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Ontario, Canada
I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

For Your Information

Please watch this area for important information like updates, food recalls, polls, contests, coupons, and freebies.
  • [March 19, 2020] - Effective Mar 17, this blog will no longer accept advertising. The reason is very simple. If I like a product, I will promote it without compensation. If I don't like a product, I will have no problem saying so.
  • [March 17, 2020] - A return to blogging! Stay tuned for new tips, resources and all things food related.
  • [February 1, 2016] - An interesting report on why you should always choose organic tea verses non-organic: Toxic Tea (pdf format)
  • Sticky Post - Warning: 4ever Recap reusable canning lids. The reports are growing daily of these lids losing their seal during storage. Some have lost their entire season's worth of canning to these seal failures! [Update: 4ever Recap appears to be out of business.]

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Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Successful Canning Run (Beans)

I have affectionately named this year the Land of Not!  Seriously, it has been nothing but chaos which means a lot of the things I normally do are not being done, including blogging.  Some years are just like that but honestly, I need things back to normal.  Aside of mint and gooseberries, my garden is non-existant and I doubt there will be much in the way from the peach and pear trees.  I realized the year quickly slipping away leaving me little time to get my canning done before we head south.  So, I went to my favourite organic grower last Thursday to pick up beans for fresh eating and canning. 

fresh beans washed for prep
Green and wax beans are one of my favourite vegetables to can.  By far, the best canning bean with respect to flavour and texture is Blue Lake but any string bean can be canned, especially the heirloom favourite Kentucky Wonder.  Ask for these varieties if buying.  Both grow easily and are suitable for small spaces growing vertically.  It's best to remove the string for some varieties as it can become hard when canned resulting in a less than ideal end product.

Quite often someone will ask how many pounds of beans to buy for canning.  I generally aim to buy enough beans to run a full canner load of 19 - 500 ml (pint) jars.  I prefer this size for beans because we use the entire jar in a meal with no left overs.  One and a half to two pounds of beans gives a yield of about 1L (quart) or 2 - 500 ml (pint) jars according to Putting Food By (1975).  Ball Blue Book estimates 1½ to 2½ lb beans per 1L (quart) jar.  Pictured are the beans I bought, 3 lb wax beans and 8 3/4 lb green beans.  Based on the estimated yield, I should have had a yield of about 16 - 500 ml jars. 

twenty seven jars of beans
I ended up with a yield of 7 - 500 ml jars of wax beans and 20 - 500 ml jars of green beans, well over the predicted yield.  This is one reason why I always prepare extra jars because the actual yield is seldom the same as the predicted yield.  Another reason is, I very seldom buy produce by the pound or kilogram.  Rather, the organic growers I buy from sell by the basket full or by the unit and it is quite common for them the add an extra or two for me as a thank-you.  This time I did pay $32 for the beans but they gave me three large slicing tomatoes and three field cucumbers at no charge!  The organic growers are generally close to or even a bit lower in price than the grocery store.  I should have waited as fresh beans went on sale in the grocery stores for the long weekend so the organic grower would have lowered the price as well!

Another common question is whether I save money canning beans.  The answer is yes but the amount of savings is dependent on whether I grow the beans myself or buy then.  In this case, I had a yield of 27 - 500 ml jars which is the equivalent to 34 - 398 ml cans of commercially canned beans.  The cost worked out to $1.18 per 500 ml jar which is equal to 94¢ per 398 ml can.  Even with paying the higher price for the organic beans buying them when I did, I still realized a savings!  More importantly, I have a higher quality product in my pantry.

How do you calculate how many jar of beans to can?  This is actually quite easy simply by analyzing our eating patterns.  We eat beans as a side at least once a week which works out to 52 - 500 ml jars.  We are away almost 16 weeks of the year so at bare minimum I need to can 36 - 500 ml jars.  I plan on canning at least another canner load of beans this week.  If I were canning home grown beans as I normally do, I would can whatever we didn't eat fresh, freeze or give away even if over the amount needed for the year.  This ensures a steady supply that compensates for years such as this where I can less than the normal amount.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Bernardin's New BPA-Free Canning Lids

This has been the first year in many, many, many years that my home canning in down.  Despite that, I am always on the look-out for home canning products.  One of the recent food contaminants concerns has been BPA (Bisphenol-A), an additive found in many plastics.  Most of the exposure to BPA is dietary through plastic food containers and the lining in metal cans.  The general work around is to avoid using plastics entirely and if not possible use BPA-free plastics.  Home canners, however were forced to use BPA lined single use canning lids unless they used glass inserts or Tattler reusable canning lids.  [Please note the warning against using the 4ever Recap canning lids as they have an extremely high seal failure rate during storage.] 

Bernardin BPA-free canning lids
One of the reasons I do a lot of home canning is to avoid food contaminates like BPA.  The fact that the metal single use snap canning lids contained BPA has bothered me ever since I made that discovery.  As a result I have been in the process of switching to glass inserts and Tattlers.  However, only gaskets for the Gem jars are currently available which limits how many of my inserts can be used and switching to Tattlers is expensive when doing large scale canning.  Despite the additional initial cost, Tattlers really are the frugal choice but only if you going to do enough canning that they will be reused to justify the added expense.  Glass inserts and Tattlers are too expensive to be used on home canned foods that will be given as gifts.

I recently discovered Bernardin BPA-free canning lids at Dollarama.  Dollarama is currently the cheapest source for the single use canning lids.  A couple of years ago a package of 12 cost $1 but now they are $1.50, still almost half the cost of other retailers. A lost cost BPA-free canning lid is definitely a welcomed addition in the home canning world!

Visually there is very little difference between the BPA-free lids and those containing BPA.  In comparison to the older gold colour Bernardin lids, the underside is whiter than the newer silver lids.  The newer lids with BPA are very slightly mottled while the BPA-free lids look smoother.  Other than that, you can't really tell the difference.  You can however, have peace of mind that you are not contaminating your food with BPA.

I currently have a stash of 36 boxes of snap lids in three sizes (standard, widemouth, Gem).  As I use those boxes I am replacing with the BPA-free lids.  In general, food does not come into contact with the plastic coating when foods are properly processed in a boiling water bath canner.  Food will come into contact with the plastic coating when foods are pressure canned.  It is imperative to follow the instructions with the lids as the prep has changed.  The plastisol sealant on the new lids (with or without BPA) has changed so there is no longer a need to boil or heat the lids before processing.  Simply place them on the prepared jars and continue with the sealing process. 

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Welcome to Aruba - One Happy Island!

view from our condo balcony in Aruba
Our View From Our Condo Balcony
Costa Linda Beach Resort, Aruba
May 17, 2014

Aruba is an amazing island to visit!  It is one of the friendliest and safest islands in the Caribbean.  The average temperature is 82ºF with trade winds keeping the humidity at bay.  My husband and now former friends first visited Aruba in May of 2012.  We very much enjoyed our visit so when the owner of the condo offered to sell it to us, we accepted buying it between the two couples.  Quite frankly I was against the purchase but decided to go along with it because it made good financial sense.  Unlike a time share that has a set ending causing the value to decrease, the units at Costa Linda Beach Resort are deeded with no ending date so the value will increase.  Essentially we own that unit for one week each year until such time we decide to sell.  If we don't go one year, we can always rent our unit out.  It is an ideal way of making a tidy profit.  This year it was apparent that we were incompatible for shared ownership so we are in the process of buying out the other couple.  The paperwork was on its way to us before we left Florida!  Aside of that bit of conflict, my husband and I had an amazing time in Aruba!

Our trips to Aruba are very much a vacation in that we have housekeeping services so there is no time wasted opening up or preparing for possible tenants like there is with our vacation home.  There's no laundry or maintenance aside of clearing after any meals we make.  While the kitchen is fully equipped for cooking, the kitchen equipment in minimal.  I suppose cooking is not a high priority when you have only a week to enjoy such a beautiful island.   Surprisingly, I forgot to take pictures of the kitchen in the condo that was renovated in 2013.  It is now sporting new cabinets and a granite counter top with expanded space.  I'll be sure to take pictures next year!

There are a couple of grocery stores nearby so one of our first stops was for groceries.  We generally eat breakfast and lunch in the condo then eat out for dinner.  I was up every morning just before 7 AM to do a quiet, brisk 30 minute walk then hit the gym before heading up to share breakfast on the balcony with my husband.  Just look at that view!  It is total eye candy! 

After breakfast we went down to lounge around the pool.  Our usual spot was under the canopy to the far upper right just where beyond where the person in the white shirt is standing.  My husband would take a dip in the ocean then do water aerobics at 11 AM, island time.  Everyone is on island time so the 11 AM was just a suggestion.  After water aerobics he slips across the beach for a dip in the ocean before settling in to people watch and relax. 

The largest peak to the back of the rounded peak is an enclosed restaurant Water's Edge North 12º N that replaces the former Turtle's Nest.  The larger peak on the right side is the restaurant's bar and casual, open seating area.  There is drink and meal service right to the lounges with three happy hours and live entertainment.  The many iguanas and birds are always on the lookout for any food that happens to drop to the ground.  It's a relaxing, pleasant way to spend much of the day!