Saturday, October 16, 2010

Canning, aka Stress Relief: Part 1

I haven't posted in a long time. I know, and I'm sorry. I have a number of partially finished blog posts in the queue. But mostly I am bogged down by the practicalities of running a business. I love cooking, and I love bartending, and I started Small Hand Foods to bring my love of ingredient-driven cocktails to a wider audience. But it's really hard. I spend most of my time trying to organize the making of these syrups, rather than actually making them, and I haven't had much time to do what I love, which is cook.

Being stressed out makes me want to can. There's a sense of accomplishment when you look at rows upon rows of jars, filled with food you can eat for months. When I feel less-than-accomplished in my daily life, I turn to the kitchen.

I've had many culinary obsessions over the years. Back when I was vegan, I became obsessed with making truffles. At the time, vegan truffles were unheard of, and the compromised versions occasionally available were so disappointing that I set to make proper ones, using rich ingredients like coconut milk and cognac to create the kinds of chocolates I wanted. I learned about tempering chocolate and bought a bunch of molds and special tools. (For anyone interested, Spun Sugar in Berkeley is a fantastic place to drop a lot of money on candy-making and cake-decorating supplies.) Everyone got chocolates that Christmas.

Then, for a while, I got really into bread. I carried my sourdough starter around in a blanket and fed it three times a day. I put stones in my oven (which have remained due to my deep love of homemade pizza). My favorite bread was the Fig-Anise bread from Breads from the La Brea Bakery. F'n delicious.

Most recently I got into making jam. I love the weird herb/fruit combinations from Christine Ferber's Mes Confitures, and I would stay up all hours of the night, patiently water-processing each batch of jam, listening to the lids ping! as they sealed and I finally crawled into bed. I ultimately had to stop because my apartment was filling with cases and cases of unopened jam. I had to face the fact that, as much as I like making jam, I just don't eat it. For breakfast I prefer eggs, and am generally a savory kind of gal overall. I gave most of the jam away and resolved to start obsessing about something I actually like to consume.

[Enter syrups. But this entire blog is devoted to that pursuit, and this post is about what I do when I'm not syruping.]

The thing about canning is that there is a great, satisfying end result. You spend a few hours, or a day (or if you're like me, three), and you can see this vast bounty you have created. And it lasts! Months later you can pop open a jar and summer (or spring, or fall) rushes up to greet you. I don't care what kind of gourmet organic canned tomatoes you buy; nothing holds a candle to ones you put up yourself.

In the next post, I'll discuss technical aspects of canning, with gadgets! (Hint: Christmas is coming up, and if you are a friend of mine I hope you like chile sauce.)