Hot Chile Crunch for my Hot Firefighter

Chile Crunch

A year or two ago, my friend Jordan gave me a jar of something called Chile Crunch, which we furiously ate and didn't replace since it's $12 a bottle plus shipping. I did some tinkering, and since I figured out how to make this, we go through almost a batch a week.

And when we run out, there's a lot of malaise, scrounging through the fridge for something that might approximate it. Sriracha? Too sweet. Tapatio? Too musky. Chile oil? Not crunchy. So I finally went to Cash and Carry, bought embarassing quantities of the ingredients, and once a week I can be found frying dried garlic and chiles in my wok, Wyatt walking up the stairs and asking hopefully, "Are you making chile crunch?" He never eats a sandwich without it, which warms my heart.

And Yancey is even more nutso about it, putting it on almost everything. You may have heard that the central part of Washington is engulfed in flames, and Yancey and a crew of firefighers from his station have been sent to help. 3 men died earlier this week, and I'm just heartsick for their families. And for the evacuees, the pets and wildlife, everything and everyone in the path of this insatiable fire. I've been flooded with love, check-ins, and well wishes and have been passing those onto Yancey, and I don't feel worried. I'm not a worrier. But I do feel a deep sense of reality, like the veil has been lifted for a bit and we can see into the nature of things. We are not in control, we're always on the verge of catastrophe, and we'd better learn how to be present to one another now, without waiting. 

And I'm disporportionately nostalgic about things that remind me of Yancey--chile crunch, his tools in the garage, his little pile of keys, receipts, and flashlights by his bed. My neighbor and her infant daughter are without their husband/father for a year because he's been called up to the Army reserves and is serving in Afghanistan. This week is giving me the tiniest, teensiest idea of what it must be like for her, reading the news, checking Twitter feeds, looking for texts or emails. There are millions of people who, for many reasons, know they are on the edge all the time, and I'm appreciating them this week. (Thinking a lot about the anniversary of Katrina, too. For a great window into New Orleans then and now, I recommend my current favorite podcast, Death, Sex, and Money, its fabulous host Anna Sale, and her beautiful series on New Orleans.)

I've been fascinated by some studies I've read about collective trauma, and that part of what saves people is being about to do something with their bodies in the wake of diaster or in the middle of anxiety. That's probably why we cook for funerals and probably why I'm in the kitchen more than normal this week, makiing chile crunch, roasting hatch chiles, making granola, keeping my brain just busy enough and my body connected to the ground. I wish the same for you wherever are. xo

Chile Crunch
This won't taste quite right at first and needs to sit for about 24 hours to let all the flavors meld. So if you taste it right after it's cooled, you might be non-plussed. Be patient. It will reveal itself to you. And it keeps forever in the fridge. 

1/2 c. dried minced garlic (not garlic salt or garlic powder)
1/2 c. crushed red pepper flakes
2 Tb. dried onion flakes
1 tsp. salt 
1 c. canola oil 

Mix all ingredients together in a wok or heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring often, for about 5-7 minutes until oil is sizzling and garlic is just beginning to barely turn color. Turn off heat, let cool in the pan, and scrape into a glass jar. Cover and refrigerate.


Brown Sugar Choco Chunk Cookies

Brown sugar choco chunk

The kids are at camps this week, which means lunch-making has ensued. This morning's was pretty meager and I found myself scrounging for some Kirkland fruit snacks that I have hidden in the basement. Time for cookies. These are my usual, changed a bit with all brown sugar instead of white, chocolate chunks instead of chips. Yum.

I thought of posting some "let's-get-real" summer photos here. My dried up herbs and brown, bolted spinach on my peeling deck. The damp towels in piles everywhere, the tower of neglected paperwork on my desk. #$*&!! you, Pinterest! 

For the longest time, I had some rules posted on my bulletin board when the kids were younger. One was "Go outside whenever possible" (still the wisest rule I've ever made for myself). Another was "See my world (and messy house) through eyes of love."

Eyes of love. So, I bless you, old fraying beach towel. I bless you, softening once-perfect organic apricot that I should have used for something amazing. I bless you, 6 dozen half-used bottles of ancient sunscreen in 27 different obscure locations. I bless you, shedding dog, who adds 3 hours of housework onto every blessed week. I bless you, turning earth, and your persistence in providing for us no matter what we do to you.

Here's a little poem I wrote about the ordinary things in my pantry. I hope that, somehow, your ordinary becomes extraordinary this week. xo

Prayer of Thanks for Pantry Staples

For the black turtle beans,
hard, a little dusty, even,
half-filling a cannister in the back
of the pantry, and how,
after two hours in the pot,
they are creamy, soft,
warm, salty, filling this family
for a dollar. For them,
and all the daily ways
water becomes wine,
thank you.

And here's those cookies. Don't act like you didn't skip over the damn poetry for them.

Brown Sugar Choco Chunk Cookies

1 3/4 c. flour
2 c. old fashioned oats
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. brown sugar
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
2 cubes (1 cup) unlsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp. vanilla
1 pkg. chocolate chips or chunks 

Mix first 5 ingredients together. Add egg mixture, melted butter, and vanilla. Stir until just combined. Add chocolate chunks, and refrigerate dough for a couple hours (even better overnight).

Form into balls and bake on parchment-lined sheets at 350 for 9-10 minutes, until just set. I like to do little ones, fitting 15 on a standard sized jelly roll pan. 


Great Work is Done while We're Asleep


As part of my progressive birthday celebration, Emily made sure there was something in my mailbox on the $#*ing day. That's love for you.

She sent me Elizabeth Berg's Escaping into the Open. I joked to friends this week that reading books about writing is what writers do when they're running from their calling. Guilty as charged.

Elizabeth says,

In trying to reach your reader, don't fall prey to what I call "dead dog in the road syndrome." What I mean by that is that anybody is going to feel terrible if you talk about certain things; what you have to try for is a certain emotional authenticity, an earned reader response. Most of all, remember the first rule when trying to convince a reader of anything: If you don't believe it, neither will they.

And then she really testifies by saying, "I'm sure you've heard, countless times, 'Write what you know.' I would change that to, 'Write what you love.'"

Write what you love. And what I love is people (usually women, in my world) finding each other through the fog of life. Admitting their need for one another, making mistakes, following each other through the years like a rope in a blizzard, strung from home to barn. Elizabeth might say that's the positive equivalent of the "dead dog in the road syndrome." Maybe it's the "dewy rose in morning light," but I love it. 

It was my 8th year at The Gathering, a group of women ages 35-85 who've been retreating together once a year for 30 years (the older ones, at least). There have been deaths of members, spouses, children. There have been coming-outs of every sort. There have been books published, fortunes made, diseases survived, untold successes and failures of every kind. I don't know how I'd get through life without spaces like this, where everything I am is always okay.

It was a crying year for me. Some years it's about rest, some about casual conversation. This one was about feeling the sadness in the world, crying for the racism that bred the massacre in Charleston, and getting down below all that to cry for myself and all the ways I don't love and honor the person I was born to be. It's not about a low self-esteem (God. I don't have that problem.) but about a loud inner critic that nit-picks and thrives on fear and works its hardest to keep me playing small. Sound familiar? Slowly, slowly, release is coming, and this retreat was part of it.

My dear sister-friend Nalani shared this Wendell Berry poem one night, and I had some company in my tears. It reminds us that "Great work is done while we're asleep." There's a grace afoot in the world that isn't about what we do or don't do (though hard work helps redeem us). It's not about staying busy or being strategic or "finding our passion." (An idea that wearies me.) It's about surrender, diligence, and trusting the Earth to do its work. 

Write/do/be/dream/create what you love, friends. Great work is done while we're asleep.


Whatever is foreseen in joy
Must be lived out from day to day.
Vision held open in the dark
By our ten thousand days of work.
Harvest will fill the barn; for that 
The hand must ache, the face must sweat.

And yet, not leaf or grain is filled
By work of ours; the field is tilled
And left to grace, that we may reap,
Great work is done while we're asleep. 

When we work well, a Sabbath mood
Rests on our day, and finds it good. 

P.S. These hydrangeas are not from my yard. That's all I'll say about that. 

P.S.S. I'm dedicating this post to my faithful reader Emily Kelly-Peterson, who said to me at The Gathering, "If I see that zucchini bread post come up one more time when I log in, I'm going to go crazy." Thank you.

P.S.S.S. And to the other Emily in my life, what can I say? You're my rope in the blizzard.


For Better or for Ordinary

SF 2015

If you're in a place right now where love stories annoy you, you'd better surf on over to Pinterest. And no judgement here.

Cause I've got one. You know. It's him. It's Yancey. And me. And how we met on his 16th birthday, started dating two years later, got married four years after that, and went to San Francisco last month to celebrate 20 years of marriage. 

I didn't bring my good camera and we hardly took any photos since we were too busy just being with one another. I'd forgotten what it's like to be in each other's sights almost every minute. Glorious. To start a conversation, pick up on or forget it later, have a glass of wine with lunch, sleep in, eat dinner as late as we want, reminisce about our first apartment, marvel at the pure dumb luck of our orbits crossing and the 20 years of intentionality it's taken to keep them that way.

And to still miss and love our ordinary lives at home. The come-and-go of kids and dog, washing baseball uniforms, planning far-off home renovations, dinners around our table with grandparents and neighbors, and the total awareness that, someday, it will be otherwise.

As Bruce Kramer said, it's the gratitude and the sadness that come together. It's been a sorrowful week in Whatcom County with accidents, murders, and house fires. And, unlike our more anonymous Seattle lives, I was connected to two of these in some way or another. That suffering is real, and someday there will be zero degree of separation. But this joy is real, too, this flesh-and-blood, unload-the-dishwasher-for-the-millioneth-time kind of joy, where you look up and think, "All is well."

Here's another poem I wrote about love and the ordinary. Happy Anniversary, babe.


The old bathroom has finally been ripped up,
plumbing moved, drywall replaced.
And now you're tiling, slap of mud,
brick and brick, walking back and forth
in an arc between wall and tile saw,
leaving trails of fine dust,
your carpenter pants crusted with grout.

I'm cleaning the kitchen, as I always
seem to be doing, gathering
the half-finished drawings and dirty socks
our children leave
in their wake.

And we are together
in scrape of trowel and in
swipe of sponge,
in vows of dailyness
falling in brilliant, predictable orbit
around the suns of one another. 


Mothers Day (and A+ Zucchini Bread)


When I think about it, I suppose I have a tradition of posting on Mothers Day. And I say the same thing every year--motherhood is amazing, but mothering is more so.

Joan Halifax is a hero of mine who started the Project on Being with Dying. She's a zen priest and anthropolgist, and when she's not training folks on the contemplative care of dying people, she's training the healthy on how not to be scared of death. She says,

Tibetan Buddhists say that we have all been one another's mother in a previous lifetime. Imagining every being as your mother, practice offering love equally to all whom you encounter, including strangers, creatures, and even those who have hurt you...Thinking of all beings with motherly love is a good reference point when I have fallen into automatic behavior, am feeling alienated, or am having trouble opening my heart.

I think most of us, much of the time, have "fallen into automatic behavior." Stress and obligations push us into that place so easily. We forget we have a choice, moment to moment, about what kind of people we want to be. We forget to be nurturing. And, for myself and lots of women in my world, we really forget how to let ourselves be nurtured.

I tear up when I think of all the beings throughout my life who have offered their motherly love to me. My own mother, who determined she was never going to repeat her own childhood experience of not having enough love. Emily, who makes me Easter baskets, remembers when I have stressful meetings coming up, asks me the best questions, and can handle all my emotions and opinions. Breeze, who took my kids for the night this week and made them bacon on a weekday. (They didn't want to come home.) Jackie, who modeled to me, so many years ago, how to be a feisty mother with dreams. Cristina, who pours out her motherly love on my children. Padre, my dog, who loves me with an undying love even though I yell at him to get out of the kitchen. 

Though I'll never master it, I'm into tenderness lately. This life is far too short to withhold from one another. I especially ache for all the women in my life and in the world who want to be mothers and it hasn't happened yet. Or will never happen. I can't say anything to make that better, but I do know that love isn't scarce. As my pastor said this morning, there is good news everywhere. We're just telling the wrong stories.

So Happy Mothering Day. May you experience someone being tender toward you today.

A+ Zucchini Bread
I haven't made zucchini bread in a long time, and boy was this good. We snacked off it all weekend. It's a combo of several different recipes, and would work well with a gluten-free flour blend if that's your thing. Makes two loaves.

1 c. whole wheat pastry flour
2 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. soda
3 Tb. poppy seeds
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 c. brown sugar
2 1/2 c. white sugar
1 c. vegetable oil
4 eggs, beaten
1/3 c. water
2 c. grated zucchini
1 c. shredded coconut, sweetened or unsweetened
1 c. toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/4 c. candied ginger, coarsely chopped
1 Tb. lemon zest

Preheat oven to 350. Grease two bread pans.

Combine flour, salt, nutmeg, soda, poppy seeds, and sugar. In a separate bowl, combine oil, eggs, water, and zucchini. Mix wet ingredients into dry, then add coconut, walnuts, ginger, and zest. Bake in 2 pans until tester comes out clean, 45-60 minutes.