Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Evan and Maow Prototype

Watercolors sure are interesting. I always love how they look but the computer is weird and I don't feel like I can control em. Eh.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Spaghetti Sauce and Canner Photo Tutorial

A friend asked me how to make spaghetti sauce, so instead of having her over for several hours of boredom over a boiling pot, I put together this photo tutorial.

I'm no expert, by any means. I used my mother-in-law's recipe, which is different from the Ball canning books, but the cooking and canning directions are still the same. The books say not to alter recipes because acidity can be off and produce something unsafe to eat, but several people have enjoyed Gramma's sauce for a while now and no one's died yet.

What you need:


About a half bushel of tomatoes. The meatier, the better.

About three pounds of onions. I think this is three pounds, not sure, but it's all I had on hand so it was good enough for me.

A hot pepper or two. I didn't have any left for this batch, so there are none.
I like sweeter sauce, so I used a cup of sugar. Add or subtract as you like, between 3/4 cup and 1 1/2 cups.
Between 1/4 cup and 1/2 cup of salt, to taste.
1 TBSP oregano.
1 tsp basil.
Bottled lemon juice (enough for 2 TBSP per jar).
Tomato paste, probably two of the big cans just to be safe.
I added three minced cloves of garlic.


A really big steel pot. I used my pressure canner to cook in, without the lid. A regular spaghetti pot isn't big enough.

Canner and canning supplies - jar gripper thing, magnetic lid picker-upper, headspace tool, and funnel.

Food strainer. And a solid surface to attach it to, like the side of a table or a countertop, if you have a thin enough counter lip.

Potato masher. I think metal would be a bit easier to use, if available, but this is what David brought me and it works. Just needs some extra elbow grease.

Jars, lids, and bands. I happened to have a set of wide mouth jars from my mother-in-law, but for sauce it doesn't matter. These are nice for whole tomatoes, whole fruits, or large chunks of fruits and veggies.


Wash, chop, and core tomatoes. The quickest way I do it is to cut large pieces off in a square around the core, then cut the core piece off to get that little bit of tomato meat. Then pitch the little square with the stem part. You don't need to chop tomatoes into little bits. For smaller tomatoes, chunks like this are fine. For big tomatoes, like beefsteaks, just cut the bigger chunks in half.

Working in small amounts (several small tomatoes or about six big ones) toss the pieces into the pot and turn on the heat to medium high.

Take your potato masher and crush the tomatoes a bit to let the juices out. This gets easier the hotter the tomatoes get.

Let them heat up a bit.

Keep adding layers of tomatoes in small amounts and crush them as you go. As the mixture heats up more, keep squishing them.

Add the onions, pepper (if you use it), sugar, salt, and herbs to the mix.

Stir it all together, bring to a boil, and now the waiting begins.

I like to use a wooden spoon so I can see what the depth of the sauce is and how far it reduces as time goes on. Keep the pot at about medium-high heat, and come back every so often to stir it to prevent scorching on the bottom. It takes about three hours or so to reduce by half.

By the one hour mark, things have already progressed.

By the two hour mark, it's thickened up a bit but still needs more time.

You can see at two hours how much it has reduced by the stains on the spoon.

At the three hour mark, it's reduced a little more and is a bit thicker. It's ok to strain it now, but I'm letting it continue to boil for a little bit so Kelsey can help crank the strainer after her nap. (And so I can have an extra pair of hands when David comes home from work.)

In the meantime...

Prepare your shit:

Wash jars, lids, and bands. I prepared seven jars because the last two half-bushel recipes I did yielded about 6-7 quarts of sauce. Also, the canner only holds seven quarts at a time.

Follow manual directions to assemble the food strainer.

Put the jars in the canner and fill them with water so they don't float everywhere when you fill the rest of the canner.

Fill canner til the jars are just covered. You're gonna need to remove some of this water later when you put the filled jars in there, so keep a coffee mug close by for that.

Put the lid on the canner and turn on high heat to heat the jars. You don't have to boil them to death. Once the water is steaming hot, if the sauce is ready by then, you can fill them. If it starts to boil and the sauce isn't ready, turn the heat down and let them sit in hot water.

Heat the lids in water on a low heat.

Strain that shit:

Because my countertop doesn't have enough lip to hold the food strainer, I have to do this part at the dining room table. I don't have many large containers, so I use a pot to bring a good amount of the sauce over to the table to strain into the little containers (nothing large fits under that guard) and once the container is filled, I pour it into the big spaghetti pot.

Here's the setup.

Pour the sauce into the funnel. I start off slow since the watery part of the sauce will spray out. When most of the water is squeezed out, I can turn the crank a little faster. The sauce comes out the front and the waste (seeds, skins, and large pieces of food) comes out the side.

I don't know if it helps, but I periodically scrape off what I can reach on the strainer to open the holes back up. It seems to help keep things moving.

Keep going until nothing falls from the strainer and there's nothing left in the waste tube.

Now all of the sauce from the big pot has been processed through the strainer. Luckily, this batch fit into one pot. I had to use a second big bowl last time.

There are usually stuck-on chunks left in the pot after everything was taken out. So to keep the sauce smooth, I wash the pot out before putting the sauce back in. Reheat the sauce back to boiling. At this time, if I have the chance, I rinse (or even better, wash) all the strainer parts, because tomato shit is ridiculously hard to clean up later after it's dried and cemented itself to everything you used.

Once the sauce is boiling again, you can either keep it boiling to reduce it to a thickness you like or you can take the quick route -

Several scoops of tomato paste from this bigass can my mother-in-law gave me. Add til everything is as thick as you like. I have to smear it along the side of the pot a little bit to help it dissolve better.

It takes some effort but it helps add thickness (and keep some volume so you have more sauce).

Once the sauce is as thick as you like and boiling, the jars are heated, and the lids are all warmed up, put a clean dish towel on your workspace (preferably close to the stove top) and get ready to can. This part is constant.


Using the gripper things, pull out and empty each jar. Set them on the towel on your workspace. Add 2 TBSP lemon juice to each quart jar (or do one at a time so you don't end up dirtying a jar you don't need). If using pints, add 1 TBSP lemon juice per jar.

Working all the way through one jar at a time, put the funnel on top of a jar and fill it with sauce.

Spaghetti sauce calls for a half inch headspace, so use the headspace tool to show you how high to fill your jars.

Use the same tool to carefully stir out any trapped air bubbles.

Using a clean dish cloth, wipe the rim clean of food and water.

Using the magnet tool, pick up a heated jar lid and place it on top of your jar.

Screw on the band til you meet resistance, then use your fingertips to tighten it. Do not tighten them too hard or too loose.

Using the gripper, put the jar in the pot. Repeat all of the above canning steps for each jar until the sauce is gone. I've had partial jars left over, I just put them in the fridge and use for dinner later. This particular batch only made five quart jars, so I had two prepared jars left over. You can reuse the heated lids as long as the rubber sealant on the underside isn't damaged.

Once all of your jars are filled and in the canner, place the lid and turn up the heat to a boil. Remove excess water so it doesn't overflow. With pints, I haven't had this issue, but with quarts, too much water is displaced so I need to remove some. There needs to be about an inch or so of water over the lids so they can boil properly. When the water starts boiling, set a timer to process the jars for 30 minutes.

It's important to add hot sauce into hot jars, so you don't have to worry about heating everything up too much. 30 minutes is fine when everything was prepared hot. The Ball canning book recommends 30 minutes for pints, as well.

When 30 minutes is up, turn off the heat and take the lid off the canner. Let it sit for five minutes or so, then use the gripper and take the jars out of the water. Sit them on a dish towel on the counter to cool overnight.

In the morning, test the seal by poking the middle of the lid with your finger. If it pops, your seal is broken. If nothing happens, congrats! You canned some sauce! Label the lid with a Sharpie, including canning date, and store away for later use.

Any questions, feel free to ask here or on Facebook. Thanks for sticking around for a hell of a long post!

Monday, September 8, 2014


I spent this afternoon's nap time reading a few articles about toddler tantrums and how to better manage them (and myself). My mom told me stories about how I was demonically possessed as a child and threw tantrums of magnificent proportions. This spilled over into flipping desks and swearing at teachers in elementary school. (Lucky for me, nearly all of my elementary years are blocked from my memory, probably for my own good, so I remember none of this but friends who have known me long enough love to recount these events.)

When I see Kelsey thrashing on the floor and screaming so bad my eardrums vibrate, I get flashes of these stories and start to panic. 

I cannot handle a little me. I am not equipped with the patience. 

So I yell back. "Knock it off or you're going straight to bed!" She hears the threat and cuts off mid-scream. While she hitches and wipes at her face and whines about whatever it was that set her off, I come down from the panic and feel like shit.

There's counts to three when issues arise. When we get to three, there's a time out for two minutes. She has had one successful public time-out. When two minutes is up, I try to talk to her about why we don't do X or why she was upset, but she's over it and just wants out of the chair and on to the next thing.

I absolutely have a short fuse and a terrible temper, and I yell too much. "There's no peanut butter on your sandwich because you don't eat it, you feed it to the dog. No I will not add it now. Dry it up! I'm tired of you wasting food!" 

Every day is survival til bedtime, and once bedtime hits and I close her door, I'm immediately overcome with guilt. I didn't play enough today, I yelled too much, I was an asshole, I really need to do better tomorrow, there were too many tantrums and I did not handle myself well. She's absolutely going to become like me, and I really don't want her to inherit my temper and the shitty feelings that go with it.

So today I came across a few articles that interested me. The first is Thriving While Parenting a Toddler. It directs attention to where I make mistakes in speaking to Kelsey, which is pretty much everything that is listed.

From there I found a series of three articles on tantrums, starting with When Your Child Has Many Tantrums. I do not subscribe to the parenting technique called "attachment parenting" but the questions to ask when things are going south are fairly basic. I can almost always pinpoint what is causing the fits, whether it's something stupid (to me) or there's something bigger going on, like overstimulation or exhaustion. 

The second article is Preventing Tantrum Escalation which I definitely suck at. I am not good with the empathy statements, because, to be honest, I feel like it's kinda ridiculous to do so. But I haven't actually tried it, so I will be testing this out with the next few fits to see how Kelsey reacts. What interested me most was the idea of "futility," but I'm not sure I can tell when she's reached that point or if she's still just crying because she wants another cookie. Things escalate here rather quickly, though she tends to end things quicker with me and draw them out longer and more dramatically when her dad is around. (Daddy is kindof a pushover.)

The third is where I need the most work, and where I have the most trouble. It's What to do While Your Child is Having a Tantrum. At home, I can ignore her. If it's bad enough that she's kicking and hitting things, I pick her up and put her in her room and tell her she can come out when she's done. I let her work it out. If we have to go anywhere, I usually power through and pick her up and stuff her in the carseat. (She hasn't hit Hulk mode yet where her rage is stronger than me.) In public, I bribe and threaten under my breath. 

I'm unsure of sitting calmly beside her while she tantrums, because I know for sure I will end up being hit. If I try to hug her afterwards, she usually gets mad and shoves me away or begins the process over again. But I'm thinking trying this for several fits, like with talking through her emotions, maybe she will come around and accept the rebound affection a little better. 

I plan on coming back and posting my findings and how these techniques go. I have the most work to do on my own inner voice, because I definitely do build up the frustration and think "this day has gone to complete shit" and I eventually mentally throw up a white flag and think "fuck it." I have a difficult time talking myself down from places of frustration and anger. 

Plus a stiff drink at nap time, plus several more at bedtime take the sharper points off the edge.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Post-partum De-fuckery

I've been having difficulty with balancing time for myself and the shit I have to do, all while dealing with my second round of post-partum depression.

For the sake of blog continuity, that toddler in the last comic I managed to draw is now two and a half, and is a big sister to her five-month-old brother. I thought I was in the clear for PPD this time, but it turned out to be a late bloomer. I start therapy again later this month.

In some of my last sessions, my therapist encouraged me to make time for the things I love to do, things I enjoyed before becoming a mother. This was easy to do with a single kid who napped several times a day. Now I consider it a really lucky day if I can get the two of them to overlap naps for an hour. So many of the things I loved to do pre-kids and was able to dabble in with Kelsey are completely off the radar now.

And that, I think, is where I struggle.

I look back on those pre-kid days of drinking and playing World of Warcraft until 3 A.M. And being able to sit for hours and work on a cross-stitch or other tedious craft. I tried to get back into WoW after having Kelsey and could put in a few hours at a time during naps but never got very far after Cataclysm came out. I never level capped before Pandaria came out, and I got so far behind that catching up seemed hopeless. All the fun stuff, like raids, are in the end-game. And I was never getting there in half hour intervals.

So I quit renewing. David and I got free trial accounts and still haven't been on in almost a month.

I have a dozen cross-stitch kits sitting up in the attic, and at least two have been started but not touched in months. A two hour nap doesn't make for much progress, and I need to see progress in order to feel like I did something sufficient for myself.

My computer needed a new hard drive, so I have yet to find the software for my sketch pad so I can continue making comics here. I also had this page open for twelve hours trying to find the time to sit down and write a little.

But, when Kelsey was a newborn, I took advantage of the sleepy phase and taught myself how to crochet by watching YouTube videos. Now I'm quick enough that I can churn out a hat or get some decent mileage on a bigger project in a couple hours. I've also picked up on cooking and canning, which make me feel productive, and we often times have something new and flavorful to try out. I've been able to do a couple quick projects with my Silhouette Cameo, but it's been used only a handful of times since I got it two Christmases ago.

I know it's going to come up again in therapy next week, "what are you doing for yourself?" And I do make time for myself. Today, for example, I spent all day working on a batch of spaghetti sauce. David worked, so it was me with the kids (and the animals). The hardest parts are cutting the vegetables and then canning the sauce. Something somewhere has to give between all the needs of the day, so I cleaned jack shit. Kelsey chose to wear nothing but her pajama shirt all day and her hair was a mess. There are dishes everywhere and laundry is overflowing.

But a little well-placed child neglect goes a long way. While Evan napped, I put Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Road Rally on Netflix for the billionth time and Kelsey stayed in one spot with a bowl of cereal for an hour. I got all the vegetables in the pot during that time.

It needed three hours or so to cook, and Evan slept pretty hard this morning, so I was able to give in to Kelsey's demands to hop around on the porch like a frog, eat pretend spaghetti sauce from her kitchen (which was ketchup bottles in a pot), and point out all the dead stink bugs on the floor. 

Before her nap, the sauce was cooked down enough to run it through the food mill, which she was hyped about.

She helped me crank it for a little while, then it was her nap time. Twenty minutes later, Evan woke up. He hung out in his bouncer chair while I finished up the milling, and I got the sauce back on the stove. I hadn't eaten anything but string cheese and the mushroom bits churned out by the food mill at this point.

A little while later, Evan went back down for a nap and Kelsey was already up but I ignored her for five minutes so I could eat a sleeve of Pirouette cookies without sharing. No regrets.

David brought home Chinese takeout since the stove was completely out of commission. As he sat down and fed Kelsey, I canned the sauce. Evan woke up howling at this time so David juggled both kids so I could finish sealing the jars and getting them back into the canner.

I sat down to eat a real meal with Evan (who snarfed a handful of mei fun and crushed my fortune cookie) while David took Kelsey outside to play in the rain.

The result of the day was a yield of seven quarts of homemade spaghetti sauce, two filthy but happy kids, dogs who weren't totally forgotten, and one hell of a mess waiting for me tomorrow.

The frustrating part is finding balance. Creative days, everything is a godawful mess and I have at least twice the work waiting for me the next day. Responsible days get shit done, but I'm left grouchy that I never got to have fun.

Enveloping all of this is PPD, which tells me "if mom is happy, everyone is happy" one second and crushes me with guilt the next. Guilt over feeding Kelsey cookies and juice all day and letting her boss me around about her lunch. Guilt over Evan sneezing because the animal hair and dander on the floor is overloading him, guilt that Kelsey watched three hours of Netflix and Evan spent almost as much time in the Jumperoo or Exersaucer so I could be a selfish asshole and do what I want for a day. But, hey, look at all these jars in the pantry. I made those and we're set on sauce and salsa for months. Now I wanna look through the Ball recipe book and find something new to try... But Evan is almost out of clothes that fit, they're all in the hamper waiting to be washed. And David is almost out of work pants. And, Jesus, when was the last time I cleaned the litter box? I definitely yelled too much today, Kelsey is gonna think I'm a jackass.

See how cyclical this shit is?