What Should I Do with All These Apricots?

The crops

The jam

Whilst sitting by the pool today with my good friend Mr. Heineken, enjoying a gorgeous Vacaville day, listening to Danger Mouse‘s latest disc, Rome (which is wonderful, by the way), it slowly began to dawn on me that if I have something to say about apricots I had best do it posthaste.  Apricot season is short but intense, leaving one with a frantic need to quickly do something with a lot of apricots.  Apricots are my very favorite fruit, but one can only eat so many. So, yes, yesterday I made yet another batch of  jam.   And then I also made a batch of Apricot Chutney.  My mother made this every year when I was a child.  I have only one apricot tree, but the house where I grew up came with about six.  Sort of an embarrassment of riches.  This chutney smells wonderful as it cooks, instantly taking me back to my childhood summers, where the kitchen was hot, the windows were flung wide, and chopped apricots, onions, and limes, as well as little piles of chilies and raisins, covered the counters.  This is a spicy chutney,  and it goes well with Indian food, as well as with your average roasted chicken or grilled pork tenderloin.  Chutney is so much easier than jam–no skimming the foam, no water bath needed. It’s a nice change from Major Grey, and makes a good Christmas gift, too.  So here you go.

Chutney in progress

Apricot Chutney    

makes 4 pints (or 8 half pints)

1 cup sugar

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup cider vinegar

1 Tbl. minced fresh ginger

1 tsp. allspice

1 tsp dry mustard

Dash ground cloves

3 small dried chile peppers, crushed

1 small whole lime, finely chopped (peel and all)

1/2 cup chopped onion

1 cup raisins

1 clove garlic, minced

Chutney complete!

4 lbs. pitted apricots, cut into 1/2″ pieces

Put all ingredients except apricots in a large pan and bring to a boil.   Add apricots and bring mixture back to the boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring often to prevent sticking.  Ladle into hot sterilized jars and seal with hot sterilized lids and rings.  Yup, that’s it.  We’re done.  This recipe is from the ’60s–feels very M.F.K. Fisher, n’est-ce pas?

Father’s Day Gift Idea (and a menu)

Funny Ladies

I love being made to laugh.  You don’t necessarily have to tell me jokes, although that’s good too.  I like a slightly puzzled look at the world, some bemusement in my amusement.  I guess it all just boils down to seeing the funny side of things.  I just finished reading Tina Fey‘s new (well, only) book, Bossypants. I chuckled a lot and occasionally laughed out loud, like when she talks about puberty and being given the requisite pamphlet “with the vaguely threatening title, ‘Growing Up and Liking It.'”  There are a lot of theater camp memories, and family musings, including this one: “How can I give [my daughter] what [my father] gave me?  The gift of anxiety.  The fear of getting in trouble.  The knowledge that while you are loved, you are not above the law.  The Worldwide Parental Anxiety System is failing if this many of us have made sex tapes.”

There are bad haircuts and a disastrous honeymoon cruise.  She talks about photo shoots, which really are as glamorous as they seem, and are,  as she says, the FUNNEST.  “Some photographers are compulsively effusive.  ‘Beautiful.  Amazing.  Gorgeous!  Ugh, so gorgeous!’ they yell at shutter speed.  If you are anything less than insane, you will realize this is not sincere.  It’s hard to take because it’s more positive feedback than you’ve received in your entire life thrown at you in fifteen seconds.  It would be like going jogging while someone rode next to you in a slow-moving car, yelling, ‘Yes!  You are Carl Lewis!  You’re breaking a world record right now.  Amazing!  You’re going very fast, yes!'”  And then, with the usual foot in reality, it all comes crashing down:  “With the wind blowing on your long extensions, you feel like Beyonce.  The moment the wind machine stops, you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and wonder,’Why is the mother from Coal Miner’s Daughter here?'”

There’s lots more, all of it interesting and lots of it funny.  She talks about her co-stars through the years, the struggles of women in television and in business in general, she talks about parenting and about the future.  Highly enjoyable.  And she dedicates it to her mother, noting that “I made this for you out of macaroni.”

The next funny lady that I love is Ann Hodgman.  Her books are for children, and while sweet and mildly amusing, they don’t make me guffaw.  What does tickle me, though, are her recipes.  I have two of her cookbooks, Beat This and Beat That.  The directions for chicken gravy (which, by the way, is do-ahead [woo-hoo!], very good, and also works for turkey) include the following:  “When the stock has reduced enough, pour it through a strainer lined with a clean dishtowel into another saucepan. (If I were you I’d wait til no one was looking and just throw away the dishtowel when I was done with it.)  Check the seasoning.  If there’s still lots of time before your chicken or turkey is done, let the stock cool.  If it’s time to take the damn thing out of the oven, keep the stock warm.  Transfer the bird to another plate, cover it with foil, and keep it warm. Call out nervously to your guests that everything is fine.”  That paragraph alone makes Beat This one of my favorite cookbooks.

Roz Chast‘s cartoons make me laugh a lot.  The Bad Mom trading cards are my favorite.    Sadly, I have committed several of the sins enumerated herein.

I have books I turn to like I turn to comfort food, and two of my favorite authors are Jean Kerr and Betty MacDonald.  They are exasperated by their families (but there is also no doubt how much they love them) and their annoyance is our gain.  Both are funny ladies.  You may have trouble finding these books–they’re old, maybe out of print, but the library should have them. Try and giggle about something today.

Here I Go Again…

Before we start to discuss my latest diet, would you like to finish humming that  Whitesnake song?  Are you imagining Tawny Kitaen doing the splits on the hood of a Jaguar?

It’s fine, I’ll wait.  Okay, you good?  Alright.  I’m not here to discuss Tawny Kitaen, or even hair bands of the 80’s.  Rather, I am here to discuss weight loss.  Here I go again, starting a new regime.  I had some slimming success a while ago, and now I have eaten myself right out of that success.  So I am back to work.  (Sidebar discussion:  when do I get to stop trying to lose weight?  Can I be squishy and dumpy when I’m, say, 68?  73?)  I’m on the usual plan of limiting flour and sugar, and any day now I’m going to start exercising.  This morning I went to the library and did what I always do when I start a diet–I got a stack of cookbooks with names like Amy’s Bakery, and Deep Dark Chocolate. Apparently I like to make myself struggle. But this time I am trying something new–it’s called Stickk.com.  You go to the website, and make a commitment to do something–it doesn’t have to be weight loss.  Then you can sign up a referee who will make sure you don’t cheat, or you can do the honor system.  You can let your friends know you are doing it.  It’s all a little bit of added incentive.  But the kicker comes with the last step:  you choose who will get your money if you don’t meet your weekly weight loss goal!  The recipients of that money are known as “anti-charities.”  I mean, you can give money through this program to a charity that you like, but I don’t find that terribly motivating.  Knowing that if I don’t meet my weight loss goal this week, the William J. Clinton Presidential Library will get money from me is very annoying and thus highly motivating.  The site was founded by Yale econ and management professors who studied the effectiveness of “commitment contracts,” in terms of getting people to save money.  Turns out commitment contracts work really well for everything!  The fact that not only will I have to PAY if I don’t make my goals, but I will have to pay to something I would never give money to is keeping me on the straight and narrow.  So I have a goal, I have a deadline, I have financial ramifications.  When I achieve my goal, I’ll post a picture of myself doing splits on the hood of a Jaguar.

Cookbook Review: Food Network Magazine Great Easy Meals

I have what some may call an addiction to cookbooks.  I am somewhat powerless to resist them.  Making space for books is always important in our house, but at the same time, I don’t want to feel that I’m drowning in them.  Too messy.  I am getting ready to purge my books of the regrettably purchased, seldom opened tomes lurking about my shelves so that the double stacking can stop.  It makes me crabby.  I go to the library and get cookbooks now, with the intent of copying the few recipes that I am interested in, rather than buying the whole book and thus losing shelf space to something mediocre.  Sometimes, though, I can’t help myself.  If I have so many Post-its sticking out of the top of the book to mark pages I want to copy, I figure it is more cost effective (within reason) to go and buy the damned book instead of using up lots of ridiculously pricey printer ink.  The latest addition to be deemed worthy of purchase is Food Network Magazine Great Easy Meals. 

The Food Network website is a great resource for recipes and how-to information.  Their magazine is good too, although I do a fair amount of weeding out of the recipes published therein.  The cookbook, however, has done the weeding for me.  Everything I’ve tried so far has been very good, with minimal tweaking (but I always tweak recipes, so I don’t count that as a strike against it). The nice thing, also, is that the recipes really are very easy.  When I sit down with several cookbooks and plan out my menus and shopping list for the week I often have delusions of grandeur.  “Why, yes, I think making my own pasta (or tortillas or pita bread or…) on a Wednesday night will be completely doable!”  And then Wednesday night rolls around and I’ve been at a child’s sporting event until much later than expected, and so it’s quesadillas on store-bought tortillas (which, don’t get me wrong, are delicious).  So having these recipes that are quick and easy but also delicious (and made without a drop of cream of mushroom soup) is awfully helpful.  I even made the grilled Rosemary-Mustard Pork Tenderloin with Peaches for a special birthday dinner for company.  So easy, no stress, delicious.

It’s good to have a go-to source that is reliable, and that gives me (and my family) a change of pace.  So far I’ve made the pork above twice, Spicy Chinese Beef, Chicken Korma, the roasted asparagus, and Pork Tenderloin with Eggplant Relish (which was spicy and made with Japanese eggplant, which I would never normally buy, and which even the anti-veggie delegation happily ate, although, to be fair, said delegation may not have known it was eggplant…).  Everything is very flavorful, it’s on the table quickly, and ingredients are easily obtained.  The only quibble I have is the “kitchen tips from the stars” that are touted on the cover.  You’d think that meant some…uh…kitchen tips, just say, but not so much.  Melissa D’Arabian telling us how great it is to cook with kids, Ellie Krieger reminiscing about her daughter recognizing the smell of basil on a bus, Guy Fieri building a second kitchen at his house–I’m sorry, I don’t care.  But really, that’s a small complaint, and a very small part of the book.

I see no reason why the rest of the recipes in Food Network Magazine Great Easy Meals won’t be every bit as delicious as the ones I’ve tried so far.  On Amazon.com it is less than $15, and it is well worth the money.

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