In a Jam with a Passionate Friend

 

 
In A Jam With A Passionate Friend

 

Several people I know are quite passionate. Usually when I hear the word passion, I think of love and romance between two people. However, the words love and romance really describe a multitude of things. Believe me, this explains a whole lot about some of the people in my life—people who are passionate about food and cooking.

 

My grandmother's were excellent cooks.

My dad’s mom made wicked cinnamon rolls.

Both of my grandmothers were excellent cooks. My mom’s mother made the best pot roast. It was fork tender and mouthwatering rich. My dad’s mom was a baker and made awesome cinnamon rolls. She also served up a plate of comfort in the form of chicken with homemade noodles.

 

My mom was also a great cook, although I have to say her love of trying all kinds of new recipes often made me doubt some of her choices. Curiously, it never bothered her when the recipe she tried turned into an “I guess we’ll be eating pizza tonight” disaster. In a way, her lack of fear in the kitchen was inspirational. She’d just shrug it off and move on to try something else. In fact, in several instances her next recipe ended up becoming the new family favorite.

 

Mom was an inspiration when it came to cooking.

Here’s one of Mom’s all-time baking disasters. It didn’t stop her–not even for a minute.

When I was young I’d happily help Mom in the kitchen. Eventually, her tutelage helped me master a few basic dishes. My spaghetti sauce turned out pretty good and my chocolate chip cookies were consistently tasty. However, I went through a cream puff/chocolate éclair phase that nearly did the whole family in. It wasn’t that they weren’t good. They were too good.

 

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The problem with my puffs was all in the ratio of shells to filling. Every time I tried to even them out it meant upping the volume, but I couldn’t seem to get the formula right. It seems no matter what I did I ended up with either too many shells or extra cream stuffing. I suppose I could have tossed the extra out, but I was stubborn and wanted to get it right. Of course, this would result in making yet another batch of whichever part I lacked. And so it would go back and forth: More shells, more cream middle, more shells, more cream middle, and on and on to eternity. Now, I honestly couldn’t tell you if I ever got it right or if I gave up because everyone started looking like cream puffs!

 

Cooking felt much too hard.

Fresh veggies and meat went out the window as I became less interested in cooking.

Sometime after my college years I lost nearly all my enthusiasm for cooking. Truth be told, I had a lot going on. Between getting married, having a demanding fulltime job (isn’t that redundant) and looking after my new daughter, I lacked the energy to cook, not to mention the will to experiment. This didn’t equate to eating poorly, though it did mean I’d spend as little time in the kitchen as possible. If it wasn’t basic and easy to prepare I couldn’t be bothered. This meant there were certain sacrifices. For example, our spaghetti sauce came from a jar rather than the fresh meat and produce sections of the store, and the cookies from a package rather than from scratch.

 

Cooking and baking were never relaxing or easy tasks for me. Sure, I had good intentions. Whenever I saw a recipe in a magazine or cookbook that sounded intriguing I’d set it aside. However, my interest would wane once I saw I lacked the right equipment, or if a trip to the store was in order to get a bizarre ingredient that had never seen the inside of my pantry before. As a result, my cooking repertoire was limited and became narrower and narrower as time went on.

 

Here I am the kitchen.

I eventually re-discovered my zest for cooking. Now, I say, “Bring it on!”

One of the great gifts from the universe is how new people constantly show up to challenge all your most basic assumptions around living. As each new person enters your circle they come loaded carrying their particular set of passions and beliefs. Remarkably, those can smack you over the head and remind you there are many great things to discover or “re-discover” if you are simply willing to be open to them. In fact, you are often introduced to wonderful new vistas and end up seeing things in an entirely new and exciting light.

 

Shaun serving up some eggs.

Here’s Shaun serving it up right for me on Mother’s Day. What a keeper!

Two very passionate “foodies” that have helped me re-discover the joy of cooking are my son-in-law, Shaun, and my sister-in-heart, Steph. Both savor food and not just in the finished product, but each and every ingredient that goes into a recipe. When you hear passionate cooks like these two talk about double fatted butter you can envision the likes of Julia Child smiling down and nodding her approval. Or when they taste something and get that faraway look in their eye, I end up in awe that they can distinguish, say, a touch of cardamom or hint of anise. Heck, the best I can do usually do is say, “This is good.” Or “Hmm. I wonder what’s in that stuff?” Maybe that’s why I love whiling the hours listening as they discuss food with so much zeal. Their passion just makes everything taste better.

 

Shaun and Steph have both made cooking look so easy to me I now feel it doesn’t need to be a chore. It can be a labor of love! And neither has a big fancy kitchen, either. One big lesson I’ve learned from them is you don’t need a kitchen to look a certain way in order to create great food. For example, though both would prefer it neither has a gas stove. Thus, I can watch them happily chopping, dicing, or stirring next to their electric models, and all the time they expound on current events, a good joke, a new movie or a great book they just read. I’ve watched many a mouthwatering meal emerge this way. Their practiced flair gives them an ease that makes the whole process seem magical.

 

Two cooks in the kitchen.

Steph makes cooking seem like so much fun. I can’t believe how much I’ve learned from her.

Cooking is so second nature to Shaun and Steph they never seem to be working at it. I love just hanging around them to watch, listen and learn. And the amazing part is the whole time I’m there I’m getting more and more enthused. In fact, since they’ve come into my life, I can honestly say I’m more interested and passionate about food than ever. It’s wonderful when others can inspire you this way. It reminds me life is worth living and every day has the potential for newfound joys and discoveries.

 

In A Jam

 

Mmm. I can hardly wait to try this.

We made sweet cherry jam. These Bing cherries were delicious.

In spite of my newfound joy of food and cooking, when Steph recently suggested we get together to make some jam I felt like a deer in the headlights. On one hand—YUMMM! But on the other hand, my old anxiety started to get in the way. Isn’t making jam hard? Would I even be able to do it? Then I flashed back to my grandmother making fresh raspberry jam. I know I was young, but the process seemed complicated. I was sure she spent a full day prepping, laboring over a hot stove and wax sealing. My memory of making jam made it a huge event. It certainly wasn’t for the timid!

 

Pitting our cherries.

Steph’s pitting machine made pitting a snap. Tools like these are nice, but you can get by on less.

After some soul-searching—or at least a few rounds of mental ping pong—I finally realized Steph was the perfect partner if I was going to try making jam for myself. Besides, it would be cool to pull out a jar of my own homemade jam and dazzle my friends and family with some tasty goodness. Thus, with only a bit of trepidation we met up at her place at the appointed time and started canning.

 

You'll need a good pot to cook the cherries.

We added lemon zest and juice to the cherries, plus plenty of sugar. The lemon juice and sugar help preserve the fruit.

As is often the case when you try something with a person who is passionate about the subject at hand, and is also a good teacher, you discover a wonderful new passion yourself. I learned I like making jam! In fact I enjoyed it so much that on the way home I stopped at a couple of garage sales in search of canning equipment.

 

This jam is done cooking. It's time to let it cool.

After covering the jars with lids, they went into a big boiling pot. These tongs make getting them in and out easy. When the jars cool the lid seals.

The process did take a couple of hours, but they passed by so quickly it felt like minutes. I suspect the next time I make jam all by myself it won’t match my experience with Steph. Yet I did learn I can do it, and now that I’ve found several garage sale jam jars I’m more than willing to give it a go.

 

A great book on canning.

Steph recommends this canning book. To check it out on Amazon, click on the picture.

In case you’re interested in making jam the first time, I’d suggest hooking up with one of your favorite foodie friends and check out this “No Recipe Cherry Jam” by David Lebovitz. This is the recipe Steph suggested we follow to make our jam. David’s recipe is very basic and he’s a whiz at taking you through the process. You’ll need cherries (in our case we used Bing cherries), lemons (both for their zest and the juice which supplies pectin) and sugar.

 

Some of the tools of the home canning trade.

One tool that was very helpful for containing the mess was this wide-mouth funnel.

The equipment we needed was also fairly minimal, with some being a nicety rather than a necessity: I’d suggest a big pot to cook in, jars & lids, a large pan to bathe the filled jam jars, tongs to handle the jars in and out of the bath (there are special ones that would be worth the purchase), a wide mouth funnel to help fill the jars, and a cherry pitter. Steph has a manual cherry pitting machine that made the process a snap, but one of those individual hand held pitters will do in a pinch. Here’s one from Amazon.

 

I’m not sure I’ll ever master cooking the way my son-in-law, Shaun, or my friend, Steph, has, but one thing I’ve learned is as long as you’ve got a passionate cooking partner ready to help out, you’ll never end up in a jam over jam.

 

One Response to In a Jam with a Passionate Friend

  • connie says:

    Great article! Congrats on the jam! Now you need to try all the berries, then peaches, then apple and/or pear butter, then……………:)

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