Sunday, 27 May 2012

How to Burn Rhubarb Jam

Ahh good to be back. I've been on hiatus for a couple of weeks, but I swear not out of laziness. Things have been busy.

The weather has been absolutely beautiful here, so I've been spending a lot of time in my garden beds. I fell off the training wagon for a bit, so this week I've been slowly and painfully climbing back on (why, hello, Advil.) I also took a trip to Bar Harbour, Maine, and did some mountain climbing for the first time. Its been a busy three weeks.

The beautiful spring weather has brought a lovely crop of rhubarb, so I harvested some of it a couple of days ago and attempted to make a jam.

Berlin, my cat, is stalking through this tangle of rhubarb.

I love the thought of making my own jam. My family goes through so much of it. I've always held back from making it though - I've only made jam once before, years ago, and it was a lot of effort for results that were just meh. I figured my canning skills were ... lacking. My confidence was restored last weekend when I was at a birthday party, and my brother-in-law's mother said "No. Anyone can make jam." Huh. Well, ok then.

So I went for it. The recipe was as follows:

3 pounds rhubarb
4 cups sugar
lemon juice, to taste

Step One:
Cut off the leaves. Wash the rhubarb and cut into 1/2 inch pieces. Put the sugar and rhubarb into a large glass bowl and cover. Place in the refrigerator for 24-48 hours, coming back to stir the mixture gently a couple of times.

Step Two:
Pour the mixture into a large, heavy bottomed pot. Using high heat, bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. My cooking time was a little over half an hour. The last bit of cooking time, add the lemon juice in to taste.

Note: When stirring, stir gently. The rhubarb falls apart easily. Also, when nearing the end of the cooking time, it will start to stick to the bottom, so be wary. (Mine stuck to the bottom, and I made the mistake of scraping it back up. It turned the batch a brown color, which was disappointing. It smelled a little burned at first, but luckily did not seem to affect the flavor, though. Its delicious.)

Step Three:
Ladle the jam into your jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe down rim, and screw on lids. Process for 10 minutes.

My jam is wonderful, albeit a little discolored. I most definitely have not gone to the fridge and eaten a spoonful of it.

Actually, yes. Yes, I have.

So in my delight at producing a tasty jam, I now have jam fever. I turned my sad attempt at a vegetable garden I started three years ago (I order my veggies from a local farmer now, so no need to grow my own- I'll leave it to the professionals) into a strawberry patch. I look forward to making -and not burning- some strawberry jam.

Stay tuned for more adventures in jam. Wish me luck.

Strawberry Patch: The Beginning.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

How to Build a Plyo Box in Five Easy Steps

I'm sure many of you were on the edge of your seats this weekend, wondering how the box would go. Well, rest assured, it went awesome, and I now have a box on which to do box jumps.

If I were to build one again, I would make sure to watch for a few things, which I'll list at the end of the post. In the meantime, follow these Five Easy Steps to build your own Plyo Box. (Thanks Steve, for the correct terminology, "Plyo Box" is much more descriptive than "Box". To those that don't know Steve: I sat beside him when we went to see Avengers this weekend.)

Step One:
Pick up some pallets at your local hardware store, shipping depot, or friendly potato farmer. You should be able to get them for free if you ask nicely. If you ask extra nice they will also help secure them into the trunk of your Civic.

Step Two:
Gather your tools and prepare your space. It was a nice day, so we worked outside. You'll need a reciprocating saw, drill, screws and a hammer for prying. 

Step Three:
Use the saw to cut the pallets roughly in half. You might need to eliminate the middle slat completely to make the two halves equal size. The width I chose was 21 inches, it seemed to work out perfectly on two of the pallets. Keep the bottom slats on, and try to ensure you have a bottom slat near the outside edges. You might need to pry one off and re-position it. We also reinforced one of the pallets that I would be landing on with some extra braces that were left over, you can see on the top pallet below.

Step Four:
Place a half-pallet on top of another and line it up so the edges are square. Take your drill and, on an angle, screw the bottom slat of the top pallet into the top slat of the bottom pallet. It sounds complicated, but basically you are just screwing them together to keep it safe. Repeat 2-3 times on one side, and 2-3 times on the other. Repeat until all the half-pallets are screwed together. 

Step Five:
Place in a spot where you have some headroom. I had some extra foam, so I placed the foam in front for softer landing. I might pick up some more foam to place under the box as well, so the box sinks a bit, and therefore less chance of it moving on me. I have some pallets left over, so I can increase the height easily as I  need. This is currently at 19.5 inches. 

And there is your Plyo Box! Easy peasy.

Some lessons learned:
  1. Pick pallets that are of equal width. My bottom two are about an inch and a half wider than the top two.
  2. Pay extra attention to the bottom slats. We didn't pay enough attention, and left a half-pallet missing a bottom slat on one side and didn't realize until we were ready to screw it together. Then we had to scramble to make it even.
  3. The pallet's wood is very, very dry. We encountered a lot of splitting, so if you have a magic trick against splitting, now is the time to employ it.

Good luck on building your own Plyo Box.

(I have some pallets left over, so I'm excited to try something from the list of 35 Amazing Uses for Old Pallets...even though, after this weekend, the count now should be at 36.)

Happy box jumping!

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Weekend Project: Build a Box.

So. I have no idea how I'm going to do this yet, but it is going to happen.

I've established already in the blog that I'm putting a home gym together in my basement, and that I'm heading to Tough Mudder in a couple of months. And Tough Mudder is not about how far you can run, or how much you can bench press. It's more like how well you can haul your body over a ten foot wall.

I'm trying to incorporate different types of exercises all the time, to keep challenging myself. I recently started biking, which I used to do a lot of when I was younger, and I am really, really loving it. Biking 10k is so much easier than running it. Must be the wheels.

Anyway, back to the box. I saw this article 35 Amazing Uses for Old Pallets (which I'm sure everyone has seen by now, it's had several rounds on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest) and got inspired.

I am going to build a box, with pallets.

And then jump on them.

Here is an excessively long video on box jumps (1 minute, but you get the point after 12 seconds) about how to do them.

I'm hoping this fun and almost child-like exercise ("MOM! Look how high I can jump!!") will give me some explosive power to get me up over that 10 foot wall.

This is my plan for the weekend:

First step: Collect old pallets.

Second step: Nail them together into some box-like structure.

Third step: Jump on them.

Shouldn't be too bad right? Stay tuned to see how it turns out.