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Posts Tagged ‘snow’

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I was heading to the blackberry field at my favorite farm recently when I heard the old iron gate above swinging in the wind. It opened with an awkward squeak, then graduated to rich middle notes, then closed to a low baritone, jabbing its voice through the clear day and green landscape.

A 360-degree view of the August farm showed spring asparagus gone to seed and a few weeks off from another appearance, ripe blackberries, raspberries, corn, squash, and more crops beyond. I stood in the middle of LIFE, in exhilaration and exultation.

But the thing is, a farm isn’t a still frame of lush beauty. It’s hundreds of still frames that make up a continuous feature. A farmer knows that, but it just occurred to me that day when the gate whined back and forth, open and shut. A farm is the whole life cycle. It is both lovers’ bed and deathbed, nursery and graveyard.

In spring, the farm is fragile and palest green, a greenhouse full of teeny shoots a few weeks off from being planted because the soil is still too cold.

In late spring and early summer, it’s stretching its legs, testing boundaries, getting cheeky and rosy.

Now, in high summer, the farm is saturated with sun and rain and sugar and bite and intense color. Mid-life is when everything shines and bursts. Corn kernels pop when a fingernail is pressed into them. A ripe melon, at a single, infinitesimally small piercing, splits ahead of the blade wide open with a CRACK on the kitchen counter. Little potatoes dug from dusty soil are washed and roasted, and at first bite their skins, loose from the flesh, snap.

But as the crops lose the light bit by bit every day, that snap gives way to profound sweetness, softness, mellowness. Apples lose their sharp astringent bite, and are finally ready to pick. Tomatoes—boy, if the frost holds off and we can get tomatoes into September or even October, their flesh becomes deeper and richer than any July specimen. Green bell peppers turn lipstick red, and tender. Pumpkins become sweet and earthy. The farm is going to seed. It’s like everything is settling in to resignation, the innate knowing that the honeymoon is over, long over. But the farm is okay with it. We can actually taste that it’s okay with it.

Late Summer into Fall the farmer tosses spent squash and overripe tomatoes right into the fields to nourish them. Nothing is wasted; everything feeds everything else. Even the winter snow helps to fortify the soil. In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s day, in the 19th century, farmers called fresh snow “poor man’s fertilizer,” and sent the kids out with the plow to turn it under the soil. They didn’t know why it did the job so well, but they knew it did. Now we know it’s full of nitrogen, the most essential ingredient for healthy plant development.

So in August, in the wind, that old gate was the farm’s mouthpiece, singing, reminding me of how it all works. The baby’s squeak to the young adult’s call to the elder’s hum, it’s all a song. It gets sung every year. We’re moving into the baritone hum. Enjoy time’s pendulum and the old iron gate swinging closed, and the flavors that come with them. I think they’re the best of the year.

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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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Votive during Hurricane Sandy, on the first night with no power.

Contrasts that work together seamlessly—this is one of the love affairs I have with the world.

The darkness makes the light beautiful.

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Incandescent bulbs glow at Days in Ocean Grove, NJ. They have been serving ice cream in a dreamy and romantic setting since 1876.

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Tide pool reflecting sunset, Loch Arbour, NJ.

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Eggs in light and shadow.

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Clipped maple branches in a winter shaft of light. Emily Dickinson would approve.

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Maple leaf and grass, just after sunrise.

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Sourdough toast and melting butter, late afternoon.

It’s when the sun heads to the other side of the globe and darkness takes the wheel—that’s when the light really pops. We don’t get to see this when the summer sun floods our vision. Compare summer’s ubiquitous light to the drama of a late-fall afternoon—thick, gunpowder-grey clouds balancing on the tops of the trees, when POW a slant of sunlight gleams through…I kind of live for that beauty.

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When I was a kid in art class, I loved when the teacher had us draw a picture in crayon, using only the brightest colors, and then paint right on top of it in solid black tempera paint, all the way to the edges of the paper. Once the paint was dry, we were given toothpicks to use to scratch away the paint in any design we liked. And we watched the colors beneath our swirls and scribbles emerge, psychedelic. (It was the ’70s; we had a standard to uphold.)

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Being backstage during a performance means being in very little light. There’s some ambient light from the stage, but the only steady light is the blue glow from one or two clip lights and from the monitor with a live feed of the conductor (for the actors to watch for tempo). I cast the light from my Mag down at an actor’s shoe as he’s trying to tie it and dash on within two measures, and cast it up again to affix mic tape to the side of another actor’s face, and see the relief on her face when we attach it in time. Backstage is dangerous with moving people and parts, we techs navigating 300-lb. units through narrow spaces and with split-second accuracy, but that little bit of light against all of that darkness and danger is especially beautiful. Strange, right? Or maybe I just love the work.

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In the house where I grew up there were windows on either side of the balcony. I never paid attention to them until Christmastime. We had small floodlights positioned on the side lawn, focused on the Christmas tree, and some of that chilly yellow-white light was cast sideways through the windows. I remember how otherworldly it looked in the black night, in a snowfall.

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How many new stories are, and were, told now? How many ideas are brewed, theories proven, recipes tested and tasted, moments of enlightenment reached, during the dark months? Up against firelight, stove light, lamplight, candlelight? I’m thinking quite a few, and I’m thinking it’s because now we have the right stark physical backdrop to throw the ideas up against, and to test their merit. Bright light diffuses the edges of things.┬áIt’s against darkness that we can see dimension and shape.

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There might be a point to the turn of the year beyond the science of the seasons; it might be the universe giving us the opportunity to see things with a new perspective, and gain a new understanding of them. Maybe this time is not about darkness and cold and loss. Maybe it’s a shot at a different brand of wisdom.

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Homemade turkey Sloppy Joe on cheddar-scallion biscuit. I need my strength to sweep the snow off my car.

I don’t get people who hate winter. We’re talking about a three-month, no-apology excuse to burrow under your faux fur throw from Target, fall asleep, then wake up and make luscious food.

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Crab apple liqueur (sugar, apples, and vodka). I need my strength to…uh…pull off my snow boots.

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Steeped, ready, gazing out over the wilds of suburban New Jersey, and plotting its first offensive.

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A pound cake I made the other night. While it was still hot from the oven I docked the top and poured lots of the extra honeysuckle syrup I made last June over it. Sumptuous.

When you want to work up extra stamina for lazing around and feeding, I recommend exploring a landscape. It will be different—more stark, more bare-bones—than at any other time of year.

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Huber Woods, Navesink, NJ. Sycamore and shadows, east pasture.

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Trees and fence, Navesink.

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West pasture, Navesink.

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Ancient felled sycamore and sky, Navesink.

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I came across several old, tiny wooden buildings in the woods. They were labeled 1930, 1931, etc. I wondered if old years are left in the woods of Navesink, to enter just by opening their doors, like the wardrobe into Narnia. What if they are?

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1931, with reflections of the trees and sky—and ripped curtains.

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Our lake finally froze over. Hockey blades, waiting for their owners to come off the ice. Grownup owners, no less. I love this town.

 

 

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Baby maple cream pie. Sunshine in a brioche tin.

Maple doesn’t get much press. But the real thing deserves it, holding its own against any other flavor, and it’s just as addictive. Mind you, if you’ve been searching the Internet for a decent addiction and you landed here, first, welcome aboard; and second, please note that real maple syrup is not the stuff you find in cabin-shaped or Butterfly McQueen-shaped bottles. Their contents are pretty much tinted corn syrup. The real thing is simply boiled-down sap, the purest essence of a tree.

And not to put too fine a point on it, but Grade B is the only maple syrup worth your time. Grade A doesn’t taste like much of anything, and I’ve heard New Englanders concur: ‘The closer to tar, the better.’ I’m happy to stand by their statement.

I think I was a Druid in another life. It would explain my devotion to this stuff. I’ve had pure organic syrup from Vermont and from Canada, and both are outstanding. Canadians are awfully proud of their proficiency with a maple tree. I remember holding up a bottle of syrup to a shopkeeper in Quebec City and asking, ‘C’est local?’ (‘Is it local?’) and she was completely taken aback. ‘Mais oui!’ (‘As IF we’d eat anyone else’s syrup, eh!’)

Late winter is sugaring-off season in the colder regions of the U.S. That’s when the sap of the maple tree starts to run in order to feed the soon-to-arrive leaves, and when sugaring-offers tap the trees with small spouts, buckets beneath.

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Antique wooden spout, northwest New Jersey.

When the buckets are filled with sap, they’re emptied into huge vats where they’re boiled down to syrup. Grade A is produced earlier in the season, B later. B is typically used in cooking because of its pronounced flavor, but you like pronounced flavor, so give it a whirl on your waffles and tell me what you think.

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Remembered to dock the crusts before putting them in the oven so they don’t bloat up like balloons in the Macy’s parade.

I have never tasted maple cream, the stuff northerners spread on their pancakes, but just typing that sentence is making me kind of insane to do it as soon as possible.

Another favorite of mine is maple sugar candy. It’s usually sold in little boxes and shaped like teeny maple leaves. They dissolve happily in your mouth and you don’t want to talk to anyone while they’re in there, making them inherently an anti-social candy. You can always make new friends. Find ones that like maple sugar candy and then you’ll be golden.

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About to meet its fate.

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Tomorrow’s breakfast: chunky applesauce with Grade B stirred in. One of my readers, Angie, gave me this idea. I always knew I liked her. That white blop on the bottom left is vanilla organic yogurt, but I wouldn’t argue with whipped cream or creme fraiche, either.

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Maple shortbread. Quite the hit with the cast, crew and staff of the Moliere farce I’m working on now. I’ll have to make more in order to stay in their debt.

I wanted to try making Laura Ingalls-style maple taffy this year by pouring hot syrup onto fresh snow, but the latter melted recently. If we get another storm, I’m making it. In the meantime, I have lots to eat.

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Grade B, baby.

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I believe in truth in materials—I’ve argued for it over and over again here on eve’s apple and in my work collecting props in the theatre industry. Truth yes, authenticity yes, perfection no. Very, very no. My theatre friends often accuse me—with affection—of being hyper-detailed, but that’s not the same thing as perfection. I’ll argue against perfection until my voice, or fingers in this case, give out. Then I’ll Throat-Coat my vocal chords and Ben-Gay my hands until I can argue against it again. Stay tuned.

The reason is this: It’s impossible to hit perfection. Also this: perfection is bloody boring. It doesn’t taste like anything.

For years I’ve noticed that the orchard fruit I pick tastes the sweetest if it’s scarred. That sounds like a cliche, except it’s true. A peach or apple that’s been poked by its branches, pressed up against its brothers so tightly that it’s lopsided, partially striped by its own leaves, hanging from a cracked and windfallen tree—these are your best choices, I’m telling you. No way would an average retailer try to sell them to the average American consumer, because they’re not perfect, and the average American consumer demands perfect. But now you have it on my good word what and where real is: at local farms, farmers markets, orchards, abandoned fields.

And you know where Little Miss English Major is going with this, and we’re already waist-deep in a metaphor. So let’s dunk.

My own scars are what make me—well, let’s call it unique.* For sure there are some I would mail back to the universe third-class if I could, and settle for being somewhat less unique. I could live with that. But other scars are cool by me. For everyone who has been scarred—and by that I mean everyone—we’ve earned flavor.

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Here then, the formula for peaches, apples, and humans to live a scarred and flavorful life:

1) Take a living creature.

2) Expose it to sun, gentle breezes, and blue skies.

3) Expose it to sleet, snow, hail, lightning, and damaging winds.

4) Let other creatures gnaw on it, with teeth or with harsh words.

5) Deprive it, from time to time, of rain, so it has to send roots more deeply into the earth to find water.

6) Deprive it, from time to time, of sun, so it has to make the most of the nourishment it has stored.

7) On sunny days, let it soak it in with especial gratitude.

8) On rainy days, let every drop feel like a baptism.

9) On days in which other creatures nestle in it or beneath it, let it be charmed.

10) When it’s finally ripe, let it look around at—or look inside at—its scars, and know it tastes good.

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*Today I went to see the Lego movie with a friend just because I wanted to see it. Then I went to a party store to see if they had ‘screaming balloons’, because I need to find a fart noise for the Moliere farce I am working on. The afternoon was spent sewing burlap into bags that will hold costumes. My lunch was a half a raspberry Chocolove candy bar, and my dinner was a salad full of tofu, and I loved both. And this was an average day. You can’t buy this kind of uniqueness.

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Vanilla slushie gazing out onto the snowy landscape and mourning its squandered youth.

Back in the late ’70s my little sister had one of those Snoopy Sno-Cone machines. You fed ice cubes in the top, jammed the Snoopy-shaped mortar downwards, and shaved ice came out the front, where you caught it in a paper cup. Icy bits melted all over the table, and the LSD-trippy-colored syrup got everywhere. Which obviously spells big fun, so my mom made us play with it in the backyard.

This is the last in my year-long series of edibles not found with a bar code, that is to say, out in the elements. And aside from catching snowflakes on my tongue, occasionally getting a face full of it going downhill on a sled, and the above a la Snoopy, I’ve never, you know, eaten snow. Thought it would be fun to play around with it in the kitchen.

Step one was to snoop around for some recipe ideas. I really wanted to make Laura Ingalls Wilder’s family recipe for maple candy poured hot onto snow, upon which it turns into something like taffy. This is a New England favorite. I have The Little House Cookbook, but the recipe in it calls for molasses, not maple, which is an exceptional bummer and means I will have to keep looking and post about it later. I did see recipes for one simple dish; it was compiled of varying degrees of milk, vanilla extract, and sugar mixed into snow. Many started with a gallon of snow, but since I’m not holding a dessert fiesta for 20, I scaled it way back.

It snowed again last night, so I jumped at the chance to use fresh snow. Pulled out a Tupperware container and walked out to a remote spot by the lake to scoop some. The EPA won’t allow any pesticides near the lake, so I knew it was clean. Yes, I live in New Jersey; yes, there are some areas in the state that earn its reputation and where I would question the cleanliness of anything, not just snow*. But it sure ain’t here.

Back at home I spooned about a cup of snow into a bowl, then added a few splashes of milk, a dash of vanilla extract, and maybe 1/4 c of white sugar. You’re all boggled by my fierce attention to exact measurements, I know. I made it up. Make it up yourself until it tastes right. You’ll know. Most of cooking really works this way. And remember…it’s snow. You foul it up, you go outside and get more.

The dessert tasted a lot like icy and somewhat melted vanilla ice cream, but it was good—delicate and fresh tasting.

The next ‘dish’ was as simple as spooning snow into a glass and pouring Baileys over it. I was inspired by the drinks the South Pole crew made in the book Icebound, made with the cleanest snow on earth. They called them slushies. I made a Baileys slushie, Jersey style.

And to curl up and watch Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy with it late on a Sunday night…it was pretty much just the thing.

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Ooooooh that’s good slushie.

*Just like any populated spot on Earth, mind you.

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