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Fire

Tonight I’m grateful for the first fire in the woodstove this fall. It was a cooler day by almost twenty degrees than yesterday; the house never really warmed up. Tonight there’s a frost warning for the mountains. We’ll probably see mid-thirties here, before it warms a bit tomorrow, and nights return to more seasonable high forties. Overnight, it’s autumn. I cut all the basil, which was just about to flower anyway. Tomorrow is pesto making day. I hope everything else survives. I brought Biko inside.

Today I canned six small jars of tomato salsa, using just one Thai dragon pepper for two pounds of tomatoes. I didn’t grow jalapeños, so checked the Scoville chart for equivalents with what I’ve harvested. Chimayos, the larger peppers in the picture, rate 4000-6000, “right in the meaty middle of the jalapeño pepper range; they land on the milder side of medium heat. A Chimayo will always be hotter than the mildest jalapeño, but it also won’t spike in heat as some jalapeño plants can.”

Thai Dragon peppers starting to ripen

The Koszorú Paprika peppers rate 30,000-50,000 Scoville units, and the Thai Dragons rate 50,000-100,000. These two differ subtly in shape and can be hard to tell apart off the plant. On the plants they’re unmistakable: the Thai Dragons grow in straight up clusters, the paprikas hang down singly. I tasted a tiny bit of a Chimayo. It was way too mild. I tasted a tip of paprika. Not nearly hot enough. I sliced a sliver of Thai Dragon. YOW! It was just right. I’m grateful for fire, in the right place at the right time.

The Best Neighbors

It’s been a loooong time since I’ve hosted a dinner here. Pre-Covid, there were dinners almost every week in our neighborhood, sometimes just a few people, often a crowd. Holidays, we took turns hosting potluck feasts for a dozen or more. It was lovely. It was exhausting. It’s been nice to have a break from the social whirl, but I wanted to show my gratitude for my closest neighbors, who contribute to my life in ongoing ways, as well as always being there if I need something: a tree diagnosed or pruned, a few teaspoons of cinnamon, a drain snake… I’ve been trying to make this dinner happen since spring, but between all of our schedules, some of their travels, my hand injuries, and other impediments, it took all summer for us to plan on this one evening.

Of all the Saturdays in this summer of drought for it to rain, it had to be this one! But we did get a break just long enough to sit outside and enjoy hors d’oeuvres and cocktails, wine and dinner. My preparations began shortly after sunup, when I dug some Yukon gold potatoes, picked a couple of peppers and the second (and last) zucchini of the season, and snipped the only cilantro left along with some parsley. The rest of the day I spent in the kitchen.

Not only was there dinner to prepare, but I was a day behind on canning, so made a batch of salsa verde this morning.

I roasted the tomatillos, onions, garlic, and pepper. The recipe called for two Serranos, but I couldn’t find those I’m sure are deep in the freezer, so I looked up heat equivalency, and used a single Thai dragon instead. I’m grateful to have figured out that it’s easier to shuck the tomatillos after they’ve sat in a bowl of water for five or ten minutes because it’s a tedious process anyway.

Then I prepped the Tex Mex pot roast, with onion, tomatillos, tomatoes, garlic, and a couple of chopped Chimayo peppers, all but the onion from the garden. I’m grateful for a beautiful cast-iron Dutch oven, just what was called for to slow cook the meat for the afternoon. While the meat braised, I made dessert.

Whoever heard of black cocoa? These Faux-reos from King Arthur Baking were such fun to make, and a big hit after dinner. The filling called for vegetable shortening, but that also has been disappeared from the pantry by gremlins, or perhaps house elves, so I was forced to use butter. This required extra confectioners’ sugar to make the filling stiff enough not to squish out, so I ended up with a tennis ball size of leftover icing. I’m sure I’ll think of something to do with that!

And then it was time to turn my attention to the Sonoran-style potato, tomato, and cheese soup. Using potatoes, cherry tomatoes and herbs from the garden, Queso Blanco cheese and a couple of other ingredients from Farm Runners, I bubbled up a tasty and unusual soup; adding groups of ingredients at carefully timed intervals, and then ladling the final soup over cheese cubes in the bottom of each bowl.

I’m grateful for a full and meaningful Saturday, grateful for the rain that gave us the perfect window to sup together before coming down again; grateful for the bounty of the garden, and for exciting recipes a few clicks away in any moment. I’m grateful that when I served the Faux-reos, Fred called up the Oz monkey song and the rest of us all joined in–grateful for that harmonious moment of shared culture spontaneously expressed, even though it took some discussion to come to consensus that it was from Oz, and not Snow White or Lord of the Rings. I’m grateful for easy laughter and connection with beloveds. Stellar was beside himself with excitement to have dinner guests, including his little pal Rocky. We’re both grateful for the best neighbors in the world, and the opportunity to show a small measure of our gratitude through preparing and sharing food.

Sourdough

An unprepossessing substance, but so rich in meaning and purpose. Like a lot of things.

Not only sourdough, but so many other things I’m grateful for today. However, sourdough was a good way to wrap up yesterday and begin today.

I started these sourdough cinnamon buns yesterday afternoon, making the dough from starter that Ruth gave me many years ago. I’m grateful for the gift of this ‘mother’ that has kept on giving for these many years, just as the friendship has. I’m grateful for friends who can go a year without speaking and pick up right where we left off. I’m grateful for this fermenting dough starter that Ruth shared with me, and I’ve kept alive in my refrigerator for… how many years? And grateful that I’ve been able to share it with other kitchens in the valley.

The dough was super sticky, and I added a lot of flour on the board as I pressed it out to the right size rectangle…

I let them rise overnight in the mudroom, which cooled down to around 60 degrees F. Then I brought them into the house and put them in the sun to warm up for a couple of hours before baking. They came out so light and fluffy, and doubled in size before I put them in the oven.

While they were rising, Stellar and I walked to the canyon rim. He was having a good morning. The cottonwoods nourished by the seep are starting to turn yellow, though it’s hard to see in this picture. Soon enough! I’m grateful that the Best Boy Ever has made it to another autumn!

The sourdough cinnamon buns came out perfectly! And then frosted, with coffee… a morning to be grateful for being alive.

I’m grateful for the work, the reading, and the correspondence that filled my day between breakfast and homesteading in the afternoon. I’m grateful even in receipt of unfortunate news from a dear friend, because he chose to deliver it to me himself, in a heart-touching phone call, rather than let it catch me by surprise on social media. I’m grateful for our adventures together through the years, our lasting connection, our special photographic bond; grateful that our friendship transcends the mundane challenges of space and time.

I’m grateful to have harvested the last large cucumbers, and put them in pickling brine this afternoon. The secret ingredient is a horseradish leaf in each jar. There were a couple of leaves leftover, and a couple of cucumbers just a day too old to pickle. Something different for them, tomorrow…

And then it was time to can a round of tomato sauce. Using a mix of Amish Paste and Pizzutello fruits, I roasted them just enough to loosen the skins so I could pinch them off, then mashed the tomatoes into sauce in the Dutch oven, with dried herbs and garlic granules.

Finally, at ten p.m., I hung up my apron and sat down to rest, listening to those gratifying pops, one lid… two… three, four… five… … … and finally six. Six sealed jars of garden fresh tomato sauce put up. The tip of the iceberg, with so much more to ripen in the next several weeks. I’m grateful, as always, for the rare and precious opportunity to experience joyful adventures in food: garden to table, fridge to oven, stovetop to pantry.

Peppers

I’m grateful for the peppers ripening on their stalks. I planted four types this year, of which three are doing well. The Sirenevyi sweet peppers were overrun by butternut squash, and just didn’t get enough light. The Chimayo peppers above are doing well amongst some tomato vines. Thai Dragon peppers are ripening one by one, with dozens of green fruits standing straight up on their stems; and Koszoru paprikas, a slightly different shape, are turning red hanging down from their stems. The ripening is just beginning. I’ve started drying the paprikas as they come on, and have already put a mix into brine to ferment a couple of days ago, and feel confident that I’ll get enough to make some wonderful fermented hot sauce this year. I never much liked hot sauce until I made my own, in that way that working closely with a food invests oneself in the outcome in a different way than simply buying it.

I whipped up a quick little tomato sauce with two red Amish paste and two Pomodoro Pizzutello Di Paceco orange tomatoes, diced, and three cloves of minced garlic, cooked down in the bacon pan, with a bit of salt and pepper, and a handful of chopped basil tossed in at the end. I needed to cook the Boboli pizza crusts I bought last week. Topped with olive oil, shredded mozzarella and parmesan, leftover dog-pill ham that he wouldn’t eat anymore, some red onion, and the simple red sauce, I cooked a simple, rich dinner, with one leftover for tomorrow. I’m more grateful for food, every single day.

All the Little Pieces of this Day

I knew it would be a good day when it started like this.

First thing after our sunrise walk was to pick squash blossoms, and a couple ripe paprika peppers. I sliced the peppers open to dry, and put the blossoms in water til I could get back in to stuff them. I’m grateful for the colors of the foods I harvest, for running water, and for the little honeypot I used as a vase.

Then the day got better! Pillsbury pop’n’fresh crescent dinner rolls are not just for dinner anymore. I love the way the spiraled tube pops open on its own at this altitude: it’s like a Christmas cracker, and it startles you when it pops open somewhere in there as you’re peeling the paper wrapper off the tube. Then, a few strategically placed chocolate chips…

So simple, so delicious! Yes, I’m attached to these sensory pleasures, all of them, but I’m aware of my attachment, and of the pleasures’ impermanence, and so I savor these quotidian delights all the more for knowing their transience: tomorrow could be an entirely different day.

Throughout the day there were more delights, ever time I stepped outside. An unexpected seedling…

… a dramatic view…

…the Best Boy Ever by my side…

…a bountiful mixed harvest…

…a second evening walk! And then back inside for supper, those squash blossoms that I stuffed when they were fresh-picked this morning, with a tiny slice of ham, chiffonade basil, and a bit of Laughing Cow cheese. I forgot to eat them for lunch, so whipped up a light batter this evening, dredged them in cornmeal, then fried in bacon grease and olive oil.

A simple dip of whisked mayo and Ume plum vinegar. I’m grateful for all the little pieces of this day, and grateful I chose to pay attention to them, rather than dwell in the land of helpless overwhelm.

…the Kitchen Sink

So much to be grateful for today! We all woke up alive in my little family, and my extended family, my community. Stellar and I stepped out the gate to this sight on our morning walk just after sunrise. Extravagant rabbitbrush, shimmering winterfat, and the West Elk Mountains on the horizon. Thank you! We are so lucky to live where we do. Then I called the plumber.

He showed up around 2:30 with his power-snake, and unplugged the drain! I am grateful for pretty much everything in my little life today, including the kitchen sink, and especially its drain. I’m grateful for the metal shaped by someone or some program at some factory that makes the sink, grateful for the plumber who installed the sink and the few who have worked on it over the years, for the faucets with their advanced features that have adorned the sink in its 26 years here, for the know-how to clean out those pipes underneath the sink, and most of all, today I’m grateful for Plumber Shawn who finally unplugged the kitchen sink’s drain. I gratefully sent him home with a box of tomatoes, including one of those spectacular one-pound Brandywines.

I’m especially grateful for the kitchen sink today, and going forward this next couple of weeks, and for its unclogged drain, as each day I add to the buckets of produce on the counter that need to be preserved. After this week’s grocery run for onions and a few other things, I’ll make and put up tomatillo salsa, tomato salsa, marinara sauce, tomato soup, and tomato paste. I’m grateful for every single thing about this day. And I’m grateful for the mindful awareness to be grateful. More and more my ancient prayer rings true: Let me remember to be grateful every living moment of every day. In our life of opportunity and privilege nothing else rings true.

Patience

I’m grateful for today’s harvest, two baskets of tomatoes, some tomatillos, and three more hot peppers, a chimayo and two paprikas. I’m grateful for the comfort of patience, as the drain remains clogged and I hope for a plumber’s assistance tomorrow. With or without a kitchen drain I’ll have to start canning again in the next couple of days. I’m grateful for patience with myself as I plod through the clutter, dust, and disarray I’ve let accumulate this year having no one in my house but me and the animals. Gradually, surface by surface, inch by square inch, I’m getting a handle on the house, which I tend to neglect during summer, when my living room is the great outdoors. I’m grateful for good music, fresh air, cooler weather, fewer flies, coffee, and comfort food that help me through fall cleaning. I’m grateful for my good, sweet dog in his last days, and for the friends who gave him to me. I’m grateful for the last two good nights’ sleep, and another on the horizon as I head to my cozy bed now. I’m grateful for the patience that comes when I’ve run out, and the calm confidence that nothing stays the same.

One Pound Tomato

One of the butternut squash vines grew through the fence and twined in with a tomatillo, each supporting the other.

The first tomato seedling to be planted this spring is producing the most amazing fruit. I finally plucked this Brandywine this evening because its splits were getting too big; it weighed in at one pound 2.5 ounces. I’m grateful for this hefty tomato, which makes me think of my father, whose ideal tomato would give at least one perfect half-inch slice to fill a sandwich. I’m grateful to have inherited my father’s passion for growing tomatoes, and grateful whenever I can bring tender thoughts of him to mind.

I’m grateful for curiosity and a sense of humor, both of which provided a healthy perspective on this sight this morning, and this evening. I left the gnawed tomato on the vine to see if the critter came back, which clearly it did, but I didn’t catch it in the act. Still, better it keeps wrecking one fruit than I pick that and it attacks another.

Grateful to discover another ‘new way’: to warm Stellar’s pill-delivery cheese to make it pliable enough to wrap his meds, and cool the troubled wrist at the same time. He gets four sets of pills a day and two injections. It seems completely random how he cycles through good spells and bad spells, which he’s in right now: I’ve picked him up three or four times today from stumbles, as he walks like a drunken sailor. Just a few days ago he was doing so well, and nothing really has changed. Eventually will come a point of diminishing returns for him, and I may have to discern when that is. Every pet person’s nightmare.

Speaking of nightmares, I had a doozie this morning, after waking at 5 to let him out, and forcing myself to sleep for a couple of more hours. Somewhere in that last hour, oh I don’t even wanna describe it, but in short, he was dying in my arms as people passed around us in the busy lobby of the place we lived, one in a hundred offering some simple comfort or help like a single paper towel–though I kept asking for someone to help me get him back to our apartment. I finally realized it was a dream and I could wake up and leave it behind. I’m grateful for the capacity to recognize a dream and leave it when it’s ugly.

Grateful to have the right tools for the job.

A New Way

I’m always alert for a new way to do something, and read this morning about a better way to peel tomatoes for canning. Still contending with the kitchen sink drain, I was looking for a shortcut, and searched “do I have to peel tomatoes before canning.” Answers were heavily weighted toward “you’ll be happier if you do,” and one of them included this new way: broil them first, then set a towel over them as they cool to steam the skins loose. My broiler doesn’t allow the six inch distance called for, so I simply roasted them for fifteen minutes on a tray lightly greased with olive oil, then covered, and then plucked those skins right off.

A new and easier way to prepare tomatoes for canning! With far less mess to clean up, ergo far less water ‘down the drain,’ or in this case, into the red bucket. I didn’t count, but know that I carried that two-gallon bucket outside more than two dozen times today, dumping water on various shrubs and beds just beyond the front door. Anything to save on that labor! Waiting on a professional solution to the drain clog, and patiently abiding until that manifests, continuing to pour enzymes down the drain each night in hopes of a natural dissolution. We’ll know more later. Meanwhile, I’m grateful for patience, for perseverance, for running water, and for the red bucket. And very grateful for a new way to peel tomatoes.

I’m also grateful for the bountiful tomatillo crop. I soft-boiled, pureed, and then canned six pints, while the tomatoes were roasting and cooling. Ten pints of produce put up this afternoon!

And in between morning work and afternoon canning, another lovely BLT with lettuce-leaf basil. What a great idea! Thanks again, Amy. Served with one of the first lacto-fermented dill pickles this season. So simple, so delicious. I’m grateful not only for the first BLT of the season, but for every BLT of the season. Why limit grateful? Savor every mouthful.

Mindfulness Practice

Fruits of my labors today included not only abundant garden produce, but calm, compassion, and other mindfulness skills I’m learning to practice. When the contrary chimney sweep came today, I was determined to meet him with compassion in my heart, no matter how he triggered me. It was hard. He arrived more than an hour early, and when I answered the door wearing a mask, he whined like a teenage boy, “Do I really have to wear a mask?” From there it went downhill. In the next few minutes I couldn’t say a thing without him challenging me. I parried a few attacks with good cheer, but before long offered him the opportunity to leave if he’d rather not be here. Eventually I said with an even, pleasant tone, “I’m curious why you’re so contrary.”

After that he calmed down. I went into the bathroom to breathe, I went into the pantry to breathe. I offered him some fresh tomatoes to take home. Eventually, I sat on the stairs and chatted with him as he cleaned the stove. He actually chuckled. It was a successful application of meeting a challenging person with compassion and curiosity, instead of resisting his demeanor and shutting down from the triggered trauma of being baited. Even when he cheered the killing of wolves, I simply sat quietly looking at my hands until he went back up on the roof. All in all, it was a very successful harvest of the fruits of my mindfulness practice, for which I am supremely grateful.

Tomatoes, tomatillos, peppers and basil dominated the top layer of the harvest basket, while the second layer revealed the dwindling harvest of cucumbers and green beans as well as more cherry tomatoes. I still can’t use the sink, and the day was filled with other obligations anyway, but tomorrow will bring another canning session, with or without a drain: the harvest can’t wait.

The rattlesnake pole beans are starting to mature. I pulled the first few dry pods off the vine this morning, along with the last few ‘green beans.’ I’m so grateful for this delightful, surprising, prolific plant, which has pulled down one of the three support poles with its vigor. Beautifully speckled even to the end.

One of the brandywines, sliced for a sandwich, along with lettuce-leaf basil, bacon, and mayo. Have I mentioned that I’m grateful for mayonnaise?