Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Fall leaves—and, “Say what?”


After the sudden, dramatic drop in temperatures overnight, today was beautiful in North Texas. It seems two things happened overnight with our trees—some decided to shed all their leaves almost at once, while others suddenly burst into color that would rival the best New England has to offer (well, maybe). I sometimes go two or three days without seeing the front of our house, so I was astounded today to see that the new Chinese pistache is a brilliant red gold, while the oak towering behind it is a deep, rich red. Wish I’d taken a picture. Meanwhile, my patio is literally ankle-deep in pecan fronds—that’s right, not individual leaves but fronds. The patio was blown clear twice yesterday and this morning it was covered again.

A bookstore sandwich board photographed in an online newsletter this morning referred to this as the season when we transition from spooky anxiety to festive anxiety. I really liked that.

Today I have named myself the unofficial poster child for hearing aids. I had an overdue appointment with Tracy, the audiologist at TCU’s Miller Speech and Hearing Clinic. She tested my hearing, though she didn’t say much about the results, and I suspect there’s little change in the two years since I last saw her. What she did say, and has said countless times before, is that it’s important that I wear my hearing aids even when I’m alone and not listening to anything. My brain needs to adjust to using them. If I take them off, say after supper, my brain shrugs and says, “What’s the use of trying?” A hearing challenge is not just an auditory problem—it involves brain function, and everyone reacts differently.

We talked about things and situations that make hearing difficult—no louder is not better. And yes, sometimes, I can hear words distinctly but not comprehend them. That too is a matter of brain function. I think maybe she was trying tactfully to say something about slowing down with aging, but I told her it’s not any worse now than it was seven years ago when I first saw her. I don’t have an exact figure, but I suspect I’ve worn aids for twenty years or more.

I asked about the new ruling that lets companies sell aids over the counter, and she compared those to readers. If you need just a little help, they’re great; if your hearing loss leans toward major, you need more sophisticated—and expensive—devices. And if you have problems with your devices—like a tinny sound—an audiologist can often adjust them to meet your needs. I mentioned that one of mine keeps falling out of my ear—she not only said she’d noticed that, she adjusted it.

About fifteen percent of Americans (some 37 million of us) suffer some degree of hearing loss. It can be sudden or slow in developing, temporary or permanent. Mine developed because of a combination hormonal therapy—I saw note of a study that determined it in the paper one morning and was the first to tell my doctor. He confirmed it by reading medical journals.

Too many people refuse to get hearing aids. You know them--they say they can hear fine, thank you very much, or it’s too expensive and their insurance won’t cover up. Or it’s too complicated and they couldn’t manage adjusting them, cleaning them, etc. Speak up, they tell you, and stop mumbling. It’s puzzling but many people stubbornly resist the idea of hearing aids when they have no qualms about wearing eyeglasses. I think it’s ego driven, maybe associating hearing loss with aging, but it’s a dangerous denial (and some two or three of every hundred children have hearing loss to some degree, so it’s not for the elderly alone). The biggest complication of untreated hearing loss is social isolation which can, especially in the elderly, lead to depression, anxiety, and dementia. Seems logical that lack of social stimulation opens the gate for those problems. Too many who can’t hear sit back, withdraw, and end up not participating in the world around them. What begins as slow mental deterioration accelerates without stimulation. Statistics tell us untreated hearing loss is also related to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, even stroke.

For the last six years, since surgery necessitated that I use a walker, I’ been an advocate of mobility devices, especially for those of us who are aging—cane, walker, transport chair, scooter. Use those things. To walk without balance is to risk falling. And one bad fall can tip an older person down that slippery slope to invalid status or worse. I’m also an advocate of alarm devices—a watch a pendant, whatever—for those who live alone. So now I’m adding hearing aids. When, if ever, did you have your hearing tested?

You don’t want to go into this festive season saying, “Pardon me?” every time someone wishes you “Happy Holidays”



Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Some thoughts on memoir

Being a foodie, 
I enjoyed this memoir

From time to time, I think of writing a memoir. I’ve even made sporadic attempts, to the point that I have a fairly good-sized collection of sketches, but they don’t hang together (I’m not sure they have to). The small online group of women writers I belong to counts several memoirists among our ten or twelve active voices, so I always feel a bit lacking because I’m not in that club. A friend in that group and I have been having an email conversation about what memoir is and isn’t and whether it’s wise to dig up every bit of your past.

Memoir is not autobiography, as I’ve only recently figured out. One woman has written her memoir and then announced she’s writing another. I thought, “Wait! Is is going to be repetitious?” But it’s not. You can write several, totally different memoirs. Autobiography is your full life story; memoir takes one thread from your life—career, family, a hobby—and tells that story. So you can indeed have several biographies. Turns out I’ve already written one, a memoir/cookbook titled Cooking My Way through Life with Kids and books (I’ve hawked it here before).

The friend I’m corresponding with wrote what she thought was a memoir many years ago and asked an editor friend to read it and tell her if what she had was any good. The editor told her, “Nobody’s life is 800 pages worth of interesting.” Since then, my friend has been picking threads out of that gargantuan work and using them in countless different ways. For her, the advantage is she has the material all written and ready to use.

There’s the question of audience. Who is interested? Who will read your memoir? Perhaps it’s a mistake to throw it out there and expect thousands of readers to clamor for a copy. No rule says everything one writes has to be published. Maybe it’s something for family or a few selected friends. Maybe it’s for a niche audience—I should, for instance, have done more to push my cookbook memoir on foodie sites (my plea: I was too busy at the time, still working). If I write a memoir, I’ll consider audience carefully and may still publish on Kindle with the expectation it will interest a limited audience.

For me, the question is what thread do I want to pull out of my life? I’ve considered many—my life as an adoptive parent, my career in Texas letters, the shaping influence of my parents and my ancestry. One Idea I’ve about abandoned is to explore my lifelong fight with anxiety. My anxiety is fairly low these days, and I’m of the philosophy that says let sleeping dogs lie. As mystery author Susan Wittig Albert said to me, “Working through past problems is valley work. If you’re on a hill, and you have a fairly good view, you don’t need to do it.”

My blogs may provide the material of memoir. Last night in my prowling, I found that six years ago when I was recovering from surgery to repair a disintegrated hip joint (not just broken, but gone), I blogged every night—about recovery. Just before the surgery I was in a bad place—exhausting pain, over medicated, not at all myself. I didn’t realize until last night that my kids seriously entertained the possibility that I could be dying. That’s a subject for another night, but it’s also a memoir thread, perhaps part of my life as an adoptive parent.

There are other blog entries—a chronicle of my wonderful trip to Scotland with two of my children, much about cooking and even more about the craft of writing, some accounts of special people, including a couple of special     men who came along after my divorce. I’ve had a full and most happy life, and it may be time to capture it on paper.

Interested in memoir? Here are a few titles you might look into: My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes that Saved My Life: A Cookbook, by Ruth Reichl, her account of the year following the devasting shutdown of Gourmet Magazine where she was editor—the text is all handwritten and charming; Bless the Birds: Living with Love in a Time of Dying, by Susan Tweit, a chronicle of the last year of her husband’s life as a glioblastoma slowly killed him; The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion—an honest and compelling account of a marriage; A Year in Provence, by Peter Mayle, an account of living in a small town in the Rhộne Valley and particularly of the cuisine; The Liars Club, by Mary Carr, her account of a wild Texas childhood; Good Smoke, Bad Smoke, by John Erickson, a Texan’s view of wildfire; and Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia, by Elizabeth Gilbert, one woman’s exploration of her own nature.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

A lazy day as the holidays rush in


My Jim Shore Santa
or is it Kris Kringle?

Sometimes I think it takes a day to recover from travel, even the shortest of trips. Perhaps it’s because I have never been a good traveler, or maybe it’s a part of aging. At any rate, I woke up stiff and sore this morning, which I attributed to four and a half hours in the car yesterday. I sort of proceeded through the day at a leisurely pace—reading emails and Facebook, studying some recipes, going to church via the internet, fixing tuna for lunch, taking a nap.

In the sermon this morning, the minister got to talking about holiday traditions and suggested engaged couples should always check out each other’s family traditions to make sure they were compatible. Made me think of Brandon who for—what? Twenty-three years now?—has been complaining because at Alter Christmas we each breakfast and then open presents. And despite his pleas every time, we do not open gifts on Christmas Eve. For heaven’s sake, what would you do on Christmas Day then? I’ve had a nice email exchange with B. today about that. I so love the four that have married into the family and accept us for all our set ways and peculiarities. Well, mostly they do.

Caesar salad with steak
and the world's biggest croutons
This afternoon, I got ambitious and fixed us a proper dinner—Steak and Caesar salad. I had found a new recipe and followed it closely—marinated steak cubes (I’d sent in a Central Market order, and sirloin was on sale—so a bit of a splurge). Homemade croutons (so much better) and scratch Caesar dressing. Do not ever tell the ghost of Caesar Cardini, who invented the salad long ago in Mexico—but the recipe had a bit of mayonnaise in it. We thought it was terrific, definitely a keeper recipe. But definitely not the classic dressing. It made a great dinner.

Another splurge: somewhere I read that Central Market had chocolate/apricot/lavender toast crisps, and I bought a box. Oh my, are they good!

The Burtons went to their storage locker for Christmas decorations yesterday, and today they brought home a tree from the Optimist lot. So Jordan was in a festive mood and came out this evening to decorate my cottage, while Christian was inside putting lights on their tree. Most of what she wanted—some beloved favorites—was tucked away in corners in the cottage.

Santa Mac
So now, my Jim Shore Santa is on the coffee table, my Santa Mac is on the bookcase, and my Christmas corner sports a tree with the oddest arrangement of lights you’ve ever seen. But it has some treasured ornaments, and it says Christmas to me. In the chair next to it is a pillow given me years ago—it used to play a tune but has long since given that up. And the little bunny is something I think I bought for a gift and then decided it was too dear to give up. Over the years it’s gotten a bit droopy and lost a bow, but it’s still dear. (We keep it where Sophie doesn’t go—at least I hope she doesn’t; the throw pillows on the sofa are there for her to throw on the floor, or at least that’s what she thinks).

So tomorrow, back to work with determination, at least that’s my plan. Sweet dreams, and I’ll check in tomorrow.

My Christmas corner

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Thanksgiving in the rearview mirror


Our long table

We are home again after three days and nights in Tomball celebrating with all the Alters, minus one. It was a plentiful, wonderful, be-grateful Thanksgiving. Moments that made my heart glad: a long table for all of us and a guest, plus Lisa’s mom who took Maddie’s place as the sixteenth Alter; my oldest son asking the grace and composing it as he went; my granddaughter making yeast-rising rolls and coffee cakes from my mom’s recipe; my grown children talking about all the awful things I fed them as children—liver and turnips and tongue; a sandwich from the Czech Stop in West; one evening of beautiful weather, sitting by the fire on the new deck, looking at the lake.

The weather was beautiful Wednesday night when we got there, then rainy, foggy, and chilly for two days with heavy rain last night. But today dawned bright and sunny, and we were grateful for clear weather on the drive home.

Our trip was a lesson in highway driving for Jacob, who drove from Reisel (outside Waco) to Tomball and back from Tomball to Hearne, all under the watchful eye of his mom. It went as smoothly as could be expected—I did hear comments about two hands on the wheel answered by my wrist gets tired. He willingly surrendered the wheel to Jordan in Hearne. We made our way through two traffic jams on the way there and two on the way back today—fortunately none of major proportions, though pity people going south on I-35 because an accident caused a backup several miles long. Jamie reported an accident with an eight-wheeler meant it was three a.m. before they got to their motel in Cypress (next door to Tomball).

We are grateful that everyone is back in place tonight, and two families report they rushed out and got their Christmas trees today. Jordan and Christian retrieved the Christmas decorations from the storage locker and will get a tree tomorrow. (When you have no garage and limited attic space, a storge lock is an annoying necessity.)

Lonely Sophie

The Tomball Alters have a wonderful Aussie/collie mix, Ginger—I tried to bring her home but couldn’t get away with it. She has that Aussie sweetness. But granddaughter Morgan and her boyfriend share a seven-month old pup of undetermined lineage, and Morgan was babysitting while Clayton was out of town. So we had Blue, who takes a long time to cotton to strangers but is otherwise puppy-crazy. I recount all this because it meant I had to leave Sophie in Fort Worth with the dog sitter, who is efficient and wonderful and kind. But it was harder on me than on Soph to leave her behind. Here is a picture of lonely Sophie.

A lesson I guess I knew but learned more firmly this trip: I function much better, with my walker, in my own environment. I have visited Tomball many times since I needed a walker, and it’s always a challenge—it is a multi-level house. The result is I have to ask for everything—from my morning cup of tea to my dinner plate and yes, please, another glass of wine. And I cannot pitch in and help, as all the other females present do. It’s sort of an emotional or mental problem for me—I feel guilty, am hesitant to ask, etc. I do try to avoid pouting or getting in a sour mood, but you’ll have to ask the others if I succeed. The Tomball grands—Morgan, seventeen and a high school senior, and Kegan, fifteen and a freshman (I think)—are both terrific about asking, “You need anything, Juju?” Kegan surrendered his bedroom to me and went across the pasture to his grandmother’s house (in Tomball I call myself the other grandmother).

And so it begins again—the hectic, happy holiday season. I am resolved to get back to serious writing Monday morning, but please don’t check on me. The best-laid plans gang oft agley. The next month will be filled with planning and partying, music and joy, and for too many, a bit of sadness or loneliness. Let’s all reach out to those not as fortunate as we are.

My favorite spot in Tomball
Note Sophie in the foreground and Grace in the back
(Grace is now playing on the rainbow bridge--this
was a few years ago)

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Twas the Night before … Thanksgiving!


Me and Jordan, thanksgiving 2022

The family is still scattered, but all headed our way. There’s a great break in tradition this year—for the first time one of the grandchildren will not be present when the whole family gathers. Madison, the oldest, has to work. We will miss her and her boyfriend Trevor, but I am sure it is an omen of times to come. We had them all for twenty-two years, and kids do grow up and move on.

Meantime, busy schedules and rainy weather combined to slow some of travelers, but we will gather in full force tomorrow or turkey and all the trimmings. Meantime, much of the “prep” work for the big meal is done. Some time ago, Jordan announced she would make two cheeseballs—one for Thanksgiving and one for Christmas. Then she announced she would make them in my cottage. So yesterday was the day—a day I planned to work on the outline of what I’m calling Irene in Texas for lack of a better title.

When the time came, Jordan was called away by a domestic crisis—someone had decorated Jacob’s fan with ketchup, mustard, and just a bit of mayo. Christian said it smelled like What-a-Burger! Jacob had to wash it in the driveway and then take it to a car wash for a final cleansing. Jordan felt obligated to get the clean-up started.

So I found myself cutting up  cream cheese—a messy proposition if there ever was one—and Velveeta and dumping blue cheese in a bowl. Bless Jordan—she arrived in time to chop onion, pecans, and parsley. And she did the mixing, which was part of the process I dreaded. We truly proved that many hands make light work.

Tonight granddaughter Morgan is making the dough for my mother’s rolls. I have offered to answer any questions, but her only one was what the word scant means. I’m so delighted that she’s such a natural cook, and my children will be delighted that they once again have Grandmother’s rolls. Shhh—Morgan added some spices. We’ll see what’s said.

We’ll enjoy the traditional dinner tomorrow and a brisket supper Friday. On Saturday, everyone will scatter for their homes, so please don’t look for a blog until then. Know however, that I wish each and everyone of you a blessed holiday. Among the many gratitudes in my life I am grateful for each of the many of you who read my blog and comment on it. I am grateful for your opinions and knowledge, and you make me feel that my little musings are sometimes worthwhile.

Happy thanksgiving. No matter what trouble us, I bet each of us can find things in our life to be grateful for. I know I have a long list.

For contrast, Thanksgiving 2012
What ten years hath wrought

Monday, November 21, 2022

How the other half lives


Hasselback kielbasa ready for the oven

Many of my friends, especially people from University Christian Church, now live in the downtown high-rise retirement community, Trinity Terrace. My good friends Jean and Jeannie live there on the seventeenth floor, next door to each other (which happened by serendipity). Despite my absolute delight with my cottage, I am sometimes a wee bit jealous of the social life they have there. Nobody needs ever to eat dinner alone unless they really want to.

Saturday night I was invited to dinner with friends there. We had happy hour in an apartment I’d not seen before. On the ninth floor in a corner, it has windows to the south and the west (I get so turned around in that building). The view is spectacular—from the dining table, from Morris’ office, and from the living room. For a one-bedroom apartment, it is spacious and open, with quite a bit of storage space (oh, how jealous that made me!). Morris’ special friend and my good friend, Kathie, decorated it for him and will tell you proudly that almost everything came from garage sales. Morris’ personal art collection decorates walls, tabletops, and display cabinets. The whole apartment is a marvel.

From there we went upstairs to the Blue Spire, the upscale dining area. It’s a social experience—people stop by the table for a chat, you wave at others on the way to your table. Everybody seems to know everybody. The menu is good, though I too often am tempted to have things I can’t ordinarily get—fried oysters, bone marrow, etc. Saturday night it was liver pate, which turned out not to be the coarse country pate I was hoping for but a buttery something—good but rich, so I settled for a large salad for my entrée. Of course, Caesar salad is not without its own richness, but it was an outstanding version of the classic. But then I completely lost my mind and had crème brulee for dessert. I paid for all this indulgence the next morning when the best way I could describe myself is sluggish.

I loved being there, seeing the apartment, meeting new people. (I have also seen Jean’s apartment which is equally unusual, full of her late husband’s artwork, much of it in a special wall of bookshelves). But in the long run, Trinity Terrace makes me grateful for my secluded little cottage, where I can cook to my own taste, keep whatever hours I want (at TT you have to be in your apartment by nine or ask for an extension). I know I am so lucky to have this living situation, and I am appropriately grateful. But I sure did have a good time Saturday night.

So Sunday night, a good friend from church (no, she doesn’t live at TT) came for supper. To indulge Jordan I made stuffed mushrooms with a cream cheese/Pecorino filling that was so good. For dinner we had spanakopita from the Greek festival at the local orthodox church. So delicious, and I know I could never make it that good.

I made a retro fruit salad over the weekend and took some of it to Kathie and Morris because I had a jar of hers to return (it had come filled with split pea soup). When I gave it to her, she, a deliberate eater (is that a good way to say it?), made no pretense that she would eat it but immediately said, “Morris will love it.” And he said the same thing, so I hope he did. What was in it? A can of peach pie filling, a can of fruit cocktail (drained), and three bananas (sliced). Told you it was retro.

I seem to be on a menu kick tonight, so here’s tonight’s dinner, in the oven as I write—Hasselback kielbasa with oven roasted carrots, potatoes, and onion. The vegetables were tossed in olive oil, salt, pepper, and dried thyme, the kielbasa basted in a mustard/honey combo. It smells heavenly. The recipe called for fennel, but I’ve never cooked with it, always put off by my notion that it tastes like licorice. Maybe I’ll have to try.

Kielbasa dinner plate



Saturday, November 19, 2022

National Adoption Day

For me, today is a bigger holiday than Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter rolled into one. It’s a day to celebrate my four blessings and to express my gratitude to the Edna Gladney Center. My babies are now in their late forties, early fifties, and adoption has changed a lot in those fifty years. Our story would not be possible today.

A confession: I never gave much thought to having children. I just figured it would happen, and when it didn’t, I wasn’t that upset. My ex-husband, now gone from this world, was desperate to be a daddy. So we applied for adoption, and we were an odd couple before we even got there—I was Protestant, not very active, and he a non-practicing Jew. We went to information sessions, etc., filled out the paperwork, and settled in for a long wait.

Less than thirty days later, the people at Gladney called to do a home visit. I stammered that I didn’t have curtains in the baby’s room yet, and the reply of “The baby won’t know” went right over my head. That night we rushed to borrow a crib and a changing table and some clothes from friends. The very casual inspection was the next day, and the day after that we had a baby—Colin David. Poor Colin—it’s a miracle he’s as wonderful as he is, because he landed with two people who knew zilch about babies. To this day he swears I caused his Crohn’s by feeding him undiluted formula.

Seventeen months later along came Megan who taught us more than we wanted to know about colic. Today she’s a healthy, vibrant woman, but you’d never have anticipated that from the baby who drew her little legs up and screamed in pain. Took lots of love and hours of walkng, walking, walking.

Gladney policy was that if you have one child, they would help you complete your family; at two, your family was complete. Joel and I tried to be active at Gladney—we invited residents for holiday dinners, and we often went to talk to groups of girls who wanted some idea about the people who would raise their babies. Joel, gregarious and generous, would say, “I don’t care what color your baby is. Give it to me, and I’ll love it.”

So one day when Megan was seventeen months (and much healthier), Gladney called and asked what I was doing. I said the usual—I wasn’t working, although I think I was writing, and I had two babies. They had a mixed-race baby—Eurasian (half Chinese, half Greek). I said the world’s dumbest thing: “We’ll come look at him,” kind of like, “Are the tomatoes fresh today?”

I know from Jamie’s wife and others that women of his age find him most attractive—he’s happy, playful, handsome, fit, all those good things. He was not a pretty baby. Skinny, forceps marks on his face, a straight Afro. I named him immediately, and he came home with us the day after we first saw him. By now, the two older ones knew where babies came from: you went to the adoption agency and brought home a baby. I had three under three and three in diapers. Those were the days

Gladney promised to round out our family with one more dark-headed baby (Colin and Megan were blonde, Jamie dark like Joel). It was three years before we brought home Jordan, who they told us was half Hispanic. Not until she was in her forties did she do the DNA thing and find out she is 98% northern European.

So there we were—a family of six. Today we are a family of sixteen, with seven grandchildren in the mix. To me, we are an example of how the joy of adoption spreads. No, none of the four have ever gone looking for their biological parents. I know accepting such is the modern attitude, but I am pretty fierce about the idea that they are, though grown and out in the world, my babies.

The big blessing is that they truly love each other—and me. They can’t wait for family get-togethers, so this weekend we are anticipating Thanksgiving. The Alters are known for being a bit rowdy when they’re together—somehow each of them married someone from a two-child family, so sometimes we catch spouses with a look on their faces that says, “How did I get here?”  And I have contemporaries who are a bit wary of the confusion, but I love every noisy minute of it.

Today, Edna Gladney’s mission is still the same—creating loving families—but their work is entirely different. I am so grateful to Gladney for letting us be one of their special families.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Living your best life


Morgan and her parents

My small writing circle has been exploring the question of why so many of us, as senior citizens (a euphemism if I ever hard one), continue to write, and most of us concluded that we write because we cannot not write. As one said, “To breathe is to write” or was it “To write is to breathe?” Anyway you get the point. My contribution was that given my age and where I am physically, I’m living my best life.

When I think of someone living their best life, I think of my youngest granddaughter. Morgan is a senior in high school, getting good grades, accepted into the National Honor Society, active in her outstanding and highly competitive marching band, already accepted to the university her boyfriend attends this year. And she’s a good cook. When her mom posts pictures of her, Morgan fairly glows—she is indeed living her best life for where she is in life now.

I think I’ve gone through life feeling that I was living my best life most of the time. Of course there were bumps in the road—some pretty big ones, like the failure of my marriage, the deaths of my parents, some surgeries I’d have avoided if possible, a couple of loves lost and a couple of friends who inexplicably cut me out of their lives. But mostly my mantra has been, “How blessed I am.” The years that brought bumps also brought four wonderful children, seven grandchildren, a career that I loved and had moderate success at, a wide and fascinating circle of friends, and an active social life. Sure, I might have wished for a couple of things—a lasting intimate relationship, a New York Times bestseller, even less anxiety and better balance. But I have so much more than so many people that I really think it’s my obligation to do whatever I can to make the world a little better—for one person, for groups of people (I am staying away from politics in this post).

Today there’s no denying I am what the world calls elderly (ageism is another topic for another day but it is currently one of my hot-button issues). But unlike many my age, I have a comfortable home where I am semi-independent, family that I love and that are so good to me, a smaller circle of friends than once but still friendships that I treasure (shoot, I even have a few reading fans and blog followers), and a dog I adore. I am active, still writing, still enjoying cooking, and I can buy the few things I want. Unlike many of my friends, I have no wish to wander and roam—I’m comfortable at home (forgive the accidental rhyme).

A friend once suggested people should keep gratitude jars—any big, old jar will do. Each day, on a slip of paper, write something that you’re grateful for that day. Forget what’s troubling you or what you wish was different—write what you’re grateful for. I tried but kept forgetting to write something. I do try, however, to thank the Lord each night for the things in my life for which I’m grateful.

My daily question to a young neighbor is, “Are you walking on the sunny side of the street today?” Amazing what a difference it makes.

How about you? Are you walking on the sunny side? Are you living your best life?

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

This, that, and cooking


Salmon rillettes.

I am full of myself tonight because I cooked a really good supper for a guest. I tend to think it was a light supper more suited to summer, but half of it was black bean soup. So that was hardy enough for tonight’s 40-plus degrees. The soup was a new quick, easy recipe I found—and it delivered just what it promised. Simply canned black beans, not rinsed, chicken broth, a bit of green chilies, and that was it. Lesson learned: for this recipe, don’t drain and rinse the beans. That sauce contains lots of vitamins and helps thicken your soup. Served with a dollop of yogurt, a sprig of cilantro, and a lime wedge. It was the lime juice that absolutely made the difference.

The black bean soup wasn't beautiful, but it tasted great. 
A note about the chilies in the soup: the recipe called for a small amount of chipotle chilies in adobo sauce. I don’t know about your heat tolerance, but mine s about zero. And every time I see the words “Adobo sauce,” I run the other way. Once I made salpicon (a Mexican dish, often a salad, that combines several ingredients bound together with a sauce) that had chilies in adobo sauce for the binding. Even the first day, it was too hot for me. But it kept getting hotter each day. I gave the remains to friends who declared they liked hot, but even they couldn’t handle it. I have since had salpicon in a restaurant, I think in El Paso, and it was good. Apparently, I just had the wrong recipe. But I will never cook with adobo sauce again.

The other half of our dinner was salmon rillettes. I always thought rillettes meant a kind of patty-like thing similar to croquettes, but not so. I found this recipe in America’s Test Kitchen, and it clearly made a spread, albeit with some of the fish flaked so that the final dish had some texture. Although the recipe called for fresh salmon, poached at home, I used a can of the Alaska Gold I had. Other ingredients were smoked salmon, crème fraiche, lemon juice, butter, and a bit of mustard. Served with baguette slices.

I’d share these recipes, but I’ll have to think a bit about adapting them to make them my own and avoiding plagiarizing. But I have to say, both dishes were a hit tonight. My guest, Mary V., is my kind of eater—she likes salads and smoked salmon and caviar, a kind of eclectic list, and fixing dinner for her is always a fun challenge. I want something light but unique and in line with her tastes. She routinely asks to bring something, but I am happier to cook for her. It gives me a chance to experiment with recipes that intrigue me but not my family. The other night when I fixed a creamy cucumber salad (delicious but it didn’t keep well—yogurt separates out!) and pinto bean salad (good, but needed more dressing), it was the same kind of experimenting that I enjoy.

Yesterday was such a busy evening I didn’t blog. After spending the day at my computer, I was glad to sit over wine and cheese with Mary for our regular Tuesday night happy hour. After she left, I fixed a chicken casserole for the family (Christian said he loved it, Jacob didn’t like it, I thought it was okay but not outstanding) and a lettuce salad. I’ve been making a dressing of wine white vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper and then sprinkling lots of fresh (I cannot emphasize that enough) grated Parmesan. It was great last night, but when I dressed some lettuce with it for a light lunch salad today it was too acidic.

After supper last night, it was on to the Berkeley Place Association quarterly zoom meeting. By the time that was over, I was tired and figured I had nothing new to say in a blog. I am worn out with blogging about who won the House and trump’s egoistic announcement for another presidential run.

Today has been a cancellation day: my hearing aid appointment this morning cancelled, because the audiologist had a sick child; my lunch for tomorrow cancelled because Jean still has a bad cough. Mary V. told me tonight that she had several engagements cancel this week, and she attributed it all to adults now getting the RSV which had previously only plagued children. I look at cancellations as a gift—more time for writing, which is exactly what I did today and will do tomorrow. But I am sorry to miss the audiologist (my family wanted her to work magic before we all get together next week) and the lunch with a church friend who is now in assisted living and needs friendship.

So a full week is turning out unexpectedly but okay. How about you? How’s your week going?

Monday, November 14, 2022

Rainy day blues


Scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and green onion--supper!

I must have intuitively known the weather because I slept outrageously late this morning and then wakened to another rainy, dreary day. Perfect for staying inside at my computer. After our terribly hot dry spell this summer, the gods of rain seem to have settled on us. We’ve had so much rain that a couple of pot plants without good drainage are suffering from root rot. But my new native plant bed is growing—I think it will be fine next spring.

This morning even Sophie pretty much decided inside was best. I cranked the heat up just a notch, got a cup of tea, and settled down to work. I’m grateful these days that there’s not the great volume of political email, though Ralph Warnock is sending out enough emails to make up for twenty candidates. I’m cheering hard for him, so I don’t really mind the emails, but I don’t read them all. I know the principle: repetition in marketing (and I suppose campaigning) is the key to success.

A long morning at the computer, a snack of leftovers for lunch—pinto bean salad which was an interesting experiment and a good cucumber salad plus leftover pot roast. After my daily nap, when Jordan wanted chicken casserole, I got everything ready to cook—chicken defrosted in the fridge, the stick of butter that she asked to be defrosted (it just went back in the fridge). Got the canned soup from the cupboard, and even the hook for opening those pop-up cans my old hands can’t handle (that is the most useful kitchen tool I’ve found in ages, so thanks to Priscilla Tate for telling me about it.) I got out dinner plates, the salad bowl, saw that there is enough clean lettuce, laid out flatware, even changed out of the clothes I’d slept in. In short, I was all ready to whisk dinner on the table.

And then it cancelled.

After a while, I put everything away, except I kept out the salad bowl because it’s a bit difficult to get to, and I put the canned mushroom soup in it (still in the can, of course) because why put it back in the closet only to get it tomorrow. I decided I needed a little splurge after that abrupt change of plans, so I added a scallion and some diced smoked salmon to my eggs before I scrambled them. Lesson learned: whip up the eggs first, then add those solid bits. Whatever, it was delicious. Topped by a couple of the Central Market chocolate truffles I keep in the fridge. It’s the indulgent life.

It's going to be a busy week, so my solitary day today was okay. And I did distract myself periodically today with the news—glad to hear that one major network has projected Katie Hobbs the winner for Arizona governor over Kari Lake, an election denier who has thrown her whole loyalty to trump. It’s fun for me to read the various theories about what happened with the midterms, and why the outcome was so unexpected. Everyone and his brother has a theory, and no one knows who is right, if anybody. I did like independent columnist and college sophomore (or junior?) Gabe Fleisher who admitted at length that the pundits, including himself, got it all wrong.

It's almost eight-thirty, and I still have to wash my few dinner dishes, do some work on the neighborhood newsletter, and then I can settle down with the current mystery I’m reading—one of the latest in the long-running Murder, She Wrote series. This one is The Queen’s Jewels and most of the action takes place on a crossing of the QM2 from England to New York. Fun reading.

Have a good week, everyone!