Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Sisters' June Reading Challenge

This June was one of the busiest months I have had in a long time. The month was rewarding with inspiring conversations and fulfilling experiences but didn't allow much reading time. So I purposely picked short books to fulfill the challenges this month. I left Charity read the long books.

I have many unread books on my shelves. I've been purposely choosing books off my shelves to fulfill these challenges. So fun to actually finish books that have long been on my TBR.

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 1. Read a book with a title that includes something from nature (plants, weather, flowers, etc).

Charity - Jayber Crow by Wendel Berry

I've been waiting to read this book because I heard that Berry is an author that you need time to read. They were right. Jayber Crow is the fictional life story of a man born in Kentucky in the early 1900s. The book is beautifully written and incredibly woven together and left me overwhelmed with delight and thoughtfulness.

Gina - The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen

I knew this fairy tale was about a magic mirror that distorts the beautiful into ugly and have long wanted to read it. But I was a bit disappointed to find that the interesting premise that begins the book turns into a basic journey tale. where love melts hardened hearts. I'm glad to have finally read it, but it wasn't exactly what I expected.

2. Read a book about animals (fiction or nonfiction).

Charity - Beowulf by an unknown author

This book has been sitting on my TBR and making me feel overwhelmed every time I opened it. The poem was most likely written in the eighth century and considered one of the foundational texts of English literature. I opted to enjoy it as an audio book and found the free verse style and old English a delight to listen to, though I struggled to follow the story line. Beowulf is a story of the battle between a great prince and a monster (or dragon). Maybe I'll read it next and understand it better.

Gina - Sounder by William H. Armstrong

Years ago I borrowed this book from the library. Our neighbor boy saw it at my house and told me it was a very sad book and I returned it unread. Sounder is short, with a suitable reading level for a child, but I'm glad I waited until now to read it. The simple spare language somehow manages to load on the emotion of a young black boy who loses both his father and his dog. Maybe it is a hard read because I know it is based on a true story and similar accounts took place throughout southern United States.

3. Read a book of history or historical fiction (fiction or nonfiction). 

Charity - The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

In 1951, cancer cells were taken from the body of an African American woman named Henrietta Lacks. Those cells would become the world famous HeLa cells, that have grown and multiplied into billions more. Skloot seeks to gives the world a human behind the cells, telling of Henrietta's life and the life of her children and family. Not only do you get a glimpse of science labs during the 1900s but also into the personal lives of lower class African Americans and the medical treatment available to them. This is not a boring true story. Skloot masterfully places you in another place and time and makes you feel like you know the people she is writing about.

Gina - A Parcel of Patterns by Jill Paton Walsh

This book was set in England in the 1600s during the Black Plague. At first I had a hard time getting into the writing style, but then I realized that the author was trying to stay true to the time period. She managed to write a book that felt authentic and by the end I couldn't put it down. I felt immersed in the religious conflict and the horrifying pandemic of the time. 

4. Read by a campfire.

Charity - Unless you let me call a candle a mini campfire, I failed this challenge. Campfires are something I do with people. So this month I sat around a campfire with those I love and enjoyed a candle-lit book reading by myself on the porch. Both were lovely!

Gina - I love people and activity, but sometimes I crave quiet. In the middle of this busy month, I was given several hours alone on a quiet mountain farm where I could hear no human noise. I lit a campfire and soaked in the stillness. Delightful.

5. Enjoy a book-themed garden party.

Charity - My oldest niece and I have an obsession with a particular book series. She had some friends who also share our obsession. So we did the most logical thing! We held a Mitford party complete with food from the Mitford cookbook. We enjoyed an evening of exceptional food and hysterical laughing. Since we can never meet Father Tim, Cynthia, and Dooley (and all our other favorite people) in person, we read about them to each other. If only Jan Karon could know how much we appreciate her. Now I'm dreaming up a new themed book party. Who should be next? Jane Austen or Charles Dickens? (Most of the photos on this post were from this Mitford party.) 

Gina - My two youngest girls play so well together that I sometimes regret how little time I spend with them. I rarely even read aloud to them, compared to the hours I read to their older siblings. Right now they both are enjoying the Little House books. So I purposed to have a Mary and Laura tea with them. They wore their sunbonnets and aprons, and we sat in the shade reading Little House in the Prairie and sipping ice tea.

I'd love to hear what reading looked like at your house in June.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Classic Strawberry Jam with Apple Pectin and Stevia


When I shared the above photo on social media, I was asked, "Why apples in  your strawberry jam?" I had nearly forgotten that this wasn't normal.

My memory of my mom making strawberry jam when I was a girl is going to the grocery store for pectin (Sure Gel) and finding that other jam makers in the community had stripped the shelf bare. Sometimes we'd go to several grocery stores before finding enough pectin. 

I always enjoy learning new techniques, especially if they mean less reliance on purchased products, so when I saw a recipe in Cooks Country magazine that used an apple for pectin, I decided to try it. I loved the result and have used this recipe every year since then.

There are disadvantages of using an apple for pectin. Some of the modern kinds of pectin require less sugar and no cooking which makes jam making faster. A cooked jam does take longer and the flavor is a little different than the non-cooked type of jam. 

But if you'd like to try making jam the way your great-grandmother may have made it, here is the recipe I use. 

Classic Strawberry Jam with Apple Pectin

3 lb strawberries
3 cups of sugar (or alternative sweetener)
1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled and shredded (about 1 1/4 cup)
2 T lemon juice

Cap, wash, and crush strawberries. I use an immersion blender. Add all other ingredients. Boil until thick. I found this took about 15 minutes of a rolling boil. Cool. Freeze.

Jam is notorious for boiling over if you walk away. This pan wasn't very full, but the jam foamed up and over the pot. You don't need to constantly stir it, just keep an eye on it and stir occasionally.

The jam will thicken as it cools so it can be hard to know when it has cooked long enough. To test when the jam is thick enough, I keep a small glass plate in the freezer. When I think the jam has cooked long enough, I place a teaspoon of jam on the plate and return it to the freezer for two minutes. I then drag a finger through the cooled jam to text its thickness. You can see here the difference that a few additional minutes of cooking did for the jam. When it is finished it will be a dark red and there will be no sign of the grated apple.

I have also used this recipe for red raspberry jam. I assume it could be used for other fruits.

I've read that Granny Smith apples have more pectin than some other apple varieties, but one year I used Ginger Gold apples in my raspberry jam and it turned out great.

I usually substitute stevia for some (or most) of the sugar. One teaspoon of pure stevia is equal in sweetness to one cup of sugar. I've done as little as 1/2 cup of sugar and replaced rest of the sugar with stevia and my family never knew the difference.

I freeze the jam and find that it keeps its color and texture perfectly even after several years. 

I'd love to hear if you have experimented with apple pectin or stevia in jam making.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Sisters' June Reading Challenge

Looking forward to another great book month in June. Feel free to join us for one or all five of these challenges - or make up your own challenge for June.

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1. Read a book with a title that includes something from nature (plants, weather, flowers, etc).

For example: 

Rainbow Valley by L.M. Montgomery

Sing Down the Moon by Scott O'Dell

Some Wildflower in My Heart by Jamie Langston Turner 

2. Read a book about animals (fiction or nonfiction).

For example: 

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot

Charlotte’sWeb by E.B. White

Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand

3. Read a book of history or historical fiction (fiction or nonfiction). 


Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

Cabin in Trouble Creek by JeanVan Leeuwen

4. Read by a campfire.

With the long hours of daylight in June, you can sit by a campfire and still have light to read.

5. Enjoy a book-themed garden party.

This can be as simple as sipping iced tea while chatting about books with a friend. Or serving honey bread to your children while reading Pooh. You can get fancy with an Austen- or Mitford-themed party.

 Many children's books mention food: The Little House in the Prairie, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and Bread and Jam for Frances. Keep this simple, or make it elaborate, but the idea of this challenge is to be inspired by a book to go outside and share food with a friend or two.

Whether you choose to do these challenges or not, I hope you enjoy learning and growing through the written page in June.


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