Monday, July 21, 2014

The Bully

When we returned from St. John, I found that my cucumbers had gotten an attitude. They aren't supposed to be outside of their enclosure. Even the normally prolific Chinese longbeans are cowering on their edge of the trellis, tentatively reaching their tendrils away from the cuke. I found one climbing on the sprinkler nozzle. This photo was taken after I had chopped some cuke limbs from the mint and basil, who were trapped in their pots with no escape. One leg seems to be inching its way toward my neighbor's yard.

Here's the tomato plant striving to evade the grasp of the monster cuke, with nowhere to go but up. It's about as tall as I am now. I've used no fertilizer this year. Notice no tomatoes are on this plant. I think it needs all its strength to fight off the bully.

I reaped a harvest of one tiny tomato, three Chinese longbeans and seven very large cucumbers. Many more blossoms portend pickling, Greek salads and juice in my future.

Thank goodness I'm a juicer. This one bully-cuke, along with a tiny orange and an even tinier knob of ginger, yielded nearly 30 ounces this morning.

(That's not my pancake in the background)

I feel bad for the bullied veggies, but enjoy juicing organic cukes I don't have to peel first!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

St. John

I've been AWOL for a little while. In close succession, we hosted my wonderful sisters-in-law for the better part of a week and then jetted and boated off to the amazing island of St. John, USVI. This is a shot of Great Cruz Bay from our rented villa. I could definitely get used to this view and the active, no-nonsense lifestyle of this island, largely undeveloped and covered with wildlife. I wore a scarf around my head instead of attempting to style my hair and opted for sunscreen over makeup. We've encountered eagles, wild chickens, mongoose, deer, wild mules and donkeys, wild (or at least free-range upon the roadways) cattle and goats, peccaries (little, wild pigs) enormous sea turtles, sting rays the size of my kitchen table, huge fish which swam right up to our rented dinghy, and clouds of tiny fish which were not bothered when we snorkeled through their midst. As thrilling as the close encounters with the larger animals were, I'd have to say it was being enveloped in these clouds of tiny, iridescent fish that brought me closest to a transcendent state of mind. I'm a bit off-kilter as I resume real life now.

Imagining an alternate universe where this could be permanent real-life, I have to admit there are downsides. First, the price of the dwellings, and real estate in general. We checked the price of an empty lot in paradise and it was $80,000. The lot was a good 45 minute drive on winding mountain roads away from civilization. I cannot say enough great things about our gorgeous villa planted atop a mountain in paradise, but to many with western civilization sensibilities, a paradigm shift will be in order. The central living areas of most of these villas are not air conditioned. Individual units of varying effectiveness cool the sleeping quarters. It makes no sense whatsoever to turn on the oven. The entire living area becomes unlivable. I made the mistake of baking a potato, and won't do that again. Aside from cooking, I never spent time in this part of the house. The boys sat in front of the TV for the Germany v. Brazil World Cup game, but other than that we lived on the veranda overlooking the bay. The villa was perched upon and within a habitat of an unknown number of native species. As such, we had to learn to live with them a little. Truly, it was mostly my 16 year old daughter who had to live with them the most. Her bedroom was above the cistern, the source of water for the house. Water is delivered to these homes by truck, and the pipes for showering, laundry and dishes are fed from a large tank called a cistern. A section of the tiled floor under one of the beds in her room has a frame so the floor can be lifted for access to the cistern. I witnessed a few tiny critters evading capture through the cracks in the floor. They must be attracted to the moisture (don't drink the water). I joked with my daughter that she can now call herself the "mother of dragons" since most of her roommates were of the reptilian variety. The first night she was aware of them was unsettling, but since she is a wildlife lover who particularly loves baby animals, she became very brave and only worried about inadvertently harming the little guys who must have been newborns. They were less than an inch long with eyes way too big for their heads. They spent most of their time on the walls and ceilings. She thought they were adorable. I thought she was very brave. Once we re framed the villa stay as a highly luxurious camping trip, we all relaxed. This was around the time I stopped pulling out the blow dryer and makeup. Still, I insisted my daughter carefully shake out and inspect all her clothing before repacking it for the trip home.

Living anywhere without an airport or a large harbor for freight obviously affects the price of everything, and the quality of perishables. We had packed a bag of dry goods, mostly rice, pasta and canned items, knowing the St. John markup would be substantial. As it turned out, I made do with a sad, almost rotten head of romaine, some grape tomatoes, an onion, some mushrooms and an even sadder bunch of kale for the week, along with some garlic, olive oil, dried herbs and spices left from the last tenant of the villa. We also enjoyed the remains of a couple of bottles of island rum from the prior tenants and similarly paid forward what was left and presentable from our own food and drink. While I've been mostly gluten-free since April, I had to resort to eating regular bread on the days we packed lunch since we would be away from food sources, hiking or boating. Gluten free bread is too expensive on the mainland, so I didn't even check the price on the island. I thought about buying a bunch of organic carrots, which actually looked pretty decent, but they were $14.

I basically put this upon most of my rice or gluten-free pasta (which I had packed):

Tip: lightly sauteing sad romaine or kale in olive oil and fresh garlic greatly improves it.

I was happy to pay the price of a week of lowered nutritional standards to reap the benefits of being in this amazing place. If it's ever in the budget again, I'd jump at the chance.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Dinner for One

Luscious -- and quick! This is one head of baby bok choy, quartered lengthwise and quickly seared on the cut sides in a pan of purple onions and mushrooms. I used only coconut oil. My latest obsession is MCT's (medium chain triglycerides). It's all about supporting the ole' neurology, and coconut oil delivers. This dinner was amazing and decadent and made me feel I was treating myself well. I felt special -- briefly.

My husband's been traveling for business and my son's at college taking a class, so my daughter and I have been enjoying rare "girls-only" time along with our lovely pups. We've spent a lot of time in pajamas, and have indulged in mindless TV, movies, board games and, best of all, long talks. The next day we were looking forward to more of the same, but, unexpectedly, a bunch of her friends texted that they'd found a Groupon for a bouncy yard rental castle (there's got to be an actual term for this). I love that my almost 17-year-old gets such a charge out of bouncing in a blow-up castle with her friends. Long story short, the bouncy thing didn't work out because, well, it's not a takeout pizza -- you've got to reserve it in advance, but the excitement for these kids had built to the point that they just had to get together. They settled for gathering at the home of one of her friends. I planned to pick her up at around 10:00 p.m. (boys and girls, so no sleep-over). I dropped her off and drove home. I was alone.

This was a strange and tantalizing situation. From birth I've not been alone. I went straight from my family's home to college where I had room mates. Upon graduation, after my family had moved to Florida, during my plan-less weeks I lived in my best friend's family's home in Alexandria, VA. After a few weeks, with all my friends taking a little time before settling down into their adult lives, I found some strangers to live with from "the Washington Post" (I didn't make much money!). After 6 months in a darling, albeit flea-infested, cottage at Tyson's Corner, I finally moved into an apartment with some of my very best friends. Those were wonderful years -- much like girls-only time with my daughter, but with jobs and boyfriends. From the apartment with my girls, I moved in with my boyfriend, who is now my husband. I've never lived alone. Many of my friends have, at one time or another. My husband has. Even my son has lived alone for a year.

Sure, during my years as a stay-at-home mom I was alone during the day with my husband at work and the kids at school. But that was different. With the family at school and work, there was always a self-imposed pressure to make something of my day. They'd be coming home at 4:00 with homework and 5:30 with a hearty appetite. I needed something to show for my time. Groceries, cleaning, laundry, organizing and cooking effectively used up the 6 hours each day.

Yesterday the pressure was off.  After dropping my daughter at her friend's, I put on music that I never hear and poured a small glass of wine. I carefully chose exactly the veggie gems which appealed at that moment and created a masterpiece. I resolved to use a couple of the hours ahead to find a movie to rent that nobody would choose, not even my sweet daughter. Like a lot of moms, I'm the default "peacemaker" so I would never impose my choice on the bunch of 'em.

Just as I was ready to plate my entree, I heard the chime from the other room -- there was a text. My daughter needed to be picked up early after only 3 hours with her friends. The host had an appointment. I had to smile. It's nice that the kids do their own social planning now -- it's good for them to actively create portions of their lives. The parents all know one another, and there is an express understanding that the host will always have a parent home, etc. For the time being, none of the kids in this group have followed through with getting their licenses, so I can be sure she will be where I dropped her off. But the outcome of yesterday's get-together is a perfect illustration of how child-like these wonderful kids are, despite being wise beyond their years in so many other ways. When the kids were planning, I caught snippets of it: "Bouncy house -- yay! where? whose yard? oh, that stinks, laser tag? you don't want to? okay. movie? which one? no, I want to see the first one before the sequel . . . . her house? . . . . his house? okay."

I wolfed down my fabulous food and retrieved my girl. I was so happy to see her! The momentary thrill of being alone suddenly revealed itself for what it was: a novelty. We happily tucked into another game of "Sorry!"