We took down the Christmas tree today, an event that has as much joy as getting your bits waxed. Down came the teddy bear advent calendar I grew up with. The mistletoe - which didn't see nearly enough action - was removed from the foyer. The mantelpiece was de-garlaned. The tree's bobbles and strings were delicately removed and tucked into boxes with a throw-n-go method. The tree itself, a marvelous Martha Stewart fake that could fool even the most scrutinous botanist if not for the lights miraculously growing from its branches, was packed away.
Once stored and shelved for the next eleven months the husband and I went out to the garage for the comfy sack - a large beanbag chair of sorts. It's filled with foam pellets instead of those crappy polyurethane beads that exploded over many a living room in the 80s, and upholstered in a chocolate microsuede cover. Quite fun. Extremely comfortable. I highly recommend it if you want a touch of whimsy in your home.
It was also, apparently, very peed on.
Upon picking it up we discovered a very new, very recent, and very large wet spot covering the bean bag. Surrounding it were many coarse grey hairs.
Apparently that morning a raccoon (or possibly a opossum, but who cares?) had clamored into the garage to do nothing more than pee on the beanbag. It left ignored the dog food, the storage, the car. All of it untouched. It had wandered in solely to pee on the beanbag and leave. I assume it did this because the raccoon was a total fucking dickbag.
It was wet enough that it could only have occurred in the last few hours. That killed me more than anything; that had we just taken the decorations down hours earlier all would have been fine.
We couldn't take it back in. No amount of cleaning would ever really get the smell out of the infinite number of foam pellets, assuming there was a way to clean them. At least, not enough that the smell wouldn't still be noticeable to our two cats, Eat Beast and Cid, who would undoubtedly begin a urine-soaked campaign in order to reclaim the beanbag.
So, suddenly, we were furniture shopping.
I don't handle change well. Some people stress. Others panic. Some pace about and make plans. I'm a fan of all the above along with ill-timed and fervent phone calls to any friend who will listen to my woes (read: bitching).
Sooner or later I get a hold of myself and cook. It's a good way for me to keep my brain occupied and my hands busy. It's distraction with a payoff.
I find jam is generally a good fit for these sorts of situations as jam is never routine. Sure your actions might be; the sterilizing, the stirring, the general measurement and balance.
The fruit changes. Year to year. Week to week. The fruit always acts a little differently. One batch you'll find the fruit sticky and sweet, so you back a few ounces off the sugar. Another will be watery and flavorless so you'll need to stir it down harder and longer so it'll set right. This batch needs a touch of lemon. This batch is particularly acidic and needs a pinch of butter to stop the foaming.
Then there's knowing when it's done. Jammers know what I mean. When the smell is right and you achieve that unique sucking sound as you quickly pull a spoon across the curve of the pot. It's how you know it's done. You can't set yourself to automatic. You sit there and you stir, listen, smell, taste, and watch.
Good jam demands your presence of mind.
It's the perfect thing when you don't want to think about raccoon pee or balancing the budget a bit so you can pay for that swank West Elm sectional you got when you were just hunting for a damned chair.
But when you finally sit in that swank sectional with its posh slate suede you might deign to break it in with a delightful plate of toast smeared with Earl Grey and kumquat marmalade. Like most of my kumquat marmalades (and they are all kumquat because that tree in the backyard is intent in burying me in fruit) it's farmhouse style. They're chopped up seeds, skin, and all. This is fine because kumquat seeds can be eaten straight and they cook down to pudding-soft, so no worries.
The only trick is that the water they soak in is infused with Earl Grey tea. The result is a marmalade with a properly sweet tea flavor to it. The perky attitude of the kumquats is dosed with a bit of musky reality and earthy flavor, as well as a slight floral quality. This twee jam also comes with a tiny caffeinated kick.
If you have access to pounds of kumquats then I encourage you to make this marmalade. It's stupid easy and will keep you busy for a few hours as jam tends to do. A nice weekend project to do in the kitchen while a book on tape plays in the background.
Have fun and enjoy. Also, remember not to put your furniture in the garage and forget to close the door.
Earl Grey - Kumquat Marmalade
Makes about 8-10 jars
Kumquat seeds are perfectly edible and, frankly, painstakingly removing each one is about as fun as slamming your head against a brick wall. A trick: use the shredder plate in a food processor. Most seeds won't pass through the slots and it makes the task much quicker. What seeds remain are few and cook up plenty soft. I call the look rustic and the flavor isn't altered at all.
6 cups water
3 Earl Grey tea bags
3 lbs. kumquats
2.25 lbs. sugar
1. Bring the water to a boil, add the tea bags and steep for 7 minutes with the pot covered. Remove tea bags, press them to remove all the juice, and discard. Cover the water and allow to cool.
2. Cut up and de-seed the kumquats. Place them in a large stock pot with the tea and allow to sit in the fridge overnight to steep.
3. Add the sugar and stir well. Bring to a boil over high heat. Lower heat to medium-high and boil for the next hour. Be sure to stir often to prevent burning.
4. Pour into sterilized jars, lid and screw, and process the jars in boiling water for 10 minutes to seal. This is amazing with cheese or mixed with a bit of yogurt.