Making Strawberry Jam

On Saturday and Sunday we picked strawberries in the garden. Smaller than the store-bought variety, these berries are just as sweet and completely pesticide free. Our fingers and tongues were red from the small red berries that filled our colanders and our stomachs. I asked what we would do with all of the fruit we had picked. The answer: strawberry preserves.

Strawberry preserves is the sweet taste of summer heat and sun-kissed cheeks spread thick over toast on cold winter mornings. It oozes, ruby-red and seedy, over brown crust completing the perfect PB&J. Here is an easy to follow recipe just like I learned a couple of days ago in the warm kitchen of the Hard Cider Homestead.

Strawberry Preserves:

  • 4 cups fresh strawberries (mashed)
  • 7 cups sugar
  • Certo fruit pectin
  • Canning jars and lids
  • 2 large pots
  • Butter (optional)

Cut the tops off the strawberries and put the berries in a large mixing bowl. Take a potato masher and mash the strawberries into a thick red pulp. Pour the contents (4 cups) into a sauce pan on high heat. Add the sugar and stir until the mixture boils consistently. Add the pectin and stir for 1 minute. During this time, the liquid will bubble and foam. Add a half-inch of butter to reduce the foam on the surface of the liquid. 

Remove from heat and ladle into glass jars.Screw on tops and lids. Add covered jars one by one into a pot of boiling water. Leave for 15 minutes. Remove the jars. Lids will pop when a seal has formed, preventing bacteria from contaminating the batch. Let cool and store.

A more complete recipe can be found here.

In less than 24 hours, I had followed a strawberry from its birthplace in the earth to the kitchen and into a glass container of preserves. My apron was relatively stain-free and I had successfully canned more jars than I cared to count. My newly acquired domesticity reminded me of long evenings with my mother, reading Little House on the Prairie on the living room sofa. I doubt Laura Ingalls could make strawberry preserves this good.

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Less Meat and More Questions

It’s been just over 5 months since I’ve embarked on my vegetarian quest. While this may not be particularly impressive to many, it is my personal record regarding non-meat eating and this record gets longer with each passing day. Frustration, not cravings, remind me of my new diet plan when everything appetizing on a dinner menu contains beef pieces or chicken broth. And I find this thought interesting. If a vegetarian eats meat, does he or she have to start from scratch? Do “true” vegetarians frown upon those who sneak the occasional spare rib or chicken wing?

Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Eating Animals attempts to wrestle with these issues on a larger scale. The book idea originated with the author’s desire to know what meat really was, a question not dissimilar from my own. Foer does not lecture or preach the benefits of vegetarianism, mostly because he is still unsure of exactly what it means to be part of the meat producing/selling/buying/cooking/eating industry.

[Eating animals] is a slippery, frustrating, and resonant subject. Each question prompts another, and it’s easy to find yourself defending a position far more extreme than you actually believe or could live by. Or worse, finding no position worth defending or living by (pg 13-14).”

Maybe eating or not eating meat is not so black and white. Foer himself cycled through periods of vegetarianism throughout his life, trying to find the meaning to life’s simple dinner plate. One of my geology professors, while munching on an egg salad sandwich, openly admitted that he was entering into yet another period of meat-free eating. His vegetarian lifestyle ebbs and flows as a ocean tide as opposed to a concrete and unyielding definite. The woman who interviewed me for the Bucknell magazine had been a vegetarian for six years as a young adult when on September 11th, 2001 she ate a large cheeseburger as a statement of patriotism. “I must have drank a gallon of peppermint tea afterward, I was so afraid I would be sick,” she commented. And while she does eat meat, this woman continues to be a very conscious consumer of healthy options, lamenting the lack of vegetarian options at restaurants in central Pennsylvania.

Some of my vegetarian friends are truly pescatarian or those who eat fish or any other living thing that lives in the sea. No tuna or mackerel I’ve talked to relishes in the idea that they are not included in the “meat” category. I myself eat tuna fish sandwiches now and then, wondering if I’m breaking some kind of unwritten vegetarian code. It’s much easier to pass judgement on those who devour meat constantly if you yourself are a 100% vegetarian 100% of the time. But should judgement be a factor in our decision to abstain from animal flesh entirely? I’m only left with questions.

I think we should embrace those who eat differently than we do. I have never tried to force my Muslim friend to chow down on a hunk of bacon and don’t frown upon my roommate for refusing dairy products due unfortunate bowel reactions. There is nothing wrong with my neighbor’s younger brother eating potato bread due to an extreme gluten allergy. And so there is also nothing wrong with a person who abstains from or indulges in meat consumption as long as he or she is making a conscious decision to eat in that way. Humanity is defined in terms outside of right and wrong and so, it seems, are our food choices.

Happy Vegetarian Month!!

It’s October and you know what that means… Vegetarian month! So put down your pork chop and bite into a huge juicy black bean burger (made by Morning Star).

Vegetarians get a bad rap. They are often perceived as self-righteous animal lovers, pale undernourished hipsters, or hairy peace-loving hippies. Luke McGee, a blogger for the Huffington Post UK, wrote, “At our worst [vegetarians] are self righteous, self satisfied, judgemental and often extremely rude.” Meat eaters find themselves uncomfortable eating a juicy burger or thick steak after someone at the table has announced they don’t eat meat. Knowledge that a vegetarian has RSVP-ed to a dinner party puts added stress on the host. “Will there be enough vegetarian options?” and  “What is a vegetarian options?” or “Who invited her anyway?” are common questions.

I will admit that I didn’t want to be labeled as one of the aforementioned groups. I had no desire of forcing my friends and family to question the meat on their plate or feel nervous when asking me out to dinner. I had eaten meat my whole life and wasn’t sure I could give up my favorite dishes and flavors for tofu and lettuce. I would try, for days at a time, to eat meatless options before resorting back to a turkey club or roasted chicken. I simultaneously judged and envied my friends who had made the veggie switch. I was impressed with their determination but was skeptical of their reasoning behind the change.

Getting back from the Philippines was the turning point. I had eaten pork dish after pork dish and something inside of me just said, I’m over it. And so my vegetarian life began. Instead of climbing to the tallest mountain top and declaring my rejection of animal flesh, I started off my vegetarian switch without much conscious effort. I didn’t stress myself out about the possibility of failing or setting up a strict diet plan. I just stopped eating meat and days quickly turned into weeks. As an avid foodie, I believed the change would be much more difficult than it’s turned out to be. Sure I eat PB&J more often and learned the hard way how not to refrigerate tofu, but the transition has been surprisingly satisfying. 

Now for the million dollar question:

“Why?”

Sometimes this question is asked with genuine curiosity and other times it’s a judgement, thinly veiled by feigned interest. For me, it’s not about intrinsic animal rights. I think humans are built for eating animals. Animal rights on an individual level is a different story. I got sick of hearing about the diseases, living conditions, and necessary chemicals used in the food industry  (Remember Sinclair’s The Jungle?) without questioning modern-day food production. By buying chicken, beef or pork at the grocery store I was supporting a wasteful and environmentally unsustainable process the world cannot afford. And neither could I. (Below: vegetarian ravioli from vegalicious.org)

My mom has recently become a vegetarian and my dad eats substantially less meat than he used to. My house drinks only soy milk and eats cage free eggs. I’ve started to notice more of my friends who are vegetarians and we find a closer bond through our mutually exclusive diet. Will I be a vegetarian forever? I don’t know. Nor do I suggest everyone should put the breast meat down in exchange for some tempah or beans. I just think everyone should take a second to look at the food on their plate and think about its origin. Where it came from. What it came from. When it was produced. How sustainable the process was. For me, these questions led me to a meatless option so next time I cook a meal I can say beyond reasonable doubt that

no animals were harmed in the making of this dish. 

If you are what you eat, then I’m a…

I’m not a picky eater. There are foods I don’t particularly enjoy and I remember as a small girl, squishing the lima beans into my plate to avoid eating the mountain of light green mush. But I’ll always try something once. This quality was tested multiple times starting about a week ago with a favorite Filipino delicacy which also happened to reach Number 1 on The 6 Most Terrifying Foods in the World. I’ll give you a couple seconds to google it…

Balut (blog on how it’s cooked) is a fertilized duck egg that is hardboiled and eaten, usually with vinegar/chili sauce. It is sold at night by street vendors because no one wants to see the baby duck before it’s ingested. I don’t blame them. But I’d been in the country almost 8 weeks, looked more tan than some of my friends, and said Magandang umaga po to my driver every morning. There was only one food between me and my newly-hatched Filipina self. My friend ordered two eggs and, with more than a slight nudge, I cracked the egg on the table and began to peel away at the shell. I squeezed some vinegar into the opening and following my friend’s lead, I tilted my heads back and sipped the juice.

I peeled away more of the shell and took a big bite. I was lucky (lucky as someone can be) since my egg was only about 15 or 16 days old so the feathers and beak were not fully formed. The taste was strong but not terrible. It was concentrated taste of poultry and egg squished into one. Unfortunately, I took another bite and got the white part of the egg that is referred to as the “stone.” It’s hard, very hard, like eating plastic cartilage. That would be my second and last mouthful.

Fast forward to an overnight with Viv and her friends from high school. On our way to our destination near Antipolo we stopped in a restaurant known for beautiful artwork and exotic food. Since no one wanted to buy we painting, we ordered crickets. Not as gross as they sound. Small, friend and crispy, “just like eating popcorn.” Later in the day we returned to town to buy chicken intestines coiled on thin wooden sticks and BBQ’ed. Also not my favorite but people were buying them in sets of 10 or 20.

And finally Puerto Princesa, Palawan for the last dish. This delicacy snuck up on me after I had finished my buffet lunch and was basking in the beautiful ocean view. Nadine, my tour guide for the time, told me a woman was selling tamilok and I had to try some.  “What is it?” I asked. “Wood worms,” she replied and smiled. “They grow inside mangrove trees.”

Well once someone eats a duck fetus everything else is pretty much fair game. The worms were about 2 to 3 inches long and seemed to be boiled in their own juices. I dipped one in calamancie(like key limes) juice with chilis and popped it in my mouth. It was chewy and slimy but had very little flavor. Nadine said she thought they tasted like oysters but I don’t know if I agree. Anyway, I ate 3 or 4 before calling it quits.

And here is the surprising part, I feel great. Granted, none of these foods I would order off a menu or ask my mom to cook but everything was close enough to food that I could handle the look, smell and taste. For short periods of time.

“Over the teeth

Passed the gums

Look out stomach

Cause it’s about to get crazy”