Archive for February 2012

It’s A Lamb’s Life

February 25, 2012

Yesterday we had the chance to see something amazing: one life turned into four. On a farm in Dayton, WA we happened upon a ewe, recently pregnant with triplets, who had easily delivered one female lamb, and then got stuck with two more babies inside her, tangled up, unable to be born. It looked like certain death for all three of them. The vet was called, but in a hopeless sort of way.

The little lamb who had made it safely into the world clung closely to her mother, who looked pretty much resigned to her terrible fate. The baby didn’t even cry much, just snuggled up tight, trying to help with her comforting, four hour old presence.

The vet got right in there. “I feel two legs, now three, oh, here’s a head, but does this head go with these three legs? Now I’ve got four legs, nope, one seems not to go with this head.” For us city mice it was a thrilling exercise. He pulled and tugged and groped and seemed optimistic

even when the first baby ram emerged with a blue tongue sticking out of his mouth, looking deader than a doornail. The vet gave him a good swing to get oxygen to his brain, tossed him on the straw, and started to work on the remaining stuck baby. The little ram moved a bit, blinked, we all gasped. The mood lightened. All we had really hoped for was that the vet would be able to save the ewe’s life, so that her first baby would have a mother. Now there were two babies, and maybe even a third, and it looked like the mother would live to raise them.

Finally  the third baby was tugged out into the world, another little ram. We all rejoiced, tears were shed, it seemed like a miracle. Life is so precarious, and the will to live is so strong. We were in awe, but the sheep acted like it was no big deal, happens all the time, life goes on. We saw the lambs take their first steps, less than an hour later. Comme si de rien n’était, as you say in French, as if nothing at all had happened. But we knew, something big had happened, something special, and we had been a tiny part of it. Life began.

*All of these amazing photographs were taken by Shel.

Rain Forest Rhapsody

February 22, 2012

The western edge of Washington is home to vast expanses of temperate rain forests, and if you get a chance to see them, jump at it. It’s a soggy, mud boot-wearing world out there,

otherworldly,

a place where moss will overtake anything that stands still,

growing like Pinocchio’s nose until it sags wetly to the ground.

It’s a lonely place, and people live there in a splendid isolation that’s rare these days.

If they live there until their time runs out, they can spend the rest of forever similarly splendid, similarly isolated, and I’m thinking that the kind of person who lives out there in the first place is probably comforted by that thought.

There are people, though, who try to tame that wilderness, even if they do have elk tromping through their back yard. Elk?

The forest is also home to several herds of Roosevelt elk,

who must have the cutest butts of anyone within miles. They’re used to people, but they’re shy. We stopped to see them, drove ahead to turn around, hoping to see more of their faces, and by the time we got back, some three minutes later, they were entirely vanished. We were so happy to have started our day with them, and we headed back to the lodge for breakfast, all chipper and bushy-tailed ourselves.

But all is not idyllic in the rain forest – we saw these signs everywhere, protesting a plan to create more Wild and Scenic River areas, as well as Scenic Wilderness Areas. You can read more about that here, if you’re interested. We ourselves were more interested in this sign

because, well, who wouldn’t want to see the world’s largest anything tree? I wanted to cuddle right up to one

and so here I am, in my bright red Valentine’s shirt, nestled into its roots. The red shirt is important, because

here I am again. See those little red pixels at the base of the tree? That’s me. It’s amazing what a wide-angle lens can do.

For comparison, here’s Shel next to the upturned rootball of another spruce, which must have been a whole lot smaller, even though still enormous.

These were my favorite roots of the day, at once sinister and elegant.

The fallen trunks and roots are home to a host of fungi, quite elegant in their own right,

even though some of them look extra-terrestrial,

as does this lacy lichen,

and this other lovely, lettuce-y lichen.

We didn’t get to see this red-backed truffle-eating vole, but I sure wish we had.

In all our wandering in the rainforest, this was the only spot of brightness we encountered.

That, and these beautiful words attributed to Chief Seattle:

This we know,
The Earth does not belong to man:
Man belongs to the earth.
All things are connected,
Like the blood that unites one family.
What befalls the earth
Befalls the sons and daughters of the earth.
Man did not weave the web of life.
He is merely a strand in it.
Whatever he does to the web
He does to himself.

Think about it.

Love In A Lodge

February 18, 2012

For Valentine’s Day  Shel and I decided to take a little road trip, about 400 miles round trip, and spend the night in romantic Lake Quinault Lodge. It’s the kind of place where a Roosevelt’s Elk head presides over an always-roaring fire

that we don’t have to tend ourselves. A fire that’s surrounded by lazy couples reading, drinking, napping, bickering, and in our case, playing checkers. We only play checkers in National Park lodges, which is to say, practically never. Thus we don’t even really know the rules, and definitely are not strategic players. But we have lots of fun at it, and especially I do, because, inexplicably, I often win. I won’t say much more about that, except: going into dinner that night, Shel having disappeared, I said to another guy waiting to be seated “I’ve lost my husband.” And he said “it’s no wonder, after the way you totally kicked his butt at checkers this afternoon!” So there.

We were hanging out inside at the lodge all afternoon because it’s not really boating season,

and even if it had been, the whole reason we were there was because Shel wanted to be in a lodge, reading by the fire.

Of course, he didn’t mention wanting to get his butt kicked at checkers, but hey, it was my Valentine’s Day too!

While he was reading, I took the camera out to show you the beautiful lodge area.

The lodge itself was built in 1926 and has been carefully maintained since FDR visited it in 1937.

Maintenance isn’t easy, since the area gets 12 feet of rain per year, on average. 12 feet is where the green turns to blue, on this rain guage, right at the level of the top of the doors on the first floor.

You wouldn’t think that anything could be dry there, but this hydrangea would prove you wrong.

Just down the road a piece from the lodge was the general store, where they apparently have whatever you want,

and the Mercantile, where firewood at $4.50 an armload benefits the Lion’s Club.

But really, why would you even want to venture out, when you could snuggle up in a cosy sofa with your loved one and gaze up at this gorgeous ceiling? (photo courtesy of my own Best Beloved)

Or a bit later, at dinner, gaze into this bewitching candle light?

As we got up to leave for the evening the group of other couples, many older than we, just a few young ones, softly, shyly, called out Happy Valentines Day to those who were departing, each couple happy, no doubt, to pass the night in the blissful company of the one they loved most. I know we were.

And in the morning, fortified by a gigantic Lodge breakfast, we ventured out into the Quinault Rain Forest, which is what we’ll see next. Eat a pancake or three to get in the mood and come along with us.

Je T’Aime

February 13, 2012

It’s a thing that confounds English speakers, what exactly je t’aime means. It’s I love you, of course. But it’s not “I like you”, as so many people hope, and blunder into.  That’s je t’aime bien, which seems like I love you well, but is really the more prosaic, less comitted, I like you. I remember a French friend who told me “he said he loves me, he said je t’aime” and I was obliged to ask whether he’d said it in English or French, knowing that his French wasn’t up to accomodating the difference between je t’aime and je t’aime bien. As I’d suspected, he meant that he liked her, but she thought that he loved her. Thus are international incidents born, and disappointment, and heart ache.

Shel and I though, we love each other, and we like each other. Most of the time, and those other times, well, we’ve learned to live through them. Tomorrow will be our 18th Valentine’s day together. It seems unimaginable. So many times we’ve thought he was dying. A couple of times we’ve thought we were giving up on the whole thing, this togetherness thing, this for better or worse thing. It’s been better, and it’s been worse. And that’s the real life part of it all, we just hang on and stick it out and here we are 18 years later, not wanting to be anywhere else. Wherever we are, that’s home, because home is being together, whether in France or America, at the end of the day our pillows are side by side. In France our pillowcases are ironed, in America they’re not. In America Beppo and Zazou sleep on our bed, in France they often don’t. In France we don’t always understand every word people say to us, in America we don’t always understand every word we say to each other.

What I want is an ironed pillowcase with Beppo sleeping right beside it. To always be together in perfect harmony, perfect understanding. A fusion of our two lives, the best of each world. I want us to love and like each other all the time, in every language, with and without cats by our sides.

Tomorrow we’re going away for a little Valentine’s Day excursion, to Lake Quinault, on the Olympic Peninsula. Shel’s craving a Northwest lodge feeling, checkers by the fire, heavy wooden beams overhead. I’m craving a mossy rain forest, even if it is raining. And yes, a glass or two of wine by that huge fire, a car trip where we’re side by side for hours, just the two of us.

In a couple of days I’ll show you the Olympic Peninsula. I don’t think I’ll be showing you the love, I’m selfish that way. But sitting in front of that fire, under those huge fir beams, safe and warm, away from the dripping moss and the bugling elk, I’ll be thinking of love, yours, mine, ours. I hope you’ll be doing the same.

Crème De La Crème

February 10, 2012

Feel free to eat it right from the spoon, although personally I prefer to have a small bowlful. No, it’s not yogurt, since as a low carb eater yogurt is pretty much off limits to me. It is, I promise you, something much more delicious, and perfectly low carb. It’s crème fraîche, (which you pronounce crem fresh) and which is France’s gift to low carb eating. It’s easy to make at home, and certainly much cheaper than buying it, if you can even find it in your store. If you’ve been missing yogurt, or wincing over the carb content, you are going to love this.

Of course, everyone can enjoy this, not just low-carbers,

and you can use it in any recipe that calls for crème fraîche, as well in recipes that use sour cream. I like to put a few walnuts or almonds in a little bowl, just like the one Zazou is using here, and smother them in crème fraîche for dessert, or if you eat berries, you could use them instead of the nuts.

It’s pure cream, cultured to be very slightly sour, much less so than sour cream. Cream has only 6.5 gms of carbs per cup, and you know you won’t eat a whole cup! To me 1/4 cup or maybe 1/3 cup is a serving, so it’s practically carb-free.

Homemade Crème Fraîche

2 cups heavy cream (the best-tasting cream you can find, organic if possible)
1/4 cup buttermilk (get one with live cultures, organic if possible)

Mix together in a jar, cover, and set on the counter in a warm room for 24-36 hours, until nicely thickened. Refrigerate and eat. Now, when you have about 1/4 cup left in your jar, add 2 cups more cream and repeat, and keep doing that forever. Your first batch will taste a lot like buttermilk, but each successive batch will mellow out until after 3-4 times you have an incredibly luscious thick cream to eat instead of yogurt.

If you’ve ever kept a sourdough starter or made your own vinegar, you’ll enjoy this process.  If you have cats, they’ll enjoy it too. And remember, your crème fraîche jar is a living thing, so treat it well, feed it often, and you’ll always have a delicious little dessert on hand.

Romesco With Ñoras And Macadamias

February 1, 2012

“When you’re in Barcelona, be sure to buy ñoras” wrote my online friend Victor sometime last summer. Ñoras being a kind of dried chile pepper that I’d never seen before, and me being a pepper person, of course I followed his instructions. Speaking neither Spanish nor Catalan, a real handicap when in Barcelona, I walked up to a grocery clerk and pronounced only the word ñoras. He led me straight to a huge rack of dried peppers, and I, grateful for the universal language of food, bought two large packages. These ñoras then proceeded to cruise the Spanish coast with us before taking the train to France. While in France they languished in the cupboard for three months because the French don’t really eat anything even mildly spicy. So, luckily for me, the ñoras flew with us from Marseille to Amsterdam to Seattle, where I am now taking a real interest in them.

I Googled for recipes using ñoras and first up were dozens of references to Romesco sauce. Now Romesco is one of my absolute favorites, but it’s made with bread, not something I can eat anymore, and a lot of onions, which I also restrict severely. Ñoras being the traditional main ingredient, however, inspired me to make a low-carb Romesco sauce, and wow, am I ever glad I tried this. If you’re a low-carb or gluten-free eater, this will be a nice addition to your sauce repertoire. If you’re a traditional Spanish cook, please don’t laugh. This is amazingly like the real thing, even though it contains neither bread nor onions. Honest.

This sauce is rich and thick, warm but not at all hot, slightly sweet and tangy. We had it with roasted pork tenderloin with adobo spices and a sprinkle of chives and it was delicious. It would be lovely with roast chicken and if you’re a person who eats potatoes, that would be a dynamite combination too.

In the suitcase with the ñoras was also a bottle of sherry vinegar that we got when we visited a sherry bodega in Jerez de la Frontera. The sherry vinegar flavor is important here, so get the best one you can find. If you can’t find ñoras, and I’m pretty sure you can’t, (and if you can, please tell me where!), I’d use a mix of peppers. For the recipe given below you could use 3 California chiles, 2 Ancho chiles, and 1 Cascabel chile, for example.

Romesco With Ñoras and Macadamias

10 ñoras (or use pepper mix as above)
1/2 cup chopped toasted almonds
12-14 macadamia nuts
3 cloves garlic, peeled
2-3 T sherry vinegar
salt
water for thinning sauce

Place whole peppers in a large bowl and cover with very hot water. Let soak for 30 minutes. Remove peppers from water and shred them with your fingers right into the bowl of the food processor. You want to remove the stems and the seeds, while pulling the rest of the pepper into medium-sized pieces.

Add the nuts, garlic, and 2 T of the sherry vinegar to the peppers in the food processor, and whizz until the peppers are broken up. With the processor running, slowly add water through the feed tube. You may need 1/2 cup or more, but go slowly, adding it almost as if you were making mayonnaise. You’re looking for a thick, creamy sauce, and when you get there, remove the sauce to a bowl and add salt to taste. If the sauce is at all blah, add a little more sherry vinegar, that’s what makes it really pop.

This sauce keeps well in the fridge, and even tastes better the second day, so you might want to make it a day ahead. And buen provecho.