Cooking With Botox! (Part 2)

Previously on Cooking With Botox!, we covered the amazing fresh tomato sauce and mentioned that we canned it, mostly successfully.* I took lots of photos of the sauce making process, even edited them a little to improve my craptastic photography skills, and then dropped the ball completely when it came to documenting the canning process. Of course I did.

But! In an effort to document everything in case I ever decide to try this again (or, you know, just to prove that I actually did this once in my life), I made some jam yesterday and canned that too. Yes, I realize -- my marbles, I have lost them.

Onward! To nectarine jam! I love peaches most of all, but nectarines are delicious too, and as was pointed out in Canning for a New Generation, you don't have to peel nectarines. Sign me up!

I pretty much followed the recipe provided in Canning for a New Generation, which called for 4 lbs. of nectarines, 1 1/2 cups of sugar, and 3 tbsps of lemon juice. The notes mentioned how delicious throwing in some vanilla beans can be, so in went a half of a bean, split. Also, to make this as peach pie like as possible, I threw in a couple of shakes of cinnamon. It simmered for an hour or so, and looked and smelled AMAZING at this point.

Good, right? Here's the thing: it never really gelled, which is totally my fault. The recipe didn't call for pectin, but I bought it just in case, and then promptly forgot all about it. GENIUS. Anyway, it's more of a nectarine syrup with fruit. Tasty, sure, but I wouldn't necessarily spread it on toast. Moving on...

Ok! Time to can! So, did I ever tell you about when we renovated our kitchen? I desperately wanted to upgrade to a gas stove, but the gas line enters our house in the back, services the laundry and HVAC and dead ends there. The cheapest estimate we got to run a gas line into the kitchen was $4200, and that did not include repairing any of the drywall that they would be ripping out along the length of our family room ceiling, into the foyer, up the stairwell, and into the kitchen. HAAA, NO. As a result, I have a ceramic topped electric stove, which works well enough in general, but happens to be the one surface with which the cheap canning pots are not compatible. I was certainly not shelling out for a more expensive canner, therefore, this is my setup:
Elvis, is that you? "In the ghet-toooo..."
I was dubious, and it took awhile to come to a full, rolling boil, but it worked. (JOY.) So here's what I did:
I assembled clean jars in the canning rack...
...and dropped them into the simmering water bath for 10 minutes to sterilize.
At the same time, the lids and rings simmered on the stove.
Time to fill the jars. They were pretty tiny, so the funnel I used for the tomato sauce seemed a little much; I just tried to ladle carefully. Next, I used a wooden skewer to break up any air bubbles. (This seems to be the only thing I didn't photograph.)
I used a clean towel to wipe the rim of the jar, because apparently the food residue can prevent the jars from sealing.
Carefully fish a lid out of the hot water, trying to avoid sticking your finger in there too. Not that I did this myself, noooo.
Gently drop the lid onto the jar, making sure the gummy seal is positioned properly.
Fish a ring out of the hot water and drop it onto the jar, trying not to shove the lid out of place. Tighten the ring loosely, just as much as you can do using only your fingers.
Arrange the filled jars on the rack and gently lower the rack into the water.
Cover the pot and let it come to a rolling boil before you begin timing the processing. The recipe called for 5 minutes, but let's be honest, it was probably more like seven over here. (See: fear of killing loved ones with my cooking.)
Using jar lifters, remove the jars to a clean towel. Ideally, they would sit untouched for 24 hours, but here in my, um, let's call it an "outdoor kitchen," I used a towel covered baking sheet so that I could move them back into the house.
Luckily, within minutes of pulling the jars from the water bath, I was treated to a chorus of popping lids, sealing themselves onto all 12 jars. Hooray! We're going to have to start eating more blue cheese, biscuits, and other things you'd put syrup-y fruit on.

*You know, for now. We'll see if anyone dies after eating it.

Cooking With Botox! (Part 1)

You guys, I seem to have lost my mind and all semblance of youth: I HAVE TAUGHT MYSELF HOW TO CAN THINGS.

It all started so innocently. A couple of years ago, I started tossing all of my plastic containers in favor of glass. I started buying mason jars for storage of leftovers, freezer items, etc., because they were so much cheaper than my beloved Glasslock containers. Mark started talking about the strawberry jam his mother used to make. Then I started noticing a huge uptick in canning supply sales during my shifts at the store. Finally, on one of my trips to the Cape, my mom made tomato salad with Cape tomatoes, which are spectacular. I dreamed of loading up the car with them and making sauce at home, squirreling it away for dark winter nights. On my next trip up, I did indeed load up with tomatoes, and I did make the most amazing fresh tomato sauce, but I took the easy road (i.e. my usual road) and stuck the jars in the freezer. At that point, though, I resolved to figure this canning thing out, botulism be damned. I bought "Canning for a New Generation" and the Ball Blue Book (tell me my husband is not the only one to snicker at that title).

Between the two books, I was feeling pretty confident that I could figure it out, which was pretty convenient, as my sister called the next day to see if I wanted to split a 25 lb. box of tomato seconds from the farm share that delivers to her office. I said yes and made her promise to do the canning with me, and that was it -- no turning back.

My sister came over on Saturday morning and we got to work. We were working with (unbelievably delicious) Roma tomatoes, and we wanted to do a roasted tomato sauce. We decided to cut the tomatoes into quarters or sixths, depending upon the size, and toss them onto baking sheets with thin wedges of sweet onion and smashed garlic cloves. We kept the seasonings simple -- salt, pepper, and a drizzle of really good olive oil -- and roasted at 400 until everything was caramelized and delicious looking. (Oh my GOD, I wish you all could have smelled my house that day. INSANE.)
Core, slice, slice, slice, slice, slice...
...scoooop and transfer...
...season and grease 'em...
(the first of maaaany batches)
...and then roast. Can you smell this? HEAVEN.
Please try to refrain from eating them straight off the sheet. (This will be harder than you anticipate.)
Once the tomatoes were roasted, we scooped them into a large stockpot. We were staring at the baking sheets, trying to decide whether they were cool enough to lick the caramelized juices right off of them, when it hit us: 
Deglaze that shit, yo.
I grabbed a bottle of wine from the fridge and we threw the baking sheets right on the stove. Each sheet got a nice splash of wine, we scraped up all of the deliciousness, and then into the pot of tomatoes it went. Then it was time to blend:
We used an immersion blender and it was perfect -- quick and easy, with almost no clean up. We blended as we added each batch and it resulted in a really nice, smooth texture. It was so delicious that we really had no choice other than to stop for a lunch break:
Now, we had originally planned to get the whole project done in one day, but life kind of got in the way. My brother in law had made plans for the afternoon, so my sister had a hard stop time of 2:45. We managed to get the sauce completed and started to clean up the spectacular disaster that was my kitchen:
The Aftermath

This was the end of Day 1, though, and being the appallingly bad documentarian I am, I forgot to pack up the camera for canning day. I know, right? USELESS. Here's what we did in a quick run down:
  • Simmered the sauce so it would be hot going into the jars.
  • Brought the canning pot and a small saucepan to a 180 degree simmer. The jars went into the canner and the lids/rings went into the saucepan for 10 minutes to sterilize.
  • We pulled the jars out of the water bath and lined them up on a clean towel. Each jar got a 1/4 tsp. scoop of citric acid powder.
  • Using a large funnel, we ladled the sauce into each jar, leaving 1/2" headroom. 
  • Each jar got a thorough swiping with a wooden skewer to break up any air bubbles and stir up the citric acid, and the rim of each jar was wiped with a clean cloth.
  • Using the little magnet wand tool, we fished the lids out of the water bath and applied them to the tops of each jar. Next we fished out the rings and closed them gently to hold the lids in place. 
  • Finally, the jars were loaded into the canning rack and gently lowered into the water bath. Once the water came back up to a violently rolling boil, we started timing the processing. The tomato sauce recipes called for 35 minutes, but we left them for closer to 40 (better safe than sorry?).
11 out of 12 jars sealed, which is a pretty solid first effort, in my opinion. And! It went so well, in fact, that I decided to try my hand at jam, and I even managed to capture both the cooking AND the canning phases this time. Spoiler alert: the jam did not thicken as I had anticipated, but it's tasty. I'm thinking it might be nice in place of honey on biscuits or spooned over a really piquant blue cheese.
I'll report back soon.

But I would be proud to partake of your pecan peach pie...

As a kid, I was really lucky to grow up in a large, close extended family. My mom's parents lived in the next town over; my dad's parents lived less than ten minutes away in our town. My aunts and uncles were, with a couple of exceptions, all in the Boston area. My parents were each the eldest of their siblings, and they were pretty young when they married and had me, so I had a gift that's pretty rare these days -- four young, relatively healthy, happily involved grandparents with whom I spent time regularly. I had all four grandparents well into my high school years, and only lost my mom's parents in late college/grad school. (We still have my wee grandma, thank god -- 88 years and 88 lbs. of pure dogged determination, that one.)

Anyway, as a result, I have so, so many memories of my grandparents, including this one that makes me chuckle every summer. I was probably 10 or 12 at the time, and my mom had made a late summer peach pie. We brought it over to my grandparents' house to share, and all through dessert, my grandpa couldn't stop proclaiming, "I LOVE peach pie!" He was so effusive that even my grandmother, who has never said an unkind word in her life, was rolling her eyes by the time we were done. I can't eat peach pie without thinking of him, and oh what I would give to hear that exuberant fruit-inspired joy again. I can't though, so once a year-ish, I venture into the terrifying world of pastry (GAH) and make one hell of a peach pie just because.

This year, I was inspired by Deb over at Smitten Kitchen. She posted about a super basic, no frills peach pie, and I was on board after the first photo. Well, sort of. I had some serious agita (we are talking about my Italian grandpa here) about the crust. You see, I SUCK at pie crust. I always over work it, or let it get too warm, and I end up with a tough mess, despite using absurd amounts of butter. My crust is never, ever flaky. I RUIN FLOUR AND BUTTER, YOU GUYS. I have used the frozen stuff before, but it has a distinct Not Good Taste to it. It's a conundrum, no? I talked to one of the chefs at work, and she suggested using booze in place of water when making the crust, because you have the liquid to work with when you're making the dough, but where the booze has alcohol, more of your liquid is going to evaporate in cooking, thereby leaving your pastry flakier. This sounds like a very plausible theory, and I was all set to try it (um, hello -- peach pie in a smoky bourbon crust?).


I can't remember who suggested it, but I would like to kiss their face. Trader Joe's! They make frozen crust, and it is DELIGHTFUL. Flaky, lightly sweet, almost reminiscent of a shortbread flavor in the best of buttery ways, and 100% lacking in the Not Good Taste. I still need to figure out pie crust for myself (Grandma's dogged determination lives on!), but in the meantime? Man, is this good.

Here's what I did:

1.) I bought some lovely smelling, but not quite ripe, peaches and stuck them in a brown paper bag for two days. They were perfect and ready to bake with after that. I used seven, which was fine, but next time I would use a few more.
2.) I peeled the peaches by hand, because I have never trusted the "drop in boiling water" method. Do not as I did; I tried the boiling water method with tomatoes, and HOO BOY, is that easier. Regardless, peel your peaches, slice them thinly, and give them a nice squirt of lemon.
3.) Add the rest of the filling ingredients. I used 1/4 c white sugar, 1/3 c brown sugar, 1/4 tsp of cinnamon (nutmeg is an abomination), 1/8 tsp table salt, and cornstarch to thicken. For the cornstarch, I started with 2 tbsps, and kept adding until it felt right. I think I ended up between 3-4 tbsps total.
4.) Once the filling was ready to go, I placed the defrosted crust into my pie plate, pricking the bottom for no reason other than it's what I remember my mom doing. I have no idea if this is actually necessary. I scooped the filling in and flopped the other piece of crust on top, looping the top crust around the edge of the bottom and squeezing them together. I cut little slits in the top of the crust, then gave it a swipe of cream I had in the fridge. The final touch was a sprinkling of turbinado sugar. It did not look so hot at this point...
5.) I set the oven to 425 (although it desperately needs to be calibrated, so who the hell knows what it actually baked at), popped the pie on a foil lined sheet, and into the oven it went for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, I dropped the temperature to 375 (or whatever my oven considers 375 to be) and covered the edges with foil to keep them from getting too brown. It baked for another 30 minutes, at which point I removed the foil edge wrappers, and let it brown up for another 10 minutes or so. I called it done once it was all golden and gorgeous looking.

I probably should have held off a bit longer before digging in, but I simply do not possess that kind of willpower. I knew it was going to be a big puddle of mess, but I went for it anyway, and OH. MY. GOD. Even Mark, who claimed to dislike pie (I know, right? INSANITY ABOUNDS), is a convert. After inhaling a healthy slice worth right from the pan, he was all, "Huh, I guess I like pie!" You think?


What a difference a day makes...

Well, I am thirty-three today, you guys. Almost exactly officially thirty-three; I was born at 1:51 pm, and it's 1:50 as I'm writing this. I have never really been bothered by birthdays (it's better than the alternative, am I right?), but despite having a pleasant little day thus far, I am feeling a bit melancholy.

I think it's mostly because birthdays seem to be a time to contemplate where you are in your life compared to where your younger self assumed you would be. I am just feeling particularly struck this time around at how things are different from what I had hoped. I should really shut up; in the important ways, I am pretty damn lucky. Mark is so much better than any amorphous "husband" I ever imagined. He drives me absolutely batty sometimes, but I laugh, without exception, EVERY DAY. Usually multiple times every day. I hope I have a bunch of sons as adorable as he, with the same good heart and easygoing nature. I have a fantastic family whom I love spending time with, both in my family of origin and in my inlaws. I am so grateful for the time I get to spend with them, and for the fact that Mark and I both have parents who are healthy and active, and who I pray will stay that way for many, many years to come. I am also blessed to have friends who are so dear to me that they may as well be family, and to have married into an equally great group of friends as well.

All of that there? It is some serious good fortune, so I feel like a whiny d.b. for being stuck on what I don't have. While I think I may be on the cusp of some career goodness, I am decidedly not where I had thought I would be. When I was young, I always imagined myself as a mom. Once I decided on law school, I imagined myself as "v. busy and important," as Bridget Jones would say. Right now, I am neither. While I definitely have some significant baggage about leaving the law firm, and I really wish I had never left my first firm, I am somewhat at peace with the idea that Big Law is not for me. It was not a healthy environment, and it's certainly not my only option. I am not satisfied with the status quo, but I can accept this as a building phase, the tedious part of getting where I want to go. The mom thing is weighing on me, though. That is ... not going so well, and it's frustrating. It did not sound like as big a deal when I was thirty-two, but thirty-three just sounds significantly older, making any issues seem that much more significant as well. I think my frustration is magnified because I feel like it is just wrong for me to have so little control over something so important. (What control issues?) Patience is not my strong suit, so, you know. This kind of sucks.

However, there is certainly way more than enough good to outweigh the bad, so for today? Screw it -- enough moodiness; it's time to focus on celebrating the good. I am making a hair appointment, doing a little shopping, and then meeting Mark for dinner at one of my favorite restaurants. I am one very lucky, albeit ever-so-slightly older, lady.

P.S. Should you need an excuse to raise a glass this evening, I am more than willing to take one for the team. Cheers, all!

We talk about anti-vax parents, but what about my anti-vax DOCTOR?

Well! I am really holding myself to the 'not write'-ing portion of my url, no? We have been home from MA for nearly a month already; so long, in fact, that we're ready to go back. We're heading up on Friday for what is sure to be a busy weekend with not nearly enough beach time. (What is enough, really?) We are driving up on Friday, leaving well before dawn, because we have a Friday night wedding to attend before hitting the Cape.

Also on Friday afternoon, I am stopping in to see my parents' friend, a family practice doctor, because I am so fed up with the situation here. I have a good friend who recently had her second baby. I am so excited and thrilled for her, even more so than usual, as her first son was stillborn at full term. She and her husband and everyone who love them were understandably gutted, so as you might expect, this pregnancy was an exercise in anxiety and patience for her, and the healthy arrival of Baby J was met with resounding joy and relief. The little guy was evicted at 37 weeks on the dot, and where he was a little early and had a second hospital admission shortly after his initial discharge, his pediatrician and parents are being extra cautious (rightly so!) and requesting that all visitors be up to date (i.e. within five years) on their pertussis boosters. My friend does not have family in the area, and where her husband has to get back to work and I am often around during the day, she asked if I wanted to hang out and help when I could. (Um, smooshy baby? Hello, OF COURSE.) However, my last vaccinations were 8 1/2 years ago, so I would need a booster first.

Here is where the vaccine troubles came about, and believe me, the issue is not mine. I'm a firm believer in vaccines. Vaccination Is Good! If I were a parent, I would probably try to seek out the doctors who will not accept patients whose parents refuse to vaccinate. You see, in my first legal job, I worked on the autism litigation. I read the vaccine licensing files. There is no conspiracy! Vaccines are not a boon for big pharma at the expense of children! I work in the industry, and big pharma is no saint, but they aren't out to screw us either. (I could go ON, but I'll spare you.) Anyway, I called my doctor to see if I could come in for a booster and explained my (tiny, defenseless newborn) situation. The current pertussis outbreak is the worst in 50 years, so this should be no big deal, right? HA. My doctor refuses to give boosters inside of 10 years, no exceptions, no discussions. I ... whaaa??

I know I received a tetanus shot in January of 2004, because I needed a few shots before I would be allowed to return for my last semester of law school per Washington, D.C., regulations. I remember the tetanus shot because it caused a baseball sized welt to swell on my arm and it hurt like crazy. I'm pretty sure I also started the Hep B series at that point as well. I do not have any written record from this visit though, as I had to turn it in to my school, and didn't think to make a copy. The doctor who administered the vaccines (my parents' friend) only stores inactive records for seven years, and the health records are not part of my student file at the law school (yes, I checked!). I have no way of knowing for sure whether the tetanus shot I received in 2004 contained the pertussis vaccine, but where Tdap was not licensed until 2005 and I was over 19 at the time of my last shots, I'm guessing it was Td and therefore did not contain pertussis.

Per the CDC:

ACIP recommends that if Tdap vaccination status cannot be confirmed with written, dated records, the patient is considered unvaccinated and is therefore eligible to be vaccinated with Tdap. Tdap should be administered regardless of when Td was last received.
  (Emphasis added.)

Despite this, the very best my doctor's office will *begrudgingly* do is a pertussis titer to check my antibody levels. I can go in and pay for an office visit, likely pay for the unnecessary lab testing, wait for the results of the titer, then pay for another office visit when I need the vaccine. Seriously? NO THANK YOU. BUT I WILL TAKE MY RECORDS TO GO, PLEASE.

I am filled with frothy rage over this. I have a specific reason to request a vaccine that I have strong reason to suspect that I actually need, that the CDC recommends a person in my situation receive, and that, on the off chance I do not need it, will not hurt me. I honestly cannot fathom a reason why this would be refused. Is there one I'm missing? Because this seems completely outrageous to me. Cue the ragey rage.

Luckily, I am headed to MA on Friday, and my parents' friend is willing to sneak me in to put an end to this nonsense. (HOORAY.) In the meantime, perhaps I will channel this rage into writing about more interesting things, like all of the ridiculously delicious food I have been making around here, despite the fact that my ass is big enough crush Wisconsin? Just you wait -- stupidly easy peach pie, kielbasa mac & cheese, wild mushroom pizza, backyard basil pesto. Talk soon!