Monthly Archives: January 2012

Stone 22, last day

When I was little, nothing needed to be real.
I piled up handfuls of small stones or shells
or laid out sticks, just touching end to end,
and look! I made a town, a road, a fort.
They had to be the things I said they were.
I know that’s silly, now. You can’t make stones
be what they aren’t – they’re stubborn. So are sticks.
These days, I make-believe with piles of words instead.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the discipline of piling up my verbal stones over the last three weeks – I didn’t stumble across the Small Stones site until a third of January was gone. And I’ve enjoyed seeing the images other posters offered to the world.

Some days, it’s been a challenge to come up with a topic; many days, it’s been a struggle to stay simple and concrete. Every day, it’s been rewarding. Thank you! I’ll miss our river.

Stone 21, thirtieth day

Year of the Dragon

A thud that shakes the world, jars ribs, and jolts
against your spine. The night sky blossoms, white
against blue-black, cascading diamond streams.
Another jolt; chrysanthemum of yellow fire.
Pink sunbursts; unexpected flecks of white
so bright it burns your eyes. The fiery noise,
the earthbound smoke, surprise upon surprise.
I want to be like fireworks.

186 cookbooks – Juniper lamb stew. Approximately.

Here it is – the kickoff of  my project to sample something from every cookbook I own. And already I’m bending the rules. Then again, it’s my own project; I get to make up the rules. So there.

Cookbook Number One is Flatbreads and Flavors, by Alford and Duguid. (I love flatbreads. I love taco-ey or burrito-ish or gyro-esque things where you wrap a filling in a flatbread and savor them together. When I first saw this book, years ago at a long-gone Borders, I snatched it off the shelf as if somebody might grab it first if I didn’t act fast.)

For this venture – early last week, actually, but it’s been a very busy week and I didn’t get around to writing about it till now – for this meal, I chose three, or two and a half recipes: Juniper Lamb Stew and Red and Yellow Pepper Salad, with Wheat Flour Tortillas.

Not exactly lamb

Right away there were problems. Lamb? You want lamb? Wegman’s and SuperFresh, which is really A&P, which is really The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, or used to be anyhow, are the two supermarkets I normally shop at. What did they offer me? Leg of lamb, and lamb chops. I’m not about to shell out for lamb chops, one bite per chop, just to use them for stew. And I wasn’t much more willing to buy a roast and hack off a pound of it, then wonder what to do with the residue.

Well, Alford & Duguid say that while the Hopi use lamb in this dish, other tribes would use beef or pork. Okay! I bought a package of “chuck tenders”. Juniper Beef Stew? Close enough.

Whole juniper berries in mortar

Then they wanted me to use ground juniper berries. I actually had a jar of whole juniper berries – one of the reasons I chose this recipe – but no spice grinder except the one I keep full of peppercorns. Ah, but I do have a mortar and pestle, bought in a fit of hippie goofiness way back.

I pounded and I crushed and I pounded some more – that’s what the pestle is for – and the berries did break open and give off a wonderful aroma, but they weren’t exactly ground. Oh well. Enough is enough. I measured out the ancho and black pepper and set them aside while I floured and browned the meat, salted it a little, and started it stewing. (A&D tell you to add the spices when you start the stew, but I’ve learned the hard way that beef takes at least an hour longer to get tender than lamb, and many spices lose all their flavor long before it’s ready to eat.) Meanwhile, I chopped up the scallions and measured out some frozen corn (should have been fresh, cut from the cob, but this is January.)

Next, the flour tortillas. I’ve made them before – basically, flour, oil, and water, divided into little balls about the size of a fresh apricot and rolled into thin circles, then baked in a dry pan – but I used the recipe in the book, which called for more oil than usual. The dough was easier to handle this way.

Then the pepper salad: colorful peppers sliced, mixed with cilantro and a bit of onion and lime juice and salt. By that time the meat was tender, so I mixed in the spices and corn and scallions and let it cook together another fifteen minutes or so.

And here it is.

Half an hour later

Was it a success? My husband: “It’s okay. Actually, it’s pretty good” (while assembling his third burrito). My son, who was over for dinner that night: “Familiar, but different. Does anybody else want the rest of it?” I liked it, a lot, but another time I would leave the juniper whole – the semi-crushed berries had an annoying texture. Besides, you could probably cook the whole berries longer without losing flavor, and then they would end up softer. But yes, it was a success.

Guess this cookbook is a keeper.

Stone 20, twenty-ninth day

Struggling to Write

My mind feels like a stone, hard, heavy in
the hand, refusing to respond. I fight
to quarry one more stone, one pebble, chip
of thought. My stone mind will not answer. It
lies smooth and silent, maybe wavering
a bit like stones in flowing water, gray
or brown or black. Perhaps I ought to let
it blossom on its own, stone opening
like petals, offering color, texture, scent
in its time, not in mine.

Hope. Unreasonable hope, but still hope.

This week’s Weekly Photo Challenge theme is Hope.

And this is a picture of crazy, over-the-top, wonderful hope.

Because it’s the twenth-ninth of January – not March, January – in New Jersey, and these are daffodils thrusting their foolish hopeful heads up into the light and air in my front yard. Which faces north and isn’t even slightly sheltered.

God bless you, silly babies. May you make it through February unfrozen.

52 books / 52 weeks – The World of Late Antiquity

Review – The World of Late Antiquity, by Peter Brown

A keeper? Definitely. Absolutely. No question.


I bought this one for the pictures. Really. I thought it was an art book – it is delightfully cluttered with pictures of all sorts of Roman and Persian and Byzantine art and architecture. I never bothered to plow through the text, because I assumed it would just be droning about ancient artistic styles.

Boy, was I wrong. Brown jams a vivid explanation of how and why the colorful people who lived in several great nations over a five hundred year period thought and lived the way they did – anyway, he squeezes a lot of history into only two hundred pages. Along the way, he never forgets to keep track of how widely different topics like war, religion, taxes, and nostalgia all played off each other. And, apparently just because the subject excites him so much he can’t help himself, he tosses off little images like the Byzantine courtier / accountant who kept pen, ink, and a night light next to his bed in case he wanted to work in the middle of the night, or the way that snobbery and self-righteousness helped to cause the barbarian conquest of Rome, or the Persian emperor who kept three empty seats below his throne “for the emperor of China, the great khagan (ruler of the nomads of central Asia), and the Roman emperor” to use when, some fine day, those rulers came to court as Persian vassals.

It’s packed with information about times and places nobody ever taught me about. It’s full of pictures. And it’s smaller than a “trade paperback” and only half an inch (or, about 1.4 cm) thick. What’s not to like?

Stone 19, twenty-eighth day

Lazy Day

It’s been a hectic week, a hectic several
weeks. So nice to sit, no place to go,
familiar chairs and books and mess nearby.
The needle’s bluntly pointed tip slides through
the brown yarn circle; lassoed by more yarn,
it draws back, yarn pursuing. One more stitch.
The room is warm.

Stone 18, twenty-seventh day

Picturing Waterfalls

The photo is a lie, too quiet. You
can’t see this without motion, sound,
a smell of water in the air,
and dampness on your skin. Mosquitos
whining, too. It’s their home more than yours.

A steady stream of water pours
and sparkles past the lip of rock
that edges that pool on your left –
then, bored, decides to drip in four,
no, five, twelve wide spaced trickles – wait,
those two have merged…what’s constant here is change.

* * *

This particular waterfall is hidden away in the Laurel Highlands of western Pennsylvania, in a little park, down a muddy trail. I took the picture in May, 2009 while standing on a bridge over the stream that flows away from the base of the falls. But the stone above applies to all waterfalls, doesn’t it?

Losing hope

I feel as if I’ve been struggling to drag a huge shapeless bag – full of water maybe, so that when you try to coax it over an obstacle it just slumps into a different awkward shape – and getting nowhere at all, painfully.

Now I’ve lost hope. I can’t fix my mother. I can’t make her happy  or healthy or make her days full of interest and enjoyment. I can’t make her young again.

What can I do? I can visit her every week or two (mostly with my excellent husband; thank you, Paul, for patience and driving, a hundred miles out and another hundred home again) and buy groceries and take her to the bank and make sure she pays bills and pick up prescriptions and organize her pills so she knows which ones to take each day. I can phone her, three times a day, in the morning to order her to take her morning pills, in the afternoon to chat so she doesn’t go day after day with no human contact, in the evening to tell her to take her night pills right now. I can remind her when she has doctor’s appointments. In between, I can go on with my life. I can’t fix her, and knowing that, it turns out that I can give up being guilty and fretful.

I’ll let that bag of water trickle away and concentrate on picking up one stick or stone at a time and putting it where it needs to be. Losing false hope; what a relief!

Stone 17, twenty-sixth day

Collingswood Farmers Market, January

Ghosts lurk here. This empty stretch of asphalt
underneath where trains rush clatterscreech to
stop in pale gray winter light, where people
huddled under coats all scurry, find their
cars, and flinch from cold of seats and steering
wheels. It’s only been six months ago –
long tables heaped with orange and green and
red and purple – peppers lettuce basil
peaches corn tomatoes and cilantro –
outlined this place, and jostling in between
bare-armed and hot, an eager crowd of
shoppers and their dogs came hunting friends and fruit.
Come quickly, April, full of peas and rhubarb
Bring back our Saturdays beneath the trains.