Mud, the Nature of Art, and Pickled Shiitakes


There are many gifts to having brought my business home, but the one most prominent in my mind today is - awareness. No, that's not quite right - clarity. Not Clarity, mind you. I don't have the answers to Life, the Universe, and Everything, but I do have a better sense of "what is."


"What is" is simply how things are. When I spent most of my time at the gym in Lakeview my understanding of this house and its surroundings was based largely on "how it should be." Because I wasn't here very much my sense of this place was defined by how I saw my house in my mind and what I wanted it to be. Because I had very little time in which to verify that vision it was easy to superimpose "how it should be" onto how it actually was.


I think, for many of us, that's how neglect actually happens.


Being home for the better part of two years I've had to come to terms with what actually is, what I haven't been doing about it, and what I now can do about it. To my credit, I've actually done or had done quite a bit. In the spring and summer of 2020 I cleaned out and organized my garage (only to have it fall into another state of chaos, that will again need my committed attention.) Last year we replaced the roof, an albatross that had been hanging around my neck for quite a few years, and remodeled the kitchen. We're about halfway through with painting the exterior, simply waiting on weather and my painter's work schedule to coordinate.


When I worked in Lakeview I had a good 20 minute commute everyday. I became acutely aware of my truck and how it operated. I picked up on little changes quickly and was very proactive to the needs of an almost 50 year old vehicle.


Since the middle of last summer, my commute has been out the front door, around the side of the house, a short walk up the power line and I'm at work. I have become much more aware of this landscape, the things I love about it and the things that frustrate me.


For the past year rainfall has been well above average around here. That's been painfully apparent to me and my clients as we slog our way up this hill through varying degrees of mud. And as I've dealt with this I've warred in my mind between what is and what should be. I should not have to continually clean the mats and floors of the gym, but I do. My clients should not have to trek through slippery mud both up and downhill to get to the gym, but they do.


When I first built the gym I didn't imagine the amount of water we'd be channeling down the power line. For the past year we've had a few low spots that never fully get dry.


At first, the solution was to get a track steer and an operator to help shape a path and appropriate drainage, but either the ground was too wet or my operator away on other jobs. I finally decided I couldn't wait any longer and began taking my own steps (pun fully intended.)


I've posted before about the absentee landlord next door. Almost five acres of neglected lot border my property on two sides. I've spoken periodically with the landlord over the years and even done her a few favors. She has given me permission to scavenge the stacked stone walls and other landscaping debris that scatters the property.


So my first step in managing the mud was to cut a series of swales perpendicular to the flow of water across the power line. The uphill side of these swales I lined with stone from the stacked walls. The stone acts as a barrier to catch soil and erosion the water brings with it. The swale acts to hold the water and slow its downhill descent. Additionally I spread wheat straw and planted rye grass to help absorb some of that water.


It helped.


But we keep getting more rain.


Last weekend I spent Saturday afternoon and Sunday pulling square stone pavers, each about a foot wide, out from around the swimming pool next door. Of course, the first part of that task was actually cutting a trail so that I could get back and forth from the pool. Then I had to spend some time cutting the pavers free of the wisteria vines and bamboo debris that obscured and held them to the ground.


Once I had a small cache I used them Sir Walter Raleigh style to bridge the most egregious of the mud patches and as steps up the steepest parts of the hill. Is it perfect? Far from it. I had, in fact, planned on spending part of today better leveling some of the steps and better spacing some of the mud crossings. Ironically the rain kept me away.


So, while it is far from perfect, it is better. And better is moving in the direction I want to go. I think it particularly poignant and quite apropos that my friend, Jason C Brown, unknowingly sent me this quote over the weekend.


The creative spirit creates with whatever materials are present. With food, with children, with building blocks, with speech, with thoughts, with pigment, with an umbrella, or a wineglass, or a torch. -- M.C. Richards, Centering


As I see it, the job of the artist is to see both what is and what can be and to bridge that distance using whatever is at hand or just happens to be lying around next door.


Roasted Pork with Japanese Style Vegetables

Man, I love Asian cooking. Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese, Filipino, it doesn't matter, they all rock each in their own unique ways. Back in 2018 I got on a big David Chang kick. I bought his cookbook, Momofuku, and threw myself wholeheartedly into making homemade ramen. I highly suggest you give it a go. I haven't made it in a while simply because I end up making a ton of broth and it stresses Samantha out to take up that much of our precious storage space.


One of my favorite accompaniments though are the pickled shiitake mushrooms that you can make as a by product of building that insanely rich and flavorful broth. I had well over two quarts of the things sitting idly in the garage fridge for over a year and was amazed to find that they were still good.


The pickled mushrooms themselves are quite simple to make. Reconstitute dried shiitake mushrooms with boiling water. Once they are fully soft, remove from the water and mix with a ton of sliced ginger, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and sugar. Aim for equal parts soy and vinegar and 2/3 part sugar.


Alongside these we had Japanese quick pickled cucumbers. I like to leave just a hint of skin on my cucumbers so I peel them in stripes leaving about a 1/4 inch of skin for every swipe of the peeler, then slicing them into coins. Toss these with one part salt and three parts sugar. Usually for two cucumbers that's a teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of sugar. Set them aside for five or ten minutes and you have quick pickles.


The roast pork will need four or five hours. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Score the fat and rub the pork with salt and whatever spices you find tasty. Pop in the oven for about two hours then pull and wrap tightly with foil. Put it back in the oven and cook for another two or three hours. By this time, when you're ready to serve you should be able to pull it apart with a pair of tongs.


Serve the pork with rice and the pickled vegetables. Pour a little of the mushroom pickle brine over the pork for a makeshift sauce. It's delicious.

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