Wednesday, July 18, 2012

In a Jam

“They go together like kids and figs.”

Isn’t that the saying?

Maybe I’m thinking of baseball and apple pie, or peanut butter and jelly.

It is entirely possible that most kids I know (and adults for that matter) have never tasted a fresh fig, let alone fallen in love with them.

I am here to say, “Give figs a chance!” I mean, why should peas be the only produce that are given a chance?

Any-who, why am I championing the much-ignored fig? I happen to find them delightful, they are very healthy and are in abundance currently in my own backyard.

Also, out of three daughters, a third of them like the figs. Guess which one. Yes, the picky eater, the chef, the middle child. Go figure. She eats them fresh from the tree like I do, both of us requiring reins to keep from getting fig-sick.

The fig is so historic and so fleeting, being ripe for only a few weeks each year. In fact, last year a massive hailstorm destroyed about 95% of our crop.

This year is different.

We are picking roughly 2 quarts of figs each day and that doesn’t count the ones the ants and birds claimed first. I am not a jerk. I share the figs.

The middle child and I were busy gorging ourselves on the delicious, honey-flavored fruit when we decided to try to preserve the stuff. They are such delicate fruit that they only last about a day or two off of the trees and bruise easily. What could we make?


Sounds like a winner.

Tools of the trade
The eldest child said, “I don’t think I like fig jam.” And continued watching some show about kids who don’t ever incur consequences for the ridiculous things they do…you know, Every-Disney-Nick-Show. That one.

The youngest said, “I want to help cut the figs.” The prospect of having two kids, eight and under, wielding knives in a two square-foot space near me was not exciting.

“I need a label designer,” I pitched, appealing to her artistic sensibilities.

“Okay! I can make pretty red labels.” And she was off with a lid as a template.

The middle child and I set up the large wooden cutting board and colander of figs between us. We each grabbed a knife and a bowl and started snagging figs to dice.

“Chefs always have to taste what they are working on,” she said, snarfing down a small fig. “Especially figs.”

Sidebar: At this point, I already had placed the large, black enameled canning pot on the stove. I filled it with water, put on the lid and started trying to boil the water. I also had already washed all of the jars with soap and water.

“I bet Giada has a fig tree,” she said next (referencing Giada DeLaurentis, her idol, whom she has met twice). “I know she tries figs when she is cutting them.”

We continued taking the two types of figs-both sold to us as Brown Turkey figs, but obviously not both the same thing-and dicing them small. We had plenty to chop. She kept chopping and snarfing.

“The figs are saying ‘eat me!’ I can’t help it.” She said. “They are irresistible, aren’t they?”

We worked our way finally through the whole mountain of figs and combined our bowls of chopped fruit. The water had fortuitously begun boiling in the pot by this time. I added the clean jars to the boiling water in the canner, along with the lids. I replaced the canner lid and started preparing the jam.

The middle child helped put the figs and water in the pot.

“I feel like we have our own Smuckers company!” she exclaimed as she added the sugar to the boiling fruit. “It looks like Mt. Kilimanjaro of figs, all snowy on top.”

I took over the process at this point, after she added the lemon juice. Boiling-hot syrupy fruit, molten glass jars and scalding water is not conducive to childhood safety. From a stool across the kitchen, she kept an eye out.

“Why do we have to sterilize the jars?” she asked. “Oh, wait. To clean them so the jam will be okay?”


I pulled a hot jar out of the water, put the wide-mouthed funnel in the jar, ladled the hot fig jam into the jar, used the canning stick to remove the air bubbles in the jam, wiped the rim of the jar with a damp paper towel and pulled a lid out of the boiling water with the magnet stick. I placed the lid straight on the jar and added the threaded ring.

I filled up nine jars. Seven glass jars and two freezer jars.

All the glass jars had to be popped back into the water bath canner to be boiled until they were sterilized (there is a government-sanctioned, super-secret way to know what food has to be processed for what time-I don’t question the canning magicians, I just follow the chart) and soon they were ready to come out and sit on the counter until their lids popped down and they were sealed.

The two freezer jars had to sit overnight before going into the freezer.

We sat back and admired our pioneer-quality stash. The youngest came in bearing a stack of labels proudly. We now have the best-dressed fig jam you’ve ever seen!

Post-script: After slathering the jam on toast later, the middle child declared that the jam was “Good, but more savory than I expected.” I think she may watch too much Food Network.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Calculated Fun

Pardon the length; it’s my first run back after the VBS hiatus!

We have a budding game designer in our midst. Perhaps you remember the real-life Candy Land episode I regaled you with earlier this year? Peanuts compared to the minute detail and thought put into Calculator, the youngest child’s newest foray into family fun.

“Any rebroadcast, retransmission, or account of this game, without the express written consent of Major League Baseball, is prohibited”oh, wait…sorry, wrong disclaimer.

Here it is:
Any references to Calculator are at the permission and discretion of the youngest child. Please do not market or sell Calculator, as it is the intellectual property of my SIX YEAR-OLD!
***That is all***

So, anyway, for days the youngest child was scurrying around, ferreting construction paper and markers, asking how to spell words and then looking disheartened when she found out she was wrong. She would then think of a new word, brighten up and move on.

She clipped little pieces of paper, used tape, drew pictures and addressed notecards. A pile of flotsam and jetsam gradually increased on the craft room table. Finally, she declared that Calculator was ready for a grand unveiling.

“Everyone in the family must meet me in this room right now to play Calculator!” she declared with all the pomp of a circus ringmaster.

Well, okay. I must admit my curiosity was piqued by the previous days’ enigmatic behavior.

We all assembled in the craft room and started to sit down.

“STOP! Everyone has a name card. You have to sit by your card,” she commanded. This was her moment. All eyes were on her and everyone sat where she told us to sit, in front of the pieces of construction paper bearing our names.

“Flip these over and put them in front of you,” she said, indicating brown notecards that had each of our names on them. They were face-up but we were to place them face down.

In the center of the table was a pink sheet of construction paper with various sets of dashes drawn in sharpie, separated by slashes. It resembled a long, broken-up Hangman puzzle, sans gallows.

“When you think you know a letter in one of the words, raise your hand and hold your paper up in the air,” she said, gesturing to a diagram on the wall that showed us what to do in case we forgot.

“If it is not your turn and you raise your hand, you get an ‘X’ on your paper. If you raise your hand but not your paper, you get an ‘X’ on your paper. I will be going around in a circle making ‘X’ marks if you do anything wrong.”

We had been duly warned!

“If you answer a letter right, you will get a heart on your card. The person with the most hearts will win. If you think you know all of the words on the paper, flip your name card over (the brown notecard) and raise your hand with your paper. If you are right, you get as many hearts as letters. If you are wrong you are automatically disqualified.”


“Hey,” you may be saying. “Why is this game called Calculator?”

I’ll tell you.

The child had been figuring out what words she could spell using numbers on the calculator. She even made herself a cheat sheet with all of the words and the corresponding numbers. Yup, that is what the blanks on the pink sheet represented.

“I am thinking of a number, what is it?” she asked us, without offering a range.

“Two,” I said.


“Four,” said the oldest.


“Three!” exclaimed the middle child.


“Seven,” said my hubby.

“Oh, I forgot,” she said. “It was two. Mommy, you go first.”


So, I raised my hand with the paper and guessed the letters for the word “hello”, the quintessential calculator word.

“Yes! You get hearts!”

I was very excited.

We worked around in a circle, the youngest child presiding over the game from a few steps up on the staircase. Someone else guessed “hi” and she got serious.

“Hello and hi were the two basics, now is the hard part.”

After the middle child hid her card to keep from getting another ‘X’, the game master announced loudly:

“I am making a new rule! If you try to hide your card you are automatically disqualified!”

Mercy is for the weak.

“Oh,” she said a minute later. “Also, one of the words is a symbol.”


Despite two tries to get automatically disqualified, the oldest child worked until she deciphered SOS. The symbol mentioned previously.

I wound up winning the whole shebang, scoring more hearts than the rest and dominating the pack—you will note that I was dusted in live Candy Land so I didn’t feel too much remorse.

“How fun, thanks for putting that together for us,” I said, starting to get up.

Not so fast. “Now it’s time for prizes and congratulations,” she said. “I will hand out the prizes and the winner will give me my congratulations.”

Of course, she had everything planned out. She took a few minutes to gather her prizes and jotted down a few words and then turned to face us.

“The first place winner is…Mommy!!!!!”

I bowed and air-kissed my way to the stairs to accept my prize. It was then that the genius of this six year-old morphed a little into the evil genius of the six year-old. Not so evil that you would say E-Vil, as in the Fru-its of the Dev-il, but pretty impressive nonetheless.

My prize was two stuffed bears topped with a sign that read (and I am writing this grammatically correctly for ease of reading. Please see the photo for the original message):

“You know how you want me to give away two toys? :)"

Yup, I did. Earlier in the week as we were weeding out stuff, I asked that she at least donate two stuffed animals and we would go from there.

She had me. I was impressed and a little under matched. I still wonder if this was opportunity at work or if the whole thing was devised to keep these bears in the house. I guess the world will never know.

Everyone received a prize and then I had to come up and announce her certificate of congratulations for a game well-created. Not too modest, is she? She also had made each of us ribbons with a blue circle and blue and yellow ribbons hanging down. So festive and thorough.

I will continue to look forward to her “family games” that are quickly becoming some of my favorite times!

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