Grandma’s Blackberry Jam Recipe

So I made blackberry jam, and I canned it, which I’ll talk more about at the bottom of this post.

Blackberry jam.
Blackberry jam.

Here’s the recipe I used (it was very simple). This is a standard jam recipe but it’s vegan and gluten free:
1. Go pick some blackberries. I got 300g. Blackberries grow wild on brambles.
2. Weigh them (and wash them thoroughly, throw out any bad ones).
If you didn’t get many (you need at least 200g really – that does an 8oz jar of jam, when you subtract the stuff that will burn to the bottom, but for lots, preferably 500g-900g), freeze them and wait for more to ripen, then pick/wash more.
3. When you’re ready to make jam, weigh all your blackberries together.
4. Measure out the same amount of golden granulated sugar (it’s a 1:1 ratio blackberries to sugar). Maybe other sugar types also work, I used golden granulated.
5. Put the berries in a pan with a big tablespoon of lemon juice (this will help preserve the fruit) and about 1/4 cup of water, and bring to the boil.
6. Simmer straight away for 15 minutes.
7. Add the sugar. It will take a lot of stirring and a lot of waiting to get it all to dissolve.
8. Once it’s dissolved, turn the heat up as high as you can and boil for 10-12 minutes, until the blackberry gloop reaches 105 degrees C (220F) which is the setting point. Don’t stir, but if you smell burning, it’s done.

Blackberry jam.
This is what it looks like when its set after the white froth was scraped off.

9. Take off the heat, skim off any white froth from the top, and let it settle for a few minutes (you can put it straight in jars at this point but I wanted to check it had worked.
10. Put in (sterilized with HOT water) jars, seal them if you want to.

About canning, storage times and such:
I used these quattro stagioni jars in 8.5 ounce size, which I found for a good price on the shelf at Homesense (they’re one of those places that has different stuff each week), I liked them because they’re made to take the high temperature and they’re vacuum sealable for food safety (although one of mine didn’t seal) and they sell replacement lids (70mm or 2 3/4 inch is the size for the 8.5 oz jars, although that is NOT cheap for 2 jar lids, so I hope somewhere starts doing them cheaper). You can use any old jar for jam, but you should use a fresh lid each time because you can’t fully clean the lids, which is why I bought jars to use.
If you want to read about home canning in more depth to ensure you’re doing it safely, this free guide from the USDA is phenomenal (I’d start with this section). I highly recommend it for people thinking of canning (which means putting in jars – that confused me for a while) other garden produce, although I’m still undecided on what to do with my carrots when they’re fully grown.

If you vacuum seal the jar with the blackberry jam in it, and don’t open it again, it’s good for 1 year (the jars I linked to have specific instructions to seal them in hot water, I managed to follow them using a bucket as I didn’t have a big enough pot). If it doesn’t vacuum seal (the popper in the lid still pops up) it’s good for 1 month. When you open it, it’s good for 1 month.

Anyone else done any canning or jam making? Got a different recipe/method? Let me know in the comments!

blackberry jam
Sterilized jars.

Oops Button: Weekly Photo Challenge: Rare.

This is for the weekly photo challenge: Rare
So I found this actual key on a keyboard from an old computer at the Jim Austin Collection:

oops button real keyboard
Top row, fifth key across, unedited photo.

Let me know if you’ve ever seen this before or worked with a keyboard like this; I’d love to know more about it!!

Things that shouldn’t be hard: Seeing a Dentist.

I have spent all day trying to get an appointment for an emergency root canal with a dentist I can actually get to, because my dentist is miles away and I don’t have a car. Heaven forbid any buses go near my dentist. Only rich people go to the dentist apparently.

They told me back in January at the free initial consultation that I needed a filling, and that if I didn’t get one I would need a root canal, but I couldn’t afford a filling at the time so they gave me the symptoms to look out for to tell if it’s gone worse. A filling is £90 to £200. It turns out a root canal is almost £1000. I did not know that. I still can’t afford a filling, but now I need a root canal.

Allegedly in the UK we’re all entitled to “free” (actually, it’s only subsidized, but any discount is better than nothing when you’re broke) dentistry but it’s impossible to get ANY dentist in York let alone a free one. There is one free dentist in York, with no appointments until the end of January. All the private dentists in York are either fully booked until the end of September or have a disgraceful consultation fee (I chose my current dentist based on the free initial consultation). That would be on top of the check-up where they actually looked at the tooth and the root canal itself.

I actually don’t mind paying for a service when it means I can access it when I need to, but one dental practice quoted a £150 initial consultation, a £60 fee for looking at the tooth (you can’t do that during a consultation apparently) and £1500 for the root canal… and they had no appointments until October. So they’re clearly trying to attract clientele with a lot more money and time than me (i.e. any money at all).

The whole point of paying for a service is supposed to be that you can actually use it when you need it. Why would I pay that much money to a dentist to then wait over a month for an emergency appointment?? It’s like I’m being financially penalized for the fact that I wasn’t fed properly as a child, because I look after my teeth better than anyone else I know. I’m obsessive about it. This root canal must have come from poor bone formation. Thanks, Dead Parents. Again.

I would just go to the emergency dentist but last time I went, they drilled the wrong tooth and told me afterwards that they’d only put a temporary filling on it, and that I should see my dentist to get it properly filled, and they charged me somewhere in the region of £45 for the privilege of wasting a day getting something done that I would have to get done again.

If I still lived in Bradford, I would just phone my dentist, tell them it was an emergency, get a same day appointment and sort it out on my payment plan. But I don’t, so I can’t.

My tooth hurts. I can’t wait months to get it fixed. It’s keeping me awake so bad that it’s waking me up from the Seroquel Zombie Sleep long after the background music in my brain has stopped playing (which seems to be Seroquel’s main effect).

In a last ditch attempt to get the tooth sorted this week, I phoned the dentist I saw in January and asked for an emergency appointment. They could fit me in on Friday.

So it is actually cheaper and easier for me to pay £40 for a taxi to my dentist and back to get this tooth fixed, even though my dentist is miles away, than to find a dentist actually in my city where I can get this sorted. If I had a car this wouldn’t have been as much of an issue, but I can’t afford a car, and a car costs less than a root canal.

I don’t have the money for this. I so don’t have the money for this. My credit card can’t cover this either; it’s just too much.

So the new plan is to take out a Career Development Loan alongside the Student Loan for my tuition fees, and pay the dentist with money that should be going on books and course costs. Except I’d have to wait at least 4 weeks to get the Career Development Loan because of processing times.

Arrgh!!!

Have you ever had a root canal? Please can you tell me what it’s like as I’m a bit terrified!! Also can I take my bipolar meds and have local anaesthetic?? Anyone?

I’m going (back) to university!

 

I got offered the MSc I wanted this morning.

I applied for the new Postgraduate Student Loan at once, and am sending the paperwork to Student Loans this afternoon had a massive panic attack and missed the post office by 8 minutes. I tried chasing it down the street but you know how they refuse to stop once they’re on the move.

This is huge, and I know nobody else probably thinks so, but it’s the actual biggest thing ever. I always wanted to do a master’s degree, and for the last 7 years I mostly thought it was out of my reach and that I would never actually get to do the thing I wanted to do, and anyway, I was never really sure until now what I could actually contribute to academia. I guess if I hadn’t taken the roundabout way to get here, I wouldn’t have the same skills and ideas to bring to it all, and I’m glad everything’s finally falling into place, but still… I have to wonder how much further ahead in life I’d be if I hadn’t missed so many milestones as a child (thanks, Dead Parents), leading to my chronic low confidence, and more recently, if I hadn’t been forced to take several honking great detours away from what I wanted to do. Thanks, bipolar disorder, the door’s over there.

First harvest of the summer

unripe blackberries
Unripe blackberries… these have got 2 or 3 days to go before they’ll be ripe.
ripe blackberries
Ripe blackberries… totally different to blackcurrants (but everyone thinks they’re the same thing), blackberries grow wild on brambles; I love having them in my garden.

I just had a stressful 4-day visit from the housework police in-laws (mother-in-law’s line of questioning included such gems as “why don’t you knock a wall down between your toilet and your kitchen?” and “why did you do an archaeology degree?” and “can I rip out all the brambles, you don’t want those brambles!” oh, and my favorite, “you might die before [my husband/her son]; I know plenty of people who got cancer and died in their 30s”), despite that, I am feeling like a goddamn domestic goddess…Perhaps a lesser known one, such as the goddess of drinking tea, or the goddess of sitting in the house on sunny days watching re-runs of I Love Lucy instead of hitting my daily word count.

I don’t know, anyway, I went out to collect some of this year’s harvest from all those plants I keep trying to grow, and this was the results:

blackberries
Blackberries, potatoes and baby carrots.

 

As you can see, the blackberry crop is doing extremely well. The carrots are very small because I basically emptied an entire packet of carrot seeds into a container and sprinkled soil over the top. Yesterday I plucked out about 1 in 2 of them and, of the ones I pulled out, I moved most of them to two new containers of soil (the ones the dead peas were in) and the ones that wouldn’t fit anywhere were in this picture, I topped and tailed them, then cooked and ate them. The potatoes were originally Red Roosters and Charlottes, but some of them cross-bred so now I have brown potatoes with red spots. I only lifted as many potatoes as I wanted for one meal, so there’s tons more tatties in the garden.

I’m getting another planter this week in the hope of planting mizuna (leafy greens) this week and I’m considering starting some cabbages or Brussels sprouts maybe for over winter; these are the last two weeks to plant them until next year.

Things which were unsuccessful: Peas – I totally overestimated how much sunshine they needed and they shriveled and died even in the non-stop cloud we’ve had, I didn’t know to water them extra. Coriander (cilantro) – I keep buying packs of cori seeds and they keep turning out to be parsley. Weird. Leafy plants – Any leafy plants (including zucchini/marrows) seem to get ravaged by creepy crawlies, even though I keep doing everything I can about them. The only thing with leaves that survived was 3 of the 4 sunflowers I planted, but it’s not time to pick the seeds yet, so I will show you next month. Sweetcorn didn’t even try to grow, it never even sprouted.  I’m considering cloches for next year’s leafy plants.

Next year, I want a blueberry bush and a cherry tree to move us closer to being self-sufficient, especially since fruit is so expensive.

How to shoot photos indoors

 

“John Loengard, the picture editor at Life, always used to tell me, ”If you want something to look interesting, don’t light all of it.”
– Joe McNallyThe Moment It Clicks: Photography Secrets from One of the World’s Top Shooters

As part of my ongoing series about photography, I wanted to talk about how to take a picture indoors.

Indoor shooting is relatively simple once you know how, because light levels tend to be more constant than they are outdoors, where clouds can cause serious problems with over or under exposed photos. I also have an article with more general info about setting up a shot.

  1. Lighting lighting lighting:
    Some people claim you can never light too much, but if that lighting is uneven, you will get a better shot by ditching some of the lighting and changing your camera settings to adjust for low light levels – you can do this by slowing down your shutter speed (1/30 will let more light in than 1/300), by increasing your ISO, or by changing your f-stop number to a lower number (1.8 will let in more light than 4.6, but check your lens, some don’t go down very low). If you do have access to bright, even lighting, you want to play around (left, right, and top are usually where you put them) to find the best positioning for your lights. Remember to adjust the white balance on the camera if you’re using artificial lighting or everything has a tendency to come out yellow.
  2. Tidy:
    Tidy the area in and around the shot, because unexpected things will end up in frame if you forget about them and move the camera slightly. I’ll never forget the time I’d done a set of photos for this website, and it was only when I was resizing them that I realized a couple of the pictures had a pair of old socks in the background!!
  3. Eliminate Wobble:
    Put the camera on a stable surface if you can, such as a tripod – this is essential for video. While you don’t need a tripod specifically, any stable surface should be fine, it’s easier to change the height and levelling of the camera with a tripod. For Youtubing, I put my camera on the wooden flat bit at the top of my headboard and I sometimes raise it with paperback books.
  4. Angle it:
    Playing around with angles is one of the fastest ways to improve pictures from sort-of-meh, or flat, to vibrant shots that will jump out at the viewers. Even the most boring of things can look totally different depending how you shoot them. Tilt your camera up or down, increasing or decreasing height of the camera to ensure the subject is still in the viewfinder, to experiment with different angles.
  5. Focus:
    If you’re using manual focus, you need to make sure you’ve adjusted it. With automatic focus, check that the key elements of the shot are actually in focus. I had one bridge camera whose autofocus had a terrible habit of focusing on the least interesting component of any given shot, which drove me to distraction because it didn’t have a manual option – this terrible focal problem was the entire reason I snapped and bought my DSLR.
  6. Snap it:
    Finally, when you’ve got your shot set up, take your picture. I always re-take at least twice to make sure I got everything right.

bunny rabbit eating dandelion cute bunnies cute bunny soft bunny adorable funny

What happens after a publisher accepts your work?

There’s millions, if not zillions, of articles for unpublished writers, but what about for those people publishing their first novel, who don’t know what to expect? There are a lot less people whose work has been accepted by a publisher, so I guess less people can write about that with any degree of authority, not to mention the fact that less people want to know about it. I thought I’d start with talking about what happens after a publisher accepts your work for publication, giving people an insight into the publication process.

If you start by sending in a proposal, they will read over the proposal and they should either accept your proposal or decline it. If they’ve accepted it, they may suggest changes to make it more marketable. Mandatory changes should be made clear. After you have your proposal back, you can get on with writing (unless you’re really naughty like me, and start writing the bits you know will be fine while you’re waiting to hear back from them).

If you didn’t send in a proposal, you’ll either send in a sample first, or just a complete manuscript. If you did send in a proposal, the next thing you send them is the full manuscript. Make sure you’ve done as much editing as you can to the manuscript before you send it to them; I found this very, very difficult with my first book because I had no idea what needed doing to it. After they’ve got everything, it gets sent to a line editor. The line editor’s job is to go through your work and write notes on any improvements you need to make to your work; some improvements are optional, but some are mandatory. If you’re unsure about whether a change is mandatory or not, ask your editor and they will tell you one way or the other.

Once they’ve written those notes, they will send you back the annotated manuscript, or they’ll send you back the notes separately, and your job as the writer is to make the changes and improvements to your work. Some places give you deadlines for this, others don’t mind. After you’ve made your improvements, they will send your work to a copy editor.

The copy editor is the last person from the publishing house who will see your work; they go through it and format it to in-house style guidelines, and they generally use the Merriam Webster dictionary and the Chicago Manual of Style as a reference for anything that’s questionable. They will also flag up typos and spelling and grammatical errors, inconsistencies (one minute she wears a red hat, the next minute she wears a blue bonnet), and factual errors. After they’ve done that, you should get your work back, at which point you either have to make the copy-editor’s changes or you have to have a damn good reason (“I don’t like that change” isn’t one) to reject their changes – the Big Five Publishers, and some of the smaller ones, will usually expect you to give references to support your reasons for not approving every change made by the copy editor, but check this before sending back reams of information, because some places don’t want that (my current publisher doesn’t). When the copy editor gets it wrong, you need to raise that with someone at your publisher (or get your agent to do this, if you have one).

Once you’ve approved or rejected (with references) the copy edits, you send the work back to the publishers and they start work on the cover. After you’ve seen the cover, it’s natural to get very excited about your forthcoming book. If you like the cover, let them know, and they will get the blurb written and the proofs made up, or if they’re an ebook publisher, this is when it will be prepared to be made available online.

At some point before the book is made available online, you should receive a contract (if you haven’t received one, let them know). The contract is the only thing that protects you from getting royally screwed over by your publisher, so read it carefully and get a lawyer (one who has seen other book contracts, not any old lawyer) to read it over if you’re unsure about anything. Sometimes publishers try it on with their contracts but you have to stand your ground, otherwise you’ll regret it when the book’s a bestseller and you’re not making any money. I got taken for a ride by one publisher, a few years ago, who published my unedited work, lied literally every step of the way, and never paid me the advance. Later, when I tried to get that sorted out, I discovered that I would have to go to somewhere on the East Coast of America to take them to arbitration to get my money back, and that I had to do this within a certain time period, which I’d missed, because they’d spent so long delaying in answering and I’d been too patient. If I’d understood this beforehand, I would have acted sooner to get it resolved, but it was my first book and I didn’t know what to expect from the publication process (hence this article).

If you’ve signed the contract AND RECEIVED THE ADVANCE (if you are in the habit of accepting advances – I am not) then you’re good to get excited about the release date. Many contracts have a clause stating the author must do their best to publicize the novel – there are a bunch of ways you can do this and I’ll talk about them in a future article.

Has your experience of the publication process been different? Let me know in the comments!