Thursday, October 29, 2009

Nothing much

I took an afternoon nap today, my usual habit--but today I lay down about 3:45 and woke with a start at 5:20, thinking I'd slept the afternoon away. Fed the dog and cleaned up his yard in a hurry, so I could watch the 5:30 news while I rode my stationary bicycle. But the most delicious, slightly sleepy, very content feeling has lingered all evening. Drifted through one of my favorite suppers--tuna salad, hearts of palm, grape tomatoes, and a bit of leftover pea salad. Good thing, because I had a huge helping of lasagna for lunch--told myself I would only eat half, but of course I didn't. Sandy, from our office, sat next to me and had a tiny helping. "I asked for half," she said. I told her I had meant to ask for half, because I only intended to eat half. She said, "I would have eaten it all." Well, I proved how sound her philosophy was. We were at a program to hear Susan Wittig Albert and Susan Tweit talk about their memoirs--an interesting discussion of the process of writing memoir, distancing yourself from what your writing about and yet realizing you're very close. Susan Tweit said it's hard because you go back in time knowing what you didn't know at the time. Good and thought-provoking program. I meant to buy a book out of courtesy--I know Susan Albert casually--but didn't have enough money with me. So much for good intentions.
Now I'm reading a manuscript submitted to the press and trying to figure out how I will tell the author it just doesn't resonate with me and I don't think it will work for the press.
We were under flash flood warnings today, expecting torrential rains and possible storms, so everywhere I went I took an umbrella, watched for storm-laden skies, etc.--nothing happened except light sprinkles, and tonight the warnings have been lifted, although it is supposed to rain. A beautiful weekend is forecast for the Texas Book Festival. I will be glad to see a lot of friends, old and new.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Books on my mind

I finished Necessary as Blood, the latest of Deborah Crombie's Scotland Yard mysteries, and enjoyed it as much as I have the other twelve in the series. One of the things stressed on various Sisters in Crime lists is the need to create compelling characters that the reader will care about, and Crombie has achieved that with Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James. By now, they are old friends, and I am delighted to be back in their world. The mystery itself was intricate, and I sometime want to ask her about how she plots--I'm not sure I would have been able to think of all the tangles, though the book did end with the unsavory revelation of a child prostitution ring--something some authors and some readers won't touch. It was tastefully done, but still broke your heart a bit. I find I read more critically these days--watching for the motive behind various plot turns, the reason a certain person turns up at the right time. In this book I was particularly aware that Crombie devotes pages and pages to description, something the Guppies advise against because it slows down a story. In Crombie's case, that careful description transports us to the London of Duncan and Gemma--though I would never be able to figure out the various parts of town and all the routes of the A-1 and whatever. I heard Crombie speak last Friday night, informally, to a small group, and when asked if she would ever write about Texas--her uncle was a famous Texas historian--she said no, she's too fascinated with England. Her fascination has served her well, and I can't wait for book #14, even though #13 is barely into print.
Jamie once said, "Mom writes historical fiction because she's so [adjective deleted] poor at plotting." Well, Jeannie found me the book that's the answer to that. She was in California, where her aunt had just died, sorting out the aunt's belongings and came across a book called Plotto. It was published in 1928 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, but on the endpapers is written "Bayless/1937." Jeannie is sure that was her grandmother and that the book belonged to her. The grandmother held a masters in English and was a teacher, so we surmise she may have used it in class. But it's a wonderful wealth of ideas, offering plot ideas and then various scenarios for working them out. For innstance, one plot is "Suffering an Estrangement due to Mistaken Judgment" and the only scenario offered reads, "A believes that his sweetheart, B, is dead; and B, at a distance, learns of this mistaken belief on A's part." Doesn't tell how it works out--had he married someone else? I guess you're free to let your imagination roam. Each of these cryptic entries has a number which refers to another entry--this one first refers to #49, which simply suggests thata A and B meet with a tragic misfortune but escape death. Then it refers to 162A, which suggests B is in love with A but uncertain of A's affections, and 357, which suggests that B, knowing that her sweetheart A believes her to have perished in a tragic accident discovers by secret enterprise (82a,) (87) that A has remained loyal to her (497 ch "wife" to "sweetheart"); she reveals her identity and they marry (442) (515). Lots of romance here, and following the cross references could get a bit complicated, but this book will go among my treasures. It truly is a wonderful find. My thanks to Jeannie for not pitching it in the pile to be given away and for giving me what appears to be a family heirloom. I'll treasure it all the more knowing the bacground.
Although I've been immersed in books, I haven't been ignoring food, another big part of this blog. Had a tongue sandwich yesterday for lunch--I love them, but boy do they add up the points. Last night Betty and I went, again, to Lobsterama and had the whole lobster. Strangely enough that doesn't add many points, because you don't get that much meat--but oh that claw meat is sweet and good. Sure, I dip it in butter,but I bet in the whole thing you don't actually consume two tsp. of butter. Today I had Mexican food for lunch at a place Jeannie and Jean love--I thought the tostada plate would be best--all thlettuce and tomato and none of the grease of enchiladas. But it had refried beans, taco meat, and cheese, and I ate some of the side of beans plus a small side of guacamole, and the whole thing added up--sure was good. The restaurant is in a free-standing building at the back of a broken-up driveway in one of the barrios in Fort Worth--not prepossessing at all, but it has been a Fort Worth favorite for years and years. The owner is getting older and closed because of ill health; then she re-opened, then closed to retire; a barbecue place was going in, but now she's back, though her nephew is going to take it over and serve her recipes along with barbecue. It's a neat place--lots of people don't know about it but I almost always see someone I know there. Tonight I had to counter that Mexican food so had my standby of tuna, hearts of palm and tomatoes. Now if I could only stay away from the chocolate.
A special moment tonight: Jacob wanted his jammies on very early, even though he wasn't spending the night. So when he was standing on the bed, so I could pull the bottoms up, he suddenly threw his arms around me and said, "Juju, I love you!" You can't trade for moments like that. He arrived crying, miserable, not wanting anything to do with anybody or anything. I said, "Jacob, when you're through crying, come tell me," and he sobbed, "I don't want to do that." After his parents were gone, I left him alone by the TV with his milk and pretty soon he came to the study looking for me for comfort--just stood as close to me as he could get for several minutes and then we went off to cuddle on his daybed. Ended up having a lovely evening.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Guests and cooking, cooking, cooking

This morning I piddled, spent the entire morning doing this and that around the house, including finally emptying the bird feeder with wet food at the bottom. Turns out the wet food had turned to concrete. It was an inexpensive feeder, so I threw the whole thing away and will get another next year. Another result of all the rain we've had! But I washed kitchen towels, napkins and place mats, did my yoga, answered emails, set up for tonight's happy hour, and before I knew it, it was lunch time.

It dawned on me I haven't been out of the house except to the garbage bins and dog's yard for three days (I can hear my brother grinding his teeth), but I've had a stream of people--my lunch guests Sunday, Jordan and family Sunday night, twelve or thirteen women for happy hour tonight--so I've been neither bored nor reclusive. I have done a lot of cooking, but in retrospect I'm not happy with it. I didn't really think the soup I served Sunday was that great nor the salad, though Jordan emailed today that the salad was delicious for lunch, so maybe it was okay. I threw both recipes out. Tonight the women who contributed to Grace & Gumption: The Cookbook gathered for a group photo for the back of the book. Last time, we had our picture taken on the porch, but it was gloomy, rainy, and cold tonight. We pushed the library table away from the couch, some sat on the couch and others stood behind. Wywy the cat made it into the picture, sitting contentedly on the lap of my friend Carol, who knows and loves Wywy.

Tonight's happy hour was potluck, so we had everything from dips and fruit salad to macaroni and cheese, a tossed salad, and a dump cake--you dump everything in, all the batter ingredients and put a can of fruit on top; when it cooks the fruit goes to the bottom and a cake rises over it. I made a dip with Velveeta, Rotel tomatoes, and mushroom soup--and scorched it. I could taste it and said so, but everyone else said it tasted good and I should have kept my mouth shut. Still, I pitched it tonight. I have pitched a lot of food this weekend, cleaning out my refrigerator, and I wish I'd learn to plan better or choose my recipes better or something. Haven't figured out what to do with the rest of the soup but I suspect it will go in the garbage tomorrow. The woman who brought salad tonight wanted to "pitch" the leftovers before she left and was astounded that I don't have a disposal and simply put things like that in the trash. I explained about the pipes in my old house and how they didn't handle disposal waste well and I kept having to call a plumber, but I'm not sure she heard me. And I suspect many women today think they wouldn't want to live without a disposal and wouldn't trade the charm of an old house for convenience--but I sure would.

I did actually read all the notes I've made on my novel today plus emails from Fred Erisman, who's read it carefully, so I'm ready to start reading the manuscript. But I have to finish the Crombie novel first. Meantime, Southern Living came in the mail and that always means I drop everything else to look at the recipes.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A quiet, sociable day

Today I am back in gear. Spent some of the morning cooking and, for the first time in four days, rode my bicycle. One of our authors, Janis Stout, and her husband came for a late lunch, and I had fixed a layered salad and vegetable/cheese soup--she had specified a light lunch. It was good, though I was a bit disappointed in the salad and the soup both. Sent the salad home with Jordan tonight and will probably throw the rest of the soup out.
Back to Janis--we had never met, though we had corresponded over the years, recently more frequently since TCU Press is gearing up to publish her memoir This Last House. I thought it was an original idea to organize a memoir around the houses she lived in--so watch for the title this spring. We had much in common so it was fun to visit, and her husband, Loren, seems a man who likes company, conversation, and laughter. They brought me a lovely mum--I was going to put it out on the porch and then was afraid it would "walk." So I'll rearrange the dining table and put it there.
Tonight Jordan, Christian and Jacob came for dinner. Christian had thought he would work tonight, so I planned to give Jordan the soup and salad from lunch. She called this morning, from Waco, to say Christian would be joining us, so I had to do a quick run through the freezer. We ended up with hot dogs, cottage-fried potatoes, and the salad. Christian would not eat a soup with broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots in it, no matter how much cheese. Good visit, but Jacob was a little off--immersed in a catalog of Halloween costumes--and not very friendly. Off his schedule with the weekend at Baylor's homecoming.
So now the house is quiet, the dishes are done, and I'm ready to go back to the Deborah Crombie novel I'm reading.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Poisoned Press Webcon, tuna, Deborah Crombie

Today was my last stay-at-home, get rid of this cold and lethargy day, and since I felt a bit of cabin fever, I know it's over. I was supposed to go to a baby shower this morning but didn't want to take germs as a present to the mom-to-be. Today Poisoned Pen Bookstore/Press sponsored an all-day webcon on mysteries--live sessions with authors speaking, taped sessions, and print text to be read. I had signed up months ago and spent much of the morning cruising the web site. I didn't do too well with the live sessions--in one I watched the speaker talked too fast and had absolutely no camera presence. But I thoroughly enjoyed the text presentations on everything from Why Write Cozies to the Advantages and Disadvantages of Writing Historicals. There was a coffee shop discussion site, but I didn't have the right equipment on my computer for that. So the experience was a six-of-one and half-a-dozen of the other for me. This afternoon I finished the novel I was reading, napped, did a bit of office work, and was generally lazy. It was a glorious day today--warm, sunny, a perfect fall day. I know my brother thinks I spend too much time indoors, and today he was right. I should have been outside enjoying the weather. But I had given myself permission to do what I wanted today. My neighbors, Jay and Susan, walked across the street to the school carnival, and I laughed at them. When I had little children and had to go to those carnivals, I dreaded them. Couldn't imagine anyone without children going just for enjoyment, but they found it colorful and full of activity.
A whle ago I read in a food book about Pisces tuna, canned in Coos Bay, Oregon, by a small fishery where the dolphins swim alongside their boats but are never caught. Pisces offers several products, like salmon, smoked salmon, etc., but I wanted the albacore tuna packed in water. The gentleman at the fishery assured me their fish is never frozen, never cooked before it goes into the can, and then it is cooked once. It's much more expensive than Chicken of the Sea albacore but I eat a lot of tuna and thought it well worth it. Sue and I split a case, and I had some for the first time tonight. What I tasted plain was mild and good, not at all fishy, almost like chicken. Considered all kinds of tuna recipes but ended up with creamed tuna, with green peas and a lot of white wine in the sauce, along with just a bit of cheddar. Good but a little rich. Of course a 7 oz. can made enough for three people. My friend Charles has been in the hospital but is due out Monday, and I told him I'd bring some food--he just might get creamed tuna, which is a comfort food.
After I finished the novel this afternoon, I told myself I would not start another and would, instead, get serious about rewriting my own novel. But the new Deborah Crombie novel I got last night was like a siren call, so I started Necessary as Blood. One of the things about series that you get hooked on is that you mentally live in the world of the characters--so, tonight, it was comforting to be back in the world of Gemma James and Duncan Kincaid. I'm in for a happy read, but, yes, I'll get back to the novel.
I also spent time today planning my annual Christmas party. I've been dickering with Jamie about Saturday vs. Sunday and have finally decided on a date. I threatened to cancel it, since my budget is now limited, but everyone I talked to said they didn't care what they ate, they just wanted to visit. Some said that's the only time once a year that they see some people. So I'm forging ahead.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Hunger, and a mystery author

I read somewhere recently that Americans are hungry all the time. We translate hunger for companionship and love into hunger for food and turn to food for comfort. That accounts for the current fondness for comfort food--those things like meatloaf and creamed corn and mashed potatoes that we remember from our chldhood. Makes sense to me and would seem to account for the huge problem of overweight Americans (no pun intended). Valerie Bertinelli's recent book, Finding It, is subtitled Satisfying My Hunger for Life without Opening the Fridge. I think she's got a real point. On the other hand, since I've been on Weight Watchers, I'm hungry a lot, and I think it's real, physical hunger. Or maybe it's my craving for chocolate that makes me think I'm hungry and need something. Anyway, I was very disappointed in Weight Watchers yesterday. It was my weekly day to weigh. Weldon and Elizabeth convinced me to weigh on Thursdays instead of Mondays, because we all tend to overeat on the weekend. But just to check, I've been unofficially weighing on Monday too. For the last two weeks, I've weighed less on Monday than Thursday. This week I weighed 151.2 on Monday and, since I had low point counts all week, was sure I'd finally get down to the magic 150. Not so! I gained 6 oz. Apparently you do hit plateaus where you stay for weeks and weeks, but it's discouraging. It's the point at which many people give up and give in to that hunger. (As I write I'm eating chocolate.) But I'll stick with it.
This was my second day to lie low, but it didn't work out that way. Went to Central Market for a quick trip in the morning, ate an early lunch and went to the office for staff meeting, which lasted way too long. By the time I came home, took care of emails, etc. I got a late nap and had to rush to be ready to go to supper with Elizabeth and Weldon. We went to hear Deborah Crombie talk about her new novel, Necessary as Blood. I think she said this is the 13th in her series. I really like these books, although I'm not usually a British mystery fan--but her research is thorough and these are contemporary stories, so that we can identify with the characters, Brits though they may be. She said tonight she wanted to write a series in which the characters evolve, and these really do--their relationship deepens and becomes more comlex, so that in many way that relationship and not the mystery is at the core of each book. I bought two--one for me and one for a Christmas gift. I was pleased that she said, "I thought I recognized you." Other writers in the room hugged her as she came in and chatted, but I felt that would be presumptuous. Still now I've got an autographed book. Elizabeth and Weldon didn't buy one, but I sent them home tonight with paperback copies of some of her earlier books. Plus Elizabeth took The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I'm sort of alarmed that I couldn't find The School of Essential Ingredients, which she wanted to borrow. It's a favorite and I don't want to lose track of it.
Since we were at the TCU Bookstore, I suggested a hamburger place nearby--I'd had a really good blue cheese burger there one day. Mistake. It turned out to be noisy, slow, and my hamburger wasn't all that good--kind of dry. Weldon liked his chicken sandwich, and Elizabeth said her turkey melt was what she needed today but she wouldn't order it again. I won't go back again, I don't think.
Tomorrow I really am going to lay low and stay in all day. There's a neighborhood block party, but I think I'll be off, especially since it's cool tonight--lowest temperature so far since summer. 44 is predicted.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Out of charge and the Littlejohn book--which is fully charged and ready to go

This morning when I got to the doctor's office, my cell phone, my Kindle, and I all needed re-charging. I took the Kindle knowing I'd have time in the waiting room and exam room, and I really wanted to call my office to ask a favor. Couldn't do either, so I sat and had a lesson in patience--in the waiting room, in the exam room, at the pharmacy. That was the final blow--it was almost noon by the time I got to the pharmacy, and I was hungry as I sat in the drive-through pickup, which is never as fast as you think it's going to be. Finally this nice young man informed me that my insurance wouldn't cover it and did I want to pay $40.99? No, I didn't! Thoroughly frustrated, I went home, unpacked my groceries, ate lunch, and then headed back, with my insurance card in my hand. What I didn't realize was that when TCU changed pharmacy services, the new service covers all pharmacy transactions not just mail-in orders. So it was all straightened out fairly quickly, and I headed home with my antibiotics by 1:30. But I worked, some office, some my own, until 4 p.m.--a really late nap, from which I didn't want to get up. But there's that interior clock in me--it was time for the news, time to feed Scooby, etc. Made myself pea salad and salmon croquettes (one of my absolute favorite things) for supper.
Tonight is a huge reception for the lead title of our TCU Press fall list, Calvin Littlejohn: Portrait of a Community in Black and White by Bob Ray Sanders. Littlejohn was the only photographer for the black community for many years, most of the twentieth century--he took photos at schools (we have a school picture of Bob Ray in maybe third grade that Littlejohn took), churches, weddings, funerals, family gatherings, ceremonial occasions. He also took studio portraits and, best of all, pictures of any celebrity who visited Fort Worth. There are pictures of Harry S. Truman, Lyndon B. Johnson, a young George W. Bush looking bewildered, and of many black athletes and musicians. Maybe the prize is the one of Martin Luther King, Jr., sitting in a parlor with a group of women. Bob Ray, a Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist and well known in any community in Fort Worth, did an incredible job of tracking down people and getting specific identities of many of the photographic subjects.
So tonight they expect 300 people at the Ella May Shamblee Library for a reception/book signing. Nice note: Bob Ray's niece, Brenda Sanders-Wise, is catering (he is the youngest of 12 and has nieces and nephews who are older than he is--I thought for a long time Brenda was one of his sisters, but not so). Brenda submitted such a yummy menu that I asked Melinda if she wasn't going to bring me a doggy bag. The doctor supported my instinct that I shouldn't go--don't need to expose everyone to my germs, and I still don't have the energy. So, following orders to lie low for three or four days, I'm at home but I'll be anxious for a report tomorrow.
This book is a fitting cap to my publishing career. I wanted to publish Littlejohn's work ever since the 1980s, but there were problems getting permission. Finally, the family gave the photographs, or most of them, to the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin. I was able to work with Director Don Carlton to cooperate on the publication. It's truly a book to be proud of--beautifully designed and printed--and I'm delighted to view it as my swan song.
Meanwhile I'm not all that unhappy to be comfortably at home in sloppy clothes, with a bit of work to do and a book to read, but I do feel a bit bad over missing the moment of triumph.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cancelling the world

I cancelled the world today, because I felt really rotten and didn't sleep again last night. I had lunch plans with Jean and Jeannie and dinner plans with Betty. When I called, each said, "Oh, thank goodness." (Does that tell you how much my friends want to see me?) Jean is having trouble with a medication; Jeannie is having bad allergy problems and besides that slipped on an acorn and took a hard fall--she was on her way to get x-rays. And Betty just got back from several days in San Antonio and had lots to do. It was a good day to cancel the world--rained all day, sometimes lightly but heavily around 5:30. More rain is predicted through most of the night. So I holed up in my house, went back to bed for an hour about 10 and again for two hours at 3, finished editing the manuscript I've been working on, and did odds and ends.
Before I retired, I might well have forced myself to go to work, partly out of a strong work ethic but also because I didn't like facing a day at home alone, without any human contact except the occasional phone call (Jordan called to check on me) and email, which really is pretty impersonal. I don't know if I've learned to like my own company better or if it's just that I felt so blah or what, but I welcomed the prospect of the day. Finished up several leftovers in the icebox, so I didn't have to cook--I thought about salmon cakes but decided to eat the leftover chicken spread--with a dab of the wine sauce, it was really good.
Tomorrow I have to get out--things at the office that demand attention, a doctor's appointment, and the grocery. But I have put all my social engagements (sounds busier than I am) on hold for three days. Kind of a good feeling. Since I have a clear desk, I may not start anything tonight, except a new novel.
Surely tomorrow will be a better day. At least, it's supposed to stop raining but will be cool.
I've been reading a series of Vineyard Mysteries by Michele Scott, and she gets my vote for having created a complex, interesting, and sympathetic gay man in the male protagonist's brother, Simon. He makes all the jutting hip gestures, worships movie stars and fast cars and designer clothes, calls the female protagonist Snow White, does all the terribly stereotypical things and yet comes across as believable and someone you like. And he's most protective of Snow White. It's a hard trick to pull off a complex character like that, and she does it well.
My favorite British mystery writer, Deborah Crombie, is not British, lives right here in North Texas, but writes about a Scotland Yard detective. She has a new book, Necessary as Blood, and will be at the TCU Bookstore Friday night. I hope to meet friends Weldon and Elizabeth to hear her brief talk and then go to supper. I rarely buy hardcovers but usually wait for the paperback. I'll buy this one in hardcover.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Chicken spread and other matters

Sunday night Jordan, Christian, Jacob and I had roast chicken for dinner. I made a sauce of the drippings, most of a can of chicken broth, some white wine, and the rest of the thyme/garlic/olive oil I'd rubbed on the chicken. For all the time I spent stripping fresh thyme off tiny sprigs, I didn't think the flavor came through enough to justify the work, but the chicken was good. Moist and tender. Last night I gave it to Jacob for dinner, and he spit it out with the explanation, "It's yucky, Juju." Now I give him that it was cold and sometimes cold, leftover roast chicken is a bit greasy. This morning at breakfast he said, "Jacob ate his dinner last night" (while scarfing down waffles) and I said, "All but the chicken." His reply? "It was yucky." So today I took that yucky chicken, separated out all the fat, skin, bones, etc. and ground up the rest in the food processor. Added salt, pepper, juice of a lemon, and just a bit of that wine sauce--didn't want to get it too soupy. The result was a delicious chicken spread that I served to an author and a mutual friend tonight, with low-fat Wheat Thins.I love it when I can actually improvise and it works--too often, it doesn't. After my guests left, I had leftover green beans and another scoop of the chicken.
Otherwise it was a quiet day. Socorro came and cleaned and I tried to stay out of her way, while making my chicken thing, doing my yoga, and finally working at my desk, which I did all morning--well, really, but the time I got everything else done, there wasn't a lot left to the morning. Jordan and Christian arrived for their offspring about 8:45 and I greeted them with, "He's dressed, and I'm ready for a nap." Jacob of course took extra time this morning, but I find my stay-at-home mornings full--free writing, exercise, the newspaper, e-mail, etc. It's often late before I'm "ready for the day."
My cold is still bothering me, mostly as a cough when I go to bed. Surely this too will pass.

Monday, October 19, 2009

One of those nights

We all have them, nights where sleep doesn't come easily if at all. I had a hard time falling asleep last night, and then about 2:30 a coughing fit kept me awake and left me with what felt like a sinus headache, the cat wretched, noisily, all over the house (though this morning I couldn't find that she had produced anything), and the dog slept happily on, making those little soft noises of contentment that dogs do when they're asleep. Sometimes he whimpers in a bad dream, but I have only to call his name and he stops (it's sort of like having a husband who snores!). I stayed awake. When I do that I move among several worlds--last night it was the world of the manuscript I'm editing, then on to the world of the mystery I'm reading, and perhaps some time in the world of my reality. The world I didn't spend any time in is that of my amateur sleuth, star of my two unpublished mystery series. I've put the series out of mind and moved out of that world, wondering if I will be able to move back in easily or not. I blogged in my mind, I remembered how funny Jacob was last night, I did all sorts of mental things--all of which of course kept my mind active and kept sleep away. Finally fell back asleep about 6:45 but jumped out of bed at 7:30, feeling I had lots to do. My mom used to tell me you're not really awake all that time--you're sleeping and just don't know it. I would swear she was wrong, but it's a comforting thought. She also used to tell me when you itched all over, it was a sure sign you're going to sleep. I think that was wishful thinking on her part. I think the whole evening was payback because Jordan brought up the topic of sleeping pills last night and I assured her I sleep soundly, never need them. Smugness also goeth before a fall, just like pride. I'm pretty sleep today.

Two words sent me scurrying to the dictionary this morning: Jordan told Jacob not to stand with both feet on one side of the big rocking horse because it was about to tump over. Now I think I've heard her use this before, and in fact I actually replied last night, "It's not tumping over." I guess learned it from her, but she will no doubt say she picked it up from me. A tump (it's a noun, not a verb) is a small mound of earth, grass, even a haystack. I suppose a tump could tump over on you (okay, that was bad!)

Jacob has a new game. He marches through the house chanting the cadence of "Hut, two, three, four, Hut, two, three, four." I looked up "hut" in the dictionary because I didn't know if it was hut or hup--the dictionary was no help, so I called my brother, who said it's hut and that there are a whole bunch of cadences in the armed services.

Jacob arrived about 4:30 this afternoon, absolutely bursting with energy. Toward dinnertime he did calm down some and ate a medium dinner, so I gave him banana/chocolate bread (lied and told him it was cake). I feel really guilty because I also gave him mashed potatoes from a box I happened to have in the cupboard, I think for a recipe for Salisbury steak. Anyway, he scoffed down those potatoes and asked for more, so then I took a small bite and swished it around in the chicken-wine sauce on my plate. Not bad. As the evening wore on, he gained in energy and I lost it, until I really didn't feel on top of my game, and it was hard to be patient with him. But we read books, cuddled, and he stalled about going to bed but seemed to settle down nicely. I hope he didn't sense how ready I was for him to go to bed!

I may just stay home all day tomorrow and get over this blasted cold. Don't like feeling this way!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

24-hour getaway

I'm just home from 24 hours in Granbury (TX, of course) with my good friends Rodger and Linda Preston. Linda and I go back years and years, and she's been married to Rodger about 11 years. I love him too because he's a great cook, a steadfast liberal, and an all-around good guy. Linda came to get me Friday about 3 p.m. and we chattered all the way to Granbury. They gave a dinner party that night--a former bookseller of whom I'm particulary fond, one of our TCU Press authors and his wife, and the mayor and his wife. Turns out the mayor's wife went to high school in Scotland, so we had lots of fun talking about all things Scottish. Rodger fixed bouef bourguignion according to Julia's Child's recipe--Linda kept saying it was too complicated and she liked recipes with four ingredients, but today she and my brother agreed I would have done the same thing. I like those challenges. It was delicious, meat marinated for two or three days, lots of mushrooms. I avoided the noodles and the dessert and came in under points for the day.
Rodger and Linda own a gift store, Almost Heaven, on the square in Granbury (watch for their blog soon), and this was Harvest Moon Festival, which attracts a lot of vendors and a lot of people. Linda and I walked to the store about ten, and I holed up in the office, checking emails, working on a column, doing my free writing. We went to The Merry Heart, a lunch place two doors down, for chicken salad, another good visit, and then back to the store, where I signed books from 1-3. Well, I would have signed books but people weren't buying. I sold three, and two of those were to a woman I knew and her daughter, good friends of Linda's. Still, I talked to a lot of people, and maybe they'll remember my books. I have developed my "draw them in line" for Cooking My Way Through Life with Kids and Books--I point to the picture of Jacob and say, "That's my grandson. Isn't he adorable?" When they say yes, I launch into the story of what the parents of my other grandchildren thought. It worked well as a conversation starter, but not so well as a sales pitch. The people who come into Linda's store are looking for scented candles, odd gifts, etc. The lady who was demonstrating a salt scrub did a lot better than I did.
Highlight: My brother and his wife, John and Cindy, came by to visit, with Cindy holding their two-year-old granddaughter, Emery, who would not be detached from her grandmother. She clung and looked long at all of us. When they got ready to leave, she began to wave bye-bye--I think it was out of relief that they were leaving, for she'd been saying, "Go, Go." John said the crowd scared her. After they left, Linda brought me back to Fort Worth and we shared a glass of wine and a bit of cheese and stale crackers (I threw them in the trash after she politely said they were a bit stale but not too bad!). We had yet another good visit. She makes me think of that old saying, which I'll surely get wrong, but "New friends are silver, but old friends are gold." When Jamie married, he ordered silver steins with that on it for his groomsmen.
I'm nursing a cold that has been lingering on my horizons all week. Tonight it has turned into frequent sneezes and a constant need to blow my nose so that I look like Rudolph the Reindeer. Although I didn't feel on top of my game last night, I felt good all day and am fine now home and settled at my desk. It's taken me so long to catch up, I hope to have time for reading tonight.
After I unpacked, fed the animals, and got everything back to normal, I had a big debate with myself: did I want to saute that ground sirloin patty in the fridge or fix an anchovy pasta. The pasta won, and I cooked a handful of ditali (small short tubes of macaroni). While it was cooking, I heated olive oil and dumped in three chopped anchovy fillets, a generous helping of capers, and a small (single serving) can of tuna. When it was done I put some fresh grated parmesan over it. No salad, nothing else, though I felt a bit guilty about not having greens. But it was a delicious supper with a glass of wine.
Moral for the day: writing leads you into all kinds of fun situations. When Rodger asked why they were doing something--maybe having fresh raspberries for breakfast?--Linda said, "Because we have an artist in our midst." Who, me?

Thursday, October 15, 2009


--After reading my post last night, my good friend/yoga instructor Elizabeth wrote that she's recently run across a British magazine called Idler. It proposes to return "dignity to the art of loafing, to make idling into something to aspire towards rather than reject." Elizabeth thinks maybe I should subsribe.

--The Fort Worth Presbyterian Night Shelter frequently posts news, pleas for help, all kinds of things on Facebook, including recipes from their chef. Today's choice was Brandy-Mustard Pot Roast, and believe me it sounds tremendous. I printed it out and intend to try it.

--Do you know how to detect a stroke in a person? Cindy Bonner sent me this important e-mail: The clues are S-T-R. Even if someone merely stumbles and says they're fine, ask them to smile, talk--construct a simple sentence, and raise both arms. I knew about STR but the reminder was good. What I didn't know was a fourth suggestion: ask the person to stuck out the tongue. If it goes sideways, to either side, it means a stroke. These hints can save lots of lives. If caught immediately, the effects of stroke can usually be totally reversed.

--Heard on the radio or TV the other day that folks born after 1950 don't have immunity to the swine flu. Not sure if that means we oldsters do have it and just are more likely to have it. No indication why. I'm wondering if I'll be low on the totem pole for the shot, even though I do keep a pre-schooler about twice a week. Dr.'s appt. next week so I guess I'll find out.

--Sashimi for dinner tonight. Betty and I went to Tokyo Palace, suddenly my favorite place. I had sashimi on a green salad with roasted beets and a light vinaigrette. So wonderful, though I asked for wasabi for the sashimi. I'm sure I'd eventually tire of it if I ate it every night, but right now I do love it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Art of Puttering

Several years ago I wrote an article entitled, "Learning to Putz." The magaine that published it, Texas Co-op, changed the title to "Learning to Putter" because the word putz, while it does mean putter in Yiddish, also has negative sexual connotations. At the time I wrote about how I was trying to learn to putz/putter. Today I discovered I still haven't learned it. Even in retirement, I wake up with a list in my mind of things that need to be done that day and then I hurry to get them done. Granted, one reason I hurry is so I can do the things I want, like go to lunch with a friend, take a nap, read a book. But today I got up at 7:30 or shortly thereafter--by the time I'd done my free writing, had breakfast, read emails and the paper, and done my yoga, it was 9:30. Yoga was where I first noticed my hurry. I often look at the clock when I begin, so I can get some idea of how long I'm working out--sometimes I think the meditation part consumes a large portionof the time, greater than the workout. This morning I was surprised at how fast I was moving through the exercises--and I could hear Elizabeth's voice saying, "Slow down." The phone rang just as I started the meditation/relaxation part, and when I went to answer it I glanced at the clock--22 minutes for what should take 30-40 minutes. Rushing through the day, when I didn't really have that much to do. I decided I'd talk to the Lord later and started laying out things for happy hour guests tonight and making Southwestern Tuna Salad--a wonderful recipe that mixes tuna, green chiles, cumin, chili powder, lime peel and juice. The phone rang in the middle of that--someone who really wanted to talk, and I had to beg off. Got it all done, shampooed my hair, put on make-up and was dressed by eleven (my gosh, how did I ever get to work at 8 a.m.?)
My lunch date came by early, but I was ready. We went to Ellerbe's, a place I really like, and I ordered the Green Goddess salad (they spelled it Godess and we pointed out the error of their ways). All of a sudden I realized I was racing through that salad because it was so good. I just gobbled it down like I hadn't eaten in forever.
Tonight three friends came for wine, cheese and the tuna. We had a delightful visit--it finally turned out to be porch weather, with the sun shining, though it is a bit humid. I tried not to rush through the appetizers, but darn! that tuna really is good. My guests left after almost two hours, and I fixed myself dinner--the rest of the tuna, a bit of leftover potatoes, a bit of leftover spinach--and realized because it all tasted so good, I was once again gobbling my food.
Several years ago I went to a banquet--I can't remember the occasion--but my ex-husband's former partner and his wife took me. I was seated at a different table, but Russ walked by, looked at me, and said, "The trouble with you is that you ate with Joel Alter too long." I realized I had cleaned my plate when the other folks at the table were about halfway through.
Okay, resolution: I am going to move more slowly. Trouble is I already have a list for tomorrow--vet for animal food, grocery, office for mail and to do a bit of work, then work at home, nap, exercise, and dinner at 6 p.m. with Betty. Then pack to spend the next night with friends in Granbury. It's already weighing on my mind how I can fit it all in. The answer of course is that I need to shorten the nap or worktime or one of my electives and not worry about it--I always end up with time left over. I really am going to work on slowing down. Trust me.
I may have given this recipe before on this blog, but here's the Southwestern tuna salad (it's in Cooking My Way through Life with Kids and Books):

Southwestern tuna
I use this as a dip, served either with crackers or tortilla chips (the good strong kind), but I long ago lost the recipe, so I kind of recreate it each time.
7½-oz. can albacore tuna
Juice of 1 lime (a good juicy one)
1 tsp. grated lime peel
2 Tbsp. chopped cilantro
¼ c. chopped red onion
Pinch of cumin
Pinch of chili powder
Mayonnaise to bind - start with just a bit so you don't get it soupy
1/2 can chopped chilies (Use your own judgment about canned chilies or a chopped jalapeƱo—I like the canned.)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Rainy day, dentist, car repair--not my best day

The gloomy, rainy weather continues. I hear all the lakes and reservoirs except one are full, so as far as I'm concerned it can stop for a while now. By this weekend, it is to be 70 and sunny, which will be welcome. Today was made even gloomier because I had to go to the dentist, something that really does make me anxiious and caused me to wake at 4:30 this morning. Three cavities, small, but the drill is the drill. Then I took my car in once again to be repaired--for the last time I hoped. The VW driver brought me home, and the day was mine! I worked, napped, read emails--good indoor rainy day staff.

This morning I had breakfast at the Old Neighborhood Grill with the Book Ladies--this was once an active group with some ten or twelve ladies at breakfast, all of whom had careers dealing with books, from authors and booksellers to librarians. This morning there were only four of us. Our numbers have dwindled due to age--some have moved to assisted living and are unable to drive, others have moved away, some have decided 8:00 a.m. is too early, and we've lost a few over the years to death. Sometimes we visit about books, but the talk is just as likely to veer toward grandchildren, cooking, and, oh yes, politics. We're a bunch of liberals, and one bookseller actually stopped coming because she's a conservative and our talk made her uncomfortable. We promised to keep our mouths shut--a difficult promise--but she never joined us again. This morning it was a pleasant way to start the day. I always order a simple breakfast--one egg over easy and whole wheat toast, of which I ate only one piece. But I had butter and marmalade with my toast, and my goodness those Weight Watchers points add up quickly. I really wanted pepper pot soup for lunch--good on a cold, rainy day--but instead I made a tuna salad out of chunks of tuna, tomatoes, baby carrots, watercress, a slice of red onion, and whisked together a vinaigrette rather than a mayonnaise dressing. For all my efforts, I went 2.5 points over my daily limit today, but I feel it was all healthy--except maybe for the mayo on my slice of chicken loaf tonight, but it was low-fat mayo!

Editing this friend's manuscript takes me back in time--to Iowa, where he grew up and I went to college for two years; to Kirksville, Missouri, where he and my ex- were in osteopathic school together; and to earlier times in Fort Worth when they first moved here. I've had another deja vu experience through Sisters in Crime recently--one writer mentioned that she had grown up in the Hyde Park neighborhood in Chicago, so I emailed her to say we had that in common. Turns out she even went to the same school I did--Kenwood Grade School. When you "graduated" from eighth grade, the class processed to "Pomp and Circumstance," to which the school had put new words: "Goodby to you, Kenwood/We will remember your name/For you've led us onward/Toward the halls of fame." Well, I may have gotten a few words wrong, but that's close. Anyway, it ruined the song for me, because now every time I hear "Pomp and Circumstance," all these years later, those words go through my mind.

More storms tomorrow!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Rain and retirement

I am so tired of gloomy weather. We haven't seen the sun in forever, and every day it rains just a bit, enough to dampen the ground and my spirits. None of this is helped by the fact that I have to go to the dentist tomorrow (three small cavities) and then take my car to finally get the top-down mechanism repaired. Jacob will have dinner with me, so that brightens the day.
Today I think I made steps toward mastering retirement. Slept as long as the cat would let me--almost 7:45--but it was ten by the time I did my free writing, rode the stationery bike, showered, shampooed and dressed. What a luxury! Worked for a while--I'm editing that memoir of an old friend--and went to lunch to celebrate Melinda's b'day. Staff meeting and then home again. I cancelled the pot-luck happy hour for tonight--several people sick and too gloomy for a porch picture. Need to reschedule. But I've had a pleasant day, working, napping, and eating leftovers. At lunch I was coughing more than usual, and by mid-afternoon my chest felt tight. I thought a cold--or the dreaded flu--was coming on, but then I told myself that would be what my brother calls "a self-fulfilling prophecy." So I napped--and lingered in my cozy bed long after I woke up (which meant I missed Megan's call with her report on their trip to Italy). But the tightness was gone and I feel fine.Colin called with a report on Jordana Alter's wedding in New York and the fabulous time he and Lisa had.
I may have fallen into the self-fullfilling prophecy trap because at noon, when we ordered, the waiter was hunkered down by our table when he suddenly looked away with a vacant look on his face. Melinda said after that he was shaking and clammy, but he said, "Sorry, folks, I suddenly felt sick." Well of course after that we didn't want him near our food. Jim said he was hoping the poor guy would pass out so they'd give us another waiter. In fact, other people delivered our bread and lunches, and we didn't see much of that young man, although when he came with the bill, he assured us he was fine. Jim was still muttering about H1N1.
Nothing else new--I'm lost in someone else's childhood in Iowa, though it is funny that his grandfather graduated from Cornell College, where I went for my first two years, and it turns out we had some long-distant friends in common. The last few days I've corresponded with someone from Sisters in Crime who had posted that she grew up in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood--turns out she went to the same grammar school I did, knew exactly where I lived, etc. Lots of fun to share common memories.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Welsh rarebit and some grammar dos and don'ts

The houseparty continued this morning though, for me, it got off to an abrupt start. Gayla said last night she wouldn't be going out for the paper before I was awake, so I didn't remind her about the alarm system. About 7:15, I was dozing, hearing those earlybirds chatter but far too comfortable and sleepy to get up when the alarm blasted me out of bed. She'd gone for the paper. So we lingered over coffee and cinnamon toast, and then Jordan called to say she and Jacob were coming for breakfast, but she had to get him home by ten--long story. So I cooked, making Welsh rarebit, something my mom used to serve on Sunday nights. I fixed it some when the kids were young, but I remember one night when a teen-age Colin looked at the toast on his plate, covered with thick cheese sauce, and asked, "This is dinner?' In spite of the fact that many people refer to Welsh rabbit, it has nothing to do with four-legged bunnies. The name comes from the Welsh caws (rare or barely cooked) pobi (a bit or small serving). Mom used to make it with whatever beer she and Dad had in the house, but I found a recipe in Gourmet for doing it with Guiness Stout--and was lucky enough to buy a single bottle instead of a six-pack. You make a white sauce with flour, butter, stout, and water; season with salt and pepper, Worcestershire, and dry mustard. At the last minute, you add sharp cheddar and let it melt. Spoon the sauce over toasted peasant bread--I used sourdough. Best thing I learned was a quick way to pickle onion slices: heat 1/4 c. vinegar with 2 tsp. sugar, add onion slices, and when it comes to a boil, remove from the heat and let stand. Delicious on the rarebit.Works best I suspect with red onions. Jacob had two "awful waffles" and Jordan and I succombed to second servings of rarebit. She admitted it sounded familiar. By 10:30 everyone was gone, and I felt like it was three o'clock in the afternoon. Frittered away the morning and did something I never do--skipped lunch, but I was so full! I'm a big believer in breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and even when I eat brunch, I usually eat something--maybe just cottage cheese--for lunch but not today. Didn't miss it. By the by, Gayla told me this morning that Gourmet has ceased publication. I took it for a while, but the recipes were often too complicated and I prefer Bon Appetit, which is my bible. Still, I miss the idea of Gourmet, and I wonder what Ruth Reichl will do next. I love her books!

And I had a light supper from the "cook with what you have" school. I had bought scallops yesterday, so they needed to be used (I have so many leftovers, I kind of regretted that). But I sauteed them with a couple of large mushrooms, sliced, and a slice of onion; made a salad of watercress (left from decorating the rarebit), blue cheese, tomato and lemon with just a slight splash of olive oil. So good.

Some grammar things that have bothered me of late (or always): don't they teach in school that the punctuation goes inside the quote marks? It should be "The boy said hello." And not "The boy said hello". Same is true for everything except semi-colons and colons; if the sentence is a question that ends with a quote, then the question mark goes outside; otherwide, inside. And it's 1990s, not 1990's. There's nothing possive about it. Same thing: she got As in school, not A's, etc. And finally, I'm reading a great mystery that I really enjoy (not naming so as not to embarrass either the author or editor) but the protagonist keeps saying she wishes she could get "ahold" of something. It's get hold, not ahold. Now, when I'm trying to write western dialogue, in a pale imitation of Elmer Kelton, I may write "ahorseback" but it's a deliberate thing. I know better. Ahold is not the right word.

And finally I wish the Republicans would shed bitter partisanship for just a bit and rejoice that an American president won the Nobel Peace Prize. We should be proud for our country, instead of wrangling about he hasn't been in office long enough, he just got it because he isn't George W. Bush, etc. Hey, folks, this is America--united we stand, divided we fall, and folks like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck are doing their alarming best to divide us. Pray for worldwide peace for all, and pray America can be a leader in achieving that goal.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Publishing friends and a lovely evening

When my kids gave me a humongous 70th birthday party, over a year ago, my friends Fran and Gayla gave me a plaque that read "Happy Birthday to Judy Alter, Leader of the Front Porch Wine Drinking, World Problem Solving, Three Women in Publishing." The three women gathered again tonight, though it was too cold for dinner on the porch. Still we had a merry time, with lots of wine. I had meant to serve halibut but I had a dream the other night about choucroute garnie and decided I'd serve a choucroute paltter. The wonderful thing about our gatherings is that they hang around the kitchen while I cook. I had made a crustless apple pie and a casserole of the spinach I'd burned last night--okay, the part I didn't burn and you couldn't taste it. So tonight I made sauerkraut with chicken broth, white wine, onion, cloves, peppercorns, junier berries, and bit of brown surgar. I boiled fingerling potatoes until they were soft and put them in a skillet with onion, shallot and olive oil, and smashed them, stirring often until they browned. I boiled and then grilled sausages--two lamb, one chicken with apple, and one spinach/feta, then cut them up in chunks and served around the sauerkraut with the spinach and potatoes. Apple pie for dessert. We drank too much wine, talked about all the people we know, and had a lovely time. Off to bed soon, but tomorrow I'll fix a big brunch, and I think Jacob and Jordan will join us. Fran and Gayla brought a special bright Halloween cookie for Jacob.
Jacob woke up this morning crying hysterically--wouldn't let me touch his diaper, his pjs which were wet. He screamed that he didn't want me to turn on my TV or the kitchen light--I ignored him, turned on the TV and light, took him milk and turned on his TV, and went to brush my teeth. Pretty soon I heard, "Juju? I'm not crying any more." And there he was, sunny as always. We had lots of fun before his parents came to pick him up. After that the day was grocery, cooking, lunch, reading, nap--and then Gayla and Fran were here. A really nice day!

Friday, October 09, 2009

weather, food traditions, new tax rule

Okay, I admit to being a wimp. It's only October 9, in Texas, and I turned on the heat. Yesterday the air conditioner, which had been silent for a couple of weeks, kicked on, but today it was cool--never got above the mid-60s--and so damp that it chilled your bones. I closed the vents over my greenhouse windows--that's always a big deal, because I have to stand on a stool to do it, so I only open them when I think I can leave them open for days at a time. But this afternoon I was cooking and felt the cool, damp breeze come in. Tonight, when the furnace kicked in, Jacob said, "It's a monster!"

You know how the furnace smells when you first turn it on for the year? Well that smell fooled me today, and I burned some spinach. Now I ask you, who burns spinach? That's not easy to do, but I did it. Smelled something a little funny but thought it was the furnace--until I walked back into the kitchen! Me oh my! I found myself doing something I swore I'd never do tonight--cooking separate meals for a child and myself, but I wanted scrambled eggs. Jacob's mom said he wouldn't eat them, so I thought I'd make him a pbj sandwich. He wanted chicken nuggests--those yucky frozen ones. Doused with lots of ketchup, he ate them happily and then settled down to eating straight ketchup. I put a tiny spoon of crustless apple pie on his plate, but he scorned it. For myself I threw tomato, a bit of gravlax lingering the fridge, a couple of huge mushrooms sliced, and a scallion into my eggs--very good but with struggling to cook two meals, I let my eggs get a bit overcooked for my taste. And next time I'll saute the mushrooms first.

I was reading a piece tonight about family food traditions--actually it was about a family who had spent time in northern Thailand and brought back a dish that became a family tradition, served with great ceremony. It had nothing to do with the Eastern European Jewish roots of either of the parents, but the entire family looked on it as their dish. I tried to think about dishes passed down in my family from generations before--my mother's roquefort cheese ball comes to mind, because all my kids love it and one daughter-in-law makes it annually. But none of my kids will eat Mom's coffee cakes and that tradition has died--I don't make them anymore because they're a lot of work for no audience. In my immediate family Doris' casserole would come closest to being a family dish--we all adore it, except Megan who hates it. When Colin requested it for his 40th b'day, Megan contented herself with Colin's Queso and didn't eat the casserole. So it would seem we're a family without food traditions, and yet when I started my cookbook (Cooking My Way Through Life with Kids and Books--got to get that plug in there), the kids each contributed with, "Remember when you used to do . . . ." Another recipe that comes to mind is green noodles--it's in the cookbook, along with the cheeseball and Mom's coffee cakes. And then there's Jewish food, introduced to us by the children's father--some of us love it and some don't like at all. Maybe with four kids, it's hard to have taste buds agree on a tradition.

There's a new tax rule that has literati buzzing and, frankly, puzzled. It seems you have to declare the value of books you receive in order to write book reviews. Now that's plain darn silly. For scholarly publications, the book is your payment--you get nothing more--so now, you have to pay for the privilege of writing a review? Might wash with young scholars looking for credit, but they sure don't need to add to their tax bill, even that tiny amount. For newspapers, etc., you get a small fee plus the book. But now you're supposed to declare the market value of the book as income--even though you may end up disliking the book and writing a negative review! I don't know how they're going to track it, though one source I read said you have to declare in the review that you received a "gift" of the book or else the editor of the publication has to declare that in a sidebar or something. Seems to me the government will spend more money and time trying to track such things than they'll reap from the paltry taxes paid on books valued at $24.95. Just another thing to worry about.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

A signing, more high on the hog, creativity and weather

If you're in the Granbury area--or the Metroplex--on Saturday October 17, you might want to wander down Hwy. 377 to Granbury, where they'll have their Harvest Moon Festival. Craft booths all around the courthouse, and stores lining the squares will have specials. I'm going to be signing books from 1:00 - 3:00 p.m. at Almost Heaven, a heavenly (okay, I couldn't resist) gift and accessories shop owned by my friends Linda and Rodger Preston. I'd love to see you.
Would you believe I had a lobster for dinner tonight and it only cost me one point? That's for one-half cup of lobster meat, and I figure by the time you dig out the claws and get maybe eight bites out of the tail, you've had one-half cup. I didn't count the butter, but how much do you put on those few piece of lobster? Had a green salad with it, and loved the whole thing. For lunch I had a scoop of really good chicken salad and some asparagus spears, so my count for the day is really good. On the other hand, yesterday I had half an egg salad sandwich with a cup of split pea soup--it was a damp, cool day, and I wanted comfort food. That meal cost me points big time. A whole egg salad sandwich is 11 points--go figure! I had gained 1.5 lbs. this morning, but I figure it's due to decadent lunches Monday and Tuesday plus that egg salad yesterday. Got to do better, though the week ahead is filled with entertaining, and I'll have a hard time keeping my point count down. When I reeled off my schedule to Betty tonight over our lobster, she asked, "What is wrong with you? You've got to stop being so social!" Hey, I'm retired! I can do it.
Ah Texas weather--Tuesday and this morning, stepping outside felt like stepping into a hot, wet blanket. My windows were all steamed over from the inside. Tonight, though, storms are predicted--some fairly heavy, with golf-ball size hail (I've never seen it that big but am afraid to mock it for fear tonight is the night I'll see it). Then cold--down to the 40s tomorrow night and only into the 60s for the weekend. I'm glad after all that I planned a fall menu for my houseguests this weekend--I had some doubts this morning when I stepped into that fog.
I'm reading The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron and though I haven't gotten very far into it, I'm already finding it helpful. She's the one who recommends the three pages of writing first thing in the morning. I've been doing that, and I find it helpful and informative. I don't want to say it's transformed my life--not yet, anyway--but I am surprised at some of my thoughts. And reading just the introduction and first chapter to the book has given me lots of things in my life to ponder. I really think my creativity has been blocked in recent years, and I'd like to get it back. I had lunch with my friend Fred yesterday and he, a scholar, said he doesn't believe in inspiration. As a fiction writer I do but I think you have to be open enough to hear those voices in your head, and stress and tension and responsibilities can silence them. Anyway that's the spirit in which I'm approaching this book. I always remember the late Elmer Kelton talking about a book where a character he thought would be minor ran away with the story, and Elmer had to follow. I've known other authors who said, "Listen to your characters. They'll tell you what's going to happen." Dorothy Johnson (author of "A Man Called Horse" and "The Death of Liberty Valance") used to talk about the novel she worked on about New York City during WWII, when everyone expected the city to be bombed. One day she wrote me that she'd had the most awful shock, she'd just learned that the man she thought would be the hero of her story was killed in the war.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Food planning, satisfying work, and a good day

It's been cool lately in North Texas--not cool by fall standards, but it suddenly went from the 90s to the 70s and is damp if not outright rainy. I was cold all afternoon, so I spent the evening planning menus. I will have houseguests Sat. night, and I had planned to serve them seafood (menu planning for guests is one of the delights of my life) but now I have changed to the menu to a hearty peasant dish and dessert (I can't tell it here, because it's a secret from them, but they are friends who often come for my cooking--another joy!). They'll stay for brunch on Sunday, and I have planned Welsh rarebit, a dish my mom used to make but that I haven't made in years. Of course, I found a gussied up version of it.
Next week I'm hosting 14 women--contributors to Grace & Gumption: The Cookbook--for a pot-luck happy hour (and photo session for the back cover of the book), so I had to plan what to serve then. And later in the week, I think three friends are coming for wine on the porch--assuming it's warm enough to sit on the porch. So I sketched out appetizers for them. Looks like a busy but good week.
Today was also a satisfying work week--went to the office where we brainstormed about a book's title and cover art (with some success, we think), and I did a lot of acquisitions work, came home and went to lunch with Fred. We had planned to go to the Community Art Center where there is a new cafe, but it was so gloomy and damp I suggested Carshon's for split pea soup and that's what we had. Comfort food! When I got home I was beseiged by emails, details, trivia that kept me busy, but I did send off the chapter for the history of the osteopathic college. One project off my desk. And the editor who has been interested in a cooking column gave me an okay on the first column, so now I have to think of a second one for January--but I have it in mind: a column on the concept of the French soup pot.
I'm still doing my three pages of free writing first thing in the morning whenever I can. Tonight I'm about to start reading The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron--from the table of contents, it's about recovering your creativity. Susan, the artist next door, brought it to me last Sunday when they came for dinner because, as she said, "You need to read it." The three-page exercise comes from the book. So I'm anxious to delve into it.
I am impressed by an author--an email, sisters-in-crime colleague with whom I've had some correspondence. She sent me a manuscript, and I read it with interest but some doubts, wrote her that I could send it to a reader but I knew it would come back with strong revision suggestions. She said that's what she wanted--her regular publisher would have published it as is, but she wanted to make it the best book she could. Then last night she wrote to ask if it was too late to withdraw it. She herself saw the need for rewrite and wanted to do that before I take it to a reader. So many writers are just anxious for publication in any form that they jump at the first offer (I'm afraid of falling into that trap), so I really like her determination to make her book the best it can be.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Retirement homes and country clubs, car wars, work, and Jacob

I have been eating high on the hog the last couple of days--and my Weight Watchers points reflect it. Yesterday Betty and I drove to Dallas--by a most circuitous route because we ran into a closed highway with little notice and no choice but to turn around. We finally found the retirement community that Mary Lu has moved into, off Northwest Highway. It's like having an apartment in the fanciest hotel--I guess, in Dallas it would be like living in the Adolphus. A grandly appointed lobby, with fresh flowers, overstuffed furniture, all lavishly decorated. The apartments--seven buildings of them, all connected--are off long hallways. Mary Lu's apartment has a living room, bedroom, small balcony overlooking beautifully landscaped grounds, including a pond with fountains, kitchen with granite countertops and all the trimmings, and two baths--her own off her bedroom and a powder room for guests. Again, all elegant. Were I there it would soon be a mess, with books piled everywhere and a computer desk in the middle of everything but her computer is discreetly hidden. We ate in the formal dining room and even though I had a club sandwich it seemed high on the hog. Splurged on a chocolate chip cookie (why did I do that?). When I got home and entered the meal in Weight Watchers, I had 2.5 points left for dinner--that's one glass of wine. After lunch, we toured the facility--exercise room, indoor pool, library, snack bar, etc. A permanet hotel for about 500 people. Most impressive, but I'm not ready to go--and doubt I could afford such a place if I wanted to!

Today I went to the annual luncheon for past presidents of the Friends of the Library--for years I have been liaison between the library and the press and so far I retain that position. Lunch was at Colonial Country Club and consisted of one of the best Caesar salads I've had in forever, a nice piece of chicken on wild rice with some kind of sauce, and fresh asparagus--the gentleman next to me wanted to count how many plates went back to the kitchen with asparagus intact, because he doesn't care for it. But I almost grabbed his off his plate. I passed on bread and butter, and he said I was substituting a glass of wine, so I must know my priorities. And I can't believe I ate it all--well, almost all of an irresistible slice of apple pie. I did avoid the ice cream. Tonight, with Jacob here, I had a spartan dinner, and came in under points but I don't have a lot of hope for losing weight this week. I've been going to these lunches for years and seeing the same faces over and over again, some that I rarely see any other time, so it's fun.

I'm having a polite war with VW. For a long time now I've complained about my convertible top not operating properly. In July I took it in twice, they thought they had it fixed but would keep an open ticket. July is too hot for top-down in Texas, and I didn't take it back until a couple of weeks ago. Then they told me they don't keep open tickets that long and meantime, my car had gone out of warranty. Two more unsuccessful trips back, but I kept having to go get the car because I needed to get around. Yesterday I took it in on the way to Dallas, and today they said it needs a truly expensive part. I argued that the condition existed when it was under warranty; the service advisor quoted his manager withs ome reason it wasn't covered, that I didn't understand (I think they couldn't prove this was the problem before--but, hey, if it didn't get fixed. . . seems obvious to me!). The advisor did tell me I could appeal to Volkswagen of America, so I called this afternoon, got a most helpful lady who said they would get back to me by tomorrow night to tell me what they could offer me. I'm hoping they'll meet me at least halfway, even if they don't cover it all.

Meanwhile, in spite of all that, I actually got some work done today--almost finishing the chapter for the history of the osteopathic college. I went up to the office where they had tons of mail for me, which I was able to consolidate into one large book bag. Conferred with Susan next door about the art for a project she's working on, got my desk and emails under control, and felt pretty accomplished. All of which went out the door when Jacob arrived in high spirits and energy. He wants my attention every minute and is not hesitant--nor soft-voiced--about demanding it. We looked at a catalog of Halloween costumes, and we read Pinocchio (his first discovery of that story), he got very excited because I fixed him chicken nuggets with ketchup for dinner (yuck!) and told me my chicken loaf and pea salad looked nasty. All in all, it was fun, and now I'm back to polishing off that history. Tomorrow, the office to catch up on a book bag full of odds and ends I've been accumulating.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

A happy, lazy, rainy day

For much of the day today, the skies dumped on us--calm, usually slow rain that soaks in. We are blessed. The cat demanded I get up and feed her this morning about seven, but I crawled right back into bed, grateful that Jacob sleeps until eight or beyond. It was one of those mornings when you just wanted to stay burrowed under the covers. I didn't, of course, and got up in time to brush my teeth, wash my hair, and bring in the paper before Jacob woke up. I peeked at him a little after eight, and he was eyeing me, a big smile on his face. From then until his mom came at ten, the morning was his, not mine, but that was fine with me. We had breakfast--waffles, of course--and we talked, rough-housed, made beds, and generally had a good time.
After he left, I got ready for dinner--the table was set, but I seasoned ground lamb with paprika, cinnamon, and chopped fresh mint from my front porch. And I laid serving dishes out. I had appetizers left from earlier in the week and, without shame, recycled them. Dinner featured ground lamburgers with two salads--Jordan made a terrific Greek salad (her specialty) as an accompaniment, and I mixed spinach, feta, red onions, olive oil and wine vinegar to go on top of the lamburgers in whole wheat buns. I had thought of making a French potato salad--no mayo, only white wine, vinegar, and oil--but Jordan thought we didn't need it And she was right--most of us couldn't even finish the lamburger.
But we had the happiest, liveliest cocktail and dinner hour ever. My neighbors from both sides--Jay, Susan and Sue--joined us, along with Jacob, Jordan and Christian. Although I'd seen each of them over the last few weeks, they figured out they hadn't all been together since late June, so it was like a joyous reunion. Laughter, talk, and lots of wine--too much! And a good dinner. It was absolutely one of the most fun dinner parties I've given in a long time. Jordan not only made the salad, she helped greatly with the kitchen, and Susan and Jay stayed after the others left to see what they could do. The final cleanup didn't take long at all and was well worth it for the evening we had. So was my menu switch--I had intended to fix a tuna/pasta/vegetable dish, heavy with anchovies in both the dish and the sauce. When Jordan called and said they were coming--after first cancelling--I had to change the menu. Neither of them would touch anything with anchovies (though maybe it would do them good to try it). I went prowling through my recipes and decided on ground lamb, which both of them like. I'll serve the anchovy dish to my neighbors another night--and may try to improvise a single serving for myself some night soon. Thought I would do it tomorrow night, but I have this half of a lamb pattie left over. Plus a whole one I think Ill freeze.
Tonight was sort of proof of why I like to cook and entertain--interesting people coming together in a great spirit of happiness, conviviality, joy, whatever. I am so fortunate! And now, having had more than my share of wine--I've really been watching it lately--I am soooo sleepy. May read a while and then to bed early. A busy week looms, starting with taking my car in tomorrow morning to see if they can fix the top. Yuck!

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Lazy rainy day and hectic evening

This is Jacob at the quietest moment of his whole evening here. Yes, he's sitting on an unmade bed, but that's another story--and it isn't the bed he is now, I hope, asleep in. He arrived in a fever of energy and kept it up all evening. If I tried to "read my papers" as he calls it, he demanded, "Juju! Juju! Come here." We played with his "transformers" (his name for small metal cars) endlessly, and we read books. The only time he watched TV was when I wanted him to eat dinner--his dinner as far as I can tell consisted of one bite of potato, lots of ketchup and three cups of milk. When he pitched a hissy fit during which I couldn't understand what he said, I pitched a hissy fit back so he'd see what it was like (I couldn't tell that he was impressed), then explained he'd have to tell me calmly what he wanted. Well, he didn't want ground beef--he wanted chicken nuggets. I told him beef was on the menu tonight and maybe I'd fix chicken nuggets (yuck!) the next time he comes to visit. For all his energy, he is an angel about bedtime. We set the timer for 10 more minutes of play, and then he went easily to read a book, go to the potty, get his night-time diaper, and then we cuddled for a bit. He always asks, "Will you cuddle me?" I remember that my mom used to cuddle with me until I was five and the night she announced I was too old, I cried for hours. The neighbors heard me. In retrospect, I think she could have eased me into it.
The papers I wanted to read tonight were a bonanza of cooking magazines that arrived in today's mail--both Southern Living and Bon Appetit. I sort of wish they both hadn't arrived on the same day, so I could draw out the pleasure. Jacob wanted to read Southern Living because it had a pumpkin on the cover. I was afraid he'd tear out pages, but he didn't. Still I haven't been through either one thoroughly yet, though I did pull a couple of good recipes. That's me--always pulling recipes, never sure I'll cook them.
Otherwise, it was a lazy rainy day. I did all the chores that I wonder how I did when I worked--Central Market, laundry, dishwasher, changed linens on the guest bed in preparation for company next weekend (explains the unmade bed Jacob is sitting on above), set the table for dinner tomorrow night, and so on. Then after lunch I did a few desk chores and got immersed in the manuscript I'm editing. Since I've been wondering lately about my creative abilities and ability to immerse myself in a project, this was fairly reassuring. In fact, though I thought I'd treat myself to the mystery I'm reading tonight, I think instead I'll keep editing. I really like it when I can smooth out someone's sentence, change passive to active voice, etc. Nothing major. Maybe my own novel will come next!

Friday, October 02, 2009

Fridays and more food

I always look forward to Fridays, even now when I'm not working. Things seem to wind down. I never make lunch dates for Friday, preferring to go home with a whole afternoon ahead of me. I usually do part of my grocery shopping--the nuts and bolts part like toilet paper and ketchup and wine--on Friday at a market where I've been shopping for 20-plus years. It used to be Minyard's but now is a City Market, one of only two stores in the chain. The difference shows--wider, cleaner aisles, much fresh produce, and I'm told by others the meat is excellent. A sign inside the front door says Rule #1: The customer is always right. Rule #2: if the customer is wrong, see Rule #1. Every Friday, I buy a half-lb. of tuna salad, eat half that day for lunch and half the next day. The woman at the deli counter sees me coming and starts to dish out the tuna. But today, good as my lunch was, I felt sort of at loose ends, couldn't settle down to much of anything.

So, of course, I cooked for supper, tried a new recipe. Mashed potatoes topped with lightly cooked asparagus, then a fried egg, grated Romano (I happened to have grana on hand) and then a Tbsp. of browned butter poured over the top. It was good--a nice mix of flavors--but I know the egg yolk was supposed to be runny (the way I like them) and soak down into the potato, but mine wasn't--it was cooked through. I figured out later when the directions said put in the pan in sizzling butter, turn off the heat, and let it sit five minutes, I should have moved it off the electric burner--those instructions were probably meant for a gas stove. Oh, how I wish I had a gas stove.

I had invited Jordan and Christian to come for fried chicken--an experiment--Sunday night but they couldn't, so I invited my nighbors for a pasta/tuna dish heavy with anchovies (they're among the few people who will eat anchovies with me). Then Jordan said if I would still have them they'd like to come--well, they won't eat anchovies. I'll have to revamp the menu. I have a call in to her to make sure they won't change their minds again, before I do that.

Meantime, I'm going back to editing the manuscript on my desk that a friend asked me to work on. I think what I'm really doing is avoiding writing. I read a blog by an old friend today who said her writing career took off in the'90s (so did mine) but she didn't know now that she had the fire to write. I left a comment that I certainly knew the feeling. Not quite two weeks ago, the publisher who has had my mystery for so long said she should be able to let me know in two weeks--so I think I'm stalling, even as I prepare myself for rejection. Also ordered some books for a new project I'm considering, another reason to stall. My, how we can fool ourselves. But I read the listserve that specializes in unpublished authors (from Sisters in Crime) and I'm amazed at these women who get rejection after rejection and still make a science out of querying, in spite of a pile of unpublished manuscripts. They have the fire, and I wish I did. I refuse to beileve it's an age-related problem!

Thursday, October 01, 2009


Maybe I'm always a little bit hungry because of Weight Watchers, but my mind has sure been on food the last couple of days. Part of it is that I had this leftover meatloaf, which I adore. So yesterday went by in a blur (well, not really) because I was anticipating cold meatloaf (sob, no sandwich because the bread adds points) and marinated beets (no points). But I had a really great lunch at the Community Arts Center with Jean--what they call a salmontini. It was sort of a small soup bowl with lettuce in the bottom, four asparagus spears, a good-sized piece of poached salmon, and a cherry tomato decorating it. A good light refreshing lunch. Jean added ranch dressing to hers, but I forebore (is that a word?). Salmon, I found out, is not point-friendly, probably because it's a fatty fish. But as Jean said, "It's so good for you" and I would add, "It's so good!" So today, I had food on my mind again--specifically a tongue sandwich at Carshon's, which I had when I went to lunch with my friend Dick Hoban.
Tonight I had a meeting at the house, getting together a poet and the illustrator (my neighbor Susan) who's doing his book--she had pencil sketches and wanted input before she started on the irreversible color. Melinda was here with her superb technical knowledge of what would reproduce, etc. Because I'm on that great "cook with what you have" kick, I made a dip out of three cubes of pesto, a bit of yogurt, juice of half a lemon, sour cream,and salt and pepper. Pretty good, if I do say so. Then I made fromage fort, Jacques Pepin's recipe which he says came from his father who would use leftover bits of cheese, any kind, this way. Take about 8 oz. cheese, and blend with a garlic clove, 1/4 c. white wine, and a good grind of black pepper. I had a little blue cheese in mine, which of course dominates. But in retrospect, I think it would be best to grate cheddar, etc. I finally had to fish some lumps out--and I used a bit too much wine, so that it was more a dip than a spread, but still good with crackers and fresh vegetables--carrots, grape tomatoes, cucumber slices, and broccoli. I'll cook the leftover broccoli for Jacob on Saturday.
Even so, while we were drinking wine and nibbling, my mind was on the leftovers still in my fridge--a tiny tiny bit of meatloaf, a tiny bit of the pasta I fixed the other night, more marinated beets--I finally had a great dinner about 8:00. Now I have to go to wash the wine glasses, etc. To his credit, when I thanked the poet for carrying the wine glasses to the sink, he said, "I'll even wash them if you want," but I assured him that wasn't necessary."
Today was a good retirement day--got up fairly early but did my free writing, read the paper, did my yoga, showered and washed my hair and got ready for the day, made the dips, started on my email--and Dick was here for lunch. So I haven't accomplished a lot, but did start on a friend's memoir that he has brought me to edit. Now, I think it's time for a mystery after I do dishes, put the laundry in the dryer, scrub my face, and bring the dog in. Nice day.