Thursday, September 27, 2018

Ease One Life the Aching

From Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson (1982 Crown Publishers)
I absolutely adore the sentiment behind this brief untitled poem.  It is a personal philosophy that I can embrace heartily and in just about every facet of my life.  It is as true today as when Emily penned it back in 1864.

I used to worry so much about the Big Things that were outside of my control.  Events in the past.  Projections for the future.  Racial injustice, habitat loss, politics, death, gender discrimination, peace, foreign policy, violence, the news.  I used to let them really weigh me down, plague me.  I would feel overwhelmed and, often, disheartened, about the world and my place in it.  It would keep me up at night as a child.

But.  I can't save the world singlehandedly.  No one can.

What I CAN do though is build up the world with goodness all around me.  I can lend a helping hand to my neighbors, friends, and community.  It starts with me.

I can volunteer with groups working on issues that are close to my heart, like the Montana Wilderness Association.  I can support the live music scene and local artists.  I can shop local, Montana-made, US grown.  I can help strangers catch a dog wandering back and forth through traffic on Poly. I can share when I have an abundance.  I can write letters to the editor.  I can speak up in conversation when I don't agree.  I can reduce my plastic footprint and buy in bulk whenever possible. I can take in cats when they need a new home.  I can offer help and guidance to new sewing and crafting enthusiasts.  I can send birthday cards and check on sick friends and relatives.  I can eat a vegetarian/vegan diet.  I can call my political representatives and tell them what issues matter most to me.  I can donate to local charities.  I can recycle and compost.  I can be supportive friend.  I can catch the spider and let it go outside.  I can try to put the robin back in her nest.

These things will not change the world in a big, dramatic way.  But, it is enough for me.

Life is made up of the little things.  The decisions we make and the priorities we hold are shaping our shared experience on this planet.  Everyone has their unique strengths and gifts to offer.  It takes all kinds.   Do your thing and make it count.   And maybe, just maybe, well all end up living, working, and breathing in an even more beautiful (fair, clean, smart, fun, inspiring, creative) world.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Peanut Butter Bars, A Birthday Cake Proxy

Matt requested Scotcheroos for his birthday treat last week... but without the butterscotch chips, so... Peanut Butter Bars in the end.
I thought it was a pretty brilliant deviation from the standard birthday cake.  And easy.  SO easy!  And tasty.  SO tasty!
Plus, for reasons that are unclear to me, Matt gets a kick out of using the double boiler.   (Whatever makes the birthday boy happy, right?!)
Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars
1 cup sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
(a heaping) 3/4 cup natural peanut butter
1/8 cup refined coconut oil
6 cups crisp rice cereal
2 cups chocolate chips
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a large saucepan, combine sugar, salt, corn syrup and peanut butter.
Heat through over medium-low until the sugar is all dissolved.
Remove from heat.
Add cereal and stir until well coated.
Press evenly into a greased 13x9 inch baking pan using a rubber spatula. 
Melt the chocolate chips (in the microwave or using a double boiler) and spread the melted chocolate over bars.
Chill before serving.

Notes:  If you use peanut butter that already contains sugar, oil, or salt you might have to reduce or eliminate these ingredients from the recipe.  We use natural peanut butter which is just regular ol' nuts ground up plain--nothing else.  

Since corn is one of the most industrially grown food crops I'd highly recommend using an organic corn syrup.

Unrefined coconut oil will work swell, but will impart a mild coconut flavor to the end product.

Friday, September 21, 2018

As We Near The Height of Fall

Autumn is here and I shouldn't been surprised, but I am.  Like always.
Monday we shucked and froze three dozen ears of corn.  Afterwards, as we were enjoying some Ben and Jerry's (vegan) ice cream, I was shocked to look outside and find it was nearly black.

Me:  "What time is it?!?!"
Matt:  "About 8:30pm.  Why?"
Me:  "How come its so dark already?!?!"
Matt:  "Because its Fall, Beth."

And so, it is.  So, it is.
Many years ago I decided that the Solstices/Equinoxes are usually a better indicator of the height of the season rather than the start of the season--at least in our climate in southcentral Montana.  I mean, June 21 is totally smack dab in the middle of summer, not the start of summer.  Conversely December 21st does not strike me as the start of winter here.  Not by a long shot.  And so on.  Using these dates as the relative peak of the season just makes more sense to me.
So, as the daylight hours slowly dwindle, the fall projects are all clicking into place in that satisfying seasonal rhythm I've come to hold so dear.
We canned a dozen quarts of dill pickles and froze about seven dozen ears of corn.
The garden is in full swing with my favorite late season offerings--peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes.  We've eaten so many cashew stuffed baby eggplants it is off the hook.  It my new favorite thing.  We planted a fall crop of greens and herbs that are just about ready to land on our plates.  I'm eager to try homegrown lettuce for the first time.  You know, now that I eat salad.
I made a bottle of The Hot Sauce That Matt Likes from the new pepper crop.  I'd actually had to buy some hot sauce earlier this year.  My peppers from last year didn't hold out quite long enough.  I can't really remember the last time I had to buy hot sauce.  It was years ago!  I primarily grow cayennes for my hot sauce though I've got two varieties this year--including a rather ginormous variety.
We've been grilling a lot this month--corn and onions, especially.  Though zucchini, pattypan squash, tofu, potatoes and others have made an appearance on the grill, too.
We pressed apples this past weekend--19 gallons of apple and almost one gallon of pear.  It was the first time we pressed pears.  We divvy the juice up with our friend Josh and his family since they're the ones who own the press and host our pressing party every year.   We actually didn't press apples last year.  We were too busy and the apple crop was poor so it didn't happen.  We all missed it though, as it turns out!
This year we picked from at least six different trees--and Josh picked from another five--so the apple juice is quite the melange.  We all agreed that the blended juice was more appealing to the palate than juice from just one tree.  Matt handed out a few bottles of fresh juice to his favorite co-workers (a modern day Johnny Appleseed, with a twist).  The rest we'll transform in to apple jelly and hard apple cider/wine.  We'll also bottle/freeze some to drink as juice over the course of the year--and to mull for a festive holiday drink.  There is something really special about a mug of warm and spicy cider on a cold winter day.
I am impressed that so many different flowers are still blazing in color through the cooling weather.  Of course, I don't know much about flowers so this might be absolutely normal.  The Cosmos and Bachelor Buttons are especially still on a roll.  I fell in love with the Brown-Eyed Susan that appeared  in one of our wildflower beds this year.  It quickly became my favorite--so bright and happy and lush.  As its flowers have withered I've cut several off to scatter around the property.  I'd sorta like them to take over.  The Chickadees are making short work of the Sunflower seeds.  I enjoy watching them come and go in their autumn busyness a great deal.  Busy, busy, busy.
I've had to break out the leggings for my morning commute--though I often don't need them for the return trip in the afternoon.  We had to slide the window closed the other night because it was just a bit too brisk, even tucked under a quilt.  We put a second quilt on the bed yesterday, in fact.
Ginger insists on staying out all night, savoring every outdoor moment before the snow, inevitably, comes.  I can't blame her.  I am savoring this fabulous fall weather myself.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

A Matt-and-Beth Style B & B

Last week we opened up our home for two bands of traveling musicians.
Sol Seed has been coming through town for years now and we've grown to love them (on and off stage) more and more as time has gone on.  They radiate positive community-building vibrations in their actions, words, and music.  They're remarkable people.  We were totally stoked to be able to return the favor for all the good times they've given us.
Because they have totally blessed my life.
I leave every Sol Seed show absolutely beaming with lightness and joy.  As such, we didn't think twice about it when the bass player messaged me about trying to find a place they could crash for a couple days as they made their way across the state.  It was an instant yes.  (Even though--with only one spare room--we're not really set up to house the masses.)  Sol Seed is just good people.
The other band, TreeHouse!, had never toured through Montana before--and we'd never heard their music before.  They're from South Carolina and so it is a bit more of a jaunt for them than Sol Seed (who hail from Oregon).  Even though it was only the first time we'd met that crew it was like "instant family," as one of them put it.  We all got along quite well--and their opening set was fantastic to boot.  They too had some harmonious, upful, and exultant tunes. 
The boys (there were 12 of them in total) stayed for two nights with us.  Matt and I thoroughly enjoyed the time they were there, too.  We had so many amusing and thoughtful conversations.  I'm pleased to think that they're spreading that across the country in every place they stop.  Watching their personalities interplay was fun and fascinating--the dynamics of band offstage, the roles, the temperaments.  That's always interesting.  But mostly we just enjoyed their company.  They're great guys who are simply fun to be around.  We hung out in the yard--grilling, roasting marshmallows on the fire, and playing frisbee and laughing--and around the coffee table telling stories.  They were very respectful of the house and the cats and kept things tidy.  They were also super enthusiastic about the house in a way that was eye-opening to me. 

I guess living a month or more on the road at a time garners a unique perspective on things.  They made me feel like my humble home is an outright palace.  It can be easy to take everyday things for granted, even though I strive to live with an attitude of gratitude.  They were stoked about things like:  doing a load of laundry, a hot shower (with "great water pressure"), the sanctuary of the garden/backyard, washing some dishes, sleeping indoors (i.e. not in a tent or the van), a hot cooked meal from scratch.  It gave me some insight about the blessed life I lead--and that is always a good thing to be reminded about.
It was amazing to me how smoothly the whole stay went, too.  Not that I was worried about it or anything, but I mean, 14 humans, two cats, two bedrooms, and most critical--only one bathroom.  And yet, because everyone was so respectful and aware there were really no issues at all.  Well, maybe a couple people had to wait for the bathroom, but...   And Ginger hated it, but she took refuge in the garden.
I am so thankful for my happy home.  I am thankful for food in my belly and love in my heart.  I am thankful for the artists, philosophers, and music-makers.  I am thankful for my friends--new and old.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Peanut Butter Dates - And an Impulse Purchase at the Farmer's Market

Once upon a time I went to a birthday party vegan potluck.  One of the offerings was an utterly simple little bite-sized nibble:  a date stuffed with peanut butter.
It didn't repulse me or anything, but I also can't claim that it made me drool at the sight of it either.  But, someone at the party insisted that I "had to" to try them.  It looked plain and I didn't care much for dates so I was reluctant.  But, I'm polite--generally speaking--and so I agreed to give it a go and plunked one on my plate.

Thank heavens I let them talk me into it!  Oh, my goodness!  I was not prepared for how well those flavors combined on my palate.  The intense sweetness of the date coupled with the salty savoriness of the peanuts was just a stupendous match.  It was love at first bite, as the saying goes.

This past weekend Matt and I scored an unusual treat at our local Farmer's Market--fresh dates.  The dates had been picked just five days prior and were so gooey and tender they just about melted in the mouth.  The flavor was excellent, but it was the texture that really sold me.  I'd never had such a creamy date.  This is certainly one of the instances where even if the stored version from Costco is perfectly fine, fresh is just world's better.

A woman who grew up near here but now lives in California brought them back to sell at the market while she was in town visiting her family.  She had two kinds of dates--the standard Medjool and another I'd never heard of (and the name of which now escapes me).  They were fabulously different, but both totally spectacular.  They even had a branch from one of the trees so we saw how the dates look as they're still attached and growing.  Neither of us had ever seen that before.  So, between the coolness factor, the novelty, and fantastic quality of the fruit we brought home a container of the sweet little gems.  We just had to.
And I've been stuffing them with peanut butter all week.  I've got two packed for a mid-afternoon snack again today.  Even just one is surprisingly filling and satisfies my sweet tooth in a way I can totally embrace.

Yum.  Gosh, I hope the date woman (and her hilarious, bubbly daughter) are still in town.  I should have bought more.