Unexpected events

On Friday, I took a dawn hot tub steam curling tranquilly around the sweet peas, heading towards the bay just visible between oak branches. Then I noticed that the electric fence, which guards my chickens from predators, was not blinking, which meant it was shorted out somewhere. I dressed and went down to find a sizable oak limb had split off and crashed through the chicken run, rupturing the bird net and the fence.

Luckily both the tree guy and the handyman were able to come right away, and by noon the fence was secured and the confused chickens all in place.

Then my grandson and I decided to try to trap the cheeky squirrel who has been pilfering the chicken and bird food despite lacing it with hot pepper. We got out my old trap, set it with peanut butter, and scattered a trail of sunflower seeds up to and into it. By evening, the sunflower seeds leading right up to the trap were gone, but no squirrel.

“Maybe he’s too smart for us,” I told my grandson. We decided to leave the trap baited overnight, and this morning I woke to find a skunk in it.  I’ve had a lot of experience with skunks from the time our house backed onto a large open space in Lafayette. The county used to drop off traps and then pick up trapped skunks. Those traps were very narrow, so once caught the skunks couldn’t raise their tail to spray. My trap has plenty of room for the skunk to spray, so it was a problem. I got an old towel and held it in front of me as I approached the trap. The skunk sprayed and sprayed until his little spray reservoir was depleted. Then I covered him with another old towel, put the cage on a rubber mat in the back seat and drove the trap to Tilden Park, where I propped the trap open and let him flee.  The car smells only a tiny bit skunky, as does my right arm.  The towels and cage are out in the sun, waiting for time to reduce the smell. Continue reading “Unexpected events”

A good poem for now

You may know Raymond Carver for his short stories, but he also wrote poetry.  Here’s an example, appropriate for this moment:

Sunday Night

Make use of the things around you.
This light rain
Outside the window, for one.
This cigarette between my fingers,
These feet on the couch.
The faint sound of rock-and-roll,
The red Ferrari in my head.
The woman bumping
Drunkenly around in the kitchen . . .
Put it all in,
Make use.

Raymond Carver

A day of no particular importance…

For over 50 years, Larry and I have ignored Mother’s Day, Father’s Day…I mean, really, showing up for each other for the other 364 days of the year is what counts. But for some unknown reason, Larry made me breakfast yesterday. And later in the day, my grandson brought over this bouquet that he picked himself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So I guess this year we celebrated. Therefore, today you get a mother’s day poem. I especially love the line “Among your earthiest words the angels stray,” though I’m not sure I could tell you why, perhaps just the sounds of it.

Those Irishmen have a certain earthiness to them that is unmistakeable.

Au revoir Little Richard

Although I’m posting this in Stuff Larry Sez, Larry is not the protagonist here (though he did know Little Richard’s last name)–just forwarded on an email from a friend about Little Richard. Here’s someone‘s story:

I recorded little Richard for a commercial about 30 years ago. He nailed the commercial in two takes… Total pro. But… He wore so much cheap rose perfume that it actually bonded with the diaphragm of the microphone, and could not get the aroma out!

With only a faint hope for success, we wrapped the microphone in plastic and sent it back to the manufacturer, and told them of our plight. What we got was a picture of a guy in a Class-3 hazmat suit, holding the bag, along with completely refurbished microphone, and a letter that said they used their “least senior engineer“ to perform the “Rose-ectomy” and “decontamination protocols” were adhered to with “utmost security precautions”.

The band in the great beyond just got better.

Witter Bynner

In my early twenties I wrote a letter to John Berrryman, and he replied saying something about my “witchy name.” But surely Witter Bynner has the witchiest name of all, and though born in 1881, his work seems utterly contemporary:

Undressing You

Fiercely I remove from you
All the little vestiges—
Garments that confine you,
Things that touch the flesh,
The wool and the silk
And the linen that entwine you,
Tear them all away from you,
Bare you from the mesh.
And now I have you as you are,
Nothing to encumber you—
But now I see, caressing you,
Colder hands than mine.
They take away your flesh and bone,
And, utterly undressing you,
They tear you from your beauty
And they leave no sign.
Witter Bynner

Seamus Heaney

I’ve been receiving poems from so many sources lately. Even my local art gallery is sending daily inspiration. It’s amazing how many poems I don’t like! But then comes one I do, and it’s all worth it. I try only to post the ones that move me here:

Postscript

And some time make the time to drive out west
Into Country Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The Surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white, Continue reading “Seamus Heaney”

So many husbands on Monday

It’s always a delight to discover a new poet.  Here is a poem by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. I love the whole neighborhood of past loves. Don’t we all have that, even if they are long past? And that last line is killer:

 

Are All the Break-Ups in Your Poems Real?

If by real you mean as real as a shark tooth stuck
in your heel, the wetness of a finished lollipop stick,
the surprise of a thumbtack in your purse—
then Yes, every last page is true, every nuance,
bit, and bite. Wait. I have made them up—all of them—
and when I say I am married, it means I married
all of them, a whole neighborhood of past loves.
Can you imagine the number of bouquets, how many
slices of cake? Even now, my husbands plan a great meal
for us—one chops up some parsley, one stirs a bubbling pot
on the stove. One changes the baby, and one sleeps
in a fat chair. One flips through the newspaper, another
whistles while he shaves in the shower, and every single
one of them wonders what time I am coming home.

Polenta Lasagna

This is a wonderful comfort dish for a gray day. I first had something similar at the Jazz School Café in Berkeley, and later went home and experimented. If you make this when golden-red heirloom tomatoes are available, they make a lovely contrast with the polenta. If you use vegetable stock for the polenta, it’s a vegetarian treat. Otherwise use light chicken stock—stay away from beef or dark chicken stock to preserve the yellow color of the polenta. I go very light on the cheese and it’s yummy, but if you are insouciant about dairy and calories, more makes it even creamier. Of course you can add or substitute in the sauce with just about anything: fennel, yellow peppers, bok choy, carrots, corn, squash, whatever fall vegetables please you.

1 Cup coarse, yellow polenta
6 Cups stock
salt and pepper to taste
1 ½ C mushrooms, sliced (Chanterelles are best, but any kind or assorted work, too)
1 large onion, sliced (or mix of onion, shallot or leek)
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 or 3 large very ripe heirloom tomatoes, chopped (about 2 pounds)
Handful of greens, rinsed and chopped (baby spinach, baby kale or chard)
Olive oil
Tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
Dash of hot pepper (cayenne or dried chili flakes, I use crushed chipotle)
1/3 C or so grated Gruyere cheese
¼ C or less shaved Grana Padano or Parmesan
Salt, pepper

Heat stock to just under a boil. Stir in polenta. Cook, stirring, about 20 minutes or till about the consistency of cream of wheat. Add salt and pepper to taste. (For those of you who like a bit more spice, add some pepper flakes to the polenta now—simple red chili flakes look terrific in the polenta and add a kick to this dish). Cook a bit longer till about the consistency of oatmeal. While polenta is cooking, sauté the onions and mushrooms in the oil. After they brown lightly, add the garlic, thyme and a dash of red pepper to taste. Sauté briefly and add tomatoes. Cook down till most of the water from the tomatoes evaporates and the mix is about the consistency of gravy. Add greens and set aside off the heat while polenta finishes cooking.

Spread one third of the polenta in a casserole dish. Add half of onions, mushrooms and tomatoes and cover with half of the gruyere. Add another layer of polenta, another of mushrooms and gruyere and a final layer of polenta. Sprinkle top with shaved cheese. Bake 450 for 20 minutes or till golden brown.

South Indian Vegetable Curry

When my friend Tung came back from a wedding in India, she was raving so much about the perfectly delicious vegetarian food, that I began looking for recipes. This simple curry is a winner. And if you can’t find curry leaves, it’s still delicious:

Ingredients

  • 4-5cups mixed vegetables, cut into chunky slivers about 1 1/2 inches long (I used half a cauliflower, 1 zuccini, two carrots, and a cup of green beans)
  • 1/2tsp turmeric or one piece of fresh turmeric, grated
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 15 oz can coconut milk (not the light kind)
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1tsp yellow split peas
  • 1large dried chipotle or other med hot chile
  • 1-2tbsp coconut oil (more oil means more flavor)
  • 2sprigs (about 25-30) curry leaves
  • 1tsp black or brown mustard seeds
  • 1-inchknob ginger (cut into thin slivers)
  • clove grated garlic
  • 1/2cup greek yogurt
  • Salt to taste
  • lime
  • chopped cashews and grated fresh coconut, if you have some, for garnish

Instructions

  1. Place all the carrots and cauliflower into a large pot with 1 cup of water and turmeric and salt. cook 10. min or so and add other veges. cook another 5 min.
  2. Place the coconut milk in the blender with the ground cumin, pepper, garam masala and split peas. Blend into a paste. Set aside.
  3. When the veggies are cooked — it should take no more than 15-20 minutes — add the coconut paste to the veggies and stir well to mix. Let the curry come to a gentle boil over medium-low heat.
  4. Turn off the heat and add the yogurt & lime juice. Stir to mix but be careful not to mash up the veggies because they’ll be very tender at this stage.
  5. Heat the oil. Add mustard seeds and when they sputter, add the curry leaves, garlic and the ginger. Saute for a minute or two until the fragrance permeates the house.
  6. Pour the tempering over the avial and stir to mix.  Garnish, if you wish, with cashews and some fresh coconut.
  7. Serve hot with rice.

 

A poem by Jane Hirshfield

This poem, which I found on the site Women’s Voices for Change, seems to perfectly encapsulate this moment. Jane’s new book, Ledger, from Knopf,  just came out. It’s worth buying a copy from your local book store.  You won’t regret it.

Today, When I Could Do Nothing

Today, when I could do nothing,
I saved an ant.

It must have come in with the morning paper,
still being delivered
to those who shelter in place.

A morning paper is still an essential service.

I am not an essential service.

I have coffee and books,
time,
a garden,
silence enough to fill cisterns.

It must have first walked
the morning paper, as if loosened ink
taking the shape of an ant.

Then across the laptop computer—warm—
then onto the back of a cushion.

Small black ant, alone,
crossing a navy cushion,
moving steadily because that is what it could do.

Set outside in the sun,
it could not have found again its nest.
What then did I save?

It did not move as if it was frightened,
even while walking my hand,
which moved it through swiftness and air.

Ant, alone, without companions,
whose ant-heart I could not fathom—
how is your life, I wanted to ask.

I lifted it, took it outside.

This first day when I could do nothing,
contribute nothing
beyond staying distant from my own kind,
I did this.

Jane Hirshfield

First published in the San Francisco Chronicle

Potato Casserole

This is a dish that I have made hundreds of times. The whole family loves it. Part of its charm is that you essentially make it in the food processor really quickly. It ages well, heats up to have with eggs at breakfast of by itself for lunch. The onions in this dish caramelize and sweeten the taste. When my son was young and wouldn’t eat onions, my daughter told him these weren’t onions, they were “chiapas.” He happily ate many portions.

1 large, deep casserole dish
4 or 5 medium Yukon gold potatoes, washed, skins on
2 good sized onions
5 or six cloves garlic
bunch spinach, washed, chopped
3/4 lb cheddar or other favorite cheese
half a stick of butter in small pieces
OR
1/b bulk sausage in small pieces
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375. Wilt the spinach by putting it in a pot with a small amount of water and cooking till it softens. Peel the onions and garlic (a tip from James Beard—cut the little bottom part of the clove off and give it a whack with a strong knife—the peel falls right off). Use a garlic press or drop the garlic into a food processor and let it whirl around till minced. Remove the chopping bade and add the slicing blade (no need to wash the processor between steps). Slice the onions. Dump the onions and garlic into a bowl. Slice the potatoes Dump the potatoes into another bowl. Replace the slicing blade with the grating blade and grate the cheese. Layer ingredients into the casserole in three layers: potatoes sprinkled with salt and pepper, onion/garlic mix, spinach, dots of butter, thick layer of cheese, dot with sausage if you’re using. Finish with cheese. Cover with tinfoil and bake for an hour and 15 minutes. Remove tinfoil and turn oven to 425. Cook till beautifully brown on top, about 15 minutes.