To Fill A Bun

Panini buns – purchased for a rained-out hike – and ripe tomatoes set me on a quest for an alternative burger. I love this brief time of local tomatoes and eat them in every possible way. But in a full disclosure of Western Washington reality this year, I must mention the great baskets of green tomatoes at the market, and the green tomato recipe roundup posted by inventive gardener-cooks on my friend Willi’s web site:

Still, these precious few, these delicious few, tomatoes ripened in a tunnel or greenhouse, belong on a bun with something savory. We (I) sometimes succumb to nature burgers from the freezer as a last minute meal, tasty enough with avocado, tomato, and lettuce, along a side of roasted potatoes or baked beans.

But the other night on the phone, our older son described how he was making zucchini grinders, and they sounded good. Sauté grated zucchini, add a little marinara sauce and red pepper flakes, and a slice of mozzarella – then tuck into ciabatta buns, wrap in foil and put in the oven to crisp up.

And a while back my old friend sent a recipe she liked from the New York Times for nut burgers. They look tempting, made from a mix of raw nuts like walnuts, pecans, almonds, cashews or others, and served on a bun topped with mustard, ketchup, or chutney.

I was out of walnuts, but did have lots of lentils. I read several possible lentil burger recipes – some simple, some involving sautéed additions or a chewy component like quinoa – and roughly followed one. The whole alternative burger thing seems very flexible – that’s a plus – but maybe my little green lentils weren’t right.

My husband’s initial reaction at the sight of four patties in the pan was less than enthusiastic: “Well those look sort of edible.” (With tomato and bun, he did revise his comment to “Well, these are pretty good.”) It’s a work in progress, figuring this out, and we get to experiment more since a cup of dried lentils with sunflower seeds, shredded carrots, onions, beaten eggs, and tomato paste makes a lot of “burger.” We can add sautéed mushrooms or cheese. Maybe I can freeze a few.

Either way, it’s the hold-it-in-your hand comfort of the bun I like. But next time I’ll try the nut burgers or zucchini grinders!

Light in September

In the middle of the night, when I woke to see the picnic table and the bluff nearly as clearly as daytime, the words: “the luster of midday to objects below” filled my sleepy mind. The moonlight, like cold sunlight, cast shadows of house and trees across the lawn. A bright moon often lights nights in an ordinary September, but a clear night is rare in this September of our discontent.

Rain has soaked this September, hijacked the month I have been waiting for, and made me think about the wrongheadedness of expectations. The whole summer drew complaints from locals (I heard last month called “Fogust”). But I didn’t mind, in spite of Washington weather guru Cliff Mass’s reckoning that it was the worst summer in 30 years. (On average, western Washington has 70 summer days over 70° – this year we had 50.) After living in Alaska for so long, my expectations for hot days are low.

But I have grown to have high hopes for September. Virginia Woolf wrote, “all the months are crude experiments out of which the perfect September is made,” and I anticipated stunning fall days with clear blue skies, mellow, tranquil, harmonious days with golden light, sea and earth both warm. I know the summer ends, but want the bonus days.

This particular mid-September featured pouring, washing, drenching rain, warmish Monsoon rains (setting precipitation records). It’s moody weather, indecisive and temperamental. Weather without coherence or stability, full of turbulence and surprise – more spring than fall – blue sky over Victoria and a downpour here. Clouds thin and the garden steams during a pause in the rain. But just as quickly, clouds thicken and the twinkle lights snap on at 11 a.m.

Darkness begins to haunt the edges of these days. It begins imperceptibly and then becomes a way of life. Already we forget the pleasure of waking to light, and I go downstairs grateful for the lamps my husband (the earlier riser) has lit. By the autumn equinox candles light every dinner.

I make a pilgrimage to the Candle Store in town. The bell tinkles on the door and the scent of incense and candle wax from floor to ceiling candle-filled shelves greets me. The selection offered by the cheerful proprietor ranges from beeswax pillars to tapers and tiny votives. I select bright tapers for fall – oranges, warm yellow, an acid green, fire-engine red, and cranberry, purple and blues, warm and cool.

We burn them at dinner in a hodgepodge of candlesticks, mixing candle colors and sizes of holder, so the flames are at irregular heights – five candles for now – seven later when the darkness is more complete.

Candle flames contain the colors of sunsets – and the flicker of fire humans love to gather around. Candlelight is a predictable pleasure. It meets expectations!

Regret Analysis

My husband is apt to apply “regret analysis” to decision making – will we be sorry if we don’t do something? It’s not always possible to know how the regret might lodge, but one gray morning, deciding whether to hike or not, we acknowledge that dry hiking days are numbered. My old friend always says: “You won’t know if you don’t go.” So we set out.

It felt good to pack up a portable breakfast of peanut butter sandwiches with blueberry jelly on Seedy bread, a big bunch of grapes, and tea in cups-to-go. We headed for Mount Zion – a short hike, but a challenge with an elevation gain of 1300 feet in two miles.

The maples begin to turn and lean out yellow over the road along Discovery Bay, and traffic is lighter. Signs of autumn –  like the chilly and damp parking lot at the trailhead.

Littered with sienna brown leaves fallen from surrounding rhodendron, the trail climbs between mossy rocks and narrow trunks of closely growing trees. Bracken just begins to bronze. Salal, kinnikinnick, and moss-covered downfalls crowd the sides of the path.

The ascent up Zion is steady, not relentless, but steady up. Half an hour along, I shed fleece, happy for the easing of crochets in joints and muscles. Breaks in the trees reveal Mount Townsend across the way. The Townsend trail is so much harder and longer that it surprises me to reach the gravelly small summit of Zion in just an hour.

Ribes, ocean spray, and many rhododendron surround this little rock outcropping at the top. A cloudbank obscured the view below. But in places the sun, shining through thin clouds above us, lit up parts of the cloud below – like sunshine coming through a window onto the floor. Cold and quiet – a bee dozed on a wizened blossom of fireweed, a lone squirrel chattered, but no birdsong.

We drove home another route – on Center Valley Road through Washington farmland – barns and fields – then stopped at Red Dog’s farmstand looking for eggs. It’s fun to drive the farm road beside rows of kale and strawberries, and buy huge, delicious sweet carrots to chomp.

Home to a lot of the day still intact – and no regrets!

A Yellow Pepper – Peperonata

Nothing has surprised me more than how much I have written about food in this blog – I think that reflects how much food has connected me to this place.

The Uptown Farmer’s Market on Saturday is a block-long cornucopia of delight – stands full of farm produce treasure, live music, beautiful food produced or cooked locally – cheese, salmon, coffee, baked goods, bagels, and much more. You could pick any number of favorite booths, but I find it hard to get past the first three.

Under the name Willow Wind Nursery, our neighbors raise and sell plants and flowers. They are young and exuberant and kind. (I barely knew them when our dog Bill died, but they cried with me, gave me flowers, and loaned a pickaxe to dig the grave.) A lot of the plants here – that nepeta I like so much – come from their nursery. This Saturday morning, we talk about the neighborhood and their flower stand on our road in the summer, while I pick out zinnias in Crayola colors.

The farmers of Wildwood Farm, who add to their own produce by going east of the mountains to bring back corn and peaches, this day had a surprise – a blog-perfect display of dried beans: black, white, pinto, and kidney from a brother’s farm in Nebraska. These beans – transported in big bags on a westward trip to celebrate a graduation – got repackaged for us. A food mantra nowadays says to “know your farmer” (or your farmer’s brother). That connecting has been such a pleasure in moving here, and is part of why I stall at the familiar vendors in a market bursting with bounty and choice.

Red Dog Farm has a tremendous presence – the young farmer offers everything we get in the CSA and more. This Saturday a paintable yellow pepper caught my eye. Colored peppers are ripe versions of the standard green issue, and this one was a beauty.

At home black beans already soaked on the counter, I thumbed through Jack Bishop’s “Vegetables Every Day” and discovered a recipe for “Stewed Peppers with Tomato and Onion (Peperonata).” Perfect for today’s market harvest: sauté slowly sweet onions and peppers, add chopped-up fresh tomatoes, fresh thyme leaves, salt and pepper, and cook a little longer. Serve hot or room temperature. It will make a great side with leftover squash and potato gratin.

And while the beans cooked, I painted the pepper. The food is inspiring here and a pleasure – a pleasure increased by knowing our farmers!

A Long Post About a Short Scene

So at the grocery store, I ran into a friend who worked all summer on a movie being filmed here. Lately she’s been arranging the “pick up scenes” – doing everything from gathering props to gathering people as extras. She called later that evening to ask would I want to be a “crazy old lady” – who could resist that? I did at first, but then said yes with some trepidation.

My friend said to show up at 4 p.m. at the Peace Field. The field slopes uphill at the four-way stop into town, and driving by you can see a large peace symbol of mown grass or blooming flowers, and an old moss-covered shed collapsed into a pile of weathered boards. A smaller shed still stands.

When I arrived I found my friend by her pickup, its cab and bed filled with various movie-making stuff from makeup to costumes. Soon the young cinematographer, the director, and the writer (the movie is based on his play) arrived and described our scene. In the movie, we extras, three women of a certain age, play even older women in a far earlier time – peasants in a “not happy village” – a flashback to an Eastern European village just before the war.

A huge truck stood nearby and two enormous, well-behaved draft horses patiently gazed out the back. They usually work hauling the trees their master fells – they go where trucks cannot. As we waited, the horses and their driver began to practice their route – up the hill past the little cabin.

My costume seemed a variation on my everyday-layered look. The young wardrobe mistress (from her collection of baggy sweaters, and skirts she’d made from bed sheets) bedecked me in a thick sweater with cut-off arms. A dun-colored tablecloth served as my skirt, with a dull orange sash at my waist. A baggy navy blue cardigan with my own two sweaters stuffed at my shoulders became a hump of sorts, and wool leggings (striped gray cloth cut in strips) wrapped around my shoes. I’d brought a gray paisley shawl, which covered my head, except where my friend ratted my hair to make snarls.

Messy liquid makeup darkened our skin, and we “emphasized what we already have” as one of the other village women said, by drawing over our wrinkles with a black pencil. My friend smudged us a bit with charcoal from her fire pit.

The other two women got chickens to hold, and the director whittled a cane for me. I stood near a sign for the village, and was told to be “a little crazy,” not as in wild and crazy, but not so calm as the other women – twitchy.

Before I get carried away here, I must point out, as the director did, that IF this scene makes it into the movie, it will be a mere three seconds long, but will likely end up on the “cutting room floor.”

Nonetheless, the experience had all those movie words we know. The cinematographer called: “Action, rolling!” and the horses started out from behind me. Their harnesses jingled. I turned without thinking, squinted my eyes and grimaced. “Cut!” The director crossed the field and instructed me to only “hint at turning” (he’d lose my face with all that tangled hair and smudged charcoal).  “Action, rolling!” repeated three or four times from slightly different camera angles.

It is surprisingly exciting to be somebody else for even a brief moment, and feel a smidge of the magic dust that must captivate people who are part of movie making. In all the pauses between takes I wondered why my character stood apart from the other women, why so much charcoal on my skirt, why so bent? Was I afraid of the horses or happy about them? And not thinking with any vanity about one’s appearance is novel, relishing wrinkles, poor posture, old hands.

Some close up shots of each of us, and then it was over – for us. But it wasn’t over for the crew. In that couple of hours I got a feel for how much work is involved in this slow, careful, creative – and collaborative – process. I enjoyed that – being around the camaraderie of the crew – friendly, hardworking, and gracious to the volunteers.

When I got home, my good-natured husband suggested dinner in town since I was “so late on the set.” On the way back into town, the field was empty except for the small cabin, all the make-believe gone – no horses or old women – just the beautiful Peace Field in September sun.

Our Builder is Back

Not to deal with anything in this house – but to tend to the poor Buffalo. The phrase “it’s always something” floated by as I stood at the window in the big house, looking at tarpaper covering the roof of the Buffalo with a wound in its flank.

We haven’t seen our house builders much since this house was finished – it’s been so trouble free – but we talk about them often. In this house our main builder guy would know all the secrets from crawl space to tricky framing around skylights.

But the Buffalo predates him – and us.

Winged ants like messengers of doom alerted us to trouble. In the cascading way of home repair involving moisture, observation of a little spot of mold in a closet led to an investigation of the closet wall and ceiling, and the discovery of a previous roof underneath. Inexplicably covered with plastic, the older, hidden roof trapped moisture and trouble.

It’s been fun to see our builder again (we both allowed how we have fond memories of this house building), and a great pleasure to watch him tackle the Buffalo’s woes and line out a cure. Builders organize, solve problems, and make something where there was nothing – do that creative work I’m always on about in here. The builder and his guys performed miracles in a few days.

They tore off all the old roofing and sheeting, found the extent of the dry rot in a wall, and made repairs. A discussion of the seemingly contradictory term “dry rot” led to some Wikipedia research on my part while the workers dismantled the infected area. It’s a historical usage, dating back to the distinction between decay of “dry wood” in buildings, as opposed to decay of living or felled trees “wet wood.” (Further complicating the term is the fact that “dry rot” needs moisture.)

But no moisture now. After consults with bug guy and roofer and rocker and insulator the mini housebuilding project is almost finished

Since there is always something, it might be useless to long for the moments when there isn’t something (that might even be dangerous), but it’s delightful when a job is completed so satisfactorily (a disappeared mess, no garden damage) – and the Buffalo’s hide nearly restored.

Big Bird’s Banana Bread

September might be my favorite month. I love the often-fine weather and the potential for exciting new beginnings. School starts (all those years – as students and as parents of students). We married in September. Three years later in September our first son was born. Virginia Woolf wrote, “It’s a pleasant thing come autumn to make plans.”

But this September is looking a little quiet, and I am fighting the empty feeling that comes after a full holiday weekend. It’s sad to see the two pairs of slippers, worn by the young people on their visit, lined up in the corner of the entry. Dimming light brings a little melancholy this damp morning – foghorns on the Strait and three sweaters on me.

I’m always trying to wrestle my mind away from an unconstructive default. Overripe bananas moved me to make “Big Bird’s Banana Bread.” The fragrance of the banana bread baking set up a series of nostalgic (and not realistic) thoughts about the beginning of school, remembering years of banana bread as afterschool treat.

The recipe came from a long ago Sesame Street Magazine – I used to know it by heart, but to make it after we moved here I had to ask the mother of my young friend to send it down to me. It takes just a minute or so to put together – melt the butter, heat the oven, mash the bananas with honey, and add the dry ingredients and nuts if you like.

But it takes an hour to bake – and by that time I had turned to finishing up a series of foldbooks about autumn. (The words of Mary Oliver set me to work: “The working concentrating artist is an adult who refuses interruption from himself, who remains absorbed and energized in and by the work – who is responsible to the work.”)

The handwork of cutting the endpapers, titling the books, and picking colors for covers reset my mind. The six books, embellished with hop vines and rose hips, an orb weaver, late blooming-lilies, and Washington winter plant color, trace this time of late summer into winter. Drawn and painted over a couple of autumns, these pages are overdue for binding. (The foldbooks will decorate the header of “Her spirits rose…” to finish the year.)

I decided to take the banana bread to my bookbinder friends along with the books to be bound. They might have fall plans to tell. Then I can plan how to record September here – the images on the foldbook pages remind me there is much to cherish about this season.