Thursday, August 11, 2016

Hate is a strong word

So I officially hate the woman who owned these chairs before me. Not at first; I thought I was lucky to get them for $15 at a garage sale. But now that I've tried to strip them several times, and now that Big Ag has had to replace some slats that were rotting, I've decided I hate her.

But hate is such a strong word, dear, I hear my Aunt Margaret saying. Are you sure it's hate and not just frustration?

OK, so I don't hate the anonymous woman, honestly, I just hate what she did to these chairs. I hate that she coated them with a multi-layered blanket's worth of some mysterious white primer that liquifies when the stripper hits it, then painted 2,346 coats of teal latex paint on top of that. And I hate that she didn't bother painting the bottoms of the chairs, in places no one could see...hence the wood rot. 

And like most singularities in the universe, my hatred of this woman as Chair Caretaker points to a much larger issue in my soul, which is that I have issues with people who don't take care of things they've been entrusted with, whether that's a pair of wood adirondack chairs, a piece of land, a dog, or even a child.

I just realized it's why I have so much trouble with some people who move to the country yet aren't prepared to deal with the responsibility the land demands of us. There are a few of them in my neighborhood, and my house sits in eyesight of their eyesore. 

It's not their person -- they're usually quite nice --  it's their sloppy caretaking of cats, goats, sheep, grasses, topsoil and even the houses they live in that get me. Some people live like the objects they own and the places they live are ziplock bags...just use them until you're done and then toss 'em in the trash. 

It's very zen to think of everything as temporary and ephemeral, but we make serious errors when we start treating everything like it doesn't matter because of that. Because even the little things matter. And yes, I sometimes fall beneath my own standards when it comes to caretaking (if you saw the filthy interior of my otherwise-nice car right now you would agree with this). 

But the great thing about the world of ours is that it's mostly about increasing self-knowledge. And if you're willing to look at yourself in the work you do, whatever that is, you can learn a lot about how you relate to the world. It can be in doing something as simple as re-painting two wood adirondack chairs. Or running a vineyard. Or a business. Enlightenment in the simple tasks is available if we'll hold up a mirror to see our reflection while we're doing it. 

But to do that, you just have to be willing to do the work, both the chore and the corresponding inner analysis.

(which I will continue to do, by the way. These chairs will be getting fresh paint and weatherproofing this weekend). 

And to the lady who owned these chairs before me, I forgive you. Because as my Aunt Margaret always said, hate is a very strong word. I'm even working on forgiving the liquid primer that turns to goop on contact and becomes unremovable, but I gotta tell you, that one's gonna take some time.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Things Could Always Be Worse -- a Foodie Prepping Primer?

It seems like every time I start canning season, I also begin thinking of emergency preparedness. I'm not a Collapse of Western Civilization kind of gal, but I am most certainly a 7.0 Earthquake kind of gal, having lived through two of those suckers in my lifetime.

And so I reasonably ask myself at times like these if I'd be happy eating the stores I've canned and/or put up on my shelves. If the power was off for, say, two weeks or so due to a large quake, assuming we are well enough to have an appetite, the question then becomes 1) do we have enough food to survive, and 2) exactly how much fun would it be to eat what we've put up? 

Relishing (left) the apocalypse.

These are the only two questions that matter if you and your loved ones are in a disaster and are already safe, with a good source of water and shelter from the weather. It will come down to food. Doesn't it always? Whether it's a housewarming party or the End of The World As We Know It, that's what you will remember about the party when it's all said and done. So even at the conclusion of the future Earthquake Party, the question will be: What did we have to eat?

If you remember Jim Bakker, the preacher involved in some juicy evangelical sex scandal in the 1980s (with a wife who could not keep her mascara from fleeing the scene of her badly made-up eyes), he basically disappeared. Or so I thought. The other day I was channel surfing and found him, now hawking survival food supply kits on QVC. "It's our $99.99 Special 20-year Survivalist Package featuring MEXICAN food!" he extols. 

While I find him strangely amusing, there's one thing he and I agree on....just because the world ends, it doesn't mean Taco Tuesdays have to.

Anyway, I don't count what's in my chest freezer at all in my accounting of foodstuffs, since chances are it would be warm enough that within a few days anything we cannot consume immediately will spoil. This means for the first three days we'll be eating nothing but steak, ham and chicken. (Note to self: stock up on emergency, End Of The World-strength laxatives.) But ultimately, the safest and longest-lasting emergency source of food lies not in the freezer, but rather in the canning cupboard and the pantry selves.

I can make this delicious.
Rice, beans, quinoa,  various pastas and grains would probably become our staples, along with flour for making bread.  Beans would be especially important since lacking refrigeration, we'd also probably be lacking in animal protein after our chest freezer binge-feast (belch), except for fresh eggs. Since I'm mostly vegetarian, I would be OK here, and everyone else would have to be too. 

But the issue then becomes how to dress up all those beans and grains so that they are tasty, or at least interesting, since they'll probably be eaten two or even three times daily (perhaps with some canned salmon or tuna, which I've also put by). People in this situation always say something like well, things could always be worse, but really, I can't think of anything much worse than having to eat rice, beans and quinoa for two weeks straight. 

Of course having a good stock of wine, beer and other alcohol could help immensely, so that should also be at the top of any emergency preparedness food list in my opinion. Everything tastes better with expensive alcohol to wash it down.

But I think having a good stock of spices, jams/chutneys, relishes, and little gourmet items will ultimately make your family's life livable during times of crisis, as much as warm blankets and shelter do. You need to be able to dress up your staple ingredients with flavors, textures and surprises to keep those Lord of The Flies instincts at bay and keep civilization afloat. Sauces, sprinkles, marinades, aoli and other spreads (we have chickens and oil and therefore eggs and therefore aoli -- yum!). 

For me, I would plan on cooking everything in the solar oven (which even works on cloudy days, things just take longer to cook) or on the grill, and so that gives me lots of options for different tastes and textures as well.

Everyone should have one.

I do not plan on eating squirrel or gopher in stews, or insects, or nearby neighbors. That is not my kind of disaster. But vegetarian paella with canned mushrooms, peas and asparagus with some hard-boiled deviled eggs on the side, a fruit galette for dessert and some '10 Cabernet to accompany it all? I could live with that. 

I am sure there is a survivalist cookbook out there, but I like to see myself as a kind of a "San Andreas meets Ina Garten"-type heroine, creating lovely meals for my family spontaneously and cheerily, while the tremors rumble through, the stucco falls off in sheets and the National Guard personnel carriers pass by the road.

It's Bon Appetite at the end of the world, baby. And I feel fine.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Tomato Death

Ex-tomatoes. RIP.

So my tomato crop this year at the homestead has been a total and complete failure. One of the things I learned in my Master Gardener coursework is that crops that are suffering and dying generally are not infected with disease; most of the time it's our own husbandry habits -- watering trends, over/under fertilizing, or other human factors which have inadvertently killed the ones we love...well, the green ones, anyway.

But for the second summer in a row my tomatoes have fruited poorly (this year not at all) and had a wilting issue, which I now realize is either being caused by fusarium or verticillium wilt. Both are soil-borne diseases that can last for years in soil, and so now I'm faced with fixing the issue, along with buying tomatoes at the farmer's market for the foreseeable future.

It doesn't really matter which wilt it is, fusarium or virticillium -- that's like debating whether getting run over by a Subaru Outback versus a Forester would be worse. The point is you, or in this case my tomatoes, are flat on the concrete at this point, and aren't coming back.

Luckily, since my contaminated soil is in raised beds, I can opt to either replace all the soil or solarize the bed. I'm going to solarize since we're at the height of summer -- spreading some clear plastic over the beds and letting our blistering summer heat do its work, raising the temperatures in the beds to about 160 degrees and killing the fungus...hopefully. 

Next year I will also have to plant VFN-resistant (VFN = verticillium, fusarium and nematode) hybrids instead of heirlooms. Luckily "Better Boy" is one of my favorite hybrids, so I have hope of salsa in 2017. I will miss my heirloom Mortgage Lifters and Pink Ladies though, but I'm taking no chances. It's sad to let those seeds go, but they will live on at the winery in the garden, so all is not lost.

It does make me understand exactly why these hybrids were developed, however. Losing an entire crop to disease is unfortunate for me, but could be catastrophic in the ag sector or on a family farm back in the day when no tomatoes actually meant no tomatoes -- period. 

Heirlooms are beautiful and are all the rage these days, but it's important not to forget exactly why some of these hybrids -- common, easy-to-grow; disease resistant and prolific -- are an important part of the crop world. They get a bad rap but the truth is are sometimes the answer to a prayer.

And I'm already praying for my 2017 crop, believe me. And luckily, my self-esteem got a boost this morning when I was able to can 20 pounds of pickles in the form of relish. So the preserving season has not been a total bust vegetable-wise.

But then there was relish.

And lots of flowers.