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A Trip Through Memories. Part One.

Last week I took a week off and drove south.  My ultimate goal was the OU-Texas game in Dallas, but I took extra time going and coming to see friends and family in Oklahoma and Texas.  Throughout the trip I covered terrain familiar from a lifetime of experiences, and driving alone through this territory, I had plenty of time to think, and my mind often roamed through old memories.  I was sentimental, even maudlin at times.  Do these familiar locations and landscapes have that affect generally?

I left on a Tuesday morning which was a little warmer than the days before.  I drove west along I-80 and south from York, NE on US 81.  Despite more than three years, this severe landscape still feels mostly alien and foreboding.  The only real memory tied to this route is when we rolled our car in January 2011 and had our frightening encounter with the local sheriff.  

Driving south across Kansas isn't much better.  This has always been a most boring drive, though I did recall youth group ski trips on their way to Colorado, or the time Tom McDonald and I went to Manhattan for our first K-O Conference Annual Meeting.

Once I get south of Wichita, it is much better.  There are more trees, for one thing.  I remember road trips to Kansas City with Marty, Ben, and Chuck and calling out the numbers of the bridges.  Check.

In Blackwell I stopped for Braums.  This is a ritual.

Passing Tonkawa I texted Michael.  It was at the Love's store that we recovered, after two days, the diamond he had lost from his wedding ring.  That's a great story, if you've never heard it.

The red dirt rolls on, as I moved south.  Red dirt is still somewhat strange to me, as I grew up in Eastern Oklahoma, where it is brown.  Central and Western Oklahoma, despite my many years there, is still not "home" territory.

Past the turnoff to Stillwater, and all those trips to and from Michael's apartment come to mind.

Guthrie.  Edmond.  Oklahoma City.

I spent the evening with Rob and Dub.  We stayed in for dinner and conversation.  Rob shared a great new Oklahoma beer.  I left the next morning before the liquors stores opened, and I could get some to bring back.

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Gardening into the Autumn

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I haven't been very good in blogging about the garden.  Mainly because the daily activity and new surprises of spring and early summer gave way to a much looser routine.  I often only went to the garden once a week (either rain or PJ did much of the watering) and that mainly to harvest what was there, none of which was really new.

Of the things I planted hoping for late summer or autumn harvest, only the lettuce has come up markedly, and it is not yet ready to harvest.

We've had an abundance of tomatoes since August.  And planting four varieties has made for different flavours and textures.  Most interesting is the heirloom variety we planted.  It has a different shape and the meat and juice inside look very different as well (I should take a picture of one cut open).  The Roma tomatoes have been abundant and flavourful.  We are nearing that point of being tired of tomatoes and all the things you make with them.  With the first cold weather arriving this weekend, we may be at the end of tomato season.

We've also had lots of jalapeno peppers, and they have been spicy with good flavour.  Midwesterners don't seem to know what to do with peppers.  The ones I sit out at church don't get taken and many friends don't want them either when I try to give them away.  I planted fewer pepper plants this year on purpose, but the one plant has been wonderful.

We've also gotten a handful of good bell peppers.  I've never had luck with bell peppers before, generally getting very small ones.  This year they've done well.

And I continue to harvest Brussels sprouts, which are getting better with the cooler temps.  In today's paper, Jan Riggenbach said that they actually get their best once there is a frost.


Garden: Weekend Update

Last week I only made it to the garden a couple of times.  I did a little watering and weed pulling, but not much else.

Saturday morning was a lovely day, and I spent much time in the garden.  We've had unseasonably cool weather, with highs in the 70's and lows in the 50's.  It must be what July is like in Duluth.  So, I spent more than an hour enjoying the garden on Saturday morning, but realized after I got down there, that I had not brought my phone or camera to take pictures.

I did a lot of weeding.

I also removed the unproductive zucchini plant.  I had decided to anyway, but when I looked at it, I noticed that the first four inches at the base of the stem were gray colored and rotting.  A biologist friend earlier in the week confirmed that the other squash plant is a hybrid yellow squash/zucchini, but that the original seed would have been that, not some merger of the two side-by-side plants.  This hybrid continues to produce large, tasty fruit.  We've had it a few times as side dishes and in pasta.  It sautees nicely in olive oil with a little red onion, salt, and pepper.

The tomatoes are having problems this year.  The inconsistent temps and moisture, much like two years ago, are creating bottom rot and those annoying little black spots.  Last year, during the drought, we did not have this problem, and had a magnificent tomato harvest.  All the heirloom yellow tomatoes that were ripe had the bottom rot.  The beefsteak is not quite ready, though I picked a few for fried green tomatoes.  The other yellow one, can't think of the variety right now, has one big one close to harvest.  The Roma is producing mightily, though with the black spots.  I've used a few in pasta and shared some with our friend PJ.

We also, finally, had a handful of cucumbers to pick, instead of just one a week or two like it has been.  

I also harvested some jalapeno peppers, the rest of the chives (as they were getting droopy), about half a dozen Brussels sprouts, and PJ let me take some of her green beans.  

I took a bag full of squash, cukes, chives, and peppers to the church today for our weekly produce sale.  The profits of which go to fun our hunger ministries.

After weeding and harvesting, I planted seeds, looking forward to those things which can be harvested late summer/early autumn.  I planted beets, spinach (remember the great spinach earlier in the year), carrots, lettuce, and scallions.  I did take a picture of the packets when I got home.

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Garden: July 19

This afternoon we stopped by the garden to see what we could harvest for this weekend's meals.  The yellow squash has exploded.  One, which was still small just a few days ago, was the size of an arm.  The zucchini are just not producing.  The yellow squash, though, look more like a zucchini.  I wonder if somehow the two plants have merged with each other?  

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The red cabbage is sprouting small cabbage heads and there were three ripe Roma tomatoes.  Also, the okra seedlings are growing nicely.  And there is a baby eggplant!

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For dinner tonight I fixed the red cabbage.  I used this recipe, though I added my own touch to it, sweetening it a bit more with some honey and more sugar.  My favourite German red cabbage is made at the Bavarian Grill in Plano, Texas and it basically is a dessert (BG is my favourite German restaurant).  Mine wasn't as sweet as that, and Michael was glad because he doesn't like it sweet.  I was very satisfied with the results.

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Garden: July 16

I decided I was going to make a German themed dinner, so I harvested the red cabbage with the intention of cooking it.  But, after I had prepared other parts of the meal, I realized that the recipe for German red cabbage would take more than an hour, and the roast chicken was actually almost done.  Oh well, I'll make the cabbage later.  When Michael saw it sitting on the counter he got really excited, "It looks like a real cabbage."  "Well, it is a real cabbage."

I did prepare a cucumber salad from the first cucumber of the season.  And also used some of our fresh dill to make dilled potatos that were yummy, probably the best I've ever made, and I've made damn good dilled potatos in the past.

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This afternoon I also removed the broccoli plant.  I'll put something else in its place.  I left the base of the cabbage plant, as the website I read said that small cabbages could sprout from the remainder of the plant.  We'll see.  If not, I'll remove it soon and plant something new.  The entire south end of the bed is opening up, which was my plan.  The okra I seeded after I removed the kale is coming up nicely.

It looks like we'll have Brussels sprouts and yellow squash before the week is out.


Garden Updates

After my morning post, I did go out to visit the garden plot and harvested some kale, spinach, and dill which I put out at church for donations.  It was all purchased. 

The spinach plant has gone crazy.  If it wasn't raining and I had had a bag with me, I would have harvested a bunch more.

The big surprise of the day was the cute little broccoli which I has started growing.  I posted a photo on Facebook and someone asked if it had a name.  What name should we give it?

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This evening Michael fixed a kale salad with our dinner, from the kale which I had harvested sometime last week.

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Today was another day filled with rain, though not quite as heavy as yesterday.  Everything will be well watered.

I need to do some research into radicchio to see when would be the best time to harvest it.


Yummy Spinach!

Yesterday we finally ate the spinach we had harvested, and it was very yummy.  I made a creamed spinach.  First I wilted it with a little water and salt.  Then I cooked it further in some half and half, butter, and grated fresh parmesan cheese.  The spinach itself had a beautiful green color (it didn't lose that color when cooked) and a rich flavor.

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Yesterday it rained buckets and buckets.  Our garden has required little maintenance, as the weather has been so rainy.  I do need to transplant a couple of the cucumber plants, which I keep forgetting today.  Maybe I can do that today if the ground dries out a little bit so it isn't messy.

I may go harvest some kale to put out during the church coffee hour.  We put produce from the garden out and people leave a donation.  The money funds feeding the homeless.


Portland

Tuesday I flew to Portland, Oregon, where my friend Dan Morrow, an Episcopal priest, had invited me to give a presentation as part of his Philosophy and Faith Lenten lecture series.  I had never been to Portland, to Oregon, or to anywhere in the Great Northwest.  Which is why it was so much fun, after he picked me up from the airport, that we drove up the Columbia River Gorge.

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The highest concentration of waterfalls on the North American continent is in this gorge, and we saw quite a few of them, including the stunning Multnomah Falls.  The Columbia is quite lovely, living up to one's expectations.  Though it was rather placid that day -- no "Roll on, Columbia, roll on."

We drove as far east as Hood River and stopped for a brewery tour.  When he learned that I'd never been to Washington state either, we crossed the river at Bridge of the Gods and spent a little time in Washington (state number 36 for me, with Oregon being 35).

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The next day, my 39th birthday, I hung out with Toni McDowell, who also resides in Portland.  We went thrift store shopping, ate good food, and saw the theatre she works for.  My brunch that morning, at a place called Toast, was pork belly on a bed of Brussels sprouts and sweet potato with a duck egg on top.  Delicious.

That evening the presentation went very well, with around 70 people in attendance.  They had purchased a birthday cake for the occassion.  Afterwards Dan, his wife Theresa, and I went for Scotch.

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Thursday was food, books, and art.  A Reggie at Pine State Biscuits, also very delicious, followed by Powell's Books.  I only bought ten books, mostly philosophy and religion.  Tasty fresh fish blue plate special at Jake's (with beer of course) followed by a Voodoo Donut.  Then we spent a little time in the art museum and took a peek inside the First Congregational Church across the street -- they have a fascinating Venetian-style tower unlike anything I've ever seen on a church.

For dinner we all went to Pok Pok, a fun, creative Vietnamese place most famous for their very hot chicken wings.


Absinthe

It was the best piece of beef I've ever eaten.  Here's the story.

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That Tuesday night in Paris we wondered around looking for a place to dine.  Tom had gone to the grocery store earlier in the day and said when he returned, "There are a number of restaurants north of us.  We should go that way tonight."  So, we did.  For Rob, who has stayed at the same hotel over 50 times, the restaurants a few blocks north were a surprise, new to the area since he had last wandered that way.

We just couldn't seem to pick any place, and finally were lured in by the menu of a place called Absinthe.  And boy were we glad.

I don't remember what the other guys had, but I selected the Grilled Prime Rib-Black Angus.  It came with Baby potatoes and garlic confit.  

As I wrote at the opening, it was simply the best piece of beef I've ever eaten.   It was so tender, it melted in my mouth.  And the flavour!  I said to our excellent waiter Sylvain, "This is the best beef I've ever had, and I'm from the Great Plains.  We know beef!"  He smiled a devilish smile.

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As we neared the end of our main course, the table behind us ordered absinthe itself, and we decided that we must do the same.  I'd never had it before, but really enjoyed it.

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Then, we ordered dessert.  I had the home made ice creams and sorbets.

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Afterwards we all agreed it was the best meal we'd had in Paris.  Tom kept saying it was among the best meals he'd ever had.  I agreed.