Thursday, May 30, 2013

O – No.

It's a fast paced world; you can either be informed or have an opinion. We don't have time for both. —A Softer World

Now, I’m all for free speech and whatnot and I accept the fact that if people are free to speak they are perfectly likely to assert something breathtakingly ridiculous. But still. We have to do something about the epidemic of idiocy that is engulfing us all, even at the supermarket. 

The other day, I had to buy the current issue of O magazine. Don’t ask. I initially wanted to go to a different market than my regular one to minimize the likelihood that somebody I knew would see me buy the magazine. In the end, the law of least resistance won out and I went to the regular store down the hill. In my defense, I also needed obscure stuff that I know how to find in my familiar market.

So anyway. Looking for the particular article I wanted to read, I had to page through the entire magazine. Big mistake. Oprah has an organic vegetable garden. In Maui. And an expert stooge to run it for her and pose next to her while she stands in her field wearing $600 jeans and holding lettuce or something. She has some incredible advice for people interested in growing their own vegetables, presumably even those who can’t buy fertile land in Maui or hire a master gardener to plant and tend it.

Then, there are some apparently regular articles by Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz and Suze Orman. All of them have some amazing self-help advice for people who couldn’t help themselves to move their hand from a hot stove without professional advice. This stuff is aimed at people whose lives are such a mess that they apparently couldn’t sort things out unless they listened to these pompous experts explain that their mommy was a drunk because they were a crybaby, or that their spouse’s gambling problem just might be the cause of the family’s financial insecurity.

Then there’s shit you simply have to buy, to read, to wear, to eat and to think. You simply have to, or you will remain mired in the stagnant meaningless muck of your own Oprahless life, condemned to wander around messing up your personal relationships, your finances, your complexion, your organic vegetable garden, and your spouse’s gambling problem.

I’m not a complete cynic. I’m all for feeling good about myself  -  even for having a lifestyle if I can’t manage to have an actual life. Who could argue with improving their wellbeing and intellect, and growing as a person and shit? But Christ, there are some things I can actually figure out for myself without paging through shiny magazines with bright pictures of beautiful people and advice about coping and inspiring stories and sage advice about more stuff I should buy to assure my own happiness and fulfillment.

I have to admit though, that I did learn something valuable from this experience. Like for starters, not to buy this narcissistic woman’s vanity magazine ever again. I’d rather be lost in the wilderness of my own devising than trampled in the herd of sheep blindly following her and her self-proclaimed experts with life-changing advice and opinions. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

And Now for Something Completely Different

Some writers make their readers feel
Provided with a good square meal,
While others – such a task is mine –
Supply the walnuts and the wine.
A sip of truth – the merest smack,
A pinch of salt, a nut to crack.
            -           Charles E. Benham, Jottings

Today’s sip of truth:  My fondest wish is to provide kazoo lessons for all my friends. And although it’s true that what is generally accepted as good taste involves subjective evaluation, I have a superpower that enables me, with perfect objectivity, to identify manifestations of bad taste. A kazoo marching band playing “Hard Times Come Again No More” would be a sublime expression of exquisite good taste, or my name’s not Charles Bonnet.

The merest smack: The first thing on my to-do list today is can the amazing roasted tomato sauce I made yesterday. Lunch is somewhere in the middle – a good square meal. The last thing on the list is to obtain enlightenment. My list is organized in order of importance.

A pinch of salt:  In 1830 William Hazlitt said “without the aid of prejudice and custom, I should not be able to find my way across the room; nor know how to conduct myself in any circumstances, nor what to feel in any relation of life.” It’s like good manners attacked common sense and wrestled it to the ground.

A nut to crack: I have accepted the monumental challenge of trying to craft a coherent sentence about personal hygiene that includes the phrases “splendid nonchalance” and “smoking hole in the ground”. Wait! I just did!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Better Job

All your worry
Has proved such an
Why Not Find a better

-       Hafiz, Find a Better Job

This is the best Spring I’ve experienced in years. The Kid is home from the war, bearing invisible scars but smiling again. The back yard projects have been completed and now, when I go outside to play, I putter around, deadheading, repotting, rearranging instead of fretting over all the work still to be done.

The old waterfall at the top right of the above picture was long neglected and overgrown. Because of it's hight above the rest of the yard, it was visible from everywhere in the backyard – a silent reproach to my unfinished business. Because the large rock was cracked and difficult to seal, repairing the original waterfall’s path from the top beneath the large black wind chime and resealing the crack down to the pond would have involved more of an investment than we were willing to make.

Instead, the amazing pond guy made a smaller and more efficient waterfall that returns from the cleaned out and re-plumbed filter back behind the large rock on the left. The new setup is easier to maintain, less likely to leak, and makes just as lovely as sound. The gently splashing water reminds me how much I’ve missed it. It is almost as magical as the sound of my kitty with her head on my shoulder purring into my good ear. 

I have planted a rock garden where the old falls were, anchored by the large rock moved (from the lower center of above picture, next to Simone, the large rubber lizard) by the pond guy who I bribed with a pot of the overgrown green goddess calla lily that had taken over the entire shallow end of the pond.

Later, I persuaded the yard guys to move the big turtle from elsewhere in the backyard to the top of the big rock. I later wrangled the turtle into place next to the large rock. Together, the turtle, and the big rock to his right offer not only a sitting place from which to garden and view the pond, they anchor the other rocks and dirt for the succulents to root. 

It took the birds about a week to rediscover the fresh pond. The more modest waterfall seems to satisfy the mourning doves and other birds that like to splash around running water.

My new job isn’t any more lucrative than the old one of worrying. The newly rehabbed pond and waterfall however are much more enjoyable than the nasty the old mess of the pond and overgrown waterfall. The wildlife repopulating the yard seem to concur. My new job of simply spending time reading in the shade and listening to the waterfall is much more lucrative to my wellbeing. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Hard Times

 "It's certain that fine women eat  
A crazy salad with their meat."   

In an effort to shake off the lethargy caused by unseasonable heat exacerbating the mild depression resulting from my inability to procure the prescription meds in Tecate, Mexico that my doctor declines to renew on the flimsy pretext that they can cause undesirable interactions with other medications, I have decided to confront my sense of entitlement as a metaphorical slap to the side of my head and to remind myself that I actually have life pretty good. Let's see how that works out. 

But first, a brief catalog of my trials and tribulations. A while back, the icemaker on my refrigerator underwent a long and painful death. For almost two weeks - while I was grieving for this loss - I had to go without ice in my martinis. Although I survived this hardship, it was not without cost to my fragile psyche and my mental health.

Last week, another kitchen appliance tragedy befell me. My 25 year old Barista espresso machine passed away after, literally, giving its last gasp to make a lovely steamed latte for me and the kid. The next morning, no heating element, ergo, no latte.  Now, you might think that because there is a Starbucks within several blocks in several directions, I could take this in stride. 

But since the ice maker tragedy, I have grown older, and weaker, and less able to weather the culinary storms that interfere with my routine. And plus, it seems that morning coffee is more vital to my overall wellbeing than evening martinis. I mean one can always have bourbon at room temperature, can’t one?

As I sit here drinking my tepid green tea, I try to remind myself of recent discussions I’ve had with a cultural anthropologist recently returned from studying a primitive stone age culture and still suffering the shock of finding Starbucks in every third block and a Wal*Mart in every mall.  I try to imagine living in a crude stone hut with a dirt floor and no running water, not to mention no icemaker or espresso machine. Predictably, I fail.

Perhaps, when my new expresso machine arrives, and the weather cools down enough to permit me to spend more time in the recently renovated backyard, my attitude will improve. Meanwhile, I think I’ve taken a big step to recognize that I have the strength of character, and the survival skills to muddle through these difficult latte-less times. We’ll work on that sense of entitlement later.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Cultivating Relationships

There are but few strands of a densely interwoven web of relationships that can sustain and enrich us. Fermentation is one way in which we may consciously cultivate this web. This is the daily practice of cultural revival. By engaging life forces, we rediscover and reconnect with our context.
 - Sandor Katz, Fermentation

Ahhh, yeast. That white cheesey stuff. It’s alive, and it’s all around us.

So, my sauerkraut, put into the fermentation pot on February 1 was canned yesterday. This year, I used juniper berries from the front yard instead of caraway. I put in one green apple for each head of cabbage. It’s crisp and tart and tangy and lovely. I don’t heat seal the jars because I don’t want to murder the live creatures that created lovely kraut and that are so essential to maintain a healthy digestive system. Instead, I’ve found it keeps ages in the refrigerator. I have a pork loin roast I can’t wait to serve it with.

Next: the mead. My first try was made with raw honey, honey comb, and flavored with rose petals from my backyard and some rose water. I also used white cardamom – slightly stronger and more medicinal tasting than the regular green cardamom, but deeper and more mellow with time.  After a month, I strained out the spent petals and spice as Katz suggests. This also aerates the liquid and promotes further fermentation. The jug sat in my cool dark closet for another month and continued to bubble gently. I racked it – put it into recycled beer bottles with bale lids – last week.

I plan to keep two bottles to age some more, but we had a half-jug that we tasted “young”. It’s not bad, and it’s clearly alcoholic, although I didn’t bother to use the thermometer-thingie to measure specific gravity and thus determine the alcohol content. Still a bit sweet and it’s cloudy rather than translucent like commercial mead, but the rose and spice provide a subtle depth to the honey flavor. I’m hoping that aging it longer will make it better and dryer as the sugar continues to ferment, mellowing the strong honey flavor. I’m ready to invest in a larger jug and do more. We hope to make it to the home-brew store this week where I might also get a book with techniques and recipes.

If you have any interest in fermentation, Katz’ new book quoted above is a marvelous reference. He doesn’t provide much in the way of specific recipes, but he does provide amazing cultural background and general techniques to ferment all manner of foods from mundane to exotic. If you’re interested in detailed recipes, get his older book: Wild Fermentation, The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods.

Yesterday, we finally found tomatoes at a farmer’s market, roasted them with garlic and sweet peppers and canned the sauce. Today is the third day the strawberries have macerated and they are ready to cook down into jam and can. J picked a jam recipe that includes some mint I just harvested from the backyard, and black pepper.

So, we’ll finally have some fresh homemade food to eat and to share. And soon, also to drink. The best part of making these things is sharing the process with J. Reconnecting and enjoying the process together is priceless.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Thanks Mom

"Her eyes as stars of Twilight fair;
Like Twilight's too, her dusky hair;
But all things else about her drawn
From May-time and the cheerful Dawn;
A dancing Shape, and Image gay,
To haunt, to startle, and way-lay."
 - William Wordsworth, My Mother

As the month begins, I feel daunted by the work I face outside in the yard. All the handyman chores have been done by the handymen.

Now, the remaining work must be done by me. Rewarding, yes; but exhausting. It makes me marvel that my mother managed to do what she did for her kids.

I took all her work for granted when I saw her do it, and it never occurred to me that she must have been tired and overwhelmed at times. Sometimes that the worst part of my recollections is to see myself back then: so entitled and unthinking about her unceasing efforts to run the house full of noisy children, to cook, to clean, to simply organize and supervise the day-to-day business of getting us fed, dressed in clean clothes, coming and going to school and play. It seems now that part of the deal was that we never thought about how hard it was for her to make it so easy for us. It's simply what mothers did; and my mother did it gracefully and happily.

When she would return from the grocery store each week with dozens of paper bags of food, we'd each grab a bag from the trunk and take it into the kitchen and ask her what did you get for me. Her reply to each of us was always: it's all for you, dear.

The work I choose to do these days is work I have undertaken to please myself, and I can start and stop when I want. I am very fortunate to be in a position to indulge my hobbies without having to answer to the demands of bosses or children. Mom was rarely so fortunate, and I was rarely even aware of her efforts. If I could thank her this Mother's Day, I would do so with profound respect and love.