Fermenting, Recipes, Side dishes

A Sourdough Story and a Thanksgiving Recipe

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Thanksgiving is approaching, as we all know.  I usually post a recipe or some links to past posts about Thanksgiving that contain treasured recipes, and I will do that again, but first, I want to tell you a little story about sourdough.

At our family hunting camp this year in September, I was making toast for my niece, Brielle, and my sister, Goldie, from a sourdough loaf I’d made a couple days before and brought to share with them.  I was explaining to my science-loving niece how sourdough works, and how homemade loaves are different from grocery store bakery loaves, and how to use the discard to make pancakes, waffles, and biscuits, and they were enjoying the tangy flavor of the toast and some homemade jams I’d brought.  My sister pipes up with “I ordered some Oregon Trail sourdough starter a while back, from an ad in a magazine, I can’t even remember what it was, and I never did anything with it.”  I made my sourdough starter three years ago and have been obsessed with sourdough for years.  And I’m just now hearing about this?  My sister said it came in an envelope, so I knew it was dehydrated.  When questioned closely, she couldn’t remember much about it, but she thought she knew where it was in her house.

In October, my husband and I were visiting Goldie and her family in the Brookings, Oregon area, and my sister handed me an envelope.  “Here, I found it,” she said.  “You take it. I don’t know how to activate it.  I’d probably just ruin it.”  The return address on the envelope said Carl Griffith’s 1847 Oregon Trail Sourdough.  My sister said I could give her some of the starter when I’d activated it, next time we met.

When I got home, I looked at the self-addressed envelope Goldie had given me. The envelope was post-marked 2013!  It contained a sandwich bag holding about a teaspoon of dried starter.  I wondered if it would still be good after 5 years in a plastic bag, stuffed in a drawer somewhere. (I don’t know where Goldie actually stashed it, but that’s what I’d have done.) I already knew how to activate a dried starter, because I’d dehydrated some of my own and sent it to friends with instructions for activation, but I wanted to find out more about the starter and the story, so I googled Carl Griffith’s 1847 Oregon Trail Sourdough Starter.  And that’s all you need to find the website and request some of Carl’s starter, although you can just click on carlsfriends.net.

Here’s what I learned about the history of Carl’s starter. Carl Griffith was the descendant of immigrants who moved west from Missouri in 1847 and brought their sourdough with them on their journey along the Oregon Trail.  The starter passed through three or four generations of the family before it came to Carl.  Carl learned to use the starter making camp bread in a Basque sheep camp and homestead in southeastern Oregon when he was 10 years old.  Later, he used it on a chuck wagon in the same way, making bread and biscuits in a cast iron Dutch oven, during cattle drives in southeastern Oregon.  Carl’s brochure, which he used to pass out with his starter, and which can be downloaded from the internet now, also has a number of recipes for using the starter.

I was really skeptical that after 5 years in a plastic bag, the wild yeasts in the starter would still be active, but I thought it was worth a shot.  All it would cost was flour and time. I activated the starter my way, using just water and flour, named it Carl 1847 (we tend to name our starters in the sourdough world—I have two others named Number One and Seven).  Much to my surprise, Carl 1847 was nice and bubbly in under a week.  I’ve yet to make bread with him, but I’ve made pancakes and waffles, cinnamon rolls (with the addition of some instant yeast), and my favorite bread for Thanksgiving, sourdough rolls.

Sourdough rolls made with Carl 1847 have a uniquely tangy flavor.  Every sourdough starter is different, and with the addition of different flours, the flavor and consistency of the starter changes, and thus the flavor of the baked good changes as well.  In general, heritage starters, because they have been kept going for so long and have continued to garner new yeasts and beneficial bacteria each time they are fed and used, have unparalleled flavor, although I have to say, my Number One and Seven are very good as well.  Number One was made from Guisto’s organic bread flour and now is being fed with Azure Standard’s organic Heritage bread flour.  Seven started with Number One, but then I started feeding her a mix of flours made from seven different types of organic grains:  buckwheat, hard white wheat, Heritage wheat, Kamut, Einkorn, spelt, and rye. To illustrate how different flours change the flavor of a starter and a bread or baked good, bread made with Number One is tangy but mild and uncomplicated, and bread made with Seven is tangy but with a very robust flavor from the heartier grains.  So whatever Carl 1847 is fed with will change him, adding new strains of yeasts and new flavors.  I’ve kept one jar of Carl 1847 fed with unbleached organic white bread flour from Natural Grocer, and one jar fed with the Azure Standard organic Heritage bread flour, which is finely ground whole grain. I’ll give the jar of white to my sister, and keep the jar of whole grain for myself.  Carl Griffith’s 1847 Oregon Trail sourdough starter lives on.

And with that, here is my recipe for sourdough biscuits.  I posted it some time back, but I’ve made some changes to the recipe since I’ve been using it more often.

 

Sourdough Biscuits

(no previous prep if using fresh discard)

For small batch (about 6):

1 cup active, bubbly sourdough starter

½ cup dry milk

1 cup flour

1 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. baking soda

1 Tbs. sugar

½ tsp. salt

Additional ¼- ½ cup flour for kneading

1 Tbs. butter, melted in 8 or 9 inch square or round pan (your preferred cooking oil can also be used)

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

Mix starter and dry milk together until smooth.  Mix baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and salt into 1 cup of flour.  Mix flour mixture into wet ingredients until flour is moistened.

Sprinkle ¼ cup of flour onto board.  Turn out sticky dough onto board and knead about 25 times until just at soft dough stage, adding more flour just as necessary to keep dough from sticking to board.  When dough is stiff enough to cut, roll to the depth of your biscuit cutter and cut biscuits.  (Press the floured cutter all the way through the dough to the board and then twist to free the cut biscuit from the dough.)

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Dip one side of the biscuit into melted butter in pan and turn over so buttered side is up. (This helps the biscuit brown beautifully.  So does the bit of sugar in the dough.) The sides of the biscuits should be touching each other so they rise up rather than spread out. Bake biscuits for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

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*Note: How much flour you need to work into the starter depends on how thick your starter or discard is. I feed my starters up pretty heavily for bread, and my discard, which I use for biscuits, pancakes, or waffles, is spoonable rather than pourable.  In other words, it’s thick, and doesn’t require much additional flour to make a kneadable dough.

Large batch (about 12):

2 cups active, bubbly sourdough starter

1 cup dry milk

2 cups flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

2 Tbs. sugar

1 tsp. salt

Additional ¼ – ½ cup flour for kneading

2 Tbs. butter, melted in 9×12” pan

 

Mix and bake as for small recipe above.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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Canning, condiment, Recipes

Green Tomato Marmalade

I can’t believe I’ve never shared this recipe on the blog, but I searched for it for my daughter, Amy, who has a bumper crop of green heirloom tomatoes this year, and I couldn’t find the recipe.  She loves my green tomato marmalade and requests it every year.  I’m just very proud that she wants to attempt it herself!

Green tomato marmalade is one of those things that sounds really weird, and you think, no way could that be good, but trust me, folks, it’s delicious.  It’s good on toast, etc., but my favorite use for it is on top of cream cheese-laden cracker.  It makes a great snack or appetizer. It’s also good on a bagel with cream cheese, or on a turkey or roast beef sandwich.  There’s something about the spice, the lemony-tart tang, and the sweetness that just works with so many things.

Since I don’t have any green tomatoes to speak of this year, I won’t be making green tomato marmalade myself, so here are some pics from last year.

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But the recipe is the important thing, right?  Here it is.

Spicy Green Tomato-Lemon Marmalade

Makes about 6 half-pints

Ingredients:

2 large or 3 small lemons, thinly sliced

5 pounds green tomatoes, washed, cored and thinly sliced

6 cups organic cane sugar

6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds, crushed or 1 tablespoon ground coriander

1 tablespoon red chile flakes

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 cup of apple pectin stock (optional, but it gives a nice set to the jam, and you need to add 1/2 cup of water in the bottom of the pot if you don’t use the apple pectin stock)

Bring lemon slices to a boil in a pot of water. Drain.

Combine all ingredients in a large heavy saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve sugar. Cook at a gentle simmer until tomatoes and lemon slices are translucent and syrup thickens, about an hour. Quickly spoon into sterilized jars, seal and boil in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. Image may contain: food

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If you don’t have enough green tomatoes, this recipe can be easily halved, then jarred and stored in the refrigerator for several months.

This is now one of my favorite ways to use green tomatoes, and my family likes it too.  I love knowing I’m passing on my knowledge to a new generation.

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Canning, condiment, Recipes

Plum-Tomato Barbecue Sauce

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I have a lot of plums.   Dennis and I picked about 45 lbs from our Santa Rosa plum tree last week.  They needed a little box-ripening time; we always have to pick them a bit early because otherwise the birds get them all.  But they ripen up beautifully in the cool house.  I had several days to figure out what I wanted to do with this year’s crop.  I made a big plum cobbler with the first batch of pecked and damaged plums.  Delicious.  When we picked again, I had another big basket of pecked and damaged to deal with first.  And I decided I wanted to make barbecue sauce.

I looked for recipes online, first.  All the recipes I found either had ketchup in them, or were for Chinese plum sauce, which I still have loads of on the shelf.  I didn’t want to use ketchup.  It has high fructose corn syrup in it, usually, and other things I don’t want to put into a homemade, home-canned sauce.  So I turned to my canning Bible, my Ball Blue Book, the one my mother gave me when I married in 1981.  I didn’t find a plum barbecue sauce, but I did find a tomato-based barbecue sauce recipe that I knew I could adapt.  A rule of thumb with canning is that you should never add more non-acid ingredients than a recipe calls for (like onions or peppers or garlic or celery), but you can substitute an acid ingredient for another acid ingredient, particularly when you are adding more acid in the form of vinegar.  Tomatoes are no longer considered a safely acid ingredient, which is why you have to add lemon juice or citric acid to them when you can them in the water bath.  But plums are acidic enough not to need any extra acid, so in terms of safety in canning, subbing out half (or more) of the tomatoes for plums is fine.

Plum-Tomato Barbecue Sauce

4 quarts altogether of tomatoes and plums, pitted.  (See Note*)

1 ½ cups chopped onions

1 ½ cups chopped sweet peppers

2 hot peppers  (See Note**)

1 cup of vinegar (See Note***)

1 cup of brown sugar

1 tablespoon dry powdered mustard

1 tablespoon hot smoked paprika

3 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tablespoon black peppercorns, crushed, in a cheesecloth bag

1 tablespoon salt

Cook the fruit and vegetables until tender, about 30 minutes.  Strain through chinois to remove skins and seeds.

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Return juicy sauce to heavy bottomed pan and reduce at a simmer, stirring frequently, until sauce has thickened and is at about half its original volume.  Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to a boil, and reduce heat until sauce is at a good simmer.  Stir frequently.  This sauce will stick to the bottom of the pan if not stirred, and as it thickens, it’s going to blurp a lot, so a spatter screen is helpful.  When the sauce has reduced to the consistency of ketchup, it’s ready to jar, but taste it first.  See if you want it sweeter or tangier.  You can add more sugar and vinegar if you wish.  Get the sauce good and hot, then spoon it into sterilized pint or half pint jars, add flats and rings, and process in boiling water bath for 20 min.  Please consult an altitude chart for any additional time needed for your altitude.

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Notes:

*I used a bag of frozen tomatoes from last year (amazing what you find in the freezer when you have to make room for berries) which amounted to about 2 ½ quarts, so I used 1 ½ quarts of pitted plums.  When I make this recipe again, I will probably go about half and half on plums and tomatoes, because while you can definitely taste the plums in the sauce, I could go a little bit more plummy.

**I used two Serrano peppers for heat.  I didn’t deseed them, just threw them into the food processor with the sweet orange peppers.  I got the perfect level of heat for me.  If you have a tender mouth and don’t want any heat, you can omit the hot peppers, or you can go for a milder pepper, like a jalapeno.  If you want a hotter sauce, do not add more peppers.  That messes with the acid balance and can make a recipe unsafe to can.  Instead, use hotter peppers, but use the same amount of peppers the recipe calls for (say, two ghost peppers instead of two Serrano peppers).  You can add 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper and a teaspoon of Tabasco sauce if you want more heat as well.  The original recipe called for both, but when I tasted my sauce, it was perfect and I omitted those ingredients.  I also substituted hot smoked paprika for the plain paprika called for in the original recipe.  I’m glad I did.  The hot smoked paprika added just a slight smokiness to the sauce.  Yummy.

***I used apple cider vinegar.  I always use acv instead of white vinegar when I can do so without changing the look of a product.

Expect this sauce to take several hours to cook down to ketchup consistency.  It starts out as juice and has to reduce slowly for a long time, so it helps if you have something else to do in the kitchen, so you can give that blurping pan a good stir every few minutes to keep it from sticking.  Me, I was canning whole plums while my barbecue sauce was cooking down. It’s plum-palooza here.  And my goodness, the house smells wonderful!

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Remodeling the Kitchen

I’ve Been Thinking About Obligation

I’ve been working for several months on a project that was at the head of my list of priorities and projects for this year.  Before I could start on the big pass-through countertop juniper slab, I needed to refinish a set of dining room chairs that belonged to my mother-in-law, Virginia, and which go with the table presently in my kitchen.  The table has been in continuous use in the house since it was moved here some twenty years ago, but the chairs had been languishing in the barn, getting ever more worn and decrepit with the years.  I moved them to the barn twenty years ago because there was no room for them in the house, and by the time we cleaned out the barn in the fall of 2016 so that we could put a roof on it, the chairs were in bad shape.  I decided that I had to try to restore them, and I put them on the deck, under the porch, where I intended to work on them during the winter of 2017.  My plan was to begin sanding and stripping them after the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

Flu intervened early in 2017, and then two more illnesses followed that took months to diagnose and treat, and it was October of 2017 before I was on the road to health again.  Of course, by then there were all the “getting ready for winter” chores to do, the end of the garden harvest to deal with, and then the holidays again, and it took every ounce of energy I had to get through those things.  The chairs had, at that point, been sitting on the deck for over a year.  One had a split leg, one had a broken arm (side rail on the top of the frame), and one had severe joint arthritis, and all were weathered, dry, splintery, and looked as if a squirrel had been chewing on them in the barn.  They all had my sympathy.

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Finally, in January 2018, during the mildest winter we’ve had here in many years, I began to work on the chairs.  Because of the arthritis in my hands, I was only able to spend a couple of hours a day sanding and stripping.  But every day I could, I was out working on those chairs.  They were so badly damaged, there were times I despaired of getting them smooth.  I thought sometimes I was going to sand right through a piece of wood before I got to the point where I stopped raising splinters.  The original finish, some kind of varnish, was worn, but stubborn, and had penetrated into the open grain of the wood.  I sanded and sanded.  I used a small palm sander when I could, hand-sanded when necessary, over and over and over.  I got sick of those chairs, I can tell you.  There were five of them, instead of the original six belonging to the set.  One of the captain’s chairs went to a family member years ago and was disposed of when no longer needed.  I wished at first for the full set, but by the time I finished the fifth chair, I was glad I didn’t have another one to do.

It took months to sand off the old varnish, strip the backs where the fine detail made sanding impossible, then fine sand again.  All of this had to be done outside, so the worrisome dry winter was something of a blessing for this project.  I worked on the lower deck, under a roof, bundled up when it was cold. I had to figure out ways to save my back while I was sanding, including sitting in patio chair, and balancing the dining chair on my thighs and shoulders.

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I didn’t work when it was really windy or when the temperature dropped below freezing, but I was out there on lots of days when it was 35 degrees.  Sanding is warm work.  When it came time to strip the backs of the chairs, I had a problem.  I don’t have a workshop, and you can’t use stripper outside at 35 or 40 degrees. It just doesn’t activate and loosen the finish.  I needed a space I could heat to at least 60 degrees.  I tried the pump house first, but with two freezers in it, it was too crowded and rather dark.  Then I thought of my greenhouse.  Even when it’s chilly outside, if there’s sun, the greenhouse warms up to at least 60, and I had an extension cord already out there, so I could plug in a small heater and warm it up a bit more.  I ended up stripping four of the chairs in the greenhouse, and it worked out well.  It was nice and bright out there, and since I could only work a couple of hours at a time, I was usually finished before the sun went behind the trees and I lost the good light.

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When I finally had the chairs sanded and stripped and finish sanded, and we had completed some structural repairs on several of the chairs, mending what was broken with screws and glue, it was time to apply a new finish.

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For the finish, I wanted to use a product I’d used before, years before, on some benches I bought unfinished.  It was called Bartley Gel Varnish, a rub-on finish that was so easy to work with and has held up very well on my benches.  Unfortunately, the company had been bought out some years back, and the finish went out of production for a while.  I took a chair down to the local hardware store, The Woodsmith, to talk to Norm about it, since he was the one who’d turned me on to Bartley’s and sold me my first can of finish all those years ago.  I wanted to ask his opinion of the wood in the chairs anyway.  He thought the wood might be beech.  He said definitely not oak, which I also knew.  The grain and softness of the wood is all wrong for oak, we both believe.  As for the finish, he said Bartley’s was being manufactured again by the company that bought Bartley’s, and I should be able to find it online, although he could not buy it for the shop because of California regulations.

I did find the finish online, now made by Seagrave and renamed Bartley’s Clear Coat Gel Stain (bizarre contradictory renaming, and it gave me some trouble figuring out it was the same varnish), but I couldn’t get it shipped to California.  It’s difficult to get some kinds of chemical products here now because of state regulations, so paints, stripping products, even cleaning products are less effective than they used to be.  I ordered two quarts of finish (thinking ahead to other projects and the cost of shipping) and had them sent to my daughter’s house in Reno.  I picked them up about a week later.  Then it was time to turn my living room into a woodshop.

The beauty of this finish is that it is a thick, wipe-on finish that gives a gorgeous, fairly hard, hand-rubbed glow to the wood.  It doesn’t run or drip like polyurethane.  Because of that feature, I could spread old sheets and towels on my oak floor in the living room and not worry about messing up the floor.  The finish is also not terribly strong-smelling, so all I had to do was crack the living room door and open a window, and keep the air circulating.  The other beautiful thing about the Bartley gel finish is that you do not have to sand between coats as you do with poly. It also dries very quickly, so you can do three coats in a day if you want to.  I generally put on a coat in the middle of the day, and another one at night, or a coat at night, and another in the morning, whatever worked best with my schedule that day.  It’s a rub on, rub in and off process, so it goes very quickly.  I worked with one chair at a time, because by the time I was done bending to coat that chair, my back did not want me to bend any more for a while.  I did plop a little finish onto my floor a couple of times, and it wiped right up and never left any hint it had been there.  But the chairs took on a beautiful golden glow.  I used two coats on most of them, but on a couple of the chairs, the ones with the most badly damaged wood, I used two coats to stabilize the wood, then lightly sanded the slightly rough spots and recoated a third time.  They feel like satin to the touch now.

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Image may contain: people sitting, table and indoorAs I was preparing to finish the varnishing, Dennis and I contacted the local upholsterer, George.  He’s retired now, but he still works on cars and does some furniture when he’s needed.  George gave me two books of upholstery material to look at, but they all looked like car upholstery to me.  That wasn’t what I wanted.  I looked at various materials, and I really started to panic a bit, thinking I wasn’t going to find anything that was just right.  Then George told me to go to Mill Ends in Reno.  It’s what it sounds like, a warehouse of fabric mill ends.  I’d been there before, years ago, for another project, but I’d forgotten about it.  I found a piece I loved almost right away at Mill Ends, and it only cost $25!

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These chairs were originally covered in a red plastic fabric you’d have seen on diner chairs and booth benches in the ’40s and ’50s (and into the ’60s because the stuff was tough).  The pattern was called “ice,” we were told at Mill Ends.  I wanted something deep red, because that’s the accent color in my kitchen, and it had to coordinate with my kitchen window valance, sewn for me years ago by my friend, Paula.  I love the apple print, and I love how Paula crafted the valance, and so the chair seats needed to look good with that valance.  The upholstery fabric I found was made of recycled leather with a vinyl top in a deep red diamond pattern, very retro looking, which is what I wanted, given the age of these mid-century modern style chairs, and most important, easy to clean.  Food dropped on them will wipe right off with no staining.  This was perfect for chairs that’ll be used in the kitchen by the family.  After a short delay while we waited for foam padding, George got to work and recovered the seats beautifully.  In the meantime, I cut out stick-on felt pads for the bottoms of the chair legs to protect the new floor in the kitchen. I was so happy the day Dennis brought the seats home from George’s shop, I sent him a jar of apple butter as an extra thank-you.

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We hImage may contain: people sitting and indoorad a bit of trouble getting the seats back on the chairs.  Dennis had started to number them when he took them off, but then he got distracted and didn’t number three of them.  We had a time figuring out which seats went on which chairs, and it was important because they were attached by several screws, and the holes had to line up.  He also found several holes that had wallowed out and had to be repaired.  George had a tip for that.  You pour glue in the screw holes, then jam several matchsticks into the hole.  When the glue dries, you can insert the screws, and they’ll be tight.  When we matched the seats to the chairs, and after replacing some screws that were so long, they might have punctured the new upholstery, Dennis got the seats reattached, and the chairs were moved into the kitchen and placed around the table.  Done!  Success!  Finally!

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This project would probably have taken somebody who isn’t disabled no more than a couple of weeks, outside the time it took to find the fabric and have the seats recovered. Somebody with undamaged hands could probably have done the upholstering herself.  The whole project took me about two months.  During that two months, I had a lot of time to think about these chairs, and why I was putting so much time and energy into them.  I love doing this kind of work, but it isn’t easy for me, and sometimes it is downright painful.  So why do I bother?  Why was I bothering with these particular chairs that were so badly damaged?

Part of the reason I bothered was because they belonged to my mother-in-law.  I’ve written about this before. Virginia and I had a complicated relationship.  I was never quite good enough for her only son, and I knew it because she made sure I knew it.  It’s hard to like someone who makes you feel that way, but I respected her for many reasons, and I grieved for her when she died.  She had a lot of courage, and I admired her for that.  Widowed when Dennis was only seven years old, already diagnosed with a disease that would cause slow, but complete, physical deterioration over the course of her long lifetime, Virginia persevered. She never gave up on life.  In that respect, she was a wonderful role model for me, and I have appreciated her example. Dennis and I naturally ended up with a lot of her things, and I’ve tried to honor her memory by preserving and displaying most of them.

Even though Virginia’s style was not to my taste, she had good taste, and the things she bought were of good quality.  The mid-century modern style of her dining table and chairs is not my favorite style; although I do like it, I really prefer older pieces, true antiques, and I like rustic.  But these pieces were well-made.  Dennis, his sisters, and his niece and nephews grew up eating at that table while sitting in those chairs. I just couldn’t bring myself to send those chairs to the dump.  Even though it would have been easier, I’d never have been easy in my mind about that.  So the other part of the reason I bothered with these chairs is that I just can’t bear to throw away something I know I can restore and make useful and beautiful again. And the chairs were in such bad shape, I don’t even think I could have given them away as they were.  I felt obliged, by some freak or fault in my own nature, to keep them and restore them and love them.

One day, when I was working on a chair, I said to Dennis, “These chairs better not end up at the dump after I’m gone!”  He said, “Well, I won’t dump them.”  And I said, “The kids better not either, after all the work I’ve put into them.”  But I had a lot of time to think about that as I was sanding, stripping, and finishing the chairs.  And what I’ve ended up thinking is that nobody should feel under any obligation to keep these chairs if they don’t like them.  I know mid-mod is not my daughter’s style, nor is it my daughter-in-law’s style.  Why should they have to live with a style that’s not what they like best just because I have made that choice?  They shouldn’t.  My choices are my own.  I make the best of what I find and what I have, and I love these chairs now because I have made them beautiful again.  But that doesn’t mean my kids need to make that same choice.

When I am gone, I won’t care about where these chairs end up.  However, having put months of work into them, making them pretty and usable again, I’m pretty sure somebody will want them.  I think they’re safe from the dump for many years.  And that’s really all that matters.

 

 

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Uncategorized

I’ll Be Back

As many of you know, the loss of my friend, Leslie Jordan Clary, in September has hit me very hard.  Writing was so much a part of our relationship, and it’s been difficult for me to write without dissolving into tears as I think of how much I miss my friend, every single day.  But life does go on, and I know Leslie would want me to keep writing.

I thank all of you who expressed your love and support for me in this loss.  It took me months to respond because I had a hard time coming back to this site that Leslie helped me create. But writing here also helps me remember good times with Leslie as she taught me how to set this thing up.

Life does not stop for grief.  Work helps us get through grief, and I have been working at many things I want to share, eventually, with those who want to see and hear.  So I will be back, soon.

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Uncategorized

Missing Leslie

After the unexpected death of my dear friend, Leslie Jordan Clary, on September 7th of this year, I had to withdraw from Facebook and the online world for a time.  I tried to let my friends and family know how to reach me, but it was impossible to let everyone know.  I appreciate all those who reached out to me via email or Messenger.  The love you shared was palpable.

I have lost other loved ones before, my mother, aunts and uncles, grandparents.  But never a close friend.  And never before have I lost a loved one so shockingly, just out of the blue.  Leslie suffered an aneurysm and never regained consciousness.  I did not know of her passing until I read about it on Facebook a day after life support was terminated.

Leslie and I met at the University of Nevada, Reno, when I was in the second year of my Master’s program in English, and she was just starting hers.  We hit it off instantly.  We discovered that we both lived in Lassen County, only 14 miles apart, and we began to car pool the 150-mile round-trip to UNR as often as our schedules allowed.  We were both 30-something mothers with kids close in age.  We were aspiring writers. We were nature lovers who enjoyed hikes in the desert and the mountains together.  We had very different backgrounds and belief systems, but that didn’t matter in the least.  We became the closest of friends and writing buddies. We read and commented on nearly everything the other wrote for many years.  Leslie helped me set up the website on which this blog appears.  I’d never have done it without her, but she helped me, encouraged me, led me, taught me how to make it happen.

Leslie was a restless spirit with itchy feet.  She liked to move around, live in new places, experience other cultures.  When her family moved to San Diego, we stayed in touch via email and occasional phone calls, sending each other poems, stories, and essays to read, but we didn’t see each other during that time.  Then her parents passed away one after the other within a very short time, and she decided that she needed to get away from her present life.  She spent three years in China, teaching English part of the time, free-lance writing for various gemstone and jewelry and travel magazines part of the time, traveling to different parts of Asia for free-lance assignments.  She also traveled in Mongolia with her then-husband, Bob Clary.  She’d also developed photography skills for her assignments, and she took many beautiful photographs during her journeys.  When she came back to the states, she started teaching more classes online for National University and developing curriculum for them.  Eventually, she and Bob separated, and Leslie returned to live in Lassen County.  She worked for a time at the local college, won a Fulbright Scholarship to study in Northern India, and stayed there for several months.  She wrote quite a bit about that experience in her blog, “Cloud and Mountain.”  Many pieces of writing came out of that Indian trip, and she began to think about a book project, which we discussed many times.

After leaving Lassen College in what were shameful circumstances on the part of the college administration, Leslie worked at the local paper as a reporter and began to develop a stronger free-lance presence in the magazine industry.  Eventually, she quit the newspaper and began to free-lance full time while continuing to teach online for National University.  At the same time, Leslie began to deal with some events and memories from childhood which had shaped her life in ways she was only beginning to understand.  In an effort to gain clarity, she began to study Buddhism and eventually took the Buddhist precepts.  Buddhist practice gave her an unprecedented calm and focus, and she began to write about those troubling experiences from childhood.

About that same time, while still teaching online and free-lancing, Leslie began a new business.  She had become interested in making topical cannabis products for health purposes, particularly for people suffering from arthritis.  She went through all the legal processes to license and register her business and began making and selling salves through cannabis dispensaries and to those who had a valid California medical marijuana card.  She believed in the efficacy of her products and knew that they helped people in pain, and she felt so good about her business, Leafy Botanicals, and put a tremendous amount of effort into making it grow.  Just this summer, Leslie told me that she felt she’d finally found her purpose and calling in life.

I remember that moment so clearly.  We were sitting in the sun on the front brick steps of her house, with our feet on the wooden deck where we’d practiced tai chi together when she first taught me.  We were looking at the herb garden she was creating in the rock pile that formed her front yard.  I’d given her many of those plants from my herb garden, and in fact I’d stopped by that day to bring her some Johnny Jump-up seeds.  She was exploring ways to incorporate many different healing herbs into her cannabis salves and oils.  Earlier that spring, we’d both gathered dandelion blossoms, I to make a tincture to use in I wasn’t sure what, she to incorporate into her salves. “I love what I’m doing,” she said on that bright July day.  “It just feels right, like I’ve come home in myself.”  That was the last time I saw her.

Only a couple of months later, Leslie was gone.  I could not believe it at first, and then I was thrown into a maelstrom of grief and loss.  Leslie was my closest friend in Lassen County.  She was someone I could talk with about anything, and we did talk about everything:  our men, our kids, our faiths, our politics, our worries, our joys.  We didn’t always share the same point of view about everything, but it didn’t matter because we loved each other, and there was never any rancor if we disagreed about something.  We appreciated the differences of our viewpoints.  Leslie also had a great sense of humor and a strong perception of irony, so we laughed about everything.  There were many times we laughed so hard we cried.

I cried a lot the first few weeks after Leslie’s death.  I’m weeping as I write these words because I miss her so much, and I know I always will.  A few weeks ago, Leslie’s stepdaughter, Alia, contacted me and asked me if I wanted one of Leslie’s houseplants. Alia and her dad were at Leslie’s house, cleaning and removing the last of Leslie’s possessions, getting the house ready to rent.  I drove up the next day and sat on the deck for a while with Alia and Bob, talking about memories of Leslie. It was a bittersweet time, but I’m so glad I got to know Alia a little bit and see Bob again.

Before I left with Leslie’s plant (now sitting by my big living room window), I picked some juniper berries from the trees around her house.  Last fall, Leslie and I made soap together with bear fat, juniper-infused olive oil, and ground juniper berries.  It came out great, and we gave a lot of it away last Christmas as gifts to our families.  We’d planned to make another couple of batches this fall.  She won’t be here to do it with me, but I will do it in her memory and with the memory of our laughter as we made our first batch together ringing in my ears.

 

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