Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The "Food in Jars Mastery Challenge" - May: Cold Pack Canning

Well, it is finally (sort of) spring around here, and in my "no air conditioning because I live in an 1880 Victorian home and it's only hot enough to need it a few months out of the year in Minnesota and it's not worth the expense of installing it" world, that means these past few months of canning when it's cold outside and enjoying the heat from the stove is about over.  However, lucky for me (I guess), it has been unusually cold this past week even though it's May, and I decided this past weekend was a good time to cross the May "Cold Pack Canning" challenge off my list.

Speaking of canning in the cooler months, before I start talking about the May challenge, I want to do a quick recap of what I've done so far this year:

January - For the January 'Marmalade' challenge, I stayed traditional and made orange marmalade! Not only was this the first time I made marmalade, this also is the month I discovered Pomona's Pectin, which has been awesome because this pectin rocks for those of us who are low-sugar gals (and guys.) Since I made the marmalade, we have enjoyed it on toast and bagels and hope to try it soon on some chicken.  I currently have four lonely, tired oranges in my fridge and am trying to resist the temptation to make some more marmalade.

This is Bill. He's mentioned later.
February - For the February 'Salt Preserving' challenge, I went all out and made gravalax/lox, preserved key limes, preserved Meyer lemons, and preserved egg yolks.  Let me be clear: we loved ALL of this stuff.  We ate the salmon right away and didn't share with the dogs.  The egg yolks are delicious grated over salad and I would do this again!  The lemons and limes are my favorite from this month. We have had a couple (or a few) margaritas with the limes and some awesome guacamole, and also a few cocktails with the lemons in addition to a delicious meal of chicken piccata. When these are gone, we will be making more.  (Shout out to Lemon Ladies Orchard for the amazing Meyer lemons, too.)

March - In March, we had a dual challenge of 'Shrubs and Jellies.'  I had never heard of a shrub and had to Google it before the challenge.  I ended up making raspberry/rhubarb shrub and while it seems to have some detoxifying qualities, I really can't say I love the it. I actually don't really like it at all.  Maybe I'm not mixing it right or maybe it's an acquired taste, but almost all of what I made is sitting in the back part of the bottom shelf of our fridge.  We did however mix it with some BBQ sauce and basted on some smoked chicken, so I suppose that is how we will use it.  For the other part of this challenge, I made confetti pepper jelly (again with less sugar thanks to Pomona's Pectin)  and for the first few weeks after it was done, I ate it on everything.  Now that I'm typing this, I am reminded that I need to open a new jar.  My favorite use of this was as the spicy sauce part of a Cuban sandwich.  This, we will be making again.

April - In April, the challenge was 'Quick Pickles.'  I made a medley of peppers, onion, radishes and carrots and we ate almost all of it within two weeks.  I like the idea of throwing some random leftover veggies from the fridge in some vinegar brine and having 'pickles' that are pretty darn good. We hate throwing food away, so I will be using the 'quick pickle' idea more this summer when we tend to end up with more vegetables from the garden than we can eat but not quite enough of anything to can.  Also in April I tried a small jar of pickled ginger. This was a no.  I don't even like pickled ginger from actual good restaurants that serve it, but my husband does ... and he didn't think this was very good.  The good news was that it was made with ginger that was on its last leg in the fridge anyway, so tossing it out wasn't a big disappointment.

This now brings us to May!  The May challenge is "Cold Pack Canning." This is something that I normally do quite a bit of in a regular season.  We make dill pickles, halved pears, halved peaches - all cold packed and hot water bathed.  We make green beans, potatoes, beets - all cold packed and pressure canned.  Since nothing is in season from our garden yet, nor is any fruit in season yet in Minnesota, I wanted to do something small because I didn't want to just skip a month in the challenge.  So - I went to Marisa's website in search of an idea, and there it was - Spicy Pickled Green Beans.  These are something that neither my husband or I have ever tried, and I've wanted to try them every summer since I started canning a few years ago.  However, when you have 10-15 pounds green beans sitting in front of you on the counter from the garden and you don't know if you even like them, you end up just pressure canning them regular to eat (because if you didn't know, there is absolutely nothing better than fresh garden beans that have been pressure canned. We could eat them cold out of the jar.)

Anyway - this was a great opportunity for me to go to the store, buy a small amount of green beans, and give this Spicy Pickled Green Beans business a shot!

I love this vegetable strainer. 
The only green beans that our store had were in a 12-ounce package and they were the long, skinny French green beans like what you put on vegetable trays.  They were perfect.  I had two of those annoying pint-and-a-half jars in my stash that are bigger than pints but smaller than quarts, and I decided they would work well for this. So, I made two of those and one pint (to equal the 4 pints in Marisa's recipe.)  I bought two of the 12-ounce bags, so I was 1/2 pound short of the two pounds, but they were already all trimmed and ready to go, so all I had to do was rinse them off.

Seriously. Hot. Pepper Flakes.
I followed Marisa's recipe almost exactly, except I used half apple cider vinegar and half white vinegar. We always do this in our canning, we think white vinegar is too strong and apple cider vinegar is too sweet.  For us, the combination is perfect - and the two types of vinegar are the same acidity level so it doesn't make a difference recipe-wise.  The only other things I did differently are: 1) I apparently am out of pickling salt so I used kosher salt, and 2) our red chili flakes are some I dehydrated and ground from some seriously hot garden peppers last year. I mean it. Seriously. Hot.

And please people, make sure your garlic isn't grown in China.  No offense to China intended, but please Google it if you aren't sure why. We buy ours from a local Minnesota gal who does organic gardening, and I don't buy it from anywhere else.  I buy a bunch from her in the summer and toss the whole bulbs in the freezer, and we have delicious garlic all year.  She also makes amazing homemade soap, among other things. Check her out on Facebook if you'd like, she's Gramma's Kitchen and Farmer's Market.

Before their hot bath.
Once I had the spices in the jars, I packed the green beans in the jars pretty tight and still had a few leftover to feed my "there isn't a vegetable I won't eat" puppy Bill, so it was the perfect amount (even though I was 1/2 pound short from the recipe.)

Once I finally got enough boiling water in my water bath canner (which took 3 tries because I am NOT used to canning only three jars of something, and less jars = more water needed), they processed for 15 minutes (because of the larger pint-and-a-half jars I used) and they were done.

After they cooled, I put one jar in the fridge and we tried them today (three days after canning.)  I was planning to share with my grandparents because they appreciate and enjoy the stuff I can AND give my jars back to me - but I forgot to leave the hot pepper flakes out of one jar.

Did I mention they are HOT?  With the next batch I make, I will remember to leave some without the hot pepper so I can share.  In the meantime, we are going to eat and enjoy these!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The "Food in Jars Mastery Challenge" - April: Quick Pickles

The April challenge in the 2017 Food in Jars Mastery Challenge was for Quick Pickles. To be honest, I had a bit of trouble getting interested in this one.  I like pickles just as much as the next gal, but have several kinds of pickles and pickled peppers already in my refrigerator and pantry.  Also, I was wanting to do something different, something 'challenging,' something I hadn't done before.

A couple summers ago, I ran across this recipe for Taco Pickles (recipe is at the bottom of page at that link.)  I thought they sounded good and made them and we ate them with shredded pork tacos and some other things.

I thought about making them again for the April challenge, but in the spirit of 'something different,' I instead used this recipe for Quick Pickled Vegetables. Using it as a guide, I used 4 cups of diced vegetables, 1 cup apple cider vinegar, 1 cup white vinegar, 3 teaspoons sugar and 3 teaspoons salt.  In most things that my husband and I pickle, we use a combination of apple cider vinegar and white vinegar because we like the flavor combination.  Using all apple cider vinegar makes it too sweet, all white vinegar too bitter. Just our opinion and preference!

For the vegetables, I used carrots, radishes, sweet peppers, jalapenos, red onion, and garlic cloves (not pictured because I almost forgot them, they were added after photos were taken.)

Next time, I think I will add some cucumber too. Problem being the more vegetable types you add, the harder it is to make a small enough amount to fit in one jar, which was my goal here.

When I had all of the vegetables ready to go, I put them in the jar (this is about a quart or so, I believe it's a 1.3-liter jar.  It was the second one I had to sterilize, because the first one I had out to use was smaller and was not large enough.)  Once this larger jar was ready, everything I had diced fit into it except about 10 pieces of carrots.  My brittany spaniel Bill was happy to have an afternoon snack - the dogs don't usually get their carrots cut all fancy.  Once the vegetables were in the jar, I poured the warm vinegar/salt/sugar mixture over them to an inch or so within the top.

This happened on Saturday and then, these beauties sat in the fridge for a day before we tried them.  We had a bit of a smoked meat extravaganza on Sunday to get some food ready to go for the week that included pork shoulder, chicken and brats - and I am happy to report that these quick 'pickles' are awesome with all of these things.  It's now Tuesday and the jar is almost half gone.

As I was looking at "Quick Pickle" recipes to decide what to make for the April challenge, I also found a recipe for pickled ginger.  I had a chunk of ginger root in the fridge that was getting pretty tired, so I decided to give this a try too.

I peeled the ginger root and then sliced it as thin as I could without cutting off my finger. Then, I put it in a bowl, sprinkled about 1/2 teaspoon sea salt on it and let it sit for about an hour.

Once it was done relaxing in the salt, I put it into a 4-ounce (sterilized) jelly jar. I topped it off with a liquid mixture of 1/2 cup of hot rice vinegar and 1/8 cup sugar (dissolved.) Then, I put it in the fridge.  We haven't tried any of it yet, and the recipe says it stays good in the fridge for up to one week.  Guess we better try some soon!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The "Food in Jars Mastery Challenge" - March: Shrubs and Jellies

Well, the March edition of the "Food in Jars" 2017 challenge is due today, so here we go!

The category for March was Jellies and Shrubs.  I've attempted to make plenty of jelly in the past, but always had trouble with it setting properly.  Family members of mine have received many jars of "syrup" that I hope was enjoyed over pancakes and ice cream.  Last fall, I learned from my wise mother-in-law that I was not letting my jam and jelly come to a full enough boil for long enough, so I was (finally) able to make some successful jam.

Then in January, as I was preparing for the marmalade challenge, some of my wise new friends in the "Food in Jars" group on Facebook told me about Pomona's Pectin and I am in love. I have always hated how much sugar goes into traditional jam and jelly recipes, and try to cut it down and in the past had used the Ball low sugar pectin.  And while it works fine after you learn that a "boil that doesn't stir out" means a really hot full boil that really actually doesn't stir out - I am now a Pomona's Pectin die hard. This stuff rocks.  My marmalade from January was amazing (if I can so modestly say), and in February I made some raspberry jam with some freezer raspberries we couldn't keep up with from our bushes last summer - also amazing (compared to the raspberry syrup I made during a prior attempt.)  It's so nice to be able to make things with less sugar and actually taste the fruit, while having it still be jel-ly as it should be.

This brings me to part #1 of 2 of the March challenge - the jelly. Since last summer, I'd been wanting to make some jalapeno jelly. One of my aunts had told me about her friend's jalapeno jelly and how they eat it on crackers with cream cheese and it's delicious.  Since we can quite a bit in the summer of the necessities like green beans, pickles, spaghetti sauce, salsa and more - and don't have air conditioning - the jalapeno jelly was dropped off my priority list.  Until the March challenge, that is!

For my March jelly project, I chose to make Pomona's Pectin recipe for "Jalapeno-Confetti Jelly."  I purchased the Kindle version of the Pomona's cookbook and I can't find the recipe on the Pomona's website, so I'm not sure if I should share it here. Basically it's a combination of sweet bell and jalapeno peppers, red wine vinegar, lime juice, sugar, tequila and Pomona's pectin.

While the peppers were cooking with the other ingredients, I made myself a margarita with some of my salt-preserved key limes from the February challenge.
It was dee-licous.

The jelly set really well, and since it was made in the middle of March I have used it as sauce on some Cuban pork sandwiches, a dipping sauce for some egg rolls, and just this week a dipping sauce for some pan-seared goose breast steaks that my husband made for us.  This stuff rocks, I could eat it on just about anything.

For part #2 of the challenge ... the shrubs. In February when I was first reading about the March challenge, I had to Google 'shrubs' because I didn't know what they were. They are otherwise called 'drinking vinegar,' and basically a 'sharp, tangy infusion of fruit, vinegar and sugar.' I wasn't too sure about it, but in the spirit of this challenge I decided to make something with raspberries (because even though I made jam in February, we still have a bunch more raspberries in our freezer from last summer.)  I also read about using champagne vinegar, which sounded good to me. What I ended up finding out is that champagne vinegar is not only hard to find, but expensive.  So, I settled on using a white prosecco vinegar I found on Jet.com, and some raspberries and rhubarb from the freezer.

I used Marisa's recipe for Black Raspberry Shrub as a guide.  I mixed about 5 cups of fruit with 4 cups of sugar, and mashed it all together and let it sit in the fridge for 3-4 days.  Then, I took it and put it through my grandma's applesauce masher thing.  I don't really know what it is called, but I know I used it with her when I was a little girl and we made applesauce.

I strained it all through here (see left), and unfortunately most of the raspberry seeds snuck through the holes. So, then I got out this small mesh strainer and strained it all through again (see below right.)

When this was done, I put the juice in a half-gallon mason jar, and added 3 cups of the prosecco white wine vinegar and about 1/2 cup of regular white wine vinegar and shook it all up.  I haven't actually had a drink yet with sparkling water and ice (and possibly vodka?) - but I tasted some with a spoon and am so pleasantly surprised at how good this tastes.

I will be honest, as I had my liquid gold mixture of strained raspberry/rhubarb/sugar juice, it was very hard for me to mix it with vinegar.  All I could think was that I was taking perfectly delicious fruit juice and mixing it with vinegar - and then I'm supposed to drink it?  But, there must be something about the combination ... because yum.  I think I will let it hang out fruit juice + vinegar for a couple days and mellow a bit, and then I will give it a real try.

Bonus to this challenge? I couldn't for the life of me find my half-gallon mason jar, so I ended up in the attic of my garage sorting through and organizing all of my empty mason jars and wine bottles.  Not only did I find a jar to use for my shrub, but all of my jars are now organized and ready for the upcoming canning season!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The "Food in Jars Mastery Challenge" - February: Salt Preserving

For the February challenge in the "Food in Jars Mastery Challenge," the category was salt preserving.  While I do quite a bit of canning (water bath and pressure), as well as freezer preserving, the salt preserving was a new one for me.  Smoked salmon is a favorite of mine, and I was familiar with the concept of salt preserving salmon (gravalax/lox) - but had never tried it.

As people started posting on the Facebook group for the challenge throughout February, I learned that you can salt preserve lemons and limes to be used in sauces, marinades etc.  And margaritas! I also learned that you can salt preserve egg yolks and my first thought was, "Why the heck would you preserve egg yolks, you can buy eggs anytime and they aren't expensive!" But, after some research, I learned that salt preserved egg yolks, once salt cured and dried, have the texture of aged cheese and can be grated on top of pastas and other dishes to add rich and unique flavor.

Anyway, in the beginning of February when the challenge was brand new, I was honestly considering skipping this month.  But, as the month went on and I learned more about these things, I ended up trying them all!  So, with this post, I bring you the results of my salt preserved Alaskan Keta Salmon, Lemon Ladies Orchard meyer lemons, key limes and farm-raised brown egg yolks.

I started everything on Monday night, and made myself notes of when each thing needed to be removed from salt, finished, etc. As I write this, it is the following Sunday night and everything is done except for my limes (which are doing well on the counter yet.)

Gravalax / Lox
For this challenge, I researched several recipes and ended up doing kind of a combination between this recipe from SeriousEats.com and this one from TheKitchn.com.  I didn't have any fresh dill and didn't really want it to be that dill-y anyway, so to the cure mixture of the sugar, salt etc. I added 1 Tbsp. or so of some salmon seasoning I had in the cupboard, which is basically a mix of dill, pepper, lemon and garlic I think.  For the smoked salt portion of the mixture, I used smoked alderwood salt.  I left the skin on both pieces of my salmon, I actually wanted to take it off but had trouble so just left it on.  

I coated both pieces of salmon top and bottom with the cure mixture, folded them together skin side out and wrapped in plastic wrap inside a glass bowl, with another glass bowl on top to weight it down a bit. 

I left it in the fridge for 5 days, though the recipe said it could come out after 2-3 days.  There was quite a bit of liquid in the bottom of the dish when I took it out after 5 days, so I think next time I would check it more often and drain that off - but it didn't seem to hurt it any the way it was.

It was saltier than we wanted it, so after we sliced it all up, we soaked it in a bowl of water for 20 minutes, and then drained it off and laid it out on paper towels to get rid of excess moisture.

Then, we put some of it on a toasted everything bagel with cream cheese, sliced red onions, and lettuce and ate it. Yum!

Meyer Lemons 
For the salt preserved lemons, I used this recipe from the Food in Jars website.  I ordered
some lemons from the Lemon Ladies Orchard, who not only sent me a personal message thanking me for my order, but wrapped the amazing lemons carefully and shipped them quickly.  The recipe said to quarter them but not slice all the way through, so basically you would still kind of have whole lemons to put in the jar - but that didn't work for me. These lemons were so soft, cutting them that way did not work - so I just quartered them.  They sat 6 days on counter, the recipe said 4 days but I kind of lost track of time. Anyway - every day, once a day I took my weights out of the top of the jar and shook it up to distribute the salt around, and then put the lid back on.  Somewhere I read they should be in a cool dark place, so I kept the lemons and limes in a square dish and covered with a towel.  The rest of the recipe says to keep them for 3 weeks in the refrigerator before using, and then they will keep at least 6 months  I am excited to try them out in some meals, sauces and marinades. They smell really good! 

The below picture is what they looked like when I took them off the counter and put them in the refrigerator.  I've been careful to keep the lemons down under the juice, I did have them weighted down to keep the lemons under the juice until I put them in the refrigerator.

Key Limes 
For the salt preserved key limes, I used this recipe from the Food in Jars websiteThese guys have been hanging out with the lemons on the counter until today, and I've also been shaking them each day to get the salt distributed.  The key limes didn't have a lot of extra juice in them, so I did add some regular lime juice into the jar in the beginning of the process. If I had key lime juice I would have used that instead.

The below picture is what my limes looked like after being on the counter for 6 days.  The recipe says they will sit on the counter for less than a month - so longer than the lemons that went into the refrigerator today.  I have a note that these need to go in the refrigerator with their lemon friends around March 10-15, and I will keep shaking them once a day until then.  I'm not sure what I will use the limes for, though I am envisioning guacamole and margaritas being awfully tasty with them!

Egg Yolks 
For the egg yolks, I used this recipe for duck eggs from the Food in Jars website, though I used farm-raised brown chicken eggs.  Instead of a muffin pan, I used these glass ramekins and put some of the cure on the bottom of each, one egg yolk in each and then covered with the cure mixture. I then covered the whole thing with plastic wrap, and the lid that goes on this pan.

After 6 days in the refrigerator, they looked like this:

I rinsed them all off gently, and put them in the dehydrator for 2-3 hours. From here, the recipe says they can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a month.  We will be trying them soon grated over some pasta!

I had fun with the February challenge. Coming up in March is jelly and/or shrubs (which from the light research I've done so far, is fruit-infused vinegar.)  I'm thinking I will make low-sugar jalapeno jelly and maybe some raspberry vinegar?  Stay tuned...

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The "Food in Jars Mastery Challenge" - January: Marmalade

A couple of weeks ago, I pledged to join the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge, offered by the Marisa McClellan, author of some awesome canning cookbooks including one I own titled, "Food in Jars." In her challenge, there is a category for each month of 2017 and participants make that item by using the recipe of their choice in that category. I do a lot of canning anyway, but there were a few categories that I haven't yet experimented with, so I joined the challenge.

To start 2017, the January category was for marmalade. I have made jams and jellies, but to be honest I have ended up with more "syrups" than jams and jellies.  I recently discovered that I was reading the pectin instructions to literally where it says to not get the pectin too hot, so instead I was not ever getting the pectin hot ENOUGH.  Since I discovered that yes you can get the pectin too hot - but you can also get it not hot enough - I have had a couple of successful batches that actually turned out like jam. Anyway - I had not ever made marmalade and was excited for this month's challenge.

A couple of weeks ago, I asked on the Facebook group if anyone had any tips for making a low-sugar version of marmalade.  All of the recipes I had seen had anywhere between 4-6 cups of sugar for a pretty small batch, which just seemed like SO MUCH sugar to me.  Usually when I can fruit, I opt for reduced or low sugar recipes - after all, you are trying to eat fruit, not sugar.  We also are not fans of artificial sweetener in our house, so just trying to reduce the regular sugar in recipes works best for us. In the replies I received, there were some helpful co-participants insisting that I must use Pomona's Pectin for my low-sugar recipe. I found it on Amazon and placed my order. I also found a Kindle-version of the "Preserving with Pomona's Pectin" cookbook and purchased it as well.

Today was the day to give this a try! I had some somewhat tired cutie tangerines in my fridge, and bought 3 navel oranges at the grocery store.  I followed the "Simple Classic: Orange Marmalade" recipe from the "Preserving with Pomona's Pectin" book, which basically had 6 cups of fruit/water to 2.5 cups of sugar (and the other stuff like lemon juice and pectin.)  While it's still sugar, this is a much healthier ratio for this low-sugar girl!

First, I washed the oranges and tangerines well with some hot water and vinegar.  I would rather use organic ones since the rind is used, but I didn't have those available to me so I just washed them well. Then, I cut all of the white pith off the orange and tangerine flesh and scraped it off the rinds.  I sliced the rinds from about half of the oranges and tangerines into small strips, and everything went into the stainless steel pot to come to a boil and then simmer (covered) for 20 minutes.

After it was done simmering for 20 minutes, I measured it to make sure it was 6 cups.  At this point it measured in at only 5 cups, so I added two heaping tablespoons of 100% orange juice concentrate and a cup of water to equal the 6 cups.  I don't know if this is a recommended practice, but I was comfortable with it and it's what I did.  At this part of the process was when the recipe had me add the lemon juice, calcium water (part of the Pomona's Pectin box), and the pectin and sugar.  Once it came back to a boil as I continued stirring, I turned it off and it was ready to go in the sterilized jars!

The marmalade gave me 8 half-pint jelly jars.  I had seen  another participant post last week about making an Orange Pepper Marmalade to be used for orange chicken sauce, and I wanted to give it a try.  But, I also didn't want to make an entire batch not knowing if we would like it - so I put hot pepper flakes (really hot pepper flakes, from Thai Peppers that I dried from our garden and ground up) into two of the jars.  I left the other 6 jars plain.

My pretties then hot water bathed in my trusty canning pot for 10 minutes, and then I pulled them out and covered them with towels. It is always so hard for me to leave them alone and let them cool!  They appear to be setting up nicely!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Love Them Anyway

Hi, my name is Joe and I am a very lucky dog. My mom Ann rescued me from a shelter. Even though I wasn’t exactly what she was looking for that day, she loved me anyway and took me home to live with her.
See, Ann had wanted a dog for awhile, and she had seen so many pictures of white lab puppies and thought they were so cute. She also had dreams of having a litter of puppies one day, so she went to the local shelter in search of a white female lab puppy. At the shelter, she did not find exactly what she was looking for – but she looked in the corner of the one pen and saw my big, loving eyes staring at her. Even though I was a male black lab, in that moment she didn’t care – she loved me anyway.
As she was signing the adoption papers, the volunteer told her that they had rescued me a few weeks ago from someone in Mexico. I traveled into the United States in order to be adopted. They asked if she wanted to change her mind in adopting me, and Ann continued signing the papers, saying that she loved me anyway.
As I grew older, I didn’t go to the bathroom like other male dogs.  I don’t like lifting my leg and peeing on things, I prefer to “go like a girl.” For awhile, Ann wondered if I would learn to do it the “normal” way.  When I didn’t, she loved me anyway.
One day, Ann took me to the park and we saw a small dog (especially compared to me!) there. Ann said it was a dachshund but that people call them wiener dogs because of the way they look.  I don’t think that is very nice, and I’m going to call my new small friend Liv a dachshund and love her anyway. And when I’m in the park with Liv and she sees me go to the bathroom, she loves me anyway too.
I loved that park so much that Ann took me back there a few weeks later.  We saw someone and his dog there with a tennis ball launcher that shot 100 balls at once. Boy, that poor dog didn’t know which way to go, I felt so bad for him.  I prefer the tennis ball launcher that Ann bought for me, it holds 5 tennis balls and she only shoots them one at a time. And I get to have a little break while she reloads, it is perfect for me. But, that other dog’s dad has a right to have whatever kind of tennis ball launcher he wants to buy, so I love him anyway too.
Even though Ann had warned me not to go near the road, because she didn’t want to build a wall around our yard, I got a bit too curious one day and a truck that was driving by hit my leg. Ann took me to the doctor, and it’s too bad she didn’t have insurance for me, because man were those bills expensive! I had to have surgery on my leg and would be in a cast for awhile. This made it much harder for Ann to care for me and she always had to answer questions about what happened. But, she treated me the same way and loved me anyway.
Because of my accident, the stairs that went into our house made it really hard for Ann to get me outside to go to the bathroom. Unfortunately, she didn’t have enough money to build a ramp or do anything to make the stairs easier for me. She asked the government to see if they could provide us any assistance, because even though she works full-time, she needed a little help paying for my medical bills and the ramp I needed to get outside. Everyone needs a little help at some point in their life, and we should love them anyway.
I am a lucky dog because Ann loved me anyway, and brought me home from the shelter that day many years ago.  I am also a lucky dog because even though there are so many different types of dogs and people in the world, she taught me to love them anyway too.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Legacy of a Jellybean Giver

While sorting through some piles of paper in my home office this week, I stumbled upon a neon green piece of paper that had a title at the top of "The Legacy of a Jellybean Giver." I recognized it as a copy my mom had given me a few years ago of an essay I wrote in high school about someone who had influenced our life in one way or another.  This was the story I wrote about my sixth grade teacher, a wonderful woman by the name of Mary Clarke.

I decided to share the story with you all.  Please note that I typed it into this blog as an un-edited version for authenticity sake. There are some grammar and langauge edits I would make if it were my writing of today ... but for this post I have typed it just exactly as I submitted it to my high school English teacher years ago ...


The Legacy of a Jellybean Giver

I wandered into the classroom, absolutely terrified of the woman sitting at the desk in front of the room, who I had heard so many horror stories about. My classmates and I glanced worriedly at each other, wondering how we would ever survive nine months with this woman.

That was the first day of sixth grade. The "mean old woman" was Mrs. Mary Clarke, who not only grew to be our favorite teacher, but our best friend. From the first day we entered her classroom as terrified students, she taught us lessons that we would grow to remember forever.

The first thing I remember about Mrs. Clarke was the way she always sat at her desk, chewing her gum and sipping her coffee. None of us could understand why she could chew gum, but if we did, she made us write one hundred sentences - "I will not chew gum in class." Her reason? "Because I am the teacher." She definitely was.

She made up for her gum-chewing, though. Once a week, she would let us have map races, where we would go up to the chalkboard to find a certain place in the world. The first person to find it got a point for his/her team, and in the end, the winners got to pick a jellybean from her beautiful gold jellybean jar. After the winners picked their treats, the other team picked theirs, also. I think this was a very important lesson for her to teach us: that no one is a loser - everyone, in his own special way, is a winner.

Another thing we dreaded about Mrs. Clarke's class was her timed math tests. We absolutely loathed them. The second she said "Go!," our minds drew a total blank ... suddenly answers to problems we had known in first grade were lost somewhere in the back of our minds until after she told us to stop. Little did we know, she was teaching us the basics of time management. When I was a young and innocent sixth grader, Mrs. Clarke was teaching me about the same thing that I need to use every day.

Mrs. Clarke also made us memorize and recite poetry. I can remember practicing those Robert Frost poems over and over - not understanding what I was memorizing, but yet learning important pieces of American literature. As I stood in front of the class, with all eyes on me, I would silently yell at Mrs. Clarke for putting me through this torture. We all dreaded these monthly poetry recitations but later found out that she was only trying to introduce us to the beautiful pieces that we would later study and analyze in high school English classes.

Mrs. Clarke had a wonderful sense of humor. She was about sixty years old but always joked about being born "back in '02!" She told us about how she really enjoyed teaching us, because she didn't know how many years she would have left to teach.

Two years later, when I was in eighth grade, Mrs. Clarke was diagnosed with lung cancer. There was nothing doctors could do - it was only a matter of time. Her class, as mine would have been, was devastated. They had to spend the last four months of their year with a substitute teacher, only hearing daily reports of how Mrs. Clarke was doing.

I can remember that the whole elementary school made signs and went outside and told her, on the school's video camera, that we loved and missed her. I will never forget the sign my class made her - it didn't have any words on it, just lots of beautiful, delicious jelly beans - just like the ones Mrs. Clarke used to give us.

As she watched the video we made for her, while she was lying in her hospital bed, I can only imagine how Mrs. Clarke felt. That video on which all of her students stood and told her how much she meant to them and taught them probably made her feel sad, proud, and happy all at the same time.

Mrs. Clarke passed away two months later, and I can only hope that she realized the amount of inspiration she gave to all of her students. She taught me many things that I will remember for the rest of my life. First of all, she taught me that you can't judge someone before you know who they really are - the mean old woman of whom I was terrified on that first day of school turned into a wise friend who I trusted very much. She taught me about truth, love, sadness, understanding, and many other things. Finally, in her death, she taught me to make the most of any situation, because even as she was dying, she was touching people's lives and will probably continue to do so in the lives of anyone who knew her.

When I hear that song "Candle in the Wind," by Elton John, I am not reminded of Marilyn Monroe or of Princess Diana. I think of Mrs. Mary Clarke, my sixth grade teacher, whose "candle burned out long before the legend ever did."