The end of last week I took my trusty leaf blower down from its hook in the garage. Goggles in place I went after the leaves in my yard. By the time I was done I had filled four large leaf bags. I heard on a newscast leaves are actually better left untouched. A bed of leaves, so it seems, provides an excellent habitat for a large variety of insects. This being true, our backyard is literally Mother Nature’s playground. There isn’t one square inch of it not topped with a cover of leaves. This year has proved particularly prolific with the dry conditions created by our seemingly never-ending drought. Surrounded by trees on all sides, aside from the abundant leaf population, we worry about the trees toppling over due to dry roots, etc.
Over the weekend a winter storm moved into our area bringing with it much-needed moisture accompanied by some pretty impressive winds. In one area a tornado touched down doing some fairly significant damage to several houses. Outside I watched as a whole new crop of leaves twirled and swirled to the ground erasing any clues of a recent cleanup. Sigh.
On the plus side, fall colors are resplendent this year. The trees in our yard, not to be outdone by their neighbors, have put on a gorgeous display. Our maple turning up the heat with bright reds, and the Chinese maples showing a gorgeous second.
When I lived on the east coast I lived in Wakefield, Massachusetts. A sleepy little town surrounding a beautiful lake. Autumn there was the fodder of many a painting with colors so brilliant when reflected in the calm water of the lake the visage could bring tears to your eyes. My children, toddlers then, tucked in their woolen coats and hats loved to walk along the paths by the lake. A canvas bag accompanied us on our fall walks. Particularly lovely leaves were tucked inside. Once home we would press them into books or make designs with them to decorate the walls of their bedroom.
Our house there was of some historical significance. I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, a plaque with a brief synopsis of the house’s history was affixed to the front. Built in the 1800’s. Owned by a prominent family. Often I would step outside to find strangers armed with maps of the area, reading the text written there. On meeting they occasionally asked me questions. Even after research at the library, I knew little beyond what the plaque offered. Some of the house’s secrets the owner imparted to us, like the young wife who died there giving birth to her first child. The rest of the old buildings secrets remained hidden in the dusty corners leaving only what was noted on the plaque as a source of information.
Old houses intrigue me. Details prevalent in the older buildings, are left out in the structures you see today. The Wakefield house had window seats in both the master bedroom as well as the living room. To the right of the window seat in the master bedroom was a large porthole style window with a latch that, when open in the summer, invited a lovely breeze into the upstairs area. The closet in the upstairs hall was constructed solely of cedar. It was the perfect place to store coats and sweaters as moths are not fond of the scent of cedar so are likely to stay away.
Downstairs a large hearth dominated the living area. In the 1800’s, the owner told me, the people living there had cooked their meals in pots hanging over a fire in the hearth. The metal grooves where the bars hung were still visible on either side. Wow, are we spoiled these days, huh? Cooking over a fire, no microwaves, no fast food, frozen food, processed food. Back in the day, if you wanted a chicken for dinner you picked up the axe, chased it around the yard, and thanked it for its service to your table. Most probably I would have been a vegetarian.
My grandmother grew up on a farm. Her attitude was very mater-of-fact about such things. Cats roamed the property to keep rodents and other small critters at bay. Cats earned their keep on the farm. They did not reside on their owners lap waiting lazily for a treat before getting down to preen themselves. The treat, as she would have told me, was my great-grandmother hadn’t deposited the cat as a kitten in a burlap bag and lowered it into the river. With no vets readily available to neuter cats back then nor money to pay them, the litters had to be culled. One feline could turn to two and two to a hundred in the blink of an eye.
Pets among the livestock weren’t encouraged either, I was told. Tom the lovable turkey, or Fred the affectionate piglet might show up surrounded with potatoes and carrots on a platter come the holidays. I would have been a petless vegetarian apparently.
I always pictured myself on a farm. Well, without the getting up at 3:00 in the morning, the endless hard work, the bad crop years, insect infestations and the lack of amenities. Never mind. Let’s leave it at I admire people who choose farming as a way of life. Indeed it is just that. You own the land the land owns you. My experience working on a farm in Manitoba about fifteen years back gave me a brief but memorable glimpse into the life of people who grow the food we find on our supermarket shelves. For one week I woke at midnight to fertilize crops. Bouncing along the uneven furrows in a tractor I believe my kidneys actually relocated to behind my right ankle. I rode one of the farms three wheelers to feed the cows. At one point I helped load cows on a trailer (a procedure they are not in favor of) looking up at the business end of the beasts hoping to avoid being kicked or trampled or worse. The worse being cows when frightened tend to release all their bodily functions (I’m trying to be delicate here). One does not want to get in the way of this natural process if at all possible.
So with Thanksgiving approaching I will be thankful for these hard working humans who plant small seeds in the ground and care for them until they harvested and sent to be part of our feast whether it be turkey, tofurkey, ham, or whatever your traditions are. Oh, and a special shout out to the fine vineyards here in California. What would Thanksgiving be without a glistening glass of wine!
This soup is full of creamy deliciousness. It is rich, so I serve it in cups rather than bowls topped with shredded Parmesan.
Spinach and Artichoke Soup
4 Tbsp. butter
1 large onion, chopped
2 green onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup dry white wine (I used chardonnay)
5 cups chicken broth
1 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese
1 14 oz. can artichoke hearts, drained
6 oz. spinach, washed and broken into pieces
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper taste
Shredded Parmesan cheese
Melt butter in large deep skillet over med. heat. Add onions and cook 5-6 mins. until soft. Add garlic and cook 1 min. Whisk in flour and cook, whisking constantly, for 3 mins.
Deglaze pan with wine. Reduce heat and continue cooking until liquid nearly evaporates. Whisk in broth. Bring to a boil. Cook for 1 min.
Add cream cheese. Cook and stir until cheese has completely melted. Add artichoke hearts and spinach. Cook 6 mins. until spinach has wilted. Add lemon juice cheese, cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with shredded Parmesan sprinkled on top if desired.