Sourdough. I’ve mentioned it before, but, in that way that we spiral back to the same place, we deepen our understanding with each revolution, I understand sourdough, and dough in general, much better now, having practiced with it; as a potter with clay, to comprehend its texture, properties, behavior. It’s a living thing, which I knew, but now I know better.
My sourdough starter, which I’ve been using for … how many, Ruthie? at least six years, went… well, sour. I left it for so long in the fridge, slid it to the back in recent months after keeping it thriving for years. When I remembered and pulled it forward, liquid on top was more than usual, grey, and stinky! It smelled awful. I poured it off down the drain, and rinsed a couple of times with fresh, clear water. I left half an inch of fresh cold water on top of the fairly firm sponge, let it sit for a day, rinsed again, and fed it by mixing in equal parts flour and water. For the past week, I’ve been pouring off discard, a new concept to me (the enemy of learning is the presumption of knowledge), and baking with it.
Twice I’ve made sourdough biscuits, with great success. Sourdough pizza crust was a winner, and half of that dough is in the freezer to see if it works as well later.
Tomorrow is Boyz Lunch, the first of the season. It is finally warm enough to lunch outside, relaxed, without too many layers, sun-warmed flagstone patio, shade cast from the umbrella sufficient only to dim the glare of that low spring sun, not enough to put us in shadow; we will be warm with lunch in our sweatshirts and ballcaps. Spring is on its way, and how we’ll welcome it, a longlost friend, respite, color, joy.
A year to the day from the last time I ventured willingly from my home, I got a Covid vaccination. On March 12 last year, I was reluctant to take Stellar to the vet in Montrose an hour away for his acupuncture appointment, but did so because it felt necessary, and I did my own grocery shopping for the last time before lockdown. We left the vet and drove to the south end of town to Natural Grocer, where half the energy in the store had an urgent edge, and the other half was blasé. Clerks, however, were wiping down the counter and the conveyor belt between each customer. There was no six foot rule yet, but some of us innately stood farther apart than normal. It felt very strange, new, superficial: these are the precautions we start taking today, now that we know this is for real. Already toilet paper shortages were beginning, and I loaded up on staples for Stellar and me: lots of grains, rice, quinoa, polenta; citrus for weeks; frozen meat; and chocolate, lots of good dark chocolate. I mean, forty dollars worth of chocolate, which felt extravagant, but turned out simply to be sensible.
This morning I approached the day with a sense of benign curiosity: what will it be like, today? From the moment I stepped out of bed, gratitude flowed. Stellar was fine, happy, and we walked the Breakfast Loop, ground still frozen but air barely cold, ideal Mud Season conditions. I led a meditation on Telesangha which people seemed to appreciate. When that was over, I gave Stellar a couple of Charlee Bear cookies and a second CBD chew and asked him to stay in bed, then set off for town. On the way out the yard I snapped the first cluster of Iris reticulata to open to spring. There was a redtail hawk on the Smith Fork nest, which thrilled my heart; a golden eagle soared insolently below a nagging songbird just above Hotchkiss.
Tonight is Zoom Cooking with Amy. I slept most of the afternoon, slipping between naps, meditation, animal needs, and naps from one til five, thinking I might not have the energy for our date. I couldn’t keep my eyes open, and felt compelled to lie down. It might have been ‘covid-shot fatigue,’ or the cessation of stress after a trip to town; it might have been the half-hour soapy hot shower when I returned, or the pure physical release of tension after a full year that the first vaccination afforded my mind. Any which way, I wanted to sleep til morning. But Amy, our plans, and Sarah’s peanut soup beckoned through the ethers. I’m grateful for Amy, and for the inspiration from Sarah for what is now in my recipe file as Sarah’s Peanut Soup.
It was a great day! So much happened, big and small, here in this little slice of the world I inhabit. I’m grateful for every minute of this day in which I got to be alive.
I’m grateful for mud, as I’ve mentioned before, because in the desert, mud=life. We’re in such an extreme drought cycle that we can’t afford to complain about mud season anymore, probably ever. Let’s surrender to gratitude: we need every drop of water the skies can deliver – we always have in this region, it’s just more apparent recently. Topaz is too young to understand this, and she prefers to avoid mud. I’m grateful to have this cat who walks with us like another dog; I’m grateful for all the cats who’ve happily walked with me like dogs in this forest.
I’m grateful for the first mountain bluebird this year, in the driveway – then another – a pair! I’m grateful for crocuses that won’t quit. I’m grateful that even while the human world went so topsy turvy over the past year, ineluctable spring just keeps coming: nothing will stop her, as though nothing else matters.
I haven’t gotten one yet – I’m too young! – but I know a lot of people who have. I hang out with older friends, alway have. I’m an old soul. Hee! Well, whatever the reason, a lot of my friends are over 65, over 70, over 75, and a lot of them have gotten their shot or shots. I signed up on the county waiting list yesterday. The group I’m assigned by age is supposed to start getting shots in the next week or two. I’m not chomping at the bit for it, but I’ll be glad to get it. It will be the first adult vaccination I remember taking. I’m not anti-vax, I got them all when I was young, and I turned out okay. Despite having the measles, Rubella, scarlet fever, and some other stuff. I was exposed to TB quite young, resulting in a permanent positive test and more chest x-rays than were good for me, until I put my foot down and said, No more!It’s just the way it is!
That might have been an early case of my accepting things the way they are: While I still fought most things I couldn’t control, I did accept that I would always test positive for TB, that I couldn’t donate blood because of that, that I couldn’t pursue a Hospice career, that my lungs would always be a little bit more vulnerable than most. Anyway, I’ve gotten my fair share of vaccinations: I remember eating sugar cubes for polio, and how we used to compare smallpox scars on our upper arms, for years, decades, after we got our smallpox inoculations, so much more than a simple stick in the arm! I don’t think I can see mine anymore, can you? But I have never gotten a flu shot, or yet a shingles vaccine. However, I’m getting in line for a Covid vaccination.
It won’t ameliorate my vigilance overnight, or likely ever, but it will give me a sense of some shielding when I have to go out in public. Hopefully I won’t get so stressed about going to the Crawford post office, or the idea of setting foot in Hotchkiss City Market, both notorious for maskless customers. Having the vaccine in me will allow me to relax more when someone comes over for some reason, and maybe let me host a cookout or two this summer, or even some retreats. A majority where I live don’t take it seriously. I do. And I’m grateful that most of my friends have gotten one or both of their shots and are safer, and that I’m next in line, and that science prevailed in last year’s battle of world views, so that finally vaccines are pouring into circulation, and most people I care about have the good sense to get them. I can only pray that our good choices on our own behalf are sufficient to stem the spread of Covid19 and save at least ourselves.
I’m grateful for quotidian, tiny surprises in any day, like this. I set the breadcrumb box there while I was cooking, to remind me to add Panko to the grocery list. Later, I saw it from the other side under the orchid blooms which matched its palette perfectly. A candid color cluster, a fleeting delight.
I’m grateful for all these tiny surprises in a single day, and that all my hopes were met today: I woke up, Stellar woke up, we ate and walked and pooped; nothing horrible happened in our little world, there were no ugly big surprises; Sun shone, hot water filled the tub, fire warmed the house, internet stayed on, we both continued to breathe and love until bedtime. May tomorrow be as great a success as today!
I’m grateful to have most of my mother’s ancestral recipes. One I hadn’t made in at least forty years was Granny’s Fudge. Granny was my dad’s mother, but my mom adopted many of Granny’s wonderful traditional Tennessee recipes as her own signature dishes, and fudge was one that only came out at Christmas. Along with May’s sugar cookies that we’d decorated that day, these were the two things we left out for Santa on Christmas Eve. I don’t know how the fudge lasted til Santa came, honestly; I just made my second batch in a month and have already eaten so much my teeth hurt.
It seemed so complicated and time-consuming when I was a child. I’m grateful that years of experience have shifted my perspective on fudgemaking, as on so many other and more vital subjects. It’s pretty simple, but it requires close observation and finesse to do things like “cook to soft ball stage” and “beat until just right.” It requires attention and skill, just like living mindfully.
I modified the recipe just a bit. It calls for oleo. I’m sure this was my mother’s substitution because I’m sure Granny made this for decades before oleo existed, so I used butter, of course. You melt the butter in a heavy pan, and mix together the sweeteners and milk, then add this to the butter and bring to a boil. Gradually add the chocolate til it’s all melted, stirring the whole time. I remember as a little girl peering over the top of the pan and being cautioned. One splash of this molten candy, I realize now, would cause a serious burn. I’m grateful I’ve learned to back away from dangerous heat.
I made a couple of mistakes with the first batch, resulting in a tasty hard candy rather than the creamy fudge I was expecting. A perfect example of impact bias. Impact bias describes how “our mind consistently misjudges how much happiness or how much suffering (and its duration and intensity) a future event will bring us.” I expected a certain level of delight in the finished fudge. I was very particular, using a candy thermometer to take it up to 235º with constant stirring. Well, at high altitude, I figured out (too late), soft ball stage is at a lower temperature: It was pretty much hard ball when I dripped a drop into the ice water. Then I made the mistake of scooping it into a cold metal bowl to beat it, thinking that would make the beating process shorter, and it did: the fudge suddenly set as I was beating it and I barely managed to spread it in the pan before it was hard. Too hard. So this thing, that I though would taste so delicious, whose texture I craved, and I was sure would make me so happy… it let me down. I wasn’t nearly as happy as I expected to be as I stood there crunching on hard candy with the right taste and completely wrong texture.
The second batch, however, has made me happy all day! And I know it’s made some other people happy, too, since I sent some home with the Bad Dogs after they delivered groceries. I’m so grateful to these dear friends for continuing to deliver groceries and other necessities, long after many people may have given up on humoring my self-imposed isolation. Their consideration gives me a strong measure of peace in this fraught time. After ten minutes in the post office last Friday I was traumatized for the whole weekend. Out of five men who entered the tiny space while I was shipping packages, only one wore a mask. Three lingered and chatted right behind me, one of them huffing and puffing with forceful exhalations. I couldn’t find the words to simply turn around and say, “Excuse me, can you all please wait outside? I’m at high risk for the virus.”
I couldn’t find the words because I assumed them to be Covid deniers, based on the absence of masks. Unskillfully, I couldn’t give them the benefit of the doubt, nor trust my own voice. My head fills with static sometimes under stress. I couldn’t stay there another minute with the big bad wolf three feet behind me audibly spewing whatever microbes he was harboring into that tight little space. I wrapped up the transaction without mailing my last parcel, which required a customs form. Skillfully, I left. The grocery store’s not much better, with a pretty consistent rate of at least 50% of customers unmasked. I get that my risk threshold is extreme compared to most people’s. But so is my familiarity with devastating chronic illness. So I’m grateful for friends who will shop for me, and eager to reciprocate their generosity.
Yes, the second batch delivered, just solid enough with the perfect creamy texture. After looking up my hypothesis, I recalibrated the temperature and pulled the fudge off the heat at 225º, then “beat like hell until just right (thick and not glossy).” I got it poured into the buttered pan just barely in time to smooth the top before it started to harden. I had to leave more in the pan than I would have liked as it set so quickly. These timing and texture details are what makes it seem like a difficult recipe, I guess. You have very short, very specific windows in which to accomplish essential actions for a successful outcome, as one often does in threading a day. I gained just a wee bit more experience that will improve my next effort.
I’m grateful for this day that brought me kindness from friends, success in my culinary venture, and a mouthful of insights about how these human minds, with their expectations and biases, yank us around like a powerful untrained puppy straining at the leash. And then, outside for a work break, I cried out in wonder and delight as I spied the first crocus blooms! I shared that joy with a friend that I knew was also waiting for this harbinger in her yard, and she replied with a fitting quote:
"A single crocus blossom ought to be enough to convince our heart that springtime, no matter how predictable, is somehow a gift, gratuitous, gratis, a grace." ~ David Steindl-Rast
Granny's Fudge Recipe
3 squares unsweetened chocolate
1 ¼ cup white sugar
1 ¼ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup white Karo
⅔ cup milk
½ stick butter
Melt the butter in a heavy pan. Mix sugars, Karo, and milk, and add to melted butter, stirring. When this boils, gradually add chocolate. Keep stirring. Cook to soft ball stage and remove from heat. Add one pinch salt. Beat like hell until just right (thick and not glossy). Pour in buttered pan, and cut before it hardens.
Today I’m grateful for crusty snow, allowing a different type of walk through the woods than usual. I skirt the trees, off trail, walking an uneven path along drip lines, where shallow crusty snow meets frozen juniper duff, picking my way carefully to avoid punching through unsupportive crust over deeper snow, aimlessly following the dog’s nose; the cat Topaz both follows and leads, intermittently running up trees. I’m always eyeing these trees: which can go altogether, and which can simply be trimmed, an ongoing fire mitigation and path pruning exercise.
Stepping along atop snow crust has its own peculiar charms, or there would rarely be reason to do it. The simplest way to explain it is to say it’s fun! How well can I gauge the crust’s strength step by step? How far can I walk without punching through with an uncomfortable jolt that sends snow down into the sides of my shoes? It’s a game of chance, and carries a similar allure to any other gamble; though the satisfaction is purely mental, and the risk of injury is real.
We explored until I was too hungry to continue then turned home, a well-earned hour of reality after a morning at the desk, a quotidian adventure with cat and dog, discovering new trees to climb and photograph, lifting our legs high to step over sticks and sagebrush, giving our hips and thighs good exercise.
I’m grateful when I remember to do the things that bring home to me why I chose this place to be home.