This is Where I’m From

I come from an island. A small island. The kind of island where all the kids go to the same school and nobody locks their cars. There’s actually a joke that’s been floating around for years saying that, on the Island (Yes, we call it THE island. Sometimes we even call it The Rock.) people only lock their cars during the zucchini harvest…’cause if you don’t, you’ll come back to a car full of squash.

My Korean friends from Portland came to visit me once. I look them to the lighthouse (a legitimate tourist attraction)

I took them to the Park&Ride.

I took them to see the Bicycle in the Tree.

We drove past an old railroad car overgrown with blackberries. They commented on how odd it was to have a railroad car on an Island. This had never occurred to me.

When they left, they said in typically polite, understated tones, “We understand you much better now.”

My Mexican friend from Cuernavaca came to visit me once. I took her to the lighthouse, to the Park&Ride, to the Bicycle in the Tree, and past the overgrown railroad car. I also pointed out the joys of Highway Haiku to her.

When we drove past the railroad car, she turned to me and said, “Ahora sí, amiga…ahora sí.”

A friend of mine organized a Welcome to the Island party for some mutual friends who moved here recently. I baked and adorned this Cider Tart from my own apple cider

…and organized a haiku contest in which teams wrote their compositions on blackboard strips.

A nod to the ferries we depend on to go anywhere significant:

A reference to ambiguity:

And, to sum it all up:

This is where I’m from.

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How d’you like them apples?

One of the most satisfying things about leaving behind a megalopolis of ~23 million for a rural island of ~11 thousand is being so much closer to the land where the food we eat is grown. We had a great time recently scavenging for free apples and seeing how many different uses to which we could put our little red and green treasures.

Childhood friend L and I started off hitting up our friends and acquaintances with apple trees. We took a couple afternoons, in the company of Baby A to do some very inefficient, albeit enjoyable, apple picking. Implements such as rakes, shovels, and pruning clippers were employed. Deer poo was stepped in. A writhing, wriggling infant was lugged cross-country.

Precision Apple Picking with Shovel

L’s mom and dad are the proud owners of a cider press they built from a kit many years ago. We rounded up a few extra hands one crisp, clear Sunday afternoon and had ourselves a pressing party. This was, of course, the first time my Better Half had participated in a cider pressing. He quickly became an expert apple crusher.

Twist and Turn for Cider!

Cider, Sweet Cider...

L’s mom had the bright idea to make applesauce from the crushed pulp of the squeezed apples. We tried a couple different ways. First, we boiled the pulp with an inch or two of hot water and ran the resulting soggy mess through a food mill. It wasn’t half bad! Baby A’s been eating this unsweetened wonder mixed with organic oatmeal and loving it.

The second way we made applesauce was to run the pulp, uncooked, through my mom’s Champion juicer. Side note – that machine is a beast. Mom bought it 10 or 15 years ago from a woman who was living in an old school bus. It is a solid, piece of equipment and I know she’s never regretted the purchase. It doesn’t even compare to the two juicers the Better Half got me in China. The resulting applesauce (sauce, not juice, because most of the moisture in the apples had of course already been pressed out) was naturally sweeter and more intense than the watered-down cooked version, but still pretty juicy. I cooked some of this down and spiced it up to make Apple Butter, which has been great on toast and waffles.

There were also some tasty Applesauce Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Frosting that resulted from that applesauce, and plenty more tucked away in the freezer for use throughout the Winter.

Applesauce Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Frosting

The cider itself has been amazing to drink with breakfast, and the other night I boiled several cups of it with homemade mulling spices (cinnamon, crushed nutmeg, star anise, allspice berries, whole cloves, and orange peel from my Grandma’s trees in central California). It was ah-ma-zing.

Hot Apple Cider with Mulling Spices

Next up: I’m going to try and modify a recipe for Apple Cider Pie. Yes, that’s cider pie. No actual apples involved. I’ve made it once before and it doesn’t quite fill up the pie crust, so I’m going to try to make it a tart with a shortbread crust. Stay tuned.

Happy Lists

When I was living in southern China, I had a little circle of friends who would meet regularly for Ladies Who (Frugally) Lunch sessions. We were all very busy people but we found that taking the time to meet a couple times a month over lunch gave us a chance to vent, tell our China Frustration Stories, and generally maintain our sanity.

Over time, we started to notice that our conversation at these luncheons was becoming distinctly negative. In an effort to combat this, before each lunch we’d each prepare a list of 10 things we loved about the city we were living in or China in general, and share our lists with each other over the meal. The Happy Lists were a great way to keep our lives in perspective and keep us focused on the good.

Now, in this my re-pat adventure version 2.1 (2.0 was a 3-month return that might have lasted longer had the economy not been so heinous), I find myself rather ambivalent about being back in the US of A. This is a huge step up from re-pat adventure version 1.0, when I was miserable for a year and nine months straight, with occasional breaks of sunshine and optimism. In the spirit of fostering that optimism, I’m going to share two lists with you: My I’m Glad to Be Back in the States list and my Can’t Wait to Get Back to THIS in China Someday lists. So much for being concise with the naming of those.

Now then, without further ado…

I’m Glad to Be Back in the States List:
1. Trader Joe’s. My goodness, did I miss me some TJ’s while in China. My friend O and I would text each other dream lists of what we’d buy that day if only there were a TJ’s nearby. Mochi Ice Cream balls, Chili Spiced Mango, the medley of tri-colored baby potatoes, Nerello del Bastardo, I could go on and on.
2. Running into people I know at the grocery store. I come from a smaaaaaaaall small town. If you grew up here too and were born within 3 years of me, I know you. It’s nice to see you again.
3. Really, genuinely fresh air
4. I get to take a ferry several times a week. It’s beautiful.
5. Driving a car
6. Drive-thrus. I am convinced that nature invented these for the single-during-the-day mother. I used to just be hungry until I had another set of hands to help out. Now, I can (kind of) nourish myself.
7. Carseats and all the places they fit (into strollers, over the kiddie seat in shopping carts, into the base of an upside-down restaurant high chair)
8. Outdoor performances, especially of the free variety
9.  Chinese people who are genuinely impressed with my Mandarin. I know. I’m so vain.
10. Berries. Strawberries, Raspberries, Blueberries, Blackberries, Salmon berries, Marion berries galore!

Can’t Wait to Get Back to THIS in China Someday:
1. 东北菜 (Northeastern Chinese cuisine) It’s insane. Everywhere I’ve been in China, DongBei food is one of the easiest kinds of foods to find. In the States…nothing!
2. 湖南菜 (Hunan cuisine)
3. Banks that open on the weekends
4. Shops, restaurants, etc. that stay open past 10PM
5. Chatting with taxi drivers
6. Mani/pedis that I deem “affordable”
7. Our really, really international circle of friends 
8. Older Chinese people in parks
9. The workout I got carrying my daughter and her stroller up three flights of stairs. I’m really going to struggle to walk anywhere near as much as I walked in China. See previous list, Item No. 5.
10. Tropical fruit. The mangos here are preposterous.