Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Short Story: The McJudgerson I Have Been

A Short Story: The McJudgerson I Have Been

It was tiring.  A day and then some.  Jake was in the stroller and let me tell you something about my baby.  He used to lick things.  Public surfaces, random objects, rarely his food.  Yes, I am disgusted just writing about it.  But I came in for shorts, and now I was holding bright yellow plastic like flats with a bow because, well, Jake licked them.  Right off the sale display table, right in front of 3 sales people having a powwow on how fabulous they all look.  They were not so absorbed, however, to avoid Jake and his tongue caressing the rubbery shoe like it was a brand new lollipop.  Hot dog.  New shoes.  Not.  There’s not a moment I wear those ridiculous things that are impossible to garden in, even if I liked dirt, or walk in the rain, because, let’s face it; they really don’t keep my feet dry, no sir, there’s not a moment I wear them without thanking God for the extraordinary constitution of my boy that he is not in the hospital with an unknown foreign parasite.  (Those were a lot of surfaces under the age of 3.) 

But I persevered you see, because I needed shorts.  While the collective number of days in New England on which one could wear them were not vast in number, it still got mighty hot.  I could not hide in jeans forever—although I really wanted to try, I needed new shorts.  And I had figured out the perfect length of 5 inches, which creeped enough over my backside and inched downward until a decent amount of post-baby leg was swathed comfortably in khaki. 

In the present day, I have a nice array to choose from.  The 7, 5 or 4-inch inseam is largely dependent on the state my thighs are in that particular morning.  No pressure warrants a 4, increased a 5 and well, you can imagine the state of the 7.  Which brings me right back to J.Crew where I was trying to get some shorts, with coverage.  This seemed to be an oxymoron. 

“Why!” I seethed and muttered in frustration, “do you carry these in the store for $45 with a 3 inch inseam?!”  And right behind me, probably monitoring Jake’s rogue tongue, was the perkiest, teeniest, sales associate ever.  And she had lovely teeth.  I don’t know why I remember that. 

J Crew Lady: “Well, they’re very popular.”
Me (thinking): with what kind of alien stick figure, and who would they be popular with?  The thighs that can enter these shorts without any kind of circulatory threat, are usually young and they cannot AFFORD them.
JCL: “Would you like to try them on?”
Me: “No.”
JCL: “No?”
Me:  “No, but I thank you, because until today, this very second, I had no idea that I resembled a thirteen year old girl.”

Withhold your criticism!  I had had no coffee and just purchased weird shoes.  And anyway, she just smiled at me, puzzled, and floated away.  On $118 dollar heels.  Wearing the very shorts I was twisting in my claw like hands. 

Which sets the stage nicely for this story because I bought some new shorts this past weekend.  I now live in Florida, and it’s part of the uniform.  Or I can melt.  Or just mildew.  In any case, moist is an adjective that is best for cakes.  I’ve been working out to keep my middling swell at bay and it’s a job and a half because I just cannot do what I need to do or know I need to do to really detox and jump start the metabolism cracking.  So I had to buy some shorts, and you know this is a trial. 

Everywhere you go you see women in varying degrees of warm weather clothing, even if it isn’t shorts weather where you are, you have been, I’m willing to bet, at some point, in a place where you were surrounded by a veritable cornucopia of summer styles that would make any fashion editor’s head spin.  You’ve sat with your family, eating ice cream and allowed your eyes to wander to the rest of the crowd, and you see it.  Women wearing too short or too scarce of something that allows the eye to see things that perhaps should be best saved for indoors.  I’ve done it.  I’ve judged it.  And every time I do it, whisper mutter to myself about the woman in question, I feel completely justified…or am I?  Because here I am talking about self-worth and self-acceptance and self whatever, and I’m being a McJudgerson all by myself. 

I was trying to figure this out, why I care enough to comment on a fellow traveler.  So I am confessing to you that I am unloading the snark because I am jealous.  I know it seems small and silly but that's where I've located it.  I am jealous that this woman can wear these things and not care about what anyone thinks and I am struggling with inseam length.  I am vexed that a lady feels so comfortable to wear a bikini (hot pink at that) when I have not done so in ALL MY YEARS ON THIS EARTH (even where nothing on me rubbed together) and allow everything to fall where it needs to.  I am envious that this woman feels so secure that she can allow everyone to see the sleeve of permanent ink on her arm as she feeds her toddler the gruel that is the same no matter what socio-economic rung you hang from.  I am irritated that this woman does not feel the need to dress in slimming black but is wearing white and could not care less what day it is even if it isn’t Memorial and that it basically is drawing my eye straight to her and seeing that she is completely content. 

Why.  Why.  Why.  Am I doing this?  How many conversations have we had amongst our girlfriends that go something like this:

Me: “You look great!”  (Honest but I am also being nice because I’m fishing for an equal and resolute compliment myself.)

You: “No I don’t!  I’m soooo fat!”

Me: “Oh, please, no you don’t!  You look awesome.”  (Because I earnestly feel she does and I am comparing myself and she looks better than I do.  And has great nails.)

You: “Well, thank you, but I do need to do something.”

And we go on to something else all the while I am glad that the status remains that way because then I can feel comfortable being uncomfortable and not the best I can be.  It stinks.

I have read recently that certain designers are resizing their brands to make their customer base feel better.  For example, a former size 10 will now be an 8, it’s still a 10 but for many a day, you can look at that label and convince yourself the donut did not matter in the least.  Maybe it’s worth something, I don’t know.  What I do know, is that until we stop with the pressure to be and sit right with what we are right now, it’ll never be a good thing.  Snark overload.  McJudgersons everywhere.  We are fighting each other and nobody wins.

  • Your arms may continue waving long after you’ve said farewell, but remember who you held in those arms just a moment ago and how much that little said he felt always safer there? 

  • Your stomach may carry all the crowded lines and scars of a war, but consider the spoil of the battle—isn’t she worth it?

  • Your legs may not be where you need them; the thighs may spread past the point of comfort in company, but look at where they’ve led you?

It’s true, right?  You know it is.  Don’t believe me, just ask anyone who knows you.  Ask them what they think.  And here’s the hard part.  BELIEVE them.

Just the other day, I was out with my family, and I saw this woman, she was wearing those short jean shorts and what appeared to be an orange bikini top under a tight tank top.  She was bending over to fix her small son’s shorts.  And I overheard them, women like me snarking it up.  “How could she wear that?”  “My eyes hurt.”  “Some people should learn how to dress.”  I understood them, because I was one of them. 

They were mine just as I was theirs…but I was hers too.  I believe that this woman, the judged upon, has probably heard all of it before.  In fact, I’ll betcha that she’s heard it almost all of her life.  At some point, I reckon, she just stopped listening so she could get out of her door and LIVE.  

Because she’s finally figured out what we are all just too busy being  jealous/vexed/envious/irritated to accept, that the worries and the wherefores and the whys stop you from going, living, being and doing the one last strange trip we’ve got.  Life.

So again, here we go.  Wearing our size out and allowing the judgments to stand. 

Will you do something with me? 

Instead of the internal evilogue that goes through your mind when you see the woman that you think isn’t “quite right,” can you think instead: what can I do to be as brave as she is today? Because in locating the brave in her, invigorates the brave in you, a chain reaction of the good that eliminates the snark and will bring comfort, security and contentedness no matter what you decide to wear.  Tim Gunn, notwithstanding, do this, and you'll make it work--whatever that "it" is.
For me, being brave today is wearing the t-shirt that my mind is telling me may be a little too snug.  And the knowledge that whatever shorts I grab will be for myself, because I know what makes me me and time is too brief not to be brave.  So, tell me--tell me about your brave below in the comments.  And please, don’t go anywhere.  I’m due for a new swimsuit, and if there is anything that takes a fizz out of a pop faster, it’s the lighting in those rooms.  I need you sister, egads.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

we're jammin': notes on preserving kitchen memories

we’re jammin’: notes on preserving kitchen memories

When I started to write this post, I was so tired.  The truth is that jamming, canning and preserving take a good chunk of time.  It doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it; it is, but it is also a lot of work and a lot of photos as well.  So I kinda hemmed and hawed and didn’t want to write it.  But today I was making some chicken curry for my family,

 straight from the handwritten recipes from my mother, who made a book for me a year before she was diagnosed with cancer.  And as I added coriander, turmeric, ginger, and onion, the smell alone took me back to my kitchen memory. 

No matter how tired she was, and she was plenty tired working full time and commuting a distance, my mother cooked for us.  Mostly she would spend the weekends she should have relaxed in cooking and cleaning for the week.  She never complained.  It just struck me hard today that no matter how precious are other memories of her, the sights and smells of her kitchen brings me right back to her.  And in the end, that’s what these cooking posts are about. 

My boys help me in the kitchen, they measure and mess, they stir and count, they laugh and spill their way to the recipes that have found their home here.  It just struck me hammer hard that their own memories of me may be kitchen memories as well.  And such a thing makes me weepy and nostalgic for them even though they are still small.  So not to get all up in the crazy about it, but when you do these recipes, when you do them with your children, any recipe at all, your making kitchen memories too.  And that’s well, pretty grand.  So on we go.  Let’s call a jam session.

We’re jammin’ today.  Well, to be honest, we truly jammed awhile ago but let’s not split hairs.  We went strawberry picking during the Break and got lots.  And lots.
that's 10 quarts of berries !

We can’t eat them all.  We never do.  So the obvious choice for me when we started to pick back home was to can the fruit and make my own jam.  It was intimidating to be sure.  I’d never done it before.  

So I did what I always do in such situations and headed to the library.  And lo and behold, it’s a throwback to a way of life that has made a much needed comeback!  Lots of books out there.  Lots of folks who are looking to economize and feed their families better.  No preservatives, no bad stuff.  Just you, some time, some jars and some fruit.  Of all the resources I found, I loved two most: Tart and Sweet and Canning for a New Generation.  The last one I became super duper enamored with because Liana Krissoff uses no commercial pectin—just green apples.  She tries nifty flavor profiles and less sugar so the taste of the fruit comes through.  The final thing, I had a pantry stocked with jars suitable for hostess gifts and teacher appreciation all the year-long.  So here is her actual recipe for Strawberry Preserves, and here’s my step-by-step.  Ready?  Smuckers is going to be soooo jealous.  Let’s go.

First things first.  You need a canner.  This is a large pot.  You can order canning kits, or you can go to Walmart and get these pieces separately, whatever you want to do.  A kit has lots of stuff, but what you really need are: a canning pot, a jar stand, a funnel, clean bowls, clean jars, clean towels, a couple of fine mesh colanders, a jar lifter and a lid lifter.
Ball jars, lids and rings

You will also need about 3 lbs of rinsed and hulled strawberries
1.5 cups of sugar
3 TB strained fresh lemon juice

An interlude: Hull the Berry

1.place the straw at bottom end of
rinsed berry
Wanna know the easiest way to hull a strawberry? With a plastic straw.  Preferably from McDonalds, they are ridiculously sturdy.  Here's how.
2.push the straw through firmly
3. push until stem end reached

4. the stem should remain in the straw
5. you can pull the stem out of the straw
and discard it

6. voila! the hulled berry!

Layer the strawberries and sugar in a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave in fridge overnight.

Prepare for water-bath canning:

You will need to fill your canning pot with water.  Place the inner insert into the pot before you fill it.  Then fill it up with cold water.  Haul it over to the stove and place about 6 half pint jars in it.  

Crank up the heat.  It’ll take at least a half hour for it to boil.  You need to wash the jars well before you place them in and about 10 minutes at a full boil should sterilize them.  Do not skip these points.  (Bacteria will get in wherever it can, so you must keep the jars, the towels you use, etc, clean.)

Set aside some clean kitchen towels to place the empty then filled jars on it. 

Make sure you have new lids and rings for your jars.  Jars can be cleaned and re-sterilized but rings and especially lids cannot.  The seal is important to keep the bacteria out and once it is used it is done. 

step 1
Step 1: After the night in sugar, gently pour the berries into a 6 to 8 quart pan.  Bring to a simmer and stir gently then continue to cook for about 5 minutes. 

Step 2
Step 2: Pour into a colander set over a large bowl. 

mid point
Step 3: Return the juice to the pan and bring to a boil over high heat.
at start

full boil

Boil, stirring once in awhile, until syrup is reduced to about 1.5 cups which will take about 10 to 15 minutes.

Step 4: Return the strawberries and any accumulated juices to the pan.

This little gizmo is from
Martha Stewart Macy's. 

Step 5
Step 5: Add the lemon juice and bring to a simmer.

Simmer, stirring gently and frequently, until the strawberries are glossy but still hold their shape, about 10 to 15 minutes. 

Remove from heat and stir gently to distribute the fruit in the liquid.

Ladle some boiling water from the canning into a bowl with the lids.

Using a jar lifter, remove the jars from the canning pot, carefully (it is BURNING HOT WATER) pour the water back into the pot from each one and place them upright on the dishtowel.

Drain the water off of the lids and rings.

Step 6: Ladle the hot preserves into the jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace in each jar top (usually where the rings are). 

Step 7: Use a damp paper towel, dipped into the hot canning water to wipe the rims of the jars.

Dry the rings and lids and place a lid onto each jar.

Step 8: Put a flat lid and ring on each jar, adjusting the ring so it is finger-tight. 

Step 9: Return the jars to the water in the canning pot, make sure the water covers the jars by AT LEAST 1 inch.


Bring to a boil, and boil for 10 minutes to process. 

Step 10: Remove jars to a dishtowel and do not disturb them for 12 hours.

After 1 hour, check to see if the center of the lid has sealed.  Sometimes it makes a satisfying “thwack” sound, but you should see the indentation there.  If any jar hasn’t sealed after 1 hour, immediately put that jar in the fridge, otherwise allow them to cool for the full 12 hours.  Label and store.  AND USE! 

You did it!!!  You did it!!  Yeah you!  Now you can have someone else make you a dutch baby while you spoon a little strawberry preserve on it.  Drink some heavenly berry bliss while you eat it.  Cheers and well done!