Clank. Kerplop. Clank. Kerplop.
If this season had a soundtrack at my house, that’s what it would sound like.
Woody, the giant oak tree in my backyard, may be fully mature, according to the arborist, but he has the personality of a bratty little boy. He spent the past month hurling acorns at my roof and patio — and at my head, when I dared venture outside — with apparent glee.
I don’t know the scientific reason for it (drought? last year’s warm winter?), but this was a banner year for big, fat, heavy acorns. They were raining down noisily for weeks.
There were so many of them in my yard that the squirrels went on strike and stopped amassing them. I tried to negotiate, and would have been happy to meet their demands, but there was no reasoning with the furry-tailed critters. I offered a shorter workweek, winters off and complete access to all the apples on my tree (plus, of course, all the local, organic acorns they could eat), but they wouldn’t budge. They saw no point in scurrying around the yard collecting nuts when a fresh one would land at their feet every five minutes without them having to hunt.
I didn’t really blame them. I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat an acorn either. I know the Native Americans who inhabited this valley used them as a staple, but they are not an easy food. They require a lot of soaking, processing and grinding just to get to edible. I’m not sure they ever get to delicious.
I had no interest in experimenting with recipes, but I still spent hours collecting the nuts, on the theory that the work of gathering them now was minimal compared to the labor of digging up hundreds of miniature oak trees come spring. Plus they seemed hazardous to me.
In particular, the hundreds of nuts on the patio scared me. I thought of them as oblong ball bearings — I could just picture stepping on one and going flying. Plus, the acorn’s caps were everywhere, and just tall enough to unbalance you when you step on one. I spent hours sweeping them up to make sure there was no danger lurking on my way to the recycle bin.
It took hours of bending, stretching and sweeping. But Woody finally ran out of acorns to drop and, thanks to my efforts, my yard is now safe and free of dangerous items to slip on.
Which is why I didn’t trip and fall there.
I tripped and fell in the garage instead, slipping off a step with my arms full of laundry. I wish I could blame the squirrels and Woody, but it was my own stupid fault for not looking where I was going.
Clank. Kerplop. Down I went, chipping a bone in my foot.
A week later, my foot is still an abstract study in shades of purple, but healing, and it turns out the actual damage was fairly minor. The doctor tells me I should be back to normal in a couple of weeks.
But in the meantime, as a precaution, he has me wearing this high-fashion boot, with its foam and straps and casing in a less-than-charming shade of gray.
I need new boots for the winter, but I’ve been planning on a cute pair of black leather ones, not clunky gray plastic.
It doesn’t match any of my frocks. But then again, I’m pretty sure I won’t be going dancing this month. Maneuvering in this thing is awkward.
And I definitely won’t be sneaking up on anyone. The whole world can hear me coming. You’ll recognize me by my soundtrack.
Clank. Kerplop. Clank. Kerplop.
No, of course I’m not going to tell you how to process acorns and turn them into mush. I’ve never done it and don’t really want to try, even if they are the only remotely edible thing I have ever succeeded in growing in my yard.
I did not do a lot of cooking last week because of my hobble. But before I gave myself the boot (as it were), I made this dish for a book club meeting last month. If you haven’t tried it, you should add it to your repertoire. It’s a great one-pot meal for a group, and always popular at potlucks.
4 Tbsp. butter
1-2 red peppers, chopped (1½ cups)
1 green pepper, chopped (1 cup)
1-2 onions, chopped (1½ cups)
2-3 stalks celery, chopped (1½ cups)
1 pound kielbasa*, chopped (1/2-inch pieces)
1/2 tsp. Tabasco sauce
5-6 chicken thighs (about 3 pounds)
2 cups uncooked rice
3/4 cup tomato sauce (canned or homemade)
3 cups chicken stock
1/2 pound peeled shrimp
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. white pepper
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. cayenne
1 tsp. salt
*I use smoked turkey sausage to make this friendly to folks who don’t eat red meat.
Melt butter in an 8-cup saucepan (large enough to hold the whole dish). Add half of the onions, celery and peppers, along with the kielbasa, Tabasco and seasoning mix. Cook over high heat, stirring frequently, until the onions darken, about 20 minutes.
Add the rest of the onions, celery and peppers and cook 5 minutes to soften.
Add the tomato sauce and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the chicken and cook at high for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then add the rice, lower the temperature and simmer for 12 minutes.
Add the stock and salt to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer covered for 15 minutes. Test, and when the rice is nearly cooked, add the shrimp and cook until pink.
Note: It’s not necessary, but I usually take the chicken pieces, remove the skin and bones, and then stir the meat into the rice near the end of cooking, just before adding the shrimp.