Sunday, March 13, 2016

Look At Me...I'm Old But I'm Happy

As I spent last week working on my take-home final exam for Master Food Preservers and preparing for graduation night and the presentation of ceremonial aprons, I’m even more excited than I was at the start, more than five weeks ago.  I’m so looking forward to the growing season so I can try some new sauerkraut.  

I have never been a fan of sauerkraut and generally thought it was a perfectly crappy thing to do to a perfectly good hot dog (or corned beef on rye).  Several classmates were already experienced in fermenting sauerkraut and Jeffrey brought some for me to try, promising not to take offence if I winced and even gave me a napkin to … purge into should I feel the need.  As it happens, fresh (I use the term loosely) sauerkraut tastes NOTHING like the noxious stuff that comes in a can.  It actually tastes like cabbage.  With a kick.

A few years back I fell in love with a cabbage salsa served at a (now defunct) Mexican restaurant here in Eureka and made a decent attempt at replicating it though it wasn't quite right. Now, I have begun wondering if it was actually fermented. 

I did some online research and found a number of spicy kraut recipes that added jalapenos so I jumped in and started my first batch of kraut...with a few jalapenos tossed in. Now, I wait for the bubbles, showing me the fermenting process has begun. Soon, my kitchen should smell like....well, like the kraut should be aging out in the barn. If it turns out, I plan to make more this year when my Bayside Park Farm CSA share is overflowing with cabbage. I also pickled a few jars of asparagus this weekend while they're in season. With new skills acquired, seasonal abbondanza is anticipated greatly.

I recommend the Master Food Preserver program highly. The State Ag Extensions make these programs available as a way to get the information out to the people.  There is a Facebook page that you can follow to keep up on upcoming classes and demos. The Master Gardener program works similarly.  Ours was a fun class with awesome fun people. Though I’m not much for public speaking and waxing eloquent in front of a crowd, I’m looking forward to maintaining my certification by sharing the information I now posess. Food Security is more than just a buzzword around here and I hope to help people to recognize that feeding their families well IS possible, no matter the income. Taking advantage of gleaning opportunities and planting just a few vegetables in the summer that can be preserved to last through the off-season can greatly expand your food budget. PLUS, it’s fun and few things are as satisfying as a collection of jars filled with a rainbow of foods that you have canned yourself.  

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Gitchi Gitchi Ya Ya Da Da

Today's adventures in Master Preservers...we entered the realm of "Fruit Spreads and Syrups" and twice today got to break into groups and create.  The kitchen at the Eureka Co-Op was filled with the smells of lemons, ginger, strawberries and the sounds of crashing pans, timers and laughter.  My group made "Quick" Lemon-Ginger Marmalade. I'm not sure about the "quick" (thus the quotation marks) since much time was spent separating the membrane and seeds but the end results were worth it. I've never been a huge fan of marmalade, probably because commercially created versions are sticky sweet but this version was SO flavorful. I can't wait to recreate it in my own kitchen.  Most of us had some experience with water-bath canning but it's good to correct and adjust our processes and even understand the reasons we do what we do. 

While we made our Lemon-Ginger Marmalade, other groups made a Mango Salsa and Apple Pie filling. The smells were heavenly.  I feel as if we dirtied EVERY bowl and pot in that kitchen on the way to finishing these three projects. After washing the mountainous pile pots and pans followed by a brief lunch break, we gathered in new groups for another project.  This time I worked on a low-sugar blueberry freezer jam (the jury is still out on the flavor of this particular recipe) while the other two groups created Fig Jam with dried figs and Strawberry-Kiwi Jam. Again, the fragrance was so heavenly, we couldn't resist poking our heads into the projects the other groups were working on.  I have plans now to expand my repertoire beyond my beloved blackberry jam and have my sites set on marmalades.  I know exactly what to do the next time I see a great deal on lemons!

This course is so fun, I'm not even sad in giving up my coveted Saturdays. I'm learning so much and am well on my way to being a much more confident canner. Monday evening, we'll do some pickling, including a chutney which is another step outside my comfort zone.  Somewhere in there, I need to conjure up a homework assignment for a class presentation (we each have to do two) and, after the great jobs done by this morning's over-achievers, I have some work to do.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

We Be Jammin'

Since starting the Master Preserver Course, Clostridium botulinums has become part of my vocabulary. Nasty nasty botulism, as opposed to the fun kind of botox the Hollywood types have injected into their skin to smooth out wrinkles (who the HECK thought THAT was a good idea?!) is “an anaerobic, spore-forming rod that produces a potent neurotoxin.The spores are heat-resistant and can survive in foods that are incorrectly or minimally processed…..”.  Yikes!  And the capper?  “Most of the 10 to 30 outbreaks [of foodborne botulism] that are reported annually in the United States are associated with inadequately processed, home-canned foods". (straight from the USDA’s Bad Bug Book).  Ugh! I'm a bit of a rule-rebel but even I can see some rules are based in logic.
After just two class meetings, I have learned that the method of jam-making my mom taught me is “open kettle canning” and, “We don’t recommend it”.  Well, crap!  I haven’t killed anyone but I’ll have to reteach my kids the proper way, instead of Grandma's way. I have also learned that I really SHOULD be removing the canning jar rings when I store my canned product away.  Why?  Any schmutz left under the ring from the canning process could contaminate the ring and cause it to not seal the NEXT jar properly. Not only that but the ring will keep me from noticing a seeping jar which, if not sealed properly, could begin to nurture those nasty little Clostridium botulinums spores, all hidden behind a ring that APPEARS to be sitting pretty on the shelf.
Oh well, I hope to regale y’all of my adventures learning (and, in some cases, relearning)  how to safely and properly “put foods by”. The course will keep me busy for a month of Monday nights and Saturdays, freezing, canning, pickling and dehydrating in order to save the season's harvests. After that, I will be expected to put in some volunteer time proselytizing in the name of safe food preservation, because the recipes and processes recommended by State Cooperative Extensions are vetted..scientifically tested to contain proper processing times and procedures.  I will be available to entertain at a kitchen near you in order to put in my time. It looks to be a fun group I am learning with and learning from.  Look out pickling cukes...I’m comin’ for ya!

Friday, January 22, 2016

No More Three-By-Fives

Hoping I would see the world with both my eyes

Seems like the drearier our Humboldt weather is, the more enthusiastically the interwebs explode when the sky is airbrushed with a glorious rainbow, jaw-dropping sunset or wondrous sunrise.  If you follow Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, your feed is painted the fanciful shades of a blue-gray sky brushed by the sun with pinks and oranges.  Whether with the ubiquitous smart phone or a billion-dollar DSLR, we struggle to get THE photo, the one everyone sees and “sighs…” and shares with the rest of the digital universe.  But sometimes I just can’t get THE photo.

The fabulous sunrises we have been blessed with this season, while visible and awe-inspiring, are impossible to commit to digital “film” from my house without the web of powerlines that cross the sky.  Try as I might to use those black lines in an artistic way, they just undermine all of my efforts to record the perfect sky. The houses don’t darken enough to be the perfect silhouettes.  I pull off at the Humboldt Hill vista point to catch the view on the way to work, but the sun’s effect was hidden behind the trees.  I pulled to the rear of the parking lot at South Bay Elementary School south of town but, by then, the sun has climbed beyond a point where the clouds were the fiery orange they had been just fifteen minutes before.   

Today I finally overcame
Trying to fit the world inside a picture frame

Well, I probably didn’t really OVERCOME the urge, but have come to the realization that sometimes I need to just stop.  And enjoy.  Without the camera…..and, like this John Mayer song, trying to enjoy it with BOTH my eyes.  

Oh, it won’t be easy.  I’ll still dodge through traffic after work, trying desperately to get to the perfect spot to photograph that stunning sunset I can see from the highway during my evening commute.  Or I’ll text the boss from the ‘T’ on the north spit, to let him know I’ll be a bit late while I try and capture the red rubber ball of a moon as it sets in the morning.  But sometimes, when those things don’t look promising, I will just sit and enjoy those few fabulous moments.  With both my eyes.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Hate Your Next Door Neighbor but Don't Forget To Say Grace

For those of you, my friends and loved ones, who take pleasure in posting the most current horrific videos attacking Planned Parenthood and the pregnancy terminations that are performed by them, please stop.  They make me cry.  They make me cry because, believe it or not, I am pro-life.  And I cry to think that those of you who know me, who sign “love” when you write me messages, actually think that I support the killing of babies. And for that, I’M outraged!

I am pro-life.  I am pro-baby...for those who are ready or at least have a support network at hand. I am pro-life and thrilled when someone finds themselves surprised (or even shocked) by pregnancy and has the life situation to keep and support it, in spite of not being prepared.  I am thrilled for my friends who were able to adopt because of those who did find themselves pregnant but not prepared...and were brave enough and had the option to share that child with a family who would keep and support it.

Those awful videos you keep posting?  I cry grieving my two miscarriages...tiny souls, potential children, who never made it into this world or our arms.  But you know what? I know that my God (yes, I DO believe in God) took care of my babies.  I have Faith (yes, I also have Faith) that God has allowed the earthy vessels that those souls were carried in to be used for research so that fewer families have to go through the pain and heartache I did. We did. I know those babies returned, whether to me or someone else, for a happy, healthy existence.  

I stand with Planned Parenthood because I am pro-life.  I support them because they will educate the people who are so judged by their families and churches that that cannot seek the information and the protection that will prevent the unwanted pregnancies. They fear talking to those that should support them for fear of being judged. I stand with them because, I want very much to have ALL children wanted.  

Being pro-birth does not make you better than those women who find themselves in a place where they feel abortion is their only way out.  Perhaps you don’t have the same Faith in your God as I do in mine. When you turn away those those who cannot support an unwanted child, you are not pro-life when it comes to those children or you would be waiting to take them in yourself.

So please stop with the videos. This isn’t politics. It isn’t me being “liberal” or you being “conservative”.  This is people.  These are children or the potential for children. It just makes me more determined than ever to support this organization who will educate instead of judge.  They will provide birth control to the youth who have NO ONE they trust enough to approach for help. Planned Parenthood, and those of us that support it, will be there when you and your beliefs will not.

I will pray for you.  I will pray for the children not yet born, that they be born for families who will love them and care for them and bring them up to be warm, loving, non-judgmental people.  And, if it is not their time to be born, I pray their time will come soon and perhaps I will enjoy seeing them running and playing because it was the right time for them to be born to the right people.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

With Your Mother On A Sandy Lawn

With the death of my mother-in-law, Phyllis, in April, has come the not-surprising changes of losing a loved one who has always been there. Even with one in the deep golden years who suffered the maladies of being a smoker for 70 years, death is not a surprise but still brings sadness and loss. Nana’s gained admittance for my husband into the orphan club, where I have been a member since my mom passed in 2004. It also removed the last remaining grandparent from the lives of my girls (and their Washington cousins) and the only one with which they had any kind of relationship, tarnished though it may have been. 

We haven’t yet had the “closure” that will come with burial since, truthfully, we’ve not yet make a decision and so her cremains sit on the entertainment center next the the bowl of chocolate I’m sure she would have enjoyed. The only closure has been the returning of the key to her landlady after we spent a month cleaning out her apartment. She had few belongings and even fewer with sentimental value as she had long since sold off her things when she sold her house then had to replace them with second-hand purchases when she moved into her own apartment. So her passing left us with the usually tawdry duties of paying her final expenses, notifying creditors of her passing and emptying her apartment. Odds and ends were disbursed to the kids. Loads of clothes and tchotchkes were taken to local thrift stores. The rest was carted and piled into our laundry room where we had slowly picked and decided and tossed, whittling the pile down to a few boxes of photos. And in those photos we have found immense value. 

Phyllis had some photos tucked here and there. Mostly from family we know but some, we believe, from people she had met recently. No one we had a connection to. Then...tucked in the back of the closet was a suitcase that belonged to her mother, Helen Weekes Campbell, who passed away in November of 1979 (but returned in the form of Monica, born seven months later).Inside this case were photos..FAMILY photos. Some snapshots.Some professional. Some identified but many...were not. Some we know. Others….Who ARE these people?! Mark didn’t recognize them. Little Nana (Helen) was born in Lynn, Massachusetts. When she married Charles, they moved to California and never really looked back although Helen never lost her New England "accent". She was descended from Stephen Hopkins who signed the Mayflower Compact. She had many “people” but most all were still on the east coast, many on Cape Cod. I started scanning photos into a “mystery family” folder then signed into my account. 

Mark’s family tree heads off on a few tangents because of the Mayflower history and those records have given me names of “leaves” on unfamiliar branches that I didn’t think I’d ever need but added them to our tree in hopes they might eventually help with confirming other leaves as needed. I found members of those distant families, whose trees correlated with mine and started sending messages via Ancestry, offering up photos in exchange for identifications.First one connection in Nova Scotia - New Scotland, home of the Campbells. Then another. And another. Photos were identified. Others remained in the "folder of mystery". Excited emails were exchanged. The most recent connection started out on Ancestry then, thank Gods for social networking, a friend request on Facebook from Mark’s second cousin, once removed (I’m trusting him on that) who lives in Florida. He proceeded to post on FB some of the photos I had sent, sending out feelers to his cousins. As he started “a firestorm”. Too stinking fun to read the comments and chat back and forth with family, even if it is distant family. Memories of events and of pictures “that grandma had hanging in an oval frame”. The level in my “mystery family” folder is going down as the “old family photos” fills up. 

Of course, these are not MY family. They are names Mark remembers and some I have heard in passing over the past 40 years in conversations with Phyllis. Some, were never mentioned because even she had not met them. In those cases, I suspect the pictures were sent, as some of us do, in Christmas cards to catch up our friends and relations on our lives and those of our children.  The thing is, often we don’t keep those photos and I’m thinking that maybe we should.  We should label them, including the year and squirrel them away in a box for our children to find years from now.  And for THEM to contact distant friends and relations and make connections on whatever comes after and Facebook. When I’m done with the scanning and identifying, I will bundle up the photos and ship them across the country to the family members who will most enjoy them.  Or maybe….we’ll deliver them ourselves.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

With Arms Wide Open

I know it's been awhile.  Although it may seem to the contrary sometimes, I generally feel that, if I have nothing worth saying, why take your time making you read something not worth reading.  Today, I have something to say.

Today was a cop funeral.  There was a funeral cortege that stretched from the Boardwalk in Santa Cruz to the HP Pavilion in San Jose.  There were flags flown from fire trucks.  Salutes from fellow officers.  There were police officers from across the country in cars and on motorcycles.  There were bagpipes.  I didn't know Butch Baker or Elizabeth Butler, officers of the Santa Cruz Police Department but I knew cops like them.  I KNOW cops like them.  I know Santa Cruz.  I know Santa Cruz Police Department.  I know their badge numbers, 172 and 105 because I DISPATCHED those badge numbers.  Those were numbers that belonged to officers I knew, people that meant something to me.

All of the publicity from the time of the horrific shooting barely more than a week ago clutched at my heart as I read Facebook posts and Twitter feeds from media and from people I know who knew them. People whose hearts were breaking.  People who didn't know them also feel that pain because they do the same job every day that those officers did, the same jobs they were doing when their lives were taken.  I also thought back to my days as dispatcher and some of the more memorable calls, all of which paled to the job those dispatchers did on that day.  What put me over the edge, what brought me out from behind a curtain of unfamiliarity was a reference on Twitter to the dispatchers. Mark Woodward, @NativeSantaCruz on Twitter tweeted: "I've listened to police scanners for years but was not prepared for what just happened".  I knew at once what he heard.  This FINAL CALL went out....the End of Watch for Sgt. Butch Baker and Detective Elizabeth Butler called by a Santa Cruz Police Dispatcher who knew them both.  I found the recording on YouTube and listened.  As she ended her call.."Santa Cruz clear....KMA233"., I cried.  I heard those FCC call letters I recited dozens of times every day.  That girl is tough. Of course she is, she's a dispatcher.  Tough.  Cool.  Calm.  I cried.  I cried for two people I didn't know.  I cried for the people who know them. I cried for the people I know who do that job every day with little respect.

I know  that, for the next week or so, the officers in Santa Cruz will receive hugs and respect and offers of coffee and lunch which, of course, they are not allowed to accept.  The citizens will go back to their lives, their jobs.  They'll go back to speeding to work and cursing the cop that gives them the ticket.  They'll go back to growing dope and teaching their children that cops are the bad guys... unless and until someone tries to rip them off  at which time, of course, they will call for help.  As for the cops?  They will have taken their black ribbon and "thin blue line" from their Facebook profiles.  The flags will once-again be raised to the tops of the flagpoles.  Life will return to patrolling their streets and taking reports and investigating crimes.  They will be even more aware than they were two weeks ago, however, of their safety.  They will be more vigilant about wearing their body armor.  Their husbands and wives will breathe even more deeply a sigh of relief when they walk through the door safely each night to kiss their family and do it again another day. To quote Sgt. Phil Esterhaus..."be careful out there."

NOTE: My titular reference was for James Durbin who sang that Creed song at the funeral.