Friday, September 3, 2021

Star Fruit (Carambola) Jelly Recipe

Yesterday I saw on Facebook that one of my neighbors had a downed branch on their overloaded star fruit tree. The fruit had to be harvested right away. "Come and get it!" they said.

I love free fruit. Free fruit = jelly.

Before long I was trotting home with a large paper sack loaded with big, star-shaped, yellow and green fruits. I got out all my canning gear and was ready to get started.

Except guess what, I could not find a recipe for star fruit JELLY anywhere on the internet. There was jam. There was marmalade. No jelly. What?

Google, you've failed me!

Anyway, I decided to do some experiments and come up with a perfect star fruit jelly recipe of my very own. Here it is, in case you are ever blessed with a giant bag of unexpected star fruit:

Star Fruit Jelly - Makes 6 cups.

4 cups star fruit juice

2 Tbsp lemon juice

1 Tbsp lime juice

1.75 ounce package of powdered pectin (I used Sure-Jell)

6 cups of sugar

To get the juice I used a steam juicer. I washed the fruit, sliced it in 2-3 pieces, pulled out any obvious seeds, and filled up the steamer basket. After processing for an hour, I drained off enough juice for 2 batches of jelly. 

If you don't have a steam juicer, you can put the fruit in a pot, add some water and simmer for 30 minutes, then squeeze it all through a jelly bag. If you like that kind of punishment.

Trust me, just get a steam juicer. You'll thank me later.

Prepare enough jars to hold 6 cups of jelly, plus lids and bands. Wash them in hot, soapy water, rinse, and place on a rack in a simmering water bath canner to stay hot until ready to be filled.

Carefully measure 6 cups of sugar into a separate bowl.

Put 4 cups of star fruit juice, the lemon and lime juice, and the powdered pectin in a large pot. Stir until pectin is dissolved. Cook on high heat, stirring constantly, until it reaches a full, rolling boil. 

Add sugar. Continue to cook and stir until the mixture returns to a full, rolling boil. Boil for two minutes. Remove from heat. Skim off foam with a metal spoon.

Immediately ladle into hot jars, cover with lids, and screw on bands. Return full jars to the water bath canner. Add enough water to cover jars by 1-2 inches and bring to a gentle boil. Cover and boil for 5 minutes. Remove jars and place them on a towel on the counter to cool and set for 24 hours.


Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Laie Summit Trail

A few months ago, my 16 year old son got the idea to take some friends and hike the Laie Summit Trail. I'd been to the falls several times and had seen the sign that points to the right for the falls and the left for the summit. Of course I wanted to see what was over in the other direction from the falls, and hiking to the top of the mountains that I can see out my front door every day? Awesome.

The first date we planned for the hike got rained out. Today we woke up to partly cloudy skies and a chance of rain. I could see the tops of the mountains, so we decided to go.

While looking around online I had a hard time finding something that told us exactly how long the hike would take. So here's the breakdown. We had two adults and three teenage boys on the hike. We all like hiking, but we're not avid hikers. People who are conditioned for 12 miles and 3600 feet of elevation could probably do it faster.

  • 9:00 AM - walked away from our front door
  • 9:15 AM - arrived at Cricket Field (closest place to park if you're driving)
  • 11:00 AM - reached the Laie Falls/Laie Trail sign at the fork
  • 12:30 PM - reached the summit
  • 1:00 PM - started down from the summit
  • 2:30 PM - reached the Laie Falls/Laie Trail sign again
  • 4:30 PM - reached the gate to the Laie Falls Trail
  • 4:50 PM - arrived home.
Walking from our house it was nearly an 8 hour hike. If we'd driven to Cricket Field, it would have taken 7.5 hours. 

Above Laie Falls we had to push through undergrowth, wade through mud, and jump over a few washed out sections. It was never hard to find the trail, though. I was glad I wore jeans and had a long-sleeved jacket. Once I stepped in a washed-out place that was hidden by ferns and sat right down on the trail with one leg hanging over a cliff. Just keep your eyes on the trail when you're moving and watch out for gaps and holes.

The forecast was for mostly cloudy with a chance of rain. As we got near the summit we climbed up into a cloud. It rained on us for only a few minutes, but that was enough to get us soaked and make it uncomfortably cold in the wind near the top. When we reached the summit and the ridge trail we went up the hill and found a nice spot to sit and eat lunch. While we were at the top it cleared off enough that we got a good view of Laie, and could also catch a glimpse of the surf on the Haleiwa side. We had cell phone coverage most of the way. I sent my daughter a text at the top, and also checked the weather radar and our exact location on google maps.

Next time I want to go when it hasn't rained for a week, and when the forecast is for clear skies. That should make the mud less and the view more.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Our Experience with Adderall

Near the end of second grade, my youngest son was evaluated by the school district and we were told that he was high-functioning autistic. The specialist who gave me the news seemed to think she was doing us a favor. We could get accommodations now, she said.

One of those accommodations was special education. For certain school subjects, my son would be in a classroom with only a handful of other students. He would get specialized attention. This sounded like a good thing, since in his regular classroom his teachers often gave up on trying to engage him at all.

The first time I met with my son's fourth grade special education teacher, she asked me if I had considered putting him on medication.

"No," I said. There wasn't a medication for high-functioning autism. By then I'd had a year to read up about it, had been meeting with the school's autism specialist, and we had been making progress using Applied Behavior Analysis. I didn't see any need for medication.

The teacher proceeded to tell me the story of a boy she knew who had been put on a small dose of medicine and it had helped him so much in school. He had turned into a model student and was now in high school and you wouldn't know he'd ever had problems.

"I'm not interested in putting my son on medication," I told her.

She then told me that if I didn't do something about his behavior in school, my son would end up in remedial classes in middle school, with the "bad kids."

A little shocked to hear a special education teacher call students in remedial classes "bad kids," I dug in. I don't like being threatened. There was no way I was going to medicate my son. We were going to do this by patient effort alone.

And a lot of effort it was. Hours of sitting at his elbow repeating, "What's your next problem?" like a broken record. Day after day of turning away friends at the door, "He's not done with his homework yet." Assignments that should have taken him twenty minutes took two hours. And then they only took one hour. And then I didn't have to sit next to him. And then he could work downstairs with the rest of the family around him. We had come a long ways.

And then came middle school.

Our first semester of middle school was really hard work for both of us, but we did it, and did well. My son was in all honors classes, despite his fourth grade teacher's dire prediction, and he even got a 3.5 GPA his first semester. Still, it took a lot from me and from all of his teachers. Most days I had a phone call or an email about a behavior problem, usually because my son was not paying attention or not doing work in class.

When it came time for the annual IEP, one of his counselors, a woman who had really gone out of her way to help him, someone I'd come to really trust and appreciate, said, "All of his teachers say he has a hard time focusing in class. Have you considered putting him on medication?"

I looked around the table at those weary teachers, and felt the ache of exhaustion in my own bones. This was taking a lot out of all of us. "I don't even know where to start with that," I admitted.

"Just go see your regular doctor," she said.

So I did. Apologetically, I told the doctor I really didn't want to do this, but the school had suggested we try it. He didn't ask me any questions about my son or his behavior, just wrote out a prescription for Adderall, like it wasn't a big deal. We decided to start on the second to lowest possible dose. It almost scared me how easy that was.

We started the medication over spring break. On the second day of taking it, my son felt a little nauseated for part of the day, but it went away, and that was the only side effect we had. I noticed some differences immediately. I could ask him to do something that took more than one step, and he would complete the task without any further prompting from me. This was an entirely new and wonderful thing.

When school started up again after spring break, my son found it easier to focus in his classes and do his work in the mornings, but after lunch the medication would wear off. He could feel it when it happened. We raised the dose one notch, and after that he could get through the whole school day. I still had to monitor his school work and check up with his teachers somewhat, but he started getting more done in class and therefore had less to do at home. For several weeks things went very well. He liked being able to concentrate and get things done. I even thanked the counselor who had suggested the medication.

Then the inevitable happened. The medication stopped being as effective. Once again I found blank classwork in his folder and got notes from the teachers saying he had spent the class period doodling. "It just isn't working," my son said tearfully one evening as we struggled through an essay he had been too distracted to write in class. "At first the medicine was great, but now it doesn't help me any more. In fact, it's worse than before we started. I got used to it being easy, and now when it's hard, I can't do it."

"Do you want to try a higher dose?" I asked.

"No, I want to stop taking it," he said.

I didn't think he should stop when it was only three weeks to the end of school, so I suggested we just keep going until then. "If the medicine isn't working as well, it's up to you to try harder to focus. You know what it feels like to focus now, don't you? Can you do it on your own?"

He rubbed the tears away and told me he would try.

Things got better again. Grades that had dropped came up. Best of all, my son was learning to work with himself. One Saturday morning, I noticed the door to my walk-in closed was shut. I opened it to find my son sitting on the floor, working on a project for social studies. "I had to come in here so I could focus," he said. He was almost finished, and had done the project all on his own.

On Saturdays he doesn't take medication. He had found his own solution.

It's summer break now, and we're not planning to use Adderall again next school year. I think we've learned what we needed to learn from it. When my son was taking the medication his grades didn't go up. His personality didn't change. It only made things a little easier for me and for his teachers, and it made it easier for him to do his school work. He learned that he could focus, and began to find ways to do it on his own. For that, I'm grateful we gave it a try.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Gingerbread Creations

When I lived in Nevada, every year for Christmas I made gingerbread creations like this one: 

And this one:

But then I moved to Hawaii. I love living in Hawaii, but it's humid. This is what happens to gingerbread creations in Hawaii:

It was going to be a clock tower with a candy face and a light inside the top, but it softened and collapsed within a few hours of being assembled. Darn humidity.

When I told my mom about this, she had a solution. She bought me a set of star-shaped cookie cutters for making a cookie tree. The cookie tree, she said, couldn't fall over because each cookie was stacked on the one below it. It was a Hawaii-proof gingerbread creation. So I tried it.

I still wanted to have candy windows, so I cut them out of the points of each of the larger stars.

The finished product looked like this. Not too bad.

But then it melted.

And melted some more.

That's Hawaii for you.

Over the next few years I tried different things. No more candy windows, but since a tree should be green I tried spreading each cookie with green frosting.

Most of the green ended up hidden between the cookies.

So the next year I tried dipping each cookie in green frosting.

That doesn't quite look the way I had envisioned it. It's all drippy.

This year I filled a decorating bag with green frosting and used a star tip. First I stacked up the cookies, using a ring of frosting between each one. Then I started at the bottom and piped the frosting onto the tips of each cookie star while my children put on the candies.

Now that's more like it!

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Minecraft Feast (With Recipes)

For my son's 14th birthday he asked for a Minecraft party. All of his friends were coming over with their laptops and tablets so they could sit around and play Minecraft. This meant I didn't have to come up with party games, so I had plenty of energy to come up with a Minecraft feast.

My son and I looked at the Minecraft wiki and picked out a list of foods that he liked that weren't too hard to come up with:
  • Mushroom Stew 
  • Bread 
  • Golden (delicious) Apples 
  • Carrots (with greens still attached) 
  • Watermelon 
  • Pumpkin Pie 
I have to admit I was relieved my son asked for pumpkin pie instead of a cake. I could have tried to copy the exact look of a Minecraft cake, but it probably would have turned out like that Death Star cake my son's friend took for a sea slug at a previous birthday party.

When it came time for dinner at the Minecraft party, the party guests really got a kick out of the food. At first some of the boys were reluctant to try the mushroom stew, but those who did try it convinced the others to give it a go, and after that it was gone pretty quick.

If you'd like to create your own Minecraft feast for eight people, here's how to do it:

Purchase the supplies you need, such as the two pounds of fresh mushrooms, eight golden delicious apples, eight carrots with greens attached, and a medium-sized watermelon.

 Minecraft Bread (make a day ahead):

4 cups water
2 TBSP yeast
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp salt
8 cups flour
4 TBSP butter, softened
additional flour

In a large bowl, put the 4 cups of water, 2 TBSP yeast, and 1/4 cup sugar. Let the yeast dissolve and begin to bubble. Add six cups of flour, the butter, and the salt. Stir until completely mixed. Add 2 more cups of flour to make a soft dough.

Sprinkle a clean surface generously with flour. Turn out the dough and knead for ten minutes, adding more flour if the dough gets sticky. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and let rise for about one hour, until doubled.

Punch down the dough. Divide it into eight equal pieces. Grease two large baking pans. Flatten each piece into a rectangle and roll up into an oval-shaped loaf, like the bread in the Minecraft game. Pinch the seams and the ends to seal. Place four loaves on each pan. Make three diagonal slashes in the top of each loaf. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise for about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. When the oven has finished heating, put the pans in. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the tops of the loaves are golden brown. Remove pans from oven. Remove loaves from pans and let cool on racks. Store at room temperature in air-tight bags or containers until ready to serve.

Pumpkin Pie

For the pumpkin pie, just use your favorite recipe or buy a pie from your grocery store bakery.

Minecraft Mushroom Stew (start about 1 1/2 hours ahead):

2 lbs fresh mushrooms
2 TBSP butter
2 cups chicken or beef stock
1 tsp thyme
2 cups milk or cream, or 1 15 oz can coconut milk
salt and pepper to taste

Wash and slice the mushrooms. Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add the sliced mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms are tender, about 20 minutes. Add the chicken stock and thyme and let simmer, uncovered, for another 20 minutes. Add milk or cream and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm.

Apples, Carrots, Watermelon

While the stew is simmering, prepare the fresh fruits and vegetables.

My grocery store carries organic carrots with the greens still on. They taste fantastic, like fresh from the garden. Remove any badly wilted greens. Wash and peel the carrots without removing the tops.

Wash the golden delicious apples and place them in a bowl.

Wash the watermelon, then slice it longways into wedges.

Enjoy your feast!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Pumpkin Casserole

My neighbors know I like pumpkin. Last year I told them I'd give them one bottle of home-made pumpkin pie filling if I could have their jack-o-lanterns when they were done with them on Halloween night.

This year I still have pie filling left from last year, so I didn't go pumpkin gathering. But I did take our own jack-o-lanterns and turn them into a different tasty treat. Pumpkin Casserole.

I wanted to get a picture when it was all pretty right out of the oven, but we ate it too fast.

Here's the recipe:

1 medium pumpkin (or two butternut squash), cooked, peeled, and mashed, about 4 cups
1 cup white sauce OR 1 can cream of chicken soup
1 cup diced ham
1/4 lb saltine crackers, coarsely crushed
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (optional)

White Sauce:
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp flour
1 cup milk
1 tsp salt
dash pepper

If you use a left-over jack-o-lantern, carefully scrape out any smoke spots or candle wax drips.

To cook the pumpkin I've used various methods. I've cut it up and put it in the crock pot. I've roasted it whole in the oven. This year I cut it in half and microwaved it, six minutes at a time, until it was tender and the peel came off easily. That didn't heat up the kitchen at all, which is very important in Hawaii, even in November! I always peel the pumpkin after I cook it. It's easier that way.

To make the white sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the flour and cook and stir until bubbly. Whisk in the milk and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Add the salt, and pepper to taste.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Mix the white sauce with four cups of pumpkin, then stir in the diced ham. Spread the mixture in a 9x13 pan. Sprinkle the crackers on top and bake for 30 minutes.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Ghost Omelets

I know most of you on the mainland had breakfast hours ago, but maybe you'd like to try this idea for next year:

 These are super fast and easy. All you need is:
  • Two eggs per person
  • One and a half circular-shaped slices of lunch meat per person. We used ham, but Canadian bacon, summer sausage, or even bologna would work.
  • Your favorite shredded cheese
  • Butter or margerine
  • Salt and pepper

Melt a little butter in a round, flat skillet. Non-stick or well seasoned cast iron works best. Cut a half-circle of lunch meat into two eye pieces. Crack two eggs into a bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. Whisk eggs with a fork, then pour them onto the hot skillet. Sprinkle with shredded cheese, then arrange eye pieces and a full circle of lunch meat for the mouth. Cook about 2 minutes or until the omelet is firm, using a lid to cover the skillet so that the top side will cook without flipping. Gently slide the cooked omelet onto a plate.
The kids can have even more fun once the ghost omlete is on their plate: