Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas on the Farm

Down on the farm in my Xtra Tufs

I love the holidays. Snowfall, Christmas lights, discovering the perfect gift for that special person, snuggling up, drinking hot chocolate and peppermint coffee, even Christmas carols. I love them. I love that this time of year is when we really focus on those who are important in our lives and I love sending Christmas cards and special wishes to those who are near and dear to my heart. Then there's that little thrill when I receive them in return. Those little notes of what the year has served up, the snapshots of smiling faces as reminders of life moving and growing and expanding. For a brief moment, I reconnect with those that I love. And then time swirls on, the holidays pass, winter turns to spring and we all get back to business dancing along the pathways we've chosen for our life.

We've been on the road two years now. Two years! It's so hard to believe but there you have it. Last Christmas, we got to spend it on the golden beaches and cozy setting of Ventura, CA. And it was lovely, really a wonderful place to spend that special time. But, I have to admit that one of the things that I really love about the holidays is that impromptu gathering of friends and family, cozied up, laughing, teasing and storytelling on a cold winter's night. It's been one of the hardest transitions to life on the road, that isolation you feel, the never really being part of the group. Most of the time I enjoy being the bystander and getting a glimpse into other people's realities but at the holidays I really yearn for that connection, that feeling of being part of the tribe, knowing that the people around you really care about who you are and where you're going when you step out the door.

Well, this year we got all that and a bag of chips...literally. Last month we moved from the beautiful Queen City of North Carolina to the edge of the windswept plains of West Texas. Technically, we're perched in New Mexico but Texas is a mere 8 miles up the road. And this means that family is not far away. A few years back, my dad married his high school sweetheart and returned to the farming life of his youth so, lucky for us, Christmas Eve was spent down on the farm.

Hubby striking a pose

Cold enough for snow but that's actually cotton on the ground.

Lovely glow of the Christmas tree

Erik, me and Alice...and the bag of chips

Christmas Day found us tucked up snug as a bug in a rug back in our motorhome. That doesn't mean that Santa doesn't make an appearance! And after 9 (Chloe and Daisy) and 10 (Riley) years of Christmas extravaganza, receiving everything from bison bones to flying frisbees, the dogs have learned that when the sparkly lights and crackly paper make an appearance, good times and good eating are sure to follow. I think they were more excited on Christmas Day than Erik and me!

Christmas loot
Chloe, guarding the Christmas loot
Riley, hoarding the Christmas loot
As the last rays of sun spilled out across the landscape, Erik and I took a moment to reflect on the many blessings life presents and how darn lucky we are to be on this great adventure with friends and family willing to come along for the ride.

Hope your holidays were as special as ours and you were lucky enough to be surrounded by those who love you.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Curry It Up

There's one thing that I've always wanted to try...to make my own curry. I'm addicted to curry, either Indian or Thai, I'm really not picky and one of my favorites is Thai Massaman curry. So, when I came across this gorgeous mortar and pestle in a secondhand shop, my vision of pounding and grinding my own curry paste finnnaallly came to pass. First let me just say, for anyone who has ever tried to find galangal root and doesn't live in a large metropolitan area with a large Thai population, let me just tell you that you're going to have an adventure...and probably see things and meet people you might soon want to forget. Be that as it may, I did find the galangal root and the many other exotic ingredients required for my first curry experiment. And I just might want to add, it was due to no small amount of assistance from the very patient and oh-so-much-braver spousal unit (what would I do without that guy!).

So, ingredients procured,  I dove in. I chopped, pounded, grinded, whined, asked the spousal unit for a donation of his muscle power, grinded some more, calculated the calories I was burning while doing all of the aforementioned, sniffed, sighed, laughed giddily and finally produced my very own.......

 curry paste! Woohoo! Did I screw things up a bit? Duh, of course, but it was still delish...though not as delish as my favorite curry at Cham Thai in Billings, MT to which I measure all other curries (is it too weird that my favorite Thai restaurant is in Billings, MT? I swear it's better than any that I've tried, from Australia to New York! Try it and then we'll see who should be labeled "crazy"). So, I will call my curry making a minor success and I look forward to my next attempt...though I'm not sure the hubby would say the same. Hrmph. Maybe I'll just move on to my other desired use of mortar and pestle. Making my own chocolate! Now, if I could just get my hands on some cacao beans.....

And since I'm talking successful kitchen adventures, here's another that really knocked our socks off. It's a recipe for a Tomato Pie. Oh, stop it! Don't think I don't see you turning your nose up! I see you. But I swear this recipe is so good you'll get past the less than appealing title and be running to your computers to post your own blogs about this tasty little dish. It comes from one of my favorite bloggers, Nici, over at Dig This Chick.

 She made it as a pie, but due to my attempt to cut carbs, I turned it into a tomato tart, using only a half recipe of a Pate Brisee. Other than the fact I substituted a shallot for the garlic (and only because I had more shallots than garlic) and changed it from a pie to a tart, I followed her recipe exactly and came up with...

magic! And a favorite new dinner recipe. Hmm, and let's not overlook the fact I got to indulge in a little, um, BAKING! Thanks, Nici, I owe you one!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Going Botanical

So, I've been a bit lost lately. Due to inspiration from a friend to get my nutritional life in order, my baking and chocolate-making has come to a true and abrupt end. I know, I know it's good for me and having lost 12 pounds and counting, I guess I can't argue with the reality. A woman can not live on brownies alone. Still, my poor soul was sad...and lost. First, no gardening and now no baking, no chocolate-making?  Really? Please say it ain't so...

But, I've held firm and, now, only on special occasions do I allow myself to indulge in a little kitchen magic. Instead, I have tried to embrace cooking as a substitute for baking. Frankly, it just doesn't do it for me.What's the difference?, you might ask, and to you I say there's a grand canyon size gap between the harsh chopping, dicing, sauteing, roasting and simmering of cooking and the beautiful ballet of sifting, folding, whipping, melting and rolling of baking. Sigh... And, just plain and simple, it doesn't satisfy my chocolate-loving, homemade-baked-good, garden-deprived soul.

And, thus, I found myself at loose ends. But what to do, what to do? Well, luckily for me our traveling circus just relocated from the land of tall cotton to the bright lights of the Charlotte area and what did I find upon my arrival? ....wait for it....A BOTANICAL GARDEN! Oh yes, people, a REAL, honest-to-goodness, drop-to-your-knees-and-thank-the-gardening-gods, enchanting, marvelous, magical, filled-with-butterflies-and flowering-plants, B.O.T.A.N.I.C.A.L G.A.R.D.E.N. Hold on, I need a moment....

And they let me in. Yep, no joke, they let me wander the gardens and sniff the flowers, and sit on the benches, trail my hand in the water, touch the sculptures and marvel at the orchids on the orchid wall. They have an ORCHID WALL for godsakes. In a glass conservatory. And, let me repeat, they let me in. Hold on, I'm having heart palpitations...

But this is not the best part. Oh no. After wandering for hours, and I do mean HOURS, and wondering how I could move 3 dogs, a motorhome and a husband onto the property without anyone noticing, a lightbulb came on. I could VOLUNTEER. If I volunteered, they would let me work in the garden, I'd get to get my hands in the dirt, I could...deadhead, or water something, or prune or maybe even plant something. All that garden-longing and envy that I've been tamping deep down inside me since we began this grand adventure welled right up and bubbled over. My feet were moving before I knew it. I found myself standing at the reception desk, staring wildly at the confused but oh-so-polite, genteel woman manning the desk and practically begging, alright full-on begging, to volunteer (And for those of you who know how shy I am, all I can say is it must have been delirium and low blood sugar that made me do it) And here's the best part...they said....YES! Oh yeah, they said yes and now, I, traveling gypsy and reformed chocolate-maker/baker of fattening goodies, am indulging my wildest gardening fantasies at the incredible Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens (insert angels singing here).

My first day of gardening bliss was yesterday and it was everything I hoped for and more. They handed me a pair of clippers and asked if I wouldn't mind trimming the privet hedge. Are you kidding me? You hand an obsessive gardener with a perfectionist bent a pair of clippers and point her towards an overgrown hedge and what you'll have when you come back is a hedge so perfectly shaped, so straight, that if you could pick it up, you could use it as a ruler! Let's simply say, I was in heaven...and I was told by the lead horticulturist, while the rest of the staff stood back and marveled, that their hedges haven't been so straight since they stopped using the hedge trimmer 3 years ago....umm, so I got a bit carried away. It's been awhile, ok?

And, just so you know this whole fairytale is fact and not something I made up out of the clarity of my nutritionally-satisfied but sugar-deprived brain, here are a few photos of the wonderland I get to wander through every Thursday, rain or shine.

Yep, and my soul is smiling a Cheshire cat grin.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Away Down South in Dixie

I left the land of big, snow-capped mountains and find myself lost in fields of cotton. Gone are my fields of wildflowers and in their place are flowering tobacco plants and nobs of fluffy cotton bobbing in the wind. This morning I woke to filmy fog hovering in the air and for a moment it was as if time was suspended, was it present day or 100 years in the past? With the fog hiding any evidence of modern day life, I could have been walking a plantation where the landscape hasn't changed in many, many lifetimes.

I've always wanted to visit North Carolina and, now, I sit here torn as to how I feel. It seems to be a state with many different faces. We're in a town tucked up near the Virginia border. It used to be a thriving port city along the Roanoke River and a major textile producer. Now, the textile mills are closed and boarded up and the river has been forsaken for the high speed interstate that slices through town. The grand old plantation homes have been left to rot and ruin and they creak and tumble back into the earth. The town is depressed and depressing and...yet... there is another side it shows. I listen to the rhythmic voices around me, see the families gathered in the parks or sipping sweet tea on the front porch and find a different view. The slow drawl of stories told, jokes shared and miseries commiserated reveal a history of connection...of living. Tough lives, hard struggles and still the joy of life shines through.

If you move beyond the small, plantation towns and travel 60 miles down the road, you'll see a very different face, a glamorous, sophisticated, urban face. You'll find concerts, and cultural events, fresh produce, traffic, shopping malls, recycling, Thai restaurants and, heck, you'll even find a Trader Joe's! Upon first driving into Raleigh, I felt as if I had been backpacking for a month and had just walked out of the woods and re-entered the rat race. Talk about culture shock!

And, then, there is another face, the one I love, the one I could gaze at for hours and hours, the sun-drenched, rough-skinned, and rowdy face of the Outer Banks. Ahhh, give me a moment.... Ok, yes, the Outer Banks. Quirky towns, miles, and I do mean MILES, of soft, sandy, lovely beaches, warm water, pirate lore (c'mon, who wouldn't love a place that Blackbeard called his home), sunsets to die for, sunrises that insist that you get out and gather on the beach with other sleepy strangers in various states of undress and which make you all give a collective sigh as the sun rises into view over the watery horizon. There are crashing waves, sea air, strong coffee, Apple Uglies, and lighthouses. Magnificent lighthouses.

I never knew how much I loved lighthouses until I climbed the Buxton lighthouse at an ungodly hour after consuming the aforementioned strong coffee and Apple Uglie. Yes, there were moments of vertigo as I twirled around and around inside the kaleidoscopic interior twisting my way to the top but, oh, once I stepped out....ahhhh, I took a deep breath and just breathed it all in.

We're heading for the mountains next, a whole new side of North Carolina we've yet to discover. I'm curious to see what new face will be shown to us as the scorching summer fades into fall. I miss my mountains more than ever at this time of year and, ok, I'll admit it, I would head home in a heartbeat if Erik said he was ready to go but I know that we're on this grand adventure to meet new people, see new places, and appreciate new faces in the hopes that our world is broadened and enriched by each experience that we're willing to soak in. So, I'm pulling back my hair, slapping on some make-up and holding out my hand, hoping that North Carolina will put on her party dress and whirl me into autumn beneath the Great Smoky Mountains, showing this westerner how it's done in the South.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


We took a little trip home this past weekend to take care of some business and reconnect with friends and family. The drive was gorgeous as usual and I must say Missoula was in fine form!

I'm crazy over the Crazies! What a beautiful mountain range.

Kay and I enjoying coffee and treats at Bernices

My brother Tom on the Higgins St bridge

Party at Caras Park

Whitewater competition on the Clark Fork

Fiesta with friends and family at El Cazador

The Wilma looking majestic in the late afternoon sunlight

Running our favorite trail in Pattee Canyon

Daisy and Emma bringing up the rear

Ahhh, the drive home. Exhausted but oh so content.

Friends, family and a wonderful hometown. Who could ask for anything more?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Ode to My Xtra Tufs

Ah, fickle spring. It snowed here today and as I watched my dogs frolic like maniacs while I stood ankle deep in white stuff and froze my ass off, I looked down at my ugly, brown boots and thanked my lucky stars that my good friend, Nadia, has the gift to look past the trappings and see the beauty of utilitarian. This one's for you, Nod!

Ode to My Xtra Tufs

Yes, I first said "Pooh, pooh!" when Nod said, "Oh, I do!" to those brown rubber boots in a row.
So ugly, so plain, my friend must be insane
to want footwear with no sizzle, no show.

Cause I'm just a girl who loves shoes.
Sandals with heels make me coo.
And these boots cause a fright,
such a horrible sight,
clunky rubber the color of poo!

But, alas!, oh how wrong could I be?
And this point was shown clearly to me
when the skies opened up,
that rain could have drowned a duck!
And my tootsies were wet as can be.

The mud, how it sucked at my heels.
Patent leather's no match for this deal.
And when it started to snow
I cried out "Oh no!"
and tore off to the store with a squeal.

And now there's no weather too buff.
No amount of rain, of snow is enough.
And when the storm clouds roll in
I just look up and grin
cause this girl's rockin' her Xtra Tufs!

Nadia, rockin' HER Xtra Tufs in Ketchikan

Thursday, April 29, 2010

No Way, Jose!

I can't do it. No way, no how. Not happening. Nope. Uh uh, no, no, no. You can't make me....go inside. I just can't bring myself to stay inside when there is so much going on outside. Not to mention the scenery is drop dead gorgeous. So my laundry is piling up, my email is overflowing, my articles need to be written and the bookkeeping? Forget it!

Ah, springtime! The sun is shining, the birds are out in force and the wildflowers are blooming. I would be crazy to miss a SECOND of it. And my canine partners in crime feel no guilt in luring me outside to play, swim and explore. Not that I resist much...if at all. C'mon, can you blame me?

So, every morning I wake up and run through the list of all the things that must be accomplished that day. I have steely resolve as I leash up the troops to take our morning walk, telling myself that we won't dilly dally, that we'll go out, they'll do their business and we will come right back in and I'll get straight to work. Everything is going fine until that first soft, fragrant spring breeze swirls around me, tempting me to do a little happy dance. Then the contingent of robins start in with their "Good morning!" trills. The sun is just rising and casts a golden rosy glow on the landscape around me. Ahhh, heaven!

We make it through the field of newly blossoming wildflowers and step into the woods, heading for the river. The dogs are darting and sniffing and frolicking and I happily trail along behind them noticing which trees are starting to leaf out, watching the red fox dart across the wash, and listening to the local woodpecker tap, tap, tapping on the snag above me. There is a little herd of deer that we run into every day that stare cautiously back at us as we meander along. And once we hit the river, oh glory! The breeze brings fresh, new scents, the sun warms my face and the Canadian geese fly over honking encouragingly at each other.

If we're lucky, the beaver and his little beaver family are swimming nearby. He never fails to startle the crap out of me by slapping the water as loudly as he can with that monstrous tail of his (I think he gets some sort of sick amusement out of watching me jump and contort all Kramer-like). It's such a shock in the quiet stillness of the dewy morning but once he does it and gets his cheap laugh, he goes about his beaver morning and leaves us to enjoy our solitude.

At this point I realize my resolve is slipping and I round up the troops and we start making our way back home. I do usually get us back to get the breakfast served and the coffee brewed, to kiss the hubby as he heads off on his bike to work and sometimes I even get myself to sit down in front of the computer. I'm set, I'm ready, I have my list of all the things I need to get done right in front of me....and then I look up and get an unobstructed view of all the action taking place just beyond the glass. No! Focus! Must....get....through....list....

And that's when I feel a little nudge and I look down to see big, brown eyes looking hopefully up at me. Just one quick run, they seem to say. Just a quick sniff, a turn around the campground to see what's new. And I know I should resist. I KNOW I have a ton to get done...but.....I find myself lying on a patch of grass, with the sun sprinkling down on me through the new leaves that have just sprung and a dog, or two, or three rolling happily on their backs beside me, loving life, loving where this adventure has taken us and I just close my eyes and breathe it all in.

I can start on my list tomorrow......

Monday, April 19, 2010

Cast Iron and Cornbread

As I wander about exploring this new area we've landed in, I just can't resist diving into the local antique and junk stores. I've been on a quest for a long time now to find old cast iron pans since, as I've bemoaned previously, none were passed on through my family. I've hit stores from California to Alaska and back and, sure, I've run across them here and there but most dealers understand the treasure that they're selling and want to catch a sap like me who will be willing to slap down sixty bucks for a dutch oven...missing its cover, no less! Outrageous, I say, so I move on and the treasure hunt continues.

Well, let me tell you that I recently hit the motherlode! I guess it stands to reason that in this area of homesteaders and ranchers, cast iron is as ubiquitous as cowboy boots and bison. To me, though, it was as if I was a miner and I had just hit a huge vein of gold. When, in poking around one of the local stores, my good sport of a husband casually strolled over to me with a corn cob cast iron pan in his hand and asked, "Isn't this what you've been looking for?", I swear I almost fainted. And when I took a look at the price tag and it was less than ten bucks, I let out a whoop that shook the rafters.

I pranced around that shop with that pan clutched tightly in my hands and couldn't believe my luck as we uncovered more and more cast iron jewels just begging to be taken home, cleaned up and put back in service. Ok, sure, we live in a motorhome with a kitchen the size of a postage stamp but, c'mon, who am I to say no to a hardworkin' piece of historic cookware that just wants to get back in the game?

So, I packed those suckers up, got a good arm workout to boot, and headed home to try them out. Umm, let me just say, it was everything I've ever dreamed it to be. I made cornbread in the corn cob pans and paired it with a hearty bean stew and Erik and I gobbled it up, licked our fingers.... and dove in for more. Oh, man, is there anything better than hot-out-of-the-oven, crispy, fluffy and mouthwatering cornbread....drenched in butter? Ok, yea, yea, there goes the diet and I'll have to run from here to Missoula and back to work it off but whateva! It was SO worth it and, hey, let's not forget I burned those calories hauling those babies home.

So, I am FINALLY the proud, new owner of ancient cast iron and couldn't be happier with my new kitchen accoutrement. Don't get me wrong, I'm still on the prowl for my holy grail of cast iron... a small dutch oven WITH a lid that will fit in my motorhome's Easy Bake oven but, for now, I will bask in the glow of knowing that if my life depended on my making skillet biscuits or crispy cornbread, I am SO on it.

Now, on to the next issue...where the heck to store all of them... Hmm, maybe Erik will make some room in his bicycle equipment storage bin. I mean, really, cast iron or a bicycle tube? No contest if you ask me!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Back under the Big Sky

We made it. Back to Big Sky Country and just have to say it's nice to be, well, home. Ok, not in my beloved Missoula and postcard perfect Western Montana but, still, under that glorious big sky and surrounded by those huge rivers, wide open spaces and, oh, those magical, mystical mountains. Friendly people, strong espresso and miles and miles and miles of trails to explore. Absolute heaven.

There is just something about this state that speaks so loudly and clearly to me. As we crossed the state line and Monida Pass in her icy winter finery spread out around us, I took a deep breath and just knew, yes, this is it. So far, in all of our travels nothing has come close to replacing Montana in my heart. Ok, yes, those Southern California beaches hold a special place (especially in the winter when my feet have been numb for MONTHS!) but, when play time is over, it's Montana that I want to come home to.

I can definitely say I'm still moonstruck in Montana......

Our new backyard

Chloe (above) and Riley (below) resting up for the next tracking expedition

On the hunt

Home Sweet Home

Even the plants are happy


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