The Joys of Jam!

I love color.  I like to fill my house with color! I think my favorite color in a window is cobalt blue.  Oscar Wilde, my favorite 19th Century  Irish playwright and aesthete once said, “I fear I will never live up to my cobalt dishes.”  I think it was actually decorative urns to which Wilde referred.   I would have to agree with the great intellect.  Cobalt does delight the senses.  The featured image is my kitchen window.  It looks to be a setting sun outside, which gave the blues an extra boost of color.

Speaking of color, I like color in my foods.   Jams are a good example of a colorful food.  While jams, that wonderful concoction of sugar and whole fruit, may not appear to be useful beyond peanut butter and jam, bread and jam, jam glaze, etc., for some, I think they can be used every day in a myriad of recipes.  I like to create jams.  I am less inclined toward jellies, made of fruit juices and sugar, though they make wonderful sweetener for, say, tea!  This week, I created a new jam.  I give my jams weird names.  Actually the names derive from the acronym that comes from the main ingredients, like “CAOS,” pronounced, chaos, is my cranberry-apple-orange-spice jam that I make in November when cranberries come to the grocery.  My CAOS graces the holiday table, and goes splendidly with turkey and its trimmings.

“FAJ” and “FOJ,” pronounced fahje and foeje, are my fig-apple jam and fig-orange jam.  They pair nicely with brie and other buttery cheeses.  I think I’ve written about these previously.

To assure that I measure fruits, sugar, and other ingredients going into the jam, I look at other recipes.  My latest is called, APOS, and now I’m sorry I didn’t arrange those letters differently, because some use a similar acronym derogatorily.  Going forward…APOS is apricot-pineapple-orange-saffron jam.  I followed a recipe for apricot jam.  First, you should know that my freezer is full of apricot pulp.  My mother has a prolific apricot tree.  She picks and cleans the apricots.  She adds a “produce protector” with dextrose, ascorbic acid, and citric acid, so that the fruit keeps its brilliant orange, and she adds some lemon juice and freezes in jars.

apricot pulp

I thaw the jar and mix my “jam.” For APOS, I used this quart (453.59g) of crushed apricots, and chopped up enough fresh pineapple and  two whole oranges to make eight ounces (226.80g) of additional fruit.  To which I added four cups (860g) sugar, and two ounces (56.70g) of lemon juice and four good pinches of saffron (about 20 threads for stigma).  Saffron is a rare and fragrant spice.  Each flower of the crocus produces three stigma and must be harvested by hand.  I visited Spain 15 years ago, and I still hang on to the saffron I purchased there.  Luckily, my mother’s friend, who lived in the Middle East gifted some.  I am using that now.  Here it is cooking down to a thickened state.  Notice the saffron threads imparting their brilliant color to the already colorful blend of apricot, pineapple, and naval oranges.

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While the jam thickens, jars must be cleaned and sterilized.  The rings must be clean, and the lids must be covered with hot water to soften the rubber seal.  Pour the boiling jam into the prepared jars, and the lid-ring must be adjusted to fit properly.  Lower each jar into a boiling water bath canner where the water covers the jars by two or more inches (5.08 cm).  Place the lid on the canner, and begin the count (15 minutes) once the water comes back to a boil.   Consult your canning guide for best results.

I tested the jam with silky goat cheese, and it did not disappoint.  It went well on a freshly baked slice of sourdough, too.  I think it’s a keeper.  bread

Jams are a must when you present a meat and cheese board.  We like a meat and cheese board when we’re watching a movie on the television.

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On this particular board, I used whole figs in place of the jam (What was I thinking?).  My husband loves kippered snacks (herring), which is great with cream cheese and crackers.  Eat this kind of meal slowly so that you know when you’re full.  Otherwise, it’s easy to stuff yourself, because everything is fresh and flavorful.

I’m off to visit my mother for her 90th birthday.  My sisters and I are preparing a great feast.  Perhaps I’ll share.  Thank you for reading.

Thankful – For Friends, Family, and Food!

For a Native American with a long history of Indigenous ancestry, the holiday of Thanksgiving offers a mixed bag of emotions.  United States history would have you believe Thanksgiving was a time when Pilgrims (colonists) had a meal where they fed the Indigenous souls who inhabited what is now the United States.  Of course, my ancestors were treated as “hostile” because we fought when having our lands taken away from us by laws that excluded us from owning the lands on which we hunted and gathered our food, raised our families, and build our habitats.  Be that as it may, we Natives continue to celebrate a National Day of Mourning to acknowledge an era that would change our lives for ever.

My family celebrated and continues to celebrate a Thanksgiving meal with thoughts that turned to what our ancestors’ experiences and when their lives changed after colonization.  Because of the time of the year, we also used it as a time to honor our Creator for the bounty of food given to us from the land, from the seas, and from all the elements that made life possible.  So I continue that tradition today.

Let’s discuss what was on my table on “Thanksgiving Day.”  A thwarted trip to my home state (Colorado) because of heavy snows, a rock slide on one of the mountain passes, and sloppy driving conditions gave the green light for us to “stay put.” We decided to stay home, cook the big meal, and find someone to feed.  I learned from my Mother’s holiday meals that they had to be vast, take  a long time to cook, and had to have a variety of offerings on the table.  Here’s my menu:

  • Aperitif: Sweet Vermouth
  • Roast Turkey
  • Sauteed, Buttered Brussels Sprouts with Sliced Almonds
  • Savory Dressing
  • Squash “Boats” (recipe follows)
  • Pickled Beets
  • Relish Tray
  • The Ubiquitous Two-layered Jello Salad
  • Baked Beans
  • Cranberry Apple Orange Spice (CAOS) Jam
  • Sourdough Bread
  • Cava (Sparkling Wine from Spain)

Dessert:

  • Pumpkin Pie with Whipped Cream for Dessert
  • Creme Sherry

I began my own tradition of making my “signature” Cranberry Apple Orange Spice jam, also known as “CAOS” (pronounced, Chaos) because I loved the taste of the combined fruits with the added Chinese 5 Spice, and I didn’t like the store-bought cranberry in a can that came out like a lump!  I love the aroma of my CAOS even more!  Next time you create your “Cheese Board” or your “Charcuterie Board”, I highly recommend pairing CAOS with brie, fried Mexican panela, or with goat cheese.  The flavors come together quite nicely.  Also, I make a Fig Apple jam that goes nicely with cheeses.  I had spoken of CAOS in one of my previous posts.  Let me know if you want the recipe.

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Here’s the recipe for my “squash boats”.

  1. Wash and slice two acorn squash.  Clean out seeds. Assemble on a baking pan.  You should have four “boats” into which you add this mixture:
  2. Two apples: Cored and diced with skins. I like honey crisp.
  3. Two oranges: Diced with peels
  4. 3/4 cup (96g) raisins
  5. 3/4 cup (96g) Walnuts
  6. 2/3 cup (85g) salted butter
  7. 2/3 cup (85g) brown sugar
  8. 3/4 cup (96g) brandy

Preheat your oven to 365 degrees (185 Celsius).

Add ingredients (#2 to #8) in a bowl.  Mix well and spoon into prepared squash.

Put an additional pat of butter on each boat before you put into oven.  Bake until the squash is soft and the fruits are bubbly.  Serve whole boats on table.

I knew I wanted to cook a large meal, but most people we knew had plans, and we’ve only lived in this town since last May.  I called one set of our best friends who live a little more than two hours away.  Their daughters would not be joining them for Thanksgiving, so I said, “Come spend a few days with us, and eat Thanksgiving!”  They agreed, and we had a marvelous time!  I am so grateful for friends.  I miss our children and grandchildren, and my family, and I am so fortunate to have friends.  I see them as “adopted” family, certainly.

 

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Our lovely day, filled with warmth and laughter, ended with turkey sandwiches and more laughter.

Thank you for reading.

Growing a Tree

I saw some sort of add (video) on social media about a device called an “avocado boat”.   So, the premise was that you’d float an avocado seed in this little boat, and the seed would sprout (germinate) to, eventually, grow into a tree.

According to the video, you peel the pit/seed before germination.  First, one must figure out which end of the seed to face down and which side goes up.  I found an article that said the “fat side” is the bottom, so that is how I proceeded.  The little boats appeared to be a clever way to germinate the seed, but I didn’t want to waste my money on a gadget, so I devised a way to float the seed in the water without piercing it with toothpicks, as I’ve seen previously.

As an alternative to the “avocado boat”, I took a sandwich storage bag and cut a small hole in the corner so that the bottom of the seed would be immersed in water.  I held the bag onto a jar with a rubber band.  I  place the jars with their seeds on a railing on my back porch so that they would have light and warmth, but not direct sun light.

germinated avacado seed

As you can see, there is a nice root reaching to the bottom of the jar, and a nice stem reaching for the sun.  It takes a while, about six weeks.  With this kind of root beginning, the next step required placing the root in well drained potting soil.  My featured photo in this submission is the plant after two months.

I found it better to place the pot with the seedling indoors, because I have squirrels, and they help themselves to any seeds in my yard pots.

sprouted avocado seed

Perhaps, next year, I will be able to show a larger tree.  At which point, I may be able to move the pots outside.  I am not sure if these projects ever produce fruit.  There is the concept of pollination.

Thank you for reading.

Basil, and More Basil!

I’ve written about my basil windfall, previously.  I can’t help but write about it, again!  The fragrant plant and its deep green leaves, says, “summer” to me.  Never before, have I enjoyed this over-abundance of basil.  Now, let’s talk about basil.

Basil, also known as “St. Joseph’s Wort” belongs to the mint family, along with catnip, spearmint, and peppermint.  Most Italian-style cooks use basil in many dishes, because it goes well in tomato-based dishes.  I like to use basil in much of my cooking, and the marriage of tomatoes, garlic, basil, and olive oil can be a sublime experience when used in soups, sauces, beef roasts, and grilled lamb.  The vegetarian or vegan can even use different combination for vegetable dishes.

Pino Luongo, one of my favorite cookbook writers (actually less cookbook and more stories to go along with the ingredients of favored recipes) talks about the way he uses basil in his Tuscan cooking.  He reminds us not to be tied, so much, to recipes that tell us how much of what to use.  Luongo, says, “Use your senses, and learn through trial and error.”  He also suggest that we “improvise based on your acquired knowledge.”  I come from a family of people who like to cook, so that’s an example of my “acquired knowledge”.  Of course, I add, use safe food handling practices.

Besides being in Italian cooking, basil has a popularity in Thai and Vietnamese cuisine.  Having just eaten Pho (Fuh, which means noodle) today, which is a wonderful soup with cellophane noodles in a generous beef broth (in today’s case), I delighted in the soup brought to the table in its cavernous bowl.  Presented separately, on a small plate, are bean sprouts, mint or basil, and a wedge of lime.  We place the sprouts and mint/or basil in the steaming bowl of soup and top is off with a squeeze of lime.  I’ve only had Pho with beef brisket in its broth with its condiments.

Holistic health practitioners recommend basil for its anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-viral properties.  This comes from Medical News Today, and it adds that basil is “nutrient heavy” and calorie light, but then I cannot think of any herbs considered calorie heavy!

As mentioned, previously, I continue to find ways to preserve my basil, in addition to drying it for later use.  In the dead of winter, I love pulling my frozen pesto from the freezer, as green as the day I put it in.  Yes.  I’ve related that in previous blog entries.

Seasoned Basil Freeze

With the large batch of basil plucked from the plant, I decided that 15 jars of pesto may need to be enough (actually my plan is for 20-25 small jars before winter sets in), I decided to preserve some pesto as a seasoning.  I took one large bowl full of basil leaves.

Basil

All together, it compresses into 2 heaping cups full in the blender vessel.

To that I added:

  • 1/4 cup Mediterranean olives – pitted
  • A dehydrated mix of celery, onion, mushroom, red pepper – 1 Tablespoon
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon smoked salt
  • 3 grinds of black pepper
  • 1 cup of olive oil (add more if mix is too thick)

I blended this until nice and liquid.   I put it into the freezer, and use the “seasoning” in dishes throughout the winter months.  Remember, the olive oil preserves the basil perfectly, and (I say it again), it’s as green the day you thaw it as the day you froze it. Look at that color!

Seasoned Basil

I prefer freezing such things in glass.  Remember to label it, and put the date on it so that you use the oldest items first.

Enjoy, and thank you for reading.