Fine Dining for a Good Cause

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An amuse-bouche started the meal…

We don’t have a lot of fine dining options around here, not like you find in a city. There are some good neighborhood restaurants, but they don’t change their menus for years at a time, and you can’t count on wanting the special. We fill this lack of gustatory variety by eating excellent and often exotic meals at each others’ houses, and we are a bunch of gourmet cooks.

Once in a blue moon, or more rarely really, because we have a couple of blue moons a year, an opportunity comes along for an extraordinary treat. Last weekend about 40 people attended a benefit for the Paonia Experiential Leadership Academy, and enjoyed a six-course meal created by Swiss-trained chef Lucas Wentzel. It was a 5 star meal. A lot of us from Crawford went because Lucas is the son of our dear friends Ruth and Jeff, and his sister Emily runs the school with her husband Phil. So it was the best of both family dining and haute cuisine!

Amuse-bouche translates more or less literally from the French as “Fun for your mouth!” and is an intensely flavored bite-sized appetizer selected by the chef and offered free to each guest. Lucas chose to delight our taste buds with Rosé Valentina (from the menu): “Béchamel & Black Forest Ham in homemade pasta served over a creamy tomato sauce, drizzled with a succulent sage butter. A popular dish from the Italian part of Switzerland, Chef Lucas learned from Chef Valentina herself. Available as a vegetarian option with spinach in place of the ham.”

This dish, I’ll tell you straight off, was my favorite of the night, and they were all delicious. Lucas went all-out with edible flowers for the meal, topping this teaser with a sprig of basil flowers, and adding several other blossoms to the remaining dishes.

VCEP1123The second course featured a creamy roasted carrot soup seasoned with ginger. Now I know the secret to the most full-flavored carrot soup is to roast the carrots first.

FQTQ0910This was followed by a ravioli filled with with sun dried tomato, toasted pine nuts and goat cheese in a pesto cream sauce. I am not a goat cheese fan. I try now and again to taste it, because my damn friends all love it, and it keeps showing up. But invariably, a musty goat smell comes out my armpits within ten minutes of eating it and I can’t stand to be around myself. So I typically avoid it. However, that night, I’d have had to miss a course, so I did try it, and it was so mild I barely noticed eating it, and there were, luckily for my neighbors, no after effects.

DUVK5980A kiwi-lime sorbet came before the main course, two tiny delicious scoops of tart sweetness with a slight bitter crunch from the kiwi seeds, which was a perfect palate cleanser.

TCCV6472The main course featured seared salmon with a creamy Béarnaise sauce (or stuffed roasted red pepper for vegetarians), parmesan encrusted asparagus, and a simple jasmine rice topped with another edible orchid blossom which tasted startlingly like watermelon. HGWE1291

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PELA Director Dr. Emily Wassell discussing the school with fine diners.

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Chef Lucas preps dessert plates with students, while head teacher Phil Wassell washes dishes.

GYBI0584 - Version 2For dessert, an exquisite chocolate mousse with a hint of orange, drizzled with a chocolate merlot sauce from local winery Azura Cellars, came atop a plate of sweet white sauce with a pansy flower and strawberry garnish. None of us could eat another bite, and we drove home through a steady rain feeling deliriously satiated.

Considering the quality of the food, the value of supporting this wonderful educational endeavor, and the company, the meal was a great deal. The pastas were homemade, pesto, eggs, goat cheese, and other ingredients came from local farms, and even the chocolate for the mousse came from a Colorado family starting an organic cacao farm in Costa Rica. Students from PELA helped chef Lucas prepare the meal, and their siblings, friends and parents served, bussed, and cleaned up. All this community action occurred at Edesia Community Kitchen in Paonia, a certified commercial kitchen available for events, preparation of value added agricultural products, and weekend wood-fired pizza. PELA’s chef-Lucas dinner is just one more reason I’m so grateful for where I live.

 

Fresh Snow on Mendicant Ridge

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The perfect apricot tree with junipers, and Mendicant Ridge in the background with fresh snow. We’ll see about fruit this year: We’ve already had two nights at 23 when the apricot buds first started to open, and Friday’s low is predicted to be 20.

It’s been a busy week. The past couple of days in particular, maybe because I ran out of decaf and drank full strength. The biggest news of the week was the storm that blew through here on Saturday night. It felt and sounded like a cloud unleashed itself fifteen feet over my metal roof, which jolted me from a sound sleep, and sent the black cat flying. Raven and Stellar just raised their heads. Wow! It only lasted a couple minutes, but it was the loudest rain I’ve ever heard (including a Florida thunderstorm over a quonset hut).IMG_0586Though the storm dumped a good amount of snow in the mountains, that won’t by itself protect us from extreme drought by midsummer, but it will help replenish the reservoirs. Still, a day after the storm, even the mud is dry.BQAV6086.JPGThe other big news is, at last a bumblebee on the almond tree! I’ve been most anxious, because usually there are bumblebees all over the almond tree, and I’ve not seen one until today. When I saw a bumblebee, so still not that reassuring, but better than nothing. Though by the time I got back outside with the camera, she was gone.

Meanwhile, the tree continues to buzz with all manner of bees and other insects.IMG_2178IMG_2273

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The adorable beefly, Bombylius, looks like a pussywillow with wings and legs.

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The first mason bees appeared today.

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Not sure whether this is murder or mating! But my money’s on mating.

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Clouds of these fast orange bees swarmed the tree a couple of days ago, and it took some extra patience to catch one still enough to try to ID…

 

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My best guess for this one is Andrena auricoma, another mining bee. Below, the same kind of bee faces off with a big black fly.

IMG_2168IMG_1958IMG_1960IMG_1962It’s charming to me that sometimes the honeybees open a bud, rather than land on an open flower. I’m sure there’s something special inside. She starts with her tongue, then pushes her face deep into the bud.

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Those leeks I mentioned last week, being inspected by Ojo. The shorter tops are the refrigerator leeks, while the taller overwintered in the raised bed.

 

 

 

Resurrection

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The very first European pasqueflower attracted a few bees a month ago.

 

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One day in early March there were about a dozen honeybees exploring the little irises. This shot clearly shows the concave pollen basket on her back leg.

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A bleak beginning to bee season had me worried most of this month. After a few honeybees dipped into the first spring crocuses in February, and a few more came for Iris reticulata earlier this month, there were no bees in my yard for weeks. Meaning, more accurately, that I didn’t see any, and I was looking. I checked the irises, the pasqueflower, and the silver buffaloberry daily; I glanced at the first few almond blossoms as they’ve opened this week, and nary a bee, native or otherwise.

But at last the silver buffaloberry is in such bloom that even I can smell it, and I stood under it this morning feeling my first real sense of joy all month. The tree is full of bees: all the honeybees have nearly identical oval packs of pollen on their back legs, incidentally the exact same size as the unpopped buffaloberry buds, and they won’t sit still on a flower. If they’re not just skimming they’re crawling, even ambling across the clusters of tiny yellow blooms, gathering while they may their ample pollen. Plus there are clouds of sweat bees, a few mining bees, and a large black fly or two.

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After an anxious month observing a paucity of bees, I was thrilled to stand beside the thorny buffaloberry in a fertile buzz of native and honeybees.

IMG_1325Andrena, or mining bees, are known as a spring bee, and are valuable spring crop pollinators, including fruit blossoms, apples and almonds in particular. However at Mirador this week, there are way more Andrena on the buffaloberry, above, than on the almond tree, which is happily buzzing with honeybees.

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The almond tree is getting tall enough that I can capture bees from the deck above.

IMG_1541I never thought I got all that depressed here in the winter. I think of it as my hibernation, but I’m usually pretty content. This year, late winter, after we’d had barely any winter at all, I found myself getting testy, snappish, and feeling downright dead inside. There were a lot of reasons I could suppose, but the return of the bees has so lifted my spirits that I know part of it was anxiety about their whereabouts. As the garden is coming rapidly back to life, so too is my soul resurrecting.

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The native bee house filled up beautifully last fall, and I can’t wait to see the bees emerge. 

Sandhill cranes have been flying over most of March, sometimes in the hundreds, definitively trumpeting spring. The flicker in my eaves drills most mornings on the cornice, alarming out insects for her breakfast. Songbirds returned gradually over the past month and now serenade each sunrise.

The redtail hawks are finally sitting on their nest by the road, but nobody returned to the canyon cottonwood this spring. Concerned last summer when the nest appeared abandoned, I watched through the seasons, the weathers, the winds, as my hypothesis proved true: Over time the far side of the nest sloughed off, and by last fall there remained only a small cluster of twigs around the southwest anchor. I surmised it was a young pair of birds who simply hadn’t constructed the nest securely enough, and that a big storm blew out the back of it, dropping the eggs down the canyon side before or just after they hatched.

The leeks I left in the ground over winter are four inches tall and bright green. The leeks I left in the refrigerator all winter are just an inch behind! The last leek harvest was mostly small doubles, and I cut their tops off and stuck them in a bag in the fridge, intending to use them. But they slipped to the back and by the time I found them they were a little shriveled, and I put off using them. I looked at them a few more times through winter, and couldn’t bring myself to either cook with or compost them. Late February I pulled them out to dump in the compost, and found green sprouts emerging, so I split them up and planted them. And they’re coming along fine!

Meanwhile, I’ve still got a beautiful fifty-acre field for sale. I had hoped I could sell it this week to a lovely retired couple, dreaming of doing the very thing with it that I had intended to do when I bought it, before my health and strength fell short of what is needed to nurture that land into a thriving subsistence homestead. When I think about that field’s short history in my life, and its significance to me, and the fact that it is my 401K, I just can’t part with it for 20% under asking price. The domestic water tap alone is worth between $15,000 and $20,000, and water is of course the essence of life everywhere, but especially here in the high desert. At some point, the fact that it’s in conservation easement and borders a 105-acre protected wildlife sanctuary, will be an asset rather than an encumbrance. The perfect buyer will come along, I’m sure of it.

In the meantime, the Dutchman next door intends to fatten up the field with fresh fencing and cows to fertilize and plow the ground. Not selling it this week isn’t the worst thing. And the sense of rejuvenation I have this Easter season, with the advent of the bees, allows me to breathe easy despite my disappointment. Anyone out there “looking to move farther up the watershed” as one new farmer here from California said, call Bob at westerncoloradorealty.com and check out this gorgeous, peaceful piece of paradise.

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The field in spring, and below, after a successful haying season.

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A Very Dog Day

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This morning a neighbor borrowed Stellar’s “neck pillow,” the donut collar that keeps a dog from licking a wound, for his dog. Meanwhile, I was working on “The Dogs Dinner Party” puzzle, which I started yesterday, on Stellar’s ten years old birthday.

It started out as an ordinary neighborhood adventure. Billie called this afternoon to see if I might know whose dog was wailing in the cattails at the bottom of our canyon, directly below their deck. Big dog, red collar, tangled in the cattails. They were both sick, and Ken couldn’t go down there today.

He looked pale and drawn when Fred and I pulled up in front of their house. Not the hearty lumberjack who just weeks ago spent three days trimming junipers around my house. He showed us through the gate and to the path down the steep slope from their house to the creek below. I followed Fred, planting my walking poles below me and cautiously clambering down the slippery slope, soft dirt and small rocks sliding, big rocks and bushes, deadfall.

Fred went on and I stopped near the bottom to call Ken. Can you see the dog? 

I can’t believe he’s quiet, Ken said. He’s been barking for a loooong time… From his vantage on the deck far above, and from ours, no one could see a sign of the dog, and there was no sound. I stayed on the phone with Ken, while Fred looked for a crossing.

Eventually he just waded ankle deep through the rusty muck of the creek, and walked into the oak brush alongside the cattails. Shhh ~ he held up his hand. A faint whine. He moved along the back side of the cattails. Where are ya, buddy? Ah! He found him, and spent a few minutes unwinding the 20 feet of thick rope attached to him. I could see the dog through the thicket wiggling happily as Fred moved among the cattails. I was suffused with good feelings of neighbors coming together to help neighbors.

 

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Can you see man or dog in this photo? They’re both there. Maybe it’s easier to see them in the next one. Or the next one.

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A twenty-foot length of thick rope attached to the dog’s collar had tangled and trapped him in the thick cattails in the creek bottom.

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About midway up the canyon wall. The cattail patch from the first two images is a small splotch near the center of this one, just below the biggest patch of snow.

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We both knew the dog and where he lives. I got in the back of the truck with the dog, and checked his tag for the phone number. I called to make sure someone was home. Have you been looking for a dog? We’ve got him. He was tangled up in the bottom of the canyon.

“He broke his leash,” the guy said. Leash? Broke? The rope was sound, brass fittings on each end.

I know, I didn’t need to say to him, He would have died— Anyway, he interrupted me before I could finish the sentence, with No he wouldn’t! I would’ve found him! (Really? Before dark? When you weren’t even outside looking? Before he froze to death stuck in the mud overnight? Before a lion came for the siren song of his helpless whimper? Would you have known right where to look? Could you have seen him in that thicket if he couldn’t come to you? What if he went quiet then?)

When we dropped the dog off the man offered us another hostile thank you. Fred is a much better Buddhist than I am, and he doesn’t even try. He affably handed over the dog, No trouble. [oh yeah? I’ll be feeling that climb later tonight.] Chatting cheerily about the dogs by name. Being neighborly.

Hey, I said, trying to smooth things over. I wasn’t being critical— He cut me off again so I couldn’t finish the thought. Well that’s what it felt like! he snapped. It’s not like I don’t take care of my dogs! I love my dogs more than I like most people around here!

So do I, I said levelly, looking him in the eye.

I still feel that old urge for vengeance. I want him to realize he was a prick. At the same time that I try to hold compassion for whatever conditions led to him acting so defensive, I still feel angry about him being so snotty, and also for not solving this containment problem a long time ago.

He kept saying that he appreciated our bringing his dog home. But he never asked one question. Where exactly in the canyon did you find him? His rope was tangled up? in the cattails? Oh dear. How did you happen to find him? Oh, it wasn’t you? Who did find him? He didn’t want to know who either of us was. He said, You don’t know me and you don’t know my dogs.

In fact we’ve met several times; it appears you don’t know me, is all. And I do know your dogs. Everybody in the neighborhood knows you can’t let them both loose at the same time. If either one is tied they both stay home. If they’re both loose they run away. Three separate neighbors told me the same thing later, as if I hadn’t heard.

I tried to bring them home to you six or eight years ago, or more, when they’d been wandering that canyon all day and I found them at the mouth of it, panting, dragging. I got the bulldog in the car but the lab ran up the hill and turned down a driveway to nowhere. I sat in that driveway with the bulldog, big red collar with no tag, agonizing over what to do: Do I take the bulldog home with me, go through the rigamarole of radio, shopper, posters, trying to find the owner of the one dog, while the spooky thin dog remains lost in the woods? Or do I turn loose the companionable fat bulldog to go with his buddy, because they’re a team, and they need to be together?

I put him out and sent him after his black lab buddy down that driveway at the top of the canyon. Years later I met their owner, the wife, who thanked me for trying, who explained they can’t let them both loose at the same time, because etc.

No, I did not need to say He would’ve died down there… it just came out. But he would have if he’d had to spend the night out there. I can’t blame the guy for being defensive, though. I can only blame myself, for not dwelling in compassion right in that moment, and just giving the guy the good news that we were bringing his dog home. (But clearly, I argue with myself even now, the rope is not working: These dogs have been getting away for years. Someone who really loves his dogs more than most people would have come up by now with something that works.)

But, as I keep learning over and over, let me look to my own deficiencies, reactions, and conditionings, and not dwell on the behavior of others. I could have taken a different tone, and maybe the adventure would not have ended on a sour note. I’ll leave that behind now, though. The dog is safe, and I’m a little wiser with yet another painful insight about my own tendencies.

 

Winter Wandering

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Lots of deer browsing in the winter garden, especially after our first real snow days before Christmas.

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Snow is half melted by the end of this peculiarly spring-like week, but still covers much of the forest floor. I finally took my husband-camera out for a walk this week, after months on the shelf. Both of us.

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Ojo and the dogs came along. I forget somehow, sometimes, who I am and what I love. 

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But an hour in the woods with animals and camera, and I begin to remember.

IMG_0653IMG_0718Above, the east facing side of the tree and below, west facing side of the same tree. Things look so different depending upon your perspective.IMG_0715

Orion astraddle the horizon and I’ve not yet had my cocktail, I know it’s deep winter. Yet the breeze this afternoon where I sat on the rim of the canyon, bright sun reflecting on golden cliffs, snow-capped ledges, snow draping slopes and trees, the stream running fast with rapid melt, Ice Canyon sighing, all that and the breeze brushing my cheeks as it flowed down canyon… so poignant. What was that particular quality of air, not quite warm, well shy of cold, but so gentle, an evocative caress? What did it bring to mind that was so specific? It was spring. It was a downstream April breeze, moist, with the faintest remnant chill of winter.

Roadkill Tetrazzini

 

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There’s one stretch of road, on the way up the canyon to town, where wild turkeys often cross. They feed in the field below, and roost in trees uphill. In spring we watch the males’ magnificent displays as we cruise slowly by. Those of us who live here are pretty careful driving that stretch, though some of us have joked for years about hitting one for Thanksgiving dinner.

Yesterday, driving home from errands, feathers still flew as I approached the body; must have been a vehicle one or two in front of me that hit her. The bird, still warm, was missing her head. I put her in the back seat and drove home, thinking Do I really want to do this? But at least this way, I had the choice to butcher her, or throw her off the canyon for lions if I decided not to try.

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I tied her feet to a juniper limb in the driveway, and pulled some skin off to assess the damage. One side was pretty thoroughly smashed, but the other side looked good.

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After removing the tail, wings, and separating the body from the hanging legs, I texted this picture to David, my go-to hunter, captioned What now? He lives for turkey season. I knew it would get his attention. I had a lot of questions.

I wondered, for example, if it would ruin the meat if I got some of the green guts on it. And what tool would cut off the feet? And how to begin cutting up the body. Also, if I got turkey offal or blood into the splits in my fingertips, would I get sick and die? By the time he called me, I had the body rinsing in the sink. David talked me through the rest of the process.

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He explained about bloodshot meat: The breast on the hit side was deep red, shot through with blood that would make its flavor too strong for me, but, he said, I’ll bet you have two dogs that would love to eat that! Indeed I do.

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I filleted the breasts and the tenderloin off the ribcage, and put the carcass into the dutch oven full of water to make stock for the dogs. The two pieces on the left were damaged in the collision and deep red throughout. 

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I chopped up the bloodshot breast and loin and threw them in the skillet with some olive oil, then wrapped the good meat in freezer paper. 

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Cooked, it looked pretty good! I tried a tiny crisp piece, and it wasn’t bad… but it was strong and different, and by then I’d had enough of dead turkey for the day.

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While the dog food sizzled and the stock came to a boil, I went back outside to deal with the legs. First, as David told me where to bend the leg, I cut off the shattered thigh with the knife, then used my Felco garden pruners to cut both legs off the feet.

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After rinsing the legs clean in cold water I wrapped them, too, and popped it all in the deep freeze. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with the meat, but knew I didn’t feel like eating it right then. Then, outside to sort the carnage.

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I suspected that a young naturalist friend might want the feet,  good wing and remaining feathers, so once I’d wrapped the guts and bloody feathers up in the newspaper that had caught the drips, I poured about an inch of kosher salt in a brown paper bag, and stood up all the parts, weeping ends down in the salt, to preserve them til I could get the whole deal to her aunt’s deep freeze. Such beautiful feathers! And the little curled feather ruffs that became of the skin that pulled off so easily. Who knew?

My neighbor with the milk cows gave me some kefir grains the other day. I gave up making kefir last spring because it just kept getting ahead of me; I couldn’t use it up fast enough to justify the cost of the milk I ended up wasting. This morning I transferred the grains for the first time. The kefir rollercoaster begins again! She said, I use it for everything I’d use yogurt or sour cream for. And I thought, aha! Turkey tetrazzini! A childhood comfort food with a wild twist. When my houseguests arrive this weekend, guess what we’ll have for dinner?

Maybe. We’ll see what they think of the idea of roadkill tetrazzini. Either way, I’ve practiced my homesteading skills, proven to myself I can be resourceful in a way I’ve resisted in the past (I have a friend who routinely eats roadkill, and I have balked when it’s been offered), and made use of an otherwise wasted life. And the dogs are loving their treats. Mother forgive us for our speed, I pray every time I pass a dead animal in the road. We don’t need to move so fast.

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The black cat survived his third Halloween. He is so precious! In for the night, awaiting dinner.

Processing Peppers

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Summer’s BLTs melt into autumn’s grilled cheese. One tomato left!

I’ve come to cherish my garden peppers: shishitos, paprika, jalapeño. I’ve grown peppers before because they’re gratifying; easy to start, often prolific, but I haven’t really loved them until this summer. After a couple decades living in the southwest, I finally sometimes crave a bit of heat in my food; I’ve made friends with the jalapeño.

This summer I picked up a jalapeño seedling from Zephyros Farm, and started a dozen shishitos, some of which I traded for 3 Leutschauer paprika peppers that the Bad Dogs started.

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The jalapeño I planted in a patio pot, and it gave me dozens and dozens of bright green peppers through the summer. Grasshoppers hammered its foliage but that seemed to spur it to greater production. I froze three batches of chopped jalapeños in oil in an ice tray, then popped the cubes into freezer bags for cooking. After chopping the first batch without gloves, my fingertips caught fire. Since drinking milk helps with mouth burn, I thought, I soaked them in a splash of cold cream. It did help. And the plant continues to flower and fruit; before the big freeze I brought it into the sunroom, and it’s got half a dozen new peppers already.

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Shishito peppers provided buckets of delectable appetizers, for cocktails with neighbors…

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… or solo. Just a small batch flash-fried (blistered) in olive oil in a hot skillet, then sprinkled with fresh-ground salt, and served with an adult beverage.

I nurtured those little shishito peppers from seeds in a salad box, lovingly watching over their sprouting and first leaves, potting them up, bringing them in every night for weeks, waiting til late June to put them in the raised bed, wrapping them first with walls-o-water, then covering with row cloth. And finally, with trepidation because of the grasshopper infestation, opening their cover to give them full sun. They thrived.

I planted the paprika peppers at the south end of the same bed. They grew almost two feet tall and were covered in fruit which never ripened. I read somewhere that this particular Leutschauer variety ripened to a bright red by the end of August in Ontario, and made the mistake of assuming a shorter season than they actually require. At our altitude, with nights consistently in the 40s by September keeping the soil wet and cold, these peppers will need to be started much earlier next year; I’ll also plant them in pots so I can bring them inside to finish if need be. Apparently nights should remain above 50 for them to turn scarlet.

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The evening before the first deep freeze, I picked a huge bowl of green peppers, taking nearly all the fruits in hopes they’d ripen off the stalk. 

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Only a couple of them turned red. Most remained green, even those with blackened shoulders. 

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Baker Creek support suggested I could try drying them anyway to make paprika powder. The first batch I roasted at 350 for about twenty minutes, turning a few times, then turned the oven down to 200 and dried them for about five hours. After they cooled, I tried to powder them in the food processor, but that didn’t work. The blender did; I pulsed them, then sifted, then pulsed a few times, and made about a quarter cup of paprika powder. Seemed like an awful lot of trouble for what I got, until I tasted it.

Attempting to improve the result, I roasted the next batch at 400 for about 12 minutes, took them out and let the oven cool to 200, and cut out the seed cores before drying the peppers. It took only slightly less time for them to dry, though they were bigger peppers. For the amount of paprika I use in a year, I got plenty, with a decidedly richer flavor than store-bought.

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Roasted, dried green Leutschauer paprika peppers before grinding; kind of a muddy color…

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Two batches of paprika from a summer’s worth of water, TLC, and three pepper plants. Hmmm.

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My kitchen counter at the height of harvest season…. and below, after preserving.

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Green tomato pickles, roasted green tomato salsa, regular red salsa, paprika, and two types of tomato sauce, with a few stragglers in a bowl. Counting the bags of sauce in the freezer, I can have some kind of homegrown tomato treat almost every week til the next crop comes in!

Driving around the valley the past couple of weeks has been spectacular, and achingly poignant. On the way to town the other day, against a backdrop of dark grey raining clouds, the slopes of Saddle Mountain emerged in sunshine a rainbow themselves, yellow and green aspen, orange oak, blue and purple shadows down juniper green hills.

The road down Rodstrom Grade its own cascade of colors, sandstone cliffs frothing with wild clematis seedheads, spent blossoms of rabbit brush lining the road; russet, orange, red serviceberry, squawbush and apricot trees, cottonwoods turning the canyon gold, chartreuse and yellow. Always a chance on this road of bobcat, coyote, lion or bear. I turn on and off the radio as I drive.

In just the past month, this country, this world, has changed so much, multifarious threats escalating. I tune in and out of the “news” a dozen times a day, tracking the next climate chaos disaster: hurricanes, wildfires, famines, human migrations; shuddering at the latest lies and doublespeak from the current regime; weeping at the most recent man-made tragedy; gauging the latest threat of nuclear war.

Like the proverbial frog in a pot of water, we unwittingly adapt to climbing tensions that will ultimately boil us alive; we are crashing toward some unforeseen finale. We might consider ourselves lucky if the Yellowstone supervolcano blows before our democracy does.

Driving home from town, a view never before seen, never this exact amalgamation of earth forms, rain light, autumn palette: Fresh snow on the north end of Mendicant Ridge as mist rises, exposing sunlit slopes through the shadowed gap between Saddle Mountain Lands End. Heavy grey rick-rack clouds lift to reveal a window deep into the West Elk mountains: caught in a beam of sunlight, silhouettes of ranges recede into lighter deeper blues and greys, pale rain falling lightly over layers of gold and deep green aspen-fir slopes. Exquisite wild world, each moment unique.

This is what’s real. This precious watershed, a pawn in the battle for our public lands, our lives and livelihoods that depend on the clean water, clear air, and healthy soil that provide the foods that sustain us. I pack the pantry and the freezer with peppers and tomatoes, and cherish each hazy day.

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The yard begins to give in to winter.