Saturday, December 27, 2008

Belated Christmas Cheer

Holiday greetings to my faithful readers. I've been down for the count for about a week with a dastardly cold that I understand is making the rounds and is tough to kick. I've classified it as the worst cold I've ever had, requiring no fewer than 5 solid days on the couch in jammies complete with low rent TV like Oprah and Jeopardy to keep me from going mad.

Shuffling around the house with a box of Kleenex in one hand and a cup of lemon ginger tea in the other, trailing piles of damp tissue wasn't exactly the way I had planned to spend my Solstice through Christmas eve's, but that is exactly what happened.

We had voted not to have a tree this year, as when we do it's a fairly grandiose production involving walking around the land to find and cut just the right cedar tree and then a couple of days of getting the furniture rearranged so we can fit the tree in the house and slowly getting all the lights and decorations on it. But without the tree, the whole spirit of the season is missing.
Of course since we lean more toward pagan than Christian, the whole Christmas thing feels pretty hypocritical to us, and since I was too deep under blankets on the solstice to even ponder making a fire in celebration I was afraid the whole holiday was going to slip past without recognition.
But David came to the rescue, around about the 23rd he decided we could not have a cheerless holiday and he started to bake. And he baked, and he baked and he baked. Rocks, Mexican chocolate shortbread, oatmeal cranberry chocolate chip, rugelach fingers, bourbon balls and chocolate crinkles. Right up into Christmas morning the oven was going and he was working on one last batch of almond nut brittle.
And then I got into the act, as I was finally feeling that I could rejoin the living. We broke out the craft supplies and spent several hours clipping and snipping and gluing to paper bags to create our own one of a kind- Martha Stewart inspired- cookie gift bags.

The center of the action

The resulting bounty

Once we had everything packed up, we bathed and put on festive garb and headed out to spread a bit of cheer visiting all the neighbors around the hood' and ended up at my brother Chris's for an outstanding Christmas dinner that would have made Charles Dickens proud. From the medium rare standing rib roast down to the Brussels sprouts (grown by bro & sis A&B) and Yorkshire pudding and the plates of cookies from us and pies baked by mama Elaine the feast was enjoyed by all.

I'm slowly recovering and each day feel a bit more like getting into real clothes and even ventured out for a long walk today. I'm hoping to do some true celebrating on the calendar New Year after having missed the solar one. I hope everyone reading this is healthy, has had a happy holiday and I bid you all good tidings and great cheer!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Exploring Up Stream

It's been a weird week weather wise with lots of warmish damp days. Today lots of fog in the morning and then a fabulous breeze that was just delicious. It felt fresh and bright and cool as it blew past. We walked upstream on the little creek that runs through the bottom below our house and down into the pond. I've only ever walked that way once or twice before, but its lovely as the creek moves towards its headwaters and the bottom narrows and gets a bit steeper. More rocky with little water falls and big beech trees growing along the edge.

There were also 3 or 4 old dumps sites peeking out from the leaves. One had a rusty car and a refrigerator, others bottles, cans, barrels. They had been there a very long time, left from the days when there was no dump, so you just hauled your junk out back. We also found some places that seemed like hunting practice areas. On one side of the creek was a deer blind in another spot a wooden platform. Wooden pallets were set-up across the creek, leaned up against trees like possible target posts, but they didn't have any bullet holes in them. We do hear gunshots fairly often ringing out from that way.

Right below the wooden platform, was a big swing. The seat was made from 2 pieces of 2x6, cut 2 feet long and screwed together. It hung from bright yellow, heavy duty nylon rope. A metal pole had been braced with chains high up in two tall, straight trees. It seemed secure.
We got on together and backed up the hill and had a pretty good swing but it was too heavy to really pump it up very high even with both of us working, still fun and nobody tried to shoot us and we didn't fall. A couple of dogs did come out from the next house up stream and escort us off their property.

It's good to see our little creek perking along so well; it's often dry in the summer and fall, this has been its best year in a while. Could be the fact that the forest was clear cut a few years ago, just above the headwaters, and now they've widened the road up there too, so there is more run-off into the creek making the water a bit cloudy.
I felt compelled to be outside after so many rainy days, it was good to walk the woods and see the sky and a bit of sunshine for a change.

Now D is cooking up some turkey mole that smells divine. It's got ground almonds and chile paste and loads of onions and garlic, a little cocoa and who knows what else. But I can tell its going to be damn good loaded into a tortilla for a juicy taco or two.
I'm on salad detail. The salads this time of year bite back. I cut a collection of radish greens- pink stems and tender but peppery leaves; mizuna- feathery purple and green tinged leaves, arugula and dill.

I'll cook them up with some radish and celeriac that I julienned and the tops of a couple of Brussels sprouts plants that I snipped off- they say it helps the sprouts to form if you remove the tops. I discovered last year they're like cabbage. Wilting it all in the olive oil softens the spicy flavors and makes a warm salad with lots of zing.

I'm off to finish my part and eat supper. Happy Day

Friday, December 12, 2008

Sustainability and Sustenance

As I prepare dinner here on a Friday evening, I'm once again amazed at the food that I am able to pull together mostly from our pantry. I confess the boneless beef short ribs were purchased at one of our local chain groceries so there is no telling where the meat came from or how the cows were treated. All the same, I've cooked the meat together with onions and garlic harvested last summer, two fat carrots pulled tonight, some tomato sauce from the freezer, dried boletes and cooked frozen boletes that we picked last July (see post 7/16/08 )and dried tomatoes. I deglazed the pan with a splash of red wine and it's all been simmering away until tender while we cooked a pot of polenta and a skillet of greens; kale, collards and purple mustard, all harvested this afternoon from the garden.

As I sip a decent Chianti I can't help but feel phenomenally fortunate in the face of all the hard times that are hitting people all over the country. I am truly grateful for all that I have, and it isn't really that much compared to lots of people but I know it's way more than many and especially those around the world that are suffering from famines and war and displacement.

I'm reading A 1,000 Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner. It's about the lives of two women in Afghanistan over the course of the last 30 years and it's so sad it's hard to go on sometimes, but so well written that I am compelled to keep turning the pages. It describes the plight of women as second class citizens and the problems of the country of Afghanistan as a whole as it has dealt with wars, invasions and sectarian violence and it's pretty dark.

I've been worrying, like everyone, about the economy. It's hard not to so I just have to turn off the radio, TV and not read the paper and think of other things sometimes, like how lucky I am to have a garden still making food on Dec 12th.

David and I started dance classes, East Coast swing in November and Blues in December. The dancing is so wonderfully sexy and fun to do together, I'm tickled he wanted to give it a go. We've been digging out all sorts of things from the music collection we hadn't listened to in a while like John Lee Hooker and Elmore James. While the dinner was simmering tonight we enjoyed a few turns on the floor, trying to remember all the moves we've learned and get smoother doing them together.

It's all about frame and reading one another. Good exercise for me to practice following and D. leading and beginning to understand each other on another level. We ate the amazing dinner and now I'm ready to curl back up and read some more and hope that the situation for my two heroines, Laila and Mariam, gets better somehow.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Birdy Morning

The day started with a pair of hermit thrushes outside the bedroom window, flitting and posturing, tail bobbing at each other, seemed like a "who can hold the highest branch" kind of contest.

In the kitchen making coffee we watched a huge flock of pine siskins and goldfinches eating the seeds from the round and prickly orange pods filling the tops of the tall sweet gum trees behind the garden shed.

A bit later D spotted three yellow-bellied sapsuckers, a female and two males, cruising around the trunk of a dogwood tree and in and out of the hollies eating berries.

Bluebirds hopped about in the cedar trees behind the studio, also eating berries. While we ate breakfast so did the birds, all the usual suspects; red belly WP, juncos, chipping sparrows, white-breasted nuthatch, titmice, and chickadees were visiting the feeders and searching the garden for bugs.

I love birdwatching in winter!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

New Neighbors

We've got new neighbors in the hood. These two are Polka and Dot! Here you see them being "walked" on a chilly afternoon. I think they are spectacular, the mom, a draft horse, is so gigantic she is positively majestic. When I see her in the pasture on a foggy morning she looks like she stepped right out of a fairy tale, I expect to see Queen Guinevere mounted on her back, holding that creamy mane in her soft white hand.

Next door to us now are the bassets, five of them! I haven't gotten all their names straight yet. Their moms are worried that they make too much noise but I think they are great. The only time I hear them is when I walk by the house and they start up the basset alarm to let everyone know something is up, as soon as I've gone on, they quiet down again.

It's good to have new folks and new animals around. When D and I moved out here 11 years ago we were the only ones on all this land. It was quiet but it was also isolated. Now we have a dairy farm and cheese operation next door with about 45 cows, and eight other houses with lots of good neighbors in them.

We still don't see folks very often, only on the roads in passing, or walking to get the mail, but its good to know there are people around when we need something, or they need something or we just don't want to feel alone.