Jul 072009

I didn’t know that there was a different way of making jam until I started reading American blogs and all I heard was “botulism” and “canning equipment”. Oh, and “sterilizing”.

Then the lovely Brenda Dayne talked about her quest for self-made jam on her podcast, and I thought I’d rather post this on my blog than jam up her comment-section. I was sure I already had written a post about how we make jam but all I could find were a few pictures of jam-making in a post about my yoga bag. So, this time I hired my husband as a photographer and set out to document our jam making process. It is, by the way, really easy.

The first step, the one that might be a stumbling block for a newbie, is to collect jars. Every time we buy jam, or mustard, or tomato sauce or anything I put the jar and the lid into the dishwasher, and then it goes into a big cardboard box in the basement. We go through a lot of jars here because my mother-in-law makes jam to sell for charity each year. Otherwise we’d have enough jars to store several years worth of jam. If you’re fancy and wading in money you might go and buy jam jars though I can’t tell you where to find some, I only once heard of somebody who did.

Then you pick the berries. In this case we picked almost two pounds of sour cherries that had been quite decimated and damaged by the rain (but this year there weren’t any worms – hurray!), and about three pounds of Josta-berries, a special kind of berry that’s a cross between black currant and gooseberry, excellent for jam. Here is a picture to prove that I actually ventured out in the garden in person:


And these are all of the Jostas that we picked:


We were lucky enough to make it indoors again before the next rain. Also, I have to add that since my mother-in-law is the champion of jam makers we only picked the remnants. After my son had gone to bed I washed and cleaned the fruit. And I borrowed a machine for pitting the cherries. About two hours later I put the cherries (now mostly without stones) in one pot after weighing them, of course, the berries in the other, measured the canning sugar (that’s the important part, you know that sugar with, um, sugar and pectin), stirred everything and went to bed. (Imagine a picture of sugarcoated berries in post here. It was dark, it was ten in the evening and I didn’t take a picture.) The pots are our usual cooking pots, it’s only helpful when they are big so that the jam only fills about half of the pot. But you can do it in a smaller pot if you are careful. Only it’s harder not to spill boiling jam on your stove.

Note that I didn’t cut or mash the fruit in any way, we like our jam with lots of pieces of fruit. Also, traditionally you’d use only the berries juice for jam but my husband likes to have the whole berries in.

The next time you have a bit of time you go down into the basement and fetch the box of jars and the pots of sugary fruit. Then you wash the jars, you rinse the jars (you don’t want to have detergent in your jam, don’t you?), and then you put them into very hot water. That helps with them not exploding when you put the jam in, they are already very warm.


You also need a clean dish towel or two, a wooden spoon, a timer is helpful, and these things (but not the water kettle):


The wooden thing is what we use to mash food; if we had a real masher we’d use that. You bring the fruit and sugar mixture to a boil. When it starts boiling you mash the fruit (see, that saves time in preparation because you don’t have to sit there cutting fruit into pieces for hours). After mashing you let it boil for about four minutes. Then you set up you glasses in a neat row on a towel. You can wet the towel but since our jars just sat in a sink full of water, and we don’t dry them everything’s wet enough. Make sure that you know which lid belongs to which jar. That is essential. Also it’s good to leave a bit of room between the glasses so you don’t knock them over while filling them. There’s no picture of me actually filling the jam in because that’s the very hot phase of jam making. You don’t want it to cool down too much, and so nobody has time to take a picture. But here’s one of the cherries getting warmer (and blurry):


Ladle the hot jam into the bowl (that’s the bowl I use to whip cream. It’s narrow and has a beak (I hope that’s the right word) the bowl you saw in the picture before last, I mean.). Pour the jam into the glasses with the help of a wooden spoon, making sure that there is fruit as well as juice in every jar, and that the tops stay clean because otherwise they won’t close properly. Make them quite full. Then close the lids firmly, and turn them upside down for about ten minutes. (Not much longer because otherwise the jam will be stuck to the lid forever, and forever, and they will be very hard to open later. Ask me how I know this.)


Make your husband clean all utensils, and the kitchen (I had to go and teach a student, I swear), and there it is:


See, easy peasy.

Sep 102008

Hello, it’s that time of the month again:


Time for the Just Post Roundtable. As every month for almost two years now Mad, Jen, and I gather posts about social justice. Our readers contribute by sending us links to what they wrote or read. Thank you for that again.

This month I’d like to use my introduction to remind you of something that I briefly mentioned back in February: the Goods 4 Girls project. Deanna Duke, the woman behind that project, describes it like this (and I’m quoting this in its entirety, sorry for the length):

You may have seen the commercials… the ones describing how girls in South Africa miss school when they have their period and how buying Tampax tampons will help them. There’s also a commercial for Always pads, with a similar message. Imagine having to use rags or newspaper, which is what many of these girls use for their periods.

Procter and Gamble (P&G) has started a program in Africa, where they are donating Always sanitary pads to girls who otherwise would miss several days of school each month due to inadequate menstrual supplies.

But what are the potential problems with donating disposable feminine hygiene products? Well, for starters, there is the environmental impact. In most of these areas, they have no solid waste programs or landfills. In other words, they burn their waste.

As such, products that have synthetic components (like sanitary pads and tampons) would be incinerated. For some schools, P&G is building incinerators near the bathrooms. But what about the pollutants emitted from burning these products? They may potentially get inhaled by the students and teachers. Any additional packaging, plastic or otherwise, would need to be disposed of in the same manner.

What would be a good alternative to help out these girls but without the environmental impact? Since most of these girls are using rags now, having a pad that is a more sophisticated (with a waterproof barrier) may be enough to allow them to participate in school and regular activities. They would still wash the pads as they normally do with the rags, but they would benefit from the extra protection.

I started Goods 4 Girls to provide the link for women wanting to donate hand-sewn menstrual pads to agencies who could provide the means to identify areas of need as well as provide the distribution to the women and girls needing the pads.

So, what can we do to help? We can

  1. donate cash
  2. for those who like to sew we can sew pads and donate those
  3. donate pads

You can find out all about donating here.

The easiest way of helping is to promote the project with the button you’re seeing in my left sidebar. You can find that, and tons of information including links to further reading (scroll down to the bottom), and tales about the distribution of the first shipments of products on the Goods 4 Girls homepage.

I won’t tell you all about it because the Just Post roundtables aren’t just about making a pretty list, they are about information. And here are the posts to read:

Anne with Yolanta
Cecileaux with Tomorrow, 40 years ago and Why neoconservatism deserved to fail
Emily with Saving the Planet for Starbucks Customers of Tomorrow
Flutter with Life is good, even when it’s crap
Girlgriot with It’s not easy being green
HerBadMother on blogher with Toss the Tylenol, Nursing Moms: This is Terrifying, Lost boy and Hide Your Hooters, The Haters Are Coming
Holly with Games for the haves and have nots
Jen with God in the house
Kittenpie with Down and Out in Riverdale
Lara with My little girl is the issue
Lisa with How a graduate marketing class saved my life
Mad with Flotsam and Take back the night
Megan with Realities
Mir Kamin on blogher with School supplies socialism makes for an angry village
Neil with The Orthodox Jewish guy outside of the supermarket
Pundit Mom with DNC on the homefront: Ellen Malcom of Emily’s list and Homeless children, don’t count on John McCain
Wrekehavoc with Stop using sex as a weapon
YTSL with Life in West Kowloon

And here are those who read:

Jul 102008


Welcome again to the Just Posts roundtable.

When last month I wrote about child poverty in the introduction to the Just Posts there were a lot of marvelous comments. I’m especially thankful to Hel for pointing out that not everyone of us is living in a “rich country”. I forget that, sometimes, in the same way that I’m not really comprehending the fact that it’s winter now, where she lives, while I’m in the middle of summer.

I knew instantly what to write about for this month’s introduction when I heard about the Expo 2008 on the radio. It’s all about water and sustainable development.

When I wrote about my guilty conscience when staying in the shower for too long, one of readers mocked me. And she is right, water is not that much of a problem where I live. It’s raining as I type this, and the water we drink comes from nearby. In past years we were advised not to give it to infants, and the town I live in helped families with newborns so that they could buy bottled water for them, but for the past years, and ever since my son has been born the water has been of good quality.

The situation in the nearby Bavarian capital is a bit different. While they have water that is pure and marvelous, and they have plenty of that, it seems a bit weird to me that that water comes from somewhere in the Alps. There are big pipelines fueling it to the city. But there isn’t a problem with the water as such. It’s good, it’s pure, and there’s plenty.

Of course, that’s not true for everyone in the world. Good water for drinking is a scarce resource and is becoming increasingly rare. Imagine living in a place where you had to chose between drinking something that makes you and your children sick, or not drinking at all. Imagine living somewhere where most of your day is spent fetching water from a place that’s hours away.

It’s sad that it always seem to come back to this these days, that there are people who have pools, and washing machines, and who take showers and baths every day, and who don’t even drink water because it’s so common, and there are people who barely have enough to survive, or even less.

I don’t know what to do about it, I know that I can’t send my unused shower water to the desert but it would be great if I could.

And now to something different, here is the list of posts that were gathered by you:
Andrea at Punk Rock Mommy with Planting the seeds of my own garden
Andrea with The burden of perfection
Averagebean with Freedom of speech?
Blog Antagonist with Speak English Me
Chani with Wellness Wednesday: take back your time
Christine Kane with Making Friends with Songs and Food
Defiant Muse with The mommy myth
Flutter with I am an omnivore
Girlgriot with Gotta do more than holla and We can, I mean WE can
Hel with Afternoon in an urban footgarden
Her Bad Mother with Joy, And Pain
Identity Theory with The weapon of rape
Indigenous people’s issues today with Five key indigenous people’s issues
Jen with Where the streets have no name and the shattered ceiling and what it means for our children
Julie with Kids and sex?
Kaliroz with indifference to me, is the epitome of evil
KC with Wheels
Mayberry Mom with 20 lousy pairs of scissors
MOMocrats with Moms need help in California family court system
Moosh in Indy with the healthcare of stereotypes
No Caption Needed with High Noon in Sadr City
The Expatriate’s Kitchen with World Refugee Day
Toddlywinks with The powerlessness of three
Tossing Pebbles in the Stream with To laugh or be outraged
Susanne with Corsets, coolness, caps, and cosmetic surgery
Suzanne Reisman on blogher with Banning the Pill Kills Women. Period. and “Third Genders” in Societies with Rigid Gender Roles
WhyMommy with Thank you, AmVets

The ones who read:

And, as always, there are Mad, and Jen the ones who started this. Please, check out what they have to say this month. And Jen will be going to BlogHer and talk about this here roundtable, how marvelous.

May 312008

There are a lot of reasons to eat organic food, one of the biggest being that it’s more environment friendly, especially if it is produced locally. My own personal reason for buying and eating organic food has mainly been taste, though. The minute I bit into my first organic apple, and tasted it I just couldn’t go back. I have had people say that it’s all in my mind but when my mother took an apple out of the fruit bowl in my kitchen, bit into it and exclaimed, “That’s good! What kind of apple is this?” she didn’t know that this was an organic apple.

So, my main reason for spending just a little bit more on groceries was mostly taste, and also the fact that I like my food better when I know that there is only food in it. I tend to forget about additives when I’m at home because I always buy the same things, and don’t have to check the labels anymore. I was reminded about all the stuff that gets added to regular food though when shopping in an unfamiliar grocery store two weeks ago. I was looking for ham and salami and such and had to put back most of what had looked appealing at first glance.

Last week I went and bought a little booklet about “E numbers”. E numbers are codes for food additives in the European Union. (And I just found out that these numbers are used all over the world these days, without the E.) So when I check a food’s label there might be “E 216” listed there. Since I never know what those numbers mean I tend to stay away from all of them. In fact there are some additives that are not that bad, or downright harmless, but most of them in my little booklet are deemed unhealthy in some way.

What does that have to do with organic food? Well, currently there are 316 additives food manufacturers are allowed to use in the EU. In 1993 there were “only” 265 allowed in Germany. Their number is getting bigger and bigger. In organic food there are only 47 food additives allowed. Interestingly, when I check labels in the health food store there is never something like “E 412” listed on the label. If it’s in there it’s called guar flour.

I’m really happy that nowadays additives have to be listed on the label. I remember a time when you just didn’t know what was in there. Still, with everything labeled it is hard to shop for people with food allergies. I have a friend who can’t have anything coming from an animal, no nuts, no sulfur, and no preservatives. She has to avoid everything that’s canned or comes in a glass.

All this is doable when you’re at home and preparing your own food, even if you end up just cooking plain vegetables most of the time but you run into trouble the minute you want something more complex than a banana, when you buy bread or buns, and none of the salespersons knows if the products contain milk, eggs, or butter, and eating out can become quite the adventure.

So, in buying and eating more organically produced food I try to minimize my intake of weird chemical stuff. Like many people I started thinking about this in a more detailed way when my son started eating real food. But then, having thought about it, I couldn’t just go on eating the regular junk anymore. And, as I mentioned before, most of it doesn’t taste good anyway.

What about you? Do you know what’s in your food?

Oct 272007

Finally, here are the interview questions that Flutter sent me. Despite my initial urge I decided not to write a 1,000 word answer to each one. Though I could have. So, thank you Flutter for these questions.

1) Music is an obviously important element of your life, talk about how it infuses itself in your daily life.

Well, first thing I teach piano, guitar and singing five days a week. That’s a big part of my life. And while I whine all the time about not practicing that doesn’t mean that I don’t make music. I’d like to come back to playing every day for me without putting pressure on myself…

This question and the next pretty much sum up the main themes in my life right now (apart from knitting). How much space is there in my life for music, how central do I want it to become, and how can I focus more on the joy of it.

2)You recently posted about enjoying the process of creation, in your mind’s eye, what would enjoying the process mean to you? How would it differ than your current process?

I always think that enjoying the process means enjoying every single second of it. Spending every moment of creation in flow. Of course that is a little unrealistic. After I wrote about not enjoying the process I found that really I hadn’t been enjoying much at all because I hadn’t been taking care of my most basic needs.
But then I still dream of a time when I’ll look forward to piano playing without having the feeling that I’d rather do something else instead. When I play I feel very good afterwards and sometimes while doing it.
It also feels a little pointless to make music just for myself. On the other hand playing in bands didn’t work for me at all, and I’m not eager to sing on stage again any time soon.

3) You seem very concerned with the environment. What is the single most important thing to consider when attempting to lessen one’s carbon footprint?

Um, not using planes I’d say. I read an article that a family of four uses more fuel by going on vacation to Spain once a year than by heating their house for the whole year. That doesn’t mean that I’ never ever use planes, I just think carefully about it and I’d never “hop on a plane” to go somewhere else in Germany. (The last time I flew was in 1999. We went to Brazil for two months.)
Otherwise it’s all baby steps around here. Sharing a car with my mother-in-law, using said car only about every other week, using our wood stove, recycling everything (which is very easy around here and you’re practically forced to do it), …

4) If you had 20 words to describe your essence, what would they be?

Um. I don’t know. Every time I attach any kind of label to myself it falls off immediately. I couldn’t even say if I were patient or not. I’m a woman of opposites. Strong forces pulling me in all directions at once. Stubborn for sure. I am both extravert and introvert. Talkative, definitely, though I learned to keep my mouth shut when I’m not interested in a conversation. Both lazy and industrious. I’m becoming nicer and kinder because I practice acting nicer and kinder not because I have changed in a fundamental way. Honest and naive in one way and manipulative in another.
I spent the first twenty years of my life with very firm convictions about who and how I am only to find out that they weren’t true. And then right now I am in the process of reinventing myself and thinking about how I want to spend the second half of my life and what kind of person I want to become and what kind of change is still possible.

5) You have a piece of canvas, some yarn, some paint, some glue, brushes, and an hour, what becomes of it?

Nothing much. I’m hopeless with paint and such. Yarn and needles? Fine. (I have been racking my brain about what I could finish knitting in an hour. Maybe a little doll’s hat.)

So, if anybody is interested in getting interviewed by me, just leave a comment.

Oct 142007

There is this interview-thing going around. I asked Liv and Flutter to send me questions and they both did. Very good questions. And it took me a long time to answer these, sorry. (And I’ll answer Flutter questions soon. I promise.) So, now you get the answers to Liv’s questions:

1) You knit, sew, sing, cook–and all extremely well. Where do you find the time to engage in these arts?

I had to laugh when I read this question for the first time because, well, it’s nice of you to appreciate my cooking when you have never tasted it… Also, to be frank, my dear husband is the one who cooks most days. His cooking is marvelous and very inspired so that even my very picky parents eat everything he makes. So, I like cooking but I don’t do it every day. Most days if I cook at all I make things like frozen pizza. (When I told my husband about this question and my reaction to it he said, “But you’re a good cook!”)

Finding time for knitting is very easy since I can do it while talking with people or watching TV. And since I have returned to a schedule of almost daily watching of “Angel” I have about an hour each day for that. And it’s a time when I am too tired to do anything else.

Sewing happens in bursts. I declare to my family that I want to make something and then vanish with the sewing machine for a day or two. Usually on weekends. Last week I made a bag for my son and he played with buttons and “helped” me.

Finding time for singing is harder for me but then I sing a lot when I teach. Especially with singing students but also when I teach guitar because I then sing along with the songs. And I try to sit down almost every day and play a song or two. Playing the piano or guitar for me is inextricably linked to singing.

2) Mommy guilt is clearly on your mind. How viscerally do you feel this? Do you think that talking about our perceived inadequacies as mothers is somehow a disclaimer if our kids don’t turn out “right”?

I still want to write a follow-up post on that mommy guilt one in which I’ll try to explain that I don’t suffer from guilt very much. To me it is a collective phenomenon. I have never thought about it like a disclaimer. That would explain a lot. I do strive to become a better human being and that includes becoming a better mother. I don’t believe that I’m the sole source of my son’s happiness or well-being but of course I have a great influence on his life. I’m constantly trying to balance his needs and mine and when there are conflicts and problems I try to find a way that works for all of us.

On second thought I don’t think that “talking about our perceived inadequacies as mothers” works like a disclaimer. There are two sides to this: we as women and as mothers have been taught that we are never enough, never good enough. We feel that we have to do everything perfect and right. Since we can’t, we feel bad. The second one is that as bloggers we use this forum to talk about the sides of motherhood that we deem inadequate for polite everyday conversation. I don’t remember where I read it but a blogger wrote that she once talked to another mother in her playgroup about some aspect of motherhood that was not about nice and happy and she was met with a very blank look and treated as a pariah afterwards. A lot of mommybloggers use their blogs to write about the dark side of motherhood. And that’s a good thing.

3) I really loved your post about “pink shoes”. As the mother of a five year old boy who was recently found applying Disney princess lip gloss and proclaiming his lips to be “sparkly,” I have to ask: Is there, in your opinion, a line that we should draw as to the beautifying/fashion habits of our boys?

In fact I wrote three posts on pink shoes… Here’s the first, the second, and the third. I don’t think that there is a line that we should draw with our boys but since they are so young and only start to learn how things work it is a good thing to caution them. I won’t let him wear something to school that would make other children make fun of him without talking about it to him first. Also there are different kinds of embellishment. Sparkly lip gloss doesn’t show much and can be wiped off is the wearer decides to be manly again. Nail polish is something else. I wouldn’t buy my son a skirt but I’ll happily improvise something for role-playing.

I don’t mind if boys and men wear skirts, high heels, make-up, or nail-polish. It’s only fashion after all. For a while earrings are considered very manly and then fashion changes and they are feminine again. It’s just that I would do my son a disservice not telling him that people might find it odd if he wears something unusual.

4) You recently mentioned pulling a card from one of your oracle decks. How often do you do this? How much do you rely on the wisdom you are given? How great do you believe the accuracy to be?

I do this almost daily. They are often astoundingly accurate, sometimes in ways that I couldn’t imagine when I looked at it in the morning. On the other hand there is not one card in those decks that doesn’t give good advice… Since these cards all have a phrase written on them I find them easier to understand than tarot cards which I use too.

How much I rely on them … that’s hard to say. They are just a tool that I use to tune into my intuition. They are very positive.

5) How is the wiping with cloth thing going? My chief concern was that the hot water/detergent, etc… would create an environmental impact roughly equal to using paper. Please give us an update.

It’s going well. We continue using it. Sometimes we forget to wash the wipes in time and then we use toilet paper instead. It’s all very easy-going. The hot water and detergent doesn’t make an impact. All the wipes that we own together are only a fraction of a load of laundry. So we just stuff some wipes into a mesh bag and wash them with whatever laundry we have going on at that time. (We’re only using them for pee so they are not that dirty.)

On my post about the cloth wipes somebody mentioned cloth diapers and the environmental impact of washing them. All I can say is that if they are used for more than one child the energy and such used to produce them plus the washing makes less of an impact than even the most eco-friendly conventional diaper. Since my cloth diapers were used by another child before, and the cloth for my cloth wipes is thirty years old and has been used as a blanket for two babies already, all is well. Also we don’t soak them and don’t use a dryer.

But I do find it interesting that people who never think twice about using copious amounts of paper products and throw them away suddenly get very concerned about the environmental impact of my washing machine when I mention something like cloth wipes or diapers. (No offense, Liv, I encounter this kind of reaction very frequently. Another example would be people who don’t think about where their produce comes from twice being very concerned about my organic vegetables. “Are they really organic?” “And what if they are as polluted as everything else?” All I can say is that at least I’m trying to encourage a different kind of agriculture even if it doesn’t work perfectly all the time.)

For me it isn’t only about the counting with these things. Somehow a glass bottle that’s brought back to the juice company and then washed and used again feels better than a tetra-pak even when it’s recycled. Even if I’m told that the former is not as environmental-conscious as the latter. Somehow I doubt if we are able to count everything in…

If anybody wants five questions to answer, ask me in the comments. I’ll try my best. As all things these days it may take a bit of time though.

Sep 192007

Yet another challenge thing. You might have wondered what that new banner in my sidebar is about. (Or you are like me, read all blogs through a feed reader if possible and never notice when somebody is changing something on the sidebar.) Never mind, here it is:

Don't forget to wipe!

Crunchy Chicken who has a fabulous blog about environment friendly living is forever challenging us. First there was the “Diva Cup Challenge” that gave me the nudge needed to purchase a mooncup (and I’m still very happy with it), and now the cloth wipe challenge. I’m going the easy way though. I’m only using it for #1. You know, I was really happy when cloth diaper times were over and I could get rid of the stinky bucket, so I’ll just reduce toilet paper by a certain amount, not completely.

Of course, being me, I started the first day of the challenge swearing because I hadn’t any cloth wipes yet. Though I had set aside two old baby blankets (“Moltontücher“, don’t know how to say that in English) for that purpose. Those blankets are more than thirty years old. My aunt used them when her son was a baby and gave them to me when I was pregnant. I have used them a lot when my son was young. (I also tried to swaddle him with them. Very funny. I only tried once…)

So on Sunday I got my new roto-cutter and cutting board out and cut the two blankets into wipes. I then swore some more because I don’t have the stinky bucket any more. Where to put the soiled wipes then? I now use an old wet wipe-container in one bathroom and a mesh bag on the paper holder for the second one. I won’t be putting cloth wipes in the students’ bathroom though.

I’m very glad that both my husband and son are with me on this. There are only two things to remember when using cloth wipes: a) don’t forget that you’re using cloth and let the wipe fall into your toilet, and b) every time you do a load of laundry put dirty wipes in.

So far I’m loving the cloth wipes. I can’t say if it were better to hem them because we’ve only been washing some of them once.

I always thought that in order to live green I would have to do everything right all the time but now I think that I’ll do it one step at a time. Do what’s possible, leave the rest, use the car less but still use it sometimes, bring my own grocery bag most of the time but not beat myself up if I forgot.

Next step for me will be to find handkerchiefs that are soft enough for my sensitive nose…