All the Fun

The second half of July whizzed past me. I cannot believe it’s already August (my birthday month, yay!) , and it’s going to be another insanely busy month. I’ve been having all the fun and am not stopping anytime soon.

Though sometimes, I need to just sit still for like 30 seconds and make sure that I am taking time for myself. Lately, I haven’t been doing a good job of that and reached a point of near exhaustion.

This week, I’m back on track and being good to myself in a way I haven’t been in a long time, even though it’s really really hard.

I started back up again keeping a food journal, which I’ve found to be the only effective way for me to be accountable to myself for what I eat and when I am physically active.

This isn’t a diet blog, it’s not even a healthy lifestyle blog. It’s a blog about food and I have to stay true to that. I love to eat (and drink) but it’s been getting me into trouble lately because I haven’t been paying any attention to what I’ve actually been consuming. Being busy does that to a person.

So this week while I’m getting over the cravings hump, I am just going to share a few little things.

I made this killer lemon syrup last week using coconut sugar and sugar I made with pomelos. The syrup was used as a base for jelly shots that were consumed at kickball. (Which I’m both elated and totally depressed is finally over for the year.)

It goes really well in just about any beverage though, provided it’s cold and refreshing. Paired with just ripe nectarines and sparkling water it makes for a very refreshing afternoon pick-me-up, with a smooth transition into happy hour–should your day need one of those–by adding a jigger of vodka and a crushed mint leaf or two.

Sparkling Nectarine Lemonade

For the Syrup (makes about 2 cups)

1 cup lemon juice from a bottle
1 1/2 cups sugar–any kind will do, but using half coconut sugar added a nice earthy flavor
3 lemons cut into 8ths, juice squeezed out
1/2 cup or so of water

Put all ingredients into a large, non-reactive pot and bring to a boil. Simmer for several minutes until the syrup starts to thicken a bit, then strain out the solids. Stored in a jar in the fridge, this syrup should keep for a several weeks.

To make the lemonade just pour a little syrup into a glass–about 1 tbsp for a not very sweet 8 oz or so of sparkling water–then smash a couple of slices of ripe nectarines into it. Add a squeeze of lemon for extra brightness, and put in some ice if you like. Then top with sparkling water.

Marmalade Mash-up

One time I went to three or four different hole-in-the-wall asian markets looking for green papayas to make green papaya salad. It was probably the only legitimate craving I had the entire time I was pregnant with Lilli.

It wasn’t even that much of a craving, really. More of an “I think I want to make this” and then it got more and more important the harder I had to look for those stupid papayas.

Anyway, last week Lilli and I took another journey down to those hole-in-the-wall asian markets, this time with two important differences. One, she was an actual kid and not just a zygote, or whatever. Two, we were looking for citrus, preferably weird varieties, but not with anything too specific in mind. Unfortunately we didn’t find anything that weird.We did come home with a couple of huge pomelos and about 3 pounds of kumquats, all for about 8 bucks.

This is awesome because unless you happen to live in california and have some sort of citrus tree (that actually produces fruit, unlike the one in my dining room) somewhere within, oh, say, 200 miles of your front door, those little babies will cost you an arm and a leg. I knew I wanted to make some sort of marmalade so it really didn’t matter what we found, as long as it was cheap. I have also been collecting other citrus. By the time I was getting ready to go to work on this marmalade, I had a bevy of grapefruit, a small stash of Meyer lemons and more oranges than I could count, of several varieties.

So I set to work reading a ton of awesome posts about marmalade. I read some over at Food in Jars (Whose kumquat recipe I followed…the whole thing. Which is unlike me.), and there’s been tons of good ideas for citrus in general on Punk Domestics. I wanted to make a batch that had just one fruit and also one batch that was a medley. I peeled an orange for Lilli and then set to work chopping everything up.

And then I decided that I am a total crazy person. Making kumquat marmalade is like making strawberry jelly where the first step is taking out each individual seed with a pair of tweezers before you cook the fruit. It’s ridiculously time consuming. As good as it tasted, I recommend you find a crazy-person friend to make it for you instead of attempting it yourself. Unless you’re crazy too, in which case you have my blessing.

The other batch I made was the medley and I kind of just made it up using the rule of thumb that says you should add about 3-4 cups of sugar for every pound of fruit. Marmalade isn’t like other jam. Since it contains the peel of the citrus you kind of need to let it soak and soften and then cook for a really long time. It’s better that way. There are ways to get around it, but not with kumquats.

I used the way around when we made the lemon marmalade back in San Francisco. When I cut up the pomelos I followed this “way around” too. You can basically make supremes of the fruit. First, use a vegetable peeler to take off all the zest in big strips which you then chop into very thin slices. Next, cut the flesh from the membranes, and chop it into smallish pieces, setting aside the seeds and membranes like you would if you had cut them whole. For the pomelos it was kind of the only way to go since there’s so much peel and the membranes can be kind of tough. I added one delicious pink grapefruit, mostly just to give it a little more rosy color than the pomelos would bring and also cut up 5 Meyer lemons. And I let it soak the entire 24 hours, even though I’ve never done that part before.

When I got around to cooking it, I realized I had probably added too much water, because it boiled forever. It boiled for probably over an hour before it hit the jelly point (220ºF), which is sort of on the ridiculous end of the spectrum.

In the end, it was kind of on the bitter side. Not inedible, just a little bit not sweet even though I knew it had plenty of sugar in it. So, I’m not going to share the recipe. I hope you don’t mind. I think it will be excellent as part of a sweet cookie or made into a sauce to go over ice cream…Why don’t I have any ice cream?

Well, good thing the kumquat marmalade was delicious. I guess I’ll have to eat that first.

One thing I did deem a success was the pomelo sugar I made using the rind from one of the pomelos. I had decided that since they’re such a big fruit, I only needed to add part of the zest, and was pretty glad about that later. To use it up (because I hate to throw stuff out if I can help it) I ground it up very very fine in the food processor and then dumped in a couple cups of granulated sugar to absorb all the oils from the rind. The sugar also serves as a medium for the zest to get into whatever it is you want it in.

You can just mix any sort of citrus zest in with some sugar. About one orange or lemon per cup of sugar, or two of each fruit it they are pretty small. Mix it up and then store it in an airtight container. I went the wacky route and physically cut up the zest, but a microplane style grater is the best tool for the job. You can use it anywhere regular sugar would be called for but a hit of citrus would be welcome.

A San Francisco Treat

(Sorry, I couldn’t help that one)

While we were in San Fran last week I got the chance to do something I am totally jealous of my past self for getting to do, which is eat and cook with very fresh citrus fruit.

Our first night there we walked up to a lookout point in the neighborhood were our friends live, Cole Valley. I never caught the name of the lookout, but it had truly breathtaking views, especially since most of the time we were In San Fran we had very clear and sunny weather, and that evening was warm to boot. The perfect antidote for what the weather’s been like here in Seattle.

On our way back down the hill to order dinner (awesome and easy Thai, because Thai is never wrong.) I spotted something you would never in a million years see in Seattle, even if we did have actual summers and decent autumns: a fruiting Meyer lemon tree. Though by this point it was quite dark, I peered in among the branches and felt out some of the fruits that looked yellow in the glow of the streetlight. I tried to twist off a fruit I thought was ripe, but it wasn’t quite there yet, or so I guessed since it didn’t easily come off. I left it alone and went on my way with an added spring in my step.

I am going to share with you something about myself that you might not have know. I am a shameless urban fruit “forager” and while mostly I only take fruit that is on public or abandoned land, I will occasionally venture onto the more private side of things and pick fruit that is very obviously going to waste. These lemons were just at the tip of someone’s yard. A very very wealthy person’s yard. The tree was very well pruned, in a yard that looked pretty well manicured, and it was chock full of fruit that was ripening or ripe. Clearly, I told our hosts, they were not going to miss a lemon or two. Or a dozen. Right?

The next morning I went to the lookout by myself, early, in the fog, to take some pictures and see the city in a different light. I scoped out the tree again, this time with the sunlight on my side, and found that there were indeed quite a few ripe lemons hanging out in this tree. Hooray!

The day before we were set to leave was pretty busy. There were two very small earthquakes (exciting!) and it was the start of the Jewish holiday Simchat Torah (awesome!) which we celebrated by dancing with Torah scrolls and drinking tequila in a Baha’i Temple (drunky!). We ate dinner at a food truck gathering to make the food trucks in Seattle blush with inadequacy (yummy!) and had an awesome burrito in the Tenderloin of all places (wacky!).

We were supposed to pack for home and then be at a friend’s house for breakfast the next morning at 8, before tooling around and then heading to the airport by 1. So of course, it was the perfect time to go steal forage lemons and then start an involved canning project which we maybe didn’t have all the right ingredients for.

Aviva and I bundled up a bit (it finally was a little chilly in the evenings) and decided to take a trip up to the lookout one last time. And we took with us a cloth sack, “just in case” we found something worth bringing home. Maybe we would get lucky and there would be enough ripe ones to make a quart of preserved lemons. I maybe got a little carried away and we ended up with quite a few lemons, all without even a soul finding out what we were up to. It was slightly exhilarating, or maybe that was just the heady smell of the fruit wafting from the cotton bag as they jostled around in there while we practically skipped back home.

Anyway, we ended up having enough fruit to make a quart of preserved lemons, and a batch of ginger lemon marmalade. We cheated and used a couple of oranges and some lemons that were sitting around getting old. But we had a few fruits that were still sort of green so we sorted those out to ripen and use later, and there were even enough that I got to bring a couple home. As I peeled the zest from the fruit to make the marmalade, I couldn’t help but taste the fruit itself. If you’ve never had fresh citrus like this, I highly recommend it if you get the chance. It made me insanely jealous of those Californians, even if I do love my hometown to pieces.

I don’t own a copy of the Ball Book of Home Preserving, but that is the book we took both recipes from. We followed the marmalade pretty closely, substituting a couple of oranges for part of the lemons and halving the ginger, since that’s just what we had on hand. We also used raw sugar instead of the usual white, which I think played off the ginger very very nicely. I have to remember that trick for other jams.

For the preserved lemons we substituted the bay leaves for fresh basil, and added a star anise. Basil and lemon are so nice together, and while this makes it a bit less traditional, I’m confident that the flavors will work well together and be great. I just hope the basil doesn’t overpower the delicate flavor of the Meyer lemons. We’ll see!

P.S. We live tweeted our canning adventure, but if you missed it and are using twitter, you can follow me @kernelsandseeds and get updates for future adventures!