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Two Walks

Funny how our expectations and standards change as our conditions change. Stellar had a really good day, and got a long walk to the canyon this morning, and a medium walk around the sunset loop this evening. Some years ago, this wouldn’t have seemed like a big deal to me, but after the past year with him, and especially the past few months, it’s momentous. I’m grateful that he had the mobility for two walks today.

And in between Stellar’s two walk, there was a lot more to be grateful for, including a little bit of actual rain. Not more than a couple of minutes, but rain nonetheless; again, changing standards. In this climate induced drought, even a trace of rain and a cool breeze is something to celebrate. There may have been a rainbow, or trace of one, but it was time for me to come inside for … Zoom Cooking with Amy!

Tonight we cracked open the Gin Mayo she sent awhile ago, and put some in a spontaneous pimento-cheese. The main event was Bacon Jam. I never did hear tell of such a thing! We each made a different type of burger to try it on. She made a chicken burger, and I made a burger burrito because I didn’t have bread or buns. I formed the burger into a bratwurst shape and rolled it up inside a tortilla slathered with pimento cheese, bacon jam, and a handful of lettuce.

Beans

Today’s lunch: a fried mash of black beans, garden onions, portobello mushrooms and one farm-fresh egg on corn tortillas, garnished with sour cream, homemade hot sauce, avocados, bacon, and garden cilantro. Oh, and of course cheese melted down there on the bottom. So simple, so delicious!

When I was growing up there were a few foods that were rarely if ever served in the house. One was beans. I ‘didn’t like’ beans for most of my life, or thought I didn’t. Once I was out of that house, I’d eat them occasionally when they were offered, and like many people, felt discomfort with the after-effects. But because nothing stays the same, including our food preferences, I eventually acquired a taste (and tolerance) for beans. It helped to learn how good they are for the body, all that fiber and protein. I’m grateful I learned to love beans, and I eat them a couple of times a week: black beans, garbanzo beans, bean salad, refried beans, anasazi beans, lima beans, cannellini beans, pinto beans, bean stew, bean chili, I even made beans on toast recently after reading someone who loved that. It was ok, I probably won’t do it again. But all the rest of those beans, I can’t get enough of them. I am grateful for beans!

People Who Let Me Be Myself

I’m grateful for another Boyz Lunch today, outside on the patio, hummingbirds flitting through, Stellar lying next to John, John’s hand on his head; grateful for these and other friends who accept me just the way I am, and through the years have supported me in my ongoing exploration of how that is, as it changes (like everything does, always, ineluctably); grateful for people who have loved me through my many incarnations in this lifetime; grateful for a safe habitat in which to spread my wings.

Oh, and watch for a bunch of canaries in the Pioneer Days Parade on Saturday! I’m grateful for Ellie, Mary, Suki, Brad, Danielle, Kim, Ana, Kathy, and everyone else who has chipped in energy, time, money, and creativity to create and support the countywide, non-partisan Canary Committee in their efforts to bring attention to the extraordinary drought affecting our particular habitat in Western Colorado, and the dire need to conserve water.

I’m grateful to finally harvest enough lettuce from my garden to feed friends, for Gosar’s sausages (available at Farm Runners), for Cousin Bill’s reminder of how delicious roasted cauliflower is, for Penzey’s Justice that Amy introduced me to, and for the ease of a salad made with canned beans: so simple, so delicious! I’m grateful for another day alive in this body aware of all the sensory pleasures life offers, and for learning the mindfulness skills that enable me to experience each day with gratitude and meaning.

Medicaid

I’m grateful when Stellar’s youthful senses of hearing and smell perk up at something wild, alerting me to potential delight or danger.

I’m grateful that just about the time I had depleted my savings account after paying over $500 a month on premiums for a health insurance policy with a six thousand dollar deductible, which I frequently met, the Affordable Healthcare Act was passed, and I became eligible for Medicaid. After paying my taxes into the system for forty years (and many tens of thousands of dollars in premiums and deductibles during that time), I felt no qualms or shame in taking advantage of the opportunity to sign up for Medicaid. One remarkable aspect of having accessible healthcare that I wasn’t expecting was the sense of relief: no more weighing dollars and sense when I needed medical attention, I was able to just go get it. Such a load off!

And, like many rural healthcare systems, ours in Delta County relies heavily on patients with public assistance such as Medicaid, Medicare, and the VA to keep its hospital and clinics afloat. Perhaps because of this, or because of their big hearts, I’ve never felt any stigma or shame at any of the facilities where I’ve been treated while on Medicaid, and I kind of thought I would. Furthermore, I’ve consistently received the best quality healthcare of my life during this time. And, I never could have afforded physical therapy in the past–I tried a few times, and just couldn’t pay $100-$200 for each half hour of PT, so never pursued it. And PT over the past five years has literally saved my life, or at least my quality of life.

I’m once again embarking on a course of PT to address the unpleasant limitations of degenerative spinal arthritis, in this case in my neck, which is causing nerve impingement that results in numbness and pain variously in my neck, shoulders, arms, hands, and fingers, and which is beginning to seriously infringe on my daily activities, including working at the computer. Not to mention gardening, knitting, reading, sleeping, and more… So I’m really grateful for the TLC and help that I benefit from as a Medicaid recipient.

Sometimes I hear people (including my own family and friends) condemning perfectly decent people like me as freeloaders and leeches, and I know they have no idea that I’m one of those ‘losers’ who ‘take advantage of,’ or worse ‘steal,’ their tax dollars. I don’t respond, because let’s face it, there still is a stigma attached to government assistance. But we all get government assistance in some way, whether it’s public education, or highways, or police and fire protection; we are all interdependent upon each other, we all pay in to the system to the best of our ability, and we all deserve quality, affordable healthcare. As long as Big Pharma, Big Insurance, and Big Medicine continue to operate with profit as their highest value and motivation, there will continue to be people just like me who find themselves in need of a little compassion from our government. Let there be Medicare for All!

And let there be mushroom sandwiches for all, as well. First time ever eating a Lions’ Mane mushroom, and realized today that I needed to eat it asap before it went mushy; looked up recipes, and first thing saw a ‘recipe’ for a sandwich. So simple, so delicious!

Silver Linings

I was grateful first thing (after sleeping in late) to see Bucky back! I’m glad he’s survived to get all grown up.
Grateful to see the first Sego lily this spring, though it looks sad and lonely in this parched clay…
… and even more grateful to see it has company! Some little creatures curled up sleeping in it for the night, awaiting sun’s warming rays to open their bed.
I’m grateful for this silly cat, who won’t jump on a lap to save her life, but will jump up on a bench and rub on my leg; grateful that she so often accompanies us on our rambles through the forest.
Grateful that the pond edge has eroded and the pond overgrown with reeds, so that when Stellar fell in again he didn’t go far. Grateful also that I saw it happen from afar as he was drinking after our morning walk, and was able to get in without falling myself, and help him out; grateful that he saw me coming, relaxed, and waited for me to extricate him.
Grateful for bumblebees, and for gorgeous nasturtiums to feed them.
Grateful for leftovers, and for corn tortillas to hold them, grateful for avocados and all the conditions and people across the miles that it takes to get a perfectly ripe avocado onto my ‘leftover’ taco. Grateful for homemade paprika, and for the little Yakuna savoy leaves I thinned from the patch of greens in the garden; grateful for soil and water and raised garden beds; grateful for cheese, and salmon, and beans and all the people and conditions it took to get them into my fridge and pantry; grateful for having a fridge and pantry, and the time to prepare a healthful meal. And grateful for the awareness to appreciate this lunch that will never be replicated exactly. So simple, so delicious!
Grateful that Stellar’s pond escapade didn’t hamper his ability to hunt for Biko this afternoon as the wind blew madly, and grateful for this lovely claret cup right in my own back yarden. (No, Biko isn’t in the picture, but if he were, you might not be able to recognize him anyway he is so well camouflaged. He’s under the sagebrush just beyond Stellar, who is waiting for his reward treats).
Grateful that this happened when it did, and not just a few minutes earlier. I rescued a hummingbird that got stunned hitting the south window (despite the prayer flags), and set her in a crook of this potted jade near the feeder to recuperate. I checked on her an hour later, and the tiny was perched on a limb; a few minutes later I looked again and she had flown away. A few minutes later from inside I heard CRASH! The mighty, capricious wind had blown the tree down.
And then, for a brief moment, I was deliriously grateful for rain… but this is as much as we got.

Quail Eggs

I stopped into Farm Runners last Saturday to pick up some mushrooms, they have lovely fresh shiitake and oyster mushrooms. Nearby in the cooler were a few packs of quail eggs. Quail eggs! Never have I ever. So I grabbed (carefully) a package, knowing I’d come up with something to do with them for Boyz Lunch.

A dear friend ended up coming by on Monday so I made her a burrito with smoked salmon, scrambled eggs and mushrooms, with fresh wild asparagus on the side, and tested the timing for a soft-boiled quail egg. I’m grateful that Farm Runners also offers these 12-inch tortillas (a foot wide!), that I had Bad Dog Ranch happy-chicken eggs, homemade hot sauce, and that neighbor Mary gave me a big bunch of wild asparagus when I passed her out picking on my way to town. I’m grateful that Nancy came for lunch and a walk and a heartfelt talk, and let me experiment on her palate.

Quail egg perfectly soft-boiled, but very hard to peel! And different from chicken eggs, even the best: they taste so rich and buttery.

So for Boyz Lunch today, I boiled the remaining quail eggs (for two minutes), then scooped them into ice water to stop the cooking. A couple of them floated on top, and I recalled that with chicken eggs that means they might be bad, so I pulled those out early, and later fed them to Stellar, shells and all, after cracking them open: they smelled fine, and he was almost as ecstatic as Philip and John were when I served them this starter plate.

Mary Berry’s quail egg-salmon-asparagus salad with tarragon dressing. I’m grateful that tarragon grows in the garden, and that Amy found me this recipe the other night when I couldn’t search the internet myself; grateful that we can find a recipe for any combination of ingredients on hand with a few taps of the fingers on the miraculous world wide web. Grateful that my geezers were ecstatic with this starter dish, and the sirloin tips in mushroom gravy over rice that followed it…
…and that they also loved the brownie-shortbread dessert. Grateful that Amy sent me this recipe too, with the note “You need this!” I’m telling you, whoever you are, if you love chocolate, shortbread, or butter, you also need this recipe.

Above and beyond the culinary delights of this day, I’m grateful for good friends old and new, for great neighbors, for all the opportunities, connections, and experiences in this singular day that will never come again; grateful to have waked up alive, made the most of the day, and be heading to my cozy, clean bed right now.

Okay maybe not so clean, at least on the outside, but that’s not entirely my fault. At least the sheets underneath the blankets are clean. I’m sure grateful for this cuddly little cat, no matter how much she sheds or how many weed seeds she carries inside.
And always, always grateful for my sweet old man Stellar, who had another rough day today, but hope lives.

Wednesday

Sudden Erigeron blooming all along the path through the woods.
The first iris now joined by her sisters
Hamburger buns for Boyz Lunch, baked this morning. Grateful for the ingredients, the time, the recipe, the experience and confidence to make them, starting first thing after morning walk and meditation.
Salmon burgers with roasted red pepper mayonnaise, cole slaw, and potato chips. Plus iced vanilla lattés, and Sanibel Cinnamon Delights. Grateful for the ingredients, et. al, and for Boyz Lunch which punctuates my week when it works out for all of us: they give me a good reason to play with food. And they give Stellar some man-time which he savors.
Grateful for naptime outside the yarden gate.
As much as anything else today, I’m grateful for the phoebe nest under the deck. This morning I heard a different kind of chirruping and trained my attention on the nest, to see for the first time this season a parent flying in with food – very small food, perhaps a fly. All day long, their raising labors have begun, there will be no rest for the phoebe parents now for several weeks, and I’ll have a front row seat to a wonderful treat of nature.

Grateful for another Wednesday, to wake in the morning, make meaningful connections throughout the day with people human and otherwise, and come to the end of it still alive, free of regret, filled with contentment for the simple joys of a regular Wednesday.

The Cheese Sandwich

Now that the days are warming up a bit the first garden greens are growing enough to start thinning them. Today I thinned broccoli raab, baby kale, and yukina savoy. Biko got a handful, and the rest I took inside for my own lunch.

I’ve gone on about the cheese sandwich before, and I will again. It’s the ultimate lunch food in my humble opinion. Inspired by last week’s offering from Epicurious, I’ve been trying a new grilled cheese each day for the past few days. Today’s was especially good. I sautéed some onions, then tossed in the baby greens I’d just thinned from the garden; I added this mix to provolone and avocado in the cheese sandwich and grilled it.

I’ve definitely converted to mayo on the grilling sides instead of butter…
…it browns perfectly.
So simple, so delicious!

Today, of the many things I’m grateful for, the perfect grilled cheese sandwich is right up there. Also grateful for more flowers blooming, more bees coming to them, and just the merest splash of a rain shower.

Grateful for this heirloom iris that opened this morning, given to me years ago by an old matriarch in the valley who had these irises in her garden for decades. I imagine this iris stock is around 75 years old.

Help

While I try to be ‘self-sufficient,’ at least as much as a human can be in this interconnected world, I still really appreciate help. This morning Mr. Wilson brought a helper, Juan, and together we all got a whole lot done in the yarden. We started out by trespassing on the land next door, to liberate an old juniper from a former fence. The poor tree had been tangled in barbed wire for so long it had grown around some of it. I’d already pulled some coils free of the bark but it took the young men to untangle the wires completely and cut them off where they’d been absorbed into the tree. We salvaged two vintage fenceposts from the mess to use in the next project.

Another salvage operation: the old old shed in the dog pen that was here when I moved in almost thirty years ago, but was badly leaning with a rotten roof by now. They took off the old roof, straightened the shed, and braced it with numerous old posts, and will finish the job next time. I’ll have a shade structure for more garden work and storage, and Stellar and any future dogs will have a safe shed over the old old dog house, which was already old when Thelma gave it to me in 1994 – but so well constructed it’s still perfectly sound. The cardboard boxes will carpet the ground under wood chips as a ‘natural’ weed barrier.

They also unearthed some more rocks in the forming rock garden, and removed more weeds and grasses to increase my creative palette. I’m grateful for young muscle.
After they left, I was hungry and tired, and pulled a leftover breakfast burrito from the freezer. I’m grateful for a freezer, grateful I’ve learned how to make flour tortillas, grateful I learned to like beans, grateful for the peppers I grew last summer and the recipe I learned online to make fermented hot sauce straight from my garden; grateful for sour cream, and eggs, and the foresight to freeze a burrito for later. Next time, I’ll make half a dozen extra to freeze individually for some quick, delicious lunches when there’s nothing else handy.

I couldn’t do any of these things I’ve done today without the help of other people. I like to think of myself as self-sufficient, but when I really pause to examine everything good in my life it all comes back to education or assistance from other human beings. I don’t know about you, but I really am interconnected with everyone else. I rely on help from others for everything from the luxury of yard work to the fundamentals of feeding myself. I’m grateful to recognize this truth, and it motivates me to want the first question I ask in any situation to be How can I help?

And I’m grateful for this new King Arthur sourdough pizza crust recipe that takes half a day instead of overnight to be ready to cook, and for the experience I’ve gained making pizzas over the past year so that I can indulge in healthy, homemade pizza anytime. Among the best pizzas yet, with homemade tomato sauce, local andouille sausage, red onions and mozzarella cheese.

Boyz Lunch

Roasted leg of lamb with Indian spices

Of the numerous things I’m grateful for today, including wise teachers and more tulips, I’m grateful for Boyz Lunch. I didn’t raise a family or even marry. There was never anyone I always had to cook for. Without cooking for children (the hasty routine breakfasts day after day, the packed lunches, the weeknight dinners week after week after week for years), I never got in the habit of three meals a day. I’ve just recently learned to cook for myself consistently. But I’ve always loved to cook for other people.

Frying cloves, cardamom pods, peppercorns and cinnamon…
… to pour over the yogurt-spice marinated lamb before slow roasting.

For about five years I’ve been cooking lunch for two friends, older gentlemen, or as they would say, geezers. They were meeting at a restaurant once a week; things changed, I started cooking, and enjoying the meal with them. The last time we dined together without masks was March 11 last year, the day before the country shut down. We put it on hold for a few months as things settled out, and in June we resumed lunches at a distance outside. At our first lunch back, our dear friend Michael was supposed to come too, but he’d been by then two days in the hospital; our next lunch we spent processing the news that he’d died that morning.

We met the rest of the summer two or three times a month and into the early fall while we could still eat outside. But then the big freeze came, killing so many fruit trees in the valley (as we learned this spring) and Boyz Lunch ceased for winter. What a difference a year makes: Many of our trees are dead from that fluke October freeze, including my almond tree. Some of our friends are dead. Many of my beloveds are dead. So much has changed, and I think, I hope, in a beneficial way. We need to learn to live more lightly on the planet, and this novel coronavirus woke many people up to that truth.

I tried my hand at Parathas, a layered Indian bread which looked pretty easy, but they delaminated while frying and ended up more like sturdy tortillas than flaky flatbreads. Oh well!
Tender spicy lamb, garlic mashed potatoes, salad with seared asparagus, avocado, and homemade ranch dressing, and sturdy tortilla…
… followed by cardamom cake with whipped cream for dessert, all enjoyed together on the patio in the incomparable fresh air.

We zoomed sometimes through the winter just to stay in touch, and today I am so grateful that we finally got to gather again outside, around the table, without masks, all of us with some supposed level of immunity. Recently our zoom conversations have focused on drought, and we circled back to that again today. Where would we choose to move if we had to leave here because of no water? John said, “I don’t have to think about it because I’ll be dead.” Philip and I concluded there’s really nowhere on earth we’d rather be. Where will the climate refugees go when it starts being the US southwest? They’ll go northwest, or northeast, north for sure where there will still be water. But we’ll stay here because it’s home, and take our chances. Then we started talking about The Water Knife

I’m grateful we still have water. I’m grateful that we all made it through Covid – thus far. I’m grateful for the conversation, which is always interesting, and reassuring to me in an odd way. I’m grateful for the friendship, support, and help with firewood. And as much as anything about these lunches, I’m grateful for the opportunity to make delicious food and serve it to people I love who thoroughly enjoy it.