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.
Winter Comfort Food
I intended on baking holiday cookies to share with you today, but when I sat down to brainstorm all I could think about, truly, was the morning porridge I've been making and how that's really what I wanted to send you away with. The holiday season always seems to zoom on by at its own clip with little regard for how most of us wish it would just slow down, and this year feels like no exception. We got our tree last week and I've been making a point to sit in the living room and admire the twinkle as much as possible. I have lofty goals of snowflakes and gingerbread men and stringing cranberries and popcorn, but I'm also trying to get comfortable with the fact that everything may not get done, and that sitting amongst the twinkle is really the most important. That and a warm breakfast before the day spins into gear. This multi-grain porridge has proved to be a saving grace on busy weekday mornings, and it reheats beautifully so I've been making a big pot and bringing it to work with some extra chopped almonds and fresh pomegranate seeds. While cookies are certainly on the horizon, I think I'll have this recipe to thank for getting us through the busy days ahead.
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).
If I asked you about what you like to cook at home when the week gets busy, I'm willing to bet it might be something simple. While there are countless websites and blogs and innumerable resources to find any kind of recipe we may crave, it's often the simple, repetitive dishes that we've either grown up with or come to love that call to us when cooking (or life in general) seems overwhelming or when we're feeling depleted. While my go-to is typically breakfast burritos or whole grain bowls, this Curried Cauliflower Couscous with Chickpeas and Chard would make one very fine, very doable house meal on rotation. The adaptations are endless, and its made from largely pantry ingredients. I never thought I'd hop on the cauliflower "rice" bandwagon, but I have to say after making it a few times, I get the hype.
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
We recently had our favorite day of married life yet. When I tell you what it consisted of, you may worry or chuckle. Sundays used to be sacred in our house in the sense that it was our one day off together. We'd often read the paper, get a slice of quiche at Cafe Besalu, or take walks around Greenlake or Discovery Park. But now Sundays are generally when I work the farmers market for Marge Granola, and Sam helps me set up and take down each week, so they've taken on a very different feel, one more of work than leisure. So a few months ago, after mildly panicking that we no longer had any routines or days off, we reclaimed Saturdays as 'the new Sunday' and last weekend set the bar pretty high. The day began really cold: in the high 20's and graduated, eventually, to the 30's. We decided it'd be nice to just stay inside; Sam had a little work to do and some letters to write. He had a few articles he'd been wanting to read. And I'd been thinking about this lasagna recipe, so I puttered around the kitchen roasting squash and slicing garlic. The afternoon ticked on slowly. Sam made us baked eggs for a late lunch and I tried unsuccessfully to nap. I think it was the calmest we'd both felt in a long time. I'm lucky to have found a man who loves spending time at home as much as I do. While we both love going out to see friends, traveling, and having people over to our place, we also gain the most, I'd say, by doing simple things around the house -- straightening up, making a meal. organizing records or books or photos. Especially in this season of cold temperatures and early-darkening skies, it's what I crave the most. And last Saturday closed in the best of ways: we opened a bottle of "wedding wine" (thanks to my neurosis and fear we'd run out, we over-ordered wine when planning for our wedding) and dug into generous slices of this very special vegetarian lasagna, a hearty layered affair with caramelized onions, a sage-flecked tofu ricotta and a simple, savory butternut squash purée.