It’s hard to come out and say it dear readers but I may have lied to you. Perhaps that’s too strong a word to use. Misled may be more apt. I’m so fly by night sometimes with my jam making, just throwing some fruit and sugar together and cooking it until I get fed up. Sure I might use a candy thermometer to try and hit the magic temperature I shared with you in my Strawberry Preserve recipe, but usually I get too fed up with my inaccurate thermometer or too impatient and just determine the set of the jam by looks. But our goal is to help you learn how to get predictable results. So if I over simplified hopefully this recipe will shed more light on how to make jam you can believe in.
Another u-pick trip under our belts, although this one with a more manageable eight pounds of fruit, we returned home with pounds of fresh raspberries. I just learned that our county (Whatcom County) produces close to a third of all the raspberries sold in the United States. Pretty impressive stuff and makes me like it here even more. Orion helped us pick berries again although much less so than with strawberries. He primarily took the berries out of our containers and then wandered off and found his very first sprinkler to run through.
The thing no one prepared me for about motherhood was how little by little over harried days and sleepless nights, you stop thinking about yourself. At first you’re consumed with how to keep this little being alive, how to hold him right, how to wrap his swaddle. Then countless hours trying fruitlessly to understand and anticipate his needs. Maybe he’s tired, maybe he wants to wake up. Maybe he is waking up because it’s too noisy or maybe he needs more white noise. Why can’t I sleep. Why couldn’t we have had a kid that slept more. Pointless hours that really never get you anywhere but still time passes. And then somewhere between trying to pick out what size shoes a toddler wears and washing diapers and making grocery lists to take care of everyone, you realize you can’t remember the last time you got a haircut or took some time just to relax.
A friend of mine told me once that after she had a kid she really didn’t care that much about her birthday anymore because she mostly spent time thinking about her kid. That sounded like sacrilege to me. I’m a big believer in the joy of birthdays but mine came and went last year and to be honest, I didn’t really care that much anymore. I mostly was thinking about my son and how lovely it would be to feel rested.
I used to be obsessed with shoes, piling them high in my closet and agonizing over which new pair to buy. I used to love taking the time to spoil myself with a massage or leave yoga class thinking about nothing and anything at the same time with only myself to worry about. Now my head feels cluttered with the hows and whens and whys of nap times and snack times and little free time to aimlessly wander or wonder.
So I took a recent lazy weekend morning to make this cake just because and only for myself. It felt good and like a much needed step to shifting the balance toward myself a little. Sure, I still spend my leisure time doing things that technically nourish and take care of others. And I won’t hide the fact that the other impetus behind making this cake, besides wanting to eat something sweet, was the plums I had sitting on the counter rapidly over ripening. It’s hard to stop something you practice day in and day out.
It’s hard to believe it but once long ago I lived for two years in California. It seems like something out of a dream, a place oddly familiar that you know you’ve been to over and over but you can’t quite place in your current day to day existence. I never quite got over how different it all was. I couldn’t comprehend the dry hillsides and lack of rain. Every bit of vegetation seemed some exotic species I’d never seen before – giant trumpet flowers perfuming the bright sunshine days, enormous bougainvillea bushes in violent shades of fuchsia emerging in the foggy mornings, gnarled, sinewy cyprus trees leaning wildly away from the ocean below, and the enormous senatorial redwoods rising from street corners offering hints of what this land looked like before it was paved over with crisscrossing highways and sprawling homes rising and falling along the profile of hills.
The lack of seasons really threw me off. I never realized how important the seasons were to me cataloging memories. Over the course of those two years, it’s hard for me to say what exactly happened when; it all seemed to stretch together into one long morning where I was too cold that developed into an afternoon where I was too hot but somehow again too cold in the evening. Being stretched thin between grad school and a part time job all while competing at the highest levels of ultimate frisbee didn’t help any. Days really did just seem to run together into one long tired, climatically challenging blur. I do remember, however, the food.
I started to experiment with cooking when I first left college and moved to New York. But the turning point really came when I moved to Berkeley to start grad school and moved into a great little house only a few blocks from the Berkeley Bowl. I used to ride there just to walk the aisles, inventing items I needed to buy so I could linger in the bulk aisle or stand in front of the cheese department smelling every stinky cheese I could get my hands on. Between that and the Oakland farmers market, I changed the way I ate and have never looked back since. Suddenly the lack of seasons seemed like a magical thing. Who had ever heard of buying fresh, local oranges at a farmers market or picking up fuzzy, round visions of spring and holding perfect apricots in your palm in April. The exposure to fresh, delicious fruits and vegetables forever changed the way I approached what I wanted to cook and how I wanted to prepare it. I couldn’t get enough of the farmers markets and would return home laden down with enough produce for a family of four, not one over busy grad student.
We’ve been defaulting to graham crackers and potato chips around here. When we’re feeling “healthier” we’ll swap in some string cheese or fresh berries. I actually found myself digging out spoonfuls of peanut butter the other day and thought enough is enough. It’s easy to be uninspired about snacking. When you work to plan and make meals for everyone in the family and have back-up meals on hand in case a certain someone turns his nose up at his first meal option, who has the energy to do much more than grab the first thing you see in the cabinet.
We’ve also been working to transition Orion away from snacking, focusing instead on three solid meals and maybe one healthy snack during his longer period of wakefulness, either that or during the time of day when he’s fussing the most and it’s not yet a meal time. So our cabinets have been emptying out as me and my husband gorge on toddler-sized treats. It’s been tough since I’ve been a dedicated snacker my whole life. First there’s second breakfasts. Then I’ve always considered ten a.m. to be potato-chip a’clock. I’m starving by the time lunch rolls around. Same goes for dinner so I usually have to have at least one snack before a late dinner. I’ve been known to sneak a bowl of cereal before bed as well. Most of the things I snack on though turn out to be choking or allergy hazards for babies, so without realizing it, we had stockpiled all sorts of processed, carbohydrate-heavy snacks and were pressing them on Orion.
Our son has always been one to lose it when it comes to food. Even his very first night in the hospital, he was up like clock work every two hours demanding to be fed. While it took us a while to figure out what he was saying, most of Orion’s cries related to wanting milk and wanting it in his mouth now. He was born extremely impatient (wonder where he got that from) and despite efforts to work on building his resiliency, if the kid doesn’t get food, he loses it. So I took to tucking bags of gold fish and pretzels and graham crackers in every pocket of our diaper bag. But then Orion started walking and suddenly his appetite has dropped off a cliff. If we can get him to eat a few bites for dinner and drink some milk, we’ll count it a success. Meanwhile there’s lots more screaming now related to not wanting to eat and food thrown on the floor and smeared about because isn’t food more fun to play with than eat. So I decided to start re-thinking my own snacks as reinforcements. Who doesn’t feel better prepared to take on a toddler with ketchup in his ear and dinner on the floor when your stomach is full. Here’s some ideas I found from around the web.
by Green Kitchen Stories
We joke that Orion eats like a viking. He sloshes his water, slams his milk cup down on the table or spikes it to the ground sending liquid flying and our dog scurrying. He grabs large handfuls of food, shoving them in his mouth in rapid succession, turning to us to let out a loud “mmmmmm” with a wide, toothy smile. Or, even better, he opens his mouth wide to show us all the contents he’s been able to cram inside. If he decides he’s not interested in a food, he either throws it piece by piece off his plate or even better just pitches the whole plate off the table. He’s recently started using utensils and grips them in crudely in his fists. Nine times out of ten if he’s actually able to get anything into his spoon, the contents end up spilling into his bib en route to his mouth (can I tell you all how much we love these bibs, seriously!) because he’s trying to make eye contact with us to let us know how exciting this all is.
We picked 28 pounds of strawberries last week. Now that I’ve finally gotten around to writing this post after digging myself out from berries, the last thing I want to look at, think about, or hull is definitely a strawberry. I made strawberry preserves, strawberry chamomile syrup, strawberry butter, strawberry popsicles, strawberry buttermilk ice cream, and strawberry riesling granita. We added them to salads with fresh shelled peas, poppyseed dressing and fresh shavings of parmesan. We tossed them in with a fennel seed berry pavlova with whipped cream seasoned with tarragon. The juices literally ran down our elbows and stained every white thing in our house. If I had it to do over again, would I pick that many berries? Call me crazy but probably. Summer is such a short burst of long days just begging you to eat dinner too late and snack on berries while you wait for the grill to heat up.
I still remember the first time I ventured to a u-pick farm a few months after moving out west. It blew my mind. Maybe they have berries in other parts of the country but if that’s the case, I had never met them. Or not like this. Row after row of raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, boysenberries, marionberries, tayberries. Who was making up all these types of berries I’d never even heard of? And why was it possible to pick these berries fresh by the pound all without the sweltering heat and humidity or threat of yellow jackets I was raised with in the south. It still seems magical to me and heading out to u-pick is part of the natural rhythm of our family’s seasons. This year we brought Orion along and he actually helped. He was able to focus enough to pick a few berries that ended up in our pails instead of in his mouth.
Soon after our first trip to a u-pick farm I was faced with the enormity of our bounty. Think of how you feel when you look down at your plate on thanksgiving, overflowing with more food than you can ever hope to put away and yet you want it all and more. Now take that feeling and multiple it and you’ll know how I feel when staring down pounds and pounds of fresh picked fruit. What was I to do but teach myself how to make jam.