Archives for posts with tag: cooking

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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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. 

              

oranges

These Cara Cara oranges are gorgeous! I love the variagated colors within them. This is after I had skinned the zest off of them and before I cut them into supremes.

I’ve always liked orange marmalade. It comes in the cute little containers with your biscuits at the local diner. Hey, what’s not to like right? It is just a sweet orange jam–with little flecks of peel in it.

Well, $mucker’s had me fooled. The real deal is tart and tangy and chunky and so different from those bland little sterile containers of jam I was led astray with.

I figured that I would be making marmalades throughout the winter when local produce became scarce. Actually, I still have plenty to do with apples, pears, kiwis & frozen berries. Anyway, I still wanted to try my hand at it.

I started reading through recipes online to see what I wanted to do. I didn’t just plain old orange, so I went with a citrus marmalade recipe that contained grapefruits, lemons and oranges. So often my test batches of jam turn out so well that I end up selling them. I assumed that this would be no different, so I wanted to come out of the box swinging.

I used a peeling tool and a sharp knife to take the outer layer of skin off the fruit. I love citrus zest. Please, don’t waste your time or money with store bought zest. For some reason, I did years ago and it had about as much orange flavor as the cardboard box that oranges are shipped in. I didn’t know how easy and amazing fresh or even home dried zest can be. That’s a story for another time.

BTW, there is a lot of real estate to a grapefruit compared to its other citrus cousins. I ended up with a ton of zest and pith from it. –Yet another side note– The inner membrane of citrus fruits is one of the main sources of pectin. This recipe has you boil the zest, oh, and chop it how you want to eat it. I got a little lazy and ended up with some unspreadable chunks of it in the batch. (totally tasty though)

Like to cook? Make sure your knife is sharp!! If you do much cutting at all, you will need to sharpen your blade at least monthly. I know that might sound foreign or at least excessive, but with a little maintence, your knives will make cutting a breeze. Ok, back to the story…

I found a recipe that I liked. You cut off the colored part of the peel, mince it and boil it for 30 mins. While that is brewing, cut the segments out of the citrus fruit. It is called making supremes, (sue–prems). Youtube is a great place to see it in action. A ton of the fruit is wasted in the process, but you end up with lovely, membrane-less segments. In fact, they are so pretty that others in your proximity will want to pop them into their ungrateful little mouths. Another reason to keep your knife sharp… You will realize that a couple big bites and all of your hard work will be gobbled up. So, keep the family at bay or they will grow to fear you when they hear you are making marmelade again.

The next step is to cook the supremes, zest and zest water with sugar. To help with the set, they have you wrap all of the odds and end pieces from your knife work in cheesecloth and boiling it with the zest mixture–thus getting the natural pectin from the membanes in the bag.

Yes, I know many, many people get good sets from the “natural pectin” of the fruit. Buuuut, for me, I will add pectin. Maybe I’m impatient–I am–but this “natural pectin” NEVER works for me. I also have a tendency to burn the jam to the pan while trying to get a “natural set.” I’ve still got some “natural set” on one of my pans from a quince incident….

Anyway, the spread is cooking and will set nicely when I pull out my refractometer to test the sugar level. No, homecooks do not need to worry about this. However, as a commercial producer, I have to have a brix, or sugar % of 65%. Yes, every commercially made jam, jelly or preserve is at least 65% sugar. It is actually mandated by the Fedreal Gov that you have to have this sugar level to call your product a jam, jelly or preserve. I will write more about this later.

It is only 30% sugar, so I start to add more sugar. And more sugar. And more…. Cripes, I had started with 6 cups of sugar already. It seemed like the sugar level was really slow to rise. After seeming buckets of sugar were added, the marmalade was ready. I jarred it up and processed it for 10 mins in a waterbath.

Oooh, it was pretty. As I was cleaning up, I licked the jam ladel and got a good taste of it. Yes, it was sweet, but even worse, it was grainy!! WTF?!!?

I popped open a jar and confirmed my fear, it was grainy!! I started searching the web for “grainy marmalade fixes”, and didn’t get much help–ok, not surprised. But, I did learn that if you add sugar late in the jam set/boil stage it may not completely dissolve. Ohhh, that makes sense. Figures.

Well, I am a stickler for quality, so I decided to not sell that batch. I think I only have a jar or two of the grainy, but heavenly sweet and tart, big zest chunk marmelade left. It is ahhh-mazing! No, you can’t taste the grains at all when you put it on toast! It is the best orange-peely candy taste in a luminous sweet gel. Oh my, it wasn’t hard to eat this “bad” batch at all!

So lessons learned: don’t add sugar late in the batch and always eat your mistakes! This next batch with the Cara Cara’s will be epic! Here’s the recipe from which my marmalade adventure began. http://www.foodinjars.com/2010/02/three-citrus-marmalade-recipe/