Monday, October 31, 2016

All Hallows Eve

It’s Halloween, known in Christianity as All Hallows Eve, but more anciently to Celts  in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man as Samhain, or “summer’s end.”

I like the summer’s end appellation because it fits what is happening here in Paradise. This past week Dennis has put almost all of the garden to bed for the winter. He hauled four truckloads of horse manure and spread it in areas that haven’t been recently enriched.

He has moved the raspberries to an area outside the garden fence, moved strawberries to a new patch, and covered the strawberries and rhubarb with a layer of protective straw. Just a handful of things are still growing – marigolds, peppers, turnips, and parsley. The pepper plants, lucky to have survived this long without a killing frost, are still loaded with ripening peppers.

And, nestled in the parsley are two black swallowtail butterfly larva. They had better hurry to their cocoon stage, for a frost cannot be far away.

One of the traditions of Sanhain was leaving food and drink outside for the Aos Si, spirits or fairies, who visited on this night when the boundary between this world and the Otherworld thinned. This tradition has most likely led to our modern tradition of trick or treating, when children dress in costumes and go door to door seeking candy.

I’m sorry we can’t participate in this tradition because all of the children in our rural neighborhood have grown up and moved on to their own lives. There’s no one here now but middle-aged and old people, no one to come knocking at the door when night falls, crying “Trick or Treat!”

Copyright 2016 by Shirley Domer

Thursday, October 27, 2016

A Mess of Greens

In my grandmother’s and even in my mother’s day, the winter diet consisted of meat, grains, root vegetables, and canned goods, either commercial or preserved from the summer’s garden. Fresh greens were simply not available for many winters until finally the A&P began to offer iceberg lettuce in its produce department.

By winter’s end, a powerful hunger for fresh greens had developed. In March an early garden was planted with lettuce and spinach, but any harvest was weeks away. Then, in April, when the dandelions were growing new foliage, Grandma would say, “Let’s go get us a mess of greens.”

Armed with paring knives and brown paper bags, we piled into the car and headed for the country roads. There we filled the bags with tender new leaves of dandelion, curly dock, lamb’s quarter, and pokeweed.

That evening our supper consisted of those greens, cooked in bacon fat and water, and a big pan of cornbread along with slices of home-cured ham. Vegetables never tasted so good as these greens did to our winter-starved palates.

Now that fresh greens are available all year round, gathering wild greens has probably fallen out of practice, but my brother and I still carry on Grandma’s tradition, not only out of nostalgia, but also because wild greens’ nutrients are far superior to any cultivated ones’.

I’m less inclined to harvest wild greens in the spring, though, because so many spring garden tasks require attention. Instead, I like to harvest wild greens when the autumn rains stimulate fresh new growth of dandelions and curly dock. I don’t have to drive anywhere to find them, because they thrive in abundance around our compost heaps among the volunteer tomato plants.

Um-um. Supper’s going to taste mighty good tonight.

Copyright 2016 by Shirley Domer

Friday, October 21, 2016

Being Here Now

I want to recommend a book, The Power of Now by  Eckhart Tolle. I'm working my way through it slowly, as the author suggests, stopping to let it sink in, let it be absorbed. I love what it teaches!

The author tells me that my mind is not me, it is only a tool to be picked up and used when needed. My way of thinking of it is that my mind is my internal computer. It has various apps: word processing, calendar, visualization, skills, entertainment, etc. I can close apps at will, and open them, too. The apps are all under my control. I can have more than one open at a time and quickly switch between them when a multifaceted task is at hand. When I don't need any of them, I can close all of them and simply be here now. That was my first big breakthrough.

The second is ego awareness and watching out for it to act out and make a mess of things. Do I get defensive? Whoa! That's the ego at work. I have to turn that baby off and let my real self be. If an endless reel tape of some ancient mistake starts playing in my head, making me crazy, that's the ego at work. It seems to be chastising me for not being perfect. But I can control the ego's illusions. I can turn it off and listen instead to the sounds of silence.

One more important learning that is beginning to develop – and this one is very important to m – is my ego’s view of my aging process, which is moving right along. My ego’s idea of who I am is being shattered to bits. My ego is an idealist. It doesn’t know how to cope with old age.  I’ve been inclined to let my ego drag me down. It has thought “why do anything when I’m could die any time.” Yes, you silly goose, any of us could die at any time. That is no reason not to live until then.

Only halfway through the book, I'm feeling more peaceful and more present in the now. And I’m finding that when all of my mind’s apps are all turned off, my creative juices start flowing.

For example, we always keep leftover pie uncovered in the cold oven to protect it from insects and dust. (If we put it in the fridge uncovered it would dry out, and if we covered it in the fridge the crust would get soggy.) The only problem with this storage method has been that I tend to forget the pie's in there and turn on the oven. Recently, when all my mind’s apps were off, I envisioned a warning magnet to place near the oven controls. Then I turned on my mind's "MakeIt" app and quickly made the vision a reality.

When there’s no pie in the oven, the sign waits on the range hood until it’s needed again.

But right now there’s half an apple pie in the oven, so the warning sign is up.

Say, I think I'll have a piece of that pie right now. Wish you could join me.

Copyright 2016 by Shirley Domer

Friday, October 14, 2016

A Lazy Baker's Cardamom Cookies

Cardamom* cookies are my new favorite. I’ve made them two or three times, modifying a recipe found on the Internet. By now the recipe has evolved enough to fairly call it my own, I think.

First of all I substituted honey for the original molasses because I wanted the cardamom flavor to dominate. Also, because I’m a lazy (or efficient baker) I mix the spices into the creamed butter instead of mixing them with the flour.  I don't chill the dough before forming the cookies either. The original recipe called for shaping the dough by hand into horseshoe shapes, which chilling would have facilitated,  but the lazy baker decided to just use a cookie scoop to shape the unchilled dough. (This alone probably saved 45 minutes.) I like the ridges the scoop makes on the cookie tops.

Finally, I baked the cookies several minutes longer than instructed, which probably because my cookies were a different shape. When I opened the oven door the wonderful aroma of cardamom was a delight.

These have a slightly crunchy texture when first baked, but as they age (at our house they only last about four days) they become crunchier.

Cardamom Cookies
2 sticks of butter (½ pound)
cup sugar
1 tablespoon honey
¾ teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups unbleached flour

Cream the butter and sugar until smooth. Add and mix in the honey, baking soda, and spices. Add the flour and mix until it is all incorporated.

Butter a cookie sheet, or cover it with parchment paper. Use a 1-tablespoon cookie scoop to form the dough, placing the cookies about 2 inches apart. (They spread during baking.)

Bake at 350 for 13 minutes. Let them sit for a couple of minutes before transferring them to cooling racks.

Makes 3½ dozen cookies.

*Cardamom is the primary flavor in garam masala and it turns out to have numerous health benefits.

Copyright 2016 by Shirley Domer

Monday, October 10, 2016

Winding Down

I’m about ready to wrap it up for this summer and head south with the pelicans and geese. It isn’t just that that the desert life we live in Tucson is calling me, but I’m also getting tired of canning and freezing food. Unlike the squirrels, who go on burying nuts until the nuts run out, I don’t have to preserve more food than we can consume even though the garden is still producing.

Tomatoes have been a disappointment this year for the first time since we’ve been gardening. These tomatoes look fine, but they have little taste. Instead of slicing them to serve as side dishes or as BLT entrees, I’ve been lightly stewing a quart or so – mostly Romas – at a time and freezing them for use in winter soups and sauces.

Finally, I’ve had enough of putting tomatoes away and, athough tomatoes were still coming on, Dennis pulled the plants and threw them in the compost pile. I’ve dusted my hands of tomatoes for this year. I may also be done with roasting and freezing sweet yellow, red, and pimento peppers. More are developing in the garden, but those we will eat fresh. They will keep in the fridge for at least two weeks.

All summer I’ve been on a binge of making jams and jellies, beginning with strawberry in late April. Dennis has helped with filling and sealing jars of gooseberry jam, seedless raspberry jam, red plum jam, wild plum jelly, and just yesterday, a second batch of jalapeño jelly.

Dennis says our basement pantry shelves are full, so it’s time to quit that, too. However, our sole jalapeño plant has produced enough to eat fresh, to make 10 half-pints of jelly. I also pickled a few jars of sliced peppers, but that’s enough. I’m finished with peppers, too.

Yes, I could go on canning and freezing, just as our squirrel population keeps busy bringing pecans from our neighbors’ grove to plant in our yard and garden. Let them, but for me, it's time to wrap it up for 2016, get outside, and enjoy the beauty of autumn. It’s time to wind down along with the year.

Copyright 2016 by Shirley Domer