Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thankful for "I Can"

Tiny Tim demonstrating his idea of a perfect holiday

How were your Thanksgiving holidays?  Did you travel, or did you have visitors?  Or did you curl up at home for quiet, happy days inside and out?

We were headed towards a joyous holiday with my sister and her friend, staying over two nights and leaving our great neighbor Dorcie in charge of feeding The Poppit, N'yala Kate Garbo, and of course, Tiny Tim.  With that important detail covered, we piled enough stuff in the car for two weeks, let alone two days (can you tell we are infrequent travelers?). Along with clothes, camera, gifts and knitting, I had made unbaked cinnamon rolls and dinner rolls, ready for Thursday's feast:

What the well-packed Taurus trunk looks like
And what Thanksgiving feast would be complete without homemade Cranberry, Pear and Orange Relish?

Also known as Powerful Women Relish
Anyway, this holiday proved to be full of love, rich with meaning, and included three days of eating wonderful food prepared by everyone during non-stop conversation and reconnection.

And as older people are want to do, I drove home thinking about other Thanksgivings, other lifetimes, feeling pretty overwhelmed with gratitude:

For the love of a good man
For an amazing family and extended family
For the gift of good health my family enjoys
For good people as our good neighbors
For the good people who honor us with their friendship
For the amazing grace, love and personality each of our cats possess and share

For learning how to grow food from the garden, being able to give to friends and family healthy food and contribute to the Food Bank
to bake delicious bread from scratch,

yada, yada, yada

This is not an ode to my innate wonderfulness or capacity to write long and sappily.  Far from it, because this year, I have been privileged to meet an amazing group of people whose daily courage, honesty, love and compassion inspire me to keep going, keep trying, and keep understanding what is really important in life.

Team Inspire

This amazing website is a clearinghouse of on-line support groups for chronic illnesses, health and behavioral health, too.  People from around the world join for free, choose the support group(s) that meet their needs, and start reading and writing posts and journals.  Since I live very successfully with chronic depression now, and gave a lot of time to my local National Alliance on Mental Illness, I started with

Mental Health America

Quickly, I saw that an on-line support group was the 21st century bomb.  You didn't need to get dressed, put on make up (or not, then feel bad that you were too depressed to put make up on), warm up the car, or any of the reasons people give for not going to something that generally feels good if you do it.  The support group wasn't a specific time--it was all the time, whenever you needed it or you thought an Inspire friend could use some company.  And the people, oh my goodness, how incredible these strong, smart, funny, tender, seasoned, vulnerable, acerbic, likeable, compassionate, heartworn, brave, brave, brave people are!

They are old and young, men, women, people from this continent and at least two others, and from every walk of life.   Being in their company, walking in their shoes, humbles me and unlocks more room in my heart.  Because of Team Inspire and my friends there, my motto and credo has become "I Can."  I can for me and I will "I can" for my Inspire friends and the people I love and care for.

And that's a promise.

Don't forget to have a sane holiday season, one that focuses on making memories with people you care about, not getting the best deal.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

From The Kitchen The Staff of Life

As promised, wind gusts arrived in Tiny Tim's Garden, swirling the leaves like wild rice circling the strainer.  Emulating fireworks and comets fallen to earth, they lie, defiantly brilliant against grey, blowing days.

Every day, the garden unfolds new color combinations, pinning me to Bruce's custom garden window for long incredulous minutes.  Inside my head, I hear a song:  "I got sunshine, on a cloudy day."

Oh, yeah, I got sunshine, all right, and an unfathomable Landscape Artist outside my kitchen window.  Turning back to Beanie's Baking Cart, I consider my latest contribution to art.

Some people may say this looks like cement.   Others, probably from nice San Fernando Valley suburban elementary schools like me, may recognize the paste we used to create fantastic paper mache pinatas.  Others may think I can't cook oatmeal.

What I'm learning to do is to create an exceptional artisan loaf of "God, this is the best bread I ever had!"  sour dough bread.  

Which brings us to Lucille Halop, my indomitable, mostly wise Nana, who, though Russian was her first language, rattled off English nursery rhymes and aphorisms, such as, "Bread is the staff of life."  The kitchen was her home's epicenter, and since she cooked "by hand" her fabulous food was redolent with fresh vegetables, lovingly hand cut, and kosher meats and chicken braised to melting tenderness.  And if you were her grandchild, you were inevitably treated to the most fresh, delicious breads and bagels, smeared with ...wait for it ...sweet cream butter.

In the San Fernando Valley, there were as many good Jewish bakeries then as there are Subways now, so kids in the 50's and 60's knew good bread:  challah and poppy seed and rye (dark, light) and pumpernickel.  And if they were lucky, like me, to have family in San Francisco, then they learned to love hot fresh, sourdoughs and baguettes.

Skipping up to the present day, there is very good bread where I live.  Two companies in particular, have spectacular bread:  Avenue Bread and Bread Farm.  I've bought and enjoyed bread from both companies, and believe we should support our local businesses.  My budget with one of us not working full-time dictates that given a choice, we should eat well and yet stay fiscally sound.  Thus began my personal search for my own "Staff of Life"

Gerta's Incredible Cinnamon Rolls (thanks for the great lesson, Wing Commander)

Not Sour Dough, but a gorgeous King Arthur Flour Recipe
In the last two months, I've tried and tried to make a good crusty rustic Italian bread, learning to put a metal pan in the oven to preheat.  Once the oven comes to temperature, you put in your bread and then pour two cups of boiling water into the metal pan set below your bread rack.   The results were and are amazing, much more important than an eggwhite or water and cornstarch wash.

But always at my back of my mind was the Ultimate Sour Dough Artisan "God, This is SOOOOO Good" challenge, and that kind of curiosity cannot be squelched down into normal life forever.  So, I combined ingredients and started a sour dough starter on November 7th, and Sunday, November 13th, I put it in its new ceramic crock, covered it lightly with saran wrap, and put it in the fridge.  With great aplomb, I removed it from the fridge the next day, combined a cup of starter with bread ingredients and delivered very tasty sour dough flat bread snowboards to Bruce for dinner. I'm not kidding, you could wax them and take them to Mt. Baker this Friday!

Again, they were pretty tasty and the steamer pan helped.  But, like Jack Nicholson says after kissing Helen Hunt in "As Good As it Gets:'  "I KNOW I can do better than that!"  So, Monday night I take out the crock of starter again, giving it 18 hours to come to room temperature. On Tuesday around 3:00, new recipe in hand, I mix flour, water, a little yeast and salt with the starter, cover it, and put it and the starter back in the fridge.

This morning, I take the bowl out, wince at what I see, cover it again and leave it on the counter.  Three hours later I stare at this creature again:

Now, I will have to touch it, flour it, encourage it with kneading and soft words, oil another bowl and place this . . . thing in it.  It grows, and I make certain arrangements with the oven, cookware, cornmeal and pot holders.  The treasures are bestowed into the oven, time passes, and this is the final result.

Chock that one off the bucket list--God, that was so GOOD!  Nana, I can make the staff of life!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Falling for Fall

I need a support group.  To date, my fabulous new Panasonic Lumix and I have taken over 200 pictures in a week.  How could we not?  Fall is intoxicating, full of surprises peeping out between branches, shouting along streams, and overwhelming me with wonder overhead.

Fall actualizes Carrie Newcomer's song, "Holy as the Day is Spent" where she sings, 

I’m letting go of all I fear
Like autumn leaves of earth and air
For summer came and summer went
As holy as a day is spent

For me, holy is time spent recognizing and living in fall's beauty.  It's bittersweet now, definitely not the excitement I felt as a girl, when fall meant Halloween, or the anticipation of two months full of holidays when I lived in Nevada as an adult.

Now, my experience of fall includes appreciation of neighbor's landscaping:

cold nights, warm homes, and cooking "comfort food" for Bruce and me.

Speaking of comfort food, I wandered around the wonderful huge sporting goods store yesterday.  Their downstairs area, far away from rifles, camouflage clothing and snowboards, is completely given over to toys and fabulous kitchen items.  What fun it was to wander past scrapers and spatulas in lovely colors and sizes, past cookie cutters, timers, honey drippers, to be "bowled over" by bowls that have a pour spout, to giggle at the ceramic toucan's beak open wide for a scrubbie pad.

And then, I saw the sun:

This gorgeous sun is actually a tortilla warmer!  Put your tortillas of any size or composition inside the sun (the lining is food grade safe) and put it in the microwave for 45 seconds.   Presto!  Warm and soft tortillas that stay that way for an hour.  Naturally, we had to have carnitas last night, and the tortillas were amazing, especially because they weren't fried.   Note to family and friends:  do not be surprised if you receive one over the holidays--this is a keeper, and I tell you it's washable??

I'm going to try canning some of Dorcie's pears in a chutney this afternoon.  There's a big storm going to hit our corner of the Pacific Northwest over the next couple of days.  Leaves will fly through the air like comets, and glorious fall will transition to early winter's grays and browns.  I don't really mind my photo addiction because it helps extend my memory, where every leaf is an act of courage and beauty.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Disappearence of a Feathered Friend

The Big Red

Yesterday, my wonderful neighbor Dorcie came by for an impromptu gift swap; my freshly baked cinnamon rolls for pears from her tree.

"I don't think I told you the news," she said.  "Four of the chickens didn't come back to the coop two nights ago, and one was the big red."

We looked at each other, making the sad face and noises friends do when there's trouble.  Dorcie and Todd are two years into keeping hens, and have been wonderful, conscientious guardians of their flock.  Todd, a building designer by trade and a skilled carpenter, had built a practical, spacious, lovely hen house that accommodates a hen's every need, and every chicken farmer's need, too.  Both Dorcie and Todd studied chicken lore and keeping, and spent time talking to people who had kept chickens .  Even before their first chicks came home in spring, 2010, they warned us to "never name a chicken--it gets too hard."

But from the very beginning, there was something about the big red.  Dorcie and Todd let all of us hold and cuddle their six fluffy, Easter basket cute chicks, but the big red actually seemed to enjoy not only being held, but having her neck and back scratched.  When she was about six months old, just prior to laying, Dorcie called me over to where she stood surrounded by pecking, burbling almost hens.

"Watch this," she said, and bending down, spread her hand over the big red's back.  And the chicken actually stopped and squatted down, allowing anyone who knew her to stroke her, and pick her up.  Who knew that a chicken would do that, knowing that touch felt good, and her humans would never hurt her?  I was hooked.

Over the last two years, I've petted the big red many times, and held her soft, plump warm featheriness.  Each time, I would think how special this was, how unique.   This bird was choosing to transcend normal chicken behaviors out of kindness, understanding, and mutual delight.  

In Dorcie and Todd's flock, she was also the bellwhether:  the first to rush up to a visitor, the first to push to the front of the flock for scratch, bread, corncobs, and God help me, worms I dug out from my composter as a special treat for her and the other "girls."  She was also the first to peck at my green garden clogs, sure there must be something edible there.  She also talked incessantly; if I was on the other side of the fence in my garden, she would be the first to poke her head through the fence slats, looking for a handout of crocosmia leaves, old Swiss chard, or just a little companionship.

Since we live on top of a creek where there are daily sightings of raccoons, and coyote have been known to take down deer near our tiny woods, none of us believe in forever pets and animals--that's just not realistic.  And so the news of the big red's disappearance is very sad, because this uber chicken taught us wonder, respect and love. 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Fall in the garden

It has been awhile, and many things have happened in Tiny Tim's Garden.  We have harvested tomatoes, Swiss chard, spinach, lettuce, beans, carrots, potatoes, summer squash, zucchini, broccoli, kombucha squash, herbs and green onions, as Timmy and the other kitties played hide and pounce.

We also learned about friendship, family, love and boundaries.  We harvested what we sowed; where we planted dependence and practiced enabling, we pulled up ugly, painful weeds that we couldn't keep in our loving family garden.  We thought we had planted support around the people we loved, but the truth is that they need their to grow their own gardens.  Tears sometimes watered our plants this year, but in the end, we have much healthier plants.