Baffled

Eight years ago I bought three five-inch-tall end-of-the-season baby grapevines for $1.29 each and planted them in pots on the deck, hoping to train them onto the arbor. Nothing much happened for several years, although one grew tall enough to peek over Bea’s shoulder in the photo below.

So I transplanted them into the ground beneath the arbor surrounding our patio.  They liked it there, and began to make themselves at home.

Time went by, and over the last few years we’ve had a few sour grapes, but didn’t mind because the leaves were so beautiful.  They might’ve been more productive if I’d pruned, but we loved the shady greenery.

This summer Seattle was unseasonably hot, and we had bunches and bunches of grapes.  All summer we anticipated the harvest. Thom brought in the first bunch to test for ripeness.  Almost ready

We harvested ripe juicy pears.

A few apples.

 

Tomatoes.

 

And wild blackberries…

…by the handful.

Then came the raccoons.  It wouldn’t be the first time.  We let them eat their fill of Italian plums, just to keep them occupied and away from the grapes.  But in the wee hours one night, they got into the arbor.  I chased them off with the jet hose and stood guard. They growled. They snarled. They organized.  It was intense.  They adapted to the water, so I rattled a deck chair to scare them off.  Once they became immune to the rattle of the chair, I had to bang on the chimes with a stick, which I’m sure the neighbors didn’t appreciate.  While I was occupied by one, another approached from the other side.  Finally, at first light, before disappearing into the trees, the biggest one curled its lip and said, “I’ll be back.”

We had to draw a line, and it was right in front of our first decent crop of grapes ever. Thom designed a “raccoon baffle” from metal sheeting to keep them from accessing the grapes from the south side arbor. He installed a little electric fence below to prevent their climbing up the base of the arbor.  It worked for a couple nights. But the night before harvest day, we heard loud rustling just outside our bedroom window.

The dam! dam! dam! broke.  Thom and I hurried out with bowls, flashlights, and scissors to power harvest everything within reach.  I don’t know how, but they found their way past all the barriers to those grapes. Raccoons are the Borg of the natural world; so smart, expert at teamwork, and they adapt.  While we snipped grapes, they kept creeping up from all directions. They look cute, but are wild and can be dangerous.  It was illogical to take a stand there, when I could buy Safeway grapes for two bucks a pound, but I can’t deny it: I’m very territorial when it comes to my garden.  Ask any slug.

We processed the grapes like we grew them–haphazardly, making it up as we went along.  My sister Constance helped boil them into a thick syrup.

The crock-pot works well for this too, and you don’t have to stir constantly.

When the mixture turns purple and thickens, throw in a bunch of sugar.  Please don’t ask for proportions.  A bunch of grapes and a bunch of sugar.  Strain it a couple times with cheesecloth, coffee filters, or a clean dishtowel (we used them all), and pour it into a container.

Heat the syrup in the microwave, mix it with a little brandy.

 

Or Vernor’s ginger ale. Here too I must draw the line. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: only Vernor’s will do.

 And don’t forget the cocktail umbrella.

What you end up with is grape-flavored liquid Sweet Tart, best savored one sip at a time.

After we harvested enough grapes to call it a day (or a desperate last stand of a night), we surrendered the remainders to the raccoons, squirrels, and one particularly noisy possum.  They are smarter than we are, and we figure they earned it.  Now sometimes at night we hear them munching, run for flashlights, and watch them feast at eye level from our cozy raccoon blind.  That’s not sour grapes talking.  In fact, I’d call it a win-win situation.

All words and images copyright 2015 Naomi Baltuck.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Boundaries.

The Weekly Travel Theme: Intense.

If you want to learn more about raccoons, watch this PBS program on urban raccoons titled Raccoon Nation. It will shock and amaze you!

Who Turned on the Lights?

People find the light in their life in so many ways and places.  It can be as easy as turning on a switch.

 

Some find all the light they need in a sunset…

…or a moonrise.

Others find illumination in a church…

…a synagogue…


…a mosque…

…or a library.

Sacred is a place that lights up your heart.

It isn’t always easy to find…

Some look for it in food…


…at the bottom of a wine glass…

…or through yoga.

Some light up with the joy and anticipation of adventure.

And what constitutes an adventure is very personal.

Sometimes light comes from the joy of creation in all of its many forms…

 

Everyone’s light shines through differently.  To each his own.

For me, love shines brightest of all.

 

It’s our life’s work and pleasure to follow the light…

…or to make our own.

It is there.

It is there.

It is there.

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Shine.

How I Survived Turkish Cooking Class

My specialty is grilled cheese sandwiches, with the burnt side scratched off and served charred side down.  If it’s really burnt, I serve it with wine.  Lots of wine.  But cooking is my son Eli’s passion, which is how I happened to sign up for a Turkish cooking class while we were in Istanbul last October.

Eveline, owner of A la Turka, is a Dutch woman who followed her bliss to cooking school in Paris, then to Istanbul, to open her own cooking school and restaurant.  Feyzi, her master chef, is an excellent teacher.  Surprisingly, he manages to impart his wisdom without uttering a word.

Feyzi  had me with his first demonstration on the importance of presentation, as shown below.

We were cooking a five course dinner–red lentil soup, stuffed eggplant, zucchini fritters, stuffed grape leaves, sweet cakes, and even Turkish coffee.  Eli was jazzed; I was in it for the two glasses of Turkish wine they promised us with our dinner.   I waited for a task fitting my limited repertoire of culinary skills–scraping the burnt crust off grilled cheese sandwiches, and popping the cork off wine bottles.  Peeling and cutting up tomatoes for eggplant stuffing fell to Eli and me.  We took up our knives and jumped into the proverbial frying pan.

Cooking is like magic.  You start with raw materials…

…wave your magic wand, or stir it with your spoon, to be more precise.

And abracadabra!  You have crisp tasty zucchini fritters!

When I volunteered to stir the eggplant stuffing…

…I didn’t know Feyzi wanted me to do it with my hands.

Next we took eggplants, peeled them and gutted them.

  Am I the only one who thinks this looks like a breeding nest of baby space aliens?

Oh no! They’re getting away!

Eveline suggested I use paper toweling to clean my hands, instead of my apron.  I looked down and noticed the mess of red tomato-gut handprints on my front.  Dang!  And everyone else’s aprons were spotless.   Meanwhile, Eli was sprinkling pistachio crumbs over the sweet cakes too far from the plate, and he was relieved of that duty.

I decided I couldn’t get into trouble if I took a job stirring the pot on the stove.

As you can see above, I was blissfully ignorant of the fact that my oven-mitted left hand had caught fire.  I did finally notice in time to save the hand, and the kitchen, if not my pride.

Eli says we were the ugly stepchildren in that class, but we did learn lots of tricks…like washing oniony hands in lemon water, or how to chop great quantities of herbs with a blade resembling a Klingon Bat’leth.

Among other things…



We were the stars of our own little cooking show, at least in our own minds.

We learned how to turn this…

…into this!

I also learned that I prefer white over red wine.  Nobody got killed.  And I’m thinking of starting my own cooking school.  Maybe I’ll call it “Cooking a La Turkeys.”

All images and words C2012 Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Dinnertime.