Wednesday, November 28, 2007


I'm going to Japan on Sunday.

It's very hard to think about anything else...I'm so gosh-darned excited. I have one more garden to put to bed tomorrow and then I'm off. It's pure vacation: I'm going to travel with my friend Cayce, who's been living in Tokyo for just over 2 years. I visited her last April (at the height of cherry blossom season!) and spent the next few months figuring out how to go back. Finally I just broke down and begged.

It's hard to explain why I love Japan SO much. There's an attention to detail, a commitment to quality in everything, from the subway ticket sellers to the tuna auctioneers at Tsukiji fish market. Mostly, it was great travelling with a woman friend who shares so many of my interests: local/ seasonal foods, hiking, people watching, soaking in steamy hot tubs looking out onto snowy rivers... And the fact that Cayce speaks such good Japanese is a huge help. She gets us into places most tourists never see.

One of the focal points of this trip is toji. The province of Yamagata, (northwest Honshu) is loaded with hot springs; traditionally, farmers would take several weeks to relax and recuperate after the harvest was in. A regime of hot baths, hiking, and simple food (that's toji!) was the reward for a season of hard work and it helped people prepare for the hard winter ahead. Cayce and I will have 4 days of toji, so tomorrow when my body is on Central Park West (in the freezing rain, getting my last terrace wrapped up for winter) my mind will be in Yamagata.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving, Greg

Greg Gabrielli is in Iraq on his second tour of duty, so he couldn't be here for Thanksgiving this year. I think of him as my nephew, although as my cousin Peter's son, technically he's my first cousin once removed...I think.

Greg is a Marine; he trained to drive amphibious vehicles. Not a lot of need for amphibious vehicles in the deserts of the Middle East, but he's there anyway, driving something. The vehicles are better on this tour; they have heat (and hopefully some strong armor)!

Greg was wounded during his first tour of duty; a buddy in the same vehicle was killed. Now he's the voice of experience, and in his emails home he sounds casual and matter-of-fact, although I expect that's mostly to keep us all from worrying.

It doesn't work. Every day I worry about Greg, whom I really don't know very well but who is family. I hope he comes home soon and safe and whole, and I took this photo so he'd know we were thinking of him on Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

muted beauty

This is classic Thanks-giving weather in NH: cold, wet, gray, and to me… beautiful.

I’m home (yes, it’s still home) for Thanksgiving and all the nephews are here. As a counterpoint to computer games and mindless videos, we took an after-lunch walk to the Hooksett pinnacle. It’s a small hill (disrespectfully referred to by one nephew as a mound), but it's rugged, fairly untouched, and in the middle of suburbia it feels blissfully removed from the malls less than a mile away. Even though you can hear the highway in the distance, it’s a beautiful, woodland spot.

White and red pine, granite out-croppings, birch trees, lowbush blueberries, and surprisingly, a few mushrooms left in the snow. The wet oak leaves and pine needles made the trail slippery, but that didn’t stop all five boys from throwing snowballs and generally racing around alarmingly close to the edge of the cliff.

When we got home, Willy (nephew # 2 in the lineup) helped me pick crab apples. He’s a very fast picker, and so far the only nephew who shows any interest in foraging. Last year we made jelly but this time I’m thinking pickles…if that’s ok w/Willy.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Putting Food By

More snow this morning. Nothing's sticking, but I've got to suck it up and admit that the harvest is over. Now is the time when all good foodies should look to their freezers and figure out what to do with their bounty.

My refrigerator is overflowing with CSA apples and pears, so this morning I started a double batch of apple-chipotle chutney. It's a hot, smokey chutney, with honey and garlic, and it's wonderful with pork or chicken or rabbit or lamb. (I'm an omnivore.)

And since I can't bear to throw food away, I'll use the apple cores in a batch of wild black cherry jelly later today. This slices in the dehydrator.

I'm less sure what to do with the pears. I've put aside enough for pear wine (one of my favorite homebrews), but which hot pepper would best combine with pear? Green chile/pear chutney perhaps? Green chile/pear jelly? I'm open to suggestions.

It's also time to jug the two batches of wine I started last weekend: carrot and winter squash. Both are actively fermenting in their primaries (plastic fermentation buckets) and moving them into glass jugs will allow me to start the next two batches: grapes from our swamp and what else? Apple!P.S. Here's a shameless plug for a garden calendar I just bought myself as an early Christmas present. (Actually I bought two: 1 for PA, and 1 for NYC.) Saxon Holt's photography is superb and I imagine these juicy images will keep me thinking about next year's harvest while the snow falls .

Saturday, November 10, 2007

This is fall?

So yesterday when I said we might get snow any minute I was apparently right on the money. I am caught with my pants down. (Not literally...that would be very cold.) Haven't raked the leaves, haven't finished cutting back the gardens, haven't even brought in all the tomato pots from the deck (as you can see) although at least I cut and composted the plants last weekend. But even though I'm chagrinned to be caught so unprepared, it's pretty pretty. And cozy to lie in bed, looking past the fern foliage to the snowy woods beyond while a fire burns in the wood stove and the smell of fresh coffee wafts in from the kitchen.

Yesterday afternoon, before the snow fell, I glanced out the window in the sunroom and saw 4 bears lumbering across the front yard. It's not unusual to see a bear here but to see a mother with three young ones is a surprise. Of course my camera was far away and turned off and by the time I got to it the bears had been startled into a run by my yelling for Michael to Come See! Nonetheless I can't resist including a pathetically blurry photo here of Mama and the head of one baby, fleeing the scary lady with the high voice.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Putting the Garden to Bed

Fall has come to PA. It took its sweet time getting here but finally most of the leaves are down, the ferns have died back, and even the Dahlias have surrendered to frost.

As I rummaged beneath some oak leaves, cutting back stems of Monarda and Echinops, I found a fungus I hadn't seen before. I'm a beginning mycophile, still only sure of a handful of edible fungi, so this was a good i.d. challenge. After looking in 4 different field guides and taking a spore print (white) I decided this was Laccaria laccata (common laccaria). Friend and teacher Gary Lincoff graciously confirmed my i.d. It's not supposed to be delicious, although it is edible. But I have a strong desire to know what my yard tastes like, so this morning I scrambled them in eggs, with the last tomatoes and basil from the garden. True, the taste didn't knock my socks off, but it was nice and shroomy, and the gentle texture was perfect for eggs.

Maybe later there'll be time to take a walk in search of other, more robustly delicious mushrooms. The woods are irresistible this time of year: cool temps, no bugs, and the fragrance of hay-scented ferns sweetens the air. And since we could get snow any day...we'd better hunt mushrooms while the sun shines.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Will I ever cook again?!

Today is Demolish My Kitchen Day.

It's just one in a long line of days filled with waiting for contractors, spending money we don't have, schlepping heavy, dirty objects. A line of days that stretches from here to the end of the year, probably.

So while I'm stuck here (ostensibly overseeing the workmen) I thought I'd do something useful, like add an email subscription option to my blog (to the right, above the list of previous posts).

This is a test. If it works I will be way too proud of myself.

LATE BREAKING NEWS: it works! To receive automatic email notifications of new Down & Dirty blog entries, click on the subscription link in the sidebar to the right.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

lemon tree very pretty

This is not a normal crop in Shohola, PA, but it's possible I'm not a normal person.

We've had our first frost, so all the houseplants are back indoors. Which includes my very small Meyer lemon tree and its two juicy fruits. I'm so proud of this tree. I brought it back from the brink of doom, plagued by both scale and mealybug. It flowered beautifully this spring and I hand-pollinated since it was still too cold to put it out on the deck.

Citrus flowers are some of my favorites. The fragrance is superb and complex, but not cloying. It combines lush, enveloping sensuality with sharp, clean sweetness.

I'm trying to think of something appropriately celebratory to make with these home grown beauties (something other than lemon meringue pie, thank you very much). Since I only have two, I'm somewhat limited. Any suggestions?

And while I'm soliciting advice and commentary, here's another, more technical question: I'd like to setup this blog so subscribers can receive automatic email notification of new posts. My pals at Wordpress and .mac can do it, so why not Blogger? I've spent about an hour reading through the help groups at Blogger but can't find anything. If anyone out there can help, I'd sure appreciate it. Get to me soon, and perhaps I can repay you with a Pennsylvania lemon.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

All hail Bacchus

Guess what I did yesterday?

I bottled, I racked, I brewed.

Working backwards: I knew I wanted to start a few batches of wine because my refrigerator is overflowing and something had to be done with all the produce. But in order to brew, I needed to free up a few 1-gallon jugs. Which meant I had to transfer the wine I started last year out of jugs and into bottles.

Wine making isn't an easy hobby for people like me because it requires tremendous patience. (I can hear you laughing.) Once the wine is jugged, it needs to sit for 6-12 months before it can be bottled. And once it's bottled, it needs to sit another 6-12 months before it's good enough to drink. Usually, the longer you wait, the better it tastes.

Even though I'm all about instant gratification, the idea of making wine thrills me. There's something about the idea of taking 3 lbs. of turnips and turning them into wine (that tastes nothing like turnips!) that seems like magic. Yesterday I bottled pear wine, linden flower wine, silverberry wine, and carrot wine. I sampled each brew as I bottled, and I must say they are all very promising.

I also had to rack 2 batches: beet, and mixed fruit (conceived to use up all of last year's frozen dribs and drabs before this year's started coming in). What's racking, you ask? Well, I'll tell you.

Fermentation is the process by which yeast turns sugar into alcohol. When the yeast finishes working, it dies and falls to the bottom of the jug where it builds up as a layer of fine silt. This is called the lees and it's best not to let more than about 1/2" of lees accumulate in the jug or it can throw off the taste of the wine. So, to separate the wine from the lees, you rack the wine.

There are all sorts of fancy equipment for racking that is much more sanitary and precise than the way I do it. Here's my down and dirty solution: I elevate the wine jug w/lees about a foot above counter level and place an empty gallon jug below it on the counter. Then I put a piece of plastic tubing into the wine jug, suck on it to start the flow, and drop the free end of the tubing in the empty jug. Gravity keeps the wine flowing, and just before the lees in the bottom of the top jug get sucked up through the tube, I yank it out. Depending on the ingredients of the wine, a batch may need to be racked 1-3 times between jugging and bottling.

Finally, after freeing up the jugs I needed for new-brewing, I started a batch of beet wine (one of my favorites) and a batch of cabbage wine.

That's right, you heard me: cabbage.

I don't like cabbage.

I'm not sure why I even took it from my CSA this year except I kept telling myself I should try coleslaw. But as 4 heads accumulated in my refrigerator
I realized it was either throw it away or get creative. What have I got to lose? Some yeast, some sugar, and a little time.

1 red cabbage (with 3 green) gives this batch its color.