Strawberry Jam

 

When I was a kid, every year around the end of May, my mom would enlist us to help her in the kitchen with strawberry jam. The kitchen would be filled with pounds and pounds and pounds of strawberries, needing to be washed and hulled and cut into quarters. There was sugar waiting to be measured and pectin packets to be opened, all ending up in a large pan on the stove.

We put the jam in small plastic containers, which were ideal for storing in the freezer. All through the next year (but it was a particular treat in the winter), we would take out one box of sweet red goodness at a time, perfect for toast, PBJ, pancakes, and crêpes.

As an adult, I haven’t made my own jam until this year. I came upon this recipe via my sister Isabella (she scouts out recipes and shares the best ones with me, hooray!). It comes from a book called The Homemade Kitchens: Recipes for Cooking with Pleasure by Alana Chernila.

How to turn fruit into jam

  • Makes 1 1/2 to 2 cups

The secret that jam makers keep is that making jam is easy, and it can be done with whatever and however much fruit you have. A jar of jam can last two to three weeks in the fridge, so you can make one jar at a time with just a few minutes of stirring at the stove, no canning required. Thicken it with a little sugar, pour it into a jar, and you have jam. If you’re not canning your jam, you don’t have to pay attention to pH or acidity, so if you like to experiment, play around with sweetness, herbs, and other flavors with your fruit. Sugar is a preservative, so take note that if you use less sugar, you’ll need to eat your jam faster. This formula works well with berries, rhubarb, stone fruit, pears, and cantaloupe. Just adjust the water and sweetener according to the water and sugar content of the fruit you’re using. This is a quick jam that’s great for all sorts of uses in the kitchen. In the interest of ease and versatility, this recipe creates a loose jam, and there’s no need to worry about temperature or getting it to “set.”

  • 1 pound fruit, fresh or frozen (weighed after pitting, peeling, or cutting it appropriate)
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar or honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, or more to taste
  • Optional: herbs, spices, other flavor additions
  1. Combine the fruit and water in a heavy-bottomed pot and set over medium heat. Bring to a low boil, cover the pot, and reduce the heat to medium low. Cook, stirring every few minutes, until the fruit breaks up into sauce, 10 to 15 minutes.
  2. Uncover the pot and stir in the sugar or honey. Raise the heat to medium and continue to cook, uncovered, stirring often to prevent the jam from burning on the bottom of the pot, until the sauce thickens, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice. Taste, and adjust for sweetness if necessary. Allow to cool and transfer to a jar. If you’ve added whole spices, you can either remove them now or leave them in the jar to continue to infuse the jam for a stronger flavor.

Severe ME/CFS Awareness Day

August 8th is the awareness day for severe ME/CFS. At its worst, ME/CFS can mean being so sick and so sensitive to stimulation that you are in a dark room by yourself all day.

There is some good news, though. My sister Isabella sent me a link about progress that is being made on ME/CFS research at Stanford University. It may enable a diagnostic test, the lack of which has been a big obstacle to doctors in identifying patients with ME/CFS and giving them the care they need. It may even point the way toward new treatment! The basic gist of the news is that ME/CFS patients have a much greater amount of certain cytokines that are linked to causing inflammation than the healthy control subjects do.

As always, I am excited when ME/CFS is given publicity and researchers move forward. I’ll be keeping my eye Stanford’s ME/CFS site.

Independence Cake

For family occasions, I am the designated dessert maker. Our traditional Fourth of July dessert is chocolate cupcakes with American flags stuck in them (which I did do last year), but I didn’t have the flags or the chocolate and I wasn’t sure what to do. After turning over and rejecting various ideas (including éclairs), I settled on making a cake.

Surprise, surprise, the recipe I chose is from King Arthur flour (I do love them). It’s a classic, standard American cake, the kind that gets made for birthdays: golden vanilla cake.

It’s pretty much a one bowl cake, but it was more work than I anticipated. Each egg needs to be beaten in individually and the whole bowl scraped down in between each one, to ensure that the cake has enough air, presumably. And my cake had a lot of air: each of the layers domed hugely, making it necessary to cut off the tops. And as the pictures clearly show, there were holes throughout the cake.

To fill and cover the cake, I whipped about 2 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream with about 3 tablespoons granulated sugar and 1 or 2 teaspoons vanilla. I didn’t use quite all of the cream: 2 1/4 cups probably would have sufficed. I also layered the cake with raspberries freshly picked (by me) from my parents’ garden, and blueberries (store-bought). Then I slathered more cream on the bottom layer so there wouldn’t be any gaps.

To make sure the cake dish would be neat after I finished frosting the cake, I put four strips of parchment paper in a square underneath the cake and when I was done, I pulled them away: voilà! Clean cake stand. That’s a trick I got from Cook’s Illustrated. My husband helped me by slowing spinning the cake stand while I frosted, and by helping me with garnish (again, raspberries and blueberries for a red, white, and blue cake!). I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with the top of the cake until the last minute, when I decided a star was appropriate to the occasion, and I think it turned out really well.

The cake was moist and kept well. In fact, I think it was perhaps even better the second day. All in all, a satisfying endeavour.

Cranberry orange scones

In my newfound passion for scones, I have tried yet another recipe. In addition to the fruit flavors, this recipe has an option for adding allspice, which I liked well enough, but I plan on trying them without it next time.

Thanks to my silicone baking mat, I was able to get my dough into an exact 8″ round, the precision of which is pleasing to my inner baking perfectionist. The top is brushed with milk and sprinkled with sugar.

Knowing when to let go

When I was a child, we had a small playground set in our backyard. It had monkey bars, a swing, a deck with a fireman’s pole, and a few other features. I loved the swing the most, and I remember begging my  mom to push me, again and again. My favourite way to be pushed was “underdog”: my mom would push me so high that she could run under me before I swung backwards.

I didn’t need a push to soar, though. I had excellent swinging form (not a currently recognized sport). When I went forward, my legs were straight as an arrow, and as I swung back, I would bend my legs at the knees, keeping them together but spreading my lower legs to make an “A” shape. Back and forth, back and forth. I could swing for what felt like forever, and it really provided a sensation of transcendence.

I spent a lot of time there by myself, but I also often played there with my siblings. We had a complicated game called “Traffic”, the rules of which I no longer remember, but, not very surprisingly, it involved a lot of movement and dashing about, trying to dodge things and people.

Whenever our cousins or friends came over, we would head to the backyard. My best friend and I had great fun in the winter when there was a heavy layer of snow on the ground. We would climb up to the deck and leap from it into the snow below again and again, each time feeling a rush of delighted fear before we took the plunge.

I can think of only one truly frightening experience on the playground. I had gone up to the deck with a cousin five years younger than I, and we were at the end with the fireman’s pole. This was fun not only to slide down, but to prove one’s strength on by climbing back up, hand over hand. Perhaps D., my cousin, was trying to slide down the pole, but I no longer remember exactly how he ended up hanging off the edge of the deck. He was being kept from falling only by my hold on one of his hands.

It was summer and there was no cushion of snow, and I was terrified that if I let go of him he would break a bone in the fall. I probably wasn’t older than 8 or 9, and he was too little to understand why I wouldn’t just let him go, because my grip on his arm hurt so much! He was crying and wriggling, I was desperately clinging. Finally, I couldn’t hold on to him anymore. Either my strength gave way or he succeeded in struggling out of my grasp. He fell, but was unharmed, to my great relief. And not to worry, this incident did not have a negative impact on our relationship: we are still very good friends.

 

Basil Parmesan Scones

Today I made my first-ever savoury scones, using a recipe from King Arthur Flour’s website. When rolling out the dough, I shaped a square, rather than a rectangle, so I ended up with 32 small scones rather than 20.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 cup King Arthur Unbleached Pastry Flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • a heaping 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil, or 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) cold butter, cut in pieces
  • 2 large eggs (1 separated, white reserved for glaze)
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt
  • additional Parmesan cheese

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 450°F.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the flours, baking powder, cheese, salt, and basil. Add the pieces of butter, working them into the flour (as you would with pie crust) until the mixture forms even crumbs.
  3. Beat together 1 whole egg, 1 egg yolk, and the buttermilk or yogurt. Stir gently into the dry ingredients until the whole thing clings together.
  4. Turn the dough onto a well-floured surface and pat it into a 1/2″-thick rectangle. Using a bowl scraper, baker’s bench knife, regular knife, or rolling pizza wheel, cut the rectangle into squares; cut each square in half diagonally, so you have triangular scones. Make them as large or small as you wish.
  5. Transfer the scones to a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Whisk the reserved egg white vigorously, until foamy. Brush each scone with egg white, and sprinkle with some additional Parmesan.
  6. Bake the scones for 10 minutes, or until they’re light golden brown. Remove them from the oven and cool on a rack.