Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Fruits of Summer

For the last few years, the apricot tree in my in-laws yard hasn't really had much fruit. I've gotten out of the habit of making jam. This year, however, there was a fair amount of fruit; my brother-in-law, who often picks the fruit for them, was unavailable; and my mother-in-law, who makes the most amazing fruit preserves imaginable, isn't as energetic as she used to be and isn't really up for making jam. Slow on the uptake as ever, I didn't really mobilize myself to get the fruit picked and preserves made until it was almost too late. To make matters worse, I seem to have completely lost my jam-making touch. I hope it comes back to me next year.

Anyway, in addition to making jam, this year I decided to try to glace some apricots. I started out with this technique, which is flat-out insane. I was OK for the first couple days, but taking the fruit in and out of the syrup got old after a while, and when I tried to add the extra sugar and it just sat there on top of the old syrup, it seemed as though there was just too much sugar in the mix. My plan for next year is to modify the technique as follows:

Make a simple syrup of one cup sugar, one cup water
Simmer the fruit in the syrup briefly, remove from heat.
Next day remove fruit, add 1/2 cup sugar, boil the syrup, return the fruit, remove from heat. Do this two or three times.
Leave the fruit in the syrup for a few weeks, bringing it to a mild simmer every two or three days.
Remove the fruit and dry it.

The apricots are drying now, and they are more sugary than any fruit has a right to be. Until today I had several cups of very fruity syrup which I was thinking of using in champagne cocktails, but instead I am using most of it in a plum sorbet.

Here is my plum sorbet technique:

Wash the fruit, put it whole in a pot and heat until the skins pop open. Simmer briefly. Put the whole thing in a strainer and press out as much of the flesh as possible, discarding the pits and skins. Add syrup. Cool, then add one or two egg whites, depending on how much puree you have, and freeze in an ice-cream maker.

I am also making plum brandy. This is a very simple technique as well. You take two pints of plums, add 4 cups sugar and 1 quart vodka. Put them all in a container in the refrigerator, stir once a week for four months, and strain. Voila! I thought I had a foolproof plan in deciding to make park day my plum-stirring day, but I have forgotten to stir every Tuesday since I put the plums in the refrigerator. As far as I can tell this is an arbitrary exercise, though, because when I open it up to stir it there is just a clear purple liquid with a bunch of fruit in it, and I can't see what purpose stirring it serves. It's probably a good idea to keep checking on it, though.

I have been picking fruit with Village Harvest (thanks, Vivian) for the past few weeks and also have a nice pile of greenish apples and large plums. I will probably make applesauce with the apples, but I think I will try my modified glace technique on the plums. As I've been working on the apricots, it made me think a lot about preserving fruits, and candying them, and the fruitcake my family always makes, which uses candied fruits made from dried fruits. I wonder if making candied fruits from fresh fruits and putting them in fruitcake would make the fruitcake even more wonderful, or if it would just ruin the texture. Come Thanksgiving, I am to find out. Stay tuned.


Monday, July 20, 2009

Early one morning

I'm going to preface this entry by mentioning that we appeared to be having a yellow-jacket free summer. That is, until my husband decided to bait the yellow-jacket trap. Now they are attracted to it, but apparently unable to actually get into it, and last night for the first time we were unable to eat dinner outside because they were so ferocious. I am not pleased.

A more charming addition to our back deck is the large family of quail that now feel comfortable coming to eat crumbs and seeds we leave on the fence railing for them. Quail have to be the most adorable birds in existence. Their plump little bodies, their cute little beeping noises and charming call, their odd little flutter as the jump on and off the fence, the way the adults always keep guard while the babies forage. California quail are especially handsome, to my way of thinking, and I love watching them. There are also some scrub jays who seem to take a proprietary view of the fence, but the quail aren't scared of them, and it's especially fun to watch them negotiating boundaries along the fence.

So this morning, there they were, quails and jays, eating and chirping and fluttering around. Suddenly there was a big commotion and a smallish hawk swooped quite low over the quail, easily coming within six inches of the fence where they were feeding. They disappeared into the bushes beyond the fence, and the hawk, having failed to snatch one, perched on a nearby fence post. The quail expressed their alarm in loud and agitated peeeps from the bushes as the hawk shook out his feathers and scratched his leg. A yellow-jacked flew around his head, but he took no notice. A pair of swallows circled his vicinity, but he didn't really care. He kept his eyes on the bushes where the quail who continued voicing their distress in no uncertain terms.

I saw a pair of hummingbirds make an almost vertical rise into the air, flying beak to beak. I don't know if they were courting or contesting territory. I've never seen them do that before. Eventually they perched in the branches of a young oak sapling, along with some finches. The quail were gradually growing quieter. The hawk was still sitting on the fence. He switched his attention to a mockingbird in the next yard over. Finally I decided that I really should be watching with my binoculars, so I went into the next room and got them. And of course when I got back, there was nary a bird to be seen. No hawk, no finches, no hummingbirds, nothing. Only a lone yellowjacket, circling the trap and looking frustrated. That trap has got to go.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Crazy days of summer

I found a summer camp I want to enroll my kids in. (Did she just end a sentence with a preposition? ZOMG!!!)

Anyway, money is a consideration. These are some pretty privileged kids, with the guitar lessons, the piano lessons, the tennis lessons, and god knows what else from time to time. Yet for some reason, I still think it's reasonable to send them to summer camp in Santa Cruz to cook for 5-6 hours a day (I'd be glad to tell you why I think that's reasonable, but really, how many digressions can one blog post support?)

So I asked my husband, "Well, how about if they trade some music lessons for cooking lessons?" my estimate being that about four guitar lessons would be the equivalent of the cooking camp. His answer? "No, that's OK. They can do it, but you owe me." Which made me realize how much I personally want this for them. It's not for me, it's for them, but still I really want it. Enough so that when my husband said, "OK, well, we'll just consider it your birthday present," I was actually on board. WHO SENDS THEIR CHILDREN TO SUMMER CAMP FOR THEIR OWN BIRTHDAY PRESENT???? Especially since this not one of those getting the children out of your hair kind of thing. I like being around them and miss them when they're gone, plus if I drive them to Santa Cruz, where the camp is, I'm not going to be coming home to get stuff done or anything. Is that the attraction for me? Guaranteed six hours out of the house for five straight days? Probably not. That actually sounds kind of tiring.

Being a mom is confusing, that's for sure. I still haven't untangled this all in my head.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

GMOs are not the answer

Here's some text from an e-mail petition making the rounds:

... the Obama administration along with members of the U.S. Congress are using this singular moment to move their own agenda: propping up U.S. biotechnology companies like Monsanto. They hope to accomplish this by promoting genetically modified seeds and chemical inputs as tools to fight hunger, despite research that shows that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have little impact on crop yield and do not fare well in drought-prone regions that need the most help.


Please have a look and take action.

Here's the petition.

Of course I signed this. I hope you do, too.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

How awesome am I?

You know how some days everything just clicks? You're efficient, you're energetic, you're getting stuff done, and then you write a blog post about how much you've accomplished and it looks really impressive and all your friends say how awesome you are?

Well my whole week has been the opposite of that.

Labels: , ,