Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Champ of Cherries

Cherry pie in winter: a slice of summer on your plate.

If you've never even considered trying your hand at preserving your own food, I hope this example of deliciousness gets you thinking about it. For just a minute or so. You can go back to your 21st Century life after that.

During our recent match with the Polar Vortex (or, what our grandparents would have simply called "The Winter Season") I found myself perusing my collection of digital memories from last summer. You can imagine the draw they had for me.  I ran across these little gems from cherry picking time on Old Mission Peninsula, Michigan (or, what my grandmother called "The Most Beautiful Place on Earth." Actually, I don't know if she called it that, but I do know she loved Old Mission).  The pictures made me make a pie. The pie made me eat it. I do not regret one moment of the experience.

Here's a step-by-step. 
1. Find some cute kids. I happened to have some of my own sitting in the back seat, along with a handsome nephew with an extra dose of personality. 
2. Convince them that picking produce is fun. For children with an overly-enthusiastic gardener for a father, this may be a test of your powers of persuasion. Remind them that they have never tried picking these fruits before.

3. Set them loose in a grove of cherry trees. Do not give them axes. Do not tell them stories about George Washington.
4. Bring the cherries home. 
5. Wash them under running water. Do not use soap.
6. Eat as many as you'd like. Even though they're not "sweet" cherries, we think they're still pretty yummy.
7. Don't eat the pits. Alternatively, don't break your teeth on the pits.
8. Remove the pits from the cherries you don't plan on eating fresh. Say, "This is the pits!" loudly until someone in the room laughs. It may take several tries to get the correct response. Don't give up. For pitting purposes, I recommend that you use one of these: 
Or one of these:

The fancy-schmancy one comes with German instructions, so you can feel very frau-like.
9. Place pitted cherries in a plastic zipper-topped bag, gently squeezing to remove as much air as possible before sealing the bag.
10. Using a permanent marker, scribble the date on the bag. Toss it in the freezer and forget about it until January when you might need a reminder that Summer is for Real.
11. Come January (or earlier, if you like) grab the baggie from freezer, scratch off enough frost to determine that it contains cherries. Thaw a tiny bit on the counter or in the fridge. (This means just leave it alone while the relative warmth of your kitchen works its magic on the frozen fruit. In the deep throes of a polar vortex, you may wait a while for your kitchen to be "warm.")
12. Bake cherry-themed dessert of your choice. I recommend pie because it's from heaven. If you think you don't like cherry pie, it's probably because you've never had it made from cherries you picked yourself in the height of summer. It's the real stuff.

 Why aren't you eating real stuff?

P.S. - I don't usually make my own pie crust because I'm not as good at it as the people at Pillsbury. I still feel like a champ; A Pie Eating Champ.
P.P.S. - Leftover fruit pie for breakfast is practically health food. I promise.
P.P.P.S. - My husband thought he didn't like cherry pie, but that's because he doesn't like that stuff that comes in a can. He changed his mind and helped me eat the leftovers for breakfast. It was worth getting up before the kids.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Uncivilized Tundra

It's been Happy New Year for nine days now.
And Happy Snowed In for nearly that long, I think. That part of my mind that records the regular passage of time has sort of slipped off its track a bit.

Who was it that wasn't ready for Christmas break to be over?
Oh yes, that was me.
For the most part, I have enjoyed this little house-bound spell with the aftermath of a blizzard.  The first couple of days I ventured out to the barn to do the kids' chores because it was my chance to play Arctic Explorer meets Dr. Zhivago. Plus, I found a ski mask that made me feel like a hot criminal. Not really. I mean, yes, I found a ski mask, but no, I didn't feel hot. Just regular criminal.

Poor frozen Norah holds a poor frozen bird.  Willa thought we should save it for decoration.
Somewhere along the way, we discovered that we had a formerly frozen pipe. It was easy to pinpoint the location as we had a mini waterfall wake us in the middle of the night.

After we had sopped up the flood and reburied ourselves beneath a pile of scratchy wool blankets and heavy comforters, the Man of the House remarked, "I guess I'll call [the plumber who I hope doesn't have the Internets] tomorrow."
I didn't respond verbally. Lack of communication usually means I'm dead, as I have a genetic ability to carry on my half of a conversation (and a portion of your share too) in my sleep. But this time my words were simply frozen with shock.
"Someone else in our house? An outsider? A non-relative? A repair man?!?" [These are my un-voiced thoughts. You can tell because they're in italics.]
"So maybe you could clean up the basement a little. So he can get to the things he needs to," my escaping-from-the-house-returning-to-work-the-next-day-husband continued.

"The basement? That part of our house that I pretend doesn't exist?" 
Hesitantly, I cleared my throat. 
"Well, why would he have to go to the basement?  The leak is up here, in our bedroom." 
"In fact, the leak is behind our bed. The other part of our house that I have intentionally forgotten." 
"Because he has to get to the [element of household equipment whose name I can't remember because it lives in the basement.] So maybe just clear a path to that."

 Now this [plumber who I hope doesn't have the Internets] is a very nice man. Middle-bordering-old aged, small, quiet, unassuming, extremely nice. He's so nice that I feel uncomfortable with my personality when I'm around him. I feel uncomfortable with my personality when I just think about him from a safe distance.
I also get the feeling that he probably lives in a very clean house, with a basement that could be mistaken for living space.

I do not live in a very clean house. I live with five children, all of whom seem decidedly anti-clean.  During this period of snowed-innishness, my facebook friends  (those true sources of encouragement and fellowship) have been neatly divided into two categories:
1. All [hashtag] snowed-in so we'll make snow-related crafts, create food out of snow, play snowman charades, bake snowman shaped cookies and cinnamon rolls, and in many other ways entertain our children with meaningful, engaging activities.
2. All [hashtag] snowed-in so I'm cleaning my house from top-to-bottom.

 In other words, I need new facebook friends. Ones that fit into my category:
1. [no hashtag] Snowed-in with five children so I'm compulsively eating. And hiding.

I gave my children siblings so that I wouldn't have to entertain them myself. And I don't clean so much as pick up messes, which is usually the precursor to cleaning. In my case, it's just the precursor to picking up more messes.  But threatened by the "sometime this afternoon" arrival of the painfully nice [plumber who I hope doesn't have the Internets], I cleaned. And then I entertained my children all by myself.
I didn't exactly clean as if I were expecting guests, because guests come to the civilized places: living room, dining room, kitchen and (when no one is looking) bathroom.  Repair persons seek out the uncivilized places: basements and behind bedroom furniture. It's not that I wouldn't like to bring civilization to those places, but I feel as though we must provide a habitat for spiders and dust bunnies. They were here before we were. We're visitors in their environment.

With total lack of compassion for the spider and [dust] bunny ecology, I dusted out the space behind our bed and sorted out the things hiding beneath. The sorting was a bonus, because I'm fairly sure none of the heating pipes tunnel under the floorboards.  The bonus sorting revealed that I have a lot of shoes.  I wouldn't say I have a shoe buying problem, just a shoe throwing away problem.
With similar regardless-ness, I cleared a path to where I think the [plumber who I hope doesn't have the Internets] will have to visit in the basement. Of course, I didn't do anything about the stored toys that the snowed-in children had discovered and strewn about the cellar. I just concentrated my efforts on the room where the furnace and its friends live.  Which means I found myself sorting mason jars in the middle of the afternoon.

Once I had brought a small semblence of order to these hidden places of our house, the children and I ventured out on the frozen pond so they could play Arctic explorer (no Dr. Zhivago yet) and not make more messes.  I am a teensy bit nervous around frozen ponds, not just for the slip-and-slide factor, but for the break-through-the-ice-and-drown factor.  But it turns out that prolonged periods of well-below freezing temperatures freezes more than birds.  Willa was a little concerned about the "freeze bite" she'd heard about on the radio, but everyone returned inside with all their fingers and toes intact.
I like to think those frozen bubbles are from the fishes' New Years Eve celebrations.
After all that effort, plus some more that I don't remember, Mr. [plumber who I hope doesn't have the Internets] never showed up. So unless I provide further non-sibling entertainment, or introduce them to Dr. Zhivago, my snowed-in children will find these new places to scatter puzzle pieces, Lego sets and baby doll paraphernalia: around the furnace and behind my bed.