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on the farm

Growing up, our grandfather (Big Papa) had a farm. Quite a large farm. It nearly encompassed the entire world for me as a kid…that and the woods behind our own house back in town. Most of the time Big Papa had a caretaker who looked after the farm property which was acres and acres of horse pasture, huge barns with hay lofts, tall silos filled with the sweet smell of fermenting hay, leather-scented tack rooms where saddles and horse blankets were hung, a milking barn that smelled like cottage cheese and cream, all kinds of old farm equipment, an old-time fire engine, a gas pump. You get the picture. There were woods there too, and sand banks where we’d play for hours on end. There were Shetland ponies and two big beautiful Pintos. A milking herd of sweet-faced Jerseys. A Brahma bull, just because he was fiercely fantastic. There were pea-brained guinea hens forever running from us, though they had no reason to. There were attics filled with beds and bunks, chenille bedspreads, old dressers and vanities with dusty mirrors. Old women’s clothes, men’s work boots. Old baby buggies. Indian blankets. The farm was a child’s paradise.

I was blessed to grow up free to roam. I explored for endless hours the woods out back, built forts with the guys. I believed there was a gang who roamed those woods. “The Dick and John Gang.” Mean as all get-out we were told, but we never met up with them. (I’m not sure anyone ever did.) I climbed water towers. I’d frequently ride my bike down to an old abandoned saw mill and investigate. I rode my horse, alone, and  fast  along sandy trails! (I was taught that I’d gone a step too far when I woke in the middle of the night with the express purpose of  driving my dad’s car down onto the beach nearby. The lights were on in the farm house when I returned. There was to be no sneaking back to bed. I think I was 12.)

~ ~ ~

Seems to me that we’re each formed in good part by the experiences we had as children, the games we played,  the woods or yards or streets we roamed. There’s no question, the farm runs in my veins.

About three miles down the road from we live now is an old family farm. The city next to ours bought it from the Luscher family and it’s been turned into acres and acres of gardens for the community to share. This time of year the gardens are populated by brooms wearing clothes. You’ll see. I went there yesterday to breathe and wander. I thought I’d share a few photos of my time there.

Click on any one of the photos below to enlarge it, or by using the arrows you can flip through them all if you like.(Click on the little x in the left-hand corner to return to the post.) I hope you’ll enjoy a few minutes of peace in the gardens where the bees buzz and people quietly turn over the dirt and tend their tomatoes.

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a bird in the hand…and hope

I had the feeling I was running behind in life…Do you ever? As if life were meant to progress by a schedule - like an efficiently-run German passenger train (which of course, we all know, it is not) and here I was, about to miss it.

Wasn’t it Lewis Carroll who said, “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get?” Was it the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland? Or was it me? Certainly it was me.

The other day I was feeling as though, no matter how long I might live, I could never catch up.

{ O woe is me, my name is Pity! }

hmmm…

It might have made some sense had I asked, “But dear, exactly what is it you’re trying to catch up with or to?”  But of course, when you’re in “that mood” (meaning the complete absence of all good sense) you don’t ask such questions.

Sometimes though, in a life of grace (which is the life we all live, whether we know it or not) something happens. Something flies through the window to break the spell – the hex – we’re under, and set us right again.

The other day, I found myself in such a state of mind. And then…

Through the open doors of summer, a chartreuse vireo flew into our house. She was fluttering against the windows, seeing beyond them to the sky and trees, and trying desperately to find her way out again. Slowly I took my hand to her. To my surprise, she allowed me to lift her, fully enveloping her trembling tiny body between my two hands. She weighed little more than air. I walked with her back outside, then lifted my top hand. There she was, eyes wide. I expected her to fly. Straight away. But she didn’t.  Instead, she stayed.

She stayed and stayed as I walked with her, carrying her from place to place, in search of that spot where she might feel free again to fly.  Instead though, her tiny gray feet clutched tight to me as I spoke softly to her that it was safe to leave now. She closed her eyes and took long rests…opened her eyes and looked around…and then closed them again. Here she rested. And rested.

And so did I.

’twas perfect peace to me.

 My husband and I watched, relieved as finally she flew, un-hurt.

And in that, All things were made right again.

~ ~ ~

There is a fellow-blogger I’ve grown especially fond of – Shira – her blog In Pursuit of More …Living with {just a little} Less will be so worth your time to check out, if you haven’t yet met her. She has a generous and gracious heart. She puts wonderful, healthful food on the table, and gives us words of wisdom to grow on.

Before leaving for a family trip to France recently, she was asked to say a few things about


H O P E .

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a tisket, a tasket

a tisket, a tasket,

a wee and leaky gasket…

or

how the get-away almost got away…

We still live in a construction zone. We’re into month three now of our remodel. This is the month (we believe, because we’re told) that all work will be done and our house returned to us for the remainder of the summer. This past weekend the Guinea Pig and I decided  that we’d pack up our dogs and a few clothes (from the four places they’re stored these days) and head over the mountain where we have a little vacation place. All around us are mountains there, a whole ring of them, surrounding wide meadows where horses graze. (No, they’re not our horses, but we “borrow” them to feed  our carrots and apples to and to nuzzle their noses.) On the other side of the Cascades, the sun makes an appearance at least 300 days a year (which to water-logged Portlanders like us is golden.) Aspens shimmer and quake and the sweet scent of sugar pine perfumes the air. (I am not kidding! It truly does!) We were so ready for this!

We arrive, the dogs do their happy dance to be there again. We breathe deep the air, and head inside.

Our arms filled with groceries for the long weekend, our feet step, unawares, into a pool of standing water in the kitchen.

a tisket, a tasket,

a wee and leaky gasket

Turns out that a simple little gasket that connects (I don’t know) 2 things that ought to stay connected had given way, and for two months (or longer) sprayed beneath our sink. Cabinets had swollen, counters had shifted and mold had set up house. Did we I cry? Did we he curse? No. Oddly enough. But the collective sigh was deep and long, and our spirits sank.

And then we got busy.

We called a plumber. We called our insurance company. We called a restoration contractor. We cut short our get-away and returned to the construction zone for some sorely needed R & R. Funny how quickly one’s perspectives can change.

~ ~ ~

I grew up spending a good (blessedly good!) part of my summers on my grandfather’s farm. Big Papa had a dairy, prize Brahma bull, guinea hens, chickens, shetland ponies, and a few horses. One beautiful painted pony, Billy, was mine. (I think Billy might have been my first true love.) I grew up roaming freely amidst milking barns, silos, tack rooms, hay lofts, tractors and the smells and sounds of farm animals. They are like heaven to me still.

Big Papa’s no longer with us, and we no longer have his farm to retreat to. But  farm is so much a part of the fibers I’m woven from that when I “lose” my way, all I have to do to find “home” again is go where the farms are.

Yesterday I grabbed my camera for a day’s outing outside Hood River in the Columbia River Gorge…wind-surfing capital of North America. That’s not why I go. Climb just outside town though, towards Mount Hood, along the cold and rushing Hood River,  and you’ll encounter countryside that looks like Alpine foothills, dotted with farms, old barns and fruit orchards. Apples, pears, cherries. And stacks of boxes where bees make honey.

When I head out on car trips like these, I’m seldom sure exactly where I’m going. But something certain pulls me along. When I climb out of the car, I’m breathing differently. My camera presses against my cheek and soon I’ve lost all sense of time. The clutter of thought evaporates. I’m like that girl again. Only this time, with a camera. (And without the skinned-up knees.)

Yesterday I met a lovely woman who grew up on this farm, Draper’s, with its cherry orchards and goats and profuse, overflowing flower beds. It’s her farm now, where she raised her three girls, and she invited me to share it. How did she know how badly I needed that? 

She knew. :)

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a fork with a taste for adventure

When I was a newly-turned teen, my mother suddenly (and inexplicably) turned adventuresome in the kitchen. She’d always been a good cook, and our meals never lacked for flavor, but they never ventured beyond our borders either (unless you count England, and I’m sorry, I just can’t. Meaning no disrespect at all!) Meals at our house had followed along very traditional lines, until…around the time she married the man who was to become Dad to us.

Dad was Greek and maybe it was just his colorful character alone, or the foods he’d bring home from Foti’s (very Greek) deli; or the influence of Dad’s mom Yaya, who’d make us Sunday dinners of Greek roasted chicken doused in fresh lemon and filled with whole heads of garlic and her plump handful of oregano from the garden, and her zucchini and okra in a skillet, and her brilliant yellow-orange zucchini blossoms, dipped in egg batter and fried. Or maybe too, it was that Dad insisted for special outings we drop into Poncho’s Mexican restaurant, which was, strange to say, our family’s first introduction to south of the border. Maybe it was a combination of these things – or maybe it was that Mom enrolled in college for the first time  - Mom was herself becoming more adventuresome and her new spirit found its way onto our table.

In any event, whatever the cause, dinner became, more and more, an exotic experience. That’s not to say it became the norm for us to eat things beyond the familiar, or that we came to the table dressed in saris.  Just that we gradually came to be more curious, more daring, more open to new things, until gradually we’d developed a real appetite for the gorgeously exotic on our plates, a hunger for something not yet tasted.

I don’t eat many “meats”. Poultry and seafood’s about it for me. But vegetables, and fruits, and grains and beans and spices from all over the planet, those I find endlessly enticing. And so it is, that when I first set eyes on Yotam Ottolenghi’s newest book Plenty, I was smitten! This dish that I’m about to fix and share is the very dish that graces the cover. It sucked me in with a rush like a door just opened onto a wind storm. I was a goner.

Ottolenghi, chef and co-owner of several restaurants called by his name (including one in London) writes a weekly column for the London Guardian on vegetarian cooking, though he himself is not vegetarian. From Israel, he draws on a wealth of culinary traditions, with a strong focus on the Mediterranean basin. His dishes may very well scratch every culinary itch I have, one by one.

So here – with a thankful nod to my mom who grew this wild love of food in me, and to my Dad who might have grown it in her -

from the cover of Plenty -

Eggplant with Buttermilk Sauce

(serves 4 as starter – or 2 for dinner with a salad & bread) large and long eggplants

  • 2 large and long eggplants
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1½ teaspoon lemon thyme leaves, plus a few whole sprigs to garnish
  • Maldon sea salt (or any flaky sea salt) and black pepper
  • 1 pomegranate
  • 1 teaspoon za’atar (see NOTE)

Sauce

  • 9 Tablespoons buttermilk (just over ½ cup)
  • ½ cup Greek yogurt
  • 1½ Tablespoons olive oil, plus a drizzle to finish
  • 1 small garlic clove, crushed
  • pinch of salt

NOTE: Za’atar – here is one thing that may be a bit of an obstacle in Ottolenghi’s book(s)…because he’s drawing on his (and other) heritages, some ingredients – in particular the spices and spice blends – will be very unfamiliar, and not always easily obtained. I ordered my little bottle of za’atar from the Spice House on-line. $4.99. Za’atar is a spice blend, and like others, the ingredient list and proportions can vary. One recipe for it that I found on-line included sumac, thyme, roasted sesame seeds, marjoram, oregano and salt. Sumac is acidic, quite tart, much like a lemon, and is considered an essential culinary ingredient in much of the Middle East. It’s by far the predominant  ingredient in this blend. Since sumac isn’t on my grocery shelf either, I decided just to go ahead and order the za’atar on line. You could read more on sumac or order it, here. If you’re feeling particularly adventuresome, simply add the herbs called for in the za’atar ingredient list along with lemon for something approximating this dish. Or wait, as I did, for the za’atar to arrive on your welcome mat.)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise, cutting straight through the green stalk – which stays intact just for the looks of it. Using a small sharp knife, make three or four parallel incisions in the cut side of each eggplant half as deeply as possible but being careful not to cut through to the skin. Repeat at a 45° angle to create a diamond-shaped pattern.

Place the eggplant halves, cut-side up, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush them with olive oil and continue brushing until all the oil has been absorbed. Sprinkle with the lemon thyme leaves and salt and pepper.

Roast for 45 minutes up to an hour, depending on size of eggplant. The flesh should be soft, flavorful and nicely browned. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.

Removing pomegranate seeds: While the eggplants are in the oven, cut the pomegranate into two horizontal halves. Holding one half, cut side down, in the palm of your hand, place over a deep bowl and begin smacking the top-side of the fruit with a wooden spoon. Smack harder as you go to release the deepest of the pomegranate seeds into the bowl. Remove any white pitch that fell in along with. (Illustrated here.) Read more

10 little monkeys

A game of tag is circulating the blog world and I’ve just been snagged…by Kathryn, a playful little monkey who asked that I play along. I’m game!

That being said, I have a rule-breaking streak in me…I’m squirming here, itching to break free and add a few questions of my own. I’m not one who likes the confinement of narrow boxes. 

But – also being a bundle of contradictions, as most of us are – I’m generally amiable and play by the rules. Here are the questions I was asked and I’ll do my best to stop squirming.

1.  Describe yourself in seven words.

joyful….soft-hearted….adventurous….passionate….lover-of-life….positive….thankful.  Above all, I think…thankful!

2.  What keeps you up at night?

How much time do you have??? My short answer: a mind that frolics. It loves words, and from them it makes up all kinds of sentences that lead to all kinds of scenarios, some amusing, others quite boring and repetitious. My mind tries dancing while my body tries sleeping. They’ve been doing this for years.

3.  Whom would you like to be?

oh, only me. (not that I’d recommend that for anyone else, no, I wouldn’t!)

I was a bit of a late bloomer, and I’m still figuring it out, this blooming thing. But I’m getting closer. Not by leaps and bounds, but by hops and skips, and now that I’ve started down this path, I have no interest in turning back. And as poor a job as I’ve done at being me at times, I’d do an even worse job at trying to be someone else. For now, I’m content to keep skipping down my own path.

4.  What are you wearing now?

I’ll be right back.

I’m wearing the loveliest cashmere sweater, a hand-painted silk scarf, a curve-hugging skirt with a (just-barely-tasteful) slit up the side, tall tall boots,

(who am I kidding. I dress in clothes that feel good. Which is not to say frumpy, never frumpy! No sweatpants in this closet. But I’m cozy-comfily dressed. Really, who wants more information than that?)

5.  What scares you?

Losing the thing that keeps me up at night. I’ve gotten used to a mind that frolics.

6.  What are the best and worst things about blogging?

The best: words and images and the  J O Y  of weaving them together. And the completely unexpected best: the joy of friendships formed and forming! Of this, I had no idea.

The worst: pushing “publish” and then thinking, oh that was stupid. that was idiotic. why did you say that? what were you thinking? what will they think? why don’t you just quit this whole thing and go back to life as it was – it was good! That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. Self-doubt.

7.  What was the last website you looked at?

American Hunter Woman – hah! got you didn’t I?

8.  If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?

Self-doubt.

9.  Slankets, yes or no?

I must be so old! What the heck is a slanket? But I guess I’ll say no. I don’t like the sounds of that at all. Read more

Yaya and Grapefruit

I’ll be honest with you. I’ve never really considered grapefruit rinds as anything but garbage…or, more recently, compost material. I’ve lumped them right in there with coffee grounds and egg shells. But recently I learned something that set my whole grapefruit world-view on its head. Oh, they’ll still end up in the compost…but perhaps not always anymore.

A little something about my Greek Yaya. I think it will help you understand the great surprise I had a few days ago when my mom told me something of her I hadn’t known before.

Yaya was the matriarch of the family, and the only female in the house in which my dad and his three brothers grew up. By the time I met her, she was already in her late-60′s, early 70′s? I’m guessing here, because, being only ten-years-old myself, she looked pretty darned old! Besides her husband, our Papou, who was at least fifteen years her senior, she was by far the oldest person in my world. I wondered even then though, how does a person so old manage to be so full of life? So young? She was exuberant and outspoken. She knew what she wanted and generally just how to get it. She laughed big. She had a big heart, full of praise. That was Yaya. She always wore dresses, always! and they were always dark. She wore support hose with elastic tops that sometimes rolled down around her legs. And big black shoes. Her hair, which must have been very long, was always twirled into braided buns. (Her hair held an endless fascination for me! The thin ends of those long braids reminded me of an artist’s paint brush, dipped in yellow. They weren’t blond. They were a true and very beautiful lemon yellow! But the rest of her hair, the most angelic white! I always secretly wished to see her hair down around her shoulders, but I never did.) Yaya was, I guess you’d have to say, squat. Matronly. Big-bosomed. And she gave the most amazing hugs! Like a great feather bed with arms.  And she never hugged without at the same time cooing (or sometimes even shrieking) her delight in us! My brother Don and I would run up and down her staircase and slide down the bannister, and this made her so happy! She loved the loud noises of children!  “No make it them be quiet – is nice!” she would tell our parents.  Her Greek was vastly better than her English, but even so, she knew how to be funny in her second language, and she often was. Incense perpetually burned at a small altar in her bedroom, beneath the icons of patron saints and Jesus.  It was partly for that reason that her house always smelled so very different from our own. But it was also the bread baking, the homey “soupas” and “cassa-row-les” and other foods, quite exotic to me at the time. Much of what I first saw of Yaya was in the context of her kitchen, and as mother to my dad who adored her. I never considered who her friends were, or what she might do when she wasn’t with us (besides cook all day and pray – both of which were intriguing mysterious to me back then.)

So, do you now have a little picture of Yaya? Then can you imagine her sitting at the round wooden table in her parlor? With her lady friends from the Greek Orthodox Church? And on the table, plates of candied grapefruit rinds? And kourabiethes (a crescent-shaped butter cookie)?  And stiff, dark, thick coffee in short cups? And OUZO, that licorice-flavored liqueur, in thimble-sized glasses? And the ladies yakking loudly and laughing! Ha! I loved this new expanded picture of my Yaya!

The more I contemplated it, the surer I became that I simply had to find out what candied grapefruit rinds and ouzo taste like in the same mouthful. And that’s what brings me here, to this place where I’m ready to share with you some food.
(See following post – Kourabiethes cookie May 9.)

Orange Flowers

My mother reminded me of something yesterday that I’d nearly forgotten.  She said that when (our grandpa) Papou first came to this country (and to Oregon) from his sunny home in Greece, it rained and rained and rained. For thirty-nine days straight, it rained. And on that gray and soggy thirty-ninth day, Papou swore, “If it rains one more day,” because that, of course, would be the proverbial fortieth, beyond which no human could possibly endure another, “I’m going back home!”  And he spoke the words with such a Greek passion, who could have doubted him? When Papou woke that next morning, the sun shone and it shone with such a brilliance that he declared, “This now is my home!” And he stayed. And a young woman came to him from Greece and she became his wife. And together they raised a family of four strong boys. Who would have thought that one sunny day could change history? But for me, and my brothers, it did.

I was the first-born in a marriage that was troubled. And yet I was one of those rare and lucky oneswho, after my parents divorced, received a real Dad when a couple years later my mom remarried.  One of those four sons of Papou and Yaya, Jim, knew what it meant to be family. He fell in love with our mom, but he loved us kids instantly.  It took a little longer for us to realize we had in him a Dad. He was in no hurry.  He won us over with his humor, his faithfulness, his sincerity and patience, his teaching, his stories and sometimes even his food.

I was a shy ten-year-old when my parents married. One day, my new Dad brought me something. It was an orange. A simple, ripe, juicy orange. But when it came to me, offered in his hands, it was a gift! It was a little treasure, an opened lotus flower, offered up tenderly just for me, because he loved me. And I can remember back, it was in that instant that something turned in me. I knew that someone thought I was special. And in that moment something else happened, though I didn’t realize it until years later. I can look on that open-hearted orange flower as the first time I thought of food as a gift, as a language through which we can express love. And so it is, these decades later, I sometimes still think of my Dad when I am putting love on the table.

I offer this month of April in the fondest possible memory of my Dad, and in celebration of all things citrus! Spree would like to declare it Citrus Month (and I think she just did.) So keep coming back for main course recipes, pasta and rice dishes, salads, marinades, preserves, desserts and beverages.  Even a soup from my Papou and Yaya’s homeland!


Love in a Box

(A repeat performance of a post first published in Feb, 2011)

Three days ago, my 82-year-old mother had what her doctor termed a “mini-stroke.”  She’s had several now. Aside from slowing down and the normal signs of aging, she remains unimpaired. Mom still lives on her own, on six acres in the middle of Oregon’s wine country, tending the chickens she loves and rises early to cook for each morning. Yes, she actually cooks them warm meals, made of the sorts of things they’d never find on their own, living chicken-like lives: bread soaked in warm milk, perhaps an egg spun in, some leftover oatmeal, a colorful scattering of vegetables from the night before. She lovingly heats and stirs the pot before she’s had her own coffee, before she re-kindles the fire to get her own body warm. And then, with her walking stick (and the unlikely cell phone in her pocket) she sets out for the coop. Making little noises as she nears them, they respond in kind. She unlatches the creaky door, and they burst from the roost, making fluffy circles around her feet. One hen in particular begs to be lifted into her cradling arms. The total effect is a flurry of feathery clucking bodies creating a welcome party just for her, each and every morning. Mom scatters lettuce and scratch, then serves them their breakfast in an enameled cast-iron gratin dish with remnants of blue Fleur de Lys, worn, but still visible on its sides. She may fill her one empty pocket with eggs, if there are any. This time of year there tend not to be, but she doesn’t love them for their eggs. She simply loves them.

Mom’s place sits on a hill and through most of her windows (or from the chickens’ yard) the views that stretch are of a lovely gentle valley, a few stands of trees, and acres upon acres of wine grapes staked in their rolling rows. Read more

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