On my ferry ride into the city Friday night, one of the drivers came on the loudspeaker announcing, “No we do not have air conditioning. No, the city isn’t any cooler. Have a lovely evening.” Yikes. Well, to his credit, we were all a bit grouchy. This past weekend, a heatwave descended on the Bay Area. The ferry was stifling hot and the air was stagnant. Not exactly the perfect night to stand around a simmering pot of strawberries for two hours making jam. But we don’t always have a choice in these matters. So in a tank-top, flip-flops, my hair pulled back, and extra-large water bottle in tow, I walked into Urban Kitchen SF excited to begin.
There’s a part of me that’s always felt like maybe I was born in the wrong era. I loved Little House on the Prairie (I still have the boxed set up in my closet somewhere), and always fantasized about what it’d be like to live off the land. I despise wasting food, and will eat the same meal for days to avoid doing so. So I’m actually surprised I haven’t gotten into canning sooner. I’m not sure what inspired me to take this course initially, but after meeting Jordan Champagne from Happy Girl Kitchen Co., I know it will not be a waning interest.
Jordan and her husband Todd started their company after working in California’s Central Coast and seeing the enormous amount of fruit that goes to waste during the harvest. This, combined with Jordan’s dislike for the overly-sweet jams on the market…and Happy Girl Kitchen was born. Today they’re based out of Oakland, CA and they make some pretty awesome products. I was lucky enough to get the recipe for their infamous strawberry jam during the workshop and I’ll share it here with you.
When we walked in, there were tables overflowing with organic, local berries. We had so many leftover that we each got to fill up jars of berries to take home. The raspberries were perfectly delicate and the blackberries, soft and tart.
Since we only had two hours, we got going quickly, getting the strawberries cooking right away. Although most of her recipes are naturally low in sugar, Jordan utilizes the old-fashioned or “slow” method of jamming relying mostly on sugar rather than pectin or other stabilizers. This means more time stirring at the oven. In my particular case–as we were working in an outdoor kitchen right outside of the Ferry Building–this meant lots of stirring while watching a naked biker, “Critical Mass” (a common impromptu bike parade, intentionally blocking off streets to make a statement about our over-reliance on automobiles, among other things), and an aristocratic looking gentleman proposing to his leather-clad boyfriend. Ah, San Francisco. And it wasn’t getting any cooler over that stove. But I kept stirring. It was pretty easy to escape into the smell of sweet, warm strawberries. And I was very focused on the end-product, on toting a few jars of homemade jam back onto the ferry for the next morning’s breakfast.
I brought home two jars of jam, one jar of preserved berries, and a jar of honey syrup for future preserving. While sweaty and a little overcrowded, I can’t imagine a better way to spend a Friday night. And while I know each time I make jam probably won’t be filled with new friends, naked folks, and sweaty limbs, I’m excited to jump into this hobby head-on and capture some of late August for those dark January evenings when we all forget what summer tastes like. Jordan’s recipe follows.
Strawberry Lemon Jam
This recipe calls for macerating the strawberries overnight, essentially pouring the sugar right over the top of them, allowing it to soak in while the strawberries slowly release their juices. Yes, it’s an old-fashioned technique but it results in a lovely, subtly sweet, special jam. You can let them macerate in their sugars for 48 hours if you need to, but 18-24 hours should be plenty. If you would rather skip this step, you certainly can. But you may face difficulty getting the jam to gel. You’ll notice a much lower sugar content in this jam than others–try it, you won’t miss a thing. The natural sweetness of the berries is on display.
14 cups strawberries
4 cups sugar
1/3 cups fresh lemon juice
Wash and de-stem the berries and allow them to drain thoroughly.
Place berries and lemon juice in a pot and scatter the sugar evenly on top. Don’t stir or disturb the berries–the sugar will filter down and capture all the juices. Leave at room temperature for 18-24 hours.
After gathering all of your canning equipment, mash the berries by hand or with a masher. Add the contents to a non-reactive pot and bring to a hearty boil. Boil until gel point is reached (10-30 minutes).* Process in a hot water bath canner for 5 minutes.
Jam recipe yields roughly enough for 1 case (12, 6 oz. jars).
*After canning numerous time, you’ll be able to eye whether or not your jam is at the gelling point or not. I’m not there yet. Jordan taught us a trick where you freeze a plate and put a little spoonful of jam on the frozen plate, bringing its temperature down quickly so you can see what it would look like at room temperature. It should look like the consistency of jam. If it doesn’t, keep on heating and stirring. Sidenote: I will say, after just one night of making jam, you do get a sense for the foam that forms, and how the foam settles after a while, and the strawberries really cook down…a
nd then it’s ready. Experiment. Have fun. Don’t take it too seriously: envision naked bikers and gay proposals.
Glimpses of Spring
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
It turns out shopping for wedding dresses is nothing like they make it appear in the movies. Or at least it hasn't been for me. Angels don't sing. Stars don't explode. Relatives don't cry. There isn't a sudden heart-stopping moment that this is, in fact, "the one." To be honest, I always knew that I wasn't the kind of gal for whom angels would sing or stars would explode but I did think I'd have some kind of moment where I could tell I'd found the best dress. Instead, my mom flew into town and we spent three (yes, three!!) days shopping for dresses, and since then I've been back to the stores we visited -- and I'm more undecided than ever. Tomorrow morning I'll return with my friend Keena to try and tie this business up once and for all. Cross your fingers.
When I was single and living alone in the Bay Area, I made virtually the same thing for dinner each night. I ate meals quickly while in front of the computer. Or even worse: the television. This most often included what I call "Mexican Pizzas" which were basically glorified quesadillas baked in the oven until crispy. Sometimes, if I was really feeling like cooking, I'd whip up a quick stir-fry with frozen vegetables from Trader Joe's or a mushroom frittata using pre-sliced mushrooms. Mostly, though, it was Mexican Pizzas -- a good four or five nights a week. Today, thankfully, dinner looks a lot different. Meals in general look a lot different. How would I explain that difference? I think that ultimately how we feel about our life colors how we choose to feed ourselves and the importance that we place on preparing our own meals.
Today was 75 degrees in Seattle and it seemed the whole city was out and about drinking iced coffee in tank tops and perhaps not working all that hard. When we have a hit of sunshine like this in April (or, really, any time of the year), we're all really good at making excuses to leave the office early -- or, simply, to "work from home." I just got back from LA last night, unpacked in a whirlwind this morning, and took Oliver to meet up with three friends from our parents group at the zoo. The only other time I'd been to the Seattle zoo was once with Sam a few years ago when we arrived thirty minutes before closing and ended up doing a whirlwind tour -- sprinting from the giraffes to the massive brown bear to the meerkat. The visit today was much different: we strolled slowly trying to avoid the spring break crowds and beating sun. I managed to only get one of Oliver's cheeks sunburned, and he even got in a decent nap. A success of an afternoon, I'd say. Coming home I realized we didn't have much in the fridge for lunch -- but thankfully there was a respectable stash of Le Croix (Le Croix season is back!) and a small bowl of this whole grain salad I made right before I left town. It's the kind of salad that's meant for this time of year: it pulls off colorful and fresh despite the fact that much of the true spring and summer produce isn't yet available. And for that reason, I make a few versions of it in early spring, often doubling the recipe so there's always the possibility of having a small bowl at 1 p.m. while the baby naps in the car seat, one cheek sunburned, windows and back door open -- a warm breeze creeping into the kitchen.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.