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Other People’s Ideas

Pickling syrup before stirring…

Another batch of Bread & Butter pickles made today. Hard to believe that two pounds of cucumbers can distill into five half-pints of pickles, including a whole onion, but it is so. I’m grateful for other people’s ideas, in particular what they think of to do with food. I would not have thought to invent Bread & Butter pickles, and now that I think about it, I don’t even understand why they’re named that: there’s no bread or butter, there is a lot of vinegar and sugar, and a few tablespoons of spices.

  • 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3/4 teaspoon celery seeds
  • 1 inch cinnamon stick
  • 6 allspice berries plus a pinch of ground allspice
  • 6 whole cloves plus a pinch of ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
Boil ’em all together, boil the jars, et voila! So simple, so delicious.

I had a few sweet peppers in the fridge, and needed a quick snack for ‘supper,’ so I looked up ‘stuffed sweet pepper recipes.’ I’m grateful as always for the technology that allows me to discover a world of recipes with a few taps. I adapted one I found, cut a Blot pepper into quarters, mashed some cream cheese, shredded Mexican cheese blend, and Italian-seasoning ground garlic, forked enough onto the pepper sections to cover them, and baked for twenty minutes at 450℉. So simple, so delicious! These are things I wouldn’t think of by myself, but with a little nudge from other people’s ideas, I can create my own version with whatever is on hand.

Little Wren was introduced to the big North Forty for the first time this evening, just as the sun was setting. She didn’t quite know what to make of or do with all that space. But she’s sleeping soundly now, after a busy day flirting with does, guarding the garden, making sure I’m okay any time I cough, dispensing random cuddles when she feels they’re needed, and trekking into evening. I’m so grateful for this little creature who came into my life, exactly what we each needed at exactly the right time.

Honesty

…couldn’t resist…
A surprise morning glory in the bean bed!
I sliced two tiny slivers off the dried jigsaw pepper that burned my mouth, minced them finely, and mixed in with my chicken salad for lunch. It was a minuscule amount, and I didn’t notice it was there until a pepper flake showed up in a bite: and then the flavor was remarkable. It was hot, yes, but also had a distinctly smoky flavor. I could have used even more–but not much!
So I concluded finally that the way I’ll use these peppers is to dry and grind them as I will the paprika, and keep a tiny jar of tiny hot purple pepper flakes for just the right occasion. Maybe I’ll have enough to share.
It’s so gratifying to see the Leutschauer paprikas coming on red in mid-August. Five years ago when I first grew them I didn’t plant early enough, and had to pick them green or lose them to frost. So I roasted and then dried them green. It was still tasty, but not the beautiful red paprika I’ve come to rely on each year.
Gratuitious cute puppy pic, helping clean up.

A friend was supposed to come visit tomorrow, and I’ve been really looking forward to it, tidying up the patio and everything. I was so sad when she called today to let me know she’d been potentially exposed to Covid, and tomorrow will be too soon to know whether she’s gotten infected. We had an open-hearted conversation about details and timeline, about risks and possibilities, and all with good cheer and understanding, we concluded it would be best if she doesn’t come. Better safe than sorry! We’ll visit another time, when there are no heavy questions hanging overhead. I am so very grateful for her honesty and integrity in broaching this uncomfortable issue. There are people I know who, given the uncertainties involved, might well have simply made a decision to come anyway without giving me all the information. Where Covid is concerned (as well as with just about any other scenario I can imagine) honesty is the best policy for me. I am always grateful for honesty, even if it means I’m disappointed.

I was definitely not disappointed in sunset beyond the garden this evening. And definitely grateful to be out picking peppers in the beauty of it.

Food

I just can’t get enough of it. And I’m so fortunate to have plenty of it! I am keenly aware that many humans and other animals all over the planet don’t have enough food. There is a twinge of guilt when I consider my bountiful garden, my well-stocked pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. Even when I think of all the food available at our local grocery stores, and farmers’ markets; not to mention what’s available to order online. There is too much food concentrated in too few places and way too much food going to waste in rich countries, rich households, even average supermarkets. I’m grateful that there are numerous non-profits and volunteers in many cities and towns that gather and channel ‘extra’ food to those in need so it doesn’t go to waste.

And taking all that (and more) into consideration, I am grateful every single day, every single meal, for food. I’m grateful to have good food whenever I want it, and to have the time and means to have fun with food, too.

I’m grateful for all my food teachers through my life, starting with the Colonel and the Galloping Gourmet, through Julia Child and Yamuna Devi, to The Great British Baking Show and my dear Amy and all the internet home cooks and chefs like Bello… Bello taught me how to make this super easy lunch wrap with a tortilla and four favorite ingredients. I chose fresh basil, sautéed onions and mushrooms, a Pizzutello tomato, and Havarti and mayo. One slice to the center, four quarters loaded, three folds, then onto the grill.

As if that wasn’t enough great food for one day, Wren and I were invited to a neighbor’s for roasted homegrown chicken and organic local corn this evening, so I made panna cotta, baked some rolls, and grilled a couple of small eggplants with a miso glaze.

In the midst of baking and grilling, I bubbled up a quick raspberry jam to go on top of the panna cotta, which had been chilling all afternoon in the fridge. So simple, so delicious!

The grilled miso-glazed eggplant needed to cook longer, or be pre-steamed, but it tasted good, and was fun to make. I’d read in a similar recipe for zucchini to score the flesh so it could absorb more glaze, which I think was a good idea.

I was grateful for a couple of short rain showers, one before dinner and one after, with a perfect interlude between when we could sit outside, appreciate the cool clean air, admire the clouds, and enjoy the meal, while the little dogs got to know each other better.

Equanimity

I’m grateful for this embodied example of equanimity, my old scarred doe. She’s been browsing in my yarden for a month, and this is at least the fourth summer she’s done so. She has a fawn somewhere (or two). She is comfortable enough with me and the pets to lie down and rest inside the fence. She watched calmly as I turned on the outdoor spigot, and was still there an hour later when I turned it off. She is okay with what is.
I’m grateful for this slim apricot harvest, all I’m likely to get this year. There were twice as many on the tree, but when they finally looked ripe enough to pick (and they’re still not quite ripe) I was too late: at least this many more have already been pecked by birds or gnawed by someone else. I’ll leave those on the tree, and as they fall off the old doe or Biko will enjoy what’s left of them. Equanimity also means recognizing that all lives have equal value, and sharing garden bounty with an open heart.

I finally had the energy this afternoon to tackle a sewing project. I went upstairs to choose among several I’ve had lined up for years, and decided the best and easiest would be to make curtains out of this ancient dress. I’ve had it since 1979, and it was almost a hundred years old when I got it, pulled from a trunk of treasures that was left to my grandmother by a friend who died. I wore the dress once to a costume party in college, and never could bear to part with it, thinking (once I accepted that I’d never fit into it again) that one day I’d make the antique fabric into a modern dress. Recently, though, I decided to reverse Scarlett’s strategy and turn the gown into drapes. There are a few small tears in both layers of fabric, it is so old it’s quite friable. Thrilled with my resolve and motivation, I took the dress apart and cut the skirt into two pieces, lining and all, which was just enough to make curtains for two east and west windows upstairs. This heatwave has me wanting to cover all the windows during the day.

I had never noticed the interior bodice ribbon with the name and address on it. A quick online search revealed that there is still a high end clothier called Frame with stores from LA to Aspen to London, and of course in New York. The address 391 5th Avenue appears to be a real estate office now. Frame clothing today includes a lot of ripped denim garments selling for hundreds of dollars. I’m eager to trace the history and discover if it’s a straight line from this 1880-1890s gown to the current couture.

I pulled out my Pfaff sewing machine that I haven’t used in four years, dusted it off, set it up, plugged it in, turned it on, and… nothing. Thwarted! After a couple of hours of patient troubleshooting and a few phone calls, first to my sewing guru and then to her sewing guru, and then to Montrose Sewing Machine Repair in Montrose, Marc and I concluded that the problem must be the foot pedal.

“Could it have been dropped sometime?” he asked. Duh. Dropped, smushed, anything’s possible, and also jammed into a basket in a plastic bag–who could have guessed it was so fragile? He very kindly located a replacement pedal for me online, and even though it cost as much as my baguette baker, it was still far less expensive than a new machine, so I ordered it. I have many draperies to complete this summer! And perhaps a few dresses, as well. I’m grateful for the one friend and two strangers who generously offered advice, reminding me that I am not self-sufficient and am indeed interdependent with and dependent upon others. I’m grateful to have developed the mindfulness skill of Equanimity so that I could accept this situation without frustration and aggravation, gracefully relinquish attachment to making curtains today, wait patiently for the new pedal to arrive next week, and turn my attention to other things.

Friends and Neighbors

What kind of pie is this?
It’s not a pie! It’s banana bread scones, made in the new scone pan. It wasn’t the best recipe to inaugurate this pan, because the instructions to cut and bake on an open tray allowed for crisping all around the edges of each scone. But I didn’t figure that out til the pan was filled and the scones baked. They were delicious anyway: a cross between a drier, crunchier scone and a cake-like banana bread. I was grateful to share them with friends-and-neighbors at vespers over the holiday weekend.
And what a spread they put on! A cornucopia of snack foods, cheeses, crackers, fruits, meats, chips, and individual bowls of salsa for each of us. They respected my precautions though they are over the idea of Covid themselves, just done with it as are so many people I know, despite the fact that the virus is far from done with the human species.

I’m coming to terms with the fact that my Covid release is lagging far behind that of my friends and neighbors. Most people I know have gone back to their business as usual lives, sometimes wearing masks for certain activities, but largely letting go of pandemic precautions. Even those who have been infected with it once, or those who are at high risk because of immune deficiencies or other conditions, have extended their activities out in the world far beyond my comfort zone. As a result, many people I know who avoided infection during the first two years have gotten sick in the past few months. Most of them have been vaccinated and boosted, and have gotten so-called mild cases, though quite a few of them were sick for weeks even so, and many have lingering long-covid effects from low-energy to brain fog and skeletomuscular aches and pains.

This creates some complicated emotions in me, and I’m slowly sorting those out. I’m grateful that I enjoy solitude, and have many years of practice choosing it over extroverted engagements, so being alone comes naturally to me. And all the causes and conditions in my life preceding the pandemic led to me being well set up to survive and indulge my penchant for solitude, in this beautiful homestead sanctuary, with plenty of community support. I’m grateful for all of this.

And I find myself bristling or cringing–judging or twinging with envy–when I hear the extent to which the few people I trust are safe enough for me to be around are in fact regularly exposing themselves to potential infection from Covid or even just colds or flu. I’m grateful that (except for that possible food poisoning a couple weeks ago) I have not been sick since the pandemic began. That tells me that masking when I must go out, and as much solitude as I’m able, are healthy for me. I can accept the choices of my friends and neighbors, and choose my own exposure to them accordingly. I’m grateful for this equanimity and wisdom, but it’s getting harder to hold onto as the ‘business as usual’ paradigm becomes a widespread new normal, and I start to question and judge my self-protective instincts. Complicated emotions.

I’m grateful that the network of interdependent co-arising that over decades and perhaps lifetimes has woven the safety net I live in right now holds me within a comfortable illusion of security. I’m grateful, too, that I know nothing lasts forever. This allows me to make the most of the precious, beautiful moments of each day, without fretting about what comes next. I’m a different person than I was five or 25 years ago; I was always seeking this sense of peace and contentment, and mindfulness practice has allowed it to arise and stabilize in me to a great extent, no matter the external circumstances.

Grateful for a gorgeous summer day and a walk to the rim with Wren’s brand new very best friend Phoebe and her person. She loved having a friend her own size to dance with. She was so excited to show her distant cousin around and ran multiple laps of zoomies through the woods on the way to the canyon. There, her little friend walked boldly to the edge, showing Wren how it’s done, so she stepped out of her comfort zone a little bit too, venturing close to the edge and even starting down below before I stopped her.

Zoom Cooking with Amy: Herb Roasted Potatoes

…with feta-yogurt dip, chopped nuts, and scallions…

All I knew was potatoes and feta, and all I had to do was show up with the ingredients. Amy talked me through the recipe. How thick to slice the potatoes, how long to boil them, how much of which herbs to toss in with onions and potatoes to roast…

…how much feta and yogurt, lemon zest and juice, garlic, salt and pepper to blitz in the food processor for the delicious sauce… to line the bowl with the sauce, spoon the roasted vegetables on top, sprinkle with nuts and scallions, and drizzle with honey. We sipped our cocktails and talked of many things as we cooked and ate, as we always do. I can hardly recall a single one of them. I’m grateful for the easy, long friendship (is it 50 years? 51?) that we get to continue across the continent with zoom cooking, and grateful for all the great dishes we’ve made together in person and apart. I’m grateful for locally grown, organic potatoes from Farm Runners, and for custom grocery delivery from P&P. I’m grateful for perennial scallions in my garden from early spring through late fall.

In the midst of cooking I paused to split the bread dough in two and set it on the warm stove to rise in loaf pans. I’m grateful for the sourdough starter that Ruth gave me oh so many years ago still going strong, for the new standard loaf pans I bought from King Arthur to finally replace the oversize pans I inherited from my mother oh so many years ago, for the persistence to try this recipe again and again learning a little more each time how to bake at high altitude.

I’m grateful that this time, I think I finally got it right. I won’t quite know til I slice the loaves tomorrow. They just came out of the oven and need to cool completely before I take the serrated bread knife to them, but they look and sound just right.

I’m grateful for a slow, quiet morning in the garden, and the gorgeous snapdragons I grew from seed which are just now starting to bloom. I’m grateful for connections with friends and cousins here and afar throughout the day, and grateful that as far as I know everyone I love woke up alive this morning. Not everyone did, and that stark reminder highlights the value of each precious day and every act of kindness, compassion, and connection it holds. I’m grateful for mindfulness practice, and the healthier perspective it’s brought to all aspects of life, from the personal to the political and the planetary. I’m grateful.

New Favorite Pasta

I’m grateful for rainsoft dirt that just begged me to go barefoot on the walk home this morning.

Yesterday was Boyz Lunch, and I made them what turns out to be my new favorite pasta ever, Ali Slagle’s tortellini with mortadella and peas. Since there’s no mortadella in Delta County, I substituted shredded chicken thigh for the meat, but otherwise made the recipe as directed. Amy texted the ten minute video and it took barely longer than that to make the dish.

It’s all made in one skillet, and I don’t see any reason to ever cook tortellini in boiling water again. Not one of them broke open. First you lay the pasta in a hot skillet coated with oil, and just let it cook til it browns lightly on the bottom. Then add frozen peas and meat, stir, pour in chicken stock, bring to a boil, cover and simmer. When the pasta is almost done, add grated parmesan…

… cold cubed butter (which makes the sauce silky instead of oily, she says), and once that’s melted in, squeeze half a lemon, stir, and serve. Before any cooking, though, she heated chopped pistachios in a little oil, then tossed them with lemon zest and a bit of salt, to add a crunchy topping to the creamy pasta. Served with homemade sourdough toast, it was so simple, so delicious, so filling. We finished off the last of the chocolate mousse bars, which I had frozen, and which are even better right out of the freezer than the fridge. So grateful, every week, for Boyz Lunch.

The garden is finally starting to thrive, now that the nights have warmed up a little, the soil has finally warmed also, and a bit of rain falls now and then. It was a rough start, but one zucchini is thriving, and the cucumbers are full of flowers. One eggplant also thrives while two are starting to catch up; the big one is blooming already.

The fennel continues to astonish with its gorgeous growth, and two types of beans in with the onions are all doing well. I’m grateful for the luxury of being able to grow my own food: the time, water, space, acquired knowledge and skills; help through the years to develop the garden; and inner qualities conducive to contentment, including curiosity, patience, acceptance, perseverance, and adaptability.

I’m grateful for Wren, and for her growing online fan club. This one’s for you!

I’m also grateful for a couple of unexpected presents. My friend Brad went to Sweden and I asked him to bring me back a doll. He brought the perfect little doll! She’s right at home with the other tiny dolls and curios from around the world. Some of these are authentic artifacts, some antiques, some handmade or carved by people I know and some by artists I never met; some are new and some are at least a century old. Each has a story, a meaning, an association. I’m grateful for all these little treasures–and for being able to remember most of their stories!

And I’m grateful for this present that arrived in the mail… May we let our fury rise into action: Vote with and for women this November!

Laughter

Cheering up a friend last night I sent her this snap of a cartoon from The New Yorker. Then I ate some ice cream.

There is so much not to laugh about today. So much extra, unnecessary misery has just been catalyzed by the self-righteous right wing wingnuts on the Supreme Court. So much extra, unnecessary misery has been generated by human greed and ideology since the Industrial Revolution. So much suffering has occurred globally for all species and will continue to occur for all species including, of course, human beings, due to climate chaos and our species’ staggering capacity for denial, our devastating refusal to face this slow moving catastrophe. There is so little any one human can do about it.

This is where mindfulness skills* have literally saved my sanity. Cultivating the wisdom to accept things as they are, and from there determine how I can help; the ability to choose where I place my attention and hold it there; to practice gratitude and compassion with every breath that I can remember to–these are the gifts of mindfulness for me. With these skills, I am sometimes able, even on a day with such dreadful planetary and political news, to laugh til my sides ache.

Wren and I sat on the deck for awhile this afternoon as I laughed til I cried with my dear cousin over the phone.

My cousin and I play Wordle every day, and share our results. First we each share, in our own time, the blank tile tally that we’re given the option to share once we complete the word game. Then we share a screenshot of our guesses. I love seeing her process, and learning from it, and noting how some days it is so different from mine, and some days so similar. Spoiler Alert: Today, the solution was SMITE. After we texted our solutions, this happened…

I could not stop laughing at my own spontaneous cleverness, largely because I knew how hard she’d be laughing at my reply. I called her, and we sat together on the phone, half a country apart, laughing til we cried without saying a word for several minutes, before catching our breath and chatting for awhile. I am so grateful for laughing out loud long and hard with my cousin, for laughing with my friends, for laughing alone sometimes, just because it really is the best remedy. (Just. Just for you, dear 😂) May we each find laughter where we can in each day, no matter the challenges it presents. May we laugh together on the same page as we fight to protect one another. May we remember how good laughter is for our bodies and our souls.

*I start teaching a new 8-week Mindfulness Foundations Course online on July 1. If you’re interested, check it out here, and let me know.

Loving Friends

Had I not gotten violently ill last night, I would have posted my gratitude for Raven and Stellar, yet again. And for letting go, finally. Yesterday I took their faded photos off the food bins that I’d used for them and have been using recently for Wren and Topaz, and replaced them with their current owners. It was hard, even knowing those photos don’t hold their lives, to throw them away, but it was time to let go of the pull of their memories in that context.

I didn’t feel quite right so I went to bed early. I’d only been asleep for an hour when I woke up all kinds of sick, and remained so for about twelve hours. I’m grateful for my Cousin Nurse who talked me through accepting it, there wasn’t much I could do to stop vomiting, but to be sure and sip some liquids as I could. I was able to get out of bed around two this afternoon and sip some dilute ginger ale and water. Once I felt a little better I texted around to see if anyone had some orange Gatorade or some Pedialyte to replenish electrolytes.

I am so grateful for a supportive community: for loving friends who cooed their concern and made various offers to get me something, and for Garden Buddy and her husband who actually had exactly what I needed and made a special trip over to deliver it. They may not even have had it on hand; they were out and about and may have picked it up. Knowing them, they’d have gone to extra lengths to get me Orange! The only flavor Gatorade I can stand–but I would have been grateful for any flavor at that point.

I’m grateful I got so much housecleaning done yesterday, it made it easier to come downstairs this afternoon and rest in the recliner. The slight fever is down a bit, the Covid test was negative, a cool rain drizzles outside, Wren and Topaz have been extra sweet. The awful helpless feeling is gone and I’m just tired and a little queasy now. The fear that it would get worse and all the scenarios that flowed from that are gone. I almost want to eat a cracker now, but I’m heading back to bed. I am grateful that I will survive!

Boyz Lunch

I am always grateful for Boyz Lunch. Today, the company of my dear lunch boys assuaged the melancholy left by the ghost of lamented potential; and also just the fleeting visit from an old friend. It was fun to plan the meal, use preserved tomatillo salsa from last summer’s harvest, soak and cook dried black beans from Rancho Gordo instead of opening the usual cans, and make enchiladas with corn tortillas from a regional tortilleria. Yellow rice is so much easier than I knew, just add turmeric. The meal took some thought and preparation but was ultimately so simple, so delicious.

I combined three recipes to make the most of what I had on hand, adding cream cheese and cheddar to the shredded chicken, (cooking rice in the leftover chicken water); mixing cream, sour cream, cumin, and more leftover chicken water in the blender with the salsa verde then pouring that over the filled and rolled tortillas in a 9″x13″ baking dish. I’m grateful, as always, to have a well-stocked spice rack, pantry, and refrigerator. I’m grateful for my ‘personal shoppers’ who continue to coddle me through covid. I’m grateful for every little piece of the puzzle that comes together to create, serve, and enjoy lunch weekly with an intimate club of three that’s been dining here for nearly six years. I’m grateful for the acceptance and gratitude we share for each other and for our precious, impermanent time together.