Not Chardonnay. No, rainbow chard won the heart of this urban gardener in her first year's planting in Boulder, Colorado. I had no idea of chard's dutiful beautiful productivity. It started producing in early June. And it still beckons on November 1. Still adorns soups and quiches. Which go well with Chardonnay . . .
Before winter clamps down on my little 10' x 10' patch of dirt, let me recall the sweaty progress
from here to here!
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After two weeks of digging out sod, we measured, dug, whacked and configured.
Then came the planting of seeds.
Few things in life rival bare dirt. I am afraid to read the new research that claims no till gardening is the salvation of this planet. I just plain love to be near the promise and smell and texture and color of blank dirt.
Which converts to green harmony each summer.
We had mothball-sized hail, and still the garden flourished. We had drowning rains and 1,000 year floods and my chard continues in spite of or actually, truthfully, in collusion with it all.
The spirit in soil can save us.
Stop what you're doing and go meet some dirt.
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1/3 c butter, softened
1 c packed brown sugar
2/3 c unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 t instant espresso/coffee granules
1 t baking soda
1 t ground cinnamon
1/1/2 c flour (can use gluten free flour)
1/4 c sifted powdered sugar
Beat butter with electric mixer for 30 seconds. Add brown sugar, cocoa powder, coffee granules, baking soda and cinnamon. Beat until combined.
Beat in eggs. Beat in as much of the flour as you can. Stir in remaining flour. Cover and chill dough for 1-2 hours or until easy to handle/not sticky.
Place powdered sugar in small bowl. Drop a teaspoon of dough into sugar and roll into ball. Place balls 2" apart on cookie sheets.
Bake in 350 degree oven 8-10 minutes, till edges are firm. Cool on a wire rack, if you can stand the wait. Delicious warm.
Makes 40-50 bite-sized cookies. Eat with milk & the company of your favorite dog.
We have tipped the balance scales of our homeland. We've infected the skies that now drench to the bone. Topple bridges. Blanket farmlands. Turn streets into rivers. Turn rivers to 20' walls of water whose pictures hang crooked and upside down. Whose people are missing. Lost together on islands that used to be cities. Whose propane tanks explode while floating downstream. Fire one year. Flood the next. Colorado caught in the tumbler of a weatherworld never yet seen, the hundred year floods on the fast track to ten. Damage random. Safety random. The choruses drastic--Come gather 'round people wherever you roam. Admit that the waters around us have grown. Time for--simplify, localize, tenderly care for the land and skies—changing. Story:
A crustacean, a little lobster with orange speckled pincers, nearly walked under my bike tires yesterday, disoriented on the sidewalk. I stopped the bike—my first tour of the world after three days of pounding rains—and called to Jeff up ahead. The tiny red creature turned toward my voice, lumbering toward the curb and road just inches away. Jeff stopped only long enough to pick it up—as I cried, "You can't pick them up, they'll pinch you!"—just behind the head. He mounted his bike with the little shelled clacking crawdaddy held delicately under his right handlebar. Off they went for a nearby ditch. But the ditch was a phony, lined with black plastic and ugly pipes, so Jeff kept sailing. Past the drowned gopher town, past the sluicing horse pasture with an awe-filled flying crustacean.
I called encouragement as they picked up speed. "Not the lakes!" Jeff said over his shoulder, "Too close to the street." The silty man-made Rec Center lakes fell behind as he headed for South Boulder Creek. A quarter mile that mudbug flew. Earthbound, waterbound no more. We left both bikes at the police tape and sawhorses--Danger! Trails Closed
. No more danger than this flying crawfish had endured. What forces had dropped it in our concrete cultured cut-off world?
We squished through the mud-covered concrete path to the wild-flowing creek, dropped down the wet embankment and Jeff set the dull red complexly segmented waggling kid down feet first in a shallow puddle. Bug became silt. The mudbug back to earth. And water. Hidden and harbored by home. Come gather round people, gather and admit and accept it, that soon you'll be drenched to the bone.
18.22" of rain fell on my house in 2 days. 20" of rain is the annual average here. Until now. Now is the time for all good people to come to the aid of their country. My country is underwater. More rain moves into our skies today. Heaven help the cattle and horses and farmers and ranchers east of us. 4 people dead. 218 are missing. 10,000 refugees. Rivers roaring at us—CHANGE.
The mudbug's new home.
Tomorrow, my novel Tributary is one year old. Cake, candles and Doo Wops? Nope, we're going to float sunflowers down Boulder Creek just as we did to launch her.
She won the WILLA Finalist Award for 2013
in historical fiction, so thanks are in order. I'm feeling grateful she's out on bookstore shelves, and relieved that a new book's in the oven.
What new book? It's a dirty secret. I'm cooking up mud pies. Planting little cupcake flags in the soul of soil. I did love taking a break from blogging to get this new book begun. But here's the real dirt on what else happened this summer . . .
A fuzzy browed baby house finch took up residence in the newly dug garden patch, to recover from a nest fall. Four days of friendship, shared watermelon, mashed up dog kibble and sharp peep
s of hello, and that bird flew off across the neighbor's long backyard once we'd all assembled to marvel and wish her well. We nicknamed her Brandi after Ms. Carlile.
The 10' x 10' garden feeds us and nearby neighbors a fine smattering of "plant to plate" vegetables. I borrow that phrase from author Kayann Short, whose nearby ten acre CSA farm
has its own memoir. Or ecobiography, to use Kayann's term.
Her lovely 2013 book A Bushel's Worth
has me dreaming like a farmer. "Fresh is a flavor," Kayann tells the visitors to her radish beds. "This is what fresh tastes like." They crunch and swoon.She plants her roses in a circle and her crops in lines. "A circle says, 'Come in. Be embraced. Be enthralled.' A row says, 'Pay attention. Be serious. Be productive.' Both lend beauty to the farm."
I feel like I should save this book for winter, read it like a seed catalog to warm my imagination. But that ain't happening! It's inspiring. We all do grassroots activism, yes? Well, Kayann takes you to its source: "a vast web of fibrous grass roots" that anchor her farm's soil with tentacles ten feet deep! Even though this particular prairie grass would swallow up her whole farm in a heartbeat if they stopped cultivating, and even though Smooth Brome Grass is a thuggish Eurasian invader, she finds it comforting. This grass that "thumbs its nose at all things human." (A fine metaphor, as some environmental activists have been know to do that, too.)
So I am celebrating the toddlerhood of my novel with great reading . . .
suburban gardening, and trips to the neighborhood Oz on my old five speed Schwinn.
I hope your end of summer blooms as abundantly!
America, meet Wilma the worm. And Baby, a velvet blue jumpsuit-clad plastic doll with a strangely bendable head. And dust fairy sequins. And John T Price, who knows how to bend a sentence like Baby bends that head—"completely backward, allowing him to stare at you upside down with his glassy eyes." Which is to say, the ordinary ups and downs of Iowa family life will amaze and sometimes smite you with joy in this loving memoir called Daddy Long Legs: The Natural Education of a Father.
You will also meet Steph, John's tolerant, positive wife and the mother of his two rambunctious nature-loving boys. You will never meet the novel John is never working on, due to teaching creative writing, repairing an old house with too many levels of decay, resisting doctor's visits (who needs the bad news?), and wondering why he feels so cut off from life (AKA exhausted) when daily his boys deliver muddy earthworms to his bed, shout at him to save every praying mantis in every Walgreens parking lot, declare a no-kill zone around their entire neighborhood (mosquitoes included?) and radiate so much joie de vivre
in their buck naked red rubber boot clad explorations of John's back yard you want to lie down with him for a good long nap.
But no, the next chapter brings new pleasures. New views on family life that make you say "oh, yeah, that's it!" Price's memoir is realism that redeems. And we could use some redemption, these days, help pulling our heads out of our own sorrows. If you've never had kids, there is the added bonus of gaining access to the adorable and maddening and crazy-great things toddlers say and do. I loved sharing the insider's view. (And not cleaning up any messes!)
I met John Price at a literary conference in Kansas, and then heard him read in Denver. That's where I met Baby. And Pengy, his nemesis. And Gramma K. and her grouchy chihuahua. Do yourself and your dad and your best friends a favor—read this charming book and pass it along. Reading Daddy Long Legs
felt like a huge nudge to pay attention to wonder and kindness and the release of self-interest. To join the family.
But watch out for Baby—that blue velvet schemer has Pengy in his sights!
I'm taking a summer break from blogging, but I just listened to a superb radio interview
and had to pass this on. Author and Utah homegirl Jana Richman educates, informs and enlivens the debate about pumping water out of Utah's west desert.
If you love the West, our big blue skies and vast open spaces, give a listen. You'll know more than you did about living in and really loving the West than you did when you woke up this morning.Leave a comment. Tell your friends. Post the interview link on Facebook. Get folks talking about Utah's magnificent "big empty desert full of life."
It all started with a head cold. And nine inches of new snow. And the desire to make a birthday present for my favorite one-year-old friend Maddie.
I found this adorable dog online.
Rummaged through my fabric scraps.
Cut out rectangle pattern pieces on tracing paper, cut out all the fabric bits, and started sewing things together.
Thank heavens my resident college student on spring break knew how to zigzag for the facial features! No button eyes for a one year old. This face had to stand up to the toddler test.
I must say the aqua colored thread adds personality to Nutmeg's blue eye patch.
I sewed the little arm and leg tubes, turned them inside out with no swearing whatsoever, and stuffed them with a little fiberfill batting. The blunt end of a pencil and the pokey end of a pen helped convince the batting to enter such small spaces.
Then I sewed the ears and arms and legs on the back of Nutmeg's body, and folded them all inward for the final big sew.
Put front and back body pieces together, right sides in, stitching carefully to leave the ears and appendages free of my seaming.
Turned the whole thing inside out, stuffed Nutmeg's box-shaped body with fiberfill, and hand stitched the opening at the bottom.
Since my head cold prevented me from delivering Nutmeg on Maddie's birthday, my crew and I
made a video for her.
Maddie watches it often! Like her own Sesame Street routine. And when I delivered Nutmeg to Maddie, she was watching the video right then. In a doctor's office, with a bad case of stomach flu. She finished the happy birthday song, took the real Nutmeg in her hands and pressed her new pal into her face in sad greeting. Maddie held on tight to Nutmeg through the ear and eye exams, the throat exam. She even watched the video again when the doc tested for strep throat. Then Maddie slept with Nutmeg guarding her from the overhead florescent lights.
I hope they are pals forever. The "M" is for Maddie, superstar.
Thanks to Jeff and Michele and Kristy and Dan and Maddie and Pinterest for this post.
Here's another great set of animal friends I almost made. But really, Nutmeg was meant to be.
I made two lifelong friends on a journey of a thousand miles, Jana Richman
and Erica Olsen
. I also discovered the deep beauty at the heart of the state of Colorado. The quiet strength of writers. And the profound curiosity and kindness of strangers.
Barb, Jana and Erica at Maria's Bookshop in Durango, before we meet and greet and read.
Erica hosted us at her place in Dolores, a little arty town in the southwest corner of Colorado. We felt gloriously spoiled, ate well, stayed up late, talked favorite authors, and shared the book readings with her the first two nights. Erica's new full-time job kept her in meetings after that. Wonder who had the better time?!
We drove ridiculous snowy distances to read at outstanding indie bookstores, during International Women's Week. And we actually felt pretty phenomenal.
Between the Covers in Telluride hosted our reading. It's a sparkling ski town with one ferocious mahjong contingent.
We took turns quelling fears and triggering laughter. That wasn't hard, because our hosts for the first two nights were the outlandishly high-spirited Great Old Broads for Wilderness
. You won't find a stronger, more dedicated crew of outdoorsy women anywhere. And they "do it in the wild."
With Libby, our Maria's Bookshop host, and Shelley, the great new executive director for the Great Old Broads.
The tour turned three introverted writers into extroverts, who spoke on air and fluffed our hair and kept our readings to eight minutes each to keep our listeners riveted.
We signed and sold our beautiful books, too.
The trip held surprises. Rowdy old-time Texans danced in the bar in Durango. Wine flowed at the reading in Telluride. Crested Butte runs on a laid back friendly energy that soothed us on day three. Thanks, Townie Books
, for giving us a most pleasant intimate reading experience. And then at last, Jana and I drove the long and winding road to Paonia, where we were welcomed by our own marquee!
Intrigued, one Paonia man said to his wife, "We're going to that Grateful Dead tribute band!" They showed up at the reading and stayed to listen, asked questions and bought two books. The mountain-clad rural town of Paonia pulled out all the stops for us: lunch out with High Country News editors, two farm goats trundling down the dirt road that led to our cabin—shy as we felt most nights before our readings, a home-cooked dinner with our host librarian, a hefty library crowd and over an hour of questions about the writing life. (It is amazing what a person will admit to when the question is asked just right.) Then, at our small off-the-grid cabin, heavenly quiet under a multitude of stars.
Pit stop at Ouray, so beautiful all our cares melted into naught.
A book is not finished when the printer binds it or the publisher ships it. The little nipper still needs attention. Sometimes that attention cries out ROAD TRIP! So women pack their bags, check their tire pressure, consult MapQuest, put on sunglasses and go.
Three women launched a book tour to meet audiences and sell books. We fell in love with strangers' questions, writers' minds and the state of grace called Colorado. Deepest thanks to Between the Covers, Maria's Bookshop, Townie Books, Delta County Library in Paonia, Torrey House Press, High Country News, The North Fork Times/Delta County Independent, KDUR and KSJD, KVNF, Tom Yoder, Nancy Stoffer, The Durango Herald, The Durango Telegraph, The Cortez Journal, Shelley Silbert, Libbey, Danica, Daiva and Laura Lee! And to those two adorable goats who shared the road with us.
Yes, that's Jana and me with Cookie Monster and radio host Tom Yoder, at the beautifully restored offices of KSJD in downtown Cortez. And inside the bank vault? A recording studio built for two. I love America.
I avoided it for years, the gluten issue. How many allergies can a gal dial into? How could I give up wheat when at times the only things I dared to eat were plain bagels and Saltine crackers? It's so very difficult knowing what keeps a digestive system steady when it's topsy turvy much of the time.
But here's the scoop. Having just spent six days gluten-free, I'm beginning to listen to the gluten free call. I feel so steady. I don't crave sweets. My digestion is quiet and calm. I rounded up every item with gluten in it—crackers, breads, pastas, soups, soy sauce, cereals, tortellini, ravioli—and gave them to our neighbors. I didn't give them the six packs of Stella Artois. But I did banish our beer to the garage.
Courage comes in handy-pack sizes. I'll offload the beer when I'm sure about this new way of eating. And being.
Ringing in freedom meant a fairly thorough kitchen cleaning. Along with glutinous items, I tossed out high-sugar fruits, too. Bye-bye beloved bananas and mangos. Now, it's berries only, and unsweetened applesauce. These two fairly simple changes—eating a no gluten, and low-sugar fruit diet—seem to mean freedom. From pesky exhaustion, from energy swings, and from my formerly tender digestion.
That does not mean I'm eating poorly. On the contrary, it's an adventure finding delicious new eats.
First stop: Great Harvest Bread Company,
who make outrageously tasty gluten free bread on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It's called Gluten Gone Buckwheat. The loaf is so dense Jeff cuts it with an electric carving knife, and so delicious we're glad we switched.
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We also found these crunchy corn crackers that make sturdy bookends for smaller sandwiches. Spread with avocado, they just don't break.
Bored at breakfast? Try Bob's Mighty Tasty GF Cereal, which truly and mysteriously tastes buttery good.
Purists will say if the label does not say GLUTEN FREE, it's not. Sometimes corn and oats have gluten, so the GF label ensures they're 100% gluten free. But if you don't live in a town high on gluten free eating (Boulder, Colorado is the capital of no-glue food), just eat other grains instead of wheat for awhile, and see if it makes a difference.
Why claim gluten freedom? Joint pain and digestive woes decrease. Alertness and steadiness increase. Naps have almost vanished. The money I save on dark chocolate alone could almost pay the rent!
If you need more enticement, it is called gluten BECAUSE IT'S GLUE. Or it functions like glue. That's why breads stick together. Think elastic pizza dough.
Did you ever make paste out of white flour and water as a kid? GLUE.
And human digestive systems don't know what to make of it. They either let it pass harmlessly out of the body, if you're lucky, or get all funkified when gluten visits. Fermentation and distress. The list of physical woes includes gas, indigestion, diarrhea, achy joints...
Are you eating glue, Andy? I remember a kid in my first grade class who ate glue paste straight from the jar. Like, forget the lunch sack, just pass the glue paste. (The lids had those cool stick/paddles with a brush on the end for swiping too much glue onto construction paper. Which got all over your hands. And yes, I did a bit of licking to see what Andy was grooving on. Yetch.)
So when you sit down to a plate of linguini, you are opening the paste jar.
On to tastier pastures! Because you needn't sacrifice flavor in this new gluten free world. Cutting out breads and pastas means you make more room for other great foods.
Here is an outlandishly tasty recipe that no one would ever guess is lacking in anything! Adapted from Emeril Lagasse's Smoked Salmon Quiche with Crispy Potato Crust
, I lowered the fat content and went with fresh potatoes and acorn squash, and ditched nearly all the dairy. Yum.
3 1/4 cups coarsely mashed potatoes & acorn squash (partway peel, chop and boil till tender)
1 T butter
2 T olive oil
1/4 c finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 medium leeks or one small onion, halved and thinly sliced (1/2-2/3 c)
1/2 t minced garlic
4-6 oz fake sour cream, at room temperature (soy/Tofu sour cream)
2 t fresh lemon juice
3 eggs (eggwhites from a carton are fine; I used one whole egg and the rest eggwhites)
1/3 c rice milk
1/4 c shredded fake mozzarella (almond cheese)
4-6 oz smoked salmon, diced (4 seems like plenty to me)
2 T chopped fresh dill (I used 2 t dried dill)
1/2 t freshly ground black pepperCreole Essence Ingredients:
1 t paprika sprinkle of cayenne
1/2 t salt 1/2 t dried oregano
1 t garlic powder 1/2 t dried thyme
1/2 t black pepper 1/2 t onion powder (I didn't have onion or garlic, still great!) Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Oil a 9" glass pie plate.
In a bowl, toss and combine the potatoes and squash with butter and the Creole Essence (recipe below). Add Parmesan and combine. Press the potato mixture into the pie plate, spreading evenly to cover the bottom and up the sides. Bake until golden, 25-30 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
Reduce the oven to 350 degrees.
Saute the leeks/onions in olive oil over medium heat. When they're soft, about four minutes, add the garlic and cook for one minute. Remove from the heat.
Put "sour cream" and leeks/onions and lemon juice in a large bowl and stir everything together. Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring just until combined. Add the rice milk, salmon, dill and pepper. Mix well.
Pour the salmon mixture into the cooled potato crust and bake for 40-45 minutes, until golden and the batter is set. Cool quiche awhile before serving. Fight over the spatula. Only serves four. It's that great.Go to Gluten Free Goddess for a great sampling of recipes and advice.
My dear friend Ed Kanze, naturalist and writer extraordinaire
, just wrote a column so informative I have to share it.
We think we are such hotshots. Without bats, where would we be? Lunch as we know it would be greatly diminished. Tequila would vanish. And domestic ease would shortly follow it, if I had to live without chocolate.Here is Ed's latest All Things Natural article: BANANAS FOR BATS
Sink your teeth into a banana. Savor the sweet, soft flesh. Now is a good time to think about bats. Together, bats and tall leafy plants worked in concert over a vast stretch of time to invent the long yellow fruits we enjoy.
Yes, we'd have no bananas without bats, or at least banana plants. Bats pollinated the original wild ones, but commercially grown bananas require no such services. Without bats, other food plants might not exist, too, or exist in such diminished quantity that market forces would push up their costs. We are all beholden to bats, whose wings are really their hands.
There would be no Tequila Sunrises in a world without bats. Bats are chief pollinators of the agave plants whose fermented floral parts give rise to the alcoholic drink.
In the original draft of this story, I explained that bats have much to do with the production of mangoes, avocados, dates, coconuts, peppercorns, cloves, vanilla, and chocolate. I gleaned my information from internet sources one would be inclined to trust: websites maintained by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Bat Conservation International, for example, and ones not quite so reliable but still often excellent, such as Wikipedia. Yet a tropical biologist friend who read the early draft passed it along to Neotropical bat biologist friends, and egad! They tell me that nearly all the claims I relayed from my sources were wrong.
While the bats in our part of North America specialize in catching bugs, it's those bats of warmers parts of the world that serve plants as pollinators and seed-dispersers. In addition, their droppings, or guano, are sometimes used to enrich soil, and more remarkably, to produce saltpeter, an essential ingredient of gunpowder.
Some of the bats of the tropics and subtropics that contribute to our cuisine are known as flying foxes and fruit bats. Some are as large as red-tailed hawks. The best-looking, which are exceedingly handsome indeed, look like well-bred, well-groomed Chihuahuas in black capes, perhaps out for a night at the opera.
If you're a plant and you want to attract flying animals as big as miniature dogs to pollinate your flowers and to carry away your fruit, it's in your best interests to be sturdy and large. A great many plants that have such relationships with bats are trees or tree-like, and their flowers tend to be big, too. Flowers pollinated by hummingbirds are brightly colored and trumpet-shaped, at least for the most part. Flowers pollinated by flying foxes are often white or blandly colored and shaped like bells or dinner plates. They tend to radiate a strong sweet or musky smell suggestive of overripe fruit.
Not all bat-pollinated plants provide humans with food. South American balsa trees, the source of the buoyant trunks explorer Thor Heyerdahl used to build his raft Kon Tiki, are pollinated at least partly by bats. Bats also play Cupid to the flowers of kapok trees, whose fruits yield fibers used to stuff bedding, pillows, and life jackets. Africa's baobab trees, which bear great aggregations of stamens likely adapted for dusting bats with pollen, are also bat pollinated. So are saguaro and organpipe cactuses.
Bats are widely credited on bat-related websites with the pollination or distribution of the seeds of chocolate, almonds, cashews, figs, and allspice. But the bat scientists who wrote me say this isn't true. This serves as a reminder that that facts can be slippery, and we must be careful where we get them. It also goes to show that while scientists are doing an extraordinary job of learning about bats, they're keeping most of the information to themselves and not sharing it effectively with we who pay their salaries.
Remember when Ronald Reagan cried, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" I say, Tear down the barriers of arcane and thorny language that separate science from the rest of us, and let's have a free and democratic exchange of learning and ideas.
Ed has so many talents they're hard to list. His wildlife photography rivals and sometimes accompanies the books he has published on the Adirondacks, Australia and New Zealand. I deeply love his photo-biography The World of John Burroughs. Burroughs, not John Muir, was THE naturalist writer of his time. Makes me want to build my own log house and chronicle its wildlife and seasons.P.S. I am both glad and sad to report that Ed's richly illustrated hardcover The World of John Burroughs, while out of print, can be purchased for .33 cents on Amazon.
To quote Ed regarding Nobel Prize winner Patrick White's forgotten books—"the fate of great literature these days."