Monday, October 24, 2011

Final fall harvest, another great dinner and —looking forward to winter?!

Last night—one of the most opulent dinners of the late-harvest season: homemade chili atop Basmati rice, and on the side, fresh San Marzano tomatoes and smoked/grilled sweet peppers, onions, and zucchinis.  OMG. I will view this photo during lean months for inspiration. I will especially miss the fresh tomatoes and peppers. Some peppers will make their way into the freezer,  but it won't be the same. We are so fortunate.
Already we're several days past the average first-frost date of October 18 for southern Oregon's Rogue Valley. It has been such a glorious fall! We had a couple days of "winter preview" but mostly, the weather has been perfect, and garden veggies and flowers have responded with continued growth. We've had a second flourish of roses and volunteer cosmos, and a repeat crop of dill is coming forward. Beans and cukes continue to produce, despite yellowing leaves, and we've also harvested late strawberries, raspberries, green beans, and even basil, with gratitude and amazement.

We have yet to build a fire in our wood stove. Thanks to passive solar heating, we've have had only a few early-morning warming toasts from the thermostat-controlled gas fireplace.

Tonight's the night, however, that the first serious frost is predicted. It's not that I welcome it, exactly, but I accept it as the natural order. PK has covered his peppers, which continue to mature, but I've abandoned the tomato plants. At least half are already on the compost heap, and the others sport only hard green globes that promise scant hope for maturing. Besides, we have three boxes of green tomatoes inside awaiting the blush of maturity. From experience, I know that only half will make the cut for the dinner table—or the cooking pot. I haven't mentioned apples, but we still have about 25 trees. Yikes.
Final harvest? Lots of sweet peppers and some zukes await attention.
Apples dry in the dehydrator, and a few boxes of apples will be processed into sauce or apple butter. 
I almost hate to say this, but I look forward to wintery days. When the sun shines, I can't make myself stay inside! It's been months since we've had several crappy days in a row. Those days are coming soon. I know how the season can change in a single day. I hope that when it does, I will remember the projects that I've been itching to tear into and my motivation will be accessible. As I've mentioned, weather matters. Sunshine feeds energy and dark grey days deplete it. Inside, I hope to make my own light with creative projects. Let's see what happens.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Death check at Grocery Outlet

I saw a friend in the wine section of my favorite grocery store. She was standing in front of the chardonneys when I came up behind her and put my hands on her shoulders. She turned, and fell into my arms for a serious hug. Long story short: her husband is dying of liver cancer. He's in hospice care, and she is his full-time at-home caregiver. She looked tired. Her eyes were red-rimmed and she clearly wanted to talk, which we did for at least a half hour, edging back and forth so the wine shoppers could examine the goods. Our subject was the inevitable, which most people choose to ignore until it is looming. What me, die? No way, or at least, Not anytime soon.

It is looming for her husband, and they have been working through the details: wills, finances, and, most importantly, I believe, Oregon's Death with Dignity provision. It is legal in this state for a terminally ill person to check out under his or her own power. She described the extensive steps they've taken so he can do this legally, if he chooses. So far, he has not chosen death, although death  has chosen him, and he feels weaker and more miserable every day, she says.

I don't know her husband, but I guess that he is depressed and fearful. He holds his death in his own power. Imagine that. I mean, anyone can commit suicide, a desperate lonely act that few condone and is difficult to understand and so often leaves a dreadful wake of sorrow, guilt, and questioning for survivors.

But to be able to end your own suffering with full support of your loved ones and in a deliberate planned way, well that is something else. It is a gift, of sorts. But I wonder if he'll be able to look death in the eye and say, I'm ready. I wonder if he'll gather the courage to tell her, It's time, and ask her to set the scene for him to take the steps to put himself into into his final sleep. Imagine staring down death from over a handful of sedatives and saying, Ok, come and get me.

I don't know if I could do it. But then, I'm in the "not anytime soon" category. Or am I? As my friend pointed out, you never know what's going to happen. 

In the meantime, I immensely enjoy everyday things, like this bumblebee in the flourishing cosmos on a cloudless and warm late October afternoon. No matter thar the adjacent sunflowers have turned brittle and brown, all but abandoned by hungry birds and nectar-seeking bees. Winter is, after all, almost upon us.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Weather matters, don't you think?

Harvested October 17, 2011.  Latest garden harvest in memory.
A mess of green beans is already in the pan.
I was so wrong in my last post. It was a childish reaction to just two days of winter-like weather that I believed meant the end of the garden, and especially, tomatoes! How foolish, how unbelieving, how premature! The past several days have been gloriously summer-like, and the forecast is for more of the same. PK and I have been in a frenzy of picking and processing apples, dismantling the summer garden, preparing for winter, and, most amazingly, continuing to harvest tomatoes, zukes, peppers, flowers, and berries as late fall has turned summer-like. A bowl of strawberries in mid-October? No way!

It was 34 degrees this morning, but 80-plus this afternoon. The tomatoes that were green a few days ago are ripening, and peppers continue to color. What an amazing October! Two winter-like days last week hit us with what we know is just around the bend—dreadful dark and wet. But for now we're wearing shorts and sunglasses. Last night it was 68 degrees at 9 p.m. On October 16!

Weather matters. Have you noticed? When conversation slips into weather territory, we may think, How trivial. How challenged we are to come up with meaningful discourse that we stoop to discussing the temperature and humidity. But weather may be the single most important element of our daily lives. I'm sure the Weather Channel would agree, as would people who work, exercise, garden, farm, or live outdoors. Or those who are subject, as I believe most of us are, to seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Even my mother, who rarely gets outside, can see through her apartment window overlooking the fair city of Rogue River, Oregon, whether it is fair or foul. The light comes in, dim or bright. Somehow, it matters to her. It matters to me, for sure. Long live the light! And when it is gone, any minute now, I will remember and long for its return.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

So long, tomatoes. I'll miss you!

October tomatoes. Pitiful!
This sorry batch is now cooking as the last marinara sauce of the season. 
The annual garden shutdown is a woeful certainty. We haven't had a frost yet, so the cold-sensitive plants haven't blackened and gone into final meltdown. Those plants would be, in order of their intolerance of cold: basil, zukes, peppers and tomatoes. With the exception of the peppers, they are all behaving badly, cranky in their old age with curling leaves, refusal to grow, and developing age spots like crazy, as if to say, Let's get it over with! 
Me too, especially as far as food preservation goes. However, I absolutely mourn garden-fresh tomatoes once ours are gone because I know it will be at least 10 months!! before we'll have them again. I always break down in the spring and sneak a store tomato into a salad. I can fool myself into believing that it grew somewhere hot and will taste like a tomato. But it never does, and PK can't refrain from curtly observing that I've once again weakened. I promise never to purchase a commercial tomato that must have been picked green, "ripened" in a chemical fog, shipped for thousands of miles, and is exorbitantly overpriced. Hard tomatoes, I've learned, are inedible, even if they're blushing red.
This is how our tomatoes looked in mid September. Perfect. 
We'll have to make do with the quarts of canned tomatoes and salsas and jars of dried ones in the pantry, plus bags and bags of marinara and salsas in the freezer. It will be tough, but I know we're up to the challenge. Goodbye to a great garden season. (With a fond nod to the much-smaller fall/winter garden coming soon.)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

About the aging part..

I recently added "gardening, cooking, aging and adventures" to my blog title. As "Ordinary Life," I didn't have to refine. Any old thing would go, and it's easy to see how cooking and gardening fit in as those are frequent topics. Tonight's dinner! Made almost entirely from scratch! The garden! Wow!
Yes, we enjoyed another great feast tonight. Clockwise, smoked peppers, caramelized onions, garlic/pepper sauce and rice; a bit of marinated grilled steak; steamed green beans with butter  and lemon; the very LAST brandywine tomato, and a cucumber, onion, and pepper salad. See, I can't help myself!
Here's LaVone today washing up. She's almost 96, but I think she's still good looking

Here's LaVone on her exercise 'walk." I'm right behind her with her wheelchair, just in case.
Adventures? I have them, most often close to home and sometimes far afield, and have blogged them with photos and words. But I've generally shunned the aging topic, except when it applies to my mother, who quickly approaches 96. She seems blissfully oblivious. She's not an Alzheimer's patient, and does not suffer from severe dementia. But she is in a twilight zone. Her needs are simple yet complex. Her physical requirements are fulfilled, mostly, by assisted living. But there's no substitute for a loving daughter stopping by nearly every day to put her through her walking paces and attend to the details that the overworked caregivers can't fulfill: hearing aid issues; seasonal clothing; intimate items, hand holding, reassurance, etc.
I quickly approach 67, which, to people in their 90s is a fresh age full of promise, but to me, seems dangerously close to 70, very old indeed. If you don't die, then you grow old, so I just need to get used to it. I would rather not contract a deadly disease that would kill me slowly, or even a sudden event such as a car accident, a stroke, or a heart attack. So I guess I'm resigned to going with my genes and seeing what happens. I'm processing the approach of age 70. In the meantime, I'm engaged with LaVone as she approaches 100. Is she resigned? She is. She definitely is. She is the very picture of be here now. Thanks, Ram Dass, but of course, she's never heard of you.
In coming months I intend to chronicle her life, especially the past few years. I know that if someone had told her she would be where she is and who she is now 30 years ago, she would have scoffed and maybe prodded them with her crochet hook. Who, me? I won't ever be in a wheelchair, in "briefs", and in an endless cycle of bingo and dice. You know what? It's not so bad. At least not for her. As for me, I'm getting older too.  And I do not like it.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Change-of-season madness

Yesterday, for the first time in months, I awoke to the sharp smell of the gas stove firing up,
warming the kitchen and heating the tea water. Dang. Summer's gone!
Given the date, it shouldn't be a surprise that fall crept in after just a few days' warning. Sunflowers, cosmos, and cornstalks have been leaning toward the compost, longing, I think, for restful rotting after a summer of boisterous growth and the recent marauding of feasting birds. The sweet smell of rain has been in the air, leaves have crackled underfoot, and honking geese have swirled noisily overhead. What a great elongated summer we've enjoyed! But still. saying goodbye to the garden and fresh food in magnificent abundance is sad, as is depositing into the memory bank soft summer air and lazy barbecues. Sigh.
 Outside, fog drapes across the hills like a swath of cotton batting, cooling the forest and fields and settling in for the long winter ahead. Variations of this scene will be evident beyond the garden for the next six months. Eeek. It'll get a lot wetter and colder and the vegetation in the foreground will soon disappear into compost. Not a bad thing to become, really.
I spent yesterday holed up in the kitchen with tomatoes and peppers, onions and herbs, making salsas and marinara sauces.
Marinara sauce bubbling on the stove.  Wow. It makes the heart race!

On the brighter side, at the kitchen counter son Chris tapped away on his cranky computer and plotted logistics for his next adventure. He's home for a few days after returning from Brazil, where he does crazy stuff like this. Don't be deterred by a foreign language—Portuguese. The link is to a trailer for a popular Brazilian adventure/reality series in which Chris is one of three "stars." He's headed back to Africa soon, then back to Brazil.  His is not at all an ordinary life!

Back to my world, currently dominated by tomatoes. Not too exciting, but I will be so jazzed this winter opening jars of salsa or thawing marinara sauces for quick dinners.  Maybe I'd rather go to the Congo with Chris?
Hmmm.  I don't think so.

Salsa!  And it only took ALL DAY to make!
But we also prepared a dozen quarts of sauces for the freezer thus justifying an entire day in the kitchen.
Today's garden take could be the last as frost is predicted tonight. The green beans, cucumbers, basil, and peppers can't tolerate frost, and the giant zucchini leaves will blacken overnight. So sad.
I love gardening and cooking and all the rest of my little Southern Oregon reality show. It's just that when Chris alights for a few days, I become restless and wondering. What if I had diverted 40-some years ago from the well-beaten path into middle-class life? What if I had followed my heart into travel and adventure? And then I worry, what if Chris doesn't do this?  What if he finds himself 20 years from now stranded on a bridge between his youth and an unsustainable level of risk-taking?
I'm not too worried. Just wallowing in the usual over-protective mama kind of crap. He'll be fine. Won't he?

All those veggies I harvested today are sitting in the kitchen awaiting attention, as are several boxes of tomatoes on the back porch. Should I dehydrate some, or just stick them in the freezer whole? More sauces, salsas? I admit I'm so ready for harvest and food preservation to be over! In a couple weeks, it will be except for apples, which are just now coming ripe out there in the wind and rain. Applesauce? Dried apples? Pies? Cobblers? Decisions, decisions.

What if like Chris, I was deciding whether to go to the Arctic or Angola—or both, plus several other possible destinations on his ever-changing schedule. It's certain that he'll provide ongoing vicarious thrills plus ample cause for maternal angst as I remain here in the cool and indifferent landscape, so recently spilling over with vegetables and berries and now so close to shutting down for the winter.