Sunday, September 2, 2012

Figs and Flotillas

Curtis’s post of last week on Quick Frugal Trips coordinated nicely with and added a great sense of anticipation about our personal plans to celebrate my youngest daughter’s birthday this very weekend. Deeds was born on Labor Day so it’s always nice for her to have an extended holiday each year on her birthday. Her sister, Linds, has planned an action-packed weekend for us visiting with her in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. And we’ll not miss one bit of fun celebrating richly yet frugally (imagine here my pirouette as I simply adore when the execution of a great plan leaves money in my pocket!)

Friday will find friends and family piling into the jeep for the brief trek to Lindsay’s house. We’ll share a meal that evening with fixings from our pantry - pasta with fire-roasted marinara sauce canned this summer from Papa’s garden. We’ll pack a picnic basket for Saturday morning’s trip to the Maury River in Goshen where we’ll enjoy the area’s extraordinary beauty while swimming in the naturally formed rock pools there. Lunch for six can easily be afforded when I raid the pantry once again to appoint that picnic basket - homemade biscuits, a jar of fig jam, a good wedge of cheese and cold-cut deli meats will make for a filling lunch for us while we laze the day away enjoying stellar company. Saturday evening will find us savoring a full-moon kayak adventure on the James River - we’ll even have a campfire with s’mores afterward. The outfitter assures us that the last half of this trip will allow us to float downriver in the dark. My alter ego, Mommie Dearest, fully intends to exploit every opportunity to see which of our company scares easily! Oh, the anticipation... 

On Sunday we’ll hike the Chessie Trail, a 6 mile rail trail following a roadbed formerly used by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway before ending our day at a wine tasting at Rockbridge Vineyard. We’ll travel no more than 2 hours from our home in North Carolina to spend an entire holiday/birthday weekend costing no more than $300 for six people. But best of all will undoubtedly be the abundance of smiles, laughter and memories on which to later reflect - these are the things which money simply cannot buy.

Drunken Fig Jam

1 lemon
1 orange
4 pounds ripe fresh figs, stemmed, cut into ½-inch pieces (about 9 cups)
4 cups sugar (or 3 cups honey)
¾ cup brandy or Cognac
½ teaspoon kosher salt
slivered almonds (optional)

Zest the lemon and the orange, avoiding white pith. Combine the zest and the juices from the lemon and orange with figs, sugar (or honey), brandy and kosher salt in a heavy, large and deep saucepan; let stand at room temperature for an hour or so, stirring occasionally.

Bring fig mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce the heat to medium; continue to boil until jam thickens and is reduced to about 6 cups, stirring often and occasionally mashing the mixture with a potato masher to crush large fig pieces, about 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in slivered almonds if using them.

Ladle mixture into 6 hot, clean ½-pint glass canning jars, leaving about ¼-inch headspace at top of jars. Remove any air bubbles and wipe the jar rims with a clean cloth. Cover with hot lids and screw on jar bands. Invert on a clean kitchen cloth immediately and let cool on countertop. Once cool, check seals to ensure that jars have indeed sealed. If not, process jars in pot of boiling water for 10 minutes. Store in a cool, dark place up to one year.

Lastly, I hope you’ll enjoy one of my poems written while ruminating the works of one of my favorite poets, Pablo Neruda.

pressing blooms
and Neruda’s explanations -
scent of hibiscus

 A Hundred Gourds, 1:1, December 2011

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