Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Thankful for Oysters

Thought I better squeak in one more post before November whooshed on by.

My life has been a whirlwind over the past 2 weeks.  The weekend of November 18th-20th I went up to Asheville to attend the NC Writers Network Conference.  I've just recently joined the organization and this was my first conference.  It was exciting to be with so many other writers and hear and learn about the many genres and styles that everyone was writing in.  There were folks working on non-fiction and memoir, fiction and poetry too. The weekend was action packed, I learned a lot, got some good feedback and critique and got inspired about writing.   I was reminded that to truly sell yourself as a writer is tons of work and lots of self-promotion is required plus the actual time to write-oh yeah-don't forget the writing part! 

I was wiped out by the time I got home but there was no rest for the weary with Thanksgiving on the horizon.  My brother Jon and his wife Candy came to town for the week so there was much merry making, visiting, and long walks together.  And as it was Thanksgiving, we cooked and cooked and cooked some more, which meant endless dish washing, and eating too, can't complain about the eating.
Remains of the oyster fest
 I had the bright idea of getting a half bushel of oysters through our Community Supported Fishery.  I learned a few lessons about oysters:
  • A half bushel of oysters in the shell equals well over 100, that is a lot of oysters.
  • People from the mid-west (half our guests that night) don't eat a lot of oysters, if any at all.
  • Oysters are hard to shuck
But I did remember how much I love raw oysters, they are juicy with brine and biting into one with a squeeze of lemon on top is like eating the sea.  The oyster fans on hand enjoyed them. I discovered after the party that the best tool for shucking is an old fashioned "church key" -a bottle opener on one end, can opener on the other.  We possess three of these but didn't make the discovery til later, when we were shucking the second half and wondering what the two of us were going to do with all those oysters.  Well we had some fried, we had some more raw, and we put the last into a delicious oyster stew cooked up with the oysters of the woods we came across on one of the walks we took together.
Oyster mushrooms carefully tucked into a shawl to carry home
The weather was spectacular and we spent much time outside when we were not busy cooking and eating.  Over the weekend David and I worked in the garden for hours, transplanting and moving things around before the rain and cold set in.  The creeks are slowly filling again and here you can see the brilliant sky reflected from above.
It's always good to be with family especially at holiday time, but also nice to get back into the normal routine after everyone has gone.  I've got a busy work week coming up and then looking forward to some slower days as December rolls along.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Week of the Ginko Leaf Drop

The Ginko Biloba, also known as the Maidenhair Tree, is apparently a living fossil.  Living fossil is an informal term for any living species which appears similar to a species otherwise only known from fossils and which has no close living relatives. The one we are familiar with, that has fan shaped leaves, is the only variety left growing on the earth, although there were many other ginkos in earlier times and they're preserved in the fossil record.  You may have heard that Ginko can be taken to enhance memory and slow dementia but there is apparently little scientific evidence to back up this claim.

The Ginko is an unusual tree and is apparently more closely related to ferns than to trees because it reproduces through sperm which actually "swim" to the flowers for fertilization, much like ferns, mosses and algae.  You can read more about the tree and this amazing form of reproduction here.

The slide show below is of our ginko tree, which was planted about 8 years ago.  These photos were taken over a period of two weeks. The last two pictures were taken in the past two days.  It's another interesting thing about ginkos, they tend to drop all of their leaves rapidly, within just a few days.  When I was a student at UNC Chapel Hill in the late 70's there was an ancient ginko tree on campus and each fall there was a contest to guess "when will the ginko drop its leaves?"  Aside from the unique fan shaped leaves, my favorite thing about this tree is its transition from deep green to gold, sometimes it seemed it turned more golden over the course of a single day.  And the pale yellow field of leaves on the ground once the tree is bare is almost as lovely as the sight of the tree as its turning.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Wired for Sound

 I'm not sure if I've voiced it here, but I have been absolutely on fire lately.  Kind of like that flaming maple leaf up above.  Electric, wired for sound as we used to say.  I could blame it on the moon but I've been this way for over a month now.  I could attribute it to the change in the weather from hot to comfortable, which has me outside more and enjoying the world again, no longer trapped inside an air conditioned house wishing the fall would come.   But more than that, I just think I am finally figuring out what it is I'm supposed to do with the rest of my life and I'm really excited about it.  Ideas are pouring into my psyche almost faster than I can process them. It's a little scary sometimes, and at extreme moments I wonder if I'm suffering from some sort of mania, but all in all, I feel fabulous and fired up about my future and whats to come.

Now this might seem strange in a time when the world is really struggling on many levels.  And until recently I'll admit I was pretty down myself wondering what else could go wrong with the economy, our political system, wars, drought and famine, climate change and all the other problems on the planet.  And it's not that I have stopped worrying about all those things, but some how, I'm feeling better, like there is a shift in the universe, critical mass working towards a revolution that will bring us around before the cataclysm.  Maybe its the Occupy folks and the recognition of the 99%, or the discovery in searching around the web of all kinds of groups and websites dedicated to good news, right and simple living and how we can still save the world and take care of everyone at the same time.

This week I came across the concept of Plenitude Economics or as Tree Hugger defines it: Work Less, Play More and Stop Screwing the Planet .  Hop on over there and watch this 5 minute video based on the book and concepts of Juliet Schor.  The basic premise is that if we all worked a little less, there would be more jobs to go around, we would all be happier and we would have more time to dedicate to our families and friends and to sustainable ways of being, like growing gardens and taking care of our communities and the earth.  Its worth taking a look at.

This video and concept struck a chord with me. Over the past few years I've been able to work part-time, doing work I enjoy and that I find meaningful.  As a result I've  had more time to pay attention to the world around me, to be in my space, spend more time on the vegetable garden, take more walks in the woods.  I enjoy walking out to hang the wash on the line, experiencing the day,  paying attention to the weather.  Before I would have used the dryer because I didn't have time to hang-up the clothes and take them back down, but now, I have the time, and I find enjoyment in the very act of carrying the clothes out and back, feeling the air and sun on my skin, smelling that fresh scent on the sheets when I climb into bed at night.  And I'm saving a few kilowatts off the power bill. 

These are the small and simple things that really make life worth living.  We should all have the opportunity to have these moments. I want to keep having them and figure out how to help other people live freer and more simply too.

PS: I've added a gadget to my home page, over there on the right, where you can put in your e-mail address and you'll get a notice when I've posted to the blog so you don't have to keep checking all the time for something new.  If you're so inclined, check it out and sign up, it's easy to do.  And thanks to all of you that have commented and written about the blog since my plea for feedback a few weeks ago, that has helped me immensely to feel better about moving forward and blogging more.  I appreciate all my readers.  Thanks.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Week of Delicious Food

Kneading the sour dough 
You may wonder how my efforts with the sourdough have been going since I procured some starter a couple of weeks ago.  The rye I remembered so fondly was a bit heavy, but the flavor was nice, caraway is so distinctive.  I tried pancakes and thought they were a little thin, we normally make a multi-grain buttermilk pancake and they are hard to top.  The sourdough pancakes did have a stretchy texture that was interesting and the flavor was nice, we were thinking they would be good as crepes, or probably similar to the injera bread that they serve with Ethiopian food.  Today I tried the french bread recipe in the Tassajara Bread Book and the loaves turned out enormous and lighter than I would expect french bread to be.  I think in future I will make the loaves smaller and not let them rise quite so long.   They did have a crisp crust and good sourdough flavor.

Seems we have been cooking and eating up a storm.  Last week we made butternut squash ravioli and served them with garlic-herb butter, topped with pecans and fresh Parmesan.  They were stupendous and not that hard to make.  And bonus- half the batch went into the freezer for a super easy dinner sometime soon.  We are still eating all kinds of fresh things from the garden, loads of salads, spinach, the last of the green beans, red peppers, sweet potatoes and herbs.  The shitake logs are sprouting again, the food just keeps coming.

This was also our week to receive our Community Supported Fishery share from Core Sound Seafood.  Here David is basting the scored flounder with hot oil.  Not a diet dish, but WOW! this fried flounder topped with a Thai garlic sauce was spectacular.  Beautiful and tasty too.  We served it with a side of shitake mushrooms sauteed with red peppers, purple onion scallions and green beans over udon noodles.
Tomorrow starts another week that promises more glorious weather and hopefully the first head of fall broccoli from our patch.  The woods have gone all golden brown and the leaves are coming down.  Soon it will be time to break out the rakes and tidy up.  I'm trying to get in as many bike rides as I can before the weather turns to winter.  I hope autumn can hang on for a little while longer.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Banner Birthday Celebration

It's been a good week on Trout Lily Lane.  The weather has been glorious; warm, sunny and the leaves are hitting peak.  I've been working outside, cleaning up the front garden, weeding and cutting things back. 

Yesterday was my birthday and it was an excellent day from start to finish.  I met my friend Alison for what has become our regular morning swim on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Such a great way to start the day.  We went out for a swell breakfast, I went to vote and then came home to spend the afternoon puttering outside.  Dinner with our buddies John and Michele; homemade pizza, fresh salad and champagne.  Then off to Playmakers theater to see The Parchman Hour.  An excellent play about a group of Freedom Riders in the 60's who were arrested and incarcerated in the notorious Parchman penitentiary in Mississippi.  To maintain their sanity, they organized nightly variety shows from their cells, singing and telling stories and jokes to get through the long nights.  Good music, singing, choreography and historical references.  Enjoyed by all. We topped off the night with dessert at the Lantern where I had a warm chocolate cake with roasted peanut ice cream, very tasty, but the star dessert was a coffee creme caramel.

If the quality of yesterday was any indication, I think its going to be a banner year.
In the yard the little Japanese maples have really come into their prime this week.  We have several that David dug from my fathers yard, seedlings of uncertain parentage, they have all developed quite well, some turning red others coppery at this time of year.  I look forward to seeing them mature over time.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Fall Back Into Darkness

The time changed last night, always a weird thing.  And I woke up at 5:00 new time, 6:00 old time and I couldn't go back to sleep.  After coffee and writing my morning pages I wandered up to the corner to watch the light move over the land and sky.  The cows were still hunkered down from the night, birds were beginning to twitter and twitch in the hedgerows.  The air was very still and I could hear a great horned owl hoo hoo hoo-hoo off in the distance.  A flock of geese honked across the morning sky looking for breakfast.  Three planes took off from RDU, the first one catching the sun from below the horizon, making it look like a huge shooting start.  I could hear the traffic on I-40 even at 7 AM on Sunday morning- the cars never stop moving down that road, 7 miles from us and I can hear it still.
I decided today must be the day to deal with these purple onions gone awry.  I've been watching them sprout for weeks and saying, "I need to do something with those,  I really do"  The purples are the first to go, followed by the whites, the yellows are built for storage and should hold well into the winter.  But these, I couldn't let them sit another day or I knew they would be wasted.  So I cleaned them up, saved the sprouting greens to use as scallions, and sliced all the rest into rings.  

With one pound I made these lovely pickles.  They were easy and are crisp and mild.  I poured boiling water over them in a colander and then set them to steep in the vinegar with herbs and peppercorns.  The remaining three pounds are caramelizing on the stove as I write.  I want to get outside and enjoy the beautiful day but those onions need my attention at the critical moment of reducing and browning, they should be done soon and then I'll be set free from my onion penitence.  I only had to throw a few into the compost, too far gone.

Tonight dark will come early, it will be a shock.  But hopefully I will rest well and adjust easily to the new schedule. I do appreciate having earlier morning light, but it is a trade-off.  About 6 weeks still until the winter solstice, days continuing to shorten until that point. I hope the energy and joy I've been feeling lately can remain with me during the dark days to come.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


First mess of collards, last bowl of tomatoes

We have been eating greens every night and it's such a pleasure.  Good and good for you, after a summer of eating beans, squash, tomatoes, corn and cabbage, it's a treat to be back to good old greens in so many forms.  I've been sauteing kale and beet thinnings, spinach and chard. Tonight I'm going to shred that pile of collards above and saute them up in some olive oil with garlic and red pepper flakes, toss in a little water and put on the lid to let them steam until they are tender.  We'll have a squash casserole that I froze in July and a chicken breast to round out the meal.
Tender mesclun in the garden ready to cut

  A lettuce salad is pretty much required daily to stay on top of the crop.  Ripe peppers, tomatoes, blanched and chilled green beans and radishes dress them up.  I also buy those giant storage beets this time of year.  I don't think you could ever grow one that big in NC.  You can find organic ones at the grocery, they are ridiculously expensive, but who knows how long it took them to get that big.  I'm talking about beets that weigh a pound and a half.  Wash and dry and rub with oil and wrap tightly in tin foil.  Roast in a 375 oven for about an hour to an hour and a half or until a small sharp knife sticks easily in.  Cool and peel, they are tender and deep purple and sweet as candy.  And one 24 ounce beet can cover a lot of salads, so don't blanch when it rings up as $4 or $5 at the store!