30 September 2008


My main accomplishment last weekend was harvesting the bulk of the plums from our backyard tree. These are gorgeous, meaty Italian plums, with purple skins and yellow-gold flesh. I triaged them into (1) wrinkly: stew into compote for freezing; (2) firm-to-ripe: bake into tarts and/or eat over the next week or two; and (3) ready to go NOW.

I can't think of too many things more fulfilling than standing on a stepladder in your own back yard, shoulder-high in fresh fruit, sunlight glinting on the leaves all around you. Abundance.

The yield looked a lot like this picture from the year before last. I see that the harvest was two weeks earlier this season. Curious, since we had such a late, cold spring and a not very warm summer.

Speaking of matters agricultural, I've been meaning to post something about the bee-in (my term, not theirs) that we attended at Zenger Farm -- a working organic farm about 10 minutes from us in outer Southeast Portland -- a couple of weeks ago. A beautiful young woman, Jill Kuehler, executive director of Friends of Zenger Farm, introduced us to the place (note the solar panels above her) and then turned us over to a series of mini-tour guides -- Laura Masterson of 47th Avenue Farm, Mace Vaughn of the Xerces Society, and finally Wisteria Loeffler of Zenger’s Community Bee Project and her comb-wrangling colleague whose name I didn't get.

We learned more about pollination than I thought was possible at our age, including the fact that tomato flowers, because of their structure, are very hard to pollinate and require specialized vibrational behavior (a hum job, you might say) on the part of the bee.

The filmmaker who produced The Real Dirt on Farmer John happened to be there, with a sound guy, shooting footage for his next film. He really got in those little guys' faces.

Yesterday, I pitted 170 plums (I counted the pits) and stewed up a vat of plum compote. I'll freeze most of it in smaller containers. It'll be great for spooning over pancakes this winter, or ice cream, or folding into cake batter, or eating straight. Tomorrow I plan to bake a plum tart or three.

Back in April when the plum tree flowered, the blossoms seemed fairly sparse compared to the last couple of years. Plus, we had to cut one major branch in preparation for building the deck. I thought the harvest might be down this season, but that's obviously not the case. Good job, bees, on that pollination thing.

26 September 2008

When I'm 74

Today is Jerry's birthday. Doesn't he look good for a boy his age?

I got him a super-geeky gift, a t-shirt that displays wi-fi signal strength at the wearer's location. See? It's four bars inside, and two on the porch. This should be lots of fun strolling Hawthorne.

And here's the cake. It's chocolate, of course, under all that chocolate. Some people make fun of quilters for cutting up perfectly good fabric and sewing it back together again. This icing is just bittersweet chocolate, melted and mixed with a little cream. When it sets it's basically pure chocolate again. I see nothing wrong with that.

I've discovered that eating chocolate late in the day -- say, after a dinner of poulet Dijonnaise en filo, which is Jer's traditional birthday request, therefore on the menu for this evening -- keeps me awake at night every bit as much as coffee. So I encouraged the birthday boy to cut into his cake for breakfast. It didn't take much to persuade him. Happy birthday to you, sweetie.

17 September 2008

Just desserts

We've been on a baking kick lately. A couple of weeks ago, Jer made this cream-cheese-fruit tart with a shortbread crust. It was insanely delicious and, of course, very rich. He's making it again for dinner guests this weekend.

I was in the mood to do a big ol' classic streusel-topped coffee cake. I used Oregon hazelnuts in the topping and added a layer of apples and pears -- all windfalls from trees in the neighborhood -- plus a handful of local blueberries. This ended up as one of our contributions to the Rural Street block party.

Now that September's here, the Italian plums on our backyard tree are starting to come in. We're not deluged yet, but check back in a week or two. My mom used to make a plum kuchen, but I couldn't find her recipe so I used another one. The crust is more delicate than what she called her "cookie dough" crust, not that that's a problem. I need to do some more digging, though, and find Mom's version. It's around here somewhere.

01 September 2008

The Pony Project

We're behind the curve, curb-wise.

The Portland Horse Project started not long after Jer and I moved here. I added it to the list of reasons why I loved our new home town. I even acquired a couple of dollar-store ponies, thinking we'd tether them to the pair of rings right down the block. That was ages ago; inertia is a very powerful force.

According to Platial.com, there's a significant installed base of plastic equines around town. I don't know if anyone is actively installing ponies in Portland anymore, but we still spot new ones occasionally. So we finally got our act together, and turned Shadow and Goldie out to graze across the road from each other on Rural Street.

Are we kids, or what? Neigh; we're conceptual artists!

Breaking Through

I've had this piece on my design wall since early March -- literally six months ago, oy -- and finally finished it a couple of days ago. I began by pawing through my bag o' remnants, mostly commercial fabrics, pulled some out, arranged them by color and value, and strip-pieced a series of scraps into a long, meandering ribbon. Then I added the spiky shapes on the sides, piecing some into the background, and fusing others. The paler spikes on the bottom are sheers -- plant-dyed organza and a cut-up polyester chiffon scarf (thanks, Mom) -- that I appliqued on, last thing.

I still haven't decided which perspective to take; it could be a plant growing out of the ground or sunlight shining through a slot canyon. My husband suggested the name Breaking Through, which I like because it works either way. It also symbolizes for me the political struggle that's been going on in this country for most of this year; I hope it'll prove prophetic and that we'll truly break through into the light, come November.

Jer has been gung-ho about this quilt since the beginning, and had it up on the wall behind his comfy chair half an hour after I finished sewing. It's sort of a companion piece to Occasional Sunbreaks, which hangs across the room.