Living Simply: Candied Jalapeño

Cowboy candy.
Cowboy candy.

It may seem silly, but I miss David Foster Wallace nearly every day since he killed himself on September 12, 2008.

I “met” him first through his novel Infinite Jest, a 1,100 page tome with 150 pages of endnotes (give or take, depending on the edition you have).

I read this book three times.

The first time it took me three weeks, as I was taking notes, writing down vocabulary lists (for real, and I am an English major), and looking up definitions. I also referred when necessary to the endnotes DFW created, including the complete movie catalogue of one of the characters (with plot synopsis and everything).

It’s the kind of brain-based focus that has not really occurred in my life for the past several years.

The next two times I read Infinite Jest, it was for the simple pleasure of winding myself up in his beautiful prose. His complex characters, modeled on real life people, perhaps, or mostly on autobiographical bits of himself, are deep and complicated and sometimes downright unlikeable.

The plot unfolds at a snail’s pace, which explains the book’s length, but every word feels necessary and in service to the larger purpose. I read it as a marathoner might pop out and jog a quick ten miles  – to keep my intellectual muscles strong and engaged and with a type of joy that comes from already knowing what happens. In this way I could gather the little pebbles I missed along the way (which happens quite a bit, as I may already be a little senile, the most burnt out non-potsmoker one might meet).

Few books have called to me in the same way before or after. I don’t know what it is about the reward you get when you need to spend more effort on something to truly understand it. Infinite Jest was not an easy read any of the times that I read it. I read it at times when I was most preoccupied in my life (grad school, with a newborn, and when I started my school), almost as if the action of reading such a book pulled me out of the foggiest parts of my brain and made me sharpen my gaze, like honing a blade.

Sometimes, though, this steel-sharp focus is counterintuitive. Sometimes simplicity is what we really need.

Simplicity does not equal stupidity, although one could be lead to believe otherwise by the current state of everything in the U.S.

Simplicity can easily be achieved by allowing whatever is to be whatever it is without wallowing in it or reveling in it or otherwise complicating it with interpretation and reaction. Seems easy enough, right?

In another part of my life, I am a 500-hour certified yoga teacher, and one of the texts we studied during my training was The Splendor of Recognition. This is a study of 21 Tantric sutras (which, disappointingly, DON’T MENTION SEX EVEN ONCE).

Side note: One of my main issues with spirituality in general is that language is inadequate for its discussion, so I will keep it to a minimum here. 

The Splendor of Recognition posits that not only are we in the universe, but the universe is also in us. All we need to become as limitless and boundless as the universe is to recognize that truth.

The best part is that once that recognition happens, it’s always there. There is no backsliding. So you can still do the things you love (like drink and have sex and whatever else it is that you love) without thinking that your soul is in jeopardy. The universe springs forth from the heart, and you can dive into it whenever you want.

This is, of course, deceptively simple. It’s not so easy to truly believe that you are in the universe and the universe is in you. And we are all of us human beings (I think), and human beings like to react and interpret and make it ALL ABOUT OURSELVES. That’s the rub.

Putting up summer produce, however, is about as simple as it gets, and it’s also meditative as hell for those of you that wish to skip sitting down and thinking about nothing (HA. Good luck with that.) for 30 minutes a day.

In just three hours, I canned 13 pints of tomatoes, three 1/2 pints of cowboy candy, and an experimental quart jar of sauerkraut.

Some things that made this so simple:

  • I didn’t make more work than there had to be. The standard way to skin tomatoes is to boil a huge vat of water, plunge the tomatoes in there, and then plunge them in an ice bath to easily remove the skins. This is 100% effective. You know what else is 100% effective? Using a box grater. I turned 16 pounds of tomatoes into pureed tomatoes in less than 20 minutes by cutting off the stems, cutting the tomatoes in half, and rubbing them on a box grater until all I had in my hand was a little wisp of skin. Simple, and no messy boiling water or skinless-tomato chopping.
  • I used what I had. I had six cups of jalapeños, some sugar, and some vinegar. This is perfection for cowboy candy (recipe below).
  • I just thought about what was happening in front of me. For three hours, all I did was cook and can. I didn’t worry about the fact that I have not yet found mercenary writing work to replace the writing job that ended two weeks ago (I am for hire – FYI.), or about the dog who may or may not (but probably does) have an ear infection, or the kid many thousands of miles away, studying in France until June 2017 (2017, people. TEN MONTHS.).

I just grated tomatoes, chopped jalapeños, sterilized jars, and massaged cabbage.

You, too, can live simply.

Cowboy Candy (a.k.a, Candied Jalapeños)

Note: This makes three half pints but can easily be doubled. You can also mess with the ratio (1:2 vinegar to sugar) just a bit and make an even two full pints. #YouAreTheUniverse

Ingredients

1 cup apple cider vinegar

2 cups sugar

1/2 teaspoon celery seed

2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

4 cups jalapeños, sliced about 1/4″ thick (more or less)

Method

Before beginning, make sure you have your canning jars are ready to go. “Ready to go” means washed in hot soapy water and sterilized. You could kill many birds with one stone by washing them in the dishwasher right before you begin. Then they are clean AND sterilized. Otherwise, clean by washing by hand and then sterilize by submerging jars in boiling water for five minutes.

Remove with tongs, and for fuck’s sake be careful. That water is boiling.

If you are planning to be legit and can these to last for a year, use new canning lids and dip them in the boiling water for a minute. Set all of this aside.

In a large pot, combine vinegar, sugar, celery seed, and jalapeños. Stir to dissolve sugar over medium heat, then bring to a boil. Boil gently (not a rolling, vigorous boil) for five minutes.

Add jalapeños to the pot and simmer for five minutes. Try not to inhale the steam coming off the pot. You will be very, very sorry if you get a lungful of that, and you may cough until you puke. I did not, but this is also not my first rodeo.

Use a slotted spoon (or a fork or whatever is handy) to remove jalapeños from the syrup and pack into jars. Don’t push too hard, but make sure each nook and cranny is filled.

Return the syrup to a boil, and boil for six minutes.

Ladle HOT SYRUP into the canning jars, leaving space at the top (about 1/4″ or maybe a little more if you are making pints.).

Wipe the rims of the jars and place lids on top, screwing the metal band of the canning lid until it is just a little tight (not all the way – canning books sometimes call this “fingertip tight,” which I think is super odd, but whatever makes you happy).

At this point, you could let these cool on the counter before placing them in the ‘fridge and then waiting at least three days to start eating. This way, they will last about two weeks.

If you want to get old school, bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil (the same pot you sterilized the jars in) and place your jars in that pot of boiling water for 15 minutes (with at least an inch of water covering the top of the jars) before removing them to a counter. Let them sit, untouched, until completely cool. If you hear a little “pop,” your jars have sealed and will be good on the shelf for a year.

If you don’t hear the pop, and the little button in the center of the lid still moves up and down, they have not sealed properly and should be placed in the ‘fridge. You could try to re-process, but that’s a pain in the ass and completely unnecessary since you will be eating all of these pretty much ummediately anyway.

Recipe notes:

  • Botulism is NO JOKE, but canning is not actually rocket science. I was trying to find a solid guide to link to, but honestly, lots of them are either trying to sell you something or to not get sued (that’s the USDA canning guide). A can lifter is helpful, as is a wide-mouth canning funnel (but strictly speaking neither are necessary). You do not need a special pot or anything fancy. The Serious Eats guide to canning is pretty good for method, and it links to the sites trying to sell you something or not get sued so you can make up your own mind.
  • Slicing jalapeños is also no joke. Wear gloves if you are very sensitive (which I am) or cheat (as I did) and just hold on to the stem while you slice them. If you touch the juice of the jalapeño, wash your hands immediately. Do not touch your face or, heaven forbid, go to the bathroom. #YouWillBeSorry
  • You can submerge a towel or a wire rack in the bottom of your pot of boiling water before you place your jars in the pot. This will keep the jars from dancing around and potentially cracking.

I cook when I need to be the universe. If you require some simplicity, what do you do?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just Like Your Kid: Trouble But Worth It Cinnamon Rolls

Nothing gold can stay.
Nothing gold can stay.

Exactly five hours from now (or thereabouts, as these things go), I am taking my child to France.

Not France, exactly.

Worse: taking her to Boston to hand her over to a group of (hopefully kindly) strangers who will then shuffle her off to Anglet by way of Paris/Normandy in a mere 48 hours. She will be gone for ten months, and as these things sometimes go, I may not actually see her for any of those ten months.

If ever there was a time for comfort food, this is it.

This is when I start hunkering down, loading up the pantry with staples and filling the ‘fridge with things that are substantial and too much of them.

If we weren’t busy with frantic, last-minute packing, I would make these cinnamon rolls.

I call them Just Like Your Kid Cinnamon Rolls. They are a pain in the ass, but in the end oh so very worth it.

When I made these the first time, I held my breath. I have made gluten-free cinnamon rolls before, and they were tough, dry, awful things that were saved only by copious amounts of cinnamon and overly-sweet cream cheese icing and a burning need for a cinnamon roll.

These cinnamon rolls. Zoiks.

They are everything they should be. Soft and yielding and hot and sweet and pungent with the sharp smell and taste of cinnamon. They melt in your mouth. These cinnamon rolls are the thick, fluffy blanket I want to wrap myself in when I think of food that is comforting.

Bonus: they are gluten-free. My god. Could it get any better?

Side note: of course you can make them with regular flour. Whatever comforts you most.

If I had time on this morning where I am trying not to think too hard about sending my baby off to another country for nearly a year, I would go ahead and make a big batch of these. I would wake her up with one of these and a cup of coffee (with cream and just a little sugar but not too much anymore because she is using less these days) on a tray to her room.

I would spoil her in the way I do, with food delivered to her in the morning and the simple grace of allowing her to rise into this new day gently.

But since I can’t do that, and we don’t have anymore time, you’ll just have to make these and let me know how they work out.

Just Like Your Kid Cinnamon Rolls

Note: Read the recipe through first. This is not a complicated recipe, but the butter that needs to be softened needs to be very, very soft for spreading.

Ingredients

Dough

2 tablespoons butter
1⁄4 cup white sugar
2⁄3 cup milk, warmed (80 to 100 degrees)
1 tablespoon yeast
1 large egg (room temperature is best)
1⁄4 cup canola oil
1 1/2 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour
1⁄4 teaspoon baking soda
2 1⁄2 teaspoons xanthan gum
2 teaspoons baking powder
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

Filling

1 cup packed brown sugar
2 1⁄2 tablespoons cinnamon
1⁄3 cup butter, very softened (spreadable)
Icing

8 tablespoons butter, softened
1 1⁄2 cups powdered sugar
1⁄4 cup cream cheese, softened
1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla
1⁄8 teaspoon salt
Method

Wake your yeast as you would your teen: gently. Place warmed milk into a large bowl and allow to bubble for a few minutes.

Add sugar, butter, oil, and vanilla to milk/yeast mixture. Stir gently until completely combined.

Add egg and stir to combine.

In a smaller bowl, combine salt, gluten-free flour, baking soda, baking powder, and xanthan gum.

Add flour mixture to mixing bowl. Stir until well combined. This dough is somewhat sticky, but if it seems unworkable, add a little more flour, just a tablespoon at a time. You don’t want it too dry.

Place dough in a greased container and put in a warm place to rise for 45-60 minutes. I like to preheat my oven to 200 degrees and then turn it off. If you are using gluten-free flour, the dough will not double in size, but it will rise just a bit.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and grease a square glass baking dish. 8″x8″ works great.

Get ready to roll.

Tear off a piece of plastic wrap, about 18″ long or so and lay it on your counter. Place the dough on this plastic wrap, then cover the dough with another piece of plastic wrap.

If you skip this and act like a teenager and think you just know everything (#RollsEyes) then you will wind up with a sticky mess and no cinnamon rolls and YOU SHOULD ALWAYS LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER (or, in this case, this recipe. #Trust).

Roll dough to 1/4″ thick rectangle between the plastic wrap. I use a wine bottle if I don’t feel like digging out my rolling pin, and I have also used floured parchment paper instead of plastic wrap (when I am feeling uptown) or plain old waxed paper.

Your rectangle should be about 13″ or so long and nearly as wide as the plastic wrap.

Spread very softened butter on the dough.

Combine brown sugar and cinnamon together and sprinkle liberally onto the dough, leaving a 1″ edge clean (the long edge farthest away from you).

Now here’s the tricky part – rolling the dough into cinnamon rolls.

Use the bottom piece of plastic wrap to begin to roll the dough away from you. You are going for a tight log shape. The tighter, the better, but don’t sweat it. When you get to the naked part of the dough, the part with no filling, then you’re done and that naked edge will help seal the log shape.

Use a serrated knife to cut the log into eight pieces. Tranfer these pieces to your greased baking dish. Leave a little breathing room between each roll.

You could let them rise a little longer here if you’d like. OR you could make them up to this point the night before, put them in the ‘fridge, and then bring them to room temperature in the morning before baking.

Bake for about 2o minutes until tops are golden brown. To check for sure that they are done, run a butter knife into the very center rolls. If dough sticks, bake a little longer.

Combine frosting ingredients while the cinnamon rolls bake, and frost the cinnamon rolls while they are piping hot. Don’t expect these to last long, but if you manage to have leftovers, cover and keep in the ‘fridge.

What’s your comfort food?