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.

The Idiosyncrasies of Isolation

When can you remember (as an adult, not a child) having a time where you no longer had any commitments? No obligations? No appointments? Not working? Well, in Washington State, as of midnight last night, this is the status quo. Our governor declared that we not leave our homes for any non-essential reason.  We have a governing body that has decided what is essential and we are supposed to conform to that.  Medical issues, groceries, pharmacies, liquor stores (wow?) are open for our essential needs.  Almost all others, including the Boeing Company, employing almost a quarter of a million people and the largest employer in Washington state, are closed.

It is amazing what a virus can do.  We have a large number of confirmed cases here on the island where I live and the mainland across the sea from me has many more (65confirmed {March 25, 2020, the fifth largest number for a county in the state).  Western Washington was the first site of the outbreak and it is growing daily.  This virus is much stronger than the ones we have had in past years, though in the 2018-2019 winter season over 34,000 people died of flu in the US.  This one poses an even great threat, so mass isolation has been issued here in our state.

I live on a five acre farm and I can go out and work in the gardens, take a walk, and be outdoors as long as I maintain a distance of six feet from my neighbors.  I seldom see my neighbors.  I am an artist and I have been painting, painting, painting.  I have all the time I want to paint.

Idiosyncrasies? Well, my husband and I have been getting along better than ever.  We never have had so much time together.  I was worried that the constant contact would bring about bickering, but quite the contrary. We are having a great time.  Maybe having more time to interact has brought us closer.  We sit at breakfast and have discussions about all sorts of things, sometime for hours.  (I don’t have to get out of my jammies until I want.) We may see more divorces and we may see a boom in the babies born nine months hense.

Idiosyncrasies? We will probably get fat, but we are making all kinds of wonderful meals.  Tonight was Beef Stroganoff, last night was Swedish meatballs.  We fixed Chinese dumplings a biaozi (steam buns) with hot and sour soup and onion pancakes, pecan pie, peanut butter/chocolate cookies—FROM SCRATCH.  You get the idea.  I think that we will get fat during our incarceration!

Idiosyncrasies? Well the downside is we drink more alcohol.  Not a good thing.  Makes you fat and is addictive.  Enough said about that.

Idiosyncrasies?  The house is cleaner than it normally is.  This is a good time for spring cleaning and preparing to get rid of the “non-essential” stuff that has been a burden for who knows how long.  Clean out the closet of anything you haven’t worn in a year or that doesn’t fit, but you are hoping to fit into soon. Not likely since we are eating so much better and drinking more and probably gaining weight, but don’t have the nerve to get on scale to find out.

Idiosyncrasies? Communicating more than we normally would.  We are sending email and phoning relatives and friends a lot more often than we would normally would.  We don’t usually use the telephone this much, but people call to see how we are and we have a number of folks we check on as well, some because we cannot go out or because they cannot go out, but just to be sure that all is well with everyone we know.

Has this isolation caused us to do things much differently? Well, my husband and I are not particularly social people, so we do not miss the parties, dinners and social engagements too much because for us they are few and far between. We do have friends that have contracted the virus and who were in compromised positions even before that, so we are keeping them close to our hearts and trying to stay in touch every day.  We are trying to see to any needs they may have without compromising our own situation. (Ordering deliveries from Amazon for their needs or for gifts.)

I must say there is a new freedom I feel as a result of this isolation.  When I was very young and asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, I replied, “I want to be a hermit.” In all honesty I guess I still enjoy a life free of the encumbrances of society. If nothing else it would give me time to do whatever I wanted, be it mend the broiler on my oven (which went out last and I am waiting for parts) or painting and creating to my heart’s content.

This coronavirus is a bad thing and we should all treat it with respect.  We are staying isolated even to the dismay of some our friends, but my spouse has compromised lung issues and it would be devastating to our household if it enters our lives. Better to be safe than sorry.  To parrot the governor, “Stay home, stay healthy.”

Remember, life is fragile, protect it.

If you are doing something wonderful in your time off, freedom from commitment, let us know.

Camping in November?

Bouchon Roast Turkey

Who in western Washington State goes camping in November? I am sitting in the John Wayne Waterfront Resort in Sequim (pronounced squim for the uninformed). The park is mostly full with only a couple of spots open for this evening.

Winter in western Washington is noted for its dreary, wet, gray weather.  Sequim, however, touts that it has 200 days of sunshine a year and today is one of them.  On my last camping trip in September, when driving through Sequim, it was not one of the two hundred and it was coming down in buckets!

Finding camping locations any time of year is becoming more difficult as there are more and more full time RV’ers, as they are termed.  They move from campground to campground extending their stays to the full limit of days allowed by each location. Some locations can let them stay as many as one hundred and eighty days while state parks limit your stay to eleven.  One private campground company will allow only a certain number of days in a row and you must locate to a non-membership campground before you can return to the membership ones.

Consequently it takes a lot of finessing to be a full time camper.  You need an enormous of patience to be an occasional camper.  We camp about once a month, sometimes for a few days and sometimes for a week and half. It has now become necessary to think nine months in advance.  That is as far ahead as you can reserve a state park site in Washington State.  No last minute camping trips anymore.

So here we are sitting under blue skies in November on the Olympic Peninsula.  It is the second year in a row that we have decided to spend Thanksgiving camping in our trailer in Sequim. Gorgeous sunrise this morning.  Cold but no frost yet.

In years past, and when we were younger, we always went someplace for Thanksgiving.  One time we cooked a turkey over a fire on San Juan Island in the Straights of Juan de Fuca.  The wind blew so hard we couldn’t get any heat on the turkey.  Finally upended a couple of picnic tables to create a windbreak so the turkey would cook.

One year we slept in the back of our Volvo station wagon and just about froze as the frost outside was white and an inch deep.  Luckily it was a two dog night and we happened to have two which we invited to share our space to keep us warm.

We have had many horrific storms in the Pacific Northwest on various holidays, The Valentines Storm, The Columbus Day Storm and, yes, The Thanksgiving Day Storm.  We were barbequing a turkey on Orcas Island that year. Before the storm started, we went for a walk and when we returned, the barbeque had blown away and we never found the turkey. We ate beef stroganoff for Thanksgiving. When we returned to Whidbey the power was out for eight days.  We hadn’t lost power on Orcas, however.

Another Thanksgiving on Orcas, the metal sign outside our cabin blew in the wind all night long making a screeching sound that did not permit sleep.  We didn’t know what it was until we could see it in the morning daylight when it was swinging in the wind.

Thanksgiving is the last camping trip for the year.  We usually do not go out again until about April which means camping in the rain.  Then we try to go monthly throughout the spring, summer and fall, even if just for a couple of days. We don’t sleep on the ground or in the back of a car, or on a picnic table in our older age.  We have a fifth wheel trailer with most of the comforts of home.

Because of the potential for heavy frost, we winterized our rig in September when we returned from two weeks camping.  So we have most of the comforts of home except water.  Winterizing entails removing the water from all the waterlines, the hot water heater and the water pump.  It’s a little more like real camping to haul a bucket water in to heat and wash dishes or to take a “spit” bath.  This campground has the luxury of a HEATED bathroom with a shower that has real hot water, so I braved the cold morning sunrise to walk the block or so to the shower and indulge in a nice hot one.

Camping isn’t sleeping on the ground and cooking over a campfire for us anymore.  I think the clincher was when I awoke to the feeling that a vampire was sucking on my neck in the middle of the night.  It turned out to only be a Western Washington banana slug. Yuk!  No more sleeping on the ground.

Chinese Halloween

Beijing Opera Mask & Jack-O-Lantern
Beijing Opera Mask & Jack-O-Lantern

I taught English at Beijing Foreign Studies University, the largest language university in China some years ago. We, of course, discussed all the holidays in America as they approached. Though Halloween is not typically celebrated in China, my students were fascinated by the idea of it. After much scurrying around, they finally found something that actually looked like a pumpkin, weighed about ten pounds, but was some type of large, yellow winter squash and wanted to carve it as we had discussed in class.  An outing was in order as I didn’t want the mess in the classroom. Off to the Purple Bamboo Park we walked with a picnic lunch and the essentials to carve the “pumpkin” into a Jack-o-Lantern.  They had a great time and a couple of students even brought along Beijing Opera Masks to wear.  It was one of the few sunny days in late autumn, and we sat on blankets and enjoyed carving and being in the sun and practicing our English.  Several strangers came by to see what we were doing and ask questions about this American custom. My students explained all they had learned in class to the casual passers by.

In the evening we put the carved pumpkin with a candle inside in the lobby window of our apartment building and all my other classes came by to trick-or-treat and have cookies, beer and whiskey in our apartment.  While the students were there, several children of the other language teachers in the building came by to trick-or-treat as well.  One didn’t speak English, so my Chinese students taught her how to say “trick or treat” in English.  There were lots of giggles and smiles and excitement when they got goodies at our door. They had improvised costumes as they had heard we were celebrating this  American holiday in our apartment. Luckily I had baked LOTS of cookies.  The chocolate chunk ones were a real favorite with gingersnaps running a close second.

In China, Tomb Cleaning Day would be the closest in intent to Halloween, similar to All Saints Day in Mexico.  The family will come to clean the tomb, offer burned paper money and food, and eat a picnic.  So in a way, the students could relate to the Halloween tradition.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Beijing Opera Mask & Jack-O-Lantern

Fair Time

 

It is July and it is fair time.  I was always a pretty active participant in the fair, bringing goods and winning ribbons was lots of fun.  That was forty years ago.  The fair has changed considerably in more recent times.

It is still the fair, but it is no long run by the county and therefore not a “county” fair.  It is the Whidbey Island Fair run now by the Island County Port Commission.

During the transition from one system to another some important things were neglected, the major one being the booking of the carnival folks.  We always had the fair around the middle of August when things were hot and dusty.  Now the fair is the middle of July, much too early for an agricultural event.

What happened? When the port realized that they hadn’t booked the carnival, it wasn’t available and there weren’t any others available for the usual time frame, mid August.  What to do?  Well you need a carnival for the fair and the only one available was available way too early for an agricultural event.  They booked it and moved the fair up a month.

What were the repercussions of this sad move?  The carnival activities look ok, though this concessionaire is smaller and doesn’t have the usual Ferris wheel or roller coaster or hammer. The rides aren’t as exciting.

The biggest repercussion is the agriculture events.  How many folks in Western Washington (night temps in the 50s) have corn ready to show at the fair?  Only strawberries have ripened in time.  You should see the examples of garlic, beans, and squash.  Piddily. Most of the produce is just coming on and showing juvenile veggies is not what the fair is about. There were flowers, but they were early summer ones not late summer, a completely different collection than what we use to see.  Folks can’t get inspired to show their wares if they are still immature.

Cattle, pigs, sheep are still somewhat under their usual August weights.  Auctions bring in smaller dollar amounts.  Horses are ready any time as are the chickens, rabbits, dogs, cats, and such.

When I first moved to the island and lived in a Clinton beach community, the local kids and I would go on walkabout and collect shells, sea glass, seed pods, driftwood, and rocks and work on project gluing these to plywood or larger driftwood to enter the kid’s crafts.  It was fun and they treasured the ribbons given to them for their labors. Nowadays the kids are on computers or cell phones and don’t collect detritus from the beach to make beach collages.  Too bad because the exhibit was painfully lacking in interesting material.

Photography seemed to be popular with hundreds of participants, but most were just snapshots without much concentration on creating a piece of art.  The fine arts exhibition was beautiful with a variety of participants, but smaller than in past years.

The usual commercial exhibits didn’t show because the attendance wasn’t high enough—no vegamatic.

We usually go on the first day of the fair in order to see the flowers and vegetables and baked goods at their best, before the wilt and mold set in.  Baking was poorly attended, but there were a goodly number of flowers.  Vegetables were, and have been for all the years the fair  has been in July, small, and severely lacking.  It used to be my favorite department and I would always participate.  Unfortunately, this year, the weather has not cooperated especially, with temps in the 50s at night and 60s during the day and rain to damage much of the goods.

My students produced an educational project that garnered a blue ribbon.  I won two blues and a red.  Many of my students achieved the blue ribbon and some the best of category.  I am proud of them.  The judge was fair and did write critiques for them to read about their work.  It is good to compete as you put your best foot forward and work on painting harder.  The rewards reinforce their attempts. Not everyone goes home happy, but most are happy.  I will crack the whip next year to get them to compete again.

All in all, I enjoyed my work time at the fair (4 hours) as I got to see old friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen in years, many of whom I have know as long as I have lived here (almost fifty years) and one who I have known since high school.  It becomes a reunion time.  Some of the kids from the beach collage are parents and grandparents now.  It is good to see their development.  Some of the folks ask questions and one family had only lived here a week.  They were really enthusiastic about the country fair never having been to a small, old fashioned one.

I had my Fisher Flour Mill scone which I have had at the fair as long as I have lived here.  When I was a little kid we went to the Puyallup Fair, which is officially the Western Washington State Fair and had a scone at the Fisher booth.  My sister and I would collect coupons off the flour sacks all year so we could each have a free scone with strawberry jam using the coupons.  I am told the line is very long now, though I haven’t been to that fair in years, too commercial. We don’t get free ones any more, however.

Without a doubt I enjoyed myself and maybe I should work to make it a better event.  We need to keep these small fairs going, they are dying out in America and they are really what the county or country fair is really about. You should seek them out and visit.  They are truly a part of rural America.

PS:  See my award on my website https://theruralgallery.com

The Chinese New Year’s Eve Dinner

The year sure went fast and now we are in the year of the dog.  Being a dog lover, this is a good year.  Ours is getting old, but it is his year.

Anyway, we have been eating Chinese food now for a week and loving it.  We hadn’t had a big dinner, with many dishes, for a while so we decided to invite friends and serve a bunch of dishes.

Recently on KNKX in Seattle there was a discussion on their “Food for Thought” page that was debunking the fact that you can’t make decent Chinese dishes at home.  I agree, you can make wonderful dishes at home.  I find the only drawback with making them at home in the US of A is getting the raw materials.  There is a wonderful grocery on the mainland where I can occasionally shop, but I am seldom likely to get on the ferry at $14 to go there just for groceries. Still, they don’t have everything that I used to get down the street when I lived in Beijing.

But it IS possible to make good Chinese dishes at home. Here is the menu from our 4715 year of the dog new year’s eve celebration.  Typically you should serve at least two dishes for each of the number of people attending.

Snow peas fried until crispy

BBQ pork with hot mustard (red pork)

Pork Jiaozi (dumpling with sweet and spicy sauce)

Porcupine balls

Char Sui Baozi (steam buns)

ShuMai ( two kinds: crab and also shrimp)

Steamed pork bones with hot peppers and fermented black bean

Eggplant with peppers and potatoes

Lacquered chicken with ginger/scallion oil

Cucumber salad with black vinegar and cilantro

Coconut gelee with red almond happiness character

Walnut cookie

It was a lot and we did have leftovers.  It was a great meal and very reminiscent of our meals in China, maybe not the banquets, but adequate enough for us to feel very good about it.

If you are hesitant to try making Chinese food at home, I would suggest you start with one dish plus rice.  This way you won’t be overcome trying to do quick, stir-fried cooking all at the last minute.  When we chose our menu, we only had a couple of items that had to be made just before serving.  Many of the items were in the steamer cooking so didn’t require a “dance” to bring it all off.  The eggplant dish could sit for a few moments without harm.  We were not rushed.

One website I like to refer to is The Woks of Life for recipes.  They show step by step photos of the processes for each dish with clear instructions.  Sometimes they have ingredients that are unavailable to me, but I can generally find something to substitute.  That is the beauty of this type of cooking. Another site that I have just found, due to the information on KNKX, is Chinese Cooking Demystified at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC54SLBnD5k5U3Q6N__UjbAw.  Check those out and take on the challenge of Cooking Chinese dishes.

 

Good Food

Recently we went camping and one of the places we were sure to stop on our way down the coast was Westport, Washington.  Westport is a key charter fishing port.  There are tons of charter fishing boats as well as private fishing boats, crabbers, ones who fish for salmon, halibut and much more.

This is a very small town which has only a small business district with lots of restaurants for fisherman who are staying there to eat.  We were there once when we had a medical emergency and we would have had to travel a very long distance to get help according to a local clinic.  Either we would have had to go to Pt. Angeles or Astoria.  We decided to deal with it ourselves.  This tells you that the services in this town are skimpy and mostly related to charter fishing.

There are however several places here for the gourmand. One of the best is a seafood shack for purchasing oysters, scallops, mussels, all kinds of fish and more is located here.  We purchased our usual pint of yearling oysters and ate oysters for breakfast, lunch and dinner for a couple of days.  These quarter size delicacies are extra ordinary.  Doused with a little panko and lemon zest and fried in browned butter there is nothing better.  For breakfast, fried bacon, onions and oysters in scrambled eggs with home fries on the side you are really eating high on the hog.

The other place that is near and dear to our hearts is Bay City Meats.  These folks are the best source for sausages and meats.  We bought Mulligans, linguisa, chorizo, breakfast sausage, landjager, and more.

We have been home for about a month now and we broke open the chorizo for dinner tonight.  It was exquisite! Spicy with just the right amount of fat.  The stuff they sell locally is about 75% fat. Yuck.  This was just perfect.  I made chili sauce with guajillo chilies by roasting them in a little oil and then blending with boiling water, garlic and grilled tomatoes.  I put the chorizo, chili sauce and grated cheese in tortillas and spread with sauce and cheese on the top.  Just the right amount of heat and aromatics to make a dinner that was over the top.  I can still taste it and the house has this wonderful aroma.

Luckily we still have tortillas, sauce and some fried chorizo left to make migas for breakfast.  Our version is to take the chili sauce and poach eggs in it.  I will fry tortillas, dip them in the chili sauce, place the poached egg on top and cover with chorizo and more chili sauce and cheese.  Boy I am hungry already and it is still evening.

When we were on this camping trip we also found in Twisp, Washington a source for elk burger, so we had elk burger spaghetti and elk burger pastitsio last week, but those are for another blog.

Take care and enjoy.