Thursday, December 01, 2016

The Ritual of Turkey Soup

December 1, 2016

Jordan decided she really wanted turkey soup a night or so ago, but we had none I often do simmer the carcass for a day or two with onion, celery and a lot of other stuff to make a rich broth as the base for soup. This year the carcass got away from me, and all I had were the remains of two chickens that had been infused with Cajun butter and deep fried. Didn’t want to do that because of   the butter, so no soup.

“Make a quick version,” I suggested. Naturally she didn’t know how to do that. I told her to begin with turkey and some of that broth from the box we had. Well, there wasn’t much broth left. Got gravy I asked. Yes, she had gravy. I told her to start by browning onion, garlic, and celery in some olive oil. Eventually she may have added everything but the kitchen sink. She sent me a picture of the finished product—like all of us, she is probably incapable of making a small pot of soup for two people. Hope she’ll freeze serving size portions—but I bet that’s the next lesson.

Her soup was also sort of Texas tan. Wasn’t it author/sports writer Dan Jenkins who claimed to have moved back to Texas so he could eat brown food like chicken fried steak and frijoles refried? When the kids were little I used to make soup of the week, throwing in any and all leftovers in the fridge. It always came out brown, and the kids even called it brown soup, but they liked it well enough

Jordan's soup could have used a few drops of Kitchen Bouquet. If you haven’t tried this amazing stuff, I recommend it highly…. A few drops adds earthy undertones to soup, stew,, gravy, and one small bottle lasts me forever. Lisa’’s parents insist it has anchovy in it, and I wouldn’t be surprised

I ran into another food obstacle last night at a German restaurant known for its rich entrees. Last time I was there I had a wonderful veal dish in a rich cream sauce; last night I was told the only thing that fit my dietary restrictions was the bratwurst with browned onions and a sauerkraut-and-apple compote (where the kraut was warm and the apples cold). Don’t get me wrong—it was delicious and even better for lunch today, but I longed for thoe veal dishes.

And Jordan’s soup.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Fire and drought--is brimstone next?

After the recent election, I vowed not to join the ranks of those who preach gloom, doom, and the end of America as we know it. Yet two national happenings really disturb me tonight. They are not directly related to the election, but eventually they are.

The first is the terrorist at Ohio State. Call me a bleeding heart, but to my mind he was a miserably unhappy soul, displaced, probably facing academic and social pressure. And he lost it. No sane person does what he did. News reports called him a shooter, but as far as I have heard no gun was involved—a knife and a car are lethal enough. Spouting anger at the U.S. for what our country has done in the Middle East, he was the perfect recruit for ISIS. Doesn’t sound like they got to him yet, but they would have. May he rest in peace that he couldn’t find here, may his family learn to live with this tragedy, and may his victims recover without many scars, either physical or emotional.

Most terrorism and mass shootings in this country are not done by Muslims, but the perception persists that Muslim terrorists are responsible for all violence. There is the occasional disaffected one—the Boston marathon bomb detonators, for instance. But we can’t blame terrorism on Muslims alone. And maybe it’s time, as a lot of the country has said, to re-examine the Middle Eastern policies put in play by Bush and Cheney. Certainly it’s time to study gun control, but I’m not hopeful about that.

On a personal note, I have a granddaughter headed to college next fall. Statistically she’s safe—but you can’t help but think that yesterday’s victims probably also felt safe. As soon as that thought went through my mind, I realized that I have a  twinge of fear sending off the elementary school children. Jacob goes to school across the street from my house. One day I came home to see fire trucks at the school—of course, it was nothing except it caused a wave of fear to go through me.

The other event that I can barely watch on TV is the fires in the area of Gatlinburg TN. I have only been to Gatlinburg once years ago and my memory is clouded but I recall it as a touristy town with slow-moving traffic. We bought a wonderful heavy pottery dinner service and I used it for years—I think my brother now has it. On the way across the mountain, it was single-lane, one-way traffic—a long, slow ride—and of course one of my children developed an urgent need for the potty. My dad drove stoically, eyes ahead, without comment, while I tried to placate the child. The other thing I remember is a black bear mama and two cub prowling through garbage at a shelter turnoff; a woman with a young child got out to show the child the bears—as far as I know it didn’t turn out the other way, but how dumb cab some people be?

So I have no wonderful memories of Gatlinburg, but my folks retired to Tryon, North Carolina, the other side of the mountains, and we all loved that area.. I checked Tryon today and they had heavy smoke drifting in from fire in western North Carolina--the Highlands—but no immediate threat of flames. Watching the flames eat brush, trees, and houses in Gatlinburg was devastating—I don’t think I could stand to see Tryon go up in flames.

And of course here I differ dramatically with climate change deniers. I think the dramatic changes in our weather patterns speak to the urgency of that problem…and here again I have little immediate hope.

And there you have it—two tragic instances in the last two days that speak to larger threats facing our country. No, they won’t be addressed in the next session, but I still have hope for the future. Join me in praying for America.

Monday, November 28, 2016

A new view from the cottage

The view from the cottage just keeps getting better. Tonight, Cyclops was running around the yard in the dark—at least that’s what it looked like. Actually Jordan, dressed in black as she usually is, was wearing a miner’s lamp type thing—a headband with a flashlight in it—and stringing Christmas lights, multi-colored on the deck railings, red around my front door. I may live in the brightest house in the neighborhood but few will find all the lights hidden away back  in my corner. Love it!

Otherwise today was one of those days when it was hard to get going. I found myself sitting on the edge of the bed, contemplating standing up, or sitting on the walker thinking about moving to the office chair. Part of that is because my hip is extremely sore today, so I know it will hurt to stand. But part of it is general inertia. Maybe everyone’s entitled to a little inertia now and then.

Also it rained fairly heavily about seven this morning—not an encouraging start to the day and maybe not encouraging for my hip either. Someday when I’m feeling really loved I may go into the latest theories on why I don’t walk and why my hip hurts so much. My kids convinced me this weekend I had it all backward.

And maybe the truth of it is that I am still recovering from a wonderful holiday.

Whine, whine-I’ve also had phone troubles today—the phones in the cottage wouldn’t call in or out, though they had power. I could dial and hear it dialing the number but then it didn’t ring; if someone called in, it would ring but nobody was there. I think Jordan, Christian, and Colin (via phone) have it fixed. It has to do with the medical alarm service, but I’d  rather be out here without that than without phone service. Tells you I’m an old fogey—I still don’t trust cell phones completely.

Okay, this old fogey is calling it a day, looking forward to a better day tomorrow--and count my blessings. How many live adjacent to a daughter who strings Christmas lights for them? Yes, I am blessed..

Sunday, November 27, 2016


A dull gray day here. No rain, but no sunshine, nothing to inspire to activity. It seemed everybody had the lazies, perhaps from the weather but more likely recovering from the holiday festivities. Even Sophie slept all day, didn’t even want to go out in the morning until ten.

Jacob was an acolyte at the 9:00 a.m. service so the Burtons went to early church. Afterward, he complained this his acolyte partner, serving for the first time, corrected him on the way he walked. He said he wanted to tell her he’d done it 30 times and to zip her lip, but he apparently refrained. Even he was tired—the social butterfly said his plans for the day were to watch a video, nap, and read a book. “My kind of day,” he said. Clear proof that child as exhausted.

I asked Jordan what her plans were and she said, “Pretty much like Jacob’s.” At 7:35, she has gone to bed with the acknowledgment she may not be back here tonight.

My brother saw his family off this morning and said he’s slept all afternoon. Exhaustion is universal. I worked at my desk, ate peanut butter for lunch, napped a good long while, and decided to cream some turkey for supper. I have a foolproof method for doing that—or did when I was actively cooking in the main house.

My cooking proved …ah…less than satisfactory. I couldn’t get the induction burner to stay plugged in, and it went bananas when I burned the toast and set off the smoke alarm. Tried and true method worked—I waved a towel at it. Nice to have tested its function though.

Melted Smart Balance butter doesn’t behave like regular butter, and I had to balance that—plus add wine and broth to my sauce. Got the diced turkey in just fine and then accidentally poured a ton of green peas into my supposed dinner. More wine—for the turkey, not me, though I was tempted. Sophie’s score for the evening: 2/3 slice of rye bread (it was frozen and didn’t pull away easily) and who knows how many green peas? I figure they were good for her.

Finally got it all together and sat at my desk with creamed turkey on burnt rye toast. Not bad—but not as good as I had hoped. And creamed dishes are like salad—they grow exponentially, so I have a skillet full left. Afterthought: dried cranberries would be a good addition.

Second afterthought; I’m about ready for a fresh batch of tuna salad. Don’t think I’ll try creamed tuna for a while.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Cows, football, and the party's over

The Alter and Peckham families--a terrific crew

My family and I spent Friday at my brother’s ranch with most of his family. We number close to 30—fifteen adults and thirteen children of varying ages. Getting us together is often like herding cats but this opportunity came up suddenly and worked well. The girls tried to make it work-free for Cindy but there’s no stopping her. Jenn, my niece, did a lot of the work, and Colin brought potato casserole. John cooked tenderloins, and with an array of snacks, we ate way too much.

John had promised good weather so the kids could play outdoors. Good luck with that—when I work that morning it was wet, cold, and gloomy. But as a woman I knew used to say, “It faired off” into a pleasant day…and the kids did mostly disappear outside. It tickles me to ask Jordan if she knows where her child is and she says no but appears completely unconcerned.

For the adults, the attraction was twofold—a chance to be together and a focus on the TCU/UT football game. My kids grew up with their cousins close by---Sunday dinner every week. So though they rarely see each other these days, they are tightly bound by memories.

We have only one diehard UT fan among us—Megan’s husband Brandon. I didn’t realize before but he’s a vocal fan—very. Three of my four went to TCU as did Jenn; her husband grew up in a TCU family. So B. was outnumbered but undaunted. Until he grew quieter as the game progressed. In those agonizing, drawn-out last few minutes, he said to me “I have never seen a team so utterly defeated.” And they were—heads hanging, some in tears. What made it so poignant was the knowledge that Coach Charlie Strong would be replaced…and he was promptly on Saturday. But he conducted himself throughout the game with dignity and grace, and I kept thinking what an impossible position he was in.

It may well have been the first game I watched in years. I brought my iPad and read my book, but watched with one ear, more drawn by the drama of the rivalry and the coach’s awful position than by the technicalities of football, which I don’t pretend to understand. Of course, I wanted TCU to win and was cheered when they did.

Today, everyone’s gone home. After family leaves, it’s sort of like coming down from a high. You do the things you ignored and need to, but your mind wanders to special moments—watching my brother’s grands and realizing they are as close to each other as mine, brunch (at 12:30) at Ol’ South and watching best buddies Ford and Jacob have a big-time disagreement, talks with various of my children at different times, often late at night; listening to the  young mothers giggle over their concerns and joys, their voices increased a bit by wine; falling into bed at night grateful for all of them and optimistic about the days ahead, but so ready to sleep.

The cottage is perfect for visits like this—the family stays mostly in the main house, where it’s generally too noisy for me; but one by one or several at a time they wander out to the cottage, where I welcome their company. Maddie, my oldest grand, joins the adult conversations as a matter of course; her younger sister swings either way but this weekend was mostly drawn to the X-box games with her younger cousins.

The Tomball Alters took my car, promising to have it tuned and brightened.
Here, Morgan and Kegan look pretty pleased to be on the
way to Tomball in a convertible.

Today was back to business for me—I have quite a bit of work on my desk (including Christmas) but got some done today. I’m reading a mystery I want to finish before I dig into editing a lengthy manuscript, so I look forward to reading—when work becomes pleasure.

Okay, guys, let’s charge ahead into Christmas, the most joyous season. I’m looking forward to it a lot and hope you are too.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Laughter amidst the blessings

Thanksgiving at the Alter/Burton house
Almost a perfect day—sunny, just the right temperature, You’d have thought it was October’s bright blue weather instead of almost the end of November. And Thanksgiving. At our house, it was a perfect holiday.

Kids riding bikes, playing tetherball and dodgeball and football and other things I didn’t recognize.
Football teams-oops, how did Aunt Lisa sneak in there?
Maybe because she doesn't look an older than her nieces and nephews

Boys, temporarily not into mischief

My two oldest granddaughters with aunts Jordan and Lisa
Adults sitting lazily on the patio, some reading, most visiting…and with my French doors open I was part of the conversation yet removed. My sons frying turkey and chickens, while another turkey roasted inside.
Boys at the fryers
For me, deskwork done, peanut butter for lunch in anticipation of a big dinner, a nice nap, and then time spent on the patio.
Christian and Judy on patio
Happens every time—I get out there, which requires some difficulty, and everybody leaves. The kind of day where you just exist, do what you want, and enjoy the pleasant laziness of it. Inside the girls were cooking, setting a beautiful table (clear plastic plates on chargers worked just fine, thank you), and preparing a lavish feast.

At dinner, ten adults at one table and seven children at the family room table. Wonderful and very traditional dinner--Megan made dairy-free gravy for me—I could have eaten a pint. Jordan mashed potatoes with Smart Balance dairy-free butter and yogurt, and I had crisp fresh green beans.

After dinner, our one guest, Chandry who is more family than not, suggested everyone go around the table telling what they were thankful for about me. The moment could have succumbed to sentimentality, but instead great hilarity and long-winded stories followed, with lots of banter and much toasting with wine. A recurring them was how grateful we all were that we remain so close. A moment to treasure.

Hope you all had a good day too. Life s really good, and I am thankful.

Thanksgiving blessings

Eden, with the wreath she made me

I am a firm believer that our dogs know what’s going on with us. Sometime in the early hours this morning I awoke feeling not thankful but anxious and agitated. I often think its best at these times not to get too introspective but before I decided how to fight off this feeling, Sophie jumped on the bed, gave me a few quick kisses and settled her head on my shoulder. After a few minutes, apparently having satisfied herself that I was all right, she jumped down. But she spent much of the night at the foot of my bed and followed me to the bathroom when necessary. She is among my many thanksgiving blessings.

So are my grandchildren. Four sweaty little boys and one semi-tomboy ran through the house last night. Minor flap when Sophie almost got out. I scolded Jacob and then had to apologize—seems he was the one who saved the day (or dog) by holding her back. Some walkers apparently happened on a tan-and-white lab and the kids wanted to see the "found" dog.

It was the two older girls who brought special blessings. Maddie, 17, arrived basking in the glow of her official acceptance by University of Colorado, Boulder. She’ll be part of the Class of 2021 (can you believe?) in the fall. We’ll miss her but we’re so proud of this wonderful girl.

Her younger sister, Eden, 13, started her own cottage industry this fall and made lavish, decorative wreaths for everyone’s front door. I asked her to choose the colors for mine, so it is red and white and now decorates the door of the my cottage. She and her family all undertook to hang it late last night.

Grandchildren brings other blessings—a quick hug here, a kiss there. Their parents are no less blessings. It’s sometimes overwhelming when the whole family is together, so I especially enjoyed it when Colin and Megan followed me out to the cottage and the three of us discussed everything from my falls to the failure of the Democratic Party.

Each of you have your own blessings even if, as one friend anticipated, it’s only a quiet day at home sprawled on the couch with dogs and book. May you find new ways to share the blessings of America with those around you. Reach out in new ways to spread the joy and beauty of our lives, to share love with everyone. And thank your god.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Let the parties begin  

Jacob and Elizabeth, probably three years ago

This strangest of years may turn out to have a sociable holiday season for me—surprise!

Sunday night, a longtime friend and former student came for a one-on-one girl chat and a light supper. I first met Elizabeth at least 25 years ago when she applied to be a student worker in my office. She worked for us for three years, and we clicked. She wrote, and one year she walked away with almost all the awards in the annual Creative Writing Competition—that gave us a basis, but the friendship grew slowly. I would tell you she was a bit shy, not an easy conversationalist. Marriage made a difference, made her more forthcoming, gave her more self-confidence. But it didn’t last—on a Labor Day weekend she asked if she could come stay in my guest apartment for three weeks. She stayed a year, and we both enjoyed it immensely. We sat on the deck with many a glass of wine, and we cooked salmon patties and ham salad and breakfast for dinner, scrambled eggs with smoked salmon being a favorite. She was then gluten- and dairy-free, and I enjoyed the challenge of cooking for her. Today she is part of my extended family and among those whose friendship I treasure.

So Sunday night we scrambled eggs and drank wine and shared girl talk. She now lives in Pennsylvania and teaches yoga. Her partner, also a yoga instructor, always feels that I am angry at him for taking her away—he should talk to neighbor Jay! But at his suggestions, they are coming for coffee, tea, whatever tomorrow morning.

Today Jordan, Subie and I had lunch at an upscale restaurant, the kind of ladies’ lunch that make you feel elegant. We had wine and lots of laughs—and I had an unladylike lunch choice, a hamburger. I’m noticing that most restaurants have some form of cheese in almost every dish on the menu. After lunch we “breezed through” World Market, one of those stores that overwhelm with variety.

Tonight, the architect who designed my cottage came to view the results. I hope he was as pleased as I am. He brought his family-wife, ten-year-old daughter, and two-year-old daughter. Precious girls, though Jacob, being in 5th grade with the older girl, hid the whole evening. Still we had a good time, talked about everything from ridiculous building codes to the title business-and no politics.

And tomorrow my kids and grandkids all arrive. Let the good times roll!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Traditions loom ahead

Every family treasures its own holiday traditions. For the Alter clan, the night before Thanksgiving (or Christmas—whenever we’re all together) is chili night. Brandon, Megan’s husband, makes killer chili; everyone else stands around watching, drinking margueritas, amd kibbutzing.

We used to combine with my brother’s family but there grew to be too many of us, so we split the holidays. This year we’ll go to his ranch to party with his family the day after Thanksgiving. There will be 30 of us, eleven of them children. Religious attention will be paid to the TCU-UT  game, with both side represented by family members. My brother is already joking about the conflicting cheering that will go on. I’m not a fan but would of course like TCU to win. If I understand correctly, neither team is having a particularly good year. Meantime, on Friday John will cook a couple of tenderloins in his "magic""" (commercial) oven ad we'll' bring queso and potato casserole.

Another thing we’ve grown too big for—seating all of us at a formal table. We number sixteen, ranging in age from 78 to nine. Jordan and I always set out serving dishes for any gathering days ahead of time, with little slips of paper in each indicating what goes in each dish. When Christian first saw this, he told Jordan, “You and your mother have a screw loose.” So did my mom, I guess, because she taught me that when I began helping her entertain—at about ten or twelve. Not sure what Jordan’s plan is this year—she’s the mistress of the castle now.

One tradition is going by the wayside: my annual tree trimming party. I’ve been giving it in one form or another since 1965. Divorce didn’t stop it but we missed two years—once for remodeling and once because of an angry husband. Every year about October I’d play the “Should I, or should I not” game but I always ended up giving it. This year there’s no game. No way I could have 60 of my nearest and dearest in the cottage, nor am I up to fixing all that food, I’m not making a cheeseball or caviar and cream cheese or all those things we loved from year to year. I often tried to inject a little variety but nobody liked that. A friend suggested I have an all-day open house—no food, just fellowship and, oh yeah, wine.

Jordan and Christian don’t feel settled enough in the house to undertake the annual party, and they always trim their tree together. I started those parties because even when I was a child, trimming the tree was a chore, no fun, finally relegated to the “little woman.” At my parties people arrived to a tree without ornaments; by the time the evening was over, every ornament was on the tree. Each year people brought new ornaments so I have an amazing collection—in the attic.

Times change, situations change, and you best change too—my family has had a real lesson in that this year. I imagine other traditions—church events, etc., will also get a bye this year. Who knows what will happen next?

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Notes from a ho-hum day  

My cheese haul

What started as a ho-hum day was brightened considerably mid-day when my most kind neighbor, Mary Dulle, brought me cheddar (slices, cubes and shredded), Mozarella (shredded), cream cheese, cottage cheese, and bleu cheese dressing—all lactose free. I’m about to discover a new world, and I’m sure it will make my life…and my gut much better. I’ve been grieving for blue cheese, and longing to mix my tuna into some cottage cheese. I will feast the next few days.

Though not tonight on cheese. After last night, my advice to young women is to be sure the man you marry can cook and grill a decent steak. I benefitted last night when Jordan and Christian entertained friends who had helped them move. Christian grilled tenderloin steaks, and mine was surely one of the best I’ve ever eaten. Jordan’s friend Hilary was sure it was underdone and came along when Jordan delivered it—“it’s raw.” Well, it was in the middle but it had a crusty brown outside and was melt-in-your mouth tender What happens when you put good meat in the hands of someone who knows what to do with it. So I, who loves cold meat, will have leftover steak tonight—and cheese tomorrow. Isn’t the world wonderful?

It was so cold in the cottage this morning that I cowered under the covers, even as I yearned to get up and get another blanket. When I finally did rouse myself, Sophie wanted to go out so I threatened her with death and destruction if she didn’t come right back in. She didn’t. I left her outside, which puzzled Jordan. Mid-morning, I let her out again to play with the other dogs; Jordan brought her dogs in, left for the football game, and left Sophie outside.

I couldn’t see her anywhere in the yard—and my desk offers a good view. I called and called and after 15 minutes was about to call the neighbors and put something in the neighborhood email hotline, when she wandered nonchalantly onto the patio. She is grounded for the day, which doesn’t bother her. She’s sleeping in her favorite chair.

I decided a cup of tea would warm my cold bones, but these days you have to unplug the Keurig and plug it back in to convince it there is water in the reservoir. In trying to plug it in with my fumble fingers, I hit the reset button on the switch plate and then couldn’t reset it again. So I forgot about tea and worked at my desk. I realized though I was growing colder by the minute—indeed freezing. I had cut off power to my heat sources. Jay came and fixed it.

Who knows what will happen the rest of the day? Stay tuned.