Saturday, December 6, 2008


I had a profound experience the other night. I didn't recognize it as such until after it was over, but the emotions associated with it refuse to leave me so I thought I would write about it and maybe it would rest.
I cook for a family from Oklahoma every year for Thanksgiving on a beautiful ranch in the Hill Country. They stay for almost a week and come Wednesday we have almost 40 people in attendance, with the number rising to 50+ on Thanksgiving day. It is a busy week with long hours and I have hired the same staff the last 5 years. We have come to work with a rhythm that recognizes each others strong points and weaknesses. And, despite all the work, it is fun.
My husband Scott is head dishwasher and go to guy and is always good for a hug around the kitchen . My neighbor Julie (we call her Jules) does the bulk of the prep work, chopping endless pounds of veggies, setting tables, essentially being the one to keep the kitchen orderly and together. I delegate, delegate, delegate and do the "fun stuff" (in my opinion) like making cheesecakes and pies, dinner rolls and soups, lasagna and salads.
This year the week went by extraordinarily fast and Saturday night found us all in the kitchen finishing up the cleaning of our last night at the ranch. The next day would be breakfast and lunch and then farewells. I was putting away leftovers and Scott had walked away from the sink to do something when Jules noticed that the dishwater looked like it needed to be refreshed. She pulled the drain on the sink and reached into the water to gather up the last few utensils left in the water and grasped one of our new knives. An hour before this we had had a conversation about never putting knives in dishwater for this very reason! The knife cut her thumb where it meets her hand and blood began spurting out of the sink. She gasped, grabbed her cut hand with her other hand and walked to the counter. I looked up and she said, "I think I cut myself..." and as I rushed around the island I asked how bad and she began sinking to the floor with blood running down her arm. She was so pale and on the verge of passing out. The kitchen swung into action with Scott grabbing kitchen towels, wrapping her hand and applying pressure. After getting a quick look at the wound, I ran to the lodge to inform the ranch manager about the accident and let him know I was heading to the hospital. He rushed back to the kitchen with me and there sat Jules still on the floor, still really pale, with Scott and Diana (the ranch housekeeper) tending to her. We quickly decided logistics and I went to fetch Julie's car while the others got her to her feet and out the door. The ride to the hospital was about 20 minutes and we kept up a lively (if a bit tense) conversation on the way there. I was worried Jules would pass out or a deer would run out in front of us and I would wreck her car. I drove just over 80 mph most of the way. We got to the hospital and after almost 3 hours we were in a room with the doctor beginning the preliminary stages of stitching her up. Scott had shown up while we were in the waiting room and stayed while we went to see the doctor. Jules was scared and told me so numerous times during our wait. I had her hold my hand and told her to squeeze when it hurt. She couldn't look at the work being done and in an effort to keep her calm, I told her to just look at me. So for the 10-15 minutes it took to stitch her up we stared into each others eyes. When it hurt, she would squinch up her face, but apply no pressure to my hand. We spoke a little, made some weak jokes, but mostly just looked at each other. And in those few minutes I saw Julie...I mean really SAW her. I saw her gentle nature, her wide open heart, her willingness to do whatever is asked of her. I saw Julie, who would never hurt anything, even to the point of not squeezing my hand while in pain because she was afraid it would cause ME pain. This is a woman I have known for half a decade and have always thought well of, but I never took the time or maybe never felt the inclination to really get to know her. I had an idea about who she was and stopped at that.
Well, her thumb got stitched up and at 1 a.m. we were in line at the drive-up drug store getting her prescriptions and we were both exhausted. I drove her home and Scott drove me home from there. We fell into bed at 2:00 exhausted, knowing we had to get up at 5:30 to be out at the ranch to feed everyone breakfast.
The next day, I missed Jules at work. The schedule wasn't like it had been, but it was still busy and my thoughts turned to her many times during the morning. And those thoughts were tender. I felt "soft" towards her, I felt LOVE for her, for who she is. It was like in those moments of looking deep into her eyes and her looking into mine, I fell in love. I saw something beyond the Julie I know, something beyond her appearance, beyond her words, something deep within her...something like a shared humanity, but maybe even something beyond human-ness, something of her essence or spirit. And that love has continued to this day, a week later.
I saw Jules today at a friends house. I spent the better part of the day with her and some other female friends. At one point I told the group how I the experience had affected me. She seemed a bit embarrassed and I later apologized for speaking so freely about it. I told these women that I think we should all be required to look into someones' eyes for a long while (way beyond our comfort zone) and see where it leads us. It is a powerful thing to realize that indeed, we are all in this together and that we NEED each other in ways we can't imagine. And there is comfort in the recognition of our shared spirit.
I don't know if I will always feel this way about Jules, but I know I will never be able to see her as I did before. And I am glad for that.

Friday, November 14, 2008

What Fun!

Listening to the news these days is such fun! The world is coming apart at the seams and I feel a bit guilty enjoying it all so much, but it is like watching a bad movie, it is so surreal. My son-in-law Justin, when I said what a good time I was having with it all, said, "Spoken like a woman without a 401K". Well...yeah...I guess if you don't laugh, you'll cry...
So here's my solution for the automakers' crisis of potential implosion: Have the oil companies bail them out! The oil companies have been pulling in record profits every quarter for over a year (although maybe that has come to an end with oil at barely over $50 a barrel) so they can just consider it as an expanded version of R&D, which is where we keep hearing they are putting all those stupendous profits (do I sound doubtful? tsk, tsk).
As far as the bailout is concerned, I'm not sure I get it (maybe that's the keep us all confused). Why not let anyone who is interested renegotiate their mortgage to a more reasonable payment (like maybe something affordable?), extend the length of the mortgage (I really think the time of 40 or 50 year home loans has come), and let the bailout catch up their payments for them with their mortgage companies. Then they are on their own. The folks stay in their houses, the banks start seeing payments every month again, and things can creak along ever so slowly. Sounds like a solution, but of course it isn't, because things just do not work that way. But I still don't understand why the bailout isn't directly with the homeowners that have these unaffordable mortgages, which incidentally, they were sometimes "tricked" into or they were approved for the loans with fancy footwork unbeknownst to the home buyer (we'll just add another '0' to your annual income on the loan application, then you can afford a $650,000 home on a $75,000 income). It seems as if we are rewarding the folks that created the problem in the first place...
My last bit of fun with the news is the problem that Nebraska is having with their "Safe Haven" law. This is a law that has been enacted in a number of states to keep from having infants dumped in dumpsters or dropped in alleys somewhere. An admirable law, to be sure, but Nebraska got in trouble when the legislators couldn't decide what age the cut off should be. So they just wrote the law using the word "child". Well, as of today, 34 children have been left at hospitals, the vast majority of them teenagers. Nebraska is kinda' freaking out at this...I mean, NOBODY wants an unruly teenager around, much less 20+ of them. So here is my solution, with some input from my husband (okay, okay, so it was his idea...nitpicker...) how about enacting a "safe haven" law for the parents??? Meaning the parents can drop themselves off somewhere, where it is quiet and no one is asking anything of them, where they can just be mindless for a while, do puzzles or read, or SLEEP, or watch stupid TV, or ANYTHING so they can recharge and not feel compelled to abandon their kids out of sheer anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed? When my kids were little, my friends and I use to call the time between 3 pm and dinnertime, "arsenic hour" because you wanted to poison your kids. So incredibly politically incorrect to say now, and of course, it was only a joke, but it was the most difficult time of day. What I would have given for a bit of a "safe haven" for myself during those times. It makes me wonder how many of the kids in Nebraska were dropped off between 3 pm and dinnertime?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Long Time, No Write...

I can't believe it has been over 2 months since I wrote...well, yes I can. I got so discouraged with this blog and so caught up in politics! Discouraged because everytime I thought about this blog, it felt so...prosaic...not at all what I intended it to be. I hesitated to continue in the vein in which it was heading. Yet now, when I go back and read it, it seems fine. Not stunning, but fine. And I'm sure most everyone can understand getting caught up in politics in the last few matter what your political preferences are! Needless to say, I am pleased about the election and feel a renewed sense of patriotism (a word that I feel had taken on such a negative connotation in the last 5+ years) and commitment to this country. I am coming to realize that, even though we have elected this amazing man as our next President, we are asking an awful lot of him, expectations are supremely high. Now is the time for ALL of us, every citizen of an age to do so, to take part in an effort to help this country along. What can you do, IN YOUR EVERYDAY LIFE, to help this country move forward in a positive and productive manner? I think the state of our country and the ground breaking election we have just witnessed brings new meaning to the saying THINK GLOBALLY AND ACT LOCALLY. Look around your community and identify its needs. Do you have a senior center that needs volunteers? How about the local food bank? Can you read to kids at your local library or to residents of a nursing home? Is there a nature center that is looking for volunteers? Or a museum that needs docents? Or a community garden that needs help? On an even MORE local level, can you drive your elderly neighbor to the grocery store once a week? There are so many areas of need in this country. Our financial situation is perilous, maybe we can now find pleasure and fulfillment in helping others. As a dear friend wrote to me recently, "Giving is receiving." It is such a simple statement, but holds so much promise. And I have always found it to be true.
When my oldest daughter was in her early 20's and having a serious meltdown, she called me at 2 a.m. I don't know about you, but I hate it when the phone rings at that time of the night as it is never good news. She was really caught up in the drama of her life at that time and could not see beyond it. We spoke for a while, her crying and me trying to speak calmly and I finally asked her to get a piece of paper and a pen. I then asked her to write down 10 things that she was thankful for in her life. She groaned between her sobs and told me there was nothing to be thankful for , that her life was a mess and this was a futile exercise. "Stick with me here, " I told her and I proceeded to give her a couple suggestions..."You have a roof over your head. You have food in your fridge. You have a car that you know what a small percentage of folks on the planet have those things?" We talked about that a bit and, as she began calming down she added a few things to the list. We didn't get to 10 things before I added a new idea for her to contemplate: Write down what you can do to help someone else, because the best way to get out of your "movie" (meaning your drama) is to step into someone else's in a helpful way.
Here was the concept of "Giving is receiving." She protested this idea, "Mom, it is 2:00 in the morning...there is NO ONE to help..." I explained that I didn't mean NOW, just write down how you can help someone tomorrow, or next week, or next year. Identify a need that you can fill. And it helped. It got her through that night and the next day and she continued to dig herself out of the rather large hole she had found herself in. Today she is a wonderful wife and mother, who holds a full time job and is in school pursuing a degree in accounting.
So, to my mind, our country right now is much like my daughter on that dark night so many years ago. Few options, much to be afraid of and disaster looming all around. And I happen to believe the solution, at least in part, is the same advice I gave my daughter. Recognize the things in your life for which you are grateful and then discover ways in which to help others. Identify a need that you can fill. Quite different advice than what was offered after 9/11-Go shopping. And the results will be so very different.

Friday, September 5, 2008


I am really having a hard time not working. I mean, I have some work...I spent 4 days cooking at the ranch in Camp Verde last week, but the Farmer's Market is over for the year and there is only one day of scheduled work the remainder of the month. I am taking a week off (a week off from what?) to visit my grandson (and his mom and dad) in Virginia Beach the end of the month and I am really looking forward to that!
So this week I tried to accomplish something every day, even though I felt bored out of my mind. Tuesday I ran errands in town and worked for about an hour in the garden. Wednesday, I went to the city early to see Natalie and then met with Ellie in the afternoon to take a knitting class. Although I have had some instruction before, I never really got it and my knitting was incredibly tight. I used to joke I could knit parachutes! With Ellie showing me how, it just clicked and I have become a knitting fool. After my class, I came home and made 4 1/2 quarts of yogurt. Thursday, I made a batch of chipotle sauce and a batch of chipotle BBQ sauce. I also worked in the garden again for about 2 hours. Today, I made a batch of ginger jam. I may go work in the garden again for a bit this afternoon and then there's the 2 loads of laundry staring at me.
Well, I guess I haven't been THAT idle, but it sure feels like it! Scott leaves for 5 days next week and I have to find some trouble to get into while he is gone. I usually start a remodeling job on the house while he is gone for his annual trek to the races in New Mexico. Last year it was the upstairs bathroom...I might work on the small bedroom upstairs this year...or maybe the kitchen!

I thought I would post here how to make yogurt because it is so darn easy and it tastes SO good. It's also considerably cheaper than yogurt at the store. I make 4 quarts at a time, so this recipe is based on that.
Set a large pot on a heat diffuser on the stove. Pour in one gallon milk (I use organic can use whatever you'd like) and heat on medium low heat until the milk reaches 170-180 degrees.
This takes a while, so go find something else to do for 30 minutes or more. Just check the milk every now and then so it doesn't boil.
Fill your sink about 1/3 full of cold tap water and set your pot of milk into the sink to cool it down. This will take from 10-20 minutes. Check the temp every so often-you want it to be between 105 and 110 degrees. In a measuring cup, measure out 3/4 cup yogurt from your last batch or some storebought, just make sure it is plain yogurt with no additives such as guar gums or gelatin.
Add about 1/4 cup warm milk from the pot to the measuring cup and mix until it is loose and pourable.
Then pour the yogurt/milk mixture into the pot of milk and whisk it to make sure it is totally incorporated.
 Pour the mixture into 4 clean quart jars with tight fitting lids and put in a cooler. Boil 1 quart of water and pour it into a 1 quart or 2 pint mason jars, screw on a lid and put into the cooler with the jars of cultured milk, close the lid and that's it! In about 8 hours you will have yogurt. I usually do this in the evening and leave it overnight. By morning the cooler is still a bit warm and the yogurt is thick and delicious. Store it in the fridge. It tastes best after it has been refrigerated for a few hours.
I have a bowl of yogurt most every morning with a teaspoon of maple syrup and a couple tablespoons each ground flax seed and hempseed. If you like the fruit yogurt at the grocery store, stir in a tablespoon or two of good quality jam or preserves or, even better, fresh fruit (raspberries are my favorite!). Isn't that easy?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Soft Shelled Egg

The sky threatened rain again this thundered and darkened and the wind picked up. I called my friends Becca and Tom at the front of the ranch, "You getting any rain up there?" When they answered in the affirmative, I wasn't surprised as I could see the rain two hills over and I watched it heading my way. Before it made it to the next hill it fizzled out. But it cooled down nicely. Oh well. I went out to the garden to see if anything I planted last week was up yet and was greeted by some radish sprouts and tiny beet leaves. I'd left the gate to the garden open and the Buff chicken tried to sneak in, but I beat her to the gate and closed it behind me. Thinking I could herd the chickens into the coop (yeah, right) I walked over there. They followed for awhile, but abandoned me when our old cat, Negrito walked into the run. I went into the coop and checked for eggs and found two from the brown leghorns. On top of the laying boxes was something that caught my eye. Wow! A soft shelled egg. I've only seen two in my 15 years of raising chickens. Kinda' creepy in a way, it is malleable and translucent and I carried it inside to show it to Scott. He'd never seen one. His thrill for the night...
When I slit it open, it was almost all yolk. I fed it to Negrito and I could hear him purring in between lapping it up.
The mornings have been beautiful lately. Cool and misty. Even if I don't get out to walk until 8:30 or so, it is still comfortable. This morning a heavy cloud hung over the valley and when I walked to the dead end, I wished I had remembered to bring the camera. So I walked back home, grabbed the digital and headed back out. Sophie was wondering what was going on...two walks back to back? Always up for a walk, she bounded down the driveway ahead of me. By the time I got back to the dead end, much of the cloud had lifted, but the scenery still
looked luscious, so I took this picture looking across the valley. Even with just 2" of rain, it looks so lush...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Dinner's On

After a not-very-productive day, I decided to make one of my favorite dinners and a blackberry pie for dessert. We have a freezer full of organic blackberries we picked at Grace and George's and they have been calling to me. I had a pie crust in the fridge just waiting to be filled. So I partially thawed the blackberries (I found a bag from a year ago that got mixed in with the ones from this season, so I decided to use it) and drained off LOTS of juice and got to work. After fitting the crust in the pie plate, I mixed the berries (about 6-7 cups) with 1 1/2 cups brown sugar, a heaping 1/4 cup of tapioca, the juice of half a lemon and lots of fresh ground nutmeg. I piled this in the crust, topped it with another crust and crimped the edges. I brushed the top with some leftover blackberry juice, sprinkled on a bit of sugar and popped it into a 425 degree oven for 25 minutes. I then lowered the temp to 400 for an additional 25 minutes. It bubbled everywhere and smelled heavenly. I let it cool on a rack while I started dinner.

One of my favorite meals in Florence was pasta with anchovies and capers. I hadn't made it in a while and since it is quick and easy, as well as wildly delicious, I made it for dinner.
Set a pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta. Pour about 3 tablespoons good olive oil in a small skillet and put it on medium heat. Use about 2 good sized anchovies per serving and place them in the olive oil in the skillet. Mash them up with a fork until you can't really see any pieces remaining, just mush and then press 3 large cloves of garlic into the anchovy/olive oil mix. Add about 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes and let this cook for a while until the garlic turns golden. The add about 1 heaping tablespoon drained capers. Mix well and turn off heat. When the pasta is done (and I like mine a bit chewy) drain it and add the anchovy/caper sauce, stir it around and voila! Dinner! Accompanying our pasta was a zucchini/yellow squash medley topped with some Parmesan we brought home from Italy.
I asked Scott if he wanted to go back out to the shop and work a bit and then come back in for pie. He didn't hesitate to decline. He wanted pie NOW! It was still warm and a bit loose (they tend to firm up when they cool) but really a piece of summer on a plate. I like my fruit pies a bit tart, not teeth achingly sweet, and this one fit the bill perfectly. While Scott washed the dishes, I took off with Sophie for an evening walk, our second of the day. It was just so cool and breezy I couldn't resist, although we both walked slower than we did this morning as we had both just finished dinner.
No rain today, but it threatened for hours and the temperature dropped mid afternoon amidst lots of thunder. I even washed sheets and hung them on the line hoping it would bring on a storm, but the wind just blew them around and they dried in less than 30 minutes. It doesn't look like a good rain is in the forecast for a week or so, some scattered showers predicted, but they usually skirt around us here on Mount Alamo. Looks like the cooler temperatures are here to least for the next 10 days or so-high 80's, maybe 90 or 91. Pretty pleasant for August.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Mornings Walks

We've had a bit of rain this week-over 2" so far-and the land has greened up seemingly overnight! On my walk this morning the temp was in the low 60's and misty. Beautiful walking weather. And I saw signs that summer is drawing down. Every year I look for the blooming of Snow-on-the-Mountain. It's what tells me that cooler temps are not far down the road. When the girls were little, we would pick Snow-on-the-Mountain bouquets and place them on the dining room table. The next day there would be golden pollen on the table surrounding the vase like rays of the sun. These flowers don't have a scent, but they DO have a milky sap that can raise blisters on some folks. Strangely enough, it never affected me or my girls that way, but one day a neighbor child picked some and within minutes tiny blisters appeared on her hands and wrists. So now I leave them growing by the side of the road and admire them on my walks instead of on my table. I have noticed that there are far fewer Snow-on-the-Mountain plants this year. They are usually thick bordering the road with the plants having multiple branches. This year the plants themselves are much smaller, frequently only a single stalk as in the picture here.

The wild persimmons are finally ripening! I ate one on a walk a few days ago and my fingers were stained with the brown juice which wouldn't wipe off. I was glad I didn't encounter anyone on the road as I was sure my tongue and teeth were stained, too! The skin is slightly fuzzy and tough, but it splits with a burst in your mouth and the sweet pulp surrounds a few smooth, russet colored seeds. All along the road this time of year you see raccoon scat full of wild persimmon seed. There always seems to be enough for the raccoons and us. I've made jelly from them before, but they are so sweet that it seems ludicrous to add more sugar for processing. I'm thinking this year I will simply press the pulp through a sieve and freeze the result. It think it would make a nice dessert sauce or maybe I could try to boil it down a bit to make a thick paste and dry it and then crumble it up for a natural sweetener. The flavor would be great in coffee...maybe as the sweetener in a tiramisu! I think it would also substitute for the sugar in a Korean or Asian dipping sauce making for a more complex flavor. Boiled down it might make a molasses- like syrup!

The cactus tunas are just starting to turn their vivid crimson. There are still more green ones than red, but I am finally noticing some bright spots in the patches of prickly pear. These probably won't be ready to pick for a month or more, but in the meantime I am going to investigate ways to use them. AND get a pair of thick leather gloves for harvesting! I've made jelly with the pulp before and I still may do a jar or two (I was thinking about a Texas linzer torte for Christmas made with cactus pear jelly instead of raspberry jam) but I'd like to branch out a bit and use them for something new. Lots of time to figure this one out.

My walking companion, Sophie. Every morning when I walk out the front door, she jumps up and runs to me knowing that we are heading out into the hills. On the rare morning I don't walk (Saturdays-when my early morning foray is to Comfort for the Farmer's Market) she sulks away to lie down in the tall grass and wait for me to return. If the weather is cool enough we may take an afternoon walk, although in the August heat (or even July for that matter) it is doubtful. We were lucky this week and twice we were able to walk in the afternoon, once with Natalie and an umbrella as it was still raining on and off. At almost three, Natalie helps me see the land in a new light. Everything is an adventure...a place where the trees meet overhead and the deep shade of the woods are upon us become, in her words, "the secret jungle" where "snakes go s-s-s-s-s-s and crocodiles and monkeys" live. Every puddle deserves to be jumped in and she won't allow me to stand aside and watch. Oh noooo, it's "C'mon Gramma, splash with me!" And know what? It's FUN! We came home wet and muddy and immediately peeled out of our dirty clothes and hopped in the shower, which really was just another opportunity to splash!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Start of a New Blog

More than an online diary, less than a "real" writing gig...I wish blogs had a more elegant name. Marti calls them blobs and they might as well be-the way thoughts come pouring out in fits and starts and...blobs.

I remember years ago doing "Morning Pages"-Julia Cameron's main exercise in The Artist's Way-and what extraordinary writing it produced from me. Of course, times were different then with strife being the main emotional feature on my landscape and not having the comfort in life I have now. How will my writing be different now that I am more emotionally stable and life is generally easier? I would never trade those times for anything. I am a believer in the idea that all the experiences in my life make me the person I am today, so good or bad, they created the life I have now and I am grateful for them all.

When I read my journals from a decade ago-or TWO decades-some of them are so painful I have to detach myself from them. It is like reading a novel and I feel such compassion for the main character yet at the same time I wish she would smarten up. When she finally takes action to change her situation, I cheer her on and feel protective of her if she falls flat. I can actually see her character being formed as she learns lessons (or doesn't).

But it all comes down to NOW. And so, for the christening of this blog, I am starting from NOW with a glance back perhaps, every now and then.