Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Changing Of The Clothes, or Rumble In The Rubbermaids

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If ’tis the season of the pumpkin run,
And ’tis the season of the festival of mums,
And ’tis the season of the cider donut,
Then ’tis also the season of the changing of the clothes.

This is one of those Northern Things we didn’t have in Texas.  In Texas you can tell that the seasons changed because people start whining about the weather.  In the summer, there’s no point to whining about the weather – it’s hotter than the fiery pits of hell, and stickier than a piece of used chewing gum, and, well, if people could rustle up the energy, then tempers would be mighty short.  Besides, if you start whining about the heat and humidity of the eight-month-long Texas summer, then when would you ever stop?

Fall is different.  They call it “fall” because the leaves fall off the trees.  In New England, they turn amazing colors and provided a major tourist draw before they fall down.  In Texas, they pretty much just go straight from April, to Dead.  Unless it’s mountain cedar, in which case it goes from pollen cycle to pollen cycle, sickening thousands with every blast of tree sperm.  Mountain cedars pollinate with cold snaps too, which just adds insult to the existing tremendous injury.  Texans have a sick sense of conflict when the weather map shows a bright blue spiky line diving down from Canada.

On one hand, Texans are thinking “Yahoo!  A cold front!!  It’s going to get down into the upper 50s at night!  Turn on the electric blankets, break out the hot chocolate, and someone get a fire going!  We’re having winter!!!

And on the other hand, the same Texans are also thinking “Ah, shit, a cold front.  Means the trees are gonna pollinate.  Better hit the pharmacy for a refill of my steroidal nasal spray and get it going before my sinuses back up so hard my ears pop when I swallow, and it feels like fire ants are crawling all over my skin and scalp. Damned cedar.”

I know, I know.  There’s you, thinking “oh, yeah, another one of those Tall Texas Tales.  hay fever so bad your ears pop when you swallow.  that’s a good one.  pull the other finger, it’s got bells on.”

But, I swear it on a stack of Bibles, it’s perfectly, totally, literally true.  I know this because it happened to me every winter before God Gave Us Flonase, the only allergy drug that works for something like this.  I had it so bad one year that my sense of taste was completely gone – not that I wanted to eat much anyway, what with my ears popping every time I chewed or swallowed – but it was so bad.  How bad was it?  It was so bad that I loaded up a baked potato with sour cream that was way the other side of its grave, and the only way I could tell was that it was dead was because of the weird grainy texture from all the curdling.  Yes.  Allergies so bad you can eat rancid milk products and not even realize it.

That’s when I Found Flonase.  That stuff was a real godsend to central Texas, too, because before that, with every cold front you’d have maybe 30% of the population wandering about like the most miserable pack of zombies on the green earth, all stoned out of our beans on Benadryl…and still suffering.  Yessir, Flonase Saved Civilization.

Anyway, when the dewpoint drops to a bone-dry 65 degrees, and the nighttime temps go down to 59, you know it’s winter in Texas.  And that means that you bring out the sweater.  And the jacket.  And maybe you go into that drawer where you keep the oddball items like bathing suits and cycling shorts, and you find the long-sleeved t-shirt.

All of that notably singular.  Because in Texas, winter comes in 2-day long increments.  You get winter for two days after a front, and then it goes back to being April.  Maybe another three weeks later, you get another two days of winter, and then four weeks of April.  Somewhere in there, everyone throws on a jacket and changes out of the sandals into closed-toe shoes and goes out shopping for an Xmas Tree. Because, you know, on some visceral level it is generally known that shopping for an Xmas Tree in a t-shirt, shorts, and pair of flip-flops is wrong.

That, however, is pretty much the extent of the Seasonal Wardrobe Changeover.  That, and trying to remember where the umbrellas went when the dry spell fired up last May.

In New England, it’s a different matter.  Sure, I still have that oddball drawer full of off-season stuff, because I know there will be warm days in the spring, or cool days in the fall, but not enough of them coming together consecutively to warrant the full Changing Of The Clothing.  In the north, and I learned this good and proper when I moved from College Station, Texas to Madison, Wisconsin, and discovered that not all sweaters are made of cotton, I discovered that the points of overlap between the Summer Wardrobe and the Winter Wardrobe are minimal.  Mainly consisting of a waterproof slicker, and a pair of leather boat shoes.  Beyond that, there’s no points of similarity.

The Summer Wardrobe has t-shirts and shorts, and lightweight cotton sweaters, and thin hoodies, and linen slacks and jackets, and silk shells. It has Birkenstoks and canvas boat shoes and sandals and huaraches.  It has thin, stretch riding breeches, and a whole stack of disreputable short-sleeve t-shirts only ever worn to the barn (and any place I have to stop at en route). It has cotton dresses and thin white cotton tunics.  It has capri pants and fabric skimmers. It has a waterproof slicker and a pair of leather boat shoes.

The Winter Wardrobe has waffle-weave and rugby shirts, stacks of wool sweaters (with a few silk blends thrown in for variety).  It has mock turtlenecks in every style under the sun, and corduroys.  It has heavy woven dress jackets and thin silk turtlenecks for layering.  It has a rainbow of clogs, to keep one’s feet out of the inevitable muck, and a whole shelf of boots.  It has coats – light coats, technical coats, wool coats, long dress coats, short sports coats, and a disreputable flannel-lined water-resistant duck-cloth woven field coat for the barn.  It has flannel-lined pants, pants made from high-tech mystery fibers spun from recycled soda bottles, and more cords. It has flannel pajamas and a drawer full of silk thermal underwear.  It has thick knee socks and fur-lined slippers with non-skid soles. It has thick jeans, dress shoes that can only be worn when there hasn’t been a heavy rain or snowstorm in recent history.  It has duck shoes in six different colors, because once winter really sets in, these are the only things to wear, assuming you don’t want to ruin your good shoes.  It has a waterproof slicker and a pair of leather boat shoes.

The Changing of the Clothes requires the logistical skills of General Patton, and a willingness to crack the whip, because otherwise, the house will be littered with rubbermaid totes in partial stages of unpacked-ness until May, and everyone in the house will be perpetually cranky because nothing can be found.  It is additionally complicated in my house by the fact that my house, and I love my house, has four stories, counting the basement.  The basement is where out-of-season clothes live.  The top floor is where Roy’s clothes live, and the floor behind that is where my clothes live.  So any rubbermaid totes full of vestments have to be hauled up a minimum of two narrow flights of stairs, unpacked, repacked, and hauled back down again.

A long while back I found that the only way to do this that doesn’t make everyone hate each other for weeks is to do it in one huge marathon.  It’s not a fun day, but there’s nothing quite so satisfying as the sight of a closet with the upcoming season’s clothes all neatly stored, the vision of rubbermaid totes stacked neatly back in the basement, and the knowledge that this wretched chore will not have to be done again for six months.

Such is the price of living in an Historic Home.  I know, from pictures, that the Victorians wore a stunning amount of clothing at one time, but damned if I know where they put it when it wasn’t on the body, because it sure as hell didn’t go into their closets.  I don’t think the closets in my house would hold even one crinoline, let alone a couple of them, and a big fluffy dress, let along more than one change of clothes.  It’s really a mystery to me.

Another matter the significantly complicates the Changing of the Clothes in my house is a certain disparity in the size of our wardrobes.  Roy’s entire winter wardrobe, without the collection of outdoor boots, fits in five rubbermaid totes.  My entire winter wardrobe, without the collection of outdoor boots, requires thirteen rubbermaid totes.   I can’t feel it at all fair to make Roy sherpa those thirteen totes up two narrow flights of stairs, so I do it all myself.  And, because no one can drag their heels harder or longer over the hassle of the Changing of the Clothes than Roy, I usually wind up hauling his five bins too.  I found that if I stack them up so that they block the stairs leading up to his study, he will usually get the idea to carry them up the rest of the way, and once there, the notion to actually unpack them and extract his next-season clothing usually strikes.

I won’t say that it’s an easy time in the house.  But at least it only usually takes a few days from start to finish, and at least, it’s over until next May.

To celebrate the rumble of the rubbermaid totes, I have this amazing dish of apples and cherries. It’s extraordinary.

1¼ C old-fashioned oats
a generous cup of packed brown sugar
¾ C flour
a generous sprinkling of ground cinnamon
¼ t salt
¾ C butter
1 C sliced almonds, toasted in a pan, and chopped
½ C chopped crystallized ginger
4 pounds tart apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
1½ C dried tart cherries (NOT the sweetened kind)
½ C sugar
juice of one lemon
1 T flour
liberal dash of ground cinnamon

The easy way is to use the food processor. Mix oats, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and salt in large bowl. Put the almonds and crystallized ginger in the processor and pulse until chopped up. Add the butter and pulse until it gets lumpy. Add the dry oat mix, and pulse until you get a crumble consistency. Put into the fridge while doing the next step.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease a 13×9 baking dish. Combine apples, cherries, sugar, lemon juice, flour and ground cinnamon in large bowl and mix it up well. Put into the baking dish and flatten out a little. Sprinkle topping over apples. Bake until topping is browning, about 55 minutes. Serve warm with ice cream, or just eat directly out of the pan with a spoon. It all just gets better with age, too, so you can nibble on this out of the fridge for several days.

Pumpkins

One of the many Sincere Pumpkin Patches in my neck of the woods.

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The National Cuisine of a New England Autumn

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It’s now that Most Wonderful Time of the year in New England: early fall.  The farm stands still offer up the last fresh corn of the season, bursting with sweetness; the last fresh tomatoes of the season, round and juicy; and without a freeze, the basil plants are still yielding up their best –  but to this mix they’re now adding the glorious treat of winter squash.

The leaves are starting to blaze with color – the reds of the sugar maples launching fire into the sky.

The days are warm and sunny, the nights bring on a chill.

New England cooks are warming up the roasting pans, the cocottes, the slow cookers, and still the grills are going.

The National Costume of New England is manifesting on the streets:  shorts, loafers, and long-sleeved shirts and light jackets.

The Wild Horse Wind has been blowing and lashing Huey, who is old enough to know better, into extending challenges to all comers – paddock races and bucking contests.

The long shadow cast by Johnny Appleseed over western Massachusetts brings us acres and acres of gnarled, twisting trees, fully loaded with ripe red fruit, ready to fall off into the hand.

Festivals and harvest fairs are breaking out in every small town and rural district, filling the air with the scent of popcorn and grilling meat.

The corn mazes are at a state of perfection.

Everywhere you turn, you find a roadside stand selling the National Fall Flower of New England: the mum.  In reds, and oranges, and whites, but – mostly – in yellows.  Three for ten dollars, plant them now, and they’ll overwinter and bring a blast of color to the garden next year too.

The pumpkin patches have erupted.  Beyond the traditional pumpkin patches that one encounters elsewhere in the country – with massive ripe orange gourds begging to be carved into a frightening face and lit from within – there are uncountable types of other decorative gourdes, enough to make Martha Stewart swoon with envy.  And the culinary squash, too, has arrived. Giant Blue Hubbards.  Sugar Pumpkins. Delicatas. Butternuts. Acorns. Kabochas. Kuris. Dumplings. Turbans. Buttercups. Carnivals.  Bins of them at every major farm stand.  Crates of them loaded onto the paneled farm trucks rattling down the roads.   Flat bed trailers piled high with every sort of pumpkin known to Man.  Heaps of decorative Indian corn, wired for hanging on the doorposts. Straw bales, corn shooks, all ready for creating a Festive Fall Display on the front lawn.

Everyone does it.

And so it was that Roy and I made our Annual Mum and Gourd Run this weekend.  It is my habit to kill two birds with one stone, buy buying a massive quantity of beautiful winter squash…and then storing it by heaping it decoratively about the house.  My Interior Decor shrinks by the month.  Of course, we also have to get the mums (three for $10)…and then there’s the vitally important difference between Inside Pumpkins and Outside Pumpkins.  Inside pumpkins are there to be eaten, by us.  Outside pumpkins are there to be stolen by degenerate hipsters, or eaten by the squirrels.   Mums are to stay on the porch all season, but – and this is important – MUST be tossed out before the hard freezes set in consistently.  Otherwise, they freeze onto the porch and will still be there in the spring, looking vastly the worse for wear.

Roy is a tremendously good sport about all of this.  I don’t know whether he cares that the porch has pumpkins and mums. But he knows it’s important to me, and he hires himself along as the Brawn.

Besides.  It’s pumpkin and apple season and the other thing this means in New England is CIDER.  Specifically, Cider Donuts.  As they say in France, the specialite de la region.  So as we carouse from farm stand to farm stand in the quest for the perfect squash and mums, Roy is on the quest for the perfect Cider Donut.  It is at our last stop that he sees the Holy Grail.  Not only do they have homemade Cider Donuts…but this farm stand is also one of the neighborhood’s Sugar Shacks – source of all things sweet and mapley.  Which means they also have Maple Soft Serve.

As I execute the purchase of approximately 80 pounds of winter squash, Roy discovers that the marriage of the Cider Donut and the Maple Soft Serve is one that was surely made in heaven.  And, because he is amazing, he must share this with me.  Right now.  Despite the fact that my hands are coated in earth that has rubbed off from the hundreds of squash I am inspecting carefully for breaks in the skin and bruises.  So, bless his heart, he breaks off a piece of the donut, dips it into the soft serve, and holds it out for me to eat from his hand.  And here I thought all that time spent teaching him how to feed treats to Huey was wasted.

He was right.  It was insane, this combination.

Come to New England and find out for yourself.  In the meantime, here’s what we had for dinner last night.

Roasted Sausage and Squash
a good solid pound and a half (or more) of winter squash of your choice, peeled, seeded, and cut into small chunks.
2 big tart apples like Paula Reds, peeled, cored, and cut into smaller chunks than you cut the squash
1 onion, chopped
1 1/2 lb chicken sausages, fried up and cut into slices about a half-inch thick
a head of garlic, broken into cloves, and peeled
3 T olive oil (I use the butternut squash seed oil from Zingermans)
palmful of chopped fresh rosemary
a generous tablespoon of chopped fresh sage
short palmful of chopped fresh thyme
salt and pepper to taste
generous drizzle of balsamic vinegar

Heat oven to 450°F. Toss everything but the vinegar together, and load up into a large roasting pan that has been generously greased. I usually need two roasting pans. Roast until squash is tender about 30 minutes. Drizzle with vinegar. Serves 4.

Saturday Market

Yeah, that was right down the street.

Everything Is Scary!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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At first, everything was not scary.  It was just like normal.  I was getting brushed and scratched and then putting on tack and we were walking a lot in the ring.  The sky is being smiley today, and before, there was that wind that makes me be a wild horse, but then it was just all being very nice and I was having a lot of energy! Then my rider is saying Huey, would you like to go on the road?

And I am saying I am doing anything you are wanting me to do, rider!

So she is making me go up by the gate. Usually when I go up by the gate, my nose is pointing at it because I am walking in and out.  Sometimes I am having to stand there while my rider makes the gate stay closed.  But this time my rider is telling me not to be pointing my nose at the gate.  I am not being sure what is going on but she is making me walk in a lot of little circles until it is my shoulder pointing at the gate and not my nose!  Then she is wobbling around on my back!! So I am walking forward!  But then she is saying Huey, what are you doing?

And I am saying You were wobbling so it seemed like a good thing to be walking forward.

And she is saying No. Do not be walking forward.  I am opening the gate, not falling off.  But if you are walking forward while I am opening the gate, then I will be falling off.

Well, it is not being a good thing if my rider falls off, because keeping her on is being my responsibility, and if she falls off it means that I am not doing what I am supposed to be doing.  So the next time I stood very still even though she was wobbling around a lot.  But then she said GOOD HORSE HUEY!!! And do you know what?  That gate opened all by itself.  And then she told me to walk out of it!  With her still on my back!!!  I do not walk through that gate with the rider on my back.  She is always on the ground when we are going through that gate, but not today!!

So I am walking out and she is telling me to walk around the barn and all the other horses are saying Huey!  What are you doing, walking around like that with a rider?

And I am saying We are riding, you horses!! Look at me!!!!

Then she is asking me to walk forward.  But do you know what is there, where she is asking me to walk forward???

It is the most terrifying thing!!!! Ever!!!!!!!!

You will not be guessing this, so I will tell you:  it is a road, yes, but it is not being just any road! It is being a SCARY ROAD.

And I am stopping, and I am saying Rider, I do not think this is being a  very good idea, this road.

But she is saying Huey.  This road is fine.  It is not scary.  We are going to walk down it and back.

But I am saying I do not think so, rider.  It is too scary.

And she is saying Huey, what?  It is just the road.  Look.  There is the ring.  We were right there.

And that is true, but it is not being the most important thing.  The most important thing is that we were on the other side of the fence!!!

The rider is saying OK Huey, you can stand still for a minute and look at the road.  Then you will see it is not being scary.

But that is not what is happening.  The longer I am looking at that road, the more scary it is being!!!

And then I could feel it.  I was being a scared horse. And you know what scared horses do?

They make rears, and they make bucks, and they run away.

But I cannot be doing any of those things!!!  I have a rider!!!!!

So I am doing the next best thing, and that is turning myself all the way around and walking away from that road, fast!!!!!

My rider is laughing, though.  She is saying Huey.  This is being silly.  And then she is making me stop with her seat and her hands and everything.  And we are standing there in the driveway, and she is saying Huey, be taking a big breath. And she makes a big breath to remind me how.  But it is not being easy to take a big breath when you are still being a scared horse.  But she is waiting for me, and so I am taking that big breath.  Then she is saying Let’s try that again.

I am not being sure about this plan, but she is asking nicely so I am trying.

But it is not working.  I am not even being able to get that far on the road before getting scared and feeling like I need to run away fast but I am still having a rider!!! So I am saying Rider!!! I am too scared of this road!!!  Something bad is going to happen and you are going to fall off, and I am not wanting that, so can we please go away from this road?!?!?  And she is saying OK Huey, if you are that scared.   And then we are turning around and going back into the ring, and I am being very happy to be back in that ring where it is safe.

But after my saddle is off and everything, and it is time to go have some grass, my rider is taking me to the road instead.  Only this time, she is being on the ground where she can not fall off.  So that is being OK.  But it is still being a scary road.

Then I am planting my hoofs in the ground, and my rider is saying What?!?!

And I am saying THERE!!!

And she is looking at that scary thing, and she is saying something!!  And I am hearing it, and what she is saying is this:  Huey.  That is a rock.

And I am looking at it again, and she is right.  It is a rock.  Rocks can hurt you if you put your hoof down on them wrong, but that is all.  So I am stepping around the rock.

Then I am planting my hoofs again and saying THERE!!!!

And my rider is looking, and she is saying Huey. Those are plastic lawn chairs.  You have seen those a hundred times while we are riding.

But I am saying That is different!!  When I am seeing those while we are riding, we are inside the ring!!  And it is being safe there!!!  These chairs are outside the ring and so are we!!!!!  They are dangerous!!

But she is saying Huey.  You are being silly.

But then!!  I am jumping to the side!!! And my rider is saying What now?!?!?!?

And I am saying THERE!!!!!

And she is looking at that scary thing, and she is saying something again! And she is saying Huey. It is a chipmunk.

And I am saying IT IS A HORSE-EATING CHIPMUNK!!!!!!!! And I am wanting to run as fast as I can away from that chipmunk!!!!!!  Only my rider has my head and she is not cooperating.  She is just saying Huey. Really.  A chipmunk?  They do not eat horses.  They do not even eat your hay.

Well, she is right.  But it is still all scary! Then I realize it is not the rock and it is not the chipmunk.  It is the road!   It is a Horse Eating Road!!!!!!!!!!!!  That is why I am so scared of it!! The trees are Horse Eating Trees, and the rocks are Horse Eating Rocks, and the chipmunks are Horse Eating Chipmunks!!!!!!  And I am telling my rider this, but she is saying something else and she is still not going with me when I am wanting to run away.  And because she is holding my nose, if my nose cannot be running away, neither can the rest of me.  So I am having to stay there, in that terrifying Horse Eating Road!!!!!!1

Then my rider is making big breaths to show me what to do.  She is even making her lips flap some and that is making the same noise I make with my nose when I take a big breath.  This is reminding me that horses need to have a lot of air to run away, so I take a big breath.  And when I do, I can hear what my rider is saying. She is saying Look, Huey.  It is being Horse Poop on the ground.

OH NO!!!!  SOME HORSE LEFT POOP TO LET ME KNOW NOT TO GO DOWN THIS ROAD!!!!  THIS ROAD ATE SOME HORSE AND THE POOP IS STILL THERE!!!!!!

But my rider is making my nose go down to that poop.  I am not wanting to smell that poop from the horse that got eaten by the road.  It is scary too.

But then I am smelling it even though I am not wanting to smell it.  And do you know what?

knew that horse that got eaten by the road.  That horse was PEPPER.  PEPPER GOT EATEN BY THE ROAD!!!!!!!!!

But then my rider is saying something else.  She is saying Huey.  Pepper is in the barn.

Wait.  Pepper was in her stall in the barn and she was there while I was getting all brushed and stuff.  But I can tell how old this poop is, and it is from yesterday.  And I am saying If Pepper got eaten by the road yesterday, then how come she is in the barn right now?

My rider stood there with me and I took some more big breaths while I figured this out.  I thought about it for a long time.  Then I am thinking that if Pepper is in the barn now it means that she did not get eaten by the road yesterday.  Then I saw some more poop, so I went to see it too. And it was Lemon Drop.  And I am hearing him, right then, and he is yelling at some other horse back in the paddocks.  So Lemon Drop was not eaten by the road either.

Then I am thinking maybe this road does not eat horses.  And my rider is saying No. This road does not eat horses.  But sometimes horses eat this road.

And I am saying What?  But then I am remembering.  I have been on this road before.  And there is GRASS on this road.  Then I am wanting to run ahead and get to that grass, but my rider is making me walk slow.

And I was being right.  There was grass.  And it was being good grass, too.  And I did not get eaten by that road!!!  Now my rider says we are going to have to go down that road only she will be riding me.  I do not know if I can be doing that, but I will try!

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