We’ve been planning it for weeks. I chose traditional Greek moussaka because I wanted something to do with the Navdanya eggplants I grew. I’m not a huge eggplant fan (we had a falling out many years ago), but I want to like them. This Asian variety is hardy in this climate, and gave more fruits than any previous eggplant I’ve grown. This moussaka recipe calls for potatoes, tomatoes, garlic and eggplant, all of which I was delighted, and grateful, to provide from my own back yard.
Even the tomato paste came from my garden! It is such a gratifying feeling to reach in the freezer and pull out a cube of homemade tomato paste, all that summer distilled into one little frozen block. The lamb in the meat sauce came from a nice rancher I know in the next valley over. It was a busy day, so I fit in making the first sauce with my morning coffee…
…and I whipped up a quick béchamel on my lunch break. With both sauces in the fridge I went to teach my first mindfulness class, filled with gratitude for all the day had brought so far.
Stellar rallied this morning after a long night’s sleep, eager to take a walk, and excited to see Mr. Wilson when he came to cut up slab wood for the stove. Stellar spent most of the morning here by the gate, one of his all-time favorite locations, keeping watch over his domain as always. I’m grateful for another day with him, and I showered him with attention every chance I got.
“The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention.” ~ Thích Nhất Hạnh
After class, and another short walk with Stellar, wheezing as he went, it was right back to zoom cooking with Amy. Our first task was to slice the eggplants a centimeter thick, salt them, and set in a colander.
Three of the precious few russet potatoes lent their texture and flavor as the bottom layer in this recipe. As the eggplants baked, the potatoes were sliced, fried first, then layered into a buttered pan…
One layer of eggplant covers the potato layer, which in turn gets covered by the meat sauce…
Another eggplant layer, topped with the béchamel sauce, and shredded parmesan…
And baked til golden brown! Amy has the patience of a saint. She’s two hours ahead, so she didn’t even sit down to eat til after nine p.m.
I’m grateful for a full day with lots of meaningful connection, celebrating joy in the face of sorrow, attending to a full range of emotions and letting them flow through. I’m grateful for Stellar’s resilience, rainclouds, mindfulness practice, teaching, a warm evening fire in the woodstove, and zoom cooking with Amy, moussaka edition. I’m sure I’m grateful for way more than that that I can’t remember, and I’m grateful for the warm soft bed I’m heading to now.
The morning started well when I got a shot I’ve been hoping for for a long long time: two hummingbirds midair. It was with my camera-phone instead of my husband camera, so it’s not a great image, but certainly captures the drama of their territorial nature as they protect their food source. I’m grateful for a telephone that can live in my pocket and capture a photo like this! Unheard of even a decade ago, much less when I was first meeting the big wide world forty and fifty years ago. I’m grateful that I get to spend an hour in the morning before the workday begins, out in the garden with growing, living things.
Then it was time to cook Boyz Lunch. With the rattlesnake pole beans simmering in oil, ginger, parsley, black mustard seeds, and the first paprika pepper harvested…
…an organic whole chicken roasting in the oven (in a wonderful non-stick pan from Food 52: I was skeptical but it’s been well worth the price)…
…and mashed potatoes and sliced tomatoes from the garden, we feasted! I’m grateful for all the food enjoyed today, by me and others I provide for, and for the opportunity to prepare a feast for my friends; for the hard work in the garden paying off, and for the joy that cooking brings me.
I’m grateful for little Biko, who is just about 22 years old, in the prime of his life, and always eager for something green; and grateful to offer John the joy of feeding him lettuce from the garden.
I’m grateful for this lettuce-leaf basil, that grows so prolifically in a pot, with leaves so huge they really could be used as lettuce, as Amy pointed out, and will no doubt show up on my next BLT instead of lettuce. Maybe tomorrow.
And then it was time for Zoom Cooking with Amy. We started by making the pasta dough, and then the no-cook sauce, and while those were resting we enjoyed martinis together. Then we rolled and shaped the strozzapreti, and assembled our meals.
And then we tossed the cooked pasta with the tomato-basil-garlic sauce, sprinkled with parmesan, and sat down to enjoy our dinner together. I am always and forever grateful for zoom cooking with Amy.
I’ve really missed Zoom cooking with Amy in the six weeks that my tendon has been healing. I’m grateful for the diagnosis and the therapy, and the home exercises prescribed by OT Marla, and that I have had the dedication to be compliant. I can do so much more with my left hand now than I could two months ago, and with much less pain. Amy was up for spontaneous Zoom cooking, and went out to buy carrots to make the recipe I’ve been dreaming about for weeks.
With the second carrot harvest yesterday, and some leftover store-bought carrots, I needed to use up some, and sent Amy this recipe that looked too good to pass up. I didn’t have yogurt, so made a tomato-herb-sour cream sauce; without enough cilantro in the garden, I added parsley to the carrot-egg-garbanzo flour pancakes. They were delicious! I’m grateful for carrots from the garden, for ranch-fresh eggs, for improvisation; for bacon fat and olive oil, and for all the people and processes involved in getting these staples into my kitchen from where they originated; I’m grateful for the internet, and all the hundreds or thousands of people, and the materials, engineering, and ingenuity that cause the internet to come into my house and open the entire world to my curiosity and appreciation. I’m grateful for Zoom cooking with Amy, who’s been my friend for fifty years.
Funny how our expectations and standards change as our conditions change. Stellar had a really good day, and got a long walk to the canyon this morning, and a medium walk around the sunset loop this evening. Some years ago, this wouldn’t have seemed like a big deal to me, but after the past year with him, and especially the past few months, it’s momentous. I’m grateful that he had the mobility for two walks today.
And in between Stellar’s two walk, there was a lot more to be grateful for, including a little bit of actual rain. Not more than a couple of minutes, but rain nonetheless; again, changing standards. In this climate induced drought, even a trace of rain and a cool breeze is something to celebrate. There may have been a rainbow, or trace of one, but it was time for me to come inside for … Zoom Cooking with Amy!
So much to be grateful for today! More spring bulbs are slowly blooming, hyacinths, tulips, and the dandelions too, welcome first food for native and honeybees alike. It remained cold and breezy all day, mostly cloudy, though sun emerged later in the afternoon. Only .07″ of precipitation after all of yesterday’s bluster, but oh well, at least it’s something in this extraordinary drought year.
A good day’s work inside was rewarded with another episode of Zoom Cooking with Amy. This time, she chose Spring Pasta Bolognese with Lamb and Peas. I’m grateful I had the opportunity to buy half a lamb from an ethicarian rancher last winter, and grateful that Dawn has had room in her freezer since mine has been full; grateful for a freezer, and solar-powered electricity to run it, and sufficient food to keep it full, and all those who provided all that food, including my little garden. So I had a pound of ground lamb for the recipe, and almost everything else. We made pasta again, which is so simple and so much fun, and SO delicious.
1 pound ground lamb (or ground beef, pork or veal)
Kosher salt and black pepper
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
½ cup heavy cream
1 large fresh rosemary sprig
1 pound spaghetti
1 cup thawed frozen peas (about 5 ounces)
5 ounces fresh baby spinach
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (about 2 ounces), plus more for garnish
¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley, plus more for garnish
In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat oil over medium. Add onion and carrot and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add lamb, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring to break up the meat, until no longer pink, about 3 minutes. Stir in broth, heavy cream and rosemary, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer, partly covered and stirring occasionally, until mixture is thickened, about 30 minutes. (The sauce may look broken at first, but it will emulsify as it cooks.) Discard the rosemary sprig.
As the sauce cooks, make the pasta: Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Cook spaghetti until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water and drain the pasta.
Over medium heat, add peas and spinach to sauce and stir until spinach is wilted. Add pasta, butter and 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta cooking water. Toss vigorously until sauce is thickened and coats the pasta, about 2 minutes, adding more pasta water if a looser sauce is desired. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice, cheese and parsley. Season with salt and pepper.
Divide pasta among bowls. Garnish with more cheese, parsley and black pepper.
Oh, please let this be the new Sesame Street, the new Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, the new the rest of those zany educational children’s shows that hit the big time afterwards. Please let ‘Waffles + Mochi’ be the new culturally-defining kids’ show! Drag Race meets the Garden!
“We’re all born naked and the rest is drag.”
What even is mochi? Auto-correct wants it to say ‘mocha,’ but it’s not. Even after looking it up it doesn’t make sense in my world view – some kind of rice. But this is what this show’s about: expanding the world views of children everywhere; children of all ages. Fearful people might perceive it as a threat to some single thing they hold dear, like skin color, pizza recipes, or language. But anyone else, a person with compassion, curiosity, and wonder at the miracle of life on this planet, a gardener for example, couldn’t help but be charmed. This show brings together all my favorite values. Good food (food that is healthy for us and for the planet), color (a dense rainbow of colors), self-inquiry self-discovery self-acceptance, curiosity, compassion, tolerance, love, nourishment, reverence for Life… and gardening! The transformative power of knowing where your food comes from.
From a ridiculous premise – give it a few minutes – it develops into an utterly charming exploration of food and food as metaphor. Guest stars Samin Nosrat and Chef José Andres add expertise and enthusiasm to episode one, teaching the puppets and some real kids about what makes tomatoes a fruit and a vegetable, and how to know where they belong.
Amy and I aren’t actually cooking this weekend, what with one thing and another, but we did FaceTime happy hour this evening. She reminded me that I meant to watch this show I’d read about, so now I’m doing it. It’s camp, it’s creative, it’s comedic, it celebrates real food, from the POV of an odd-couple of frozen puppets who dream of becoming chefs. Along with these novices fresh out of the frozen foods section, we (children of all ages) learn all about tomatoes in the first episode, and a little bit about how to think of our own belonging. In the second episode we explore salts of the world.
I’m no social scientist or education specialist, but my evaluation is that eventually this show (along with decriminalizing marijuana) could actually facilitate world peace. This world’s new crop of humans, the children of the Covid generation, could, with the loving guidance of wise, open-hearted elders, change the paradigm and bring humanity back into harmony with the planet, through a healthier relationship with food. I’m grateful for this clever, heartwarming show and its message of interconnection, well disguised as a frolic through the world of foods.
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 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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.