Under pressure

I purchased my first pressure cooker right before Christmas this year. I considered it a gift to myself (no longer would I need to plan bean-based dinners 24 hours in advance), and a gift to my husband, who enjoys the tender beans that it flawlessly produces despite our mineral-laden water. We tried it out for the first time shortly after I returned from spending a week in Colorado celebrating the holidays with my family. It took the pot longer than I expected to build up pressure, but once it did, the shiny bell-shaped regulator on top began slowly rocking and spinning in a rhythmic dance. The information booklet, a rather lengthy tome for such a seemingly simple device, cautioned against rapid, frenetic movements that would indicate excessive internal pressure. I adjusted the flame until the regulator smoothly twirled, and the pot hissed occasionally on the stove as it prepared the perfect bean.

On some levels, I’ve been in a pressure cooker for the past month. The holidays require patience and planning, and when they are over it is common to breathe a big sigh of relief as life returns to normalcy. Driving home from Colorado, I inhaled deeply as I navigated the car out of the hectic urban congestion, and exhaled my way back onto the expansive openness of Wyoming. Tension slipped away with the traffic as I returned closer to the familiar stretches of prairie and sky.

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I made it home to celebrate New Years Eve with Bart, and took a rest day to restore my inner balance while I helped him split firewood. And then the lid of the pressure cooker tightened down again as I dove into the arduous task of designing a new college course. The ideas for the course had been swimming around my head for months. I had ample first-hand experiences from graduate school to draw upon. I had stacks of books and articles to re-read and recap. And I had two weeks to synthesize all of this information into a cohesive plan for the semester. Luckily, I love the subject matter – natural history and conservation education – and I am eager to teach it. I also thrive under last-minute pressure. Every spare moment of the next three weeks would be devoted to crafting this course.

So as I watched the spinning regulator rise with pressure to twirl on top of the pot, it dawned on me that movement, particularly dancing, is the cure for what ails me. Just one week prior, when my nephew proposed the Hokey Pokey on Christmas Eve, I jumped at the opportunity to get my groove on. Evan cajoled everyone in the room to join a rousing round of moving our body parts in time with our awkward off-key singing. As we jumped in and out of the circle, I wholeheartedly shook it all about… and the tension slipped away. Yup, the hokey pokey IS what it’s all about. Just like my fancy new pot, I come with a warning: excessive internal pressure may lead to frenetic shaking. I’m going to let it all out.

And then there's skiing... which is really dancing with gravity
And then there’s tele-skiing… which is really just dancing with gravity

My Thankfuls

Evan, age 2
Evan, age 2

When I sit down for dinner with my nephew, Evan, we always say our “thankfuls”. Evan brought this tradition home from preschool, where the kids learned to pause a moment and reflect on the things for which they are grateful. Saying thankfuls with Evan is always a treat. As the sole vocal member of the youngest generation of our family, the spotlight is on Evan as he picks who says thankfuls first. I prefer not to be picked right away. I want the opportunity to collect my thoughts and speak from the heart. I love listening to everyone share their thoughts while I deeply inhale the rich scents of the hearty meal that we are about to enjoy. The meal always tastes better and the company more joyful after we say our thankfuls.  This week I’ll share a daily thankful in honor of Thanksgiving and the tradition begun by Evan.

Soon to be a scrumptious cuke
Soon to be a crunchy cucumber
Baby butternut squash
Baby butternut squash

Today, I am thankful for the harvest from our garden. In August, September, and even into October, I canned, froze, fermented, cured, and dried a variety of vegetables – from pumpkins and peppers to beans and cucumbers. Meals now are accentuated by produce that we grew. They taste somehow sweeter and more satisfying for all the work that we put into growing them.

A typical August day's harvest
A typical August day’s harvest

This morning I pulled four gallon-sized bags of tomatoes out of the freezer. All day they’ve been stewing on my stove, warming our cabin as they cook down to a thick sauce. I’ve added our onions and carrots from a neighbor’s garden, along with basil I dried back in July. Some of the sauce will go into lasagne tonight – the perfect meal for a windy and brisk autumn evening!

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Straight from the freezer to the pot