9/10/22: Smoke Day

A braver person would be outside, taking pictures of the smoke

Saturday was going to be a whole garden day, prepping for winter and spring.

Then on Thursday the weather service forecast warm temperatures and 48 hours of wildfire smoke seeping in over the mountains, Friday through Sunday. On Thursday night I texted a warning to some neighbors, and made 5 trips to the store to fill 5 gallons of drinking water bottles at the filtration machine. Then I prepped a daikon radish for the pickling crock. Then to get the cooking done ahead of time I ran out and harvested the zucchini, kale, and tomatoes before the smoke got to them. The zucchini made 3 quarts of soup with ripe plantains, onion, garlic, celery, and a couple of pitted dates instead of the usual apple. The puree went right into the fridge and freezer for cold meals.

On Friday at dawn I sealed up the windows and balcony door, hung damp sheets over them all, then ran through the building closing hall windows on every floor. For the bus commute to work, I put on a lined particulate mask as a second face covering; it did seem to help. All of Friday had a romantic goldish light, like the last scene in some spaghetti Western film, then a blissful rosy sunset. There were no birds making a peep, and things were oddly quiet without neighborhood dogs or traffic. With everything sealed up and everyone indoors, it was a silent evening.

One amusing side note was that without circulating air, the pickle crock aroma kept waking me up. Finally at 1:00 am I dragged up off the floor, bumbled to the kitchen, took apart the pickle crock and weights, packed the daikon radish into jars in the fridge, washed the gear, then fell back into bed.

On early Saturday morning, the AQI site at airnow.gov registered a yellow code “Moderate,” or 99 out of 400. That’s less than 1/4 the pollution from years past when in some summer weeks we had the worst air quality in the world. (If this were winter, we’d have more competition. That’s when other cities burn coal and wood.) By noon the air was an orange code, “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups,” 125 out of 400.

We were amazingly lucky that it wasn’t much worse. (In two past years we were smoked in for two solid weeks each, with smoke levels approaching that top number of 400.) People in neighboring states are really suffering, and some 5,000 firefighters are out in this region working on fires. There is nothing to complain about here.

It seemed self-centered to stay sealed up in the studio when the front-line workers are out there same as usual. But if “Sensitive Groups” includes a senior citizen with asthma in remission, then it’s a good idea to stay put and mind my own business so the front-line workers don’t have to do it for me.

Okay then, it’s a weekend right in this room. What would Ma and Pa Ingalls say, if prairie smoke kept the girls home from school? They’d put them to work first thing, is what. To bolster morale, thanks to their prairie inspiration the bathroom here got a good scrub & shine with vinegar and baking soda. Then the cabinets were all aired out and lined with fresh paper. All the stuff inside is decluttered in labeled boxes and jars and repacked. There were plastic prescription containers of dental antibiotics, so I peeled off the labels and mounted them in page protectors for my Hospital binder in case providers want to see the drug history. The little plastic bottles are washed and dried to store harvested seeds. The laundry is scrubbed and hanging over the bathtub instead of outdoors. The ironing is all caught up.

Well, I’m not front line, but there are always people at my job clamoring for customer services. So for Saturday and Sunday I spent the days on the work computer ticking through requests.

Here are two views of the sky. That moonrise was a few days ago half an hour after sunset. The other is the same view last night an hour earlier — half an hour before sunset in broad daylight. (In the upper left quadrant there is a tiny jet plane soldiering along. What was the view like from up there?)

September 4, half an hour after sunset
September 10, same view in broad daylight, half an hour before sunset

By mid-afternoon the outdoors smelled something like a burning tire. According to the news, by 5:00 pm Saturday the peak was 190, a “Generally Unhealthy” code red. There was a red flag fire condition warning too, through Sunday night, with evacuations in other parts of the state and rolling blackouts in neighboring states and ash falling north of our city. Even the fastest trips outside with a surgical mask left me pretty queasy with sore eyes and congestion. I charged the cell phone to 100%, washed up, and changed into clean street clothes for the night just in case. By then the air was best in the sealed bathroom and in the coat closet. I moved the bedding to the closet with a philosophical attitude that a full night of deep sleep was not going to be today’s luxury privilege. Sure enough, at 1:00 am I was up again in a sweat with eerie dreams, to get a drink of water and some eye drops and to read National Weather Service alerts and AQI data while listening to “Tears” by The Chameleons. What better way to calm down and cheer up, than to move everything out of the kitchen and give the floor a nice scrubbing. Then everything was dusted and put into place. Then it was time for another closet nap. At 3:00 am I got up again for more water and eye drops and news updates, and this time tackled the kitchen cabinets. Then back to bed. Then up at 5:00 to sort books to take to the Little Free Library later. Then back to bed until 9:00.

It was a great relief to feel the air improve today. At least we’re down to yellow “Moderate” 98. I got to crack open the south window for some coastal air, cook a pot of soaked beans for the freezer, carry buckets of dishwater down to the garden, and wash some laundry and hang it on the rack in the bathtub.

About those cherry tomatoes in the picture above. They were a bargain at 50 cents for the lot; full of flavor but overripe, with the skin beginning to grow loose and a few starting to split. Before munching on them I squeezed the juice and seeds into a jar, put a paper towel on top to let it breathe, screwed on a Mason metal ring, and put the jar of slurry under the sink with a label showing tomato variety and the date. In about 4 days it’s supposed to grow a thick coat of fungus (or is it mold) with an obtrusive smell. The fungus eats away the gelatinous coat of germination inhibitor around each seed. Then apparently one can skim and toss the scum outdoors, then strain and wash the seeds well, spread them out on wax paper, separate them after they dry, and pack them away for spring in a labeled container in the fridge. Yesterday with the windows sealed up it didn’t seem a good idea to start in with home-grown obtrusive scum, but now I look forward to seeing how the method works.

I also pulled up a sweet potato vine to see whether any potatoes are down there. (If there are potatoes, they’ll need to cure in my room, to air out during warm weather for two weeks. That needs to happen before the cold rain season sets in.) There weren’t any potatoes. It was a late cold spring and sweet potatoes need about 110 days. At least the vine was lush and healthy. The vines can root in water and make good winter indoor plants. Sweet potatoes are not nightshades, and the youtube farmers say the greens are edible. But there’s a zillion sweet potato varieties out there. I wouldn’t know which ones we can eat. Don’t go trusting some language major for your foraging habits.

Meanwhile, here’s something we can eat for sure.

Recipe: Daikon Radish 1:00 am Alarm Clock

If you sleep on the floor 2 steps away from the kitchen, then open the windows unless you want the radish aroma to wake you up in the wee hours.

Sterilize the pickle crock and weight (mine is a quart Mason jar of water, with a Russian kettle bell on top).

Peel about two fists of daikon radish. Save the peels to simmer in your next batch of potassium broth.

Grate the daikon. Strain out the juice so it doesn’t overflow out of the crock. The juice has good health benefits, so I drink it down before my taste buds know what hit them. (Or gently simmer the juice in rice milk with honey and ginger for a very soothing winter pick-me-up.)

Put the grated radish in a bowl. Sprinkle in a little Redmond Real Salt (or other mineral-rich salt) so that the taste is mildly pleasantly salty but not overbearing, and scrub that in well with your hands. Pack the salted radish firmly into the crock, and tamp it down the sides. Set the Mason jar in the crock (mine fits perfectly), and set the kettle bell on top.

Next day, remove the kettle bell. Pull out the Mason jar, and stand it upside down on its lid so it stays clean. Drain out the excess salt brine. Fork over and mix the radish pulp so it ferments evenly. Add some a couple of raw garlic cloves to the crock, a couple of raw slices of ginger, a sprinkle of cayenne, and a dash of Red Boat anchovy sauce. You could toss in a few thin slices of cabbage too. Stir again. Put the jar back in the crock and the weight on top.

Next day, peel and grate in a crispy zippy flavorful apple or two, something like a Gaia or Honey Crisp. (Captain Wing says grated Asian Pear is even better.) A nice mix is 60% pressed daikon, 40% fresh apple. Stir well. Let it sit out a few hours. Then pack it all in a jar in the fridge, and wash the crock and jar.

A good fermented condiment for zucchini soup, eggs, or brown rice.

Time for sunset, but there’s no sunlight. Oh no — that tiny misty noise, is it falling ash? No, it’s a mist of precipitation. Wonderful. The sky here at the east window is flat blank gray — but wait, over in the west there’s a flaming cherry pink sunset. It’s a pity a cell phone camera doesn’t capture magnificent sunsets. Maybe this one will be in the news headlines tomorrow?

The air right now is Yellow Code 97/400. Time to tote down some dishwater and take out the trash…. Look, somebody put a cheap plastic dresser with drawers in the dumpster cage. It fits right in the bathtub for a good washing tomorrow. Even if the dresser is broken, the plastic drawers are perfect for holding flats of seedlings this winter. What a find.

Off to bed.

About maryangelis

Hello Readers! (= Здравствуйте, Читатели!) The writer lives in the Catholic and Orthodox faiths and the English and Russian languages, working in an archive by day and writing at night. Her walk in the world is normally one human being and one small detail after another. Then she goes home and types about it all until the soup is done.
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