Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Change in the Weather

When I got up this morning, the barometer had dropped, big-time. By mid-morning the wind had come up so badly I could hardly see across the valley for all the blowing dust. Yesterday, knowing this was in the forecast, I picked tomatoes and peppers, then drafted Aries to help me get the grapes and pears. So this is what my kitchen counter looked like this morning.

And it still looks like that tonight. I had a dentist appointment this morning, and then Pilates. The chair of our fundraising golf tournament committee brought over all the money from the day of the tournament plus all the sponsors' checks she'd been holding in case we had to cancel the tournament. So this afternoon it took me more than an hour to get a deposit slip made out, everything totaled up, and the books brought up to date.

We also have to be out of the building donated to us for the Rummage Sale by the end of the month. Other members have taken care of cleaning out everything that didn't sell, but the sign guy that said he'd take my sign off the windows never did. Tomorrow is supposed to be a lot colder, so if I'm gonna be slopping around with a bucket and sponge, this afternoon was going to be the best time to do it. So after getting the deposit to the bank, I swung by the storefront and washed the paint off the windows.

I'd already gotten the last of the Burbank Red Ace plums picked a couple of days ago. That's a wonderful plum - if I only had one plum tree, it would be that one (but it needs a pollinator - Starking Delicious is almost as good, and although that tree was almost killed by rabbits walking on deep snowpack one year, girdling it two feet above the ground, it spouted back from lower on the trunk and blooms enough to keep me in plenty of plums about every third year or so). The Burbank has a weeping form, so needs more space than an upright tree, but sets lovely big red firm juicy plums that ripen incrementally over almost a month's time.

I eat them right from the tree whenever I'm out in the yard starting in late August, and then dry whatever the birds leave me by late September. Cut in half around the equator (easier to tip and twist the pit out) they're better than any prunes you'd buy in the store. I packed away two gallon bags full of dried plums, leaving a little bowl of those not-quite-dry enough out to snack on now. Next into the dehydrator will be the grapes in that big grey tub. The tomatoes I'll can as whole tomatoes, and most of the bell peppers I'll freeze cut into 1" pieces - that's on my schedule for tomorrow.

Junior was still setting her nest out in front, but she was right under the eave of the shed, and if the rain comes it would be dripping right on her. So after getting all the grapes off the grapevine that grows on the side of the dog run/brood pen, I got the pen all set up with food, water, and a nice little protected nest. Last night, in the dark, we scooped up Junior and all her eggs and put her on the nest I'd made up. She settled in ok, and this morning was still there. We'll give her a few more days setting time - at least now she's a bit more out of the weather, just in case anybody hatches.

Temperatures are dropping, but it's not supposed to freeze tonight. But I decided to cover the tomatoes and some of the pepper plants, just in case. So just before dark I got out my bin of old draperies. If I can protect the plants during the September cold snaps, we'll often get a spate of Indian Summer weather in October - long enough to ripen a few more vegetables before everything has to be inside or perish. The really cold weather is supposed to be Wednesday and Thursday nights, so I'll see what it does tonight before deciding to cover everything tomorrow, or just pick it all.

As long as I'm blathering on about my harvest, I have something really bizarre out there this year. In June, when I was thinning the apples, I cut back one of my apple trees that had long whippy branches, hoping to shape it into more fruiting spurs and a stronger branch structure in the future. Some of those headed-back branches are blossoming now, in September. Of course, those blossoms will get frozen any day now, but I think it's so strange that even though this tree set a nice crop of apples that we just picked a few weeks ago, it's trying to make another crop without having gone through any chilling period or dormancy. The only thing I can think is that the daylight hours are now the same as they'd be during the Spring Equinox, normal blooming time. Has anyone ever heard of such a thing?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Another Big Weekend in N Nevada

After the Labor Day weekend, lots of our summer tourists head back home to get the kids back in school, not to be seen again until Christmas break skiing. This area really tries to lure them back in the meantime, with lots of big September events. It makes sense, really, September is usually a beautiful time of year around here, and this is an area that runs on tourist money.

The Fallon Air Show was back this year, at the Fallon Naval Air Station (ever see the movie Top Gun? that's what they do there. It's a real ear buster window rattler WTF was that thrill driving out on Hwy 50 East across a deserted valley, and being buzzed by a trio of fighter jets). Then, there were the Reno Air Races, and the following weekend the Balloon Races in Reno and the Camel Races in Virginia City.

This weekend, I'm living with the almost constant roar of motorcycles on the highway two blocks below us, all day long and way into the night. It's Street Vibrations time in Reno - "a celebration of motorcycles, metal, and music." Of course, a celebration of motorcycles means they're on the move, up to Virginia City, around the lake, with events spilling over to every bike shop and dealership in the area. Our roads are clogged with long dual strings of motorcycles.

While the men are out on the roads, the women are heading to Genoa. The Candy Dance Arts & Crafts Faire this weekend draws thousands to check out the hundreds of craft booths. Normally, that's where I'd have spent my Saturday. It's been an annual tradition for some of my Lake Tahoe girlfriends to meet up there for lunch and browsing.

But noooo, not this year for me. My Soroptimist Club puts together a big fundraising golf tournament each year. Since most of the funds raised go to pay for mammograms (over $17,000 last year), we schedule the tournament for early October, Breast Cancer Awareness month. But by October, our weather can be iffy - very nice Indian Summer sometimes, or like last year, 40 mph winds blowing snow. So this year, we changed it to late September.

I took this photo the first year we held the tournament, nine years ago. And while it makes a very eye-catching photo, I was lobbying against the balloon release right from the start. Pretty flying balloons eventually pop, and become non-degradable, wildlife-threatening litter. I'm happy to say that, finally, this year there was no balloon release. We had the balloons tied to the carts and they stayed there while the golfers played, then were properly disposed of by the cart crew when the tournament was over.

I like being outside, so I usually volunteer to be a witness on one of the special par-3 holes where we have a prize (a car, a vacation cruise) for a hole-in-one. So this Saturday, from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m, I was sitting in a golf cart on Eagle Valley Golf's East Course hole #8. No hole-in-ones, although one group had a very nicely-played birdie. And instead of sitting wrapped up in a sleeping bag, I was glad I'd brought a blanket and clothespins to turn my cart into a little shade tent. It was downright HOT!! with temperatures in the upper-80's by the time I got to come in. And now, that's one more thing I get to cross off my crowded September list of things to do.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Peach Salsa

I had a day to myself with no outside commitments today. A couple of weeks ago, I'd changed my decor over to fall colors (my favorites), and have been slowly getting the summer stuff cleaned and stored away. The table linens and kitchen items I can wash at home, but the summer bed quilts are too big for my washing machine. It was going to be a beautiful warm day with little wind, so the first thing I did was gather up the quilts and blankets (and our sleeping bags too - after camping for a week at Tahoe I might as well) and headed to the other end of town to a laundromat that has big 50-pound front-loading washers.

The sleeping bags I dried there for a while - they fluff up better when tumble-dried. The attendant even offered me six tennis balls to put in with them - soaking up a bit more moisture, and pummeling the bag fillings to fluff them up even more. The blankets and quilts are all cotton, so I brought them home damp to dry out on the clothesline. I love the smell of sun-dried cotton bedding, and I'd rather not beat up my quilts any more than necessary.

So, once home and with everything hung outside to dry, it was time to finish up processing peaches and chiles. A few days ago, I'd had time to peel and chop the peaches. I've measured 2-pint increments in my enameled pot, and notched an old wooden spoon handle - fifteen pounds of peaches ended up being a little over 11 pints. I'd sprinkled the top layer with lime juice and put the whole thing into the refrigerator until I had time to make a batch of salsa. I'm probably not going to have enough tomatoes to make a tomato salsa this year - all I have will be canned as whole tomatoes and tomato sauce. So this peach salsa will be my only salsa.

I put the peaches on to start cooking them down a bit (using a flame-tamer over my gas burner), and 9 pint jars into a canner-ful of water to start heating up to sterilize. I checked the freezer - might as well clean out all peppers left from last year. I had a few chiles left, plus a couple of roasted and peeled bell peppers and some sliced jalapenos. Thawed and minced up, they made up almost a cup, so I'd only need another cup for the salsa. The rest of the chiles from this year's harvest could go into the freezer.

The chiles I'd roasted a couple of days ago had been stored in the bag in the refrigerator, so I put on some (latex surgical) gloves and started on them. The big straight chiles are easiest to clean. Each one I folded into a little "packet" and put on a cookie sheet to freeze. Afterwards, dumped into a freezer bag, it's easy to grab however much I want at a time. The littler chiles, and the curved ones that got mashed and broken while roasting, I added to the measuring cup to use right away.

Peach (or Nectarine) Salsa (makes 8-9 pints)
12 - 15 pounds peaches (or nectarines), peeled and chopped
2 cups onions, finely diced (I used red onions, for the color)
2 cups chiles or peppers, roasted, peeled and chopped, or seeded and minced if fresh
2 tablespoons minced fresh garlic
2 bunches cilantro, minced (makes about 1 cup)
2 tablespoons non-iodized salt
2 tablespoons sugar (optional, to taste)
up to 1 tablespoon hot pepper powder (optional, to taste)

lime juice

Simmer peaches, cooking down to about 9 pints. Add rest of ingredients, except for lime juice. Cook down to about 9 pints.

Put 1 tablespoon lime juice in each sterilized pint jar. Fill jars, to 1/4" headspace, seal. Process in boiling water bath 30 minutes (that's for my Carson City altitude, at 5,000 feet; process for 20 minutes if you're below 3,000, or add 5 more minutes for each 2,000 feet above 6,000).

A few additional notes: To make a milder or hotter salsa, do not change the amount of chile peppers, change the type. You can use all roasted and peeled bell peppers for a really mild salsa, or add some minced habaneros if you really want to to get crazy. I added a tablespoon of chipotle powder to this batch - it added a nice smoky complexity to the sweet and hot, but also darkened the color quite a bit. I also seeded and minced up some fresh jalapenos I'd just picked - just to add a bit more texture and color - enough to bring the amount up to two cups. One of these years, I'm thinking I'll just grind up the peaches without peeling them - might make it even more colorful.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Roasting Chiles

I got a good peach crop this year, and set aside 15 pounds to make a batch of salsa. I'm just about out of roasted and peeled chiles from last year, so before I can make salsa I needed more chiles.

So I headed out to the garden with a basket and clippers, and found plenty of green California chiles on my six plants. Next comes one of my favorite fall food prep activities - roasting the chiles (I've written a how-to for the whole process: roasting to char the skins, leaving the chiles to sweat in a bag, removing the skins and seeds (gloves on!), and then freezing or canning them for use throughout the year here).

Roasting chiles just says fall to me. I guess because I always pick a nice September evening to spend out on the deck. Even though the nights have started getting cooler, the days are still warm, and the shadow of the house on our east-facing deck feels good. The chickens scratch in the yard below; the sun still shines on part of the valley floor and Prison Hill to the east. I lift a chilled glass of a crisp Sauvignon Blanc in my annual silent toast/prayer of thanks for another harvest, and fire up the propane grill. The wonderful smell of roasting chiles soon fills the air, as I use my tongs to flip and turn the chiles.

This year, my sweet husband fetched home a Take-n-Bake pizza from the little shop down the street. He dressed it up with more veggies, fresh from the garden, before putting in the oven, and soon brings a plate out to me. Wine and pizza and a peaceful evening out on the deck - this truly is one of my favorite fall rituals.

By the time I've gone through all the chiles in the basket, the shadows have fallen across the valley floor. The last light of the setting sun makes a pinkish glow on the Pine Nut mountains. I have a lot to be thankful for.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Junior Chicken

Two weeks ago, while shutting the poultry in for the night, I realized two hens were missing. Neither Penny Redstar nor Junior were in the coop. Two nights later, I finally found where Penny was roosting, up on top of a storage rack in the tool shed. After two nights of moving her back into the coop after dark, she's now been back inside every night.

But I couldn't find Junior. I didn't see her out and about during the day either, now that I was looking for her. I was hoping that coyotes hadn't gotten her (always a possibility when a chicken, or cat, won't stay inside the fences), and that she'd just hidden a nest somewhere.

Junior is so named because, of all Missy's babies, she's the one that ended up looking just like Missy (read more about our adventures with Missy here). Even though Junior looks just like a little Brown Leghorn, she's also part Amerucana and lays nice big green eggs (one sister, Baldy, also looks like Missy but with no feathers or comb atop her head - due to an unfortunate mishap when she was just a pullet. She almost died, but with some liquid spray bandage and a couple days in a box in the house, she pulled through. Baldy, however, lays little white eggs).

Anyway, thinking Junior was quite a bit like Missy, I figured I'd give her until early October before thinking we'd lost her. This morning, while working out in the yard I heard a chicken murmuring over by the lilacs, looking for a bite to eat. It was Junior! I gave her some feed, and then sat back to watch for a bit. She was hungry and thirsty - gobbling down the food, getting some water, back to the food, back to the water.

Finally sated, she did a bit of preening and feather-ruffling, occasionally turning a beady little chicken eye in my direction. But after dealing with Missy and the guineas, I'm an experienced poultry stalker. I pretended to be very interested in something off to my right, meanwhile keeping an eye on her in my peripheral vision. She eventually headed around the corner of the house to my left, and I followed. She stopped, so I kept walking towards the garage. I snuck back in time to catch her going through the cat's hole under the fence, but once through it she was nowhere in sight.

That meant she had to be close, so I started checking under the Oregon Grape, right outside the gate, in front of the little shed. There she was, and she let me know she wasn't very happy at being found.

And just like her mother, here's why. I don't know if Coach, our bantam rooster, ever managed to catch Junior, but if he did and she's anything like Missy she'll be a really good mother. So, for now, I'll let her stay out there until the first of October (or the weather turns really nasty), and get the brood pen ready, just in case.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Peachy-keen, Jellybean

I love tree-ripened peaches. My dad planted a couple of peach trees when I was a kid, and I was thereafter spoiled for supermarket peaches. I'll see them in the store and they look pretty, but there's no aroma. You can take them home and they'll soften, but they never will taste like peaches. I want my peaches still warm from the sun, eaten right there next to the tree, bending over to keep the juice from dripping down my shirt.

I have a couple of peach trees, but because of our typical tricky Spring weather, here they're an every-third or -fourth year type of crop. My mature nectarine tree set a crop this year, but then succumbed to borers (I'm just heartsick - they're in my pie cherry tree too). Aries cut it down today, but left a sprout that came up from the roots so I'll have to see what comes from that before digging it out completely. I have a pitiful twisted little July Elberta peach tree trying to hang in there. I got about 1/2 bushel of peaches from it three weeks ago. I managed to get a few trays of slices into the dehydrator, and have been stuffing myself on fresh peaches daily since then.

And then, there's what I call the Seedling peach tree. I don't know what kind it is. It just sprouted one summer under the edge of our woodpile. I figure a squirrel buried a seed it stole from somewhere - I don't think it's an Elberta, because its fruit ripens almost a month later. I transplanted the little seedling to the edge of the garden, and then out in the orchard. It's since grown into a nice tree. It lost a couple of branches to borers this year, but is still doing pretty good. I've been testing and tasting, patiently waiting for those peaches to get ripe and hoping the birds will leave me some (I hung a bunch of junk CD's in the branches - hoping the sun glinting as they turn in the wind will frighten them off).

Finally, it was peach-picking day today. The bird-pecked ones I cut into chunks and put into the dehydrator (no room in my freezer). I gave my neighbor a bagful, and made a batch of jam this afternoon. I've set aside 15 pounds for a batch of salsa, and have enough to gorge myself on for a couple more weeks. Eating seasonally from my own labors means I've got to get my fresh peach fix when I can. Oh, but they're soooooo good while they last!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Soroptimist Fundraising

I've been soooo busy. With the days getting shorter and the nights chillier, the garden and orchard are crying out for attention. Even though I didn't get to harvest some things I usually do, I am getting plenty of others (isn't that the way it always is?). At least we've been lucky to have some nice mellow weather, so I'm not to the panic stage of harvesting yet.

But my Soroptimist Club has been keeping me hopping. Money in this economy is getting tighter and tighter, and the need keeps growing, so service organizations like mine have to work even harder to raise funds. We're lucky to have a couple of endowments we've invested, but with interest rates so low we're now starting to use up the principle. We've got our big golf tournament to raise funds for mammograms next weekend, but sign-up numbers are down from what they've been in the past so we're trying to keep coming up with new ideas (and of course, every other non-profit and service organization in the area is in the same straits).

So we threw together another rummage sale, held today. There are lots of businesses going under right now, and lots of empty storefronts in town. We managed to get the use of an empty store donated to us for the past month. We're a tax-exempt organization so the owners get a tax write-off by letting us use what would have been empty anyway, and we had a nice place to gather, organize, price items, and hold our sale. I have a steady hand with a paintbrush and good spatial awareness, so I dug out my old tempera paints and a little ladder, and spent an afternoon painting a window sign (and got quite a step-workout in the process). With the advent of computer graphics, no one does painting by hand any more, so someone hand-lettering is always a good attention-getter. One of the guys from the sign shop next shop down even volunteered to wash the window for me afterwards. We made some money, and will be donating items that didn't sell to other charities. I'm just so glad it's over.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Labor Day Holiday

After camping last week, it's nice spending a quiet holiday weekend close to home. I put my Nevada and American flags out on the deck railing this morning. I like flying our flags on the holidays. I've been catching up on the laundry - only one wash load per day to lessen the impact on the septic system, putting up food for the winter (blanched and froze cauliflower and some corn today), and starting on my fall cleaning. Aries has been on vacation for the past two weeks, so he's been getting a lot of fall chores done around the house too.

While out and about around town today, we saw quite a few "Burner" cars passing through on their way back home to California - instantly recognizable by the thick white coating of playa dust (PLY-ya: Spanish for beach or shore, here it refers to our alkaline dry lake beds out in the desert). Burners, around here this time of year, means people that have been spending their holiday weekend at Black Rock City, temporary encampment for the week to the 50,000 people that gather each year in the Black Rock Desert east of here for the Burning Man, "art community event". I hear it's quite the experience, but I've never really seen the appeal in paying more than $350 to hang out in the heat and blowing dust. I much prefer my camping time be spent up at Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, or in the Redwoods.

Sunday, September 6, 2009


Miss me? I've been camping - no electricity, no computer, no television. We spent the past week on the west shore of Lake Tahoe, only 40 miles drive from the house. It was such a wonderful respite from everything.

So now I've come home to a garden and orchard begging to be harvested and processed, a cellar that needs to be scrubbed down and readied to start filling, and my turn to post on the SGF Co-op blog (I wrote about cold soup, with my favorite recipes for gazpacho and borscht). I'll be back to posting again here shortly.