Friday, March 20, 2015

We eat a lot.

Ben is teaching me how to take better food pictures. These are in chronological order. I like to think there has been some improvement in the last two weeks, like you'd actually want to eat the last photo. The forks are not props; we are actually about to eat the models, and we don't set a proper table unless we feel fancy, which we totally will if you visit. Scratch that. Screw fancy. When you come, we eat family style. 

Sprouts a'sprouting!

Howard's end. This is actually Howard Jr. Ben caught him for us at Rose Lake in the mountains. 

Homemade ruby sauerkraut and cauliflower-jalapeño-carrot pickles (Howard likes to dress up).

Whole foods special ordered me a pasture-raised beef heart. We sautéed some of it with mushrooms, scallions, ginger, and garlic. I made beef jerky with the rest and have stopped taking CoQ10 for the week. 

Because love is the reason. 

If we are growing wheatgrass with hard red wheat berries, are we no longer a gluten-free house? Bummer. 

Yes, it's sprouts and kraut all the time. 

I repeat...

I made grain-free burger buns!!! Hallelujah! Plantains, coconut flour, eggs. They tasted like cornbread, which I am pretty sure was what biblical manna from heaven tasted like. 

The kicker was the grilled onions in bacon grease. Seriously. 

Zucchini noodles with fresh, raw pesto and sautéed shrimp and asparagus. So good we ate it two nights in a row. 

I'm currently obsessed with stacking food, mostly sprouts, if you can believe that. This one is topped with sunflower sprouts, tender and sweet and meaty, if a sprout can be meaty. That's not an enchilada, I just grossly miscalculated some tapioca starch making a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants quick sauce. Ben called it the delicious mucous. Lesson learned. 

Also obsessed with Elana Amsterdam's grain-free cupcake book that Susan Jones gave me a few years ago. I tweaked a couple of her frosting recipes to get a coconut-based chocolate frosting that will hold up to the desert heat without sliding around and turning to liquid. Baby, if I have to bribe you to visit, I will. 

Vanilla-almond muffins (also a tweaked recipe from Susan, my paleo food guru), with some decidedly not-local-but-totally-irresistible strawberries. 

This may turn into a food blog soon. You've been warned. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Gone fishin'

No, really. Ben is teaching me how to fish. It's sort of an early morning meditation, standing at the lakeside and listening to the birds get all thrilled that today is really happening. Before you start, I know; I've already said how boring fishing is... maybe not in this blog, but at some point I've thought it, so it's probable I've also said it, given that most of my thoughts fall out of my mouth. (Insert warranted apologies here.)

It started with Ben taking Ving fishing because he had never been. I put on my biggest Jackie O. shades and a gigantic sun hat and sat on the shore with Ruth, Ving's mom. She and I talked about food. Ving eventually got bored and said so to me, to which I naturally replied, "You're too smart to get bored. What are you going to do now?" I'd be the most irritating parent ever. Ving went for an exploratory walk around the tiny, man made lake. 

The guys caught no fish from the lake, but an old (really old) man walked up and gave us a trout which Ving was vehemently opposed to taking home, and which he insisted on calling Howard. After Ving's protests to "Save Howard," the men had a frank discussion on naming one's dinner, vegetarianism (Ving enjoys my meatloaf muffins and, of course, bacon), and relying on other people to do the dirty work of killing animals that you want to eat but then protesting the killing. He's a very sophisticated kid with a sharp mind. Throwing himself into the company of two grown ups (egad! that's us!) who question everything will either ignite his mind further or exhaust and bore him... we'll see. 

Ben and I pan fried Howard in a mix of cultured butter and coconut oil with a sprinkling of salt and pepper. I forgot to take Howard's picture until we had half-devoured him, so he's not looking so pretty, but he was delicious. 

Life has funny ways of teaching you unexpected things about yourself without you realizing it's happening. I suppose a good teacher is like that. What I thought was a continuation of our nine-year-old neighbor wanting to spend every waking moment exploring our weird little desert lives turned out to be a realization that my interest in harvesting our food extends to meat (and yes, all you fake-o "vegetarians" out there, fish is not a vegetable. A Howard has to die every time you chow down on a fish stick or a bagel with lox. Lox is (are?) delicious, but let's be clear about what we're actually eating. Fish is meat).

And so the acts of (almost) catching the fish, killing it (yes, that was an important part of the process, also part of Ben's discussion with Ving and a topic of our own spirited conversation later), cleaning it, cooking it, and then finally being nourished by this tender creature all contributed to a deeper appreciation of the food we are lucky enough to eat. 

It's graphic, sure. It does remind me that we are sometimes, in our most basic needs, not much more than animals in the food chain. But we are capable of such gratitude when we take the time. We have this incredible capacity to understand what we are taking from the world and our responsibility to care for the spaces and creatures that nurture us. I'm not saying I'm a great environmentalist or anything--I mostly am an embarrassingly uninformed American consumer of plastic-wrapped goods that have been diesel-trucked across the country. My "swords into plough shares" garden is trying really hard, and we are sprouting micro-greens and wheatgrass like mad in the kitchen. It's SO fun. 

We start where we are. We do what we can in this moment. We keep learning how to do it better one bite at a time. Maybe you can grow or catch your dinner--that's super exciting. Maybe you have access to a co-op that sells locally grown vegetables and pasture-raised meats--lucky, right? Maybe the most you can do right now is just pause for a minute and thank your cheeseburger because it was alive before and now it's not, and it's not because it is on your plate nourishing your body and giving you life, and honoring that is one step in the right direction. 


Now for gratuitous food pictures and random desert hilarity. We were at Sears looking for drill bits. Ben is working with metal. I'm pretty smitten with him and it--it's a beautiful medium, and it sparks!

He found this crude hunk of steel that was once a viable tool at the junk bazaar where sometimes we also get fresh eggs that the owners bring from their farmer neighbor and we pet their black lab, Lola. This chunk was $1.00. At the time I thought we paid too much. 

But then he did this with it, and had the fortunate good sense to take before and after shots:

Right, Sears. The photo is a little fuzzy because I was running toward this guy, trying to sneak up behind him to get a better picture of his outfit. The desert is full of this stuff. No joke. If you can't make it out, let me paint it for you with a thousand or so words and a handful of numbers: 6'3", balding, lots of lengthy and voluminous suede fringe, baggy jeans tucked into tall cowboy boots. A wondrous vision. I'm sure he smelled of fresh creosote, which I love. 

Food. We're getting there. We've been juicing like maniacs. You'd think it was all just meat, meat, meat around here, but this is how we start the day. 

Yesterday was beets, kale, carrots, ginger, turmeric, garlic, and a couple little grapefruits we got from the neighbor's tree. People grow citrus trees and cactus like mad in this town. 

After juice, I throw the pulp in the food processor with some almond meal, an egg, herbs, olive oil, and chia seeds and I make a veggie flatbread out of it. Ben calls it peel 'N eat space dinners because he loves anything that has an 'N in it, especially if it is something 'N more. I call it veggie board because it's just funny to give something delicious a horrifyingly unappealing name. Like lard. 

Other random foods we have been eating: tacos from the taco truck (when we dropped off the giant moving truck, we loaded our bikes in and then rode them home), eggs with leeks and bacon (a staple), dried and soaked shiitake mushrooms (next batch will be ground up with the veggie juice pulp for mushroom veggie burgers), brats with homemade ruby sauerkraut and crispy fried scallions, and a spicy, briny batch of fermented cauliflower, carrot, scallion, garlic, and jalapeño pickles. I'm so hungry right now. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Postcards from... WTF? That's not Billy.

It's done. The ramble has ceased temporarily. Everything was in Seattle, here:

Now it's in Tucson, here:

And here:

...and everywhere else in the house. 

Everything happened between there and here and I was too busy or tired or overwhelmed to tell the tale. I suppose sometimes life is just like that. We have learned to live without a long list of unnecessary things over the past three months--I am adding unwarranted apology to the list. We do what we can. Or in the case of Aperture Science, we do what we must because we can. 

A common comment from Seattle friends while we were visiting was, "I seems like all you guys do is eat food." Yeah. It doesn't just seem like that. But we are ever so slowly adding the part where we also grow what we eat. Just a little of it. An experimental handful of adzuki beans is sprouting in the cupboard. Brown rice, too. Beans and grains aren't typical fare, but who doesn't love science? 

Ving, our nine-year-old next door neighbor, watered the vegetable seeds while we were gone. His mom, Ruth, has a green thumb and a giant heart, so naturally we came home to this:

The seeds are now sprouts. Those enormous monsters on right: okra. No kidding. 

Speaking of monsters, we have created them with nothing but a simple bird feeder with wild bird seed in it. It seems kind of obvious once you say it aloud, but birds are absolute animals. We have concluded that the natural gentleness and timidity of birds and women are largely figments of a Victorian imagination. Either that, or edge-of-the-civilized-world desert beasts cannot be held to the standards to which the rest of society is held. Again, we return to the theme of unwarranted apology. 

In keeping with it, Ben and I stopped in Reno on Saturday to drop off family junk and heirlooms to my Auntie and Uncle. Uncle Tim is my mother's sixty-something-year-old baby brother. I have not seen them since my pregnant cousin's wedding (which was on my birthday last summer), where my other teetotalling Auntie tied one on (it was the champagne) and made all her teen-aged granddaughters get jiggy on the dance floor until... well, I have no idea because she was still at it when I left the reception. 

Oh, yes. Today's theme: Living joyfully and without unwarranted apology. To clarify, I am not talking about living without regard to the needs and feelings of others; I am talking about growing a set and not letting other people's expectations inhibit us from doing the things that make us feel alive, like disco dancing in the grocery store or traveling around the country in an old truck or stopping in the desert to ride an old bike and feed birds and plant a garden, however optimistically. In as much as "following one's bliss" impacts other people in a damaging way, apologies are warranted. Believe me, I've done my share of apologizing, both warranted and not. 

I was apprehensive about this tiny family reunion of three plus the new man, mostly because I am--for the next six days--still legally bound to the old one, whom they rather liked and who they were certain would never, nor could he, instigate the sort of life I have chosen now: driving off into an unknown future with a beautiful, bearded, wild man to find myself in love with him and the desert and growing sprouts and feeding crazy birds and obsessing about homesteading and trying everything that tickles my fancy. They worry, perhaps because my mother is gone and they feel a sort of cultural surrogate parent obligation to never let me starve to death or end up in prison or hell, where my mother would not be able to visit because she is in heaven. It's a lot of responsibility, this not wanting the people I love and who love me to worry about my future, my marital status, my finances, my standing in society. Introducing Ben to my family promised to be mildly awkward at best. 

My drunk-that-one-time-at-Jen's-wedding Auntie wrote to me recently, dismayed by the upheaval of my delicious life, telling me that she only wishes I could "settle down and find happiness." It was kind and loving and I hate to disappoint. I really, really hate it. And so another conversation begins. "Dear Auntie," it will start, "I am not sure if settling down and finding happiness have anything to do with one another, but I love you, and that makes me happy. And the life I choose every day is full and sweet, and what once felt like running away now feels like running toward."

And so we ran (read drove) toward  Auntie Grace and Uncle Tim in Reno, and an introduction and delicious dinner that could have been mildly awkward at best turned out to be just that: the best. My family was gracious and funny and curious and warm and all the best things I could have hoped for, despite the undercurrent of concern and befuddlement. 

I'm sure my aunties and uncles chatter like all families do. It feels weird to live outside the realm of people's expectations, and a little lonely when people you love think you're a bit out of your tree. And so I am, and I am learning to be an old desert lady about it, to love big and openly, and to not give a fuck where none should be given. Thank you, Karen, for teaching me a very important thing in the unlikely setting of a corporate hallway: What other people think about you is really none of your business. 

(And that's why we are drinking wine out of not-wine glasses and shooting airsoft guns indoors when we should be unpacking boxes and posting photos of it on the interwebs.)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Old ladies are bad-asses

When my mom and I were in ruralish China--a crazy, godless place (there is truly no judgement in this statement) where cars slow for no man, woman, child, or traffic signal--we would wait for what seemed like days to cross a busy street. Mostly people would wait until enough of us had amassed and then we'd all cross together--safety in numbers and all. Sometimes there simply weren't enough people for an effective human shield, and small groups would take their chances darting across. It was like a giant game of frogger (Atari fans and old people know exactly what I'm talking about) with lots of people "playing" all at once. If you are young enough to not remember frogger (some people's kids... jeez), I'll old-people nerd at you; it's a very simple but harrowing game in which you win by not getting hit by oncoming cars as you try to hop across the street. This is, of course, all done with a joystick. You can ask another old guy about those. So China was like that, but for freaking real and while dragging my overly analytical mother along. (Wasn't she cute in the seventies?)

Life and death is no time to analyze. If you spend too much time thinking about your options, a decision often gets made for you. When someone pokes at you and shouts, "Cake or death?" it is in your very best interest to react quickly and shout back at them, "Cake, please!" You don't stop and ask what flavor, or if anything is perhaps gluten-free. 

While my mom was content to wait all day to cross with the other street crossing zombies, I would look around for the littlest, oldest, scrappiest peasant lady I could find and practically grab onto her with one hand and grab my funny little confused mom with the other hand and we would cross when that little old lady crossed. I figured that any little old lady walking around alone had not gotten old by being timid, dull, slow, or reckless, and I was right. Not a single old lady got herself or us killed the whole time we were there. We all got across the street to the market and back home safely every time. Cake. Not death. 

How on earth does this relate to our current adventure? Yes, like the rest of our journey, it might take us some time to circle back and figure this one out. Indulge us in a bit more rambling, if you will. We are right now in Seattle. 

Tomorrow morning we pick up our 26' Penske moving truck and watch a couple of strapping young men load everything we own into it from a storage unit that is bigger than the truck (this should be good). Then we drive back to the desert with our big, giant desert hairs, many of which are turning gray and have been for several years. WTF? 

The daffodils are starting to bloom just now in the Emerald City. The lights here are splendid. The food is varied and exquisite. People we really like and love are here. And it feels so wrong to be anywhere but the desert, especially this beautiful city. We are missing the slow, dry, dusty, tactile peace of Tucson right now. There is a low hum of constant analysis in the Northwest, the buzz of caffeine and minds that never quite spin down. When I am here, my brain is happy and busy and firing on all cylinders (this admittedly may not be very many cylinders), but my body--this dog in which I live--rebels. 

This rebellion against constant surround-sound activity may be me getting old, and this may be a very beautiful thing. My body wants to feel calm, to move gently through a still space. I crave a lower frequency, whatever that means. My big hair wants to turn gray and float around my head and catch ideas as they come out. As you might imagine, this is also a slow process.

These gray hairs I am growing so prolifically the past few years feel right at home in Tucson. When I look at them in the desert, I feel lovely, as though I am finally growing into myself and finding a place to live in my body as much as in my mind. 

This idea of aging in the desert is surprisingly blissful. While youth is largely celebrated in America, the desert only celebrates that which endures. New, sweet life is adorable, but not precious. The giant saguaro cactus is protected and revered. One hundred years is nothing. Being born isn't enough. Potential isn't impressive. Everything that was ever born begins as nothing but potential. This world perhaps requires much more, and the American desert is refreshingly frank in its demands: to survive, to thrive in spite of everything, to persist with grace, to insist generally without malice on living, to adapt, to soak up every bit of life you can and hold onto it for leaner times, to drink water and take sun, to make a place and grow roots and ribs and spines, to feel thirst honestly and without shame, to be still, to be tough, to be wild, to endure and keep growing. The desert, like old age, is no place for sissies. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Yeah, but where's the fun in that?

Pinterest is tidy and all, but real life never looks like the photos. Except for this one time because I have a spare piece of plywood, a sharpie, and some insant coffee and boiled pomegranate peels and hibiscus tea with which I am planning to stain my imaginary future garden boxes (tidy color samples below!)... and in military families. I grew up in church with a bunch of Baptist military wives; those ladies run a mighty tight ship. Maybe it's all the moving around and having to raise a dozen or so well-groomed and polite children who fear God and love American cars, all the while keeping track of where all the socks and tupperwares and shoe polishes are from coast to coast, from Germany to Korea and back again. 

Craft projects on military bases are frighteningly neat, like stuff you see on a Pinterest board. It makes me weep with a misplaced sense of inadequacy. I have a sneaking suspicion that their process may be more science than art, but--like most insecurities--I have no real data to back up my hunch. It's like that unfounded feeling that all pretty movie actresses have smooth, perfect bodies under their Hollywood clothes or that the kids at the private school in the nicer part of town than yours will all get into good universities and be your kids' bosses one day (I just earwormed myself with the song from 'Weeds'--"little boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky-tacky...").

Even with all our rambling around from motel to casita to guest house in December and January, packing and unpacking our crates every day, I did not learn the place-for-everything technique so critical to an orderly life. Military families live the disciplined lives of warriors. They are ready for anything. They mobilize on command and take all their children with them, ranked by height or age or in alphabetical order or however they did it in 'The Sound of Music'. They are probably not meat. If they ever die, they do it with dignity and handsome corpses full of formaldehyde and open caskets so everyone can see how tidy they were to the very end. 

Cauliflowers also pickle well and have beautiful corpses. Actually, ours are fermented and they are not really dead. Oh... Uh... Undead? Have we have been eating cauliflower zombies all this time? It's alive! (Apparently, so is my hair.)

We, unlike military families and other pickles, are still meat. Tough sometimes, and chewy, totally unfit for an easy meal or a proper display after our messy lives get the better of us. We are more art than science. We are the chaos of creation and destruction. We settle in and dig it up wherever we are, even if it's only for a night, because our time with this earth is so heartbreakingly short. Also, we have big giant desert hair, okay?

Besides growing very large hair, we are also attempting flowers and vegetables. 

I think I planted purple zinnia seeds, but the unscientific method I employ while playing in the dirt will make everything a surprise later. Perhaps they're the red and orange ones, or those marigold seeds. Whatever comes up, I hope hummingbirds like it and bugs do not. 

In this spirit of settling in, we are doing some stuff that could hurt to leave behind, and in the spirit of staying agile, we are designing as we go, trying for a portable garden, and starting with seeds, dirt, a hilarious little thrift store baby cradle, and old US Dept of Defense crates that used to house missile motors in scary tubes. Reclaiming old materials in the desert is fun, and maybe this is our interpretation of Isaiah 2:4. We are hammering swords into plowshares in our twentieth century kind of way. Okay, sure, it's the twenty-first century, but life is slow here--give us a minute. We're still cycling through materials from wars of the last millenium. Vintage wars call for heirloom seeds. 

As I sign off, there is a kale seedling sprouting in its tiny pocket of dirt, a hummingbird sipping at the red sugar trough, and there exists now a middle of the night doodle full of ideas about what we are really doing in Tucson and why we care. We head back to Seattle next week to collect our tools, tables, machines, dry goods, and excess (O! The excess) belongings. We still seek the balance between letting go and digging in, between evolution and taking root, and we keep returning to the knowledge that we can't think our way through to the end of this. You can't iterate on nothing--you just have to start somewhere, do something, plant something, build something, grow something, make something, get it wrong if you must (and you must), and learn something. For the love, we've got to learn something.