Posted in cooking, food, Nature

Along the Way

binocular country lane filter focus
Photo by SplitShire on Pexels.com

I tried a bit of ice cream the other day, a popular brand, and didn’t like it. The taste of sugar was so overpowering, it was impossible for me to taste anything else.

When I bake, I under-sweeten. I want to taste nuts and fruit and chocolate, experience how they complement each other. Sugar should tone down acidity or bitterness, or simply enhance flavors, not dominate them.

Domination is too prevalent these days, too accepted. Maybe that’s why sugar came to mind.

When foods are cooked properly their natural sugars will develop. I often glaze pecans with a light blend of organic maple syrup and sea salt. Our family and guests love them. But yesterday I was lazy and toasted them without the glaze. They emerged sweet and dangerously addictive from the oven, and we gobbled them up. No one asked about the missing glaze. No one cared.

***

When I was seven my parents sent me to summer camp, far away from where we lived. It was my first time on an airplane. It was the first time I would be away from them for months.

I hated it.

But, strangely, what I remember most about that camp were the raspberries.

They grew wild and in abundance along the mountain path which led to a nearby lake, and our swimming lessons.

We didn’t pick any on the way up. Everyone’s parents had issued warnings about not swimming on a full stomach. Indeed, the trek to our lessons always occurred at least an hour after lunch. But on the way back to our cabins, we picked as many as we could stuff into our pockets and eat along the way, ignoring our counselors’ advice to leave them there.

You’ll get worms, you’ll get sick.

We heard it every day. But we never did.

And I’ve never tasted such large and perfectly ripe berries since, berries that squirted sweetness with every bite, and no trace of acidity.

I used to buy berries for salads and desserts, picking, as I do with all produce I purchase, the ones that look ripest, ready for consumption.

But they are always too tart for me, begging for the sugar they have not been allowed to make on their own.

So I don’t buy them anymore.

***

I learned to swim that summer. It’s the other memory that stands out, because I discovered, once I realized I wasn’t going to drown, I was good at it.

But sometimes I long for those raspberries—the anticipation of putting them in my mouth, delighting in their exquisitely balanced flavors…

…and the incomparable pleasure of finding something good, unspoiled, of knowing it was there.

©2018 All Rights Reserved

 

Posted in Nature

Bugs

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I have my favorites: cicadas, which are big and noisy and easily confused into slapstick maneuvers when they occasionally wind up indoors; moths, which must be escorted out before they head for the closet to multiply; spiders, which eat mosquitoes that sneak inside for pre-dawn attacks; crickets, which like to show off by leaping into laundry baskets; and, of course, ladybugs.

I’m told they’re good luck.

When I can, I catch them or coax them onto a tissue or piece of paper and set them free in the yard. When I can’t, I mostly ignore them and hope they’ll leave me alone.

But a couple of nights ago I dropped one of those sweet little beetles as I was transporting it from my nightstand to the window. Unfortunately, it dropped on the wooden floor, and, well, at night, with bad eyes, under poor lighting, I couldn’t find it.

All night long I was half between waking and sleeping, expecting to be roused by the sensation of mini bug feet on my forehead. (Flashback to me at the age of seven, awakening to the scratch of parakeet claws on my brow. No matter how my parents “fixed” the door on his cage, he always found a way out, always in the middle of the night.) But it never happened. And so, I rolled out of bed at 6:30, sleep-deprived, reaching for the pill I take every morning—always set out the night before, popping it mindlessly into my mouth, washing it down with a few swigs of water, and starting my day.

Bleary-eyed.

It’s funny how many of our routine movements are on automatic, done unconsciously.

Take locking the door for instance. How many times have you been thinking of something else while you’re locking the door, and then get into your car and wonder whether or not you locked it?

Anyway, after replacing the lid on the pill box, making the bed, and getting dressed, I got involved in everything else I had to do, propelled by vast amounts of coffee.

By midnight, I was ready to crash, and dragged upstairs to change and set out my pill for the next morning.

Except when I opened the box, the ladybug was sitting smack in the center of it…

And I could swear it smiled.

©2017 All Rights Reserved

 

 

Posted in Nature

Rental Property

House Sparrow male feeding young-4

(From Beyond Willow Bend, 2013)

My late father-in-law built a birdhouse for our yard. It was a simple thing—a box, painted dark brown, with a peaked roof, a hole, and a peg.

My husband hung it near the garage and we kept watch. Maybe birds were put off by the smell of paint, or the location.  Who knew. Whatever the reason, it was ignored. No birds flew around it, landed on it, or looked inside.

Then, one year, during a fierce storm, it was knocked off its hook. My husband found it in pieces on the lawn—walls scattered, roof upside down—and lovingly reassembled it, overbuilding,  as he does with every piece of furniture he makes.

This time, it was hung in a more sheltered spot by the garage, from a hook that was deeply implanted, better able to withstand our midwestern gales.

Spring came, and, again, we kept watch, encouraged by the interest a mother wren showed in one of our other birdhouses—that one, hung from our house, a gift from a friend. She quickly took up residence there, and busied herself with building a nest, laying her eggs, and feeding her hatchlings.

Her activities kept us entertained for a month or more.

But still the brown house was vacant.

Then, three years ago, at the first sign of spring, a male house sparrow perched on the peg of the brown house. He sat for a minute, then flew down to the lawn where he pulled up some pieces of dried grass. A minute later, he returned to the peg, his beak stuffed.

Finally: tenants. We celebrated and joked about shoving a tiny lease through the hole.

The sparrows stayed all summer, and their fledglings stayed, too, darting in and out of the house well into fall, until the first hard freeze.

The following spring, they returned and settled in.

My husband thought it might be a good idea to clean and check the house for rot before winter, so he could make any repairs it needed, but the sparrows didn’t give him the chance. By the time they took off for their winter home, the first snow had fallen.

And, of course, before he could get out to inspect the property this year, they were back again—earlier than before, seemingly, with the whole family—or mispocha, as we say in Yiddish.

I love birds, but know little about house sparrows.  I can tell you that they have managed to multiply and thrive despite the West Nile virus that wiped out our blue jays and crows. And I can also tell you that they have particular tastes; and once they decorate a house, it’s theirs.