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Month: August 2003

Summer’s Over

Summer’s Over

Summer’s Over

Summer appears to be, rather suddenly, over. The temperature dropped early this week, and this morning my (highly unreliable) thermometer reads 50 degrees. Highs have been only in the 70’s and with the light rapidly receding, well, I’m not feeling hugely optimistic about all those green tomatoes out there. We had hail on the solstice, and here at the end of August I would estimate a hard frost is only a couple of weeks away. The challenges of short-season gardening. Sigh.

Granny Got A Brand-new Hip

Granny Got A Brand-new Hip

Granny Got A Brand-new Hip

My 93-year-old grandmother had her hip replaced on Monday because she wants to ride again. It’s been three years since she could sit a horse, and since riding is her greatest joy, she willingly went in and let them, well, cut her leg off and put it back on again. (Although my cousin Jason tells me that her old horse, Ben, died last month. He swears he’s not buying her a new horse, but I have a hunch there will be one in that barn soon.) And since she’s 93, they didn’t want to risk putting her under, so they did it with just an epidural. An epidural! That means she was conscious — which I have to say, really kind of freaks me out. May I be so brave. Tough old bird, that one.

So, she comes out of surgery Monday evening, and she wasn’t supposed to have anything to eat or drink, in case of complications I suppose. But did this stop her? No — she demanded cake. I want cake! she said. And because she is my very formidable grandmother, they brought her cake, and ice cream. Because what’s not to celebrate when you’re 93 and just got a new hip and the surgery went well.

As we like to say here at LivingSmall — Everybody likes cake!

Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Sandwiches

Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Sandwiches

Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Sandwiches

It’s that time of year — there are ripe tomatoes in my garden, which means, it’s time for BLTs. Because what’s the point of a Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato sandwich that isn’t made with a real tomato — a tomato grown locally, a tomato grown to ripeness and juicy perfection? A BLT made with a supermarket tomato is a travesty. It isn’t a BLT at all, it bears the same relation to a real BLT as silicone breasts do to real ones. It is a Bad Thing.

Whereas a real BLT, made with a real tomato — a ripe, red (or yellow) oozy juicy tomato is perfect. On white bread. Always white bread. With, if you’re lucky enough to live here, Matt’s Meats own home-cured bacon, and Hellmans/Best Foods mayonnaise. And lettuce out of the garden as well (although it’s a little past its prime, and getting bitter).

And, if you’re really a lucky person, this BLT will instantly transport you back to an island in Lake Tomahawk, in northern Wisconsin, and to memories of Mr. Kennedy’s big old Cris Craft boat with it’s deep-voiced motor. Because if you were a lucky kid, and got to go out in that big boat and do a little fishing (the amount of fishing being in direct proportion to your height, because when you’re very little, fishing is excruciatingly boring), you also got to go to Mr. Kennedy’s island and have a Shore Dinner. Which was BLTs made with bacon, deep fried in an entire bottle of Crisco Oil in a big cast iron pan over an open fire. On white bread, with big old beefsteak tomato slices, some of which Mr. Kennedy would shake salt on and hand to you directly, telling you it was a tomato cookie, and you’d never heard of such a thing but because he was enormous, and had a deep voice, and knew everything, and because you always felt absolutely safe with Mr. Kennedy, you ate them and said how good they were (and you weren’t being polite, although you were a polite child. Tomato slices with just a little salt are very good). And later, after the BLTs, and some real cookies that Mrs. Kennedy made and sent along, and after you’d watched Mr. Kennedy scour out the cast iron pan with sand and re-bury it like hidden treasure, you got to go back across that great big Northern Wisconsin lake in the beautiful wooden boat the color of iced tea, the wind whipping across the bow and the grown-ups hollering conversation at one another and the boat would bounce up and down across the waves with an absolutely even rhythm and all would be well in your little-kid world.

Which is why it’s worth the wait every year for a good tomato. Worth not sullying a perfect memory with a bad tomato.

Pink!

Pink!

Pink!

Over the weekend I renovated my office .. it is now a deep, bright, wonderful raspberry pink. The trim and the ceiling are bright white, as is the new desk, and the shelving (although I painted the cardboard backings for the shelving units the same pink as the walls). There’s a sort of spiffy-looking track light that gives me these dramatic pinspots and the whole thing looks like something out of a magazine. It makes me inordinately happy to be in here, which, since I work at home and spend most of my time in this room, is a good thing.

The other wonder of this office is that there is now enough space for my various writing tasks — that is, there’s shelf space and I can see what I’m working on. Before, this office pretty much “belonged” to my Cisco work, and I was wandering around with my novel and various book review projects in little baskets, working in the kitchen (which I like) or in the backyard, or in my tiny pantry/library. Now it feels like I can put Cisco away when I’m done for the day, and get to my real work. I’m very happy with it — although I can’t say how much I hate painting, but at least it’s done now.

The only other thing going on here is a lot of vegetable processing. This morning, while it was cool, I roasted a huge jelly-roll pan of quartered zucchini, drizzled with olive oil I’d whizzed up in the Cuisinart with basil, oregano, parsley, mint and garlic from the garden. I’m going to freeze them for later … also roasted up some eggplants, which I’ll probably just eat for dinner, but it’s still getting hot here in the afternoons so if I can avoid using the oven, I will. Later today, I have to do another big batch of chard … it’s getting very tall out there. And yesterday I went down the block to the boarded-up house with the eight cherry trees in front and poached a big batch of sour cherries — they’re fabulous. I may have to go back for another bunch this afternoon … I made a clafouti (inspired by Julie at The Julie/Julia Project and I think I didn’t take the altitude into account and didn’t quite cook it long enough … it was a tiny bit sludgy. But the cherries tasted great … that wonderful red taste … in the best possible way, the cherries tasted like a Hostess Cherry Pie. Yum. We ate it while watching Queer Eye For the Straight Guy with our friend Maryanne last night.

I have to say, I pulled up my writing log yesterday and was appalled to see that I’ve only worked two days this month. This is horrifying. Between the garden and the house repairs and the manic summer social life here, I’m getting nothing done. Which is worrying because I had planned to have a draft of this book by year’s end, and unless I stop sleeping for the next few months, it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.

Oh, and the forest fires are sort of under control. At least the wind has shifted direction, so the smoke isn’t so bad today. But the whole damn state is on fire.

The Burning Season

The Burning Season

The Burning Season

Sometime in the night I realized the wind must have changed, because through the gurgling of the swamp cooler I could smell smoke. It’s disconcerting to smell smoke in your sleep, and I might have been more worried but that even asleep I knew there are two large forest fires in the area, and the smoke just means the winds have shifted.

And this morning, it’s true. The air is a hazy apricot and the usually-clear outlines of Livington Peak are a soft grey. There’s a big fire behind the peak — 300 acres by last afternoon’s paper, and another one north up in the Crazies — that one’s 800 acres. There are a number of smaller fires scattered all over the area, and several really large ones — Glacier’s still aflame. That’s what happens when it doesn’t rain for 51 days and we get lightning storms.

The fairgrounds are full of tents and guys from all over the west who are smokejumping for the summer. It’s been 100 degrees every day and I’ll be spending this smoky hot weekend painting my office … it’s a small room, but there’s a lot of trim in there. But I shouldn’t whine, at least I’m not parachuting into a fire …

Freezing the Harvest

Freezing the Harvest

Freezing the Harvest

Meg, over at Meg’s Food and Wine Page blogged this week about the plethora of fresh produce she encountered on her weekend in the Hudson Valley, and how this time of year what she eats is largely dictated by what’s ready to be eaten (and how rare this necessity has become in a world where we’re flying apples from New Zealand for out-of-season produce) … at any rate, her post is much better than this summary so just go read it.

But Meg’s post got me thinking about my summer here with my garden — yesterday I picked two huge baskets of chard and processed about half of it for the freezer (the other half I took to our local soup kitchen, which handily, is about a block and a half away). I also experimented with freezing some zucchini (which I have doubts about — I think the texture might get all weird but we’ll have to see). Right now, my days are dictated by the garden — yesterday’s experiment with zucchini came about because eight zucchini came ripe at the same time, and I can’t eat that many. And even if the texture does get a bit mushy — after growing my own produce I’m becoming increasingly wigged out by a zucchini that was picked somewhere in Mexico and then put on a truck and hauled all the way up here to Montana. How long has that zucchini been dead? How many people have touched it? How much fossil fuel did we expend getting it here? It just seems irresponsible to me — and since I have both the space and the inclination to garden — I’d like to try to eat as close to home as possible.

Which brings me to the other thought Meg’s blog inspired — the idea that what’s available can determine what we eat. That is, we eat what’s close, fresh, in season (or that we can preserve) instead of expecting to eat everything all the time. This isn’t a new or original idea — Alice Waters has been bludgeoning us all with this idea for years, and much of the slow food movement is also predicated on eating local, traditional fare. But for me it’s led to some new foods — chard and beet greens for example. I’ve discovered I like cooked greens — and although I always sort of vaguely liked them, they weren’t something I bought in the store much. But having grown them, and having encountered how prolific they are, I now understand how recipes like Italian Chard pie developed. If you grow chard, there’s a lot of it, and you start thinking of creative things to do with it. Personally, I’m planning to use a lot of my greens as filling for ravioli (once the weather cools down and I can bear to make pasta). There was a terrific commercial ravioli I used to buy in the bay area that was called “Italian vegetable” — it had chard and carrots and onions for the stuffing, with some ricotta of course. And I also see a lot of white bean soups with lovely greens happening this winter. Maybe it’s because I like to cook to begin with that I find this interesting, to experiment with those things that will grow here, and see what I can make from them. (Of course, I should probably be putting that creative energy into my novel, but a girl’s gotta have a hobby now, doesn’t she?)

And since they delivered my new freezer this morning, I now have someplace to store the summer greens, the local meats I buy at the Farmer’s market, the wild salmon we scored last winter from the brother of the guy who owns the Murray Hotel and who fishes in Alaska. Plus, I think it’ll be really nice in the dead of winter, when the snow is falling on my fallow raised beds, to go downstairs to the freezer and pull out a bag of chard, or gai lan, or beet greens, to eat a little bit of the summer that’s gone by.

Rest in Peace

Rest in Peace

Rest in Peace

James Welch has died.

I only met him once, years ago, at the very first Art of the Wild conference. He led a workshop with a participant we’d been really worried about — he was this older man from Alaska who had, to our enormous alarm, sent us the entire manuscript of his novel, and it was typed. During the months we were planning the conference, we worried about losing the thing, since it was clear it was probably his only copy. So this gentleman appeared, and we scheduled his workshop for the end of the week with Jim because the other problem was that the book was terrible. It was a long, cliche’d story about an “Indian Princess” — and the man was so nice, and we’d become so fond of him after a week in workshops together that none of us wanted to hurt his feelings. And Jim was amazing … he very quietly, and with enormous dignity told this man that the book was terrible, and that he could do better than these kind of cliches. This is a really difficult thing to tell someone, and it’s especially difficult to deliver this kind of news in a way that a student can hear, because, of course, one’s ears fill with white noise when you hear the news you’d been repressing — that your work is terrible. But Jim Welch pulled it off, and we all sat around that conference table watching him with awe — he was so kind, and so respectful, and so tough with this sweet older man who had written this awful novel. It was the kind of thing that only someone with a very big heart can do.

I’d heard at a party this summer that he was very ill, that the lung cancer had really taken a lot out of him and that he was a shell of his former self. But he was still funny, cracking dark jokes about how we’re all only going out of this life one way. And then this morning, in the paper, comes the news. His big heart gave out.

If you haven’t read his work, go now to the library or bookstore. Fool’s Crow is my favorite, and one of the most astonishing books I’ve ever read. He was a wonderful writer and a good guy, who will be sorely missed.

Lurid Soup!

Lurid Soup!

Lurid Soup

Beet Soup! It’s so gorgeous that it is right up there with the Oxford Magazine Music Issue. It’s a soup that will make you do the snoopy dance all over the room. It’s absolutely fuschia (which, by the way, is soon to be the color of my office), and tastes good, and generally is just so beautiful that it will make you happy.

Now, I was a beet-a-phobe for a long time. It was those nasty pickled beet slices you’d sometimes get as a kid — the ones that leak nasty canned pickled-beet juice onto the perfectly innocent other foods on the plate. But then I discovered the wonder of roasted beets, and started making Laurie Colwin’s great beet pasta (“weird, but good”). Now I really like beets a lot, and this soup takes my beet-madness to a whole new level.

Here’s the “recipe”:

Take equal amounts beets and potatoes (I used about six smallish beets from my garden and one big potato cut into chunks) and put in a pot. Coarsley chop an onion and smash a few garlic cloves. Cover with chicken broth (or in my case, 1/2 chicken broth 1/2 water as my stock was pretty strong). Add some salt. Bring to a boil and simmer until the root vegetables are tender. Get out the immersion blender and blend to a gorgeous, dark-raspberry puree. Taste for seasoning. Serve with a big dollop of sour cream and chopped chives (some basil is also good).

Some days it pays to listen to your horoscope.

Some days it pays to listen to your horoscope.

Yesterday my horoscope said something to the effect that I should stop being so determined and dogged and take the day off to do nothing. Did I listen? Of course not. I had it in my head that I had to pull everything out of my office closet, build shelves in there, and paint the whole thing so that next weekend I can paint the office itself (and build more shelves and put in the new desk and lighting — a whole trading spaces makeover). Now is there any actual schedule here? Any schedule, that is, other than the one in my head that says now is the time? Of course not.

But did that stop me? Did my total exhaustion stop me? Did I not spend the day swearing under my breath while cutting shelves from plywood, sanding them, painting them, cutting brackets from pieces of 1×2, screwing them into the closet wall, painting the horrible old-dirty-apricot interior of the closet a nice clean shiny white? Did my grumpiness, which I should know better than to ignore, because it usually means I’m not paying attention as closely as I should because I don’t actually want to be doing the task in front of me, stop me? No. No no no no no.

Should I have listened to my horoscope. Yes.

Because at the end of the day, the shelves are all an inch too short. They won’t work. I have to do them again.

So today I cleaned up all the construction and decided the most ambitious thing I’m doing is making some borscht (how hard is that? boil beets, potatoes, onions and a little garlic, then puree. Add sour cream. Borscht.) Oh, and I might finally read Seabiscuit because I saw the movie last night — and despite the fact that there is far too much of the human story and not nearly enough horse, it’s still pretty good if you like sappy horse movies.