Come again another day

Rain came yesterday like the breaking of a spell.  I woke up to wet pavements and dripping eves and stood on my deck inhaling the damp cool air and thanking whatever front had pushed away the high pressure system that has hung over us for so long, with its record high temperatures and desert humidity.  The years-long drought is fearsome enough, but this time we added to it what seemed like a year with no winter.  Day after day with temperatures in the seventies and eighties may seem like paradise for awhile, but not when I need a cool wet season to plant my orchard, and rain to keep the soil moist so their roots can grow before the dry summer.   Yesterday’s rain, over by noon, wasn’t much, but it brought hope along with it, the possibility that conditions had changed and that it might stay cool and even rain again sometime soon.

Archie: 1997-2013

“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.”  — Will Rogers

Benjamin Franklin and Obamacare

“We are, I think, in the right road of improvement, for we are making experiments.”

“God grant that not only the love of liberty but a thorough knowledge of the rights of man may pervade all the nations of the earth, so that a philosopher may set his foot anywhere on its surface and say, ‘This is my country.'”

I think he would have approved of the Affordable Care Act.

June Gloom and Comfort Food

After a weekend of sauna-like heat, we’ve had a week of cool, foggy, even drizzly days. The first day of summer looked and felt almost like winter, except that the lowering gray skies stayed that way until well into the evening.  So today instead of corn on the cob with dinner, I made a wintery dish from the kernels, a low-calorie corn pudding recipe, again adapted from a recipe I found on line.


1 ½ tb. flour
1 c. fat-free milk
Kernels sliced from 3 ears of corn
3 medium green onions, chopped (I had no green onions, so used about 1/4 c. finely diced spring onions)
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. dried powdered thyme
1/4 tsp. black pepper
2 eggs
½ c. shredded cheddar or other sharp cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spray a 1-quart baking dish with cooking spray.

In a separate bowl, beat the eggs thoroughly.

Put the flour in a medium saucepan, and gradually whisk in the milk. Add the corn, onions, salt, thyme and pepper. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently, until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes.

Gradually beat some of the hot milk mixture into the eggs, stirring constantly, then add the egg mixture to the saucepan off the heat, continuing to stir it until it is completely incorporated. Stir all but 2 tablespoons of the cheese into the mixture. Spoon it into the baking dish, and sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.

Put the corn casserole into a larger baking dish, and once it is in the oven, fill the larger dish with hot water to about 1/3 of the way up the sides of the casserole. Bake until the pudding is just set in the center, about 35 minutes.

Raspberry jam

Our neighbor across the street picks Meyer lemons from our tree and, in exchange, brings us raspberries from her garden.  Of those we can’t eat right away, I freeze some and make jam from the rest.   She brought some berries over on Thursday, and I made jam Friday evening after work; raspberries are very fragile, and you have to use them fast.

I don’t know whether it’s the recipe or her berries, but the jam concentrates and intensifies the berries’ flavor into a sort of essence of all things raspberry, much more intense than any commercial raspberry jam I’ve tasted.  Here’s the recipe I use, based on one I got from the Internet but adapted a bit over time:


6 cups of fresh raspberries

4 cups of sugar

3 tablespoons or so of lemon juice

6 half-pint canning jars with double lids.

Start by boiling the jars in a deep pan or kettle, in water covering them by about an inch.   Near the end of the boil, you can add the lids; they should be boiled only briefly.

Put the raspberries and lemon juice into a stainless steel saucepan or kettle large enough to hold them and the sugar.  Use only stainless steel, because the acids in the fruit will react with aluminum or cast iron and give the jam a metal taste.

Heat the berries and juice, without the sugar, over medium-high heat, stirring a lot to prevent anything from sticking, until the mixture comes to a boil.

Add the sugar, stir it in, and continue boiling it all and stirring a lot until the jam sets.  This part is tricky with raspberries, because the jam sets early and fast, compared to other fruits.  If you wait too long, you’ll have jars of raspberry fruit leather.  (I’ve been there.)  Pink foam will form on the surface of the jam mixture as it boils, and as the jam gets close to setting, the foam will get gradually darker and more gooey.   From time to time, check the status of the jam by dripping a few drops onto a cold plate and tipping the plate so that the jam flows down it.  If the jam is ready, it will congeal and stop flowing as it cools on the plate, and if you run your finger across it it will have a soft but jammy texture.

At this point, hurriedly skim what foam is left from the top of the jam and discard it (or use it later on ice cream.)    Immediately pour the mixture into the sterilized jars, to about 1/4 inch from the top. Wipe any spilled jam from the tops of the jars, put on the lids and bands right away, and tighten the bands to hand-tightness.  You will probably have four full jars plus part of a fifth.

Put the jars of jam back into the kettle you boiled them in, add enough more water to cover them by an inch, bring them to a boil and cook them for five minutes.   Take them out of the kettle, set them on a counter or hot pad, and wait.  Over the next ten or fifteen minutes, as the jam and jars cool, you will hear each lid make a single popping sound.  This means the lids have made an air-tight seal.  Check by gently pressing the top of each jar with a finger; if the jar lid has popped, the lid won’t give when pressed.  If you get a jar that doesn’t seal, or if you have a partial jar after filling the rest, refrigerate it and use the jam in the next few weeks.  The sealed jars will keep a year or more.


Texas toast

My favorite morning news show announced yesterday that Texas is about to institute the highest speed limit in the nation — 85 miles per hour — on one of its freeways. My immediate thought — heaven help me — was, “Oh, good, fewer Texans.”

A little Kipling for a sorry time

“As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man

There are only four things certain since Social Progress began:

That the Dog returns to its vomit and the Sow returns to her mire,

And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the fire.”

Good luck, Wisconsin!



Fermentation for the Hell of It

I have a sneaking fondness for fermentation processes.  In the past I made beer for awhile, though that ended when I realized I couldn’t drink all I made.  When a batch came out really well, I could take it to parties and give it as gifts.  But when it was only middling — well, it just seemed a waste of time and money to put half of it out as snail bait.  But after the first arduous afternoon of lab work, boiling, steeping, and cleaning, the fermentation process — the primary fermentation in the plastic bucket and the secondary in the big glass carboy with the cute little air lock — was a fascinating biological experiment.  I liked checking on it, watching the bubbles of carbon dioxide blip through the water in the air lock, and smelling that ancient warm smell of yeast at work.

For a half dozen years I kept a sourdough starter, which made great pancakes.  But then I joined Weightwatchers, and pancakes became a thing of the past,  along with the starter.

Then for a couple of years my partner and I made wine from plums from our tree and our neighbor’s.   Each time we ended up with about twenty-five bottles of fairly decent wine.  But since neither of us drinks that much, and good grape wine is available and cheap, most of them languished in our basement.  From time to time we think idly of trying to distill  the rest into some form of rotgut slivovitz.

Now it’s kombucha.  Last fall, at a fair put on by a local mycological society, a cheerful young woman was selling samples of kombucha tea and SCOBYs, an acronym for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast,” from which kombucha is made.  The process is pretty simple:  basically, you drop the SCOBY, which looks something like a translucent white hockey puck, into a jar of weak sweet tea, cover it with several layers of cloth to keep out the bad microorganisms, and leave it for a few weeks.  What you get is a sour, slightly carbonated drink that is supposed to have mysterious health benefits.   The lure of fermentation seduced me again, and I bought a couple of SCOBYs and set them up at home in their own jars of tea.  Since then I’ve had two jars at a time, at different stages of the fermentation process, and another of mature kombucha in the refrigerator, which I feel constantly pressured to drink up before the next batch is ready.

The first time I drank a glass, I got a little high; later I found out that kombucha can have a fair amount of alcohol in it, and now I drink less and dilute it with a lot of water.  I’ve googled it to find out what its benefits are, and aside from the fact that many generations of Chinese and Russians seem to have felt it was a wonderful tonic and some people make anecdotal claims of its miraculous effects on everything from sexual function to arthritis symptoms, there seems to be little solid evidence that it does much.  On the other hand, it’s not unpleasant; I think on a warm summer day a glass of kombucha might be refreshing, with its fizzy tartness and slight alcohol buzz.  I’ll see if I can keep it going until then.


Blue State Graft

February and early March are dormant grafting season.  For several years I’ve been involved in a statewide group of people interested in preserving rare and interesting types of fruit-bearing trees.  In the late winter various chapters hold scion exchanges at which people can buy rootstocks and collect twigs (a.k.a. scions — hence the name of the exchanges) of different varieties of fruit to graft onto them.   Around here, backyard orchards are a pretty popular hobby; in the early spring, public libraries hold classes on how to graft fruit trees, and our local chapter puts on a grafting clinic, with demonstrations and some one-on-one help.   I’ve learned the basics of grafting, and every spring now I build a few trees of my own.  I have quite a flock of them, many in pots, waiting for the day when I can finally plant my fantasy orchard.

Early this month I grafted four kinds of pears and two of apples, and a nectarine onto rootstocks and started some fig cuttings indoors.   A couple of weeks later I grafted a couple of twigs of Golden Delicious apple from one tree of mine onto another.   The antique pears have wonderful French names:  Buerre Hardy, Conseilleur a la Cour, Duchesse de Comice.    Because I’m not skilled and don’t have confidence, grafting for me is slow and fiddly.  It also carries a frisson of danger, because grafting knives are as sharp as razors.  I cut myself at least once each season; this year it was a nasty slice in my forefinger.  I’ve come to believe that grafts won’t really take unless you shed some blood as a sort of sacrifice.

My daughter and son-in-law bought bare-root trees — avocados, apples, a pear, a mandarin, a lime — for their new house.   I could probably do that; these days nurseries sell an amazing variety of trees.   I don’t know, though; there’s something satisfying and enlightening about learning a skill, seeing my homemade trees  grow and  bear fruit, and absorbing the lore of rootstocks and graft types.   It’s an ancient art, and it feels right to be part of another generation carrying it forward.




Little dog in the rain

Several times recently, as I’ve walked from the bus to work, I’ve seen a man walking a cocker spaniel. I never notice the man, and I couldn’t tell you what he looks like. All I really notice is the dog, who is, like most cocker spaniels, attention-grabbingly cute. Cockers generally have dark soulful eyes, but this little guy’s eyes are deep and tragic, dark as dead coals in his blunt little face and full of sorrow, like windows into all the darkness of the world. This morning it was raining, and he was walking out in a neon yellow dog slicker, complete with a little hood.