Berry Odd Life Lessons: Wisdom From the Razz Patch

My raspberries have gone crazy this year. Out of control, fill-the-fridge-wait-no-start-filling-the-freezer crazy.

I’m not bragging, understand. I’m simply gobsmacked. Because my raspberry patch’s fit of overabundance owes NOTHING to me. I’ve done diddly. Weeding? Nope. Fertilizing? Are you kidding? I didn’t even water them.

Note: this is a salad bowl, not a cereal bowl. And I’m filling it daily, and then some.

Wait, take it back–I did fight off a few salmonberry bushes a couple of weeks ago, which had insinuated themselves into the razzies–just enough to reach the good stuff. I won that little war, but the salmonberries definitely left their mark:

…and I’m not even showing you the scratches on my arms.

Point is, though–I didn’t EARN these berries. And yet I still get to enjoy them. Apparently Nature ain’t no meritocracy.

This is what benign neglect looks like.

Ironically enough, though, as I’m picking my way through this undeserved bounty, I find I’m practically killing myself to get every…last…berry…through the salmonberries, through the chain link fence the original planter of these berries put up…ooh! those ones just out of my reach look even better than the ones I just picked!

Just walk away, Gretchen.

Which tells me…what, exactly, about myself? I am perfectly happy to accept good fortune–so happy, in fact, that I unconsciously turn privilege into right and strain for the very last drop of goodness as though I had worked for it. 

Hmm. Lesson? Learn to accept the berries I cannot reach just as delightedly as those I can? Gratitude AND grace?

Workin’ on that. I’ll let you know.

Happy Whatever of July

“Does Canada have a July Fourth?” goes the riddle. The answer still makes me chuckle. (I’m not writing it here; if you don’t know it already, think about it.)

My own personal riddle goes more like, “When does July Fourth end?” Answer: “Are we there yet?”

OK, maybe that doesn’t qualify as a riddle; pretty sure riddles are funny. My point is, for people who work in the tourism/food industries, Independence Day is one killer holiday. And when it falls on a Tuesday (which is generally the best day for small food businesses to close), what should be a three or four-day weekend suddenly becomes a week-long tunnel. (In the case of Holly B’s Bakery, where I work, it’s a tunnel of Love & Butter.)

20 to a pan. On July 4 we baked 19 pans…and still ran out.

Not complaining! It’s great work. I’m just throwing this out there to remind everyone to be kind to their servers this week–they are probably exhausted.

(And to explain why I’ve been AWOL for a week. I’m back…and might even have something intelligent to share by the next post!)

Till then–Happy Birthday, America! Now I’m going back to bed.

Aw, They Grow Up So Fast: My Lil’ Grandgarden Turns Three

I’m gonna have to stop calling it my Grandgarden. 

Three years ago, when Son Two hacked a couple of rows out of our backyard’s over-shaded, overgrown onetime raspberry patch and stuck a few seeds in, that’s what I called it. Didn’t take any responsibility beyond watering for a few days when he went off-island.

Fast-forward three years. Son Two’s long gone to the east coast. Last year I decided I could handle the responsibility of planting and watering my own seeds. So I did…full of trepidation about getting tied down to another 20 years of garden maintenance (which I thought I’d left behind when Son Two graduated and we moved to an island full of organic farms).

So it’s MY kid garden now.

Nothing ambitious–a few rows of greens. Some broccoli and potatoes. And some strawberries, originally planted by Son Two. Sure, I can handle that. Didn’t even get too bummed when the raccoons beat me to the ripened strawberries.

This year, I cleared a little more. Still didn’t plant anything I wasn’t sure could thrive in such shady conditions.

Secret to success: low standards!

Still didn’t commit myself to fertilizing, beyond a few shovelfulls of compost, or staking. Got too much going on to spend hours out there. But regular minutes, weeding, watering, harvesting? In MY garden, once more?

Yes. And I’m not even counting on those strawberries. The raccoons are even more committed to my garden than I am.

Try not to notice how big those berries are getting…

Thanks, Son Two, for getting me re-started. And my hat’s off to all you COMMITTED gardeners. This semi-committed one is glad you’re there. Got any strawberries, just in case?

Reuse, Recycle, Renew Your Appetite: “Upcycling” Cooking Boo-Boos

If you’re like me, you HATE throwing away good food. The more you need to toss, the more you hate it. So imagine the loathing that accompanies needing to compost an entire 20×30″ pan of overbaked brownies, for example. This tragedy plays out all too commonly in commercial kitchens.

But it doesn’t have to!

At Holly B’s Bakery, we are becoming (we modestly think) the masters of up-cycling “useless” food. Let me give you three scrumptious examples.

Example #1: those overbaked brownies. We tossed them in the Cuisinart with a little butter to glue them back together, then pressed them into a buttered pan as a pre-baked crust…which we then proceeded to top with dulce de leche cheesecake filling. Sprinkle with sea salt…bake…heaven.

Honestly, it’s more like cheesecake frosting on a brownie. Only more so.

Example #2: over-toasted Cappucino Bars (our name for espresso shortbread with tiny chocolate chips and a cinnamon-espresso glaze). Once more into the “Cuize” with…wait for it…a glob of ganache (a.k.a. the essence of a truffle: dark chocolate melted with whipping cream). And a healthy dash of Kahlua. Form into balls, dip into more (much more!) ganache with toothpicks, and voila…Kahlua Truffle Balls.

Even better than they look. Seriously.

Example #3 isn’t due to an overbake, but rather a scraps problem. When you cut croissants from dough, you end up with bits. Lots of bits. What to do with them? After only a couple of weeks of croissant-making, we were drowning in bits.

Too…many…bits!

So…we baked them. Note: please force yourself past this part of the process. If you stop here and just start eating warm croissant bits, all is lost. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Mmmm…the bits…the bits are calling me. DON’T GIVE IN.

Once baked and cooled, we bag them and freeze them until it’s time to make strata. Guess what? It’s always time to make strata.

Strata before…

Strata = croissant bits (Most people just use stale bread–I recommend this! Much healthier. A little less delicious.) + beaten eggs + a little milk or cream + tomatoes (fresh, canned or dried) + cooked greens of any kind + sauteed onions and mushrooms + mozzarella. Topped with Parmesan. Baked till brown and bubbly.

Strata after. Yes please.

And the best part is feeling so good about avoiding waste! No, I’m lying–the best part is eating your creation. But that no-waste thing is pretty cool.

So…what do you think? Pretty droolly, right? Got any delightful/delicious food-upcycles of your own to share?

Private Views of Public Lands: Who Do These People Think They Are? Oh. Heh. Us.

How do government workers stand it? All the democracy, I mean. All the dealing with people on whose behalf they are planning the roads or designing the curriculum…or, in this case, protecting the land.

This land. And this chocolate lily and this death camas.

The cover shot of this blog is part of the San Juan National Monument–which happens to be practically in my backyard. So I spend a lot of time out there–enough to feel a strong degree of ownership. “Yeah, yeah, public land…but they don’t know it and love it like I do.”

It’s not like the path is hard to find or anything.

Which is why it’s so hard, every year as Memorial Day approaches, watching the hordes of visitors begin to tromp my beloved paths. Or, often as not, tromp OFF them, into the meadows and over the fragile lichens, despite the signs asking them oh-so-politely not to…

Have you ever seen a sweeter, more polite sign from the feds? It even says Thank you!

despite the not-subtle blockages of routes…

C’mon, people…sticks mean no walkies!

and, oh yeah, this brand-new sign with the trails perfectly marked and the endangered wildflowers listed (the ones you’re tromping on now, you!!! Get back on the trail! (Easy, girl.)

Thanks, taxpayers! (You’re welcome.)

How do they DO it, those Bureau of Land Management folks who, charged with protecting this fragile landscape, hosted public meeting after public meeting with every possible stakeholder, striking the perfect compromise between use and misuse, the perfect language for every sign–including when NOT to place a sign at all? And then to see how many people deliberately breeze past your handiwork because they NEED to go climb that rock?

THIS rock…which has a perfectly good access if you’d just walk a little further up the trail!

I know, believe me. I’ve scoffed my share of laws–dog off leash for years (though I always leashed up if I saw another person), lichens crushed, flowers picked because I wanted to. But that was BEFORE someone asked me (politely) not to, and took the time to explain why.

Do we need to ask more politely? Explain more thoroughly? Or just resign ourselves to the fact that a certain percentage of people will always do exactly what they want no matter that–or even because–someone’s asking them not to?

I’m really bad at resignation. Guess there’s a reason I don’t work for the Bureau of Land Management. I have too much personal, private passion wrapped up in these lands…which aren’t private in the least.

Which is good. I happen to have neighbors who are equal parts wealthy, environmentally concerned, and generous. I walk and run on their paths as much as on the National Monument; they are contiguous, the same stunning stretch of coastline. And grateful as I am for their permission to drink in the private beauty, it feels weird to me that it IS private. That so few people have access…to wander off its trails, tromp its delicate meadows and lichens and…

Delicate lichens and red-leafed stonecrop that suddenly shows itself golden in the spring…

Oh dear. Here we go again. Guess I’ll just wrap it up this way: I love our democracy. I love the idea of public lands. And I appreciate the hell out of the folks who have to deal with the public ON the land, because…they sure are better at it than I am.

How Well Do You Know Your Farmer? Let The Bounty Project Show You How It’s Done.

I am SO blessed to live in a community where I know my farmers. Now I’m wondering: how many of you could too? The Bounty Project introduces its community to the folks who grow its food through short interviews, gorgeous photographs, and mouth-watering recipes to put all that yummy local produce and meat to use. Are you a small farmer, or a writer or photographer who cares deeply about farms and eating local? Read about The Bounty Project, then consider how you might start one in your own community.

Bounty

bounty_cover_email_3bBOUNTY: Lopez Island Farmers, Food, and Community will be released at an event at Lopez Center for Community and the Arts on Friday, Oct. 21, 5-7 PM. The beautiful BOUNTY Photo Exhibit will be on view and copies of the book will be on sale.

Join the CELEBRATION!  The photographers, the writer, and chef will be available to sign the book.  The book will also be available for purchase at the LCLT Annual Harvest Dinner the following evening, Oct. 22 and at the Lopez Bookshop.

This 124-page book combines photographs, profiles, and recipes for twenty-eight Lopez Island farms and farmers to present an intimate, behind-the-scenes view of what it takes to bring food from earth to table on Lopez Island.

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My Mountain, How I’ve Missed You: Nostalgeology 101

Since I moved from North Carolina to Washington 26 years ago, I’ve continued to miss 5 things: my parents, oak trees, GOOD fried chicken, Tarheel basketball, and NC-style BBQ. (OK, if pressed, I could come up with five or ten more–like friends, and dogwoods.)

Since I moved from Tacoma to Lopez Island six years ago, I miss about the same number of things. But #1 on the list doesn’t even begin to exist as a category of my southeastern nostalgia: The Mountain.

Here in the San Juans, we have occasional views of Mt. Baker–sometimes, from the ferry, downright excellent ones. A recent camping trip last month reminded me of what a lovely mountain Baker is.

Not bad, Baker, not bad.

Not bad, Baker, not bad.

But I knew Mt. Rainier. Mt. Rainier was my goddess. And you, Mt. Baker, are no Mt. Rainier.

From my first view of her as a still-North-Carolinian in 1981, she called to me. In 1986, I climbed to her summit–not to conquer, but to adore. (It was so damn cold up there that my adoration took the form of 10 minutes of exhausted gasping before heading back down, but still.) I’m glad I climbed before I was old enough to know better, and I wouldn’t do it again, but I still get a little shiver of love when I look up at her gleaming dome and think, “I was THERE.”

Adoration from below served me just fine for those 20 years in Tacoma. I saw her out my kitchen window while cooking. I saw her from the parking lot of the high school where I taught. I spent hours discussing which part of The Mountain was “out” at which part of the day, how she looked last night at sunset, or this morning at dawn. She was part of my daily life, my vacations, my identity as a converted Northwesterner.

Has it really been THREE YEARS since my last visit, with Son Two?!

Has it really been THREE YEARS since my last visit, with Son Two?!

Now, when I’m lucky enough to see her at all, she’s a tiny lump on the horizon. Not so tiny considering she’s 100 miles away, but still–hardly a part of my day.

Which is why yesterday’s all-too-brief ramble, introducing my Lopez friends to my Mountain, felt so sweet.

Even better: sharing my Mountain with friends.

Even better: sharing my Mountain with friends.

There are mountains and mountains. And then there’s The Mountain. My goddess. But I realize not everyone’s nostalgia is nostalgeology. For someone else it might be a precious old oak, or the feel of the air, or even the sound of a certain bird call.

Or is nostalgeology somehow more powerful than trees or birds? What do y’all think? What geological feature, were you removed from, would leave a hole in your otherwise happy life?

Meatza Or Prepples: What’s Your Favorite Foodword?

Probably I’ve been working too many hours next to an oven this summer, because I’m finding ridiculous amounts of joy in making up foodwords with my colleagues at the bakery. For example…

Prepples = apples prepped for pie

Meatza = obvious

Charden = what everyone’s garden turns into this time of year (unless it’s zucchini, but that doesn’t make a good foodword)

Loafening = making loaves slowly

Strompost = what we call our compost, which is taken home by the family of my colleague, Laura Strom

Plumble = a plum crumble (the best kind!)

Rhuberry Rasbarb Squares

Ready to be turned into plumbles, rhuberry rasbarb squares, and...blue -peach scones...bleach scones? Maybe not. (Photo by Stephanie Smith)

Ready to be turned into plumbles, rhuberry rasbarb squares, and…blue -peach scones…bleach scones? Maybe not. (Photo by Stephanie Smith)

I’m sure there are more, but you get the idea. Your turn now: what foodwords have you or your family invented?

 

Picking Your Pattern: On Dishes, Color, And Marriage

This morning’s poem from Poetry Daily got me thinking about small daily pleasures. I’ll share the poem in a minute. But first I want to talk about color, and dishes. And then, maybe, marriage.

For Christmas two years ago I asked my Mate to buy me a set of eight plates made by a wonderful local potter. Of course I wanted to choose them myself, or commission them, rather, and here’s what I asked Lydia the Potter to make: two green, two gold, two blue, and two red plates, all with different designs on the rim. Here’s what she made me:

I KNOW, right?

I KNOW, right?

Why not matching? Because, #1, I LOVE color, so how could I possibly choose? And #2, Lydia, like me, is an I-love-it-all gal, so how could I possibly choose ONE of her patterns?

Right??

Right??

That intense color, those simple-but-varied designs–they make me happy every single day.

My original “dish pattern” makes me happy too, but only when I think of the story behind it. first of all, here’s all that’s left of the set, which my Mate has owned since 1978:

Dictionary definition of "plain."

Dictionary definition of “plain.”

Okay, whoa. My Mate owned these dishes first? Almost 40 years ago? And yet I’m calling it my pattern? There’s a story here, right?

Right. I first met my Mate when I was 16 and he was 31. I was a high school student; he was a young law professor at Carolina who happened to be a good distance runner. He joined my parents’ Sunday morning running group and, being both incredibly magnetic and also very far from his own family, was soon adopted by mine. (I had a huge crush on him, but that’s another story.)

My Mate lived alone in a weird, cavernous house furnished with a hammock and one wicker chair. He owned a single set of dishes. All his possessions easily fit into his Tradesman van. Very convenient for a bachelor; not so much for a bachelor who has befriended a family of five. If we came over to his place for dinner, we had to provide our own dishes.

One day my dad told my sister and me to take his credit card and go to Best to get Ken some dishes. “What kind?” we asked, baffled. “A whole set,” Dad told us. My sister and I looked at each other. “You want us to pick out his dishes? What if he doesn’t want any?” “Oh, just get him something plain,” was Dad’s breezy reply.

So…we did. Good, basic, cheap stoneware, as plain as possible.

Fast-forward a year and a half. This man is now my boyfriend. Fast-forward another eight and a half: now he’s my Mate. And another 29 years later…he still is.

So, those dishes my sister and I bought our family’s friend? Turns out I was picking out my own wedding pattern. Who knew?

Now, back to that poem, by Nina Lindsay:

My Bare Feet

on the floor of our house, early morning 
make me immeasurably happy 
the slight chill counterbalancing the heat

of coffee spreading through the brain. 
Nothing, I think, could make me happier 
except—my bare feet

on the tight-wove wool pile of our faux-antique 
Persian rug, or my hands on this bowl 
or this bowl

or this one, 
or my lips on your lips, soft 
as air rushing out of the oven,

or my fingertips 
across the oven’s white enamel, 
its one nick.

Each morning I review my evidence—
and the floorboards turn imperceptibly darker 
and my hands keep the settling dust alight.

Should I talk about marriage now? Do I need to?

That Wicked, Wonderful Weed: My Blackberry Obsession

They’re ba-ack.

They’re everywhere.

Blackberries.

These days I can’t ride my bike in increments longer than 100 yards without wanting to stop again. “Ooh…look at those clusters! These are definitely plumper than that last batch I just stuffed in my face.” Or: “Hmm, those were a bit sour. Better stop for some sweetening-up.”

Bike gloves and blackberries: made for each other

Bike gloves and blackberries: made for each other

But even more than roadside grazing, blackberries mean one thing to this girl: PIE.

It’s not that I need to be eating blackberry pie, or any kind of pie, on a regular basis.  I work in a BAKERY, OK? But this time of year, the urge to collect berries for my freezer is like a squirrel’s to store nuts: I NEED them. The feeling is strangely desperate. What would happen if the summer passed and I ended up with a freezer free of blackberries?

Ahh....all is well.

Ahh….all is well.

I don’t know. I can’t imagine such desolation.

For 10 1/2 months of the year, blackberries are a noxious infestation of thorny horror. Ask anyone who’s tried to clear them, or hike through them, or pretty much go anywhere near them. But during blackberry season, they suddenly represent bounty: the sweetness of sharing, the safety of plenty in the cold times, the memory of years and years past where I did just the same…reach for the berries, freeze the berries, bake the berries…repeat.

Is there a lesson in there? Probably. But I’m too busy picking and baking to figure it out. Anyone?