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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Trust me on this

Slug patrol
Risa went for a walk with Beloved this morning, down to the park on the Mighty River amid cries of flocks of geese. We stopped to admire the fresh legs of a frog which had been dropped near the road, perhaps by a passing blue heron. The wetlands in the park had flooded across the entry road and finding a way down to the riverbank turned out to be an exercise in wetting shoes till they were squeaky. The river itself, brown and filled with unfamiliar standing waves, was roaring past like a Union Pacific freight making up time, and trees that had fallen part way in were dancing frenetically in the current. Not kayak conditions!

In the garden the slug patrol continued their merry quest. When the soil is saturated their opportunities expand exponentially and their little shovel beaks go everywhere in the loosened soil, accompanied by cries of gluttony.

This is all good, but Risa, who is down in the dumps, is fighting off a spell of gluttony of her own, brought on by signs of mortality among her relations and perhaps by the effect that winter darkness in Oregon sometimes has, especially during a sequence of "Pineapple Express" storms. The harder it rains, the more she digs in the pantry for stuff she shouldn't even be consuming on holidays (if she knows what's good for her). A couple of times she's made it into the garden, though, to see what alternatives there are.

The ducks, she's noticed, do nibble at the chard and the beet greens, but largely avoid the kale and collards. These are popular if thrown over the fence to them when they are fenced out, but in the garden they have enough to do that they have, apparently, no need for these greens. The chickens, who are fenced out all winter after two glorious weeks in the garden, would have no such restraint, but they are rewarded from time to time with a whole brassica, hacked off by machete and heaved over into the pasture with a satisfying thump.

Risa also regularly cooks up butternut, hubbard or delicata squash for them on the wood heat stove. In days gone by, she cut up the fruits obligingly and used a saucepan, but now she simply drops a whole one in a twenty-quart stock pot on the stove and fills the pot with enough water to do the job -- half a day later, pulls the pot off the stove to cool, sets the water aside as stock or takes it out to pour along the south side of the house as compost tea, then grabs the softened squash and lobs it over the fence to smash itself into suitable chicken feed. It's gone within an hour or so, seeds and all -- nothing but the stem remaining.

The collards are almost a year old now and show no sign of giving up, after repeated hard freezes. They are forming loose cabbage-like heads of light green foliage that resembles Napa cabbage in flavor. Risa has taken to bringing these in and using them in salads and stir fries and the like, and this is helping a lot with the darkness-induced gluttony. But the walks to the river -- some three miles round trip -- help best.

If you steam winter collards they will have a mild and nutty flavor that goes well with salt and fats or oils as needed -- Southern cuisine has many pairings of collards with pork, for example -- and the leftover water -- traditionally called "pot likker" -- is incomparably nutritious, and would get you through a winter in which no other vegetables are available. Use as a standard stock in baking and soups, or just drink the stuff.

If you have let yourself slip a bit, as Risa has, it will build up your immunity and restore some of your sanity. Trust me on this.

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