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While I generally prefer cooking with fresh things, this is an easy, tasty vegetarian dish that I can throw together in minutes. It’s might spicy, so tastebuds beware!

Mexican Quinoa

  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. minced garlic (I use the bottled stuff)
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin
  • 1 c. quinoa (I use the stuff that’s already kind of cooked)
  • 1 c. vegetable broth (or water)
  • 1 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1 15 oz. can corn, drained
  • 1 can diced jalapeño peppers, drained
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Diced avocado

Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and cumin and stir for about a minute. Add the beans, tomatoes, corn, jalapeños, and quinoa. After about 1 minute, add the broth and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 20 minutes until the quinoa is cooked. Remove pan from heat and let it rest, covered, for 5 minutes. Add a half an avocado, diced, to each bowl when serving. Serves 4 as an excellent spicy comfort food.

Cat in a Box.

Today’s gratitudes:

  • Firefighters
  • Having the end of MKL’s move in sight
  • Almost two months with no sugar (because I’m sweet enough as it is, damn it)

My coffee and I sit at our round table with our unconventional breakfast, looking through cookbooks to plan our week’s meals. My own handwritten notes are familiar even though they were written 20 years ago. Books being sacred objects, I was aghast the first time ex-Pat made notes in a cookbook. Over the years, he convinced me to do so, but only in pencil, and as minimally as possible, to convey the changes I’d made.

Those notes from 20 years ago….they transport me back to the Cozy House, to my slope-floored kitchen with its knotty pine cabinets. To the Mother-in-Law’s tongue that my co-worker Sandy gave me decades ago, thriving in a pot in the corner. The dogs’ and cats’ food and water dishes slightly underfoot on the lavender linoleum. The Asian blue patterned containers holding the cooking utensils on the counter next to the little one cup coffee maker. The bottom drawer where the casserole dishes lived, the one that always went cattywampus when I tried to close it. My beloved Norge stove.

We never ate dinner at the kitchen table, only breakfast on weekdays, just as it had been at my parents’ house growing up. I tried to get us to do so once and only once. It was disastrous and all three of us wound be miserable.

Doing dishes, by hand as we never had a dishwasher, standing at the sink looking out into the backyard from the white-framed casement the window. My view was beneath the arch of a tree that was slowly growing its way into the house, bending the gutter a little more each year. Ex-Pat and I talked about one day remodeling the kitchen, making it bigger, though it was a good size already. We would have built out the kitchen around the tree, leaving it free to grow as tall and as strong as it wanted.

That view from the window had grown over the decades from a dirt yard with giant wooden spools as tables in various places, to a bower of beauty, with the greenhouse that ex-Pat had built by hand as its centerpiece. Beautifully cold in winter but always warm with memory of summer. Sparkling with promise in spring. Glowing with trailing golden cottonwood leaves in fall. And raging and singing in its glory on the warmest days and nights of summer,

It all lives only in my memory now, as I sit at a different table in a different life, the wind swishing the pine boughs outside the door, the blue sky shy beneath sheer white clouds, the Stellar’s Jay keeping silent company, my coffee now grown cold.

Today’s gratitudes:

  • That I’m alive
  • Cats
  • Music
  • Driving
  • Sweatshirts

If you haven’t been around the blog for long, you might not know that my relationship with cooking is what one might called complicated. Perhaps I’ll explore that history in the future, but for now, I’ve decided to share with you some of the things that I can cook that actually turn out well. And so, Feed Me Friday is born.

Today’s recipe is Crescent Moon Gumbo, adapted from a New Orleans recipe. I’ve made a lot of gumbos in my day, because it’s hard for me to screw up soup. This one is a keeper though. Contrary to its name, you do not have to make it at said phase of the moon (though I could said you did if I wanted to be all witchy). Some may argue that this is not actual gumbo because the recipe does not call for file powder. But I don’t like file powder, so it’s not in there. The roux and okra serve as fine thickeners.

Before we get to the heart of the gumbo, here are a few things to know about making this:

  • Have everything prepped, chopped, measured, and at hand before you start. I mean everything. I’ve learned this the hard way.
  • Spice amounts are always approximate. I seldom measure spices unless I’m futilely trying to bake something, and even then it’s anybody’s guess if I’m going to measure or eyeball it. My dad was a wonderful baker and he always doubled any spice he was using because he said most recipes were written for American palates which preferred their food bland (think pilgrims and puritans).
  • If you don’t have something, feel free to substitute. That’s the thing about gumbo — it’s very forgiving. For example, right now, there is literally not a shrimp to be had within 30 miles, so I substituted bay scallops.

Enough preamble. Here you go.

Crescent Moon Gumbo

  • Cooking spray
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 lb. chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces (I just used diced roast chicken today, but raw chicken breast is fine too)
  • 1 lb. turkey kielbasa, cut into thin quarters (I used a 13oz. turkey smoked sausage today, because it’s what I had)
  • 2 c. chopped yellow onion
  • 1 c. chopped red bell pepper
  • 1 c. chopped celery
  • 1+ tbsp. minced garlic (I use the stuff in the jar instead of fresh, but you do you)
  • 1.5 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/3 c. flour
  • 5 c. chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 14.5 oz. can fire-roasted tomatoes, undrained
  • 16 oz. cut okra (I use frozen)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 lb. cooked shrimp, peeled and chopped
  • 1/4 c. fresh parsley, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Heat a large Dutch Oven over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add 1 tsp. olive oil, diced chicken, and kielbasa and sauté until browned. Remove from pan. Sauté onion, bell pepper, and celery in dripping for 4 minutes. If it seems too dry, add a little chicken broth to the pan. Add garlic and all spices to the pan and sauté until the onion is tender. Remove from pan. Add remaining oil to the pan and lower the heat. Add flour, whisking constantly, until you’ve made a light brown roux. Gradually add broth, whisking constantly, until there are no lumps. Add the chicken, kielbasa, and onion mixture back to the pan, along with the okra, tomatoes, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer on low heat for 45 minutes. Add shrimp and parsley and heat through. Makes 6-8 servings. Can be served over rice. Enjoy!

Because I don’t take good food pictures, here’s a cat picture.

We should all be this content.

Today’s gratitudes:

  • Sweet peas sprouting by the mailboxes
  • The lone deer sitting under the pines in the cemetery
  • Presents for people I love
  • Cooking plans

Wind. I’ve never liked it, except when it rustles the fronds of the palm trees. Contradictorily, that’s my favorite sound. But I’d scarcely call that wind. That’s a breeze, gentle and joyful.

Wind is what we get here in the Front Range and the Wet Mountains. This is what took down a 75-foot tree that miraculously and by the slimmest of margins missed the Carriage House. This is what makes me look with great skepticism out of the living room window as another giant pine tree bends and twists against the blue sky, its trajectory perfectly aligned with my bedroom.

Wind is what never hesitates to remind me of the ruptured eardrum that I suffered at age two when my mother was in the hospital with pneumonia. Each time the wind, anywhere from lukewarm to freezing, gains access to my right ear, it hurts like the dickens.

Wind is why I don’t like Wyoming. It seems ever-present there. I recall spending a night in the back of my truck the summer after college trying to sleep through it – wasn’t sure if I was going to freeze or go mad, and it was June.

And wind is what led to the destruction of the Cozy House and an entire community. Wind that decide to dance with fire — and what a dance it was.

From the Retreat, I can’t see the wind coming because I’m already in it. But further away from the mountains, it’s easy to tell when it will be a day of the warm, dry, harsh winds that indigenous people used to call “snow eaters” and which we call Chinooks. There’s a bright clear sky and over the mountains, a thick shelf of white cloud in a straight line. If you’ve lived here long enough, you know to hang on to your small pets and tie down your trampolines when you see that anytime between November and April.

Ages ago, I read or someone told me that the indigenous people called them “the winds of madness”. I’ve never been able to find a source for that, but I don’t doubt it’s true. The sound, the uncertainty, the constancy of them can indeed make you feel more than a little crazy.

Unfortunately for too many of us, they now raise feelings of pain, fear, loss, anger, and trauma, digging into wounds that are only barely starting to scab over. I have reminded myself a dozen times today of the freakish circumstances that made me lose the Cozy House and that there’s nothing left to lose there now. But at the Retreat, I have the rest of what’s left to lose. It’s impossible not to think about it, about what I would take, about how to arrange the house so I could quickly pack those treasures I didn’t lose. About how a single spark from a cigarette tossed out of a car window on the Frontier Pathway could take all this away from me.

About how little control we actually have.

Today’s gratitudes:

  • Decent sleep
  • Wise decisions
  • Experimental cooking
  • Good books
Yesterday. More snow than I expected.
Today. The blue sky and sun helps.

Amazing how much difference a day can make. It feels like the extremes are more extreme up here. Weather never just fades away. It’s either on or it’s off. No in between. I either feel like Jack Nicholson in The Shining going mad or Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music twirling on a sunny mountaintop.

In other news, Pharoah and I are getting along famously. He made an appearance on my Zoom staff meeting this morning, slept on my stomach all night last night, and was absolutely shocked at my taking a bath.

One shocked cat.

I don’t think he’d ever seen a human do such a thing, so he delicately walked around the rim of the tub. Thank heavens for his sure-footedness, as I’ve had a cat fall into a bathtub with me once and it is not an experience I would choose to repeat.

Today’s gratitudes:

  • A helpful, ethical well services guy
  • Living with a cat again
  • Sunshine
  • Snow falling from the pine trees

Cold


The cat curls himself into the hollow of my knees
Under the blanket that kept my mother warm before she died.
Soft
Sage green
with a pattern of leaves,
the tones of his brown fur
echoing the shades.
I warm my hands on him
under the serendipitous guise of petting,
as he doesn’t seem to mind.
We are still
becoming accustomed
to one another.

Yesterday’s blues have turned to gray,
pure white piling
up along pines and trails,
the Spring of Deception
showing itself in a freeze of glory.

My coffee now only remembers warmth
but I still drink it.
It is not worth
disturbing the cat
to heat it up again.

Today’s gratitudes:

  • That A is moving into a more permanent place today
  • Warm fuzzy socks
  • Classical music
  • Spaghetti squash

I went back to the cozy house last Monday. The space looked different somehow. It might have been the first time I’d seen it without snow. The green mulch cannons had disturbed some of the ruins. They must have been fairly powerful. Someone had put an uncharred piece of ironwork where I would find it.

I wept some. I hadn’t been looking forward to going back because I’d been feeling relatively happy. And I’d felt guilty about that, guilty about not visiting the cozy house for several weeks. Of course I hadn’t forgotten. The thought of the loss is with me always, lurking, popping up unexpectedly. But being in the midst of it, face to face with shattered pottery and melted glass and memories lost and those never to be made, tears at my soul. It feels as if, just to the right of my heart in the center of my chest, there is a blackened fist-sized piece of wood. I don’t feel it as much when I’m not at the cozy house, but I know it lives as a part of me now.

In the midst of this difficult day, I found hints of hope.

The tulips that I planted long ago at the edge of the front walkway have come up.
Snail shells are everywhere. I don’t know why. But they’re pretty.
Striped squill – which I don’t recall planting – are coming up at the back of the former greenhouse and on the mound.
Ex-Pat’s first dandelion. Dandelions should be elevated to hardy flower status instead of weed. Then everyone’s yard could be beautiful.
I FaceTimed with K, and she reminded me of this split rock, which marked the resting place of two baby birds that we’d buried there when she was small. A bird had built a nest in an old mailbox on an abandoned power pole at the back of the property. We watched diligently as the babies grew, but before they were old enough, a cruel summer wind took down the mailbox and the birds with it. I remember that we held a solemn little service. That old power pole is now on the ground, burned.
But our flag still stands.
And love still lives.
And while most of us have committed to participating in the town’s clean-up program – which feels like a questionable decision at this point – some who had the resources and wherewithal have proceeded with clean-up on their own, with the intent to rebuild.

We will never be able to bring Original Superior back to what it was. We cannot rebuild history or duplicate our old houses with all their quirks and foibles. But there will be new houses, small ones with character and charm. There will be gardens with hyacinth and iris, with snapdragons and California poppies, with tomatoes and too many zucchini. I don’t know what will emerge from the ashes. But I know something will.

Today’s gratitudes:

  • Lovely neighbors
  • Hawks
  • That vague feeling of spring (though in Colorado, we know it to be false)
  • Calving season

And his name is Pharaoh. Maybe I should say there’s a new cat god in town. This is our late son’s Maine Coon, who’s been living with MKL. Yesterday, we shifted him up to the Retreat. He’s settling in well. He’s very attached to MKL though, so as much as he likes me, I’m a little nervous about how we’ll do when MKL goes back to civilization tomorrow. He’s super smart, can open most closed doors, and lives up to his breed’s reputation as “the dog of cats”. But it sure was nice to have him snuggle in my lap for a couple of hours. It’s been too long.

Today’s gratitudes:

  • A lovely day
  • Successfully cooking dinner
  • Cats
  • Coach K’s 100th tournament win

I’ve driven hundreds and hundreds of miles already this year. My drives have been from The Retreat to MKL or to the ruins of the cozy house. Of course, it’s wonderful to have time with MKL, but most of my trips north have involved my sifting or just sitting in the ashes or managing some detail of recovery. In other words, these drives have been taken with a heavy heart.

Yesterday, though, my drive was different. Instead of turning north, I turned south on the highway and headed for New Mexico to meet up with K for one night in a town about midway between us. As soon as I hit the unfamiliar blacktop of I-25 South, I felt free. The sky opened up to a vast blue and I felt tearfully excited that I was going to see my girl.

It was a lovely, easy drive, with Truck most eager to hit illegal speeds. It was warm and sunny and I had Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers as musical accompaniment. I blew kisses to the many herds and singleton antelope I saw along the way, they being my comfort and shamanic power animal, so often appearing in my travels.

While I’m not choosy, particularly when it comes to New Mexico skies, I prefer a few clouds to add some extra drama, but the clarity of the day, with a three-quarter moon resting in the crook between the mesas, made for a liberating trip. I love how, heading south from the Retreat, the Spanish Peaks appear suddenly before me, welcoming and enticing. Across the border, after Raton Pass, a New Mexico snow-capped mountain range peeks out from the west horizon, dipping behind the brown hills and reappearing unexpectedly in a slightly different place a few miles down the road.

Once, years ago, when K was in high school, she was having a rough patch and she said, “I just want to get out of this state.” And I said okay. So we got in the truck and drove to Wyoming, thrift shopping, exploring, and stopping at the hoodoos at sunset to clamber around. That change of scene, that change of state, was just what she needed. A day with her in another state was just what I needed right now. I’ll share pictures in the coming days.

June 2022
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