quinoa soup

I’ve been working my way through the last of winter stock, clearing the decks for the fresh food now starting to show promising growth in the warm soil under spring rains. The last container of frozen vegetable stock went into a pot with a bouillon cube. I cut up one of the last onions from my winter share into thin French Onion soup style slices. Squeezed the juice from the last orange and lemon. Pulled out the package of julienned butternut squash I picked up at my local farm market the other day, quite sure this was a creative gesture on their part to use up the last of their winter stock as well. A colorful mound of spaghetti thin stands of butternut. When the stock was boiling I added the onions and squash and took in the thick orange. Added some bay leaves, fennel seed, turmeric, minced fresh ginger and the fresh citrus juices. And then knew the last ingredient had to be quinoa. This wasn’t a ‘use up to make room’ decision. This was me wanting to feel some tangible connection to my daughter, to share in some visceral way from this distance of 3800 miles from where she was in Cusco Peru where she lives. I knew she was getting some form of quinoa in each hot meal she was served in her hospital bed where she has been for almost a week now. She was being nourished, even if from within a context of worry and wonder and need for patience.

As a resident with a job there, Molly is eligible for the same free health care available to all Peruvians. Of course this comes with a price. Time. She is not a critical care patient, she most likely has pneumonia, she is there because of the pain the fluid in her lungs has been causing her. Ironically, time is what she needs to heal, and so I have come to accept that it is not so terrible that the process for testing and diagnosis has taken so long. Yet the worry and anxiety that can gather in this space of waiting has tested the limits of all of us in communication with her, fear in not being able to advocate directly for her as we are wired to do, wanting to be her family there supporting her, the lone gringa, in a foreign hospital. Except it is not foreign to Molly. It’s taken days for her to realize this. Like most nationals living abroad, she straddles two worlds of expectations, the one she grew up in, and the one she has integrated with in commitment and style. She understands all too well where she is and as an anthropologist, all too well that she has made a choice to be part of both worlds.

The scariest part of being in the hospital is the not knowing. True I think no matter what part of the world we are in. Not knowing when, not knowing what, not knowing why. With each piece of the puzzle of her case being fit into place, I have heard the growing empowerment in her voice. She can advocate for herself because she can. All these days of communicating on the phone and in texts with her have developed into a rich web of a story that includes the effective and not so effective doctors, the range of nurses and their varied personalities, and the two women roommates who have taken her under their wing like two elderly aunties, one moment full of advice, another moment shocked by Molly’s sensitive and intelligent defiance. It includes the support of friends and colleagues in her community there and the need to trust the truth of this too. It includes the support of her uncle in California, world traveller and fluent in Spanish, who has been where she is and has made himself available to her. Being a mother from so far away watching all this has been nerve-wracking, but mostly inspiring. It has been a big lesson for all of us; getting what we need is most definitely not always what we think we want.

Modern technology for communications is really quite amazing. With What’s App and Skype we can talk on the phone and live chat in text with Molly any time. All for free. It truly is a global world. We can share what is happening in the moment, our fears, our happiness, sightings of awe and beauty. Just as Molly and I concluded a conversation about her relationship with some the nurses who seem rigid and stern, about how her own need for empathy might be best served by showing empathy in return and embrace the possibility that these nurses are also doing the best they can. In that moment I look out and see the developing relationship between anxious Nora and the puppy who has entered her life. As a point of illustration. All gaps have the potential to be bridged.

image

I added the quinoa to the soup and let it all simmer until it was done. It finished fragrant and thick.

 

image

Just as I was about to take my first mouthful, Molly texted me three photos of the lunch she was about to eat, the first a quinoa salad, a chicken casserole, fruit purée and barley soup. She would be eating this out of the colorful bowls it is served in, with silverware brought from home, because everything needed for personal care must come from ‘family’ there, everything from toilet paper to silverware, to towels and shampoo and soap. She is getting what she needs. The tangy comforting quinoa soup I am eating is my homage to a culture that can provide in ways I will never understand.

mystery

It started with the morning birdsong. Nora and I were out on the path earlier than usual, cool air, diffused light through a lens of light clouds, and a hushed stillness that can accompany early morning. I’d see these slightly glowing patches on the ground and through the trees beyond, from the canopy of conifer we were walking under.

image

Not the bright light of full sun, that like a stage spotlight, can laser through to make a show of something. The quality of the birdsong reminded me of one of my favorite books, Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver. I’d listened to her read it on tape, unabridged, with her magnificent southern lilt many times already, and the the birdsong was always present in the tracks that took place in the woods. But I’ve never actually read the book, sitting exactly where I know I put it on a shelf of things to be read. Reminiscing about the quality of the story and Kingsolver’s gift for putting you in a scene, the filtered light surrounding me began to come alive as well. This is the light of artists I think, where the light inside something has a chance to emerge and become one with the light outside. My field of vision began to alter. I started noticing that the path ahead continued to be unobstructed. But just a week ago, we had to negotiate a series of fallen trees, mostly manageable by stepping over, effective hurdles for Nora’s impressive track runs. We reached the turning around point where a rather large tree marked a transition and had become a bench of sorts for me to sit and meditate before heading back. But the tree was gone. I looked down at the sections of moss covered bark and sawdust on the ground, got down close to inspect and found myself getting sucked into a mystery.

image

I looked at the sections of trunk cut clean through now resting on each side of the path.

image

image

The energy of someone who had been here recently to make this path passable again was still palpable. Walking back I now began to notice the fresh saw cuts of all the brush that had once been there. Like fresh air breezing through after a spring cleaning, the filtered light continued to expand and make clearings.

Ben has a new girlfriend Emma. Pictures of the two of them have been appearing of Facebook for a few months now, each one more compelling than the last.

image

I keep trying to explain the quality of what I feel in these pictures. They radiate together.

image

It’s a quality I have always felt in Ben, but seeing him with Emma, who also has Down Syndrome, it is as if the light in each of them has emerged and settled in a clear unobstructed way in the space between them. Ben’s ability to be transparent in his thoughts and emotions is a gift. I have always felt his love. But now, in his connection with Emma I get to see this love too, like a mystery that is temporarily illuminated in filtered light, it’s presence completely known. I want to savor what I see in these photos, what I experience when in the presence of Ben and Emma. Yesterday was the end of the year spring concert for their school. It was an impressive collection of ensemble performances, jazz, African drums, musical theatre, rock and roll, professional troupe, and chorus. Amazing heartfelt performances that collected joyous light from all of us in the audience as well and made for one of the best BHMA concerts ever. No coincidence of course that the concert ended with the chorus singing the Beatles, ‘All You Need Is Love’. Ben and his friends carried their joy into a celebratory dinner.

image

It is a time to revel, as we who are lucky enough to share space with these amazing individuals, get to do.

I also think it’s time to get my copy of Prodigal Summer off the shelf and actually read it.

all in

It is 4:30 in the morning and the house is alive with dog play. There is no curbing the enthusiasm. It has always been this way with Nora, but now the energy of the two of them sends me to the coffee pot before I’ve barely swept the sleep out of my eyes. Luckily the daylight is breaking too and moving into the day at this hour feels completely natural. I’m a little sleep deprived, after four nights of preemptively taking Yogi out to pee at the sound of stirring and whimper from the crate every three hours or so. I’m not complaining. There’s something cathartic about being all in, dedicated to the process of surrendering to this little being. It’s inevitable, even after training many dogs and knowing all the signals, that I will miss cues and there will be accidents, but so far so good. We are all settling into a rhythm. I have grown accustomed to fishy teething breath and relentless curiosity that demands a vigilant watchful eye when puppy is loose.

image

The place on the couch next to me that has remained open for many years is now occupied by the warm presence of puppy.

image

It’s not that Nora hadn’t been here.  Her presence is strong, but she I think, for her own traumatic reasons, didn’t get a chance to bond like Yogi is doing and doesn’t know how to put her head in my lap. She maintains a very rigid boundary, even though I can feel her desire to be close. She must feel that she has my whole heart. But maybe it is a dog thing after all, learning how to be affectionate is something they need to learn from each other. I watch as she periodically moves her nose close to Yogi, as if to explore a different way.

image

Nora’s curve for trusting who she seems to be is a slow one in comparison to the fast curve of puppy growth. And their curves are already intersecting beautifully.

The sun is coming up. Yogi is stirring in her crate after a brief respite. Nora stays ever vigilant on her mat in front of the fire, just a few feet from the crate.

image

The meadow now fully enclosed in spring bloom seemed to happen overnight and provides big space for testing old and new limits. Even Yogi has found his own path to getting there, I love watching his little white body dart through the narrow space at the edge of the raised garden bed next to the house, where he emerges into this full view.

image

image

The path that Nora and I walk in the woods, the one that was so open to sky just a week ago is also now a focused symphony of green, further enclosing us in our established place of unbounded freedom and connection.

image

She seems more playful out there this spring, darting in and out of the water with confidence. I think I see her watching for where I will engage with her in this place, perhaps there is an opportunity for growth here too.

yogi

It began innocently enough in a conversation last week. The spark of inspiration that came from a friend who was sharing about the recent addition of a third dog into their family, setting into motion a dream that had been there for months, of bringing another presence into this house, a companion for Nora, and some balance for the exuberant female energy between the two of us.

Later that afternoon on our walk in the woods, Nora and I explored a path we haven’t been on for awhile. And yet, it still felt completely familiar. The big view through the trees,

image

this path circling back onto my property and onto the way to the brook that always includes the view of Stella holding court at head of the meadow.

image

And eventually, the path that includes my favorite view of the brook.

image

These are all known views, comforting always in the essence of beauty I feel when part of them. Yet this afternoon I was also feeling the edge of something unfamiliar creeping in. Change was coming.

I was at the computer very early the next morning. I had many places I could visit to look for dogs but for some reason typed in Craig’s list western MA. And there they were in a photo right at the top, two gorgeous white puppies, a brief description and a phone number. It had been posted just forty-five minutes earlier. Even at the unusually early hour, I sent a text to the number asking how early I could call. The rest is history. Puppies like this don’t stay out there for very long and I was simply in the right place at the right time to find this gorgeous English Creme Golden Retriever White German Shepherd mix. I was lucky to find a puppy who had been well cared for and at eight weeks, was ready to transition to a new home. Everything about this puppy felt right and I was able to prepare and bring him home the following day.

I like to say that animals find us when we are ready. In this case it had to be when both Nora and I were ready. I’m happy to report that after a half day of letting them get to know each other’s scent on me and around the house and yard, the first meeting (in my neighbor’s yard) was a charm. Whatever lingering doubt I had that Nora might feel territorial or jealous melted away. She has been occupying space with the puppy with just the slightest reserve.

image

image

It’s almost as if she is secretly thrilled, but can’t show it completely. But not me, I am openly over the moon. I’m quite convinced I’ve brought home the perfect puppy, peeing and pooping right on schedule, settling into his crate without too much fuss, fearless curiosity about his sister, the most beautiful pure white fur, knowing soulful eyes, and that characteristic meld they can do, little head nestled into my neck, a sublime feeling of trust.

image

Meet Yogi.

image

I expect it I am in for quite a journey, on this path that continues to feel so familiar and brings so much change at just the right time. It will be a bit of work to help this one grow big and strong enough to join us for the walks in the woods. The nights of interrupted sleep for potty runs and days of being fully attendant to this new energy might have me longing for that place on the path sooner than later. But maybe not. It’s just too easy to forget feeling anything but joy in the presence of a puppy.

image

party

I had no idea they were having such a party back there. It was a surprise to walk out into the porch room and be greeted with so many bright banners of blue and orange celebration, flashes of intermingling color as birds, who had been congregating in all the feeders, took off all at the same time. So, the blue jays were back, in greater numbers this time it seemed. But what had me gasping, heart racing, was all the orange. I’d learn quickly from my little bird primer, kept handy on a nearby table, that they were the Baltimore Orioles, a sure sign that summer is on the way. New to bird-watching, this was my very first sighting of one ever. All I could think of was the bright orange fake fur bedspreads I coveted as a young girl, bringing me and my room alive, the color that has always been able to elicit this deep visceral response in me.

I ran to get my camera and found a spot to unobtrusively park myself at the window. The sun was bright. The limbs of Stella, the giant mother of a tree outside this room who provides all manner of beauty for me to regard each day, were swaying ever so gently in the wind.

image

Her leaves have unfolded, still have that just born blush, and unlike in the winter, when it was snow that provided dramatic backdrop for the chickadees and cardinals, this context of soft color filtering the bright sun had become a new gentler place to be.

I suppose filling all the feeders, after a week of them remaining empty in the chill of rainy days, was an invitation. From my own perch, I watched the party continue to gather momentum again. In just a short ten minute sit, I saw enough oriole activity to keep me re-booted for a long while. The blue jays had come with all their children, moms and dads watching from the tree as the little ones romped around on the ground, and in this, was able to connect with the softer side of these otherwise fierce creatures. I spotted a brown thrasher in the tree, who hopped down to make friends with the mourning dove couple in the grass below. A lone yellow warbler entertained, swinging furiously on the bell cage. But I spent most of the time sitting there training my lens on one oriole or another, soaking up that color, taking in the engaged behavior of these gorgeous birds who seemed to be the heart of the party.

image

image

image

image

image

image

Why isn’t the Robin here? I know she is right out front where she always is, her favorite spot at the edge of the lawn and road with a direct line into my kitchen window. Sometimes she hops into the fold of the grass and walks around, always solitary.

image

 

I’ve never seen her with any other birds, nor does she seem to invite others into this domain in the front yard that seems to be all hers. One of the things I love about my home is it’s location on the road. It has such a classic public face and acknowledges participation in human community. In contrast, Stella’s domain at the edge of the meadow facing the woods has always felt like a much more private, and even with the current excitement, one I typically experience in solitude. An oxymoron?

It’s the morning after. The only bird in sight now, seen through the glass that is foggy with dirt and morning chill, is a lone rose-breasted grossbeak, settled in the feeder eating the leftovers.

image

Without any other bird in sight, she gets up on the edge of the feeder and does a little dance. Maybe it’s all a party all the time.

image

mother’s day cassoulet

I had to look up the word cassoulet after seeing a picture posted on one of my neighbor’s Facebook pages.  She is a really good cook, one that can quietly whip up a ragu from scratch while entertaining some of us neighbors for afternoon wine and cheese. I’ve heard she makes things like osso bucco, one of those classic dishes that legends are made of. So when I saw the photo of the cassoulet last night I knew it was something special, and foodie that I am, a bit embarrassed that I didn’t really know…

Keep in mind that I had soaked and cooked a pot of white cannelli beans just two days ago, not quite completely soft, still a little al dente, now sitting in the pot in the fridge waiting for their destination. That same day I split a good size organic chicken, roasted half of it smeared with herbs of Provence and a pile of sliced carrots, and cut up the other half in pieces to be used for some sort of stew in the next few days. ‘French’ was already in the air. And what are the chances that I would have a can of actual bacon drippings in the fridge, saved from a pound of locally made gorgeous thick sliced peppered bacon that I cooked as a once every few years departure from not eating pork. The fact that this can was still gracing the back of the shelf in the fridge meant something. I had onions and carrots, and even fresh parsley. I had a package of my favorite thick uncured turkey bacon. I even had a container of homemade chicken stock in the freezer, the good kind that gets really gelatinous when cooled.

I looked up cassoulet. Why was I not surprised? Of course the most traditional versions of this classic French bean and meat casserole are made with a plethora of pork products and duck or goose, but the first recipe I come across was actually made with chicken. I could try make a go of it without the copious amounts of salt pork it called for, or the pork sausages. I could cook the turkey bacon in the reserved drippings to capture the spirit of traditional flavor. I could simply leave out the sausages. I’d have to adapt the timing of things to account for the fact that the beans were already cooked. I’d have to hope that all the adaptations I made would still allow for the characteristic ‘crust’ of this slow cooked dish to form.

Even though I was just getting over a mild stomach bug and common sense told me that maybe this wasn’t a good time for such an adventure, there was no stopping the momentum to get my Emile Henry dutch oven filled and in the oven for the 5-6 hour slow bake. I consulted a recipe that felt authentic: http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2014/10/traditional-french-cassoulet-recipe.html and ended up with this process,

After browning both the turkey bacon and the chicken pieces in reserved bacon drippings and set aside in a bowl, onion was sautéed in the pan with leftover fat. Images of meals across time come to me in the aroma of this familiar experience of food cooking with bacon. Kind of like Mom and being Mom. The experience of my own mother is always there, regardless of how far away I am now, or of the difference in our lives since I left the nest. Just a simple whiff of something so potent can elicit memory of all the times I have made bacon for my kids growing up, trying to keep it safe, wrapped in paper towels until time for breakfast, how just the aroma would bring them out of their rooms in no time at all. While the onions are moving toward translucency in the pot, I make a bouquet garni of the carrot, bay leaves, parsley, garlic, and cloves called for in the recipe, cinch the cheesecloth with a piece of string and go to retrieve the chicken broth, which has been sitting in a water bath in order to to coax the frozen solid to disengage from the container it was stored in. It slides out easily into the pot, ready to slowly become one with the warmth of the onion. As it melts, I add the bouquet garni and have a sense that this is where the alchemy of this dish becomes distinct, as the two join to become family in the pot. I think of the particular constellation of my own very different children, one male, one female, one with 46 chromosomes, one with 47 chromosomes, one who has chosen to live very far away, one who has no choice but to live close by, growing up together to become athletes, connected to life through music, as as loving siblings. Once the stock is melted and simmering, I let the two hang out together for awhile before adding the drained beans.

image

This little bit of time in the pot together makes all the difference in the world. As a mother, I realize how precious those first eighteen years have been, when children get to explore who they are together, regardless of and because of the tending ways of a parent. When I can smell the hint of clove in the air, I add the beans, bring the mixture to a slow simmer, cover, and cook for just ten minutes or so, don’t want to overcook the already partially cooked beans, just wishing for them to enter this new place and find their own path for integrating who they are with the rest.

image

The oven had been preheated to 300 degrees. The browned chicken and bacon haven’t really been set aside and forgotten about. The aroma of the browning has lingered. The reach of the thread of motherhood that connects me to me from my own mother and grandmothers is so strong. It is inevitable that I can stay away for too long. The meat is nestled into the beans, just resting on top so as not to be consumed or overly protected, the vulnerability of wise flesh still available for more growth.

image

Now comes the slow cooking that, like the melding of memories, brings us all together again. I honor one grandmother who managed to unite all the generations of her Albanian family over and over again with her spectacularly simple homemade food. I honor my other grandmother who grew up poor during the depression in this country, who never took a pot of baked beans or homemade chicken stock for granted. I honor my own mother who embraced every good thing her generation could offer, making a strong foundation for me to build on.

It truly is a slow bake. The aroma in the house becomes intoxicating and just when I think I can’t take it anymore the sun comes out after a week of relentless gray and rain, and Nora and I head out to the woods.  Before we leave, I remove the bouquet garni and add a little water to the pot. There is a particular rock with a particular face along the path we walk that I am being drawn to visit. I’m not sure why this particular image feels like a symbol of something meaningful, but I find myself, down on my knees, regarding the swirl etched in the stone with reverence again.

image

Something about the marking suggests that she has been dancing with Mother Earth for awhile now. There is a tiny dot of moss emerging as if to signal that even this stone isn’t finished growing. The pot comes out of the oven upon our return. The top has crusted over and become a protective rich tasty crunch. I wait only a minute before dipping a fork down into the softened beans, moist and oh so fragrant, and emerge with a bite of ancient creamy flavor.

image

I pull one of my mother’s signature bowl/plates down from the shelf. My favorite blue one. It’s time to honor Mother. A perfect amount of the cassoulet is dished out to share space with the new fresh greens on the other side.

image

I am transported to my pot of everything that feels good. Even so I know I might add a little more liquid next time, might continue to honor a growing flow of memory that always connects back to mother.

ET’s finger

There’s a section of the woods that I’m quite sure was actually a road a long time ago, with stone walls flanking each side and leading to broad areas overrun with new growth but not so much as to hide the crumbling remains of stone foundations and fireplaces. I love walking this path and anticipating the feeling of being someplace distinct that I always feel when I get there. It’s like another world now, but it’s not hard to imagine a world of connected homes and country community life in these woods.

Walking up that road today in the damp gray after rain, I felt guided by a thousand little lights. It was the first time I noticed the solid flanking of young beech trees along this road, some with the characteristic leaves hanging on still since last year, but most of them now sporting long sinewy buds that actually seemed to be glowing a subtle coppery light.

image

Eventually I found myself standing still, as if the light was making sound too. I got close to one of these buds, noticed the shimmer that seemed to float off of the tiny white hairs that were slipping out of the copper casing. Up close and personal with one of these buds was surreal. Heart stopping. Eerily reminiscent of a finger of some benevolent creature pointing, as if to say, look at all that gorgeous earth you get to stand on. How lucky are you?

image

I kept walking, but now my attention was swinging from one tree to the next. Some buds had begun to open and oh my, the intensity of unfolding green perfection was breathtaking in this state of becoming. Even as fully formed leaves, they shimmered and radiated in the filaments of light from which they came.

image

image

Then I saw an unusual flow emanating from just a single bud amongst this moment of flowing buds. It was a bud that had captured a drop of water, and with it, the life force contained within. All I can think of is that this reminds me of ET’s finger, reaching out and saying, ‘touch me’. Home.

image

I did a little reading about beech trees in this part of the world. I learned that beech and oak are considered evolutionarily delayed. They both can wait to drop their leaves until well into a next season, unlike their other deciduous brothers and sisters who have evolved in a system of shedding that helps replenish the richness of the earth each year. Isn’t it interesting that this hasn’t always been true? That like humans, trees too have evolved? That the conifers of the world were the only game in town in the beginning, as trees that never drop their leaves. And that now there are trees that have evolved into dropping all of their leaves. There are many theories about why this might be, but they all beg the question, is there any ecological advantage to being in-between?

I feel touched by ET’s finger today. As if awakening me to this in-between place, reminding me that in-between can be a state of mind too. It can be a place of resistance, of dark anger that is not ready to let go. And it can be a healing place, a small but significant source of light.

image

It can be a place that mediates and offers a safe place for much needed reflection.

image

And when ready, when it is time to let go, we can just let go, and know that what is released will go to a place where regeneration is possible.