It’s been quite a week, full of pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral events and perceptions. The days swirl by in a dance of mind with matter, and by the end of each day I’m too tired to post. In appreciation of those who have noticed my absence, I am sharing my simple gratitude today for another week alive, one precious day after another; without further ado, but with heartfelt thanks for the love and support of my community and friends across the country.
It’s been a busy week in the kitchen. I’m grateful I don’t need to hear or speak while I’m cooking. The poor ears are still not back to normal a week after the pistol mishap, but I remain optimistic. Meanwhile, it’s all I can do to keep up with the dishes generated by the food frenzy. Last week I baked a Cookies n’ Cream cake for a small birthday dinner, and saved some to finish off at Boyz Lunch.
Before their cake, though the Boyz got a spicy potato and green pea curry over Basmati rice, recipe thanks to Honey Badger. That lasted me days longer in various iterations, including cold with mayo (an impromptu Indo-potato salad), and a couple more meals supplemented with curry-roasted cauliflower.
Another exciting gustatory treat that provided several meals was sheetpan Bibimbap. I’ve never had Bibimbap before but it looked easy and fun–and it was both! The kale came out like chips, the Lions’ Mane mushrooms were succulent and crispy outside, sweet potatoes tender, and red onions perfect. The instructions were very particular (like some people I know) about not mixing things together on the pan or in the bowl: “divide the vegetables evenly… placing them in four neat piles over each portion of rice.” Topped with a fried egg, the whole pile is drizzled with sesame oil and a dollop of gochujang.
Then the directions enthusiastically recommend mixing everything together before diving in!
The last best savory indulgence was “the gnocchi that keeps on giving.” I made a large batch of sweet potato gnocchi weeks ago and froze it in batches. I sautéed sliced Lions’ Manes with Penzey’s chicken and fish seasoning (Lions’ Manes are apparently a good substitute for crab so it seemed like a good match) and set them aside, then threw in more butter and oil along with the slightly thawed gnocchi and some fresh rosemary. After the gnocchi browned and crisped I tossed the mushrooms back in, then served it up for lunch. So simple, so delicious!
I don’t use mixes often, but am trying to master homemade baked doughnuts, and the pan came on sale with three flavors of mixes. It’s taken numerous tries, but I finally succeeded with some high altitude adjustments to the mix, and a special baking spray from King Arthur. This was the first batch of chocolate. They’re getting almost good enough to serve guests!
Perhaps the piéce de resistance from the kitchen this week was focaccia. I learned some things about the sourdough and the resting state with the last batch, and was ready to dress up this one. It definitely wants fed sourdough, not discard, to get the requisite puffy rise; and plastic wrap works better to keep the dough soft overnight. I also refrigerated this batch as directed, since the mudroom is no longer cold enough. All evening and well past bedtime I dreamed about how I would decorate in the morning.
I knew I wanted our mountain silhouette and a rising sun, and used grapefruit zest for the outline and red onion for the sun. I made a big one for the birthday girl next door, and a small one for me–I mean, to practice on. Then I made cattails with perennial onions (already sprouting in the garden) and kalamata olive slices. Rosemary represents the conifers on the ridges and a dusting of flaky sea salt just like the snow up there now, with bonsai sage leaves for the sagebrush on the slopes. Closer in, a broccoli tree with red pepper fruits, Thai basil flowers, parsley and various herbs and spices completed the tableaux.
I delivered the large one along with a cream cheese spread made with leftover bits of herbs, and sat down to enjoy the same for lunch. It tasted even better than it looked! All that, and I still managed to get some work done today, and a couple of things going for the garden. Stay tuned next for “This Week in the Garden.”
Let me remember to be grateful every living moment of every day. Once again, we stare into the dark hole of a madman’s mind, shudder at images of unfathomable suffering, face a nuclear threat I thought we left behind for a wiser century. On top of climate catastrophe and ongoing global pandemic we now confront looming world war. Life is fleeting and uncertain. Love your people, your little things, the moments that bring you joy and meaning.
I did a selfish thing this year. I ordered a birthday puzzle, and I put it together all by myself, and then I framed it and hung it on the wall, without letting anyone else assemble it. I may have breached a Puzzle Rule… but then again, I write the rules and I don’t recall one that says every single puzzle must be available to everyone. Sorry, guys! This one was just for me. One of these days I’m going to paint the green wall blue, and I wanted this on there when that happens. Couldn’t risk a chipped or stained piece–even though Puzzle Rule #1 is No food or drink on the puzzle table, I often catch a little grease spot on a puzzle someone else has done.
Leftovers are great! The Mac n’ Cheese that keeps on giving. After Boyz Lunch last week I got a few more meals from the pasta pan. First I Mexicali’d it up with homemade salsa verde and fermented hot sauce from last summer’s harvest. The next day, I simply topped it with a fried egg and bacon.
Another leftover treat used up the second half of the sourdough pizza crust which I had frozen, topped with leftover herbed oyster mushroom roast. The recipe calls for a complicated skewer construction to mimic a roasted meat, but I simply topped the red onions and rosemary sprigs with the marinated mushrooms. It smelled amazing as it roasted, and delivered a complex spicy umami flavor and remarkable texture.
I know how fortunate I am. I really am grateful, almost every moment of every day. And when the suffering of others begins to feel remote, and I forget to be grateful for the food, the skills, the luxuries, the beloveds, the beauties of the life I’ve been graced with, all it takes is one phone call to remind me of my blessings.
The proprietor of the neighborhood pub died over the weekend, shocking the community. Another reminder to seize the day. His passing leaves a big hole in the fabric of the valley. I don’t know the details and I didn’t know him well, but I can see him clearly, smiling as he inquired about our entrée, shopping at the local grocery, bringing a special cocktail or dessert to the table…. awarding Deb the prize for best Halloween costume, back when we went to big parties. Another untimely death, she said, though we both know we’ve reached the age when no death of anyone older than us is untimely. Even though it almost always feels too soon.
It was every bit as good as I hoped it would be. I’ve read focaccia horror stories: For a first effort this was a great success! Life’s simple pleasures. The joy that baking has given me over the past couple of years.
The joy of serving Boyz Lunch again, finally, outside on the patio! Scrub jays squawked in now and then to pluck a seed from the spent patio pots, as we sat in warm sun, shedding layers as we ate and talked about consciousness. They are so gratifying to feed! Everything is the best, how will I live up to the high bar I set in the first lunch of the season? It’ll be easy–they are easy to please. Today they enjoyed broccoli-cauliflower soup from the freezer, Judi Wolfe’s mac n cheese with the Secret Ingredient, and makeshift fajitas. I cooked fajita meat from the ranch down the road in an overnight marinade, and laid it in 12″ tomato tortillas, with grated cheese (Blarney Castle!), homemade salsa, and ripe avocados.
For dessert, a tiny pear galette also from the freezer. I’ve got to start eating down the freezer, as we are blessed to be able to say here. The last of last summer’s frozen produce has got to get going, so there will be room enough in a few months to start restocking with this year’s bounty. Neighbor Fred says the apricot tree is loaded with fruit buds this year–if only we don’t lose most of them again to late freezes as we did last year. It was inspiring and hopeful to plant pepper seeds this afternoon, twelve varieties: enough to share seedlings, and enough, I hope, to make plenty of fermented hot sauce to keep some and give some away.
What a wonderful thing it was to wake up alive yesterday, and to spend such a beautiful day as I did. All the love and kindness that flowed my way, the quiet fun of contentment, the luxuries of food, technology, and time to be mindful. A few pleasant surprises came up including this Lion’s Roar podcast in which Buddhist monk Kodo Nishimura discusses gender, authenticity, injustice, dharma, drag, and his new book, This Monk Wears Heels. I was enchanted.
Another pleasant surprise was finding my favorite necklace which disappeared a week ago. I wasn’t worried: I knew it was in the house, and I would find it eventually. I had the faintest recollection of watching it slide off of something and thinking ‘I’ll get it later.’ Over the week I checked behind every table, desk, bookshelf and counter I thought I might have set it on. Only when I started housecleaning yesterday and moved a pile of magazines on the coffee table did I find it. It had only slid off a short thing, a stack of books next to the stack of magazines. I remembered then that when I lay down on the couch for a nap, the chain broke, and I set it on the books and drifted off to sleep.
After a quietly productive day, it was time for Cousins’ Zoom Cooking, a new feature for me and My Favorite Cousin. She had never used puff pastry before. I haven’t done a lot with it, but just enough to know the only hard part is making the dough, so we bought frozen. Deb’s spanakopita the other day had inspired me, so we made an easy appetizer in less than an hour, Spanakopita Bites. The Fruitloop Gourmet Lending Kitchen came through with a mini muffin pan for me.
Spinach-herb-feta-egg filling all tucked into little pastry pockets, brushed with egg, and baked at 400 for 25 minutes. So simple, so delicious! MFC ate one of hers. I ate half of mine.
I was so pleased to wake up alive again today, and grateful for leftover spinach filling cooked with the leftover egg and some spices, rolled with bacon and sour cream into a couple of tortillas. Who says tortillas have to be reserved for Mexican food? They’re a great wrap for any kind of filling. Then, after a little more tidying up, I started one of two new puzzles which also came as a pleasant surprise yesterday, when a dear friend who’s moving soon dropped them off. It was just a regular weekend, but it felt like a festive holiday. I’m grateful for life’s simple pleasures this weekend, and grateful to the many people who made each of them possible.
Cousin Bill joked about how different it felt to put his Christmas decorations away at the end of January than at his habitual New Year’s ritual… It wasn’t too soon, or too late, it was just the right time. That’s how I feel. Even later, though, I’m putting away Christmas in the middle of February. It’s the longest I’ve gone. Much as I love the ancestral decorations (and a handful of new acquired over my lifeline) I’ve put away Christmas pretty late for years, grateful for implicit luxuries, but always by the end of January. At least that’s how I remember it.
I may not get very far tonight, I’m reminiscing, communing with my little things. Catherine Ingram counsels us to love who we love, and love our lives, and love our little things. Garden Buddy mentioned that very thing this afternoon in the context of what brings us joy. We sat in her garden of stone-rimmed beds and yard art, sharing a brief cloudy interlude in an otherwise balmy day. We are both growing weary of enforced hermitude, yet are not eager to relinquish it, skeptical of the alternatives.
Garden seeds arrived! A sigh of relief, winter’s end’s in sight. It’s been a strange one, as have most recent seasons. Case in point: The shower drain hasn’t come close to freezing this winter (a good thing), but this is the second scorpion who’s climbed up out of the tub drain. Itsy-bitsy spider only this time it’s scorpions the rain washes out. Spiders have free reign in my house, they do such good eating flies, and most of the widows stay outside. But this scorpion has to go right back where it came from, back to the leaf litter under the birch tree. It’s much milder outside this year, and also drier, than what used to be normal. Even as it’s been a colder winter inside, but longer sun in a rising arc warms the house earlier each day, and I have enough power now to run the floor heat while it’s sunny. So life’s gotten a little easier.
I’m grateful for this littler orange scraper, which has also makes life easier. It’s come in handy for a lot of things, but most of all for finally solving this kitchen dilemma. For years it mystified and aggravated me why the artisan who built the copper counter didn’t finish it with a rollover edge, instead crafting a lovely rim a half inch higher than the surface. This makes it impossible to sweep crumbs off into a hand or compost bucket. A similar glitch was built into the edge of the sunroom pond by a different artist, this an unchinked valley between the wall and the stone floor, leaving a ragged stripe of concrete foundation showing. I asked that fellow many years later why he’d done that, it makes it so hard to sweep or vacuum the dirt up.
“So you wouldn’t have to,” he said sparkling with logic, “because it would collect in the crack.” Had the cabinet maker brought similar reasoning to the raised counter rim? Both ‘solutions’ make it far more complicated to clean: a woman would never have designed these features.
Speaking of crumbs on the counter, these lemon shortbreads were worth the wait for butter for the glaze. So delicate and lightly tart and softly sweet. I’ve been grateful today for sharing them, too; and for kindnesses and compassions that have come my way, softening the rocky inward trail.
I’m going to tell you a horrible story, about a young man who sings on the subway to supplement his income. I know it’s true because I heard it from the relative he told it to. He makes a meager wage at a day job, and he’s talented. So he’s been singing on the subway for a few years. He tested positive for Covid the other day, and he kept on singing on the train.
“On the platform?” I asked, “or on the train?” As if one were better. Which it might be.
“On the train–in the cars!” she shrieked. My first thought was, You should turn him in! She went on to say that she told him, “That’s unconscionable! You should be arrested!”
And I went on to think, with snap judgment and barely a shred of equanimity (but notably, with some compassion): No wonder New York City cases have exploded. Because that one naive young man, pursuing his dreams oblivious to the stark reality of this ongoing pandemic, probably infected dozens if not hundreds of innocent subway riders, many of whom may have infected 3 or more others. Our busker was a super-spreader event all by himself. Like potentially thousands, or millions, of other people across the country, either oblivious to the truth or arrogantly “done with Covid,” as my cousin proclaimed he would be once ski season started.
Ski season started, and a week later he found himself symptomatic, awaiting results of a PCR test. Did he have it, or was it just a cold? (That’s another thorny existential worry these days, for another day.) I’ll probably never know; I doubt he’d admit it. And there’s fuckall I can do about any of this ignorance.
So that’s my rant for the day. Sleazeweasel wants me to give outrage and gratitude “equal consideration.” He worried when I seemed stuck in gratitude for a whole year. I don’t think he’s been paying attention! Brilliant though he is, he seems to have missed the essence of my personal gratitude challenge: I was mired in outrage and despair for most of my adult life. My personal gratitude epiphany saved me, gave me back the joy and meaning of my youth, when everything that happened was a new gift. Now I understand what Brother Steindl-Rast was talking about. Having practiced focusing on gratitude instead of humanity’s dark side, immersing myself in gratitude for an entire year, I brought some balance to my perceptions, gaining the capacity to hold light as well as dark, to see reality through a less distorted lens. Gratitude has helped me achieve the equanimity I’ve been seeking for decades.
Meanwhile, I’m grateful for SNOW! More than we’ve seen at one time in a couple of years, I think. I was grateful to wake up alive, and find deep snow at last; grateful to see sweet does bedded down under the junipers just beyond the patio. Grateful for good neighbors of any species, and greeting one gliding by on skis in the drifted driveway.
And finally, I’m grateful today for Queer Eye, a ‘season interrupted,’ now back on Netflix. The first episode was shot in March 2020, and lockdown prevented the final act, so that was filmed in May 2021. The featured mother’s father had died, as well as her daughter’s husband. (In a weird way, the pandemic has presented a global ‘Compassion Challenge’–let that take off on social media!)
The transformation of Terri was profound and complete. The Fab 5 had given the family tools to heal relationships and weather their own brutal challenges just in the nick of time. Yet another feel-good series from the loving heart of gay culture to lift everyone’s spirits. I’m grateful for satire, laughter, gay men, snow, compassion, equanimity, and seeing truth clearly, among many other things in this new year.
Human hubris is not something I’m grateful for, let me be clear. But it seems to be a fact of life and a condition of our species’ nature. So I just want to name it. It’s time, as a friend said today, to call it ‘climate catastrophe’ instead of ‘climate change.’ It’s been time for awhile. Extraordinary drought, extraordinarily high sustained winds, and apparently a downed power line, today led to an extraordinary wildfire in the Boulder/Denver suburbs. By the time I turned off the TV an hour ago, more than 600 homes had been destroyed. No count yet on loss of life. Not to say this could have been avoided, given the human population of the area, and the trajectory we’ve been on sabotaging our planet’s climate for the past 150 years. Thinking, somehow, that we were in control!
As someone who lived in one of those decimated neighborhoods said to me twenty years ago, “They’ve got to put ’em somewhere.” I had picked up Girl Scout cookies at her house, and asked how she felt about the new subdivision under construction across the field behind her cul de sac. Hers was a neighborhood about twenty years old, small homes separated by quarter acre yards. The new subdivision was McMansions jammed together wall to wall, hundreds of them in the same area that dozens of homes occupied in her neighborhood. She smiled with generous equanimity and said, “They’ve got to put ’em somewhere.” A symptom of my privilege, I suppose, or my good fortune, that her answer surprised me.
In my neighborhood, where homes are separated by ten, twenty-five, or forty acres, and could also all be incinerated by a wildfire, I get grumpy that a new neighbor leaves on a glaring ‘security’ light overnight, shining right into one of my windows. If you can’t stand the dark, why move to an area like this? I wonder. We who’ve lived here awhile are grateful for our dark skies, and find these new spotlights a distressing intrusion. As, I imagine, do the wild animals whose land we share. Ah well. Worse things have happened, like the Marshall Fire. I live with the keen awareness that a single lightning strike, or careless cigarette, or rogue firework, can destroy my neighborhood. And still it feels, watching these planetary winds, these astonishing wildfires, these unprecedented floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes, that I live in the safest neighborhood I possibly could. And for that, I am grateful.
I’m not grateful that the US Congressional representative for my neighborhood is psycho criminal insurrectionist Lauren Boebert, and I was super surprised to get a robocall from her–note that the transcription typo is Siri’s error, and the voice sounded right, and the message was on her point–from a number apparently registered to the Palestinian Territories. WTF? Did anyone else in this district get such a robocall? I could go on about that.
It might seem as though my three day break from the gratitude blog has soured my disposition! In truth, I’ve done a heroic job of staying positive over the past year, I’ve enjoyed a few days of going to bed early with a good book, and I’m still just as grateful for all the good things in my life, and in the world, as I have been. But I am experiencing a lack of patience today with stupidity. And I’m allowed a lapse, we all are. I spoke with one friend today who zoomed with a bunch of triple-vaxxed friends the other night, and a third of them had Covid. I spoke with another friend whose Trumpista family had gotten together for Christmas and half of them now have Covid, from her 4-year-old niece to her 70+ lung-cancer-missing-two-lobes sister. She is enraged at them all, and I can’t blame her. Equanimity, acceptance, compassion, and loving-kindness are not easy to practice. And yet, the alternative realm, in which I used to dwell, is just dark and pointless. I finally had to turn off coverage of the fires, and stream “Drag Race Italia” to reset my attitude.
There is so much beauty, grace, and kindness in this world, human and otherwise, that we can sense and experience if we choose to focus our attention on those things. There is so much that is out of our control, from the weather to the choices of others, that will only make us sick with despair if we choose to focus on that. Mindfulness is a balancing act: to be able to know the truth of all that is dark in human nature at the same time as knowing all that is good and bright. We maintain our sanity, our compassion, our humanity, by choosing to turn our attention to what we can influence, and letting go of all that we cannot. We can always affect those around us in a beneficial way by acts of generosity, kindness, compassion; by remaining calm in the shitstorms–or firestorms, or wind or snowstorms–around us; and by appreciating the most basic gifts our lives provide, from electricity and running water to enough food and the other species who share our world: cats, dogs, birds, deer, trees, bees, bunnies, wallabies (depending where you are!) and so many more, even spiders and snakes.
I’m grateful for all the cookies, cards, thoughtful gifts, and Christmas cheer that have been floating around the neighborhood this past week or two; that though in solitude, I am among friends. It was lovely to wake this morning and have a little pile of presents under my miniature tree. I carried them into the sunroom to open in the warmth with coffee and a cinnamon bun, and felt a faint vestige of that childhood magic of Christmas morning. Later in the day, I roasted a tiny half leg of lamb with potatoes and carrots, and steam sautéed some green beans. There was a special gratification in gathering garden vegetables from pantry, fridge, and freezer to prepare Christmas dinner, and the lamb came from a local ethicarian ranch to my freezer last year. I hadn’t cooked lamb after learning that Stellar was allergic to it. It was a quiet, peaceful holiday at Mirador.
Cooking for one, again. After writing about it the other day, I feel even more motivated to explore and celebrate the practice. I’ve fallen into a nice rhythm in the kitchen: I’m able to cook three or four times and have all the meals I need for the whole week. So simple, so delicious. Wishing that everyone had good neighbors and friends, and enough to eat, this Christmas and always; knowing it isn’t so, and feeling compassion for those who suffer without.