Friday, December 07, 2018

Pearl Harbor Day, a grocery list, and a dog


Roosevelt called it “a day of infamy” that will live in history. And yet today I saw relatively few mentions of Pearl Harbor Day, some seventy-seven years ago. I was too young to remember, but I was told the story more than once. I was playing on the kitchen floor while my mom cooked dinner, and my dad came home, stuck his head in the kitchen door, and announced solemnly, “The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor. We are at war.” For a veteran of WWI, as he was, the news was devastating. While others slowly grasped the consequences of war, those who’d been in the trenches in France and England knew immediately the horror that would follow. And yet, WWII would be a different war, with more efficient ways of killing men. Each of the two world wars were horrific in their own ways. We must never forget.

Rainy dull day today and chilly. I was glad to stay home and at my desk, putting off my run to Central Market for curbside pickup until tomorrow. I have been a holdout about grocery shopping, loudly proclaiming that I want to pick my own tomatoes. Megan uses a shopping service that lets her order as much as she wants, as often as she wants, for a minimal fee. I’m not there yet, but Jordan doesn’t want me to get in and out of the car with my walker unless someone is watching me—works fine when I meet friends for lunch or when I go to a doctor’s office where they send someone out to make sure I neither fall nor get mugged. But the grocery store has been a problem. I can hardly call Central Market or Tom Thumb and ask them to send someone to help me in. Still, Jordan has more demands on her time than taking me to the grocery.

Reluctantly I tried the new curbside pick-up at Central Market, and now I’m a fan. I’ve had no quarrels with the groceries I’ve gotten, and I find the people at curbside uniformly pleasant and helpful. Too often I call and add something at the last minute, and they willingly add it to my order.

But the big thing is that I am a much more cost-efficient shopper when I have the choice of items before me on the screen. Tonight, I realized that the brand of honey I usually get is two dollars higher than a comparable product. I compare cheeses, crackers, all sorts of things. Duke’s Mayonnaise, which I prefer because it’s not part of ConAgra, is less expensive than Hellman’s. And those good fresh spices—I can order an ounce and not pay eight dollars for a little jar of ginger that will go stale in my cupboard. There are some things the store doesn’t carry, and it’s not practical (or possible) to buy paper products there, so I keep an auxiliary list. But it’s much shorter.

The rain is not helping Sophie’s allergies, and the poor dear wants to be right by me when she doesn’t feel well. So I am treated periodically to coughing, throat clearing, and other less pleasant sounds. She’s psychic and considerate about my sleep and waits till I wake from a nap to jump up on the bed and thrust her face into mine. She paws at my hand until I scratch her head. I am always leery of one of her coughing spells—don’t want her spitting up on my bed. But nothing dampens the bond between us—she stares at me so intently, I know she’s telling me she loves me, and I assure her I love her.

Life is good with a dog.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Scotland, Christmas, and me

            Those who know me recognize that I’m a bit fanatical about my Scottish blood (even though 23andMe says I have none—they’re wrong, wrong, wrong). This year is my Scottish Christmas. I ordered the new Jacqui Lawson Advent Calendar because it’s set in Edinburgh. When my grandkids were little, I got each family a wall-hanging advent calendar, with little pockets for each day and a collection of trinkets to match to the pockets. On the last day you put the Baby Jesus in his cradle or something like that. I doubt any of the families even still have those hangings—kids have grown beyond them.

But I told Jacob I’d ordered the computer calendar and asked if we could do it together. He agreed. The calendar arrived electronically and sat on my computer because it would be a sin to look at it before Dec. 1. About Thanksgiving, he said, “It’s almost time to do the calendar, Juju” which meant, to me, a bit of anticipation on his part. I was delighted. So far (three evenings) he’s come out to the cottage, so we could open it together.

The Dec. 1 scene was in a marvelous restaurant with a Tiffany-like dome where I have actually eaten—my favorite place in Edinburgh, probably my favorite restaurant in Scotland aside from some village pubs. I was thrilled, and Jacob seemed impressed.

Today a present from longtime friends arrived. They had told me to open it before Christmas, and I did—three wonderful Scottish ornaments for my tiny tree: a bagpipe, a thistle, and a shaggy Highland cow wearing plaid. I’ll ask Jacob to hang them on my table-top tree tonight.

The same friend acknowledged my thanks with some advice about Christmas food from Scotland—single malt Scotch is okay but avoid the haggis. I’ve actually voluntarily eaten haggis more than once—with neeps and tatties. But he got me thinking about Scottish food. I expected lots of trout, venison, lamb, and maybe kidneys on a grand British-style breakfast board. Never saw any of that, though I did try blood sausage. My favorite food, I think, was the Cumberland sausage, but it, like haggis, needed brown gravy.

And then there’s that three-ingredient fruitcake recipe that I got from a Scottish-themed website. But I’m saving that for a post on the Gourmet on a Hot Plate blog.

Sláinte, everyone! 

Monday, December 03, 2018

Loss brings us together again

It happens every time, and I think it’s an encouraging and good sign for our nation. Divided as we are, we come together to face the loss of one of our leaders. George Herbert Walker Bush had many distinguishing credits on his resume—youngest fighter pilot in the armed services, member of the House of Representatives, director of the CIA, ambassador, chair of the Republican Party, vice-president, and finally forty-first president of the United States. With such a varied career, it would probably be hard to find anyone (except maybe Barbara Bush) who supported every decision and move he made.

As a lifelong Democrat, I didn’t vote for him, didn’t like many of his policies—from the war in the Middle East to his treatment of gays. But I recognize, like almost all Americans, that he was a true gentleman, a man of honor and integrity, a man who put loyalty to his country above personal pleasure or profit. A shining example in this day when there is a foul smell coming from the White House. I was as indignant as anybody when the “Me, Too” movement censored him for patting a behind here or there. An old man in a wheelchair—let it be.

Bush was also a dedicated family man—can you imagine a marriage of seventy-seven years? I barely made it to seventeen, and I have a friend who used to say marriage has a shelf life of about fifteen years. Not for George and Barbara. They weathered the loss of a young child, raised a large family, led a huge clan of children, grandchildren, and greats, obviously adoring each other all the time. If anything, Barbara probably had the tarter tongue of the two, but she was also a warm woman, a mother, a dog lover, and probably a consummate politician on her own. We mourned as a nation when she died. We came together.

My favorite deathbed story about Barbara: her husband asked, just days before her death, if she would like a cup of tea, and she replied, “I believe I’d like a martini.”

George’s last moments apparently involved a phone conversation with George W., the 43rd president. They told each other, “I love you.” Not a lot of grown men are capable of that.

So the national mourning began today with the ceremony accompanying placing the president’s coffin on the catafalque in the U. S. Capitol rotunda. There were the usual words of praise—empty coming from the mouths of Mitch McConnell and Mike Pence, who carry the stench of selfishness and hypocrisy about them. Paul Ryan was marginally better—I think his flaws are that he shares the Republican lack of compassion and he read too much Ayn Rand while young.

I am a pushover for affairs of state. I love the ritual, the measured steps and robot-like actions of men in the armed services (there were no women in the honor guard—oops, an oversight?) and I hung on every minute. The music was beautiful. George W. and Laura looked particularly rough, barely containing their grief, and I wanted to reach out to them.

Donald Trump got one of his wishes—a national distraction. This week, he doesn’t have to tear gas children or announce new tariffs to take our attention away from Mueller. We’re already focused on the pomp and circumstance surrounding Mr. Bush’s funeral, an affair of high state. Collectively, we turn away from the swamp to revel in the memory of a good man.

I hope they bury him in colorful socks.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

The Tradition of Sunday night supper

Sunday night supper has a long tradition in my family. When I was young, my mom rolled her tea table into the living room and put it before the fireplace. The three of us—my parents and me (my brother was away by then)—enjoyed light suppers, such dishes as cheese strata or spinach souffle. No cell phones to banish—we enjoyed each other’s company.

When my children were young, I did Sunday supper for the family, including my brother, John, and his children (he was single by then too) and whatever people I thought were alone. Some of my good friends fondly talk of those dinners with 15-20 people. I cooked huge meals—turkey breast Wellington is one recipe I recall. A lot of casseroles. I remember one night when we were working on a cookbook at my office, and I brought home a recipe for a hamburger/cornbread casserole and fixed it. My brother looked at me and asked, “Sis, is the budget the problem?”

Another night as we sat around after dinner the alarm service called to tell him his house was on fire. He lived just down the street and arrived barely in time to keep the firemen from taking an axe to his front door. He’d left chicken livers simmering on the stove and they’d burned dry.

John used to go around the table and ask each of us to tell about our week or what we were thankful for. It led to some embarrassed moments, but today those dinners are golden memories that I treasure. Maybe we should start that again, even though our dinners are on a small scale.

Today, Sunday night suppers are more hit and miss. Jordan and I try for them, and most Sundays we have supper. Christian and I alternate cooking. Tonight, he was busy decorating the Christmas tree, and I cooked a sausage quiche—they liked it, but it’s not a recipe I’ll repeat or share. I made sauerkraut just for me (no one else would try it)—bacon, onions caramelized in the bacon drippings, a bit of white wine, a tiny bit of brown sugar. Delicious. So glad I didn’t have to share. Jacob had gone to a church event.

When my kids were young the only excuse for missing Sunday night supper was a restaurant job and a scheduled shift. That doesn’t hold true today, and we often have supper without Jacob. And sometimes we don’t have a formal supper at all. If I wanted to wax nostalgic about the lost past, I would. But I am grateful for what we have and the dinners we enjoy. Next recipe? Chicken in a creamy Parmesan sauce. It was a recipe for pork chops, but a friend of Jordan’s said it would be great with chicken. I think I’ll let Christian cook that one.

Saturday, December 01, 2018

Feeling peaceful as the Christmas rush sets in

The neighbors behind me have hung hammocks fairly high in the trees for their kids. There’s even a Styrofoam cooler hanging from one tree. Today I looked out and a young boy was sitting in one of the hammocks, staring into space, gently pushing off the stone wall with his feet so that he was swinging back and forth. He looked completely at peace, and I wondered where his child’s mind had gone at that time.

But that’s sort of the way I feel tonight. At peace and not rushed or harried. Most of that euphoria, I’m sure, is because today I finished and sent off the bare-bones skeleton of my Alamo book. I sent it to the editor primarily because she serves as an extra back-up for me but also in hopes she might make a suggestion or two. I think I’m ahead of schedule, although I now must dig into the humongous box of clippings, articles, photocopies, etc. that I inherited with the project. They are in no order at all, so when I didn’t know where I was going, there was no way to make sense of them. Now that I have the outline of the story, I can sort out what I need. Then comes editing and, finally, picture selection and requests. Still a lot to do, but I feel good about it.

So today I wrapped Christmas presents. Don’t scorn me, but my shopping is done and most of my presents wrapped. And I finished the dense mystery I was reading—spellbinding, and I couldn’t figure out how past and present were connected. Where Memories Lie is another well-done Scotland Yard story from Deborah Crombie, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. But it was always there, calling to me to put everything else down and read. I’ve turned to a light cozy that isn’t that demanding.

I join with people of all political stripes tonight in mourning George Herbert Walker Bush and extending condolences to his family. I did not often agree with his politics, but I always thought he took public service seriously and was a politician with integrity and truly that oxymoron, a compassionate conservative—pretty rare these days. And I greatly admired him for admitting publicly that he voted for Hilary Clinton. As sort of the grandfather of the Republican Party, that took courage. The most touching thing I saw today was a cartoon that showed Barbara Bush holding a young girl by the hand—Robin, the daughter they lost in childhood—and President Bush walking toward them. The caption says, “We waited for you.” RIP, sir, with your wife and daughter. You served honorably and were a role model as a public servant and as a family man.

I’m off to write a cooking blog for – the lament of a frustrated cook and a recipe for a quick baked fruit dessert. Yum. I’m hungry.

Friday, November 30, 2018

A tornado rush and the beginning of the Christmas rush

The last day of November already! Tomorrow Jacob and I can start the Advent Calendar. He reminded me of it the other day. This year the one I bought is set in Edinburgh so I’m hoping for lots of bagpipe music, which always thrills my Scottish bones. It’s installed on my computer and ready for that first click. I know Jacob’s at that in-between age—too old and yet not old enough, but he seems willing to do the calendar with me, and I’m delighted.

Just stole a quick after-supper nap. Delightful to lie in bed and listen to the thunder rumble. We are under a tornado watch until midnight, but Jordan said the rain would miss us which set me to wondering if you can have a tornado without rain, Now I notice the deck and the sidewalks are wet—rain apparently but not much of it. Sophie jumped up on the bed for a snuggle—she senses when I’m getting up and waits until that moment to come for a bit of doggy love.

I can already tell Christmas is coming. The traffic is horrible. Jordan and I went to the grocery this morning, and the congestion on Hulen was enough to make you turn around and go home. We took longer than usual at the store, because I had a longer list—the price one pays (literally) for cooking more. And then we were running late and were in a rush at the liquor store and the take-out place for lunch. I came away with chicken salad and a beet-and-orange salad for my lunch and a shepherd’s pie for supper. All delicious. Hats off to Local Foods Kitchen.

Tonight, without rushing, we went for a glass of wine with a friend of many years—the kind of friend where we each remember when the other’s children were toddlers. And now those children are in their forties, pushing fifty. It’s fun to see Jordan develop a relationship with her as an adult. Nancy has more Christmas decorations than anyone I ever met—nutcrackers and angels and ceramic Santas, pillows and an iron Christmas tree with ornaments hung on it. Her cozy apartment was warm with holiday atmosphere, and we laughed and talked, shared good news and worries. And then we hurried home again.

Tomorrow Jacob takes the SAT in a program to see how randomly selected seventh graders do taking the test that all high schoolers fear. What a shock to think he’s anywhere near ready for that. And here I was going to ask him to do mundane things like empty the garbage. I think it’s fun though that he doesn’t worry beforehand, doesn’t have to study—can just walk in and take it. I haven’t had a chance to ask him if he thinks it’s fun or not. Probably not.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

My world today.

McLean Middle School beat Stripling Middle School tonight

Sophie looking ladylike and
belying the fact that she's a wild ruffian

Where I spent my day

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Procrastination—who me?

Procrastination: the action of delaying or postponing something. Yep, that’s me. I procrastinated for two days—and it’s so unlike me. I am usually compulsive about doing whatever needs to be done right away. I long ago took to heart the wisdom that you should only touch a piece of paper on your desk once—deal with it then.  Don’t put it in a stack and think, “I’ll worry about that later.” Never the words of Scarlet O’Hara, “I’ll think of it tomorrow,” or “After all,  tomorrow is another day.”

But those are all the things I did for two days. I spent too much time on Facebook and outlets with political news, reading every new opinion, pondering every new development; I spent lots of time paging through Bon Appetit and Southern Living, clipping recipes and planning elaborate dishes I may never cook.

Colin, my oldest child, was my biggest—and nicest—distraction. He arrived Monday in time for dinner, so I spent a good chunk of Monday fixing his favorite casserole. Tuesday morning, I fixed him breakfast—I had several choices for him. And he chose lox and cream cheese. Then we window-shopped Apple watches in the Apple store and had an early lunch at Carshon’s deli. He grew up eating there and now thinks no Fort Worth trip is complete unless he gets one of their Rebecca sandwiches.

By 12:30 Tuesday, he was off to an appointment and then headed home to Tomball. And I procrastinated some more—and napped.

This morning I got up with fire in my belly. I was going to work. And I did—900 words on the Alamo book, mostly about Alamo movies and particularly the classic one John Wayne made in 1959. I am learning such fascinating stuff with this project!

Tonight, a nice dinner with friends Betty and Jean at a restaurant called Righteous Foods, which I think is a terrible name for a restaurant. But the food is good. It’s all “righteous” foods, heavy on grains and vegetables and juices and smoothies. But also their version of a BLT (with a fried egg, of course), a hamburger, and several kinds of tacos. We split an order of salmon tacos, but they were so good I don’t think I’ll share next time. And churros for dessert. A wonderful meal.

Tonight I’ll procrastinate some more—and read. But tomorrow I’ll tackle the subject of books about the Alamo. Life is good. I hope for you too.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

I could not live without a dog

Sophie when she couldn't pull back the covers
and get to the sheets

Either I didn’t make the bed before I left for a few days over Thanksgiving or someone snuck in and slept in my bed. I’m pretty compulsive about making it before I leave the house. But then again, I hardly think either Christian or the good neighbors who watched over Sophie would stop for a nap. Nope. The culprit was Sophie herself.

When I throw the covers back in the morning to let the bed air, Sophie often makes herself comfortable. She prefers to sleep on sheets, thank you, rather than on top of the comforter. So while I was gone, she apparently pawed the covers back to make herself a little nest. And for some reason known only to her, she dragged the small lap blanket from the bottom of the bed up by the pillows.

Dogs—and the way they think—are so interesting. I have had a dog ever since I was young and can only recall one six-month period without one. I cannot live happily without a dog.

This time of year, for some reason, I’m seeing a lot more Facebook posts for free dogs, found animals who need a home, a pet whose owner died, etc. (Of course, one post that I got all concerned about was from 2016—a little late for my concern; I need to learn to check the date.) My fear, and what I post frequently when I see give-away dogs, is that they’ll end up as bait in the dog-fight ring. It really happens, folks.

I’ve read that men who run the fights send some innocent-looking person to pretend their looking for a pet, a companion—perhaps a wife or girlfriend. This poseur “falls in love” with the dog and walks away with bait-meat. Other times they send out people to scour back yards. Leave your dog out when you’re not home, and you could come home to an empty back yard and an open gate. The scoundrels leave the gate open, so you’ll think the dog escaped.

Lots of people write that they don’t want to take the dog to the pound. To my mind, that’s a humane solution. Better yet, your local chapter of the humane association. These days, reputable rescue groups abound. In Fort Worth, we have Good Neighbor Animal Rescue, among others. It’s so much better to put a dog where the new owner will be carefully vetted.

I’m grateful that my neighborhood association has an email list that serves as a great lost-animal alert. Posts about missing dogs and cats are frequent, but we also see grateful posts that say the animal is back home. One cat returned home after more than two weeks. But it helps to have neighbors watching out for that missing gray-and-white kitty who’s a bit shy or the lab who loves everyone and was last seen on a busy street.

Another word about dog ownership: please know that it is cruel to leave them chained outside twenty-four hours a day. Dogs are sociable animals; they want to be inside with the family. And dogs who are chained suffer constantly, besides being prey to all kinds of things against which they cannot defend themselves because of the chain. If you plan to chain a dog, you don’t deserve to have one. PS: it’s now against the law.

My final plea about puppies, kittens, and other pets at the holiday season is please, please don’t give them as gifts unless you’re sure the recipient wants to make a commitment for the lifetime of the animal. Dogs and cats are not disposable items, to be discarded when they are trouble or they grow bigger than you expected or you’re tired of them. They are living, feeling creatures who, just like us, know love and fear and loneliness. There are few things sadder than that dog cowering in a cage because his family dumped him.

Give a dog a happy holiday season—and a happy lifetime.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Over the river . . . .

Thanksgiving buffet--and some special people
Over the river and through two humongous traffic jams we did go. All the Alters, all sixteen of us, gathered in Frisco at Jamie and Mel’s house for feasting and fun.

Much of the time was spent “hanging out.” Conversations ranged widely, from politics—we’re all on the same page though our prognostications about the future differ. Then there was a long conversation about tattoos—one of my granddaughters has a couple, talks about getting more, and is knowledgeable about the art. There was even much searching the web and studying various tattoo artists. Hard for me to adjust to, but I love this girl dearly and will accept what she wants to do. Four grandsons holed up in the media room with electronic games so long I thought they’d suffer from sunlight deficiency. Two of the big boys concentrated on a robotic chess game-fascinating to watch the pieces move seemingly on their own. Early Black Friday the two oldest girls were at the mall—home by lunch with bags of “finds.” Wonderful quiet moments with each of my sons—with Colin when a football game distracted others and this morning a kitchen visit with Jamie.

One night we went to dinner at a restaurant new to several of us—Tupelo Honey, which apparently comes from a song by Van Morrison with that title. Southern comfort food cooked from scratch and delicious—everything from to-die-for biscuits with little pots of butter topped with blueberry jam to chocolate cake with ganache and lots of fried chicken and shrimp and grits in between.

Early—and I do mean early—Thanksgiving morning, everyone was up to do the Frisco Turkey Trot. Except me.  But I was staying in the upstairs guest room and cannot manage the stairs without help. It was either get up early and come down or be marooned up there until nine or non-thirty. I chose to get up and spend some time writing in a quiet house—with a puppy yipping his indignation about being locked up.

Kids table
My girls and me
The morning before I’d spent a little time in the guest room waiting for Jordan to come get me. It dawned on me that’s what life in a traditional nursing home is like—you’re alone with a bed, a bathroom, a TV, one comfortable chair, and maybe your iPad. Made me so grateful for my health and my cottage.

Thanksgiving dinner was plentiful and delicious and joyous with all the expected dishes and three pies, including my favorite chess pie that Melanie makes from scratch. The turkey dinner after-effect sent us all to bed early. Kudos to Melanie for pulling off the perfect huge meal and blessing it with sweet words about family. Next day, lunch of leftovers followed hard upon a hearty breakfast, and we all headed home, full of food and family and love.

So I’m home with Sophie, facing the headlong rush into Christmas, while still trying to work on my Alamo book. I miss my scattered family, but Sophie seems glad to see me—and I am as always glad to see her.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Happy Thanksgiving from my family to yours

No blog tonight. Just a picture of one very happy mom with her four chicks.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Sunday night supper and a bunch of trivia

Double trouble in Austin

Jordan and Jacob are in Austin, due home tomorrow bringing Ford with them. But Sunday night supper for two seemed sort of weak, although I had gotten the makings for hamburger stroganoff. Instead, Christian and I are headed to a potluck supper at the church.

I love church potluck suppers. They remind me of my childhood. Long buffet line tonight, and people were frantically putting up more tables. No program, just visiting. We sat with people from TCU—I knew the women slightly but it was like meeting new friends. Turkey, dressing, green bean casserole, that pumpkin pie you never eat at any other season. Christian wanted to know why some potato chunks were purple—they just were.

Between the Sunday morning sermon and Facebook, I picked up some wonderful trivia today. Last week, I had a serious discussion with Jacob about the F-word. He asked if I ever used it, and I said no. In the way of twelve-year-old boys, he said, “Aw, c’mon, Juju.” I told him that yes, I let loose with a few milder expletives if pushed, but I can honestly say I have never used the F-word. Today in the sermon, Dr. Russ Peterman mentioned his three favorite F-words: food, family, football. I can’t wait for Jacob to get home, so I can spring that on him.

On Facebook I found an image of Christmas Tinner—a can that has layers of Christmas food. A scrambled egg and bacon layer sits on top followed by two mince meat pies, turkey and potatoes, gravy, bread sauce, cranberry sauce, Brussels sprouts or broccoli with stuffing, roast carrots and parsnips, and Christmas pudding. It reminds me either of the can of haggis a friend once gave me or the original Bob Armstrong layered appetizer at Matt Martinez’ in Austin. Most people say “Yuck,” and I surely wouldn’t substitute it for a real Christmas dinner, but I’m not beyond trying it. Apparently, it was developed for gamers who can’t bear to leave their new Christmas games long enough for dinner with the family—a bad social commentary on our society.

And then, so not in the spirit of Christmas, there’s a Wisconsin business that gave each of its employees a hand gun for Christmas. And who will they complain to if there’s an incident of work-place violence at their business? Another discouraging commentary on our society.

Such commentaries are countered by the examples of kindness we see around us every day. On Facebook, I make it a point to share such stories when I come across them. Remember when Oprah encouraged us all to do one unexpected act of kindness a day? It’s still a good idea as we enter this week of thankfulness.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Busy days, beautiful weather, and peanut butter

Peanut butter, mayonnaise, and lettuce
Have you ever tried it?

I have been overwhelmed, in a nice way, with projects that landed on my desk—the ongoing, bit project is the Alamo book, but I’ve also been trying to promote Gourmet on a Hot Plate, write a book review, make Christmas plans and wrap some presents, and get ready to pack for a few days at one of my sons’ houses. All this is a left-handed way of apologizing because I haven’t blogged regularly. I hope it will get better, but the days ahead look hectic—and lots of fun.

And so much for Jacob who asked if I just sit out here at my desk and scroll through Facebook all day. Or Christian, who suggested that the reason I worry about weeds, etc., is because I have more time on my hands to think about such things. I told him no. I’ve always been that way.

Today was a beautiful day, and I set out to do a grocery curbside pickup. Such a pretty day I went my usual route on the zoo road—just when the zoo was disgorging all the people who had spent the lovely day there. Gridlock. Then I went to a drive-in to pick up a barbecue sandwich for supper—and got behind an SUV of people who didn’t know what they wanted and spent way too long studying the billboard menu, holding up the whole line. And I swear I hit every long red light—me, who goes back roads to avoid red lights! It was an exercise in patience, but I’m glad to report patience won.

My exciting discovery of the day came when I found an article certifying the peanut butter, mayonnaise, and lettuce sandwich as a southern food. It was like the sandwich which I’ve eaten all my life had suddenly been given legitimacy. So the story goes, the sandwich was developed during the Depression when meat was dear and scarce. Peanut butter provided needed protein. I remember an internist telling me he’d rather I ate peanut butter than steak because I’d eat so much less.

A local food historian told me today that she believes there are some foods that southerners tend to eat more of—pimiento cheese, for instance—but she doesn’t think there are any distinctly southern foods. Still, the internet disagrees with her and has labeled the sandwich southern. I grew up in Chicago eating such sandwiches—one of my sons loves them, but the other kids turn up their noses, and I haven’t tried it on grandkids.

Making the sandwich should be a no-brainer, but if you need directions, you can find them here:

Ever have those middle of the night thoughts? The other night I thought of two things I wanted to check on the computer. I’m not the kind to pop up at three a.m. and check the internet. Besides I told myself I’d remember. Next morning, I did remember one of the things—a book for one of my sons. But the other eluded me—and still does. It was a word, a noun I’m sure, and it began with an H, I think. But all I can come up with is Hanratty—he was a famous murderer, so I don’t think that was it. I’ll keep thinking.

Cold tomorrow. Bundle up if you go to church.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Cookbook launch day!

Today was launch day for my third cookbook, Gourmet on a Hot Plate: Tiny Kitchen Tips and Recipes. The tips and recipes combine my lifelong love of cooking, wisdom and practicality of my mom, and my experience of cooking in a tiny kitchen for over two years. No stove, no microwave, no InstaPot, no air fryer. Just me, my hot plate, my toaster oven, and an electric coffeepot.

Gone, for me, are the days of elaborate meals for twenty, the Coquille St. Jacque for eight (the most complicated recipe I ever followed, I think, but it was a roaring success—a friend said she’d traveled the world and never had a better meal.) These days I entertain for happy hour—some great appetizer recipes—and light suppers, like skillet stroganoff or a cold salmon and potato salad platter. There are new and different salads, including a section on composed salads—no, not Jell-O salads from the sixties. A chef friend tells me the most valuable part of the whole book is my clear explanation of charcuteries, cheese platters, and antipasto and how to create them. Confession: there are no dessert recipes, since I cannot make a pie to save my life, though I made a good apple crisp for a guest the other night and have been known to make a galette of mixed berries.

The “mom” part. My mother was a tremendous cook, and she set the pattern for large dinner parties, often cooking for my dad’s professional colleagues. Mom encouraged me in the kitchen, and by the time I was ten or twelve I was her sous chef and dishwasher. While she sparkled at the dinner table, I cleaned the kitchen—and loved doing it. To this day, I clean as I cook—can’t stand to be faced with a disaster of a kitchen late at night, or heaven forbid, the next morning.

Mom loved the story of a childless friend who came by while a girlfriend and I were making cookies. I hadn’t learned the clean-up lesson yet, and the kitchen was a mess—cabinets open, dishes piled in the sink, flour everywhere. The visitor asked, “How can you let them make such a mess?” Mom replied, “If I don’t, they’ll never learn to cook.”

Finally, there’s my cottage cooking. It was my choice not to have a microwave or InstaPot—my brother actually gave me the latter, but I gave it to my daughter and her husband (he’s the real cook). Counter space is just too limited. I’ve learned to cook on what I have—and to reheat leftovers, which is trickier. The first time Jordan and I tried to use the hot plate was hysterical—we put a lamb chop in the pan, pressed the heat button, and waited. Nothing. Jordan poked, she held her hand over it to feel the heat, she jiggled the pan. Then we saw the start button!

An ultimate compliment on my cooking: my former prof and current writing mentor—we’ve been friends for forty years--occasionally came for lunch when I was housebound, and he said once that he continued to be amazed at the meals I turn out. It’s all in the cookbook.

Now, having raved about cooking, it’s a breakfast-for-dinner (brinner) kind of an evening. I see bacon and scrambled eggs on my menu tonight. It’s been a lazy day—I got the cookbook up and for sale, though I had a bit of trouble with platforms other than Amazon, and I spent much of the day working on my Alamo book. Sophie spent a rigorous day defending me from the neighbor’s chickens, those vicious things😊 And, yes, I’m still in my pjs. A delicious day in a lot of ways.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

World Kindness Day

Green shakshuka

"How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world." William Shakespeare

It’s a little late in the day to remind you, but today is World Kindness Day, an international marking of the importance of creating a kinder world by celebrating and promoting good deeds. Can you think of something you did to make someone else’s day better?

All I can think of that I did today that might count was to cook dinner for a treasured old friend. We had a jolly happy hour with Jordan, my neighbor Mary, and dinner guest Nancy. After the first two left, I fixed Green Shakshuka. Shakshuka is a Mediterranean dish of eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, chili peppers, and onions, commonly spiced with cumin, paprika and cayenne pepper.  I have made and enjoyed traditional shakshuka, with the tomato sauce, but tonight it was a green sauce.

Of course, I fiddled with the recipe a little. The recipe called for Swiss chard, but I’m not particularly fond of chard so I used spinach, which I like a  lot. Worked well—and Nancy commented on how good the spinach was—but I think the chard wouldn’t have wilted down so much. Another time I might simply use more spinach. I followed the directions and sautéed onion and garlic, but I’m wondering if green onions might not have been a good idea. When the spinach wilted, I added a bit of cream, and then made four nests—to hold four eggs that poached in the sauce (in a skillet with the lid on).

The toppings for serving were almost as much trouble as cooking the dish. Cotija cheese—but I used goat cheese; sliced avocado; sliced jalapeno (I fixed it for Nancy but passed for myself); chopped cilantro; lime wedges. I do have to say it was pretty good—the lime really finished it nicely..

Even made dessert tonight. An apple crisp that was so easy and delicious—when my Gourmet on a Hot Plate page is up and running ( ), that’s one of the first recipes I’ll include. Since I had the cream I’d used for the shakshuka, I offered cream with the apple crisp. A satisfying meal.

My other notable accomplishment of the day: an appointment with the audiologist. I now know how to make a phone call and leave the phone of my desk, while the sound goes directly into my hearing aids. Jacob accidentally discovered it last night playing a video he did when he was about five, and it nearly blasted me out of my seat. Today, with more control, I played it again and thought nostalgically about how cute he was, singing, “I’m uphappy today,”—his own arrangement and creation.

It’s not too late—go do something kind for someone. This tired old world needs every act of kindness we can give.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Cold nights and warm suppers

Today was a day to stay inside—cold and rainy. I had to get out to do a quick drop-off errand first thing in the morning and then came gratefully home. But the cottage seems chilly to me tonight, and I have on several layers. And I’m longing for a fireplace. Sophie is undaunted by the cold and has chosen to spend much of the day outside, which aggravates the chilliness in the cottage since I leave the door slightly ajar, so she can come in. My rationale is it saves me from getting up but that’s not true—she pushes it open more widely when she comes in, and I have to get up to close it. But then, if that’s the worst problem in my life, I’m pretty lucky.

Ford with Sophie
Just learned that grandson Ford was the Sixth Grade Student of the Week last week at his school in Austin. Go Ford! I couldn't crop the picture, which was grabbed from a school publication, but I do want to report that Ford was wearing a TCU sweatshirt. He's my TCU kid!

Last night I made a big pot of sloppy Joe, because Jacob loves it and his eyes lit up when I said I would make it. Mine is a bit different. It’s actually a recipe for a wine casserole that I got from an old cookbook called, “A Jug of Wine.” My kids grew up on it, and I’m sure you’ve heard me tell about the time Megan made it for her family. Brandon tasted and said, “It’s good, but it’s not sloppy Joe.” She wrote me sarcastically that she guessed she was the only one who thought red wine was an essential ingredient of sloppy Joe.

The “girls”—June Bug and Cricket—certainly thought they’d like some sloppy Joe last night.

How sad. I’m watching a news clip on teaching high school students to save lives in case of a mass shooting by staunching the blood. Makes me want to put my grandchildren in a bubble—or maybe move all of us to Scotland.

I spent much of the day reading about Clara Driscoll, so-called Savior of the Alamo. Actually, I think Adina De Zavala was the real savior, but she had the passion while Driscoll had the money—and got the credit. The way of the world. But I keep learning fascinating bits as I research this book. I knew that Clara built a hotel, among her countless projects, and just assumed it was the Driskill in Austin (didn’t even think about the different spelling of the name). It seemed possible. After all, she and her husband built a magnificent mansion, Laguna Gloria, in Austin and lived there for some years. Today it is the Austin Museum of Art.

But of course, the different spellings finally got through to me. It seems Austin’s Driskill Hotel was conceived and built in1886 by Jesse Driskill, a cattleman. Clara’s hotel is the Robert Driscoll Hotel in Corpus Christi, overlooking the bay, and built in tribute to her brother after his death. Fascinating history and I’m enjoying it..

Now for a quiet evening, eating leftovers and reading a juvenile novel.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

An Armistice Day memory

Thinking about my father tonight, Richard Norman MacBain. Born in 1897 in rural Ontario, a preacher’s kid, he served in the Canadian army in the European trenches of WWI. A hundred years ago. If you’ve read about the “war to end all wars,” you know that it was as miserable as the WWII landing on the beaches of France, just in a different way. Much of it fought in a bitter winter, it confined men to trenches that were wet, cold, miserably uncomfortable. They were hungry; their feet rotted from the wet; they rarely slept.

Dad didn’t talk about the war much. I suspect he, a physician, attributed his occasional bouts of lumbago (an old-fashioned term for low-back pain) to those days in the trenches, and I know his frequent chest colds were blamed on the mustard gas to which he was exposed. But my clearest memory of war-related behavior sees him ducking his head and running for our garage when the new jet aircraft from Chicago’s Midway Field went overhead. Their whine sounded like incoming enemy fire to him, and he ducked instinctively, then chuckled self-consciously at himself.

After the war, Dad came to Chicago to study at the Chicago College of Osteopathy. At a relatively young age, he was president of the college and, later, also administrator of the associated hospital. Active in Chicago’s political affairs, he fought for equality for all of his hospital employees—they were his family. And if the maintenance men were to vanish, Dad knew how to start the boiler. He was a man of absolute honesty and integrity, and if I have accomplished anything in life, I attribute it to lessons learned from him at home and, in high school and college, when I worked for him at the hospital. I was, I say modestly, a damn good executive secretary.

While studying osteopathy. Dad roomed with a man from upper New York named Russell R. Peckham. He was one of four brothers who came to study osteopathic medicine. Russell married Alice Peterman, fathered a child, and died in 1934 of meningitis from a piece of WWI shrapnel lodged in his jaw. A few years later and penicillin would have saved him. But after an appropriate time, my father married Alice, and Russell’s son became my brother, John Peckham. The entire Peckham clan was family to us, and when John and I were young, we could count eighteen osteopathic physicians in the family

Today, John is retired as a D.O. but the tradition continues—his son, Russell, is an osteopathic dermatologist, married to an osteopathic neurologist. And my children’s New York cousins, Jordana Alter Blair, is an osteopathic ER doc, having attended the Chicago college after a recommendation from my brother. No six degrees of separation

But, for me, that rich heritage traces back to the trenches of WWI. Some amazing poetry came out of that war. I think of Wallace Stevens, Rupert Brooke, W. B. Yeats, Amy Lowell, Siegfried Sassoon, Edith Wharton, Alan Seeger. There’s A. E. Housman’s “To an Athlete Dying Young” and a poem I can’t quite bring to the front of my mind where a soldier catalogs, from the grave, the things he has treasured and misses. I want to say, “These I Remember,” and Rupert Brooke, but it doesn’t show up on a search.

And always appropriate today is John McCrae’s “In Flanders Field””

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

    That mark our place; and in the sky

    The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

    Loved and were loved, and now we lie,

        In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

    The torch; be yours to hold it high.

    If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

        In Flanders fields.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Armistice Day and family moments

Flags are flying. In France they held a commemorative ceremony marking the centennial of the end of World War I. Having flown to France for the occasion, the occupant of the White House didn’t attend because of rain—I suppose he was worried about his hair, but Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s  Emmanuel Macron stood bare-headed in the rain, while Justin Trudeau talked of the day at Dieppe when it rained not rain but bullets. President Obama walked in the rain through a military cemetery with the graves of those lost in Afghanistan and Iraq. And I am confused.

In my mind, November 11 is Armistice Day. The eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day. We all stand for one minute facing east. But that’s tomorrow. Has someone passed a law that we cannot mark Armistice Day on Sunday? Will the Rotary flag at my curb still be there tomorrow? I wish they’d quite messing with the dates of national days of celebration and memorial all for the sake of commercialism.

Nonetheless, our pretender-president has shown us again how fragile he is. Between dodging a few raindrops and attacking Jim Acosta, he’s not coming off as a man of self-confidence. General Bone Spurs rides again.

On a personal level, today held some of those family moments you take for granted at the time and later realize are to be treasured. Last night I asked Jacob if he would run some errands with me this morning. In return, I promised him a sausage and biscuit sandwich for breakfast. He dutifully appeared this morning, ate his breakfast, and we went on our way. I can do the pharmacy drive-in and the cleaners, where I would request curb service to turn in my metal hangers for recycling. But the post office to mail a package and the grocery are difficult me with the walker.

Slowly Jacob warmed to the task. By the grocery, he was whipping out my walker for me, and he carried it while I drove the motorized shopping cart. As he remarked, “You only hit one thing, Juju, and that wasn’t a hard hit.” I do wish stores would quit crowding their aisles with dumps. Somewhere in our travels, he said, “Last night when you asked me, I thought I didn’t want to do this. But it hasn’t been bad.” Be still my heart—from a twelve-year-old that’s as close as we can come to praise, but I told him it was called a left-handed compliment. He also said my car didn’t smell bad—he has for a long time said it smells of old leather, maybe because it’s an old car—and he did not say one word about my driving frightening him. I considered the whole outing a success.

This afternoon, the Burton family went to have their pictures taken for a Christmas card. For the first time I was asked to come along—they wanted me in some pictures. Flattering. As I told Christian, I even washed my hair. We took pictures at the shelter at the old site of Shakespeare in the Park—endless shots it seemed, and a long walk for me to and from the car. Then Christian walked me back to the car, where I sat and read while they did family pictures on the levee, with the downtown skyline as a backdrop. Then on to the duck pond where they did more pictures, and I read some more but watched with one eye.

All this photography involved lots of standing, often propping me against a wall or a post so the walker wouldn’t be in the picture—I did clutch Jordan a bit. And one wooden post had nails which caught at my sweater as I moved away. It was by then dusk and growing chilly. Jordan froze on the levee and at the deck pond, and even sitting in the car I was chilled. But it all had a nice family feel to it. I’m waiting for the pictures—hope I wasn’t squinting.

And so tonight I’m going to wrap a few Christmas presents. Don’t judge. I will see some of my family at Thanksgiving—only a week and a half away—and not again before Christmas, so I will have to deliver two families worth of modest gifts then.

Nope, it’s not too early to think about Christmas. As we walked through the super hardware store in our neighborhood shopping center, headed for the post office at the back, we passed all kinds of Christmas things, and Jacob said, “I can’t wait for Christmas.” If a twelve-year-old can admit that, so can I at eighty. Bring it!

Thursday, November 08, 2018

There ain’t no free lunch—but groceries? Maybe.

Yesterday a friend and I went grocery shopping. Whereas many people dislike grocery shopping, I'm one that loves it. It's one of those things I could manage by myself but it’s easier with someone helping. I can’t handle bags of groceries from a walker. As we checked out, we were each given a long-stemmed rose (really long). Betty said it was because they like and appreciate us as good customers. I rarely shop there, but I didn’t turn down the rose. Gave it to a friend I had lunch with.

Betty and I went to the store in her car, transferred the groceries to my car at her house, and I came home. I had specifically asked for refrigerator things to be put in plastic (I usually eschew using plastic) so I could loop my fingers into the handles and get it into the house. Jacob brought the other groceries in when he came home last night.

I had wondered about the blue fabric bag—looked like more groceries than I bought, but I didn’t really pay attention. Gosh know, Idon’t need another fabric bag.. When I unpacked it, I saw things I had not bought, including a 1.5 liter bottle of soft drink which I would never buy. This morning called the store ad explained I got someone else’s groceries and would be glad to bring them back. The manager with whom I spoke said she’d come out to the car to get them.

But then Betty called, and I thought she said she should have left that bag in her car. So, bingo! They were Betty’s groceries. Wrong. She said she already had her bag. I was getting mixed up between the bag and the contents, and I’m not usually that thick in the brain, but she had a hard time getting me to realize the bag and its contents were a gift from the store. So I cancelled the grocery run. Surprised the manager didn’t mention that, but when I called her back, she said “Oh yes. Did you get a rose too?” I considered going back to bed and starting the day over.

Actually turned out to be a good day—I got a lot of work done. It amazes me the small details and chores that crop up and keep me from my writing, but I knocked them out and spent a lot of time reading background material. I now have a fair handle on the life of Clara Driscoll, “Savior of the Alamo.”

And tonight, dinner with three close friends at a renowned enchilada place that was new to me. It was good to catch up on everyone’s doings. Lots of political talk. If we thought it would end after the election, we were wrong. Of course, some returns are still being counted and recounted, but I have a feeling the level of citizen involvement—and outrage—will continue. And that’s a good thing.

Cold weather coming to Texas. Bundle up, everyone.