Autumn Is A Good Time For Slow Living
After the long summer drought, what bliss to wake in the night to hear rain pattering on the roof and to walk out in the morning to a refreshing drizzle. With Seattle calling for water restrictions and asking people to cut showers short, I feel especially grateful for this lovely rain that has plants perking up and birds chirping merrily as they explore the wet tangle of the autumn garden. With so much care needed at home this summer, the garden has been pretty much on its own yet is holding up quite well. Hardy fuchsias are feeding hummingbirds as well as bees galore. Catnip is throwing out its third set of flowering stems and charming small birds have been enjoying the tiny seeds on the untrimmed older stalks. The Russian sage is still going strong, as are the many kinds of oregano throughout the garden. Runaway mint that lurks under the big troughs is blooming too, providing plenty of nourishment for all sorts of pollinators, as are the occasional tufts of lemon balm, a delicious yet weedy herb that seeds itself around with abandon.
Though most of the annuals are fading, a late crop of sweetpeas is still blooming generously, despite being blown about but gusting wind and rain. Their sweet scent comes through the window as I write, combining pleasantly with the distinctive fragrance of fallen leaves, reminding me that it’s time to get out the sweaters and vests. On the Equinox eve, a group of neighbors gathered to sing in the season over a truly crackling fire (safely held in a metal fire bowl, as the modified burn ban now allows). We sang from our musical memories, sometimes humming as words escaped, making spontaneous mashups. I thought about how so many other countries have traditional seasonal songs, stories, food, and activities and all we could come up with was a medley of random tunes that were popular in our distant youths.
Back then, most schools offered music classes at least weekly and we all learned a lot of Americana that many, perhaps most children today don’t know, from Sweet Betsy From Pike and Home On The Range to Working On The Railway and Oh Suzannah. I’ve been singing with a vocal trio for about 17 years now and we like to include a lot of those old timey songs when we play at farmers markets and anywhere with an older audience. It’s fun to see people’s ears prick up and watch them start to sing along as the words come wandering back to memory. I sing a lot of these songs to my grandkids, who seem only to learn trendy pop songs at school these days. Maybe that’s fine but it does feel like it might be time for another great folk song revival (last one was in the 1950s, after all). Songs carry cultural history, colonialism included; think about the songs about pioneer life, about immigrants, about waves of social upheaval, about hoe downs and play parties before radio and tv took over. Keeping music alive takes time too, another part of slow living.
I’ve been thinking a lot about lost arts, from singing to story telling because our local senior center is hosting a book group that’s reading Braiding Sweetgrass together over several months. In the second section, Tending Sweetgrass, the author brings up many instances of slow living that are part of very few American lives these days. While discussing traditional stories that pass along wisdom through the generations, the author (Robin Wall Kimmerer) tells stories of her own life experiences that have expanded her world view. Many, like making maple syrup, learning lore from an elderly neighbor, or restoring a plant-choked pond, are processes that take time, sometimes lots of it. In today’s busy-busy world, it feels more important than ever to make the time to nurture sturdy, positive connections throughout our community. Let’s keep growing fruits and vegetables to share, making bread and soup to share, keep finding ways to make friends with lonely neighbors. And let’s keep on singing and telling valuable stories. Onward, right?
About That Rosemary Salt
Recently several people have asked for the recipe for various kinds of herbed salts, from rosemary or basil to garlic salt. All are pretty similar and once you have the basic method down, you can experiment freely and make your own combinations. I started doing this years ago by filling a 2-cup measure with sprigs of all kinds of garden herbs, from thyme and oregano to savory and sage, then grinding it with kosher salt. When that batch got funky too soon, I learned to stabilize it by baking the mixture at 225 degrees F until it forms a light crust (10-20 minutes, depending on batch size and moisture content of add-ins). Cool it a bit, then grind it again (don’t wash the food processor too soon or you have to dry it before doing this step, which is a pain). This is a good time to make salt with the last of the basil, while rosemary and garlic can be used pretty much any time you think of it.
2 cups stemmed rosemary
2 cups coarse kosher salt
Grind together to a coarse paste that still has flecks of green. Spread evenly in a rimmed baking sheet and bake at 225 degrees F until crust forms (usually 15-20 minutes). Cool slightly, break up the pieces, and grind again briefly (a few seconds is usually enough). Store in tightly sealed glass containers out of direct light for up to 6 months. Pour through a small funnel to fill smaller glass shaker jars (I get mine from the bulk department of my local grocery store) to give as very welcome gifts.
Rosemary Garlic Salt
As above, adding 4-6 cloves garlic before the first grinding. Mixture will look a bit more yellow and that’s fine.
1 large head garlic, cloves peeled
2 cups coarse kosher salt
Same direction as above, mixture gets quite yellow.
Use 2 cups shredded basil to 2 cups salt and proceed as above. Same for any herbs, really.