Sunday Morning–Another Day of Isolation

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Today my favorite radio program comes on at three and I can listen to old jazz for three hours.  I will probably spend those three hours finishing my painting of a very scary rooster, much larger than lifesize while my pot roast fills the house with its scent. At one I will start the pot roast we are fixing for dinner.  Food and painting seem to be our primary focus along with reading these days.  We are spending more time communicating via email with friends to be sure that they are all still healthy. As of Friday we have 92 cases  on the island with 42 of them in the long term care facility where my friend lives.

I don’t mind the isolation at all.  I am actually enjoying my time at home with my husband and my dachshund. We are doing more cooking together ( including the dog who is always underfoot when we are in the kitchen) and working on creating interesting menus from the freezer and the larder (it’s not called a larder because you lose weight). The house is cleaner these days too.

My husband has started seeds yesterday in the greenhouse and cleaned out all the hydroponic beds in preparation for planting.  We pulled out all the groceries that have wintered over, so have a bushel of kale, chard, and green onions to use up before they go bad.  I am making ribollita (a Tuscany soup) later in the week which will use a chunk of the kale. I didn’t have the canned cannellini beans for it so cooked up some to be ready. We have canned tomatoes in the root cellar and lots of garlic.  I will use lonzino instead of proscuitto which I don’t have on hand.  Should be ready for that.

This morning for Sunday breakfast, I made aebleskivers (apelskivers), a Swedish pastry/sweet bread ball. My favorite recipe is with buttermilk.  You must have an aebleskiver pan to make them. We eat these with jam, berry syrup or maple syrup.  Some folks sprinkle them with powdered sugar, but we do not.  Too messy that way. I recently saw a recipe where someone fried meatballs in their aebleskiver pan.  WHAT A DESECRATION! You would never be able to use it for its intended purpose again.

While I was waiting for my husband to beat the egg whites for the recipe, I was looking though the cookbook I was using, Notes from a Scandinavian Kitchen, but Morry and Florence Ekstrand (1980)which is still available through Amazon. I AM 3/8th  Swedish, 1/8th Danish. When I was growing up we had occasional Scandinavian meals, Svenska kottbollur (Swedish meatballs), rullepolse (a rolled meat stuffed), Swedish rye bread, Nana’s cardamom buns (similar to hot cross buns) and, when Nana visited, Swedish coffee.  There were a few other things as well, but these were the memorable ones. I make the hardtack recipe from this book and we are just about out, so that will be a project for next week.

While I was reading this lovely little cookbook, I was gaining some inspiration for later in this incarceration, oops, isolation.  Morry and Florence included many interesting thoughts and vignettes from their earlier lives.  Some of it a history of living in Scandinavian communities in America, most of which are very entertaining and great reading while the aebleskivers are cooking in their special pan.

I am always amazed at the diverse ingredients that were available in Scandinavia.  I have to remember that the Vikings traveled and pillaged far and wide and many of the spices and herbs from the eastern Mediterranean were available to them, cinnamon, allspice, clove, ginger and much more, many of which are seen in a vast number of recipes, both sweet and savory.

The more common ingredients are prepared in very diverse ways to make them less boring and more palatable. The potato is used mashed, boiled, fried in pancakes, leftovers in dumplings, lefse, some hardtack, and a number of desserts.  Soured milk or buttermilk is a standard household item and one that I purchase in half gallons or make my own from the last jug, like making yogurt. Dairy products were readily available as almost every rural homestead had a milkcow.  Cream and butter figure heavily in the diet as does sugar.  I could never understand the use of sugar in meat dishes like meatballs.  I guess in a cold climate you are starved for calories.

The gathering meal that was popular in America when I was growing up was the smorgasbord.  Seattle had the famous King Oskars on old Highway 99.  We ate there occasionally.  I can remember all the wonderful dishes to choose from.  I still seek out good pickled herring.  I even taught my husband to love it, to my chagrin.  I went to Ballard (the Scandinavian enclave in Seattle) and purchased a two quart container of wonderful pickled herring.  My husband turned up his nose and thought about gagging.  I said, “How do you know you don’t like it if you haven’t tried it.  Try it, you’ll like it.”  He tried it and conceded it was pretty good.  When I came home from work the next day and he was fixing dinner, I decided I would like a few pieces as an appetizer.  The container was half empty.  Boy, did he have a Swedish lunch, herring and hardtack. Now we can hardly keep it in stock.  We eat it too fast.  I which I could make it, but alas, I would have to catch my own herring!

Morry and Florence discuss the smorgasbord in their book.  It would be similar to the modern potluck, but with a lot more small dishes of pickles and salads, meatballs, smoked, pickled, and cream herring, jellied eel, poached, smoked, and graavlox salmon, potato sausages, lefsa, hardtack, limpa (rye bread with anise and orange peel) and much more. One restaurant in Stockholm was noted for having over sixty dishes excluding the dessert table. If you find a copy of their book, these are just a sample of the cold dishes; there are hot dishes and more.

Of course, if it is a celebration and winter, glog or if warmer weather, aquavit kept very cold.  Swedish coffee has several manifestations, some use the white of the egg in the mix, while others just throw the shells in with the grounds.  My nana’s generation held a large sugar cube between the lower lip and the teeth and sucked the black coffee, very strong, through the cube. Later in life many had cavities in the bottom front teeth or they were missing altogether.

If this didn’t make you hungry, then perhaps you can go to a restaurant that is doing deliveries from their door to their parking lot or home deliveries, but I wouldn’t take a chance at that.  My nurse friends tell me, “Assume everyone you meet has the virus.” If that is the case, I wouldn’t want them to prepare my meal.  Besides, I am a better cook than they are.

Peace and the Bountiful Harvest

It is late October and I just looked out into the very dark evening after a somewhat mixed day and I see the crescent moon through the trees.  It is a peaceful sight.  There is also no wind.  It isn’t warm, but it is peaceful.  I have just gone out and gotten wood for the fire to keep us warm through the night.

I guess that we can say, officially, that we are headed to winter.  That is the thing about living in the maritime northwest.  Winter is usually at least two months before and after the winter solstice.  Why does winter start then?  We have our coldest, wettest weather before AND after that date.  I never could understand why winter officially started on the 21st of December.  We are long in the throes of winter by then.

I have just finished doing all the tomatoes I am going to do this year.  We have been hauling home buckets of them from our farm for processing.  I have made zillions of bottles of tomato sauce, tomato paste, tomato pickle relish (both red and green), marinara and more. I had two large buckets left to finish today and I am hoping this is the last of it.  They do look beautiful sitting on the shelves in the root cellar.  We had thirty-eight plants at the farm and another nine here in the greenhouse.  They stopped blooming a month ago, and then we just hoped that some ripen, which they did in abundance.

Most of the preserving is finished.  The old apple trees, over a hundred years old, are just about ready to pick.  They are good keepers if I pick them while they are still in the starch.  Seldom do you find apples in the store “in the starch.”  If all the starch has turned to sugar, then the apples will start to deteriorate.  If they are in the starch, then they have a while to reach their full ripeness.  We pick them and they taste wonderful all the way until May.  I find that most of the ones I see in the store are already on the pithy side.  Many times, here in the northwest, they dump last year’s cold storage apples on us which lack flavor and are already mushy.  I love the ones we pick because they are so crisp and crunchy.

I finished freezing the green beans two months ago.  The pumpkins I grew this year are the kind that have hulless seeds. I will scrape them out of the pumpkins and clean them and roast them for pepitas for winter.  This is the first time I have grown these, so I have no experience with this.  Folks tell me that the pumpkin itself is not very tasty.  We will see, and if not then the chickens will benefit from their flesh.

We did have a bumper crop of peppers this year.  Mostly varieties of sweet peppers.  The hot peppers don’t get very hot in our climate as it is generally to cool for those flavors to fully develop.  I used a lot of them in the marinara. We did make poppers.  I make them by cutting the small  peppers in half lengthwise and filling with chorizo and covering with cheese (jack or mozz, but gooey cheese) and then baking in the oven until bubbly.  Boy, are these good.  You can serve them as appetizers, but we make a meal of them we have so many.

I am truly proud of myself this year as I actually had three gorgeous eggplant.  I have harvested two and will go get the last this weekend.  I made mousaka with one of them. Homemade ricotta, fresh tomato sauce, garden peppers, a real homegrown treat.

Well, I have ranted enough about the bounty we experienced this season.  I need to go damper the wood kitchen range where the tomato sauce bubbled away all day and is now safely cooling in the pressure cooker until morning.

I feel like I accomplished a reasonable harvest this year.  Yes, it is peaceful and I am enjoying watching that crescent moon.  Now we can bed down for winter.

 

 

Easter

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Easter use to be a religious holiday.  When I was growing up, we went to church every Sunday morning and evening.  Easter was a time of special significance.  Now we can no long call them Easter Egg Hunts.  They are now just Egg Hunts that happen prior to the day of the lunar month that holds Passover.  Passover is on the full moon and Easter is the first Sunday after the full moon.  Easter egg hunts now happen on the Saturday before Easter.

With the secularization of religious Christian holidays, society has brought about many changes.  Santa is now the symbol of Christmas as are the bunny and eggs of Easter.

When I was growing up everyone would dress in their finest for Easter Sunday.  Some folks only attended church for this day.  I guess they felt this was the most important Christian holiday.  It is the only one that falls consistently on a Sunday, thus it is easy to attend church on the holiday.

In the town where I grew up, Spring break coincided with the week before Easter.  Because some students needed time off for Passover and some for Good Friday, it was just easier to make the break the week before Easter.

Having learned to sew at a young age, Spring break always included making some new clothes, back then, dresses, as we seldom wore pants in public.  I always took the opportunity to make a new Easter dress for Sunday.  This ensemble almost always included a hat, the Easter Bonnet.  No one wears hats as a decorative accessory these days.  Hats are functional, the keep the head warm or hide the loss of hair, not decorative.

I loved hats and made a few of those as well.  When I was in college, it was still common for women to wear hats to church and special events.  I made one which was especially my favorite.  It consisted of a pheasant feather skullcap-like hat with three long tail feathers raked to the right side and back.  It featured a black tight-fitting veil that came down to my nose with black dots woven into the quarter inch holes in the netting.  It was gorgeous and I wore it until the feathers were too tattered to continue.  The long, tail feathers were replaced several times before the hat’s demise.

Easter morning always included an elaborate breakfast.  My mother liked to make eggs goldenrod.  This consisted of a base of toast on which was poured a white sauce made with the addition of chopped hardboiled egg whites.  Over this you would place egg yolk which had been forced through a sieve creating a fine powder of egg yolk over the entire dish.  It was good and we had it with fruit.  I almost made it this morning (Easter morning) just for old time’s sake, but the idea of the white sauce with boiled egg whites just seemed to blah.  I opted for a Pecan/Coconut Coffeecake, which is my husband’s favorite, and scrambled eggs with green onion.

Easter now is a turning point in the seasons here in Western Washington State.  It is about the time to clear out the greenhouse and start the seeds for plants which will be set out in the middle of May.  I plant late.  The plants do better than ones started early which languish in the cold soil and produce produce* the same time as mine. This Easter is intermittent sunshine and clouds and it is fifty-one degrees.  If we still had bees, they would take their purging flight today.

I sent my husband to the grocery to purchase lettuce for dinner and discovered that the price was $5 a head.  Horrible and probably caused by the fact that California has had so much rain.  It beats the lettuce into the mud and makes it inedible.  We will start the hydroponic lettuce bed today in the greenhouse and in a few weeks have $500 worth of lettuce.  I WISH! We will have the lettuce, but the price will have probably fallen at the grocery by that time.

This morning on my way to the woodshed to get wood for the stove, the cacophony of birds really told me of the joy of Spring and Easter.  It is hard for me to take the religion out of this holiday. Though I did not attend church this morning, the woods behind my house are a sanctuary for me and for the birds that sang so wonderfully this morning.  Though I didn’t make a new dress for the holiday, I do try to make life new with the renewal of spring chores.  Soon I won’t need the firewood to warm the house; soon the birds will have lots of little ones; soon the plum and apple and pear trees will burst into full blossom.

Ah Easter, a wonderful time of renewal.

 

 

*Chinese students of mine, here is a good one.  Notice the difference in pronunciation but not spelling.  Also a difference in meaning.

 

 

Typical Washington Weather

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Last summer was unusual for our area of Western Washington.  In June we had warm sunny days which brought the garden on early and with vigor.  This year is a more typical year.  As I have mentioned in past wordpress blogs, we can have grey weather three out of four 4th of Julys.  This year seems to be holding up this percentage.

We had glorious sunny weather in May and hopes that the garden would be the verdant, abundant scene it was last year.  We have collected 4000 gallons of water from the shed roof this past winter to water it as this is our only water source at the farm. I started all my little plants early, expecting that it would be a hot summer due to the warm spring. I held them over longer in the greenhouse so as to not shock them with the cold outside.

When I was a kid and a Brownie and Girl Scout, I went to camp the first week after school was out.  IT ALWAYS RAINED. For me camping is about cool, damp weather.  It always seemed that we would have glorious, sunny, warm days for the last few weeks of school making us all itchy to get out to vacation.  The last day of school, an early release day, it would rain and continue to rain until after the Fourth of July.

This year is no exception, being right on that schedule and reminding me of my youthful days at “summer” camp.  They felt more like winter, but I was away from home on an adventure and it didn’t matter that it drizzled the whole time.

Now it matters that it drizzles the whole time.  We fight slugs, leaf rot, slow and retarded growth due to the weather in the high 40’s and low 50’s.  Tomatoes are not fond of this scenario.  I planted thirty plants with great expectations.  My husband, being the more practical, planted his dozen in the greenhouse and they have lots of tomatoes set, some the size of large lemons.  Beautiful.  We will have tomatoes this year, but probably from the greenhouse, not the garden.

The cabbages, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts are doing fine.  They will grow in the winter here in our temperate climate, Western Washington being the largest cabbage seed producer in the U. S. Even my squash plants are trying to bloom, but often when the weather is cool, the flowers fail to be fertile. The leeks are getting tall and thick-waisted which is good.

I have planted the corn three times and still have terrible germination.  Next year my husband says we should switch to another variety as this one is so poor, but I just love the sweetness, flavor and keeping ability of this variety.  We finally started some in the greenhouse and it was only 50% viable.  Not going to be much corn this year. I usually put up 200 ears, cut off the cobs and packaged three ears of cut corn per package for dinners, which is just right for the two of us.

Beets I have planted twice, but now they seem to be coming up.  I learned a secret for our area some years ago.  Before tilling, we always put seaweed, which we collected at the local boat ramp, on the soil in the beet row. Now you have to have a permit to collect it.  It is an endorsement on the state fishing licenses.  I have another remedy.  What the beets need is boron which is in the kelp and seaweed.  I use Borax powder from the laundry section of the grocery.  Just a little tiny bit, not too much or they won’t be happy.  It makes for an abundance of beets.  We like to eat them just boiled with a little lemon juice and butter, pickled with some cinnamon, allspice, mustard seed, or my new favorite, with credits to Rustica Café and Wine Bar in Oak Harbor, roasted beet hummus. If you have just finished a jar of pickled beets, don’t throw out the juice.  Hard boil eggs, peel, and put them in the pickled beet juice for about three days.  Then proceed as you usually do to make deviled eggs.  As an artist, these bright magenta eggs are a visual delight.

Well, I guess I have strayed far enough afield from the weather, but I hope that you have a glorious 4th of July, rain or shine.  Lots of deviled eggs, potato salad, fried or BBQ’s chicken and watermelon and apple pie.  Of course the apples were preserved last year and the eggs are from my chickens, the potatoes are from a neighbor’s garden.  The rest I had to fill in from the grocery. Too bad.

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Dutch bucket tomatoes grown hydroponically in our greenhouse.