Thursday, December 30, 2010

Soaking in Bliss

Today is my dear friend Caren's birthday and I finally got it right. For years I kept telling myself it was on New Year's Eve, then I convinced myself it was December 29, and actually went to bed last night thinking, "Oh, no! I talked to her on the phone this afternoon and forgot to say 'Happy Birthday'!" But I didn't mess up this year.
     A few years ago someone gave Caren a really big bag of Dead Sea salts and she passed a generous supply on to me.  They were great for soaking sore muscles, like after a long day working in the garden. But being the kind of person I am, I couldn't leave well enough alone. I love aromatherapy and skin-softening ingredients, and hence my bath salts have evolved.
I scented the above batch with my own favorite relaxing fragrance blend, based on three essential oils: the dominant note is patchouli, tempered with sweet orange and an undercurrent of lavender, not enough to really identify as such, but it adds to the relaxing effect. A nice beginning to a mellow and possibly romantic evening. 
     Joe also enjoys a relaxing bath, and for him I add rosemary and peppermint essential oils to the basic unscented blend, since he likes a morning bath and those fragrances are energizing (and he really likes them, especially the rosemary).
     I have read that actual salts, even sea salts, are really not good for the skin (read the labels on your bath salts - if sodium chloride is the first or one of the main ingredients, beware; the manufacturer is taking the cheap way out). So now I use epsom salts, which do everything we want a bath salt to do - relax us, relieve sore muscles, even soothe some skin rashes or eczema. The recipe below also contains powdered milk, oatmeal, oil, and honey, all of which soothe the skin.  In addition, the honey acts as a humectant, attracting moisture to the skin, softening it while also relieving rashes, skin irritations, or sunburn.

Pantry Bath Salts
2 cups epsom salts
1/2 cup dried milk powder
1/2 cup oatmeal (any kind_
2 Tbsp. honey
2 Tbsp. oil (olive, jojoba, canola, any vegetable oil)
25-30 drops of essential oil(s) of your choice
       In a bowl, combine salts with dried milk powder.  In a coffee grinder, blender, or food processor, grind oats to a fine powder; add to salt/milk mixture and thoroughly combine.  Add the oil and honey (measure the oil first, then use the same spoon to measure the honey and it will slide right out without sticking). Mixing in the oil and honey is messy and you'll probably want to get in there and use your hands to break up as many lumps as possible - don't worry if there are a few small lumps left in.  Add your fragrance oils a little at a time, checking the aroma effect as you go.  I like my bath salts well-scented, but it is possible to get carried away.  Incidentally, when I washed my hands after I finished mixing these salts, they felt and smelled incredible! 
       I start with 10 drops of rosemary and 5 of peppermint for Joe's blend, and then add more of each, a few drops at a time, till I like the effect (which may vary depending on the brand or age of your oils - patchouli gets richer and more mellow over time but that's not the case with other scents).
For mine, I start with 10 drops of patchouli, 10 of sweet orange, and 5 of lavender.

Happy New Year to everyone! I'm not big on formal resolutions, but this time of year I like to remind myself to treat others well (like maybe with a birthday gift of bath salts) and also to treat myself occasionally. A nice, long, hot, fragrant, soothing bath, with a bath pillow, a book, and maybe a cup of tea, is one very nice way to do that.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

No Pasta of the Week

When Joe was growing up, Sunday was pasta night at his house, and we try to continue that tradition. But last Sunday the power went out at 4:41, just as I was about to start dinner, and stayed out for nearly two hours, forcing a change of plans.
It was also cooling off - yes, we do get cold in the desert - and I'd just lit a fire in the fireplace.  We also lit the oil lamps on the mantel and several candles, and as it got darker outside, Joe went out to the garage and brought in a couple more oil lamps.  Then he went in the kitchen and washed dishes by lamplight, while I took that opportunity to organize our candle stores - over time we've collected a lot of candles!  There are many more than I'd remembered and now they're organized into two boxes - one for tapers and one for votives - freeing up some much-needed space in the bottom of the china closet.
     As time passed it became clear there would be no Sunday night pasta.  Instead, we had smoked oysters, cheese, crackers, and sliced persimmons by candlelight.  Delightful.  When my daughter was a little girl we did that sometimes as a special treat; she still loves smoked oysters and so do her two boys.  She also learned to love Limburger cheese at the age of three, like her grandmother and great-grandfather (when I was a kid I thought it was totally gross but learned to like it as an adult).
We did have pasta Monday night, but just with red sauce from a jar (Newman's Own Pesto Tomato, which Joe spotted on sale and which is actually pretty good), sausages, and salad. Tasty but hardly worth posting. Then yesterday I knew I wouldn't feel like cooking dinner after work (tomorrow's my last day this semester and I'm pretty tired), so I put some cabbage and potato soup into the slow cooker before leaving in the morning and made a quick Irish soda bread when we got home, for a truly simple peasant dinner.  The soup wasn't terribly exciting - potatoes, cabbage, onion, a carrot, some celery, chicken broth, bay leaves, salt and pepper - but it was warm and comforting and good enough (I should have browned some bacon or added more herbs, but you know how mornings can be).  The bread is incredibly simple, and a warm, dense slab with butter makes me imagine the probably damp and cramped but picturesque cottages of my Irish ancestors, with kettles and cauldrons bubbling over turf fires while the day's loaf baked on the coals. Hopefully my peasant ancestors could afford to keep a cow, so there'd be butter for the soda bread!  

Irish Soda Bread
4 cups white or whole wheat flour (or a mixture of the two - I used 
     the white whole wheat flour from Trader Joe's; King Arthur's 
     Flour sells that too.  All regular whole wheat might be too heavy)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups buttermilk 

Preheat oven to 450. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl, make a well in the middle, and stir in the buttermilk, beginning with the smaller amount and adding more only if you need it to make a soft dough.  Don't knead or handle this any more than is absolutely necessary to get it to hold together in a ball, which you'll place in a greased pie pan or 8" cake tin.  Cut a fairly deep (1/4" or so) cross across the top and bake at 450 for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 400 and bake another 25 minutes or until the loaf sounds hollow when you tap the bottom.  Cool on a rack for at least 15 minutes before slicing, if you're not too hungry to wait that long.
     If you don't let it cool some before slicing, those first slices may seem a bit gummy because of the way the knife squishes the delicate crumb together.  It will still taste good, though, and if you slather it with butter and jam you won't see the damage you've done.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Muffin of the Week, Luminaria Nights, and Other Things of Beauty

First things first: this was breakfast, and it was very good. Well, actually it was brunch, since we didn't sit down to it until 11:30, which justifies it being fairly hearty since I hope it will hold us over till an early dinner. The muffins are Mollie Katzen's Carrot and Currant Muffins; the recipe is available on her website at:

In the book she says it makes 8-10 muffins though on the site it says 12. Guess it depends on how full you fill the cups; I got 9. They're quite good, but I like them somewhat less than some of the others I've posted; they don't quite have the intensity of flavor that I crave. But they're better than most you could buy, and certainly a nice way to chip away at the over-abundance of carrots resulting from buying a 5# bag a while back (because it was such a good deal).
Maybe my lack of enthusiasm stems from too much carrot cake. At the University of Arizona every catered event features carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. It's a very rich, dense cake, and I liked it very much the first couple of years - maybe even the first five years. Then I started just eating some of the frosting - I guess I'm a frosting person in that ongoing debate over which is best, cake or frosting. Now, after 18 years at U of A, I shudder at the sight of what used to seem like a treat (of course that doesn't mean I might not still have a taste, just to see if it's improved, of course).
Joe'd been craving bacon and while I was at the dentist yesterday morning (for a broken tooth which, oddly, didn't hurt at all, and that was good because I had to wait two days since the dentist was out of town) he went hunting for it in the freezer and couldn't find it (I'd been shifting things around and it was behind the vodka).
A few words about bacon: I know it's not the healthiest food but we only have it once every week or two, and then only "good" bacon. I grew up on the stuff that comes in plastic packages, Oscar Mayer and his ilk, but I haven't bought it in years. Now we buy only the nice thick bacon from the butcher's case, which goes on sale frequently and freezes beautifully. It's soooo much better and leaner and tastier, especially (I think) the kind with pepper on it. Most markets carry it; we shop at, Sunflower and (less often) Albertson's, good thick bacon at a reasonable price, often less than the stuff in plastic. To freeze it, I separate it into 2-slice units (enough for us each to have 1 slice with an ordinary breakfast) and lay out a fairly long sheet of waxed paper, then I fold up the waxed paper like an accordion, with 2 slices of bacon in each fold, separated from the next 2 slices by a layer of waxed paper (I hope I'm making that clear) so that it's easy to take out just 2 (or 4 or 6 or however many you want) at a time. Then I wrap it all up again in the butcher's paper and put a rubber band or two around it. Usually I cut the slices in half crosswise to cook them so I can use a smaller pan; they thaw very fast at low heat and are easy to separate in just a few minutes.
As I said, the bacon I buy seems leaner than what I grew up on, so it doesn't render out as much fat, but if there is melted bacon grease I save it in a jar for other cooking. I read once that if dinner isn't ready when a man comes home he can be pacified by the smell of onions frying, if you think to put them on the stove in time. With Joe, at least, that would work even better if they were frying in bacon grease. However, many of us aren't in that kind of traditional situation, even if we have partners - Joe and I take the bus home from work together and he's as likely to cook dinner as I am. But it's a nice idea.

This is the big Christmas tree at the entrance to the Tucson Botanical Garden, where last night was the first of the annual Luminaria Nights (continuing tonight and Sunday night, 5-8 p.m.). The pathways are lit by traditional luminarias, with various musical groups performing in different areas. At one point there were bell ringers in the indoor hall, an accordionist near the conservatory, a bluegrass group farther on, Irish dancers in the xeriscape gardens, and a choir in the large pavilion. The performers changed at 6:30 and on our way out we sat for a while in the indoor hall listening to a wonderful string quartet - one of the nicest parts of that was how happy all the players looked! - especially the violist, a young Austrian woman.
There's something magical about the gardens at night in candlelight.
In spite of the crowds and the music (and the food vendors, so it's good to come hungry!), there's a kind of peaceful hush that seems so appropriate to the season, and such a nice corrective to all the commercial craziness that otherwise accompanies it. When you come to the gardens at any season, time seems to slow down, so that it's okay to just sit and enjoy listening to the birds and otherwise being surrounded by things of nature. Even what's mechanical and manmade contributes to relaxation, like the lovely little model railroad in its "Old West" setting (which was hard to photograph last night, but I'm posting these pictures anyway):
And now, after yesterday's busyness, today I'm at home, relaxing, cooking, blogging, puttering...with my beautiful friend and familiar Sophie. You probably can't read it, but the title of the book lying next to her is Mirror, Mirror on the Wall - I'm quite sure Sophie's mirror tells her every day that she is indeed the fairest of them all.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Muffin of the Week - Experimental

I hadn't realized how much I enjoy creating these weekly postings until I got off schedule, but this morning the muffins are back, this time as an experiment based on "Name That Muffin" from Morning Food by Margaret S. Fox and John Bear. Margaret is the former owner of the renowned Café Beaujolais in Mendocino, California, and I bought the book when we were vacationing there a couple of years ago.

The recipe she gives is a sort of basic muffin recipe (though not too basic, since it includes poppy seeds and chopped nuts) with suggestions for several variations using diverse fruits and vegetables. I had one orange and one lemon in the fridge, but they didn't quite give me enough prepared fruit, so I added some of the leftover mashed sweet potatoes from Thanksgiving. No one in my family likes that concoction of sweet potatoes, sugar and marshmallows so many people eat at the holidays - these were pretty basic and, in my opinion, all the tastier for it. Like the equally popular green bean casserole (that I tasted once, just one bite, and swore I'd never touch again), candied yams seems to me to be a vegetable dish for people who don't like vegetables. However, we all have our biases and I'm sure I like things that other people find just as appalling. But I don't think anyone will be put off or appalled by these lovely muffins!

Citrus-Poppyseed-Sweet Potato Muffins - makes 14, more if you don't fill the muffin cups quite so full

2 cups unbleached flour
3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. powdered ginger
1 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
2 large eggs
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup canola oil
3/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1 large orange, chopped in 1" chunks and seeded
1 lemon, chopped in 1" chunks and seeded
1/3 cup mashed sweet potato (you want 1 1/3 cups smooshed up fruit/vegetables total)
1/3 cup poppy seeds

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray muffin tins with cooking spray or use paper liners (I use the spray).
Put the orange and lemon in the food processor and pulse till the rind is finely chopped and the rest is a mushy mess. Add the sweet potato, eggs, brown sugar, canola oil, vanilla extract, and pulse again till everything is well mixed.
In a mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients: flour, salt, soda, baking powder, ginger, cardamom, and poppy seeds. Stir in the liquid mixture very gently. To quote Margaret Fox, "Urgent message: Do not overmix or Margaret [and Vicki] will have a nervous breakdown." Of course, if you like tough muffins with pointy heads (hmmm, kinda makes me think of some kids I went to school with), just beat away. I like to use my rubber scraper for this mixing; it's gentler somehow, makes it easier to slow down and be mindful of how I'm treating the batter, which I think requires a folding rather than a beating motion.
Spoon batter into muffin cups, almost to the top (not quite so full if you want smaller muffins) and bake 25-30 minutes. If you're not using all the muffin cups, fill the empty ones half full of water, and then be careful not to get the baked muffins wet when you take them out. My oven temperature's pretty accurate and 25 minutes was just right. Have a delicious day!

Monday, November 22, 2010

When the Year Grows Old

I cannot but remember
   When the year grows old—
   How she disliked the cold!

Those lines by Edna St. Vincent Millay remind me of growing up in Idaho and of my grandmother, who in her later years seemed to get much colder than the rest of us (today my mother says the same thing, and that it's just part of aging).  Yesterday a friend posted pictures of her house in Ontario, Oregon, just a few miles on the other side of the Snake River from where we grew up.  The snow on the roof and blanketing the yard was so clean and fresh and beautiful. 

Oh, beautiful at nightfall
   The soft spitting snow!
And beautiful the bare boughs
   Rubbing to and fro!

But the roaring of the fire,
   And the warmth of fur,
And the boiling of the kettle
   Were beautiful to her!

     Both of those stanzas express my own feelings - it's not either/or, inside or outside. I love it all, and I miss winter, real winter, though even here in Tucson we don't have to go too far to find snow to play in, just up Mt. Lemmon on the northeast edge of town, or for a weekend, Flagstaff is only 4 hours away.
Things change as the year grows old, and I love watching those changes.  There is a beauty in decrepitude, in fading, in the graceful death we see in nature.  The fallen pomegranates in the picture at the top shrivel and dry but first they nourish the ants and the other little things that live in the soil, and the soil itself.  This picture shows three stages in the life of a morning glory: the shrunken, dried blossom, its earlier bright blue beauty unimaginable unless you've watched the plant and know its processes; a plump green seedpod that will soon mature into a crisp fawn-colored case for the precious product the plant has lived and died for - the hard black seeds that will grow into next year's flowers.
     Our milder desert winters aren't all about death or, as in the story of Persephone and her pomegranate, about putting the world to sleep for half the year.  The cooler temperatures revitalize some things and fall is the best time for planting others, like native plants - cacti, mesquite and palo verde trees.  It's also the best time to start a vegetable garden, and I love being able to grow my own salad and cooking greens, snow peas, turnips, and other things.  We're much more limited in summer, which can feel more like a survival marathon, especially when the monsoons don't come, as they didn't this last summer, when the only crop that really did well was okra.
     Roses thrive here - that came as a surprise to me - and this bud was just beginning to open yesterday.  It's on the climber my friend Charlene gave me when she moved from Tucson, and it's been very happy up against the old gray fence that separates the area where we hang out the laundry and store unused plant pots from the rest of the yard.  Unfortunately, the red climber she gave me at the same time didn't do so well and I finally gave up and took it out a few weeks ago when I gave the roses their September pruning, though the white JFK is doing very well.  This climber produced flowers all summer but they faded quickly, going from bud to falling blossoms in two or three days.  But now they last over a week and some are pushing two weeks, and as this next picture shows, there is still great beauty in their decrepitude.
Isn't it wonderful how they change colors?  I wouldn't have imagined this would happen, and yet right now there are half a dozen like this.  It's like having three or four different rose bushes all in one!  The only constant is change, they say, and we must embrace change or die.  The only way to keep this rose from changing would be to deadhead it before it comes into full bloom, and that would certainly be a shame.
      When I lived in Idaho we were very conscious of the seasons and the harvests, much more than most people are now, I believe.  And when I took my mother on vacation up there I was sad to see that almost all the orchards that filled the Emmett valley are gone, as are the fruit packing sheds where my grandmother worked during the Great Depression, and off and on for years afterwards.  Here's what's left of one of the only two of those sheds still standing, that was once filled with the sound of conveyor belts and women's talk and laughter as they sorted and packed the fruit for which the valley was famous.
At first it made me sad to see it like this, but when I stopped and got out of the car, walked around and went inside, it was also peaceful.  I remember going there with my grandmother, and one of her friends picking out a red Delicious apple and polishing it on his sleeve for me. I remember the simple pleasure of honest labor, and of hands moving quickly and gently over the fruits of the earth, and it makes me smile.
      Apples and some other trees aren't the best choice for our particular micro-climate (though there are wonderful orchards over in Wilcox, less than two hours away) but citrus trees love it.  I noticed last night (after the opera - a delightful student production of Britten's Albert Herring that had the audience laughing out loud in appreciation of its broad humor) that the kumquats are nearly ripe around one of the parking lots, and I'm having fantasies of "liberating" some.
Our little Meyer lemon tree has two big, beautiful fruits nearly ripe.  We expected more given the explosion of blossoms it produced, but we're grateful for these and will, when the time comes, put them to good use.  That's what I hope for all of us as autumn turns to winter, that we will put our time and ourselves to good use.  Stay warm.  Appreciate the season.  Be well.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Muffin of the Week - Bananas!

It's been a very busy but fulfilling weekend.  Joe and I drove up to Phoenix to see Deirdre and the boys Friday evening and stayed over for Eli's football game on Saturday morning at 8 a.m.  I can't believe how much more focused those kids are than they were a month ago when we watched his first scrimmage. I have mixed feelings about 5-year-olds being involved in high pressure sports leagues, but I sure was proud to watch my grandson run for 2 touchdowns and a number of other great plays, even if only one of the touchdowns counted (the other one should have).
     We took some bananas with us and they didn't all get eaten, so this morning was banana muffin time.
This recipe is much more decadent than any I've posted so far, with no redeeming whole grains for extra fiber, or other social value, but oh wow, do they taste great! I thought I was going to have to improvise with applesauce or something because I just had two bananas, but then I found a third one in the freezer, so I microwaved it at 60 percent power to thaw it and it was fine.  Here's the recipe:

Banana Muffins – makes 10
1 ½ cups unbleached flour           
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
3 bananas, mashed
¾ cup sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup butter, melted or canola oil
Streusel Topping:
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp. unbleached flour
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp. butter

First, preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Lightly grease 10 muffin cups, or line with muffin papers.
Second, make the streusel topping. In a small bowl, mix together brown sugar, 2 tablespoons flour and cinnamon. Cut in 1 tablespoon butter until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.
Then, in a large bowl, mix together 1 1/2 cups flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon. In another bowl, beat together bananas, sugar, egg and melted butter. Stir the banana mixture into the flour mixture just until moistened. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups.
Sprinkle topping over muffins.  Bake in preheated oven for 18 to 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of a muffin comes out clean.

Now the caveats: I made 10 muffins, but you could probably make 11 and they would still be quite generous, even without the dramatic muffin tops that would have made Elaine happy on Seinfeld, if you remember that episode.  On some of the muffins the streusel topping sank a tiny bit in the middle, like a little navel, but that doesn't really bother me, which is a good thing, since I don't really know how to prevent it.
And another couple of things that you may already know about muffins. 1) It's important not to overmix muffins; if you do, they wind up with pointy heads and the texture isn't as good as it should be.  Just mix them gently to incorporate the wet with the dry ingredients and then stop.  I like the rubber spatulas with a bit of a spoon-like shape; they're also just right for scooping the batter into the muffin cups. 2) Most muffin pans have 12 cups, but if you don't use them all, fill the empty ones about half full with water so they don't warp in the heat of the oven.  If you've properly greased or sprayed the cups, you'll be able to lift the muffins out with a skewer or something similar and the water won't be a problem.
So, Joe and I had our muffins for breakfast, but then the best part was taking some to the hospital when we went to visit friends who just had their first baby yesterday morning, and what a beautiful, beautiful little girl she is!  It was rather an ordeal, and the new mom was still pretty exhausted, and lunch was late, so that first muffin disappeared very quickly.  It's so wonderful to see a new little person arrive to enrich the lives of two people who you just know are going to be wonderful parents.
The years pass so quickly and children grow up so fast.  In five years who knows what this beautiful little girl will be doing?  When we look at our grandchildren, it seems like only yesterday that they were infants and then toddlers, snuggled up in our arms.  But they do grow up, and that's wonderful too.  Just look at that little quarterback!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

These are a few of my favorite things....

It was so nice to wake up this morning and not have to go to work because of Veterans' Day, and since Joe and I don't work on Fridays, that means a 4-day weekend.  On mornings like these we often stay in bed for a while, drinking tea, writing in our journals, reading, spending some quality time with the cats.  But when I got up to get more tea I was surprised and saddened to find this crack going almost all the way around my favorite teapot.  I'd made tea in it yesterday (no, I hadn't done all the dishes yet, though in my defense I had loaded the dishwasher with most of them) and it had seeped all the way through - though I didn't see it yesterday so it must have been a slow process.  I don't know how it happened.  Maybe it got bumped just right - or wrong - in the overcrowded china cabinet.  We've been talking about taking everything out and getting it more organized.  Anyway, I'm sorry that I won't be able to use it any more, not even as a vase since it won't hold liquid. I don't want to break it up for mosaics or anything like that, though I've seen people do clever things along those lines.  But it's too pretty to throw away.  Guess I'll think about that tomorrow.
This little fellow is another of my favorite things.  His name is Tsai Shen Yeh and he is a Chinese god of wealth and good luck; he lives on the kitchen window sill where, since he's activated by a tiny solar cell, he nods and smiles all day long.  One of Joe's Chinese students brought him back from home as a gift and I like him very much, maybe more than Joe does since the regular ticking sound the little god makes used to annoy him so much he'd put things over him to keep the sun off and inactivate him.  But the sound's not loud, more like a clock ticking, and I think Joe's gotten used to it.  Either that or he realized it was hopeless. I always uncovered him - why would you want to block good fortune?  And covering up a god with an inverted can, even if you wash it first, doesn't seem very respectful.  He hasn't brought us great wealth, but I agree with the Spanish proverb: "Enough is as good as a feast."  So I'd have to say that Tsai Shen Yeh is doing his job. Besides, every time I look at him, he makes me smile.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Pasta of the Week 11/8

When I served this pasta last night to Joe and our friend Caren, I jokingly referred to it as spaghetti with Idaho clam sauce, because fresh clams in the shell were not available when I was growing up in a little farm town on the Snake River.  But I did grow up loving clam chowder the way my mother and grandmother made it, from canned clams, along with the oysters in a jar that we looked forward to during the holidays, smelt in season, and all kinds of frozen fish. (And of course, the trout and channel catfish we caught ourselves in nearby creeks and rivers.)

When I moved to San Francisco all sorts of culinary horizons opened up to me, but when I returned to Idaho for a few years, some of them closed back down. (Some didn’t, however.  In the interim, for example, squid/calamari had become available in local markets—but still no fresh clams.)  I'd developed a taste for clam sauce so I learned to make it with the same canned clams we’d always used for chowder, and that’s how I still make it today.

Last night I cooked 12 ounces of whole wheat spaghetti (for 6 moderate but satisfactory servings).  While that was going on, I heated about ¼ cup olive oil in my trusty nonstick wok with the glass lid and then added 4 or 5 large cloves of garlic, crushed, let them sizzle a bit, then added a good handful of chopped parsley and 2 (6 1/2 ounce) cans of chopped clams with their juice, plus part of a ladleful of the pasta cooking water, and let it boil away to reduce a bit while the pasta finished cooking.  When the pasta was almost al dente, I drained it and poured it into the wok with the sauce and tossed it well, then let it sit for a minute or two to finish cooking and absorb the sauce.  Traditionally one doesn’t put cheese on clam sauce (though Joe and Caren both did).

As you can see, it was a plateful of rather pale food, since I served the pasta with yellow summer squash sautéed in olive oil with minced garlic and some chopped sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil – a very nice combination of flavors though not too visually exciting, since neither the bread nor the white wine expanded the range of hues.  I’ll try for something more colorful next week,  but this is definitely a quick, tasty, and economical meal.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Muffin of the Week 11/7

I almost didn't make these muffins this morning. They sounded, quite frankly, a little weird and a little too healthy for today's self-indulgent foodie mood, but then I thought, "Well, I have all the ingredients on hand, and I do love a good bran muffin, and Mollie hasn't let me down yet, so why not?" Like the last two muffins I've posted, these are from Mollie Katzen's Sunlight Café, a lovely cookbook devoted to breakfast - and I do love breakfast.
Buttermilk Bran Muffins from Mollie Katzen's Sunlight Café (p. 69)

This recipe makes 12-14 muffins, according to the book, but since I added some of the options (3 cups of bran flakes cereal, 1 cup of minced almonds, and 1 cup of dried apricots, cut into raisin-sized bits--actually about 2/3 cup dried apricots with raisins added to make 1 cup) I got 17 muffins. If you go to the book you'll notice it calls for unprocessed wheat bran rather than the oat bran so many recipes use. There is a difference and since Joe and I are both delighted with the texture of these, it's worth seeking out the wheat bran (usually available in the bulk bins at natural food stores). I used Trader Joe's Bran Flakes (not raisin bran as the recipe specifies), which are particularly good bran flakes without the icky stuff that so many cereals, even the allegedly healthy ones, contain. I also want to put in a plug for the organic brown sugar from Trader Joe's; it's moister and has a richer molasses flavor than what you'll get from C&H or other bigger or store brands.

Mollie writes, "After years of searching for a bran muffin I could truly adore and not just eat dutifully, I'm pleased to report that my quest has come to a happy conclusion in this recipe." I totally agree, and so does my live-in taste tester. Actually, Joe said "These may be as good as atomics, maybe even better."

Atomic Bran Muffins have been my go-to bran muffin recipe for years, since I first tasted them at the Northcoast Co-op in Arcata, California. The Co-op published the recipe, but I had encountered it before, and I really don't know where it originated. My friend Linda back in Idaho contributed it to a church cookbook under the name "6-week Bran Muffins" (not sure about 6 weeks!) and I've seen it elsewhere under other names, so I guess I'm not violating any copyright regulations by publishing it here.

1 c. boiling water
1/2 c. vegetable oil
2 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 c. buttermilk
1 c. firmly packed brown sugar
2 eggs (at room temperature)
3/4 c. whole wheat flour
3/4 c. unbleached white flour
1 c. oat bran (or use part oat and part wheat bran)
1 c. All-Bran cereal
1 c. wheat germ
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. raisins
1 c. chopped walnuts

In a large bowl, combine the boiling water, oil, and baking soda and let the mixture stand until it becomes lukewarm. Beat in the buttermilk, brown sugar, and eggs. In a separate, smaller bowl, mix the flours, oat bran, All-Bran, wheat germ, and salt. Add them to the liquid ingredients, stirring only until the dry ingredients are moistened. Gently add the raisins and walnuts. Before baking, let the batter stand in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. You may also keep this batter, well covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Spoon the batter into well-buttered [or sprayed] or paper-lined muffin cups and bake at 375 F. for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.

When I make these, if I want them for breakfast, I mix up the batter the night before. Unfortunately, Mollie Katzen doesn't post the recipe for her Buttermilk Bran Muffins on her website ( and copyright considerations prevent me from posting it here, but the book should be easy to find, and the recipe is well worth trying. Her website is very nice, and she has posted many of her other recipes there.

Finally, as Richard Brautigan wrote, "the earth [is] beginning to cool off in the correct manner of eternity"; still in the 80s today and tomorrow but by Tuesday we'll be in the low 70s and, I hope, staying there or even getting cooler. So I've been pulling out sweaters and sweatshirts to wear on our morning walks. I got this sweatshirt more than 20 years ago at the Hallmark store in Arcata (it's a morning for Humboldt County nostalgia, I guess) and I've almost given it away several times but I just can't. Opposed as I am in general to bumper-sticker style rhetoric, this one does seem to say it all. Such a simple message. How come so many of us still don't get it? How have we let so many things get so out of hand? So here's my advice for today, directed as much toward myself as to anyone else.

Stay home sometimes. Make muffins and then enjoy one with a nice cup of tea. Look out the window and watch the seasons change. Read some poetry, or any book, for that matter. Be like Candide and just cultivate your garden, literal or metaphorical. Slow down. Use less. Save the world. We may need it later.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Pasta of the Week

Though I know that I can be an intermittent blogger at best, I'm setting myself the task of posting at fairly regular intervals some of the new recipes that I try; I just posted the second "Muffin of the Week." Joe likes to have pasta on Sundays, and tonight I tried "Maccarun ch'i Hiuce," Cavatelli with Cauliflower, from page 278 of Lidia Mattichio Bastianich's Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy, her wonderful recent cookbook that divides its content by region. I've been watching her on the Create TV channel and getting so hungry I just had to order the book!
I meant to make Cavatelli with Cauliflower, Almonds, and Toasted Breadcrumbs on page 279 (I'd watched her make that one on TV) but forgot to buy the right kind of bread for the crumbs.
This "substitute" recipe is so delicious and easy! A generous amount of chopped garlic simmers in a generous amount of olive oil, then you add some red pepper flakes and parsley and a ladleful of the pasta cooking water and let it all simmer and reduce while the pasta and cauliflower boil together. Toss the pasta and cauliflower with the sauce ingredients in the pan (I use a mid-sized nonstick wok) and then toss them again with a good amount of grated pecorino or Parmiggiano-Reggiano. I made the full recipe, with 1 pound of pasta and a whole cauliflower, so we have leftovers for later in the week. Yes, I know pasta dishes are best when freshly made, but it will still be much better than almost anything available from the fast food places in the student union food court.
And I still intend to try the recipe on page 279.

Muffin of the Week

It's Halloween and there've been almost no trick-or-treaters, perhaps because it Sunday night, but there are fewer every year, it seems. Joe didn't think we had enough candy so he bought more - I didn't know that, so I also bought another bag. Seems we'll have quite a bit to take into work - college kids love free food, so it should vanish fairly quickly.
Last week I posted a picture of Cherry Cornmeal Muffins from Mollie Katzen's Sunlight Café cookbook. This morning, in keeping with the season, I made her Pumpkin Muffins from the same book. In fact, I may just have to work my way through all the muffin recipes in Sunlight Café. These were also yummy, even though I misread the recipe and put in 1 cup of milk instead of the 1/2 cup it calls for. You can find the recipe at: .

We had them for breakfast with a simple potato and sausage hash, made from leftover steamed potatoes and (to serve 2) just one of those big chicken sausages from Costco, also leftover since Joe cooked a few and then we forgot to eat them. Nothing to it. I just chopped some onion and sautéed it briefly in a little olive oil in a nonstick skillet, then added the chopped potatoes and sausage and cooked them over medium heat, mostly covered, for 10 minutes or so, stirring/turning at least once, until everything was slightly browned and crisped and heated through.
You'll notice the potatoes are of different varieties; they're from Trader Joe's and come in a small bag with a few each of red, blue, and Yukon Gold. I hadn't tried the blue ones before and in my opinion, there's nothing special about their flavor, but they do add a little visual interest. The breakfast fueled a very nice day out in the garden, and I'm happy to say that the frequency of costumed visitors at the door has picked up since I began writing!

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Season of the Witch

That was my favorite song by Donovan, way way back in the day, and this is, again, my favorite time of year.  What I love most is the way it marks the changing seasons, the turning of the wheel of the year.  Van Morrison's on the stereo right now, singing "I want to see you at the Celtic New Year, " which as you may know is exactly what I'm talking about. The Celtic New Year, or Samhain, the last of the harvest festivals, the time when the veil between the worlds of the living and dead is at its thinnest, is the origin of what we call Halloween.
I feel my own Irishness strongly in autumn and winter, and this little watercolor pencil sketch pays tribute to my ancestors as well as the season, with the celtic knots along the side.  The crone in various guises - called Hecate, the Morrigan, the Caillech Bheur, Baba Yaga, and many other names - is the deity most associated with Halloween/Samhain and here she stands in front of a bonfire that lights up the night sky reaching out to bless the fruits of the season, represented by (of course) a pumpkin.

Unfortunately, our pumpkins didn't do well this year so, like the rest of the winter squashes we use, they'll come from the farmers' market. Next spring I'll be sure to plant them on Good Friday, which will be later than usual, on April 22. (Easter comes on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the Spring Equinox). Planting pumpkins on Good Friday is supposed to guarantee that later, as jack-o-lanterns, they'll be successful at keeping away evil things.  (I also recently read that planting white icicle radishes with pumpkins - and presumably other squashes - helps to keep away the dreaded squash vine borer, which got some of our zucchini this year.)

Though most people acknowledge Halloween's celtic beginnings, in other parts of the world this time of year has also traditionally been reserved for important festivals, in the northern hemisphere, as I mentioned above, it's the last harvest festival.  In Mexico and here in the southwestern U.S., the Day of the Dead, El Dia de los Muertos, marks a celebration of the lives of those we love(d) who have gone before us.  I wrote about that last October and posted pictures of my own ofrenda or altar to the ancestors.  At this time the dead can return to visit us - many people make them welcome by setting a place for them at the table or otherwise remembering them in a party atmosphere.  One lovely custom I recently read about involves strewing the path to the door with marigold petals to show them the way and invite them in, since marigolds are sacred to the dead.

I made this little pendant from a picture on a lotería board (lotería is a game often described as Mexican bingo, though it's more colorful and, I think, more fun, as well as a good way to practice or learn  Spanish - kids love it).  I drilled a hole through the top of a domino from side to side, then painted the plain side of the domino with Mod Podge, affixed the picture, coated the picture and the front and sides of the domino generously with Mod Podge again and glued on tiny beads around the edge of the picture and on the eyes of the calavera or skull. The Mod Podge acts as both glue and sealer.  Then I just strung it on a black leather cord and knotted it to hang at the desired length.  There's no need to bother doing anything at all with the spotted side of the domino.

When I was a child my friends and I roamed our small town without supervision (after a certain age, about 8 or so, I think) feeling totally safe, at least from other humans.  Some grownups passed out homemade cookies or popcorn balls or apples, and no one gave a thought to the idea anyone might use those treats to harm us.  In fact, those were the most popular houses, since the women were all good cooks! Mrs. Ford, for example, a retired teacher who lived on our block, invited everyone in for cocoa and cookies and parents reminded us to be sure to stop at her house (and to say thank you). It makes me sad to think about how things have changed, how so many of us don't know our neighbors, how we have to worry about someone giving children "treats" that might harm them.  Tomorrow night we'll give out factory-sealed candies to the kids who come to our door and hope they enjoy them as much as we did the candied apples and cookies of the past.  My enjoyment at seeing the kids come to the door in their costumes hasn't changed - even the ones some people think are too big to still be trick-or-treating. I think if a high schooler can access her or his inner little kid for that one night, it's wonderful.  We have to be adult for a long time!

The dangers to animals on Halloween are unfortunately real, so I hope everyone remembers to keep their pets indoors on Halloween night for their own safety, especially cats, and especially black cats like Angelo, above.  But I just learned a while ago that in the British Isles, black cats are thought to bring good luck! It's when a white cat crosses your path that you want to worry!

Here are a few bits of Halloween lore, just for fun:
* Eat an apple before going to bed on Halloween night to ensure good health during the coming year, and eat a slice from each of 3 apples for good luck.
* 9 hazelnuts strung together into an amulet and hung in the house on Halloween will attract good luck and protect against evil and negativity.
* Always burn new candles at Halloween, but don't burn Halloween candles at any other time of the year, or you risk bad luck.  Guess that means throwing away the Halloween candles after blowing them out - sounds like time for tea lights.
* This one's really important: if you hear footsteps behind you on Halloween night, don't turn around to see who it is. It may be the Grim Reaper himself, and if you look him in the eye, you hasten your own demise!

Above all, have fun on this most ancient of holidays, and try to capture a little of its magic.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Charm of Making

The origin of my title today has little or nothing to do with my topic (it's from the movie "Excalibur," and is critical to the relationship between Merlin and Morgana). Actually, I could have titled this post "The Joy of Creating" or maybe "The Joy of Cooking," but that last one's already taken and would also be incomplete.

One of the characters in Edward Abbey's "The Monkey Wrench Gang" complains about being tired of people who "don't do anything or don't make anything, except babies," and I have to agree - I know some of those people, and lest I sound like a right-wing wing nut, the ones who "don't do anything or make anything" come in all income brackets.

I do know that most people are busier than they should have to be, just trying to hold down a job or two or three, take care of their families, and otherwise keep body and soul together, so "making things" can seem daunting - just another task in days that are already over-full.  It seems easier just to plop down on the couch and watch TV.  I was fortunate to grow up with a grandmother who loved watching TV, but while she watched, she turned out yards and miles of knitted and crocheted lace and other projects. Her hands were always busy.  Maybe, like me, she saw needlework and crafts as a way to justify those hours in front of the tube.  In any case, she made beautiful things that were always appreciated by their lucky recipients.
      This afghan and sweater went to a friend who's expecting a little girl on November 10.  The afghan is just a whole lot of granny squares (I finally learned how to crochet the squares together as I go along, after more years than I'm going to admit), and the knitted sweater is from a pattern readily available online. Just google one-skein baby sweater.  It's knit top-down, from the seam of the hood, and is really, really easy.  And yes, that's my Cabbage Patch doll, a gift from my daughter, several years after I gave hers to her.
     I love giving gifts like this (it's the second baby afghan in less than two months) when I know they'll be appreciated.  And even though they take time, I have the pleasure of creating them before giving them away - a much greater pleasure than just going to the store or shopping online.  And shopping also takes time and is not always a pleasure, especially if I'm feeling pressured.  Confession time: sometimes when I'm shopping I just feel aimless and spacey, nothing seems very attractive, and it's not much fun.  Of course, at other times I find wonderful things and have a great time.  So it's not that I feel superior for sometimes making things instead of buying them; I just like having and creating options.
    On to the joy of cooking.  I'm trying to have a slow, relaxing weekend, and for me that often involves cooking.  Joe's observed that it makes me happy (unless it's 6:00 on a weeknight and we default to frozen pizza and a salad).  These may be the best muffins I've ever made.  They're the Orange-Cherry Corn Muffins from Mollie Katzen's "Sunlight Café" cookbook.  Well, okay, they're a tie with the Atomic Bran Muffins from the Northcoast Co-op in Arcata, CA, a recipe that I've seen elsewhere as 6-Week Bran Muffins.
     Yesterday I also made soup, no recipe there, just a basic vegetable soup with half a bottle of a low-salt mixed vegetable juice that we didn't like real well in a glass but that mixed well with chicken broth as the liquid in this tomato-ey vegetable-rice soup with white beans.
     Then today I used the last of the current batch of dough from one of the recipes in "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" to make a loaf of olive bread by mixing in chopped olives, a little chopped onion, coarsely grated Parmesan, and a little finely chopped fresh rosemary (could have used more rosemary).  What a nice lunch it made!
The bread looked better after it was sliced, though, since I forgot to slash the top.  Oh, well, I like the crusty, rustic look.  And it won't last long, anyway.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Autumn at last, celebrating the desert

Seasons aren't quite the same in the desert as in other places - some of you will snicker at that understatement.  But it does finally feel like our version of autumn; in fact, I actually wore a sweater to work yesterday! It was a cardigan, and I took it off fairly soon after arriving, but still - a sweater!  And since today's predicted high is only 70 degrees, I'm going to do it again!
The last couple of months have been very hard on the garden and yard and now we're playing catch-up, trying to get things looking respectable again.  A few crops thrive in the heat, so we took most everything out except those - okra, chiles, and eggplant.  This year I planted a packet of mixed eggplant seeds from the Cook's Garden; certainly those on the dish earn the name of eggplant.  These white ones, and some of the long pale lavender Asian-type, were the best of the lot, lovely to look at, not too seedy, very tasty.  But I won't do that again.  The most prolific were a bush of round mottled green ones just bigger than a ping pong ball, lovely to look at but very seedy, though the flavor was okay.  I've had the best luck in the past with good old Black Beauty and Ichiban, and I think I'll stick with those and maybe one new variety next year.  And I'm going back to burgundy okra, which have always produced well and are gorgeous to look at.  Joe turned his nose up at okra when I first planted it years ago but was seduced by the beauty of the plant and has learned to like its fruit, though he likes it best breaded and fried, which is my least favorite way to fix it.

As I spread bags of manure on the gardens and turned them over I was very pleasantly surprised by the quality of the soil; it's come a long way from the dead, packed clay of ten years ago.  Our house was built in 1984, in a development that was scraped and denuded of all life to make it easy for the builders, and most of our neighbors yards are still pretty barren.  I don't blame them.  It takes a lot of effort to coax life out of soil that's been so brutalized.  There's only one small front lawn in the neighborhood and the front yards are generally landscaped in desert or desert-adapted plants, including ours.

When we first drove into Tucson, during rush hour on June 4, 1992, at 104 degrees (we'd come from Humboldt County in northern California, where it might reach the 70s on an especially warm day) I felt like crying. We had all our worldly possessions in a 22-foot Ryder rental truck, towing our car behind it, and had given up our apartment and our lives back in California so I could go to grad school at the University of Arizona - I had a teaching assistantship and we had enough money for the summer - and all I wanted to do was turn around and go home, back to where it was green and wet and cloudy most days and the wild blackberries threatened to engulf everything else, including roads and buildings.  But we stayed and soon learned to appreciate the beauty and variety of the desert.

Many people think the desert is brown and lifeless, but that's not true.  There are so many shades and shapes of green, you would quickly get tired trying to list them all, not to mention the flowers, like those buds ready to burst into bloom on the barrel cactus above.  The blue agave with its sharp, serrated, sword-like blades thrives in the thin soil and blazing heat.  We now have a mini-tequila plantation on one side of our driveway, at least half a dozen blue agaves, all offspring of one plant given to us by a friend about six years ago (and we've given away many more).

Here's an up close and personal look at a saguaro. Those spines are 1 1/2 to 2 inches long, and this particular plant, in a neighbor's front yard, is about 15 feet tall, truly majestic, but not at all unusual.  According to the mythology of the Tohono O'odham people of the area the saguaros are or were people, and it's easy to see how that belief developed, especially the way they often grow together in pairs or groups, sometimes with their arms intertwined like friends or lovers.
And we have many different trees, like this palo verde with its green bark - there must be over a dozen varieties of palo verde alone - fast growing with tiny leaves so as not to lose too much moisture to evaporation.

Just look at that intense blue sky behind the ocotillo.  In spring those ten-foot ocotillo branches will be tipped with blazing scarlet flowers.

I had a friend whose grandmother married a miner and moved to the Nevada desert.  She told Sally that if you lived in the desert long enough to wear out a pair of shoes, you'd never want to live anywhere else.  I've worn out a few pairs of shoes in the last eighteen years, and especially at this time of year, having once again survived the summer, as plants and animals (including us) are rejuvenated by the turning of the seasons, I can't think of anywhere I'd rather be.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Gardens and more gardens

Last Sunday, September 12, Joe and I took a lovely drive to the south, where a group called Somos la Semilla (We Are the Seed, had organized a free tour of organic farms. Of the seven farms on the tour, we only visited three, but that was just right - we didn't rush, we spent the day in pleasant and often outright beautiful surroundings, and we discovered new things about areas we hadn't been to in a while but always liked.

The first place we went was Forever Yong (yes, that's the correct spelling) Farm east of Arivaca. It's cooler down there than in Tucson, mostly grasslands, at a higher elevation. This farm, like the others we visited, is in a drainage and the soil is so rich it makes a Tucson gardener want to cry. Our soil, as in most subdivision yards here, was bladed and graded with no thought on the part of the developers except to make it flat enough for building, so any gardening first depends on building soil that plants can actually grow in - it can be done, and we've done it in our gardens, but it's hard work.  When we arrived at Forever Yong Farm the husband of the couple who own it was giving an informal tour of the greenhouses, the first of which was filled with tomatoes. Readers in more temperate climates may not realize how tricky it is to grow tomatoes in southern Arizona - we got very excited about these.  The wife was running the farm stand, where we bought the most beautiful cucumbers I've seen in years, some garlic, and a quart of local mesquite honey which has a rich, almost smoky taste you won't get from the commercial factory stuff - heavenly! Unfortunately, I was so taken by everything around me I forgot to take any pictures there! But you can find the owners and their produce every Thursday afternoon at the Santa Cruz River Farmer's Market on West Speedway.

We drive on to the tiny town of Arivaca, after a stop at the Gadsden Coffee Company, a pleasantly relaxed coffeehouse a mile or so before the town proper, where we relaxed for a bit on the shady patio with some very good java and a big cinnamon roll (which we split, trying not to be toooo indulgent).  The ruin above is right in the middle of town, beside La Gitana, the local bar.  Neither Joe nor I had checked to see how much cash we had, so we didn't stop to get any, and at the coffeehouse they said there was an ATM at the general store.  There was, but it was out of money, and the store doesn't do "cash back." But while I was talking to the very nice and apologetic young woman who worked there, a young man who overheard my dilemma invited me over to La Gitana, where he works, and gave me cash on my debit card without even asking me to buy anything!  So that little episode was an instance of both the occasional inconvenience and the friendliness of very small towns - I could live in a place like that!
A few miles out the other side of town is the Arivaca Community Garden, with greenhouses (where they hold yoga classes) and guinea fowl in addition to vegetables planted in more of that wonderful soil; just look at these huge heirloom tomatoes!
We bought two flavors of goat cheese from one woman and a gourd and some green tomatoes from another, whose card I thought I'd kept but now I can't find it - darn! Anyway, her name is Pat and she grows lavender and makes wonderful things from it that she sells at the Saturday Farmers' Market in St. Philip's Plaza.  Here she is talking with some other farm tourists. You can get some idea of what a lovely 
spot this is, down in a little valley, with grass and plenty of trees for shade as well as the open areas where crops grow in wide rows separated by lawn.

When we left there we thought we'd take the Ruby Road that loops south and over to I-19; we'd never been there and it's supposed to be quite scenic.  Well, we've still never been on most of it, because after a few slow and bone-jarring miles we turned around and went back the way we'd come.  When we got back on I-19 we headed down to Tubac for a bite to eat and then south to Tumacacori and our last stop, Avalon Organic Farms.

By this time clouds had rolled in and we were hoping for rain, but not until we'd finished this last visit.  Avalon is an intentional community of about 100 people, with a religious focus, begun in Sedona by Gabriel of Urantia - I don't really know much about them but the people we spoke with there were friendly and seemed happy, and they certainly live in a beautiful place.

Like King Arthur, we had to cross water to get to Avalon; the Santa Cruz was running just a few inches deep, not a problem to drive through, but that was another reason we hoped the rain held off until we left. The river runs north from Mexico, and by the time it gets to Tucson the water has all been sucked off by development, but in decades past it still ran up here - and it still does, when we get a good rainstorm.

This Avalon is certainly an idyllic spot.  It must have been an old ranch; there's a big house, what looks like a caretaker's cottage, and a horse barn from those days, plus a lot of new buildings.  These people are committed to sustainability, and their architecture reflects that.  There are beautiful yurts and some other little houses that utilize a technology developed in the war-torn Middle East by people whose homes were destroyed by the fighting.  They took sandbags and piled them up in coils and then plastered them with a mud mixture; the result is similar to the straw-bale and rammed-earth technologies that have become popular here, but the final result has a charming, almost fairytale quality (at least I think so).

This is a shot of one of the interiors.  While I like these little houses very much, I couldn't live at Avalon. It's not anything to do with their theology, since I don't even know what that is, though it seems vaguely Christian, with emphasis on the "Cosmic Christ."  No, it's that I need my own kitchen and bathroom.  A communal meal once or twice a week might be nice, but I really like my own cooking, and Joe's.  Sharing a bathhouse if we're camping or a bathroom when we're on vacation is enough.

That said, the communal bathhouses are quite beautiful, and they make wonderful use of reclaimed and recycled building materials.

Heading back down the long drive out of Avalon was like passing through a bit of pastoral heaven.  And the rain began just as we crossed through the river and headed back to the real world.