Cooking & Books: Simple Winter Salad and a Great Read

I’ve been in a cooking and reading mood lately, perhaps because the view off my front deck has been white more often than usual. (The photo below is yesterday morning, after 10 inches of snow fell overnight, a lot of snow for my high-desert valley in February.)

Shovel poised, ready to un-bury the front steps and the sidewalk.

Shovel poised, ready to un-bury the front steps and the sidewalk.

On Sunday, when the snow was falling along with the temperature, I had an urge for something green and fruity for lunch. So I invented myself a simple mixed lettuce salad using winter fruits, plus cheese and nuts, a kind of homage to the season that looked toward spring. Here’s the recipe (to serve more than one person, simply multiply the quantity of each ingredient):

Simple Winter Greens Salad

1 cup mixed greens (I used mixed baby lettuces grown in geothermally heated greenhouses at nearby Mount Princeton Hot Springs, but you could use anything, including baby kale and spinach)
1/2 ripe organic pear (mine was a Bartlett)1/4 ripe organic avocado
2 T toasted pecans
1/2 oz gouda cheese (a good aged cheddar would also be delicious; I used gouda because Rocking W Cheeses in western Colorado makes one that’s local)
1 T organic olive oil (I use Stonehouse Olive Oil from California because I value food that’s as local as possible, since it doesn’t travel as far and require so much fuel to get to my plate)
2 tsp organic Balsamic vinegar
pinch salt

Tear or chop up the greens in a bowl, dress with salt, olive oil and balsamic vinegar and toss gently to mix. Slice the pear and avocado lengthwise and chop into bite-sized pieces and arrange over the top of the greens. Crumble the pecans and scatter them over the top of the fruit (yes, avocado is a fruit!), and then slice the cheese into short slivers and distribute those atop the whole.

My Simple Winter Greens Salad, delicious, healthy and hinting at spring....

My Simple Winter Greens Salad, delicious, healthy and hinting at spring….

Take a moment to appreciate the plants that made your food and the people who grew, harvested, and produced it, and then dive in and enjoy!

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When the weather’s this cold and snowy, I love to curl up on the couch and lose myself in a good book. Which is what I did this weekend in between laundry and paying bills and checking in with my 86-year-old dad by phone and the other minutia of household life.

The book I read, which came from my to-review stack for Story Circle Book Reviews, sucked me right in. It was so good that I read it in one sitting, and then read it through again the next day. The story is that compelling and haunting.

Running Out of Night, by Sharon Lovejoy

Running Out of Night, by Sharon Lovejoy

Running Out of Night is Sharon Lovejoy’s debut novel, and what a debut it is! (Lovejoy is known for her garden books for kids and adults, which have won all sorts of awards and become bestsellers.)

Here’s a taste of my review:

“Mama gave her last breath just as I took my first.”

That simple sentence both opens Sharon Lovejoy’s YA novel and defines the life of its main character, twelve-year-old, unnamed “Girl.”

Although Pa and my big brothers never said they blamed me for her death, I always felt it achin inside me, like the rotten tooth our blacksmith plied out of my mouth. Why else would a pa and his boys let a little girl come into the world and live for twelve years without givin her a name?

Girl lives with her brothers and her bad-tempered pa, “born tired and raised lazy,” on the small farm that was her grandfather’s in the blue-hazy ridges of eastern Virginia in 1858.

Until fate, in the form of a runaway slave girl just Girl’s age, steps in, and the two set off on a hero’s journey, a gripping tale of both great beauty and great peril. The two girls, one white, one black, are transformed by their desperate flight in ways that ring true both for their time and today’s world.

Read the whole review here. And then read Running Out of Night. You’ll be glad you did.

Writing: Postpartum Shift

If you’ve ever finished a big project of whatever sort, one that took months or years, and required a kind of intensity and focus that left you feeling hulled out at the end of each day, you know something of what I’m feeling after sending my new memoir, the story I call Bless the Birds off to my agent last Monday.

The first "spring" bud on the cyclamen plant on my windowsill, finally beginning to open....

The first “spring” bud on the cyclamen plant on my windowsill, finally beginning to open, its petals unfurling like my postpartum creativity….

The feeling is something like postpartum blues, that sense of emptiness when the work (or baby) that absorbed you from within begins its journey outward into the larger world. It’s still yours, but no longer exclusively and no longer inside you.

Bless the Birds isn’t out of my life or my hands entirely. I still need to do some fine weaving, adding ordinary details and working threads of themes all the way through the larger manuscript. Nothing major, but important for the finished story nonetheless.

And after my agent reads and approves of the manuscript, then comes selling it to a publisher. Somewhere down the months, I’ll be working with that editorial team; the manuscript and I have a journey and more changes ahead.

Already my relationship to the work has changed. I can feel the inner shift; the story is no longer contained inside me, absorbing my attention in small and large ways over the course of the day.

I’m still thinking about it, just not every moment. And now I’m thinking about other writing too, specifically the feature article I promised to Rocky Mountain Gardening by (gulp!) March 1st, and beyond that, a bigger project. For the first time since I began work on Bless the Birds, I’m thinking seriously about the next book.

Part of my front-yard meadow (plus a drive-wheel from an old steam-powered pump Richard collected for a sculpture) drifting over with snow this afternoon.

Part of my front-yard meadow (plus a drive-wheel from an old steam-powered pump Richard intended to use in a sculpture) drifting over with snow this afternoon.

Which is why on this snowy evening, I’m on the couch getting ready to pick up Robin Wall Kimmerer’s wise new book, Braiding Sweetgrass, first on my to-read list as that next book takes shape in my mind.

And I’m listening to Lyle Lovett’s “Natural Forces” CD, hoping that some Texas two-step will warm things up here in unusually frozen south central Colorado.

The world outside is white with wind-driven snow and a temperature of nine degrees F, down from the day’s pitiful “high” of 13 degrees. Yesterday afternoon, it was 52 degrees and sunny, and I was outside in a sweater, installing solar-powered landscape lighting.

I think I have climate change whiplash.

And yes, climate change is one of the themes in that next book, which may be called MEADOW, What I Learned About Healing Ourselves and the Earth From the Industrial Property No One Else Loved. It’s the book about plants I’ve been thinking about writing for most of my career. (No pressure there!)

Blessings to you all, and thanks for walking with me on this journey we call life….

A very much younger me, thinking about plants and the communities they weave as a field biologist in northwest Wyoming.

A very much younger me, thinking about plants and the communities they weave as a field biologist in northwest Wyoming.