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Saturday Night Fever: Grape Jelly

1 Sep

With the “help” of five neighborhood boys (including three of my own) I gleaned my neighbor’s Concord grape vines today. By “help,” I mean that I looked over while teetering (one-footed sometimes) on a crappy old stepstool trying to reach the bunches that had grown into a pine tree—and noticed them all lounging in lawn chairs around the pool, looking at the alpacas in the back property. Thanks guys!

I kept things as simple as possible for my first foray into grape jelly making. I simmered the grapes in a big pot and tried my best to crush them as they were cooking. I was surprised at how much liquid was available after the initial heating step.

After straining all the liquid off, I was left with 5 cups of juice. Miraculously, the exact amount needed per the Sure-Gel recipe I was using. Sweet! This is the setup I needed to do the whole process. In the end, I only got around 8 cups of jelly, but it’s all I’ll be able to use in a year.

Late in the evening, one of the kids was chomping at the bit to use this homemade jelly for a PB&J sandwich. Although not totally set up, I let him have at it. He told me that it was delicious and tasted *exactly* like “real” grape jelly. Success!

Marrying into an Italian family: baptism by sauce

31 Aug

Jars of sauce, ready to boil.

I married a first-generation Italian boy. In my youth–usually enamored by the loud, showy, unreliable, ebullient jackass-type–I found solace in his quiet reserve. His complete and unabashed loyalty. His work ethic. His handsomeness. His amazing family.

Although I am half Italian, I am not Italian Italian like my husband’s family. My in-laws came here in 1968, shortly before my husband was born. They did not know the language. They did not know any other “Americans.” They did not have anything but what they could carry over. But they had each other. Many people from the same part of Italy settled in a particular part of Pittsburgh called Bloomfield. I was lucky enough to start out my married life in this neighborhood, and many of my husband’s relatives still live here. I felt like I had become a member of a magical and cloistered society. Where Italian was still spoken around the table, prosciutto (made by my father-in-law) was hanging from garage rafters, where homemade wine was placed on the table for every meal, and every supper had a pasta course, then a meat and vegetable, followed by a salad–and of course an espresso to finish it all off.

Unidentified relatives of mine from Calabria.

My mother is Italian and I grew up learning how to cook from her and her mother, my Grandma Rizzo–also a first generation Italian born in 1918. I learned how to bake bread for Easter, always rolling out two small dough strips before covering the bread to rise, using the strips to make a cross over the dough to bless it and, according to my gram, help it to raise. My grandma would make bread each year on the feast day of Saint Anthony and get it blessed at the church in Sharpsburg, Pennsylvania. Sometimes when I was looking in one of her buffet drawers for something, I would find little stale frizenes (a crunchy anise-flavored type of bread, typically eaten buttered and then dipped in coffee) from previous years, tucked neatly away into socks. Kept safe since they were blessed, not to be eaten.

Saint Anthony

An interesting thing happens in many immigrant families. Oftentimes, the people from the origin country culturally progress and give up “the old ways,” but those that emigrate to another country hold onto the traditions of their home. So, even though the customs and lifestyle of the mother country have changed, the immigrants hold on to the ways that they left. It is what ties them to home. It is how they remember.

On my in-law’s most recent trip to Italy, my mother-in-law lamented that many of her friends and family still living there had given up on many of the labor-intensive traditions. The fine lace work to embellish tablecloths, the pasta from scratch–even the canning of fresh tomato sauce. I am so blessed that my husband’s family, my family, has held on to the old ways.

So every year in August, we travel to a local farm to pick tomatoes. This year we brought home 11 bushels.

It’s a family job and everyone pitches in. What makes things particularly effective, is that we process everything outside. My father-in-law has acquired steel drums and large burners that run from propane tanks. Pots and utensils travel between homes when it’s a family’s particular day to do their canning (sisters-in-law, parents, etc.). The tomatoes are usually left to ripen for a few days before processing. Calls are exchanged between family to discuss the ripeness. The final decision is always made by my husband’s parents on what day we should finally jar everything.

The process, although time- and labor-intensive, is quite simple. The tomatoes are washed, cored, squeezed (of water and seeds), boiled, machine processed, canned, and boiled.

Tatone, Paulie, and Uncle Ronnie processing the tomatoes.

We don’t add anything but some fresh basil to the top of the jars before canning. We flavor the sauce when we use it.

Making the final sauce is pretty subjective, and is all about what you like. Your sauce will end up being great if you just try your best and add what you like. Personally, I shred up a carrot and onion and fry in olive oil. Then brown some lamb and add the tomatoes to that. I flavor with salt, basil, oregeno, and parsley, but like to go very easy on the garlic.

Believe me when I tell you, there is nothing like the taste of sauce on the day the tomatoes are crushed. Nothing. Of course, after a day of canning, a big dinner is prepared where you taste the fruits of your labor.

Happiness is when you finally sit down after canning and cooking all day, look over to your youngest son, and watch him doing this:

Anthony enjoying his pasta.

Shopping list: glitter that can kill you.

5 Mar

Winding down our Sunday, the kids decided to take a break from basement roller hockey and made a little science project. If you’ve never seen it, there’s a neat little trick you can do to create a whirlpool using two empty two-liter bottles.

DIY whirlpool; lots of whirling going on in there.

It’s a fairly simple experiment and not horribly complicated to create–or get to work. The kids were pretty intrigued by the cyclone effect. I honestly didn’t see the big deal with the whole execution since it’s basically just what you see every time you flush a toilet. But being that my kids seldom (to never) flush, I guess I see the potential novelty with the “experiment.” There are even kits you can buy to make the assembly a little easier. We just used old faithful for our tool: duct tape.

Apparently, you can also do fancy things with your cyclone’s water. Today, we used some orange food coloring for that nice (inadvertent) “whiskey” effect. But the boys wanted more, they wanted to step it up a notch. They wanted to make the experiment their own. They wanted…to put glitter in the water. (Yes, my boys.)

So, I began pulling out craft supplies in the quest for glitter. Boxes and boxes of googly eyes, pipe cleaners, embroidery floss, candy molds, felt. Wait, I found it–glitter!

But, oh no! The only glitter I had was edible. Edible glitter! But the boys were still ecstatic. I explained that this type of glitter would most likely dissolve in the water and not look very cool. They would need *real* glitter for their trick–not the easily broken-down edible type. They were apprehensive of my warnings. So, I handed over my coveted cookie-making supply and let them have at it. It looked like glitter to them; they were one step closer to their dream: a real live glitter suspension whirlpool. (basically, children’s Goldschlager.)

So, of course it didn’t work. The edible glitter almost immediately dissolved in the cyclone. There was slight disappointment. They still played with it for a while. Then they used the assembled experiment as some sort of eastern martial art weapon. And then, finally, they went back to playing basement roller hockey. Abandoning the cyclone.

Getting ready for bed tonight, one of my 8-year-olds looked at me, point blank, and said, “Mummy, tomorrow on your way home from work, can you stop at the store and buy real glitter–the kind of glitter that can kill you? For our whirlpool?”

So, tomorrow, to make a young boy’s dream come true, I am going to buy a big canister of glitter. Non-edible glitter. Beautiful, non-disintegrating, deadly glitter.

Edible glitter. Note: NOT available at specialty stores catering to gay assassins.

Needlepoint

13 Aug

When the weather starts turning towards fall, I always think of getting a craft lined up. I’m not sure which cross stitch I want to make more…

This one:

Or this one:

*Kenny Powers pattern can be found here on etsy.

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