Strawberry-Jalapeno Jam & Deep Quarantine Thoughts

Day five gazillion of quarantine. We’ve been plodding along, and thank bejesus, today is the last day of school. Homeschooling did not bring out the best in me, and poor Bean deserves a teacher who is not brought down by the devil otherwise known as “Common Core.” While this past week has been an exercise in patience, I did have a bright spot:

I took a quick drive down to the strawberry farm to pick up a couple of perfect flats. (Before you side-eye me, it was contactless pickup). Despite it being the spring from hell in terms of storms, hail, and tornados, the crops managed to thrive. When I arrived home, I immediately launched into a full afternoon of canning.

Ok, maybe I went a little overboard. But in fairness to me, I think a lot of us under quarantine feel the need to fall back to, or learn, some fundamental skills of self-sufficiency. My social media feeds are full of sourdough starters, homemade breads, pantry recipes, and ideas to stretch items further. People are also tackling things that they would normally outsource, like birthday cakes, haircuts, and even pet grooming.

I totally get it. We see supply chains breaking down, and I think that we are all getting the reality check that it takes mere weeks to go from abundance to scarcity. If you told most of us on New Years Day that, by May, we would be rationing meat, toilet paper, and cleaning products, we all would have laughed hysterically. Especially if you told us yeast turned into one of the most coveted commodities. But now, we all have the uncomfortable knowledge that we are more vulnerable than we think, and so we turn to the kitchen, garden, sewing machines, and other tools that help us feel more in control of our lives.

So yeah, I canned a crap-ton of strawberry-jalapeno jam, and you can to!

Strawberry-Jalapeno Jam

  • Print

Ingredients

  • 2 quarts of strawberries (or about 4 cups crushed strawberries)
  • 1 cup minced jalapeno peppers
  • 1/4 cup bottled lemon juice
  • 1 package powdered pectin
  • 7 cups granulated sugar

Procedure

  1. Wash strawberries and remove stems. Crush strawberries in a large pot one layer at a time. Add jalapenos, lemon juice, and pectin, and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.
  2. Add sugar, stirring until dissolved. Return to a roiling boil, and boil hard one minute, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.
  3. Skim foam. Ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Wipe rim clean, add lid and ring, and adjust until fingertip tight. Process 10 minutes in boiling water canner.

A few notes on canning this recipe:

  • This should make about 8 half-pints, but I don’t think I’ve every made a recipe that did not go either over or under expectations.
  • If you are new to canning, I highly encourage you to purchase the Ball Blue Book to learn the basics. I posted a few thoughts in this post for those considering giving it a try. Canning is not hard, it’s just understanding a few basic principles.
  • When canning, ideally use commercially bottled lemon juice. I know that stuff is gross as all get-out, but the reason professionals recommend it is that it has a consistent acid level. The acidity of fresh lemons can vary greatly, and the acidity is key in safe water bath canning. Remember that canning is about food safety, so the experts want to ensure we all have consistent results and not death by botuluism.
  • Take the time to skim the foam well.
  • You will probably still have strawberry solids that float to the top of your processed jars, giving your jam an uneven appearance. As mine cooled, I would occasionally turn the jars upside down, let them cool for a while, turn them right side up, cool for a while, repeat. Toward the end of cooling, I have them a good shake to ensure any solids distributed evenly in the jelling syrup.
  • If ever there was a time to tune into the food supply and learn an essential skill, this is it. Go for it!

Quarantine Fatigue

I think this is the week when I hit the wall, and I’m just about over this crap.

I hate homeschooling with the fire of 1000 suns. I have zero enthusiasm in the cooking or working out department. I don’t think I’ve had a descent night’s sleep in weeks. Overall I feel antsy, irritated, and instead of getting things done, I spend too much time scrolling through my phone and zoning out. Even my knitting languishes untouched.

As I was unwisely watching the news this morning, I heard one of the reporters use the term “quarantine fatigue,” and I realized that this is exactly what has been weighing me down this week. I have plenty to do, and more than enough things to occupy my time, yet the general malaise and total lack of motivation persists. Every day for the past few, I keep telling myself that I’ll snap out of it and get back that determination and proactivity to make the best of a sh*tty situation.  After all, we are healthy, my husband is gainfully employed, and we are not dealing with a fraction of stress and challenges that so many people face. While deep down, I still have an attitude of gratitude, why am I feeling as snarly as a irritable grizzly bear?

I think the term quarantine fatigue speaks to the heart of the matter. I accept that social distancing saves lives, and I definitely don’t understand these yahoos who vehemently argue against the reccomendations of the leading health experts…cause ya know, science. For the health and wellness of our family and community, we will continue to be cautious long after restrictions lift. However, the not-knowing takes its toll. I can endure discomfort, disappointment, and watching stupid people make even stupider choices, but the lack of an end-date creates a pervasive, ever-present, white-noise-like sense of anxiety. Even if you aren’t actively paying attention to it, it’s still there in the background grating on your last nerve.

Beyond that, there’s this constant, internal tug-of-war between petty disappointments that hurt deeper than they should, and the stark truth that they stem from ridiculous first-world problems. Yes, we lost our vacation, prom, graduation, First Communion, birthday celebrations (including my 40th this weekend), and the big family reunion. This was going to be a year of many milestone events for our us. But, with people truly suffering physically, emotionally, and mentally, feeling upset over not being able to have the graduation/18th birthday bash for my oldest makes me feel deeply ashamed.

But, for now? I want to get back the optimistic determination that carried us through the first month of quarantine. I want to not feel like I wake up each day with less energy and more pessimism.

So, I’m trying to get this listing mental ship back on even keel. It wasn’t much, but I baked Mom’s Pound Cake today, and will try to cook dinner and not stab one of the picky eaters with a fork when one of them complains about some aspect of the meal. I will promise myself that tomorrow, I will workout, I will get off the phone and read a book for a while, I will knit, and I will wage war against quarantine fatigue that came out of left field.

Or, maybe I’ll get a drive-thru daquiri. There’s always that option, too.

 

Maple Orange Bourbon Glazed Ham & What We are Cooking for a Quarantined Easter

With Easter coming up this weekend, social distancing means that the usual celebrations will be very, very different this year. No hanging out with the family and no Easter baskets for the kids. I figure that the grocery pick-up/delivery services are busy enough with real needs, and that shopping for chocolate bunnies and trinkets is a waste of their time and resources. We have candy and plastic eggs in the house already, but will forgo dying real eggs because I just feel like it’s wasteful in a time of scarcity (before you get offended, no one in this house will eat hardboiled eggs, so it really would be wasteful for us).

But, I’m still planning a good meal that will make us at least feel like it’s a special day, even if we can’t watch my sister and kids throw plastic eggs at each other.

I don’t usually cook ham at home, because HoneyBaked Ham is totally my jam, but I’m not in the mood to spend that kind of money for just the five of us. I saw this recipe on Food Network last summer, and decided to make it when we went on a family vacation. It got rave reviews, so I decided that I will bake one up this weekend, along with my Cheesy Hash Brown Casserole, roasted asparagus, biscuits, carrot soufflé and a carrot cake (or maybe red velvet). Also, the bone and scraps will be repurposed for Cajun 15 Bean Soup in the Instant Pot, and if we have an leftover casserole, I may try to transform it into something new.

So, we will cook, eat, celebrate, and be grateful this weekend.

Maple Orange Bourbon Glazed Ham

  • Print

Ingredients

  • one spiral-cut bone-in ham (about 7-8 pounds)
  • 1 cup orange marmalade
  • 1/2 cup bourbon
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup (the real stuff, not the pancake syrup from the dollar store)
  • 2 TBS butter
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp cloves

Procedure

  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. In a roasting pan with a rack, place ham on rack, fat side up. Using a small knife, lightly score the fat in a crosshatch pattern. Add a 1-1/2 cups water to the bottom of the ham, place ham in oven and bake for 45 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, make the glaze. Combine remaining ingredients in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook about 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until thick and syrupy.
  4. Brush the ham with half of the glaze, then continue baking, while glazing ham every 15 minutes until it’s reached an internal temp of 130 F (about 45 minutes to an hour).
  5. IMPORTANT: The ham should get very brown, but the amount of sugar in this can start to burn. If you think your ham is geting there, cover it with foil that has been sprayed with non-stick spray (lest you rip off all that glaze). Once the ham is done, let it rest for about 10 minutes before serving.

Chicken Alfredo Pizza with Caramelized Onions and Sundried Tomatoes

So, I mentioned on the blog yesterday that I was going to start posting some recipes and ideas just in case they may help people navigate the ways quarantine is limiting our abilities and pantrys. Chicken Alfredo Pizza was something I made frequently when the boys were young. It’s fast, easy, cheap, customizable, and can stretch two smaller chicken breasts to feed a family of 5. This week, I made two versions: one with caramelized onions and sundried tomatoes added, and one with just the chicken, garlic, sauce, and cheese for the picky peeps. Before I list the recipe, here are some ideas to customize it or hack it if the grocery store is still a wasteland:

  • You can use any cooked chicken or turkey, or even brown up ground chicken and crumble it. When all the meat was gone this week at Kroger, there was a whole wall of smoked turkey legs. In a pinch, you can remove the meat from those and use it.
  • Who says it has to be chicken? Our store still had plenty of frozen shrimp in stock. Just sauté some until just under done, because they will finish cooking on the pizza.
  • Pizza dough: Making your own is easier than you think, and as long as you have flour and yeast on hand, you can do it. Alternatively, buy the tubes from the refrigerator case, which is what I did up until the Heathens were no longer tazmanian devils 24/7. My Kroger also sells fresh balls of pizza dough in baggies, which is in the deli section where they store the pre-made soups, salads, and take-home entrees.
  • While this recipe calls for the caramelized onions and sundried tomatoes, you could add bacon bits, sliced peppers, red pepper flakes for spice, toasted bread crumbs for texture, spinach to sneak in some veggies,  or finish with a drizzle of balsamic glaze.

Just remember, until life settles down and our grocery stores can catch up, not every meal is going to be a Pinterest moment, nor is every recipe going to be a favorite of everyone in your household. I will say, though, that I think both experienced and less-confident cooks are going to come out on the other side of this having learned something new about the ways we shop and eat.

**Note–I doubled this recipe to make two the two pizzas seen above**

Chicken Alfredo Pizza

  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 ball or tube of pizza dough (basically enough so you can roll it out to the size of a half-sheet pan or a large pizza pan.
  • 1-1/2 cups shredded cooked chicken
  • 2 TBS olive oil (or butter)
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup jarred sundried tomato Alfredo sauce (regular jarred Alfredo works too)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced (or a couple of teaspoons of the jarred stuff)
  • 1/4 cup sundried tomatoes, chopped (the kind packed in oil preferably)
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella (or pizza blend cheese).
  • 3 TBS grated parmesan

Procedure

  1. Start the onions first: Heat oil in a small skillet over medium heat and add the onions and a small sprinkle of salt, stirring well. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally until they reach your desired level of caramelization.
  2. While the onions cook, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly grease a sheet pan or pizza pan with non-stick spray.
  3. Dust your counter and a rolling pin with flour and roll out your pizza dough to fit your pan, then transfer it to the pan. Bake the pizza  dough for 11 minutes, then remove from oven.
  4. Spread the Alfredo sauce evenly over the pizza dough, starting with 1/4 cup at first and adding more as needed. The amount of sauce you will need will depend on the size of your pizza and your preferences. You want a nice even layer of sauce, but try not to drown it.
  5. Distribute the chicken, onions, garlic, and sundried tomatoes over the pizza. Top with mozzarella and parmesan and return it to the oven.
  6. Bake an additional 7-10 minutes until the cheese is melted and starts to brown a little in spots.
  7. Let pizza rest about 5 minutes before slicing and serving.

Quarantine Update and a Giveaway!

What a difference a week makes. So much changed so quickly, and like the rest of you, we are doing our best to adapt. No, I’m not making cute, color-coded homeschooling schedules, or using this “opportunity” to clean out my closet Martha Stewart style. If you are a Pinterest supermom, more power to you. We are just taking each day that is in front of us and making the best of it.

Other than a solo trip to the grocery store, the Heathens and I have not left the house since March 13tth. Though the older kids thought I was being a bit harsh by not letting them go see their friends, the changes over the past week have demonstrated to them why I took social distancing very seriously. First, I want to protect their health, but I also explained to them that I am in the high-risk category. I almost died of a respiratory illness that progressed to severe pneumonia as a child, and even after I got out of the hospital, I still had to have in-home care and rehabilitation. I would never wish that experience on anyone, so beyond our own bubble, we need to stay home to help our community and nation turn the tide on this terrible pandemic. My husband is still working, but continues to practice aggressive social distancing as well.The first week of at-home school was an adjustmenet. The teachers in our area literally had one hour to pull together the materials for the students and come up with a fast plan. Between daily online class and the remaining work, Bean and I are spending about 4 hours a day on school, not including independent reading. The boys are in high school, and are able to manage themselves. However, my friends with multiple elementary-age kids in different grades are struggling to juggle it, most especially those still having to work. Regardless, I admire Bean’s teacher for her dedication and the effort she is putting in to make this  situation work for the students. I swear, if we ever we had the opportunity to push through legislation for teacher pay raises, it would pass with flying colors the week the kids go back to school. Luckily, this week is our spring break, so we all have a chance to regroup.

As far as the emotional climate, our kids are pragmatic. They watch the news and understand the gravity of the situation. We are honest with them, and they get that our community as a whole is worried. This situation is a marathon not a sprint. However, we combat anxiety with practicality. We are ok, we are taking commonsense measures to protect ourselves and others, and we’ll get through this. I think the hardest part for my Louisiana community is the isolation. We can handle tornados, hurricanes, and being robbed of the Super Bowl #stillbitter, but we handle those things by banding together. The Cajun Navy loads up the boats, we gather, we feed one another, we volunteer, or we just spend time with our neighbors. It’s one thing to go through something stressful, but going through it in isolation makes it just a we bit tougher. But you know what? The drive-thru daquiri shops are still open! Gotta find the silver lining somewhere, right?

If you follow me on Instagram, I’ve been posting pics of our meals and other cooking adventures. Over the next week or so, I’m going to be posting some easy recipes, or ideas for making the most of what’s in the pantry.  We all could use some inspiration while adapting to this temporary normal.

On the knitting front. I have enough stash to last, not to mention needlepoint and 100 other crafting projects to keep me occupied when I’m not being the worst homeschool teacher in the world. I just cast on Fantastitch by Stephen West, as well as a baby blanket for my grandnephew. The one thing I can say about our time in quarantine is that I won’t be complaining of boredom any time soon.

 

*photo credit Stephen West *

So, in an effort to spread a little joy, I giving away a free downloadable copy of the Fantastitch pattern via Ravelry code. If you would like a chance to win a copy of this pattern, leave a comment about what you are doing to stay occupied during quarantine. I’ll draw for the winner this Friday! In the meantime, stay sane, my friends!