Tuesday, June 29, 2010

In Death Challenge Post: June 2010

Interested in joining the Challenge? Anyone is welcome to join in at any time. See the sign up post HERE.

This is the round up post for the sixth month of the In Death Reading Challenge.

Link up any In Death posts you made this month here. If you made a post on your blog whether it be a review or commentary, please grab the link to your post and enter in the Mr. Linky below along with your name so we can find each other's latest In Death posts easily.

If you're just keeping a running list of the books as you read them, grab the link to your list post and enter in the Mr. Linky so we can recognize your success this month.

If you're reading or rereading without documenting it on your blog, let me know in the comments which book(s) you read in this month. This will also help me keep track of who's eligible for the challenge giveaway in August.

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{Spoiler free!}

Witness In Death by J.D. Robb
Book 11

Witness In Death opens with Eve and Roarke in a private box at the theater on opening night for the latest, hottest production of , when a murder scene on stage goes awry and the illustrious leading actor is actually killed on stage with what was thought to be a "fake" knife. Everyone on stage, back stage and behind the scenes... not to mention the audience members... are suspects. Eve slowly begins to unravel the connections between the actors and stage crew, narrowing down her list of suspects in the murder of this illlustrious and talented actor who as it turns out isn't well liked among any of his peers.

I still haven't yet finished reading Witness In Death --June was a s-l-o-w reading month for me--but I have to say I'm really enjoying Eve & Peabody's ever developing relationship. There is most certainly a fun and humorous part to their relationship that makes me smile and sometimes even laugh out loud. There is also a mentor and student type relationship that is built on trust and acknowledgement of dedication, determination and skill as police detectives. But there is also a newer dynamic growing between them that runs deeper than their shared sense of humor and dedication to mentoring and assisting one another... and that is the dynamic of a caring, long lasting bond between them. Almost like sisters. Yeah, yeah, Eve has trouble admitting it and would probably be aghast at the use of such a familial word to describe one of her relationships, but it's true. They care about each other's emotional and physical well being and are even protective of each other. And even though Peabody seems to take on the role of the younger sister, she's also teaching Eve a thing or two about the whole love dynamic between people whether that love be between friends, family or love interests.

Comments or opinions about Eve and or Peabody?

Or about any other topic relating to the series?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Xxtraordinary Blogger Award!

A couple of weeks ago, I had the happy surprise of being awarded the XXtraordinary Blogger Award from the wonderful Gina of Hott Books! Thank you, Gina!!! I think you and your blog are pretty extraordinary, too! :) Sorry for the delay in acknowledging the award here!

Gina and I first "met" when she joined the In Death Reading Challenge that I host here on my blog and I've enjoyed getting to know her over the last several months. Gina started blogging last October and has done a wonderful job of blogging regularly about the books she reads--mostly crime fiction, mystery and romance--, about the blogs she discovers via a weekly blog hop event, and every now and then about herself and her family. She's one of those bloggers who never cease to impress me with her combined supermom and superblogger powers. She's incredibly busy taking care of her husband and three kids; driving all over to timbuktu and back for her kids' soccer practices and school events; volunteering at her kids' schools; keeping up with household chores AND she works full time, too! Yet she still manages to find time to read, blog AND blog hop regularly. How does she do it?!!? We exchanged a few emails recently in which she shared some tips with me, but she still made it sound so easy! I'm thinking I need in on the secret super powers. Maybe if I start wearing a superhero cape.... ;o)

The bottom line is that I'm very flattered to have received this xxtraordinary blogger award from someone so xxtraordinary herself! Now it's my turn to pay it forward.

The Award Criteria:
This award is awarded to those bloggers who:
1~post almost every day, if not every
2~reply to every comment that's posted
3~just down right LOVE blogging!

The Award Rules:
Share one extraordinary thing that's happened to you then pass this award to 5 Xxtraordinarly bloggers.

My Extraordinary Thing:
The most extraordinary thing that's happened to me is by far having made a life of love and happiness with my husband and making a family of our own with our two wonderful daughters. That is pretty extraordinary in itself to me, but it's even more extraordinary to me that after having spent all my young life of twenty-two years under the influence of a narcissistic and controlling parent essentially following orders without question, not standing up for myself with my voice or actions, or even making my own decisions... I finally had a reason ...a reason whom I married a few years later... and found the strength to follow my heart and do what was best for ME. Now that's a happily ever after. :)

5 Bloggers I believe are Extraordinary:
I happen to follow a ton of extraordinary bloggers, but today I'm going to acknowledge the bloggers who possess those supermom-superblogger powers. You take care of children, adult family, chores, jobs, and yet you always manage to find time to read, blog, blog hop and probably have other personal hobbies, too! You know who you are! I'm calling you out....

Hilcia, Leslie, Brandy, Mariana, Lori, Angie, Kenda, Michelle, Phyl, Renee, Tracy, Holly, Jessica, Jill D., Rowena, Patti, Lisa, Mandi....

.... wow there are so many of you!
And to anyone else I may have left out.... consider yourselves tagged with the Xxtraordinary Blogger Award. You all rock!

Hope you all have a fantastic weekend.

Any fun plans in store for you?

My weekend is going to involve bike rides, swimming at the pool, hopefully logging some solid hours reading, maybe making some cherry jam and playing my vuvuzela because I'll most definitely be ... watching the World Cup!!! GO USA!!!

Got an iPhone? Download the vuvuzela app and show your world cup spirit! ... or annoy the heck out of your friends and family. LOL. I happen to love it.

I have the one with the icon shown here. Fun stuff! ^_^

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Library Loot XX

Library Loot is a weekly blog event that encourages bloggers to share what books they borrowed from the library that week. To participate, simply make your Library Loot post on your blog and link it using the Mr. Linky link at Marg's blog Reading Adventures or Eva's blog A Striped Armchair. This week's link up is at Marg's.

Things have been quite busy around here the last several days. Mostly due to end of the school year activities for my daughters. My youngest "graduated" 5th grade yesterday and is off to middle school in September. I'm so proud of her! I'm also happy-- and a bit relieved-- that she's looking forward to the changes that middle school will bring. She's usually my worrier, but I think she's got this one under control. Hopefully she'll still feel this way when the new school year rolls around. For me, I'm feeling a little sad (and old) that after a decade I won't have at least one kid in elementary school ever again. Three. Two. One. Okay, I'm over it. :D

My eldest daughter finished her freshman year in high school. I still can't believe she's actually in high school, let alone a sophomore come September. How did that happen? Her freshman year was an academically challenging one with all honors courses which produced a ton of homework and papers and lab reports that at times had me feeling sorry for her. Other times I was grateful that all that homework prevented her from texting and facebooking the whole night. Instead, she just did those things for half the night. :/

My days have been pretty full lately, too. I've been working out nearly every day, getting up at 5:20 am to exercise before everyone goes off to school and work. This shift in my workout schedule from 9 am to 6 am was brought on initially because we can't leave my father-in-law home alone, and me not wanting to hire a sitter for him every day. So I started to workout early a couple of days a week and then all of a sudden I was doing it every day. As difficult as it is to get up so early, I have to say it feels good to get moving and energized and still have a full day ahead of me when I'm done. The downfall is that by 10 pm I am practically falling over in exhaustion ... all just to do it all over again the next day. Which is fine... but it has been cutting into my reading time. I used to do the majority of my reading between 9 pm and 1 am. These days I'm barely reading for an hour before I drift... no, not drift... collapse into deep sleep. This hasn't stopped me, however, from visiting the library three times in the last week to pick up some loot that I've been waiting on... plus a few unplanned picks. Hopefully, now that school is out for the summer, things wind down a bit during the days and I'll make some progress into my huge reading pile that has accumulated.

Last night my youngest daughter and I joined the summer reading program at the library. She joined the one in the children's department and I joined a brand new summer reading program for adults! How cool is that? I just need to fill out this little index card with the title and author for each book I read plus a few sentence book review and drop it in a box near the front desk. Each book I read and report is an entry into a weekly drawing for some neat prizes like certificates to local coffee shops, restaurants and gourmet food stores. The grand prize at the end of the summer is a $100 gift card to an upscale local restaurant. If I want to improve my chances of winning that, I'd better get reading!

Here is my latest library loot:

In Adult fiction:

A Bad Day for Sorry by Sophie Littlefield

I saw this author mentioned I think on Carolyn Crane's blog a while ago and something about the title and cover called to me, plus I wholeheartedly trust Carolyn's recommendations--she's so passionate about the books and authors she admires. Anyway, this book is crime fiction and it sounds really interesting. The main character, Stella Hardesty runs her own sewing shop in rural Missouri while helping women deal with their abusive husbands and boyfriends like she dealt with her husband years ago. She ends up getting involved in solving some crime while helping a woman and I believe there may be a little love interest going between Stella and the local sheriff, too.

Fantasy Medley edited by Yanni Kuznia

I came across this little anthology of short stories while browsing the new fiction shelves in search of any book with the name of a body of water in the title. No kidding. Anyway, it caught my eye since I've heard of all four authors, but have never read any of their work. I thought this might be a fun, quick read to help me see if I want to pick up more by any of the authors. The four authors who have stories in this book are Robinn Hobb, Kelley Armstrong, C.E. Murphy and Kate Elliot.

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In Young Adult fiction:

Looking for Alaska by John Green

I have heard great things about this book and about the author John Green, in general, and became determined to read this one upon reading a recommendation by my BookSmugglers.

The Iron King by Julie Kagawa.

Every review I read for this debut novel has been excellent. I've been loving the fey stories lately. I can't wait to read this.

The Heart Is Not a Size by Beth Kephart

I read Nothing But Ghosts by this author a month or two ago and really enjoyed it. The writing flowed nicely and the lessons the story told were honest and insightful. I'm imagining the same will hold true for this one. Let's hope so.

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In non fiction:

The Complete Chile Pepper Book by Dave DeWitt & Paul W. Bosland
A Gardener's Guide to Choosing, Growing, Preserving, and Cooking.

That title and subtitle pretty much sums up what this book is about. I love the complexity, heat and spice that chile peppers bring to a lot of different dishes, plus I love to grow my own specialty produce when I can so this book was right up my alley for an all in one chile book. I have been tossing around the idea of making my own jalapeno pepper jelly later this summer, and I may just try the recipe in this book for that project. While it is too late for me to plant my own chile pepper plants in my garden for this season, the farmer's markets are usually loaded with these hot babies come August and September. I'll be ready!

Slim & Scrumptious by Joy Bauer
This is a cookbook with more than 75 healthy recipes for healthy, low calorie eating. I already thumbed through the cookbook and see a handful of recipes I'd like to try--including the recipe for that gorgeous red tropical sangria on the cover (see photo in the upper left hand corner).

The English Roses by David Austin
Classic Favorites & New Selections

I just love roses in a garden and have lived in my home for thirteen years without a single rose bush in my yard. I've been thinking a lot lately about my grandmother's home and the time I spent there as a kid. I loved the fragrance of the roses she grew in her small rose garden in her side yard. I remember sniffing each rose variety with my eyes closed trying to decide which one I liked best. I don't think I ever made up my mind! My grandmother had maybe half a dozen rose bushes and I'm hoping this book will inspire me to choose some fragrant roses for my own yard.

And that's my library loot for this week! I can't wait to get reading!

Does your library have a summer reading program for adults?

What are you reading this week?

Monday, June 21, 2010

REVIEW: Beastly by Alex Flinn

I read Beastly by Alex Flinn based on a recommendation from Angie back in March of this year when she posted the trailer for the upcoming movie version of the novel, which happens to be one of her favorites that she reviewed way back in November 2007. Angie has superb taste in books and has never steered me wrong, so of course I had to read the book, and before the movie hits theaters this summer!

Beastly is a contemporary young adult retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale set in modern day New York City. The Beast is Kyle Kingsbury who used to be the best looking, most popular and richest guy in the school who had everything and more. Except maybe virtues. Which in the end is the ruin of his seemingly perfect life. Because he is unkind, rude, presumptuous, selfish and basically beastly, he is cursed to actually be a beast for eternity. One small act of kindness before he is cursed allows him one and only one chance to break the spell. If he falls in love with someone, and she loves him in return, the curse can be broken. Only true love's kiss will break the spell, and it has to happen within a year or he'll be a beast forever.

Once Kyle is cursed to be the beast, his life as he knew it is over. He still has anything money can buy, but now lives like an outcast hiding in his New York apartment, his housekeeper and his live-in, blind tutor his only companions. Kyle's only contact with the outside world is either through the internet or by sneaking out at night to prowl the streets in a disguise.

I did find Beastly to be predictable in that the character roles of Beauty and the Beast and the story line didn't stray from the classic fairy tale, yet I still found the novel captivating and thoroughly enjoyable. The author did a fantastic job of molding the story to a modern setting and modern characters, more so than I imagined possible. Kyle's transformation from egotistical, privleged teenage boy with entitlement issues to a caring, sensitive young man... err.. beast, was realistic and convincing as the story progressed. Well, as realistic as a teenage beast roaming the streets of New York City could be, anyway. ;)

Likewise, Lindy Taylor--the young girl who portrays the character of 'Beauty', is realistic in her actions and reactions towards Kyle as well, save for one part which was the manor in which she became the Beast's prisoner. Although her capture is not exactly her own doing, I had to stretch my believability just a little too far to make it work in my mind, but heck--it is a fairy tale and it does take place in New York City, so anything can happen, right? Otherwise, Lindy was equally believable as Kyle, and perhaps even more so than the Grimm's fairly tale version or the Disney version since the girl from Beastly is more average on the outside, yet beautiful within. I think that difference even improves on the depth and reality of the whole moral of the story.

Beastly is a wonderful modern rendition of the classic Beauty and the Beast fairy tale. It's a fast paced, enjoyable read with great insights to the value society and individuals place on physical beauty and inner beauty. Highly recommended to readers of young adult fiction and or readers who enjoy fairy tales.
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Here's the trailer for the movie version of Beastly. Already from the trailer, I can see a lot of changes to the story line, but I have to admit... the movie still looks good. According to the trailer, the movie hits theaters July 30, 2010.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Once Upon A Time Reading Challenge COMPLETE!

Earlier this spring, I joined the Once Upon a Time IV Reading Challenge hosted by Carl from the blog Stainless Steel Droppings and am happy to report that I completed the challenge! The requirement was to read five fantasy, folklore, fairly tale or mythology novels between March 21, 2010 and June 20, 2010. I actually read eleven novels during that time frame that could meet the challenge criteria. In all honesty, however, the five novels below that I highlighted in brown are the novels that I think fit the theme of this challenge the best. They are also the books that I picked up with this challenge in mind.

1. Except the Queen by Jane Yolen and Midori Snyder
2. The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen
3. Mind Games by Carolyn Crane
4. The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen
5. Silver Borne by Patricia Briggs
4. Beastly by Alex Flinn
7. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
8. Lover Avenged by J.R. Ward
9. My Soul to Save by Rachel Vincent
10. Lover Mine by J.R. Ward
11. Ballad by Maggie Steifvater

Writing reviews was optional for the challenge, and despite the fact that the challenge is over, I'd still like to follow up with a few reviews over the next several days.

One reading challenge down... ELEVEN to go.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Apple Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

My last strawberry recipe for the season. I swear! Then I'll be moving on to another favorite berry because it's just another 2-3 weeks before local blueberries will be reading for picking. I can't wait. I love those little blues, and they're so good for you, too!

I adapted this recipe from a similar recipe from one of the members in my organic produce co-op. I had different amounts of fruit on hand, so I adjusted those ingredients and the sugar, added lemon juice to the filling to keep the colors and flavors of the fruit 'bright' and also completely changed the recipe for the crumb topping.

Apple Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

This fruit crisp is a really fun and delicious springtime twist on the fall standby Apple Crisp. I love the bright, sweet-tart flavor the strawberries and rhubarb bring to the dish, not to mention the wonderful rose colored hue of the fruit filling.

For the filling:
4 lbs. apples, peeled and sliced
1 lb. strawberries, sliced (about 1 quart)
1/2 lb. rhubarb, sliced (about 3 stalks)
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

For crumb topping:
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons cold butter

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Prepare the filling:
Peel, core and slice the apples.
Trim the rhubarb and remove any fibrous strings from along the stalks, then slice.
Wash and stem the strawberries, then halve the small strawberries and quarter the large ones.

Combine fruit in a big bowl with the sugar, flour, lemon juice and cinnamon tossing to coat well.

Transfer fruit to a large baking dish. {I used a 9" x 13" glass baking dish.}

Prepare the crumb topping:
Combine the oats, flour and brown sugar in a medium sized bowl, mixing well with a fork.

Cut the cold butter into pieces and add to the oat and flour mixture. Blend butter into the oat mixture using the tines of a fork or your fingers until crumbly.

Sprinkle crumb topping evenly on top of fruit mixture.

Bake at 350 F for 45 minutes or until fruit is bubbling and crumb topping is lightly browned. Serve warm or at room temperature. Delicious with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Enjoy! :)

Friday, June 18, 2010

Homemade Strawberry Daiquiris for Two

This recipe was inspired by a comment from Phyl in my strawberry picking post earlier this month when I asked your favorite way to eat strawberries.

Phyl said....
"Ah strawberries! They are the best. In my younger days my friends & I would go pick & then have a strawberry daiquiri party. It was a nice annual ritual for a while there."

Doesn't that sound fabulous?! Not only did I love the idea of mixing up a pitcher of homemade strawberry daiquiris right after reading that, but I also loved the idea that Phyl and her friends made the whole process a special occasion.

So Phyl, thanks for the inspiration and your friendship. Here's to you!

I'd also like to make a toast to Stacy who always takes the time to celebrate her online friendships on twitter every Friday with her Follow Friday tweets. She always remembers to include me no matter how sparse my presence is on twitter or on her blog. Thanks for the #ff and your friendship. Here's to you!

And here's to everyone else who follows or reads my blog, whether you're a commenter or a lurker. Thank you.

Cheers! :)

Homemade Strawberry Daiquiris for Two

Make this drink for you and a friend when strawberries are at their peak or use frozen strawberries any time! Once you've made strawberry daiquiris from "scratch" like this, you will never go back to that frozen mix you buy in a can at the grocery store.

1 cup strawberries, frozen
1/4 cup white rum
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup simple sugar syrup*
1 cup crushed ice

Gently wash the strawberries and cut any large berries in half. Spread strawberries in a single layer on a cookie sheet and freeze until firm.

If you have the room in your freezer, put the glass pitcher of your blender in there, too. A chilled blender pitcher will help keep the daiquiris icy cold longer after you've blended them.

Remove strawberries and blender pitcher from your freezer. Combine the frozen strawberries and the remaining ingredients in the blender and process until smooth.

Pour into chilled glasses and serve with a lime slice.


*To make your own simple sugar syrup, heat 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of water in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved and mixture thickens to a syrup. Cool sugar syrup and store in a covered jar in the refrigerator. Use sugar syrup to sweeten summer teas and mixed drinks.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

REVIEW: Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

I read this book as part of a book club tour hosted by the lovely Alaine of Queen of Happy Endings. Inspired by the book club tour that Amy organized with her copy of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows last year, Alaine proposed a similar Read Around the World book tour with her copy of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman. The novel is traveling around the world to different readers and by the time the book reaches Alaine again, it will have been to eight different countries and read by sixteen different people--including me! It's a really fun idea and I'm looking forward to reading everyone's review of the book.

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Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is an emotional and yet uplifting coming of age story about a young girl who has been living pretty much lost and lonely and the lovely women who essentially save her over the course of one hot summer in the late 1960s. At the tender age of twelve, CeeCee Honeycutt has already lived a difficult life. Her mother Camille suffers from a psychosis that has been worsening over the years, leaving a trail of embarrassing moments behind her wherever she goes, dressed up in her former glory as the 1951 Vidalia Onion Queen wearing old prom gowns and tiaras. CeeCee's father's way of handling things has always been to leave town on business for weeks at a time, which has left CeeCee to take care of herself and her mother. Her only friend in her small Ohio town is her elderly neighbor and her only comfort is her collection of books. CeeCee's world takes a dramatic turn one fateful day when a tragedy befalls her mother and CeeCee is sent off to live with her great Aunt Tootie she never even knew she had in Savannah, Georgia. What at first feels like the end of CeeCee's world slowly transforms into a beautiful beginning for this brave young girl as she learns some of life's most valuable lessons about life, friendship, family and love.

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is a beautiful novel filled with so many empowering lessons on life, friendship and family told through the story of one brave young woman who longs for friendship, family and acceptance. CeeCee Honeycutt's story is in so many ways a heartbreaking one. She is a smart young girl who reads all the time and submerges herself in her school work to escape the reality of her lonely world. In so many ways she is wise beyond her years, yet in so many other ways she is vulnerable, naive and lost without someone to hold her and tell her she is loved and wanted. The women who come into CeeCee's life provide her with some of her first solid relationships outside her dysfunctional family of her psychotic mother and absent father, each in their own way showing CeeCee the ups and downs and joys of family and friendship within a stable home. She learns more in one summer about loss and grief, friendship and family, love and acceptance than most people learn in a lifetime. The story broke my heart and brought me to tears several times, but it also made me laugh and brought me joy as CeeCee found happiness.

While the various conflicts woven throughout the story do get resolved rather neatly and smoothly, contributing to the novel's feel good story book style, I say what's not to love about that? The romantic in me cherished the happily ever after endings to all of the story lines and I simply adored the delivery of the story with all it's southern charm. I definitely closed Saving CeeCee Honeycutt with a happy sigh.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Strawberry Rhubarb Sauce

Eleven pounds of strawberries was A LOT of berries, so I've been busy with a lot of strawberry recipes. This one features the classic combination of strawberries and rhubarb together. One of my favorite springtime desserts is strawberry rhubarb pie, but no one else in my family is a fan, so I decided to make a strawberry rhubarb sauce to get my fix of this springtime classic.

Strawberry Rhubarb Sauce
This sweet-tart sauce is so versatile. For a treat, spoon some over ice cream or frozen yogurt, or try some poured over pound cake. For breakfast, try the sauce on toast like jam or swirl some into plain yogurt and sprinkle with granola.

1 lb. strawberries (about 2 pints)
1/2 lb. rhubarb
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon crystalized ginger

Slice the strawberries.

Prep the rhubarb as you would celery.

Sometimes the stalks can be stringy, so trim the ends of the rhubarb and remove any fibrous strings along the length, if necessary.

Then slice the rhubarb.

Combine all ingredients in a non reactive, medium saucepan.

Bring mixture to a boil over medium high heat, stirring constantly.

Cook for 10 minutes or until fruit breaks down and sauce thickens.

Remove from heat and let cool for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Store any remaining sauce in a clean glass jar in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Enjoy! :)

... my next strawberry recipe was inspired by a comment from one of my readers in my strawberry picking post. I hope to get it posted later this afternoon. Right now I'm racing to sew a few patches onto my youngest daughter's girl scout sash for her end of the year ceremony. She is not only bridging from Junior girl scouts to Cadettes, but she is also receiving her Bronze Award today! I'm so proud of her! :)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Jam Session

Yesterday I made homemade strawberry jam using the recipe for Soft Strawberry Jam in the 3rd edition of Well Preserved by Mary Anne Dragan. I have made jams before--strawberry, blueberry, mixed berry and peach, but this strawberry jam is the most delicious jam ever.

I have borrowed the Well Preserved cookbook from my library twice now and I just love it. So much so that I've decided to buy my own copy. I love the range of recipes from the classic to the novel, the clear, easy explanations and directions, and that it includes recipes for all sorts of fruit jams, jellies, preserves, conserves and also sauces, relishes, chutneys, and salsas. The author even includes recipes for dishes in which the preserved foods are a key ingredient.

Most of the recipes in Well Preserved are prepared without adding commercial pectin, which I find appealing because I try to follow a whole foods approach to food preparation. In other words, I strive to prepare and eat foods made from whole foods and whole ingredients that are in the form as close to their natural state as possible or that have been processed minimally and in a straightforward way. Not that pectin itself is a bad thing as an added ingredient since it is derived from pectin rich foods, but there are other ingredients such as preservatives and stabilizers in the package of pectin that I'd just rather avoid if I could. In the case of this jam, the ingredients are just strawberries, sugar and lemon juice.

The name of the jam is Soft Strawberry Jam, so it did turn out soft and slightly runny compared to most jams, but the color, flavor and fragrance is unbelievable. It is SO good.

Making homemade jam is actually quite easy to do. You just need to be a little organized with your supplies and your order of operations, and you need to set aside a whole morning or afternoon to dedicate yourself to jamming. If you don't want to bother with the processing part, there are a lot of great recipes for freezer jam out there that you just cook and then store in your freezer until you're ready to use. That's how I started making jam years ago until I decided to try canning one year just for the experience. It was so much easier than I expected and now it's the only way I make jam. Want to see how I did it?

For complete canning instructions, visit http://www.freshpreserving.com/ or borrow a book on canning and preserving from your library. I do not include all home canning and food safety guidelines guidelines in this post.

A Strawberry Jam Session:

Rinse and drain berries well.

Wash canning jars in warm soapy water, rinsing well. Then to sterilize the jars and canning lids, put them in a pot of water to cover, and keep the water hot and just simmering until ready to fill them.

At this point, I fill my canning pot half full with water, heat it on the stove until simmering, and keep it simmering until I'm ready to process the jars of jam. You don't need to buy a pot specifically made for canning, but it is helpful because it will be wide and deep enough to hold the jars and it will come with a stainless steel rack to keep the jars in place in the hot water. The pot I use is a big lobster pot that I picked up at my supermarket a couple of years ago that comes with a removable steamer that sits about 1-2" off the bottom of the pot and I just set the jars of jam on top of that.

While the processing pot is being heated up, I set to work slicing the berries.

Mash berries in a large pot with a potato masher or the back of a large serving fork.

Bring the berries to a gentle simmer over medium heat and simmer for 2-3 minutes.

Add the sugar and lemon juice,

Stir to dissolve sugar and raise heat to medium high heat.

Bring jam to a steady boil, stirring frequently, if not constantly to prevent jam from scorching or splattering out of pot. Maintain jam at a boil for 15-20 minutes or until thickened then remove from heat.

The fragrance of homemade strawberry jam simmering away draws my first customer to the kitchen....

Useful magnet tool.

Used to lift bands and lids out of simmering water.

You actually don't need to sterilize the bands because they don't come in contact with the jam, but I always forget that and end up sterilizing them anyway with the jars and lids.

Jar grabber tool. What is this thing called anyway?

Jar grabber tool is used to grab hot, sterilized jars out of simmering water and then placed onto a kitchen towel to be filled with jam.

Ladle jam into jars using a wide mouthed funnel if you have one.

Leave 1/4" headroom between the top of the jam and the top of the jar.

Wipe edges of jars with a damp paper towel to remove any traces of jam that may have dripped.

If you have any left over jam in your preserve pot that won't fill another jar, simply put it in a jar and store in the refrigerator.

Remove the lids from hot water using the magnet tool and center them on each jar one at a time.

Carefully place the bands on the jars and screw them on until finger tight. Don't over tighten. The bands are really just there to keep the lids from coming off during processing... not to keep the jam air tight.

Using the jar grabber tool, carefully lower the jars of jam into your large canning pot that is half full of already simmering water.

It's kind of difficult to see it from this photo, but note the water level in the canning pot only comes part way up the sides of the jars of jam. The jars are not completely covered yet.

Arrange the jars so that they are evenly spaced and are not touching each other or the sides of the pot. This is where a canning pot with a rack to keep the jars in place would come in handy.

When all the jars are in place, fill the pot with more hot water to cover the jars by 1-2". I just use the hot water from the pot I was using to sterilize the jars and lids in.

A wooden ruler works great for determining if you've added enough water to cover the jars. Just insert the ruler in the water so that the end touches the top of the tallest sitting jar, and the water line will show when you pull it out. Then just keep adding water until you reach the 2" mark.

Cover pot with lid and bring to a rolling boil. Once water is boiling, set the timer for 10 minutes to process your jars.

Insider's tip: While the jam is being processed in the boiling water, find a piece of french bread to sop up the jam stuck to the bottom and sides of the pot in which the jam was cooked. Not only do you get the first taste of the warm jam {Yum!}, but it's a delicious way to start the clean up. ;)

Remove jars from boiling water using the jar grabber tool and place on a towel to cool. Within a minute, you should hear the seals being formed with a little pop from each jar. Some will pop within a couple of minutes, and some may take a little longer and even seal without the pop.

Leave the jam on the counter over night and check the next day to make sure each jar sealed by gently pressing on the center of the lid with your finger. If you can push the center down and it pops back up, then it did not seal properly and you need to store the jam in the refrigerator. I think you can actually re-process the jar in a water bath again, but I'm usually too lazy to do it.

I actually had one jar this morning that didn't seal from yesterday's processing. I think it didn't seal properly because the lid was not centered exactly on the mouth of the jar. Maybe I should go through the motions of trying to reseal it just for the experience so I can say with confidence how to do it. I'll think about it. ;)

Jam should keep for a year stored in a cool dry place. Be sure you hear a pop or the sound of the seal being broken when you open the jar. If you think the seal has been compromised, don't eat the jam.

Most likely your jam will be enjoyed long before the year is over and you'll be dreaming of getting to the strawberry fields again next June to make more all over again.

Enjoy! :)

What's your favorite flavor jam?

Mine is strawberry, but I also like other berry jams, too and orange marmalade.

What's your favorite way to eat jam?

I like jam on toasted bread for breakfast. I think I may end up using some of this soft strawberry jam like strawberry sauce over ice cream.