Short:Sweet (and a little Shakespeare, at the very end)

Today, I’ve been thinking about brevity. Brevity in writing and in speaking. It’s a continuation of yesterday’s thought, the one about how it is more effective to show than to tell. It’s also true that it is sometimes more effective to say something once, and with wit and brevity, than to repeat yourself or twitter on about something you’ve already said. If you want people (here I am referring to readers and to children) to follow you up the steep hill, you have to make it look like an easy hike.

Metaphor Switch, for those who do best when food is invoked: We cannot eat Thanksgiving dinner every night of the year. Nor can we survive on evening meals that consist of nectarines, yogurt and raspberries. We need both sorts of nourishment.

This is today’s:

The container I keep my yogurt in has a little bit of Shakespeare on it (I’ll leave you to guess, along with Edwin, whether the reference to oranges and fruits is Shakespearean or not). But in tiny writing underneath the oranges and fruits, you’ll find this, which is more assuredly Shakespeare:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.

And if you’re curious, here’s the rest of this sonnet:

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Enjoy your day, or your evening, depending on where in the world you are.



Lunch at the Brazil Cafe

Lunch on a hot day at the Brazil Cafe: a mango smoothie a little bit of chicken and rice, but not much. Mostly, we just wanted the mango smoothie. My youngest son, who is six, said several times how much he liked it here. Maybe it was the Brazilian music, the picture of a footballer in a uniform he recognized because his brother gave him an old jersey from this team (ac milan, he says, like I would know what that is. I don’t.)

The Brazil Cafe is basically a hut in a parking lot, but it’s so transformed by layers of funky and colorful paint, and fabric, and signs, that you don’t actually know what’s under it all. Something magical, is my guess.

Across the street is the Berkeley Ace Hardware — the entire second floor of which is full of models (tanks, race cars, air planes — if it ever moved, or dreamed of moving, it is here). We spent a lot of time in there, and then went to the comic book store, Comic Relief, and then we came back and looked around the second floor a little while longer and then we thought, you know, we should have lunch and how about that amazing looking place right across the street.

And so we did. And it was great. For a moment, looking at my son sitting back in his chair taking in the scene I realized I was in the middle of someone’s childhood. It was a good one to be in.

Red, White, and Blue, Baby

Today’s my brother Tom’s birthday. He’s taken it well, having to share his birthday with that of our beloved country. This year, he’s having a birthday celebration in El Paso with our parents, his girlfriend from Columbia, Lena, our friend Aurelia and my three boys. Whew. There will be fireworks, as there often are on his birthday.

My brother lives alone most of the time. He’s a bachelor, a category of male life my sons find fascinating and wonderful. Every room in his house is magical. For example, the laundry room in his house has the usual stuff — but it also has an enormous bucket of bubble gum. He has an entire refrigerator in his garage devoted to soft drinks. He has THREE televisions. He plays the guitar well. He is terribly kind and very generous.

Today, thinking about my brother, I made the Cake with a Thousand Faces

I employed raspberries and blueberries and will not explain why that is. I’m sure you can guess. This is how it looked before it went in the oven.

This is how it looked when it came out of the oven:

I’m sure it is very clear how much I love my brother. Happy Birthday to him, the Red, White and Bluebaby.

Jam Today

The jam is done. If you want to see how it all started, you can read about it here. This is how I finished it.

Sterilize the jars. That means: wash them in hot soapy water, fill them with hot water and put them in the microwave on high for ten minutes or in the oven at 250 for about half an hour. I use boiling water. You do not have to; boiling water can be scary. We don’t want you to be afraid.

Next, open the fridge and take out the jam you put in there a few days ago, the jam that’s been sitting in its sugar and lemon bath and becoming more and more delicious.

Put it in the lovely copper preserving kettle. While you’re at it, take the top of the two part canning lid (there’s a screw top and a flat sealing part), and put it in a sauce pan with water.

Turn the heat on. As soon as the water begins to boil in the saucepan where you’ve put the lids, turn it off. You don’t want to cook the lids, you want to keep them warm. When the jam begins to boil, turn it down to a simmer. Cook for about 15 minutes. Sometimes the jam is a bit runny. That’s okay. It firms up in the fridge. It is not meant, anyway, to be glutinous.

Can the stuff. That means, put it in the jars using a ladle (there is a special funnel you can get that helps this.) Leave about 1/4 inch of headroom. Wipe the top of the jar with a clean cloth. Screw on the two part lid that comes with all Kerr and Ball canning jars. (If you live in another country, this process will have to be as per the manufacturer’s instructions.) Turn the jars upside down.  Set a timer for five minutes.  And then turn the jars right side up.

You will notice that, somewhere between ten and thirty minutes later, the jars will make a most satisfying “pop.” If you’ve canned a lot of jars, there will be a lot of popping. This is the sound of the jar sealing. In our small house, when I make jam at night, I can hear the popping all the way up in my bed. I love it.

And that’s it. Except you need to try to keep the jam for the winter and not eat it right then & there, which is what we did with some of it last night. This picture doesn’t really do justice to the color which is a deep … raspberry. Here are some things you can do with jam:

  • spoon it over plain yogurt
  • spoon it over ice cream
  • eat it with a spoon
  • use it as a relish with meat
  • and, of course, put it on toast

Tonight, the Writing Cafe is Serving

Jam, of course.

–The Queen and Alice, on hiring Alice as a maid–

`I’m sure I’ll take you with pleasure!’ the Queen said. `Twopence a week, and jam every other day.’
Alice couldn’t help laughing, as she said, `I don’t want you to hire ME–and I don’t care for jam.’
`It’s very good jam,’ said the Queen.
`Well, I don’t want any TODAY, at any rate.’
`You couldn’t have it if you DID want it,’ the Queen said. `The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday–but never jam today.’
`It MUST come sometimes to “jam today,”‘ Alice objected.
`No, it can’t,’ said the Queen. `It’s jam every OTHER day: today isn’t any OTHER day, you know.’
`I don’t understand you,’ said Alice. `It’s dreadfully confusing!’

-Lewis Carroll, Through The Looking Glass (with thanks to

The Raspberry Jam is done. It is beautiful. Pictures tomorrow. Alice tonight.

Raspberry Jam

The first time I ever saw someone make jam I was horrified. It was a terribly hot summer day and my jam-making friend, a woman who’d never seemed insane before that day, was boiling great vats of strawberries and sugar at a rate so furious you could barely see the stove for all the steam. Hot fruit was splattered everywhere: walls, floor, stove, people. The kitchen was an inferno of sticky, sweet goo. Hot, sticky fruit hurts. So does the boiling water she used to seal the jars. Jam making looked about as safe as climbing into an active volcano, and about as senseless.

But don’t those raspberries look beautiful? And what can you do when there are so many of them in the market and you’ve eaten all you can every day for weeks? And they don’t cost very much?

It occurred to me about ten years after the jam making debacle, that possibly jam could be made in smaller batches — microbrewed, as it were.

And that is what I do when I make jam. After much experimentation I’ve come up with a few rules:

  • I only make two kinds of jam: raspberry and apricot. Why? Because neither is too sweet and both are absolutely beautiful to look at.
  • I make small batches in a beautiful copper preserving kettle I bought at Sur La Table for the ridiculously cheap price of $49. (It is a lot of money, but not for something you use all summer long, year after year, and to perfect effect.)
  • I do not use pectin. I don’t like the way it makes the jam congeal. I use three ingredients only: lemon juice, fruit and sugar. That’s it.
  • I make the jam in small jars. That way, if I give some away, I’m not giving away everything I have. Plus, it just looks nicer in small jars — more jewel-like.
  • I do not use a hot water bath. I have a secret (well, not so secret, just wonderful) way of sealing it that works quite well.

Here are some specifics. First, the raspberry jam recipe. It comes from a book called Preserving in Today’s Kitchen by Jeanne Lesem. (Ms. Lesem was born in Kansas, raised during the Depression in small towns in Arkansas and, from the book jacket, appears to have been a journalist in New York City. I’d love to read her autobiography.)

Raspberry Jam

  • 3 (6 ounce) trays of raspberries
  • 2 Tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
  • Sugar
  1. Set an open 8 ounce canning jar upside down in the center of a microwavable glass measure or casserole. Distribute the berries around it, add the lemon juice, cover and microwave on high for 2 minutes. (You can also just do this on the stove, heating the berries for a few minutes, to get the juices flowing.) Let stand for two minutes.
  2. Transfer berries and juice to a 1 1/2 quart saucepan, add 3/4 cup (6 ounces) sugar bring to a boil quickly, and boil rapidly until slightly thickened.
  3. Pack into a hot sterilized 12-ounce jar, seal with one of those two-part canning rings you get when you buy canning jars , invert for 5 minutes, then set upright to cool. (You’ll often hear the sound of the jars popping, which is the sound of a vacuum being made to keep the jam preserved.) This is the wonderful method of making the jam air tight, so it will keep for the long winter, when raspberries seem a world away.

That’s it. When I went outside to get the lemons, the bush was a thing of beauty:

You can do this in two parts, by the way. Today, I prepared the raspberries up to the point where you do the boiling. I tripled this recipe (which still isn’t a lot) and then heated them up a bit with the lemon juice.And then I added sugar, put them in containers and stuck them in the fridge. They looked like this right before I added the sugar:

They’re in the fridge now, macerating and gaining flavor. Tomorrow, I’ll boil them for about 15 minutes — nothing too dangerous — and then put them in jars, turn the jars upside down for five minutes and bob’s your uncle.

Next? I’m still determined to do those tea cakes. Plus, I’ve got some awfully beautiful apricots to make into jam.

Part Two can be found here.