Green Tomato Time of Year

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I live in maritime Washington State.  We are noted for having temperate summers.  This one was especially so.  It was rather cool.  Gardening of green goods went well with lots of peas, beans, yellow squash, carrots and beets.  In the greenhouse we had great success.

My husband always grows tomatoes via the Dutch bucket hydroponic system.  We usually have bumper crops.  This year’s is modest.  I raised peppers in the Dutch buckets, in a trough system too, and some just in pots.  I had great success in all with the Dutch bucket system performing extremely well.  Not only do I have lots of peppers, they are HOT.  They don’t always get HOT if the weather is cool, but they did this year.  Maybe it was a different variety.  Some I planted were just from a package of “mixed hot peppers.” The only one I recognized was a pepperocini.

Well the outcome of a minimal ripe tomato crop is that there was a bucket of green tomatoes to be had.  Not being a fried green tomato fan, I fell back on my usual recipe for green tomatoes, green tomato salsa. Green salsa usually has tomatillos.  I substitute green tomatoes and it turns out fine and the chickens don’t end up eating all the green ones.  No waste.

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The pressure cooker is in the process of processing them this very moment.  I chop yellow onions, peppers, hot or sweet, according to your taste, garlic and brown that in a little canola oil.  When most of the liquid has dissipated, I add the chopped green tomatoes, some cumin and ground coriander.  Simmer until the consistency you like.  If you prefer it smooth, put it in the blender and blend until smooth.  We like it chunky. Pack in clean jars and process in the pressure cooker.  You could probably hot water bath them, but I am more partial to the pressure cooker for canning.

I have a little left, intentionally, and will make chicken enchiladas for dinner and use the remaining amount.  I can hardly wait.

So, if you are wondering what to do with all those green globes sitting on the plants you are about to compost, try some green tomato salsa, or…. some years I make hot dog relish with them, but that is for another session.

FALL

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It’s Fall

Well after a summer of very grey weather but no rain, fall is here with a blaze of glory.  We have had a very strange year in the maritime Pacific Northwest, here on Puget Sound.  I live on an island in Puget Sound and this morning the fog has rolled in densely and is cocooning us in its wraith-like quality. Certainly appropriate for the up-coming Halloween season.

Yes, it was a very strange summer with few days where the sun shone, but still we had a drought.  By October first the y-t-d rainfall was less than eight inches, a very rare thing in these parts.  It is rare to have a drought and even more rare to have clouds throughout the season that did not bring rain.

Finally about the end of September it started to rain.  And rain it surely has. We are up to almost eleven inches and it is still the middle of October.  It has poured and poured, too late though to make the broadleaf maples turn beautiful colors.  They just got crisp and turned brown, but not so with most of the other deciduous trees which are performing spectacularly now.  It is some of the most beautiful color I can remember.  Too bad the broadleaf maples couldn’t have joined in with their show, but alas, they suffered more than most.  Cedars suffered from the drought as well, sacrificing the top third of their noble visage to conserve water, and a few have died, they being somewhat shallow-rooted.

Another phenomenon we are experiencing is a bumper crop of every kind of mushroom you can imagine including some we haven’t seen in years.  The drought has brought on varieties that require drought in order to “bloom.”  Not only are there rare varieties, but the common ones are standing in abundance in my orchard, flower beds, walkway gravel, in the woods and in the open. One state park here has limited the daily amount you can collect to two gallons! I didn’t even think it was legal to pick anything without permits in state parks.

There is heavy fog this morning and I can hear the ferry “sounding” to detect the echoes from shore.  When I first moved to this island forty-nine years ago there was also a siren that sounded like a police car winding up it siren.  It rang about every thirty seconds.  That is no longer in use and modern technology doesn’t require the ferry to “sound” any longer.  I think he does it to wake up the dock attendant.

Fog can do strange things to acoustics.  There is a railway along the shore of the mainland about three miles from my home.  I can hear the train whistle too.  It “sounds” at most crossings.  It is as loud and clear as the ferry.  If I listen carefully, I can hear the cars getting off the ferry with the clunk-clunk of the wheels on the ramp to the dock.

My rain barrels are full now.  I had emptied them early watering during the drought and had to resort to the old fashioned hose bib to water by early summer. My mint never came up until the rain came in the fall.  Now it is going great guns and mojito season is past, more like hot buttered rum and spiked cider time.

I’m not complaining as the temperatures are still in the fifties and comfortable.  The weeding is much easier now that the ground is wet.  You could hardly pull weeds when the ground was like cement. I enjoy the fog and to me it feels cozy, hiding much of the world and giving me the privacy I once enjoyed when I first moved here, before the hoards discovered that living on an island in Puget Sound is close to paradise.

Christmas Magic

“Boy and Dog” public art sculpture by local artist Georgia Gerber

Just this past week, I have had the following piece published in 2018 Whidbey Island Christmas by the Sea, published the Langley Chamber of Commerce. Four local writers have their work featured in this magazine, each featuring either some topic about Langley or about Christmas.  Enjoy

On a cold clear day in December, an old gentleman sits by himself on a bench near a bronze sculpture, “Boy and Dog,” located in a small park on First Street in Langley, Washington. His extended family had decided to take a trip there to see the Christmas decorations and do their Christmas shopping.  Having arrived on a tour boat from Seattle. The time ashore is not long, five and a half hours, but is still tiring for him. Not being fleet of foot, he has chosen this comfortable resting place, sitting on the bench with the boy and his dog in bronze for company.  He can look over Saratoga Passage to view Mount Baker and Camano Island.  If it were the springtime of the year, he might also add a grey whale and her calf to this vista, but, alas it is winter.  Because they were traveling by boat, he had bundled up when he dressed for this foray, his wife having insisted that he wear the heavy red sweater with the snowflakes all over it.  “It is Christmassy.” She had reminded him. He is toasty warm and happy to doze on this bench until his family returns.

His wife, daughter and three granddaughters have agreed to meet him here before having lunch. Their chatter, running, jumping and hanging on Grandpa has worn him down and he is happy to have just a little rest here on the bench.  There are many folks milling about both from the tour boat and those who have traveled here by car, taking the ferry from the mainland.  You see, Langley is on Whidbey Island, a popular destination.

Every year in Langley, the merchants dress the town for Christmas and this is the reason that his family has planned today’s event.  Lots of shops to see, great places to eat and….a place for grandpa to sit and enjoy the winter sun. Many fine artists live here on the island and there is an annual competition to see who can do the grandest display decorating one of the merchant’s doorways.  It is a stiff competition and the displays range from wacky and outrageous to absolutely gorgeous. Prizes are given to the winners.  Last year the Braeburn Restaurant’s façade was decorated like a large della robbia wreath, complete with Braeburn Apples. This is part of the draw to come to Langley for Christmas shopping.

While Grandpa is dozing in the sun, a flock of little girls race into the “Boy and Dog” Park where he is sitting.  They chatter like birds and awaken the old man.  He smiles at them, giving them reassurances that he is benign.  Suddenly one little girl jumps up on the bench and stands next to him. She chatters away at him in her high little girl voice.  He continues to smile and then nods his head.  She races off and talks with her companions.  “He nodded yes!” she said excitedly.  Soon there is a line of little girls, all dressed in their Christmas sweaters, red coats, red hats, fleece boots, and smiles.  They are lined up by the bench where the old man sits.  One by one they get up on the bench and whisper in his ear.  Mostly he cannot tell what they are saying because he has taken his hearing aids out and stuffed them in his jacket pocket.  And besides, little girl whispers are really hard to understand. Still he smiles and nods his head.

Soon they have all talked into his ear, and they are all smiles and twirling pigtails and happiness.  He is happy too.  Their mothers are approaching from a nearby shop where one mother has stood vigilant outside the door to be sure the girls were safe.  The girls gather around their mothers and are all trying to relate their experiences all at once with lots of shrieks and squeals about talking with the old man.

He sits contentedly on his bench enjoying their laughter and joy.  Soon his own granddaughters will be there to take him to lunch.  Hummmm….he IS getting hungry.

The little flock of girls flies off up the street while calling to the old man….GOOD BYE, SANTA!

 

Winter

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I guess that winter is here.  In a previous blog, I wrote that winter should be two months before December 21 and two months after.  Well the day before yesterday (Nov. 3rd) we had snow.  Not much, but snow.  Now it is thirty-four degrees outside.  It is dark and cloudy and they predict three inches of snow tonight.  It is early for us to have snow, but not the earliest.  The earliest was Halloween when the kids wondered about amidst the snowflakes to collect their annual haul of too much sugar.  These days, we don’t have any trick or treaters.  Haven’t now for several years and we haven’t had much early snow either.

When we woke up yesterday morning, the internet was out.  Was it just my computer being its recalcitrant self, or was the system down?  After several tries at fixes, I called a couple of neighbors and found out theirs were down as well.  Couldn’t get through to the people who provide the service so assumed that they already knew that they had had a failure.

While eating breakfast, I hear the friendly beep, beep, beep and know that we are finally back on line and that emails are arriving.  Five minutes later the power goes out. This IS winter.  Typical.

I had already made breakfast so that wasn’t an issue.  We were eating when everything went black.  We live in the woods, so it is dark without lights in our house.

What to do.  We went for a two mile walk, visiting with friends along the way to be sure they were warm and could cook food, if needed.  It was much lighter outside down the road than in the house.  Though the temperature was cold, we spent about an hour and a half outside enjoying the crisp weather and the neighbors, except for the racket of generators chugging away to keep their houses lit.

We do not have a generator. We have lived through almost fifty years of power outages.  This is nothing new. We have a small set up for the evening of a large LED light bulb in a small receptacle hooked to an inverter and then to a battery.  Works great and it is a very bright light by which to read. Works for us and we usually read in the evenings anyway.  We don’t own a television, so we don’t feel withdrawal .

After our morning walk, in the freezing weather, we came home to have tea.  Why is it the power goes out when the weather is the coldest? Anyway, my husband filled a saucepan with water (we normally use an electric teakettle), put it on the wood cookstove to boil.  I asked if he wanted his tea more quickly he might want to use the stove in the kitchen which is gas.  He tried to start the burner with the clicker on the stove, but since there was no electricity, he needed to use a match.  Habit is a hard thing to break.

Shortly after lunch, the power came back on.  It was on for a while when we had a brown out.  I called it in to the power company, but didn’t see any response.  Yet again in the next morning it was still browning out.  I called again as low voltage is not good for many appliances.

The brown out did merit some phone calls to us from neighbors, some of which I hadn’t heard from in years, to see if we were affected. At ten thirty this morning, about twenty minutes after a call the power company, the brown out was over.  The lights are bright again and the motors are humming at their usual levels.

Now life is back to normal and it is snowing.  It started the day before yesterday, just a few flakes, nothing significant.  It started again this morning and some of the roofs were white.  Fortunately, most of our neighbors now have some alternative for heat besides electricity or they have a generator to run fans on propane furnaces and stoves.  Back in the beginning, forty or fifty years ago, many did not have a way to heat when the power went off so now in our community there are “warming stations,” back then we just all got together at a warm house and had a neighborhood gathering.  I sort of miss those.

 

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.

 

 

The Golden Hour

Hot air balloons at sunrise

Lighting during the golden hour is soft, diffused, and warm. Image by Martin Sojka.

The Golden Hour

It is fall and it is time for doing clean up around the yard, harvesting fruits and vegetables and splitting wood.  However, summer is still upon us here in the Puget Sound Basin.  We have been having temperatures in the high 70s and low 80s.  Most everyone is complaining.  I love it.

We also have the addition of lots and lots of wildfires to the north, east and south of us.  Though the weatherman predicts high temperatures, they are tempered by the largely overcast sky.  The sky is overcast with smoke.  Ashes rain on the land.  My car was covered yesterday morning when I got ready to leave. The advantage, which many don’t seem to realize, is that it is keeping the high temperatures down.  It would have been ten degrees warmer if we didn’t have the high altitude smoke. Occasionally you can smell it, but it isn’t bad.

This morning I split firewood for a while and was bathed in the “golden hour.” Normally the golden hour is only a short while during the day when the sun is above the horizon, but is shrouded with particulate matter near the horizon which causes a golden glow to happen.  It isn’t usually an hour, but that is its name.  Photographers and painters just love it.  Being a painter, I am really enjoying it.  The shadows cast upon the ground all have very orange edges.  The light, though not bright, has the orange/golden color.  I would love to be able to capture this on canvas.  I am taking lots of photos so I can paint it later as I have the wood splitting/veggie harvesting/yard watering and cleanup work to do.  Somehow it is more pleasant during the golden hour which is lasting all day.

Yesterday when I went out I noticed that sun was an orange ball in the sky.  You could look directly at it without endangering your eyesight.  Too bad we didn’t have this condition during the eclipse, we could have all viewed it directly.

For those of you who are experiencing this phenomenon appreciate it while it lasts.  The heat of the day is tempered by it; it gives a wonderful feeling and makes work seem lighter.  It is seldom that we have the opportunity to experience it.  Enjoy it while it lasts.

 

 

Thank you Martin Sojka for your photo.

Enjoying the Harvest

img_3498Being an avid vegetable gardener, I was very interested in a program that the local school district is doing to help children learn about food production and preparation.  It looks like it was a great success.  Go to  https://whidbeyschoolgardens.wordpress.com/ to see the results.

We did have a wonderful year for the vegetables.  We have been giving lots to the local foodbank and friends. The tomatoes were especially productive and we have definitely eaten our fill.  We also have several dozen bottles of various tomato products sitting in the root cellar shelves.  The Brussels Sprouts are just ready now as we have just had our first frost (a very late one this year) and now they will be sweeter to eat.  The leeks are wonderful too.  We will have those fresh all winter.

The gold nugget squashes are sitting safe from mice and rats and we can eat those for the entire winter.  They will probably be gone by spring and we must have had about fifty of them.  Gave quite a few away too.  We like these in particular as they are just the right size for two people.  Though I like baked squash, hubbards and their kind are just too big.  I have tried baking them and putting them in the freezer, but it is just too much, so we have settled on the gold nugget.  They are sweet, very yellow and are also suitable for making pies.  I cut them in half and fill with sausage or sausage and cornbread dressing, or just with butter and brown sugar. Yum.

Well the dark days of winter are here and some days I am not sure the sun has even come up.  Today we will have sunrise at 7:48 a.m. and sunset at 4:15 p.m.  Not a very long day, especially when you almost need flashlights during the day.  All the lights are on in the house just to help us stay awake.

I am on my way out to chop firewood again.  With this cold snowy weather, we have burned quite a bit of wood to keep warm.  Now it is time to warm myself working outdoors splitting it.  It is something I have written about previously in this blog and something I do enjoy.

Happy Holidays and keep warm!