I’m sitting here at the kitchen table at Andrew‘s family’s cabin in Big Bear, reflecting on the year that’s drawing to a close. We’re gearing up to celebrate the 18th annual Big Bear New Year’s Eve bash. I’ve been present for three of them and consider this time up here to be one of the best weeks of the year. It’s a time to gather with friends–some of whom we haven’t seen since last year’s party–cook big meals, enjoy our friend’s amazing home brew, and read and relax in front of the fire. I’ve also been considering lately what it is about preserving and pickling that I appreciate so much. I think the idea that something can last longer and take on great flavors in the process is a pleasure both in the kitchen and in life.
This year’s party is a little smaller and mellower than some in the past and definitely includes more children–we’re all enjoying the presence of “the next generation” in Knox (9 months) and Jillian (18 months)–and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I can only imagine how it feels for those who’ve been coming since the 90s to see how it’s evolved over the years. Back in the day, most of the time was spent downstairs in the game room, shooting pool or playing foosball for hours on end; nowadays we sit around the table on our laptops or take a midday nap after a mug of vin chaud.
I started pickling (and blogging) nearly two years ago and had a blast this fall and winter making different kinds of conserves, pickles, and infused vodkas for holiday gifts. Paging through one of my trusted pickling sources, Ellie Topp’s The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving, I discovered conserves, which are basically fruit preserves with nuts. I decided that they would make great gifts and got to work doing some of my holiday shopping at the market. Apricot Grand Marnier with Almonds was a particular favorite, with Maple Blueberry with Walnuts coming in at a close second–though I opted for pecans instead that my mom had sent me from South Carolina. The apricot recipe called for two pounds of dried apricots, the blueberry two cups of frozen or fresh. I appreciated how simple they were to put together, yet how delicious and complex they seemed spread on some toast in the morning. Earlier in the fall I’d made some classic garlic dill pickles to which I added some chipotle I happened to have on hand for that extra kick. And courtesy of a good blogging friend we had a Buddha’s Hand that was a perfect citrusy addition to a bottle of Tito’s. All found happy and appreciative homes, and I confess to holding on to one or two for our own enjoyment.
This past year has brought many changes for us and our friends–some good, some not so good–as will the next. By the end of 2012, Andrew and I will have been married on the grounds in Big Bear and we will once again welcome our friends to come play in the snow. Rather than making any resolutions and promises of changes to be made, my mind is drawn to thoughts of gratitude for how things are. I love that Andrew’s friends are now my friends and vice versa. I am grateful that certain friends are getting the care they need and feeling healthy and that others have found a home in the most unexpected places. I appreciate the simple pleasures of homemade gifts and the ability to find ways to make good things last.