R and S, Scourge of the Raspberries

Because the raspberry bushes that we planted when we first moved here did so well, we have “volunteers” every Spring. More volunteers than we know what to do with. At first I added to our long row of bushes so that we have about…70 feet of raspberry bushes. Then between taking two sons to high level soccer practice and games over 40 miles away, teaching several classes each Spring, and taking care of the large vegetable and flower gardens, the raspberry row fell into disrepair. 

I definately discovered one of the culprits two days ago while “weeding” with a shovel. I was digging out young trees, wild black cap runners, thorn bushes, and a monster weed that actually looked like a criminal. It had grown into huge clumps of tentacle like tubers that formed a hard mass in the ground. I believe that they produce some sort of daisy wildflower up above ground. These masses of tubers were strangling the straggling row of raspberries…. So out they all came. While I use every last ounce of strength and heavy iron hand tools to weed, I imagine other people kneeling politely next to their manicured plots…lifting weeds out with delicate little trowels. The up side to my laissez faire gardening is the “volunteering” of not only weeds, but wild edible plants such as onion and garlic and also cultivated plants like parsnips, kale, and cilantro that all appear each year now where I planted them previously.

I believe this is garlic growing wild from preovvious years of planting it here

Making pesto with the lawnmower


I watch the grass-expelling chute on the lawnmower anxiously as I mow. For one reason or another, the lawnmower often stops expelling grass out the chute, and then I must pause, not letting the engine stop, to poke and prod with a stick into the chute until clumps of sodden grass comes shooting out. Only then can I resume mowing. This happened more and more frequently yesterday until I was doing more poking and prying while trying not to let go of the throttle with my left hand, than mowing. Finally, the poking and prodding yielded no expelled result, so I had to bite the bullet and let the engine die. The problem with letting the mower stop, is that it cannot be started again for about 20 minutes. I am sure that any small engine mechanic reading this would be able to explain why this is so, but it is baffling to me. Anyway, with the engine off, I turned the mower on it’s side to examine it’s underbelly. Lo and behold, there was a pesto-like mass affixed to the roof of the underbelly, the blade, and of course wedged into the chute. I pried it out by scraping with my stick, but my mind definitely thought of retrieving a rubber spatula from the kitchen to scrape the green aromatic mixture off the mower parts.
When the mower predictably did not start, I gave up and went in to take a shower. Maybe tomorrow.

Rye grass and breadcrumbs: the hard way?

the extra breadcrumbs

No bread crumbs and I’m making spinach salad for 10. Quick look on the internet, and then in the freezer for a loaf of home made bread, and voila, breadcrumbs are warm and freshly baked. Just think, I could have driven to the store but it would have taken longer. They only bake for about 6 minutes..

Earlier in the day, I am out in the veggie garden hand clipping the 2 ft tall rye grass. I can hear my neighbor running various gardening machines over at his place. I am worried he will hear the sound of my garden shears snipping slowly through about 200 square feet of tall grass. I am telling myself that I am doing it the ridiculous hard way again (I catch myself doing things the hard way out of schedule desperation, frugality, and sheer virgo-ness) when it dawns on me that this is another case of the hard way being a good way. I plant a 5 lb bag of rye seeds in the fall. It grows a little over the winter. Then, in mid spring, it is suddenly 2 ft tall and I cut it (a real farmer uses a machine) and spread it as mulch all over my garden. It saves running to purchase bales of straw to carpet the garden. Then, I till up the root material and let it remain in the soil where I am planting all my carefully nursed seedlings…eggplant, tomatoes, etc. I use clumps of the rye roots to mound right at the base of the seedlings as extra nutritious and protective mulch.

The result is a chaotic garden that never looks completely “under control” as there is either tall grass growing in it or clumps of gnarly root systems strewn about, but it feels smart to me now. I prefer spending an extra hour hand clipping in my garden to careening along in my car looking for somebody else’s straw. If I were handy with machines, it would be smarter perhaps to employ a small engine to help with the cutting, but again, in my case, this always involves driving to repair places, waiting at counters for help, and paying maintenance and repair fees for services I do not really understand. I’d rather be in the garden.

the unruly garden with cut rye carpeting the path in foreground, and some still standing in the back


Beyond the warning, before the eulogy


I googled “love of inanimate objects”; it is called “objectophilia.” I do not think that this term does my love justice for two reasons: the first is that the love I am describing is not sexual, and the second is that the object in question is not exactly inanimate. It is my car.

My car is an aging diesel VW jetta that has 340,000 miles on it. It has officially died several times. It is currently suffering from a wee bit of dementia, displaying warning lights that may or may not have significance, but it is way beyond retirement in car years, so who is surprised? Why do I love it so? Let me count the ways:

It ran over 100,000 miles on vegetable oil. I still remember the first time I drove it and switched it over to veggie oil…I remember approaching the toll booth for the local Rip Van Winkle bridge and being both euphoric about driving on free fuel but also nervous that something that felt that good must not be legal. Would the toll booth attendant notice? Would the local sheriff start tailing the aroma of french fries?

It is the car that we drove my two oldest sons thousands of miles back and forth to faraway “premier level” soccer practices and games. I watched games in the freezing cold sleet from inside the car and then afterwards turned on the “butt warmers” as we called the seat warmers for the shivering boys….soaked to their skins in the skinny nylon soccer jerseys…the memory of the win or loss fresh in their exhausted minds.

It is the car that my husband loved. He researched its conversion to vegetable oil and drove it to Massachusetts to have the veggie tank installed. He painstakingly filtered gallons and gallons and gallons of vegetable oil that we obtained from restaurants upstate and down.

It is the car that I actually drove over and somehow across a huge deer lying dead in the road one cold night lost and coming home from one of those distant soccer games with my oldest son next to me. The car sort of simultaneously hit and rode over the huge carcass before I knew what was happening. That was the beginning of the end for the cover or plate that protects the bottom of the car.

It is the car that both older boys learned to drive in. It is a standard and they are both competent drivers now, if a little subject to the vagaries of late teen years. Our older son slid this jetta off the road in a late march snowstorm. This was the car’s first death. It was hospitalized at our mechanic’s for a long period and repaired as much as possible. The right front passenger door must be pried open and closed ever since that incident. It also suffered some minor scrapes and bruises. These wounds are not aging well….they grow bigger now and seem to spill a sort of yellow spongelike puss from the abrasions.

Then, last fall, our second oldest son was driving and the engine actually fell out of the car. Following what I would imagine to be the rather insistent direction of my sister’s boyfriend who was in the car and has many years of driving experience in his voice, my son nursed the car home about a mile further leaving a trail of oil that can still be detected. Due to finances, the car then spent close to 6 months sitting in a coma in our driveway. This was a sad time for me. Every day, I thought about it and wondered if it would ever run again. I did not give up hope. My husband kept the tires pumped during this time.

One day, when we felt falsely optimistic about our finances, we had the AAA come to tow the car out of the driveway and off to the mechanic. I waited with baited breath for the call from the mechanic. He is a really nice guy, but not a fool, and not one to nourish false hopes. He eventually got a chance to look at it. He felt that it was repairable. It needed over a thousand dollars of work…had to have the engine reattached and a new oil pan.

When we got it back that time, I got to revisit that euphoric feeling that I had first driving it on vegetable oil. It ran again! I could get in it and it would take me to the grocery store. I trusted it again immediately. My second son drives it to far away soccer practices. We have all learned how to start it in the freezing cold. it is very hesitant to start, but my husband figured out that it must be left parked in a certain sunny part of our driveway where it is also facing slightly downhill. That way, the fuel is already pooling down near the starting apparatus. So we turn the key in the ignition six times watching the coil light carefully. Then one must push the gas pedal to the floor while holding the key turned in the ignition for what seems like an inordinate amount of time. The car sputters weakly and if you continue to hold that key twisted in the ignition, the sputtering takes hold and the engine turns over and if you keep that gas pedal pressed to the floor for a good 30 seconds, you have a started car. Then you can walk back into the house and get anything that you forgot as it needs to warm up.

The car climbs up out onto the road, easily gripping slippery icy terrain. It starts off slow, it is old now. About 30 seconds into actually moving, the “check engine light” pops cheerily on. This is a familiar sight. It became routine back when we were still driving on vegetable oil. Next, the red thermometer light pops on. This is more alarming to me, but my husband assures me that it just means that a fuel injector needs to be replaced. So that is where the dementia comes in. Why is the car talking about temperature if it is an injector issue? I do however remember conversations with my 100 year old grandmother. I am not so self assured as to think that I knew what we were talking about and she didn’t. Like my grandmother, the car just keeps carrying on…. warning us gently that it cannot live forever.

Shopping for Health Care?

health care shoppers

illustration by Tasha Depp


Why do I not feel the bubbling enthusiasm of these happy shoppers? Is it that I was hoping for healthcare rather than a shopping experience which I avoid whenever possible? Is it that I do not receive a regular paycheck of any substantial size and I cannot really envision how to afford a new monthly payment of over $400? Is it that I don’t believe that health care should be a consumer experience?

Catching wind of the buzz to “Start shopping for health care”, I spent some time this morning trying to ascertain what it means to me, a longtime uninsured parent of four (also uninsured). I am still not sure, but quite frankly, it looks worse than it did; there are more “shopping” options than ever, which does not seem positive as I hate the confusion of malls, and a tangled trail of links to click on that essentially take you to the same assorted “providers” who are all certainly eager to relieve me of my funds. I may just have to opt for “none” and wait for the secret police to come levy the fines.

Retaining Enthusiasm for String Beans



A few weeks now into string bean season, it is important to retain enthusiasm for the vegetable. It occurred to me yesterday when I realized that I did not have any sweet potatoes on hand with which to make pakoras, that my copious quantities of string beans might suddenly come in very handy. The fried string bean pakoras were truly delicious….they melt in your mouth encased in the gently spicy chickpea batter of the pakora….I pretty much use Madhur Jaffrey for all my Indian cooking recipes….so here is the recipe. It is shockingly easy; the only real challenge would be to initially obtain the chickpea flour and cumin seeds if you are not accustomed to having that on hand. You can buy it in health food sections of better grocery stores, or better yet, at your local Indian grocers….

1 1/2 cups chickpea flour
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp ground cumin
3/4 tsp ground coriander
3/4 tsp whole ajwain seeds or whole cumin seeds
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

Sift the flour, salt, and baking soda together in a bowl. Add all the other spices for the batter. Very slowly and gradually, pour in 1 1/4 cups water, beating with a fork as you do so. You should have a smooth batter.

All you need now is vegetable oil for deep frying and the assortment of vegetables prepared for frying…green beans with ends removed, potatoes peeled and cut into 1/8 inch thick rounds, cauliflower florets, hot Italian peppers…etc.

Heat the oil till a drop of water sizzles in it, or temp of oil is 350-375F. Fry coated items slowly about 7 minutes on each side….When the outside is golden brown and crisp, remove fritters with slotted spoon and leave to drain on mesh rack or paper towels.

Serve with tamarind chutney, mint chutney, etc.

If this culinary idea doesn’t float your boat, try:

Greene beans with garlic and Ginger
1 lb green beans (or however many you have to use!)
1 clove garlic minced
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 tbsp veg oil
1 tsp corn starch
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp brown sugar
2 tsps tamari
1/4 cup of water
minced hot red pepper (I use dried whole cayenne peppers…)
Steam the beans for 5 minutes and then plunge into cold water. Mix the last 6 ingredients in a small cup.
heat the veg oil in a cast iron pan or other frying pan. When hot, put in garlic and ginger, stir for 30 seconds. Add beans, Stir for a minute or so. Now add the cup of liquid and mix to incorporate all ingredients with the beans. Cook for about 5-8 minutes…covering if mixture starts to dry out at all. You should have a bit of thickened brown sauce clinging to the beans in the end. This is also super delicious, but less of a fussy child pleaser.

Red Stuff


We got home from a week away to a harvesting emergency out in the yard…apples hitting the ground as we picked, raspberries already so ripe as to be only food for the chickens (but lots more ripe enough for human consumption), and enough tomatoes to make a first batch of salsa. So after picking steadily for about 3 hours yesterday, I faced a laundry bin, and several bags and a basket of apples, along with 2 bins of tomatoes this morning. Began peeling, slicing and putting on trays in freezer. Made 3 pie crusts for pie fabrication tomorrow. Processed the tomatoes with lots of super hot peppers to make 7 jars of salsa. Froze the raspberries, but there are lots more that need picking tomorrow. No time for painting or filing homeschool syllabii for kids.

As my camera broke the other day,  I had to create a picture in Photoshop  that describes the situation…

Walking on Clouds


The overgrown lot across the road….

My son and I went across the road to get maple tree branches for him to complete building an arbor for our garden gateway into our chicken yard. To get there, we had to navigate  this field of pink fluff which actually cushioned our steps as we walked…expressions like “heaven on earth” and “walking in clouds” flitted into my mind as I walked softly. Imagine our happiness when we got to the top of the hill and discovered blackberry bushes laden with fruit that the deer had not yet found. We filled our pockets and my skirt folded up to be a pocket, cut some branches, and then returned back across the pink clouds to the kitchen where I baked a peach and blackberry tart.

Not all outdoor experiences are this idyllic, which makes one like this extra special. We were not swatting mosquitos, rushing, ignoring someone else’s problems, or sweating profusely.

The Stoics emphasized the appreciation of what is actually attainable, rather than the constant desiring and striving after things that come at too high of a price one way or another. Reading about the philosophy has led me to identify myself as a natural stoic…it is not anxiety that gives me pause when my three sons climb into the car to go play soccer in a neighboring town….it is a deep awareness of how tentative and fragile our experience is. They could be eradicated off the face of the earth in a second by an oncoming vehicle. It is the stoic in me who takes a minute to focus on the three of them with the thought of how much I love them before they set off, relatively immune to my call to them to “Drive safely!”


One son and the arbor he made


Detritus Defined


sunglasses, violin CD, historic bit of hardware, flashlight lens, battery, lens cap, and tracked-in bits….

Every time I bend over to pick up strange objects from the floor of my home, I wonder if other people are picking up similarly disparate objects off their floors. Or is it just me?

We are all surrounded by the detritus of our lives…but some of us manage it with more ease than  others. I am aware of waging a constant war on the stuff…it comes in the mailbox, it comes in with the groceries. It can be found spilling out of soccer bags and second hand bags of clothes that well-meaning friends drop off. I have actually purchased it, and I have also relegated it to the attic. Someone in the house has got it out to use it and not put it back, someone else has misplaced  it and never found it again.  It gets kicked under the sofa and it lines the edges of the porch. I notice it finally and try to assign it a place, either the garbage bin, or a storage unit of some kind. If it can’t simply go in the garbage bin, I am forced to categorize the object in question: is it food? clothing? sports equipment? craft material? toy? gardening tool? mine? somebody else’s?