23 October 2006

Cats, Comfort, and Cream

In my last entry (Apples), I mentioned that Paquito was missing.

Paquito is gone.

The first time I laid eyes on Paquito, over 10 years ago, I exclaimed, "He was supposed to come back to me!" I had recently lost a deeply loved cat, a long-haired version of Paco’s cream-with-flame-point coloring and amazing blue eyes. But Paco was Mom’s cat, except when I’d visit her; then he was on my lap and in my arms.

Everybody loved Paquito. Gorgeous, affectionate, demanding, fearless…he was my big dumb blond lover-boy. Because eventually he did come to me. When mom died of lung cancer in March of 2000, I adopted Paquito. We lived together for six and a half years.

But now he’s gone. I last saw him in the morning on Tuesday, October 10 – two weeks ago. He was a neutered male and not given to wandering; he liked his food, so disappearing was not in character. I looked high and low – literally – scrambling through the riparian willows and brambles around the house, shining a spotlight into the corners beneath the buildings on the property, going door to door to speak with my neighbors. I called all the vets, the shelters. I posted a lost cat notice on Craig’s List. I even consulted with two animal communicators (psychics).

Paco’s gone, and there’s a huge hole where his insistent energy used to be. No one’s snagging at my pants leg as I type, meowing until I stop writing and fill his cat bowl. No one’s around to scoop up in my arms like a babe and bury my face into his fur. No one’s around to be patient with Ant’s antics: standing Paco into a pair of waders so that he can be Puss N Boots, or wrapping Paquito around the back of his neck, two paws grasped in each hand to hold him in place as a neck warmer. Yes, I still share my life with four wonderful cats, but none of them is Paquito.

Today’s recipe is creamy like Paquito’s coloring, and a comfort food to soothe my grief. It’s Cauliflower-Potato-Leek Soup, and it’s delicious.

In a soup pot, heat some olive oil, then sauté over medium heat
1 Leek, sliced.

When it’s soft and somewhat translucent, add
1 Cauliflower, about 5 inches in diameter, broken into florets
1 Potato (preferably White Rose), about 5 or 6 inches long and 2 inches thick, cubed.

Add enough water to just cover the veggies.
Add one heaping teaspoon of Better Than Bouillon (chicken).
Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until the veggies are tender.
Remove from heat.
Run the veggies through a blender to puree them, then add them back to the stock.
Add cream to taste – between 1/4 and 1/2 cup (or more, if you want).
Season with 1 scant teaspoon of nutmeg.
Serve. (If you’re really decadent, you can melt a pad of butter on top of each serving.)


Yesterday we went to a cider-pressing party.

You’ve heard of barn raisers, right? Well, my neighbor two doors up, Marianne, has a small organic apple orchard and every year she gathers up friends to help her press her harvest into cider. Although I’ve been invited in the past, this was the first year I was able to join. Anthony’s been hankering to make his own hard cider. Now he has four gallons of fresh-pressed juice to play with.

I’m actually not that fond of cider, and the work left me with aching muscles by the time we ended (after dark, working by lanterns). But the cider wasn’t my motivation. (I didn’t even bring any home.) What I like is being part of a community, working together to feed each other and help each other out.

I like knowing my neighbors, being there for each other. Marianne knows that, if she needs, she can call me and I’ll take care of her dog. The up-the-hill neighbors ask me to take care of their chickens when they are gone. When one of Farmer John’s cows get loose, I call him up, then go out to the cow, helping to keep her out of the road and to herd her home. When Larry called to say his wife had been seeing a white cat in their field, I went over to investigate. (My white Paquito Cat was missing.) Realizing that the cat was quite domestic, and that it probably had come across the creek from the houses behind Larry’s field, I called Pam. Indeed, it was her cat.

Lest I sound like the only one who helps out, let me state quite clearly that I am blessed with generous neighbors, as well. The neighbors one property south give me fresh salmon fillets and fresh cooked (and cleaned) crab from their first catch every season. The first time I went over to Larry’s to buy eggs, he loaded me up with veggies from his garden. Marianne invites me every year to Christmas dinner. The up-the-hill neighbors insist that I am not to buy any tools, but should borrow theirs if a need arises. Wayne, local king of the heavy equipment, brought over a load of broken concrete so that I could build a little patio in my garden. Greg, my tenant/neighbor (I own a detached duplex) and I swap cat care.

We all wave at each other when passing in our cars. And we stop to talk over the fences, in the middle of the road… .

I remember, years ago, my ex and I were discussing our ideal home. He wanted remote rural. While I love the quiet and the connection with nature that remote rural offers, I was adamant – I wanted neighbors. Not adjoining walls. Not in-my-face city living. But neighbors. Community. And I have that. What a blessing.

So, in honor of apples and community, here’s my favorite recipe for Apple Pie. Note that it is sugar free! I’m assuming you know how to make a pie, so this is just a list of ingredients.
2 cups unbleached white flour
2/3 cup butter
6 to 7 Tablespoons milk

In a small saucepan, bring 3/4 cup raisins and 3/4 cup water to a boil. Remove from heat and allow to stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Drain off the excess water and combine raisins with:
7 or 8 cooking apples (I like Gravensteins best for pies)
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 Tablespoons unbleached white flour
1 generous teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon each of ground ginger and cloves

Assemble as you normally would, then bake at 350 for 40 minutes or until the crust is browned and the fruit is tender.

Serve with vanilla ice cream or homemade whipped cream. (Anthony takes a pint of heavy cream, puts it in a jar with a bit of vanilla and maple syrup, then shakes it up until it thickens into whipped cream. This is pretty dang nice in your morning coffee, too… maybe with a slice of pie?)

05 October 2006

Country Living

And I don’t mean the picture-perfect everything-matches life portrayed in the magazine of the same name.

We’re getting the garden ready for winter, in our haphazard, don’t-really-know-what-we’re-doing way. Saturday we took Ant’s Toyota pickup over to Rabbi Les’ place and loaded up on composted llama manure. (The Rabbi has two llamas.) I’ve been spending an hour or two in the garden most days since then, weeding the beds, adding the manure, then mulching with rice straw. Today Ant spent some time in the garden with me, weeding his kohlrabi and radishes and dead-heading the dahlias. He also cut the heads off a few of the larger sunflowers, which I’ve brought inside to dry. I hope the seeds will be edible.

I’m also hoping that our favorite growers – Rita and Laurie of Flying Blue Dog Nursery – will have starts of various cole crops at market this weekend so that we can have a winter garden: broccoli, brussell sprouts, chard, and so on. We’re not very good at planning; if we were, we’d have started seeds ourselves a month ago. And we have yet to plant enough of any crop to have anything more than a handful at each harvest, enough for a meal here and there, never enough to preserve or sell. I’d like to change that. My sister and her husband have an organic farm in Scotland, and they’re doing well at selling weekly baskets of produce, eggs, and flowers. I would love to be doing the same thing here, but don’t feel like I have the know-how or the help to pull it off.

Well, I may not try to have chickens again. My neighbors up two doors up the road sell eggs fresh from their hens. Anytime I need more eggs, I walk to their barn, pick up what I need, and drop money into the box – eggs on the honor system.

My dad admits to shaking his head in amazement, wondering aloud to his wife how he, an utterly urban man, wound up with two country girls for daughters. Seeing the way he delights over the beauty of something as mundane as a thistle, though, I understand where Jessica (my sister) and I got our love of nature. I’ve lived in the city, loved being able to hop a bus or walk to whatever I needed. But I also love looking out my kitchen window to see the pasture full of Farmer John’s "girls": doe-eyed Jerseys grazing 10 feet from my window. I love watching the birds come and go with their seasons – the flickers and stellar jays and Oregon junkos and robins – love listening to the osprey’s high cry and the distinctive sound that a raven’s wings make as they displace air.

I even love the excitement of chasing my neighbor’s "pet" raccoon out of the garden, where it was planning to dumpster-dive my compost bin in broad daylight. (My neighbor’s been feeding it because she can’t refuse a cute face. I know, I know – give her the lecture, not me!) Actually, I only started to chase the raccoon; Ant did the real running it off. Right down the private road, toward the buck who was there, eyeing the abandoned apple trees. Raccoons and bucks in the middle of the day…

Soon our apples will be ready to harvest, then I’ll need to either dry them for winter snacks, or freeze them for apple pies. Remind me when we get closer to Thanksgiving and I’ll give y’all my recipe for sugar-free apple pie and for pumpkin pie (from scratch – we’ve 2 pie pumpkins in the garden, both of which were volunteers). I think my pumpkin pie is the best around, and the sugar-free apple pie is delicious (sweetened with raisins).

Oh my, Thanksgiving. Autumn really is here, isn’t it?

Okay, here’s my favorite way to eat Brussell Sprouts – with Horseradish & Cheese Sauce

Sautee 8 sliced mushrooms in either olive oil or butter
Add about 1 pound of brussells, washed, stemmed, and sliced lengthwise in half
Cook, covered, over medium-low heat until tender (to taste).

While the sprouts are cooking, grate about 1 cup of sharp cheddar cheese.
Once the sprouts are cooked, push them to one side of the skillet.
Add in 2 Tablespoons of butter
Mix into the butter 1 heaping Tablespoon of flour
Add one cup of milk, and mix so that the flour/butter is fully dissolved into the milk.
Add the grated cheese, 1 heaping Tablespoon of horseradish, and 1 Tablespoon of dried tarragon.
Continue stirring until everything is well blended and the sauce has thickened. (It’s okay to be mixing the brussells and shrooms in with the sauce.)

Serve over pasta.