Category Archives: Cooking

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!

What’s the Difference?

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What’s the difference? That’s a question that has plagued me throughout my life. I think I invite it with my Virgo tendency to believe there is one correct way to do a thing. Is it really so important that T-shirts or underpants or towels be folded one particular way? What’s the difference? Does it really matter if the books on my shelves are sorted both by topic and alphabetically? And will the world stop turning if one is re-shelved out of order? What’s the difference?

I’ve tried to relax. It’s true, most times, that, in the greater scheme of things, my little rules-of-order mean very little. I recently overheard my daughter giving a recipe to her daughter. When she came to the part about thickening a sauce with cornstarch, I wanted to jump into the conversation with, “No, always use flour to thicken a sauce!” I held back, though. It really doesn’t make any difference. Likewise, now that my children are grown, and not perfect, I’ve let go of the idea that there is one right way to raise a child. With caring and love, the particulars are less important. Sometimes, though, rules are there for a reason, and care in following directions makes all the difference. That came clear to me the other day.

I decided to make bread. That decision was born from a need to use up an uninteresting pot of soup that had been sitting for several days in the refrigerator. It wasn’t a bad soup. It had all the right elements for an outstanding soup: two kinds of dried beans, wheat berries, carrot, celery, green pepper, onion and tomatoes. Garlic and spices. A couple shakes of Tabasco sauce. Not bad, but – for some reason – not interesting.

Fresh bread would turn that boring soup into an interesting meal. I thought of it first thing in the morning. I’d make the easy, healthy whole wheat bread that has been my standard go-to bread for more than thirty years. I know the recipe by heart. Start by warming seven and a half cups of whole wheat flour in the oven. I scooped the flour into my metal bowl. Assuming it was a one-half cup measuring cup in the wheat flour canister, I counted out fifteen cupfuls, and put the bowl in the oven, set to a low temperature.

I greased two loaf pans, set the yeast to proof, and measured out the molasses and water. I pulled the bowl from the oven, and combined all of the ingredients. Always a fairly sticky bread, it seemed a little looser than usual. Hmmm. Well, I hadn’t made bread in a while. Between trying to limit my carbohydrates, and trying to avoid using the oven during the heat of the summer, it had been several months since I’d used this recipe. Maybe I was just remembering wrong. After all, I had followed the directions perfectly.

I set the bread to rise, which it did in record time. I put the two loaves in the pre-heated oven to bake. When I checked on it, the bread had spilled over the top of each loaf pan, dripped over the sides, onto the shelves and the oven floor. It was then, finally, that I thought to check. The measuring cup that I used, that I keep stored in the flour canister, was a one-third cup measure, not a one-half cup, as I’d assumed. Ugh!

What’s the difference? Well, beyond the mess in the oven, the hard-to-clean loaf pans, and the sunken loaves that are crumbly and difficult to slice, no difference. The bread did, in fact, make the soup a lot more interesting. Exactly as I planned!

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!

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.