Friday, June 22, 2012

Summer Nights

I love summer nights. All winter long I dream about them. I have a few stock memories that I draw on.

When our kids were little, the boys used to sleep out in the fort in the backyard all summer long. I'd go out back, climb up the ladder and check on them after they'd been asleep for a while. I remember one particular very special summer night. I'd awakened in the middle of the night to moonlight streaming in through our bedroom window. It was brighter than I'd ever noticed before and I was drawn to it. I slipped out of bed and down the stairs and made my way through the not-very-dark house and out into the backyard. That night was not even pretending to be dark. It was almost as bright as day only with a different kind of light. It was silver light and it was reflecting off of every surface. The lawn was silver, the flowers were silver, the trees and the trampoline were silver. The air itself was sliver. I could see it all around me. I could touch it. I walked across the grass, cool and silver underfoot, and began to climb up the ladder to the fort. I glanced down at my arms. They were radiating silver light. I was silver. Was the moonlight making my skin tingle or was the thought of the moonlight on my skin making my skin tingle? I wanted to soak up as much of it as I could.

I tried to wake up the boys.

"Come see," I whispered. If whispers were visible, it would have been a wispy cloud of silver breath floating around my face.

I think one of the  boys woke up enough to stand and look out the doorway. I think he even said something about the shimmering light. But in the morning, he didn't remember.  

One summer way back when I was forty, I was training for a marathon. In order to work my weekly long run into one busy weekend, I had to get up and start at about 4:30 in the morning. Technically still night. Again, it was almost as light as day. The full moon lit up the running trail as I began at the mouth of Provo Canyon. The air was perfectly still. I listened to the river as I ran alongside it and watched the moonlight twinkle and dance on the surface, as if trying  to dip only the very tips of its moonbeams into the icy water. A family of raccoons crossed the trail up ahead of me, the mama stopping briefly and turning her head to look at me, eyes glowing, then hurrying her babies off the trail and into the bushes.

Moonlight is magical, but I also like to see the stars. The best place to see them is up in the mountains, away from the light pollution of our towns. Up in the mountains on a summer night, you can see billions of stars.  Some twinkling and some steady, densely packed into an endless blue-black universe. And you can see the Milky Way. And the constellations make so much more sense.

I remember another summer night, back when the kids were young and before our town installed obnoxiously bright street lights. We were all sleeping out on the trampoline. It was a relatively dark night. We were watching for a special meteor show that was supposed to be visible that night but that we would sleep through. We did watch the steady progress of a tiny satellite across the sky. I like to think about us sleeping though, with silver meteors showering down around us.   

A friend of mine once told me that sometimes when she can't sleep at night, she goes out and rides her bike around the neighborhood in her nightgown. I'm fascinated by this. Can't you just feel what that would be like on a summer night? Finish this thought: As free as...(riding your bike around the neighborhood in your nightgown in the middle of a summer night.)

I'm waiting for the sun to go down so I can go out for a mid-summer night's run. I've been running at night on and off for decades. I like running at night for two reasons: in the dark, it feels like I'm going faster than I really am, and I've had all day to warm up. Our neighborhood block is a nearly perfect half-mile track. I've run a lot of miles around it over the almost twenty years we've lived here. I could smell popcorn coming from the Barretts' house most summer nights. The extra buttery kind. And the Daltons' house always gave off a fabric softener smell. Vern Henshaw was always out watering his front lawn at night. Did he ever water the back lawn? Barretts have moved. Henshaws have moved, and the Daltons' kids have all grown up  and Linda has retired, so she probably only does laundry once a week now and probably during the day. But some things are the same. You can still smell the honeysuckle over on Main Street. It smells sweeter in the dark. The scent seems to be magnified at night, sweet and thick in the evening air. But I miss the popcorn and the fabric softener.

I have a plan for a staged valley-wide blackout. Imagine if at two o'clock in the morning on a specified summer night, we shut down the lights. All the lights. All over Utah Valley. We could see the stars. Billions of them. The same ones we see when we go up in the mountains. They're still there, I remind myself. We just can't see very many of them.

There's a fire on a mountain across Utah Lake. It started a couple of days ago. We can see its red glow from the front porch at night. It starts up high and snakes its way down and across the mountainside in a wide path. My son Joel told me today that he got up on the roof last night to watch it.

Why didn't he get me up?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Apricot Pepper Jelly

I made a batch of apricot pepper jelly a few weeks ago. I meant to make apricot jalapeno jam, but the peppers I used obviously weren't hot enough. I was a bit disappointed, but it's still delicious.

My neighbor, Amie, came over while I was in production. While I was telling her what I was making, my son, Jeff, came into the kitchen and heard me.

"What, Mom? You're not really doing this, are you? Again? Making a whole bunch of some weird thing that's going to turn out disgusting and go to waste? I can't believe you're doing this."

"Jeff, apricot jalapeno jam is not weird," I defended myself. "I'm not making it up. It's very gourmet."

And then

"And what do you mean again? Jeffrey, name one time I made a whole bunch of some weird thing that turned out disgusting and went to waste? I defy you to name one thing."

He still hasn't been able to come up with anything.

Apricot Pepper Jelly
(makes nine half pint jars)

4 cups smashed apricots (use potato masher)
1 cup yellow and red bell and some red chili peppers, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
7 cups sugar
1 box pectin (like Sure Jell)

I bought a box of apricots at Costco and let them get nice and ripe.

No need to peel the apricots. Just slice in half to remove the pit and then smash them with a potato masher.

Roughly chop the peppers and put them in a blender with some water. Pulse six or seven times and then strain.

 Sterilize half pint jars by running them through the dishwasher. Keep them hot in there until ready to fill. Place lids in a small saucepan of water. Bring to a boil and then turn down to low heat. Have rings ready.

Measure exactly four cups of smashed apricots and one cup of peppers into a large pot. Stir in lemon juice.

Measure the sugar carefully and have ready in a bowl.

Add the pectin to the fruit and pepper mixture. Stirring constantly, bring it to a full rolling boil on high heat. Quickly stir in the sugar and return to a full rolling boil. Boil for exactly one minute. Remove from heat and skim off foam.

Use a large measuring cup with a pouring spout to quickly fill the hot jars. Fill to within 1/4 inch of top. Wipe any spills from the rims with a clean, damp paper towel. Put lids on jars. Screw on rings using thumb and two fingers. (Not too tight.) Immediately turn jars upside down on the counter top. Time for ten minutes, then turn them right-side-up. Lids will seal.

Next time, I'm going to use HOT peppers. My friend Judy has a recipe for a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with apricot jalapeno jam. I want to make one for Jeff.

Because guess what.

Jeffrey loves the apricot pepper jelly.



He and I have already gone through three jars and a few boxes of Wheat Thins.