Archives for posts with tag: Canning

Nov 2nd, 2013

Why I’m a failure—at being a failure.

It should be easy—right?  Like falling off a log you would think, but no.  Being a failure seems much more complicated than that.

I’ve been mulling this topic around for a while and just haven’t made the time to commit it to paper.  But here goes.

Oh, I’ve failed or simply given up many times.  But as an outright failure as a person; I guess I’m a failure in that manner too.

I open myself up a bit to share why this “MeeMee” journey feels so different than anything else I’ve done.

In my bio I talk about growing up in a canning and preserving family—that’s true.  I really could have cared less about it at the time—again, true.  The revelation I write about though, is that I like to cook and have been creating recipes since I was a kid.  But that’s also when this sordid tale started.  I guess I will just blurt it out….I’m fat.  Not fat, but F.A.T. fat.  And that has been enough to ruin myself, my family and anyone and anything around me.  Maybe even you!

Yes, there it is.  Fat = Failure.  No, I didn’t come up with this idea all on my own.  But it has taken many helpful professionals to be able to interject logic and reason into the above equation.

I started eating sticks of butter and buckets of chicken at the tender age of…not!  Really, it is a bit of a chicken and egg type story.  Which came first?  Overeating to soothe my anxiety and fears or the daily tormenting by my “looks are the only thing that matter” father in a household that stayed silent from intervening lest the anger and vile resentment be turned on them.

I will start by saying I am a better cook than my mom and maybe even my grandmas too.  It just makes sense to me.  Food makes sense to me.  Flavors and textures and aromas make sense to me.  I.  Understand.  Food.  Me and food are great buddies.  We go way back.  Magic happens in the kitchen for me.  And that’s all ok, unless you look like me.

My thighs are dimpled with bacon grease and cheezy puffs.  Pop tarts flap on my upper arms like wings.  I have perpetual gravy stains on the front of my clothes to announce my gluttony and shame.

And yet I persisted.  There was a restrained and stilted formal relationship with food while eating in front of others.  It was much like trying to elegantly eat a spaghetti meal with your hands at an important job interview—anxious, painful and inwardly, excruciating.

But, on the flip side, food was also my sensual, compassionate & wholly engulfing secret lover full of forbidden flavors and desires.  It was a tryst that started at an age when those feelings were not yet named.  I began to long for our alone time.  My desire became a deep ache, in the core of my being for ful-FILL-ment.  Just us two together– no words, just understanding.  Desire, chase, need, desire, capture, elation, satisfaction and the immediate need to do it again.

Oh, I’m dirty.  I’m a filthy pig, a sow, a hog, a cow and on and on.  And really, the teases at school were so toothless and lame.  Power.  Power is a 40 year old man that can bring his teenage daughter to tears everyday by reminding her of what a failure she was and would always be.

But how can you really bully someone if they are not dependent on you?  The kids at school that threw paper or made pig noises were hardly worth worrying about.  Even if they thought I was fat I still got to eat lunch—but not at home.  Lunch was a luxury when left in dad’s “care”.  And the adult mind is so much more resourceful for clever insults and witty assaults on the tattered psyche of a little girl.

Why, looking back there wasn’t a thing that my fatness didn’t ruin!  My exemplary grades and honor roll status was nothing to brag about if I didn’t even have a pretty face.  I had fat friends too!  They must have been a bad influence on me because I wasn’t allowed to go out with them as often as my thin friends.  (Jeez, I could have fatted-up my thin friends!)  Also, did you know that looks are a factor in college admissions?  Straight from my dad’s mouth to god’s ear.  I was doomed.

If you have been following along, then you understand the correlation of a + b + cream puffs = failure.  In my quest to avoid the grotesquery of working in the food industry, I have been a nurse’s assistant, a hair dresser, an elementary school teacher and a personal trainer.  And yet I persist.  I have sold thousands and thousands of jars of jam—they can’t all be pity purchases.

I use my warped food-addled thoughts to make flavors and combinations that no one has heard of.  Only a gluttonous bookworm could find a way through the labyrinth of commercial food rules to create a shelf stable Bacon Jam.  I dream in vivid color and wake up with drool on my pillow for the slovenly taste sensations I will bring to market in the future.

I’ve (slowly) been chasing my tail and have been scared of my (over-sized) shadow for most of my life.  For what?  To get to the part where I say, “I’m ok.”  I cook.  I call myself a foodie, not a fatty.  My weight and my making a food product have about as much correlation as that of being right handed.

Am I all better?  No, but figuring out that the failure is not me—it’s the parent that couldn’t love and nurture me and the familial and societal structures that support the misogynist evisceration of a child’s heart and soul.

Now, I’m the 40 year old parent with a chubby-cheeked daughter.  If she grows up to feel like a failure because of me, then that’s when I will know that I have accomplished being a failure myself.  I want my daughter to feel uninhibited joy and lick any cake battered beater offered to her.  “Play with your food” and “Don’t clean your plate,” I will bellow from the head of the table.  And for god’s sake Evi, never, ever be ashamed of who you are and what makes you happy.

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9/06/13

               I’m on vacation at Crater Lake.  Although this time is about relaxing, it’s also time for reflection.  Although I can’t physically make jams, I’ve still got plenty of thoughts “stirring” around.  Yes, it is hard to turn the jam making hamsters-on-a-wheel thoughts off. 

               I’ve been so busy lately that I haven’t written a blog in a while.  I get great ideas—lots of them—and then get caught up in the day-to-day stuff of my biz, and nothing gets written. 

               Anyway…what a booming time!  I’m much busier than last year and I feel my biz is starting to get roots in the local Portland Foodie Scene.  It’s a great time to be a foodie entrepreneur, but that’s another blog entry.

               The first cool thing is that I bought a 6 gallon steam kettle.  It is a piece of machinery with about a 3 x 3 footprint.  It is a stainless steel cauldron type vessel that has double walls with water vapor inside them.  The heating elements makes the vapor into steam and it heats the product (jam) evenly all around the kettle.  The advantage to this is that there isn’t a hot spot on the bottom like with a traditional cooktop.  Plus, it gets hot enough that I can fry off the bacon and then simmer it down with the rest of the ingredients for my bacon jam! 

               Yes, the 6 gallon capacity is awesome!  However, I have realized that it doesn’t take long before I have made more jam than I can package and process in one night.  I rent time in a bakery after hours and often drive home sticky and bleary eyed after a long night.

               Enter the helpers—Lisa & Ruby have been my main helpers as kitchen prep and babysitters for my daughter, Evi.  They and another helper, Leah, are the college-aged daughters of my tennis team mates.  I was lucky to have such a ready source of summer labor! 

               However, that pool is drying up as the girls, one by one, go back to school.  My next source of labor will be from the farmer’s markets.  As many vendors fold up their tents and hibernate for the winter, my second season kicks off. 

               I’m lucky in that way—I get two seasons—the farmer’s markets and then the holiday craft fairs.  Yep, I just put a bird, er bow, on it and voila!  October and the first part of November are so-so for sales, but boy, oh boy, things get crazy right up to Christmas.  I love to see the people swooping up armloads of jam not only for themselves, but giving it as gifts.  What great advertising around the country and the world!

               This year I’ve already been thinking about how I can maximize my time and get maximum exposure during that time.  Last year I ended up at a couple of dud shows by waiting too long to sign up for them.  I made the mistake of waiting until Oct/Nov to start my holiday preparation-but now I know I should really start in July and August. 

               I’m going to concentrate on making gift boxes of my best sellers so people can just grab and go.  This year I also have professionally designed labels with the nutritional information and bar code on it.  A fellow crafter made some really cool wooden boxes specifically for my jams.  He makes them from scraps from a pallet making plant.  I like that they are made from reclaimed wood and how functional they are long after the fruit spreads are gone. 

               Lastly, I finally have a steady retail location!  Ten of my spreads are at Local Choice Market, 9th & Everett, in the Pearl.  To me, this feels like the “Big Time.”  I usually end up doing a demo there a couple hours each weekend.  People are sometimes surprised to meet me, MeeMee, the maker of all of the Goodies.  The shoppers and especially the staff at Local Choice have been very supportive and appreciative of my hard work on the fruit spreads.  Plus, you can find Just Raspberry & Just Blueberry spreads only at this location. 

               The demos go well, but it’s usually during the time when I’m at one of my weekend farmer’s market.  I have had to trust my 100 sf of vendor real estate to others.  I feel like an over protective mother when I give so many instructions to my helpers!  It always turns out fine, but until now, my husband has been the only one to tread on this sacred ground. 

ImageRead this while you can.  I will likely pull it once I get a good night’s sleep and get back on my meds.  Anyway, pull up and chair and enjoy the ride through largely uncharted territory–my head. 

**Disclaimer**If you know me with any depth at all, you know how sensitive I am and how defensively snarky I am about it.  I usually to keep it on the down low in regards to my biz handlings.

 

“I’m pretty much a genius,” I flippantly replied to my husband when he complimented the pic above. 

“I can gel bathwater.”  Meanings:  (I’m a pectin Whiz) also (My pectin is better than your pectin.)

“I need a clone because I have too many good ideas to make!  (Stop cloning sheep and stuff–let’s get to the important stuff, Me!)

It’s hard to make social status updates with those types of statements.  It is how I feel–but likely it would lead to some misunderstandings.  There should be a sarcasm type  font…(another brilliant idea!)

 

But really, in the realm of cooking, jarring & gelling, I get crazy good ideas.  It seems I can gel anything.  The pic above is of pear halves poached in a spiced Zinfandel liquid.  Then I reduced the Z and gelled it around the half pear in the jar. 

To serve, I shook the hardened gel out of the jar and sliced it to place on the cheesecake.  Why don’t we have slice & serve jams dessert gels?  I’m already (mentally)at a pineapple and coconut cream slicer!  Is my over-educated (Master’s Degree) homemaker (the bane of my feminist studies) brain able to just keep rolling out hits like this?  Bam! Bam! Bam!

Bacon Jam, Jalapeno Bacon Jam, Habenero Bacon Jam, Peanut Butter Bacon Jam & a Dark Choc/mole Bacon Jam (soon, I promise)!  French onion onion jam (made this), bloody mary jam w/ bacon vodka (conceptualized this).  Been there, done Queen Anne’s Lace, how about Dandelion?  I do love a good ahn-velope pushing! 

Layered Green (kiwi) & Yellow (pineapple) spread-Go Ducks!- hardly an effort.   Cheesecakes, brownies & quick breads sealed in jars?  Cut my teeth on this a few years ago.  Hey!!  Why would you buy a pre-fab brownie in a plastic bag, but curl up your lip at a homemade brownie sealed in a glass jar??  I tell ya!

Champagne, Rum, Bourbon, Limoncello, yawn and on!  This was/is such a no brainer!  Yummy stuff mixed to be spread liberally!  What’s next?  Is Absinthe still illegal?  Oh, never mind then…

Pickles?  Snerk–I got yo’ pickles!  Dills, sweets, gherkins, beans, carrots, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, beets, okra, peppers–oh and a lil number some of you might remember from last summer– Curried Zucchini Pickles.  No joke, I totally made up that recipe. 

I had a dream about adding Red Hot Candies to my apple jelly.  Yes, the recipe does exist, but I had never heard of it and was probably single-digit-years-old the last time I ate one of those candies.  Enter my Candy Apple Jelly.  It IS really good. 

My favorite Jam?  Uhhh, the one I had most recently?  I LOVE all of them, or I wouldn’t sell them!!  The ones I keep back for just me?  Blood orange marmalade & until recently, Strawberry Basil Balsamic.  Big whole strawberries gelled in a darkened spread with flecks of green basil.  The super secret recipe?  About 15 grains of salt–yes, salt.  It was a happy discovery too (never heard of it), but it makes the savory elements “pop” in the sweet jam.  Even better, two pieces of buttered toast and 3 fat slices of crispy bacon.  Nom, Nom (insert Homer Simpson drooling and eating sounds here). 

Well, the yogurt parlor I’m camped at is noisily clanging dishes together as a passive-aggressive way of saying that the couch I’ve worn an a$$ groove in needs to get some air. 

Oh, and please understand that in this post particularly, I have taken “alot” of literary license with grammar and punctuation–don’t bother to email and tell me about it.  YES, someone has done that already about my newsletter!!!  I’m not just some dumb jam-slinger–I have massive student loan debt to prove it!  I am/was a Certified Nursing Assistant, Hair Dresser, Elementary School Teacher, Personal Trainer & newly Commercial and Low Acid Certified Food Preserver.  (Imagine me rocking on my heals smuggly–yes, I’m still on the couch though).  Also a card carrying member of the Chicken Police (ask me about it sometime), a part time “Grammarian” and all around know-it-all. 

Ok, they just clicked the open sign off.  I will hit the post button, then likely drive home and delete it.  Just have fun with this!

 

 

My first jam sale!

My first jam sale!

I grew up in a canning and preserving family on the Southern Oregon Coast.  I loved my mom’s canned peaches the best- no matter how much she made each year; they never lasted through the winter! 

               In 2002, I graduated from University of Oregon and left Oregon for Los Angeles.  I taught elementary school in South Central LA through the Teach for America program.  While there, I met my husband, Tom.  I persuaded him to move back to Oregon with me to pursue the “simple life.”

               During the summers, Tom and I would make weekly excursions to Sauvie Island to hike and kayak.  No trip was complete without a stop at the farm stores.  I always ended up buying more produce than I could use fresh, so I went back to my roots—canning.  The preserving fit in nicely with the nesting I was doing in preparation for the birth of our daughter.  I went crazy canning anything I could stuff in a jar!

Our daughter, Evi, was born in early 2010.  By then, I had amassed hundreds of jars of jams, pickles and more.  We ate them and gave them as gifts.  Soon though, while giving out my new creation of Raspberry Lemon jam, friends and family consistently told me, “You should sell this!”

               It is with that sentiment that I started MeeMee’s Goodies.  BTW, “MeeMee” is the first way that Evi called for me.  (Tom was DeeDee and Evi, to us, was WeeWee.  No teasing!)

               I started small by making a couple of batches of jam every now in my home kitchen.  It was easy to work around the baby’s schedule in that way.  From there, I started doing small craft fairs in the Beaverton area.  I loved introducing people to my jams and becoming a delicious and nutritious part of their meals.  I loved talking about and sampling out the “fruits” of my labor!

               Now, I am challenged with growing my business, yet maintaining my founding ideals of using simple ingredients to make a simply delicious product.   Even though I can make 200+ jars at a time in a huge steam kettle, an am looking for retail opportunities outside of the farmer’s markets, I want to keep the business personal and personable. 

              

Red Fleshed Apple

456915_451714281556959_1070572486_o Red Fleshed Apple Jelly

Ah, the red-fleshed apple.  When I saw these beauties at the Montavilla Winter Farmer’s Market, I knew I had to have them!  No, I don’t remember who I bought them from or what their proper name is.  When the gal cut one open, I saw gorgeous red tinged jelly in my future!

I guess they are pretty much like any other apple, except for their flesh color.  I looked it up online and it is the product of careful cross breeding that brings out the color of the flesh.  The article also mentions that said apples aren’t known for their taste though.  I would disagree.  They are “appley” just fine.

I have many different ways of extracing juice from my fruit.  I didn’t want to cook these to do that though– I figured any cooking water would dilute the color and taste.  Instead, I pulled out my trusty $5 garage sale juicer and went to town.

Every apple had varying degrees of pinkness, from a marbled look to a medium dark red.  The juice though was what I think the juice of a Red Delicious apple would look like–if it was red all the way through!  It was beautiful.

The first batch of jellies was destined for Evi’s preschool class.  Yes, I’m on Pinterest and I see what “all” of the other mothers can do with their “spare” time.  Really, if you see me walk through the door with individually wrapped and meticulously decorated reindeer cookies, I have either hit one of the other mothers over the head in the parking lot and taken them from her, or hit the jack pot and Martha Stewart is my kitchen helper.

Anyway, I wanted something to give to the kids and what better to do than what I do all of the time?  Plus, apple jelly is pretty mainstream.  What kid wouldn’t like it?  And, it was going to be a luminous, non-red dyed, red.

The picture above is of the little 4 oz jars I made for the kids.  It was as pretty as I expected.  Oh, and the other moms were impressed too!  *Polishing nails on shirt and admiring them*

My recipe:

8 c fresh made apple juice

9 c sugar

Pectin

Another time I will write about my sugar ratio and why it is important to use “that” much.