Living La Vita Locale: Plums

When I was little, I remember going to this farm stand on Route 130, on the North-bound side, that we accessed from a dirt driveway off of New Albany Rd.  I don’t know who owned the farm, but the driveway cut through fields of vegetables.  The thing I remember most was when the corn was there.  It could be the hottest of hot afternoons, and my mom would pull into that driveway and the corn towering up on either side created this shady lane.  There were trees toward the back of the property and at a certain point in the summer, there were little boxes of plums.  They were very dark red and the flesh was red on the very outside, but turned to bright yellow closer to the pit.  They were sweet and tart and I loved them.

One day, I was out walking one of the dogs and I saw all of these plums all over the ground and I thought, ‘Oh, how sad.  Someone dropped their plums.’  The next day, another neighbor asked me if I thought the guy who lived in the house was ever going to pick the plums.  I looked up from the fruit carnage and saw this little plum tree that was heavy with fruit.  We left a note in his mailbox, and he responded that we could pick the fruit.  So we did.

I dried some, made fruit leather out of some, and ate some fresh.  The next year, my neighbor had moved away, so I picked plums, more plums than I knew what to do with – dried a lot, made a lot of fruit leather, and then started experimenting with Plum Sauce.  This version is very good for quick Sweet and Sour sauce of an Asian-inspired flavor on chicken or pork, works as a dipping sauce for Chinese dumplings, and a base for Barbeque Sauce and Steak sauce (think that kind that has a letter and a number in the name).

Plum Sauce

  • 4 lbs. of plums, pitted and chopped
  • 1 C cider vinegar
  • 1 ½ C honey
  • ½ C molasses
  • 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, minced fine (you can cut back on this if you aren’t that fond of ginger)
  • 1 T salt
  • 1 t mustard
  • 2 jalapenos (seeded or not, depending on how hot you like things)
  • 1 C chopped onion
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  1. Combine all of the ingredients EXCEPT the plums in a large pot.  Bring to a boil and boil hard 1-2 minutes.  Reduce the heat and add the plums.  Cook until the mixture is thick and syrupy, about 1 ½ hours.
  2. Prepare canning jars according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  3. Ladle plum sauce into prepared jars and process for 20 minutes.

This yields about 4 pints, but I generally process it in ½ pint jars because I usually use a cup at a time.

How can I use this?

Chicken or pork glaze, mix the sauce with an equal amount of soy sauce.

Quick BBQ Sauce, use ½ C Plum sauce, ½ C ketchup, ¼ C soy sauce, and 1 T of bourbon.

Steak sauce, use ½ C Plum Sauce, ½ C ketchup and 1 T of Worcestershire Sauce.

The Right to Hate

As an educator, I was taught to keep my political views to myself, that pushing my personal political agenda, or a personal religious agenda, is an abuse of my power as an educator. I whole-heartedly believe this.  Teachers don’t necessarily think of themselves in “the power position,” but they are and that is why so many people take issues with educators.  Teachers have the power to change the way another person thinks.  Usually that change in thought process remains in the realm of new ways to solve a problem, or understanding the way the environment works, but sometimes a student sees the world in a different way.  While that is amazing and wonderful on the one hand, on the other hand, the questions must be asked, “Have I changed the student to be more like me?  Is the influence, the change in perspective, making the student think the way I think?”  That is power: the ability to make people think the same way you do.

My a-politicalness became a habit.  My Facebook friends can verify that I rarely post anything politically or religiously critical – the occasional Moses meme around Passover, maybe, but that’s about it.  But after the pronouncement by the President of the United States defending Nazi’s and the KKK and White Supremacy, the famous Edmund Burke quote kept running through my head, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [people] to do nothing.”  OK, so Burke was an 18th Century privileged white guy.  And I changed the word “men” that is actually in the quote to “people.”  But Burke was a member of British Parliament under King George III.  Does that ring a bell, King George III? This country fought its first war, an insurgency against that King and his country, in order to revolutionize how government worked and began this great American Experiment.  And Burke spoke out against the King because George III had taken actions that were in direct contrast to the British Constitution.  Burk felt that the actions of the King were unconstitutional.

I think back to one of my favorite moments as a teacher.  It was 15ish years ago.  The student was the first Muslim girl I had in class who chose to cover herself.  She was very bright, very opinionated, and very good at supporting her arguments.  She sat in my classroom, always questioning, always dubious of what I was saying.  As the year went on, we continually challenged each other.  As an English teacher, where so many things can be debatable, this was great.  I loved it because I could always count on her to get the class discussion moving.  The last day of class, as she was getting ready to leave, she turned around to me and said, “I never thought a Muslim girl like me could have so much love for a Jewish woman like you.”  Just typing that now brought back the initial sense of shock of that statement coming out of her mouth.  I had never considered that any of what I had assumed was intellectual doubt may have been connected to a deeper, more insidious reason: I am Jewish, she is Muslim, and she was brought up to believe that Jews are the enemy.  I was a naïve 40.  I have no idea where she is now.  And I changed the way she thought, which I sometimes think is good – tolerance is not enough, we must learn to understand one another.  Sometimes I think it is bad, because who was I to influence her in such a way?  And I justify it to myself by saying, “It was not my intention to make her change her perspective.”

A new set of Heineken commercials is set to air this fall.  Have you seen the trailer for them?  They are about coming together and understanding that we have differences.  A society overcomes individual differences for the good of the group.  That’s the whole group.  And, sure, someone once told me that I am so far left (Alt-Left?) that I smell like a Socialist (which was funny, although I don’t quite know what it means, and it isn’t completely accurate) because I believe in helping others rise up.  I believe in raising my children, all of them – biological, by marriage, educational, and not just watching them get older.   A peer once asked how I can be so liberal and still have such strong family values.  I don’t know why people see believing in helping others rise up and having my family as my life priority are mutually exclusive, but for a while there, the political spin-masters would have the public believe that.

I am not some lovey-dovey-the-world-is-all-rainbows-and-unicorns kind of person.  There are things I dislike and things I hate.  And people, too.  Please be honest.  I am reading things on Facebook right now about not hating and how this one doesn’t hate and that one doesn’t use the word hate and tells her children not to use the word hate.  But it comes out of all of our mouths. I have unfriended people on Facebook, stopped following people on Twitter, stopped communicating with people in the real world, sometimes because I get tired of the politics, or the religion, but mostly the self-righteousness.  As soon as I assert that I am somehow above all of this, that I am somehow better, I become a part of this problem.  I, too, have hated.  I, too, am a part of the problem.

And I don’t know who did what in Charlottesville, because I wasn’t there.  But in this media age, there are a lot of videos and a lot images to sort through, which I did.  I have read many articles from a variety a news sources – which is my habit.  Of all of the video clips I watched, the President’s speech was the most disturbing.  These demonstrators were Nazi’s.  They were KKK members.  The Nazis LOST World War II.  The South LOST the Civil War.  Civil Rights PASSED.  If someone is looking for Divine Justice, why would that Creator have let those outcomes arise?  Nazis killed members of my family, although they used the word exterminate because to them the members of my family were vermin.  It is hard to give them a “pass” and not hate.  In my opinion, “very fine people” do not join with those who can look at another person and think, ‘you are less than human.’

And I say that as someone who has taught thousands of students.  In that thousands of students, there have been those who I did not like, those who I can say I hated.  I’ve had books thrown at me, desks flipped, I have been told I am the worst teacher ever; I had a student say, “Suck my dick.” But among the students I hated were not the Muslim girl, or even the Holocaust Denier.

I may look white to you, but I am not.  I did a DNA test.  I am 94% Eastern European Jew.  And Jews are not white.  Sure my skin is light, and my eyes are blue, and my nose is small, but my DNA tells the real story.  And that other 6%? Indian, Greek, and Gaelic (everyone is a little Irish, right?)  If the Nazis came to my town, right now, they would take my children and me away to a camp.  If the KKK marched through my town, they would burn a cross on my lawn, or maybe lynch me.  I am a mother, wife, school-teacher; I like to garden, preserve food, knit, and write.  I recently got back into running, but let’s face it, at 53, I am not really much of a physical threat.  These groups would have me shot because of the random chance of my DNA (The 2% Indian was a real surprise.  It makes me wonder what DNA surprises might lurk in these White Supremacists).

I struggle with contempt frequently.  I think we all do.  And if we are being honest, one thing that unites us right now is contempt for those who do not agree with us.  It may be a negative starting point, but it is common ground.  We are Americans.  We feel entitled to our First Amendment Right.  People fought and died for me to have that sense of entitlement.  We have that in common, too, that entitlement.  And as Americans, it is incumbent upon us to remember the words of the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” (emphasis mine)

We are powerless over hate.  It exists in all of us, and all around us.  If we are born for love, in order to understand it, we must accept that its opposite also exists in us.  And, as both sides keep hammering, we are all entitled to our opinions and the First Amendment guarantees my right to have and express that opinion.  But the violence has got to stop.  Violence. Has. Got. To. Stop.  Yes, Black lives matter AND Blue lives matter, because ALL LIFE MATTERS.  Even the life of the person I hate.  I can hate them all I want, but I am outside of my rights to do violence to what I hate.  My pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness cannot infringe on someone else’s pursuits of the same.

Later in the essay by Edmund Burke he says, “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”  Do not be an unpitied sacrifice.  As good people, we need to come together, to work together, to unexpectedly find love in our hearts for those we thought were so different from ourselves. Among my closest friends are people that I am a political polar opposite, but it never once made me stop loving them or consider not being friends with them.  I will be judged by people; I will be hated by people; I will do the same – it is human nature and I make no apologies for being human.  I will be a hypocrite; I am flawed; I will sin because I am not perfect.  But I will try to be more kind.  I will not be violent.  I will not take violent action against another person.

Bottom line: I cannot control hate.  And I will not condone violence, nor the suppression of another because of the random act of DNA.  White supremacists hate people because of their DNA, something they did not choose.  People hate White Supremacists because of their ideology, something that they did choose.

Grilled Dessert Peaches

August is a great time for local produce in New Jersey.  The weather may be oppressive, hot and very humid, lots of 90+ degree days, lots of sun, heavy thunderstorms that don’t cool things off at all.  But the flip side is that this is tomato ripening time and peach ripening time.  These conditions lead to sweet juicy fruit.  Peaches are great in pies, made into jam, lacto-fermented, or home-canned.

Here is an easy and unusual seasonal recipe.  If you are planning to grill your dinner, you can make these wonderful peaches to have for dessert!

  • 6 peaches, halved, pit removed, brushed with 2 T melted butter
  • ½ C brown sugar
  • ¼ C butter
  • 1 t vinegar
  • ¼ C water
  • A  few grains of salt
  1. Place the peaches, cut-side down on a pre-heated (medium) grill. Close the lid and leave to cook for about 5 minutes. Check on the grill marks.  You want the peaches to be dark, but not blackened!  For “criss-cross” marks, rotate the peach half 90 degrees.  When they are done, arrange the cooked peaches on a heatproof platter and let them cool.
  2. In a small pan, combine the remaining ingredients. Heat over medium, until the mixture gets bubbly. Stir carefully and constantly for about 2 minutes.  Removed from heat and pour over the grilled peaches.  Sprinkle each half with a tiny bit more salt.  Let cool.  Serve at room temperature.  If there are any left over, store in the refrigerator, but bring back to room temp to eat.

Not Your Run of the Mill Cucumber Salad

One of the hobbies I have is reading old cookbooks.  I have a review of a classic gem from the 19th Century by Mrs. Owens elsewhere on this site.  I find many interesting recipes and rediscover ideas and solutions to problems that have been long forgotten.  Although sometimes I laugh when I see them on “life hack” links on my social media.  Don’t know what I mean?  Like rubbing a walnut on scratched furniture to make the scratch less noticeable.  So as the cucumbers started filling out on the vines, and piling up at the markets, I went back to an old recipe that I adapted from The Searchlight Cookbook (mine is the 23rd edition, published in 1952). This is not your run of the mill cucumber salad that uses vinegar and onions.

I went back to the original recipe to see how many changes I made, and there were quite a few.  While I was looking through the book, I saw recipes for other cucumber dishes, including scalloped cucumbers and creamed cucumbers, both of which sounded rather unappealing.  But I realized that may be because the only cooked cucumber I ever ate was a pickle.  I might just have to try one of those recipes and get back to you next week. But for now, a really unusual side for a hot summer evening.

Cucumber and Cheese Salad

  • 2 medium cucumbers, cut length-wise, seeded and diced
  • ¾ C sharp cheddar cheese, cubed small
  • ¾ C diced celery
  • 1 C grated carrots
  • 1 sweet pepper, diced
  • 1 jalapeño, diced (optional)
  • ¼ C  relish
  • 1 t salt
  • ¼ to ½ C mayo or creamy dressing, such as the Cooked Dressing below
  1. In a colander, combine the cucumber, celery, carrots, pepper(s), and salt. Put a plate on top and weigh it down to press out some of the water. Let rest for about 20 minutes.  While you are waiting you can make the cooked dressing below.
  2. After 20 minutes, press out as much water as you can. Transfer to a large bowl. Add the cheese, relish and about ½ of dressing (you can use mayo or the dressing below). Toss to combine and evenly distribute the dressing.

Refrigerate until you are ready to serve.

In addition to using this as a side, it makes a great stuffing for fresh tomatoes: cut the tops off and scoop out the seeds.  Fill the cavity with the salad.  A light refreshing lunch or dinner.

Cooked Dressing

(this is good on coleslaw, potato salad, cucumber salad, or a garden salad)

  • 2 eggs, well beaten
  • 1/4 C melted butter
  • 1/2  C white vinegar
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t dry mustard
  • ¼ t paprika
  • 1 T arrowroot powder
  • 2 T honey
  1. In the top of a double boiler, or a metal bowl, combine all ingredients EXCEPT the honey, and mix until it is smooth.
  2. Place the metal bowl on top of a pot of simmering water, being sure that the water is not boiling up to the level of the bottom of the bowl. Stir constantly until it is thick and very smooth. This may take a few minutes.  Be patient.
  3. Remove from the heat and stir in the honey. Adjust for sweet and salt until you achieve the desired balance.
  4. Cool and transfer to a glass jar. Store in the refrigerator.

 

**If you are looking for some old standards as far as cucumber recipes, here are some links to pickles: your standard dills and garlic.

Now Trending: Cold-Brew Coffee

Sometimes things trend for a reason.  Cold-brew coffee.  I never even heard of such a thing until about two years ago.  And upon first hearing, I thought, ‘Ugh.  The next thing.’

Last year, I was giving a class at a venue that required I have lunch with the participants afterwards.  It was a very nice feature because it allowed us to really talk, and gave them time to think about the information.  For my beverage that day I chose iced-coffee, one of my all-time favorite beverages.  I was told that the coffee was cold-brewed.  I said that was fine, although I had no idea what that even meant, just that it was the new thing.  It came in a bottle.  I snickered on the inside.  Coffee in a bottle.  It looked a little pretentious.  But I have to say that was a damn-fine cup of coffee (to paraphrase Agent Dale Cooper, even if I didn’t drink it as black as a moonless night).

One day, I was out to lunch with a friend and once again ordered an iced-coffee, and had a similar experience.  I did a little research, read about the science of coffee, and remembered a few things from my chemistry class: when I make a solution (extracting elements from a solid with water), the temperature of the liquid has a direct impact on the solubility of different compounds in the solid.  I am not completely ditching hot-brew coffee, but the flavor of the cold-brew was different and lovely, so I decided that I would try it at home.  It is very easy to do and produces a really excellent cup of cold coffee.  If you prefer warm coffee, it holds up very well to a gentle heating.

Here’s how to make it:

Put ¾ cup of medium grind coffee (you can use fine grind, but is makes a bit of sediment in the bottom of your coffee that needs to be stirred back in) in a 1-quart jar.  Add 2 cups of water and stir the coffee into the water.  It gets kind of muddy.  Then fill the jar the rest of the way with water.  Let the jar sit on the counter anywhere from overnight to an entire day.  Strain out the coffee grinds.  I use a strainer lined with a piece of old cotton sheet, but you can use a funnel with a coffee filter inside.

This creates a coffee concentrate that should be diluted 1:1 for the best flavor.

I froze some in ice-cube trays and used them to make really great frozen coffee drinks:

Put all of the ingredients in a mini-blender and process until smooth.  Serve right away!

Happy Summer coffee!