Thursday, June 30, 2011

On My Mind...A Tomato Surprise!

I was in the basement getting something.  I can't recall what now because the great surprise blew it out of my head.   I moved a harvesting basket from the floor to a rather empty space on one the shelves.  Imagine my utter shock to see two jars of tomato sauce sitting there in plain sight on the shelf.  I thought we had run out of tomatoes in May! 
I had been lamenting not having tomato based anything for weeks....and here I was sitting on two jars the whole time!!!  Yeeeesh....  I'd even agreed to use store-bought sauce on two special occasions despite my pledge to wait until our harvest was ready for a true seasonal experience.  Yeeeeeesh.....

At this point I should probably say that I am a tomato-based foods junkie.  Give me chili, spaghetti, lasagna, pizza, tomato soup, sun-dried tomatoes, whatever you got!  I love it all, except ketchup.  I'd probably include a tomato element in all of my cooking if I had an endless supply.  Okay, maybe not all of it, but a vast majority.

So, needless to say I felt both like I'd won the lottery and like a total bonehead when I found those two jars down there.  I don't know how I missed them.  Its not like they were even hidden.  Silly, silly Beth.  Oh, well it was a really, really nice surprise.

We knew we had to do something special with these jars.  One is still in the cupboard at home.  I am not sure what its destiny will be yet.  The other was promptly made into a simple pasta sauce.  That might not sound special, but we did go all out and treat ourselves to store-bought pasta, multicolor shells, a shape which our pasta machine does not make.  It had been a while since I had anything but fresh, long pasta so it was a real treat. 

Now what to make with the last jar.....

The On My Mind concept come from  Rhonda on her Down to Earth blog.  Won't you join in on the fun?!

Hibiscus Lessons

I try to pick up good advice and life lessons wherever I can.  Today I got some good advice from the hibiscus that lives in my office at the library.  The advice is this: Oh, the difference a day can make.  A possible secondary lesson might be:  Be patient.  Good things take time.  Or maybe:  Enjoy thoroughly.  Good things should be cherished while we have the opportunity for nothing in the world lasts forever.   I shall try to remember that the next time I am having one of THOSE days....  you know, where everything seems to go wrong and silly, little things seem insurmountable....   
Monday.  Lovely buds, one tiny and one large, that brim with promise.
Wednesday.  One blossom opens revealing itself, the other still building up to its glory.
Thursday.  One blossom's petals slowly withering while the other still holds its hope for tomorrow.
Watching the transformation is like magic for me.  It makes me want to oooooh and awwwwww.  

For the record I am, quite thankfully, NOT having one of those days.    It is sunny and hot.   I did yoga in the sunshine to start my day.  Matt made pumpkin pancakes.  We rode bicycle to the library under a swell blue sky.  My boss took the office out for lunch to a sweet little restaurant nestled in a residential neighborhood (a rarity around here) where the food was quite good.  I had my first panini.  I am visiting my awesome aunt Mary Ann after work.  Tomorrow is Friday and there is a long weekend ahead.  Matt and I have a day hike planned for the weekend.    Happy Thursday to me.

I find a great comfort in knowing that each day is a brand new beginning, a chance to start fresh.  Each day is an opportunity to grow.  That makes me happy.  No problem is truly insurmountable.  No day is truly bad.  I've said it before, and I believe it is worth repeating: life is what you make of it.  It is primarily a matter of attitude and determination.  But, sometimes, a little reminder of that is helpful.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Berkeley Pit Experience

Have you ever been to a place that is both beautiful and horrifying at the same time?  I have.  It is right down the highway from us.  It is one of the EPA's largest Superfund sites....a claim to fame that doesn't exactly make me swell with pride for our great state.  It is called the Berkeley Pit and it stands as legacy to Montana's mining past and as a painful reminder of the human ability to forever alter our environment on an unimaginably tremendous scale. 
Matt had never been there before so we thought it was worth the stop on our way to the Love Your Mother Earth Festival.  I mean, seriously, could we ask for a more vivid reminder to love our Mother Earth than this gaping hole in the earth, slowly filling with toxic water?  I certainly don't think so.  Maybe a clear-cut forest, maybe...
The pit is eerie for a variety of reasons.  It is so vast.  It is still and quiet, like a watery tomb, which in a way it is.  The water is red, like no water I've ever seen.  Red.  The sides of the pit are terraced layers of patchwork mountain stripped away, neatly, uniformly--at least from the observation platform--it probably doesn't look so neat up close.

You know that feeling you get when you are at the base of a mountain looking up and you feel humbled and awestruck by the majesty and immensity of the setting?  The Berkeley Pit is sort of like that only completely backwards, completely wrong.
The 900 foot deep pool of water is acidic and loaded with toxic chemicals and heavy metals including arsenic, cadmium, copper, zinc, and lead--leftovers from the mining industry that Butte, and much of Montana, was built upon.  Apparently they are even still "mining" some metals from the water!  Crazy!  Makes you want to go for swim, no?

It has also become a morbid tourist attraction.  There are billboards near Butte boasting of its depth (1,600 feet deep!!) in an attempt to get people to stop and check it out.  I can only hope that it is an thought-provoking and humbling experience for all those that skip off the interstate to see it.  I feel there has to be an important lesson there.  There has to be.  If we cannot learn from our past, we are doomed.

Seeing the pit always gives me pause to think about how many of the things I use are derived from mining from the car Matt and I own to the computer on which I write this blog.  It is something we are all complicit in, often without consciously realizing it.  Mining is a foundational piece of our modern world something that I think is all too easily forgotten from a distance far removed from a mine.  Paying the pit a visit makes the connection unavoidable.  Mining isn't necessarily wrong, but this...THIS is.  I can't help but feel that if we all consumed less there wouldn't be as much need for such devastating metal and mineral extraction.  That if we all consumed less there would be fewer Berkeley Pits.  I don't base this on any particular research or articles.  I base it on my gut and my heart.  Consuming less has powerful implications both for yourself and the world.
I think the Berkeley Pit will be a test of the Superfund system of mitigating human-induced environmental disasters because it is so large and because it involves water--something so vital to our very lives.  The water level of the pit continues rise as it fills with rain water--some estimate as much as a foot a month.  Dealing with the clean up and preventing the contamination of ground water on this massive of a scale is an experimental process and a real test of the belief that technology can save us from the messes of our own creation.  Time, as usual, will tell.

Phenomenal Chickpea Toss

I made this dish on Sunday night after we came home from the Love Your Mother Earth Festival rather exhausted.  Matt wasn't feeling cooking at all.  I wasn't feeling particularly ambitious about cooking either, but I was seriously craving some hearty, flavorful food.  I thought this recipe might suit both.  It had apparently been a while since I had made it because I was almost surprised by what a delight it was for the taste buds.   It was one of the situations where I knew I was full, but boy was it tempting to keep on eating just because the favors were so darn good!  (I did restrain myself, but mainly because I knew I could have the leftovers for lunch if I managed to show a little self-control.)   It certainly falls into the category of being one of my all time favorite dishes.
Phenomenal Chickpea Toss

1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
2 cups chickpeas, cooked
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon curry powder
2 Tablespoons tahini or other nut butter
2-3 teaspoons maple syrup or honey
1/4 cup water

In a medium sauce pan, saute the garlic and onion in the sesame oil over medium-high until translucent. 
Reduce heat to medium and add in remaining ingredients.
Simmer for 5 - 10 minutes.
Toss with stir-fried veggies and rice or noodles.

Butterfly Rolls and Solstice Supper

I think that shaped bread is always more impressive. I also think it is a lot of fun to play with.   I like to make braided loaves a lot.  They even taste beautiful in my opinion.  I also like to make what I call "treble clef rolls" and cloverleaf pullaparts and all sorts of things.  Thus, I took our plan to have a Solstice Supper as a challenge.  What fun summer shapes could I make out of dough...?  I tried flowers, my initial thought, but they proved more complicated than I was interested in messing around with. 
Then I had a light bulb moment.  "What if I took the basic premise for the treble clef roll, but just slapped two of them together to make a butterfly?"    The large yellow butterflies (swallowtails?) have started lazily drifting around town lately so it seemed seasonally appropriate.  They are so large I keep thinking they are birds out of the corner of my eye.  Matt says he does, too. (Our eyes are fine tuned to alert at the slightest bird-like motion or shape apparently.)
Yours Truly, Josh, Derek , and Matt enjoying the food and friendship (and dodging mosquitoes) at our Summer Solstice Supper.  It was just as enjoyable a new tradition as I hoped it could be.  Derek and Josh are wonderful friends.
I forgot to take a photo until I eaten almost all of my butterfly, but oh well!  Kabobs rock.  Derek reminded me that their full name is shishkabobs.  I don't know why, but saying that makes me smile.  Its a funny sounding word.  I like it.  Whatever you call the, they are sure tasty.  These are yams, potato, pepper, onion, and tempeh.  We served them over couscous with homegrown spinach.  Hello summer!
I really treasure occasions like these.  That is my idea of a perfect evening (minus the mosquitoes of course!).  Preparing a home-cooked meal to share with dear friends, eating, laughing, and telling stories, drinking a local beer, enjoying the sunset and the bird song and the fade into twilight, and starting new traditions.  If that isn't nice, I don't know what is.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Garden 2011 Photo Update

Spinach (before the pest problems), peppers, and kale.
I finally decided I needed some work gloves that actually fit me.  I've been wearing Matt's extra gloves for the past years of gardening which was okay since Matt did almost all the gardening and I mostly just harvested.  Since I have had a more active hand in the whole process this year, as well as having taken up lawn mowing duty, I decided I needed a better fitting pair.  Matt brought these home and they seem to do the trick so far.  I wish they weren't pink, but I suppose that is too much to ask in a ladies gardening glove.  They look much better now that they are stained with brown.
Washing just-harvested spinach to take along to the Love Your Mother Earth Festival.  Matt said he thought since it was LYME we should most certainly have at least some homegrown produce to bring along.  Plus we wanted to harvest it all before we left so the leafminers didn't get it all.
Peppers and kale.
The lovely snow pea blossoms, though this photo is shady and does them little justice.
These kale plants are so large and beautiful and perfect I am starting to get nervous.  I feel like I should pick them now before something happens to them!  They are the most perfect plants in the garden right now if you ask me.  All the others are battling pests like caterpillars and leafminers and slugs.  I blame all the rain.  We've never had pests like we do this year.  Oh well, it is a great learning experience.
Keleigh really wanted to water the garden (and had full conversation with the plants about their level of thirst while watering).  It must have made quite an impression on her last time.  Matt also showed her how big the tomato plants she'd help plant had gotten.  She seemed pretty impressed.
Pea pods are filling out!  Hip hip hooray!

Human Hamster Wheel

The interstate is all well and good for getting somewhere relatively quickly, but it rarely has any of the charm and natural beauty found along a two-lane highway.   Skipping off I-90 onto the splendid Pintler Scenic Loop is one of our favorite drives as we travel west across the state.  The loop is only a short, 72 mile jaunt, but is a very pleasant jaunt indeed.  There are stunning mountains and geological formations, a waterfall that come raging out of a hole in the side of the mountain demonstrating the impressive, determined force of water, big horn sheep, and gravity defying ramshackle remnants from Montana's early mining days.    Matt, Casey, and I took the drive on our way to the Love Your Mother Earth Festival last weekend.

In Anaconda there is also a park with a hamster wheel for humans, specifically children, but we never let that stop us!  I make Matt stop every time.  I always laugh my head off, get at least one wood burn, and get rather dizzy.  It is just too much fun.  It is hard to spin because we are all too tall for it, but that just ups the  level of the challenge!  
One never knows what fun might be found by taking the road less traveled.

Being Alone

I really like this video.  The whole thing is great: words, animation, music, and message.  It kind of reminds me of the sort of free-form, prose-style poetry that I write.
While not an extrovert, I am a people person in my own way.  I like small groups, but not large parties.  I love talking to people.  People are interesting even when what they say baffles me.  I think an ideal evening is sharing home-cooked dinner with friends, laughing over our plates, sharing happiness between us. 

However, I've never lived alone and sometimes I regret never having that experience.  I am grateful though to have always shared my home with those I care about.  Not everyone is so blessed.  I've also never camped out alone, something that is on my list of desired life experiences. 

I used to have a problem being alone with myself.   I avoided it, even if that evasion was only through the use of TV...TV has a way of fooling you into thinking you are not alone.   I nearly hated being home alone.  I would become gripped with fear...I am not even sure fear of what--burglars, ghosts, my wild imagination?  I'd turn on all the lights and lock all the doors.  Sometimes even the door to the basement which I knew was empty.    I hated walking alone.  I would never go folfing alone or go fly a kite alone.  I felt stupid when I tried to do those things solo.  Or more accurately I think I felt sad and lonely.  Like I was less because it was "just me."  I think I needed to be surrounded by people and activity in order to be distracted from myself and the life I was leading which seemed so far from the life I wanted.

I don't feel that way any more these days.  I feel I've grown into myself and am more comfortable with myself and my place in this universe than I've ever been before.  I feel purpose.  I am happier than ever before and I think that is most important.  "If you're happy in your head then solitude is blessed and alone is okay."  That is not to say I never have moments of questioning...of doubt... of wanting someone around to reassure me that it is all okay.

My pursuits seem to lend themselves to solitude--knitting, birdwatching, reading, sewing, baking.  All are quite pleasant and meditative alone.  Or maybe my circle of friends just doesn't include any knitters or bakers yet and someday these activities will no longer lend themselves to solitude.   I know it is possible.

Truth is, I think I enjoy and desire being alone now because I am quite often utterly enthralled in my solitude.  I spent a full five minutes yesterday standing in the light sprinkle of rain falling from the sunny sky-- silent, listening, watching, in awe of the pea pods strung up along the green, bushy vines bursting from the garden.  I contemplated those peas and their magic.  I felt a surge of amazement and glee as I thought about the wonder that brought those pea pods forth from the earth.  I was shocked to realize that there are people in this world (in my town, on my street!) that have never been witness to such a special-yet-ordinary thing as the transformative power of planting a seed and helping it grow into nourishing food for your body.  I was blessed to know it and be part of it.  Moments like that are better alone.
However, I am also quite grateful to have family and friends to share my joy with.  When Matt came home from work, and I was no longer alone for the day, I told him all about it and we walked out to the garden to enjoy it all together.  Sharing these private revelations is important, too.  That is how they grow.  I suppose that is how we grow as well.

On My Mind....Snow Pea Blossoms

We have the loveliest blossoms on our pea patch right now.  This year we are growing a few rows of snow peas in addition to a more standard variety of regular "eatin' peas," as Matt calls them.  I never expected the flowering of these peas would look so beautiful, more lovely than even the pretty, white blossoms growing on their pea neighbors.  The delicate, papery two-toned petals alone make the plant worth growing in my opinion and they haven't even set out any peas yet!  We've never grown snow peas before so we are quite excited for that part, too.  I like snow peas a great deal and imagine that fresh from the garden peas will not disappoint.  The other peas are setting pods so I am sure it will be any time for the snow peas.  In the meantime, I have their beauty to savor.

The On My Mind concept come from  Rhonda on her Down to Earth blog.  Won't you join in on the fun?!