Today, I drove home under a bruised sky listening to Beck's Guero. It's been a long time since I've listened to Guero and it electrified me. It made me wish I had a hydraulic kit for my little car; it made me want to roll the windows down and jut my elbow in coolness, even though it was cold and spitting rain. It made me feel like it was summer and sunshine lasted almost all day.
I think I appreciated the music so much because work is rolling right now. Last semester left me beaten up and frustrated. My freshmen were not working and my juniors hadn't built the skills they needed to at this point of the year. Whether it is a shift in my attitude in the first four weeks of the second semester or the fact that spring is around corner and my students, like me, feel good, I don't know, but something wonderful is happening in my classroom right now.
Learning is humming along the way that it should. Each day is a frenetic jumble of enthusiasm, laughter, and real work. I'm busy busy busy, and I can't even complain about that busy-ness because it's paying off so well. The freshman have turned a corner and, for the most part, learned how to be high school students, and the juniors are blossoming beautifully. Today, one student, after receiving the highest score she had yet received on an essay, let out an ear piercing happy scream, jumped out of her seat, and ran to hug me. She picked me up.
And so, I am lifted.
In August, I'll enjoy the marmalade I made this week while soaking in the bubbly luxury of time. I'll appreciate winter in the middle of summer and think happily about the chaotic humor of classroom life, the huge struggles and bigger forces of will, the work making real change.
Meyer Lemon and Vanilla Bean Marmalade
I read all my canning cookbook recipes for marmalade ideas to use some of my glut of Meyer lemons, but the two most influential sources for this particular recipe, I found here on Epicurious and here on One Green Generation. I liked the idea from the Epicurious site and the method from One Green Generation, and this recipe is the result of combining them. I recommend reading the detailed description Melinda gives at One Green Generation as it is very helpful, and it will supplement the skimpy details I give below.
But, what I'm not skimpy on is praise for this marmalade. The vanilla makes the Meyer lemon taste almost tropical, and the bright clean lemons get a hippy funky edge that changes their character in pleasing ways. It's like seeing your grandmother drink for the first time, especially if she drinks something with a slightly naughty name. That's exactly it. It's like going to an elegant dinner with your grandmother, and when the server asks for drink orders, she settles one hand on the other, tilts her small chin up and asks for "a Classy Bitch, please."
You will need:
2 1/2 lbs Meyer lemons
8 cups water
7 cups sugar
2 vanilla beans
To make the marmalade:
Scrub the lemons clean and split them lengthwise in half. Using a sharp knife, cut out the very center (the "core") of the lemons. Hold a lemon half in one hand over a bowl, and using the other hand, slip out the seeds into the bowl. Do this with each half, reserving the seeds and juice in the collecting bowl.
Slice each lemon half crosswise into very thin smiles. Toss the lemon smiles in a large pot and add 8 cups of water. Pour the bowl of seeds and juice through a strainer into the pot of lemon slices. Place the reserved lemon seeds in a cheesecloth or muslin bag, and drop the bag of seeds (rich in pectin) into the pot of water and lemon slices. Set the pot aside in a cool place overnight.
The next day, bring the water and lemons to a boil and boil for 15 or 20 minutes, or until the lemon slices are very tender. While the mixture is boiling, split the vanilla beans lengthwise and scrape out the seeds, reserving both on the cutting board. When the lemon slices are tender, remove the bag of seeds, slide the vanilla beans and scraped out seeds into the pot, and add the sugar.
Boil the mixture until it reaches approximately 222 degrees Fahrenheit, or until the bubbles begin to "snap" and the mixture, when dropped on a cool surface, gently congeals.
Jar and refrigerate or freeze, or follow USDA's guidelines for hot water canning to preserve your marmalade.
This recipe makes approximate 5 1/2 pints of marmalade.