Cartwheel back into the carnival that is returning to school. It’s not just the kids returning; I signed up for a creative writing course. For fun. And yes, our house has become a “funhouse”, leaning more toward the horrific than euphoric. I’m sure you’re not surprised.
I’m buried in tomatoes [wife edits: and praying for the killing frost. Anything to release me from the guilt of vine-over-ripening tomatoes…they taunt me with their plump red cheeks. I need an ancient stone wall and Roman heat so the sun could do the work for me]. [Gearhead edits: well with climate change…].[wife edits: No. Just stop talking.]
Back to school is the perfect time to rip up the driveway by the way, if you were thinking of putting in a new propane line, if you’re a Gearhead. I’m mainlining anger by the time I hurdle the four-foot deep trench, the dewed over dirt piles, in my high heels, to get to the car to go to work. The Gearhead leans out the kitchen window, holding a coffee in his right hand, quips something about my poor sense of direction. Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind when selecting the gravesite.
I know, I know, I’m ungrateful. Of course I want to be warm in the winter. Of course I’m thankful I have a Gearhead. A Gearhead with a back hoe and a heave ho attitude to getting the job done. Don’t worry. I continue to feed him. Hopefully in many different ways. [Gearhead edits: in addition to frustration?]
Back to school. The only way to approach it is with extreme planning and regimental adherence to a schedule. A schedule that, apparently, is not robust or resilient if one of your children announces she is playing on the field hockey team in addition to swimming five times a week. The shock waves reverberate. The funhouse mirror—it’s tricky—makes me look like a deranged lunatic. The dog barks at me when I get home. Our dog. The one I feed twice a day. [wife edits: I can fix that with a little mascara and blush, maybe a swipe of lipstick] [Gearhead edits: not so much]
“I closed the pool last week.”
“what has that got to do with anything?!”
And then this pearl of insight from child number one: “Mum your resting face is a smile; it’s really annoying.”
Here’s a trick if you ever find yourself with: an unrealistic schedule; a fourteen year old confirming every fear you’ve ever had about becoming middle-aged; a Gearhead vibrating himself toward chronic back pain aboard a back hoe in your front drive; a dog with Alzheimer’s; a twelve year old with faith in your ability to assemble her clarinet; prepare to disappoint and make chutney. It spruces up meat from leftover roasts, it’s fantastic on grilled cheese sandwiches made with crumbling to death old cheddar, it’s a great addition to charcuterie plates when unanticipated car enthusiasts arrive on your doorstep each Sunday.
Chutney: take a riot of too many tomatoes and apples from your garden, put them in a big pot. Add a fist-full of raisins, a good glug of cider vinegar, some spices from India and some brown sugar. Boil the sh*t out of it. When it starts to burn at the bottom of the pot, you’ve cooked it too long. Remember that for next year.
Here’s the recipe you should really follow, from the Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving by Ellie Topp & Margaret Howard.
6 cups (about 2 lbs/1kg) diced cored peeled tart apples
3 cups (1lb/500g) coarsely chopped peeled tomatoes
2 cups (1lb/500g) diced cored peeled firm pears
1 cup (1/2 lb/250g) diced prune plums
1 cup (250 ml) raisins or currants
5 cups (1.25 L) lightly packed dark brown sugar
2 1/2 cups (625mL) cider or malt vinegar
1/2 teaspoon each: ground mace, ground ginger, ground cloves, cayenne pepper, coarsely ground black pepper and salt
Combine apples, tomatoes, pears, plums and raisins in a large stainless steel or enamel saucepan. Stir in brown sugar, vinegar, ginger, mace, cloves, cayenne pepper, black pepper and salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and boil gently for 1 hour or until chutney is very thick and golden brown, stirring frequently.
Ladle chutney into sterilized jars. Process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes for half pint (250mL) jars and 15 minutes for pint (500mL) jars.