During Miss Chef's first week or two of teaching, I would still be up when she got home from class, around 11:00 pm. One of those days, she came home frustrated, after a long day of unexpected changes. She told me how she'd been repeatedly thrown for a loop at work and at school, punctuating her story with "Surprise! Here's another student we're going to add in the second week of class!" or "Surprise! We're out of stock!"
While she was clearly frustrated and tired, I have to say it was certainly one of her more amusing and memorable nights of storytelling. Her conclusion: "I hate surprises."
So far, this weekend has been one long list of surprises. We hadn't planned much, just a solid day of canning, stocking up on the last of summer's bounty. After my latest solo canning session, Miss Chef and I agreed that we wanted to put up one final blowout batch of tomatoes. She suggested we wait until Labor Day weekend, when she would have more time.
So Friday night I set my alarm for 6:30 am, and rose before dawn to chivvy Miss Chef out of bed and into the car. With gel packs in the cooler and a back seat of totebags, off we went to the Matthews market. When we arrived, it didn't take us long to realize: Surprise! No tomatoes!
Whaaa?? Ok, I wasn't too worried, as half the vendors weren't present anyway. This weekend is the town of Matthews' big festival, so the market was cut short and attendance was scant. We did manage to pick up some figs--more on that later!--and chat with some farmers. But we knew that some of the vendors would also be at the much larger Charlotte Regional Farmers' Market, so we got back in the car and headed there.
That market was crowded, and as we waded through the two sheds' worth of produce, meat and other goodies, we learned: Surprise! No ripe tomatoes! It seems the farmers are picking whatever's on the vines, before they wither completely. I can't blame them at all; we haven't had rain for weeks, and it's about time to switch seasons anyway. We stopped to stock up on potatoes and garlic from Laughing Owl Farms, and when we explained our fruitless search (no pun intended!), Dean Mullis suddenly handed us the two sad tomatoes left on the table, saying, "Here, have these for lunch." Jennifer, next to him, added, "Yeah, they probably won't make it 'til dinner."
So much for our big canning plans. We did somehow manage to blow the rest of our money (I couldn't resist a pack of locally-made hot dogs for $8), and still headed home with a full cooler. We lugged it up to the front stoop, opened the door and: Surprise! Rosie's been counter surfing!
When I tell Rosie she's almost perfect, this is what I mean by "almost." This bowl was a gift from Miss Chef's brother which she was very attached to. It's nothing unusual or expensive, but it was a very thoughtful gesture from a guy who's not usually into thoughtful gestures. And we used it all the time. It had been displaying a lovely pile of brownish green pears that just happened to be in front of some good-smelling candy someone had given Miss Chef.
(For my dog-loving friends, we've been trying different approaches to keeping Rosie off the counters, but that's a whole different post.)
Well, I had had enough. I was tired, and sweaty and really really disappointed in my dog. So while Miss Chef turned the pears into pearsauce (like applesauce), I drowsed on the couch. After Miss Chef left for work, and the heat of the day started to ease, I finally stirred myself enough to wander outside--where I found more surprises...
Surprise! The beans have suddenly started producing...beans!
Surprise! The cherry tomatoes have decided to put out more flowers!
Surprise! That volunteer plant I had just about decided was a weed turned out to be gallardia after all!
Oh, and Surprise! We still have a canning project this weekend!
Any NPR listeners out there? You may have heard a little story they did this week on Morning Edition about canning! I was getting ready for work and had to stop to listen...Linda Wertheimer went to visit a fellow foodie blogger! Her name is Cathy Barrow, and her blog is Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Kitchen. Her stated goal on Morning Edition was to demonstrate that home canning is not difficult, and does not need to be time-consuming.
It was so cool listening to a news story about something so familiar to me; the jar lifters, the lids and rings, the canner full of boiling water, and the grand finale: the "ping!" of jars sealing. Most of the story detailed how Cathy made canned crushed tomatoes, but she also mentioned a recipe for fig preserves. As it happens, Miss Chef and I have lately been downing store-bought fig preserves with brie--so delicious! I can't believe it never occurred to us to make our own.
But that's all changing tonight. Thanks to Mrs. Wheelbarrow, I'm about to delve into the figs and rescue our nearly-thwarted canning weekend. If you're looking for something fun to do this weekend, I strongly recommend you stop by her blog--she's a very gracious hostess. And there's an easy recipe for fig preserves at the top of the page right now.
Update: Final result!