Wednesday, November 28, 2012

An Interfaith Advent

I have had a brilliant parenting idea and I have never seen it anywhere else and it might be the only one I ever have that's worth sharing so here I go.

Amanda Soule has a box of holiday and winter books that she pulls out every December and puts away after the New Year to preserve the sense of special-ness and anticipation for these books.  (Actually, now that I went back and read the post, she speaks less deliberately about this so my idea must have been percolating even then based on how I altered the memory.)

My mother did something similar, except more intuitively and with fewer gorgeous pictures.  We had our favorite Christmas books that we looked forward to and she had a reason to collect beautiful books for the stack that sat by the fireplace.

I have been figuring out how to celebrate Advent in my little family and Advent calendars are part of my tradition.  But they make Christmas so long!  I know, I know, so do Christmas trees and music and special cookies and all the other things I do.  But calendars seem to completely obliterate Hanukkah altogether, since they take every single day of December as anticipation for Christmas. 

We believe in keeping our Christian and Jewish holidays separate and that works most of the time.  This is the only real situation I can think of where one spiritual practice excludes another spiritual practice, other than when Passover dietary restrictions preclude celebrating Easter through traditional foods.

I began thinking about holiday books and decided to take Soulemama's and my mother's tradition one step further.  I am going to wrap books like presents and number them 1-25 like an Advent calendar.  This way, 9 days of the season, the books can be Hanukkah books and 16 days they can be Christmas or winter-themed.  Now that I think of it, next year I'll make sure I have non-holiday specific paper for the winter books.

My hope is that in future years, the kids will anticipate their favorite books, guessing based on size and shape.  Reading the books together can spur conversations about both holidays and the thoughts they have about their inter-faithness.  If advent means "coming," like the candle-lighting ceremonies taught me, the Advent season can prepare us for both holidays.

On a related not, a few weeks ago, I bought Esther a Hanukkah book by Lemony Snicket called The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming, which is maybe the best Hanukkah book I've ever read.  Many pages required me to mock-scream as I read the titular latke's lines.  We read it once and then I put it away.  I got it out again now to wrap it and Esther pulled it out of the pile and went to read it to herself.  Apparently, my dramatic rendition made an impression because she began mock-screaming exactly as I had done.  Three weeks later.  This kid.  Seriously.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Ginger jelly and ginger pear preserves

So, the suburbs may not be all that bad.  By my parents' house, there is a gigantic super-store of produce and international foods. In addition to other awesome things, they have this whole shelf of still-good produce being sold in packages that must be at least 5 pounds for $1.49 each.  I bought one of fresh ginger roots just for the sheer novelty of it.

One of our closest friends is a little nuts for ginger and we're seeing him on Friday so if I couldn't figure out what to do with it, we could just take it to him and he would.

But Tuesday morning, I woke up raring to go and wanting to make applesauce for Esther, the applesauce monster.  We had about 8 pounds of apples that turned out to be not-so-good and another 6 pounds that I bought and the super-store for about $3.50.

Since I had all of the canning equipment out anyway and the Pandora outlaw country station was helping with the all-around patriotic feeling in the house, I set out to do something with the ginger.  I didn't like any of the recipes I found, so I made up my own.  My neighbor actually knocked on the door to ask what smelled so good, then asked me for the recipe so she could make the jelly for gifts, once she had tasted it.

So, I figured I'd share it with the internets, since they have given me so many recipes over the years.  This is written for intelligent beginners.  I'll include links and encourage you to bone up on food safety when canning shelf-stable foods.  My recipe is a derivative of several out of the Ball canning book, so I'm fairly certain the ratio of sugar, acid and fruit are OK, but it certainly hasn't been approved by anyone but me.

Ginger pear preserves

4-6 big fresh ginger roots
6 cups water
1.5-2 cups peeled, diced pears marinating in 0.5 cups lemon or lime juice (to deter discoloration)
5 cups sugar
1 package powdered pectin

1.  Rough chop the ginger root into fairly small pieces.  There is no need to peel it first.
2.  Bring water and ginger to boil in large stock pot. 
3.  Reduce heat to simmer, cover and let it go for awhile.  At least 20 minutes?  When you take a spoonfull, blow on it and taste it, it should be HOT (spicy hot, not temperature hot).
4.  Pour ginger tisane into a receptacle, using a sieve to strain out the solid ginger.
5. Let cool for a few minutes while you measure the sugar and cut up the pear.  This is a good time to set up your canning materials, as well.  (Sterilize jars and lids, begin heating water in a bigger stock pot, find way to keep jars and lids warm until needed, set up stations, etc.)
6.  Measure 3 cups of the ginger tisane back into cool stock pot and whisk in pectin.  Do not turn on stove until after this step.
7.  Bring liquid to a boil, then add the sugar all at once.  Return to a boil, then turn off heat after 1 minute.  Skim the foam from the top.
8.  Stir in the fruit and juice.
9. Ladle into jars, leaving about 0.5 inches empty at the top.  Attach lid and band and deposit in canning pot.
10.  When pot is full, bring water to a rolling boil when covered and process for 10 minutes.  Turn off heat and let sit for 5 more minutes.  Remove from water to sit undisturbed on a kitchen towel until cool.  You will know you have been successful at creating a vacuum when you hear all the little buttons on the lids pop as the jars cool.

Once the preserves are cool, don't worry if they seem a little runny.  Refrigerate before serving to harden the set.

An alternative is to leave out the fruit for a purer Ginger Jelly.  If you do this, stir in the lime or lemon juice when you stir in the pectin instead of after boiling.

Ginger Jelly

4.5 cups ginger tisane
0.5 cups lime or lemon juice
5 cups sugar
1 package powdered pectin

Both recipes should make approximately 8 half-pint jars and excellent presents.  The finished product can be served with a cheese spread or over cream cheese.  I love savory jelly PBJs on rye and when warmed, it can also be served over ice cream.  Do not hesitate to eat straight out of the jar instead of mediocre store-bought hard candy.