Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Soft Shelled Egg

The sky threatened rain again this thundered and darkened and the wind picked up. I called my friends Becca and Tom at the front of the ranch, "You getting any rain up there?" When they answered in the affirmative, I wasn't surprised as I could see the rain two hills over and I watched it heading my way. Before it made it to the next hill it fizzled out. But it cooled down nicely. Oh well. I went out to the garden to see if anything I planted last week was up yet and was greeted by some radish sprouts and tiny beet leaves. I'd left the gate to the garden open and the Buff chicken tried to sneak in, but I beat her to the gate and closed it behind me. Thinking I could herd the chickens into the coop (yeah, right) I walked over there. They followed for awhile, but abandoned me when our old cat, Negrito walked into the run. I went into the coop and checked for eggs and found two from the brown leghorns. On top of the laying boxes was something that caught my eye. Wow! A soft shelled egg. I've only seen two in my 15 years of raising chickens. Kinda' creepy in a way, it is malleable and translucent and I carried it inside to show it to Scott. He'd never seen one. His thrill for the night...
When I slit it open, it was almost all yolk. I fed it to Negrito and I could hear him purring in between lapping it up.
The mornings have been beautiful lately. Cool and misty. Even if I don't get out to walk until 8:30 or so, it is still comfortable. This morning a heavy cloud hung over the valley and when I walked to the dead end, I wished I had remembered to bring the camera. So I walked back home, grabbed the digital and headed back out. Sophie was wondering what was going on...two walks back to back? Always up for a walk, she bounded down the driveway ahead of me. By the time I got back to the dead end, much of the cloud had lifted, but the scenery still
looked luscious, so I took this picture looking across the valley. Even with just 2" of rain, it looks so lush...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Dinner's On

After a not-very-productive day, I decided to make one of my favorite dinners and a blackberry pie for dessert. We have a freezer full of organic blackberries we picked at Grace and George's and they have been calling to me. I had a pie crust in the fridge just waiting to be filled. So I partially thawed the blackberries (I found a bag from a year ago that got mixed in with the ones from this season, so I decided to use it) and drained off LOTS of juice and got to work. After fitting the crust in the pie plate, I mixed the berries (about 6-7 cups) with 1 1/2 cups brown sugar, a heaping 1/4 cup of tapioca, the juice of half a lemon and lots of fresh ground nutmeg. I piled this in the crust, topped it with another crust and crimped the edges. I brushed the top with some leftover blackberry juice, sprinkled on a bit of sugar and popped it into a 425 degree oven for 25 minutes. I then lowered the temp to 400 for an additional 25 minutes. It bubbled everywhere and smelled heavenly. I let it cool on a rack while I started dinner.

One of my favorite meals in Florence was pasta with anchovies and capers. I hadn't made it in a while and since it is quick and easy, as well as wildly delicious, I made it for dinner.
Set a pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta. Pour about 3 tablespoons good olive oil in a small skillet and put it on medium heat. Use about 2 good sized anchovies per serving and place them in the olive oil in the skillet. Mash them up with a fork until you can't really see any pieces remaining, just mush and then press 3 large cloves of garlic into the anchovy/olive oil mix. Add about 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes and let this cook for a while until the garlic turns golden. The add about 1 heaping tablespoon drained capers. Mix well and turn off heat. When the pasta is done (and I like mine a bit chewy) drain it and add the anchovy/caper sauce, stir it around and voila! Dinner! Accompanying our pasta was a zucchini/yellow squash medley topped with some Parmesan we brought home from Italy.
I asked Scott if he wanted to go back out to the shop and work a bit and then come back in for pie. He didn't hesitate to decline. He wanted pie NOW! It was still warm and a bit loose (they tend to firm up when they cool) but really a piece of summer on a plate. I like my fruit pies a bit tart, not teeth achingly sweet, and this one fit the bill perfectly. While Scott washed the dishes, I took off with Sophie for an evening walk, our second of the day. It was just so cool and breezy I couldn't resist, although we both walked slower than we did this morning as we had both just finished dinner.
No rain today, but it threatened for hours and the temperature dropped mid afternoon amidst lots of thunder. I even washed sheets and hung them on the line hoping it would bring on a storm, but the wind just blew them around and they dried in less than 30 minutes. It doesn't look like a good rain is in the forecast for a week or so, some scattered showers predicted, but they usually skirt around us here on Mount Alamo. Looks like the cooler temperatures are here to least for the next 10 days or so-high 80's, maybe 90 or 91. Pretty pleasant for August.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Mornings Walks

We've had a bit of rain this week-over 2" so far-and the land has greened up seemingly overnight! On my walk this morning the temp was in the low 60's and misty. Beautiful walking weather. And I saw signs that summer is drawing down. Every year I look for the blooming of Snow-on-the-Mountain. It's what tells me that cooler temps are not far down the road. When the girls were little, we would pick Snow-on-the-Mountain bouquets and place them on the dining room table. The next day there would be golden pollen on the table surrounding the vase like rays of the sun. These flowers don't have a scent, but they DO have a milky sap that can raise blisters on some folks. Strangely enough, it never affected me or my girls that way, but one day a neighbor child picked some and within minutes tiny blisters appeared on her hands and wrists. So now I leave them growing by the side of the road and admire them on my walks instead of on my table. I have noticed that there are far fewer Snow-on-the-Mountain plants this year. They are usually thick bordering the road with the plants having multiple branches. This year the plants themselves are much smaller, frequently only a single stalk as in the picture here.

The wild persimmons are finally ripening! I ate one on a walk a few days ago and my fingers were stained with the brown juice which wouldn't wipe off. I was glad I didn't encounter anyone on the road as I was sure my tongue and teeth were stained, too! The skin is slightly fuzzy and tough, but it splits with a burst in your mouth and the sweet pulp surrounds a few smooth, russet colored seeds. All along the road this time of year you see raccoon scat full of wild persimmon seed. There always seems to be enough for the raccoons and us. I've made jelly from them before, but they are so sweet that it seems ludicrous to add more sugar for processing. I'm thinking this year I will simply press the pulp through a sieve and freeze the result. It think it would make a nice dessert sauce or maybe I could try to boil it down a bit to make a thick paste and dry it and then crumble it up for a natural sweetener. The flavor would be great in coffee...maybe as the sweetener in a tiramisu! I think it would also substitute for the sugar in a Korean or Asian dipping sauce making for a more complex flavor. Boiled down it might make a molasses- like syrup!

The cactus tunas are just starting to turn their vivid crimson. There are still more green ones than red, but I am finally noticing some bright spots in the patches of prickly pear. These probably won't be ready to pick for a month or more, but in the meantime I am going to investigate ways to use them. AND get a pair of thick leather gloves for harvesting! I've made jelly with the pulp before and I still may do a jar or two (I was thinking about a Texas linzer torte for Christmas made with cactus pear jelly instead of raspberry jam) but I'd like to branch out a bit and use them for something new. Lots of time to figure this one out.

My walking companion, Sophie. Every morning when I walk out the front door, she jumps up and runs to me knowing that we are heading out into the hills. On the rare morning I don't walk (Saturdays-when my early morning foray is to Comfort for the Farmer's Market) she sulks away to lie down in the tall grass and wait for me to return. If the weather is cool enough we may take an afternoon walk, although in the August heat (or even July for that matter) it is doubtful. We were lucky this week and twice we were able to walk in the afternoon, once with Natalie and an umbrella as it was still raining on and off. At almost three, Natalie helps me see the land in a new light. Everything is an adventure...a place where the trees meet overhead and the deep shade of the woods are upon us become, in her words, "the secret jungle" where "snakes go s-s-s-s-s-s and crocodiles and monkeys" live. Every puddle deserves to be jumped in and she won't allow me to stand aside and watch. Oh noooo, it's "C'mon Gramma, splash with me!" And know what? It's FUN! We came home wet and muddy and immediately peeled out of our dirty clothes and hopped in the shower, which really was just another opportunity to splash!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Start of a New Blog

More than an online diary, less than a "real" writing gig...I wish blogs had a more elegant name. Marti calls them blobs and they might as well be-the way thoughts come pouring out in fits and starts and...blobs.

I remember years ago doing "Morning Pages"-Julia Cameron's main exercise in The Artist's Way-and what extraordinary writing it produced from me. Of course, times were different then with strife being the main emotional feature on my landscape and not having the comfort in life I have now. How will my writing be different now that I am more emotionally stable and life is generally easier? I would never trade those times for anything. I am a believer in the idea that all the experiences in my life make me the person I am today, so good or bad, they created the life I have now and I am grateful for them all.

When I read my journals from a decade ago-or TWO decades-some of them are so painful I have to detach myself from them. It is like reading a novel and I feel such compassion for the main character yet at the same time I wish she would smarten up. When she finally takes action to change her situation, I cheer her on and feel protective of her if she falls flat. I can actually see her character being formed as she learns lessons (or doesn't).

But it all comes down to NOW. And so, for the christening of this blog, I am starting from NOW with a glance back perhaps, every now and then.