Sunday, August 26, 2007

One More Thing...

A friend of mine works at a gourmet grocery store. Recently they were all given a sample of a new product, Dark Cherries in Merlot. She called me up and told me I had to try them and then I had to figure out a way to duplicate them. Not one to shrink from a culinary challenge I have taken a stab at it. When I tasted them I decided there was vanilla, cinnamon and something else. It gave the syrup an almost medicinal taste, but good. It wasn't quite peppermint but what...
I found the product online and it listed some of the flavors. Cinnamon, vanilla, black pepper, bergamot, bay and... galangal root. That was the taste I couldn't identify. Galangal has an almost camphor-like taste. I did not have any in the cupboard nor did I have any bergamot. So instead I used cinnamon, vanilla, bay, pepper, lavender, and anise. The original cherries are not pitted. They are packed raw into the jar then covered with hot syrup and processed. This cooks them a bit. I did not intend to process them so I pitted them and simmered them in the syrup mixture for a couple of minutes. Then I removed them and reduced the syrup. It's not the original but it's pretty tasty anyway. I'll have to get some vanilla ice cream or some pound cake to have them on. I think they would also be good with game or pork.
For those who want to make some themselves (and I recommend it despite the price of late season cherries) here is my version.

1 1/2 cups pitted dark cherries
1 generous cup merlot (about 10 oz)
3 Tbs corn syrup
1/3-1/2 cup of sugar (I'm not exactly sure how much I added-start with less and add if needed)
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
2 or 3 pieces of star anise
1 tsp dried lavender
pinch of peppermint
ground black pepper or several whole peppercorns
1 Tbs balsamic vinegar

Pit the cherries with a pitter or a paring knife. Put them in a pot with the wine. Add the syrup, sugar, and vinegar. Put in the bay leaf and cinnamon stick. Put the other spices in a tea ball and suspend in the mixture. Bring to a simmer. Simmer for 1-2 minutes, just to exchange some juices. Take out the cherries with a slotted spoon and put into a jar. Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce by about 1/3 or so, until it's a little syrupy. Remove the tea ball, bay leaf and cinnamon stick. Pour the hot syrup over the cherries and seal the jar. If you intend to keep them for a while they will need to be in a canning jar and they will have to be processed in a hot water bath for at least 15 minutes per pint. But if you're just going to eat them up then any old jar will do. You can store them in the refrigerator if it's going to be a few days. But they may not last that long.

Saving Summer

Remember when I was going on about preserving summer in a jar? Well I've done some work on that. Last week I made some jam. Here it is, bubbling away.

Caramel Peach Jam with Anise and Vanilla

This week I made some tomato sauce. I used two Marcella Hazan recipes. One is just tomatoes simmered with a halved onion and butter. The second has:

Purple carrots! But they're not purple all the way through.

Can you smell it? Breathe deep.

The jar on the left has the simple tomato sauce (good for gnocchi) and the one on the right has the more complicated version. I added some basil too. They are about to go into a hot water bath to seal them up until some really nasty gray day in January when a bit of sun will be very welcome.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Remember, Grasshopper...

If you've been over at Lisa's you know that the tank top is a success. I admit, I had my worries about the size since I couldn't try it on myself. Nick, however, never wavered in his belief. See how serene, almost Buddha-like, he is. No thoughts of sagging or poor fit enter his mind. I can only kneel at the feet of the master and absorb the wisdom.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Real Bogey Man

When you were a little kid you might have been afraid of the bogey man in the closet or the monster under the bed. Or maybe you were afraid of the dark, or of the thing lying in the deep end of the pool. We think that when we grow up the monsters will go away but they don't, they just change shape and get new names. The monster under the bed becomes bankruptcy, the bogey man becomes cancer. One of the scariest grown up monsters is Alzheimer's. I picture it as a shapeless gray mass that sneaks up on you and wraps your head in a thick fog as it slowly eats up your brain. Never mind the thing under the bed, this is the real stuff of nightmares.

My uncle has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. For the last year or so he has been getting more distracted, more vague. He forgets recent events but is eager to tell stories from his days in the navy during World War II. We thought he was just getting older, after all, he's 82. You should be allowed to forget a few things. But it seems it is more than that. If you know anything about the disease you may know that it can't be diagnosed with complete certainty until an autopsy is performed. The doctors look at symptoms, go with the probability. There is a range of symptoms and different people deteriorate at different rates. There's no medicine that really works and all you can do is go with the flow, do the best you can moment to moment.

So far, my uncle's symptoms are pretty mild. Forgetfulness, distraction, and a reluctance to be left alone for long periods of time. These days he goes with my aunt to her volunteer job at the library. He just sits in the corner and reads until she's ready to go. He's still cheerful and likes to putter about the house, putting things away in odd places. It is my aunt who I really worry about. It must be very lonely to be the only witness to the changes and the oddities. She tried a support group but found it very depressing. She's not one to ask for help, even from her family. I understand this, I am much the same. So I've been thinking about how to help her out. I think I'm going to make some care packages. Boxes filled with fun or odd little things all wrapped in pretty paper and ribbon. I can't take any of her burden but perhaps I can add some light as the days grow darker.

I will also go to visit them in the fall with my sister. I want to see them and yet I also desperately want to remember him as he was, not as he will become. But I will go, and keep going, I will be there for them. This is why we tell children scary stories, so when they grow up they will have the courage and the strength to face the monsters that lurk in the dark.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Taking it Easy

This week has been blessedly uneventful. I'm really looking forward to experiencing some real boredom. Some time to wallow in nothing, maybe watch something truly trashy on television though I will probably draw the line at reality tv. That stuff is just toxic and studies show that if you watch too much of it your brain will begin to deliquesce and leak out of your ears. No one wants that.

But I don't have too much time for wallowing. Summer is slipping away and I have yet to make any jam or preserves. I've been to the farmer's market a lot lately, thank goodness. I think it's against the laws of physics to feel down after visiting the farmer's market. But I've always been on my way to somewhere else and so I couldn't buy a ton of stuff. But this Friday I plan to load up on summer's bounty and preserve it for the winter days to come. When I was a kid I would visit my grandmother in Belgrade. There they have a real market. It's several times the size of of the market in Union Square. Piles of strawberries, mountains of watermelons, heaps of beans-you get the idea. People there still preserved the summer harvest. It's called a "zimnica". It's hard to translate, there's no English equivalent, but essentially it means "for the winter" (zima is winter- not to be confused with the bad but trendy alcoholic beverage). My grandmother's pantry was always lined with jars filled with brightly colored fruits and vegetables. Her apricot jam was pure bliss. I have a lovely vision in my head of having my own zimnica. Because even though one can get apricots from South America in winter they just aren't the same. Preserves are more than just food. They're a moment in time caught in jar, a memory of warm days to savor during the cold winter.

Thursday, August 09, 2007


"What dreadful hot weather we're having. It keeps me in a continual state of inelegance."
Jane Austen

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

If You Were Wondering Where I"ve Been...

Dear sweet Christ on a cracker. These past two weeks (and this one is only halfway over) have left me wondering what god we managed to piss off. I'm not going to torture you with tons of details but here is a list of recent happenings.

1.My shower leaks into my neighbors place. The repairs are still not finished due to the rest of this list so I still have the Silkwood shower.
2.Two important people at my job leave prior to a big event we were participating in and which they had been organizing. This leaves me and the other manager in charge though we had stayed as far as possible from said planning. Until now. One of these people was generally useless and left a number of things undone and badly done. We've spent a lot of time trying to find and collect all the dropped balls. At least one rolled under the metaphorical furniture and was a pain in the butt to retrieve.
3.We have a serious lack of people and information about just about everything. I am working 6 days and the other manager 7.
4.Our main phone line decides to crap out and no one can reach us for several days. Much time is spent talking with three different companies and repair people.
5.The plumber still has not come to clean some drains and fix a leak.
6.Yesterday a co-worker had some kind of seizure which resulted in her not knowing who we were and being taken away in an ambulance. (She is feeling better now but it was very scary for her and everyone else here.)
7.And today the skies opened up and stranded various people on their way here or to the aforementioned event.

There is one bright spot in all this. One of the people who left really needed to go. She was both irritating and incompetent. This is a terrible combination. We all agree that despite the shortage we are glad she is gone. And she chose to leave so that is also good and we need not have any latent guilt about wishing her fired.

So there we are. I will be making an offering to whatever gods might be listening and hopefully we will return to some semblance of sanity.