I had a big day planned! It was going to require special (meaning already stained) clothes, a fancy hairdo (involving a hot pink clip I should never wear in public), and all of the math and organization skills I could bring to the kitchen counter...yes, it was Salsa Day! Am I a good cook? No. In my opinion a good cook is someone who can take an assortment of ingredients and create something delightful. I am an avid reader, with attention to detail, and the ability to follow directions. In other words, I can follow a recipe. About twelve years ago, my dear friend's mother was kind enough to share her salsa recipe with me (she was so not one of those "family secret recipe" types...and she treated everyone like family!). The card I wrote it on is spattered with my inevitable messes from each year since, and of course that's part of what makes it so special to me.
One might think that after so many years, I would have my system for this day down to a science...nope! All I know is that I buy a big box of tomatoes and a big bag of onions (no weight on either item is available for comment), and that is enough of those items for a few batches. Every year it is a game of catch up as I run out of certain things, while having a surplus of others. It involves many trips to the store and market. Some of the other typical queries are: What kind of hot peppers do I use? How many green peppers should I buy? Is it really OK to not process the jars in a canner?
Since I was running low on time and energy this week, I asked my produce company friend if she could just grab the items I needed, and I would pick them up from her house. I gave her my specifics on types and quantities of each item...that sounded like this "Yeah, a box of tomatoes...25 pounds? Um, is that the size you usually sell me? OK, and enough peppers for five cups chopped. Hot peppers? You have three kinds? Mix them up, and I need what will be two cups chopped." Would you believe that this information led to the best proportion of ingredients that's ever been on my counter for salsa-rama? Can you believe the size of these tomatoes in my 6 quart pot?
I do have a bit of a system as the whole event gets under way--it starts with notifying the children that I am not really available. (It is not as critical as the warning that goes out when I am making hard candy with 300 degree syrup, but any interruptions had better be important!) This is not to say that my system would appear terribly efficient to the outside observer, but it works for me. I do not use a food processor for the onions and peppers, and I don't really know why not. It is not as if I truly enjoy the tears streaming down my face, and trying to manage my nose with my shirt shoulder. I guess I find some peace and sanity in the chopping, oh, and I think it puts more love in the final product...and I'm pretty sure you can taste that...AND, my recipe doesn't mention a food processor. I have upgraded to using the assistance of an electric appliance for the hot peppers because the oil from those could kill (or burn) me. Although I caught some jalapeno vapor today that may have damaged my nasal passages. I use lunch bags for gloves when I am feeling particularly vulnerable to the heat beasts (this just adds another level to the beauty of my get-up).
This years planning snafoo came in the form of having purchased wide mouth lids, only to go to the basement to find pint jars with only tapered mouths. That resulted in an unscheduled trip to the grocery store for an exchange, but I was still chopping tomatoes by 9:00 a.m.
Did you ever notice how sometimes everything changes when you have even just one other person watching? A friend stopped by today with some lunch (thank goodness), and was visiting with me somewhere during batches one and two. Suddenly I realized that it may very well look like I had no idea what I was doing! Let's recap my scene at that point...kitchen a disaster with produce and dirty utensils strewn about and me a disaster with onion eyes, spattered clothing, hot pepper sinuses, and general mutterings about jar and lid sizes. I think there should be just one show on Food Network, once a week, that has a complete kitchen fool bumbling around, but turning out ok product in the end. Maybe it would be more inspiring to show that success can even come out of a mess.
My friend directed me back to whatever task at hand I had wandered off from a few times. Sure, I'd have found my way back on my own, but it saved some time. She now knows that I am afraid of my garbage disposal (and hot peppers). She learned that I like to clean everything up, but leave all of the newly jarred items on the counter as a visual of my accomplishment (also in hopes of warding off the dreaded "So what did you do today?" comment).
After everything was cleaned up (except for those items contaminated with hot pepper oil), she convinced me/we decided to just make a third batch and use up the rest of the potentially soon to perish ingredients. I let her use the big knives that I am afraid of, and let her turn the light on over the counter (see, my little knife in the bad lighting suddenly seemed ineffective). When I went to grab more jars, I remembered that I had returned those extra lids, and now had only six remaining for all of the salsa we were setting our sights on making. We solved our problems by using quart size jars--that's a bit of salsa for an evening, but I can pretend to have lots of friends.
When we were finished, she was able to depart looking like someone who could confidently be out in public. I, on the other hand...
By 4:30, there were twenty-nine jars of salsa on my counter. I could write down how many/much of each produce item I started with...I could, but I probably wont. I just hope Santa was listening when I told him I needed new jar lids and bands for Christmas...there was eye contact made, with a hint of information registering...I think.