"I write so that my handful of pebbles, cast into still waters, will create a ripple."

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Sweet-tooth's Survival Manual

I used to wonder what would happen if the connection to the grocery store was broken and my family was forced to survive on its ownEarlier this summer we picked up our household and moved to Oregon to find out.

We’ve only lived in our new home for a few months, but every day I marvel at the way the earth provides. At the risk of seeming boastful, I just need to share.

July was blueberry season. A neighbor showed me how to cut gallon milk jugs into picking tubs with a length of clothesline looped through the handle. I hung one around the necks of my two granddaughters and we picked until our lips were purple. We bagged them in gallon freezer bags for winter smoothies. We made freezer jam and gave a lot to friends because it was just too fun to stop picking! (The girls are two and five so the thornless bushes were a big hit.) Full disclosure--their mom and dad helped.

 In late July the wretched brambles that cover the countryside came alive with temporary recompense for their annoying existence. Everywhere I looked I found Himalayan blackberries just begging to be picked. Even though they sport life-threatening thorns, the bushes hung across the road, along the creeks and rivers, juicy berries sweet enough I didn’t need to add sugar to my pies. I started waking at 6:00 A.M. so I would head out to the meadow and fill my jugs with fresh berries for breakfast.

Every time I walked down to get my mail the letters came home stained with berry juice because I couldn’t resist. My fingernails were stained berry blue for a solid month and there was nothing I could do about it. (If there’s a way to pick berries in gloves, I haven’t found it yet.)

By the time I got my hands bleached, the peach tree in the orchard threatened to split under the weight of its bounty. The week we arrived we propped the limbs and thinned the fruit and we probably saved the poor mother-trunk's scrawny life.

By mid-July I peeled the skin off a peach with my teeth and ate it in three bites.

I picked the tree clean in slow stages every time a new batch ripened, an obsessive-compulsive activity that replaced writing for the entire summer. Finally I left a few for the birds and hornets and spread the last batch out on the patio to ripen. And on Canning Day I processed every pint jar I owned with peaches and made the rest into freezer jam.

Praise the synchronicity of nature. God must indeed be a woman because everything came ripe in stages. 

By mid September the apples and pears in our orchard began dropping. My tree didn’t have many, but I found enough abandoned apple trees to make wonderful sunshine-yellow applesauce with a combination of apples that needed just a hint of cinnamon.

I used one of those hand-crank peelers on another ten pounds and fried them in a skillet with a half-cup of brown sugar, a half cube of butter and a shake (more or less) of 6 different spices—cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, pumpkin pie spice, allspice, cloves. Easy-peasy side dish for a Sunday pork roast. I froze most of the ringlets in baggies for future roasts.

 Big discovery—pear sauce is better than applesauce! When I ran out of jars, I quartered and peeled  ten pounds of pears and boiled them in two cups water until soft (covered pan), then tossed in a handful of brown sugar and some cinnamon and while still hot, smashed the fruit with a potato masher. To die for.  When it was cool I ladled the sauce into small baggies and froze them flat on a cookie sheet. After they were frozen I slipped them into one gallon-size freezer bag for frost protection. This way I don’t have a dozen small bags sliding around the freezer.

The beauty of using the land’s bounty is that you can slap-dash bake without worrying about “ruining” the recipe. I mean, have you ever tasted a pie you didn’t like? It it’s too sour, add ice cream. If it’s runny, so much the better. If it’s too thick, well, some people prefer it that way. I’m a lazy cook, but I have fun. As the oldest daughter in a family of nine hungry mouths, I learned early that you can’t mess up dessert. It just isn’t possible!

Here’s a couple of no-fail recipes—

Fruit crisp—fill a square or rectangular baking dish with small pieces of fruit. (smaller is better than quartered fruit. Berries can be left whole.) For the small dish, add a cup or so of water, a little (1 tsp.) cornstarch, a quarter-cup sugar and boil until it reaches z full boil. Don't worry if it's not thick. Double for the larger pan. Stir into the fruit. For the topping—equal parts flour, brown sugar and quick oats and ½ cube of cold butter, crumbled along with the dry ingredients. Don’t worry about the calories because you can’t make it crumble without the butter. I add a dash of salt and some cinnamon. Bake until the juice bubbles and the top is brown.

I add left-over pancake batter (gluten free) to a baking dish of cut up fruit and bake it with raisins, nuts and a little brown sugar for 30 minutes or until thick. I love it for tea or breakfast. My grandfather used to pour cream over his.    

Now my counters are lined with pint jars filled with fruit that I got for nothing. (Truth, I bought a few packages of Ball jar lids and a 5-lb. bag of organic sugar for the canned pears because they were a little tart.) Oh, and a few dozen more pint jars, but that's an investment, not an expense.    

As I write, the grapes in my vineyard are getting sweeter by the day. I have no idea what kind they are, purple with seeds, but they'll make juice for winter breakfasts until I learn how to make wine. All I have to do is steam, strain and squeeze.  It’s walnut season. I’ve collected a 50-lb. sack filled with English walnuts and I’m going to spend my evenings in the patio cracking them. In a wet-wood pinch I can use the cracked shells for firestarter--just mix with some dryer lint and a little glue and place in individual egg carton sections. My sister gave me the idea.   

My mom sent me instructions. I’m collecting acorns and I’m going to be making acorn meal as soon as I pick up enough. They stay around because we don't have much competition from squirrels, only the rain.  

My husband's a hunter. The Canadian geese are starting to land in the pasture. The wild turkeys march across the lawn and fill their gullets with our crickets so I feel entitled to one of them when it’s time to think about Thanksgiving. Five does and a couple of bucks have spent the summer stripping everything they could reach from the fruit trees. They wait while I shake the apples from the tree and eat everything I don’t bag, including the trimmings from the peeled fruit. We’ll be having venison for the holidays.

So this is what I’ve gleaned off the land so far. Do I feel better about the end of the world? You better believe I do. If I have to, I can survive on jelly and fruit. I’m waiting to see what the next season brings. I picked up a pinecone to harvest the nuts, but most of them were already open. I got there too late for pine nuts this year, but there’s still firewood in the woods for the taking. And in the spring I’ll find the best spots for miner’s lettuce. 

Anybody else out there a survivalist tiger? Do share.

Sunday, September 9, 2012


 Remember these? If you're over fifty you probably will. My list definitely reflects my Catholic upbringing. I'm surprised how many of these formed my outlook about life, and how many of them I used on my own children.  

My chores are finished. Anything else before I go play?
Shame on me!
It’s a personal point of honor.
That goes against my grain.
I saved up for it.
I fudged. (I goofed.)
Thanks, but I’ll wait my turn.
It’s not urgent (I can wait.)
This too will pass. 
Offer it up. 
You're a saint for doing that. (My Catholic mother was big on these.) 
Let’s take turns.
We’ll have to make do.
This is more than my fair share.
Let’s pray on it.
In due time.
I’m sorry, Sir  (Ma’am!)
Take it, you deserve it more.
A stitch in time saves nine.
Let’s tidy up before Dad comes home.
Cut it down and make it over (reuse someone else's clothing.) 
Clean your plate. Kids in China are starving
If you’re not here at dinnertime, you don’t eat.
Sorry, we don’t own a television.
If you’re hungry, eat a slice of bread.
If you’re not tired you haven’t worked hard enough.
I can’t—my folks would kill me.
Time to hit the deck.
Time to hit the hay.
Rise and shine.
Live and let live.
I’ll sacrifice for the greater good.
It’s none of my business so I won’t ask!
I really shouldn’t (so I won’t!)
Here—you have it.
It’s good enough for me.
Keep a dime between your knees.
Act like a lady
Pretty is as pretty does.
Nice girls don't
Treat your date like she’s your sister.
He (she) has cooties.
Gosh, dog-gone-it, golly, phooey.
Jiminy Christmas.
Careful, these have to last.
School shoes, play shoes & dress shoes
Play clothes for after school
Crackers and milk for supper.
Forgive and forget.
Because you’re not old enough.
Because I said so.
Not now (it’s almost suppertime.)
Wait until your father gets home.
I have to set an example.
There'll be plenty of time for that when you grow up.
I broke it so I’ll replace it.
I’ve done worse (you’re forgiven.)
I sewed it myself.

How about your favorite sayings. Any I've forgotten? 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Three Things About Moving

All my life I thought that having deep roots was the best possible thing. I loved being a Native Daughter of the Golden West. But when I traveled, I saw new cities where I wanted to live—in Italy, and France and Southern Oregon.  

I looked around and saw a whole world waiting to be explored. But to live there I had to leave here. A dilemma, for sure. I know I’m not alone, wanting both worlds. I started questioning my old values. And once I started, I couldn't stop. 

If enough people believe something, does that make it so? Take, for example, the sayings: "Change is hard." "What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger." What if change is exciting and renewing and all things are possible? What if lack of change slowly sucks the life, one cell at a time?   

But what about huge change? Would it kill me or make me stronger? I think the answer is, a little of each. 

A couple of things have surprised me about moving so far from “home.” One is how much I admire my husband. Like Adam and Eve, we are the First Couple, relying on each other in this strange and beautiful paradise. I watch him with fresh eyes as he builds shelves and repairs gutters. He tends to a thousand details that will make our house strong in the winter. He works without expecting to be noticed, but I do. And he makes me feel like Eve.

Another surprise is how much boredom I had been carrying. Everything’s fun again. I’m a fresh helium balloon, filled with possibilities.  Something has been removed and the vacuum is being refilled. 

In a new kitchen with top-grade appliances and lots of counter space, I’m cooking turnovers, blackberry pies, ribs and roast chicken. I bought myself a Le Creuset roasting pan and I’m taking such pride in cooking. I have my neighbors over for buffalo stew and homemade bread with new blackberry jam. And it’s not just a hasty meal, it’s an event because they’re our new friends, a bridge to the community.

On the flip-side, I’m surprised at how heavy I feel some days. I love it here, but everything seems so serious. I drive with my tongue pressed against my cheek, concentrating. I pore over newspaper ads looking for clues for the best shops. I analyze, memorize and when everything is too much, I hibernate for a few days and start all over again.

A film maker friend is nudging me to show him product, a script we’re working on, and I am so grounded that it’s hard to be absurd and witty. Maybe that’s why I’m blogging about that today—a promise to get airborne again and feel the wind.      

Are you airborne or grounded? Be the wind under our wings and share your thoughts.