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An adventure in canning

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

I’m not entirely sure why lately I’ve become so obsessed with being able to take care of myself.  The main way that I see this concern is a desire to stock up on food.  I’m sure that one contributor to this development is Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which describes her family’s year of living locally.  As she describes that year, the chapter on August is called “Living in a Red State”–talking about the endless harvesting, and, more important for the family, preserving, of their harvest of tomatoes.

Lately, I’ve been subscribing to a CSA–community supported agriculture.  The farm delivers a box of seasonal organic vegetables to me–actually, to me at work–once every two weeks.  [They come every week, but, as a single person, I can’t get through it all in one week.]  In a recent newsletter, the farm mentioned that it was possible to special order a 20 lb. box of Roma tomatoes.  So, with a recipe in hand, I ordered the box.

When it arrived, I found that 20 lbs. is a lot more than I thought.  So I planned my strategy.  I started peeling, seeding and pureeing the tomatoes, and put the resulting puree in a container in the fridge.  By the time I was done, it came to 6 quarts of puree.  I have to say that the hint for peeling tomatoes from the Joy of Cooking really worked.  I put a batch of tomatoes in a single layer in a roasting pan, then covered them with boiling water.  By the time the water was cool, the tomatoes were easy to peel.

Then there was turning tomato puree into spaghetti sauce.  The recipe was very insistent on the importance of following the recipe exactly for reasons of food safety.  I’d just as soon not experience botulism, thank you very much.  And the thing that protects from it is either acid or high heat–higher than boiling water.

I was interested to taste the result–the recipe includes powdered dried lemon peel, which turns out to be an ingredient that I may need to add to my repertoire.  The recipe also include cinnamon and nutmeg, which add a bit of a Mediterranean accent–entirely welcome to my mind.

After a bit of exploration with the equipment that I had on hand, I realized that it was going to be necessary to acquire a canning kettle.  Not too much later, I had seven pints of sauce.  I suppose that I could have put it up in quarts, but as a usually single person, pints seemed more useful, and the canner holds only seven jars at a time.

As the jars cooled off, I was delighted to find that the seals held.  So now they’re acting as silent witnesses in my cupboard.  And I’ve moved on to pondering a pressure canner, so that I can put up pears.   I have to admit that I have a dreadful weakness for canned pears, but they have to be canned in a pressure cooker for food safety.

I’ve been trying to figure out the answer to the question:  If I had to live for a year on just the tomatoes that I canned myself, how much do I need?  I’m pretty sure that the answer is between a pint per week, and a pint every two weeks.  In either case, it really represents an investment of my time.

Once again, as a “city kid”,  I’m confronted with the fact that farm life is hard work–and apparently unending.  I can’t begin to imagine how hard it must have been for people, probably women, to just get the harvest in and preserved for the winter, to say nothing of the rest of the year to come.

 To circle back to Barbara Kingsolver’s book.  The answer to “What do you eat in January?” is “Everything”, but the time to think about it is August. 

Frida Kahlo at SF MoMA

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

A while ago, Jeremy and I went to a large exhibit of Frida Kahlo at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.  They have a great informational feature here, if you have fast internet access.

This was my first opportunity to see a significant number of her pieces all collected together.  I came to the exhibit with limited background knowledge.  Jeremy is still trying to get me to watch the film “Frida”, but so far not.  I had seen the reproductions that graced the dorm rooms of my generation; but not much more.  I was amazed, shocked, fascinated, intrigued.

By and large, I try to resist the notion that I should interpret the work of an artist from their biography.  But the work of Frida Kahlo makes that position more of a challenge, because so many of her major paintings are self-portraits or contain images of herself.  Perhaps the most disturbing of all the paintings was “The Two Fridas“.    In it, she paints a double self-portrait–one in a Victorian wedding dress the other in traditional Mexican attire.  It was painted at the time of her [first?] divorce from Diego Rivera and contrasts the Frida that Diego loves with the one that he no longer does.  There’s much more going on, and I don’t think that I have even begun to digest it.  But, in this case anyway, it seems that it really helps to understand the image to know the facts of her life at the time that she painted it.

I think that another part of the impact of the painting is to see the original, full-size and full-color.  I’ve come to believe that something special happens when I’m actually in the room with the original painting.  Maybe it’s like the special energy that comes from a live performance of music compared with a recording.  The live performance may not be as “technically perfect”, but it can have a kind of energy that no recording can match.

The other interesting feature of the exhibit at SFMoMA is that there is a significant amount of genuinely biographical material, including both photographs and film.  In my view, the Frida of the photos and films is a more beautiful and happier woman that the Frida of the self-portraits.  But this perception just gets me tangled up again in trying to read psychology from art or to read psychology into art, which I’m still convinced, is no favor to either.

Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do, or Do Without

Friday, September 19th, 2008
The title of this entry is a saying that I heard many times from my grandmother [Grammy--my father's mother] as I was growing up.  She was originally from Maine, but had moved to the mid-Atlantic region as a new bride ... [Continue reading this entry]

Too Much of a Good Thing? All six Bartok string quartets

Friday, September 19th, 2008
I started listening to the Bartok string quartets when I was in college.  I liked them.  I really liked them.  And, as I've gotten older, my appreciation for them continues to develop. So I was thrilled when I saw that [Continue reading this entry]

Poll Traumatic Stress Disorder

Thursday, September 18th, 2008
   My life [other than work] lately has been consumed by politics...or rather, obsessing about politics.  In a previous post, I recommended  And frankly, I still do.  The guys that run it ... [Continue reading this entry]