Writing Morning

It’s writing morning, and the blog doesn’t count. But maybe it will warm up these fingers. It’s chilly out there.

This (Canadian) election marks a change for me. This time around I’m declaring support for Stephane Dion and have even, gasp, put up a red Liberal sign in our front yard. It’s not a very big sign, but still. Every time I see it I feel so conventional, so Big Party. I’m thinking of putting up a Green sign just to balance it out. Unfortunately for Stephane Dion and Elizabeth May, my vote is a pretty accurate bellwether for political popularity; or unpopularity, as it were. (My apologies to Barack Obama, who will also be receiving the Carrie-vote-of-doom in November). I’ve voted dutifully–nay, passionately!–in every federal, provincial, and municipal election since turning eighteen, and in two American elections (once I realized I was eligible), and have voted for ONE winner. In Toronto. About a decade ago. �That was thrilling, but it was clearly the exception proving the rule. Which is that my political instincts do not swing toward the majority.
So best of luck Green Shift. (A name way too open to mockery. I’m for it, and can’t help seeing the pejorative alternatives …).
Democracy isn’t all about winning, right? Still, seems it should be about proportionality, or at minimum one vote worth one vote worth one vote.
Writing day, writing day … right.

The grumps

Apparently, I ordered a 1/2 bushel of red peppers from our CSA last spring, because they arrived yesterday evening. I kept saying, “Did I really order these? Are you sure these are ours?” I was in such a state of denial, I even went so far as to call my bro, who also gets the same CSA box, to find out whether these might be their peppers instead (same last name, you know). But nope. My sister-in-law-to-be assured me the peppers were mine.

So I dealt with them. I think I’m done dealing with food for the summer. I feel just so very very done. I did not roast these peppers, as probably would have been the ideal storage solution; I just seeded them and chopped them and chucked them into freezer bags and old yogurt containers. Guess I’ll be looking up recipes for red pepper soup this winter. I’ve heard you can actually eat these peppers raw, upon thawing, so we shall see. That would be a fine mid-winter treat. But perhaps you can sense my flagging enthusiasm. Oh, it’s half-mast, for sure.

Kevin says yesterday evening: “You seem really grumpy. Are you feeling grumpy?”

Uh yah. The kids are still up and going into hysterics because it’s past bedtime (letting them play outside till dark, to savour what’s left of this summer season). Everyone wants a snack. AB refuses to get out of the shower till the bathroom is sufficiently fogged up. I’m halfway done washing vats of dirty dishes. There’s still laundry on the line. Baby CJ is fussy with a stuffed-up nose. And I have a half-bushel of red peppers to deal with sitting on my counter.

Oh, and it’s hockey night.

So yah. I had the grumps. But I cleared away those peppers in record time, dishes got done, kids fed and read to and teeth flossed and brushed, the laundry abandoned to the basket for another day, et cetera. I even had a few minutes to read in bed before nursing fussy baby off to sleep. I’d cheered up by that point. I’m not against momentary grumpiness, but it seems an emotion unwise to indulge in for any sustained period (more than fifteen minutes? half an hour?), lest one weary the patience of those forced to share accomodation with one. Besides, I ordered those peppers. It must have been me. So I can blame no one but myself. And I don’t like indulging in self-grumping either.

But I should add, in all fairness to my husband, that the only reason he asked me whether I was grumpy was because I had accused him of it in the first place. Ah, projection. I’m in a bad mood, so I’ll turn to Kevin and say, “You’re in a bad mood.” He’s been around long enough not to take this personally. And I’ve been around long enough to appreciate (if grumpily) having it pointed out that the mood is all mine.

Theories Advancing, Retreating

The well runneth dry. Clearly this is the case, because I have in mind that I would like to write a blog about cleaning; but how boring would that be? I have theories about cleaning (these are highly mutable and vary wildly), but, honestly, do these need to be shared? Yet I find myself mentally blogging on and on about cleaning. Likely because it’s something I spend way too much time doing.

Or laundry. Every time I hang the clothes out to dry, I think, I should blog about this. Heh. Blog about what exactly? About how often I’ve managed to line-dry laundry even though it’s been such a rainy summer and I’ve got a new baby and … As my son A would say, “Mommy, are you bragging?” Pause. “Uh, yes, maybe I am.” “Why are you bragging?” “Uh, hmmm, good question little analyst, and now I’ll stop.” “Mommy, I think you’re doing it again.” “Oh dear heavens, you’re right, I am!”

The above is a (mostly) accurate exchange that occurred over puzzle-making together.

Anyway, my cleaning theories go something like this: Get used to the mess and you’ll be a happier person. It’s just going to happen. Let it happen. Make the kids clean up their own rooms.
And then morph into this: Good grief, this place is a freaking disaster zone. I can’t stand looking at those breakfast crumbs even one minute longer. At which point I drop everything in order to clean said floor. And the kids “organize” the games cupboard.
So theory number one is clearly hypocritical.

Another good theory: It’s possible to clean whilst doing other things. Such as, scrubbing the toilet while the children take a bath. Not the baby, though. That would be going just slightly too far for the sake of cleanliness. Don’t use theory if drowning is a risk. I do put this theory into practice quite often, though. Whilst removing dirty towel from bathroom floor, simultaneously use towel to clean the floor and cupboard faces. For example. But my life is a series of boxes opening inside other boxes, so that when one enters a room to do something particular, one is faced by a second and often more pressing problem, the solution for which leads into a third even more urgent disaster, and on and on till the original item of duty is utterly lost. Not to worry; one will stumble over it later.

And that is a brief overview of Carrie’s cleaning theories. Are they even theories? They’re probably more like administrative memoes for the homemaking pataphysician. “Uh, Mommy …”
Yah, yah, I hear ya kid. Must. Stop.

I Just Want to Lie on the Couch and Read a Good Book

Hurricane rains, and it’s ridiculously steamy here in Southern Ontario considering the autumn leaves already rotting on our sidewalk. It feels like we’re living in the middle of a tropical jungle, not waiting for that nice killing frost that will put a happy and natural end to my food gathering and preserving efforts.

I feel tired today and not ready to start up a brand new week. That dreaded Sunday evening feeling. Spent most of the afternoon preparing food, including a superb grape/rhubarb cobbler using the cooked grape pulp leftover after the juice was strained for the jelly-making. This has to be one of the simplest desserts to bake, with the basic cobbler topping coming from my Joy of Cooking: 1 and 1/3 cups flour, 2 tbls sugar, 1 and 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt, mix together, then cut in 5 tbls butter (approximately) and add 1/2 cup of milk. This makes a biscuit dough that you can cut or shape to lay over the sugared fruit of your choice in the 8×8 greased pan. I used the grape pulp, plus some frozen rhubarb, added 1/2 cup sugar and 2 tbsp flour. The biscuit dough needed a bit more flour to make it easy to work with. Bake at 375 for 45 mins. Eat plain or with milk over top.

So don’t throw out your grape pulp! Except this only worked because the grapes I used were next thing to seedless. Too many seeds would have made the pulp inedible.

I also baked cookies for school lunches, and made supper. And did piles of dishes. And spent 45 blissful minutes on the couch reading Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, which I recommend highly. I keep picking it up at bedtime and then being unable to stop reading and as a result getting to sleep way too late. The kids didn’t know what to make of mommy reading on the couch. F was sure I was reading the hymnal and kept wondering why I wasn’t singing the book.

To update on the grape jelly: it appears to be jellying! Thanks to Nath for commenting on the last entry and letting me know her saskatoon berry jelly took two months to turn to jelly. I was certain I’d failed and would be using the pretty purple liquid as grape syrup for pancakes, or something, when I happened to pick up the jar I’d stuck in the fridge (half-full; I ended up filling 5 and 1/2 half-pint jars) and saw that the liquid was gelling. I literally ran up the stairs calling, “The jelly is jellying!” This qualifies for high entertainment in our house, I guess, because the kids and Kevin were just about as excited as I was. They should really inform you of this timelapse jelling effect somewhere in the recipe. I had the candy thermometer out, to ensure I’d reached prime jelling temperature (220 degrees, in case you’re interested; hmmm, I guess that’s Celsius), and kept lifting the wooden spoon staring at it with faint hope of seeing some “sheeting” action. Kevin was hauled in to evaluate: “This looks like dripping to me–does it look like dripping to you?” “Yes, it looks like dripping.” Finally, thinking I’d misunderstood the instructions, I just gave up and poured the hot syrup into the jars.

Long story, not short, I’m afraid.

I write these posts in the kitchen, and am beginning to suspect that’s skewing the content. I should be running a kitchen show. A kitchen show for people who want to learn how to cook from someone who doesn’t know what she’s doing.

That’s my time. Baby CJ’s livid in the living-room, and the kids are still upstairs pattering about on not-so-innocent little pittering feet.

Casual Canning

Alright, so I’m trying out the casual canning thing, putting to use those just-in-case lids. Last night I spent about two and a half hours making two canners of grape juice–14 quart jars. Grape juice should be put into larger jars, but I’m working with what’s kicking around the basement, and we can dilute it later. This necessary canning was put into motion by Nina’s spray-free local grape offer, and her suggestion that canning grape juice is particularly easy (which it is, in the realm of things canned). You wash the grapes, scald the jars, drop a cup or so of washed grapes into said jars, add a bit of sugar (1/3 cup, in my case; I would have preferred to go sugar-free, but couldn’t find a google or Ball Book answer on whether the sugar brings important preservative qualities to the mix). Pour boiling water over grapes and sugar, leave 1/4 inch space, screw on lids, process for 10 minutes. Repeat. Till jars run out or weariness overtakes you. It was the latter last night. I couldn’t believe how many grapes were still left by midnight.

Woke this morning, having dreamed of jars and grapes all night, resolved to fill the rest of the quart jars in the basement; but even after achieving this, the grape piles had scarcely abated. So I looked up some grape jelly recipes; I’ve got loads of half-pint jam jars. It looks easy … Take three-and-a-half pounds of grapes, wash, remove stems, toss into pot with 1/2 cup water, crush, simmer for 10 minutes, strain out juice. That’s how far I’ve gotten this morning. My Ball Book recipe calls for clarifying the juice over a 24-hour period, but I’m skipping that step. Next up, I’m going to boil the juice (about 4 cups) with 3 cups of sugar (!!!) till it gels, then pour into the hot, sterilized jars, and process for 5 minutes. Makes about 4 jars, apparently. But how will I know when it gels?

Ah, when it “sheets” off the spoon. All is made clear.

Dubious gelling intelligence aside, when this stage of the project is complete, at least I’ll have cleared the counter and fridge of grapes. And anything with that much sugar will appeal to small children regardless of texture. And the grape juice jars look particularly pretty, all jeweled fruit and rich-coloured juice. But I still have the Saturday chores to get to … the vacuuming, the bathrooms, the general pick-up, the odds and ends Kevin wants a chance to get to. Nothing pressing, however.

Except maybe a cup of coffee. Yes, be it resolved: while the jam gels, and the baby naps, and Kevin and the kids “clean” the basement, Carrie shall enjoy a cup of coffee.

I must also report that canning definitely feels more casual this second time around. I’ve got the tools, I know the timeframe. I’m realizing it would have been almost as easy to have canned my homemade ketchup and saved some room in the freezer. One person could can a heck of a lot just by setting aside two to three hours every evening during the peak harvest season. I’m not saying it would be fun or anything, and let’s not bother to calculate the time-cost, but a lot could get stuck into jars quite efficiently during those 2-3 hours … if one had the inclination and the fortitude and one’s children were not early-risers and one didn’t have a baby waking to nurse all night long. I’m a night owl anyway, so I foresee this as a future occupation. Late-night canning.

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My name is Carrie Snyder. I'm a fiction writer, reader, editor, dreamer, arts organizer, workshop leader, forever curious. I believe words are powerful, storytelling is healing, and art is for everyone.

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