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When my great-grandfather passed away a couple years ago, my dad gave me one of the last jars of pear jelly he made. The top of the jar is marked with a sharpie, “PP 07,” for pear preserves. I’ve kept it in my fridge since he died, wondering what I should do with it.

It seemed that these pear preserves, as my great-grandpa’s legacy, should have been destined for something great. Maybe the golden contents of this jar should fill a tart. Possibly I could use them to add a surprise flavor to apple pie. Mayhaps I could reduce the preserves and use them to top French toast or pancakes, or to fill a shortbread cookie. So many possibilities, none of which seemed appropriate. So the jelly jar has languished in my fridge for the past couple of years, surviving one refrigerator breakdown and one cross-town move.

I’m more like him and my late great-grandmother than I ever thought I would be. I garden, I bake things, I feed people. I try to be forgiving of other’s faults, being mindful of my own imperfections and shortcomings. I try to be welcoming to everyone– at my great-grandfather’s funeral, his son (my grandpa) said that his motto was, “If you claim us, we’ll claim you.” My family tree is a knotted tangle of stepchildren, divorces, half-siblings, second and third marriages, and a few strays. Each branch, regardless of any blood relation or lack thereof, bears the Williams name in heart if not on paper. For this man, “family” meant more than a marriage certificate or a genetic connection; family was the feeling created when all of us were together in that tiny house, elbowing around each other to get another glass of tea or another slice of chocolate pie.

At Christmas last year, my father’s house was full of people: my dad and his wife; my sister and her boyfriend; my grandparents; my aunt and her two near-grown children; my uncle with his wife, two sons, one daughter, all of their partners and his three grandchildren; my dad’s daughter-in-law with her new husband and their four children; and my boyfriend and I. He whispered to me, “This is when I like having a small house.” I looked around, and saw the half-dozen conversations, the way we all interrupt each other. The way we all helped ourselves to cans of soda from the fridge and watched the little ones open their presents. The way no one watched the TV that played in the background. It made me happy that I’ve never lived in a big house. I’ve always had a big family in small houses, packed together like sardines when we all make the time to be in the same place at the same moment. We bump into each other, wrap our arms around each other, and smile in the warm comfort of wooden floors and warm ovens.

So when I started baking my own bread a few weeks ago with the book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, I knew what to do with the pear jelly. I’ve been working through it exactly the way my great-grandfather, my grandpa, and my dad would have: one piece of toast at a time.

Note: I’m not going to post the whole recipe here. Suffice it to say, it’s a reliable recipe and I’ve had success making bread, rolls, and pizza with it. See the introduction to the method on the Mother Earth News web site and give it a shot.

Necessity is the mother of invention.

For example, I really needed to use the zucchini I bought at the farmer’s market the week before, as it was slowly turning to mush on my counter. I needed to take advantage of the incredible bargain-basement price of the red peppers at my local grocery store. And, as always, I needed pizza.

I also really needed to experiment with the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day method of making bread and a whole host of other baked goodies. So far, my results from this method are pretty stellar. I’ve only made things from the white base dough, but I’m getting ready to experiment with the wheat base. You should read the article, but the basic premise is that you mix up a batch of dough in a big bowl, leave it on the counter for a couple hours, then refrigerate the whole thing for up to two weeks. When you’re ready for your next baking adventure, you take a knife and lop a hunk off the ball of dough in the fridge and make whatever you want– attractive round loaves with scalloped tops, cinnamon rolls, and even pizza dough.

If you’re not too excited about keeping a couple pounds of wet dough in your fridge for weeks at a time, don’t be discouraged! There is no reason this delicious pizza needs to be made with anything other than whatever dough you usually use. But so far, I’m finding my cold stash of yeasty goodness to be an excellent time-saver (and I’m adding padding for the winter, which is just a bonus).

Roasted Summer Vegetable Pizza
Makes 1 pizza
Crust adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day via Mother Earth News

You will need:
1 lb. pizza dough, or whatever pizza dough you usually use

1 red bell pepper, sliced thin
1/2 red onion, sliced thin
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 zucchini, julienned
6 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Shredded mozzarella cheese

8 oz. tomato sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp. dried oregano
t tbsp. tomato paste
Pinch sugar
Salt and pepper, to taste

Let the dough rest and come to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 450. In a baking pan, toss red pepper, tomatoes, onion, zucchini, and garlic with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread into one layer and roast about 20 minutes. When tender and caramelized, remove from oven but leave oven on (now we’re making pizza).

Meanwhile, mix all sauce ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

Spread pizza dough out on a pizza pan to desired thickness. Top with sauce, using a spoon to spread sauce close to the outer edges. Top sauce with cheese, and top cheese with roasted vegetables (including the garlic– roasted garlic is so good!). Bake in the oven about ten minutes, until crust is golden brown and cheese is blistered. Let stand a couple minutes (or, you know, don’t), and serve.

It’s been hotter than the surface of the sun for about eight weeks. Here in a couple more weeks, we can all calm down and enjoy the cool, breezy 90-degree temperatures, but until then the prospect of cooking pretty much anything seems completely beyond me. The gas stove in my new apartment, while astonishingly wonderful, heats the whole house for hours, and I just don’t want to spend the time, money, and discomfort waiting for the apartment to cool down to a more palatable temperature. A friend and I even postponed our great canning adventure because neither of us could stomach the thought of standing over boiling water for that long.

The summer has brought one bright spot: I have rediscovered my love of farmer’s markets. I’m blessed to live in a city that is home to a dozen such weekly markets, and there isn’t a night of the week that I can’t find some grouping of stalls through which to wander, sampling wares and contemplating meals. A few weeks ago, I bought more small bushels of peaches than I thought I would ever eat, and my boyfriend and I ate them all in three days. Cherry tomatoes are my best friend, delicious cold out of the fridge and my juicy gateway to easy, ten-minute weeknight meals. (Think pasta with tomatoes and basil, homemade guacamole, tomato-basil salad on toast.) And watermelon.

The bright green, striped exterior of this bad boy called to me. I knew immediately that I wanted to make a cool, crisp drink with him. As I chatted with Courney, the representative from the farm whose stall I was stalking, I mentioned thinking of making agua fresca. She pointed me toward the beast of the bunch, a heavy, oblong thing that reminded me of that scene from Dirty Dancing (“I carried a watermelon?!) as I toted it to my car. Courtney assured me this fruit would yield the pinkest, ripest, juiciest fruit I’d ever tasted, and would yield me more than enough agua fresca. Oh, she was right.

I can’t tell you how easy this is, though it does require a tiny bit of patience and labor. The hardest thing you have to do is strain the pureed fruit, and speeding the process along is easy enough: I squished the pulp through the strainer with my fingers, making a bit of a mess, but enjoying feeling like a kid with a pink mud pie for a moment. When I took it to a party, it astounded my friends. This drink just tastes like watermelon in a glass, it’s so pure in flavor. That purity, if you’re so inclined, means it lends itself well to being mixed with more adult beverages.  While the flavor of vodka mostly disappears into the cocktail, a shot of bourbon was the big winner, lending a spicy kick to the sweet refreshingness.

Watermelon Agua Fresca
Adapted from Eating Well
Makes 1 gallon (I increased the recipe)

You will need:
12 cups cubed and seeded watermelon (for me, this was about half of a large melon)
1.5 c. water
1/2 c. sugar
Juice of three limes
1.5 liters club soda
In a very large bowl, combine the watermelon, water, and sugar. Using an immersion blender, blend until smooth. (For this, you can also use your blender to blend in batches, or use the immersion blender in batches. The watermelon is so soft, I suspect you could also use a fork and a little more time.)

Into a large pitcher, strain the pulp in batches using a coarse strainer. Add the lime juice and chill at least 4 hours. When ready to serve, add the club soda and mix well.

The watermelon pulp will settle in the bottom of the pitcher, so stir it before each pour or serve it out of a punch bowl.

Pesto Pasta Salad with Roasted Tomatoes
Serves 2
Note: These roasted tomatoes are delicious on their own, tossed with fresh thyme, basil, or oregano during roasting.

You will need:
1 pint cherry tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, peeled but whole
3 tbsp. olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 lb. small pasta, such as rotini
1.4 c. pesto
1/4 c. freshly grated parmesan cheese

Halve the cherry tomatoes. Toss tomato halves and garlic with 1 tbsp. olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast on a cookie sheet in a 450-degree oven for about ten minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare pasta according to package directions and drain. Toss pesto, remaining olive oil, and tomatoes with pasta. Serve immediately, topped with parmesan cheese.

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