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turning the wheels

Well, this was quite a week.

Most of the U.S. is starting to recuperate after we learned an adult will be in charge come January. (One joke says, ‘That’s why he’s called Sleepy Joe: Because we can finally sleep!’) The relief is indescribable — a huge burden off our backs that we knew we were carrying, but until it was taken off, we never knew how heavy it was.

Of course, we’re negotiating a lot until he gets there, and by negotiating, I mean mostly trying not to end up in a Covid ward.

(How about this post, huh? Knee-slapping fun so far? Don’t worry — you guys know I don’t stay poopy for too long.)

I’ve been keeping the wheels turning. Yesterday I made an apple pie that was almost savory: a variety of apples, cinnamon, and nutmeg inside, and a crust and crumbly topping made with extra-sharp cheddar cheese. No extra sugar. These days, people like pie a la mode (i.e., with a scoop of ice cream on top). But did you know a century or so ago, people ate apple pie with a wedge of cheese on top? I ran with that old notion: cheesy apple pie.

My freezer is almost full. Your little brunette squirrel has been tucking away produce since March so she doesn’t have to pay store prices (and so she doesn’t have to rely on shoppers to choose it. She’s picky.). Last week, after two days of rain, the farm was about to turn under their broccoli crop. If the florets get waterlogged and ooshy, they’re not fit to eat. But the bases stay intact and are delicious. I asked if I could have those, and the folks there tipped their hats to me. Free broccoli! So I cut 20 heads (not a typo), cut off the tops, and brought them home. Peeled of their fibrous outer layer, the yield amounted about six cups to the freezer. So grateful. I want to dig some more carrots, but aside from that, my freezer will be ready for winter. Every fruit and vegetable in there is something I either harvested at the farm or found in the wild.

Along with managing the aforementioned ooshiness, this year I squinted as I gathered beach plums at dusk, picked sweet grilling peppers in mud and driving rain, and risked ticks to collect wineberries in an overgrown abandoned lot. When I was a long way from home and felt blisters starting on my heels, I stuffed maple leaves in my boots and kept going. And I climbed fences to reach Concord grapes, far off the road.

By the luck of the draw, I am not a princess. And in a year like this, it has served me well. I hope it continues.

I also made the pie above. The top layer is butternut squash from the farm and the dark purply layer underneath is made with those beach plums. Smooth and mellow paired with sharp and tart. It’s a good metaphor for the dichotomy that is November 2020.

Stay safe, everybody.

exploration

Getting grounded is high on my list of making it through this year with my sanity (such as it is) intact.* But I’ve been surprised at how often grounding has come as a result of getting off my bottom and doing brand new things. Of wanting to.

For one thing, I’ve visited Monmouth Battlefield three times in as many months. This is a major Revolutionary War site, about half an hour away, where George Washington and the Continental Army were able to hold the field. It’s also where I find my Concord grapes in August. A few weeks ago I visited a small clapboard house whose family hightailed it out of there when the fighting got intense; the British used it as a makeshift hospital. Since building is prohibited on that hallowed ground, except for the soldiers and the whites of their eyes, the countryside for miles around looks the same as did was back then. And yesterday I visited a church that served as a Continental Army hospital, still bearing bloodstains on its wooden pews after 242 years.

These places of brutality are now serene; all I ever hear is crickets, birds, and the wind through the drying leaves. But I feel the ghosts there. They’re not scary. They were in the same situation in this country, in their own way, in their own time. They get where I am, and it’s comforting.

From my quince tree (that no one pays attention to, hooray), I also nabbed more fruit this year than in any other. Cinnamon-poached quinces and turnovers resulted so far. Got another recipe, a new one that a friend remembers from a trip to Turkey, on the horizon. This feels enormously peaceful to me.

Plus there’s the below. For years — I mean it — I have wanted to put up tomatoes, but always chickened out, scared of botulism. But this year, with the help of two online resources, a print one, and a Zoom with a smart friend, it finally happened. They’re in the coolest place in my house. In my bedroom closet behind my sweaters, obviously. I laugh when I see them every morning, my own docile army of Redcoats.

It doesn’t make sense that following my nose to new and different and surprising would be grounding, and not Sticking to What I Know Thank You Very Much, but exactly what makes sense these days?

There will definitely come a point this winter when I ease up on doing new stuff and park an open book on my lap. Maybe.

*’Why fight it? I’ll just go crazy and be inconspicuous. — Hawkeye, M*A*S*H (the episode where Klinger and Colonel Potter start doing yoga)

new and improved

Yesterday, after I’d collected my weekly produce at the farm and was pulling off my sweaty mask in my car, I spotted a family in the flower garden. Mom and Dad were trying to get the attention of their little boys, three-year-old twins in twin porkpie hats, to take their picture. A few steps away, their 18-month-old daughter crouched, picked up a handful of dirt, stood, and let it fall from her fingers. Then she did it again, and again. She was mesmerized. So was I, watching her.

She reminded me of an analysis I read years ago, which recalled creation stories, including Adam and Eve’s in Genesis, that began with dirt. The power couple were created from earth; other stories tell of all creation emerging from one speck.

I’m reminded of the western part of the U.S, currently on fire, that’s reducing everything in its wake back to the dirt. And I thought of the racial riots, fueled by the inequality and cruelty that has gone on for far too long. That emotional anger burns as the tangible wildfires do.

The U.S. is a living crucible; we are burning. The loss of homes, natural resources and lives are an utterly unjust tragedy. The rest? The addle-brained mindsets, the discrimination? Yeah, they needed to burn.

As someone who spends a lot of time in dirt (as my work boots would attest, if they happened to speak), that part has me hopeful. We need a new creation story. We need a do-over. We need to sprinkle dirt from our fingers and dream of life, good life, again. We need the close-mindedness and the hateful ideologies to become psychic dirt and ash so we can build something new. Something better. Something fairer.

Stay safe.

[Author’s note: WordPress changed its format. I do not welcome this new creation. Once I figure out how to add photos, I will again!]

next up

I have this little 11-year-old pocket-sized point-and-shoot camera from Target that’s been dropped a lot. It comes on my every expedition, and is the provenance of all of the photos you’ve seen here on eve’s apple. It is my first and only digital camera, and it takes a nice photo. Which helps, since it has never occurred to me to take a photography course. This camera delivers shots good enough to delude people that I have a clue about photography. Aficionados sometimes try to engage me in camera-speak terminology and wait politely for a reply. They’re rewarded with a sheepish grin and a swift subject change. Sometimes I throw in a shrug.

So a few months ago, when the camera suddenly stopped showing the view through the lens, or screen, or window (see?), I tried to get it fixed. But the one remaining camera fix-it shop in New Jersey wanted too much for the repair. Soon after, the pandemic hit, and buying a new camera wasn’t a priority.

I tried taking shots on my phone. You’re wondering why that wasn’t the simple solution. But transferring them to my laptop so I can do post-production is a drag. And I don’t think it does as good a job as my crappy little point-and-shoot.

I despaired until I got over it. The camera still worked, still turned out great shots. I just had to shoot blind for a while.

And how about that for an apt parallel: It’s more or less how I’m living in 2020.

Work, keeping my house organized, staying healthy, making a point to forage so I can fill my freezer and keep my sanity as close to intact as is feasible in a year like this — it has been challenging. I’m enormously lucky to have a job, food, and shelter.

But I can’t plan with any certainty this year, the way I used to. I hope I’m doing the right things, as winter is clearing its throat in the not-too-distant distance and the world isn’t sure when a safe vaccine will be available. I’m doing my best in every capacity. But there’s no way around it. I’m shooting blind.

Tonight I went to get beach plums on Sandy Hook, and I found lots of new bushes. This has been a great year for wild discoveries, actually. Maybe it’s because nature is so soothing and I choose to stay out longer and wander down paths I’ve never taken. Or maybe it’s the universe throwing me a bone, trying to keep my spirits up.

It has taken a lot more time to shoot, obviously, and even more patience. What once was plan, aim, click has become guess, aim, click. But regardless, the shots don’t disappoint. I’ve even had a few happy accidents; some photos turn up that I never would have planned. It’s been kind of cool, stretching my brain like warm taffy, being surprised at something bizarre and different in my gallery, wanting to run with it and explore a little more down that path. When I can’t plan, I can discover.

I’m still looking forward to springing for a new camera and peering through the lens thing. To plan, aim, click again, as I used to. I’m an editor at heart, and sifting through a dozen shots at a time can be a hassle. But I’m going to keep my mind’s eye on that bizarre-possibility path, the one that can show up when I don’t plan. Maybe I can find a good balance. Maybe 2020 has something to teach me.

And this is really uncomfortable, but … maybe it was actually always like this. No, we don’t have a crystal ball this year. But the truth is, we never had a crystal ball.

It may be that our challenge is to do our best with what we have, work extra hard toward what we want to see through the lens thing, and trust that path.

Click.

Here are wineberries I picked last month in the overgrown gardens of an abandoned estate, with a blackberry I found along the way. This was the third click.

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I can’t complain. I mean, I can, obviously — just look at the news if you 1) live in the U.S. and/or 2) have a remaining iota of patience — but I’m healthy and sane, at least at the moment. So I’ll shush on the aforementioned.

Last week I discovered three new mulberry trees in my area. Three! One is on a road I have now dubbed Mulberry Lane, as this stretch of pavement boasts five trees, all within a quarter mile. Unless you count the geese, I am the only one who enjoys the fruit. Incidentally, it must be nice to be a goose. They go on a berry bender, eating all the dropped fruit, and then they lie down under the tree to sleep it off. Imagine sampling every single thing on the salad bar at Ruby Tuesday’s until you’re completely stuffed, then climbing into the shelled edamame to take a nap. It’s no different than what they do every day in late June.

I filled a mulberry order for the French bakery I supply (they made gorgeous chocolate mulberry meringue tartlets) and then went back to collect for myself.

The last two trees were right under my nose. One was a white mulberry tree — only the second I’ve ever met — walking home from a walk one night on street I’ve taken roughly seven million times. The branches are too high for little me, so I hope I run into the tree’s owners so I can ask permission to come back with my step stool. Always wanted to cook with these. They’re albino-looking versions of the black mulberries I usually work with, and they’re delicious. The bakery I provision doesn’t go for them. ‘People won’t buy them because they look like grubs,’ is what I hear every year, and what cracks me up every year. Maybe they should freeze them and resurrect them come Halloween.

The last tree was the sweetest surprise ever. It is the sole canopy for my favorite little nook on a lake bank, and one I’ve only been visiting for about 20 years. It’s also a favorite spot for fishermen as well as ducks, who like to cuddle together and take naps there.* I know that sounds like a Disney subplot, but it’s true. That’s how idyllic this place is.

One day I looked down and saw purple splotches. My jaw dropped behind my mask. It’s hard to complain when life keeps giving me gifts like this.

*The ducks cuddle, that is. Although maybe the fishermen do too. What do I know?

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sweet embrace

Even in lean times, there are harvests to be found. I’m making sure my eyes are open to all the harvests I can possibly find; it’s the best way I know to keep my spirits up. Spring weather here in New Jersey has been uncommonly beautiful, with just enough rain yielding to sun to make plants happy.

Wild mint is going haywire, not that mint needs an excuse to be anything else. Every weekend I pick a handful of stems, plunk them in a glass of water, steep a handful of torn leaves in a Mason jar of filtered water in the refrigerator, and sip it all day.

Yesterday I found blackberry brambles woven into the tennis court fence by the lake and in the hedges surrounding a local church that dates back to 1903. I’ve walked past these places hundreds of times in my life, and am so grateful to find bounty, happy surprises, where I’d never seen them before.

Thought I’d need to relinquish picking strawberries at my favorite farm this year, not keen to court disaster by handling plants with Joe Q. Public’s fingers all over them, but went for it … and put them in a hot oven briefly afterward to destroy any sneaky C-19s.

And my beloved honeysuckle is blooming. I made a simple syrup and added flowers to it to infuse it, then made custard and stirred some in. My strawberry pie got a little sweeter, but we need a bit of extra sweetness now.

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plenty

Deprivation is a bastard. These days many more of earth’s human inhabitants are feeling it than usual.

We can be grateful that nature gets us out of our heads. Think about it: Unlike catastrophes like war or flood or famine, which leave their unmistakeable mark upon the landscape and make nowhere a refuge, when it comes to this pandemic, you can’t see it outdoors — at least for the most part. Some wear masks. I spot the odd discarded plastic glove on the curb from time to time. But aside from that, nature doesn’t know we’re in crisis. The starling that just flew past your window, the chipmunk that high-tailed into the brush beside the lake, the wind nudging the sycamore leaves, the sea foam that just misses your feet — none of these have any idea that this spring is like no other spring. Getting enveloped by nature now is a benediction that wipes clean our minds. For a little while.

In the U.S., today is Memorial Day, when we remember troops who died in service to our country. They fought, at least in theory, to hold fast to our nation’s ambitious ideals — something about equality and the pursuit of happiness — and died trying.

Nearly every day since mid-March I have been exploring, often for miles at a time, sometimes with a plan and sometimes without one, and nature has been a hugely welcome affront to the caustic headlines. Our energy stores are fried, our hands are dried out from the bleach solutions that have become our daily modus operandi. And it’s a long way until election day in November.

But the lushness in nature is in stark and audacious contrast. The lilacs aren’t just fragrant, they’re triggering tears of relief; sycamore leaves aren’t just green, they’re Hobbit-shire magical. Maybe it’s just this spring. But I’ll take it.

Not sure how I missed that there’s a tradition of dropping flowers into water on Memorial Day. A Wiccan friend tells me this is an ancient method for offering gifts or honoring someone. Look at us, remembering something like that.

Today I climbed down a steep incline to drop a yellow poplar flower into the lake. I thought about the soldiers who had lushness in mind when they suited up and went to battle, that they were fighting for abundance, our right to plenty. They believed our ideals and that wish were worth it. I’m so, so tired, and that belief is a tiny candle flame inside me right now, but tiny counts.

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standing by

Does everyone have a white whale? Something we’ve looked for all our lives, or it definitely seems it? And on wildly rare occasions we find it, but most often we end up like Ishmael — living to tell the tale, but that’s it?

I think I may have found mine. I’ll know in a few weeks.

It started with a hot tip.

When I told my friend Sandy that I forage for Concord grapes, he gave me a memory: During gym class he and his high school classmates would run along the treeline behind the school and snack on grapes that grew there. This was back in the ’60s, but I sometimes I see shows at this school and know that treeline still exists, because the road to the theater runs parallel to it. Last week I took a half vacation day and drove out there. Concords aren’t ripe until late summer, but the vines stick around. I’d be able to identify those.

The back of this property is far off the road. Besides the homeowners on the other side of the fence and stream, who weren’t around, and the school groundskeeper, who idly waved and kept mowing, I was alone. Ideal.

The vines were still there, after 50+ years. And they’re easier to access than my usual beloved spot. This is good, because as nature (and the ticks and vicious wild rose canes therein) swallows up more of the path every year, picking Concords there will soon require me to wear clothes that cover every inch of bare skin. It’s not a thought to relish in late August, so I welcome a Plan B.

This recon mission would have gotten an A+ if the grapevines were all I found. But next came the crabapple tree and cousins.

(Just a quick aside to let you know I am not a science wonk, let alone a botanist, by any remote stretch of the imagination. Do you need an example? Here you go: In college I studied my butt off in bio, but could not coerce the data into my grey cells if I’d had a crowbar. I expected to flunk. When I learned I had been awarded a D- for the semester, I was elated. At least I wouldn’t have to take the stupid course again. That’s how crap I am at science.

So why, with empirical non-prowess under my belt, do I notice that mulberry trees and elderflowers virtually always grow near water? And why did I realize last week when I saw members of the Rose family growing together that they often enough tend to?)

First I spotted an ancient crabapple tree. Then it was wineberry canes (which fruit in July and are profoundly tart. Imagine a raspberry after it ate half a bag of Sour Patch Kids, watched the remake of “Cats,” and suffered the inevitable existential crisis). Then it was wild rose canes, which might be flowers and nothing more, or might be wild raspberries, or blackberries. Either way, giant family reunion. They’re all Roses.

And so is the little white whale, the shyest member of this family reunion. I looked down in the shade and thought it was a stray blossom blown down from the crabapple or rose canes; they all feature a similar flower. Then I saw the serrated triple leaves and just stared.

For years upon years I have been hoping to come across fraise des bois, aka woodland strawberries, aka Alpine strawberries. Powerfully, intensely sweet — called a delicacy and deserving it — and far better known in Europe. I don’t know if it’s because there are more there or because we no longer have a foraging culture here in the U.S. and just don’t notice them. But I’ve never come across a wild strawberry during my hunts, beyond yet another Rose cousin, the wild strawberries that begin with a tiny yellow flower and produce a tiny bland fruit.

Woodland strawberries begin with a white flower. And I’ve never seen nor tasted a sweet one until, maybe, fingers crossed, if the deer don’t get them first, inside a month from when I write this.

You’re picturing me parking next to them with a sleeping bag, like I’m on line for Stones tickets, aren’t you? You’re not crazy.

A few weeks ago I read an interview with a guy who lives most of his life as a hermit. He said the best way to get through monotony, as we do now during the pandemic, is to find something you can track. Foragers never stop tracking — seasons, rain, sun, groundskeepers. Strawberries fruit in late spring, Memorial Day at the very earliest. This was a cold spring. But June is on the horizon.

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the dark center

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Picture it: Interlaken, NJ, 1972. Or maybe 1973. I was really little. My mom had planted red tulip bulbs around the perimeter of the terrace that faced the front yard. The following spring, when I was toddling around the lawn, I peeked inside one of them and had an early communion with horror. It looked like evil looking back at me. How could something so cheerful and welcoming on the outside be so Hades-black on the inside?

Here in the northern hemisphere we’re in full spring, with all of the color and light and beauty that blesses us each May. We’re also in full pandemic, with all of the everything you know about, since you’re seeing the same headlines I am. It’s a cruel irony to be enveloped in the glories of sweet breezes, flowers and cerulean sky at such a scary and unstable time. T.S. Eliot wrote his masterpiece “The Wasteland” in the wake of WWI, which left all surviving participants in a state of profound disillusionment. “April is the cruelest month,” he begins it. The same could be said of this past April. May isn’t shaping up to be any great shakes, either. At least not here is the U.S.

It should be noted here that I myself am doing really well, though I miss a lot of people. And going inside stores. And going for walks not dressed like a ninja with a fondness for newsboy caps. My goal is to survive this. I intend to do it. And for the record, I have come to love looking inside red tulips; now, the blackness strikes me as thrilling, not terrifying.

But I remember the initial horror, what it felt like to learn that inside something that looks fine — beautiful, even — can be awful. That looks can be powerfully deceiving. I’m seeing it near and far these days — in those I know and those I don’t, on the news, in the streets. Disillusionment is something that threatens to be a door prize from this crisis. I can’t have it. I’m fighting it like I do to survive.

Sending you all peace.

 

There comes a time in every C-19 lockdowner’s life when she can’t handle Zoom meetings, semi- or entirely tasteless virus fashion memes and washing her face mask for the 119th time and hies her bottom to the safety of the kitchen. Fine, okay, I confess I reached this point several weeks ago.

I’ve been baking so much that I’ve been telling people that I’m stocking up in case, God forbid, I get sick and can’t get out for food. That’s an incidental Plan B, but the legitimate truth is I can’t stop — and the more oddball and unlikely the recipe, the better.

Forgive the largesse of these; my pc says the resizing took, but the smaller pics are nowhere to be found on my hard drive. OY. Here’s a four-strand challah, right on the heels of that oy. The middle went a little wonky.

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Crumpets. Easy and absolutely addictive.

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Chocolate pudding cake. They have a delightfully ooshy middle. Recommended before 9a Zooms.

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Naan. The crushed coriander (right) was my favorite. My Indian co-worker gently scolded me for using olive oil instead of butter. I *would* have, but I was worried that I’d like it too much.

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English muffins. These are fantastic, but olive oil struck out here, too. They need a little time to cook on the stovetop, and the smoke point is too low with olive oil. When the smoke died down, I feasted.

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I made Everything bagels today and they were a total gas. The recipe, like the English muffin recipe, came from a mid-century Joy of Cooking that I am utterly enamored with. Every recipe in this book makes a heap of food; this made 18 bagels! I guess people had bigger families back then. And the authors offer serving suggestions, like toasted with cream cheese and lox or butter. Bagels must have been a new thing back then and they needed to give readers a leg up.

This morning I minced fresh garlic and a fistful of wild onions I pulled yesterday from the edge of a harrowed farm field and dried them in a very low oven for about a half hour. Then I mixed them with sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and sea salt. I like a lot of stuff on my bagels.

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Are you all staying healthy? What are you baking? Tease me.