So, I think I’ve left sufficient time between blog posts for Hold the Beef to become retro. Ten months is about all it takes these days, yeah? I realised too late that I should have had a Rugs-a-Million style closing down sale or a Farnesy-esque final tour before I disappeared off into the ether, but it wasn’t entirely a conscious decision and as such my one chance at ripping the unsuspecting public of their hard-earned dollars seems to have slipped me by. Still, je ne regrette rien. Well, almost none. Pop on some montage tunes and I’ll fill you in on some highlights and lowlights of the past few months – I suggest Sigur Ros if you want to be uplifted by my highs or if you find yourself feeling a touch too genetically superior today, The Verve to wallow in my lows, TISM if you thought you heard a semi-trailer, or some Rocky training for the montage purists.
The overwhelming theme of 2012 has involved a seemingly unending semester of Car Crash Aftermath 101. I’m beginning to wish there were Frequent Medical Points you could collect and cash in – I’m sure I should have accrued enough for a free nosejob by now, though if other points programs are anything to go by I’ve probably only earned $20 off my next colonoscopy. I’ll spare you the crash/medical/woe details, but I now have newfound respect for those poor crash test dummies (the actual dummies, not the band), and am glad the option never arose to become a stunt-person as I’d apparently be rubbish at it. If you add Fletch and I together you could get a fully functioning human, but the age of Frankenhooker is sadly not yet here and so we carry on as best we can.
My best friend’s baby also decided that Aquarians are so awesome he would come say hello to the world 10 weeks early (eeek) but is now doing really well (hurrah) and is actually super cute, preventing me from having to lie poorly or compliment him on his toes. I put all my training to good use and ran my first half marathon last August and loved it (woo), but now due the Great Crash of 2011 probably won’t be able to run again until the end of the year (boo). Oh, and Fletch and I moved in together last year, my Dad recently bought a shiny red tractor and I might have turned 30 a couple of months ago.
As big a crowd pleaser as the shiny red tractor is, I guess the biggest high-five (with my good arm) moment of recent times must, however, be that beautiful day two weeks ago when I handed in my PhD thesis, and finally received that long-awaited red PhinisheD mug.
The thesis examination process can take 4-5 months so I’m not quite Doctor Conor yet, but it’s out of my hands now and I’m enjoying a few weeks of doing not-very-much, while I catch up on life and figure out what I want to be when I grow up. While this has been happening, our two citrus trees that we weren’t quite sure about have decided they’d like to be orange and mandarin trees when they grow up, and have produced masses of fruit. There was, of course, only one thing to be done with this turn of events. It was time for a jam-boree.
The more I thought about it, the more I realised making jam is like writing a thesis…
- you’re encouraged to stir the pot,
- adequate preparation is critical,
- the process tends to take longer than you expect,
- most people would rather it’s you doing it than them,
- you are very likely to get burned at some stage,
- chances are you’re going to need some assistance (particularly if you are currently unable to lift heavy pots. Or light pots. Or your arm),
- you will want to share the fruits of your hard work with everyone, and
- there will be much toasting involved once it’s all over.
Like many things in many PhD research endeavours, my first ever marmalade attempt (Day #1) soon developed into a comedy of errors. Firstly, we seem to have a mule of an orange tree that doesn’t produce seeds. While an orange tree shooting blanks is a handy attribute for a lazy orange eater, it’s not so great for a pectin-hungry marmalade fiend. Not to worry though, that’s what Jamsetta was made for! Luckily Fletch was heading to visit the doctor so he grabbed me some on the way home. Having left the fruit and peel to soak overnight, I then got started on the actual process, only to realise we didn’t have enough sugar in the house. Luckily Fletch was relaxing in front of his computer, nowhere near the shops. After he did a mercy sugar run, the rest of the process seemed to be going well until the donkey half of the oranges reared their stubborn heads and the marmalade refused to set. I’m not sure how many frozen saucers I went through while adding more Jamsetta (twice), boiling it down some more and, finally, declared close enough was good enough.
I then realised it would probably have been useful to own some sort of funneling device, like a funnel, for instance, to get the marmalade into the jars. Making one out of an old water bottle was a great idea, until we realised the diameter of the water bottle was no larger than that of the jars. Another was made out of a larger plastic bottle, which Fletch then carefully sterilised with boiling water which warped and shrunk the plastic. Still, a shrinky-dinked funnel was better than none and I began carefully filling the jars, sealing with the lids and inverting them. Which resulted in boiling hot marmalade splurting out through the lid seals. Damn you, Red Dot! You buy my childhood trust with your affordable unlicensed unplugged Nirvana and Pearl Jam cassettes, and then you go and stiff me with unsealable jam jars! By this stage I declared I was never going to have children lest they also had children and I become a granny who couldn’t make jam, and I just screwed the lids on as tightly as I could with my non-buggered left hand and hoped the cooling marmalade would suck the little poppy vacuum lids in anyway.
Later that evening I heard a distinctive POP! and laughed in Red Dot’s general direction. Haha! Take that, you Snuggie loving purveyors of E numbers!
The next morning, we discovered that only one of the jars had sealed.
Before admitting total failure, however, Fletch and I tested the marmalade with a muffin and spoon, respectively, and realised that it was worth persisting through another round of ridiculousness to get the jars properly sealed. It was bloody good marmalade, and somehow had reached the perfect consistency. The marmalade attempt (Day #2) began with another trip to the shops to buy those clear cellophane covers (forgetting of course that a cheap funnel may also have been a handy purchase) before re-boiling the marmalade, re-sterilising the jars and re-filling them all again. The cellophane covers actually worked a treat. I grew increasingly more suspicious as the jars continued to seal perfectly, but it seemed my jam initiation was finally over and I could take comfort in the fact that I may be allowed to join the CWA after all. Once I learn how to make scones.
Spiced Orange Marmalade
Recipe derived from this one on taste.com.au
Makes: roughly 2.7 litres
- About 1.4kg oranges, washed
- 1 lemon, washed
- 1.4L water
- 2kg white sugar
- 75 g Jamsetta (see the taste.com.au recipe for the use of seed/pith pectin if your fruit doesn’t shoot blanks like mine)
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 whole star anise
- 5 whole cloves
- 1 tsp vanilla paste
- ¼ cup Grand Marnier
- You’ll also need around 10 std size jam jars, which you will obviously need to sterilise – I boil them for 20 minutes then dry in warm oven for 15 minutes.
- Peel the oranges and the lemon and thinly slice the rind (getting as little pith as possible without going crazy from it). Discard orange pith and dice the flesh. Place rind, flesh and water in a glass/ceramic bowl. Cover and set aside in a cool place for 6 hours or overnight to infuse.
- Transfer mixture to a large heavy-based saucepan. Bring to the boil over medium-high heat. Boil, stirring, for 10 minutes.
- Reduce heat to medium-low. Add the sugar, 50g Jamsetta, cinnamon, star anise and cloves, and cook, stirring, for 10 minutes or until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally and using a metal spoon to remove scum that rises to the surface, for 1 hour. Remove the cinnamon, star anise, and cloves, and discard.
- Add the vanilla and Grand Marnier and allow to simmer for another 10 minutes, then you can start to check if it is set. To test it, place a saucer in the freezer for 5 minutes to chill, spoon a little marmalade onto saucer, return to freezer for 2 minutes or until marmalade is cold, then touch to see if it is set and gel-like. If it is not, continue cooking, testing every 5 minutes. (NOTE: Having said this, I generally end up adding another 25g Jamsetta and simmering for probably a total of two hours before I am happy with the consistency…sorry these instructions are not terribly scientific).
- Remove from heat. Set aside for 5 minutes to cool. Pour or ladle into warm sterilised jars, screw the lids on tightly, and turn upside down for 2 minutes. Turn upright and set aside until cooled. If your jar lids are absolutely rubbish, use Kleerview cellophane covers instead and forgo the inverting step.
- Drink the rest of the bottle of Grand Marnier and clean the jam from everything it has somehow covered in your kitchen.