Winter Sunset

 

Winter Sunset

It was a cold sunset at ten degrees near the end of a 4.5 mile workout. Wasn’t going to let the weather interrupt my daily practice. Christmas was white, The Long Night (GOT) is almost over. The New Year will be green and bright and the days are getting longer.

The last year and a half has been a long winter of the soul. The hardest part was early after the sudden plunge into winter a little over a year ago, recovering from repeated surgeries through the holiday season from before Christmas to the first day of spring. I had separated from the sociopathic con artist with Narcissistic Personality Disorder that wrecked my life and health. It was a lonely, stressful and difficult period, yet magical occurrences kept happening, letting me know I was on the right path despite some missteps and falls. After more than a year, there are many new stories to tell and adventures to attempt.

While I can see the spring sun off in the distance, winter snows are not finished yet. Like the weather here, the soul’s life can change from icy cold to pleasantly warm or the reverse  in a moment. The scattered bright glimpses of the future fuel the determination to wade through the snow with confidence. There will be snows of the season and of the soul well into spring, but the tide is turning. There is constant progress and wonderful opportunities ahead.

A recent, very bright spot was the arrival of an advance copy of my next book, Wild Winemaking, an early Christmas present from my editor. I will have more copies soon and the release date is February. Advance marketing is going very well. Things are getting busier all the time. There is a business trip to Hawaii, interviews, class to teach and book signings filling up the spring calendar. There will be rehearsals as Ringmaster of The Scintillating Fire Circus to prepare for upcoming shows. Every Thursday I play the blues. I’ve been privileged to play recently with some well known musicians that have extensive regional, national and international tours, albums and honors.

My half-time greenhouse production manager job will start up again this spring. Time on The Pondy, with my hands in the dirt, chickens forming a parade behind me, wildlife on the hill and in the air, 275 cases of wine in the cellar, the smell of growing food in the greenhouse, helping a good friend build his business and experiencing the weather every day is exhilarating yet peaceful at the same time. The time I spent filling the greenhouse and garden with plants was a very healing period during my medical and spiritual healing journeys.

I had increased my daily workout from three and a half by doing an extra loop, three instead of two. Shortly after starting this essay two weeks ago, I doubled the length of my old daily walk/jog, with four loops to around seven miles without missing a day through up and down weather until yesterday. While I may not have burned as many calories, I spent a little over an hour hiking up and down a river, scrambling down and up over a field of large boulders to balanced precariously on rocks at the river’s edge while casting to rising trout. Mid-January with mid-sixties temperatures was just too much to resist. I substituted fly fishing for my afternoon workout that day to exercise my soul as well as my body. I did have a couple strikes, although I didn’t hook either one. A water ouzel danced along the river edge. There were a few hardy souls out there fishing. One I stopped to watch invited me down to try his pool from the opposite bank. He pointed out dozens of trout, some rising and said he hadn’t been able to get a bite. I was just looking for a short interlude and tried … and lost … several flies while enticing those bites. Feeling satisfied with my meditational river experience, I left the fisherman to continue his efforts as I moved on to continue my busy day. Stopping at The Pondy on the way back, it was so warm that Matt was shirtless, spreading and tilling a large load of composted manure into the sandy part of the garden. I needed to restock the treasure chest from the wine cellar after last weekend’s festivities and wanted to check the greenhouse progress and the kiwi wine in primary fermentation.

After that warm temperature yesterday, today was twenty degrees cooler, cloudy and wet. It had stopped misting by the time I left for my walk but overnight and early morning in mid-January it had rained instead of snowing. The air felt heavy and damp. The next day the sun was shining, the sky bright blue, but it was at least ten degrees colder with a north wind. The number of people I see out there depends on the weather. When it is cold or cloudy, there are few besides dog walkers and the occasional hardy bicycler. On most days there is someone or a small group playing Frisbee golf in the park near the trail. In nice weather, there are groups lined up, waiting their turn.

Besides the physical exercise, there are always encounters that rejuvenate the soul, too. A couple days ago, a woman was walking a dark brown German shorthair puppy that looked just like Cassiopeia, my shorthair that lived for 19 years. I didn’t get closer than about fifty feet as they passed in front of me, but that puppy couldn’t take its eyes off me. As I turned the opposite direction, I kept watching and the puppy kept dragging behind looking at me for a long time. It stirred memories of my beloved Cassie. I often see and hear geese overhead, sometimes like today large flocks wheeling overhead, filling the air with well over 100 honking geese. A couple days ago, I was busy writing in my head when I was startled by five squirrels in a row that jerked upright and bolted for their trees in unison. In winter there are ravens, sometimes in a large raucous flock.

A week ago, at the Fly Fishing Show I upgraded my wardrobe with a uv protective hoody in a trout pattern on a mottled blue camo background that looked like water and a pair of flame colored tights to wear with top hat and tails in my role as Ringmaster of the Scintillating Fire Circus. Wearing that hoodie on my workout every day has me thinking about letting my inner hillbilly come out by wearing that more and the button-up sleeveless camo shirt that was designed by on old girlfriend fashion designer. This would be a change from the standard all black artist/author “uniform” that is my typical wear. Three times since I started wearing that hoodie I have received compliments about it including an attractive younger woman that engaged me in conversation. Of course I get compliments every time I wear my top hat with my all black wardrobe. Perhaps I just need to change it up some. Don’t want to become too predictable. It would certainly startle some of my friends who haven’t seen me dress like that for years.

I will continue to enjoy my daily walks, even on those cold winter days with the sun low on the horizon. The days are getting longer and brighter and I don’t want to miss any of it.

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Winemaking

Wine aging in carboys

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Cherry Chocolate Almond primary fermentation

The pictures show wine aging in carboys, a bottle of Jalapeno Lime wine and Cherry Chocolate Almond wine in primary fermentation.

This has been a busy season for winemaking. I’m currently writing a home winemaking book for Story Publishing and have been creating new recipes to add to the list of wines I describe in the book. I have created 144 different wines in over 30 years of winemaking and only four of those are made from grapes. I will discuss all of these wines in the book as well as describe my method of winemaking which doesn’t seem to be very common among other home winemakers. Most of them use chemicals such as sulfites as well as other additives and are in a hurry to bottle and drink their wines. I use no sulfites or any other additives and age most of my wines in bulk for a least a year before bottling. I have become active in three Facebook home winemaking groups to share my experiences and see what other winemakers are doing. A few grow their own grapes, many use winemaking kits with canned grape juices to make traditional wines and most venture into making what are called “country wines” which are wines made from ingredients other than grapes. Some people are wildly experimental, including making wines from crushed candies like peppermint sticks and skittles.

I’ve used a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, flowers, spices and herbs to make my wines. My most unique wines are fermented from citrus and hot peppers, starting with Jalapeno Lime in 1992. I’ve since made more than 30 different hot pepper/citrus wines, some of them several times. Perhaps the most unusual wines I’ve created are Burgundy Kale and Garlic Chive Flower. I like flower wines and my favorites out of more than ten varieties are Dandelion, Elderflower, Jasmine and Vanilla Rose Petal. The oldest wine in my cellar is a 1986 Lavender. Out of more than 10 different herbal wines, my favorites are Sweet Basil, French Tarragon and Double Lemon Lime Basil which was fermented from lemons, limes, lemon basil and lime basil. The most unusual herbal wines I’ve made include marijuana … I do live in Colorado. I’ve made several wines with chocolate. The first ones were made with cocoa powder but I’ve since switched to using cocoa bean hulls which give a much better chocolate flavor. My favorites so far are Blueberry Chocolate Chocolate Mint and Orange Mole. There are several tomato wines in the cellar. The best one is called Tomato Italiano, made from heirloom tomatoes, onions, garlic, celery, bell pepper, basil and oregano. It is a beautiful wine that tastes like marinara sauce and is also a good cooking wine which can be used as a substitute for vinegar in making salad dressings. I served it once with an appetizer sword piercing a cherry tomato and a venison meatball calling it a Meatball Martini.

My recent wines since signing the contract to produce the book include Plumbarb(plum rhubarb,) Burgundy Kale, Mandarin Chocolate Chocolate Habanero, Cherry Chocolate Almond and Mary Jane’s Grapes, made with grapes and cannabis. I have several new wines planned including Tangerine Brainstrain(a superhot pepper I grew) and Chocolate which may become Chocolate Coffee. I will be growing several new hot peppers this year to use in hot pepper citrus wines: Brazilian Starfish, Volcano and Count Dracula.

I name all my wines after the main ingredients. My favorite names so far are Buddha’s Hand Cherry Bomb and Kumquat Kung Pao, both of which are hot pepper citrus wines. Home winemaking has enriched my life. I’ve given many friends the opportunity to stomp fruit. I have a large variety of wines to share with friends and always have at hand a much appreciated homemade gift for almost any occasion. I would recommend a home winemaking hobby to anyone interested in wine.

The Season has Changed.

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Chocolate habanero

Chocolate habanero

The weather is dramatically cooler and we have had our first snow.  After a warm weekend over the next couple of days, we are facing a week of serious cold and predicted snowfall.  We had the first hard freeze, near 20 degrees.  We harvested all the tomatoes, tomatillos and peppers which are ripening all over our kitchen.  Our salad greens are doing fine.  We are still harvesting lettuce, curly blue/green and burgundy kale, spinach, mild mustard greens, curled and flat parsley, rainbow chard, garlic chives, carrots and peas.  While we have only picked a few pea pods, the entire pea plant is edible and we have been adding leaves and shoots to our salads.

Hunting season was a success. With a deer added to our garden produce, our deep freeze is packed with the overflow filling the fridge freezer in the kitchen.  I did not bring home an elk, but the deer is enough red meat for the 2 of us during the coming year.  I still consider my elk hunt a success.  It was a busy week for me that included 2 book signing events for Bountiful Bonsai that limited my time in the woods to only 3 of 9 days in the season.  I hunted in fresh snow, up to knee deep for those 3 days.  I found a great new place to hunt with plenty of tracks, droppings and rubs.  I felt close to elk but just not in the same time, same place.  With more time to hunt I’m sure the outcome would have been different.

Now that hunting season is essentially over, it is wine season for me.  I signed a contract last month to write the book, Craft Wines for Story Press.  I have until August 1 to write the manuscript and have several new wines I plan to make as well as write about for the book.  At last count, I have 138 different wines to write about for the book.  Most recently, we pressed out Burgundy Kale, Plum Rhubarb and Orange Ghost wines.  Hot pepper/citrus wines are always a favorite among my wine drinking friends.  There are more than 30 different hot pepper/citrus wines in the cellar.  I always look for new hot peppers with interesting names to use in wines.  This last summer I grew chocolate habaneros to be paired with Mandarin oranges and cocoa bean hulls as well as a pepper called brainstrain which will become Tangerine Brainstrain.  I’ve already ordered seeds of 2 new pepper varieties to grow next year, Count Dracula and Volcano.  I also plan to make a Chocolate Almond Cherry wine this winter.