Monday, May 20, 2013

Roadkill Chili

I've waited a while to post this for reasons that will become obvious.

So what is Roadkill Chili? I'll try to make the long story short.  The premier chili-growing areas in the US are in southern Arizona and New Mexico, with the area along the Rio Grande in New Mexico being the most famous.  Most operations still dry their red chili outdoors in dry October and November air, and then ship the product before Christmas.  By leaving the fruit on the plant later and drying it slowly,  desirable complex flavors develop.  This is what gives this area an advantage over peppers that are just hot.

Shipping is where we enter the story.  Most of the growing areas are rural, and the product must be transported on smaller roads and 2-lane highways to central collection points for further processing. For years I have seen the tell-tale red spots by the side of the road during the shipping season. These feather light dried husks of deliciousness float out of the tops of open wooden crates on these back roads. These free-range chili lay in the stubble by the side of the road, about 5 feet beyond the end of the shoulder, glistening like rubies awaiting discovery. (Aerodynamics of chili pod travel: they weight almost nothing and are shaped like arrows when dry.  Trucks are going about 65 MPH on that stretch of the road, which also has a slight curve, so the pods fly out as small projectiles.  They either glide to a point where they fall gently to the ground or smash into the ground and shatter at higher speeds.)

This past December, with all my free time after retirement, I decided to stop and glean this roadkill chili.  I determined that it had been less than a week since they chili shipped and it had not rained since that time. The chili should still be in peak condition!

I used a scientific method for gleaning, of course.  With my trusty plastic grocery bag, I went approximately 1/10 mile in each direction from my car, first on one side of the road and returning on the other side.  I did not pick up pods that had been shattered, crushed or that looked like they had been munched by critters.  I was able to fill the bag with about 2 pounds of splendid red chili for enchilada sauce extraordinaire.
So here's the part that made me wait to post until now.  This chili was essentially beautiful and perfect, so I did it again, filling another bag for about 4 lbs of pods. It runs about $5 a pound in the grocery, if you can get it.  I was planning to send Christmas boxes in the next few days anyway, so what the heck, several of my special friends got premier roadkill chili and I kept enough to make a big batch for me.  I did not mention the 'Roadkill' part to them.  Heck, dried pods need enough cleaning and cooking before use that the roadside dust wouldn't make a difference anyway, right?
So next December if you see little red spots by the roadside in southern NM and AZ, think about whether you want to try Roadkill chili, too.  Let me know if you'd like me to post the recipe for killer red chili sauce from pods! It isn't hard to make but takes time and there are a few tricks to the trade, passed down through the generations.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Lost my mind....

Some of you may remember the posts on our enormous golden retriever, Yotie, Queen of the Thunder Chickens.  Well, in a moment of temporary insanity, I adopted another dog.  She is a puppy mill rescue, now about 11 months old. She's been with us about 5 weeks. 

Bitsy this morning

She is apparently a Yorkie, or at least Yorkie enough.  She weighs just under 8 pounds. Previously, the smallest dog I owned was about 30 pounds.  That leads to her name, which is now BITSY. Corny as is it, it's just her personality and demeanor are of an itsy bitsy dog. 

She's sweet, but does have a bit of a temper. She has learned to manage Yotie, but Yotie doesn't seem to mind. Bitsy always leaves a little food in her bowl, which Yotie gladly cleans.
Bitsy: day after adoption

Our greatest achievement to date is that she is almost housebroken. Second achievement is that despite being 'free' initially, she's probably the most expensive dog I've had. Puppy package at the vet, collar, halter, kennel cough meds, small travel kennel, grooming, on and on...

Would love any advice from others who have made the transition from large dogs to small. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mothers' Day

Wishing a great day to all you Moms out there
 and fond remembrances of those who have passed.

Sunday, May 5, 2013


Although this post is primarily for the ladies, any fellow whose beloved may need this procedure may wish to read it.

A while ago I had an abnormal mammogram. A region in my left breast developed a cluster of calcifications. Standard of care seems to be anywhere from 'repeat in 6 months' to immediate biopsy.  I split the difference and waited to have the biopsy done until after I had some problematic trees trimmed.  Because there was no 'lump', the biopsy required use of imaging technology to ensure that the right stuff was sampled.  The procedure is called "stereotactic biopsy."

Reading about the procedure made it sound pretty straight-forward. I went to the state university's breast clinic, expecting the latest technology.  I don't think I got it.  The rig was a regular mammography system that had a special platform for stereotactic biopsies.  Ideally, after positioning you so the target is visible in the images, the robotic biopsy equipment is added and the process is completed.

After explaining the procedure ad nauseum and getting signatures for every aspect of informed consent, we got started. The technician futzed around with my breast in the booby-smasher for about an hour before realizing that the position she started with, me lying in an uncomfortable position, would not work due to the thickness of the tissue.  There was no way for the biopsy apparatus to fit on the machine. Seems like she could have figured that out before doing all the extra smashing.

Next was sitting in an adjustable chair and doing the same thing again. Finally got the calcified area in the right location and the MD entered. We had spoken prior to the lengthy smashing session, and I had confidence in her, but not so much in the technician. That trend continued.

Dr. C quickly numbed the area deep into the breast tissue, which was a good thing. In advance, all warned that this would be uncomfortable and may burn. The warning, at least for me, was overblown. That part of the process was probably less noticeable than a flu shot. 

With that part done, the biopsy apparatus was placed and centered above the target spot. Dr. C made a small incision in my skin so the biopsy "needle" would enter straight and not rip my skin.  The needle for a core biopsy is different from the one used for an aspiration biopsy. A core needle takes a cylinder of tissue that preserves the relationships between the calcification and the surrounding tissue. To do that, there is essentially a needle within a needle, allowing the cylinder of tissue to be cleanly removed.  To do this, the biopsy needle is rather large, almost the size of a #2 pencil.  Yup, it's a harpoon.

I was doing fine as the biopsy started, but then primal physiology asserted itself.  I had what's called a vasovagal reaction.  It's a primitive neurological response to trauma, probably the same process that we call 'shock.' Got the white clouds, sweats, crashing blood pressure, etc.  Felt really not so good.  Meantime, I'm harpooned, pinned at the left boob to this apparatus and unable to do the thing I wanted to do most, which was faint.

I was aware of what was happening and mentioned the phenomenon to the MD, who coached me through.  She helped me manage my breathing while she positioned and started the robotic part of the core process.  If we stopped, it would have been a nightmare. I'd probably have needed to return in a few weeks for a repeat.  No thanks!

Once she had the cores and withdrew the needle, it took the technician about 4 requests from the MD to lie the chair back.  Tech couldn't find Kleenex or anything else to help with the profuse sweating.  MD then directed her to provide a washcloth with cool water for me. After the third request from the MD,  I got one that was piping hot. Fortunately the air conditioning in the clinic was set to 'polar' so it cooled quickly and I could feel my blood pressure coming back up. After about 20 minutes I could see faces again, where only sparkly blanks had been.

Follwing the procedure, you get wrapped in a wide ace bandage for some pressure on the wounded area to reduce internal bleeding. More instructions for your recovery are provided.

I should have my results by the middle of next week. Most calcifications are benign, but a small percentage reflect a specific type of cancer in the duct tissue.

Here are my lessons learned from the process:

1. Don't assume the latest technology from the local university medical center. If I had to do it again, I'd probably do a little more research on what the latest technology is and where to get it. 

2. Pay attention to the technician. If they seem less than exceptionally competent, ask to see the MD and get a change of personnel.  I'll be writing a letter to the university about this one.

3. Pay attention to yourself. Make sure you eat something somewhat substantial with lots of protein that will keep your blood sugar up during the procedure. I followed the directions to have a light breakfast an hour before the procedure. Unfortunately, the appointment was at 9 a.m. and the actual procedure didn't start until almost 1130. At that point it had been 3.5 hours and my blood sugar was dropping.  I suspect the intensity of the vasovagal reaction would have been less if I'd had higher blood sugar.

4. The process is uncomfortable but no more painful than your regular mammogram plus a flu shot.  Don't dread it or put it off unnecessarily.  I was within the 6 month window of the initial recommendation from the radiologist despite taking the extra month to get a crew in to trim my trees.

5. Follow all the directions for preparation and recovery.  Don't schedule the procedure right before heading out to your ski vacation or your wilderness canoe trip.  Really bad idea.  Unlike my normal behavior, I am following the directions and resisting the temptation to do more sooner. So far neither the pain nor the bruising are uncomfortable.  I've been wearing a snug sports bra (including during sleep) since taking off the ace bandage wrap 24 hours after the procedure. The sports bra reduces any jiggle that could restart internal bleeding.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Sprung again

Despite calling it a cutting garden, I rarely cut these flowers to bring in. In addition to tickling our allergies, they are just nice to see on their plants.

 The peonies are one exception, mostly because they are so fragrant and only bloom for about a week.

These heirloom bearded iris are in almost everyone's yard in town.
If yours die, just ask a neighbor for a start.

Roses are not well suited for the desert, but these have hung on despite the neglect and diseases that haunt them here. The pyracantha behind them provides a nice background in spring, and the birds really like the berries.
Love this color!

These, too!
Here are the peonies, probably will bloom mid- to late May.

A bit of fragrant English Lavender starting to bloom.  Planted about 18 months ago, this is the first year of blooms. Lavenders developed in the depleted volcanic soil of the Med and thrive on neglect, but do need a little water. In my area, English lav's are hardy enough to be perennial, but the French are not.  Spanish lav's will last through mild winters, but not if the temps fall much below 30 degrees. Lavender is becoming a cash crop in the western US.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Spring has Sprung!

We have a brief but beautiful spring.  Brief because the winds persist until the heat of the high desert summer moves in.  Only the strong or well-nurtured plants survive.  Here are a few of the more productive perennials that are making it this year:
Gala and Fuji apples.  Have since thinned them for larger, healthier apples.

Black currants. Lots of small yellow trumpet-shaped blossoms lead to lots of yummy black berries. This plant appeared after a small flash flood swept through town in 1999.
They make the most amazing preserves! 

Nectarine. This is the third year this dwarf has been in the ground.
Probably won't get any fruit, but the deep pink blossoms were lovely!

Serviceberries (also called Saskatoons or Rocky Mountain Blueberries): Though not related to real blueberries, these alkali-tolerant dark purple berries taste a lot like the real thing.
They also make great jam or preserves.

Pomegranate: The Feb 2010 deep freeze across the southwest really hammered the pomegranates. Many died or died back significantly. Because they only produce on wood that is 3 or more years old, these are the first blossoms I've had since 2009.
Real blueberries: This spot in the yard may have been where coal ash was dumped many years ago. Most of the area has a pH of around 7.5 to 8, which is not suitable for blueberries. We planted several native trees here, all of which died an agonizing death. After buying a pH meter, we discovered a pH of 5.5 in this area, about 10 X 10 feet. Despite the alkaline water (also 7.5 to 8 pH) the blueberries are faring well here and have a lot of little blossoms (grayish white) hanging on.  Last year the birds beat us to the ripe berries. This year, the Walmart netting fabric will go up so we can throw them in the mixed berry jam.

Prickly Pear Cactus: the new, brighter green pads are ready to harvest for nopalitos, essentially a fresh green vegetable. 

The beautiful blossoms will turn to red fruit, great for juice or jam. For now, they are a feast for the bees, like the busy one inside this blossom!

Next post will be photos from the cutting garden -- those few hardy flower-bearing non-natives that I keep for their beauty and fragrance.