I left out an important word in my sentence about deaths in our extended family. The sentence should have read: There were two deaths in my extended family this week: my daughter’s long-time dog friend andmy friend’s younger brother. Sorry for the omission.
If I were another kind of person, I would miss the whirl of my social life—but there never was much of a whirl. I do miss seeing my swim lane friends, chatting with Judy, swimming defensively next to splash-man, rolling my eyes at Dave’s puns, checking in with my old swim coach Alan, competing for space with the water aerobic bouncers in the locker room, and getting books from the Lodge library, but I have quickly gotten over my daily swim. I don’t rear up at 6:00, pull on my suit at 7:30, and gear up to scrape the ice off my car before I head to the pool. Certainly don’t miss the chilly, not-enough-hot-water-in-the-locker-room-tanks shower.
Instead I raise up the shades to let in the morning light, tip back the recliner, pull the quilt a little closer, leisurely sip the coffee my Sweetie made me, read another chapter, stitch another block, write another line, sing another song, memorize another verse of Leaves of Grass (I wish that were true), call Ginny, and enjoy the start of the day. Funny though, how too much of our favorites—spice drops and reading on-line news, for example—can wear thin. Without the push of a daily swim, i was feeling very sloth-like and found myself slipping farther down into the couch position. Years ago, before I started to swim, I walked, but gladly gave that up for pool time. “Why not start walking again?” said my life coach, the Sweetie. Why not indeed.
I thought I would ease into it—maybe a ten-minute stroll, twice a day. Now, this is only the fourth day, but so far it’s a revelation. I had forgotten how equalizing the outdoors can be. No matter what the current drama, the sparrows trill their little hearts out, the squirrel scolds from the nearest tree, those rotten spring blackberry shoots threaten to stab, flower buds swell with promise, the woods smell woodsy, new fiddlehead ferns cautiously unfurl (or is it furl), and life without humans goes on. The tree-killing machines that are clearing more land for houses are gone, the giant cranes have nothing to do, the hammers on the new houses down the block are silent, traffic is non-existent, JBLM explosive testing seems to have stopped, and the army base helicopters no longer rattle the windows at night.
So then, what to do with the day after 9:00 am? The Sweetie searches for sanitizing products on-line (lotsa luck there), watches the Nature Channel (one more clip of a baby hippo being chased down by a lion may do me in), whacks weeds, plants wildflower seeds, feeds his animal friends, keeps track of the stock market for me, etc. I natter on in my blog, work on the baby quilt, search for material on-line (lotsa luck there), wash clothes, listen to podcasts, sing along with my favorite tunes, run the Swiffer, visit my neighbors (yes, we remember to maintain social distance), keep up with Australian sitcoms—and it’s about 11:30.
Meanwhile on the flour front: my niece made bagels, my neighbor baked banana bread, my sister made pizza dough, I made ranger cookies, my nephew baked cupcakes, one friend made pretzels, another friend baked biscuits for breakfast, my sister-in-law made two chocolate cakes (one for the table, one for the freezer), my granddaughter baked bread—that’s where all the flour has gone. But, as my Canadian friend asked, “Where did all the Jello go?”
With this culprit you can use both flour and Jello.
Strawberry Jello Pretzel salad from the blog, The Girl Who Ate Everything
2 cups pretzels (crushed fine)
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3/4 cup butter, melted
1 6 oz pkg strawberry jello
1 10 oz . pkg. frozen strawberries or small container sliced fresh strawberries
1 8 oz pkg cream cheese, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
8 ounces cool whip
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9×13 pan.
Combine pretzels, brown sugar, and melted butter and press into prepared pan. Bake 10 minutes. Cool on rack.
Prepare jello according to directions and add the strawberries right before chilling. Refrigerate until partially set. If it is not set enough it will leak through your cream cheese layer and make your pretzels soggy.
Beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Fold in cool whip. Spread over cooled crust make sure you spread completely to the edges to create a seal so your jello doesn’t leak through.
Pour jello over cream cheese layer. Refrigerate.
There were two deaths in my extended family this week: my daughter’s long-time dog friend and my friend’s younger brother. It’s painful to loose a sibling: they have known you from the start, you share childhood memories with them, they watched you evolve from brat to free-standing adult, and they know all your secrets. It is so difficult to be down a family member and my thoughts are with my friend and her family.
The Batchelor’s family dog Louie was my personal dog. Everyone loved Louie, so many people thought of him as their own. The Batchelors adopted him as a mischievous pup, raised him up to be a loyal, cheerful, family member, monitored his love of adventuresome travels, cared for him during his last days, and will always miss him—me too.
If I were a different kind of person, I would have us listen to You’ll Never Walk Alone, but instead, here’s the Rolling Stones and Gimme Shelter.
Shelter sounds so much more pleasant than confine. Shelter evokes a cozy fire, at least one dog asleep on your feet, a quilt across your lap, and rain on the rooftop. Confine conjures up a metal cage, tight ropes, and doors that clang shut. So let’s go with shelter. A water view is the only thing our shelter lacks—otherwise we’re content to watch the sturdy gas-lit fireplace, listen to a few tunes, and wrap our hands around a morning cuppa (Sorry, I’ve been watching too much Australian TV).
Summers in 1950s Nebraska often involved sheltering—the day darkened and the tornado sirens wailed. Daddy whistled us in from the neighbor’s backyard, urged us down the dirt steps that went into the storm cellar and, once the last dog was in, latched the heavy, wooden door from the inside. Muth found the cardboard box with the flashlight, transistor radio, puzzles, and the backup Monopoly game (missing all the tokens but the iron and the thimble). The wooden shelves gleamed with canned green beans, beets, corn, and tomatoes—nothing that appealed to us kids—we waited for watermelon pickles and applesauce. The wind howled as we watched the heavy wooden door thump and strain at the hinges, ate baloney sandwiches made for the occasion, and sheltered in place.
Mom and Dad, Jeanne and Nick, 1940s
It seemed like forever, but within a short time the town sirens wailed the OK, Daddy unlatched the door, and led us back up into the light. We were always lucky, we had been spared: tree limbs were down and the dog house was in the alley, but the storm had passed and life as usual returned. This crisis just keeps going—local news bombards us with the latest virus numbers, CNBC is full of dire news about the economy. Where’s Mr. Rogers when we need him? I’m about to start watching Nickelodeon.
We look out the sliding glass door to the backyard, weaving scenarios about the private lives of the squirrel, the juncos, the toheys, and the elusive chipmunk. They give us plenty of giggles—all for the price of a bag of birdseed. Now I’ve heard tell that there are nuthatches and chickadees on Vashon and flocks of goldfinches in Eugene but here in Lacey, our birds are more humdrum, nonetheless less we love watching them.
Anyways, the sun will come out tomorrow, raindrops on roses, don’t worry be happy, all you need is love, you are my sunshine, and…at the end of the storm is a golden sky and the sweet silver song of a lark.
Here are a couple links to performances that were created to provide some humor and distraction: #songsofcomfort, available on Instagram from YoYo Ma, and https://youtu.be/sKSlH2zBXwo, produced and created by my friends’ son who is studying in Germany.
When in doubt, bake cookies (if you can find flour, eggs, and oats—haven’t heard about a run on Rice Krispies).
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 cups rolled oats (regular or quick cooking, not instant)
1 1/2 cups Rice Krispies
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
3/4 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
Preheat the oven to 350° and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugars. Beat in eggs one at a time, followed by vanilla extract.
Stir in flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt, either by hand or with the mixer on low speed.
Mix in oats and Rice Krispies, then stir in chocolate chips, coconut and walnuts until everything is well-distributed.
I’m not much of a baker—takes more discipline that I am usually able to muster. That said, when I wanted to make Irish soda bread to eat with corned beef and cabbage but had only a cup of flour, a trip to the store was the next step. Although paper product shelves in Washington State have been bare for a few weeks now and without my son-in-law’s emergency response, the Sweetie and I would have no hand sanitizer, we still weren’t prepared for an empty flour shelf. At the local Thriftway, there was only one five-pound bag of expensive, organic, hand-milled, niche-brand, all purpose flour. Are all those sheltering in place planning on community bake-offs (following social distancing, of course)? We snapped up the flour and added a bag of sugar—just in case…
Funny how grocery carts are the new way of gauging priorities: recently at Costco (in addition to countless carts overfilled with toilet paper), I saw a seventy-something man with eight jumbo boxes of Cheerios, a middle-aged woman with at least twenty pounds of grapefruit, and a young mother whose cart was full with two toddlers, eight jugs of apple juice, and innumerable boxes of Maalox. The Sweetie and I filled our cart with three bags of coffee beans, a bag of Doritos that would provide snacks for a football team, an extra container of Miracle Gro (in case that promised miracle appears), a backup wedge of Parmesan cheese, a case of beer, and two emergency boxes of Starbuck’s Via—just in case…
Spam is making a comeback, there’s a run on Vienna Sausages, the canned sardine slot at Thriftway is bare, dry yeast has disappeared, I couldn’t find any tahini, don’t even try to buy Starkist tuna, canned chili is the new must-have, and oatmeal is inexplicably popular. Meanwhile, back at Costco’s toilet paper aisle, there were at least fifteen anxious shoppers waiting for the warehouse to unload new pallets of Charmin (unanimously the preferred way to wipe). Like someone said, “Why did we throw out the thick, phone book that was dropped off on our doorstep?”
Anyways, life goes on. I’ve checked in with those I love and they’re well—coping, cleaning, baking, hiking, tidying, walking the dog, patting the baby, working from home. I cook—corned beef and cabbage, odon noodles, eggplant curry, fish soup, familiar dishes that come easily. Today I’m stepping out of my comfort zone into the ongoing search for a flakey biscuit. My biscuits have historically turned out dry and tough—eatable only if smothered in gravy or accompanied by a mandatory glass of milk. But hope is eternal, maybe this new recipe I found in the New York Times Cooking app will change my luck. We will see.
Here’s a photo of the week that eases my soul and brings a sigh of relief—a girl, a kite, a beach
Thanks to Glenda, Ginny, and Andrew for the photos.
And then there’s this poem, And the People Stayed Home, by Kitty O’Meara that is everywhere:
And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently. And the people healed.
And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.
Sam Sifton’s all-purpose biscuits
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 scant tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, preferably European style
1 cup whole milk
Preheat oven to 425°
Sift flour, baking powder, sugar and salt into a large mixing bowl. Transfer to a food processor.
Cut butter into pats and add to flour, then pulse 5 or 6 times until the mixture resembles rough crumbs. (Alternatively, cut butter into flour in the mixing bowl using a fork or a pastry cutter.)
Return dough to bowl, add milk and stir with a fork until it forms a rough ball.
Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and pat it down into a rough rectangle, about an inch thick. Fold it over and gently pat it down again. Repeat.
Cover the dough loosely with a kitchen towel and allow it to rest for 30 minutes.
Gently pat out the dough some more, so that the rectangle is roughly 10 inches by 6 inches.
Cut dough into biscuits using a floured glass or biscuit cutter. Do not twist cutter when cutting; this crimps the edges of the biscuit and impedes its rise.
Place biscuits on a cookie sheet and bake until golden brown, approximately 10 to 15 minutes.
Not long ago I ranted about my inability to open almost any new purchase, from eyedrops to garden snippers, without drawing blood. Today’s rant is about customer service. To begin with, I think ad men should come up with another name—customer service is a contradiction in terms: customer is factual, service is not.
I remember that in the olden days, you thumbed through the Sears or Montgomery Wards catalogue, dog-eared your choices, and dialed a number. A human answered, took your order, and in a week or two your new underwear showed up on the doorstep. Today, there’s online, six-hour Amazon orders, airline ticket, sporty event, and concert reservations, prescription refills, and old-school mail order stamps. But if you should need assistance with a return, a flight problem, your phone service, computer, printer, medical care, television, wireless network, health insurance, or social security issue, you jump down the black rabbit hole of customer “service.” Heaven help you if you need assistance from the IRS.
Answering bots yap on how much the company values your business, then apologizes for your inconvenience, warns you to pay attention as “their options have recently changed,” flings you back into menu and puts you on hold, prisoner to whatever God awful sound mix they choose or even worse, subjects you to loud, non-stop sell about new products and services. If you do fall for their suggestion to leave a “call-back number,” sometime in the future you may (or may not) receive a call from a robot who will fling you back into the menu options.
If i could track down a CEO, sit him/her in a straight-backed chair, and tell him what we want, here’s what I’d say:
Hire enough people to man the phone lines.
Hire employees who have some slight interest in people.
Impress on them that they are the face and voice of the company.
Get rid of those auto-answering, robocalling, menu-driven, “Customer Service” lines and put a person behind the desk.
Stop lying about your “recently changed menu options.” We know that you don’t want us to keep pressing “0” in hopes that we’ll reach a human.
Kill the, “We are currently experiencing higher-than-normal call volumes.” Just hire enough people to man the phone lines!
Here’s my new favorite New York Time’s recipe:
Curried red lentils with sweet potatoes and spinach
3 tablespoons olive oil or coconut oil
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 tablespoons Thai red curry paste
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 seeded serrano chile, minced
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 cup red lentils, rinsed
4 cups chicken stock
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 (13-ounce) can full-fat coconut milk
1 (4- to 5-ounce) bag baby spinach
1 lime, juiced
Garnish with chopped cilantro, toasted unsweetened coconut flakes
In a Dutch oven or pot, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high. Add the sweet potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned all over, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer the browned sweet potatoes to a plate and set aside.
Add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil to the pot and set the heat to medium-low. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, 4 to 6 minutes. Add the curry paste, garlic, ginger, chile and turmeric, and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add the lentils, stock, salt and browned sweet potatoes to the pot and bring to a boil over high. Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are just tender, 20 to 25 minutes.
Add the coconut milk and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has reduced and the lentils are creamy and falling apart, 15 to 20 minutes.
Add the spinach and stir until just wilted, 2 to 3 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the lime juice and season with salt to taste. Garnish with cilantro and coconut flakes.
You’ve just gotta listen to this week’s music video.
Blake Shelton Garth Brooks, Dive Bar
I ate my first enchilada in the late 60s at the Half Moon Inn. The Half Moon, three dramas short of a dive bar, was a neighborhood tavern across the street from the stockyards in Sioux City, Iowa. Somehow children were allowed, so we took our son and daughter, two and six, and met high school friends who brought their nine year old son. The kids played on the floor among the peanut shells, with the ruckus of pool cues, loud voices, and jukebox rock and roll playing in the background.
Giddyups, in Austin, Texas, is difficult to box in. Is it a music venue, a honkey-tonk, a neighborhood tavern, or a dive bar? A trusted source told me that it’s a mix of the best parts: listen to Speedy Sparks, Rusty Traps or The Pearl Snaps, sing a little karaoke, play some shuffleboard, sit on the back patio, eat a bucket of Austin’s best fried chicken, sample a few Texas IPAs, compete in a gumbo cookoff—all possible at Giddyups.
Like $10 haircuts and vacuum cleaner repair shops, authentic dive bars are in danger of disappearing as gentrification spreads. Even the term “dive bar” has been appropriated by those who would buy a hole in the wall, spiff it up by sweeping the floor, and install a large, cheesy, juicy menu. Genuine dive bars have gruff old bartenders, gruff old regulars, the sour smell of desperation, no eatable food, condom vending machines, at least one patron asleep on his or her arm, and a slight sense of danger. What’s not to love?
Neighborhood bars (think “Cheers”) are boisterous watering holes with functioning toilets and real food. In Olympia, The China Clipper, open since the 50s, is the downtown dive bar/karaoke hot spot/neighborhood tavern/incidental Chinese restaurant of choice. I heard a story about a gruff, old bartender who, in the 60s and 70s, would rouse a patron, asleep on their arm or face-down in their chop suey, by rubbing ice cubes on the back of their neck.
Tacoma has some great neighborhood taverns and probably some great dive bars as well. In the Stadium District, there’s the Parkway Tavern; in the McKinley District, it’s the Top of Tacoma. The Top has characteristics of both a dive bar and a neighborhood tavern. It’s in a gritty part of town, has cracked flooring, original neon, plenty of street parking but also, great food, young, hip, web-conscious patrons wearing black and sporting tattoos, rows of draft IPAs, and a full menu of strong specialty drinks. Didn’t see a condom vending machine.
Last weekend, three mature ladies (wearing black, not sure about tattoos) in the neighborhood buying yarn for a baby hat, stopped by for lunch. The place was packed to the wooden rafters with twenty to thirty somethings, wearing black—men sporting facial stubble—everyone with tattoos, phones at the ready. One television was showing a Bonanza marathon, the Golden Girl Betty White giggled on the second TV, and at the end of the bar polar bears roamed the frozen tundra on the Nature Channel. We chose gleefully from a large juicy menu: one pork belly banh mi, one pork belly Cuban sandwich, one lamb gyro, passed on roasted cauliflower this time, and had a side of fries instead. What’s not to love?
Ruth Fitzpatrick’s Heelan High Taverns
1 lb ground chuck, ground round or ground sirloin
1 Tbs. lard or Crisco (if meat is round or sirloin)
2 tsp. salt
1 onion, chopped fine
1 Tbs. yellow mustard (not Dijon)
1 Tbs. cider vinegar (not Balsamic)
1 Tbs. sugar (not Stevia)
Water to cover
Salt and fine ground black pepper (not coarse ground), to taste
Melt fat over medium heat and lightly salt bottom of cast iron skillet. Break ground beef up in skillet and start crumbling it with the back of a wooden spoon. Add chopped onion while browning meat. Keep working with the back of spoon to break up meat. When meat is cooked and lacks any pink, drain off any fat. Add mustard, vinegar, sugar, and enough water to cover meat Simmer until water has evaporated–30 minutes. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Serve on warm hamburger buns with pickle slices, mustard and Lay’s Original Potato Chips.
Crosby, Stills, Nash, Teach Your Children
A girl can always use a little money of her own. It was 1973, I was bored, new to Vashon, and wanted a job. Choices were slim—my previous work history consisted of picking currants for Mr. Chomie, car-hopping at the A&W Root beer stand, and selling Christmas ornaments as a Trim-a-tree salesclerk. Classified ads in the Beachcomber listed these “Employment Opportunities:” LPN at the Vashon Island Nursing Home, production worker at K2 Skis, and bookkeeper at Wax Orchards. But wait, here’s one: “Lunchroom aide at Vashon Elementary.” I knew how to cook, I had two kids that went to school, I could make a ham sandwich.
Apparently there were not many applicants because I was hired immediately and started in a week. The work was hard, the kids were noisy and ungrateful, my feet ached, and the Supervisor was mean. Who knew? I did learn how to make lunchroom rolls, vats of green Jello with fruit cocktail, sheet-pans of Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks, and eatable tuna noodle casserole. I lasted a school year and was back on the job market that summer. My options were still the same: nursing home, ski factory, Wax Orchards.
On a weekly shopping trip to Minglement, the local “Health-food store,” I told the owner I was looking for a job, “Want to work at our new restaurant?” There you go: I knew how to cook and, not only could I make a ham sandwich, now I could operate a steam kettle. Again, lack of applicants paved the way, I was hired, and started in a week. I spent that week reading Julia Childs, the Time Life series of international cooking, practicing boning whole chickens, and filleting fish. For the first two weeks at my new job, I painted bar stools, unpacked Rykoff orders, and scrubbed floors. We—the braless, sandal-footed, loose-haired, apronless cooks—eventually got into the kitchen where we chopped onions, diced tomatoes, sliced turkey breasts, simmered sauces and began the Sound Food adventure.
Our fearless leader, Jeffrey, radiated cool and exotic. He was slender and lithe with a Sikh-like beard and dressed in flowing white clothes. His tongue was as sharp as his knives and no culinary indiscretion went unnoticed. “Only careful attention to every detail will produce the desired effect.” We were to mince onions with care, tear (not cut) lettuce, peel garlic mindfully, simmer soups slowly, and bone chickens thoughtfully. Jeffrey introduced his staff to tofu, nori, steamed black cod, knobs of ginger, bulbs of garlic, daikon, a proper stir-fry, tamari, shiitake mushrooms, tempura, and the concept of serving fresh, regional ingredients. I was in heaven.
I started in the kitchen as a lunch cook. My friend (and one of seven owners) Rae Anne and I manned the line—she had a Batchelor’s Degree in Nutrition and I had three years of English Lit. It took us three weeks working the lunch shift before we used the grill (not a wood-burning grill but an electric, hot-top, truck-stop grill) instead of a sauté pan to cook hamburgers.
The restaurant filled with hippies and their children, long-haired musicians, long-skirted waitron units, an incidental bluish cloud of smoke (who knew where that came from), laughter, live music, a few curious Spinnaker regulars, and an occasional straight local in for a good bowl of soup and a sideways glance at the freaks.
The Sweetie juggling on the Klinks’ front porch
Me, Bob the Baker, Sue, Jeffrey and other Sound Foodies
Bob the Baker was the Master behind bread racks that he filled with crackling French baguettes, whole wheat loaves, giant cookies, cheese and apple danish, and amazing brownies. Every day as he walked out the back door, he would turn around, and look back approvingly at the efforts of his early morning labor. Not only could Bob bake, he was charming, guileless, generous, and could dance the patent leathers off Fred Astaire.
Our numbers were certainly not of Woodstock proportion, but there was good will, warmth, radiant spirit, and friendship. This charmed circle could get a bit tight, however. One day a waitron friend came back into the kitchen, sighed and said, “I can’t do this anymore.” She had been waiting tables on an eight-top that included her soon-to-be-ex husband, his new girlfriend, the new girlfriend’s ex-husband, that ex-husbands new girl friend (who recently ended a relationship with the ex-husband’s new girlfriend), and her new boyfriend (who was her ex-husband’s new girlfriend’s ex-husband). Everyone at the table had slept with everyone. My friend quit that day and took a job in the city baking cinnamon rolls.
Anyways, Sound Food introduced me to my real self. Frank Miller and Jeffrey Basom invited me in to a world of good food, hard work, controlled chaos, uncontrolled daily drama, and infinite rewards. I can’t thank them enough.
Sound Food Chocolate Mousse Pie
1/3 c. maple syrup (I have used Mrs. Butterworth’s in a crunch)
1 t. cream of tartar
3 egg whites
1 c. chocolate chips
1⁄4 c. strong coffee
1 pint heavy cream
1 t. vanilla
1⁄2 t. almond extract
Melt chocolate chips in hot coffee. Whip egg whites and cream of tartar to firm peak, adding maple syrup after soft peak stage has been reached. Stir melted chocolate chips into egg whites. Whip heavy cream to soft peaks. Add vanilla and almond. Bring back to soft peak
Don’t whip the heavy cream to a stiff peak or it will be difficult to incorporate the chocolate chip/coffee mixture without loosing the fluff.
Fold whipped cream into chocolate chip/whipped egg white mixture. Chill.
Ignore the grey skies, never mind the cold stream of rain that trickles down your bare neck, go ahead and order those lettuce seeds—we are definitely leaning toward the light. It’s been a month now since the winter solstice, there are signs of light at 7:00 am and the shades don’t go down until 5:00 pm.
It’s been our routine to celebrate this inexorable march toward spring with our Seventies friends but the weather is so often horrid with attending ice, snow, and miserable driving conditions that we no longer do that. But around the first of the year, my mind automatically turned toward menus, visiting, and friends, so last Sunday, before you could say “short ribs”, we had some people over for dinner. Ginny and Ron drove down from Vashon, Bill and Glenda walked over from next door, we turned on the fireplace and set six places around the dining table.
The weather cooperated, the ferries sailed on time, the stars aligned, and we didn’t burn anything—a delightful time was had by all. As Ginny said, “What could be a better way to spend a rainy, cold Sunday than eating good food, drinking good wine, and watching a few football games with friends.”
We missed seeing our old Olympia friends—one pair in Australia, one pair in Palm Desert, and one pair hunkered down on Hood Canal building a new house—but we’ll hear their adventures in May.
The menu was hearty and comforting: braised short ribs, mashed potatoes, roasted butternut squash, Caesar salad, and lemon panna cotta with blueberry sauce. I learned about roasting butternut squash from Lara and may never cook it any other way again. Karen is master of panna cotta and gave me her recipe which I posted a few years ago. The braised short ribs are from Mark Bittman, but the mashed potatoes are all me.
Braised short ribs
2 tablespoons olive oil
6-8 boneless short ribs
2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon fennel seed powder
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 large carrot, thinly sliced
2 ribs celery, sliced
6 mushrooms, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup crushed tomatoes
4 cups beef or chicken stock
1 cup chocolate stout or other dark beer or red wine
Grind seasonings together, season short ribs on all sides. Wrap each rib in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat the oven to 325°.
In a large enameled cast-iron pan, heat the oil until shimmering. Brown short ribs in two batches, until well browned, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from the pan. Add the onion, celery, carrot, and mushrooms and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened, about 8 minutes. Add tomato paste, sauté 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Deglaze pan with beer/wine. Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Return the ribs to the pan, cover and braise in the oven for about 2-3 hours, until the meat is very tender.
Transfer the ribs to a platter and tent with foil.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the vegetables to a blender. Strain the sauce into a heatproof measuring cup and skim off the fat. Add the sauce to the blender and puree until smooth. Return the sauce to the pan with the short ribs and simmer until reduced to 3 cups, about 8 minutes.
Season sauce with salt and pepper.
Return the short ribs to the sauce and simmer 30-45 minutes over low heat. Serve ribs topped with sauce, mashed potatoes or soft polenta, and extra sauce on the side
Fifteen years ago, the Sweetie and I took a long, circular drive from Eugene to San Diego, Tucson, El Paso, San Antonio, New Orleans, Savannah, Myrtle Beach; then turned left and went home through South Carolina, Tennessee, Hot Springs, Arkansas, Albuquerque, Phoenix, and Las Vegas—whew. One of our favorite stops was Albuquerque, New Mexico. This year we’ll be able to visit family there. New decade—new adventure.
We had a great time in 2005, loved the city, and wrote stories along the way. Here’s my remembrance of Albuquerque.
March 2005, Albuquerque, NM—“Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow”
When you’re on the road, the basic responsibilities are the next meal, the next bed, and what’s around the next corner. Bob drove every inch of our trip, cheerful and steady through sun, rain, snow, and the dead of night. I rode shotgun: folding and unfolding maps, providing snacks, and uncapping water bottles—it works for us. The drive through the Arkansas hills to Albuquerque wound up hills, around long S-curves, local highways and small towns—perfect conditions for a small, red sports car or (as it were) a large, green, four-door sedan.
Our colds were well developed by the time we reached New Mexico—Bob was red-nosed and teary-eyed, I was hoarse and prone to prolonged coughing fits. We blew through each box of hotel Kleenex and begged housekeeping for more. By the second day in Albuquerque, I was ready to submit and stay in bed for the duration—but the sun beckoned, Bob insisted, and we had the best shopping experience.
The day before, as we were driving through downtown to the hotel, we noticed a small souvenir shop near Albuquerque’s Old Town and returned for a closer look. The Palms Trading Company was a nondescript stucco building with a packed parking lot. A light, dry snow had begun to fall, but it didn’t look like it would stick. Once inside, we saw plenty of possible mementos. We separated—Bob to the jewelry, me to the pottery/rug room. There was a surprising absence of threatening signs. No “If you break it, it’s yours”, “You’re being watched”, or “Touch it and you’ve bought it”; instead only a mild “Children at loose will be sold into slavery”—perfectly understandable.
We found each other almost immediately. Bob had seen a lovely bangle—$300; I had picked up a small vase—$750.00. We chose $2000 bowls, $800 dishes, $2000 baskets, $3000 bracelets: obviously we were in the wrong place. The Palms Trading Company is a wholesale market for New Mexican Native American potters, jewelers, rug makers, and basket weavers and the shelves were crowded with exquisite examples of their art.
We watched in awe as a trio of art dealers spent at least $100,000 stocking up for their toney Santa Fe gallery. Undaunted, we picked up a $40.00 basket and some “On Sale” placemats. Walking out, we tried to rationalize the purchase of a $600 Hopi Wedding Vase, took one last look at the turquoise, and went to M&J’s for lunch. The dry snow continued, it did stick, and we got stuck.
M & J’s Sanitary Tortilla Factory: Carne Adovado
Red Chili Puree:
·2 cups water
·8-10 dried red chile pods
·Tear tops off of chile pods and use knife or finger to clean out seeds and veins inside of each one. Place pods in large pot and cover with water. Bring to boil and cook several minutes until pods are soft. Place drained pods (save water) in blender container, then pour 1/2 of liquid into blender and blend until smooth, add 1-2 cloves garlic if desired. Add more water as needed. Strain thru a mesh sieve to remove any skins that did not blend up in the blender.
4-6# Pork Butt:
·Cut pork butt into four sections by slicing once horizontally through the pork loin (with the grain) then once vertically down the middle (across the grain).
·4 cloves smashed garlic
·1 T. salt
·1 T. Mexican oregano
·1 cup of the Red Chile Puree
·1 cup red wine vinegar
Put the pork into a plastic or glass container and cover completely with marinade and let it marinate in the refrigerator at least 24 hours.
·2 T. shortening
·2 T. flour
·2 C. red chile puree
·2 C. chicken broth
·3/4 t. salt
·1/2 t. garlic powder
Heat shortening in medium-size saucepan on medium heat. Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute. Add red chile puree and cook for about another 5 minutes. Gradually add chicken broth and whisk to remove lumps. Add seasoning to sauce and simmer at low heat for 10-15 minutes.
After marinating pork for a minimum of 24 hours, remove the pork from the marinade and cut into cubes approximately 1″ square, put into a shallow pan (about 3″ deep) and cover with all the Chile Colorado. Simmer in 300˚oven for two hours. About 10 minutes before you’re ready to eat, add layer of shredded Mexican cheese over the top and heat until the cheese is fully melted. Serve with warm flour tortillas, pinto beans and Spanish or Mexican rice.
On our block, 2019 was the year of the baby. In July, my great granddaughter Jane was born, then came our friends Bill & Glenda’s grand nephew, and in November, Ginny’s daughter Claire had Eleanora. They are all healthy, happy, and adorable.
On another note, I read in the Huff Post that Oxford English added the word “listicle” to its official dictionary. Apparently we love to read lists: they tell us which movies to see, what our new favorite food will be, where and when we should retire, the best ways to find a man, the United States’ worse airports, New York City’s best ramen shops, the grocery stores we love, the top twenty signs that a relationship is doomed, the ten things every child should know before they go away to college, which breed of dog suits us the best, and the worse financial mistakes we are currently making.
I am certainly not about to tell anyone what to do or to give any advice, but here are a few of my favorite things, my not so favorite things, and the ones we miss.
Here are a few of my favorite things: swimming with music ears, sleeping in a cold room with a warm Sweetie, strong morning coffee, salt in a wooden box, my new warm, wooly bathrobe, quilting like a miner, good neighbors, the NHK network, the New York Yankees, a gas fireplace, the full moon’s light in the middle of the night, morning chats with my sister, Newman’s fish & chips, Claire’s focaccia, our new Bob/Norm trellis, my beautiful Linnae calendar, peanut butter/cherry jam toast and TJ’s buffalo ghee.
Not so favorite: customer service, our current President, robocalls, on-demand water heaters, the Washington Nationals, the red-headed weather girl on Channel 13, Alabama football, gluten-free, driving to Seattle, hard-to-open packages, an appointment with a new dental hygienist, visual field tests, Facebook, neon orange street lights, al dente pasta, selfies of me, and Gordon Ramsey.
Ones we lost in the 2010s and will always miss: Tommy, Nikki, Tracey, Ted, Rita, Mary, Dinah, Jack, Gracie, Bodie, Sadie, and others.