Thursday, December 31, 2009

On the Eve

In a moment today it hit me that this year is really over, and I'm still here, alive, and there's no way I can possibly even begin to try to describe just how very, very happy that makes me.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Monday, December 28, 2009

Magnificently Failing

Ah, my dears, Winter has arrived at last, and with it comes the return of light to those of us in Northern latitudes. I hope you have weathered this year's darkness with fortitude and resolve. It's not been an easy year for many of us, I know.

For my part, I can say only that despite my being blanketed by blessings over the past year, I could not have imagined it possible to shed so many tears. It has been a heart-rending, heart-mending time, graced by serendipity and circumstance, progress and setbacks. Lately it seems that the latter have overrun my senses, and I am aching with failure--to paint the kitchen, to bring my camera, to furnish my home, to speak my mind, to keep up with my work, to care for my family, to treat myself with kindness, to make the time, to listen, to love.

I am reading again, another beautiful story by Martin Prechtel.
From it these words, among so many companions, have caught my heart in a whispering net of spiders' webs, smoke and flowering vines: that there may be nothing quite so beautiful as to be (as we so often are) magnificently failing in our attempts to live and to love each other. That the tears we shed will make their way, eventually, to the sea and the sky and back onto our cheeks as summer rain, or perfect snowflakes. Thus I can but hope to fail, again and again and again.

I don't typically go in for New Year's nostalgia or resolutions, but as tumultuous as the past year has been, and as harried as the past week has, and having spent the evening of the Solstice moving all of my belongings into the basement in anticipation of having my floors re-finished (and not in any act of conscious recognition of the annual or metaphorical transformation from dark to light), I feel compelled to spend at least a few hours in meditation in the coming days. The moon will be full--and blue, depending on one's feelings on that matter--on New Year's Eve. A moment, perhaps, then... I will be thinking of you. Peace.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Wish I Were Here.

Hello dear readers,

How I've missed you. There's so much I'd like to catch up on but I'm still on hiatus, and it looks like it's going to be another couple of weeks before I'm reconnected. In the meantime, I send you this to ponder, with thanks to CM for the tip.

Hope to be back before the Solstice...

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Fuck that fun-size bullshit

Walking in the rain on the way to work this morning I was negotiating with coffee and gloves, umbrella hanging on the twisted knot at the back of my head, when I was abruptly splashed from behind by a filthy spray from the street, compliments of a passing sport utility vehicle. It soaked through my jacket, my sweater, reached my skin. It was gross. I forgot about it. My umbrella turned inside out. I turned into the wind.

Coming home late, I opted to take the other side of the street, navigating deep puddles in the drizzle, and came within one small step of being run down by a preoccupied business-man who did not notice me, even as I stood at his elbow, and sped away from his parking spot without ever knowing I'd been there. If I'd been moving one second faster he'd have hit me dead-on. Or seen me. Or both.

The rain fell light and fast on the way home, no drops but wipers on high, another dark and dreary evening of this wretched season. I can't remember a Fall so foul. I crossed the river to a familiar intersection, where someone always waits, and as I made that soft turn felt the warmth of my own involuntary pull toward home. As I approached the last light at the top of the hill, a black cat scurried across my path.

That's about how my day was, not that anyone was asking.

So the Bare Bones show this year is Devoured. Toward it I look eagerly forward, as always, trusting that it will not fail to cast a flickering light into our darkest corridors, however briefly, and show us the teeth and hands of the strange, shadowy night we know as Halloween. Wear your mask, lantern lit.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

(Mom's) Vegetable Soup

My Mom has a way with food. I'm not talking about the way everyone's Mom does, I mean she really has a feeling for food, understands seasoning, knows how to feed people... This is one of her recipes which, although distantly related to familiar dishes of the same name, is (imho) unrivaled in the one-pot-meal-in-a-bowl-comfort-plus-nutrition cooking category. Mom makes it with a beef soup bone, but I do it without (it's easier, and you won't miss the meat). My version varies from one pot to the next, but here's the basic idea.

This should go without saying, but be sure to use the best vegetables available, because their quality is what makes this soup. I find it's best to prep all the veggies first and have them at the ready before you start cooking. Amounts here are approximated based on my last batch, which was at least twice this size, but all can and should be adjusted to your preferences, of course.

1-2 tbsp canola oil
2 c onions, diced
1 c celery, diced
1 1/2 c carrot,
sliced about 1/4", in quarters, halves or small rounds
3-6 garlic cloves, minced (about 1 tbsp)
2 quarts water, more or less
1 c pearled (or hulled) barley
vegetable boullion (optional)
2 c rutabaga, diced 1/2"
2 c potato, diced 1/2"
3 c cabbage, chopped in 1" chunks
1/2 c turnip, diced 3/8"
1 28 oz. can tomatoes, diced or chopped, or more to taste
1 c corn, fresh or frozen
1 c green beans, fresh or frozen, cut in 1" pieces
1 tbsp fresh or 1/2 tsp dried parsely
1 large bay leaf (or 2 small)
salt and pepper

I usually start by pouring the oil into a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot (min 8 quarts). Then I chop up the onion, celery (you can include some of the leaves if you like but don't overdo it...fresh local celery, in particular, can be very pungent) and carrots, and toss them in the pot while I chop up the rest. Sure, you're supposed to heat the oil before you add the vegetables, but they do okay without preheating and it's nice to have them out of the way while you fill up the rest of your counter space with all the other veggies.

Once everything's chopped up, turn the heat up to med-high and saute the onion/celery/carrot (aka mirepoix) for a minute or two, then add the garlic and cook for a couple minutes more. When the onions are soft and the carrots are not yet, add the water, bay leaf and bouillon (I might use 1 square of Rapunzel Vegan w/Salt & Herbs. Or not.), with maybe 1/2 tsp of salt and a few cranks of freshly ground or some good shakes of plain old black pepper. Bring to a boil. Add the barley and simmer until it's just soft, then add the veggies, in the following order, leaving a couple minutes in between: rutabaga, potato, cabbage, turnip.

Cook for about 10 minutes, then add the tomatoes (I add these close to last because I've been told their acids can inhibit the ability of grains and some vegetables to absorb water. I can't corroborate this with any information from the web but I can attest to it, from experience. Try adding dry rice to a tomato base and see how long it takes to cook.) Add more water and/or tomatoes as necessary to achieve desired consistency (best nice and thick) or flavor (don't overpower those mellow roots).

Let everything stew for a while. Before the rutabagas and potatoes are fully tender add the beans, followed shortly after by the corn. Stir in the parsley, season with salt and pepper to taste, and let stand for a short time before serving.

I think that's it. See how it goes, let me know.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Neo-Nazi nanobots are going to kill us all.

I swear to god, some days I really hate what I do.

A freaky Hawaiian once explained to me that all human interaction was essentially an act of persuasion. A compelling argument. Then I think about the difference between getting someone to go for a moonlight swim with you and talking them into joining the army.

There's no going back.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Compassion for the Lost, or Not

Tuesday evening I caught the eye of a young man who was changing directions on a street corner downtown. He had just spun back around again as I walked up. On the slight side, sporting a nylon jacket of red, white and black, he approached me with an expression of mingled anxiousness and pleasant surprise. He was in the vicinity, he said, but needed help finding the rest of his way. The address he gave was unfamiliar. His English was fine and I presumed him to be a Japanese student at the University, though neither prevented me from talking a little too loudly as I offered my assistance. I looked left and right. He handed me a piece of paper bearing detailed instructions from I took them in, puzzled for a moment, and then pointed him toward what I imagined to be his destination, wishing him good luck with a friendly pat on the arm. He thanked me and walked on. Steps later I realized that I had just sent him off in the wrong direction, entirely--not because I didn't know the way but because I had been simply unable to make any present sense of the words that clearly told me he was in the wrong place. It was not a few blocks' walk, it was a bus ride away. Should I turn and go after him? Back at my car, I thought I might find him and offer a ride, since where he wanted to go was practically on my way home. I could have at least helped him get to a bus stop. Instead, I drove home, and left him to wonder at another strange intersection, somewhere yet further from where he'd hoped to be. Not exactly not my problem now, is that right?

Monday, October 12, 2009

First Snowfall: Frost Melon Moon

Saturday we woke to snow, brunched late and drove north through landscapes still painted by Autumn and now Fall standing boldly against the cold white, illuminated once and again by a break in the clouds: corn stubble, cattails, sumac, oak... red hawk on the air and golden eagle on dead wood...white resting heavy on green under a blaze of maple. It doesn't happen often this way.

It was quite cold--just a breath over freezing--when we arrived at my folks' place. After a stroll out to the mailbox and a gander about the place, I set about making a pot of vegetable soup for the evening's gathering at the neighbor's down the road. Their barn dance is an annual event, in honor of their daughter who died as a result of a vaccine injury as a toddler, seven years ago. This was our
first time going, and weren't quite sure what to expect. CM thought to offer this poem by Issa (one of many outstanding selections from 'The Winged Energy of Delight') but I felt it was too heartbreaking, if only as a woman without daughters of my own. Having lost one I might have found this too close:

Last night I dreamt

my daughter lifted

a melon to her cheek

So we left the poems on the table and instead brought soup (an humongous pot of it--recipe coming soon), arriving as usual to the warmth of a kitchen full of real food and good neighbors (and vice versa), accompanied this time by a fine banjo and sweet fiddle, guitar and bells and perhaps more in the room beyond... Ahh, I thought--almost in spite of myself--I'm ready to dance! And then they played my favorite song...

And dance we did, with bellies full, round and round until even the littlest kids were dizzy. We stepped to old tunes, called out keenly and played with grace, danced with joy. It was just a good old-fashioned barn dance, for real. We ended it singing, in circles. More food, more drink, more talk, more cold, and home again, right-hand star...

Sunday, Cosmic Monkey took a drive to woods further North while I stayed to work in the gardens. I did not harvest the dry beans or pick the last of the kale, nor did I wash all the root vegetables which Dad had pulled in advance of the onset of the deep cold and which were now sitting, dirty but safely in the cool of the shop. I did, however, take down the tomato fences, yank the rebar and remove the wire hoops in the front garden, cut several sunflowers (saving heads for birdseed and stalks for chipping), pull up the stakes in the front and compost gardens, put away two old wooden ladders (damn heavy, that big one), tidy up a bit and gather all the (hell of a lot of) rings from the tomatoes, peppers and melons.

It was in doing this last that I happened upon a Charentais, not yet taken by frost, among the tangled tendrils of peas and vetch. With one hard squeeze I cracked it open and to my small surprise I found inside a fruit still ripe with tender flesh--so very sweet, so dear to me--on the coldest day I'd known since our last winter.

To my brother and sisters and my new favorite Texan, my nephew, friends and others, I'm glad to have shared such an evening with you. Safe travels and sweet dreams.

Friday, October 9, 2009

This Morning I Saw

A most beautiful thing, just a LBB (little brown bird)--a sparrow, had to be--hovering slightly, momentarily, as it dropped itself into an unseeable space among tiny, evergreen branches. I almost didn't believe it.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Handle With Care

This evening I was craving Ethiopian food, after a recent dip in the Blue Nile with family in town from WI (thanks, btw, for a nice night), so I set about making a big pot of vegetables cooked in butter and spices: onion, ginger, garlic, cabbage, potato, carrot, green beans, slivered almonds and--why not?--a couple peppers from the garden. I picked out one mild Hungarian Wax, and then a hot one--a pretty little bright orange thing, all wrinkled and pointy and light as a feather, like a strange Chinese lantern. The Fatali.

I'd noticed this plant from the get-go, way back at the Friends School Sale, because of its unusual leaves and growth habit. Unlike other peppers, which all look more or less the same by comparison, this one has wide, almost heart-shaped leaves of a slightly soft and puckered texture which circle the stem in a horizontal way, creating almost a rosette around the growth points. The plants are short and bushy (or at least ours were), a lighter and more vibrant green than the standard dark & shiny of most pepper plants. Quite pretty.

Taking a cue from its name, I thought it might be prudent to sample the Fatali first, so I cut off the tip and had a taste. Not bad, a little hot but nothing I couldn't handle. I was expecting a bit more, with a name like that... Slicing up the rest of it I noticed that, on top of its phenomenal color, it smelled amazing--citrusy, sweet, earthy almost. Difficult to describe but definitely unique, exciting, enticing... One small pepper, minced, yielded maybe a tablespoon or two which I casually tossed into the giant cast iron roaster on top of the onions, garlic and ginger. No sooner had I done that than my lungs were met by a cloud of burn so hot it forced my breath out in an involuntary cough, a cough which persisted as I stirred the pot--and it didn't stop there... The steam wafted out of the kitchen and hit CM, two rooms away, causing him to cough as well. At one point it actually crossed my mind that the fumes alone might burn my eyeballs. That hot.

And thus it came to pass that my lovely stew, which was otherwise nicely spiced with a bit of nutmeg, freshly ground cardamom, a dash of cinnamon and a generous amount of turmeric, and which (along with the perfect buttered brown basmati rice with cardamom) was to be my answer to the question of what to eat for lunch during the remainder of the week, turned from potential non-Minnesotan "comfort food" to the culinary equivalent of "burning hell" in one short breath. Fatali, I now know.

Still pretty damn good, though. This one will be in the garden again next year, for sure.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Love that Hillbilly Sauce

During each of the past few summers I've made a point of cooking batches of three delicious corn-based soups from recipes in Fields of Greens (a book which I rather admire. CM and I have amassed a very nice collection of cookbooks, ranging from the essential Joy of Cooking to the magnanimous? Gastronimique, from the humble Laurel's Kitchen to the refined French Laundry... Some chefs jot down their recipes carelessly, with (one learns) approximate amounts and inappropriate timing. Some stray too far into the realm of obscure ingredients, while others seem reluctant to take any risks or put in a little extra work. Many cookbooks offer more inspiration than instruction, more pictures than flavors, better combinations of words than foods. And as a reasonably accomplished cook that's usually what I'm looking for--not a recipe, but an idea--but once in a while I want a taste of something just right. What I love about Fields of Greens is its attention to detail, its subtlety. It is approachable and ambitious at the same time, healthful but luxurious. Care is given to the steps involved (salting onions at the right time, in the right amounts, can change everything...) but it's not overly fussy or complicated. I've not delved into all its offerings but those I've tried have been, really, just right. Anyway, that was a long tangent, to get back to the soup) but there will be no delicious varieties of summery soups this year, to brighten the deep of winter... All I've got this year is tomatoes.

On Wednesday Mom brought down about a full beer case of tomatoes, so yesterday afternoon I cooked up some tomato sauce and now have (no room in the freezer for) around nine or ten pints of red sauce made with mixed varieties and a couple pints that came from four or five large Hillbillys. I did the whole boiling-water-bath-to-remove-the-skins thing and then went to the trouble of seeding them over a sieve, using our hefty granite pestle to push through as much flesh and liquid as possible. In retrospect, I'm not sure it's worth the effort to remove the seeds when the tomatoes are intended for sauce or long cooking. (For Bruschetta, okay.) But those hours weren't entirely wasted. Spend enough time fingering a bunch of tomatoes, learning their inner secrets, and you will most certainly find reasons to love and/or hate them... Here are, in my opinion, the standouts:

Italian Heirloom - reliably large without cracking or blemishes, good slicers, meaty with little pith and few seeds, peel easily, great for canning, nicely balanced (sweet/acid) and flavor
Amish Paste - deep red color, few seeds, perfect texture and flavor for sauce (I only had a couple of these in my batch but it was quite easy to see that they would make excellent sauce or paste. Hope to have enough to try that next year.)
Cosmonaut Volkov - nice, medium-sized fruits with no cracking, perfect slicers, sweet rich & complex flavor, great sandwich tomato
Yellow Perfection - prolific bearer of small fruits, juicy with lots of seeds but reliably sweet and bright flavor, makes lovely sauce and salsas
Moonglow - medium-sized fruits of gorgeous orange color, firm but silky texture, well-rounded sweet flavor, great for sandwiches, salsa, salads
Hillbilly Potato Leaf - large, substantial fruits with some cracking on lobes and bottoms, fantastic peach-gold color with veins of bright red, flesh thick and smooth, few seeds, amazingly sweet deep flavor, perfect for salsa, slicing

I should give honorable mention, also, to Hungarian Heart for many fine, large, uncracked fruits of good flavor and texture, even when rather under-ripe; I didn't have a good sample, but I'd gladly give this one another chance to impress me next year. Once again, Peacevine delivered an enormous amount of small (even for cherries) and very tasty fruits, while Chadwick produced some that were ping-pong sized and more or less flavorless. Pink Brandywine still failed to impress me, except with how difficult it is to trim and peel around all those lobes and the almost invariable scars on the bottom. Likewise with the German Pink. The Beefsteaks looked pretty nice and might be good to eat if you were starving. Sadly, I didn't get an opportunity to sample one of Aunt Ruby's German Green in its prime and the Black Krim didn't quite reach maturity, but I've got a couple of these last two in a bowl on the kitchen table, so I may get a taste yet.

Mom canned quite a few quarts of tomatoes this year, some in batches of specific varieties. Should be interesting to compare those, as well.

In terms of cultivation, the fences we built worked quite well, providing adequate support without the hassle of strings or cages, although many of the plants grew up and over the three-foot height of the top rail. We discussed pruning suckers but didn't do so, which turned out to be a mistake in two respects: first, the plants got nice and bushy but didn't put as much energy into flowering; second, all those extra leaves and branches were a perfect invitation to blight, in a damp and cold growing season. All considered, though, the crop did pretty well. This was thanks in no small part to the Agribon tent that Mom and Dad cobbled together out of some scrap wood, extension ladders, pipes and a few large rocks. This makeshift structure was covered by a large single sheet of Agribon 19, giving the tomatoes some extra warmth during the months of September and October. (It might have kept them warm a bit longer, even, if the whole thing hadn't blown loose in a storm two weekends ago. Days after that there was a frost advisory, but high winds prevented replacing the Agribon, so the tomatoes had to be picked. It didn't freeze. Of course.) Next year I think we'll build a more intentional structure, with better features, now that we know it works.

I'd hoped to keep track of our yields in pounds, before processing, but I've realized that's probably an unrealistic goal at this point, since I don't live near the garden and I don't actually harvest even half of the vegetables. Maybe next year I'll get one of those produce scales and hang it on the arbor, with a notebook nearby... Just an idea.

Anyway, that's the season-end report on the tomatoes. Gotta go clean out the freezer.

some sandwich

For those of you in northern climes, here's a great way to make use of the last of those Solanaceae family veggies:

Eggplant, cut in 1/2 inch slices
Zucchini or summer squash, cut in 3/8 inch slices
Red pepper, cut in strips
Onion, cut in crescents
Mushrooms, sliced thickly
Garlic, chopped
Baguette (Rustica Bakery, Minneapolis MN, or other)
Chevre (Donnay Dairy, Kimball MN)

Use as many veggies as seems reasonable, based on the number of people you intend to feed. One small eggplant, patty pan squash, good-sized tomato, little red pepper and onion and a few mushrooms was a nice amount for two people.

On a baking sheet or dish, toss all the veg with olive oil, a generous amount of good salt and freshly ground pepper. Roast at 450 degrees until slightly browned, turning once or twice.

Cut the baguette into serving-size pieces and slice lengthwise. Spread each with a bit of mayo, followed by a good layer of chevre, and top with roasted veggies. Cover the veggies with a few slices of mozzarella and broil until the cheese begins to brown.

If you don't have chevre or are afraid to try it, you might be able to get away with a little cream cheese (or nothing), but you'll really be missing out on something delicious without it. Likewise, good quality bread might make or break this meal, but you can probably do all right with a decent Italian loaf, or a nice sourdough, or a hearty wheat--just make sure it isn't flimsy and has some flavor. Easy, cheesy.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

I flipped to the middle. The top of the page read "Love Soup", and it began:

"These are hard times. Right? Most of us are making do with less, sometimes much less. And yet... I feel that somewhere in all this less, there is a secret more."

As my eyes lighted on those words, I felt two hands touch my shoulders, and heard someone say "Congratulations". I was tired and hungry, sitting at a cold table near the door of a nearly empty coffee shop on a Friday evening, getting somewhere close to closing time. We might have taken a seat by the fireplace at the other end, if I'd thought of it, but I was in a bit of a daze after a week which had begun with several exhausting days of illness and was now ending with my signing a purchase agreement for my first house. A house I'd only seen for the first time less than three hours before. I wasn't excited, really--just dumbfounded. Suddenly it seemed there was no one to call. I dialed home and the machine picked up. I didn't leave a message.

During the week since, I've gone round and about it in as many ways as I might, perhaps pushing the limits of the patience and good will of my family and friends, to make my peace with this decision. It's not what I wanted. Not what I'd hoped for. In many ways it is exactly what I was not looking for. And that's all right.

It was a nice bit of writing in Edible Twin Cities, by Anna Thomas, on the virtues of food and home. That sort of thing is still trendy these days--a trend which I am heartened to see so many embrace--but this piece somehow captured the heart of the matter in a way that not many do, not by giving us all the reasons or describing the beauty but by sharing her joy, in a few simple and delicious phrases, the way some women can do.

"Watching a storm outside a window for a while and cracking the walnuts is a pleasant meditation. Sitting with a friend on a summer evening, sharing a glass of wine and shelling favas, is a convivial pleasure. Dropping vegetables into a pot of water or a sizzling wok is an act full of hope. Stirring that pot is like stirring my history. And eating with my friends, all of us in the kitchen together, crowded around the table, tasting, talking, laughing well into the night--that is a joy that is home made."

In my new place I'll be alone, for the first time in many years. I look forward to the solitude for a time, as I work to refocus my energies and intentions. I hope, also, that I will find a space there which I can share with many of you, around my (as yet undiscovered) table. These are hard times, for most of us, for reasons varied and strange. To be up to the task of nourishing our selves and each other is sometimes the most we can hope to do. Or it may be that it's all we need to do.

Feed your selves well, and bring some along when you come...

Saturday, September 26, 2009


Well, friends and loved ones, it's a little after 6:30 in the morning on Saturday. About an hour ago I decided there probably wasn't any point in lying around in bed any longer, even if two hours of sleep is a little less than I'm going to need today.

Last night I made an offer on a house, and that offer was accepted forthwith. From sight unseen to Death-Contract in a matter of three hours. CM is pretty excited on my behalf, as are the two other people who are aware of this. I am strangely vacant but vaguely relieved, like I just finished the last of my final exams with a nice C minus. Maybe I'll go for a walk.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Banking and farming don't mix.

Feeling better today after being taken down for several days by a long-awaited illness (people need to get sick once in a while.) which left me a few pounds lighter and quite a bit more clear-headed than I was this time last week, if a little tired. Glad for it, good to be healing.

In a feverish and exhausted state on Sunday I managed to pick a bunch more calendula flowers, these for drying, along with a good bit of spearmint and a few sprigs of peppermint. Tonight I packed the dried calendula into a jar (with nary a thought of moths) and put a tray of peppermint and two of spearmint into the dehydrator. I can't say I've really appreciated the beauty of that variegated peppermint until this evening, although it's caught my eye from time to time...the range of color and pattern is remarkable. For a few moments I was just rather taken by it, reminded of what's drawn me to spend so much time growing, harvesting, eating, drinking, learning about and from herbs... Among many other things brought to mind, I thought of my sister, who commented on this particular plant's loveliness earlier in the summer, and how she sees these things so long before I do... Mint. Relaxing, evocative.

Cosmic Monkey turned on the TV to catch the last of Sweet Land on our local PBS station while I plucked at the spearmint (just enough to make it to the last frame). It's a Good film. If you haven't seen it, it's worth its time (as CM put it, it's enjoyable in a way that most things aren't, any more). Seeing just a bit of it again had the same effect on me as it did the first time, of feeling like maybe I ought to take that line to heart. I'm not sure I ever really wanted to be a farmer, but there are other things that don't mix with banking. I'm one of them.

Now to the bigger question: will that nettle tea I guzzled keep me up all night or help me get some sleep?

Friday, September 18, 2009

i might have (wings, hands)

someone once said that a bird in hand is worth two in the bush, but i really believe that depends on what kind of bird it is, and what you might conceivably do with that bird, whether you're planning on eating it or caging it or just letting it go, or what it might be planning to do to you, if you don't kill it first, if you were going to kill it all, or if you were just trying to set it free from a snag, in which case two in the bush could be better, for you and for it and for them, because they might just be sitting there, singing, waiting for their companion, but then again you never really can tell about birds, you know, they may just fly off and drop some shit on your shoulder and then what are you going to do with that bird you're holding?

someone else once said, keep a green tree in your heart, and perhaps a singing bird will come...

Monday, September 14, 2009


I've been telling myself that this year is all about the storage vegetables--roots, squash, cabbage, dry beans and corn--mainly because I've been less than attentive to much of the rest of the garden, the more insistent parts... Mom's kept up with with picking, storing and freezing everything (i.e., peas, beans, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, peppers, tomatoes), with some help from Dad. I think I've put in about half as much time this summer as last, or maybe just half as much care, if there's a difference... By this time last year I had a freezer full of soups, sauces and sauteed greens, with loads of herbs (both cultivated and wild) in tinctures or dried for tea and cooking. This year I have diddly squat. It's a different season, I know--only my second in full--so I'm trying to cut myself some slack for slacking. Anyway. Finally got some work done last weekend, and have a few new things brewing...

Monday: Calendula Tincture - We've got Orange Zinger and yellow Resina Calendula growing in the front and back gardens (and by the way they look great together--simply stunning with bachelor's buttons...) and both were still blooming brightly as of a week or so ago. My hope was that the plants would reseed themselves into a magnificent patch on the back of the turtle garden, but I think it might help things along to gather and plant seeds for a few seasons (and the ones in back have to move, in any case). So Monday afternoon I harvested seed, a good bagful from a particularly vigorous patch of second generation Orange Zinger and a lesser amount of Resina (which matured a just bit later and has rather smaller blooms and seeds, although the plants are quite hearty and full of flowers). Should be plenty more to come. After that I snipped the sticky blossoms, enough to fill the bottom of a paper grocery bag about two inches deep with pure happiness. (Incidentally the entire plant--stem, leaves, blossoms--is covered with resin, which accounts for much of its potency as an herbal remedy. Calendula is a powerful but gentle herbal healer, used primarily for treating cuts, scrapes, burns and other minor injuries to the skin, among its other talents...) I harvested a small number of flowers last summer and dried them for tea, but sadly they fell prey to those goddamned moths that took over our cupboard a few years ago. This time I decided to tincture the blossoms, quickly, by packing them into a pint jar and covering them with that white brandy that Mom thought to have Dad pick up. Good idea. Take that, you little fuckers.

Tuesday: Mint Liqueur - The little spearmint plant I bought from Mother Earth Gardens back in June has grown into a powerhouse about 4 feet square, with beautiful unblemished deep green leaves on vigorous upright stems (by contrast, the mint I planted last year languished through the summer and did not return this spring, although to my great surprise the one I tried the year before made a meager comeback. go figure). So I picked about a third of a paper grocery bag full, intending to dry it for tea, but then got to thinking about the likelihood of my actually drinking all that spearmint tea, since peppermint is rather more potent and useful, and I decided to make a liqueur instead, in support of my continued good health. Basically it's just a crapload of fresh mint leaves stuffed in a quart jar and covered with vodka. I used Absolut Citron. Shaken, not stirred, daily for a couple of weeks, then strain and add sugar syrup (and food coloring, if it makes you feel better). Then what, I don't know.

Wednesday: Sage Mead - with a few ounces of fresh sage from the garden, started a dry mead using white sage honey and champagne yeast. Hell of a time with this one, spilling it on the floor, pushing the (too small) stopper into the neck of the (6.5 not 6 gallon) carboy and after trying chopstick and pliers and drywall screw to get it back out dropped it all the way in, followed shortly after by a bamboo skewer, which was I guess one too many pieces of flotsam for my liking so at 1:30 in the morning I racked another batch of beer so I could transfer the mead, spilling again sticky honey water on legs and sandals and kitchen... Finally got it settled by 2:30, the silver lining being that the unnecessary transfer prompted me to strain out all but a few sprigs of sage, so as not to overpower the delicate flavor of the honey. I may sample when the fermentation slows, and if necessary do a bit of "dry-hopping" with a little more sage. I've had good luck with sage beer in the past, but result was a just bit sweet for my tastes. Hoping this will have a nice dry finish and make a heady sparkling mead.

Thursday & Friday: Chokecherry Melomel -
Near the back garden stands a fine chokecherry tree which grew from an old rockpile, planted by some birds of great ingenuity. In recent years it has been heavy with fruit of highest quality (in spite of their name, these little plum cousins are quite sweet and delicately flavored, with just a bit of that sticky sort of mouth-feel that I can't think of the word for) and the tree was loaded again this summer, drooping with fruit. Last Sunday I passed a few hours picking cherries in the late afternoon sun, all pink skinned and red-hatted, in purple fingered bliss... (Cosmic Monkey filled a bucket and left me to the rest.) The plumpest, blackest ones were up high, so I shouldered that heavy wood ladder and found my footing. I circled the tree and finally came to a place just out of reach, when from across the yard a brown thrasher came and perched on a branch just a few feet in front of me, took a cherry in its mouth. Another one followed a moment after and landed even closer, but I scared it off, I think, when I whispered "my God". Three full ice cream buckets, in all.

I have to tell you that picking over three buckets full of tiny fruits one by one is a painstaking task which I hope not to undertake again. The first bucket contained many crushed cherries, some of them molding, and required a great deal of attention--it must have consumed well over two hours, maybe three, if you can imagine that. I know you probably can't. I was tired, is all I can say. The next night I had help from my sister and we spent one and a half hours between the two of us, albeit gabbing, to go through a bucket half as bad or better than the one I'd done myself the night before. The last I finished alone, in a little less time. I don't mean here to bore you with details, only to emphasize that, should you try this at home, you will be far better off picking your fruit with tremendous care to begin with, and promptly refrigerating or even freezing them, rather than picking pretty well at first and then doing it a second time. I ended up casting off a little less than half a bucket of fruit, leaving me with somewhere around 18 lbs, I'd guess, just two short of the 20 lbs called for by the recipe I happened across, compliments of The Beverage People, for "To The Bitter End" chokecherry mead. I warmed 12 lbs of Ames honey with a couple handfuls of last year's cinnamon basil thrown in for good measure (this ended up sitting out for 24 hours or so, since the cherries took two nights). Filtered out the basil before adding the honey to the crushed berries, in my new giant bucket, with a couple packets of Lavlin EC-1118 (Champagne) yeast. Looking good so far.

Red Currant Wine, Chokecherry Wine, Chokecherry Dessert Wine - bottled (see Saturday past)

Sunday: Sweet Lilac Mead - two blissful cases of it, bottled and ready to age to perfection (damn close as it is).

Next up: cider?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

never enough Saturdays

Whew. Long day today... Just sat down, been busy since breakfast (a CM frittata of mushroom, onion, garlic, zucchini and broccoli, with cheeses). Hauled out four carboys full of wine to settle, in anticipation of bottling later in the day. Made a batch of zucchini soup and put a few pints in the freezer along with about 12 oz. green pesto and 6 oz. purple (the latter sans parmesan--thinking this might be good mixed with a black olive tapenade). Sorted through photos from mini-vacation last week. Lunched on green salad with blue cheese, pine nuts, maple/balsamic vinaigrette. Did a couple loads of laundry, buzzed to the co-op for spices. Made four jars of bread and butter pickles and a cucumber salad (with black sesame, red shiso, rice & plum vinegars, sesame oil, bit of tamari, sugar). Bottled five 750 ml bottles of red currant wine (nice and dry but clouded, still a bit liquor-y), sixteen of chokecherry wine (pleasantly fragrant, beautiful color, mellowing nicely), and six of chokecherry dessert wine (f-ing spot on, so good, so lovely). Did the dishes a dozen times, at least, on top of sanitizing bottles, cleaning up etc. Pretty short paragraph for having been on my feet for about fourteen hours today. Think I'll now enjoy the remainder of this amazing garnet glass and take a shot at relaxation. More tomorrow.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Last Summer Moon

Wanted to share some of the days by the Lake...
The time was too short this year--just three days--and I was only half there, rather strangely, even with the pleasure of my first flying leap, first rushing cold moonlit skinny-dip, first dawn by the glow of the still full moon... The water was calm for days, winds were light and the sunshine burned away some of the chill of the cold summer, though it all passed too quickly.
Glad to have more family with us this year, and for the company of my brother.

Learned a couple things this time which I suppose I probably already knew, but are worth recounting here if only for my own benefit:
1) always bring more water
2) everyone going should know where we're headed before we set out
3) there's no good reason not to



To speak of this body of water
is to call on the depths of the heart.

Crashing waves into rippling stillness,
the surface changes in moments, what's below
such cold it takes breath, courage
at the edge of ice.

To know this body of water is to reach
out of time, where nothing meets the sky
but the cry of a loon,
who slips away easily,
reappearing nowhere we can see.

There are no shells on these shores.
There is stone worn by water, water by stone.
There are lichens here older than your great great
greatest grandmother,
and tadpoles in tiny pools
fed drop by drop
of fallen rain.

Each makes its way.

One day,
others will take this body of water and leave

a space unfilled,
deeper than imagination.
Only ghosts could be so thirsty,

Today, it is full.
We leap from rocky heights

and flap our arms on the way down,
kick a little, take some in the nose
and then go again,
a little higher next time.

I could not have guessed

that angelic babe I held
ten years ago would stand behind me, now
egging me to jump,
right there)

Tonight, we dive naked underneath
the warmth of the round moon,
the last of this summer
to shine on this body of water.

Be so always,
full of dark,
bathed in light.

(Jupiter, look)


With deep gratitude to Mom and Dad, for bringing us all to this place, and sharing it with us.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Time Away

I have this new orange hoody that I've been living in lately, just the color of Rowan berries. Soft, comfortable, even flattering, yes, but mainly it's bold--perhaps the brightest color I've ever worn--although seemingly not conspicuous. It suits me these days, I guess, in a way maybe warding off the blues and those greyer days to come (no I do not need to sleep in, dammit! thank you.), buttressing my aura... Anyway when I pulled it over my head tonight I breathed in a scent which I suppose could only be something of my own but was somehow oddly unfamiliar, sweet and alive, of wood smoke and moonlight, lichens and sunscreen, coffee and rosehips and pine and dew with just a smidgen of barbeque sauce and a splash of kaluha over warm rock and shoreline. These are my leftovers from nearly a week away from the grind of the city. I sort of don't want to wash this shirt ever again.

More soon on the trip to the Lake, garden happenings, what's cooking, potions and what-not...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

i put my root down

Took a second pass at the roots this weekend, pulling up turnips, carrots, beets, rutabagas and radishes... All in all, the take was over 35 pounds--12 lbs carrots, 8 lbs radishes, 8 lbs turnips, 5 lbs rutabagas, 5 lbs beets--not bad, considering these were just the ones we're getting rid of, to clear ground so that the rest can mature for winter storage. The extraordinary poundage on the Misato Rose radishes was mainly due to their size, up to 4-5 inches in diameter, and because of that I was expecting them to be far past edible. It turned out that they were not only sweet, tasty and crisp (not woody) but also strikingly beautiful, with satiny skins ranging from green to white to deep pink and flesh of similar hues in patterns varying from fuzzy-eye to starburst. The peels on the larger ones, maybe 1/8 inch thick, pull free easily by hand. A nice bite when small, sweet and mellow as monsters...quite a happy discovery, these radishes, yet another fine offering from Fedco Seeds. In other radish news, in a half-hearted (and subsequently abandoned) effort to do some cleanup in the melon patch--which is now waist deep (on me) in peas, oats and vetch, among the ground cherries (hundreds of them this year, all over the place) and volunteer sunflowers (also, everywhere)--I pulled from the Earth this rat-tailed radish, self-seeded from last season:

radish vs. coffee mug. who wins?

While trying to find a suitable spot for a photo in the afternoon sun, I dragged this beast back and forth around the yard a few times, feeling like a hunter bringing home the kill, the proud cat carrying its prey... it was That Big... reminded me of the Radish Spirit in the bathhouse...

from left to right, radishes, rutabagas, turnips, and check out that Daikon...

you are what you eat. go ahead and try not to get excited when you think about how this color will look on you.

some of those sensuous Misato Rose radishes, + one Plum Purple & one Cherry Belle

Beyond the roots, CM and I came home with enough zucchini, patty pans, broccoli, cauliflower, peas, beans, lettuces and cucumbers to fill up every square inch of the fridge not already occupied by condiments, fermentables, cheese and beer... Didn't even bother with the kale, chard or herbs this time. Tomatoes are ripening, corn tassles are now well out of reach, hop vines are heavy with blossoms, potatoes are for the digging, onions and squashes are getting fat and there are apples aplenty... When the harvest comes, it doesn't hold back. Now, what to do with all of it?

Friday, August 21, 2009

i (heart) my ghetto ride

CM's been away this week, off in the woods on his own for a while. Among my other activities in his absence (cleaning out the closet, winnowing the reserves of homebrew), I've been out cruising around in the Olds, house-hunting. This evening was gorgeous, especially after the week we've had here, and I probably should have enjoyed it with a friend on a patio somewhere but instead spent a couple hours after work (as I did yesterday) doing drive bys. All week I've been pretty worried about driving this thing around, feeling like it might literally fall apart at any moment, and every day I've pressed my luck just a bit. Seems it's actually gotten noticeably worse in these few days (or maybe I'm just that much more tuned into it now...), but with each new morning I've gotten past this by telling myself that I'm ready to just abandon the damn thing somewhere if it craps out on me. And off we go. So I was out tonight, driving around below empty, wheels rattling, brakes shot, groaning at every turn, disturbing the peace (CM's muffler job, which seemed as though it was gonna do the trick, has apparently come loose), but in spite of all that it's practically impossible not to love the Olds, its self-assured, all-maroon style and seriously comfy bench seat, the way it just floats over all those bumps in the road, how it corners like a wave in deep water, and starts up every time like it just wants to go, and go on... Makes the Volvo seem a little fussy by comparsion, but, hey, mangoes to cherries. Also kinda makes me wanna keep the Olds until it stops running. It'd be nice to find a house I felt that way about.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Three Hits

Got this song in my head tonight (three hits to the heart, son, and it's poetry in motion...Rites of Passage, Indigo Girls...maybe it's just nostalgia but even with the over-produced-early-nineties-sorta-cheesy-pop quality, I still admire so much about this album, its rich feminine language, sweet melodies, honesty, radical political poetry, and love...) which led me to the liner, for the lyrics, where I found this one is "dedicated to the memory of a great poet, Frank Stanford". And then, and now, these lovely words, compliments of Wikipedia, from me to you, dear friends:

Death In The Cool Evening

I move
Like the deer in the forest
I see you before you
See me
We are like the moist rose
Which opens alone
When I'm dreaming
I linger by the pool of many seasons
Suddenly it is night
Time passes like the shadows
That were not
There when you lifted your head
Dreams leave their hind tracks
Something red and warm to go by
So it is the hunters of this world
Close in.

Frank Stanford, ©1974

MOnky MinD

driving home yesterday in a pretty twisted state it suddenly struck me that the "monkey mind" isn't about some acrobatic hyperactive little mammal jumping around and clapping tiny cymbals.... it's every primitive primate thought that rushes through our veins and floods our brains, from love to homocide and everything in between, and every moment and bit of that is part of our genetic code, whether you like it or not, and maybe more to the point it's our humanity, which (as we all should know by now) is only all of us... essentially you, essentially're a killer. you're a lover. you're everything and i am you, we are the walrus. can you dig that?

Monday, August 10, 2009

kinda kick-ass stir fry

Try (something like) this, it's pretty darn good.

Serves: ?
Time to prepare: 40 min
Prerequisite: basic cooking skills, common sense, love of veg

1/2 pound tofu, in 1/2 inch cubes (optional)
1 small to med onion, halved crosswise and sliced in crescents
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch or so fresh ginger root, peeled, cut crosswise and thinly sliced (or maybe 1/2 tsp ground, added to sauce)
1 or more or less (more or less) hot pepper (jalapeño, Hungarian wax, etc.) or a bit of chile sauce, to taste
1 med zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced
1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced or cut in wedges
1/2 pound broccoli, florets and stems (and leaves, too, if you've got 'em)
1 cup peapods, snow or snap, cut in 1 inch lengths
4-6 scallions, cut on the diagonal in 3/4 inch lengths
1 nice handful Thai (or sweet) basil leaves, whole
2 tbsp peanut or canola oil
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
few splashes worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp+ fish sauce
1 tbsp+ soy sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp corn starch
some water

rice (basmati, long grain brown or white if you must), or noodles (udon, somen, soba or rice) - put this on first. do I need to explain?

If using tofu, in a cast iron skillet or wok, heat 1 tbsp peanut or canola oil with 1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil over med-high heat. Add tofu and fry until it begins to brown, turning a few times and dousing with fish, soy, and worcestershire sauce to season. It'll probably splatter, so don't wear your favorite shirt. Once browned, remove from pan and set aside.

In a small mixing bowl or measuring cup, what have you, mix 1 tbsp each fish and oyster sauce (find an Asian grocery and read labels until you find ones without additives; all you need is anchovies/oysters, sugar, water and salt--NO MSG! etc., using best judgement) and soy sauce (San-J Shoyu is my fav, or their Tamari, no sense in seeking further), with about a teaspoon of sugar, to taste. Add corn starch and a tablespoon or two of warm water. Stir thoroughly. At this point you can either dump this mixture into a little saucepan and simmer until it starts to thicken, or reserve and throw it in with the veg, in a few minutes.

Add remaining 1 tbsp peanut or canola oil and 1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil to skillet/wok and heat over med-high flame (if you have an electric range, it'll probably all be ok, but I have no idea how to help you). When hot, throw in the onions, followed by ginger + garlic, peppers, broccoli, zucchini, pea pods and mushrooms, something like 30 sec to 1-min apart, stirring frequently with maybe a shake of salt and a few turns of freshly ground black pepper. Don't overshoot it; there's no good in overcooking the veg--half-cooked is better than overcooked. Dump in your sauce and cook for a min or so; if the pan's good and hot it should boil quickly. Turn off the heat before you think you should, when everything's still just a little crunchy, and then toss in the scallions and basil. Stir and let sit for a couple of minutes. It'll keep cooking while you drool. Serve over rice or noodles in an attractive bowl. Sit on the back porch or front stoop and watch the birds.


Back in the city again, after more than a week away, and back in the office today. The Cosmic Monkey and I drove back last night, getting a late start after an afternoon tending tomatoes (suffering from bit of blight, but should pull through ok) and lounging on the lake in the new pontoon (now that's what I'm talking about...), and an evening scramble to gather veggies (holy crap how did this happen so fast?). We came home with, oh, I don't know, ten pounds of zucchini and summer squash; four of kale, chard and turnip greens; four of beets, turnips, radishes and carrots; one of lettuces; a bagful of basil, parsley, oregano, sage, and thyme; a couple handfuls of arugula; a dozen fresh orange-yolked eggs from our good neighbors down the road; a quarter-pint of raspberries; half a head of cauliflower from my sister's garden (ours isn't heading yet); a pint of yellow pea-pods and some shelling peas (so sweet); a quart of broccoli; a half-dozen apples...Too much, way too much. On top of that Dad sent us home with half of a giant picture-pink watermelon. We are two people with one small refrigerator. I managed to get it all in there but I have no idea how we'll use or otherwise get rid of that much food in a week or two. (Any takers?)

The road home seemed long, after having traveled only as far as the beer store and back in an entire week. It was getting late, and was my first exposure to the "developed" world in nine days. At a split in the road I made a wrong-headed turn into road work ahead, stop-and-go for a couple miles (such a pleasure with a clutch), which spurred us onto a longer route into the city, the so-called "flow" of traffic feeling familiar but uncaring as my eyes readjusted to taillights and stoplights and neon signs, plastic light-boxes fixed to the front of tire shops (rubber dust in our lungs with each mile worn) and laundromats (cuddly-soft chemicals that cling to our skin) and pawn-shops (no it's not worth what you paid for it) and all the Chinese/Mexican/Indian/Vietnamese/Ethiopian/Ecuadorian/Afghani restaurants (from home-cooked to Sysco-synchronized, truckload by truckload)…all these storefronts, miles and miles of them, each one someone's best effort toward survival in this mad world…and yet all so very far, it seems, from life. As the exhaust and cigarette smoke came down on us through the open sunroof, I had to ask myself, where are we headed?

I've experienced something like this before, after trips in wilderness. After days of walking with a pace at which one might see a reflection in a raindrop or hear the footfall of a toad, we leave the trail, hop into a car and tear off down a "freeway" at break-neck speed. We turn on the radio, stop for gas, eat snacks out of a plastic bag. Suddenly we can't get by without electricity. We run gallon after gallon of clean, fresh water down the drain. Back to normal, in a matter of minutes.

For a week I woke by the light of the sun and wandered by the light of the moon. In just a few days my nerves were re-strung, my senses re-tuned to the flight of birds, to the rhythm of clouds, to the swelling of squashes and the whisper of cattails. I ran through woods at dusk, sure-footed over uneven ground even in my weakness, my muscles knowing with light-speed how to follow each curve of the ground. I slept through the night, more often than not, and more soundly than I have in longer than I can remember. The ache in my back slipped away and my vision cleared. Breath upon breath came more deeply, easily. I ate little, drank little, but felt full.

This morning I drove to work, parked in a lot I can't really afford, shouldered my bags and set a course toward the glass building in which I have spent a decade of my short life. Across the street from me a few men continued their work on a project which has lately drawn my attention: first they blocked off with cinder block and brick what was formerly open street-level cycle parking; now they're bricking up the rest of the façade of the block-sized ramp, for reasons I can neither glean nor imagine. Perhaps it's to keep the garbage out, or the homeless, to make the street look nicer, put an end to free parking, use up allocated funds, employ a few people… none of these reasons makes any sense to me. How much could this cost? How many people could this feed? What else could be built? And this, just one insignificant effort. A couple semis roll past me, louder than my memory. Here I am again, in the thick of it, where the engines of commerce belch putrid fumes as I step lightly over the dried vomit on the sidewalk. Shuffling feet approach me from behind and I'm doused with the stench of cheap cologne breezing past. I cross the street, on parade, while idling minds gape at the lights, fingering knobs and buttons. Again there are footsteps behind me, only these pursue me around the block, all but two strides distant. I want to turn around and ask him what the hell he thinks he's doing. I am not leading, but he is following, close, as if we were en queue at the movies or the DMV, or on a moving walkway at the airport, cattle on the line to slaughter--so close, in fact, that when I reach the building and open the door he catches it behind me. We walk in together through the secure entrance and board the elevator together as my annoyance begins to dissipate. He's holding a cheap paperback, says something about Monday, smiles and is friendly, harmless, pleasant. Here I am again, back in business. Going up. He gets off, and I continue.

Inside my cube, flourescent lights vibrate unsilently as I squint in the dead light at the screen in front of me and the grey background beyond. Overhead there is static in the form of white noise, piped in to set the mood. From the "kitchen", backed by the hum of industrial refrigeration machines, wafts the odor of manufactured flavors, plastic-wrapped and microwave ready. While they wait, consumers speak in voices unthinkably loud, discussing the virtues of their boxes. I try not to breathe. It's not difficult. By mid-morning I am uneasy, by mid-day my throat is closing, by the end of the day I am dull as an eraser, heavy as a stack of bricks. Where is the sense in all of this?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Picking & Choosing (Berry Moon)

Gentle, grey day today, changeable but constant. I just got in from picking raspberries. Rather remarkably, the only sound this evening is the wind in the trees, the high rustle of popple, the low rush of and then a loon, a squirrel.

The raspberry patch is thriving this summer, abundant with fat tasty fruits. Earlier this spring I pruned back all the canes to around three feet, and about ten canes per row foot (rows about eighteen inches wide). The four rows that were transplanted two seasons ago are now five to six feet tall and fruiting heavily. The remainder of the patch was transplanted last year and is still only two to three feet high and bearing little fruit, but growing into their new space; the rows are thin but the few empty spots should quickly fill in. We've given up quite a lot of berries to the birds, in spite of their being (somewhat haphazardly) covered with netting, but even so I picked a couple quarts on Monday, mom picked another pint or two on Tuesday, with another pint coming in today. If next year follows on this one we'll have a veritable crapload of raspberries on our hands. I'm thinking berry wine, berry mead, berry cider...

It could just be the primeval gatherer in me, but there's something compelling about picking berries, something that has perhaps more to do with finding them than with popping them in your mouth (although I've had raspberries for dinner twice now this week, rather unintentionally foregoing those plump yellow patty pans), something more to do with admiring a deep bowlful of red ripeness than crushing it with your tongue (mine, now a bit raspberry-acid-burnt)... I've always sort of felt that berries--raspberries, in particular--are something akin to Sun-drops, ancient as rubies, fragile as hearts, inspiring a sense of prolific, perpetual potential in each multi-faceted seed of memory, the architecture of our summer igloos. What seemed attached comes free, what seemed full opens with possibilities...a thimble, a hat, a fairy's cup from which to drink the darkness of the Moon, when she pours... Our small arms learn to find a way among thorns, our small hands receive blessings. There is food for the Child.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

(no subject)

i slept like a deity on monday night, to my delight.

as i write now, right now, an owl calls.

i have been here for the week, to take care of things. it has gone quickly, slowly.

there is a zen koan which says "if you meet the buddha, kill the buddha". i always liked that one even though i don't really understand it, in much the same way that i enjoy reading yeats. running through the woods, i pause to admire a patch of mushrooms just emerging from the earth, their small round heads sitting atop fat belly stems like so many little buddhas. in greeting, i shout obscenities at the wet dog. no one but me is concerned.

the wind chants in my ears and i ache for something wild. i listen for the call of the wolf i saw here once, peel the landscape with my eyes for a cougar, longing for a growl. nothing comes but the call of an old oak tree so i follow. a good one to climb, a place to be buried. i stand on a burl and lean on a fencepost, stretching toward limbs out of reach. another day.

i step over the downed fence and onto the adjoining land. i am trespassing, but i feel at home. grasses brush my breasts and shoulders while the waxing moon peers through the clouds. there is still a for sale sign there, i see, in the weeds.

it took more than an hour to unwrap the piano. it sits in the northwest corner, near the bunkbed panel router and the back door of the shop which opens toward the pond, where frogs sing yet. for ambiance i bring two matching lamps that were once my grandmother's, happy to find that the bulbs have not burnt out in these years past. i play, i hope to remember where my hands go. i try to control, but my fingers find chords without my knowing how. my memory precedes me. i am amazed, grateful.

i wake too early in fright and my heart pounds like a drum all day, not in a good way. i can hear it, not in my ears but in my chest. the day is long and the weather changes. i take off all my clothes and lie down in the grass, wind caressing my thighs and sun burning my nipples, warming my belly. i imagine building a living sanctuary with only two ways in and out, where i will post 'no trespassing' signs when i wish to be alone. at the sound of every passing car i flinch. i want only this, to be naked in solace. to be in privacy, in my time.

it's quiet in the evening. the sun sinks and i tie on my shoes. in a peaceful moment i hear the braid of my hair in the mirror.

again i play after dark, and i practice this time, until the secret noises behind me drive me out into the night. beer in hand, i walk down the long driveway at midnight. gravel crunching underfoot breaks the silence under the full moon. i fetch the mail. i sing old songs. i sleep until morning.

today i put on my swimsuit and feel at home, mother and child at once. i see a cedar wax-wing, the first since the one in my dream who hovered before me in slow motion and who i knew at that moment to be my mate. i sit on the roof and watch swallows dive into the grey sunset, see the wax-wing once more, close, before it flies away to the oak grove. there are small clouds above the barn roof, and i am at peace.

the moon is just past full and so am i. so are you. the owl calls again, just now.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Sunday, August 2, 2009

how things grow

It's not at all surprising, really, how much things can change in a couple of weeks--or a couple of seconds, for that matter--but it still amazes me to see it happen. It's been two weeks since we were here last and the garden is a whole different place, again. Everything is twice the size it was, fruiting and flowering, lush. The corn is taller than I am, now, and just starting to tassle. The tomatillos, spindly and noodle-thin when they were planted, are now chest-high and branching out confidently, dressed in showy yellow flowers and tiny lantern fruits. Summer and winter squashes are thick with blossoms and putting on weight. Borage is in full fantastic bloom, soft and starry, abuzz with bees. Cabbages and broccoli are heading up, peas are podding. Beans are blossoming in red and purple, white and yellow and black. Lettuces are still blushed and leafy sweet, most likely because of the cool weather (and possibly in part due to my fine selection of varieties, with which everyone has been quite pleased. Thanks, Fedco.). Everything seems to have benefitted from the mild and rainy conditions we've had this summer, although I'm a bit worried that we could end up with another unripened tomato and pepper crop this year, or that we'll lose the squashes and dent corn... I'm hoping now for a heat-wave in August (a couple swimming days would be welcome, especially with the addition of a nice used pontoon to the fleet) and a long, frost-free fall (with perhaps just a couple cold nights so we can try out the Agribon row covers that Dad bought), to help get us there.

Happily, most of the seedlings I started this spring have come along quite nicely and far exceeded my (previously somewhat unrealistically high and then dramatically low) expectations. Many have matured at different rates, even among the same varieties, which could be something of a boon as crops come in. My little tomatoes, which were (I felt, embarrassingly) behind schedule when planted, have more or less caught up to the larger ones my folks planted at the same time. Okra's been slow to grow, probably due to the cold--not a big deal since it was mainly planted for its looks (do I even like okra? I don't know). The melons, likewise, are probably not going to reach maturity before the season's over--something of a disappointment, after such a promising start, but they were set back considerably by an early planting followed by temperatures below their tolerance. I knew I was probably pushing my luck with the melons, but there's something so sensual, almost magical, about them that it inspires me to try, to hope for that luscious bounty. Next year I'm going to have a wheelbarrow full of them, mark my words.

In the meantime, we've got root vegetables. Yesterday I did a first thinning of the radishes (some having already been eaten), turnips, beets and carrots. Some folks say to thin early, but there are a couple good reasons to do it later: one, no one felt like doing it before and there was enough else to tend to; two, instead of pulling a bunch of puny seed leaves you yank out a nice crop of baby veggies. Actually, if we'd thinned the seedlings to begin with the second thinning might have produced a slightly better crop, but it's hard to say. Also doesn't matter. What matters is that we got eight pounds of roots, four pounds of beet greens and three pounds of turnip greens out of the garden.

top left around to bottom left: danvers and scarlet nantes carrots, chioggia beets, detroit dark red beets, purple-top turnips, early wonder beets, yellow intermediate mangel beets, lutz salad leaf beets, plum purple radish, misato rose radish

It borders on silly, how much it excites me, the surprise of their emergence from the ground, the shape of them, their color, the culinary possibilities, much less actually eating them... I'll admit I was slightly less thrilled after spending a couple of hours cutting and washing all the greens, and then trimming and chopping (and cooking them into the largest "chard" casserole that's ever been attempted), but there are reasons we do this, beyond simple pleasure. I don't think I need to name them.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

put de lime in de coconut

Several years ago I decided it would be a good idea to start writing a cookbook. I got about as far as a rough draft of a table of contents, which was to include all my mom's specialties, and my grandmothers', and my father's (there are a few), and my sisters' and brother's and neice's, and CM's, and mine, and any other family recipes or others I'd found in one way or another to be reliable, satisfying, nourishing, outstanding or just plain old yummy. I've gotten a few of these down in writing but my frustrations with software and its inherent disinterest in foodstuffs have deterred me from getting very far on this project. However, in the interest of not being a total lazy ass, I am hereby recommitting myself to this undertaking and will make every honest attempt to spend 15 minutes per day to add a recipe to the mix (even though I should be spending that time doing crunches. one thing at a time, folks, one at a time.) By the end of the year I should have a pretty nice collection, if I fail to fail at this endeavor.

Now that we've got this new thing they call digital television, there are a few more public channels on the set, including any number of relatively lackluster shows about food. Junkie that I am (oh Iron Chef, how I miss Thee) I cannot help but get sucked in by even the most soft-spoken-round-bellied-meat-eating-city-slicker, much less all those bright-eyed farm lovers and sassy, drunken foragers... Watching all these people make food on camera makes me a) hungry, b) a little aroused and c) aware that CM and I eat very well and creatively, much of the time, both out of something akin to necessity and for the sheer pleasure of it. One of my favorite ways to pass the time is with a knife in hand. En guard! The gauntlet has been thrown...

So the challenge now is to keep up with this task, daily. I'll up the ante (self vs. self!) just a little by attempting to create some new edible compositions
of my very own, as this year's harvest comes in, and if any of them is any good I'll share them here. Until then, an offering from my archives:

Yummy Thai Salad

1/2 c. wild rice (1 1/2 to 2 c. cooked, cooled slightly)
1/2 sm head red cabbage (approx 4 c.)
3 sm carrots, thinly sliced
1 md daikon radish, in 3/4" matchsticks
4 lg or 6 sm scallions, sliced
3-4 tbsp fresh cilantro, finely chopped (15-20 sprigs, stems and leaves)
2-3 tbsp shredded coconut, toasted (cast iron works, or toaster oven... keep watch)
1/2 to 3/4 c. cashew pieces, roasted or toasted
1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

3 tbsp rice vinegar
1-2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp shoyu, tamari or other soy sauce
1/2 fresh lime or 1 tsp lime juice concentrate
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
2 tbsp canola or peanut oil
1/4 tsp powdered ginger
1 tsp sugar

Throw it all together, change the amounts, see what happens. For something a bit lighter try rice noodles instead of wild rice, use green cabbage and add some fresh mint. Douse with fish sauce. Enjoy...

(btw, I have to admit that I can't really remember if this one's any good, but I did write it down and actually used the word "yummy". Must have meant something...)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Come Again, Another Day

It's Summer, and the garden is in bloom, flush, growing, thriving and, happily, very recently soaked. Again. It's been a mercifully wet July this year, albeit a bit chilly. Temps in the sixties last week, with overnights to the low forties.

I took the day off on Friday, to get some rest. CM and I headed up to my folks' place late. They were in their usual places in the kitchen, Dad with a fishing rod and some new line, Mom with a glass of wine and on the table between them, something new: my parents have
finally acquired, after some deliberation on their part and years of bitching and badgering on my part and CM's, a small set of knives befitting my mother's fine culinary skills and my father's appreciation of well-crafted tools. It could very well be the most subtly life-changing event of the year.

Saturday, the guys took the boat out on the lake early and returned a few hours later with a nice looking northern that Dad had snagged (in anticipation of the dozens of fat sunnies, crappies and bass they'll bring home next time, ha ha). Mom and I had a relaxed morning and weeded through the afternoon while Dad found and cut pieces for the tomato supports and CM took a long nap. I'd forgotten how much I can and really do miss the garden sometimes, how honest it is, how real. How totally not stupid bullshit. How alive.

A few new plants have caught everyone's fancy this year. There's a yellow-podded pea of the most fantastic color, with two-toned violet flowers, golden tendrils and soft white-green leaves that wear a ring of fuschia where they meet the stem. The favas have been captivating, also, with their stout square stems, black & white rabbit-like blossoms and origami leaves, unfolding into the sky. Hope to picture them here soon, if I can take a proper photo. In the meantime, here are the Scarlet Emperors, climbing with abandon, and waist-high Hickory Dent corn, spiraling higher by the hour...

On Saturday evening, after dining on that pike and a few other local delicacies, CM and I traveled north to stay at a friend's sweet cabin for the night. The interstate wasn't too far away, but neither were the North Woods... There's something about arriving at dusk, locating the shitter and finding your way down to the water's edge that will make your nostrils flare just a little, with the scent of pine needles underfoot and the potential for some kind of wild encounter (if only with a wicked little black spider on a square of toilet paper...). It was buggy enough that we stayed inside, in spite of starry skies, and cold enough that we started a fire in the old upright woodstove. CM switched on a battery operated radio and we tuned in for a while to a nice old-timey set (except for one, gospel awful) on Radio Heartland which included some fine saw playing by a friend of a friend, or so, with the Roe Family Singers. We read by candlelight. CM remarked that this was about all the technology he needed, and I felt much the same way. A peaceful night and morning in a quiet place, for a change.

near the doorstep, dry Birch and unknown white flower

On Sunday morning I sat out in the sun (!) and finished the book I've been reading lately, Secrets of the Talking Jaguar. This book, a gift to me from CM, has been the most timely and inspiring piece of writing that has found its way to me in quite some time. I actually cried just reading the acknowledgments. I can think of no other, offhand, that has reinforced my experience and mirrored my hopes in the way this one has. Martín Prechtel has here given voice to an Incantation of Love, and I am infinitely grateful for what I have learned from him and from it, so far. He draws the legend to a map we all knew by heart once, but have forgotten... how much there is to learn, as we heal and remember. As we must, as we will.

Sunday afternoon, CM took a walk on the river while my folks and I assembled and constructed a dozen fences for the tomatoes (to keep the sheep out...). Evening sun is always golden and lovely but pretty crappy for photos, so I'll post one next time, with some specs. As the sun sank, we loaded up a bag full of kale, one of chard, another of mustard greens, a couple handfuls of arugula, enough lettuce for a boatload of hamsters, a bouquet of radishes and several pinches of herbs--reminding us how gracious July can be, and also that in a few weeks we're going to have more veg than we can handle--and we hit the road for home, just before sunset.

On Monday, I experienced a minor miracle: sometime in the afternoon all the pain I've been carrying in my lower back and hips just up and left me. Aside from putting me in a state of dreamy bliss, this fleeting respite reminded me to be grateful, every day, for the pain I do not carry, which others do. It reminded me, also, that there was a time years ago when I hoped I might help heal others, with my small hands. So many people believe that to live in pain is not only inevitable but necessary. It is neither.

Today is Tuesday. Over the course of the past day it rained three inches on the July garden, and an infinite measure on my sleepy morning soul.

Anyway, if anyone wants greens, we got 'em... Let me know. More to come.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Promise of Sunshine, Promise of Rain

I have trouble sleeping. The reasons for this are ancient.

One of the things about sleep deprivation is that it can make you into a total psycho. I suppose it might be kinder and more accurate to say that it can induce a sort of psychosis. Compound that with the debilitating effects of dizzying empathic responses and blood-deep depression and you'll end up less than human, not a monster but a ghost, a whisper with no name. I was one such, for quite a long time. I lost my identity in a metaphor. I could hardly speak. It humiliated me to share food, to swallow in the company of other people. Asleep or awake, I suffered nightmares, was haunted, hunted, terrified. Above all, I was ashamed, and I still am, to share this. I write of it here not to perpetuate it, but to dig into it, turn it over and seed something new. Like addiction, like cancer, this kind of depression does not go away. We live with it, in it, in us.


The night before the funeral, I dreamed I was in my old bedroom,
searching under the orange bunk bed for something I could bring with me. There I found a heart-shaped trinket from a ponytail holder I used to wear when I was a girl. This was three years ago, now. At the time, such a dream--of the essence of my childhood--was almost unimaginable. To remember that I'd been just a girl, once, and shared a room with my sister, danced in circles on the grass... to find that small heart was a beautiful gift. In the days since we'd received the word of Sunshine's death, I had been flooded, not with grief and loss, not with compassion, not with love, but with a nauseating withered sense of heart-sickness, at how little I knew, how little I cared.

I had another dream that night. I was at the funeral. I stood in a field on the prairie, in a black dress, with a scarf of yellow silk tied around my neck, waving gently in the wind. I did not know then how she had died.

I've been working hard lately to keep my emotions in check but something in me gave way yesterday afternoon, and I left work in tears which did not stop until well into the night. It was many things, which need not be named, but an overwhelming sense of loss, of heartbreak and fear, of insanity, dragged me back to the shore of those dark waters into which I'd sworn I would not--could not--ever go again. That deep pool, the changeable tide, gently lapping waves and dangerous currents... Had I been there, that night; had she called; had we known... This I know, not a soul alive or dead can bring you back of your choosing. Shaken, I laid on the couch for a while, with little hope of rest. I thought my heart might burst. A hug, and a few drops of Rescue Remedy--a godsend--helped calm me down. I wrote a letter to an old friend. I laid down in bed and waited for it to pass.

I wake, frequently, with a head full of words which scatter like bats when my eyes snap open. Some of these I caught, one February night a couple years ago. I did not share them for CM's One Poem Project at the time, because I thought they weren't any good, but I really don't give a crap about that anymore. I'm not sure I ever did.

Belated Valentine.

I’ve kept that scarf in my sock drawer since July.
It’s the one I wore in the days after the funeral,
when my throat started hurting, badly.
Something was needed.
These days, the pain runs into my hands.
It sli
ps over my head and onto my face,
into my mouth and cheeks.

It’s hard to swallow, hard to sleep.

But that has as little to do with you
as it does with me.

Still, I can almost feel you in my arms,
too little,
too late.

We love so many ways. I adored Sunshine. There two people in this world who I have missed in my very bones. She is one of them.

At the funeral home, there was a table with some things on it. A photo album, in which there was an uncaptioned picture of me with my arms wrapped around Sunshine, kissing her cheek. Photos of her as a girl, which I'd never seen, were so familiar that they might have been me or one of my sisters. Lying next to those, there was a small bag full of ponytail holders, some with hearts.


Tuesday, after a tough night and a long walk, I came back to a dark house and a message from my Mom,
in words sweet and hopeful, telling about the rain that had fallen that day, what relief it brought... Two full inches, all told. Relief, indeed.


On Wednesday Cosmic M and I took a walk around the prairie at sundown. As we neared the end of our path my thoughts shot back to the night before, when I'd passed a group of kids at a school playground, boldly singing complex melodies and harmonies in a language unknown to me while beating out a rhythm with their hands and bodies... As I passed a boy yelled out to me from the shadows, "Hey lady, clap with us... We love people!" I clapped twice and they sang on, in proud and confident voices, and at that moment it struck me, as I said to myself: "I will not amount to anything." I looked up. In the twilight on the prairie, the rounded silhouette of a tree took on a third dimension, and a flash of light caught my eye. I paused for a moment as my companion walked on. A few breaths later it flashed again, one of the last fireflies of Summer, blinking at me as if to say, "neither will I."


Life flows on. We sing loudly sometimes and go barefoot when we can. I miss you, often.