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.

Onions, Apricots, Work Work Work

Haven’t mentioned that we got the bushel of onions we ordered from our CSA. I was expecting the tomatoes to arrive first, and had, quite frankly, forgotten about the onions. “How do we store these things?” I asked Kevin, who has exactly as much expertise as me, so I relied on the google consensus. Dry or cure the onions first, then store in mesh baskets, or–a more creative option–pantyhose. I’ve got loads of old pantyhose (my current job doesn’t exactly come with a dress code), so that’s my eventual plan … once I get these onions off my table. We have a huge dining-room table, very plain but long, and virtually half of it is now overtaken by our curing onions. Kevin teased the kids that they would have to eat three raw onions every night to get rid of them. These are big, beautiful yellow onions, and I started to do the math on how many we’d need if we were to feed ourselves with stored onions over the winter. Say, one per day, or even five per week (not much for us; I use onions in virtually everything), that adds up to … well, a lot more than what’s on our table currently. How did people survive before grocery stores??? If we were to rely on what I’ve put up this summer, we’d be hungry before Thanksgiving … and I’m trying hard. Anyway, the onions are supposed to cure for 2-4 weeks before storage. This might impede our hosting ability …

Today was Nina’s buying club. She had extra help this week, and it felt very well-organized and smooth, even though a lot of people were there when I was. AB sold sweets, as she’s done before. I got a half-bushel of blue plums, so we had to make room in the fridge for them. We hadn’t gotten through our apricots, so I halved them, removed the pit, and froze them on baking sheets in the freezer till solid, then popped them into bags. My canning/freezing guide recommended a syrup or sugar pack instead, but I’m hoping that’s just to keep the colour; too much extra work, plus I don’t like sugary things. I tasted one frozen and it was delicious, so maybe this will be a winter fruit treat when we’re eating nothing but apples. I also put away two bags of plums since some arrived a bit over-ripe. But they are delicious. My fruit plan this summer is to binge on whatever’s in season. We will survive on apples and the occasional never-seasonal fair trade banana in the winter, so let’s celebrate the variety and flavour of summer fruit.

This evening, I had to skip joining the family at Buskerfest, which is happening just up the street from us. There was simply too much work to be done. I had four days’ worth of laundry sitting unfolded in baskets, plus diapers to fold, plus the day’s dishes, plus these apricots to put up, plus the main floor looked like small people had been randomly flinging every toy in the house while simultaneously half-putting together every puzzle and dumping every game with small pieces, while inventively scissoring and pasting sheaves of scrap paper. For days. Which is exactly what had been happening. It was 7 before Kevin got the kids out the door to eat their Buskerfest supper (hot dogs and sausages; gelato for dessert), so I stayed home instead and fiendishly attacked the disaster that was our home. I’m only just done and it’s past midnight. (Okay, that’s an exaggeration–I did a few other things between now and 7pm, including sit on the couch and drink a beer.) I won’t be able to clean tomorrow, because Kevin will be painting in the kitchen and dining-room. He’s going to take the week off work specifically to get this done, and we wanted to get a jump on it. We’re both hoping it won’t take the whole week, so that we can enjoy a bit of a family holiday, too, before school starts.

School starts …!!! I’m not ready. This has been such a fine summer. And I love having all my kids around me. They’re such great kids. I realize every parent will tell you this, and every parent who does is absolutely right.

Comfort Food

Food is a comfort. In a real, visceral way, when I’m feeding my body, I’m feeding everything I want this body to be and do, I’m embracing life and celebrating the desire to live and breathe … and feed.

Yesterday’s comfort food:

Oatmeal cooked by Kevin, for breakfast. (Local oats, via Nina.). Still need a better topping option, because I find plain sugar, brown or white, does not agree with my teeth. I just don’t like the sensation. So I usually eat it unsweetened with a bit of milk. Bland and solid.

Lunch was a squishy finger-licking panini eaten over top of baby CJ’s head while watching Vicky Christina Barcelona at Movies for Mommies uptown. Talk about a luxurious moment. Roasted eggplant and pepper and melted cheese and fresh basil, a good movie (really? Woody Allen made this?), and alone time for me and my gorgeous babe, a complete rarity. That moment made the mad dash to get there worth every scrap of effort.

For supper I made my ultimate comfort food: black beans and rice. I cooked four cups of dried beans with a handful of whole peeled garlic cloves, a bay leaf, and salt. We eat this over brown rice and a variety of accompaniments, depending on the season. Yesterday we had CSA lettuce salad with sunflower seeds and a honey/balsamic dressing, chopped tomato salad with a very light balsamic dressing (tomatoes are here!), local sheep’s feta from the market, local whole milk yogurt, a few crumbled nacho chips, and hot sauce. “Thanks for making this food,” A said, or something along those lines. This is everyone’s favourite meal, everyone’s comfort food. The kids and Kevin also ate the sweet corn from our CSA box. And then F went to brush her teeth and floss immediately afterward.

Before bedtime: less-stress tea, a mixture grown and composed by Karen Kliewer of Little City Farm. With honey (from Nina). Thank you, food.

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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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