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Everything posted by dividend

  1. I had never had a locally grown strawberry until I picked up a couple quarts of strawberries at the downtown Farmers' Market here in KC. I could smell them table from 10 or 15 feet away, and the couple selling them were passing out sample berries. Small, soft, intensely ruby red, so succulent and juicy that I found myself licking the juice that ran down my hand. Even though they bagged them in the cardboard cartons, by the time I finished the rest of my shopping and made it back to my car and home, several of the berries had smashed and the whole inside of the back was a red sticky mess, perfuming my entire apartment. I immediately turned them into a batch of neon-red jam. I'm going back for more until the season for them fades. Last summer was the first time in my 25 years for buying local produce. I know now that I'll be doing with strawberries what I did with tomatoes all winter - do without until that brief season that I can get the real thing. I almost wish I hadn't experienced this strawberry epiphany, because now I'll be craving these for 11 months of the year, tempted by the large, hard, perfect looking supermarket substitutes. (At least I'll be able to sate the cravings somewhat with jam.) Then I think, this is the way humans are supposed to eat. There are other vegetable seaons to look forward to. And I'll be voting for the local farmers with my wallet for as much of the year as I'm able. It's a shame what most people (me included) have accepted all their lives as good produce. All it took to convert me was a single sampled strawberry. Maybe that's the only way change will happen - one single locally grown berry at a time.
  2. I've been thinking about this lately, because one of my projects for this year is to cook a new recipe each week from one of the cookbooks I already own (starting at the beginning of the year). This was partially to curb my growing cookbook addiction, and partially to really dig into what I already have. I really love the first two Naked Chef cookbooks. I think his books are underrated. As I've worked through my project, I realized how many of my standard recipes are adapted from one those books, and I probably cook something from them (or derived from them) once a week. My standard go-to book if I need a reliable recipe for something specific is How to Cook Everything. It's not a real great browsing cookbook, but it never fails to have the recipe I'm looking for, from artichokes to strawberry pie. I think I use it sort of like my parents' generation used Joy of Cooking. For breads, it's either RLB's The Bread Bible, which I used to teach myself to bake, or Beatrice Ojakangas's Whole Grain Breads by Machine or Hand. The latter is great because it's basically as series of bread machine style formulas, so it's a good jumping off point for different kinds of bread; I use it as a sort of template. And since I bought it, I've been cooking through Dan Lepard's The Handmade Loaf, which I think is my single favorite bread book. Honorable mention for The Ball Blue Book. Not really an every day cookbook. More of a safe-recipe-for-anything-I-could-ever-want-to-can kind of book.
  3. dividend

    Home Canning

    I'm new here, so I hope it's ok to dig up a thread from a month ago. I was hoping there was a topic like this lurking around. Here's my answer to the why part. Canning is, for me, about three things - accompishment, control, and connection. Accomplishment is standing in front of the old china cabinet Mom gave me, now converted into storage and display for supplies and canned items, watching as the shelves fill with brightly colored jars. Or opening the last of the pear-vanilla jam from last fall and knowing that I've taken something inherently perishable when it is abundant, and preserved it for later. I just started getting into canning last fall, so this is my first summer of jams and preserves. I already know that cracking open the strawberry jam I put up over the weekend in the middle of January will brighten a snowy morning with a taste of late spring. It's the same feeling I get from baking my own bread - that I'm becoming, to some small degree, more self-reliant. Control is my ever-evolving quest to know exactly what I am putting in my body. Every jar of jam, or salsa, or pickles that I can myself is one less jar of preservative laden, artificial, chemically enhanced junk I will buy this year. I know that I am eating nothing but fresh fruits, vegetables, and maybe some sugar or vinegar. It makes me feel cleaner, stronger, and healthier. Connection is standing in my grandmother's kitchen, sharing chips and homemade salsa, and listening to her tell me stories of her mother, one of the few woman of her time to become college educated, and a prodigious canner and preserver. I do not remember meeting my great-grandmother when I was very small, but my grandmother tells me we would have gotten along famously. Such deeply personal shared moments are triggered by the gift of home canned salsa. Connection is also my co-worker coming into the office with a quart jar of garlic pickles, put up by her grandmother who died six months prior. They are intensely garlicky, delicious pickles, but they are also a reminder that, though she has passed on, she is not forgotten. This coworker set aside all the old jars and kettles from her grandmother's house for me, because she knows that I will put them to good use, in a continuation of the cycle. She is rewarded with jars of summer jam, and the knowledge that peices of her grandmother survive. Of course, it doesn't hurt that sometimes, all of these ideas intersect as strawberry jam on homemade sourdough toast. A little bit of philosophy for breakfast, anyone?
  4. I've been thinking about this thread as my family debates going to our place at the Lake of the Ozarks for Memorial Day. I love going there for all the same reasons you describe, and I'm pretty sure I annoy people IRL when I wax poetic about it. Even just talking about it sometimes sends my entire body into a state of relaxed bliss. Mom and Dad debate every year whether to go for Memorial Day weekend, or stay home and putter around their house, avoiding the packing, hours of driving, and inevitable beginning of season cleaning that my Mom hates to do on her birthday weekend. But we haven't spent a Memorial Day (or a Fourth of July or a Labor Day) in Kansas City since I was six, so I know the lure of the lake house will win this year too. We have our traditions, however much they sometimes toy with the idea of breaking them. So Friday, we will all be off work - Mom, Dad, my brother, and my grandmother, who is my sole surviving grandparent, and owner of the lake house. We will spend the morning finishing the packing and cooler prep, and then leave at least an hour behind schedule. We will pick up my grandmother just off the Plaza, pick up Winstead's burgers, onion rings, and diet cherry cokes from the drive-thru, and head out of town. By Friday night, we will be drinking high-balls and playing card games on the deck until the light fades, listening to the silence over the water, then migrating indoors to read until we're all asleep in our chairs. By Sunday, we will have finally completely decompressed from our frantic, hectic lives (this takes Mom and I longer then the rest of the gang because we're perfectionists by nature). I can already taste the coffee with skim milk and sugar I will drink early that morning on the deck, before the sun burns the fog off the surface of the lake. I drink my coffee black at home, but at the lake house I drink it the way I have since I was ten, when it was a special treat that Dad let me have before he took me out to teach me to water ski. The smell of milk in coffee puts me right back there, heading out onto the water with Dad before anyone else was up and about. Dad will cook big thick waffles, or fry enormous pancakes in a lake of melted margarine. (One of these years I'll convince them to go back to butter.) I will drink more coffee from the old white electric coffee press with faded blue and orange flowers printed on the sides. Then we'll dress in our bathing suits and head out to the lake for a day of childhood swimming games, beating the crap out of our sea-doos against the wake of passing houseboats ("aircraft carriers", in our vernacular). As for lunch - I second the love for sandwiches, chips and cold soda eaten out on the dock as possibly the contextually perfect meal. At some point, we'll stagger back to the house for showers, cocktails, bowls of nuts and olives, and chips with my homemade salsa as Dad preps the kettle grill for t-bone steaks. My grandfather perfected a method for Sunday t-bones that has been passed down and kept alive - it involves my grandmother tenderizing the steaks with a fork, and then a long, slow cooking over charcoal, enough time to cook several pans of mushrooms and toss together a green salad. We know the steaks are done when Dad brings around a little plate full of small peices that have simply fallen off the bone, and we feast. I love this thread. Reading Susan's posts, I am struck not only by her love and longing for the cabin, but also by how well she captures what the rest of us lucky enough to have similar getaways feel. Our lake house tugs at my soul in a similar way all winter long, and right now I'm not sure how I'll get through the week between now and Memorial Day weekend.
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