Monday, August 31, 2009

In Withdrawal

After about a week away from the ranch, my body goes through withdrawal. It really needs the air and water that we have up there. In the beginning, it wasn't too bad. We could come and go and while I got a bit depressed at the idea of "going," I'm such an "out of sight, out of mind" person that the farther I got, the less I thought about the place.

Now in our fourth year, that's no longer the case. Each time I leave, it gets worse, and it doesn't help that I go to places with terrible water.

On top of it all, I took my first pharmaceutical yesterday.

Earlier this year, a bone density scan showed that I have exceedingly LOW bone density. As in the dreaded osteoporosis. Not just osteopenia (I am getting all too familiar with these terms now. Ugh.) Five years ago, my bone density was off the charts, it was so dense. What happened? (They measure it differently now, so perhaps my bones were never as dense as the former numbers indicated...)

"Since you're still so young," said Dr. M "we should get you on bisphosphonates. They've had very good results..."

I detest the idea of pumping pharmaceuticals into my body, but I decided to try it for a while and see, since taking calcium, vitamin D and living a very active lifestyle weren't doing anything. The Doc also assured me that this particular drug did not damage the liver. (Ha! EVERYTHING damages the liver!) But most of all, I didn't want to shrink as I age. I'm small enough as it is. My grandmother was a tiny, tiny woman by the time she passed away in her late-90's. The last time I was in Japan, I was shocked to see how mother who had always been a larger woman than me was now a teeny little thing. My grandmother never had a single fracture and my mother has only had one broken bone in her whole life. I realize that Vanity is at the core of my decision to go with the drug and I don't like that, either. Nature has probably designed me to shrink as I age. (I am picturing myself literally disappearing as I grow old.) Is it good to go against nature? Should I become a tiny old woman or a dead not-so-old-but-normal-sized woman?

Plus now, I am feeling the pain of millions of uninsured Americans. These drugs are expensive!! You'd think I was buying street drugs! No, I bet street drugs are cheaper.

Some (most?) people are so casual about pharmaceuticals but for someone who's avoided them all her life, taking that little (and oh-so-expensive) pill yesterday was a very major step for me. I held it in my hand, wandering around the condo like a goofy Hamlet, wondering "to take, or not to take." In the end, economics won out.

"Well, you've already paid for it. You might as well."

Would I use the same argument if I had gotten a cyanide tablet during a moment of intense depression? I scare myself sometimes.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Not Eating (Much) in LA

"I'm never going to do this again," huffed Big Dog, pulling out another box of produce from the truck.

We had just gotten to LA and were unloading what we had brought from the ranch, which in my case is always boxes and boxes of produce. (Big Dog's haul was his giant tripod, a rolled up sheet of foam we use for bedding when we "camp" in the Victorian and laptop.) Most of the produce he had given away to his family during our one-night stopover in Antelope Valley, but I still had a bag of peaches and nectarines and a box of vegetables. It always irritates him when I bring my own food supply from the ranch. I have no idea why. For me, it's produce that's NOT rotting away at the ranch and it gives me a few extra days before I have to start buying produce in Los Angeles.

"Just take your own stuff! Leave my junk alone!"
"We can't be dragging all this food around all the time!"
"Well, then, next time I'll stay at the ranch and you can come here on your own!"

We were getting testy. We were in LA.

Big Dog has no idea just how much I miss going out to the garden at the end of the day, picking what's ready and making dinner from whatever we have. (This year, we have really nice lemon cucumbers, too. Great for cold summer soups. Wish there were more ready when we were leaving. The few we had, we gave to his family since they are so delish.) He has no idea how much I dislike going to a supermarket for produce. (I must get my bike up and running again so I can to the Santa Monica farmer's market.)

I can think up all sorts of yummy things when I'm at the ranch. The last Sunday Night Ranch Dinner (a semi-regular event) turned into a spontaneous mini-chutney festival with my mint-ginger-chili chutney and peach chutney (for tandoori chicken) and T's plum sauce (for roasted pork.) We dipped garden-fresh veggies in the chutneys and when it came time for dessert, T put the leftover peach chutney into his plum sauce and we poured that over cheesecake for the most outrageously spectacular dessert sauce ever. It was sweet and sour and spicy and gingery and the perfect complement to the rich, creaminess of the cheesecake.

"I normally don't like cheesecake, but this sauce makes the whole thing completely different and really good!" Even Big Dog voiced a rare compliment.
"We should definitely market this!" enthused JD, the Master of Spin.
"But to an upscale market..." interjected JF, Master of Style from her tv craft show days.

But here in the condo, my drive to create has disappeared with my appetite. Am I like the painter who can't be inspired unless he has all of his paints in front of him? I sit in front of my laptop, instead, feeding my head with other people's creations, other people's dining experiences.

Here are a few of my favorite culinary bloggers. I don't know any of them personally, but they inspire and entertain me.
The Kitchen Wench is a hip, funny Korean-Australian lady. She's also an inspiration for all us non-professional photo buffs for the cool shots she takes with a little point-and-click cam.

I love blogs with great photos and Lucy is a professional photographer, but it's more than just pretty pictures. She's able to capture everything I love about France. Ooh lala!

I was impressed with Teenage Glutster's hunger for knowledge. He reminded me of a friend's young son who was a fan of the Food Network. When we got together, he'd ask me all sorts of food questions and would tell me what he was dying to try. (At 11, his #1 was caviar, I think.) I am sure it's my own strange bias, but I think many male food writers are too full of themselves. It's so refreshing to hear from one who is so honest and down-to-earth.

Ms. Oishii (who I am assuming is Asian-American) has great photos and seems to be part of an LA foodblogger's circle. (Is Teenage Glutster, too?) Her blog's about food AND travel.

Alice makes me homesick for Japanese food, but then I finally get off my butt and make myself a zaru soba. If only I could find a bit of yuzu... (My konbu dashi is good so the dipping sauce is tasty, but I am still craving real handmade soba noodles. Not the dried stuff that come in bundles. Ahh, my next challenge?)

SoCal fine dining?
Now... and then...

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

In Case You Were Wondering.....

The gophers still appear to be winning. Almost all of the pretty yellow marigolds Daddy McC gave us in the spring have been munched. The Chattering Stakes in which I had so much faith have turned out to be expensive, noisy (and ugly) garden ornaments.

"I heard Juicy Fruit works," K, JD's latest "friend" told us a couple of weeks ago. Apparently, the gum clogs their system. I suppose they prefer the Juicy Fruit smell. So, we got a couple packs of the stuff and I began stuffing them down the gopher holes.

"There're gonna be a whole bunch of gophers sitting out here cracking gum," laughed Harley as I angrily rolled another wad of gum and looked for a point of entry.

Does the gum really clog their system? Do they really eat the stuff? Wouldn't they prefer Double Mint?

The bats can no longer get into our house (I believe) but were still roosting under the peaked corners of our highest eaves, resting, peeing and pooping between feedings. And since I'll try anything to get them to stop using our house as a public restroom, I latched onto the idea that fiber glass insulation is an effective repellent. As we tacked up bits of the stuff in the eaves, I thought about what irony it would be to fall from the roof and kill ourselves trying to get rid of bats.

As the summer wears on, more and more of the wild is coming down to our ranch. The creek is drying up, but the springs and pools draw the deer, big cats and foxes. Time to keep your eyes open!

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Monday, August 17, 2009


Big Dog's a strange one. He can sound totally heartless when talking about "people." ("There're too many of us in this world, no one's going to end poverty or hunger until they do something about the population!" "I don't care if they're from Mexico or Minnesota, go home. California's got too many people already!") He can sound like he only cares about the animals and trees. And yet he's got a mysterious soft spot for his low-life friends.

These are the kinds of people everyone's already given up on. People who have seemingly let their lives turn into shambles through their own laziness, bad decisions (the obviously bad ones,) lack of discipline or fiscal responsibility. When they are friends of Big Dog, they will anger him to no end ("How can they be so stupid!" "Don't they care about themselves?!") but in the end, he will be there to help them out. When no one they know gives a crap anymore.

And thus, we welcomed Harley into our home.

Fact. Harley (not his real name) is five feet nothing and looked like a troll (until he no longer even had money for food.) He's been a bachelor all his life.
Fact. In what could be a scene from a movie, Harley's good-looking and popular older brother entrusts him with his '55 Chevy and goes off to Vietnam. The brother never comes back. The Chevy sits exactly where the brother left it -- for decades -- until earlier this year when Harley finally sells it for food money.
Fact. Harley's mother died in the late 70's or early 80's. Nothing in Harley's house has moved since then. Things come in, but nothing ever goes out. And when I say "hasn't moved" I mean it, literally. No vacuum has sucked up any dust, no broom has swept out any grub. Magazines and books grew like columns of trees in his living room. I've seen his couch slowly disintegrate.
Fact. When things break down, they stay broken. Harley's toilet started leaking one year. He stopped using the toilet. (Don't make me imagine what he used instead!!) Then he had to shut off water to the house entirely when something went wrong in the kitchen. (Now I really don't want to imagine what's going on -- or not!) He never took up Big Dog's offer to help him fix the problem.
Fact. Harley got fired a few years ago and never really bothered to find a new job (and back then he probably could have.) Earlier this year, his car got repo'd. Then they shut off his electricity. In the last few months, he has really struggled to scrounge up enough cash to feed himself, has lost so much weight he's as small as I am, but he still refuses to sell any of the books, CDs, records or unopened gifts stuffing his house.

"I'll start getting my pension at the end of September, so if I can just hang on til then..." Harley mentioned a while back, so Big Dog sent him an email telling him he was welcome to stay with us and maybe help with the ranch work. As soon as he was able to borrow money from another friend, Harley took the train and bus to San Luis Obispo.

"OK, Harley, I want you to shove all your clothes into the washer," Big Dog insisted when we got home. "The clothes you are wearing, too. You stink."
"Really? You know, I'm blessed with a really dull sense of smell," he laughed.
Big Dog and I looked at each other.
"I wouldn't call it a blessing," quipped BD.
"I wonder if that's why I couldn't find anyone to talk to on the way over."
I had to run from the laundry room. It seemed the odor coming out of Harley's duffle bag had an evil mind of its own.

Big Dog washed Harley's clothes three times. Then, the seat covers in our truck. Then he sprayed Fabreze into the truck and left the windows open.

"It still smells," we grimaced four days later.
"I don't know what else to do!" BD was exasperated.
"It's like that episode in Seinfeld!!"

After a week of twice daily showers, a working toilet and wholesome ranch food, Harley's smelling alright but friends and family still can't believe BD has brought him into our home. It's always easier to help out the poor and needy when they are far away.

A few of my friends are very involved with Tibetan refugees and make visits to refugee camps, have audiences with the Dalai Lama, etc. Others help build homes in El Salvador. One is with a group of middle aged tech guys, doing whatever they do, in Nigeria. I would much rather be there with them -- it's so glamorous, like jet-setting with Bono or something. But until I can learn about real compassion, joining them would be as hypocritical as spending a few dollars on a "stop poverty/hunger/infant mortality/etc." bracelet and walking by the old man with the "Homeless and Hungry" sign. Instead, we have taken him home. Here, he will be treated like the Dalai Lama. Even while we ask him to shovel a few piles of mulch around the ranch.

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Monday, August 03, 2009

Not So Cocky

One of the hens had gone broody, sitting on her eggs and fiercely resisting any attempt at relocation.

"We'd like to bring over a rooster," J said last week. "Snowflake's so determined to set anyway, and we thought we might as well increase our chicken population."
"My mom has a rooster and we're thinking of borrowing it," added J's now-fiancee (it's official!) R.

So Rooster Man arrived mid-week, in a little cage. He's a little pint-sized Casanova, too!

In Japan, we have an expression for someone who is uncharacteristically timid. We say she or he is "like a borrowed cat." Did Japanese have a habit of borrowing their neighbor's cats? And why? I have no idea, but a borrowed rooster is just as timid.

Will he get the job done? Will the girls like his company? (So far, they couldn't care less, it seems.) Will he ever make a sound? Once again, stay tuned.I think he's a hottie, but not being a hen..... There he is, in the back, looking a little lost. Or intimidated?

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Hell Week...

...wasn't so much hell week as it was Hell Weekend.

The early part of the week was spent taking care of our neglected land. Mowing, weeding, transplanting, tweeking... Dealing with the bats that still roost on our eaves, catching a couple of gophers (not at all a dent in the gopher problem, but I leave the dead gophers out as a macabre, if useless, warning) and dealing with the ants.

Ants are amazing creatures. They are organized and intelligent. They will "farm" aphids and scale bugs for the sweet sticky stuff they excrete. Some colonies are miles long. (Just found out about this. I also found out this summer that they smell like turpentine when squished. "What? You didn't know that?" asked Big Dog incredulously. "No. Who goes around smelling squished ants?") A few of our fruit trees were infested with these bug farms that made the leaves curl up and die.

"We have this, here." The helpful lady at Farm Supply showed us the ant poison you could spread around the trees. "But it IS poisonous. If you can find the nest, pouring boiling water into it works well. Or you could use Tanglefoot."

We opted for the sticky ant barrier. It's sticky and goopy and very messy, but at least we aren't putting poisons in the ground.

Then came Hell Weekend, otherwise known as Wood Chipping Weekend.

We had mountains of twigs and branches out in our pasture, collected over the last 3 years of pruning and general maintenance. They had been piled up against a hill until the late spring when a neighbor offered to bring his backhoe over so we could pull it away from the hillside for a burn. Well, we missed burn season (and I never wanted to burn those piles anyway -- too much smoke) and the piles were still all over the pasture, so we decided to rent a wood chipper. But first there were guests, and family visiting. Or getting the irrigation system in. Or packing for our trip north. Then, the trip itself. Funny, though, how you eventually run out of excuses.

"Just bring it back by 9am on Monday," the rental guys said as we rattled away with the chipper towed behind our truck. It was a one-day rental for the weekend, but 8 hours of operation for the one-day rate.

"Can we chip all the wood in 8 hours?" I wondered.
"It's going to take what it takes," sighed Big Dog.

I know now why most people don't do this at home. An industrial wood chipper is a very efficient machine, but the work is dirty and potentially dangerous.

"I look like I've been fighting with a wild cat," laughed Big Dog at the end of the second day, looking at the scratches all over his arms. At least he still had his arms!

Every time we stopped to take a break, we'd have to shower off the layers of wood dust. BLACK wood dust because some of the piles were already decomposting.

"I hate to think what's in my lung," I grimaced as I coughed, again. Somehow, that was much worse than all the scratches from the branches and bruises from bashing my arm against the machine as I chucked the piles of debris in.

The noise was horrific, too, and by the second day, I had added earplugs to my workman's outfit (shades, doo-rag, long, baggy pants.)

And then, there was the pressure of the eight hours. We worked with a rabid single-mindedness, chucking in load after load of debris as fast as we could, pushing them in with armloads of branches.

3 days later, with 8 hours and 10 minutes on the chipper, the 8 hills of branches and twigs have turned into 5 hills of mulch. Not the clean, even-sized mulch you buy at nurseries, but "mulch" the size of dust to long, stringy shreds to branch chunks 3 inches long. Will we shovel those mounds into the barn? Or will we just scatter the mulch over the pasture? Stay tuned.

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