Inspiration

Every once in a while this thing happens to me where I am so jazzed about something that I can't fall asleep and I keep thinking of everything I want to get on paper as soon as possible all while I lay in my dark room trying to remember that breath meditation thing I learned in mindfulness class yet only able to conjure up growing to-do lists for the next day which I worry I will not have time to get to since every minute I lie awake is one lost productive minute and I can't slow down or focus on one thing at a time and my heart beats a little faster to try to keep up with my spinning mind and I have to turn on Friends reruns on the lowest volume setting with the screen blackened in the hopes of distracting my silly brain while that soothing Rembrandts refrain and stock laugh track coax it to sleep.

Such was the case last night.

I suddenly remembered that tomato soup I had in Bhutan, that these many years later is the one food I can recall yet strangely tomatoes don’t even grow there and are certainly not typical of the cuisine. Then that young girl I met in the square at Paro wanders into the frame, and I smell the yak butter tea served near the shrine room of a grandmother’s cottage in the Bumtang Valley. Quick on its heels are the sandwiches we nibbled in a top-floor Paris apartment just before my teenage presence in a clearly marked crosswalk caused a crazy french moto driver to come to a sudden collision-induced stop. After that I taste the creamy spaghetti with olives I made for Thursday Night Supper Club, whole wheat noodles with a brandy-tinged sauce that left just the tiniest stain on my great Aunt Maude’s white lace table cloth. And so it goes, until I’ve eaten my way to midnight. 

It may not be the healthiest diet for inspiration, but it's what I’ve got.

Yet somehow, when I wake up, sit down at my computer, I’m worried the story won’t come out right, won’t be funny enough or will be so funny that it feels forced. I don’t remember if that soup tasted good because it really was that good or because it was some small piece of familiarity that wasn’t the obnoxiously-jovial American trip leader who insisted the Himalayas that surrounded us were located south of the equator. I think that maybe it wasn’t Aunt Maude’s table cloth but actually her napkins and what if I get the story wrong end up getting called out like that guy Jonathan Franzen who got totally discredited ‘cause it turns out his memoir was more fiction than fact? So I make another cup of hot water (yes, I know it’s weird. When I inevitably forget about them they’re much easier to salvage than cloudy over-steeped tea) and I decide maybe I’ll just write about something safer like ricotta toast or marmalade because I’m certain I remember how to chop citrus rinds or spread cheese on bread. 

I used to hate marmalade. My grandfather made his own version which sat out on the breakfast buffet every morning. I thought it was gross. Why waste a toast-with-jam opportunity on something so chunky and bitter? It’s funny since marmalade probably has more sugar in it than any of the other jams I make. I used to stand on a little wooden foot stool to help Dinny stir the hot rinds in a big pot - I make mine in a wide skillet, but if he were alive I’m certain Dinny would have a reason why his method is superior - and then I went straight for the imported apricot jam when breakfast rolled around. At some point my sweet tooth grew older and more bitter and I developed a wider taste for breakfast items.

So rather than telling you about the time I got run over in Paris or fabricating minor details about antique linens, I’m reduced to puttering around my house in search of last night’s inspiration, putting dishes on the shelves instead of words on paper, and Mrs. Sonam Trophel’s Famous Tomato Soup will just have to wait ’til another day.

Three Citrus Marmalade
Makes 2-half pint jars

You can make this marmalade with whatever combination of citrus you have on hand. I cleaned out my refrigerator and combined grapefruit, limes, and several kinds of oranges. Meyer lemon would also make a nice addition. Marmalade is best made in the January and February when the citrus crop is at its height, but you’re welcome to make it anytime you have a surplus of fruit on hand. This recipe is for small-batch canning and makes just enough to keep a few small jars on the shelf and give one to a friend. 

Ingredients:
1.5 pounds fruit 
1.5 cups sugar
1 cup water

Using a vegetable peeler or a sharp knife, remove just the rind from the fruit, leaving the white pith behind.

Chop rinds into small matchsticks and set aside.

Using a paring knife, remove pith from fruit, leaving the flesh exposed.

Quarter fruit and cut out seeds and pithy centers.

Place fruit into blender and puree to a pulp.

Add chopped rind, fruit juice, water and sugar to a wide frying pan and bring to a simmer over low heat. 

Allow mixture to cook down, stirring occasionally, until jam becomes very thick and syrupy. This takes a long time. Like an hour or two maybe. Longer than you think.

When the jam has thickened, ladle it into sterilized jars and process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes (you can find more detailed canning instructions here)