Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Building homes...

As the holiday season wound down, so came the time to pack up my bags, with jam jars in tow, hop into the car with my traveling companion Liz, and head on back to the West. With adventures awaiting, it is always a challenge to say good-bye. Familiar faces, places, long over-due visits and conversations, when will I return to this place and pick-up where we last left off?  I bid adieu to a different type of home, my family.

A short stop was made, to our family farm in Burks Falls.  I write about this, because, I realize with time how much I desire a simple life.  The farm, a five to ten year retirement plan for my folks, has become  a weekend home, a retreat from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Going up there, whether it be for an overnight, or longer, one can't help but to shed all the busyness off before going through the front door.  Inside, awaits a woodstove, with inviting chairs that seem to beckon without having to do anything except be there. I have not been to the farm since the early spring, and after a long fall and toilsome start to winter, it was a welcome to plop down in front of the fire and release a huge heavy-laden sigh.

What is it about our "retreats" that can make us relax, let down our shoulders and feel completely satisfied with just being?  And why is it that we do not often create this same feeling, in our "regular" homes? Wouldn't it be nice to experience a rustic-escape experience everyday? A place, or haven to  just be still. There wouldn't be the need to worry about what is going on outside the doorstep, or to feel the overwhelming urge to be out shopping with the masses. I wonder, is it the home that creates a feeling of whether we choose to be out, or in? The furniture? Maybe the energy that is poured into the space?  The location? Or is it the way we label place that truly generates the feeling of a space?

In the fall, I undertook the arduous process of looking for a home. Not just a house, but a home. Something that invites a person in. A place that was loved. It took almost a month of searching high and low, through the worst to the best. During this time, what came to mind, is today's architecture -vs- the architecture from days of old. Why oh why, have we lost touch with the same quality and heart that was once so prominent in old houses? It's sad to think that these beautifully built homes are slowly becoming more and more obsolete, and yet the ones that still stand, are so highly desired.  Why not bring back and build these one-of-a-kind homes once again? We need a house revolution!

 I think about my little house here in Bozeman. It is cheery, bright and welcoming. Created in 1909, it still maintains much of it's original character, with a landlord who is dedicated to making sure it remains so. It is apparent that this house is loved.  As my dear roommate and I began to fill our new home, thoughts kept pouring in.  I wondered how I could help create a space to come home to where, shoulders would drop, visitors would feel at home, and more importantly, where one is happy to linger. A home should be filled with love and warmth. Smells of home cooked meals filling each room, as we unwind from our long wonderful days in the great world around us. What is important? What is it that we need, in order to bring life and love into our space? What can we do without?  Why not fill a place with the essentials, creating a feeling that is warm and inviting, and to share that space with friends, family and loved ones, letting the conversations begin to unravel?  A house filled with laughter is a merry welcome and something that no trinket could ever replace.

Let us all begin to bring people in, to build our communities with what we have, while taking our own ideals of home, and turning them into reality. And as we begin to build our own homes, in turn, we too are building a shelter for others.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Adventures in Peaches: Pt. 2

The kitchen has been a simmer the past few days, as mom and I tackled a fridge full of thawing peaches, of which at times, would spontaneously spill out, creating pools of peach juice on the floor. 

Pies were the first to happen. I ended up making two, which though the filling turned out exactly as I had hoped, the crust did not hold up its end. It did not fully cook, except for the top edges which makes me think that perhaps I should try pre-cooking it on low for a bitt before adding the filling. Will this unlock the key to the under-cooked pie crust mystery? Upon further research into the freezer, there still remains one container of cut frozen peaches, and I shall put them to good use on another pie and give the crust recipe one final chance.

Making the jam was actually my favourite part, so much learning from just one little endeavor. I ended up making three batches, and felt right at home stirring away, while peach-delights came wafting up out of the pot.  I felt completely at ease, and could certainly be happy to spend some of my more quiet days humming about the kitchen, preparing food to store for the winter, or give away to friends and family as gifts, harvested fresh from the garden or found at the local farmers market. 

For the first, I used the traditional grocery store pectin, and reading the box, out of curiosity, their recipe for one batch of jam called for 7 cups of sugar. Yikes! But understandably, that kind of pectin is dependent upon sugar in order for it to bind. What did they use in early jam making I wonder, before store bought packages of pectin came around? Time to nerd out and do some research!  I decided to ignore the pectin's need for loads of sugar, and followed the recipe out of "stocking up".  The final results for the first batch was decent. The flavour errs more on the honey side but otherwise emphasized the peaches. The only downside was that it turned into a peachy sauce as opposed to jam, due to my decision to forego the hoards of honey. Now it is more versatile...and can be added to pancakes and ice cream. That's what I had planned of the first batch anyway...

  For the next two batches, mom located a different brand of pectin while exploring a food co-op. The brand is called "Pomona's Universal Pectin" and though I think more costly than your typical pectin, this one jells even without using loads of sweetener.  The pectin has been extracted by citrus peel, and is activated by calcium rather than sugar. Upon use, I am impressed. The two batches turned out much better, and have jelled together, into  a peachy dream of goodness.

Canning, as it turns out, is not such a terrifying process afterall. Working with glass felt like a rather daunting task, however, I was surprised to learn that the mason jars can withstand a fair amount of heat.  Using a large stock pot, fill with water, and add the jars in and let them come up to a boil.  In a smaller pot, though one could also just use the same pot as the jars, heat all the lids. There is a special jar funnel, to help keep the seals on the jars clean, it has a wider mouth than traditional funnels. Using thongs, remove a jar from the water bath, pouring out all the water, put funnel into place, and using a ladle, pour in the jam, until about 1/4" from the top. Once the jam has been poured into the jars, take a clean cloth and wipe the rim, to make sure there is no residue left. Again, using the thongs, remove one of the lids, sealing just to close, but do not tighten. Once all the jars have been filled, place them back into the hot water bath, making sure to cover the tops of the jars fully with water. They will then need to stay in the heated water for 10 minutes which will ensure that the lids have fully sealed. Et Voila! Fresh peach jam to stock the cupboards with for the rest of the winter!

Now, it is time to make some toast and enjoy!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Adventures with Peaches: pt. 1

Project number one:
Transforming a freezer full of peaches into Jams and Pies!
(Dedicated to Mom and Dad for all their help)

Admittedly, peaches are my favourite fruit. Their bright peachy colour, the soft fuzzy skin, and when ripe, sweet and juicy. I spent many a day this past August, in hesitation, before calling my mom and asking, or perhaps begging her, to go around to the local farmers market to pick me up $50 worth of peaches. And though I don't know what the final cost was, she certainly cleaned out the area in peaches this summer! One look into the downstairs freezer, revealed many endless bags and containers full of peaches. I wish I could have a small window into the past, to watch mom and dad, in the kitchen over countless hours, peeling, cutting, soaking and munching away on fresh local peaches. They certainly earned a fresh pie or two! Needless to say, it is now mid-December, it is time to return the freezer back to my parents.

First: Doing the research, finding the recipes, and preparing.

To begin, pies.
There is something so beautiful about making pies. One can't help but to slow down and feel connected to the process. Though, it must be said, I have yet to find a recipe for the crust. I wonder how professionals are able to make such good crusts? What's the secret?

My intent with the pies (and the jams too) is to emphasize the true flavour of the fruit. Not so much the sugar that is added. For it is the peach, in all its splendor, that one should celebrate both in eating and in mouth. I located a simple recipe in "The Joy of Cooking", and though it calls for sugar, will replace with honey. Who says you can't bend the rules in recipes?

Peach Pie (from the Joy of Cooking)
Serves 8

Flakey Pastry Crust

2.5 pounds sliced peaches (about 5 cups)
combine with:
1/2 -3/4 sugar (I used honey and about 1/4 cup)
3 Tbsp cornstarch
3 Tbsp lemon juice
1/8 tsp salt

Let stand for 15 minutes, stirring occassionally.  Pour into the bottom of the crust and dot with 2-3 Tbsp butter (optional).
Brush the overhanding edge of the bottom crust with cold water. Cover with a lattice or top crust, then seal the edge.  Bake  the pie for 30 minutes at a temperature of 425F . Reduce heat to 350F for about 25 more minutes until thick juices being to bubble through the vents. Let the pie cool on rack almost completely before serving.

Once the pie portion is complete, onto the jamming and canning!

Though I have made jams in the past, again the struggle is not drowning out the flavour of the fruit. Last jam session, many years back included strawberries with what felt like I was adding a sack of sugar per batch. This could be my own mistake of following the recipe on the box of a pectin container....so really, what am I complaining about? Again, I have decided to go with using honey as opposed to sugar, and have located successfully a recipe which actually, and surprisingly calls for honey! Hurrah, thank goodness there are books out there that aren't just reliant on sugar as a means to all baking! The jam portion of the plan looks to be the easy part, learning to can is going to be the over arching learning experience here. Apparently past canning experiences appear to be rather foggy to nonexistent. How did I get the jam into the jars? Must have decided working with glass jars too risky and left that detail up to mom. Now vital life skill is missing in a time of need. No need, there is still time to learn. 

Reading an old cookbook, perhaps the preserving bible, entitled "Stocking Up", the author makes canning sound simple. What could go wrong right? Hrm, this calls for having a back-up coach, my mom, to bring a watchful eye to the process, perhaps giving tips on how not to invite spontaneous exploding jars! This all is becoming rather exciting...perhaps I shall even wear goggles. (for fashion purposes....of course)

Recipe for Peach Jam (from Stocking Up)
Yield: 10 6oz jars

4 pound fresh ripe peaches (about 4 full cups)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 package powdered fruit pectin
2 cups mild-flavoured honey

Wash, peel and remove pits from fresh peaches. Chop or coarsely grind, blending with lemon juice. Place fruit in large 6-8 quart saucepan.  Add pectin and mix well. Place over high heat, bringing to a boil, stirring often.  When fruit is boiling, slowly stir in the honey, blending well. Continue to stir, and return to a full rolling boil. When boil cannot be stirred out, boil for 4 more minutes.  Remove from heat. Stir and skim  for 5 minutes to cool slightly. Pour into prepared glasses, allowing 1/4-1/8 inch space from rim.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

It all starts with a simple seed...

Life is beautiful!  

It is also short, sweet and full of mystery. Every day lies the opportunities to live fully, lightly and connect to our surroundings. 

Lately, I have been feeling as though I am stuck inside.  Not just inside a place, but also inside my head, lost in thoughts or dreams of what could be.  Over the course of the past few months, I have become more reflective, wondering, why so much thinking and so little doing? If I am always in my head planning, am I missing out on the point of living? Why not now? Why not dig in?  Enough thinking, it's time to live.

This is my challenge.

I don't want to watch life streak by, while I simply THINK about all the things I wish I could do. I want to make them happen. It's time to follow through with all the "I wants" that seem to spill forth from my mouth on a regular basis. No longer do I care to write list after list of all the projects, places, people, things I want to see, meet, do, explore, create....why not open the door and walk through?

This blog is my sounding post. My way of documenting the wants and wishes, passions and ideas, while taking those first steps to put them into action. From the simple, hemming my sleeve on my jacket, to the ambitiously large, hiking the camino, I am ready to make them all happen. 

For the next year, I will live intentionally, preparing, writing, planning and living my ideas, hopes and dreams. I will not only write about the experiences, share my thoughts, lessons, but also on occasion, put up pictures, and who knows what else will come out of this head of mine? What I hope I get out of this: an experience to live as I dream, to open doors into new directions, to no longer talk about how I wish I could do something, but instead share with others the stories that have come from the doing, the lessons, the experiences, the trials and the tribulations that each adventure brings. To create purpose and believe, that any dream, any idea is possible, it just needs a little follow through. 

And if not to kick start the whole project off with a bang, I will begin with the list of things that I intend to make happen over the course of the year: (these are by no means in any particular order)

1. Hike the Camino in Spain (idea since 2004)
2. Finish my quilt (began in 2006)
3. Make peach jam, preserves and pies (peaches gathered (and frozen) since August 2010)
4. Design, Sew and Wear winter coat (idea since 2008)
5. Get a table at the Bozeman Winters Farmers Market at least twice this winter (idea fall 2010)
6. Go running (the amount of times this statement makes it on my to do list, crosses my mind, and is talked about without ever actually going... is ridiculous)
7. Better yet, sign up for a 5k run of sorts, or create a fun 5k with friends....why pay money to run (unless its for a good cause)?
8. Garden, get a plot, plan the plot, plant the seeds, nurture it and watch how the garden grows
9. Host a monthly soup party, inviting friends for an evening of good conversations and hot bowl of soup
10. Keep Women's singing circle going twice a month, let it grow and continue to sing
11. Craft nights! Another community get-together where crafting is the name of the game. Learn new crafts, teach play
12. Do a big snow trek, rent a forest service cabin enjoying the views, sights and sounds of nature
13. Get out on skis or snowshoes on a more regular basis
14. Make use of my time in Bozeman, explore the area and the surrounding trails
15. Make the two baby cardigans I have planned, and then find purpose for the rest of the yarn in my basket, go to knit nights
16. Knit a hat for Kate before the end of January
17. Create an art show to put up in one of the Cafes around town
18. Play fiddle in a public place...in front of ....people! (this may be near the end of the year)
19. Volunteer at an outdoor education centre
20. Be courageous

....to name a but a few.

The seeds have been planted, time to let them grow!