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Posts Tagged ‘leaves’

My new car has this wild heating/ac system that lets you decide precisely what temperature you want in the car. I love dialing it up and down to see what year I land on. 79: got my ears pierced! 72: West End Nursery School! 84: “Footloose” came out! Make no mistake: I’ve never been a numbers girl. But I am a memories girl.

October’s my month. Birthday. Halloween. The brown smell of damp leaves. Of all the months of the year, this one feels the most wistful. It’s the time when my inner mirror shifts between what is and what was, back and forth, now and then, flick flick, flick flick.

I like to walk through my hometown on Halloween night, scuffing through the leaves the way I did when we were trick-or-treating, pretending they’re once again sticking to the hem of whatever garish polyester gown I had on. This town has 100-year-old trees, and last Halloween night the wind was warm, but blowing like mad. It was fantastic.

I like to see the kids tearing across their neighbors’ lawns with power and abandon. This is the night kids rule the world. I like saying Happy Halloween to everyone, and humming the Halloween songs we learned as tiny children.

Walking down a sidewalk I pass two pre-teen girls chatting and munching, and I stop and turn to watch them walk away. I want to call to them, stop! right now, look around, take it in, this is what you’ll remember so many years from now, you are in your memories this very second, pay attention, but I don’t, because no one said it to me, and it’s best that no one did. They walk farther away and vanish into the shadows and fierce wind.

I turn the corner to the house where I grew up. The current owner took too many liberties with landscaping and it’s too tidy. Only two trees remain from when we were kids, ancient oaks a solid yard in diameter. I lean against one and scan across the lawn, watching us build leaf forts in another October, ride our bikes on that sidewalk, walk to the bus stop on cold January mornings, seeing snapshots of my brother’s fifth birthday party in September 1973. The tree remembers it all, and it remembers me. And it’s strong, which helps, because it’s overwhelming. Not everything since those rides and walks and leaf forts turned out well. Maybe everyone who visits their childhood home feels this way.

One more corner to turn, and I see in lamplight a gentleman up on the walkway to my old friend’s house. He’s just standing there looking out. What are the chances her dad never moved? I ask if he’s Mr. Layton. He is. We talk for a long while, me and this man whom I have not seen nor spoken to in … Christ. 40 years. It was butter on a burn. And if he saw the earlier tears on my face, he didn’t say anything. He was always a good guy.

I woke up the next morning and did what I always do: looked out my kitchen window to see the sun rise over the water. It was just as rewarding as it was yesterday, and I’ll lay down money that it will be tomorrow, too.

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This is been a milestone summer for me. I’ve had to learn to balance a new job and commute, which provides what I need to survive, with time in nature, which provides what I need to live.

I’m not going to say it’s been easy, late afternoon- and weekend-warrioring. But man, those moments have been sweet.

This summer I found wild blackberries growing along banks I’ve wandered since I was a kid, but never noticed. Made tea from flowers and leaves I dried, made lattice-topped pies from olive oil crusts instead of butter (never thought it would work, but guess what), and made sure to throw a pebble into the lake just to hear the PLUNK that always, always satisfies.

For the first time, I saved my molars and got every pit out of the wild Concord grapes I found, smacking my lips on their tartness. Swapped in my beach plums for cranberries in my favorite crisp, and they were fantastic. Sneaked onto footbridges in the woods and onto the lawn of my shamelessly absent neighbor, where in the dark of night I shamelessly picked enough fruit to make sour-cherry tarts.

I sank my tired feet into powdery sand and let the wind and 360-degree pink-and-grey sunsets wash the stress off me. There were 17 seagull tail feathers at the beach the other night, perfect quills for my next production of “1776.” Was serenaded by a Russian mulberry-lover, very much off-key (don’t ask. Actually, do. Great payoff.). Discovered that honeysuckle blooms in fits and starts all summer, just right for drying, and jammed May-fresh ones into a bottle of Laird’s to flavor the whiskey. Twice I sat and watched the yellow sunlight sparkles chase each other over the lake, and once I saw a fleet of catfish making kissy-faces at the surface of the water.

Walked the trail at Monmouth Battlefields, the Revolutionary War site, and marveled that Washington and the boys withstood 90-degree heat on that day in June while in wool uniforms (many couldn’t, and succumbed to heatstroke). Sat down to take a shot of a lone apple, looking like a dropped musket ball, and spent the next 15 minutes plucking vicious grassy needles off my bum. Freedom has its price.

Yesterday I really felt the sun and wind and crunch of sycamore leaves as I trudged along the banks of my lake. Today, driving home, I really loved the different greys of the clouds, layered like deckled pages in a book, and felt the coolness — new to the season but old, coming back.

So the wheel starts its descent, so the fall of the year has begun. Falling with it.

 

 

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Natsukashii (Japanese): A sense of loss inherent in transience; bittersweetness, nostalgia tinged with longing

Sycamore trees have fallen out of favor for landscaping for decades, it seems. I’ve heard them called messy; they do shed their bark more liberally than other trees, it’s true. You can always tell a town, at least here in New Jersey, that was settled 100 years back or more: The streets are lined with sycamores. People weren’t fazed by excess bark back then, I’m guessing. In the area where I grew up and still live, the sycamores tower several stories high and come together in the middle of the street. If it started raining while we were on our bikes, we kids would dash to the narrower streets, where the thick canopy of branches would keep us pretty dry until the rain let up. On dry days we used to love snapping the bark’s roughness into pieces as we sat on the curb and talked. And in mid-August, the leaves started changing from green to pale ochre. Katydids chirping away at night is the first sign that fall is nearby. The second sign is the change in the color of the sycamore leaves. Fall is not yet on the doorstep, but it’s tiptoeing closer.

Years ago I read a story about a hero named Milarepa who fought and defeated monster after monster, each one bigger and scarier than the last. Then he came across the worst and spookiest monster of all. But all of his usual kill moves didn’t work, and he grew more and more desperate. Finally he did the only thing he could think of: He climbed into the monster’s mouth. As he was swallowed, the monster dissolved. And along with getting to live, Milarepa achieved enlightenment.

This time of year we dig in our heels and hang onto summer, and that’s natural. But there comes a point at which we have to climb into the monster’s mouth. And it’s not all bad, change. Loss isn’t all bad, either. There’s something to be said for allowing ourselves to be swallowed, to go with it, to change our colors along with the sycamores. And I’ve found that the closer I am to nature, the easier the shift is.

Tonight I made a peach-bourbon upside-down cake with the last of the peaches. It’s still hot and needs unmolding, or I’d post a picture. I’ll enjoy every bite—never you worry about that. But then later this week I’m picking elderberries and crab apples so I can make jam. I’m going from green to ochre as I do every year, letting the monster dissolve. I’ll let you know if enlightenment bonks me over the head. In the meantime, I’m kind of digging it.

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The people who own the house across the street bought a mini-moonwalk for their kids and put it in the front yard, full time. The English call them ‘bouncy castles,’ these inflatable once-darlings of the carnival world, now available for rent or, apparently, purchase. They’re fun. I just wonder why parents don’t remember that if you put kids in a plain yard, they make their own fun. It tends to be the long-standing, great-memories kind, no less.

I want to reacquaint yard-owning adults with the possibilities of empty space.

Remember digging through winter-wet leaves for tulip shoots, hiding behind the rhododendrons during hide-and-go-seek and being half-afraid half-thrilled at the proximity of spiders, slurping the nectar out of honeysuckle in spring?

Going barefoot on the cool grass and the hot pavement, nibbling onion grass, being nose-to-nose with gypsy moths and inchworms, catching fireflies in summer?

Lying in the softest ever of beds, a leaf pile, and looking up at the intense fall sky?

Smelling wood smoke, crunching glass-like ice in the sidewalk wells, watching the snowy world turn palest blue when the sun went down?

What games did you play in your plain yard? We used every inch of ours. I was a kid in the ’70s, so for us it was a lot of Mother-May-I?, Mr. Fox, Red Light Green Light. At our neighbors’ we staged plays and concerts, jumping off the picnic table singing ‘On Top Of Spaghetti.’ At ours we climbed the Japanese maples and practiced gymnastics. Once we raked all of the leaves into a grid, creating a house with separate rooms. I think we even brought food out there to eat in the kitchen.

Parents, hold back from manicuring every blade of grass in the yard. Manicuring announces DON’T TOUCH. But it’s in access to that space, and in the imperfections, in the hollows in the bushes, that kids discover and create worlds for fairies and goblins (and both are equally important. How will they be able to face the latter in the adult world if they don’t practice? The spiders in the rhododendrons are essential.)

Parents, don’t underestimate your kids. They need very little to amuse themselves. Let them surprise you. Grass-stained knees are essential, too. Listen for the laughing.

About the moonwalk across the street…

I never saw them in it. I’m sure they went in for a while. But for the rest of the night I saw them just goofing off on the grass. Heart warmed.

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Autumn’s the time when the earth shoots and sprouts a bit less and instead does a great deal of dropping, shaking off, and scattering. The fun lies in catching the good stuff before the housekeeping winds of Winter blow it all away.

My usual friendly cautionary note about picking wild edibles goes like this:

1) Be sure that what you’re about to pick and eat is what you think it is. Please don’t wing it. Shoot for old age.

2) Don’t pick anything off your neighbor’s lawn unless a) she owes you one b) she owes you several c) you know she doesn’t use pesticides d) it’s under cover of darkness e) in which case leave my name out of it.

3) Don’t pick anything close to roadsides where they likely have been urologically christened by every domestic pet within five miles, most notably the Alsatian across the street that routinely drinks out of the potholes in the Quik Chek lot.

From left to right:

Crabapples¬†(Malus) I wrote about this little treasure a while back. Wild crabapples are a little grainier in texture than their voluptuous full-sized apple cousins, and for my taste, they need a bit of sugar to be palatable. Making jam from crabapples is a special fall thing for me, even though making it is a bear because they’re so small and their seeds are the size of sesame seeds. Having good music in the background goes a long way. I add a hefty dose of New Jersey honey to the pot, making it 100% local. You can also make crabapple liqueur if you steep them in vodka with granulated sugar.

Rose Hips¬†(Rosa) Another jammy choice, and a vintage one. Folks during World War II ate a lot of rose hip jam because it was full of Vitamin C, which was tough to access then. They’re tart, a little bit astringent like their cousins above (so they need sugar, too) and wildly healthy, full not only of Vitamin C but of antioxidants and lycopene.

Beech Nuts¬†and Leaves (Fagus) As a Laura Ingalls Wilder diehard all my life, I knew beech nuts were edible. She wrote about her husband as a boy, gathering and eating them in upstate New York, describing the spiny little husks and the three-cornered nuts they contained, and saying they were ‘solidly full of nut.’ But the leaves being edible as well? News to me, but cool news. Freshly picked, they can be eaten in salads or even steeped in gin.

Acorns (Quercus) When I took Anthropology in college I learned that American Indians ate acorns. Making them edible takes some doing, and they knew what they were doing; they must be smashed and rinsed with a lot of water to release toxins. I’d love to try them. Has anyone ever prepared acorns for food or eaten them?

Missing from this list: Sassafras. Here I was all ready to dig up one of the 764 and counting plants that grow around my lake and steep the roots to make another American Indian specialty, a primitive form of root beer, when the heavy winds last week blew all of the telltale mitten-shaped leaves off. They’re all out there now, mittenless and mocking, but I’ll hit them up come spring. Stoked to write about it.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rose_hip

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beech

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oak

http://www.wikihow.com/Forage-for-Food-in-the-Fall

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November sky. With all due respect to Guns N’ Roses, it ain’t always raining.

Fall in New Jersey means bright leaves, a chill in the air, and the heat going on for the first time in months. In particular houses, say, just over the border into Deal, it means the snarfing of certain foods. Here, an assortment, with a couple of extra pictures just for pretty pretty.

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Homemade marzipan ghosties and minions.

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Bosc pear in repose.

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Polenta with my homemade organic tomato sauce full of rosemary, capers, onions and hot Italian sausage. I ate this instead of birthday cake last month.

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Someone’s—not sure if human or beast—orchard snack.

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Homemade walnut butter plus fresh figs caramelized in honey, squooshed between a whole wheat wrap from Trader Joe’s. Kind of a luxurious breakfast…

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.. perhaps topped only by this breakfast, a deep-dish, black-bottom pumpkin pie. I polished this puppy off in the space of three days.

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….or this one, a rum raisin apple pie. My sister found the recipe someplace. Killer.

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And a remnant of last fall, the candle I lit when my power was out during Superstorm Sandy. I was freezing and spooked, but somehow still saw the beauty in this. I’m grateful.

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Intelligent and Perceptive Reader: Wait, what? What happened to your early or mid-summer edible wild posts?

Me: Yeah. About that.

I was busy this summer. Most people claim work or childcare as their reasons for The Great Busy. Me, I crewed two shows back to back in July and spent August regrouping. Now here it is September, I’m late for my summer post, the honeysuckle is gone, I can’t wear white after Labor Day, and I’m irritated with myself. Next year I am doing a proper honeysuckle post with a recipe and everything. Syrup maybe. Just you wait.

In the meantime, here we are. Please keep in mind the advice I have given in previous edible wild posts:

1) Only eat a particular plant if you are 100% sure it’s the plant you’re after.

2) Don’t forage for plants off the side of the road because they’ve likely been blessed by household pets in a less than appetizing way.

3) Don’t forage for plants from neighbors’ yards unless you know they haven’t been sprayed and/or unless you are particular friends of the cops in your municipality.

In the picture above we have four lovely summer wild edibles common at the Jersey Shore and much of the Northeastern coastline. Clockwise from top left:

Beach plum (Prunus maritima)

I posted about this fruit a couple of summers ago in plum gig, and talked about my adventure foraging with my neighbor, Mr. Cook. He’s been picking these fruits all of his life (a solid 80 years or so, I am guessing). I gloated a little when I saw that one of Wikipedia’s shots was of beach plums on Sandy Hook, where he and I picked.

The plums are the size of red seedless grapes, and aren’t spectacular eaten out of hand. They’re best cooked with sugar to make jelly (Mr. Cook’s all-time favorite jelly) or in jam (what I like best).

Blackberry* (Rubus fruticosus)

Blackberries are in the Rose family. Fruits begin jade green, then become red, then a shiny black. When they’re really ripe, only one delicate tug is needed to have them fall into your hand. Blackberry canes (the thick stems on which they grow) are notoriously thorny, so go easy when picking or wear gloves.

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)

I first read about this succulent invasive about ten years ago, but it’s only recently that it’s become a bit of a darling in the culinary world. It’s lemony, can be eaten in its entirety—leaves, flowers and stems—and offers a hefty dose of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Best of all, you don’t have to grow it. I mean it. It’s probably all over your property right now, in plant beds, in sidewalk cracks, everywhere. The sprig in the pic above? Found growing happy and lush in the crack between the curb and street in front of my house. Purslane plants are the Kardashians of the plant world; they just won’t go away. But despite being inanimate, they’re higher on the useful scale.

Beach rose (Rosa rugosa)

These hardy plants grow in the dunes along the shoreline. Like all roses, the petals and the hips (coming in my fall post! To a WordPress account near you!) are edible. They’re thorny, like all of their rosy siblings and their cousin the blackberry. I’ve read that many beach roses smell wonderful. These didn’t have much of a scent, and the flavor was mild, like Bibb lettuce.

*”This article is about the fruit. For the smartphone and its manufacturer, see BlackBerry and BlackBerry (company).” –Wikipedia again. They’re so helpful.

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