Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

Well, we're sitting here in the house and waiting. The waiting is always the hard part. For days now the exact path and landfall location of Hurricane Sandy was in question. And there was also always the outside chance it would head east, out to sea. From the looks of it now, though, it will be barreling into New Jersey, although from the direction of the storm's winds the ocean water will be forced in such a way that the storm surge will be pretty bad, even here on the north shore of Long Island. Hurricane Sandy is a category 1 hurricane with winds of 90 mph and a pressure of 943 mb. It may be an odd thought, but maybe there was a reason besides needing more sun on our garden that had us cutting that tree down last week, before we knew this storm was coming. It not only shaded our garden, but hung over into the neighbor's yard, with large branches brushing up against their roof and windows and hanging over their fence. Just minutes ago a large branch snapped off the fairly huge maple tree just outside our kitchen door. The sound of the snap and crash had us all running to see what tree had fallen. Rick, who minutes before warned us not to venture down to the beach to see what was happening, grabbed his camera and went outside to snap a picture of the tree. He wanted to update his blog post. Annalee suggested we sneak out the front door while he was busy in the back, but the wind is gusting pretty bad and it's probably not such a great idea to dash down the street. Last year's hurricane devastated the road that runs along the dunes -- now down to a footpath rather than a street -- and I wonder how the houses are faring. Anyway, hopefully no other trees will fall, but the worst of the wind has yet to hit. Back to waiting. The electric company warned of power outages of up to 10 days. The lights just blinked, so I'm turning off the computer!
Rick forwarded me the photo of the downed branch.
Probably the first of many more branches we'll have to cut and bundle.
And here I thought we were done after we chopped & bundled the tree last week!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Rick Gets His Lumberjack On

I didn't post all that much this summer on solar cooking. Our yard has a good amount of trees; finding a sunny spot is difficult. Well, there are some sunny spots, but I couldn't place the solar oven on top of the tomatoes. The rest of the sunny spots don't stay that way for long so you really needed to chase the sun if you wanted to cook a meal. And, more often than not, it was Rick who kept the solar oven hopping about the yard when we did give it a try. He spent a lot of time out in the yard this past summer, building the garden back up, creating a super compost pile, and going out late at night to pick bugs off the plants. He'd spritz himself with some homemade bug spray I made, grab the hefty flashlight, and march outside to protect the plants. A man on a mission.

The garden is 40' wide, but never all in sun.
But the garden wasn't getting as much sun as needed, either. The plants themselves looked healthy, but they weren't producing near the amounts of vegetables that we used to get back when we first bought our house thirty-one years ago, nor anywhere close to what folks say a plant should yield. We have photos of Erica standing amidst the zucchini plants as a child, completely dwarfed by the plants, and holding up a gorgeous zucchini. We had a freezer in the basement to store all the surplus food we grew. Now we can't grow zucchini, they just don't thrive. We're lucky if each of our tomato plants got a dozen tomatoes on them. Something had to be done.

With both myself and Rick technically considered unemployed now (although I think we're working a whole lot harder now and definitely being more creative and productive), we figured we really needed to take a good look at how much more we could do for ourselves. We've always had a garden, but it had become a side thought for years, not well tended. I always minded the herbs and Rick was the vegetable guy, but we both were too busy to give the garden the attention it needed. Over the past few years, though, since he closed his photolab, Rick has slowly started getting it back into shape. Inside, we're dehydrating, canning, and fermenting (again, it's mostly Rick's hard work). But we really needed to do something with the yard. When Rick gets a thought in his head he takes action. Me, I procrastinate. He said we need to chop down some trees. I agreed. If we wanted the garden to produce more we needed more light. If I wanted to actually solar cook, I needed sun. But easier said than done, at least in my opinion. But not Rick's. He marched down to the garage and got some pruners. He marched into the basement and got the chainsaw. He went to the shed and got his work gloves. He grabbed the twine and scissors. He was ready. When the man says he's gonna do something, by gosh, he goes and does it. Huge sigh. Guess I had to help.

One of the things I've always loved about Rick is he pushes me to work harder than I would on my own. When I was young I envisioned a life of watching old movies and eating chocolates, or sitting curled up reading my way through a huge stack of books. Maybe sitting in the sun, a drawing pad on my lap, and my pens and ink nearby. I was a daydreamer, a romantic. Who wants to go outside in the dark to pick slugs or beetles off vegetable plants? Who wants to run a 10 mile race? Who wants to can vegetables late at night after dealing with colicky kids all day? His mother is like the freaking Energizer Bunny, so I should have known he'd inherit some of her genes. Years ago, when he was working 100 hour weeks in his photolab, he would often get home after midnight. I would have had an exhausting day, trying to do my layout editing job while running the girls around to all their activities, and by midnight was ready to collapse. Sometimes I would grab a cup of tea or a glass of wine and my favorite book and sit and read until I heard his truck pulling into the driveway. Then I'd hurriedly start reheating his dinner and arrange myself to look as if I was doing something, anything, besides sitting and reading. One time, after a long fourteen hour day, he came home and started canning tomatoes. Despite the fact that I really do love that he makes me work harder than my lazy self wants to, I have to admit that there are times I'd love to smack him with my cast iron pot. I think that was one of those times.

I'll miss the tree, but hopefully its sacrifice won't be in vain.
So, back to the yard. I dragged my sorry self outside to help as best I could. We had just watched the new Lorax movie Friday evening and felt a slight pang as we both mouthed the words, "who will speak for the trees?" but we knew some of them needed to come down in order to get more sunlight on the garden. After chopping down some huge branches and pruning some trees, Rick chopped down the mulberry tree. After it came crashing down, our neighbor stuck his head out the window and yelled, "got your lumberjack on today, huh?"

I should probably go to sleep. It's supposed to be another warm sunny day tomorrow and we have quite a bit to clean up. I think I'll actually take some chicken out of the freezer and cook it in the solar oven while I bundle the branches and twigs. Celebrate our new-found sun. Sounds like a plan. 

And, as a P.S. to this post, I'd love to add that Erica inherited her grandmother's and father's hardworking gene. She has also followed in her father's footsteps in the push mom (me) to do things she isn't particularly thrilled to do category. In this case, learn to knit. Although I have to admit I'm actually finding it kind of fun. Maybe there's something to be said for doing things outside your comfort zone, getting past the laziness barrier, continuing to learn. I am almost done with my very first project -- a super simple shawl. I'm really excited about it. You can read more about my progress on Erica's blog and on my other one. So my work is cut out for me over the next week. I need to finish my knit shawl and I need to help clear the yard.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Tomato Scrap Sauce

Rick and I are dehydrating vegetables day in and day out now, like squirrels getting ready for winter. Canning, fermenting, and dehydrating all the fresh local vegetables so we can still eat "local and in season" until next season's crop rolls in. So far we've done tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, carrots, celery, scallions, mushrooms, jalapenos, peaches, apples, and we're working on onions now. To be truthful, Rick has been doing the bulk of the work. Lucky for me, because cutting up onions is pretty brutal. I've gone in to help him several times and it sounded like we were having a good cry with lots of tears and sobbing sniffly noises. A friend came over last night and was very concerned until I explained I had been cutting onions. Lucky for us he loves onions because dinner was served with a fresh batch of onions going into the dehydrator!

We actually bought the onions from a farm booth up at the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival, where we've played for the past seven or eight years (along with seven more pounds of garlic to add to the five pounds Rick grew). We managed to snag the last 25 lb. bag the guy had. Our trip home from the festival was an amazing assortment of smells with onions, garlic, pesto, vinegar, pickles, chocolates, and cookies permeating the car.

Tomato scraps with fresh herbs and garlic from the garden
Anyway, Rick's one handy guy to have around, always making bread, fermenting (sauerkraut, kim chi, cortido, kombucha, kefir, pickles . . .), working in the garden, raking leaves, making an awesome compost pile, and countless other chores to keep our little homestead running smoothly. Prior to the onion purchase I had bought sixty pounds of tomatoes from the farmstand a few miles down the road, plus we set aside another twenty pounds from our garden to dehydrate. When we cut the tomatoes up we saved the ends in a bowl, not wanting to waste them. But they started building up, little tiny scraps from either end of the Roma tomatoes we were using. Finally, on another rare sunny day that we were actually home, I decided to just throw them in the pot and with some fresh herbs from the garden and let them cook themselves into a nice fresh tomato sauce out in the solar oven. I didn't bother sautéing anything indoors to start—just threw some olive oil, minced onion, chopped garlic, and the herbs with a dash of salt and pepper into the pot and stuck it outside all day. Easy dinner. After I mixed it in with the (cooked) spaghetti—oops, that was cooked inside—I crumbled some feta cheese on the top and served it. So pretty and so delicious. 

As soon as the onions are done dehydrating—I think we have another four or five loads to get through—I need to dehydrate what's left of our oregano. I think we're done doing tomatoes for this year. All the basil was already dehydrated or is hanging in bunches in the kitchen. After that, well, probably more apples.