Saturday, September 6, 2008

Attack of the Wild Eggplant

I would like to share something with you, so you may be prepared to defend yourself if the occasion should ever arise. I was not prepared, and was viciously attacked and injured. But forewarned is forearmed, so listen up.

Eggplants have thorns.

Yes. They may look all smooth and innocent in the store, but in the wild, eggplants are brutal. They have sharp little thorns, like a rose, on the stem above the fruit. I was not aware of this until yesterday when I went to harvest the eggplants from the garden (look at us, all Mediterranean!) and received a puncture wound to my thumb that hurts at this very moment. Little shits.

So now you know. Should you ever have the need to subdue a wild eggplant, wear gloves. If I can save one person from an eggplant attack by sharing my experience, my pain will not have been in vain.

Be safe out there.

Friday, September 5, 2008

All About the Wood

My promise to you: This post does not contain the "T word" anywhere in its contents. You can thank me later.

Everyone has their own sign that summer is over. Maybe it's Labor Day, or the last trip to the beach, or the beginning of school. For us, we know summer has ended based on two major events. One is The Great New York State Fair. The other is the beginning of the woodpile.

I may not have even mentioned the woodstove yet on this site, but you'll be hearing a lot about it in the coming months. A LOT. You'll also be hearing a lot about how I burn myself on the bastard every single day, and how much of a mess the wood makes, and how sick I'm getting of stacking and hauling wood all the time . . . I bet you can't WAIT for all of that.

See, we don't have central heat. Unless you count the fact that the woodstove is centrally located in the dining room. We do have an oil furnace, but the house is so big and so cold that to heat it in any comfortable fashion with the furnace would require the selling of some vital organs to pay the oil bill. And I would like to keep both of my kidneys, thank you. So we mostly rely on wood heat.

When I say "heat," I'm not talking a balmy 70 degrees inside. I'm also not talking heating the whole house. The woodstove is in the dining room, so we set chairs up around it and basically live in the dining room in the winter. The living room gets a little residual heat. The bathrooms have space heaters and the kitchen has its own propane heater. That leaves the other 80 percent of the house unheated. And when I say "unheated," I mean the kind of unheated where you can see your breath and ice forms on the walls. Inside. A. says it builds character. I say it builds chilblains, but whatever.

So this post was supposed to be about the wood and how we start gathering it early, before I got sidetracked by the sub-arctic cold of Blackrock in the winter. Getting back on the main track . . .

We keep the wood on one of the side patios, just outside the kitchen door. In the summer, this patio has a picnic table and the grill. But when the picnic table is moved and the wood begins to be stacked on that patio, that is the end of the Blackrock summer. A. split wood this weekend, and this week I began The Stacking.

The woodpile in embryo

That whole stone area will soon be totally covered in wood stacked five feet high. We get most of it delivered to us, because we don't have a wood lot, but we always supplement with trees we get from various sources. Last winter, we had a maple tree felled, so we cut that up and A. is splitting that right now.

Welcome to Dogpatch

So that's it. The woodpile has begun and summer is over here at Blackrock. Soon it will be nothing but flannel-lined jeans (oh yes, I own some and they are SEXXXY) and wool coats. And wood. Lots and lots of wood.

But enough about me. How do you know your summer is over?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Sing It, Tom(ato)*

Well, I won't back down,
No, I won't back down.
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won't back down.

Gonna stand my ground,
Won't be turned around.
And I'll keep this world from draggin' me down,
Gonna stand my ground, and I won't back down.

Hey baby, there ain't no easy way out.
Hey, I will stand my ground,
And I won't back down.

Perhaps Tom Petty had tomatoes in mind when he wrote that song.

What's that you say? You're sick of tomatoes? You wish I would do something else with my life so this blog would be more interesting than a tomato bitch fest day after day?

That's funny, because ME TOO.

But I can't stop. I can't stop talking about the tomatoes, I can't stop bitching about the tomatoes, and I damn sure can't stop canning tomatoes, because the tomatoes keep ripening. Oh my God in heaven, are they ripening.

I made and canned tomato soup yesterday (like Campbell's Cream of--only not gross), and I thought I had done an admirable job of taming the tomato mountain in my kitchen. Then I went out to harvest. And I got another VERY FULL dish pan of tomatoes.

You know the dish pan. You've seen the dish pan more than once. It's become a permanent fixture. As have the tomatoes that constantly fill it. I figure the dish pan holds about 30 pounds of tomatoes. Which means I am harvesting 30 pounds of tomatoes A DAY. Try to wrap your head around that one. Next time you're buying tomatoes at the store, take note of how many pounds you buy, and then multiply accordingly. Then weep for me.

I mean really, what does one do with that many tomatoes? Make sauce? Yes, three times. Make soup? Check. Can them plain? Yup, twice. How about salsa? Already been done. Twice. I'M RUNNING OUT OF OPTIONS HERE.

I think I'm about halfway through the tomato harvest. And I may be willing to admit the possibility that maybe, just maybe, I planted a few too many tomato plants this year. Just a few.

But I will not give up. I will not back down. I planted those fecking tomatoes, and I will eat every damn one of them in one form or another, as God is my witness! Or die trying. Which is looking more and more like a distinct possibility.


* The fact that I even noticed that the name Tom is a part of the word "tomato," and that this was HILARIOUS to me, tells you all you need to know about my tenuous grip on sanity at the moment.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Score--In Which I WIN

Total number of pint jars used so far:

Total number of pint jars left to use:

Tomato Threat Level:

On second thought, I think the tomatoes win.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Lowlights and Highlights--Labor Day Edition

Hey, look at me. I started a tradition or something.

Lowlights of the long weekend:

1) Sunday morning--a graphic reminder that I am no longer 21 years old and should not attempt to drink as if I am.

2) Slicing my hand open while fencing. I'm kinda tired of cutting myself.

3) Driving all over creation Saturday morning in search of firewood, but not finding what we wanted.

4) The sun at The Great New York State Fair. I swear it's 10 degrees hotter at the fairgrounds than anywhere else.

5) Tomatoes will not stop ripening. I didn't harvest for two days. Then I did. CODE RED!

Highlights of the long weekend:

1) Discovering the Friar Tuck's Belgian Fries stand at The Great New York State Fair. True love.

2) Getting the electric fence working again so the dogs will stop running into the road to chase the evil cyclists.

3) A.'s high school reunion. Before I drank like a frat boy during rush week and made myself sick, I had a great time. Which is probably because I drank like a frat boy during rush week.

4) Talking to the nice Amish lady at one place we went to for firewood (they were out). She told me there's an old saying, "When the onion skins are tough, the winter will be rough." Her onion skins are very tough, apparently. Guess we should really work on getting that wood.

5) Finding out my parents will be coming to visit us. This coming weekend. How spontaneous of them. But it's a good thing they're coming now--I can make them help me can tomatoes. (Just kidding, Mom and Dad! I wouldn't do that to you! Unless you wanted to help keep your poor, tomato-exhausted daughter from a tomato-induced breakdown . . . )

How was your weekend?

Monday, September 1, 2008

All Faired Out

I know you all want the details of my night of debauchery on Saturday, but I really don't think I need to go into that. I'll just say it was A.'s high school reunion, I drank wine AND beer AND a shot of Wild Turkey, and it was all downhill from there. Sunday morning was rough. I was, ahem, indisposed. A. was going crazy with excitement for the fair. I don't think I have yet conveyed to you how much he loves The Great New York State Fair. He talks about it and looks forward to it literally all year. He got up at 7:30 a.m., raring to go. I was not. By about 9:30 a.m., I was pretty sure I would survive. Around 10:30 a.m., I gave in to A.'s pleading, and we left.

The thing about The Great New York State Fair (the whole name must always be capitalized, and I think there may be legislation requiring that the word "Great" always be a part of the name) is that it is complete sensory overload. It's loud and bright and smelly and dirty and crowded and delicious. If you're into grease. Which I was, because, of course, grease cures hangovers.

The first place we went was the Italian sausage stand, so A. could get sausage. I took a pass on the sausage and instead got some poutine. This is a Canadian import of french fries covered in cheese and gravy. Thank you, Canada.

The second place we went was, of course, the sheep barn. A. was very unhappy to learn that my, ahem, slow start had caused us to miss the Merino show, but there was still a lot of sheep showing yet to be done, so all was not lost. In the meantime, we wandered around the goat barn, the pig barn, the poultry barn, and the dairy cattle barn.

This year was the first year we were there for a dairy cattle breed other than Holsteins. Holsteins have been bred purely to produce vast quantities of milk, which task they perform admirably, but at the cost of aesthetic appeal. Holsteins are graceless and ugly, is what I'm saying. In my opinion. Yesterday, the Jerseys were being shown. Have you ever seen a Jersey cow? They're so pretty. They look kind of like deer. Anyway, I was glad to see the smaller, more attractive Jersey this year. They produce richer and better-tasting milk, too. But moving on . . .

Around this time we got tired of battling the crowds. Although, let's talk about those crowds. The Great New York State Fair is the best place EVER for people-watching. It's . . . colorful. The hairstyles alone are worth going to the fair for. There are always a multitude of completely tasteless t-shirts as well. Which is, I suppose, better than the men who don't wear ANY shirt. We saw some of those too, although the new fair director is trying to make the fair less trashy. He must not have lived in this state long, because that's a losing battle if I've ever heard of one.

We ended our fair-going where we started--in the sheep barn. We sat in the bleachers for a couple of hours, culminating in the Best in Show competitions for rams, ewes, and flocks. It was sort of impressive to see 17 fully grown rams all gathered together in a space not much bigger than my living room. But I was more than ready to go home by the time the Best Flock was crowned.

All together, we spent more than 6 hours at the fair. By the time we got home, we were suffering from post-traumatic stress. I was in bed by 8 p.m. The Great New York State Fair (and Wild Turkey) will do that to a person.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

This Can't End Well

Offhand, I can't think of anything worse than going to The Great New York State Fair when hungover.

Wish me luck.