Sunday, October 24, 2010

Domestic Blitz

I have been in a fit of domesticity this past week or so. Last weekend was a gorgeous, perfect Indian Summer weekend--probably the last sunny weekend we'll see for months. So what better time to spend three hours cleaning my kitchen? What can I say, the urge struck to go through cabinets, pick out items to donate or recycle, and to clean everything thoroughly. No doubt my fabulous new cleaning gloves--a gift from a friend who knows me well--were part of the inspiration:

I rounded up sufficient items in the cabinets, along with a desk, an A/C window unit we've never used, a box of tile, some shutters that had been languishing in my basement, and a few miscellaneous tools, to put together a nice donation for the local Habitat for Humanity ReStore.  It felt great to get rid of things we don't use and to organize the remaining items. I did make some time to spend outside, walking through the neighborhood, reading in the garden, and picking some flowers. The cosmos that ate my garden continue to bloom profusely, and they make lovely, long-lasting cut flowers.

It was a tough week at work, so I tried to rally the troops with some no-bake cookies, a combo of butter, sugar, cocoa, vanilla, peanut butter and rolled oats that comes out somewhere between cookie and candy. When in doubt, make cookies, I say. My husband has been putting in insane hours at the winery for the grape harvest, and at last all the fruit is in. There's still plenty of work to be done, but getting the fruit in before the rains started was everyone's #1 concern. Big sighs of relief all round. We actually got to go out for a drink Friday night--first time since early September--and he was off this weekend, and thus available to be put to work around the house. I have a bad back (no, really!) and he does the heavy housework like floors and the garden tasks like mowing (did I mention I'm also allergic to cut grass? It's true!).

Partly because I'm tired of paying the ridiculous prices for cleaning products, and partly because I'm concerned about chemicals in common household cleaners, I've begun to make my own. Laundry detergent, all purpose spray cleaner, and furniture polish were whipped up within minutes at very little cost. Better Basics for the Home and the Care2 website offer much assistance and easy recipes. I used my fabulous formulas to clean the bathroom and polish furniture this weekend, while adding to my "good Oregonian" bona fides by making granola and yogurt for my favorite daily breakfast.

I also did some canning. The autumn rains arrived in force this weekend, and it was clear the rest of my tomatoes were not going to ripen. My grandmother used to make this green tomato relish I adored, but I didn't have the recipe. Internet to the rescue--I googled about until I found something that sounded very similar to what Mama used to make. I chopped up the tomatoes (50 or so, mostly very small) along with green peppers from my CSA, red bell peppers, some not-hot Pacific Northwest jalapenos, and some onions in the food processor, producing a mush that looked like this:

Thanks to Cuisinart, it was much faster and easier than in Mama's day. I remember she and our maid, Jay-Ola, would set up an old wooden kitchen table in the yard and attach a metal meat grinder to the edge with a vise grip. Then they would feed in the vegetables, taking turns cranking out a similar mush into an enameled washtub. My way lacked the atmosphere, but was much easier on the arms. The veggies are tossed with pickling salt (yes, it is different--I had to look it up) and left to stand for a few hours, then cooked in boiling vinegar with spices before being put into glass canning jars and sealed in a water bath.

The end product at least looks like Mama's, but I'm sure it will lack that "je ne sais quoi." Is any attempt to recreate the beloved foods of childhood ever entirely successful? Maybe we just remember things in a rosier light (though really, that 's not usually one of my failings) or maybe the difference in ingredients or methods is just enough to make things taste not quite the same. I know Mama would have been horrified at the idea of me canning, sure I would injure myself. Okay, so I splashed a little boiling vinegar on my hands when I was putting in the tomato mix. It's fine. I won't be scarred for life, Mama.

Now, if only I could find  clever use for a tree full of unripe figs . . .

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