Tag Archive | Covid silver lining

Pleasant Surprises

I turned on the soaker hose in the bean bed, and this little sagebrush lizard instantly darted out from the edge of the bed, directly to a drop on the hose, where it stayed for several minutes. A startling, pleasant surprise, this little lizard, as it sprang from nowhere toward the water, spontaneous opportunist.
I’m grateful for new neighbors ,new friends who could pick up a prescription in town and drop it off as they picked up the last of the orphan vegetable starts. I’m grateful the babies I propagated now have a good garden home and chance of survival, fruition. The bag I expected to hold only one bottle of pills instead was stuffed like a concert swag bag. I’m grateful to Kroger’s for taking the pandemic seriously, and doing their part to convince the American public by giving away free masks and disinfectants; a pleasant surprise that says to me they understand, This thing is real: just deal with it..
This blue ephedra, planted years ago and now starting to spread a bit: It’s lived here for years and I’ve never seen it fruit like it has this extraordinary drought year. So unspectacular in bloom they are I didn’t even notice the flowers: I turned around yesterday and suddenly noticed the fruits, glowing red in the sunlight. A pleasant surprise!

I’m grateful for most surprises these days, as I can experience them as neutral at worst most of the time, and good, fascinating, or delightful at best in almost every case. I can imagine some surprises that would be distressing, but why? Why would I want to make myself suffer even more than everyday life itself demands?

I was just about to call It is what it is on the desert willow, when I walked past it this evening and noticed the first tiny bit of new green growth. It’s just a hint, but I think all I’ll have to do will be way cut back the dead limbs and give it some TLC before we see if it can make it with a new resource allocator in town.

Garden Buddy

At this new nursery, you can take a picture of the tag and it automatically opens a site that will tell you all you need to know about the plant to decide whether it will be a good fit for the zone and microclimate of your yarden. Or, it would if one had service, which is still grievously lacking for Boost Mobile customers in the valley, but there’s no room for that story on a gratitude blog.

I’m grateful for my Garden Buddy, who went on an adventure with me today. The word ebullient came to mind as I observed my sensations driving to pick her up. She was the first passenger in my car in well over a year, and that inspired me to clean it up a bit, which I was too lazy to do for myself, so I’m grateful for that. I was motivated to explore some local farms in search of strawberry starts, some culinary herbs, and a few flowers for my patio pots to feed the bees. We stopped by Zephros Farm, which had a good selection, as well as some unexpected succulents for the new drought rock garden I’m finally realizing into existence after a decade of dreaming. Then we tried a couple of stores that were closed on Sundays, an interestingly retro thing to be, hearkening back to the Blue Laws days of my childhood. But we struck gold at Oasis, a new nursery on the highway next to Big B’s.

But even before the big outing, I was grateful for a lovely morning walk among ancient trees with Stellar and Topaz.
Stellar at the edge of a patch of Laughing Yellow Flowers, aka Thrift-leaf Perky Sue, a lovely native wildflower. They bloom in profusion for a short season, and always make me smile.

After our delightful walk, Stellar didn’t want breakfast, which is unusual but not unheard of this time of year. It was all I could do to get some pills into him disguised in a turkey slice and some cream cheese. He’s been turning up his nose at his multiple daily cheese balls, which has caused me to get creative about pill delivery, trying out some pill pockets, pill paste, peanut butter, and sandwich meats. This finicky turn, and his refusal to eat again this evening, have set some distant alarm bells ringing in my head: But there’s not much I can do about it at this point, at his age and with his back end, and there’s no point in clinging. Either he’ll eat tomorrow when I offer rice and broth, or he won’t, and I’ll decide the next step then. Living with a beloved old dog, there’s less suffering for me in letting him do what he prefers than insisting on diagnosis and mitigation, and I think less suffering for him than in stuffing him with supplements he’s not eager to ingest. We’ll know more later. These unsettling ups and downs, which could be nerve-wracking if I let them.

I did want breakfast, however, and was grateful for yesterday’s cinnamon buns (I only ate two) and my weekly latté, which gave me strength and courage to leave home for the first pleasure outing since Covid. It felt mighty strange to drive somewhere I didn’t have to go, with someone else in the car, windows down despite the chill; it felt even stranger to meet and mingle with unmasked people everywhere we went, and encounter a downright crowd at Big B’s and Oasis. We may have been the only people wearing masks, but one thing I appreciate about my Garden Buddy is that we’re on the exact same page regarding risk and precautions. We were our own little travel bubble, and were both a little giddy in it. At the same time that it appeared as though many people have gone back to the usual-before, there seemed to be an aura of extra gentleness in the people we spoke with, some of whom mentioned the suffering of the past year. I’m grateful for at least one thing about suffering, and that is it’s potential to deepen even the slightest connection among people. It’s brought me and my Garden Buddy closer, and I also felt like hugging everyone I interacted with today. Maybe next outing.

At Oasis I was so grateful to find Mock Orange, a deliciously scented native shrub I’ve been trying to get for a decade, and I grabbed a couple more succulents for the rock garden.

Drag Queens

This won’t be the last time I express gratitude for drag queens. But this particular time I’ll mention only this one special episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Season 13: Corona Can’t Keep a Good Queen Down. In the thirteenth year of this warm-hearted, Emmy-winning show, the Drag Race team was one of the first TV series to film live during the pandemic. They thought ahead and took exceptional precautions to produce a stellar series, and the conditions of Covid have only given every joyful episode even more emotional charge and creative energy.

People sometimes ask me, “Why?” when I confess that my guilty pleasure is Drag Race. I’ve watched twelve years of episodes in two years, and become utterly immersed in this astonishing cultural phenomenon. I’m grateful that this wonderful, kind person, RuPaul Charles, walks the earth, and celebrates, elevates, the art of drag and the gentle souls who live it, bringing everyone else in the world both entertainment and perspective. More about that later. Meanwhile, this particular hourlong documentary gives those with an open heart and an open mind a lot of insight, not only into drag culture but into the ingenuity and mettle of RuPaul himself.

Drag Race took the pandemic seriously.
While the queens quarantined before and after arriving at the show, and could film without masks, staff and crew wore protective gear.
Hilarious! They’re looking at fake boobs as earnestly as they would at real ones!
Judges sit distanced with plexiglass partitions between them. That didn’t hinder their banter or dampen their wit.
Special guest Anne Hathaway appeared on screen instead of in person, and brought just as much excitement.

Zoom Cooking with Amy

One silver lining to the Covid cloud is zoom cooking with Amy. Here we’re making fettuccine with Marcella Hazan’s Bolognese. I’m grateful to Neighbor Mary for giving me her pasta attachment!

I’m grateful for everything in this title, separately and together. Zoom. Cooking. Amy. And zoom cooking with Amy. It’s a silver lining of the Covid cloud. Back in May, I sent her a recipe for homemade gnocchi and asked if she wanted to make it with me and share zoom dinner. Thus began a joy we have shared ever since.

Pan roasted gnocchi with leeks, peas, and asparagus (grateful for Neighbor Mary’s generosity in sharing her wild asparagus harvest!)
Sharing our first zoom dinner after fun in the kitchen.

Amy and I have been friends for almost fifty years. And her parents have been parents to me, as well, whenever I have needed them to be, and friends the rest of the time. My gratitude for Amy knows no bounds. Cooking, drinking, and eating is our favorite thing to do when we get together. She lives in northern Virginia, not far from where we grew up. We met on the first day of seventh grade, and that friendly little red-haired girl saved my life that year. Through the decades, I’ve always visited when I traveled back there. And then she saved my life again during the months I spent there when my mother was dying sixteen years ago.

The second zoom meal we made was Samin Nosrat’s Big Lasagna. This first time we made pasta we both rolled it by hand.

Amy’s been coming to visit for the past few years, including during apricot season two summers ago (when she saved my life again, by helping harvest and put up pounds of fruit), but not this summer, and so we started zoom cooking instead. She’s also been watching cooking shows for years so has lots of tricks up her sleeve. We used vanilla bean seeds for something that apricot summer, and she poured some sugar in a jar and tossed in the scraped pods. “In a couple of weeks this’ll be great in your coffee or something else,” she said, and it was.

I’m grateful for locally-caught trout filets, and the friend who shares them when he has extra.
Cheesos, or cheese-shelled tacos

In August we made Fish Cheesos, with the trout, and garden produce, in cheddar cheese taco shells. This recipe came from a Keto cookbook: you pile a quarter cup of grated cheddar for each shell, about 4″ apart, onto parchment paper and cook at 400°F for 6-8 minutes, until they’re melted flat and the edges start to brown. Let them cool about 3 minutes, then drape them over wooden handle spoons or something until they harden, about ten minutes. Then…

…then fill with any kind of taco filling!
Next, we made Turkey and the Wolf’s famous collard greens melt, a veggie club on rye, which took all day to prep the homemade components for: cooked collards, cole slaw, and russian dressing.

I couldn’t be zoom cooking with Amy like this without the help of the Bad Dogs, who kindly shop for me these days because of some underlying conditions that make me super cautious about Covid. I’m especially grateful to Philip, who shops most often, and earnestly tries to fill my list of often obscure ingredients. I try to compensate them for their trouble with fresh baked bread, rolls, or cake to hand over upon grocery delivery.

Fettuccine drying (thanks for the rack, too, dear Mary) the Night of Bolognese.

After the collard sandwiches, we made Marcella’s pasta bolognese. I laughed the whole time I was making noodles because it was just so much fun. We more or less take turns suggesting the menu. After bolognese, we made squash and peanut stew. Since our neighborhood dinners have been more or less on hold all year, it’s been great to be cooking with Amy and have the chance to use so much garden produce.

Fresh garden harvest going into the squash and peanut stew.
Though we didn’t bake these together, Amy shared her recipe for decadent triple chocolate cookies.

The next menu item was Bombay Rolls, which included a chutney with lots of fresh coriander. Amy made them according to the recipe so her stuffing was green, but with no access to fresh coriander here in December, I used a jar of Kasundi I had canned earlier in the summer. It wasn’t nearly as spicy as it seemed when I cooked it, but the Bombay rolls were fun to make and delicious anyway. We cheated and used store-bought puff pastry for this meal. Our ambitions had started to slacken.

But, egged on by the Great British Baking Show, I threw down the éclair challenge, and that brings us up to last Friday night. The recipe calls for a total of 11 eggs, and I was late getting started since I had to wait for groceries. I’m so grateful for local, freerange ranch eggs for much of the year that it’s hard to shell out the dough for storebought, but in deep winter nobody’s hens are laying around here. As soon as Philip brought the eggs, I started catchup with Amy, who had already made her creme patisserie and was starting on her choux pastry. I was grateful for a snowbank right outside the door, since there was no room in the fridge to cool the filling.

Custard quick-cooling in the snow at dusk
I overcooked, then over-mixed, the choux pastry, and had the wrong size piping bag, so made little double-barrel eclairs, which did not hold much filling. The chocolate ganache was too thick so I only had enough to cover half the little pastries. It got a little messy…
BUT WHO CARES?

While we baked, we talked about the Capitol, where Amy used to lead kids in summer camp. We compared Manhattan recipes. We talked about work and friends and everything else. We carried on two separate conversations at the same time: I said something about our technical challenge, “I kept stirring and it formed a ball which kept breaking up as I stirred…,” and Amy said, “She has several professional photographers she hires to take portraits of the family….” 

I’m grateful this weekend for zoom cooking with my old friend Amy, and grateful for all the years of ease and lessons and love that life has given us to share. One day, we’ll cook together again in person, but until that time, and onward after our next visit, I hope we’ll be zoom cooking for the rest of our years. We’re already batting about ideas for our next challenge.