"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Friday, June 30, 2017

Coming of Age Custard Pie




I am forty-five years old. Incredibly, there has not been a death in my immediate family since my last living grandparent - Grandma Eva - died when I was about twenty, some twenty-five years ago. My other grandparents were either dead before I was born, or died when I was still very much a child.

As an adult, only a very few people I know have died, principally the mother of my stepfather. Grandma Joann was a lovely woman, who we saw on every holiday and who always remembered my children with presents or cards. The mother of my best friend died of ovarian cancer years ago, and I went to her memorial service.  That represents the sum total of my experience with human death, pretty much.

Never have I, until now, been an adult member of a community celebrating the death of one of its own. The church I belong to, Zion Lutheran, is a small rural church with a long history. I've written about Zion before. I joined in order to meet a deep, incohate need to be part of a congregation - to experience worship as more than a solitary activity - and in order to become more fully a part of the community I had moved into. That relationship has been everything I could have hoped, and more than I could have imagined when I first joined. It has been a deep pleasure, and a rather strange experience for a lifelong loner like me, to slowly become a fully instated, respectable member of a circle of peers. I am, believe it or not (few who knew me as a teenager would) a member of the church council. I sing in the (occasional) choir.

Zion's congregation is old, and small. There are perhaps thirty families who belong, and maybe thirty or forty individuals who show up for services every Sunday. Most of these folk are elderly. If I had to guess at a median age for people seated in the pews on an average Sunday, I'd say about seventy. Many of them were married at Zion a half-century hence, and christened there even longer ago. The grassy, sloping churchyard hosts a couple score of gravestones, many of which bear the names of the parents and grandparents of current members. In the basement, where we gather for coffee hour after service, there is a wall filled with photos going back to the year Zion was built, 1903. In those days, mass was spoken in Norwegian. There is a very real continuity, a living history, embodied in this tiny, local institution.

Last week, the oldest living member of Zion's congregation, H. R., died. She was in her nineties, and had been a member of Zion all her life. Her photo is one of the older ones on there basement wall. My children and I knew her as a neat, friendly, well-dressed, and tiny lady who still drove herself to church. We pressed her small hands when we passed the peace. She had beautiful snow-white hair and a sweet smile. She had deep, deep ties in our area. She will be missed. Her memorial is Saturday.

Yesterday, I got a phone call from another of the OG's of Zion, M. She is above - or behind - or superior to me on Zion's official phone tree, and she was calling me to ask me to bring a dessert to H.'s memorial service.

Of course I was planning to attend the service. But it would not have occurred to me to bring anything if I had not been called. I suppose I would have thought, if I thought anything at all, that H's family would be bringing "refreshments." At the very few memorial services I have attended, the food was just there, as if my magic, and I was a consumer; not a provider. Even when my step-grandma died just a few years ago, I had nothing to do with putting on the service - I just showed up, signed the book, and ate the cheese and crackers. It was only when I answered the phone that I realized I had become, willy-nilly, a person to be called upon. To be counted on. A sister. A matron of the church.

"Yes, of course I'll bring a dessert," I said. "What time is the service?"

"Noon," M. answered me. "Just bring it by anytime before." And then she surprised me by asking what I was going to make.

"I'm not sure," I said, "probably something with rhubarb because I have an awful lot of it."

"Oh good," said M., "rhubarb is my favorite."


Coming of Age Rhubarb Custard Pie

eight cups (or so) chopped fresh rhubarb, from 10 to 12 stems

four store-bought rolled pie crusts, or a double recipe home made

3 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups flour

8 eggs

1/2 cup milk (or more)

tsp salt

Grease a 9 x 13" baking pan. Preheat oven to 375. 

Unroll pastry, or prepare homemade crust and roll out thin. Lay pastry in baking dish, leaving plenty of overlap on the edges. If using store-bought pastry, cut to fit. 

In a large mixing bowl  measure out sugar, four, salt. In a second bowl, beat all 8 eggs together with milk.add wet ingredients to dry, and mix with a fork. If very thick, add a bit more milk until you have a very thick but pourable mixture. Pour over chopped rhubarb and turn to mix, gently. Scrape into the baking dish, spreading to edges. Crimp dough around filling. 

Bake at 375 for approximately 45 minutes until crust is golden and filling is well set. Let cool and top with whipped cream or drizzle with sweetened sour cream. Cut into squares to serve. 









Monday, June 19, 2017

Haku and the Highway

 


Practically the first thing that our neighbors said to us, when we first moved here in 2007, was "I see you have a dog, be careful. This road is hell on dogs." 

This road is a state highway, a two lane road connecting the freeway with the refinery, eight miles west. Tanker trucks ply the road day and night, delivering crude to the refinery and carrying away refined gas.  The speed limit is 50, but of course it isn't always respected. 

Add to that, we live right on top of the hill, and there's an extremely short sight distance from our driveway to the crest. So short, in fact, that the school district said our children couldn't be picked up at our driveway because it wasn't safe; they have to walk a couple hundred yards downhill and wait at a friend's driveway. 

In the ten years we've lived here, there have been three fatal accidents (that I know of) on our road, inside of a half-mile in either direction from our house. 

The dog we had when we moved here, the incomparable Ivory, was far too smart to go on the road. She learned the property's boundaries quickly and seldom strayed. Ivory lived to the ripe old age of fourteen. Haku, on the other hand....

Well, there are many stories on this blog about Haku. He's a difficult dog. A sheep killer. A roamer. A chaser of chickens. A jumper of fences. An eighty pound bundle of energy and mischief. But, this past year, as Haku approached three years of age, we had high hopes that he was settling down. Finally, he seemed to be learning the boundaries and staying close to me when I let the goats out to graze. I was starting to really trust him. 

Last Wednesday, I let the goats out to graze, and Haku stayed close to us for nearly an hour. Oh, he popped in and out of bushes and ran in circles around the back pasture, but he came
Back to check in every couple of minutes. After a while, I noticed he was roaming a little further and coming back to me more slowly when I whistled. I decided it was time to put the goats away and get him inside. 

I lost track of him as I was gathering the goats. I whistled the "come home" whistle constantly  as I drove the goats towards the back pasture. This took about five minutes and no answer. After I locked the goats in, I started back towards the house, still whistling. My girls, hearing me, came out of the house and starting whistling and calling too. 

Then there was a sickening thud and a loud yelp. I ran as fast as I could towards the road, but I was still far away. My daughter Hope screamed "Mom!" 

When I arrived on the front lawn, Haku was lying in the grass, with Hope, Shidezi, and my sister in law Temy gathered around him. Also a woman I didn't recognize. I asked her "are you the one who hit him?" She said "No! I'm
Your neighbor," and pointed towards her house. "I heard it happen." The person who hit him didn't stop.

It looked pretty bad, at first glance. There was a lot of blood and some bright white bones and Haku was crying. Temy (who is a doctor) ran in the house and found gauze and tape and covered the worst, most open wounds. Then she and I and the kind neighbor hoisted Haku
Into the truck and drive to the all-night emergency hospital where, by good luck, our good friend emergency veterinarian A.M. was  on call. 

A.M. Told us immediately she thought it was fifty-fifty Haku would lose that leg. So much skin was missing she didn't know if she'd be able to close the wound, which was heavily contaminated with road grit and oil and plant material. Haku stayed overnight and she did her best. 

In the morning, A.M. Told us she had been able to close the main wound. He was covered, however, with other wounds. He had stitches on all four limbs, and he had lost a lot
of skin off his tail where he had apparently been dragged. But X-rays showed he escaped any major fractures and any organ damage. Haku was one lucky-fucking dog, for a dog who had been hit by a car doing fifty MPH. 

In the days since, we have brought him to our vet twice for wound care. Both times the vet has said he is amazed and surprised at Haku's speedy recovery. He just unwrapped the leg, looked at it, said "wow," and wrapped it back up. Clearly, it will take some time to heal, but it looks like there is no danger of his losing the limb. 

In fact, the main problem we have now, six days out, is keeping him quiet. Haku has apparently decided he isn't hurt at all and there's no reason he shouldn't go tearing around as usual. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Goats are Pretty


Testing the new blogger app. I think I figured out how to upload photos 

   

Test

Test

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Canning Log and Canning Jars



Finally, we seem to have caught up to the calendar. We've had weather hot enough to go to the lake and go swimming, and the first crops are just beginning to show up in local markets - snap peas, asparagus, rhubarb, spinach, radishes. On the farm we've been enjoying our very limited produce: rhubarb, nasturtiums, and tender herbs like chives and lemon balm. I did plant peas, but the vines are only about five inches tall and have not yet begun to flower. Raspberry canes are in flower, though, and there are lots of little green strawberries in the strawberry bed. Today I saw the first blossoms on the blackberry bushes.

I decided I will try to keep a preservation log on the blog this year. Every year, I post what I'm doing in the kitchen when I think about it, but this year I'd like to be a little more methodical about it. I'm going to concentrate on canning, even though that only accounts for about a third of the preservation I do (the other thirds being freezing and smoking or dehydrating). Canning is an event - I usually devote an entire day at a time to it, which makes it easy to document. Of coursed, I've canned a little bit of salsa here and there already this year, but I'm going to start the log with last Sunday.

I'd been to the Gleaner's pantry on Saturday, and I brought back enough produce to mandate a canning session. I made three separate products in one day, which makes me feel especially productive.

- Four quarts of salsa ranchera
- four tall quilted jelly jars of pickled jalapeño peppers
- three pints of pickled beets, all from one enormous beet the size of a baby's head.

I'm not sure if I mentioned that a friend brought me several boxes full of canning jars as a gift. They were helping a friend clean out their mother's house after she moved to assisted living, and the lady had quite a collection. Many of the jars are beautiful, unusual varieties. There are some blue-tinted jars, and some lovely bell-shaped quilted quart sized jars, and some of those neat old square sided jars.

Unfortunately, some of them are old enough to be non-standard, which renders them totally useless for canning. There's very little more annoying than going to all the work of canning a batch of, say, pepper jelly, and sterilizing a bunch of jars only to find at the critical moment that the jar openings are just a little bit off standard.  Sooner or later, I'm going to have to sit down with a standard size lid, a wide-mouth lid, and a big glass of wine and separate the sheep from the goats (so to speak).

Then I'll have to decide what to do with all the pretty but non-functional antiques. I'm a sentimental type, so I can't just recycle them. Maybe I can trade them for something - like more stuff to can!