Home Canning Adventures: Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple Cider Vinegar is a perfect project for fall. Perhaps you’ve gone apple picking (as I do every year in October for my birthday) and BOMBARDED friends and family with pies and applesauce and tarts and whatever else you can come up with. This is the way to get even more use out of the scraps.

I find that my vinegar has more cider-y sweetness and a little less tang (and it’s super delicious in everything!), but your flavor will vary based on what kind of apples you have and how long you want to let it go for. Like sauerkraut, the flavor will intensify with more time, so you can stop it once you like the taste.

You will Need:

  • Apple peelings or cores (or other fruit scraps, like peaches–but then it’s Peach Cider Vinegar)
  • Sugar (1 tablespoon per one cup of water)
  • Water
  • Glass jar (a quart is a great place to start, but you can definitely make larger quantities, too.)

Fill the glass jar ¾ of the way with apple peels and cores.

Stir the sugar into the water (I like lukewarm water to help the sugar dissolve), and pour to cover the scraps. Leave some headspace at the top of the jar so it’s not too full.

Cover loosely (I like a coffee filter secured around the rim with a rubber band). Set in a warm, dark place for around two weeks (pantries are great for this–my pantry is more of a shallow closet in this smallish apartment, but it worked just as well). Stir every few days, and skim the top. After about two weeks, strain the liquid back into the jars to get rid of the scraps. It should smell cider-y but won’t have a lot of tang yet. So, let the liquid continue to go for another 2-4 weeks. You’ll have apple cider vinegar when you say so: when it smells and tastes like vinegar and has the flavor you’re looking for. You can can it (everybody can-can!), or just store it in the fridge.

Now here’s the scary/cool part: you might get a creepy blob on the top of the vinegar. Believe it or not, this is a good thing, and not a 1950s b-movie. It’s called a vinegar “mother” (not really helping the creepiness with the name there). If you make vinegar in the future, just plop this gelatinous lady in there and she’ll help things along. You can keep it in the existing batch of vinegar and just work around it, or you can always discard it if it’s too terrifying. I won’t judge you for that.

One more note: a lot of pickling recipes call for apple cider vinegar (including my grandmother’s beet recipe!). Homemade vinegar may not reach the right level of acidity for proper canning–you need at least 5% to make it safe. Commercial vinegars are guaranteed to be safe for this application, but you should save your own for other uses. Don’t want to botulism yourself to death–self-botulism is *probably* not the way you want to go.

The best soup ever?

It’s an annoying heat wave here after teasing Autumn for several weeks. It’s always hard on me to have the hint of crisp air followed by such a reversal–I’m built for sweaters, not swelter.

I purchased ingredients for this soup before the weather changed, and I’m going ahead with it anyway for tonight, after a fit of productivity with work and at home (I gave my kitchen countertops a much-needed cleaning, so naturally I should make a mess in the kitchen to celebrate!). This soup has so many wonderful vegetables in it, that I can almost call it a summer soup–it’s really good any time.

This is a very slight adaptation of a recipe from the Down Home with the Neelys cookbook. Whenever I’ve tried to google the recipe online, I have found a different version available through the food network and other food blogs. This one is so, so much better. I promise you. It’s one of the best soup recipes in my arsenal, gets a lot of vegetables in my system, and is so incredibly fragrant with the smoked paprika and fresh thyme (I’m sure I am scenting the keyboard with the herb right now–I slide the thyme leaves off the stalk right into the soup by hand, instead of chopping them up first, and the scent clings to my fingertips).

I have a lot of favorite soup recipes–some categories just end up a lot larger than others in my recipe file. While it’s hard to top Smitten Kitchen’s chicken pho, this is definitely my favorite vegetable soup recipe. What’s also important to mention is that it’s wonderful left over–you know how some things are just so “meh” the second day? This soup intensifies in flavor and might even be a little better the second and third time. It makes a good amount, so you can absolutely cut this recipe in half, esp. if you’re just feeding yourself, like I am.

The nice thing about this recipe is that it’s not exact, so you can easily make a smaller amount without worrying too much about the proportions of the vegetables. I usually make sure I have all of the elements, but the exact amounts of each may vary. Since I have to buy a bag of carrots or a whole stalk of celery anyway, I can adjust how much I chop up and throw in based on how big my potatoes and red peppers are. So these amounts are approximate. The main thing is the combination of flavors from the ingredients, but this ain’t baking. It doesn’t need to be down to a science.

4 strips bacon

1 large onion, diced

2-3 carrots, diced

2-3 celery stalks, diced

1 or 2 red bell peppers (depending on size), diced

1/2 pound yellow fleshed potatoes (such as Yukon Gold) or a bunch of those little gemstone potatoes, chopped into small bite-size chunks

1 sweet potato, cut into bite-sized chunks

6 cups chicken stock

1 Tablespoon smoked paprika (or more–I’ve been known to more than double this, because I love paprika)

1 tsp kosher salt

1 tsp black pepper

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (or more, if you want more kick!)

4 cups frozen corn (I especially like the fire-roasted kinds when I can find them)

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

1 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon (or more to taste–measurements don’t actually matter here) fresh thyme

Fry up the bacon (I like to do all of this in my dutch oven–so it’s only one real dish to worry about at the end), drain on paper towels for topping the soup later. Remove bacon fat from your pan until there’s just enough left in the pan to cook the vegetables in. Toss the diced onion in with the bacon fat, and cook into beautifully, truly golden brown. We want a little hint of the sweetness that would come from caramelizing, but don’t let them go on forever.

Then–and this is how I depart from the Neelys’ recipe–add the chicken stock, salt, pepper, smoked paprika, and cayenne, and immersion blend the onion into the broth. This distributes the flavor of the aromatic, and gets rid of the texture issue of cooked onions, in case you hate that too! We all have our food aversions, and since I adore onion, I’m inclined to blitz them into things to incorporate the taste. That said, this isn’t a hard and fast rule for me–I tend to eat cooked onion in and on things elsewhere, esp. if I’m out. But at home I just love the way it enriches and thickens up the broth a bit to blend it in.

Next, add in the vegetables and simmer until the potatoes are tender, 30-40 minutes or so depending on the size of the chunks. Add in cream at the end of the process, and stir to combine, cooking about 5-10 minutes more. Top with more fresh thyme (if desired) and the reserved bacon.

Favorite Moments in Music History: I Crisantemi

Welcome to my new series, in which I briefly present my favorite moments in music history. Instead of discussing entire pieces or songs, this series of posts will focus on intimate glances into music–formal sections, motives, phrases, even single chord changes that have had a powerful effect on me at some point in my formal or informal musical studies.

My undergraduate institution was fairly focused on early music, and so I didn’t have a lot of exposure to the major operatic repertoire. Not only was it not an emphasis in my music history courses, I never had the opportunity to play in the pit orchestra for one until I started my doctorate (Falstaff, in case you were curious). If it weren’t for my opera singer best friend from undergrad, I might still be woefully ignorant of all opera (though I still admit that I have a long way to go). I learned, eventually, that 20th century opera resonates powerfully with me–so I’m convinced that there is opera for everyone, if you expose yourself to enough of it. Some people want a good story with beautiful vocal lines, others value rich orchestration, but operas are often good stories.


I Crisantemi (Puccini)

During my master’s degree, the string orchestra performed Puccini’s I Crisantemi on a concert. I had never performed Puccini before, due to my lack of opera experience. And the man was practically singularly known for his operas–though he loved the string quartet, he left only four short works for the medium. The elegiac I Crisantemi isn’t what I’d call exceedingly popular in the orchestral or chamber music repertoire, though others may beg to differ. When I came across it, I thought it was a really striking and unexpected choice for a program.

Puccini claims to have written it in a single night in 1890, in response to the the death of a friend. The intense feeling that gave rise to these melodies resonated with the composer (just as it has with his audiences); he later re-used the melodies of I Crisantemi in his opera Manon Lescaut (1893).

The moment in Puccini’s “I Crisantemi” where I get real chills is the B section a little bit before minute 3…where the low strings have the ostinato underneath the violin melody. That whole section is like magic. It happens at 2:04 in this video, after a cathartic exhale of a chord.

Score Excerpt for I Crisantemi by Puccini

I love the way the trattenuto measure begins this musical sigh that lets out the tension of all of that motive’s chromaticism in the final measure of the A section.

What is it about this moment? It’s one part contrast–the textural change of moving from lush homophony and the passionate dynamic swells that came before it to this softly undulating wave. But a piece of it also has to be the melodic contour–the leaps in the first violin melody are like question marks, open-ended and yearning and hesitant.

Score Excerpt for I Crisantemi by Puccini

The questioning leaps in the first violin melody against the softly rolling wave in the violas.

It’s an incredible tune to contrast with the chromatic climb of the opening gesture, which was less like a question mark and more of a slow, deliberate intake of breath followed by the resolution at the top of the ascent each time.

It’s specifically the first iteration of this that gives me the thrill. At 2:54, the cello joins the violin (now up an octave), and it’s gorgeous (and no moment of this piece isn’t, in all honesty), but there’s always been something about the transition in particular that captivates me. It’s a moment that caught my breath and I remember listening to it over and over again, moving the cursor back on recordings and on YouTube. Perhaps it will catch you, as well.


Willful Vulnerability

I was fighting futility last night, and exhausted, and feeling very downtrodden. Grappling with mild (ha!) panic about adjunct cuts (the most recent, and the forthcoming). Trying to figure out the path ahead. Trying to figure out how to dust off resilience and replenish my strength to move forward; the past two years have been a constant reminder that strong enough rarely feels strong enough. Trying to be open because I think it’s important for academics to be transparent about what we’re going through, to tear down some of the imposter-syndrome perceptions that we have that other people always have it together and that they aren’t struggling or scared or tired.
I’m reminded of a talk I once saw Will Cheng give at an AMS session, before his beautiful book Just Vibrations came out. He urged scholars to practice what he called “willful vulnerability,” and that phrase has resonated with me ever since. It does us no good to feign strength in front of one another. A field can be a community rather than a competition–at least, it should be, for the sake of scholarship. So we should be open, sharing not only our triumphs and publications, but also finding a way to talk about when it’s not so easy to pursue the thing we love most.
Sleeping on these feelings often helps, though it’s ok if it doesn’t. In my case, I woke up ill from the stress, had to go to the doctor and get antibiotics, and was initially very frustrated with my body for letting me down instead of letting me jump right into the work of moving on from bad news. It felt like just one more thing in the way of feeling safe or secure.
Yet, despite the slow morning, I had a number of restorative moments that started bringing me back to myself, so that I can plan ahead with intention and clarity. The heavy rain this afternoon was beautiful. I finished a powerful arrangement of Let it Be for a memorial service this weekend. I answered emails, I had a long talk with my advisor. I graded student discussion posts, I slowly and deliberately practiced my scales on viola. In other words, I simply kept going as I always do.
I leaned on a good friend in the midst of my turmoil yesterday, to avoid being so fragile and alone in my apartment with my thoughts. She let me come over to her house, watch silly PBS cooking shows, and drink a cup of tea to get my bearings again. Today, we were talking via text about some of the things ahead, and she told me a story about how she attended mass a few weeks ago in the midst of some of her own uncertainties about the future. This was one of the readings:

1 Kings 19:11-13 New King James Version (NKJV)

God’s Revelation to Elijah

11 Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.

13 So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Initially, it seemed sort of obtuse, but she wrote via text (quoted with her permission):
My interpretation is that we should listen to the smallest voice to guide us. For me, faith and hope are always the tiniest voices, often drowned out by anxiety and fear. I’m not sure if it’s helpful to you, but it spoke to me recently.
It was helpful to me. I’ve been reflecting on it all day. I wanted to post it in case others might find that perspective helpful. Whether or not that tiny voice is faith, or hope, or even just trust in yourself and your own abilities–what a small revolution. To choose that voice over others that may be negative, that may be trying to convince you that you are without value, that you’re not strong enough. That voice is loud, and it’s a liar. I needed to be reminded to listen elsewhere in my heart.

Back to School with Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 82 Commandments

There’s something about August that always gets my productivity in high gear. Sure, there’s the back to school vibe, but I think it also has something to do with how difficult this month can be, financially, for folks in academia. I’m sure a lot of other adjuncts suffer this plight–if you teach a summer course, the last paycheck shows up end up July, but I won’t get my first Autumn paycheck until the end of September. So I always feel like I’m scrambling for gigs and extra freelance work to try to make up the difference.

But this isn’t a post about that. It’s about the good thing that comes out of turning up my hustle. I’ve finished something like five new string quartet arrangements this week, turned in three freelance editing jobs, played two gigs, updated my C.V., accepted an invitation to join the planning committee for the best weekend of the year, submitted a job application, polished an abstract for a conference (that’s not due until October 1st!), completed some research for a couple upcoming projects, cleaned out my email inbox…

Oh, and I found a favorite lip balm that I had misplaced, found about half of my Halloween costume at thrift stores (I like to start early), discovered a favorite new recipe (I’ve been putting it on salads, on rice and beans, and marinading chicken and tofu in it), found La Croix super cheap at Costco (as well as stocking up on vegetable stock, rice, black beans, and coffee) and bought the softest robe at Target with some of my gig money earned over the weekend–$14 well spent if you ask me (definitely going to make a ritual of putting it on for my morning coffee and writing sessions). The universe is really looking out for me this month.

Anyway, in case you’re in search of a little August inspiration, I thought I’d toss out something I came across a while ago, but haven’t posted about. I found these on a post on Dangerous Minds, mostly likely shared by a friend on social media at some point. There’s some neat ideas to ponder here. I’ve bolded and italicized my particular favorites, and those that are making me think right now (and I really need to listen to #7, there. I have a half-finished Marie Kondo-clean out of my closet, and I ought to finish bagging up clothes and send them on to a new life).

1. Ground your attention on yourself. Be conscious at every moment of what you are thinking, sensing, feeling, desiring, and doing.
2. Always finish what you have begun.
3. Whatever you are doing, do it as well as possible.
4. Do not become attached to anything that can destroy you in the course of time.
5. Develop your generosity ‒ but secretly.
6. Treat everyone as if he or she was a close relative.
7. Organize what you have disorganized.
8. Learn to receive and give thanks for every gift.
9. Stop defining yourself.
10. Do not lie or steal, for you lie to yourself and steal from yourself.
11. Help your neighbor, but do not make him dependent.
12. Do not encourage others to imitate you.
13. Make work plans and accomplish them.
14. Do not take up too much space.
15. Make no useless movements or sounds.
16. If you lack faith, pretend to have it.
17. Do not allow yourself to be impressed by strong personalities.
18. Do not regard anyone or anything as your possession.
19. Share fairly.
20. Do not seduce.
21. Sleep and eat only as much as necessary.
22. Do not speak of your personal problems.
23. Do not express judgment or criticism when you are ignorant of most of the factors involved.
24. Do not establish useless friendships.
25. Do not follow fashions.
26. Do not sell yourself.
27. Respect contracts you have signed.
28. Be on time.
29. Never envy the luck or success of anyone.
30. Say no more than necessary.
31. Do not think of the profits your work will engender.
32. Never threaten anyone.
33. Keep your promises.
34. In any discussion, put yourself in the other person’s place.
35. Admit that someone else may be superior to you.
36. Do not eliminate, but transmute.
37. Conquer your fears, for each of them represents a camouflaged desire.
38. Help others to help themselves.
39. Conquer your aversions and come closer to those who inspire rejection in you.
40. Do not react to what others say about you, whether praise or blame.
41. Transform your pride into dignity.
42. Transform your anger into creativity.
43. Transform your greed into respect for beauty.
44. Transform your envy into admiration for the values of the other.
45. Transform your hate into charity.
46. Neither praise nor insult yourself.
47. Regard what does not belong to you as if it did belong to you.
48. Do not complain.
49. Develop your imagination.
50. Never give orders to gain the satisfaction of being obeyed.
51. Pay for services performed for you.
52. Do not proselytize your work or ideas.
53. Do not try to make others feel for you emotions such as pity, admiration, sympathy, or complicity.
54. Do not try to distinguish yourself by your appearance.
55. Never contradict; instead, be silent.
56. Do not contract debts; acquire and pay immediately.
57. If you offend someone, ask his or her pardon; if you have offended a person publicly, apologize publicly.
58. When you realize you have said something that is mistaken, do not persist in error through pride; instead, immediately retract it.
59. Never defend your old ideas simply because you are the one who expressed them.
60. Do not keep useless objects.
61. Do not adorn yourself with exotic ideas.
62. Do not have your photograph taken with famous people.
63. Justify yourself to no one, and keep your own counsel.
64. Never define yourself by what you possess.
65. Never speak of yourself without considering that you might change.
66. Accept that nothing belongs to you.
67. When someone asks your opinion about something or someone, speak only of his or her qualities.
68. When you become ill, regard your illness as your teacher, not as something to be hated. (could have used this advice back in June with the shingles diagnosis!)
69. Look directly, and do not hide yourself.
70. Do not forget your dead, but accord them a limited place and do not allow them to invade your life.
71. Wherever you live, always find a space that you devote to the sacred.
72. When you perform a service, make your effort inconspicuous.
73. If you decide to work to help others, do it with pleasure.
74. If you are hesitating between doing and not doing, take the risk of doing.
75. Do not try to be everything to your spouse; accept that there are things that you cannot give him or her but which others can.
76. When someone is speaking to an interested audience, do not contradict that person and steal his or her audience.
77. Live on money you have earned.
78. Never brag about amorous adventures.
79. Never glorify your weaknesses.
80. Never visit someone only to pass the time.
81. Obtain things in order to share them.
82. If you are meditating and a devil appears, make the devil meditate too.

There are a few I don’t totally agree with (#25 & #54, because it’s fun; #31, because some of us don’t have the luxury and privilege not to be cognizant of the money coming in for our work; #35, only because I think this is imposter syndrome breeding ground–instead, focus inward on how to improve; #56, because I believe some student loans can be worth it to change your life, if you are prudent about them; #61, because that’s sort of the best part of academic work–trying on new ideas and perspectives; #70, because I can carry them constantly with me as part of the fabric of my own resilience; and #80, because I think that’s a beautiful reason to spend time with somebody).

I will be thinking on these for a while, maybe even writing some posts about the ones that struck me. Which ones resonate with you?