19 July, 2011

Tuesday Cucumber & Key Lime Margarita

This will make you want to dance! I wasn't sure how cucumber margaritas would taste so, I made a very small batch. And I regret it as I gaze at the empty blender in the sink. The skins could have been bitter (they weren't) the flesh could have been full of seeds (it wasn't) and it might have just tasted too healthy or too green or too something. In any case, I just didn't want to make a full batch and then end up pouring it all down the garbage disposal. Tonight was a time when I was so happy that I  was so wrong. Something about the newborn size of the cukes and their freshly picked status gave them an intense, cooling sensation, which would have been wonderful anytime. But today, with the heat index at 115, it was like the most incredibly insightful gift our beloved Mother Earth could bestow on her children. The tartness of the key lime, the fragrant jasmine flowers mixed with green tea and a sweet touch of raw honey were the perfect companions for those newly picked cukes. Some fresh mint, leftover from Mondays' creation, were next to the cukes in the refrigerator. I tossed that in at the end, right before I added the heavy whipping cream to adjust the glycemic index. Garnished with a slice of cucumber and flowering oregano, this is the perfect foil for a day like today. And if it weren't so blooming hot I would never have tried to concoct something with cooling properties like this treat. As I sipped the liquid cucumbers through the sea salt on the rim I was reminded of the cold soups of summer I have eaten over the past 50+ years. Which led me back to the cucumber fields of you youth. My father insisted we plant acres of the darling and sell them to Gedney to make a fortune. My siblings and I were not nearly as compliant, or as enthusiastic, as he had hoped. 95% of his babies grew as big, and as orange, as small pumpkins before we managed to harvest them. By that point we couldn't even give them to Gedney and they ended up in the pig trough.  We loaded a few bushel baskets, mostly full,  in the dusty  Ford family station wagon and drove them to Winthrop. Arriving at the drop off site for Gedney we emptied the baskets into the sorting machine and the attendant turned it on. As the bed of slats rocked back and forth the smaller cukes fell through the openings onto the conveyor belt. But the larger, orange ones stayed right were they fell until they were swept off and fell into the large barrel with the other rejects, on their way to the pigs. We were only paid for the smaller cukes and it was just about enough to cover us at the Dairy Queen if we got the cheapest things on the menu: dilly bars or single dipped cones. Luckily, I had money from my babysitting business and we also stopped at the Lyle's Cafe for pie. We sat at the counter so we could see the pie lady, Mina Peterson. I loved watching her roll out the crust, studying her technique and imagining how wonderful it would be to spend all day making pies. No one was in a hurry to get back to the hot and humid cucumber patch. As far as we workers were concerned the grasshoppers, crickets and spiders were welcome to claim the produce, we had better things to do: swimming, reading, drinking cherry cokes. On the drive home with tummies full of blueberry pie, cherry pie and Dairy Queen treats, we joked about our Dad's "get rich quick" scheme and plotted how to avoid his pickle patch picking plans. By the end of our "pickle summer" of 1970 he realized his expensive mistake. He told us that we were ungrateful, and spoiled rotten, just like the soft orange cucumbers left on the ground. He said he bought the tractor and planted those seeds for us, so his kids could make some money, be independent and have something to do over our summer vacation. And then, after telling us we didn't deserve the opportunity he had provided, he solemnly vowed it would be a long, long time, if ever, that he would try to do something like that for us kids again. And, so far, thank you, Jesus, he's kept his word.

18 July, 2011

Monday Mango Margarita

Oh, yes, it's a heat wave. After sweating it out all day it is so time for some thing salty, icy and full of beta carotene, with just a hint of fresh mint. Something that says, "I love this life-no matter what!" When pressed for time I go for the frozen mango's that you can find in oh-so-many freezer cases in oh-so-many stores. I would rather pick them off my own tree, like I did with the sour cherries, or buy them from a local grower but that just isn't happening until I move to the tropics. I like drinking my margaritas out of a martini glass which some people will find offensive. But I honestly haven't found any margarita glasses that feel right in my hand. They are either too big, too thick or too ugly. I almost passed on these striped glasses but once I actually picked them up, held them in my hand, and closed my eyes I was sold on them. That and the fact that it was the 4th of July week, a week of fireworks and streamers. They are festive and I want a stronger sense of celebration in my life. This recipe is an original combination of fresh lime, lemon, calcium added orange juice concentrate and frozen mango cubes. I love using frozen fruit rather than ice as it is just plain more flavorful. I was generous with the sea salt around the rim, as I felt I needed to replace the electrolytes I lost during the sauna-like weather today. My secret ingredient: extra strong jasmine tea. I made enough of this batch so that I have some left-over. Tomorrow morning I will add Greek yogurt and drink it for breakfast. Or pour it on top of granola and enjoy the complex flavors which will develop during the night. On an increasingly rare occasion such as an engagement party, wedding or job promotion I might add a shot of tequila or dark spiced rum. But the sugar rush and the caffeine are my drugs of choice.  As I placed the half full blender in the refrigerator I noticed a hand-full of lovely fresh cucumbers from yesterday's trip to the Kingfield Farmer's Market. Consequently, I am leaning toward cucumber/lime margaritas tomorrow, which means chopping the cukes and freezing them tonight. Check back here for the results. 

12 July, 2011

Brioche with plum jam

There is a common human habit of noticing what's wrong with our lives, the painful things that suggest we're bad people, or maybe just plain stupid, undeserving. The world is misperceived as an unfriendly place filled with all kinds of dangers we need to avoid. We start to think that with enough planning and plenty of caution we can prevent painful things from happening. Yet there is plenty of evidence to the contrary, if we are willing to look clearly at everything that is around us. From the fragrant, flowering plants along our paths to the fluffy clouds overhead, we are surrounded by the living manifestation of lovingness. The relaxed ease granted to us during these warm summer months is just such a blessing. I personally get caught worrying about my financial instability and hope that it is a temporary situation for me. Trying not to worry, I set out for a morning run. Then, as I pass Patisserie 46, the little bakery on 46th and Grand, I notice an older Chevy camper and it abruptly interrupts my "worry pattern." I realize that, if necessary, I could sell or rent my house and live in something like that vehicle. I could travel, write and be very inspired. I became so absorbed in imagining my new writing life in the back of a vanagon that I forgot about monthly revenues, assets, and profit and loss reports. I started to select which campsite I would use when I got to Wright's beach on the Sonoma coast. By the time I reined in my imagination my cells were flooded with dopamine and other "feel good" hormones. I realized that my financial status is a small part of my life, necessary, but more of a puzzle than a curse. As I turned back toward home I stopped at the bakery to purchase one of their signature baguettes. Entering the tiny space I was enveloped by the aroma of freshly baked bread and pastries. I was reminded of LaDuree and the time I spent in their London location. The image of an unforgettable, cold and rainy afternoon eating pastries with my daughter and her boyfriend popped into my memory. But there are a fair amount of people living in Minneapolis who never think about LaDuree. There are probably some people who even think LaDuree is over-rated and pretentious, not worth the trip or the effort. And, considering my current financial resources, I am happy to find myself carrying baguette and an unplanned brioche with creme fraiche back to my kitchen. I eat the Brioche with sweet butter from Hope Creamery,  home-made plum jam and Mrs. Kelly's hot Jasmine tea. And I remember that everything in life is amazing, sometimes painful, but undeniably blessed.

11 July, 2011

Queen of Trailer-land

When my mother sold her trailer she gave up a garden she had spent many years creating. There were hedges of bridal wreath, every kind of spring bulb, day lilies, peonies, ferns, magnificent prehistoric looking hosta and unusual iris. But the queen of this paradise of the trailer park was this golden lady slipper, gleaned from the boggy woods near her son's lake "place." It thrived in her tiny lot and was the envy of the area. She had planted it close to the trailer so that it was protected from the winds and uninvited eyes. It seemed uncommonly happy even though the soil was primarily clay. Plant thieves were known to visit the park where her trailer was situated. As she looked for new homes for her treasures the lady came to me. I replanted it in a somewhat shady area in my back yard and marked it so I would know where it was and avoid mistaking it for  a weed. Sometimes plants rest for a time in their new homes, sort of recharging their batteries and adjusting to the different combinations of moisture and sunlight, at a new time of the day. In any case, when I looked for it in late April, it had not appeared. May came and went without a trace of my mother's favorite. Her pink and white trillium flourished, as did her hostas and mock orange. I grieved the silence, the disappearance of that beauty and calculate the odds it may reappear next spring.

sour cherry margarita

My friend D lives in Margarita-ville. I want to visit her there, but I don't drink, which means that I actually live in Slurpee-ville, or Smoothie-ville, or maybe just Icee-ville, depending on your childhood tradition. I pretend it's a margarita or a daiquiri, and with that sudden rush of sugar, I feel like I'm bouncing off the walls. I tried adding whipping cream to slow the sugar rush, but that was simply too decadent. Now I'm back to straight fruit juices in a blender, occasionally adding a scoop of protein powder or a little tofu. Not very romantic, but I am "overdrawn" at the romance store. It did not serve my purposes in the long run. Like worrying, romance is over-rated. And seriously,  it's not something which will pay my mortgage. When push comes to shove, we call it domestic violence. How do we learn to recognize the various and subtle forms of domestic violence? For me, it was only by wading out into the middle of the pool.  And the deeper it got, the more I tried to ignore it, until I was drowning. Lucky for me, someone threw me a line and pulled me back to shore. Now I sit on the deck, overlooking my backyard, sipping my wanna-be Margarita and smile. It is quiet except for the sound of the wind in my cherry tree. The flowers are reaching for the sky. Summer is in full bloom and will be over before I'm ready to say good-bye. Nearly the middle of July, I wonder if it is too late in the season to get a bike. Many of my clients are on vacation, nearly all of them at the same time, leaving me with a lot of time on my hands and no impending deadlines. The trial for my latest GAL case has finished and we are waiting for the Judge's decision. I feel like I am at an intersection, wondering which path to try next. I ponder the options: which direction will be the most interesting,  and the least unpleasant? The sun shifts and I move my chair ever so slightly, following the shade. In another hour the mosquitoes will take over my back yard. I will be forced inside to preserve my blood supply. Thinking about dinner I try to remember what I saw in the refrigerator. It is too hot to cook anything so I focus my attention on the selection of eateries in the immediate neighborhood. I am fortunate to have a generous selection of options with a variety of price ranges. I decide on Singapore Noodles and call it in for "pick up". I'll treat myself to a new color of nail polish and those blue foamy things to hold your toes apart while the polish dries.  Last week at this time all I could think about was the trial. Following this family for over 13 months, I made myself ridiculously available to the Mom, hoping she would be able to organize herself so that her child could be returned to her safely.  But it never happened, and now,  I had to testify, leaving my opinion on a public record for eternity as to the best interests of her child. I didn't look forward to being on the witness stand, and had lay awake at night, going over the information in my reports to the court. I wondered if I had missed something. My compulsive perfectionism reared it's head with sharp, poisonous teeth. There are few guarantees in this world, and people make mistakes, but to continue to make the same mistakes, hoping the results would be different is madness. It could cost this child his life. The Rescuer appears, yet isn't clear regarding who is actually being rescued from whom. Now it is out of my hands, and I am relieved that the trial is over for me. The boy's case isn't closed until he's re-united or adopted, and I will stay with him until then, learning everything I can from his situation. Obviously, I intend to accept another assignment in the future, but this time I will not rush. I will wait until I am recovered, both emotionally and financially. This case has me well over budget on both levels. I have learned how easy it is to be drawn into someone else's panic while developing some skill in staying present to someone else's panic without mistaking it for my own. I have learned not to over-react, getting absorbed, over-identified really, by the adrenaline present in the situation. And there is no other way to figure that out than by wading in, and standing in the middle of it, watching and listening, for as long as it takes.