Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Canning -- Jams in Cans (or Jarring -- Jams in Jars...)

There is something deeply satisfying about jewel-colored jars, sealed shut, lined up on the counter -- a simple finished process, something sweet kept, small gifts to give.  I've come to love the process -- though it dirties so many pots and dish towels and makes the kitchen sticky -- of fruit to bright filled jars, the quick suck of lids sealing.  I almost always jam at night, stirring out tangled thoughts in a quiet kitchen.  Though Ben tries to give me a hard time each time I flood the counters with jars, lids, fruit, cutting boards (pots and pans I often leave for him and the stickiness), he ends up in the kitchen with me late at night, leaning against the counter eating the jam that didn't come out even, warm from the pot.

On Monday on the way home from the beach (so happy to visit the beach!) I bought 10 lbs of peaches and drippy boxes of blackberries picked that morning. A little ambitious, but needless to say, it launched me into summer jam.  Here are the recipes I tried so far:

Blackberry Peach Jam

-3 c. Peeled crushed fresh peaches (I blanch to slip out of skins, and you can figure about a lb. per c.)
-1 1/2 c. blackberries (uncrushed)
-1 pkt (1.75 ounce) of fruit pectin
-6 c. Sugar

  1. In an 8 quart. saucepan mix together all but sugar. Bring to a boil over high heat and stir constantly. Quickly add in premeasured sugar and bring back up to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Cook a few minutes until mixture reaches 210 on a candy thermometer 
  2. Remove from heat and skim off foam, (may add 1 T of butter as it boils to reduce foaming)
  3. Fill warm sterilized jars, leave 1/4" head space.
  4. Wipe threads and place on lids and bands, (not too tightly). Process in boiling water bath for 5 min. Invert and leave for 24 hrs for a good seal.

This recipe made about +/- five pints
I also added some lemon -- my blackberries were quite tart, but peaches very sweet -- could decrease sugar a bit and add lemon zest with juice.  My batch also became *quite* firm after setting -- not sure what to say about that.

small batch Blackberry Jam 
(this made such a small batch -- hardly over a pint -- would recommend doubling at least for the time it takes, if you have the berries)

-2 c crushed blackberries (I crushed mine with my hands -- sensory delight -- because i never have much luck with potato mashers)
-2 c sugar
-2 t lemon juice 

1. In a small pan cook blackberries, sugar, and lemon on high heat for 5 minutes (bring to rolling boil).  
2. Reduce to medium heat and cook 15 more minutes.  
3. Skim off foam and ladle into prepared jars.  Seal.  The jam will thicken as it cools.

Peach Jam 
recipe from

10 c peaches, peeled and chopped
6 c sugar
2 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
2 lemons, zested and juiced
2 packets (1 box) liquid pectin 

 I like to flavor mine with cinnamon and nutmeg, but you could also go with vanilla, a bit of bourbon, ginger, lavender, rosemary or thyme. (Bronwen note: I love pure peach jam so I used only the nutmeg and left our the cinnamon all together.  Also used powdered pectin instead of liquid because I had it on hand).

Add peaches and sugar to a large, non-reactive pot. Stir so that the peaches begin to release their juice and mingle with the sugar. Bring to a boil and add cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon zest and juice and let jam continue to cook for about fifteen minutes. If the fruit hasn’t broken down much after that time is up, use a potato masher or immersion blender (taking care not to burn yourself with hot jam) to break down the chunks. Add pectin and bring to a rolling boil for a full five minutes.

Fill jars and process in the hot water bath 10 minutes. When time is up, remove from water and cool on the counter. 
Makes 6-7 pints (yield varies depending on width of pot, cooking length and juiciness of fruit).

Earlier this summer my parents received a box of Vidalia onions.  I'd torn out this recipe weeks before, loving the idea of such a southern preserve for my California girls (though I couldn't imagine what to eat it on) and so I tried it.  Turns out to be delicious -- not very sweet, a good tang, great on a tuna sandwich with avocado.

Vidalia Onion & Peach Relish
(recipe from Southern Living, May 2012)

  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups sugar 
  • 2 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup gin
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon celery salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
  • bay leaves, crushed
  • 3 pounds Vidalia onions, finely chopped
  • 3 pounds fresh peaches, peeled and chopped 
  • garlic cloves, thinly sliced

  • 1. Bring canner half-full with water to a boil; simmer. Meanwhile, place 10 (8-oz.) jars in a large stockpot with water to cover; bring to a boil, and simmer. Place bands and lids in a large saucepan with water to cover; bring to a boil, and simmer. Remove hot jars 1 at a time using jar lifter

  • 2. Bring water, sugar, vinegar, gin, salt, mustard seeds, celery salt, dried crushed red pepper, and crushed bay leaves to a boil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add Vidalia onions, peaches, and garlic; boil, stirring occasionally, 15 minutes.

  • 3. Pour hot mixture into hot jars, filling to 1/2 inch from top. Remove air bubbles, and wipe jar rims. Cover at once with metal lids, and screw on bands (snug but not too tight). Place jars in canning rack, and place in simmering water in canner. Add additional boiling water as needed to cover by 1 to 2 inches. Bring water to a rolling boil; boil 10 minutes. Turn off heat, and let stand 5 minutes. Remove jars from canner, and let stand at room temperature 24 hours. Test seals of jars by pressing center of each lid. If lids do not pop, jars are properly sealed. Store in a cool, dark place at room temperature up to 1 year.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Post-Morning Walk

a perfect cake

I love good cake cake.  And almond-almost anything.  A year ago April, I read this recipe for almond cake, and last night finally tried it!  The cake is like eating the filling of an almond croissant (but not too sweet) with a slight crust on top (think a more delicate edge of a brownie).  *Delicious*

Last night we all sat around the table sinking our forks into the warm cake, nodding that it was, actually, a perfect cake, and sipping cold milk.  This morning, Silas and I are eating slices of it for breakfast with tea.  Just as good.

When baking it, I opened the oven ten minutes early to see if it was done (first real baking in new oven), which I think made the center of the cake fall, though looking at Molly's pictures, that may just be the shape of the cake, itself.  The cooking time was accurate to the minute -- an hour exactly.

Molly's recipes have yet to disappoint, and this is no exception.  I recommend making it now rather than waiting a year like I did...

Almond Cake (from

Adapted from Amanda Hesser’s Cooking for Mr. Latte, and from her mother-in-law, Elizabeth

2 sticks (8 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
1 tsp. baking soda
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. salt
1 ½ cups sugar
1 (7-ounce) tube almond paste, cut into small pieces
4 egg yolks, at room temperature
1/2 tsp. pure almond extract
Powdered sugar, for serving (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter (or spray with cooking spray) the sides and bottom of a 9-inch springform pan. The line the sides and bottom with parchment paper, and butter (or spray) the paper. In a small bowl, mix together sour cream and baking soda. In another bowl, whisk together the flour and salt.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the almond paste a few pieces at a time, and beat on medium speed for 8 minutes. (Yes, this seems like a long time, but do it. The mixture will get gorgeously fluffy.) Beat in the egg yolks one at a time, and mix until incorporated. (If it looks curdled, don’t worry.) Beat in the almond extract and the sour cream mixture. Reduce mixer speed to low, and gradually add the flour mixture, beating just until combined. Using a rubber spatula, fold the batter a couple of times to make sure there’s no unincorporated flour lurking around.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and spread it evenly with the rubber spatula. Bake for about 1 hour: the cake is done when you press the top and it returns to its shape, and also when it shrinks from the sides of the pan. Transfer to a cooling rack, and cool the cake in its pan.

When ready to serve, sift powdered sugar over the top, if you like.

Yield: about 10 servings

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Between the Walls

It is evening at our old table in the new house.  Eden is coughing from her bed.  Ben is at a work dinner.  Silas is sleeping soundly.  I am drinking diet root beer and eating rustic baguette with sliced tomatoes, olive oil and Parmesan cheese.

About ten minutes ago, a man who looks EXACTLY LIKE Will Farrell with a blond curly wig and a moustache just cruised by my window at about 7 mph on an old loud motor bike.  He was standing up coasting down the hill the way kids do on bicycles.  Just now he came by again, this time up the hill, doing a solid wheelie the whole way.  Who IS this man and why oh why is Ben not here to witness him??

Today, on the heels of our Saturday move-in and Sunday baby shower that made this babe's September arrival feel more true and imminent, I find myself souping through transition again.  Being in our own house here (which so far feels like a three day game of house sitting with all of our California furniture) hurls us back into redefinition.  This gesture of permanence -- a house -- seems to create another film of distance between this and our California life, or maybe it just highlights all that is still nascent in our lives here.

We are, indeed, in a time of between.  It's pregnancy, an expecting, a waiting for home to be born.

Friday, July 13, 2012

When You Laugh at Yourself

Yesterday I went to the Container Store (for the third day in a row) and brought my kitchen drawer (drawers in new kitchen = three) and all the utensils I'd just unpacked and didn't know what to do with.  My cart looked like this:

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Reconnecting -- with patience and each other

I have always loved how Silas and Eden play together -- creatively, like a little team, for hours (granted there are often hose-rivers in the yard and lots of mud, or sharpees that have bled through paper, but it's almost always well worth it).  The transition from school to summer, however, has been riddled with a new phase of bickering.  It probably doesn't help that they've had an utterly distracted mother who is exhausted and whose well of patience is puddle-deep, but is that really cause to turn into an incessant provoker and a stubborn demanding screamer?

I feel most out of control when I slip into days of parenting from reaction rather than intention.  I play my worst cards and constantly feel like I'm failing all of us.  Silas in particular needs me to think -- he needs to be seen, needs space cleared, questions purposefully answered without distraction, needs to be touched, held.  I am learning this.  Without that, we simply feed off of each other -- my need for space and his need for me.  Eden needs my pointed focus less but needs me to usher her into down times and creative spaces, time to draw and write and play alone with her imagination.

I swung through most of this week on the very end of a rope, hardly holding on at all.  For days I swam through swampy, defeated thoughts -- constantly commentating about how cold, distant, unengaged I was, how I had lost my kids already, how the fall would only be worse (rescue me from my head!!)  My prayers for patience and a gentle tone of voice rose incessantly.  And yet every day I seemed to plunge back into my own fatigued responses.  Ugh.

And then on Wednesday, the power came on -- let there be light! -- and the mid-week holiday cracked our routine.  Thursday the three of us baked together (because we could use the oven!) and swam together and worked at the house.  Slowly, I could feel God's gentle breath ease us through the day (finally!) and steady me.  As I finished sanding the kitchen floor and began to prime it, in the house still brimming with chaos, I realized Silas and Eden were playing together -- playing NICELY!  I couldn't hear any words, but could hear them inventing with their voices, their footsteps racing down the hallway, and then, intermittently, one of them would appear in the kitchen doorway in a home depot apron, ninja costume, goggles, bandanna, just to show it all, and then disappear again.

Just before we left, I found them like this:  Eden is perched on a bathroom vanity that's not yet installed; the yellow on the left is a couch without cushions; and Silas sits on an unpacked box:

Last night with library books and flashlights:

Summer Dinner

A couple recipes from our summer supper last night:

Years ago I found this zucchini pie recipe in Real Simple.  It's a pie you can tweak however you wish, depending on what's fresh -- play with broccoli, spinach, different cheeses (provolone, cheddar); my changes over the years are slight and reflected below.  It keeps well and is just as good for breakfast, lunch, tea, and dinner.

Zucchini Pie

3 c grated zucchini
1 small sweet onion, vidalia or Maui, chopped (or a little less than one onion)
1 c flour
1 t baking powder (I find it best to mix b. pow and flour together and then add)
1 c grated mozzarella
3 eggs, beaten
1/4 c vegetable/olive oil
4 T grated Parmesan
2 t chopped fresh basil (ok if you have to skip this)
1 t salt
1/2 t freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 350.
Combine all ingredients.  Spoon into a 10" pie plate coated with vegetable spray.
Bake 45-50 min until golden brown (convection will ready this sooner).
Cool 10-15 min before slicing.

(Double recipe for a 9x13 and bake for 55 minutes)

At the beginning of June, our friends in California, Kim and Allen, threw a stunning party to renew their wedding vows.  At each place setting on the rustic tables was a brown paper recipe book with their favorite recipes.  This recipe is from there and has ended up being one of my favorites:

Blueberry Salad

1/4 c chopped raw almonds
3 T olive oil
4 t apple cider vinegar
2 t minced shallot
1 1/2 c fresh blueberries
1 T minced fresh chives
Leaves from 1 head butter lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces
1/2 c crumbled feta

Toast Almonds -- either on a cookie sheet in a preheated 300 degree oven for about 7 minutes (watch closely) or in a frying pan over medium heat (again, they burn quickly -- keep an eye!).  Set aside.

In a salad bowl, combine olive oil, vinegar, 1/4 t salt, 1/4 t pepper and mix well.  Add shallot, blueberries, and half of the chives.  Let stand for 10-15 minutes.

Add lettuce and feta and toss well.  Garnish with almonds and remaining chives.  Serve at once!

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Independence Day

Life, Liberty, and LIGHT!!!!!!

Both/And in the Storm

It's not all bad.  For dinner we made grilled cheese, corn on the cob, squash and zucchini, and ate with our feet dangling in the pool.  It made me grateful for running water, for a gas stove, for fresh fruits and vegetables (at least fresh for a day or so), for Ben, my sister, company.

Now, hours later, lightning cracks and flashes over us once again, thunder and rain.  Will all the power they've worked so hard to get on go out again tonight??  

A cool humid breeze and the smell of rain are blowing through the front door (along with some bugs that keep landing on me in the dark).  Kaia Joye and I are folding laundry by flashlight light in the stormy wind and slight spray of rain. 

For 45 seconds, the power comes on!!!!!!!!  We are so shocked we laugh until our stomachs hurt and tears stream down our faces, and then laugh harder at how hard we're laughing.  The release of all that surprised laughter is worth the new darkness we find ourselves in.

Every night after I’ve gotten the kids tucked in in the basement campout room, I’ve sat outside in the yard reading until I can’t see the book’s pages any more.  That is different than regular life.  That is slowing down. 

And now, sitting on this cold floor, I am slowing down again, slowed, looking at the woods. 
The fireflies in the black trees are unbothered by the rain, by the lightning, by the dark house or our porch shrieking.  They stay in steady pursuit and hold their own light.  

They are reminders.  All of this, both/and in the storm.

In Dim Light (still)

8PM: we are heading into night five of no power.  The house is hot.  The air is unmoving.  Our eyes are tired.  Somehow it doesn’t matter that we found things to occupy ourselves with all day (even fun things – laundry at a friend’s house, free cupcakes, bowling, several hardware stores...), coming home to a still, dark, hot house and soggy coolers of milk, yogurt, and melting ice deflates one a bit.  I was so hopeful driving home that somehow the lights had flickered on and the air conditioning would be roaring.  But nothing. 

Tucking in Silas tonight, I explained how, though he is six and has no reason to know this, growing a baby, having no electricity, being responsible for a new house and all that needs to be done there, taking care of two children is hard, and sometimes makes me feel impatient and like I don’t want anyone to touch or grab or hang on me (all day long).  Woah, that sounds hard, he said. (He has always been eager to forgive -- the nature of a child?).  But a smooth lozenge of apology in my mouth and his little grace, still doesn’t take away the soreness of having heard my mouth bite and jab all day.  Sigh.  And of course, my mind instantly jumps to imagining September and October (and November and December and January….) when I will be mightily weary once again with just as much to hold (if not more) for months on end.  Are we all doomed? 

Maybe I’ll ask that again when the lights are on.  For now, in the dark of the basement, still remarkably coolish, a tea light burning, and the day’s last light seeping in through the shutters, I am taking as big a breath as my belly will allow in this early July air, in these days that keep pulling me deeper into summer, into settling, into the foothills of fall. 

Sunday, July 01, 2012


Last night just as I climbed into bed, a whipping furious wind kicked up.  The lights flickered – went out, came on, went out, came on, went out.  From the window I could see the 80 foot trees blowing wildly, leaves everywhere.  The storm came on in an instant. My mom, dad, KJ and I met in the kitchen, fumbled for flashlights, candles.  And then the lightning started and didn’t stop. Thunder hardly broke and never shouted.  Rain fell hard with hail briefly, but the lightning flashed incessantly – a light show in the woods. 

We all woke up hot in our beds in a house that had quickly surrendered its air conditioning. All day the city sat still (for a city) – traffic lights were out and lines of impatient cars stopped and started clumsily, backed up for miles.  At the mall, people gathered around hallway outlets like they were fire pits, all of their elecronica plugged in and charging.  Grocery stores closed and neighborhood streets were blocked by fallen trees. 

Tonight I got a message from the power company that 440,000 residences are without power, and they estimate a week before electricity is restored -- refrigerator, air conditioner, wifi (Ben works from home), lights.

It’s an adventure.  Today I’d planned to go to the beach for the day – a three hour drive to the ocean (ocean!) and funland.  But the news predicted temperatures around 100 and the traffic to crawl, especially with the power outages, so we stayed here in this land where the milk is lukewarm in a cooler, where Eden and I are camped out in the basement on couches, where the new house, in need of so much time and work, stands hot and powerless, where there is no Ben for now.  

Maybe if we have to live like this for a week, I’ll find power in the powerlessness I felt today, be able to move freely without a charged computer and phone  (I ran my car in the driveway to charge them earlier), not join the masses clogging the intersections insisting on being somewhere else, on getting "connected."  Maybe I’ll be able to breathe in the slow pace at which everything has to move for now.  Sitting here in the dim basement, I am connected right here, with the quiet, with my own need to settle, with Eden's sleepy breathing on the couch across from me.  This, I am reminding myself, this is enough.