Friday, September 21, 2018

As We Near The Height of Fall

Autumn is here and I shouldn't been surprised, but I am.  Like always.
Monday we shucked and froze three dozen ears of corn.  Afterwards, as we were enjoying some Ben and Jerry's (vegan) ice cream, I was shocked to look outside and find it was nearly black.

Me:  "What time is it?!?!"
Matt:  "About 8:30pm.  Why?"
Me:  "How come its so dark already?!?!"
Matt:  "Because its Fall, Beth."

And so, it is.  So, it is.
Many years ago I decided that the Solstices/Equinoxes are usually a better indicator of the height of the season rather than the start of the season--at least in our climate in southcentral Montana.  I mean, June 21 is totally smack dab in the middle of summer, not the start of summer.  Conversely December 21st does not strike me as the start of winter here.  Not by a long shot.  And so on.  Using these dates as the relative peak of the season just makes more sense to me.
So, as the daylight hours slowly dwindle, the fall projects are all clicking into place in that satisfying seasonal rhythm I've come to hold so dear.
We canned a dozen quarts of dill pickles and froze about seven dozen ears of corn.
The garden is in full swing with my favorite late season offerings--peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes.  We've eaten so many cashew stuffed baby eggplants it is off the hook.  It my new favorite thing.  We planted a fall crop of greens and herbs that are just about ready to land on our plates.  I'm eager to try homegrown lettuce for the first time.  You know, now that I eat salad.
I made a bottle of The Hot Sauce That Matt Likes from the new pepper crop.  I'd actually had to buy some hot sauce earlier this year.  My peppers from last year didn't hold out quite long enough.  I can't really remember the last time I had to buy hot sauce.  It was years ago!  I primarily grow cayennes for my hot sauce though I've got two varieties this year--including a rather ginormous variety.
We've been grilling a lot this month--corn and onions, especially.  Though zucchini, pattypan squash, tofu, potatoes and others have made an appearance on the grill, too.
We pressed apples this past weekend--19 gallons of apple and almost one gallon of pear.  It was the first time we pressed pears.  We divvy the juice up with our friend Josh and his family since they're the ones who own the press and host our pressing party every year.   We actually didn't press apples last year.  We were too busy and the apple crop was poor so it didn't happen.  We all missed it though, as it turns out!
This year we picked from at least six different trees--and Josh picked from another five--so the apple juice is quite the melange.  We all agreed that the blended juice was more appealing to the palate than juice from just one tree.  Matt handed out a few bottles of fresh juice to his favorite co-workers (a modern day Johnny Appleseed, with a twist).  The rest we'll transform in to apple jelly and hard apple cider/wine.  We'll also bottle/freeze some to drink as juice over the course of the year--and to mull for a festive holiday drink.  There is something really special about a mug of warm and spicy cider on a cold winter day.
I am impressed that so many different flowers are still blazing in color through the cooling weather.  Of course, I don't know much about flowers so this might be absolutely normal.  The Cosmos and Bachelor Buttons are especially still on a roll.  I fell in love with the Brown-Eyed Susan that appeared  in one of our wildflower beds this year.  It quickly became my favorite--so bright and happy and lush.  As its flowers have withered I've cut several off to scatter around the property.  I'd sorta like them to take over.  The Chickadees are making short work of the Sunflower seeds.  I enjoy watching them come and go in their autumn busyness a great deal.  Busy, busy, busy.
I've had to break out the leggings for my morning commute--though I often don't need them for the return trip in the afternoon.  We had to slide the window closed the other night because it was just a bit too brisk, even tucked under a quilt.  We put a second quilt on the bed yesterday, in fact.
Ginger insists on staying out all night, savoring every outdoor moment before the snow, inevitably, comes.  I can't blame her.  I am savoring this fabulous fall weather myself.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

A Matt-and-Beth Style B & B

Last week we opened up our home for two bands of traveling musicians.
Sol Seed has been coming through town for years now and we've grown to love them (on and off stage) more and more as time has gone on.  They radiate positive community-building vibrations in their actions, words, and music.  They're remarkable people.  We were totally stoked to be able to return the favor for all the good times they've given us.
Because they have totally blessed my life.
I leave every Sol Seed show absolutely beaming with lightness and joy.  As such, we didn't think twice about it when the bass player messaged me about trying to find a place they could crash for a couple days as they made their way across the state.  It was an instant yes.  (Even though--with only one spare room--we're not really set up to house the masses.)  Sol Seed is just good people.
The other band, TreeHouse!, had never toured through Montana before--and we'd never heard their music before.  They're from South Carolina and so it is a bit more a jaunt for them than Sol Seed (who hail from Oregon).  So, it was only the first time we'd met that crew, but it was like "instant family" as one of them put it.  We all got along quite well--and their opening set was fantastic to boot.  They too had some harmonious, upful, and exultant tunes. 
The boys (there were 12 of them in total) stayed for two nights with us.  Matt and I thoroughly enjoyed the time they were there, too.  We had so many amusing and thoughtful conversations.  I'm pleased to think that they're spreading that across the country in every place they stop.  Watching their personalities interplay was fun and fascinating--the dynamics of band offstage, the roles, the temperaments.  That's always interesting.  But mostly we just enjoyed their company.  They're great guys who are simply fun to be around.  We hung out in the yard--grilling, roasting marshmallows on the fire, and playing frisbee and laughing--and around the coffee table telling stories.  They were very respectful of the house and the cats and kept things tidy.  They were also super enthusiastic about the house in a way that was eye-opening to me.  I guess living a month or more on the road at a time garners a unique perspective on things.  They made me feel like my humble home is an outright palace.  It can be easy to take everyday things for granted, even though I strive to live with an attitude of gratitude.  They were stoked about things like:  doing a load of laundry, a hot shower (with "great water pressure"), the sanctuary of the garden/backyard, washing some dishes, sleeping indoors (i.e. not in a tent or the van), a hot cooked meal from scratch.  It gave me some insight about the blessed life I lead--and that is always a good thing to be reminded about.
It was amazing to me how smoothly the whole stay went, too.  Not that I was worried about it or anything, but I mean, 14 humans, two cats, two bedrooms, and most critical--only one bathroom.  And yet, because everyone was so respectful and aware there were really no issues at all.  Well, maybe a couple people had to wait for the bathroom, but...   And Ginger hated it, but she took refuge in the garden.
I am so thankful for my happy home.  I am thankful for food in my belly and love in my heart.  I am thankful for the artists, philosophers, and music-makers.  I am thankful for my friends--new and old.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Peanut Butter Dates - And an Impulse Purchase at the Farmer's Market

Once upon a time I went to a birthday party vegan potluck.  One of the offerings was an utterly simple little bite-sized nibble:  a date stuffed with peanut butter.
It didn't repulse me or anything, but I also can't claim that it made me drool at the sight of it either.  But, someone at the party insisted that I "had to" to try them.  It looked plain and I didn't care much for dates so I was reluctant.  But, I'm polite--generally speaking--and so I agreed to give it a go and plunked one on my plate.

Thank heavens I let them talk me into it!  Oh, my goodness!  I was not prepared for how well those flavors combined on my palate.  The intense sweetness of the date coupled with the salty savoriness of the peanuts was just a stupendous match.  It was love at first bite, as the saying goes.

This past weekend Matt and I scored an unusual treat at our local Farmer's Market--fresh dates.  The dates had been picked just five days prior and were so gooey and tender they just about melted in the mouth.  The flavor was excellent, but it was the texture that really sold me.  I'd never had such a creamy date.  This is certainly one of the instances where even if the stored version from Costco is perfectly fine, fresh is just world's better.

A woman who grew up near here but now lives in California brought them back to sell at the market while she was in town visiting her family.  She had two kinds of dates--the standard Medjool and another I'd never heard of (and the name of which now escapes me).  They were fabulously different, but both totally spectacular.  They even had a branch from one of the trees so we saw how the dates look as they're still attached and growing.  Neither of us had ever seen that before.  So, between the coolness factor, the novelty, and fantastic quality of the fruit we brought home a container of the sweet little gems.  We just had to.
And I've been stuffing them with peanut butter all week.  I've got two packed for a mid-afternoon snack again today.  Even just one is surprisingly filling and satisfies my sweet tooth in a way I can totally embrace.

Yum.  Gosh, I hope the date woman (and her hilarious, bubbly daughter) are still in town.  I should have bought more.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Beauty As Well As Bread - Inspiration Thursday

"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike." 
         - John Muir
All photos from Wind Cave National Park: Backpacking on the Centennial Trail, crepuscular rays behind a cloud, boxwork formations on the ceiling of Wind Cave, a panorama from the Lookout Point Trail, setting up "home" for the night in the backcountry.
I love John Muir.  I only know him through his words and legacy, but, oh, thank heavens for John Muir.  And National Parks and other preserved places to recharge my spirit with nature's good vibes.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

34 in 34 for my 34th

Originally my plan was to send out 30 bits of mail in 30 days.  That was how the idea fell into my mind first formed.
Then, as I was fixing to meet that goal, I had a flash:
Why stop there?  Why not make it 34 cards in 34 days in acknowledgement of my 34th year on the earth?  That was more special.  More unique.
There are a handful of people I communicate with regularly by mail--by postcard most often.  Only one really writes back, but that isn't the point.  Or not the main point at least.
I just love sending letters, cards, postcards.  I like the feeling it gives me.  The connection.  It anchors me to my people--my friends and family, near and far.  I find the process of writing them--deciding which card, who will get it, what tidbits from life I should include in the text, thinking about them receiving my love and thoughts in their mailbox days later--pleasurable.  It is a satisfying ritual to me.
This year I've endeavored to send out a note to my relatives and close friends on their birthdays.  I've not always gotten it there on time...and I totally dropped the ball on a couple...but over all I've been happy with the postal project.  I'm blessed with family ties and I'd like to help strengthen those bonds in the times between family reunions and weddings and such.
I thought that with the 34 in 34 I'd be encouraged to diversify the range of my correspondence even further.  And it did.  In 34 days I mailed 25 different people-- 13 friends, 12 relations.
Hannah still got the most postcards from me this month.  She always does though.  She's the one who writes back and we have a special layer of old-school friendship because we are penpals, too.  I really value that slow communication in this go-go-go world.  It's different.
Mission: Send Lots of People My Love By Post was a huge success.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Do These Eye Spots Make My Head Look Big?!

I'm perpetually honing my naturalist skills.  There is so much to learn (to appreciate, admire, understand, marvel at) about the natural world!  The more I study the more I discover I've barely scratched the surface.  Birds we've got pretty well on lock down visually, but would like to be better at birding by ear.  And then there are flowers and trees and bushes and mammals and reptiles and fungus and berries and fish and....

Since I spent most of my life recoiling in horror from things of the creepy, crawly nature, this is an area in which I am not well versed.   So, I was pleased to discover this search engine which helped me speedily narrow down the possible suspects when I happened upon this rather adorably menacing caterpillar strolling down the sidewalk.

I popped in that it was Brown, Banded, and had No Hair....and then I just had to compare between six different species (three of which were different Tiger Swallowtails) from their database of almost 177 species.  Further research and examination of range maps leads me to conclude it is the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail.
I couldn't help but be impressed by the dramatic head exaggeration that the larvae uses for self-preservation.  I mean, just look at her with those large, surly yellow "eyes" and the black and yellow neck band to accentuate "head" size.  When, in fact, the whole head is actually the very small bit at the front, separated by the slim gold band.  ...the gold band which doubles as an excellently oversize looking "mouth."

Of course, humans aren't too far off track when it come to this illusory costumage  thing. I can see a real similarity to our use of eye shadow, mascara, Spanx, and padded bras.  For different reasons, of course, but still...the similarity is there.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Garden Eats

We are having another swell fruit year--currants, raspberries, strawberries especially.   The raspberries and strawberries are still going, too! 
We have both golden and red raspberries and it is especially fun to share them with people who've never seen anything but a red raspberry.  My niece, Keleigh, was one of our most recent side-by-side taste testers.  She preferred the golden raspberries as they were a little less tart than their red counterparts.  That seems a pretty common assessment.  I think they taste basically the same, but....I am really, really, really not picky when it comes to berries.  Or fruit, basically.
When the whole core slides out when pulling the top from a strawberry that is a very, very good sign.  A melt in your mouth sweet burst explosion good sign.
During the berry glut I made some dank fudge with strawberries, based on this recipe with my sister and god-sister.  It was a pretty dang incredible treat.
Chocolately fruity sweet deliciousness.
The Robins actually gave us a run for our money on the currants this year.  I was racing to beat the birds to those brilliantly scarlet berries.  Matt was ready to just give up and let the birds have 'em.  ...which surprised me, given his firm stance about saving the lettuce from the rabbits.  I was fast and determined though and so we shall have currant jelly again this year.  They makes for some gorgeous jam.
The apples are reddening up, though are a bit bruised from last week's hailstorm.  The grape vines--planted last year--are sprawling their way down the fence.
Haralson Apples
We made some of that utterly fabtabulous lemon pasta for dinner this week.  Made all the more spectacular with parsley and basil snipped in the garden just moments before they were added to the dish and morel mushrooms, gifted us from a friend earlier this year.
Steamed cauliflower, sauteed morels, toasted almond slices, basil, parsley, lemon pasta.....mmmmmmmmmmmm.....
This week we picked the first cayenne pepper of the season. A good thing, too, because I actually had to buy hot sauce this spring.  My homemade stock ran dry far too early!  It has been more years than I remember since this happened.
Jalapenos are ready, too!
We also dug the first sweet, tender carrot this week.  Fresh garden carrots truly are a vegetable that are dramatically unmatched to the store bought, long-dug alternate.  They are a whole different flavor experience.  We'd been eating baby carrots leftover from an event...and they're like crunchy water by comparison.  There is so much taste going on in a fresh carrot.  It astonishes me every year.
Matt and my nephews (visiting from Washington) picking raspberries and checking out the garden.
The garlic is curing in the fresh air.  There are some mighty satisfactory heads this year.  Much of this will be replanted to produce next year's crop, but (boy, oh, boy!) does my mouth water already about that fresh garlic!
We enjoyed our annual garlic scape harvest, too.
Spaghetti and meatballs with garlic scapes.
Matt's greenhouse project is steadily taking shape this summer.  I can't wait to see it all finished.  I think it will look charming as all get out.  More pragmatically, we think a greenhouse will be a lovely addition to our gardening repertoire.  We've got some tomatoes, watermelon, and tomatillos in there at the moment.
Matt and his helpful crew on the initial building day.
The spinach is long gone, but the chard is coming up to take its place in our smoothies.  We did enjoy a couple super yummy spinach-tofu quiches though, before the spinach bolted in the summer heat.
Spinach tofu "quiche" with seasoned chickpeas.
The most tiny and succulent Asian eggplants are on the menu next.  In addition to tasting great they are also some of the cutest produce I've ever seen.  These babies are only a couple inches long and so creamy and buttery it is unreal.  They're so different than their big, fat, honking Italian eggplant cousins.
Of course, all this activity is supervised by Ginger.  Queen of the Garden.
She's gorgeous.  And fierce.