Accidental landscaping

This is the time of year when the earliest fruit trees, the plums and cherries, begin to flower. Ordinary street trees suddenly become bouquets of complex pink blossoms, and backyard trees spill sprays of pale flowers over fences. And far away from any streets or houses, wild plum trees dot the hills, white lace against the dark oak and manzanita.

And the Republicans are promising us what?

The more I hear from the Republican presidential candidates, the more it seems they’re all about taking what we have away from us. They want to take away our rights to abortion and birth control, the minimum wage, social security, Medicare, health care in general, food safety regulations, consumer protections, the EPA — the list goes on.  They’d give tax cuts mostly to businesses and people who don’t actually need them, but I never hear them talk about what they plan to do for, rather than to, the rest of us.

As the conservatives become more powerful and extreme, I feel like flying away, to retreat into my corner of California and live a good life in this state and community where, at least so far, their destructive policies haven’t penetrated.  I can grow vegetables and fruit, buy as much as I can locally, spend less, treat other people with decency and respect, and help create a culture apart from, and better than, what the right would impose on us.   The Republican pundits seem to believe that capability and self-sufficiency are attributes only of the conservative base, the blue-collar white men of the so-called heartland.  How little they know!

Yesterday I started a bunch of seeds — peppers, eggplant, bunching onions, and lots of tomatoes, 33 sets in all.  Not much, but not bad for a woman with a full-time job and too little sunny garden space.


Marmalade Marathon

This is the season when my Meyer lemon trees are producing more ripe lemons than we can possibly use — and it’s not even easy to give them away, since every second house around here seems to have a Meyer lemon tree, equally full, in its yard. And it’s also the season when blood oranges show up in the farmer’s markets for a month or so. So last weekend I made two batches of marmalade at once, one of Meyer lemons and one of blood oranges.

The recipe, which I got from the Internet, is pretty simple: a pound and a half of fruit and four cups of sugar. For the blood orange marmalade I used one lemon with the oranges, because blood oranges by themselves make a disappointingly bland marmalade.  Choose fruit with nice-looking skins because the peels are used in the marmalade.

The process is a little more complicated: you quarter, seed, and thinly slice the fruit, peels and all, and put it in a pot with four cups of water. For reasons I’m not sure of, my recipe says to tie the seeds up in a small piece of cheesecloth and soak them with the fruit.  (Maybe the seeds add pectin or a little more bitterness.)  Leave it covered, at room temperature, for 24 hours. Then cook the mixture down, stirring it periodically to make sure it doesn’t stick, until you have four cups of fruit and water.  Remove the bag of seeds, add the sugar, and cook it some more at moderate heat, stirring it frequently, until it gels.  If foam forms on the surface while the marmalade is cooking, you can skim it off to make a more aesthetic looking final product.  There are a number of tests for gelling, but the one I’m used to is dripping a little jam onto a tilted saucer. When it gels on the saucer, it’s ready. (Note: Even if you think you found all the seeds when you sliced the fruit up, more loose seeds will rise up as the jam cooks.  Cornering them and spooning them out of the pot is a challenge and helps alleviate the boredom of constant stirring.)

Here’s what my Internet recipe says about processing the jam for keeping: “Ladle hot marmalade into jars, filling to within 1/4 inch of top. Wipe rims with dampened cloth and seal jars with lids. Put jars in a water-bath canner or on a rack set in a deep pot. Add enough hot water to cover jars by 1 inch and bring to a boil. Boil jars, covered, 5 minutes and transfer with tongs to a rack. Cool jars completely.”  I use half-pint canning jars with two-part lids, because this is what they’re made for, and they’re tough.

It was a long evening, stirring, watching, skimming, pouring and processing two batches of boiling sugary stuff at once, but the recipe makes about five jars of amazing marmalade.

Winter in a Mediterranean climate

We live in one of a small number of places in the world with a Mediterranean climate, which means, among other things, dry summers and mild, rainy winters. In our part of California, winter feels much more like spring. In the cool air and the rains that fall after six months of dry air, heat and sun, little tender green grasses, sorrels, and mints blanket the wet earth. The hills turn from bitten gray-brown to loden and then emerald green. The dark mornings and early nightfalls of the December holidays and the letdown period of January aren’t a time of cold, stillness and snow, but of renewal, with frosty mornings and brisk days. Deciduous trees are bare, but paperwhite narcissus and a few roses are blooming in my yard, along with winter daphne, and on my walks I see occasional winter iris, grape hyacinth, and crocus.

Hello from the unheard America

This is the first of a series of occasional reports from one resident of an America that doesn’t seem to get heard of much, outside of venomous speeches by conservative candidates:  that really scary part of America where health care for everyone and the right to marry, gay or straight, are values; where we want good public schools, public higher education, and good government and are willing to pay taxes to have them; where we like Nancy Pelosi and the Occupy movement and don’t see what the problem is with European socialism; and where we know global climate change is real. In other words, I’m one of those people bent on destroying society as we know it. Not surprisingly, I live in northern California, between the wine country and the coast.  What is it like living among us?  What do we do from day to day to erode the fabric of American life?  As I find time, I’ll tell some of the lurid details.

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