How To Stop Time: Preserved Lemons

If I could put time in a bottle…it would look like this.

My Superfriend, Bonnie, previously mentioned in a post that featured her incredible Toasted Cashew Hummus, has been making fun of me lately.

I hadn’t seen her in awhile, the result mostly of her traveling to two different countries in the space of two weeks (and staying there, and knocking heads together when necessary, and co-authoring a paper on a new method for treating – curing? diagnosing? I can’t remember – tuberculosis) while still organizing childcare for two of her three children and dealing with a broken water heater from another continent.

In the midst of all of this, she had (rather foolishly and perhaps to her deep regret) committed to cooking me my Second Annual Birthday Dinner, just one week after she returned to the States. When I stopped by the Sunday before the dinner and she asked me how I was, I spoke the truth.

“I’m tired, ” I said.

She looked at me in a way that could only be described as askance. And can you blame her, really?

I am a freelance writer who teaches yoga and cooks for people. The actual hours I work every week vary greatly, but they don’t come close to the 40 that many others routinely put in. I am also living a child-free existence until June 10th, which means that “homemaking” consists of making sure the dog hair doesn’t get any higher than the bottom of the couch and the toilets are cleaner than a truck stop’s.

But I have been exhausted these past three weeks, drained and sleeping poorly and feeling anxious and sweating pretty much every little thing that my brain can make up to sweat.

This is where a caveat about how I know how much harder everyone else has it, and I shouldn’t complain usually comes in. And make no mistake: this is not a complaint.

I feel incredibly lucky that this morning I got to walk to a coffee shop in Baltimore’s beautiful spring blossoming. And after that I got to sit on the floor of a bookstore and leaf through cookbooks for an hour. And after THAT I got to walk through a sunshower of cherry blossoms raining on the sidewalk on my way home to meet Khristian, where we ate breakfast together and I made bread.

So there is no complaint here.

But there is something important here.

Even if I don’t have a full-time job, I am still allowed to be tired. I am still allowed to feel, as has happened in the past three weeks with multiple projects, overscheduled and understaffed. I know what it’s like to work 80-hour weeks and be a parent, and certainly my fatigue now does not have the same feel to it as that.

Sometimes, though, I just get tired. Tired of meetings every day. Tired of being “on,” and tired of a schedule. People sometimes dismiss themselves and their feelings because other people have it so much worse than they do, and while I think that in the big picture that is the best way to operate, that can be taxing day-to-day. It’s okay to own your struggle, your fatigue, your frustration, your anxiety – even if others have more cause to feel those things.

And again, I have to put in a plug for not only Superfriend Bonnie but also the other people I know, parents or not, partnered parents or not, who are killing it everyday and are SO. FREAKING. TIRED. also. I don’t know how you do it.

Still.

I just want to be at home, puttering, and today is a day for that. Today was the first day in awhile that has been unscheduled and unclaimed from the moment that stupid bird woke me up with the sun at 6:04 a.m. until I lay my head back down on the pillow and my millennial neighbors pick up their ill-tuned guitars and start wailing.

The best way I know to stop time when this happens is to put something up, and preserved lemons seem like the way to go.

It’s a simple process that nevertheless takes 30 days to bear fruit (ha). And every day you visit your lemons and give them a little shake.

For the next 30 days, even if I am busy or tired or have too much to do or have to be less of my normal introverted self and more of the extrovert that some of my jobs require, I can look at my little pint jar of sunshine-y time and remember that day I sat on the back deck for  just as long as I felt like.

What helps you stop time? What reminds you to slow down?

How To Human: Roasted Kumquats With Homemade Ricotta And Fresh Basil On Toast

I may have eaten twelve of these.

Look, I know you’re busy.

You have places to go, people to see, and lots of stuff to do.

That’s cool.

But can you stop for just one minute? Maybe two, if you read slowly?

I just saw this on the interwebs, Purveyor of Many Things Great and Terrible, and I feel like maybe you (yes, YOU), need to read this today.

You will, of course, need a snack.

It is, as you may realize, the tail end of citrus season. When I was growing up, my parents would ship my brother and I off, solo, to family in Miami over the holidays. We would leave a cold, sleety, dark place and be discharged from an airplane into balmy, breezy air and a week of (often) unchaperoned adventures in either my grandparents’ development or my cousin’s apartment complex.

There was a kumquat tree in the front yard of my grandmother’s house.

Kumquats. Even the name is exotic and unusual and complex and way sunnier than this past week has been, and I’m not just talking about the weather.

They are the strangest citrus; you eat the whole thing. Nearly every website that talks about kumquats has a click-baity title like “The one astonishing thing about kumquats,” or “The strangely counterintuitive thing to do with kumquats,” as if kumquats are somehow built into our intuition about things in general.

But I digress.

Kumquats start out mouth-puckeringly tart, with less bitterness in the peel and pith (sweetness, even), and end up with a marvelous caramelly sweetness that spreads over your tongue and completely erases the initial tart flavor. even slightly unripe or slightly over-ripe the process of flavor is pretty much the same, with minor variations in intensity.

I don’t know that we gorged ourselves on these, but I do remember eating my fill whenever I felt like it, or just mindlessly reaching up and grabbing one as I passed by the tree. Kumquats were as much a part of my childhood as any other memory I have that was good and innocent and as sweet and beautiful as the nighttime Miami breeze on my bare shoulders in December, a thousand miles away from home.

I saw kumquats again in the grocery store this week and finally grabbed a few after years of passing them by. As my birthday fell on the snow day, and I happened to have the will, the time, and the ingredients, this lovely concoction came about and emerged, damn near perfect, on the very first try. So simple and complex and utterly delicious.

Today’s assigned reading is below the recipe. For those of you in tl;dr mode, there will not be a test on the reading, and maybe you don’t want to hear some of what I have to say (beyond the food). So if you take it upon yourself to skip the reading and just make the snack, that’s cool.

I know you’re busy.

Honey-Roasted Kumquats With Homemade Ricotta on Gluten-Free Whole-Grain Bread

Note: Hell, YES, I made all of this. Not. Hard. Full disclosure: I was trying to just link to the bread recipe from America’s Test Kitchen How Can It Be Gluten-Free cookbook, but it’s not published online. Which sucks, because now, just for you, I have typed it all out. This took awhile. If you are gluten-free, you can send your appreciation in the form of good old American dollars because it was a royal PITA. If you are not gluten-free, you can skip the recipe and use any old crusty bread you like.

Unlike other recipes on this blog, each component is written out completely, and they are organized in the order in which they should be made.

Ingredients

GF-Whole Grain Bread (this takes awhile, so maybe start here)

1 1/2 cups warm water (110 degrees)

2 large eggs

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons honey

11 1/2 ounces (2 1/3 cups, plus 1/4 cup) gluten-free all-purpose flour (I used my own flour blend, but see recipe notes)

4 ounces (3/4 cup) Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Mighty Tasty Hot Cereal

1 1/2 ounces (1/2 cup) nonfat dry milk powder (in the baking aisle)

3 tablespoons powdered psyllium husk

1 tablespoon instant or rapid-rise yeast

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Optional: 2 tablespoons unsalted sunflower seeds

Method

  1. Spray 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ (or 8″ x 4″) loaf pan with cooking spray. Tear off a sheet of aluminum foil that will fit around the loaf pan. Fold it so it is double, lengthwise, then forma  collar around the top of the loaf pan so that a double thickness of aluminum foil rises at least one inch above the top of the loaf pan. Staple to keep collar in place and set aside.
  2. Whisk water, eggs, oil, and honey together in a bowl.
  3. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, mix flour, hot cereal mix, milk powder, psyllium, yeast, baking powder, and salt until combined.
  4. Slowly add water and mix on low until dough comes together, about one minute. Increase speed to medium and beat until sticky and uniform, about six minutes. If using sunflower seeds, reduce speed to low and add them now, mixing until combined.
  5. Scrape dough into prepared pan and use wet fingertips to smooth dough into pan. Smooth the top of dough and spray with water. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and set aside to rise at least 90 minutes in a warm, non-drafty place.
  6. Adjust rack in oven to middle position and preheat oven to 325 degrees. Remove plastic wrap and spray loaf with water. Bake until top is golden brown, crust is firm, and sounds hollow when tapped (Side Note: I cannot tell when bread is done by tapping it. If you can, more power to you. But that’s the direction America’s Test Kitchen gives, so I am reporting for you. #YoureWelcome), about 1 1/2 hours, rotating pan halfway through (Side Note the Second: I forgot to rotate. Bread still fabulous.).
  7. Transfer to wire rack and let cool in pan for ten minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely for another two hours.
  8. Bread can be double-wrapped in plastic and stored at room temperature for 3 days, or you can slice it all up, wrap in plastic and store in a freezer bag in the freezer.

Recipe Notes

  • Flour substitutions America’s Test Kitchen recommends (but that I did not test myself) include King Arthur’s Gluten-Free Multi-Purpose Flour and Bob’s Red Mill GF All-Purpose Baking Flour, but King Arthur’s makes the crumb of the bread denser and Bob’s Red Mill is drier with a bean taste. Seriously, people. Just send me a note on the Let Me Cook For You page and I will give you a price for some of my flour.
  • Please, if you are a gluten-free baker, buy a scale. The best $20 you’ll spend.

Homemade Ricotta

1 cup whole milk (see Recipe Notes)

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 tablespoons champagne vinegar (or any white vinegar)

Method

Bring milk, heavy cream, and salt to a rolling boil. Remove from heat and stir in vinegar. Let sit until it begins to curdle, about 2 minutes, then pour into a strainer lined with cheesecloth. Strain at room temperature for at least 20 minutes. For thicker cheese, twist the cheesecloth into a tight ball to get even more water out.

Recipe Notes

  • Milk can be pasteurized, but not ultra-pasteurized. Ultra-pasteurized milk doesn’t work. #AskMeHowIKnow
  • You can discard the whey (the liquid that drains from the solid ricotta), use it to bake bread with, or give it to your dogs or chickens.

Honey-Roasted Kumquats

Kumquats, sliced in 1/4″ rounds, seeds removed (see Recipe Notes)

4 tablespoons champagne vinegar

2 tablespoons honey

Method

Slice kumquats and place in a bowl with vinegar and honey. Macerate for at least 30 minutes and up to four hours.

When you are ready to eat, preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spray with cooking spray.

Place kumquats on cooking spray and roast for about 20 minutes until honey begins to caramelize. I didn’t flip them over, but I suppose you could if you like.

Recipe Notes

  • I used  kumquats that are approximately the size of a ping-pong ball if that ping-pong ball was more of an oval. There are also smaller varieties with different variations of flavor. For this, I used about six kumquats, but honestly? I could have eaten eleventy million more. So there’s that.

ASSEMBLY

You need bread, ricotta, kumquats, fresh basil, freshly cracked black pepper, and maybe honey and fleur de sel.

Slice bread and toast lightly.

Slather ricotta on toast.

Place fresh basil leaves on ricotta, then top with roasted kumquats. Add a few grinds of freshly cracked black pepper, and if you want a little more sweetness, just a wee drizzle of honey and a flake or two of salt.

Assemble your toasts, have a seat, and get to reading.

RULES FOR BEING HUMAN

1. You will receive a body. You may like it or hate it, but it will be yours for the entire period.

2. You will learn lessons. You are enrolled in a full-time informal school, called life. Each day in this school you will have the opportunity to learn lessons. You may like the lessons or think them irrelevant or stupid.

3. There are no mistakes, only lessons. Growth is a process of trial and error – experimentation. The “failed” experiments are as much a part of the process as the experiment that ultimately “works.”

4. A lesson is repeated until learned. A lesson will be presented to you in various forms until you have learned it. When you have learned it, you can then go on to the next lesson.

5. Learning lessons does not end. There is no part of life that does not contain its lessons. If you are alive, there are lessons to be learned.

6. “There” is no better than “Here”. When your “There” has become a “Here”, you will simply obtain another “There” that will, again, look better than “Here.”

7. Others are merely mirrors of you. You cannot love or hate something about another person unless it reflects something you love or hate about yourself.

8. What you make of your life is up to you. You have all the tools and resources you need. What you do with them is up to you. The choice is yours.

9. Your answer to life’s questions lie inside you. All you need to do is look, listen, and trust.

10. You will forget all this.

11. You can remember it whenever you want to.

These are not my rules; I am just reporting on them. What would you add?

Five Food Trends To Watch in 2017

A food trend for 2017 I can get behind.

Okay, so I am no food prognosticator; I don’t claim to be able to predict what’s going to be The Next Big Kale. I am okay with this. I don’t want to be an influencer or any of that. Mostly I want to cook for people, eat good food, and develop recipes that make sense in the grand scheme of my life.

So it’s quite a lovely happenstance when ingredients I have started to work with suddenly become The Next Big Thing.

For 2017, here are five of those ingredients.

Harissa

Harissa is having a moment. And for good reason – this shizz is delicious, subtly spicy and versatile for preparations both savory and sweet.

Found most often as a paste, harissa is a pantry staple in North Africa and Middle Eastern cuisines. It is made by combining some form of chile pepper, olive oil, spices like coriander, cumin, and caraway. Tomatoes round out this complex flavor profile which can be quite spicy and sometimes a little sweet.

I had a hell of a time finding harissa and ended up finding one jar tucked away in the mustard section of the local Whole Foods. I expect this will change as the year progresses, especially since The Splendid Table just did a story on harissa this weekend on NPR (just FTR, I started this blog post on Thursday. So there). You can also make your own harissa if you are so inclined. I am, and will make it after I finish the jar I have on hand.

I love harissa for an absurd number of applications, from roasting sweet potatoes to spicy salad dressings to harissa cauliflower, baked in the oven and served with a yogurt and garlic dip that features, unsurprisingly, one of the other food trends to watch in 2017.

Za’atar

Contrary to what is sold on shelves, za’atar is less a spice blend and more a family of spices that are frequently used together, with many regions in the Middle East having a region-specific combination.

Think of za’atar as the bouquet garni of Middle Eastern spices in that once you have your particular combination it is as ubiquitous in Middle Eastern cooking as the famous French bundle of herbs.

Spices that make up za’atar can included oregano, cumin, savory, thyme, and sumac. Sold as a blend, za’atar also often includes sesame seeds, fennel, and salt.

Families guard their particular blends with their lives, passing them down orally and only to those who might deserve it.

My experience with za’atar is rather limited at this juncture, but I have added it to roasted cauliflower (Vegetable of the Year, 2017) and soups. Khristian says he has had it spread with olive oil as a paste on naan, something that I might actually eat my weight in, were I able to consume gluten. Plans in 2017 include making either gluten-free naan or gluten-free focaccia so that I can, in fact, test this theory.

I would also like to make my own za’atar, but sumac is a pain in the ass to find locally. I am sure that Amazon can help me out with that. I also think it would be great to come up with my own blend – a food project that only requires excellent record-keeping.

Honey – Specifically, Hot Honey

No matter where you live, it seems you can no longer swing a dead cat without hitting a hot chicken joint.

Full disclosure: I did contribute to Carla Hall’s hot chicken joint in Brooklyn and was honored with not only my name on a plaque in the restaurant but also recipe cards for the chicken itself and a treat card that is good for life. As I don’t live in Brooklyn, I will not be redeeming that last item, and that makes me a little sad.

If I can’t travel up to New York for my monthly dose of hot chicken, then I can at least stay down here in Charm City and spread hot honey over errthang. Paulie Gee’s down the street from me uses hot honey on their pizza pies but are less than welcoming to the gluten-free set, so I will go ahead and just steal that idea thankyouverymuch and load up my own pizza with some. Think sausage and thin lemon slices with a drizzle of hot honey.

Or a hot honey yogurt dip.

Or hot honey on biscuits with bacon.

Hot honey popcorn.

Hot honey roasted carrots.

Hot honey stir fry with tofu and broccoli (I got you, vegetarians).

You get the idea.

Make your own, or buy some of Mike’s Hot Honey, one of the brands that made this ingredient famous.

Amaro

Technically not a food, amaro falls under the category “Food/Drink” and thus counts as in the running for a food trend to watch in 2017.

I won’t lie or pretend to be an expert; my first real foray into amaro (other than accidentally in a cocktail) was in writing about the Black Manhattan. Research on that and my general love of the bitter, sweetish, herby flavor profile, plus the distinct undercurrent of flavors and the complexity from amaro to amaro, makes me want to use this more in various applications.

Brad Thomas Parsons literally wrote the book on amaro, and it’s on my winter reading list.

Turmeric

Also not a food but rather a spice, turmeric is experiencing a renaissance in food culture that has been going on for at least a couple of years already, with no signs of slowing down.

At first glance, the bright yellow color of powdered turmeric is mildly alarming. Yes, it’s beautiful, but it’s also bright and intimidating. That shit gets everywhere and stains everything (#LearnedTheHardWay), so dedicate a side towel to use when you are working with this spice.

Turmeric can be found in a powder, a paste, or a ginger-looking root. I recently experimented with turmeric in golden milk and realized quickly that although powdered turmeric is easy to come by, fresh turmeric is the way to go in liquid applications.

Regardless of form, the taste of turmeric is deeply earthy and soulful; there is really no other way to describe it. I would imagine that turmeric, as a root, has a distinct terroir, just as other foods do, but I am certainly not close to being that sensitive to subtle variations in flavor.

When you eat something with turmeric you get a deep sense of doing something very good for you, and not just in the standard way of low-fat, low-calorie, no-sugar bullshit. Turmeric is a warming spice, so perfect for long, dark winters. It is also a natural anti-inflammatory and antiseptic spice. Practitioners of ayurveda believe that it balances intestinal fire and can help with digestion, joint pain, and many other ills (including lowering blood pressure and fighting cancer).

Go far beyond curry and use turmeric in tea, scrambled eggs, sprinkled on popcorn, and more.

Runners-up on my food trends to watch include cauliflower and a resurgence of snacking before dinner, what my kid calls a “French nibbler” (cheese, nuts, olives, etc). I think snacking before dinner will become the new dinner (or maybe that’s just going to happen in my house). I am looking at you, bleu cheese with a hot honey drizzle!

What food trends do you want to see gone forever? What would you like to see more of in 2017?

(image source)

The Art of Colossal Failure: Gluten-Free Baking Edition

Looks can be deceiving. This was a big fat failure.
Looks can be deceiving. This was a big fat failure.

Here’s the thing. I don’t want to be an influencer.

It’s the new trend now to sell yourself as an influencer when you are applying for writing jobs; employers want to know how many Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook followers you have before they even want to talk to you (hence the rise in the market for fake followers on all social media).

As an influencer, I make a pretty good dogwalker. Although I often claim to my friend Kerry’s husband Mark that I know 10% of everything, we all know that it’s actually closer to 7.5%.

Just kidding.

(Or am I?)

Anyway.

When I develop a recipe, and share it with you, I’m not trying to influence you.

At least not yet. I have a few things in development that I may run by you eventually, but I won’t put them on my site unless they’re amazing and I think you’ll love them and if you don’t want to buy, make, or use them it’s no skin off my nose because you know what you want better than I do and I am a wretched salesperson in that regard but have no desire to get any better.

No, when I put something on this website, I do it because I made it and it’s delicious and I think you should know all about it and make it for your family so that they can tell you how delicious it is, too.

I put stuff on this site so that you can see that cooking gluten-free doesn’t mean tasteless and horrible. It doesn’t even mean health food. All of these recipes happen to work well with regular flour, too. That’s on purpose so everyone can eat good stuff.

I cook because food is one of the most wonderful things that you can share with another human being.

I cook and I write about it to share a little bit of my life. It’s an instinct and an impulse that I can’t quite explain, but it’s part of the deep down core of the person that I am. I have cooked as a creative outlet since I left home at 17, and I have been writing since I could hold a crayon. This blog brings those two things together in a way that is deeply satisfying to me.

I post. Sometimes you click on the link in your email or on your Facebook wall, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes the fact that you don’t hurts my feelings a little bit, but I continue to post anyway. And here’s why.

I’m not trying to get you to change your life or steer you in a different direction. All I want to do is share what I know. I want to share the things that work for me in my kitchen, and I want to share the things that have gone wrong and wonderful and incredible and amazing in my life. It’s the way that the (predominantly) introverted part of me can reach out and really connect with people.

I write because I love it. I cook because I love it. I continue to learn about cooking because it’s fascinating, and it’s the one thing that everyone can access. Everyone has to eat. It might as well be delicious.

Sometimes, though, it’s really great to see the failures. One thing that really chaps my ass is seeing perfection on every food blog I come across. The food is perfectly cooked and beautifully plated, shot with perfect lighting and accessorized with happy, well-dressed, and obviously prosperous folks gathered with friends or their impeccable family.

Turns out, not every recipe works out. And not everything tastes great. And definitely not everything looks beautiful.

You wouldn’t know that by Instagram with its glossy pictures of perfection. But here’s the thing: perfection isn’t real, or even real desirable. Sometimes the food isn’t even real or is enhanced with non-edible garnish (that enticing steam may be a microwaved tampon. #TrueStory).

I just got this new tart pan that I’ve been wanting for a really long time. The first tart I made was delicious. The second tart (pictured above) leaked and the crust was horribly soggy and fairly tasteless.

If I was 100% living the dream, I would have posted a picture of my soggy bottom, but that might be a whole other type of blog (#CueLovemakinMusic)

Cooking and writing for me are more about the process, and less about the flawless product (although HOT DAMN I like it when it all comes together). Failure is infinitely more valuable as a learning tool than success, but failure is a taboo subject. When I mentioned to a couple of people what I was writing about today, they were minorly horrified at the thought of failure. A standard response, I think, but the instinct is misplaced.

Fear of failure holds us back.

Fear of failure stops us from trying.

Fear of failure makes failure inevitable.

It’s not the failure that’s the issue: it’s the fear.

So today’s blog isn’t about the failure that is the soggy-bottomed tart pictured fuzzily above. It’s about the fact that in spite of this failure, I will try again. And maybe the next time won’t work out either. But I won’t be scared that it will taste bad or you won’t read my recipe.

Because there is a lot of fear in the world, but moving through fear gets to the other side of failure. That’s what we are all about here at Charm City Edibles (in a shaky-kneed way at times, but still).

What do you think about failure? I’d like to know how failure (or fear) has influenced you (or not).

 

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?