Saturday, August 30, 2014

Art

Last night Nora and I went downtown Alpine to visit with friends at receptions in various galleries. There was a special show going on featuring work of many local artists, using all recycled materials.

Not only did we get to see several friends and neighbors, have wonderful chat, snacks and a glass of wine, but the art was terrific!

As night fell on our little town, we looked toward the southeast. A giant bank of dark clouds was looming. All of a sudden, it was lit from within by clusters of flashing lightening! This weekend is Balloon Bash in Alpine. Many balloonists converge with their hot air balloons to float around in our open West Texas skies. That cloud looked like a monstrous hot air balloon! But instead of being filled with hot air, it was filled with lightening. Quite magical.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

L'Heure Bleue

Oh my goodness!

I wish you could have seen the sky outside just now. The mountains ringing our little town were a subtle, dark blue. The first bank of clouds hovering over, steel grey blue. And then, majestically reigning over the sky, the most incredible, gold tinged pink clouds. A sliver of waxing moon hanging off to the side. It looked like a painting by one of the great masters. It was truly too beautiful to be real. And yet I stood outside for a few minutes to inhale the gorgeousness.

At times I have thought that those giant paintings of golden pink clouds in large museums look a bit fake. But if you had seen the sky I just consumed, you would know they are not merely works of the imagination.

Divinity.

Just had to share.

Am trying to be mindful of the great world around me. And before the great sky, I saw a pretty rainbow as I headed out to walk around the loop. Great medicine...


Wind's a Shiftin'

Most of the day in the bakery was sunny and hot. Perfect conditions for baking bread, at least for the yeast. But kinda stuffy for the baker. A fan was blowing but I was sweating.

Around three the air felt heavy. A friend said clouds were building to the east, but I couldn't see them. Then all of a sudden, about the time my customers started coming around, the sunshine dimmed and the temperatures dropped ten degrees. Thunder boomed from a far, the breeze picked up and a few giant drops of rain slammed down onto the car port.

What a difference.

The air feels light, cool and fresh. The rain seems to have missed us for the moment, but I love how drastically things can change, meteorologically, in a matter of minutes! Don't like the weather here in Texas? Wait a bit, it will probably change...or so they say.

Meanwhile I wait for my ship to come in. Shipment, that is, of 2500 lbs of grain from Montana. Hard white wheat. Spelt. Kamut. Rye. And a bunch of organic chicken food! All Non-GMO, raised by family farmers, and bagged up in a family run mill. I was disappointed that the carrier truck didn't arrive earlier in the week, but that is one of the prices we pay for living in such a remote area. And a price I am happy to pay, since I love my little town so much.

But don't you think I ought to make the drive up to Montana myself one of these days? It sure would be cool to meet the people who grow my grain and bag it up. Hmmm. Maybe next spring? A "work" vacation?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Take a Walk with the Devil

Dust devil that is!

I was walking back to the house this afternoon when I noticed a dust devil whirling up the street, headed my way.

Dust devils are a common sight out here, and usually delight me from afar. This time, I enjoyed the natural phenom up close and personal! I continued my walk, wondering if I would have to dash to avoid being swept up into the dusty debris. Whisk, whisk, whisk, subtle sound of a little street sweeper.

I kept to my side of the street, the devil rushed up the middle. Shadow of the whirling dust upon the street looked like the arms of a pinwheel. Though the whirlwind was only inches from me, I didn't feel the stirring of a breeze when we passed each other. Not a speck of dust found itself landing on me.

Couldn't help but grin...

Treats

A movement caught my eye.

A hummingbird?

No, a gorgeous swallowtail butterfly taking advantage of the zinnia buffet spread out below the bakery window.

It dipped, drank, swam around, came back for another sip.

Black outlining dramatic yellow strips. Long "tail feathers" and silvery blue dots.

I didn't stay put to watch his dance for long. Was chatting with some friends in the bakery, working on some tasks. But the moment I did pause was delightful.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Lasts and Firsts

Tonight is the last night Patrick sleeps under my roof as a kid who lives here.

In the morning we will groggily throw the rest of the stuff into the back of the truck and head to Central Texas.

I offered to make a gourmet feast for Patrick's friends, whomever he chose.

His pals are going their different ways. His choice was a handful of his high school teachers: Mrs. Keith, geometry, Coach Keith, history, economics, cross country and track, Mrs. Fox, history and history fair, Mrs. Donaghey-literature and writing and Mr. Fox- FFA, welding,etc.

Even though they are in the middle of get ready to start school weeds, they took the time to spend several hours in our home, visiting, eating and drinking, remembering, sharing stories, laughing with us as we prepare to launch Patrick into his new chapter.

Is it a new chapter? A new book?

I found myself a bit tense the other day. Somewhat short with a couple of the girls. I paused to ask myself where these feelings were coming from. What did it feel like?

It felt like grief.

When I named it I began to sob.

Guess I found the ticket.

I apologized to the girls and told them I was feeling a bit grieved about the fact that Patrick will no longer be a part of our daily life. I told them I was so proud and happy about his transition, but that it left me feeling a bit bereft. I told them it was no excuse to be short with them, and I hoped they would forgive me. And of course they did.

A couple of days ago I decided that I had had enough of painting on the rent house I purchased this past winter. I found a green I liked and set to task painting my new kitchen. Ahhh. lovely.

And then the next day decided that I couldn't live with the grubby laundry room any longer and went to buy a nice creamy yellow. Patrick came home from work, yet again to see me, hair askew, ripped up t-shirt and shorts, covered in paint, perched on a chair, transforming another room.

The next day I tended chores, worked on bakery odds and ends. Made phone calls. Cleaned. And at 6:45pm, after supper, ran to TruValue and purchased yet more paint. The dining room. I couldn't live with it another day.

Granted, we have not ever painted since we moved in three years ago this month. But, three days in a row?

Patrick walked in from work and asked if it was a sickness... We laughed. I painted on.

This morning I finished painting a nice glossy white over the primed 1970's dark paneling in the dining room. Then raced, dirty clothes and painted face, to Sul Ross State University Meat Lab to purchase some locally grown and harvested beef for our farewell dinner.

I felt a bit manic. Slightly hard around the edges.

Grief.

So happy to launch this amazing progeny out of the nest and into the great big blue sky up there in Austin.

And yet.

So many people try to steer my little feelings of grief into happy thoughts, reminding me of the positive.

Well, truth be told, I am thrilled to see Patrick go forward. I would feel rather sad and worried and irritated to have him want to stick around home another few years! That said, I am a realist. I know that for us, and for him, this leaving is a definite end. He is packing up his room to make ready for a sister to move in. His treasures are going into boxes for a time when he has more space and can take them onto his own property. Old swords, a tinder bag he crafted out of old blue jean denim for his fire starting adventures, stuff. Things too precious to discard, but moving into the shed. He will take his scant little pile of clothes. Stacks of books. Camping gear.

When he returns it will be for a visit.

How can it be that one day, this little child is smiling at me with happy teeth, playing with a GI Joe with his brother, laughing heartily, cuddling sweetly and now speaks of economics and world issues and knows how to take a book and annotate and discuss and verbally parry swords; annoyingly argumentative, beautifully inquisitive, sweetly sensitive?

We dined at a lovely, candlelit table. Bouquets of zinnias and coral vines. A silver obi with orange design. As close to UT colors as I could get! We made toasts. Said prayers. Enjoyed food and more food and then chocolate cake. Our friends said their most gracious goodbyes, and let me tell you-I know we are blessed. Lucky. How could it be that we moved to the edge of the earth and had these teachers bestowed upon us???

I set upon the piles of dishes and couldn't help but think of the many dinner parties back in the good ole days, when the guests would depart and Philip and I would find ourselves in the kitchen, laughing over the memories of different conversations, drinking the last bits of wine from the bottle, snagging one more bite of cake as we scrubbed and washed and dried.

I found myself talking to his memory, comparing notes, remembering the baby days, marveling over the growing up days. I thought how proud he would be of his son. How he would have loved sitting down to table with those lovely educators. How we never would be here had he not died. What a weird world we live in, a maze, twists and turns, never knowing what awaits, but somehow certain that not only will it be bearable, it will probably be beautiful...

Can't say I have figured out how to be thrilled about single parenting. Haven't figured out how to not feel sad.

Am pretty thankful to be able feel such a spectrum of emotions. It is rich.

Just like a tasty French meat dish. It starts out with a nice hunk of meat. Many different ingredients. Celery, onion, garlic,carrots, anchovies, bay leaf,red wine, beef broth, some thyme. Peppercorns, sea salt. A few sprigs of parsley and rosemary. It looks watery. Not so special. But several hours later, the meat is tender, the juices thick and savory.

Best eaten with friends. And candle light. Red wine. Lots of veggies. Some fresh, crusty peasant bread, kneaded by loving hands, salted with a few tears.

So my dear son Thomas lives down the street. Patrick will soon live in a giant dorm. The house is exploding with feminine energy. And we are doing well.

And the library is just itching for a nice coat of paint!!!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Summertime Riches or Ginger Figgy Tarts

We have two fig trees in our backyard. I hope to propagate two or three more trees from suckers off of our existing tree. We sheet composted a big pile of chicken litter over by the west side of the yard in preparation for my fall hopefullness.

My favorite way to eat figs is warm, in hand, right off the tree. In fact, I often feel a bit greedy and selfish when in the backyard, surreptitiously nabbing the mouthfuls of rich, decadent delights, looking one way and the other to make sure no one sees me consume all I can pick in one setting.

The thing is, we had a really hard freeze back in May when the first crop of figs had set. We lost them all. The summer has been pleasant, with enough erratic rains to keep the trees going. We made sure to feed them well with compost. They are loaded, but with tiny, second crop, not quite ripe figs. We are impatient. Five or ten ripe figs a day are just not enough!

Imagine my delight when my sister brought me two and a half gallon ziploc bags filled with washed figs from her tree in Austin!

They went into the freezer and my mind went into overdrive, trying to think of a recipe worthy of such a gift. Figgy oatmeal tarts seemed like the thing. I boiled a gallon bag of the figs with two cups of sucanat, a pinch of sugar, minced fresh ginger, perhaps three tablespoons worth?, zest of one organic lemon, juice of two, a cup of water to keep the mixture from burning as it started to boil. I stirred and stirred as the mixture bubbled away. When it was thick as preserves, I took it off the burner and worked on a recipe for the tart.

Yum. This stuff tasted great!

I dug out the cute little pampered chef tart pans and set them aside. Turned on the big bakery oven and got to work. Keep in mind this is a process that took a couple of weeks. First week I made a batch, I didn't have any fresh ginger. They were delicious, but missing something. The addition of ginger gave it a nip and texture that was just perfect. And besides, who is the baker making these treats anyway?

The tart shells were pretty basic. A mixture of coconut oil, sucanat, vanilla and freshly milled spelt. I pressed the dough into the cute little pans and baked it for 15 minutes or so in a 350 degree oven. When they were just turning brown, I pulled them, and generously filled the pans with the fig mixture. Topped with a mixture of spelt flour, sucanat, coconut oil, oats, almond extract, pinch of salt and crushed almonds. The first go around I made the topping without almonds and it was lovely, but the nutty crunch was a perfect counterpoint to the ginger in the figs. The oatmeal topping went on top of the figs and into the oven they went. The week before I drizzled the tarts with honey brought to me by a friend from his bee hives. It was a great touch. I forgot to do that this past week, and noticed the difference. The figs are sweet enough, but there is something about a tiny drizzle of raw honey that adds a bit of depth to the whole thing. Can you tell this is a work in progress?

Oh, another little detail: coconut oil. It is a magical, wonderful ingredient, and if you have done any research the last few years, you will know it is no longer one of the bad guys. It has to do with how the body metabolizes the fat globules in the coconut oil. I love the stuff. I use two varieties. There is the first press, cold press coconut oil which has a decidedly coconutty smell and taste. And then the second press, which has all the benefits, but none of the smell and taste. The first press is extremely expensive, but worth the cost in certain recipes. This is one of them!

Oh dear. These treats are so delicious, so decadent, I couldn't make enough. My customers want them year round. I need some friends with abundant figs! Will trade bread for figs! Perhaps we need to enjoy them now, knowing that to everything there is a season. A season for figs. A season to dream of figs. A season to fondly remember what we had, and to hope for what will be again...

Here's the recipe, scaled down from bakery version. I hope you will try it! And if you are not into the many steps, or only have access to a few figs, then try my all-time, second favorite way to enjoy them: still warm from the tree, place on a plate with some chevre, through on a handful of almonds, drizzle with honey and feast, preferably under the dappled shade of a tree, with warm sunshine and a friend.

2 cups whole figs
1/4 cup sucanat
one knob of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
a squeeze of lemon juice to taste, 1/2 tsp lemon zest, minced
pinch of salt
1/4 c water

place in heavy saucepan over high heat, bring to a boil while constantly stirring. The figs will soften and burst. The juices will thicken. This mixture is wonderful spread over buttered toast if you have leftovers. Or served with roasted pork tenderloin. Or spread over goat cheese. It will store in the fridge nicely.

Tart crust:
1/2 c. coconut oil
1/4 c. sucanat
1/4 tsp vanilla
1- 1 1/4 c. spelt flour

Mix well and press into pans. Bake for 15 minutes in 350 oven.

Spread figgy jam into tart pans, and top with oatmeal topping:

1/4 c. rolled oats, i prefer a thick roll
1/4 c. spelt flour
3 TBSP coconut oil
1/4 c. chopped almonds
1/4 tsp almond extract

Drizzle a tiny bit of honey over the oatmeal topping.

Bake tarts in 350 degree oven until top is lightly browned and figgy mixture is bubbly. Try to let the tarts cool before you eat them so you don't get burned!

Enjoy. If you wish to be really fancy, garnish the lovely things with a piece of lemon zest curl, a halved fresh fig and an almond.




Monday, July 21, 2014

All is Well

Corn.

I remember drives through Pennsylvania in August. Farmstand in NJ in the summertime. Visits to my Aunt and Uncle in Arkansas, sticky hot, but giant platters or stockpots filled to overflowing with the glorious richness of the season, and me glad to have full use of my teeth to chomp down on thoroughly buttered, heavily salted and peppered, tender, sweet, crunchy like nothing else corn on the cob. How many times, sitting outside with family, grownups visiting, all of us shucking. Piles of sticky silken threads, scratchy dark green leaves.

When it was not just normal but expected that everyone would eat at least 2 or 3 or more cobs, all by themselves.

I eat mine typewriter style. I find it hard to set the cob down between bites. In fact, I rather like to devour the whole thing, and then get around to eating whatever is left on the plate.

There have been occasions we have purchased corn from the grocery store. Those are times I can somehow manage to stop at one ear.

But, oh, when the corn goes straight from the garden, less than an hour before supper, and directly into the pot, or microwave, or wherever. Well. That is the time that merits a poem.

Instead of a poem, while I wait for the six minutes to pass before I pull the corn out of the pot and call the kids to table, I will chronicle the outcome of our experiment. We had plenty for Sunday dinner yesterday. And enough more for everyone to eat to their heart's content tonight. And that is all.

A tiny plot and a tiny outcome. But the ears are well formed and the taste is just what one wishes to enjoy on a hot July evening.

With all the hard stuff, the stressful stuff, the worrisome stuff, I give thanks for corn on the cob. Harvested from our tiny little scrap of a garden. I'm going to take it as a sign and an omen.

Monday, June 23, 2014

By the Way, a recipe

The other day we enjoyed a most delicious soup of leftovers.

I boiled the carcass of our homegrown roast chicken with carrots, garlic, celery and onions. A pinch of salt.

When the broth was nice and aromatic, after three hours or so, I strained out the odds and ends. Added cumin, some crushed tomatoes, a can of corn, a cup of quinoa, salt, pepper, a can of green chilis (I know, I know, wouldn't you like the false idea that we only eat foods harvested from our little small town backyard, but fact is, I work many hours, and sometimes, cans are a girls best friend),and half a jar of leftover salsa, and a large zucchini grown in my BFF's backyard. Nothing fancy, but quite good for leftover scraps.

If I had a bunch, I would have thrown in a handful or two of chopped cilantro. But my first crop has gone to seed, and the second bunch is still tiny. If I had had a bit more energy, I would have harvested some oregano and chives and thrown in for good measure.

But this recipe is to remind us all that sometimes what we have is plenty good enough.

PS we have harvested a dozen and a half little eggs from our teenage flock of hens. They are so precious to me. Isn't it crazy that a bunch of messy chickens can give me so much joy?

Monsoon Season in the Desert Southwest

Each afternoon these days, the skies darken. Black blue clouds promise cool breezes and electric flashes. Mounds of masterpiece cumulus surround our little town. We hope. We hang our clothes on the line. We water the garden. We leave a couple of car windows open. We threaten to do silly, crazy things, like dance naked in the streets. But I suppose nobody has done so, because the clouds scurry away, the sun comes out, and the laundry dries thoroughly.

But I have faith. My buckets and tubs are poised, ready to catch the spillage of our forecasted showers.