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.