It has been barely a month since I blabbered at you last, however, hardly anything is quite the same. Well, that sounded sort of High Drama Queen; Mark, my family, etc., are fine, thankfully, but the last five-ish weeks have been absolutely INSANE, in the very best of ways. Quite often terrifying, for sure, but it's like years of shitty luck are being made up for overnight. Let me explain, bullet-style:
  1. Sometime in October, I was having a day where I was really frustrated by life as a work-at-home freelancer. I felt like I had destroyed my career by leaving the law firm. I hated selling/promoting myself, I hated billable hours, I hated the unpredictable schedule of my little part-time gig that was so important to my sanity (pays almost nothing, but guarantees I can make my student loan payment every month AND it gets me out of the house and around people regularly). When I get into these funks, it usually prompts a flurry of resume sending. What I did not expect was to receive a call regarding one of the jobs I had applied for, let alone to end up with a job that I am pretty excited about. It is with the loss control department of an insurance company, which is somewhat unusual for me, however, the company insures clients that are regulated by the federal agency I worked for. I have spent the last six years specializing in this particular flavor of compliance, so it seems to be a good match. I am thrilled because it is a real salary in my field with no billable hours and a bunch of colleagues who are also law firm refugees, working for a company with a firm belief in work/life balance. I am absolutely gobsmacked, but utterly grateful. I'm only four days in, but I really I hope it actually is as good as it seems.
  2. Also, in October, I was chatting with a friend of mine about her new (adorable, smooshy) son. We had chatted previously about my firm belief that I have undiagnosed PCOS, and she has had her own challenges (oh lordy, the degree of understatement there...) in that area. Anyway, in her new mom delight, she basically forced her RE's telephone number into my hands and made me swear to call. I was high on the smell of new baby noggin and therefore powerless to resist, so I called. Aaaand we're off -- so began a long, long month of testing. And by "testing," obviously I mean the withdrawal of my entire blood volume, some good ol' wanding, and a bit of invasive spelunking. We met with the doctor (my friend was right; the doctor is indeed awesome) again this morning for a final wrap up of all of the testing, and hey! I was right! PCOS it is. The good news for the moment is that I have treatment options. The test results were clean, other than the expected PCOS markers. Mark's analysis results were great. Ovarian reserve looks good. I am somewhat youngish (33). The condition I have has a medical course of action. Obviously there are no guarantees that any of this will work, and even if I do manage to get myself knocked up, there is a higher risk of miscarriage. However, for now? I am choosing to be optimistic. I like having a plan, and I intend to deal with the plan failing if and when that happens.*
  3. As if jobs and babies weren't enough for one month, we decided to buy a new house, just to throw some crazy, out of control anxiety into the mix. Here's how THAT went down. Mark is a defense contractor (oh, engineers...), and his government client has been trying to recruit him to the government side for ages. He finally decided that this would be a good career move (although it's probably going to take the government another 6 months to come up with funding for him, moving at their glacial pace), I agreed, and we made the call to postpone our move to Massachusetts and stay in the DC area for another 6+ years. My one caveat, however, was that if we were to stay, I did not want to stay in our current house. I hate the three level living thing, and I cannot imagine how much more (like, exponentially more) it would suck if we also had small children and all of these stairs. Mark agreed and so I started looking at houses in our area. By chance, I happened upon a new development going in just off of the major highway we both use for commuting. It's walkable to the metro, closer than we currently are to Old Town Alexandria, and being built by a really reputable area builder. I loved the floorplan online and fell head over heels in love after walking through the model. However, I just didn't think the timing would work out for us. I didn't have a real job at that point and Mark would have needed the pay bump from going to the government in order to make this house feasible. The lots were selling out SO quickly (new construction does not exist this close to DC unless you're planning a tear down), so I figured it was just not meant to be and that this would just be the house no other could ever live up to in my mind. And then! I got my job and Mark ran a bunch of numbers and we realized it was so completely doable. My parents flew in for Thanksgiving and they loved it and thought it was a good investment. Mark's parents did a lot of long-distance picture reviewing and thought it was a good investment. Everyone I expected to crush my dreams kept saying we should go for it. Suddenly it was real, and WHOA. TERROR. But! We did it! We signed the purchase agreement the day before Thanksgiving, and now we're waiting on the financing people for final approval. We've chosen the masonry, the kitchen, the tiling, the carpeting, the hardwoods. If all goes to plan (I am knocking on every available wood surface), they should be breaking ground in late February/early March and we should be moving in June. I cannot believe this is happening, that we got so lucky. I want to move in tomorrow and am fully aware that this is going to be the most agonizing six months of waaaaiting ever.
So I think we're caught up now, yes? I think I need to sit down. (Seriously, my old ass was out until 3 am last night. TIRED.) However, today is my last day at the store, so I have to get a move on. Six hours of dealing with last minute holiday shoppers in an insanely crowded store are all that stand between me and a normal 8-5 schedule. I am the embodiment of glamour. 

*Another blog post for another day: Fertility clinic waiting rooms and the palpable awkwardness therein. Holy moly; it's comical, really. I kept wondering, as we were waiting for our first appointment, whether we looked as naive as I'm sure we are. Was our shiny happiness, our lack of battle scars as visible as it felt? Would we end up looking as resigned as that one woman? As silent as that couple? That room is always a subtle reminder not to rely too heavily on the doctor's determined optimism.

    Look at me, I'm Sandra Dee, lousy with humidity...

    Hello! I hope everyone weathered Sandy safely. We did pretty well here. I may have lost my mind while shopping for Official Emergency Preparedness Supplies (AHEM:

    but we never lost our power, and other than a small leak in the basement that had my husband out mid-hurricane with ladders and power tools (he is Darwinism at work, that one), we had no real damage. We are counting our lucky stars, and thinking of those who were not so fortunate. I hope we are all warm, dry, and safe at home with our families ASAP.

    We have also been taking advantage of the snow day milieu by eating hearty comfort food and drinking our Emergency Preparedness wine stash. Apparently several days of darkness, whipping winds, and lashing rain tends to drive one to cook, you know? What with it being the height of apple season and our being stocked with Emergency Preparedness Apples, there was one obvious contender: my Nana's apple cake. Apple cake is a family favorite, and the smell alone brings me back to Nana's kitchen, with my little square of cake and a cuppa tea, as she'd say. This cake is so homey to us all that it was one of the first things my mom ever baked and mailed to me as a college freshman, and it was the first appetizing thing I could manage after having my wisdom teeth out last year. It is an edible hug, if you will, so hello: CLEAR WINNER.

    There are some drawbacks to the apple cake, though. First, it is absolutely, 100% TERRIBLE for you. Two cups of sugar, three of flour, A CUP OF OIL. Yikes. It is also hiiiighly addictive. Like, if you make a 13x9 pan of it, it disappears because everyone grabs another little chunk every time they walk through the kitchen. This is particularly problematic when there are only two of you in the house. So I made some tweaks. First, I cut the oil back to about 2/3-3/4 of a cup. The cake is plenty moist to make up for it, and it's actually a little better with less grease. Second, I baked it in muffin form. It's a nice way to limit the serving size, and if I freeze the muffins individually, it guarantees that we'll heat them up for actual meals rather than constant little snacks for a few days. Still not healthy, but you know, moderation, etc.

    Here's what I do:

    1.) Peel and chop 3 cups of apples (I used Macintosh apples, which, with Cortlands, are my favs).

    2.) Add two cups of sugar, 2 tsps of cinnamon, and 1 tsp of nutmeg to the apples. Mix and set aside.

    3.) In a separate bowl, combine 2/3-3/4 c vegetable oil, 2 eggs, and 2 tsps vanilla. Whisk to combine and set aside.

    4.) To the apple and sugar mixture, add 3 cups of flour and 2 tsps of baking soda.

    5.) Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and stir until the dry ingredients are fully incorporated.

    6.) The batter is going to be very thick and not at all drippy. Use an ice cream scoop to scoop the batter into a muffin pan that is greased in the cups AND on top with cooking spray (they spread like whoa).

    7.) Bake at 350 for 40ish minutes, although I would suggest starting to check for doneness around 30 minutes; my oven is seriously in need of recalibration. I would also suggest taking the muffins out of the pan after only five minutes. I ... did not do this, nor did I remember to spray the top of the pan with Pam, so I was chiseling through the blanket of muffin top AND scraping each muffin top off of the pan. Holy unmitigated mess. Well, mitigated somewhat by the DELICIOUSNESS, but still super messy. I moved the muffins to a cooling rack and let them sit upside down, which really helped bring the muffins that had separated from their tops back together. The tops get really crunchy, so weight and structure wise, upside down actually works best. Once they cooled, I wrapped each one in plastic wrap and stuck them in a ziploc freezer bag. 50 seconds in the microwave, unwrapped, and voila! Hot muffin for breakfast. Genius!

    That's it! Here is my messy pile of everything fall should be.
    Pumpkin ain't got nothin' on my apple cake.


    Hello! I am (sadly) (so very, very sadly) back home from my two weeks in paradise. I mean, seriously, LOOKIT:
    This was Kua Bay, just north of Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii, and I could -- no exaggeration -- see it every day of my life and still be blown away by how beautiful it is. We spent ten days on the Big Island and another 4-5 on Maui, and I wanted to weep like a small child when it was time to go home. This is, hands down, my happy place.
    Anyway, I will put together some photos and a recap once I work my way through the MOUNTAIN of laundry, but in the meantime, let's talk Hawaiian cuisine, shall we? First things first, the mai tai is apparently the official tourist drink of Hawaii, and screw it, I adored all 9,386,582,643,592,750 calories worth of them that I consumed in my two weeks. Fruity rum drinks with little umbrellas in them are the epitome of vacation treat happiness for me, and man, did we try some good ones. Specifically? We were pretty much short term regulars at Kimo's in Lahaina, which has an amazing waterfront location, delicious drinks, and pretty good food too.
    Of course I bought the souvenir glass. OF COURSE I DID.
    We also discovered Coconuts Fish Cafe in Kihei. I am still devastated that we did not go there until our last day, because the fish tacos? HOLY HELL. They were insane. INSANE. Mark and I split an order, and despite being full, debated ordering another because they were so unbelievably amazing.

    Obviously these were the top two entries on the "Must Recreate at Home" list. We were able to finagle a quasi-recipe for the mai tais out of our bartender, but at Coconuts? The chef kindly informed us that we could absolutely have the recipes: we just need $100k to open a franchise. HAAAA. Well, suck it, buddy -- I did pretty well on my own!

    Here's what I did:

    The Official Mai Tais of Casa Katy Did Not
    1.) Mix up your juice blend -- 2 parts pineapple juice, 2 parts passionfruit juice, 1 part orange juice, 1 part guava juice. (This is where I was winging it -- he did not give us the juice ratios.)
    2.) Fill your glass about halfway with ice. Add in 1.5 oz. of light rum, 1/4 oz. orgeat (I had to use simple syrup + almond extract, which wasn't quite ... it, so I also added 1/4 oz. of amaretto), and 1/4 oz. orange curacao.
    3.) Pour your juice blend in to nearly fill the glass and give it a stir.
    4.) Top with a 1 oz. dark rum floater and garnish with a wedge of pineapple and little umbrella.
    5.) Fire up the "Seaside" setting on your white noise app and light a "Sun and Sand" Yankee Candle; enjoy a momentary glimpse of vacation.

    (Of course I don't have a photo; I was too busy drinking.)

    Poor Man's Coconuts Fish Tacos
    1.) Acquire some firm Pacific fish, not Atlantic fish that makes my husband whine about how mushy it is, and marinate it. I bought Trader Joe's frozen mahi mahi fillets, and they worked beautifully to my shock. It smelled pretty fishy when I opened the package, but after washing them off? Smelled like nothing! Just as it should! I marinated them in a sesame/soy/ginger marinade that was delicious, but not quite right. Next time I'll do two things differently -- a spicy lime marinade and cut the fish into chunks before cooking.
    2.) Prep the toppings. First up is coleslaw, the key to which is the coconut milk base for the dressing. I was totally winging it here, but I threw some coconut milk, a spoonful of mayo, and a dash of red wine vinegar in a big bowl, and whisked it together with salt, pepper, and a couple of shakes of Penzey's Forward! spice blend (which is probably what I would use for the fish marinade next time). I diced some green cabbage and red onion, chopped up some parsley, and mixed it all together with the dressing, and re-seasoning until it was good. Easy enough! The other topping is mango salsa, which was diced mango, minced red onion, chopped cilantro, salt, pepper, and lime juice. Super easy, really delicious.
    3.) Throw the fish onto a foil covered sheet pan and dot the fillets with butter. Broil for 5-6 minutes, flip, and broil for another 5-6 minutes. I'm guessing the time will drop a little when I'm cooking chunks of fish rather than whole fillets.
    4.) While the fish is cooking, prep the tortilla base. Coconuts uses two small corn tortillas, layered, and the bottom is very crunchy to support all of the toppings. I put a nonstick pan on medium heat and let the pan heat up. I sprayed one side of a tortilla with Pam and put it spray-side down onto the hot pan. I sprayed the other side just before flipping. Once done, I transferred tortilla #1 to a sheet pan and sprinkled a little bit of a Mexican cheese blend on top, then topped it with tortilla #2. When I had all 8 tortillas fried and layered, I topped the four stacks with a little more cheese and popped them in the oven to melt (conveniently it was also time for the fish to come out at this point).
    5.) Time to assemble! Take your hot tortilla bases and give them a schmear of fire roasted tomato salsa. Add a few chunks of fish, a good sized scoop of slaw, and a scoop of mango salsa, and enjoy! Actually, enjoy with many, many napkins -- they're as messy as they are delicious.
    I should probably go back ASAP in the name of research, right?
    There you go! A little taste of Hawaii, minus the 18 hours of travel.

    "Muffin" is just another word for cake, which is why they are SO GOOD.

    Mark and I complement each other so well in many ways, but we are totally incompatible when it comes to sleep, specifically bedtimes and waking hours. I have to wheedle and cajole to get him to stay up until 10 at night, and he is up and out by 7 am during the week, and usually before 8 on weekends. I have ridiculous insomnia, so I am usually up until 12, and sleep until at least 7 during the week, hopefully longer on weekends -- and that's on a good night. If I go to bed at 10 with Mark, I almost always wake up around 3 or 4 and end up getting up to read or watch tv. HATE.

    On Saturday morning, Mark was awake early, of course, and started bugging me to wake me up around 7:30, despite the strict "Do Not Disturb Before 8" rule in place on weekends. He was talking about being hungry, wanting breakfast, what could he eat, etc. (He's actually not an annoying small child; I am just an insufferable witch when decaffeinated.) I knew I had applesauce in the freezer and had offered to make applesauce muffins, which he loves, and I had been asking him to hand me a phone so I could find a recipe. He wasn't paying attention though, reviewing fantasy baseball crap instead of letting me find a recipe, and being the incomparably sunny morning person that I am, I demanded the phone immediately if he wanted his applesauce mother [effing] muffins. Conveniently, he is charmed by my decaffeinated ways, chuckled, and cheekily googled "apple sauce mother f*ucking muffins," resulting in these: Mom's Applesauce Muffins. HAAAA.

    The joke was on him, though, because the muffins? They were FANTASTIC. They are also really great out of the freezer, defrosted in the microwave.* Not the healthiest breakfast, but a great weekend treat. I stayed relatively close to the recipe, but made a couple of tweaks that were key for me, since raisins and cloves kind of gross me out. Here's what I did:

    Applesauce Mother Effing Muffins
    1/2 cup butter, softened
    1 cup sugar
    1 egg, beaten
    3/4 cup applesauce, plus diced fresh apple to bring volume up to at least 1c
    1 tsp vanilla
    1 teaspoon cinnamon
    1/4 tsp nutmeg
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    2 cups all-purpose flour

    For the crumble topping:
    1/2 cup butter, softened
    3/4 cup all-purpose flour
    3/4 cup quick-cooking oat, uncooked
    1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
    2 teaspoons cinnamon

    1.) Cut 1 stick of butter into 2 cups of flour in a large mixing bowl until flour has a sandy texture.
    2.) Add in the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, and salt, stirring to combine. 
    3.) Add in the beaten egg, vanilla, and applesauce/apples.
    4.) Mix to combine and scoop into a muffin pan sprayed with Pam. (I used an ice cream scoop with one of the little scraper bars -- so easy!) Makes 12 muffins.

    5.) In a separate bowl, make the crumble topping. Cut the butter into the flour, sugar, cinnamon, then stir in the oats, mixing until it's all crumbly.
    6.) Top each muffin with a generous amount of the crumble mixture. (The muffins are really well coated in the crumble, and I didn't come close to using all of the crumble mixture.)

    7.) Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes, and enjoy!
    *I wrapped each muffin in plastic and stuck them in a freezer bag. To defrost, I unwrap and microwave for about 45 seconds. Yum.

    My Private Shame: Let Me Show You It

    Yeah, I'm talking embarrassing home decor, or lack thereof, again. Buckle up, for this one's a doozy.

    As I have mentioned, we live in Northern Virginia, where townhomes and condos are ubiquitous, developments are thrown up overnight, and homes built in the last 25 years or so are utterly devoid of character. We live in one of these modern (read: "character free") townhomes, which Mark had purchased about a month before we met. (So close! I was so close to having input into where we would live!) I was a renter (of an utterly charming, WWII era townhouse in a neighborhood tucked into a virtual arboretum minutes outside of DC), so although it broke my heart, I had to do the moving when we became WHORES!.

    We had some minor growing pains upon moving in, mostly because we had mesh our styles, and well, Mark needed some help. He thought booze was an acceptable decorating theme, for example. He also has appallingly bad taste in art, as you'll see. It's ok, though. We have done a lot of work together to make the house more "us," installing gorgeous hardwood* floors, gutting the kitchen and bathrooms, and by Mark trusting me more when it comes to decorating choices. It's not perfect by any stretch, but we've made a lot of progress.

    That said, talking Mark into redecorating that does not involve construction still involves the hard sell, and the non-public areas of the house are in need of some HELP. We covered my bedroom, which, still looks much the same. I am pretty sure I want to move ahead with the curtains, as soon as the sewing motivation strikes, and I found this quilt and shams, which I think would be fresh and cute. The guest room is as it will be for the foreseeable future:
    I'm not thrilled with the bed frame, but Mark made it, so it stays. Also not pleased that we have the bed up on risers so that we can fit his ancient, saggy mattress under the bed. I keep telling him I'm not leaving and taking my mattresses, but alas. Overall, though, it's fluffy and airy and girly, as I generally like guest rooms to be. Makes it feel clean and comfy, maybe?
    The den of burning shame, however, is just next door to my fluffy, girly guest room, and it is a horrible cluttered hell. Mark has always used this room as an office, filled to the brim with a giant particle board desk, and computers and wires and clutter. (OH MY.) It got even more crowded and horrible when we had to move my cute little white desk in to share the room. We dismantled much of the room when we were having the windows replaced, and in the window replacement process, the installers managed to break a crucial piece of Mark's desk. (I may or may not have wanted to offer them my hypothetical firstborn in gratitude.) We were able to clear out the hulking horror of a desk, but were left with the detritus it had contained. It's... there are no words:
    Massive, hideous chair.
    That there? That is the attic door that has been on the top of Mark's To Do list for the last year and a half, while we have been living with a gaping hole in my closet ceiling. It's super fun when it's 95 degrees out and 150 in the attic.
    My cute little desk, covered in crap for two.
     Oh, and that terrible taste in art I mentioned earlier? BEHOLD:
    Yeeeeah. These used to hang in the living room and dining room. Can you even imagine? I mean, there are no words to adequately describe how awful these things are. I like to call it "Bad Vegas Art." (Actually, that's false; I would prefer to call it "SOLD TO THE HIGHEST BIDDER.") Despite this, I actually attempted to decorate around them in thanks for being able to move them out of the part of the house people regularly see. I bought this fabric:
    and even spray painted the lamps and desk accessories in keeping with the green/red olive/pimento theme:
    Despite my efforts, I have been unable to light a fire under Mark's ass to get rid of the clutter. In fact, it has only gotten worse, as it became the repository for crapola during the last bathroom reno, and it looks so terrible that whenever we lack a good place to put something, it seems to get shoved in there while I keep sighing and closing the door. However, I work from home, and as I have been getting a little busier, I have begun to need a proper office. I end up sitting on the couch or hunched over the kitchen counter, neither of which is helpful for my productivity.

    SO. First things first -- this room needs to be cleaned out. Mark has some separation anxiety when it comes to computers/wires/clutter (OH MY), so I am anticipating that more junk than I would like will end up in the attic, but if that's what it takes, I'll deal. Once that is done, I am planning to turn it into a bright, cheery space. Unfortunately the ceilings in our bedrooms are all high and sloping, so I can't paint the room myself. I don't want to hire someone, so I am going to have to work with the bland beige walls. I found a really vibrant print that I LOVE, and its colors are my jumping off point. I'm thinking something like this:
    I have the PB desk already -- it's just one of the three drawer cabinets with a small desktop. I like the idea of a smaller profile, white leather(ette?) desk chair. Comfy, but not overpowering for the room. I would like to leave room for a daybed should we ever need this room to do double duty as a guest room, but for now, I think I will just enjoy the openness of the room not being crowded with furniture. As for fabrics, I already have some of the Waverly Cross Section fabric, so I need to work that in somehow. I think the best way might be in pillows to coordinate with the window treatment. The room has a big double window; I would like to make a cornice board to give some height (and because it's way easier than curtains) and either go with white wood blinds or white sheers underneath. I think the pink and white canvas canopy stripe is cute and clean for the cornice board, and bonus, it's CHEAP. God help me, I am thinking green grosgrain ribbon to cover the seams and to coordinate with the cross section fabric. (You can take the girl out of New England, you know?) Let's hope the art pulls everything together so that it doesn't end up looking like a little girl's room. The plaid silk was an early idea from a renovation I saw in Southern Living, but eh, I don't think it's meant to be. Overall, I think this will be easy to achieve, once I can convince Mark it's worthwhile.

    What do you think? Too much pink? Too ... girly?

    *Brazilian cherry -- stunning, but the color darkens significantly over time, and it turns out that dark floors are a total bitch to keep clean.

    Cooking With Botox! (Part 2)

    Previously on Cooking With Botox!, we covered the amazing fresh tomato sauce and mentioned that we canned it, mostly successfully.* I took lots of photos of the sauce making process, even edited them a little to improve my craptastic photography skills, and then dropped the ball completely when it came to documenting the canning process. Of course I did.

    But! In an effort to document everything in case I ever decide to try this again (or, you know, just to prove that I actually did this once in my life), I made some jam yesterday and canned that too. Yes, I realize -- my marbles, I have lost them.

    Onward! To nectarine jam! I love peaches most of all, but nectarines are delicious too, and as was pointed out in Canning for a New Generation, you don't have to peel nectarines. Sign me up!

    I pretty much followed the recipe provided in Canning for a New Generation, which called for 4 lbs. of nectarines, 1 1/2 cups of sugar, and 3 tbsps of lemon juice. The notes mentioned how delicious throwing in some vanilla beans can be, so in went a half of a bean, split. Also, to make this as peach pie like as possible, I threw in a couple of shakes of cinnamon. It simmered for an hour or so, and looked and smelled AMAZING at this point.

    Good, right? Here's the thing: it never really gelled, which is totally my fault. The recipe didn't call for pectin, but I bought it just in case, and then promptly forgot all about it. GENIUS. Anyway, it's more of a nectarine syrup with fruit. Tasty, sure, but I wouldn't necessarily spread it on toast. Moving on...

    Ok! Time to can! So, did I ever tell you about when we renovated our kitchen? I desperately wanted to upgrade to a gas stove, but the gas line enters our house in the back, services the laundry and HVAC and dead ends there. The cheapest estimate we got to run a gas line into the kitchen was $4200, and that did not include repairing any of the drywall that they would be ripping out along the length of our family room ceiling, into the foyer, up the stairwell, and into the kitchen. HAAA, NO. As a result, I have a ceramic topped electric stove, which works well enough in general, but happens to be the one surface with which the cheap canning pots are not compatible. I was certainly not shelling out for a more expensive canner, therefore, this is my setup:
    Elvis, is that you? "In the ghet-toooo..."
    I was dubious, and it took awhile to come to a full, rolling boil, but it worked. (JOY.) So here's what I did:
    I assembled clean jars in the canning rack...
    ...and dropped them into the simmering water bath for 10 minutes to sterilize.
    At the same time, the lids and rings simmered on the stove.
    Time to fill the jars. They were pretty tiny, so the funnel I used for the tomato sauce seemed a little much; I just tried to ladle carefully. Next, I used a wooden skewer to break up any air bubbles. (This seems to be the only thing I didn't photograph.)
    I used a clean towel to wipe the rim of the jar, because apparently the food residue can prevent the jars from sealing.
    Carefully fish a lid out of the hot water, trying to avoid sticking your finger in there too. Not that I did this myself, noooo.
    Gently drop the lid onto the jar, making sure the gummy seal is positioned properly.
    Fish a ring out of the hot water and drop it onto the jar, trying not to shove the lid out of place. Tighten the ring loosely, just as much as you can do using only your fingers.
    Arrange the filled jars on the rack and gently lower the rack into the water.
    Cover the pot and let it come to a rolling boil before you begin timing the processing. The recipe called for 5 minutes, but let's be honest, it was probably more like seven over here. (See: fear of killing loved ones with my cooking.)
    Using jar lifters, remove the jars to a clean towel. Ideally, they would sit untouched for 24 hours, but here in my, um, let's call it an "outdoor kitchen," I used a towel covered baking sheet so that I could move them back into the house.
    Luckily, within minutes of pulling the jars from the water bath, I was treated to a chorus of popping lids, sealing themselves onto all 12 jars. Hooray! We're going to have to start eating more blue cheese, biscuits, and other things you'd put syrup-y fruit on.

    *You know, for now. We'll see if anyone dies after eating it.

    Cooking With Botox! (Part 1)

    You guys, I seem to have lost my mind and all semblance of youth: I HAVE TAUGHT MYSELF HOW TO CAN THINGS.

    It all started so innocently. A couple of years ago, I started tossing all of my plastic containers in favor of glass. I started buying mason jars for storage of leftovers, freezer items, etc., because they were so much cheaper than my beloved Glasslock containers. Mark started talking about the strawberry jam his mother used to make. Then I started noticing a huge uptick in canning supply sales during my shifts at the store. Finally, on one of my trips to the Cape, my mom made tomato salad with Cape tomatoes, which are spectacular. I dreamed of loading up the car with them and making sauce at home, squirreling it away for dark winter nights. On my next trip up, I did indeed load up with tomatoes, and I did make the most amazing fresh tomato sauce, but I took the easy road (i.e. my usual road) and stuck the jars in the freezer. At that point, though, I resolved to figure this canning thing out, botulism be damned. I bought "Canning for a New Generation" and the Ball Blue Book (tell me my husband is not the only one to snicker at that title).

    Between the two books, I was feeling pretty confident that I could figure it out, which was pretty convenient, as my sister called the next day to see if I wanted to split a 25 lb. box of tomato seconds from the farm share that delivers to her office. I said yes and made her promise to do the canning with me, and that was it -- no turning back.

    My sister came over on Saturday morning and we got to work. We were working with (unbelievably delicious) Roma tomatoes, and we wanted to do a roasted tomato sauce. We decided to cut the tomatoes into quarters or sixths, depending upon the size, and toss them onto baking sheets with thin wedges of sweet onion and smashed garlic cloves. We kept the seasonings simple -- salt, pepper, and a drizzle of really good olive oil -- and roasted at 400 until everything was caramelized and delicious looking. (Oh my GOD, I wish you all could have smelled my house that day. INSANE.)
    Core, slice, slice, slice, slice, slice...
    ...scoooop and transfer...
    ...season and grease 'em...
    (the first of maaaany batches)
    ...and then roast. Can you smell this? HEAVEN.
    Please try to refrain from eating them straight off the sheet. (This will be harder than you anticipate.)
    Once the tomatoes were roasted, we scooped them into a large stockpot. We were staring at the baking sheets, trying to decide whether they were cool enough to lick the caramelized juices right off of them, when it hit us: 
    Deglaze that shit, yo.
    I grabbed a bottle of wine from the fridge and we threw the baking sheets right on the stove. Each sheet got a nice splash of wine, we scraped up all of the deliciousness, and then into the pot of tomatoes it went. Then it was time to blend:
    We used an immersion blender and it was perfect -- quick and easy, with almost no clean up. We blended as we added each batch and it resulted in a really nice, smooth texture. It was so delicious that we really had no choice other than to stop for a lunch break:
    Now, we had originally planned to get the whole project done in one day, but life kind of got in the way. My brother in law had made plans for the afternoon, so my sister had a hard stop time of 2:45. We managed to get the sauce completed and started to clean up the spectacular disaster that was my kitchen:
    The Aftermath

    This was the end of Day 1, though, and being the appallingly bad documentarian I am, I forgot to pack up the camera for canning day. I know, right? USELESS. Here's what we did in a quick run down:
    • Simmered the sauce so it would be hot going into the jars.
    • Brought the canning pot and a small saucepan to a 180 degree simmer. The jars went into the canner and the lids/rings went into the saucepan for 10 minutes to sterilize.
    • We pulled the jars out of the water bath and lined them up on a clean towel. Each jar got a 1/4 tsp. scoop of citric acid powder.
    • Using a large funnel, we ladled the sauce into each jar, leaving 1/2" headroom. 
    • Each jar got a thorough swiping with a wooden skewer to break up any air bubbles and stir up the citric acid, and the rim of each jar was wiped with a clean cloth.
    • Using the little magnet wand tool, we fished the lids out of the water bath and applied them to the tops of each jar. Next we fished out the rings and closed them gently to hold the lids in place. 
    • Finally, the jars were loaded into the canning rack and gently lowered into the water bath. Once the water came back up to a violently rolling boil, we started timing the processing. The tomato sauce recipes called for 35 minutes, but we left them for closer to 40 (better safe than sorry?).
    11 out of 12 jars sealed, which is a pretty solid first effort, in my opinion. And! It went so well, in fact, that I decided to try my hand at jam, and I even managed to capture both the cooking AND the canning phases this time. Spoiler alert: the jam did not thicken as I had anticipated, but it's tasty. I'm thinking it might be nice in place of honey on biscuits or spooned over a really piquant blue cheese.
    I'll report back soon.