Monday, August 31, 2009

A miscellany

Aargh! I gained 2.5 lbs. last week, not sure how unless it was that decadent lunch of bratwurst, potato salad, kraut, and Black Forest cake--the latter is probably the real culprit. And maybe last night's dinner--chicken loaf isn't many points, but then there's the mayonnaise, and the oil and butter I sauteed the squash in, and the cheese-stuffed mushrooms I served as appetizers. Had friends from Dallas over, Scott and Lisa, a young couple whose company I much enjoy but don't see often enough. Years ago when I was new to Fort Worth, we rented a house from Lisa's aunt, Carolyn Burk, and Carolyn sort of adopted me. For years, she always called me on the birthday of each of my children, and she wrote me notes about how proud she was of what I'd done with my life. And she gave me the chicken loaf recipe. I asked Lisa if she remembered it, but she said she'd never had it. They both went back for seconds, so it must be good. After dinner, we sat on the porch with a final glass of wine--it was an absolutely lovely evening, with just a slight breeze. Today was an equally pleasant day, and I know it's too soon to count summer heat down and out, but this respite sure is nice.
Today I was featured in an online blog about why older women are better writers. I cringe a little about the headline, "Judy Alter--a perfect example of better with age," but here's a very complicated link: If it doesn't work, try googling Sylvia Dickey Smith. Copy is mostly what I wrote, not about Cooking My Way Through Life with Kids and Books, as I'd hoped, but a good picture of the cover, that lovely picture of my whole family on my 70th b'day and that picture of me that is 20 years out of date but the best picture I ever had taken. It also graces my website, I'm grateful to Sylvia for the publicity.
Spent the morning at the office, staff meeting and sundry other chores, then came up and finished up the cookbook. A good feeling, although Katie, the editor, asked me last week, "What are you going to do with retirement once you finish the cookbook?" I'll have to think about that. I have ideas rattling around but nothing concrete. Meanwhile I am committed to writing a chapter in the forthcoming 40-year history of the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine. I'm sure other projects will come along.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Of funerals and grocery stores

I've been thinking about the different worlds we all live in. As a Texas resident, I naturally live in the world of the United States--and as such I've been glued to the TV much of the day watching Ted Kennedy's funeral and the burial at Arlington Natonal Cemetery. I thought it all impressive and well done--the music was superb, the speeches of the two sons moving and unforgettable, the determined stoic calm on the widow's face, punctuated occasionally by great sadness, so moving I cried for her. Ted Kennedy was a man with large warts, many faults in his past, but he was a man who believed in redemption by good works, as do I, and he certainly did his share of good works in the name of the public good--and the forgotten small people of this country. Kennedy truly believed the biblical injunction that we are our brothers' keepers. He was a voice for the unheard, a loud voice in the Senate, and a man much to be admired, whatever your political beliefs. His loss will be felt in Congress and the country, and he is probably irreplaceable, no matter what Kennedy comes forth to carry on his work. At the end of the day, I felt like I'd been to his funeral though, of course, I only witnessed it on TV.

But I live in another world (one of many I inhabit), that of Texas literature, and we too suffered a loss, leaving a hole that cannot be filled. Elmer Kelton, Texas' most beloved novelist, died a week ago and his funeral was Thursday. There couldn't be more contrast between the two funerals I've "attended" this week. Kennedy's was full of the pomp and circumstance that goes with the Kennedy name, the Catholic Church, and his position in government--it was elaborate, a huge cathedral, a beautifully orchestrated choir, soloists like Placido Domingo and Yo Yo May. Elmer's funeral was low key, the kind of plain, Methodist service he would have wanted--two hymns, an organist who was really good and kept the music at a lively pace instead of letting it drag into dirge-like slowness, a minister who was blessedly informal, telling anecdotes about Elmer and his testy relationship with horses. Elmer's loss will be felt in Texas literature--and western American literature--every bit as much as Ted Kennedy's will be felt in Congress. And like Kennedy, Elmer is irreplaceable--there's not anyone likely to come along to replace his combination of knowledge of ranching life and history and his passion for telling it.

So two of my worlds (there are many more--family, for instance) have been disturbed, and I am grateful to have been part of the tribute to the departing giants of both.

On a more light-hearted note, my trip to two grocery stores this morning proved my theory that southwest Fort Worth is like a small town. I asked for a roasting hen at Central Market, and the butcher, a young woman, said, "We have roasters--I don't know if they're hens." I told her that would be fine, and when she had it wrapped up I remarked, "That will make a great chicken loaf." She asked if I had my spices, and I said I didn't need any. I use saltines. That sparked a question, and soon I was telling her how I make chicken loaf--she kept asking questions, and I finally suggested she look for Cooking My Way Through Life with Kids and Books, which has the recipe--darn! I had stuffed my credit card in my pocket so didn't have my purse and a business card to give her. In the produce department of Central Market, I saw the biggest onions I've ever seen--the size of an acorn squash. And they were "sweet onions" from Hatch, New Mexico. Of course, we're celebrating Hatch chilies now. When I got out of the car at Central Market, I wondered what I smelled--it was roasting Hatch chilies.

The same smell followed me to City Market, where I usually shop on Friday and indeed had done so yesterday. I love their tuna salad, but somehow forgot to buy it yesterday (maybe because Jeannie and I were going to lunch and I didn't need it at noon) so I went back today. I told the girl behind the deli counter, who is now my friend, that I forgot it yesterday, and she said she saw me picking up wine and had my tuna all dished up--but I didn't stop for it. See, I told you it was a small town!

Trivia: With Brandon's advice, I finally got my remote mouse and keyboard working again, and I am a happy camper. I can tell the aches and pains of my back, from recent days of twisting to use the remote cursor, are already going away. Now if he could only help me find the monitor that I wear around my neck for my telemergency system, I'd be a happy camper--I have looked everywhere, even in the most remote places, and cannot find it. Tonight I had sauteed scallops, with scallions and cherry tomatoes, for supper--so good. And then I sat on the porch. Cool weather has come to Texas, and it's wonderful--a perfect porch night.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A decadent day

Jeannie and I had lunch at the Swiss Pastry Shop today--our standard lunch there is one bratwurst, kraut, and potato salad. I said, "Okay, the question is, are we having Black Forest Cake (their specialty) or not, and she responded, "We are." I do NOT want to talk about what that did for my Weight Watchers Points, but it was sure good. Actually, I felt pitiful and entitled to a splurge. After eight hours in the car yesterday, my back gave me fits during the night last night and when I first got up. After I moved around a bit, it was okay--but there are still sore spots today. I'm beginning to rethink that drive to Colorado at Christmas.

Other than that, it's been a day of catching up on small details that have been cluttering my desk--acquisitions work for the office, emails to answer, and so on--I actually got a lot done, in addition to a grocery run, a long nap, and 40 minutes of yoga.

I'm still fascinated by the Teddy Kennedy coverage on TV--sorry about the anonymous writer who left a comment. I don't think the Koepechne family would agree with my assessment of Kennedy's life either and leaving the scene of an accident cannot easily be dismissed as youthful indiscretion--yet I still think he grew into his shoes and did devote his life to public service as well as to raising his nieces and nephews. I admire him.

Now I think I'm ready to start a new novel. I just finished Carolyn Hart's Dare to Die and enjoyed it a lot as I do all of Hart's work. When I think about the Death on Demand bookstore series, I think what a bold move it was on Hart's part to name the major characters Max and Annie Darling. Come now, did you ever meet anyone whose last name was Darling? And yet it works so perfectly in that series. I'm a fan.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A long but worthwhile day

My day began earlier than usual today--I was out of bed at 6:45, at the office by 8:00 a.m., and we had staff meeting until 9:00. Then Melinda and I flew out the door, ran by my house to drop off my car and pick up my cooler, sandwich and water, and then it was off to San Angelo. She had said it was a 3-1/2 hour drive but that's from her house, which is 45 minutes closer than mine. Anyway, without stops, we made it to First United Methodist Church at 1 p.m. for the 2 p.m. funeral of Elmer Kelton.

I wasn't going to go--no way to get there. Melinda said Tuesday if I wanted to go, she'd take me, but I didn't think it was fair to ask her to drive me and take time from her work just because I'm a wimp who won't drive that far alone. But Wednesday, my boss called and said both Melinda and Susan were going, and it was up to me what I wanted to do. Since I was the one with the long friendship/publishing relationship with Elmer,, I really felt I should go--and I wanted to. I was so glad I did. It was simple, brief service--the kind Elmer would have approved. There was scripture and prayer and a eulogy, all short, and two hymns--"Amazing Grace" and "Just as I am," which from what the minister said had great meaning to Elmer. As the family processed out--and my goodness, there were a lot of them!--his wife, Ann, looked at us, so I was glad she knew we were there, even though we had signed the guest book. A beautiful and good-sized church filled with, if Melinda's estimate is right, about a thousand people. Some businessmen, lots of ranchers (some of the males in the family procession wore jeans), and I saw several people I know from the world of western writing. I could hardly bear to walk by the open casket, for I didn't want to see Elmer like that. I think I want to believe he lives on in my mind. I'm still have a hard time grasping Texas without Elmer Kelton. But I was very glad I went.

Melinda and I, as we can, chattered all the way down and all the way back--grandchildren, West Texas towns, etc. She pointed out vineyards, and I told her who I knew that had grown up in Ballinger or lived in Rising Star. In Brownwood, where we stopped for gas and I went to the restroom, we got caught in a gusty rainstorm--both soaking and windblow, but as soon as we turned north, we were under clear skies. As we approached Fort Worth, the sky to the north was threatening--Melinda kept saying "It's raining at my house." She hoped it would stay north, but it didn't. She hadn't been gone long at all until it began to thunder and rain, and it was raining gently when we left this morning, so I hope we got some good moisture.

I'm tired, with many loose ends to tie up for the night, so I must get on to other things.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

More thoughts on death

I have been riveted to the TV today, every time there was something on about the Kennedy family in general or Ted Kennedy in particular. I think my neighbor, in her forties, was right when she suggested the Kennedys resonate with my generation particularly. Certainly they had a lot of warts and faults, and Joseph Kennedy, Sr., was fairly frightening in his pursuit of power and influence. But I always wonder how three sons came out of that environment, raised in luxury, to care so much about the ordinary person. What I'm hearing today is that Ted Kennedy may have the most lasting legacy--he was of course the only one who lived to old age and then was not allowed to grow old peacefully but struck with glioma. Yet he lived out his last days with a beautiful grace, still devoted to the causes he believed in, making appearances when he could. I think he truly was able to put Chappaquidic behind him by proving his worth and legislative skill over the years in the Senate. The Lion of the Senate, indeed. The coverage has been fascinating to me--I'm watching now a 2-hour PBS special on the entire family, their history, and their legacy. There have been too many deaths that have hit close to home lately, and even so my prayer list grows longer. Yesterday I added Lisa's nephew who has cystic fibrosis and is losing lung fuction far too rapidly--I think he's about seven or eight, but I'm not sure. And today a woman I used to walk with early in the morning died. As Jim Lee says, "There's a world of hurt out there.
With Jordan in Mexico, I fixed dinner for Jacob and Christian tonight--chicken burgers, which Jacob seems to love, "Christian's" green beans (with bacon and vinegar--sort of like my mom used to do wilted lettuce), and salad. I think I thought I was making salad for Jordan, who eats enormous amounts of it, but I got too much dressing for the amount of lettuce. Still, it was good, and I was enjoying it, when some of that vinegar-y dressing went down the wrong pipe. I coughed, I drank water, my eyes watered, and when I could speak it was with a high squeak. It has happened to all of us, but it sure is uncomfortable. Christian said he decided he didn't need to do the Heimlich manuever because I was coughing, but Jacob's concern was really touching. He kept asking, "Juju okay?" or "Juju sad?" (because of my tears). When I went to get a Kleenex, he followed me into the bathroom, obviously worried. I finally recovered enough to get him strawberry ice cream, and he decided all was well with the world.
The salad that did me in was one of our favorites, but you have to have a good wooden bowl: slice a garlic clove and rub the bowl thoroughly; then add salt (I used Kosher) and dry mustard and rub that into the bowl. Then put blue cheese into the bowl and add plain old cider vinegar--that's where I got off on the wrong foot. Added too much vinegar and then had to balance with oil, but I don't think I ever got to the usual 1/3 vinegar to 2/3 oil ratio. Anyway, you mush the blue cheese up with the vinegar really well, until the blue cheese disappears into the liquid, and then add olive oil. Then add greens and toss. It's really good, but tonight I fell into two of Jordan's common failings--getting it too tart and making too much dressing for the salad.
I was amazed this morning at how much there is to do besides desk work--get ready for dinner, do my yoga, start a wash, etc. But I did make progress on the cookbook. Betty and I went to lunch at one of our favorite places--the Tokyo Cafe--and had a salmon sashimi salad with roasted beets, goat chese, and a good lemon vinaigrette--neither soupy nor too tart like my salad dressing.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Whew! Busy day

I was busy as could be today, and it wasn't because I was sloughing this off like I had over the weekend. I was genuinely busy--it took me all morning to answer emails, take phone calls, deal with some problems that came up about my cousin in Canada who is unable to handle her own affairs, work out and shower. And then pouf! It was lunch time. Had a nice lunch with Jean and afterwards we went to get our monthly flowers (a gift certificate we give each other). In the afternoon--more emails, more phone calls,--and then it was time to head for Jordan's for a spaghetti supper. So good. My youngest daughter is evolving into a good cook. She may take the sauce out of a bottle, but she's never content with it as it is, always adding this, that, and the other spice. Jacob was in an extraordinarily happy and playful mood for the end of a school day and eventually began his non-stop talking, though at one point he pushed his mom too far and went to time out for jumping on furniture.He's nothing if not clever--the way he deals with time out is no longer tears. He just calls out, "I have to pee pee." Home again to more emails.
Much of my busy-ness has dealt with the death of Elmer Kelton--friends wanting to talk, newspapers wanting comments (because I was his reprint publisher and counted myself a friend). I hate to tell each of them the same thing, so I've been trying hard to come up with a new comment each time. But the bottom line is he was the most modest, kind and gentle soul I ever met; he defined the word gentleman, in the best cowboy sense. And he was one heck of a storyteller. Tonight I need to start on a piece for the Western Writers of America magazine. I don't think my mind has yet grasped the idea of Texas without Elmer Kelton. So forgive me if I rush off.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Animals--and a lazy day in which I try to come to grips with retirement

When I walked into my brother's house Thursday, his dogs barked at me as though I am public enemy number one--it's pretty awe-inspiring to have two large German shepherds and a small but feisty mixed breed--I think she's part blue heeler--barking at you. The little dog and one shepherd got over it, but the larger one, called Puppy, didn't until I was almost ready to leave. He barked every time I got up from a chair, came into a room, etc. And then Saturday, to everyone's dismay, one of the two shepherds--who can tell which?--lifted his leg in the house, something I was told they never do. "I don't know what's wrong with these dogs," John complained. Well, I came home to a similar situation--my dog and cat have been punishing me for leaving them for two days. Wynona the cat simply won't eat, although he's done a bit better today. Yesterday I brought Scooby in when I got home, as I usually do on hot afternoons. He napped on his bed next to mine, but when I got up, he didn't. I kept asking him if he was ready to go out and was answered when he slinked further down into his bed. By eight, I told him he had to go out, eat and poop before he came in for the night. Got a leash and pulled him outside, whereon he promptly dumped over his dish, spilling all the food, and did not eat (so that was his breakfast this morning!) I brought him in about nine and kept him in my office with me. I often leave him in the office alone, because it's a place of refuge for hm. Well, last night, with me sitting right there, he pooped all over! I thought he had bad gas until I got up and stepped in it! I yelled, he cringed, and it was awful. Today he's kept to his routine, went out when asked at five, just came back in at eight. Maybe we're getting back to normal.
Lazy day--I went to Central Market and Barnes & Noble and otherwise stayed home doing I don't know what! Read and answered emails, read a book, napped and let the day drift away. Now I have a pot full of work to be done--that cookbook to edit, an article for the history of the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, some guest blogs to write, the Google Book Settlement to keep working on. Did I do any of it today? Not a bit.
I did draft a column about Elmer Kelton for the Dallas Morning News, and I'll polish it tonight and get it off. Tomorrow, the cookbook--of course, I have to ride my bike and will probably do it in the morning since I'm going to lunch with Jean and supper with Jordan, Christian and Jacob. Retirement sure is a hard life.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Two days in the country, and thoughts on life and death

I've just spent two days with my brother and sister-in-laaw at their ranch ourside Tolar. The picture on the left is the view from the front porch to the distant Paluxy River Valley (with a barely discernible German Shepherd in the foreground). The picture on the right is the view from one of the back pastures of the Brazos River Valley, much more spectacular than this picture shows. John and I went out this morning on the gasoline powered "mule" so he could check some fallen trees and some places where wild hogs had broken through the fence--now repaired, they seemed to be holding. My favorite place to be on the ranch is on the front porch. I sat there last night and this morning--the cattle are in the pasture across the road right now and I watched the egrets flitting among them. Tried to take a picture but you could hardly see the cattle even as brown spots. This morning, before the day got hot, it was a delightful place to be with a book, though I more often than not just stared out across the land--and then the type looked green when I went back to my book.

We went exploring--John and Cindy went to a meat packing plant they'd wanted to investiage--I declined to go in because it was raining and muddy, and Cindy reported it was nothing but an office where you told them what you wanted. But then we searched for and found a farm where they make their own cheese--Veldhuizen Cheese ( They make an aged cheddar that we loved, and a more mild cheddar that was almost as good. We went home laden down with cheese. Had lunch at Let's Eat, a hole-in-the-wall place in Bluffdale that has good lunches but apparently gourmet dinners. The owner once cooked at the really upscale Rough Creek Lodge. Then John wanted to show me one of if not the oldest suspension bridge in Texas, built in 1891 across the Paluxy... You. . can't drive on it, of course, but there is a more modern bridge that parallels it--still, in spite of bridge closed signs, we saw young boys walking across it with lunch boxes and fishing poles. Then John drove me by the winery at Bluffdale--an impressive building, although we didn't go in. Then home by back roads, which is always fun.

John and I spent a long evening talking about our chldhood--because he is my half-brother, some six-and-a-half-years older than I, and went off to boarding school at 16, we had very different childhoods and lots of memories to share. Cindy fixed great meals--grilled pork chops one night, roast chicken the next--and I ate, slept, read and checked emails a lot. And Cindy and I talked food and, today, fabric, until John said the conversation was way over his head. It was a wonderful and restful time--good to spend time with them and good to be away, though as always I felt I had lots of work waiting for me at home.

Today I am burdened with thoughts of life and death. The 5-week-old grand-daughter of my good friend Jan died Friday morning. She was born with congenital heart defect, and though the doctors did everything they could and she put up a valiant fight, it just wasn't to be. I grieve for all of them, for a life taken so young. At the other end of the spectrum, author Elmer Kelton died this morning--the best western novelist to ever come out of Texas. He wrote Texas history as it was, because he knew that history thoroughly, and his Texas voice and dialogue were so real, so believeable, his humor so wry, his stories so engrossing. TCU Press has reprinted many of his books, and they are our best-sellers. But that's the least of it--Elmer was a man I respected, admired, and felt privileged to call a friend. He was probably (I don't know) in his mid-eighties. So there you have it--death at the beginning of life and the end. It's sobering in both instances, and I have a heavy heart tonight.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

computer woes

My computer worked fine all day until about5:30 when the wireless keyboard didn't react; changed batteries, hit the connect buttons, and it worked fine. But the cursor had disappeared, so I did the same with the wireless mouse. It worked fine, but then the keyboard wouldn't. I never could get both of them working at once. Finally gave up, disconnected everything, and began working directly on the laptop which powers all the others. I have an emergency email out to Brandon, my computer guru son-in-law, but I think it may be time for new wireless equipment. Meantime, this will be a short blog because I have a hard time with the keyboard on a laptop. I so much live with and by my computer that I'm pretty helpless--and very frustrated--when it doesn't work perfectly.
Today I almost felt retired. Had a morning meeting with the author of our lead title about publicity but he came to the house, which was convenient. I wrote up my notes about the meeting, did a few office emails, and decided I could devote the afternoon to finishing the mystery I was reading. Such fun.
Instead of going out this week, I invited Betty here for dinner. Fixed chicken salad with a green goddess dressing--to my memory that recipe calls for anchovies, mayonnaise, avocado, and I don't know what else. I can see the recipe clearly in my mind--it was out of a newspaper and my mother sent it to me long ago (that's often the thing about me and recipes that I'm looking for--I can visualize what they look like, what kind of paper they are on, even the picture if there is one). But I couldn't find it. The recipe I did find in my appalling collection made no mention of avocado, so I served the chicken salad in an avocado half for each of us, accompanied by green salad and fruit salad. It was tasty, though by the last few bites of chicken salad I'd had enough anchovy--and I usually love the stuff. And with wine the meal pushed me over my daily points.
So here I am, overfed and mad about my computer and ready for a break.

Monday, August 17, 2009

If this is retirement . . .

I don't recognize it. I was up at 6:45 to make an 8:30 office meeting and get a little work done beforehand that had to be done at the office. Wrapped up a couple of details and came home where I worked on office stuff all morning and then an hour and a half tonight--contracts, catalog copy, our annual big autograph extravaganza, email correspondence, etc. When am I going to write the Great American Novel? I have a new office project, which my boss is now anxious for me to complete--and I'm still struggling with the cookbook, though it's wrapping itself up. Really need one more read through of all the chapters to check recipes for consistency. I know I'll still miss a lot--it's tedious changing teaspoon to tsp. and tablespoon to Tbsp.
Scooby is mad at me tonight and I'm none too happy with him. I brought him in about 1:30 because it was so hot. Around about 5:30 I began asking if he was ready to go out and eat his supper. He just hunkered further down in his bed. By 7:30 I decided he had to go out--took a leash and a lot of guidance to get him out. But he did what he always does when he's mad at me--dumped his food and pawed the bowl down on the grass instead of leaving it on the step where it's easy for me to refill. So tomorrow what he gets for breakfast is his leftover dinner, which he will have to pick off the steps.
Did have a nice lunch with my friend Carol at the deli. Carol wrote the professional women's chapter in Grace & Gumption and devoted her cookbook chapter to Lucille Bishop Smith, a black woman who broke color barriers to become a professional cook, taught at Prairie View College, and was famous for her chili biscuits. When I first came to Fort Worth, everyone bought these roll-like biscuits frozen, popped them in the oven, and served them as appetizers. I blogged earlier that with all the recipes Carol found, we couldn't find the chili biscuits--and lo and behold somebody wrote me that her sister in Rhode Island had the recipe, used to go to Lucille's house for biscuits. By then Lucille was teaching students in her home, but the chili biscuits were available in specialty grocery stores. It's a fascinating story, and I think we're just beginning to unravel the threads. Thanks to Carol Blakely (check out her website and her sister, Gail Moore, who owns one of the only copies of Lucille's first edition of her recipes--a filebox full of cards. The world of blogging opens up lots of possibilities.
Excuse me--I'm going to chill out with a book, and maybe read some blogs first.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Another cooking day

I decided this morning, even though I slept until 8:15, that retirement is hard work. After the paper--which doesn't take long to read these days--I did two loads of laundry, one bed linens which meant I had to remake the bed from scratch (a chore I always hate because it's so hard to fit that bottom sheet on the corners) and one of kitchen linens, which means lots of spot checking before washing. Then I emptied the dishwaher, cooked supper, set the table and took a shower. I was ready to sit at my desk.
Dinner for tonight had to be all ready in the fridge becaue Elizabeth was coming for a yoga lesson at five, and Weldon was joining us for dinner at six. So I fixed Tuscan tuna salad--calls for making pesto, but I have two bags of it in the freezer, in ice cube shapes, so I used that. Also had canellini beans, Belgian endive, and capers. That part was pretty easy. The tomato soup was not. I boiled, peeled, and seeded seven tomatoes--skinned tomatoes are hard to hold on to long enough to core and seed. Then I blended them with fresh basil, lemon juice, and salt. Served topped with kernels of corn--yes I had to boil and strip the ear of corn--sour cream and basil leaves for garnish. I went a bit overboard on the basil in the soup, but it was good. Served it all with fruit salad, and then Elizabeth brought chocolate/banana bread--my goodness, that was good. Way overboard on points tonight.
But it was a good supper and delightful company. We talked about reading and the proposed health plan and all kinds of things. I love these two people and feel like I've watched them grow up. As for the yoga lesson, Elizabeth said I'm doing great--8 on a scale of 10--but I have to slow down. Story of my life.
I decided I haven't read a good mystery in a while and ordered four from Amazon for my kindle. I'm probably going to visit my brother and his wife for two nights at the end of the week, so need reading material (not that they're boring company, but it will be a delightfully lazy two days).
Yawn. Have to be at the office at 8:30, will probably stay all morning until my 11:30 lunch appt.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A new recipe and a good day

My day started with a chatterbox--Jacob talked nonstop from the time he got up until his parents came to get him at ten. The only brief moment of quiet was when he was absorbed in drawing on paper on my office floor. We read the paper together--that is, he put the section he had over the section I was reading and kept explaining it to me. I gave up and fixed him his "awful waffle." Then a trip to Central Market--I find I have already learned to economize. I spent less than $100 on food this week at two grocery stories, including wine and supplies for two company meals--it helped greatly that friends sent me a lovely fruit basket.
Tonight Jay and Susan came for dinner--Jay and I both read Food & Wine and we had agreed we'd love the pasta recipe with olive oil, tomatoes, capers, and anchovies. It called for black olives, which neither Jay nor I like--and I didn't consult Susan, just left them out. But I did add some squash--from my brother's garden--and a bit of grated grana cheese. Absolutely delicious. I thought you'd have to be careful and only serve this to people who eat anchovies, but you didn't really taste them. Capers do lovely things when they are fried, and you got more caper taste. The squash was a great addition.
Jay (he says I keep forgetting to mentioin he's my handsome neighbor) ended up taking over the cooking. He said after all it was his magazine and his recipe. I had the sauce made when they got here, and we had a glass of wine, then went to cut up fruit and boil pasta--that was when he took over, reminding me to add 1/3 cup pasta water to the recipe, draining the pasta, worrying over the temperature of the sauce, mixing it with the pasta and finally serving it. Susan kept laughing and saying, "Jay, it's not your kitchen," but I was glad to have him do it. I joked and asked if that included dishes but they both did pitch in and scrape dishees and load the dishwasher. So we had a good time, talking mostly about food and cooking.
This is a cooking weekend, and I'm enjoying it. More tomorrow.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Superman, work, and sleeping late--or wishing I could

Superman reigns! Though I never knew Superman wore Spiderman pajamas and carried a gun, but Jacob is obviousl pleased with both. I've seen a lot of him this week--kept him over the dinner hour Tuesday, had dinner for him and his parents Wednesday, and am keeping him all night tonight. For supper I fixed him chicken nuggets with lots of kethcup, canned peas and carrots, and a few pieces of my sauteed squash. He ate maybe the equivalent of one nugget, plus lots of ketchup, and a pretty good helping of peas and carrots. Meantime while fixing that I was trying to saute my squash and grill salmon on my George Foreman grill--the squash was delicious, but I over did the salmon--I like a crust but this was impenetrable and the meat was a bit dry. I warned Jacob that if he didn't eat more of his chicken he couldn't have strawberry ice cream (his latest favorite) but it didn't faze him, and when I ate fresh blueberries for dessert, he declined. Now all is quiet and I'm catching up at my desk.

One of my great pleasures about retirement is sleeping late--I usually get up about 7:45, which for me is late. I doze the last hour or so, but the other day Lisa called at 7:20, and I didn't even hear the phone. This morning I had to pop out of bed at 6:45 to be at the office for an 8:30 meeting--but I got there at eight so I could do a few things and ended up staying until 11:30, plus working at home an hour tonight. And Monday I have to do it all over again. My complaints to my boss fell on deaf ears--she assured me she'd give me coffee.
I'm still deep in the cookbook project. Loose ends keep popping up. Today, though, I was delighted to receive by email a copy of the recipe for Lucille Bishop Smith's chili biscuits. They were legendary in Fort Worth in the '60s--you bought them frozen and popped them in the oven and voila! Instant appetizers that everyone loved. Many people remember them, but my friend Carol, who wrote the chapter on Smith, couldn't find the recipe anywhere. I mentioned it on my blog and got a response from a foodie (woman after my own heart) who said her sister had the recipe. She sent it, so thanks to Carol Blakelely, whose website is Check it out if you like hot stuff!. If I do my annual tree trimming party this year, I'll have to do chili biscuits--longtime Fort Worth residents remember them well.
This evening, as I often do, I read while Jacob played--sometimes we were in the playroom, sometimes we were in my office where he likes to draw--he's very careful to give me the caps to the pens he uses, which I much appreciate. So I got some pleasure reading done and read a good portion of a manuscript I brought home to review. Now to write the author, and then a bit more reading before I go to bed. I realized when I put Jacob down that he expects me to go to sleep as soon as he does--after kissing me goodnight, he pointed at my room and said, "Go night night."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Diet report (for whoever's interested in that!)

All week since Monday, I've managed to stay under my allotted Weight Watchers points, yet today I had delicious meals. The gang at work usually goees to SucoThai with Jim Lee on Thursdays and since I'm not fond of Thai food I don't go. But today they went to Tokyo Cafe (one of my favorites). Good conversation, and I had the house salad--a plum vinaigrette that I love, though I would usually tell you I don't like sweet dressings, and two servings of salmon sashimi. Delicious.

Tonight Betty and I went to Sapristi's. It's always chancy when we go because we like to split the tapas platter--it changes weekly or daily--and sometimes we're not crazy about what's on it. But tonight there was marinated lamb something, bacon-wrapped dates, smoked salmon with capers on toasted baguettes, prosciutto-wrapped melon, and marinated manchego cheese. The beauty of all this is that when I came in and entered it on Weight Watchers, the amounts were so small they didn't count for much if anything at all. Now I think I"ll go get some blueberries--they're point free. I laughed yesterday when Charles went with me to Central Market. I bought raspberries, and as he got out of the car he asked, "What to you do with your raspberries?" I said, "Wash 'em and eat 'em." I love summer fruit but particularly those two.

Grocery store this morning and then some piddling but now I have corrected chapters on the cookbook from the contributors so I have work to do. And, sigh, tomorrow I have to be at the office at eight for staff meeting. Oh, well, it's only one day a week.

PS. I understand from a good friend that yesterday I posted about such elegant dishes as Hot Crap Dip--of course, I meant Crab Dip.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Food Fads

I've been reading a book titled Food Fads: Seven Decades of Food Fads, and it's a real revelation. I'm amazed at how our tastes have changed over the years, though the book begins in the Twenties, when I was not around. I don't suppose I remember much about food until the late Forties or Fifties, but I'm blush to think how many faddish foods I've cooked. In the Twenties, with refrigeration new, jellied salads were all the thing, and they stayed there until at least the Fifties. Consider ginger ale salad with pears, peaches, pineapple, walnuts and served with mayonnaise and lettuce. "Foreign" cooking was just beginning to make its way--tamale pie, Spanish rice, spaghetti. With the Thirties and the Depression came comfort food--sweet potatoes with marshmallow (oh, do I remember that though my mom always added a generous helping of bourbon), Welsh rabbit, creamed chipped beef. And then there was the introduction of Chinese food to American cuisine--chop suey and chow mein. Who eats those now with all the sophisticated Asian food available? Trader Vic's is quoted a lot.

And then the Forties, the war years of rationing. One recipe that intrigued me was boiled tongue (preferably smoked or cured). I grew up eating tongue and to this day I love a tongue sandwich (which I can get in the local deli, though many of my lunch companions look askew at me). I also grew up eating lamb kidneys, but alas they're never available. I'd really like to try a couple just to see if I still like them, but when I asked at Central Market, I was told you had to order them by the case--a little more than I was up for. After the war ended there were exravagant meals, with such delicacies as strawberries Romanoff, vichysoisse, and crepes suzette.

In the Fifties America celebrated its own food--barbecue (barbecued bologna? please!), baked potatoes, three-bean salad, and, of course, cooking with Campbell's soup--which I still don't think is a bad idea. There were even recipes for Spam meatloaf and Spam Quick Stove-top Special. I used to eat Spam as a kid--my mom would score it like a ham and cover with cloves and brown sugar. I remember liking it, but the fat content scares me away today. Chafing dishes were a big fad as was fondue, and, of course, cocktail parties with all the dips, etc. But there was also bologna pie--where did all that bologna come from? And then Julia Child burst on the scene, bringing exuberant French cooking to America. Two recipes I remember from the Sixties that were favorites: bourbon balls (I had a friend whose husband ate them by the handful and said, "There here are really good!") and Grasshopper Pie. The recipe in the book is the closest to the one I used to make and have lost--I'll have to make it for Jamie, who loved it. But then there are such atrocities as Tang pie (right, Tang powder for making a drink) and Tang tea. But there were extravagant dishes, like Lobster-Asparagus Mousse and Hot Crap Dip.
The Eighties brought more extravagant dishes--Americans were living well and experimenting more, and it was reflected in the food they were eating--the recipes of Paul Prudhomme, recipes using New Mexico's blue corn, lots of chocolate both dark and white and fresh new Italian recpes--no more spaghetti and meatballs.
The Nineties were the fusion decade, when we blended cuisines from all parts of the world, particularly pan-Asian cooking and Caribbean flavors. If you think we didn't eat differently, consider Calypso Pork Loin with Black Beans or fresh peach salsa.
The book is full of recipes, though I doubt I'll cook many of them, but it's a nostalgic trip through the past--and those of my generation will be amazed at how our food tastes have changed--and how many fads we fell into it.
Tonight I fixed Christian a belated birthday dinner--he celebrated his birthday in Jamaica last week. No food fads here: the birthday boy had steak while Jordan and I ate chopped steak and Jacob had chicken nuggets (with lots of ketchup)--such is the budget of a new retiree. I added baked potatoes for Christian and Jacob and salad for all of us. It was all festive and fun, and I'm enjoying seeing so much of them.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A good retirement day

Sometimes I feel like this blog deteriorates into "and then I did this and then I did that," but that's exactly what's on my mind today. Today was the kind of day retirement should be. I had resolved to go to an 8 am. meeting of the Breakfast Ladies--a once a month gathering of ladies whose lives have revolved around books. I woke up at 6:45, looked at the clock, and decided I had time to linger. The next time I looked at the clock, it was 7:42--and you have never seen anybody move so fast. But stiill, hair washed, makeup in place, cat and dog fed and taken care of, I was there at 8:10-the restaurant is about a block from my house. Found one lonely member eating her breakfast. So I sat and visited with her and had my lean breakfast--one egg over easy and wheat toast with a bit of butter to sop up the egg.

Came home and actually did some work on the cookbook chapter that had me boggled. I have a handle on it now, and it made me feel good to be writing. Also called and handled some business about my retirement accounts--I hate dealing with that stuff!

At 11:30, I picked Charles up and we went to Lucille's Bistro where we split a Greek salad. He had said he had a lot to tell me, and mostly it was that he had just been to a fitness camp at the Prude Ranch in the Davis Mountains (remember that he's 91 years old) and he'd done yoga, which he never thought he could do. He was surprised at how inflexible he was but is very enthusiastic about learning more. I am going to try to hook him up with Elizabeth, my longtime friend and now yoga instructor. Then we went to Central Market so I could buy steak and baked potatoes for Christian's b'day dinner tomorrow night. Charles never shops there but he allowed as how if he could follow me around he might get comfortable in the store. So I'll start to take him on my regular Saturday morning runs.

Came home, worked, napped and then Jacob arrived to spend the evening, but not the night, even though he began insisting he wanted his jammies at 6:15. When I explained he wasn't spending the night, he protested that he wanted to. We had a pleasant evening, though he insisted on shedding his clothes--in preparation for jammies--and didn't eat much dinner but then said he wanted ice cream. I held firm--eat your dinner and then you can have ice cream. So he ate most of a pbj sandwich (okay I ate all his blueberries but two or three). I gave him strawberry ice cream which he loved and spilled all over the table, to his great amusement. Later when he said he wanted his froggie--which was lying on the flooor right be the day bed where he was lying--I told him to get down and get it. And he did. I ain't a soft-touch grandma.

So now the house is quiet. Scooby, Wywy and I have it to ourselves. I'm studing recipes to figure what I want to cook for guests Sunday night, and I'll read the blogs I regularly follow, and then do a little reading--part fun, part work. A truly satisfying day.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Neighbors--and some thoughts on fear

I meant to post a lot earlier, but about 7:30 I wandered out to the porch with a book and a glass of wine. Sue came by to pick up a book I had for her and went home to get a glass of wine; Cathy, who lives on the other side of Sue, came by walking her dog and I gave her a small bottle of red wine. And we sat and talked for over an hour. We'd been to see Julie & Julia together, so we talked about the movie, and about the school across the street--this morning people wanting to transfer their children from out of the district were camped out on the lawn, and I wondered why there were all those cars on my street. Now I know. We talked about ethnic food--Cathy comes from Czech people, and I from German and British. Sue's parents won't eat lamb, which she and I adore. It was a far-ranging discussion, and I love that neighborhood spontaneity.
But I meant to blog tonight about fear. After battling agoraphobia, in one form or another, most of my life, I know about fear. I once thought of writing a memoir about agoraphobia and living a full and rich life in spite of it but I decided exploring my own mind too deeply would have a bad effect. But nowadays when I do yoga, I end with a relaxation session that turns into prayer. After I concentrate on relaxing every muscle in my body (down to the tiny ones around my ears and knees), I ask the Lord to clear my mind of worries. Since I've retired, I find I have only two major worries: one is to improve my self-confidence in walking. A few years ago I walked blocks and blocks in the neighborhood with confidence; now I have a hard time walking to my neighbors. I used to be nervous when driving, but that has gone away, replaced by this walking thing. I had it when I was in my thirties--couldn't walk across an empty parking lot to save myself--and it went away, so I'm expecting it to do that again. I do feel I am so much more relaxed since I retired--and so many fewer worries to ask to be rerlieved of--but I am stiill more comfortable walking next to someone or something--a wall, a bush, etc.
The other worry I have is boredom--strange thing to say, but I'm afraid my busy retirement schedule will slow down. Right now I'm doing a lot of work for the press--some contract and some pro bono--and I have lunch appointments almost every day. But I still fear, as I always did, waking up and thinking "What will I do today?" I don't really think that will happen--I will always have writing projects, but I still worry about it. For me, writing projects are only good if there's an end goal in sight, like publication. I don't write just to amuse myself.
Meantime, I have that cookbook to edit. I woke up this morning, swearing I would finish the Mexican food chapter before I went to lunch but here it is, after ten o'clock, and I haven't touched it, though I've done lots of other good things. Sometimes I think I postpone projects so I won't run out of things to do, but that's dumb. I have to get that chapter done. Maybe tomorrow--but then I have breakfast and lunch dates and am keeping Jacob in the evening. Why do I ever think retirement could be boring?

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Another food day

My day today was pretty much the Julie and Julia movie, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I went with neighbors Sue and Cathy to an 11 a.m. showing--perfect. Theater mostly empty. I even wore my hearing aids so I wouldn't miss the dialogue and I got it all, though the previews of violent movies threatened to overhwhelm my augmented hearing. But the movie itself was an absolute delight--fun, funny, and interesting. I had wondered how they would weave the two stories together, but the transitions were seamless. There are basically two stories: Julia learning French cooking and then writing a book, and Julie cooking all of the recipes in one year. The transformation in both women's lives is spectacular. I'm not much of a moviegoer--the previews today convinced me I'm right about that--but I truly enjoyed this one a lot and recommend it to anyone.
So I had a lazy day--spent the morning reading the paper and doing a few chores before the movie, ate lunch and napped after, and have been piddling at my desk ever since. Tomorrow, back to the cookbook. My thought are all still on food, though I wasn't too creative with my meals today--for lunch, braseola dressed with lemon and olive oil, hearts of palm, and tomato; for supper, half of a chopped sirloin patty, cold, with steamed spinach. Even so I went over my point for the week (I snuck in a bit of chocolate), but only by half a point. Tomorrow I weigh. With my new budget, I may have to drop Weight Watchers--I had heard if you reach your goal you're a lifetime member for free, but when I investigated that's only for people who go to meetings, not those like me who do it online. Drat!

Saturday, August 08, 2009

A TV chef day

I would not want anyone to think I spend my retirement days glued to the TV but I did watch quite a bit today. After I came home from Central Market today, I had the Food Network on while I checked emails, etc. When I started to work on the cookbook I muted the sound but as I often do kept an occasional eye on it. When I saw the Barefoot Contessa come on, I turned up the volume and abandoned my work. I think hers is my favorite of the cooking shows--some have frenetic, too perky hosts and hostesses (recent finalists on the Food Network competition illustrate this) but the Contessa is warm, quiet, soft-spoken, welcoming. Today she was fixing lamb kebobs with red onion, having marinated the lamb in yogurt and various spices; spanikopita (looks like a lot of trouble, and I'm intimidated by phyllo, but it also looked delicious--she served it as an appetizer); grilled pita; a sauce of grated cucumber, yogurt and dill; and a Greek salad with way too many bell peppers (but Jordan can make a Greek salad that we all love). I wish the Food Network still posted recipes--I hunger after that lamb.
Then tonight there was a two-hour special on Julia Child, which I watched in preparation for seeing Julie and Julia tomorrow with Sue and another neighbor. Watching Child is fascinating. Of course KERA used it as a fund-raiser so there were only three of her episodes, but also quite a few people paying tribute to her. The first segment was on making omelets and I really learned about omelets--it's all in the wrist, and I'd have to practice the technique but she did make it look easy. I wasn't as interested in bouilliabaisse (I can eat lots of things other people wouldn't--Julie Powell in an interview today wrote that she used to be a picky eater but after cooking Julia's recipes she can eat all kinds of offal--I draw the line at some and besides brains and sweetbreads, I don't really think I want eel, though Julia says it's delicious). But watching her sling a roasting chicken around was a real hoot. She threw it this way and that, getting out giblets and fat and the neck--as far as I could tell she only cut off part of the neck. I've roasted a lot of hens in my life but I never trussed them with string and even a trussing needle like she did In the end she had string all over that bird which, of course, she had to cut off after it was done. She cooked it on a rotisserie, and I admit I've never done that. But know what? I can carve a chicken better than she can--I learned at Thanksgiving dinners at my brothers to remove the breast meet in one whole piece and then slice it. I can remember my dad carefully carving slices off the breast--carving was a ceremony with him--but this way is much better, and you get more meat. Julia also didn't have our modern precautions about washing your hands after working with raw chicken. She'd fiddle with the chicken, then pick up the whole ball of twine, with chicken on her hands or simply wipe her hands on a paper towel. I guess it never made her sick. Knock on wood--working on my wood cutting board with raw chicken has never made me sick, though I'm pretty careful about washing it, and I wash my hands often.
My own meals today were pretty good--tuna salad, hearts of palm, tomatoes, and raspberries for lunch; 1/4 lb. lean chopped sirloin and sauteed zucchini and squash. I've ignored Weight Watchers on the sauteeing bit, because I like it much better than steamed squash. I think there's a big psychological factor to this weight loss business--if you don't use too many of your bonus points and if you exercise every day you convince yourself you're losing weight and then you do. We'll see Monday morning how my theory tests out since I had spaghetti two nights in a row this week.
Making progress on the cookbook except for one chapter that boggles my mind. Otherwise I'm waiting for people to send me bits and pieces. think I'll finish that mystery tonight.

Friday, August 07, 2009

More thoughts on retirement--and cooking magazines

This morning I went in to the office a little early for a ten o'clock meeting I'd scheduled. I miscalculated how long a grocery run would take me and ended up there at 8:45, only to find the staff, including the interim director, in conference, which I was invited to join. Soon as I did, a lot of work landed in my lap, so I did it--in a rush, which always turns out badly. Then the 10 o'clock meeting lasted until 11:30 and it was 11:45 before I got out of the office. I felt like I was working again.

I came home, put the groceries away--none perishable except the tuna salad that I took in to the office fridge--and had lunch, fully intending to work on the cookbook chapters that are still staring at me. But the mail brought new copies of Bon Appetit and Food and Wine. They were definitely calling my name. Still it was 2:30 before I finished with emails, paying some bills, filling out a time sheet, and a form from my health insurance company. I flipped through Bon Appetit--that's my pattern: I flip through it and then go back and study it thoroughly. After a nap and dinner--I sauteed fresh zucchini and summer squash from the John and Cindy's vegetable garden--I lingered over Food & Wine. My neighbor Jay says he gets all his recipes from there, but I had always thought it a bit esoteric for me. Tonght I found over a dozen recipes I want to try, so I'm rethinking letting my subscription lapse. In one article about urban farming, a woman wrote about pulling snails off her tender young vegetable shoots only to remember the escargot she'd recently eaten in France. Research showed her they're the same critter, but I can't fancy eating the snails I pull off plants. Besides I never did like escargot as well as just sopping the bread in the juice they came in. It's not something I would order in a restaurant today, in spite of those who think I eat weird things. (Melinda read yesterday's blog and vowed to keep her mouth shut after this!)

So maybe that's retirement. I can read when I want--and I may not touch that blasted cookbook all evening. After all I've got a long weekend to look at it. And as for that google webinar staring me in the face--well, maybe next week.

Jordan just called. They are back from four days in Jamaica. I am always relieved when all my chickens are in place where they belong, but I am delighted that they all, including Jacob, had a great time. Jacob at three is not an adventuresome soul but he apparently had lots of fun and handled the airplane trip--3-1/2 hours direct--very well.

A couple of friends have told me the link to the video of me and tuna salad didn't work well, so if you want to watch it you might just go to You-Tube and search for my name. Jeannie wrote me, "A Star is born!" after watching it, but I think she exaggerates. I still think I look like a frumpy old housewife. Elizabeth posted a link on Facebook (wish I knew how to do those things) and when I thanked her she said I didn't look frumpy, I looked like a woman who knows how to cook.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

PIcky eaters and good food

Yesterday at staff meeting the subject of picky eaters came up--yes, we do digress a bit, though now that June joins us, she really tries to keep us on track. But I had found directions for scooping seeds out of half a melon--cantaloupe or honeydew--and filling the half with a mixture of Jell-O and hot water (not the usual proportions), applesauce, and chopped fruit. Let it jell in the fridge and then slice. I thought grandkids would love it, and Melinda said she'd do it for her grandson but she "didn't do" Jell-O. Susan chimed in with a comment that neither did she because after all it came from horses' hooves. I accused them of being picky, and Melinda countered with "I"ll eat any hot pepper you give me," which she knows full well that I won't. Then somehow Susan had stapled a dip recipe to a letter that she handed June--the recipe sounded really good: corn, black beans, picante sauce, onion, green pepper, and I forget what else. I said of course I'd cut out the bell pepper and there were cries of picky eater. Then they began to recount all the weird things I will eat--tongue sandwiches (I grew up eating corned beef tongue), chopped liver, marinated herring, and I don't know what else. (Christian once said to me, "Juju, you do eat a lot of weird things!). We went to a luncheon yesterday and I was sitting next to our intern, so I whispered to her not to let them see me picking the bell pepper out of my corn and tomato salad--they'd fuss!

But today I had a wonderful tongue sandwich, okay only a half--it's high in points--when my friend Dick Hoban and I lunched at Carshon's, and he, as always, ordered smoked trout. And tonight Betty and I went to Winslow's Wine Cafe where we had a crab cake each with blue cheese remolaude--absolutely delicious. But we had to perch at a bar table on high stools, and Betty's knee was really hurting, so we didn't linger over more wine. On Weight Watchers, I find I'm a bit hungry a lot of the time--and even so I went over my points today, but not badly.

I thought I was through editing chapters of the cookbook except for one, but discovered to my dismay today that there were two more chapters that I hadn't edited (plus the one I have to write part of) so I've spent the day editing. This morning, I was a bit lackadaisical about it--when I talked to Katie, who edited the original copy but refused to edit recipes, claiming I knew more aout it, I said that truthfully I was watching Michael Chiarello cook--he's one of my favorites. But this afternoon and evening I've gotten very busy about it and got one more chapter sent out to the author. Sometimes I feel like this project will never end. But then I enjoy it.

Now, I'm going to quit and read. Have to go to the office tomorrow but will make a grocery run first and that's my outing for the day. Jordan, Christian, and Jacob come home tomorrow and, as always, I'll be glad to have all my chickens where they belong.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Dogs, books, You-Tube, agents

'Twas a dark and stormy night . . . only it really wasn't. It just grew suddenly very dark about 5 p.m. and looked threatening. The wind blew, and I know there are storms to the north of us but not here. Still, Scooby, who spent the afternoon inside because it was so very hot, refused to go out. When I finally persuaded him (with a leash) to eat his dinner and promised I'd bring him in at any sign of thunder or rain, he went--and promptly peed a lake, which I knew he had to do. But now he's done what I call his "I'm mad at my mother" trick. I keep his dish on the top step outside the back door--so easy to refill. When he's feeling vengeful, he pulls it down and puts it out on the lawn so I have to go fetch it. And tonight he didn't even eat all his food--it's scattered all over the back steps so I can slide on it in the morning. So far, it hasn't shown any signs of storm, but he's safely in again.
Today at a book luncheon at TCU I presented three books that have recently enthralled me (I may have talked about them here already): The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which gives along with much enjoyment a real and chilling history of the Nazi occupation of the channel islands off England's coast during WWII; but it's more than that--it's a story about a people surviving, a writer becoming interested in them and finally travelling to Guernsey, all told in letters. It's truly warm and wonderful--and I was amazed only two people in the room had read it. It's been very popular.
The second one also used letters to tell part of the story: Comfort and Mirth, by Lori Swick (TCU Press) is the story of a young bride, moving from Seattle to Austin, Texas, where her husband will teach philosophy (that relates to the title and their ongoing debates about what is happiness). Camille is an herbalist and we learn about herbs through her, but we also learn about racial issues in Austin in the first decade of the twentieth century, women's rights movements (and a good bit about Elisabet Ney), and the treatment of the mentally ill, which was appalling. People found it Sunday entertainment to go watch the inmates of the institution for idiots and the insane (or some similar title). In spite of all that, it's a gentle novel, about one determed women's process of maturing. We learn much of the story through her letters home to her mother. The ending is a real surprise.
And the third was The School of Essential Ingredients, about which I earlier blogged at length, so I wont go into it here except to say it's a book that I hope stays with me a long time.
Last night I got the You-Tube video of the session of me making southwestern tuna salad. Of course, I thought it was awful--I looked frumpy, I forgot to take my monitor off, my shirt was hiked up over my rump. I couldn't get any audio but I got it today at work. I've had several emails from kids and friends saying I should be the next Food Network challenger--aren't they nice? Here's the link if it works: Which reminds me, I really got hooked into the recent Food Network Challenge and was rooting for the young woman who won--she was the only one without professional cooking experience. Her show debuts Sunday at 11:30 and I'll watch--unless Sue and I work it out to go to see Julie and Julia at the 11:00 am showing.
I've spent tonight rewriting a contract for the press. We don't often have to deal with authors who have agents, so it's always a shock. In this particular case I thought I was doing the agent a courtesy by sending him a draft of the contract. He hacked it up in ways I couldn't possibly accept, and I said I guessed we'd have to step aside. Then the author said he had told the agent to conform to anything we wanted--he really wanted TCU Press to publish his book. That was a big ego boost, since he's a well known author. So tonight I rewrote the contract, laboriously including as many of the agent's changes as I could accept. I really tried to be appeasing, so we'll see what happens. We'd like to publish the book--it's good, and the author is well respected. See how I'm still hooked to the press? Spent the morning there in staff meeting and then doing odds and ends. So far it's an arrangement I like a lot.
But tomorrow, nothing on my calendar until lunch--I can sleep late!

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Retirement gets even better--and a tribute to Walter Cronkite

Last night after I posted my blog I was captivated by a special on public television about Walter Cronkite--there were all the milestones of public life that I remember--man landing on the moon, the JFK assassination, Vietnam, the Democratic convention in Chicago with its riots, the shootings at Kent State University, Nixon's resignation, LBJ's statement that he would not run again, and many others. And through it all was Walter Cronkite, broadcasting in his matter of fact tone and then in other segments commenting on events and news coverage. It was really late twentieth-century history captured on film, and I treasured it, wished that my children knew the importance of those events to us. But that's my generation--they have their own milestones, and sometimes I wonder what they are. My oldest, Colin, remembers Nixon getting on the heliocopter after he resigned, and I remember Colin solemnly watching, while I wondered how much he understood. I'm an admirer of Tom Brokaw and Brian Williams, but I don't think we'll see the likes of Walter Cronkite again soon.
Another good day. Got up a little early--7:24 when Mary Rogers called to ask if we were still on for breakfast at 8:30. I assured her we were, and got busy. Mary and her husband have just opened a car wash--it's certified green by two agencies, which means it's as green as car washes can be today, and she had on her green shirt. I should be a better friend and remember the name so I could plug it, but it's in North Richland Hills. They're thinking of adding wine to their retail space which I think is a really fun combination--get your car detailed and buy a bottle of wine. Mary, formerly a writer for the Star-Telegram and author of Dancing Naked: Unforgettable Stories of Memorable Texans (TCU Press), has an uncanny knack for finding the stories in people and situations and retelling them in a captivating way. She kept me giggling at her stories of life in a car wash, like the woman with a ragtop with a large hole in the plastic rear window. The top also didn't quite meet the windshield, so they knew water would pour in, but no attempt could persuade her to have it hand-washed. So she drove through the wash and left, in Mary's words, "happy as a clam."
Then home to work. I've developed an amazing ability to piddle since I've retired--I played with emails and Facebook, got up to do various household chores that I randomly remembered. Around noon a contributor to the cookbook came by with pictures, captions, etc. and we had a good visit. Then a lunch of smoked salmon, hearts of palm, and tomatoes, and I really did some work--a contributor's bibliographic essay, editing a partly done chapter which I'm going to have to finish, etc. But I really did accomplish something and moved a step ahead on the cookbook and in furthering my free-lance work.
Then dinner with three very interesting women, two of whom I knew slightly and one I'd never met. The relationships are too complicated to explain, but we had a good time, talking about everything from food to politics. It's fun to make new friends. We went to Chadra, the Italian/Lebanese restaurant down the street, and they three shared a maza platter while I had spaghetti and meat sauce--took half of it home and came in under my Weight Watchers points for the day.
Now I'm piddling again--catching up on emails, reading Facebook, reading my favorite blogs. Tomorrow I have to actually go into the office all morning and then talk about three books at a luncheon at TCU. Busier day than usual. It's the getting up part I hate--Scooby doesn't like it either. He must have had a nightmare about 6:30 this morning because he jumped up, looked around in confusion, and then lay back down. I know how he feels, though I had only pleasant dreams.

Monday, August 03, 2009

A neat day

Yesterday I began to think maybe the glow was wearing off retirement. I spent the whole day at home, without much if any human contact, and though I kept busy I don't like days like that. And my lunch dates are slowing down (I'll just have to get busy about that). But today was a good day, one in which I felt very self-confident about my walking and everything else. Slept medium late, got up and went to the office for just over an hour; came home and piddled with emails, etc., and then went to lunch with my friend, Fred. I had cajoled him into coming early so we could go to Nonna Tata (where I could have braseola) but then I realized it's closed on Mondays. So I said I'd take him to a new place--Ellerbees. Wonder of wonders, we got one of the two in-front parking spaces and walked in--only to discover an empty restaurant with tables from the patio stacked on tables inside and a strong smell of paint. We ended at Carshon's, where I had my usual tongue sandwich and enjoyed it thoroughly. Came home to finish The Diva Takes the Cake--really a surprise ending, take a nap, do my yoga, and fix a good dinner--chicken loaf from the freezer, haricot vert that I had to sort carefully because I'd left them in the fridge too long, and the last of the pea salad I made last night. Good, but I was two points over my daily limit. Still, this morning I had lost .8 lbs. so I'm feeling good about that.
Tonight I must do some more contract work for TCU Press and then want to work on the piece about forty years a Texan that I've drafted. I've got to begin drumming up more free lance work lest the days of retirement yawn long before me.
Jordan, Christian and Jacob leave for four days in Jamaica tomorrow--I hope Jacob proves to be a good traveler. Even at my house, he often says, "Let's go home" so who knows how it will go that far away. But they are excited, and I hope they have a fantastic trip. As always, I'll breathe a tiny sigh of relief when they're home Friday night.
Hmmm--what book shal I start next? Tomorrow I really have to get back to that cookbook, but tonight I can indulge. Isn't that what retirement is all about?

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Long Sundays

It's amazing when a sunny day can do for your mood, much as I think I love a rainy, stay-inside day. Yesterday I was edgy, and I dreaded today, a long day with no plans. But I woke up feeling energetic and happy. Did a mountain of work (well it seemed that way) in the morning--finished cleaning out that filthy shower stall and sorting all the papers (most need shredding so now I have to find out where you take whole bags of papers to be shredded). Then, overcome with ambition, I cleaned out the catbox and the cat's bathroom, all of which made me rush to the shower, feeling dirty. I ran the dishwasher, put away folded clothes I'd been staring at, and generally put the house in order. One of the contributors to the cookbook sent me her bibliographic essay and biographical sketch, so I put them in place and then began editing one of the last chapters. "The Regal Women of the Garden of Eden" opens with a history of the Garden of Eden, a historic black neighborhood where almost all residents are descendants of Major Cheney--there were once 54 houses and now are ten or twelve, though the original homestead is still occupied. Some of the recipes reminded me of my mom, particularly seven-minute icing, in which she took particular pride. I liked it when it was fresh and soft but I remember when it sat, it developed a brittle sugar crust.

It's been a food day, although I didn't eat elegantly--my standard meal of tuna salad, hearts of palm and grape tomatoes for lunch and smoked salmon, pea salad (the rest of Jacob's peas from last night), and a bit of hummus, followed by raspberries for supper--an eclectic mix but pretty low in Weight Watchers points (tomorrow is my day to weigh). I didn't tell Weight Watchers, but I ate chocolate twice today.

I've had one eye on the food channel all day--partly because it's had lots of trailers for Julie and Julia. I've read the book, and I'm not much of a moviegoer, but I really want to see that one. My neighbor, Sue, has assured me we're going. But I'm also interested in the winner of the cookoff tonight for the next Food Network Star--the two finalists are both vital and attractive, their dishes far beyond my skills, but the woman is from a suburb north of Fort Worth, so I'm rooting for her. She also has four children under four (including twins) so I am in awe that she has developed such cooking skills while caring for such a family. I also watched three consecutive Paula Deen shows (parts of two while riding my stationary bike)--her food always looks so scrumptious, but I am appalled by her free hand with butter, cream, sugar, cheese, and sour cream. I wonder about her cholestorol--she always eats the dishes with such relish! I know the shows are taped and shown over and over again, but I did think in the third one I saw her face looked much thinner--no idea what order they were filmed in. Maybe she just changed her hairdo. Anyway, with her kitzy overdone southern manners, I do find her fun and charming--and I long to eat that way once in a while.

With the other eye, I've been reading The Diva Takes the Cake and enjoying it, though the diva in this one is a bit extreme. Still it's not one of those mysteries where I can see the ending coming, so I'm hooked.

It's been a long Sunday simply because I've had no outside contact, and I don't much like days like that. But this week I have to go into the office three days (yikes!) and I have lunch plans three days, dinner plans two. Plenty of outside contact. I tried to sit on the porch again with my book but it's a bit too hot. Our blessed spell of rain and cooler weather seems to be over.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Then again, off again rain

This morning it was sort of sunny when I woke up but there were dire predictions of storms to come, so I rushed--I really did--to get to the grocery before the storms began. It was sprinkling when I got there and apparently it really dumped while I was shopping, but it was back to sprinkling when I came home, so I only got slightly damp unloading groceries. Maybe it was the weather and the greyness, but I felt at loose ends. Did my yoga (not my best session but Elizabeth say not to worry about that), and then decided to tackle the shower stall in my office bathroom.

That's a story in itself. Two or three years ago--who knows how long?--I decided to clean out my drawer of financial information, etc. You know, you really don't need investment reports from 1985 of accounts now closed. So I carefully sorted some things into a bag to be shredded and others into one that could just could to the recycle bin. About halfway through the drawer, I got bored, put the bags in the shower stall (no one every uses it) and forgot about it except for an occasional guilty thought. The other night, when I got the TIAA-CREF folder out for Jim Chaffee, I realized that I had records in it back to the early 80s, so I went to get out the bags. Now I knew Scooby had been sleeping in there, but I was unprepared for the mess--the black garbage bags had disintegrated into small pieces, and many papers were already shredded. The shower stall was ankle deep in paper mess. This morning I spent over an hour cleaning out about 3/4 of it (tomorrow I'll tackle the remainder). There was lots of dirt and grit--when Scooby's coat is long, he brings it in, though I think some of it was kitty litter (unused, I hope) and I couldn't quite figure that.

By then it was lunchtime and I decided retirement meant weekends were for leisure. I avoided the cookbook and other projects on my desk and spent much of the afternoon reading Krista Davis' second novel, The Diva Takes the Cake. I an enjoying the novel a great deal, and my hat's off to her for the way she ends each chapter with a cliff hanger suprise, then begins the next with a digression--a letter to her syndicated column or a query to her rival's website, while the reader is itching to find out what's going on. A nap, and then time to cook dinner for Jordan and Jacob--sauteed flounder and salad for us, a wider variety for Jacob but he ate mostly green peas and blueberries. But we had a good time, and Jord and I had a good visit. They all leave, Jacob included, for four days in Jamaica Tuesday--he will happily tell us he's going to a beach.

Just before they arrived it began to rumble and thunder. When I fed Scooby he tried desperately to get into the house. I blocked that and told him to eat his dinner, but when I looked he hadn't touched it. So I let him in, put him in the office while we ate. After Jordan and Jacob left, it was sunny again--we got no rain out of that thunder--and I encouraged a reluctant Scoob to go outside and eat his dinner. Then I sat on the porch with a glass of wine and my book. It was a lovely night, cool and comfortable. I'm sure I've said this before, but my house is in an old neighborhood (my house was built in 1922) so there are lush green trees all around, and it's a real pleasure to sit there and just stare at the scenery. Calming and peaceful, which is what I'm all about these days. (Last night Elizabeth said I looked different--relaxed!)

A pleasant day. Who cares if I didn't accomplish anything. I did have a stray thought about contracts and emailed the controller--only to find she was working on Saturday. When I accused her of that, she said, "So are you, and you're retired!" I told her it was a stray moment.