Thursday, January 29, 2015

Ball Fresh Tech Jam & Jelly Maker - the Gift that Keeps on Giving

My husband got me this jam and jelly maker for Christmas as it was on my list. Typically I make strawberry jam and peach butter, and when I saw that this machine does all the stirring for you I knew I had to have it. For me the worst part of making jam is standing over the hot stove making sure that it doesn't stick and burn to the bottom of the pan. There is also the added risk of the hot mixture splashing and burning your skin.

After reading the instructions and washing the parts, I was ready to
go. My local grocery store had raspberries on sale, so it was easy to decide what my first jam would be. The recipe calls for four, six-ounce containers of fruit, sugar, pectin and a little butter to help keep the frothing to a minimum. After 21 minutes in the machine, it was all done! The one mistake I made was that I thought it said the recipe would make four pints of jam, so I purchased a box of pint jars as I didn't have any. I was aggravated when I poured the finished product, and found that it filled less than two and a half of my jars. I re-read the recipe and it actually said it would fill four half-pint jars. Whoops! That was my mistake. Now I need to go and purchase some half-pint jars. After the jam is placed in the jars and the lids secured, you can either process the jars in a hot water bath or you can simply freeze them. In either case, the jam must be refrigerated and eaten in three weeks due to the fact that there are no preservatives added. I kept the partial jar in the refrigerator and froze the other two.

I have to say, the jam is amazing! I passed one of the frozen jars on to my sister, and am eager to hear what she and her husband think about it. The included recipe book is pretty sparse, but I have found some recipes from other people online that I want to try. So far I have not had any luck finding one that converts peach butter for this machine, and I don't quite know how to go about doing that.

An obvious drawback is that each batch makes a small amount, and the instructions are explicit about not increasing the size of the recipe. For someone who has a lot of fruit to can, this might not be the machine for them. But for the two of us, it will be just perfect.

Monday, January 19, 2015

For the Birds

Early yesterday morning Jim and I drove to the Audubon Center at Riverlands to see the birds - specifically the trumpeter swans. This bird is the largest waterfowl in the Northern Hemisphere, and the largest swan in the world. It has an eight-foot wingspan! Each year a significant number of these swans migrate south from their summer resorts in the northern United States, Canada and even Alaska seeking open water. Around here that can be found at the audubon center. Last year over 900 swans made this area their winter home, and this year the number appears to be about the same. It was easy to see (or perhaps I should say hear) how they got their name. They are quite noisy!

trumpeter swans and ducks on the Mississippi

ducks with cold feet
birds in flight
After visiting the audubon center, we drove across the bridge into Illinois, and then followed the River Road north hoping to catch a glimpse of eagles. Some bald eagles migrate to our area this time of year as well. We found this handsome guy in a tree along the River Road.

bald eagle
We continued our drive up to Grafton, IL where we had a nice breakfast in the restaurant of the old Ruebel Hotel. The bar is from the 1904 World's Fair - beautiful! 

We had such a nice time on an unseasonably warm day in St. Louis. It was a perfect day for a drive - even if it was for the birds.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Jamaica, Mon!

It is hard to believe this will be my last post in 2014. Wow! I will end it on a warm note. Jim and I went to Couples Negril in Jamaica a couple of weeks ago as a belated anniversary celebration. You certainly do not want to be there in August anyway. We last visited this all-inclusive resort 11 years ago for our 25th anniversary. As a surprise to Jim, I had arranged a ceremony to renew our vows. It is still one of the highlights of our marriage. This resort consistently gets 4-5 star reviews on Tripadvisor, my go-to site for checking hotels, things to do and see, and restaurants when I am traveling.

Our first visit got high praise from us. The staff was warm and welcoming, always greeting us and making sure there was nothing that we needed. The food was very good, and the included activities were exceptional. In fact, this is the only resort we have every stayed at where you can scuba dive, snorkel, go out on glass bottom boat rides and sunset catamaran cruises, water ski, play tennis and golf as much as you like at no additional charge. And that doesn't even take into account things like kayaking, small catamaran sailing, volleyball, horseshoes, pool, ping pong, etc. Upon our return the first time, I gave the resort a 5 star rating. Since that visit they have done a little upgrading of the rooms, free wifi is everywhere on the grounds, all the activities are still offered and the beach still cannot be beat. But we found a big difference in the attitude of the staff. Service was poor in some cases, and several staff members seemed to wish they were elsewhere. There was a problem with our initial room, and the front desk gal was not sympathetic nor did she seem inclined to let us change rooms. For that reason, they have slipped to a 4 star resort in my book.

Having said that, we had a wonderful time, met some fun people from Holland, the United States and Canada, and spent a restful week on the beach. Taking a week off that close to Christmas might not have been the best idea we ever had, but everything got done in the end. No problem, mon.