Saturday, June 28, 2008

California Fires are Still Alive

Although we have no fires currently in our county, they are still very close.

The very strong smell of wood smoke was in the damp, misty air this morning as I headed off to my weekend class. The fire is about two hours away down the coast in Big Sur. It's a quite desolate place, although I've read that about 15 homes have burned.

Friday, June 27, 2008

What is that Plant?

I've known for quite a while that there are several little plants coming up in my garden that had never been there before and, moreover, that I had never grown from seed before. Green, shiney leaves on longish stalks. They looked eminently edible and sort-of like spinach. I longed to take a couple little leaves and chew on them to see if I could taste what they were, but since there were so few, I didn't, hoping that they really were something great and that I would have more later in the season. I couldn't bear to weed them out as I truly thought they looked familiar.

Last evening at dinner, I figured out what they were. Chard! A friend had given me a large plant from her garden last winter for Christmas. I could never bring myself to eat it, but dutifully planted it and let it go to seed. It produced a huge seed pod and I spread seeds all over in the late winter. Now I am thrilled to have chard of all sizes coming up among the beans, petunias, tomatoes and strawberries, which, in themselves, started from seed.

I love having a "freely sown" garden. Aside from the chard and strawberries, I also have marigolds, chives, potatoes and lamb's ears that have self-seeded. Well, the potatoes had a little help from me, but it sure is fun. The hardest part is keeping The Artist from weeding.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Blackberry Jam

I couldn't seem to find anything to really dig into today, so The Artist found me a job. (That's not entirely true. I've started planning for more fiber art pieces.)

Anyway, the job was to help him pick blackberries. As I've mentioned before, there is a huge patch in the alley, along our neighbor's fence. The patch was larger before some errant teenager went mudding in his truck a couple winters ago, got stuck, and took out our neighbor's back fence and the berries. Our neighbor was successful in getting the kid and his mother to rebuild the fence, in a fashion, and this year the berries have returned in force. The recent heat wave has made them huge, ripe and juicy. We can't let them go to the birds, now can we?

So we pick them, puree them and have them on ice cream. That's OK when we get a basket every couple days, but with the recent warm weather, we were able to find 4 1/2 baskets. Time to make seedless blackberry jam. I hadn't made jam in several years, because I found that I never could use it all up, even when I gave it as hostess gifts. But this time, since I didn't really have anything planned, and the berries were so good, and it was only 2:00, well, I had no excuse to give myself. So, I dragged out all my canning supplies (never very far away, for just such an emergency), put on my apron and went out to pick a ripe lemon from the tree.

In times like this, I really feel badly for East Coast people who don't have a lemon tree in their backyard. You folks actually have to plan to get a lemon to make jam, whereas I have a tree in my backyard. It was the first thing I put in the yard when we moved here, having discovered what a wonderful addition to life a fruiting lemon tree is.

I pulled out an old jam recipe book, a gift from a friend who will undoubtedly get a jar of the jam, and had a ball with my food mill, a sieve, pots, pans, sugar, a wooden spoon, a spatula and a candy thermometer. (Notice, all you foodies - no pectin. I don't like jam with pectin.) It really made a little more than I expected so I have some in a little pyrex custard cup. Oh, what flavor. What texture. What an afternoon. Pancakes for breakfast next weekend!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Another Strange Day on the Central Coast

It was 76 degrees at 7 AM this morning inside the house. Hot again.

I had a class at the local Community College today, so I packed a lunch and off I went. A few high clouds in the distance over the bay were drifting in as I drove down Hiway 1, close to where last night's firestorm took place. High fog?

By the time we came out of our darkened, warm classroom for lunch, the clouds had turned into...thunderheads? Thunderheads in June? Well, it occasionally happens here in the summer, once every 10 years or so. I truly enjoyed sitting out in the heat eating my lunch and enjoying that California grassland smell that happens here only when it's very hot, but I ran down and shut up the windows on my car before going back to class. Later we heard thunder. Still later, lights went dark and monitors blacked out. Class dismissed. Humid outside. Smell of rain on pavement.

Back here at Woodcraft Central, a half block from the beach, The Artist had been drawn out of his studio by the thunder and was watching lightning on the bay down at the end of the street. Advisories of lightning strikes. Giant splats of rain. Temperature drop to pleasant. By this evening it was really nice. But it's still 76 inside the house.

Looks like we got the tail end of a storm meant to go further north. Very nice to experience increased humidity in the area and lower fire threat a tad. Definitely not a rainstorm, but big drops are just fine. Cooler outside this evening than it was at 7AM.

A temp of 76 is really not bad. My friend in Phoenix says this is the 10th day over 110 in a row. Her new air conditioner broke. It was 86 in her house. She was off to the airconditioned library this afternoon.
P.S. Turns out that about 14 fires were started in the mountains by the lightning, all quickly extinguished, but drawing firefighters off the Friday fire.
PPS. All photos for the last two days were taken at approximentely the same spot along the coast.

Friday, June 20, 2008

It's Even Hotter!

It was over 100 today, threatening 105. And the worst part? Another fire, this time closing Highway 1 down the coast. Lots of smoke. Already there are 9 structures burned.

Fog is not predicted until at least Sunday.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Another Heat Wave

Two more days to summer, but it's hot in our normally foggy and cool coastal town. Moreover, the "chiller" at my place of business died early this morning. The chiller is a giant air conditioning system for the entire building. We had a portable unit in the parking lot when I left this evening, a large tractor trailer, but we were making do with fans. My desk is under a vent and I am usually freezing all day. Not today.

The nice thing is, usually the hot weather "over the hill" (a 2000' mountain) pulls in the fog and after a couple days of heat here, the natural air conditioning turns on and we get fog, while it's still sweltering in the valley over the hill. Today's Thursday. That means Saturday or Sunday. Let's see if it works.

The good thing about the heat is blackberries and ice cream. Blackberries grow in the alley behind the house and The Artist picked two sun-ripened pints each of two days. The Artist and I have reached the age when seeds no longer agree with the digestive system, so I use the food mill and make seedless blackberry pulp. Slightly sweetened fresh blackberry pulp over vanilla ice cream is to die for.

The Artist has several new pieces that will be photographed tomorrow.

I have entered my fiber art piece in a local show. I left it with a friend to get it photographed for several days and it loked like a new piece when it was returned, so I guess it passed the sniff test of likability, at least for me.

Oh, yes. The main computer hard drive crashed. We knew it was getting flakey and The Artist backed up everything earlier this week, but it's never pleasant when it crashes. Let this be a lesson. If your computer starts squeeking, get a new drive. Don't let your husband tell you, "It's just the fan.". Take it from me. Forget removing the case and vaccuuming out the back. Forget oiling the fan. It's the hard drive. It's been the hard drive, not the fan, the last two times the computer has squeeked. Believe me, there will not be a third time it's the fan.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

It's only June, already

It's only June and we've had two fires up in the mountains. That sort of thing usually doesn't happen until October. This one was on our side of town, about 10 miles away. Fortunately, the fire took only one house before the fog started rolling in, turning the fire back on itself and sparing many other homes.

My mother used to tell us that when she was a little girl, two different houses they lived in burned down, a terribly scarey thought to me. Once, their rescuers actually carried the piano from the back through the burning house and out the front door to save it. Of course, it was easier to set your own house on fire 100 years ago, when everyone who lived out in the country had a wood or coal stove in which they had to bank the fire to keep it burning throughout the night in order to be able to quickly prepare and cook breakfast to get the men out in the fields as fast as possible in the morning. There were also those dangers of kerosene lanterns and candles before electricity reached rural areas. How safe we now seem to be in our own homes.

My grandmother must have been horrified when she found my young cousin in flames, having set his pajamas on fire playing with his father's cigarette lighter. Having been through those other fires, she remained calm and rolled him up in his blankets, extingushing the fire, saving his life and this time, saving her home.

On that sobering thought, I bid adieu. I never before put those incidents together. I'm beginning to have much more compassion for my deceased relatives.