August 31, 2015

Canning hope

Every once in a while I get to spend the day cooking. I live in wonder of those days - they come along only a few times a year. Last week I had two in a row. For the first time in my life, I spent the better part of Thursday and Friday canning. The sun came in through the bay window, I turned on my 'fun' playlist, and I canned. And I canned. And I canned. And I got more and more tired...And happier and happier.

st. jacobs market haul
For a couple of days, sitting on my floor were huge plastic bags of loot - the haul we brought back from St. Jacobs Farmers' Market...carrots, potatoes, radishes, beets, leeks, peppers, plums, blueberries, pickling cucumbers, garlic, dill, and of course peaches and tomatoes. A half bushel of peaches. A bushel of tomatoes. And not just any tomatoes. San Marzanos.

I felt the urgency of getting going - before the rot set in, and on my floor. For the first time in a long time I fell into a planning frenzy. I bought a canner, a jar lifter, a funnel, and a dozen jars. A whole dozen. Yes, they were wide mouthed (you only buy the others once - unless you're making jam). I bought 12. And right now my kitchen table, counter, pastry worktop are covered with 23 jars - and that's just the tomatoes. So while I was up to my elbows in tomato skins, Steve made a midday run to the store for two dozen more.

Starting Thursday with my Mum, and continuing Friday on my own, I washed, blanched, peeled, stuffed, and processed 23 quarts of tomatoes. Nine litres of peaches. Five litres of dill pickles.

There is something about preserving food at its best. There's an optimism, a resilience, a sense of self preservation, a sense of being capable, a sense of independence, of worth, a sense of capturing something at its peak of life and suspending it there - a sense of magic.

Yes. Sometimes a tomato is just a tomato. But I wouldn't have a blog if I couldn't find meaning in it all, would I?

I have wanted to put up tomatoes on the shelf for years. And I've always let the chance slip by.

Even this many days later I can't actually move them downstairs. The jars are sitting on the kitchen counter because I am marvelling at the beauty of them.

Maybe I'm asking too much of the preserves but they feel like they're filled with hope. The art of the possible.

Here are some of the things I learned that I didn't expect:
I have a lot of dishtowels - and I'm glad.
I am glad I have a big roll of plastic and cut a piece to cover our dining table.
I am glad to have had my big cutting boards out to let the hot jars rest on.

I used more pots than I expected - the canner, the stock pot to blanch the fruit, another pot to sterilize the seals and rings, and another with spare water kept on the simmer in case the canner didn't have enough water once I put the jars in.
I also filled the electric kettle and boiled that.
I LOVE my dishwasher's sanitize setting. It meant sterilizing a pile of jars all together. And once they were done, I just left them closed in the dishwasher until I needed them. 

This was also about grit. I took a personality test once that determined your grit score - and I didn't do very well...and yes I think I'm fairly gritty...and yes, I think we can fade in and out of our gritness - and perhaps that was a low point. But looking at the bags on the floor I knew I had to follow through. They hadn't been alive and grown and blossomed and matured, only to rot on my kitchen floor. True grit. And I paid homage to buddhism too - When I peeled the tomatoes, I just peeled the tomatoes. When I stuffed the jars, I just stuffed the jars. I was in the moment. I did it with joy. And I hope that comes through whenever we start opening those jars. 

August 24, 2015

Pomodoro, you make me 10 again

I am ten years old again. You know why? Tomatoes. The poisonous red fruit, the golden apple, the edible wolf's peach...I don't care what they thought of you in centuries gone by, I can now eat tomato sandwiches 'til they come out my ears. Because it's time. It's August.

I went through a phase when I was a kid when all I wanted for lunch was a sliced tomato on white bread. A little butter, okay...although I freaked out if the butter was hard and tore at the bread. Freaking freaked out. And okay to a little salt and pepper. That was my lunch. Day in. Day out. With a glass of milk.

And that's what I had yesterday. And today. And will do until the basket of tomatoes in the kitchen is gone. 

That said, we're off on a family adventure tomorrow to St. Jacobs Farmers' Market to buy a bushel of tomatoes. Because I'm tired of the canned thing and would rather can my own, thank you very much. 
I had the dust kicked off my canning butt a few weeks ago thanks to my friend Cheryl who had us up to her farm to make her mother's recipe for dill pickles. My jars are so pretty I can't actually put them away, so they're sitting on my kitchen counter...waiting...until Thanksgiving to be opened!

But Cheryl inspired me to get a canner, a jar lifter, a funnel and a dozen one litre jars. Tomatoes it is. Not sauce...tomatoes. Tomatoes that I can turn into anything through the long winter. Soup, pasta sauce, chili...whatever. We tend to make something out of a 28-oz. can every week, sometimes more. And frankly, I'm a bit irked by the concept of BPA lining our cans of food - and the more acidic the food, aka tomatoes, the likelier the BPA liner. In a world (say that with the movie trailer voice) where I'm trying to minimize the estrogen that enters my body for no reason, BPA is a persona non grata in my life.

I know most of you will already have your jams and preserves well under way and on the shelf. I don't praise myself as a planner, although I do praise myself as a late bloomer - because in the words of Sandra Shamas, at least I bloom. So this is new for me. Credit please. Thank you.

So on Saturday I was digging back into Genius Recipes, by Kristen Miglore - a fabulous cookbook from the fabulous Executive Editor of the even more fabulous Food52. And I stumbled on this, tucked in a corner on page 68. 

A tomato recipe that was so simple, so elegant, it brought out the poetry of the gorgeous tomatoes we had. Kristen got the recipe from Marcella Hazan and quotes the incomparable Italian icon's facebook page about this recipe: "It has the potential to eclipse every other experience of tomatoes you may have had."

Così vero, Marcella. Così vero.

Garlic-Scented Tomato Salad
adapted by Kristen Miglore, from a recipe of Marcella Hazan's

4-5 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1-2 tsp salt
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 lbs ripe tomatoes
1 doz. torn fresh basil leaves
Olive oil

Steep the garlic in a bowl with the salt and vinegar for at least 20 minutes.
Slice tomatoes and lay out on a platter. Just before serving, sprinkle torn basil leaves over the tomatoes. Holding back the garlic, pour the vinegar over the tomatoes and then drizzle with your best olive oil. You can adjust the flavourings - maybe more salt? Or more vinegar? Should serve 4-6.

I cut up two huge tomatoes (about 1 lb.) and used the proportions above for the steeped vinegar. Two of us gobbled the whole plate down in one go. 

Enjoy. While you can. And this weekend, I will can, while I can can. More to come...

August 18, 2015

Slaw Days of Summer

It’s been kind of a remarkable summer.

Last August, for the first time, we spent some precious dollars renting a cottage for a week, only to have the weather turn into a not-so-impressive impression of October. With no heat source in the cottage, and after a few days of using the oven, and boiling big pots of water on the stove to put on the table, we surrendered on Tuesday night and headed home Wednesday, having made it in the lake once.

The view from my friend Cheryl's farm.
That first row of trees is where the coyotes live. The moon is the setting Blue Moon.

This summer, I’ve been in Ontario’s beautiful lakes far more often than I have the right to expect. Thanks to my generous friends sharing their space with me and letting me breathe – smelling the overwhelming scent of pine needles on the forest floor…hearing coyotes chatter the night of the Blue Moon, then wolves the next, and loons the night after…and tasting summer food – coleslaw, bbq corn, gazpacho, and marinated flank steak on the grill.

I had s’mores for the first time (yes, that took more than 50 years), and got pulled around a lake on a big, fat tube, for the first time; laughing so hard I was pretty sure my bladder and I would part ways. And I laid on a dock one night and watched shooting stars carve their way across the Milky Way.

Sunset at Bitter Lake, which, by the way, is next to Tedious Lake. Seriously.

I noticed last night we turn on our lamps a little earlier. The cicadas are still around but slowing, now crickets have picked up their chorus – they’re a late summer thing, the sunflowers are in full blush, and the corn is piled up at the farmers’ markets. A sense of mild panic is running through me as I face facts – summer is coming to an end. Because, that is what it does.

I thought I’d share some discovered recipes I’ve tested enough this summer to say with confidence, yup…good food. And if you think about where you serve it, like outside preferably, it transforms into good food karma - meals married to setting – amplifying both the taste and the experience.

Even the s’mores. Though, I have to say s'mores have more to do with setting than taste…it’s a mixture I think could be seriously improved. Smore karma needed.

The karma is up to you. Set the table outside. Or make this stuff and take it to a park and set out a blanket and dishes and napkins and wine, and just breathe. Enjoy the moment. Because all good things come to an end…but so do bad things. And living well is the best revenge anyway, right?

This coleslaw recipe is excellent. It comes from Bobby Flay and the Food Network and is called Bobby’s Creamy Coleslaw. I can eat the bowl myself.

1 head of green cabbage, shredded
2 large carrots, shredded
¾ cup of mayonnaise
2 tbsp sour cream, I used thickened yogurt – and when I don’t have time to thicken it, so be it.
2 tbsp grated Spanish onion, I used red onion
2 tbsp sugar, or to taste – so says the recipe…I found 1 tbsp sufficient
2 tbsp white vinegar
1 tbsp dry mustard
2 tsp celery salt (go ahead and buy some, it’s brilliant, and some say essential, to potato salad)
Salt and pepper

Mix together the shredded cabbage and carrots in a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, yogurt, onion, sugar, vinegar, mustard, celery salt, and salt/pepper. Spoon carefully over the vegetables. Mix. Check for your desired dressing-to-vegetable ratio and add more if you like - but remember, less is more. The important thing is to let it sit in the fridge for a bit - the tastes really mature over time - you know, like us.

I usually only shred half a cabbage to make this, so whatever portion of the dressing I don’t use goes in the fridge. I’ve doused salad, other vegetables, leftover chicken with it. It stands up to everything. And remember summer isn’t over yet. It’s not. It's not. It's not. Mature eh?

So here's to summer 2015 - and I send my love out to Karen, Jain, Andy, Carol, Kathilee, Cheryl, for being with us and/or hosting us, and Denise for letting us give Bitter Lake another chance.