Friday, July 24, 2009

It's a little overwhelming...

...and this is only a portion of what we are dealing with tomorrow. Canned tomatoes and tomato sauce for three families.

Our veggie CSA let us scrounge their rows for tomatoes this morning--they have so many that it's "all you can carry" organic tomatoes on pickup day. What they charged us to pick about 6 huge boxes was so embarrassingly little that I won't even say.

I've heard canning is big right now. It's good to know that the stars have aligned—as they do periodically—such that my routines have coincided with what's cool.

I've canned since I was a kid. This year, I'm teaching my friends to do it too. There's something about the steam, the sweat, the chatter, the kids and families running through the house, the finished jars cooling in neat lines. It's lovely.

But I do have to say that canning is not a good way to save money if you have to buy your produce full price or if you just hop on what's trendy for one year. We get our jars at WinCo (a discount grocery store) for about $7.50 a dozen, with lids and rings. Cheap, but that's still an investment up front, especially compared to freezer bags.

We get our pickling vegetables from our own gardens. We get peaches and tomatoes from friends and in bulk. We pick blackberries for free down the road.

Giving away those precious jars of jam for Christmas makes it even more cost-effective.

But it's work. If you factor in your labor costs, forget it.

For us, it's a lifestyle. We'd rather stand over a hot stove or pick a hundred pounds of tomatoes before work on a Friday morning than work overtime in an office. We like turning excess into a stocked pantry. We like convincing our friends that the intimate connection with our farmers and the soil our food grows in will enrich their lives.

(Bonus: Our farmers are cute. Agricultural eye candy.)

* * *
Our peaches were no gold-medal winners. We had jars of syrup with peaches floating at the top, exposed the air. Not so pretty.

Still delicious, so the agony of defeat is not so bitter.

But we're trying to figure out how to pack those tomatoes in more tightly. Wish us luck.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Somehow, I thought 75 pounds of peaches would be manageable. There were five of us after all, crammed into a gallery kitchen while the rest of the families watched the Tour de France and ate pizza.

I didn't factor in the endless runs to the store for more ice, sugar, lemons, jars, whatever. I didn't factor in the time it would take for 50 pounds of chopped peaches to simmer themselves into jam without pectin.

That classic advice not to double canning recipes? I laughed in the face of expertise and timed the recipes by 10. No mere doubling here.

Holy 9 hours in the kitchen, Batman!

I did discover that I suck at the whole check-your-jam's-jelling-point-with-a-plate-in-the-freezer thing. You know how this jam has reached it's jelling point? It spits.

The simmering bubbles get slower and bigger, and when you stir the jam, scraping the spoon along the bottom of the pan, you see pan for a split second. The liquid doesn't rush back around the spoon like water--it slides back, thicker.

And then it hisses spits little bits of hot jam, angrily. I have a collection of little round burns on my hands to prove it.

The jam was ready. And awesome.

Also on the the agenda were pickles and canned peaches in ginger syrup (above). Next round? Tomatoes and tomato sauce and salsa.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Dutch baby

When the toddler gets a little out of hand, I can growl, "We're eating babies for breakfast. That's right. BABIES!"

Delicious with lemon juice squeezed over the top and then sprinkled with powdered sugar. Washed down with coffee.

We make a little sidecar for the kid:

We use a recipe for Big Apple Pancake from an old Gourmet magazine as a guide, but add all kinds of fruit. Strawberry isn't actually my favorite. I think apricot and blueberries might be. The original is awesome in winter.


And before I jump into the recipe, let me just clarify my stance on unsalted vs. salted butter.

I don't give a fuck.

Seriously, I don't know why so many cooks get so worked up about salted butter.

I like salty butter on my toast, so it's what I have in the fridge.

I keep track of work schedules and the daycare center closures and doctor's appointments and when the dog next gets her heartworm meds and a complicated orchid fertilization schedule and on and on and on.

I don't need to regulate butter usage on top of it all: "No, no, that butter's for baking. Use THIS one." I think my husband's head would explode. He still hasn't recovered from that time he snacked on the crust of bread that I was saving for that night's onion soup dinner.

And I cried.

Because holy crap, I was looking forward to that soup with the toasty bread.

Poor guy.

Anyway, back to babies.

Dutch Baby with Fruit
--based on recipe from Gourmet, Nov. 2004
--serves 2

1/2 stick butter
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup flour (white or whole wheat pastry)
4 eggs
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
sliced peaches or apricots, halved strawberries, frozen blueberries (about a cup of fruit)
lemon wedges and powdered sugar

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 450°F. Put butter into 10-inch cast iron skillet and put in oven to melt.

While butter is melting, dump milk, flour, eggs, granulated sugar, vanilla, and salt into a blender. Swirl butter around skillet to coat sides and bottom. Add about 2 T. melted butter to blender, leaving the rest in the skillet. Blend batter until smooth.

Place fruit in one layer in hot buttered skillet. It won't cover the bottom completely--if it does, you have too much fruit and will end up with a juicy mess of breakfast.

Pour batter over fruit.

Put skillet in oven. Bake until pancake is puffed and golden, about 18 minutes (depending on amount of fruit).

Serve immediately with lemon wedges and powered sugar.

Friday, July 3, 2009

When left to my own devices

It's rare that I get a meal alone. A real meal at home, not leftovers packed into a Mason jar and eaten on the bench outside my office.

When I do eat alone, it's simple and utterly personal. For dinner, spaghetti with butter and garlic.

For lunch, like today, a fried in butter grilled Swiss cheese sandwich. Dipped in "rooster sauce." With a heaping mass of homemade sauerkraut on the side.

I scarfed it down so fast I didn't take a picture.

I agree, you don't need a picture. It's obscene enough already that I shared. But dude, look at this. I'm not alone.

For dessert? Coffee and back to work from home via laptop.