This morning, out early to let out the dog who seemed to have urgent need, I encountered a robin in full featherage sitting motionless beneath the bird bath. The bird didn’t so much as flinch as River and I walked past. After I put the […]
August in the mountains and I can feel summer begin to ebb. At the prairie house, I‘d be staring down the barrel of at least two more months of way-too-hot-for-me weather, while nearly 4000 feet higher this morning’s temperature registered in the upper 40s. Already the days have cooled from what passes as scorching in late June and July—a burning, high altitude 85 degrees–and there are nights when I pull an extra comforter over the bed as we sleep with the French doors thrown wide. Last night, eating dinner on the deck, Greg and I noticed a few gold aspen leaves on a single tree and there’s been an increased urgency at the hummingbird feeders: both harbingers of what is to come. We are each a bit dreamy about the first snowfall, talking about waking up to soft down falling from the sky and the hopeful luxury of a morning in bed. Meanwhile, we spent our Sunday hauling a cord of split pine to add to the half cord of rounds we already have—our insurance policy against cold autumn days as we wait for oak delivery in December.
Although it goes without saying that we feel a bit frantic with the twin imperatives of settling in to our new home coupled with our before-winter laundry list of tasks—service the furnace, sweep the chimney, fix and stain the deck, make a space for Greg’s workshop beneath the carport, get plants in the ground—I am happy to be back where my days are ordered by weather, where I can rely on the season to take the lead instead of the force of my go-go-go personality. How lovely to give into a blessedly cool and rainy day with a book on the couch or spend the quiet of October snow by the fireplace. What bliss to forego the trip to town because it means an 80 minute round trip drive to do one more errand.
I need excuses to relax—and nature provides.
Already I’ve noticed a calmness come over my too often too sharp edges; although the days are indeed crowded with tasks, my mind isn’t registering on full tilt. Gone are the distractions of the prairie house, the feeling of being constantly stimulated by heat, by sound, by the proximity of people. There, the volume on my brain too often blared a discordant tune, distractions registering as anxiety-producing static. Interestingly, I believe I come by this condition by blood. My father used to say that loud music bothered him, asking my teenage brothers and me to turn the stereo down lower, lower. He blamed his sensitivity on working for so many years inside Cheyenne Mountain where the industrial hum of 1970s refrigerator-sized computers marked his days.
But I believe it’s biology. Like me, my father settled in the mountains. I don’t know the name for what I suspect is our shared brain chemistry is, all I know is that my head needs space and distance to help calm it down, I need the natural world to balance me out, something I had very little of in our house in a prairie town circled by highways.
This morning, after four years of holding my breath for comfort, for solace, my mind is on winter, and the prospect of dark, cave-like days on the mountain, along with the utter stillness of winter nights and the solace each provides. The feeling is like slowly eating cake with butter cream icing, like a good red wine, like waking from a deep sleep wrapped in another’s embrace: Let it come.
Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush
—Gerard Manley Hopkins
Spring is doing its spring thing here in Colorado, which means warm days when I don skirts and show off my winter-white legs followed by snow and temperatures in the 20s. This morning, I woke to the grey of January and ice covering newly greened grass. Just a week ago, in the Valley of the Gods, Utah, on the very last day of March, I was so hot, I crouched with my dog River in the shade cast by the truck. That night, Greg and I slept with the tent windows wide open to the full moon. Spring in the Rockies is a fits and starts thing—no gentle bloom for us, no building to a glorious explosion of green. Instead one day I’ll see hopeful buds on lilacs and the next they’ll be encased in ice and I’ll know the waiting—for flowers and the breathless greening of the foothills, along with consistently warmer days–has begun.
Up on the mountain, spring was always a shy, elusive creature. I was never sure I was out of the winter woods until the first week of June. Until then, anything could (and did) happen: hummingbirds chipping through an inch of ice at the feeders in May, me scrounging for wood for the stove to take the chill off even later. But last year, the prairie, where I’m a temporary resident, had its own form of high altitude spring as a foot of snow fell mid-May and Greg rushed out to cover pea vines along with our patches of rhubarb and strawberries, spinach and radishes.
This year the wait has real weight as I hold my breath for June 5th when #RoughBeauty debuts. Writers are forever talking about how flat out hard it is to write and edit a book—how fraught, how onerous–but I’m currently of the mind that the year and a half I spent writing and rewriting was nothing compared to the six months of question marks and “what ifs?” running up to release as my thoughts pop like corn anticipating blurbs, buzz, and reviews. I waited ten long years to get this book out, but now–I want it out.
With roughly seven weeks to go and spring nowhere in sight, I’ve started my annual cleanse—three weeks of vegetable-forward food and twice daily doses of detox tea. My motto? Make it harder. I’ve never been the kind of person who hides from anxiety in a bottle or even in bed; instead I give myself something to put my shoulder against. So while I’m waiting for things to “shoot long and lovely and lush” in the landscapes of both spring and publication, I am distracting myself with the somewhat difficult task of trying to take as much pleasure in “power fruit smoothies” and sprouted grain tostadas as I do with duck breast laced with blueberry balsamic glaze served with a glass of bubbly. By the end of three weeks—and almost half way from here to my pub date—I’ll have shaved off a bit of the wait and lost a few pounds too.
Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all
–Harriet van Horne
I have long believed that good food, good eating is all about risk
I’ve gone over to the dark side.
For years I’ve posted my annual Thanksgiving treatise on How to Roast a Perfect Turkey How to Roast a Perfect Turkey Without Bags or Brines or Gallons of Hot Oil–a post that gives common sense tips on how to roast a turkey and preaches the gospel of good ingredients and simplicity. Without fail I’ve followed this method for decades (with one exception: the year I roasted my bird at 425 degrees) and the results have been very good, but only occasionally spectacular.
This year, inspired by a killer New York Times Thanksgiving section and the heavenly pure roasted poultry flavor of a succulent and fat Whole Foods chicken I recently made using Julia Child’s classic recipe coupled with the lingering stench of utter disappointment over last year’s first-ever organic turkey that wasn’t the pure poetry I’d imagined it would be, I’ve decided to ignore my own advice.
I am nothing if not a girl who changes her mind.
Ask Greg. It infuriates him every time I pronounce a plan as if I’d hammered it myself in stone only to hours later think of something better. In this way, Sunday breakfast in bed with the big pancake and the New York Times becomes a trip to Jamestown for Rainbow’s killer New Orleans Benedict and the Merc’s famous hold-the-orange juice mimosas, followed by a hike around the peeper pond with River.
This year, I require ritual not rote repetition, danger not dutiful adherence to the tried and true. Plus I’m gaming for spectacle and the spectacular. So it is with fist raised that I announce that I’ve done what I’ve long preached no one ever need do: Dear Reader, I’ve brined my turkey. It’s in the fridge as I write, rubbed with salt (1/2 teaspoon per pound), pepper, and lemon zest–double bagged with bunches of fresh rosemary, thyme and sage, along with garlic from our summer garden.
I’ll be honest: I’ve been on the brining bandwagon for a while now—having perfected my fried chicken this summer when I discovered the secret of adding two tablespoons of Kosher salt to the bathed-in-buttermilk-overnight bird. The result, fueled by spectacular discovery that a mixture of half arrowroot and half tapioca flour produces the crispiest chicken ever, took the top of my head right off.
This year, when I came across a recipe for dry-brined turkey, I happily shucked my sack of pontifications about simplicity and turkey perfection and left them alongside the road. Leaping, in this case, not just with abandon, but with a genuine thrill at the risk.
I’ve gone on record as saying I grow easily bored with menus. In this, I am no traditionalist. I don’t want to eat the same things year in and year out, though there is certainly pleasure in revisiting favorites. But think of this: When you remember your favorite meals, it’s really the first time you had them that you conjure or more likely who you had them with. Greg still says the first time I cooked him fried chicken (unbrined, overdone, and frankly, a bit burnt) on the day we met for the first time in the park in Boulder was the best. We both can count our disappointment on the second visit to a new restaurant, noting how the food was just not the same. Newness, my lovelies, makes the experiences richer, deeper, and infinitely more sexy. So, of course, does the company.
So I’m sexifying my Thanksgiving this year.
I’ve got Greg, but I’ll also have a brined bird and I’ll be using hard cider to flavor the pan drippings and gravy and adding a sliced beet and apple salad with cider vinegar, pistachios and a bit of horseradish to the menu. Together with my other salad (shaved Brussels and escarole with marcona almonds, pickled onions, and champagne vinegar and buttermilk vinaigrette), these two dishes will skewer the too often too heavy and too brown Thanksgiving list of favorites: Sausage and dried apple dressing, larded mashed potatoes, the big brown bird, and of course (for everyone but me), rolls with butter.
Following Montagne–“The art of dining well is no slight art, the pleasure no slight pleasure“–I’m trading in the tried and true to risk a deeper desire—the one that comes from walking out to the edge and a new vista to see what there is to see.
I’ll be honest: I’ve struggled with this blog (formerly firstname.lastname@example.org) for the last year now. Sure I’ve had the convenient excuse of writing a book, a task far more lovely and consuming than I ever imagined. But It’s also true I’ve worried for some time […]