Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Up and Down the Mountain

Last week was the occasion of a blessed excursion to my family's mountain cabin, and this time I shared the time with my dear friend Mrs. Bread.

I've blogged about the cabin and lake before, here and here. The last two years I went mostly for time alone with God in His Creation. This time I enjoyed plenty of that experience, plus deepening of friendship, and working on improving or maintaining the house and property. Now that my father has passed, I am part owner of this place, and I happily but more intensely feel the responsibility to do my part, though I'm afraid I'll never match the hardworking devotion of my siblings who live closer; some of them can dash up just for the day if they need to.

Here I am painting the threshold and doorjamb against the elements of winter. One year--or maybe more than one--the whole cabin was buried in snow, just a lump in the white landscape.

The drive took me ten hours, what with a leisurely detour to pick up J. on the way. So we stayed four nights so as to have three whole days for taking pictures, cooking, reading together, cleaning, admiring giant boulders and listening to the silence of the forest.

How can it be so awe-fully quiet? There are birds flitting and chipmunks scampering, breezes blowing and even the occasional chain saw in the village. But the earth feels peacefully serene up there, weighted with quiet, heavy with a silence that speaks of God's presence. I seem to soak up contentedness and rest.

I needed the rest, as I had come down with a cough and cold in the two days before. The altitude gave me a headache the first night, and we both suffered from the reduced oxygen, our legs uncooperative and slow when we dragged back up the hill after a walk down to the lake.

It's the High Sierra, and up there the mornings start out below freezing this time of year, making you want to lie abed and watch the sky lighten out the window. By midday it can be sunburning hot out on the deck, so we sat in the shade of the umbrella to peruse the several tree guides that have found their way to the cabin's bookshelf.

At first we limited ourselves to studying the general shapes and angles of branches, focussing in on the cones with binoculars. Eventually we walked among the trees below the cabin and noticed where cones had fallen underneath their mother trees.


The pines in the neighborhood are mostly Lodgepole, as illustrated by the picture here. But to be truthful, it took Pippin's later confirmation of that suspicion to make me believe it.

As we walked together marveling at the various beautiful flowers, berries, and stones, J. said, "These little trees grab at my heart!" See why I love her?

  
 What a lot can be seen in this photograph, taken from outside the picture window, while I was sitting at the table inside writing a letter to a grandson. You can see the kitchen behind me, and the lake reflected behind J.'s reflection.

I like having these pictures of myself at the lake, something besides the ones of my feet that I took last year when solitary. Thanks, J.!

These three trees stood out from the pines with their trunks shown off by the granite slabs.  B. thinks they might be red cedars.

The first morning at the cabin I read in the Psalter, "For Thou hast said: Mercy shall be built up for ever," (Ps. 88) and was musing about the image that phrase conjured in my mind, of an edifice being constructed. And why not the image of towers of clouds, that often rain down showers of blessing? From now on, when I see cloud skyscrapers rising fast, piling layer upon layer, I will think of the way God's mercies do the same, every morning.

Someone brought this small remembrance of our father up to put on the bedroom wall. If you click on it a couple of times you can read the labels. I love seeing my father's handwriting, which didn't change in all the years since this collection was made when he was in college. 

J. helped me firm up my resolve to try really hard to come up to this beloved place more next year. It's not available for very long, though: This week shutters will be put up, water turned off, chimney covered, to mention only a few of the many tasks to protect the house from blizzards--and if we can get through the snow to open it up before the first of July we'll be happy. 

I've never been up more than twice in a summer; I wonder if I really do have the liberty to even dream of spending a week, or visiting twice or three times. I'll pray for a miracle, and wait to see how the Lord chooses to pile up His mercies next year.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Recipes Page Has Appeared

I'm headed to the mountains this week for a few days, but I managed to put together a page of recipe links, found now on the sidebar. I'll have to transcribe the Ratatouille recipe later and add it along with others by and by.

At church we just had our yearly international food festival, and I baked a couple of things for the bakery which I'll tell about, too, illustrated with pictures taken in process and upon completion. It was quite fun to bake goodies that didn't sit around here tempting me for days; they were consumed within a few hours of the start of the party. This year I didn't even eat any baklava. The memory of the perfect rendition of baklava that a member of our parish bakes was still lingering and satisfying.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Turkish Green Beans

Here is the recipe for the green beans I wrote about in my post on vegetable stews. I have seen versions of this recipe that don't use a pressure cooker, but if you are comfortable with this kind of cooking it's very convenient, especially when you have a lot and would like to save them. Most ways of preserving green beans end up with a product that I find lacking, but these are quite good after being frozen. Traditionally they are served cold, but we enjoy them at all temperatures. I put my adjustments in parentheses to the original recipe.

I tried making them with less oil, or with a different type of oil, and the result was mushy beans. But one commenter on my first post (who has a blog dedicated to pressure cooking) said to try pressure-cooking them only four minutes.  I may do that next summer, but this year's pole beans are about done. 

Turkish Green Beans in the Pressure Cooker
2 pounds green beans, trimmed and bisected lengthwise (I didn't read this carefully and have always cut mine crosswise into 2-3" lengths.)
1 medium white (I used yellow) onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, slivered
5-6 Roma tomatoes, peeled and chopped (or 1 16-oz can diced tomatoes)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 heaping teaspoon Turkish hot pepper paste (or 1 tablespoon Louisiana hot sauce)
1 to 1 1/2 cups water, divided
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup olive oil
Place the beans, onion, garlic and tomato in pressure cooker. Dilute the tomato and pepper pastes in 1/2 cup water and pour that over the beans. Add the remaining water, salt, sugar and oil. Cover and cook; once the pot is at full pressure, cook for 18 minutes.
    Quick-release the pressure under cold running water or with the quick-release mechanism. Serve chilled (or warm, or room temperature).

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Summery Cucumber Story

Before the summer is past, I want to share a true story I wrote more than ten years ago, when it appears I was already developing my habit of complaining about my garden, and trying to break the habit, too.


SURPRISE CUCUMBERS
This spring I was grumbling more than ever about the less-than-ideal gardening conditions I work in. Here, close to the San Francisco Bay, it never gets hot enough for this lady born and raised in the San Joaquin Valley of California, where most of the fruits and vegetables all of you eat are grown, where tomatoes and melons and peppers and eggplant all thrive. Rather, we have fog many mornings in the summer, and a few hours after that burns off the cool afternoon breeze comes through, followed by the fog again. I wear flannel nightgowns all summer.
Our back yard doesn’t have a lot of space, and half of it is shaded by our trees and the neighbors’, which get bigger every year. My bean and zucchini crops shrink annually. But in spite of my discouragement, I planted again in April. I have had nice lemon cucumbers in the past, so I planted some again in the usual place. Well, not quite usual. Whereas in the past the vines could crawl across the concrete patio, now they would have a big sandy square where my husband had jack-hammered out the old cracked pavement with plans to replace it eventually.
Before my cukes poked up out of the ground where I had poked the seeds in, big round leaves sprouted up in a few places in the sandy square. They were not the true leaves yet, but I could recognize them for cucumbers—oh, goody, I thought, some volunteers! And I carefully sculpted some bowls around my “hills” so I could water them efficiently. You know, it doesn’t normally rain in most of California in the summer so we have to irrigate everything.
The expected cucumbers came up, too, though not so many. I was glad for the “drop-ins” and was happy to see the space filling with healthy green foliage and vines running off in every direction. Along about July I walked by my sprawling cuke bed and saw…..what was that?…a watermelon!
I could not have been more stunned; to think that I had not recognized their distinctive leaves, so different from the cucumbers growing close by. But there is the power of a foregone conclusion: I had never really looked at those leaves. I simply knew they were cucumbers. But when I thought back, I remembered that the previous year we had enjoyed watermelon on the Fourth of July with friends, and the many children had sat on the  edge of the deck spitting seeds into the sand.
So now what was I to do? There was no real likelihood that watermelons could get sweet here in the Land of Fog and Shade. I have grown melons before in another place. I know they need months and months of heat, Real Heat. But I had been nurturing these plants for months, and they were so healthy and green…and our water use isn’t metered! It was not possible to turn my back on these babies, so I kept watering them, and sheepishly telling visitors about my confusion and enlightenment, as we gazed at the multiplying fruits, some of which grew large.
August was cool. My children asked me many times, “When are we going to pick our watermelons?” and I told them I would wait as long as possible, until the season of possible heat waves had surely passed…just in case. But I didn’t wait that long. I thought I would try one per week, and I started on Labor Day, the First of September. We picked a big melon, and weighed it: 25 pounds. We hacked it open and it was pink inside. I tasted a slice. It was juicy, it was SWEET. A miracle, but true. Better than what we have often bought at the store. Our neighbor heard us exclaiming and peeked over the fence, so we gave her one. We picked a third (32 pounds) to share with our married children, and found out today that it is sweet, too.
Now the children are saving seeds and hoping that Papa will not replace that concrete just yet. And I am smiling to myself at God’s sneaky kindness, giving me in the midst of my grumblings, of all things—watermelons!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Comforted

This afternoon I "had to" run an errand to my stomping grounds of yesteryear. It turned out to be a surprise gift, to drive home on the narrow roads winding through foothills where the sweetness of oak trees filled the warm air. Dark grapes were hanging close to the ground in the vineyards, soaking up the last of the sweetening rays. And wild fennel way higher than my head lined the roadsides.

All these scents and more combined over the half hour's drive in ever-changing proportions to create a soul's real comfort food. I had only recently been grieving the loss of a nice garden, breadmaking, my wits, and several other things I couldn't even put my finger on. Today it was as if God through the instrument of Summer put His arms around me and said, "It's o.k., Honey, the best parts of your Life That is Past remain, and will be here for you in the future." And Summer was telling me that she is going to sit a spell yet and likely give me a few more hugs.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Happy over Vegetable Stews

Cooking makes me happy. Having a lot of vegetables to cook up and eat, with extra to freeze, makes me especially content.  B. plays various fun R&B tunes at the computer, and I bounce around the kitchen chopping and singing along with James Taylor or Eva Cassidy, clapping sometimes when I put down the dishtowel or knife on my way to open the fridge or oven.

On the way home through the fertile Central Valley last week I bought some okra, not having a plan for it, and this week I happened to see this recipe for Green Gumbo, which I made with deviations from the letter, but keeping the spirit. How could I go wrong with all those favorite ingredients like kale and okra, sausage and bacon? We ate it on rice as suggested, with corn on the cob alongside.

Summertime gardens always make me want to cook up a pot of Ratatouille, a classic that is not complicated but requires a lot of chopping and mincing. I also had to take time to go out to the garden at the last minute to get the parsley and basil to go with onions, eggplant, peppers, zucchini, garlic and tomatoes. My version mostly stews in the oven.

The picture shows it the first time I stirred the stew, after an hour or so. When I opened the oven and took the lid off the pot, the aroma skipped quickly on the evening breeze across the room to B., who cried out in a swoon. Normally this recipe takes three hours in the oven, but this time it was done in two hours flat; must have been the new convection oven.

Turkish Green Beans come out surprisingly and deliciously intact even though they are cooked in a pressure cooker for 18 minutes. It is probably the generous amount of olive oil that helps them keep their integrity, while tomato, garlic and hot pepper add to the flavor.

I'm sorry to say that the store-bought green beans, young and thin as they always seem to come these days, did not turn out as well as my homegrown pickings. I guess even the additions to the pot can't overcome the blandness of those wimpy beans. I put half the recipe in the freezer right away, because their flavor and texture are just as nice after being set by frozen for a few months.

Right now I just want to get this post up, so the recipes will have to come later, and also will be included when I create a page on my blog -- soon, I hope -- where I can link to all of the recipes I've ever shared, including these beans and ratatouille. There are a few that I haven't written down anywhere else, and I need the reference at least for myself, so I can know whether I've already written about a particular dish, and also to remember how to make some of them that were sudden inspirations.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Abundance and a New Year

September 1st marks the start of the church calendar, and is a good time to remember the goodness of God's creation. I love this icon and the way it expresses the superabundance of life and beauty in this world that is our home. Lord, thank You for everything. 
Bless us in the coming year!