I found this post on my Facebook timeline (which was oddly compelling; damn you, Facebook, for finding new ways to help me procrastinate). I wrote it in the middle of February, 2011. But its information seems especially useful just now, in the midst of the harvest season, as I make an effort to fill the cold cellar, cupboards, and freezer. Though I haven’t felt very domestic this summer, somehow the arrival of September gives me the sudden urge to preserve. I feel it in the changing light and the leaves starting to fall, and the yellowing tomato plants: now is the time, hurry, hurry!
I had help this weekend. Caught up in a writing spell, and in possession of a bin of pears afflicted by fruit flies, Kevin offered to learn the fine art of saucing and canning. (Actually, it’s more of a craft than an art, and a bit tedious as he discovered, but he also discovered that he could can pearsauce while watching soccer. Win!) My mother told my aunt who was thrilled because apparently my uncle cans every summer. And then Kevin went to pick up kids at a friend’s house, and discovered that the dad was in the middle of — you guessed it! — canning.
Photos and original post below.
Some food stores well in our cold cellar. Some food does not. The sweet keeper squash is still going strong, but all other squashes are turning, uh, squishy. Squishes. We’ve kept them past their prime. Note to self: buy in bulk early in the season, eat lots, and by January at the very latest, shred and freeze the rest. Late February is too late. Although also note: some slightly squishy squash may be peeled and turned into soup.
Excellent keepers: garlic, stored in brown paper bags (I love my Ontario garlic! If you think you know garlic, and you’ve only ever met grocery store Chinese-grown garlic, I would like to introduce you to a whole different vegetable [is it a vegetable?]); potatoes, as long as you root through the big bag and compost any soft specimens–they keep best stored in smaller amounts in brown paper bags; beets, just like potatoes, only everyone gets much more tired of them, and kind of wishes they wouldn’t keep so well (though they do make good pickles).
Good keepers: apples. Our cold cellar can’t preserve them as well as Martin’s, our local apple farm, but we buy half a bushel or more at a time, and, stored in our cold cellar, they stay crispy ’til eaten. But we can go through half a bushel in two weeks, so it’s hard to put a fine end date on their cold cellar lives.
Decent keepers: yams, turnips, green cabbage, napa cabbage, pears. Lower your expectations. Don’t leave them to linger all winter long. Eat within the month (even sooner for the napa). We store them loose on wire shelves, with the exception of the pears, which are stored, like the apples, in a handy bin. The pears must been eaten within two weeks, we’ve found, and they rot deceptively, from the inside out.
Not to be kept in the cold cellar: onions, which apparently have an ill effect on apples, so we store them in a dark cupboard in the kitchen; and carrots, which keep best in the refrigerator. It’s not practical to have more than 10 lbs in the bottom drawer of the fridge, but luckily, through Bailey’s Local Foods, I can buy a new 10 lb bag every month. And when that’s not enough, I can drive to Martin’s farm and buy more.
In the freezer, which I’m digging into with ever more gratitude for last summer’s kept harvest, I wish there were more: corn and green beans. And less peas and beet greens. I am absolutely thrilled with the amount of plums and apricots, and the happy surprise of blueberries, (enough to get us through til April or May). But the frozen applesauce is wasted space. Note to self: can the stuff! My canned pearsauce has lasted til now (last jar opened last night). My tomatoes are hanging in there, but with an upswing in soup and stew production, the jolly red jars are beginning to dwindle. I must do a head count. I want them to last through May, and it’s time to start rationing. The frozen roasted red peppers continue to delight. And finally, I am happy with my frozen herbs, but could have frozen far more cilantro and basil, the latter particularly, because there is nothing like a heaping bowl of pasta with pesto to make a winter’s supper sing.
Yesterday I sent the last of the copy edits back to my editor. “We’re really working at the fine details, here, aren’t we,” I commented as we mulled the addition of a “now” here and the removal of italics there. It’s very satisfying to know that a project has been carefully shepherded all the way down to the finest nuance. And just like that, the builders are also dotting i’s and crossing t’s in the new office space. The tile floor has been laid and grouted. Today the electrical work gets started, and tomorrow the trim is installed. Kevin has worked hard to paint walls, ceiling and boards. By the weekend, I will be moving this desk and this computer and this chair downstairs, to my new room.
So it seems fitting to thank this makeshift space in which I’m sitting right now. This is the room where the bulk of The Juliet Stories were written. This is the room where I started my blog. Over the years that this room has served as my writing space, my desk has always been right here, facing the wall nearest the door. I can turn my head to the left and look out the window at power lines over the street, which doesn’t sound very poetical until you consider the birds I’ve seen gathering there, and the squirrels dashing like high-wire artists. One of those squirrels made it into the very last paragraph of The Juliet Stories.
My desk has always been here, but the furniture behind me has changed over the years. Not so long ago there was a crib and a change table and a rocking chair. Now there is a pull-out futon for guests and/or for cozy reading before bed (Albus’s favourite spot.) The closet is crammed with Playmobil. There is an ugly chest of drawers from Ikea to which I cannot wait to bid adieu. (Filled with dress-up clothes.) There is a homework desk, now, too; and homework gum in the tiny set of drawers that serve as my office storage area.
As we look at reconfiguring the rooms, we still have some unsolved problems. Albus will be moving in here, and AppleApple will be claming the boys’ former room, with the two littlest moving in together in what is now the girls’ room. Where will the guest futon go? Will we miss having a communal playroom with shared toys? What will our family policy be on privacy and open doors? Is it time to set up a shared computer space downstairs for homework purposes?
Furniture we’re lacking as we prepare for the move this weekend includes: a bunk bed for the little kids; mattresses; desks; storage cubbies and/or shelves. I’ve been hunting kijiji listings. It’s going to be a busy weekend, a messy weekend, a weekend of playing around with space and imagining and painting and cleaning. It likely to be an unfinished weekend. This won’t all get done in one fell swoop. But it feels like an early Christmas gift, and everyone is excited. Change is exciting. It’s the act of imagining oneself into the future, imagining what might be, what could be. It’s a good time of year for this. We’ll stir things up.
And then we’ll settle in for the winter.
Also, total aside, but did I really used to have straight hair? Like, just a few years ago, as shown in that top photo? Because it’s pretty curly/unruly these days.
This is not my favourite time of year, nor my favourite season. We are nearing November, a month that gets me every pass around the sun. I miss the sun. Winter solstice marks the movement toward light, and every year I look forward to it. Yes, it also marks the start of a long, cold, snowy winter, but the light is returning, and that’s what matters to me.
I went outside this morning to take a photo to illustrate this post, looking for a little pathetic fallacy. I was thinking dead leaves in pools of last night’s rain. But instead, I found purple flowers, green leaves on plants, pale sky, rich oranges, shining rocks and dark wood. I was looking for signs of darkness, but beauty found me.
Mary Oliver would be pleased.
He left first, for nursery school, walking with his dad. He has no need for a backpack, but everyone else has one, so he insisted. The temperature has dropped and we had to dash to the attic to dig for winter hats and fall jackets. The report from Dad was good: they enjoyed a “Star Wars” themed walk to nursery school and parted without tears. I will pick him up in two hours. Repeat every weekday. Our new fall schedule.
After I said goodbye to CJ, the big kids emerged for their annual back-to-school portrait. This was the best they could muster. And yet, they’re all reasonably excited about returning to school. No, really, they are.
It was just as I’d imagined. We always pose the back-to-school pictures on the porch. This year we have no porch (they’re scheduled to start rebuilding in a couple of weeks; please let it be so). And there’s something, um, dismal about the background. Albus doesn’t look so happy either. But he departed at 8:30 sharp in grand spirits, off to walk to school with his friends, all of whom will be in his class this year.
Nothing dismal about AppleApple’s chosen ensemble, despite the brown pants and black shoes; she’s even wearing electric blue socks. On the walk to school, she was extremely focused on getting there, and when we reached the grounds, she ran off without a backward glance, or even the semblance of goodbye. She’s proud to be the first child in our family to be in a portable (and it’s the new portable, which makes me think, off-gassing?).
Look at this glowing child. She’d glow anywhere, in any scene, against any setting. I’m a convert to the background, in this photo. She was so terrifically excited to be starting grade one; though “excited” isn’t quite the right word, because it doesn’t capture her confidence and pride about the big step to full-day, and French immersion, and being with the big kids — being “a big kid.”
Never have we all been so ready so early. Which meant a good deal of hanging around and waiting around on the grass. Finally, the teacher called for her students to line up, and Fooey clung to my hand — I was surprised. One last kiss goodbye, and she let go, and the kids slowly made their way through the doors, and off to their waiting classroom.
Another year begun.
(And I walked briskly home and entered a quiet house. Space to think. Silence. Cup of cooling coffee on the countertop. This feels good).
Yesterday, I did not go to my planned yoga class. Instead, I cooked a risotto that reminded me of an evening out last month, rich with reduced wine, garlic, butter, parmesan, and I stayed home over the supper hour and savoured the food with my family. In order to exercise more, I have to skip something: which ends up being supper, most often. And I miss supper with my family. When I’m home, more things happen. Good food is prepared. Homework gets completed. Musical instruments get practiced. Real talk is exchanged.
What is the mysterious balance? Everything I choose to do weighs against everything that therefore will not happen.
Yesterday afternoon, on the most beautiful fall day imaginable, I took the little ones to the little park and we played. I must have pushed them on the platter swing for half an hour, singing songs, and reminiscing: in the blink of an eye, my babies have grown. Only a minute ago, I was pushing the older two in the same swing, singing the same songs. It was so peaceful, I did not want to rush home and make supper so that I could rush out the door to do something by myself. I wanted to let them lie on their backs and look at the rare cloud passing by, and be soothed. I wanted to sing. Impossible, when in a rush. Impossible, when hewing to a pre-arranged schedule.
Still, I love my schedule. I love to get out by myself.
But here’s a toast to being flexible. To breaking plans. To changing my mind.
Beautiful colours. Morning readers. Falling-down porch. We’ll fix it someday.