Monday, August 30, 2010

Meditating on Jam

Dear Boo,

The other day, in a state of that kind of agita that makes your chest feel hot and your breathing short and your limbs feel like they might go flailing off at unnatural angles, I decided maybe it was time to sit down and try meditating again. I picked a spot near the window with a nice breeze, pulled out my meditation cushion, or as we refer to it in our house, the place you sit when the laptop is charging and the cord doesn't reach the couch. I took a deep breath, crossed my legs under me, relaxed my face and let my eyes go half mast, fixing gently on a spot on the hardwood floor in front of me where the wood grain comes together in a swirling pattern, and tried to let go. I remembered what I'd been taught, to focus on my breath and whenever the mind wanders, which it inevitably will, to notice it, acknowledge it, let go and return to your breath. I can't say my attempt on this day was too successful--I know, I know, not that one should approach such things with the judgments of success and failure--I did, after all, succeed in sitting down quietly for five whole minutes, which let's face it, is half the battle--but I can't say my mind was stilled in any way. I emerged those five minutes later, breathing a little more slowly, my knees a little stiff, the agita tentatively abated, thinking about...apricot jam.

You see, what was really on my mind was the whole idea of holding on and letting go, and how, I dare say, 90% of my life, my decisions, my passions, my feelings, my resistances, my fears, my joys, come down to this balance between those two things. It's been on my mind lately, what with all the panic-attacking about being forced to let go of summer before I might be ready, and came up again this week as I closed this show and went through that familiar dance of denial, mourning, relief, and grief that happens when we come together in art and friendship and intimacy with a group of previous strangers, only to part again when the calendar dictates it's time. The Buddhists among us would say that all suffering comes from holding onto things we have no business possessing, desiring, or controlling, and that we may only transcend this suffering when we let go of that need to attach ourselves to things. Most of the time this makes sense to me, when I find myself tying myself in knots over expectations and goals that I've long outgrown or have been shown to be neither desirable nor realistic, nor in any way pleasant. Or when I was talking last week with a fellow cast-mate about those nights when you find yourself on stage, holding so tight to the performance you WANT to give, the one you gave last night, the one you PLANNED for, crafted, did all that GD homework for, but the tighter you hold onto it, the further away it feels, the more impossible, the more irrelevant it becomes and all you can do, (all you should have done to begin with!) is LET GO of all of it, what you thought it would be, what you want it to be, what you thought you knew....sigh. So easy to say, and so, so so hard to do.
Apricot Jam and Apricot Syrup

But sometimes, sometimes, I wonder if there isn't something to this whole holding on thing. After all, if we didn't hold tight to some things, sometimes too tight, how would we know the joy, the calm, the freedom that comes with letting go? Which brings me back to my apricot jam. Knowing my steadfast desire to hold onto summer as long as possible, to eke out a few more weeks of fresh berries and tomatoes, sandy toes, balmy, homework-free evenings, could there be anything more illustrative of my destructive, non-enlightened need to HOLD ON than going through the process of canning and preserving seasonal, perfectly ripe fruit? Instead of being in the moment, popping a fresh apricot in my mouth as I stood by the open window, enjoying the late August breeze, I chose to add sugar, cook down those beautiful fruits until they fell apart, and seal them up in glass jars to sit on my shelf.

So, what's my point? Well, it's twofold. First, the jam is delicious, like apricots to the Nth degree, sweet but tart, perfect with butter and toast, heaven on greek yogurt, and this fall, perfect for the roast apricot chicken Grandma used to make. And Second, in the process of making this, I found myself a couple of steps closer to letting go. There was something about spending an afternoon in the kitchen, immersed in the scent of summer fruit, filling jar after jar with the most beautiful peachy liquid gold, that made me feel a little bit okay with the approaching Autumn. I'll still kick and scream all the way back to school, and probably go off on another fresh corn binge before the summer is out, but I feel like I've loosened my grip a little. And thank goodness for that. Because as much as I like to tell myself otherwise, there are actually a few things I don't have control over.
Apricot syrup with seltzer: homemade apricot soda!

A Mouse Royale: prosecco with apricot syrup. Let it come to room temp first for maximum dissolve... (other cocktail ideas: vodka, soda and syrup, or vodka, ginger beer and syrup, a twist on a mojito...)

So, my advice to you? Buy a batch of apricots. Stand in the market and wonder at the mountain of pink and gold in front of you. Take them home. Eat half fresh, standing in front of an open window, with your eyes closed. Breathe. Then take the other half, and make this jam.


The Mouse

P.S. Any more ideas for what to do with the apricot syrup??

Apricot Jam, yoinked from David Lebovitz

2 pounds fresh apricots
1/2 cup water
6 cups sugar
1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice
optional: 1 tablespoon kirsch

1. Cut the apricots in half and extract the pits. If you wish, crack a few open and put a kernel in each jam jar you plan to fill (isn't this nuts? I thought those things were poisonous, and apparently they contain cyanide if you actually eat them. So don't do that, but do try this if you want to give the jam a slightly almondy flavor).

2. Place the apricots in a very large stockpot, and add the water. Cover the pot and cook, stirring frequently, until the apricots are tender and cooked through.

3. Put a small plate in the freezer.

4. Add the sugar to the apricots and cook, uncovered, skimming off any foam that rises to the surface (do not throw this foam away! Save it and you'll have a batch of apricot syrup. Make homemade soda, cocktails, ice cream sundaes, add to pancakes, yogurt, a spoon...). As the mixture thickens and reduces, stir frequently to make sure the jam isn’t burning on the bottom.

5. When the jam looks thick and is looks slightly-jelled, turn off the heat and put a small amount of jam on the chilled plate. Put back in the freezer for a few minutes, then do the nudge test: If the jam mounds and wrinkles, it’s done. If not, continue to cook, then re-test the jam until it reaches that consistency.

6. Once done, stir in the lemon juice and kirsch, if using, and ladle the jam into clean jars. Cover tightly and let cool to room temperature. Once cool, refrigerate until ready to use.


Anonymous said...

That's totally yum....and perfect for the capon for Rosh - but why do the holidays have to come so early this year - how can I fit in the time to make the jam....for the capon?? I will try, I promise.
This was a beautiful post.......kisses.

The Mouse said...

Easy--I'll bring you a jar!

Anonymous said...

I love the idea of the syrup with the Proseco. And I really think a rum based drink or maybe a cachaca based drink would make a great partner with the apricot. I'm not quite sure what else you could add, but I think those two ingredients would make a nice beginning.

pdxblogmommy said...

I love the idea of mixing it with a little vodka in some way. And now I'm dreaming about grandma's chicken even though I already made the brisket for Rosh dinner this week.

Love you all...breathe deeply and enjoy being with family.

Anonymous said...

I could eat these pictures - so sensual and edible. great post I hadn't seen...