Friday, December 30, 2011

Ode to Grandma Laura: Accidental Strawberry Jam and a Drive-By Shampooing

Merry Post-Christmas, Happy Post-Hanukkah and Happy Almost New Year!

Wow. Has it been almost another 2 months since I last posted? So much for my return to the blogging world.


In my defense, on top of it being a crazy, busy, sad, happy, sleepless, sleep-filled, travel-heavy two months, I have had my phone as my primary (or only!) means of communicating with the virtual world for much of the two months while Nick confiscated the wireless internet (his phone) and the computer to finish the semester from you-know-where. While the smart phone was a wondrous invention, it is not conducive to writing long emails, let alone an entire blog post.

And I just realized that I spent nearly half of the last two months away from home. No wonder our gas line item in our budget has been way in the red.

Enough excuses. I'm excited to have access to a computer and internet again since I've spent the last couple months doing some fun projects. It was year-of-the-homemade-Christmas-gifts in our household, so we made candles, lavender scented hand lotion, "canvas" photos, face wash, strawberry applesauce, energy bars, and pancake mix. We made a backyard "ice rink." And, most excitingly, I perfected my deodorant! So I have a lot of writing to do.

I was trying to figure out what to write on first and really wanted to honor my awesomely amazing Grandma Laura who passed away in November. But it was hard to come up with something that was good enough to honor the memory of such a strong, resourceful, fun woman who taught me so much that I have yet to perfect. Grandma showed me how to sew, play poker, dance the two-step and jitterbug. She let me help her make fudge, pies, carmel rolls, oatmeal raisin cookies and mashed potatoes with gravy. She gave me a pride in my roots, especially the strength of my phenomenal, educated great- and great-great grandmothers. She loved reading and music and she passed that love onto us kids. We loved going to Bonesteel, SD, population 280, where Grandma lived a 10 second stroll from the town pool, a 5 minute walk to the bowling alley and where time seemed to stand still.

Grandma had a hard life by most standards. She was born prematurely in a sod house during the Great Depression, for crying out loud! But she never complained. Ever. She felt that she had lived a good, blessed life and told me that she looked on the hardest times of her life as blessings in disguise. At the end of her 89 years, she could look back at her life without regrets. She said she was ready to go and "excited to see what was next." We all got to say we loved her and goodbye. Shortly before she died, she got what was apparently a beautiful vision. She got the widest grin on her face and said, "It's beautiful. A miracle." She said something about angels and went into a coma. She died, peacefully, holding her daughter's hand. It was a beautiful way to first experience death for Nora - sad, but so natural, right and not scary.

My brother, Jeff, wrote to me that she was "the best grandma you could ask for." Really, that was true. She was just awesome. One of my best memories of Grandma was the awesome homemade jelly she always had on hand (and loved to send back with us). My favorites were plum and choke cherry. She learned to make jelly as a kid and kept it up over the decades.

Accidental Strawberry Jam
I've always wanted to make jelly as good as Grandma's and I'm not sure I'll ever succeed, only because it will never be Grandma's jelly, you know? But a few weeks ago,  while trying to make a holiday candy, I accidentally ended up with some strawberry jam instead. I think Grandma would have been proud of me for making something edible out of a potential culinary disaster. So here's a super easy recipe for some yummy tasting strawberry jam. You know it's a success when Nora requests to eat it straight out of the jar.

I got this recipe from December 2011, Food Network Magazine's recipe for "Strawberry Jellies" candy.

Cost: $4.75 for about 16 ounces of jam

2lbs of bulk frozen strawberries ($4)
2 cups of sugar ($0.50)
5 tbsp of liquid pectin ($0.25)
(I created liquid pectin by putting one package of powdered in with 1/2 c of water and boiling for one minute, then adding enough extra water to make 1 cup, then measuring out 5 tbsp)  
Candy thermometer
Food Processor
Clean jar with new lid

Time: 60 - 90 minutes

So the official directions read: Thaw the strawberries. Puree in a food processor and strain through a sieve into a saucepan. Stir in 2 cups of sugar and boil, stirring occasionally until a candy thermometer reaches 223 degrees (30 min to 1 hr). Reduce the heat to low and simmer 3 minutes. Off heat, add in 5 tablespoons of liquid pectin. Pour into a pan and chill until firm. Cut into squares; toss in sugar.

Simple enough, right? First, I was out of white sugar, so I used brown. Next, no matter how long or high I boiled the puree, I could not get the temperature above 215 - it boiled at that temperature for probably 20 minutes. I was just about to give up and take it off the heat. And then, I smelled it. The distinct and nasty smell of burned sugar. ARGH! I yanked it off the heat and managed to salvage the bulk of it without getting the burned part into the good stuff. Then I stirred in the pectin and dumped it into a pan to chill. Nothing firmed. So I poured it into a jar and shazaam! Delicious strawberry jam! Woo hoo!

Drive-By Shampooing
Okay, so my accidental strawberry jam makes sense to honor Grandma Laura. But a Drive-By Shampooing? It does relate to Grandma, I promise.

Her death came out of the blue. She had lived in her own house up till 10 months ago and had just moved into Bonesteel's assisted living place (we called it the college dorms for the elderly - all her friends were there!). She was healthy and doing great. Long story short, an unexpected health problem, some surgical complications and Grandma adamantly insisting that they just let her go with no other interventions and she was put on hospice.

Nick and the girls and I found out on a Saturday afternoon and packed up and left a few hours later, not sure how long the girls and I would be gone. In our haste to pack, we forgot our homemade shampoo/conditioner. And yes, baking soda and lemon juice are easy to find, even in South Dakota, but procuring an empty container to put them in seemed more trouble than I wanted to deal with. Plus, it allowed me to experiment with something I'd been wanting to do for awhile. Go back to regular shampoo and see what happened.

My friend, Emily, told me that one night around 3am, she was up nursing her infant and in her sleep deprived state, had a totally irrationally terrifying thought about me and my homemade shampoo. What if, she thought, someone just drove up and dumped a bunch of shampoo on Kristin's head? A drive-by shampooing! She'd have to start the whole de-shampooing process all over again! What a tragedy! 

It was a pretty funny thought, but one I'd been wondering about myself. What happens when you do use regular shampoo again? Is it all or nothing? Do you really have to start over? Do you have to forgo the heavenly shampoo massage at the beauty salon?

So I am happy to report that you do not, in fact, need to start all over! In fact, during the two weeks I was away from home, I only had to wash my hair THREE times. And there was no grease-monkey Kristin! I will admit that the first day after using regular shampoo each time, my hair felt really static-y and dry. I could tell that the appropriate balance of oil I had obtained was stripped away. And when I came back, I did have about 4 days of needing to use my baking soda shampoo every day before it was back to normal.

And, for the record, I now only need to wash my hair every 3rd day. It's great. I'm guessing that the longer i use it, the less frequently I'll have to use it. Although we have entered I guess we'll see in the summer.

Grandma didn't believe in wasting money and took excellent care of everything she owned. She was resourceful, frugal and practical. I think she would have thought it a bit strange, but nonetheless, would have been proud of my homemade shampoo endeavor, too.

So thank you, Grandma Laura, for 31 years of love, fun, music, dancing and support and for passing on 89 years of amazing life stories, lessons and history. I hope I can be, even a little bit, like you.
Thanks to Nick for the great pictures!