I am aching to make tracks. It has been two weeks of winter weather settling in and leaving its precious powder. With a total accumulation of snow that now requires at least snowshoes for navigating safely, the time has come for me and Nora to get into the woods and explore.
So what is this, the yearning to make tracks? Is it as simple as just wanting to place my heart and soul in that place out there? Why not just appreciate the beauty of that place from where I am here inside? What is activating this strong desire to become one with that beauty outside? Memory? The promise of something altogether new…?
I think it is a physical thing first, the animal urge to move and feel the sensation of cold and warm sun at the same time, experience the silence, and the smell of cold stillness. It is the visceral feeling in my muscles to experience sensation, primal, like food in the mouth and the belly, or the pleasure of sex, or the endorphin high of vigorous exercise. Mentally, I am committed to being here with Nora, knowing just how exhilarating it can be for us to share freedom in this place together. Emotionally, I am completely and irrevocably in love with the element of snow. And last but not least, the ability to leave ego and pride and agenda behind while being so engaged with the simplicity of taking one step after another is as pure a spiritual practice as any other I know…
I am realizing, having just arrived home with a bag of groceries from my local Worthington Corner store, that I am aching to make tracks in my new community as well. This includes frequenting paths to the center of town that hosts the combination post office, store, gas pump and all round gathering place at one building. Making the choice to drive there rather than a half hour to within range of the universal supermarket wasn’t just decided by convenience, but rather by a knowing that everything I really desired would be present in this place. A gorgeous large organic onion, three beautiful fresh green peppers, a pound package of locally grass-fed beef chunks, the last dozen fresh eggs from a local farm, each one marked with a date and name of hen! A loaf of bread from my favorite local bakery made with just four ingredients, white flour, whole wheat flour, water and sea salt. And last but not least, a pound of Cabot extra sharp cheddar cheese, cut off the wheel in the case where it lives, wrapped in paper, pungent as only cheese can be when it is not encased in plastic. Smile.
The drive home was dominated by visions of stuffed peppers using one of the last of this season’s jars of my father’s canned tomatoes. Mind you, this would also be major track making for me, back into the world of meat eating after twelve years of abstinence. Made possible by being in the right place at the right time and by being ready to embrace the full range of products of my community in the most basic way. I couldn’t wait…
For a quick fix and much needed nourishment for the impending snowshoe adventure, two slices of the fresh bread were slathered with butter and the center filled with thick slices of the cheese, all heated slowly in a cast iron skillet to yield a most spectacular grilled cheese sandwich. There was no resisting the call of the midday sun any longer and soon enough Nora and I were making tracks into the woods.
Spectacular. Equanimity reigns in this kind of snow covered world. Today, whatever path we choose will be a path without obstacles or pre-determined hazard. I find myself following Nora’s tracks, and no surprise, it is the very path we typically take to the brook below.
Coming back up is a challenge however, as many portions of our typical route must negotiate short sections of steep terrain. Somehow Nora knows, and continues to guide me around the edges of the property and away from these places. We look back from where we came, making new tracks AND a new path at the same time….
Making tracks is not just about forging ahead to new territory however. Making tracks also allows for a way to go back, to re-visit and to honor what has paved the way.
Sharing with my father later that afternoon in a phone call that I was embarking on making the family favorite stuffed peppers was one of those moments of honor where deep tracks have already been made. With enthusiasm, he related that he himself had made stuffed peppers just the night before himself, also with three large green peppers and with a jar of his own tomatoes. He made sure to remind me to finely chop the tops of the green peppers and add them to an equal amount of sautéed onions and then add tomatoes. Using every little bit available. Who would believe that I would be in animated conversation with my father over a pan of stuffed peppers…!
It was a conversation that led me back to ‘Doc Ford’s Family Country Cookbook’, (made twenty-four years ago to honor where such traditions have passed down through the family and full of recipes gathered from all members of the extended family).** I smile at my mother’s words in her Spanish Rice recipe (to be used for stuffing peppers) to use equal amounts of chopped green pepper and onion to sauté. Laying the tracks for my father all these years later….
It is such a simple recipe and easily adaptable. I cut up the pieces of chuck stew meat into pea size pieces and add it to the vegetables sautéing in olive oil, add salt & pepper and a little ground fennel. When the meat is browned, add the tomatoes and simmer until fragrant. Add another cup or so of water and a bouillon cube for extra seasoning, gauge the amount of total liquid, and then add about half the amount of white rice as liquid (jasmine is my new favorite), cover, and cook until rice is just done, a little firm to bite. Turn off heat, oil the heavy cast iron pot, stuff the peppers to overflowing, add water to bottom of pan (to steam the peppers), cover pot and slow cook in a 325 degree oven until peppers are fork soft and the house is completely infused with the characteristic aroma of savory and delicious.
Following the tracks leading to this meal does not disappoint. The rice is light and fluffy and full of flavor and the chunks of meat are so tender as to melt in the mouth. It is the result of desire to forge ahead to places unknown while sharing what I already know. It is a taste of a new kind of home…
**excerpts from Doc Ford’s Country Cookbook, by Kathy Ford, 1991