12 degrees Fahrenheit. Barely double-digits. That’s what the temperature was outside on Tuesday morning, according to the trusty weather app on my iPhone. I had spent all day Monday indoors, safe from the blustery winds and even colder temperatures. I binge-read the new Dani Shapiro memoir (a must-read) and cuddled with the kitties during the long quiet afternoon. But by Tuesday morning, I was itching to get outside and get moving, to feel the sunshine on my face and the fresh air as I walked at a fast-pace throughout my neighborhood. But it was still cold outside! As one who has struggled for years with Raynaud’s disease, I’m not the first person to voluntarily spend time outside during the winter months. Yet here I was, faced with a dilemma - to go stir-crazy inside or bundle-up and force myself out the door. Mother Nature was calling me, pulling me out the door, so I piled on my warmest gear and set-off on a walk.
I’ve noticed over the past few months, maybe even longer, that I’ve been doing things a bit unconventional in my daily life. Once a hard-core “gym rat”, I no longer have any health-club memberships and have taken to a 5 mile walk for my daily exercise. Like my gym days, which “required” at least an hour of cardio to be “worthwhile”, I feel the need for the rush of endorphins and adrenaline through my body every day. However, going on a 5 mile walk each morning (unless it’s pouring rain or below 12 degrees F) gives me a different kind of high. No longer am I dependent on a machine to cause my body to sweat out the emotionally-charged chemicals from my body; my body is the machine. And like any hard-working machine, it requires some downtime and refueling for optimal performance.
During my walks, I listen to podcasts. Depending on my mood, I pick one that suits me best on each particular day. Many of the episodes that I listen to fall into the Health/Wellness category, while others are more Culinary in content. Note that these two categories are not mutually exclusive, at least in my mind. My background is in both food and disease prevention, so I find a mix of the food-obsessive and lifestyle-trend podcasts of interest. A few months back, I was listening to an interview with an accomplished chef who is famous for her hand-made jams. I’ve always wanted to make my own preserves, chutneys, and spreads - each summer, as I peruse the farmers markets, I contemplate buying a large amount of fresh berries to bring home and turn into something sticky & sweet, then tuck away in a jar for the months to come. But I never do that; fear or some other excuse always gets in my way, and so I’ve never made my own jars of jam. But as I was listening to this chef, I had a surge of excitement, that I could make a single jar of something delicious to enjoy on toast, even in the middle of the winter.
Monday morning, I decided to make a jar of Gingered Pear & Date Preserves. The name just rolled off my tongue, as if it were a recipe I’d made a hundred times. But I had never made this recipe, I had only dreamed of it as I was meditating earlier in the morning. Just five pantry ingredients, a cutting board and a small saucepan, simple. I started to peel and chop the pear, adding it to the pan with the other four ingredients over the lowest flame on my stove. Watching and waiting, stirring periodically to keep everything from sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning. The results didn’t take long to appear in my pan. I hurried and sliced myself a thick piece of sourdough bread and put it in the toaster. Soon, I’d be biting into a piece of toast heaven.
This piece of bread, slathered with these homemade preserves, has been my routine all week. I’ve moved off of the couch, finished reading one book and onto another, and have enjoyed several long walks outside as the weather has gotten significantly warmer. The jar of preserves is now nearly empty and begs to be refilled this weekend, when my time is a bit more fluid. Perhaps I’ll try my luck and create a new combination of flavors and textures?
What do you like to spread on your toast? Is there a jar of jam that you reach for consistently and out of old habit? Have you ever considered being a bit unconventional yourself and trying something new or unknown? Tell me, I’m curious.
Wishing you a relaxing weekend, full of delicious food, health & wellness.
Gingered Pear & Date Preserves
Ingredients: (note - use organic whenever possible)
1 pear, peeled & diced (1 C)
1/2 C pitted dates (I use Deglet Noor)
1 1/2 t grated fresh ginger root
2 t freshly-squeezed lemon juice
pinch of salt
6 T water, divided
In a small saucepan, add the pear, dates, ginger room, lemon juice, salt and 2 T water. Simmer, partially covered, until all of the water has been absorbed. Keep the heat as low as possible to prevent burning and stir the pan periodically. Once all of the water has been absorbed, add an additional 2 T of water and continue to simmer until is has disappeared. Add the final 2 T of water, simmering the contents of the pan and stirring.
Once all of the water has been added, use the back of a fork to mash the pear and dates into a smooth mixture. Taste and adjust flavor if needed, adding a splash of lemon juice or water, if desired. Allow mixture to cool to room temperature before transferring to a small jar.
Enjoy the preserves on a piece of toast, swirled into a bowl of oatmeal or yogurt, or in place of your regular jam in a PB&J sandwich.
recipe yields approximately 3/4 C of preserves
keep preserves chilled and use within one week of making