Friday, October 31, 2008

Express Your Freedom

We inhabit a beautiful country and, beyond boundaries, a beautiful planet, an unfathomable universe, a wonder-full you. Our task is to find our will to live in an intimate relationship with all these things. Create the world you Imagine. Express your freedom.

I do not see the big loom (or the weaver!), but I do see some of the marvelous tapestry. I do not know the outcome of this presidential election. I do not care who you vote for; just vote. Vote your conscience. Get involved in your world. Heed your call--whatever it is!

I will be voting for Barack Obama. I think he can inspire and awaken our nation.
Click here for more videos from Vote For Change

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Easy Navy Bean and Ham Soup

Serves 3-4

2 medium yellow onions, minced
6 ribs celery, finely chopped
3 tbs. butter
6 cups (chicken) stock
3 medium baking potatoes, cubed
2 cups ham, cubed
2 15-ounce cans navy beans, rinsed
1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste

Cook onions and celery in butter until onions are translucent. Add stock, potatoes and ham. Cover and cook until potatoes are tender, about 25 minutes. Add navy beans and parsley, salt and pepper. Cook for another 5-10 minutes.

Note: I cooked this soup up quickly on the stove. But you can also prepare it in the morning, put it into your crockpot or solar cooker and cook for about 4 hours. However, if you’re going to be away longer, this soup just gets better as it cooks. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Busy as a Beaver

Yesterday we joined Matthew for his tracking program at Paradise Beach. He wasn’t there when we arrived, so Anouk and I waited in the car. She was squirrelly and seemed to want to pick a fight with me. Her metamorphosis has been challenging for me. I’m so sad about the loss of my sweet little girl and so afraid that I will just push this growing woman away. It has not been an easy transition. She seems to be unable to control her wild energy and often pushes and goads and always wants the last word. Sometimes I tell her to just stop and ask for a few minutes of silence. It seems like the only way to get out of the power struggle—at least the only way that I know, right now. Then our friend Reed and Matthew showed up, and Anouk laid into him for awhile. Why was he late? Why did we have to talk so long about what we were going to do? Why was he acting like a kid?

As we made our way toward the river, we spotted some tracks. We are learning to track, so we like to be aware of any signs of animals. However, these were not animal tracks; they were tire tracks. We might have just dismissed them and continued on our merry way, but the neat thing about tracking is that you open yourself up to the story of the land. There was no reason a truck should’ve even been in that area; it is closed off to vehicles. Why were these tracks there? The tires looked like they had sunk deep into the sand. We thought maybe the truck had gotten stuck.

Then Matthew spotted two rectangular impressions on the outside of the tire tracks. He thought maybe they were tow truck stabilizers. Then I noticed a smaller set of tracks plowing through the willows and continuing further down the hill. Because the willows were trampled, it led us further to believe that it must have been someone who didn’t really care about the landscape. At the bottom of the incline, we found some more chaotic tracks in the sand. There were also some (from the smell of them) newly burnt logs. Maybe someone had been partying here. Maybe they had spun their wheels in the sand. Just when we thought we’d figured it out, Matthew saw more burnt logs further ahead. The riddle was pulling us forward to reveal itself. When we climbed a small hill, we found that there had been a fire in a stand of trees! The tracks must have been those of a firetruck. We were exploring the debris when Matthew remembered that he’d often seen a pile of dead branches and leaves at the base of the tree—like the river had piled up debris there over the years or someone had built a little earth shelter. We found lots of bottles, cans, clams, a lighter, a burnt boot…that might indicate the latter. Then Matthew noticed smoke. It was still burning! As he explored, he found live coals. It was VERY hot. So he called to let a ranger know to come check on it. They said sometimes it takes a couple days for a fire to burn itself out. If that’s the case, I wonder if they check up on it? Well, since Matthew always comes to the river prepared, we had a couple buckets. So we gathered water from the river and began to turn up, soak and spread the coals. Matthew dug a deep pit in the loam before he finally reached the end of the coals. And, even penetrating into the earth at the bottom, it was hot! What a story!

On one of our trips to get water, Anouk voiced her newfound complaint of “I’m bored.” She had just found a great stick that had all its bark and both its ends gnawed off by a beaver! Satisfied that the fire was out, Matthew had something he wanted to show us. He led us to some tracks in the sand and asked us if we could tell what was happening, what was being dragged, what direction it was being dragged in, etc…. It was a continuous path, about two feet wide and striped the length of it. Anouk was fading and not open to discovery and so Matthew brought her further to look at the source. He pointed to a broken tree limb and got her to compare it to her beaver stick. Once we recognized them as the work of a beaver dragging tree limbs down to the river, we saw evidence of their activity everywhere! There were tracks and gnawed trunks all over the place. If Anouk and I had been walking alone, we would’ve missed out on that story, too.

Following their tracks, we discovered more questions. We wondered why they were dragging the limbs down to the water. Beavers around here don’t live in dams; they live in the riverbank. Matthew said that they take the limbs down to the river to keep them fresh. They eat the cambium layer just under the outer bark. I asked if I could try some. Anouk was appalled, but I said I wanted to taste what beavers taste—at least as best I could. I know that cats don’t have taste buds for sweet, so I imagined that Beavers taste buds had different receptors, too. I wondered if it would be hard for us to digest, but Matthew said it is easier than grass. Surprisingly, Anouk ate her piece, too! It was very bitter but had a nutty undertone. It tasted like some buds we had sampled a couple weeks ago! And sure enough, Matthew said that this was their favorite tree. I’ll bet they co-evolved with the river: the beavers and the cottonwoods.

I decided that Anouk could probably benefit from some lunch. So I plopped down and served it up. We had roast beef sandwiches and the end of a bag of pretzels. She didn’t balk, ate it all, had some water, and seemed to have renewed energy and enthusiasm.

Now it was time to choose what to do for the remainder of our day. We narrowed it down to three choices: a treasure hunt, blindfolded drum stalking or crawfishing. We chose the latter. When we got to the water I was feeling a little warm. Suddenly an urge overcame me to throw up. I usually have an iron stomach, so this was surprising. I decided to stay behind. Remember the remainder of the pretzel bag? I think my body wanted to get rid of the salt that I had wrongly assumed was about a teaspoon of pretzel crumbs. Maybe the cottonwood helped me purge it, too. I felt better.

It was nice just sitting there. I saw all sorts of ducks, an egret, a praying mantis, and humans with their dogs. It was enjoyable watching my little girl out in the glow, too. I’ve been feeling, deep down, that this is what she needs more of at this time in her life. Her energy has been so frenetic! And the day was so expansive and relational. She and Matthew and Reed were working as a team. Anouk had the bucket and the eyes. Matthew would lift boulders, Anouk would spot the crawfish and Reed would fearlessly catch them. When it was time to go, they’d probably caught around seven. Although this wasn’t the most productive spot, it was enough. Anouk was suddenly realizing the reality of the situation and getting uncomfortable. We were going to have these for dinner. We picked the three biggest ones and let the rest go. Oh, and there were freshwater clams, too!

We drove right home. Anouk took a shower, set the table and communed with the crawfish while I made dinner. When it came time to cook Anouk’s catch, she didn’t want to watch. I was feeling a little uncertain, myself, so I enlisted Robley’s help. He even got creative with it. I’ll post our recipe on Sunday in my Recipe of the Week. We don’t usually pray before our meals, but we did for this one. There’s something about catching your own food. It evokes an intimacy and gratefulness that an amorphous, irradiated, vacuum-sealed package of beef does not. What creature is a beef anyway? A pork? It used to bother me when Robley would call ham or bacon “pig,” and now I see why; we’ve removed ourselves from the source. In some ways I want to get back to that source. Imagine how much less meat you’d eat. You might not even require as much, because of the freshness. I’ll even bet that local food has the vitamins and minerals that our bodies need. I’ll bet that a crawdad or a carrot from our biome is better for us than one from another place—even if we traveled to that other place to eat it fresh. I’m just fascinated that the Inuits get enough from their seal and whale diets. They eat what the seals eat, too. That’s another good reason to take care of our environment. If we do, it really is abundant and can sustain us, no matter where we live.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Turning Over a New Leaf

When I was eleven we moved to the Bay Area in Northern California. However, the concrete jungle did not appeal to my family. My dad worked really hard to get transferred to the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Writing this, I hear him telling me that saying “mountains” is redundant, as Sierra Nevada means “snowy mountain range” in Spanish. And so we found ourselves in those snowy mountains next to a beautiful little reservoir. Besides a few cabins here and there, it was a fairly isolated place. I was allowed a lot of freedom to explore. I had some special places there: a large, flat slab of granite where I’d sit and catch lizards and listen to the wind in the trees (anyone see the movie Nell?); a place by the lake where I’d watch the ducks and herons do their wild dance; a path around the lake where I could walk like a Native American Indian, one with the forest; and a nearby glade where we’d walk and find relics of an Indian camp—grinding rocks, arrowheads, beads, crystals. This place filled me with a spirit bigger than my own and gave me a sense of connection in lonely times (otherwise known as junior high).

Since we’ve been homeschooling (and especially since my daughter is junior high age), I’ve become aware that she doesn’t have the same access to the natural world. We live in suburbia. While we are lucky enough to live near a creek, it is inhabited by homeless people and litter and graffiti. I don’t feel safe walking by myself there and would not think of letting my daughter wander there alone.

One benefit of having this creek (however unloved), is that it draws wildlife. We do go for walks together. We see green herons, ducks, squirrels, and once Anouk spotted a rat that had built a little home in a bunch of plants in the middle of the creek. There are native plants and birds and insects and lizards. And sometimes these things venture into our yard. We’ve even been visited by skunks and flocks of turkeys! Just this morning a possum was investigating our back porch. And our trees are filled with beautiful little songbirds. For living in the suburbs, we really are lucky.

I’ve lived in this town for almost thirteen years and still have not accepted it as my home. I’ve been in this house for approaching six years and still haven’t quite moved in. So, where am I?! Limbo. Not the game, but the place between heaven and hell. I’m stuck waiting for my childhood dream to somehow manifest—to live back in nature. But do we ever live out of nature?!

Who knows if I will ever get back to the woods or how long I will live in this place. Who knows?! But I’m here, now. And for as long as I am here, I vow to get to know this place. Maybe in turn, it will introduce me to myself, to my nature. And so, today, I am turning over a new leaf.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Chard Stuffed with Risotto and Mozzarella

Chard Stuffed with Risotto and Mozzarella
Serves 3-6


• 1 1/2 cups brown rice
• 6 cups stock (chicken or vegetable)
• 1 can cream of celery soup
• 1 cup cream
• 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated, more for garnish
• salt & pepper, to taste
• 6 large chard leaves
• 1/2 lb mozzarella cheese
• extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Cook rice in 3 cups stock, until rice is barely tender. Reserve unused stock. Mix soup with cream until smooth. Stir in parmesan, salt and pepper. Add to rice and mix well. Allow rice to cool a bit. Although you can make this about an hour ahead of time, don't refrigerate the rice. It will change consistency.

Cut mozzarella into bite sized pieces and set aside for assembly.

Poach chard leaves in about 3 cups of remaining broth for about 30 seconds. Remove, drain in a dishcloth, and cut out the central stem, cutting the chard leaf in half lengthwise. Reserve cooking stock.

Note: if you are cooking this in the oven, preheat it now at 400'. But if you are using the solar cooker, don't worry about it.

Lay out a chard leaf, put a three inch ball of rice at one end of the leaf. Sink a piece of cheese into the center. Then carefully roll and place in the pan. Repeat until all the leaves have been used. If your leaf halves are big enough, you may be able to halve them again. Once your pan is full, it will look like you have really plump dolmas! Now use your reserved stock to rise halfway up the wraps.

Cover and toss them in the oven for 15 minutes or the solar cooker for a couple hours. Everything is cooked, so now you just want it to get warm and yummy!

Serve wraps topped with parmesan and olive oil.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Autumn Walkabout

I have not gone on a walkabout for some time. I needed to do it--alone. Writer Rick Bass introduced me to the idea to walk with someone in mind and share what you experienced with them. A communion. A gift. This one is for my mom.

Autumn. The forest near the nature center was quiet. In the 60s, Effie Yeaw Nature Center was the first of 5,000 acres along the American River to be protected. Standing sentry at the trailhead was a two hundred year old Valley Oak. And not far away, one that had fallen in a strong winter storm some handful of years ago. The things it must have stood witness to!

It stood when the Nisenan people inhabited this area. They built their summer homes along the abundant river, once its waters had receded. Walking through here, you can imagine what it must have been like before the settlers came. The forest is no longer still. It allows me to see it. A mamma deer and her baby walk toward me as they cross my path. Penetrating further, I feel their presence; deer are everywhere. And birds: woodpeckers, black phoebes, jays, titmouse. As I stop to listen to their twitters, something bites my leg. Something small. I think it was a spider, but it walked like a crab.

Although the song of the birds was pretty, I was drawn away, toward the river. I saw a massive great egret flying overhead. I was hoping it would land close, but it flew upriver. The river was murmuring and singing its deep earthy song, and insects danced around it: bees, mating damselflies, dragonflies--and Buckeye butterflies. I wanted to take a picture, but they wouldn't let me. I wandered to a sit spot, a log by the water. The sound is so constant and soothing. It's like a soul massage. But those butterflies! I chased them all over the riverside. I guess they wouldn't be possessed.

Time began to gently pull me back, but I decided to meander. I wanted to make my own way, to let the world open up for me. To listen. To hear its message. I saw many plants, known and unknown. I found a mugwort going to seed, and asked if I could take a small bit. In an essay in Ecological Medicine, Kathleen Harrison says, "When, for instance, you meet a plant and you wish to take some of its body for medicine, you ask it if you might, and you explain what it’s for, and you give it something back. On this continent it often has been tobacco, traditionally the most sacred plant of the Americas, that is offered in exchange. I’ve thought about what is most valuable to people of our contemporary culture, and I think it’s time. Time is the thing that is most expensive to us, what we have the least of, and what we’re most jealous with. Time is the precious gift that we can offer to a plant if we want to get to know it, when we want to ask something from it. The way we can offer it time is to get to know the plant, sit with it, learn what it looks like, and maybe grow it. Even if you’re just purchasing the dried root, try to learn about that plant’s world."

I found a couple of other sit spots and tried to meditate. But it was so LOUD. The smallest creatures can be so deafening! Like the butterflies and bees, my thoughts just kept flitting. I curled up in a ball. And then I heard the message. I was waiting for something instead of living into the moment. I hadn't brought my watch, but again, time was tugging me. It said, "Get up." Within minutes, I had come full circle. The veil dropped again, and the forest quieted. I made my way back to the present, into the city and was just in time to pick up my daughter and go home. Time, huh?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Crustless Veggie Quiche

Crustless Veggie Quiche
from Cooking with Sunshine by Lorraine Anderson

Yield 4 Servings

4 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 cup small curd cottage cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup unbleached white flour
1 clove garlic, pressed
1 cup steamed, chopped vegetables
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
2 cups grated cheddar cheese

Lightly oil a dark, 8-inch-square or 9-inch-round baking pan.

In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, sour cream, cottage cheese, parmesan cheese, flour, and garlic. Stir in the veggies (we used fresh spinach), scallions, and cheddar cheese.

Pour the mixture into the prepared baking pan, cover, and bake for 2 hours or so in the solar cooker, until firmly set.

Chef's Note: We cooked this pie for 3 hours. It was a windy day in the mid-80s. The temperature of the cooker got up to 250', but the temperature decreased 50' each half hour. The quiche did become firm, but, because of the lower cooking temperatures of the solar oven, it was more like a dinner custard than a quiche. It was tasty, though. Maybe I'll experiment with a crumble crust sprinkled on at the end.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Pulled Pork Burritos

The first time we used our solar cooker, my daughter used this recipe from They are a series of farms here in California that sustainably and humanely raise livestock. I understand that the fast food restaurant, Chipotle uses Niman ranch pork. I am fond of Chipotle carnitas burritos and think this is a good imitation with some minor changes. Pulled Ranchero BBQ Niman Ranch Pork

Percy Whatley
Awhahnee Dining Room
Yosemite, CA

3 lbs Niman Ranch Pork Shoulder, boneless

Spice rub:
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp granulated garlic
1/2 tsp ground cumin
3/4 tsp California Chili powder
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch ground clove
1/8 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp Kosher salt or sea salt
1/2 tsp black pepper, ground

Put your solar cooker in the sun to warm up. For sanitary purposes, this is an unnecessary step. However, it does situate the cooker where you’ll want it to be so that you don’t have to move it much.

Cut your roast into ¼ or ½ pound chunks.

Combine all spice rub ingredients and mix thoroughly by hand. Generously rub the pork shoulder with spice mixture.

Place in a dark enamelware roasting pan with 1/4 c water and place the lid on. The roast will produce some steam (which will inhibit the sun from penetrating the glass). To limit that, you can use large binder clips to hold the lid on tighter.

Cook for 4 to 6 hours.

Remove pork from oven and with two forks, pull the meat apart. It should fall apart or pull apart easily. It is a good idea to use a meat thermometer when cooking meat with any type of slowcooker. Ours was 175’ F and safe to eat. It looked just like it would if you used a conventional oven.

We made burritos with lettuce, cheese, beans, rice, and salsa. It was savory!

Chef’s note: my daughter didn’t like the sweetness of the meat. So, I did adapt this recipe here, reducing the “Eastern” spices and omitting the brown sugar. I think if we made BBQ sauce like in Niman Ranch’s recipe, the spices would have been appropriate. I thought it was delicious, myself!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Solar Cooking Basics

For our first attempt at solar cooking, I decided to cook a three pound pork roast. Sounds risky, you say, attempting to cook meat your first time, without the controlled heat of your oven?! Here’s something to put your fears to rest. Many people safely use slow cookers. Crockpots and solar box cookers operate on the same principle: food is cooked at low temperatures for an extended period of time. I know, it’s the low temperatures part that scares you. Crockpots usually have two settings. The low setting heats up to between 180 to 200 degrees (F), and the high setting heats up to about 280 degrees. If you look at my solar cooking charts below, you will see that the solar cooker operates on what would be the low setting of the crockpot. This is the setting that most people use while they are away from their food all day. Okay, I know that phrase “most people” isn’t very helpful when you’re worried about food safety. In How to Make and Use a Solar Box Cooker, the author states that “When the solar box is in the sun, temperatures quickly heat to 120 degrees F, where germs stop growing, and then to 150 degrees F-where PASTEURIZATION kills ALL parasites and disease organisms except heat-resistant spores. Foods cook at 180-200 degrees F-temperatures hotter than pasteurizing, so any food that is fully-cooked is also pasteurized.” If you are still concerned, do some research. This is good stuff to know, even if you’re not using a solar box cooker. Here in the United States, we have a government food safety agency. They have an informative website: I inserted a cooking thermometer into my roast, and it indicated that the internal temperature was pork safe at 175. That is another tool to put your mind to rest.
Time Oven Outside Wind Notes
10:30 a.m. 0 74 0 Put oven in sun
11:00 175 74 0 Clear sky today
11:30 175 77 0
12:00 p.m. 210 79 0
12:30 200 79 1 Smells good!
1:00 185 82 5
1:30 185 83 5
2:00 225 85 6
3:00 185 86 4 Condensation
4:00 225 88 3
5:00 225 88 4Ready to eat!

Solar cooking works by channeling rays of the sun and containing them in an insulated box. If it is windy or cloudy, it affects the efficacy of the solar cooker. It is, however, still possible to cook when it’s windy. It’s even possible to cook when it’s cloudy, as long as the solar cooker is exposed to sun at least thirty minutes out of each hour.

The second time we used the cooker, I decided to make baked potato soup. I used a recipe from a crockpot cookbook, which called for five pounds of potatoes! I’ve had difficulties cooking potatoes in the crockpot before, and even in the oven with a chicken. They are stubborn little tubers! And, stubbornly, I followed the directions and filled my roasting pan with cubed potatoes and some chicken broth. You can see that the temperature hovered around the same neighborhood as when I cooked the pork roast, somewhere between 175 and 200 degrees. But when I checked the potatoes at 4:00, they were still hard. So, I rushed them into a big pot and boiled them aggressively for half an hour. The potato soup was delicious. I’m going to try it again in the solar cooker. I am really intrigued by the solar box cooker and think with some experimenting it can be just as easy to cook with as my modern, resource depleting kitchen appliances. It is empowering.
Time Oven Outside Wind Notes
10:15 a.m. 0 76 4 Partly cloudy
10:45 125 76 4 Partly cloudy
11:00 190 78 4 Partly cloudy
12:00 p.m. 210 84 Calm Partly cloudy
1:00 200 85 4 Partly cloudy
2:00 175 86 6 Very cloudy
3:00 175 88 7 Very cloudy
4:00 175 88 6 Partly cloudy