I’ve noticed lately, that most of my blogs (not including The Author’s Voice) have either been rants or me pissing and moaning about writing. So I thought to myself, “self? Why don’t you post a piece of your early writing?”
To which I replied “What do you mean?”
Well, I must say that myself doesn’t mince his words, “Enough complaining and bitching. This is a writer’s blog, right?”
“So where is the writing? I’m tired of all the horror… oh the horror… bring on the funny.”
He has a point. So in light of my talking to myself, I thought I’d post one of my early pieces, before I found the horror genre.
About four or so years ago I enrolled in Durham College’s Creative Writing course helmed by none other that Dorothea Helms, The Writing Fairy. At the conclusion of that class, Dorothea suggested I join her writing circle at the Uxbridge Library. In one of those meetings, I penned the following piece. I read it aloud to the assembled writers to a rousing review. Talk about inflating my ego. What a rush. Just when i thought things couldn’t get any better, Dorothea approached me after the meeting and asked if I’d like to send it to her. She was editing for the Metroland newspaper at the time and was putting together the fall insert.
I did and she published it in the newspaper. My first publishing cred. Thank-you Dorothea for not only guiding me along but seeing that I had the chops when I didn’t see it.
So, here it is. It started with a short, true story (not embellished at all…) and finished with a guide and a recipe for making pickled peppers. It’s the one I use after much trial and error.
The Perils of Pickling Peppers and Hot Sauce
There I was, spatula in hand, ‘grope the chef’ apron tied securely, watching the steaming concoction of hot peppers, garlic, and vinegar, take its last spin around the blender.
Oh the heavenly aroma. Oh the beautiful texture, comfortably between liquid and paste.
With my red elixir carefully poured into the jars, I was in the process of scraping the last delicious remnants out of the blender when my spatula slipped and splashed the sauce directly into my eyes.
I’ve always been a bit of a daredevil, and years of playing sports have instilled me with an unfortunate, indestructible mentality. That said I am no stranger to pain, so when I say that it hurt, it hurt A LOT! It was how I imagined having lava splashed in my eyes would feel.
With the molten remains of my eyeballs burning a path down my cheeks, and my high-pitched screams still echoing in my ears, I heard my wife gasp.
You know those big side-splitting laughs? Those moments when you are laughing so hard no sound comes out and you struggle to draw a breath? Well my wife’s gasp sounded suspiciously like she was having one of those moments.
It was that gasp, between hushed giggles, that hurt the most.
In retrospect, I suppose I can find the humour in it. I mean c’mon, a grown man screaming like a little girl, running in circles clawing at his eyes? Ya, that’s funny… but at the time…
Guidelines for Pickling Peppers
Ok, let’s get this right out in the open. I should in no way be considered a cook. Bobby Flay and the rest of the Iron Chefs have absolutely nothing to fear when it comes to my cooking skills. That said I consider myself a connoisseur, so to speak, of spicy foods.
I have a weakness for hot sauces and hot peppers.
Now some may say that the weakness is actually in my head, for submitting my taste buds to such torture. To which I respond…oh yeah?
See? Excellent taste and a razor-sharp wit…
Now, I’m not even going to suppose that I can instruct anyone in the cooking process, but what I can offer is a guideline or a “what not to do” list, based on my own fumblings.
The first and foremost thing on this list is wear gloves. This is most important. Failure to do so will result in what we in the ‘industry’ call Molten Touch.
Most everyone has heard of King Midas and his Midas Touch where everything he touched turned to gold, the Molten touch is similar. Everything you touch will burn like a… well, it’ll be very uncomfortable especially delicate areas…
Don’t believe me? Try it yourself. Throw aside those gloves, because after all, “gloves are fer wimps.” In fact I insist. One must learn from ones mistakes. Trust me, I know whereof I speak.
Bare-handed, slice up your pepper of choice, whether it’s the shiny green acid teardrops that are Jalapeños, the deceptive Banana pepper or even the deadly orange Japanese paper lanterns that are the Habaneros. Now rub your eye, scratch your ear, rub your nose or better yet… guys, go to the bathroom.
You now know, and have probably come to the same conclusion I did, that the definition of the word uncomfortable is woefully inadequate, and you gentlemen that went to the bathroom have a new appreciation of the phrase “pants on fire”.
My second and final piece of advice, don’t, I repeat DO NOT mix alcohol consumption with pepper preparation. You will be tempted to taste each pepper to make sure it’s hot enough. Ok, maybe that’s just me, but the urge to out hot your associate will be too great to resist; the braggadocio, so to speak.
Let’s just say that the majority of the following morning will be spent in the “library”, if you catch my drift…
I hope I haven’t discouraged any budding hot-a-aholics. The end result is definitely worth the journey, plus you’ll have a few amusing stories to tell your friends when you proudly display your bottle of homemade pickled peppers.
Throw in a block of old, nippy cheese, some kielbasa and some crackers of choice and you’ll have hors d’oeuvres too good to keep to yourself. Just remember to share.
A large pot, of canning variety (10-12L) or bigger depending on your need
Jars (500ml jars make for more fridge friendly size but again, whatever you are used to using.)
Corresponding snap lids and rings.
A paramedic, if you happen to know one.
GLOVES, I can’t stress this enough. It’s for your own good…
Enough peppers to fill your jars. Peppers with thicker ‘flesh’ make better candidates. Cayenne’s tend to end up tough and chewy. Jalapeños, Banana peppers, sweet peppers etc. tend to have the best results. Mix in sweet peppers with your hot peppers to tone down the heat factor.
Several heads of garlic (approximately a clove per jar)
White vinegar and water at a 6-2 ratio
2 tablespoons canning or pickling salt
Put on gloves and eyewear. I’m not kidding here. I don’t care how silly it looks… well ok, I do care, send a picture.
Wash peppers and slice into rings. To reduce the heat, remove the seeds and membrane. Soak sliced peppers in a cold brine to increase crispiness in finished product. Remember to drain before placing in jars.
Sterilize your jars as per manufacturers instruction (again, I’m no cook. I just follow directions and even that I don’t do very well. I have my wife supervise from a safe distance.)
Boil snap lids.
On the stove, bring the vinegar, water, salt and sugar mixture to a low boil.
Still wearing your gloves, put a clove of garlic in the bottom of the jar and fill almost to the top with sliced peppers. Leave enough space that the peppers do not touch the top. Fill with pickling solution, place a snap lid on the jar and loosely apply the ring.
Let the jars sit. Once the snap lid ‘pops’ the jar is sealed and you can tighten the ring.
Store in a cool dark area and when open, keep refrigerated.
The key to understanding and enjoying hot sauce or pickled hot peppers is this, there has to be great taste. The heat has to be worth it. You have to WANT to eat more otherwise why do it? If it’s hot just for the sake of being hot… well that’s just pointless.
Hey folks, it isn’t rocket science, I just followed the instructions in the book that came with my jars. If I can do it, you can too.
Some people say that a writer looks back on their early writings and sees how far they’ve come and how bad they were. I look at this and still think it’s good. Ok, the mechanics aren’t as good as they could be, and if feels a little clunky, but I like it. But then I’ve always considered myself to be a bit different from the rest.
Not better, just different.