Thursday, December 30, 2010

A mother's nightmare; a mother's dream

Chris' self portrait taken in the garden in late December 2010 is symbolic. This is his home, and he loves it. But he's a ghost here, always en route to a new adventure. 
 I read about your son--truly a mother's nightmare. I was wondering how you restrain yourself from locking him in his room until I read the follow-up story about how much he loves what he does. I'm glad he is home for a bit--I'm sure you are too.
The email message above arrived yesterday and made me study my wonderfully alive and well son sitting at his computer editing his photos from Africa. What happened in Africa in early December was a "mother's nightmare," and a father's and a family's nightmare as well. A horrific tragedy occurred, and Chris could have been the victim as easily as the man who died. 
If you're reading this, you likely know that Chris was one of three kayakers on an expedition that entailed paddling rivers never before navigated in the heart of Africa—the Democratic Republic of Congo. They successfully ran incredibly challenging whitewater, something they've done all over the world. They know how to measure a rapid's or a waterfall's risk and weigh the consequences of error. They can walk away, and they often do. But a giant crocodile exploded from the Lukuga River, grabbed one man by the shoulder and capsized his kayak. Hendri Coetzee was gone. 
Chris and his companion, Ben Stookesberry, were stunned and horrified. There was nothing they could do for Hendri, so they paddled furiously and pulled out of the river at a village less than a kilometer downstream. They told villagers the tragic story and asked for help looking for Hendri. But the villagers, who were otherwise helpful, refused to enter the river. The croc, estimated at 15-feet long, had already killed nine people in recent years. 
The next day, vacationing in Costa Rica, PK and I got an email from Chris informing us of what had transpired. Our first thought, "Thank God it wasn't Chris!" Then guilt  because somehow that equates to we're glad it was the other guy. But that's not true. We're deeply sorry that anyone died this way. Our hearts go out to Hendri's family and friends. I  regret never getting to meet such an incredible young man, and am grateful that Chris was able to benefit from Hendri's energy, experience, and insights.

Media frenzy ensued. 
An AP  quote, via email,  from PK and me in Costa Rica:
All of us with loved ones engaged in extreme risk as a lifestyle and vocation live in dread of getting bad news, but at the same time we are wildly proud of our sons for their courage and determination to be explorers in a time when most people think terrestrial, social, and environmental exploration is over. We didn't know Hendri, but will miss his presence on earth and in the life of our son.
Amen to that. But what about that impulse to "lock him in his room?"
Last spring I called Chris as I was obsessing about his plans to run a big, bad waterfall. "Why do you have to do this," I asked. "What's the point?"
The point was he wanted to do it, he said. And, he added, I was in greater danger driving than he was running waterfalls that he had carefully measured himself against. Ten minutes later,  on a deserted street in our quiet little Oregon town, a man had a heart attack while driving and plowed into the back of the vehicle I'd exited about a minute earlier.  My car was totaled, spun around and pointed the other direction. The errant driver died. So could have I. 
Ok, Chris, I believe you. Perhaps risk is relative, and the greatest danger is mediocrity, of playing it safe, of avoiding risk. (says she with a blog entitled Ordinary Life!) Well, I have to tell you. One of life's greatest risks—and joys—is having children. You raise someone as far as you're able, then they're launched and all you can do is watch and hope. Loving someone as deeply as most parents love their children is a huge and unavoidable vulnerability. Loving children is a exploration into the depths and heights of being human. It is at once dangerous and thrilling. I hope one day you dare to take the plunge. 
I'm not advocating that our youngest son forsake his adventuring soul and give it all up for a  home in the suburbs or work in a cubicle. My dream for him is that he can continue exploring the globe and his inner self, accepting physical and mental challenges, and make a living doing so. He's one of an elite group of seekers who dares to step far outside the boundaries of what most others think possible. But I also hope  that he never turns completely away from the ordinary life of making a home and  having a family. Because it's good, too, and has its own rewards—and even an occasional thrill. 

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Thanksgiving retrospective

I never thought I'd eat a wild turkey, but once you start, you can't stop! Cooked, of course. 
"Retrospective" sounds heavy, but don't worry. There's nothing serious about Thanksgiving these days, except for serious fun. I have a seriously ordinary life, as my blog title indicates, but a few times a year I rise out of the grinding slog of food production, cat placation, and the very real and pathetic toil of trying to turn back the relentless processes overtaking  my aging body to forget all that and get down.

Last year's post tells a lot about Thanksgiving that I won't repeat. This year was a rolicking continuation, but with more people, including the most darling Korbulic, Noah, a new life on earth for whom I am truly grateful.
Six-month-old Noah with mom, Heather, taking a break from reading Dr. Seuss.
I can't think of anything more life-affirming than a baby so incredibly delighted with everything. 
Nine of the female cooks, and one brave male, posing behind the feast. We're all about substance, not presentation, so the dishes are arranged buffet-style on the ping pong table (ping pong being a fiercely executed two-day contest) atop cardboard to protect the table. The Franks actually transport the table from their wine barn, along with a Bocci Ball set and Washoes, a game sorta like horseshoes. 
The cool new thing this year was going local. We cooks and food-producers—that includes everyone in attendance one way or another, and this year we had 20 (or was that 21)— determined last year to make the 2010 Thanksgiving a local feed.
We're so with the locavore trend, aren't we? It's harder than it seems. We pared down to an 80 percent commitment. Where you gonna get salt? The mandatory Crowley cheese?  But anyway, the feast was primarily homegrown and homemade, gleaned from our gardens, cold frames, vineyards, (thanks, Franks, for all the wine!) freezers, and in one case, the fields and forest.
Tom, left, with a 25-pound wild turkey, and Gordy, with a more chicken-sized bird. We ate them both for dinner.
The birds, not the men. I arrived at the assassination scene moments after the birds were dispatched several days before Thanksgiving. They'd been feeding  in the Frank's grain-baited field.  These two were blown away in a second. I helped a bit with feathers and guts while the birds who died for us were still warm. They were thanked.
I felt not even a twinge of guilt. None. I feel  remorse for animals grown to kill and who live in feedlots and crappy stalls, and the commercial  turkeys whose breasts get so large they can no longer stand.  It's much more humane to "harvest" a wild turkey, and much healthier, too. At this advanced stage of life, I regret not learning to hunt, as several of our acquaintances do, but few women. I used to abhor hunting, but since deciding I am comfortable on top of the food chain (except for grizzlies, tigers, etc.) I would ideally  prefer taking responsibility for what I eat. I know this isn't going to happen. But still. We know many families whose freezers are full of elk, venison, and, especially, wild salmon. I think we can at least manage to fit in some salmon by rearranging tomatoes, chard, and peas.
Gail had some fancy wild-turkey recipe that called for wine,  raspberries and bacon.
The bacon came from right down the road, by the way, along with a ham that was on the
Thanksgiving (ping pong) table. 

The birds in bags ready for the oven.

Ready to eat! I expected tough and gamey, but not at all.
It tasted like, well, regular turkey. Delicious. 
In addition to the turkey, culinary highlights included Rogue Creamery smokey blue cheese, an incredible raw apple pie (when Shelley provides the recipe, I'll post it.), salmon, fresh green salads, veggie dishes, and abundant cabernet & syrah and other red varietals, much contributed by the Franks from their home vineyard.  Our festivities required two days at Whisper Canyon Ranch, a wonderful oh-so-Oregon forested hollow near Lake Selmac. Did I mention that all but six of us sleep in a bunkhouse! It's a cushy bunkhouse, though, with dividers between bunk beds, a great woodstove, and numerous toilets, showers, and sinks.
Thanksgiving is an activity-packed two days, each culminating with a dance party—for those who can last past too much to eat, too much to drink, and non stop fun. That would be me, among others.

And that was just the start of my getting-down-ness for the holiday season. PK and I leave tomorrow for nearly 3 weeks in Costa Rica, where amidst the fronds and frogs, cloud forests and smoking volcanoes, we'll escape the dreary spectacle of commercial USA Christmas and try to retain the pure and free spirit of Thanksgiving. Too bad we couldn't take the whole gang with us.
For more photos...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Crisis of confidence

I've started four blog posts since Oct. 31, and have yet to complete one. I reach a certain pathetic point and say, who cares? And then ordinary life calls me away from the computer.
Years ago when I wrote a weekly newspaper column, I often had the same self-defeating thought but had to forge ahead regardless of everyday demands. There's a lot to be said for deadlines. Dogs resulted, but I occasionally produced something that pleased me. Reading over those columns 25 years later, too many make me cringe. Others make me a proud of what I was once able to think and write. I'm older now. Can I still do it?
My everyday life is focused on gardening and cooking, much of which is linked to my 36-year marriage to PK; keeping fit with yoga and cycling; fulfilling my requirement for heavy backbeat music and vigorous dancing; shepherding my sweet almost-94-year-old mother through her last years; keeping up a part-time writing/editing business; maintaining precious friendships; traveling when possible, and sustaining a supportive role for the Women's Crisis Support Team, a domestic violence non profit in Grants Pass. What comes gasping at the end is artistic expression via blog writing and photography. I also dream of textile art (why else have I saved all those fabric scraps and wine sleeves?)  drawing, painting, and putting together creative projects on behalf of our adorable first grandson, Noah Preston Korbulic, nearly six months old.
That's him. Noah. Most adorable Duck fan ever. 
Our two grown sons, who were once at the dead center of my universe, are still prominent but they have edged into outer orbits with their own so-interesting lives to be followed from afar. Electronic telescopes work. Email, Facebook, blogs, text msgs,  occasional phone conversations, and the too-infrequent in-person visits that always surprise and delight me. Who is this handsome young father, husband, and about-to-be Ph.D? And the extreme athlete adventurer whose current African expedition keeps me awake at night?
The young father will soon learn that his child is not his for long, but belongs to the universe; and the wandering son will know, if he doesn't already, the truth of this Stephen Crane poem:

          A man said to the universe. 

"Sir I exist!" "However," replied the universe, 
"The fact has not created in me 
A sense of obligation." 

And that brings me back to my universe: the simple little plot of Earth that PK and I temporarily claim as our own. It is 3.5 acres of Rogue Valley bottomland. We live in a modest but much-loved home that we started building 30+ years ago. The soil here is sticky fertile black clay, but through the years we've reclaimed a sizable piece, and with mountains of organic matter, have turned it into sweet friable soil that releases an intoxicating fragrance when turned over, and produces, with much toil and love, food that sustains us. This piece of land is small. But it belongs to us, to PK in one way and to me in another. So let's get to that.

These late-season serranos, jalapenos and assorted others were harvested earlier this month. Peppers are PK's labor of love. I love them too, but am glad he plants the seeds and nurtures the seedlings and weeds, thins, harvests, and makes the pepper flakes and cans the sauces and so much more. 
After having declared the summer harvest over and done several times, last on November 13, I was delighted to discover the world's sweetest cherry tomatoes still ripening in a once-hidden corner of the garden. I picked a berry basket and declared it quits on summer harvest. On Nov. 18th, I ventured  into the rain and wind, and little golden nuggets beckoned again. Unbelievably, there was another basket to pick! See how jewel-like the universe can become when one is focused on an infinitesimal patch of Earth? Well, I guess you had to be there. 

These are the last- harvested round and paste tomatoes, Nov. 8 Many years the garden is inundated by this time.

And these are Roma types that have been ripening inside since early November. 

Tomato removal in progress. So many green ones didn't reach maturity, but we still had the most prolific tomato harvest in memory. All those green ones on the vine will go into the pile in the next picture.

These are spent vegetable plants tossed into a thick row in the field outside the garden. PK will run the tractor/mower over to grind them into mulch. We won't put this stuff back into the garden, however, because we don't want to reintroduce any bugs or diseases.
This is the garden as it looks now, more or less. It's to-bed for the winter. But beneath the white permeable cloth are broccoli, kale, brussels sprouts, and cabbage plants. The cold frame has been placed in front of the house, and in late December (when we return from a trip to Costa Rica) we'll plant spinach, lettuce and chard. The elevated rows are heaped with compost (grass clippings, leaves, kitchen waste, manure) that brewed in the trenches all summer. At the right rear, covered with a layer of straw, is next year's garlic crop. Beyond that, tattered prayer flags that need to be replaced. And beyond the garden fence, the future home of bovine and porcine types that PK fancies will join us.
 Nite nite, garden. See ya in February, when I'll be cutting kale, weeding garlic, and planting beets and peas. Unless the uncaring universe plucks me up and sets me down elsewhere. You never know, do you?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Real work and paid work

Since returning from almost a month of vacation in August, I've felt pressured and pushed. Poor me! I have paid-work projects, which I take seriously and try to do my best work in the shortest time. I separate my paid writing/editing work, for which I charge an hourly fee, from my home-and-garden-work, for which I am paid in fresh fruit and veggies, and in the winter, fruitful trips to the freezer and canning cupboard. Also, I like roving the garden with birds flitting about and sunlight glancing off the squash plant leaves and lovely aromas wafting off the roses.

Then I have body-maintenance work, which is the time I must put in to keep my aging self functioning well. This involves bike rides that must be either really hard and uphill, even if brief (35-45 minutes), or more moderate but longer - 30-35 miles. I'm about to get out there for the arduous but lung-and-muscle-building pull up Birdseye Creek Road, my own personal outdoor-workout studio. (In the winter I often walk/trot up this hill.) I also have to go to yoga class twice a week.

Yoga is key to balance, strength, and flexibility. Because of yoga, I can do the splits, remember?  My latest body-maintenance-aging-denial activity is a class called Cardio Sculpt at the Knockout Dance Studio in Grants Pass, which I attend once weekly, and once even stayed the next hour for a Zumba dance class, which, of course, I love. I am the oldest person in Cardio Sculpt by about 20 years. The music is loud and electronic and, of course, I love it. Zumba is more age-friendly and there are several women who may be close to my age, at least in their fifties.

Well, anyway. I'm thinking a lot these days about what I have to do and what I want to do. Let's say that yoga and dancing fall into the later category.

Summer garden's last gasp

It isn't pretty out there in the cold mist of the garden, but since we haven't yet had a hard frost, some summer veggies are holding their ground, mainly tomatoes and zucchinis. Now we know who our friends really are.  But fall/winter gifts are coming, and we look forward to some tasty and nutritious winter salads. The work is winding down!
For now the garden tasks include: processing the remaining tomatoes, about 50 pounds that are now ripening on the  dining room table; making serrano sauce out of the peppers languishing in the back porch,  chopping/freezing the remaining pepper varieties, then cleaning and storing garlic harvested in August and now endangered in the moist damp of the garage. That's it!
Tomatoes and peppers harvested October 27, 2010. Late!

A season-transition harvest photo: the last of the zukes, but fall/winter chard and lettuce are just getting started. 
I'm grateful for all the bounty—which required a lot of hard work—but so happy that harvest is all but ended and we can kick back for several months and pull great food out of the freezer, the pantry, and the winter garden/cold frame and just sit around and read and start thumbing through the spring catalogs. (That "sitting around and reading" part was a big lie, but written with complete faith that someday we will both be able to relax enough to drop into a chair mid-day and read for a couple of hours. How old do we need to be before we're really "retired"?)

Truthfully, I look at the spot where I stand in my kitchen to process the garden and just generally cook, and wonder how many hours, over the past 30 years, I've been anchored in that same corner chopping, measuring, seasoning, tasting, drinking wine, and wondering. Wondering why.

Most of the time I'm in a Zen space. Chop chop, peel peel, sip sip. I enjoy on a primal level the colors, textures, and perfumes of the fresh foods beneath my knife and in my much-esteemed Cuisinart food processor, a treasured work-reducing friend. Lately, since the family is down to the two of us (with occasional extended visits from world-traveling-expedition-kayaking son, Chris, ) I question whether all this food production is necessary. Why can't we just go out to eat? Or buy deli food or something.

But crap. I know that I'm ruined, habituated to fresh food lovingly prepared, and PK is too. So while we can still plant and hoe, harvest and shell, chop and saute, it'll be cooking fresh, and we'll be eating incredibly well. Maybe we'll get over it. But probably not.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

October garden bounty

It's unusual for gardeners in Southern Oregon to have summer-like conditions in mid-October that result in August-like harvests. But I'm not complaining! Well, maybe I am. Today I harvested about 100 more pounds of tomatoes, lots of peppers, a few zukes, a handful of eggplants, and enough cukes to make a couple more sour cream cucumber/onion salads. The basil has succumbed to light frost, the corn is long gone, the eggplant now depleted, and the tomatillos never made it to fruition.The winter garden, however, is looking good and we know that lettuce, kale, chard, broccoli, cabbage, and brussel sprouts are in the near future. For now, we'll luxuriate in summer's long harvest.

Jalapenos, red & green, make everything better!

The weather forecast says that winter will arrive Friday (cold rain) and stick around for five days. And it's all downhill from there. So while it lasts, I celebrate the garden's fecundity and the resulting gourmet fare.....every-day amazing feasts.  If you'd like recipes for any of these, I'm happy to accommodate. Just respond in comments or email me at Spaghetti squash lasagna is especially deluxe.
Spaghetti squash lasagna. Amped-up flavor without pasta.

 Potatoes, zukes, onionx, garlic, and lots of peppers stir-fry.
Here's what the garden looks like these days. A sorry sight, except for the tomatoes ripening beneath dying vines, the frost-protected peppers holding forth and still ripening, and the winter veggies beginning to flourish amidst the mulch.

Friday, October 15, 2010

69 days 8 hours underground - Such a big deal!

The Chilean miners were trapped nearly underground for 69 days 8 hours. To quote a Newsweek online article.
To be sure, some of the potential problems for the men have easy fixes: a 3.19-inch-wide supply line provides them with food, water, and nutritional supplements such as vitamin D, which can replace the nutrients they are not getting from sunlight. But the physical and psychological toll of the darkness is harder to combat.
I do not dispute the horrific nature of being trapped underground in total darkness for any period of time, let alone more than two months. It's terrible. But these guys had a lifeline. They had food and communication with the outside world, and knew that their loved ones were anxiously hovering above.They had hope, and lots of it. They got organized. They were amazing.
And they were foresighted. They pledged to share equally in any and all profits from their ordeal. They realized with was coming.  Movies, books, trips, cash awards. Their entrapment could be the best thing that happened to these guys for surviving a compelling drama.

The media attention? You've seen it non stop. This could-have-been-tragedy became prime-media material because up until the last guy was on-top, one of them could have died in the claustrophobic tube in which they journeyed to the earth's crust, and we would have seen the resulting dead body on live television. It was comparable to when Baby Jessica (1987?) was trapped in the well and international media was brought to its knees in gratitude for a riveting story about which thousands of outlets reported second-by-second.

We all love a good story and we really want the best results, but just like in car races, we would not be averse to carnage, much as we might deny it.

Speaking of carnage, I don't have any pictures, but kids die anonymously every day because they don't have enough to eat, or can't get enough to eat because of cleft palates, or contract preventable diseases such as polio, malaria, or simple dehydration because of diarrhea. Few people pay attention, and the media is mostly absent. It's difficult to connect with these kids because we don't see their faces, except in those compelling ads about cleft palates, and there are so many of them!  I'm not even bringing in the multitudes of suffering adults. To have all these buried-alive miners was just an amazing gift to the media! It was so so easy. It's much harder focusing on silent and mostly invisible suffering.

I'm just going to draw attention to one kid, one rescue. I have her photo but I don't have her permission. So trust me, this is a real story. There was once an Indian baby left at an Indian orphanage when she was just days old because she was disabled.  Her young mother lived on the streets and couldn't possibly cope. So she gave her up.

This little girl wasn't in imminent danger of dying, but of living a low-level existence pretty much without hope. She'd have to leave the orphanage at some point, and then what? Live on the streets as a beggar? Probably. She has cerebral palsy. At the time we (her adoptive mother's friends) were brought into this small drama, she was two years old. She lived mostly in her crib vying with others in the crowded orphanage for a scrap of attention.

Her adoptive mother, a Stanford grad attorney and person of magnificent sensibilities and pretty-much-ignored disabilities, had toured India solo and saw the kids on the streets and in the orphanages and decided she wanted to help. Help just one. As a single person, she applied to adopt  a child with disabilities. Her family's cautionary warnings were shoved aside in favor of her heart's leading. It took two wrenching years. But finally she ended up with this child, by then more than four years old, although her weight was more like she was two, and she couldn't even begin to walk. Her little feet were curled under and her toes were clenched. She spoke not a word of English.

She howled for the first few days she was in her new home in Portland, Oregon. Now it's nearly two years later. She's had surgeries and therapy and walks! Well, she hurtles. But she navigates one way or another and speaks perfect English, and she has a future. Her education is assured. Health care is not an issue. This is a child who was spared from dragging herself around Indian streets in a life of begging. She has a loving extended family. I hope one day she will recognize this.

This hasn't been easy for the adoptive mom or her family, which has been incredibly supportive.
But back to those Chilean miners. Thank God they're safe, and thanks to the amazing technology and will that brought them to safety.

But let's not forget other rescues, those quiet but Herculean efforts which require incredible courage and strength and get little, if any, recognition. I'm pretty sure that if someday this little girl looks at her adoptive mom and says, Thank you, Mom. I love you, it will be better than all the media deals accruing to the miners.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Garden on a plate - can life get any better? (don't answer)

Chard, tomatoes, spaghetti squash, garlic and more make an amazing no-noodles low-carb lasagna.

October already!! Can it be? October means that at any moment, winter will set in and the late summer and fall harvest we've been relishing will come to a frosty halt. We will mourn the garden's passing the moment it begins in earnest. That's one bad thing about getting older. You know what's coming. 
But still. We now have soooo much! We're still collecting zucchinis, tomatoes, cukes, chard, a few eggplants, basil, dill weed and seed, parsley, and winter squash.

It's prime time for making summer-culmination dishes such as the voluptuous spaghetti squash and chard lasagna in the photo. No noodles, folks. And you won't miss them, especially if you're privy to fresh veggies.

This lasagna's success depends on fresh everything, including, of course, homemade from-scratch marinara sauce. The thing about the "recipe" linked in the previous sentence, is that it understates the amount of time required to reduce fresh tomato puree by half. For a large deep skillet or a soup pot full of freshly whirred-up garden tomatoes, figure at least eight hours at low heat.

Garden-fresh cooking requires devotion and patience. A good shot of tequila doesn't hurt to carry you along. First you must plant the seeds and grow the vegetables, then tend them throughout the growing season. You must be able to put up with stooping between the rows to tug at weeds and dodge the multitudes of birds and bees that have set up house in your microcosm. You'll be forced to endure the rich earthy aroma that arises in waves from between the tines of your pitchfork or garden shovel as you turn the soil or compost. Sometimes it's enough to make you swoon.

You'll need to brace yourself against the wildlife dramas that may play out, such as bluebirds being driven from their nests by swallows, or hawks swooping in to catch critters outside the garden fence. You must be steeled against the time-telescoping that gardens so brutally illustrate—that spring-summer-fall-winter cycle that you can't help but notice applies to all living things. Me? I'm maybe late fall, early winter. But I do have that grandbaby, Noah, in his earliest of spring seasons, to keep me grounded. I am so enjoying his sproutiness and even the ever-so-slight wilting of his over-worked parents' leaves. (See you soon, little sprig!)
Well, enough of the life/garden analogies. On to more photos and important cooking stuff.

Sour cream and vinegar cuke and onion salad, with classic Caprese on the right. This photo is my current screen saver, not that I'm a foodie, or anything. I am so shameless I could lick the screen. Cuke/onion salad recipe is below.
A couple days later, leftover "lasagna" on the left, with sliced tomatoes with dabs of chipotle sauce atop, and zuke, onion, and pepper stir fry. It's easy. See below. And a link to chipotle sauce recipe and more.

Spectacular spaghetti squash/chard lasagna
1 medium- large spaghetti squash, baked whole, seeded and removed in strands from rind
(To bake squash, prick with fork, place on oven rack and bake at 350 for at least an hour. Check with fork. When fork will penetrate easily, remove from oven and cool before handling.)
1 large bunch chard leaves, steamed and drained. Squeeze excess water before adding to casserole.
1/2 qt. ricotta cheese (or combination of ricotta, sour cream and cottage cheese)
1-2 eggs
1/4 cup pesto sauce (optional but recommended)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1-2 cups grated Italian cheeses
1 quart + marinara sauce
1 pound good spicy Italian sauage. ( I use Diestal turkey sausage)


Cook and crumble sausage and add to marina sauce.
Add an egg or two to the soft cheeses. Add pesto, if using. Mix well.

Ladle sauce to cover bottom of a 9X13 baking dish. Not a deep layer, just a thin covering. Add a thin layer of spaghetti squash. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Spread soft cheese mixture over all. Add a layer of steamed chard to cover completely. Sprinkle with Parmesan. Add another thin layer of spaghetti squash. Cover with generous layer of marinara sauce.

Put into pre-heated 350 oven and bake for 45 minute, and check then to see if the casserole is bubbling around the edges. If not, bake another 15 minutes. Turn off oven and remove casserole. Cover with Italian cheeses, including more Parmesan, and return to cooling oven for five - ten minutes to melt cheeses.
Let it rest/cool for 15 to 20 minutes before serving. Serve with grated Parmesan and pepper flakes.

Cucumber/onion sour cream salad
As with all my cooking advice, this "recipe" is a rough guide. Use your  instincts.
4-6 medium-sized cucumbers. I use the long burpless type. If the skin is bitter, peel the cukes. I generally use a vegetable peeler and make stripes.
1 small onion, preferably sweet, sliced thin
1/2 cup sour cream
2-4 tbsp. cider vinegar
2 tbsp. olive oil
1-3 tbsp. sugar or Splenda or other sweetener
salt and pepper to taste

Peel, or partially peel, the cukes. Slice thinly and spread in a colander. Sprinkle with salt on both sides. Let rest/drain for at least 10 - 15 minutes. Shake off water and squeeze gently. Put cukes in bowl with onions. Mix the sour cream, vinegar, oil, sweetener and salt and pepper then add to cukes and onions. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Hotszie tozie zukes, onions, peppers
4-5 small to medium zucchini, cut into equal-sized pieces
one large onion, thinly sliced
12-16 peppers, a combination of New Mexico types, bells, jalapenos, poblanos, whatever you have, chopped. Chop the hot peppers into smaller pieces.
olive oil
salt and pepper

Use younger zukes. Nothing with seeds developing. Slice into like-sized pieces. Saute in olive oil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. When pieces are beginning to brown and becoming translucent, remove from heat and set aside in a bowl.
Add a bit more oil to the pan, then dump in the sliced onion. Saute for a few minutes, then add the peppers and saute for a few more minutes. Turn the cooked zukes back in there and mix. Turn off the burner and give the cattle call. Expect a stampede into the kitchen because of the great aromas wafting off the peppers and onions. (Add a little garlic, if you feel the need for more chopping and aroma.)
Serve with sour cream or chipotle sauce or shredded  cheese, or all of the above.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The boy in Wal Mart's parking lot

I escaped from Wal Mart one recent sunny afternoon, the natural brightness a welcome contrast to the  bilious Wal Mart lighting, designed apparently to illuminate the mutants who shop there in flesh-draped droves. Where do these people come from?
I was contemplating that question when a young man suddenly appeared. He was gangly, dressed in tattered black clothing, and wore a furry animal-head hat with ear flaps. I think it was a puppy likeness. Nothing scary, but the hat seemed too warm for an 80-degree afternoon. He had a brindle pup on a leash. The way he leaned and cast his eyes, I could tell he was going to ask me for money.
He did.
"Can you spare a dollar so my dog and I can get something to eat?" He looked at me directly. I froze.

Usually, the panhandlers I encounter are at freeway exits or at the entries to shopping mall parking lots. I'm in my car. I'm in a hurry. I'm suspicious, especially when they hold crude handwritten signs conveying such platitudes as "Have a nice day," or "God bless!" I'm hardened.  I avert my eyes and gun it when the light changes or the car ahead of me finally moves. It's always uncomfortable and unsettling. 

As a newspaper reporter years ago I interviewed panhandlers and did not come away with much sympathy. But they were adults. Some were con artists. I'm sure they had horrible "inner child" issues. But this was a kid. I guessed he was around 16 years old.

"How old are you," I asked.
He said he was 18. I asked why he needed to approach strangers for money. He said that's how he survives, and that he'd been on the street since age 14. He said he was from California. I didn't ask more questions.
Of course I could spare a dollar. I could spare a lot more than a dollar. I gave him two. Big of me, right?
He thanked me profusely, yes, profusely, and walked away. I got into my hot car, and driving out of the parking lot, saw the puppy-dog hat heading into the nearby Taco Bell, the dog tethered out front.

That gave me pause. The direct result of my, uh,  generosity was that this kid could eat.
I drove into the Taco Bell lot and parked. It had been less than two minutes since I had bestowed two measly bucks on this kid, and already he was in line for a taco. Maybe he'd gotten lucky with a few other Wal Mart shoppers earlier, and my two made enough for him to buy a meal. But could he feed the pup?
I fingered the money in my wallet. There were some twenties and lots of lower denominations. I wadded up a few bills and entered the restaurant. There he was, perusing the menu, the third person in line. I took him by his unlined hand, and startled, he pulled away and stared. I don't think he recognized me. His eyes were red-rimmed. Does that mean he does drugs? Or that he is just tired and sad and hungry?
I didn't care. I pressed the bills into his hand and said something lame like, "Two dollars isn't enough to feed you both. This should help." Then I turned and left. I glanced back briefly. His mouth was agape.

I've been thinking about this a lot. There's enormous misery in the world, so much suffering and poverty and ugliness. When your life is good, you have the choice to ignore it all. You can because you have way too much to eat, live in a comfortable home, and travel about in a sealed metal unit with AC or heat, whatever you need. Your children are healthy and doing well and you are so proud.
You don't come into direct contact with people whose lives are incomprehensible. I am, most of the time, insulated from misery and happily growing tomatoes and riding my bike and, except for donating to  nonprofits and doing some board and volunteer work, I shut out the kid in the parking lot—and all the others.
But when you look a kid in the eye, when it becomes personal, you have to do something. So I was compelled to give this puppy-dog kid a little cash. Will I be tossing dollars out the Corolla window at panhandlers? Probably not. But I have added this non profit to my donate-to list. In my small rural community alone, there are at least 87 homeless kids.

Monday, September 6, 2010

A bear trip on the Rogue River

This mama and her cubs were our companions for two days as we camped at Brushy Bar on the lower section of the Wild and Scenic Rogue River in late August. It was a joy to share the river corridor with them without fearing that they'd raid our kitchen — or our tent to chomp us in the neck in the middle of the night. This photo was taken from our camp across the river. But the next day, this trio was with us, dining on abundant blackberries alongside our camp. Like maybe 20 feet away. Except for an occasional curious stare, they ignored us.
Here's the wimpy-looking bear fence at Brushy Bar.
I love it when somebody has an idea that seems improbable, and others pooh-pooh it, and then the idea turns out to actually work. Such is the case with the electrified bear-deterring enclosures on the lower Wild And Scenic Rogue River. The idea is you keep a clean camp, place your coolers and trash inside a low-profile electrified fence, and after bears get zapped trying to cross it without realizing that they could probably just step over it, they learn that those delectable odors are not so desirable after all.
This bear is maybe 20 feet away from the edge of our camp. It was so fun watching her strip the berries from the bush. Her cubs were nearby, learning the ropes. Imagine weighing 250 pounds or more and living off berries and insects, and that's during August,  the bounty time of year.
Then they go on to be natural bears and devour berries, grubs, insects, shoots, birds' eggs, an occasional fawn, and so on. 

It used to be that problem bears on the Rogue—that is bears who got addicted to eating human food—punctured boats and destroyed coolers and scared the crap out of people. This went on for years. Some of the more determined bears ended up dead, shot by government workers trying to protect the public. The Tate Creek area was infamous for cooler-raiding bruins, and I remember seeing campers in this area repairing their rafts after bear invasions. I personally made an foolish decision not to remove a large aluminum dry box from my raft when my river group stayed at Half Moon Lodge. I forgot about the Rice Krispie bars! The next morning I was horrified to see the top of the metal dry box bent at a 90-degree angle. A bear had easily defeated the nylon strap and a strong latch and escaped with the bars, which weren't any healthier for her than they are for us. Box repair cost $100 and my passengers, who had to sit on the box, which one of them first hammered into submission, were not quite as comfortable as they'd like.

During the 80's, 90's, and early 2000's, bear duty was part of river trip chores, which meant staying up to protect the coolers, garbage etc. from night marauders. Film cans—those now obsolete items—filled with ammonia and set atop food containers, were thought to deter bears. I'm not sure they were effective. But I am sure that on 100+ trips down the lower Rogue, I loved seeing bears along the bank—and one incredible time swimming in front of the raft—but didn't care for them in camp. They were a nuisance and, of course, a 250-pound black bear intent on eating your food, which you are trying to protect, is a potential physical threat. Although black bears, unlike grizzlies, are not known for attacking people.

Thanks to the bear fences, we can have our cake and coolers and our bears too. For more about the August 2010 Rogue River trip, check it out.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Late summer harvest & an eggplant recipe

Tomatoes are the garden star in August, followed closely by those glowing purple eggplants.
After a strange summer with a June that tried hard to be winter—and almost succeeded— and many night temps in July and August dipping near 50 degrees, the garden has finally come around. The fruits of our labors are spilling into the garden trenches, and the bounty pictured above is typical of what we harvest a couple times a week in late August into mid-September.  Melons are peaking and yesterday we picked seven more of the sweetest juiciest-imaginable cantaloupes living up their name, Ambrosia. 
The eggplants are abundant but a challenge. What to do with about 100 of them? Here are a couple ideas:

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

My summer vacay, part 1: BEARS!

When I mentioned to my auntie Ellen that PK and I were headed to Glacier National Park before going to what turned out to be a fabulous five-day wedding (vacay, part 2, coming soon), she wrote back in ALL CAPS that GRIZZLIES had been EATING and MAULING people in Montana just LAST MONTH and to WATCH OUT!

I paid scant attention, as my auntie is more cautious than most people, and besides, I hadn't seen the news accounts of the bear attacks and for some reason, I brushed the information aside as I packed my hiking shoes. Then we got to the park and around every corner we were confronted by GREAT BIG BEAR WARNINGS.The photo above is the cover of a brochure distributed at all the entries to Glacier NP. You probably can't see on this reproduction, but this bear has BLOOD around its ferocious human-devouring mouth! And this is just the beginning. The national parks have a major fear campaign going on, and I must admit, it worked on me. 

We went first to the Many Glaciers area on the east side of the park to pursue hikes recommended by Glacier-Park-frequenting friends. However, about half the trails, including the major ones, were closed due to BEAR DANGER. This danger, we were told, was because not only had bears been seen on or near the closed trails during recent park ranger sweeps, but bears had actually charged people. We were congregated in a ranger station with numerous other would-be hikers when we got this news,  and I asked: Which area would we be least likely to encounter bears?  The ranger, accustomed to clueless tourists and their stupid questions, responded, "All the trails have been closed due to bears at some time this year. There's no guarantee." In other words, around any corner of any trail, we could run into the very bear depicted on the brochure—a vicious tourist-charging blood-stained bear just itching to crush neck bones.

We discovered that this warning was at all trailheads.
We considered our options and bought some bear spray, which, incidentally, costs $47 + tax a pop. We would not have time to attend a Bear Spray Clinic, which is encouraged by another brochure with an even more ferocious bear on its cover. The sales clerk who sold the spray admitted she hadn't invested, as she was uncertain that, if confronted by an attacking bear, she would possess the presence of mind to deploy the spray without compromising her own position. Given seconds to respond, could she factor wind velocity and direction to avoid spraying herself and prevent turning into pitiful bear bait writhing on the trail? She thought not.
I had the same concern, but PK didn't share it. He thought that a bear attack would be slow in coming and he could figure out how to take the safety from the spray can and shoot the bear in the snout. Self confidence is a good quality in a man, and I think he could figure it out. But I don't believe bears are leisurely in their approach to charging. It didn't seem like a good time to argue, however, and PK carried the bear spray.

Our first hike was unsatisfactory. We headed toward a destination six miles away as we reviewed what we had just learned about bears. They like trails. They hang out by water and prefer heavy vegetation. This trail was along a lake and cut through major brush. Armed with our bear spray, we followed the directive to SHOUT OUT! frequently, and MAKE A LOT OF NOISE!  We felt really stupid doing this. We turned around after a couple miles. The next day, we had much better luck. And we came close to seeing a sow bear and her two cubs. A photo album and more about our almost-saw-a-bear-and weren't-very-scared experience follows. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Garlic harvest & garden therapy

On the left, your basic soft-neck garlic. On the right, the hard-neck types. In the center, person who seeks solace in the garden.
Banks continue to fail, including Home Valley Bank in Grants Pass last week. Home Valley Bank! Our rental-from-hell continues to suck big wads of money from our retirement. I don't understand the "economy" and usually think our family is "safe," but the sucking sounds are getting louder and closer. What to do? Get to the garden. Harvest the garlic.
PK hung some on the pegboard near the solarium to dry.

The rest is curing in the garage.

We had a great crop this year, planted in October 2009 and harvested just a few days ago. Most years we pull the garlic in June, but this year we were still having winter in June, so the garlic got a reprieve. This is our largest crop ever.  I wonder if garlic could repel the bad economic forces down at the local bank the way it scares vampires away? It's something to think about out there amidst the finches and swallows and bluebirds and butterflies and bees and flowers and earthy aromas and ripening tomatoes and eggplants and beans. I'm going out there right now.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Tourist territory 3 - Southern Oregon coast, and getting there

My niece Lisa feeling the power of a Pacific Ocean sunset on her first visit to the Oregon coast.
 My sister, niece, mother and I spent two days and one night traveling to the ocean from Grants Pass and back in early May. This post is by no means an exhaustive list of what to do and see. But it's what we did and what we saw and it was good. Very good.

First, traveling from Grants Pass, let's stop at It's A Burl in Kerbyville, which for the first three decades of trips en route from the Rogue Valley to the Oregon coast, I dismissed as "too tacky."
The owners live in this house, which is behind the store fronting the Redwood Hwy.
 When entertaining visitors a few years ago, however, we stopped and marveled for more than an hour. It's a Burl is worth your time no matter who you are.
Visitors can also see the "factory" and the burl storage area, and tour several fantastical tree houses and so on. It's free. Stop there. I'm not kidding. It's worth an hour, at least. Moving on, we reach the redwoods...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Today's take

You're not looking at radishes amidst all that green, but beets. Big fist-sized beets. The traditional magenta-colored ones are on the right and the scarlet harlots on the left. Having eaten both varieties two days running, I vote for the traditional. They're still saturated with color after cooking and oh-so-dripping-with beety sweetness—earthy. dense. stick-to-your-teeth beet-sugar flavor. The bright red beets turn pale and yellowish with cooking, although still delicious. But I'll go for the color and all those antioxidants purportedly stashed in deeply colored veggies and fruits.

In the basket, what's left of the spring broccoli and peas. In the background, a big wad of chard, with much more to come and a lot already in the freezer. Tonight we devoured all that chard for dinner. We had a little help from son, Chris, who showed up unexpectedly, as is his wont.

Chard recipe alert!
First, chop some of the colorful stalks. Saute in butter. Five minutes later, add the ripped-up (or chopped, if you must) leaves, then some minced garlic and sweet onion. Cook in olive oil and butter until the chard is soft but not mushy. About five minutes. Salt, pepper, and pepper flakes to taste.

And in the foreground,  sweet onions thinned from rows planted too closely.  Not far from this lawn scene, grow baby zukes, ripe cherry tomatoes, tiny cucumbers, bean shoots wrapping around anything that gets too close—weeds, onions, your ankles, if you linger. And then summer's later glories - tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers, gathering strength from the finally-here warmth. More garden photos, if you choose.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Portland Blues Fest extravaganza

Dawn Welch and her son, Josh, rockin' out to Little Feat, Portland Blues Fest, July 5, 2010.
Click on the photo to see it full-sized.
Yahoo! Four days of music, dancing, and carrying on. In the meantime. My mind wanders to home. To my mother, age 93, who, I hear, has called my sister five times in one day to inquire about my whereabouts. To our sons, one a proud new and sleep-deprived father, the other an insane kayaker who appears to be on the cusp of making a living as a professional athlete. To the new (one and only) grandchild, Mr. Noah. To the garden, the cat, and the summer that is half gone. Even deep into a separate reality, the mind wanders.
Percussion and bass are at the heart of Little Feat. Here's one of the ban's two drummers rockin' out.
But great music, as usual,  takes me away and twirls me around and around and around. I'm not at all alone. Portland is vibrating with great dancers,  and they have inundated the Blues Fest, especially the Front Porch stage, which is pretty much devoted to dance. For the first time ever, I lose confidence in my own dancing and become self conscious—a shocking development.  I learn that Portland has a rich dance culture. Not "on the stage" dancing, but people who go to clubs or to dance classes or music festivals to do their spectacular thing. They have arrived en mass and are a joy to watch. (I actually got to dance with two fancy dancers. I guess they sensed my longing.)
I regret I didn't get photos. I was too in awe. Too jealous. Too old. And not in possession of the camera or the will or the ability to capture the moment. These were magnificent young people (for the most part) full of intricate rhythm and fancy moves and throbbing with life.
I soon got over it. Great bands like Little Feat and Galatic and Curtis Salgado (wow!) restore life force, and I was soon one with the musical moment. Isn't that what live music is all about? I'm am restored now, back to the elderly mother and writing deadlines and the overripe peas and the blueberry plants stripped of fruit by a "well meaning" neighbor, and the bigamist cat that has deserted us for his other home and more accommodating mother, who lets him sleep on her pillow and lick her hair.
I'm way better off for having been immersed in rhythm and dancing and friendships for a brief but renewing getaway.
A few more photos from the weekend.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Roses and rental hell

Summer finally kicked in, and the rose bush in front of the house responded exceedingly well to the long wet cold spell that passed for spring and early summer. With the exception of the pinkish blooms on the right, all these roses are on one bush. Eye candy indeed, and it also pumps out the perfume like a room full of Red Hats. It is good to have this, and other garden delights, to enjoy because right down the road is our one and only rental property that looks like this—and be glad you can't smell it.
Inside and out, a stinking filthy mess. Long story short. We're inept landlords. Too nice. Let them stay too long after failure to pay rent. Gave them 30 days, knowing they had tons of stuff to move that we didn't want to deal with. They didn't budge. Extended a week, after court mediation. They're still roosting. Finally cut over the sheriff's department to order eviction. Another seven or eight days and a pile of $$. Finally, they're outta there! PK's has spent several days dragging and sorting and making piles for give-away, hazardous waste disposal, and the dump. Then comes all the renovation and maybe in a couple of months, it'll be ready for other tenants. Or to sell. If rented again, one thing's for sure: we'll be contracting with a property manager!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

My favorite fathers - and a quote from T. Roosevelt

The father of the year in this family is son Quinn, pictured here with his week-old son, Noah, our first grandchild. Ahhh. The impact of seeing our son with his son.....gob-smacked emotional. I teared up when Heather opened the door and there they were. "See," Quinn said. "I told you she'd do that." I'm so predictable, I will say that an unexpected pleasure of having a grandchild is watching your own "child" perform so beautifully as a parent and husband. But he had some good role models.

A young and gorgeous PK with baby Quinn and Pop Pop Korbulic, 1978. Like father, like son.  Isn't that just what babies need? To be surrounded by people who love them? Pop Pop is gone now.

My father Floyd Strube enjoying a laugh with our youngest son, Chris, 1987. My dad is gone, too.
It isn't just how fathers love their children that makes them a force for good in the universe. It's also how they conduct themselves as individuals, the example they set for their sons—and daughters.  A friend, Jose Marroquin, sent the following quote around this week in honor of fathers, and it resonated. It makes me proud of the fathers and sons in my life.

It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.
Teddy Roosevelt, Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

More whining about weather

This is the scene beyond the garden this evening around 8 p.m. Cool, dark, foggy, and raining HARD.    
Usually during the long days of June, we're dining happily outside around 8 p.m. with birds swooping and garden plants straining toward the sky. Not this year. This year we've had the wood stove fired up nearly every night, and although many plants (notably asparagus, potatoes and onions) seem none the worse for constant water torture, others languish. Those would be the peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants. I'm almost embarrassed to look at them. Sorry! I want to say. But how do you make amends to plants that you've babied from seed and set out with the best intentions only to have them pelted and  pummeled with rain, and sometimes hail, and also subjected to unseasonable cold? Well,  there's really nothing to say because there's nothing to do. I remember, years ago, as a callow youth, scorning elders for their weather chatter. Who cares? I thought. Don't they have anything better to discuss?  Now I understand.