Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Mini Pumpkin Pies (in a jar)

As you may or may not remember from my last post, I said I was going to undertake the world of canning!!!!  Let me tell you... there's a lot to learn!  First off, let me say I have canned baked stuff before (cakes and pies for deployed friends) and I got rave reviews.  So while I'm waiting for my delivery of freeze-dried and dehydrated foods, mylar bags, and oxygen absorbers (all of which I'll share with you when I get it!), I decided to try my hand once again at packaging up my honey's favorite dessert... pumpkin pie :)

Aside from Thanksgiving, fall, holiday, etc.... I'm sure this image is what you immediately think of when you hear "Pumpkin Pie." And while it tastes the same, what we're doing today sure doesn't look the same.

First, gather your ingredients.  Now, while I do make a mean pumpkin pie, it certainly isn't from scratch.  This girl doesn't cut open a pumpkin, de-seed it, chop it, mush it up, and create a glorious homemade crust to hold it all in.  I take the easy route:

1 can Libby Easy Pumpkin Pie MIX (the DARK orange can)
3/4 of a can Eagle Brand sweet condensed milk (the maroon can)
2 eggs pre-beaten, then added
a sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice (roughly 1/2 - 1 tablespoon, depending on how much spice you like)

1 package of 2 refrigerated pie crusts (yes, you will use both)
1 case (12 jars total) of "jelly" mason jars (I used the Kerr 4 oz, regular mouth jars with lids and rings)

Then, preheat your oven to 425.

While it warms up, prep your jars.
Wash and dry them really well and set the tops/rings aside.

Get your pie crusts out, roll out on a floured surface, and cut out little crusts to put inside the jars.  I picked a cup about one inch wider in diameter than the jars, this way you can spread the crust as close to the top as possible and get more filling inside. Using the edges of your fingers/knuckles (avoid nails tearing the crusts because the filling will then leak out between the jar and the crust and it looks yucky) mold the crusts to the shape of the jar.  Don't make it too thin or it's more likely to stick to the jar when trying to eat it later on.  When you have all 12 crusted, put them on a cookie sheet.

Mine probably could've used about 5 more minutes
on the front end to get a "crispier" top!

Now you'll mix the filling, using all the ingredients above, making sure to blend everything well.  Using a scoop with a funneled edge (this makes it easier) pour the filling into the crusted jar about 5/6 of the way, leaving a small amount of room for the pie filling to expand.  Put the pies in the pre-heated oven for about 8 minutes.  When that 8 minutes is up, lower the temperature to 350 degrees and bake for about 30 minutes.  **This is based on my really old electric oven.  Times may vary for you, just keep an eye and a nose on it**  With about 5-10 minutes left, put your tops and rings in HOT water and boil, to help the rubber seal expand/soften a bit.  This way, when you put it back on the jar and tighten, you get a much better seal!  We don't want any oxygen getting to these bad boys, as they will spoil much more quickly.  When you're all done you should have some fantastic looking mini pies :)

Immediately top them with the lids and rings.  This will prevent you from having to do the "hot bath" or "oven" method to seal.  Using some oven mitts or tongs or however you want to do it, get the lids and rings on all the pies, tighten as much as you can, and let them cool after they've been completely sealed.  After a few minutes you'll hear some squeaks and pops from the sealed jars... this means you've done it correctly!  When pressed, the tops should feel firm, with very little to no give.  Let them cool completely, label them with the date you made them, and ship them off to your loved ones, making sure to package them with A LOT of love and stuffing to prevent breaking in shipment.  Although I wouldn't test it out myself, people say these bad boys will last up to a year like this.  Realistically, I wouldn't give them more than 3 or 4 months (and honestly, my hubby will probably have them all eaten within 2!)

You can apply this same logic to other types of pies and even to cake in any size from these minis to quart-sized.  For the tiny ones, you basically half the amount of time the "box" says to bake for.  Adjust accordingly for the larger sizes; typically you bake the quart size for the same time as listed for "cupcakes" - but you can always check for consistency with a toothpick.

It's fun and tasty and so far all the guys I've sent them to have LOVED them.  It's a fantastic little taste of home and a great way to cheer them up :)

Now get to baking!!

Until next time (where you'll probably get more canning ventures from me)...

Monday, July 6, 2015

What's up, Doc?

I haven't forgotten you all, I swear.  This time, I don't come to you with complaints and excuses, well I do, but trust that I haven't rolled up and died, become a non-mobile bump on the log these day -  I'm, once again, a working woman... a paid writer :D  Sure, I'm not doing what I thought I would be, but I'm NOT complaining!  I'm writing OFTEN and I'm getting experience and distribution.  I've been accepted as a writer for an online media company and I'm actually receiving compensation for my contributions!  In addition to that, I'm the newest clerk at my local library.  And on top of that, I'm toying with the idea of opening my own Etsy shop.  Nothing major, just some small hand-knitted items that I hope would yield additional income and cheer spread all around.

My weight loss is still... going.  From the time I was out of my home in Italy (that started April 29) up until about two and a half weeks ago (June 15ish) I gained back about 15 pounds :( It was a combination of stress, too many things on my plate/not enough time to meal prepare and fit in a workout, being back in the states and surrounded by FOODOOOOD, too many things I wanted to do with the hubs before he left for the year, the list goes on and on... I just put ME on the back burner.  And that's okay.  Since yesterday (July 5th) I'm only 6 pounds heavier than I was when I was working out/calorie counting regularly.  I'm trying to fall back into a regular workout pattern and I've been diligent in counting calories.  I've been drinking more water than I EVER have in my life (thanks TN humidity!!!) - I try to ride bikes with my cousin in the mornings - I run/jog a few days a week with a friend - I've been moving and packing/unpacking boxes (my alternative to lifting weights at the gym!) - I've been walking the dog.  Basically, anywhere I can burn calories, I try to take advantage of it until I settle into a groove and get back to the gym on the regular.  I may have hit a little involuntary bump, but that does not mean I've given up on achieving my goal weight of 150 pounds!  It may take me another year, but damn it I'm gonna do it!  I've got 15ish pounds to go!

My husband is away and it's sad... every. single. day.  He's struggling with it as much as I am, which makes it even harder.  He's not sleeping well, he's not eating well, he's just a rush and a jumble and he's trying to adjust to life without me, which I HATE.  The only solace I have from this time apart is that it forces our communication to grow stronger and it makes us value each other more; it helps highlight those things we take for granted.  I miss (and adore) him more and more with each passing day, but I'm not sitting and pitying myself.  I'm trying to make the most of my time here and I really, really want this to fly by.  I also want this year to end with me having gotten something out of it.

I must thank God every. single. day.  I'm certainly NOT the most religious or spiritual person on the planet, but I do believe that His presence, even if for just a moment in every day, makes EVERY DAY that much easier to get through.  When I have a moment, I thank Him for what I have.  Both good and bad, because it all really is relative.  And when I have more than a moment, I have a chat.  I let Him take my burdens and accomplishments and it's cleansing and healing and wonderful.

So... I'm not neglecting this blog... I'm just adjusting.  Trying to spread my time between everything and that's gonna take a little wiggling.  Please bear with me ;)

The reason I even thought, hey let's write a little blurb, is mainly wrapped up in the thought that my husband isn't eating well!  He doesn't have time and energy and want-to to eat more than a lunchable or a some fruit or some delivery from the pizza place or whatever... I'm getting frustrated because that's MY job and I can't be there to take care of him like we both like me to.  So... off to Pinterest I went in search of "meals-in-a-jar."  Stuff that I can put in a mason jar, that can get to him unspoiled, can sit on a shelf for a little while unspoiled, just add water, heat, and eat.  And man was I happy with the results.  So far I haven't sifted through them all, but they sure look promising.  So I'm sharing my wisdom with those of you who need or care to know... hopefully it'll ease not only your mind, but the rumbling tummy of your loved one :D

Your Own Home Store's Freezer Meals Without the Freezer is a great way to share the meals "only you can make babe" to your loved one - it seems you have to purchase some "oxygen absorbers" and "freeze dried" foods, but I'm not opposed to that! If I can adapt the recipes and utilize them for my everyday recipies, that'd make it even more awesome!
The Survival Mom's Meals in a Jar has a breakdown of her experience with the whole "dehydrated" food thing and I'm thinking it'll help me get started on my own path!

These are just a few, but it will take some reading and figuring out to determine if this is for me to do.  It seems the "startup" will be a bit expensive (we're looking at $150 for freeze-dried food items, probably another $100 for spices and canning supplies, and around $10-15 for the absorbers... not to mention the shipping of it) but honestly, if I can feed my hubby from afar, it'll put my mind at ease and provide me with a little helping hand from far away that I desperately crave!

Anywho... gotta run so I can do some work, but I hope I'll be seeing you all soon :D

Until next time...

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

If you've got it... use it!

I had a general idea of what I wanted to do with my "space" when I moved into my dad's house for the year.  I mean, I was basically trying to consolidate an entire house-worth of things into a singular room, minus my kitchen/dining room.  Since the hubby is overseas for the year without the pooch and me, I figured it a step backwards to get an apartment.  I can save us some money by NOT spending it all in rent, and I could be super close to my loved ones.  Plus, since it was just us two ladies, why have all that empty, lonely space?  (Sadface)  So when I took over the master bedroom (with a walk-in closet and bathroom) I figured I really had to be smart with the footage.  Let me know what you think...

The biggest feat in the main part of the room was hanging my monstrous TV.  I had to acquire a heavy duty mount that would allow me to put the TV as far away from my viewing area, AKA my bed, as possible, and allow it to come across pleasurable to the eye.  I got a great deal from Amazon on the mount, found myself two glorious studs in a perfect spot, and with the assistance of both my mother and brother, got that bad boy hung up!  Then I installed a small shelf underneath to house the DVR and Xbox, and the side HDMI and USB ports on the TV are easily accessible to hook up my laptop and external harddrives!!!  I also had to squeeze in ALL of my books (minus the kid's books, which ended up in storage) so that they looked more like art than just shoved in there.  There's potential in that little corner for a bean bag chair or something later on.  On the floor under the TV, which isn't really in view, I have a two-drawer unit with all my games/accessories and all my "tools" and cords and such; on top of that is the printer because it hooks wirelessly to our network and wouldn't get a signal in my office...

 ... which is my converted walk-in closet.  I had enough drawer space in the two borrowed dressers, that were already in the room when I got there, that I only needed one side of the closet for my clothes (the side not pictured).  With the other side, I wanted to be able to do all the things I love... scrapbook, craft, write, draw, package up all the boxes I'll be sending to the hubs, etc.  I hung some shelves in the middle to house things I need to easily reach and re-purposed a shelf and brackets that I already had from our previous home into a makeshift desk!

Using my filing cabinet as a sturdy base, I centered the two brackets between the rest of the wood, in studs :), so that I could lean and press and pound on top of it without fear of it collapsing underneath me.  There's plenty of space for my large, comfy desk chair to slide underneath, and although I do have to stack stuff on top of the shelf above (most of that is singular use/special items like excess supply or empty frames/photo albums), it seems to fit my needs quite nicely.  I can easily get in and out to get to my clothes and shoes on the left, and can easily move around once seated.  It does get a little warm in there with no ventilation, so I took the door off and hung a curtain instead, for easier air flow from the main part of the room.  Also, there are no plugs, so I ran a small extension cord around the bottom of the base board, so if I need to plug-in, I'm good to go.

The space could look prettier, but I haven't gotten around to that yet.  It'll come, overtime, I'm sure.  I was more concerned with completing it and making it functional!

I also put my bed on risers to give myself even more storage space!  It's pretty high off the ground (which I like) but I have so many things underneath that I may not need everyday, but would be inconvenient if stored 20 minutes from my house!  I also did away with a traditional night-stand and use the pooch's crate instead.  I got a piece of plexi-glass cut to the dimensions of the top and it's my catch all for everything, even my bedside lamp! If I need a way to save or use space, I will find a way to do it :D

What are some awesome things you've done with your space?  I'm always looking for more ideas!!!

Until next time...