Saturday, October 07, 2006

Rehearsing for Thanksgiving

Today was the first time in two weeks I was able to get at the garden. First there were some complications after surgery; then there was the frenetic pace of work from the beginning of the school year (which at this university begins in the last week of September). And the dreadful round of Meetings To Save The World From Fascism has begun again. But today, for half a day, I lay about me with knife and spade, putting the year's growth on the irises and mints down as mulch, and setting out the annuals from the "pots garden" to await their inevitable demise.

There has been no hint of frost -- so I got in a basketful of tomatoes along with the inevitable bushels of apples. The Black tomatoes have outlasted the Oregon Springs, Willamettes, Early Girls, Beefsteaks, and Brandywines, and I'm quite impressed with them. The Yellow Stuffers, which look just like bell peppers, have done well, too, and don't look at all troubled by the fact that it is October.

Beloved's cousin, whom we love dearly, has retired from her job as a counselor at a retreat center and came to see us for a few days. She had stored many boxes in our garage/attic that had been shipped, ten years ago, to us for safekeeping and never opened. The two of them went through the boxes and it was a sad occassion -- quite a bit of treasured crockery had been shattered en route. But many beautiful things survived, and have been washed, and are stacked on the sideboard awaiting a better re-packing.

Mutual frinds were invited to Sunday dinner, and I made it my business to provide for all.

Saturday I baked.

Apple juice, 8 oz.; warm water, 8 oz.Add yeast. Set aside. Put a few cups of whole wheat flour and white high-gluten flour, equal proportions, in bread machine on DOUGH cycle. A spoonful of olive oil. A handful of rolled oats. You may add sugar or honey to taste, and a small handful of salt.

Cut up two small apples or one medium, taking quarters off the core and dicing them small, peelings included (these are organic apples, as is everything on the premises). Add to the flour mix. Check the yeast, which should be well fizzed up by now. Dump in all the liquid and start the machine. Add dough until lump "cleans off the sides" -- forms one ball rolling around on the paddle. Shut off machine.

Sprinkle flour on cutting board. Dump lump on board, knead into a high ball shape. Lightly grease an ironstone platter that has high sides -- say, about an inch. A pumpkin pie platter, 10" diameter, will do. set loaf in middle. Slice across top three or four times diagonally, sprinkle sesame seeds on loaf, cover with lightly oiled plastic sheet and set aside to rise. Check a few hours later. When platter is well filled, turn oven up to 325 or 350 degrees F. and put loaf in for 55 minutes (in our oven, anyway). Our bread tends to burn on the bottom and not bake through, even in the ironstone, so I use a pizza sheet as a deflector by setting it on the other shelf, just underneath the "breadpan."

After almost an hour, I test the loaf by flipping it part way out of the dish and thumping it on the belly. It either "sounds done" or it doesn't. This takes a little practice. If done, set on a cooling rack until ready to serve or bag up and refrigerate.

Oh, and remember to turn off the oven!

On Sunday, for an entree, I built a 16-inch platterful of giant thin slices of Brandywine tomato and sticks of celery, two colors of bell pepper sliced lengthwise, the third color being Yellow Stuffer tomatoes ditto, and pepper-jack cheese, all radiating from the center of the platter, where a small bowl of tofu dip formed the center. A dash of basil flakes added sophistication to the lot.

I also made a sauce, rather like an eggplantless ratatui, with steamed zucchini, mushrooms, bell peppers, tofu, and bok choi folded into a conventional tomato spaghetti sauce, served over rice, and steamed zucchini, steamed beets, and steamed corn as side dishes.

Aside from baking the bread, none of this was done over at the stove. With a little planning and rotation, you can do it all with a small rice steamer and a microwave.

Last Son, who is twenty-two, was also invited, and brought a bottle of beer made by Belgian Trappist monks, on which he expounded as a true connoisseur of Belgian beverages.

After this meal, which we all agreed turned out pretty well, we retired to the "playhouse," which has reverted to a kind of writer's cottage, and all sat comfortably talking "of cabbages and kings" until the sun went down and the moon rose.

Quail sat on the roof, above our heads, and cooed to one another engagingly. We had not seen them for six years, so it was lovely to have them visit on this particular occasion, adding their magic to an enchanted evening.


Beloved and Cousin have gone off to California to pester my in-laws, So I am rattling around the place alone -- when home, which is taking some doing to acheive. It's dark when I leave and dark when I arrive, so it's nice to have that Sunday dinner to look back on. I've retreated into my own room, which I can keep warm with body heat and a little space heater, without building the big fires in the dining room stove that keep the place habitable through the winter.

There I doze, or read, doing my medical bits at the same time, until it's time to go to bed properly.

Readings at present: I have several books of May Sarton's from the library. A novel: Kinds of Love. A diary, Journal of a Solitude. And some early poems. Also on the bed with me: Anna Karenina, which I'm finding slow going, and The Wind in the Willows, of which I seem to like best the scene in Badger's kitchen.

Also, interestingly, I find I'm able to pick up where I left off writing an experimental novel of my own, several years ago, when all this transitioning began in earnest. Experimental, because it's sustained book-length third-person present tense, mostly through one character's eyes.

The problem for me was that this writing began as autobiography. But I was becoming another person than the one one I was writing. So it was necessary to lay the effort aside for three years.

Recently I took another look, and realized I could pick up where I'd left off, because the main character could now be safely treated as, by me as I now am, fictional. I'm free to be me. And the chararacter is free as well. We're out of each other's hair for once. A good thing.