Blackberry Jamming

It's blackberry picking time. Life as I know it comes to a grinding halt when the sweet summer perfume of ripe blackberries permeates the salty island air. It's time to face "the monster." That's what I call the massive tangle of prickly wild Himalayan blackberry canes that we have attempted to cultivate and tame along our driveway. Many folks call them a nuisance, or a noxious weed. I love them. I covet them. I've used the ones on our driveway for over nine years now, making more and more jam and pies each successive year. 

I can lose myself while picking berries. I forget who I am, and just focus on each perfectly plump black-bursting-with-juicy-tangy-sweetness-bauble of beauty. I practically squeal with delight when I find a cluster of "berries on steroids"- some that seem larger than possible- full of so many globules of goodness that they are almost a cartoon of what a berry looks like. And the taste- well, I eat very few while picking, but when I pop one in my mouth and it explodes - sweet, tart and with a hint of the concord grape juice of my youth, I know summer is real... and I know I have to preserve it for the rest of the year when it's cold, dark, wet and gray. 

I have been canning and making jam for over fourteen years now. I used to ride my bicycle around Seattle and pick blackberries in parking lots and in the overgrown sidewalk areas in my neighborhood. The jam was good, but once I found my island home and discovered berries that had never been doused in car fumes and city emissions, I never looked back. Berries on the island are pristine, and the ones that grow on our neighborhood beach even have a touch of the sea in their sweetness. I know the berries are getting ripe when the bird poop on our deck turns a lovely shade of lavender. 

This past weekend we picked 28 cups of berries. I made 13 pints of jam and one pie from that picking. If I am lucky I will get two or three more rounds of jamming over the next weekends. I'm hoping to put up 36 pints of jam. Now you may be wondering how on earth we can eat all that jam. We don't eat it all. Most of it will be my annual holiday gift to my friends and family. They have come to expect it at this point, and some of them start getting cranky when they run out. 

For those of you who think making jam and canning sounds like too much work, let me just say that nothing, absolutely nothing in the supermarket tastes like homemade jam. Give up one day and you'll get a year's worth of pleasure. I have also turned the berries into fruit leather, and I've made blackberry-applesauce and canned that, too. 

There are wonderful canning books out there. I have used "Clearly Delicious" for many recipes. (I have an older edition.) But I have created my own Blackberry Jam recipe from reading many things in different articles and books, and from my own experience. 

Since this isn't a food blog, I'm not going to go into detail on the whole jam/canning process, but my "recipe for success" is:

The Right Ratio: 4 cups of berries to 3 cups of white cane sugar.

Mash the berries with a potato masher for a few minutes in a large heavy-bottomed stainless stockpot.

Warm the sugar in the oven while the berries cook over medium heat until their juices run, then bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes while stirring often.

Then add the warm sugar and combine well, then turn the heat on high and cook, stirring occasionally until the mixture reaches exactly 220ºf on a digital thermometer. 

Now you are ready to ladle the jam into hot, sterilized jars (I use the sanitize setting on my dishwasher) and seal. You don't need a water bath on blackberry jam, nor do you need to add fruit pectin.

My ideal ratio for my large All-Clad stockpot is: 12 cups of berries to 9 cups of sugar. This amount should not overflow. This will make about 7 pints of jam.

Now go find some berries. But don't pick ours. Ever since our neighbors, The Willows Inn became famous for their "foraged locally" world's best food- we've been watching their sous-chefs picking things all over our neighborhood. They even pulled into our driveway the other day. 

So I had to make this sign:

We love our neighbors. We really do. We just don't want them to cut into our personal supply. If they are compliant, maybe I'll give them some jam at Christmas.

I hope you are "preserving" your summer memories.

With Love,


Seal Day Afternoon

It started with a dogfish. I should have sensed that this was not an ordinary Friday walk on the beach. The dogfish had washed ashore, dead, and was being turned into sashimi by a seagull. I considered taking it home and using it as crab bait. Crabs love dogfish, but dogfish excrete through their skin and I thought better of picking it up bare-handed. 

I ran into Claudia, who was walking her elderly dog, Moie, who eats seaweed. I showed them the dogfish, and we decided to let the seagulls have it. Claudia went home to pack- she's moving a half-mile down the beach, and I kept walking.

There was no one else on the beach- just me, lost in my thoughts, writing in my head, looking for agates. I was in such a meditative state that I almost tripped on her.

The work whistle at the Cherry Point refinery had just chimed "noon," and I found myself staring at a small seal pup. The pup was quite alive, but very thin. I've found dead ones before and I've seen eagles eating them. I also knew that their mothers can sometimes hunt for fish for long periods and then return for their babies to feed them, so I decided to keep vigil and watch this little one to make sure no one touched it.

I pulled out my iPhone and called my husband to let him know what I was doing, and then remembered that my phone could shoot video, so I shot this:

Then I sat and watched from a short distance. Friend and librarian Kathleen came and joined me. We kept Willows guests away, but let them take pictures. The little seal kept moving away from the incoming tide. It didn't want to get wet. This was a bad sign. Our water is cold- 50ºf at best, and a malnourished seal pup knew it couldn't keep warm in that water. The signs were pointing to abandonment. Seal moms don't normally leave their pups on populated beaches either. 

I told Kathleen to keep watching the pup and I walked up to Claudia's house hoping she was home. I caught Claudia loading her car, but she agreed to check out the seal and get the ball rolling. Claudia is a member of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. This volunteer network is made of folks who are trained to investigate and respond to stranded or dead marine mammals. Claudia called our Lummi Island network, and soon thereafter, my friend Cindy Dahlstrom arrived with orange cones and signs to keep people away from the seal while it tried to doze in the sun. Cindy and Claudia both agreed that it was malnourished and way too thin. There was a strong possibility that the mother was killed. 

It is a sad and known fact that some fisherman will kill seals because they compete for the same fish. I do not understand this. There are enough fish in the sea for all of us. Seals are beautiful creatures and share this world with us. One look at that pup's face and I knew I would do anything I could to help.

I'm not going to write a novel here, so I'll spare all of the details, but know that so far this story has a happy ending. Cindy and two other island network folks: Dave and Mary joined the team on the beach. Cindy called the Wolf Hollow Wildlife Rehabilitation Center and found out that they had a "place" for the seal in their hospital. She called and got permission from the head of the stranding network to move the seal. The next problem was how to transport the pup from our beach on Lummi Island to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. It was already 5:30pm. Many of us have boats. Old, slow boats. Our boat is currently leaking gas. Earlier in the day, I had taken a chance and called our neighbors, the Larsons, who have the fastest boat on the island, and told them about the seal. They had other plans, but to my shock and delight, they called me back, and agreed to make the trip to save the pup.

Cindy and the pup- placed in Cindy's large dog crate, joined the Larsons on the Wavelength and blasted off for Friday Harbor where a Wolf Hollow rescuer met them and they returned to our beach just as the sun set. I cried when I saw them leave from my deck, and I cheered when I saw the boat come home.

Cindy reported that Wolf Hollow named the pup Eliza. She is very young- maybe a few weeks old. She is dehydrated, too thin, has 18 rocks in her bowels, which they hope she will pass, (I watched her eat the rocks and didn't know how to stop her.) and she has a deep puncture wound in her left flipper. But she is improving and they are feeding her formula. Hopefully she will get big and strong, and they will release her into the wild again.

An amazing group of friends and neighbors came together to help Eliza. It was a beautiful and moving experience in so many ways. My husband, my brother-in-law (who was visiting) and I gave the Larsons some gas money to help defray the huge cost of fuel, and I donated to Wolf Hollow. But the best part of the whole experience has been feeling hopeful that one little life can be saved. Like the ripples of one pebble tossed into the sea, we can all make a difference. We touch our world through our actions and our words. I hope I can keep the ripples going, and the seals swimming. I hope you will do the same- if not for seals, for whoever crosses your path in a time of need.

With Love, 


Thirty Second Owl

Sometimes you have no time. Sometimes you have no passion. Sometimes life just keeps you away from your core beliefs and your souls' desires.

Don't stress. 

Just draw yourself a 30 second owl. 

It's really easy and you'll feel so much better. 

Start by drawing two eyes.

Add a triangular beak and scribble a little shading on it.

Draw a slightly curved line for the top of the head and add some pointy ear feathers- like on a Great Horned Owl. Or go earless.

Add a round body and some wing lines. I like my owls fat.

Scribble some shading, and then add the rounded talons with some scribbles where the knuckles are. (Do owls have knuckles?)

Add a little branch so the owl has something to sit on.

Voila! You're done. Don't you feel better now? I do.

I think the doctor orders a 30 second owl a day... or a 30 second dog, or cat, or - whatever your heart desires.

With Love,