When Life Gives You Jalapeño Jelly Rocks
I have a little pepper garden in the back of my house. It wasn’t supposed to be a pepper garden. Payam built it for me to grow herbs but I threw in a few pepper plants because I wanted to make salsa. Over the years the pepper plants have somehow taken over and the herbs have retreated. I think there is a tiny bit of rosemary that is barely hanging on.
These pepper plants produce! They are small but mighty! Cody helps me harvest them regularly. I think he forgets he does not like them.
The other day when I got a big bag of jalapeños in my produce delivery box I decided something had to be done with all these peppers. I decided I would make jalapeño jelly, my favorite thing to put on bagels with cream cheese!
Problem is I’ve never really learned to can. I’ve watched my mom do it a thousand times and even helped her but I never really tried to can myself. So I called up my mom, got the basics down and headed for the hardware store to pick up jars. I chopped my jalapeños (With gloves on of course. At least I’ve learned that lesson over the years.) and started them boiling with all the added sugar. Which is a TON by the way. Maybe I lost track of how many cups I was supposed to put in and put in an extra…I don’t know!
I got distracted LIKE I ALWAYS DO. I am the queen of distraction. I am the absent minded professor of many creative projects going on all at the same time. Ooh, shiny thing! Next thing I know I was in the garage helping Payam with some design options for his cutting board business and when I walked back inside my jelly boiling timer had already gone off. I had no idea if it was one minute over or twenty. That is how deep into distraction I can get. Time is a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey… stuff
Also I may have added two packets of pectin instead of one but I swear the micro-printed IRS form-esque directions inside the pectin box said to. Part one said: add one packet of pectin and then follow the directions to part 2. Part two said: add one packet (total 2). I swear!!! It said “total 2.” But then I threw the directions out because they were all sticky and I couldn’t pull them out of the trash because they were buried under other gross stuff so I can’t really prove anything.
Distraction + a possible misreading directions x2 variable = ROCK HARD JELLY STUCK IN JARS!
The jelly wasn’t hard when I poured it into the jars but I do remember at one point I was on the phone with my mom and the jelly mixture was off to a royal boil and it did sort of smell like candy. That may have been a clue. My gut says the pectin is fine I just over-cooked it. But I could be wrong. Maybe too much sugar, maybe too much pectin, very probably too much time.
So what to do now? I sat on it for a few hours (while social-media-ing the hell out of it of course) and then decided to microwave a jar and see what happened.
Guess what? The sticky rock jelly turned back into liquid! It bubbled and boiled right out of the jar and onto the microwave rotating dish in a royal boil mess! That seems to be a theme with me and canning. I carefully took the bubbling jar, poured it on some wax paper and let it harden.
Some places of my splat of liquified jelly were smooth and others were sticky clumps. The smooth places peeled up like a fruit roll-up when played with, while the clumpy lumps turned into the worst kind of gooey taffy that sticks to your hands and everything else in it’s path.
Sooooooooo I decided to make little balls out of my sticky mess and roll them up in squares of wax paper. Because why not! I am like a grandmother who lived through the depression and I refuse to waste food!
The slick smooth stuff worked great, the jelly clumps not so much. It was a very sticky afternoon.
Then because I am me, I did some quick graphic design for packaging (which is so much more in my comfort zone) and wrapped them all up in little bags to take to school pick-up aka parent social hour and handed them out to all my friends.
Guess what? They were a smashing success! Everybody loved my sticky jalapeño jelly balls even if they did have to lick them off pieces of wax paper and get their hands all sticky! They were delicious and spicy! Before I knew it I had handed almost all of them out and people were asking for more.
Now if only I could figure out how I made them!!!
The Tale of Two Hats
Our neighbors down the street commissioned me to make them some crazy hats for a charity dinner party they are attending that happens to have an under-the-sea theme. They knew I might be up for the task based on my paper-maché-snitch-piñata-making skills. Of course I said yes. How fun would this be?
For the man they asked for an angler fish hat. Great idea, right? Sadly, this monstrosity fell very far short of my imagination of what it should be. It looks pretty scary but there are so many things wrong with it. Firstly, I had to figure out a way to make the teeth (that I bought off amazon) splay outwards in a big bulbous way. The only way I could figure to do this was by paper-mache over a balloon. That worked but then I had to attach my bulbous shape to the hat somehow.
I ended up cutting the dried ballon so it lay over the front of the hat and then I attached it to the hat with wire that I had wrapped in newspaper for bulk. Then I had to cover up the wire and the balloon so I used black crafting foam. I think ideally I would have paper mache-ed the whole thing but I didn’t want the hat getting too soggy and I was running out of time.
Black crafting foam is a great medium that can be cut in all sorts of fun spikey ways but wrapping a flat square piece of foam over a round shape is challenging! I could have improved my pattern A LOT but you know me, I just forged on like non-perfectionist that I am. So that means the underside of the hat (the part you see the most when you are wearing the hat has this awkward open space under the mouth. It’s all spray-painted black but it looks like a hodge podge quilt. I guess angler fish aren’t the prettiest of fish anyway so we’ll just embrace it. Then I couldn’t get the foam to match up to the mouth so I cut these strips of spiked foam and wrapped them around like lips. I also forgot to spray paint those strips so they are matte while the rest of the fish is properly slimy looking. Groan. I think overall it works if you don’t think about it too hard.
BUT! The noodle-y thing that angler fish use to catch their prey does light up! That’s why there is a pretty big opening between the teeth. That’s where you can squeeze your hand inside the mouth to switch the lights on and off. I used the cork fairy lights that I had used for our fairy jar craft. I just covered the lights along the string with masking tape spray-painted black.
It’s a big mess. But you wouldn’t know if I didn’t tell you, right?
So you would think that this sea-foam under-the-sea woman’s hat would be a piece of cake, right? Compared to the angler fish hat this should be something I could do in my sleep. What could possibly go wrong?
Plenty! I did everything wrong. Firstly, I decided to add these really cool octopus tendril finger puppet things to the front that should be the back. Yep. I squarely did everything backwards on this hat. The front is the back and the back is the front and there is a big ol’ visible seam on the front. I always do everything wrong first. Except this time I couldn’t go back and fix it second time around because the tendrils were good and sewn and there was no ungluing the tulle and sequined fabric that I wrapped around and glued to the brim. But really, that’s not my first mistake. My first mistake was to buy the hat in blue and purple instead of just blue.
I ended up hating the purple so much that I spray-painted the top to cover it up. I wish I would have spray-painted the whole thing because the spray paint actually looks pretty good but by the time I figured that out I had already glued dozens of shells and bubbles and pearls and sequins to the hat and they would look horrible turned all flat blue.
So that’s that! Pretty cool but riddled with problems!
Thankfully the recipients will probably neither notice nor care! And now I know how to do it right if I ever need to make these again.