Servers So Rude

My actual conversation with a Chipotle server:

So beautiful! Source: Chipotle.com

So beautiful! Source: Chipotle.com

Her: You want anything else on it? Any salsa?

Me: I want guac. I know it’s extra. It’s okay.

Her: There is no guac.

Me: I want guac.

Her: There is no guac.

Me: How can there be no guac?

Her: Because you didn’t buy any. This is your house, Mom.

Sounds like excuses to me.

It's almost like I woke her up to roll my burrito. Oh, wait. I did.

It’s almost like I woke her up to roll my burrito. Oh, wait. I did.

 

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Just As Tasty As the Real Thing

Yesterday we celebrated the girl-child’s birthday. She turned 15 in August, but whatever. Better late than pregnant, I always say.  And besides, my niece hit her 18th two weeks ago, so our par-tay was something of a joint hoo-ha.  We marked the occasions with a family get-together around a campfire, complete with weenie roast, which seemed like a good idea.

Fall was made for roasting hot dogs over a fire, flames warming cheeks and hands, smoke permeating clothing with its delicious aroma. One tiny problem. Girl-child became a vegetarian when she was ten. No hot dogs for her. I know what you’re thinking. She will grow up deprived and twisted if she does not experience such important traditions as weenie roasts. Never fear. Mom to the rescue! Or as Squish would say it “To the wrecks-you!” In this case, I think his version is closer to right.

I did what any mom would do. I bought her some veggie dogs. It took some doing. I learned that there are many choices in the veggie dog category. You’ve got your Smartdogs, your Morningstar farms, and the entire Tofurky family. I finally settled on one brand, vaguely reassured by the label boasting the words “Now roastable!” Which according to spell check isn’t even a word. Spell check, you win.

They look like hot dogs. They feel like hot dogs. They don’t cook like hot dogs. Here’s what a weenie should look like.

This.

Note the beautiful and even charring. So pretty. I can taste it now.

 

Not this.

I am reassured by the bubbly skin. Hot dogs should peel like that, too, right?

 

Note the even charring on the real dog. The veggie version looks like it has the pox. And the warnings on the label are pretty insistent that the vega-weenies don’t spend more than 6-7 minutes close to a flame. What it didn’t explain was why. Will an over-roasted vegadog merely taste bad or will it come to life and kill us all? I now suspect the latter.

Girl-child roasted her dog. And watched it bubble. Her grandmother generously offered to fix her a soy burger, but I am opposed to wasting food. I insisted that the kid at least try a bite before writing it off as inedible. She was thrilled.

I have to eat that? Really? You saw the bubbles, right?

 

Sadly, she was only able to take the one bite. The plate was knocked to the ground, and my mother’s dog, who is part cocker spaniel, part Great White shark and something of an opportunistic feeder, pounced and consumed the remainder. Slowly. And with much regret, the expression on her fuzzy face screaming “Oh, dear God! Why are you trying to kill me?”

So I had to try one. Of course. Because I am nothing if not stubborn. All I can say is Mmmm, yummy. The texture was reminiscent of custard wrapped in a latex balloon, and it tasted like paste. There’s not enough mustard and onion in the world to make that thing palatable.

There were good things that came out of this experience, however. The four-legged dog is no worse for the wear, and she may be forever cured of counter-surfing. And the Not-dogs come five to a package, so there are three left. Any takers?

 

I Can Be Petty

You knew that, right? I’m not lollipops and rainbows all the time. Sometimes I can be petty.

Two wrongs don’t make a right and all that, but sometimes when someone hurts me, my heart shrinks three sizes and I think to myself “Self, two can play at that game.” And sometimes I do. Even if the games we two are playing at aren’t fun. Even if the games are more like missile strikes than Nerf darts. And so it is.

Last week I was betrayed. In a big way. It hurt. I could have taken the high road, but I didn’t. Perhaps my moral compass was using Apple’s I06.  I played dirty, and I don’t feel good about it. Well, maybe a little good. But still betrayed and angry and powerless and frustrated. All without an Oxford comma, or any comma at all. Because, my grammar and punctuation-loving friends, misery loves company. I know that was a low blow, and I will be sorry next week. Really. I will be. I’ll even use extra commas to make up for it. But for the moment, I am comma-less.

You know how it is when you’re in love? And everything is all wonderful and sweet, and you want things to stay just as they are forever? And then you find out that the object of your affection doesn’t feel the same way? Yeah, they’re all about the change. But they don’t come out and tell you directly. They go behind your back, all sneaky-like, and you find out after it’s too late. They’ve started something new, and there’s no going back. That’s what I’m sitting with today.

Last week, I discovered that MoonPies have gone to single deckers. Single. Deckers.  I know. That means instead of there being two layers of marshmallow sandwiched between graham crackers the way God intended, there is only one. What is the point, friends? What is the point?  What if the dudes who built the pyramids had said “Meh, let’s stop with the ground floor and make it a rancher?”  Would anybody have cared about those pharaohs? Probably not. Because those pyramids would have been looted the day after said-dead pharaoh was planted, and Kind Tut would have been just another dried out dead guy.

It’s the same with MoonPies. Without that extra layer of marshmallowy goodness (shut up, spell check. For today, marshmallowy is a word. Can’t you see that I am hurting here?), the freshness is stolen away in a matter of days, dried out like a pharaoh in the Egyptian desert. So instead of buying a box that I can hide for a month or more, I am forced to eat one a day. And I’m getting a little sick of them.

So, MoonPies, you think you can do this to me? You think I can pick up a box and not notice that the pies are exactly 1/3 fewer calories? You thought I wouldn’t care that I’m paying the same money for less product? We’ve met, right? Two can play at this game. I bought a box of Hostess cupcakes. And I like them.

Just remember, MoonPies, you started it.

Three Things That Shocked Me Last Week

1) Paula Deen’s mac and cheese recipe.

I love mac and cheese. It’s comfort food that cures what ails. When I discovered that Paula Deen has a slow-cooker recipe, I did some investigating. I found it. I read it. I shook my head. Cheese soup, sour cream, eggs, whole milk. You have got to be kidding me. I could feel my arteries  clogging just reading the recipe. How much fat must it contain? Do you really want to know? Because I know.Dinner conversation for the last week has consisted of me asking my family “Do you know how much fat Paula Deen’s recipe contains?”

Are you sitting down? No, I’m talking to you, dear reader. I know my family is sitting. They’re at the dinner table. Okay.  24 g, or 122% of the recommended DAILY fat intake. Kids, let’s put that into perspective. If I eat a serving for breakfast and subsist on love and sunshine until breakfast the following day, I’ve still had too much fat! Even her “lite” version contains 18g of fat. The US RDA of saturated fat is 20g.  That’s light mac and cheese the way Shamu is a light whale.

I looked around a little more to see if I could find an even lower fat recipe, and I did. Bunches of them. Here’s your cooking tip of the day. Lower the fat content by replacing every single ingredient but the pasta. Some of the suggested substitutions aren’t even recognizable as food. Low fat margarine? Isn’t that something akin to plastic? I think this is a recipe I’ll be better off for skipping. Because it looks delicious.

2) Abercrombie and Fitch.

Hereafter referred to Armpit and Stench. I went shopping recently, and boy has this store changed. When my husband and I were first married, we used to browse the store from time to time. Even then it was too expensive to actually buy anything, but we liked looking. They had cool stuff, sort of a function meets style. Not anymore.

It’s now a total sensory experience.They no longer offer customers a whiff of their cologne. They insist on it. From the moment the store opens, fans blow that pit stench right out into the mall. Before I could actually enter the store, I had to cover my nose. And I may have coughed some. And gagged a time or two. Because I’m cool.

The merchandise has changed some, too. Now the logo appears to be a giant moose. And I do mean giant. I found a lovely grey cashmere sweater that was a treat to the touch, but the lapel sported a two inch Logo. In hot pink. Kids these days are so understated, you know.

The biggest thing (smallest thing) that shocked me was the cut of their shorts. Style meets function? Hardly. There are few functions anyone could perform in said attire without exposing significant portions of body parts that should never see the light of day. Abbreviated? Um, no. Cliff’s notes are abbreviated. These were Morse Code. I am old.

3) Hallmark Christmas ornaments.

I used to work in a Hallmark shop, back before college. Working there was what motivated me to get my tookus back in school. But I liked the ornaments, and I’ve gathered a little collection over the years. I found a Star Wars ornament that depicts Han Solo on a Taun-taun and thought it was the coolest thing ever. Until I pushed the little button to make it talk and it said “See you in hell!” Awww! What a beautiful Christmas-y sentiment! Doesn’t it put you in mind of every holiday reunion you’ve been to in your entire life! Awww! And don’t I want Squish to learn this handy little phrase? I think I’ll buy one! Or two! to give away as gifts. Who needs a brand new GPS for Christmas when a Christmas ornament alone can tell you where to go?

What’s For Dinner?

I’ve got just the thing. Black bean burgers. They take a little time, but they are super-cheap, really healthy, and even the kids like them.  Here’s what you need:

15 oz cooked black beans: You can buy them canned if you like. If you’re cheap particular like me and prefer to prepare your own, that’s 1 1/3 cup dried beans. I cook mine with salt, water, cilantro, cumin, garlic, and onion

1/2 onion, diced

2 slices of bread

1 raw egg

1/4C all purpose flour

Spices to taste (again, I like a little salt, garlic, cumin, and some chopped cilantro)

Cooking oil

See? Not much to it, right? Now here’s the fun part.

1) Caramelize your diced onion.

Okay, maybe that’s not caramelized. Maybe that’s scorched. Don’t cook yours as long. You don’t want them crunchy, you know.

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2) Feed the cats. Because their yowling is driving you to drink distraction.

3) Onions are now crunchy as corn flakes. Swear a little and dump them into mixing bowl.

4) What the heck. You love onions. And mushrooms. Slice the remaining half onion and saute as burger topping.

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But do try to remember that these are WHITE mushrooms. If you try to get them as dark as portabellas, you’re asking for crunchy onions again.

5) Fill cat’s water bowl. For the fourteenth time today.

6) Cube the bread slices and dump into mixing bowl with crunchy onion bits.

That’s right. I paid $1 for that cutting board. Only the best for me, baby.

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7) Intervene in small child’s flight demonstration.  Twice.

8 ) Sample caramelized onions and mushrooms. Repeat until they are nearly gone.

9) Add beans and raw egg to mixing bowl and mash it all together. Mix spices into flour, and then blend into the bean mixture. The flour and egg are literally the glue that holds it all together. Great image, right?

I use a potato masher. Or a ricer. I think it’s a masher, as I don’t believe I have ever riced anything in my life. Ricing sounds like a tactic used by the Chinese mafia.

10) Check kid’s homework. Take a moment to be grateful that school is almost over for the year.

11) Make burgers into patties. I didn’t take a picture of this part because my hands were covered with bean mixture. And it looked a little gross.

12) Answer phone with your elbows, and listen to long and unnecessary automated call from the school. 

12) Cook in oil on high heat, flipping ever few minutes. They’re done with they’re dark and kind of crunchy on both sides. I set them in the oil in big lumps, let them cook a few minutes, then flip and flatten with a spatula. Story of my life, you know?

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I really couldn’t tell you why it’s bubbling like that. It was the best oil Wal-mart had to offer, so I am sure there are no impurities. Cook it on high. HIGH. If you cook at a lower temperature, your burgers will be greasy.

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13) Serve. Yes, this means you have to share. I am truly sorry.

If you’re sneaky, no one else has to know about the onions and mushrooms.

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Now if you will excuse me, I am starving!

Sneaky Snacking 101

The Navy Seals may carry out covert operations that overthrow evil ones, but I ate a Moon Pie in the presence of my toddler, and I didn’t get caught! Of the two, I am pretty sure my feat was more impressive. The following is a step-by-step guide for eating your treats without having to share.

 1) Choose your snack carefully. There are a few questions to ask yourself.

 How noisy is the wrapper?  –  If it’s Sun Chips you’re after, you might as well forget it. Unless your child is wearing industrial grade hearing protection, you’re going to have to wait on that snack until after they go to bed. Or leave for college. Choose a snack with a low to medium decibel level.

 Is this snack portable?  – you need a snack that can be held in one hand and will maintain is integrity in a pocket. Tiny pieces will be worn and not eaten, after all. Moon Pies are the perfect snack, in my most humble opinion.

 Is it smelly? It does you no good to go to the effort to sneak a snack if your child can smell it from two blocks away. Again, Moon Pies pass the litmus test here.

Is it unusually crunchy? Remember, your aim is for minimal noise during consumption. Need I add that Moon Pies work well here? Because they do. So I will.

They work in almost every snacking situation. For real.

2)  Distract. Send child on a particularly noisy mission, say brushing their teeth or leaf-blowing the lawn. While they are out of hearing range, quickly remove the wrapper. Speed is of the essence. Small children are psychic when it comes to forbidden treats.

 3) Choose clothing with deep, loose pockets. As soon as the wrapper comes off, you will need to slide the snack into your left pocket***, and you want it to be well-disguised. Skinny jeans are not your friend here. Although if you’re wearing skinny jeans, sneaky snacking is probably not your thing, and I cannot be your friend, either. Sorry. Those are the breaks.

4)  Location, location, location.  Get in the car. Vehicles are where I have the greatest sneaky-snacking success. Make up a reason for a trip if you have to. And walk carefully, or heaven’s sake! Getting to the car quickly is useless if your snack is but a crumble when you get there. It helps to swing the snack-side leg wide as you walk. If your child asks you about it, tell them it’s a war-wound. Or that you have to poop.

 5) Situate their carseat behind your own. If it’s not there currently, put it there! Unless your child is completely unobservant, they will see what you are doing. And there’s no need to go to these lengths if you’re planning to get busted.

6) After you have secured child in their seat, remove snack from pocket. This move will require some practice, but it is worth it. You will turn your back to your child. Remove the treat from your pocket as you turn back toward the car, using your body to shield the goody from sight. Open the car door with your right hand, get in the seat, and drop the goods between your knees. When the car is in motion, you will steer with your left hand and eat with your right.

7) Enjoy. As much as you can, knowing that your precious passenger would give you a big hug if only you’d share a tasty little bite. Fortunately, Moon Pies also come in snack size, perfect for sharing.

*** Author’s note: WordPress encourages us to be inclusive of international readers. If you drive on the left side of the road, use your right pocket.

A Super Bowl Story

Nothing says "biggest game of the year" like food.

As we all set aside our political differences for an evening to hold hands and sing kumbaya watch the game, I thought I’d share my Super Bowl story. Because you were hoping that I would. Get a hanky. It’s a sad story.

My husband and I had been married a year and a half, but it was to be our first Super Bowl under the same roof.    I was so very excited. It is practically a religious holiday, and I was going to make it special.

No other day of the year offers the same opportunity to stuff my pie hole with enormous quantities of high fat food. Guilt free. Something about watching the Big Game makes consuming more calories in a single meal than a collegiate power lifting team a-okay. Without the game, it’s just unbridled gluttony.

I know nothing about football, but I had a routine. I collected decadent recipes that included such non-foods as Velveeta. And Rotel. I shopped gleefully, not caring for one single minute that this vast  pile of cholesterol and artificial colors was going to feed just me and my husband.

I was able to step out of my comfort zone for the love of the game. I watched ESPN, the news, searched through the Bible, and even broke down and bought a TV Guide to ascertain the scheduled time for tip-off.  7pm. I even picked “my” team. I always root for the underdog, though truthfully, I have yet to see Underdog actually take the field. But whatever.

I was so happy. Cheesy sausage dip simmering in the slow cooker, corn chips (name-brand, no less) waiting on the counter, pizza, hot cookies coming out of the oven. Hours of binge-eating and watching the Budweiser frogs with my new husband. Does life even get any better than that?

At 7pm, I turned the television on. I flipped through a few stations, but the game hadn’t started. Undaunted, I gave the “cheese” dip a stir to break up the cholesterol clots, loaded my plate, and took my spot on the couch.

7:10 My plate was nearly empty, but there was no game to be found. I checked the TV Guide again, wondering if I had gotten the time wrong, of it it was merely delayed. I fixed more food and waited.

7:20 The button on my jeans burst. Still no game. I flipped through the channels again, but more slowly this time. Perhaps I was only hitting the correct station at a commercial break. But the commercials weren’t that funny. I got a little more food. I no longer recall if my husband was even there.

7:30. I scraped the last of the Velveeta out of the slow cooker. No game. I finally did what any die-hard sports fan would do in this situation. I called my mom. She assured me that the game was being broadcast, as she was watching it herself, and “darn it if Underdog hadn’t just scored! Did you see that play?” I had not. And would not. As it turns out, the game was being aired on Fox. Our back-of-beyond mountain holler was hooked up to cable that boasted four different HBO’s and a Showtime. The only station we could not get. Was Fox.

I think I cried. Or threw up. Unbridled gluttony sometimes wins.

I may still eat this on game day, even if I don't have cable. Who am I to mess with tradition?

A Little Post To Help Out My Starving Writer Friends

I’m not here to get my starving writer friends an actual job. Unless your ambition is to set up a slow-cooker lasanga stand somewhere. Not that there would be anything wrong with that. I always say, if you’re going to dream, dream big. No, I’m here to help out all my friends who, like me, may be finding their word output far exceeding their caloric intake. Or finding themselves at the bottom of a bag of peanut M&Ms in search of inspiration. This one is for you guys, my brothers and sisters in NaNoWriMo.

Here’s a quick and easy recipe that you can put together in 5 minutes (unless you’re trying to take pictures of the process. In that case, add an hour) and leave it for a few hours while you hammer out content. Drumroll, please.

Heather’s Slow Cooker Lasagna – complete with crappy photographs. You’re welcome.

Here’s what you need:

8 lasagna noodles (I prefer whole wheat because they maintain their integrity in the recipe, meaning they don’t cook down to paste. Friday, my husband finally admitted that he hates them. Who knew?)

15 oz of ricotta cheese (I like part-skim so I am not all fat, but whole milk variety works as well for you skinny folks. That I hate.)

2 Cups of shredded mozzarella cheese

1 Jar of the  spaghetti sauce of your choice (not for a minute did I pretend that this meal was going to be totally from scratch. Deal with it, or go back to your M&Ms)

1/3 Cup of water

Optional: half a pound or so of your favorite ground meat or protein crumble (my kid is a vegetarian, so we leave out the meat, but Morningstar Farms Sausage crumbles are pretty awesome)

You were, perhaps, expecting Julia Childs? Get real.

1) Break the noodles into the bottom of the slow-cooker.

I hate my oval-shaped slow-cooker. But whatever.

2) Pour in half of the jar of your sauce. You don’t have to be exact.

Cover those noodles, for the love of Linguini! Cover them!

3) Add the water. I didn’t include a picture of this step. I am sorry if you are now confused and will end up with toast instead of lasagna. I can only do so much for you.

4) Add your ricotta cheese and try to spread it evenly. Here’s a tip: it doesn’t spread. You’re going to have to squish it. But it’s kind of fun.

Squish. Squish. If it's boring, try saying "Braiiiins!" while you do it. If you're into zombies. Which I'm not. Sorry SJ. I tried.

5) Here’s the dangerous part in the recipe. If you have meat or a meat-substitute, this is where you add it. I don’t, so there is no picture. Meat or meat substitute. Not dog food or pencil shavings. You can do this, even without a photo to guide you.

6) Sprinkle 1 cup of shredded cheese over the ricotta/meat/meat substitute. Note: this represents only HALF of your cheese. If you use all of it, it will be cheesy, but it will look really weird.

Sprinkle that cheese. Sprinkle it, I say! How does sprinkling cheese make my hand look so fat. I think I need to go back to bed.

7) Top with the remainder of the sauce.

I know what you are thinking. Not only can those hands type out a novel, they are also pretty adept at pouring generic sauce from a jar. Thank you, my fans. Thank you.

8 ) Turn your slow-cooker on low. Cook for an hour. Set a timer if you have to.

9 ) After cooking for an hour, top with the remainder of the cheese. You CAN do this before step 8, but your cheese will be all brown and crunchy. Me no likey, but if you like crispy cheese, feel free to mix it up. And by that, I mean change up the recipe. If you actually mix up the contents of your slow-cooker, it won’t be pretty.

It's all in the wrist. Don't despair if you aren't this good at first. I have been training since childhood.

10) Cook for another 2-3 hours. If you have an oval slow-cooker, you’ll aim for 3 total hours of cook time. If you have a round one (I am jealous), aim for four total hours.

11) Serve it up with a side of salad and fresh bread. That you kneaded from scratch. Shut up. I did. I can’t make spaghetti sauce yet, but I can bake me up some bread. I’ll post that recipe another time.

Yes, those are raisins in my salad. And it's a bag salad. Don't judge me.

So there you have it. A recipe that is quick and easy and doesn’t require a lot of baby-sitting. Your word-count is almost guaranteed to shoot through the roof . **  Carbs and comfort food can have that effect. Happy writing!

** Please note, I said “almost ” guaranteed. Author is not responsible for writer’s block, computer crashes, hair loss or weight gain.

Sometimes Free Ain’t Free Enough

Why order out when I can make this at home, right? RIGHT?

Every Thursday, I pack up the kids and head over to a local eatery for dinner. Kids eat free with a $5 purchase, which is the only reason that we go. Only two of my kids eat free because one aged out a year ago, and we’re honest folk, but I get a pizza that feeds the three of us who are over the age of 12. Where else can I feed my family of five for $10? Okay, I can do it at home for under $4 most nights, and that’s why we don’t go out to eat. But $10 once a week is doable. And it’s organic, or at least natural, so it’s a bit better than driving through at the golden arches.  But I think I’m over it.

There is a four-hour window for the free kids’ meals, and we hit it wrong every week. Each week, we plan our mission before we even get out of the van. Straight to the counter, place our orders, and then get any shopping done. The idea is to minimize the time we spend hanging around the counter and waiting. And it’s such a great idea. Too bad it rarely works.

Every week, it’s the same. We scope the parking lot and check out the other families who are unloading their brood. Even Squish is aware that they are our competition. Dodging strollers and shopping carts, we dash into the store, only to find it booby-trapped. The free samples, you see, are strategically placed by the front door. We merely step over the threshold, and we’re already behind. Like me, my kids cannot pass up the offer of free food. And all of those families that we cut off in the parking lot enter the store, find the sample holders blocked from their children’s vision by my ravenous troop, simply march on ahead of us.

Having gotten their fill of snap peas, we route away from produce, which usually sports at least three samples, and worm our way through vitamins and health aids. Even my children will bypass freebies on cod liver oil. if we can make it past the chips, we are home-free. Until we get to The Counter. And I feel my resolve weaken.

Finding a swarm of twenty-five children hovering like expectant sharks around The Counter is enough to send even a cheapskate running for the door. But we press on. The kids are expected to fill out a little menu. In crayon. Which have invariably been scattered across the store by the kids whose parents were not detained at the Fuji apple slices. I’d make a note to myself to bring a pen in future weeks. But there’s nothing to write with.

Having finally tracked down half a pink crayon and filled out the kids’ menus, it’s my job to brave the mob and push my way over to The Counter. And there I meet employee Judy. Judy’s job is to collect the kids’ menus and turn them over to the chefs in the order in which they arrive. Judy is likely a recent college graduate. She is young, she is adorable, and she is also apparently afraid of crowds. About 5 minutes after our menus have been handed to her, Judy disappears, never to be seen again. Until next week. She has left the papers on The Counter in an order which changes every week and only she understands. Bless her. Last week, our menus got lost for twenty minutes as we watched other families come and go and were finally located under the box latex gloves.

Last night may have been the final straw. I turned in our papers to Judy and placed the order for my pizza. The chef recognizes me, and he asked if I wanted my usual. I glanced at the menu and said I wanted to change it up. I wanted a pesto chicken pizza. His brow furrowed, his eyes narrowed, he gave me a sideways glance. “You sure?” he asked. And suddenly I wasn’t. Why was he looking at me like that? What does he know that I don’t? Is pesto chicken pizza total crap? It’s on the menu! Right there! Look! But I said I was sure.

And then he forgot about me. Was it because he couldn’t face the thought of preparing absolute garbage for a customer?  About 10 minutes later, he looked up and saw me still standing there amidst a swirl of hungry children and their parents. I saw him walk over to the pizza counter and whisper something to the chef there. Pizza Chef looked puzzled. “Really?” I heard him say. “Pesto chicken? For who? Primary Judgmental Chef pointed at me. They both looked sad. Guys, it’s on the  menu!

Pizza Chef prepared my food in silence. Guy Who Writes the Item Number on the Pizza Box did his job with a sad shake of his head. He handed me my box, and I did the walk of shame to the check out area and took my embarrassment of a pizza home. And it.was.good,

But now I no longer feel like I can return.  I have already revealed myself as a person with no taste whatsoever. And they remember me. No longer am I Half-Four-Cheese-and-Half-Mediterranean girl. I am Pesto-Chicken girl. And I can’t take the shame of it.

 

Yes, You Can!

Ta-daaaa! And you can do it, too!

This is a no-nonsense (okay, minimal nonsense) guide to canning apple butter. Please note that different types of food have different canning requirements, and this method isn’t right for all of them. Before using this method on other treats and tasties, please do a little research, or you may poison someone you care about. Accidentally. Not like that other time.

I was intimidated the first time I thought about preserving the fruits of my labor. I had watched my grandmother in the kitchen as a child, and it seemed that canning involved a lot of sweating, swearing, and steam, and since she used a pressure cooker to can, an element of fear, as well. I don’t go within 100 yards of a stove-top pressure cooker, so I did a bit of research before deciding to attempt canning on my own. I had to figure it all out by reading the jar packaging and filling in some really big blanks.  But you don’t. You have me. You’re so lucky!

And here’s the beauty of it. We don’t have to use a pressure cooker! Apple butter can be preserved using something called a hot-bath, which is nothing more than a large pot filled with water and lined on the bottom with a towel.

If you followed my apple butter recipe and really heaped those apples into the slow cooker until you couldn’t get the lid on, you’ll have enough goodies to make 8 half-pint jars and some left over for yourself. So let’s start.

What you’ll need:

What you need.

8 half-pint jars with lids and rings– I prefer Ball’s jelly jars. They make prettier gifts, but more importantly, the decorative scoring on the sides of the jars provide a better grip with your tongs. They also come with adorable labels and have more pronounced dimple in the lid when they are sealed. You can use rings more than once, but lids must be brand-spanky new.

***Jars are plentiful right now because it is harvest time. Buy some while you can find them easily. For first-time buyers, if you buy a box of jars, they will come with the lids and rings that you need.***

plastic knife – yes, it needs to be plastic. Apple butter is acidic, and a metal knife may lend a weird taste.

ladle – if you choose one that’s too big, filling the jars may get a little messy

hand towels– I have a lot on hand before I start. You’ll notice my collection is mismatched. I have a gas stove and usually set fire to at least one towel every time I can. My sister reads about it in my blog and buys me new ones for Christmas. I love my sister.

large, heavy pot– For my hot bath, I use the largest pot that came with my cookware set. My stock pot is actually bigger, but using something that deep puts you at serious risk for a scald when you try to remove the jars. Not kidding here. Steam will tear you up. The pot needs to be about an inch deeper than the jars are tall.

It's not haunted. It's lined with a towel. You need to do that, too, to protect your jars.

another big pot– this one doesn’t have to be as deep. You’ll use it to sterilize your jars

a tea kettle– I always keep extra boiling water available while I’m canning. You should, too. Better to have it and not need it…

A pair of tongs: Rubber-coated handle is a good thing. Less slippery and won’t conduct heat as quickly.

about two hours– you may not need this long. It took an hour and a half today, but it’s better to pad your schedule the first couple of times.

A word to the wise: Hot goes into hot! Always. Every single time. What this cryptic phrase means is that you want to can your apple butter while it is still hot. Best case scenario, the jar won’t seal. Worst case scenario, you have an explosion. Explosions are bad things. Hot goes into hot. My recipe takes around 13 hours, so I try not to even plug in the pot unless I’ll be ready to can it when it’s finished.

While I’m getting everything ready, I go ahead and fill the hot-bath pot, the sterilization pot, and the tea kettle and start them boiling.

STEP ONE: wash and sterilize your jars. Wash them in warm soapy water, and then put them in the shallower pot, which should now be boiling. Toss in the lids and rings, too, and let them bubble for 15 minutes. If you use your tongs to offer rats to your snake, go ahead and sterilize those, too.

killing germs is a good thing

Step Two: Fill your sterilized jars with yummy stuff to about 1/4 inch from the top.

Step Three: Use plastic knife to get out air bubbles. Carefully run the knife around the edge of the jar. Lightly thump the jar on the counter a couple of times, and run the knife around again. Air bubbles= spoiled food. Get rid of them.

You want a pink knife like mine. Admit it.

Step Four: Wipe the rim carefully. You want to get rid of any food or water droplets that will prevent your lid from making a seal. Once the rim is wiped, center the lid on the jar and screw on the ring.

Clean rim = good seal

Step Five: Add to hot-bath. Once you’ve got all of your jars in the bath (my pot holds four or five), turn the heat up and cover the jars with boiling water. You want to cover them with at least an inch of water.

Step Six: Start your timer after the water in the hot-bath has reached a steady boil. A bubble or two doesn’t count. A good, hard boil means that you can start your timer. Boil for 15-20 minutes. I like having a good chance at a seal, so I aim for 20. Use tongs. The water is hot, the apple butter is hot, everything is all splashy. If you ignore this advice, study up on some good swear words. You’ll be needing them.

Use tongs to set the jars carefully on top of the towel

Step Seven: Monitor your jars. Inevitably, some water will boil off, splash out, etc. You need to keep the water level fairly constant. Add water from the kettle as needed. Jars need to remain upright.

Step Eight: Remove the jars. Again, please use the tongs. You have them right there. Use them. Set the jars on towel on a counter where you won’t have to touch them for a bit. They are hot. And you’re waiting for them to seal.

The most satisfying part of canning for me is the sound of the jars sealing themselves. If you hear a noise like a distant gunshot, chances are good that a jar has sealed. If you are in the middle of a high-crime area, feel free to hit the deck, anyway, because safety always comes first. But if that muffled *pop* isn’t followed by sirens, give yourself a big high-five while you’re down there on the floor. Your venture into canning has been successful.

Seals that have not set within 12 hours aren’t going to. You’ll want to get a fresh lid and try it again from the beginning. Hot goes into hot, remember? And after 12 hours, it’s just not anymore. If you are unsure if your jar has sealed, push down on the middle of it. A sealed jar is one whose lid has no “give.” If it is slightly indented in the middle and doesn’t pop back up when gently pressed, it’s sealed. Congratulations. You’ve done it! If your lid initially has give, but it doesn’t pop back up after you’ve pressed on it, you’ve worked some magic and sealed it at that very second. It counts. Again, congrats!

All you have left to do is label the jars with the product and the date you created it, and you’re ready to make out your gift list. Apple butter stored by this method can keep for a year if it is unsealed. A caveat. Even if you seem to have done everything right, if you open the jar and there are little bubbles in it or if it smells weird, don’t eat it. Not worth it. That hasn’t happened to me yet, but I read about it and thought it might be important to pass on.