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Tomato Paste

Many of Thursday’s tomatoes, above, turned into paste today. These Amish Paste tomatoes ranged from a smallish Roma style to a fat, almost-round fruit weighing half a pound. I grew three of these vines, but one died halfway through the summer. The other two are still ripening fruits, though most of them went into this batch of tomato paste.

I spent most of the day with tomatoes, all the while keeping an eye on Stellar. After our sunrise walk, he slept until after one, napped through the afternoon with a few forays outside, and only since it’s been dark a few hours has he become a bit restless. Meanwhile, the paste tomatoes roasted… then cooled, and then got pureed. Paste is the easiest thing to make–you don’t ever have to peel the tomatoes, just roast, cool, puree, then roast again–but it does take the longest.

The first roast is just halved tomatoes, for about an hour and a half at 350℉. Then the puréed mash roasts another few hours, with stirring every half hour. The mash concentrates over time…

…to a tangy, salty (just a sprinkle of kosher salt on the first roast, but as the tomatoey goodness condenses the ratio changes), sweet tomato essence. The easiest way to preserve and later use it is to freeze it in an ice tray. Once they’re solid, I’ll pop them out and seal them in a freezer bag to use one or two at a time. Each cube is around a heaping tablespoon. I’m grateful today for tomato paste, which kept my mind occupied, my hands busy, and my heart calm. I was present with the process, but it was straightforward enough that I could be equally present with Stellar as he lived through another one of his tenuous last days.

After his scary seizure last night (now his right eyelid droops, too), he slept soundly til morning, and woke eager to walk. His remarkable resilience propelled him to the canyon rim, and he seemed to have the good sense to avoid the very edge. The cottonwoods are half-turned, the ground is dry, and morning air is brisk. Stellar has made it to his thirteenth autumn. I’m grateful to have been present for his puppyness, his magnificent prime, his aging, and with him now as he approaches the far edge of life. He continues to exemplify benevolence, acceptance, loving-kindness, and all the other virtues I aspire to, as he demonstrates the path of presence.

Some Marigold

I’m grateful tonight for the towering marigold, a bountiful harvest, meaningful connections, and another day with Stellar.

He didn’t have much in him this afternoon, so our last walk of the day was a turtle hunt. I knew right where Biko was, up under the lavender cotton near the west gate, but we took our usual loop around the yard to look for him, starting out walking the east fenceline, and down to the pond. He looked back often to make sure I was following. We found Turtell and gave Stellar his treats, and came in for the night. Later, he had a seizure. I held him tight as he writhed, and afterward it took several hours for him to settle down. I thought for awhile in there that he was dying. But not this time. He’s fallen asleep now, and I am off to bed myself. I’m grateful for a full and beautiful day, for feeling calm in crisis, and for momentary peace.

Breath

I’m grateful for my own breath, and for the breath of the forest. This morning, after a quarter inch of rain last night, we walked through the woods, and I chanced to turn and see backlit by the rising sun, the respiration of a juniper tree. Or so it seemed to me. With each exhalation the tree released a mist. I’m grateful to live at a pace where I am able to notice such quotidian natural phenomena, and grateful that my old dog makes sure I get out to walk early in the morning.

I’m grateful, too, that he make sure I get out and walk in the evening, when we go search for Mr. Turtell, which is what Stellar calls Biko. Find Turtell, I tell him, and he trots off ahead of me around the yarden perimeter. He almost always finds Biko on the first circuit, and gets rewarded with a handful of treats. Sometimes he’s a bit vague, and I encourage him, Show me! Then he will bounce on his front feet and bark, to make sure I know which sagebrush to look under.

I’m grateful after twenty years to have come to understand a bit of a tortoise mind; grateful to live with a keeper of slow time. Biko is like a sundial, reliably tucking in under a sagebrush or juniper where the last rays of light will fall in a day, and/or where the first will come in the morning. Over the years I’ve learned to look in certain places certain seasons. In a yard full of late afternoon shade, see how he has parked himself where he’ll get the longest, last rays of sun. My knowledge of his habits, and Stellar’s help, will be increasingly important over the next few weeks as temperatures approach Biko’s threshold. Tomorrow, the forecast is a low of 38℉, just below his tolerance of 40º. We’ll go for a turtle hunt around five, and bring him inside until morning. I’m grateful for the arrival of autumn, with its breath of fresh air.

Stellar’s Last Days: a Stroke?

It was a beautiful morning. I’m grateful that Stellar and I got to enjoy a half-hour ramble off our usual trails, just for a change of pace. He’s doing really well considering he suffered some sort of neurological incident last weekend. You can tell by looking at his left eye, how both lids droop. It was just my best guess, until Karen asked Dr. Dave to check out this and a couple other pictures. His response was:

“The issue would appear to be a neurological one. The two most likely causes are stroke and a viral infection of the nerve supplying the eyelid. Other possibilities are a tumor near the nerve, or a traumatic incident to the nerve. Similar lesions in the brain can cause  signs as seen here. In any case palliative care is probably the treatment of choice as there are possibilities of recovery with no treatment.”

I am so grateful for the support and input from these friends, who despite such busy lives of their own took time to consider my concerns for my dear dog. I’m grateful for the bonds of community and friendship, that can lay dormant for a long time and wake when needed at a moment’s notice.

Meanwhile, we’re still contending with the hindquarter weakness, notably in his right leg, which tends to turn out and is often unable to straighten under him. But he’s a stoic, noble animal, and he keeps dragging himself up and out whenever I ask if he wants to go for a walk. Once he’s out the gate his nose takes over, and he joyfully sniffs his way through the woods, intermittently looking back for me and adjusting his course to mine. I’m grateful for his perseverance, his devoted companionship, and his unconditional love and acceptance.

I’m grateful for the beauty around me, whenever I take time to turn my attention to it. This evening, sun lighting the sprinkler caught my eye. Though the camera couldn’t quite capture the glitter of it.
I’m grateful for this and all the other trees I live among. I’m grateful for trees in general, and for all the new scientific insights and understandings currently arising about just how sentient and interconnected they are. As my heart breaks for all beings in the path of wildfires, I feel especially concerned for and attached to the idea of the giant sequoias now threatened by the Paradise Fire in Sequoia National Park. I’m grateful, though, that this little patch of trees where I live survived another day without burning up.

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.

Community Radio

Among many other things today, I’m grateful for community radio. In particular at the moment, KVNF in Paonia. This evening, Cookin with Jazz was dj’d by The Hurricane, who put together a thoughtful retrospective on Charlie Watts. I learned more than I ever knew about The Rolling Stones’ drummer, and heard some wonderful music. It reminded me of the time I spent as a nomad, driving around the country camping in my Subaru wagon with my first catahoula.

We were camped in northern California among redwoods, cozied up in the back of the car, listening to KMUD out of Garberville. They were playing a Joni Mitchell retrospective. Something about the soft, moist night air, insect symphony blending with Joni’s songs, snuggled into my sleeping bag, cuddling that good dog… I’ll never forget it, deeply touched by the magic of radio. I was grateful for community radio then, and I’m still grateful thirty-two years later, tucked into my little mud hut in the juniper forest, crickets outside, Charlie Watts conversing softly over the airwaves, lying on a yoga mat on the floor beside my old best dog ever. Something very similar about these two far apart evenings, emotionally linked through the power of community public radio.

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.

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.

Little Rocky

I’m grateful I rescued this little fella a dozen or so years ago from an untenable situation; grateful Pamela suggested a new person for him; grateful Deborah wanted him. I’m grateful he’s been in my life since then, and feels comfortable and safe at my home, and gets along with all the animals here. I’m grateful he enjoyed his week here, and grateful his mama came home safely to pick him up this evening. I’m grateful for his exceptional example of the skill of relaxation.

Equanimity

I can’t fix Afghanistan. I can’t fix Haiti. I can’t fix climate chaos. It can be discouraging. But I can be kind and cheerful with the new UPS man. I can grow flowers for the bees and vegetables. I can meditate with loving-kindness on man’s inhumanity to man, and abuse of women. I can hold the horror in one hand and the beauty in the other, the ten thousand joys and the ten thousand sorrows, and bring them to some symmetry. I can express gratitude for the random distribution of conditions in my life, that let me live in relative peace and ease compared to the rest of the world.

Comparisons are odious. I heard this from a poet in the context of writing; but lately I’ve begun to wonder. It seems to me that comparisons, through the appropriate lens, are often excellent reminders of just how great our lives are, if we don’t live in a war zone, and we do have running water and electricity in our homes, get to choose what we eat, grow our own food, read what we like, choose our thoughts, and so much more. Americans take liberty for granted.

While Rome burns, I turn my attention to a gift bun from the local popup bakery. Gratitude. After coffee from across the equator, and the sticky bun flavored with the Asian native cardamom, I turn my attention to the rattlesnake pole beans, growing so tall that I a) finally get the Bean Stalk story, and b) needed a step-stool to pick them. I can barely keep up, and was grateful to learn that they also make good dried beans. I might stop harvesting the ‘immature pods,’ any day now, and let the rest mature and dry, for soups or chili and some to plant next year.

Grateful also for two new cucumbers to add to the weekend’s harvest, enough now to make some pickles. Real pickles. I’m grateful to accept the benefits of fermentation, and for the means and knowledge to make real pickled pickles, not only the quick kind with vinegar.

Cucumbers, garlic cloves, ripe dill florets, and a horseradish leaf (all from the garden) in each jar; bay leaves, cloves, peppercorns, mustard seeds and allspice sprinkled into the quart jar, and a single tiny hot pepper added to the pint jar. How beautifully they packed! Then glass weights on top of brine, a pickling lid, and into the pantry til the weekend. I’m grateful for the morning light on junipers and that big old dog, for sweet treats, pole beans, and pickles. I’m grateful every day for the roof over my head, water in the pipes, the power of the sun, the love and support I get and give, and the courage to know that nothing lasts. I am grateful for equanimity.