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June 2011

May 2011

The holy longing

Sunflower seeds
Tell a wise person, or else keep silent,
the mass man will mock it right away
I praise what is truly alive,
what longs to be burned to death.

In the calm water of the love nights,
where you were begotten, where you have begotten,
a strange feeling comes over you,
when you see the silent candle burning.

Now you are no longer caught in the obsession with darkness,
and a desire for higher love-making sweeps you upward.

Distance does not make you falter.
Now, arriving in magic, flying,
and finally, insane for the light,
you are the butterfly, and you are gone.
And so long as you haven't experienced this: to die and so to grow,
you are only a troubled guest on the dark earth.

- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, tr. by Robert Bly

Arugula-Watermelon Salad

Arugula-watermelon salad 2
Here's another example of a happy overlapping of seasonal produce. In less than a month, according to Mrs. Carlisle at the 441 Market, the cool weather-loving arugula will have bolted. But for now, we have this delicious spicy green at the same time blueberries are in full swing and watermelons are beginning to come in; it's like a fortuitous alignment of planets.

I was once advised that every good dish has a mix of flavors - sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Combining the surprising sweetness of the fruit with the salty goat cheese, the sour vinaigrette, and the bitter arugula really hits the spot.  

Arugula-Watermelon Salad

3 cups seeded watermelon chunks
1/4 cup blueberries
2 cups baby arugula
1/4 cup torn mint leaves
Vinaigrette, made with one part rice vinegar, one part oil (vegetable or olive), and salt and pepper to taste

What remains

Road to silverton 2
I am heading to Colorado this week, helping move my parents to Texas – a place they lived for many years before they retired. My mother will live in an apartment down the road from the nursing home where my father, suffering from "profound dementia," will spend the rest of his life. This situation is a far cry from the happily retired life they were living only a few years ago – skiing in the winter, hiking in the summer, entertaining friends, visiting grandchildren.  My father seems lost, my mother beside herself.   

His decline has been like the proverbial downhill snowball – starting with tiny, confusing changes in his behavior, gaining speed as he struggled with delusions, and then quickly burying his ability to function independently as he forgot how to pay the bills, to read a book, to tie his shoes. The last Sunday crossword puzzle he attempted rested, partially finished, on the table next to his chair for months after he quit trying.

When he became incontinent and started wandering confused in the hills around their home, my mother felt it was time for him to get round-the-clock care, although we all had mixed feelings about it to the end. It was remembering something my dad had asked of us years ago that finally tipped us over the edge - that we promise to place him in a nursing home if he ever became as lost and dependent as his own mother was at the time. I know my "old dad" would want this.  I want to honor this clear wish of his, even more than I want to indulge my own desire to find a way to keep him home.

Never an "easy-going" man, he was – anyone would say it – a good man, an honest man, a hard-working man. He grew up during insecure times - the Great Depression followed by World War II. His father was overseas during the war years and was a troubled man at home, taking out his own insecurities on his only son. Older relatives marveled at what a responsible and conscientious boy my father had been, traits that stayed with him throughout his life.  As a father, he seemed to see himself primarily as a "provider" and spent long hours at work. It took me way too many years to realize that this was his way of loving us – to work hard to make our lives easier than his had been.

He is still loving us, I believe. As confused as he is, as slow and as helpless, he is kind, compliant, usually quiet – clearly not all there, but seemingly at peace with it now.  He's made this much easier for us than it might have been. While he was dumbfounded when he was told he could no longer drive, he transitioned to the passenger side with a fair amount of grace.  He was patient with us when our reality suddenly diverged so distinctly from his, allowing us to bring in firewood from the shed, but keeping a sharp lookout for the mountain lion he had "seen" raising her cubs in there. Only once did he really break down within earshot, heartbreakingly, to a friend: "Please help me, Larry; I am so lost!"  Mercifully, that realization seems to have passed.

I cannot begin to imagine what it's like to no longer be able to trust your brain to interpret the world accurately for you – to see mountain lions that aren't there, to believe that John Wayne is your new roommate, or that Oliver North is arranging one last B-52 flight over Russia for you and your crew (oh, why could he not have delusions of Gandhi?). How else do we know the world except through what our brain interprets for us?

Yes, he is lost.  But some of his most essential qualities remain - the courage, the stiff upper lip, the love in his voice when he calls me "honey," the protective impulses of the good father. These sweet remnants will go too, we are told, as our father continues to wander away, body and soul. But take everything else, this disease cannot take our love for him. We have known and loved him through most of his "manifestations": young father (he was 23 when I was born!), sometimes absent provider, adventurous retiree. We can only keep loving that good man now, and backward through time to the child that we didn't know but whom he may most resemble at this point. He will not be lost to us.   

[photo: my parents on the road to Silverton, summer 2008]

For my young friends who are afraid

Giverny in Sight
There is a country to cross you will find
in the corner of your eye, in
the quick slip of your foot -- air far
down, a snap that might have caught.
And maybe for you, for me, a high, passing
voice that finds its way by being
afraid. That country is there, for us
carried as it is crossed. What you fear
will not go away: it will take you into
yourself and bless you and keep you.
That's the world, and we all live there.

- William Stafford

{photo: path to Giverney, summer 2009}

New Potato Salad

Warm potato salad 1 sm
Potatoes planted in January are usually harvested in April and May. I have planted them with children often, my own and school children, and really enjoyed the process - from "hiding" the carefully chopped potatoes to "finding" whole ones in the spring. We didn't grow them this year, but we've finding lots of the small, thin-skinned, creamy tubers at the market. This is one of my favorite ways to prepare them: 


2 lbs. small, unpeeled new potatoes - potatoes smaller than 1" can be left whole; quarter larger potatoes
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 tablespoon mustard
snipped chives and/or parsley (I added slivers of a nasturtium blossom too)

Boil new potatoes in salted water for 10-15 minutes, checking regularly for tenderness. Meanwhile, shake vinegar, oil, pepper, and mustard in a jar till thouroughly blended. When potatoes are tender, drain and place in serving bowl, add shaken dressing, sprinkle with herbs. Can be served warm or cold. 

This is what life does

Water lillies
This is what life does. It lets you walk up to
the store to buy breakfast and the paper, on a 

stiff knee. It lets you choose the way you have 
your eggs, your coffee. Then it sits a fisherman 
down beside you at the counter who says, Last night, 
the channel was full of starfish. And you wonder,
is this a message, finally, or just another day?

Life lets you take the dog for a walk down to the
pond, where whole generations of biological 
processes are boiling beneath the mud. Reeds
speak to you of the natural world: they whisper,
they sing. And herons pass by. Are you old 
enough to appreciate the moment? Too old?
There is movement beneath the water, but it 
may be nothing. There may be nothing going on.

And then life suggests that you remember the 
years you ran around, the years you developed
a shocking lifestyle, advocated careless abandon,
owned a chilly heart. Upon reflection, you are
genuinely surprised to find how quiet you have
become. And then life lets you go home to think
about all this. Which you do, for quite a long time.

Later, you wake up beside your old love, the one
who never had any conditions, the one who waited
you out. This is life’s way of letting you know that
you are lucky. (It won’t give you smart or brave,
so you’ll have to settle for lucky.) Because you 
were born at a good time. Because you were able 
to listen when people spoke to you. Because you
stopped when you should have and started again.

So life lets you have a sandwich, and pie for your
late night dessert. (Pie for the dog, as well.) And 
then life sends you back to bed, to dreamland, 
while outside, the starfish drift through the channel, 
with smiles on their starry faces as they head
out to deep water, to the far and boundless sea.

-Eleanor Lerman

Zona's Zinnias

May zinnia
My grandmother Zona introduced me to zinnias, and maybe that's why they have always had such a southern, homey sensibility about them to me. They're natives of Mexico but do so well here, especially in the less humid month of May. I love the different shapes and colors of their papery-dry flowers, and their long stems which make them perfect for cutting. They last a long time in a vase, and have been a part of my summer home-decorating since my "Nanny" gave me the first bouquet.

Later in summer they will grow bushy and their leaves will speckle with various viruses, but their flowers will soldier on till the bitter end. In the right conditions, zinnias will self-seed. I will never forget the school garden we left planted with still-thriving colorful zinnias in June, and which surprised us the following September with a new crop of all white ones. Apparently hybrids, the second generation did not keep the characteristic of the parent - but still so beautiful! 

Now I try to keep them germinating throughout the summer, ready to fill in spaces in the garden. Right now there's a row of beautiful all purple ones swaying in front of the tomatoes in the front yard, muti-colored ones circling the trees in the parking lot, and a little row behind the corn. They're cheery and colorful and will always remind me of my funny (and colorful) grandmother Zona Lee. 

Strawberry-Orange Marmalade

May  eat me 2
Even though I'm not a big fan of jam, I like making it a lot. And I LOVE the idea of capturing some of the beauty of one season and saving it in a jar for another. We live in a wonderful place where the strawerry harvest and orange season overlap for just a bit. The orange really brightened up the deep red of the sweet strawberries and will remind me for months to come of these incredible bright May days. And it is much tastier than store-bought jam. 


6 cups strawberries, washed, tops removed and quartered
4 thin-skinned oranges, sliced thinly than chopped into 1/4-1/2" pieces
2 lemons, sliced and chopped like oranges
1 cup water
1/2 tablespoon butter
2 packages "certa" pectin (I am going to try "pomona" pectin next time which is supposed to gel without as much sugar)
6 cups sugar, divided

Place all ingredients except sugar in a large pot, bring to a rolling boil (one that is not fazed by stirring). Add half the sugar, mixing well, then bring to a boil again. Now add the rest of the sugar, bring to a rolling boil again - and boil while stirring for 3 minutes. 

Remove pot from stove, and ladle contents into sterilized jars, wipe rim, screw on sterilized lids and bands, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. 

The Food Underground

Eggs 1 sm
Each week they're in production, we have eggs and goat cheese delivered to the house by our farming friends: beautiful, colorful, eggs in different shapes and sizes to boil for the Breakfast Brigade, and mild, tasty goat cheese for the cafe (among other things).  

We're happy to pay a fair price for this local food offered by people we know well. We know that by buying from them rather than from a national chain - even one that offers organic produce - we're keeping money circulating in our local economy. We also trust the care both of these suppliers put into their particular operation; their animals are well-loved and healthy, they pay attention to sanitation because they eat this food themselves, and they are careful with the environment ramifications of animal ownership because they live on the land where the animals are kept. Kelley (the goatherd) has been able to expand her clientele by having our house be a pick-up location for others buying the cheese. One other buyer referred to the whole operation as the "underground cheese railroad." 

I love being able to participate in something so homegrown, healthy, and basically good. Fear has often been the basis of our overly complicated food system - where complex methods of sanitation have been required to guard against bacteria and disease resulting from overcrowded animal quarters and mechanized production. Many of these safeguards have been made into laws that keep small producers from making a living selling food that is healthier for the environment, for the animals, and for us. Our friends, Susan and Kelly, living on the land with their animals and eating the same food they're selling to us offer real food security.  

Early Summer Dinner

May day dinner
It's hot for early May, but very good for vegetables, judging by all the fresh produce we've been receiving (and growing)! We're really enjoying the fresh, simple meals we can create from this abundance, and I wanted to share one of them with you. 

Last Sunday's Dinner: 

Tabouli - minty and fresh, it made great use of the first of our windowbox cherry tomatoes and potted mint. The bulgher wheat requires no cooking - just an equal amount of boiling water poured over and a 30 minute rest before serving. We had no lemons, so I used rice vinegar for spark. 

Refrigerator pickles - We have fresh dill growing and we got some absolutely beautiful, fresh, sweet onions from the 441 Market on Saturday - so sweet you can eat them out of hand and chop them without crying. Our own cucumbers are just beginning to come in, and we received several varieties from the market. All delicious. 

Salad - The lettuce we planted in the shade under a tree is still tender, and we added it to some delicious market spinach. Sliced strawberries and oranges, pecans, goat cheese, and boiled eggs left from the Breakfast Brigade made this salad seem like a dessert. We dressed it with equal parts rice vinegar and vegetable oil shaken up with a little salt.

I think May might be the best time of the year for fresh produce; everything we can grow is growing - from winter kale and oranges, to spring chard and lettuce, to summer tomatoes! Hope you are finding ways to enjoy it all too!