Saturday, July 19, 2008

Blackberries of DOOOOM

The blackberries have begun ripening. Please excuse me for a moment while I hold my head in my mulberry-stained hands in desperation.

Okay, I'm better now. The reason that the blackberries fill me with a sense of DOOOOM and desperation is that I feel like it's been non-stop harvesting and prepping since the first strawberries in June. Since then, I've dealt with the impressive number of garlic scapes, the never-ending mulberries (still coming, a month later!), large bunches of lettuce, blueberries, and raspberries. My paring knife and juice bag have been in constant use since June. But the blackberries ripening signal that we've only just begun, slacker, so steel yourself for the next two months.

To be fair, I brought all of this on myself. There was really no reason that I needed to gather mulberries every single day for a month. In fact, some words like "obsessive" and "crazy" might have been bandied about (and see if any of those people get some of my juice when they're dying of scurvy in February--not that I am bitter). No one forced me to go to the U-pick farm and harvest vast amounts of berries. Nor did anyone hold a gun to my head to make me prepare strawberry jam. I clearly have a compulsion to hoard, though I don't know why. It's not like I had a deprived childhood.

But at least I have some control over how much I get at the U-pick farm. At home, where the garden is growing and producing at a fantastic rate since we're actually getting rain this summer, I just have to take what comes. And what's coming are more ears of corn than a family of three could possibly consume, enough blackberries to make cobbler for the entire county, and absolutely INSANE numbers of tomatoes. And I have to use it all. I HAVE TO. I can't let all that free food go to waste. So there will be jelly-making and freezing with the blackberries, freezing and canning of corn (oh, how I hate to cut corn off the cob . . .), and canning of tomatoes until the end of time. I'm scared of the fecundity of the tomato plants. Strangely proud of them, but scared, as I know all those green tomatoes will turn red all at once and right in the middle of a heat wave. I can almost taste the sweat.

And there are, of course, other things. The potatoes, which thankfully only have to be harvested, dried, and stored in the cellar. The apple trees are loaded with apples, the pear trees are drooping with pears, there are cabbages, cucumbers for pickling, chard, collard greens, beets, lima beans, basil to be made into pesto, fennel, pumpkins for pies, Hubbard squash, carrots, celeriac, parsnips, and if we're lucky, artichokes. A lot of those are just harvest and eat, so I don't fear them like I do the corn and tomatoes.

Of course, despite all the whimpering, I do secretly love it. Otherwise, why would I bother? I could just go to the store and buy tomatoes in a can (bleeeech). But I don't, because I like to do this stuff. It's fun, it makes me feel competent and clever, and it tastes awfully good.

Just remind me of this in about a month when I'm peeling my 167th tomato. Thank you.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Let Me Eat Cake

It's Friday! Let's talk about baked goods.

I believe that the general populace can be neatly classified into "pie people" or "cake people." There may be some who swing both ways, but most people have a stronger preference for one over the other.

A. and the MiL are pie people. I am a cake person. The two warring factions can co-exist peaceably, as long as there is always ice cream to go on pie to make it more palatable for the cake person.

Because the MiL is a pie person, and also the undisputed pie-making master, she doesn't often make cake. Also, she can't eat cake because of a wheat intolerance. So if I want cake, I usually have to make it myself. I pretty much always want cake, but I rarely make one because 1) I don't really like to bake, and 2) I will hog the cake and eat the whole thing in two days if left unsupervised. This is not so good for my girlish figure. Therefore, cake is a rare event in this house.

But I've been craving something lemony recently, and we had all those nice blueberries. I read all your suggestions for a fabulous fresh blueberry pie, and I said, "Pfffftt--pie. I'm making a cake. Take that, pie people!" (I didn't really say that.)

So I made a Blueberry Lemon Cake. Not a very original name, but YUM YUM YUM.

It's got eggs! And lemons! And blueberries! It's practically health food!

Also for your Friday amusement, this morning when I took two coffee mugs out of the cabinet for A. and me, I grabbed the sheep mug and the collie mug. Then I put them on the counter together and pretended the collie mug was herding the sheep mug to safety.

You've saved the flock, Lassie! Good girl!

Have a fabulous weekend, secure in the knowledge that you are much, much cooler than I am.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Ooo, That Smell*

Okay, so this post is a little bizarre, but I don't think anyone expects me to be very conventional anymore, right? Would you still be reading here if you were looking for stories from Dilbert-land (that part of my life is over, I hope, and thank God) or descriptions of my shoes (ugly, yet serviceable)? Didn't think so.

Onward with the topic at hand, which is . . . smells. Or, to be more delicate about it, scents. This topic presented itself (and isn't that lucky for you!) as I was working in the garden, inhaling the absolutely divine fragrance of the tomato plants. Not the tomatoes themselves, but the plants. That smell seems to me to be the scent equivalent of the color green. If you have no idea what I'm talking about (and I'm sure at least one of you is thinking, "Are you sure tomato plants are all you're sniffing, crazy lady?"), smell the vine part of the tomatoes on the vine at the supermarket. You'll get a faint idea of what I'm sniffing while I stake tomatoes in the garden. Tell the produce dude that you're getting high on life if he asks what you're doing. Then run away before he calls security.

The other scent that I was sniffing the other day with the avidity of the dog in the Beggin' Strips commercial (Bacon! I SMELL BACON! NOOO!! I CAN'T REEEEAD!!!--cracks me up every time) was basil. I do so love the smell of fresh basil. That is an incredibly penetrating scent. I could smell it in the dining room after the MiL had picked some and brought it inside for her lunch. It's so wonderfully spicy. The smell of it makes me consider that basil ice cream, an idea that seems repellent at first thought, might not be so bad.

And then, of course, there's the plebeian smell of garlic and shallots, both of which I have harvested in the past few days and which my hands still retain a faint odor of. I could almost smell them simmering in oil. Is there any more comforting smell in the world than garlic or onions cooking in oil?

There is also the unmistakable and disgusting stench of skunk, which woke me up last night and is now permeating the entire house because of the open windows. Gross. Maybe I'll walk around with a tomato vine under my nose all day.

Right, I think I've droned on enough about a topic that is weird at best and at worst, incredibly boring. What can I say? It's Thursday, nothing exciting has happened recently (well, there was another BAAAAAT in the house, but only the MiL saw it, so it wasn't really the next episode in "BAAAATS: A Blackrock Miniseries"), and these are the things I think about.

My mind--it's a strange, lonely place.

* Name that band, kids!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Summer Gluttony

Here's the thing about U-pick farms: Actually picking the stuff kinda sucks. But then you get home and realize you just got 5 pounds of raspberries for 10 dollars and 45 minutes of your time. Sweet.

I went to the U-pick yesterday for blueberries and raspberries. Picking blueberries is the worst, because they're small and it takes for-damn-ever to fill up the big buckets. It took me about an hour and a quarter to pick 6 pounds of blueberries. Then onto the raspberry patch to fill yet another bucket. The raspberries, in particular, make me marvel at the economy of the U-pick. I don't remember the last time I bought raspberries at the supermarket, but I seem to recall that a dinky plastic container holding about 20 berries cost about five dollars. At that price, every berry should be coated in gold and kept in a jewel box. I can't even eat them without feeling guilty about every berry. You might as well just eat nickels.

But when you have five pounds of raspberries, you can get crazy. You can have a big bowl of raspberries and cream (which we did, last night), you can have a generous number of raspberries on your Cheerios (which we did, this morning), you can give in to the temptation to dive headfirst into the bucket of raspberries and wallow in it like a hog (which I have not done) (yet).

And the blueberries? Well, they're the raspberries' understudy, waiting patiently until the raspberries are close to the end for their turn in the spotlight. But I have plans for those blueberries. Plans involving lots of sugar and a lemon cake topping, perhaps.

However, I could use a few suggestions for the berry extravaganza. So tell me: What would you do with this many raspberries and blueberries?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

In Which I Whine and Swear

WARNING: This post contains language not appropriate for children. And some adults, if you're prissy like that.

Oh my God. OH MY GOD. Yesterday wins the prize for the worst home improvement project ever. The scene? The Pit of Despair. The characters? Me and Henry the Plumber. The action? It sucked, y'all.

All we wanted to do was rip out a pipe leading to the kitchen so we could have more than a trickle of cold water in the kitchen sink. That's all. One small pipe.

It took four hours. FOUR HOURS.

I spent those four hours in my rubber boots in the cistern (not the outside cistern that we cleaned--there's one in the cellar, too). The cistern that has to be reached by crawling through a two-foot-high slit in the wall four feet off the ground, requiring some contortions and handstands on a stepladder that a 70-year-old plumber and a lazy 28-year-old girl should not have to perform. The cistern that is totally dark, festooned with cobwebs, and smells like a tomb. The cistern that I have publicly admitted, on this website in fact, that I try to not even look at, much less spend a significant amount of time in.

It was not a good time.

I yanked on pipe wrenches, whacked things with hammers, dodged mummified spiders, pulled some totally disgusting rags out of a hole in the wall (Blackrock: The Birthplace of the Cob Job!), held the light for Henry the Plumber, and breathed into my lungs particulates that I would rather not know about. For four hours. I didn't eat lunch, I didn't sit down, I didn't see daylight or breathe fresh air for four hours.

But! That miserable pipe was broken in the end, and we now have a veritable torrent of cold water to the kitchen sink. And it only took (all together now!) four hours. Not counting the time it took Henry the Plumber to actually hook up the new pipe and get everything in working order after I took my sorry, whiny self to the shower. That was another three hours. Three hours that I spent sitting on the couch with a huge cup of water and not in the cistern, thank you Jesus.

I think it's time I got a pay raise.

Monday, July 14, 2008

This Is What Happened

Just another boring Sunday at Blackrock . . .

First, I harvested this:

Shallots. Lots and lots of shallots, with more still in the garden. You think I went a little overboard on the shallots this year?

Then, I canned this:

There should have been 6 quarts of mulberry juice in this photo. One jar broke in the canning process. Let us observe a moment of silence for the lost quart.

Using this:

Shiny! New! Less likely to explode and ridiculously large! Meet the new pressure canner.

Then, A. bought these:

Introducing Cleo, Milly, and Tilly's butt. The exorcism has been performed. I think we're safe.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Way We Live*

Sometimes, what with all the gardens and the animals and the never-ending work on the mini-farm, we forget we live on the lake. That we, in fact, have our very own beach. We don't use it as often as we probably should, because of the aforementioned gardens and animals and work. But we did go down there last night. And this is what we saw:

I think we should go down to the beach more often.

* I'll try to explain the family joke here . . . whenever we are enjoying something that we may take for granted but would be considered special by other people--like our beach, extraordinary food, the view from our front porch-- we'll wave our hands airily and comment in our best snooty voices, "It's just the way we live."

Why don't family jokes ever sound funny when you try to explain them?