Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Spending the day with a cook

Helen Corbitt
Another dull day but with no rain. Getting tired of this. But today I spent much of the day with Helen Corbitt, which was a delight. You probably have to be a Texan and of a certain age to remember Helen. From 1955 until the late sixties, she was in charge of food service at Neiman Marcus. Mr. Stanley once called her the Balenciaga of food. Coming from the east, with some Texas detours, she taught us Texans many things, like how to cook vegetables al dente and how to avoid canned fruit cocktail.
Corbitt, a graduate of Skidmore College, had an established career in food service before she affiliated with Neiman Marcus.  She came to Texas, reluctantly (“Who the hell wants to go to Texas?”) in the early 1940s to accept a position with the University of Texas. She had been a hospital dietitian in Newark and New York, but she was bored. As the U.S. came out of the Depression, the Texas offer was the only one she got. She came to Austin to teach quantity cooking and restaurant management. In connection wit the latter, she ran the University Tea Room, a laboratory for her students.
Restless, she moved on to the Houston Country Club for a stay of several years that ended only when the club hit hard times. Then she moved, briefly, to Joske’s department store, the only job from which she was fired because her food service didn’t show a profit. Helen Corbitt was concerned with quality not cost, and no kitchen she ran ever showed a profit. After a short spell as an independent caterer and food consultant, she was called to manage food service at the Driskell Hotel in Austin.
Stanley Marcus, knowing her reputation, courted her for eight years before she agreed to move to Dallas and take over the Neiman Marcus food service. But it was there that she established her reputation. She served high quality food to stars and celebrities, such as Zsa Zsa Gabor, Princess Margaret, and the Duke of Windsor but also to the middle-class housewife who was Stanley Marcus’ most important customer.
Known for her temper, Corbitt did not allow Marcus into her kitchen without an invitation. She once made opera diva Maria Callas and a party of thirty go to the end of the line because they were late for their reservation. And another time, she fired the entire kitchen crew, only to realize she needed them to serve a meal. She called security and had them blocked from leaving the store.
We have Corbitt to thank for several dishes—Texas caviar, which she invented when challenged to come up with a gourmet menu using native Texas foods; chicken bouillon which is still served daily in Nieman’s restaurants; the Duke of Windsor sandwich, a concoction of pineapple, cheddar, turkey or chicken, and chutney.
Corbitt retired from Neiman’s to write cookbooks and travel the world, collecting recipes and teaching and lecturing. She was the author of several cookbooks—from Helen Corbitt’s Cookbook to Helen Corbitt Cooks for Looks, written after her doctor advised her to lose weight. She was a much sought-after speaker, sprinkling her talks about food with humor and practical advice. And she continued to teach. One of her most unusual classes was one she taught in her own apartment for a select group of Dallas businessmen. Corbitt proved that Texas men wanted more than steak and a baked potato.
Helen Corbitt died in 1978 of cancer. She had never married.
Maybe because I’m fascinated by “foodie” stuff these days, but I am really interested in this woman’s career and contributions to our Texas cuisine. I was working today on a entry for her in the online Handbook of Texas.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

My get-up-and-go has went

Carnitas for supper
It’s a dull, overcast day, the kind that could easily throw me into depression if I let it. We’re promised rain, and it’s all around us, but by mid-day not a drop. I swear though you can smell it in the air.
I have no ambition. Spent too much of the morning on email lists and Facebook. I still have it in mind to spend time on the New York Times Cooking Community page.,I did make out a menu/grocery list—all trivial stuff. It’s not that I don’t have work to do. But I feel no sense of urgency, which I’ve felt for weeks now, trying to manage the last phases of my novel. Most of my deadlines are self-imposed, so I suppose it’s good for me to have a do-nothing day without even pressure from me.
Even Sophie feels the lethargy and has spent the morning sleeping, perhaps saving up energy for happy hour which is her favorite time of day. She begins to bark softly or give me low “friendly” growls—sort of like she’s clearing her throat—about five fifteen. Either Jordan or I put her food out and give her a pre-dinner chew. A little after that she tries for my attention again. If I ask her, “Is it time?” she picks up her chew and bolts out the door. Then she stands and stares at the door, waiting for me and usually Jordan to come out. If we’re too slow, she runs back inside, gives us a “talking to” and then runs outside again.
Once we’re both outside, she sits and stares at the gate, as if to ask, “Who is coming tonight?” More often than not, she is rewarded with the arrival of a masked friend. Our happy hour guests—a handful we know have been quarantining strictly—bring their own wine and glasses and we all sit a respectful six feet apart. Tonight our regular Tuesday night guests, two neighbors, will be here unless the rain materializes. We are not yet at the point of inviting people into the cottage.
Cooking once again proved my salvation today. I ground up some leftover rotisseries chicken for chicken salad for lunch—my little counter processor didn’t grind it as fine as I’d like, so that was only a medium success. But with cottage cheese and yogurt, it made an okay lunch.
In the late afternoon I put pork butt and seasonings on to boil dry for carnitas. Somehow got a bit too much salt into the mixture, but nobody but me minded, and it did taste good. Plus made a pretty plate. One of Christian’s favorite meals. We served it with guacamole, sour cream, black beans, and a small salad of lettuce, tomatoes, and onion.
Happy hour was happy, though we seemed stuck for a bit on a depressing discussion of death and final resting places, all prompted because I asked the neighbors to witness the signing of my will. We did this two or three weeks ago, but the lawyer said I didn’t sign correctly—didn’t initial pages, etc. He insisted we had to start over with new documents, so we did. This process has, I swear, taken a year—and I was never even sure the will I had before wasn’t okay. But my kids convinced me I had to update it—changes in who would get my house, etc., since I moved into the cottage. Drawing up the new will has been characterized by long delays, partly pandemic caused and partly I don’t know what. But I am ready to be through with it, through with the expensive lawyer. I have my obituary mostly written and notes for a memorial service—and I don’t want to think about death anymore! But I know several people who are seriously working on their wills and other end-of-life plans. What times we live in!
And the rain? Never happened.

Monday, July 27, 2020

America at its best

America knows how to do occasions of state. Watching the ceremony form the Capital Rotunda today, I was filled with a sense of patriotic pride, something that it is often hard for me to feel these days. Soldiers marched in lockstep, people were quiet, orderly, respectful, music was glorious and moving. In this day of such partisan separation, Republican and Democrat came together to honor a man of greatness, of great courage, and a tireless belief that American could change and grow better..
It shouldn’t be lost on any of us that Congressman John Lewis is the second black person whose body lies in state in the hallowed rotunda (fittingly, Elijah Cummings was first). That in itself is a great step forward for this nation, where people are protesting in the streets because black lives do matter and are being met with force. Some in our nation still speak out against racial equality, against taking another look at our national history. It is an embarrassment to most of us.
When we take that second look, we see that from the Founding Fathers to the present, our history shows a continuous record of racial prejudice. We are today making great strides in overcoming that, overcoming violence against minorities, inequality in opportunities. But there is still a long road ahead of us, and, as we are unfortunately seeing, change does not come easily. It too often brings anger and hostility, division and violence. But this is one of those times when the words of Martin Luther King Jr. ring out: “We shall overcome.”
I can’t speak for John Lewis, but I wonder how he felt about destroying Confederate statues. It seems to me that those statues are nothing more than symbols of a history we’re trying to put behind us. They are static, inactive. Men like Congressman Lewis fought not against statues but for real rights, prime among them the right to live in safety. The Black Lives Matter movement seeks real, tangible change for citizens of color; the destruction of statues is, by contrast, symbolic and does nothing to preserve life, liberty, and equality for those who are still oppressed. Black Lives Matter is what John Lewis called “good trouble.”
I am so in awe of the moms and pops and veterans who have come out to speak for freedom in Portland, to stand against the bullying and brutal tactics of imported goons. John Lewis, at peace at last, would weep for Portland. Some reassurance: I read today that the United Nations has condemned trump’s tactics.
It was hard, watching the pomp and circumstance of this ceremony, to equate it with the protests and riots tearing our country apart. We must reconcile the two Americas—the patriotic and the divided, destructive—if we are to rise again greatness.
Rest in glory, John Lewis. And thank you.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

You can go home again—or, using your hometown in fiction

I grew up in the Hyde Park/Kenwood neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, and Chicago still holds a large part of my heart. So it was no surprise when I began to write a new mystery, Saving Irene, with new characters, that I discovered the protagonist lived in Hyde Park. What was a surprise was the learning I had to do to create a realistic fictional world in that familiar neighborhood.
If my character—Henrietta (Henny) James, a TV chef’s gofer--was to live in Hyde Park, she needed first an apartment. I chose Cornell Avenue, because I remembered rows of three-story buildings, some once private homes, others always apartments, but most with the bay window that for me characterizes much of Chicago’s older residential architecture.
Henny, who hates her full name, must learn where to shop, and dine out, and go to church, all the things that tie us to the neighborhoods where we live. All these years later (we won’t say how many), I found my memory was good on the big things but weak on the details. I would have to do a lot of research to create a believable fictional world. The internet proved to be a huge help.
Online, because I had no inclination to travel to Chicago during the pandemic, I discovered that some places prominent in my memory are gone. The YMCA where we had sock hops has been moved now far south and renamed. Cunag’s, the candy shop that made the thickest chocolate milk shakes ever, closed years ago. But the United Church of Hyde Park still dominates its corner at 53rd and Blackstone, its congregations dwindling and the church in financial difficulty, the result probably of an aging congregation. Henny goes to church there—once.
Promontory Park
Keying in remembered names, I learned a lot: the Point, a grassy finger of land extending into Lake Michigan, is now part of Burnham Park which extends along the lake shore from 12th Street to 57th and is called Promontory Point. Its shelter house looks in much better shape now than when my friends and I went there to sunbathe and swim. Henny and her friend, Patrick, bike to the Point on rental bikes—yes, Chicago has a Bike Share program. I can even tell you where the rental stations are.
Being the assistant to a chef, even a second- or third-tier one with a show on a local television channel, means a lot of cooking off-screen. I discovered that the venerable Coop, once a pioneer in changing community grocery shopping, is no more, but Henny shops at a nearby Whole Foods and at Harper Foods on 57th Street. The Hobby House coffee shop, where we went for late night coffee, disappeared, but there is a wealth of small restaurants—Valois, rumored to be a favorite of the Obama family, an upscale restaurants called
appropriately Promontory, and a university neighborhood pub, The Woodland Tap, known familiarly as Jimmy’s after the late owner, where they serve terrific Polish sausage sandwiches.
In my day, Hyde Park was the home of the first Morton’s Steak House. When I was in college, I worked in a hospital administration office (the hospital now condos), and my boss used to take me to Morton’s for lunch and let me have a Brandy Alexander. It’s gone downtown now, but there is a boutique hotel, the Sophy. Henny has a lobster roll there and luxuriates in a place she can ill afford.
Searching for cookbooks for her chef employer to reference, Henny goes to 57th Street Books, an independent bookstore with an electric choice of titles with plenty of browsing chairs and corners. I used to go there on Sundays in college to buy The New York Times.
Henny’s work requires her to consult with Irene Foxglove, the chef, at the Foxgloves’ North Shore apartment. A search led me to put the apartment on North Clarendon; actual buildings there gave me details to describe the apartment. Henny is not quite brave enough to drive on Lake Shore Drive, known in my day as the Outer Drive (it always scared me a bit), but I learned that she can take a public bus from Hyde Park right up to Clarendon Park—an hour-long bus ride.
Writing about and discovering the changes in my little corner of Chicago was a lot of fun but also educational. I hope the combination of memory and internet research allowed me to create a realistic fictional world for Henny, Irene, and Patrick. As the saying goes, the devil is in the details.

Friday, July 24, 2020

My birthday bash

I love birthdays, and I was not about to let the quarantine dim my celebration. I have friends who claim they want no attention paid to their birthdays, want them to pass without notice. I don’t think this is self-deprecating modesty but more likely an attempt to deny the passage of time and the aging it brings. I’ve never felt that way, and while I won’t brag about which birthday this was (not a decade changer), I will say I’m grateful to start yet another year in good health, feeling content, and looking forward to the future, perhaps this year more than usual. Things are bound to get better.
This may have been one of my best birthdays ever. My celebration began days before my birthday with the trip to the lake house that Jordan arranged, planned, and oversaw. She worked so hard on lists and meals and details, and it paid off—it was a smooth, easy, getaway for all of us except her. While I lounged, she waited on me hand and foot and cooked us some delicious meals. When it came time to leave, she spent half a day cleaning and closing up the house, so it would be in perfect shape when the owners returned. But I got away from the cottage for three days, and I was beyond grateful.
Christian, meanwhile, got food duty. I requested fried chicken for my birthday supper, with mashed potatoes and green beans—a comfort meal. Good fried chicken, the kind done bone-in, is hard to find, but we had earlier had from Drew’s Place that was everything fried chicken should be—crisp, a bit greasy, just enough spicy, delicious. I called to inquire about a family pack for eight people—no answer and the mailbox was full. The web site had a place to contact them, but I never got an answer. So the day before Christian went by, placed the order. Then the day of my birthday he had to go back to pick it up by 3:00 because that’s when they close.
My oldest daughter, Megan, her husband Brandon, and grandsons Sawyer and Ford arrived from Austin about 5:30. They were on their way to Colorado to visit family and then friends, so it worked out perfectly. We sat on the patio visiting, talking of everything from politics to food. Had a grand time.
Dinner was a hit. The Austin family said I had made the perfect choice. With social distancing in mind, we didn’t all crowd around the table but let the grandsons eat in the family room. They reappeared, however, for cake—chocolate mousse cake from Central Market. We ate huge pieces, which was probably a mistake after greasy chicken. Some of us didn’t sleep well.
Megan brought me a butter keeper. I think soft butter is one of life’s luxuries, and I had given her one some time ago. She said they eat more butter now because it’s always soft. So far, I am a failure—I “loaded” the keeper, but the butter was so soft it fell out. She suggested I put it in the fridge for 30 minutes. A day later, it’s still there. But I will master this.
Jordan is working on getting a stained glass panel to hang in one window in my living room where the immediate view (and I do mean immediate) is a hurricane fence with straggling honeysuckle—everywhere else the honeysuckle, though a predatory nuisance, is lush and lovely; in this one spot, it simply doesn’t thrive. I’d like a red cardinal in stained glass but that may be a little extravagant. A simple abstract might be more feasible.
But two gifts I will treasure because of the thoughtfulness that is behind them.
Sophie celebrated my birthday by getting groomed. Partly for me, partly for Megan who loves her but loves her best when she is clean. So she was clean, her coat soft and sweet smelling. But we had a new groomer who put ridiculous bows at her ears. They were on stretchy string which tangled in her fur, and we had a heck of a time getting them off, much to Sophie’s discomfort. She made it clear she did not want us to touch them, but Brandon did it.
A day to remember. Now on to new adventures at my desk.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

A mini-vacation

The boy and my dog

Me at work
I’ve been maintaining radio silence because we’ve been enjoying a few days at  friends’ lake house—a getaway in celebration of my upcoming birthday, arranged on the theory that a change of scenery would do us all good but particularly me since I so rarely get out of the cottage. And it has been refreshing, relaxing, and fun.
When I travel, usually to one of my kids’ houses, I claim a spot that becomes my office. This is no different: my computer and I are set up at the dining table—but with a wonderful view of the lake. It’s  been a great temptation to stare at the water, watching it change as the day
The view from my temporary office
progresses, rather than staring at my computer.
I have long said I love to look at water instead of being in it or on it. Never better than a fair swimmer, I’ve lost what proficiency I had and gained a bit of uncertainty. Even as a child, one of my favorite places was a small outcropping on a dune high above Lake Michigan. I especially liked to watch storms rolling in. In recent years, my “go to” place for my imagination when I’m troubled has been son Colin’s small like. Now I’ve added a new lake spot to my happy and contemplative memories.
While I worked and napped and followed my usual routine, the Burtons enjoyed life on the lake. Jacob in particular was in hog heaven, riding around the lake on a jet-ski, often with one of his parents clinging to him. I think his goal was to see how fast he could go before one or the other complained. Yes, he is water safe—a good swimmer who wears a life jacket and is generally careful and cautious.
We’ve eaten well. Planning for three days is the kind of challenge that brings out  Jordan’s organizational skills. For two weeks or more we’ve been making lists—what to buy at the grocery, what to take from home. While this lake house is frequently occupied by the owners, it’s not set up for a lot of cooking, so we brought everything from home-made frozen spaghetti sauce to my lemon squeezer, the latter never used because we had so much food we never got to tuna salad. But we had chopped steak, and salads, and rotisseries chicken, potatoes, and that spaghetti I labored over.
Another treasured memory from my childhood is a screened-in porch. In Chicago summers, we lived, ate, and slept on our porch. You don’t see them much in Texas because it’s so hot. But this lake house has a lovely screened-in porch, and we sat out there for happy hour and lazy talk after supper.
Screened-in [porch
Sophie loved being here, I think because she was surrounded day and night by most of her favorite people. Drawback for her was that she couldn’t go outside except on a leash—as Christian said, if we let her loose, she’d be in Tulsa in three hours. I do think as she ages she’s beginning to understand that she has a good deal and should stay put. I guess aging brings that wisdom to all of us, because it certainly has to me.
We are so grateful to the friends who said, “Go! Enjoy the lake house!” We have. As I write this, Jordan is cleaning—she has stayed here before and always leaves it in meticulous shape. And then we are headed home. The neat thing is that home is only half an hour away. It’s been a great mini-vacation.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Looking towad september

Two years ago I wrote 19,000 words and abandoned them. When I went back to the mss. during quarantine, I was surprised how much I liked the voice and the plot. Now, come September, it will be available in print and ebook form.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Excitement, sort of

It doesn’t take much these days to make a day exciting, so I had an exciting day today—sort of. Actually got out of the house and off the property. Had t go have another ultrasound to see why my fat leg is still swollen. That in itself is not exciting—ultrasound is not painful or difficult, just kind of boring as you lie there wondering how much longer it’s going to take. This after we sat in the car a long time waiting to be called inside.
But oh the sights I saw on the way there—a house that I’d always admired, mostly because I could see through the window that it had terrific, packed bookcases, is suddenly gone, to be replaced by a McMansion I’m sure.. Another house on our route had disappeared but I couldn’t remember what was there. Crepe myrtles are in bloom, lawns still look mostly green—not yet brown from the heat though this last week may do it—and the city seemed pretty.
After the appointment, Jordan wanted to go to the cardiac vet’s office to pick up medication for June Bug. It’s way out on the south side of town, and she follows a devious route which I couldn’t trace if I had to. But it’s mostly on access roads, so when I said, ‘Jordan! My hearing aid is gone!” there was no way she could pull over. I called the imaging office and asked them to look—they even went through the trash, checking the paper that had been on the bed. Nothing. Jordan was thinking replacement cost; I was thinking difficulty in hearing, although I get along okay with one aid.
Finally, at the vet’s, we stopped under a wonderful and huge canopy that covers most of the parking spaces. I stepped out and we patted and poked at my clothes. Nothing. Then Jordan found it in the car seat. It had apparently fallen out when I took off my mask. It’s the one that does tend to slide out of the ear. Anyway, it was a great relief after a moment of panic.
I wanted to stop at my favorite sandwich shop on the way home and get something to take home for lunch. But Jordan looked online. They’ve only recently re-opened and now for take-out you have to call a day ahead. Who knows a day ahead that they’ll want a sandwich for lunch? Big disappointment.
All that excitement! When I got home, I was exhausted and had to have a nap. Sophie had other ideas, and then the lawn guy called to answer my questions about my new grass, which is lush and lovely and very shaggy—apparently, they don’t mow for two weeks after they put it in. He says he can take care of the nut grass scattered throughout..
Jean came for happy hour. Patio is maybe a bit warm but really not unpleasant, what with the fan going and the umbrella blocking that one bit of evening sun my shady patio gets. We talked of mice and men, of politics and masks, and all kinds of things. It’s so good to have a friend with whom I can say almost anything and who most of the time supports and agrees with me—and tells me when she doesn’t. We know each other’s families and concerns and joys. I’m the richer for her friendship.
With Jacob out of town, Jordan and Christian are having a “date night” tonight. With the pandemic, they can’t go out, so they’re grilling steaks at home. I planned to make myself a black bean casserole I’ve been wanting to try, until Jordan said, “Well, if you prefer black beans to steak. . . .” They had gotten a steak for me, so I’m enjoying it as I type. Made myself a small salad and that’s dinner. The steak is large, so I expect to have it for lunch tomorrow too.
‘Night all.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Coping with summer

Chicken stir-fry
Texas heat shouldn’t be a problem since we’re all quarantining anyway, right? Wrong. It doesn’t work that way. The other night, as we ate supper, Jordan glanced at the wall thermometer which is supposed to tell indoor/outdoor temperatures and announced it was 82 in the cottage. It does no good for me to tell her that thermometer has given up totally on the outdoor temperature and is wildly inaccurate about the indoor. Besides, I didn’t have a counterargument. It truly was hot.
It’s an old battle between us. I swear she has Mediterranean blood somewhere, and I lean toward my Scottish ancestors of the Highlands—Celtic and all that, but thin-blooded. I am cold all the time. I like my patio door open so that I feel a bit like I’m in the outdoors or bring the outdoors in to me and also so that Sophie can come and go as she pleases—mostly these hot days she pleases to stay inside. Jordan wants the a/co on and the door closed, which in summer makes me feel closed in.
Between them, Jordan and Christian “fixed” my living room a/c unit—the kind that sits up by the ceiling. I never can think what they’re called, but it’s both a/c and, in winter, a heating unit. Jordan washed the filters, a much overdue job, and Christian moved the fan from the first notch to the highest setting. Please do not ask why I didn’t think of that. And last night I also turned on the unit in my bedroom.
The result was that the cottage was at a chilly 70 degrees this morning, and I was chilly—not cold, just a bit uncomfortable—all morning. I kept the door closed in the afternoon but opened it again this evening for company on the patio. Tonight, the unreliable thermometer says its 81 in here, but I am quite comfortable. Jordan is engaged with a guest on her front porch, so I don’t have her take on the temperature.
We haven’t been cooking “dinner” much, since when dinnertime rolled around Jordan said she was too hot to think about food. So last night I had a hot dog, and tonight it’s tuna salad with cottage cheese. Tomorrow night, though, we plan to do salmon—I bet we do it in the oven, rather than asking Christian to grill.
We always try to make Sunday night dinner special, and last Sunday we had chicken stir-fry. When I suggested it, Jordan said, “Oh, good, Christian loves to stir-fry.” Later Christian said, “I’ve never made stir-fry before.” But he gamely found a recipe, followed it, and created a truly wonderful dinner for us. Monday night I fixed steak fingers, something I used to fix for my kids all the time. Had a hard time making Jordan and the butcher figure out what I wanted—minute steaks or cube steaks. With some surprise, after I’d blown a fuse trying to cook supper, Christian said, “The meat is good, Juju.” Watch for these recipes in an upcoming “Gourmet on a Hot Plate” blog. Along with two easy sides, which I’ll feature tomorrow.
I am knee deep in fixing edits on my WIP. The editor was kind, but some of her edits make me feel really dumb to have made such mistakes or omissions. She skewers me on two points—misogyny, for directing cooking instructions at housewives when in truth, a lot of career women and men cook these days. I know that, because both my sons are terrific cooks.
The other, which I am sure will delight Jacob, is that she suggests I use old-fashioned language. I’m trying to correct, because I realize thirty=somethings won’t talk like I do. But Jordan, bless her heart, said tonight, “You’re the least old-fashioned person I know.” Made my day. If I asked you “THE” question about a relationship with a previous partner, what would you think? Yeah, that’s what Jordan thought too.
Stay cool, safe, and well.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Monday all day long

You kno that Facebook thread "View from my window"
People add their lovely, scenic views that are seeing them through quarantine
So I thought I'd add the view from my kitchen window today
Rest assured the view from my desk windows is a flower-filled delight
At the Alter-Burton compound, Monday started early Sunday morning, like three a.m. I thought I heard wind but dismissed the thought—surely not in July, with no storms predicted. All we had was oppressively hot and humid weather. I did think, as I went from bathroom back to bed, that the patio umbrella was down, but I reasoned it could wait until morning. Back to bed.
Next morning, I saw more destruction. Jacob’s basketball hoop and golf net were down in a tangled mess in the driveway, and a hydrangea from the deck had landed plop! In the bed of pintas. The basketball hoop was a particular concern—it’s really heavy on its own, but it had also been weighted with concrete blocks to keep it from blowing over. So much for that. The saving grace was that it fell straight forward, narrowly missing the cottage, the fence, and my car, which it would have gotten had it gone in any other direction. Tonight, it’s still on the ground—awaiting its fate, I do believe.
So this morning Jordan took Sophie for her annual checkup. Soph, thinking she was going for a joyous walk, bolted out the door, nearly dragging Jordan down and succeeding in making her drop her mega-size glass of ice water all over my kitchen floor. So while I held Sophie’s leash, Jordan was on the floor, mopping up water and ice cubes with my hair-washing towel. It’s best at moments like that to keep quiet, and I did.
In the car, Soph must have figured out that she was going to the vet and not for the anticipated walk, because she pooped—I won’t get graphic except to say it was not easily cleaned up. Sophie never ever does that, so conditions were extreme. At the vet, they didn’t have a room ready, so Jordan had to wait outside with a poopy-bottomed dog. When they did let her in, they were wonderful about cleaning Sophie and giving Jordan stuff to clean the car. When all was said and done, I get back a very subdued dog but with a good health report. Oh, except they couldn’t get a urine sample, probably because she’s peed from nervousness twice while waiting outside. So they sent Jordan home with a kit to take a sample. She says she might be ready to think about that in two days.
So tonight I was going to cook steak fingers like I used to fix for my kids—cube or minute steaks cut into fingers, coated with flour, salt, and pepper, and sautéed, served with lemon juice. I decided I should not crowd the skillet but would do it in two batches, keeping the first batch warm in the toaster oven. So I lost my mind, turned on the skillet, and started the oven heating. And the lights went off, the hot plate and oven both went dead. The breaker box is where I cannot get to it, so I had to call for Jordan. She couldn’t fix it. Thinking we’d solve first things first, I asked if she’d take the meat inside and sauté it. With a sigh she agreed.
She was almost instantly back. “The plastic bag you sent?” she said. “It has no form.” I begged her pardon and said I didn’t have any idea what she was talking about. “It’s not pieces of meat like you said. It’s one big lump, and it looks like brains.” I assured her it was pieces—I had cut them myself this morning, while the meat was still partially frozen—makes easier cutting. “How many pieces?” she demanded. I had to confess that I didn’t count.
Finally she got the breaker fixed and my kitchen was once again active. She brought the meat back out, and I cooked the pieces—in two batches. And made drippings out of the crusty brown parts left in the skillet. It was a good dinner—the meat was flavorful, the potatoes good and better with pan drippings on them, and the salad, as always, wonderful—she has a way with salad.
Okay, I figure we’ve survived Monday and should be home free. But tomorrow she takes my car for its inspection sticker. I don’t even want to think about what could go wrong.
Sweet dreams, y’all.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Cover reveal

If anyone asks me what I did during quarantine, my snappy answer is that I wrote a mystery. Watch for it in September in both print and ebook form.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Flies, mosquitoes, and fun on the patio

So glad to have these two on the patio
Last night, Jamie, my third child and second son, came from Frisco bring Maddie, my oldest grandchild. At twenty-one, she is a rising senior at Colorado University in Boulder. To say that I was delighted to see them is an understatement. Maddie, on crutches after a recent hip surgery, came over to me and asked, “Am I allowed to hug you? I’ve been quarantining.” Who could say no to a question like that? Hugs all around were most welcome.
Even though it was blistering hot, the patio was comfortable—fan and bug zapper going, shaded all day long so it never really heats up. We sat out there quite a while, catching up and laughing a lot. Remember that thing on Facebook where a dress was shown and some saw it as gold, while others saw it as blue. Jamie had never heard of it, so Maddie pulled it up and a lively discussion followed with some yelling “Blue” and others contending “Gold.” Jamie decided it was a conspiracy on our part to make him look silly.
The flies and mosquitoes finally drove us inside. Mosquitoes don’t much bother me, but apparently Jamie is a target. But we have a horrible fly problem this summer, and as Jordan says there’s not that much dog poop in the yard. Christian ordered some fly traps that are very effective—bottles that attract the flies. But they stink to high heaven, so you have to move them if you want to sit outside. I did order some wine tops to cover our glasses—I was tired of throwing out wine because a fly drowned in it.
We ordered chicken enchiladas from Enchiladas Olé and ended up with a banquet—beans, rice, the best queso I’ve had maybe ever, and Jordan’s freshly made brownies for dessert. Jamie and Maddie stayed until almost ten, and it was a thoroughly fun evening.
Yesterday was a big day for two of my grandsons. Sawyer, sixteen and in Austin, got his braces off. Sorry I couldn’t grab the picture from Facebook, but last night we had a big controversy over whether he looks like his mom or his dad. As a toddler, he was the image of his mom, but as he’s grown and lost that pre-puberty weight, he looks more and more like his dad—to me. Jamie held out for his sister, saying Sawyer looks like Megan.
Cousins! She used to change his diaper
When did he grow taller than her?
Jacob got his first debit card and went through the procedure of calling into validate it, with his mom monitoring every moment. He is off today for a week in Colorado with neighbors who have two daughters his age. They’ll be in a house with a swimming pool and then one with a fishing river in the back yard. Jacob was at loose ends—what high school kid isn’t these days?—so it’s good for him to get away.
Me? I’m still working on my lectures about creating a chef. Wrote a brief—really brief—history of American cuisine in the twentieth century yesterday and today worked on a supplemental reading list. Enjoying this project a lot.
Tonight I’m dining alone. Jordan and Christian are eating leftovers, but I decided to do myself a lamb chop that was in the freezer and use that zucchini languishing in the vegetable drawer for a casserole. It’s cooking right now, and the cottage smells of butter and melted parmesan—so good.
Looking forward to an evening with the book I’m reading—Deadlines, the first novella in Susan Wittig Albert’s Enterprise trilogy. Mystery fans may know Susan as the author of the longstanding China Bayles series. The trilogies—this is the second—put some of the secondary characters from China’s books front and center. Entertaining reading.

Friday, July 10, 2020

The New Me and the Old Sophie

I am a new person today—I went to the dentist yesterday and got my hair cut today. Makes such a difference in my attitude. As you may have picked up, I’ve been chewing on the dentist problem since April—that was when my appointment for a cleaning was. I cancelled, because of quarantine. But I worried, afraid to go, afraid not to go. The last time I missed going for several months, due to surgery, I had to have a lot of dental work done, and I didn’t want a repeat of that. (Yes, I am more than a little dental phobic!)
Finally in June I made this appointment—you know how easy it is to commit to something that’s a ways in the future. But then came the surge of virus cases, and I began to have doubts. I admit that my doubts were exaggerated by my general dislike of going to the dentist’s office. My hygienist is a really nice person and I like her a lot, just don’t like what she does, as I told her yesterday. I called and inquired about precautions—sounded good, and I was ready to go. But then I began hearing about people who were hesitant. Finally day before yesterday I thought, “I have to go and get it off my mind.”
Turned out to be a pleasant surprise. I saw exactly three people—two in the reception area and the hygienist. They were all masked. I used a clean pen to sign in and when I tried to hand it back the receptionist held out a piece of paper for me to set it on. They take your temperature and ask you if you’ve been exposed, etc. The hygienist explained that she can’t use the electric pick because it sprays water and they are avoiding aerosol contamination. I told her I was delighted because I hate that thing—reminds me of the drill.
Best bonus of all—my teeth were in better shape than any previous visit, and she said if I keep taking such good care of them, she can avoid the electric thing. And my blood pressure was extraordinarily good. Win, win!
The haircut is a win too. Last time, I told Rosa how I wanted it cut—my own fault I spent five weeks looking dutchy, literally. So today I asked her to ignore me and cut it the way she thought best. Now it’s short, has some shape, and I keep feeling the back of my head because it feels good to have the hair trimmed back there. I am blessed that Rosa comes to the cottage on her way to the salon. And she takes every precaution—even swept the floor and then wiped down the broom.
Sophie, however, is not a new dog—she’s up to old tricks. The other night she got me up at 1:30 because she wanted to go out. She’s so well housebroken that when she does that, I assume she needs to pee. Wrong! She went out, laid on the deck, and stared at me—insolently. No matter how I called, pleaded, bribed, she remained unmoved. This went on for at least 45 minutes—and I’d been sleeping so soundly. I can’t go back to bed when she’s out at night. I think she’s big enough (30 lbs.) to avoid predators—except the human kind. Our neighborhood has night-time visitors who try car doors to find an unlocked car. What if one came up our driveway, saw this cute dog, and decided to take her? The electric gate is no barrier for people with bad intentions. Usually I give her some serious talk about coming right back in, but I was too sleepy. Learned my lesson. Right now she’s crawled into her crate, on her own, and is sleeping the sleep of the innocent. I know better.
Just had my favorite sandwich for lunch—chicken, mayo and blue cheese on rye bread. Cannot be beat. Something I learned in school in rural Iowa of all places.
Happy Friday, folks!

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

A better day

No, I did not eat this much
You know the feeling you get from a really productive day? That was mine today, and I rejoice in it. I began by tackling some things that had been niggling in my mind, things I’d chewed on for days with no decision. So today I took definite action. I had a professional favor to ask from a fellow mystery writer, asked, explained, and got a favorable response. I determined to go ahead and keep my dental appointment tomorrow—my impression is that they keep you very safe and isolated, and I want to stop worrying about whether I should go or let my teeth could to rot and ruin—well, it wasn’t quite that bad, but still….

And there was a social gathering that weighed on my mind: I had issued the invitation but then I began to feel uncomfortable about it, and Jordan reinforced my discomfort. So I flat out cancelled it, and everybody understood. Finally, I worried a bit about my fat leg. Jordan looked at it last night after her several days away and pronounced it no less swollen and red in the lower part of the leg. So I emailed the doctor. I have heard nothing but am assuming that no news is good news.

Oh, and I nudged the graphic designer who is doing cover design for Saving Irene, my forthcoming mystery. Watch for a cover reveal in my blog and elsewhere in the next couple of days. I’m excited about it.

I may have mentioned that I’m to teach an online course in creating a fictional chef this fall, for a subdivision of Romance Writers of America. That, too, has been weighing on my mind. I am to have twelve “lectures”—about 600 words each. Today I roughed out the first two lectures—one introducing me, and one presenting the questions I thought a writer needs to ask him/herself before creating this chef. It was a lot of work, but I was pleased with it—except that I had earlier outlined the twelve lectures and today, in two lessons, I used up the first four topics. I may run out of material. Still, pulling all this material together has been fun for me, and it syncs beautifully with my first truly “culinary” mystery, coming in September. So tonight I am feeling productive, proud, and self-righteous.

Of course there’s always a cloud on the horizon. I tried to attend a Zoom meeting of a church book club discussing Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. I have not yet mastered Zoom, but I managed to log in. The group greeted me cordially—but the trouble was I couldn’t see me. They assured me they could. About halfway through I decided to log out and log back in—that worked, and now I could see me, except I was sideways. They all said I was sideways on their screens too, but my friend Renee, who was moderating, said it was okay because it made me distinctive. I’ve got to figure out how to do that.

Got my fried chicken craving satisfied today. My generous and bountiful neighbor, Prudence, emailed that her husband was going to pick up fried chicken from Drew’s Place and what did we want. My good friend Carol and I used to go to Buttons for lunch occasionally, just to have the good, bone-in fried chicken with mashed potatoes and green beans, which were, I’m sure, seasoned with fatback. But then Keith Hix, chef at Buttons, moved on. I blogged about this a few days ago when Christian, Jacob, and I had a pale imitation for dinner one night. When pandemic hit, Carol and I had already made a date to go to Drew’s Place, source of the best fried chicken on this side of Fort Worth. Of course, that had to be cancelled. So I was overjoyed today to munch—down to the bone—on a thigh and eat green beans. I have enough green beans to feed Coxie’s Army or, as I told Pru, her family of six. So generous, so good.

So, yeah, it’s been a good day. I hope yours has been too.

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Home again, dinner, and back in the routine

My version of Cobb salad
Jordan is home again, and we’re glad to have her back. I fixed her a welcome-home supper—well, sort of. Before she left, she suggested a salad or something easy would be good so she wouldn’t have to cook. So I made Cobb salad—well, at least I prepped the ingredients: boned a rotisserie chicken, boiled some small new potatoes, and hard-boiled some eggs.

When she came home, I said dinner was all ready. We just had to peel the potatoes and eggs and fry the bacon. Plus cut up avocado and hearts of palm, and wash and put out cherry tomatoes. She looked at me and said, “That’s a lot of work.”

Tonight was our regular Tuesday night happy hour with neighbors Mary and Prudence, and Jordan regaled them with her story of her welcome-home dinner and how much remained to be done. But when it came suppertime, I peeled the potatoes, shelled the eggs, and fried the bacon. Got everything out of the fridge but asked her to plate it (we decided on individual Cobb salads rather than one big platter) because she knows what her boys will eat and what they won’t.

She confessed she was just making jokes and really likes to cook with me. We’re a good team in my tiny kitchen, though she constantly warns me not to run over her toes with my walker, and she sometimes banishes me because I get in her way. I tell her she should wear better shoes than flip-flops.

She is home for sure. Immediately rearranged the patio to suit her, rearranged things in my kitchen, took stock of what I need from the grocery, and generally told me what’s what. I am so grateful. And I imagine she did that inside her house tonight. So now, Jordan is taking care of all of us, the world is back in its orbit, and all is well. I assured her that Christian took good care of me, which amounts to seeing that I did not lack for company in the evenings and checking on me in the mornings. All the evenings she was gone but one, he and Jacob came out for supper, and the remaining night he came out to visit.

I am having the great dentist debate. I usually get my teeth cleaned every three months, because I have “that kind” of teeth. I should have gone in April but cancelled due to the virus. Now I have an appointment in two days, and I am waffling. I called the dentist’s office, and they detailed their precautions, which sounded good. But then Jordan said how uncertain some of her friends are. Then my neighbor said her physician-husband went to the dentist and found the precautions highly reassuring. So do I go or not? I will have to make up my mind overnight, because if I don’t go, I owe them the courtesy of 24 hours’ notice.

As everyone knows, cases in Texas are surging, and Fort Worth/Tarrant County, which had a relatively low daily new case count for a long time, is also seeing a surge. It’s mostly young people, which makes me wonder if they are the ones ignoring masks and eating in restaurants and not following strict guidelines. I meanwhile am going overboard perhaps, but I take this seriously. What a dilemma!

Rain all around us last night and today, but not a drop for us. I was so hoping it would dump on my new grass. This morning a neighbor assured me it was going to rain tonight, and I took it as gospel. Unfortunately, nothing happened, although Jordan said the ground was moist this afternoon. At any rate, the grass still looks good, and I am still praying for rain.

Sweet dreams, everyone.