why this genius child didn’t have time to copy down the homework assignment. Was he goofing off? Chatting with friends? Passing notes? Perhaps even using that cell phone to send messages? Maybe he didn’t have time to copy down the homework because he was busy wasting time.

But, I’ll be nice and give this child the benefit of the doubt. I’ll assume the lesson simply took longer than expected and everyone was hurried to copy down the assignment. In an effort to be a good student and both accurately copy the homework assignment and not be late for his next class, this child snapped a photo with his cell phone. Pure genius, I’m sure. And I can’t deny that this was a good way to accomplish both goals, and both goals were worthy. However, as I recall, the primary purpose of a cell phone is to make a phone call, perhaps to a friend, maybe even a class mate. As I also recall, if one fails to get a homework assignment, there are several options for getting the assignment. The standard procedure is to call one’s classmate and ask for the details. But, perhaps this is a particularly large school, or the student is in a class where he simply doesn’t know any of his classmates very well. Maybe there isn’t a classmate he would feel comfortable calling to request the homework. I’m fairly confident if the student were to walk into the teacher’s classroom during a break or right after school and make the request, the teacher would be more than happy to give him the assignment. I fail to see why keeping a cell phone turned on in a classroom, for the remote chance that one might need to snap a photo of a homework assignment, is suddenly a good idea.

23 August 2008

Because We Need One More Distraction In The Classroom

Yesterday was a rare occasion indeed. I found myself sitting down in front of the television, while it was on. I rarely do that. Even more rare, I actually watched the television. I mean, the Olympics are a pretty big thing. I suppose I might as well watch at least some of the events. (Had I known how good looking those male divers are, and had I known what skimpy swimsuits they wear, I can assure you I would have tuned in much sooner.) In between the Olympic Event coverage, I was forced to endure that bane of television: commercials. One in particular caught my eye, and not in a good way. I tried to find a link to it online, but was unsuccessful, so I will have to simply describe it to you.

It was a Unicel (no, not Unicef, which YouTube seems to think are the same) commercial in the current "back to school" campaign. The ad is a cartoonish drawing of several students in a classroom, with the teacher at his desk in the front, and one of those little speakers in the upper corner of the room. From the speaker you hear the morning announcements, which include a personal message for one little boy that his mother has called because he seems to have forgotten his "ointment" and the little boy can pick it up at the office at any time. As soon as the announcements are over, all the other students point and laugh at the little boy, who is shown with his head buried in his arms. The message of the ad being that as a parent, and to avoid any embarrassing situations for your beloved child, you should get said beloved child a cell phone. That way said beloved child can have it turned on all day, through all his classes, receiving and sending countless disruptive messages.

Here's my beef: cell phones are distracting. The last thing kids in a classroom need is another distraction. And we all know that kids are not going to be good and leave the cell phones turned off during class time. My second beef: any parent that needs to drop off a forgotten item to a student at the school will still be required to check in to the office and the student will then be called out of class to meet the parent, creating one more disruption. Or, the office will hold the item and call the student when it is more convenient and does not create a disruption to the class. My third beef: anything of a medical nature must be dispensed by the school nurse. Mommy can't just show up and hand beloved child some forgotten medicine. Mommy would have to give the medicine, and dosing information, to the school nurse, who would then administer said medicine to said beloved child.

That Unicel commercial is stupid. Unicel is encouraging classroom disruptions. Is Unicel also encouraging parents and students to break school security rules (and in light of all these recent violent school related incidences?) by delivering forgotten items without notifying the office? Is Unicel also encouraging parents and students to break school rules regarding the dispensation of medicine by having parents provide directly to students (forgotten or otherwise) medicine that should be dispensed by the school nurse? Do parents already think these behaviors are acceptable (which is a problem in light of school violence and teen drug issues), and is that why Unicel is able to air this commercial? Or are parents, and the rest of the general viewing audience, too stupid to realize the problem(s) with Unicel's commercial? Now, if parents are following school rules, then there is simply no need to call the student to let them know about the impending visit. But, then there wouldn't be any need for Unicel's cell phones.

And while I'm airing complaints about commercials, I'd like to mention the carpet commercial I also saw last night. Unfortunately, I did not catch the name of the carpeting company responsible for this advertisement. Again, I will describe it for you. A woman is shown posing with an elderly (and rather fat) looking yellow lab (such a ubiquitous breed). She is talking about how poor Doggy used to have to live outside because he caused such a mess. Cue to scene of lab knocking over a live potted tree in the living room and spreading dirt all over a light coloured carpet. Now, though, because this woman discovered (insert carpet company name here), said company having such great carpeting and such a great warranty, Doggy is now able to reside indoors.

Now here's my beef (Doggy is thinking, Mmmmmm Beef). Most dogs, the vast majority of pet dogs, should not live outside. There are some working dogs that must live outside to perform their jobs, such as those guarding livestock. There are also some sporting dogs who do better living outside, such as sled dogs. There are even those rare dogs who simply prefer to be outside. But, I find it very safe to say pet dogs should not live outside. Especially not shorthaired breeds like Labrador Retrievers. To suggest that messes created by the dog are a good reason to force the animal to live outside is offensive. By airing such an idea in a commercial, the idea is further cemented in society that it is, in fact, perfectly acceptable to throw the messy dog outside and leave it there. Gah, this commercial is so obnoxious.

15 August 2008

Dear Editor

Dear Editor:

I attended Senator Sanders’ meeting Thursday evening in Rutland to address the Comcast situation. I learned a lot, mainly about just how unfair Comcast is treating Vermonters and just how poor their customer service is. I also learned a lot about how much Vermonters value their cable access. I learned that some communities in Vermont have several choices for cable providers, some communities only have a couple choices, and some communities have just the one choice. I would like to remind people, though, that cable television is not our only source of news and entertainment (which is what cable television provides.) We have quite a few other sources, and they are much more affordable than Comcast Cable.

First, we have radio. It may seem old fashioned, but we actually do have a really great radio station in Vermont that provides a wide variety of programming. That station is Vermont Public Radio (VPR). VPR has programming that covers state news (Vermont Edition), national news (Morning Edition and All Things Considered) and international news (BBC Newshour and BBC World Service). VPR also provides news coverage for some niche subjects such as Sports (Only a Game), the environment (Living on Earth), and the economy (Marketplace and Marketplace Money). But, VPR is not limited to news coverage; VPR programming is entertaining. Whether it be an old fashioned variety-type show (Prairie Home Companion) or a short story (Selected Shorts) or a live performance (the Capitol Steps). Let’s not forget the ever popular Car Talk or Wait, Wait...Don’t Tell Me! VPR even attempts a family game night style party game with Says You! VPR even addresses religious faith with the program Speaking of Faith. And this is only a smattering of VPR’s offerings. Really, VPR provides something for everyone.

Second, we have our local newspapers (yes, the very one you are reading right now). Here in Vermont we have several daily newspapers as well as countless weekly newspapers. And of course you can find national newspapers. Between all of them, you can easily keep yourself informed.

Third, we have our often overlooked local libraries. Practically every town has one, just look at the summer Things To Do section for all the library book sales if you need evidence of how many libraries we have. Libraries are about more than books these days. They keep copies of local and sometimes even the national newspapers. Many are starting to keep collections of videos and DVDs that patrons may borrow. You might even be able to get free internet access. Whether you want news or entertainment, you should be able to find it at the library.

You’ll recall that at the beginning of my letter I mentioned the affordability of these options. They’re all affordable. Probably more affordable than Comcast Cable. Radio is free, though VPR always graciously accepts donations of any amount. If you’ve ever listened during a pledge drive you’ve heard them say it: whatever donation amount is right for you, is right for them. Even if you only set aside half of what you currently pay for Comcast Cable and donated that amount once a year, VPR would be thrilled to receive your contribution. They might even send you a thank you gift, which is something I’ll bet Comcast hasn’t ever done.

Some of the newspapers, namely the weekly publications, are also free. And there are a couple that do a very nice job of covering the local political meetings and school board meetings. The daily newspapers, though not free, are affordable. And if the cost of a newspaper truly is a problem, you have the third option: your local library. If it is your local library, there is no cost for a library card. For the larger libraries, there is a yearly fee, but I’m sure the yearly fee is still less than the cost of Comcast Cable for a year.

If none of this has convinced you that these are relevant options, let me just say this: these are all local options. You can talk to the people making the decisions and tell them if you don’t like something. They’ll probably listen to you. Plus, you don’t have to wait for Senator Sanders to get all fired up to be able to talk to these people face to face. You can do it when you run into them at the grocery store.

If Comcast insists on treating Vermonters with little respect or fairness, then we need to remember where we can get respect and fairness: with our local radio stations, newspapers, and libraries.

10 August 2008

I'll Be Ready For You Next Time

Some months ago a pair of young women accosted me twice in as many days to discuss my religious beliefs (or lack thereof). They identified themselves as members of the Mormon Church. I generally dislike being accosted by Mormons. I find it annoying that they show up uninvited and unannounced to attack my personal beliefs for no other reason than to make themselves feel better. They waste my time, annoy my dog, and show me a great deal of disrespect. I try to remain polite, or as polite as one can be while quickly walking away without a word or carefully shutting the door in their faces. One of my main problems is that I don’t have a script prepared, and without one I cannot make it clear to them that I am uninterested. I know that I am not clear with my feelings, because they never quietly shut up and leave; they always persist in re-explaining things for the gazillionth time and then leaving some nice literature for me to study. I guess I’m just too nice.

I dare them to show up on my doorstep now, though. Now that I have a script prepared. Now that I know what I want to say to them. I can only await with bated breath their next knock on my front door. I imagine the conversation going something like this:

“Hi, I’m so-and-so with the such-and-such blah blah blah Mormon Church. I’d just like to give you the August edition of our this-is-such-a-great-publication.”

“No thanks. I’m really not interested in your literature. Actually, I’m rather busy cleaning the toilet right now and I really must get back to it.”

“Oh. Well, how about if I just leave it for you to peruse at a more convenient time?”

“No, really, you can keep it. I don’t want to read it, and I won’t read it even if you do leave it here.”

“You’re not a Mormon?”

“No, I’m not.”

“And where do you attend church? To what denomination do you belong?”

“Well, actually, I don’t. Attend church or belong to a domination (oops, Freudian slip there, I meant denomination.)”

“You don’t? But, you do believe in God, and accept Jesus Christ as your savior, right?”

“Well, once again, no, I don’t.”

“You don’t? Haven’t you read the Bible and understood that God is your creator and Jesus Christ your savior?”

“I think, before we go too much further with this fruitless discussion, I should say this to you:

“Your religious beliefs are ignorant and dangerous. It is imperative that you let them go immediately, and in their place adopt my religious non-beliefs because they are so much better. Let me just go upstairs and grab some of my own literature, complete with links to informative (and interactive) websites that will help you understand the errors of your ways.”

stuttering, “Well, that is just more than a little rude. I think it quite unnecessary for you to attack my religious beliefs.”

“But, when you decided to show up, uninvited and unannounced, at my front door, professing your splendid beliefs and questioning my own non-beliefs, you were not in any way suggesting that my beliefs are ignorant or dangerous and you definitely were not trying to convince me to abandon my non-beliefs in lieu of your beliefs?”

stunned silence

“Yes, that’s what I thought. Please, go bother someone else now.” sound of slamming door.

Ok, ok, I know that is all pure fantasy. Any Mormon worth her/his salt wouldn’t go away so quickly or easily.