“Nobody ever got fat eating bananas…”

At least that’s what our Weight Watchers leader told us at our orientation meeting two and a half weeks ago.  On this program fruit is “free,” which means we get to eat as much of it as we want.

I’m in heaven.

P.S.  That’s not really me in the photo.

(Image from Fat Banana)

Season of Soup

Some parents’ newly-adult children continue to come home for monetary handouts or a place to do laundry.  My daughter returned to graze from the big pot of soup I always had simmering on the stove.  Soup is my staple.  My life.  It’s the natural expression of my inner low maintenance and generally uninspired chef.  If I lived alone and never had visitors the only utensils I’d own would be a couple of spoons and a large, glass bowl.

Although I admit, in the last couple of years since we stopped using air conditioning and turned to the whole house fan at night for our summer cooling, I’ve reluctantly turned towards cooler foods like salad with miscellaneous grilled things on top.  It’s an oh-so elegant alternative to soup since it can  also be served in a bowl.  But when the sun finally, finally! starts it’s slanting descent–when I sense the first hint of autumn chill on the wind–I breathe a happy sigh, get down on my knees, and drag the cauldron out from the back of the cupboard again.  The season of soup is returning.

This shift from summer to fall cooking is like my version of migration; a genetic impulse surfacing from a lost and lazy ancestor in the past, a distant grandmother who cared as little as I do if the different food groups touch each other beforehand.  Clearly, she was not from a Mediterranean climate with its joyful people who eat for love and beauty.  No, she came from someplace cold and dark, with long winters and fur shoes.  A far northern locale with scarce and unimaginative food like root vegetables and frozen meat.

She would have had the northern lights in lieu of cuisine, though, and she would have loved them.   I got that from her, too.  I’d trade a rich sauce for the Aurora Borealis any day of the week.  Here’s a Youtube video that explains why.  (For the genitalia-averse, please beware the explicit educational ad for condoms tucked in amongst the tile display of ads afterwards.  But for anyone still mystified as to proper application, this ad is probably for you.)

Today it’s in the 30’s outside and I have a cozy fire burning in the woodstove and eight or nine overripe bananas sitting on the countertop.

Traditionally I would’ve used them for banana bread but the hubster and I have recently started a diet and sweet breads, while allowed, are challenging from a portion-control perspective.  (Forgive me, but half a slice?  Really?  Whoever thought that up must have been tongueless.)  So instead I’m considering an exploratory foray into some kind of a sweet soup.  Perhaps mixed with chicken broth, caramelized (which I used to call burned-because-I-was-distracted) onions, butternut squash, cream (damn…I mean nonfat milk) and lime pieces?  Or should I go with a spicy red curry stew, with onions, pumpkin, peas, and coconut milk (damn…I mean lite coconut milk mixed half and half with nonfat milk)?  It all sounds so exotic, so gourmet, I know…until one realizes I’m driven solely by a depression-era hoarding instinct (also inherited from cold and hungry forbears) that disallows the waste of a crumb.  I could no more throw away a banana than I could eat my own child.

But oh how good it feels to be cold again.

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

(Ha ha!  Written in under two hours!!  Progress is made.)

TRUE OR FALSE? “Talking about dying will kill you.”

FALSE.  Talking about dying is non-toxic and perfectly safe for all ages.

I hit this wall a lot though, because deep down the majority of people believe it’s true.

In polite company, when it comes up that I’m writing a blog about…well…the “topic” (maybe if I don’t say the word, you won’t run)…I usually get a blank stare, long pause, and visible squirming, followed by an abrupt change of subject. Some people even turn around and walk away without saying a word.  (Which I admit makes this topic a valuable extraction tool in a pinch.  For anyone seeking to escape a chatty person, its eerie power of repulsion does have uses.)

In any case, there’s rarely an opportunity for a follow-through discussion.  The conversation is dead before taking its first breath and, so far, this hurdle has stumped me.  That’s why I spend so much time poking around the carcass in my mind afterwards, trying to find another angle which might induce more people to join me.

For instance this morning I was chewing on the common question; I’m not dying yet.  No one I know is dying yet.  So why should I think about it now?

This, of course, is the unstated question behind most blank stares and…I’m not gonna lie to you here…it’s a good one, possibly the most important question of all.  In spite of my flippancy, I fully understand why people don’t want to have this discussion: Talking about dying is a courageous act.  In order to do it, you have to stop running, turn around, and face the very monster that IS someday going to kill you and all your loved ones.  Let’s face it, as conversations go, it just doesn’t get much braver than that.

So when I broach the topic to someone who’s half-dressed at the next locker, or trapped next to me for three hours on a plane, or suddenly choking on their turkey over Thanksgiving dinner, I understand their reluctance.  I do.  I realize I’m asking them to start thinking right now about a real-life horror flick that at best they can delay, but will never escape.

Which brings me back to the question, Why should they?  The reasons had better be compelling.

Well they are.  And actually there’s just one:

It’s so they don’t have to spend their whole lives dragging the deadweight of this secret dread behind them.  Once a person learns how to talk comfortably and freely about dying, they can finally stop looking over their shoulder and relax a little. Living every hour, every day, year after year, with a yawning, existential, chronic fear…even if it’s kept pinned down in the subconscious most of the time…is draining and toxic.  Denial can help for a little while, sure, but ultimately it has huge downside.  Huge.  Trust me on this one.  As a long-time phobic I know.

Courage is a far better option and, while it’s harder to muster initially, it makes up for it by having no downside.  None.  In fact, courage not only eases the fear around talking about dying, it actually makes the event itself a whole lot easier to deal with when it finally arrives.

So when I grin at a 31-year old cashier and say Hey!  What do you think about this whole dying thing anyway?  It’s not because I’m the Grim Reaper’s administrative assistant trying to schedule an appointment for her.  It’s only because I’d like to ease some of her fear about the whole thing.  I’m willing to stay and hold her hand.

Facing into any fear shrinks it, and facing into this fear–as early in life as possible–can improve every day that follows in a way that most people don’t even know is possible yet.  I mean, how could they know when nobody ever talks about it?!


So, what would make you more likely to stick around and have this chat?  If I said:

1)  I write a blog about dying.

2)  I write a blog about talking about dying.

3)  I write a blog that can help ease your fear about dying.  (Actually, is that even true?  You’ve read this.  Are you less afraid of dying now?  More afraid?  Unchanged?  Are you at least more willing to talk about it?  Are you even there?  Hello?  Hello?)

If anyone else has ideas about how to broach the topic of dying in a way that doesn’t repel everything within a hundred yards, I’m totally up for suggestions.  (And please don’t feel you have to be serious.)  Comments are even more welcome than usual on this one.


copyright Dia Osborn 2011

P.S.  The terrifically fun photo above is from Ambro’s Portfolio.

You mean him, dear?

Most people have a few friendships that are based on different things.  Some are for having fun, some share a common interest, and then there’s always that one required for long, long talks that last well into the night (with or without accompanying beverages.)  These relationships may develop in childhood, at work, in the neighborhood, from traveling, from school, or even these days, online.

But the mother of all friendships is the one that’s forged in the furnace of life.  I have an old friend like this, a woman with whom I share a level of bonding similar to that between comrades on the battlefield.  We’ve been through a lot together.

A lot.

We first met when I was seventeen and she was nineteen, working together in the kitchen of what, in those days, was essentially a spiritual commune.  We wound up attending the same college, settling in the same small community, making similar bad first marriages, and bearing babies which we then helped each other nurse, care for, and even once…after an explosion of domestic violence…hide through the bad divorces that followed.

Afterwards, we were merry divorcees together for a couple of years, sharing in the wild and uninhibited adventures that a sudden release from oppression often unleashes. We ran laughing and naked together through woods and creeks, danced (also naked, it was a theme) around bonfires under moons, had lots of sleepovers drinking smuggled moonshine on late nights around the lake, and shared endless stories about the amazing lessons in kindness, respect, new ideas, repeating old mistakes, letting go, saying no (and saying yes, Yes, for godsakes YES!!!) we were learning from dating a variety of other men.

The stories from this period are nothing if not fun to tell.

Eventually, way down deep, beneath the many layers of wounding and rebelling, adventures and healing, we both discovered our inner loyal, monogamous selves.  We each found a trusted partner…really, really good men…remarried and, even though we’ve mostly lived apart for the last twenty years, have continued sharing and supporting each other through the wild adventures of our offspring who (seem to have inherited the fearless/high risk/high mistakes gene and) have amazing stories of their own to tell now.

I count this friendship, along with motherhood and a happy marriage, as one of the greatest gifts of my life.  I don’t how I got so lucky.

It’s long been the dream of this friend and I to wind up living together and seated in twin rocking chairs on a front porch somewhere in our old age. All the other details are sketchy (those wonderful husbands dead and kids traipsing across Argentina perhaps?) but every once in a while something pops up to help fill in the gap.

She just sent me this joke about three old ladies in a retirement home and, judging from the history the two of us share, something along these lines seems likely:

Three ladies were sitting in their retirement home reminiscing.

The first lady recalled shopping at the grocers and demonstrated with her hands, the length and thickness of a cucumber she could have once bought for a penny.

The second lady nodded, adding that onions used to be much bigger and cheaper also, and demonstrated the size of two big onions she once bought for a penny a piece.

The third lady said, “I can’t hear a word you two are saying, but I remember the man you’re talking about.”

Oh honey, do I ever.  Love you always, dear.

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

Planking: The Organization of Random Humor

Planking, otherwise known as “The lying down game”, has evidently been around for a while but I just learned about it.  It’s totally absurd (a guaranteed hit with me) and involves lying down on one’s face in random, incongruous, often public places, and then holding a prescribed, rigid position with arms pressed against one’s sides, legs and torso stiff and straight, and fingers and toes pointed.

All very crisp and gymnastic, with just a hint of narcolepsy.

Eventually, players started taking pictures and posting them on Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and blogs, after which the game evolved into an internet fad.  A competitive element crept in…participants attempting to one-up each other with increasingly creative choices in locale, composition, theme, and scale of danger…which inevitably led to a couple of arrests and at least one tragic death.

Overall though, it’s another splendid example of the new, broad-based, spontaneous organizational power of the internet, a phenomenon that fascinates me.  (Think Arab Spring and flash mobs.)  There’s something about the way this group-mind communication spreads that vaguely reminds me of those huge flocks of birds all flying in unison, or the big schools of fish which turn and flash simultaneously.  I wonder if we humans are wired with a latent gene, too, directing us to coordinate and move together across vast numbers, but it wasn’t until the internet came along that this gene could finally “turn on.”

In any case, the comedy in play with this game is a mix of farce, slapstick, and nonsensism.  (Yes, there really is such a thing.  Look it up.)  And me?  I just call it delightful.

Here are a few of my favorite examples set to “One potato, Two potato…”  Enjoy.

One plank:

Two plank:

Three plank:


Beer plank:

Wedding plank:

Fast food:


Pole plank:

Fridge plank:

Chopper plank:


Sand plank:

Water plank:

Air plank:


Still haven’t had enough?  Well, just a few more then.  (But after this you’ll have to go to bestplanking.com for satisfaction.)

Here’s the “For godsakes let’s keep a sense of humor men…” plank:

A couple of dead-pan bactrian comedians getting in on the game:

My arch enemy (oh if only…):

And an imaginative, not to mention bath-averse, dog:

Last but not least, here’s something from the country that came up with the fabulous name, Planking. It’s a newscast from Australia with a report on the phenomenon.  Those Aussies…I tell ya.  I really, really love their sense of humor.

(Planking has a Facebook page and a Wikipedia site.  People post their planking photos just about anywhere on the web and then various websites compile “best of’s”.  These particular photos came from Geekosystem’s The 65 Best Planking Pictures From Around the World.) 

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

A Blogging Topic That Repels Spammers

In the eternal, unwanted, ebb and flow reality that is spamming-on-the-blog, I’ve noticed something intriguing.  Posts on my main topic of interest…Dying…repel spammers.  (These posts also, unfortunately, repel readers, but let us leave that topic for a brighter day.  Sigh.)

It is oh-so curious, no?

The pattern has just recently become clear to me.  Roughly eighty-five percent of my posts involve something I’ve learned from the dying and the longer I stay on topic, the likelier the flow of spam will trickle off and die. (No pun intended.)  But when I drift off-topic and broach subjects like Arab spring, or annoying Google advertising, or Stihl gas powered pole tree pruners, the velocity of spam immediately increases at a spanking pace.

Spanking, I tell you.

Then I return to my main focus and voila!  All I have to do is write three or more dying-related posts in a row and it crushes the burgeoning torrent of spam as efficiently as Raid on roaches.  Seriously.  It’s just that good.

Even I never dreamed the taboo on speaking about dying was this powerful; that spammers respond to it (in a second hand, traffic sniffing kind of way.)  Who would have thought anything was that strong?  A fascinating and, for once, entirely happy consequence of breaking said taboo.

(Image from Wikipedia)

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

A Curious, Amazing Thing That Often Happens Just Before Death

Image by Vlado

Both the hubster and I were there with the family, at the house, when our good friend, Mr. B, died a couple weeks ago, and I wanted to tell you about something amazing that happened right before he passed.  Actually, this type of dying event is common and it frequently (certainly in every case that I’ve been involved with) lifts the spirits of those who are there to witness it.

It was nearing the end and Mr. B had been unconscious for close to a day and a half.  The hubster, driven by the common, but often unspoken, instinct displayed by loved ones to never leave their dying person alone, was taking his turn sitting beside the bed and holding Mr. B.’s hand.  The family was scattered throughout the house, cleaning up from breakfast, while Mrs. B was on the other side of the room discussing something with their son.  She’d just finished and was walking past the bed on her way out to the kitchen when Mr. B. suddenly, the hubster later told me excitedly, squeezed his hand.


“Like this!” he said, grabbing my hand and crushing it in a way that sent shooting pains up my arm.

“Ow!”  I snatched my hand away and glared at him.  “That hurts!”

“I know!” the hubster started nodding vigorously, relieved that I got it. “That’s just what it was like!  He did that to me, too!”

And suddenly I did get it, and I was amazed.  My mind flew back to the last hour when Mr. B. lay there helpless and still; pale, shrunken, and almost gone.  He’d grown so weak he fell into a final coma from which he couldn’t seem to climb back out, but then somehow…in that last minute…he powered back up anyway.  He’d grabbed onto the only thing available, the husbster’s hand, and squeezed it so hard that the hubster had to sit up and pay attention.

“He opened his eyes and locked onto mine…and I just panicked,” the hubster admitted.  “I didn’t know what was going on but I sure didn’t feel like I was the last thing he needed to see.  So I called Mrs. B. and she was right behind me.  She sat down and took his hand, spoke to him gently telling him she was there, and then a few seconds later Mr. B died while gazing into her eyes.”

The husbster paused, reflecting for a moment, then looked at me and said, “I feel like that’s what he really wanted, y’know?  That’s why he squeezed my hand.  He knew it was time to go and he wanted me to get Mrs. B. for him.”

Later, Mrs. B told me the same thing.

“It happened just as I was walking past the bed,” she mused.  “I think he knew it.  I think that’s why he made his move right at that moment.  He wanted to tell me good-bye.”

It’s well known within hospice circles that the dying are far more aware of and, in a lot of cases, far more involved in the timing of their actual departure, than most people realize.  Hearing seems to be the last sense to go and the dying often still respond to auditory stimuli…familiar voices, favorite music, sensitive information (which is why it’s so important to exercise caution when speaking within their hearing btw), etc….even from the depths of coma.

I love this…the fact that our relationships with one another don’t just stop because one of us loses consciousness.  The connections we build are so much more complex, beautiful, delicate, and tenacious than that.  It often feels…there in the rooms of the dying…like some vast and luminous web has been spun around us, supporting and binding us at a thousand, twinkling, alternate, junction points so that, even if we can no longer speak or see or touch, our love still travels easily along the other pathways, the ones that haven’t collapsed.

My mother awakened in her last moments, too (even though that was scientifically impossible with all the heavy sedation she was under,) her eyes opening for one last, brief glimpse as my brother read a passage aloud from the Upanishads.  My grandmother was decidedly more active about her’s.  After three days of coma (and six solid hours of heavy labor where she seemed to be stuck in her body and unable to leave) she finally sucked in one last, mighty breath, opened her eyes, and let out a yell on the exhale, as though she’d stripped off her helmet, mounted the sound, and was riding it wildly out of her own mouth in a last, triumphant charge.   I remember how I sat there stunned for a moment…and then burst out laughing.  With relief.  With applause.  With joy.

But my favorite story, the one that always cracks everyone up, involves the last moments of The Feisty One, an elderly German woman whose final words probably best sum up the sheer shock-and-awe effect of the transition from life into death.  She was what we call a colorful character; a regal prima donna who commanded everyone, was disdainful of doctors, dismissed all the symptoms of her decline with contempt, and who kept telling me that really, it was all just a bad case of constipation and she’d be up and around again soon. 

And then, she insisted, I’m going to cook you a real German meal.

I adored this woman.

Her daughter-in-law was the one who told me the story of The Feisty One’s last moments.  How she’d had a burst of energy and talked for something like fifteen hours straight, all through the night and well into the following morning, before falling into a coma.  How she then just lay there, finally quiet, for a day and a half, her breathing growing increasingly labored and shallow.  And then how, right at the end, she drew one last breath and opened her eyes again, staring at them all in complete surprise, before exclaiming, “Shit…SHIT!…SHIT!!!”  After which she collapsed back against the pillows again and promptly died.

I can only imagine how those may very well be my own sentiments exactly some day.

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

Let There Be Light! Easter and The 14′ Stihl Telescoping Gas Powered Pole Tree Pruner


In honor of Easter I’m following a Let There Be Light! theme in today’s post.

The first miracle?  Sunlight  now penetrates into areas of the property that haven’t seen it in over a decade (some of which probably still shouldn’t…oops) because last Saturday we rented a tree pruner and got totally carried away.  The loss of restraint may have been due to simple gloom-fatigue, but more likely it was because of the totally bitchen miniature chainsaw (seriously!! a tiny chainsaw!!) strapped to the end of a long pole that could reach anywhere.  Anywhere.

It was heady stuff.  Who knew that even itty bitty chainsaws can grant that level of intoxicating power?  The chore quickly turned into a kind of pruning Bacchanal, except no wine or naked women.  I believe we cut something off pretty much anything taller than four feet.  Redbuds, catalpas, blue spruce, photinias, apple and maple and peach, and then there was the mugo pine.  (God?  Please help the mugo pine.  We didn’t mean to hurt it like that and we’re really, really sorry.)  The little Stihl Beast cut through tree trunks like butter, apple wood like soft pine, and soft pine like a it was a down pillow exploding, only with wood chips instead of feathers.

We just couldn’t seem to stop.

(The mugo pine; going from five trunks down to two)

The bad news is we have to wait for the trees to leaf out to learn who survived and who didn’t.  But the good news is twofold: 1) The sun will shine on our happy home once more so I should be able to get a decent crop of vegetables again;

(Sugar peas and arugula seedlings: note the elegantly arranged chicken wire to keep out the hostiles)

…and 2) the drastic pruning created all kinds of carnage for the squirrel interstate highway system around and over the garden so maybe Dane the mangy rescue mutt will finally be able to catch a couple of them in his powerful, crunching jaws.  (As I mentioned before here, I currently feel no charity towards them.  None.  They declared war on me, so I will despise them and wish every conceivable kind of harm on the twitching rodent horrors until our usual winter’s truce returns.)  

In the meantime I have a lot of debris to clean up.  Because of time constraints and back pain we hauled anything that fell over into neighbors’ yards, to the dump.  Then we piled the rest into three (big!) piles: one on the driveway, one under what’s left of the mugo pine in the corner, and one in the middle of the lawn.  Why?  Because in spite of the fact that the hubster leans toward hauling the rest of it to the landfill as well, I’m hell bent and determined to chop it all up and use it for kindling and firewood in the wood stove next winter.

Why am I hell bent?  I don’t know.  I just have to.  It’s one of those things.

So five days later I’m about two thirds of the way through the first pile on the lawn.  The hubster is twitching a little himself as he worries about the grass slowly dying underneath, but still refrains from pressuring me.  (Saint Hubster: patron saint of obsessive compulsives.)

I’m doing it all with hand pruners and loppers, cutting each individual piece to sixteen inches or less.  (Again…I don’t know why.)  I’m piling everything against the back fence where it can dry out in the hot, summer, high desert sun so as to readily ignite come next November.

(Looks like salad, no?)

But enough of that.  Now, on to the second miracle.  In spite of last weekend’s widespread destruction, we still managed to preserve and protect the perennial gifts of hope, rebirth, and new life (thereby following a loose Easter theme), that Spring has brought back to the garden this year.  Here are a couple things I found blooming around the garden this morning:

(rain drops on bleeding heart)

(miniature iris with a cluster of hens and chicks on the left)

(and some tulips nestled among the up and coming daylilies)

Blessings on all your gardens and families and Happy Easter!

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

From THE ONION: “World Death Rate Holding Steady at 100%”

I adore these writers.  For those who haven’t read it before, The Onion is a satirical magazine (originally paper with a now-huge online presence) that makes fun of absolutely everything.  I just came across this tongue-in-cheek article from 1997 that directly addresses the poll I took a few weeks ago, asking about whether or not people believe we’ll eventually find a cure for death.  Here’s a bit:

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND—World Health Organization officials expressed disappointment Monday at the group’s finding that, despite the enormous efforts of doctors, rescue workers and other medical professionals worldwide, the global death rate remains constant at 100 percent.

Death, a metabolic affliction causing total shutdown of all life functions, has long been considered humanity’s number one health concern. Responsible for 100 percent of all recorded fatalities worldwide, the condition has no cure.

“I was really hoping, what with all those new radiology treatments, rescue helicopters, aerobics TV shows and what have you, that we might at least make a dent in it this year,” WHO Director General Dr. Gernst Bladt said. “Unfortunately, it would appear that the death rate remains constant and total, as it has inviolably since the dawn of time.”

A sense of humor about these things is invaluable.  For anyone who hasn’t taken the poll yet, you can still go back and let me know what you think.  I continue tracking it.  Someone dropped by recently who thinks that we will eventually find a cure for death but unfortunately they didn’t leave a comment.  If anyone else with that perspective happens to drop in for a vote, would you mind leaving a comment, too?  In spite of the satirical note of this Onion article, I’d really love to hear your thoughts about it.  I’m fascinated by all different views.


Right Up There With the Discovery of Fire

And now, a brief break from dying to tell you about a discovery I made last year that, in my humble opinion, was nothing less than a huge leap forward for mankind.  (Or at least for the part of mankind that gardens or cooks.)  But first a couple of garden-related shots:

I spent a glorious afternoon yesterday planting garlic, spreading compost, pulling up the bedraggled remains of marigolds and pepper plants, laying in some straw, and harvesting my first-ever crop of Brussels sprouts.  There were eight plants and this is what I got.

It wouldn’t feed a duck.

There should have been a bumper crop of carrots as well but Dane the mangy rescue mutt discovered where they were planted and that, as they say, was that.  He pretended to be sorry as I dragged him over to the scene of the crime, pointed at the ravaged soil, and yelled No!  Dammit, no!! but he wasn’t really.

Dane’s long established motto is, “Better to ask forgiveness than permission”, and secretly he was feeling smug.  He also showed great interest in the garlic I planted yesterday so that bed now has a top dressing of wire mesh across the top.

The cold frames are full of lettuce in readiness for colder weather and now all I have left to do is build a compost pile from the autumn debris.

There.  Enough of that.  Now for the meat.

What I really wanted to share here is no less than one of the greatest discoveries of my lifetime:

Powdered vegetables in baked goods.

That’s right, my friends.  I’ve found something that could change the world.  It may well rival the discovery of fire or the invention of the wheel.  You know all those baskets of extra cucumbers every year that you don’t know what to do with?  Or the zucchinis that get away from you and morph into baseball bats over night?  Well, I’ve discovered a way to turn them into something that’s not only edible and nutritious, it’s scrumptious.

Impossible, you say?  Too good to be true, you exclaim?  But au contraire, I waggle my finger in front of your face.  Please read on first, then decide.

I figured it out last year when I was struggling with the biblical flood of pickling cucumbers coming off the six (six!) vines I’d planted.  (Please, please, in the name of all that’s good and holy, don’t ever, ever plant six cucumber vines for two people.) Their yield thrilled me in the first month, daunted me in the second, and swept me out to sea by the third.  I had north of fifty jars of pickled products by the end of the summer and the little abominations were still coming on.  The neighbors refused to take anymore.  Even Dane wouldn’t eat them.  So I began desperately combing the internet searching for new ideas.

I came across a backpacker’s forum of all places, with numerous testimonials swearing to the edibility of cucumber chips.  Simply slice and dehydrate them for a light weight, refreshing, nutritious snack on the trail, they said.  Delicious! one backpacker claimed.  Better than potato chips! sang another.

A day’s effort later and I stood looking down at a large, plastic bowl full of the nasty little things.  One bite and I realized too late that these were backpackers for godsakes; hungry, dirty, tired people with no access to real food.

However, I was desperate.  While I had no idea what I’d eventually do with the things, dehydration at least preserved them.  It bought me time until I could figure out something else.  So dry them I did until the first freeze finally, finally! came and killed off the mother ships.  Then later, because the bags of dried chips took up so much frigging room, I decided to put them through a coffee grinder (beware of cucumber dust!) and store the resulting powder in jars for the sake of efficiency.  At the time I had vague thoughts of making salad dressing with the stuff, or flavoring vegetable dips or cold soups.  It actually took another month for the lightning bolt to strike.

It came to me on a night that I’d made soup for dinner and needed a fast bread.  I was too tired to make biscuits or cornbread, didn’t have time for muffins or a real loaf.  So I opened the cupboard searching for another option and there they were; a jar of freshly ground cucumber powder and a package of whole wheat pancake mix, sitting side by side.  Suddenly, a brilliant light shone down from above, angels burst into song, and I heard the voice of God:

Yo, He boomed.  Check it out…a flour alternative.

And that was that.  History officially began.  I made my first batch of pancakes substituting cucumber powder for a third of the mix.  I fried the batter in olive oil, we dipped the patties in our bowls of lentil soup, and they were…I kid you not…out of this world, drop dead, fantastic.

A year later and I’ve expanded the vegetable repertoire to include zucchini, yellow squash, potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, winter squash, and what would have been a lot more carrot powder had Dane not been such a successful root predator.  I’ve used the powders in pancakes, muffins, cornbread, the bread machine, biscuits, and I plan to try it out in pretzels, crackers, cake, and cookies as well.  (Cucumber and zucchini are quite sweet.)  The finished products are a little more dense than usual, and additional liquids are required as the powder sucks up moisture like a sponge, but the nutritional value is superior to canned goods and, for those seeking regularity, the fiber content is off the charts.  (Just sayin’.)

Final note:  I actually discovered a few months ago that I’m not the first human being to figure this out after all.  Bummer.  Long before coffee grinders were invented people used mortars and pestles to grind stuff.  In a fascinating book called The Essential Wild Food Survival Guide by Linda Runyan, she describes how during her years of homesteading she used to regularly grind up dried, wild plants and use the powder in breads and other dishes.  However, my disappointment in learning I was not the first was mitigated by the knowledge that there’s a whole helluva lot more edible stuff out there than just the fruit and veggies I grow in my garden.  You wouldn’t believe it!   The weeds growing in the lawn alone are a veritable buffet; clover, dandelions, crabgrass, and more are all edible. (Only those you haven’t first tried to kill with chemicals of course.)  So there’s plenty more experimentation available in the years ahead.

Bon apetit.

copyright Dia Osborn 2010