Tuesday, May 8, 2012

We be jammin.

Last week we were playing in the backyard with one of our neighbor friends when she grabbed a handful of dark purple berries that had fallen off our tree and said, "Finn's mom? Can I eat these?"

I honestly didn't know so I led her to the little raspberry bush Bill just planted and told her to go nuts. Then I texted one of the more industrious do-it-yourselfers down the street (the one with backyard chickens who once took down a pesky squirrel with a BB gun and turned it into stew for dinner) to find out.

The verdict: mulberries!

At first I was a bit embarrassed - all this time we've had a tree full of edible berries in the backyard and didn't know it? But I quickly got over it. We have a tree full of edible berries in our backyard!

The timing of this discovery actually could not have been better. This week is teacher appreciation week and today we were supposed to bring our teacher a healthy snack. Nothing says, "I appreciate you!" like something homemade. Homemade and homegrown? Quit braggin'!

We decided on mulberry jam with something to spread it on. So we picked a BUNCH of berries and got to work...

It was really messy (mulberries stain!) and frankly, a lot of darn work, but we had fun doing it and our jam turned out pretty great for our very first try. I don't think jam is necessarily hard to make but since I had never done it before there was a bit of a learning curve. Mostly with the reading and following of instructions (this recipe we started with had just 15 easy steps!). I get easily overwhelmed with stuff like that. Even though I generally search for recipes that begin with "easy", I still feel like I need a translator the first time I make something. I read and re-read each step a dozen times to make sure I'm doing it exactly right and then at some point get so overwhelmed that I scrap the whole thing and start making it up as I go along.

How do I know I do that? Because as I read and measured and frantically reminded Liam to "keep stirring!" he calmly sighed and asked, "Is it time for us to start winging it yet?"

"What do you mean?"

"You know. How we just sort of do it our own way."

"Well, I don't know. This recipe seems pretty specific. And I've never made jam before."

"That's okay. Doing it our own way is what makes it special."

"Huh. I guess you're right..."

So I closed my laptop and we let our imaginations run (a little bit) wild. Instead of lemon juice we did some lemon and some lime. Rather than adding SIX CUPS OF SUGAR (gulp), I stopped at three and Liam squeezed in a bit of honey. Then I used the low sugar pectin (I bought both kinds) even though the recipe I was looking at was for the regular kind and I swear I had read a low sugar recipe somewhere else and it was COMPLETELY different.

(Okay, I'm starting to think it's not just me - people who put jam recipes online are intentionally trying to drive us insane.)

Anyway, we semi followed this recipe (Charlotte's version) because it was the only one I found that said I could leave the teeny tiny stems ON the mulberries rather than pick every single one off by hand (which I started to do and there was just no way). Even though our measurements were all different and we veered way off course, our jam still turned out really tasty. We even managed to can it properly which was a whole other set of "easy" instructions that nearly sent me over the edge...

Then yesterday after school we made bread (another first!) and it turned out pretty great too (we mostly followed this recipe). Although there was one moment where I was kneading the bread before I had added enough flour and it was totally sticking to my hands and making me feel all weird and claustrophobic and I started freaking out a little and asking Liam to "help me!" by adding more flour and peeling the wax paper off the dough (no idea why I thought I needed wax paper) and when he didn't immediately follow my anxious one word commands I started flinging the sticky dough and wax paper off my hands and onto the floor. Finn, of course, was helping cook too and instantly started flinging ingredients onto the floor just like Mama. I'm pretty sure he now thinks excitedly throwing food onto the floor is just part of the process. It's supposed to be winging it Finn, not flinging it...

Better to let Liam do this part...

We had a LOT to clean up but I think it was worth it. Like Liam said on our walk to school this morning, "It's nice to give people gifts but even nicer when you put a lot of love and effort in them." Ain't that the truth!

I should have snapped a pic of the loaf of bread...it was even cuter than these rolls.