Books: Bless This Food

Bless This Food cover

When I was growing up, my family didn’t say grace before meals. Instead, when everyone was seated for dinner, we’d hold hands for a moment and get quiet. There’d be a couple deep breaths, an occasional giggle from my sister or me, and finally a quick squeeze of hands to signal that we were done.

Nahault blessing

The only time of year we did take a few extra minutes to share words of appreciation before eating was on Thanksgiving. Some years, my mom would pick out a poem to read. Others, there would be music and a harmonized rendition of Amazing Grace. After that, we’d go around the table and each person would get a chance to offer gratitude for something. After that, the feasting would begin.


Recently, a book landed in my mailbox that has me thinking about Thanksgiving and those moments before everyone tucks into the meal. Called Bless This Food, it is a collection of poems, prayers, and devotions from across a multitude of traditions and era. It includes everything from traditional prayers originating from the dominant world religions, to very old blessings in Middle English, to statements of gratitude from Native American cultures.

ASL meal blessing

Towards the back, there’s even a pair of prayers show in American Sign Language (when I was little, I would have totally taken on the challenge of learning those). If you’re looking for some new words to share at your Thanksgiving table this holiday season, it might be just the book for you.

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Jam Demonstration at Occasionette for Second Saturday

a drinky display

Friends! My events calendar is finally starting to quiet down, but I do have something fun in store this weekend. I’ll be at Occasionette on E. Passyunk Saturday (that’s tomorrow!), November 9 from 5 to 7 pm for Second Saturday. I’ll be demonstrating a small batch of pear vanilla jam, and will bring a few other jams and chutneys to pair with cheeses. Please come down, check out all the lovely things they have at Occasionette, and chat jam making with me!

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Maple Sweetened Banana Oat Cake

banana maple cake

I have been struggling with banana management lately. All summer long, Scott and I moved through bananas at a good clip and so they became a fixture on the grocery list. Then fall arrived and without conscious intention, we stopped eating them in an expedient manner. And so, every week or ten days, I was looking at the fruit basket and realizing that there are three or four bananas that had gone unpleasantly brown and needed to be salvaged in some way (this granola was one of my attempts to handle the overripeness).

While I’m currently abstaining from any banana purchases in attempt to stem the tide, a couple weeks back I was the semi-proud owner of three wilted bananas. My sister and her touring partner Rebecca were staying with us at the time, so I thought a slightly sweet, homemade treat for my sweet houseguests would be a good way to use up that sad fruit.

cut banana cake

Both Raina and Becca are gluten-free eaters, so my normal banana bread would not do. And so, in a wave of pure genius, I adapted my mom’s old applesauce oat cake to work (as long as you use gluten-free oats, it’s safe for the gluten-avoiders). I cut the recipe in half, swapped mashed bananas for the applesauce, and left off any frosting (in an attempt to keep things not too sweet).

Friends, we ripped through that cake. Between Raina, Becca, and I, we demolished it in just under 24 hours (Scott didn’t get so much as a crumb). It gets sweetness from bananas, raisins, and just a drizzle of real maple syrup (please do use the real stuff). It’s both sturdy and wonderfully buttery tasting. And I will be making it again.

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Ball FreshTECH Automatic Home Canning System

Ball® FreshTECH

Sometime yesterday, Jarden Home Brands added a new Ball branded appliance to the Fresh Preserving online store. Called the Ball FreshTECH Automatic Home Canning System, this device takes the place of a traditional water bath in the processing of jars for shelf stability. A couple weeks ago, I went up to New York for a media event at which the FreshTECH Automatic Canner was demonstrated and was intrigued by its potential (though just to be clear, I also have a number of reservations about it. We’ll get to those later).

Instead of submerging the jars in a pot of water, it works with just a few inches of water. The device uses that water to create steam and a small amount of pressure to ensure safely processed and sterilized jars. For those of you who are made nervous by the talk of pressure, know that this canner doesn’t get anywhere near the amount of pressure that your average pressure cooker or canner reaches. It goes to just 3 psi, in order to get the temperature to between 215 and 218 degrees F.


The capacity of this canner is three quart jars, four pint jars, or six regular mouth half pints. They don’t recommend stacking jars inside the canner, so if you were to use wide mouth half pints, it would only be able to hold four.

The way it works is that you put your full, closed jars of product in the canner and punch in a code that corresponds with the recipe you’ve used. It will slowly heat and build pressure. Once it has reached the appropriate temperature and pressure setting, it sings a little tune and the processing period begins. When the time is up, the canner then cools and depressurizes. The period the jars are in the canner are often longer overall than in a traditional canning, because of the necessary heating and cooling. However, it’s all hands-off time. You don’t have to tend a canning pot or check to ensure that it’s maintaining the proper boil.

Hugh Acheson

Southern chef Hugh Acheson demonstrated the FreshTECH canner at the media event. I was amused by the fact that he cracked some of the same canning jokes that I typically make in my classes. Canning geeks, unite!

I haven’t had my hands one of these FreshTECH Canners yet, but am expecting a review unit in the next week or so (I’ll follow up with first-hand thoughts after I’ve had a chance to use it). But from observation, here are some of my initial thoughts.

It could be a great device to get nervous beginners acclimated to canning. It may also be a boon for people who want to can but have small kids or work responsibilities that makes it hard to tend a canning pot. You put the jars in, set the machine and it processes them without another thought. You just have to stay close enough to open it and remove the jars once the time is up.

One thing that gives me major pause is the fact that the manufacturers currently recommend that you only use this device with their recipes and they have no plans to offer instruction as to how you can adapt it for use with your favorite recipes. I can understand that they don’t want to be responsible for preserving projects gone awry, but to my mind, if a recipe is safe for boiling water bath canning, it should be safe for use in the FreshTECH Canner. The fact that it seems like they’re trying to create a closed system of recipes and products makes me hesitant.

Ball FreshTECH Automatic Home Canning System

The other thing that concerns me is what the FreshTECH communicates to the canning uncertain. I spend a goodly portion of my life calming the fears of beginning preservers and so am well acquainted with the level of anxiety that canning carries. Because this device uses a small amount of pressure to elevate the temperature a few degrees over the boiling point, I worry that some will interpret that to mean that the boiling water bath (the gold standard of high acid canning) is no longer good enough and that an elevated temperature is necessary for all products.

All that said, I am still curious about it and am looking forward to seeing first-hand how it works. My best case scenario is that it becomes a useful appliance in a home canner’s toolbox (though at $299.95, it will be a pricy tool).

What do you all think? Is this something you’d use?

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Giveaway: Hamilton Beach SaladXpress

Hamilton Beach SaladXpress

Over the years, one of the things I’ve learned about myself is that I am not a kitchen minimalist. I like useful tools, sturdy knives that hold their edge, and gadgets that make cooking and preserving projects faster. If it works well and serves a role in my regular culinary life, I will make room for it in my overstuffed (but well-stocked) kitchen.

Hamilton Beach SaladXpress

This is why my assortment of kitchen gear includes a specialized yogurt strainer (for homemade Greek yogurt), a sweet little pan designed specifically for making caramel sauce, and Hamilton Beach’s SaladXpress. The SaladXpress is the newest tool to enter my kitchen and I’ve found that even though I’m outfitted with a food processor and a number of slicers, peelers, and graters, I’m happy to make room for it.

Hamilton Beach SaladXpress

What I like about it is that it has a smaller footprint than a traditional food processor, dispenses right into your mixing bowl or saute pan, and cleans up more quickly than any food processor I’ve ever used. I’m totally smitten by the crinkle cut blade, because it means that I can give my pickles a classic wavy edge.

Hamilton Beach SaladXpress

Thanks to a spur of the moment apple chip making project at my canning workshop last weekend (one of the class participants just happened to have a dehydrator in her car), I am currently on something of dehydrating kick. When I got home from the workshop, I pulled out the SaladXpress and my trusty Nesco and got down to work. I like to toss the sliced apples with a little cinnamon, lemon juice, and freshly grated ginger before laying them out on the trays.

Hamilton Beach SaladXpress

Another thing that the SaladXpress does very well is the shredding of potatoes and other root vegetables for latkes and fritters. I find that it creates a flat, wide shred that feels closer to the one you get when you hand grate. I prefer it to the thicker, narrower piece that food processors typically produce (though I know that there are multiple schools of thought one the best way to prep potatoes for latkes).

Hamilton Beach SaladXpress

Thanks to the incredibly generous folks at Hamilton Beach, I have eight of these SaladXpress devices to give away. Here’s how to enter.

  1. Leave a comment on this post and tell me about a gadget or tool that you make room for in your kitchen. Whether it’s the spaetzle maker that you use twice a year or the ableskiver pan that you know you’ll make good use of someday, I want to hear about it.
  2. Comments will close at 11:59 pm east coast time on Saturday, November 9, 2013. Winners will be chosen at random (using and will be posted on Sunday, November 10, 2013.
  3. Giveaway is open to US residents.
  4. One comment per person, please. Entries must be left on the blog, I cannot accept submissions via email or social media.
Disclosure: Hamilton Beach gave me a SaladXpress for review and photography purposes and is providing the eight units for giveaway. They did not compensate me to host this giveaway beyond the use of that single review unit. All opinions expressed in this post remain my own.

Links: Beets, Wild Grapes, and a Winner

Rowe workshop jars

I spent the weekend at the Rowe Center in Western Massachusetts, teaching a delightful group of women how to make jams, jellies, fruit butters, chutneys, and pickles. At the end of our time, we had made nine different preserves and a batch of dehydrated apple slices. It was such a fun and relaxing weekend! Now, links!

eat boutique box

eat boutique preserves winner And now, time for the winner of the Eat Boutique Preserves Collection. First off, huge thanks again to Maggie and the whole Eat Boutique team for letting me put this box together. The winner of the box I’m giving away is number #245, Savannagal. If you didn’t win, I do so hope that you’ll consider sending this fun box of goodies to a friend or family member for the holidays this year (or that you treat yourself to one!).

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