Monday, November 26, 2012

Things to be thankful for, artfully documented in photographs

I'm not going to make a real post about Thanksgiving because frankly, the vast majority of my readers experienced it with me. Which does remind me: know that I am thankful daily for all of you (including those of you who didn't spend the last few days lovingly providing me with food). As such, and knowing I could hardly provide any new insights on the holiday regardless, I still wanted to post a few photos just so I'll have them all in one place. Having a nice record of things has been the semi-intended consequence that has kept me blogging at during those times when I have been especially busy or especially bored with my own writing/thoughts. Here then are a few photos from the last few days that I thought were especially flattering and that no one might have any objection to seeing posted:

In addition to these lifeless photo gems, I should note a video has also made it to the web of the first, and perhaps only, dramatic performance of Ad Hoc Productions. I'm not going to post that valued link here, but if you know what I'm talking about, were one of those who requested the filming, and have yet to see it, please let me know and I'll supply you with the link.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

We clean up okay

My last post was all pictures of the beauty of Central Park in fall (and something about jazz, I think?), so, to mix it up a little, I thought this week I would post some lovely pictures of Central Park in fall with Sam and I in them. These are from an engagement shoot we took a few weeks back. They were all taken by this nifty lady. I would definitely recommend Toni Skotcher for anyone in the New York area with photo needs. She's fun and manages to make making out on command or directions like "put your hand on your hip and look sassy" not make me feel awkward (quite a feat). Added to which (really only relevant to my blog's ever dwindling theme), she's a fellow Astorian!

At any rate, here are a few of my favorites:
The Bethesda Fountain has always been one of my favorite places in the park. I guess that's really all I have to say about this one.

 Okay, so this one isn't of us, but I was happy Toni decided to include it. While we were taking photos by the lake, these people kept trying to get their dog to come back. He'd just jumped in the lake and was swim chasing the ducks who were pretty effortlessly out-pacing him. He seemed pretty deaf to his owner's call, so I hope they did eventually recover him. I don't know though...that pond has a lot of ducks.
 A quintessential soulful-eye-staring engagement photo!

 This is one of my favorites mostly because it looks like we're the only people in Central Park (definitely rarely the case). Turns out the way to accomplish this is to go on the day of a canceled marathon when it's 35 degrees outside.

 You can't really tell that it's us, but I just think this is a really cool photo.

 This actually wouldn't be a favorite (because I think I was failing at not looking cold here), except for the cute little dog head nobly watching over us. (Do you see it?) Also, know that when we gazing off into the lake/our-metaphorical-future-together, we are actually watching that black lab and its duck chasing. Just to add some context to this photo.

I'm just feeling really cute about this one.

So there you go! There are a bunch more photos and even a bunch more favorites of mine, but I can only post so many photos of myself (even engagement photos) before I start to feel a little Kim Kardashian. Thanks again to Toni Skotcher Photography for making us look all lovely-like!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Jazz and Colors. Without very much jazz.

This weekend it was absolutely gorgeous on Sunday. Sixty degrees. Sunny. You'd hardly believe there was a blizzard a few days before. Naturally, I spent most of Sunday inside working on freelance projects, organizing my spice cabinet, and watching football. Saturday, which was a grey but warm enough day, I went to the park. The scheduling was not entirely my own. Saturday was the Jazz and Colors Festival in Central Park. I'd never been, nor heard of this before, but I stumbled on it when looking for something free to do around town. Those of you who know me well will probably know that I am not a rabid jazz fan. Or even a fan at all, really. I like jazz as much as the next person, but mostly in small quantities and limited to elevators, hold music slow jams, and saxophone players under bridges in Central Park. There's just something about jazz and Central Park that go together well. Obviously, the parks department must agree. The festival is comprised of 20 bands/musicians set up all over the park so that you can stroll through it and stop and enjoy at your leisure.

Not being a huge jazz fan, my main excitement was in entering the park at the very top. For as long as I've lived in New York and as many times as I've gone to Central Park, I've never seen huge swaths of the southeast section. Luckily, my companion was equally ambivalent about jazz because by misreading the website I got us there not just in time for the start of the second set, but in fact, just in time for the 1 hour intermission. We walked by a good eight performers and traveled all the way from the top of the park to below the reservoir before it was finally time to hear some music. A few musicians along the way were noodling on their instruments though, which was a lot of fun. In fact, I think I probably enjoyed those guys more than the actual performance we saw.

Anyway, my photographer captured some excellent shots of the park. We may not have seen much jazz, but by god, we saw some colors.

The Harlem Meer. A lovely spot I can now check off my things-to-see-in-Central-Park list.

More Harlem Meer. I included this one because if you look to the edge of the willow you can part of a drum set. There was totally going to be jazz happening there in an hour.

A fountain in the Conservatory Garden. Another place I hadn't been. You can't tell, but those flowers were totally beaten down. I think they were planted just after the hurricane so they didn't stand a chance against the random blizzard.

More Conservatory Garden. I can see now why people like getting married here.

The last of the Conservatory Garden trio!

This guy knew his way around a trombone.

An electric fiddle! Something I thought only existed in Lord of the Dance.

This is the only honest-to-goodness jazz band we actually saw perform. They were playing in front of the Met. Honestly, we only ended up staying about 10 minutes. 
Lovely park we've got here. It's not a perfect substitute for actual nature, but I'll take it for now.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Yes we can

A former roommate of mine got married this fall and for her wedding favors gave out homemade peach jam lovingly canned in her kitchen in Brooklyn. I enjoyed reading about the process on her blog but hadn't really thought about it much beyond that. That is until, when beginning planning my own wedding (which I assure you will not become the primary topic of this blog, so bear with me) I visited the venue and saw little jars of jam being used as place cards. It fit so nicely, and quickly got me thinking "how hard could it be?"

After getting some advice from the roommate and a little free shipping from an Amazon Prime trial, I was soon outfitted with everything the modern canner needs to create delicious preserved fruit products for her friends and loved ones that won't give them botulism. (I'll admit, the primary reason for this post is to share the re-surging art of home canning, but the not-so-subtle secondary goal is for those readers who will be receiving said wedding favor to know that they probably won't be fatal.) After some serious research, I decided my fruit of choice would be apples (being the only thing really in season significantly before the wedding date), and my chosen spread would be apple butter. This was something of a relief as apple butter is a fairly forgiving concoction. You don't need to worry about pectin or anything having to thicken or gel. In fact, if you have a slow cooker, all you really have to worry about is peeling and coring the apples, and the rest of the work is done for you.

I've done my first two batches now (and learned conclusively that 6 pounds of apples yields 18 4-oz jars of butter), so I'm ready to post about what I've learned. My first batch was something of a learning process, and I'm still a little amazed that after following all the directions, my jars actually did seal properly. In the second batch, all but one of the 18 jars sealed properly, but that's actually something of a good thing because it means I get to eat the failed jar (which I've discovered is excellent on cornbread). I also learned the amazing utility of an apple corer. How have I never owned one before?

At any rate, without further ado, here is how you make and can apple butter:

The blurry ingredients. Rest assured, this is the only cell phone photo in the batch. For those who can't distinguish ingredients other than the apples, there is also: sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. 
The first step after gathering your ingredients is to prepare the apples. This is the most time consuming part, especially when you only have one decent peeler. My lovely assistant and I created an assembly line or coring, peeling, and chopping that generally made fast work of it. It almost makes me want to make some kind of hackneyed metaphor for how the teamwork required to make apple butter could equate to marriage, but this really isn't that kind of blog.

The apples once cored, diced, and cut into 1-inch pieces.
Once the real work is done, you just put the apples in a large pan on the stove (very important that it's at least 8 quarts for 6 pounds of apples...something I learned the hard way in the first batch) with 5 cups of water (or 2 cups of cider and 3 cups of water). Boil, stirring occasionally, until the apples are broken down (about a half hour).
I thought this would look more artsy and dream-like than it turned out looking.
Once the apples are broken down, puree with an immersion blender (or wait for them to cool a bit and throw them in a regular blender) and transfer the puree to a slow cooker. Add a cup of sugar, a couple of teaspoons of cinnamon, and a teaspoon of both cloves and allspice.

Normally, I eschew attempts by my photographer to include candid photos, but I want to document that this is in fact homemade lovingly by us.
Mix the ingredients together. Now the real work is truly over (for the apple butter making...not the canning). Just switch the slower cooker on low, leave the lid somewhat askew so that liquid can evaporate, and cook on low for 12-14 hours. You're supposed to stir it occasionally, but I did this step overnight, so my stirring was very occasional and it still turned out fine.

The home canner's tool kit.
Above you can see the cleaned and sanitized jars ready to go on their clean and sanitized work space. One thing about home canning is that it would be made that much simpler for those with a dishwasher. You can just run the jars on hot and then leave them in there until you're read to use them. Not having a dish washer, I had to boil all of the jars first just to make sure they were sterile. Also in the picture above you can see some of the tools that came with my 7-piece Presto canning kit. The funnel and jar-lifter are self explanatory, but the little green stick thing is pretty cool. It has a magnet on it so you can lift the jar lids out of the bowl of boiling water (they're in the upper left corner) without burning your fingers. Ingenious!
Filled and ready to be lowered!
About 30 minutes before you want to start canning fill your dry bath canning pot with enough water that will cover your jars by at least an inch. (It takes a long time for all that water to boil.) Meanwhile, turn the slow cooker up to high so that your apple butter will also boil. Once both are boiling. Fill each jar with apple butter until about 1/2" from the top. Wipe the edges with a moist paper towel and apply lids and screw caps. Lower the filled jars into the water bath and boil for ten minutes to process. Remove all jars and leave untouched on a clean dish towel. After an hour, check to make sure the lids have sealed by pressing down on the center. If you can depress the center of the lid, it hasn't sealed. Remove any unsealed jars to the refrigerator and eat within a month. Those jars that have properly sealed should remain untouched for 24 hours and then can be moved to a cool dry place for storage where they will keep unopened for up to a year.

I've discovered I really enjoy the process of canning. It makes me feel very self-reliant. Like some combination of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Laura Engalls Wilder, and maybe a little Ted Kaczynski. The book I got on canning for the modern kitchen has seasonal recipes, and I'm really looking forward to the farm share starting up next year, so I can try some out. After all, in the summer certain vegetables are in abundance, and I get pretty sick of them. And yet now, in the harsh reality of winter, I could really go for some tomatoes (or, I guess, preserving limitations being what they are: tomato sauce) or eggplant and wonder how I could have so taken them for granted during the times of plenty.

Don't worry, friends and loved ones, my canning energy is currently engaged in all of this apple butter making, so you don't have to worry about getting overenthusiastic offerings like jars of pickled turnips for Christmas this year. But know this: by next May, there may just a jar of upstate New York orchards' finest at your place.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Can't stop the runners

Things are back to normal in some of the city and far from normal in others. This weekend, I tentatively  made plans that took me more than walking distance from my apartment. I'd previously gone into Manhattan to take advantage of the free trains and buses, but hadn't actually made plans to meet anyone there. On Saturday, I took the bus down to Brooklyn to meet friends for Polish food. I tend to be pretty down on buses (they're delayed by traffic, they require you to wait outside in all weather for them, and you have to be vigilant about actually looking for your stop), but I will say the journey was fairly smooth. That I was rewarded on the other end by pierogies and blintzes, just added to my positive bus experience.

On Sunday, we had long ago scheduled to take engagement photos in Central Park. After the marathon was canceled, we were worried the park would be closed. However, we were pleasantly surprised to find it both open and well cleaned up. It looked like it took less of a beating than Astoria Park, although it's likely just more that they had a dedicated clean up effort. Most interesting was that there were a bunch of people there still running a marathon (or part of one). I'd heard that a lot of people still made it here because the marathon was canceled so late in the game (according to NPR one guy found this out right after getting off a 17-hour flight from Dubai). A lot of the runners were apparently volunteering their time and energy instead toward the cleanup effort in Staten Island and the Far Rockaways. However, there were a number who were still running. Official marathon or not.

Now Central Park is normally jogger central, so the fact that there were tons of runners was not at first particularly notable when we entered the park. However, there was definitely something different that distinguished them from your average Sunday morning exercise junkies. For starters, large groups of them were wearing matching shirts or jackets. Some were carrying the flags of their countries. And many of them were hollering and cheering. So essentially they were not only trying to recreate the marathon experience by running through the park, they were also trying to populate an imaginary marathon audience with their cheers. It must be a blow to spend so long training and so much money on flights to not be able to run the real event. Although, if I were a marathon runner, I think I would be pretty relieved at the cancelation. I would have felt pretty awkward throwing my half drunk cups of water on the ground while knowing there are people in the city still struggling to get clean drinking water.

I must say though, I admire the persistence of spirit of marathon runners. I hope they're all back here next year, so we can cheer them on properly! Also, unrelated, but I think the engagement shoot went really well. Will definitely share some of the photos here once we get them back from the photographer!