Thursday, January 28, 2010

I got my first glimpse of Bozeman, MT a week ago Friday afternoon, amid a snowstorm. Beautiful, from what we could see, but visibility was limited by the snow as we drove west from Billings and climbed up through the Bridger Mountains and dropped into the Gallatin Valley. Sunday was the first time the sun peeked out since our arrival. I celebrated by going for a walk around the neighborhood near the house we are renting, where we are spending time with Pappa Bear's family for a belated Christmas celebration. Aspens stood by the creek, the new fallen snow accentuating the bare branches and muffling every sound. (I took this as a good sign, finding Aspens here, the namesake tree of my alpaca business.) Snow sparkled in between ski tracks. A neighbor skijored by with his very small dog. I wish I had a picture of that. The dog couldn’t have been more than 14 pounds sopping wet. Maybe tomorrow. The trail was just lovely, and the sunshine and snow made everything seem magical. Later in the afternoon, Pappa Bear and I went for a drive. We wanted to check out the countryside, see if there were any areas that appealed to us as we continue our search for land, for a farm to call our own. We drove straight north of Bozeman, following the curve of the mountains. It was, breathtakingly beautiful. I realize there was fresh snow blanketing all of the evergreens, turning the green forests covering the mountainside a bluish hue. I realize the sun was shining, for the first time in several days. I realize it was the first real glimpse of Bozeman and the Gallatin Mountains I have ever seen. It was still, utterly, breathtakingly, beautiful. Ranches reached up towards the foothills, but the fences died out before the tree line. The mountains are still wild, owned by nobody, and everybody. I could feel them, watching over us as we drove along their base. The words from Peter Mayer's song, Like a Mountain, sprung into my consciousness (Peter Mayer songs do that to me a lot): Driving near Mount Shavano It seemed to be looking me over Feeling that gaze down below I pulled the car off on the shoulder. Staring at the rock and the sky My heart began beating more slowly Till I Lost track of time Forgot where it was I was going. Suddenly, I saw life from the brink I watched an age pass me by like a wink In just one heartbeat I believe I could think Like a mountain. Mountain, we measure our lives By tens and by twenty years only Teach us the ways Of the million year mind What a million year heart could be hoping. And tho if I’m wise I will strive and I’ll pray To turn that one tick in time into day And lead this poor picture-flash life in that way… Like a Mountain. We drove for over two hours, the loop north of Bozeman, then west, finally hitting I90 and heading south through Manhattan. If the light had lasted longer, we would have kept driving. We saw horses and white barns and log homes and green and white mountains sparkling in the sunshine. If we had had any doubts coming out here that this could be among our “Top Places To Live,” they were quickly dissipating. Monday, Pappa Bear and I decided we needed to ski a “real” mountain, Big Sky. First time, ever, for me, to ski on a real mountain – about 9,000 feet up at the height of the highest run we made. I grew up on the north shore of Lake Superior. There are no mountains there. Oh, yeah, sure, we call our rugged hills along the shoreline the Sawtooth Mountain Range, but we’re not really kidding anyone - they’re hills, not real mountains. Skiing at Lutsen is enjoyable, but nothing compared to Big Sky, MT. We were at Big Sky for three hours. We skied exactly four runs. We were utterly, completely, exhausted. Thursday, it finally dawned a clear day, after a week of cloudy mornings. As I sat at the desk in the loft, I had a perfect view out the cathedral ceiling windows of the living room, with a view towards the mountains.
[Note to self: Remember to tell Pappa Bear that if/when we design and build our house on the ranch someday, we MUST have an office in the loft with a view out the big living room windows. Preferably with a view of the mountains.]
In Bozeman, it’s hard not to have a view of the mountains, as they seem to be in every direction. I love that about Bozeman. This morning, unlike the other mornings here, I can actually see the mountains, with the pink of dawn slowly creeping over the edges. The trees in the yard are all frost-covered and ghostly white in the pale pink morning light. I think I am in love with this place. C-baby has informed us not only can we move here, and soon, but that we had better move here, and soon. I tend to agree with her assessment. So, Pappa Bear, as soon as you want to find a new job out here, we’re all game. Just say the word, rent the truck, and we’re here. Is there any place that you have absolutely fallen in love with, where you would be living right now if you could? I’d love to hear all about it. Cheers – Victoria

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Sometimes pictures speak more than words. The frost is always fleeting, lasting less than a day, but what a spectacular sight it is, making is stop and notice, and be present.
Blessings, Victoria

Sunday, January 17, 2010

I have noticed something. Many folks who blog use nicknames for their family members. Gluten-free Girl (Shauna James Ahern) calls her daughter, “Little Bean.” Pioneer Woman (Ree Drummond) calls her husband “Marlboro Man.” He really does ride a horse and work cattle, so I guess that’s fair. I suppose all of this is to protect the innocent, or something like that. Which brings me to a dilemma. What blog nickname should I attach to my honey-sweetie-pie-sugar-daddy? Because I don't think anyone will ever want to read that every time he comes up in the conversation. Not even if I shorten it to hspsd. I could just call him "sweetie," as I have before, and often do in real-life. But it's not very manly. Not like "Marlboro Man." And if he's going to be vicariously famous through my blog, he needs a manly name. I tried out a couple of names on Hspsd today as I pondered this decision. "What blog nickname do you prefer for yourself: Sweetie, or Precious?" Hspsd answered that I can only call him Precious if I use Gollum's accent. As in, "Whaaaatttt has it gooot in its naaaaasssttyyy little pocketeses, my Precious?" Hard to do the Golum accent via blog. Especially if you are not familiar with The Hobbit. So Precious is out. I would paste a pic of Gollum/Precious here but I just looked at some of his Google images – yikes, scary! No pics for Gollum... Hspsd tells me that Big K is an acceptable nickname, as it was his childhood nickname. Big K and Little D, his baby sister. Little D could seriously whoop Big K's arse when she was miffed, which, according to Big K, was often. So I have to laugh a bit at the irony of those names. Hspsd goes on to observe that as far as nicknames are concerned, "Big K" is a whole lot better than "Special K." If I call him "Special K" on the blog, he will call me "Trix" or "Fruit Loops." Or "Smackums." Oops, he meant "Honeysmacks." So I think "Big K" is gonna be The One. Now, what to call the Kiddle? C-baby is what I usually call her. Although she's not so much a baby anymore. Although she will always be my baby.

When I was naming her, I picked out a first name for her that could not be shortened. Three syllables, not shorten-able, no nicknames, did not rhyme with anything that grade-schoolers would want to tease her with. So the day care promptly chopped her name down to one letter - "C." And for a long time, she also went by "C-C." It got to the point where I would call her friends parents to ask if she was over there (she liked to disappear a lot after school) and if I asked for her by name, they would go like, "Huh?" "Nobody here by that name!" And I would sigh a big sigh and say, "OK, is CiCi there?" "Oh, yes she is!" Don't ever think you can pick your child's nicknames. And don't ever name them something that rhymes with "icky" or "sticky." Trust me on this one. So C-baby became my affectionate version of the daycare's chopped naming experiment. I like it much better. It reminds her that I am still the parent, even if she drives now and has a real job. But more than that, it is an endearment of affection. Because who wouldn't just love a C-baby in their life?

I know I would. And so would Big K. I think anyway. At least, he hasn't asked me to return her. Yet. Amen. -Honeysmacks

PostScript: After reviewing this entry, Big K has requested that he go by Pappa bear instead, or PB for short (not to be confused with Peanut Butter). So PB and Cb from here on after. Until he changes his mind. Again.

-HS

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Vegetables stole my blog. Yep, they just marched right into my kitchen, one big CSA box every week (+ a few extra odds and ends from the farmers’ market… I am such a sucker for a local farmers’ market!), and demanded that I DO SOMETHING with them, and do it right quick, before they started to revert to a previous organic life form, a conversion facilitated by copious amounts of mold. ‘Doing something’ usually entailed some combination of chopping (and chopping and chopping…), sautéing, mixing, stirring, seasoning, and eating. It also often involved my new favorite veggie cookbook (thanks sweetie for picking this up for me and saving me the agony of having to walk through the Mall of America).
Occasionally it involved the food dehydrator that I borrowed from my friend Betty; or freezing extra portions to savor summer’s goodness in the frostiness of mid-winter (frozen pesto thaws beautifully and makes a great topper for pitas, with tomato slices and mozzarella cheese – broil until the cheese bubbles!). And over Labor Day weekend, it involved canning 42 pint jars of homemade (organic, locally grown) tomato sauce with my friend Mary.
42 pints of yummy goodness! For four solid months, I ate, slept, breathed and chopped my way through my weekly servings of veggies. I have never eaten so many fresh veggie-based meals in my life. And if you knew me very well, you would probably be scratching your head right now and wondering, “What on earth? She doesn’t even like veggies!” I’m afraid it’s true… I have never met a raw vegetable that I would consider taking home to meet the folks. I not only dislike raw veggies, I truly despise them. I can still recall being forced to eat raw carrots and celery sticks at lunch… which usually ended up mush in the pocket of my cheek until I could excuse myself to go spit them in the toilet. So my husband was a bit taken aback when I announced last spring that I wanted a CSA share this year. “What on earth are you going to do with all of those raw vegetables that you so despise?” A fair question, given his knowledge of my vegetable avoidance habits.
 What, indeed? Well, there really is only one answer. Although I can tolerate and even sort of kind of enjoy a fresh salad every so often (Romaine and spinach leaves only please – no frilly bitter things allowed! And keep those other raw veggies off of it… and please don’t forget to smother it with chicken, croûtons, sesame seeds and yummy salad dressing so I can’t taste the leaves!), the only real answer to my dilemma of consuming more veggies in my diet was to cook everything.
Not only did we cook almost everything that came in the door, I learned how to cook with things I have never, ever, eaten in my entire life before. Like Napa cabbage (stir-fry… still too bitter for my taste though). Red and green cabbage – we liked the small, red heads of cabbage better than the big green ones. We made a lot of Bierocks – a German version of cabbage/beef calzone, a recipe sweetie’s mom passed on to us. They even freeze and reheat well. They were actually quite good… but with 4+ heads of cabbage coming in every week, we just couldn’t keep up with enough cabbage dishes – sadly, some of the cabbage ended up in the compost. Parsnips (parsnip soup). Swiss chard (tastes like spinach when sautéed and used in pasta dishes). Collard greens (I don’t even recall what dish we hid these in). Kale (again, like spinach – sautéed and used on pasta).
image from here.
And then the glorious time of the summer finally arrived, when the leafy green things started to peter out and we were refreshed with a wave of veggies I actually recognized and used in abundance – potatoes, onions, shallots, carrots, TOMATOES (and tomatoes and tomatoes!), zucchini & yellow summer squash. And then later, winter squash and pumpkins. And some more tomatoes. And I learned some new tricks for those plentiful tomatoes. Like, what do you do with 5# of tomatoes when you already cooked enough veggie dishes to last a month? Make tomato paste! Five POUNDS of tomatoes will cook/bake down to less than a pint of paste. And boy oh boy is it good paste, too! Much better than those little cans you’ll pay an arm & a leg for at the grocery store.
image from here.
As if this Vegetable Undertaking weren’t enough, the searching out new recipes, the braving new frontiers by eating things I’ve never eaten before, the chopping and chopping and chopping and cooking, cooking, cooking, I had to do it without the help of my faithful kitchen companion, whose real job suddenly approached a project deadline with such frantic parameters that he spent the last few months of the summer/fall leaving at 8am and returning home around 11pm, long after the veggies had been cooked and the dishes cleaned up and everything put away. This was the real tragedy of the Summer of Vegetables – normally we would chop and cook side by side, sharing the toil and the experiments, celebrating our success together over another good home cooked meal, together. But not this year. I, who hate to cook almost as much as I hate raw vegetables, did all of the cooking. Alone. And lived (barely) to tell the tale. The Veggie Tale (couldn’t resist). But all was not for woe. I did learn some powerful lessons from this experiment with vegetables. 1) I still don’t like raw vegetables. 2) Almost anything is palatable if cooked with enough garlic & onions. 3) If you don’t like to cook, do not cook a season of food, alone. Just don’t do it. Hire a cook if necessary. The expense is minimal compared to saving the marriage. 4) Even a favorite vegetable can get tiring when served in copious amounts, for weeks on end. (Even tomatoes). 5) Ratatouille is fabulous but it makes sweetie ill. Eat it when he is not around. 6) Four or more heads of cabbage is just not do-able in a week, with a family of two. 7) Red cabbage will keep almost forever in the fridge and will eventually be eaten by sweetie on his wraps and in his scramblers (don’t ask!). But even this fact does not justify receiving more than 1 head of cabbage/week. If your CSA continues to bombard you with cabbage, you have my permission to not feel guilty when it goes to the compost. Reuse it on your own garden next year, on a vegetable you love. 8) I have a wider range of vegetable tolerances than I previously thought.
9) When all else fails, add salsa & cheese to the dish. 10) Canning should always be done with a good friend… and at least two bottles of wine and some really good chocolate.
image from here.
Happy Chopping – Victoria

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