Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Bad Timing

So here it is one day before the start of Hanukkah, two days before Thanksgiving, and I managed to injure my foot by stubbing it on a piece of furniture I happened to be walking past as I was cleaning up in anticipation of relatives arriving later tonight.
I know the manicure is bad, but the bruise is worse!
 My parents may have written a lot of checks to provide me with 15 years of classical dance training in my youth, but it appears that I was just destined to be a klutz.  Maybe they should have sent me to Charm School instead. Or bought cigarettes.  Whatever.

I am not sure if the foot is fractured, broken or just severely strained, but it hurts like the devil and I can't wear shoes at this point.

Of course I can live without shoes, as long as I stay close to the house.  The trick is, of course, maneuvering around the parts of property I can traverse, and working at the winery.

Luckily Big Ag will be home a lot this week, so any tricky property maintenance can be done by him, and I believe I will be able to get at least my cross-trainers on by Friday so I can work at the weekend.  It won't be pretty or fashionable, but it will do. 

And of course this makes me realize that if I lived alone and farmed, a lot of things would be impossible.  As it is, I have a tree full of ripe pomegranates I will be unable to harvest and process now, an orchard that needs weeding, and a vegetable garden that needs water. 

But it does serve to remind me that none of us is ever really self-suffucient, especially not anyone who farms.  The rural life puts you one mis-step away from needing those you live with to take over your share temporarily when you're laid up with injury or illness. 

And if there's no one you live with, you'd better have cultivated enough relationships with your neighbors that they will help you.  It's a sobering thought for anyone thinking owning and running a farm by themselves is do-able.  I see people doing it and, in a way, it's like waiting for a train wreck, because none of us is invincible.  We all need a Plan B for when things like this happen.

It takes a village, people.  Or maybe The Village People. Or at just a family.  But you can't do it alone.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


Stuck my ear into the fermenter this morning, eagerly awaiting the snap, crackle and pop of fermenting fruit juice and pulp. It's a sound that's sort of an alcoholic version of the sound Rice Krispies make.

And I was not disappointed.  The must was chattering away like a parakeet.

Looks like I may have some apple wine to bottle soon!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Windfall Apple Wine

So after putting up 11 quarts of apple pie filling, I still had about 12 pounds of apples left over, and little desire to do any more canning between now and Thanksgiving, since both involve a lot of time in the kitchen, and I need to pace myself.  So I decided to make wine.  There are many recipes out there for windfall cider and windfall apple wine (windfall meaning extra apples, often found under the trees or leftover from other endeavors, as these are).  I minced and simmered the apples, added the pectic enzyme, yeast and nutrient and now.....I wait.

I give it about 50/50 odds I will get any alcohol out of this.  The one variable I forgot to factor in before starting the whole process was the temperature.  Fermentation happens best when indoor temperatures are between 72 and 75 degrees, and we're just not that warm anymore.  With the pellet stove going I usually get the house up to about 71 degrees, but at night we go down into the 60's or lower, which may be enough to shut the process down before it even really gets started.

I've thought of some inventive ways to keep the must warm -- everything from heating pads to sticking it in the oven with the light on, but nothing will keep it at the right temperature.  It's the old Goldilocks dilemma of one being too cold, one too hot, but none just right.

Anyway, I have nothing to lose at this point, so we will give it a couple of days and see if the yeast starts the mixture bubbling.  If so, then we're on our way.  If not, then I'm just out some windfall apples and some pride, neither of which is a huge deal since I'm a homesteader and have had my pride rubbed into the apple must more times than I can count.  At least it smells good.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Old Dog

So the past several months have been ones where I've felt like the proverbial old dog, learning many, many new tricks. In our previous hometown I was a complete introvert.  I kept to my garden and homestead, occasionally attended things for the kids' school, but rarely socialized with anyone other than a couple of neighbors and family.  

The reasoning behind that was logical -- there just weren't too many people in the town I resonated with and felt the urge to chat up, socially. Then we moved here, and from the get-go it seemed like a place I was going to reinvent myself, put myself out there and make new friends. And I have.  I even re-entered the away-from-home workforce with a job at a local winery, and before I knew it, my learning curve became quite steep as I attempted some of the more complex points in the point-of-sale system, inventory, customer relations and all the craziness that happens during tourist season and harvest. 

The people skills were easy; socializing with people (including customers at the winery) was like riding a bike; I jumped into the job and it became easy immediately.  But being brand-new to the industry has also meant assimilating a large amount of information over a relatively short period of time, and that's been a challenge.

And I'll be honest; some of my mistakes, though not large, have been ones I beat myself up over, specifically because I had an idea that someone younger than me could probably learn it all faster and do it all better.  "Oops, I hit the wrong button on the register.  Oops, I transferred that phone call to the wrong extension." That kind of thing. Yet, in speaking to the more experienced tasting room attendants at the winery, I've learned this is not true.  Most of them said they weren't comfortable with all the ins and outs of the job until they'd been doing it a year or two.  And it hit me.  I was making things hard on myself by being waaay too much of a perfectionist.  Not because anyone else saw me as something "less" because I was older -- because I did.

Why are we so hard on ourselves when we should be the ones most in our corner?  Why do we expect more from ourselves than we would from anyone else?  These are questions I've been asking myself ever since I became an adult, and while I catch myself in the act of this kind of self sabotage a lot faster these days than I used to, it's still something I shouldn't be doing at all.

Do we ever learn to have our own backs and become our greatest cheerleader instead of our greatest critic?  And if so, when?  Obviously I'm not as old as I think, because I like to believe that if I was old enough, I would be wiser about this.

This old dog has still got most of her wits about her, but she does need to appreciate that fact more, and maybe pat herself gently on the head instead of hitting herself upside it when she make an occasional and totally human mistake.

Someday, I'll learn.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sweater weather?

Anyone who is interested in clothes or fashion knows the feeling you get, usually around August or September, when you're absolutely sick of your summer wardrobe.  You find yourself looking longingly at the sweater section of your closet, wishing you could pack away your short sleeves and cottons and unpack some warm wool sweaters and coats.

I've no doubt that this romance with autumn inspires a lot of seasonal buying, as people snatch up the new fall arrivals in the stores -- it's usually about mid-August when the sweaters in rich colors of pumpkin, cranberry and ochre start to fill the boutique and department store racks, just a little in advance of the trees outside turning the same colors.

But you see, all of the above is true unless you live in the lower states or the western ones.  For while the leaves may be changing here and wool henleys, pullovers and shrugs fill the boutique aisles, it's still warm enough most afternoons for summer clothes -- the ones you have already been wearing since April and are bloody well sick of.  Sigh.

I think the West and South have ended up holding the short end of the stick in other ways too, due to the fact that it was the Eastern half of our nation that was founded first -- places like Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Vermont, which actually have what we Americans rhapsodize about in poetry, visual media and song  -- the four-season year. 

 During the holidays, for instance, we Sun-Belt types are subjected to hearing songs like "White Christmas," and "Walking in a Winter Wonderland," as representative of the season, when, let's face it,  there's not a hope in hell of lasting snow on the ground here.  We put up holiday decorations flocked with snow, and watch vintage movies and TV shows featuring colorful characters in mittens and scarves.  And, believe me, we western types feel cheated. I do anyway.  I can't wear fall clothes in fall and Christmas is one of our greenest times of year, not white.  We got gypped, meteorologically.

But in my 52 years, I've gained a certain acceptance of this fact. I no longer wish or dream of a White Christmas.  And I recently realized that spending money on fall and winter clothes, which only get worn 4 months a year, is just silly.

No, what this homesteader and winery girl really needs is two summer wardrobes:  One for High Summer (June - September), and one for what we'll call Low Summer (March - May and again October - November).  Of course I'm sick of wearing the tank tops and t-shirts I wear when it's 110 degrees, once it's been a few months of having to do that.  

But what I really need at that point is not something made of wool.  What I need is another set of "summer" clothes, which I can break out when the temperatures are hovering around the 70 - 80 degree mark, and which will give me the novelty and change I'm craving, without the red face and sweaty armpits that wearing a pumpkin colored wool sweater on a sunny 80-degree day would give me.

So to that end, in the next few months I will be haunting the racks of the thrift and consignment stores in the area (which always feature out of season clothes!) and looking at my Second Summer collection.

I'm also going to stop looking at things like heated bath towel racks, radiant heating systems and other things more at home in Alaska than California.  If nothing else, I am a realist, and 4 months of cold just doesn't justify spending a lot of money, no matter how tempting the wool offerings in the stores are.

I will, however, continue singing "Winter Wonderland," during December.  I may be in short sleeves and cotton capris, but this girl can dream -- just a little -- of some snow on the vines, right?  

Friday, November 8, 2013

11 Quarts!

Of apple pie filling, that is.  This will make about six deep-dish pies, so some I will give as holiday presents and some I will store in the pantry.  In Fall of 2012 we had just moved and I was so swamped with painting, remodeling and managing contractors that I didn't put any apple pie filling up.  At that point, I still couldn't always remember the new location of the bathroom when I went down the hall, so not canning much should not have been any surprise. Moving a couple of hundred miles away shell-shocks you in ways you don't really understand until you've truly settled in, even if its a happy move. 

But believe me, when July 4 of 2013 rolled around, I missed that pre-cooked apple pie filling that I should have spent Fall of 2012 canning.   Oh did I miss it.  Anyway, this lack of pie filling will not be the case July 4 2014 -- today took care of that.

This year I got to go to an bucolic, organic U-pick apple farm to pick my crop, and truly, these are the best apples I have ever eaten.  They have no wax on them, and their flavor is outrageously sweet and crisp.  
A very a-peeling appliance (sorry)

I got to use the one Pampered Chef product I own, too -- an apple peeler, which saved a lot of time and trouble.  Nonetheless, it still took me most of the day to do this, but I think it was worth a day of manual labor.

Butterflies at the beach

The other day when I spent a day at the beach, I had a lot of company, in the form of Monarch Butterflies, which overwinter in the big eucalyptus trees common to this area.  Normally you don't see butterflies at the beach, but at this time of year, it's common. While I was hanging out I spotted at least 10-15 Monarchs, fluttering along the edge of the water and the sand.  It was a bit strange, but beautiful nonetheless.  They also overwinter in the hills of Central Mexico, which tells me our climate is not only Mediterranean, but also Mexican.

It's been in the high 70's every day here recently.  Not too hot, not too cold, just right. The leaves are still turning, but the only chill in the air is in the evenings, when it does drop into the 30's. But during the days, tt's endless summer, baby, with warm breezes and butterflies flitting around you as you stick your toes in the sand at the beach, or come inland to sit under a big western oak tree with a glass of wine.  Just another day in paradise, either way. Most of the time I envy people who get snow on the ground in winter.  But this fall, I feel lucky, for whatever reason.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

U-Pick Apples

This last weekend, Big Ag and I dedicated some time and energy towards our future apple pies by heading over to the lovely next-door town of Templeton to visit a U-pick apple farm.  We got an empty box from Carolyn, the owner, and headed out into her small, well-pruned and heavily bearing orchard to pick our fill of Granny Smith apples.

With assertive pruning, an apple tree can be only around 6 feet tall, perfect for gathering apples with ease.  While it's tempting to think that a larger tree will bear more apples, when the apples are 12 feet off the ground they pretty much go to waste, so keeping up with pruning makes sense.

We have three apple trees in our orchard right now -- two Granny Smiths and one heirloom Grimes Golden Delicious, but none of them are old enough to bear any fruit yet.  So visiting Carolyn's farm was perfect.

We gathered up 37 pounds of apples, paid for them, and brought them home.  Now they sit in their box and wait until I have time to get the canner fired up and process them into apple pie filling, at which point they will be stored in the pantry, some for us and some for gifts to friends.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Blind Tasting Party

In a little while, Big Ag and I, along with some friends and coworkers from the winery will be getting together for a blind tasting party.  We will each be bringing one bottle, which will have the label covered to provide it with anonymity, plus a dish to share.  The covering on the label will allow us to taste and see what appeals to us without the distraction of knowing what winery it came from, what we know about any awards or points given by wine societies or magazines, or what we've heard about it from others in the business.  It will also allow us to jot down various flavors we note on tasting -- will we really get essences of cranberry and oak when we don't know that's what we're supposed to be tasting?  We will see.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Indian Summer

Although we've had several days of cool weather, today the thermometer on the porch is reading 80 degrees, and I'll bet in the sun it's a good 10 degrees above that.  Tomorrow and next week are expected to go back to being cooler, but for now we are really enjoying this brief, Indian summer.

Yesterday I took off for the beach, since I knew it was going to be this warm.  I had some holiday shopping to do in the little seaside town of Cambria, but I never get that close to the ocean without spending some toes-in-the-sand time, and it was heaven.  The weather was probably in the high 70's there, the ocean was turquoise-colored (due to the lower sun angle) and about 20 feet out into the ocean, a school of dolphins was frolicking in the warm water as I walked in the sand.

I used to hate warm weather at this time of year.  In my mind, fall had to look a certain way, or the entire season was ruined.  But as I've gotten older, I'm more about letting things be what they will, and enjoying whatever that may happen to be.  

Turquoise water and summer temperatures in fall?  That is OK, as will be whatever comes after this.  My fall veggies are loving the warm weather, the leaves are still turning right on schedule, and winter will be here soon enough.

Hooray for Indian Summer.