Peaches Galore!

This past Saturday, Jason and I went to the state Farmer’s Market in Raleigh. (And Cup-A-Joe.) We walked around and ate enough samples to constitute an entire meal, and bought a bushel and a half of peaches. Seriously. A lovely morning of produce-perusing turned into a long day of chopping, squishing, boiling, and canning those peaches.

The cast of characters: peach cardamom jam, peach salsa, peach butter, and just plain peaches (with no added sugar). Let’s get to work!

We’ll start by blanching each peach by cutting a and x in the pointy end, putting them in boiling water for about 30 seconds. Then, remove it with a slotted spoon and place it in a bowl of ice water until cool enough to hold (10 seconds). Then, pick it up and the peel should slide right off! Now, you’re ready to get going.

Peach Cardamom Jam (recipe adapted from Better Homes and Gardens’ Canning edition)

yields about 7 half pint jars

4 cups chopped peaches

6 cups sugar

1/4 cup lemon juice

4 T powdered pectin

1 t ground cardamom

Put sugar, peaches, and lemon juice into a large, heavy-bottomed pot. The pot is actually important, so choose wisely. I suggest a dutch oven. Before you turn the heat on, use something (pastry incorporating tool, potato masher) to mush up the diced peached a little bit. Now, bring the mixture to a boil while stirring to dissolve the sugar. Then, slowly add all four tablespoons of pectin. Boil the jam hard for one minute, then continue to stir and boil gently until the jam passes a jam test. What’s a jam test, you ask? I’ll tell you. A jam test will tell you if the jam has set or not. There are several, but I like the plate test. Before you start, put a small plate or saucer in the freezer, and when you think the jam might be ready, pull it out of the freezer and spoon a little of the hot jam into the center of the plate. Give it a few minutes and then tilt the plate. If the jam runs quickly, like a liquid, it’s not ready yet. If it moves in a glob, like jam does, then it’s done. If it isn’t, just keep boiling, stirring and testing until it is. When it’s done, add the cardamom and stir gently until incorporated. Next, pour hot jam into half-pint jars (that have been sterilized), leaving 1/4 inch of headspace. Place lids (that have been simmered with the jars) on top, and gently screw on the bands. Process the jars in a boiling water canner for 5 minutes. Allow them to sit for 12 hours. It’ll take a week for the jam to totally set, so wait to open and eat.

Peach Salsa 

8 cups peaches, diced, 1 cup diced onion

6 cloves garlic, minced

2 T lime zest

1 cup diced red pepper

8 diced jalapeno peppers

1/2 apple cider vinegar

2 t cumin

4 T honey

large handful of cilantro, chopped

Cut everything up, put it in a heavy bottomed pot, bring it to a simmer.  Then, pour the salsa into pint jars that have been sterilized. Put on lids, gently crew on bands, and process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes. Done and done! The hardest part of this one is definitely the chopping.

Peach Butter (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

4 pounds peaches (about 12 peaches)

1 cup water

2 cups sugar

juice of one lemon

Chop the peaches into quarters and then halve the quarters. (Does that make sense?) Just make peach chunks. Put the peaches and the water into a heavy bottomed pot and stir constantly over medium heat. When the peaches are soft, remove them from the heat. In a food processor, puree the peaches until smooth. Return them to the pot, bring them to a boil, then add the lemon juice and sugar. Simmer and continue to stir for 30-45 minutes or until the butter thickens up a bit. Then, pour the hot butter into sterilized jars (half-pint, pint, most sizes are fine), put on the lids, gently screw on the bands and process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes.

Peaches with no added sugar (adapted from about a thousand websites)

These peaches were an endeavor we took on for Jason’s grandmother. There are a lot of ways to do this, we chose the method that seemed the least weird. We also didn’t want to use any fake sugar. So, here it is!

12 peaches, sliced

2 quarts unsweetened apple juice

12,000 mg vitamin c

(this is achieved by purchasing vitamin c supplements–with nothing added, so not chewable–and crushing 12,000 mg worth of them)

Pack quart jars with peaches. Put juice and vitamin c into a pot and bring it to a boil. Be sure that the vitamin c has dissolved. Pour the juice over the peaches, put on the lids, gently screw on the bands. Process jars in a boiling water canner for 20 minutes. Just FYI, the vitamin c acts as a preservative instead of extra sugar. The apple juice helps to keep the sweetness from the peaches intact.

Here’s hoping you’ll find time to peruse a farmer’s market this summer. You’ll get way more bang for your buck than at the grocery store!

Pin-spiration Sunday

Today I bring you eight tidbits of the internet that I’ve run across this week; things that are interesting, inspiring, or just plain beautiful. Thanks to Pinterest for creating such a lovely place for creative, right-brained, visually-dependant folks like me.

This picture is what made me love Pinterest in the first place. I cut the very same picture out of a Domino magazine years ago, and it has hung over my desk ever since. I adore built in bookshelves and cozy nooks like this one.

These peach, strawberry, and coconut popsicles make me drool every time I see them. They’re from a swoon-worthy site called Lyla & Blu.

I desperately want to attend this party. I want to throw this party. I want to live at this party!

I’m totally head over heels for these literary map posters. I wish I had known about them sooner, what great literature professor gifts!

Did you know that I dream about living in a teeny-tiny house like this one? Tumbleweed Tiny Homes fuel many of my most recent daydreams.

Melissa McClellan on pint and a half jars. They’re my new favorite!

“How to Throw a Wildly Hip Scandinavian Sandwich Party” from Bon Appetit. Need I say more?

Poppies! I don’t think I have enough orange in my life. When it comes in this form, I’m all about it. I’d love to have this Johann Weinmann print framed.

Join Pinterest and follow me for more! Wishing everyone a lovely sunny Sunday.

Home Brewing Step 3

It’s finally time for bottles! Today, we’re completing the last step in the home brewing process: bottling. You’ll need bottles. I suggest collecting bottles from neighbors, friends, coworkers, whoever. If necessary, you can buy bottles. Jason once dug bottles out of the recycling bins behind the Brew & View in Asheville. I don’t suggest that because let’s be real, that’s gross. But, if you must. They should sell bottles at the home brew store, and they might even have larger ones (22 ounce). You’ll need 45-50 bottles.

You know you’re ready for bottling when your beer has been in it’s secondary fermentation container (glass carboy) for about two weeks. You do have more flexibility in this phase than the first, though. Also, don’t expect your airlock bubbler to be bubbling quite so vigorously. In fact, don’t stress if it’s not bubbling at all.

These are some extra things you’ll need for this step. Corn sugar, crown caps, and a bottle-cap-sealer contraption. (All available at your local home brew store.) Also, you’ll need a second 5 and 1/2 gallon bucket, this one with a spout on the bottom. And that same piece of plastic tubing you’ve used before. Last thing, you’ll need an attachment called a bottling tube (hard plastic tube with spring-loaded tip that opens when pressed).

To sterilize your bottles, soak them in a water/bleach mixture, then scrub the labels off. We usually use two rubbermaid containers (one filled with the bleach/water mixture, and one filled with warm water). Let the bottles soak in the bleach/water mixture, then move them to the warm water to scrub. After removing all the labels, you’ll need to run the bottles through the dishwasher or clean the insides with this cool bottle-cleaning device. Okay, bottles are clean.

Simmer the crown caps. Much like canning lids, crown caps have a little band of gummy adhesive on the inside that needs to be warmed up in order to make a good seal. Don’t boil, just simmer for a few minutes. Then, let them cool until they can be handled.

Now we’ll need to move the beer from the glass carboy to the plastic bucket with the spigot on the bottom. Do this in the same way that you did it before, in Step 2. Be careful not to let it splash around.

In a pot on the stove, dissolve 2/3 of a cup of the corn sugar in about 2 cups of water. Stir until all the sugar is dissolved. Then, pour the sugar water mixture into the bucket in to the beer. Why sugar, you ask? The corn sugar that we’re adding is called “priming sugar,” and it provides a food source for the yeast in the beer. Because the beer is about to be bottled up, the yeast will eat the sugar and that will create the carbonation in each bottle! After you add the sugar to the beer, stir GENTLY. Only a little. Just enough.

Bottles! Begin by attaching the tubing the the spout on the bucket, then attach the bottling tube. Now, open the spigot. Put the bottling tube all the way into a bottle, and press the tip of the tube on the bottom of the bottle. It’ll fill up!

Cap it! Repeat times 45-50. We ended up with 48 bottles. There will be some yeast on the bottom of the bucket, don’t bottle that, it’ll be gross. Jason tried to drink it. By the way, you can totally taste your flat, room temperature beer if you want!

You’ll have to wait 2 months to drink your beer. Really, I think they peak after about 4 or 5 months, but feel free to go for it sooner. Just save some because you’ll be amazed by how much it can change. In the meantime, store it in a cool, dry place and try to forget it’s there!

If you’re interested in brewing but still feeling unsure, let me know! Leave comments, tweet me about it @annaespears, or call me on the phone because you probably have my number, blog reader! My friend Noelle has already brewed a batch with (a little) help from me. She mostly had help from the folks at Wilmington Homebrew Supply. I know these people, they went to UNCA (and Hoggard in WIlmington). Tell them you know me and buy lots of things from them.

Now, we wait.

Birthday, Birthday!

In honor of my birthday, here are a few things I’ve learned in my twenty three years:
1. When it comes to fashion, if you don’t like it or it just doesn’t suit you, skip it. And don’t ever look back.
2. It’s okay to look stupid sometimes. That means you’re changing, and growing, and learning. And those are good things, no matter how crazy I might look while squatting in the backyard trying to light a grill for the first time.
3. Saving money actually is a good idea. However, I have no idea how to do this effectively. I still stash money in envelopes and hide them from myself.
4. There is nothing worse than sand in your tent. Period. Always remember to brush your feet off before you get in.
5. Puppies turn into dogs. Case in point: that sweet Jack Russell puppy that fit in the palm of my hand when I was nine is now a blind, deaf, biting machine. She’s so lucky to have my mom to take care of her!
6. Smile at people who have no intention of smiling at you. It’s disarming, and that can really work in your favor.
7. If you really love something, learn how its made. Make it yourself if you can. Then, put a cute label on it and give it as a gift.
8. You are your number one advocate. This also means that you are the only one paying attention to how often you go to the dentist.
9. Stretch. Every morning, before coffee.
10. Make your own birthday cake! I made mine this year and it was spectacular. (Downside: no one but you is to blame if it’s a flop.)
This cake will change your life. I’m for real. It’s moist but surprisingly light and fluffy, and the secret is the cream of coconut in the cake itself. Also, toast your coconut topping! Come on!
Here’s the recipe:
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
9 oz / 2 1/4 c plain cake flour sifted
1 large egg
5 egg whites
3/4 c cream of coconut
1/4 c water
1 tsp coconut extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 c sugar
1 Tbs baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
12 Tbs / 1.5 sticks unsalted butter, softened but cooled and cut into pieces
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
3 tsp coconut extract
3 cups powdered sugar
2 c packed sweetened shredded coconut
1-2 tsp water or milk
pinch of salt
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour 2 nine inch cake pans and set aside.
2.  In a medium sized bowl, beat egg and egg whites in bowl with fork to combine and add cream of coconut, water and both extracts and beat with fork to thoroughly combine.

 3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix flour, baking powder, sugar and salt on low for 30 seconds to combine.
 4. With the mixer still running, add butter one pat at a time and beat until it resembles coarse meal and butter bits are no smaller than peas.
 5. Add one cup of egg mixture to flour / butter. Increase speed to medium/high and beat until light and fluffy. Add remaining liquid in steady stream. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix for a bit longer. Batter will be thick.
 6. Divide batter between pans and level. Bake until cakes are golden brown and sides pull away from pan or cake tester comes out clean (about 30 minutes). Leave the oven on.
7. Cool cakes for 10 min, then loosen the edges with a paring knife and turn out and back over on cooling rack and cool to room temperature.
7. Spread shredded coconut onto baking sheet and toast in oven. Watch carefully! (I’ve started fires while attempting to toast coconut.) Remove from the oven when coconut is golden brown on the edges.
8. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and powdered sugar together for the icing.
9. When the butter and sugar is fully incorporated, add the extract and salt. Then, adjust the texture of the icing using the milk or water. Be careful, a little goes a long way.
10. When your cakes have reached room temperature, place the first cake on a cake stand and spread icing onto the top of the cake. Then, line up cake #2 and place it on top. Ice the top and sides. Press the toasted coconut onto the top and sides of the cake.
Put candles and cake decorations on top, blow out candles, slice, and enjoy with a tall glass of milk. Celebrate being another year older and (maybe) wiser.

Red Curry with Rice

This is my friend Ryan. Ryan is a single dude with a career who also likes to eat delicious/healthy things. Ryan texted me today to tell me that he had an idea for my blog. He asked me to come up with some easy meals that he could make for dinner and eat for lunch the next day. Therefore, I give you this meal, the perfect single dude food. Also–any single ladies out there making single lady dinners/lunches, Ryan would be giving you a “what’s up” head nod if he could see you right now. It’s true. Okay, let’s get down to business.

We’re making red curry. It’s like fancy stir-fry. I know you single dudes already know how to stir fry things, but this is a step up. The great thing about this meal is that it’s super easy to make and even easier to tailor to what’s already in your fridge. Today, I used zucchini, squash, broccoli, onions, garlic, and potatoes. Almost anything can work. Tofu, chicken, spinach, kale, celery, carrots, sweet potatoes, cherry tomatoes. That said, I always try to use a base of yellow squash, zucchini, onions and garlic. It’s a solid place to start.

These are the secrets. First, red curry paste. It’s the general purpose curry shortcut. The other essential piece is canned coconut milk. It gives the whole thing volume and richness without being very heavy or unhealthy. The last two items are secret ingredients. Rice vinegar and fish sauce. Mixed together, these two weird ingredients are what make this meal exactly spot on. Trust.

Let’s cook.


1 yellow squash, cut into coins or half-moons

1 zucchini, cut into coins or half-moons

1/2 onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 potato (or a few little ones) cut into small chunks

1 head of broccoli, cut into small florets

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 Tablespoons red curry paste

2 teaspoons fish sauce

2 teaspoons rice vinegar

1 can coconut milk

Basmati Rice (follow instructions on packet to make desired amount, probably 1 cup dry rice)


First, heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat with garlic, curry paste and red pepper flakes.

Stir until the garlic is sizzling and smells garlicky. Then, throw in all the veggies and pour in the can of coconut milk. Stir until the coconut milk turns red from the curry paste. Then, add the fish sauce and the rice vinegar. Turn the heat down to medium and cover. Let everything simmer for 15-20 minutes. Before you dish it out, make sure that the potatoes are soft all the way through. They take the longest.

Serve over rice for dinner, then pack in tupperware containers with rice included. At work the next day, throw it in the microwave and call it lunch!

You cannot (I repeat, CANNOT) mess this up. It’s good no matter what goes wrong. In fact, ignore all my instructions and just wing it. It’ll still be delicious. Also, I’m just sayin’, if you pull fish sauce and rice vinegar out of your refrigerator to cook dinner, you’ll impress any lady you might want to cook dinner for.

To all you single dudes (and ladies), rock on. And eat good things.

Home Brewing Step 2

Everybody ready to tackle step 2? You’ll know that your beer is ready for this step when the airlock bubbler is bubbling only about once a minute. Remember that thing on the lid of the bucket? For the first few days after you brew, it should be bubbling pretty frequently. It will eventually slow down (7-10 days later) and you’ll be ready for this step.

We’re going to “rack” our beer. Why it’s called this, I don’t know. I do know that the beer needs to be racked to separate it from the yeast that has settled on the bottom of the bucket for the rest of the fermentation. And for this beer, we’ll also be dry hopping. I’ll explain in a minute.

First, here’s the equipment that you need: a large glass carboy (or plastic), a couple of carboy-cleaning brushes, a bottle/carboy cleaner (it’s the small gold-colored thing), the same brewing equipment sanitizer that we used before, and an auto-siphon (the tall plastic thing). You’ll also need a pice of plastic tubing about 4-5 feet long (not pictured because I forgot… make sure it fits on your auto-siphon). All of these items are readily available at that home brew supply store we talked about it the Step One post. And the guy will let you know if you’ve forgotten something.

Before you open your bucket of beer, sanitize all your tools and carboy in the sanitizing solution.

Let’s talk dry-hopping. These are hops. They’ve been dried and come packaged. These are Cascade Hops, and we used them to dry-hop this beer. All that means is that we put these whole, dried hops into the beer at this point in the process. So, these go into the carboy before anything else.

Now, we siphon!

It’s really important at this phase to be sure not to let the beer splash around in the bottom of the carboy. There shouldn’t be any air incorporated into the beer while you rack it. After most of the beer has been siphoned into the carboy, tilt the bucket to get all that you can. Make sure not to dig the bottom of the siphon into the yeasty business at the bottom. But, if it happens it’s not that big of a deal because there is a filter at the bottom of most auto-siphons.

After all the beer is in the carboy, put a stopper in the top and put the airlock bubbler in the top of the stopper (half full of water). The stopper will probably come with the carboy. This step is done! Gently place the carboy in a cool, dark place and wait somewhere between 1-3 weeks. Stay tuned for Step 3!