July 28, 2014

Recipe: Strawberry Basil Jam

Recipe: Strawberry Basil Jam
Nothing says summer like fresh strawberries!  When my mom suggested we make jam together while I was visiting her a few weeks ago, it was no surprise we both wanted to make a sweet strawberry jam.  When she mentioned she had basil growing in her garden, we decided to try a strawberry and basil combination that turned out to be amazing.  The addition of lime zest made this the perfect summer jam- sweet, fresh and with a surprising earthy note from the basil.  I'm eating this jam on everything.  It's great on bread with crumbles of feta on top, or even stirred into Greek yogurt.  I even spooned some over warm sponge cake and topped it with ice cream for a new spin on the classic strawberry shortcake!  Use your imagination.  This is a really versatile jam.
Recipe: Strawberry Basil Jam
This was my first time making jam or doing canning of any kind.  Since I am obviously not an experienced canner, I am not going to go into details of the water bath method that we used to make this jam.  If you already can, you know the specifics.  If not, you can check out the Ball website or something similar and get the run down from the experts.  I was happy to have my mom walk me through the process.  It wasn't as complicated as I imagined!
Recipe: Strawberry Basil Jam
Strawberry Basil Jam:
Makes 9 Half Pint Jars of Jam
- 3 Quarts of Strawberries (about 12 cups) washed, sliced and with the stems removed
- 6 cups of sugar
- Juice and zest from 2 limes
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
Recipe: Strawberry Basil Jam
Recipe: Strawberry Basil Jam

Recipe: Strawberry Basil Jam

Directions:
** Use the water bath canning method for jar sterilization and preserving the jam**
- Add strawberries, sugar, lime juice and zest into a large pot.
- Bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.
- Cook, stirring often, until the mixture reaches 220 degrees F.
- Add the basil to the mixture and let cook for an additional 5 minutes.
- Once the jam has reached the desired consistency, remove from heat and skim off foam.
- Fill jars, leaving 1/4 inch of headroom.
- Clean rims and close the lids on the jars.
- Place in boiling water bath for 10 minutes to seal.
- Remove from water and allow to cool for 12 hours without moving.
- Tighten lids and store for up to a year.

Enjoy!
Recipe: Strawberry Basil Jam
Recipe: Strawberry Basil Jam

July 22, 2014

Local Love: Exploring Payson, Arizona

Exploring Payson, Arizona
Do you remember going back to school each year and eagerly asking your friends about their summer break?  Some teachers even asked you to write about your holiday and share it with the class.  Well, consider this my "how I spent my summer vacation" post.  Payson is about two hours northeast of Phoenix, making it a great destination for locals looking for a quick escape from the summer heat while exploring Arizona's Rim Country.  Payson also happens to be where my mom lives, so it was an easy decision to spend a weekend with her and check out the sites. 
Exploring Payson, Arizona
Exploring Payson, Arizona
Exploring Payson, Arizona
We started our adventure with a stop at Kohl's Ranch, an area made famous by Zane Grey, the writer of dozens of Western novels.  I popped into Kohl's Ranch Lodge to see a collection of these books and the lovely Zane Grey Saloon.  This was a quick but nostalgic stop, reminding me of my grandfather.  He was an avid Grey reader and also loved to explore the areas in Arizona referred to as "Zane Grey Country".   Mom and I then continued our drive up to the Mogollon Rim, an escrapment lying 4,000 to 5,000 feet above sea level.  From here, we enjoyed beautiful views out over the ponderosa pine trees.  The Rim features in many of Grey's novels, as well as one by the other great Western writer Louis L'Amour.  It goes without saying that Emmie loved her trip to the Rim!
Exploring Payson, Arizona
Exploring Payson, Arizona
Exploring Payson, Arizona
The next day, we headed to Tonto Natural Bridge State Park to see the world's largest known natural travertine bridge formation.  In a valley between Payson and Pine, the bridge stands at over 180 feet high, is 150 feet wide, and the tunnel measures in at 400 feet long.  The valley was discovered by a prospector being chased by Apaches.  He hid in a cave inside the bride for three days, then claimed squatter's rights and settled the area.  He even convinced his family from Scotland to make the long journey out to join him here!  Mom and I packed a picnic and set out to see the bridge from the four viewpoints above the formation.  As often happens when you set out on an adventure, things didn't go quite as planned.  With the intention of walking out to Viewpoint 3 to take some photos, I went down the Gowan Trail and ended up at the bottom of the valley!  I won't name names, but someone had accidentally sent me down the wrong path.  But, in the spirit of adventuring, it turned out to be the right path, because I was able to see the bridge up close in all it's natural beauty.   I spent some time alone, thinking about life and God's creation, when it dawned on me.  Now I had to hike out of the valley.  In jeans.  And Converse.  With no water.  That's when it started to pour.  Well, I must have made it out alive if I am sitting here writing this account, right?  I did huff and puff my way up that trail, desperately trying to keep my camera dry under a scarf while not tumbling off that so-called trail.  SO there you have it: my weekend adventure, my summer vacation.  There were also fun times with my mom, lots of squirrels, elk, javelinas and a bat, as well as some of the prettiest sunsets you can imagine.  Did I mention that it was over 30 degrees cooler there than in Phoenix?  I can't wait to visit again!  Road trip, anyone?
Exploring Payson, Arizona
Exploring Payson, Arizona

June 26, 2014

Perfect 4th of July Appetizer Recipe: Potato Salad Bites

Perfect 4th of July Appetizer Recipe: Potato Salad Bites

Looking for the perfect 4th of July party pleaser?  Last year I hosted a Summer Tea Party and served these darling and delicious Potato Salad Bites.  The recipe is my most popular pin on Pinterest and I thought it worth resharing.  These savory bites are bursting with the flavors of cheese, bacon and potato.  Yummy, right?!  Whether you are hosting the holiday party or just need something wow-worthy to take to the picnic, these potato bites will be a winner with everyone! 


Potato Salad Appetizer Bites:
2 dozen red potatoes
1 tbsp olive oil
1 ½ cups sour cream
1 ½ cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup bacon, cooked and crumbled with some reserved for garnish
Diced green onions for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Cut potatoes lengthwise and brush each side with olive oil.  Place face down on a baking sheet and cook 20-25 minutes until the skins are crisp.  Let cool.

Once your potato halves are cool, scoop out most of the center and place in a bowl.  Add your sour cream, cheddar cheese and bacon to the potato and mix.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Top each potato skin with some of the mixture.  Garnish with the extra bacon and green onions. 

These potato bites are great made in advance and served chilled.  Get creative and swap out the cheddar cheese with your favorite kind.  Just like a baked potato, you can garnish these little cuties any way you please.  Now, you just need to hang the flag, buy some sparklers and enjoy! 

Perfect 4th of July Appetizer Recipe: Potato Salad Bites

June 24, 2014

Travel Tuesday: Palais Garnier, Paris

Travel Tuesday: Palais Garnier, Paris

A few weeks ago, I reviewed Tatiana de Rosnay's book The House I Loved, the story of a woman devastated by the threat of relocation for the modernization of Paris by Napoleon III and Baron Haussmann. Since then, I have thought of the story often.  Paris is a beautiful city, and one that I love, but it is the 'new' city we now know.  Looking back through photographs, I realized that we owe Haussmann for the lovely Opéra de Paris, which was built under his direction and completed in 1875.  I thought I'd share some more photos of this breathtaking building while Rosnay's story is still lingering in my mind.  

Travel Tuesday: Palais Garnier, Paris
The Opéra de Paris, also commonly known as the Palais Garnier, is home to the Pairs Opera.  Today, opera performances are actually held in the newer Opéra Bastille while ballet performances are held in the Palais Garnier.  The building also houses the Paris Opera Library Museum.  It is built in the Beaux-Arts style, which can be seen in the symmetry of the floor plan and its exterior ornamentation.  Its main features are the Grand Staircase, Grand Foyer which opens into the Salon de la Lune and the Salon du Soleil, and the horseshoe shaped Auditorium famous for its ceiling painted by Chagall.  The interior is very ornate and gilded.  It is also very dark so that the the beautiful sconces and chandeliers can be seen in their full glory.  
Travel Tuesday: Palais Garnier, Paris

Travel Tuesday: Palais Garnier, Paris

Travel Tuesday: Palais Garnier, Paris

If you are familiar with the extravagant decor of Versailles, then you have an idea of how overwhelmingly beautiful and gaudy the Palais Garnier can be.  Photos just don't do the space justice!  Every inch is covered in gilded carvings, fine statues, elegant drapes and such exquisite chandeliers.  I love the one above of the woman with lights on her head.  Isn't she almost Steampunk,with her robotic looking arms?!

Travel Tuesday: Palais Garnier, Paris
The building may be most famously known for having inspired Gaston Leroux's 1910 novel The Phantom of the Opera.  Today, we think of the musical production by Andrew Lloyd Webber, but this was truly the story of the Palais Garnier and it's spectacular 7-ton bronze chandelier which hangs in the Auditorium.  On May 20, 1896, a counterbalance on the chandelier broke free and burst through the ceiling and into the theater and killed a member of the audience.  Leroux was so captivated by the true-life events, that he wrote his interpretation of the scene into his dramatic love story.  When I visited the Palais Garnier, the Auditorium was closed to the public for a rehearsal.  I was sad to miss seeing Chagall's ceiling and the celebrated chandelier, but loved seeing the rest of this over-the-top building that is so steeped in the history and culture of Paris.  I can't help but think of the fictional Madame Rose and the other real-life people that had to watch their homes be demolished to make room for Haussmann's vision for a new Paris.  But, oh, what a lovely city their sacrifice left for us all to enjoy!
Travel Tuesday: Palais Garnier, Paris
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