Posts Tagged ‘cooking’

The storms this past week have been hard on my peach tree. I watched all through the spring as the hard, fuzzy golfballs grew, blushed, developed an ever-so-slightly detectable give. They all come into peak at the same time so there’s one week each summer that is dedicated to collecting and processing, and the Ball jar collection on my shelves and in my freezer starts to increase.  One of my best recipes is my own creation—Uncle Nando’s Pee-Wee Jam. It’s a peach kiwi combination, and totally worth the effort of homemade.

I don’t really fancy myself a farmer. I adore the idea of homesteading but my job reality is that I also appreciate the convenience of running to the store for goat cheese because my only contact with goats is on Facebook when friends leave them on my page. There’s a definite leaning toward goats in pajamas, but that’s never a deal breaker.

So I was looking forward to this week of collecting and processing and my expanding family of canning jars. I waited for the first round of storms to pass to venture out in the yard. Once the rain cleared, it immediately became beastly hot again, so all of the outdoor entomos were present in full force.

I practice organic gardening. I say I practice because it always seems to be a learning curve and is sometimes more successful than others. I guess that means I practice organic peaches and cherries too.  The peaches can get a tad sunburned, making their little shoulders a little rough (and who can’t relate to that after a certain age?), and just as they reach peak, I have to wave off the gnats and the ants and sometimes the bees.

Did I mention that I’m not so much of a farmer?  The idea makes me chuckle. I wouldn’t know most large bugs from a new Fiat. Does it walk? Does it fly? Does it have a stick shift?  As long as it doesn’t bother me, I don’t mind sharing.

This week, when I made my trek to the back yard for picking day, it was already way too warm for a  post storm day. I took my handy green bin and stood beneath the weighted branches, looking my favorite tree up and down. Most of the ready-to-be-picked fruit lay in the mulch and grass, knocked free of their stems by the previous night’s torrential downpour and winds.  A few remained stubbornly attached and I reached for those, confidently waving off the gnats that joined me for the adventure.

It wasn’t a huge surprise they’d been knocked down, since earlier in the day, I noted that all of the portajohns in the construction zone on the tollway had blown over sideways.  Peaches are somewhat lighter and less intimidating than your average portajohn.

On the first reach, I noted new winged friends. Oh….they were pretty. I hadn’t seen such critters before. They were black and white striped, hovering over some of the damaged peaches. I wondered what kind of fruit fly they were. There were dozens of them. Maybe hundreds.  I shooed a few off the peach I wanted to put in my bin. They moved amiably over to the next available fruit or settled on ones on the ground. I shooed again. They moved again, yielding territory and their food to me.  I thanked them. I also complimented them on their snappy white and black striped rugby shirts. I told them they were very dashing. They buzzed happily and we worked together for a little while longer.

Later that afternoon, with the remaining peaches reclining comfortably in the kitchen, I popped onto Facebook for a minute. The first thing I ran across was a meme about Yellow Striped Stingy Things, depicting all kinds of bees.  Curious, I opened a new screen and did a quick search for black and white flies.

Rut ro. Did I mention that I’m not a farmer?  Yyyyyeaah.  I’m quick like that. They weren’t flies.  Not even close. They’re bald faced hornets, and they can be aggressive when their food source is at risk. Like…you know…when you’re standing under their peach tree, competing with dozens of  them for fruit and trying to shoo them away.

Why would they have been so reasonable?  Then I started to laugh. There was fermenting fruit on the ground under the tree.  Fermenting fruit. Wine, dammit. They were drinking and eating peach wine. The little bastards were so happy because they were drunk!

THAT’s why I recognized them! They were like a group of rowdy, winged, drunk Irishmen who just want to buy you a pint and sing with you!  “Heeeeyyyyyy, mate! Pull up a peach tree! Sit on that rock and have a nip!” I know those guys! Oh hell, I grew up with those guys!

Not too much survived the storms this week. We won’t have any Uncle Nando’s Pee-Wee Jam.  I waited all year for what I would make this week and got blindsided by an enormous, unexpected storm that wiped out most of what I’d been waiting for. It happens. It is a good thing I’m not doing the serious homestead thing. I’d be sunk. But I did make some new friends who were wearing very snappy black and white rugby shirts and got a good laugh in the process, which beats the hell out of a trip to the ER any day!

Have a day of silliness, friends!


A colleague once commented that people learn a lot about family and themselves by sitting through holiday dinners, and sometimes even by sitting through just routine dinners. I ducked my head to hide a smile, thinking, “The only thing I remember learning by sitting through holiday dinners is that one of us had to learn to cook—the sooner the better. And it isn’t going to be the father, so I guess that leaves me!”

Holidays. Food. Traditions. Food traditions. Last week, my fabulous spouse and I were invited to a friend’s home for a dinner gathering. It was suggested that perhaps guests could bring a favorite food item from childhood. First, I snorted coffee on to the keyboard and everything smelled like hazelnut for the rest of the day.

“Listen to this,” I said, reading the email out loud, once I’d recovered. “Whaddya think? Should I show up with a can of Spaghettios?”

Food traditions are a weird topic for a kid raised by a widowed father from the Depression Era. In his mind, there were two kinds of work—women’s work (cooking and cleaning and babies) and men’s work (everything else that was worthwhile). While the mother was alive, she handled all things kitchen, and if my sister was home, she helped. The father steered clear. He was there mainly for decorative purposes and occasional heavy lifting. Except for the last year that the mother was with us for Thanksgiving, as I talk about in Urban Tidepool:

I had spent Thanksgiving with the father and Michael and the father’s new girlfriend, who had gone to great lengths to cook traditional Italian dishes that my traditional Irish taste buds found revolting.  The only things familiar about Thanksgiving were the canned biscuits, burned until they resembled Michael’s hockey pucks, and the fact that the father was drunk most of the weekend. As soon as dinner ended, I ran to Aunt Connie’s house and tried to describe the fiasco of something that looked like seaweed soup.  The whole Thanksgiving charade ranked up there with the year the father, again inebriated, picked up the turkey by its legs to move it to a serving platter and dropped our dinner on the kitchen floor. He stood there, befuddled, with two drumsticks in his hands.

Just a short time after we picked the turkey up off the floor, my sister opened a can of Reddi-Whip and it exploded all over the new ceiling above the dining room table. While that was enormously entertaining to me as a 7 year old, neither of these seems to be the kind of activity one would like to make into family tradition.

Once we were on our own, food became a rather scary topic. Indiana Jones in the kitchen he was not! The father couldn’t find his way around our 9- foot long kitchen with a pile of maps, a guide dog and a divining rod. Occasionally, he worked up the courage to try something new, like the first time he made a Mrs. Smith’s pumpkin pie. I’ll never forget the cute and endearing way he waved his newspaper at the smoke billowing out of the oven door (he didn’t know to remove the protective plastic sheet on top of the pie), as he muttered, “FerChrissakes, don’t tell your brother…he’ll eat it anyway.”

Mostly, if it didn’t come out of a box or a can, we didn’t eat it. Thankfully, I was a child of the 70s, so convenience foods were everywhere. No one thought anything of it…although I’m sure I saw a number of my Italian friends shiver when I mentioned eating cold Spaghettios out of the can. (Another fun fact learned living with a widowed father—don’t make dishes if you don’t have to!)

For the dinner last week, I ended up taking something my sister-in-law made once in a while during my stays with her and the Major. She never described herself as a great cook, though, and I commented on that in Urban Tidepool as well:

I choked back fear and choked down dinner. They may not have been connected.  Jedda was the first to admit she was not a good cook. We choked down dinner pretty much every night, whether there was Legionnaire’s Disease on the horizon or not.

It’s probably not a big surprise that I eventually wanted to go to culinary school and ended up running a catering business for several years with my fabulous spouse. And there was not a Spaghettio in sight, in or out of their cans!

Just a last word of advice—don’t forget that rascally plastic protector on the top of the pie! In this holiday season, whatever your foods, whatever your traditions, whatever your food traditions, may you be safe and warm and full, and let us not forget the folks who are rarely any of those three.