Saturday, September 28, 2013

September surprises

A transitional month between summer and fall, September tends to be always bring surprises. The warm days and the cool nights feel transitional and toggle us between being able to open windows (like my basement window above, which Hester (our outside feral cat) likes to peek into), and seeing the start of the color change in the leaves, which becomes glorious by October.

The greatest surprise for me in September was ending up in the hospital, after I thought I was "been there done that" with the experience. Turns out my heart medication acted up and, some scary moments and two ambulance rides later, ended up in our nearby hospital overnight. Thankfully, the new medication my cardiologist prescribed works so I'm out of the hospital and back to nearly full speed, though, for the sake of learning from prior mistakes, I won't be resuming that pre-age-of-52 healthy-non-electrically-challenged-heart pace I used to keep.

My sister in law sent me a beautiful flower arrangement, and the stay in the hospital, as usual, makes me appreciate the bluest sky so much more (as well as the ability to look at the sky at all!). Nothing like an experience involving an ambulance to put everything back and very quickly into perspective.

Because my husband was traveling to Maine with his parents to see his sister, my mom came to visit and we got to see "Jersey Boys," which was a hoot, and to take walks with the dog, and to eat out at good restaurants, and we had a lovely time.

Yes, September has been full of surprises but it's also been full of a sense of gratefulness and thankfulness and fullness for the love and the people and the possibilities in my life.

Friday, September 27, 2013

A late afternoon stroll

Monday, September 9, 2013

What a week-end is...

Now that the semester is in full swing and I spend most days reading for and prepping classes, or grading, or on email scheduling events, or thinking ahead to what's coming down the pipeline this semester, the weekend is a welcome respite.

Unlike Maggie Smith's character in Downton Abbey, the Dowager Duchess, who has to ask "What is a week-end?" I love the unscripted days of the week's end. This past one, in particular, there was such a feel of laziness-producing warmth that it was hard to get motivated to do much school work, though some always needs to get done, regardless. On such days, I get possessed by my Country Housewife spirit and begin to look for household chores and projects to embark on.

This Saturday, it was hard not to be outside, with Lizzy, who is always on her tireless squirrel patrol in the back yard, enjoying the sun and the balmy breezes of this late summer that will too-soon turn into fall (only two weeks away!).

The day felt slow and unhurried, and Darwin and Hamlet had the right idea, napping companionably together on our bed. While Magellan, ever the anti-social She-Devil Cat, preferred to hide on top of my pile of jeans and T-shirts in my closet.

Chiquita would rather be inside than outside, too, and routinely takes over Lizzy's bed (of course, when Lizzy isn't around), and pretends that it's her big-girl bed.

The day was so lovely that we got on the motorcycle and went to the Lynd Fruit Farm in search of Honeycrisp apples, the best this season can offer.

One of my old grad school friends, who lives nearby, texted us an impromptu invitation to dinner (another aspect of living here that I love!) and we contributed an open-faced apple pie made from scratch with the delicious Honeycrisps.

Saturdays have become the day that I (with apologies to my gluten-free friends) make my favorite Artisan bread, which my husband always knows how to shape for the best results. The dough isn't kneaded and it must rise for five hours before it's put in the refrigerator overnight so it does take some planning. But on Sunday we have the best homemade bread, similar in texture to my favorite Pan Pepín in Puerto Rico.

This time, my husband tried something new and used a loaf pan and the bread came out perfect! There are few things in the kitchen that give me more pleasure than making bread. There is just something so ancient and so wonderful about it and, thankfully, since we both love and can eat yeast breads, I am going to try to make it a weekly tradition. (I remember, growing up, how Sundays were Italian food day and my mami would make the most delicious manicotti, which I really should try to make sometime...)

Thank God for weekends!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Day of labor

Inspired by Labor Day, I had a very productive one yesterday when I canned three quarts of fresh Ohio peaches and made a batch (below) of "Five-minute Artisan Bread" (recipe).

Having grown up on an island that imports about 98% of what its inhabitants consume, I had no idea of what peaches or tomatoes actually tasted like. I mean, I thought I did when I ate the wan fruits they sell there in supermarkets, acculturated into an American diet by the colonially inflected supermercados, which would only sell imported U.S. produce.

There were always the plazas del mercado, which are basically Puerto Rico's longstanding version of farmer's markets. But, unlike in the States, where these markets are nowadays inflected with the caché of the local production-consumption movement, in Puerto Rico the plazas del mercado were usually where the less affluent people shopped. There you could find the wonderful aguacates, ají dulces, panas (breadfruit), plátanos, and other staples of Puerto Rican cuisine, and it was where my sage Abuela Jo insisted on shopping. But when I lived there as an adult, I don't remember going to the plaza del mercado very often although, once married, my husband and I did frequent the one in our city. My mother has long shopped at a road-side version of a plaza del mercado where she finds the local produce that is mostly absent from the larger colmados where, instead of Puerto Rican-grown vegetables, you're more likely to find Dominican products.

In the same way that the tostones (fried plantains) I make here are a far cry from the ones I can make in Puerto Rico with local plantains, eating a peach or a tomato whose carbon footprint is as big as Godzilla's didn't give me any sense of what those fruits actually tasted like. I don't even remember being very concerned about locally sourced food when I lived in the States, both in Boston and in Washington, D.C., as an adult. It wasn't until I arrived in Ohio, with its vast farm lands, and while I spent more time with my husband's family, that I learned more about farming and about the advantages of eating local. I began to educate myself by reading anything I could get my hands on, including Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and began to fantasize about canning my own food, taking advantage of the delicious gift of fresh produce that living in Ohio gives us.

That's why my apparent canning successes this weekend have meant so much to me. Better late than never, and I feel that I am following in a tradition that, while not originally culturally my own, is an important one.

Meanwhile, while I worked with my hands, in preparation for resting on Labor Day, Hamlet gazed wistfully at the world outside, the world he is no longer allowed to partake in, with his paw on the screen door he can no longer open (it's now locked against such shenanigans), dreaming of the days when he was free and could go find the yellow cat to maul and be mauled by (which is the reason why his days as an outdoor cat ended). (Notice the split left ear, which resulted from his last mauling...)

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Long live August!

This August was one of the most beautiful we can ever remember in our 12 years in Ohio. The weather was mild, often accompanied by cool nights, so we rarely had to turn on the AC. That was quite a difference from last year when we had almost a month long of temperatures in the 90s with heat indexes in the 100s! The humidity in these parts, so different from the tropical breezes of Puerto Rico, makes such temperatures hard to bear and greatly diminished the summer fun. But not this year, thankfully.

As part of my push for healthier living and eating, I've made a point to visit more farmer's markets more often, and not just so I can make peach cobblers. In fact, this summer I've eaten more fresh peaches and baked less cobblers, which is a good thing. Our last visit to Branstool Orchards, our favorite peach orchard in Ohio, turned out to be yesterday after we went to Granville, about 40 minutes away, only to be disappointed by the fact that their peaches (they take a truck-full there on Saturdays) were already all sold out. My wonderful husband, however, persevered and said we should just drive up to the orchard itself, since we were not far away. And so we did.

And the bounty was wonderful: apples, peaches, corn, and potatoes. All fresh and grown on their farm. In Granville, I was able to get about 10 lbs of juicy Brandywine tomatoes from an Amish farmer who gave me a great deal since most of the tomatoes were bruised or split. When he found out I wanted to can the tomatoes, he said that's what his wife would have to do with anything he didn't sell because it wasn't in perfect shape, so he was happy to sell me the less-perfect fruits at a cut price.

Thanks to my mother-in-law, who last time we visited them bequeathed on us a huge canning pot, several glass quarts, and a how-to canning manual, I was able to, finally, after so many years of intending to do so, can two quarts of my own homemade tomato sauce. Ever since I moved to Ohio and learned about canning (mostly from the stories my husband and my mother-in-law told about their family), I've wanted to do this. But I somehow never found the chance (or the equipment, to be fair).

Once I had the canning pot and the Mason jars, I determined that this would be the time to do it, in honor of the waning summer. The attempt was a success! I now have two quarts of my own tomato sauce, ready for wintertime when getting locally grown summer fresh produce is nearly impossible.

Another treat from Branstool is their corn, which is simply the best I've tasted in Ohio. I didn't get a chance to can any this year but I might try my hand at it next summer. The next canning project: the peck of peaches I bought there yesterday.

Also in keeping with our "we're in our fifties and need to keep healthy" kick, we joined our community's 5K to raise funds for ALS research. I found walking the three miles surprisingly easy and finished about 20 seconds short of the hour (59:38). My husband, who ran, did it in less than 28 minutes (27:53)!

With the end of summer came the start of classes this past Thursday and I appear to have two good groups in my 100-level English class and in the Honors seminar. I am so grateful that this year the Honors class is about half of what I had last year. Quite a relief.

But, you can tell that it's busy time when I'm away from these pages for long stretches, and when my desk needs a intervention because it's so crowded with books, papers, notes, notebooks, etc. Darwin, of course, makes himself useful by sitting right smack in the middle of everything.

Though I am not ready for the year to start (definitely won't be working so much next summer), I am looking forward to a good academic year. And I am profoundly thankful for the lovely, lovely summer of 2013. I will miss it! Long live summer!