Tomatoes and Marriage

The longer you wait to start back up on a project you’ve left unfinished, the more daunting it becomes.  So it had gone for this little space of mine, for nearly five months.  But I have excuses, please sir!  I was planning a wedding, getting married(!), going on a honeymoon, and starting a new degree at a new school all within that time period.  Whew!  While it actually would have been a great time to blog – I did write a lot, in my journal almost every night leading up to the wedding – I had neither the time nor the focus to post what I was cooking and eating this summer.  In this case it was a lot of scrambled eggs, tuna melts, CSA veggies, and spaghetti.  Easy, thoughtless stuff so I could focus on far weightier things like first dance songs (“Harvest Moon” by Neil Young), menu-planning, and writing my vows.

Here I am though, hooray.  I am married to my soulmate.  I feel more whole, stronger, ready for life to continue, not that it stopped, but it was consumed there for a while.

I’ve been reading blogs a plenty, new finds and old favorites, and being inspired, pushed and tugged by them back into my own.  My fellow classmates also inspire and uplift me.  They’re smart, creative, and as nutrition and food-obsessed as I am.  I’m at Mount Mary College studying to become a Registered Dietitian. I love to say that, and so far, I love the program.  More on that in the future.

For now I’ll post some photos of things I captured this summer with the intention of posting them here.  And perhaps later this week, I’ll share the soup I made today.  🙂  Cheers!

ImageTuna Salad with greens from our front porch garden

ImageOne of the best meals of our honeymoon: Manhattan Fish Platter from Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, MI

ImageCSA Tomatoes, about to be slow-roasted

ImageSummer, preserved in the taste of a just-picked tomato

Image

And since it’s been so long since I’ve shared anything on here at all, the poem I wrote for my husband on our wedding day:

Wedding Season

Whatever souls are made of – his and mine are the same.

     – Emily Bronte

Beneath the blue

I see: graceful fleets

of possibilities

& memories

migrating towards and away.

this is where we stand:

steeped in love

& floating in bathwater air,

wading through summer’s

density – living thick and biding

our blessed time.

To flourish: exist in abundance

Measuring out days

in watering cans full &

weeks in boxes

of heirloom tomatoes,

Japanese eggplant,

& rainbow chard,

months passing as quickly

as moon phases –

so let’s take a stroll, interlace

your basil scented fingers with mine

and when we kiss,

we’ll feel our creamy avocado souls

collide.

strawberry jam forever

Oh sweet sweetness.

I have just arrived home from an excursion, an adventure, an undertaking in jam making.  I’m a bath-robed loveseat potato, hunkering down to write after having a long shower and a much needed Lakefront Summer Weiss.  I want to get this out before I forget all the wonderful things that happened today.

So… Brandon and I decided it would be cool to give out jars of homemade jam as favors to our wedding guests this summer.  My ever-optimistic mom was all on board, so she contacted her friend, jam-making maven and saint of strawberries, Sherry.  Truth be told this project would have never arose from the “cute idea” ether if it weren’t for this lady.

Let me tell you about Sherry.  Before today I’d never met her.  We had merely exchanged a few emails, through my mom, concerning quantity/brands of pectin – but I had insta-good vibes from the smiley-faced sunshine that accompanied her e-signature.

And now I know it, I am blessed to know Sherry.  She not only put this whole jammy affair together, from the picking of the fruit to the canning of the jam, but also opened her home to us, patiently taught us all the steps of the process, prepared us a comforting lunch, and gave me a beautiful apron she sewed herself(!).  I am overwhelmed by her kindness, and both her and my mom’s ardent determination in getting this thing done.

I am not yet proficient at getting the ball rolling on mondo projects.  I sometimes find them intimidating and tiring to even think about.  Sherry was the ball roller; Brandon and I were the marbles. Rolling commenced.  And before we knew it there were 144 garnet-colored quarter-pint jars of strawberry jam in the trunk of our car.

Yesterday was my birthday – but this year there was no gin-filled evening spent traipsing the streets of Milwaukee.  We turned in pre-midnight knowing we were expected out in the strawberry fields at 8 am.

Today was the first you-pick-‘em weekend for strawberries at Barthel Fruit Farm and we were there.  With the help of Sherry, my mom, her boyfriend John and his son Jack, (and Brandon of course), we filled seven crates with “Summer Dawn” strawberries in just over two hours.

The whole field wafted the juicy fragrance of the berries and their aroma hung in the air around us all day long, changing with each step in the process.  First it was light, sweet and clean as we crouched in the fields and pushed back leaves in search of clusters of the first ripe fruits.  Plenty of tiny white flowers and hard green berries promised that pickers in the coming weeks would too gather sweet bounties.

Our cars soaked up the scent as we transported our goods to Sherry’s for the next steps of stemming, washing, and cutting – which we performed while sitting on her breezy back porch with tall, sweating glasses of ice water at hand.  A couple of hours into prepping the berries, Sherry brought us plates with Italian beef sandwiches, creamy potato salad, and crispy kettle cooked chips.   Thoroughly fortified, I headed into the house to learn to make jam while mom and Brandon soldiered on with berry preparation.

Sherry’s charming, sunny kitchen was shortly glazed with a saccharine vapor as we boiled down the fruit in a thick-bottomed pot, incorporating sugar, pectin, lemon juice and a little butter into our syrupy brew.  Next we ladled the ruby sap into squat quilt-patterned jars, capped and lowered them into a speckled enamel jacuzzi for a few minutes, then removed them to a sheet pan for cooling.  Sherry has always turned her jars upside down to encourage the seal, so that’s what we did.  We repeated the process six times; each batch somehow seemed to get a little easier until all the jars were full.  (bonus: a hearty supply  of leftover berries is now nestled in our freezer for future snacking, smoothies, and all of manner of strawberry desserts!)

Waving and shouting our final thanks out the car window, we headed for home around five o’clock.  The whole project, from plucking the first berry to stashing twelve boxes of 144 jars into the trunk, took just 9 hours, including time out for lunch and a dessert break: a slice of skillet chocolate chip cookie nestled between two scoops of Blue Bunny “I Do! I Do! Wedding Cake.”  (Stupid name, awesome ice cream)

At some point in the day, we decided to dip our spoons into the steaming pot of nearly-finished jam and taste the fruits of our labor.  Oh lordy-pie! First, a wave of pure, clean sugar, curtained by a hint of buttery richness. Then, biting a piece of berry brings fresh, juicy red tartness, and as it slides away – you’re left with candied sunshine lingering on your tongue.  For me it recalled a quintessential taste of childhood and also a new flavor I’ll remember simply as LOVE.

Today’s jam-a-thon was a labor of love.  Together we created something bigger than the sum of its parts – a whole bunch of little jars filled with prettiest shade of red jam you could hope for –something to share with our wedding guests, the ones who’ll be present to witness our marriage, those crazy fools who’ll be dancing around with us on a very epic day in our lives.

Thank you Sherry, Mom, Brandon, John, Jack, and Terry for being part of this day and this project.  You guys made my maiden jam-making voyage a roaring success.

The recipe we used was quite traditional – very similar to this one from the Ball website, with the addition of 3 tablespoons of butter per batch to keep the “foaming” to a minimum and add an unexpected yum factor like only butter can.

Morchella, the true morels

Two weekends ago my fiance and I drove westward 3 hours to visit his family’s land in Richland County, WI.  It was a remote and beautiful place, full of springtime air and plenty of room to think and breathe.  Our primary purpose for the journey was to forage some wild foodstuffs – particularly a male turkey (tom) and the infamous morel mushroom.  I had never been to the land before, and Brandon wanted me to see it – so I could better understand a part of his life I hadn’t previously been a part of: hunting.

To hear Brandon describe his hunting experiences is an adventure of its own.  He “gets” the woods; he has insight on animal behaviors and nature’s way of doing things because he has spent time – in silence and stillness – observing the patterns and happenings on this expansive land and he knows it well.   I relished being able to accompany him through those woods, though the weather could have been kinder and I have an unnatural fear of ticks, because he was able to pass on to me some of the knowledge he’s been gaining in the forest over the years.  And he was able to do it first hand – I smelled the sweetness of the pines, heard the gobbles from the trees, and saw the signs of life that my untrained eyes would have otherwise missed.  And there it is: teaching the one you love, learning from the one you love: this is it.  This is where memories are made and relationships are bolstered.

We never got our tom, though we did spend a good amount of our hunt stalking what ended up being hens (the lady turkeys): creeping around trees and crawling through brush, trying to  stay under the radar of the birds’ impressive hearing abilities, attempting to blend in and sit still to avoid the gaze of theirzoom-like monocular vision.  Halfway into our second day’s venture I began focusing my eyes on the forest floor, entrusting Brandon with the animal kingdom while I sought edibles of a more fungal variety.

The first one came to me as if dropped from the heavens, perfectly formed and alone in its grace.  I plucked it eagerly and combed the area for more to no avail.  A few hours later, heading toward the cabin for the night, I said to Brandon, “I can’t believe we only found one.”  Literally seconds later he pointed out a huge morel and from there, our “mushroom eyes” kicked in and it was as though they were popping up just for us.  They grew in a circle around a fallen tree whose bark had sloughed off and been scattered across the ground.  In all we found 13 very good-sized morel mushroom.  We cleaned them well, brought them home the next day and had a fungi feast with Brandon’s brother and another friend.

I’ve never had such delicious ‘shrooms, maybe it’s because they were so fresh or perhaps because they were free and found in such a wonderful, adventurous way.   I can’t wait for next Spring to return to our new “spot” and gather more treats.  Thank you mother nature.

Morel mushroom recipe to come!