Thankful and a bit lost in the fog of November 2020

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This week it was a challenge to write anything. My energy has gone into staying in control, remaining calm, resting as much as possible, caring for all of the houseplants, and doing anything else (within my power) to keep an even keel.

Novembers are often foggy here, and this year I’ve driven back and forth to my jobs in the pea soup of PNW weather, and this led me to making actual pea soup. I’ve been on autopilot, continuing to keep my head up as I float through the pandemic, the continued isolation, and the work that I do. Most years, pea soup fog doesn’t inspire me to make pea soup. In 2020, I feel like grasping any meaning out of the smallest of things, will create meaning, and I crave meaning to find my footing.

Right now I’m losing my grip a bit.

In the last 2 weeks three people who attended my small Catholic high school at the same time as myself have passed away—one from a heart attack, and two others from COVID-19 related complications. Two of these people were barely known to me, the other was someone who bullied me in junior high and high school. As can be imagined, it’s torn open sores I’ve long kept buried. At unexpected moments I just start to cry uncontrollably and I’m not sure why but I know the tears must fall and time will pass and it will feel better.

And this week the United States celebrated the holiday of Thanksgiving. For the first time ever it was deeply reflective. I’ve never heard so many friends and acquaintances simply state that they’re happy to be alive and employed. The stunning honestly has felt good to me. It is nice to see the basics not being taken for granted.

Those who are having a more difficult time are grateful for their family and children. I live in a home with 4 cats and a man who was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome only in the last few years, only because I insisted I couldn’t take it anymore. While the initial shock of that process of diagnosis is better, and things are better, less than a year ago we lost my mother-in-law, and we’re still processing that since the pandemic kind of swept us both away from that. He and I only have my family now.

I kind of thought not seeing them meant I could just work and keep my head down, but the work I do allows me to think a lot, and it turns out my family was thinking of one another a lot this week, and after 47 years, my mom finally retired from cooking a huge Thanksgiving feast. She has had a blast talking to everyone on the phone this week. My eldest brother even called me to talk, to apologize for things, to laugh about things, and Dad caught a salmon and ate fresh fish eggs alone on the holiday. I called Dad and we talked about a Sitka spruce I’d given him. My family got closer by being distant from one another.

It’s foggy in my mind as I plan now. This is likely how we all feel. My job is seasonal though and we spent the month cleaning, sorting, straightening, organizing, and it’s a draining process physically and mentally. I am not in charge of planning crops, but my input is always appreciated and I keep reminding myself that’s part of my job. I need to get off of autopilot soon and take charge of my direction. Part of working in horticulture is being in the right frame of mind during the correct season. I love that about this work, but I am just a bit off right now.

To that end I’ve been indulging in things I should have been enjoying for months now. I’m finally listening to podcasts, and am reading books I’ve wanted to read. It is helping. It is time to order seeds, so I am shopping, and I’m filling orders for my own shop.

It is sad for me to complain now about feeling emotionally drained when up until now I’ve handled the pandemic so competently, but the fatigue is really hitting me hard. What I avoided doing this week was writing a post that felt unreal to me, since I’m always the cynic making fun of the obviousness of many of us using plants and gardening as therapy. This kind of therapy is not always good and can often be seen as a way to feel in control when we’re emotionally losing it. (Believe me, it’s more obvious than you might realize.) I just couldn’t push beyond myself this week to write up something fresh but I can leave you with some gardener advice for this season…

1 – Read books that challenge you now. Buy books from local bookstores that need your business.

2 – Start buying seeds now. Purchase them from trusted domestic growers.

3 – Believe it or not, you can even shop for plants now from many small nurseries. Purchase from licensed businesses.

4 – Listen to a new podcast. Join a Zoom lecture. Try something novel and new.

And finally, of course I am thankful. I am thankful to be alive right now, but I am terrified with worry concerning who will be lost next. I can only focus though on what I can control, and right now I want to move forward into December with an eye on who is going into crisis and how can I help. As wiped out and exhausted as I sound, I know it is sound advice for myself. And I am thankful for my employment, my health insurance through my husband, and my plant community. I will continue to support small businesses in the city and state and I hope you can do your part to help them too.

Please stay safe, stay home, and if you need to go out, wear a mask.

The Quince, Sea Beans, and a Black Oregon Truffle

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Since it’s almost Christmas, it’s time for me to post what’s been waiting in my hopper. (These past few weeks have been a blur.)

Between cooking for folks here at home, ghostblogging about food for someone else, and cooking food for clients I’ve been working for as a caregiver, I’m feeling fairly proficient in the kitchen nowadays.

Our Thanksgiving Quinces as Still-life.

Last month we purchased some quince from a local co-op. We’d gone there to look for raw goat milk for making cheese and whey. When we got home, John set about making quince paste. It was a fun process and quite different than I’d imagined. Both culinary projects went well and they tasted so good. The quince paste was served with some wild boar charcuterie at Thanksgiving alongside some Spanish cheeses.

Oh! That seems like ages ago to me right now.

There are so many vegetables to give thanks for this time of year.
Sausage, Potato and Savoy Cabbage Soup is a comfort food of mine.

We’ve pickled a few beets during the last few weeks and just last week I prepared my favorite cabbage soup when we had a large family of friends over for dinner. My best friend from college and his wife have adopted a baby and I get to be an auntie again. With his whole family in town, of course I had to invite them all over for dinner too.

Know your Italian chicories: Radicchio and Treviso.

Last month there was a tasty salad I made with some radicchio too. It was raw radicchio—not grilled—so I was weary at first. Somehow serving it with crispy red onions and a citrus vinaigrette did something magical to its bitterness. It was another great success I hope to serve again soon.

Wild foraged Sea Beans.

I’d always wanted to try these so last month I purchased some samphire at the Portland Farmers Market. I was pleasantly surprised by how salty they were when I popped one into my mouth.

Sea Beans with Rice Vinegar and Furikake.

Days later I put this little salad together at home. I recommend sea beans highly if you’re into salt. They are very crunchy too. Somewhere in my office I have seeds for them. I am really curious now to see how they’ll taste when grown in my home garden.

Copper Beech in front of the Millar Library at PSU.

While at PSU attending the Portland Farmer’s Market, I enjoyed looking around. The market takes place in the park blocks and there are so many beautiful trees to look at while people watching and shopping.

For many years it was a painful place for me to visit because my health had been very poor while I was a student there. Now that I’m much better, I can reflect on those years. We all need to process our past and move forward stronger and more aware. Being surrounded by the market makes that process kind of fun for me now. My love of food and my knowledge of plants has given me some much needed strength over the past few years.

After one of the trips to the market I went thrift store shopping. I was looking for a new ikebana vase when I found this old 1980s mauve piece. When I saw the sticker it made me smile. This shop is no longer in business and had belonged to my niece’s grandmother on her mother’s side of the family. While driving home, the poor thing broke, but my niece was happy I’d at least thought to pick it up for her.
Wild Foraged Chanterelles.

I made these into an omelette. What do you like to make with yours? Just curious.

Oregon Black Truffle.

We bought truffles too and John made a delicious risotto for us. (Risotto is common in the region of Italy he hails from and he was raised eating it.) The Oregon truffle was a fun twist on our usual recipe for both of us. Yes, the domestic truffle is not as tasty as European truffles, but they are more affordable. I’ll take that tradeoff. Truffles just make me happy too. I smell them and they make me smile. When they are near me, I am content.

Seriously. I love truffles.

Lastly, for Thanksgiving we also had some flowers. It began with this simple arrangement but then I expanded from there. This year I also made sure to buy American-grown flowers. I’m dedicated to buying them more often now and I can assure you that you’ll be hearing more and more about this topic during the coming months.

Goodbye for now.
PS: Hope your holidays are going well!