Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Goin' Down South

Haven't been back to Dixie in two years, but I'll be there this afternoon. My mother has generously flown me out to see my family for a week; this morning I caught a quick shuttle to Seattle and in a couple hours I'll be airborne for Memphis.

Every time I go back to Memphis (since moving away over six years ago), it's a different town. I've never seen a town change so much. I'm interested to see what's changed this time. And I'm REALLY looking forward to the drive down into Mississippi to see my brother, who's in college there - I have a deep love for rural Mississippi, especially when I get off the interstate and amble down old highways through towns with drawling names like Holly Springs and Tupelo, names that pour from the tongue in a thick slow stream like sugary tea.

Holly Springs is also the former home of my favorite Delta bluesman, R. L. Burnside. All day I've had one of his songs in my head, "Goin' Down South"...

Last night I had to use up the veggies in the fridge before they went bad, so Keith and I made a big veggie feast together. It turned out in my usual style - Southern with a Northwest spin - and we had a couple of friends over and had a wonderful time. The mostly-vegan menu:

BBQ Blackeyed Peas (with molasses and chipotle)
Cucumber Salad with Dill & Green Zebra Tomatoes
Apple-Kohlrabi Slaw
Grilled Eggplant
Grilled Potatoes
Collard-Turnip greens
Steamed Romanesco (with vegan "cheese" sauce)
Butter-Creamed Corn
Hazelnut Pie Brownies (made with bourbon and brandy)

It was a pretty good send-off, and now I'm in the Seattle airport waiting for my flight. Ironically, I'm flying Delta to the Delta. I hate to fly SO VERY MUCH but I've got the latest Hemingway (hee hee, his last novel) and some of my own writing to keep me occupied, so hopefully four and a half hours in a tiny seat will go quickly. Knock wood.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Autumn Approaching...

Yeahhh, it's autumn. It was a chilly and rainy night, so Keith stopped off and restocked us on pellets, and now there's a nice warm fire to doze in front of. Roxy's breaking it in already.

It feels like summer just started. Sigh... usually I welcome autumn with open arms as my favorite season, but dangit, I haven't even canned tomatoes yet. My tomato vines are covered with green fruit and yellow flowers; I still have squash flowering and I JUST harvested the first of my pattypan squash! We really got gypped on summer this year. Oh well. Next year should be better.

This winter is supposed to be cold and snowy. I hope so. We missed that last year too - the east coast was freezing under several feet of snow while I was outside in a hoodie and flip-flops. Crazy wacky climate antics!

It's almost Yom Kippur, so to all my fellow Jews, G'mar Tova Chatimah - may we be sealed for a good year.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Midnight Meeting

I keep thinking of things to blog about, and then I get busy. I have a lot of irons in the fire these days, but I need to get better about blogging more than once a week. Because I have a lot to share here and I hate when I forget and miss it. Like last night, for instance.

Last night I had occasion to be walking home from the bus stop just after midnight. Our neighborhood is well-lit and very quiet, and I was strolling along under the streetlights, bouncing my backpack, enjoying the soft silence around my steps crunching in the gravel. And then a dark shape streaked across the street, from one driveway into another.

"That wasn't a cat," I thought. I watched the place where the shape had gone, and guessed I knew what it was.

As I got closer, I saw that I was right. The opossum had climbed to the top of a low chain-link fence, and he was watching me approach. It felt like no one else around was awake, just him and me, and I felt drawn to him for a better look. I've never seen a live opossum up close. The driveway sloped down slightly, so that when I got to him, he was just above my eye level, his head turned back the way I had come.

I could've touched him - I didn't, of course, but I could have. I could see the fingerprint pattern in his thick rat-tail, the coarseness of his wiry fur, white and mussed. Then, slowly, he turned his head and looked at me. A drop fell from his nose as he fixed his eyes on mine. His face denied fear; he was not afraid of me. He just watched and waited to see what I would do.

For another long moment, I stood there in a stranger's driveway, one of my neighbors and yet a person I don't know, while this opossum and I shared a mutual acknowledgement. He looked old, but tough; he was a survivor. Before this moment, I'd only known opossums as dirty roadkill, but this guy was alive in a way that most of the animals I've encountered are not. He was wild, and he knew where he was going and what he'd do when he got there, and he was simply waiting for me to leave him to it.

So I did. With a respectful nod, I went on toward home. He watched me go, but when I was a few houses away, I looked back and he was gone.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The High Cost of Cheap Eggs



Kinda says it all, doesn't it?

If you haven't already seen the excellent 2005 documentary Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, drop what you're doing and go watch it. Now. Every American needs to see it, and most of the rest of the world does too.

Now that you're back... I had to share this excellent article, "The Price of Cheap Wal-Mart Eggs." While this is not just a Wal-Mart problem (and invoking the name of the Evil Empire unfairly lets other less infamous retailers off the hook), the article does explain the reason why cheaper is NOT better when it comes to food production. Be sure to follow the links within the article.

And just for contrast, a funny story:

Our hens have a clearly established pecking order, with Lucy on top, Jane in the middle, and Lana far below both of them. This means that Lana rarely gets to enjoy any of the treats. Jane is fine as long as she gets hers, but Lucy will go out of her way to make sure that Lana doesn't get any treats at all, even if it means she herself misses out. (Notice in the picture above how Lucy and Jane enjoy that nommy corncob while Lana hangs back for the grass.)

So the other day, I was pickling beets - ten pounds' worth, so I had a huge bowl of peels and trimmings to take out to the hens. They dove right in and spent much of the day nibbling at those beets. Later in the afternoon, Keith stepped outside to check on the garden, and was startled to see Lucy looking like a lion at a carcass. The feathers all around her mouth and face were dripping red as she gobbled those beets.

At this point, along comes Lana, deciding to see if she can step in and have some beets too. Lucy roared up onto her tiptoes, wings spread, bloody beak open like a velociraptor from Jurassic Park; Lana shrieked and bolted across the yard, and Keith said for a second he almost did too.

I'm happy to report that our little dinosaur is no longer beet-stained, although the inside of the coop kind of looks like they're all dying from massive internal bleeding. But it's not true. In our case, though not in Wal-Mart's, it's just beets.

I pray that more healthy chickens may soon quarrel over fresh veggies on a sunny summer day.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Labor Day

Whew, it's been a canning week! And freezing, too. I've put up enough rhubarb for three or four pies, I've pickled peaches, I've pickled beets, I put up ginger-beet relish, I made mozzarella cheese, I made bread, I made biscuits, I blanched and froze 20 ears of corn (some on the cob, some cut off), and I pickled 20 pounds of cucumbers. I now have ten quart jars and sixteen pint jars full of pickles - half kosher dills, and half bread-and-butter. They're cheerfully pickling away on my kitchen table at the moment.

Yesterday was interesting; Keith and I took a break from canning to help a friend of a friend cull her chicken flock. She had several old biddies who weren't laying eggs anymore, and there were more chickens than her coop could handle, so some of them had to go. This was the first time any of us had seen inside an older hen, and let me tell you, it's NOTHING like the inside of a little one! It was an egg machine in there! Dozens and dozens of yolks in varying sizes, a big veiny egg sac, just some very complex works.

I always kind of thought the egg was a byproduct and they just made one at a time, but I have a whole new respect for my laying hens now. The female chicken is built to make eggs, and lots of them. I'll always remember seeing all those yolks, some full sized and some smaller than a dime.

Today I'm giving the house a much-needed scrubbing and then making some pizza dough and biscuits for the freezer. Maybe a pie crust or two, as well. I also need to stew the aforementioned hen. She's too old to roast (her meat will be all chewy), but she'll be full of flavor and make an excellent stock when simmered for six hours or so with some veggie scraps. I like to reduce my chicken stock until it's thick and strong, then put it into ice cube trays and freeze it. I load the chicken stock ice cubes into a big freezer bag and throw one or two of them into almost anything - pasta water, risotto, gravy, whatever. It's a handy way to keep it.

So happy Labor Day to all who labor. I'm right there with you today!