Saturday, June 21, 2008

Mulberries from Heaven

If it seems like food is taking over this blog recently, that's only because food is TAKING OVER MY LIFE. No, really. The harvesting, processing, and preparation of food is all that I've been doing for the last few days (along with some other piddling things like sleeping and laundry). Before moving here, I never realized how much the season could dictate activity, but there is no doubt that the rhythms of our lives adapt to the changing weather and season. How profound. Jesus, moving on . . .

It's such a bountiful time of year that there is literally fruit falling from the skies. We have a huge mulberry tree that is raining down mulberries by the pound. Being the total plant ignoramus that I am, I had no idea that there was such a thing as an edible mulberry. I am told by A., who knows everything about anything nature-related (seriously--he won some kind of environmental quiz contest two years in a row in high school), that most mulberry trees either produce only ornamental fruit (read: not edible), or some nasty sour berries. But ours is some kind of Chinese variety that produces some absolutely DELICIOUS and huge berries. As you can see in the photo, they look sort of like elongated raspberries, and taste similar, but they're sweeter and black when ripe.

The problem is that the tree is so monstrous that we can't reach any of the branches. Unless you're a monkey, which I am not, or able to scale large trees with no fear, which I also am not. It doesn't help that it's all on a slope. There is literally tons of fruit on that tree that we can't get to. But mulberries fall off the tree by themselves when they're ripe, so I devised a clever scheme for harvesting at least a small fraction of the fruit.

I put a tarp under the tree. I know, my brilliance astounds even me. I also will move the tarp under the couple of branches that are reachable with the rake and whack them to get the berries off, but I prefer to let gravity and the tarp do the work for me. I'm lazy like that. But it totally works. That container you see there (what is that--a quart container?) in the photo was what fell onto the tarp just last night. I went out this morning and gathered them. The jar you see is how much juice I got out of that size container of berries. I decided to make juice from them because they're really too soft and perishable to freeze or store for very long. Which is also why you will not be seeing mulberries at your local Safeway. Sucks for you.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I believe there is some food somewhere that requires my attention. We must all work to gather the harvest before the snows of winter close in. Or something . . .

Friday, June 20, 2008

Strawberries 'n' Scapes

Well, at least yesterday wasn't boring. In fact, so much happened that I had a hard time narrowing down the post. Do I write a whole post about how much I hate hilling those damn potatoes, and oh my God, I think my wrist is broken from using the hoe for hours? No, no one needs to hear that much bitching. (But I'll bitch some more anyway--I HATE HILLING THOSE DAMN POTATOES AND MY WRIST IS BROKEN.) Do I write a whole post about how the two ewes were milling around eating day lilies when I got home from picking strawberries and I put them in two different pastures, twice, and they escaped from both pastures, at which point I yelled obscenities and locked them in the dog pen? Nope, because apparently, that can all be explained in one hideously written run-on sentence.

In the end, I decided to talk some more about food, because really, almost all of my day yesterday was devoted to food in some way. I hilled the aforementioned damn potatoes, I picked strawberries, I made strawberry jam, I hilled some more damn potatoes, I snapped off all the garlic scapes, and I made pesto. With the garlic scapes.

Garlic scapes are a big fad now. I know this because The New York Times had a feature on them in their food section this week. This means if you sell garlic scapes at a farmers market anywhere in the tri-state area, you can double your prices because now that The New York Times has endorsed them, they must be worth eating and everyone will want them.

But I am allowing my contempt of The New York Times to interfere with my point, which is that garlic scapes seem to be appearing all over the food world recently. And we're jumping on the bandwagon here at Blackrock because we like to follow the recommendations in The New York Times with sheeplike devotion (geddit? Sheeplike? I slay me.). And also, we have a huge bed of garlic that has produced a vast number of scapes.

If you're not a foodie (which I am not) and don't know what garlic scapes are (which I did not), they're the flowering part of a hard-stemmed garlic plant. They look sort of like green onions, with curlicues, but they taste like garlic for sure. They're milder than garlic cloves, though I still wouldn't recommend eating them raw. (I will not be eating any new foods raw from the garden ever again.)

You can see in the picture that they're bizarrely curly. It looks like Dr. Seuss food. You're supposed to remove them so the plant will expend its energy on the bulb and not the flower. So I did. And I ended up with a LOT of scapes. We have some elephant garlic, and those bad boys make some seriously jumbo-sized scapes. Enough for a whole lotta pesto. Which was a disturbingly bright green, and yet delicious. But that still only used a small fraction of the scapes that I harvested, so I'm going to have to get creative here.

Tonight I think we're going to have ribs with stir-fried scapes, and I'll process a bunch of scapes with olive oil for freezing, but I'm still going to have a daunting number of scapes left. So what would YOU do with a month's supply of garlic scapes?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Horizons, They Are Expanding

One of the realities of growing food, or even just eating seasonally from farmers markets or whatever, is that you'll wait what seems like forever for a certain food to come ripe, and then when it does, you're totally overwhelmed with it. But this is not an altogether bad thing, as it forces you to try new things in the kitchen with the ingredient that is taking over your life for a short span of time. Well, forces ME, anyway.

I'm one of those people who can make a big batch of, say, spaghetti sauce, and then eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner until it's gone. I'm not all that adventurous in the kitchen. I like to have recipes to at least consult, even if I don't follow them exactly. When you can buy the same food all year round at the supermarket (not to say it's always good food), you can make the same things over and over. But when you have a garden, you eat what's in the garden before it bolts or freezes or whatever. And so when I find myself confronted with an overabundance of something like dill, an herb that I have only ever used in chicken salad, I have to try new things.

Take the dill. This is not a random example. We have a lot of dill in the garden right now. And what, exactly, does one do with dill? Well, I know what I do. I consult the omniscient Internet for recipes. Thus we have had scrambled eggs with dill, chives, and feta cheese (yes, for dinner--you gotta problem with that?), and a bizarre yet delicious Finnish beef stew featuring half a cup of dill, plus heavy cream. And sugar, of all things. I would never have come up with these recipes on my own, but the dill glut forced me to find them. And damn, were they good (if I may say so myself). Of course, I have yet to go wrong with anything involving feta cheese or heavy cream, but that's not the point.

What was my point? Oh, right, the wonderful broadening effect of gardening. Was that my point? Jesus, I can't even figure out what my point was. Except to say that we've been eating well, and dill has featured heavily here recently.

A whole post about dill. How far I have fallen. Check back tomorrow, when I will not be as random and boring. We hope.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Garden Produce Should Come with Warnings

But since it doesn't, allow me to advise you of the danger of eating raw shallot blossoms whole. If you do this, your mouth will immediately be enveloped in searing waves of pain, necessitating violent spitting and several minutes of unpleasantness. Them's some peppery sumbitches.

Not that I know this firsthand or anything. Ahem.


Dammit, Alvin. I told you not to come around here. Did you listen? No. And where did it get you? Clinging desperately to the lilac bush while the ravenous (and curiously fluffy) wolves circle below.

No chipmunks were harmed in the making of this post. The dogs got bored before the chipmunk got tired, and he made his escape.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

King James

Jesus Christ, could I have made yesterday's post any damn longer? Did I really think anyone was going to want to read that much detail about cleaning out our cisterns? Apparently so.

So today, I'll lay off the words. Instead, I give you James. He takes a good picture, doesn't he? I can almost hear him saying, "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful."

I don't hate him because he's beautiful--I hate him because he tries to eat raw chicken defrosting on the top of the refrigerator. But we won't go into that now. It would require too many words.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Dirty Jobs--Blackrock Edition

First there was "Extreme Makeover," and then there was "Extreme Makeover--Home Edition" after that (yes, I used to sometimes watch it. It was heartwarming, okay?). There is currently a show called "Dirty Jobs," in which the host joins workers who do the filthiest, most disgusting jobs imaginable. For a very reasonable fee, I'm willing to allow the Discovery Channel to film us doing our filthiest, most disgusting jobs for a spin-off called "Dirty Jobs--Blackrock Edition." I figure we have at least a season's worth. There was the (unsuccessful) attempt to clear out the old drain in the cellar, starring an industrial-sized plumber's snake and a lot of mud. There was The Great Attic Clean-up of 2007, involving the disposal of literally pounds of bat shit and the removal of a squirrel's nest that was, no lie, at least four feet across. And yesterday, there was the cleaning of the cistern.

The old barn cisterns are where the house water supply is stored. We pump lake water into the cisterns, and then the house water pump draws from the cisterns. The cisterns have not been cleaned in at least 20 years, and they were . . . not clean. Because we're getting a new water system installed, with new filters and everything, we figured it was time to clean the cisterns. And what a nightmare it was.

There are two cisterns, separated by a porous brick wall with a 6-inch overflow gap at the top of the wall. The cisterns are basically underground rooms, constructed of cement, with big steel posts in the center for support. They look pretty much like a subway tunnel, except rectangular. And they are HUGE. They hold many thousands of gallons of water. They're about 5 feet high, maybe 6 feet across, and the large one measures probably 15 feet in width, while the small one is maybe 10 feet. Together, they are bigger than our bedroom.

In the summer, the water level gets pretty low, so it's easier to pump them dry. We dropped the sump pump down there and let it start draining the big room first. It took about an hour, and in the meantime we built a new cover for the opening (no, of course we didn't buy any materials for the cover). After the majority of the water was out, A. climbed down and started the cleaning with a snow shovel. Yes, that is how much filth was on the bottom of the cisterns--he could shovel it. He shoveled the gunk into a 5- gallon bucket, which he then lifted over his head to me. I then staggered a few feet with it and dumped the foul-smelling mess into the forsythia bushes. And then we did it again. And again. And again. It was lots of fun. But we'd only just begun.

Next we got out our wet-dry Shop Vac, which is a big vacuum cleaner that can suck up water, and started vacuuming more of the filth up. The canister on the Shop Vac got full pretty quickly, and then it, too, had to be lifted up and out and then dumped. Over and over and over. By this time we were both completely covered in a muddy, silty black substance. It was in our hair, on our faces, ALL over our clothes, just . . . everywhere. And it smelled. You know how the crap at the bottom of a lake or pond sometimes can smell like shit? That's what this stuff smelled like. It was foul.

There is, of course, no light in the cisterns, and after A. was nearly electrocuted by a lamp that fell in the water, I dug out his headlamp. There is no way to look cool in a headlamp, just so you know. As you can see in the photo of me, in which I look much happier than I felt all day. I'm standing upright in the opening to the cistern. This photo is a little misleading, because mostly it was A. down in there and me up top hauling things away--I only took a brief turn down in the pit. The other photo is an illustration of the disgusting filth that was pumping out of the cistern. Where our bath water comes from. Lovely.

Anyway, we did both cisterns, then pumped some water into them, at the same time sump-pumping out the dirty water as it filled, thereby sort of rinsing them. In total, all of this took 6 hours of steady work. But then we still didn't have any water to the house, because we had to re-fill them. This takes hours. And we were covered in black shit from head to toe with no hope of a shower. What to do?

Jump in the lake, of course. And oh my God, did that water feel good. One benefit of having our own beach is that clothes are optional (assuming no boats come too close to shore), so we took a bar of soap, waded in still wearing our filthy clothes so they could soak for awhile with us, and then we took them off and washed off. It was heavenly.

And now our cisterns are cleaned, the water is back on, and I've taken a shower, so at last I feel clean. Even if the Discovery Channel takes a pass on "Dirty Jobs--Blackrock Edition," you think they might want a female co-host for the current show? Because I would be perfect for that. I don't just watch that shit--I live it. I might as well make some money from it.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

For My Father, Of Course

I'm on a roll with the not sending cards thing. My mom didn't get one for Mother's Day, so of course I couldn't send my dad one for Father's Day. But I have an excuse. Two, actually: 1) My parents are just finishing up an Alaskan cruise and aren't even at home. And 2) Have you seen how stupidly expensive Hallmark cards are these days? $3.99 for a piece of cheap cardboard imprinted with some asinine joke? My dad taught me better money management skills than that.

So, no card. But I will pay tribute to my father here, on a public forum, where everyone can read about how he made me learn how to change the oil in my car and change a flat tire when I started to drive. And how he made me learn how to replace toilets. I have fond memories of hugging old toilets while lifting them out of the floor. Gross.

But to be totally serious here, teaching his kids is what my dad did. Mostly, he taught us life skills, practical skills, skills that I have had to use on a daily basis for all of my grown-up life. And the most important lesson I learned from him is that being a girl is no excuse for not doing something--anything. This is especially important in my current lifestyle, where a lot of the work I do is not traditional "women's work." But I do it, and I do it well. And for that, I thank my father sincerely.

He's a good man, a good dad. And just for him, today A. and I will clean out the cistern. I dedicate this disgusting chore to you, Dad. I know it'll make you proud. Happy Father's Day.

Love, me