Getting back into the groove at work after a great vacation is always tough, and the day before getting back to work in my books is the most horrible day of the year. I dread the last day of vacation when I have to think about the thousands of emails that are waiting in my inbox, all the work that built up while I was gone, and all the changes that happened in that short time I was away. It almost feels like the moment when you wake up after a dream that filled you with happiness and positivity only to realize that you're not laying in the sand, on a nice beach, waiting for a cocktail in a giant exotic fruit and some nice seafood to be served, but rather you're in bed with your alarm forcing you to get up and ready to do what you've been doing for the last few years of your adult life- work.
Whoever says he or she enjoys going to work on a Monday, especially if it's right after vacation, is either crazy or the luckiest person alive. It may seem like I dislike work, but I actually don't. I've worked very hard my entire life to get where I'm at right now. Coming from a small Romanian town from a working class family, never allowed me the luxury of not working, or working without giving 100%.
Seeing new places, having the freedom of waking up whenever you please, your mom or grandma cooking your favorite dishes just like they did when you were a kid is something so special that no job in this world can offer. Hanging out with the parents you haven't seen in so long, catching up with old friends that you haven't talked to in years, sharing your best memories and experiences with loved ones are all essential in my life. They are priceless. No money in this world is able to buy those emotions, that happiness. This vacation was just like that and it fed my soul.
Fall is slowly creeping up on us. The cold nights are about to arrive when all you want to do is sit on the couch wrapped up in a fluffy blanket and watch Netflix with a delicious bowl of hearty comfort food while also sipping on a big ol' mug of mulled wine. Fall is beautiful.
In Romania, fall is the season when everyone prepares for the winter. People stock their pantry with preserves, jams, compotes and pickles. My parents were very proud to show me and Roni their freezer stacked with vegetables that my dad grew in my grandma's garden. Ziplocks full with eggplant, peppers, green beans, peas and fruits like cherries and plums are arranged in order in their freezer. The pantry is also at capacity with jars of pickled beans, cabbage, cucumbers, zacusca, peach compote, strawberry and raspberry preserves and bottles of tomato juice. Roni asked me to take a picture of their pantry but unfortunately I forgot to.
If you're a fan of seasonal vegetables you may be interested in preserving some that are easy to preserve like green beans, eggplant and tomatoes. Preserving is a lot easier than it sounds. I was fortunate to see my parents and grandparents doing it ever since I was a kid. Every year in fall the freezer would get packed. This year they harvested over 400 pounds of tomatoes, 100 pounds of peppers, 150 pounds of green beans and lot of eggplant from their garden. They had to give away more than half of the tomatoes, yet still ended up with over 60 liters of tomato juice (called bullion in Romanian), jars of pickled green tomatoes (called gogonele) and a couple of shelves of eggplant and peppers.
The idea for this tomato jam came to mind when I was trying to find a good condiment for the venison burgers I made for Roni's brother and dad. I wanted something sweet and fruity to go well with the game meat. I decided to combine the tomatoes with some plums I found on sale. The result was fantastic with a good balance between the sweetness of the tomatoes and the tartness of the plums. I also had the jam as part of a charcuterie plate served with crackers and a few smoked cheeses. It was absolutely delightful. Give it a shot!
Spiced Tomato and Plum Jam
Yields about 2-3 cups
Prep time: 20 minutes
Inactive time: 1 hour and 45 minutes
- 1 dried guajillo pepper
- 1 1/2 lbs Roma tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1/2 lb red plums, pitted and roughly chopped
- 1 serrano pepper, deseeded and roughly chopped
- 1 medium shallot, finely chopped
- 1/2 inch ginger, crushed and finely chopped
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 1 bay leaf
- 2-3 whole cloves
- 2 cardamom pods
- 5-6 basil leaves, chopped
- 1/4 tsp red chili flakes
- 2 TBS fresh lemon juice (about 1/2 lemon juiced)
- 4 TBS sugar
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- Fill a small sauce pan half way through with water. Add the guajillo peppers and bring to a boil over high heat.
- Remove from heat, cover and set aside. Let the peppers soak for 10-15 minutes, or until you finish preparing the other ingredients.
- In a large sauce pan add the rest of the ingredients and the guajillo peppers and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring often to keep it away from burning.
- When it starts boiling, reduce the heat to low and let the mixture simmer for about an hour and a half or so, or until it reaches a thick, sticky and jam like consistency*. Stir occasionally.
- Cool and refrigerate until ready to use. Serve as an appetizer with crackers and cheese or as a condiment for burgers and sandwiches.
- * Make sure the heat is low enough so you avoid burning the jam.
- The consistency is going to be a bit on the chunky side. If you like ketchup like consistency put the jam in a food processor and pulse until it becomes smooth.
- If you'd like to preserve the jam, don't let it cool down. As soon as the jam is ready, remove from heat and using a big spoon or ladle transfer the jam into hot sterilized jars, leaving about 1/4-inch headspace. Stir the jam in the jar with a spatula to get rid of any air pockets that built up. Clean the rims of the jars, cover with lids, and screw bands on. Place jars in a pot filled with about 2-3 inches of water and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover the pot with a lid or a couple of wet towels and boil for about 15 minutes. Next, reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for another 5-10 minutes.