Squashed
Thursday October 08th 2020, 11:06 pm
Filed under: Food,Garden

There’s a joke to be made about the Waltham Mass but then maybe only because we used to live north of Boston.

Last night: one homegrown Waltham butternut squash–the seeds bought after Sally and others said that that was the best tasting variety. (I’m blanking. Who all else said so? Claim your credit, you earned it.)

Between being ginger with that back and the bit of flu still, carving it in half just didn’t appeal. Not even the method of putting the cutting board (on the floor, if there’s anything breakable on the counter) stabbing the edge of a large knife into the center of the squash and then going HeeYAH! smashing it into the cutting board with velocity so that it can split open and spew seeds under the fridge.

Like you’ve never done that?

Not doing it.

So I simply rinsed it off and stuck in the oven on a cookie sheet at 350 for 100 minutes or so. Whole. Along with the rest of the dinner after awhile, hey, join the party in there.

It was a pretty big one. We had seconds.

I said to him, That’s the best butternut squash I think I’ve ever had.

He looked up from his plate and pronounced, It’s a good one.

Tonight: I took the rest I’d scraped out last night and cuisinarted it with three eggs, a slight chug of milk (should have added butter) and a bit of ginger-infused maple syrup that was one of those weird things you occasionally find at Trader Joe’s that has just been *waiting* for this moment. Regular real maple would be fine, too. Put the mixture in my two quart Jewel-glaze cake pan from Mel and Kris, sprinkled a little brown sugar on top and took its picture because it was pretty–and again, it came out of the oven very very good and the blog still won’t load photos.

Thank you for the Waltham advice, you were so right!



An answer
Sunday October 04th 2020, 8:04 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Friends,Garden,Life,Politics

Pence thought flying to Arizona would get the Mormon vote to turn the state their way.

And on a different note having nothing to do with that…

This was General Conference weekend for the Mormon Church, broadcast from Salt Lake. There was no in-person audience, the speakers were masked while not speaking and sat socially distant, and the Tabernacle Choir was pre-recorded songs from previous Conferences.

And the song they started out with (video link) was, “Oh Say What Is Truth”. The sheet music is in the link below.

31243, Hymns, Oh Say, What Is Truth?, no. 272

1. Oh say, what is truth? ‘Tis the fairest gem
That the riches of worlds can produce,
And priceless the value of truth will be when
The proud monarch’s costliest diadem
Is counted but dross and refuse.

2. Yes, say, what is truth? ‘Tis the brightest prize
To which mortals or Gods can aspire.
Go search in the depths where it glittering lies,
Or ascend in pursuit to the loftiest skies:
‘Tis an aim for the noblest desire.

3. The sceptre may fall from the despot’s grasp
When with winds of stern justice he copes.
But the pillar of truth will endure to the last,
And its firm-rooted bulwarks outstand the rude blast
And the wreck of the fell tyrant’s hopes.

4. Then say, what is truth? ‘Tis the last and the first,
For the limits of time it steps o’er.
Tho the heavens depart and the earth’s fountains burst,
Truth, the sum of existence, will weather the worst,
Eternal, unchanged, evermore.

Text: John Jaques, 1827-1900

Music: Ellen Knowles Melling, 1820-1905

There were messages of inclusivity for all and they meant all in order to measure up to the teachings of Jesus.

President Nelson said, “I grieve that our black brother and sisters the world over are enduring the pains of racism and prejudice. Today, I call upon our members everywhere to lead out in abandoning attitudes and actions of prejudice. I plead with you to promote respect for all of God’s children.”

One of the other things he said leaped out just for me. “We can do hard things.”

I instantly decided to take it personally for my right here and now. My back has been so bad that I couldn’t roll over and get out of bed by myself, which wasn’t helping Richard’s iffy back any. Alright, consciously loosen those muscles. No tensing from fear it’s going to hurt that makes it hurt. You can do this. And yes it will still hurt some, but it won’t get better without doing that.

Richard five minutes ago, watching me rise from a chair and turn to go in the kitchen to get a glass of milk: “You ARE feeling better!”

Better being a relative term, but, yes I definitely am and I’m not afraid of it anymore.

I will add two things: I’m still not stupid, though, and, I have very good friends. Phyl and Lee walked over, watered my wilting veggies and a few trees that needed it most, harvested the four butternut squash that were ripe and at my previously-stated insistence, took one home. I waved thanks and goodbye through the window so as not to give them my flu.



Big green water balloon
Thursday October 01st 2020, 10:44 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Garden

Four years after I bought the seeds, I finally planted and harvested a Bradford watermelon, once the most popular in America. But the coming of the railroads pushed them almost to extinction: their rinds were too soft to stack, they didn’t ship well, their market fell apart. Cue Bob Dylan singing, “It’s a hard rind…is going to falllll…”

This article shows you what watermelons looked like in Renaissance paintings; mine with its thick white inner portion isn’t too far off from that.

I’m told my oldest uses watermelon rind in curry but I wouldn’t have a clue how or for that matter why one would, so for the moment there’s a lot of flavor-free melon part that I can’t see what to do with. The actual part you do eat as, y’know, watermelon, is okay but frankly ordinary.

But I can see how it would once have been a very practical thing to have around when you’re at work on a farm on a hot summer day.

There’s a book in the Wizard of Oz series where a little girl (Betsy, I think?) and a man she called Cap’n are shipwrecked at the start of the story. There were melons growing on the island they found themselves on, and Cap’n took satisfaction in that: melons were both food and water, he said; however long it might take to be rescued, they were going to be okay.

That stuck with me because I couldn’t see how you could think of a melon that way. Any melon. Forever after I wondered what the author knew that I didn’t.

Now, I think I do, and I realize that L. Frank Baum was much closer to the time of melons like mine than today’s. And I finally see where the name water-melon comes from.

So much fluid suspended in those cells. Just picking seeds out of one slice I was able to pour off a bit and sample how the juice tasted.

Michelle’s flash of brilliance was that, rather than try to pick all those seeds out, how about using a potato masher on the slices–since there are only three of us to eat all of that and fridge space was at a premium.

I got out one very large bowl and one barely-fitting slice at a time and proceeded to do just that. The Bradford was crisp but collapsed almost without resistance. The interior became little pink icebergs floating in the sea; the seeds rose to the surface and were easy to pick out.

I did it. I grew it. I don’t think I’d ever seen a watermelon growing before. I hadn’t even eaten a watermelon in years. It was fun.

And, curiosity satisfied, I am not spending hundreds of Californian gallons to grow one again.



Firstfruits
Sunday September 20th 2020, 10:25 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends,Garden,History,Life,Mango tree

My mango variety drops its fruit just before they’re fully ripe, and I’ve learned that if you just slightly brush the bottom of one with your fingertips and it falls into your hand, you got it when it was ready to let go.

Two were like that while the fire sky had been gray or worse for three weeks. They were good, but the intensity of the perfume was not at all up to last year’s–they’d needed that bright direct sun the ashes were filtering out.

The third and last one that had survived what the winter had thrown at the tree waited till there was bright sunshine again for several days. It was very small, but held great promise in the palm of my hand.

Like Alphonsos do, it needed a few days indoors. I put it in a beautiful hand thrown rice bowl from my friends Mel and Kris which displayed it with the majesty it deserved.

And man, was I tempted. More than I’d like to admit. I’m not proud of that.

But I was hopefully going to get more mangoes in future years.

There is never enough time, there is not much time, there is hopefully as much time as she and her family need. Her granddaughter gave her a new great-granddaughter this weekend, and there is joy.

I checked with her daughter, who assured me that there was a caretaker there who would open the door; just tell her I’m Jean’s friend from church.

There was no plan whatsoever of my going in and actually seeing and risking her, but I could at least hand something over to them from there.

I had a card that popped up a bouquet of paper flowers for this lovely master gardener. The woman who shared her pomegranates that are why I have such a tree in my yard too, now, having never known before what a pomegranate was really supposed to taste like. Who was eighteen when she witnessed Pearl Harbor, and lived.

Twice she had tried to grow mangoes like back home. Twice the trees had died in our cold. She knew what a homegrown mango could taste like. If only.

At 94, she finally got to have one again.

And I suppose the fact that the sky took away a little of the perfume and presumably (like my figs) some of the sweetness (although it still smelled wonderful), she gets to still believe her childhood Haden ones were the best.



Sweetness and light
Tuesday September 15th 2020, 10:43 pm
Filed under: Garden,Knit

So many things to catch up on that I’ve been trying to figure out where to start.

And then I discover it’s not letting me add pictures now.

The next fish just needs that little bit of yellow wool that I never got around to buying, because I don’t, but I will.

Last Wednesday you couldn’t tell where the sun even was, and we’re far better off now, but still, the figs have been refusing to really sweeten in the heavily filtered sunlight; they ripen and split open and I pick them early in the morning but they’re not what they would normally be nor are they going to be.

A squirrel got to one–I opened the bathroom window and scared him into dropping it and running so he was totally busted–and then the half a fig lay there on the ground, untouched, for two days. Finally something sampled the edge. Nope. Left it there.

The day after that it finally disappeared so I guess something got hungry enough but in the meantime no other fig was touched because man, if they all tasted like that one why let those clamshells snap against one’s prying paws.

It amused me.

This morning I picked two that were split badly, curling in pieces from the bottoms up; I figured this was as sweet as they were ever going to be.

Not much. All the color and fully formed, though, so they were, y’know, healthy. After I washed the ashes that had gotten into those clamshells away.

The air quality index is 40 points better now than this morning, meaning it was unhealthy rather than dangerous to water my squash plants this evening.

I’m going to wait till we have brighter sunshine for a few days before I harvest that first one, and then, if need be, I’m going to sweeten the heck out of it and enjoy it because we’ve been waiting for it for so many months. Honey, brown sugar, or maple–it’s all good.



Nailed it
Friday August 28th 2020, 10:43 pm
Filed under: Food,Garden

Nothing like some good sourdough out of the oven. (Another pumpkin cranberry cinnamon loaf.)

The last two days we had a normal, San Francisco Bay-style marine layer that cooled things down and helped the firefighters and cleared the air a great deal–and the critters got at a few of the ripening figs despite my best efforts.

Today, as containment continues, the smoke was back, the air was gray, and the figs got left alone. They are browning up rapidly now, winding up the season.

So I guess my observation that fire air keeps the critters away seems to hold. I have high hopes for ripe ones for breakfast picked at their morning sweetest.

I was going to go to Andy’s to get some late season peaches, too, while they last, but my tire picked up a nail.

Fortunately easily dealt with–I lucked out, the idiot light came on on the freeway after I hit a rough patch with debris and I could have been stranded there but I was able to get it to my mechanic with no problem.

But it was not what I’d planned. You do not drive out of Silicon Valley on a Friday after 2:30 if you don’t have to. Not even during a pandemic.



While hundreds of square miles burn
Tuesday August 25th 2020, 11:02 pm
Filed under: Food,Garden,History,Wildlife

Not a single apple on the ground for days. Nothing pecked.

Not a single fig taken before its time–and up till this point, my success rate at getting to pick and eat a fully ripe one has been a total of exactly one single one. If I leave them that one last day for perfecting, they’re gone.

Remember these past years where I’ve put a fake dead crow out at night (so they don’t see me and don’t think I killed it) to keep the real ones from wanting to come in my yard? I was never sure that really worked, but I didn’t do that this year and this is the first year I can remember where I’ve had flocks of crows fly over my house. Morning or evening: every single time I go outside. It’s like they know I know where the fruit is so they’re checking it out–and it could well be, given that crows evolved scavenging the edges of human civilization and cast offs, so much so that they can read human faces and expressions as well as a dog can.

The trees they liked to be just far enough away in next door are gone now, and maybe that’s part of it, but they didn’t start coming directly overhead and in waves until things started to ripen.

The ability of–something–to tear through and rearrange the bird netting has been impressive, and the breaking of young fig branches in the process, disconcerting.

Not a single crow around since the fires started. It seems they don’t want to be high overhead in all that smoke. One single squirrel briefly came in view, for that matter, and it did not want to run fast nor exert itself but I still told it it had to leave. It did.

Rather than coming fleeing down out of the hills in numbers, at least this far out the wildlife seems simply to have vanished.

Not a single apple.

Not a single fig, not even the ripening one right there clearly in easy reach where the netting doesn’t go that far. Anything could have swiped it. Nothing did.

I’ll take it.



Flash light time
Sunday August 16th 2020, 10:52 pm
Filed under: Food,Garden,Life,Wildlife

A restless night of not much sleep, not registering that there was a big storm going on out there, and I gave up and got up at a time when it just happened to be quiet out there.

I was washing my hands standing under the skylight when a flash of light startled me into glancing towards the light switch, not fathoming, just as the BOOM!!! hit and the power went out.

Found out later that one of the many lightning strikes had hit a few blocks over.

Thunderstorms?! In the Bay Area? In August? Rain? In AUGUST? A hundredth of an inch, as it turned out, but hey, that’s enough to sprout the fall weed seeds.

More and more house-rattling. I had been planning to go pick the one fig that should have been ripe first thing this morning. There was no going out there.

And then it seemed to settle down and all the booms stopped.

I really wanted that fig. I thought maybe I might chance it.

It wasn’t really raining (oh! Well, not enough for me to have heard from inside), just the slightest sprinkle.

For all that the fig, it turned out, had not finished ripening in the night and I left it there to be stolen later by the squirrels (which it was.)

Ten steps back to the door, I was halfway there, when out of the gray-not-blue, another BOOM! skittered me inside so fast! I could just picture the obituary: Lost Grandma because she just couldn’t bear to give up that one single piece of fruit to the rodents, but it was not the fig that got roasted.

They say we may have a repeat tonight of either yesterday’s PG&E shutdown or another weird storm and a third power outage, so dinner was the fastest thing I could cook so we wouldn’t be stuck with half-raw chicken and a fridge we couldn’t open.

Edited to add: I’m guessing that one of the biggest fire tornados ever may have helped create the atmospheric conditions that led to that storm.



The newest of the old and of the new
Thursday July 30th 2020, 11:03 pm
Filed under: Garden

More pomegranate flowers, and I was startled to see the tiniest little watermelon you ever saw. But it’s there.

I have never in my life seen one grow from seed and there’s this keen sense of exploration. The squashes have huge blossoms that last the morning before they start to fold away; the watermelons have tiny ones that seem so disconnected from the size of what’s to come but they hold on for it, knowing what they can do.



Taking up space
Wednesday July 29th 2020, 10:37 pm
Filed under: Garden

Maybe eight years ago a surprise seedling grew behind my lemon tree and by the end of the summer it was a single trunk seven feet straight up, no branches (no pruning) and it actually had a fig on it. That fast.

But it was already pushing against the fence, the neighbors complained, and they were right, it had to go.

I’ve been whacking at the small bit of stump ever since, although this year it seems to have finally given up. It was determined but I was more so–but the fact that I came so close to having a fig tree is what led to my actually buying a fig tree and putting it in the right spot and living happily ever after. (Carefully choosing a slow-growing type that would stay small, because, man, that other one was a lesson and we have solar panels.)

So when another such seedling popped up under my tomato plant and kept going even though it was completely shaded, never seeing direct sunlight, I excused its smallness on the grounds of lack of light and at the end of the summer gave it a pot to grow some roots in for the winter. Why not. I expected it to take off like that other one. If nothing else, I wanted to see how its fruit would compare to my Black Jack’s.

Here we are, and there’s a five and a half year old mango tree growing where that tomato had been, the little seedling got moved into a large pot awhile ago–

–and it’s given me not one single hint of any fig.

It’s got the wood of a fig, the growth patterns of a fig, it unfurls new leaves exactly like a fig and they are the leaves of some figs, it even has a mild case of mosaic virus endemic to but not hurtful to fig leaves.

I plan to sprout a few more Anya apricots in the spring and one of them will go in that pot; had I had three longterm survivors this year I would already have done that. It’s time the pot got put to good use and this thing has had its chances.

But for the moment, it’s green, it puts oxygen in the air and withdraws its tiny bit of carbon and adds a little bit of landscaping color there. I’ll let it be till its leaves fall.

But what I’ve really wanted all along is just to know the answer to my question: what IS this?

 



Guardian roses
Monday July 27th 2020, 10:24 pm
Filed under: Garden

Figs, you can leave in clusters all you want. (Re yesterday’s apples.)

There was this little rosebush when we moved in years ago, and now there are two identical ones, side by side, just doing their thing.

The fig tree and the second rose have kind of grown into each other in that one corner and I was going to prune them apart last year till I discovered that the squirrels and whatever all else out there didn’t touch the figs that had thorns coming up all around them.

Well alright then. That stays.

(Edited to add a link to this video because who doesn’t want to be interrupted by a music-loving deer?)

 



Apple social distancing
Sunday July 26th 2020, 2:33 pm
Filed under: Garden

I learned something new Saturday, watching a too-long video on pruning after standing under my apple tree and pointing the camera upwards at all that fruit.

One of the reasons you thin apples? It’s not just because you want fewer but bigger and better tasting ones; that’s a given.

It’s because if you don’t, they grow in clusters, and at every point where apples touch it allows what you don’t want to weave a web between the two of them, from which you end up with a worm that burrows on in when it’s ready.

Oh.

Huh.

Well, that’s definitely incentive to get that done.



Phoebe minded
Tuesday July 21st 2020, 10:51 pm
Filed under: Garden,Wildlife

It used to be I would see a Black Phoebe maybe once a year, twice if lucky.

This year, with the squabblesome finches peaceably gleaning weed seeds out in the yard rather than at the feeder, there’s a phoebe every day. Every insect on the patio, that member of the flycatcher family is searching for it and it’s going to find it.

A second phoebe showed up today and was quickly shown the neighbor’s yard, and then the first flew back, victorious.

It likes to perch on the tomato cage.

It especially likes spiders, and since I like seeing this bird that was so rare here for so long and that’s not spooked by my being so close by and that has this white heart on its chest with a black bolero jacket above, I haven’t been sweeping the webs out of the awning of late.

It got its snack–but the snack grabbed back.

No worries. The bird landed on the tomato cage and surveyed its territory awhile, and when it left, the clump of spider web, since it was not needed for nest building in July, was left behind.



The resilience of squash
Friday July 17th 2020, 10:12 pm
Filed under: Garden

I noticed the ground was behaving a little better today re my feet and its distance away. Go brain.

So. Zucchini in the third picture and Waltham butternut plants in the first two, all of them repotted late because I couldn’t go buy soil (thank you again for the rescue Ruth and Lyse!) and all I had was hardpack clay, weeds, and snails.

Same dirt, same sun, same fabric pots, same watering, and those two butternuts were started at the same time.

One thing about squash plants: wherever they grow to they’ll set down new roots that will carry on and keep things going till frost after the original roots die off. So, much though I don’t want to encourage the prickly weeds to sprout, after seeing how the one super spreader that’s growing in four directions was doing, I started watering its ends after all, because it badly needed it. I didn’t seriously think I was going to confine that to a pot, right?

I’ve only ever successfully grown one zucchini plant once, so I’m mostly new at this.

Meantime, the apricot responded to today’s lovely summer day by starting branch number five. You have to squint a bit this week, but probably not next.

And I worked on the ocean afghan. I woke up this morning with a picture in my head of bright single dots of stitches along the bottom edge of the jellyfish’s mushroom cap (whatever the technical marine term may be) and was glad I hadn’t already gotten past that point so I could do that. I’ve got a chart now for the dolphin, and it’ll be just one because the eye likes odd numbers; discernible even numbers of objects feels wrong visually to the viewer even if they don’t know why it’s bugging them, and I don’t have room for three with any kind of scale re the other fish.

So one it is. Curving up at nose and tail or curving down is the only question. It will be partway over the top of the water, so I’m thinking down.

Sudden thought, with certainty as it hit: someday, I am going to have to knit an afghan of an apricot tree. I just am. The only question will be whether I can wait till mine comes into bloom so I can knit that picture.

 



Finally turned the Page
Sunday July 12th 2020, 10:43 pm
Filed under: Food,Garden

When I was a kid my dad met a guy who owned a truck. And who had connections to Florida’s citrus groves. Who said that the Page mandarin orange was the best tasting one in existence but nobody ever hears of them outside Florida so you couldn’t get them in Maryland so he would drive down there every winter to bring some back.

Which is how my Dad, working on a fundraiser, found himself commissioning a truckload of those Page oranges to be dropped off in our carport to sell, and the trucker got his, too. People would sign up for so many cases, Dad would place the order, and everybody knew what the delivery day was in case the weather threatened to freeze them–there was no way all those were going inside the house. Come and get’em.

But then one year there was a big freeze in Florida and for reasons of geography or biology I don’t know, but the Pages, which as I remember were mostly growing alongside one river, pretty much all died.

They were not replanted. That variety was particularly hard to grow; why not put in something that was easier, more prolific, and probably a bit hardier so that the farmers wouldn’t have to go through a complete loss again. And Pages are small. The market rules, and families have to be fed.

I read an interview with the owner of a citrus tree grower here a few years back, answering questions about his company and the varieties he sells.

What caught my eye was his saying, And to fill out your collection, I’d get the Page–it’s my favorite.

Why to fill out…why not just get it first?

And so I did.

Where I planted it that summer six years ago turned to be a terrible spot sun-wise in the winter–the fences were just wrong. I was advised to dig it up and put it in a pot to contain the roots to let the top recover, and did so.

The next year I planted a Gold Nugget mandarin, the only variety that doesn’t need heat to get sweet and that can go down to 26F. It went in the ground (avoiding that bad corner) and is nearly to the top of the fence.

The Page, by comparison, grows very little. I don’t think its twice its original height yet. It buds out a bit in the spring and then they all fall off and die, every year. The best I got was a green dot before it let go.

Its rootstock is the one that shot out those fast spiky barbs that I cut off that are now successfully protecting branches of my peaches from birds and critters. That part wants to grow!

There’s a reason those trees are rare.

But for all this time I’ve just kept on watering it, even though I’ve long since given up on getting anything out of it. A little citrus food. Doesn’t care. Stays mottled. Oh well.

I didn’t see it till a few days ago: hidden in those leaves? Wait. Where did that come from? After six years, the first fruit, and that big–how was I completely oblivious that that was there? That’s way bigger than the ones on the Gold Nugget! (Well, to be fair, Pages are for Christmas and the Nuggets are for spring.)

I didn’t think it would or ever could, but it wanted to do what it was meant to do and now hopefully it’s just getting started.