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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.

Patience

I’m waiting for a lot of things. I’m waiting for these Blot peppers to turn orange and purple instead of chartreuse and purple. I wrote to Baker Creek where I got the seeds to find out how long it takes them to change to their fully ripe color, and was told they will “appear to just sit for several weeks before making their final color change.” I feel like they’ve been sitting like this for more than several weeks. But I’m being patient. I’m waiting for the Sirenevyi sweet peppers also to change from their deep purple to their final ripe deep red, and that seed company rep told me she thinks it’s about three weeks after they color fully purple. But I swear this one pepper has been purple for at least that long. But I’m being patient.

I’m also waiting for Rise Broadband to get its act together and quit constantly dropping internet service here; and waiting for Boost Mobile to get its tower enhancement straightened out so I can get phone service in my house again, which has been out since July 2. I’m waiting for the Division of Vocational Rehab to get me scheduled for an intake session so I can get permanent hearing aids. After trying demos for two weeks, it’s clear to me how much benefit they’ll confer. I’m waiting for an appointment with the only local pulmonologist to try to get my O2 saturation situation figured out. I’ve pursued all these dangling diagnostics diligently as well as the pepper problems in the past few days, and I’m real grateful that I’ve learned to cultivate patience. Even as I wait for solutions, I can enjoy the quiet growth in the garden, the waxing moon rising, crickets singing, reading a good book, a delicious salad, conversations with friends, playing with Wren, a hot shower, and a long nap. It’s not what life throws at or withholds from you, but how you respond to it, that determines your happiness.

I’m grateful for a good salad, and for all the elements in it: bacon, Bad Dog lettuce, homemade bleu cheese dressing, pecans, and the second ripe tomato from the garden. And I’m grateful for all the hands that went into growing the local and non-local ingredients, and the hands that got them here, and when you dig down that turns out to be an awful lot of hands. The pecans alone: who planted the trees, who cultivated the land to plant the trees, who tended the trees, who dug the ditches and laid the irrigation pipes to water the trees, who built the dam to divert the irrigation water; who picked the pecans, who shelled them or built the machines to shell them, who packaged them, who made the plastic bag they were packed in, who drove them from wherever to City Market, who built and maintained the vehicles that delivered them, and the roads or rails those vehicles traveled… anything and everything I have depends on so many other beings. My contentment rests on the labors and the patience of countless others, and for recognizing this interdependence, I am grateful.

Opportunity

I had several opportunities today to be my best self. I took them all, gratefully! Living in solitude, I don’t get a chance every day to do something kind or helpful for someone else. So much of my mindfulness is all in my head. But today was a day full of happy, healthy connections. One of these was a Bonus Boyz Lunch. Yesterday’s savory squash blossoms cooked pretty well: I let them thaw for about an hour, but think it would have been better to fry them straight out of the freezer. I stuffed today’s blossoms with a surprise sweet mix: ricotta, confectioner sugar, and chopped basil. They complimented each other on the plate.

A cheese, bean, and chicken burrito anchored the lunch, with guacamole, salsa, and sour cream; squash blossoms; and beans sautéed with generous sprinklings of two Penzeys spice blends. We didn’t really need dessert, but I tried to make ‘dalgona,’ a whipped coffee that should have turned out like a pudding. It failed miserably, so I poured some into bowls and topped with chocolate ice cream, and they were happy. We were all happy. It was another opportunity, for equanimity, for making the best of a bad situation.

As I write, there is a grasshopper crawling around on the orchid in front of me. She’s a female ready to lay eggs. I just can’t bring myself to kill her, or throw her to Wren, nor can I toss her outside where I’m sure she’ll spawn dozens more. Without the Phoebe families of the past few years, the garden is dangerously deep in grasshoppers. I’ve noticed a dearth of birds of all kinds in recent weeks, and I’m not the only one in the area bemoaning the uncanny silence. Where have all the birds gone? Higher ground? When I use the new Sound ID feature of the wonderful Merlin Bird ID app, I record more overhead jets than bird calls. Mostly I’ve recorded magpies, jays, and the two common hummingbird species. I’m grateful for the opportunity this app gives me to identify and log birds in my pocket computer, and for the few new birds I’ve heard, including the Ash-throated Flycatcher, and the Western Wood Peewee.

Practice

I’m trying a new squash-blossom stuffing: ricotta, sautéed mushrooms, fresh basil, and Penzeys Arizona seasoning. There were four blossoms this morning, and if I’m lucky there will be at least four tomorrow. I stuffed today’s and froze them, hoping to have enough total for three for each of us at Boyz Lunch. They don’t keep well in the fridge for more than a few hours when stuffed with ricotta, the moisture leaks out of the cheese and gets the blossoms too wet. Practice makes perfect. We’ll know more later!

Little One can’t decide quite where she wants to sit.

And practice did finally make perfect, almost. This is the fourth or fifth time I’ve baked this sourdough sandwich bread recipe, and the first time the dough has risen above the pan before baking. The first couple of batches were baked in pans too large. I did a little research after the next batch in the right-sized pans still did not rise enough, and as I suspected, rise times are less at this altitude than the recipe calls for. Instead of four hours, I let the mixture rise for two hours before adding the remaining flour, oil, and salt. Then after kneading I let the dough rise for just over an hour instead of another two, before punching it down and splitting into loaf pans. That rise took about the designated time of “at least two more hours or until the dough rises above the top of the loaf pans.” Baking time of 40 minutes was just right–almost. Maybe a few more minutes next time. I’m grateful for the patience and persistence to practice, whether in cooking, baking, mindfulness, meditation, or any other aspect of life.

The Pedal

I’m grateful that the new pedal for the sewing machine works! It’s not perfect: it doesn’t want to stay plugged into the back of the machine. But I braced it to stay put, and got some projects finished yesterday. The fifth and last panel for the sunroom curtains (which I started twenty years ago) is together, the one on the left with the eyelash viper appliqué. Only one curtain is actually assembled and hanging, and now I have four left to finish decorating and sew onto the Warm Window lining. Originally I planned these to insulate the five sunroom windows from winter cold, but as our winters became increasingly mild (along with some major distractions) I kept putting it off. Now I’m motivated to finish them, and another shade for the landing window, to insulate the house from summer sun and increasingly uncomfortable heatwaves. I’m very grateful that I’m fortunate enough to have an adobe house whose temperature remains relatively stable season to season, year to year; knowing full well there are millions of people who don’t have this kind of protection as our climate becomes increasingly unstable.

The first thing I sewed with the new pedal was the gown-curtains. They’re not fancy or fussy, with some rips and raw edges here and there, but they’ll do the trick of mitigating hot sun in the east and west windows in summer, and tempering the cold in winter. And finally making something out of that gown? A priceless feeling of accomplishment.
Here I am in the gown in college, on the way to a costume party with my page, Brian. It was only fair that he was my servant this year, since I was his slave the year before that…

I’m grateful to have these old photos to prompt memories of fun times and special people. But I’m thinking about digitizing just a few special images and throwing all the rest–all the loose photos in boxes, all the albums from childhood, from generations of ancestors before me, from the Colonel’s Army days, from my mother’s last year–just throwing them all away. They take up so much space. And after I’m gone, who will want them? Do I even want them? There’s a certain discomfort in looking at them now, especially those that cover my life. I’m no longer that person. I no longer know Brian, or almost anyone else from my past. I found in looking through the album that contained these two pictures, in looking at these two pictures, that much more than happy memories comes up: memories of embarrassing moments, emotional wounds, longings unsatisfied, choices made, chances missed, a melancholy retrospective. I don’t want to look backward at what and how my life was. I don’t want to think about that girl or her angst. For every fun or happy moment, there were hours of anxiety and dissatisfaction. I didn’t know who I was or what really mattered to me. And none of that past matters now, when there is so little future left.

I want to look forward, not backward. Who am I today? Who do I want to be tomorrow, if I get there? I’ve found contentment in the simple life I lead, close to the land and the wild, growing food, listening to birds, watching clouds; cherishing each day on this beautiful planet even as I witness its unraveling. Finding gratitude and joy in the smallest things:

Baking Aunt Clara’s biscuit recipe, and eating one warm out of the oven with the first taste of apricot jam…
Serving an amuse bouche of blue cheese-stuffed portobellos for Boyz Lunch…
…trying a new recipe with eggplants from the garden, stuffed with a peanut-spice mixture and then steamed in a pot of same…
… serving the Boyz eggplant, stuffed squash blossoms, and a bowl of garden zucchini and orach with créme fraîche and parmesan, along with biscuits, and chocolate chip cookies… enjoying their enjoyment of the food and our time together, and deriving deep satisfaction from serving a meal grown mostly in my garden.
And, of course, I’m grateful for and find meaning in giving a good life to this dear, comical little creature.

Planting Seeds

Here I’ve tipped over and pinned the arugula stalks, in order to open sun space over the carrots beyond, and to allow self-sowing of any little rockets that pop out of the drying seedheads. In between I planted rows of flowers I failed to get started this spring. If they make it, great; if they don’t come up, oh well.

I’m grateful that the monsoons are truly upon us, even though there’s been precious little moisture on this mesa. The foothills are getting some rain, and we a bit farther west are getting humidity and clouds. This helps the plants and ground (and our skin) retain some moisture, and keeps the temperature down in the 80s and even 70s for much of the day, a welcome respite. Wren helped me plant some seeds this morning, anticipating a midday shower though none came. I resorted to a watering can to set flowers, lettuces, cilantro, and two varieties of carrot seeds into the soil, grateful for a forecast of moderate temperatures and increasing chance of precipitation over the next two weeks. I’m grateful for planting seeds both in the garden, and in my heart and mind: seeds of kindness, forgiveness, compassion, and equanimity. What we water grows.

I’m grateful for this beautiful Sirenevyi sweet pepper harvested this morning. I used half of it along with some red onion, basil, oregano, and ricotta cheese to make stuffing for the four blossoms the zucchinis offered up. After sautéing diced pepper and onion and chopping the fresh herbs with the herb scissors I mixed them up with a pinch of salt and pepper, stuffed the flowers, and put them in the fridge for later.

Then we did some other things for awhile.

And then it was time for a late lunch. I had awoken achy and queasy, and optimistic for rain, so I cancelled Boyz Lunch. It was a hard call. It turned out to be for the best, though it never did rain. I was forced to eat the fried blossoms by myself. No shortcuts this time! I made the batter with one egg, a third cup of flour, and a quarter cup of 7-Up. The recipe calls for beer, but what it wants is the bubble action, and the soda worked fine. The smooth thick batter clung beautifully to the flowers and fried to a golden light crisp.

I mixed a dip with some mayo and sour cream, and a splash of Penzeys Arizona seasoning. I added some chopped celery and mayo to leftover cold pesto pasta, garnished with some sliced avocado, and enjoyed another simple, virtuous lunch. It brings me great pleasure to prepare simple, delicious meals, even just for myself. Like many single people, I used to think it wasn’t worth cooking for one. It’s been a long road to learn that I deserve my love and compassion as much as anyone else does. And it’s been a joyful journey learning how to make the most of simple ingredients and techniques, leftovers, and effortless aesthetic touches. I’m grateful I’m finally learning to care for myself.

Finding Lost Things

The flip side of the medallion has the same bear claw design with a pink stone as the earring on the right. I wore this set a lot before I lost the special hooks. Coming across them the other day brought back warm memories of my mother, and I wanted to wear them again. I’m grateful for the memories that reside in material things.

I’m grateful today for one of those precious moments of finding lost things. I have these silver earrings that my mother bought me many years ago when we went to Canyon de Chelly. I chose them, along with a medallion, from a gorgeous selection offered by the Navajo artist on site. They’re reversible. I hadn’t worn them for a long time because I lost the special hooks that allowed easy (and secure) flipping. I put them away for years, but came across the box the other day and realized I could just put them on regular hooks and not reverse them. But I tried to be clever, and leave a little gap in the bottom loop, so I could flip them without needing pliers to open the loop. Within a few hours I had lost one. I’d been outside watering, folding laundry, in the bathroom cleaning, in the kitchen doing dishes, gardening… and glanced in the mirror as I washed my hands… I was grateful for equanimity.

This is why we can’t have nice things, I thought with a sad chuckle. I remained calm, and considered the most likely scenario where my ear could have gotten jostled enough to knock the ornament off the loop: When Wren leapt up in my lap and nuzzled my ears, as she does a dozen times a day. I carefully pulled the blanket off the recliner seat and shook it, then I bent to reach along the cushion, when my eye caught a glint in the seat back. There was the lost jewel wedged between the head and the back cushions! A lucky find.

Just for fun I made the mythical $250 cookie recipe again, this time with all the right ingredients. Grating a four ounce Hershey bar on a microplane was the most tedious part. Otherwise it’s a pretty straightforward chocolate chip cookie recipe. I sprinkled in a little cinnamon for good measure, and pulled out the Demerara sugar to press some into the tops before baking; but then I remembered Amy’s tip, and used flaky sea salt instead, dipping my fingers first into a small bowl of salt then pressing the cookies lightly to flatten a bit.

I was grateful I had one cup of coffee left to enjoy when the cookies came out of the oven. I gave most of them away today, but have some dough leftover to bake another batch for lunch tomorrow.

That apricot harvest? The whole single bowl full, minus the four or five that I ate… I turned it into a single pint of jam this afternoon. Not enough to even bother canning, but it should last into winter in the fridge if I indulge sparingly. It really puts things in perspective: there have been years that I’ve canned two dozen half pints, plenty to last me all year and give a bunch as Christmas presents. There were so many blossoms on the tree this spring, but three hard freezes in a row decimated the harvest. I’m grateful that the professional orchards didn’t get hit so hard.

Little dog napping on clean sheets before I had a chance to fold them.

A Chest Freezer

Blanching the beurre du Rocquencourt beans…

Years ago, when I had a very small solar power system, I had to rent freezer space in town at the meat processing establishment. For awhile I shared a locker with a friend; we were both buying large quantities of local meat, like splitting half a pig, or large amounts of fruit. One time I froze most of a butchered deer there. I was so grateful to be able to finally buy my own chest freezer once I added another solar array and some larger batteries. Home storage capacity really enabled me to step up my garden game.

I’ve never had more than a two cubic foot freezer in any refrigerator I’ve had here, first a tiny propane refrigerator/freezer, then a replacement. I was grateful when I could finally afford the price and the power of a Sunfrost. The Sunfrost was designed specifically for homes using solar power: it has four inch thick insulated walls and uses a minute amount of electricity compared to even the highest rated EnergyStar commercial appliance. But the tiny freezer doesn’t hold much; certainly not half a pig. I no longer eat that much meat, but what meat I do choose to eat I purchase from local ranchers in bulk. I also process a lot of garden produce over the summer. I’m grateful to have a chest freezer to hold green beans, snow peas, tomatoes, bulk-baked lasagna, burritos, apricots, peaches, pesto, you name it. Plus of course enough ice cream.

For lunch I enjoyed a chicken-cheese-bean burrito from the chest freezer, with last summer’s salsa from the pantry, and this summer’s pickles from the Sunfrost.
I also froze a half-pint of pesto this afternoon, using up the first basil harvest and the last of the pecans in the fridge, plus some garlic and parmesan.

It was a full day in the kitchen. In addition to blanching and freezing beans, and making pesto, I needed to feed the sourdough, so I wanted to find a recipe to use up some discard to make space. These spicy cheesy crackers were just the ticket. I didn’t bake them quite long enough–the edge crackers were perfect but the center ones are a little caky. Next time, thinner roll overall and a lower longer bake. They were delicious, nonetheless, with some Boursin for an evening snack.

Wren enjoys her crackers, too, and I use her treats to train her for various things. Now that car training is over (she leaps right in every time), and crate training is underway, we’re working on letting me hold her paws and clip one nail every few days. Today we took a break from that as I checked out her willingness to put on a little pink sweater. Even though she arrived here in April, there were some chilly mornings that she shivered miserably on our walks. She has got to get prepared now–winter is coming! It was so easy to get the sweater over her head that I think she must have worn one before. But with her foot sensitivity, I think it’s wise to get her used to me putting her feet through the arm holes before we have to.

I left it on her just long enough to make sure she was comfortable in it. I’m grateful for another quiet, gentle day.

Virtuous Lunch

I’m grateful for zoodles, those spiralized zucchini ‘noodles’ that take just a few minutes to cook and can be paired with anything you’d use with wheat noodles. That first zucchini went away for lunch today. I browned some of the leftover sausage from Boyz Lunch pizzas, added a little red onion, the rest of the marinara from pizza day, and the zucchini, along with a splash of spices, cooked for about five minutes, and ate the whole panful with a sprinkling of grated parmesan. I am grateful for making myself a virtuous lunch of mostly vegetables.

I’m grateful for a gorgeous cool, cloudy day that topped out at 82℉, such a relief; and I hope the heatwave is breaking across the Northern Hemisphere for the sake of so many who are less equipped to withstand it. A few drops of rain freshened the garden, and a couple of ripe young eggplants. Below, the first ‘blot’ peppers are beginning to ripen, and what a stunning bounty on this thriving plant.

I’m grateful for the delicious snapdragons I started from seed now in full bloom, and nourishing bumblebees. I love to watch the bumblebees as they pop open the blooms, crawl inside to feed, and then back out and fly away.

Today’s harvest: lots of basil so pesto is coming tomorrow; two eggplants, one cucumber, one zucchini, and another handful of small potatoes. Most of the potato plants have succumbed from either insufficient sunlight, too much water, or both, I think, though three seem to be doing well. Those that withered and brown each had a couple of young potatoes on them, and pulling them up over the past few days has yielded a small bowl of new potatoes.
I am always grateful to see a snake, anywhere, and especially in my yarden. This little garter snake spooked as we returned from our evening walk.

The Right Tool for the Job

I’m grateful for having the right tool for the job for all the new and exciting foods I’m making, like this dedicated baguette baker from Emile Henry. I’ll have to bake a hell of a lot of baguettes to justify the expense, but the satisfaction of perfect baguettes the first time? Priceless.

In my Covid-related kitchen obsession, I’ve been investing in more kitchen tools than are strictly necessary. At first, I justified this as having the right tools for many kinds of food preparation as I was planning to open a small-scale retreat center and provide specialty meals. By the time it became apparent that Covid wasn’t going away soon and I wasn’t going to be comfortable opening my home to people for awhile, it was too late: kitchen shopping had become retail therapy. I’m not proud of this addiction. But I am proud of the culinary education I’ve been getting, and the gustatory delights I’ve been turning out.

I’m grateful that the Colonel taught me the value of having the right tool for the job. I’ve been wanting to bake baguettes for a long time, but never had the courage to try it, largely because I lacked the right pan. The Colonel inspired my early culinary efforts as I’ve mentioned before, as well as any handyman skills I possess. At one point he combined his two interests to fashion a sheetmetal baguette baker not too different in principle from the ceramic one I just bought. His only held two baguettes, and they were bigger than these. It looked kind of like this, but not perforated. I’ve had that in my head forever, but it never occurred to me I could just buy something like it til I stumbled upon this elegant baguette baker while shopping for a different kind of pan.

I’m grateful for the male blossoms the zucchini plants are offering up, and for the first ripe zuke, as well as for the second bean harvest. Stuffed squash blossoms seemed hard and scary two summers ago when I started experimenting with them, but today I just squished together a little feta and leftover sausage with some Penzeys Forward, stuffed the flowers, rolled them tight, and refrigerated til I could cook them tonight. I didn’t want to spend a whole egg on batter for just three blossoms, so I rolled them in heavy cream, then in cornmeal, and sautéed in olive oil, for a delicious amuse-bouche for an intimate Death Café dinner.

My friend brought sliders and coleslaw, and we sat outside in the 90℉ evening to share our meal, and work on some end-of-life planning. I got mine essentially done last winter, but she is just starting hers. It’s a daunting but necessary chore, and I’m grateful I could help her start to make some sense of it. Will, powers of attorney, advance directive, choices, provisions, designations… You look at those forms and your brain just goes numb–and not comfortably numb, either, but numb in an agitating buzzing kind of way. Grateful we could help each other navigate the necessary melancholy conversations, and motivate each other to take the next steps in this grueling process. Grateful, too, for the close time together which is rare and precious.

Speaking of rare and precious, I’m grateful every day for this little dog who always makes me laugh.

I saw something very strange in the night sky about an hour ago. I took Wren out for midnight whiz and stood there looking up as I always do. I was grateful there were stars, and then there was a short line of light that appeared and disappeared, like a few dozen stars strung close together; or like a section of a strand of patio lights. Then it appeared again, and moved across the eastern starlit sky from south to north. Like the side of a flat spaceship. I watched mesmerized for a couple of minutes as it remained lit up and moved steadily northward, diminishing with distance until it reached the vanishing point on the horizon. So weird. I’m grateful for unknown phenomena.