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Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Rainbow Connection

Photo - Denine (me!) aka "Sous-Chef"; 
"A Boy Named Sue" Aaron and the Original Sue - Sue S. or Sue the Lawyer.

My morning biking buddies, aka the Sue Crew and I are are winding down our cycling season.  The mornings are much darker and cooler at 6:15/6:30 and it is getting harder to rouse ourselves out of our beds to get out on the road for our rides.  We're trying to make it a full six month season - April to the end of September, but we've already lost one of our "Sue's" - Sue K.  She's the first to succumb to the call of the gym opting to sleep in and work out indoors.  Oh well, I can't say that I blame her a bit.  Sue S., aka "Sue the Lawyer", "Sue" Ellen,  and "A Boy Named Sue" Aaron and I all went out on Friday morning and were sure that it was going to be a terrible ride.  Our path was blocked by the trash train on the tracks; "Sue" Ellen wasn't sure where we would be since we were late and couldn't cross the train tracks to get onto the bike path.  She took off ahead of us and we couldn't catch up to her five minute lead and her long, grande cavallo legs.  As we headed up Kelly Drive, we witnessed a terrible car accident, which brought out an ambulance, cop car and two fire trucks.  The old original Catholic girl in me came out and caused me to bless myself as we rode by this scene of uncertain calamity.  Once we were down onto Martin Luther King Drive aka West River Drive, the vistas became a bit more serene.  We caught up with Ellen, or rather she was riding back up the drive and we finally crossed paths.  The path was less crowded and as I always remark, the West Side of the river drive is bumpier but more civilized path because there are far fewer runners, skipping women, bikers, power walkers or roller blading fools dressed head to toe in coordinating yet garish sports gear.

Photo - "Sue" Ellen and "A Boy Named Sue" Aaron

As we neared the waterfalls in front of Boat House Row, we were rewarded with a beautiful rainbow behind us.  Perfect for a photo opportunity.  I had my camera with me as I was hoping I could get the crew to all wear the same bicycle jersey that we all have, (a dreadful but extremely comfortable Michelobe Ultra Beer Jersey that Sue S. got from her brother, Bart, and his LiveStrong fundraiser prizes.)  I wanted to take a group photo of all of us in our matching jerseys.  Only Aaron and I complied, though Ellen doesn't have this jersey, yet.  I'm not a fan of this piss-water beer. It's a terrible beer to advertise but the shirt is very soft and comfortable and from a distance the colours and design is sort of attractive.  I like the royal blue and the long "V" design element on the back - it's a slimming effect, or so I've been told.
Photo - Ellen, Aaron and Sue S., Rainbow courtesy of the Heavens.

While we did not find our pot 'o gold at the end of the rainbow even with Ellen wearing a  shamrock tee shirt, our luck did change on this portion of our ride, mostly it just was a nice ride with friends, nearing the end of our daily morning cycling season. 

Friday, September 3, 2010

Balsamic, Fig and Onion "Jam"

When you live in what was once a predominantly Italian/Italian-American neighborhood, you are bound to find a few fig trees, tomato plants and grape vines growing in the backyards or small plots of gardening space.  I understand this need to have a bit of land to call your own.  After my first trip to Italy, I also understood the Italian need to cultivate  a bit of the old country in the new land.  I saw fig trees and fennel growing wild all over the mountain hill town where I stayed.  The small hill towns might not have had prime gardening land, they were more conducive to olive trees and vineyards.  The land was full of rocky soil and had hot days and cooler nights, prime grape vine growing conditions.
My "Poppy" grandfather's desire to grow a fig tree and tend it lovingly was keenly felt when I saw how many fig trees were all over Spoleto, growing wild or in tended gardens.

Back home in Philadelphia, I'm more aware of where there are fig trees and get astonished when I see fig trees that are as large as old oak trees.  My neighbor, Tony, has a large fig growing in his 16 x 12 concrete patio.  Its trunk is as thick as a line-backer's thigh and it's grown as high as our 2nd story window.  Each fall he prunes it; placing the clipped branches out in the trash.  They make me wish I had a fireplace so I could gather the branches to burn the fragrant kindling during the winter.

Tony (who passed away in December of 2010) picks bushels and a few pecks of figs each season and turns them into jelly or eats them straight off the tree.  We were talking about his canning, wine making, and curing of meats, when he told me about his fig jam.  I asked him if he had any extra figs and that I'd be happy to take a few off his hands.  An hour later his wife, Mary, came over with a platter of figs, still warm from the sun, having just been plucked off the tree.  Since I was heading out for a the weekend, I knew I couldn't use them right away, so I cleaned and froze the figs.  About a week later, I decide to make a balsamic and fig jam, more of a sweet and savory concoction than a traditional jam.  All the better to go on a grilled pork loin, with chicken, or even better, on a good crusty whole wheat baguette with a schmear of gorgonzola dolce cheese.  The "jam" or chutney, turned out really well.   Can't wait to get my hands on more local homegrown figs.  The urban city farm is alive and well in all kinds of places in South Philly.

Balsamic, Fig and Onion "Jam" Ingredients:
  • 1 Tablespoon Light Olive Oil, Vegetable or Canola Oil
  • 1 Medium Sweet Onion - Vidalla or White (about 1 to 1 1/2 cups) - finely minced
  • 2 Garlic Cloves (about a tablespoon)- minced
  • 1/2 Cup Light Brown Sugar
  • 12 Fresh Figs - washed and stems removed - cut into quarters
  • 1 Cup Balsamic Vinegar (use a good quality, real balsamic)
  • 1 Teaspoon Kosher or Sea Salt
  1. Use a 3 or 4 quart sauce pot.  Heat the tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat until the oil begins to shimmer.  Saute the minced onions until they begin caramelize and turn light golden brown - about 10 minutes.  Add in the minced garlic and saute for two minutes.  Add in the brown sugar, stirring to incorporate and melt the sugar, about 2 minutes.  
  2. Next, add in the figs, the cup of balsamic vinegar and the salt. Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer.  Cook, over lowest heat until the vinegar is reduced by at least half of it's volume, the figs break down and the mixture thickens; simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour.  Stir occasionally to keep the mixture from burning on the bottom.  
  3. When the jam is thick enough for a spoon to stand up in it and is no longer watery, ladle it into a hot, clean glass jar and allow to cool before refrigerating.  If canning, use sterilized jars and lids and seal with a new lid; process in a water bath for 15 to 20 minutes, cool and make sure the lid sealed and "popped" shut.  Jam lasts in the refrigerator for up to two weeks; canned jars will hold for one year, unopened.