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.

A Weekend Plan – Tour de Seattle and More

On Labor Day weekend when our younger son and his sweet friend visited, to coordinate their arrival with that of the dad later in the evening, a plan for a Seattle afternoon developed. Visits from sons are always a treat and usually unscripted, but this time with a newcomer along, we could revisit our favorite Seattle spots.

Those first moments of a visit are delicious – full of straight-off-the-airplane chatter (on my part – I was so very glad to see them). We met at the ferry dock, and the travelers figured out how to leave their bags at a nearby hotel. My plan (a first stop at the Crumpet Shop at the Pike Place Market) was vetoed in favor of lunch outdoors in Post Alley.

We wandered through the market – watched the flying fish startle tourists, admired stalls full of autumn flowers in vivid reds and orange, and bought little rectangular cookies with chocolate bits from the French bakery. In the midday heat we zigzagged uphill, walking the shady side to break up the incline. We viewed exhibits about Alaska and Washington connections in the chill of the Frye Museum.

After a nap on the grass in a Capitol Hill park (unscheduled), we went to the new Elliott Bay bookstore for coffee and a book browse. The store still smells the same (of printed-paper and wood shelves and floors) as when it was in Pioneer Square. It was always a family stop on any trip to Seattle. To get there now requires planning – but it’s worth it.

In perfect evening temperatures people crowded outdoor tables by cafes, lively with beginning-of-a-holiday weekend cheer. We walked down the hill to dinner at an Italian restaurant, lingered with good food, and then had to hustle to our 10:55 p.m. meet-the-dad-ferry.

We got home late and slept in Saturday morning – did the beach walk, strolled through the Farmer’s Market, and visited the new Maritime Center. We even spent 40 minutes in the museum in City Hall. Old friends came to dinner, and we ate by the fire.

The next day we retraced the Upper Dungeness trail, wind bitter in the parking lot, but a lucky patch of sun at Camp Handy warmed lunch in the meadow. Split-second timing permitted both dinner at the Silverwater and a movie that evening.

On Monday morning – departure day already – we walked the beach again, then ate breakfast while rain splattered on the skylights. To us it seemed a good day to depart for sunny Los Angeles.

But the young people said at breakfast, “Wouldn’t it be great to just light a fire and read a book all day?” They are talking about unplanned time. Was there ever a visit with so much time that I seem to remember? Long school holidays maybe – summer walking in Spain. I always want more, but this was great.

Homage to Taylor Street

The other night at the Silverwater I thought about how nurturing it is to go there to my favorite-for-special-times restaurant. The Silverwater is two-stories with pumpkin-hued and brick walls. Upstairs is cozy, with low ceilings and a tapas bar, but I love downstairs right on the activity of Taylor Street. The Silverwater’s window boxes are filled with flowers in summer and kale and chard in winter.

We go there for celebratory dinners – New Year’s Eve or when we have company from out of town – or just because. This time we dined to cheer on my niece – off for her senior year at college and full of plans and excitement for the coming years. (In the way of left-behind adults, we’re thrilled – and aware of how just yesterday she came to visit and work on college applications.)

Last September at dinner with friends of our younger son and their bouncing baby boy, I went outside to give the parents a chance to finish. The baby and I walked right into the Port Townsend Film Festival’s outdoor movie. Viewers sit on hay bales in the street and watch old movies on a huge blown-up screen. (The full moon sometimes rises over the water, right behind the screen.) The baby and I bounced to a bit of “Singin’ in the Rain.”

Next-door is the best little theatre in the world – the Rose. Two screens (the littler one is the Rosebud) show current hits, but also small and interesting films you might miss. The Rose has comfortable seats, old wooden floors, and a concession stand like a great coffee bar with real butter for fresh popcorn. Audiences get welcomed with a brief word – why the director made this picture or some story of interest about the stars. (Also a reminder to turn off cell phones.)

On Taylor Street three-story old brick buildings house a photographer, hair salon, bank, music store, noodle restaurant, clothing shop, and more – businesses for regular life. Across from the Rose is the gallery Artisans on Taylor. I was proud to fill its adjacent, tiny exhibition space a couple of springs ago (with the books I use here in the header). Next to the gallery is an old-fashioned stationery and art supply store. No cavernous warehouse with 12-packs of tape but a functional selection of paper, printer ink, bulldog clips in every size, pencils and pens, erasers and envelopes – and the willingness of friendly clerks to order anything.

Taylor Street turns into a set of stairs to connect uptown and downtown. The Haller Fountain’s statue at the bottom of the steps is the sprite of Port Townsend. (She’s often decked in hearts or flowers or a Christmas boa).

Taylor Street is full of the good things that raise spirits in small town life.

Honey Bees

My beekeeper friend is like an old-fashioned milkman. On our front porch I put out the empties, and she quietly delivers two amber-toned jars of honey, leaving them in a little wooden carrier made by her dad with the name “Bee-i-e-i-o Honey Farm” burned into the wood. In an email she reports just finishing “a sticky four days of honey harvest.”

We eat a lot of honey. For my husband there has never been a doubt that honey is best. He’s been known to refer to bread as a “platform for honey” – not minding toast of stale or indifferent bread, as long as it’s slathered with honey.

People have incomplete glimmers of understanding about bee dances and bee illness in the self-contained, functioning, productive world of bees. There is something both otherworldly and lovable about bees – so busy, so focused, so sure of themselves and their jobs.

In a swell little book, “A Country Year: Living the Questions,” Sue Hubbell (librarian turned naturalist and beekeeper), describes being in one of her beeyards when an eerie feeling (the air “electric and full of excitement) led to the recognition of a swarm nearby: “They came flying in, swirling as they descended, spiraling around me and the post oak until I was enveloped by the swarm. The air moving gently from the beat of their wings.”

And one June day I stood in with a friend in her excellent garden full of flowers and vegetables and a pond, surrounded by woods. As we chatted, a humming sound caught our attention. I looked above my friend’s head toward the pond and saw a cloud of bees, familiar buzzing magnified, a trail of bees, a cloud stretching nearly across the pond and heading toward us.

I’d never seen such a thing but my friend calmly said: “We have a swarm!” (She’d never seen one either but is accepting of all things in the natural world.) The bees headed toward us, lighting on a nearby crocosmia, and then on the side of a perfect hollowed-out snag just a few feet from us. They turned the bark dark, covering it until they found the opening (we thought we saw the queen – larger and different) and disappeared inside. Twenty minutes later, the snag hummed. Only stragglers remained outside.

We were giddy, touched without being touched. Hubbell writes of the experience of being surrounded: “In another sense I was not remote from them at all, but was receiving all sorts of meaningful messages in the strongest way imaginable outside of human mental process and language.”

All that summer the snag was alive with bees, coming and going to flowers. This summer my friend told me that “our” bees still live in the snag, and that several swarms have emerged and moved on.

Stickers on my beekeeper’s jars say: “How do you know it’s real honey if you don’t know your beekeeper?” I’m glad to know these folks – gardener and beekeeper. And grateful for the work of bees.

A Wedding on the Bluff

Not this year! But last year on Labor Day weekend our older son and his bride were married here on the bluff.

Rain and a windstorm the night before alerted guests staying in town to the kind of peninsula they were visiting. But on the bluff we woke to a glimmer of hope in spite of a few clouds and rain sprinkles  during the set-up. The wind wreaking havoc with hairdos on Water Street was an offshore push here – blowing ripples away across the Strait – a warm breeze.

In mid-afternoon guests arrived from town and walked the gravel driveway up to the house, through the garden, and onto the trimmed, but late-summer-brown front lawn. I often remember the scene I saw from upstairs: white chairs in curved rows facing a rusty-metal arbor as altar on the bluff, a big white tent in front of the Buffalo, and a small one for the musicians on the deck. A mix of generations milled about. Young women in sundresses wore shawls that slipped to reveal bare shoulders just as a drum roll (from the little balcony here) and a trumpet fanfare (from the Buffalo balcony) brought a break in the clouds and sunshine for the ceremony.

It was perfect. Looking back we often call it a miracle.

The bride provided the animating spirit of this event (in every aspect from the lemonade stand greeting folks as they walked up the driveway, to her burnt-orange satin shoes peeking from under her wedding dress). The skills and talents of local people brought her wishes to life: the oyster man parked his cart in the driveway and cooked fresh oysters gathered from a nearby bay; three serious young musicians performed with cello and violins; the delightful planner made the day run smoothly, organizing chairs and details, arranging champagne glasses in perfect rows on colorful tablecloths – a sprig of lavender in each; our cabinet builder provided the drum roll; a young cook friend baked the requested wedding pies; and my clever friend helped me make 100 cotton napkins from a mix of flowered patterns (with highlights of orange). Weddings are definitely about “making special.”

Children who came as guests responded with enthusiasm to the chance to participate and started the ceremony with a procession – each carrying a stem of Chinese lantern flower out to the altar on the bluff. And the very best, most memorable and heartfelt parts, were the vows of the wedding couple (presided over by the father of the bride) – and speeches by their sweet siblings and their best friends, honoring them and welcoming the newcomers to their families.

The mother of the bride created an elegant document by copying the vows in calligraphy onto a huge sheet of paper – and all the guests signed as witnesses. Toasting, hugs, and photos – then departure for a delicious dinner in a festive tent, lighted by candles and lanterns, behind a Victorian hotel in town. Dancing lasted into the night.

September can be full of new beginnings but also full of memories of other beginnings – this is a cherished one.

Compost Solution

Lyla Lovett has solved my compost problem.

“Compost” and “problem” don’t really belong in the same sentence – except in “compost solves problems.” Like all gardeners, I believe in compost as enrichment or as mulch. I’m thankful for compost when it rains and when it’s dry – but I’m not able to make it well for this garden.

In my old garden even with many months of winter, compost was easy from big piles of birch leaves (from the trees in our yard) and kitchen scraps. I’d put the kitchen peelings and trimmings in a garbage can all winter, and dump them into the leaves in a stinky spring rite. They would diminish into black gold by mid-summer. Simple – and bountiful.

But rural life in Washington presented different challenges. When we were coming here only intermittedly, I’d bury the scraps 12” down in my berms of compost and straw becoming soil. That led to gift potatoes in various beds – and to a mystery plant later identified as an avocado.

But once you plant plants, the burying no longer works. So I built a big bin out of house scraps – even putting a metal mesh top on it – but left plenty of space between boards for chipmunks, squirrels, mice, birds – pretty much anything but a raccoon. Safe for garden cuttings, but not for food.

Next, as a present to ourselves, we bought a double-barreled compost tumbler. It took a couple of weeks (and several calls to the 800 number) to put together. (In spite of a video animated by a couple we named Betty and Bob, who wore nifty outfits and had a lot better luck manufacturing compost than we did.)

Betty and Bob might live in warmer climes – and most likely they had brown leaves for carbon. Living in a conifer forest means using straw, and it is slow to break down. Animals can’t get in the tumblers, and that’s positive, but the ingredients form into either wet or dry softball-sized lumps (the tumbling action). Beyond recognizable food at that point, I put the balls into the wooden bin to finish. The system is complicated, and compost doesn’t get made with any facility.

But now – in a magic alchemy – all kinds of vegetable peelings, discarded outer lettuce leaves, carrot tips and stems, snapped-off ends of green beans, root ends of spinach, slightly gone-by fruit – become eggs!

My clever friend’s abundant garden packs more into a three-quarter city lot than you’d think possible – flowers, vegetables, a tiny greenhouse – and now chickens. Lyla Lovett, Buckwheat, Pansy, and Petunia live in a stylish chicken coop, (with raspberry-pink trim to match the big house), and a good-sized run. Buckwheat and Co. are little still, but Lyla came nearly full-grown.

They are happy to receive my vegetable offerings, and the other day when I dropped my bag of scraps, my friend presented me with two of Lyla Lovett’s eggs. I am doubly honored – fresh eggs, one still warm, and a compost solution!

Black Beans and Rice

“September is a summer month!” the speaker declared. Twice in the same day I overheard this defiance – at the grocery store and then again at the post office – Northwest people convincing themselves that this summer isn’t over. Warm days and harvest moon nights still to come.

Maybe as a tiny harbinger, just a bare hint of the beginning-to-change season, and part of the ongoing bean project, I’ve been wanting to explore things to make with black beans, like meals I order in restaurants happily – black bean burgers or Café Flora’s “Oaxaca Tacos.”

Flipping through Mark Bittman’s book I came upon his recipe for “Moors and Christians, Black Beans and Rice, Spanish Style,” and thought how we hadn’t had that in a long time. (Bittman explains that the “Muslim Moors ruled devoutly Christian Spain for seven centuries; what else should the world’s best-known bicolor dish be called?” But I’m not convinced that title is acceptable anymore – it’s historic and dated in a complicated way. Perhaps optimistically, I like to think of it as shorthand for a kind of getting along, neighboring mosques and cathedrals, that seems to have happened in Spain, until it didn’t.)

When home one summer our older son introduced “Moors and Christians” into the regular dinner rotation – and taught me how to make it. We used canned beans in those days, but the dish became a favorite. A good dinner the first night, and the leftovers were useful during the summers, when kids were working construction and always hungry. Black beans and rice in a tortilla makes a portable lunch for a working guy – or one home to quickly “grab something.”

Bittman celebrates rice and beans as “one of the most important of all culinary marriages.” “They are cheap, they provide good protein and plenty of carbohydrates, and they don’t take a lot of work to make them delicious.”

Black beans and rice couldn’t be easier and using leftover “real beans” is a treat, but not necessary. Put rice on to cook (Bittman suggests a pilaf, which means initially cooking the rice in oil before adding water, but plain brown rice works). Sauté onions and a green or red pepper if you want, and garlic. Add a cup or so of chopped tomatoes (canned tomatoes in winter, but now it’s fun to use local tomatoes).

Add the beans (and some bean liquid if they’re home-cooked beans), and simmer till the liquid is nearly gone. Mound the rice in a shallow serving bowl and surround with the bean mixture.

Maybe black beans and rice let the seasons co-exist – the other night we made them with fresh tomatoes and served with the last of the corn on the cob. In their next iteration the rice and black beans will be mixed up – as leftovers – companionably.