Archive for the ‘summer’ Category

Return to the green place

June 27, 2008

I’m home. Everything changed while I was gone, and the differences are breathtaking. Being gone only 8 days and having the landscape so different really gives me an appreciation of how fast the seasons pass.

Of course, we didn’t really get a spring this year, just several months of really crappy weather. So it’s like the last few weeks of spring and the first few weeks of summer compressed in on each other. We’re eating lettuce, radishes, spinach, and chard from the garden. But most of the hot weather plants look like they’ve gone south, so we’re planting some backup tomatoes and corn. The fruit trees look great, most of them loaded. But the brassicas (cabbage and the like generally planted very early) are depressing. Some of the cabbage and all of the broccoli just got to about 8 inches high and bolted. Total loss. The berries are at least a month late.

But the Japanese irises and foxglove are blooming like crazy, the grass is that soft spring green and smells fresh, and the trees are fully leafed out so that the light filters through them in that wonderful summer way.

The convention was fun. I got 5 top-ten finishes in the 39 categories of poem that I entered, so I’m happy. If that doesn’t sound too impressive, you should know that most categories had from 200 to 300 poems entered.

Now I truly must go move some sprinklers. No deep thoughts today, just gratitude for a return to the NW. Much as I enjoyed the convention and the different landscape, there’s no place like home.

Blood on the moon

August 29, 2007

Early, very early, this morning, with a aid of a little piece of modern technology called an alarm clock, I rousted my poor tired body from bed to view the total lunar eclipse that the sky offered up.

I have seen a number of eclipses: two solar (one full, one partial), and now two full lunar eclipses. It is not surprising that in other cultures they have been viewed as miraculous and portentious events. And this was the first I have ever seen in absolutely clear skies.

Over the months, I have become fully indoctrinated into country living, rising most of the time with the light and going to bed generally not too long after the dark creeps in. I may sit up and read for awhile, but most often, the total dark is the signal to call it a day. In the winter when nights are rather long, it’s not uncommon for me to get up in the dark, use a flashlight to get downstairs, turn on NPR to see what’s happening elsewhere, and snuggle up in one of the recliners, still in the dark.

It’s been so long since I used my alarm clock that when it went off at 2 a.m. I didn’t at first know what it was. My mind was sorting through a large group of possibilities, most of them involving things like smoke alarms, UPS alarms, and the like. Then I realized it was my little 12-time-zone battery-operated clock. So I got up.

The first time I saw a total lunar eclipse I was living in San Rafael, California, and the event occurred at a much more civilized hour–about 9 p.m. The moon turned blood red and angry. Very little else in the sky was visible–too much ambient light.

My neighbor Kenny tells me he saw a picture of an eclipse in Germany in which the moon turned blue. He tells me it depends on the composition of the atmosphere in the viewing area.

But I didn’t know other colors were possible, so I was expecting and found a red moon. But this moon wasn’t an angry red. It looked sad, if anything, a soft rose that I associate with pensiveness and even mourning.

But when the last bit of white faded, the sky lit up like a Christmas tree. It was one of the more amazing celestial sights I have ever seen, this sad (blue, if you will) rose-colored moon amid stars that were as bright as any I’ve ever seen.

And so many of them. If you live in a city, or even a small town, you may never have really seen the night sky unless you like to go out camping in the mountains or desert. Even then you have to be willing to extinguish all of your camp lights, set up camp far from anyone else, and be patient long enough for your eyes to adapt to the dark. Then you can see the sky, a night sky you’ll never forget.

The dark adaption is important. There is a chemical that floods the back of your eye when it is exposed to white light to reduce the impact of the brightness. When white light is absent, the chemical gradually subsides and you see better and better in the dark. The process can take 10-30 minutes.

But it’s worth the trouble. There’s nothing else that I can think of that gives me a truer picture of my place and relative importance in the universe than a view of an unobstructed night sky with a little learning to understand what I’m really looking at. It’s truly humbling.

I was moved by this sad moon, and I’m glad I got up to see it. I’m not sure how anything watching the mess we are making of our world these days could not be sad. But last night’s moon, like a mourner at a funeral, helped spread the grief. 

I suppose this is why I blog

August 28, 2007

My mailbox today had a couple of comments from people I’ve never met but suspect I would like to–Nathan and ClapSo.

Nathan lives in Israel, and I met him virtually in the course of my former employment. He was a great source for some articles I wrote, and in the process proved himself witty and simpatico. When I think about the madness in the Middle East, Nathan and people like him are always a consideration.

ClapSo feels a bit like an alter ego. When I lived in the Bay Area (in what seems like a completely different lifetime), he would have been one of the folks who sat and drank wine and smoked assorted things with me and argued (less lucidly as the evening went on, admittedly) about whatever the hot topics of the evening were. And he’s a poet, a nice synergy there, too.

Blogging is a way of sending thoughts out into the atmosphere and seeing what comes back ( a little like those SETI researchers I wrote about earlier).

Tomorrow is my regular writing-group day, so I’m going to have to go off shortly and get prepared for that. The generator is running on fumes at the moment because I was too lazy to fill it earlier, and I expect my UPS to get a field test any minute.

Here are some things I have learned from my garden this summer:

  • How to extend the life of basil: When it starts to flower, cut the main plant off leaving just two leaves at the base and water it like crazy. It grows a whole new plant.
  • Herbs are really important: It really doesn’t matter what you have to cook. If you have good fresh herbs, almost anything can become ambrosia.
  • The late crop of raspberries is even better than the first crop: Most of these are nearly an inch long. A handful makes a great breakfast.
  • You can rejuvenate cabbages, too: If you cut them off just right when harvesting, the root and a couple of leaves that you leave will grow a whole new crop of mini-cabbages, sort of like giant brussel sprouts. They steam beautifully.
  • Never say die: If you get one of those weird years where you’re having plenty of sun but little heat (like we are this summer), plant a second crop of the brassicas and lettuce. They do just fine.
  • Flowers scattered through the vegetable garden feed the soul the way the fruits and vegetables feed the garden.

It’s a lovely evening tonight, but now I have to go type in my revisions and print out the stuff I need tomorrow.

ClapSo, I haven’t forgotten that you tagged me, and I promise to act on it this week.

Packrat, weird weather, some successes and failures this year

August 27, 2007

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been living out here full-time for the best part of a year. Time flies by so fast.

We have a packrat again. If you’ve never experienced this, you can’t appreciate it. Several years ago, one moved into our woodshed. Ben came in and told me about it. He said, “I was just going to shoot it, but it peeked out and wiggled its ears at me. They are really cute, and I just couldn’t do it.”

Then it moved into the engine compartment of his Ford truck, chewing up the electrical harnesses and creating chaos. His attitude changed after he spent one whole winter without a heater even after “persuading” the packrat to move.

Packrats are incredibly destructive. This one has decided to move into my truck. So we’ve placed a live trap, so we can release any chipmunks or squirrles that trip it. But the packrat will eventually get caught and probably get a swimming lesson. Sounds cruel, doesn’t it.  But it has 100 acres of forest to nest in, and it can’t chew up my wiring harness, too.

The weather has been very weird this summer. Here it is the end of August and we haven’t had a day over about 75 degrees. The corn and tomatoes are so slow to come on without the heat, but they’re making it. I have a Beefsteak tomato the size of my fist that I’ll pick tomorrow. There are about 20 more a few days behind. The Beefsteaks have been difficult in years past, but this year they’re my stars. And my favorites, always.

Our garden has been wildly successful this year, even if things are a bit slow. Some of the things I’ve learned:

  • Fresh herbs in abundance are a great blessing
  • Pet your plants
  • Talk to them when your watering
  • Spread bullshit liberally, all talking aside

I have 5-6 watermelons that will probably make it this year, and 3-4 canteloupes. Since one of my life goals is to actually grow a ripe melon, I may have to be developing a new one soon (life goal, not melon).

Poultry (chicken or turkey, we’ve done both this summer) doesn’t get any better than when it’s stuffed with a clump of cilantro or basil and shallots or onions and a few lemon slices. An hour or two on the barbecue, and you have a meal fit for gods.

I was going to write about failures, too, but we don’t seem to have had any. My garden has been a poem in progress all year.

Now I must go cook dinner so I can read the Sunday Times without feeling guilty.

A long rant about something, or perhaps nothing

August 25, 2007

Once upon a time, I was president of the state poetry society, and I discovered that herding poets is a lot like herding cats.

By their natures, poets are not organized people. And they don’t respond well to those who would like them to be organized.

I find myself lately with my true poetic nature coming to the fore.

God bless those of you who keep checking this space in hopes that something new has happened. My sincere apologies for the long absence. But the truth of the matter is, I just haven’t felt like writing. Anything.

Then tonight I sat down and penned a couple of pretty good poems, one a rewrite of a fragment penned earlier that will probably be called “Why the Sky in August Sometimes Looks Sulky” and the other something brand new: “I Want to Be Jack Kerouac.” That’s when I thought perhaps I could add an update here.

Part of the problem is summer. Here’s what my pantry looks like now after all of the old stuff has been cleaned out: sauerkraut, canned blueberries and blueberry butter, canned pie cherries, canned Royal Annes, canned plums and plum sauce, canned apples and applesauce, dill pickles, bread-and-butter pickles, canned green beans, pickled green beans (very interesting these–I didn’t have the dried red peppers the recipe called for so I used Chalula powder–ground up garlic roasted with hot red peppers–instead), pickled beets. The corn and tomatoes are just coming on. I was beginning to despair of them ripening with all of the rain, but they seem to be doing so anyway.

I have a very sore gum, the result of a really bad tooth brought on by some very bad dentistry some years back. It’s better tonight. I’m trying to avoid a trip to a dentist by using a peroxide mouthwash and scotch as a painkiller. On a scale of 1-10, going to the dentist is about a 15 for me. So far, so good.

My flower beds and herbs have been attacked. We think we found the culprit tonight–a packrat running around. He likes parsley and sage but not oregano, and he really likes trimming the begonias, although he doesn’t seem to eat them, just clips off the leaves and leave them in a pile. His days are numbered. We’ll catch him in a live trap, but then he’ll probably get a swimming lesson in the river.

The coyote who likes the Italian prunes has been foiled. He broke the tree off a couple of years ago, but it’s put up a new vertical shoot (that he can’t climb), and the shoot is fruiting.

I went crazy in town yesterday and bought some veal, so we’re having weinerschnitzel very soon.

That’s it for life in the country this evening.

Tonight’s dinner is worth writing home about

August 4, 2007

Brother Tom and sister Lisa arrived today to spend the weekend.

I spent the morning canning, and by the time they got here was totally wiped out. But I had new pickles, canned green beans, and blueberry confit to brighted next winter.

After the profligacy of the last week, tonight everything came together. A chicken stuffed with cilantro, lemon and onion slices went on the barbecue, accompanied by new potatoes sliced thin and sprinkled with butter, kosher salt, and rosemary, then wrapped in foil to steam.

The summer squash got a dose of cheese, cracker crumbs, fresh basil, and egg and went into the new electric oven to bake.

The fresh green beans got steamed, then tossed with butter.

We all ate more than we should have.

This is the first real dinner in which 90% or more of the food came from our garden, and it was truly wonderful. It’s always amazing how much different food from the garden tastes.

It tastes like food tasted when I was a child and has never tasted since.

Tomorrow will be another workday. Lisa promised to come only if I could keep her busy. I think she was a little taken aback when I began laughing hysterically. The leather gloves, pruners, and weeding tools are laid out for her.

Buying spree

August 3, 2007

Recently I wrote about my new little cast-iron skillet, a Griswold #5. I am pleased to report that after significant testing, it is a truly superior omelette pan, holding enough heat to cook the eggs without scorching them. Woo-hoo!

But that wasn’t the end of my shopping this week.

I hate to shop. I mean, I REALLY hate to shop. I think I’m just so old that there really isn’t anything I want to put in that much effort to buy, except for, well, a few things. . .

I bought my first item on eBay this week, a terrific and very large Pyrex percolator. We’ve used these the entire time we’ve lived together, but they’re very fragile, and for the last couple of years we’ve been reduced to a couple of 6-cup pots. Works great for the two of us, but when we have company, I feel like I’m making a pot of coffee every 5 minutes.

So a few days ago, I successfully bid for a “rare 12-cup model.” It arrived yesterday. It’s really a 10-cupper, but it was in perfect condition, packed in a manner to survive shipping, and so much better than anything I had previously that I’m thrilled.

Then I went to town after a canning marathon. It is grossly unfair that canning has to be done during the hottest time of the year. If the vegetables got ripe in December and January, having the kitchen woodstove going all day would be a real treat. Having it going all day in August and September is a debilitating experience, even with all of the windows open.

Now I could can on my propane stove. But the idea of burning 1-2 gallons of propane to heat all of that water and do all of that cooking and end up with $2 worth of vegetables is not acceptable. So we fire up the wood stove. The heat there isn’t free, but the cost is mostly labor (not mine, the guys’) and a little chain saw gas.

I had to go to town a couple of days ago, and all the way in I was mulling over the problem of summertime cooking. As you may recall, I love to bake. The heat from the canning just about did me in, but I couldn’t stand the thought of not baking all summer. And I was thinking about my neighbor’s convection oven, which sits on a counter top and does amazing things by virtue of its 110 connection.

I have 110 power, it just takes a generator to get there. Over the past few days, I’d been thinking about this. I meant to go online and look for these ovens, fully expecting to pay $200-300 for one. But O never did. When I got to Bi-Mart, I got the things I went for (I don’t even remember what they were) and then went over to appliances to look for a counter top oven.

I made it past the 25 models of microwave (not interested, I have one I got for free that gets used occasionally to pop corn on movie nights) and found one countertop oven. It was under $90, and it had settings for bake, broil, convection, and rotisserie. And it only required a 1500-watt 100 power supply. Who could resist?

So I brought it home. Much to my surprise, Ben didn’t have a nervous breakdown at me bringing home an electric oven to our basically non-electric household. He’s pretty cool about new toys, probably because I’m generally pretty cool about his new toys, from the miniature chain saw to the Cobra mustang.

I did the burn-in tonight, and it seems to work just great on the generator. Apple pie is coming this weekend, and possibly biscuits. I also have more canning to do, but I’ll keep doing that on the wood stove as the most cost-effective option.

Two successes

July 29, 2007

I went off to town Friday in search of a few groceries, to make a bank deposit, and to do assorted miscellaneous errands. I had originally planned to do laundry as well, but it’s amazing what you can put off if you set your mind to it. One of the benefits of my former consumerist lifestyle is a surfeit of linens (both bedroom and kitchen), underwear, levis, sweats, and all those necessary things. And it does seem a shame to only put 22 lbs. of laundry in a 40 lb. washer, so I’m sure I made the right decision.

Newport is a pain in the butt to get around in, so I had carefully planned my route and sequence of errands (if I’m starting to sound anal, sorry, but I do these things now–too little to worry about, I suspect). The main coast highway runs right through the middle of town, and in the summer turning left except at a left-turn light can be a challenge. I haven’t dented a fender in several decades, and I’l like to keep it that way (part of my bank deposit was a couple of refunds from our insurance company for being such good drivers).

But I got to town a few minutes earlier than the first store I wanted to visit opened. All the way into town I’d be thinking about (fantasizing, really) a truly fine SMALL cast-iron skillet. Good new cast-iron cookware is almost non-existent. The stuff I like was made by Griswold and Wagner, and neither company is still around selling new stuff, as far as I can determine.

The cast iron made in Asia is chancy for cooking–the Asians seems to have a different attitude toward embedded petroleum products in recycled iron than I do. And the new stuff made in the U. S., like Lodge, is hopeless. I have no desire to spend the first two weeks I own something polishing it out to the needed smooth and glossy bottom. So I look for the good old pans that somehow didn’t get totally wrecked.

Being a few minutes early, I thought, what the heck, I’ll go over to the antique barn and see if they have any Pyrex cookware worth buying.

They didn’t, but what I did find was a #5 (about 7″ diameter) Griswold cast-iron skillet in nearly perfect condition for about $12. (When I brought it home, Ben guessed I’d paid about $20). It’s in fine enough condition to be an egg skillet, so I spent partof this morning giving it a good cleaning with steel wool and reseasoning it with olive oil. It’s a fine piece of cookware. I can hardly wait to try it out as an omelet pan. It’s that well preserved.

Last evening I went with a friend to a writers’ meeting up Shot Pouch Creek. The group that sponsored it, the Springcreek Project, maintains a retreat there for people who want to escape and write. They do many other things there as well, including multi-disciplinary projects combining art and science.

Last night was, I think, their “hooray, we’ve survived another year” meeting. They furnished a wonderful salad bar from a local catering company (including a chicken salad that I would have been proud to have claimed), and they asked attendees to provide either an oeur d’ouvre (if I spelled that right it’s purely accidental) or a dessert.

At this point, you may be remembering how many berries I’m trying to deal with, so dessert was a natural. But I’m tired of baking tarts, and frankly it’s been too bloody hot to fire up the woodstove and bake anything. But I did have some very good heavy cream, and in anticipation of this event, I bought a sliced poundcake while I was in town. I had some very good golden sherry, and what my brain settled on (reviewing the options) was what I am henceforth calling a “lazy cook’s trifle.”

It got a 5-star rating from participants (she noted modestly), and although I took what I thought was enough for twice as many people as the 30 or so there, I didn’t bring any home.

For all you adventuresome folks, here’s all it takes:

    • A whole bunch of good berries
    • Some fairly dry cake of some sort, like my pound cake
    • A whole bunch of lightly whipped cream
    • A little sherry
    • A little bit of sugar (for tossing with the berries if needed)

Layer in a big-enough pan to hold everything. Forget the “Make it beautiful in a clear glass bowl, footed ideally” thing. It tastes just as good without worrying about that. Start with the poundcake, add berries (my first fruit layer was blueberries that I had tossed with a tiny bit of sugar and a few drops of lemon juice in a moderately warm skillet just until the berries were wonderfully dark and swollen with juice), cover with lightly whipped heavy cream (don’t whip it to stiff peaks, almost butter, because it tastes so much better if it’s soft) with just a smidge of sugar to sweeten the cream added right before it’s ready.

Then lay down another layer of pound cake, sprinkle it with some good sherry (light-handedness is everything here–I doubt that I used more than 2 ozs. of sherry for my 3-qt. or so dessert) and top with another layer of berries (for my second layer I used some really ripe strawberries that I had cut up and tossed with a little sugar to free up the juice.

Then top with more cream and some fruit that you cleverly reserved for a garnish–a few dozen of those very dark and rich blueberries and some strawberry halves with the stems intact.

At the risk of sounding even more immodest than I already have, I must say that it was wonderful. I might even do it again.

But now I have to go off to e-Bay, where I’m fooling with some Pyrex (I only buy cast iron I can see).

I grew up hating zucchini

July 27, 2007

My mother, God rest her soul, was an amazing woman. It’s a rare week that goes by that I don’t think about some gift she gave me.

But among the things she was not was a cook.

I’ve thought a lot about this. I think the truth of the matter was that she had no sense of food. She loved chocolate. But beyond that, her imagination failed her.

She got married not knowing how to boil an egg. Her mother, a farm wife, was too busy to teach her children. It was easier just to get it done herself. My father’s mother, who was a fabulous cook and ran a famous (in Oregon) cafe for decades, tried to teach her. I’ve heard all of the stories.

But I still have trouble accounting for my mother’s particular deficiency. I don’t think that strictly speaking it was a failure of imagination. She just seemed to have no real sense of what went well with what. For years she made a shrimp and macaroni salad that drew rave reviews. I don’t know where she got the recipe, but I cheerfully stole it. It was one of my favorite dishes.

But I know she didn’t understand what made it good, because one time she decided to make it more elegant and added a can of pineapple. It was inedible.

My mother only knew one way to cook zucchini–she boiled the shit out of it until it was this sort of mush or gruel or something really disgusting. When I was a grown woman (more or less), I moved to San Francisco and discovered that it could be sauteed in olive oil or baked with cheese and bread crumbs or all sorts of other things.

A long time friend (now long time dead), a bachelor guy at the time, taught me to toss it with egg and cracker crumbs and cheddar cheese and onion and throw it in an oven and produce an ambrosial vegetarian main course. I still make Tumwater’s recipe.

I think what brought this on was tonight’s dinner. I threw a couple of chicken breasts rubbed in very good olive oil and sprinkled with lemon pepper onto the barbecue grill. I had picked a head of cauliflower earlier (a week or so ago) and forgot about it in the crisper, so it was borderline. But I made the first quart of dill pickles today, so I had lots of left over brine from brining the cukes. So I brined the cauliflower (not for too long, just a half hour or so), which refreshed it immensely, and then I steamed it.

I sliced a nice zucchini and a nice Sunburst (yellow Peter Pan) squash rather thin and threw them in a frying pan with some of that same good olive oil and a little summer savory and cooked them until they were just tender. They not only tasted terrific, they were very pretty together.

We ate it all.

My mother would have been incapable of this, and I’m still trying to understand why. She made it a point to teach me the basics of cooking, so that I didn’t suffer from the same problems she had dealt with as a new bride. But she never really got food herself, and I never really got it until I left home and found how other people did things.

After he retired, my dad took over the cooking, and he had the same knack his mother did. It was much more fun to go visit after that, at least from a culinary perspective.

One of the things I’m enjoying the most about my new-found free time and my rather fabulous garden this year is the freedom to experiment with food. I’m the spitting image of my father’s grandmother. I seem to have got the right set of genes for this.

Now if I could just be 35 again. . .

Summer on the back 40

July 26, 2007

This probably comes under the heading of “Be careful what you wish for.”

Gardening in coastal Oregon is an interesting endeavor. You prep the soil, plant things, watch the weather, try to second-guess what’s going on, pull the undesirables, water, and watch as things struggle with the early spring conditions you struggled with trying to get an early garden. Then, Nature waves a magic wand and things explode.

Today I picked blueberries, zucchini, the first pickling cucumbers, and enough green beans for dinner. I was very excited to be out here for the whole growing season. But I hadn’t planned on being laid up for two weeks in the height of activity.

God bless Ralph. He’s watered and weeded while I was limping around feeling sorry for myself. I don’t deal well with idleness. Much as I enjoy a good read or a good puzzle, sitting in a chair for long periods of time just makes my sciatic nerve act up.

But Ralph and Brenda left today for 2-3 weeks of family stuff out of state, and now it’s mine again. And there is suddenly more food coming out of the garden than we can possibly eat. I’ve given a lot of it away, will give away much more.

But I’m getting around pretty well, was able to water everything today with only minor twinges. I slept in my bed (instead of one of the LaZBoys) last night for the first time since my fall, and it worked. But I’ve got enough cucumbers for the first quart of pickles, and behold, there are exactly three dill heads (the appropriate amount) ready to be picked. So tomorrow I will pack the first quart of pickles.

The upside is that I’ve had a lot of time to think, and that means a lot of time to hear the music of poetry running around in my head, so I’ve got some pretty terrific new work. Maybe the cracked ribs were someone’s way of saying “Slow down. Listen.”

The other thing I have in incredible quantities is fresh basil. A couple of nights ago we had what I can only call an experimental dinner. I had a little leftover medium-hot green sauce from the enchiladas. I used it to marinate a pork loin which I then stuffed with garlic and threw on the barbecue. Yummy.

To go with it, I cooked some linguini, drained it and set it aside. Then, in a fortuitous accident, I grabbed the wrong oil bottle and had several tablespoons of sesame oil in my skillet before I realized it was the wrong color, grabbed my designer olive oil to augment it, sauteed some garlic in the combination, and when the garlic was ready, added the pasta, a couple of cups of chopped roma tomatoes and a couple of cups of fresh chopped basil, and got everything to hot. Then it just took a liberal sprinkling of good Parmesan to make a heavenly pasta. When I was prepping it, I almost panicked. I realized I had enough pasta for 12 people. But the four of us cleaned it up.

This year I again planted what for me is a favorite corn variety–Bodacious. I’m not totally sure whether I like it for its flavor and robustness (plenty of both) or because I’m a big fan of Hank Williams, Jr., and the name always invokes rowdiness in my brain. But today I noticed that some of the stalks have started as many as four ears each (normally two). All that bullshit makes a difference.

The blueberries are slowing a bit, thank God, but the raspberries are just gathering their second wind and the whole late summer crop is coming on. And here I am bitching when I should feel so blessed. . .