Archive for July, 2010

Today, it is meant to be 33 degrees, and 42 with the humidex.  Yesterday, it was the same.  This is Celsius people, for those of you who prefer fahrenheit, that’s 108 with the humidex.  Suffice it to say, it is HOT.  Yesterday I hit a real low point mid-afternoon in my apartment where I felt really nauseous and awful – cold showers, ice packs strapped to my chest, and wet hair against the fan simply was not doing the trick.  Eventually I cracked and decided to fish deep deep into my storage crawl space (which is about 20 degrees hotter than the rest of the house) to find my old window unit air conditioner and installed it (read: taped it in with duct tape) in our living room.  I wasn’t able to put it in my own bedroom because I don’t have any real windows because our balcony is off my room.  Anyways, life was much much better after getting the a/c in, even though its not COLD in the living room it is a reasonable temperature for surviving in.

I’m not sure if I’ve already mentioned this on this blog, but I am getting a CSA this year.  For those of you who don’t know what that is, it stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  Basically you get a box of fruit/veggies every week, but instead of paying once a week you pay all the money up front back in the winter, so that the farmers can actually use your money to invest in growing the crops instead of struggling all winter until the food is ready to sell.  I’ve had about 4-5 weeks of it so far, and it’s awesome.  I pick it up really close to my house, and I have some set products and some choice in what I fill the rest of my share with – they have eggs, they have meat (which I don’t eat, but it’s still really good meat I hear), they have jams, they have pickles, they have breads and flours and all sorts of wonderful things.  A few weeks ago I got a bag of dried chipotles that I still haven’t used.  This is all to say that yesterday, in my real low point of heat exhaustion, all I could think was “I can’t move there’s no way I can go pick up my CSA” and I was dreading having to walk over there and get it.

When I finally mustered up the courage to brave the heat, on the walk there I kept thinking “There’s no way I want to cook or eat anything hot tonight, maybe I can make pasta salad”.  I was thinking about this Jamie Oliver pasta salad recipe – it’s one of those recipes that really you don’t need a recipe for, but sometimes it’s nice to have a picture and a guideline to match your thoughts to stay on track.  When I got there to pick up my CSA it was as if they knew exactly what I had been thinking – my share included two small cucumbers as well as basil, and there were some of the most beautiful little heritage cherry tomatoes available for purchase with my extra dollars.  But wait – what are THOSE?! I thought – and asked.  “Black raspberries, and I think they’re even more delicious than the red ones, if you can believe that” was the answer I got.  I believed it, and they were beautiful.  I immediately starting digging in my purse for all my loose change, so that I could buy as many of these black raspberries as possible – I didn’t have much money on me, so I almost changed my mind and just got other things but then the jam-maker in me thought Are you crazy?! BLACK RASPBERRIES! How do you know you will see these anywhere else, anytime soon?! I found myself 50 cents short of what I needed to get the cherry tomatoes and 3 pints of the raspberries, so I asked if I could owe them for next week – but then a kindly stranger there to pick up her own share said “Here just take this!” and gave me 50 cents of her own – this, my friends, is one more reason why CSAs are wonderful.

So I got home, and I made this pasta salad.  Cherry tomatoes, cucumber, basil, garlic scapes, with a simple dressing of white wine vinegar, olive oil, and salt and pepper.  I forgot to put snowpeas in, which I had been planning to do, but I remembered near the end that I had an unopened jar of black olives my parents had brought me back from Argentina and so I used my still new-ish cherry pitter to pit those olives and diced them up and threw them in too.  I crumbled some goat cheese on top, and enjoyed multiple bowlfuls with my Porch Swing and followed by a banana split.  And then I watched cable television in the air conditioned living room for hours on end.

This morning I got up and sweated out the morning in my kitchen before the afternoon dead heat set in, so that I could turn those black raspberries into jam.  I won’t write about that here though, because if I post about every batch of jam I make, it will get quite boring.  But I will say that I’ve discovered Certo Light – the word “light” makes me assume that there is some gross chemical fake sugar sweetener or something else scary in it, which is usually the case, but I recently learned that Certo Light is just higher in acid so that you can make jam with less sugar.  Which is like a dream come true for me, because I don’t really have a sweet tooth and jam has started to just taste too sickly sweet to me the last few batches.  So I will tell you that this black raspberry jam, apart from being so nice and dark to look at, only includes 4.5 cups of sugar instead of the otherwise-required 7 cups.  Amazing.

p.s. I also have not been able to get “Heat Wave” by Martha and the Vandellas out of my head for DAYS.  But, it could be worse.

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Let me first say that I know that it is nowhere near Christmas time.  It is July, I know this.  But summer is the time when you make the jam, and Christmas can be the time for eating this jam, if it actually lasts that long.

Let me also warn you that this post, it is of the bittersweet nature – there is sad in here along with this delicious jam.

In March of this year, my Aunt Linda died.  Suddenly, in her sleep, while on vacation in Australia.  I’m sure that I don’t need to go into the details of how shocking this was, and how confusing and sad on top of that.  I love my entire family, and love them all completely and unconditionally, but I think we all know that there are sometimes favourites.  And, my Aunt Linda, for a variety of reasons, was my favourite aunt (at least on my dad’s side – aunt Glenda if you’re reading this, you are obviously also the loveliest).  I think this favouritism was at least partly due to the fact that she was the aunt I saw and interacted with the most – she was the one who usually drove down from Trenton to my dad’s in Chatham for visits, she was the one who we stayed with the last bunch of years when we would go there.  She was the mother of my older cousin Amanda, who I followed around and admired like annoying 10-year-old cousins are wont to do.  In less than two weeks, I will be going to Trenton for our annual summer visit with my dad’s side of the family, and it’s sort of like the shock and sadness is setting in because things will just be so different, you know?

Anyways, this post is about jam, not about grieving.  Well, I suppose it is about both of those things.  You see, my aunt Linda was a jam-master.  She was the master of a lot of things food-wise, quite honestly, and preserves of all sorts were included in that.  I only started making jam at the end of last summer – it’s this thing that is terribly intimidating when you’ve never done it, and then you do, and you’re like “That’s it?! But it’s so easy!“.  When I started making jam, the first thing I did was ask Linda for her recipe for “Christmas Jam” which had been my definite favourite of her creations.  I imagine that it’s called Christmas jam because of the presence of cranberries.  I didn’t end up making it last year, partly because of the conundrum of the fruits – this jam uses both strawberries and cranberries – which are not at all in season at the same time.  But then! I recently noticed that I could get cranberries frozen (Thank you again, President’s Choice brand).  There’s something about frozen cranberries that seems less quality-compromising than frozen strawberries – probably because cranberries are already so hard and tart that the freezing doesn’t seem like it would damage them as much in my mind.

So today, after much hunting for fresh Ontario strawberries (are they out of season again already?!) I made this Christmas Jam.  It is beautiful to look at, the colour is lovely and dark compared to the brightness of strawberry-only jams.  I know that strawberry jams in particular don’t require store-bought pectin so much, but I’m just not there yet, and I always use pectin.  I’ll grow away from it eventually.  My aunt’s recipe was actually kind of confusing measurement wise, so I compared it to one I found on the internet.

Aunt Linda’s Christmas Jam:

2& ½ quarts strawberries
1 lb fresh or frozen cranberries
5 lbs white sugar
2 pouches Certo Liquid

Internet recipe:

1 qt. strawberries
2 c. cranberries, chopped
4 1/2 c. sugar
3 tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 of 6 oz. bottle of liquid pectin

The basic procedure for both of these is to bring the fruit, sugar, and lemon juice (if used) to a hard boil for one minute – this means a boil that won’t disappear when you stir it.  Then turn off the heat, stir in the liquid pectin immediately, and then stir for 5 minutes to prevent the fruit from floating in the finished product.  Ladle into hot, sterilized jars, put hot, sterilized lids on top, and boil the jars for 10 minutes in a hot water bath.  Do not open for 12-24 hours.

Let me also mention that one recipe I found on the internet was also titled Christmas Jam and had been posted on Cooks.com by “Linda”.  This was decidedly eerie, but also comforting.  Now excuse me, I’m going to eat my feelings now (well, in 12-24 hours when this jam is done setting I will).

Oh, and p.s. – this is where I cook these days, and I feel pretty lucky to have such a great kitchen as a mere renter in Toronto:

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