Full-On Summer

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My daughter, freshly home from summer camp, and my wife and I picked some blueberries today. My son is at a running camp for mornings this week so it was just the three of us. We went late in the morning. The sun was up. It was hot under that sun. It was, as I mentioned to my family, a full-on summer day.

We each picked two quarts, to get your standard flat of berries. It takes some effort but it is worth the time and effort to pick one’s own berries. A quart costs less than a quart from the market and one has control over the quality of the berries in the basket, if you know what I’m saying. We got fat ripe berries and only fat ripe berries.

We did do some sweating at Owl’s Head Blueberry Farm, where we spent only an hour, but not only did we get blueberries but the place has a stellar view. It was one classic summer hour. We ate plenty of berries and my wife tossed a couple of quarts into the freezer later in the day. Hopefully we can pick more before the month is out and add to that freezer stash. They are great to have on a winter morning. Pancakes, anyone? Muffins?

A couple of times this summer, including this week, I have made granola. It is easy to make and, again, worth the effort. If you are going to eat granola, making it means you can make it just how you like it. It is not that difficult, even if it does take some time. The granola I made a couple of days ago includes these ingredients: oats, salt, oil, maple syrup, sunflower seeds, almonds, wheat germ. Simple.

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Tomorrow morning I plan to have more blueberries for breakfast, with some yogurt, and some granola tossed on top. Sweet, tangy, crunchy. If you can beat that for a perfect summer breakfast, you let me know.

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Berries and Jam

I was afraid that we would be too late to pick blueberries. I drove by the sign early in the morning: Pick Your Own Blueberries. Late August, but not too late. I called Pelkey’s Farm in Charlotte to see if they really were still picking, or if the sign just hadn’t been taken down yet. It was past peak season, the young woman on the phone told me, but there were still plenty. So that hot afternoon my son and I drove over and picked us some berries.

The description I got was about right. The huge berries you can rake off the bushes to fill your bucket in a half-hour were scant. There were lots of smaller berries, more spread out, and they were as tasty as they get. It was hot in the summer sun and we were slow, but still we managed to pick a good amount. My bucket was a little more full than my son’s, but I let that slide and got him (and me) a creemee afterwards. Vanilla creemee with fresh blueberries dotting the top?  Saying no to that would just be cruel.

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Berries in the bucket

When we got home I measured out a few cups to make jam (the rest we would polish off fresh). I washed them and gathered the rest of the ingredients to make jam. I cut up a mango and tossed that into the pot with the berries before turning on the heat.

Fruit ready to get transformed

Fruit ready to get transformed

That fruit turned a bit to mush once it got warm. With a little sugar stirred in we had us some jam. Of course, eating all that jam would take a while, so I poured it into jars and canned it. One of the jars didn’t seal, which was a first for me (lid not on properly? jam on the rim? not sure) but I still got seven jars to keep for later. I will swirl that one rogue jar into a coffee cake so it isn’t all that much of a loss. We will be tasting summer in the winter, even if it has all that extra sugar. Blueberry mango jam on some fresh bread on a snowy morning? I’ll take it.

Sweet goo

Sweet goo

Blueberry mango jam cooling on the counter

Blueberry mango jam cooling on the counter

Fall Arrival and Some Harvesting

Yesterday I pulled the few onions we had growing in our garden.  Most of the seedlings didn’t make it but a few managed to grow.  We ate a couple of them not long ago.  They are some strong onions.  Tasty, however.  These will need to dry a little so they can last long enough to use them all.  Too bad rain is in the forecast for the next couple of weeks.

Onions Out of the Dirt

Onions Out of the Dirt

I also picked a bunch of leeks.  I made a big batch of potato leek soup.  We had a slew of potatoes to use up and all those leeks in the ground.  It tasted pretty good last night for dinner with some buttered toast.  It tasted even better for lunch today.

A Fine Row of Fine Leeks

A Fine Row of Fine Leeks

The peppers are almost red as well.  We have been picking them and eating them but they are so much sweeter when they are fully ripe.  Plus the seeds will sprout easier if the peppers are fully ready when they are picked.  And they are beautiful.

Peppers Almost Ripe

Peppers Almost Ripe

The popcorn is still growing, trying to ripen before the cold sets in. Problem is, the cold kind of has set in. It’s not winter yet or anything but it has been in the 40’s in the morning.  I can’t imagine we will get mature ears out of these plants, but who knows?  I’m willing to wait it out.

Popcorn Still Making a Go of It

Popcorn Still Making a Go of It

The blueberries, on the other hand, have long given up the idea of producing fruit.  Their leaves are turning.  They are redder than the peppers.  They too are beautiful.

Fall Has Arrived for Certain

Fall Has Arrived for Certain

Keeping the Old Brain Sharp

Some of the Puzzle Books I'm Taking On

Some of the Puzzle Books I'm Taking On

There was a recent article in the Guardian, The Lifestyle to Beat Alzheimer’s, about what one can do to keep dementia at bay.  The headliner was about coffee (this New York Times article has more details about that).  Coffee drinkers, it noted, “will be clinking mugs in a toast to new research suggesting that just two strong cups of the black stuff a day can reverse the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.”  I’ll make sure to keep sipping the dark roast.

The article mentioned several other things that research suggests can keep one’s brain sharp enough to avoid slipping into forgetfulness.  To summarize:

  • Drink two strong cups of coffee (the regular stuff, not decaf) per day
  • Eat blueberries, kale and broccoli (and other vegetables)
  • Don’t smoke (duh)
  • Drink one or two alcoholic drinks per day
  • Stay in shape
  • Speak more than one language
  • Stay married (no divorce allowed as that can increase risk of getting dementia)
  • Do crossword, sudoku and other puzzles

Other than speaking multiple languages, I’m doing pretty well on this list.  I am working on the puzzle thing especially right now.  I’ve got multiple books of them going at once, in fact.  I have been tackling crossword puzzles, sudoku, kenken and new to me, kakuro.

My parents gave me five new books of puzzles for Father’s Day.  My mother sees dementia every day, since she works in an elderly care facility.  I guess she wants to keep me sharp for longer than other people.  I’m good with that.  My parents really do love me.  Puzzles: the gift that keeps giving, even when you become an old codger.

I am afraid I could use some help with staving off dementia.  Already, I forget crap all the time.  If taking the time to do some puzzles will help, I’ll do it.  It may get in the way of other things but that is the way of it.  “Sorry, honey, can’t paint the house right now; I’ve got to prevent Alzheimer’s right now.”

Dentist Notes

I had a basic cleaning at my dentist yesterday.  That is a common thing for many people, myself included.  Yesterday’s visit had several things of note, however.  I had to reschedule my original appointment from early May to a different day so I wasn’t even in the same room.  The usual pattern wasn’t happening.

I planned ahead this time.  I don’t usually have to wait all that long at my dentist’s office but occasionally it happens.  To keep myself free of things I might forget I usually plan to read whatever magazines happen to be there.  I can typically find your standard news magazines–Newsweek, Time and the like–and there is always something different to check out, but this time I brought some to share.  I am an Orion reader and it is simply one of the best magazines I have ever read.  It is interesting and engaging and just plain interesting.  I remembered to bring the last couple of issues to leave behind for others to read.  I also brought the latest issue of Mother Jones.

So I was ahead before I headed to the chair with the headrest.  I was ushered to a room that is not my usual room, the room where they usually perform the big jobs–fillings and drilling and shots to numb things up.  I was afraid they had made some kind of mistake.  But phew, it was just because of the appointment rescheduling and associated space issues.  Then the hygienist who usually gets things started was not there.  I’ll have to wait a while six months to find out how her children finished up the school year.  Too long, I tell you, too long.

My dentist did the whole dang thing for me.  He checked and cleaned and wrapped things up and off I went.  He didn’t offer a rinse and spit, although it wasn’t necessary, and he didn’t floss my teeth.  I kind of look forward to the flossing.  It is a unique experience, having someone else floss one’s teeth.  He did, at least, remember to give me a toothbrush.

It isn’t always easy, but my dentist and I usually have some curious conversations.  Here is a partial list of what we discussed:

  • The costs and benefits of solar panels
  • The depth of our home wells
  • When to get seeds started outside in the garden
  • How often people really do floss versus how often they say they floss
  • Taking evening classes at the local high school to learn something new and interesting, such as cooking
  • How much electricity we use at home, in kilowatt hours
  • How to build a rain barrel
  • Varieties of cherry tomatoes
  • The gender ratio of the members of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Voting rights
  • Our shared love of blueberries

I had to confess to my dentist that I had come there directly from my son’s end of year school celebration.  They served cupcakes.  It seemed incongruous to be getting my teeth cleaned right after eating cupcakes.  He was concerned less with my eating sugary snacks before an appointment than with my neglect to bring any of those treats to his office to share.  Lesson learned:  Next time, bring cupcakes to the dentist.

I made another appointment before I left.  I recently gave my dentist a D on Angie’s List for availability.  Unless you have an appointment set up well in advance, forget it.  I can’t even set up an appointment for six months out.  I have to schedule it eight months out.  I had done that last time, so I’ll be back in November (six months from my original appointment).  I scheduled another one for May.   What day works best for you?  That was hard to answer.  I’m not sure what day will work best for me a year from now.  So I picked a week day for mid-morning.  Hopefully I can schedule around that.

I have extra clean teeth today.  As long as I stay on top of it I should make it to November.  Then I will get to find out how the new blueberry bushes fared, and if my dentist ended up taking that cooking class.  Plus, I will finally get to find out how the hygienist’s kids are doing, one grade later.  In the meantime I need to get through summer.  I’ll have to make sure I watch it with the creemees.

Christmas Tree Still Up

January 9.  The Christmas tree is still standing.  Decorated no less.  That’s 42 days it has been indoors.  Dead no less.  It will come down this weekend, tomorrow or the next day.  So it will get at least 43 days of glory, dressed in the best we could offer–shiny glass and steel and plastic.  But it will be a fire hazard soon, if it ever wasn’t one.

Now we will have a little more space in the house.  And we will use a little less electricity.  But it has been nice to have around.  Maybe we can put something else in its place.  A basket of fruit?  A cardboard cutout of Chewbacca?  A bean bag chair?  Maybe a pile of attractive rocks?

Nah.  Let’s just get this thing out of here.  Come spring it will fertilize the blueberries.  No need to waste a perfectly good untrimmed Christmas tree, no?