Recipe For Winter

For readers who may not live in the coastal Pacific Northwest…it’s raining out. Not just raining, November raining. The rain that spawns temperate rainforests of water-loving Sitka spruce, Western hemlock, Western red cedar, and Bigleaf maples, whose branches are covered with thick moss, holding the rain like sponges. It’s the type of rain that brings those gentle giants down by saturating the soil where their roots try to hold on while water pours into the earth, loosening even the hardest of clay soils, and moving in rivulets the rich peaty soils of the forest floor.

In our small, old, house with 2×4 framing, thin-glassed old windows, and low ceilings, November rain is a pounding force to be reckoned with, an omnipresent noise, day and night. The barrier between the sheets of falling water and us seems a bit weak-willed. I review in my mind…how old is our roof? Did we leave any unfinished projects at any buildings that might have left even a crack where water could get in? How will the old chicken coop hold up?

Everyone – us, chickens, ducks, are warm and dry…and for the most part staying indoors.

And then it stops. Just when you think it will never stop, when it has rained for at least 48-72 hours, when the weather forecast says 90-100% rain every day in the foreseeable future, the faucet suddenly turns off, the darken sky lightens, and the world opens up.

Going outside after the first good multiple-day November storm is always an awe-inspiring experience. Deciduous trees have lost nearly every last leaf (except our strange peach tree, which has never produced more than a few peaches, yet holds on to bright green leaves until Christmas). There is sky where there has not been sky since early the previous spring. The road noise, drowned out by the rain, is audible again, yet there is a silence when compared to the deafening water that has pounded, like the surf on a beach, and poured for hours. The rainstorm, washing away autumn,  has given birth to winter.  It is not the same stillness of the first snowfall, yet there is a tangible winter calm to the quiet that follows a robust rainstorm.

Remarkably, with the winter solstice still a month away, darkness increasing daily, and the days continuing to get shorter, there are signs of spring. New buds have formed on the Indian Plum, and on the Flowering Current, which I guiltily pruned today, cutting off many tender buds. It is difficult in the northwest to find a ‘dormant’ time to hack away at plants. With the wet weather and mild winters, the dying back and the budding forth appear seamless in many perennial bushes and trees.  Even some early perennial flowers have put forth new leaves, but it is a premature effort, for the first snow or a prolonged freeze will cause them to die back.

It is the lull before the next storm, according to the weather pundits, a much-appreciated lull before feeling buffeted around again by stormy weather. As this week of Thanksgiving, infamous for challenging weather patterns, begins, I am grateful to go out and work in the wet garden, breathing in the clean air as I prune back dead flowers, pull down soggy bean plants, cover the whitened, decaying squash plants with fallen Maple leaves, preparing the hills for next summer’s planting. An appreciated lull to put the garden to bed for the winter.

Northwest weather is made for soup.  I make a lot of soups.  Here is one of my latest. Warming food for stormy weather! A nice pre or post-Thanksgiving meal, easy, not too heavy, but filling.

Acorn Squash Soup

Quarter and bake in a 350 degree oven one acorn squash (any winter squash will do just fine) until a knife goes in easy and there is a little browning on top. After it has cooled, scrap out the meat, cut into chunks, and put in a soup pan. (You can also quarter and steam in a pan on the stove top, this saves time, but if you have the time, baking/roasting the squash in the oven brings out the flavor and sweetness more.)

Add a quart of water (actually I never measure so I’m just guessing on this, might need a little more)

Chop and add:

1/3 cup onion

2 medium to large carrots – not the bitter supermarket kind, but local, farmers market ones, this adds flavor and sweetness. (Nash’s Organic Produce or Dharma Ridge Farm are favorites of ours.)

Dharma Ridge Carrots at the Chimacum Market. The Port Townsend Market is still open on Saturdays with lots of winter veggies from local farmers.

1 small apple, a tart one is good

Also add:

¼ cup basmati rice

1 bay leaf

1 t. grated fresh ginger

1 to 1 ½ t. homemade curry powder

Cook until rice is done.  Put into a blender in batches to blend smooth.  It will have little pieces of apple skin, for a smoother soup peel apple first.

Options: I added homemade almond milk I had on hand, coconut milk is also nice, about 1/3 cup.

Garnish with a dollop of tahini and fresh grated ginger, the tahini adds protein, and a distinctive, richer flavor, but the soup is delicious, and a little lighter, without it.

Ah, it is raining again.  Think I’ll go make some soup! 

Happy Thanksgiving all! 

I am grateful you do me the honor of reading my musings!  It helps keep my creativity alive!

Bird antics

Cleaning up under a feeder, a small band of a much larger mob!

I love these guys, and gals!  Evening Grosbeaks.  They remind me of clowns!  They hang out in large flocks in the winter and eat A LOT of seed!  Not shy, if there is seed on the porch, close to the house, they will come and get it.  They are not intimated by other large birds. Generally amiable, they seem to share well with smaller birds.  I watched several times today as one Varied Thrush or another tried to take an aggressive stance with them……..one Thrush vs 8-12 Grosbeaks  (talk about thinking much of oneself!). The Grosbeaks, who always stand with sentinels looking in different directions, barely looked up.  “You want us to leave? You’re kidding right?”

Snowy Magic

Not much blogging on this blog lately. Difficult to share my musings about the joys and mysteries of Nature when for the past month Nature and I have not hung out much. Gimping around in a leg brace due to a fractured knee cap has made thiswinter an inside event.  And I have certainly grumbled on the rare days of blue sky and sunshine, missing my winterwoods walks. Sitting in a lawn chair bundled up with my leg on a stool does notsatisfy the desire to be walking a beach to shake out the winter gray.
But today Nature came knocking.  After a tease of snow over the weekend, today is the promised “winter weather warning” weather pundits have been excited about for the past few days. In urban areas snow in western Washington can bringdisruption and havoc, but here it is absolutely transformational.  The noisy county road, slick with black ice under newly fallen snow, is almost abandoned. Only the brave, foolish, and critically needed venture north from south county.

I sit mesmerized as the world around me becomes bright. Snow is falling and every little branch and ‘branchette’ heavy with mini snow piles.  Birds of all shapes and sizes decorate every bush and tree in our yard as they take turns at the feeders.  I toss out extra seed close to the house where there is still exposed dirt and grass, and the adventuresome wander unto the porch to see if I am providing extra feeding stations, which I do, as I cannot resist Curious Juncos, bold Stellar Jays, and flitty Towhees who find the competition at the feeders a hassle.  Both Chickadee varieties and dozens of Pine Siskens compete for, and empty, the hanging feeders.  Against the white, birds that usually blend in become colorful tree ornaments – StellarBlue, Thrush Orange, Towhee Brick Red & Black, the earth tones of Junco& Chickadee, Finch Red, and a plethora of Sisken Stripes!  A Grosbeak just arrived, a young male with just a slight show of bright yellow.

And there are all the antics that go along with the color show. Small Siskens are the bullies, and hang out in very large gangs. They open their tiny wings in a show of aggression and chase anyone else from af eeder.  Towhees are theflitterers, hopping and bopping about on the ground.  Chickadee darts in, procures one seed to take to a branch, opens and eats it – seems like more energy is expended than gained, but not being a Chickadee I don’t know. Jays, big and bold, spend a lot of time in the trees picking at moss andbugs and who knows what else.  I just looked up as one ducked to avoid a mini snow avalanche falling from the branch above.  Thrushes hunker down, making their elegant long bodies into large round fluff balls to stay warm.
And there is the constant twitter and cooing, special sounds that are either only sung on snow days, oragainst the snow muffled silence take on a sometimes eerie, always charming,tone.
Yup, Nature came calling today,drawing me out and captivating me with snowy enchantment.  Stay cozy, and if you are living in a warm sunny earth place…ah you are missing the magic!