Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas cat

Cozy, yes? Nice kitty, all snuggled in my office chair with a cushy pillow and full belly. This is the cat we took in a couple weeks ago when temps hovered in the single digits and ice coated everything. He came prowling round our doorstep, mewling and pitiful. Cold! Hungry!
Oh, poor baby! Even though he was supposedly famished, he was finicky. Didn't like dry cat food. Didn't like canned cat food. (I should have known!) But he just LOVED those chicken drumsticks I baked for him. Yes, I BAKED for him, and then I continued to labor by separating the meat from the bones and the skin and so on. Cat-sized portions remain in the freezer.

But come to find out, this is an opportunistic animal, a neighborhood cat, who has now disappeared to more favored digs. Turns out he has at least three homes that welcome him, and all within shouting distance, plus the home where he "belongs," which is apparently not acceptable. I'm not sure why, but I hear they have an unfriendly dog. They're missing out. This is a sweet cat that enters your home and claims the territory. He drapes over furniture, rubs along legs, and stands by the door in a mannerly fashion when he needs to exit to do his business.
Why did we take him in? One, we like cats. and two, we stared directly into his pleading eyes and believed he needed our help. I think most people are like that. If you can see a being —person, or animal, that is clearly in jeopardy, and you are in a solitary position to help, then you will. It's not like the shared responsibility we have for beggars with "will work for food" signs whose eyes you avoid, and who are ignored by most people in passing cars, and whose plight you figure somebody else will address. And whose motives you may question.

But when it's just you and a suffering (supposedly) being, and you are the only person who can alleviate the situation, what do you do? Most people open the door or the wallet.  I know I do.

All those mailed appeals with photos of children with cleft palates and hideous living conditions and polio and so on, not to mention the puppy mills and chained starving animals, attempt to duplicate the impact of beings who are suffering right before our eyes. Local newspapers at Christmas time highlight pathetic story after pathetic story of "friends in need" and the community responds with an outpouring of cash and goods and trips to Disneyland. But nothing quite rivals the domestic animal who shows up on your doorstep on a frigid night looking for a way in. Unless it could be a child fleeing abuse or neglect. Can you imagine a terrified child trembling at your door? Could you turn her away? I couldn't. But I'm afraid I ignore some of the most plaintive appeals from the most worthy non profits because I just can't take it all on. But give me a cat on a cold night? You're in, baby.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

65 Alive

Today I am 6-freaking-5 years old. Thank you, my friends, for your birthday wishes. And thank you,  Laurie, for taking this photo a couple weeks ago, proof that yoga works no matter your age. If I can still do this in 10 years, I'll send the picture to a tabloid. "Seventy-five-year -old woman does splits!!" If we even have printed papers then.  It's difficult to project what the world at large will be like tomorrow, let alone what might come in the next decade. For sure our own  personal molecular swirls will have undergone vast change and may even be circling the drain by then. Ha!  Don't you love how things change so fast you can't keep up? I do, except for the getting-old part.

I cannot believe I've reached the Medicare birthday. But isn't that the way it is no matter how old you've suddenly become? I heard my sons recently complaining about turning 31 and 23 and I say, poor babies! I felt practically the same astonishment turning 40 and 50 and 60 that I do now that the next milestone on the horizon is the big 7-0! Time passes in a blur. Remember this song? Time Is by It's a Beautiful Day. If you click, scroll to song number seven. Crank it up, please, and twirl around and sing along. It will be good for your soul. And mine, too. I love to have dance partners, even those I can't see.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Sharing Love Through Food, Wine, Music, Dance.....and Ping Pong!

Thanks, Steve, for the wholesome post title, (my first attempt was "Dance, Drink and Dink Around) and Laurie Gerloff's photo, above,  which says it all. Ping pong and dancing were temporarily suspended so the feast and toasting could proceed apace. Nothing fancy in the presentation, but what a gourmet spread! And what a celebration. The best way to start the holiday season is with friends and family, music and dancing, PING PONG, and a lush cornucopia of deliciousness that spills across December like a wave of rich gravy crested by sweet potatoes and pecan pie.
It's taken two weeks to sort this out, and I'm not sure it's quite jelled. But as I've learned,  writing, and even thinking about writing, is a process that can reveal (to yourself and maybe your readers, if you have any) what you're thinking and feeling. I'm writing this because I'm curious. What  am I thinking? It should be easy to describe something that was absolute fun, starting on Wednesday before T-giving and ending on Sunday after.

But.... no. I have to complicate with comparisons of Thanksgivings past and sentimental reflections about the future. But first off, it's clear that the marathon shared with a gang of friends and family bore NO resemblance to the iconic Norman Rockwell painting. For one thing, those sitting at Rockwell's Thanksgiving table don't look like they had anything to do with preparing dinner. And who's going to clean up? Never mind. And have you wondered how that fleshy grandmother held a 25-pound bird at arm's length? There are other problems. Celery sticks? Water? Where's the wine? Where's the stuffing and cranberry sauce? Where are the Brussels sprouts? I see you Norman, peeking out from the right lower corner. I wonder what you'd think of our Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Southern Oregon deep freeze— perfect for solar home

It's unusually COLD in southern Oregon and has been for several days. This morning was just 8 degrees F and now, close to 11 a.m. under blues skies and brilliant sun, it's still only 18. But the solar water panels on our roof have kicked in to heat the water circulating in the hot water tank to 100. Before long, it will will rise to around 150, as it did yesterday, and I'll throw a load of clothes into the washer and fire up the dishwasher. It'll also be time for a long hot shower because for the next 12 hours or so, we'll have free hot water. Thanks to our modest passive solar home, built in the early 1980's, we'll also have free heat as waves rise out of the simple solarium and sun streams through south-facing windows in a living room addition built in 1994. PK took pains all those years ago to include every energy-saving trick we could afford including:
  • a clean-burning woodstove
  • 10-inch thick insulation
  • whole-house fan, which is primarily responsible for summer cooling
  • ceiling fans
  • double-door entrances
  • a solarium that heats the house on cold sunny days, doubles as greenhouse in the spring, and serves as a winter clothes dryer
  • orienting the house to face south
  • double-paned woodframe windows
Everything still works, and summer or winter, nary a sunny day goes by without thanking our sun-smart 2.300 sq. ft. home—warm in the winter and cool in the summer for an average energy bill of around $100 a month, year-round. (In addition to a tiny woodstove in the living room, we use a natural gas stove in the center of the house for heating, and also cook with natural gas.) Next up, perhaps, solar-electric panels.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Nomad kayaking son ..... will I survive?

As I begin this post Nov. 18, son Chris, 23, is en route to India and perhaps Nepal, China and Tibet, on a two-month kayaking expedition. This is not "ordinary life" but it is his life. Here he is, my baby, 20 years ago dipping a paddle into the river for the first time. (That's his dad's vintage blue Dancer) And here he is a few years ago in a circling-the-drain Chilean waterfall. Actually, I"m not sure that's Chris. He and a Spanish kayaker explored this creek and took turns with the camera. Those days Chris was on his own with a hunger for adventure and a quiet determination to join an elite cadre of kayakers who travel the globe pursuing primo adventure and first descents. That's what he's doing now—primo adventure and first descents. And that's what he did in 2008 in Pakistan and Brazil, and in 2007 in Newfoundland and Chile. It's a ridiculous life. He toils for a few months to earn enough for life support and airline tickets, and then hops around the world with his kayak. It's not something that you envision, or can even imagine, for your child. But Chris is driven by an endless well of ambition and passion, so I go along, oscillating between pride and terror. Despite my fearful motherliness, I say, Go Chris!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Getting the low-carb religion—again

It's already in place. The 5-7 pounds I accumulate every winter has settled in. This bodes ill as mashed potatoes and gravy loom large on the holiday horizon—not to mention fudge, pecan pie, and the mincemeat treats my 92-year-old mother is, ummm, encouraging me to make. (When an elderly mother encourages, it is more like commanding. And so I will soon be making a mincemeat pie.)

My excess poundage has settled in the strange pocket front & center below my waist, an formation that my sister, who also grows one,  calls her dessert pouch. At least I still have a waist, a fact I don't take for granted. I remember my 20-year-old svelte self looking (down) at older women, who, I'm sure, were younger than I am now, and wondering why so many had protruding insect-like abdomens. Now there's an image I'd rather not apply to my own anatomy.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

What's so bad about November?

For starters, the sunflowers, once lords and ladies of the garden, are fallen, picked clean of seeds and crumbling to dust. A lone gold finch alighted for a final meal a few days ago as I prepared toppled giants for the "melt-down" pile, but alas, nary a seed remained. The bewildered bird flew off, probably looking for a finch soup kitchen. It was only a couple months ago that the sunflowers  were in their glory. How quickly glory fades, and light too, another of November's sorry lessons, within which one must search for hope.

For example, I started this post at 4:57 p.m. and it was almost dark.
But hello, that's a perfect rationale to start happy hour earlier! And also dinner. Ominous clouds fill part of the sky most days, whether it rains or not.
But that makes for dramatic lighting, which sends me scampering for even more photos, most of which are losers. But taking them (or making them, as current vernacular goes) satisfies my growing itch to capture moments before they go the way of sunflowers. Also on the cheery side of November, diminishing light primes deciduous tress to transform into sweeps of brilliant color, including those planted by PK in 1984 when we built our house, trees that now embrace with glowing arms our little Southern Oregon nest.

Some bad news this November: one friend was diagnosed with  cancer, and another is scheduled for throat surgery, relegating the  rhino virus currently mashing around in my head to its appropriate category: trifling. Then there's the same old, same old, having naught to do with November, but coincidentally, it came to my attention this month that:
  1. Too many old people are sad, lonely, and bored.
  2. Soldiers and civilians continue to suffer and die in wars that beggar justification.
  3. Muslim fundamentalists hate you and me more deeply everyday just because of where we were born. 
  4. Politicians dick around with national health care, and how does anybody believe that things will get better if insurance companies continue to rule?
  5. Young girls still want to look like Barbie.

And then drilling down to the more serious muck:  I know that right now, not far away, some out-of-control parent is whaling—physically or emotionally—on his or her kid, or closing a  door and a heart on a screaming baby, or sexually abusing a child. Or a woman is being brutalized by her husband, boyfriend, or father. Or a miserable pet is chained outside in the rain. Or a homeless teen is selling sex for food. And the ugly images go on and on and on. If I let them.

That's why I, and most more-or-less healthy people, cultivate art, music, dance, gardening, nature, and sport too. To create a balance of beauty and vitality with evil and decay, to construct a reality separate from the gut-dragging underside of humanity. Even though I live in rural USA, the snarling sad face of the loveless is as prevalent in Southern Oregon as it is anywhere in the world. Rural America is not at all spared from home-based hometown brutality. It's all here, same as it ever was, although not exactly as the Talking Heads sang. It's more like a scene out of a David Lynch film or a Stephen King novel. Our pastoral landscapes and safe-looking streets and neat little homes (and a fair number of McMansions) can and do hide brutality, ignorance, and pain. Somebody has to do something, and somebody does.

But for now, it's not me. I've resigned, after nearly seven years, my position as a board member for the Womens Crisis Support Team, a still-passionate grassroots organization addressing local domestic violence. But I will soon follow my heart into  an organization such as CASA, which advocates in the legal system for child victims. I'm fortunate to do paid work for an affordable health care organization, La Clinica, in Jackson County, Oregon. One of its program is Healthy Start, Oregon's most effective child-abuse prevention program. Tragically its funding has been reduced, and more cuts are threatened, putting at least 50 local kids, mostly babies and toddlers of first-time ill-equipped and isolated young moms, at risk for abuse and neglect. This drives me crazy.
So I create my own reality with plants, food, flowers, friends and family making November not such a bad time, after all. Some images to back up my claim.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Great cigarette giveaway

A follow-up to the found pack of Marlboros—cigarettes that I couldn't bring myself to toss because, as a reformed smoker,  I remember how disagreeably desperate it was to be addicted and fresh out.  Just last week I saw a guy scrounge a ground-out butt in the grocery store parking lot and light up right there. This guy would be a lot better off if he wasn't a smoker, of course, but it's not so easy. Ask anybody without the means to buy cigarettes who's reduced to stooping for butts, which was my occasional degradation as a super-addicted 20-something.

I dropped the pack in the same parking lot so it looked like it had accidentally fallen out of my car, then I peeked from inside the grocery store.
That lasted about two minutes. How sick am I to stand here watching the bait? And who/what am I trying to catch?

I got what I came for and was in the check-out line behind a 40ish woman, who was visibly twitchy. She initiated a conversation. It came out that she and her unemployed boyfriend had borrowed a car to come to town for food, which she paid for with food stamps. Usually they walk, but it was misting outside. (The cost of a pack of Marlboros at this store: $5.29.)

I blurted, "Do you smoke?"
'"What?! Well, yes. Can you smell it on me?"
"No, of course not!" I said. And I really couldn't. It was something about her twitching, not that twitching is a necessarily a characteristic of the nicotine-deprived.
"There's a pack of cigarettes in the parking lot by my car. Do you want it?"
She practically jumped me in her enthusiasm. She didn't ask why the cigarettes were there, but I told her that I planted them hoping a smoker would pick them up. She grabbed my arm and stared me in the eye. Her face was red and getting redder.
"Are they still there?!"
I could see that they were,  soggier by the second. We got out there in a flash. It had been maybe five minutes total. She picked up the pack and right away counted the treasure. Fifteen! Some were soggy. She could dry them!
"Thanks!" she called over her shoulder as she hurried to share the bounty.

Mission accomplished. As the title of my last post foretold: Gimme a toke, I'm so broke, gimme a cigarette I can smoke. I refuse to feel guilty.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Gimme a toke, I'm so broke, gimme a cigarette I can smoke

I spotted this pack of Marlboros alongside the road as I trotted along with my iPod last week. It looked like a fresh pack, and yes indeed, 15 cigarettes remained. Who would toss a pack of cigarettes?  A couple was arguing about one's inability to quit?  The other grabbed the pack and hurled it out the window as the car careened down the road, tires and voices screeching? Coulda happened, but the violence that likely ensued would have made the local news. You don't want to mess with a smoker's stash or wrestle with them over a nearly full pack in a moving vehicle.
Less likely, a solitary smoker, guilty and self-loathing, threw them in a fit of resolve. I don't think that would happen, though, because a person who wants to quit smoking would finish off the pack and then start a new life, which, of course, is going to be unbearable and hideous into the distant future.
Least likely of all, the pack fell out of somebody's pocket or backpack. Had that occurred, I think the person would've backtracked. Cigarettes cost around $4 a pack these days, and have you noticed that a lot of smokers, especially those who would be walking along a highway, look like they can't afford it? Not that smoking cigarettes has anything to do with having the means to support the habit. I'm as self-righteous as the next non smoker, and can't help but wonder how homeless people and wandering-around-town-at-all-hours-teens afford cigarettes.

I tucked the pack into my pocket and haven't been able to trash them. Why? Because somebody wants  them and, more critical, needs them.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Kick-butt kale soup

Kale is the best argument I know for having a winter garden. After the first freeze, fall-planted kale is sweet and tender enough for eating raw in salads and on sandwiches. And having heaps of it for soup is a nutrient-packed luxury. Above are the have-on-hand ingredients for last night's dinner, the most plentiful of which was the kale—with a few beet greens thrown in.  It was also the first use for summer's dried tomatoes, which are absolutely sinful when steeped in a rich broth. Also available as a drib and a drab from the freezer: a handful each of caramelized onions and shredded zucchini, plus a couple of links of Italian sausage and a little bulk Italian sausage, probably a pound in all.
Kick-butt Kale Soup
Italian sausage, links or bulk, about 1 pound
32 ounces vegetable or chicken broth
1 cup whipping cream or half and half

4-5 cloves garlic, minced
4-5 fresh jalapenos, seeded and chopped
(pepper flakes can be substituted)
2 medium (or 4 small) potatoes, cubed
(I prefer using cauliflower but
didn't have it.)
1/2 cup dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
 one large bunch of kale, torn from stems
1 chipotle cube (a staple in my kitchen but probably nowhere else.)
Makes 4 large servings, and is easily doubled.
Other things that could be added: canned, drained, and rinsed great northern-type beans; zuchinni slices, fresh or dried; sliced carrots; spinach instead of, or in addition to, kale.
Directions: Slice the links, if using, and saute in a large skillet or soup pot. If using bulk sausage, cook and break into pieces. Drain fat, if necessary. Add the cubed potatoes (or cauliflower) and the broth. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes or til the potatoes are tender/firm. Add the garlic, jalapenos, tomatoes, and kale and cook, covered, another 10 minutes or so. The kale should be tender but not mushy. Add the cream and heat through. I add a few dollops of sour cream and mix it in before serving, but fat-freak types can serve it on the side. Yum!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pepper Man in kitchen!

Why is it that even though men are, oddly, the most renowned  chefs, few show up in any useful way in the kitchen? Pinching ass and tasting soup, while marginally entertaining, don't count. However, I am pleased to report that my retired man is a chef in his fiery

soul, and here he is on a rainy Monday, mid-way into a four-hour labor of love, cooking salsa to can and perfecting serrano sauce to freeze. It is a beautiful thing. Two recipes going at the same time! Could he have imagined having so much fun in retirement?
Both recipes are heavily dependent on fresh peppers, the cultivation of which is his passion and the processing of which has become his obsession. Not that he's complaining.
To the left, a pic of serrano peppers hanging to dry in the solarium. Most often you'll see green serranos in produce aisles, but ohmigod red ripe serranos are so much better. The salsa ingredients are the typical tomatoes, onions, mild green peppers and jalapenos, which are still holding on our back porch. The canned salsa is thick and provides a great taste of garden throughout the winter. But the serrano sauce—the clearest red and most fiery best—is my favorite pepper sauce by far. Here are a couple pepper-lover recipes.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Does this look like the perfect biking road? It is. And today we discovered it because when we were en route to Klamath Falls, OR,  on an entirely different mission, we got a phone call that directed the day elsewhere.  No longer were we headed to a Klamath-area bike ride, a soccer game, and then out to dinner with our youngest son, Chris and others, because, at the last minute, he was going here instead.

Chris is like that. Adventure calls and he pirouettes on a wave of impulse and desire to follow his kayaking dreams. Well, hell. We can change plans too, and we did and this is what we got. Not bad. It's the road to Elderberry Flats campground and, if you keep going, to Cow Creek, and Azalea, and Glendale. We can't wait to bike the whole route, but not today. Today just six miles into the potentially 46-mile round trip,  the sky dumped buckets. That meant riding six miles downhill in a torrent, but in a perverse sort of way, I enjoyed it. It was 64 degrees, not quite cold enough for hypothermia, and wet leaves are more colorful and pungent than dry ones.

Vine maples glowing despite the rain.
It was heaven, but I didn't mind being blasted by the car heater.

                                                                Done for the day.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Fading into fall - Gardeners witness life on the fast track

A glowering sky, a stiff breeze, and plummeting temperatures brought an early look at what was to come.
Clear skies soon returned, which meant glorious Indian summer afternoons but also frost and serious trouble for tender tomatoes and peppers.
Fall  arrived in Southern Oregon in its usual drama queen fashion on Sept. 29. After weeks and months of dry heat and scorching sun, it was suddenly cold, damp, windy, and dark. In 24 hours we went from shuttering the house against the sun to firing up the wood stove, from shorts to sweaters,  from gin and tonics to hot toddies. The seemingly endless summer was over, and the gushing garden was sputtering toward dormancy. Still, it looked great hanging on under the glowering sky.

To coax a few more days of ripening from our cold-sensitive babies, we covered them with blankies. (2016 update. We still do this, but not this year as it is already Nov. 13, and we haven't had a frost.) 

Attempting to stave off veggie decline is kinda like plastic surgery for the garden. You know that  the annual plants that so recently vibrated with life and glory are soon-to-be-goners. They're fading into twisted vines and dusky crumbles, and within a couple months will have disintegrated into compost to live again as nutrients for next year's garden—small comfort as they face the inevitable. But still, in the fall, you try to save them with props and denial.

This may be a stretch, but I see something similar happening with my peers as we too dry into dusky crumbles. We have the major props going on, and I am not above hair dye and serious exercise, but I have to say. Why bother? (2016 update. I still bother!)

What's going to happen is inescapable. Gardens are teachers. They are life on the fast track.

 For most of my garden friends, it's eight or nine months max, start to finish. We gardeners see all these beings through from their astonishing emergence from seeds in February and March to lusty water-drinking sun-soaking life hounds in July and August to dying dogs tripping on their tongues in late September and October. Check out these I'm-going-to-live-forever-sunflowers in July, then on their last legs in mid-October.

We're so beautiful! they seem to shout with all that July color and drama.
Same beings a few months later. Sad, yes? But that's life.
Then into the garden refuse heap awaiting the grinder and, finally, the garden, where they're tossed onto rows to decompose over the winter. Could they even imagine such a thing back in July?

The garden heaped with leaves and refuse from the garden that just died.

2016 update. We deduced that feeding one year's garden refuse directly into the next year's garden likely promoted disease and insect infestation. We now spread the fall garden onto the orchard/pasture and use cover crops, manure, compost, and fall leaves to enrich the soil for the coming year

It's hard to watch, but damn, you can't help but draw the parallels. Do you know anybody who's heading into fall? Me? I think I'm probably late August, early September. Too early to sniff out the compost, but about ready to look into frost protection. And I'm not even thinking about winter.

2016 update
Now watching spinach and lettuce emerge in the cold frame, eagerly searching for light.
Late fall has arrived, but in true optimist fashion, I think that winter will be a long time coming. I'm looking forward to seeing the spinach finally emerge and enjoying a tender salad of winter greens come March. 

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Still inventing - New Mexico chili pepper casserole

I recognize that not too many people are loaded with their own garden-fresh New Mexico type peppers. If you are, drop to your knees and do the wave. If you aren't, hie on down to the farmer's market, where it is pepper season to the max. Peppers are the last to go in our southern Oregon summer garden. They outlast the tomatoes, cukes, melons, and zukes. Even if their leaves blacken, the peppers themselves are A-OK.  Frost has taken a couple of big bites, but our bedsheet cover-ups have saved the day. So I've fired up the grill and have been roasting like crazy. The freezer exudes the faintest whiff of roasted peppers, and the house tonight is redolent with rich pepper essence. I swoon. Here's a simple  way to use 25-30 mild green chili peppers, say Big Jim or Anaheim.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Inventing Dinner

For years PK and I have marveled at our daily fare. We think it is the best in the world, and I'm not kidding. That is SO swaggering, but please bear with me. I bow before you whose Monday plates and Tuesday repasts and Wednesday feasts and home-cooked meals throughout the week also bring you to your knees with gratitude and praise. O holy skillet! Masterful grill! Garden font! Made-up recipes!

We  unabashedly exult (no one is around to hear, so we really go for it it) and imagine frequently what it might cost to eat what we eat if we had to buy it in restaurants, if we even could get it. We are the most ridiculous home-cooking foodies I know.

We couldn't afford comparable restaurant meals, for one thing. I have eaten in a few great restaurants —Italy comes to mind. But in general,  I can't remember a restaurant meal that I enjoyed as much as what we eat almost every night, even though I risk sounding prideful because I am the primary cook. (I cook. PK cleans up. That's our deal. Together we grow the food.) But I create the meals, chop the onions, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes etc. etc. etc., and it is a Zen exercise every time. More on the pleasure of kitchen details later, perhaps. But on to  dinner.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dancing Into Fall

This is my young friend Katarina dancing joyfully in the mint-scented grass last night while cool winds blew fall into Southern Oregon. Rain was in the forecast, chill was in the air, and we celebrated the shift with our favorite thing. We cranked up the outside speakers and twirled, twisted and stomped til exhaustion to the musical mix she'd put together for me from her favorite dance tunes—18 high-octane gotta-boogie songs by artists ranging from The Who and The Police to Sublime and Bloc Party. Fueled by a little syrah and a lot of synergy that happens when two girls who love to dance get together, dusk turned to dark and the hours fell away and I didn't think too much about the fact that she's 40 years younger. Than I am.

Fall always dredges up that fading-into-old-age crap that's difficult to ignore when the flowers wither, the corn stalks rattle, the squash vines crumble, and the tomato and pepper plants shrink in dread of the soon-to-bite first frost. It's a little too easy to draw parallels with the waning hair color, the wrinkling skin, and the sagging unmentionables. In the garden, it won't be long before all but the insect-and-disease-affected plants will be tossed into the compost or ground up to plow right back into the garden from whence they came. Their energy doesn't vanish, though, it just changes. Their life current persists, and they'll return next year in other vibrant forms.

That's how I think about music and dancing—as current that persists and wells up in rhythm that feels like life itself moving. Switch on the right music, and it plays me. It plays Katarina, too, and my son Chris, and yoga teacher, Denise, and another young friend, Parker, and a few others I know who are blessed (some might say cursed) with the irresistible need to move to music. It is good to reaffirm that since I am undeniably in my own fall season, I can channel the unfathomable power of rhythm and dance to juice things up and keep the green going and going and going. Will it ever be gone? Not as long as I can hear and move and turn on the music. Loud.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Chipotle, Southern Oregon Style

If the above looks like a pile of sun-dried dog do, skip on over to another blog. But if you recognize these units as amazingly flavorful freshly smoked dead-ripe jalapeno peppers— better known as chipotle— you've come to the right place. What you see is the result of about 70 days of Rogue Valley, Oregon sun and soil and 15-20 hours in a little Chief Smoker loaded with smoldering cherry wood. Ohmigod! Chipotles can be purchased, but according to Dave DeWitt's Chile Pepper Encyclopedia, they will be inferior to the genuine article, which in all humility, is what you see here. You gotta start with RED RIPE jalapenos, which I have never seen in grocery stores, but then I've always lived in Podunk, USA, beginning with Minot, North Dakota, and ending, happily, with small acreage outside of Rogue River, Oregon.

Green jalapenos are great, especially in pico de gallo and other salsas, when you can't wait for red ones, but they don't have the deep flavor and sweetness necessary for the quintessential chipotle. Some farmers' markets sell red jalapenos, or you can make a special request to a grower, as a friend did, to let the peppers ripen before picking. Best yet is to grow them yourself. If you have a climate comparable to the Rogue Valley (or Southern New Mexico), no problem!

PK is a pepper addict whose passion I've come by through osmosis. I use chipotle —and about a dozen other peppers—year-round in my own kitchen, and love giving chipotle peppers as a special gift to friends and family. Here's what a smoker load of about-to-be chipotle peppers looks like. The stems are removed, but that's it for prep. So pretty!

Once the peppers come out of the smoker, they are anywhere from brittle to slightly pliable. If they're still tacky, they should be stored in the freezer. I put most in glass jars. This year, the first batch wasn't out of the smoker for 10 seconds—we had a pent-up demand for chipotle, nerves were frayed—before I snared enough to stuff a pint jar, fill it with scalding water, and wait a few hours for those babies to rehydrate so I could make chipotle cubes.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Backyard Biking on Birdseye Creek Road

Cycle Oregon riders departed from their adventure yesterday, but I remain in the Mythical State of Jefferson, which is perfect because this is exactly where I want to be. Having 2,000 visiting cyclists in the region—and right here in the neighborhood—last week inspired reflection about the place I accidentally landed 30-some years ago. It made me appreciate home territory anew, and I looked with special fondness at my personal neighborhood workout hill—Birdseye (pronounced Birds-eee) Creek Road, classic State of Jefferson terrain, which is minutes from my backdoor. It's three miles uphill, down in a flash, and about 30 minutes max, start to finish. Doable even when I "don't have time" or "don't feel like it." But always a challenge.

I've burned enough calories on that hill in the past 25 years to equal several barrels of cabernet sauvignon and a gymnasium-sized slab of dark chocolate. (These are my major vices, but by no means my only ones.) It is a contest about what is going to prevail: my exercise or my excesses. So far I think, it's neck and neck. I eat and drink what I want and credit Birdseye hill (and yoga), with keeping me more or less in line.

I never tire of Birdseye Creek Road. It's a mini-topo trip through State of Jefferson bioregions, and with almost no traffic, even an aging but earnest biker like me can enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells along the way. To get to Birdseye, I navigate .3 of a mile of Rogue River Highway, which is sometimes an annoyingly busy road, but still offers a good look at the Rogue Valley's claim to fame: the Rogue River.

Birdseye Creek Road is a right turn off the highway and takes a sweeping curve past the lower pasture of the Birdseye Creek Ranch, where cattle enjoy lush pasture. I've seen cattle in the eastern Oregon desert and worse, in feedlots. Those cattle can't imagine such luxury as this:

The road climbs to a higher pasture, still part of the original 360-acre Birdseye homestead, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and also for sale.

Already the terrain is drier and madrones and oaks dominate.

I love madrones and the mixed woodlands where they prevail. This time of year—late fall—after several hot dry months, their bark peels in characteristic fashion, and the forest smells fresh— sweet and astringent at the same time. If I walked in it, the forest duff would crackle and release sweet fragrant oils. Climb, climb, climb, and the hills close in and the creek can be seen and heard and the woods look like this:

And this—mixed pines, firs, big-leaf maple and much more:

I can't see worth a damn, so maybe my sense of smell is heightened. But I know that each of these patches along 3 miles of country road has its own distinct perfume. I suck it in on the way up, and catch snatches of it on the way down. Then I go home and eat chocolate.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Cycle Oregon- State of Jefferson!

I'm a Cycle Oregon wannabe, for sure. The big pulsating Power-bar-eating snake of 2,200 riders moved thru my State of Jefferson neighborhood today, and I couldn't resist cycling along part of the bike route. I had a noon meeting in Grants Pass and allowed time to ride the 10.5 miles from my home near Rogue River to the meeting place in time to change into civilian clothes and spare fellow Rotarians my spandexed thighs. En route I hoped to tuck into a pace line, put my head down, blur my legs into a spin, and reach Grants Pass in record time. And also pretend to be part of The Ride, of course.

Alas, the snake wasn't on the road yet. So my pretending had to be that the drivers who passed me, and who certainly knew to expect Cycle Oregon on this road, were in awe that this older broad was leading the pack! What a stud! I flashed cavalier smiles and did that cool finger wave that cyclists execute without removing their hands from the handlebars. On my way home, however, the snake was on the road, and I lamented those pace lines rocketing by in the opposite direction. Sigh. A sag wagon passed me and flashed a sign warning, "WRONG WAY!!!"
I yelled, "I live here!"

And you know what? On all kinds of levels, I'm glad I do. Take friends, for example. A few minutes later, I got a flat. I can't remember having had a flat in 20 years. I didn't have a spare tube, tools, or anything else that I needed except a cell phone. A few minutes later, a rescue was in motion. I can think of a half dozen people I could call who would come to my aid at a moment's notice, and one jumped into immediate action. That's a huge benefit of living in the same place for 30-some years. You can count on people when you need them. And they can count on you.

But then living in the State of Jefferson has it's own rewards. It is a West Coast region that is seriously different from images that the words "West Coast" conjure. PR folks call it a "state of mind." It is mostly rural, although we have a number of small cities and towns, some of which are culturally sophisticated and upscale. It is a mixed bag philosophically and politically, although we're historically more red than blue, and there are quite a few who are stockpiling guns. However, we share a common love of forests, rivers, mountains, and the rich but quirky agricultural scene that's developing in place of the historic logging and fishing industries—everything from bison ranches to organic farms to the ubiquitous vineyards. There are places here that time has touched only lightly, and just about anywhere in the S of J, you can be in wilderness within 30 minutes.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Making a Mean Marinara- updated

Updated August 23, 2015
Email subscribers, please click on the blog title to get to the website where photos look better and text is easier to read. 
There's a lot going on here. Fresh cucumber/sweet onion salad, zucchini noodles, balsamic glaze drizzled over all, but the star of the show? Thick and rich homemade marinara.
We could about fill a bathtub with the tomatoes from our garden.  We could take turns lolling in the red, lush and lovely Romas, Celebrities, Early Girls and Brandywines to convert them to mush in preparation for making marinara. The sticky sweetness would drip from our limbs, and we could funnel some of the juices into our upturned and smiling mouths before diverting them into pots to boil and bubble into wondrous sauce for eggplant Parmesan, lasagna, spaghetti and so on to bring summer back during the inevitable dark, dank, dreary months.
Romas are the best choice for marinara as they are meaty with not as much juice to cook down.
But don't worry. You don't have to watch for hair or scabs in your spaghetti sauce, should you be invited to dinner. My best friend in the kitchen—the Cuisinart food processor—does all this squishing and smashing in a hot minute.
Process thoroughly to puree the tomato skins, which you do
NOT need to remove. Keep the fiber and the vitamins.
I ignore recipes when making marinara, especially any that require plunging tomatoes into boiling water first to remove the skins. DO NOT DO THIS! It adds immeasurably to the work and makes no difference in the end. Except for you've salvaged for your sauce all the fiber and flavor in the tomato skins.

Here's a rough guide on how to take advantage of tomato season to make a mean marinara for dinner and also the freezer. I'm not being coy with the "rough" stuff. So many recipes are approximations. When you're dealing with fresh garden produce, either from your own backyard or from farmers' markets, exact amounts depend on the cook's creativity. (Except, of course, when you're canning and absolutely must adhere precisely.) So here's how I make marinara, and you can adapt to fit whatever you have on hand.

Rich Delicious Marinara using Fresh Tomatoes


  • 12-15  pounds of fresh tomatoes, mostly romas, cored and pureed
  • 6-7 ounces of prepared basil pesto, without cheese. In the absence of pesto, process in a food processor 10-12 cloves of garlic, 2 packed cups of fresh basil, 1/2 + cup of olive oil, a 2 teaspoons of salt, and 1/4 cup of pine nuts or walnuts 
  • 2 large winter onions, chopped fine
  • a teaspoon each of finely crushed dried fennel seeds, oregano, thyme and rosemary
  • 2-3 finely chopped jalapeno peppers, seeds removed, if you relish a little hotness. Or you could add pepper flakes to taste.
  • salt and pepper to taste, using kosher, sea, or smoked salt. Smoked salt adds a whole new dimension.
  • 1-2 tablespoons honey, if needed
A cheat: If you lack the patience or inclination to simmer anything five or six hours, add a small can or two of tomato paste early on. It'll still be a great marinara.

Start with dead-ripe fresh tomatoes, the redder the better. Roma types are best, but I also use round tomatoes that need to be used. Rinse, then cut off the stem end and core. Squeeze out seeds (and a lot of juice), tear or cut once or twice and load up the food processor. Process until there's nothing but air-fluffed tomato puree, then dump into your cooking pot. Often I have a couple pots going at the same time. Keep adding pureed tomatoes until the pot (uncovered, of course) is full.  Cook at low/medium heat until the volume is reduced by half.  Stir often to make sure it's not sticking. When the volume is about half add the rest of the vegetables and seasonings.
This is A LOT of pureed whole tomatoes! I had to scoop three 
cups out so it didn't spill over the sides. This large deep stainless
steel pan has become my favorite for making marinara.
That's it. Simmer until it is reduced by at least half the original volume. This can take hours. There should be very little watery stuff at the top. I always have to tinker with the seasonings near the end. Taste and adjust to your satisfaction. What we don't eat for dinner, I freeze flat in quart bags.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Bike ride with iPod - Ghostland Observatory

These are among my favorite people to bike with, and my favorite human beings in general: PK, of course, and Dave & Gail Frank. There they are posing by the Covered Bridge in Wimer, not really a town or even a village, but today, anyway, a lively locale with a packed and well-studied public bulletin board advertising 42 free laying hens, three free horses, goats-for-nothing, and more! A sad commentary on the rotten economic times, of course, but so rural and endearing nonetheless. I love the rural life and am sorry that so many are in distress. More on that another time. Today we reveled in our good health and good fortune to be here now and rolling along the dips and turns of East and West Evans Creek and Pleasant Creek roads.

We pedaled an easy 27 miles in glorious early fall weather through the Evans Valley. It was fine. But even without my husband and friends, I would have relished the outing because of this unit: my personal training instrument, my beloved musical companion, my very own dance partner - the iPod! This little number has revolutionized my workout life, and maybe even my life overall. I plug this baby in and dance on the bike. I dance in the garden. And in the kitchen. And on the trail. Almost anywhere, even if it's just to tap my feet. Today C.C. Adock got me pumping hard uphill just because - Y'all'd think she'd be good 2 me. And Dire Straits and Money for Nothing always get me going. No matter where I am or what I'm doing, I have to dance to certain music. And i mean HAVE to. Unfortunately, I don't get that many opportunities to actually DANCE, so dancing on the bike is an acceptable alternative to cavorting with a human being, namely PK. The playlist displayed is one I put together for my young friend, Katarina, who loves dancing as much as I do. If you love to dance, I mean LOVE, you oughta try these numbers, in addition to those displayed: Stealin All Day, C.C. Adcock; Pump it Up, Elvis Costello; A Little Bit of Riddim, Michael Franti; Moondance, Van Morrison; We're Only Going to Live So Long, Alejandro Escovedo; Life During Wartime, and MANY others by the Talking Heads. And Midnight Voyage and Sad, Sad City by Ghostland Observatory.

I'm sure that the two wildly talented young guys who are Ghostland Observatory would be shocked, perhaps delighted? to learn that a woman 3 times their age rocks out to their music, which is not at all like what she grew up with. But one of the greatest developments of the past decade is the erasure of lines between what music belongs to one generation or another. If I can listen to Ghostland Observatory on Austin City Limits, which I did, then download my faves from iTunes, then transfer to my iPod and rock out on the bike, woohoo! I love it. The songs listed are current favorites. I have more. Many more.