Saturday, October 1, 2016

Funky Jelly

One of the interesting things about moving 250 miles north has been learning about the different plants around our new home. You wouldn't think there would be too much difference between central New York and northern New York, but both A. and I have been at something of a loss to identify many of the plants that the children have asked us about.

They are, of course, mostly concerned with those they can eat. Blackberries and raspberries are pretty obvious, as are the apple trees that are absolutely everywhere. But this bush we've been seeing everywhere with bright red berries?

Image result for highbush cranberry images

Delicious or deadly? Let's not experiment.*

I told them to leave it alone, because I had no idea if it was edible. But then, when the MiL came to visit, we were walking down the dirt road and she saw those red berries and identified the plant as a highbush cranberry.

Actually she used the Latin name of Viburnum trilobum, because she's knowledgeable and precise like that, but then she helpfully added for us igoramuses that it's often called the highbush cranberry, even though it's not really related to the actual cranberry.

A useful person to have around, that MiL.

She also said it can be used to make jelly.

Jelly? Really? I'm in!

I've made a lot of jelly since we've been here. There are just so many free, wild-growing jelly fruits about. First the blackberries (yes, you can make jam from them, but I always make jelly from blackberries because I detest all the seeds). We have four pints of that in the utility room. Then there are all the wild apples and wild grapes. Three pints of that on the shelves downstairs.

But is seven pints of jelly enough? Not if you have three peanut-butter-and-jelly-eating children and also plan to give all the teachers, bus drivers, and mail carriers jelly for Christmas gifts.

So I decided to make viburnum jelly.

There's a standard procedure for all jelly-making: crush and cook the fruits, strain out the solids, add sugar to the resulting juice, heat to 218 degrees. I did do a cursory investigation online just to make sure there was nothing weird about the viburnum berries before I started, but I figured it would be pretty straighforward.

It was. Except for the smell.

One of the sites detailing the jelly-making I had quickly looked at had mentioned that the berries did not smell good when they were cooking. They really didn't. It was a very strange smell, something like cheese. Definitely not what you'd expect when you're boiling a bunch of berries. And definitely not very appealing.

A. was particularly repelled by the smell. So much so that he couldn't even bring himself to taste the juice when I had mixed it with the sugar. I tasted it, and although there was a slight funky taste, I thought maybe it would disappear during the actual jelling.

The juice jelled quickly and set up perfectly. It's a very pretty, clear red jelly. But it still has that funky smell and taste.

It's slight, and only in the initial taste. After that, it tastes just like cranberries. But I can't get past that smell and taste of slightly stinky cheese, no matter how minor. So now we have two pints of funky jelly that neither A. nor I will eat.

Luckily, the children don't seem to notice it. They'll eat anything sweet with peanut butter on their sandwiches, so I just hold my breath while I make them their funky PB&J and then get out the blackberry jelly for myself.

I may make more jelly, but I think I'll stick to the apple and grape variety from now on. Cheesy jelly is just not okay with me.**

* I lifted that image from this site, which is very interesting and informative, though specific to Prince Edward Island in Canada. You think Anne of Green Gables ever made cheesy jelly?

** Though it occurs to me that it might be good in some kind of combination with actual cheese, sort of like the classic Spanish pairing of quince jelly and manchego cheese. If you're into that sort of thing, which I'm not really.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A New Marketing Angle

I've noted this before, but the 30-Day Shred DVD is an excellent source of entertainment for the preschool crowd. Do you think Jillian Michaels has considered this demographic? Because I think a Mommy and Me Shred class would be a smashing success. In a city, that is. But since I do not live in a city where any kind of exercise class is held, I just held my own in my living room.

At 7:45 this morning, I was already counting the hours (12) until the kids' bedtime--always a terrible sign.  It was gloomy and misty outside, screamy and boring inside. I was contemplating without any enthusiasm the idea of using my precious nap/cartoon hour to exercise when I decided the best thing would be to just put the damn DVD on and get it over with.

I thought I would get through maybe ten minutes of it, if I was lucky. Charlie did have an initial objection: "Mom, we're not dressed like them. You can't see our belly buttons."

I assured him that the workout could still be done with covered-up belly buttons. To which he replied, "Oh, okay. It doesn't matter what you're wearing, only what you're doing."

Exactly. Deep Life Lessons courtesy of The Shred.

Charlie actually did the whole thing with me, to the best of his ability. He particularly liked the jumping jacks and the jump rope part ("I like all the jittering around," was his commentary). And how I sang "Row Row Row Your Boat" during the dumbbell* rows. Because that's the kind of shit you have to do to get little kids through a workout video.

Jack was less absorbed and did try to crawl underneath me while I was doing push-ups. There was also one incident when he fell on my head while I was doing crunches, but otherwise, he was pretty good. And we actually completed the whole thing.

Then Charlie decided he would make up some more exercises for me to do, which were oddly similar to the ones we had just done, and I was all, "Yeah, no. I'm done, Tiny Taskmaster."

It was surprisingly amusing, though, and now I still have my precious hour to do other fun things like prep dinner.

But only 8.5 more hours until the kids are all in bed! Better than the 12 I started with.

* Minus the dumbbells, both because I don't have them at this house and because there is no way I'm letting those within reach of either Jack or Charlie. I ain't no fool.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Conquering the Mountain

So who thinks it's a good idea to bring a six-year-old, a four-year-old, and an almost-two-year-old hiking up a mountain? Anyone? Bueller? Okay, just A. then!

For a couple of weeks, Charlie and Cubby had expressed a desire to climb an Adirondack mountain. Well. Is A. the man to deny his children the attaintment of their desires? Of course not! Okay, guys, let's climb a mountain!

At the first bridge, just after we got on the trail. Notice everyone is still smiling and on their own feet (except Jack, of course, because even A. is not that optimistic).

The mountain A. chose is close to our house, but it is not an easy hike. It's seven miles roundtrip, with an elevation gain of 1,900 feet. As we were driving to the trailhead this morning, the mountain loomed up in the distance, still wreathed in low clouds and not looking at all like a sensible thing for a family of five with three children under seven to be climbing. 

Still, we thought we'd just go as far as we could and turn around if we needed to.

At least, I actually thought that. You'd think after being married to Mr. Relentless for thirteen years, I would know better.

The children were in high spirits as we started our ascent. They noticed trees pecked intensely by woodpeckers, the paper birch peeling layers, and an excellent spot for shelter should the cloudless blue sky open up with a rainshower.

Always know where possible shelters are, say Mountain Man Cubby and Mountain Man Charlie.

We climbed and climbed, passed now and then by various serious other hikers equipped with climbing poles and expensive footwear. 

We did not see any other children. This was not surprising, because this hike was kind of intense. The kids expressed some discontent about 3/4 of the way up, and Jack was looking pretty cold at this stage. We had continued to gain elevation, and it couldn't have been more than 35 degrees at that point. Jack in the pack wasn't generating his own heat like the rest of us toiling up the mountain, so I took off my flannel shirt and put it on Jack. This left me in a flimsy short-sleeved t-shirt in the bracing air.

It was cold. I was tired. The kids were tired. We had been hiking steadily up for two-and-a-half hours and I knew we still had to get back down. Maybe we should turn back, I suggested to Mr. Relentless.

Of course not, said Mr. Relentless. Onward!


The last quarter mile of the ascent was a chute of huge boulders with a small stream running down the middle.

Like this, for a long way.

We kept going, promising the kids we were almost there. No really, we're almost there. Now we really mean it, we're almost there, kids! 

Charlie told me at this point that he never wanted to climb this mountain again. Maybe another mountain, he said, but definitely not this one. Point taken, Charlie.

And then, suddenly, we were there.

I like how this photo makes it look as if I carried Jack the whole way on my hip, like some kind of pioneer woman.

Charlie was there, too, though he was too busy eating his PB&J and the trail mix with chocolate chips to appear for that photo. I got a picture of him a minute later, though, when he went to the first landing of a huge firetower at the summit.

Still smiling. Brave Charlie.

A. and Cubby were the only members of the family who made it to the top of the firetower. A. said the views were incredible. I had to take his word for it, because Jack was looking very tired and cold and we still had to go all the way back down.

And so the grueling march began. Jack warmed up quickly after being swaddled in A.'s sweatshirt and eventually even fell asleep in the pack for about twenty minutes. The rest of us could only envy him his ease and comfort as we scrambled down wet boulders and trudged on and on. In the very last mile, Charlie fell on his face in a bunch of rocks. 

You might say he was a just a little tired. I mean, his legs are only about a quarter the length of mine, and I was incredibly tired myself.  

A. had been anticipating this very moment, so he hauled Charlie up onto his shoulders and double-packed the two youngest most of the rest of the way.

Same bridge, 5.5 hours, 7 miles, and some tears later.

Charlie finished the last stretch on his own tiny legs, making him almost assuredly the youngest hiker ever to complete this trek.

This happened about five minutes into the drive home, halfway through his trail mix refueling.

Honorable mention must also go to good old dog Mia, who is probably too old and arthritic to do strenuous hikes this anymore. Of course, she hasn't moved since we got home except to eat her dinner. A. and I have tried not to move if we can help it either, because holy shit, we are tired. And sore. And will be more sore tomorrow, without doubt.

Meanwhile, Jack was fresh as a daisy after his comfortable trip up the mountain, and the older two were chasing each other around and screaming before dinner as if they hadn't hiked seven miles today.

I suspect we'll all sleep well tonight, though. And I, at least, will not be climbing any more mountains in the near future.