Archives

Meaningful Satisfaction

Nine pounds of tomatoes in the over-sink colander for yesterday’s kitchen project, another batch of salsa.
Ingredients for the second batch of salsa, all from the garden! I can’t help crowing about it. Remembering the intention I set thirty years ago, or more accurately the wish I declared: “I want to buy some land and grow my own food.” Each meal I prepare from the garden, each batch of food from the garden I put up in cans or the freezer, I feel such meaningful satisfaction.
Assorted hot peppers diced: jalapeños, Jigsaw peppers, and an Aji Crystal.
This salsa recipe adds an interesting step: chop all ingredients and strain them over a bowl for six hours. This allegedly helps the tomatoes retain their body in the salsa. You simmer the liquid from them with vinegars and tomato paste (I used last year’s frozen cubes) until it reduces a bit, then add the diced fruits and bring to a boil again. I’ve been really happy with the two batches I made this way.

One of today’s kitchen projects was to combine both batches of fermented peppers and blend them into a hot sauce rough draft. I’ll ferment at least one more batch of yellow, orange and red peppers along with a carrot or two and a red onion from the garden, and then blend all these phases together before bottling. It was naive of me to think the various pepper varieties would all ripen at the same time, and I’m grateful for allowing things to be as they are and adapting my plans accordingly.

Beware, all ye who said my previous batch of hot sauce “wasn’t hot enough”!
This jar will wait in the fridge for the remaining peppers to ripen and ferment. I will probably end up saving the Datil peppers for their own hot sauce, but use the rest of the Scorpions and Aji Crystals for sauce–we’ll know more later.

Another of today’s kitchen projects was spicy dill pickles. I made six half-pints and for the first time in my nascent canning career made a dreadful mistake. Not the first mistake I’ve made canning, but the first time I’ve made this one: I screwed one ring on crooked so the lid wasn’t held down and didn’t seal. Somehow, though, the jar didn’t fill with canning water: the pickles smelled fine, so I reset the lid and stuck the jar in the fridge. I’ll test it in a couple of weeks, the recommended time for pickles to steep before tasting. If it goes bad, oh well, compost. I put a tiny red Jigsaw pepper and one slice of orange jalapeño in each jar, along with a quarter teaspoon of dill seed.

After a busy day in the garden and kitchen and a couple of short walks, I lay on my back on the chaise for toes-up time. Little Wren had to investigate so she jumped up on my belly and coming close, cocked her head: What are you doing? Do you want me to lick your face?

Eating Colors

This little yellowjacket didn’t want to budge from the base of a chimayo pepper, so I let her stay, happy to share sustenance. She won’t eat much, the pepper will ripen and soon join the harvest basket. Just a handful of yellow beans, jalapeños and a few other peppers this morning, but enough new arugula to make another batch of pesto. There are still loads of green tomatoes and unripe peppers to come, but with this cool spell everything has slowed down. I’m grateful for a rainy day predicted tomorrow. I’m through teaching on Thursdays for awhile, and love the prospect of an empty day in front of me to catch up in the kitchen, and hopefully to start a pet project on the computer that I’ve been procrastinating on for years. We’ll know more later!

A few jigsaw peppers and three small onions will go into the next batch of salsa tomorrow, along with a few super hot peppers and another nine pounds of tomatoes.

I’ve read about cabbage steaks and finally decided to try some. I had a couple old pieces of sourdough bread, and plenty of chickpeas on hand, so I made this, and wow! Next time I’ll use less salt, but otherwise this was a delicious and healthy dinner. I burned most of the croutons but that was just as well, who needs the carbs. Chickpeas roasted to perfection, and the mild seasoning with cumin and coriander went well with the lemony mayo dressing. I chopped up the leftover roasted cabbage, grated a carrot into it, and put in the fridge for coleslaw for the week.

For dessert, a fat scoop of vanilla ice cream drizzled with raspberry syrup, my favorite thing today. So simple, so delicious. I’m grateful for eating colors.
I’m grateful for a cloudy day, for mist over the mountains, rabbitbrush suddenly in full bloom, and a soft trail into the woods.The 1.5 inches of rain predicted a few days ago had diminished to half that by midday and keeps falling each time I check the forecast. We’ll be lucky to get a half inch out of this ‘storm.’ But some moisture is better than no moisture in this dire drought.

Letting Go

Little One investigates a likely badger hole at the edge of a dump site. I quickly called her back.

“Letting go” has been coming up in conversations recently. I’m so grateful for letting go. I never used to be able to. I hung onto things like the proverbial dog with a bone, all kinds of attachments and most of them unhealthy, like grudges, the need to control, an outcome that was beyond my control, rigid and narrow ideas of right and wrong. you name it, I couldn’t let it go. Maybe it’s a function of age, lessons learned, disappointments, or just wisdom, but I credit mindfulness training with a lot of it: these days I let go of way more than I cling to. In this moment, I can’t think of anything I cling to, besides the idea, the hope, that I’ll wake up alive tomorrow to enjoy another day of known and unknown experiences.

The above badger hole is in just above center line on the far right of this image, largely hidden from view of the trail. It was a fluke I noticed it this morning.

When I first moved here, and discovered several old dump sites from the 1930s and 40s, I was gung ho to clean them up! I thought I’d have time someday to gather up all the broken glass, crockery, rusted metal, porcelain knobs, and whatnot, and — do what, take it to ‘the dump’? I really meant to. These dumps along the canyon and a couple other places were an eyesore. My disgust of them was tempered by some fun with an older friend investigating them with ‘archaeologist’s mind,’ especially when she found some hairpins like her mother used, and we were able to date some other artifacts. Also, there were a lot of other more pressing demands on my time.

I did pull out some pieces of a large crock, and figured I’d be able to glue it together once I found enough of them. Just for fun, my ‘puzzler’s mind’ at play. I let go of that idea when I realized I’d collected fragments of two different crocks. These pieces have sat along the rim now for more than twenty years, collecting their own microcosms of forest floor; and here they’ll stay at least until I’m dead and gone. Eventually I completely let go of the cleanup plan, and what a relief! Goodbye resentment, farewell guilt. These dumps are a historic part of the landscape at this point, their contents at rest here for nearly a century. Under each plate shard, each canning jar curve, live perfectly content micro-creatures. Who am I to disrupt their habitat?

I’m also grateful that I’ve let go of some self-imposed limitations, like the label ‘can’t handle the heat.’ I’m not going to crunch down on a Scorpion pepper any time soon, or this first Red Savina to ripen (above) on a stocky bush full of them; I am, however, going to make some really hot sauce and sprinkle a few drops here and there. But what in hell am I going to do with a bushfull of Red Savinas? This particular pepper once held the world record as ‘hottest pepper‘ until the Ghost Pepper eclipsed it (though by now the Ghost Pepper lies at the low end of the world’s hottest peppers). Nevertheless, the Red Savina comes with a caution: “…can cause severe burning sensations and numbness for days if proper care isn’t taken.” Rest assured, I’ll take proper care, as I have with the Scorpions. Eeeee.

A Trinidad Yellow Scorpion sits at the top of this bowl of comparatively mild Aji Crystal peppers, with a couple of orange jalapeños and Chimayos at the edges. I started a third batch of peppers fermenting last night, Scorpions and Crystals, and sliced and seeded the jalapeños to freeze.

And now letting go of the letting go theme, a bit of cool respite. Tiny crabapples load the tree below altocumulus clouds preceding the storm that brought a cooling drizzle late afternoon. I’m grateful for this precipitation, as usual, and anticipate a good rain tomorrow. The moisture brought out the vibrant color of desert four o’clocks shimmering with internal light under full cloud cover just before sunset.

My Mother

Aunt Rita, left, and my mother Ali, eighteen months younger than her sister.

I’m grateful for my mother. I may not have said that here often, but it’s been true all along. She would have been ninety-four today. I wouldn’t be here without her, on so many levels. The obvious one. And when I bought this land, she pitched in the last five percent that I didn’t have. And all those years between. I could write a whole book about how grateful I am to my mother for her love, protection, and support. Not that it wasn’t fraught sometimes in the early years, but by and large she was my best friend for all of our life together, and she called me her night rainbow, though I don’t remember why.

Rita and Ali on a double date in the 1940s.
Mom and the Colonel on their wedding day, with her mother holding baby cousin Bruce. And the Colonel clearly teasing the baby with a glass of sherry. Or perhaps Dubonnet, which was fashionable at the time.
My mother at fifty, drinking Scotch on a riverbank with friends in the mountains of western Virginia. I cherish this picture of her in a moment of joyful levity. I have another one of her with a similar expression, as one of my baby corn snakes coils across her face. I’m grateful that she let me know that she learned from me as my life opened new adventures for her.
And here she sits on another rock, with Dia the calico, at the canyon rim on her first visit to my new home in the early nineties. When I took this picture, she would have been just about the age that I am now. That’s a mind-bender. I believe she’s drinking Scotch in this picture too.

The gifts she gave me are immeasurable. I’ve written about them before. But even though she’s always in my heart and I think of her almost every day, I don’t really think about her in the way that I’ve been doing today. She was a talented artist, had a wonderful tact, a great sense of humor, and a tender open heart; and she could be fierce, vindictive and petty. At the end, her true strength manifested in dignity and astonishing courage. As I look for and at these images of her, I find myself chuckling at some memories, of things she said and trips we took, and tearing up at others. I suppose I’ve never really gotten past the grief of her dying. I’m so grateful I was able to be with her during her last eight months, her last days, her last breath. It was one of those difficult experiences that nonetheless brings genuine happiness because it’s so clearly the right thing to do. I wouldn’t trade that time for anything.

Zucchini Lunch

Grateful for a small carrot harvest…
…and another big bean harvest…
…grateful for this lovely little jigsaw pepper, with whimsical foliage and fun fruits…
each tiny pepper a burst of smoky heat.
Grateful for a bountiful fennel seed harvest, despite planting them for bulbs. I harvested a few green and tasty to see how well they retain their flavor drying off the plant; there are dozens more drying on the stem. The stalks grew magnificent flowers and seedheads, but I learned the hard way not to wait too long before harvesting bulbs even if they’re small. I got four big bulbs out of more than a dozen plants, and one day I noticed that the bulbs I’d been waiting for to get bigger had started shrinking. Next season, I’ll plant fewer, farther between, and pounce at the right moment.

I’m grateful for the first Boyz Lunch in a month yesterday. All is well and we are reunited on the patio. “Three is good,” said one, but it may as well have been the other. I tried out a zucchini lasagna on them, and even though I thought it was too salty they loved it. I’m grateful that almost every dish I cook for them they rate in the Top Five. This zucchini lasagna was a blend of three recipes I found online. I sliced a large zucchini thinly with a cheese slicer and layered it with a faux-ricotta blend (substituting cream cheese when I found the ricotta had turned pink), last year’s tomato sauce simmered with browned sausage, and shredded cheddar and mozzarella. Three layers deep in the baking dish, with the top layer latticed, a delightful frill.

Sprinkled with seasoned breadcrumbs and grated parmesan, then baked for half an hour, it was sizzling delight.

Boyz Lunch on Saturday with sourdough biscuits, then double dessert. I’m grateful for zucchini lunch. I served chocolate zucchini cake with Bello’s frozen cappuccino on the side. “All you have to do is…” he says every time. So simple, so delicious!

And finally, fermenting success! This second batch of hot sauce peppers I packed with room temperature brine, and in four days it was cloudy as it should be, and tiny bubbles rose from the bottom when I swished the jar. Into the fridge with this batch, and I’ll start another tomorrow.

Mindfulness

Look at all those ripening scorpion peppers!

I’m grateful for the mindfulness practice that has transformed my life over the past couple of years. In January 2020 when I decided to get certified to teach meditation I had very little understanding of mindfulness. I just knew I was being called to something. I’m grateful that circumstances unfolded in such a way that I immersed myself in the study of mindfulness and came out of a yearlong training qualified to share its benefits with others.

I’m grateful to be participating in a mindfulness retreat this weekend celebrating this year’s graduating class of certified teachers in the Mindful Life Program, and grateful for deepening relationships with mentors and colleagues.

This Week in Pollinators

I’ve been grateful this week for lots of rain to nourish the earth, replenish the aquifer, water the garden. And I’ve been grateful for plenty of sunshine and busy pollinators stocking up before they slow down, perish, or leave for winter.

Slowing Days

It was a cinnamon kind of morning. Drizzled all night, cool and grey this morning outside, chilly inside. I’m grateful for coffee, milk, cinnamon, maple syrup, and vanilla. I’m grateful for the courage to light the pilot on the water heater for the floor heat, and that even though I don’t know where the pump is it seems to be working. I’m grateful for several storm cells dropping rain throughout the day, grateful for the slowing days of fall.

I used a Sirenevyi pepper for this trick I saw online, and its rings were too small to hold all the egg but it was delicious nonetheless. I scrambled an egg with some scraps from peppers and onion chopped finely and a splash of cream, then spooned the mixture into the pepper rings sizzling in the bacon fat. They overflowed, oh well! Flipped them and topped with thin slices of dill Havarti and crumbled bacon, and enjoyed a very satisfying lunch. So simple, so delicious! Next time, I’ll use a larger pepper, a precious Blot.