Cherries on the porch.
This is the time of year I’ve been waiting for: sour cherry season! I like sweet cherries fine, but you can’t bake with them, and it’s the sour cherry baked goods that I love. Pie, mainly, but also strudel and turnovers and muffins and croissants and danishes. When they’re well done, that is; there’s nothing I like less than a chemical-tasting dyed imitation of any of these fine products. Which is why I was so excited to discover a local source of sour cherries—besides the backyard of a woman I know, whose sour cherries are already spoken for—so that I can make all these things myself.
My first cherry pickup was ten quarts. That seems like a lot when you’re pitting and storing them, but really isn’t that much when you think about all the stuff you want to make with them. Including a recipe that I found online for something in between chocolate cake and brownies filled with cherries, which was absolutely mouthwateringly moist and delicious (I think all the naysayers must have just used sweet cherries, which we all know are for eating not baking). And jam. How could I forget jam? I didn’t forget jam, I just neglected plan for jam in the first round. Which meant that this week I picked up even more sour cherries at the market and continued the pitting through the week. Jam-making will be today (and possibly also tomorrow, depending on how many more cherries are available at today’s market). I plan to use David Lebovitz’s no-recipe recipe. While I’m making jam this week, I may as well also try the Cherry Walnut Conserve in the all-purpose Ball canning book, right? I mean, she gives me a discount if I buy in bulk, so it’s better to get more quarts than fewer. Having cherry jam in the dead of winter will make all the pitting worthwhile!
So, we saw Sonic Youth last night at the 9:30 Club. They were good; we were at the second of two sold-out shows and I’d guess a lot of the audience was repeaters. Except for the times when we were all focused on the woman in the opposite balcony who was first leaning over the railing in her bra, then getting in a fight with her (pretty obnoxious) boyfriend who was trying to control her, and then getting physically dragged out, we were all glued to the stage and happily nodding our heads in time. (We were old, tired, and in the balcony; plus, the band played some pretty mellow stuff.) The performance was solid; I suppose after sixteen albums and tours and thirty years of playing together you get to be pretty comfortable with each other. And, it was actually quite cool to see them produce all the funky sounds they’re known for, using their actual instruments rather than a Macbook.
Before this show, I hadn’t listened to Sonic Youth in fifteen years, and I’d definitely skipped all that 90s stuff (the phase when they became what someone called ‘more experimental’). Everything they played sounded vaguely familiar but I didn’t know any single song well enough to sing along; I don’t actually own any of their CDs despite recognizing their musical greatness. (If I hadn’t already lost my hipster card by not liking The White Stripes and finding The Mountain Goats to be atrocious, now would be the time for it to be recalled.) Which is to say, I can’t tell you what the set list was or how their live performance diverged from their studio recordings or whether the time that Kim had to swap out her instrument because she either broke a string or the tech brought the wrong one was a point when she was actually supposed to be playing.
You can, however, listen to the concert on NPR and answer all those questions for yourselves.
When I talk with neighbors about our yard, they are uniformly positive about the way it looks. Which I can understand: we eradicated the pokeweed orchard in the back corner; we cut the vines back out of the trees; we’ve pruned deadwood and limbed up the border hollies; and we’ve managed to create relatively weed-free areas around the shrubs and various flowering plants. When I look at the yard, though, all I see are the weeds popping up in the beds we’ve somewhat cleared, the vines creeping back over the fence and up the trunks of trees, the mulberries growing (literally) out of the foundation of the garage, and the poison ivy popping up here and there in back corners. It’s enough to make a girl forget all her principles and just wholesale blanket coat the area with poison, deep-seated hatred of Monsanto be damned.
That’s where I was last week, ready to spray Roundup ™ on everything that was growing anywhere I didn’t want it. I thought, ‘Hey, next week will be hot and dry for the first seven day run all summer, perfect!’ So I started reading more about applying it. Which led me to studies that reminded why I hadn’t used it in the first place: negative impacts on amphibians, the possibility of residues lingering in the soils or harming various types of insects, and scary correlations with miscarriages in women exposed to the spray. Golly.
So, it’s back to the digging up, pulling out, and smothering plan. We’ll still spot-spray the poison ivy, and likely apply some kind of glyphosate to the stumps of the saplings we’re trying to kill. It appears that the universe approves of this change (back) of heart, because it’s delivered me a (literal) truckload of old newspapers that will be put to use in the smothering part of the plan. Just as soon as I read up on how to do that.
One of our Christmas presents last year was a gift certificate for The Studio Theatre, on 14th Street just blocks from where we used to live. After investigating the shows playing this season, we chose Radio Golf, August Wilson‘s last play in his Pittsburgh Cycle, completed just before his death in 2005. I had heard of August Wilson’s plays—even before the Obamas flew to NYC to see one—but had never seen a performance. The show last weekend was obviously popular; the theater was sold out and we’d had to bump our chosen performance date back a few weeks in order to get four seats together. The seats were excellent, in the center of the second or third row; definitely worth the wait.
The play itself was superb and engrossing. The actors were completely convincing, and the characters could have been around the corner in an office in DC. Although questioning gentrification itself wasn’t the point of the play, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities to the dynamics that have been going on in DC for the past ten or fifteen years. Old houses being bought up for back taxes, poor and older black folks moving out of their neighborhoods to make way for high rise complexes with doormen and Starbucks ™ on the ground floor. Radio Golf takes that dynamic as the starting point and moves on to questions of ethics, of the ways in which these things move forward whether or not they are above-board in the beginning. The play succeeds at providing completely recognizable late-20th-century middle-class black characters while avoiding stereotypes. Wilson manages to convey the social context that produces the desire to move forward and never look back in a way that allows the audience to remain sympathetic even to the play’s less appealing character, the friend who is willing to be the black face that allows white investors to get a piece of the federal minority-headed project pie. Overall, it was a poignant example of how projects move beyond the control of the creator when big money becomes involved, and a reminder of why I wasn’t comfortable being part of this kind of revitalization by buying in similar areas in DC.
More than anything, Radio Golf made me want to see Wilson’s other plays, and I hope that a DC theater will start to perform the cycle again from the beginning. It’s rare to see such an insightful and accurate portrayal of city life balanced with both humor and compassion. Certainly, August Wilson’s talented eye and voice created the platform, but the five actors made the story come alive. We’ll definitely return for future productions.
One of my goals this summer is to use the produce I get from our CSA and the farmers’ markets in a greater variety of ways. In the past we’ve frozen baba ghanoush, cooked squash, diced rhubarb, blueberries, persimmon pulp, and sour cherries. We’ve canned applesauce, apple pie filling, apple jelly, apple chutney, and quince jelly. This year, I’m planning to branch out into pickles—using the mandoline slicer I acquired last year—and new types of jams, conserves, and chutneys.
Pickles ready to go in the freezer.
It was my intention to start the pickling with bread and butter pickles, using a lower-sugar recipe from The Joy of Pickling (of which there’s a new edition with fifty more recipes, which would explain why the one I have was in the bargain bin). Then my neighbor showed up at the door with armfuls of mint that she was ‘thinning’ from her garden, so I went with what we’re calling the mojito pickle instead. This is a freezer pickle, and uses lime zest and fresh mint as flavors (in addition to the traditional red bell pepper, onion, and garlic). As far as I could tell by sampling it as I packed it into quart tubs this morning, it’s pretty great. I’m still going to do bread and butters, and if I find other cucumber-based pickles that sound appealing I’ll pick up more at the farmers’ market on Thursday.
Equipment-wise, the mandoline turned out to be much less complicated and dangerous than I’d feared, and was a breeze to use for the cucumbers. We do need to sharpen our knives before veggie slicing season really heats up, but I couldn’t get 1/8 inch slices with a knife if my life depended on it. For the bread and butters, I might even use the ripple cut option.