Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Spring Equinox

 
          The Spring Equinox, the moment when day and night are the same length, but stretching towards the light, is a rainy, muddy, petally time in Oregon. Spring is in full bloom—daffodils and grape hyacinth line the walks, dogwood petals fall on the sidewalk, wild fruit trees bloom in the woods. Unlike the Fall Equinox, there is no thought of holding back, of striving for balance, of preparing for the long haul of the dark winter. Now is the time to go full on—long walks, late nights, tending starts, having friends over for dinner, and beginning all sorts of new projects, usually outside, while finishing up the holdovers from the winter. 

            Garden planting starts in earnest around the Spring Equinox—a time also known as Spring Break in Oregon, as all of the schools have rainy, cloudy week off.  The garden starts from Candlemas need to be planted out under the cold frames. Kale, cabbages, mustards, and peas are eager to grow in the new, thin, spring sunshine, but still need protection for heavy rains, probable hail, and hungry rabbits. The tomatoes need to be bumped up into four inch pots and distributed on Easter weekend.  The next round of garden seeds need to be planted: collards, beets, chard, herbs, and more broccoli and cauliflower.  Eager for spots of color, everyone buys primroses and pansies to gather in pots around the front steps. The season revolves around the planting of seeds in the ground and one full Saturday afternoon will be devoted to potatoes. Creative fencing abounds, as the chickens are still living on a fallow garden bed, but want to run around the yard in the afternoon. By May Day, the coop will be under the laurel tree once again and the summer fencing established.

There are two important. Rituals for Springtime: Distribute the Surplus tomatoes and Hot Cross Buns. The first occurs on a Friday afternoon in early April, when I give away all of the excess tomatoes—usually between fifty and sixty plants.  Mark claims that it sounds like a drug deal as we hunker down around the plants and negotiate amounts and varieties. The plants leave home and I spend less time in the evening moving starts back inside. The other event is Hot Cross Buns, an Easter brunch involving  Hot Cross Buns (obviously), coconut cream pie, winter root vegetables, and a huge salad, along with decorated eggs and a peep hunt. Some years, we gather in the dining room and listen to the rain pounding on the roof, dodging out quickly to hunt for marshmallow peeps and peanut butter eggs wrapped in raincoats.  Others, we set the table up outside in the garden, watch the bunny run around the yard, and blithely toss shells into the herb gardens.

By the end of March, the winter stocks are getting low. If I am lucky, a couple of squashes remain on the shelf and the onions have not quite started to sprout. I have to spend some time brushing the ghostly tendrils off of the eating potatoes and some small tubers are tossed on the compost pile. Tomatoes are long gone. Parsnips and leeks are starting to send out seed stalks and must be eaten. The Farmer’s Market is full of raab of all sorts, as their crops also shift into seed production. Although we still have lots of dried fruit, pickles, and salsa, the vegetable stores are going away. Greens, however, are thriving. Mustard and collard leaves the size of my head fall out of the produce bag from Sunbow Farm. We eat greens almost every night and I hunt through the cookbooks looking for new seasonings. The asparagus is just appearing, so we will have small sides of it sautéed with garlic for dinner. Or I will cook it with morels and eggs, with a side of whole wheat toast for dinner.

Out at Finley Wildlife refuge, things are blooming. Fawn lilies fall down the hillside. Fairy slippers and shooting stars catch our eye, magenta in the heavy dark leaves. Toothwort, Trillium, Spring Beauty, and an occasional Fairy Bells bloom in the woods. Wild mustard and English Daisy dominate the disturbed areas. The Big Leafed Maple is also blooming, and sends a spicy, sharp scent into the air. Newts are laying eggs. Birds are building nests. Everything is turning green.

In the evening, we come home for dinner, once again in front of the fire. Spring flowered plates, chicks, and decorated eggs rest on the mantel. The table runner is a mottled, batik green with underlying magenta hints. A green and pink table cloth covers the dining room table with pink depression glass candle holders. We will eat potato leek soup, Irish soda bread, and salad for dinner, then work on finishing up a pair of hand-knit socks. It may be Spring, but the floor is still chilly.


Irish Soda Bread


2 c white flour
2 c whole wheat flour
1 t salt
1 t BS
3 T sugar
nice handful of currants

4 T butter

1 !/3 c butter milk
1 egg, beaten


Mix dry ingredients together, then rub the butter in. Add milk and egg. Stir. Knead lightly. Form into a circle about two inches thick. Slide onto baking stone in the 350 degree oven and bake until golden. Eat with butter, honey, and jam.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Rainy Weekend

            Rainy weekend….Up and down the Willamette Valley, people looked out the window at the rain on Saturday morning, poured another up of coffee, and settled down on the couch. Life feels right when the skies are cloudy in March (and November, December, January, February, at least half of April and May…). We’ve had a run of beautiful, warm, bright, sunny weather and it just felt wrong. Yeah, we all basked in the warm sun, took long walks and bike rides, planted out veggie starts early, but, underneath, there was a current of guilt. “Global Warming…climate change… something’s weird… this cannot last…snowpack is down….” You could feel the discomfort in the air.  We need clouds to feel safe, snugged in, protected from the world in the valley. This weekend, they returned.

Raspberry Cream Pie, for Pi Day
           
Make a crust from graham crackers or nilla wafers.

14 oz of condensed milk
¼ c of sour cream
¼ c of lemon juice
zest from one lemon
2 ½ c raspberries

Toss into the cuisinart and whirl until smooth. Pour into the crust and chill for several hours.  You could add whipped cream to the top, or drizzle some chocolate sauce over it all. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Painting Lessons: The Line is all



I come from a long line of housepainters. My grandfather painted interiors and hung wallpaper professionally; he even had his own store for several years. I loved paging through the thick books of samples, patting the red flocked paper, considering the impact of stripes with flowers, of different color combinations of the same patterns. (It was the late 1960s. Paper was wild!) I also loved watching him work, a shock of thick grey hair falling over his milky blue eyes, softly singing the song about the bedbugs and the cockroaches in Chelsea jail while he spread the paste over another strip of paper and pushed it up the wall. We did not talk much—men of his generation did not have much to say to their granddaughters—but it was companionable. He painted and papered all of the houses my uncle built, as well as constantly redecorating all of our homes.  He knew how to cut in a neat edge around a window frame, to box the electric switches in with paint, to keep splatters off of the glass.

My mother inherited his skills. Her hand was steady and her eyes were clear. The walls of her shop were lined with her oil paintings, a slowly evolving lesson in style as she worked her way through several community art class teachers. But she could also paint a wall neatly—and freehanded several series of dogwood blossoming branches on her bedroom walls. They were lovely. She did all of the interior painting and attempted to teach me as well. “Patience,” she would say, “Slow down. Breathe.  Do not overload the brush. Angle into the corners. Work on coverage. You have holidays.” I was not a good trim painter. I was not a great roller, either, but that was the less dangerous task, so I often rolled while she cut in. In my family, the ability to cut in was a sign of adulthood. I was a late bloomer, covered in paint.

When we bought our house, I was forced to work on my technique. That summer, it was me and the house. Mark was working. I did not think to hire anyone to help. How long can it take, I thought. I have all summer. I will be fine. It took all summer. I balanced on ladders, one foot on the rung, the other on a sill, for days, reaching for the trim just beyond my brush. I do have good balance and an affinity for ladders, even when I back into a freshly painted wall. 


I was still painting in mid_August, when my mother came to visit. The kitchen doors, inside and out, were still white, not the contrasting yellows and red.  She smiled and reached for the brush. While I worked on one, she took on the other. I know she glanced over several times to make sure I was not overloading the brush, but I had learned that lesson in July. Then, she moved into the door. While I watched out of the corner of my eye, her knotted and veiny hands reached for the paintbrush and drew the first line, absolutely straight, down the inside panel of the door.  Her breath, and her line, were perfect. 




Bean and Barley Soup-- all local 

3 cups of cooked Indian Woman Beans
1.5 cups of cooked barley
1 bag of frozen corn

Saute an onion in olive oil with a couple of cloves of garlic. Add the beans, barley, corn, a handful of fresh parsley, salt and pepper and allow to meld. 

It is not exciting, but it grows on you until it becomes comfort food on rainy days.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Chicken Tractor Photos

Nest box and roosting area
With nest box door open for egg collection and cleaning

Nest box door closed

interior roof


side veiw, door open

opposite side from nest box door

Friday, February 27, 2015

Kimberly Stove Installation Fiasco

            We have a Kimberly Stove in our basement. We bought it to heat the basement—and Mark’s new workroom—help dry clothes, and preheat, or even heat, the air flowing into the rest of the house. We were pretty excited by the purchase and had high hopes for its performance. However, we have NO IDEA how well it works, because of a series of unfortunate events. It is sitting in our basement, non-functional, four and a half months after purchase.

            For those of you who do not follow wood stove technologies, the Kimberly Stove is a fairly new design. It is a small, highly efficient, gasifying stove, which means it burns off the carbon produced by the first round of burning in a secondary chamber, thus increasing the amount of heat produced and reducing particulate pollution. It is so cool that you do not need a special chimney or chimney liner to install one, which is what drew Mark to the design. About 500 have been sold so far. They are built in Medford, Oregon, a couple of hours down the highway from our house. This is relevant to our dilemma.

            Mark purchased the Kimberly stove from Viking Vacuum, Sewing, Spa, and Stove, in Eugene Oregon, on October 25, 2014.  Because they were reluctant to drive from Eugene to Corvallis (about 40 miles), Mark sent them photos of our basement, where we wanted to install the stove. 

            We sent the photos on November 2nd. Our stove arrived in Eugene on November 14th, and we learned that the specific piping needed for installation was backlogged and hard to obtain, but it would be there shortly on November 25th. Still, we were not scheduled for installation for another two weeks.

            On December 18th, two months after the purchase, the installer arrived with stove and pipe. However, he discovered that he did not have the tools he needed to cut through the brick chimney, and was unable to install the stove. He was out a day’s work, as was Mark, who had taken the day off to be around for his new stove. Neither was pleased with the turn of events. We had to re-schedule.

            It took several weeks for the installer to come back to town. Finally, around January 8th, the stove was installed. Mark noticed that the glass was cracked when he lit it the first time. We attempted to start a fire in the stove over the weekend several times, but, when I read the instructions, it was clear that the stove would not function properly with cracked glass. Fair enough.  We contacted the stove distributor once again on January 20th, and the distributor told us that he had contacted the manufacturer that day.  As it was coming from Medford, we expected it to be here within a week.

            After several weeks, nothing had arrived. We emailed on February 1st. Nothing. Emailed again. (Perhaps the contact person had the nasty flu that was going around?) Nothing.  On February 16th, I was home for a phone call from the stove distributor. He assured me that he was on the part, that he was going to contact the designer/builder that day, and would let us know the next day when to expect it. The next day, he had talked with the manufacturer and would be back within the next day or two.

            It is now February 27th. We still do not have the needed piece of glass to make our very expensive stove functional.  I am very glad that we are not relying on the stove to provide heat for our home. However, after four and a half months of run-around, we are very frustrated. It may very well be the most amazing stove ever—but we have no idea. We have been able to use it.             It is my hope that someday I can add onto this piece, talking about how much we love our stove. Right now, I cannot recommend this very expensive piece of equipment to anyone. If fact, I would seriously discourage anyone from making the purchase.


The glass finally arrived on March 3rd. We have not installed it yet. More to follow....


           

            

Sunday, February 22, 2015

It's Spring!

Berry Alley poem

Blooming plum

compost delights

Front porch plants

Front yard

Laundry line

Mason Bee house

Mason Bees

Parsnips

peas

Poem post

one lost potato

Raspberry row

Front steps

Saint Francis
















Leek and Mustard Pie

Make a pie shell, half whole wheat, half white flour. Spread some good mustard on the bottom.

Saute two or three sliced leeks until tender.

Shred or chop cheddar cheese and lay on the mustard. Spread leeks over the cheese. Cover with a custard of three to four eggs and milk, and bake in 350 oven until set.

Eat with a good green salad.