Granny’s Fudge

Baker’s Unsweetened baking chocolate: one square equals one ounce.

I’m grateful to have most of my mother’s ancestral recipes. One I hadn’t made in at least forty years was Granny’s Fudge. Granny was my dad’s mother, but my mom adopted many of Granny’s wonderful traditional Tennessee recipes as her own signature dishes, and fudge was one that only came out at Christmas. Along with May’s sugar cookies that we’d decorated that day, these were the two things we left out for Santa on Christmas Eve. I don’t know how the fudge lasted til Santa came, honestly; I just made my second batch in a month and have already eaten so much my teeth hurt.

It seemed so complicated and time-consuming when I was a child. I’m grateful that years of experience have shifted my perspective on fudgemaking, as on so many other and more vital subjects. It’s pretty simple, but it requires close observation and finesse to do things like “cook to soft ball stage” and “beat until just right.” It requires attention and skill, just like living mindfully.

Boiling butter, sugar, and milk

I modified the recipe just a bit. It calls for oleo. I’m sure this was my mother’s substitution because I’m sure Granny made this for decades before oleo existed, so I used butter, of course. You melt the butter in a heavy pan, and mix together the sweeteners and milk, then add this to the butter and bring to a boil. Gradually add the chocolate til it’s all melted, stirring the whole time. I remember as a little girl peering over the top of the pan and being cautioned. One splash of this molten candy, I realize now, would cause a serious burn. I’m grateful I’ve learned to back away from dangerous heat.

Molten fudge

I made a couple of mistakes with the first batch, resulting in a tasty hard candy rather than the creamy fudge I was expecting. A perfect example of impact bias. Impact bias describes how “our mind consistently misjudges how much happiness or how much suffering (and its duration and intensity) a future event will bring us.” I expected a certain level of delight in the finished fudge. I was very particular, using a candy thermometer to take it up to 235º with constant stirring. Well, at high altitude, I figured out (too late), soft ball stage is at a lower temperature: It was pretty much hard ball when I dripped a drop into the ice water. Then I made the mistake of scooping it into a cold metal bowl to beat it, thinking that would make the beating process shorter, and it did: the fudge suddenly set as I was beating it and I barely managed to spread it in the pan before it was hard. Too hard. So this thing, that I though would taste so delicious, whose texture I craved, and I was sure would make me so happy… it let me down. I wasn’t nearly as happy as I expected to be as I stood there crunching on hard candy with the right taste and completely wrong texture. 

The second batch, however, has made me happy all day! And I know it’s made some other people happy, too, since I sent some home with the Bad Dogs after they delivered groceries. I’m so grateful to these dear friends for continuing to deliver groceries and other necessities, long after many people may have given up on humoring my self-imposed isolation. Their consideration gives me a strong measure of peace in this fraught time. After ten minutes in the post office last Friday I was traumatized for the whole weekend. Out of five men who entered the tiny space while I was shipping packages, only one wore a mask. Three lingered and chatted right behind me, one of them huffing and puffing with forceful exhalations. I couldn’t find the words to simply turn around and say, “Excuse me, can you all please wait outside? I’m at high risk for the virus.”

I couldn’t find the words because I assumed them to be Covid deniers, based on the absence of masks. Unskillfully, I couldn’t give them the benefit of the doubt, nor trust my own voice. My head fills with static sometimes under stress. I couldn’t stay there another minute with the big bad wolf three feet behind me audibly spewing whatever microbes he was harboring into that tight little space. I wrapped up the transaction without mailing my last parcel, which required a customs form. Skillfully, I left. The grocery store’s not much better, with a pretty consistent rate of at least 50% of customers unmasked. I get that my risk threshold is extreme compared to most people’s. But so is my familiarity with devastating chronic illness. So I’m grateful for friends who will shop for me, and eager to reciprocate their generosity.

Yes, the second batch delivered, just solid enough with the perfect creamy texture. After looking up my hypothesis, I recalibrated the temperature and pulled the fudge off the heat at 225º, then “beat like hell until just right (thick and not glossy).” I got it poured into the buttered pan just barely in time to smooth the top before it started to harden. I had to leave more in the pan than I would have liked as it set so quickly. These timing and texture details are what makes it seem like a difficult recipe, I guess. You have very short, very specific windows in which to accomplish essential actions for a successful outcome, as one often does in threading a day. I gained just a wee bit more experience that will improve my next effort.

When life gives you too much fudge set in the pan, grab a spoon and start scraping.
I ate as much of the pan scrapings as I could, and spooned the rest into a bowl to await my plan for them. After dinner, I sprinkled some onto a small bowl of coffee ice cream. Oh man!

I’m grateful for this day that brought me kindness from friends, success in my culinary venture, and a mouthful of insights about how these human minds, with their expectations and biases, yank us around like a powerful untrained puppy straining at the leash. And then, outside for a work break, I cried out in wonder and delight as I spied the first crocus blooms! I shared that joy with a friend that I knew was also waiting for this harbinger in her yard, and she replied with a fitting quote:

"A single crocus blossom ought to be enough to convince our heart that springtime, no matter how predictable, is somehow a gift, gratuitous, gratis, a grace." ~ David Steindl-Rast
I’m grateful for these tiny, hardy flowers, and all the beauty they comprise now and promise to come.
Granny's Fudge Recipe
3 squares unsweetened chocolate
1 ¼ cup white sugar
1 ¼ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup white Karo
⅔ cup milk
½ stick butter

Melt the butter in a heavy pan. Mix sugars, Karo, and milk, and add to melted butter, stirring. When this boils, gradually add chocolate. Keep stirring. Cook to soft ball stage and remove from heat. Add one pinch salt. Beat like hell until just right (thick and not glossy). Pour in buttered pan, and cut before it hardens. 

So simple, and so delicious!

The Path

St. Francis watches over the little aspen grove, with his head on I might point out.

I’m so grateful to have some clear paths through the yard this winter. It eases my mind letting Stellar out unsupervised, knowing he has some clear pathways to walk instead of struggling through snow, and it gives me wonderful access to most of the yard, which is getting to be important as spring approaches. I’m grateful to Wilson for cheerful snow removal as needed to provide us with safe walking.

Even down to the pond, where the west side is still covered in deep snow, and the east side is clear to the end with a chair in the sun.

The path opens before me. This has been the case since I moved here. In the woods, in the yard, as I move through this life, the path opens before me. More on this theme later.

I’m also grateful for leftovers. I got two more sandwiches out of the French Onion cheese mixture for the past two lunches, though I had to add a little spare provolone to both to stretch it. It brought to mind the collard greens melt, which inspires me to play around for awhile with some different versions of this basic sandwich. So simple, so delicious!

High-Low

14 and 41, low and high today.

I’m grateful for this high-low thermometer. I’ve been keeping track of the temperatures with it for 21 years. Twenty to thirty degrees between high and low any given day is pretty normal, winter or summer. One of these days I’m going to sit down and transcribe all the data from the past two ten-year garden journals, in which temperatures and general weather conditions are recorded. I’m grateful I started keeping track all those years ago. There have been some changes in the weather patterns, and I look forward to charting them.

I’m grateful that the crocus leaf tips emerged undaunted from beneath the last big snow, which snow brought much-needed moisture to the mountains as well, raising the current snowpack to 87% of normal: not nearly enough to combat the drought, and less moisture than normal is expected through spring, but better than it’s been for most of the winter. We’re staring down the barrel of another desperate drought year. But for the moment, the high country is buried in snow, and the low country down here at 6800′ is warming into mud season. I’m grateful even for mud season, which makes a mess of everything but signals the coming of spring! Spring is in the air, despite uncommonly cold nights, and we’re up to about an extra hour of daylight since deep winter. I’m grateful for these little natural gifts, snow, mud, light, and a balmy hour or two on sunny days.

I’m grateful that Stellar, wobbly as he is, can walk through the woods again after a couple of days where the snow was just too deep for him.
We both wobbled these past couple of days, punching through uneven crusty snow that grabbed at our feet, compromising our balance. I’m grateful we can both still amble through the trees despite our feeble knees.

Washing Dishes

I’m grateful that I’ve been able to transform the unpleasant chore of washing dishes into a pleasant opportunity just by adding a splash of gratitude to the equation: I’m grateful that I have dishes to wash, that I have food to leave traces of on the dishes necessitating washing them, that I have hot water, soap, and hands to wash the dishes, that I have a house with enough space for a dish rack on the counter, and a cabinet above to stack clean dishes in. I am grateful for the cotton dish cloths I knitted through the years, still going strong, just a fray or two, and for the little old lady in the eye surgeon’s waiting room who taught me how to knit them. I feel good that I solved the dish sponge ethical dilemma with homemade cotton dishcloths that wash and get washed over and over for years. How many plastic or genuine sponges have I saved?! I’m grateful for the dishes themselves, their utilitarian beauty, or their purely sensory appeal, and the stories and memories baked into some of them. Mostly, tonight, I’m grateful that I seem to have finally acquired the habit of washing dishes as I use them, instead of letting them stack up in the sink and on the counter for a day or two… or more… until it really is an unpleasant and tediously long chore to wash them all.

Cooking with Amy: Grilled Cheese

The cold front rolling in from the west this afternoon.

For our second grilled cheese of the year, we chose French Onion Grilled cheese, first caramelizing the Vidalia onions, then deglazing the pan with a splash of sherry vinegar, and mixing the onions with grated Gruyere. Then we spread the back side of the bread with mayonnaise, and grilled. So easy! So delicious! I’m grateful for this different take on grilled cheese, and for cooking with Amy.

The sandwich really couldn’t have been better, even with the addition of bacon, which didn’t occur to me. Everything’s better with bacon. I’ve been laughing since morning, when I opened a Valentine that got lost in the shuffle last weekend, to see a poem written just for me. I’m grateful for laughter!

History

Teddy Roosevelt’s Clove Cake

I’m grateful (sometimes) for history: family history, cultural history, and my own personal history. Teddy Roosevelt’s clove cake represents all three; but I don’t mean to limit history to just three categories. Human history, our planet’s history, the history of life on earth, are all fascinating. One of my favorite college courses was “European Intellectual History.” I loved this class because it was the first time the subject had been presented to me without the boring histrionics of male white ego such as war and politics; this class featured the history of art, music, medicine, and other more enlightened human achievements, and essentially ignored the kings and battles that had beleaguered the subject for my whole prior education.

I remember vividly to this day Dr. Anthony Esler drawing a skull on the blackboard with white chalk as he explained the revolution in Renaissance art that gave dimension to the human form again after the flat images of the Dark Ages – and then he used colored chalk to layer on flesh and features. It was a challenging course, and the first college class I got a B in, which I was proud of despite my history of straight A’s until then. History gives perspective.

Another Zoom call this evening with two dear friends recalled our personal history together over the past 48 years with laughter and insights. A big part of my childhood, which Debbie would have remembered too if I’d thought to share a piece with her virtually, was Teddy Roosevelt’s clove cake, which was my birthday cake of choice most years once I was old enough to choose, and has been a comforting staple since then. Teddy was a ‘friend of the family,’ I was told growing up, though I think the recipe came from a clipping in Ladies Home Journal. I’m grateful (again) for this recipe and the happy memories it evokes, for the way Zoom has brought long-lost people back into my life, and for these two wonderful women and our rich shared history. And I’m grateful for Teddy Roosevelt’s determination to protect and conserve natural landscapes and wildlife through numerous National Parks and Monuments and the US Forest Service.

Yesterday I had plenty of eggs and some time on my hands, and so I baked this wonderful cake for the first time in this fancy new bundt pan (for which I’m also grateful). Here’s the recipe, adapted for high altitude. Sorry, sea level people, I no longer have the original, though I think it included a bit more sugar and baking soda and a 25º temperature difference one way or the other.

1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
5 eggs
3 cups sifted flour
1 T ground cloves
2 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch salt
1 cup+3 Tablespoons sour milk
¾ tsp. baking soda

Pre-heat oven to 400ºF and grease a 10" tube pan. If you don't have sour milk (and who does, these days?) add the juice of half a lemon to the milk at the beginning and let it sour as you proceed with the rest of the mixing. Cream butter and sugar til light and fluffy, and add eggs one at a time (I throw in a splash of vanilla extract, too). Sift dry ingredients together except for the baking soda. Add a third of the dry ingredients to butter/sugar, then half the sour milk, another third of flour mix; stir the baking soda into the last half of the sour milk and add to the mix, then add the last of the flour and mix until just incorporated. Don't overmix, and then spoon the batter quickly into the prepared pan. Bake for 45-55 minutes until the house smells delicious and the cake is done. The nose knows, I thought last night, as I almost burned the cake before the timer went off. Cool ten minutes before removing from the pan. Once the cake has cooled completely dust with confectioner's sugar.

I’m grateful for waking up this morning to the lingering warm smell in the cold house, a brisk walk with Stellar, and coming home to coffee and TR’s clove cake for breakfast beside the cozy fire.

Seeds

Just a couple of the catalogs that sprout in the mailbox regularly starting in late December.

My seed heart got thumping the other day when I finally listened to an interview I’d bookmarked weeks earlier. At the end, I went right to the High Desert Seed website, and bought a ton of seeds. I was going to spend money somewhere on seeds, and have been perusing several catalogs since they started arriving in deep winter, promising sensory delights to come in summer. Looking forward from the cold, dark, hibernating season. But I’ve been so busy practicing staying in the present moment that I hadn’t gotten too far into the catalogs when I heard this interview. Passionate seed farmer Laura Parker grows seeds right across the canyon (the big canyon) in the high desert foothills of the San Juan Mountains. Her seeds should be supremely adapted to my garden’s climate. I ordered one packet of everything she mentioned in the interview, and then some.

Pauite Gold Tepary Bean (Bush, Dry) 
Scarlet Keeper Carrot 
Navdanya Eggplant 
Calendula Mix 
Sunset Mix Snapdragon 
Paper Moon Flower (Scabiosa) 
Mentawai Marigold Population 
Aztec Sunset (Zinnia) 
Lilliput Zinnia 
High Desert Quinoa 
Orach – Red n’ Green 
True Siberian Kale 
Jericho Lettuce (Cos/Romaine) 
Yugoslavian Red Lettuce (Butterhead) 
Italian Mountain Basil 
Fernleaf Dill 
Toothache Plant (Spilanthes) 
Giant Musselburg Leek 
Bronze D’ Amposta Onion 
Sugar Ann (Dwarf, snap) 
Prescott Fond Blanc Cantaloupe 
Sirenevyi (Sweet Pepper) 
Koszorú Paprika (Hot) 
Chimayó Chili 
Cocozelle Squash (Zucchini) 
Waltham Butternut Squash 
Verde Tomatillo 
Striped Roman Tomato (Roma) 
Pomodoro Pizzutello Di Paceco (Paste / Slicer) 
Maritza Rose Tomato (Slicer) 
Sweet Orange II (Cherry Tomato) 
Helios Radish 
Dark Green Italian Parsley 
Santo Cilantro 
Yukina Savoy (Asian Green) 
Grandma’s Sweet Pea Mix 
Vorgebirgstrauben Cucumber 
Spring Raab (Broccoli Raab) 
Rattlesnake Bean (Pole/snap) 
I’ll make room for them all, and still have plenty to trade. I’m grateful for a local supplier of regionally adapted, organic seeds for all reasons.
I had already bought these seeds from another regional supplier, and wish I’d scattered them before these recent snows.

I told my garden buddy Max that today’s gratitude practice was seeds. She thinks I’m so good with words, but I can’t say it better than she did: You could do forever and a day on seeds and all that they mean—promise, hope, faith, etc etc. I’m grateful for her confidence in me, and her inspiration. Indeed, promise, hope, faith, change, growth, spontaneity, resilience, regeneration, self-sufficiency, and so many ramifications of each of these qualities. Seeds are our future, literally and metaphorically. Each thought, word, and deed plants some sort of seed that will ripen in the future. We can plant seeds of desire and greed, fear and hatred, or we can plant seeds of promise, hope, and faith in our daily lives. Like picking seeds from a catalog, we get to choose which seeds we want to plant. Whatever seeds we water with our attention will be the seeds that grow. We can nourish healthy seeds, or nurture weeds in our lives, but we can only choose which if we can discern the difference.

I’m grateful for garden seeds and seed catalogs, for the years of learning through cyclical experience how to grow what here in the high desert, for having a garden and the means to seed, water, feed and harvest it. I’m grateful for the seeds that grow throughout the yard and the little wild mouths they feed. I’m grateful to live in a community in which everyone I know values gardening and almost all of them grow something, grateful to grow at least some of my own food, grateful to talk and trade seeds (and their fruits) with neighbors, season after season. I’m grateful to still be eating today the fruits of last year’s garden seeds: pickles, tomato sauces, salsas, pestos, dried and frozen produce. I’m grateful for the optimism to purchase and plant seeds again this spring, and pray I’ll live to harvest their bounty, enjoy, and repeat, year after year for many years to come. And I know that I may not wake tomorrow. I’m grateful for each day on this beautiful, generous planet.

Max shared pictures of a gift she got with a seed order last year, making just the tiniest seed of a political statement.

Occasional Beef

Grateful for a simple and delicious dinner including a small filet, and salad with homemade ranch dressing. Grateful for good food!

I’m grateful, as an omnivore, that there are neighbors who raise beef, and that I’m able to contribute to their well-being and my own by purchasing their grass-fed, homegrown meat. I wish I could be a vegetarian, sometimes, because it’s better for the planet. But I need meat, and I like it cooked just so, with a little salt. Tonight I’m grateful for the last filet of some grass-fed, grass-finished beef I bought from Wrich Ranch just down the road. And yesterday, I was grateful for ground-beef of the same caliber from right next door, which I buy for Stellar’s homemade dog food, and grateful for the neighbor who delivered it in the snow and packed down the driveway. I don’t eat meat often, but when I do it’s only locally and humanely raised, purchased from people I trust.

The problem with red meat isn’t red meat, it’s our culture’s insatiable appetite for it. We all know that our bodies are healthier with occasional beef than with daily doses, and that factory farming is unsustainable for the planet. Eat less meat less often, savor it more, and grow your own or support local farmers and ranchers whenever possible. I’m grateful it’s so easy and so reasonable in this valley to satisfy my meager, and my dog’s eager, appetites for meat.

I’m grateful we are not experiencing here the catastrophic cold front that has much of the country in its grip, and is devastating cities like Houston. This freak weather pattern, which will become more common, and this freak pandemic, which won’t be gone soon, are both linked to the problem of our gluttony, and not just for meat. We quit calling it global warming years ago when climate change was deemed more accurate, and now it’s time to officially label it climate chaos. We are all connected, all humans, all species, every inhabitant of this earth depends upon the rest. It is my fervent wish that everyone wake up to this simple truth, and start to cultivate more gratitude for what we have and less grasping for what we want. Only through a change in human consciousness will the world be transformed, and thereby saved.

Health

While snow continues to rain soft, wet, sparkly blessings on western Colorado, I’m grateful that the indoor garden blooms gloriously.

This first-person account of long-haul Covid just breaks my heart. It reminds me of how I felt around the time I was thirty. I got some mystery virus, likely (the Vernal doctor said) flea- or tick-borne, a few months after I moved from Virginia to Utah. I had a low-grade fever for nine months, was treated with five rounds of heavy antibiotics, developed a full-system candida infection including thrush, and chronic fatigue that lasted for decades. I’ve never been the same since. And still I’m grateful: that it’s mostly over, that after about a year I was able to function more or less normally, that in the past decade I’ve gotten more energy and more mental clarity, that overall this body is in pretty good shape for ‘over-sixty.’ But I still suffer chronic, migratory joint pain, mental fuzz, and other random symptoms attributed to Lyme and other tick-borne diseases.

I’m grateful it wasn’t Covid, and only upon reading Kaitlin’s story did the misery I lived with for years come back vividly. I tend to forget that it happened. It was a long time ago, and I’ve been learning for years to let go. I felt that there was a primal fear of Covid lurking below my stated reasons for ongoing quarantine, chronic lung issues and a feeble immune system. I hope this helps people understand why I’m so dedicated to protecting myself from Covid. Reading Kaitlin’s account reminded me like a gut punch that I’ve already lived with debilitating chronic illness for years once. Even if I were to survive a bout with Covid, I fear I’d be plunged again into that grueling alternate reality from which I spent decades clawing my way to recovery. May Kaitlin recover fully and soon, and may others with long-haul Covid also; may the dedicated scientists working on it find treatments that will help; may Covid deniers everywhere (including some of my neighbors) finally believe, and make the common-sense efforts necessary to protect their communities and slow down this plague.

Aprés Retreat

Cream cheese thumbprint cookies with apricot jam, ready for the oven Friday night; grateful to Amy for the recipe.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to spend two days in silent retreat, grateful for the teachers and the teachings that guided me through this unusual adventure, and, grateful to be done with it! And, I still want to do it again once or twice a month, though maybe for only 36 hours the next time. I stocked up on necessities in the days ahead of the retreat, preparing snacks, sweets, and meals, to minimize distractions. Everything went according to schedule on Saturday, spent in frequent meditation and constant deep reflection. Sunday got a little off kilter by mid-afternoon, and by dinnertime I was exhausted. It was as if I had glimpsed myself in the near future, close to the shore of another sea change, and I chose not to go there yet. I cut short the introspection, uncomfortable somehow with the intensity of it.

The Ancient One

Saturday was so mild that we walked all the way to the rim, knowing there was a storm coming that might keep us home for a few days. Indeed, Sunday morning saw the biggest snow yet this winter (if I remember correctly!). Stellar did great on the first morning walk around the Breakfast Loop.

Stellar’s Last Days: Valentine’s ~ he’s unlikely to see another one. Not that Valentine’s Day matters anymore to me, really, but it’s hard to shake a lifetime of association. There was a wistful edge to it this year I hadn’t expected, but a few well-timed gestures from friends softened that.

As snow kept falling, we walked again later, up the driveway. He was full of spunk, trotting ahead, eating snow, coming back to get me. The snow brought utter peace into my silence, first, for its primal beauty and its own pervasive silence; second, for the comfort of moisture to this parched land. Grateful, as always in the desert, for precipitation. Grateful for the dog’s good energy and mobility.

This was shortly before his back feet turned under, and he couldn’t get them to work at all. He walked halfway home on the tops of his back feet, hips dropped low, practically dragging his back legs. I kept pulling his hips up and setting his feet right but another step or two and they flipped over again. After a few tries I realized it was futile and we had a long way to go yet, so I slung my scarf in front of his thighs and limped him the rest of the way home, essentially carrying his back end. It was good I was in silence: kept me from talking myself into a state. I figured if I could get him home and rested he’d be fine, as long as we stayed out of the deep snow. This proved to be the case. He’s walked up and down the plowed driveway several times since without incident. I think his feet turned under and seized up, or just got too cold to function, from being ankle deep in very cold snow for too long. I’m grateful this wasn’t a ‘new normal,’ not yet.

I’m grateful for the little Topaz cat, usually in and out multiple times a day, for contributing serenity on Sunday. She took one look outside in the morning, used her litter box, and never even approached the door all day. With no rodents to hunt, she unearthed an old toy to toss around for her midday romp, and spent the rest of the day in one of her several cozy beds.

I’m grateful to Philip for going out of his way Friday to deliver the coconut milk I required for this exquisite dish, which I indulged in making Sunday night, baked tofu with coconut lime rice. Unexpectedly one of the most delicious meals of the year; I’m grateful for the good sense to clip and try the recipe. I’m grateful that my days of silent solitude were flanked by gifts of friendship, grateful for loving Valentine messages from friends who didn’t know I was on retreat, and for silence from friends who did. I’m grateful for this web of life that supports me on an unconventional path, and grateful for each step no matter how challenging or painful.

Honey Badger of the North stopped by to deliver a Valentine’s treat this evening.