Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Oregon Trail

This is the most extraordinary book! I grabbed it randomly off a library shelf because I'm always interested in history of places I live or have connections to.

Little did I realize that this is not a history book, per se. There's lots of detailed history of the trail woven through it, but basically it's an account of a trip two brothers took over the trail, from St. Josephs MO to Oregon, in 2011 in the very wagon shown on the cover!

The brother who wrote the book is a lifelong journalist and the book is very well written. He weaves the 2011 trip, detailed history of the pioneer travel (lots of research and actual journal entries of actual people who did it), as well as a trip he went on with his father and some siblings back in 1958, on the east coast. The brothers are opposite in personality and play off one another throughout the book. Rinker, the journalist, is quieter, a bit uptight and cautious, while his brother Nick is boisterous and fearless and charges into the most harrowing circumstances with glee and abandon.

I never knew mules could be so interesting! He gives a good background on their use and development, the different crosses and types that exist, what type works best for what use, and basically more than I ever thought I wanted to know about mules. But, it was interesting and the three that towed their wagon had very distinct personalities.

It's an astonishing story of perseverance over things going wrong and unimagined difficulties across almost 2000 miles of trail. All along the way people helped them, welcomed them, got them out of difficult situations. In long-distance hiking these kinds of people are called trail magic. He calls it trail angels.

Great book. Highly recommended, although it certainly did spur my need for an adventure of my own!

Monday, March 21, 2016

I'm baaaaack!

Yes, it's early and no, I don't want to talk about it. Although I probably will. Let's just say that my own inner demons took over my sane mind and I fled to escape them, rather than staying and dealing with them. That's why I went -- to slay these particular evil demons in a safe place with a trusted teacher!

There were extenuating circumstances, but they were just excuses, in the end. A redwood toppled because of heavy rains the day before I arrived, taking down some -- but thankfully not all -- power lines. There was power in the main building/kitchen, and in the meditation hall, but the dorms were dark and the water pump incapacitated. Think, no toilets for about 13 people! I jumped in to help my friend the following day, hauling water from the creek into big garbage cans by the bathrooms so people could flush that way. Drinking water was ordered/some picked up. We moved into the monk's quarters, which had partial electricity and lots of heaters, divvied it up into male/female sections, cleaned it, got it as comfy as possible. Cleaned out the meditation room, made it look nice, jury-rigged some heat in there. Can you believe only one power outlet in that huge big room? Lots of extension cords to power a couple of space heaters and the PA system. Others arrived during the afternoon, but I took my out-of-town retreat manager friend into Santa Rosa for some necessities at Costco and Target.

So when meditation began on Saturday morning all was well for awhile -- I'm used to coping with fairly rustic life at the hermitage in Jenner, after all -- but by late evening I was sitting in the hall freezing and miserable and unable to pay attention to meditation, decided to leave, told my friend who told the teacher. Things improved a bit -- I got a heater in my room, which really helped, and an electric throw to put over my sleeping bag. Into the meditation hall again at 4:30am, cold, sleepy, tired, and all that was in my mind was the idea that 'I cannot face this for the next two weeks". 'This' wasn't the cold -- there would be workers coming on Monday to fix the power and water, we could move back to the dorms, and the sun was supposed to shine and warm everything up. 'This' was those inner demons that kept me from meditating properly, and they dominated my thoughts. I packed and loaded the car, waited through breakfast to say goodbye to the teacher, who tried to change my mind. I almost listened, and wish I had. But in the end, I fled. So I've been home a week and am just now feeling almost normal. The demons are still there but I can distract myself from them. I have suggestions on how to get rid of them, but not the energy to sit and follow instructions.

In addition to that, it's been terribly tense here at home the past week, too. I'm about ready to give notice and find another place to live for a few more months. It's untenable as it is, certainly.

So that's been my week or two. Life is bound to get better!  I've let go of trying to diet and/or stick to exercise routine for now. I know how to eat right, and I'm doing that without making sure I have enough or not too many calories every day. I've been too stressed and tired to add the stress of exercise to the mix, although I did go out for a half hour this morning, between rain showers. It feels good to be free of all that, even if it turns out to be temporary. I'm watching the scale and how I feel, and so far all is good. That's enough.

Hope for happier news next time we talk.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Pat Conroy

My world lost some of its light sometime during the night when I turned on the radio and learned of the death of Pat Conroy.

The man was a genius. A tortured genius, to be sure, but many of us have had unpleasant childhoods. What he had above and beyond a horrific childhood and tortured adulthood was the ability to write the English language with poetic beauty. He wrote of horrible things, but did it with such beauty and elegance that we were enthralled. I have read and often reread almost all of his books, and seen most of the ensuing movies. Oddly enough, my favorite of the bunch was Conrack, the first, derived from one of his first books The Water is Wide.

He first came to my attention way back in the late 1980s when I walked into a bookstore on Peachtree Road in the Buckhead section of Atlanta and found a large in-your-face display of trade paperback copies of The Prince of Tides. My literary life was changed forever. I remember reading the pages with utter astonishment, often reading sentences or paragraphs over and over simply to soak in the beauty and lyrical nature so inherent in his writing. He had a way of stringing common words together with uncommon skill and beauty. Profound. Little did I know that he lived not far from me at the time, on a street I traveled with some frequency.

I've looked forward to each new release since. Now, there will be no more. He was overweight for many years, led an indulgent lifestyle that wasn't the healthiest, and those things inevitably lead to deterioration and death of a human body. I'm happy that he found contentment and release from the tortures about his father with The Death of Santini, and that he found happiness in his later years with his third marriage. He lived and died in the place he loved best: Beaufort, SC. Having been there, thinking of him all the time I explored the town and wondering which of the historic homes was the one he'd lived in as a child, I can fully understand what drew him there. If money wasn't an issue, Beaufort would certainly be near the top of any list of places I'd like to live. Unfortunately, a great light has left Beaufort and its aura forever changed. RIP.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Rancho Gordo Marcella Beans -- Yum!

Baked Marcella Beans with Chicken. Monochrome, but good.
I've been a fan of Rancho Gordo beans for a long time, and the love affair continues.

Back in 2009 I already knew about them, but don't think I had tried any. Too pricey to mail order (although I've done that once or twice since). Visiting a friend in Napa in August 2009 I went on a quest and found them on a store shelf -- brought home several pounds. I've cooked many of them over the intervening years, always wonderful, but I can only find two entries on the blog about them.

First, I tried Spring Lamb with Flageolets, from the Rancho Gordo Cookbook. Then not too much later, I tried Senate Bean Soup from the cookbook, which I've made often. It's a favorite. I rarely visit Napa without snagging a few pounds -- last time, unbelievably a year and a half ago now -- I stopped at their store for the first time. Those beans are long gone.

Recently, a local friend who I'd turned on to the brand ordered some, and ordered some as a gift for me as well. Nice friend! I was hot to trot to try these new Marcella beans, named after the late Marcella Hazan.

I've been mulling over how to best use them, finally decided upon a combination of two recipes Tweeted out by Steve Sando, Mr. Rancho Gordo @RanchoGordo. Baked in the oven, lots of onion and garlic and rosemary, with chicken thighs. And oh yeah, some of that fabulous chicken stock I made last week, all glutinous and filled with flavor.

Here's the finished product -- and it tastes as good as (possibly even better than) it looks.

I'm not great at all details of the recipe, since I kind of made it up on the fly, but here's the basics.

1/2 lb Marcella Beans, soaked overnight
1 yellow onion, sliced
8-10 cloves of whole garlic,  peeled
3 springs of fresh Rosemary
4 chicken thighs
1.5 cups homemade stock
2-3 cups water

Process: Browned chicken in 2 Tbsp olive oil, removed. Sauteed onions in the same pan, added garlic cloves. Let it cook until browned, added soaked beans, rosemary stock and water to cover well. Plopped chicken on top, put it all uncovered into 350 degree oven, baked for a couple of hours until beans were tender and creamy. After I took the above photo, I removed the chicken to a dish then put the beans back in the oven to cook another 30 minutes or so. I like my beans just at the point where they're falling apart and a rich, thick broth forms. Added salt (important to add this after beans are cooked). Then once cooled, I put the whole thing in the fridge so it could mellow for a day, as beans always seem to taste better after that.

Had some for lunch today, and I gotta say -- Dynamite!  Lots of calories, but a big protein payoff, too. I get to have this for lunch for 3 more days, too. No way I'm going to freeze some for later.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Patience is the best meditation

Alas, life is slow and dull. Whine. I feel as if I'm just treading water, waiting for something more interesting to happen. And in a way, of course, that's exactly what I'm doing. I'm putting many things on hold until I'm able to move into an apartment of my own, hopefully sometime this summer. Life is like that when you have a roommate -- even a good roommate such as mine. I never get past the idea that it's her house, which it is. It colors everything I do, at all hours of the day and night.

I decided I wanted to try making kefir, rather than yogurt, since it's so much easier. I ordered some fresh kefir grains (actually, more like large cottage cheese curds) from Ohio and they arrived today, went right into a jar with a couple of cups of milk. Twenty-four hours later, I should have kefir. Supposedly, I should repeat the process daily -- straining the grains from the kefir then putting them into some fresh milk. That would give me way more kefir than I need or want to drink -- because of calories, of course. I'll see if my roommate is a kefir fan and maybe share some with her, and maybe just store them for a couple of days in between using them. After all, they were mailed Monday from Ohio, arrived here today (Wednesday) and are still fresh and viable. SO much easier than yogurt, with the same benefits, although I do wonder if keeping the grains happy will become demanding.

I got myself a second twitter account today -- think I'm getting obsessed? Actually, all of my "many" (all 25 or so) followers are only interested in the initial subject of the Oregon Ducks, and I've felt constrained often about sending tweets about my other interests. Every time I do that, it seems that one or two followers drop off. Now, I fully realize that I only know one of these people personally and really don't care whether or not they drop off, but still, it's the pull of social media, I suppose. So the new one is for food and politics and whatever else comes into my life.

One thing that does keep the boredom at bay is the fermentation projects. Have had something called kahm yeast on the peppers and threatening on the kraut. It's common, and harmless,  but looks really weird. Had me going for a few days while I learned more about it. Kraut due to be out of the crock on Saturday, then on to more pickles. I learned this week that for maximum probiotic development everything needs at least 3 weeks fermentation, as there are 3 different stages of probiotic development. More flavorful too, hopefully. And the probiotics are what it's all about.