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Zucchini, tomato, basil sliders or hope for those honking, monster zukes

2014 September 17
by Rachel Turiel


I brought this dish to two parties last weekend, and it was such a hit that the friends who got to the table after it ran out at the  first potluck were thrilled to see me bring it the following night. (In Durango, on the Venn Diagram of community, there is endless overlap. The categories are drawn less on political, religious or school affiliation and more like: Once went on a river trip together, or In a playgroup together since birth. Or, I can’t even remember how I met half these people, just, you know, living here. Oh, how I love this town).

If you grow zucchini and don’t spend all your free time sneaking quietly around, lifting enormous leaves, ready to catch a slender green fruit just as it begins to morph into something that could be marketed as “slugger,” you will find yourself with a few monsters on hand. In our unpredictable world, this is reassuringly inevitable.


Four year old Rose, the true delicacy.

Here’s a confession: I don’t really love zucchini. I mean, do you? There’s got to be a reason that 75% of zucchini recipes call for enormous amounts of sugar and butter—triple chocoalicious zucchini cheesecake!—the reason being something like distraction from the possibility that you’re actually eating a rubber sandal.

But the truth, which is so game-changing that it could go down in my personal cosmology as The Truth, is that if you marinate a vegetable in oil and salt, and grill, roast or broil it, it transforms into its sweetest, richest, caramelliest self, browning and crisping into something like the potato chip of the vegetal world: addictive and delicious. “What? (Crumbs spattering). That was for the potluck? Oops.”

For this recipe you actually want the overgrown zukes, especially before they get very seedy. They slice up into perfect rounds much like little melba toasts onto which you can pile delicious ingredients, bring it to a potluck and feel very fancy.



One very large zucchini, yellow squash works great too.

Feta cheese or goat cheese…maybe that soft mozzarella? If you’re dairy-free omit the cheese or substitute with…pesto?

A few large, ripe, flavorful tomatoes

Handful of basil leaves

For the marinade: oil is the most important (I like olive oil), followed by salt. Just enough to coat each slice. You can add anything else you like: balsamic vinegar, a spoonful of mustard, a dash of tamari, a sprinkle of nutritional yeast, minced garlic.


Marinating in, confession #2: bacon grease, a splash of rice vinegar and salt.


Broiled, both sides. This is the point at which restraint is called for, to keep from eating the whole tray. 


Slice the zucchini in approximately 1/8 – 1/4 inch rounds, coat with marinade. Let sit for anywhere from 2 hours to 2 days (if 2 days, keep in fridge), stirring the slices to evenly coat the zucchini. Place zucchini rounds on cookie sheet, sides can be touching, and place on upper middle rack in oven and turn to broil. Set your timer for 5 minutes at which time check the browning. In my oven, on the middle shelf it takes about 10 minutes on each side, but check every 5 minutes to prevent charring. When the tops are brown, turn once. It usually takes less time on the flip side.

Once cool, layer with a slice of tomato, a basil leaf and a dollop of feta cheese. You could get creative here with any number of ingredients: a slice of gouda, chopped green chiles, a dollop of hot sauce, chopped mint, a fried egg, a pile of sauteed mushrooms, cucumber slices, roasted peppers, whatever.


Option #2: broiled yellow squash “bread.” Inside: a fried egg, green chiles and tomato slices. Holy yes.

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*I couldn’t figure out a name for these, hence the different versions in your e-mail, on Facebook. Then Rose reminded me of the name our friend Chris gave them, sliders. Perfect.

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Option C: Trust in the Universe

2014 September 12
by Rachel Turiel
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Everyone shows up for reading these days.

There is a very cagey, nervous (foster) kitten loose and hiding in my 800 sf house. And a caged rat cracking sunflower seeds, but rejecting the corn and “mystery pellets,” which Rose notices because she too is very allied to food preferences. And a batch of chokecherry mead audibly fermenting in my meditation corner. Yes, corner. (See: 800 sf house). And a husband gone for the third of many bow-hunting trips this month, trying to kill an 800-pound animal with a self-made, self-powered piece of wood (which, after spending another 5-day stretch alone with the kids, sounds like a freaking party. Drop me off in the woods with excessive bacon, please). And one child playing a jarring but charming self-invented song on guitar called “African Bees;” the other child 20 inches away on same couch perusing a book on airplane design, requesting, sighingly, that the musician play “just a little quieter.” See again: 800 sf house. 

Which is to say, not much is new. 

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Except maybe grapes. The grape vines we planted four years ago are actually producing enough for us to wander outside for a daily grape snack.

I made a batch of chokecherry mead recently and when it was time to sterilize the “must” (must is simply the liquid: water, fruit, honey, which you sterilize to kill marauding wild yeasts and bacteria that can hijack your mead), I pondered the three sterilization options. Option #1: Sterilize via chemicals. Option #2: Sterilize via boiling (which kills all beneficial enzymes in the honey). Option #3. Trust in the Universe. (which involves doing nothing other than trusting that your chosen yeast will prevail).

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I chose option #3. Not that I’m very good at Trusting in the Universe, which has a certain flimsy, slogany feel, and which probably requires a certain level of, well, patience and going with the flow, not my strong points. Also, the argumentative 5-year old in me has a lot of boringly practical questions, like hey, what about hard work and personal responsibility?

But, then I went to the Monday night dharma talk at the Durango Dharma Center, where Maureen spoke of all the ways we suffer because of desire, attachment, clinging, and our unwillingness to let go. In essence, our inability to trust in the natural way of things, in change, in the unknown, in our lack of control, in universal law, IN THE UNIVERSE.

Being a veteran clinger, I get nostalgic for moments that haven’t even happened. Right now I’m looking out the library window at the cottonwoods along the river, bits of yellow starting to flame. My mind goes instantly melancholic, fast-forwarding through every glorious color stroke of fall to the inevitable stark dormancy of winter. But guess what? It’s 75 degrees outside and spectacular. The garden is pumping out produce. It’s September. No matter what I cling to (a season, my children’s childhoods, my parents’ good health) the universe is primed to change, to subtly tick forward, to unfold in  predictable and mysterious ways, none of which are within my control.


Our favorite hollyhocks this summer.

So, I’m Trusting in the Universe; trusting that we’ll get through Dan’s hunting absences as we always have (which may or may not include a slight uptick in beer); trusting that the bubbling 3 gallons of chokecherry must will become a delicious mead, complete sometime next spring; trusting that the foster kitty will reappear; trusting that summer will yield to fall, and fall to winter; and that a tuneless rendition of “African Bees” may be exactly what we need.

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Rose, pitching the yeast into the must.



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The life coaching program of parenting

2014 September 9
by Rachel Turiel

We’re returning from an afternoon at the river, and Col is struggling to carry out our deflated, unwieldy innertube, unfurling itself from his arms like an escaping octopus. Col exhales the sigh of the defeated; you can practically see his chest deflate.

“Hey honey, any ideas on how you can make that task easier for yourself?” I ask with false cheer.

Col grumbles, professes to be fine, and I swallow down the urge to fold up the raft as precise as Holiday Inn staff and return it to the shelf of his arms.

Later, we’re mounting our bikes and see a small pile of broken glass on a concrete wall. Col grabs the glass, arm cocked and aiming, about to launch it in the tall grass.

“Hey honey, do you think it’s safest to leave that broken glass where it can be seen or to throw it in the grass?”

Col winds his arm down and returns the glass to the concrete wall.

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Who knew parenthood was like being a life coach to very small people? One thousand times a day it would be easier to take  my mulitple decades of experience and simply announce the Right #&%$*! Thing to do, or for the sake of efficiency, motherfreaking do it for them. (Watching Rose wash dishes—unleashing a Niagra of water for each solitary plate—is like an advanced meditation. Just breathe, keep breathing. Breathe).

I have a (marvelously-talented) life coach, who puts a great deal of effort into gracefully helping me access my own wisdom while she likely grits her teeth waiting for me to simply get it. It’s just like parenting, how we casually ask those gentle, loaded questions, as if we’re not all that invested in the outcome. My life coach will say, without much emotion, “Rachel, do you want to examine if you have any other choices here?” This morning, while Col pushed himself around in Rose’s doll stroller, straining the fabric, enraging Rose, Dan said nonchalantly, “Hey Col, do you want to choose something that won’t annoy your sister so much?”

hh -life coach10Gratituous rat picture. I really love this little rodent godammnit. 

Daily, there’s unending amounts of information to disseminate, information that seems well, obvious. Sometimes I want to shout, “HANDS OFF THAT UNRIPE APPLE!” But instead, I opt for, “hey, you know if you pick unripe apples then we miss out on all that delicious ripe fruit.” I once told Col, “the window just can’t take the impact of a tennis ball. Can you throw somewhere else?” Cue falsely patient smile. And then I fell down in the grass to simply breathe because the restraint takes so much effort.

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But it’s worth it, right? We all know kids who will take a parent’s advice, turn around and do the exact opposite. Because really, who wants unsolicited advice? (You can ask Dan how well it works in our marriage). Also, kids are already at the low end of the personal-power totem pole, looking for ways to exercise some authority over their lives. But the funny thing is that kids truly, mostly, want to do the right thing; they want to be helpful and to add positively to the family culture. As long as its their idea.

If kids get to make their own decisions, though with maybe a teensy bit of leading questions tossed into the mental arena for contemplation, or some general information about the way things work (see: unripe fruit), they’re more likely to make a decision that everyone can live with.

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Rose, bagging up frozen peach slices. The kids have been 100% more helpful since Dan’s been away hunting. It’s weird. Rose took out our kitchen garbage without being asked this morning.

So, I’m starting a new program: life coaches can train for free with my family! Just shadow us through the day as I spin thousands of decisions into their own. Wink wink.

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DIY Kitchen: fruit leather

2014 September 4
by Rachel Turiel

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Peach leather

It’s getting to be that time of year when my focus becomes somewhat narrow, vascillating precisely between salsa and fermented pickles. It’s so familiar really, the way the season of food preservation marches in, elbowing out other events, like er, personal hygiene and floor-sweeping (the last time I swept I couldn’t discern between rat poop and chokecherry seeds, which goes to show how wild it’s gotten over here). And as my friend Mikel said recently—sweating through her own hatch of fuzzy-headed peaches, needy as newborns—this food preservation is a time-limited event. It’s what you do when the produce rolls in, ripe and plentiful. You transform the harvest with knives and stoves and jars and freezers. And in winter, you feast.

fruit leather3

Those hard water spots! I’ve spent hours trying to polish them out. Just kidding, didn’t actually notice them until I took this picture.

Which is to say, I’m all in. We went on an epic mushroom foray recently with friends, three adults and seven kids fanned out through the spruce/fir, eyes to the ground, ready to rush over with baskets and knives at the first whoops (even if sometimes it was the 5-year old whooping over finding an ant hill or elk scapula). And it occurred to me that in the not so distant past, food procuring and preservation was our sole human work.

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Proof that chokecherries can be used as lipstick!


Proof that children *can* get cuter as they age, toothily speaking.

Chokecherry-pear leather. Holy motherfreaking omg.

fruit leather

If you’re making chokecherry leather, to avoid adding sweetener, mix with a sweeter fruit like apples or pears. Because apples and pears aren’t generally ripe for another month, make your chokecherry puree and keep in freezer until other fruit are ready.

I’ve been making a fair amount of fruit leather, because:

1) The kids think it’s candy.

2) I picked the fruit and made the leather and it didn’t come from a wrapper and there’s no added sugar and the kids still think it’s candy.

Making fruit leather is easy, because you know, as someone who doesn’t peel fruit or deseed tomatoes, everything I make is fairly unfussy. One thing I must mention is that we live in an exceptionally dry and sunny environment. I’m not sure you could make this recipe in say, coastal Oregon without a dehydrator. But I think September and October are some of the sunnier months everywhere, so maybe?

*Bonus question: As longtime readers know, Dan likes to reinvent songs with his own lyrics. Heard him singing this recently while slicing peaches.”I’ve got a little peach and it won’t be bruised.” (hint: Led Zeppelin…but what song?)

Fruit Leather

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Fruit, of any kind.


Cut and simmer fruit for approximately 1/2 – 2 hours, stirring frequently and evaporating off some of the water. Blend in food processor or blender. Spread about 1/8 – 1/4 inch thick on parchment paper (not wax paper, to which it’ll stick) which is placed on cookie sheet or oven rack or window screen in the sun. You can protect from flies with some hardware screen, or just, you know, look the other way. Bring inside at night to protect from hungry night-prowlers. After 3-5 days, or when completely dry, peel off parchment (which you can reuse), roll up and impress your children.



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Just Martha

2014 September 2
by Rachel Turiel

I am so sorry to report that not one rat baby survived. They faded out in painfully protracted waves. First one died, then five more while we were at the kids’ shared school* open house, then two more, and then the very, absolute last baby was found lifeless inside its pink, translucent skin.

When the first baby rat died, it seemed such a singular anomaly that Col asked if he could dissect its body at the kitchen table. “No!” I said at first, then remembered that we’re a hunting, butchering, home-schooling family who encourages children to take their education into their own hands. So Col opened up the little ones belly, and the tiniest coil of intestines spooled out.

Even after two babies were gone, I imagined the furry, plump futures of the remaining seven; imagined handing them off to Rose’s friends, being able to visit Martha’s offspring with all the nostalgia of a great-grandma. Even after seven were gone, I nurtured a small seed of hope. That emotion, hope, is a trickster. It feels almost productive (I’m busy hoping), though it carries the burden of expectation, of wanting things to be different, things that are out of our control. The day after all the babies were gone, I was contemplating rat orphanages, rodent assisted reproductive technology, or something to bring rat babies back into our house.

Rose, however, has led the family with wisdom and heart. She’s finding the wobbly balance between engagement and acceptance. She observed and reported regularly on Martha and her babies (“They’re nursing!”  “She’s sleeping on top of them!”) and when only two were left, Rose said, bravely, “It’s probably OK because now Martha can focus on keeping only two alive.”

When the very last baby rat died, Rose carried it to the compost and announced, “It would have been better if either she had never had babies, or if they all survived.” Indeed. We all like the happy endings best. After that, Rose got on with things, like squealing over Martha every couple hours. “Marteees!” she calls out, flinging her cage open.

After my sadness passed, I felt tremendous empathy for Martha. Imagine! One day you’re a mom; five days later, you’re not. “Do you think she’s sad?” Rose asks. Mostly she just seems exceptionally tired. The conventional wisdom is that Martha was too young for motherhood, not yet full grown herself. Maybe she didn’t make enough milk. Maybe there was disease. Maybe it was that one day, the babies’ second day alive, that Martha spent partying in her tube as if she didn’t have a pile of nine wriggly, hungry, needy young stashed under newspaper bedding.

It’s funny how you can get attached to something you never actually wanted or expected, like nine bitty, unformed rat babies with stumpy little paws and unopened eyes. But, now we’re back where we started, just Martha. Rose picks her up, dances with her and says in her squeakiest voice, “Oh Martees, you were just too young to be a Mama.”


This is Martha, “smiling,” according to Rose.martha2

* Shared school: partnership between homeschoolers and public school, whereby my kids can attend public school for homeschoolers 2 days/week, AKA how I can homeschool and work, AKA how I can homeschool and not become the kind of mother who eats her young, AKA a lovely program with friends and music and art and Spanish and excellent teachers for which I am extremely grateful.

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The appropriateness of appreciation

2014 August 29
by Rachel Turiel


We arrive with our lowland shorts and t-shirts into a different world. This is our fifth trip here during mushroom season, and the land is like a historical record of how we’ve grown and changed. Contained in the tawny, decaying corn husk lily are a scrapbook of memories: napping bodies steaming in a sauna of a tent, coaching the kids through squatting and pooping in the woods, reminding the children not to insert sticks in the fire and then wave them, hot and burning, around each others’ faces. Okay, some of this we’re still working on.


Fading corn husk lily. Follow that man with the basket!

The kids pile out of the truck, each in their own sensory memory immersion. Rose bends her back to the earth, hands aiming for wild strawberries. Col immediately finds the hook on a string he left here last August, its use as cryptic as ever, though “sister-taunter” is investigated as potential application. By nightfall, the children are in our laps, between the fire and the insulative power of a parent’s body, watching the Perseid meteor shower flash above our heads. (Although in the truest meaning of irony, the kids beg to go to bed, while we beg them to stay up for the rarified astronomical display). Coyotes howl in the middle of the night, lifting us from our dreams, a PSA from the wild world.


Boletus edulis perfectionus AKA porcini


In the morning we search for mushrooms. The pace, slow and meandering, suits the children, plus there’s just enough uncertainty in the hunt for meaty fungal treasure to make it irresistibly challenging. We weave through the trees, parallel to each other, trying to cover the most ground before the children inevitably end up velcroed back to my side. We feed each other wild strawberries, each red jewel a love offering.


Mid-afternoon, I recline in a camp-chair, finishing the morning’s coffee, trying to do nothing more than allow my senses to fill with this place. Rose nails sticks into mud with a hammer; Col swings his hook-on-a-string through the meadow, liberating seeds from ripe grasses. We don’t bring much in the way of toys (see above: hammers and hooks on ropes). And it’s not that my kids are welcoming of the emptiness, or that they’re on hands and knees, studying subalpine insect life, dutifully recording data in homeschool journals. No, they wouldn’t mind an entertaining blast of Disney right about now. But, I know the quietness, the space, the pause in their modern, busy life is taking hold somewhere in their hearts.


Pyrola rotundifolia. After nineteen years of roaming these woods, getting to know the wild plants, I meet this one for the very first time. Greetings little wintergreen!

At a recent Shabbat service, Rabbi Eli explained that on Shabbat, in addition to not working, we stop doing, stop trying to figure out, fix, get ahead, create, follow through. Instead, we rest, celebrating the miracles that exist right here, right now. This liberated my heart in an instant: sometimes the appropriate thing to do is to enjoy, allow, appreciate; to simply receive the coyote’s howl, letting it sift into our human lives, allowing the beauty of the present moment to eclipse our worries for the future.



Chanterelles, which Rose, in her propensity to give nicknames, calls “shantis.”

On this trip I finish The Fault In Our Stars, blubbering in my tent while Col slumbers beside me. Without giving anything away, this novel, written from the perspective of a teenager with terminal cancer, is deeply moving. The character, Augustus Waters, says: “The real heroes aren’t the people doing things; the real heroes are the people NOTICING things, paying attention.”

How difficult this is! We want to make our mark on the world, to prove our capabilities and talents, to see ourselves reflected in the universe. But what if it’s the universe that needs noticing? What if this beautifully imperfect world can leave its mark on us? What if, just for a short time—say, the 24 hour period of Shabbat—it is enough, not to be known, but to be an astute, appreciative observer, to try and know the world?

A shadow flashes through the meadow – a hawk chasing a golden eagle – showing up as if to prove something about miracles. But it’s all awe-inspiring: our basket of edible fungus and their unicellular spores surfing the sky, the mountain plants fading out of summer-green, these children being imprinted on by the wild world.


Go forth and appreciate this weekend. xo, Rachel

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2014 August 27
by Rachel Turiel

You guys, I’m a great-grandmother!


Martha had NINE babies on Monday night. What a shocker! The kids were skyping with their grandparents when Rose decided to show Baba and Nana her rat…her rat who um, had a strange, pink thing attached to her…and a few more wriggling on the ground. And then more, more and more, blooping out of her, wriggling and hairless. As Rose said, “Martha must have copulated back at the pet store!” My friend, Joy, noted that perhaps Martha wanted to get some good times in while the risk of becoming snake-food still loomed over her.

It all makes sense now: Martha’s exceptionally fat belly; her lethargy and tendency to hunker down in a corner of her cage even with her door flung open; her extreme mellowness, her soulful eyes of a mother.

rose and marthaJust hours before the big birth. Rose channeling some cross between Patti Smith and Fancy Nancy.

Rose is taking a small maternity leave from regular life. Her day starts and ends at Martha’s cage and includes much hovering, observing and planning (“I’m not going to name the babies, except a few I keep for myself. The rest I’ll sell to Dewa, Annslee, Neko, Chloe and Aniya for $2 each. And if one dies, I’ll just bury it in the yard.”)

I have to admit, the whole thing has been entirely enchanting. The chorus of baby rats (whose eyes aren’t even open yet!) all nursing is a sound that sends a hush over the house. Col observed, on the babies’ first night, “It seems like all of a sudden 100% of Martha’s brain is focused on her babies.” Even Dan wondered if we needed to start feeding Martha some super foods for extreme nursing.

Martha alternates between devotedly hovering over her babies, ferrying strays back into the wiggling pile, and going on wild benders in her tube, ignoring her new babes for hours. But as Rose astutely told my mom, who wondered what needed to be done for these rat newborns, “Martha’s in charge.”

Holy moly! Rat babies!




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yoga and writing retreat

2014 August 22
by Rachel Turiel

A couple things I want to mention about our upcoming Yoga and Writing Retreat.

1) There is no level of proficiency or experience required to attend. If your heart wants to write (even if your mind conjures one thousand reasons why you’re not a writer), trust your heart. Practice is a well worn path; perfection is an illusion. Also, I will be the most novice yoga student in the room.

2) Local chef and wild foods forager, Maja Liotta, will be catering the retreat (lunch included in the cost of retreat). I’m betting Montezuma County peaches and San Juan mushrooms will be on the menu.

3) The retreat is offered at a discount until September 1st. See flyer.

4) We have a couple, small scholarships available.

5) Questions? E-mail me at sanjuandrive(at)frontier(dot)net or Joy Kilpatrick at breathworkswithjoy(at)gmail(dot)comyoga:writing flyer 

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peaches, mushrooms, and connection to place

2014 August 20
by Rachel Turiel



If you did an MRI on my brain right now, you’d see that 50% is devoted to shuttling ripe peaches into the proper channels (freezer, canning jars, drying racks), another 25% is consumed with pep-talking myself through harvest-overwhelm (step forward with knife and breathe), and the last dusty regions are torn between actively ignoring the proliferating fruit flies and vaguely wondering, who’s parenting the kids?




We harvested a few (hundred pounds of) peaches. Also, a small batch of mushrooms and one (surprise) roadkill deer. And of course every plant in the garden is waving its vegetal hand, begging, “Pick me! Pick me!” If you peered into our house right now, you’d see Dan and me, hunched over the table, ginsuing through boxes of ripe, succulent peaches, each juicy fruit spawning legions of new bawdy metaphors for Dan to try out on me.

We’ve become our own itinerant labor. Dan and I meet up in the mornings and evenings to plan and assess. The things we concern ourselves with have, roughly the same five, interchangable answers: 8 pints; more canning lids; #%$!@ fruitflies; simmer and mash; I thought you were watching the kids.


Oh that? Just a roadkill deer leg, never to be turned down.

The kids are craftily seizing the opportunity of occupied parents to squeeze peaches into cups and sell the pulpy juice in front of the house, or to trot out every last little plastic thingy to strew across the house. No matter, we’ll clean up sometime in November. Rose came out of her room this morning wearing snowboots, rubber gloves and a pair of glasses my mom sent her, which she claims have “no reception.”

It occured to me, as the rat and then the cat woke me up at godawful early thirty this morning, that everything I’m doing right now boils down to Connection to Place. I don’t know if I can articulate it, but accepting the gifts of the chokecherries, the acorns, the meaty porcini mushrooms popping, red-capped, under the spruce trees, grounds me here. If we lived in Alaska, it’d be blueberries and salmon; in California, citrus and blackberries. By inexplicable fate, we happen to live in the Southwest, and there is a whole vital, edible platter of offerings right here, each with its own time-limited ripeness. Taking part in these seasonal offerings feels like a way to greet friends everywhere, to love this world, to love this place, to belong. After nineteen years here, the shine on this local life hasn’t worn away, rather it simply gets richer, deeper, better.


This morning:

Me: I’m going to go out and harvest some salad greens.

Dan: You mean you’re going to go weed the garden?

bounty2Purslane, amaranth, lamb’s quarters, dandelions and dill.

There are just TWO spots left in my chokecherry cooking class on Sunday. We’ll be making chokecherry jelly, chokecherry-apple leather, and talking about how to turn this astringently-sweet fruit into a pantry of delicious goods. (Also, three spots left in upcoming canning class). For more info, go here.


Rose and Iris selling “hand-crushed peach juice.”


Iris, not quite the glam-girl Rose is, trying to figure out the pink, sequined hair clip that Rose suggested would be appropriate for an afternoon of sales. “I don’t think I’m going to wear this, Rose,” she says, turning the thing over in her hands. Bless you, Iris.
Peach-eating rat named, Martha. I was not prepared for how much I’d like this little critter.
Recipes currently in use:
BBQ Peach Sauce
Peach Leather: (cook down peaches until thickish, lay out on parchment paper in the sun (or oven, or dehydrator).
Salsa, two ways
Fermented pickles

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2014 August 12
by Rachel Turiel

Rose: “I wish people never bought things they didn’t need.”

Me: “Really? (Thinking here of Rose’s rotating mental catalogue of things she covets but doesn’t actually need) Why?”

Rose: “Because then they wouldn’t have to have yard sales.

Quiet pause; head scratching.

Rose: “Because I feel left out of all the things I want to buy at yard sales but can’t buy because I’m saving money for a rat.”

Which is to say, we’re making huge strides here. And sure, it’s subtle, but at our house we get really excited about people articulating feelings and needs. Because, hey, we can empathize with that. It’s hard to think of all those polyester old lady blouses getting snapped up by other shoppers.


I, meanwhile, have become a grandmotherly-like parody of my own baby-nostalgic self. Just now, in the library bathroom, I heard a Mama talking to her tiny, non-verbal son in that one-sided conversational way, “Are you ready to go? Should we go have lunch now?” And I had to completely refrain from bombarding the mother at the handwashing sink with how “I used to do that with MY babies! And now, we have ACTUAL CONVERSATIONS!” (Although my friend Sue wonders, reasonably, if all that continuous pre-verbal chatting accounts for having children who can now monologue cheerfully for thirty excruciating minutes at the dinner table).


Dan is actually selling some of these brain-tanned hides. Website coming soon(ish).

Dan is looking ahead to the soon-approaching bow-hunting season, which means he’s trying to tan all of last year’s hides. He carries pots of warm brains through the house, small rotten drips leaping onto our floors. The kids hardly look up from whatever they’re doing, though the smell is the olfactory equivalent of getting slapped across the face. Ultimately, I think we’re all comforted by having ways to mark the seasonal transition: Dan and his hide-tanning, me appraising chokecherries for that ripe purple glow.


And Col? He’s more like his father, daily. He’s inherited his father’s propensity to find useful stuff tossed to the side of the road. Yesterday, walking home from the river, he ferreted from the bushes a left leather glove 3 sizes too big, which he wore home with pride. “Daddy will love this,” he mused.

The rat has landed:classes6

Mama and baby are doing just fine.

I’m teaching some more classes, because I keep getting inspired and want to share. My ability to plan ahead is lacking, because what happens is I’m walking with the kids along the river, and the wild berries are popping and I think how fun it would be to get others excited about these iconic Southwest berries. And, so I am.

Animas River Plant Walk

Monday, August 18th 4:30 – 6pm. Location: Meet at trail on east side of footbridge behind high school. Cost: $15. Kids free with parent.

The riparian berries are abundant this time of year! Learn all about chokecherries, hawthorne berries, buffalo berries, sumac berries, juniper berries and rose hips. We’ll also see some late-season riparian plants and talk about their medicinal uses, historical uses, seed dispersal and more.

Chokecherry Cooking Class

Sunday, August 24th 4-6pm. Location TBA. Cost: $25

In this class we’ll be talking about the natural history of the chokecherry tree, one of the most important plants historically in the Southwest. We’ll make and take home: chokecherry jelly and chokecherry-apple fruit leather. You’ll learn how to separate the flesh from the seeds, how to use and preserve chokecherries with minimal sugar and come home with a variety of recipes. All supplies included. Space is limited.


Chokecherries in action.
To sign up for classes, call my secretary, or e-mail me at sanjuandrive(at)

August blessings to you all!

p.s. Just got the news of Robin Williams’ death. So so sad. Feels like I spent half my childhood watching Mork and Mindy. Dan and I have both lost to suicide (creative, bright, shining, loved) friends who suffered from bipolar disorder. May we all be a beacon of kindness and support to those in need. Wise, clear-hearted Anne Lamott’s take on Robin Williams’ death. Helps, some.

Related posts:

The unstructured summer day
homestead happenings: recharging batteries