Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Now We See Through the Bead Darkly

This past weekend I went back to Trefoil ranch, a camping area run by the Girl Scouts, for an adult training in preparation for their Camporee next summer.  I don't want to miss it, and I don't want Abigail to miss it since they will be celebrating 100 years of Girl Scouts.  Lots of cookie sales over the last 30 years have improved the Trefoil camp property considerably.  When I went there as a young girl, the main hall was a log cabin, one main room, dark, and poorly lit dealie-O.  Now it is more akin to a Swiss Chalet.  But it was here that I learned one of the most poignant lessons of my youth: sometimes the bad things that happen to you in life can turn out to be pretty valuable.

When I first arrived at Trefoil, I was about 8 years old.  I went with my Girl Scout troop to my first sleepover camp.  In order to break up girls from the various troops and help them to get to know other girls, they had a system the first day you arrived of shuffling you into the log cabin to register you and handing you an identifying bracelet. 
  Since we all arrived at nearly the same time, we all had a long time to hear the opening spiel, and kinda go through a bottleneck process of checking in, and getting a bracelet, while also learning a knot-tying skill.  It was a long line. 
      We got to get a good look at the beads that went on the bracelets.  Though not spoken, every girl knew that the success or failure of her entire camp rested in those little trays.  You had time to casually look up and down the line of registering scouts and secretly hoped that the girl sucking her thumb with one hand and clutching a ratty stuffed dog while desperately clinging with the other hand, white knuckled, to her mom with the other, did NOT end up in your group.  Those kids were no fun and often slowed everything down. I never could understand kids that had to be persuaded to have fun. "Won't you come play?  Tell us your name?" Gah!  Go home wimp!
   Anyway, I broke my gaze from checking out the line to check out the bead trays.  They looked like so many gems sparkling.   There were ones that looked like diamonds, pink ones, light blues ones and ... what I hoped to get, a yellow bead. Because yellow is my favorite color, and if you can score your favorite color, well then the world can go on! But I'd settle for a diamond one and still be happy.  Diamonds are the most valuable.
   Somewhere in there was a tray of black beads.  Every girl in that line knew that you did NOT want to get saddled with the black bead.  It was Uh-uh-uuuuuugLY!  Yet as I started to count the girls in line, and pair it up with the bead rotation, I could see that I was headed straight for that black bead. Oh no. OH NONONONONOooooo!!! My survival skillz started kicking in.
     Unfortunately for me, so did the girl's behind me, as I casually asked, "Hey, you wanna go ahead of me?"  "Uh NOOooooOO!" It was that snotty, sarcastic "no" that says, "Na ah girl, I ain't takin' no black bead for you..."  Then we hit the first station. 
"Hi, I'm Katydid! Who are you?" (checks me of on the roster)  "Welcome!  You need to think of a camp name and get your camp bracelet.  Here is your gold bracelet string, don't lose it.  Next you'll get your bead from Raven, learn to tie a square knot from Kanga, and then be sorted into your groups!"
    I held my string and walked like I was on Death Row to the bead table where Raven was waiting for me with the black bead already in her hand.  It took all my nerve, but I asked, "Can I have a yellow one?"  Her look was IMMEDIATE exasperation.  "Why is everyone trying to get out of this one?  I like it the best!"  I gave her a look that must have said, "Well then YOU wear it!" because she plopped it in my hand in a way that said, "Here you go and don't argue about it."  I took my black bead, with such dread, over to the knot tying station where other girls were showing off their sparkly beads.  "I got a diamond one!" WHOOPIE for you.  But I couldn't argue that scoring the clear diamond bead was awesome, and therefore she must be awesome.  Her friend crowed, "I got a yellow one!  I LOVE yellow!" I decided then and there that I hated that girl.
    Still waiting to learn to tie my knot, I tried to discern if there was anyone waiting with me who was unhappy with their bead choice, and found one scout complaining about the light blue bead she got - which, though NOT yellow, would at least be an upgrade from black. "I wanted PINK!" she boobed.   I saddled up to her and said in a very cheerful and HELPFUL way,  "Hey!  I'll trade you!"  She perked up, until she saw what I had.  "Uh, no, that's okay...." I decided that I would hate her too.  Meanie. 
  Minutes later, I had a black bead tied securely on my wrist.  Kids don't really swear to themselves in their head, they just feel rotten.  And I did.  We were supposed to go outside and stand by our camping gear.  I knew that camp was a failure.  I was going to have a rotten time, get the rotten kids in my group, and have to wear a rotten rotten ugly bead.
    Then things suddenly changed.  I don't exactly remember where I saw it, but I know that it stopped me in my tracks.  In the sunlight, and out of that musty old registration cabin, I discovered that I didn't have a black bead after all.  It was dark PURPLE.  And the purple lacquer bead next to the gold elastic band was stunning.  It was gorgeous, and definitely enviable, because suddenly the other girls were noticing it too.
      The beads that had looked sparkly in the dark looked a lot more like cheap plastic in the light.  Little Miss Light Blue Bead came up to me, "Hey... still wanna trade?" "Uh, that's okay...." I said, trying not to let her know that I had decided to hate her, and it served her right for not trading with me in the first place.  As she jealously looked on, I let my dark purple bead twinkle in the sunlight so you could see all of the light and dark colors.  And my dread absolutely evaporated.  What was once dreaded was now coveted.  I HAD THE COOLEST BRACELET CAMP TREFOIL COULD OFFER! And it was mineminemine!!! Camp was wonderful again. 
     Flash forward about 30 years.  Now I have four kids.  Even as we speak, they are driving me up THE WALL.  In the 5 minutes that they were up, and I was mustering the will to face another day of laundry, dishes, dinner and poopy diapers, my quilt project was flung around the house, a whole container of chocolate chips was dumped on the floor, and I can smell the diaper that needs to be changed.  It will wait for me.  For me, these are stressful, dark days.  It is hard.  It is tedious.  There are more messers than cleaners.  Hubby is waist deep in his career, and at the end of the day, after dinner, prayers, pajamas and stories, we are pretty well spent. It is the bottle neck of a young family. It doesn't seem like it will ever end. And the creativity of our children that is expressed on walls, chopped up clothes, pulled pork on the ceiling, and animals made out of straws has made other parents grateful that they got the children they have. And sometimes I envy them.  "Look!  They don't sass; they just do what their mom says!  I'd heard of these rare children, but I'd never seen one.  And they have FIVE!"
  Girl Scouts has taught me though, that if you wait a bit, and take things out into the sun, that those things that seemed dark will have a deep luster that will make them the envy of all. Paul told us as much when he wrote to the Corinthians (Ch 13):
 12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
 13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

I didn't know then, how much I would need that lesson in my life.  I don't hate people so easily, and when I am handed dark beads in my life, I try to imagine what they will look like in the light, and what I will be at that point, as a person.  So, it is on to another day of faith, hope and charity.  Faith that it will be worth it, hope that things will work out, and charity for my family... whom I love.  Even though they drive me up the wall.  And no, I don't want to trade with you.  It may not seem like it right now, but I got the best there is, and they're minemine mine! :D

Saturday, October 8, 2011

"Don't Share" Salsa

<---  If you have these, and can chop, you can make this amazing canned salsa.  I call it "Don't Share" Salsa because it is SO GOOD, you don't want to share it.  Even if you had a bathtub-full, you would not invite anyone over for a party.  You would just stock up on chips, lock yourself in there,  and tell your hubby you had feminine problems for a month.  It is SO nummy!  Its fresh, it tastes good on chips, and you kinda want to lick the bowl when you see that there is some in the bottom that won't fit on a chip.

The first time I made it, I did it to support my sister who wanted to have a cooking day together. I wasn't fast enough to come up with an alternative to canning salsa.  I was thinkin, "Why are we doing this?  Yes I'm Mormon, Yes my mother and.... probably a ton of pioneer relatives canned... stuff, but that is why the good lord invented Pace picante sauce in three different sized jars."  I chopped onions and I chopped peppers while my sister Lisa busied herself, and I thought, "You crazy woman.  Why. On. Earth."  And then I had some. MMMMMMMMMMMMMMM! Oh my word.  OH MY WORD!  SO GOOD! So amazingly good!!

Good grief, I gotta go eat some right now while I write about it.  BRB.   !#@!&%$##!  Its 10 pm and WE ARE OUT OF CHIPS!  GOSH DARN IT!  I told Matthew that we could open a jar of salsa if would go out and get some chips.  Yah.  The garage door is going up.  And now I'm like a nervous smoker 3 days after they tried to quit.  "C'moooooon.  C'mon!  HURRY IT UP!"

Anyway.  Here is what you need to start:  One batch of this recipe will make 8 pint jars.  NOT. WORTH  IT. Double batch is worth it.  Triple batch will get you through til Christmas.  Unless you eat it all before then.  By YOURSELF.  But, hey lil' red hen.  You put in the work, you get the rewards.  *checks watch* Its been 1 minute and 22 seconds, WHERE IS HE!?

Unless you have your own (and first time out I didn't) canning jars, go out and get some canning jars. And a funnel that will fit into the top of the lids.  If you don't have some of this stuff, borrow.  I don't have my own jars or funnel.  I just keep borrowing Lisa's and waiting for someone to get me one for Christmas.  YES. This will feel TOTALLY WEIRD, especially as the checkout kid looks at the jars and looks at you as though he was expecting his GRAMMA.  "Just ring it up Skippy!" Just, just ignore him.

One Batch = 8 pint jars.  Multiply for however much you need.  Which is never enough, but I'm gonna make you do the math in your head anyway - so here we go!

Shopping List:

7 lbs of Roma tomatoes.  WARNING: IF you get those beef steak tomatoes and try to use them cuz they were on sale, or someone gave 'em to you, you will be SO SORRY.  You will not have salsa, you will have flavored WATER. Romas are meatier.  THAT'S what you want.

1 lb Onion - White, yellow, doesn't matter.  Unless you feel it will matter to you, then use whatever you like.

2 lbs Anaheim Peppers.  You may very well clear out their entire pepper selection.  Feel free to ask Skippy Jr if there is more in the back.

1/2 C Vinegar - apple cider, or white.  All tastes good.

1/2 C Lime Juice - for freshness!

2 TBS NON IODIZED SALT.  Yes, this is in CAPS so that you'll get the feeling that I'm yelling it at you.  I don't know WHY it has to be NON IODIZED, but Lisa says that all salsa recipes insist on it.  So.  I'm not gonna ruin all this over the wrong salt.

1 TBS Cumin - some people are haters, but it works MAGIC in this recipe.

2 tsp (smaller than a TBS!) Garlic powder.

A stock pot. Borrow one if you have to. A clean rag.  A soup ladle (for ladling salsa into the jars), a slotted spoon big enough to pick up a roma tomato out of hot boiling water, a good sharp knife or food processor that reliably CHOPS (not liquefies), plastic gloves, or something that you can chop peppers in, and an apron in case you are super messy. Or just want to feel like its part of canning. Or just looks cute on you.

STEP ONE: Dealing with tomatoes.
Now let me just say here, that if you get past this step, the rest is cake.  Dealing the tomatoes is the biggest pain in the a@@.  If you can get through this, you will be SET.  Its not hard, it just takes time.
We're gonna take the skins off those tomatoes. *nods* All of them.

If you are doing a triple batch, then just do this step alone the day before you want to actually put things in jars so you are not uber tired and/or depressed.  If you find that you are talking to yourself, you have done too many tomatoes.  Two batches can be a marathon, but doable in the same day you want to can them if you have a friend there to talk with you. And for just one batch  - what the heck!  I told you one batch wasn't worth it!

Start a big pot to boiling.  Get another big bowl and make ice water to put the tomatoes in after you've boiled off some skin.  

Take each tomato, and put an "x" on the bottom.  Also known as "scoring," the whole point of this is to make it easier for you to take the skin off.  Don't hack into the thing, and don't do a tiny dainty "x." Cut through the skin in a longish "x" so that when the hot water makes the skin start to peel back, you can grab it with your paring knife and peel off a whole bunch of the skin without having to hack into the tomato. When you feel like you can't stand to make one more longish "x" the water should be boiling.  Take about 12 tomatoes and drop them in the boiling water. Marvel at your canning prowess, and set a timer for about 2 minutes.  Go make some more longish "x"s on the non-boiled tomatoes.

MULTI-TASKING ALERT: There are three stations here.
  1. The tomatoes on the counter.  
  2. The tomatoes in the boiling water, and then 
  3. the tomatoes in the ice bath.  
  4. Oh.  And then the scored/skinned/rough chopped tomatoes in the stock pot.

  • After the tomatoes skin starts to peel back on that first dozen, take them out of the hot water with your slotted spoon, and dump them in the ice water bath. 
  • Put in another 12 X'd tomatoes to boil, and then grab your paring knife.  
  • Make a few more longish x's on your other tomatoes until the boiled tomatoes cool for a sec or two.  
  • Go back to the water bath and pick up a slightly cooked, (with an x on the bottom,) tomato that should have the skin starting to peel away like old paint.  Start taking off the skins.  I drop the skins in the sink, and chop 'em in my hand, and repeat.  Once all of the skin is off, core the sucker, and either put it on a chopping board to "rough cut it (or cut in 1/2 twice), or just hold it in your hand and cut it in half, and then cut it in half again. Do not cut your hand.  Drop it in your stock pot.  
  • Process all of your tomatoes until they are all safely scored/skinned and rough chopped in the stock pot. Sit for a few minutes.  Feel good about what you've done!

STEP TWO: Dealing with Onions and PEPPERS

Chop/dice the onions first.  Easy. Toss them on the tomatoes in the stock pot.  If you have done a triple batch or more, and don't think that all of your ingredients will fit, then just be smart and put 1/2 the onions in with 1/2 the tomatoes etc. Most stock pots will hold a double batch of this recipe of salsa.

Peppers.  Put on some gloves, or something to protect your hands.  Not all feel that this is necessary.

A guy I know, for example, decided to chop some hot peppers, and scoffed at the idea of doing it in anything but bare hands. "Commando." I can't remember if he itched AND had to go to the bathroom, or just had to go to the bathroom, but the sound that emanated from behind that bathroom door after a few seconds had dogs barking hysterically around the block for miles.  And if you just have an itch, have someone itch for you, or take your gloves off.

Cut off the heads of each pepper. About an inch down.  Huck the end in the garbage.  With remaining long pepper, cut it in half.  FISH OUT THE SEEDS. Yes, I'm yelling at you, because I didn't remove them once. SEEDS ARE HOT!!! Take the peppers and just dice 'em up.  Toss 'em in the pot.

Turn on the stove to a simmer.  You can start at a 7/9 heat.  You're just boiling it all down.  The more you boil, the more concentrated it becomes.  Add all of the other ingredients: Salt, cumin, lime juice, vinegar, and garlic powder.  Stir.  Stir.  Stir, and admire.  Stir.

Start cookin' an stirring.  The heat blends all of this numminess, and breaks down the tomatoes from big hunks to small hunks, but you can't let it just boil - that will burn the bottom of your pot.  Stir, and keep an eye on it. After awhile, you will see the color deepen, and there will be smaller and smaller chunks of tomato.  I LOVE the big bits of tomato.  LOVE LOVE LOVE.  Lisa's kids, not so much. So, cook it down, simmering with the lid OFF, until it looks about like this.


Open up that box of cans.  Nervously take the plastic wrap off.  Start taking off the lids and rings.  SAVE THEM!  You want to soften the rubber on the lids, so put just them in warm simmering water.  BE EVER SO CAREFUL.  The lids like to mate. And suddenly, you have 2 jars left and no lids.  Yep.  Somewhere in there you put on a couple of double lids.  They are sneakier than teenagers!

Line up 3 glass jars.  Ladle each one full to the top of the big rim, but not to the top of the neck.  Don't stick it in the neck, you need a little space for it to seal.  Wipe off the top of each jar with a WET rag.  Fish a lid out (check to make sure its a single), and put it on. Screw down with the ring.

SEALING: You can do this one of two ways.  The hard way, or the easy way.

Hard: You can stick each jar into a bath of boiling hot water about an inch above the lid and wait for it to suck in and pop.  Or
Easy: Turn it upside down and let the heat from the boiling salsa seal itself somewhere in the night.

How can I tell if its sealed or not?  Well, if you can bounce your finger up and down, like a finger on a lid trampoline on the middle of the lid the next morning, it did not seal.  Eat it.  If it doesn't, then its sealed.  You can hide that baby in your secret secret spot, cuz baby, you just made salsa!  I have just eaten my way through half a jar.  And I'm gonna go lie down and have some salsa dreams.  Soooo gooooooood. :D