Sunday, May 25, 2008

strawberries, pectin, and hypothesis...

These past months, I have been up to all sorts of things. Cooking, baking, sewing and such. I have been learning to be domestic. And while I have really enjoyed becoming, in my mind, what I always pictured I would be as a "home-maker", this is all new to me. I am in uncharted waters here. You see, I have spent the majority of my adult life training to become one thing. A Scientist. Seriously. For nearly a decade, the bulk of my educational efforts have been spent learning how to interpret an electrophoresis scan for Multiple Sclerosis. Or, detecting and identifying antibodies in the blood bank so the surgeon will have compatible blood for the emergency heart surgery going in 20 minutes. Or looking at peripheral blood smears for abnormal cells, to tell the doctor the patient has Leukemia. (really sad) Or that he doesn't. (really happy)

I have always loved science, and loved being a "lab rat." I love my job. But now I only work a few days a month. And I think lately, my scientist self has started feeling just a little neglected, and a little overrun by domesticity. :) This became glaringly obvious to me while I was at the grocery store the other day.

I was shopping for pectin. WHAT????? Yeahhh...I was shopping for pectin because my domestic self noticed that strawberries were on sale for $1 a pound, and thought it would be nice to make some home made strawberry jam. And to make jam you need strawberries guessed it. Pectin.

So, I was perusing the pectin selection (say THAT fast 5 times) and found a few things. The first one I saw was this.

A pectin classic. I've used this before to make freezer jam (with mixed results). It's pretty simple (you have to boil the pectin, but thats not so bad), and is relatively quick. But then I saw THIS....
Two things stood out to me. First, just how yummy the picture looked. And then second, the words "No Cook." And then then words "Fresh, Delicious, Easy." Hmmmmm...... My neglected scientist self instantly began designing an experiment to prove if the Ball pectin really IS fresh, delicious, and easy. And I also wanted to scientifically prove which pectin produced better tasting jam. (my taste buds are pretty darn scientific). So, I bought both, headed back to the produce isle to double up on the strawberries, and headed for home. (Oh...and I also bought some of the plastic Ball freezer jam containers. Mike asked me why I bought these new conatiners when I could have just used tupperware we had at home. My response? "These are cuter." And in my defense, I was planning on giving some of my finished product to the neighbors, so the containers SHOULD be nicer than the old cottage cheese tub that has been used and washed a hundred times.)


Back to the experiment. My hypothesis was:

Ball pectin will be easier to use and will produce fresher and tastier strawberry jam than Sure-Jell pectin.

I KNOOOOOWWWWWW what you are thinking. I am a science dork. But we've already established that. So, if you want the results of my delicious experiment, you are just going to have to keep reading.

Here is basically everything you needed to know (according to me and my tastebuds) about making strawberry freezer jam.

I started with the Ball pectin because I was anxious to try it out.

Ball Pectin

The instructions seemed simple enough. First, cut and mash strawberries. I needed to smoosh up 4 cups of these.

I used a potato masher as oppossed to a blender or food processor. But I like my jam a little on the "chunky" side. If you don't, just mash it up more. Simple. The buying guide on the bag said I would need about 4 pounds of strawberries. (Each of the containers is a pound) So, thats what I bought. But it was WAY too much. I found that ONE pound of whole strawberries = TWO CUPS of mushed strawberries. So, I really only needed 2 containers of the delicious fruit and not 4. Ohwell. More to eat later.

Next, in a seperate bowl, I added the Ball pectin to 2 cups of sugar. Atleast I think it was two cups of sugar. I'm writing this after the fact, so I don't remember EXACTLY...It could have been a little less than 2 cups. But just look at the instructions on the bag. (you could also use Splenda as an alternative.) I mixed those together, then added my 4 cups of fruity goodness. I stirred for 3 minutes to help the sugars disolve. And then I used a wide mouth funnel to make filling my cute jars easy, scooped the mixture in, and put the lids on.

The package says this will make approximately 5-8oz. jars. (or 40 oz. total) But I filled 2 of my big jars (16 oz each) and then 2 of my small jars (80z each). So, if you do the math, that equals 48 oz. or 6-8oz. jars. Ending up with extra jam always makes me happy.

Finally, just let it sit out on the counter for 30 minutes to "set" a little more. And that's it! It was as easy as that. There really was no cooking. And the whole thing took about 10 minutes. (Well, except the letting it set for 30 minutes part. Obviously.)

And this is what it looked like.

And the taste???? Was SOOOOOO good. It was sweet, but not too sweet, and not too sugary. It tasted more like real fruit, and not like fruit syrup, like some jams do. D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S. I knew it was going to be pretty hard to beat, but I gave it a try.

I opened the Sure-Jell box and found a double sided page of instructions. So, I was already a little annoyed. I finally found the recipe I needed for strawberry jam. Be careful, because there are TWO. A recipe for cooking the fruit, and a recipe for not cooking the fruit. I chose the recipe for not cooking the fruit.

So, this time I only needed two cups of mashed strawberries. And FOUR cups of sugar. Yup....Four. That seemed like a lot. Compared to the other jam, there was twice as much sugar and half the strawberries. I was already less than impressed.

So, I added my 4 cups of sugar to my 2 cups of strawberries. Stirred it all together and let it sit for 10 minutes for the sugar to start dissolving. This would be a good time to cook your pectin.

Sure-Jell pectin has to be boiled with water. I don't remember HOW much water, exactly. But I think it was something like 4.25 cups. Or maybe 1.25??? Whatever the amount was, I'm sure It was EXACTLY measured out, very scientifically. :) Just check the directions. So, you add the pectin to COLD water, and stir it until it boils. Boil for 1 minute, then dump into your sugar/strawberry mixture. Stir this around until all the sugar crystals are dissolved, and then put into your containers.

The instructions say to leave it out at room temp for 24 hours to let the jam set. But Scientist Sarah is extremely skeptical of leaving ANY kind of food out of the fridge for 4 hours, let alone 24. So, I left mine out for a half hour with the other jam, and into the fridge it went.

24 Hours Later-Conclusion

So, I waited a whole day before trying the jam again. And I definitely had a hands down favorite. The Sure-Jell was 'okay'....but turns out my hypothesis was correct.

According to my taste buds, The jam made with ball pectin was pretty much the best jam I have ever made. (I know, I know...there's not much competition for the best jam I've ever made.) But if you are craving something fresh and fruity, like I was, you should definitely give this a try.

And, because this TECHNICALLY was a science experiment. I had to put my newly found domestic skills to good use and make home-made honey whole wheat bread.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Well, they say its summer here. Triple digit temps now. But frankly, thats not really my idea of a nice summer. For me, Summer here starts around January and goes through April. I want to go back to January. :)

In honor of the triple digit week we had and will continue to have until next October, I decided to brighten up the blog a bit. Get in-tune with my summer self, so to speak. I played around with the HTML codes last night. It was a crazy thing to do. But I was soon addicted to changing EVERY number in the code to see what it would do. Yes, I'm a computer dork. and I am obviously not afraid to admit it. I played until 1:00 am, at which point I decided the numbers would still be waiting for me later. I have more I will be adding, so check back for some fun.

About the things I will be adding.......

I have been working really hard on a little "project", and am almost ready to get everything up and going. I wanted to wait until everything was perfect before I said anything. And I STILL do. So, I'll just give you a teaser and say someone will be having a fully stocked ETSY boutique, full of completely irresistible items, up and running very soon. Hopefully by the end of this week. It was suppossed to happen last week. But obviously, It didn't.

That's it for now. And since this is kind of a boring post, here's a little something to make it worth your while.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Romer Look-alike Meter

Alright....It's settled now, once and for all.
Miles looks more like.........

I guess that explains why half the people say he looks just like me and half the people say he looks just like Mike. well there's no wondering any more who is right. They all are.

MyHeritage: Look-alike Meter - Geneology - Free genealogy

Sunday, May 4, 2008


Tagged by here we go

A - Attached or Single? Attached
B - Best Friend? Mike of course
C - Cake or Pie? I’ll take both. At the same time.
D - Day of Choice? Saturday….its a special day. It’s the day we get ready for Sunday. Just joking. Actually, it’s the day Mike is usually home from his various rotations.
E - Essential Item? A Soothie baby binkie. I don’t leave home without one. Or two, or three.
F - Favorite Color? Right now I’m really into blue and green
G - Gummy Bears or Worms? Worms, hands down. They are bigger, better, and more delicious
H - Hometown? Evanston Wyoming
I - Favorite Indulgence? Buying digital scrapbooking kits. They make me happy
J - January or July? January. I live in Phoenix people. July is not pleasant
K - Kids? One little (Miles) and one big (Mike)
L - Life isn't complete without? My family. Love em.
M - Marriage Date? December 28, 2004. Just over 3 years.
N - Number of brothers and sisters? 1 Sister, 2 Brothers. And 2 wonderful sisters-in-law.
O - Oranges or Apples? Oranges
P - Phobia or Fears? The Dark. Its scary
Q - Quote? “I can’t wait ‘til tomorrow….because I get better looking everyday.” ha ha ha
R - Reason to smile?

How could I NOT smile at this everyday???
S - Season of choice? Spring. I love the flowers, the green grass, and the new baby animals.
T - Tag ……No one! Ha!
U - Unknown fact about me? I hate salsa and beans
V - Vegetable? Corn on the cob and spinach salads
W - Worst habit? Starting projects and not finishing them
X- ????
Y - Your favorite food? Chocolate fondue. Yum!
Z - Zodiac Sign? Scorpio


Since I've been away from home, (a whopping two weeks) I have spent time with my family, with Mike's family, and a lot of time with Miles. We've done a lot of fun things. But being away has certainly made me appreciate my sweet husband Mike. At the end of the day, when Miles is tired and cranky, and I'm tired and cranky, and everyone else has gone to bed, I sure miss Mike stepping up and saying, "here, I'll take him. Why don't you sit down and relax." What a life saver. Being away has certainly helped me to appreciate how much he does to help me out. I don't think I tell him enough. He definitely deserves a shout out. so.....

Thank You Mike!!!
I couldn't do it without you. We miss you and love you, and will see you next week. Wahoo!!
And you know what else I have come to appreciate? People who photograph babies! it's not as easy as you might think it would be. See????

Woah man....I was sure getting frustrated. My mom bought Gabe and Miles matching outfits. so cute. I envisioned a fun photoshoot. I envisioned myself snapping away, capturing masterpiece after masterpiece. I envisioned myself being a professional photographer. My coaches growing up always encouraged me to "envision" myself singing the solo, or making a basket, or doing a tricky dance sequence. I was told this would improve my performance and help me to achieve the things I had imagined. This technique, OBVIOUSLY, does not work for photography.

But, I have thought a lot about this. Sometimes the perfectionist in me just needs to let go. I was looking at Mike's baby book last weekend. I've never seen it, and I was so excited. The pictures were old (well....29 years old) and they were yellowing. They would by no means be considered a masterpiece. But I was just so excited to see them. It didn't matter. And I realized that it's more important to capture the memory. In 30 years, would Miles rather look at old, yellowing, non-masterpieces, or would he rather I put a note in his baby book saying:

Dear Miles,
I tried to take pictures of you, but they never turned out as beautifully as I wished they would. So I deleted them. Sorry.
Love Mom.

The choice is obviously, well....OBVIOUS! of COURSE I want pictures of my baby. If his face is a little washed out, or he has a little "red eye", or the backgrounds are dark, or the shots composed porely.....who cares!!! Those things will get better with time. And practice. But for now, I am happy to have captured the moment, and have the ability to look back at those moments and smile. Even if my prints never hang in a gallery, they are masterpieces to me.