Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Life from Scratch

     The fifties and sixties era of cooking was all about the innovation of vegetables cooked in plastic pouches and boxed cake mixes.  To the latter you added water and an egg.  I didn't learn to cook.  When I was selling a cake for a school fundraiser an older lady asked me if my cake was homemade. I was genuinely puzzled at the question.  Of course it was homemade.  I made it at home.  Only some years later did I realize that
cakes could be homemade or in other words "made from scratch".

     "Made from scratch".  In the 1920's James Joyce used this term to mean starting from nothing.  (Previously it meant to start from a line scratched in the dirt in the games of cricket and boxing.)  Much of my cooking this week literally started from nothing or from scratch.  My garden has few tomatoes, no plums or nuts.  The boundaries of my yard are the scratches in the dirt.  This is where I started.

     Crossing the boundary to my east is one of the best gardens of the block year-in-and-year out.  This is due to Bob, gardener extraordinaire at age 80.  Even his vegetables that come up from the previous year's seeds are better than mine planted this year!  He always has an extra bounty.  The tomatoes in the yellow bowl and in the crock pot making pasta sauce are mostly his and a few from the neighbor to my west.  Phil to the west is a new neighbor.  He planted his tomatoes directly into bags of planting soil and leaned them against the fence.  Phil told me to pick whatever came through the fence and I have.

     Years of cooking from tomatoes from scratch have taught me a thing or two.  I start by slicing Roma tomatoes in half and spreading them on a baking sheet.  Then I coat them with garlic salt and the herbs oregano, rosemary and basil from my garden.  I bake them for hours at 220 degrees until they have begun to dry around the edges, but remain slightly soft in the middle.  These little bites pack a powerful zing of sweet tomato and salty herbs.  I eat many of them just as they are, dumping others into egg dishes, pasta and onto sandwiches.  The remaining get frozen for use in the winter.

Orange for lunch and dried orange peel.
     Back on the top photo you can see something piled in the corner of the baking sheet with the tomatoes in the oven.  This is orange peel dusted with sugar.  I'll save these for scones or pancakes made from scratch.  The orange peel was left over from making plum orange jam.  The plums came from my neighbor at the end of the block.  Mo has generously shared her plums.  So far I have made a plum pie.  The plum orange jam was a new endeavor. From scratch.  Halved, cooked for 10 minutes on simmer four different times and then sealed in jars in a hot water bath was all new to me.  I added lots of nutmeg.. only because I know this makes a plum pie sing.

     I am beginning to think that I should say that I cook from neighbors instead of from scratch!  My neighbor Judy, Bob's wife, and I confer often on cooking.  She worked in a professional kitchen making pies and salads.  She knows so much more than I do.  We laugh when we share recipes and say things like, "Put in enough nutmeg until it looks right."  Really?  Cooking from scratch means cooking with friends.

My grapes.
     One can't be a slacker this time of year.  The photo on the left shows the three-stage steam juicer making the first batch of grape juice, the pot with a spoon in it is the plum orange jam resting between cooking and on the far right next to the grape juice jars are dried Walla Walla sweet onions on a tray.

    On the same day that I took the photo above, I gathered nuts before a rain.  The filberts are as usual hugely bountiful.  Bob and I give them away and keep what we need.  I add filberts to yogurt and top them with maple syrup in the winter or chop the the nuts and put them on pies.  Last year I made up a new recipe.  I saute filberts in butter and olive oil adding garlic at the end and serve them over fried potatoes and top them with blue cheese.  This year I am thinking of topping them with an egg too.  Breakfast from scratch from nuts I gathered along the line scratched in the dirt.  Life from scratch, one neighbor, one fruit, one nut at a time.  Homemade.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Turning 65 Years of Age

     The essence of turning 65 is the difficulty of remembering enough of the years to count them in any meaningful way.  The years have been dropped like pebbles and stones into a wide-mouthed glass jar. Counting them becomes a game of estimating.  The stones, like years, are not equivalent.  Some years are even lost, nothing meaningful or worthwhile; no stone added to the jar that year.  Other years are so huge that their heft bespeaks of births, of deaths, of marriages or of acquisitions.  As I look backwards I wish I had been one of those people who kept journals or ledgers, who recorded where they found this stone and that one and what I had learned in the hunting, in the passing in the accounting.

     Never-the-less my jar of years is worth spilling out across the rug, mulling over the significance and the feeling of collecting.  As my dear friend said, "I feel the same at the age of sixty-five."  I have to agree.  I feel like I am looking at the world with those same eyes of my four-year-old self.  The one whose fingers got jammed between the high chair and the table in the Skyroom of the the Denver airport on my 4th birthday.  I see the planes, the movement of sleeves across my vision proffering napkins as the tears fell.  I feel the compassion of my mom and dad and sense that the incident was something that I would recover from fairly effortlessly.  I see those things just as I now see the white embroidered sheets and the gleam of light off of my computer screen and know that I can recover from most losses and that I am loved.  The eyes fool me into thinking that nothing has changed, that I see the world the same and therefore feel the same.  Yet, and yet, 65 is not 38.  My mother died at the age of 38 of polio, her jar pint-sized compared to mine.

  I began to think of my grandmothers, my great grandmothers and beyond.  Which ones lived past my age and which came up counting short?  My dad's mom counted stones to 30 and my mom's mom to 81.  Right now I fall in the middle of my closest maternal count of years (see the chart below), half not living until 65 and half living beyond 65.  The archaic sounding names of  Lucretia and Lavenia reminding me that only a few generations back medicine and circumstances predicted an average age in the 40's, while my life expectancy is expected to be at least in the 80's.  My older maternal relatives surpassed their average age by a huge measure of luck.    

     When I turned 30, I remember thinking that if I died at that age, I would have done enough.  I had co-written a math book, had a successful career and a good education and seemed to be in a happy relationship.  How very wrong I was.  Now at 65, I am wiser. Since the age of 30, I raised a wonderful child, started a school and had a thousand worthwhile relationships.  I am and am not the same person that I was at 30.  I'm glad that there are so many more stones in my jar.  I regret my failings that caused grief.  I regret the many losses.  The stones that carry these years of pain are heavy like a heavy heart.  They take up considerable room in my jar and remind me not to waste space in such manner again if possible.  Other smaller and lighter stones are crossed with intricate tracings, pleasing to the eye and the heart.  Years worth counting.  Turning 65 I am happy with my jar of stones however many there are.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Frugal Indulgence Portland Style

     There was a spill of images.  Loops of light were reflected on a gray wall.  The edges of mid-century canisters gleamed and shimmered in "The Atomic Ranch" kitchen. The lettering on the front of the canister wrote itself across my mind and then my fingers reached for the word that seemed to be speaking in a southern accent.  "Come here, Shu-gar”.  This spill of images noted sequentially over a dozen angles produced one of those pleasurable "ahhs", as all of the elements were captured in one shot.  I like tumbles of opportunities non-existent in a prior moment.

     The city of Portland in Oregon tumbles out ideas on a scale that seems uniquely it’s own, a city with a conceit for being frugal and a delight in being indulgent.  The contradiction of these virtues is the ground on which their ideas roll.     

    Take those mid-century canisters.  They live with mid-century lamps and rough practical concrete pillars.  (The peaches are mine.)  Portland’s frugality has made recycling and building on a budget stylish.

     Frugality in furnishing a home in a period style is a slow, but indulgent way of shopping.  While prowling the city's second-hand warehouses and antique shops, I have found myself grinning at the sensual pleasure of piles and ofttimes the reward of finding a gem in a jumbled dusty corner.  Hippo Hardware used to be scary, dirty and worthwhile.

Now it is worthwhile without the fright, dusted lampshades piled invitingly.

     Where else can one shop and find such humor as in this Elvis tub?  I can rush about a store with all new stuff and never laugh, never indulge myself in fantasies.  Here I am shopping for a replacement glass shelf at Hippo Hardware and I am given so many choices by the helpful attendant that I decide to come home and do some more measuring.  Slow down, take my time.  

     When Portland can boast of having the largest used bookstore this side of the Mississippi, a multitude of house renovation companies and one of the best ratings for bike use for commuting in the country, these are reflections of frugality and indulgence in action.  The indulgence comes with the intensity with which Portlanders pursue their habits of frugality and the pleasures that come from living slowly.  Money saved by commuting by bike, buying used molding and cooking from scratch, frugal habits one-and-all leaves resources for splurging.  

In a time when canning and making jelly at home was on the wan, Portland just kept cooking from the garden and expanding its farmer market.  The plethora of fresh fruits and veggies inspires home cooks and  restaurant chefs.  One can indulge oneself eating out and eating well.  These are images from the Saturday Farmer's Market on the Portland State Campus.

     As I cross Burnside Bridge I pass the homeless sprawled on the sidewalk waiting for the mission to open so that they can drag their belongs in for a night.  They have been there for years.  Some may be the same folks or not.  They are the epitome of frugality, their few possessions often hauled in a single grocery cart.  The sight is a confusing one.  Portland has that passion for indulgence and the admiration for frugality.  Watch Portland.  The city has just begun exploring options for building tiny homes and micro houses for its homeless.  Frugal housing built to pleasing standards that lets highly independent homeless have a home.  Portland's answer to a social problem proffered with dignity, thoughtfulness and tinged with a social indulgence worthy of its traditions.  Portland may soon add "no homeless" to its list of accomplishments.  Frugal indulgence Portland style.

                                                           I'll be watching, Portland.

Photo credits from:  The Atomic Ranch Airbnb"


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Drive-Up Tellers and Drive-By Appraisers


  I was waiting for the drive-up teller at my usual stop in front of the public library.  The smoky glass of the waiting stand shielded my anxious gaze.  I was in a hurry this time.  I needed cash now before anyone else bought that dog.  Hurry up; hurry up, my drive up teller.  Actually there are a number of drive-up tellers in town, but I was hoping for the one who drives the low-rider turquoise Chevy.  He is a young guy, slick backed hair, dressed in a wide lapel suit jacket on chilly days and a white polyester shirt with the sleeve rolled up for a place to tuck his cigarettes on hot ones.  Not that he smoked them in the car; it was against regulations.  The clients after all slide into the passenger seat as they conduct their banking transactions with the drive-up teller and might not appreciate a smoke-infused car.  Of all of the drive-up tellers, he would be the one excited about the dog.  Back when the program to hire the drive-up teller positions began, the intent was to find employment for the young people in town who liked cruising in their souped-up cool cars, but remained unemployed due to their apathy towards finding a desk job.  The idea was good one.  

    This is how it works.  Drive-up window tellers were a breakthrough innovation in the 1980's.  I remember the year because my Uncle Ted was so delighted with the first drive-up window in Palisades, Colorado that he arrived at the bank early. Dressed in his pajamas ready to do business from the privacy of his car.  Kind of like going out to get the paper in PJ's, but even better.  The thought of it thrilled him.  The bank teller was a little surprised.  Bankers are a staid bunch for the most part, but by accident a few bankers fell into the trade maybe having married into a banking family.  These creative bankers rose to the top and their creative genes leaked out in ideas like drive-up windows and drive-up tellers.  I'm so thankful that they did.  Back to the dog.
    I'm not ordinarily impulsive, but I don't volunteer at the Humane Society, because I have so little control when it comes to cats and dogs.  But this dog just looked at me over the edge of the box with such longing that I couldn't stand it.  She was a border terrier.  Ordinarily a hot commodity dog.  Not common here about.  But I know borders, sweeties all of them.  She was in a cardboard box on the sidewalk corner at Palouse and Alder.  $10.  Good price.  The shabbily dressed gentleman said that he would sell it to the first person that had $10.  Cash.  He seemed to be in a rush to get out-of-town or at least move his body to a less conspicuous corner.  I knew that dog wouldn't last long.  Hurry up, drive-up teller.

    I usually carry cash with me, particularly since I just refinanced my house and I have a cushion again.  Now that is another good story.  When I talked to the banker about a loan, he suggested that I was eligible for a drive by appraisal.  I was thinking, "Oh no, another creative banker.  What does he mean a drive-by?  Will I need to duck?"  The banker assured me that this was for real.  The appraisers wouldn't have to come inside like the usual appraiser, measuring rooms, looking askance at your decorator schemes and reassuring you that the neighborhood wasn't that bad.  As an introvert, I liked the idea.  Then I began thinking of all of those bushes that didn't get trimmed for months while I was traveling.  The leaves were sticking out from under them, their unkempt crinkled brown edges blabbing that they had been left to overwinter.  They said, "You think the yard is ill kept; you ought to see the house."  I had some work to do to prepare for the drive-by appraisal.  
     I called the banker again and checked to see if I would know when the drive-by would happen.  I got an uncertain answer.  I think that I was hoping for the exact hour.  I could stand outside in my swanky blue dress with the yard looking tidy.  I might as well be in the photo too.  I got to work clipping the bushes.  I wanted them to stop waving at the traffic with their skinny skewed branches. 
Drive By Appraiser's Car in Boston 
     This is the kind of car, big old station wagons, drive-by appraisers likely use as their official vehicle.  They need a car big enough to haul everyone.  Now I didn't ask about this for sure, but I think this is how it works.  The drive-by appraiser needs to have first a driver.  The appraiser can't do the driving and assess adequately while the car cruises by the house at a legal speed.  The appraiser has a form to fill out, so they need to take in as many details as possible during the drive-by and not be distracted by keeping the car on the road.  The photographer needs a window seat of course.  The psychic can sit in the middle.  The psychic doesn't actually need to see the house; they just need to get near it.  They come along to check for ghosts.  Haunted houses don't seem to do well in the real estate market.  Now then there needs to also be a seat for the fortuneteller.  She needs a comfortable wide seat for her voluminous gown with a drop-down tray for the crystal ball.  She is actually one of the most important people associated with the appraisal team.  She can predict such things as will the owner live a long life and therefore be able to pay out on a long-term contract.  She fusses with the prediction about romances and what they mean.  Will there be children from a romance?  Will they be good children or will the house one day, when the kids become teenagers, become a drug-dealing house?  The fortuneteller has a lot of responsibility.  Now the gambler is sometimes also the banker, but sometimes he is just a professional gambler.  These professional gamblers get called in for the ride on high stake properties.  The banker comes along mostly to get out of his office and get some fresh air.  
    So, I got the dog.  The drive-up teller in his turquoise and white Chevy not only cashed my check, but he drove me back to the corner of Palouse and Alder.  He wanted to see what kind of dog a border is.  Drive-by tellers.  Good guys.  I just wish that I could have had the dog for the drive-by appraisal.  She would have looked so cute in that photo with me smiling winningly, her cuddled in the curve of my arm while I stood in front of the house.  The fortuneteller would have laughed at the sight.             


Friday, September 5, 2014

Frontier Day Photos 2014

Showcasing Our Hispanic Community
Parade Route Flowers
Shiny Fire Engines
A Fair Favorite
 Smiling Politicians
Waving Hopefully!
Newest Combine with Gyrating Capabilities
Horse Barn at the Fairgrounds
Horse Of Course
4-H Display
Baby Snuggling Piglets
A Kid Tends His Goats
Goats Doing What Goats Do.. Balance
Colorful Produce Display
  Walla Walla fortunately has a great parade, rodeo and fair.  Thanks everyone for making it possible.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Mapping the Genomes from Cows to Jeans

     Once you know that cows share 80% of the same genes as humans, you can begin to sew together the relationship of cowboys, fairs, parades and nostalgia.  Jeans and genes.  The relationship wears well in this community with a fair that began in the 1860's showcasing ranching, farming, quilting and canning.  As the Frontier Days came again to the Walla Walla Valley, I began to feel in my genes that fondness for cows, my genetic relatives.

      The day with cows usually begins on Saturday at the parade.  Although cows are little in evidence the cowgirls, cowboys and ubiquitous pooper-scoopers remind you of the skills required to move them "doggies" along.  

A Pooper-scooper and a Cowgirl in the Window Reflection
(Both in Jeans)
The Spanish Version of Cowboy Gear
     The parade wave was developed so that cowgirls and cowboys could ride a long parade route and not become tired waving.  Seems too like it could have been a signal to hypnotize the cows into following.  I'm just speculating.  I'm no cowgirl.

      From the parade I headed to the fair grounds.  When I arrived this year the fair seemed like a stage setting for a western movie with a dust storm sweeping through from the southwest.  The dirt was blowing across the rides, settling on the food and whipping flags into loops.  We all got to be the extras in the movie, dust included.  I headed to the cow barn, a good windbreak and stage setting for my role in the western.  I have a fondness for this cavernous barn filled with gentle mooing, the smell of the barnyard and cows laying side by side in shades from obsidian black to ruffled browns.

     The still air carries a feeling of reverence.  Of honor.  Of hard work.  The movements in the cow barn are quiet and subtle.   The teenage cowhands sit tipped back in their chairs, boots resting on bales, conscious I am sure, that they are being observed and envied.  On some indeterminate schedule a teen will get up and sweep or shovel a pathway gently touching cows in passing.  Older cowboys are always present, but never seem to sit in chairs drawn up in groups like the young cowhands. The names of the ranches are hand painted on wooden boards and hanging proudly from the stalls above them and their cows.  The ranchers stand talking to passing friends.. who are also in jeans and cowboy hats.
      Outside the cow barn I watched judging.  I edged close, so that I could hear the questions and the answers given by the FFA judges and students.  The rarity of being present as one generation to the next imparts information in a respectful, kind and courteous manner is, I think, the essence of my love of the cows and the cow barn.  When a good-sized cow balked and was muscled into place with a strong tug, I am reminded that this is not a textbook game.  Being a cowboy or cowgirl is tough work, despite that calm unruffled barn atmosphere.  Elders earn a measure of respect in this field as does being a hard and knowledgable worker.

    Although cows don't share any great measure of those brain genes that we possess, cows usually respond well to calm and clear expectations.  Cows can fathom the difference between being treated graciously and meanly.  The cow barn.  A place of old-fashioned values dressed in jeans and hides.