Category Archives: Cooking

That’s One Good Thing!

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My friend, Linda, who puts out a wonderful food blog (https://mrsportlyskitchen.com/) from her home in England, wrote today about frustrations of this situation we’re in. Lock-down, isolation, quarantine: by any name, it is frustrating. Different for each one of us, I’m sure.

The “normal life” things that I miss are based on what I’m used to; I suppose that’s true for each of us. Also, like me, many may be finding things they like very much about this slower world. It’s an opportunity to experience a whole different lifestyle. Though I feel guilty acknowledging benefits to a crisis that has caused so much pain, and even death, there are good things going on.

Likewise, I hate to grumble. There are things that I miss, and things that are more difficult now, at least for the time being. Like Linda, I feel like I should just be quiet about inconveniences, and disruptions of normal activities. Many folks are enduring much worse. This is serious stuff. We all know that.

Still, it’s human nature, isn’t it, to make comparisons, for better or worse? So I appreciate the almost total lack of traffic as I walk my dogs down the Fox Lake Road; I worry that I’m down to three rolls of toilet paper; and I whine to myself about changes in my routine. Sometimes, I’m bored.

These are things I was thinking about while mulling over Linda’s [much more articulate] blog on this topic. She mentioned the urge to fall back on dinners of beans on toast when cooking for just herself and her husband. Then the realization struck me: I don’t have a husband!

Right away, I felt a wave of relief that I am not contending with relationship issues, or even simple “man-in-the-house” issues during this time. Now, I know nothing about Linda’s husband; I’m sure he’s a very nice man. I can, however, conjure up extremely clear images of my own ex-husband, and a few other men that I kept company with over the years. They all had their good points. Being confined in quarantine with any one of them? A nightmare!

Terry hated to play games. He despised being stuck at home. He would have broken quarantine, I’m sure, just to get away from me. Or, he would be sleeping. He slept when he was bored; he snored when he slept. Others watched too much TV, or cheated at games, or talked too much, or never wanted to talk. It’s clear that, if I had company here, I’d be miserable

Hearing about efforts at home-schooling, I already thought to be glad that I no longer have small children at home. Until today, I hadn’t thought to be grateful that I am single! In all of this madness, that’s one good thing!

Yeast

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Yesterday was cool and drizzly. Today, it rained. All day. It was a day for fleecy, warm pajamas, a comfortable chair and a good book. Not for me, though.

Yesterday, for my first trip to town in fourteen days, I dressed up: nice jeans, a clean shirt, leather shoes, and a knit blazer. Nothing too fancy, except in comparison to my in-house wardrobe. Today, I pulled warm sweats on over my pajamas, slid into canvas shoes, and threw on my parka to pull it all together.

After walking the dogs through the pouring rain, I made several trips to the car. I loaded one large bag of trash, and several smaller bags of recyclables, into the back seat. It had been collected over the last two weeks, and was more than due to be taken to the transfer station.

Besides the transfer station, I had to make stops at the Post Office and the hardware store. By the time I got home, I was damp, tired, and cranky. I had letters to write, and phone calls to make. The dogs needed another walk before I could stay in. At some point, I decided that the comfort I was craving would take some effort.

I decided that stew would be a good meal for a wet day. And, to go with it, yeast bread! I chose the recipe for french loaves from my Mediterranean Heart Diet cookbook. Three risings give this bread a wonderful texture. The ball of dough expanding in its bowl, and scent of yeast filled my afternoon with promise.

Sometimes, the best thing to do is tend to something else. It takes my mind away from my own worries or discomfort. When homemade bread is what I choose to tend to, there is a big reward at the end!

Some Days

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Some days, the sun shining through the windows lets me know it’s time to get up. Other mornings, I don’t know the time until I check the clock. In the winter, when days are short here in northern Michigan, I get up in the dark. Even this time of year, clouds sometimes darken the sky.

Some days, I feel strong and capable. I stick to my routines, and take pride in what I accomplish. Other days, I look at all the things that I haven’t gotten done. I see the clutter, and the unfinished projects. I dwell on all the things I want to do, that I haven’t even started yet.

Some days, I congratulate myself for my stamina, my positive attitude, and my perseverance. Other days, I chastise myself for my procrastination and neglect. I call myself lazy.

Some days, I walk with enthusiasm, and fit other exercise into my day. I put good meals together. I make smoothies; I eat salads, and lots of vegetables. Other days, I begrudgingly set out for my walk; my slow pace reflects my mindset. Some days, it is cookies for breakfast, and popovers for a midnight snack.

Some days, I know that I am healthy, and I’m proud of myself for the care that I have taken. Other days, I interpret every crick, throb or tingle as a dread disease. And, since I traveled to Hawaii even after the corona virus made the news, of course I could only blame myself if I were sick. Sometimes, I take my temperature several times throughout the day.

Some days, I just feel like crying. Other days, most days, I am content, even happy. I have time and privilege to pick up a book, or head into the studio, or dig in to any number of other projects.

Most days, I’m able to laugh at myself. I see the humor in my hypochondria, dietary indulgences and lethargy. Every day, I know how lucky I am. And, when the sun is shining, it’s always a wonderful day!

Lifelong Learning

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I remember trying to read when I was five years old. I couldn’t wait to learn! One after another, I figured out the sounds of the letters. I begged for information, and received it from anyone that would offer it: parents, grandparents, and my sister, Brenda, who was just one year older than me. Once, my mother found me weeping in frustration as I struggled through a book. “This doesn’t make any sense,” I told her. I was sounding out the word K-N-E-W, and it sounded, to me, like “canoe.” I knew what a canoe was, at whatever young age I was, but I did not understand how it fit in that sentence!

I have almost always loved to learn. I went through just a moment in kindergarten when I deliberately colored outside of the lines, as that’s what the little girl sitting next to me was doing. There were a few of my teen years when it was much more fun to make trouble than to make good grades. It seemed appropriate, at that time, to “play dumb” in front of boys. And I have to admit, by the time I got out of high school, I thought I’d learned all I wanted or needed to.

That didn’t last long. When school learning bored me, I read. When I’d gone through all of our bookshelves, and didn’t have a library book at hand, I’d page through the encyclopedias, and the annual editions that came as a bonus with the set of encyclopedias, and Mom’s old collection of Books of Knowledge.

I taught myself to knit and crochet. I made crude attempts at quilting and embroidery. I learned several card and board games. I wrote [bad] poetry. I drew. As a young mother, I often had craft projects going. I learned to cook. I took a vegetarian cooking class with my mother-in-law. Then, a girlfriend and I took an evening art class at the high school.

When my second daughter was four months old, I enrolled at the junior college. That did it! College was a thousand times better than high school. I loved it! I studied Art, but also Literature, Poetry, and Writing. I took a few swimming classes, then a self defense class and a circuit training class. I studied Geology, Biology, Astronomy and Physical Science. I loved Art History. Never again did I think I’d had my fill of learning.

Raising a family, starting a business, several moves…these things sometimes slowed me down, but never stopped me. I earned an Associate’s Degree, then a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree and, when I was forty years old, a Master of Fine Arts Degree. I had a minor in English Literature, a certificate in Women’s Studies and another in Creative Writing. I was done with school, but I wasn’t finished learning. I don’t think I ever will be!

It was never about the credentials, or the degrees. It was the knowledge I was after. I still prefer books, whether fiction or non-fiction, that have something to teach me. I am still hungry for new ideas, and new ways of doing things. I’ve become a [slightly] better quilter; I love trying out new crochet patterns. I am continually trying out new methods of art-making.

I have, sometimes, a hard time sticking with a project, and I get easily bored. I’ve figured out that I like the learning much better than the follow-through. I’ve resigned myself to that, just as I’ve accepted the boxes and totes filled with unfinished projects

Most recently, I filled several pages with notes on the Hawaiian language. I’ve become familiar with their alphabet, and how words are divided into syllables, which is key to correct pronunciation. That might be enough; it’s not as enticing when I’m not presented with road signs to practice on. That’s okay. There will always be something else I can learn.

Home Again

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I am home! Late yesterday afternoon, after more than ten days away and long rides on several large planes, I got on one of the small “eight-seater” airplanes in Charlevoix, and twenty minutes later was back on Beaver Island.

The entire trip was wonderful. It started on Friday, the 21st of February. It was a little hectic getting away. I had to get my dogs in to the vet, who had just arrived the previous afternoon, for a couple vaccinations first thing in the morning. Next, I took them to the kennel for a sad good-bye. Then, I ran back home to complete a few last minute tasks before going to the airport. The flight was on time, but the car was not there waiting for me. A couple phone calls revealed that a flat tire caused the delay. So, I was late getting on the road.

I had arranged to stop in St. Helen for a short visit with a long-time friend (doesn’t that sound better than saying “old friend,” now that we are all pretty old?). On the way, I stopped and purchased a cell phone – my first! With the flat tire weighing on my mind (what if it went flat again, when I was on the road? How would I get help?), I thought it was a good idea. Plus, I was able to call my friend, Donna, to let her know I was running late. It was an unexpected expense, and something I’ve avoided having, but in this day and age, a cell phone is probably a good idea.

St. Helen is right off I-75, so not out of my way at all, and it’s a nice break in a long drive. We had a good dinner, and found plenty to talk and giggle about over too many glasses of chocolate wine. After breakfast the next morning, I got back on the road.

My next stop was Lapeer, the town where I grew up. My sister, Brenda, and her husband, Keith, were graciously putting me up in their guest room for the two days until five of us sisters flew out to Florida. That night, we joined my sister, Cheryl and our good friend, Joel for a night out. We met for dinner, in a nice new restaurant where the old Villa restaurant used to be.

From there, across the street and down the block, where the Lyons & Smith clothing store (where my mother worked, as a teen-ager) and the Pix Theater (where I saw Babes in Toyland about a hundred years ago, and many other memorable movies over the years) have been converted to an art complex, with gallery space, and changing entertainment offerings.

Our tickets were for a show based on the lives and music of “the Carpenters.” It was fantastic! The musicians were all multi-talented, changing out instruments throughout the show. The singer’s voice was spot-on; if I closed my eyes, I’d be sure I was listening to Karen Carpenter. She was also very knowledgeable about the lives and music of the brother-and-sister duo, and peppered the evening with bits of fascinating information. I loved it, from start to finish!

Sunday, after breakfast, I did a little shopping, and went to visit my brother, Ted. Monday, we got up early to head for the airport. Five sisters, Brenda, Cindy, Cheryl, Robin and Amy gathered at Brenda’s house, and our friend, Dick, drove us to the airport. Flint to Atlanta to Panama City Beach, Florida, where our wonderful accommodations were waiting. Because we had started out so early, and gained an hour due to a different time zone, Monday was a very long day!

There was time to check out our living spaces, unpack, and become familiar with the resort and it’s offerings. We got groceries, as the generous kitchen would make it easy for us to prepare some of our meals each day. We were right on the Gulf coast, with a view of the ocean out the window, and a beautiful beach right below. Also right beneath our fourth-floor apartment was a heated pool and a large hot tub.

The resort stood on both sides of the street, joined by a bridge. On the bridge was the SkyBar, where we spent a few fun evenings. One day, our sisters team competed (and won, by one point) in ’50s Trivia. In the area were excellent restaurants, fun shops and outdoor marketplaces. Inside, we had games, jig-saw puzzles and books. Outside, the water, white sand, bright sky. All of that, with my sisters as the very best travelling companions, made it a perfect get-away!

On March 1st, we packed up and headed out. With several hours before our flight, we managed to find a fun breakfast spot, then an “endless mimosa” bar. Next, my sister, Amy, treated us all to an “Escape Room” experience which was a great way to finish off the vacation!

We re-traced our flight on the way home, and got into Flint just before midnight. I had a bowl of cereal, then went right to bed. Yesterday, I got up early, and packed up all my belongings: Florida suitcase (already loaded), two small suitcases with clothes for Michigan weather, a tote of Christmas gifts and other things I accumulated in my travels, and got on the road.

Roads were clear, and traffic was not bad; I made good time. I picked up a few groceries before checking in for my four-thirty flight. Home to Beaver Island, where the warmer temperatures has caused significant melting. The parking lot where my car was parked was ankle-deep in mud. My car had a dead battery. Finally getting it running, I nearly buried it in muck on the way out of the lot! There were plenty of puddles on the way to pick up the dogs, and plenty more on the drive home.

Our evening walk down the Fox Lake Road was a muddy one, too. We cut it a little short, as I still had at least a dozen trips to make from car to house to get everything unloaded. I turned the heat up, unpacked a suitcase and started a load of wash, fed the dogs, and started my dinner. While it cooked, I deleted about two hundred unnecessary Emails, and tidied up messes I’d left in my rush to get out of here. Early to bed, with my dogs close by. It’s good to be home!

Almost a Lousy Day

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All the contributing factors were there; everything pointed to it being a really lousy day. My little dogs were both having allergy-fueled ear issues, which kept them up scratching wildly at the itchy places, and kept me up rubbing ears and soothing them. When we slept, we didn’t sleep well. Until morning, when I slept right through the alarm.

It was a bitter-cold day: freezing temperatures with sub-zero wind chills. Too cold for our morning walk. The dogs didn’t protest when I cancelled. Frustrated already in my lack of persistence with my exercise program, this added fuel to my negative self-criticism.

I got to work late, and cranky. I’m not sure if my work partner was also in a bad mood, or if mine was enough for both of us. Usually, we get along well, and enjoy working together. On this day, all day, it seemed like we were barely avoiding conflict.

I learned, that day, of the recent death of an old friend. Though I’d seen Elaine only rarely in the last several years, we were young together once. And now she’s gone. Sad news to add to my already miserable attitude.

After work, I had to go to the grocery store. Having just paid a big bill, my checkbook had barely thirty dollars in it. I needed dog food, coffee and milk. Going up and down the necessary aisles, I was computing the cost as I went along. That old habit made me feel even more bleak. I don’t usually have to watch pennies that closely. What a crummy day!

Walking past the meat counter, I spotted a beautiful rib-eye steak in the case. Now I enjoy a steak on rare occasions, but I have never bought a piece of meat like that from our little market on Beaver Island. I’ve bought chuck steak, when the price is right, to cook like a roast and enjoy for two or three meals. Usually, I buy their good ground beef, or chicken. On this day, without a second thought to the $12.99-per-pound, I asked for that steak.

Quickly to the counter, then, before another impulse should throw my budget completely off track. As I loaded my few purchases onto the conveyor belt, I noticed bundles of cellophane wrapped miniature roses in many colors, right beside the cash register. For Valentine’s Day, of course. “How much are the flowers?” was out of my mouth before I could stop it. The price, $9.99 per bundle, did not stop me either. I chose a bouquet of deep red-orange, and dug to the back of my wallet for a hidden twenty-dollar bill.

Home, I greeted the dogs, and took them for a short walk. They felt the extreme cold, too, and were relieved when I turned around. I unloaded the car, and unpacked my groceries. I trimmed the stems of the flowers, and arranged them in a vase. I lit all the candles: the two pillars in the bathroom, the lemon-scented jar candle in the kitchen, and a half-dozen votives on the dining room table.

While the dogs ate their dinner, I prepared my own. As I cooked, I thought of Elaine. We travelled together, many years ago, Elaine, my sister Brenda, and I, to our college classes. We discussed our children, our love-lives, and our course work. We read aloud from our papers, wanting, at that point, only positive feedback before we turned them in. We reviewed our teachers, our classmates and our partners with cruel honesty that made us laugh hysterically.

I cleaned and sliced a big mound of mushrooms, and sautéed them in butter, with one small hot pepper, sliced thin. I seasoned the steak with garlic powder and lots of pepper, and put it under the broiler. When it was nearly done, I cut a large plum tomato into wedges, and added it to the pan with the mushrooms.

I lifted the steak onto my plate, and spooned the mushroom-pepper-tomato combination over the top. I pulled out my big book of modern female artists, to page through while I ate. A perfect accompaniment to an absolutely fabulous meal!

It could have been a really lousy day. It almost was. As it turned out, though, it wasn’t half bad!

It Must Be Tuesday

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Tuesday announces itself to me with a sense of urgency, from the moment I wake up in the morning. It comes with a nervous feeling that shows itself in various ways. I may notice a rapidly pounding heart or an upset stomach. Sometimes it’s a severe headache. Often, it’s a combination of many things. At the same time, my brain is working overtime, compiling lists and sorting through possibilities.

Tuesday is the end of my “weekend.” Tomorrow, I go back to work. It’s not the job that causes the stress, but all of the things I wanted to accomplish on my days off. Tuesday is the day of reckoning.

Tuesday is the day I chastise myself for the things I didn’t get done on Monday. No matter how much I believed, on Monday, that I deserved a “lazy day” to catch up on sleep, Netflix, and social media, by Tuesday, I regret it. Why, for heaven’s sake, did I feel justified in taking the dogs for three long walks? And whatever made me think it was okay to just sit and read?? What insanity made me believe I could put everything off until Tuesday??

I do the same thing every week. No matter how much I get done on Monday, it seems insignificant by the time I wake up on Tuesday. Whether my accomplishments are many or few, Tuesday always has an impossibly long list.

This week on Monday, I stripped the bed, washed the sheets and comforters, and finished the rest of the laundry. I swept the floors. I balanced my checking account, and paid bills. Outside, I pulled up the squash and bean plants, and hauled the vines to the woods. I stacked the tomato cages. I worked on weeding in the garden and in the flower beds. I picked up windfall under the maple trees.

Tuesday, what torments me are all the things I did NOT do on Monday. Along with big indoor projects (like painting and putting up baseboards), there are still plenty of large outside jobs to finish. The lawn needs to be mowed once more, before the end of the season; the garden needs a lot more work to put it to bed for the winter. There are rose bushes and berry bushes to prune. Beyond that, there are studio projects to give my attention to.

When I’m working, I look forward to Monday, and protect it like the Holy Grail. If I have to schedule something away from home, or go to town for any reason, Tuesday is the day I choose. That’s why, today, with my long list of things to do at home, I also had to go to town for a meeting at the school, and a trip to the post office. I passed on the transfer station, the grocery store and the gas station; I’ll find time on a work day to take care of those things.

Tuesday is the day to think about what I’ll pack for work lunches for the next several days. It’s a day to get more exercise in than I can manage around my work days. It’s my last chance to get the house, car and yard in whatever condition I can live with for the next week. It’s a good day to spend in the studio, if I’m ever caught up enough to allow myself that. It’s the day I try to write this blog. It’s all too much!

So, Tuesday also becomes a day of bargaining, trade-offs and multi-tasking. Right now, waiting by the back door, I have a box of donations waiting to be loaded into the car, a small bag of papers to be burned in the fire pit, and the annual tags that should have been put on my car in August. Toilet bowl cleaner is doing its job. Two bottles of spray cleaner and a couple rags sit on the table for when I’m ready to clean the windows, cabinet fronts and other surfaces. As I write this, I have homemade soup simmering on the stove for weekday lunches. It must be Tuesday!