Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hasta la Vista, Baby!

I'm packing my bags for the misty mountains, as Led Zeppelin or Bilbo Baggins or someone said.  Steve Earle might have said it too.  Tomorrow we head to Seattle for the first leg of a nearly month-long trip to China.  The part I'm looking forward to the most is a trip to the Huangshan mountains, where I hope to do some serious hiking.  Here's a preview.  It'll be like nothing I've seen before and I'm practically vibrating with excitement.

We'll also spend some time in Shanghai as well as a week or so with Drew's family further south, where the temperatures will be in the low 80s - a nice change.  I'm lobbying for a trip to Xi'an but Drew is resisting it.  We'll see. 

I made a last trip to the garden and saw that my befuddled strawberries that I should have renovated long ago are still flowering.   Everything else, other than chard and kale, is over.  So it's a good time to be leaving for a bit.

Crab Apple Season

It was a good year for fruit, and the crab apples were especially prolific and delicious. I made a crab apple crunch a couple of days ago, using my rhubarb crunch recipe as the basis. I use the same recipe for sweeter fruits and decrease the white sugar amounts accordingly. It's lovely to have fresh and warm, but it always seems better the next day.

Showing a little side-boob to deflect attention from my limited skills.

Here's the recipe, the same one my family has used for years - but it's also all over the internet. Nothing unique about our take on it.

1 cup flour
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup butter
4 cups diced rhubarb or tart apples
1 1/3 cups white sugar (use less if you substitute sweeter fruits)
2 tsp corn starch
1 cup cold water (use less if you substitute juicier fruits like blackberries)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Combine the flour, oats, brown sugar and cinnamon. Cut in butter until you have a crumbly mixture. Press half of the mixture into a greased 8-inch square baking dish (grease it well, or the bottom crust will stick like glue.) Set remaining crumb mixture aside for topping. Sprinkle fruit over crust, set aside.

Combine the sugar and cornstarch in a small saucepan, gradually whisk in water until smooth. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened.

Remove from the heat; whisk in vanilla. Pour over fruit. Sprinkle with remaining crumb mixture. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees F for 1 hour or until bubbly and lightly browned.

It was nice warmed up the next day on the wood stove, along with some good oolong tea.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Cold Night

We're supposed to have our first freeze tonight, so I harvested anything still on the vine.  It was a beautiful Indian summer, but the hammer is coming down tonight.  It's kind of sad, because there are blossoms on the strawberries and zucchini, and the roses look like it's June.  I also have quite a few tavera beans. I still have a few strawberries, which is just weird, and one vine of snow peas is still producing, but tonight will likely put an end to all that nonsense.   Plenty of chard, kale, and napa cabbage, but that's to be expected.  The cold won't bother them, the bigger surprise is that they made it through the heat this summer.

I planted the garlic and the shallots, both from stock I harvested this summer.  Found a few more spuds along the way.  Most of the beds are weeded and mulched over for the winter.  I still need to renovate the strawberries, but that's about it.  The garden is just about done for the year.   The kale and chard should over-winter just fine, and I really don't know about the napa cabbage.  Most of it bolted months ago, but a few plants hung on and they look fine, so maybe with enough mulch they'll persevere.

Here comes the long grey winter.  At least I have a pantry full of garlic, onions, and potatoes to comfort me.  If I could learn how to distill vodka from the taters I'd be set.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Dreadful Beast Called Mr. Squirrel

I get along well with most of the animals on the property, including the Steller's Jays that enthusiastically throw debris from my rain gutters on to the deck, and the coyotes that eat my blackberries and then excrete them onto my driveway - they love dumping in the driveway!  Sometimes they do it right in front of me!  And I'm OK with the sapsucksers that drill the life out of my trees, even though I admit I felt a little thrill of satisfaction one day when I saw one had flown into one of my windows and dropped dead on to the barbecue grill, feet skyward.   Then there were the raccoons that every September would sit on top of the grape trellis right outside my bedroom window and noisily eat the grapes, until we finally removed the vines last year.  I would have little choice but to fling open the window and yell "bad raccoon!" over and over while shining a flashlight at them, which really upset Drew, who never heard the raccoon but was always awakened by me.  Now all they do is raid the garden, which I can live with, and Drew sleeps a bit better.

I have quite a poor relationship  with the numerous Douglas Squirrels around the house, however, all of which I call Mr. Squirrel.  This dates back to when I first moved onto the property and thought I had one adorable little resident squirrel whom I named Mr. Squirrel, only to have to accept the sad fact that there are several of them, all defending their territory and chee-cheeing at me whenever I step outside.  I would never hurt a Mr. Squirrel, and did not share in Drew's delight when a barred owl moved in right behind the house and the Mr. Squirrel population dropped - temporarily.  Having said that, there are many things I find unpleasant about the squirrels.  They like to cling to the window screens - the one in the picture is on the second floor - and torment the cats.  One day this summer I walked down my sidewalk and was stunned to see one not three feet in front of me, dragging a dish towel-sized piece of landscape fabric across the path in front of me.  He stopped long enough to give me a vicious stare, then continued into the woods.  Later I saw where he'd dug up a corner of the fabric and gnawed it off.  Sometimes when I approach the guest house, which one of the Mr. Squirrels firmly feels is his, he'll actually charge me.  And sometimes they gallop across the roof early in the morning, sounding like a herd of elephants.

I can't help but feed the little guys, though.  I leaned a branch up against an old-growth stump that I feed the birds on, and the Mr. Squirrels use it as a freeway to blaze up to the stump, deny the birds what is rightfully theirs, and motor off again like Taliban fighters after raiding an outpost.  It's a nice life my little enemies have.