Archive for the ‘My Favorite Things’ category

My Favorite Things: Hardly Strictly Bluegrass–With Added Links–Enjoy a Virtual Festival!

October 2, 2010

Dr. Ralph Stanley

I love Bluegrass Music.

It is the ancient sound of  mourning –an exile for his homeland, the mother wailing for a breathless infant, the prodigal groaning when he has wasted it all.  It is also the sound of joy that comes in the morning — the sound of the songbirds serenading the  sun rising over a still lake,  the lonesome moan of the train that brings your baby back to you, and it is the hoot of the owl,  rising to meet the moon between the gnarled branches of an old oak tree. It is the sounds of things that catch your breath, and then all of it comes out of your mouth in a kind of keening, that longing for the  One who made such beauty, and Who longs for us to see His reflection in it.  It is the mysterious sound of the eternity in our hearts.

One of the few benefits of living in a land where  my righteous heart is continually tormented by the conduct of my neighbors, is my close proximity to this free music festival.  It is the gift of financier Warren Hellman, but to me it  feels every year like a gift straight from the Father’s heart to his benighted child, who is a stranger in a strange land.

Last night I saw T- Bone Burnett, who generously opened his set up to introduce up-and-coming artists like the Punch Brothers, the Secret Sisters, Karen Elson, and a trio he found busking on the streets, the Americans–it was an amazing show.  Elvis Costello surprised us with two songs.   T-Bone played several haunting songs of his own.

Today I am going to wander about, discovering new sounds  from this embarrassment of riches, but you can look for me at the Rooster stage at four watching Buddy Miller, with my husband (who surprised me this morning by taking the day off!) and my nephew who is providentially visiting from Israel.  If Emmylou is the queen of these days, and Hellman its king, Buddy Miller roams the five stages as its disguised prince, mingling with the paupers to watch the shows, but  more often onstage,  to add his thrilling guitar to the mix.  I hope  Patty Griffin joins him, because I missed her yesterday,  and that he plays Mark Heard’s “Worry Too Much” –Heard is the “Cyrano de Bergerac of Rock and Roll”, as T-Bone once said on a tribute album to Heard at his untimely death.

The only downside to Hardly Strictly is the terrible choices one is faced with–RoseAnne or Elvis?  Buddy Miller or Gillian Welch?  Wistfully I choose Buddy, and console myself with the haunting melody “Time (the Revelator)”, that  Welch and David Rawlings use to tear up the stage at the Cambridge  Folk Festival, on YouTube.

I appreciate these newcomers who faithfully preserve these sounds for their generation–like Sunday’s ‘can’t miss’ show, those Julliard-trained musicians,  The Carolina Chocolate Drops, or RoseAnne Cash with her Daddy’s list.   I love the families that play together, like the Del McCoury Band, or Earl Scruggs’.  I love the women who sing together haunting harmonies of love and loss,  like  EmmyLou Harris, Allison Krauss, and Gillian Welch.

But best of all are those old guys–they are so unashamed of the gospel, which has deep, deep roots in this music. I am still haunted by Ralph Stanley last year singing ”Oh Death” to this crowd all taking  their pleasures  in the warm sunshine, reminding this Vanity Fair that they were all only a mist that would soon pass away-–it was an electrifying moment–you could feel the conviction settle all over them with its brooding cloud.  Brave man.

So  I pray for many such moments today, and that I myself would have the boldness there to speak about the hope I hold, that the sting of death is gone for me.  Sometimes that hope rises up so clear and strong, and then you have the reason for a  yodel– that sound of the voice-box at play, the laughing song of a child, the liberation cry of a ransomed captive.  And I laugh along, and I practice my yodel, as I listen to my new favorite bluegrass group,  Fret Not,  sing  “Hallelujah, I’m Ready to Go!”

My Favorite Things: An Easy and Delicious Low Sugar Jumbleberry Jam

September 23, 2010
Jam Jars

Image by Tom T via Flickr

 I can’t hold out on the world by keeping this recipe all to myself.  This jam is amazing, and easy to make.   The fruits are in season, plentiful and  inexpensive where I live.  The plums provide the necessary pectin to jell the jam. You don’t even have to can it, just store it in the refrigerator, or freeze.  It usually makes about four pint jars for me.

Or quarter the recipe and make it in the microwave, in a 8 cup batter bowl or similar size casserole dish.


  • 2 pounds plums
  • 2 cups fresh raspberries
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar, or more depending on sweetness
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1/4 tsp. butter
  • 3 cups strawberries, hulled and chopped

How to make it

  • Rinse plums and remove pits.
  • Finely chop to make 3 cups.  You should have about  8 cups total fruit.
  • Place plums, strawberries, and raspberries in an 8-quart pan or kettle.   The wider the diameter of the pan for liquid to quickly evaporate, the better.  I use a 12 inch saute pan.  Non-aluminum is best. Or you can microwave a small batch by stirring  one quarter of the above (try 2 cups of mixed fruit and 3/4 cup sugar, and taste for sweetness)  ingredients in a 8 cup safe container, stir after it boils, then cook for about 15 minutes, (every microwave is different!  See the gel test for doneness below.)
  • Stir in sugar and lemon juice until blended.
  • Bring mixture to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly; boil, add the butter to keep from foaming,  (it will foam, but calm down as it cooks)  and stirring for  about ten minutes, or until until thick.  Taste while stirring for sweetness, and add more, ( this depends on the tartness especially of the plums.  I seldom need to add more than two cups of sugar.)
  • To check consistency, spoon a sample onto a saucer and freeze until room temperature; this jam will be looser in texture than commercial jams.  If to your liking, remove from heat and cool to freeze or refrigerate.  I have even frozen it in  quart size ziploc freezer bags.
  • Or to can, keep warm on stove as you work. Pour jam into hot jars to within 1/4 inch of top.
  • Wipe rims with a clean, damp cloth.
  • Place prepared lids on jars and screw on ring bands tightly.  As they cool they should seal, check by pressing the lid.  It should be completely flat.  If it makes a clicking sound, it has not sealed and you should refrigerate and consume within a few weeks.