Feb 28, 2008

What Lives In Dark Corners

Vintage costume jewelry I love.

I believe that homes are reflective of our mental landscape. I think we build around us a place that is similar to what our interior psyche looks and feels like. I think it's more complicated than that. I think sometimes we react so strongly to what's in our heads that we try really hard to fix what's wrong in our heads in our homes: enforce extreme order when what we feel inside is mad chaos. So as a reflection of who we are I think it takes an astute being to recognize what they're seeing.

This is the objet d'art that I made in eighth grade which I would later hurl violently at my room mate.

I spent one afternoon this week sorting through my old clothes and accessories. I had boxes of trash and treasure massed together, spilling out of a closet. I didn't want to let go of any of it because I worried that being fat was temporary, like a glitch, and that I would soon be able to peruse this mass with more accuracy.

That's not the truth though. That's just what I told myself. The truth lives in darker places for me. The truth is that there were boxes that I was scared of. Literally scared of. I don't deal well with dirty chaos. I had one tin that has been filled for years with a miscellany of hair accessories, used ones and new ones; safety pins, broken jewelry, perfume samples, scraps of ribbon, earring backs, single earrings, jewelry I hated but felt guilty discarding; paper bits; chopsticks;all of it vaguely greasy and dusty with age.

I have been avoiding that tin for years. Diligently packing it up for seven moves, never opening it. Never getting rid of it. Just dreading it.

Amber that has crystallized over the past seventeen years. It never goes bad.

It's ridiculous. I know. Balanced people can relate because you don't have to be mentally ill to dread going through old boxes of crap. But being mentally ill makes it into a kind of personal Everest. Dangerous. I feel the same way about paperwork. It preys on my mind. It lives there in my head as well as physically in my house. Breathing itself into dreams. Into thriving nightmares.

Most of these fancy jewelry boxes don't contain fancy jewelry.

I like collecting things. I will always collect things. But I do it cautiously now. I do it as a museum curator does rather than as a magpie does. It keeps me more comfortable. I don't like all the corners to be full anymore.

With creepy things like this thirteen year old gummy bear who I had wrapped up in a custom made cardboard coffin. I don't remember why. Philip might know. I only know that it was definitely a coffin.

This is how gummy bears age in dark places; I believe that is a patina of mold and old matter combined. Not moist enough to attract bugs or decay as proper moldy things do it has done so in a wholly unique fashion. This has traveled silently at my side for hundreds of miles. Why? What significance can it possibly have that is worth taking up space in my head and house? I'm not sentimental. Or, rather, I should say that I am selectively sentimental. I know lots of people who hold onto things because it reminds them of sweet times. I personally think they are motivated by other causes because I think the truth lives in darker places for other people too.

I have only just begun. I've been wanting to do this for a long time. I already feel cleaner and a little freer- like the vice grip that's been strangling my head is a tiny bit looser.

Feb 26, 2008

Dear Mr. Thornton
(in which Angelina writes a letter to a fictional character)

Dear Mr. Thornton,

I am writing to let you know that I believe there is some proof that Elizabeth Gaskell was completely shnockered when she failed to bring you and I together 150 years ago when she brought you to life in her terribly affecting book "North And South" and instead decided to make you fall for that irritatingly perfect female she called "Margaret Hale". You may not feel that such a terrible mistake was made, but that is only because you have not been made aware of my massive attractions which would most certainly trump Margaret's any day.

First of all, I would like to point out that with me there is no artifice. What you see is what you get: all 225 lbs of me. There's no risk that you will have to watch my wasp waist grow larger every year due to my supreme happiness (and butter), as is inevitable with the younger wives. You won't have to see my waistline disappear because it's been fully three years since I last had one and it's doubtful I'll have one again any time soon. I think you'll find yourself growing fond of my girth in no time at all.

While the permanently blood shot eyes may seem like a detraction at first glance, you will begin to prize how comfortable they make everyone feel around me. Workers in the mill will not strike because they'll know that at heart you are a stand up man with a wife who is capable of working for forty eight hours straight in candle light and therefore is basically just like them. So what could appear to be an unattractive feature will become a real fiscal asset. No one needs to know that I got them from smoking three packs of cigarettes a day when I was eighteen years old.

Secondly, I love cotton. It's my favorite fiber besides silk and wool.

I will admit that our love may face many challenges. My husband is not likely to let me go without a duel. He's not generally a violent man, but I make the best cherry tart in the world and no man worth his salt would let a woman with such culinary skills go without quite a large fuss. There is only a 40% chance that he'll actually kill you.

Margaret may be gorgeous, have clear eyes, and be the sweetest girl in the world, but she's a wuss in the kitchen. She's always making you aspic and probably doesn't let you eat cheese either. She probably makes you suck the marrow from beef bones when you're sick. I would never do that to you.

It is only fair to warn you that you must never (NEVER) wear a mullet or I will withhold all cherry tarts until said hideous hair has grown out. I hate to be all shrewish at the very start but I speak my mind and like all good heroes I know that you prefer your women that way.

For the record I would also like to point out that, unlike Margie, I never once doubted that your habit of darkly brooding from every possible angle hid a naturally good nature. Even when I saw you cruelly beating that factory worker; he was a waster anyway. Anyone could see that for themselves. That incident in no way made me believe you to be unsuitable for romantic meetings at train stations. I'm a steady lass that way.

I think you may be beginning to see what an injustice Elizabeth Gaskell has done you. You may be starting to think she's treated you pretty shabbily. I couldn't agree more which is why I think we need to run off post haste! My plan is to re-enact the train scene over and over again forever. I haven't seen the proposal scene because I missed the fact that it was included on the first disc (which in no way indicates a feebleness of mind) so I may want to re-enact that one over and over too once I've finally seen it. There's no way to be certain right now, though surely you won't mind either way.

I'm concerned that there doesn't seem to be a way to get around the fact that one of the things that makes you so attractive is your steadiness of character (in addition to the brooding) which indicates that you would never commit adultery and if you did it would make you a lot less attractive. I have to confess that I share the trait of constancy and have so far always considered it terribly wrong to kiss married men, especially if you yourself are married.

Please write me soon and tell me how we may overcome the obstacles to our love!

Before I leave you to your very broody thoughts about aspic, let me warn you that there are two women who will be trying to wedge themselves between us. One of them is named Karmyn and she will try to trick you into believing that the child she is bearing is yours, even though you are fictional and she is not, and everyone knows that a union between fictional characters and real people can't produce children and the other one's name is Chelsea. You really need to watch out for Chelsea because she's got light green eyes that will hypnotize you and she can make the Dali Lama fight for one of her blueberry muffins but she won't be constant to you at all. I'm pretty sure she's also got an understanding with that guy from "Horatio Hornblower".

I'll see you soon on episode four in just a few minutes...until then, avoid eating Margaret's hog drippings disguised as "sauce".

Your own,
Mrs. Williamson

Everything Good In One Post
(food, sex, secrets, sarcasm, self righteousness, and fresh mozzarella)

A very local meal: rosemary focaccia with homemade pesto (from the freezer) sauteed onion spinach and mushrooms...all crowned with some local mozzarella which is so good I almost ate an entire expensive container of it myself. This meal is not acceptable for my dieting efforts but is so good I am willing to eat gruel for the next two days to make up for it.

A big question with canning is always whether or not you will eat the things you make. These are a part of the growing collection of empty mason jars that were previously filled with all kinds of good fruits and pickles and jams. If you are not making a dent in your canned goods by this time in the winter then you either didn't can things you actually like to eat, you have no confidence in your canning abilities and are afraid of what's in the jars, or you canned so much that you are going to have to be my canning guru. There are big holes in my pantry now where there used to be tons of peaches, pickles, jam, and marinated two bean salad.

The piccalilli remains untouched as it is likely to do until the end of time. Or until I dump it all out and actually admit I'm never going to eat it because it scares the pants off me and not because I'm worried it isn't safe.

Since starting my local challenge I have had almost no mozzarella and it's kind of hurt. Being left out of mozzarella usage is very sad. We tried the only kind we could find which is made by Tillamook and I hate to report that mozzarella is not something they make well. In fact, it was awful.

These mozzarella curds taste just like the kind made by the "Precious" brand, only better. Fresher! I bought them at the Hillsdale farmer's market. I believe they were made with raw milk and there is a slight after taste that is a bit rangy, the same kind of after taste you might experience from goat cheese if you were me. Which you're not and are probably feeling pretty happy about.

Still no tender lettuce mixes at the farmer's market. Well, no lettuce mixes at all yet. There was one calling itself a "lettuce mix" but it was just baby winter greens like kale, chard, and beet greens. I was fooled into spending lots of money for that mix last time they had it and it was quite tough to chew. We got to the farmer's market early enough to snag some fabulous greens. I got two huge bunches of spinach and three bunches of collard greens. There were long lines at most of the produce stalls and even though it was reminding me of Eastern Europe in the eighties, it also made me excessively happy to see a market so well attended and supported.

I'm sure there is no farmer who would be sad to find themselves selling out of every green thing they grow within thirty minutes. As a farmer I'm thinking you always want to find the demand for what you do growing rather than diminishing.

One lady I waited in line with was asking me about my local eating challenge and raised her pert brows and said "So you're doing an eat local challenge and driving a long way to get your food? Doesn't that defeat the purpose?" Pert ho. Of course it doesn't defeat the purpose! I can drive 20 miles north to the only open farmer's market with a friend (car pooling is good) or I can go to the markets in my town and buy produce that has traveled anywhere from 600 miles to 3000 miles to get to me. That's not difficult math to do.

I'm getting really tired of people who seem to think that if you're trying to make any effort at all then you must make extreme sacrifices. All or nothing. C'mon people, every effort counts. Getting spinach from 20 miles away takes less gas and refrigeration than is used to bring me spinach from central or southern California over 600 miles away. That's 580 miles of gas use saved. (In case anyone had trouble with that math).

Can we please all stop worrying about being purists and just make some effort to make change? If a million people saved 580 miles of road travel buying one bunch of spinach we would collectively be saving 580 million miles of road travel. That's it in a simplified nutshell. You can go make it more complicated and pull this paragraph apart for it's flaws but people are living in this country by the millions, like busy little ants, and if every single one of us made some efforts, even "small" efforts, we could make a huge environmental change.

So all you pert hos and snarky pimps out there just waiting to pounce on anyone who is attempting to adjust their lives into being more thoughtful, I will bite you. (And that means YOU, anonymous commenter on Cindy's blog "Figs, Lavender, and Cheese". You really need to go sit on your own personal trash heap and ask yourself what you're doing to make change and stop heckling people about what they're doing.)

I need to take care of a couple of memes I've been tagged for. I'm not going to reprint the rules or anything like that. I'm very uncooperative that way. The first one is from my new blogging friend Cindy over at Figs, Lavender, and Cheese:

List Five Things About Yourself:

1. I really want to raise quails so I can cook tiny eggs but I'm afraid I won't actually like quail's eggs. But jesus! Have you seen how flippin cute quails are? I've seen a button quail come out of it's dime sized egg and almost passed out from the cuteness. I could have bought some quail's eggs at the farmer's market this week-end but didn't think of it until too late. Perhaps next time?

2. I think bone marrow smells like death. (Thanks, Chick, for giving me the gift of smelling raw bones which I would otherwise be oblivious of, being a life long vegetarian.)

3. The second Mr. Thornton loses his taste for beautiful wasp waisted females and develops a relish for tubby gals with blood shot eyes, my marriage will be in danger.

4. Something that makes me tremendously happy is having my house filled with flowers cut fresh from my own back yard. I get a special delight when most of them are strongly scented roses. The whole happy effect is enhanced even more when the walls of all the rooms in my house are painted the kinds of colors that set my cut flowers off to great advantage. If I could have cut flowers in my house every week of the year I would.

5. I love having philosophical discussions with my seven year old who thinks this whole "God" thing is a fairytale. (I never called it that, in case you were wondering and considering the merits of working up a good indignation about it.)

The second meme comes from my old blog friend Tracey from The Everyday Unitarian:

1. What's one thing you do every day?

Drink 3 cups of black coffee that is 2/3 decaf and 1/3 regular. I am only allowed one cup of caffeine per day because I am a delicate flower with heart palpitations. I've done the stress test for old people (for which you have to sign a form saying you understand that the test can cause a heart attack), I've been shoved in that claustrophobic imaging machine to take pictures of my heart, I've worn the 24 hour heart monitor, and I've seen my heart with ultrasound and while I came to the conclusion that one should never see their own heart under any circumstances, the doctors came to the conclusion that while my palpitations were vaguely worrying, there would be no real answer unless something really bad happened to it to give them more clues.

2. Name two things you wish you could learn.

To be silent once in a while when it really counts
To make my own cheese.

3. Name three things that remind you of your childhood:

Hearing Simon And Garfunkel.
Hearing married people bicker.
The smell of sun ripened blackberries.

4. Name four things you love to eat but rarely do:

marinated mushrooms
brie cheese

5. Name five things/people that make you feel good:

my family (you knew I'd say that, huh?)
having a waistline (I don't have one right now, sadly)
baking bread and making soup on the same day
my chickens

6. List six facts about yourself:

I love being a housewife.

If I had more kids I'd die.

I love winter best of all seasons even though I like the other three quite a lot too.

I have thousands of half written letters floating around in my head.

I have an unholy love for office supplies. I especially love green graph paper and Papermate "Flair" pens in black.

I am not at all kinky. Not even in my most private fantasies. In fact, I don't have sexual fantasies at all, I have romantic ones. I think this is because sex is a fact of life and it's practical and very nice but romance, to me, is the real elusive monkey. You know the last scene in "North and South", the one at the train station? That would never happen to me. Not only because I'm not a wasp waisted Victorian chick but because I'm very uncomfortable with romantic moments and even when they have come my way in real life I botch them up by making sarcastic comments or delivering a real hit of bathos to the moment. Because of this, romance holds a higher place in my fantasy life than sex does.

There you have it. Does it make me narcissistic that I love these kinds of memes? No, I don't think so (to answer my own question) because I adore it when other people do it too. My favorite of all time is reading people's "100 things" lists. Many of you have not yet done a "100 things" list and I think you should. Just for me. Just so I can sit down with my cup of coffee and hear you deny that you can come up with that many things and then see you totally do it.

Well, I'm off to get a little work done for my part time job. If I don't do some work it will become the no-time job in which I've greatly disappointed my good friend Angela and also failed to make enough money to cover all my garden purchases of roses and fruit. Have a great Tuesday everyone!

Feb 22, 2008

Pasta Tip:
How to preserve the extra

Plus a whole lot of pest talk

This is what the perfect pasta dough looks like. Granular until you knead it.

This is a walnut filling. I pureed lightly roasted walnuts, , olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, parmesean cheese, and a a couple tablespoons yogurt and some hot water all together to make this paste.

This post is mostly about nature. This post is not really about food. I just wanted to share the pretty pictures of my walnut raviolis. I have been making lots of pasta lately because I love pasta and it's easy to make from scratch. I will share a tip with you: fresh pasta freezes particularly well. In fact, I was not that pleased with my pasta drying experiments last year, the texture wasn't as pleasing when reconstituted, but the frozen pasta is as good as fresh when cooked. So I am now freezing extra batches of it. I love my freezer.

The person I referred to last week in my Master Gardening class report as wearing doubleknit...remember that?...I will refer to her as "DD" from now on, short for Doubleknit Disaster. This person both horrifies and fascinates me. She glares at everyone, she has absolutely zero people skills, she has no interest in getting to know anyone, she has no smile, no sense of play, and whenever anyone in class is speaking she turns her squenched up snarly stare at them. Partly the open mouthed critical stare is squinty because she obviously can't see very far, but it's the exact same look she flashes at anyone who has committed the horrible crime of making a peep while a teacher is talking.

Yesterday we all had the supreme surprise of being told (as a class) to "SHUT UP!!!" by the dear DD. It fairly stunned the entire room including the teacher.

I think of gardeners as mostly curious, creative, wonderfully geeky, people with a great sense of childlike fun. I wouldn't call myself very child-like, nor would I try to convince you that I am a super fun person...but I do have a sense of humor and I do get childishly excited about things like new buds on plants. I'm not that serious of a person. I light up when I see interesting bugs or plants in the garden. Most gardeners I've had the pleasure to know, even if they take their gardening on the serious side, have smiles and a warmth that you can feel when you're sitting in close proximity to them.

DD has no inner warmth. I have the misfortune of sitting directly behind her bullish back and I thought mean thoughts. I'm not proud of myself. We have all been in class now for one month together. People I originally thought were sour have warmed under the glow of companionship and awkwardness has dissolved as we all have a chance to come out of our shells. Most of the people in the class have something good to recommend them. Something warm about them, or interesting, something quirky, or personable. The only one who's making enemies (not just me!) is DD.

There is always someone in a class like that, isn't there?

Before I go on I have to tell you all that our offer on the farmhouse was ACCEPTED!!!!! I'm not going to report a lot of details about the whole transaction because I'm superstitious and until we have the keys in hand I don't want to mess anything up. There are some spiritual questions hanging in the balance right now as well. If everything goes through and we get to move into this farmhouse I will feel that I have been accepted back into the embrace of a kinder universe than I have been experiencing for the last couple of years. If it falls through I will be struggling with the acute feeling that I am being cruelly picked on. For now I will just say that things are falling into place with unusual grace and ease and I hope it continues because I'm feeling somewhat blessed at the moment.

I have some thoughts now to share on the whole question of "natives" versus "non-natives". Of all the invasive non-natives I can think of that are right now taking over this continent, I can think of none worse or more damaging than us. Yes, us. Oh, not you people who are pure native Americans...but how many of you are "pure" native Americans? Seriously... we had a talk yesterday about vertebrate pests and how to control them. The whole time there was question of the native versus non-native pests and I thought it was interesting that we are supposed to be worried right now about preserving our native squirrels who are getting out-bred by the sturdier non-native grey squirrel. Both are capable of doing the same damage to homes and trees but because one variety is now in a decline we are supposed to view it as a precious pest while the other one we are encouraged to shoot and eat* as many of them as we can.

The concern, among naturalists of all kinds, is that native varieties of plants and animals are going extinct because of stronger "introduced" varieties that are able to withstand the environment better and breed faster stronger strains of themselves.

Hello, has anyone ever heard of DARWIN? Survival of the fittest is a very important evolutionary concept and just because us humans are capable of offering some controls on this phenomenon, and equally as capable of helping to spread some of this Darwinian action doesn't actually mean that it is something we're meant to control. We are as much a part of that evolutionary action as every other part of nature.

Whether or not humans share plants across oceans or not, in our native habitats there are stronger varieties of native plants and animals out-breeding more delicate native varieties right under our noses. Before the rabid Europeans came and wiped out lots of native Americans with their syphallis and scarlet fever, the different native American tribes were duking things out amongst themselves with no help from non-natives. Back in Europe the same fighting was constantly taking place amongst it's natives.

So who should we be shooting and eating amongst ourselves?

I say no one. I believe that there is more strength and beauty in natural hybridizing**. I think that people are forgetting that just as some plants are making themselves into "pests" and forcing others into extinction, there are new varieties being created as well in this giant stew pot of life called planet earth.

Another thing I couldn't help thinking about was how we are calling all these animals pests because they annoy us and get in the way of our own plans. If there is a gopher in my yard eating all my plants I think of it as a pest and certainly I will do what I can to fight it off and if necessary I might even kill it. So I'm not setting myself apart here, but it did occur to me that the greatest pest on the entire planet is the species we like to refer to as OURSELVES.

So while I will fight for my own little patch of dirt and I will try to keep other wild things from settling there and destroying what I value, I also have to kind of respect the fact that one's point of view is the only difference between us all.

When it comes to nature and survival I'd say that all beings on this planet, from human beings down to one celled creatures, are striving for the same things. Who's a pest and who's dinner and who's losing the evolutionary battle, and who's winning are all just a matter of perspective. The vole wants the same things I do. Which is why I find it hard to kill other beings. I've done it, I will probably do it again at some point, but every time I do it feels a little bit like killing some part of myself. I can't say I feel guilty about yanking carrots out of the dirt and bringing them to my plate with butter salt and pepper, but I do feel the weight of life for life. I eat life in order to have life. Every being on earth does.

It's weighty, but not impossible to live with. I think when you are guided by that kind of knowledge you can make more merciful and more thoughtful decisions. I have planted a butterfly bush in my yard here and only recently found out that it's now considered an invasive plant. But what is the real harm? It feeds the beneficials, it's beautiful, it's strong, and so it thrives. Why should I hate it just because it's comfortable here? So am I.

How long before I'm considered a native? How many generations of plant or animal matter does it take to become "native"? Doesn't native refer to what is born here? Created here? I was born here, doesn't that make me native now too?

As far as I can see the whole planet is made up of layers of nativity, the old, the new, the established, the wandering seeds, the rooted, and those blown by the wind. The earth is changing because of humans, but let's not get all arrogant about it- the earth has been going through constant changes since it first fostered life. I don't see it mattering whether you think God made us all or that everything was made by a felicitous congruence of elements able to ignite life, the earth has been in a constant state of shuffling and drastic weather changes and life forms have been coming and going along with those changing conditions. If the planet survives human trash and breeding then the life that's left will continue to muscle it's way through the changing conditions, by mutating, evolving, dying out, being born.

I think we should worry less about native versus non-native and work harder to diminish our own pesty contamination of the planet by making less trash, cleaning up our own chemical trash, cease the use of pesticides that are so dangerous they have impaired the reproductive abilities of our own species*** (and probably the reproductive function in "native" species of other animals we value as well). Let's be the squirrel we want to shoot. Don't like the way it can rip through your roof and live in your attic where it will chew up your wires and catch your house on fire? How about not destroying the natural dams that beavers build?

Let's be the change we want to see in our list of "pests".

*OK, not literally.

**Remember that natural hybridizing is not at all the same thing as building pesticides right into plant or people matter. When plants or people mix genetic information in nature there are a trillion different variations on a theme, more diversity, and better strength. When humans mess with genetics in labs and cross species information that nature herself is not capable of crossing then we have a huge mess. Putting chicken genes in tomatoes is not a safe or acceptable combination. Do not be confused by the two very different methods of hybridizing. When you mix Russian and Native American genes you often get better vigor, more beautiful people, but if you mixed your own genetic material with a sheep...would you think that was safe and natural?

So always ask yourself that. Would you mix your people genes with non-human genes? Do you think anything good can come of mixing species like that? What if you could mix your own genes with the genes of a tomato?

***DDT has been shown to disable reproductive function in human beings. Proven fact. It's why it's illegal in our country now. But it's still living in our bodies and in our land, in case any of you didn't know that.

Feb 20, 2008

Root Cellar Soup
(with extra sharp cheddar)

As so many of are learning to eat seasonally, use our own home canned goods, and even storing winter vegetables in a root cellar, it's important to know how the heck to make use of what we have on hand. If you're me what you have on hand right now is: old potatoes, super hairy carrots, slimy topped celeriac, and some gorgeous onions.

While potato leek soup is a perennial favorite of mine, sometimes you need to figure out a way to add more vitamins to your winter food and use up carrots which are no longer in their prime due to the less than ideal root cellar conditions provided by a plastic bin in your garage. Normally I never peel my carrots, but anyone would have agreed with me that it has become necessary.

I have no celery besides the few packages of frozen celery I put aside for emergencies so I'm using celery root which is in season and gives a delicate wonderful celery flavor. Before moving to Oregon I had only tried to use celeriac once and it did not go well because apparently if you have year round access to avocados and lemons you don't need to know how to grow celery root well. It was harder to find there while here it seems that all market farmers have it (and lots of it) in winter.

The main point though is to use what you have in your root cellar, which at this time of year, is most likely going to be roots. If you have some turnips, use one! If you have rutabagas, use one! The main thing to keep in mind is that the potatoes should still be present in a greater proportion to the other roots for the sake of the consistency and flavor.

Root Cellar Soup


4 large potatoes, sliced thin in small pieces
4 medium carrots, peeled (if necessary) and sliced in thin rounds
1 celeriac, sliced thin in small pieces
1 onion, diced
2 tbsp olive oil (or butter if preferred)
2 tsp salt
1 tsp dried thyme
fresh ground pepper to taste

In a soup pot warm up the oil on medium/high heat and add the onions and saute until starting to soften. Add the rest of the vegetables and saute until some of the vegetables begin to slightly brown on the pan. You will want to stir frequently to prevent anything from burning. Add enough water (or broth) so that it's about an inch above the vegetables. Add the salt, pepper, and thyme, and put the lid on the pot. When the water has begun to simmer, turn the heat down to medium/low and cook, covered, for about twenty minutes or until all the vegetables are tender.

Turn burner off to avoid burning your whole house down. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup.* Sometimes I like to leave a little bit of texture, sometimes I like it completely smooth. At this point you need to take a little taste to see if you need to add more salt and/or pepper. I don't tend to add tons of salt to my food but I find that of all the things I cook, root vegetables can usually use extra salt.

If your soup is too thick for your pleasure, thin with either cream, milk, or broth. I like to serve it with sharp cheddar and buttered toast.

*If you don't have one of these, get one. Trust me, it is INDISPENSABLE in the kitchen. If you don't have one and aren't going to get one then you'll need to use a conventional blender to puree the soup and I recommend that you wait until the soup is cool before you do it.

Feb 15, 2008

Williamson Ranch Update
(plus a gentle reminder not to clothe my ample ass in double-knit)

My birds are still moulting. I don't understand this whole moulting business, I was under the impression that hens do this before winter and kind of all at once. Mine have been doing it for a few months straight through the cold in a very painfully slow operatic style feather dropping dance. They are still laying eggs, just as they have been all winter- though certainly each of them is laying less as we've been having to buy eggs for the last two months. By the way, the chickadee above is Pinny, who has lost her long tail feathers now and looks rather stunted.

I love macro lenses. This is going to be a rhubarb leaf soon. Right now it's just a brainy looking tumor of plant material that is pushing it's way out of a vegetative bud. I am learning to like rhubarb because I have a glorious clump of it, but I admit that I still prefer it in tandem with strawberries.

I managed to get out in the garden on Tuesday to plant all of my enormous asparagus crowns. If they don't take, that's it. No more attempts at growing it. I have to admit that the last two times I've planted it I broke the rules and planted it in clay soil with poor drainage and then had to finally conclude that the garden books mean it when they say asparagus likes a well drained soil. This time I've planted them in raised beds filled with a sandy loam. So we'll know how I've done in two years.

Whoever says it's always grey and rainy in the Pacific Northwest is BLIND. (OK, I admit that it's already been solidly grey for the last forty days, but geeze...aren't people fussy for sun?!) Being out there in the dirt was wonderful. We did have a little light sprinkle while the sun was shining and it sounded so delicate. I have a case of garden fever very bad. It's all I can think about right now. I've had my nose in the National Geographic Encyclopedia of Herbs for a week now while compiling a list of the herbs I will be planting in my monastery garden. I really wish I could get my hands on some mandrake just for the fun of it.

The girls were enjoying the gold light of afternoon though they're kind of mad that the feed has been low. We ran out and I'm waiting to get our bulk order of organic chicken feed in which we should have for them today.

I haven't cleaned out most of the refuse from my summer garden and so I have these wonderful lacy tomatillo ghosts lying around. Their seeds are all waiting for the right conditions to sprout. Nature is brilliant!

I would love a dress made of this tomatillo lace. Simple and delicate and beautiful like a fragile skeleton.

In case anyone was wondering, we are still going strong on the local eating. There have been transgressions (I'm not punishing myself, but I do love an excuse to use that word "transgressions" which implies the need to drop on knees in a posture of humility to beg forgiveness) and yet for all that it is impossible to be perfect, we've done quite well. I have taken to ordering salads whenever we're out now because I'm hungry for greens. Well, since I've had some salads out I'm actually not as hungry for them as I was. However, I am getting ready to beg one of my two favorite farms (Oakhill Organics) to let me put together an order. Their CSA was (as usual) quite full so I just have to hope they'll do it.

At my Master Gardening class yesterday we had a three hour lecture on lawns. Do you know how deeply I couldn't care less about lawn care? All I ever do with my lawns is rip them out to put in things I like better. I don't hate lawns by any means and quite enjoy them in public parks, but I don't have room for carpets of water sucking greens that I can't eat in my own small kingdom. My vegetables take water too, as do my roses, but I get other better benefits from those.

As always, I felt quite out of place in my class. There just aren't very many people with my interests there. And the double-knit polyester pant wearing woman with the very bad hair and the medical inability to smile is really hard not to stare at. (I'm sure there are people who really do have medical reasons preventing them from smiling, but I'm just being sarcastic here. I've tried being friendly with this plastic-fiber clad person with the awful hair and she just stares at me like an emotionless basilisk.) As a side note, if this woman didn't happen to have very large breasts I would assume she was a man. Please let me remember not to let go of every ounce of feminine allure just because I'm getting older. Please don't let me cut my hair very very short and perm only the top portion. Please...please don't let me ever convince myself that double-knit polyester will suit my generous bottom.

Looking at some of the ladies in my class has inspired me to get more vigilant about putting on mascara. I feel quite fat and ugly most of the time and it's easy to let things slide when you don't feel so great about yourself, but I have to remember that mascara makes my eyes much nicer and such a small detail can remind people that I care about looking nice even though I'm not obsessed over it and even though there is no chance of looking like a princess, there's no reason to look like an ogre either.

Clearly I am learning a lot more at my master gardening classes than just the difference between pruning subshrubs and caning plants.

I haven't yet gotten an official answer about my trees but the Directrice* had a look and she says it's frost damage and sun scald that has occurred and that I should wait and see if my trees survive. So I don't have to trash all my trees. That leaves me with the problem of replanting some of them in more felicitous locations. I am in love with my new garden plan which is so much better than my old one. Furthermore, after living here a couple of years I've come to realize that I don't want sweet cherries in my own yard. They don't preserve satisfactorily for my taste and I can get loads of them for cheap from u-pick sources when they are in season here. I also don't want to fuss with my half dead nectarine. So a few trees may be ditched and the rest replanted.

This weekend I'm going to a rose pruning class at the Heirloom Roses which is near by. I will also hopefully be acquiring a few new roses. It's time to get some new ones established. I was spoiled before by being so close to Garden Valley Ranch from whom I got the majority of my bare root roses when I lived in California. Now I'm close to Heirloom Roses. I think it's wise to always live close to a first class rose source, unless you're April, of course.

It's time to get ready to do some freelance work and also consult the lists of available roses for sale so I can compile my rose wish list. I always have one of those going at this time of year.

Happy Friday everyone!

*The head hauncho of the Master Gardening program. I call her the Directrice.

Feb 13, 2008

The Making Of A Housewife

Mr. and Mrs. Williamson in front of their first home.

Mrs. Williamson

The happiest, sanest, most satisfying and comfortable time of my entire life was the period in which I left my feminist sisters to become a housewife. This was pre-baby. This was when it was just me and Philip living in our very first owned home together; a small late thirties simple cottage with a bizarre cottage cheese textured paint job, a chain link fence to hold in a posse of imaginary pit bulls, and a yard full of cement and gravel. The roses had been weed whacked into submission by the man we bought the house from (a Naval bachelor) and the ground had been liberally soaked in weed killer. The wood floors were smothered in pink, orange, and blue carpets and the kitchen cabinets were painted to resemble a giant fleshy band-aid.

It's amazing what can unfold from one's spirit when allowed the time and space to just be. To stop climbing the ladder of ambition and fortune; to shovel gravel until your back turns to cement and your husband must pick up your stiff body and prop it up in the living room at dusk so that you won't calcify amongst the roses; to grow your first vegetable garden not knowing a thing but letting the story unfold in your little pile of dirt chapter by chapter; strange and wonderful things can develop in an air full of possibilities.

Friends and acquaintances worried about the boredom that surely must arrive on the heels of not working for a wage. They worried about my sense of independence, my freedom as a modern woman to enslave myself to a boss. Without that, where would my source of pride come from? Where would my sense of accomplishment find purchase? How would I hold my head up against the feminist tribunal?

So far from turning to ash and dust, mired in an endless loop of drudgery and boredom, something rose up in me that had lain fallow for years, like a flock of caged doves being released in the atmosphere, it flushed my skin and touched the air and rooted in the dirt; my very own small patch of it. I found myself opening wide, hearing, for the first time, the mycorrhiza threads stretching for miles underneath my feet, I could taste more vividly the acrid cleansing of rosemary when added to soup and bread. I could feel the importance of our daily rituals of cleansing our homes and bodies; the daily rituals of cooking and growing things; the daily gathering of blossoms from exuberant plants to drape above our mantel; I came to understand that the real living of a life is in these daily rituals, not in our careers.

We work so we can eat. That is all. Let it be as stimulating and wonderful as it can be because lord knows many of us have to do it. But that's all it is. In the end, the real question of quality of life rests in how much care you or your spouse personally takes to make it taste good, smell good, feel comfortable, and give rest. If one person is home making it a place of beauty, of comfort, and is inhabiting the corners with spirit and love-you will always remember why you bust your ass working for wages. You bust it so you can come home and eat good food, enjoy your family, and bask in the falling light of dusk with your kingdom shining all around you.

Staying home gave me a freedom I never had before. The freedom to spend time at the library reading garden books. The freedom to take walks in mid morning for exercise. The freedom to clean my house without rushing through it on the week-ends. The freedom to learn to can jam. It gave me time. Precious time to develop life skills such as how to remove a thousand wild onion bulbs from one square yard of hard clay dirt in midsummer. Time to learn to grow my own herbs for cooking. Time to learn to arrange flowers to crown my mantel after cleaning my house. Time to write. To rip out carpet tacking. To learn to paint every room in my house in delicious colors. Time to meet my neighbors. Time to get to know the lonely old ladies around me. Time to breath. Time to feel good about what I had.

I had a laundry line at that house that I have missed. I'm going to put one up here too. The kind on wheels that lets you pull in your laundry. I discovered that roses can have intoxicating scent and can wrap themselves around your dreams. I found that working at home as a housewife made my self esteem a sturdier thing, it is the ideal job for my temperament. Home allows me to just be in ways that nowhere else does because everywhere else is too full of the noise of the world.

Perhaps it suits me because what pleases me most are simple things: fresh sheets on the bed, seedlings popping up in spring, fresh cut flowers from my own garden, a clean toilet, a pot of soup with a hunk of homemade bread, snipping fresh herbs outside my back door, letting time and thoughts slip sideways while weeding an impossible patch of dirt, hearing neighbors swear at the resident mocking bird, drinking beer on the back steps with Philip, chatting with passers by while pruning roses, talking to my garden, reading cook books in the quiet, making dinner at 4pm.

Becoming a housewife was one of the most surprising turn of events in my life. I never planned it. It started just as a break from careering. I was tired. I was tired and breaking down. I was staring down the mouth of an impending nervous breakdown and needed to stop. Just. Full. Stop. I never expected to find myself so full, so happy, and healing in the quiet. But why not? Why should it be such a surprise? Just because I'm a product of modern womanhood I have to thrive only on making money and getting accolades from strangers and people who pay me to do their bidding?

Hell no.

For right now I am doing some freelance work at home to help ease our financial situation, and I'm grateful for the opportunity that has come my way through a good friend, but I know that when need is clearly over, I will drop the work for others and resume my full time life as a modern housewife.

I don't use the word "housewife" to piss anyone off. In case you were wondering. I like it. I like saying it. I like breathing it. It has a grace and a power for me. I'm not a Stepford lady. I'm sloppy, loud, quirky, disorganized, and crazy, but I'm proud of my housewife skills anyway. I happen to also be a stay at home mom, but I don't enjoy saying that as much. It implies that if it weren't for my child I wouldn't stay home. It's like saying "I'm only home to be a better mom, NOT to be a better wife, homeowner, or person." As though staying home to be a homemaker were still a dirty ambition and means you don't care about equality for women.

I am housewife.

Feb 11, 2008

Recognize Your Food

This is an exciting time of year. Just as so many of us are shivering under our down comforters wishing we didn't have to get up and meet the cold winter air for another day, there is all kinds of life waking up outside, beyond our sight. Unless you're looking for it, how would you see this little plant here that isn't even an inch tall and is still hidden by the brown dead uncleared summer growth? But even more interesting to me is: how many of you can tell me what this little specimen will grow up to be?

When I spy unfurling fronds and delicate tender new seedlings I feel the same kind of excitement that I feel when looking at a new human baby, still covered with animal down and wrinkled from it's trip through another dark body. My heart rate quickens and all the chemicals that signal me to protect make me immediately value the very fragile nature of this new being.

Yep, even though it's a plant. More twisted still? I have these feelings for plants I know I'm going to eat. This little bit of green, this emerging bit of downy green is something I will add mostly to quiches later in the spring. Know what it is?

The next three pictures are all the same thing. Do you know what this will grow up to be? Can you imagine how I will prepare this thing in the kitchen? Can you taste it in your mouth right now?

Do you recognize this plant that yields (hopefully) tender matter to be roasted and sprinkled with salt and pepper? I think it's funny how so few people know what their food looks like at different stages of it's life cycle. We mostly know it right before it gets to our plate.

For me that's what's wonderful about gardening: getting to know your food from seed to plate. From root to roasted pan of earthy dinner. I love it when I can recognize herbs in the wild and spot vegetables growing in funny places. It was complete love at first sight when, in my old neighborhood, I discovered that the streets were suddenly covered in real walnuts...edible, free, nuts. I gathered them like an overexcited chipmunk. What a surprise to find so many of them, right there at my feet. Everywhere. Every year we lived there I gathered enough to get us through a whole year of walnut eating.

Finding wild berries is such a bonus too. Or a rogue plum tree. Finding sage or mallow feels like spotting treasure. How many of us could survive by scavenging food in the wild if we had to?* How many of us can recognize wild leeks or know which mushrooms are edible?

Maybe we don't really need to. But doesn't it seem like the kind of thing everyone should know? Or shouldn't most of us at least be able to recognize the food we bring to our table when it's still in the field or the garden?

We scorn people who don't know where Israel is on a map and don't know you can't drive there from here. Well, we do, anyway.

Recognizing food and herbs at different stages of development seems way more elemental and basic than knowing where a country is on the globe thousands of miles away.

Next up? My good friend Nicole is going to show me where to find nettle and what to do with it.

*I know I couldn't!
An Incomparable Gift

At last I unveil a gift I received in the mail. A totally unexpected gift from a friend whom I love dearly in a completely platonic fashion. Someone whom I would very much like to give a giant hug to even though I'm a prickly person and not prone to spontaneous or frequent hugs. You may be able to tell who it is just from the little teaser of a picture above.

She's sews for celebrities, she's mom to a fabulous and gorgeous daughter, she's a newly minted designer in her own right, she is a loyal friend, a swearing lady, she's a lady full of surprises...

Pam. That's who sent me this amazing gift of gorgeous orange and white fabrics. Pam of Pam Kitty Morning who I think everyone notable knows. The first person to blogroll me.

But she didn't just send me some fabric she thought I'd enjoy...she sent me a flipping QUILT TOP!!! No one has ever made me a quilt top before and it's like receiving a brand new heirloom. The stuff of legends. Because it falls to me to back it and quilt it, it is a real friendship quilt.

And it's not the small kind you hang on the wall either. It's big! It's big enough to wrap around someone who needs to snuggle down on a cold night. It's big enough to offer a guest staying the night. It's big enough to use as a picnic quilt, though I won't because there's nothing but mud around here and we all know how much I suck at laundry.

Pam, you are an amazing woman and I adore you. Thank you for such a wonderful gift!

Feb 9, 2008

Monastery Style

This is from the book "Designing The New Kitchen Garden" by Jennifer R. Bartly which I highly recommend for anyone planning a kitchen garden.

Not a lot of my garden has been worked on in the (nearly) two years we've been here. So there is a lot of room for planning and designing. There is a lot of room to create a place of beauty and productivity. Several years ago I fell in love with the formal kitchen garden style, also known as a "potager" and the history of this garden style comes to us from deep in the history of cultivated man. It comes from man's wish to recreate the garden of eden, or paradise as he imagines it, which is an oasis in a harsh world. An inner sanctum of calm and earthly delights such as running water and trees dripping with fruit. Monastery gardens of the middle ages is where most of our more modern interpretation of the kitchen garden comes from.

In the middle ages, monks were the keepers of herbal knowledge. Which I find fascinating since only several hundred years later bible thumpers decided that herbal knowledge was dangerous and burned a whole lotta women for knowing how to make simples. Anyway, in the middle ages the monks were the people who knew herb lore, made medicines, and like all the coolest people on earth: liquor was their other specialty. I like to imagine monks as enlightened benevolent beings but I admit that if I'm really thinking about it realistically I'm not sure that monks were particularly nice about women. I mean, I think they may not have had the best view of my sex.

Monastery gardens appeal to me on many levels. One thing I love about them is the tidy order of raised beds trying to tame the wild habits of plants and vegetables. Monastery gardens are very symmetrical, linear, and geometrical which is meditative to me. It creates the sense that there are boundaries to all wildness, there is order in the chaos, and beauty in the juxtaposition of the two. I love the blend of purpose, the enclosed circle of life that plays out in a monastery garden: within the closed walls of the garden there is everything you need to survive-vegetables, animals, herbs, spirituality, fellowship, fruit, burial, recycling, and alcohol...no, wait, I meant to say- a reverence for knowledge.

The picture above is going to be the reference point for my garden plan. My neighbors just might shit bricks. No one in my town has done a garden based on a monastery model. Certainly not for their front yard. Front yards, (for anyone who was unaware), are meant to have the following elements: lawn, rhododendrons, Japanese maples, a few roses, a very green lawn, Pieris, and a hanging basket by the door.

Frozen in the weird world of our broken old hard drive are pictures of the potager I created in my last garden. It was wonderful and I surrounded the formal potager with amorphous beds of herbs and roses, kidney and tear drop shaped beds edged in rocks. Our garden was a wonderful place of both abundance and color. It had formality blended with a meandering grace. I wish I could access those pictures. Philip likes gardens with curving paths, mounds, and surprises. So there will be two sections in which we'll create the kind of space he enjoys the most and two sections that will be monastic, for me. Which is how our marriage usually plays out- a blending of our two very different styles into one life.

This is not a project that can be accomplished in one season (well, not on our budget anyway) but will take several seasons. I am going to really enjoy creating a living meditation. I'm not a person who can sit down in lotus position and breath slowly and clear my head. For me, the meditation happens when the brain is allowed to play out all it's random thoughts, when it's allowed to empty itself into the compost pile, or focus in on the wormy microcosm of which we are all a part. Meditation happens with the rhythmic pulling of weeds. Or touching all the leaves of all the plants. All the plants. Eventually my mind spills out all it's words. Eventually it has nothing left to say. Eventually it hears not the voices of all the people in the world, but just the soft shushing of the leaves breathing.

Feb 8, 2008

Waiting For The Light Of Spring

OK, I'm not, but lots of people are. This feels like a restless time of winter. People are getting tired of the rain and clouds and meager pools of light. Me? I'm in no hurry for spring. I have this whole tree situation to work out. I need to get a definitive report on what is going on with them (I'm pretty sure it's some form of fruit tree canker but there's, like, a thousand different varieties...so which is it?) I have put in a formal request for information from the master gardening group. My mentor didn't know. So it could be a week before I find out.

I also need time to plan out different parts of my garden. I have a lot of space and I want to use it efficiently and beautifully. Form+function=perfection.

Once again, in class yesterday, we had the guy who usually teaches children and seems to believe that if it's good for kids, it's good for adults. I swear this guy must eat Lucky Charms for breakfast and wear Power Ranger undies. He prefaces every sentence with "When I'm teaching children..." or "Kids love this activity..." or "I always do this activity with the kids..." or "Kids love this..."


I didn't like being a kid when I was a kid, so I am not an adult who relishes silly kid activities. Am I unusual that way?

Seriously, he doesn't know how to teach adults. I had a very hard time not screaming. Yes, the challenges of my Master Gardening course are surprising. Not at all the challenges I expected to have.

It is also painfully clear to me that what I think is beautiful in the garden is not at all what some other gardeners find beautiful in theirs. The first three hours were taken up with learning about "xeriscaping" in which you plant your landscape according to watering zones and try to have zones that need little or not watering at all. I think water conservation is very important but I just don't think ornamental native shrubs are going to serve my kitchen well. There are two or three kinds of flowering currants that are very drought tolerant but when I asked "do they produce edible fruit" the instructor said "They produce some fruit, yes." So I clarified "Do they produce delicious fruit?" She demurred. She hemmed. She hawed. I think she joked that the birds like them.

I am impatient to learn what I came to learn.

Luckily for me the second half of the day (right after the child-man's presentation) we got to hear about "lasagne" gardening, a sustainable method of gardening that not only keeps more of your household waste from ending up in a landfill but also sustains a healthier back by keeping you from deep tilling your clay dirt. The guy who gave this talk made lots of bad jokes but I loved him for his passion about sustainable gardening and for wanting everyone to grow as much of their own food as cheaply as possible. My friend Lisa B. is doing lasagne gardening and I have been thinking about implementing some of it in my own yard.

I wanted to stand up and shout "Right On Brother!!" just like my parents must have done at political rallies in their day. I looked around the class and I have to report a little disappointment at the response this talk garnered (glassy stares that constantly surreptitiously scouted out the bright pink cupcakes and other offerings on the snack table).

The next speaker was also speaking to my own heart. She was dressed up in pioneer clothing (well made and historically correct, I might add) and although I'm not sure that her portrayal of a pioneer woman really would have stood up in a movie, she charmed me. Her whole talk was about winter gardening. Well, you don't have to tell me twice to get my winter garden going on time this year! I kept wanting to stand up and say "Sing It Sister!" like an out of place athiest feeling God in a Baptist Gospel Choir. She's a home-schooler so I'm thinking that she must be known by some of my friends. I can't say that everyone else there was as excited as I was by the possibility of going out in the sleet to cut a basket of homegrown produce...but we got some great tools for planning our winter gardens.

Lots of grumbling about the rain. Lots of desire for spring expressed.

Now I want to say a word about the peanut gallery that lives in my head: as most of you know, I am not a lesbian. I only want to say that so that you will understand the non-lascivious nature of the likes and dislikes I develop for people, both men and women, which often manifest themselves as little child like crushes. When I dislike people it's also generally pretty childish. I rarely dislike people in a malevolent manner. So, as I spend seven hours in the company of forty other people there is always a running commentary in my head that goes something like this:

(someone comes in the door a little late-)

"I like you. You have great teeth."

(someone grabs my attention with weird question-)

"ACK!" (gasp of horror) "You look exactly like the Grinch and I'm scared of you."

(Grinchy person still talking-)

"Plus, you're squinting at me."

(person who came in late who has great teeth sits behind me and I eavesdrop-)

"I like you. Yes I do. How come you're so pretty? How did you get such wonderfully shaped teeth? Would you adopt me as your niece?"

(someone walks past vision-)

"Are you for real? Oh my, those pants won't do at all!"

(someone engages in light conversation-)

"I don't like you. You really need to stop coloring your hair and wearing it like a defensive helmet."

See what I mean? There are a couple of people I like in class and every time they come in my view my peanut gallery repeats it's feelings about them. I would not survive in public if these running thoughts could be heard. I am lucky that I don't have some disorder in which I blurt out these unfortunate pronouncements. I'm pretty happy not to hear what everyone is thinking about me because I know I'm an oddity and among other things I have the queer habit of speaking out of the side of my mouth like a film noir gangster. I never noticed this until a friend video taped me when I was in my twenties. I was so embarrassed and couldn't figure out how anyone could keep themselves from talking about it.

I'm happy to say that the voices in my head have never directed me to do evil in the world. In fact, they never direct me at all. Do any of you remember the Muppets? You know those two critics who sit in the theater commenting on everything? That's exactly what the peanut gallery in my head is like: two grumpy old man-muppets running off at the mouth.

It's extraordinary how often the commentaries revolve around teeth.

I have a tooth thing, for anyone who didn't know that.

And no, my "thing" for teeth is not a love of Hollywood white/straight teeth. I do enjoy white teeth (though my own are quite yellow) though that is hardly my main criteria for tooth-admiration. I have a complicated set of criteria for tooth admiration. Sometimes teeth can be pleasingly crooked and it angers me when people with gorgeously crooked teeth get them capped or straightened, but there are certainly some crooked teeth that are not so gorgeous. I also very much enjoy gaps in front teeth which both my mom and sister were blessed with and got "fixed".

I could never explain the tooth thing. But right now I have a fascination for a lady in my class who is the only truly lovely person there and my fascination is 85% centered around her teeth. I could look at them all day.

So go now, my friends, and know that you are not the weirdest blogger out there! Take heart! Know that there are fat middle aged tooth fetishists out there who will trump your weirdness any day!*

*I am acutely aware that there are many weirder people out there than me. But sometimes it's good to embrace one's weirdness and just shove it out in the public eye for examination.

Feb 7, 2008

Morning Chatter

It's 8am and this is what I'm doing: baking cheese corn muffins. Yep. I never do this for my own family, but I'm doing it for the Master Gardeners because they like snacks. I don't understand how come I couldn't take a good picture of them though. The snack coordinator (I'm serious) issued a request for some healthier snacks without sugar because some people are diabetic. But I just realized that I put a couple tablespoons of honey in these. Damn.

They smell really good.

My Raintree order came yesterday but now I'm terrified to plant anything in case they might die like my fruit trees. At least I might come home today with a strategy and a more precise account of what has happened to my little trees.

This is my tiny farm. My micro homestead. To get the most out of it will take planning and work. VERY EXCITING!

Time to shower and transport snacks to a bunch of snack hounds.

(OK, I admit it, I like snacks too.)

Feb 6, 2008

Excellent Lunch + Diseased Trees = Life As Usual

My breakfast/lunch yesterday was: one homemade pita slathered with yogurt cheese and topped with caramelized onion and roasted tomatoes from the freezer. A damn fine repast! I will be making a donkey load of the roasted tomatoes next summer.

I have also come to realize that my tomato canning may get a whole lot easier next year if I use my Kitchenaide food strainer which I used to use for applesauce. It removes the skin and seeds while plunking your pulp in your bowl- brilliant! Why did I waste so much time blanching and squishing the seeds out by hand?

Speaking of tomato sauce...for those of you who are aware of my dissatisfaction with my marinara sauce made with home canned tomatoes (although plenty of tomato flavor, it lacked sprightliness and always turned out dull compared to the sauce I make with commercially canned tomatoes) I followed some suggestions and added some red wine vinegar to a sauce I made a couple of days ago and it turned out great! I think the home canned are just too sweet and they need more acid added to them to really shine.

After last week's Master Gardening class I made a courageous decision to be brutal in my garden and not suffer super weak and diseased specimens to linger for years in hopes of rehabilitation. The weak plants get shovel pruned. I had in mind my Pink Pearl apple tree which has been showing distressful signs of disease at the bud union. I think it's apple canker, though I plan to get some official help from my mentor in the class. After taking the above picture I examined all my young fruit trees and EVERY SINGLE ONE of them is showing signs of disease at the bud union. If I am right about what they have, then chances are good that all of them will have to be destroyed and some major amendment will have to take place in the soil before replanting. A new strategy will have to be employed.

You would think this would distress me. It actually isn't much. I mean, it's an awful waste of a couple hundred dollars, but I want to do it right. I want the best plan possible for the long term. So a chance to do it right is not a bad thing.

I found the deed to our property yesterday while doing some clean up and discovered that our yard isn't 10,000 square feet, it's just over 14,200 square feet which means it's just under a third of an acre. That's really cool! I have always wanted to describe my yard in terms of acreage and be able to say "I have a quarter of an acre" but never thought I'd be able to.

Yes, yes, I am very shallow. So sue me.

(That's such a nineties expression huh?!)

Well, I'm off to the psychiatrist to report that I'm still quite tired all the time but at least I've cut my beer consumption by 75% for the last two weeks. Anyone who knows us knows what a tremendous accomplishment that is.

Feb 5, 2008

Surprises In The Winter Garden

Who is this hitchhiker on my surprise rogue beet that I discovered in the garden yesterday? Is it a baby earthworm or something more dangerous to my garden health? Look how big this little beet is to this fellow. Microcosms are fascinating. I am getting itchy to get out there in my garden and do stuff. There's still so much I need to get done inside to help my house run more smoothly. I have tons of stuff to go through and get rid of, space to make. I have shelves to organize.

Speaking of getting rid of stuff, no one has an answer for me on this one, but I keep avoiding getting rid of stuff because I always feel obligated to try and make a little money by having a garage sale or list things on e-bay but whenever I have done things like this I am the one person who does not make three hundred dollars. I make nothing because I am THMR*. So, do I finally embrace this fact and give my things away in charitable fashion? Or do I bang my head against a fine hard brick wall until I bleed out some sense? And then I still have all my store stock. I have had sales and not sold it, I have tried selling it on my web store, and lastly I tried selling it at seriously reduced prices at the holiday market and sold none of it. There are some things that are useful that I will keep: a lifetime supply of Mrs. Meyer's cleaning products, dishtowels, and body soap. But what to do with the books? The kid's tees? The hats?

What I was thinking of doing is seeing how much of the stuff I have would be useful to the women's shelter here. Some of the body products might be a welcome bit of luxury to battered women and their children. Same with the tee shirts. I don't know. Most of what I carried was for people nesting, not people fleeing serious problems. Is it an insult to give battered women pretty sun hats?

Anyway... I have to figure this out because I feel the weight of all this stuff pressing in on me. It needs to be dealt with. I need to get rid of my storage space. I need to make more room in my house. Clean out time!

What ultimately feels right is to donate everything I don't want. Yes, I could use some extra money. But somehow it never does work that way for me. So it feels more natural and gentle to accept the messages from the great beyond: "Hey Dufus! Don't try to make any money!"

I'm still fighting quite a lot of inertia so a lot of this talk about getting stuff done is kind of academic anyway.

Back to the garden...yesterday I bought ten gorgeous asparagus crowns. I have bought a lot of asparagus crowns in my gardening life with very little success (mostly trying to plant them where they don't thrive-like in solid clay soil) so I know what to expect: shriveled up alien looking bundles of dry root matter that you usually have to soak before planting. The ones I got at the farm store yesterday were plump and HUGE and healthy and did I say HUMONGOUS already? I only bought ten of them because I needed to read up on the other variety they carry to figure out if I really want it.

So today I will be planting asparagus in two of my eight raised beds. If anyone in my area is reading this who is planning on planting asparagus? Get it from Wilco, but do it soon because I hear they sell out fast. They are $1.49 per crown which is not as cheap as you can get them some places, but I think they are very much worth it.

It's also time to plant favas and peas. I haven't figured out where I'm going to plant them. I think in the raised beds is the best plan. I could do that today. If I could muster up the energy. Here's what I accomplished yesterday: washed (but did not fold) one load of laundry, made pita pizzas. That's it. OK, I also did some dishes. So do you think I can get more done today?

About the pickled eggplant...I ate some. I'm not dead yet. Ha ha. It wasn't as good as I hoped. It had a nice tanginess to it but the only flavoring that was added to it were coriander seeds which have no flavor unless you chew on them. I have a thing about chewing on whole spice seeds: I don't do it. On it's own eggplant is somewhat bland. Also, the eggplants I used had already developed lots of seeds and the seedy centers aren't particularly pleasant to eat. So I may not eat all of those eggplants but I did spy some very promising looking recipes in my new book for pickled eggplant and I intend to try some recipes with different seasonings.

Uh oh, it appears to be raining. Not good to work soil when raining. Perhaps today is the day to make my second duvet?

Time and coffee will tell.

*C'mon, you know what this is by now, right?

Feb 4, 2008

Sudden Family Road Trip

We rarely go on outings as a family. Mostly this is my fault. I do not travel well with children. I used to love to travel or take drives with Philip but since having a kid I find it's a nightmare to anticipate all the things we'll need for Max and Max is not a child who takes it lightly when you've forgotten his essential toy that you didn't even know he had or left behind his favorite snack.

So I avoid going to far afield with my kid and husband. I find it's less stressful to be close to home. But yesterday I got a sudden urge to go run amok on the beach. I don't like beaches where dogs have to be on leashes. Pacific City is perfect because there's a giant vertical dune that the kid and the dog love to scramble up and down and Chick can run free of restraint. So everyone gets lots of fresh air and exercise. When we're done there's a restaurant with award winning beer and fantastic fries.

Our car hasn't been working for two weeks so it was uncertain whether we would be able to do this sudden family road trip. In my opinion, Sundays are not generally lucky days, so I wasn't holding my breath for a happy outcome.

Apparently you need to give cars oil if you want them to start and run.

Here are some highlights of our road trip to the beach:

  • Stopping at the side of the road so that Max could carve his initial in the snow with hot pee. I still find it incredible that I made this strange man-creature in my womb, a creature that feels compelled to make armpit farts and enjoys peeing as though it was a sport.

  • Seeing a car suspended in a tree somewhere near Grand Ronde. I can't imagine how the hell anyone was able to hoist it up there but it's quite amusing. Except for the patriotic way it's painted. Cars in trees: Oregonians are so wacky!

  • Watching the dog and the kid run like wild things as soon as they hit the cold wet sand. A boy and a dog have a lot of energy to expend and expel, they sometimes look jet fueled. There's a joy of spirit that exudes from them when they are allowed to express themselves without restraints. I can barely make it up the dunes one time but these two can run up it like it was paved in tarmac and not slippery sliding sand.

  • Discovering a dead seal. They're big. And pretty skanky when they've been dead for a while and pecked at by seagulls. I kept walking right past it because I could see in the briefest glance that the image of a dead seal wasn't the last one I wanted in my head before dinner. Life with a boy means that you will get all the gross details of life and death whether you want them or not. What could be more fascinating than a decaying water mammal that the seagulls have toyed with? Max had to poke it and then talk about it for the rest of the night. "Remember when we saw the dead seal and I poked it and it jiggled? I wish I had touched it!" Ugh.

  • Agreeing as a family, over french fries, that none of us wanted to live at the ocean because of the tsunami potential and because it's always windy and when it's bright it's unrelentingly bright (the kind of weather that makes me exceedingly angry). We decided that the beach is a great place to visit but we're happy living inland in our small town that's not so small it's without amenities but not so big that it's noisy and hideously packed with people. We decided, as a family, that we're very happy with where we live.

Coming soon: I received in the mail the most amazing gift I've ever been given...I have yet to take good pictures of it but when I do I will post it! Just to whet your curiosity I will tell you that the person who sent it is none other than Pam from Pam Kitty Morning, so you know it was something amazing!