Where have all the muses gone?

I feel I have lost touch with my inner muse.  The force that drove me here for the last five months seems to have dried up, temporarily.  I have a stack of books calling to me.  Some of them are even about writing!  The summer has been action packed with all the canning and lots of wonderful travel…and more to come.  Looming in the future is also a birthday, one of those years that ends with a zero.  The point being, I’ve had lots of distractions drawing my attention away from this outpost on the innernetz.  I don’t doubt that I’ll come back to this.  I am not going to do the lame “blogger’s apology,” either.  I still feel this is the key to the next chapter in my life.  The pleasure I garner from the hours spent writing has not diminished.  Even writing about not being able to write brings satisfaction!

There are a couple of longer-form pieces brewing on the back burner.  I add to them in bits and pieces as the time allows.  I am doing some dining that deserves written reviews…we’ll see if I get to that.  Mostly I am just trying to enjoy being busy, remembering that when the snow and ice come I will once again have time enough to tap on these keys.

Summer’s Heat and the Changing Seasons

I was laying in the hot bed last night, trying to decide whether the heat is better or worse than the cold. Lawn mowing versus snow shoveling is one piece of it. Cars that have sat out in the weather, another. I’m not sure what the final answer is. It seems we’re always wishing for the opposite season. As they shift, from summer’s verdant greens to autumn’s dazzling golds to winter’s blazing whites to spring’s riotous rainbow of color, I hear myself say, again and again, that what I do like is the changing of the seasons. I appreciate that we live in a temperate climate where the world will always look completely different six months from now.

I believe that having to live with one kind of weather–any kind of weather–would bore me to tears. There is the sense of hope when the first snowdrops and crocus poke out their heads. There is the satisfaction that comes from harvesting fruit from the backyard. There is the breathtaking beauty of our towering maple dressed in October’s red robes. There is even some love for the first, pure snow that follows.

So, as bitterly as I may complain about the heat, what keeps me going is the knowledge that in three months there will be the first threat of frost. It will be time to replace the car’s sunshade with a snowbrush. I’ll need to put away the shorts and pull out the sweaters. And so on and so on and so on.

Facebook | Tremont Farmers’ Market

Facebook | Tremont Farmers’ Market.

On Tuesday I became the Tremont Farmers’ Market’s first Customer of the Week.  Jody Lathwell, the TFM’s head honcho, interviewed me and even took my pic for the Facebook page.  I guess this is my fifteen seconds of fame.  If you are a fellow Clevelander, please check out the market.  Jody has brought together an awesome group of vendors and created a great  community there in Lincoln Park.  Friendly folks, great food, live music and (so far) perfect weather make for a wonderful experience.

Putting Things By

The canning continues, as the produce is coming fast and furious right now.  The morning was spent picking red currants from the bush in the back yard.  With a sore back from bending and swooping around the bush, I took my stash inside and began the process of putting them by.

After a quick dunking in cold water, they all get stripped from their stems.  This is a tedious process that seems to go on and on and on.  (Listening to NPR, I managed to hear all the salient points of President Obama’s Oval Office speech analyzed at least three times!)  The resulting pile of stems helps to explain the cramping fingers.  All told the bush put out a gallon of fruit this year.

The year's harvest

One Gallon of Red Currants

Red Currant Stems

This is the pile of stems from the red currants.

There are actually a small quantity of berries that were not yet ripe, left for a later harvest.  The fruit gets crushed with a potato masher, then goes into a pot with a small bit of water to get the juice flowing.  Bring it to the simmer; cook slowly for about ten minutes, then strain it through a jelly bag.  A JELLY BAG???  All these years of canning and I’ve never bought a jelly bag.  I improvise with a clean floursack towel, some string and a dowel rod, hanging the whole contraption from the kitchen cupboard handle.  In a couple of hours, I’m rewarded with  a precious few cups of crystal clear juice of the most outstanding garnet hue.  I manage to stretch out the clear juice into more than a dozen jars of  Red Currant Jelly.  They appear like jars of liquid rubies.

My research has strenuously warned me not to squeeze the bag in the hopes of extracting more juice.  It has also brought to my attention the possibility of making red currant curd.  This seems too delightful an opportunity to pass up.  After securing my clear juice for jelly, I go ahead and squeeze away, extracting two more cups of liquid that will be perfect for curd.  It’s cloudy with fruit solids.  I taste and find it’s also full of flavor.  This lagniappe is my dirty little secret.  It just seemed a shame after all those hours spent stripping the currants to walk away with such a small harvest of usable product.

The other project this weekend has been pickled carrots.  In past years, I made a green bean and carrot combo.  Word got out and these became one of my most requested canning projects.  Word got back to me, as well, that folks really preferred the carrots over the beans.  Easy enough…they’ve morphed into jars of pickled carrots.  This year, the jars all have a slice of Vidalia onion for flavor;  some of  them also have a split serrano pepper for heat;  there are even some with a garlic scape wound around the inside of the jar.  The scapes were a find at last week’s Farmers’ Market.  I wasn’t sure what to do with them, until a fellow shopper mentioned that she liked to pickle them.  BINGO!  I was already planning on making the carrots and these turned out to be the perfect addition to the jars.

I feel like production is just now ramping up.  There are still gooseberries coming in about two more weeks.  I’ll probably attempt jelly with them, too.  Other recipes on my agenda include Bread-n-Butter Pickles, Giardinera, Raspberry Jam and Pear-Applesauce.  Of course, this is not even accounting for whatever the Farmers’ Market might throw into my path.  Having three things already put by gives me a sense of momentum.  When I started this season, I had five cases of empty jars in the basement and I thought that’d be plenty.  Clearly, they’re not going to be enough.  I’ve learned to buy more jars than I think I’ll need because the stores generally don’t restock their supplies once the initial shipment from Ball gets depleted.  I love doing this work; even moreso, I love opening the jars in the middle of the winter and tasting a bit(e) of summer.

The Front Porch

The front porch is officially open for summer. I brought the plants out today for the season, the table and chairs had taken up residence a couple of days ago. We’re sitting out, watching the drifts of cottonwood debris float by. It’s wonderful!