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Mixed Pickins

Cold coffee, another Instagram recipe from Amy: one cup milk, 2 tsp instant coffee, 1-2 Tbsp sugar, and some ice cubes in a blender; blend til frothy and thick. Oh my, so simple, so delicious! And a quick way to get caffeine on a hot morning!
Jamato heirloom tomatoes, described as ‘pinkish with green shoulders.’ After I read that, I gave these a little squeeze and they were softish, so I picked them. Only to find that they had already split on the far side. I don’t know what’s happening: at least three of my tomato plants, in three different beds, are splitting fruit, and another one is experiencing blossom end rot. I must remember to call in to As the Worm Turns on Tuesday on KVNF and ask the experts what’s going wrong.
I’m grateful that at least the Leutschauer paprikas are thriving and ripening at last!
…and this zucchini literally doubled in size overnight. It’s time to break out the chocolate zucchini cake recipe, zucchini pancakes, and other recipes.
Pizzutello tomatoes are doing great on one plant, and splitting before they ripen on the other. Both plants, one in a tub and one in a raised bed, in different soil blends, are puny compared to the monstrous, endless vines and prolific fruits they produced last year in a different raised bed. I am truly perplexed about tomato health this summer.
This Roma plant is producing lovely striped fruit, but the only references I can find to Romas do not show any stripes. And this is one that’s suffering some blossom end rot. I curbed it on an earlier outbreak on a different plant in the same bed with extra bone&blood meal, as it’s a sign of insufficient calcium uptake by the roots. But here it is again! Oh woe is me! This is the most problematic tomato crop I’ve had in years. I’m grateful I have patience and ingenuity to mitigate the damage, and have access to reams of research and resource.
Little Wren likes her vegetables! She watched me pick these and followed me begging.
A small and challenged harvest this evening, but I’m grateful even for mixed pickins.

Acceptance

It’s a yawn, not a scream. For a split second it could have gone either way. Just as I was rolling over to get out of bed this morning, Topaz jumped up, almost on top of Wren’s head. Wren didn’t even flinch. The cat lay down with the dog, and there was nothing I could do but lie back and smile with a gentle hand on each of their tummies, grateful for acceptance, for peace in the kingdom, for a good excuse to stay in bed another twenty minutes.

Progress

It’s not the same thing to me as it is for those who adhere to the ‘business-as-usual’ paradigm. I’m grateful for progress in slow time. I’m grateful for a slow but steady weed-eater who munches the mallow, bindweed, and purslane at his own pace day after day all summer long, amazingly keeping it in check throughout the yarden.

I’m grateful for the slow progress of peppers, and all the other plants in the garden. They take their time growing roots and leaves, then slowly bring on blossoms and set fruit, and the fruits ripen incrementally day by day until suddenly there’s a flood of them ready to eat, freeze, can.

I’m grateful to return to a place that I have always felt the joy of flow, in front of a sewing machine with colors and textures at my fingertips. I’m grateful for the lovely Pfaff that my father bought me not long before he died, and for Karen who helped me choose it and make its acquaintance, and for finding time again to relearn its capabilities and my own. I’m grateful that I learned how to use the built-in needle threader!

I’m grateful for the slow progress of the tropical drapes, envisioned as a dream decades ago. I spent years collecting fabrics for them, all cotton, many shades and patterns of greens, a few browns, blues and other colors. I spent months creating the keystone appliqués for each panel… and then I boxed them all up after my mother died and I returned home to a house unlivable that took four months to disinfect. The brick floor was grouted with mouse shit; every flat surface in the house was covered in mouse shit, from the bottoms of the kitchen cabinets to the dresser drawers upstairs. But I digress: that’s another story. Suffice to say I didn’t pull out the drapes or any other creative endeavor for a long time after that, until the stench of Clorox was a distant memory, the brick floor replaced, the dresser burned, and so much more effort expended to reclaim my sacred space.

Even though the new plug falls out if it’s not propped in, I’m grateful for it since I can adapt while I wait for a replacement and still enjoy the hum of needle and thread and the feel of fabric flying through my fingers. I made great progress today zigzagging the swamp and all the vines onto the panel, so tomorrow I can place frogs, lizards, beetles, leaves… and then play with some flower designs and fill in the jungle.

Life careened onward, and every winter I thought I should get back to those drapes for the sunroom. But I never did, until finally this summer life’s demands slowed down a little bit and I looked to Biko for inspiration on how to move through my days: slow and steady, taking a little bite of this, a little bite of that, as I amble through the hours with peace and ease. Finally accepting my own tortoise pace, that’s what I call progress.

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.

Creative Mind

Another walk to the canyon this morning. She’s getting the hang of it.
And then with morning coffee, we all sat out in the shade of the apricot tree…
Wren, Topaz, Biko and me…
After lunch, while the others were resting, I set to work on the drapes in earnest. I chose the macaw panel to start to finish, and pulled out all the appliqués I’ve already cut, and the fabrics I cut them from to cut some more; then sorted them to split frogs and lizards evenly among the remaining panels. I got a few more butterflies and bugs cut out, and will finishing laying out this panel tomorrow, and begin sewing! I’m so grateful to finally have time to dig in to this project. I can’t believe it’s been packed away for so many years, years I thought I always had something more important to do…

This morning I dreamed again about art. Once again I was in a spacious gallery, surrounded by oversized artwork. It was Mary’s gallery, and most of the work was hers. I realized that I was supposed to have my art there to hang in the show that was opening in a couple of hours, but not only had I forgotten to bring it, I wasn’t close to finishing it. As I looked behind the scenes and saw racks and racks and walls full of Mary’s giant art, I insisted that we hang her work instead. Then ensued a couple of hours of frantic and fruitless efforts to select and hang her work, but I never got anything done except to wander in wonder among the beautiful paintings. One of these days I’m going to remember while I’m dreaming to save some of the amazing images that my subconscious conjures. I’m grateful for my creative mind and for all others. Where does creativity come from?

Closeup of the macaw, who’s been patiently waiting my attention for too long…
…and of this blue snake. It’s been so long since I made it that I don’t remember exactly which blue snake it is. There are more blue snakes in the world than you would imagine, from pythons to pit vipers, some naturally colored blue and others genetically engineered. Google it and see! My guess is this is a blue tree python, based on the shape of the head, and since I already have an eyelash viper (and this snake clearly lacks the telltale ‘eyelashes.’)
I’m grateful that the Aji crystal peppers are forming, and most of the other pepper varieties are finally coming on.
As I pruned some tomato plants this evening, I gasped in delight to see underneath the dense leaves I was trimming the first ripe tomato!
And I’m grateful that I have my work cut out for me tomorrow, cooking and freezing beans, and maybe making and eggplant parmigiana to have for dinner and freeze leftovers for deep winter.

Just Being

I’m grateful that my grownup cat Topaz, whose nose has been out of joint since the kitten adventure, and not quite straight even after three months with Wren, finally jumped up on my lap this afternoon for no reason. She kneaded and purred, and curled up for a short visit as I picked weeds out of her thick fur. Wren got a little anxious about it, and came up to inquire; she and Topaz went nose to gentle nose for a few seconds with no tension. It was sweet. We all hung out for awhile in the shade of late afternoon on the east patio, doing nothing, content to just be. I love these peaceful breaks in the day, where I simply pause, take a time out from the busyness of correspondence, work, dishes, practice, anything, just being in open awareness for a few minutes.

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.

This Gentle Day

Grateful this morning for another bean harvest, mostly Beurre du Rocquencourt wax beans, but the first few rattlesnake pole beans are also coming on. I’ll blanch and freeze the wax beans. I can tell I’ll get a ton more this summer. The rattlesnake beans I chopped up and sautéed to go in another virtuous lunch.
This time I did use an egg for the batter, with a little cream, then rolled the squash blossoms in a flour-corn meal-cornstarch dredge; after stuffing them with a simple block of Havarti. I scrambled the leftover egg mixture and garnished the salad with some of it, fed the rest to Wren on top of her dinner kibble. I don’t think the cornmeal is working out for the delicate blossoms. Next time it will be a pure tempura batter.

And then I had a pretty healthy dinner, too. My personal shopper brought me smoked blue cheese crumbles the other day. I can’t be picky when I’m not shopping for myself, and am grateful that there’s someone who will do his best to get me what I want and take creative chances when the store is out of my specific requests. “Smoked is always a good thing,” he said. I wasn’t sure I agreed: I’m not a fan of fake smoke flavoring, but Amy told me how to tell if the cheese was actually smoked: It will look browned on the outside. I was pleased to see a brown rind on the crumbles, and it tasted delicious.

Amy says: “Mayo, sour cream, lemon juice, finely diced onion, that blue cheese—the best blue cheese dressing ever.” But I had a different plan for some of it tonight. We made mushroom toast last night to go with our zoom cocktails, and I had some extra shiitakes. I mashed up some soft butter, smoked blue cheese, Italian breadcrumbs, and one finely chopped date, stuffed the caps, sprinkled with more breadcrumbs, and baked at 400℉ for 15 minutes. Delicious! I’m grateful for this gentle day, with plenty of time tending the garden, a light cool cloud cover, simple gourmet meals, a long meditation, and kind, mindful observation of my thoughts and actions. Self-nourishing is an act of kindness for others. “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else?!” ~ RuPaul

Equanimity

I’m grateful for this embodied example of equanimity, my old scarred doe. She’s been browsing in my yarden for a month, and this is at least the fourth summer she’s done so. She has a fawn somewhere (or two). She is comfortable enough with me and the pets to lie down and rest inside the fence. She watched calmly as I turned on the outdoor spigot, and was still there an hour later when I turned it off. She is okay with what is.
I’m grateful for this slim apricot harvest, all I’m likely to get this year. There were twice as many on the tree, but when they finally looked ripe enough to pick (and they’re still not quite ripe) I was too late: at least this many more have already been pecked by birds or gnawed by someone else. I’ll leave those on the tree, and as they fall off the old doe or Biko will enjoy what’s left of them. Equanimity also means recognizing that all lives have equal value, and sharing garden bounty with an open heart.

I finally had the energy this afternoon to tackle a sewing project. I went upstairs to choose among several I’ve had lined up for years, and decided the best and easiest would be to make curtains out of this ancient dress. I’ve had it since 1979, and it was almost a hundred years old when I got it, pulled from a trunk of treasures that was left to my grandmother by a friend who died. I wore the dress once to a costume party in college, and never could bear to part with it, thinking (once I accepted that I’d never fit into it again) that one day I’d make the antique fabric into a modern dress. Recently, though, I decided to reverse Scarlett’s strategy and turn the gown into drapes. There are a few small tears in both layers of fabric, it is so old it’s quite friable. Thrilled with my resolve and motivation, I took the dress apart and cut the skirt into two pieces, lining and all, which was just enough to make curtains for two east and west windows upstairs. This heatwave has me wanting to cover all the windows during the day.

I had never noticed the interior bodice ribbon with the name and address on it. A quick online search revealed that there is still a high end clothier called Frame with stores from LA to Aspen to London, and of course in New York. The address 391 5th Avenue appears to be a real estate office now. Frame clothing today includes a lot of ripped denim garments selling for hundreds of dollars. I’m eager to trace the history and discover if it’s a straight line from this 1880-1890s gown to the current couture.

I pulled out my Pfaff sewing machine that I haven’t used in four years, dusted it off, set it up, plugged it in, turned it on, and… nothing. Thwarted! After a couple of hours of patient troubleshooting and a few phone calls, first to my sewing guru and then to her sewing guru, and then to Montrose Sewing Machine Repair in Montrose, Marc and I concluded that the problem must be the foot pedal.

“Could it have been dropped sometime?” he asked. Duh. Dropped, smushed, anything’s possible, and also jammed into a basket in a plastic bag–who could have guessed it was so fragile? He very kindly located a replacement pedal for me online, and even though it cost as much as my baguette baker, it was still far less expensive than a new machine, so I ordered it. I have many draperies to complete this summer! And perhaps a few dresses, as well. I’m grateful for the one friend and two strangers who generously offered advice, reminding me that I am not self-sufficient and am indeed interdependent with and dependent upon others. I’m grateful to have developed the mindfulness skill of Equanimity so that I could accept this situation without frustration and aggravation, gracefully relinquish attachment to making curtains today, wait patiently for the new pedal to arrive next week, and turn my attention to other things.

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.