Sunday, April 29, 2012

Strawberry Basil Jam

I tried a different kind of writing this afternoon, in honor of my current literary overdose. (I know many writers will insist there is no such thing. But there is.) There comes a weekend-- usually during National Poetry Month-- when there are just too many essays, too many chapters, too many lectures, too many poems. Too many projects, too many letters, too many prompts.

That's not to say I haven't enjoyed the month of poetry. I have. But this coming week is the last of the semester, and I can feel it, even though I have a lot to look forward to in the coming months. Two big announcements, for those of you who may not know already via Facebook:

1) My second chapbook, Quick Draw: Poems from a Soldier's Wife, is being printed and released this summer by Finishing Line Press. Of course, I'm happy to do readings and workshops wherever I am, but right now I'm just trying to get the word out about the book. Please pass the information along to those you think might enjoy or benefit from this work.

To buy a copy: go to Finishing Line Press's website (www.finishinglinepress.com) and click on Bookstore. You can look me up by my pen name, Abby E. Murray, and click on Buy Now. The book is just $12, and any copies purchased during the advance sales period (now through June 13th) will receive a discounted shipping rate of $1.99. Thank you, in advance, for helping me distribute this book! I want to get it into the hands of poets, readers, libraries, book shops, businesses, schools, soldiers, dependents, artists, and everyone else who's been affected by America's role in wars abroad.

2) I've been accepted as a fully funded doctoral candidate for Binghamton University's PhD in English program. I'll be moving from Colorado to New York later this summer to get started, and I couldn't be more excited. I have to force myself to stop thinking about it at night so I can sleep. A new city, new writing community, new house, new opportunities. It's making me giddy... and a little overwhelmed! A little anxious. But every single person I've spoken to from this program has been nothing but kind, welcoming, helpful, and clearly passionate about the study of writing.

Okay.

Back to my new writing this afternoon.

Many of you know that I have a jam-making addiction. It's become a comfort to stay up late at night, even when it's 90 degrees outside and my kitchen ceiling fan can barely keep the house tolerable, stirring a pot of boiling sugar and berries, often adding champagne or rum to the mixture before jarring it and transferring it to a roiling water-bath.

Well, spring and summer time have returned, and so have the perfect ingredients for jam. I'll have you know, though, that I currently own the first two plants I've ever owned for longer than a month without killing. One, a cactus named Evelyn who reminds me of an underwater creature from Mario Bros. The other, a basil plant that survived its six siblings and, now in a pot of its own, is growing two strong, leafy branches alongside some wooden skewers I used to roast marshmallows last summer. I don't know what the deal is with this basil guy, but I figure I should enjoy all the caprese and spaghetti sauce I can before he realizes I'm the one in charge and promptly wilts or turns to ash.

So I decided to make some strawberry basil jam today. I looked up a couple recipes, but I ended up inventing something more or less my own. Behold: my writing that aint a poem:

HOT STRAWBERRY BASIL JAM

4 cups strawberries (hulled and chopped)
3 cups sugar
1 tbsp. butter
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tsp. lemon zest
2 tbsp. pectin
2-3 finely chopped basil (I used about 7 small/medium sized leaves)
1/2 tsp. ground red pepper*

Get the water bath started before you begin, and prep the jars/lids in the boiling water. Put the strawberries, sugar, and butter in a large pot and stir over medium heat until the sugar becomes fluid. Increase heat to a boil for about five minutes. Add lemon juice, zest, pectin, and red pepper. Here, I run my immersion blender through it while it boils to break down the strawberry pieces, but it's up to you and how you like the consistency. Skim the foam. Add the basil last so it doesn't get totally annihilated once it's incorporated (especially if you blend it). Reduce to a simmer. Get the jars out of the water bath and fill them, put the lids on, and replace in the water bath. Different jar sizes and altitudes determine the boiling time, so... look it up, or something.

*Next time, I think I'll use a few slices of jalapeno instead of ground pepper; I think it'll give it an extra kick. The ground pepper seems too tame to me.

I kept a tablespoon of jam out on the counter to cool and taste. Dang. It's good. Good enough to eat on toast, or biscuits. Good enough to give you the recipe without feeling guilty. And, note the photo of my awesome tablecloth and my sweet little green dishes from the Arc. Also a photo of Mr. Basil: he is alive and well, although slightly skinnier tonight than he was this morning. (Sorry, dude. But you're tasty.)