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.