Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A year later.

The last thing I posted is not something I want to read right now. It's precisely one year later, and I'll be honest: I don't feel any less sad. The moment that Dawn passed from this life felt like a hiccup in the Universe for me. Losing her shouldn't be about me, but I've learned so much about myself through observing my own reactions to her absence. Here are some of my musings.

I had no idea how much I depended on Dawn to simply be somewhere in this world to talk to or check in with. As her husband noted in his most recent post, her smile, joy, sarcasm and generally disarming attitude told me I had nothing to fear. Like a naive child I never really believed she could part from my life. That was a profound gift. She made being sick seem so un-sick to me that I'm ashamed to admit that I confided to a friend that she couldn't possibly be *that* sick. I was that kid sister who needed more and gave less than I got. And, true to form, I found myself petulant in her absence.

This sulk, lack of tolerance or what have you manifested most often where I'd have found Dawn on a daily basis. I began to hate Twitter. I hated everyone who was not her. It was not a place I wanted to be without her. All the words, the new follow requests, the posts about her just overwhelmed me. So much of me wanted to be the person she was to me for our mutual friends. I haven't always been equal to this task.

What would I say to her right now? Never has there been an experience like this before in my life. That last time you were in the hospital I wanted to get in those doctors faces and give them hell because I thought I heard in your voice a little bit of resignation. That scared me. I wanted to scream at them that there had to be answers greater than what they had. I didn't want you in some stupid semi private room with an ineffectual staff giving unsatisfactory answers. The gravity of that stay...the results of that surgery were what jerked me out of denial. Everything else happened too fast. A little over a year ago you talked with me for the last time. You told me to tell you something good. Right after I told my husband, I told you I was having a baby. You said, "This is good. You have 'em for me because I can't." And then you slowly (too quickly) slipped away. One year ago today I sent you one last text message.

Okay, but what would I really want to say to her if she were right here with me? I'd tell her how amazing her boys are--how I saw so much of her twinkly eyes and exuberance in M. That there's an unassuming sweetness but a little spitfire in P.  But she knows that I'm sure. I'd just want to tell her that because I'm glad I got to physically see that all three of her men are in good shape--and that's really important to me. Just as I had unfailing confidence that Dawn would be there for me in a hot second, I know Mike knows that I'm always here for him. And that's the only way I'd have it. My vow to her is that I'll always be there. I'm like a self appointed bossy boots nervous nelly nosy parker who just won't go away. But, I have to repay the debt of gratitude I owe for the love and care she showed me when I never had much to offer but antics.

So, it's a year later. It feels just as fresh as it did then. I miss her all the time. That's the sum of it. Nothing to see people. Move along.

Monday, April 1, 2013

For my friend.

I have not written anything in a long time. This has been about time--commitments, school (mine and the kids'), the remodel, the side business, life, and disinterest. I've been disinterested and disenchanted in blogging since my eyes were opened to how absorbed I had become in a life inside a computer instead of a life in which one actually rolled up one's sleeves and got one's hands dirty.  I credit my husband for finally dropping the hammer on me and forcing me to put down my iphone.

I spent three years without an iphone and I think it helped me a lot.  Being less tethered was a great thing for me, but I will admit that I lost touch of some people who had been really important to me for a long time.  I will also admit that my new found freedom from writing and reading blogs all the live-long day made me somewhat smug and superior acting.  I was so enthralled with THE WORLD and FACE to FACE relationships that I just couldn't imagine what everyone else was still doing blogging, advertising their posts, schmoozing for re-tweets about their posts, etc... In fact, I still think it's pretty silly, but that's because I'm interested in you and your feelings in REAL TIME rather than in some pithy prose that you've written in order to describe your feelings.  Oh! The feelings!

What is my point? Well, it's that there are very few people who I can think of that have gone the distance with me. From 2006 when I was deep in the belly of the proverbial pain body through separation and eventual divorce, and in the in between times all the way to the present there are less than a handful of people who I can think of that had contact with me probably every day.  It could have been just a check-in, to share a joke or it could have been something big like heartache or loss.  Right now, one of those "less than a handful" people is really on my heart. Dawn is moving toward the end of her life right now. As I sit here and bite my tongue to choke back tears and remember what I wanted to say, all I can think is that this sweet, kind woman has done so much for me--maybe more than she can ever know.

She has been the person who I emailed, texted or tweeted with almost every day since 2006.  Dawn is the person who I'd roll my eyes over for always being positive while I served up my trademark piss and vinegar. She's a person who I believe could almost be mistaken for being naive, but a closer look would tell you that she's resolute and pragmatic.  Dawn knows what real problems are, and she would never minimize yours, but she might quietly just tell you it would be okay even if you were screaming in your own mind that it NEVER. WOULD. BE. OKAY.  She won't tell you to shut up---she'll tell you to tell her "something good." She'll implore you to be #moarhappyer, and I promise that by indulging her and coming up with something worthy of that hashtag, you will have your spirits lifted.

I always said that Dawn and her husband, Mike, have the most enviable of online relationships. In fact, I don't know another couple who peacefully coexist on Twitter.  They tease, exchange silly comments and check on each other throughout the day where most couples would be passive aggressively wondering "WHO LEFT THE TOILET SEAT UP AGAIN #husband."  They're a good team.  It's easy to be friends with both of them because though they have separate voices, their messages are essentially unified.

{Again, my point? I'm rambling, I know. I have a million tear soaked thoughts that I want to express right now.}

I think I just want to say that Dawn is kindness, and by saying how she has affected me I mean it to convey her goodness.  The long lasting effects of someone who you've never met face to face are surprisingly powerful.  It's the blessing of this digital age: When we feel so jaded by the real life relationships that sour there is this wonderful, redeeming group in the ether that lifts you up if you so choose to partake of it.

So, I will compulsively check Twitter and Facebook for updates. I toy with sending her just one more text message to say I love her.  I may have minutes of utter paralysis in which I don't know which end is up because of the grief I feel.  But, I would be foolish if I didn't harness what I imagine Dawn would be asking us to do right now. That's to be #moarhappyer---to find more reasons to feel happy than to feel sad.  Failing the ability to truly be happy right now, it might be worth exploring what it means to be #moarkinder or #moargentler or even #moarstronger.

Also, please consider a gift in Dawn's honor through the Melanoma Research Foundation.

Monday, August 6, 2012

food for thought.

It's been a really long time since I last posted. That's not to say that I haven't experimented with any new recipes or put up any food, but it is true that with three rowdy children of various ages, school (theirs and mine), extracurriculars, studying, studying, and more studying, I am less a canner now than I was before.  I have only put away two boxes of peaches this year, and I'm sad to say that I probably wasted a good part of the first box. With that in mind, and the box of beautiful, freestone O'Henry peaches staring me down, I decided to focus on putting up FOOD for a change. I usually do a lot of jams, preserves, and even a juice here and there, but this summer I've been working on deviating from condiments.

When I express my fears that everything will all go to hell, zombies will turn up, and it'll be us, gold, and guns, I've been known to boastfully point to my closet of beautiful jars of preserves. This is usually the point when the husband mentions that none of that is actual FOOD (in my mind FOOD is capitalized and spoken with urgency) in my pantry. This begs the question: In the event of some sort of apocalyptic, life changing event, what on earth will we have in terms of FOOD?

I decided to can peaches, so I consulted this book that I have, but truly, have a love and hate relationship with. The lady who wrote it...well...ummm...sometimes I think she's pretty cool.  Other times, I think she's sort of this faux Southern hack who tries to be some kind of rural that she's not.  DAMN IT. Nobody in the south wants "less sweet" bread and butter pickles. So, this chick has some good ideas about imparting different flavors into food which I have come to appreciate, but some of the stuff in her book is a bit la-dee-da while other stuff is just simply incorrect.  For the following recipe, I've taken the idea of infusing a flavor into my canning syrup, but followed the Fannie Farmer guide for the most part.

The jars have turned out beautifully, and as usual, the last ones are close to perfection. I don't think I packed the jars tightly enough the first time, so there's a lot of dead space in the jars.  That's not a huge issue, but it does sort of seem wasteful to think I could have gotten more fruit into the pints.  I'm really excited about having peaches put away for the winter--especially peaches that are not wrapped in BPA lined cans from the supermarket.

Without further ado, the recipe:

Canned Peaches with Raspberry Essence

You'll need:
as many peaches as you can handle putting up in one session!
raspberry vodka
pint or quart jars
lids/rings as appropriate
bottled lemon juice

Step 1:
Fill a large bowl with cool water and add 1-3 TBS lemon juice
Peel peaches *either by blanch/skin method or with a paring knife/vegetable peeler
Slice fruit into the size you'd like: halves, quarters, etc... and plop them into the bowl of water/lemon mixture to acidulate them. Some people prefer FruitFresh preparation. If that's you, omit the lemon juice.

Step 2:
Prepare the canning syrup.
1 cup sugar to every 2 cups of water.  (I used 8 cups of water and 4 cups sugar which turned out to be a bit much. When I do it next time, I think I'll take it down to 4-6 cups water and 2-3 cups sugar respectively)
1/4 cup raspberry flavored vodka (I used Stoli)
Bring syrup to a rapid boil, then remove from heat.

Step 3:
Drain peaches and pack into hot, sterilized jars.
Press the peaches down firmly, then drain any remaining water out of the jars leaving 1/2-3/4 inch head space.
Ladle syrup into jars, leaving at least 1/2 inch head space.

Step 4:
Wipe rims of jars, place hot prepared lids and rings on them.
Lower into pot of boiling water with canning tongs being mindful of the need to cover jars with at least 1 inch of water over the lids.
Process for 20 minutes (pints) and 25 minutes (quarts)

Step 5:
Remove jars from pot, place on cool surface to observe for proper sealing. When you've heard all the "pops" or can see that the jars have sealed, label them and put away for storage. If any jar has not sealed, immediately transfer it to the refrigerator and consume within a week.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

playing catch-up...

I hardly know where to begin since I haven't written about any of my summer projects since the blackberries. Since then, I've made a melange of hot pepper slices which I'd call "Nacho Bizness" if I enjoyed puns. Okay, who am I kidding? I totally love puns!  Digressing... I also put up about 20 jars of fig preserves after receiving what I would refer to as the holy grail of phone calls. It went something like this: "Hey, it's Laura. I'm at my Mom's house in Albany and her fig tree is literally weeping with fruit..."

After the figs were the plums, and after the plums were more peaches--a soft set, mild flavored, party pooper of a jam... And then came what my friend Lindsey refers to as "adultcherries"--those boozy, syrupy gals who live in the refrigerator.  Later came a couple of jars of organic cherry jammy glaze.  I deviated from jars for a bit and dehydrated Vidalia onions. Then, in the face of feeling as if I'd missed the end of the peach season while moping around the house during my husband's extremely long, asian business trip, I received the amazing news that there was one last variety of peaches available for just a teeny tiny window of time.

Enter the Autumnprince. He's a handsome fellow--fantastically freestone and delectable. These are easily the best peaches I've had all season.  From this box of 25 pounds I decided that some needed to be frozen and dehydrated because it's like my mother-in-law always says: What are you going to do with all that jam if it comes down to it? You can't live on jam.  BUT, if there were a jam to live on, it'd be the Autumnprince jam laced with Don Julio Anejo tequila.  It's beautifully flame colored, and there's something about the slightly vanilla finish to the tequila that really complements the flavor profile... Wow. I just nearly choked on my own pretension.  So, the jam? It's really good. And it's totally brilliantly reddish orange with a high clarity. You'll love it.

For fabulous tequila spiked peach jam, follow the linked peach jam recipe from an earlier post, but add 2-3 TBS tequila with the lemon juice, and follow as normal.  I've done this with Chambord as well, and it's delish.

Speaking of things delish, go look at the beautiful creation of Erika Jurney, aptly named Delishix. Her recipes are fantastic, and I've already added a few to our weekly menu plan.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

large, overdue batch: blackberries

By the time blackberries came in season this early summer, I was pretty excited. I also quickly discerned that my kids were approaching pro-rural status and was ready to test their picking skills. Son, 8, daughter, 5, and baby in a backpack managed to get out to the farm, pick 5 pounds of berries, and get home inside of an hour. We pretty much rock in the produce procuring process.

Blackberry jam making was my first go at making anything beyond a cobbler with this miraculous fruit. I'd been admonished about seeds, perplexed by articles fussing over how to remove them, which mill worked best, and admittedly I as a little worried at how I'd handle them. I made a few missteps, but putting on my black apron was the smartest thing I did all day.

My main mistake was thinking that I could put whole, fresh berries through the food mill. I didn't realize that they really needed to benefit from cooking before the seeds would begin to give from the berry flesh. Let's just say that the squirting of fresh berry juice gave me pause to consider my process. I cleaned out my food mill---and since it always comes up in posts, I'll mention that I use the KitchenAid food straining attachment to my stand mixer. Once I cooked the berries, the mill worked beautifully.

Due to quantity, I doubled my recipe and turned out a fantastic product. I really didn't know it would be such a hit, and now I'm sort of sorry that I waited so long to go for a second pick. Daughter ended up with almost 4 pounds of berries for a good friend, and I came away with just enough for a cold-pressed shrub. No complaints, I just feel bad that I don't have enough as I'd like to go around.

Blackberry Jam

~5 pounds of berries
9 cups of sugar

4 TBS lemon juice

2 pkgs. powdered pectin

1 tsp. butter (to reduce foaming)

Cook the berries in a non-reactive pot over medium heat until they're soft and begin to burst--about 15 minutes. Feed berries through a food strainer, mill or sieve. Discard the solids, and put the puree back in your non-reactive pot. Bring to a boil, add sugar, butter and cook until the mixture boils again. Skim off any foam. Add pectin, and bring to a boil once again. I tend to use a candy thermometer, and would cook until the blackberries reach 220 degrees. Turn off the heat, and ladle into sterilized jars, being careful to wipe rims, then adding lids and rings. Process in a water bath canner for 12 minutes at a rolling boil.

On a side note, this was the first time that my little girl helped in the jam making. She carefully counted out lids and rings to match jar quantities, sorted berries and stirred the pot. We both had a good time, and had 13 pretty, half pint jars to show for it.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Small Batch, part 2

So, there was that half cup or so of kumquat syrup reserved from what was left of the preserves into marmalade debacle. I decided to mix it in with a chopped mango, a cup of sugar, a couple of ounces of lemon juice, and a tablespoon of pectin. I cooked the fruit for a bit longer than I might typically, but only because the mango was not as ripe as I would have liked it to be. The yield was 1 half pint and 2 precious four ounce jars. I processed them in a water bath for about 12 minutes. The end product was still very lemony in color---despite how it shows in the photograph below which was taken with my mobile phone camera. The preserves have a really bright flavor, and that citrus infused syrup really serves it well.

next time? we'll go back to big batches with seedless blackberry jam!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Small Batch.

There's been some talk about small batches on the Food In Jars facebook page lately. Obviously, small batches are great for people with small kitchens, little households or who just want to make something to save rather quickly. I was really mentally puffing up like a proud bird, and preparing to do nothing EVER on such a small scale until two things happened: a couple of packages of organic kumquats were on sale at the grocer and my daughter started to peel a not quite ripe mango.

First came the kumquats. I read the Canning for a New Generation approach to preparing a kumquat preserve, and was really uneasy about the process. The boiling and rinsing three times perplexed me, but it turned out fine. The thing that ended up bothering me was that as beautiful as the translucent orbs appeared in the jar, they seemed really hard to approach from an eating perspective. I found myself wondering how on earth I'd serve a chewy kumquat in drippy syrup.

Luckily, I remembered that my mother-in-law was only a shade irritated about not getting a jar of the grapefruit-orange marmalade that I made in January, so I decided to remove the seeds from the kumquats and quickly process them in my Cuisinart. I ended up with enough product to make 2 half pint jars of marmalade with about 6 ounces of just the syrup reserved for my next project. There was also just enough to smear on some buttery, slightly burned toast.

To recap, I followed Liana Krissoff's recipe for Kumquat Preserves before mincing the kumquats, adding a tablespoon of pectin, a tablespoon of lemon juice, some lemon zest and boiling to 220 degrees. I processed for 12 minutes in a water bath, and checked for a good seal. The product was delicious---a little more pungent than orange marmalade, but a surprisingly good, little batch.

look for my post on how to make something special with 4 ounces of kumquat and lemon infused simple syrup and just one mango next!