Monday, November 26, 2007

Thanksgiving and the Gluttony Continues

The gluttony continues. It was Thanksgiving this week after all. My favorite meal of the year. We roasted a 16 pound turkey, made two cast iron skillets of my family’s southern style dressing made of cornbread, biscuits and various leftover breads out of the freezer. Moistened with turkey broth and flavored with lots of celery, onion and sage then baked till crispy and brown in the skillet in a hot oven. Served with sliced turkey and plenty of gravy it is unbeatable.

It didn’t matter that we were only four at Thanksgiving dinner, as the leftovers make up for all the hard work on the day. The next 3 days we had turkey sandwiches for lunch and at night we had a repeat performance of the complete meal warmed in the microwave. Last night I put together 4 packages of “turkey dinner” complete with turkey, gravy and a portion of stuffing for two and put them in the freezer for later enjoyment. Tomorrow I will make a turkey soup from the remains.

At night we sleep like bears in hibernation, 9 hours when possible and wake groggy from all the tryptophan in the turkey. Just another form of the greedy autumn desire to submerge. On the day after Thanksgiving I read the seventh installment of Harry Potter. I had been saving it for a good time when I could really dive in and dive in I did. For hours I sat going deeper into the page turner. I finally succumbed to bed at 12:30, woke the next morning and finished the exciting climax with my morning coffee.

In a trance a few weeks ago I ordered 800 bulbs. What was I thinking? They were mostly small bulbs I reasoned and would be easy to plant. Not exactly true when they came and I saw that even the little ones need to be 4-6 inches deep. Oh well, each day that I am working in the yard I put a few more in. A smattering of crocus here, a cluster of daffodils there, some blue muscari to create a pool of color in a corner or under a tree. Next spring they will bring much pleasure as they emerge and bloom from all over the yard and edges of the woods.

Yesterday I planted five small lilac bushes that the sweetie pie started from cuttings last year in a semi-circle at the bottom of the yard. I surrounded them with daffodils and crocus. My plan is to build a small patio, just large enough for two chairs where we can sit with a cup of tea, smell the lilacs, and gaze up across the orchard and lawn to the house and garden.

In a similar trance in the spring of 2006 we went to Scott Stone out near Mebane and bought 8 pallets of Pennsylvania field stone for walls and 8 more of flag stone for walkways and terraces, 26 tons of rock now sit on the east side of the house waiting for us to do something with them. The lilac terrace will be my first wall attempt I think, on the far edge of the yard, a good spot to experiment with my stone wall building skills and perfect my technique in a place that isn’t easy to view.

Whenever I come around that side of the house and see the stone I think,” there is my life’s work waiting for me.” There is so much to be thankful for that I can’t even begin to put it all down. I have stone and the time to lay it, bulbs and the time to plant them, and enough food in our fridge, freezer and garden to last us for months. Suffice it to say that life is incredibly good for us in this place and time and we are much more fortunate than many across the country and the planet that are torn by war, famine and poverty. This good fortune does not go unnoticed or unappreciated.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Autumn Gluttony

Gluttony takes me over in the fall. I just want to cook, eat and sleep. In between, I take long walks in the woods and work in my yard. Free from chiggers and ticks, I bask in the clear, dry days, I even lie down in the cool grass.
I walked up the mountain today. I don’t go there in the summer, too steep, close, buggy. Tree trunks felled ten years ago in hurricane Fran still lie like corpses striping the hillside, granite boulders breach through a sea of brown leaves, lichen patterns their surface like barnacles on a whale. Oak and hickory seedlings and low bush blueberries crowd the path, acorns crunch under my boots.

A chain saw growls from the Peabody’s side of the mountain, the sound of hammers on wood cracks through the air from the site of our newest neighbors’ soon to be house. As I walk along the trail I lose my way at times, the fallen leaves camouflage the path. The top of the mountain is covered with towering oaks and jutting granite rock outcrops. I sit to rest, breathing hard. It’s still shrouded in leaves up there, in another month a view to the east will be unveiled that includes the dome on the Moorhead Planetarium and the steeple of the First Presbyterian Church on Franklin Street.

The architecture of the forest also begins to reveal itself. The height and drama of tree trunks come back into focus, the lay of the land apparent again, a rise here, rutted road bed there. The trail follows a ridge down from the mountain. Before it drops down to the creek bottom, there is an old fire ring made of stacked stone, set low in the center of a group of large boulders. I like to picture hunters 50 years ago, or even Native Americans 500 years ago, camping there and staying warm in that protected spot.

The dry rocky creek bottoms fill with brown leaves. On the way back home I cross the pond, the beavers are building a new lodge in the face of the dam, with a long tunnel that stretches out into what little water is left. White throated sparrows and kinglets are back and they call to me from the witch hazel thicket at the marsh end of the pond. They flit through the round-leaved shrubs, teasing me to try and find them.

At home I’ve been busy with the activities of first frost and tonight possibly our first freeze. I’ve made green tomato and lemon marmalade, green tomato and apple chutney, and green tomato and chile salsa. I made one last batch of pesto and roasted and froze three dozen poblanos and a big bagful of serranos. It’s dangerous for me to go to the grocery store. The fridge and freezer are overflowing with food and I just want to buy more.

I ran in just for some milk yesterday. I already had a fridge full of chickens I bought on sale, waiting to be cut up for the freezer and their backs turned into stock. I bought two packages of boneless beef short ribs, reduced for quick sale, and two packs of mushrooms. I imagined how rich and good that would be on a cold night, cooked together in a broth of red wine, with a few late season red tomatoes and fresh herbs. I threw in a package of egg noodles, thinking that a perfect accompaniment.

Our garden still looks phenomenal. Despite the drought, we have watered the vegetables from the well so they are lush and green and tender. In early November we are eating beets, spinach, lettuce, cilantro, parsley, arugula, carrots, Swiss chard, kale, turnip and mustard greens. I am holding out hope for the broccoli, heads now the size of a ping pong ball and the cabbage, about the size of a baseball, even though they were chomped by a groundhog during their formative stage, they are trying their best to make. The Brussels sprouts, planted late and also devoured by the woodchuck, are less promising, the petit chou are only the size of a pin head.

I’ve been slowly planting shrubs that have been waiting in pots in the nursery, some of them for years. Some we bought, some are seedlings and many my sweetie pie started from cuttings of other plants. Thanks to a three inch rain last week I can actually dig. I spend as much time reveling in the day as I do working. I get lots of exercise walking back to the shed for a forgotten tool, and switch tasks frequently to provide my out of shape muscles with a little variety.

Get some tools, dig a hole, shovel a load of manure and dump it by the compost heap. Gaze at the trees and sky for a while. Plant the shrub, get a load of mulch, put some on the shrub and take the rest for the compost heap. Get a drink of water and do some “yard yoga” maybe a little warrior or triangle pose. As I lean forward and twist, my right arm reaching towards the sky, I see two hawks circling, they look like dragonflies they are so high up. Carry water from the rain barrel to the shrub. Cut back the dying tomatoes into small pieces for easy decomposition and layer those into a new compost pile with the wheelbarrow loads I brought down earlier. It’s a dance, waltzing from one task to the next, blue sky above me, leaves swirling down.

Daylight savings time is over, so by 3:00 the light is long, by 4:00 it begins to feel dark and by 5:00 I’m thinking about supper. What delightful combination of rib sticking item will we pair with what green veggie from the garden? How will we wile away the evening after the meal has been savored? Most likely loitering on the couch with a book or TV, until it’s late enough to justify slipping into the sheets to slumber until next light.