Remembering

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More walking, less picture taking, okay?

Backyard plums! Our first real harvest, shy of about twenty the raccoons mauled. Sharing is caring?

Eye-talian pepper, not the first nor the largest, but mighty fine!

Playing games…Seasons to be exact.

First fennel! Shaved and on pizza. Mmmm…

As is my wont when visiting my parents (last weekend – and my cousins and aunt, too!), I take pictures of pictures – mostly times long past. These are my Great-Grandparents Tillie and Howard. I love her closed eye smile, a rare moment of pure joy.

Bake early and often, peeps!

I give all credit for my love of music to my dad. He can keep the beer, however.

My cousin Angela and Grandpa Marv. She’s in her late 30s now!

My Grandma Frances, Dad, and Mom in 1972.

With my adorable cousins Stephanie and Allison, probably 1980. I am wearing one of my favorite shirts, ever!! It was so soft and had super tiny red stripes.

And to up the vintage vibe, I’ve got 1970s era Fleetwood Mac blasting on the hi-fi. Warm Ways, indeed.

creekside

Sun down on the street where I grew up and where my parents live still. Arvada, and no, silly spell checker, I did not mean armada. The clouds are smoke from the Cameron Peak fire, the beautiful detritus of dreams gone up in flames. These will travel south, cloak us and choke us at our own house, some 80 miles distant, in the days following.

Little Dry Creek, babbly and bubbly and ever on the move. How distant the memories of childhood days spent along its banks. Feet in the water, eyes out for craw-dads.

For two weeks in August, I descended, hard and fast off the cliff of depression. No right reason. No squirrel suit. No parachute. Every nerve and cell slowing to an excruciating crawl. As the days passed, I watched my movements, the swish of hand and step of foot as an alien in a new body might experience. Articulating joints and muscle concentrated and in hyper slow motion. My body but not my body.

Late one night, I made a tearful advance apology to Greg for a suicide I believed was inevitable and for which I had a solid plan. I felt as though every ounce of hope and purpose drained from my being.

Then, while lying in the bath (thank goodness for them!), I remembered another difficult time, from ages ago, and a description of the Dakini Bliss from Pema Chodron (I’ve included an excerpt about it after this entry). And so I asked myself, why can’t THIS be the Dakini Bliss again? Why the hell not? Once I realized I couldn’t reply in the negative, I knew the hardest part was over, hopped out of the bath, and told Greg I was safe.

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A few years ago, I was overwhelmed by deep anxiety, a fundamental, intense anxiety with no storyline attached. I felt very vulnerable, very afraid and raw. While I sat and breathed with it, relaxed into it, stayed with it, the terror did not abate. It was unrelenting after many days, and I didn’t know what to do.

I went to see my teacher Dzigar Kongtrül, and he said, “Oh, I know that place.” That was reassuring. He told me about times in his life when he had been caught in the same way. He said it had been an important part of his journey and had been a great teacher for him. Then he did something that shifted how I practice. He asked me to describe what I was experiencing. He asked me where I felt it. He asked me if it hurt physically and if it was hot or cold. He asked me to describe the quality of the sensation, as precisely as I could. This detailed exploration continued for a while, and then he brightened up and said “Ani Pema, that’s the Dakini’s Bliss. That’s a high-level of spiritual bliss.” I almost fell out of my chair. I thought, “Wow, this is great!” And I couldn’t wait to feel that intensity again. And do you know what happened? When I eagerly sat down to practice, of course, since the resistance was gone, so was the anxiety.

I now know that at a nonverbal level the aversion to my experience had been very strong. I had been making the sensation bad. Basically, I just wanted it to go away. But when my teacher said “Dakini’s bliss,” it completely changed the way I looked at it. So that’s what I learned: take an interest in your pain and your fear. Move closer, lean in, get curious; even for a moment, experience the feelings without labels, beyond being good or bad. Welcome them. Invite them. Do anything that helps melt the resistance. 

Then the next time you lose heart and you can’t bear to experience what you are feeling, you might recall this instruction: change the way you see it and lean in. That’s basically the instruction that Dzigar Kongtrül gave me. And now I pass it on to you. Instead of blaming our discomfort on outer circumstances or on our own weakness, we can choose to stay present and awake to our experience, not rejecting it, not grasping it, not buying the stories that we relentlessly tell ourselves (Like the one uttering I needed to die). This is priceless advice that addresses the true cause of suffering – yours, mine, and that of all living beings.

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First onion!

cod + pineapple salsa

C A S S A T A ! !

I FINALLY remembered to take a picture – Michael, Mary, & Greg
Jesus & Juniper under foot!

When Greg and I first moved to Portland (1998!), and Hawthorne only had a handful of restaurants where we would actually eat, Bread & Ink was among our favorite places, one of those we enjoyed on a leisurely walk. A saunter of about two miles each way, depending upon which view or which house or which garden I felt like seeing that day – Greg never really cared. Their food, up until we left in 2014, was very 90s and always good. Fun cocktails, excellent coffee, nice servers. My favorite had a tattoo of a sparrow on her forearm, after the bible verse, she said, and to this heathen, non bible reader, a bit of new information, and a lovely revelation (Psalm 84:3).

But the reason for my choosing to go was always the Cassata. I remember reading the description the first time: ricotta, candied orange, & chocolate filling, chocolate frosting, and thinking, hmmmm. Could be alright. It really, really was. And so it became my dessert there, one that was not always on the menu, which was always a major disappointment, of course.

I hadn’t had any since leaving Portland (almost six years now – GOSH), and it, like every memory, came bubbling to the surface, out of the blue, and I had to have it. We were hosting Michael and Mary, and I fashioned our menu around it. Problem was, I needed to find a recipe. Type cassata into ye ole search engine and a couple rise to the top, neither of which is the cake I want. Add chocolate, and bingo, at least closer. I ended up making a 1-2-3-4 yellow cake, read through some cannoli filling recipes and got a feel for what I wanted to accomplish, then candied orange peels and made a dark leaning fudgy frosting. It gave me so many problems, but after literally jumping up and down in rage and frustration, it finally adhered to the cake. It wasn’t much to look at before slicing but made up for it, in spades, once it hit the tongue.

I also made a tomato tart, two kinds of crackers, a cheese spread, apricot mostarda, and blueberry gooseberry (home grown!) preserves. Then, for dinner, because this was a marathon, grilled rosemary chicken, grilled asparagus, a salad entirely grown by farmer Greg (two varieties of lettuce, carrot, onion, radish!!).

Of course we put together a puzzle, as we always do, talked and talked, and talked some more, and walked the dogs. The best of times among the best of friends – twenty-six years strong.

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This post begins with a lament and too much information. Our middle-aged bodies are no longer as friendly with lactose. We take the little pills, which are super helpful, but don’t do ALL the work. But dang, how I love a little cream in my Saturday coffee and find the substitutes pretty darn awful in taste, consistency, or both. So I made almond creamer! It was truly delicious and the perfect consistency, without any added sweeteners. I soaked almonds in water overnight, slipped the skins off before putting them in the blender with just enough water to keep them whirring. I squeezed and Greg squeezed, and the pint jar is the final product. It’s a little work, of course, but worth a tasty cup of joe!

I also made another batch of peach jam (after realizing I overshared and we only had one jar left – a tragedy) and some red pepper jelly. It was my first time with the red pepper, but it was as easy as can be, and tastes wonderfully spicy and fruity – on a grilled pork chop (with grilled peaches), on chicken, over a bit of cream cheese, and spooned decadently from the jar and into my mouth.

The white mess in the bowl is what the almonds look like after being soaked and whirred and squeezed into milk. Since I am ever thrifty and abhor waste, I used it to make the dough & streusel for the pretty peach cake and the bit of toasted goodness just below on the tray. A bostock, normally on brioche or some equally decadent bread, but we only had homemade white, so that’s what I used, with chopped almonds & powdered sugar sprinkled over top. And the iced coffee has THE creamer in it. My good-ness.

The adorable tray was my grandparents, emblazoned with gold stars and a very patriotic bald eagle with the flag of the good ol’ U.S. of A. When my grandparents died, and everyone visited the house to select furniture and treasures, I chose, according to my family, the most random. But if you know anything about me, I am most definitely odd, but also quite calculated.

These items and more like them. A toll painted trashcan that sits in my office, because I always liked the look of it. The tray with the eagle because it was one I used the whole of my life and could still perfectly envision Grandma’s hands, nails long and pointy and laquered, carrying it. A wee stove top pot, with lid, that Grandpa worked for and used most days of my memory. Carvings of a duck, eagle, and geese – made by Grandpa. A statue of the Virgin Mary that lived my whole life atop Grandma’s dresser. A chest of drawers that held Grandpa’s clothes. Every item of little monetary value, but so rich with memories as to make them priceless to me.

And a couple more delicious dazzler meals. I bought the fabulous Sababa Cookbook and made the matbucha – tomato & red pepper spread, along with the golden onion & chickpea dip (though mine looks very different from hers), and my own favorite hummus & pita. The cheezy asparagus pashtida is from the same book on a different day. Um, yes, more please.

How cute is Greg enjoying a prickly pear margarita last weekend? I made tamales, red chile, and Anasazi beans to go with them, which was marvelous and photographed poorly, but who really cares with that dazzler of a smile?

How are you? We are at day 15 without leaving the house besides a dog walk. Our food supply is pretty good, except for fresh produce, with three apples, three carrots, and one jalapeno and poblano left. We have plans to get rid of our thorny blackberries (OUCH!!) and replace them with lettuces and spinach, maybe some carrots, too. Though I am sincerely hoping it will be a bonus rather than a necessity, but who knows? These are such strange times.

Our health is good, some sniffles after a super windy walk yesterday, so hoping that doesn’t equate to anything serious. I am worried for my friends in the medical profession, as they are already having meetings about not having enough personal protective equipment to get through the crisis, despite government reports saying there are plenty to go around. And then there is every last person suffering financially. I know my prayers mean not a whit, so we are helping those we can how we can. May it be enough to sustain them until government money arrives.

This is Texas Sheet cake, also made last Sunday (p.s. – If you decide to try it and don’t like a cloyingly sweet cake, cut the sugar in half – you won’t regret it!). My friend Whitney was the first (maybe only?) person to make it for me, way back when I was a whippersnapper of twenty-two. I remember being in her kitchen on Albion Street in Denver, us chatting while she washed dishes, waxing poetic about how easy and delicious it was. I hit the pause button the moment she said it contained cinnamon. My rather unworldly upbringing had never-ever put cinnamon and chocolate together. How weird would it be? Would I like it? The answer was a resounding yes, and now, twenty-six years later, I cannot recall the number of times I have made this fabulous flavor combination.

After lamenting the soy flour contained in the blue corn pancake mix we bought in Santa Fe, I ordered some plain blue corn flour (masa) from Gold Mine and made a batch of pancakes the day the box arrived at our door. They were delicious! If you’d like to try your hand at them, they’ve been added to my long list of pancake recipe combinations that can be found here. Enjoy!

Feeling grateful for our every day walks, this beautiful city, and every moment that makes me smile, like this wee one on his way to work!

Whenever I feel overwhelmed with the news, I think on my light and inspiration, my Great Aunt Mary (who would have been 112 on St. Patrick’s Day!). The oldest of seven, she lived through the death of every one of her siblings, save my Grandma Tess, by 1975, the youngest at the age of twenty-five.

Her faith was boundless, and she was the most selfless, loving, and giving person I have ever known. Though she suffered many a heart break and disappointment, she never let her feathers ruffle, never uttered an unkind word. A smile was never far from her lips, nor a chuckle or a prayer. She walked her talk to the utmost!

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