Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Short in the Tooth

Head thrown back in deep laughter, I careened through the playground. A fireman's pole stopped me and knocked me on my butt. "Your tooth!" my friend gasped. When she looked at me in horror, I stopped laughing. My right front tooth had broken in half. I was ten.

My childhood dentist attached a wonky bottom half that lasted for years and years, but the tooth eventually died, and after college, I had to have a root canal and a crown. My young adulthood dentist was a few months from retiring and felt his experience qualified him to perform the surgery himself. He was wrong. About six months after the root canal, the front of my mouth ached, and pain crackeled up my face each time I bit down. The root canal had abcessed and I needed another one.

This time in an oral surgeon's chair, my head thrown back in discomfort, I sat through his exclamations. "Oh my god, there's so much drainage. That's a horrible infection." He brought in other staff members to raise their eyebrows over the puss that dripped from my tunneled tooth while I watched their faces react to my own pain. After the show, he packed up the canal and stuck on a crown. I lived with that crown for almost twenty years.

By 2017, age had lengthened my teeth or shortened my gums, whichever way you want to look at it, and the blackened stump of my root canaled tooth began to be visible, so it was time for a new crown. My current dentist sent me to a lab downtown behind a dingy door that opened to Italian marble and wide skylights. The lab technicians had already made a model of my tooth, and they fitted it in my mouth to double check the shade; when they weren't satisfied, they murmered to each other and painted on glaze, firing and fitting it several times, until I ended up with a lovely crown, as pearly and fitted physically and aesthetically to my mouth as one born to me. Finally, my front teeth gave me the smile I had missed for decades.

On Monday, February 24th, I treated myself to a dried peach for dessert. I bit down. I bit neither pit nor a particularly tough piece of dried peach. No matter, my tooth broke completely off anyway. I howled. Scott turned to check on me and visibly recoiled at my short black stump. That beautiful crown had snapped off, taking most of what was left of my root canaled tooth with it.

The next day, I met with my dentist. She told me the original tooth wasn't salvageable, and I needed a dental implant. She connected me with an oral surgeon specializing in dental implants, and we set a date for the surgery. In the meantime, she put together a makeshift stump on which to attach the old crown, warning me that I couldn't bite down on anything with the front of my mouth, but instead, I could only chew with the sides of my mouth. She told me I would be lucky if it held together until my surgery date, March 17th.

On March 16th, Mayor London Breed declared a Shelter-in-Place order for San Francisco. The dental surgeon called that afternoon and canceled the appointment until the order was lifted.

So far, the crown has held on. I eat everything with a knife and fork. PB&Js? Knife and fork. Celery? Knife and fork. Gorgeous homemade chewy-centered, crunchy-crusted bagels? Forget about 'em—too hard on my tooth even with a knife and fork. Pizza is less pleasant, salads make me nervous, and I don't even bother with chips.

My 12th grade students have watched their longed-for spring semester evaporate: no prom, spring break travel, last minute bonding, graduation trips. My neighborhood restaurants, bars, and shops may lose this battle against the virus and time. My husband sets his jaw each time he drives to work at the psych hospital; each day, more hospital staff tests positive. Members of my friend and family circle have filed for unemployment for the first time in their lives. Students and colleagues have lost family members to the disease. And in the larger community of those unknown to me, thousands of people are losing their closest family members without holding their hands through last breaths, unable to provide the comfort of love. The virus has snatched away what solace the communal grief of a funeral can provide. The economy no longer knows its ass from its pinky.

Meanwhile, I'm sitting in a blue adirondack chair in sunshine and birdsong, writing away part of my day, fretting about whether or not I will still have a front tooth by the time this is all over. Pretty small for a pandemic.

The impossibility to forget the minute concerns of one's life while being swallowed by a worldwide event, the psychological seesaw of petty and profound, that's the Poloroid of this moment that will end up in my album of memory.

What may also end up in a memory album but never an actual one: a picture of my mouth short a front tooth.

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Alpine Tub

Nancy had held onto the cast iron tub for years, but she didn't know what to do with it. She considered refinishing it and using it in an eventual bathroom remodel. She thought about using it outside, maybe for a fountain. But her garden and house projects kept growing and changing, and the tub just sat in the back corner of her yard.

So she gave it to me.

About ten years ago, that old beat up three-footed tub came to live with me. In my former garden, it sat in the middle of the backyard and my ex-husband would bathe Indiana-the-dog in it. I always wanted to do something more with it, but hadn't figured out what it would be yet when we decided to move. I insisted we lug it north with us a for a future garden project. It sat upside down next to the rental house, waiting for that future garden. After my ex and I split up and I bought the house in San Francisco, it moved with me up here. I had the movers set it along the edge of the property while I wondered what to do with it.

For a long time, I thought it was going to be a pond, and I spent a lot of time researching how to make an old bathtub into a pond. The longer I thought about it though, the less right that seemed for this tub in this yard. After Scott and I met, fell in love, and he moved in, we dragged it together to different parts of the property. It eventually ended up at the top, next to our upper patio. It was the right place for it, but my nextdoor neighbor teased me: "I don't want you taking a bath out there! I can see the tub now from my room!" I assured her there would be no bathing.

Last May, Scott, the kids and I went to the San Francisco Botanical Garden big spring plant sale. My stepson fell in love with the strange, matted plants in the alpine section, and I'm a sucker for all kinds of dianthus and the tight low growing ones made me grin. The kids and I oohed and aaahed over the hypertufa troughs in which the low growing plants embroidered together to make tapestries of green and silver. I was hooked. And, I figured out what I would do with the tub.

I bought bags of cactus soil and gravel, and collected a small pile of flagstone from other garden projects and pretty rocks that the kids and I had collected on camping trips. I also ordered plants through several sources, and picked up a few at a local nursery. I tried to focus on matting plants and bulbs, with the hope that eventually the surface of the tub would become blanketed with strange alpine foliage, some of which would bloom extravagently in the spring, and bulbs would poke through the thick blanket. I even chose some California native plants that seemed to fit the alpine garden requirements: low fertility, gritty soil with little summer water.

To keep the soil from spilling out of the drain and plumbing holes, I wadded them with balls of scrunched up chicken wire, then filled the tub. In the deeper end of the tub, I positioned the flagstones vertically, to make tight crevices, similar to what you might find in high places, where the earth has twisted what was once flat into mountains. I positioned the plants and bulbs where I wanted them, placed soil around them, then covered the surface with gravel and stones.

This is what the tub looks like this morning:



Here is more information of what's planted in there (with links to sources):

Campanula betulifolia This should form a bright green matt with white flowers. It is healthy, but very tiny right now.

Calochortus uniflorus "Cupido" Calochortus is a native California lily. There are many species, all of them beautiful. This selection supposedly tolerates garden conditions a little more easily than other varieties. We'll see how it does hanging out with its crew in the tub. Right now, it is hitting peak bloom, and the flowers are lovely, silky-lavender with blue stamens.


Dianthus "Tight Blue" I bought this last year at the SFBG plant sale and I don't know another source, nor do I know what the flowers will look like, though one of the two small matts looks like it will begin blooming soon. It has pleasing, very low growing blue foliage. I hope it spreads and mounds over stones.


Dichelostemma ida-maia This is another California native bulb. It is just beginning to send up flower stalks now. I may feel that it's too tall for the tub once it's up and blooming, but I couldn't resist the unusual, beautiful flowers. We'll see.

Iris reticulata "Pixie" These bloomed in February. They're quite pretty little flowers, and I had planted many of the same in other parts of the garden, too. However, they really shine in a tub like this because you can focus on them. In the rest of the garden, they're so low and small, it's hard to notice them. The flowers are only 4" above the soil line. This photo is from February 1st.


Helianthemum "St. Mary's White" I put two of these in along the edge of the tub farthest from the patio. Two will probably be too much, and I'll need to edit. If so, no worries. This is a beautiful, drought tolerant plant I wouldn't mind growing in other non-irrigated parts of the garden.

Monardella macrantha "Marian Sampson" This grows in rocky screes in California and seemed suited for an alpine tub. I hope it eventually spreads and tumbles its scarlet flowers over the edge.

Narcissus "Oxford Gold" A short, hoop-skirted narcissus, this bloomed all late winter. Here it is on February 29th.


Saxifraga "Lutea" I bought two of this variety from Wrightman Alpines, but they no longer have it listed on their site. The Saxifraga genus are incredible. Mounding, tiny foliage and spectacular flower shows. They grow directly on rocks in mountains, so Wrightman grows them on pieces of tufa and sends them, stone and all. I "planted" these by burying the bottoms of their individual stones in the tub. I took these pictures this morning, and while the flowers are mostly faded and beginning to seed, the flower branches are still so lovely and colorful.



Silene baumgarteniana I love the ballooning flowers of silenes, and this particular alpine variety looked wonderfully weird, so I had to try it. So far, it's growing well, and just about to start blooming. Here is a picture of it this morning, tucked up against Elfin thyme.


Vitaliana primuliflora v. cinerea I tucked this tiny plant in between the flagstone crevices. It has grown well, but no blossoms yet. It's another one that I hope forms a tight matt that fills in and mounds up against the stones in the tub.

Two more species form patches of the tub's quilt: Thymus serpyllum "Elfin" (pictured above) and an unknown plant, a scrubby, scappy, silvery creeper. I purchased one of the unknowns from the alpine section at the SFBG plant sale last year, and another identical one in the half-price section of a local nursery, and in both cases, they were missing their tags. So, I don't know what it is. It is, however, growing very well, spreading into firm-textured puddles of silver. Can you identify it?



The alpine tub has become a spot in my garden where I spend lots of time just looking. Since all that grows in it is miniature and the focus of the landscape so limited, every leaf is a miracle. I've read that bonsai originally began as a meditative practice, and the alpine tub helps me see how that could be true. Growing it is growing the art of noticing.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Chestnut Gathering

It was around twenty years ago when I first visited the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. I remember what the weather was like that day—cool and grey—and I wore a sweater and a skirt. For some reason, I remember my car being in the shop and I drove a loaner car, one with a much better sound system than my own, and I rolled into the museum parking lot with the music up really loud. Maybe it was a short day at work that day, because I felt like I was playing hooky. In other words, it was a really good day.

To enter the museum, I walked through a row of larger than life Rodin sculptures. Once inside, I had my choice to go to the left and see European art from the last couple hundred years, or go to the right and see older European and Asian art. I don't remember which section I went to first, but I do know I eventually found myself in the wing of European art from the turn of the 20th Century, stopped still in front of a painting.

The painting is large, about 5 feet by nearly 8 feet. Its colors are saturated: crimson, orange, gold,  brown, and black. Sawtoothed chestnut leaves litter the ground—the older ones red and overlapping, the newer ones gold and horizontal—all in a highly decorative pattern. In the forefront of the painting, three women gather chestnuts while two other women collect more behind them. The first of the three women in front kneels, taking a stone in her large Picasso-esque hand to use as a tool to remove a chestnut from its thorny burr. She drags a burlap sack of nuts she's collected. The second woman is upright. It looks as if she's walking slowly. She carries a tray of perfectly arranged chestnuts, and her disproportionate hands support the tray from above and below, like a gift. Behind her head, a break in the large trees creates a dome of light, framing her face like a gold leaf halo in a medieval illuminated manuscript. The third in the trio walks behind, slightly bent over, carrying a load of chestnuts in her apron. Unlike the other two, her hair isn't free, but covered with a loose scarf. Reminiscent of a religious procession, the trio remind me of the holy connectedness of work and nature and food. Foraging under these trees is a sacred act.

That first day I encountered this painting, I sat down on a bench in front of it and thought about it for a long time. I noticed the smoothness of the women's features and their long legs, the pattern of the ancient trees in rows, and the way the chestnuts on the ground don't succumb to the laws of perspective; they don't shrink in the "distance." I purred with joy in front of this painting, rubbing my soul against it like a friendly cat.

When I finally got up to look at the information plaque next to the painting, I learned its title, "Autumn: The Chestnut Gatherers." I had never heard of its painter, Georges Lacombe, before. The plaque explained that the model for the painting was a young woman, Marthe, who would become Georges's wife, and that the painting was the third in a four part series about the seasons commissioned by Marthe's mother, Gabrielle.

The woman who commissioned the painting and the woman who modeled for it share my not-too-common last name, Wenger.

Nowadays, a canvas-transferred print of that painting hangs, framed, over my sofa as the most prominent piece of art in our living room. I stare at it every day. I sit under it in the morning to drink my coffee and catch up on the news. At night, when we watch television, I relax under it with my feet in Scott's lap. That painting is part of what makes my house home to me, and it lives in a corner of my brain, always.

But, until this weekend, I had never actually performed the act depicted in the painting. I consider myself an aficionada of orchards, but I had never seen a chestnut orchard in person until Sunday, when I went chestnut gathering.

Skyline Chestnut Orchard is tucked away in the Santa Cruz Mountains between Palo Alto and Pescadero, between the bay and the ocean. According to the orchard's website, soon after the purchase of California in 1847, a Spanish settler moved up into the mountains and planted the oldest European chestnut trees. Presently, the property is owned by Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District and managed by a farming family, the Johsens. They open the orchard every fall when the chestnuts begin to drop and run a farm stand where they sell chestnuts and chestnut (and other varieties of) honey.

Sunday, I drove down the peninsula and up the mountains, good music playing and the sunroof open. Scott and the kids were out of town, so I had the day all to myself, with nowhere I had to be other than exactly where I wanted to be. After I found the turnoff for the orchard, I parked and checked in at the farm stand. I followed the path to the trees, but instead of staying on the lower flatter ground, like the many families that were also out collecting nuts, I clambered up the hill under old gnarly trees. I waded through native blackberries, identifiable two ways: they have slender prickly thorns rather than Himalayan blackberries' scimitar-shaped deadly thorns, and their leaves turn wine and maroon in autumn. Under the tree canopies, I sifted aside golden leaves to find shiny loose chestnuts and split burrs about to release their smooth chestnuts. Below me, families speaking many languages laughed and helped each other. But, up by me, the only sounds were birds and chestnuts dropping from the trees. I moved from tree to tree in the gold light.



When I felt like I was done, I had collected three pounds of chestnuts and bought a jar of chestnut honey. That night, I roasted a few chestnuts for dessert and savored the fudgy, earthy sweetness.

The only reason I can head to the hills and collect chestnuts is because I live in the West, not a native home to chestnuts, but a safe haven when the rest of the chestnut population in the United States fell victim to two diseases, "ink disease" and "chestnut blight." Prior to the 20th Century, every fourth tree in Appalachia was an American chestnut, and it was a foundation tree in most other eastern forests. Now, all the established trees are gone, and what's left are sprouts coming from the living roots, trying again and again to grow before being inevitably felled by blight. Many, not all, non-native chestnut varieties are also susceptible to both diseases. Yet, mountain ranges and climate have protected the few chestnut trees planted in the West. I'm lucky to have seen old trees up close, to rake around under their leaves, to find their satin-robed fruit.

Here at home, sitting under the golden-haloed chestnut gatherer, a distant relative, I am three pounds richer in miracles. What should I do with them all?


For more information about American chestnuts:



Saturday, September 14, 2019

Soil

Last week, I read an article on The Bitter Southerner, after which I was really, really excited about soldier flies. I kept interrupting Scott to read him passages. The article examined a farmer, his ingenuity, and a shared goal among a community who worked on a large farm. It didn't sound like every other article—and there are a lot of them—on the subject. I couldn't stop thinking about those amazing flies and the way a farmer and a farm are restoring both a town and its soil.
More than once as we roam the pastures of White Oak, Harris makes it clear he believes chemical fertilizers are to a farmer as heroin is to a junkie. 
“When I first gave up chemical fertilizers, my pastures looked like shit.” 
But he persisted, and two or three years later, the farm’s bottom line turned black again. So did the soil in his pastures. The percentage of organic matter in his farm’s soil today, Harris says, is about 10 times higher than the soil of nearby conventional farms. Two years after that, he introduced sheep, heeding what farmers have known for centuries: that raising different species on a single farm benefits both the land and the animals.
Source.
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Last week, walking over the coastal grasslands south of Half Moon Bay at Markegard Family Farm, nuzzling up against a six month old Appaloosa foal, learning about a careful return of ruminants to the perennial grassland, and how that return has restored soil health all felt exciting and hopeful. Belted Galloway cattle dotted the hills. We watched a pig and its piglets poke around among native shrubs; two piglets had found their way past the fence and darted through our legs to run back to mama.
Doniga [Markegard's] deep observation experience aids in her ability to monitor grassland health, biodiversity and to manage land based on the principles and patterns found in nature. Doniga is passionate about large-scale restoration of Western Rangelands through cattle grazing. The Markegard Family has forged partnerships with some of the largest land trust groups in California, private landowners, as well as regional open space parks. Each ranch has a grazing plan and conservation management plan developed in conjunction with landowners and the Natural Resource Conservation Service. She is dedicated to finding ways to regenerate lands and community through ranching practices that build soil, sequester carbon, capture and purify water and enhance habitat.
Source.

If you look really hard at this photo, just to the right of center, you can see the chicken shelters for the pastured Freedom Ranger chickens.

********** 

My friend and I toured Davero Farms and Winery earlier this summer. We expected to learn about farming, but we didn't realize we'd have our minds blown. Everything the farm needed came from the farm itself. After exploring the farm, we sat in a cave built from living willow trees, woven together to be a green cupola above us. The wine we tasted came from small vineyards that grew on soil that pond algae, chicken, sheep, and pigs had worked together to feed and tend.
Grow what belongs here. Be patient.
Source.
**********

Markegard and Davero are not cost-effective places to buy meat and wine. They are impractical for most people and are not a world-wide solution to our problems of pollution and animal welfare that plague our farming system. Even the much more extensive production at Harris's White Oak Pastures isn't large enough to make prices reasonable (or products available) to an average consumer. Instead, they're hints at what may not be probable but might just be possible.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Growing Space, Growing Community

Last month, Scott and I finished a huge project in the backyard. We turned our poorly designed main garden path, a wonky, sloping mess of torn up landscape cloth (come on, it's never a good idea) and decomposed granite (an even worse idea on a slope) that pre-existed my purchase of the property into a sturdy stone and gravel staircase.

It was hard work. We have no way to push a wheelbarrow through the house and into the backyard, so we hand carried all the stones and gravel through the garage, through the downstairs bedroom, and out the back up the hill. We sketched out the stair case, then built each step one at a time, tested it, tore it out if we needed to, and rebuilt it. We paid attention to how our feet landed along the path and the purposeful curve. When stones we had set with morter didn't stick, we pulled them out and set them again.

When we finished, we ended up with something that looks like it's on purpose. It winds up to the brick patio we also rebuilt to the evenness of a dance floor. On the patio perch at the top of our property, we can sit in our comfy blue adirondak chairs and admire the view of downtown or huddle around the fire pit. Our very livable backyard makes the inside of the home feel ten times bigger. I've already taken two naps in the chairs, reading until I fall asleep. Scott's started talking about adding a hot tub close to the house. My stepdaughter uses the patio to practice her back walkovers and handstands. Both kids have played ping pong and have chosen to be outside more than ever.



While the backyard has made my home feel larger, the community has made my backyard bigger.

In April of 2018, I started a group that meets up once a month to share produce, plants, seeds, and other garden materials and that asks each other questions, sharing our knowledge and experience. When I first started the group, we met in the local park. But, soon, I figured it out would be better to meet up in various members' yards, so we all could learn by the experience of seeing each other's spaces. Members starting drumming up a name for ourselves; Seedheads stuck. Since then, we've met in yards that are immaculately kept, in yards that are wild and ridiculously productive, in yards that are mostly concrete but have been turned into garden spaces through containers, hale bales, and other creative means. We've met at a special open-to-all community garden, and we've met in several gardens with unique chicken coops. We've shared seedlings and flowers and jams, wild-harvested mussels and seeds and fruit, bread and cuttings and lots and lots of ideas.

The Seedheads mailing list now includes over 80 members scattered across the southeast corner of San Francisco. The group crosses lines of gender, age, ethnicity, and socio-economics. Yet, we all love to grow and build, so together, we do.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

2019 Garlic Harvest

Blergh.

You know what doesn't grow well in San Francisco's Garden District, or at least has not yet grown well for me? 

Garlic.

You know I love growing garlic. In previous gardens, I've grown more garlic than I could use in a year. I shared it with neighbors and grew out many different heirloom varieties. But here, there are challenges galore for my allium friends.

The garlic I planted in October started so well in the fall and grew steadily through winter. Christmas came and a gopher (or two) stole about a tenth of the crop. I cursed gophers. One variety, Belarus, a previous favorite in other gardens, broomed. The plants divided early into cloves which then tried to grow as individual plants, so when I pulled them up, they were just clusters of tiny cloves and stems rather than a single heads of regular sized cloves. I cursed brooming. As late winter hit, so did the rust, and some plants gave up entirely while others struggled along. I cursed rust.

A few weeks ago, I pulled my runted garlic from the bed. The plants were covered with rust and they had already bulbed up as much as they would. I shook the dirt off the plants, bundled them to dry under the eaves where they wouldn't get any drizzle—if there were to be any—and planted a cover crop of red-blossomed buckwheat and cowpeas in their former bed. Yesterday, I pulled the cured garlic bunches down to clean up for storage. Ugliness awaited: all the artichoke varieties (eg Red Toch and Kettle River Giant) had rotted. Instead of drying out in the breeze and shade, they turned into mushy stink bombs. So, I cursed rot.

Gophers, rust, brooming, rot. The garlic has not had a good year.

What broomed garlic looks like.

My complete measly harvest. 

I'm going to try one more time this fall, planting out only the three varieties that seemed to be able to survive the onslaught a little better than others. The hardneck varieties appeared to fare better against the rust and weren't at all affected by rot. One hardneck, Belarus, broomed, so that one is out. Another, Early Portuguese, didn't do much of anything. So that leaves three I'll try again next year: Basque, Rose du Lautrec, and Burgundy. I'll gopher wire the allium bed when I dig in the cover crop, and I'll plant the cloves really far apart, leaving plenty of room for wind to dry humidity off the plants. But, if I can't get a good crop next year, I'll stop trying with garlic and use the space for other winter crops. It will be more room in which to experiment.

Basque, one of the few varieties I'll try again next year.

Are you listening to me, little bulbs? If you don't shape up, your space will go to somebody else.


Monday, July 01, 2019

The 29th

A few days ago, I ran into my ex-husband at the grocery store. I hadn't seen him in over three years. When I first saw him, I had to search my brain for a second. Then I couldn't believe it. I could see the same processes going through his face. We smiled at each other, greeted each other with a hug, and chatted for a few minutes.

It was strange to see him, but in no way sad or discomforting. I left our conversation very happy.

I no longer know him in the way I once did, his daily breath and movement, frustrations and hopes, but I am still deeply familiar with him. I could tell he was nervous seeing me. He has a telltale mouth twitch that happens when he's anxious. The same mouth twitch I saw on our first date a decade and a half ago twitched powerfully as we talked the other day. Within our few minutes of conversation, I heard refrains that were so familiar to me, they could have been lifted from a script I might have written about a conversation with him.

Later in the afternoon, I drove my nine-year-old stepdaughter home from summer camp and she told me all about what she had done that day. She asked me about my day and I told her that I had run into my ex-husband. She asked, "How did you divorce?" I told her an honest and abbreviated story of our marriage and divorce.

A little over a year after the marriage with my ex-husband dissolved, I met Scott. We fell in love, married, and I became stepmother to my stepdaughter and stepson. I gained an instafam. When one joins a pre-existent family, one learns quickly that the family has formed habits and roles that have none of the new member's influence. I'm learning how to be a stopmom and what my role is here, and I probably will be learning this for the rest of my life.

Despite my lack of experience in a parenting role, there are at least traditions and experiences I feel confident offering this family of mine. I can share with them my mom's Saturday morning crepes and Christmastime cardamom bread. I can teach them the weird little miracles of the plant world and how to identify California wildflowers. I can geek out over the details of the Narnia Chronicles with them and take them for really long walks full of stopping to look at things. These are things that come from me, my parents, and my brother. But there are things I collected from being married to my ex-husband that I want to share with my newish family too.

One of those things is ñoquis on the 29th.

My ex-husband told me briefly, early in our relationship, in Argentina gnocchi—or ñoquis in Spanish—was a lucky meal when eaten on the 29th of a month, and people placed money under their plate during the meal for financial luck in the following month. Soon after he told me this, a good friend and I stopped in for lunch at an Argentine place. It happened to be the 29th, and we happened to order a large plate of ñoquis to share. The waiter delivered our plate and walked a few steps away, then turned to watch us. When neither my friend nor I picked up our plate to place a bill under it, he came back to the table.

"Stop. Stop. I can't let you keep eating right now." He was adamant. "I'm too superstitious." He pulled out his own wallet and placed a dollar bill under our plate. "You must have money under your plate when you eat ñoquis." So we ate our meal over his money. I don't know if that meant we were to be lucky the following month or if he was. Either way, it made the ñoquis more fun to eat.

Later in my relationship with my ex-husband, my ex-mother-in-law, a woman I still count as very dear to me, sent me an article from the Houston Chronicle about the Argentine tradition. Ñoquis are the food of poverty and, historically, by the end of the month, sometimes not much was left in the larder but potatoes. This dish became the meal to eat towards the end of the month while hoping for a less difficult month ahead. People place money under their plates in the hope that somehow doing so will bring wealth the following month.

This past week, Scott, the kids, and I weren't able to eat together on the 29th, so we cheated and ate ñoquis on the 28th. I had hoped that we'd have fun family time making ñoquis together, but the kids were a combination of both wired and tired, and making dinner as a team didn't happen. We sat down to eat later than I had hoped. Scott placed a bill under each of our plates. Each of us enjoyed the little potato pillows, so much so that I brought the pot of water to boil again to make seconds for each of us from the reserved pile of dumplings.

I don't think eating ñoquis over money will make us luckier. I do think that luck is partly attitude. I appreciate (but see the limits within) my colleague's grandmother's famous refrain, "Luck is in the backbone, not the wishbone." But, I want to eat ñoquis with my stepkiddos whenever I can on the 29th. It's a small way I model to my stepkids that when life twists in ways that hurt, when it surprises you with its jabs and taunts, those hurts don't have to be endings but can be beginnings.

My hurts led me to my stepkids. I'm incredibly grateful.

Making and Eating Ñoquis 
I really like the Serious Eats resource on gnocchi. My ex-mother-in-law used to encourage me to bake potatoes rather than boil them for lighter dumplings, and this Serious Eats recipe follows that approach.

My family loves Hazan's famous tomato-butter sauce on our ñoquis.