Summer summary

summer shell

At the end of the day, your feet should be dirty, your hair should be messy and your eyes sparkling – Shanti

  • Reading. A lot. One name: Diana Gabaldon.
  • Water. In many forms. From pouring rain to swimming pools. And don’t forget the bubbles. Never forget the bubbles!
  • Sea and beach. As often as possible. Dress code when you’re 2,5 years old: naked. Do not support any form of textile on your body once you step into the sand.
  • Family. The good, the bad and the ugly. But mostly the good.
  • Sleep. Not all that much.
  • Garden. Still not having comfortable seating there and a serious lack of shadow on hot summer days. Didn’t hold us back to spend time there. At all.
  • Potty training. Deserves a story of its own.
  • Love. Lots of it.

It was a good summer. I can tell you that!

Redcurrant jelly for dummies

The day I moved into a house with a garden (a rental first, or own house now), we’re the proud possessors of a particularly generous redcurrant bush. We didn’t plant them, they just came with the house. Never had to put nets on it, birds weren’t feasting on them, and still both of the bushes were abundantly covered with red berries. That I love to look at, but don’t really like.

So I handed them out to friends and family, until my elderly neighbor told me that I just had to try to make jam. She promised me it wouldn’t be hard at all and that she did nothing fancy with her recycled pots and it would keep 6 months anyway. So I finally decided to give it a try. But it had to be jelly. Redcurrant should be eaten as jelly, not as jam. Don’t ask me why, that’s just the way I feel it. So here I bring to you: redcurrant jelly for those who never attempted to make anything jam-ish before. Foolproof, so to speak.

berry picking

Berry picking with the cutest helper on earth

 

Pick the little red berries. I cute little helper makes that job even more enjoyable. Leave those stalks and stuff on and put them in a strainer. Rinse thoroughly. Weigh them. I had about 600 grams.

 

Cook them like you would make cranberry sauce. I added about 200 ml of water. Stir so they don’t burn. You want them to burst open and release their juices. Don’t mind the stalks and stuff. They will add extra pectin to the mix, which is a good thing when you’re making jelly.

 

extracting juice berries

No fancy equipment needed for extracting the juices

Find a pristine kitchen towel that you’re not too attached to (I used those gauze-like baby cloth towels) and a bowl (or maybe a good size measuring cup). Put the redcurrant in the towel, and hang them above the cup (you could let them rest in a mesh, if you want to, but I happened to have good knobs on my kitchen cabinets). Don’t push through to speed things up. Leave them hanging for quite a while (some say a whole night, but I reckon that two drops during the last two hours isn’t worth the wait). If you squeeze them, the jelly might become cloudy. Of course you could decide that doesn’t bother you at all (why should it anyway).

 

When the end of that process is near and the actual jelly-making is about to begin, grab your well-washed pots with lids. I simply used recycled pots (from jam, sundried tomatoes and mayonnaise), ran them through the dishwasher so they were really clean and put them in the oven. For about 15 minutes, 100°C, make sure they heat up slowly, with the oven).

 

testing jelly spoon

testing and tasting

Grab a pack of special jam-making sugar (jelly sugar) and closely follow the instructions. Meanwhile, put a plate in the freezer and oven mittens on your working space. When the four minutes cooking time are over, test your jelly, by dripping a bit of it on a cold plate (told you to put one in the freezer). Wait for a minute and then test the consistency. If you like it (and can’t stop licking the plate), get out your jars (hence the oven mittens). Pour the hot (!!!) jelly into the hot (!!!) jars – would be a good idea to use a wide funnel to do that. Fill them to just under the top, firmly put on the lids and turn them upside down.

 

pots jelly upside down

Turning the pots upside down

 

I was told to let them rest for five minutes and they would seal themselves, to be heard by the click. To be honest, I’ve left them for ten minutes and haven’t heard a click. One of them was sealed when I turned it around (I couldn’t push the middle down), an other one clicked the moment I turned it around and the last one didn’t do a thing. Of course I went online to see what I had done wrong, decided to put it upside down again (which made for a jelly shake that probably shouldn’t happen). It finally clicked when I turned it around again after half an hour. And then the jelly floated on air that was on the bottom. Ugh.
Don’t worry, it will come down anyway.

redcurrant jelly

Redcurrant jelly. All homemade!

Try not to hand out everything out of proudness. Save some for yourself. It’s so good!

 

What’s your favorite jam?

Reflections on Sunday #10

Belgian coast

Necesito del mar porque me enseña… – Pablo Neruda

This week I have no interesting reads for you, not even a collection of pictures. We were on holiday and we enjoyed every minute of it. Most of the pictures I took show my family and for that reason won’t be shown here.

But I can tell you: it was a gorgeous week. The start was a little rough – this week at the Belgian coast is not my family tradition, it’s my husband’s and it’s one of the parts I find difficult to connect with. Not because I don’t like the sea, but because my husband always relives his childhood and wishes that everything is exactly the same. We argued often about that, but those memories are so dear to him, I can see why he will get here every year, no matter the cost.

There were some changes though. This was the first year his family wasn’t around on a daily basis. And to me, all the difference was there. They came visit us for two days and it was fun, but for the first time ever it was a week of our own, especially in the end. I’m finally starting to believe it can become a cherished family tradition of our own.

Next week I’ll buckle up and prepare that giant step my beloved Little Boy will make September 1st. My baby boy is going to school.  And while I’m looking forward to it and I’m absolutely convinced he will love school, he’s totally ready for it, I’m not sure I am…

Everybody’s free (to wear sunscreen)

tomato to prevent peeling skin sunburn

But trust me on the sunscreen – Baz Luhrmann

This is the story about why my husband chased me to the other side of the huge three person kingsize bed when we were on our first far-away trip to Costa Rica. You would think it would be full of romance and joy and passionate nights. It was. And then it was not.

Because I really suck at scuba diving. Really, I blame it on that. No elegant ‘just show the scuba tube’ thing for me. Some parts of me are simply unable to stay under water. Yes, my dear. I have a floating butt. And with a floating butt, you can put on sunscreen all you want, you’ll get sunburnt. As hell. As the brightest red you’ve ever seen.

You’d be surprised how much you need your derrière. To sit, for example. It was the reason why we paid for a comfortable taxi instead of taking a bumpy boat trip to our next location. Because my dear lord, sitting was highly painful. Even walking was, as there is quite some skin attached to the upper back legs, that had decided not to stay under too. Some solidarity issue that I could not really appreciate. But after a day of rest, we took a slow walk in the woods nearby, with a guide that spoke a lovely, slow kind of Spanish and had the opinion that the slower you walk, the more you can see. And Costa Rica is not the place to be running around. Maybe he just said it out of compassion, but it he made his point. We saw so many gorgeous things on that walk. That guy managed to keep my husband happy and I actually enjoyed the hike.

And then the itching started. And the peeling skin. I went to a local pharmacist who sold me the strongest after sun he had and gave me some zinc powder to help with the itching. Local people told me to put ripe tomatoes on it to prevent the peeling skin. The after sun helped for a few minutes, the zinc got me through the night and there was peeling, but I honestly think the tomatoes saved my skin. At least a part of it, because that was why I was banned to the other side of a kingsize bed.

I survived. We survived. It’s a funny story. And I never get to swim again without being painfully aware of my butt.

What has been your worst sunburn ever?

Reflections on Sunday #9

Just before the new week starts, I like to go through the old one. Our family life in little snippets, plus some great finds from around the web. Have a great Sunday!

 

Our cavalier is the first visitor of this wonderful exposition - flying ants everywhere!

Our cavalier is the first visitor of this wonderful exposition – flying ants everywhere!

Last week was a lovely one. My husband is home too, so we could spend some time as a family. Lots of time was spent in the garden. Little Boy loves his chalk and his drawings have suddenly evolved from just coloring and scratching to something that actually represents something (although we aren’t sure what, and he changes his mind about every second). Lots of circles with little stripes around. Days were warm and my husband has worked a lot in the harden. We’re always surprised how much there is to be done, while we mainly have some lawn and a few border plants and pots. It has been quite hot too, and suddenly all the ant nests in the garden freed their youngsters, so they could go out and look for a place of their own. We were not too happy about the ants (there were so many of them!), but those little creatures come along with any place and I must admit we almost never find them inside. I thought it was really special, the whole street was filled with flying ants and we could hear our neighbors wonder about them too. As if, on some secret signal, each nest made the same decision.

kitchen

 

Having my husband at home also meant I could spend some time in the kitchen. My main concern was trying to waste as little as possible. After my successful jelly adventure of last week (stay tuned, I’ll be posting about it on Tuesday), I picked up some peaches very cheap and turned them into jam. A few overly ripe bananas were turned into banana bread, following this recipe. Since my blueberry muffins turned out so great, I went to the same place for the recipe. Good decision. It was moist, although it hadn’t risen so well. My banana loaves never do. Any advice on that?

 

Tackling Mount Ironing - Naptime for me!

Tackling Mount Ironing – Naptime for me!

Having a toddler running around is not very interesting housework-wise. As we would leave on Saturday for or holiday at the coast, I had to pack and finally tackle that huge Mount Ironing that was waiting for me. I don’t like ironing, and I’m thankful my grandmother-in-law does most of or laundry and ironing (she loves and I mean loves to do that). She’s a lovely old woman that worked in a boutique ’til she turned 80, two years ago! She misses it dearly and our laundry is something that she actually looks forward too. I’m happy to keep her happy, but from the start I decided to do Little Boy’s laundry at home and while I’m convinced it’s not absolutely necessary to iron his clothes (he’s still small enough to flatten the worst wrinkles out), I feel better once it’s done. The doing itself though, is not my favorite job.

Luckily I could also fit in one little nap for myself, and it was a much needed one!

 

interesting reads

Last week I have managed to waste hardly any food. I’m ashamed to say that doesn’t happen very often. Articles like this one keep me sharp and focussed. I need that kind of reminder quite often! We also saw an interesting documentary (I only stepped in halfway, so I don’t remember the title, but I did some research and I think it’s here – in Dutch, I don’t think it exists in English) that I actually discussed with my husband. It’s about how much our food costs in terms of ecological impact. The philosopher in it stated that we completely need to rethink our way of interacting with food. Tomatoes for example, are tasty and they can grow quite well here, but they ask a lot of the soil, especially in our regions. We could learn to eat clover for example, something that grows here on its own. I think he has a point (although my tomatoes were merely seeds put in a pot filled with potting ground and I never added a thing – but of course I had not to make a living out of it). My husband thought that was actually true, but he said he could never ‘rewire’ himself. For him vegetables are additional, and he prefers potatoes or meat to be the main ingredient of his meal. I’m very different and as I am the cook, he goes along quite fine, but he told me he never really liked vegetables. He’ll eat them, because it’s healthy but that’s about it. Something else they talked about in the documentary, was a digital way of foor pairing. Through specialized computer programs, from each food the aromas are analyzed. That way, the most special combinations are made possible. In our opinion, it takes the magic away from how great chefs combine their ingredients. But it also gives possibilities: one could recreate the taste of an orange for example, by combining the right (local) ingredients that have one of the aromas of oranges. I see the point, but I’m not sure if I like that idea. I don’t even know if that’s better for the environment.

On a whole different level, I looked for some journaling inspiration on Pinterest, and I stumbled upon the concept of Bible journaling. One of the things I would like to do during my parental leave, is working my way through the Bible. I do it with my job in mind, but it’s something I also do for myself. I think journaling in the book itself, might help to bound with it more, and make it an even more personal experience. I learned that the better I can internalize a Bible book, the better I can share it with my students. I teach religion in a catholic school and while it’s quite a challenge at times, it’s one of the most fulfilling jobs I could imagine. I like how the more I teach, the more I learn, and religion is a subject that seems to be made to prove that statement.

And you, how was your week?

For the love of books

open book with flower

There is no friend as loyal as a book – Ernest Hemingway

I’ve always been an avid reader. The biggest punishment my parents ever gave to me, was forbidding me to read for 48 hours. I remember reading the ingredient list of the air freshener on the toilet out of pure despair. I love to trade my known world for an imaginary one. I love how whole lives can happen along the lines of a well written novel. I love words and I love everything that has been left to imagination. I love books.

There have been moments in life where I couldn’t seem to get myself to sit down with a book. First time I started blogging (and the second time, and all the times after that), I found it to be so fascinating, so time consuming and I was so easily distracted that it just didn’t cross my mind to pick up a book instead. When I got pregnant and gave birth to my son, reading was something that didn’t fit my agenda anymore either. (Was there anything that did, actually?)

But then, one day, after reading for the seventh time the same chapter of a book I had been trying to read for ages, I decided that this wasn’t working for me. If there was anything I wanted to make time for (besides my family), it would be for the books that had been waiting for me, patiently. I went to the library and bam! Head over heels all over again.

Lately it is Diana Gabaldon who completely blows me away with her Outlander series. I’ve fallen in love with the main characters of her books  – semi-historical fiction (her own description of the genre is worth to check out through the links above). They inspire me. The love and passion that Claire and Jamie feel for each other actually made me cry. The choices they make, the circumstances in which they live make me consider my own life, for the better. I like that. And I know already that the moment I finish the series (still three books to go), those friends will be dearly missed. I’ll be looking for new companions.

So please tell me – which characters do I absolutely have to meet?

Kitchen crushes: roasted peppers

red bell pepper

“A little bad taste is like a nice splash of paprika. We all need a splash of bad taste—it’s hearty, it’s healthy, it’s physical. I think we could use more of it. No taste is what I’m against.” – 
Diana Vreeland

The best things are discovered by accident. At least that’s how roasted peppers entered my life. I did like the occasional pepper, but removing their skins was not my favorite job. I was told to burn them in the oven and put them in a plastic bag to cool. Skins would fall right of. Of course I used the time peppers were in the oven to call my mum. And of course I lost track of time.

The result? Peppers with burnt skin that removed easily and melting goodness underneath. I’m addicted since. Whenever they are on sale, I pick up more than I normally would, just to roast and freeze them.

roasting peppers

Roasting is very easy. Halve the peppers, and spread them on a baking tray, skins up. Put in a hot oven and wait until the skins start to blacken. Then wait some more. You want them to be almost melting. You’ll see the juices on the tray and how the peppers shrink. Get them out, allow to cool, quickly peel and try not to eat all of them.

My favorite way to eat them is with gnocchi. I cook the gnocchi, bake them in some butter, and then add the pepper puree with a spoon of mascarpone, just enough to coat them. Season to taste.
You could also add them to cream cheese and spread on toast. Or mix them through your pasta sauce.

But don’t take my word for it. Check out these fabulous ideas:

roasted pepper recipe

photo credit: see sites mentioned underneath.

You got to love risotto. It’s the best comfort food ever made. Bev has a great recipe for it. And if you don’t get what she’s saying – no worries, the recipe is in the end. It’s a funny read though!

Kevin uses cauliflower to give smoothness to his soup. Creaminess without cream! Plus, it gives an interesting depth of flavor.

Sometimes simple things are the best. Jessie gives you a pretty straight forward, vegan roasted pepper soup.

I love to dip. My son loves to dip. He even adores cucumbers since he’s allowed to dip them into something. Suzy gives the perfect example of hummus with a little extra.

What is your favorite way to use roasted peppers?