Saturday, August 21, 2010

How Friendship Sweetens Everything

As we ate the yummy omelette at Janet's, we talked about canning. Janet does all kinds of pickles, olives and her plum jam is legendary. She gave me a jar last year from small yellow plums that I opened in February, and it got me through the hardest part of winter. Serena had taken Janet and I to a roadside stand in Watsonville that had organic stone fruit. The day we went we found peaches and Black Amber plums. We were all very excited to do a batch of peach and basil preserve, the Patience Gray recipe.

One evening shortly after we had all canned our peaches and basil, Janet called with an idea: nectarine and lemon basil preserve. Janet, an exceptional landscape architect, had some lemon basil in her garden, and nectarines were just coming in to season.

Canning day was bright and sunny with a cool wind rising up off the ocean. We washed our jars, rims and lids, stood side by side and cut up the nectarines, measured out the sugar, and left the sugar and fruit to sit. I went into Janet's garden to take photographs in the late afternoon light. The light was caught in little puddles in the wild rose bush, sifting through the large fig leaves, illuminating arranged still lifes of beach rocks and low round bowls of succulents. Janet called through the kitchen window, "Come look at this!"

Inside, she was transferring the nectarines and sugar into a larger bowl. The bowl was upturned in her hands and the sun through the window illuminated a pool of pink, glistening sugar. Her smile, her rapt attention to this color, this moment, the beautiful confluence of ingredients: this is the presence Janet brings to her life that makes knowing her such a joy.

And this time together will be what I think of when I am home again in my new home, New York. I will recall this memory of California, of the place and the people that I miss so steadily. I will feel my love for my friends, family, place, and the love will fill my heart, like so much glistening, pink sugar in the bottom of the bowl.

Janet's Nectarine and Lemon Basil Preserve:
Use a combination of ripe and slightly under ripe (harder) nectarines. Cut into chunks and put in bowl big enough to mix in sugar. Most canning recipes call for about equal parts sugar to fruit, we used less than that. For each cup of fruit, as 1/3-1/2 cup sugar. For each cup fruit, add two tablespoons lemon juice. Stir this mixture together and let sit overnight in fridge. The next day, cook at a simmer. Gently mash with potato masher. Do not boil or overcook. Leave some nectarine texture. Cook until you see it start to glisten and the fruit is starting to dissolve. You will see the "glisten" moment. It is like the difference between water and frozen water, obvious to the eye. It is then that the fruit and sugar have thoroughly united, or jelled. Swirl in lemon basil, one nice stalk for about four cups of fruit. Place a few leaves in bottom of each jar. Ladle fruit into sterile jars and water bath can for 10 minutes.
Good on toast and with yogurt. And very good with cheese, use it as you would a quince or fig jam with cheese.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Lunchtime Omelette by Janet

Homesick is a word that means more to me as time passes. It is so accurate. Distance from home is an ache, a malady, and in some ways it is also a beautiful gift. I hold my homesickness close to my chest after all these years, I don't cry like I used to at photographs of the ocean and my family. Missing home is something that you have to commune with once in a while, a wound that needs to be acknowledged and cared for, and when you do, there is a great and beautiful reward. The reward is the presence that you then bring when at last, you are home.

When I get home to California, I look forward to the people and places that I love, and I savor my time. All the things that I ache for are suddenly before me and I feel so, so grateful. The Pacific glitters like greatest jewel my eyes know. And my people, friends and family. When I hug my friends and tears rush up, I feel acutely how much I miss home. I miss the tender "ooohh" my friend Janet says when we first embrace. I miss my sister's ability to have a whole conversation while we are still standing in a hug, chins resting on each others shoulders. I miss the way Vanessa likes to hold hands while we walk. I miss the way my mom totally connects with my kids, she knows them as if she sees them everyday. I miss Rosina's laugh, she surrenders to giggle fits and I feel seven again. This is a short list, the people, the web of love and shared history is the gem, the sun at the center of my personal solar system.

The first friend I saw in Santa Cruz was Janet. Coral and I were invited to her house for lunch. She was slicing and stirring while we talked, and we were so happy to see each other again. Her husband Mark came home for lunch and we moved to the little outdoor table just off the kitchen. Janet put on the table an iron skillet containing a beaming, yellow omelette. She cut it into slices and the layers of color and vegetable showed through the edges. In the sun, fig trees and rose bushes draping around the borders of the garden, with my little girl and our friends, I was awash with love for life. And, love for eggs. Eggs are so purely nourishing and satisfying. This was a perfect lunch for kids and adults. And I think that sometimes a great, satisfying meal with only a little clean up and minimal fuss is important because it gives you more time to enjoy each other. An omelette is a great choice for such a time: breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Here is Janet's omelette (or torta) recipe and some omelette philosophy, in her own words:

The omelette or torta it is a great way to use up odds and ends in the fridge.  
For this one, I sliced some dense, waxy potatoes thin and sauteed them in olive oil with some sliced red onion and red pepper flakes until everything is nice and soft.  
Then I beat 4-5 eggs, added some sliced roasted artichoke hearts and poured the mixture into the skillet (cast iron) making sure there was some olive oil in the bottom.  
Then, when eggs are mostly set, I took it off the flame, sprinkled the top with crumbled goat cheese, and put under the broiler a bit till set.  I added salt to everything while cooking
Note: After adding the egg mixture to skillet, always turn the heat way down and let it cook slowly! No brown egg bottom for us! And, swizzle some more olive oil around the edges of the pan when the egg is mostly set but still a little runny on top, before placing in broiler.