Friday, March 26, 2010

Babies, Adult Kids and Wolves - Oh My, Politics Too

Just added a couple of notches to my G'Ma badge by way of spending time with the two youngest grandchildren ( 2 months and 2 years) at the cabin. It was Maxine's introduction to snow. There is still magic in a world that allows a young child to be absolutely delighted by the natural world and take joy in so much that we adults take for granted. I think all adults could benefit from slipping into that world of make-believe that is so much part of a child's life.

Spending time in close proximity with one's adult children is a an interesting lens through which to see the world anew too. Your parenting comes back full circle as you watch them interact with their own children. I marvel at this six foot tall son of mine and his patience and gentleness with his lively daughter and two month old son. His unabashed devotion and love for the family he and Annie have created is heartwarming and I like to think stems from the love I hold for him.

We watched one morning from the snugness of the cabin as a Mexican Grey Wolf crossed the big meadow - picking his way through the snow, alertness in every movement, silent. Later the same day a massive Bald Eagle played on the thermals, soaring back and forth across the ponds - what a gift from nature.

Meanwhile back in the real world, a persistant President and courageous elected representatives have passed a major health care reform bill - OK, so it's not perfect but what it does afford millions is hope! My twentynine year-old son is one of those with a "pre-existing" condition and unable to get medical insurance these past four years. One of my closest friends died of ovarian cancer two years ago - her health insurance running out before her will to live did the same. I wince with embarrassment and dismay to hear John McCain, Arizona's senior Senator announce, "there will be no more cooperation this year" as he churlishly stomps on his own once fine record of bipartisanship. I want to shout "oh grow up" to all the posturing, foul-mouthed, hate-mongering men and women populating the airwaves and internet. And here in my own adopted state of Arizona (been here since 1981) the Governor is about to sign into law a bill allowing any adult to carry a concealed weapon anywhere without the benefit of first securing a permit.

Snow on the ground still up north and my somewhat wimpy car looks a bit like that old ad for Range Rover - coated with mud and the skid plate torn off after I tussled with a snowbank after sliding off the mud-slicked lane. The transition from high country to desert at any season never ceases to delight and this ride back down was so giving in beauty. From creeks breaking through ice-crusts to the slow transfer to high grassland, still brown and winter jaded, and then the lower desert just bursting into wild flower glory. Purple lupins, orange poppies, bright pink penstemons dotting the hillsides and verges with bursts of color - nature does color combinations better than any designer I know.

Back here in the desert my hillside is a riot of yellows and purples as brittlebush and verbena compete for attention. In the side courtyard friesias, tangerine-cross vine and jasmine crowd out the little space. Lettuce seeds I sowed just last week have already germinated and the 'ever-giving' strawberry plant is covered in tiny white blossom. My citrus trees, still bearing fruit have put out the first sweet-scented blossoms, the fig tree - so gangly and unimpressive during the winter has new leaves - proof it survived, and on the back terrace the wisteria is tentatively leafing - hurrah, spring has arrived!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Let Them Eat Cabbage

Tuesday evening, my son, on home leave from Ethiopia, asked "what are we doing for St. Patrick's Day". He does hold dual Irish and US citizenship as do I but we have never celebrated St. P day - just don't come from the shamrock waving genetic pool.

Fearful of tarnishing my Mother Badge I agreed to make corned beef and cabbage. A small family dinner escalated and presto - I'm cooking for thirteen.

My daughter announced she had a corned beef brisket in her freezer and "no idea" how to cook it so that was delivered to my house. Since the oven was going to be on I went for broke and bought two more briskets. I've cooked at the most corned beef three times in the past but I figured using the same method I use for a regular brisket wouldn't hurt. Couldn't be more simple - pop the briskets into oven proof baking dishes, pour in a can of Guinness or other dark beer, cover tightly with foil and cook at 350F for two hours, lower heat to 300F and let cook an additional four hours. Two were devoured at dinner, the third I wrapped and pressed for sandwiches later in the week.

Potatoes - the lifeline (literally) of the Irish peasant for decades got two treatments. Tiny marble- sized new ones were steamed then tossed with olive oil, sea salt and freshly chopped Italian parsley. The red ones I boiled and turned into Colcannon - sinful but a once a decade treat!

Surprise of the evening was the gobbling up of the cabbage with cries of "more" from even card-carrying disparagers of that humble vegetable. I cooked it two ways. Both involve shredding the cabbage (use the shredding blade on a food processor or a very sharp knife). First is a method I've used for years - pile the lovely shreds of cabbage into a steamer, sprinkle with a little freshly ground nutmeg, black pepper and a sprinkle of sugar. Steam just a few minutes until crisp but nowhere near soggy. Toss to blend the flavors. Second method which was definitely a pinch-hitting 'gees the steamer is full what do I do with the rest of this cabbage' inspiration was the all time hit of the evening.

Sauteed Spring Cabbage with Pancetta
For six

1/2 head of firm, young cabbage shredded - you'll have about 8 cups
2 ozs (four slices) of Pancetta
2 TBS Olive oil
Coarsely ground black pepper
Sea salt
1 Cup dry white wine
Large, deep saute pan with a lid

Warm the olive oil in the saute pan, add pancetta and cook until lightly crisped. Keep it moving so that it doesn't burn or stick to the pan.
Add the cabbage to the pan, toss to coat with the oil and pancetta. Add the wine. Put the lid on and cook about three minutes, shaking the pan occasionally. Take the lid off - stir, bring to a rapid boil and reduce the wine by 1/2 or more - will take about 2 minutes, season with the salt and pepper. Do not over cook. Serve and watch them ask for more!
You can substitute bacon but I'd be careful of over-salting. Consensus at my house was "best cabbage ever", and "this will be great with grilled sausage".

Now I'm hungry! Today I'm making Mole Sauce (no, Mexican, not furry creature) and Puerco Avodava - both long-simmering dishes that will be rewarmed for a party tomorrow night.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Few Hours In Italy and Clams with Fregola

Saturday I spent a few hours in Italy! No airport security, no jet lag, no checked luggage.

Off my study is a small walled-in courtyard where I grow tomatoes, herbs, strawberries, baby green sand some scent-rich plants including lavender and jasmine. The area is shaded, serene and private.

Given a close to perfect 72F temperature, clear sky and sunshine, after finishing some garden clean-up chores, I headed to a comfy chair on the patio and traveled. My transportation, as is often the case with me, was a book. I was definitely going first class.

Every Day in Tuscany, Seasons of an Italian Life, is the latest book by Frances Mayes in which she offers more delicious forays into her life in Tuscany. All of her books are rich in imagery, philosophy, history and love. I so enjoy meeting her friends, peeking into her pantry, smelling her blossoming lemon trees, traveling back roads in search of a the work of a specific painter - in this book it's Signorelli whose trail she follows.

The beauty of travel book - whether biographies or guidebooks is the roads they allow you to travel from the comfort of home. I take mini "staycactions" almost daily as I read. Sometimes it's a cook book that takes me into souks, bazaars, street markets, other times it's a National Geographic.

The recipes scattered through Mayes' Every Day in Tuscany, along with the soft scent of the jasmine, a hummingbird dive-bombing me, and the wonderful glass of Sangiovese I poured for myself around 5:30 p.m., inspired a quickie version of a favorite Sardinian dish - Fregola con Vongole - Clams with Fregola. Fregola is a pasta unique to Sardinia that can best be described as being like tiny, rough pebbles. It's relatively new to this country but some good Italian delis do carry it. I'm still treasuring some brought back from Sardinia. If you don't have any - use orzo.

Quick Take on Fregola Con Vongole

  • 1 box Trader Joe's clams in butter garlic sauce
  • Cooked orzo or fregola.
  • Handful of torn basil
  • Crusty bread for soaking up the sauce

Cook the orzo or fregola per packet directions. Heat the clams in a large skillet as directed on the box.
Put the pasta in a shallow bowl - scoop clams and sauces over it, scatter with the basil and a good grind of coarse black pepper.

Buon apetito!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Simply Messing Around In Water

To paraphrase the famous Mr. Toad of Toad Hall when he told Ratty that there was nothing, absolutely nothing better to do than mess around in boats - yesterday I concluded that you simply can't beat water to bring out the inner kid.

Here in the Sonoran Desert, an abundance of rain this winter plus slow melting mountain snow has ensured that the Rillito River has had water flowing the past six weeks. Yes folks - here in the desert our rivers are usually dry! Several years ago a major flood abatement program created pathways for man and beast along the river's course and they are favourite places for cyclists, strollers, roller bladers and just plain walkers. To have water flowing, cottonwoods leafing and "beaches" created is too much for some to resist.

Dog and I amble a stretch of the river most afternoons. Yesterday was a spectacular day - close to 70F, brilliant, cloudless sky - the sort of day that makes even old fogies want to skip. And they did - in heart at least. So many people exchanged greetings, marveled on the weather and chorused "this is why we live here" that my walk took longer than usual.

I was delighted to see spontaneous community generated by the mix of Sun and water. Two riders had ridden down into the river bed and were sharing the fun with their mounts - one rider managed to dismount rapidly as her horse was overcome by the urge to roll! Dogs raced after sticks and balls, kids paddled calf-high, adults came together in small groups - strangers forming instant community reveling in simple delights.

Two boys around 10 or so raced bikes down the path screaming, "they're coming, I can see them". All eyes turned east and two inflatable kayaks came whizzing into view only to get stuck on a sandbank. Great hilarity, lots of advice from those of us on dry land, and one wag yelling "Hey, Lewis and Clark - you musta taken a wrong turn somewhere." The two fifty-something kayakers were having the time of their life. They were playing, being silly, forgetting any cares and responsibilities they may have. We all laughed with them and cheered as they pushed off back into the water flow.

I resolve to play more often.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

In praise of dogs and cats

It has been just over a year since Sam crossed the Rainbow Bridge and still too short a time for traces of her to fade in the house, and definitely too short a time to get used to life without a cat. An incredibly quiet cat, she never had a proper meow - more of a rather horrid screech when she wanted something; her preferred method for getting you to do something for her was to wind around legs, head off in the direction of litter box or food bowl and look back to see if you were following. For the past few years she was unable to jump to get her food out of the reach of dogs, so Hamish became somewhat portly on his diet of what ever the cat left. I always knew when he'd raided her sanctuary and cleaned her out - she had a certain accusing way of getting my attention and very pointedly identifying the dog as being in trouble. Must admit to still seeing her in the shadows and looking for her at bed time.

Dog and I plus a "cousin" dog to keep him company , went up the the cabin for a few days. It was strange arriving there with no Sam to settle and see to immediately upon arrival - she was a great traveler, no trouble. I know Hamish misses her. He still wanders into the huge walk in closet that was her lair, sticks his head around the door and looks at me quizzically. When I was getting ready to go up to the cabin, he recognized the routine of packing a cooler and promptly went into the storage room and sat next to Sam's travel carrier as if to say, "OK, I know we're going to get her now".

How is it that animals wind, purr, snuffle and drool their way into our lives? I think it's their total trust and non judgmental acceptance of whatever feast or famine of love we throw their way. They are never stingy in return. Rana, the dog who joined us on our trip, belongs to my son and his wife. They are on assignment Ethiopa and my youngest son is looking after her. Quite honestly, she's not beautiful but she is the happiest and most loving of dogs. Her owners went to the HSSA looking for a fuzzy, big, potential hiking mate. They came home with this rather fearsome looking gal who is primarily Catahoula Hound and then lord knows what the rest is - one thing is for sure- the mouth is cavernous. Their rationale for adopting her over the cute lab puppy was that her chances were minimal of getting out alive.

Three years ago Rana was suddenly paralyzed in her hind quarters, we were were at a family 4th. of July party when we noticed she was not moving. Long story short but her young owners found a canine neurologist and at not a small cost arranged for the surgery that gave back her ability to walk. She has a funny wiggle in the rear end now and occasionally, when over exuberant, her back legs give way. She absolutely loves snow and to see her tearing though the wood, leaping obstacles. literally a grin on her face, ears flapping, is a joy. Meanwhile Hamish, built low to the ground, lumbers around a bit like an obsolete tank!

Several years ago I worked at the Humane Society of Tucson (now the Humane Society of Southern Arizona) and although my position of fundraiser and public relations was removed from the daily shelter activity, the director encouraged all of us to be acutely aware of our mission. Both heartbreaking and rewarding, there were days when I couldn't go into the kennels or cat rooms and see all those beseeching faces, little paws and noses pressed to bars just looking. We went through a lot of foster animals at the house during those days, a couple became permanent residents and others, loved out of their fears and cajoled out of anti-social behaviors were eventually adopted into loving families.

Perhaps our most neurotic guest was Daniel, a huge and elegant Gordon Setter who had abandonment issues. He attached himself to me like a wet rag, shadowed me, wouldn't leave my side . Eventually I had to sleep on a couch because my husband, tolerant and loving of animals as he was, could not sleep with Daniel in the bed and despite every effort, where ever I was, there was Daniel.

And then there was Dougal, the Scottie, who came for a week and stayed 11 years. The vet figured he was well over 20 when he finally crossed that bridge. In his last two weeks he didn't have the energy to go for walks but so desperately wanted to. We borrowed a stroller from a neighbour and Dougal surveyed his old haunts in style - David and I wheeling him around the country club like proud parents. You know, I think I remember puppy breath more fondly than I do first teenage kisses! Dougal had been found chained to a concrete stanchion in a parking lot off the freeway - he had one of the worse ear infections the vet had ever seen and because he was going to need expensive and ongoing care, the shelter manager didn't want to put him in regular adoptions. He came to recuperate from surgery in my office and well, the rest was 11 years of unstinting love - never compromised the "terribles" however in his terrier spirit - boy, was he independent!

Dougal did not like cats and we had not only Sam back then but also Mr. Tubbs and George - a very elegant ginger chap. First day in the house Dougal determined these furry things needed putting in their proper place - he hurled himself after Sam, she leapt onto the counter, Dougal slammed into it at full charge. He sat back, somewhat groggy and the look on his face was "wow! they pack a wallop, best make peace". And he did. When we spent time at the ranch all three cats, Dougal and Patches our elderly Old English Sheepdog mix, would take morning walks together down the lane. All of them became adept at crossing cattle guards but only Dougal perfected the crossing at full gallop.

Hamish, the current fur bearing resident is the last of a log-line of resident and visiting dogs "trained" by Sam.

I know during these tough economic times that shelters around the country are experiencing an upswing in received animals. Heartbreaking for both the families who have no choice and the animal who is an innocent victim. I can understand this turn of events but I could never understand nor accept the excuses that people made when I was at the shelter. "My new husband doesn't like him" as a 9 year old dog was turned in. I think I would have turned in the new husband before the dog! "We got all new dark furniture and can't cope with the shedding" , as a 14 year old cat was pushed over the counter. And one that had me lose it and kept away from receiving for a while - two young college girls, each turning in "designer" dogs at the end of a semester because they wanted to go have fun for the summer; they commented as they left, "Oh, we'll be back in September and find something else cute."

Animals, short of hell and high water (and even then think twice!) are for life. They live and love and we are responsible for their well being. I can think of no more worthy cause than supporting your local shelter and preaching the spay and neuter message.

We've run three rescue group stories in Connections for Women to date and I for one am up for more. Don't hesitate to let me know if you a good cause or story to share.
Check out the work of volunteers in South America with Cat Cafe ; the Milwaukee based group that gives shelter to animals caught in domestic violence situations and, not the least, The Ironwood Pig Sanctuary that provides hope for abandoned Pot Bellied Pigs. All stories that brought me to tears...tears of gratitude for human kindness and despair for the indifference of some.

And this is a salute to my friend Sylvia Edwards - a busy woman, she owns Skin Care at Civano on Tucson's far east side - she also takes in former race-track greyhounds, loves and nurtures them along with her dog, Hera, until they find a new home. Click here to see her latest foster dog.
A huge hug to all of you who walk the talk in animal welfare.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Half the Sky

I've spent much of this past week doing exactly what I want to do - dinner with friends, a haircut, an insurance funded doctor visit, picking oranges from my tree, weeding the garden, hiking Sabino Canyon - a National Park within a mile of my house - browsing a new cook book, finishing The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk, leading a study group for OLLI, and enjoying my regular double espresso at Stabucks every morning. Lucky woman! yes, I am. I'm independent, comfortable, healthy. I own my own home, I make my own decisions. Not much different I suspect from many of you reading this.

But what a fool's paradise I'd live in if I believed my lot was that of the majority of women in the world!

More than half the women in the world live in subjugation and poverty. Leisure is unheard of as is freedom of choice, comfort, health care, running water, soap, a change of clothing, diapers, sanitary towels, transportation, kindness. Food - a chronic shortage. Education - don't we wish. All the things that you and I take for granted are foreign to half of our sisters. Rape is something horrific that happens in the newspapers, not in my backyard. And yet millions of women are repeatedly subjected to rape - both as a means of control and as a weapon of war. And the children - think of the children.

OK - you're about to quit reading and wonder what the heck got into me on this Saturday morning. I'll tell you what's bugging me. We've just celebrated International Womens Day - one event sponsored by CARE ( - one event to celebrate and raise awareness was a screening throughout the North America on the 4th. of Half the Sky - not sure what happened in your neck of the woods but at my local theatre seventeen, yes, seventeen, fifteen women and two men, showed up for the event! and nine of those as a direct result of my invitation. Meanwhile crowds streamed into the inane movies showing - movies that objectify women, movies in which violence is entertainment. So I'm both frustrated and angry at the lack of concern in my community for the needs of women worldwide.

I'm well into my sixties. I fought the fight for equality in the workplace. I stood up when I was denied a promotion because I was a woman. I raised three children, a girl and two boys, to be respectful of women - to recognise a woman's right to equality. I thought the fight was over. You my younger friends need to take up the challenge.

Do something for your fellow women this spring, something for your children. Read one of two books - either Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn , or Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and see if you can remain indifferent. Pass it on to someone else. These are not coffee table books , they are calls to action.

It's extraordinary what a little hope can do to change the world - read the story of one woman I met in Kenya last year.