Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Happy Soggy Halloween



The rain cleared in time for most trick or treating here in Fort Worth, but it sure looked grim for a while. Warm this morning, but the rain began about noon, and the temperature began to drop. Tonight, it is a chilly, damp 55 outside. I turned on the heat and cozied up the cottage.

Jordan and Christian have dinner guests—people I’m fond of—for enchiladas and trick or treating, but I elected to eat a salad in the cottage. Sort of uncharacteristic because I usually welcome social opportunities, but I’m in a working pattern and have not fixed myself up all day. I doubt Jordan’s suggestion that I put on shoes would be enough. I need a shampoo, make-up, fresh clothes—and I just don’t feel like doing that.

Poor Sophie, she has a hot spot on her back end and persists in getting under the wooden coffee table, where she scratches against it lower portion. It’s grotesque looking, and I know it only aggravates the problem. I give her Benadryl twice a day, which the vet says is fine if it controls the itching. I’m about to up it to three times but will ask permission first.

Sophie was never afraid of storms as a pup, but oh my! She does not like thunder now. Seems to think the bedroom is the safest place, perhaps because it doesn’t have all the windows that other parts of the house do. First clap of thunder, and she makes a beeline for her dark, cozy safe place.

Proud of myself on two counts today: my printer jammed, which was all my fault because I left something across the output tray, which caused the paper to back up and jam. I thought I was stymied, but I managed to fish all the crumpled paper out. Taking out the cartridge scared me, and getting it seated right again was a challenge. But I did it.

I am much prouder of my second brag. I reached out to a Trump supporter today, a woman who worked at the university when I did. I’d been responding to her emails, politely but disagreeing. I tried to explain why I didn’t think that we were in danger from an immigrant caravan and, no, they were not terrorists from middle eastern countries. She responded that one man said he wanted to come back to the States to fight a murder conviction, and I said of course in 5,000 people there were some shady characters, but our immigration laws are meant to deal with that.

A friend of hers sandbagged me, in a totally off-topic rant about lyin’ Hilary and what Democrats have done to social security since FDR (I wish she’d explained that one) and telling me to learn the facts and then apologize. I wrote back saying I didn’t have conversations with people who repeat trump-rally rhetoric, and she owed me a apology.

But I thought the first woman had been reasonable, and I enjoyed being able to express myself without antagonism. So I reached out and asked where she worked at the university. Turns out we shared some professors and were both there a long time—and decided yes, we could become friends. Now it occurs to me I should reach out to a couple of other people who have dropped from my life (mostly my fault) over politics. I like conversation—but not diatribes. Still I feel what I did today is one teensy tiny step toward healing the divisiveness in our country.

And so, my friends, on the rainy Halloween, stay dry, be kind to trick or treaters, and treasure the good and kind people in your life.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Book giveaway and a new fan




Best-selling mystery author and my good friend Susan Wittig Albert is offering an autographed ARC (advance reading copy) of her new book, Darling Dahlias and the Unlucky Clover, exclusive to readers of this blog. Leave a comment, and Susan will use a blind number system to choose a winner. Hey, I’m just the middleman here, but glad to do it. Susan’s a wonderful writer, and the Darling Dahlias is a terrific series.

Take a nostalgia trip back to 1934. FDR is in the White House, the New Deal is in full swing, and Prohibition has finally been repealed. In Darling, Alabama, ladies of the local garden club aren’t afraid to dig a little dirt if that’s what it takes to cultivate a mystery. A string of bad luck may have ended for Darling’s favorite barbershop quartet—just when the Dixie Regional Barbershop Competition is about to take place. To complicate things, there’s a serious foul-up in Darling’s telephone system. The town’s party lines may have to go out of business, which would be bad news for the gossips.

This is a charming story of richly human characters who face the Great Depression with courage and grace. Albert reminds us that friends offer the best of themselves to each other, community is what holds us together, and luck is what you make of it. Traditional southern pie recipes (and a little cookery history) included!

And my brag: I got a new fan today. I’ve been exchanging emails about rescuing feral cats with a neighbor I’ve never met. She’s given me great material for a piece for the neighborhood newsletter that I edit. But today, she happened to read the slug line after my signature—it hawks one of my books, Murder at the Bus Depot. She wrote that she’s going to buy it right away. I thanked her and suggested it’s part of a series, and I also have a series set right here in our part of the city. She said she’s going to order them all. I may hire her as a publicist! But it’s proof those tag lines work.

And a meatloaf note: I had the best meatloaf ever last night at the Tavern on Hulen. Menu says the Monday night special is made with USDA Prime. Served with buttery mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach. I may have to go back every Monday night.

Don’t forget—leave a comment on this blog (not on the Facebook listing) to be included in the drawing for the giveaway of The Darling Dahlias and the Unlucky Clover.

Monday, October 29, 2018

My Iron Men


.


My two sons did a half Ironman race in Waco yesterday. That’s Colin, the oldest on the left, and Jamie, my third child on the right. They were cheered on by their families, and I was a bit sad I couldn’t be there for the family fun. But I well know race days are long days.

I think mothers always worry about their kids, no matter the age—and I won’t tell you how old Colin and Jamie are because it makes me sound so old. These two will tell you their mother always worries for sure for no reason. But sometimes you hear of people collapsing during a race. One of my boys has a pre-existing condition which always makes me worry a bit more, though he brushes it off.

A half Ironman consists of a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride, and a 13.1-mile run, for a total of 70.3 miles. What I’m glad I didn’t think of until they told me last night was the effect of all the rain and flooding in Central Texas. They cancelled the swim because of swift current and debris in the water. Colin was bummed because the swim is his best event, the bike ride his hardest. Do you suppose they were actually going to swim in the Brazos?

I think they look pretty darn good for just having done what they did. Jamie texted me after the race, and Colin called on his way home to Tomball.

Once years ago they entered a half Ironman in Austin, along with Megan’s husband, Brandon. They got up at some ungodly hour, checked in with their bikes. It commenced to rain and rain and rain—and it was cold. Jordan and I were staying at the Holiday Inn right on Town Lake, and we kept worrying about that nasty, dirty, greenish-gray water. Fortunately, the entire race was cancelled; everyone went back to bed and met later for brunch.

I’ve always known I was blest—and the pictures from the race brought it home again—by four kids and their families who genuinely love each other and can’t wait to be together again. They usually include me in the fun. I’ve known too many families where there are estrangements, and I think it’s the saddest thing in the world.

I have, like most of us, had friends drop out of my life, and I often quote Ann Lamott, who wrote that when people disappear from your life it means their part in your story is over. I can, with regret, accept that with friends, but never with family. I want to hold them close all the time.
Half the family
After the race,  presume

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Food Fights—no, not that kind!


Supper before cooking
So colorful


Instead of a cooking weekend, I had a food fight weekend—the food against me. Neighbor Mary found lobster at $5 each and brought me one. When I unwrapped it, I was unprepared for all the liquid that gushed forth—everywhere. Spent a lot of time mopping up. Briefly I thought the lobster was uncooked, but no—it was cooked but still in the shell. Now, generally in restaurants I’m pretty good at extricating the meat, especially that tender claw meat. But I don’t have the cracking instruments at home, nor the tiny fork to poke into shells.

I called for pliers, which immediately made Christian ask, “What’s wrong.” He laughed when I told him. No pliers—he sent Jacob with a hammer, and I watched him hammer bugs (so I thought) as he came down the walk. He said no, he was hammering acorns. They are everywhere!

Still I wasn’t at all confident of the hammer’s cleanliness, so I washed it with dish soap, then wrapped a washcloth around it and secured it with a rubber band. My first attempts just sent the claw skittering away from me, unscathed. But eventually I got the shell cracked enough to get the meat out.

Lobster salad—essentially a lobster roll without the bun—was good, but I don’t think I want to do that too often. I had a big bag of lobster trash—shells, wet paper towels, etc.—that friends kindly took to the garbage for me.

The roasted version
No nearly as colorful
Tonight’s supper is an experiment—with neighbors as guinea pigs. The entree consists of cubes of roasted vegetables and chunks of sausage, kielbasa or something similar. You toss it with olive oil and bagel seasoning mix. I never heard of the seasoning, but you can buy it at Trader Joe’s or Central Market or probably other stores. I also found an online recipe under “Everything but the Bagel Seasoning.” The prepared kind has poppy seeds in it, so I made my own and left the poppy seeds out because I don’t like them. You bake it at 400 for 20 minutes.

The vegetables I thought would be colorful are beets, carrot, Brussel sprouts, and acorn squash. I didn’t quite understand the online ordering directions for curbside pickup and ended up with one large beet, one large carrot, and more Brussel sprouts than I will eat in a month of Sundays. But my second food fight was with the squash. If it’s hard to peel a raw beet—and it is—it’s impossible to peel a raw squash. I couldn’t even cut it in half—Christian had to do that for me. I scraped out the seeds but still couldn’t peel it. Finally baked half until it was soft but not edible yet, scored it, and cut out the chunks. It may turn to mush in the baking.
The proof is in the pudding. The veggies needed longer cooking--like almost an hour--and they weren't nearly as colorful and pretty. But they were tasty and tender and the sausage was great. Another time I'll omit the Brussel sprouts. I never have really warmed to them. But this is a keeper recipe.

Fortunately my lunch easy to fix and looked colorful on the plate—it made up in color for what the cooked dinner lacked. My mom always said food is half eaten with the eye. I seem to be on a no-bagel kick, because lunch was essentially lox and

bagels without the bagel. I’m not a bagel fan anyway but I sure do love lox.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Change the date of Halloween? Heresy!




I admit I’m not the biggest fan of Halloween. I get tired of ghosts and goblins everywhere and spooky food on TV shows. Christian decorates the house with skulls and witches’ hats and gauzy material that is supposed to be scary but only scares me because I wonder how clean it is. Give me Christmas anytime.

But I am also a traditionalist. Now I read that the Halloween and Costume association wants to change the date. You know, the people who sell costumes, etc. This year, Halloween comes on Wednesday, and they’re afraid you won’t go all out and spend money. Kids will have school the next morning, parents have to work all day and can’t devote much time to costumes, etc. How many times do they think the holiday lands on a non-school night? Odds are against that. They didn’t say it’s about money, but it’s obviously what they’re thinking—crass commercialism wins again.

So they’re petitioning the sitting president to change Halloween to the last Saturday of the month. Heresy! Don’t they know the word literally translates to the night before All Hallowed Day? Don’t they know when the saints are abroad, and the dead arise from the grave? You can’t mess with God’s calendar. I don’t think even trump can issue such an executive order. And it’ll never get him more votes in the Latino community where Day of the Dead is a big deal. According to this business plan, Day of the Dead would always come on the sabbath. Now that’s just plain wrong.

One of the findings the business group cited to support their cause is that 70 percent of parents let their children go trick-or-treating alone. I’m not sure how that would change on a Saturday night, but I am sure they didn’t canvas my neighborhood, where Halloween is a big family affair.

For several years, I’ve gone to my next-door neighbors’ front porch. Susan makes a big pot of beef stew, we all chip in some candy, and it’s great fun. Ours is one of those neighborhoods where people bring their children from far parts of the city, and I’m always impressed by their manners. Parents are strict about “Only one piece” and “Did you say thank you?” We do get some older kids who are untended, but we’ve had few troublemakers.

Our neighborhood association with city officials arranges for two handicapped children to experience trick-or-treating. Neighbors on the next block routinely host that event. The street is closed to automobile traffic, and the chosen children arrive by ambulance, complete with a full medical team. That’s the kind of spirit I like to see about Halloween.

I guess I’d like Halloween better if we didn’t drag it out for three or four weeks. One night is fine and fun—but it must be October 31 and not just any old Saturday night. The very idea!

Friday, October 26, 2018

Chicken-fried steak and doctors




Today is National Chicken-fried Steak Day. What? You missed it? I used to know a man who insisted that the word steak was redundant. All you had to say, he claimed, was “Chicken-fried.” I always wondered what would happen if he ordered that way at my favorite Star Café and they brought him chicken-fried chicken.

There’s a local Facebook page that features memories of Fort Worth, and today someone asked about favorite chicken-fried steak. The trouble with that question is twofold: it rolls around so often, it’s repetitive. Seems to me we just listed our favorites. And by far the most votes go to Mary’s Café in Strawn—a bit of a drive from Fort Worth and today one woman said she had the toughest piece of meat ever there. But the other winner is always Massey’s, a beloved down-home restaurant that has been out of business for at least fifteen years. What’s the sense of naming that? It doesn’t tell us where to go today for good CFS. As an aside, on Fridays Massey’s used to serve salmon patties, and I loved them.

As for CFS, my favorite is the Star Café, and Fort Worth Star-Telegram writer and food critic Bud Kennedy always rates it highly. Yes, of course I’m prejudiced—good friends own it. But it is still the most mouth-watering, tender CFS. The breading sticks to the meat, and the gravy has legs. Try it sometime. Individually battered, not frozen, pre-cut pieces of meat. All fresh and all good.

Otherwise today was a doctor day. I had an 11:00 appointment with the cornea specialist who claimed, way back in January, that I would have to have cornea replacement surgery after my surgery to fish out the wandering lens. But my vision has been so good, I was prepared to stand my ground and say no more surgery. I needn’t have bothered. She practically did a happy dance over the improvement of my eyes, said I probably only need over-the-counter readers. My vision is 20/40 in both eyes. Hooray! The surgeon dismissed me to go back to my regular eye doctor and I feel like a great burden has been lifted.

Poor Jordan did not fare so well in the doctor’s office. She has a stomach bug for which they gave her medications and recommended isolation. Poor Christian said, “But I’ve already kissed her this morning.” Last I heard tonight she does not feel a whole lot better. And the worst of it is that this weekend is her 25th high school reunion. They were to go to the football game tonight and a dinner tomorrow night. I am really sorry for her—and hoping none of the rest of us get it. I hesitate to check on her because I don’t want to wake her.

Beautiful weather coming this weekend—in the low 80s and sunny. Just perfect. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Birthdays, turkey day, and elections




There he is—Ford Hudgeons, newly twelve years old, in the TCU shirt I sent him. Ford is in the middle of my grandchildren, neither the oldest nor the youngest. But he is distinguished by being the absolute best TCU fan in the bunch. For some time, his ambition was to play soccer for TCU, but he has played so many sports—including on the Austin all-city baseball team—that I don’t know what sport he’ll choose for college. But I sure am encouraging those TCU leanings. We have occasional happy weekends when his mom brings him to Fort Worth for a TCU game of one kind of another. His dad and brother stay behind and do dumb things like go off in desert country and shoot at targets.

It’s getting close to Thanksgiving. I was leafing through the November Bon Appetit today and was struck by the editor’s story of the year his mom introduced a new stuffing. She was severely chastised and threatened not to do that again. Actually, I don’t care a lot about stuffing. I grew up on “northern” white bread stuffing and like it with some gravy. But I’ve fallen into a family of southern girls who make cornbread stuffing, and I’m not crazy about the texture. The magazine had a recipe for stuffing with apricots and mushrooms—now I could go for that. We never “stuff” the bird anymore—it’s a side dish, just like mashed potatoes, green bean casserole.

One of my southern girls also changes the traditional green bean casserole recipe—heresy! Her version is good, but I long for the plain old green beans, mushroom soup, and French’s fried onion rings. In his opening essay, the editor suggested that Thanksgiving is 90% about cooking and 10% about eating. I think that’s true. I’m just never the one in charge of the kitchen anymore—a benefit/problem of old age. I remember when I was the head cook.

One thing I wondered as I read the magazine: why is everything charred these days? I don’t like a burnt taste. They had recipes for chicken soup with charred cabbage—okay I could happily eat chicken soup with cabbage, but the charred doesn’t appeal. Or shaved carrots with charred garlic? I read that as burnt garlic. Even my grandkids used to accuse me of burning things—and now people do it on purpose?

And then there’s politics, more so these days as the election draws closer. I am distressed by the vitriolic posts on Facebook, and I long to have a reasonable discussion with someone. Instead, I am told I’m an idiot for my opinions and even questions I raise. I have had several messages that call President Obama a POS and one that declares he and Hillary collaborated to murder Judge Scalia in a plot to put a Democrat on the Supreme Court. Really? I’d love to see the evidence. I’d like to ask someone why they’ll vote for Cruz and why they accept trump’s dismissal of the Khashoggi torture/murder and his hyper-tweets that place Middle Eastern terrorists in the midst of the immigrant caravan. My favorite meme of the day: Middle Eastern terrorists who want to slip into the country always fly into Honduras and walk the rest of the way.

What has happened to civility and common sense? I was delighted that the Dallas Morning News endorse Beto O’Rourke for his efforts to bring unity to the country. Remember the words of Lincoln: A house divided against itself cannot stand.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Pumpkins, barbecue—it must be fall




Tonight was the annual pumpkin carving on the Burton front porch. Ideally, the idea is that everyone eats pizza and some appetizers—broccoli and cheese bites, hummus, cheese, sausage—and then the kids carve the pumpkins, while the adults sit around, drink wine, and visit. That’s not exactly how it worked out.

Jacob had the first finished pumpkin, and it was great. But he had drawn teeth into it. My explanation of how to carve the teeth didn’t work. After he had created a toothless mouth, he said, “Oh! Now I get it!”



With the younger girls—and one boy—there were lots of squeamish faces about cleaning out the insides of the pumpkins, though Jordan had gotten a marvelous scooping tool.



And you know who ended up doing most of the work. The moms.


The evening turned cool, and I didn’t last long on the porch, but it was fun.

A random email from someone named Jack Thompson asked me to mention his web site, BroBBQ. I looked at it and found a really helpful interactive diagram of a beef cow—hover over any one section and it tells you all about the cuts from that part of the animal, how they are cooked, etc. Then there is a page of recipes for various meats—beef, chicken, ribs, etc. I haven’t figured out what the site sells or how they make any money, but it’s worth a look.

Thompson says he is dedicated to all things BBQ and was once told: “Whatever you do in life, do it slow and steady like when you barbecue your beef cuts, because the best BBQ is slow cooked. 

Check it out at http://brobbq.com.




Sunday, October 21, 2018

Clothes, food, and good people




Some Facebook posts today have made me realize there really are still good people in this world—a family who took in a Central American boy for a summer and ultimately adopted him, a woman who opens her home to immigrants recently released from our detention centers—she has given food, clothing, a place to sleep, and, most of all, kindness and encouragement to over 1400 immigrants in the last eight years. And there’s a South African community that “punishes” a miscreant by putting him in the middle of a circle of his tribe who spend two days talking about the good in him. What a wonderful, positive approach. We need to spend a lot more time talking about the acts of kindness and caring in this tired old world of ours.

I can’t claim much self-pity tonight. I am well-fed. Jordan picked a recipe for our Sunday supper—chicken francese, essentially chicken in a lemony broth. But it required dipping the chicken first in flour, then in beaten egg, and doing it in batches. Definitely not a recipe for a tiny kitchen and a hot plate. I turned it over to Christian, and he did a masterful job, with some tweaks of his own. Delicious.

And speaking of recipes, friend Ellen Kurtzman hooked me up with a Scottish web page. I got to tell you—those folks really like fruitcake, something my family won’t touch. Years ago, when I was a doctor’s wife, we used to get fruitcake as gifts, and I had it in the freezer for months. Don’t get me wrong—I like it. But a little goes a long way. Still this web page has tone of fruitcake recipes.

The most amazing one? A three-ingredient cake—dried fruit (which my kids uniformly abhor), flour, and chocolate milk. Sounds great to me, but I don’t know what I’d do with it after I made it.

My mom used to make a yeast-rising coffee-cake with English dried fruit in it, flavored with cardamom. I love it and long for it to this day, but my kids are loudly scornful of it. Who raised those kids with such limited taste?

And clothing. At this late date, I ordered and got a Beto T-shirt to show my support for our Texas senatorial candidate. I wanted to wear it to church this morning, but common sense prevailed. Still I figure I have to wear it everywhere in the next—what?—sixteen days.

Loved the picture of Thomas Torlincasi, a local activist, at a Cruz rally. Talking to a reporter, he casually unzipped his jacket to reveal his Beto shirt. The image even made the George Stephanopoulus show this morning.

And, finally, speaking of clothes—I set the record for a fast change this morning. I wasn’t sure if Christian would make it to church or not, but just in case I washed my hair early. At 9:30 he said he probably wanted to go, but he was trying to get up and would let me know by ten. By 10:15 I decided we weren’t going. So when Jacob came out, dressed in church clothes, at 10:40, I was still in jammies, no makeup. Would you believe we left at 10:48 and made it to a pew before the processional? As always it was worth the rush, and I’m glad we went.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

The long walk north




I’ve been worrying about the Central American immigrants for some time. You’d think by now that word would have spread that we aren’t exactly putting out coffee and doughnuts for them. Indeed, they run the real risk of having their children taken from them and put in cages. Some will never see their children again. Some parents will be deported, without their children, and our government has done an unbelievably poor job of keeping records. They simply can’t match children to families. Some youngsters will be placed in adoptive homes, which I suspect is  illegal without parental consent. The parents themselves will be locked up for long periods in hardship conditions and in most cases ultimately sent back to their homeland. A long, difficult walk for nothing.

And still they come, which makes me wonder how bad conditions are in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. What is bad enough to make them risk the journey and the unpleasant reception at the end? We hear tales of murder and rape, starvation and poverty, but those ae only tales—until you see people desperate enough to undertake this uncertain journey.

I saw a clip this morning of trump talking about the immigrant caravan. He, who usually is harsh in his criticism of Mexico, praised that country for its efforts to stop the caravan. But what really caught my attention was his insistence that the people of the caravan are hardened criminals, “really bad guys.”

Sure they are—that’s why they carry their children in their arms and the few possessions on their backs.

No doubt there are some bad guys among the 4,000 people. But statistics I’ve read indicate that most immigrants want to live in peace, work hard, raise their families in safety. And to those who complain about the drain on our economy—think again. The immigrant population picks our crops, cleans our houses and hotels, keep our yards in shape.  In lesser numbers, they are also PhDs, faculty at universities, physicians who protect our health, businessmen who move our society ahead.

Then there’s that sticky issue of legal vs. illegal. Obtaining legal status in the U.S. is a lengthy, expensive, and uncertain process. Many would-be citizens do not have the money and are not allowed to stay here long enough to establish residence, etc. Probably, those “hardened criminals” enter illegally, but I wonder if the same desperation that drove them north doesn’t push some good people to try illegal entry.

We haven’t head as much in the last couple of months about ICE’s cruel and senseless deportation of family members who have lived here a long time, built a business, paid taxes, abided by the law, and been contributing members of society. I think each such case should be carefully considered with compassion rather than that instant deportation we’ve seen.

I have no solution. I wish I had the wisdom for one. We cannot absorb the numbers of people who want to come here—it’s physically and economically impossible. But we do need rational, compassionate immigration reform, done without racial prejudice or economic motives.

Meanwhile, perhaps trump should remember that folk saying: Never judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes. The last I heard though trump was threatening to deploy the full forces of the military. Where are you, General Mattis?

Friday, October 19, 2018

Death and taxes…or money on my mind




You know that old saying—nothing is certain except death and taxes. I hope death is not imminent, but taxes certainly are, with the new tax code. For years I have paid my property taxes and church donation twice in one year—the current year in January and the next in December. That got me a nice deduction beyond the standard deduction.

Today I talked to my accountant just to verify if this was a year I paid or not. He told me under the new tax law it doesn’t matter. I wouldn’t reach the standard deduction. I’m not quite sure if that’s a good thing or not—does that mean I get a higher deduction?

We talked about medical costs—last year mine were so high I got a deduction, and I told him they wouldn’t be for 2018 and going forward to 2019 I expected to have much lower costs because I am done, done, done with medical problems. He laughed and complimented me on my positive attitude (I really mean it—I’ve had more than my fair share).

As we ended the conversation, he said, “At the end of the day nobody benefited from the new tax law except a very few,” and I replied, “I’m voting Blue.”

Couple that with the fact that McConnell, the man who is hell-bent on destroying democracy, will push for a cut in social security and Medicare next year, and folks like you and me are, well, I believe the phrase is screwed. Other administrations—George W. Bush comes to mind—have “borrowed” from social security with no intent to repay, but this is the first time that I know of that anyone in Congress has suggested cutting the amount paid monthly to seniors. The cost of living raises may not have been much, but we have gotten them all fifteen years that I’ve been eligible. Apparently McConnell’s scheme is one to avoid the repayment issue.

I absolutely cannot understand how McConnell can talk so blithely about this, when those funds are not entitlements. They represent money we as citizens—well those of us who are elderly—have paid into the system to ensure payments in our golden age. Even Reagan made it clear that is not government money.

If by chance (please, Lord, no) the Republicans keep control and pass a Draconian measure, it’s bound to end up in the courts. But that would drag on forever—would we get payments while it was considered and appealed all the way to SCOTUS? And if it got to SCOTUS, are we again screwed because Kavanaugh is on the court?

Then again suppose the Blue Wave sweeps Congress—it’s all a moot point. The cuts won’t happen, and Kavanaugh may well be impeached.  See what a complicated world we live in?

I’m voting Blue.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

A new world of sound




Ring the bells! Bang the drums! Clash the cymbals! Let the music begin. I have new hearing aids! They’re half the size and half the weight of the ones I’ve had forever—and the tone is so much better. I spent most of the morning in the audiologist’s office learning how to use them. One huge benefit--I can now talk on the phone while my cell phone is lying on my desk. I don’t have to hold it up to my ear.

One thing I’ve learned with my medical troubles of late is that assistants in medical offices tend to chatter way too fast and talk way too softly. I’m hoping the new ears will mean I don’t have to keep saying, “Whoa! Slow down!” I’m so tired of saying, “Pardon me. Would you repeat that—slowly.”

I also expect these new aids to allow me to enjoy music more, especially church music. Hope to try it out on Sunday.

Other than that lengthy appointment, today was a work day, and I made good progress on the Alamo book. But last night I had one of the best dinners I’ve had in a long time. Betty, Jean, and I went to Paris Seventh, a spin-off of Saint Emilion, the fanciest French restaurant in town (maybe the only upscale French one). At Paris Seventh they offer a bistro menu on Tuesday and Wednesday nights if you have a reservation and get there before 6:45. The cost for three courses is $30 including tip but not wine.

I try to remember to watch the menu, because it changes every week. This week, the three courses were cream of mushroom soup, salmon en croute, and crème brulee. There’s a lot of cream and richness in those dishes. I ate all the soup but could only manage half the salmon, which was in a rich cream sauce with a bit of spinach. Absolutely delicious, but so filling. I brought half the salmon home but enjoyed the crème brulee which was lighter than many versions.

Had the leftover salmon tonight. Still good, but not as good as when it was fresh, hot, and finished with that good sauce.

Service was courtly if a bit slow—everyone seems to hit the restaurant at the same time to take advantage of the bistro menu. But I will continue to watch for the weekly menu and go back for the bistro dinner. Great experience.

But there was restaurant chatter. I need to go back with my super-sensitive aids which constantly check and adjust for the environment. So excited to hear the world again.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Soup’s on! (on the hot plate, that is)






Our chilly damp weather continues. Yesterday afternoon it occurred to me that it is definitely soup weather. So I made a clean sweep of the freezer, scooping up a bit of corn, both beef and chicken broth, a serving of beef and barley soup, and I’m not sure what else. This morning I added a can of tomatoes (turned out to be whole plum tomatoes when I wanted diced, but I didn’t discover that until I’d opened the can), some egg noodles, the peas and carrots combo from last night’s supper. Cooked it all morning at a low simmer—I have to watch because the hot plate turns itself off every so often and for long cooking, I have to go re-start it.

When my kids were young, we called this soup of the week. They used to identify Monday’s meal, the stew from Tuesday, the hamburger casserole from Wednesday. And it always came out sort of tannish brown, often that muddy color author Dan Jenkins called the color of Texas food. Today my soup was a rich brown because of the tomatoes and beef broth.

A good friend was coming to pick me up for lunch, but I surprised her with my pot of soup. She appeared delighted, and we had a good quiet visit without contending with restaurant clatter and chatter. She said her late husband used to make what they called “leftover soup,” and if it came out especially delicious, she warned everyone to enjoy it now because it could never be duplicated. It never does come out quite the same way.

It’s sort of appropriate that I made soup on the hot plate today because I’m excited to announced that my new cookbook, Gourmet on a Hot Plate: Tiny Kitchen Tips and Recipes is now available for pre-order on Amazon. Here’s the link: https://www.amazon.com/Gourmet-Hot-Plate-KItchen-Recipes-ebook/dp/B07JC75FC5/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1539811421&sr=1-1&keywords=Gourmet+on+a+hot+plate It will be for sale November 15. Right now, you can only pre-order the digital version but on publication day it will also be available in paperback.

So if you’re wondering how I cook a full meal with a hot plate and a toaster oven or how I make tzatziki or why I put a pinch of sugar in spaghetti sauce, the cookbook has your answers.

In November, I’ll announce an ongoing blog page where I’ll add recipes and welcome your comments, recipes, and suggestions so we can have a conversation. Putting together a cookbook is fun but there are always those recipes you come across later and wish you’d included. And some I either haven’t had time or nerve to try, like Cacio de Pepe, literally cheese and pepper pasta—think Parmesan and Pecorino.

Stay warm and dry, folks.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

News of the world




Yesterday almost everyone in the Metroplex braved their way through a day without the internet, due to a lightning strike that got a crucial AT&T station plus the backup, or so I heard. When I finally got email back, just before I went to bed, I had about 60 emails but at least half were people in my neighborhood complaining about the outage, counting the hours, etc. I heard on TV that it was such a major problem that AT&T is considering honoring discount requests.

So today we have wifi back, and it’s amused me to know what I learned, what I apparently missed yesterday. Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess, are expecting a baby. Jamal Kashoggi was probably killed by “rogue” killers—aren’t all killers rogue? Justin Bieber is conflicted over his romantic interests. The national deficit continues to grow, but McConnell knows how to fix it—just cut entitlements. That means your social security and Medicare—and mine but not that big tax deduction or the one percent. Ted Cruz is running doctored footage and telling lies about Beto. Maybe Trump was right when he called him “lyin’ Ted.”

I think in retrospect yesterday was peaceful. I need to keep the TV off, not check MSN and Facebook, and only use wifi for research.

Heavy rains this morning but it stopped in time for my doctor’s appointment—the nephrologist says I’m going to live, but when they gave me my paperwork I was startled by her initial diagnosis. For those who want to know what made me whine all summer it was acute renal failure. It sort of makes me feel like the hypochondriac whose tombstone read, “I told you I was sick.” Fortunately I feel a whole lot better.

Poor Jordan was caught in rush-hour traffic returning from a five-day trip to Cabo, and I am sure she was freezing. The trip was work for her but still pleasant, and the pictures she sent of food at high-end resorts were amazing. But it was 90 when she left, and she came home tonight, without coat or sweater, wearing flip-flops. She came into the cottage wearing a warm work-out suit and complained she was still cold.

More food thoughts: I got busy this afternoon and made tuna patties, with the goal of one for supper. And defrosted the makings of a pot of soup of the week—this is turns out will be heavily beef flavored. Some beef stock, some beef and barley soup, black-eyed peas, a bit of carrots and peas left from the can I opened for supper a little bit of chicken stock that will get lost in the beef flavor. Tomorrow I’ll add a half potato from the fridge, a half zucchini sliced, and some egg noodles. And then I’ll think about whatever else it needs, but it already threatens to be a huge pot of soup. It struck me today that cold and rainy as it was it’s a good time to make soup—and it’s also a good time to clean out the odds and ends in the freezer.

Neighbor Mary came for a happy hour glass of wine and brought me an amazing piece of pear and chocolate tart with an apricot glaze. Made up for my rather mundane supper. So delicious.

I’m so glad to be back to cooking and eating.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Lessons in the internet—and good food, good company




A one step forward and two steps backward kind of a day. I had a delightful lunch with my friend Heather, who cooks at the Modern and teaches at Sur La Table. I had whined to her that so many of the recipes I collect contain things my family won’t eat. She suggested I send her one, so I did—it was called spaghetti pie, though to me it was just a skillet spaghetti meal—and it had eggplant in it, a no-no in this household I’m sure.

Today she brought it for lunch, and I fixed a quick green salad. We feasted, and we talked about dogs, cats, politics, TCU, and all things irrelevant. I enjoy our occasional lunch visits. My turn to cook next, so I will have to find another recipe I want to try that the kids wouldn’t like.

And speaking of things the family won’t eat: Jordan being out of town, she picked our Sunday night menu—hot dogs with a semi-Korean topping of cabbage, cilantro, onion, kimchi, a sauce of mayo, lime juice, sesame seeds, and scallions, and grated cheddar. Too me that was more than one poor hot dog could bear, so I simplified. I had never tried kimchi—to eat or to cook with—and I was apprehensive about Christian’s reaction. I bought “mild cabbage kimchi”—he doesn’t like cabbage, but hey! He said he loved it. I thought it was pretty good. Jacob ate his hot dog with ketchup and cheese. Strangely enough, the recipe said to sauté the kimchi—Heather said she’d never heard of cooking it. Now I have half a bag of kimchi—any takers?

Tonight’s experiment was a gourmet pizza of crème fraiche, smoked salmon, and caviar. But for two people I decided to make individual pizzas on lightly toasted flour tortillas. Lesson learned: flour tortillas puff up like sopapillas when you toast them, but they deflate quickly. And crème fraiche is a bit sweet. Still, my dinner guest raved about it. Good quick easy meal. Served with Caesar salad.

But on to today’s frustration—in mid-morning, I suddenly had no wifi. Unbelievable how that hampers you—I couldn’t send or receive email or Facebook messages, and, most important, since I was working hard on the Alamo project, I couldn’t do online research. So I still don’t know who General Andrade was and if he really tried to destroy the Alamo after San Jacinto but was met with flaming swords, nor what happened to the chapel during much of the nineteenth century—did it just sit vacant and decay? And other questions—I’ve made a list. Most frustrating was that somehow, I would get notices that someone had posted on Facebook—but I couldn’t see the posts. My cell phone tells me I have fifty invisible posts. Who knows how many emails?

I did find that I could text Christian, and he reported that the outage is all over the Metroplex, the results of a lightning strike to one of AT&T’s motherboards. No estimated repair time. Twenty years ago, this wouldn’t have bothered me much; now it makes me frantic. Ah, technology. Save a little time and waste a lot more.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

That verboten subject




We’re always cautioned not to talk about politics and religion. But our minister made a strong argument this morning for talking about politics—and doing something about it. The root of the word is the Greek “polis”—it literally means city, or citizenship. We are encouraged to become active in our larger community, to do something for the common good. That should hit people who scorn politics and refuse to “get involved.”

On the other hand, the word partisan comes from the military and means to separate or divide. It can also mean to be prejudiced in favor of a particular cause. Ideally, we should be political but not partisan. These days I find that a hard distinction to make.

To avoid being partisan, I sometimes like to identify myself as a liberal—but that choice is fraught with peril. Conservatives use it s a term of scorn and distort it to libtard (the etymology of which I don’t which to explore, thank you). But maybe we wouldn’t be so divided if we could think of ourselves as liberals and conservatives.

There is much to admire about ideal conservatism—fiscal responsibility, holding to old values. I have trouble with their ideas on the distribution of wealth and opposition to change and progress.

But today, the conservative party in power has so twisted and abandoned the ideals they espouse that their philosophy is not recognizable. If you hold to traditional values, you don’t elevate an accused sexual attacker to the Supreme Court; you don’t tear families apart and lock children in cages; you don’t wantonly pollute the environment and kill God’s creatures.

Maybe if we thought of ourselves as liberals and conservatives, we could hold a conversation without resorting to shrill shouting matches and exercises of power. I’d like that.

Meantime, as I reflected to myself in church this morning, my faith determines my politics. I believe God loves a people and creatures, and he gave us enough wealth on this earth to take care of all. It’s how you treat others that matters. And if there is a judgment day—I’m not sure about that—how you treated others will be how you are judged.

Sermon over.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The second battle of the Alamo




I was a recluse today. Just me, Sophie, and that pesky squirrel on the patio. If I had to choose a day to be a recluse, this was a good one. Dark, rainy, stormy this morning. We had those proverbial sheets of blowing rain. Not much thunder, but enough to keep Sophie close to me. This afternoon, the rain stopped, and I even saw sunshine briefly. But there’s more rain tomorrow and then a severe drop in temperature.

I made good use of my day at home alone, worked hard most of the day except for a mid-day break. Spent the day at the Alamo, and I guess it’s time to explain that. In June, a friend was diagnosed with metastatic cancer—someone I knew basically through a close-knit online group of writers but had had one really good in-person visit with. She had a contract with a New York publisher and was working on a book on the second battle of the Alamo. But Debra, the Energizer Bunny, had several other projects going on all the time, and I became part of the squad cheering her on to work on the Alamo book. I knew the story of the second battle, and it’s the kind of history that fascinates me.

When she was hospitalized, she called me one day. “Deb, what can I do for you?” I asked, and she replied, “Write the Alamo book.” I would never ever have wanted that assignment under these circumstances, but it was a project I took on willingly, partly to honor her and partly because it intrigues me. It was the end of summer before the editor, Deb’s partner and literary executor, and I could all reach an agreement. We had danced around the subject as long as Debra was with us. But when she died, we tackled it.

And I have been working on it for about a month now. I’ve sent a draft of the first bit to the editor and gotten back an incredibly helpful critique. Since I’ve written fiction for so long, it’s almost a new experience for me to work with an editor this closely in a back and forth manner, and I’m loving it. I spent most of today putting together a chapter she wants that hadn’t even occurred to me. But it’s all the history I love, and I’m having fun. Problem is, unlike my own fiction, I have a deadline—it was February, but it’s been pushed to May. I think I can do it, but I feel the pressure. So today was a long day at the keyboard.

Tonight, I’m going to continue re-reading a novel about this second battle. TCU Press published it some twenty years ago, and I edited it. But that’s a long time. So far, just barely into it, I’m finding it enormously helpful for atmosphere and period details.

So you might like to know about the second battle of the Alamo. I assume everyone knows about the first. The second was in the early 1900s when a part of the mission compound was in danger of being torn down and replaced by a glitzy hotel. Two women, members of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, saved the iconic mission. But what began as a collegial relationship soon deteriorated into a definite difference of opinion about which parts of the mission were essential.

The story of the massacre at the Alamo is a man’s story, full of blood lust and courage—and all those qualities we associate with bold men. But the story of the Alamo does not end with that 1836 battle and defeat. Nor is it always a men’s story. The second battle of the Alamo was a women’s battle, fought with the same determination as shown by the original defenders but with different weapons—with words and money and sometimes with outrageous behavior.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Drums in the morning




This morning I was rudely awakened at 7:30 (after being up at 6:45 with Sophie) by what sounded like someone tapping the window in my front door. When I pulled myself to full consciousness, I realized it was the tat-tat-tat of drums, soon followed by the boom of bigger, deeper drums.

It was the annual walkathon at Sweet Lily B. Clayton, the elementary school across from my house. When Jacob was in school there, I thought the spirit activities preceding the walk were stirring and always watched from the front porch. Now that I’m tucked away in the cottage out of sight I find it less thrilling.

This afternoon, a happy and pleasant gentleman came to repair our gate. He assured me it was fixable and he wouldn’t need to bother me again—so I took a nap. However, fixing it involved some weird kind of machinery that whined at various pitches. It reminded me of having an MRI, listening to the sounds and try to make a pattern or some sense of them. I almost—but not quite—got up to see what he was doing. Whatever it was, stopped, and I did fall asleep. Presto! When I got up the gate was fixed.

For me to get annoyed at those two intrusions on my sleep tells me it’s either the falling barometer or I need to work on my negativity. I was bummed last night because I found my latest prescription for a blood thinner will cost over $400—I’m fortunate I can scrape that together, while I know many people couldn’t. But still it’s frustrating. I’m in the dreaded doughnut hole where I landed because of lots of very expensive eye drops earlier this year. Another reason to vote blue.

And when I went to pick up my prescription I got annoyed by all the construction around the east side of the university campus. All those cute, old bungalows—so typical of a major era in our history—are being swept away and replaced by townhouses and stealth dorms (buildings that skirt zoning laws by having one kitchen for several small apartments). The university has closed a couple of side streets and is generally complicit in changing the face of the neighborhood. I wish they’d take a course in urban preservation.

Hmmm—there was a third thing that irritated me, but I have to laugh at myself. I can’t think of it now. Tomorrow it is supposed to rain all day, so I’ll have to make a determined effort to brighten my mood. I’ll probably stay home and work on revisions of the Alamo book, which is what I did today. Intense work. Not exactly cheering but encouraging.

IF you’re in North Texas, stay warm and dry. It’s not only going to be wet, but I heard it’s going down to the forties by Monday.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

A return to the coat-hanger era?




With the elevation of Brett Kavanaugh to a seat on SCOTUS, many are worried about the possible overturn of Roe vs. Wade. Such a move would rob women of control over their own bodies—and their lives.

Before Roe vs. Wade, desperate women often had what were called back-alley abortions, procedures performed by some unlicensed, probably unqualified practitioner. Other women induced their own abortions by using coat hangers. Too many died of sepsis (overwhelming infection) and other traumas.

So it was entirely inappropriate when a Republican legislator (sorry, can’t remember if he was state or Federal) made a joke (he thought) by saying, “Get your coat hangers ready, ladies!” It was a tacit admission that the only thing that will change about abortion is the safe treatment of women.

I well remember the era before Roe vs. Wade—and one specific incident which made the whole thing come home to me. My father was an osteopathic physician and administrator of a hundred-bed hospital in Chicago. He was also primarily responsible for getting osteopathic physicians to the right to perform surgery in the State of Illinois (he himself could have been sued for lancing a boil). It was no surprise that staff surgeons looked to Dad for advice and counsel.

One day when I was about twelve, I answered a mid-day phone call to hear a surgeon growl, “Let me talk to your dad.” With my best phone manners, I assured him Dad wasn’t at home. “Goddamit, Judy,” he exploded. “I know he’s napping, and I need to talk to him NOW. Go get him.” I did.

It turned out the surgeon had been called by a back-alley abortionist who had botched a procedure and thought his patient was dying. He was begging for help to save her life. This was a real dilemma for the surgeon: it being against the law to perform an abortion, he could lose his medical license if he tried to save the patient. His career, and his chance to help many other patients, would be gone; if he didn’t’ help, a young woman might die.

As I said, I was twelve, not tuned in yet to consequences, and I don’t know the outcome of this situation. But it has remained seared on my mind almost seventy years. I’m not going to argue the issue of when life begins—conception or birth—but I will argue to the death that a woman has a right to make her own decisions. I was never able to conceive, and I am grateful beyond measure for my four adopted children, but I consider the ability to conceive and carry to term an infant a gift from God. I am opposed to abortion. But that is me. I can’t make that decision or anyone else. The subject never came up with any of my girls, and I am grateful. Had they, in different circumstances, chosen abortion, I would have been disappointed but supportive. The life of the young woman I know and loved means more to me than that of the fetus.

If you were that surgeon, would you have walked away? Or would you have risked your career and future to save a life?

Tuesday, October 09, 2018


My appalling recipe collection

October 9, 2018

Before I downsized from the house to the cottage, I had an appalling recipe collection, overflowing two large drawers in a Victorian secretary. Recipes were haphazardly collected in folders that bulged so that their spines tore. But they were organized—a folder each for entrees tried, entrees not tried, vegetables, appetizers, desserts, breakfasts. I saved some—they are in an out of the way file cabinet that I envisioned as part of my office—until I realized how limited space in the cottage is. Now the cabinet and the recipes are in my closet. Not handy. I’m not sure I could find an old favorite if I wanted to.

The irony is that I’ve started a new appalling collection, and it’s growing out of bounds. I just can’t resist recipes that intrigue me. Of course, my main cooking audience is my local family—Jordan, Christian, and Jacob. Truth be told, they are fussy eaters, and many of the recipes just aren’t on thei list of acceptables—spaghetti pie with eggplant, smoked salmon pizza, kalpudding (a meatloaf and cabbage combo). You get the drift.

My chef friend Heather said to just send her a recipe they won’t eat, so I did. She’ll make  spaghetti pie with eggplant for our lunch next Monday. Maybe kalpudding later—it sounds like a winter dish.


I’m excited to remind you that my new cookbook, Gourmet on a Hot Plate: Tiny Kitchen Tips and Recipes, will be available in early November—plenty of time to put it on the Christmas gift list for that senior living in small quarters or the college freshman just cooking on his or own on a hot plate in a dorm room.  A couple of my old favorites will be included, but mostly it’s new recipes and new cooking hints.

For instance, did you know to always add a pinch of sugar to tomato sauces to cut the acidity? Or how to make your own buttermilk. Or ranchero sauce? Lots more. I’ll be giving some hints as the pub date gets closer.

Meanwhile, think eggplant and cabbage.