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Leftovers

I’ve been grateful the past couple of days for Thanksgiving leftovers, with which to enhance cheese sandwiches. Yesterday, I toasted oat bread, then layered mayo, Swiss cheese, lettuce, bacon, and leftover turkey, and grilled it in bacon fat. So crunchy! So delicious. Other people love fancy cranberry sauces with orange pieces, grapes, nuts, and all manner of other bits in; but I only love Aunt Linda’s cranberry sauce, the ancestral recipe from my father’s side of the family. “It’s like canned,” said the hostess the other day. Well, I guess, but it was being made long before anyone thought to put cranberry sauce in a can. I didn’t make it this year, and so declined leftover cranberry sauce. When I set out to make yesterday’s sandwich, I really really wanted cranberry sauce on it, the right kind. It occurred to me to substitute chokecherry jelly, which is sweet, tart, and a little bitter, just like cranberry sauce. Which, our ancestral way, made only of stewing whole cranberries and sugar, is really just cranberry jelly. I’m grateful there was still some left from two summers ago, since there were no chokecherries this year.

Another Thanksgiving leftover, a delicious puffy yeast roll, provided today’s sandwich, cold this time, with mayo, chokecherry jelly, turkey, cheddar, and lettuce. So simple, so delicious! I’m grateful that eating has become so much more to me than filling up with meaningless food. Eating is a gratitude practice in itself, holding in awareness the sources of all the ingredients, how they were grown or who made or provided them; remembering, with leftovers, their primary meals and who was involved in making and sharing those. I’m grateful to live in a community where hostesses remind me to bring containers to take home leftovers; and grateful that when I forget to, they are provided. As I remember Thursday’s dinner, I’m grateful all over for dining at last with friends again, and grateful there were leftovers.

Wild Turkeys

Ocellated Turkey. Photo: Ray Wilson/Alamy, via Audubon

I’m grateful for wild turkeys. I now know of three kinds, after learning about this ocellated turkey endemic to only a few parts of Mexico and Central America. No wonder early Europeans who colonized North America thought our wild turkey was a type of peacock! They had probably seen this one first. I’m grateful that wild turkeys live here and I get to see them sometimes on the way to town, hens and chicks crossing the road, toms strutting their stuff down in the fields; grateful they’ve adapted well to human encroachment. I’m grateful that I once tested myself by bringing home a roadkill wild turkey that was hit by the car before me, and that I passed the test (that link is not for the faint of heart).

The third kind of wild turkey is the whiskey, of course, which I found in the back of my cupboard this morning while looking for bourbon to use in the Bourbon Pecan Pie I was baking for Thanksgiving dinner up the road. The pie was well-received, but it was a bit more trouble than it was worth, in the cook’s humble opinion. The crust included in the recipe, however, was so simple, so delicious. I’m grateful there are a few pieces left for breakfast this weekend; grateful for leftover domestic turkey for a sandwich, and for leftover mashed potatoes; and grateful for dinner with triple-vaxxed friends, my first indoor dinner party since winter 2020.

Citrus

When I was a little girl, I couldn’t get enough lemon. I don’t remember my first taste of this magical sour sweet fruit, but whenever there was lemon around I’d put it in my mouth and suck on it with glee. I still love lemon most of all the citrus fruits, but I’m also fond of limes, kumquats, and oranges. Years later, when I tended bar at a fancy sports club, I made all the drinks with fresh fruit. No sour mix for the Boar’s Head! At the end of my shift, I’d squeeze any lemon, lime, grapefruit, and orange sections left over, pour the blend on ice, and shiver with delight as I drank it. I still make margaritas with fresh limes, and prefer a lemon wedge to olives in my martini.

I’m grateful to know the intoxicating scent of an orange orchard in bloom; grateful for homegrown grapefruits or kumquats sent from friends’ Florida yards; for limes from the Bad Dogs’ astonishingly prolific indoor tree; for plucking an orange on a sunrise walk at Dog World. I’m grateful for the luxury of buying any citrus I could want at the local grocery store, and the amazing ability to keep a stable supply of lemons and limes in my fridge at all times.

I’m grateful for all the people who enable these tropical fruits to get from their orchards across borders or oceans to my kitchen counter, including but not limited to the growers, pickers, packers, shippers, drivers, stackers, stockers, and the checkout clerks. I’m grateful for all the infrastructure involved along the way, including trucks, trains, planes, roads, railroads, and airports, cardboard boxes, terrible plastic mesh bags, and all the materials, engineers, builders, and maintenance personnel needed to create and sustain them. Consider any one thing you appreciate, and track its course from your hands backward through space and time to its source: you can increase your gratitude a thousand fold by reflecting on all the people and processes necessary to bring it from its point of origin to you here and now: all roads lead to interdependence.

Fantastic Fungi

Stuffed mushrooms for dinner tonight: so simple, so delicious.

I’m grateful for delicious mushrooms, and for having broadened my taste for them over years of living here, and knowing mushroom gatherers, and having gathered my own a few times. I’m grateful for a magical, memorable experience one time up on Black Mesa with the Willetts when we gathered abundant chanterelles. These are basic white mushrooms stuffed with a simple blend of soft butter, chopped fresh parsley, shallots, garlic, and panko breadcrumbs, seasoned with salt and pepper, drizzled with olive oil, and baked at 425ºF for about fifteen minutes. I ate the whole bowl.

I’m grateful not only for mushrooms to eat, but for Fantastic Fungi of all kinds, in many ways the glue that holds our world together; and grateful for this marvelous movie, and how it’s opened the eyes and minds of a lot more people to the importance of fungi.

Chuño

Today’s gratitude stretches back to the first week I moved to this valley in 1992. I saw a flyer for a dance class for women, and there I met several whom I still know today. Though I haven’t seen them much since those first few years, I am grateful for the warm welcome and sense of belonging they offered when I was new here, and grateful to remain connected with them through the web of community and common interests.

I’m grateful for community radio KVNF, and for their gardening show “As the Worm Turns,” and for an episode a couple of months ago when I called in with a potato question. Then Tara, one of those first friends from that dance class, called in with a potato answer. Tara and her husband have been adopted into a community on an island in Peru’s Lake Titicaca. Here is one of my favorite poems of hers about her Taquile family.

I had forgotten about that poem until Tara called into the Worm after I did, and told us about chuño again. Lance reported the next week on the show that he had made some, and I had by then harvested some tiny potatoes and frozen them. I didn’t have a huge potato crop, so I kept adding to the chuño bag in the freezer until I had finished harvesting and then left it until I had time to focus on it. With the garden largely put to bed, tomatillos all processed, and most of the tomatoes and peppers finished, I took out the chuño bag, let them thaw, and then smashed them with a heavy-bottomed glass on a plate.

After a few days in the drying pantry (which hangs in the living room not far from the woodstove from mid-summer through fall), the smashed potatoes were dry enough to put in a jar. Tara says she uses them in soups and other dishes throughout winter, and I look forward to enjoying their particular flavor/texture sensation this winter, maybe after I’ve eaten the last of the fresh potatoes. I’m grateful for living in community through time, for KVNF, for the Worms, for Jeffy the technical heart of KVNF, for Tara, for her cross-cultural horticultural wisdom and her good heart, for potatoes in general and specifically those that grew in my garden this summer, and I’m grateful for learning yet another way to preserve food: chuño.

Chuño dried and ready for the jar this afternoon, a mix of red, russet, and Yukon gold baby potatoes.

Home Cooking with Stellar

It was a frenzied morning, in a good way, and a relief to finally sit down with coffee and the cinnamon bun that Honey Badger brought me yesterday. I’m grateful for the ongoing support of my community, friends who have known Stellar all of his life, too, and care about him and about me. Their offers to pick up and drop off things in town for me have enabled me to devote my energy to this remarkable process of hospice caring for my best friend.

Garden Buddy brought over muffins and tortellini minestrone this morning; she and her guys were on their way to run errands, including a couple of mine. I let the soup thaw in the fridge for tomorrow. I needed to do something with the last eggplants before they disappeared in the back of the produce drawer and had to end up compost. I’ve been planning this dish for weeks, and trying to get it made for days. I’m grateful I had energy today to make this time-consuming but utterly worth it recipe.

I’m grateful for farm fresh eggs from the Bad Dog Ranch, as well as homemade marinara and eggplants from my own garden.

We missed Amy, but I sure enjoyed a leisurely couple of hours meandering between the joy of cooking with a martini in the kitchen, and paying attention to Stellar in the living room. He watched me the whole time, and persuaded me to turn off the TV and turn on some soft instrumental jazz; then he tried out his howl just to see if I’d come, which I naturally did. I’m grateful for a relaxing evening home cooking with Stellar.

The three-step coating process supposedly guaranteed a crispy fried eggplant…
… and indeed they were perfectly crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle. I had to try one. The rest I layered in the casserole dish with marinara and fresh mozzarella, then baked for forty minutes.
Stellar agitated for more food the whole time I was cooking, and finally consented to patience when I explained that he’d get his own bowl of dinner when it was finished.
I mixed his with a bit of kibble just to stretch it, and he loved it.
He also loved dessert, even though it was only a spoonful.
I’m grateful for my fingers in the feathers of his neck fur, and the feel of his warm velvety ear.

Everyone’s death is as uniquely their own as their lives are. He’s slowly going. I’m in no rush. The more I surrender to what is, settle into the moments that we have left, the less anxious I am about it. I’m grateful for these sweet evenings we’ve been sharing for months, now winding down; grateful for one more evening with him, knowing they’re running out.

Day Two: Beignets

I’m grateful for Day Two of Zoom Cooking with Amy. After making the dough last night, this morning we rolled it and cut it and fried and sugared it, for our first attempt at classic New Orleans beignets.

As usual it was fun, but we were both a bit dissatisfied with the quality of the beignets, though neither of us was sure exactly what they were supposed to be like. We felt that they were more doughy than they should be. She said hers were chewy. Mine were, frankly, an abject failure, overcooked outside and underdone inside. We agreed they wouldn’t pass muster with Paul Hollywood. I’m grateful for the lessons I learned in the effort. First, they should have been rolled thinner. Second, they browned much too fast. I surmised, too late, that the oil temperature should be lower than stated, since water boils at a lower temperature at this altitude. Indeed, when I looked it up afterward, I found this:

Deep-Fat Frying: The lower boiling point of water in foods requires lowering the temperature of the fat to prevent food from over browning on the outside while being undercooked on the inside. Decrease the frying temperature about 3°F (1°C) for every 1,000 ft (300 meters) increase in elevation.

Kim Allison, ThermoBlog

But since beignets or doughnuts or pretty much any fried pastry is simply a vehicle for sugar, we both ate plenty of them with our coffee, and laughed about it.

I composted the first batch, rolled the remaining squares thinner, cut them in half, and fried up some more beignet logs. I learned a third lesson here, the reason they are cut square (balanced) and not rectangular: some of them wouldn’t flip over in the oil, kept rolling back onto their first side so I had to hold them over.

A few of them turned out the way I think they’re meant to be, airy in the middle, though even then they were more trouble than they were worth, in my estimation. I’m grateful we did this for the delight of cooking and spending time together, rather than with any attachment to outcome.

Putting the Garden to Bed

I’m grateful for putting the garden to bed before the first snow today at this elevation, which continues after dark lightly frosting every leaf and limb white prior to the first real freeze. I started a week ago, and have been whittling at it for a few hours each day. I’m grateful for putting the garden to bed after a thrilling season. The counter is loaded with the last ripe tomatoes, tomatillos are all put up in the pantry, heaps of parsley are distilled into pesto and frozen cubes; rattlesnake and runner bean pods dry in large paper bags; eggplants and carrots fill the fridge. I’m living the dream.

I’m grateful for putting the garden to bed with tips and tricks from gardeners online. I’ve hung tomato vines to ripen in the upstairs room, beside pepper plants with wrapped rootballs. Some gardeners advised misting the roots, while others just left them dry. I compromised with a quick twist of plastic bag to prevent them from instantly desiccating in this climate, maybe giving the peppers a bit more nourishment as they redden.

I’m grateful for another day with my little helper, covered in snow. Like in the movie Awakenings, he is transformed with drugs, and like those patients he will eventually relapse into inevitable decline. His resilience astounds me. He wants to be alive.

Cold Cuts

Unretouched photo: I’m grateful for all of our medicines and treats, on the counter this afternoon.

Tonight, I’m grateful for cold cuts, among other things. Stellar’s vet made a house call this morning, and I’m very grateful for that. He hasn’t seen a vet in person since the spring, when his blood counts were all good and her second opinion was that she couldn’t offer more for his lameness than Dr. TLC had him on already. And so we tottered along through summer, before he really began to decline about six weeks ago.

Dr. TLC’s diagnosis today is that he has internal bleeding, likely from a cancer somewhere in his abdomen. Cancer runs in his family. His litter-sister died of cancer just about a year ago. This came as no surprise to me, and I’m grateful to have more clarity about what’s going on with him, and a lot more options for comfort meds as we enter the palliative care phase with an official prognosis rather than simply my intuition. He seems much more comfortable tonight than he’s been for awhile.

Today was a hectic scramble. I returned from the grocery store after PT and began sorting all the dog meds on my kitchen counter. Stellar’s on to the last few pill-wrapper treats, and Rocky doesn’t like to take his pills either. Who does? So I bought some new varieties of cold cuts to hide them in. So far so good on their end with the ultra-thin sliced honey roasted turkey breast, and I enjoyed snacking on a slice also while loading theirs with pills. I haven’t eaten cold cuts (except in store-bought sandwiches) since I was in college. I don’t remember the last time, or if ever, I kept any in my refrigerator. And when Stellar’s gone, so will be the cold cuts. But for now, they’re very helpful, and tasty too. So I’m grateful for cold cuts.

Zoom Cooking with Amy: Moussaka

We’ve been planning it for weeks. I chose traditional Greek moussaka because I wanted something to do with the Navdanya eggplants I grew. I’m not a huge eggplant fan (we had a falling out many years ago), but I want to like them. This Asian variety is hardy in this climate, and gave more fruits than any previous eggplant I’ve grown. This moussaka recipe calls for potatoes, tomatoes, garlic and eggplant, all of which I was delighted, and grateful, to provide from my own back yard.

Even the tomato paste came from my garden! It is such a gratifying feeling to reach in the freezer and pull out a cube of homemade tomato paste, all that summer distilled into one little frozen block. The lamb in the meat sauce came from a nice rancher I know in the next valley over. It was a busy day, so I fit in making the first sauce with my morning coffee…

…and I whipped up a quick béchamel on my lunch break. With both sauces in the fridge I went to teach my first mindfulness class, filled with gratitude for all the day had brought so far.

Stellar rallied this morning after a long night’s sleep, eager to take a walk, and excited to see Mr. Wilson when he came to cut up slab wood for the stove. Stellar spent most of the morning here by the gate, one of his all-time favorite locations, keeping watch over his domain as always. I’m grateful for another day with him, and I showered him with attention every chance I got.

“The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention.” ~ Thích Nhất Hạnh

After class, and another short walk with Stellar, wheezing as he went, it was right back to zoom cooking with Amy. Our first task was to slice the eggplants a centimeter thick, salt them, and set in a colander.

Three of the precious few russet potatoes lent their texture and flavor as the bottom layer in this recipe. As the eggplants baked, the potatoes were sliced, fried first, then layered into a buttered pan…

One layer of eggplant covers the potato layer, which in turn gets covered by the meat sauce…

Another eggplant layer, topped with the béchamel sauce, and shredded parmesan…

And baked til golden brown! Amy has the patience of a saint. She’s two hours ahead, so she didn’t even sit down to eat til after nine p.m.

I’m grateful for a full day with lots of meaningful connection, celebrating joy in the face of sorrow, attending to a full range of emotions and letting them flow through. I’m grateful for Stellar’s resilience, rainclouds, mindfulness practice, teaching, a warm evening fire in the woodstove, and zoom cooking with Amy, moussaka edition. I’m sure I’m grateful for way more than that that I can’t remember, and I’m grateful for the warm soft bed I’m heading to now.