Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Eve

I am always reluctant to give up Christmas decorations until after the first of the new year, so tonight I set the dinner table around my Christmas centerpiece, and it looked so festive I couldn't resist posting a picture. The china is bordered with a red and green plaid, not quite the MacBain plaid of my clan but close enough to makeme happy.Tomorrow I'll serve Hoppin' John to Jordan, Christian, Jacob and neighbors Susan and Jay (who kindly supplied the ham). I was surprised Susan didn't know what Hoppin' John is--it's a stew of ham, black-eyed peas, Rotel tomatoes, etc. traditionally served over rice. I'll serve it over cheese grits. In the early years when I lived in Texas I wasn't as fond of black-eyed peas as I am now, so I served this rather than sliced ham and servings of peas. I quickly picked up on the tradition of ham and peas for luck and prosperity in the new year. Now, of course, I love the peas, especially mixed with mashed potatoes, a trick taught me by my Mississippi-born daughter-in-law Mel. But Hoppin' John is good, and the kids used to call it Hoppin' Uncle John in honor of my brother.
Jacob and I are ringing in the New Year together, though I hope we'll both be sound asleep when it rolls around. Just now, at ten p.m., he told me he didn't want to close his eyes. I told him to try anyway. I fixed us a festive meal--a bison rib-eye steak and a baked potato, both of which we split, and buttered corn. He told me he wanted meat, not chicken nuggets, but didn't eat the meat. I thought it was wonderful. We both had a chocolate chip bar for dessert, a special treat.
Having Jacob overnight is a most fitting way to ring in the New Year. My grandchildren are quite likely the most important people in my life. But then I admit getting him to bed, even by ten when his mom recommended nine, was a struggle. And I'm tired. No writing, no work, nothing productive tonight. I am making a dent in my catch-up work (suitcase unpacked and laundry done) but have decided to send out a New Year's letter to friends I don't see often or hear from, and I have a manuscript to proof and index by January 22. Still seems a long way away but I know I have to get to it. Oh, and there are those Christmas decorations to take down. 2010 is starting out to be as busy as 2009!
May God bless you in 2010 with everything you wish for and bless all of us with peace and love. I think world peace is too much to hope for, but we can each make a small step by reaching out to others and showing our love.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Watching Cinderella

Yesterday in the car Jacob and I watched Cinderella. Surely I saw the same Disney verison when my kids were young, but it struck me as all new, somthing I had never seen and was charmed by. The characterizations are great, and you can't help but be fascinated even by the wicked stepmother. And when Cinderella's dress for the ball is torn by her wicked stepsisters, you ache for her. But the character I found most fascinating was the good fairy godmother, who creates her ball gown and pumpkin coach. The good fairy is a bit ditsy, forgetful, wondering where she put her magic but oh, so good hearted and kind and motherly. Watching it with more fascination than Jacob did I thought this is how you get characters for novels. You could transform the tired, time-worn Cinderella theme into a modern romance or even throw in a murder (the wicked stepmother?) and make it a mystery. I probably won't try that, but I do plan to work the fairy godmother into a book sometime, probably without the magic powers but still ditsy and loving and comforting and maybe solving all problems. I remember one of my mystery manuscripts that went nowhere, and it had a character much like that. I always loved her and was charmed by her, so I think I'll bring her to life again somewhere, sometime. To me watching Cinderella was a classic example of where authors get ideas for characters. And, hey, I was really into that movie. Monsters I didn't like to much, though the premise is pretty cool.
Today I went about the business of getting back to routine--lunch with my friend Fred to give him a manuscript to read. We ate at Cafe Aspen, a favorite restaurant that has recently changed hands, and I was interested to see the new layout and menu. I had sliders of a beef/pork/game mix, and Fred had crab cake sliders. Both good. But I missed David, the former owner and a good friend. Then next door to get a haircut, and on to Central Market, which was a zoo of people shopping for New Year's.Tonight I finally unpacked my suitcase and a paper sack of Christmas presents, wrote thank you emails to my children, and began to get a handle on being back in the routine.
The holidays are a time to gain weight, and I don't want to crow prematurely, but I actually lost about 3-4 lbs. I did watch what I ate but there are times on a trip when you just can't be careful. I expected to have gaied 5 lbs., so imagine my joy when I stpped on the scale this morning! Tonight I had a great dinner with few points--sauteed mushrooms, snap peas, and scallions, mixed with lightly floured and sauteed bay scallops. But I had to eat a bit of all that chocolate given to me for Christmas. Why did my kids fill my stocking with chocolate?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Home again, home again

No matter how great a vacation has been--and ours was great--it's always good to be home again. When we drove to Breckenridge, we were in a hurry to get there because of a winter storm advisory; when we drove home today, we were in a hurry because of a winter storm advisory. It actually began to snow hard outside Wichita Falls, and Christian did a terrific job of guiding us through what was almost a whiteout. Two days in a car is grueling, almost all of it next to a three-year-old who was as good as you can expect a child that age to be in those circumstances. But still . . . at one point Jacob wailed, "I don't want to be a good boy!" I didn't blame him! I wanted to whine and cry too!
We didn't leave Breckenridge until almost noonMonday, which is 1:00 p.m.Texas. Big breakfast with most of the family at a terrific restaurant. It was good to visit, and as I fought the urge to say we should be on the road, I thought "What for?" If we get to Dumas at 6 p.m. what will we do then? So we lingered, visisted and had a good time. Findally got on the road, skirting Denver and going through the low mountain range to catch Highway 25 at Pueblo. But by the time we crossed the northwest corner of New Mexico and the towns in the Panhandle, we were tired and hungry. Jamie found a steakhouse in Dalhart (GPS systems are great) and we stopped and had a pretty good dinner, even though service was slow. Then on to Dumas, where we all went right to sleep in a really nice Comfort Inn.
Today we caravaned part way, then lost the Frisco Alters at a rest stop. We had Subway sandwiches in Vernon, feeling the pressure to get on home, and then inched along Hwy. 287, finally cutting through Saginaw to avoid the main north-south highway into Fort Worth, which was most likely clogged because of the snow. Arrived at my house about 4:30.
But there were good moments in that trip--last night at dinner I got to visit more with Jamie and 10-year-old Maddie than I had, and she was sweet at the motel, helping me find my room and insert the card to unlock it. Told her this morning I almost called her to ask how to operate the TV, coffee maker, and hair dryer. She's such a sophisticated traveler! And this morning, Jamie, Jordan and I had a good visit over breakfast and some honest talk--one result of which is my New Year resolution is to wear my hearing aids (first I have to unpack the suitcase and get them out, which I haven't done yet!). So it was like the entire vacation--a mixed bag with some really good high points.
I came home to lots of emails (couldn't get my cell phone to connect me for the last two days), lots of mail, and lots of chores--how does one retired person stay so busy? I have made headway tonight, but tomorrow I have a lunch appointment, a haircut, and a necessary grocery trip. Otherwise the day is mine,mine, mine!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Christmas of Dishwashing

Random Alter scenes from the after Christmas flurry, starting with the best of the blurry Christmas morning ones, at the bottom. At the top, Brandon enjoying his first cup of coffee of the day in the bright sunshine; then Jamie helping Maddie with her yoyo technique, and Morgan's first cake from her Easy Bake Oven; then Jacob with "his" Edie--that's what he calls her.

I have washed more dishes (and used more hand lotion) this week than in most entire years. The big kids are good about cleaning up but there is a tendency to assume it will get done after they bus their dishes. I find myself scrubbing bacon pans with inadequate equipment and water that is seriously scalding and dangerous. I think it's because I can't stand a messy kitchen, and they have other priorities, especially up here where the outdoors calls to them--but not to me.
The sick ones are better. After a trip to the doctor yesterday, Melanie summed up our illness record: food poisoning, 4; acute mountain sickness, 1; strep throat, 1. Jamie, with mountain sickness, slept with oxygen last night and is worlds betteer, says he'll sleep with it again tonight. Edie is on antibiotics and looks brighter. Food poisoning was early in the week and almost forgotten, at least by those of us not affected, but there's an unnamed fast-food chain where we won't be stopping again! Jamie missed two full days, including Christmas.
What I did on my vacation:
1. I slept a lot, maybe altitude, maybe relaxation, maybe laziness. But my bed was so cozy, I slept long nights and took long naps.
2. I ate a lot and my WeightWatchers points are crazy, though I keep trying. The kids have made tortilla soup, roast beef and a potato casserole, flourless chocolate cake, chili, tacos, and of course that marvelous turkey dinner. For breakfast there always seemed to be eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, sticky buns, etc--while I soldier on eating cottage cheese for breakfast and small portions of everything else.
3. Read, worked on my computer, did the "work" kind of things I like to do.
4. Watched my grandchildren--their dispositions change when all in a bunch. Kegan, who has always been shy around me, favors me with adorable smiles--so does Morgan. Jacob will have nothing to do with me except for occasional moments. Ford and Sawyer are into everything and constantly being reprimanded. Maddie and Edie remain the same--good kids.
5. Enjoyed the winter landscape outside our windows. Today the snow has either blown off or evaporated from the trees on the mountain we can see but beyond loom the high snow-covered peaks. I like the idea of being in snow country, but I'd forgotten (of course, in Texas) how much trouble it is to bundle everyone up, big and little. And I like enjoying it from inside. Twenty years ago I used to walk with  the best of them on our annual Santa Fe trips but, well--I have to cite age.
What I did not do:
1. One lick of work on the proofreading/indexing project I brought with me.'
2. Any winter sports such as skiing, sledding, etc.--all those things that draw people to Breckenridge.
What I've learned:
1. Never bring a long coat, even if you're not planning to ski--bring a ski jacket (so if mine is 30 years old or more and matches nothing else I own).
2. I can't mother my children--they organize at their own pace (which sometimes frustrates the compulsive streak in me and Jordan). When I began to worry that packing and restoring order to the cabin would take all day, Lisa said, "Chill." And Megan very pratically pointed out that if we plan to eat at 6:00, we'll eat at 7:30. She was right on the money Christmas Day. I have to squelch the urge to want them to do all things as we did when they were young--they they've retained quite a few traditions.
Do I want to do this again? For sure. Probably someplace neither as high nor as cold (Santa Fe anyone?). In one big house for all of us? You bet--even if I have to wash dishes. After all, I haven't done any cooking.

Our Winter Wonderland Christmas

Christmas morning was the usual confusion, with seven kids who were up early. I tried to take pictures but failed partly because the motion was so constant all was a blur and partly because I've never been a good photographer. Stocking stuffers kept them busy for a long while, through a big breakfast of pancakes and sausage and Mel's wonderful sticky buns. By mid-morning, we began opening packages and the confusion began all over again. Leftovers for lunch and a sumptuous Christmas dinner, for which all hands pitched in--each family was previously assigned a dish. I got to prepare the turkey because none of the girls will touch it to pull out the gizzard, etc., rub the skin with butter and seasonings,, etc. So I felt the onerous burden of responsibility for the main attraction. With Colin's help, it turned out great--he lifted it in and out of the oven, monitored the meat thermometer, and did the carving. It was a moist, perfectly browned bird--so good. The whole dinner was excellent, lots of off-key singing, more than a bit of wine, and much joy. By evening, we were settled with books, the children playing with toys, and all to bed early.
This has truly been a kids vacation--for some skiing was a grand adventure; others were not to enthusiastic; several think the hot tub in freezing weather is the best thing they've even done--Jacob tried three times, insisting he wanted to go in but losing his nerve at the last minute. Today everyone's got sledding except Jamieayand Edie, who are sick, and Mel who is nursemaid. Jamie missed all of Christmas day, which makes us all feel bad--he's the one who wanted Christmas in Colorado for years and put  this package together for us.
We've been plagued with sickness. Colin was feeling bad Tuesday when we left Trinidad and was really sick by the time we got to our cabin. That evening Mel and Edie got sick, and we blamed it on a fast-food lunch in Amarillo,though others of us ate the same fare and haven't been affected (knock on wood). Jamie got sick during the night Christmas Eve--I don't know if food poisoning can take that long or not, but we're sure the altitude is complicating things. We are all drinking gallons of water. Mel, Colin,and I talked about it this morning and agreed if we had to have illlness its better for us to be all together for help and moral support. It has still, in spite of all, been a good vacation, with the Christmas spirit dominating and a sense of gratefulness for being together.
We are by no means a Norman Rockefeller family--we have our differences, irritations, tensions--but more about that another time. I do think tensions iron out after the first day or so as we all learn to accept (a lesson we learn over and over) and to be a bit more careful of each other.I for one am enjoying a quiet day--working at my computer, then going to finish that Sue Grafton I just couldn't stay awake to finish last night, and then work on the proofreading I brought and haven't touched! When Sawyer and Ford misbehaved and their parents threatened to leave them with me, I screamed, "No!"

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Cold, clear, snowy day

A confession: I had most mixed emotions about this vacation: I don't particularly like cold weather, I am nervous on mountain roads, and with  apprension, my balance went south. Colin ordered me not to walk outside without holding on to someone else, adding that none of the family wanted their vacation spoiled by a broken hip and adding ominously that broken hips could be fatal. So over some family objections I commandeered the only bedrom on the same floor as the main living area (it's also the master and the biggest, but I figure age has its privileges).
Well, today, I had a wonderful time and decided I am thoroughly enjoying the vacation. Mel, Jordan and I (the nonskiers) took Jacob and Kegan and went to town. Instead of fearing that mountain road, I loved it--even looked out over the town way below us. The roads were freshly plowed, after 5 inches of new snow, and we had chains. Jordan drove slowly and carefully and wasn't nervous at all. We had promised the boys a visit to the Children's Museum but it didn't happen. One big grocery trip and we were ready for lunch. I walked without problem on the snow in my new Wal-Mart boots ($7)--ok, I held on to Mel a bit. Mostly the boys enjoyed the outing--I got to push the basket with the two of the in it. After lunch, home to unpack groceries, read a book and nap. Tonight Brandon is making his famous chili, we have a Christmas tree up and decorated, music playing, and it all feels festive.
And I'm really happy to be here. Large families are fun, but the dynamics are interesting. Yes, we all get along perfectly, but there are undercurrents and figuring them out is intersting. I find I use people from my family in my novels--and this trip has been an education. I tried to take a picture of all the skiers, big and little, in the hot tub, but it didn't work through the window and I didn't want to go outside to get it.
Merry Christmas to everyone, and God bless!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas in Colorado

It took me much time and lots of lessons from Colin to load these pictures--Windows XP was lots easier than Windows 7! But this is our cabin in Colorado--a view from the window out over the pine trees and mountains,(forgive the flash reflection), the massive fireplace and Uncle Colin surrounded by the children who flock to him.
It was a long two-day drive to get here--13 hours Monday, because we stopped six or seven times. When nine people, including two little ones,, stop for potty breaks, it takes an incredible amount of time. We stoopped at Chick Filet to let the kids play in the playground and another time to let them run off energy. InAmarillo at noon, it was 70 (in December in the Texas Panhandle? ) but by Dalhart it had dropped dramatically. We ended up driving that tiny corner of New Mexico on 87, which is always narrow and difficult in the best of circumstances but that night was under construction--and it being the winter solstic, we were driving in the dark. Colin did a great job and we settled in at a very nice LaQuinta. The next day, after plans to leave at 9, it was probably at least 1 p.m. before we left Trinidad--after a leisurely breakfast, a trip to Wal-Mart and loading up. Jamie and family went on but we stayed to wait for Jordan and Christian who were only thirty minutes behind us by then. Then up to Denver and into the mountains--a gorgeous drive but dark again by the time we got to Breckenridge. Our house is about 8 miles beyond, up the kind of narrow mountain road that scares me. Today some of the cars couldn't get out so we have stayed in, with Jamie leading an expedition to make snow ice cream. From my point of view, its an ideal day, my family around me, cozily inside,and working on my computer with Christmas music playing and Lisa making tortilla soup for lunch that smells delicious!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Festive evening

The Christmas spirit has been strong at my house tonight. My neighbor, Sue, came to pick up a key and an abundance of eggs I had in the fridge. Her parents, newly in town, came with her to say hello. So we all sat down with wine. Then friends showed up at the door for my annual Christmas party--which was last week. So they came in, joined us for a glass of wine and I felt very festive. I love a neighborhood like mine where this happens. And as we got to talking, everybody knew people in common. As someone once said, there's not six degrees of separation in Fort Worth.
In the midst of my impromptu cocktail hour (no hors d'oevres, shame on me!), Colin, Lisa, Morgan and Kegan arrived. Although I know Colin knows these people, he was a bit confused, and the kids were shy, but it was still fun.
We ate dinner--a big pot of my sloppy Joe, which is really a wine stew but I call it sloppy Joe because it has hamburger and beans and every seasoning you can thing of. Jamie and Mel arrived so I fed the second shift. We're all off to Colorado in the morning--the Houston Alters are adamant they we're pulling out of the driveway at 6:00 a.m. Tomorrow will be a long day but we hope to get over the Raton Pass and into Trinidad before dark.
It's a comfort to know that my house will be occupied and my animals well cared for. I'm excited about the trip and snow and family.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Christmas flurry

I've been a laggard about blogging the last few days. One night I just didn't feel I had that much to say, and last night my computer did it's funny thing again where when I try to restart it, it reloads updates for hours on end. It started it at 1:30 yesterday afternoon and was still doing it when I went to sleep--most frustrating.
It's been a busy week, and I don't know why I scheduled so much for the last week before Christmas vacation. But Wed. I spoke to a book group luncheon (much fun, I think I blogged about it). Wed. night Jay and Susan came for wine and gift exchange. Thursday I spent all morning in the office, trying desperately to wrap up loose ends, and then went to a retirees luncheon--lovely music, good food, a pleasant time. Friday I was out the door at 8:30 to speak to two groups of elementary children at The Montessori Academy in Arlington. The younger ones (grades 1,2 and 3) were wildly enthusiastic, each raising their hands that they wanted to be writers, and we talked mostly about how a book goes from your computer to a published book (isn't it wonderful--even at that age they all work on computers!). They were full of questions, and the 45 minutes flew by; grades 4, 5, and 6 were more restrained--only a few who wanted to write, sporadic questions, with long silences between that left me thinking frantically about what story I could tell them. It wasn't a failure, but it wasn't my grandest moment. However, I was paid handsomely, and by 11 a.m. I was back at the office, again cleaning up last-minute details, and then for a Christmas staff lunch at a local Lebanese restaurant with a terrific buffet. Last night Jordan and Christian and Jacob came for King Ranch casserole that I had cobbled together the night before--Jacob didn't like it, but we all did. Then we went on a tour of lights around the city, which was lots of fun--I haven't done that in years. Jacob mostly enjoyed it, turned a bit whiny, but, hey, it's the holidays--even three-year-olds feel the excitement=stress.
I have decided my problem is that I like my own cooking too much. I've gained 3 lbs. in the last couple of weeks. I really really need to banish chocolate from this house. But Wed. I think I mentioned the lunch hostess cooked Doris casserole from my cookbook--and I ate two helpings, plus I ate dessert. Last night I ate two helpings of King Ranch chicken--I'd been wanting it for a while, and it tasted so good! And there were those chocolate chip bars left from the party that just stared at me until I had to eat two. A bad day for Weight Watchers points.
Today I have tried to be good--ate grilled (notice, not fried) oysters for lunch at the Flying Fish with my dear friend Charles (so glad to see him getting out) and his daughter Marsha. So far I've resisted chocolate. And tonight--ONE serving only of King Ranch, plus a bit of leftover cheese spread and the peas Jacob didn't eat last night. I'm trying to clean out the refrigerator, but that's a disaster for a diet.
Tomorrow I'll make sloppy Joe for the Frisco and Houston Alters, who will all spend the night, and we'll leave at 6:00 a.m. Monday for Colorado. The pet sitter will be at the house, the alarm service is on, and the neighborhood patrol has me on their list so I feel safe about leaving. Yet it's always a wrench for me to be away from home for more than one night. On the other hand, I know I'll enjoy the trip and being with my family. Look for sporadic blog posts.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Book review and a fabulous house

Today another author, Kay Nelson, and I shared the spotlight at the annual Christmas luncheon of a local book group. Ten of the most interesting ladies I've met in a long time. I went without a clue what I was going to say, but the hostess asked me a question that got me started, and we were off and running. Later I sold all twelve copies of  Cooking My Way Through Life with Kids and Books that I'd brought with me. Kay's book, Spilled Blood, is a novel about relations between American and Islamic peoples, made clear and specific through the meeting of two women. The book questions war and peace and tells a story of learning to accept others and develop an unlikely bond. She did a great job talking about why she wrote it and sparked a lively discussion of the U.S. role in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The food was delicious, although it's a bit immodest of me to say that--the recipes came from my cookbook. Doris' casserole, the Star Cafe house salad dressing, and Texas Delight for dessert. Another day when I don't want to talk a bout Weight Watchers points!
But the highlight of the entire lovely event was seeing the hostess' house. Located west of Fort Worth, in Aledo, it sits high on a hill, and the main living areas are on the floor above the entry level. The entire open great room and kitchen is surrounded by windows, so there is almost a 360 degree view. The kitchen sits in one corner--streamlined, stainless steel counters, efficient beyond belief--with a view to the north (or maybe east, but I think north). I could imagine Sue cooking there in the evening, looking over the houses below all decorated with Christmas lights. To the west (I think) were a few more houses--all set much lower--and then, beyond prairie dotted with scrub growth. It's a modern house, too modern for me probably, but I did covet that kitchen and the view. The sink faced the common room, though there was a view out the windows on the other side--I think I'd have had the sink by that great northern view.
We got a tour later--the ground floor level has his and her offices and a bedroom for a grandchild. Below that, I presume is the garage. But it was all tasteful, wonderful, and amazing. Seeing that house was the highlight of my day!
Tonight Jay and Susan came for cocktails--isn't it nice to have neighbors who bring their own beer?--and exchange of gifts. We laughed and visited and had a high old time, and they left with Christmas wishes. They drive to Taos Friday, and I leave for Breckenridge (CO) on Monday. Both of us use the same pet sitter, so he'll be going between the two houses, but we'll be well protected.
I made an easy, quick appetizer for tonight--the mixture my mom used to stuff into mushrooms: grate cheddar, chop scallions, add dry mustard and Worcestershire with a fairly free hand, and bind with mayonnaise. Tonight I put it on baguette slices and broiled them. So good, even if I do say so.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Oh, What a Day!

Remember that song from "Oklahoma"? Curly sings it, and I think it's the day he meets what's-her-name or else the day they declare their love. And the gist of the song is what a wonderful day it has been. That's not the kind of day I had at all. Last night my new computer (two days in use) began acting really weird--I couldn't pull up  a Web site but Jamie, talking to me on the phone, got it easily and logged into my account (okay, it was Weight Watchers). Then the Webroot Sweep mechanism acted funny and Jamie suggested I just re-boot. But when I did I got a blue screen advising me not to power off or unplug my computer because it was loading 8 of 25 updates. The blue was softened with streaks of white like clouds and a few oak leaves--how comforting! How can a two-day-old computer need 25 updates? Periodically in spite of that warning it would turn itself off, so I'd restart it, each time hoping. Same blue screen. This went on for three hours last night.
I'm not sure I can adequately explain how important a computer is to me, without everyone else thinking, "Get a life!" But I depend on my computer, as any writer does, to work on manuscripts--and I really did have a scene I wanted to write last night. But also I get a lot of email, really a lot, mostly because I'm on two listservs from Sisters in Crime but also emails related to TCU Press. I do my banking on line, pay my bills, order things. Even though I'm not truly proficient, I really do live by my computer--and I spend most of my time at home at my desk, with the computer running, even if I'm reading, proof-reading, editing, whatever. So I go pretty ballistic when it quits. Jamie was patient through three phone calls but by the fourth I think he'd given up and said he really didn't know.
I didn't sleep well, aware that I had to be out the door at 8 for a haircut appt. across town and thinking about the blasted computer. This morning it was doing the same thing, so I resolved to put it behind me and go on with my day. Only trouble is my haircut was at 9:30, not 8:30; Rosa called me on my cell phone, and I told her I simply had too much to do to wait another hour.Went to Central Market, which was a weird experience because the lights weren't even on in many sections--clearly they weren't quite ready for the day, although it was after 9 and I thought they opened at 8. Got the few things I needed, went to CVS for a prescription and a couple of other things, went home to put groceries up, and went back to the office to do acquisitions work that had piled up and other things that I hadn't been able to deal with on my computer., including getting the telephone number for Dell tech support.
Came home, put things away, straightened up, fixed lunch, and settled to call Dell. While waiting for them to transfer me from one tech person to another, I hit the power key again--and the computer was back to itself. I hung up guiltily, but I can't tell you how much less pressured I feel now. I was sure the computer had crashed and I'd have to go to the office every day to get things done until Jamie could bring my old computer back this weekend. Now I feel on top of my world again (with my fingers crossed).  As for the haircut, I'm simply going to have long shaggy hair until after New Year's though since I hadn't washed it this morning, I felt really tacky all day and announced at the office that I would not bear any comments about blowsy blondes.
The day ended with Jacob, who cried bitterly when his mom left but soon brightened up and was a fireball of energy all evening--he ate a good dinner but I began to regret having given him that one sugar cookie as a reward. He'd do headstands which ended with him throwing himself at me, and he wouldn't be parted from me for a minute. It was "Juju!" every time I turned around. I talked a lot about patience, and late tonight he said, "We have to be patient, don't we?" I nearly fell off my chair laughing. All in all we had a pleasant and fun evening, though I am a bit tired.
And the week is about to get really busy. Why did I say I'd present two programs the week before we leave for Christmas?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Party Hangover--no,not that kind!

Today, my feet hurt every time I start to walk. After a few steps they're okay, but they're still recovering from last night. Tree Trimming sans tree was a huge success (in my mind, anyway)--about 55 people plus ten little people who for the first time had their own separate buffet (the adults kept eating the pigs in a blanket). My brother's entire family, almost, was here, like a family reunion, though they see each other often. Jordan worried about adults to supervise the children so no child ate too many cookies--no need to worry. There were twice the adults in the playroom as the children. Jacob ate two sugar cookies (sugar high), had so much fun with his cousin Edie, that he was devastated when it was time to go home.
The adults had a good time--many said they look forward to this as their favorite party of the year, and there were compliments on the food, though it was mostly stuff I serve year after year--cheese ball (my mom's recipe), chili-cheese dip, salmon spread, sausage balls, lots and lots of white wine and a bit of red (some of which ended mysteriously on the T-shirt I put on to clean up). The party began at 5:00 and some folks left pretty quickly, for other engagements as I'd anticipated, but others stayed. It finally ended up that Jordan and her friends sat around until 9 or after, and then Jamie was here until almost 11:30 setting up my new, very fast computer (if my typing is off, blame it on a new keyboard to which I'm adjusting). This is the annual time when I see people I don't see very often and see others I see frequently but they mingle with friends they only see here--it's a good, warm, nice time. In her gratitude log today Elizabeth was grateful for a party with lots of friends and lots of laughter--she emphasized the latter. Made me feel good.
I meant to ask Jordan to take pictures but forgot and got none. Oh, well, next year. Bless Susan, who washed dishes while I put leftovers away--without her I'd have been in the kitchen until all hours. Jay contributed by keeping the children amused cutting small paper plates into snowflakes--with the result of little white triangles all over everywhere. Jordan enlisted all the children to clean up the playroom at the end of the evening, although when I asked Edie if she was helping, she looked me straight in the eye and said, "No." Little imp! By the time her daddy took her home, she was one tired puppy.
And so was I. It was midnight before I got to bed. I forgot to feed Scooby until about ten and he was really mad at me, dumped his dish over and ate off the steps, etc. This morning I slept until 8:30 but he refused to go out until almost ten--as though he were saying, "I haven't had long enough in this bed."
So today I'm moving slowly, although the laundry is doing, the house is almost back to normal, and I've written email thank you notes to those who brought hostess gifts--at least those I could identify. A bonus: my brother found a copy of the cookbook our mother put together for the hospital auxiliary--he labeled it a package "From Grandmother" and I've been prowling through it--there I am in print for the first time, with a garlic cheese hot dip written and signed in the roundish writing of a young person: Judy MacBain. Our mom's cheese ball is there, along with lots and lots of names I recognize from my childhood, plus some of my distant aunts' names (in Mom's handwriting) and some anonymous cooking tips from Penelope Jones who was, I happen to know, Mom.
Tonight Jacob will spend the night and then it will be into the busy week as usual. And it looks to be a busy one indeed.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A lovelyl party tradition

These are the table settings for my tree trim party tomorrow. The one with three dishes is the dessert buffet; the other is the table. I have a friend who gives me everything Texas-themed she finds at garage sales (she's a devotee) and over the years my collection has grown, so this year I decided to do a Texas theme for the party. Note the cork coasters decorating the big table. That particular friend is off welcoming her first grandchild, so she'll have to do with pictures.

When I was a kid, tree-trimming was not festive. We all went to buy the tree; my father and my brother put it up and put the lights on, and then it was up to Mom and me. They left. I always thought it should be more festive. My ex-husband, Joel, and I probably had our first Tree Trimming Party in 1965. We were new in Fort Worth, didn't have many friends, and wanted to celebrate. As I remember it was a sort of bare bones party. My brother and his family came for Christmas, but I don't think they were here for the party. We had some sort of party every year after that, and I remember making people string cranberries and popcorn--if you've never strung popcorn, it's really frustrating. But it's a cheap way to decorate and keep people busy. By the early 1970s we were in the lovely big Mediterranean house that I later called "my doctor's wife house" and the party became huge. I remember one year when the older physicians asked where the whiskey was (we hadn't planned on serving it) and younger ones went out before midnight for more beer. For many years, we had huge parties--60 or 70 people, and I did most if not all the cooking. I had some stand-by favorite recipes--a couple of caviar spreads that I alternated, always my mom's cheese ball, a chili cheese dip that everyone loved, sausage balls. Some years we experimented--once an entirely New Meixco themed menu, another year a dessert party that was catered--the caterer took some chocolate mousse back to the children and said, "Look, kids, chocolate pudding." They tasted it and looked at him disdainfully: "This isn't pudding; it's mousse." My young sophisticates.
There were a couple of years we didn't have the party--one when our house was being disastrously remodeled and we were at my mom's for Christmas, another when the marriage was coming apart and Joel insisted we couldn't afford it. After he left, I had the party as always, and some said how funny it was that everything went on just as it had when he was there. I was reminded of the Buddhist belief that we are but waves on the ocean and when we disappear our wave sinks back into the ocean. A couple of years later a friend came and said she realized she didn't know many people--I had, as a single mom, branched out and made lots of new friends.
In the early years, the children were usually in their pajamas and made a brief appearance. I  remember one year they slept through the entire party. But I never thought of it as a kids party, and I was astounded one year when friends brought their grown son. This year there will be a lot of children--good thing I have a large playroom. Jacob will be here, his cousin Edie, friends' grandsons, another friends two foster children, new to me, one of Jordan's friends with her daughter, my nephew's family with two children and my niece with one. I'm suddenly retooling and thinking in terms of kid food. Maybe a trail mix thing (we always have that around for Jacob) and the old standby--onion soup dip and potato chips.
I've made chili cheese dip, sausage balls, bourbon hot dogs, a ham terrine, cheese ball, desserts (plus persimmon bread from Jeannie) and tomorrow I'll make a salmon dip. This year, no caviar, no brie--I'm on a budget. Jamie said if I didn't have artichoke/caviar dip he isn't coming, but he will. As I often do I announced in early October that I wasn't going to do the party--didn't have the energy, the money, etc. Whine, whine. Several friends said, "We don't care what we eat. That's the only time we see a lot of people." So now I'm enthusiastic about it again. I called it on the invitation (first e-mail invitation I've ever sent) a Recession/Retirement/Belt Tightening No-Tree Tree Trimming Party. Oh, yes, that's another part--in recent years it's become the almost-annual no-tree party, because I don't put up a tree--I'm never here at Christmas. I think I got burned the year the tree fell over in the middle of the party and good friend Dick Hoban caught it. The house is festively decorated, but when Jacob asked if I had a tree, I had to say "No." It's a pity, because over the years friends brought me a wonderful collection of unusual ornaments, all with sentimental value. They are carefully packed away in the attic.
Here's a quick recipe that everyone seems to love--the dish is usually empty at the end of the evening:
Make a sauce of 2 cups ketchup, 3/4 cup bourbon, 1/2 cup brown sugar. Cut 2 lbs. hot dogs into half-inch chunks and simmer in the sauce one hour. (I added an extra half pound of hot dogs this year!) Enjoy!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Family and Food

The holidays are a time for thinking about family and food, so here's a bit of each from my corner of the world. Both pictures were taken when Jordan, Jacob and I visited the Houston Alters right after Thanksgiving. The top one shows cousins Jacob, Morgan and Kegan. The Houston kids were on their way to a football game (don't ask which team but they had field passes and it was a big day) and Jordan, Jacob, and I were headed  home but Aunt Lisa kindly gave Jacob an extra football shirt so he'd "match." Below, Morgan and I were celebrating completion of the Sponge Bob floor puzzle in front of us, in spite of "help" from Jacob, who also took credit for finishing the puzzle. Note the late wearing of Halloween costumes!
The food part of this post is less about the holidays, except that I stayed up way too late last night thumbing through the cookbook John and Cindy gave me, The Silver Spoon. Probably not much I'll cook over the holidays but lots that I will fix for company during the coming year. Sometimes I have to find the right people who will eat things with me--like anchovies and carpaccio. There are great suggestions for carpaccio in the book. Wonderful lamb recipes and plenty for chicken, chapters on antipasto (one of my favorite ways to entertain), all kinds of fish, met and variety meats--tongue (I love a good smoked tongue sandwich but who else will eat that?), kidneys--I was raised eating sauteed kidneys with bacon and ketchup but last time I inquired you can't buy lamb kidneys in a quantity smaller than a case. I just wanted two to see if I still like them. But kidneys with mustard, kidneys in Bordeux--I'd love to try. Some recipes I probably will try: salmon tartare, smoked salmon terrine, roast leg of lamb in an herb crust. Roman spring lamb which looks like a stew rather than a roast, lots of the sausage recipes, hot veal in tuna sauce and cold veal in tuna sauce, chicken, anchovy and caper roulades--I could go on and on with recipes that caught my eye. There's a whole section on cooking mutton, which I thought you only cooked by mistake when you thought you were getting lamb. I notice that this cookbook always calls for whole salted anchovies--I've never used anything but canned and am wondering if Central Market has the whole ones. For canned tuna, it always specifies in oil (olive oil I presume) but I religiously use albacore in water. Hmmm, some adjusting to do.
Meantime my holiday cooking is much more mundane. Tonight I made a ham terrine for Saturday's no-tree Tree Trimming party. Got it all put together and in the fridge when I realized I'd left the butter in the microwave to soften; had to get it all out, blend in the butter, repack the terrine in the refrigerator container, and rewash the dishes. Sometimes I wish I'd keep my wits about me when I'm cooking. Tomorrow I'll make chili/cheese and bourbon hot dogs, both family favorites for years.
Speaking of food, I actually lost .7 lbs this week--but I worked at it. Until I entered the results in Weight Watchers, I thought I'd gained and said the heck with it, fixed hot dogs and a fried potato for supper. Turned out not to be bad--stayed under points for the day and had a piece of chocolate to boot.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

So many recipes, so little time

Tonight I was leafing through my file of "Entrees Tried," looking for my tried-and-true directions (mostly time per lb.) for roasting a turkey. (Jean reminded me by phone that it will take a lot longer at 9500 feet in Breckenridge.) But I found lots of things that made me think, "Oh, I haven't tried that in a while." One was Welsh rarebit made with stout--delicious! Another was my wine casserole that I always called Judy's Sloppy Joe. And there were others--sometimes it makes me long for the days when I cooked for five of us and could use those recipes and many more over and over. You just don't cook things like that for one.
So what did I cook for one tonight? I kept eyeing the leftover roast chicken in the fridge, but I wasn't sure what to do with it. Besides, I keep remembering that Christian found the cat nibbling at it. But then I remembered I had mushrooms and a zucchini, so I sliced some of the zucchini, drizzled it with olive oil and Parmesan (the good grated parmegiano Reggiano) and broiled it--found when I ate it I should have added salt, so rushed back to the kitchen for a pinch of Kosher salt. I wiped the mushrooms with a wet paper towel--my mom used to douse them in salt water and she did get a lot of dirt out, but I have since been convinced by those who know more than I do that mushrooms absorb a lot of the salty water. So I wipe them. Sliced them and sauteed in a mix of butter and olive oil, sprinkled on a bit of Worcestershire and poured them over toast. Mom used to serve both sauteed mushrooms and steamed asparagus on buttered toast--I've since been told that's very British. But it was a satisfying meal for a cold evening--and cold it is, down to 23 tonight. It's been cold for days, and I'm tired of it, but I know the rest of the country is really in blizzard conditions so I won't complain too much. Besides, by Saturday it is predicted to be in the 60s Here's hoping.
The other thing that made me think I want to cook so many dishes is a cookbook. This afternoon, there was an Amazon box on my doorstep, and I opened it--I order from them all the time, so couldn't remember what I'd ordered, but it was something I hadn't ordered, a Christmas present from John and Cindy: The Silver Spoon Italian cookbook, a humongous book of 1264 pages and who knows how many categories of food. The ribbon place mark opened the book to the chapter on anchovies. Now I love anchovies--lots of people don't--but there are wonderful recipes for frying, serving au gratin, with truffles, and layered with potatoes. Fortunately I have neighbors who also love anchovies. Last Sunday I found a bit of salad dressing in a jar in the fridge and decided to use it for supper, since Jay was coming and he doesn't like Jordan's traditional blue cheese dressing. The minute I poured the dressing on I smelled anchovies and thought, "Oh, oh!" Everyone else commented at the dinner table that the dressing smelled of anchovies, and Christian said I'd have to go back to my other dressings. It was a recipe Sue had given me, but it may have gotten a bit stronger sitting in the fridge. Not much salad was eaten that night, and I threw away about a head of lettuce. Hurts my Scottish soul at the price of leaf lettuce these days!
More about the recipes I find in The Silver Spoon to come. I'm glancing now at a chapter on shad--I'm not even sure what shad is, except that it's a fish.
Some days I really wish I could run a restaurant to fix all these things but talk about a foolish pipe dream! Neither my bank account nor my feet would hold out.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Thoughts on rewriting

As regular readers of this blog know, I've been putting off going back to my second mystery for some times now--yeah, even months. The manuscript sat there like an accusing stack of papers, saying "Look at me." But I am a master at putting things between me and something I dread doing. Saturday I decided instead of reading someone else's mystery, my time--and I had a lot of it that day--was better spent reading my own novel. So I dug in. And you know what? It wasn't half as bad as I thought it would be. I think the thing that kept me from it was a deep, hidden conviction that it was beyond rescue, so bad, with so many holes in the plot that you could drive a truck through, that I really should throw it away.
Well, that wasn't true. Yes, I saw holes in the plot, places where people's motivation didn't hold up, places where coincidence played too big a part. But it wasn't beyond hope. I made editorial notes like crazy all weekend and am ready to dig in and edit--except that this is a busy week, filled with all kinds of other things from health appointments to lunch to staff meetings, plus cooking for my Christmas party.
But what I decided is that the first time through on a novel, you just write, whatever comes into your head, and a lot of it doesn't make sense. But when you go back, it makes more sense than you thought, and an adjustment here and there, a beefing up of this person's motive and that person's story, makes it much better. Even after I make all these editorial changes, I'm not done, and I know it. But I've taken a gigantic step, and I'm really happy about it. And I think the novel iis good.
When I write articles, I always know that the first draft sounds like an idiot wrote it, but I can fix it. Why didn't I believe that about novels?
So cold and wet in Texas today. I rushed off to a doctor's appt. this morning, then at lunchtime my friend Carol came with cat carrier to help me take Wywy to the vet for a checkup (expensive!), and we met a friend of hers at the Tokyo Cafe for lunch--great sashimi and great company. Home for a nap, shower, bike ride (indoor of course) and to pick up one indignant cat. Then dinner with Carol and Kathie--our early Christmas dinner and gift exchange. Lots of fun. Kathie is rushing off to Georgia Friday to greet her first grandchild, due to be delivered tomorrow. She's as excited as can be, and I'm happy for her.
'Tis the season for great joy--even in sloppy, cold, wet, Texas weather.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Roast chicken and other things

Tonight Jordan, Christian, and Jacob came for supper, along with Jay, who's alone beause Susan is out of town. I dry brined a roasting chicken, something I'd never thought of. But you rinse it, dry it thoroughly, and rub it with salt (I used Kosher, which I almost always do). One of several recipes I read said to leave it uncovered in the fridge for eight hours--drying it out makes for crisper, drier skin. I know the skin is bad for you but gosh this was good! And the meat was moist and good. The recipe I followed said to fill a 9x13 pan with vegetables--it called for Yukon gold potatoes and artichokes but Christian hates artichokes--I used the potatoes, a sweet potato, and carrots. One flavor secret--slice two Meyer lemons and put most of them in with the vegetables--put the rest of the slices inside the chicken. When Bake at 425 for 30 minutes, turn the chicken and bake at 350 for another 30 minutes. Then bake the vegetables 10 minutes longer, stirring them. At that point I added some green beans. The point was for the chicken to drip on the vegegies, but I wasn't all that sure it did, and the veggies were crisp, which I liked with the green beans but I would have liked the sweet potatoes and carrots mushier. Still it was really good. I dressed the lettuce with a dressing left in the fridge which apparently had anchovies in it--not a hit. Jay brought chocolate chip cookies--a real hit, especially with Jacob.
This morning I lazed over the paper, did my yoga, got stuff out for dinner, and still worked on my novel a bit. I'm delighted at the way I'm finding motivation for people who didn't quite fit and really, in my mind at least, weaving the whole thing together. Late this afternoon, I read someone else's novel, figuring couldn't concentrate with Jacob running around.
Jacob and Jordan came for lunch, then she went her merry way, and we napped--for about an hour and a half, which was good. But Jacob was bored when I had to cook. Christian, with help from Jay and Jordan, put lights around my front door and put all the extra decorations up in the attic. Inside I have the fireplace going, white lights on the mantle, and it all looks very festive. It's cold outside but not too bad but inside feels cozy tonight. Jacob is learning to keep his hands off decorations, but he still tosses Baby Jesus around like a football--the small cradled figure is part of a creche made in South America that decorates my coffee table. I'm ready for Christmas and, I hope, for my party next Saturday night.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

A lazy day

Well, okay, lethargic. My stomach, which has been bothering me all week, is better today, but I am sort of without energy. Had to make myself get out and go to the grocery this morning, came home to hibernate for the rest of the day, foregoing a holiday part I had looked forward to. But I'm comfortably cozy, or at least relatively so--this morning it was 26 degrees at 7:30, which may account in part for my lethargy. Who wants to go out in the cold? Tomorrow it won't be so cold in the morning, but it won't be very warm during the day either. Still I vow to have a brighter day tomorrow--going to "dry brine" a chicken and then roast it over vegetables. Jordan and Christian will come to help with the finishing touches of my decorations; Jacob will hinder more than help, and Jay will observe, though he says he'll help. Jacob and Jordan are coming for lunch, and then she's going somewhere while--I hope--Jacob and I nap. Which somehow reminds me I have to snap some green beans tonight. Not much snow, but for Houston it's early and quite a bit.
Snow in HOuston, and my Ceiva, which plays rotating pictures from all my family, already has pictures of Morgan and Kegan playing in it.
But there is a huge bright spot to me day. I consider just reading all day but then I thought if I can read, I can read my own mystery. So now, just after supper I am 60+ pages into editing the second mystery, tentative titled "No Neighborhood for Old Women." Okay, yes, it's a play on Cormac McCarthy--couldn't resist and should it ever get published, an editor will no doubt change it. But I figured I have to get this one in some shape and then I can move on to the next.
The book I started to read is the bestselling The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I had ordered it with a gift certificate I had but then Melanie said she really wants to read it and would I bring it at Christmas so she could. I thought I'd read it first and give it to her, but I may not get that done. The book is set in Jackson, Mississippi, Mel's hometown, albeit a few years before Melanie appeared in Jackson. It's not a mystery, and everyone knows if I'm not reading for work, I'm reading mysteries--but this one has been highly recommended by several people.
Meantime, it feels good to feel the wheels turning in my brain, as I rewrite sentences, change focus, try to beef up that first draft.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Authors Galore

Tonight was the Annual TCU Press Autograph Extravaganza, an event that brings together abou 15 local authors and enough people who want to browse, buy books, get them signed for Christmas giving or just to keep, drink wine and eat cheese. The cold weather may have kept a few folks away tonight, but they missed a great evening. We had numerous authors, with books spread out all over the festively decorated room in the Botanic Garden, and, generally, places for the authors to sit by their books. A wide variety of books--fiction, nonfiction, romance, mystery, novels by the late Elmer Kelton who had always been a favorite at this event. Star of the show was Bob Ray Sanders with his book, Calvin Littlejohn: POrtrait of a Community in Black and White, a book I've wanted to publish for 25 years and am so glad to see done in such perfect form. It's truly an outstanding picture of the black community in Fort Worth through much of the 20th Century, a time when the newspapers didn't publish pictures of blacks unless they were accused of a crime and no one took pictures at black schools. Calvin Littlejohn changed all that--he chronicled the black community and in so doing made a tremendously important commentary on social history. Bob Ray's research into identifying photos and people was beyond value, and the result is a tremendously important book. Bob Ray gave a brief program and was as always amazingly good.
Can't resist a plug--refreshments tonight were provided courtesy Cabot Creamery of Vermont which sent cheeses--a wonderful cheddar that I love, a basil and tomato cheddar that was darn good, and a habenero cheddar that I wouldn't touch--those that did said it was darn hot and surprised them! Susan Petty, TCU Press editor, augmented the spread with crackers, nuts, and dried fruit--a lovely cocktail hour.
There were authors I see frequently and some I don't see often at all, and I was glad to see them all. I signed quite a few copies of books, which made me feel good--lots of people wanted Cooking My Way Through Life with Kids and Books, and I was delighted to sign it and talk about my grandchildren pictured throughout. One man kept clutching his copy and saying, "I'm hungry. These recipes make me hungry." Funny thing--I think of myself as a gourmet cook but every review has praised the down-home, easy recipes in my book.
Otherwise it was a hit-the-deck-running day. By 10:30 I had been to the office for a quick drop-off of some papers, to the post office to mail Christmas packages (where I met the most sour woman on earth--I wanted to tell her I was sorry she was having a bad day, but Jean tells me every day is bad for her, she's just sour--and I feel sorry for her). My visit at the post office further aggravated this woman because I was sending a package to Canada and had to fill out custom forms. Then I met old friends in the post office line--a woman who has been president of the Friends of the TCU Library and the man who used to repair all my appliances until he retired. All that congeniality really undid Ms. Sourpuss. Anyway I went from there to the grocery to do the major shopping for my Christmas party and then to the vet's--that cat is going to eat me out of house and home. I finally had everything unpacked and put away and in good order by about 11:00 but I felt Id done a day's work.
So tonight I'm reading. Finished the Al Roker mystery--got a little complicated and hard to follow at the end, but it was a good escapist read. Tonight I chatted with an author who had once read a mystery manuscript for TCU Press and advised against publishing it because readers forget mysteries as as soon as they put them down. I think that's true, and I've always remembered that advice.
Going to read blogs.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Sunny, cold, snow flurries

Yesterday was the kind of wet, cold day that chills your bones. The morning snow soon faded into rain, but it was miserable. And my mood matched it. I got out when I should have stayed home. So today I stayed home all day when it was cold but sunny. It surprised me at how much better my disposition was this morning, just because it was sunny and wonderfully bright outside. Still very cold and supposed to get worse, until Saturday morning when we'll have a low of 28. Jordan and I were discussing cold tonight, and she said there are different kinds of cold. I thought she meant dry versus wet, but she said, "You know, vacation cold is different!" My idea of vacation cold involves a roaring fire and a good book, preferably in Santa Fe.
Jacob was here tonight and my crowning achievement was to teach him the first lines of "Jingle Bells." Couldn't remember the next lines for a while, finally got them, but he was disinterested.
A retirement day: I told myself I'd work on the mystery, but I didn't. I piddled all morning--emails, yoga, washing my hair, doing I don't know what. It was the first time I'd done my yoga in over a week, and I was apprehensive, told myself I'd just go slow and if I was shaky, so be it. Well, I was shaky but not as bad as I expected, so now next time it will be eaiser. Then it was noon, and I decided "What the heck" and went back to the mystery I'm reading, The Morning Show Murders by Al Roker. I'm a fan of the TODAY show and of Roker, and the mystery while not the best I've ever read is good. I think his name and fame helped him get it published, but the voice that comes through is his and that makes it fun. Plus, instead of a weatherman, he's a chef with his own restaurant. (It's clear, even on the real morning show, that food is his avocation.) There's not a lot about food but enough. I'm not sure about squab and oyster in a white wine/caviar/who-knows-what sauce.
The only work I did today was to puzzle. I have this great setting and pair of characters for a new series, but I can't figure the murder at the middle. Who is killed? Why? By whom? Jamie once said I wrote historical fiction because I was so poor at plotting and could take plots from history. I hope he hasn't jinxed me. I can see this all coming together in my head, except the crucial element. Oops, just had a brilliant idea and had to write it down. Now the problem is do I start on this new series or work on the draft of the one in progress. Common sense tells me the latter, but I sure am drawn to getting those new characters down on paper.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Snow and cold

This morning I looked out the front door to see if it was raining and I was puzzled--the rain looked so funny, like tiny fragmented leaves falling from the trees. You'd think this child of the Midwest would have caught on more quickly, but it took several minutes for me to register that it was snowing. Jordan called just before 8 a.m. to crow about it snowing, and I'm afraid I wasn't as enthusiastic as she was. The wet cold stuck me with a dilemma--did I want to get out today or stay in all day? The latter would have been a good idea, because I would have done more work. But about ten, the snow-turned-rain had stopped and it was just plain wet/cold. I went to the office, did a bit of work I needed to do, and wrapped the presents I need to mail. Then hurried home to hibernate. Tomorrow is supposed to be even colder, and I'll stay home all day. Then, Friday, when I have to grocery shop, it will be snow flurries again. I hope they don't amount to much, because TCU Press has its Annual Autograph Extravaganzae Friday night at 5 p.m. and Sat. night I am invited to a party which involves negotiating a really steep flight of stairs in the midst of a driveway--no railings. Jeannie has promised to hold on to me! Tonight I was so cold in the house I dreaded going out to take care of Scooby--but it wasn't nearly as bad as I expected once I was outside. Now Scooby's inside and settled for the night and at 8:15 I'm temted to follow him and go to sleep.
Betty and I went and had sushi tonight--nothing like wasabi to warm your soul on a cold night!
I've been seriously thinking about all the things, busy work really, that I put between me and that second mystery. I really need to start editing it, but I can always putter. Like tonight, I think I'll sort some bookcases. I have lots of books that I want to get rid of, and Jeannie has found a Half Price Books that pays more than others. I'll probably do a bit of that, read a bit, and go to sleep early. But tomorrow, on that day at home, I'm going to start reading the manuscript--that's a resolution. Tonight, I'm feeling virtuous because I rode the bike for 22 minutes, first time I've exercise in a week. I can plead stomach troubles but a big part of it was sheer inertia. Sometimes I think inertia is good--after all retirement is about relaxation. But the saner part of me realizes that total inertia leads nowhere.
Tomorrow will be a new day--how often have I said that?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Catching up

I spent a large part of this evening reading some blogs that I normally follow and have gotten way behind on--another symptom of my busy life. I used to read them every night. Some are by friends, some are by writers whose work I enjoy, one is about Chicago (my home town), and others interest me for various reasons. But I came to the conclusion tonight that those I most look forward to are the ones that give me a sense of the person who's writing, the life he or she leads. I'm not drawn to blogs that give me lectures about writing or even, much, to those interviews about "how did you write your first book?" I like the people side of it--like my friend who told her cat's life in a series of imaginative pictures and captions or my neighbor who wrote about efforts to increase sales of the Oxford English Dictionary--and make us all appreciate the beauties of the English language.
Today it's rainy and cold in Texas but I got out for lunch with Jean, then a staff meeting and some work at the office. Finally by 3:30 I slunk home, anxious for my nap--but I had brought chores with me and it was 5 p.m. before I got a nap. Hardly seems worth the trouble!
I am caught up in Christmas--spent last night wrapping packages and tonight have to work on a shopping list for my annual party.
Just finished reading Cleo Coyle's latest Coffeehouse Mystery, Holiday Grind. My reaction to it is similar to my reaction to blogs--I get a strong sense of Claire Cosi, the main character, as a likeable person--adventuresome, risk-taking, but a good mom and a nice friend to have. Coyle has endowed her with sophisticated knowledge about coffee (not a big deal to me, but still it's cooking--and she does cook other thing), and I'm well aware of the ongoing, prolonged tension between Claire, her ex-husband, and her new boyfriend. I always wonder about the pacing of relationships in mysteries--if you keep the lovers apart, are you creating tension? Or frustration about how dumb they are? In this case, I'm surprised they got as close as suddenly as they did, after several novels of distance. Maybe Coyle listened to what her characters were telling her and followed it. I recently read, for the third time, a novel in which I think the author got so wrapped up in reacting to the critiques we'd sent that she forgot to listen to her characters. I always will remember that was one of Elmer Kelton's primary pieces of advice to young writers. Having wandered away from the topic, I do recommend the Cleo Coyle Coffeehouse Mysteries to readers of cozies.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Home again, home again

I've missed posting for four nights because I've been visiting grandchildren. Went to Frisco, north of Dallas, Wed. night and spent Thanksgiving day with Maddie (10) and Edie (6, also known as Beastie). Had a lovely time and a wonderful dinner--Mel had "prepped" all the side dishes and only had to cook the turkey (Jamie took that over) and make potatoes and gravy. Delicious! I enjoyed visiting with the girls who get more sophisticated every time I see them. Maddie has written some incredible poetry, and Beastie is such an animal girl--she adores her new Morkie puppy, Bailey, who at 12 weeks is so tiny she surprised me. We did watch the dog show, which Mel and I enjoy but Maddie kept asking when it was over. When I suggested we re-run it, she groaned. they are good girls, and the parents wonderful people. After working on my computer, jamie secured my permission to get me a new one. This one is really pretty slow--a dinosaur, as he said.
Friday in the late morning, Jordan, Jacob and I met at Jamie's new office, had a tour, and then headed for Houston, arriving a little after 3:30. The kids there are younger--4 and 2--and Lisa's ex-sister-in-law brought her 5-year-old nephew and twin 2-year-old nieces, so the house was a zoo. Lisa's parents were also there and John kept asking if I was sure I wanted to go to Breckenridge with the whole gang. I joked that I might come see them for Christmas, but really I'm looking forward to Breckenridge. We had a lazy Saturday--about the only outing was to feed turtles at a nearby creek and other than that Colin kept the children (by then down to three--his two--Morgan and Kegan) and Jacob; I napped. Colin and LIsa also do a wonderful job with their children--both are disciplinarians, but Colin especially so. The kids mind him and behave and yet are very happy.
This morning we were on the road at 9:30 but slowed by a humongous accident south of Huntsville, a stop at McDonald's, and rain in North Texas, so it was almost but not quite a 5-hour trip. Jordan drives, and I navigate, and she did a terrific job.
So now I'm home, catching up, and tired. But I did have an idea for a new series while I was gone--I guess on a night when not being in my own bed I didn't sleep soundly. It is, I think, a new twist on food mysteries, and I'm making notes on it. But I'll stick to editing the series I've written for the time being.
Tomorrow looms full and busy--grocery, errands, some office work, a staff meeting. And it's time to think about mailing Christmas gifts and making a grocery list for my annual party. That break away was far too short!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A break is good for you

Thanks to all the nice folks from Sisters in Crime who've said good things about my blog--you've encouraged me to keep at it, and I hope some of you will guest blog for me!
I haven't done a lick of meaningful work today--I've piddled, washing a bit of laundry, wrapping Christmas packages, catching up on blogs I haven't read, and doing I don't know what. Went to see Charles and take him prune bread (his wife's recipe) but he was asleep and I don't know if the nursing home will let him eat it or not. When I talked to him later, he said he was looking forward to it, and he sounded most jovial. Tonight Sue's parents came for a glass of wine, and we had a good visit--and some terrific smoked trout. Yum, good! I'll be gone the rest of their visit, will probably miss them at Christmas, so it was nice to sit and talk. But where did the day go?
Well, I sort of know. I'm leaving town tomorrow--will spend two days with Jamie (youngest son) and his family, and then Jordan, Jacob and I will spend two days with Colin (oldest son) and his family. So I'll be out of my routine (yes, I'm taking my computer and my Kindle--how bad is that?). But I couldn't settle down today to do anything that would require following through--like tackling the edit of the draft of my second mystery.
But then during free writing this morning, it occurred to me that's good. It's good to be away, out of my routine--my subconscious will keep working on the things that are on my mind, and I can make notes on my computer if need be. But I'll be in fresh company, enjoying grandchildren, with such things as writing and the office and all that far in the distance. I'm looking forward to it.
Oh, there are the usual worries--am I taking the right clothes? I never do, and yet for five days, I'm taking enough for a week at least. Have I remembered all my medications and makeup (in Austin, Sawyer asked me why I wore makeup: "Is it supposed to make you look pretty?" I asked him if he didn't think it was working!) The animals and the house will be well taken care of, with watchful neighbors and a diligent pet-sitters. So I can leave with a free conscience, but there's always that nagging doubt. I am determined to put it behind me and enjoy my family because they're all so wonderful. The only ones I won't see are the Austin branch, and I spent a weekend with them over Halloween.
Of course, I already have notes of things to deal with on Monday morning and a staff meeting scheduled for Monday afternoon right during my nap time!
Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I may blog . . . and I may not!

Monday, November 23, 2009

'Tis the season

Yes, it's the season when I sort of forget I'm a writer (but never forget I'm a reader) and turn my attention to the holidays. Tonight I feel very smug--my house is decorated for Christmas. That's not as big a deal as it sounds, for I haven't had a tree in several years--I'm always at somebody else's house on Christmas morning. But I decorate the mantel, the buffet in the living room, the dining table, and the coffee table in the living room, plus scatter a few things here and there. And today, I've got it done to my satisfaction. I do still need help with lights. The only strings I could find are so long that the one on the mantel twists back and forth three times, so I gave up on the much shorter buffet. I'd like to put lights and fake greens around the door this year, since I've given up on putting out those two small artificial trees--they blow over at the slightest breeze. Yes, it's a bit early to decorate--I usually do it on Thanksgiving weekend, but I'll be gone this weekend and the dog sitter will be here--I doubt she wants to decorate. Christian and Jordan got everything down from the attic Friday night, except my Jim Shores Santa Claus--so last night, with Susan standing watch, I climbed up and got it. In an e-mail tonight, Christian asked how the Santa got down from the attic. I told him I'm not as frail a flower as I seem--I just don't think it's smart to go up there when I'm alone in the house. Of course, Jordan will put finishing touches on my decorating, but she is tonight on a "fam" cruise on the new Royal Caribbean ship, The Oasis, that superhuge cruise ship. She'll be home tomorrow night. Anyone interested in a cruise? Call Jordan!
I actually did some other work today--two hours at the office, returning some oh-so-awful dried apricots, getting dog food. And tonight I made two loaves of prune bread to take to Charles (one at a time). Now I'm going to settle down with the novel I'm reading, Dead Heat--it's the first one I've seen by Felix Francis, without his father's name, but it reads just like a Dick Francis novel--and best of all, the main character is a chef. Of course he's a chef who caters events at horse tracks and grew up around racing--I don't stray far from food mysteries.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Busy day and a pleasant evening

It wasn't the lazy day I imagined. I did linger over the paper--disturbed by the news that the UNT Board (is that Bored?) of Regents voted unanimously to approve an MD school at the UNT Health Sciences Center--oh, wait, that was yesterday. Still disturbed. Then I made myself barely presentable and jumped into the car to buy more apricots to replace those I scorched yesterday. Came home, prepared to soak them in boiling water, and discovered they were dark brown, a yucky scary color. So back to the store tomorrow. I think my prune bread plan is jinxed. But I made some really great pesto, did a lot on decorating the house for Christmas (why am I so obsessed this year? maybe because I'll be gone on Thanksgiving weekend, which is when I usually decorate), planted pansies in my planter boxes (and dug up an amazingly large potato from my sweet potato vines), and pulled out the basil roots. Wow! I felt I'd done a great day's work.
After lunch and reading some, I had a nap. Then I began making finger sandwiches to take to Sue's six-o'clock-happy hour. Only she called about 5:05 and apparently it was at 5, not six. So I rushed, left the kitchen in a mess, the animals unfed, but arrived with my finger sandwiches and bottle of wine. And had a most pleasant evening--her parents, of whom I'm very fond, are here from Canada for the winter--they'll go to Rockport but be here occsionally. Visited with them and neighbors, and it was most enjoyable.
My finger sandwiches used most of the leftover bread in my freezer--a real bonus. Since I've been on Weight Watchers I haven't been eating bread. I made an ersatz pimiento cheese spread--it had smoky Gouda, smoky cheddar, sun-dried tomatoes (the kind in oil, drained and chopped) and paprika. I added a bit of cayenne which was just right.
A nice day.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Great news, a lazy day--and cooking

Last night I hinted at good news to come, but I was out of steam and my blog post was already long. Since then I've had several emails telling me I best blog tonight and share the news, so here it is: my mystery, Skeleton in a Dead Space, will be represented by the Publish or Perish Literary Agency (coming from academia, I love the name!). The owner, Roger Williams, and I have had extensive email correspondence the last couple of days, and I will send a signed contract on Monday. I already feel that he's a good friend--he was a sales director at Bantam when my historical novel, Libbie, was published and remembers it well, says he sold thousands of copies. We know some publishing people in common, which helps. Thursday night I filled out the extensive online questionnaire which he asks for instead of a query; Friday morning my email brought an offer of representation. I was taken back by the speed (many of us spend years trying to get an agent and wait months for a reply to a query) but he said he recognized a professional he could work with (be still my heart!) and he loved the 60 pages I attached to the questionnaire. Now is that not a wonderful man? We've even gotten so far as to exchange pictures of our grandchildren. I have a good feeling about this and, as they say on Agent Quest (a subgroup of Sisters in Crime), I'm dancing, eating chocolate and drinking wine.
My horoscope today said I've been through a stressful period (not sure I realized that) and I should unwind this weekend. So I sort of did, but got up fairly early, aware that I wanted to go to the grocery store and cook. Also went to buy pansies for my planter boxes on the front porch but it was too wet and miserable to be out planting them today. Cooking went well up to a certain point--I made a cheese spread of cream cheese, smoky Gouda, smoky cheddar, paprika, drained chopped sun-dried tomatoes in oil, and mayo (and I added a bit of cayenne)--I'll make finger sandwiches of it to take to a neighbor's happy hour tomorrow. Then I made mini-muffins for my Christmas party--a sister from Agent Quest sent me a recipe that calls for one box Devils Food cake mix, 1 can pure pumpkin, and 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips--okay, I added more than that. For muffins, you bake at 350 for 18 minutes; I baked the mini ones for 10 minutes, and the one I ate was delicious! Dense and chocolatey, and you postively cannot tell the pumpkin is in there. It's a Weight Watchers recipe.
But I always get in trouble when I try to do too much at once. While I was baking the muffins, I tried to boil prunes and apricots for prune bread to take to Charles. It was his late wife's special recipe, and he loves it. But I scorched the prunes! The kitchen still smells of them (I have to empty the garbage!). So tomorrow I have to go buy more apricots and prunes (they're not cheap) and start over again with more care. I decided I needed a long nap--and had one!
After last night's caloric splurge on chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes, all smothered in cream gravy, I simply couldn't eat the half I brought home tonight. So I made tuna cakes and roasted some asparagus. Delicious and not too caloric.
Last night Christian and Jordan helped take down the Christmas decorations from the attic, so tonight I unpacked them all, made a list of what didn't get down, and began to think about it. Unpacking them about did me in, so I'll work on that tomorrow too.
Maybe it wasn't such a lazy day, but I feel a certain pressure is off because of Roger Williams and his agency! I know there's lots of work to come, but it's like someone else is driving the bus now, and I'm relieved.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Trivial dumbness, a rant, and

My day started with trivial stupidity on my part and didn't get better until evening. For some unknown reason, I poured coffee grounds into the part of the one-cup coffee maker that holds the water. So I had to pour all that out, clean and rinse it, and start over again. Then putting away groceries, I started to put dog bones in the fridge and tuna in the cupboard where the treats are kept. Went by the office, only to get home and discover I'd left the two files I wanted to bring home, plus I'd forgotten to check my mail. So I asked Melinda if she'd run them out if I called when I got there and she willingly agreed. My phone was out of charge, so there I went into the office in clothes that are patched. Jacob would have said, "You have your jammies on?" It's two in the afternoon now and I hope things will improve.
My big rant for the day: I just learned that some conservative web sites are selling T-shirts that say "Pray for Obama" and then cite Psalms 109.8 which goes on to say "Let his days be few, and let another follow him into office." Are they talking about the days of his term or the days of his life? Seems like the latter, for the Biblical verse says, "Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow." There's been a lot of sniping at Obama lately--for bowing to the Emperor of Japan, for lingering at the Great Wall of China, for visiting Dover--but such "prayers" are beyond crudity and should not be tolerated in a civilized country. I'm can't be sure what God those people are praying to--surely not the one I pray to--but I'm sure that God is saddened and discouraged. I think it's purely outrageous. And it worries me that some nut-job will decide it's his holy mission to take Obama out. That has worried friends of mine ever since he was elected. I wrote the other day about the decline in civility, but this is surely a new low. I can fathom really really disliking someone (I try to avoid the word hate), but I cannot ever imagine wishing for their death. What is this country coming to?
Lovely evening tonight--Jordan, Christian, Jacob, Susan and Jay and I went to the Star Cafe, where I used to run the cash register on Saturday nights and where my good friends Don and Betty Boles are the owners. We were treated like royalty, and Ireally blew my daily points, eating half a chicken fried steak serving and half of the mashed potatoes, with cream gravy of course. But it was oh so good. We laughed, played with Jacob--who had said he would not be shy and wasn't--and had a terrific time. When we came home, Christian and Jordan helped bring Christmas decorations down from the attic, and then Jay and Susan came back and we all sat around and watched Jacob. OK, what else do you do when a charming three-year-old has center stage? I'm a happy camper tonight--and I have good news to share tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Civility, editing,and where does time go?

Former Ambassador to Sweden and longtime Waco state representive Lyndon Olson spoke to a high-power audience of politicians recently, according to Texas columnist Dave McNeely, and to my mind the most telling thing he said was, "We live life in an era of rudeness." Olson recalled kindergarten report cards where you were graded on comportment as well as math and science and reading. There were places to check for "shows kindness toward others, respects rights of other, shows self-control" and, the most important of all, "Play well with others." We have today, according to Olson, forgotten those lessons. We live in an era that rewards incivility, crudeness and cynicism, and we have lost civil non-hostile discourse. I wish I could have a word-for-word transcript of the speech, for it really hits home. And it's a bipartisan problem, with both sides being guilty, though (okay I'm a confessed liberal) I think when Rush Limbaugh says he judges America's success by Obama's failure, he carries it to extreme. I enjoy rational, calm political discussion with those who disagree with me--but it doesn't happen very often. Sometimes the vehement disagrements are good-natured, but sometimes they're really hostile. And when I read in the media about accusations exchanged at the highest level of our government, I am appalled. I agree with Ambassador Olson: what happened to civility? To me, it suggests more anger in this country than is comfortable--but anger at what? Nobody seems to know; people are just angry. Olson blames the media, but I'm not sure that's the whole answer. Often when I read about today's politics I think of my father--a dedicated liberal but a man of fine British manners--who would be appalled at politics today. I'm glad he can't see it.
I've been re-reading my mystery,Skeleton in a Dead Space, which was rejected but for which I got a helpful critique. To me, the manuscript holds up well, and I found a few typos, a few minor places to change some things, and one major place to change a character's motivation. Tonight I made all those changes, and I'm ready to start querying again. But I'm also ready to update my web page, which hasn't been done in ages.
I wonder where time goes when you're retired. I ran into my former boss today at lunch, and he agreed that he had so much to do every day he didn't know where to begin. Jordan suggested last night, more in terms of budget than time, that I look at all my lunches and dinners out with friends, but isn't that what retirement is about? I do have a lot to do every day, and on a free day, what I call a floating day, when I don't have to hurry to be someplace in the morning, it's ten o'clock before I even think about washing my hair putting on make-up and getting dressed. Tomorrow I am going to the TCU retirees luncheon with Jean, so I'll have to move sharp to get my free writing and yoga done, plus read the paper, shower and get ready for the day. Retirement sure is tough.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Make My Day

It was a work day--morning staff meeting that lasted a little over 2-1/2 hours,then follow-up work at home this afternoon and just a bit of editing on my mystery. Jordan came to pick me up a little after five, and we went to get Jacob. I was taking the rest of the gorilla casserole to their house for supper, plus blue cheese for salad, and some wine for all of us. Jacob was obviously delighted to see me in the car and said, "Juju, you are my best friend!" Be still my heart!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Writing--and rewriting

It's wonderful to re-read something you've written and realize it doesn't sound like an idiot wrote it. I got a critique a couple of days ago on "The" mystery, Skeleton in a Dead Space, the one that was rejected, and it had most helpful suggestions. As I go into another round of querying I think I can really make it a stronger novel. (Okay, I already got a rejection on a query I sent last week, but I am determined not to be discouraged.) So tonight, having cleared my desk of everything else, I started to read the manuscript again. I'd forgotten that I'd re-written the first line, which now delights me. Here it is, and I would love to know if you'd read a novel that began this way:
"I am passionate about a few things--my daughters, old houses, the neighborhood I live and work in, white wine and chocolate. But certainly not skeletons." Would you read on?
In going through the manuscript, I've found just a couple of typos in 40 pages and haven't yet come to the parts that need strengthening. But I'm having fun reading it, which I think is a good sign.
I rescued my Kindle today from Autobahn Volkswagen, where they were all very puzzled about what a Kindle is. The service advisor who handed it to me asked if it was one of those things where you keep your calendar, and I thought it's large for that when you can do that on your phone. I tried to show him, but it was out of battery--and I'm going to keep it that way because I do more work when it's not beckoning to me.
Nice day--ran errands this morning, then Jean and I went to see Charles in Trinity Terrace where he is temporarily living and getting his strength back before movig to assisted living in East Texas. We had a great visit, and both Jean and I found him cheerful, funny, and looking good. I had leftover gorilla casserole for supper and sent some home with Jean. Still a whole bunch to go, but it's pretty good.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Neighbors and other good things, like grandchildren

My neighbor, Susan, said to me tonight, "You're a good social engineer." I took it as a compliment and felt good about it, because my house was filled with happy people and lively discussion. We had a pot-luck supper--I supplied the entree (gorilla casserole--more about that in a minute) and others brought appetizer, salad, garlic bread, and dessert. Susan and Jay were here from the west side of my house, and Sue and her kids Hunter and Alex from the east side, Jamie and Greg from down the block (Greg keeps my lawn and yard in shape when it doesn't rain so much he can't work), Cathy from next to Sue brought an extravagant Italian cream cake (do NOT talk to me about Weight Watchers points today), and Weldon and Elizabeth were my surrogate children since Jordan and Christian elected not to join us. There was a really happy atmosphere (in spite of some political discussions) and everyone had a great time. I sat there and thought how wonderful it was to have my house filled with happy, interesting people.
But I have an entire 9x13 pan of gorilla casserole left--it has pasta, ground beef, tomato sauce, Italian seasonings, celery, onion, carrot (the last three get sort of lost in the mix), spinach, and Parmesan. Really good, but the recipe is right--you could feed twelve gorillas with it. I sent some home with Susan, and I'll hope JOrdan and Christian will come for dinner one night to help eat it. Then I can freeze single portion servings.
I did get some work done on my friend's manuscript today and am close to the end, finding much more than I expected after a first edit. But the other good thing about the day was Jacob--he slept until 8:15 this morning, but was in a sunny mood. We read and look at Bones for Barnum Brown, a dinosaur book that fascinates him. He sang and danced his way through the morning--with me trying to make my casserole--and kept calling me a "Mingo-head." His mom explained that he'd seen a flamingo at the zoo and there's a plastic one in the neighborhood. They left about 10:30, and I was sorry to see them go but I had lots of other things to do.
I'm really into a mood to get serious about my mysteries, so I'm in working mode.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

HIghs and Lows

This morning Sue drove me to Weatherford to do a half-hour radio program live on KXQY--if you knew in advance you could follow it on an internet connection, but I doubt few did that. But it was a high--I felt I did well, was casual, informative, talkative but not too much so. And I got in a plug for my blog. Sue, who sat and listened, said she thought it was fine. One of the things we talked about was improvising, cooking off the top of your head.
Well that was not exactly a low but not great either. Tonight I had a nice piece of wild-caught salmon, and I planned to follow a Rachel Ray thing I saw on TV--sauteed the salmon, though I didn't use the seafood seasoning she reccommended--just salt and pepper. She had covered her salmon with a green sauce but I didn't get the ingredients, so I made a sauce of cottage cheese, yogurt, one anchovy filet, basil, scallion, and just enough white wine to turn it liquid--good but not great. Then I topped it with a salad of cucumber, tomato, red onion, and shallot--no dressing. It was good. Just not one of my best. I accompanied it with tiny asparagus spears, just barely roasted. I offered one to Jacob but he said, "It's yucky." He's stuck on chicken nuggets.
Another high--I got a critique comment on my mystery, Skeleton in a Dead Space, and it really made sense. I'll get a print-out of the mss. on Monday and dig in. I'm excited about it.
Of course Jacob is a high--he walked in the door saying, "Juju, I love you!" How can you beat that? We had a lovely evening, though he requires increasingly more attention, wants your every minute. I barely got dinner cooked, cleaned up, and some basiic table setting done for tomorrow night. I read two books to him, cuddled (his idea of cuddling is for you to lie there while he bounces around the bed playing with toys and occasionally bangs into you with an elbow, his head, or his foot--I am battered by a three-year-old!)
A big low: I left my Kindle in the loaner car I turned in to Volkswagen yesterday. After many calls, they found it, but by that time it was too late to go get it (I have no car seat for Jacob). I'll get it Monday, which is already shaping up to be a busy day.
Meantime, I'm going to try to finish going once more through my friend's manuscript and cook a casserole that will feed 12 gorillas.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Cooking with what you have

Ever since I read Jam Today, about cooking with what you have, I've kept that thought in mind. So tonight, I pulled a delicious dinner out of my fridge. I've been enamored of the Pisces tuna Sue and I ordered, but it comes in 7-1/2 oz. cans, which makes too much for any one meal for me. One night I sauteed it in oil, added capers and anchovies and poured it over pasta; another night I added it to a tossed salad. But still almost half a can. So tonight I made tuna cakes, modeled pretty much on the way I've always made salmon croquettes but adding a bit of dill pickle relish (I'm not sure I even tasted it). But my leftover tuna made two good-sized cakes, so I enjoyed one thoroughly and saved the other for lunch tomorrow. I had a butternut squash that really should have been cooked before this,though it was fine. So I baked the halves with butter and sugar, scooped out the meat, mashed it all up with a bit more butter, and ate only a small portion. It's really low in Weight Watchers points and really high in fiber--so good for you. (Yes, I did count the butter and brown sugar). Then I had some good thin asparagus, so I roasted a few stalks of that. Voila! A meal fit for royalty. Tomorrow I must steam the rest of the asparagus every so slightly to keep it from spoiling.
Butternut squash reminds me to ask if everyone knows the trick for dealing with these hard-shelled critters. Slice around the middle--you won't get a deep cut at all, but at least break the skin. Then microwave for about three minutes. It will cut in half like a dream, and you can scoop the seeds out and get ready to bake. Also be sure to trim a bit off each base to give it something to sit evenly on in the pan.
As if that weren't enough, I made a cheese ball for my annual Christmas party and put it in the freezer. I am beginning to feel almost guilty referring people to Cooking My Way Through Life with Kids and Books (well, not too guilty),but the recipe is in there in the first chapter. It's a mix of Velveeta (those who scorn it are missing a great cooking cheese), cream cheese and blue cheese, with pecans, parsley, onions, Worcestershire and horseradish (I put a bit more of the latter in than the recipe called for, but it tasted great). Truth is, I have tasted a bit of this and a bit of that all day long, so I probably should add 2 unspecified points to my daily count--but I used them on chocolate. Even tried some salami at the deli counter at Central Market this morning.
Now I have a sink of dishes waiting for me, but I decided it was time to sit down and rest my back. Lots of reading to do tonight. Don't think I'll make my goal of two more queries and doubt I will either Saturday or Sunday. Both promise to be full days (by the time I get my nap in!) But full days in a good way.
A friend emailed from Nebraska wanting reading suggetions, so I began with the Deborah Crombie novels, also suggested Julia Spencer-Fleming, and I have a whole long list of books by members of Sisters in Crime to send her.
The good news of the day is that I have my car back! They guarantee me it will work. I picked it up around 5:30, when it was dusk and a little chilly for top down. I'll try it Monday--probably won't drive anway until then. Sue is driving us to Weatherford in the morning.