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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.

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.

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.

Fruits of My Labors

I’m grateful for the lettuce-leaf basil, and for Amy’s suggestion to use it on a BLT… with, gratefully, a fresh garden tomato.

I’m grateful today for how the efforts I’ve made have paid off. I don’t have a lot of the things that people value, but I value all the things I have: I have enough. I have more than enough. I’m grateful that the choices I’ve made over the past forty years or more have led me to this life, this community, these friends, this place with its home and garden. I’m most immediately grateful today for the food rolling in from the garden. I’m grateful every day for the food that finds its way to my plate from all the places it originates; I’m grateful to have any food, especially grateful to have enough food, all the food I could want, in a world of want.

I’m grateful for tomatillos, parsley, cilantro, garlic from the garden, and for this great recipe for layered enchiladas. I’ve made it a few times, but one has to be rich in tomatillos, which this summer I am! Also I used mostly parsley because there is a dearth of cilantro in the garden this year. Funny how that goes, one year you have more of something than you can use and the next year it just doesn’t take.

I’m rich in cucumbers, too, and made another batch of pickles this afternoon. I’ve got a couple of jars of lacto-fermented dill pickles in the fridge already, a couple of vinegar-dill jars preserved, and today processed three pints of bread&butter pickles, and a scant pint of fermented dill slices. We’ll know more later if that last one will keep on the shelf, but it’s worth a try. I’m grateful that after a few years, I’m starting to feel pretty comfortable pickling and preserving; it no longer has to be a huge deal that takes a whole day’s focus. I’m grateful for the fruits of my labors in the garden and in the kitchen.

And naturally, I’m grateful for another day with this wonderful dog, who had energy to walk to the canyon this evening. Panting all the way, but happy and eager, and mostly without stumbles. What a teacher he is for me! Patience, acceptance, impermanence… above all, pure love.

Food, Again

The morning started well when I got a shot I’ve been hoping for for a long long time: two hummingbirds midair. It was with my camera-phone instead of my husband camera, so it’s not a great image, but certainly captures the drama of their territorial nature as they protect their food source. I’m grateful for a telephone that can live in my pocket and capture a photo like this! Unheard of even a decade ago, much less when I was first meeting the big wide world forty and fifty years ago. I’m grateful that I get to spend an hour in the morning before the workday begins, out in the garden with growing, living things.

Then it was time to cook Boyz Lunch. With the rattlesnake pole beans simmering in oil, ginger, parsley, black mustard seeds, and the first paprika pepper harvested…

…an organic whole chicken roasting in the oven (in a wonderful non-stick pan from Food 52: I was skeptical but it’s been well worth the price)…

…and mashed potatoes and sliced tomatoes from the garden, we feasted! I’m grateful for all the food enjoyed today, by me and others I provide for, and for the opportunity to prepare a feast for my friends; for the hard work in the garden paying off, and for the joy that cooking brings me.

I’m grateful for little Biko, who is just about 22 years old, in the prime of his life, and always eager for something green; and grateful to offer John the joy of feeding him lettuce from the garden.

Orchid interlude

I’m grateful for this lettuce-leaf basil, that grows so prolifically in a pot, with leaves so huge they really could be used as lettuce, as Amy pointed out, and will no doubt show up on my next BLT instead of lettuce. Maybe tomorrow.

And then it was time for Zoom Cooking with Amy. We started by making the pasta dough, and then the no-cook sauce, and while those were resting we enjoyed martinis together. Then we rolled and shaped the strozzapreti, and assembled our meals.

So simple, so delicious: chopped tomatoes, basil, garlic, a bit of olive oil, resting to meld the flavors.
We laughed about how we made The Big Lasagna last year, rolling the dough by hand, taking hours! We are both grateful to have mechanical pasta rollers now! I’m grateful for the KitchenAid attachment I was given ♥️.
I’m grateful for any cooking tips, and read recently that to keep pasta from sticking together it’s best to remove it from the water with a slotted spoon, rather than dump it into a colander.

And then we tossed the cooked pasta with the tomato-basil-garlic sauce, sprinkled with parmesan, and sat down to enjoy our dinner together. I am always and forever grateful for zoom cooking with Amy.

This Peaceful Day

I’m grateful for hanging out this evening on the patio with a relaxed cat and dog, in relative silence, punctuated by the scrub jays’ racket in the trees.

Here, between the inferno to the west and the deluge to the southeast, weather extremes swirling in ever more intense waves through the atmosphere, here in this little yarden on this high, dry mesa, it’s a calm, balmy day. I dwell in a near-constant state of overwhelm when awareness extends from coast to coast, monitoring weather. So much is happening all the time; so many lives changing, souls suffering, not only humans but other beings: insects, trees, bears and fawns, predators, prey; birds of all feathers fleeing fire. Snakes, rodents, roaches, great floating orbs of fire ants, all uprooted by rain, and mammals drowned; alligators climbing to higher ground, and houses washed away, some with people in them. Hurricanes today stay twice as strong for twice as long after landfall as they did fifty years ago.

I am grateful for this one peaceful day that I got to experience here in this one little yard in this vast plateau between extremes. I’m grateful for contentment and equanimity.

I’m grateful for this peach, the sum total of this year’s peach crop. The single peach and the robust greenery speak to the resilience of this little tree whose prognosis in spring wasn’t promising. I’m grateful the peach tree survived last autumn’s killing frost, and practically thrived with some extra TLC.

I’m grateful for this recipe, Creamy Corn Pasta with Basil. I spiralized the first garden zucchini and tossed it in the pan instead of pasta. The sauce involves blended corn, scallions, parmesan, and oodles of fresh basil. So simple, so delicious! Grateful for homegrown food, and the conditions of this life at this moment that allow for all the luxuries of this peaceful day, this spot of stillness here, amidst the uncontrollable atmosphere.

Berries

I’m grateful for berries. These bright berries on the blueleaf honeysuckle, Lonicera korolkowii provide food for birds from now throughout winter, ripe or dried in situ. This gorgeous bush is native to ‘The Mountains of Central Asia,’ which I just learned is a very specific geographical ecosystem, also home to half the world’s wild snow leopards. The Mountains of Central Asia is a biodiversity hotspot consisting of two major mountain ranges which extend among six countries, including Afghanistan. I’m grateful that this plant thrives in our climate and is a beneficial habitat shrub and not an invasive species.

Little purple berries on New Mexico Foresteria also feed birds, in particular the Townsend’s solitaire which I have seen yearly in this shrub. Not technically berries, but I’m not being technical. They look like berries, they feed like berries–but they taste pretty awful to me. Anyway, the flowers are full of tiny native bees in spring, and abundant berries in late summer also provide bounty for wildlife. I’m grateful to have this buffet in my landscape.

Some limbs on some of the junipers are laden with ripe juniper berries. Again, pseudo-berries, but berries is what we call them. Most of my dogs have nibbled them off the ground when they’re plentiful, with gusto; they were a food fad a few years ago; they feed wildlife; they are purported to have health benefits and healing properties; and they flavor gin. I’m grateful for juniper berries in the yarden.

I’m grateful for raspberries! I’m grateful that I savored and saved last summer’s gift of a gallon raspberries, and still have some left this summer, since the crop was paltry in this drought. Nurturing a new cluster of water kefir grains, I splurged and put a few frozen raspberries in to flavor yesterday’s decanted batch. Tomorrow, I’ll be grateful for a healthy, fermented raspberry soda. Actual berries or illusory facsimiles, I’m grateful for berries: fruits of the labors of bees and bushes.