Damson Plum Jam

Damson plum jam has been a household favorite for many years. I had never heard of these plums until I did a search years ago trying to learn about this tree in our yard with small purplish-skinned plums that definitely are not fresh eaters. That search led to my discovery of Damson plums. While not tasty off the tree they make a rich, flavorful jam with a beautiful color and aroma. There isn’t a jam that really compares.

Damson Plum Jam on Gluten-free Toast

Unfortunately last year we had no harvest. Several plum trees in the neighborhood were lost to a mysterious ailment. This year a couple young trees graciously presented us with enough plums for one very small batch. It was nice to have the aroma of Damson plums cooking in the house again.

With a small harvest, the jam making process was quite simpler this year. First comes the harvest in early September. My harvest pattern is to pick when the plums are quite ripe — actually already falling or just hanging on. You may question my technique but I start with picking fresh drops from the ground then I may lay some landscaping fabric on the ground. Now I grab a branch, look down, and shake the branch. After gathering that group of fresh fallen fruit off the fabric I continue to the next branch. This year with only a few branches I did actually handpick but did not on the mature tree we lost. With the fruit picked, you can let the plums ripen further for some days before cooking. Don’t want to wait too long though, they won’t last and the fruit flies love them.

Place the plums into a pot, add sugar and cook. I’m flexible on the proportions but you can start with 5 cups of plums, 3 cups of sugar and a little water. Note that the pits have not been removed. The pits are the hard part with this jam. Some people remove them before cooking and, I admit, with this year’s small harvest I did so as well. It isn’t too hard when they are quite ripe but when you have a lot of plums I prefer to let the cooking do the work for me. I bring them to a boil on medium-high heat then turn it down to medium or a bit lower to continue cooking until the jam sets.

As the plums cook the pits come free from the meat and float. This is when you can start scooping them out. This isn’t the safest method but it works for me. The scooped out pits get piled in a bowl and set aside. Later after they have cooled a bit pop some jam coated pits in your mouth for a very tasty treat — like a hard candy. Just don’t swallow the pits.

When the jam is ready — we’re typically doing freezer jam — it is off to jars, a nice cool down and then the freezer. Except for one jar that immediately gets used on a piece of toast and then goes in the refrigerator until tomorrow’s breakfast.

Gluten-free German’s chocolate cake

Here is my gluten-free version of the Original BAKER’S GERMAN’S Sweet Chocolate Cake. The only change from this recipe was to replace the 2 cups of flour with a gluten-free flour combination. I’ve found that a combination is much more effective than using any single replacement.

Gluten-free flour combination (2 cups):

  • 1-1/4 cup gluten-free oat flour
  • 1/4 cup brown rice flour
  • 1/8 cup quinoa flour
  • 1/8 cup coconut flour
  • 1/8 cup amaranth flour
  • 1/8 cup buckwheat flour

In the Portland area you can get all these gluten-free flours at Bob’s Red Mill Whole Grain Store. Conveniently these flours are all available in their bulk food bins allowing you to buy as much or as little as you’d like.

This flour combination produced nice flat layers of moist cakes ready for layering.

Three cake layers fresh from the oven still in the cake pans

Cake layer now out of the pan and looking moist and tasty

Of course between layers and the top must have a coconut-pecan frosting. Our pecans were fresh from a recent trip to Texas. No pecans, no problem. Choose a local nut to use in your frosting like hazelnuts or walnuts here in Oregon.

A not so great iPhone shot of the cake on a platter with coconut-pecan frosting showing between layers

The sides left plain is a pretty layered cake but my wife likes her cake wrapped in a cozy layer of chocolate frosting. The top also likes a bit of dressing — in this case with some coconut flakes and shredded dark chocolate.

Finished cake from the side with chocolate frosting now hugging the side

Another not-so-great iPhone shot from the top showing coconut-pecan frosting, coconut flakes and chocolate shavings, time to slice it up and enjoy.

This delicious birthday cake quickly disappeared (and deserved better photos). Those lucky enough to enjoy a slice — or two — would not have guessed this was a gluten-free cake without being told. Enjoy!

A bad picture of a delicious slice of cake.

Clearing a Bathtub Drain with a Lift-and-Turn Style Stopper

Check out this video if you are you tired of showering in a pool of water. This is for everyone with a bathtub stopper of the lift-and-turn style.

If your bathtub drain is slowing down, it just might be a clump of hair caught on the tub’s lift-and-turn stopper. Cleaning the drain regularly may help avoid a truly clogged drain. It isn’t hard to do once you know how.

Watch the video here but be sure to visit the YouTube page for this video to read through the comments before you get started. Many people have offered up helpful tips.

Philadelphia Images and Notes

Philadelphia City Hall

I’m always impressed with Philadelphia’s City Hall. Such a grand building that dominates your view with its bulk.

Curtis Institute of Music

An evening walk introduced me to the Curtis Institute of Music. Roaming from my hotel to Drexel University via Rittenhouse Square, I happened upon a notice for the graduation recital for a cellist. After visiting Drexel I returned to enjoy a beautiful recital. My last evening I returned to Curtis again for a brass chamber recital. More gorgeous music this time set in the original building featuring this amazing setting.

After this second recital I read in a display case about the founding of the Curtis Institute of Music. The next morning I ran across The Curtis Publishing Company building. A daughter of the Curtis Publishing founder established the Institute.

COMPANION art installation by KAWS at 30th Street Station

Luckily I decided to catch the SEPTA train to the airport at the 30th Street Station. I was curious because this building is enormous. Luck came in that a Companion, a KAWS artwork, started a stint at the station on this day. The work is amazing. No one can ignore the Companion, all are captured by its scale and tale. What tale? Whatever you read into Companion’s body language.

Time Travel Exhibit at the Kimmel Center as part of PIFA

This is just a fun time travel exhibit with several locations where you interact with the art.

Kimmel Center

Much newer than all the grand buildings in Philadelphia but still impressive and eye-catching.

SEPTA Platforms at the 30th Street Station

Closest I’ve been to a King’s Cross Station. While not truly comparable this is a train station worth visiting. As mentioned earlier the station is massive. You can see in one of the Companion shots that the main room in the station consumes a vast space.

Other shots around Philadelphia

The weather was wonderful during my visit. Here is one shot looking off Walnut Street looking up the Schuylkill River with the 30th Street Station in the background. Also had to include an evening shot of a street of downtown homes. Gems are also hidden in buildings such as the large pipe organ dominating the Macy’s located in the Wanamaker Building.

Announcements in our Student Portal

When MyPCC was first introduced at Portland Community College, I would grab emails that came out to staff to post in our new student portal. The typical practice back then was for staff to send emails out to all other staff about something pertinent to students. Of course these messages were never seen by their true target. Hopefully some staff shared these with students in some way — perhaps posting on a wall or announcing something in class.

The days of me searching for news to post faded quickly. The college soon learned that students do indeed pay attention to announcements posted in the student portal (MyPCC). How did we know this? At the time we didn’t have any real statistics but we did have stories.

A faculty member thanked me for posting a poetry reading. He was very thankful because the reading had more than 70 students attend. This was a very impressive turn out.

We would also regularly get staff members posting an opportunity for students. For example, a job posting. Soon after we’d receive a request to remove the announcement due to the large response.

With success came the flood. I no longer had to search for announcements, everyone wanted one. Now we had to structure the communication. We did (that is a separate story), and while not perfect, our practices and governance are still in place.

We also now have better statistics on views of our announcements. Here are total views for a recent set of announcements:

  • 7,500 views: Grades Available Tues. 3/26
  • 12,000 views: Update on police investigation in the news
  • 6,500 views: Course evaluations online until 3/17
  • 2,500 views: Message from the President: Budget forums set
  • 5,900 views: Desire2Learn Outage and Storage Issues – 1/29/13 (only up for 2 full days)
  • 1,500 views: Weather Alert: All classes and events cancelled until noon today (only up 1 day and available prominently elsewhere on the PCC website)

Here is what a typical month looks like showing pageviews which equate to a view of an announcement:

Graphic showing views of announcement in MyPCC, the Portland Community College student portal, with daily totals ranging from 1,000 to 7,000

Our audience is aware and paying attention to what we say. While MyPCC isn’t the only way we reach our students it is a primary channel.

Easter Cooking: Pierogies and Babka Bread

This Easter traditions continued with bread baking and pierogi making.

Babka bread was this year’s bread feature. (In the past it has been hot cross buns and Challah bread.) Babka bread is impressive due to its size and stateliness. Adorned with a decorative cross and other embellishments it is beautiful, fills a room with heart-warming smells and tastes wonderful. In this picture we have our Babka bread on a Ukrainian table runner and alongside Easter eggs of year’s past.

Babka break on a Ukrainian table runner with Easter eggs next to the bread

Great to look at but better to eat. Our Babka bread had substance and great flavor along with a nice moist lightness to it. Babka bread sliced and on a plate ready to serve

Pierogies highlighted our meal and our day as the preparation does take time — but provides for ample family bonding. This year’s highlights included the teenagers making the pierogies. It was nice to see the cousins having fun and socializing while taking on this family tradition.

Last time they participated in the pierogi crafting but took it on full force this year. I think they found the mountain of flour building and hands-on work entertaining.

Ava smiles trying to keep the mountain of flour, eggs and other pierogi makings from collapsing before digging in with her hands to mix it all together

Unfortunately I enjoyed our meal before thinking of taking a picture of our beautiful place setting with plates full of pierogies with sour cream, kielbasa, German sweet mustard, dill sauerkraut, asparagus, and salad. Dessert featured gluten-free carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. A yummy day!

We have a few pierogies in the freezer, maybe I’ll remember to take a picture when we fry those up. Until then, you can take a look at SewPixie’s plate full of pierogies and sausage from her Flickr photostream.

Yay dinner! I was starving. Thank you Mr S for pierogies, kraut, and kielbasa. :)