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.



Lassoed
Monday September 21st 2020, 11:13 pm
Filed under: Food,Life

My hair broke the spatula.

It took some doing. I was about to reach forward into the mixer bowl to scrape the edges when, in that movement, my hair, which, granted, has gotten a bit long these days, suddenly wrapped itself around my wrist and it and in that moment of surprise (I’d love to see the slow-motion video of just exactly how) the spatula went flying. The silicone head, the reason I bought it two years ago, ran off from the cheap plastic handle from that Amazon set.

I picked them up and looked. This was no trial separation. They were toast.

The bread dough will be, too, but not till tomorrow when it’s good and ready.



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.



Today is for the color blue
Wednesday September 16th 2020, 8:58 pm
Filed under: Food,Life

I went to pick a fig or two this morning and saw a few speckles on the ground and wondered at the idea that it had rained a little in the night–it was not in the forecast.

And then about halfway to the tree it got through to me that the rain was getting through to me–it not only wasn’t done, it was just getting started. I got my fruit for breakfast, hurried back inside, and found myself not soaked but wet and cold enough that I was definitely changing out of that.

It didn’t make it to even a hundredth of an inch.

But the air cleared up and the sky turned a forgotten blue. We can breathe again.

Meantime, after wanting to for a long time I bought a silk comforter six months ago and after watching this video of mulberry leaf to finished quilt, am utterly in awe of those who created it.



Vote for the fourth-year cure
Friday September 04th 2020, 5:20 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Politics

Back when our kids were teens, Richard’s older sister had been feeling unwell and after running lots of tests, her doctor sent her to a hematologist.

Her first inkling of what she was in for was when she had to walk past the oncology sign to get to the man’s office. Nobody had said anything about cancer. It was her fortieth birthday.

And thus began her fight with a type of lymphoma that, at the time, had had zero cures and three known cases of remission ever, and it was not caught early.

They can cure it now. Back then, they kept coming up with new treatments that kept giving her a little more time. Her youngest was eleven, and while they were telling her to put her affairs in order she wanted to see her kids grow up.

Eight years later, she got her youngest off to college and saw a son married to a good woman. Six weeks later she was gone.

Richard had just started a new job when he heard her diagnosis and had no accrued time off but his boss’s reaction was, Go. Now. Go see your sister. I don’t want to see you for a week.

The fact that it was summer vacation made it easy to throw the kids in the car and drive to Salt Lake City.

We did that long drive so many summers after, wanting to see her while we could, wanting to be supportive in person as much as possible.

And every time we drove home, the Sierra Nevadas gave way to flat farmland and signs like the ones beckoning, Pistachios $2/lb!

(Those were the immature nuts that were closed as tight as a fist and a royal pain to crack. You want the ones that smile for the camera, you pay $3 but they didn’t tell you that till you got out of your car, and if you wanted them shelled that was a whole ‘nother thing altogether.)

The family of knitting friends who immigrated from Iran own one of those pistachio orchards, that being a traditional crop back home, and I’ve often wondered if we ever passed their farm. Wonderful people.

Michelle is doing the long drive home from her sister’s and asked us if we wanted her to pick up anything along the way. We knew where she’d be coming through, so I said something about maybe pistachios–don’t take the time for us, take care of yourself first and foremost, but if you want to stop and if you’re interested, sure, I’d be interested.

Some hours later the phone rang.

She was sorry but there would be no farm stops on this trip.

No problem at all, we weren’t counting on it–it was just wistful memories.

Because, she said: farm after farm had great big Trump signs. And she just couldn’t.

And I wondered, do they want so hard to stay unconflicted and unchallenged in their bubble that they’re willing to kill off half their summer tourist income for it? Not to mention, and all that for someone who’s tried so hard to take away the healthcare they maybe have no idea how much they might need someday?

I guess they do.



How it came out
Thursday September 03rd 2020, 9:48 pm
Filed under: Food,Life

So, yeah, I never made the connection between that night in the hospital, Lee’s photography, and the need to knit fish on a turquoise background before, but what was supposed to be a post about sourdough last night suddenly helped me connect all those long-time dots that were back there somewhere in my brain waiting to be found. Who knew.

On the food experiment: Trader Joe’s sells a frozen spinach artichoke heart cheese dip that’s quite good. I had some thawed and ready in the fridge.

Yesterday was about seeing how well that would go with sourdough.

I let the dough rise overnight as one does with the thought that I would mix the stuff in in the morning (and give myself one last chance to back out of the idea.)

Which means it was cold right out of the fridge going into the bread dough which wanted warmth.

Which meant that, since I didn’t do the smart thing and nuke the dip a bit, the usual one-hour morning rise was going to need to be a whole lot longer. But that would have made it really sour and taken an unknowable amount of time and I had plans for the day, so I just popped it in the oven anyway. I ended up with a dense focaccia variant. It was good but not excellent; next time just make normal sourdough toast and dip it in the dip.

And then on with the morning.

Man, I have never seen a line like that at Goodwill to drop stuff off! At least they let us–they weren’t taking any more donations for awhile there. Closets are definitely being cleaned out.

There were two fire trucks parked on the road a half block from Andy’s. It was hard to see if there was smoke in a pocket of the hills above or if that’s just where the wind captured an extra bit of what was everywhere anyway, but either way, CalFire was ready to be right on it.

Ripe Green Gage plums are one of the best fruits on the planet and well worth the trip to Morgan Hill.



Maybe that’s where it all started
Wednesday September 02nd 2020, 10:54 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends,Life

Spent a long time going through yarns and fish photos and measuring and eyeballing and I think the next two are figured out. I kept thinking, as I often have, that what I really need is my friend Lee’s pictures from his dive trips. (His ability to sketch would be nice, too.)

He and Phyl have from time to time offered us much-enjoyed evenings of seeing his underwater photography and one of those times was not long before Crohn’s put me in the hospital the first time. The doctor had me on morphine, and this time I was the one on a trip–with Lee’s tropical fish lazily meandering around me in the very brightest colors against a turquoise background, keeping me company all night, keeping me amused and distracted from the severe pain and feeling less alone because all of that was because of happy memories that had come from them.

A friend dropped by this afternoon with homemade jam from her fruit trees; I sent her off with a cooled loaf of cranberry pumpkin sourdough because I always know that one will be good.

We were kind of ready for something else, though. I was paging through my Artisan Sourdough Made Simple tonight and I didn’t really want to do it this way I wanted to try that and now there’s an experiment in the kitchen rising overnight and if it turns out fabulous you’ll hear all about it tomorrow. And if it doesn’t we’ll pretend this paragraph was never written.

In my dreams.



Revanche was a dish served hot
Saturday August 29th 2020, 10:03 pm
Filed under: Food,Knit,Life

She’s used Doordash before.

Doordash didn’t realize she’d moved out of the Bay Area.

The two restaurants had nearly identical names.

And so she found out her order had been put in 800 miles away at a place she’d never heard of. She tried to cancel it but the restaurant said they’d already entered it into their Doordash account, so, so sorry, too late.

So she told them she was going to tell us to go pick it up.

Given how they acted when I got there, they were clearly hoping nobody would come.

When I said who I was, who she was, why I was there and what I was doing, the guy at the counter reacted like that was the most creative way to scam a free meal he’d ever heard of. He was, in a word, rude. But I wasn’t going anywhere. I finally had her talk to him while I held the phone so he wouldn’t have to touch it. He conferred with someone else–and they started cooking that meal. Half an hour after it was supposed to have been picked up, because I’d gotten the message late.

No diners are allowed to eat inside, but all the pickups were inside and I was already there, and technically I wasn’t dining, so they told me to sit in the darkest corner where the lights were turned off while they worked on it.

The oldest person in the kitchen came out from time to time to smile benevolently. He was not wearing the mandated mask. He seemed to approve of knitting, however, and though silent was the one friendly face in the place.

My yarn was dark green and my needles were black and Mecha’s single ply splits too easily but that’s the project that was in the purse and I did make good progress on it.

I was careful not to so much as touch the top of the table. No point in creating extra work for them.

I got the order home…

I don’t know that they usually put that much and I mean that much! heat into every single dish. Given that what was ordered was originally intended to be shared with small children, I do have my doubts.



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.



The River fire
Saturday August 22nd 2020, 10:33 pm
Filed under: Food,History,Life

Photo by, as far as I can tell, Iris Brewster, because she credits the photographers in her other pictures. It does embiggen if you want to see better.

Mom? I still don’t like brussel sprouts. I’m sorry. I’ve tried, I know you’ve tried, I’ve olive-oiled and roasted and reminded myself they’re healthy and all that, but they still are what they are.  It helps that I’m married to someone who doesn’t like them even more than I don’t like them. Except at least they’re better at your house because you’re a far better cook.

But some came in our weekly produce bag last Saturday. I put them off for most of the week, which surely didn’t improve their flavor any, but there is no room in our fridge for more than one gigantic Milk Pail box’s worth so I finally roasted them last night and they stank up the house so bad it still lingered in the morning. I even ate one. Richard hoped I wouldn’t ask him to. The rest are in the fridge, all ready for us to magically change our minds and be thrilled and devour them after a bit of a zap.

But this is why my conscience could not simply throw them out without trying and at least tasting them. That’s the sun up there and a fire behind that ridge. Click to really see.

And yet still they feed us. 



Good folks
Friday August 21st 2020, 9:47 pm
Filed under: Food,History,Life

Seventy-seven thousand people including all of UC Santa Cruz have been evacuated along the coast, where the nightly fog that’s supposed to keep the forest floor and the roots of the redwoods damp has gone missing, and who knows how many more folks inland had time to pack before they had to get out of there. The unheard-of August lightning storms? There are more in the forecast.

Yesterday it was smokey at Andy’s Orchard but it wasn’t terrible. Today the high school across the street from him had become the evacuation center and the area was marked Evacuation Warning: be packed, be ready.

I am so glad I went when I did.

The phone rang this morning, but the person was breaking up so badly that neither one of us could make heads nor tails. So they just came. The doorbell rang a few hours later: it was the mattress people. It was not Saturday.

I had told them that if the fires got worse we’d be happy to wait because their safety was the most important thing, to please check first. They appreciated that–and instead decided, okay, we need to get this done NOW. I wondered if they’d been driving since before dawn.

They put the new cover on the new mattress. We were supposed to have to do that part per the seller and watching them, I’m not sure we could have.

They got everything set up. I followed them outside to say where I wanted the old one to go till we could hire someone to come pick it up.

They knew that we had just missed the city’s semi-annual cleanup date when it would have been done for free.

They used the lift to get the old one onto the truck. No worries, they said, we’ll take care of it.

I was not expecting that at all.

When I told the one guy I’d bought the peaches at a farm yesterday, and how things were there today, his eyes got wide and he really, really appreciated it (and probably was really really glad they hadn’t waited till tomorrow) and headed outside to the truck to share with his co-worker. They waved thanks, I waved thanks, and they were out of here while the routes back out were still safe.



Smoked peaches
Thursday August 20th 2020, 9:49 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends

Last year the last of Andy’s peaches were done at the end of August,  earlier than previous years, and after eating a generic one that had come with my weekly produce bag and what a disappointment it was compared to what Andy grows, I wanted to go.

The air here had improved, but the fire map showed one blaze southeast of Morgan Hill as well as the ones on the coast.

I called.

“Yes, we’re open. It’s smokey, though.”

Coming through San Jose it started to sting the eyes even in the car and by the time I turned off the freeway, there was a plume behind the mountains on the coastal side. Eastward nearer Andy’s it was gray but without anything specific.

All I could do was say a silent prayer for all those in it, all those who don’t want to find themselves in it, and all those fighting those fires for the rest of us.

I got two flats of CalReds and some cherry-sized, exquisitely flavored green gage plums, and the similar mirabelle plums out of curiosity. Heirloom tomatoes. A bottle of poison oak honey (the very best). Slab dried apricots, not the prettiest but the ones that had been at peak ripeness so they went smush when pitted. Fresh-picked cobs of corn from his neighbor.

I was basically trying to pack all the Andy’s-ing I could into one trip because I felt I could take nothing for granted.

And then the fun part is I got home and emailed the friend who always wants a case of peaches whenever I go there and told her she had first crack at that second one.

Last time I’d gone they hadn’t had a second case that wasn’t already spoken for so I hadn’t been able to offer.

She was surprised I’d gone out in this, ecstatic for the peaches, and her husband picked them up almost immediately. They won’t end up pureed in my freezer for the winter but that’s okay, there’s still more August and I’ll just have to go back next week.