gluten free apple cake

It’s the first week of June and I actually tried to light a fire in the woodstove this morning. It didn’t take. I’m all out of kindling and fatwood and the few pieces of newspaper just didn’t do it. I could have gone out and gathered some branches from the woods, but they’d still be wet from the overnight rain. I gave up. And instead, let the thought of apple cake take firm hold as my energy shifted to the kitchen. Just like that. There’s no rationalizing these urges. A warm oven to bake a warm cake, while channeling the warmth that is coming to feed the now bulging apple blossoms that will yield an abundance of apples for me to make a new stock of spiced apple slices with. This was all there in that thought. I actually looked up my own blog post to find the last recipe I documented for said apple cake. I decided to make the same cake, gluten free. It’s been on my mind, this thing with wheat, not wanting to eat too much of it, my middle aged body beginning to sensitively register the effects of a lifetime of possibly too much, so many people in my life now who have discovered their own sensitivity to the modified gluten of modified wheat that is contained in so much of our processed food. The recipe would have to be modified further to use up the rest of the whole milk plain yogurt instead of heavy cream, some honey instead of maple syrup, (I didn’t have any cream or syrup) and the very last quart of spiced apple slices from the harvest here almost two years ago.

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Combining and whipping together the butter, sugar and honey with a wooden spoon in a large metal bowl, produced a satisfying, thick cream. I beat in the eggs completely before adding the yogurt. All the dry ingredients were added to a smaller bowl to be whisked together before adding to, and mixing with the wet.

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I learned from a master chef at a birthday party last year, that the secret to making a moist and successful gluten free cake is to add chia seeds. She explained that they do the job that the gluten in flour normally does by absorbing and holding liquid in the batter. The apples are then folded into the well mixed batter.

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Once everything was mixed, and while preparing the pan, I let the batter sit for five minutes or so to give time to this alchemy between liquid and seed.

This journey with apple cake seems to be going on longer than I expected. There is a pattern forming but like a blueprint, it is only a guide at best. So much can happen in the making, flexibility becomes desirable. It is like making a series of quilts. There is a theme. Apples have been part of my life in a primal way for my whole life. Apple pie, candied apples, and apple turnovers are still objects of desire. But I always come back to the simplicity of the single beautiful fresh apple. One of my enduring memories is of trips to a farm in the fall with my family to get apples and pumpkins. My father would put the chosen bushel of apples, on occasion two bushels, out on the porch, usually red delicious, covered with a blanket, for keep all winter. I would go to retrieve one of those apples in the afternoon when I got home from school, cut it into slices, put it on a plate with a few pieces of cheddar cheese, sink into the couch, and eat slowly. I remember each sensation as if eating it right now, the sharp creamy cheese offsetting the crisp sweetness of the apple. The theme of comfort is as enduring as the memory. It’s time to read Ruth Reichl’s book “Comfort Me with Apples.’ Why have I waited so long? It is one of my daughter’s favorite books, I think shes actually read it twice. I find my copy on the bookshelf now, pages still crisp and untouched, a first edition sent to me in the year it was published, 2001, with an inscription from my mother, referencing the two apple trees I had just planted next to the ancient one in my front yard. My very first blog post here almost six years ago was inspired by the apples from those trees. And so it goes. Each version of apple cake becomes an evolved version of the last. A series could go on for a short time, producing just a few pieces, or it could go on for a lifetime to create a defining body of work.

I made the mistake of licking the spatuala after scraping all the batter into the pan. It was a shocking disappointment. A truly awful taste. My taste buds are so conditioned to the taste of wheat flour in batter and I wasn’t fully prepared for the difference. And for the time of baking I held onto the sinking feeling that this cake would be a disaster, truly afraid it might not be as delicious as the last and that I would have wasted my time and my precious last jar of apples. The journey doesn’t give us all wonderful easy places to rest along the way. When in one of those tough places, the only thing I can do is reach for a feeling good place. Only when the aroma filled the house with characteristic apple cake smell did I relax. It emerged from the oven with the golden glow that signaled all good. I had to wait about half an hour for the cake to cool enough to cut into.

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It was a beautiful sight, layers of apples nestled comfortably and competently in the moist cake. The first bite filled me with a joy of both recognition and delight, of a core need met, of the discovery of something new. This cake was perfect in every way. No one would ever know it was ‘gluten free’.

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Gluten Free Apple Cake with Honey

Cream 8 Tablespoons softened butter (1 stick) with
1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup honey
Add 2 whole eggs + 2 egg yolks
Add 1/2 cup whole milk plain yogurt

Whisk together in another bowl and add to wet ingredients until just mixed
2 cups gluten free flour (of choice)
2 Tbsp. chia seeds
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Drain (1) quart spiced apple slices and fold into batter

Pour into 12″ round cake pan prepared with butter & (gluten free) flour

350 degrees for 35 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

finding my kramer

It’s Memorial Day weekend. Ben is home for his end of the year vacation before summer session begins, and sleeps late. The rain has finally stopped and I can’t wait to finally get out for a long walk in the woods with the dogs. We didn’t do a lot the day before, mostly binge watched Season 5 of Seinfeld, and laughed a lot. Planned and plotted what will be the main event of today, the making of the spaghetti and meatballs. Ben’s favorite. So much a favorite that the making of this iconic Italian classic became the focus of his graduation speech three years ago, expressed in his goal to live in his own apartment and invite family and friends over for the spaghetti and meatballs he would make. I never made spaghetti and meatballs when he was growing up. I don’t know how or when it became his favorite. I bought a pound of ground beef to have just for this visit. I have to actually look up a recipe. I try to channel what I remember about the large pot of sauce with meatballs that Mary (the woman who cleaned our house when I was a kid) would make in the morning of her day with us. I can still smell the pervasive, mouth watering, aroma as it simmered all day long on the stove. I find a recipe for a simple meatball that is just breadcrumbs, herbs, and egg. I toast a few pieces of the seven grain sprouted bread in the fridge and run them through the food processor to make the breadcrumbs. I pick two leaves each of the spring fresh lemon balm, sage, mint, and basil growing just outside in the garden. Slice them into fine ribbons and take in the intoxicating scent of home grown.

I am determined that this will be the extent of my contribution, making these herbed bread crumbs for the meatballs.

As we walked along in the woods later, we talked about our favorite funny parts from the TV watching Seinfeld fest the day before.

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When we watch Seinfeld, Ben pretends he’s Kramer and I love that he identifies with this vibrant eccentric character. The thing about Kramer is that he is fully present, always in the moment with exactly who he is, intelligent, charming, attractive, and completely unpredictable, Ben stops, and shows me his best Kramer face.

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What’s not to love about this? I realize the time it has taken for me to laugh with such consistent abandon, feels like the quarter century of a throwback to the years of being a new parent living in NYC. The building we lived in was actually featured in one of the episodes we watched (the one about George becoming a hand model), and when I saw the gorgeous cast iron facade of what used to be the Hugh O’Neill department store of 6th Avenue between 20th and 21st streets, and home of our loft, staring out at me from the TV, I was immediately transported back to the first half of the 1990’s, living the life of an entrenched New Yorker with my artist husband and two young children. Imagining a future for baby Ben at the time was impossible then. But when he came down yesterday morning wearing his ‘Amherst Class of 2012’ t-shirt,

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I couldn’t help but think how bright his future has become as he has transitioned from high school to his college years at his current home of Berkshire Hills Music Academy in South Hadley MA. He is a typical college student in most ways. He wears his signs of maturity in his smiles and caring ways. He doesn’t wait for me to make him breakfast, and dazzles me with his choice of preparing his own bowl of plain yogurt and bananas. He knows how much I love it when he vacuums and he takes the job seriously, showing initiative by asking if the bag needs to be changed before he starts, and doesn’t leave a single dog hair on the floor to be seen when finished. We settle into a rhythm of working together and having quiet solo time apart. After lunch I become sous chef and guide to Ben in the preparation of the sauce. It is a collaborative affair, me doing the initial peeling and cutting of onion and garlic, Ben brandishing the chefs knife to produce a respectable mince. He opens two cans of Italian plum tomatoes and a small can of tomato paste, sautees the onion and garlic in olive oil, and squeezes the plum tomatoes through his fingers into the pot. We add some dried herbs, the tomato paste, a little water, and another splash of olive oil, set the fire on low for an all day simmer. A little later, Ben cracks one egg into the bowl containing a pound of ground beef and the herbed bread crumbs. He adds the salt, I add the pepper, and I watch him reach in with both hands and squeeze and mix until everything is well blended. He methodically forms the meatballs, some a little bigger than others, and I help him adjust to make them all about the same size. He lowers each one reverently into the simmering sauce with a spoon, the black handled functional vintage relic from my own mother’s kitchen that I covet and love, and we then settle in for our next session of Seinfeld viewing. The aroma that begins to fill the house is familiar and inviting. Ben now reverts to the young man home from college, happily ensconced in his favorite chair, letting me boil the water and prepare the spaghetti for our supper. He doesn’t move as I hand him a plate of food. We mmmmm and ahhhhh over the scrumptious melt in your mouth, ever so delicately flavored meatballs. He lets me clean up the dishes after. Hmmmm. He is very clear that he wants more spaghetti and meatballs tomorrow.

I need to take many steps back now. Suggest, and then let him take the lead in preparing the leftovers today, that he fully complete the task and clean up the dishes too. It is a big awareness for me, it is hard to back off, to let someone else do the work that I am so hard wired for that it takes binge watching of Seinfeld for me to remember where there can be irreverence and hilarity in life too. Ben is helping me find my Kramer.

I’ve no doubt Ben will continue to do all he wants to do with finesse. He won’t ever forget his Kramer. I happily envision the day when I will be sitting at the table in his apartment, eating spaghetti and meatballs, made his way.

fox revealed

I’ve really been enjoying watching the dogs romp and play the way they do when we are out in the woods. It’s as if being off leash and free to roam without restriction reminds them of their essential connection to each other. They have the whole world to explore, and even though they will each disappear for some requisite solo time, they are rarely out of sight of each other.

Having Yogi with us seems to have taken the edge off of Nora’s otherwise intense engagement with the woods. He has softened her frantic way, and I marvel at how simple play has the power to transform.

When we’re here on the homestead, they have a huge meadow to romp in together and play. But they don’t. Instead, they glory in being able to escape outside with one of their inside chew toys, or in Yogi’s case, a blanket, pillow or shoe. The bit of lawn that is their playground becomes littered with the likes of kongs, tennis balls, squeaky animals, and knotted ropes. I will periodically pick them them all up and bring them inside. But it takes only a few days before they all end up outside again. In the past week, I noticed that most of the toys were not in sight. I walked the meadow with the growing grasses that could now hide them, and couldn’t find any. One morning I was pulling out of the driveway and noticed the black kong over on the other side of the road. Hmmm. Not something a bear would want. Surely it didn’t compare to the cage filled with suet that went missing from my porch eave recently. How did this small, undistinguished looking toy, get over there?

The next morning the dogs were outside and started frantically barking. Not uncommon when they see a squirrel or sense something moving in the woods. Usually I can open the door, issue a firm ‘stop barking’ command, and they will run off in the other direction. But on this morning, they stood fixed in their posts at the front edge of their boundary facing my neighbor’s meadow across the street. Both of their tails were wagging, even with the fur on Nora’s back standing straight up. And the barking kept up at a fever pitch. I looked out the window but couldn’t see anything that might be causing this frenzy. I finally stepped into the driveway to really look. And saw this.

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I was so taken aback by the blatant, in your face feel of this creature staring back at us. Those ears. Even from this distance I knew it must be a fox. But don’t foxes hide, fully camouflage themselves so as to watch and assess? When the fox stood up I thought for sure it was to run away.

But instead he actually walked closer, and stood there, fully revealed.

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Or was it a she? Looking for more toys for her young ones back in a cleverly concealed den out there in the woods? Or just wanting to play herself with the curious and canine cousins on the other side of the road? I can relate. Learning new ways, even how to play, takes time, keen observation, and a willingness to introduce new things into the pattern of life. As the distance between me and my architecture career continues to grow, so does my need for engagement with wage earning, purposeful, work that can sustain. I watch where survival anxiety rears its ugly head and fills me with fear. It is an ugly feeling that I am learning to take in stride and let pass sooner than later. As I invest more time into writing and making art, I seek out work that can balance with where the pattern of life has brought me. As I am fond of saying, everything I do is life’s work, and with intention, some of it I get paid for with money. But I now know that in every way I get paid in ways that sustain.

I continue to feel the thrill of these rare, but now consistent, glimpses of wild life and their ways. Wild life isn’t just the unseen and unknown of what is out there in the woods. It is also the unseen and unknown of the towns and cities I am a part of too. Yogi and Nora have been helping me take down the invisible wall that stands between my domesticated life and the rich playground of unknown in my back yard. But it is this Fox, blatantly revealing himself in my front yard, that reminds me how important it is to keep re-engaging with the unknown on the other side of the road too.

channeling mom

I suppose it’s no coincidence that I have been watching back to back episodes of ‘Call the Midwife’ on Netflix in the week before this Mother’s Day. It is a wonderful show, that puts us right in the heart of sisterhood in all its forms, and with the men who grace our lives and make motherhood possible. It hasn’t taken long to get invested in every single character and their stories, watching and listening while I knit and sew.

And I haven’t been able to stop crying for days. They’ve felt like cathartic tears, and as much as I have tried to focus in on the place in my heart that aches when a fresh wave comes, I haven’t able to look the reason directly in the eye. With so much to be grateful for, I have been determined not to be a victim or give into what I think might be loneliness or despair, of not having a sisterhood, or family surrounding me in a way I imagined, for feeling as part of something as tangible as in the portrayals I have been watching. I realized each time my thought landed on my e-husband and what could have been, the tears would come up fresh and hard.

I’ve come to a place in my life where I am quite determined that I can manage on my own in a certain way. But not necessarily in all ways, and as I grow into ‘my’ way, I know I must also experience the growing pains that come with being with others a new way. We’ve been divorced for ten years now and I have resolved and accepted that it was what needed to happen. But I have not resolved that it was because there wasn’t love. The love that lives in every cell, that is there for my family and my children and the joy of connection I feel with so many, is still there for him too. I finally called him. And he came to sit and talk with me. I made soup, and he brought cheese and bread. I talked around and around my heartache, shed lots more tears, and he listened and offered his wise presence. I felt myself rear into an old pattern of resisting his offerings, and then relax into the trust that was still there if I just let it be. We watched a movie, the dogs were thrilled to have someone to fawn over besides me, and the afternoon passed in peace.

Later, I reached a place in my knitting project where I needed the turquoise yarn that reminds me of the sea, that now sat in a massive tangle in the bag where I put it after Yogi’s go at it. I was tired and looking forward to early bed after the day of sitting with my tears, already dark, and the fire was going out. But I pulled the tangle out of the bag and began to channel my mom. She loves puzzles like this, she is good and de-tangling things and if she had been here, I’ve no doubt it would all be in a tidy ball by now. I began slowly following the thread of yarn around and under and through. It was very slow going and three hours later it was almost midnight and I needed to give it up. I was right back at it this morning with the next episode of ‘Call the Midwife’. There is something cathartic too about the slow dips and weaves of this process, of pulling the fuzz off the line and accepting the not so new condition that I am left with. I am channeling my mother, and all the mothers before her who have dipped and weaved around the heartbreaks and the joys of being a mother and feeling so much. I think of the two times that I was so honored with the gift of giving birth, in attendance with midwives and the presence of my own mother, and celebrate this with the worldwide sisterhood of mothers today.

The ball has grown quite large wth my labors. There is still a bit of a tangle to go. Of course there is.

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The tangle is always there, maybe not always visible, but a glorious reminder nevertheless of all that is calm and good in the patience to see something for exactly what it is.

trickster

I don’t even know where to begin.

I know Yogi is still a puppy. I know he needs attention and to be exercised daily in large doses. I know there is nothing I can do to stop him from rooting in the ground to make himself a bed. The shallow indents of his effort are like beads of a necklace, linking together around the house to form the imprint of Yogi,

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giving him many options to consider settling into as the day goes on. The holes to China are a different matter altogether though. At first I though they were the result of boredom. But I don’t think that anymore. Now, days will go by and he won’t dig and then suddenly, out of the blue and for no apparent reason, there will be a hole so breathtaking deep that I think only a fit of momentary obsession could produce such a thing. Maybe I shouldn’t keep filling them in. I’ve thought of that. That leaving no visible trace of his obsession might be the reason he makes a new hole. But I can’t help myself, anymore than I know he can’t help himself.

I know Yogi likes to be outside more than inside. If he is still outside when it is turning dark, I know it will be a major ordeal to get him back inside for the night. I know he will guard me, and our homestead, faithfully. I know he loves the challenge of extracting treats that have been wedged tight into a bone or toy, that I can get him to do just about anything if I wave a bully stick in front of his nose. And I know I will never tire of his beauty, of watching him run like the wind in the woods with joy and abandon as his silky while fur moves in waves around him.

It is his intelligence that has me all agog. It is an intelligence that contains stubborn and playful at the same time. It is an intelligence that doesn’t forget. We were at the vet last week for his checkup and when he got up on his hind legs and deftly opened the (lever hardware) door, he shocked everyone. His vet swears she’s never seen a dog do this before. For me however, it is old news. Yogi easily lets himself in and out the glass storm door here at home all day long. If I close the wood door with old fashioned latch, no problem, he can open that as well. At first I became obsessed with killing all the flies he let in, but realized if I just stopped closing the door every time he opened it, the flies would eventually just fly back out.

I’ve learned to close my bedroom door each morning before coming down. It hasn’t stopped Yogi from running up the stairs after his morning romp in the meadow with Nora, to see what else he can find to play with. If he can’t get back outside with a shoe or a sock or even a box of matches, or if he does and I don’t run after him in a mad chase through the meadow to retrieve it, he can become creative in his need to engage. The other morning, just as the skies opened up again and it began to pour, he managed to free a very large pillow that was lodged behind a chair, drag it to the door, hold onto it while he opened the door, and drag it outside. The weight of the pillow as it soaked up the rain was nothing compared to his determination to keep me running after him.

Today Yogi brought his trickster best to the woods. He first taunted me with the crushed can of toxic wax remover that he had found the day before, the one that I hid in a place, clearly out of view, far away from where he had finally dropped it, a place I could remember to retrieve it from another day for the garbage. I couldn’t believe it when he went flying by me this morning with it firmly clenched in his jaws. Recall was impossible. He knew I wanted to get that can out of his mouth. He eventually dropped it again, and this time I hid it under a rock when he was too far ahead to see what I was doing. We continued on to the large patch of ramps I have been harvesting for the past week. Today I came with two plastic bags to fill and a canvas tote to carry it all back with. I put the first bag full of ramps in the tote and set it on the ground next to where I was working. As if the vastness and variety of the swampy, boulder strewn, spring green woods wasn’t enough of a playground for Yogi, he snuck up behind me, grabbed the canvas tote and took off. Of course I yelled. I was mad, sure my precious ramps would fall out and be lost. He ran so fast, Nora a willing accomplice, that they were out of sight in no time. It took fifteen minutes of bribes and forced calm before he finally got tired of the game, dropped the bag in the middle of the trail, and wandered off. The ramps were still there. The bulging bag of just picked greens had been the anchor for his bite through the canvas.

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Just slightly bruised, still fully intact, they will be perfect for the next batch of pesto I want to make. Oh, and the blue napkin that he later tore a hole in the middle of? It is the perfect color blue I am using in my new quilt. I’ll just wash it and cut it up to add to my stash….

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Just when I thought the antics for the day might be done, he performed one more spectacular trick. Late in the afternoon I decided to walk down to get the mail, by myself. I turned to look at Yogi sitting on the driveway watching me. I didn’t lock the door, so I knew he would go inside once I was out of sight. In the past, I had come back to my slippers out in the meadow, or a remnant of yarn a tangled mess in the grass. I mentally scanned what might be out for him to grab, mostly I was concerned about my new knitting project, he had already gotten a piece of the gray yarn I was using for this. I loved the beginning of this project, another oversized scarf/shawl that would evolve the same way as the others, with no specific pattern or plan, with just a collection of colors that are speaking to me.

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I now keep everything in plastic bags for ease of transporting and for protection. They were sitting in the middle of the coffee table out of reach, or so I thought. The premonition did go through me as I rounded the corner of the garage and out of sight. It was so strong I almost turned around to go back, but no, my mental scan told me everything was safe, no problem. Less than five minutes passed as walked back up the driveway with the mail. Yogi was sitting in exactly the same spot as I left him. The door was closed. Big sigh of relief. And then I saw the gorgeous turquoise strewn through the grass. No no no no! He just sat there watching me yell, Naughty, bad boy! It was the large, oversized ball of fingering weight, hand-dyed wool, probably the most expensive length of yarn I’ve ever purchased, rich in subtle variations of the color that reminded me of the sea. The sight of it strewn and tangled, twigs and leaves caught in it’s snare, brought me to tears. How could he! I went inside. The bag it had been in was there right where I had left it but I hadn’t sealed it shut. Looking perfectly untouched. He had wedged his nose inside and somehow managed to extract this one precious bit, took it outside, gleefully I imagine, tossed it and flung it just long enough, and then stopped just in time to be able to go back to his spot and resume his innocent pose.

I honestly don’t know how I am going to see the silver lining of this mess.

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I think it will take days for me to calm down. And then I look outside. I get it, why he wants to be out there all the time. The ever changing beauty is irresistable.

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Yogi really is a trickster. I love him beyond words. I think he is determined to make me laugh, no matter what the cost.

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point of view

I was reading something the other day and saw the acronym POV and had no idea what it stood for. I didn’t dwell on it. After all, it took months for me to realize what POTUS referred to. I figured POV was also something political and could wait. And then, literally coming out of a dream this morning as I was waking up, the words ‘point of view’ floated through my consciousness. Ah. There it was. And once I saw it, I couldn’t shake it. The three words kept scrolling through my brain, like a neon sign in Times Square. What is this? Is there a point of view I needed to embrace or that I am blind to?

Now, as I sit here taking in the luscious spring morning, I feel a familiar ache. To be immersed in such beauty and such abundance comes with an overwhelming, tight in the throat, heart thumping, desire to be out there and fully immersed. My point of view as a single woman living alone with my two canine companions, on a sacred piece of land, puts me in direct relationship with every living thing in such a clear way. At this time of year, when the tipping point between sleeping and waking has moved into the world of sparkling green, I struggle to flow with what is newly alive instead of remaining staunchly rooted in the past. I want to identify with the lone cardinal seeking new ground in the weeping cherry outside my kitchen window,

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or the lone trillium that is rooted at the edge of the brook,

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both bright red and singularly immersed in the season. One can fly away at a moment’s notice. The other is there to stay. It is large and established. It would take a ferocious flow of flooding water to uproot this plant. And yet, each of their points of view is surely one of glorious peace, being in the heart of what matters.

I wonder at the significance of seeing my first moose after all these years. It was a few nights ago, dusk, I was within a few miles of my home, and my headlights caught the back end of a very large slow moving animal that has just crossed the road. I turned to take in the full measure of the characteristic antlers and rounded form of this iconic animal, as if in a dream, it was there, and then it was gone. But I had seen it. It’s power and magic had entered my awareness.and I drove the rest of the way home in a daze. “Moose medicine is often found in elders who have walked the Good Red Road and have seen many things in their Earth walk” (Jamie Same Medicine Cards pp. 82) My own progress in life already has such history, and yet I was also still like a little kid, eager to keep learning too. The need for finding balance between wisdom and accomplishment would always be there, would always be the center for my point of view.

My body responded with the need for feeling rooted and grounded in a new way. It felt counterintuitive. It has been a long time since I have eaten beef. I do only on rare occasions, and only when it is a cut from the local grass fed stock that is raised in my own community. I bought a package of ground beef from a local farm the other day. I rejected all images of Bolognese, meatloaf, Spanish rice, or hamburgers. I had a refrigerator full of fresh greens, including ramps I harvested myself from the woods. I had mushrooms, one last onion, and one last sweet potato. Cans of coconut milk in the cupboard. I would make a curry** that combined the need for grounding into this season, with the transformation that would come from bringing all these elements together with heat and thoughtful tending.

What resulted was a melting flavorful pot of unexpected. What a treat. When the sweet potato cooked down to a point of dissolving completely into the sauce, I knew I had a keeper. After hours of simmering, even the ground beef was tender and melt in your mouth luscious. This slow cooked delight gave me four hearty meals. It had the power to root me in to a place that allowed my point of view to open fully to the outside, after all these months of being turned inside.

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**Spring Beef Curry

1 lb. ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into bite size pieces
10-12 oz. fresh mushrooms, chopped
1 large bunch tender greens (chard, spinach, ramps), coarsely chopped
1 14 oz. can coconut milk
2 tablespoons olive oil
Curry powder (approx. 2 tablespoons)
Ground fennel (approx. 2 teaspoons)
Salt & pepper to taste

Choose a dutch oven type pot to cook in. Saute onion in olive oil until soft. Add mushrooms, stir over high heat until mushrooms give up liquid, add a splash of water, cover and simmer over low heat for 5-10 minutes.

Uncover, turn heat back to high, add ground beef, breaking it up with wooden spoon as it browns. When fully browned, add spices, stir over high heat for a minute or so. Add sweet potatoes, stir some more until everything is well coated. Add coconut milk. Bring to gentle boil, cover, and simmer on lowest heat for hours.

After a couple of hours, add the greens, cover and continue cooking. The longer it cooks, the more tender the beef becomes, and eventually the sweet potato will break down and thicken the sauce. Adjust spices as desired. Serve with rice or bread of choice and a crisp green salad.

two geese, two dogs, and a beaver

Two and a half years of walking these woods and I have seen no wildlife to speak of. Yes, Nora got sprayed by a porcupine, yes, I could see scat on the trails, prints in the snow, yes, the sounds of woodpeckers and birds followed us. But I’ve never actually seen another living thing except the back end of a slow flying turkey making fight and the frozen stare of one lone deer getting ready to jump the brook. Last fall there was a family of otters that swam the back side of the pond, retreating to the furthest corner when we approached. That’s it. I had gotten used to the feeling of walking the trails with just flashes of dog to accompany me.

Then last week as we approached the pond I noticed something gliding, leaving a small wake as it moved through the water. Instead of retreating, this animal turned and began to swim right toward us, staring straight at me, at least that’s what it felt like. A beaver!

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What did I know of beavers except of their engineering prowess? Was this guy patrolling/protecting or just curious? Clearly he wasn’t afraid of us. As he was closing the distance between us, I moved quickly and called the dogs to keep moving along the trail, noting the edge of fear that propelled me away.

He/she she was there again the next day. Same dance, same result. I was humbled by how nervous I felt in the presence of a wild animal that wasn’t afraid of me. But then, he/she had the whole pond to hide in if necessary. I called again to the dogs to keep moving and the beaver slapped its tail and disappeared under the water. We moved along without waiting around to see what would happen if we stayed.

As we approached the pond yesterday, we were greeted by the loud honking of geese. Not the kind of cries from the sky that announced arrival or departure; this was like a conversation, a back and forth between two creatures.

There was just two of them, and like the beaver, as we approached, they actually began swimming toward us, continuing their lively banter. And much to my amazement, the beaver was right there with them. What a scene. Two geese, two dogs and a beaver.

For years I used to say I lived with two kids, two cats, and a dog. It rolled off my tongue like velvet, it felt good. I lived in a household that was rich in life that coexisted in harmony like a team. I didn’t realize how much I missed this until now, regarding the way in which these animals were all focused and communicating with each other in what seemed to be a trusting way. I finally felt how I was part of it too, not just an observer. I felt the urge to sing out loud like these geese. To say clearly whatever was there that I may have been silent about for too long. Did I dare? I decided to stay, sit and absorb what was being offered in this moment. We were an unlikely team, all of us there at the pond, but a team nonetheless. My job in this moment was to discern what endeavor was calling, how teamwork would be essential to the effort. Where my loyalty to living and modeling a sustainable life was leading me. The beaver circled around to the center of the pond, slapped its tail and dove out of sight. He didn’t reappear, instead, leaving a reverberation of presence in the center of the pond.

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Later, as if to make sure whatever message I needed to get was being delivered, Yogi stepped into the center of a pool in the brook.

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He transformed, became part bear in that moment, staying visible, inviting me to consider how a dream of making housing to serve developmentally disabled persons, and the developmentally challenged community of which they are a part, might actually become real…