Paths to Fitness: Peanut butter cookies

If we’re lucky, the loss of an old favorite leads to a new delight. Take tubs of Marantha crunchy peanut butter at Costco, for example. First we assumed they had moved it again, then we desperately searched, then we asked—only to find out that the product “was no longer available.” What now? Trader Joe’s blue label ”Crunchy Salted” to the rescue: smaller, easier to mix, cheaper, and crunchier. When Parenthood jerked its last tear, who stepped in to offer a weekly hug? This is Us. When I could no longer find root beer popsicles, what should magically appear but Mocha Mochi Balls; but there will never be a acceptable substitute for TJ’s Salted Caramel Gelato. 

Anyways, swimming is my favorite mode of exercise. I had a brief fling with a Lifecycle, but I don’t like to get hot and sweaty. Ten years ago, I didn’t consider regular exercise as something I would ever do. No one exercised in the 50s, 60s, and even 70s. You never saw an adult or, for that matter, anyone over thirteen riding a bike. Gyms and barbells were for boxers, jumping jacks and squats were for Phys Ed class, organized sports were for boys, and you ran only if you were on the track team or if someone was chasing you. Although in the late 60s my friend Sally and I decided to jog around the Methodist Church parking lot. We dropped it quickly though, and returned to a third cup of coffee and the daily crossword puzzle.

This March, after my pool closed due to the virus, I did nothing. Then my life coach said, “Time to get out of the couch and go outside.” On my first few walks I grumbled—about the rain, about the sun, about the silence, about the noise. Then one day I didn’t grumble anymore, it was all enjoyable. I heard the ordinary brown sparrow’s beautiful song, I watched Buffleheads in the pond across the street, I saw the sun shining through the wet trees, I followed the gradual blooming of the daffodils, I chatted with Dorothy, waved at Alan, praised ponytail girl’s big black poodle, remembered to step up to avoid the tree root growing under the path, and said a quick “Good morning” to black-haired girl in white jacket as she strode past me every day.

So will I continue these lovely walks when the pool reopens? Probably not. That bad angel who perches on my left shoulder, wearing pajama bottoms and slumped in the couch, will moan, “Oh, you don’t really need to walk, a quick swim is good enough.” Cheerleader angel, the one on the right, with letter sweater and pom poms, will cartwheel and cheer, “Come on, you can do it.” But in the end, knees will vote no, stomach won’t want to wait for the daily peanut butter toast, and I”ll quit walking.

BTW, if I see one more commercial by a billion-dollar, publicly-traded, hard-sell corporation murmuring that they have my back, that we’re all in this together, reminding me to wash my hands, urging me to stay safe, and soft-selling me their product with fuzzy warm shots of dancing families, precocious tots, and furry pets, I may throw the TV into the backyard—being sure to maintain social distance.

Peanut Butter Cookies

    • 1/2 cup room temperature butter
    • 1/2 cup brown sugar
    • 1/2 cup white sugar
    • 1 extra large egg, lightly beaten
    • 1 cup smooth peanut butter
    • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
    • 1/2 tsp. salt
    • 1/2 tsp. baking soda 
    • 1 1/2 cup flour

Preheat oven to 350˚ and position 2 racks in upper and lower thirds.

In a medium bowl, beat butter with the sugar until creamy.

Add egg, peanut butter, and vanilla.

Combine flour, salt, and  baking soda.

Mix in to butter, peanut butter, egg, and vanilla mixture.

Roll tablespoons of the dough into 24 balls. Set the balls on 2 baking sheets, and using a fork, make a crosshatch pattern on each cookie.

Bake for 15 minutes shifting sheets from front to back and bottom to top, until cookies are lightly brown. 

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 2 Comments

What day is it?: Smokey Chicken and Green Onion Quesadillas

Chicago, Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

I was hanging out the sheets the other day when I realized that it wasn’t Saturday, I was a day early. Before the lockdown, I knew it was Saturday because I swam at the pool early. Sunday was John Miller on afternoon baseball, Monday was my day off swimming, Tuesday was questionable, Wednesdays were for groceries, on Thursdays we went vegetable shopping at the Farmer’s Market, and Fridays were David Brooks/Mark Shields night. I obviously don’t work anymore; these days, it seems like every day is Saturday. When we start school or enter the workforce, we march to the tick of the clock, to the pages of the calendar, and are at the beck and call of time. When you have a job, Tuesday and Thursday may be drifty, Wednesday has its own nickname and everyone knows when it’s Monday and Friday. 

I have adhered to Saturday clean-sheet day since I was a kid. My mom taught school so housework revolved around her schedule—Saturdays were for clean sheets, vacuuming, and grocery shopping. In fifth grade, days of the week underpants were a big deal. My friend Barbara Kilzer got a set for her birthday, setting off a chorus of must-have pleas among my circle of friends. Muth wasn’t convinced, but one day the underpant package from Sears showed up in the mail. I stuck faithfully to the weekly plan and tried my best, given the fact that laundry day was Saturday, to wear the correct day. I forgot all about DOTW underpants until the late 80s when I saw When Harry Met Sally.

If you work in a restaurant, there are no weekends. Cooks don’t look forward to Friday, only the servers, who fatten their wads on the busy weekends, are glad to see the end of the week roll around. Saturday and Sunday bring on the crowds and dreaded brunch, Monday will be your day off, if you get a day off, Tuesdays add checking in the orders to the already packed day, Wednesdays mean a spirited meeting with the manager about food cost, Thursdays are a bit of a breather, and you’re back to Friday.

When we lived in the 501, I knew it was Tuesday because the garbage collectors clanged us awake, Thursdays announced themselves when Rai, our flight attendant neighbor, returned from a scheduled trip. I could hear his call-out, “Cat, I”m home” and the metallic thump and roll of his suitcase as it hopped up the stairs. Julia, our next door neighbor’s granddaughter, announced Saturday mornings with, “Gramma, I’m ho ome” and it didn’t take long to remember that lawn guys mowed early on Monday morning—I could hear the groans from upstairs guy. 

These days, it seems like every day is Saturday. In the stay-home-stay-safe mode the sun comes up, the sun goes down, we walk our daily walk, vacuum the rugs any old day, watch sporting events from the past, and there it is, time to change the sheets again. But if it were all to be taken away, the things I’d want back are the mundane, the every day: chipmunk viewing, morning chats with my sister, sunshine visits with my neighbors, snuggles at night with the sweetie, and hanging out the sheets. The rhythm of daily life—what could be better.

Here are a few morning-walk shots of Spring flowers.

Incidental beauty in the woods

  

Neighborhood beauty

   

And, incidental visiting frogs

Our Army green frog is back for the summer

Smokey Chicken and Green Onion Quesadillas 
  • Flour tortillas—lightly buttered 
  • Cooked, pulled chicken (canned chicken is just fine) mixed with barbecue sauce (my fav is Jack Daniel’s Original BBQ)
  • A couple squirts of Mexican crema, sour cream, plain yogurt (what the heck, strawberry would work), cream cheese, mayonnaise, bottled Ranch dressing—anything white and gooey will do
  • Diced green onion (I seldom find green onions in the bin and usually resort to finely diced white onion)
  • Diced green chilies in those little cans are a great addition as well as canned, sliced black olives
  • Chopped cilantro (use the stems too, they’re crunchy and sweet) 
  • Grated cheddar cheese (or a shredded mix in a bag—who’s to know?)

Combine chicken and white gooey stuff.

For one quesadilla, spread a bit of cheese, ¼ c. chicken mix, ¼ c. green onions, chilies, black olives, cilantro, and more cheese on one buttered tortilla. Top with second tortilla—press firmly to seal edges. Cook over medium-low heat until down side is golden brown in heavy skillet, turning once. Finish in 350° oven for 10 minutes.

Another method, which is easier to flip, is to spread toppings on one half of tortilla, fold the empty half over the full half, slide into buttered skillet, brown bottom side, butter top side, flip over and finish in the oven. 

Serve with black beans, fresh tomato salsa and more white gooey stuff.

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 2 Comments

Taking Sides: Thai panang curry with salmon and red yams

Nature Boy, Nat King Cole

We tend to choose sides when it comes to nature: baby hippo over crocodile, chipmunk over hawk, fiddlehead fern over blackberry, round and furry over slick and scaly. When I’m standing on the edge of our slope with a jar of Roundup in one hand and a paintbrush in the other, I decide who lives. That blackberry whip that wraps around my ankle and bloodies my cheek is an easy target; the slowly unfurling, hesitant fern, wins my protection. We’re always glad to see the chipmunk eating the bird food but I just read an unsettling NextDoor post about a screen door left ajar, an intrusive squirrel, and the ensuing drama. Same with mice, if they keep to themselves, we are at peace. Just stay in your own yard!

I do remember one battle where the good guy/bad guy line was blurry. In the 1980s I stood with the herd of nightly Seattle/Vashon walk-on commuters waiting for the boat to ease into the island’s north end dock. An eagle swooped low over the water right in front of the boat, dipped his talons into the Sound, and snagged a huge salmon. (Now could there be anything more Northwest?) The salmon was having none of it—he flipped, wriggled, and dove deeper in the water taking the eagle with him. The boat’s captain, watching the mashup from behind the wheel, tooted his horn as the boat closed in on the pilings, the eagle, and the salmon. The audience was divided: some cheering for the eagle, some rooting for the salmon, but everyone holding their breath hoping that the deadlocked pair wouldn’t be churned up in the propeller. 

The eagle, wings heaving and straining, gathered all his might and pulled both himself and the salmon out of the water just before the boat leaned into the dock’s timber dolphins. The walk-ons cheered, arms thrust in the air, the captain laid on his horn, the crew, caught up in the drama, hurried to ready the chains for landing. We all watched as the eagle turned sharply in the air with the captive salmon; the big fish gave one last flip and plummeted back into the sound. The eagle looked down, straightened course, and went back to his search for food. I wish there was a picture but, you know, back in the day few of us had a camera at the ready. This one, poached from TripAdvisor, will have to do.

BTW, KOMO news ran a bit the other day about Stephen King commissioning chainsaw sculptor, Josh Landry, to turn a sawed off tree in King’s front yard into an art piece. Traffic along his side street crawls by to have a look. Got a sawed off tree and a chainsaw?

Thai Panang curry with salmon and red yams (the salmon is incidental. The curry is just as good without it.)

  • 4-6 ounces skinned, boned salmon cut in 1” cubes
  • 1/2 peeled red yam (or sweet potato, butternut squash, or pumpkin), peeled and cut into 1” cubes
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons minced ginger
  • 1 small onion, peeled and diced
  • 2 tablespoons Panang red curry paste
  • 1 tablespoon peanut butter
  • 1 can thick coconut milk  (if you use TJ’s coconut milk, you will open the can to a thick, almost solid coconut fat layer on top of the thinner coconut milk. Don’t worry, just remove it all from the can into a bowl and whisk until smooth. You can also blend to smooth.)
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce 
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup Thai basil leaves or sweet basil
  • 1/4 cup finely diced cilantro stems and leaves
  • zest of one lime
  • juice of two limes

Place a Dutch oven or pot over medium-high heat. Add the coconut oil. Once the oil melts and shimmers, add the garlic and ginger. Season with sprinkle of salt, sauté 2-3 minutes, add onions. Season with a sprinkle of salt and sauté until onions are translucent. 

 

Move the garlic/ginger/onions to the side of the pan, add the panang red curry paste and peanut butter to the center of the pan. Sauté the paste/peanut butter for 2-3 minutes to intensify the flavor, stirring with a spatula. 

 

Add half of the can of coconut milk, simmer for 5 minutes. Add chicken stock, bring to a simmer, add sweet potato cubes and remainder of coconut milk, fish sauce, and brown sugar. Taste for seasoning. Add more salt, sugar, curry paste, or lime juice to balance salty/sweet/spicy/tart flavors, simmer 15 minutes, or until sweet potato is soft.

 

Remove from heat and stir in the salmon cubes, turn off the heat, let sit for five minutes. (You can also brown salmon in coconut oil at the beginning of the preparation, reserve until this point, then add to sauce/sweet potato mixture.)

 

Add basil leaves, cilantro, lime zest, and lime juice. Taste for balance.

  

Serve over rice or noodles.

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 2 Comments

Dueling normals: Braised pork shoulder

As I get older, I continue to learn that things change. Children grow up and begin new lives, babies are born, loved ones die, body parts ache, energy dwindles, and relationships grow richer. What I didn’t count on is the potential for permanent changes in the outside world. Post coronavirus, the global economy may alter drastically, new social concepts may evolve, familiar cultural habits may change. However, the reliability of nature gives me great comfort. Drab sparrows sing their little hearts out, green leaves open, Mt. Rainier towers majestically, dandelions thrive, and Scotch broom is on the warpath again. All we can do is to enjoy the old normals and expect that new normals will nudge their way in.

Old normal

Swallows: sleek, iridescent, and joyful, these aerial acrobats must have some sort of genius connection in their little bird brains to return to us every spring. My neighbors and I, lounging on the back patio the other day, marveled at their swoops and glides. My sister hosts an annual Spring swallow fest just outside her kitchen door. She watches them fly in with twigs to shore up last year’s home, position themselves to lay eggs, and nestle down to hatch the brood. Mom sits, Dad hunts and gathers, and both feed the gaping mouths of their new family. Ginny waits outside the door and looks up at the eaves, hoping to witness the minute the nestlings unfurl their wings and fly; but so far, all she has seen is a full nest, then an empty nest—maybe this year.

Shoots and leaves (Can’t type shoots and leaves without thinking of that old joke about commas. “Eats, shoots and leaves—a panda walks into a cafe, asks for a sandwich, and when he finishes, takes out a gun, fires it into the ceiling, and walks out without paying. The astonished waiter asks, ‘Why on earth did you do that?’ to which the panda replies ‘I’m a panda—look it up!’ The waiter looks it up in his dictionary and sure enough finds, ‘Panda: eats, shoots and leaves.’”): Anyways, magic happens every spring when gnarly brown corms, shriveled roots, and ordinary looking bulbs feel the coming change of seasons and slowly erupt. Last summer I nursed along a beautiful pink begonia, cut it back when the leaves died in the fall, stuck it in the garage, and completely forgot about it. Today while I was rummaging, there it was—neglected, left in the dark to its own devices, and ignored, but spring intervened. A small, timid, green leaf felt the urge and broke through—who knows what will happen with water and sunshine! And, we can find Grandpa Otts pushing up through the dirt in our gardens.

Soon-to-be pink begonia

Grampa Ott starts

New normal

Shopping: The sweetie and I put on our elder pants the other morning and got out of the door early to try out Costco’s “Senior Hours.” We had our stylish masks (thanks, Ginny) at the ready, a vial of hand sanitizer in the car, and a pocketful of snacks, just in case. We got there twenty minutes before the doors opened—there was a line snaking around the blue pallets at the entrance and down the length of the building. Our patience meter usually goes off at about five minutes, but this time, we needed beer and dirt so decided to take a breath and wait. At exactly 8:00 (What is it about those in charge of opening doors? Can’t they let the “elders,” who have been standing in the cold for at least 20 minutes, in at 7:55?), the doors finally opened. We got in on the first surge and, with the exception of Tylenol, bought everything we needed. Don’t quite see what the advantage is though.

Hugging: The Sweetie is the only one I’ve hugged for weeks now. Will we ever embrace a casual friend again, shake hands with a stranger, touch our faces without guilt, rub a random baby’s soft head, shoulder-brush a fellow sidewalker, sit shoulder to shoulder on mass transit, climb over someone sitting in the middle seat, or share a communal restaurant table? 

Anyways, there’s always pork shoulder. Then again, I just read that there may be a pork shortage, so stock up.

Braised, Stuffed Pork Shoulder, Serves 8

Instead of making the recipe’s stuffing (from Simply Recipes by Elise Bauer), I mushed up some leftover rice pilaf with leftover gravy, and used that. Also only used 1/3 of a five pound pork shoulder. 

  • 4 pounds pork shoulder roast, boned, untied
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups chicken or beef stock, boiling

Marinade:

  • 1 cup dry white wine (like a Sauvignon blanc)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons mixed dried herbs (can use an herbes de provence, or Italian seasoning blend)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced

Herb-stuffing:

  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon mixed dried herbs
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup breadcrumbs

Marinate pork: Mix together the marinade ingredients in a large bowl. Add the pork roast and turn it to coat it all over with the marinade. Marinate for several hours in the refrigerator.

Remove from refrigerator 1 to 2 hours before cooking to bring closer to room temp.

Remove pork roast from marinade, pat dry. Reserve marinade.

Make the stuffing: Combine the stuffing ingredients until the mixture has the consistency of a paste.

Stuff the roast: Open up the pork roast to expose where the bone had been. Smear the stuffing onto this surface. Tie up the pork roast to enclose the stuffing. Rub the pork with olive oil.
Sear the roast in oven or on stovetop: Either place the pork in a large roasting pan and sear it in a pre-heated 425°F oven for 30 minutes or until the surface is golden brown, OR sear the roast on all sides in a large cast iron frying pan on medium high heat on the stovetop.

Transfer the pork to a thick-bottomed pot with a cover just large enough to contain it. (We used a 2 1/2 quart Le Creuset.)

Deglaze the pan with the strained marinade: Drain off the fat from the roasting pan or searing pan, then strain the marinade into the pan and heat, stirring to deglaze the pan juices.

Add marinade and stock to pot with pork, cover and cook: Pour the marinade over the pork and add enough stock to come one-half or two-thirds of the way up the side of the meat. Heat on high to bring to a simmer, lower the heat to maintain a bare simmer, cover the pot and simmer for about one and a half hours.

OR if you’ve already heated the oven to sear the roast, bring to a simmer and then put it in a 325°F oven for 1 1/2 hours.
Remove meat to cutting board, reduce liquids to make a sauce: Transfer the meat to a cutting board. Strain the liquid from the pot into a small saucepan, let settle enough to skim the fat, and simmer until the sauce is reduced by half.

Remove the strings from the meat, slice it or cut it into wedges, and serve with the sauce.

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 3 Comments

Girls’ softball: Sioux City Coney Island dogs

I grew up with sports as background. Every summer weekend, Daddy would turn on the console radio and listen to Dizzy Dean call a Yankees game—in the fall, it was a football game, in the winter, it was boxing. So Allie Reynolds, Whitey Ford, Casey Stengel, Bronco Nagurski, Sam Huff, and Ezerd Charles were familiar names. In the early 1970s, I lost track of sports but once I met the Sweetie, I was back in play.

If there’s a ball involved, we watch. Baseball, football, and women’s basketball most enthusiastically, but if all else fails, the Sweetie settles for soccer, golf, or if necessary, tennis. So…today’s absence of sports, other than darts and chess, leaves a big hole. Yesterday we were thrilled to watch the rerun of a 1988 women’s softball game between Oregon and Stanford—but it didn’t fill the gap. What we love about sports is the immediacy of the action and the surprise when unexpected things happen in the moment.

There are, however, several sports moments I would just as soon forget:

  • 2014, Tacoma, Super Bowl, Seahawks vs. Rotten Patriots. The Sweetie is just starting his treatment and the Super Bowl is a welcome diversion. Seahawks build a 10-point lead to end the third quarter. Patriots rally to take a 28–24 lead with 2:02 left in the game. Seattle threatens to score in the final moments, driving the ball to New England’s 1-yard line. With 26 seconds remaining in the game, Seattle passes the ball in a much-aligned play call resulting in a Patriots rookie intercepting Russell Wilson’s throw into the end zone—Seahawks loose, hearts are broken, expletives are hurled, coaches are blamed, the season is spoiled, and the 12s are stunned into silence.
  • 1998, San Diego, NLCS, Game Six, Atlanta Braves vs. San Diego Padres. I’m shopping for a tin-stamped heart in the Old Town Market—all TVs and radios are tuned to the Braves Padres game. In the midst of success-starved Padres fans, I quietly root for my Braves, heavily favored with 106 season wins and a roster that includes Chipper Jones, Javy López, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz. The game is scoreless into the sixth inning, when Glavine gives up four runs; Bobby Cox replaces him with John Rocker, who promptly gives up another. Everyone around me cheers—I am silent.
  • 1984, Los Angeles, NBA Championship, Game 7, Lakers vs. Celtics. The Sweetie is working in Texas, I’m alone in our Westwood apartment, windows open, following the score by the rise and fall of a united Los Angeles, watching the game together. Lakers rally from a 14-point deficit to three points down with one minute remaining, when Cedric Maxwell knocks the ball away from Magic Johnson. After the ensuing melee, Dennis Johnson sinks two free throws to seal the Celtics’ victory. The Los Angeles voice is silent.

But these agonies of defeat are balanced by one glorious victory:

  • 1988, Los Angeles, Game 1 of the World Series, LA Dodgers vs. Oakland Athletics. The Sweetie, Felix (our upstairs neighbor), and I watch the game in East LA. Sweetie and I have tickets to Game 2 because he entered and won the Dodgers’ ticket lottery. Kirk Gibson, on the Dodgers bench with injuries to both legs, is called upon to pinch hit in the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs, batting against Oakland’s Dennis Eckersley. Gibson hobbles to the plate, hits a home run, limps around the bases, and wins the game for the Dodgers by a score of 5–4; they go on to win the World Series. The next day, we jubilantly hand over our tickets at the gate and walk up the ramp—Dodger Stadium is still electric with the energy of Gibson’s walk-off homer.

Here’s Vin Scully’s call of that homer: “All year long, they looked to him to light the fire, and all year long, he answered the demands, until tonight when he was physically unable to start—with two bad legs: the bad left hamstring, and the swollen right knee. And, with two out, you talk about a roll of the dice… this is it. He is shaking his left leg, making it quiver, like a horse trying to get rid of a troublesome fly. Gibson works the count to 3–2, Mike Davis steals second base, Gibson hits a high fly ball into right field, she i-i-i-is… GONE!!!”

Scully said nothing for over a minute, allowing the pictures to tell the story, then said, “In a year that has been so improbable… the impossible has happened!”

It’s hard to imagine sports with today’s no touching edict—no LeBron backing into fill-in-the-blank, no Duke crazies linking arms as they jump up and down? Hard to image a soccer goal when the scorer doesn’t jump into the waiting arms of his teammates or a walk-off home run that doesn’t end in a dog pile. Even in tennis, the game’s not really over until Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors meet at the net and shake hands.

For now, we’ll have to wait until the crisis is over and togetherness is back. Until then we’ll remember sitting out on the deck, pulling up a chair, having a beer with my sister and brother-in-law, and listening to Dave Niehaus call a Mariners game.

 

Sioux City Coney Island dogs (this recipe makes enough for a baseball team) 

  • 2 lbs. lean ground beef 
  • 4 medium onions, chopped
  • 1/2 Tbs garlic powder
  • 1-1/2 Tbs white vinegar
  • 4 Tbs chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 2 dashes worcestershire sauce
  • 6 oz tomato paste
  • 1 quart water 

This recipe is for the sauce that is one of several condiments that make a right and proper Coney Island hot dog.

Brown the ground beef and drain. Run it through a food processor for a finer texture, if you choose. It seems to go farther that way. Save time by mincing the onions in a processor also, as it cooks down to nothing in the sauce.

In a small Dutch oven, combine all ingredients and simmer. The original recipe says simmer for 3 to 4 hours. I’ve found that about 2 hours is plenty of time. That’s all there is to it.

Makes about 10 cups of sauce. A cup of sauce makes about eight hot dogs.

Coney Island hot dog correct procedure: Place a hot hotdog in a warm fresh bun. Spread a heaping tablespoon of coney sauce beside the full length of the dog, then do the same with an equal amount of chopped onion. Squirt a line of yellow mustard along the full length. Top with two shakes of salt. 

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 2 Comments

Correction/addition to my post today

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 and my friend’s younger brother. Sorry for the omission. 

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Notes from the hunker bunker: Strawberry Jello Pretzel Salad

Rest in peace, Bill Withers.

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.

 

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 3 Comments

Shelter: Ranger cookies

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).

Ranger cookies

  • 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.

 

Drop heaping tablespoonfuls onto prepared baking sheet (approx 1 1/2-inch balls).


Bake for 11-13 minutes, until edges are turning golden brown. Cool for 2-3 minutes on baking sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

 

Makes about 3 1/2 dozen cookies.

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 3 Comments

Hunker down: Biscuits

Stevie Wonder, Love’s In Need Of Love Today

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.

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 5 Comments

Customer Service: Oxymoron? Curried red lentils with sweet potato and spinach

Sade, Smooth Operator

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.

Posted in Rants and Raves, Recipes | 4 Comments