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What’s Cooking?

One of my many happy things about being back in the Los Angeles area, is the food. I missed the restaurants, but I also missed the produce and the ethnic markets fiercely.

Lately I’ve been enjoying garden bounty: Squash from one person with an overflowing garden. Lemons from another with heavy trees. Tomatoes from a friend who is growing more than her household will eat.

It is such a wonderful thing. Because it is fresh, the flavor and nutritional values are higher. Because it is free, the financial benefit is awesome. Because it is what is available right then, it forces me to think of ways to make use of them, which often leads to meals I wouldn’t normally think to shop for.

Most of all, for me, food is so much about caring. When the ingredients are gifted to me through my network of human connections and interactions, it ties me to the positive. As I cook, I think of where ingredients came from. I think of whom they are going to feed. I think about ingredients loved by people I love. I think of the last time I prepared a dish, and who I fed that time, or of whom I would like to feed with it. I follow the threads in my mind as I chop and mix and sample.

Onions and cucumbers came from the CSA last week, and my daughter requested a cucumber salad. As I prepared it I thought back two summers to being in New York City, when a different CSA delivery led to a different cucumber salad. It was prepared by a dear friend as we worked together in the kitchen to create a feast from CSA items and food treasures collected at a nearby market. I know this is part of why my daughter wanted the salad too, because of her memory of that NYC salad, and because the friend was extra on our mind because she had a birthday this week. Every future cucumber salad will always remind both of us, of that one, and no other will ever be quite as good, because some food moments are so right.

With my bounty of tomatoes I made gazpacho, which is pretty much a perfect summer treat. It makes some use of the lemons as well. Lemons can be used pretty much daily in cooking, especially during the summer, which is the perfect time for multiple salads. Anything to stay cooler.

I’ve been cooking on the grill a lot lately, even things I wouldn’t normally cook on the grill (like banana bread). This is because it is fuck-all hot and I don’t want to heat the kitchen up further. The rest of the tomatoes I slow cooked into a delicious tomato sauce using the grill. I suppose all this unattended cooking out there could eventually lead to my house burning down, but whatever, in Southern California I can survive without housing longer than I can survive without food.

Half of the tomato sauce is in the freezer waiting for another use. The other half, I simmered ground and seasoned lamb patties in. Those I served over portabella mushrooms, stuffed with a mixture of spinach, goat cheese, extra garlic, basil, and pine nuts (and cooked on the grill, of course). The abundance of squash has been sliced up, lightly salted, spritzed with ACV and grilled. Everything gets grilled.

The heat has been leading to a desire for cooler and more refreshing cocktails as well. I brought home mint the other day so the bartender could make me mojitos. The peels from the cucumbers for the cucumber salad, I used to flavor vodka overnight, along with mint sprigs. Then that made cucumber mint spritzers the next night.

The heat wave finally broke yesterday, after a week of evil yellow ball in the sky trying to kill us all weather. It is still summer though. It will still be a grilled dinner tonight with refreshing cold side dishes and beverages, just with less lethargy and overheated misery.


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I’m Not Good at Acceptance

During our dark first year in Minnesota, a very good friend of mine died.  I was in Minnesota, and he was far away in California, and he died.

I spent a little tiny bit of time in denial. Then I moved on to anger and stayed there for a while. Then I moseyed on in to the deep valley of depression, where I’ve spent large chunks of my life anyway. I just walked in a lot farther than I’d been in quite a while, and I set up housekeeping, with no particular intention of ever walking back out.

I was not wallowing in grief. I was mainly too numb to bother with grief. Flashes of rage aside, mostly I simply put away the fact he is dead in a box in the back of the closet. It isn’t the same as denial. I know he is dead. On a day to day basis, I long ago stopped needing to remind myself I couldn’t call him. It just wasn’t fully integrated into my world either. Like everything else from my old life, my real life, it was just on hold.

Which leaves me in an interesting position now that I am back “home” because I am drinking in all the sights and sounds and smells of my old stomping grounds, and there is always something there to remind me.

Which means the box has come out of the closet and I am needing to deal with the full blown reality that he will never go to any of our favorite restaurants with me again. He’ll never annoy the shit out of me with his bizarre ordering quirks again. We’ll never be sneaking the back way between the valleys to avoid the freeway traffic, spending the whole drive deeply engaged in meaningful and meaningless conversation again.

Yeah. Turns out I’m still really pissed off about him dying.

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And Then There Were None

Do you hear that?

The house is so quiet.

It makes me feel anxious, because I haven’t done anything for the puppies lately, so they should be noisily complaining, and the silence leaves me with a repetitive flutter in my gut that something is wrong.

Yesterday, I dropped my daughter off at a class and came home for an hour and a half of couch potato-ing before needing to pick her up again.  It was the first time I’ve been alone in the house without any other people since January 10th. Holy crap, that is a lot of people time for somebody like me. I couldn’t swim in the silence because of the feelings of puppy anxiety.

Time for life to return to some value of normal. Whatever that means.

Darby went home on Wednesday. On Thursday Mindy got sick. I called the vet and described the symptoms and she told me she was having a reaction to one of the vaccines. The vet came during her lunch hour to bring me some medicine for Mindy and an hour after she left Webster had symptoms too. On Saturday the call came from Darby’s family that she’d been sick for two days.

The vet was not pleased, and called the manufacturer and is returning this particular batch. They were not violently ill, and are going to be fine, but it was frustrating and inconvenient, at the very least. Nothing like taking three totally healthy happy little puppies and making them all sick while trying to prevent them from getting sick to raise my stress level a bit.

Webster was supposed to go home Saturday, but he ended up staying until Sunday so the vet could take a last look at him. I thought Mindy was going home on Sunday, but that was due to a typo (not mine) so she actually left yesterday.

I guess the big happy news is that Mindy went to live in California. This is a long story.

On July 13th, 1997, I met a family of three, and they rapidly became a very important part of my life. The female portion (D) of that trio has been mentioned in the past, for example, here and here. Their family of three turned into a family of 5 over the years. The three children have been asking for a dog, because that is what children do. D is not a dog person. She didn’t dislike dogs. She has taken care of my dogs for me when I needed it, and taken care of other people’s dogs, but she didn’t have any desire for her own dog.

The kids swore that if they got a dog they would take care of EVERYTHING and D wouldn’t have to do anything. Right. Sure.

Back in December my friend who took Ellie was going on vacation. She arranged for a petsitter to come and stay at her house to take care of her three dogs, but as the vacation approached, we realized that Ellie still wasn’t getting along well enough with one of her other dogs to make that a good idea. Trusting a pet sitter to deal with that kind of dynamic just wasn’t reasonable. However, the boarding situations available really were not ideal for Ellie. So, I asked D if she’d be willing to take Ellie in for a couple of weeks (paid, of course).

D agreed. For one thing, Ellie needed it, and for another, we had a plan. She would assign the kids to take care of Ellie, with the promise of all that money at the end. The kids would not take care of Ellie, D would do it all and keep the money, then the next time the kids said “we’ll take care of EVERYTHING, you won’t have to do anything” she would feel less guilty for laughing in their little dog wanting faces.

Ellie, no surprise, was a PITA. She got into the trash, because that is what Ellie does. Then her digestive system completely revolted, explosively, all over D’s carpet, because that is what digestive systems do when fed too much trash. Ellie was also absolutely sweet and adorable, because that is what Ellie is.

Three weeks later when Ellie went home, instead of a long sigh of relief, D found herself missing her.

Which is what led to her telling me she was thinking about getting a dog. I assigned her and the kids a bunch of reading. I went over the pros and cons of dog ownership. I asked her to make a list of what she was looking for in a dog. I warned her not to go out shopping for a dog, but instead to just be open to getting a dog when the right one came along. You don’t want to go out with the plan to pick a dog, because then you’ll simply pick the one there that comes the closest to being what you want. Instead, it is best to wait until the one that is actually right presents itself.

So, she started reading her assigned homework. She made a list of things she wanted in a dog. The list included items like:

  • around 25 lbs
  • short hair that doesn’t shed much
  • an adult, about 2 or 3 years old

Time passed. The right dog hadn’t presented itself yet, but she was taking my advice and not being in a rush.

By the time Mindy was about 4 weeks old, her developing personality started speaking to me, and it kept telling me she’d fit in to that family really well. This was a silly notion, because she was:

  • expected to be about 50lbs
  • is a husky mix and will do so much more than just shed
  • is not going to be an adult for a couple of long destructive years

I thought about it a couple more days, and then sent D an email, acknowledging all the bad, but explaining I had a feeling. She wrote back and said she’d been having the feeling too, from the first photos of the three of them.

They talked it over and decided to fill out an application. Other local people applied for her too. We waited anxiously to find out what the rescue would decide.

Mindy is an adorable and very adoptable little puppy. Ellie had been available for ages without any interest, and she had health conditions which made her less adoptable and made California a much more suitable climate for her. It is frightening to send a dog so far away. What if the new family changes their mind? It is especially iffy seeming when it comes to sending a dog to somebody who has never had a dog before.

The rescue decided to trust my recommendation, for which I am very glad. Nobody wanted Mindy to be flying in cargo, so that means she needed to head out to California after she was old enough to fly, but before she got too big to qualify to go as carry-on. This left a very narrow window. D and her daughter came out for a long weekend, to get some how to care for a puppy training and to fly Mindy home with them.

I was very anxious all afternoon yesterday while Mindy was in flight, but it turns out she did very well on the flight. The wait for the shuttle to the parking lot was a bit rougher (so noisy outside at LAX) and she cried and peed in her carrier. However, by last night she was safely at her new home and is getting settled. I know she’ll be very happy with them, they are really good family for this little people focused pup.

Best of all, I will get to be in touch with Mindy for her whole life.

There is stuff to say about Webster too, but that will wait for another post.

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