Grandma Jo’s Dill Pickles

The truth: I am an amateur.  However, it is pretty safe to say that I developed a bit of an addiction with preserving all of my garden harvest last year.  Really, how could I let all of that fresh produce go to waste? It all started with my grandma’s dill pickles and ended with my kitchen looking like a disaster zone…a bit of a dysfunctional, yet highly productive mess.

My grandma is the best cook around, not joking.  She can make ordinary taste delicious and the disgusting taste edible.  The best part is that she shares her goods and her recipes, which is how I came across the most delicious dill pickles my mouth has ever tasted…I’m talking, eat half the jar in one sitting, good.

So, if there one thing I believe in, it’s passing on those great recipes, especially the fairly easy ones, for all to enjoy.  Here it is…the recipe and the process for Grandma Jo’s Dill Pickles.

Grandma Jo’s Dill Pickles

In the jar:

4 lbs. cucumbers (rinsed & sliced)

14 heads of fresh dill (big head of flowers & some green leaves with each head)

5-6 peppercorns

Bring to a boil:

1/4 c. pickling salt

2 3/4 c. white vinegar

3 c. water

Prepare jars & lids.  Put cucumbers, peppercorn, & dill into jars.  Pour boiling mixture on top leaving a little space (1/4 in).  Place lids on jars and attach ring.  They should seal within an hour.  If they don’t, try reboiling the liquid and repeat process.  Store in your refrigerator.

Now, for the tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way to make this easy…

Everything of course can be purchased at your grocery store, however, if you want it garden fresh, you need to make sure a bush cucumber plant (or two) and dill are found in your garden plot.Image  Actually my dill is planted along my garage in the backyard mixed in with the landscaping.  The one thing you need to know about dill is that it spreads year to year.  I thought I understood that when I planted it last year, but didn’t fully grasp the concept until this year when I found 5 or so extra dill plants growing around the ones I planted last year along with a random one or two growing next to our driveway (which is on the other side of the garage)…so yeah, it spreads.  However, they are easy to pull out and get rid of if they land in a not so desirable location.  Plant the dill, it’s worth it.

After those two ingredients, I’ve used a variety of different kinds of peppercorns and then just got the vinegar and pickling salt at my nearest Wal-Mart.

So, here’s my step-by-step, tricks, & tips…

Step 1: Place all clean jars into your empty dishwasher.  Push the sani-rinse button (if you have that option) and hit normal wash.  This is how I sanitize the jars before filling.  I don’t even add detergent.  I just count on hot water to do my sanitizing.  My dishwasher takes quite a while, so I have to do this step first thing.  Now, the downside you can see in the picture is that my normal dishes take a backseat to the jars and fill the countertop.  I’ve come to accept that a productive kitchen is never a clean one;).  Welcome to my home.Image

There’s the “Sani-Rinse” button (3rd from the right…has to be pushed 1st).  Push that and then my “Normal” wash to get those jars ready…

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Step 2: Gather those ingredients and wash the garden fresh.  My kids eat dirt, but I don’t really care to, so I scrub the cucumbers pretty well and rinse the dill. Image

Step 3: Fill your stock pot with the vinegar, pickling salt, & water.  Cover & turn burner to med-high to get it boiling. (Yesterday I multiplied the “bring to a boil” ingredients by 5 to fill 22 pint jars and use 12 1/2 lbs. cucumbers…liquid use can vary based on how full you fill the jars with cucumbers.  My advice: stuff pretty full.)

I didn’t get a picture of my ingredients boiling, but here’s a shot of a lot of the equipment I used.  My 8 qt. stock pot is in the back left, 2 qt. saucepan in the front right, the two green ones are my canning tools (funnel and magnetic lid grabber…clearly the technical term;), and then a scraper to stir, dish to keep peppercorns easily accessible, and ladel to dish out the liquid.Image

Step 4: Slice cucumbers.  The best thing I purchased for this purpose is Pampered Chef’s Ultimate Mandolin.  Image  It slices evenly, the quicker the better, and there is almost no way to slice a finger as long as you are following the directions.  It makes the process quick and easy.  I start by slicing off a little bit of each end, then cut each cucumber into 3rd, maybe even 4ths if it’s a large one using about this much at a time…Image  Stab the cucumber with the mandolin grabber (see picture of mandolin)…put it in place and slice away.  All slices I place in a large, easily accessible bowl.  This is 12 1/2 lbs. of cucumber :)…Image

Step 5: Start your small saucepan of water simmering to sanitize jar lids.  Don’t place lids into the water yet as they should only sit in there a few minutes.

Step 6: When jars are sanitized, water is boiling, and cucumbers are sliced, it’s time to get going.  Place 4 jar lids into your simmering water one at a time.  ImageGrab 4 hot jars out of the dishwasher, place cucumbers, a few at a time (so they lay flat), into the jar until almost full.  Add peppercorns and dill.  ImagePlace jar funnel onto full jar.  Use a ladel to scoop boiling brine into the jar slowly & carefully until liquid brine reaches about 1/4 in. from top of jar.  At that time, use your magnetic canning tool to grab a jar lid out of the simmering water and place onto your full jar.  Screw on jar ring and set aside to seal.  You will hear a pop when it seals.  Repeat with all jars until cucumbers are gone.  Image

Once they have cooled off, into the fridge they go for 3 or so weeks when you can take them out and gobble them up.  Enjoy!

One small minor note: Although the jars I used are super cute AND they were on sale :), I found that I maybe should’ve saved them for another project as they don’t stack on top of each other, which means 22 jars are now filling prime real estate in my refrigerator.  Well, now I know :).

The Snowman Kit Gift

Because of all the great friends made while living in Kansas City and the wonderful family we have living there also, we head down every December to visit and let all of the kiddos get together and romp around (with our group of friends there are 9 kids 4 & under…It gets a little loud and crazy).

We started out doing Christmas gifts back in the day (ha…probaby 4 yrs. ago) and quickly realized that we all did not need more and more toys to clutter up our houses.  So, last year it clicked…instead of bringing gifts, I was going to find ideas that would bring fun and a little more sanity for the moms of the group instead of another toy to have to find a place for and have to pick up every day. So, in a search for all things creative, I came across these three things for this year.

-The Snowman Kit 

The idea originated from this book and I took it and ran with it.

Basically a small storage tote that keeps all of the most important things Mr. Snowman needs to live a happy life. Our kits included: Image

-a hat (found at our local Family Dollar store)

-a “carrot” nose (a wooden dowel from our hardware store, cut to size with a hand saw, spray painted orange)

-a scarf (fleece I had on hand that I cut and “fringed” the ends)

-3 buttons for the snowman’s belly (found at Wal-Mart or your local craft store)

-sunglasses &/or bolts that I drew eyes on the head, the ends to be pushed into the snow (not pictured)  *one suggestion online was using bottle caps painted black for eyes…I didn’t have any

-a mouth.  I just realized that my kits are missing a mouth or pipe, or whatever you’d like in that spot.  I’m going to have to think on that.  Sorry to those missing a mouth.:)

Draw a little something cute on your container to label it (I used puff paint) and voila!, instant fun for snow days.

Our second gift is…

-Snowman Soup 

Thanks to my dear friend Sonia, who gave this gift to me years ago.  I kept the cute saying (yes, I really am a packrat) and came across it this year when cleaning out some things.  One instance where being a packrat proved useful!;)

I found cute little jars with locking lids at Family Dollar (it was the place to go this time around).

Inside we included:

-white hot chocolate mix packet

-15-20 mini marshmallows in a snack size zip baggie

-2 junior mints (snowman eyes)

-a candy cane for the stir stick

After packaging it all, we tied curling ribbon around the jar and tied this cute little saying to the outside.  Perfect to warm up a belly after creating a jolly snowman.

And last, but not least, is…

Kool-Aid Playdough Mix

My sister-in-law, Megan, e-mailed me this recipe with the idea in mind of turning it into a jar gift.  Great idea!

*photo by Pamela

We put the dry ingredients (flour, salt, cream of tartar, & Kool-Aid packets) into a gallon sized zip top baggie, sealed it, then placed it inside a cuter holiday decorated gift bag tied with a tag that tells the recipient what wet ingredients to add along with recipe instructions.

Kool-Aid Playdough

1. Add 2 cups boiling water & 3 T. oil to dry ingredients

2. Knead until smooth (careful– it’s hot!) Extra flour may need added for desired consistency.

3. Grab your cutters and rollers and have FUN!

One big hit of this recipe was the great smell due to the Kool-Aid.

*Sorry about not having pictures for the last two…I was creating in the wee hours of the morning so they were ready to go and just plain skipped that part.  Hopefully the fun ideas outweigh the need for visuals (coming from a person who is HIGHLY visual)!;)

Here’s to lots of fun, relaxing creating over the winter months.  Hope y’all enjoy!

Giving Thanks and Creating Traditions

November is here and the countdown to my favorite holiday is on.  With the opportunity to eat lots of delicious food and take time to reflect on all of God’s blessings, who couldn’t love Thanksgiving?  For as long as I can remember we always did Thanksgiving with my dad’s family.  It was full of the best food taste buds can imagine and lots of family to fill my grandparents basement.  We gave thanks to God for our blessings, dug in to our completely overstuffed plates, because you couldn’t leave out any of the tasty dishes, and enjoyed the rest of the afternoon with family, complete with a few napping people on the couches because the food coma had kicked in.  As my family has grown up and gone our separate ways, we’ve come to appreciate the memories of Thanksgiving at Grandma & Grandpa’s.

I’ve taken on Thanksgiving the past few years (with the help of my mom!) and, of course, had to make sure all of the best dishes like my grandma’s infamous chicken noodles and my great aunt’s date nut tapioca pudding were included.  I’ve loved every minute of it and hope the love has shown through each dish, every decoration, and each new/old tradition.  But as growing up goes, things change and people go their separate ways and new traditions are formed.  Last year I started the countdown to Thanksgiving with my kiddos.  We did the Thanksgiving alphabet book.  

It was great for my 3 & 1 year old as it helped with learning the alphabet, letter recognition, sound association, etc.  All I did was make a page for each letter on the left side of the book and a blank page next to it on the right.  Each day counting down to Thanksgiving we took the next letter, figured out something we were thankful for that began with that letter, drew a picture of it on the blank page next to the corresponding letter, and wrote the word of each picture…partly for the practice of writing letters, but more importantly so we could for sure recognize the pictures for years to come.:)  The kids loved it and by the end we had multiple pictures for each letter.  And, I love that it’s a keepsake that is easily stored.

This year, I’m a little late getting on the ball, but today I found a great idea at Make and Takes…great blog, btw.  

My turkey is made, feathers cut out, and we’re set to start giving thanks tomorrow.  I think I’ll write a verse about giving thanks on the turkey instead of “Happy Thanksgiving,” but other than that mine looks pretty similar.  Thanks for the idea Make and Takes!

And, because of my late night blog surfing and Dresses ‘n Messes, I have my idea for next year AND the time to plan it out!  I love the way it takes it to the next level and gives the opportunity to teach service to others along with realizing all your blessings.  Maybe we’ll actually get started November 1st.:)

I’m excited each year to share with my kids our reason for celebrating Thanksgiving.  Because of the love put into each Thanksgiving growing up, we’ve all missed our big family Thanksgiving and it looks like this year we’ll have the opportunity to get together with some of the family and enjoy each other’s company.  Every part of me, especially my eyes that will forever be way bigger than my stomach, can’t wait!

The Shapes of Monday Morning

This morning we needed something to do to start of our day and our week well.  A couple weeks ago I bought The Everything Toddlers Activity Book.  It was at Sam’s Club when I was doing our bulk shopping and as I flipped through the pages thought it would be a book to at least spur on ideas, if nothing else (I think it will turn out to be a great book).  And, today, it did exactly that.  While we were eating breakfast I broke out the book and in about 5 minutes I had our activity ready, yes I said ready to go, for the morning.  Here’s all it took…construction paper, scissors, crayons, & a glue stick.  The best part is that it taught/reiterated shapes, colors, and creativity.

The object was to create a person using the shapes I provided.  Those shapes are the ones I cut out within the 5 min. during breakfast.  I just stacked 5-6 sheets of different colored construction paper together and cut out squares, triangles, rectangles, circles, and hearts of all sizes…super quick way to get a bunch of shapes.  We then picked out black sheets of construction paper so that all the colors would show up and then started creating.

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The one thing I’d do differently next time is help my kiddos glue theirs on first.  My oldest made a great person, but then when he saw mine, he scrapped his and wanted to do one just like mine…not a big deal, but we lost a little of his creativity in the mix.

My youngest just had a blast talking about the shapes and glueing them wherever her heart desired.  She’s quite the little artsy child.  And, once I pulled out the crayons to finish the picture, she was all over it.  I’m just happy she colored on the paper for most of the activity.  She has a tendency to color on EVERYTHING…walls, her body, the carpet, the table, etc.  And, actually the phone rang during our activity and I came back to the bench of my table blue.  Luckily we were using dry erase board crayons so it just wiped right off.

The finished product was definitely fridge-worthy (if I had room on my fridge…I think ours will go on the wall;) )…

 

I also found plenty of extra coloring additions to my paper when I got back from the phone call.  Character was added:).  We also had to add his coolest birthday present…a remote control Francesco Bernoulli in the hands of his man and a basketball, so mine decided to be a golfer.   There are so many things you can do with just a few shapes.  Break out the scissors and go to town.

Broccoli, Celery, Gotta be, VeggieTales (R)!

I have been out of the blog scene for quite a while now.  I once had the goal to blog at least once a week or more, but then life happened.  Here’s a glimpse of what I’ve been up to away from the computer screen. Hopefully there will be more to come on that soon…

However, for now, I had to share what’s been consuming my time the past week and all of my yesterday.  My two little spitfires turn a year older within the next week and a half.  And, we got everybody together yesterday to celebrate VeggieTales (R) style!  Over the past few years, Bob and Larry have become a part of the family.  Actually, I think when I married my agnerd, they entered my life in the form of VHS, as I think he had all the videos.  They’ve now made it to DVDs at our house and have taken over this year as we had a VeggieTales (R) birthday party, they want to be Bob & Larry for Halloween and the stories get watched over and over and over.  The best thing about that though is that those Bible stories are being ingrained in their memory to be pulled out at the perfect time to help them through life or to just reference in our day to day.  Now, we do make sure to share the real Bible story along with the VeggieTales (R) version as the quirkiness sometimes gives a slightly different version from the actual Bible story, but that is often what makes them fun and helps the memory.  So, here’s a glimpse at our VeggieTales (R) celebration so you’re all set to waltz with potatoes yourself.

The Decor…

www.veggietales.com is where I went for plates & activity placemats…perfect for kids and adults alike!Look at my grandmas go!:)Then, we went simple…tablecloth by the roll, solid color helium-filled balloons, and little bit of streamers across a few tables.

The Activities…

After searching my brain and online for ideas, I ended up deciding on the following, which were a big hit with all the kiddos from age 2 to 11 years old:

Bob, Bob, Larry (otherwise known as Duck, Duck, Goose)I had the privilege of joining the game since little A had just woken up from her nap and wasn’t too keen on leaving Mom to play with the big kids.

Pin the plungers on Larry Boy (pin the tail on the donkey)I had the intentions of creating Larry Boy on butcher paper and pinning him to the bulletin board, however, when I finally sat down to make Larry Boy, I realized we’d used all our butcher paper and it’s Sunday in small town, so not much luck with butcher paper.  The next idea was using the above pictured white board with a magnet on the plungers and then I realized, this was just a cheapy white board that I’d purchased a while back and was not magnetic.  So, masking tape was going to have to do.  Besides replacing the tape once on the plungers, this worked out perfect.  Here’s a bit of the fun…Oops!  Not quite the board…After the 2nd time through they all pretty much had the hang of it!

Make your own Jimmy & Jerry Gourd

We have a pumpkin patch at the farm, so we went out earlier in the week and picked a few hands full of the best looking Jimmy & Jerry Gourds one could find.  Then at www.veggietales.com they have cut-outs for the eyes, nose, & mouth…perfect.  Along with the cut-outs I added some markers/crayons, construction paper, funky scissors, & glue to let their imaginations go wild.  Fun was had by all…

I also had lots of coloring pages, connect the dots, and crosswords from VeggieTales (R) website at the activity table to keep kiddos occupied while others finished up.

And, last but not least…The Food…

-Stuffed crust pizza “Cheese in the crust!  That’s tremendous!”

-Popcorn ball meteorites from Are You My Neighbor

-A veggie tray

-Cheese curls

-Slushies from Josh & the Big Wall

-a few extras to round out the meal

And, or course, Bob, Larry, and Ze Peas to celebrate the birthdays right.

Larry is made and formed out of a giant rice krispie treat covered with fondant.  Bob was made using Wilton’s sports ball pan and covered with fondant.  The “counter top” they are standing on is a rectangle cake board that I iced with regular buttercream frosting and covered with square fondant cut-outs.  If you need any more detail, feel free to leave a comment and I’d be happy to pass on any insight I found!  

They were loved…

My favorite part, though, was when my 5 year old nephew went up to the cake when he got to the party and said, “Hi Larry, hi Bob!”  He cracks me up.

Happy Birthday to my kiddos!

Teaching my Child to Nap

Currently, I have two sleeping children.  That’s right, they are both down for nap at the same time, which is allowing me to actually write this post.  If you haven’t figured out yet, I’m a little LOT excited about that fact.  And, I wanted to share my strategy that is currently working (not to jinx it!) just in case there’s another mom out there like me who’s needed something else to try.  Now, this post isn’t exactly for the mom who has read the books, followed them exactly, and has had their child sleep-trained since week two.  I would have no foot to stand on trying to write a post like that, as that is just not me.

With my oldest, I tried sleep training…the cry it out method, and any other suggestion that was sent my way because I was desperate.  He cried it out for far too long, too many days (possible week(s)) in a row).  After the many hours of trying to help him get the hang of it I realized it wasn’t for us.  It created too much stress in him and me and I accepted the fact that it is not for all babies.  What I’ve learned since then is that not everything works for all kids.  *Shocker!*;)  If I share one piece of advice with soon-to-be or new mamas, it is this: Don’t stress over something that’s not working for you and your baby, even if everyone else around tells you it’s the way to go, because one strategy is not for everyone.

That being said, I wanted to write this post to those moms out there that have a child like my oldest.  The type of child who cannot sit still for more than seconds at a time, literally bounces around the house all day long (sometimes off of his sister along with the walls), climbs almost everything and does it successfully,has a brain that runs in overdrive from the second he wakes up to the second before he finally crashes for sleep (and often while sleeping as he sings and tells stories while snoozing), and most importantly to this post, needs (or thinks he needs) little sleep and no naps.  Other than the carseat nap…my child has fallen asleep 6 times on his own in his life…that’s almost 4 years.  It is so few that I can easily keep track.  This just doesn’t happen often…It takes an entire day of Christmas celebration with 5 active cousins and a rambunctious sister to actually put him to sleep.

So, here’s the reason you’re still reading this post.  After hours, days, months, even years of figuring out how to get him to fall asleep, the strategy that’s working the best for me right now (at age 3 & 22 months) includes three simple rules and an ending that appeals to him.  First, the  deal…

Me: “If you can stay awake for three songs (we listen to calm, relaxing music before bed) following my 3 rules, you may rest instead of nap.”

My oldest: “Really!?”

At this point he is super excited, of course, because he loves the idea of rest time.  However, this mama does not!  We developed a fear of monsters one day, very randomly, and again have tried EVERY strategy known to man to nix the fear, but his brain won’t budge, so rest time (quiet play on his own) does not go well and this mama gets nothing done.  Oh, and his little body also still needs a nap, otherwise the grouch monster comes out right before supper sucking everyone into his terrible mood.  So, what, you ask, are the three rules?  Simple.

Rule #1: Lay still. (as in nothing moving except for maybe a stratch here or there, head on pillow)

Rule #2: Keep eyes closed.

Rule #3: No talking.

The outcome:  sleeping child, with hardly any fighting, 9 times out of 10

Now, it’s “Naptime here I come” instead of “I DON’T WANT TO NAP!”

It puts the ball in his court.  If he truly can stay away for three whole songs, he gets to rest.  However, that has only happened a couple of times, and he’s actually handled it well because his body really did not need the rest and he was a positive, fun-loving kid.

Now, here’s the disclaimer…

Is it a sure-fire way to get your child to nap?  No way!  We still have our days when he chooses to fight like the dickens to stay awake because heaven forbid you miss out on any minute of a day.  However, those days are way fewer and farther between than they once were and my sanity has risen tremendously when nap time rolls around.  I’ve started to welcome it…most days;).  One more tip for those “not gonna nap” days: if a rule is broken, he has to follow the rules for an extra song.  If this is sounding all too real, try it out.  I hope you have as much luck as I have.

On a side note, his little sister asks for naps.  I even caught her sleeping like this once…

…she’s the child for which more of those books I previously mentioned were written.  Each child is different.  And, months down the line, this strategy will probably have worn off and I’ll be begging y’all for your success stories.  Until then, I hope this helps one mama out there regain a little sanity.;)

The Ultimate S’more

Like I mentioned in a previous post, we had some friends come up from Kansas City earlier this summer.  Because I love to have company, especially this group, I tried planning everything down to having every grocery purchased so that we wouldn’t have to make a trip with our soon to be outnumbered adults in the kid:adult ratio.  When searching for all the right meals so that kids and adults alike would have a great time, I came across an idea for the ultimate s’more and decided we just had to try it.  Because I knew this would be beyond rich, we did get the regulars of graham crackers, mallows, and Hershey’s, but this recipe was just one I could not pass up.  Here is what you need for the ultimate s’more…

-2 chocolate chip cookies (go for homemade!)

-1 Reese’s Peanut Butter cup

-1 fire roasted marshmallow

Set your peanut butter cup on one of your cookies on a plate/napkin so it’s ready to hold your marshmallow.  Roast marshmallow over the campfire on your best roasting stick.  Then, set it on your peanut butter cup and squish together with your other cookie.  Prepare your mouth for chocolatey goodness and proceed to gobble up as much as your taste buds can handle.

Savor.  For some, it was one bite, for others of us, it was the whole thing.:S  Not exactly a diet recipe, but something you must try once in your life!;)  It’s things like this that produce happiness in life;)…ha ha.