Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Book Review: Cloud Atlas

Cloud AtlasCloud Atlas by David Mitchell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the interests of keeping it real, I almost put this book down after the first three sections. The subject matter of the first story was challenging, the second story seemed a bit pointless (although the best of these three) and the third was simply annoying. But perseverance won the day and in the end, the story I liked the least became one of my favorites.

Told linearly yet abstractly, if that is even possible, the book is divided into six stories connected by various threads. You get the first half of five of the stories, then the entire sixth story and then you cycle backwards through the second half of the five stories. Make sense? It does when you are reading, oddly enough.

What makes this fascinating, besides the constant puzzle to figure out connections, is that each story is completely self-contained and a totally different genre than the others. I can only imagine the storyboarding that went into writing this thing.

I would normally write a longer, more detailed review for my blog, but honestly, to reveal more would be a) too spoilerrific and b) plain confusing. To sort of get a feeling for the WTFness of this book, I highly recommend watching the film's trailer. There have clearly been quite a few changes, but it gives a better summary than I can - and you will still be shaking your head at the end.

I am looking forward to seeing how this is adapted when the movie comes out in October.

View all my reviews

Sunday, September 2, 2012

How to Fill 66 Jars in a Day

In the late 90s, I became a certified "Master Food Preserver" through my local county extension office. It sounds very fancy, but at the time, canning and food preservation was truly out of favor. I was undoubtedly the youngest person in my class of about a dozen people.

As Master Food Preservers, we were expected to field questions from county constituents contacting the understaffed extension offices as well as give demos and teach classes. In the entire time that I lived in Weld county, I never once got a question nor did I ever teach a class. I fulfilled my required hours mostly by helping out at the county fair and manning a little visited food preservation booth at various county functions.

Fast forward to 2008, after a long time away from my canner, I decided to make some pickles. I wrote this about the craft:
There is no doubt that canning is as laborious and useless a kitchen task as there currently is. But there are fewer culinary tasks more satisfying than seeing rows of your own (tastier) pickles lined up in the pantry. 
And while that is still true, over the past three years, for whatever reason, canning has seen a resurgence. Whenever I mention my pickles, which is frequently as I am an unabashed canning evangelist, I inevitably get a request to "teach me how!" I started with a small class to a  friend and her husband, then another much larger class to my church, and then my closest friend asked to learn. One hot August day, we put up our favorites:  jams, pickled beets and bread and butters pickles. The Annual Cannual was born.

This year was the third Annual Cannual and every year we learn more. Canning is still useless, hot and laborious, but this is how you do it right.

The Set Up

Apparently, glass top stove manufacturers forbid canning using traditional ridged-bottom canners due to a combination of weight, pot size and the temperature fluctuations of the glass top stove. Knowing the volume of the Annual Cannual, I was unwilling to accept canning in my smaller flatbottomed canner. So we did this instead:

Yes, a propane-powered, dual-burnered camp stove with an output of 35,000 BTUs per burner. We kept two canners constantly going (even in the rain), the heat stayed outside and all four burners were available on the range inside for cooking. Also, spills? No problem.

The Bounty

Tomatoes from fellow choristers, peaches from coworkers, cucumbers, onions and chiles from the local farmers markets and the rest from the uber gardeners, my parents. The fresher, the better.

The Tribe

Many hands make light work - never truer when you have pounds and pounds of produce to convert into pickles and jams. Everyone did prep work at home so on the morning of the Cannual, we only had about two hours of blanching, peeling, chopping and foodmilling left to do.

Cilantro and tomatoes for salsa
Apples for apple butter
Peaches and strawberries for jam
The Yield

We started at 10:00 am and finished at about 8:30 pm. Plenty of time left for ice cream and consuming extra jam.

  • 7 pints of peach salsas
  • 7 pints of tomato salsa
  • 4 pints of pickled beets
  • 7 pints of bread and butter pickles
  • 10 half-pints of apple butter
  • 17 half-pints of peach jam
  • 9 half-pints of strawberry rhubarb jam
  • 5 half-pints of plum preserves
  • 10 half-pints of apple butter

  • Everything definitely has a season.