Tag Archive | the right tool for the job

Harvest: Squash Blossoms

I’m grateful for the astonishing bounty of my garden! I’m grateful for the water, the soil, the raised beds, the seeds and sets, the years of learning, adapting to, and exploring the infinite lessons of gardening, the main one of which is making friends with impermanence. I’m grateful for squash blossom time! The first blooms of many squash are all male flowers, which are expendable, and it’s even beneficial to harvest them until some female, fruit-making flowers arrive. Can’t let ’em go to waste! This morning’s harvest included four big squash blossoms, three winter and one zucchini.

Experimenting, I stuffed each of them with a piece of Laughing Cow cheese, and a plug of homemade pesto, twisted them shut, and refrigerated them until happy hour.
The right tools for the job: I rolled them in a simple batter of egg and cream, then dredged them in flour, followed by breadcrumbs, and set them in hot olive oil…
…turning on all sides until they were crisp: so simple, so delicious!
Took them out onto the patio at dusk, where I enjoyed them in twilight silence, broken only by a few nighthawk swoops, some crickets, and four or five phoebes flying around the roof. Grateful for fried squash blossoms on a perfect evening with wild companions.

Durability

The right tool for the job. That’s one of the lessons I’m grateful for from The Colonel: he always had the right tool for the job, and he gave me my very first toolbox, with a set of staple tools including two pliers that I still have. He used a Dremel tool to engrave the last four digits of my social security number on them – it makes me laugh out loud now – so I would never lose them? Or what? Anyway, I have never lost them. Also a little hammer-screwdriver set engraved with those four digits. I used to help him in his shop, since I couldn’t take it in school. Because I was a girl. Those pliers have lasted fifty years, and been well used every single one of those years. I’m grateful for things that last.

So many things don’t. But that’s another post. This one is about things that last, not only fifty years but perhaps five thousand. I’m grateful for this stone tool that I found somewhere on the property, and has ended up in my vegetable garden. It’s actually a delight to use for mixing soil in the raised beds and pots. It’s not quite a perfect fit for my hand – I’m sure human hands were smaller back then when it was made.

There are those who might tell me it’s not a prehistoric tool at all, but just a flake off a river rock incidental to a gravel operation. I know better. Even if I’m wrong, it’s what I choose to believe. I’ve known a few flint knappers over the years, and believe I can recognize human-made edges. Plus I have a degree in Anthropology. To me, this is clearly some kind of scraper tool. I had a similar stone tool decades ago that I used to clean a deer hide when I tanned it using – well, never mind, that might be a little too graphic, but suffice to say that I did it the extremely old-fashioned way, including scraping the hide clean with a paleo tool.

I’m grateful for the range of knowledge that my education and life experience have provided me, which enabled me to recognize this artifact for what it is when I discovered it by chance. I’m grateful for the curiosity and spirit of adventure that led me to try it out as a tool in the garden. I’m grateful for durability, for things that last, and for the right tool for the job.

Dinner with Amy: Smoked Trout Croquettes

“I have trout in the freezer I want to use up,” I told Amy last time. She sent a nice fillet recipe, but that wasn’t quite what I had in mind.

I’ve been so blessed over the past few years to have a friend who brings me fish he caught now and then, trout and kokonee, sometimes whole, sometimes filleted, always frozen when he delivers a catch. I’m grateful that when he can’t release them, he brings some to me, since he doesn’t care to eat them himself. Grateful for collaboration: I give him cookies sometimes, and other occasional treats.

Grateful not only for the fisherman but for the fish itself, its life ended for human sport, but its flesh well spent in support of my sustenance. Not that I contribute much more than a brown trout to the planet’s overall well-being, but I do try to.

Brined for a couple of hours in water with brown sugar and salt, out in the mudroom, almost as cold as the fridge.

So I had this package of fillets in the freezer, and it was time to use them up, refill the space with winter lamb, (or ice cream). Grateful for the rancher who raised the lamb, the lamb who lived well for a short while, Dawn for sharing her freezer til I can make room in mine. I saw this recipe for smoked trout croquettes, and sent it to Amy. This is more what I was thinking…

“Fried mashed potatoes,” Amy said laughing, tonight as we ate them, silly with how delicious they were, and the simple joy of another zoom dinner adventure together, giddy with gratitude that we’d both survived the pandemic so far, that our government survived… or at least those were some reasons I was laughing.

If I bought smoked trout that would have defeated the purpose of freeing freezer space. I let the fish thaw overnight in the sink, then drained and brined it, and figured out how to smoke it on the hand-me-down Weber grill (for which I’m also grateful).

Last spring’s pruned apricot twigs for flavor on top of mixed wood and charcoals
An hour later, after struggling to get the coals hot enough, then casting my trout to the fates so I could keep a zoom appointment, the fish flaked apart, a little dry but done: flaky, sweet, smoky, delicious.
Last night, I weighed out what I needed for croquettes, and mashed the rest with some mayo, sour cream, and cream cheese for a hearty, delectable dinner dip.
Potatoes mashed with butter, garlic chives, horseradish, egg, and cheese, then smoked trout folded in…
… rolled into little balls and deep fried. Grateful I bought that Fry-Baby years ago when David brought alligator: though I rarely use it, sometimes it’s just the right tool for the job!
“Fried mashed potatoes!” Amy cries in glee.

It goes without saying (although it shouldn’t) that my gratitude for any kind of food is broad and deep. I know where my food comes from; and I know that in a moment, access to that food can vanish, whether by ailment, accident, or catastrophe. A young man I know of with Covid can’t eat, it hurts to swallow; my mother, and thousands with her type of disease, lost the ability to swallow altogether. People across the planet, our own neighbors, go to bed and wake up hungry; victims of climate chaos flee war and drought and starvation.

We who have ample food on our tables daily are so fortunate. We who know how to make the most of what there is in our larders, freezers, markets, neighbors’ gardens and fields, are even more fortunate. Those of us who also grow our own food are the most fortunate of all, to eat the fruits of our own labors, wholesome nutritious food grown with devotion. I am grateful for food!

Kindling Cracker

Today and most winter days, I’m grateful for the kindling cracker, and for the New Zealand girl who invented it for a science fair, and for the entrepreneurs whom I hope were fair in their production and distribution of it, making it available internationally, and for UPS who delivered it to me, and for the highways, the tires, all the materials involved all along the chain of causation that led this piece of metal to live on this stump, and for this mallet… Mostly, I’m grateful that the worst, now, I can do is smash a finger rather than chop one off whilst splitting kindling. How small I can split, now, and what tough sticks I can split! And all with more control than I ever felt with the sharp end of an axe.

Kindling cracker: the greatest thing, the Colonel would have said, since sliced bread. Also grateful for that.

Cutting Boards

My cutting boards have seen better days. Last month I finally mustered the resolve to take a palm sander to them and refinish them with walnut oil. Even sanded til I was almost out of the roughest grit paper, I couldn’t fix the largest one.

The Colonel drilled into me the importance of the right tool for the job. It’s a refrain I hear often in my head when I’m working in the garden or the kitchen. Because I was raised in a throwaway culture, though, it’s taken me awhile to learn the importance of regular and proper maintenance. I’ve re-oiled the cutting boards a few times since sanding them. I was thinking I should invest in a new big cutting board and really take care of it from the beginning, sanding it and the others regularly, but I hadn’t gotten around to it when Cousin Melinda offered to send me one for Christmas.

The new Berea cutting board. I actually think it could use a bit more sanding and oil before I start to use it.

And she did! I’m grateful for this new cutting board, and will tend it well for many years. Melinda lives in Kentucky, not far from Berea College, the first integrated, co-ed college in the south, with a remarkable zero tuition, work-study program that includes student crafts industries like high-quality brooms and… cutting boards. I’m grateful that I got to visit Berea one year when I stopped at Melinda’s house for a few days on a cross-country trip. I’m grateful for the student who made this cutting board, for the teachers who taught him or her, for the trees that gave up the wood…. In gratitude practice, you eventually figure out that everything is interdependent.

Though we didn’t grow up together, Melinda and I connected a few meaningful times in our younger years, and then about sixteen years ago we reconnected for good and for real. I couldn’t be more grateful to be family with my wonderful cousin, who comforted me after my mom died with the promise that she’ll remember that I love peanut soup. She’s probably forgotten that by now; just this morning we talked at length about our fading memories, how we can remember some things that happened but not when. I asked her when it was that I had stopped by her Kentucky home that first time. I had to look it up, and she had to ask her husband.

I was driving back to DC in the fall of 2003 when my dad mentioned that his niece lived near where I had stopped for the night at a hotel. “You should call her,” he said, so I did. I think I left a message. Six months later I was making the same drive east, with two dogs, a tortoise, a snake, and a carful of possessions as I moved back to help my mother through her last months with PSP. Melinda and her husband welcomed me and my menagerie with open arms, and since then we’ve been fortunate enough to visit here or there about once a year. Until this year, of course.

Cousin Melinda two summers ago at Hayes Creek Falls near Redstone, CO

I’m grateful for the long, easy conversations we share by phone at random times, for her wisdom, medical knowledge, and wicked sense of humor. I’m grateful that through her, I was able to connect with her brothers and their families a little bit, and her dear father who will be 98 in February. Her mother and my father were siblings, and died a couple of years apart some time ago. I’m grateful to be able to explore family history with her in our conversations, comparing our sibling parents and their upbringing, to gain insight into who I was growing up and who I am today. I’m grateful that she’s game for any adventure I dream up while she’s visiting here, and that she’s eager to share her life in Kentucky with me. I’m grateful that even though my other mothers are gone, I still have Cousin Melinda to love me.