The Gift (+ Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam & a Vanilla-Honey Tea Cake)

[On the table, July 2012.]

Time waits for no (wo)man. Why put off ’til tomorrow what you can do today? I feel like these two statements – and those of their ilk – should be my motto. Case in point: last night after a long workday during which I was already more tired than usual because I didn’t sleep enough due to us becoming the last people in America to embrace the BBC’s Sherlock series (oh – we’re not the last ones? Get on that, stat!) and staying up way too late watching it on Netflix streaming, I came home and decided, what the heck, to do two loads of laundry, cook dinner, clean the house, and, oh yeah, make 5 jars of strawberry-rhubarb jam. (See also: I don’t know how to relax.)

(Still — it’s so pretttttttty.)

[Straw-rhub jam, July 2012.]

Time – to do what-ever, where-ever – is such a precious commodity. For me in particular it seems like there’s always a dearth of it; a typical day has me up and out the door by 8a (errr … 8:03) to get in to work and then when I get home I immediately go for a run or to yoga class, meet up with someone, make (hopefully decent) dinner at some point, eat, do a little photo editing or writing, try to spend some quality time with the husband, catch up on email, write out birthday cards (or the rent check) to stick in the mail the next morning, or some sort of variation of those and get fall into bed utterly spent (though I make at least a half-hour before sleep to read no matter how late it is). I feel like I’m usually behind and tend to cast longing looks at my couch trying to force myself simply to sit and stay (impossible, alas). I’m not complaining, mind. It’s just that it might be nice to have about 3-4 extra hours every other day.

During the summer time seems even more precious for the daylight is long, the sun most often shines, the air is warm and sweet. Stuck inside for a majority of the day I chafe at being tethered to a desk and wish to be at the beach (even if foggy), drinking coffee somewhere with a stack of books on the cafe table beside me, in the mountains, swimming in a lake, etc. etc. etc. I feel like I pick my head up in September, sigh wistfully over the lost summer and hope Indian Summer will be better. Weekends are a whirlwind of soaking up as much outdoor time as possible in far too short of a time.

But this year is different. Because of a funny – and welcome – outdated perk of my job, I will have all the vacation I can stand, nearly 5 weeks of it (i.e. August, you are mine to do with what I please). I am quietly and not-so-quietly completely thrilled about this. Mornings not spent rushing to the bus! Eating toast-with-jam at a proper table and not at my desk! Late coffees just because! I haven’t had more than 2 weeks off in one stretch in seven years and I will absolutely make the most of them. This is a true gift: an entire month off to clear my head and breathe and travel a bit and camp, too, and … live. Now if I can just get through the next few days …

In the meantime, despite my fatigue, I’m so glad I made more jam. It’s sort of been a jamathon this year, and I have the neatly stacked jars to prove it. Currently there’s rhubarb, cherry, strawberry, and my newest favorite strawberry-rhubarb (blackberry jam still to come later this summer). If I can swing it, I’d love to add a bit of blueberry or plum preserves to the pile, too (blueberry-plum?), but maybe I’ll save those efforts for my time off.

I don’t know if it’s because of the honey or the strawberries or both, but this jam when cooking down smells buttery. And I don’t know about you but butter = delicious, and the smell of melted butter = even more delicious. I am not going to give a proper recipe here, because it’s very similar to making straight up strawberry jam and as always I firmly believe jam is such a personal thing you should adapt your ingredient quantities to your personal taste. For my jam, I cut up about 6 pints of ripe strawberries and divided that between two pots; I added two large stalks of chopped-up rhubarb to each. I used honey to sweeten for the most part (about 1/2 a cup per), and added in a bit of raw sugar near the end because I forgot that rhubarb needs a little more sugar due to its inherent tartness.

Then I made a tea cake because I got the idea into my head that the jam needed a vehicle in the form of cake rather than toast. It’s as simple as can be – and is slightly reminiscent of the busy day cake sans buttermilk – to make and calls for mostly just butter, sugar, and vanilla. I added a bit of honey in to the batter so it would ‘match’ the jam, and the cake turned out very light with a delicate honeyed undertone that made it a perfect nibble alongside my afternoon cup of tea. I topped it generously with a spoonful of jam, o’course, and all of a sudden vacation didn’t feel too terribly far away …

The greatest gift the sea has to give is its timelessness. Beside it, if you are able to receive it, that vast blue amplitude of space and time soothes, simplifies, heals. Beside it, if you are very quiet and still, you see clearly that life is and always has been outside time, a thing apart from it, and so you need have no real fear of time’s poison fruits …
~ Anne Rivers Siddons



Join the Conversation

  1. A whole month off! Some sorta 7 year sabbatical I’m guessing?

    I also have problems sitting still. I immediately feel guilty because I could be doing something.

  2. Hey girl, I know what you mean about the extra hours! I could use them too :) Your typical day sounds super cozy though. And I love your recipe!! Want to make it!

  3. Yes, indeed, enjoy!! But how will your co-workers survive a month without the Tuesday Treat? You won’t deprive the rest of us, will you??

  4. Jam and tea cake is a favorite in our house, especially with a pot of tea. It’s so wonderful that you get August off! I hope you get to relax and have some fun.

  5. Lov-er-ly! Happy long vacation and re-lax!

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