Friday, 18 October 2013

Five Minute Fridays: Laundry

It's Friday again, and I'm writing from a coffee shop piping toe-tapping jazz. This could be interesting. But I do, in fact, have five minutes, so no excuses. To join in this week's Five Minute challenge or to learn more, visit Lisa-Jo Baker's site. Today's prompt is "laundry". Timer's set...GO

In our previous house, we had a laundry line that stretched miles across our soccer field of a lawn. I grew up with clothes horses on my parents' small patch of backyard, but never enough to hang absolutely everything. It took some courage on my part to make use of that whole line: sheets, baby socks, underwear hanging in the breeze, the details of our lives mounted on a flagpole well above the fence line in the afternoon light. It's a suburban sense of privacy - so many pictures from dense cities show line upon line strung along alleyways, across city streets bustling with foot traffic. Millions of eyes could incline a little upwards and gaze on just who all lives in that fourth floor apartment and what they wear under their boots and jackets. But none pictured ever do. Perhaps the world isn't as nosy as I assume.

And stop. Your turn ;)

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Crabapple butter: an autumn recipe

It was an unpredictable summer. The heat came in spurts throughout June and July, but interspersed with such unseasonal stretches of cool that I became paranoid that summer would end before we made good on our August vacation. I suppose it was a fitting follow up to the most capricious of winters and volatile of springs, but it took walking around the neighbourhood in late-night twilight to convince myself that we were still closer to the solstice than the equinox despite the weather. There was fruit for Transfiguration ripening on the trees and flowers for Dormition blooming through many a front lawn; I arrived home refreshed nigh an hour before midnight, my calendars realigned. My husband called off the search party. Next time I'll bring my phone.

Our crabapple tree, unfortunately, had no such wandering affirmations to confirm the continuity of summer. Those dips and dives that killed July's mosquitoes led it to give up on the season entirely, and well before August's end. I watched the apples blush with incredulity nearly a month earlier than normal, and ended up scheduling an emergency apple picking a full two weeks before September, lest our entire crop end up scattered on the driveway. Our tree might have felt rather silly once a sultry September rolled in, engulfing its prematurely fruitless branches with an abnormally late dose of humidity, but these are the times when it helps to be non-sentient.  Accusations aside, we were left with a conundrum: there was no way we could consume enough of the beef in our freezer to make room for this many apples worth of sauce before said fruit went foul on the counter. It's the risk you take when you agree to buy half of the "large cow" straight from the hands who raised it. One of these days, I'm really going to have to get over my fear of canning. In the meantime, there was another course of action available to me: trying my hand at crabapple butter.

I had made apple butter once before, but two years is a long time to try and retain a recipe recited from a series of text messages from a friend who knew a friend in the know, so I put out a call on Facebook for something a little more concrete. A friend came back with this recipe, which, paired with a sugar-to- apple ratio from this recipe and my own method of making apple sauce, was enough to get me started. I loved the idea of adding orange zest instead of lemon to account for the extra tartness of the crabapple, and the aroma of spiced apples simmering for hours is always welcome in my kitchen.

Here's what I came up with:

Crabapple butter

Stock-pot full (16 qts) of crabapples, washed and sorted but not cored, peeled or stemmed 
Baby-fist-sized piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
3 cinnamon sticks
6 cloves
water (enough to fill pot ~1 inch)
brown sugar (1/2 cup per 1 cup of apple puree)
the zest of one orange or one drop of food-grade wild orange essential oil

Simmer apples and spices on low heat, stirring occasionally, until apples are soft (can be smushed against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon), about 12 hours. Remove from heat, and let sit, uncovered, to cool for a few more hours, stirring occasionally. Apple mush can be warm, but not hot. Remove cinnamon sticks (don't worry about cloves & ginger pieces) and put through saucer/food processor/anything that'll removed the cores, peels, and seeds.

Move strained sauce to slow cooker, measuring as you transfer. My yield was 14 cups. Add 1/2 cup brown sugar for every cup of sauce, and mix in orange zest. Turn slow cooker on low and prop lid open with chopsticks. Cook about 8 hours on low, stirring often to encourage evaporation.

According to Mother's Kitchen, who provided the recipe above, an apple has been buttered when it acts like this: "the fruit butter can hold it's shape on a spoon, to check it put a small amount on a chilled plate. When the liquid doesn't separate and create a rim around the edge, and it holds a buttery, spreadable shape when you pass your finger through it, it's ready to can." Once butter consistency is reached, taste and adjust spice if needed (use powdered cinnamon, clove, & ginger). Either process to can or cool and freeze.

My final yield - much easier to fit in the freezer

Globalization has taken some of the shine off the exotic allure of the spice trade, but there's still something compelling about seasoning apples from my own backyard with flavours from far away. It takes me back to a time when acquiring cinnamon from Sri Lanka, cloves from Indonesia, and ginger root from India came hand in hand with tales from the silk road, world events gathered at oases where caravan met caravan to water their animals. I wonder if the average well-to-do Englishman appreciated the weeks and months those spices had spent in saddle bags atop horses and camels, or barrelled in the hulls of sailing ships, bartered from harbour to merchant to peddler to servant to cook before landing in his Christmas pudding.

I checked the packages of my own modern spices: beyond the Kirkland Saigon Cinnamon, all I can garner is the addresses in Ontario where the product met its current container. The label at the supermarket told me the orange I zested came from South Africa; apparently the groves of Florida and California have also suffered from precarious cooling throughout the growing season, leading such grocery giants as Loblaws to cast their net a little further to accommodate our continuing citrus demands. I'm afraid I reacted more with disgust at the added carbon footprint than the awe Perrault's Cinderella felt upon being presented with such exotic fruit at the prince's ball. Oranges have become all to common in the twenty-five-thousand mile diet. (Update: the following autumn, I used wild orange oil instead of zest - food-grade essential oils are hard too find, but the improvement both in taste and aroma is worth the hassle). And my post's meanders are bound to irritate some poor googling chef in search of recipes rather than wider socio-economic-environmental musings (my apologies).

Apples for another project - just too pretty not to picture
So there you have it: a seasonal recipe created at an unseasonable time due to unpredictable weather. To give some perspective on quantities, my iPhone camera was included in my little culinary adventure. The pictures aren't great, but they do capture some sense of the reduction process, from first picking and sorting to saucing and, finally, butter. My stock pot holds about 16 quarts and my slow cooker maxes out at 5 quarts. The containers where I stored my finished product hold about 2 cups each, which should give a good indication of my final yield.

Looking at that motley crew of salvaged Ukrainian tupperware and plain-jane rubbermaids really make me wish I'd thought ahead and bought some little glass jars with flounced gingham covers. Between the orange and the ginger, this apple butter tastes like Christmas, and cooking crabapples peels makes for too lovely a hue not to match with red and white ribbons. Next year, my family might find themselves with home-made kitch in their stockings (try to act surprised). In the meantime, I'll enjoy spreading jewel-toned spicy goodness on my toast. It's especially nice with rye.

May the season give you something to savour, no matter what twists it took to get us here.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Five Minute Fridays: Write

Sometimes the ugliness gets to me. I'm drowning in the pain. I feel the righteous anger for someone else's story, hurt at another's great injustice, so I write. I write and rant and writhe but do not publish. For the story isn't mine. My rantings bring no healing, just catharsis for my own small soul. The world is not moved. They say fight fire with more fire, but wouldn't water be more effective? Sooth, wash, wear away not with more sandpaper, but with rushing streams.

So I look for my own story, what I own among the glories, what is common to us all if only we would look. Try to leave the world a little lovelier despite of all the ugly, all the controversy, all the clever arguments I so would love to win. I already know that I am smart. Does that mean I must be angry? Does the dwelling on the injustice make it somehow dissappear? So I write, and do not publish, should the wrath grow to consume me. Write and rip (or press delete), and make peace with another day.

Linking up again with Lisa-jo Baker et. all for another Five Minute Friday.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013


I've been out walking in the mornings again. The air is crisp, and the sun is catching greens and golds in the tree tops. The breeze brings a skitter of fallen leaves that huddle in the gutters and meet my step with a satisfying crunch. Autumn is upon us, and this year brings again the pleasure of daily strolls to and from our neighbourhood preschool.

The routine that precedes the jaunt has altered considerably since our first round of pedestrian commutes: while my son still has a slower start to his morning, his sister and I rush about, getting dressed (well, Mommy often settles for sweatpants), breakfast for her, lunch packing for me, hugs for the boy still in jammies, and my first breath of fresh air of the day: a quick march down the street and across a very busy and badly marked crosswalk to this year's school bus stop. Given the number of drivers who barrel on past our corner despite my traffic-savvy first grader's out-stretched arm, I'm very thankful that my shorter and more adventurous child stays safely inside with his father. Longer school days also mean less time for girl talk, so I hope to keep up these daily saunters one-on-one even once the city deals with my traffic safety complaint. Those few moments of focused conversation before the bus pulls up mean a lot in my getting-less-than-little's love language.

Once I've waved my goodbyes to my eldest scholar, I venture back through the rush hour text-and-drivers and breath a little deeper once I reach the other side. One down, one to go. I usually return to boy grins at the window; my newly-minted preschooler has often started eating before this point, but rarely remains at table when there's a school bus boarding to watch. There's often a pointed reminder or four that "done breakfast" means full tummy, not short attention span, but I do manage to get myself fed and (properly) dressed in the meantime.

Just an hour after school bus pick-up, I'm back out en plein air, heading in the opposite direction, with a child who'd usually rather skip ahead than stay close enough for conversation (Don't worry, Grandmas, he's very good at waiting for Mommy at every corner). He contents himself with frequent looks back to ensure I'm still following, and peppers his trot with excited observations of whatever has caught his attention: "Look, Mommy, a magpie!" "Heymommyheymommy - that garage has five doors!" "Heymommy, is that CONSTRUCTION?" Why, yes, I do see the orange cones of glory. Be still my beating heart.

It's quite the change from the near continual hand-holding and quiet humming of my previous preschooler, but it's what comes after the drop-off that differs the most. Once his jacket is hung and I've hugged him goodbye, I leave the building entirely on my own - four mornings a week, I have two hours and fifteen minutes totally devoid of child care without the excuse of an adult commitment. While I have made a point of occasionally scheduling dates with myself in my six year career as a stay-at-home mother, I've never had such regular free time. I must admit it makes me feel a little giddy.

I've heard two different definitions of the term "babymoon". For some, it is a time set aside before the birth, a special outing or vacation for the family unit as they are before everything changes once again. For others, it is a retreat into the home after the babe is born, a period for a mother to rest up and bond with her newest little one without the hassle of entertaining visitors, keeping up with the dusting and the dishes, or even leaving the house. I've done a bit of both between my first two babies, though not always very deliberately. I labeled various little events as pre-emptive babymoons after the fact, and, while I never strictly adhered to the traditional six-week stay-home that exists in the larger umbrella of Orthodox Christian practices, I didn't worry too much about housework or social life while submerged in the haze of the newborn stage.

This time around, however, I'm adding a couple interpretations of my own. I'm having a boy-moon: some focused time with my son while he's still my youngest - and, during most school hours, only - child. But that's a whole other post. I'm also including opportunities for a solo-moon: a respite for the introvert mom, little breaks from motherhood while caring for my next baby is still synonymous with caring for myself. While many a preschool period may be eaten up by errands, phone calls, and emails that are more easily accomplished when unaccompanied, I'll be reserving the odd mid-morning just for me. Be it a long walk taken at my own pace, a morning snack (or a full second breakfast) at a favourite cafe, or just coffee enjoyed hot at home without needing to stick my abandoned mug in the microwave, it's good to be alone. A time to read, perchance to write, a time to pray; I'm two weeks in with as many as twelve weeks to go - the possibilities still stretch before me. Much as I enjoy hearing the children chatter and look forward to more baby cuddles, I'm glad for this little bit of rest nestled between early morn and noon-time bustles, and thankful for the calm before the next glorious storm.