Sunday, October 18, 2009

New Sorting Moon

This week marks the beginning of the last month of Annette Hinshaw's lunar calendar, the Sorting Moon. She brings to mind the central image theme of this month - animal herds being thinned so they can be cared for with the farm's limited resources during the winter. This is the time, at the end of the year, to sort through what has been done and learned, and to cull out that which is no longer useful or can not be supported. I'll meditate on that thought more as the month progresses but something else is taking up my thinking these days.

All of a sudden it is truly autumnal in this neck of the woods. It feels like just days ago I was enjoying the Indian Summer of Michaelmas time and now it is dark, wet and even getting a little cold at night. The leaves aren't that lovely yellow they were a month ago, they are now a riot of orange, brown and gold. I remember the awe I felt when my high school biology teacher taught us about why leaves change. It was one of the first of many times I have felt that sense of awe when learning or contemplating facts about the natural world. He told us about the different types of plant pigments - chlorophyll that looks green, carotenoids that look orange or brown and the xanthophyll that is yellow - and how they are all present all year. During the growing season the chlorophyll is so prominent that the plants look green but in the fall chlorophyll production slows and eventually stops. This leaves the plants true colors, the yellows, oranges and reds, to show in a glorious blaze before the tree sheds it's leaves for the winter. The yellows and reds are always there, we just can't see them. How cool is that??

The other marker of the turning seasons is how dark and wet it has become. We had our first big rainstorms last week and I have had to start wearing my dog walk shoes and pants for our morning walks. In the summer I can get away with wearing work clothes because the ground is dry and I don't get muddy but that is just not the case in the winter. This week also marked the first time the sun was down and the sky was dark when I got off work at 6:30. I've been working hard to adjust to the new winter rhythm in my life - morning dog walks, warm dinners waiting in the crock pot, nights by the fire or radio with crochet or hand sewing - but it's hard work! I'm tired tired and frustrated. Until the sun comes up the next morning and the sky is misty, the grass dewy and the trees bronze and copper colored. I do love autumn.

Speaking of dinners in the crock pot, nothing is quite so lovely as a warm dinner waiting when you get home. This week I made chili with cornbread in the crock pot and have been eating it all week. Blessed be the crock pot that cooks my food while I work!

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Crock Pot Tamale Pie

Chili (make the night before)

1 lb ground bison or beef or turkey or whatever - I used bison
2 cans beans - I used black and kidney
1/2 onion, chopped
2, 3, 4 cloves of garlic, minced
dried chile powder and cumin - at LEAST a tbs each
other leftover veggies - I diced up two carrots fine and added a little leftover cooked corn
spicy stuff - I had some canned jalapenos, two kinds of salsa and some chipotle in adobo sauce that all got thrown in
tomato stuff - in addition to the salsa I added some tomato paste thinned to sauce consistency
liquid stuff - chicken broth or water as necessary

Fry up the ground meat with a little extra fat to keep things from sticking if necessary. When it's starting to brown add the onions, dry spices and other veggies and cook until browned and softened. Stir in the garlic and cook another minute before starting to toss tomatoey and spicy stuff in. Keep adding what you've got until the chili is a consistency a little thinner than you would like. Add a little salt if necessary and simmer until it has thickened a bit. Pour into storage containers and cool overnight.

Cornbread (Start the night before)

3/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup white or whole wheat flour
1 cup kefir or buttermilk or yogurt thinned to buttermilk consistency
2 eggs
Up to 3 tbs honey or maple syrup
Up to 1/4 cup melted butter, coconut oil or olive oil
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder

Stir together the cornmeal, flour and sour dairy and let sit overnight.
In the morning, stir in everything else and mix well to combine.

Pour the cold chili into a 4 quart crock pot and pour the cornbread batter over top. Cook for 6 hours on low or until the cornbread is set and everything is hot.

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What signs of the season are you noting as the wheel turns to deep autumn? Is it frosty and cold where you are, or are the fall rains a blessing? How are you settling into your cold season rhythm? What do you like to cook on a cold, dark night?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Moon When Squirrels Throw Acorns At You

As I have more closely watched the wheel of the year turn and gotten to know the major signs of the seasons I have started to notice the more subtle signs as well. It's fun to make up my own names for the seasons. There is a time in the spring I refer to as The Season When Little Birds Chase Big Birds. Starlings harass crows who get to close to their nests, crows harass hawks and hawks harass eagles. It's pretty funny to watch. In the summer there is the Season of Late Nights on Porches when it is too hot to hang out inside so all of our socializing happens outside. We have recently just moved into the Season When Squirrels Throw Acorns At You. The squirrels are busy and active building up their stores for the winter, and always seem to be chucking nuts at me as I walk under the trees they are working in. No one ever said squirrels were polite woodland creatures. Photo by Bourbon Familia.

There are some other fantastic signs of the season readily apparent as we settle fully into autumn. The sunlight continues to change, to get thinner. I met some friends for afternoon drinks the other day and we sat out on the deck and wore our sunglasses, but where I parked my car in the shade was still quite cool. The evenings and mornings are distinctly cold and I my dog is spending more and more hours under the covers with me rather than sleeping on her own dog bed as she prefers in the summer. The leaves on the trees are changing color and I am seeing more and more reds along with the common yellows and browns. The hills behind downtown Portland are starting to look golden green instead of just green as they do during the growing season.

Autumn is soup season, and root vegetable season. Here's a recipe from last autumn that combines the best of both worlds, and was made with turnips I harvested myself.

Harvest Moon Turnip Soup

4 or so cups of washed and chopped turnips
2 small potatoes, washed and chopped
1 small white sweet potato, peeled, washed and chopped
1/2 an onion, chopped
Couple tablespoons butter and olive oil
Salt, pepper, garlic powder and thyme
3 cups chicken stock, plus some more water
3 tbs butter
3 tbs flour
3/4 cup milk
Grated cheddar cheese
Croutons (bought oh, so long ago and finally getting used up)
Black pepper
  • Sautee the vegetables in the butter and oil in a big soup pot along with the seasonings until they are starting to get soft or color or both.

  • Add the chicken stock and scrape to get the crusties off the bottom of the pot. Bring to a boil, drop to a simmer and check for seasonings. Simmer until the vegetables are well cooked.

  • Puree the soup in batches in a blender (being very careful! Volcanic hot spewing soup is not fun for girls or boys! Cover the blender with a dishtowel, and use the low setting on your blender!) or with a stick blender if you are cool like that. Keep the soup warm in the pot once it is all blended to your desired consistency.

  • In another small pot heat the butter and when melted add the flour. Cook a few minutes until it is a little golden in color. Slowly add the milk, stirring until the sauce is thickened. Add the sauce to the soup and stir to combine.

  • Grate a generous portion of cheese into each soup bowl (you could add cheese to the pot, but it makes reheating difficult, so I didn't) and ladle hot soup over the cheese. Stir to combine. Garnish with croutons, a little more cheese, and black pepper.
What season is it where you are? What creatures do you see being more active now and which do you notice by their absence? What are you cooking for dinner?