Setting Fire to the Ship

It seemed like an innocent enough request. “Can we call you if we have questions?” asked the interim CEO of the non-profit I will be leaving on Friday. “We would pay you as a contractor for your time, of course,” she added. Being me, I said sure. After all, what’s the harm in taking a phone call every now and then?

If my life were a movie, you might hear the familiar strains of my theme music in the background right about now. I goes something like ~

Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back to the place I was before
‘Relax’ said the night man,
‘We are programmed to receive.
You can check out any time you like,
But you can never leave!’

Somehow my saying “sure” turned into a request for “5 hours a week, to start”.

This is my 3rd time to quit this same job, and the 3rd time someone has asked me to stay in some way, shape, form, or fashion. One day, I’m sure I’ll look back on this whole thing and laugh, but on that particular day, I didn’t find it funny at all.

I spent my whole weekend stressing over how best to say no, wrestling with whether “no” was even the right thing to say. I mean, 5 hours is nothing. I could do that in my sleep and I’d be earning at least some money, right?

Not even my head could rationalize that in a way that convinced my heart.

After struggling for what seemed like hours to find the right words to backtrack my way out of this mess I had inadvertently (almost) agreed to, I decided to take a break and read. Right now, I’m reading One Woman Farm by Jenna Woginrich, a book about sheep and growing things; absolutely the farthest thing in the world from my problems with work. Wrong!

In the midst of chopping wood or butchering a pig (I can’t remember which), Jenna starts talking about failure. Specifically, she tells the story of how Cortez, upon arriving in the New World in 1519, set fire to his ships. His idea was simple – with no way to return home, his men had no choice but to give their all to this new venture.

I thought about that for a good minute and I knew. There was no way I was going to move forward on my own if I still had any connection to my old job. 5 hours or 25 hours, it didn’t matter, they both represented the same thing – a commitment to continue on a path I’d been trying to get off of for more than three years. I had to burn the ship.

So I did. And I did it with just that same anecdote. Whether they enjoyed the story of Cortez, I’ll never know. I never received a reply to that email, just a note from HR confirming my eligibility for COBRA benefits and a payout of my vacation days at the end of this month. But that’s okay. For the first time in all the many years I have had this job, I actually said no when I meant no, and I have no regrets.

Dumpster Dreams Low-Sugar Grape Jelly

A couple of weeks ago, Angie and I were out for a walk around the perimeter of the two shopping centers next door. We often take this 2.2 mile route when want to get a little fresh air but don’t feel like driving to the park. Though we usually put dumpster diving on hold for the summer (hot dumpsters stink and food decomposes way too fast for our liking), it was a cool morning so we decided just to take a peek in our favorite bin as we passed by. Guess what we found! Grapes!

Not just any grapes and not just a handful of half-squishy ones like we usually find either. These were premium non-GMO specialty grapes – Candy Dreams grapes to be exact. These small, deliciously sweet grapes taste like a plum married a blackberry and had a baby the size of a marble. The first thing my niece said when she tasted them was that they would make an excellent wine. The first thing our great niece said was, “more, please!” These little bites of fruit candy cost $2.99 a pound inside the store and we got them for free.

There were cartons and cartons of them in the dumpster. We could have gotten them all but it’s hard to carry that many grapes, without a bag, when you’re walking; so we settled for a full cardboard tray and two containers. We figured by the time we cleaned them up, we’d have maybe a few pounds of edible grapes. Boy were we wrong!

We started with 14 one-pound cartons. When we finished removing the stems and bad grapes, we still had 14 pounds of grapes. Less than 1/4 cup of the grapes were bad. They were all in near perfect condition, so I have no idea why they got tossed. (Actually, 99% of the time I have no idea why this stuff gets tossed, which is why we try to rescue what we can.)

What does one do with 14 pounds of grapes that taste like candy? Eat them, of course. And make jelly.

We’ve been dying to try our hand at jelly-making but strawberry season was slim this year and our blackberries are still too young to produce enough to make more than just a cobbler. With 14 pounds of free grapes, we had no excuse not to try. So we did.

I read a lot of recipes online but couldn’t find one that I liked so Angie and I made up our own. We started with 8 pounds of grapes. Instead of boiling and crushing them, we used our Nutri Ninja to blend one pound at a time into juice. We strained the juice through a fine mesh strainer to remove the skins. In total, we had 12 cups of grape juice. Most recipes I found said that it’s best not to make that much jelly at one time, so I divided the juice into three batches.

First I measured out 4 cups of juice into a pot, added 1 1/4 cups of filtered water, and 1/4 cup of lemon or lime juice. We used both -2 batches have lemon, 1 has lime. I brought that to a boil while Angie sterilized 2 pints and 1 half-pint jar.

I let the juice boil for 10 minutes before I added 1/4 cup of organic cane sugar premixed with a box of Sure-Jell for low/no sugar recipes (this is the pink box). I brought the mixture back to a boil, then added 2 cups of organic cane sugar*. Once I got it back to a rolling boil again, I cooked it for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Once I took it off the heat, Angie ladled it into the hot jars and we processed them in the water bath canner for 10 minutes. It takes about 24 hours for them to fully set.

*Note – most jelly recipes call for copious amounts of sugar. These grapes are sweet enough that a smaller amount will work just as well, with the low/no sugar Sure-Jell. You can also use stevia, honey, or maple syrup. One of our batches is a mix of 1 3/4 cups sugar and 1/3 cup maple syrup. 

From 8 pounds of grapes, we made 6 full pints and 3 half-pints of what we’re calling Dumpster Dreams Grape Jelly. It turned out to be a beautiful shade of purple, somewhere between wine and mulberry, with a super spreadable consistency. How did it taste? Delicious! We opened one of jars made with lime juice and the maple syrup/sugar mix for lunch today and made the best PBJ I’ve had all week!

We’re pretty happy with the results and even happier not to have to buy jelly for a while. This will save us a nice chunk of change since we eat PBJs like they are going out of style and usually buy our jellies from the Farmer’s Market at a cost of $5-$6 a jar.

Do you have a favorite jelly recipe?