Beach and Pear Sauce

Last long weekend of the summer, and we decided on one last hurrah–a day at the beach. The instant baby CJ was ready to sleep, we headed north, and drove and drove and drove, remarkably peacefully through the rich, ripe farmland of southwestern Ontario, past an Old Order church with the “parking lot” loaded with buggies, past stands advertising everything from quilts to corn to spanish onions, most “No Sun Sale,” past fields of cut wheat and those new-fangled gigantic rectangular bales of straw that must be moved with tractors, not unloaded from wagons by hand (a job I did as a kid), through the town of Teeswater which was setting itself up to host the upcoming International Ploughing Match, and coming to a stop, finally, along the road to Kincardine at a little roadside gas station/diner/tanning salon in a fly-through hamlet called Riversdale. We’ve eaten there before, always and only breakfast, and seen the grandpa who runs the grill peeling potatoes by hand. There’s a sign on the wall that says “Any complaints about the cooking?” (or something to that effect) and shows a woman holding a shotgun. When we ate there earlier this summer, A read the sign, then said very earnestly, and a bit nervously, to the woman who came to take our order: “I won’t complain about your cooking.”

The teenage granddaughter took our order. Pancakes, omelets, home fries, toast, et cetera; by the end of the meal we’d filled our salt quota for the day, but in a good way. Off to the beach. Kincardine has a lovely public beach with boardwalks along dunes. There’s some mention of an undertow on signage, but the kids and Kevin always go swimming. (If you must know, I no longer even pretend to take my swimsuit on these ventures because the chances of me being overwhelmed by the urge to put it on and dunk myself completely is so slim it has no precedent). But I like public beaches. I like staking out a little territory in the sand with the umbrella and chairs and blanket and bags, and I like people-watching. People are so endlessly interesting. Baby CJ was a bit of a mess today, and it’s because he’s suddenly five months and darn near crawling and incredibly mobile and no longer an infant. Note to self: they really do grow this fast.

So that was our beach day. I sat under the umbrella, mostly, though did wade mid-calf into screechingly frigid Lake Huron because the day was a good hot one. The hottest we’ve ever had at this beach, and this is our third summer going.

We left the beach hungry and exhausted, and cruised the main drag discovering an “Asian grocery” with hot samosas advertised for sale. Which was supper, along with exotically flavoured chickpea-flour chips and some seaweed for good measure. So yah, we were all starved by the time we got home. The kids had watched Star Wars One on the computer, and Baby CJ had screamed for at least forty-five minutes, off and on, despite one stop for a nurse (oh, the relief in his eyes when he realized he’d been freed from the cursed car seat, the joy, the delight; and then the fury to discover this was but a temporary ruse).

Got home to discover the pears on our countertop had spent the day going from green to overripe and gnat-ridden. The kids and Kevin shook these pears down from a neighbour’s tree yesterday morning; she offered them to us, and said her tree hadn’t borne fruit in nineteen years! (Which, come to think of it, makes me wonder whether our trees were fruit-bearing this summer due to Kevin’s google-guided pruning, or because this has been a season of fluky fruit bounty …).

So I’m making pearsauce. It bubbles on the stove behind me as I type. I had beach-brain, but figured I could do PB and banana sandwiches and supervise showers while peeling and coring and cooking down these pears–otherwise destined to be lobbed by Kevin off our back porch toward our black walnut tree–into something edible for a leaner season. They smell delicious. Okay, update: now I’ve mashed them with a potato masher (it’s a chunky sauce) and will add some lemon juice and sugar momentarily, then freeze in ice cube trays for an easy school lunch treat.

Actually, I almost considered casually canning the lot, then remembered I still hadn’t gotten lids … okay, “almost” being the operative word. But still, I’m putting lids on my list lest the canning fancy strike unannounced. It won’t be for peaches, however … that half-bushel I debated buying from Nina? We’re eating our way through those effortlessly, and I’m pretty sure she said those might be the last of the season.

Hello summer melancholy; and it’ s not even fall.

“Writing” Day

Hmm. The past two writing mornings seemed to disappear without me writing one actual word of fiction or poetry. This must change. Next week school starts and I resolve to take my writing ambitions seriously starting then. I will head into the writing morning with a clear idea of which story I would like to write (I’ve got dozens of ideas floating, and the only way to get anything done is to pick one and commit to it till it’s written out). I will not check email or Facebook or read blogs. Instead, I will make things up out of my own head!

Oh dear. Thought I’d picked a calm moment, and instead, conflict just broke out in the living-room over a piece of plastic the size of my fingernail (Playmobil: the most vacuumable toy on the planet). Ah, parenthood. How to help my children work through their arguments on their own, which seems to be the ultimate goal? Sometimes just leaving them be is the solution. Kids can work out quite a lot if left to their own devices. However, there’s a certain shrillness to the tone that alerts the mama-ear that a child-based solution is not forthcoming. Another possibility is showing them how to negotiate. This helps a bit, but probably more in a long-term, down-the-road-they-might-put-this-into-practice kind of way. Then there are the techniques of distraction: removing anyone who is being mean or intractable or screeching or whining or hitting or lying on the floor declaring his/her extreme boredom (time out); suggesting alternate play ideas (this only works if everyone is in a generous-enough mood); or sometimes just offering two options and forcing them to pick one, even if neither option is exactly what every child wants to do. ie. upstairs to your room, or outside to play, I’ll count to ten, then you tell me which. Neither is not an acceptable answer. This is all assuming it isn’t time for mama to stop what she’s doing (aagh, blogging!), and do something with her kids–which for me would be to read them a story or organize an art project or sit outside in the front yard and people-watch.

Just now I went with the modelling-how-to-negotiate technique, which turned into insisting that A and AB negotiate. Which worked out, kinda. And I’m back at the blog.

We’re now doing “quiet time,” my favourite time of the day. Next up will be a walk to buy A’s school supplies, and get some exercise and fresh air … even if it starts to rain.

I have a canning question: can someone tell me whether a jar is spoiled if, when pulled out of the canner, it was bubbling, ie. air bubbles looked to be coming up out of it? All the tomato lids seemed to have “popped” successfully, but I’m remembering that one jar came out of the canner doing that–and I can no longer tell which one it was. Also, tell me, please, does canning get easier? Do you start to assume the lids will pop, that bacteria don’t lurk invisibly within, that you’ve sterilized enough surfaces, and all the rest of it?

Can canning become casual?

Recipe for a Mess

So the tomatoes arrived. And I dealt with them. That’s the short story. The longer version involves me questioning (on multiple occasions yesterday) why the heck I’d ever thought to pre-order two bushels of tomatoes this past April. In my defence, I’d just given birth. Maybe it was the sleep deprivation.

Despite imagining myself prepared to can, I discovered almost immediately upon returning home with these masses of tomatoes that I had no new lids; or, more precisely, the new lids that I did have (see–I knew I had lids!) were an odd size, which is probably why they were hanging around unused in our basement. My knowledge of canning is admittedly limited, but I do know the lids need to be new. So after a fabulously delicious and simple supper of hamburgers (local), sliced tomatoes, and corn on the cob (CSA), I sent Kevin and kids on a walk uptown to find lids. And bottled lemon juice, which I also discovered I lacked. While they were out, I washed the dishes, and the jars, and set up the canner on the stove, along with another large pot of simmering water for loosening the tomato skins, a small pot of simmering water for the lids, and a pot of cold water nearby for cooling the tomatoes before removing their skins. And I filled the kettle. And started washing the tomatoes. Our kitchen renovation makes all of this set-up ridiculously easy. There’s room for everything, and I didn’t even have to clear the island of the day’s extra collected junk (A’s pocket flashlight; receipts; two containers of driveway tomatoes, et cetera).

By the time Kevin and kids returned home, I’d already filled several jars with whole and halved, skinned and cored tomatoes. He’d found one packet of lids in the entire grocery store. So that put a limit on the amount I could can. I wasn’t that sad, actually. Also, the store had no bottled lemon juice, so he’d brought home some lemons. In fairly short order, I filled seven quart jars, topped each with a teaspoon of salt and two tablespoons of fresh lemon juice (hope that’s okay), attempted to remove air bubbles (huh??) with a rubber spatula, fished the hot lids out with a magnetic thingamabob made precisely for this one purpose, screwed on the lids, and stuck the jars in my simmering canner. I followed directions in the Ball Blue Book Guide to Home Canning and Freezing, and canned the jars for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, I filled another seven jars. That makes it sound effortless. How can I conjure for you the mess this was making of my kitchen. Note to self: do not wear a white shirt while canning tomatoes!!! (Noted far too late in the process to bother changing).

The kids were about, of course, and decided they would like a sleepover in A’s room. They admired my work and chattered endlessly, and I nursed baby CJ off to sleep while Kevin handled virtually all of the bedtime prep: snacks, baths, flossing. I knew I’d do two canners-full and freeze the rest, so basically I just kept on skinning and coring, skinning and coring. I had the skinning down to a science. The skins really do slip right off after the tomato’s been dunked in hot water, and this saves skimming the skins off whatever you’re cooking at some later date.

The kids refused to fall asleep. Baby CJ woke up screaming. As a result, the first batch was in the canner much longer than the suggested 45 minutes. What was I thinking?? Do we need these tomatoes? Yes, they’re organic, and yes, they won’t have to sit in cans lined with bisphenol-A plastic; but. So baby CJ eventually nursed back to sleep. It was after 10pm by that point, and I was still faced with a bushel and a quarter of raw tomatoes. Kevin stayed up painting with me, and on and on we went at a positively feverish working pace. I spent the last hour or so fantasizing about sitting down on the couch with a beer. Or even just taking a quick bathroom break. My heart sank at every squeak from the baby monitor. But twelve large freezer bags later, I was done! I decided to stuff the freezer bags completely full and resolved to make giant batches of fresh tomato sauce this fall and winter. If I hold myself to one batch per week, I’ll have enough in the freezer for close to three months. And with the fourteen jars (though one didn’t pop) … well, it’s something.

Sitting on the couch with Kevin after midnight, I decided this would be my last canning attempt of the season. First and last. Yes, I’d love to make pickle relish, and can peaches, but I have to accept that I have a not-quite-five-month-old baby, and therefore that I cannot be up past midnight very often and live to tell the tale. The only concentrated time I have available to do this kind of work is after the kids fall asleep. So next year. I still intend to continue filling the freezer (one is already full, thank you tomatoes), but in smaller batches. For example, yesterday I also packed a pile of chopped fresh basil into an ice cube tray, which took a matter of minutes.

So, on this note–do I order the half bushel of peaches I’d been planning to from Nina’s buying club? I think I will anyway. Do peaches freeze? Or maybe peach freezer jam?

Yesterday afternoon, the kids were playing “Little House,” a game based on the Little House series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder which we are reading right now (we have gotten to Little Town on the Prairie). AB was Laura, leading around her older brother, who was blind Mary. At one point, Laura demanded that “Ma” give her some work to do, so I suggested she get the clothes off the line for me. I didn’t have time to check up on that project, which got derailed at some point by a million crows who were “attacking, attacking!” (“Mary” was most enthusiastic about this plotline). It was past midnight when I remembered the two loads of clothes still hanging outside; but when I went out to check, here my little Laura had gotten every stitch off the line and into an overflowing basket. So there you go. She was entirely helpful, and it was one less chore I needed to do last night.

Now it’s nearly time for swim lessons. Off for my daily run. “Mommy might not be able to talk to you when we get to the end of this block,” I told the kids yesterday. “I’ll be puffing like an old train engine.” A told me at the end of the block that I was indeed puffing, but not like a train engine; he did not elaborate.

Tomatoes!

The tomatoes are coming! The tomatoes are coming!

Just got a call from someone who coordinates our CSA box to warn us that tomorrow we have two bushels of tomatoes arriving. Last year I got the skins off and froze masses of tomatoes, but this year we’re already running low on freezer space. I’ve got the jars and the lids and the canner out of the basement, but the question is will I have to fortitude to attempt to can these tomatoes? While we’re in the midst of repainting our kitchen?? I’ve heard that it’s easy. I haven’t canned since three summers ago when I went feverish in the kitchen with pickles and pickle relish in the 48 hours before giving birth to F, who was fifteen days early. It wasn’t an experience I enjoyed hugely. The chopping, the boiling water, the steam, the heat, the work.

But I’m bouyed by my friend Nina’s report that she canned 7 quarts of peaches with children underfoot in about two hours.

I will report back …

Sunday Morning

We’re not a church-going family. Coming from a Mennonite background, I’ve tried my best to make us so, and we may attempt Sunday school again this fall (AB enjoys it), but we don’t find ourselves naturally drawn, on Sunday mornings, to our church. Other religious rituals have found a comfortable place in our home, including singing a prayer before our family meals (led forcefully by F, age 3), and, for me personally, humming hymns. I’ve had the first line of a hymn in my head these past couple of days: “My life goes on in endless song, above earth’s lamentations.” So yesterday afternoon, while the children were splashing outside in the wading pool, I sat nearby with the hymnal on my knee and sang the whole of that song. F came and sat in a chair beside me, cuddled in her towel. She wanted to know why I was singing, and I said it was because it made me feel happy and comfortable and peaceful. She said it made her feel the same way. Baby CJ was nursing, and it was a really joyful and calm moment for the three of us, in our beautiful shaded backyard, in the humidity of an August afternoon in Ontario, the leafy canopy overhead, the big kids splashing gleefully (the neighbours love us, I am sure!).

We have managed to give our kitchen and dining-room that just-moved-in feeling. Everything’s cleared out for painting purposes, and it echoes. I picked up take-out pizza for supper last night, and as we sat eating together, it felt exactly like it feels when you’ve just moved in somewhere new, that very first meal in a brand-new house. I like that feeling, actually. I’m glad to discover it’s as easy to replicate as ordering take-out and taking the pictures off the walls. The smell of fresh paint added to it too.
Did I suggest in my last post that I’d actually finished all my (house)work the other night? Yah, that didn’t happen. Literally, by the time I came down the next morning, the kids had replicated the disaster in the living-room. I shall either have to ban all creative play (art projects, puzzles, games, and Playmobil), or live with the consequences of having fostered such fabulous creativity in my chiildren. Hmm. The latter, I think. If only I were just slightly more slovenly. How’s that for a personality trait to work on.
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My name is Carrie Snyder. I'm mother of four, writer of fiction and non-, dreamer, planner, mid-life runner, soccer coach, teacher, taking time for a cup of coffee in front of this computer screen. My days are full, yet I keep asking: how can I fill them just a little bit more, with depth, with care, with light.

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