Category Archives: Cooking

Bounty

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This is the season. This is the time of year when all of my efforts come finally, and seemingly all at once, to fruition. The tomato plants are doing their own version of the biblical “loaves and fishes” story, with an endless supply of bright red fruits. They, along with the cucumbers that keep getting ahead of me, too, are present at every meal.

The row of yellow squash, which hesitated to grow and refused to blossom for most of the summer, now miraculously produces a perfect squash – sometimes two – overnight. The peppers, slow starting, are now ripening all at once. I gathered the potatoes from one bin, and have been working my way through them, with two more bins ready and waiting.

I picked a mound of green beans, and put them in the refrigerator, confidant that I could wait for a better day to clean and process them for the freezer. “This will be the last of this year’s green beans,” I told myself, with a touch of melancholy. Two days later, I went out and picked an equal amount. A few days later, I did it again! Now, I have three grocery sacks of beans in the refrigerator, and they cannot be delayed a moment longer!

I have a row of drying peas along the fence that will need to be dealt with soon. I avert my eyes as I walk by, because I don’t have time today. Likewise, the kohlrabi is ready for harvest, just as soon as I make room for them in the vegetable bin. The corn has started to form ears.

On top of all that, the blackberries are ripening. I am a forager at heart, and cannot ignore food ripe for the picking. So, at the very least, I fill a colander each day from the brambles that border my yard. Yesterday, I loaded the dogs into the car and drove down to “the forty,” a woodland parcel that is owned by my family, and that my cousin Bob mows, in order to make berry-picking easier. There, I filled two big bowls and a coffee can with the sweet fruit. Sigh.

I learned that sigh from my mother. She perfected it during this same exact time of the year. She’d be sitting at the table, enjoying her first cup of coffee, maybe chatting with some of her children, and plotting out the day ahead. Then the back door would slam. Heavy footsteps through the back room and hallway would announce Dad’s entrance. He’d arrive at the doorway into the kitchen with a wide grin, and a bushel basket full of tomatoes. “This is just that far, short row,” he’d state with glee, “there are a lot more ready to be picked!”

Well. There was a large household to feed, and a long winter ahead. Mom would let out a big sigh, and rearrange her day. Whatever had been planned would have to wait until tomatoes were canned. There is no negotiating with time or tiredness or ripe fruit. Not right now, in this season of bounty!

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What Can Wait…

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What can wait…and what cannot. It’s a way to delay what needs to be taken care of, a way to juggle too many obligations and necessary tasks. It’s a manner of procrastination. And though it’s not a fun game, I’ve been playing it for as long as I can remember. This week, with all of the busy-ness of summer here on Beaver Island, I’ve been juggling plenty. Eventually, though, nothing can wait.

The bananas, nestled in a glass dish on the counter, are fine; they can wait. Then, suddenly, their skins are turning dark and they need to be turned into muffins right away. Every day, I pick cherries as they ripen on the tree; I’ve saved them in several covered bowls in the refrigerator. Until this morning, when they were threatening to turn to wine if they weren’t dealt with. So, today, I cleaned and pitted eight cups of pie cherries. They are simmering, stove-top, in a sugar syrup right now.

“Getting groceries can wait,” I say as I put it off from one day to the next. Until I run out of dog food, and I can’t delay any longer. “Getting gas can wait,” I tell myself as I drive right past the gas station. Until the red light warns me that it really shouldn’t be put off another single day. “The lawn can wait,” I’ve been saying as I watched it grow while I tended the garden, walked the dogs or picked cherries. Now, it is on the long list of things that cannot be put off any longer.

“Paying bills can wait,” I said, as I prioritized other tasks. Now, the first of the month is just days away, and those payments have to go out immediately. “Preparing for my workshop can wait,” I told myself all week while busy with other things. Now, the workshop is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon, and there are a dozen things I have to do to be ready for it. “Sleep can wait,” I told myself when I stayed up late two nights in a row to finish framing artwork (a job that could not wait any longer!). Today, when I have a hundred jobs planned for this day off, I slept until nine o’clock this morning.

Procrastination, the way that I do it, has several negative consequences. First, I tend to take on too much, as I’m such an expert at juggling. Second, eventually things have to be dealt with, and it’s usually at the last minute. That means that everything, even tasks I would find pleasant, are being taken care of only when they have reached a state of urgency. And third, it often happens that several things “come due” all at once. Like today.

Zest (April A ~ Z Challenge)

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Zest is defined as “keen interest or enjoyment, relish, gusto, piquancy.” I must admit, I’m not as “zesty” as I used to be. And that’s a sad thing. There is nothing better than being pulled forward by the sheer excitement of a plan, an experience, or an idea.

That kind of energy just doesn’t come my way as often as it used to. It seems harder all the time to drum up enthusiasm. That’s partly because I’m tired, and partly due to my age and experience. Things that can be really thrilling the first time around become somewhat commonplace after more than half a century. Some things, though, never get old:

  • Sunrises and sunsets. Every day a double blessing.
  • The view of Beaver Island’s good harbor as I drive past the church into town.
  • The view of Beaver Island, on approach, from the deck of the ferry boat.
  • My daughters. When I pick up the phone and hear either of their voices, my heart sings.
  • Christmas: the memories, the traditions, the music.
  • A good, baked macaroni and cheese.
  • The colors of autumn.
  • A perfect peach.
  • Almost any movie starring Robin Williams, Tom Hanks, or Julia Roberts.
  • Riding a bicycle.
  • Any essay by E.B. White.
  • The first snowfall.
  • Perfume, especially Chanel #5, as that was my mother’s scent.
  • Smooth, flat stones.
  • A bookstore.
  • A clear blue sky.
  • The first cup of coffee in the morning.
  • A new art project.
  • A nicely scented candle.
  • Warm summer nights.
  • Rearranging the furniture.
  • A new book arriving in the mail.
  • A handwritten letter.
  • Hot chocolate with whipped cream.
  • A heartfelt “Thank You.”
  • A fresh bouquet of flowers.
  • Clean sheets fresh from the clothesline.
  • A beautiful bar of soap.
  • Messages from my grandchildren.
  • A sky full of stars.
  • Homemade bread, warm from the oven.
  • A boat ride.
  • A good song on the radio.
  • New pencils.
  • Fresh peas from the garden.
  • A good bout of uncontrollable laughter.
  • Lemons.
  • A new journal.
  • A private joke shared with a friend.
  • A pot of soup.
  • Springtime.
  • A new skein of yarn.
  • Games with my sisters.
  • A stretch of beach.
  • The moon.

Yet Another Difficult Letter (April A ~ Z Challenge)

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Lists from A to Z seemed like a fine idea at the beginning of the alphabet, not so much now that I’m nearing the end.

Y! I could write about yeast breads, or yoga, or yarn…but how to come up with a list for any of those topics? And my plan emphasized lists, for this challenge, this April.

I have yarn, in several weights and colors, but I’m not well-versed enough in the nuances of yarn to write about it. I do a little yoga practice each day, but the routine I do could be found, and described more accurately, in any book on the topic. I do quite a bit of bread-baking, especially in the wintertime, and have several recipes that have been successful for me. Short of printing out the recipes, though, what is there to say about yeast bread?

So, in frustration, yet unwilling to give up when I’m this close to the finish line, let me just grab, in desperation, for any Y word. Yesterday!

Yesterday:

  • I managed to make it through the whole day on very little sleep. Once again, I’d been unable to fall asleep the night before, and spent many hours lying awake (unable to “toss and turn” when sandwiched in between two small dogs!), pacing the floor, paging through magazines, and any number of other non-productive, time-killing activities, until I was finally able to fall asleep, somewhere around five AM. I often blame a bright night sky for my inability to sleep. A full moon is an almost sure guarantee of a restless night. And yet, with the sun already brightening the sky, I can sleep soundly in the early morning hours. It’s a puzzle.
  • Yesterday was a work day for me so I still had to be out of bed by eight in order to stumble through at least some of my morning routine: yoga; coffee; morning pages (which yesterday amounted to one-half of one page); walk the dogs; shower, dress, and out the door.
  • It was a busy day at work, with customers trying to finish week-end projects, and taking advantage of our paint sale. I was there late, in order to finish up the order that had to be submitted at the end of my shift.
  • After work, I walked down the street to the Community Center, to meet my cousin, Pam. She had bought tickets to the annual community play, and we were attending the Sunday matinee! This year’s offering was “‘Til Beth Do Us Part,” a Jones Hope Wooten comedy. It was performed brilliantly by talented island residents, who I see in daily life as friends and neighbors. It’s a special treat to see familiar faces as such unexpected characters, and I thoroughly enjoyed it!
  • When I got home, the dogs were waiting, more than ready for their afternoon walk. We took the Cotter’s Trail into the woods, then turned in to Hoopfer’s drive to circle their big yard. Finding the little trail through the woods that leads to the Murray place still too wet for walking, we backtracked and continued down Cotter’s trail to the little cabin at the end. There, Blackie Chan surprised a rabbit; he watched with big eyes as it bounded away. Then back the way we came. The wild leeks are starting to poke out of the ground, and the dappled leaves of trout lilies are visible under the trees. The snow is, finally, almost gone.
  • I fed the dogs. They like to have their meal at six-thirty, with a chewy treat immediately after. I eat later.
  • While preparing my dinner, I checked the news.
  • My dinner was macaroni and cheese, made with the last of the cavatappi pasta, and some sharp cheddar. I boxed up the leftovers for lunches later in the week.
  • Kitchen clean-up was my final task before giving in to my sleepiness.
  • I went to bed early, and managed to read less than two pages of my book before turning out the light. I slept well, through the whole night.

Useful (April A ~ Z Challenge)

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Today, I focus on things that have been most useful to me:

  • Dictionary. I have a couple book versions, and I also rely on dictionary.com. When I think I’ve spelled a word correctly, and the spell-checker tags it, I immediately go to the dictionary to find the right spelling. It’s also helpful to check pronunciation, or to make sure I’m using a word correctly.
  • Thesaurus. When I proofread, I often notice I’ve gotten hung up on one descriptive word, and used it over and over again in just a few paragraphs. The thesaurus offers enough other words with similar meanings that I can choose ones that fit with my vocabulary and writing style.
  • Google. Whenever I’m confronted with something I don’t know, whether how to change a faucet, what year Princess Diana died or who Sarah Jessica Parker is married to, I turn to Google. “Let’s Google it,” I say to customers when they ask me how to acidify soil, or what epoxy is best for vinyl repair. I depend on Google for my lack of knowledge and my fading memory.
  • YouTube. Google will often direct me to YouTube for video answers to my technical questions. Some things are easier to learn by seeing it done. YouTube has often helped me gain confidence to tackle a project I would otherwise be terrified to try.
  • A big, long coat. Mine is brown tweed, with a leather collar. It comes almost to my ankles. I bought it several years ago at a Re-Sale shop. I feel like Mary Poppins when I wear it. It’s handy for throwing on over pajamas to take the dogs for their morning walk. It looks dressier than my parka for travel. It was the best $10.00 investment I ever made!
  • A blazer. Blazers, I think, make the perfect light jacket for spring and fall, or even for chilly summer nights. They can easily dress up a pair of ratty jeans or other casual clothes. I’ve been caught out dog-walking in some god-awful outfits, with teeth un-brushed and hair uncombed, only to be told, “you look nice…” I attribute it to the blazer every single time.
  • A birthday calendar. Otherwise, birthdays get lost in the clutter of other obligations. If they fall near the beginning of a month, they aren’t noticed until the page is turned. A separate birthday calendar makes me more confidant that I won’t miss those special days (Happy Birthday today, to my grandson, Tommy!)
  • A few good, cheap, dependable recipes. Best if they can always be pulled together with ingredients at hand.
  • Important phone numbers and addresses, written down. Even if all of that information is stored on a cell phone, what if that system were to fail? I do not have a cell phone, but I have pertinent information with me, in case I need it.
  • A daily to-do list. Whether I use it as a reminder of appointments and obligations, or just to mark off tasks as I do them, this is an important aspect of my daily life. When it seems to me that I am lazy, slothful and never accomplish a goddamned thing, I can look back through my daily lists and see that I’m not doing so bad after all.
  • Bullet Journal. My bullet journal contains my daily to-do list, important phone numbers and addresses, my birthday calendar, and a few good recipes. It also has my work schedule, my monthly task and activity tracker, a wish list, a list of things (books, movies, Ted talks, podcasts, etc,) that I want to check out, books I’ve read, a future planner, and a schedule for medicines for my three dogs. Among other things. It is most useful to me.

What things make your life run more smoothly?

Non-Fiction (April A ~ Z Challenge)

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I read a lot of non-fiction. That’s partly because self-help books are included in this category (and I am the queen of self-help), and also because it encompasses so many sub-categories. Sometimes they overlap, but here are some distinctions:

  • Biography and autobiography. Some of the dullest books, the ones most difficult to get through, fall into this category. Also some of the liveliest, most exciting books. And it doesn’t simply mean that the subject matter made the difference. It means that good, engaging writing is important, no matter whose story is being told.
  • Instruction. Cookbooks usually fall into this category. Also books on writing, gardening, exercise, etc. Then there are the many art instruction books; whether for drawing, painting, paper-making, ceramics or printmaking, I have read plenty of them.
  • Self-help. “How to:” raise [polite/well-behaved/well-adjusted/healthy/successful/happy] children; de-clutter; stop procrastinating; be happier; become healthier; be a better employee; be a better friend; manage money; run a small business; be a better conversationalist; diffuse an argument; train a dog. Like I said, I’m the queen of self-help books!
  • Inspiration. This is one of those gray areas, but I’ve certainly picked up books that are inspirational first, and the instruction or self-help falls in behind.
  • Education. Again, this seems to overlap. Educational books could encompass any other category as well. My distinction is that these books do not even attempt to be entertaining. If you want to simply learn something, these books will tell you what you need to know. That’s it.
  • Memoir. The difference between autobiography and memoir is subtle. Mainly, it seems to me, it boils down to artistic license. An autobiography should have names and dates correct. A memoir, which by definition is reliant on memory, can play a little fast and loose with the facts, and the sequence of events. Some of my favorite books fall into this category: Growing Up, by Russell Baker; The Liar’s Club, by Mary Karr; The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls; Let’s Don’t Go to the Dogs Tonight, by Alexandra Fuller; Becoming, by Michelle Obama; What You Have Heard is True, by Carolyn Forsche; and many others.
  • Essays. Of course, essays are not always non-fiction, but the ones I enjoy most are. The Essays of E.B. White are some of the best. Essays by Jim Fitzgerald, compiled together in his book, If It Fitz, also have a special spot on the shelf. Essays by Gloria Steinem, Alice Walker, Evan S. Connell, Annie Dillard, Bill Bryson, and Anna Quindlan are as entertaining to me when read for the tenth time as they were when I first encountered them.
  • Reference. Some reference books do double duty as instruction, self-help, education or inspiration books. Depending, I guess, on how likely one is to refer back to it. I’m thinking, though, of reference books being dictionaries, and things like that. Sometimes, in a pinch or for a purpose, fun to read, but mostly just to find a specific bit of information.

Though I love a good mystery, and I relish quality fiction, I’m sure I read more non-fiction than anything else.

Magazines (April A ~ Z Challenge)

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I’ve always loved magazines. A nice, regularly received gift in the mailbox, with fresh ideas, new stories and colorful pictures. These are the ones I grew up with:

  • Ladies Home Journal. I liked reading “Can this Marriage be Saved?” I’d try to make a game of it with sisters or friends. We could each read the accounts by each spouse, and draw our conclusions. Only then would we turn to the opinion of the professional, to see how he weighed in.
  • McCall’s. As a child, I had a whole collection of Betsy McCall paper dolls, because there was a new one in each issue, along with a seasonal outfits and a short story.
  • Redbook. This magazine had more stories than the others. Being a reader, I appreciated that.
  • Reader’s Digest. I loved this compact magazine! I’d first turn to “Life in These United States,” then “Humor in Uniform.” I loved all of the anecdotes. Then I’d find the heart-wrenching human interest story, hidden somewhere in the center. Next, the condensed book featured in the last several pages of the magazine. After that, if I needed reading material, I’d pick it up again, for the stories and articles I’d missed first time around.
  • Life. Always topical, with famously beautiful photographs. I remember the discussion around the adult table (“no different than seeing a woman nurse a baby,” was my Dad’s opinion) when the cover photo featured a woman, arms folded chastely over her chest, in a topless bathing suit. I recall an issue from the sixties with a photo of a stunning black woman, in profile. The caption stated, “Black is Beautiful.” Growing up in a fairly isolated small town, Life Magazine made the world accessible, and it helped to broaden my mind. When my mother died eight years ago, the issue of Life Magazine that came out right after John F. Kennedy was assassinated was still among her belongings.

I still love magazines, though I don’t have as much time to read them. I’ll get a subscription, then let it lapse when I find I have unread issues piling up in the rack. Every now and then I’ll pick up a People magazine at the grocery store. Though I love all that gossipy news when I’m reading in a waiting room somewhere, it rarely seems worth the purchase price to me. When I’m on the mainland, and have access to a greater magazine selection, I’ll usually pick up American Craft or Ceramics Monthly. Sometimes ArtNews or ArtForum. I enjoy O magazine, and sometimes Martha Stewart Living. I love cooking magazines. I often pick up home magazines, gardening magazines and health and fitness magazines. The only magazine I subscribe to right now is RealSimple. And that’s enough.