Oh well. This weekend, Jon and I were “supposed” to go on a (very) short fishing trip. The kids are all in their respective places (school and work) and, for the very first time, I agreed to put Mango (our 3 year old Lab.) into doggie camp and we were going to Montauk, Long Island for a much needed, teeny-weeny vacation. Of course, that’s not to say that real fishing is easy–it’s not! But it’s really FUN!
Last March, we went to the Bahamas for a week and fished ALL day, every day …
Each night, we would go to a different neighborhood restaurant near the marina and have the chef cook up our catch.
Ever since this trip, it’s been really hard to call any fish “fresh” after having experienced the perfection of “just caught” fish.
Anyway, we didn’t get to go fishing this weekend. The weather forecast turned bad so instead of having two days on the water, Jon (who, I knew, felt really bad) came to me and said (as if this would be as good…) “Hey, Laur…let’s go apple picking and we’ll take Mango with us!”
“Gee… ok,” I said.
So, we drove a bit over an hour upstate and traipsed through a huge orchard filled with tons of trees that grew a vast variety of apples. In just over an hour of picking, I must say, we did pretty well! We filled three large plastic bags, which wasn’t easy–especially considering that many of the trees were already well “picked-through” and whatever was left were dangling higher than we were tall. Plus, we were also trying to manage a large (and very busy) dog on a leash.
After walking back to the car lugging both, our apples and mango, I realized that during all the reaching and bending, I lost my reading glasses! (Anyone that knows me intimately, knows that losing my glasses is NOT an uncommon occurrence…) Jon, being the sweet man that he is, actually agreed to go all the way back with me…trying to retrace our steps through a gazillion trees, searching for my glasses–which was really so silly, considering they had transparent frames and were completely unable to be seen (especially not by me, without my glasses!). So, after finally saying “bye-bye” to my specs we got in the car, drove down lots of winding dirt roads, headed back to the front gates of the orchard where we were required to pay a whopping $50 for our “apple-catch.” (I silently started doing the math, trying to figure out how expensive this day was now that I ALSO had to replace my glasses…)
So, we drove home and then came the inevitable, after a day of picking.
It’s not that I don’t like going fruit picking (I love it) but this particular time, my inner voice kept nagging….”Boy, right now, Jon and I could be toting our big fat fresh fish to a restaurant AND I could be staying in a hotel with turn-down service. This was supposed to be a vacation day!…”
Of course, Mango was thrilled as she lay splat on the floor of my kitchen, completely pooped after our day out in the fields…
After cleaning all the apples, I went to bed. (I was just as tired as Mango– I’ll spare you the photograph…)
Anyway, the next morning, I made the logical choice when about to wrestle with a ton of apples… I decided to make applesauce. So, I cleaned them all up and seperated out the small ones (and all of the red delicious apples) for eating and used the rest for the sauce.
Although I usually use Macintosh as the base (the ones that I cook and mash), because we had so many varieties, I used them all (Ida, Cortland, Macs…and some others that I haven’t ever eaten before.)
I cored them and cut them into wedges (I discard the core but leave the skin on to add a rosy color to my sauce–not to mention that it would take me about a decade to peel all those apples!) The best tool to use when working with lots of apples is an apple corer/wedge cutter (If you’re a mother, you probably have one of these in one of your kitchen drawers. If not, it looks like this… )
I used a 16-quart pot and filled it to capacity with cored, cut up apples. I added a hefty splash of apple juice. (Actually, this time, I used apple cider, purchased from the orchard. I usually just use unsweetened apple juice.) I stuck several cinnamon sticks down into the apples, covered the pot and turned the heat to high. As the apples cooked…
I occasionally uncovered the pot and would try to turn the apples so that some of those wedges more exposed to bottom heat would be rotated to the top. I also used a potato masher on the apples, trying to help them to break down.
Once all the apples became good and hot, they started to reduce and became easier to mash. I just kept (occasionally) opening the pot, turning the apples and mashing them down.
It didn’t take long before the apples completely surrendered their texture (boy, that sentence makes me feel powerful…) and it was now time to transfer things to a food mill. So, I positioned a very large food mill over a very large bowl.
And I have quite the food mill…
This is a HUGE food mill that I purchased years ago from a restaurant supply store. It was pricey and I felt guilty but since I never (ever) seem to make a small batch of applesauce, and because I always had a really hard time positioning (straddling) a smaller food mill over the large bowl, I caved in and bought this big one. I’ve never regretted it…Having said this, all food mills are not easy to clean (especially this gargantuan one) unless you understand how to take it apart and put it back together. (I finally learned so PLEASE email me so I can help you…)
As you churn the apples in the food mill, pick out the cinnamon sticks. If a stray one gets in there, don’t worry, it won’t hurt anything but they can’t go through the holes and just slows things down a bit. Then, to the bowl of pureed apples, add some pure vanilla extract, ground cinnamon, freshly grated nutmeg and sugar (all to taste). Then add a pinch of salt (salt always helps to release sweetness).
Then, ladle the applesauce into very clean quart-size jars and let it cool to just warm. (I drape a sheet of wax paper over the top, as it cools). Then put a piece of plastic wrap over the top of each jar and attached their lids…and into the fridge they go! If you don’t have enough refrigerator space, you can always process the jars in a boiling water bath. To learn about the tools and how to do this properly, read this blog.
So, the applesauce was finally put to bed and I was about to head to my office to write when Jon came into the kitchen and said with a smile “Honey, quick, come outside to see the big fat figs that are ripe and just waiting for you to pick them off the tree!” Now, if you’ve ever grown figs successfully…and if you’ve ever (then) had a season that failed to produce, you know how exciting this moment was (and what made it even sweeter was that Jon saved this for me).
So, I went outside and, there they were.
This morning, as I laid in bed thinking and reflecting on this past weekend, I was no longer feeling robbed of a fishing trip. Instead I was filled with gratitude. I have Jon as a husband and best friend who always supports my growth (he continues to buy me new glasses) and he never stops helping me see the bright spot in everything.
The Point: Although great vacations inevitably end and new ones can unexpectedly get canceled, great relationships can provide us all with everyday access to how amazing it feels to get the “catch” of a lifetime.