gathering strength

I’m getting all the food pictures out of the way so when I write in this space tomorrow morning while it’s still dark, drinking a great coffee so black and strong it barely needs a cup, I’ll be ready to talk some truth.

But for tonight, one more food photo. It’s emblematic of me gathering strength: fresh collard greens made with onions, garlic and a small smoked turkey thigh; boiled plain turnip roots; a buttered cornbread muffin.

Oh, and hey — we’ve got a storm coming — a late tropical storm with an intriguing name: Potential Tropical Cyclone 16. Sounds like an edgy perfume. A cold front and a tropical storm. Should be interesting.

shrimp, blue crab & grouper

Lucky to live here on the Gulf Coast of Florida, where any day of the week Buck and I can drive the shady lane from house to gate in the Longleaf woods and drive roughly 17 miles to Joe Patti’s Seafood down on Pensacola Bay. We come away with treats like the ones you see above. Two pounds of Gulf shrimp go a long way with us: first night peel and eat with Buck’s spicy cocktail sauce, second time around a version of scampi redolent with garlic and laced with capers, then a third go chopped for a lunchtime salad. Similar story with the blue crab claw meat: tossed with a smidge of lemon butter as a delicacy with the boiled shrimp, then another night as a luscious topping for garlic-Parmesan baked grouper.

morning

Each morning I slip out of bed early. Lou-dog pads silently out of the room with me, leaving Buck to roll over in the warm space, hug my pillow, and dream a while longer.

The cedar and sage scent from a bar of soap greets me, a reliable standing stone symbol. Dried peonies hang over the framed photo I took years ago when, on a fire-line walk in our woods, I happened upon a field of blooming pitcher plants. The photo is a touchstone from a time that I was braver in my woods walking, less fearful of the coyotes and snakes who live here, too.

I was drawn to the small pine cone. It had fallen from a tree on the far side of our gate down by the main road. After several days of seeing it on a morning walk, I popped it into my jacket pocket, where it stayed another week, nestled into the soft, dark fabric. Now, I see it each morning and ponder while I brush my teeth: Why does seeing this little cone add to my feelings of comfort and joy?

generous friends

Immokolee tomatoes from Roy and Bette.

The two weeks before Roy and Bette came to visit Buck and me was one of the more miserable chapters in our lives together, something unexpected and generally unimportant that made a hell of an impact: we both got the flu. No, we don’t take flu shots. Haven’t for more than 35 years. Haven’t had the flu, either, until this year.

So will we change course and start taking flu shots? You betcha. That all-nighter in our local emergency room (on my account) was the convincer. Yikes.

Roy and Bette were already scheduled to drive up from beautiful Naples on the southwest Florida coast and stay with us for a visit and to attend Roy and Buck’s 65th Pensacola High School reunion. Buck and I were growing concerned over whether we would be ready for prime time with visitors, even such good friends.

We needn’t have worried. We were much improved by the time they arrived, plus at our age, afternoon naps aren’t considered strange at all, so we had a couple of hours each afternoon to rest.

As always, they brought bottles of lovely wine and a case of fabulous sun-ripened tomatoes from Immokolee, near Naples. Roy shared his recipe for roasted tomato soup and the photo above shows them just out of the oven. The next step is to chunk them in a food processor, then freeze flat in a zip bag until the urge for roasted tomato soup hits.

Sliced Tomatoes and Shrimp Scampi

We’ve enjoyed those tomatoes every which way. I’m even making a batch of taboulleh this afternoon and then baking another pan full for a future pot of creamy soup.

We send Roy and Bette a few pounds of stunningly delicious pecan halves from local grower Renfroe Pecans. The price has grown stunning over the years, too, but when Roy hands you a small pizza box that feels strangely heavy and you discover one of his luscious chocolate caramel pecan pies inside (made with pecans we sent at Christmas), you know that someday Renfroe will get those pecans up to the price they’re worth, but that day has not yet arrived.

Sweet, generous friends. Lou Lou Belle loves them, too.

chicken in a pot

Between working on a manuscript, following the Kavanaugh hearings, and fretting about whether Hurricane Michael was going to hit Pensacola (have you seen the video from poor, devastated Mexico Beach and Panama City?), I realized yesterday that I’ve gotten myself into a state of sleep deprivation. Never good. So last night I brought out the big guns: a beautiful whole chicken, carrots, onion, celery, broth and a generous splash of dry vermouth. Settled down with Buck for our usual evening cocktail — a Manhattan for him and scotch and water for me while the ingredients simmered into heavenly medicine. It worked its magic and I got the first really great night’s sleep I’ve had in days, if not weeks. Woke up feeling like a tigress and ready for a dash to the gate with Lula Belle. We dashed because a cool front had rolled in, at last, and the temp at seven was 54 degrees, a tiny bit cool for gym shorts and tank top.

a simple september supper

Years ago, I never met a kitchen gadget I didn’t like, but these days I like to fill the freezer with simple favorites, tried and true. I like to make a huge vat of Great Northern bean soup seasoned with a smoked turkey leg. It has a silky texture that causes me to murmur endearments to my bowl.

Vines

We’re all beset by predacious vines sometime in our lives. Vines limit us, tie us down, and control us. They keep us from growing. They stop us. Sometimes a vine comes with a sweet voice and hides its hunger to use us up completely behind a mask it calls love. Other vines are destructive habits we drape around our own necks.

Vines use the life of another to support their own. Sometimes they’re lush, with beautiful fruit or flowers. But look close, and you will see they can only survive by strangling their host.

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Vines are stubborn. You can cut them down, tie them in knots, blast them with cold, or burn them in a fire. They will try and try again to strangle any life not their own.

2014 parasitic vine cut at ground and tied off

But spirit is strong, too. And freedom is a beautiful, soaring thing.

2014 March Rescuing the animated live oak

This huge live oak has been struggling with parasitic vines for many years. Buck and I took machetes and loppers to the vines, finally liberating its bent spine. You can see how it’s twisted as though blown about by the storms of life. Call it transference or whatever you wish, but I feel it breathe with relief every time I walk by it now that the accursed vines are temporarily at bay. Vigilance, baby, vigilance.