San Luis Valley, Colorado
Vernal Equinox, 2016
|Mike & Cheryl Quaintance of Bailey, Colorado made their annual|
migration to the SLV and shared these wonderful photographs.
This is the Sand Hill cranes' "courting dance".
Vernal Equinox, 2016
It’s hard to imagine it now, but growing up in Texas in the 1960’s, there were few sports for girls, and football was big bidness. When we were in the tenth grade at Sunset High School, my friend Cindy Ogle and I heard there was going to be a swim team. Living in Dallas, we spent a lot of time cooling off underwater, then tanning our skin to a crisp in the blistering sun. Considering our near-amphibious existence, we thought swim team sounded fun and it gave us the opportunity to avoid wearing butt ugly gym suits that was our fate unless we became cheerleaders or joined the football drill team, dancing in little skirts and cowboy hats on the field at half time.
But, we were done being athletic supporters. We were ready to be athletes. How hard could it be?
We soon learned being on a swim team did not actually involve sunbathing. It was the hardest thing we’d ever done. Our coach was Carl Kaspereit, a former swimmer for SMU, and a hard-assed battle axe. Behind his back, we called him Coach Castrate.
Mr. Kaspereit also attempted to teach me geometry. He was more effective as my coach than my math teacher. But, I often think of him, all these decades later, and realize he gave me two tools I frequently use. As much as I complained, I now find swimming laps a most gratifying physical exercise. And while they don’t give me as much pleasure, I use numbers every day. Dang it.
One of the most wonderful things about the San Luis Valley is its preponderance of geothermal springs and wells. “It’s Mother Nature’s compensation for living in a cold climate,” my lane mate at the Hooper pool told me one winter day. And it’s true that frigid air and warm water make for a delightful juxtaposition. There’s nothing like swimming in the open air in a winter storm, working up a sweat while being pricked with the flakey cold of falling snow. Bathers emerge, their bodies steaming, while icicles begin lacing their hair.
Now the air is warming up as spring blows in and the Hooper pool gets a little too hot for lap swim. I saw a woman in the dressing room the other day who looked like she’d gotten overheated. She was red as a beet and sat on a bench, panting. Either she was hot or she was having a heart attack.
“Is the water especially hot today?” I asked, instead of asking if she were having a heart attack.
“It’s ferocious,” the woman remarked, shaking her head, looking grim.
“The wind. And there’s NO ESCAPING IT.”
Spring is a difficult labor we go through every year in the San Luis Valley, when the Earth starts her heavy breathing to give birth to the paradise that is summer. Actually, the whole rest of the year here is wonderful, including winter. Even though it is severely cold, it is riotously sunny. Wind can kick up any time of the year here and there, but spring always blows, often gale force gusts that batter kites to pieces and make children weep. We are grateful for the occasional calm and save kite flying for summer.
“Do you work outside?” I asked the panting woman.
“No. But, I’m getting ready to go outside to get in my car. I’m just sitting here thinking about. Dreading it. The wind. I hate it. It confuses me and makes me mad. I just feel all topsy-turvy, like everything I love is about to blow away. And there’s no escaping it.”
It is true that spring is a topsy-turvy time of year, even in places where the wind isn’t so fierce. The sap starts to flow, snowmelt comes gushing down the mountains, billions of microbes wriggle awake, birds start singing their heads off, and there is the tumult of birth for many species. So much change. Burgeoning life.
Our friend Renee Mackey, who helps us with our meat business and is a phenomenal mother and excellent cook, especially of soups, points out that we need to identify grounding elements in spring - activities and foods that will help give us ballast and balance so we are not blown off course. She suggests a beef stock made with neck bones, which we have found to have just the right composition of bone/meat, making not quite as heavy a stock as you’d want in winter, while still providing the mineral rich nectar a flavorful soup depends on. Below is a basic template for such a stock. Try it with a combination of the root vegetables you might still have from summer, winter squash, some white beans, and maybe beef kebobs grilled or broiled, then cut in smaller chunks and added at the last to hot stock just before serving, or some pork, lamb, or good chicken, if you can find it. It is also a good place for the greens you might still have in the freezer from last summer, or some early shoots in the greenhouse or sprout jar. It would even be a medium for those hinky frozen vegetable medleys from the grocery store.
Here it is, in very moveable terms:
A Springtime Ground-Tethering Neck Bone Broth
About 5# beef neck bones (or combination knuckle, neck, marrow, which gives you all the great aspects of bones)
|Photo by Mike Quaintance|
Cold water to cover
1 T black peppercorns
1 T thyme and/or rosemary
1 handful of fresh parsley or 1 T dried
3 stalks celery
1 onion, cut in half
4 cloves garlic, chopped in halves
2 tomatoes – or juice, or sauce, or sundried pieces – just some representation of tomatoes
Salt to taste
Splash of vinegar
-Roast the bones @ 400 degrees for 1.5 hour, turning once or twice. This will give the stock richness. It is not absolutely mandatory, but really nice.
-Add carrots, celery, onion and roast for another 45 min.
-Wrap peppercorns, thyme, parsley, garlic in cheesecloth. You don’t have to wrap, but it makes it neater, easier to deal with later. Put in as big a stock pot as you have.
-Add bones and roasted vegetables and tomato representation.
-Cover with COLD water. This prevents cloudiness.
-Add a splash of vinegar. This brings out minerals from the bones.
-Bring to boiling, then turn down to simmer.
-Deglaze the pan in which you roasted the bones: put water in and put on top of stove and heat until all the browned stuff gets loosened. Add this to the stock pot once it has heated up.
-Simmer 8 – 24 hours covered. If you remove the lid or partially cover, the stock will begin a reduction. The end product will be a very concentrated stock or demi-glace. Add salt to taste toward the end. If you add it too close to the beginning, the reduction will intensify the flavors, intensifying the saltiness too much. Strain/drain. You can can or freeze in ice cube trays, which is nice because you can easily freeze and thaw for quick use in soups and sauces.
-If you’re into it, retain the whole bone/vegetable/herb mess and again cover with cold water. Bring to boil, turn down, and simmer for several hours – as long as you have patience for. This will not be as concentrated, but will be perfect for a soup. Or you could cook beans in it. This is remi-glace and I believe is WAY worth it. All of this takes time, but not effort and is the crux of good living. In my humble opinion.
-Saute onions, then add whatever vegetables and meat you want for a spring-grounding soup or stew. Add to already hot stock.
Much love and happy spring,