Saturday, December 29, 2012

Stacking the Deck in Your Favor

OK, there are a few times when you don't want a level playing field, when it's wise, even, to plan/pray to stack the deck in your favor.  Cancer diagnosis, for example.  Getting enough money to pay the power bill, is another.   Call it enlightened self-interest.  Call it your New Year's Resolutions.

I am the perfect New Year's Resolution maker.  I am 100% successful 100% of the time.  I've made the same resolution for nearly 20 years now.  And it's worked for that entire time.

I promise faithfully to never eat canned beets.

Oh, I'll eat fresh ones as beets are the beautiful vegetable, even given their lowly root vegetable status.  I've had fresh ones in a salad, grated to impossibly thin strands, like little purple haystacks.  Wonderful.

My aunt Nira taught me to roast them slowly in the oven, a hour or  a little more, depending upon their size.  Add half an inch of water in the bottom of the pan, cover them with foil.  They come out the most wondrous texture and that stunning color.  She peeled them and added a little butter and salt.

Perfection.  I love them too with a little horseradish in sour cream, exquisite with roast pork on a cold winter's night.

May your New Year be filled with such satisfying pleasures.

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Christmas Prayer for You

May All Be Fed.
May All Be Healed.
May All Be Loved.
                 John Robbins.

Sending Love and Love to EveryBody.
                  In Joy, Barb

Thursday, December 20, 2012

As It Should Be

So, I haven't been feeling so good lately.  The sadness permeates  my city in the West.  We're hundreds of miles away from Connecticut; in spirit, they are just around the corner.  Our pretty little city is a city of children, a family town, kidville.  So, our sorrow is big.

I needed a media break so I went to the mall for some Christmas shopping and gobbled up the happy images of beloved, healthy, safe kids.

A new mom, in her twenties, breasts swollen, with her newborn.   She was so taken with the baby that she could barely acknowledge her grandmother's presence, keeping up a steady stream of baby-comments, absorbed in every thing baby.  The little kid was dressed in an adorable little stretch terry pants and jacket, bright yellow, trimmed with lace.  As it should be.

A little girl, about four, hopped across in the parking lot, clinging to the hand of her father.  Obviously they were Christmas shopping for mom.  The little girl had bright curly red hair that was unmanageable on oh-so-many levels.  Her hair hopped right along with her.  She had on a bright blue sweater, an orange tutu, and red, red boots.  As it should be.

The family had a blond mama, and a patient dad, three little blond Swedish kids.  You know what I mean, the rounded faces, the bright blue eyes, blond hair, pulled back and corralled.  You could feel their excitement, as they stopped for lunch in the food court.  Their bright eyes took in every detail, capturing my eyes for  the moment.  We shared a gleeful grin.  I was in on their Christmas spirit, as mom took care of the details and the decisions, keeping her babies safe.  As it should be.

We're having a tenderzied Christmas this year.  As it should be.

Monday, December 10, 2012

A High Class Problem

One of my  favorite Christmas memories is a platter full of home-made Christmas goodies:  Sugar cookies in the shapes of stars and snowflakes; fudge rich with walnuts or pecans; thumbprint cookies with walnuts and raspberry jam,  lacy pecan cookies, and. oh yeah, divinity.

My mom made wonderful divinity.  She's wait for the perfect day: low humidity, cool to cold, and then she's add things like chopped up cranberries, black walnuts, pounded into sparkly sand — candy canes.  Those made the divinity sparkle.  Little perfect clouds of sweet perfection.  Shining sweet perfection, not to put too fine a point on it.

For the life of me, I can't make them.  I'm faithful to the recipe.  I wait for just the right day.  I'm not above using exotic ingredients for flavor:  I'd do dried apricots and pistachios.  I'd do strawberry jam and chocolate.  I'd do caramel and sea salt,  which is exquisitely trendy.

The little divinities do not work for me.  I get little puddles of divinity.  Little pools of ever-spreading egg whites and glistening sugar.  My mom's were perky.  Mine are runny.  As running as your kid's nose in the throws of the first cold of the season.

I can't tell you how many years people have eaten them with a spoon.  My brother and his family came over for a Christmas celebration.  He spotted my little puddles in a dish on the piano.  He was instantly drawn to them.  Nose down; eyes a few inches above the little puddles.  "Ah," he said. "Your divinity."

Here's my recipe which is here merely to serve as a warning to others:  3 cups of sugar; 1 cup of corn syrup; 1/4 water.   Boil to soft ball stage.

In the mean-time.  Beat 2 egg whites into stiff peaks.  Pour the syrup over the egg whites slowly, and then beat the mixture until it's thick.  Supposedly, you can drop them by teaspoon full onto
waxed paper.  At the last you can add a teaspoon of pure vanilla and a cup of nuts, or other Christmas treats.

Use this recipe at your peril.  It might be cursed.  It might only work for my mother.  She was that kind of cook.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

What Football Was Meant To Be

If football went away, vanished from the map, it would take me a week to notice.  So imagine the stories my church buddy Rick tells  me about his family's ardent support for the hapless Cougs, Washington State University.  He said that they were masters at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, a thing they, apparently, do often enough their fans count on it.  It's a standing joke.  At one point, the Cougs were 120th. . . out of 120 in national rankings.  

Rick is working in my city because he has specific skills in operating and maintaining main frame computers. A lot of states have moved toward networks, and ours will too.  But that switcheroo is wildly expensive, and as a state we're slowly recovering from the recession.  So what we have is what we will have for awhile.  

Rick left a perfectly good wife behind in a nearby state, Washington, where she teaches and is the matriarch of a multi-generational family.  She's doing a good job.  Suzie and Rick met in college, Washington State, they married, reared two beautiful daughters, now in the process of creating their own families.  The latest member:  Baby Ellie, now a 2-year-old.   Rick and Suzie have been going to Cougar's home games, flying, driving across the state four or five times during the football season.  Grandma goes,  so do the daughters and their husbands, and Baby Ellie.  They've been doing it for about 30 years.  Still ardent, still willful supporters, still laughing.  All that flying is costly, even for a family who does well financially.  One of Rick's son-in-laws, the veritable Ray, gave Rick a whole big bunch of air miles so he could get home more often.

So last Friday.  The Cougs (3-9, 1-8 Pac 12) were on their home turf battling it out against the University of Washington, a fierce competitor and decades-long rival.  The guys who ALWAYS won.   Things went about as you would expect, and University of Washington was ahead at the end of the 3rd quarter by 18 points.  Then the unthinkable happened.  The Cougs recouped 18 points in the  4th quarter, leaving the teams tied.   The Cougs took it one step further, and kicked a 27-yard field goal on their first overtime possession.  

The Washington State Cougars, of all things, won The Apple Cup,  31-28. 

Now there's a football game for you.

Woot.  Woot.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thank You!

Thanks everybody, for making my blog a growing and lively communication.  I love to laugh,  I love family (I have several), and I love food, things I'm grateful for today.    Apparently, you are too.  We're nearing 3,000 hits.  That will happen in the next couple of weeks.  We have new friends in Russia, Great Britain, Germany, France, The Ukraine, China (I know, how did they find us?), Malaysia, Columbia, India, Mexico, Canada, among others.  I can't tell you how much I love that.  All of that has happened since we started in February, thanks to the suggestion of my friend, Carla, in Germany.

So, a favorite Thanksgiving memory?  A couple of years ago, Julie, my cousin and I,  were invited to Thanksgiving with her bestie, Joanne  and her sister, Jeanne.  They've been friends with Julie since college.  They accumulated husbands, kids, grandkids, and the newly minted, baby Andrew.  When Julie was sick, it was Joanne who was sitting with me during the surgeries.  We were with Julie all day, from 8:00 A.M. to 5:30 — without eating.  Julie couldn't eat pre-surgery, so we didn't either.  I treasure that kind of help and support.

Fast forward, 3 years, and I get a call from Joanne, offering Julie and I an out, if we wanted it.
They'd been roasting the turkey, outside (all the inside ovens were full, you know the drill), and the chef had forgotten something important, made a fast-feets trip to the store, and while they were gone.  .  .  the turkey caught fire, burned itself into a hard and fast crispy critter.  Beyond retrieval.

I offered Joanna a ham I had in the fridge and said, "I'm not missing a second of this."  Julie still wanted to come too.  Joanne took me up on the ham.  I can honestly say, it's the only meal I've giggled my way through.  As did everybody else.  We laughed all day.  

How was the ham?  Marginal.  Didn't matter.  The turkey was still the star attraction and my main memory.  Can't wait to explain that to baby Andrew.

For all my friends, the ones I know and the ones I don't, for my church, for my community, for my family,  you are the best of the best and I know it.

Monday, November 19, 2012

What's for Dinner?

I was looking for a book I'd failed to read when it was popular and was winding through the back corridors of the church.  It's a big place, with lots of halls shooting off in different directions.  I've got the main floor figured out, but not the top floor, and the basement where the kids go seems a maze.  Every Sunday the right parents get reattached to the right kids, and everybody goes home happy.  So it must be easier than I think.

Part of those back rooms house the choir and  the teens.  There's a little chapel and a lovely formal lounge, but I'm looking for the church library and the kitchen.  All churches will tell you to head towards the light, but in this case it's true.  It's Wednesday  night and not every room has the lights turned on.

As I near the library, I hear hoots and whistles,  a few shrieks, well-kept promises, and laugh-out-loud laughter. Somebody is having a good time.  Brent, our Australian chef, is playing pool with one of the guys, who is one of our refugees.  They are both stretching into impossible shots, kids and friends are urging them on.  I think that pool is a universal language. There are a few things that lend themselves to world peace.  Art is one of them.  You can tuck music in that one.   Brent will tell you that food is another.  It's hard to be angry with anybody who is feeding you good food when you are really, really hungry.  And I believe that sports and games is another.  People who play. . .

The pool table is in the library.  The library is doing double duty these days, decked out as it is with pool and fuzz ball tables.  There's some sensibility that supervised teens are in a better space than  unsupervised ones, hence the game tables.  Gotta have something for them to do.

And eat.  Brent and the gang  made Morrocan Beef (beef that's been braised all day in tomatoes and carrots and about a thousand spices) along with roasted potatoes and sweet potatoes.  The scent is enough to make me dizzy.  He's feeding about 200 people tonight.  It's a lingering fall day.

Pretty perfect, I'm thinking.  

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Sisters and Their Sports Cars

So, three years ago, my mechanic refused to repair my 17-year-old Mitsubishi Mirage.  The old girl was blowing smoke, held together by bubble gum and wishful thinking.  She'd held up fine almost two decades and carted my cousin back and forth to the doctor and chemo treatments.  Those trips blew out the Mirage's  gaskets, as it did mine. So  I bought a used car, but what a used car. . .

When you have been unhappy or under intense emotional duress for long periods of time, you have no resistance to fun.  None.  You are a thirsty woman, and there is cool, clear water ahead.  It's nothing more complicated than that.  So when the salesman brought out a spiffy,  itty-bitty red sports car out for me to test drive, it was a done deal.  It was impossible to feel tired or overwrought when I was sitting in that little car.  Still is.  Big fun.  

I was in my closing-in-on my sixties years then, and I took my neighbor, in her mid-90s for a ride, two girls out for a picnic.  A peanut butter sandwich to share, a warm Coke, the sun roof open in May, two girls out to see the spring blooming trees and a deep blue lake.  I don't know who was happier.   It was a sweet, sweet day. 

We did merit some second glances from twenty-something guys.  It wasn't exactly desire (discounting the car); it was much closer to flat disbelief.   I'm still smiling about that.

Little sports cars give you permission, of sorts.  Mine did for two of my writing sisters, one of them bought a red sports car, the other silver.  Both of them convertibles.  When we talked about it  later; they said my little car gave them the notion that we have all reached the age of accountability, we have all lived through some pretty harrowing times, times that required the utmost in responsibility.  Now that their children were grown with lives and kids of their own; (just one of their supreme tasks) that it was quite all right for their moms to drive sporty cars, preferably with the top down or the sun roof open along beautiful, beguiling roads into the mountains or the coast.   

My friend, Julie, another sister in the making, just bought her sporty little car: a great music system and sassy rims.   She's raised two gorgeous girls.  The car she used to haul little girls to soccer and cheerleader practice was just not going to do that any more.  

She had a little unrepentant pleasure in mind.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A Little Christmas Kindness

So,  I live in an apartment, sort of the funky variety.  It's over 40-years-old  and not everything is as up-to-date as it might be.  The burners on the stove have a peculiar heat sensitivity—some times it's hot enough to melt the metal from the bottom of the pan; other times the water does not come to a boil.  The fridge leaks.  There might be a mouse.

At any rate, it's home enough to Obi and I.  Obi is a ragdoll, which is a kind of Siamese.  They are immense cats with blue eyes, and the coat and coloring of exotic cats.  He didn't  do so well with his previous owners.  I expect they didn't pay him all the attention they could have paid.  It's taken him two years to understand hugs.  But he gets them now.

I have plenty of love: church family, writing colleagues, friends that go back twenty years.  Twenty?  Try thirty or more.  Two of my besties go back to college and post-college years.  Some of my friends are young, with little kids and I dote. My family is stellar and in town. I'm not a lonely woman.

But some of the people who live here are:   a woman who is single-handedly caring for her 90+ mother.  She just bought a puppy, a big one.  There's a guy here in his late 60s, maybe 70s, and his family is scattered.  He's still an athlete.  There's a young man from far-far away, missing his parents.  He's a hydrologist, studying water issues in our high-mountain dessert.  At any rate, there's nobody to celebrate Christmas with, for any of them.

But I'm guessing that a little Christmas kindness would not be out of line.   I'm thinking of my buddy Greg's Christmas fruitcake.  I know, I know, I just wrote about a fruitcake, but I'm thinking nobody is gonna set fire to Greg's fruitcake.  It's just too delicious.

Here goes, plus a few changes to accommodate my peculiar taste.

1 pound of sugar (21/4 cups sugar)
1 pound of butter (use the real stuff)

Melt these at very low heat, at least an hour.

Mix together.  4 cups of flour,  3 pounds of dried fruit (see my little note.  The recipe calls for candied fruit, but nobody in  my family will eat it.  So dried.)  11/2 pounds of nuts (see my little note).

Let butter and sugar mixture cool, add to flour, fruit, and nuts.  Mix it together.  Add 6 beaten eggs, one at a time, and 2 tablespoons of lemon extract and 2 tablespoons of vanilla.   Mix it well.

Line 5  small bread pans with parchment paper, leaving a little overlap, so the cooled fruitcakes can be simply lifted out.  Bake at 250 degrees to 275 degrees for 2.5 hours.  If the fruitcakes get too brown, cover with foil.  After you remove the fruitcakes from the oven, leave them in the pans 1 hour before removing.  Makes 5 small loaves.  Perfect for sharing.

Note:  I like different kinds of fruit.  So here are four different kinds of fruits you can add.  Of course, you can make up your own.

1st:  Dried blueberries, cherries, and apricots for the fruits; chopped hazelnuts for the nuts, sort of an Oregon fruitcake.

2nd:  Dates, raisins, figs, currents, golden raisins; almonds for nuts.  A three-wise men kind of fruitcake.

3rd:  Fresh apples (Honey Crisp or Jonathans), peeled, cored, chopped up,  dried cranberries, dried pears;  walnuts for the nuts.  Maybe one with an Idaho attitude.

4th:  Dried papaya, mangos, coconuts (flaked and toasted),  chopped and roasted Brazil nuts.  The exotic.

Anyway you go, it's a sweet way to remember people who are not as comforted or as encouraged as you are.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

What Scared Me

A spring day, and we were in Melba.  The whole family, sans children.  My brother and his friend, Randy, who was there for muscle power, which we needed,  Maggie, my sister-in-law, cousin Julie.  We were on a mission.

My dad had died the previous November.  Our last years with him had been glorious. He was in a nursing home in our town for the three years before he died at 77, with the complications of muscular dystrophy.  His doc called him the oldest living MD patient on record.  I think that may have been more than the kindness of docs.  It might have been true.

At any rate, my dad had been corralled and treated kindly.  He was safe, well fed, and had lived long enough to see his grand daughter, Miss Mackenzie.  He liked his last years, he was in town where his kids could get to him, the nursing home folks kept him wheel chair bound—fine with us—and entertained.  He found a girl friend.  Safety and love for a 75-year-old muscular dystrophy patient are not overrated.

He'd lived in Melba all of his adult life.  He liked his old friends, and the paramedics would come often enough that he knew them by their first names.  He thought they were grand.  He kept himself occupied by making world-class plum and apple juice, his famous sour dough bread, and Christmas fruitcake.  He was ardent in caring for his fruitcakes, pouring brandy over them liberally every year for years.

So, we were in Melba trying to clear the place for the people who'd bought the trailer.  Steve and Randy tackled the outside stuff which had to be packed off or burned off. Maggie and I were in the kitchen.  If you've had elderly parents who've insisted on their own lives and that everything is just fine, thank you very much, you know what that means.  Julie lost interest about then, and who could blame her.  I didn't have that luxury.  

I entered the horror of horrors—under the sinks and the cupboards.  Maggie talked me through it, there being only room for one cleaner-upper.  I wiped up gallons of mice poopies and insect exoskeletons, fought valiantly against the the spiders and their sticky webs.  I was nearly hysterical with it, hyperventilating, shocky.   I got rid of the detritus, then scrubbed the boards hard with cleansers, then bleached the living daylights out of them.  It took me most of the day. Cleaning the rest of the house was a piece of cake compared to that.

I went outside to get parts of my soul back.  My brother had a big bon fire going; the pickup was full of glass jars for recycling; things had been picked up, swept up, hauled off.  I rescued the doll baby I'd had as a child.  Still love that little baby.  But everything else looked like it belonged in the fire.  

Then I noticed It It was burning along the edges of the fire, but It was breathing.  Or looked like a set of lungs, breathing. It was round, brown, shiny, inhaling, exhaling.   Steam was flooding out of the growing-larger-by-the-second orifices which looked like Satanic grins or screams, couldn't tell which,  with smoke billowing out of rainbow-colored fire—pink, orange, green, turquoise, blue, blood red.  It was wheezing, shape-changing, whistling, and swirls of multi-colored liquid ran off the sides.  It was vibrating with hell's own hideousness.  

"What is that?" I asked my brother.  It was an incredulous moment on my part.

 "Oh, just the fruitcake."

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Of course, The West is an appropriately creepy place.  Our long vistas, howling winds, switchback roads, misty fogs, the ancient buildings, more ramshackle than not, and the loneliness and the resulting craziness, make us a fine people and place for ghosts to haunt.

My favorite "for reals" TV ghost story, and I'm a sucker for those, happened in Silver City, reputedly one of  the most haunted places in the West. I'd heard stories about that town for decades.  Two young, beautiful reporters spent the night in the bar and the hotel.  They were  getting locked into or out of places, usually with a massive slam of the door, that somehow refused to open after.  It could have been ghosts or it could have just been the old buildings, having a laugh at their expense.  Either way, they hightailed it out of town in the middle of the night. 

 More. Than. They. Wanted.

I have a family ghost story.  Aren't those the best kind anyway?  My cousin, Pat,  died of a heart attack when she was in her 50s,  just a few days before her daughter, Vicki, married.  Talk about a tough wedding.  Everybody cried all the way through that.   Fast forward a few years,  long enough for Vicki and her husband to have their first child and for that little girl to be between three and four years old.  This was a family that had fun together.  Vicki and Nicole came to visit Great Grandma and Great Grandpa, and were there for a long weekend.  Poor little Nicole was having a time of it.  She was crying and fussy all weekend, kept talking about the "lady in the corner," which scared her.  Nicole would point her out.  Nobody else could see "the lady in the corner."  On the morning, they were leaving, Grandma picked up little Nicole to take her to the car.  There, Nicole pointed, there is the "lady in the corner."  The little girl pointed to Pat's high school graduation photo on top of the fireplace mantle.

Most of this story is true.

I've had lots of creepy feelings in this state.  I remember fogs when I was younger that would be so thick, you couldn't see through them for days.  The un-nervingest  of those fogs hung over us at just over roof-top high.  It gave the street light a really odd cast.

Old barns can scare the willies out of you too, especially when the old boards don't exactly keep out the wind and the cold.  You can see through the slats of wood.  In the daylight, fine.  When the wind is blowing or at night, the sound of the wind howling through those old buildings makes you think the devils themselves have come straight out of hell,  moaning and shrieking, to eat you alive.

When I was much younger, I hiked into a high mountain ghost town, Boulder City in central Idaho.  The place weirded me out.  Maybe it was the plants, high above the tree-line, that were mangled by the wind, or the crazy-making greed that comes with gold mines, or maybe the long solitary winters, any way it felt haunted to me.  I said as much to an old friend  who had grown up in the area about it.  He said, "No, not Boulder City.  There are places like that in Idaho, but that isn't one of them." 

 Still and all.

My absolute best story was the story of my brother and a favorite cousin who were going to spend the night in a camper shell in the rural front yard, where the farm equipment was kept.  The boys were about ten years old.  It all went well until about midnight.  The lights were out, the wind  was up.  And then slowly, it began to  dawn on the boys that they weren't alone.  "That breathin you?"  Mike whispered.  What ever it was, it snored deeply. "Nope," my brother was holding his breath and trying to talk.   That was enough to send both boys screaming into the house.  My uncle had to go look by himself, since the kids had had enough for one night.  What did he find?   Two hunting dogs.  They were the "ghosts."  They had scrambled into the camper quietly for big guys.

Which brings me around to my own Halloween memories.  There were 8 family farms in my country neighborhood where we would Trick or Treat.  Each mama would make something wonderful.  We wound up with 8 treats, each one better than the last.

Things like brownies with frosting, snickerdoodles, popcorn balls, Rice Crispy treats, giant Hershey's bars, pretty baggies of candy corn and peanuts, carmel apples, lemon bars, black jelly beans and orange slices, lots of those.  Two hundred itty-bitty candy bars do not do it for me.  But those homemade treats can reduce me to a slobbering mess.

Then too, there could still be a ghost or two, still hanging around the old neighborhoods.  I was thinking those ghosts might be more like Casper.

Hoping, anyway.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Stopping Place

A single, orange leaf, untethered from the mother tree, drops into the wide green swath of manicured lawn.  It's landed on it's edge, and the morning sunlight ignites the leaf.

Here's the thing, there's not another leaf in this city yard that comes close to its shape, or  it's point of  progress through the growth and death cycle, nor is there any living thing that matches the same robust, flame-throwing orange.  This leaf has a spikey appearance, the others are rounded and serrated.

What we have here is a pilgrim, a wandering traveler, an untamed believer in the next best thing, no matter where it is.   For whatever reason, it didn't stay put.

A lot of us wander towards the end of our lives, a restlessness or an urgency to explore sets in.  Work and children rendered us capable of stability and safety.  Now those monumental tasks have loosened their harnesses, giving us some measure of freedom to stop if we think best, to go if we desire, or to plan a stay in somebody's back yard, if that's as far as we get.

The little leaf is at the end of its cycle, the next hard rain, coming in a day or two, will take it out.  It's edges are curling as I write these words.

Best to get going while the going is good.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Fall's Weapon

This week the girls got together.  Mike, Marty's husband was hiding out in his den.  "Well, there's a game. . ."  he sheepishly explained why he wouldn't be joining us.  He's a guy's guy, and the things we talk about make him itchy.  Too many feelings and talk about "girl things."

We give him a lot of space.  First of all, there was a game.  And second of all, he's one of the great guys in our lives, and there are several of those.  Mike is hero material with a sense of humor.  Perfect.

But we have a secret weapon to  draw men from their lairs:  Spaghetti and meatballs.

We're having spectacular fall weather.  Gloriously warm day and cool nights.  Perfect weather for long, slow-cooked tomato sauce and those juicy, comforting meatballs.

Here's the recipe:

The meat balls:  Buy 1 small tube of hamburger, and 1 package of sausage.  You want the meat mixture to be about  50%/50% beef and pork.  Take off your rings, and use your hands to mix them together.  

Next:  add 1 egg, 1/2 cup bread crumbs (or more if the mixture is really wet and won't hold together,) 1-2 Tablespoons of oregano, 1 tablespoon of fennel seeds- add more if you wish- 1/2 tablespoons of salt and pepper (to taste), 1/4 cup thick worchestershire sauce, half an onion diced finely, and 2 cloves of garlic (mash them in a garlic press).  Mix all of that into the meat.  Form 2" meatballs, you'll get about 16.  Heat olive oil at medium heat.  Slowly brown and crisp the meatballs 4-5 at a time.  I did it in three batches.  Put the meatballs on paper towels to drain the fat.  Work on the next batch, until all of the meat balls have a lovely golden brown and delicious crust.  The crust helps hold the balls together in the slow cooking process that follows.

In a big pot (cast iron maybe-you'll need a lid), add  the other half of the diced onion and 4-5 large cloves of garlic (mashed.  Let those vegies soften.)   Put in a 28 oz can of diced tomatoes, a medium can of tomato sauce, and a small (or medium) can of  tomato paste.  You can vary those sizes if you wish. Add 1-2 tablespoons of oregano, 1 tablespoon of fennel seeds, salt and pepper to taste. ( I used quite a bit).    Drain some of the fat off of the meatball pan, leave a little, scrape the fond from the bottom of the pan and add that to the baking pan.  Add 3/4 cup water and stir every thing to together.  Taste now, adjust seasonings.  Add 1/2 cup sugar, if the sauce seems bitter.  You don't want it to be sweet, you just want to take the edge off.   Add the meatballs into the sauce, cover the pan, and let them cook together for 3-4 hours at about 300 degrees in the oven.  There may be some fat on top,  take that off. 

If you want you can add half a cup of mellow red wine to the sauce, a handful or two of mushrooms, diced green pepper, artichoke hearts.  Or anything else that strikes your fancy.  As I get older, I'm relishing the basics more and more.  So I just let it be.

Make spaghetti 15 minutes before serving time.  Make sure there's enough Parmasean.  Miss Gail said they were the best meatballs she's ever eaten.  The secret:  the uppage of the herbs and the slow, gentle time in the oven.  

I think.

Mike had a big plate, along with two kinds of salads, fruit and green with walnuts and apples. 

There wasn't a vitamin or a mineral we missed. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Group

Writers are odd ducks, it might be a psychological requirement or an impairment.  Who knows, just yet?  We spend too much time alone staring the computer screens or white pieces of paper.  Some days all we can do is sit and think.  I think it's thinking.  We're mesmerized by a golden leaf, the night patterns of the waves on the ocean, how words work.

I once got an inspiration for a poem, a mile and a half from home, on foot.   I sang it, shouted it. repeated it, so I wouldn't lose it, for the 20 minutes it took to get home to the computer.  If that behavior doesn't qualify as loopy, I don't know what does.

So when you find like-minded souls, loopiness and all, you cling together for decades.  We bring our characteristics with us—the urgency to tell a good story, the deep-seated need to understand, the creative bent, and in this particular time of our lives together—the great congealing passion of Boise State football.  There's that.  These gatherings feel like sacred space, like family when you do well together, like liveliness, like life.

A few years ago, one of our group moved to San Francisco, wife and all.  So this last weekend, they were back in town resonating with their peeps. Steven has been a doctor, a neonatologist, now his SF friends and neighbors think of him as a writer.  He likes that.  We like it too.  He's written the great American novel.  I'm serious about that.  He's finishing up a wondrous, immense novel that will make you fall in love with America all over again.  I'll keep you posted on that.

There's Leslie, who writes exquisite, delicate stories and poems about family.  She has the most handsome, beautiful two children, Kyle and Claire, and her husband is Dan, a brilliant, kind man.  Chris is our mountain man who writes love poems to the West.  He deserves the Pulitzer, at the very least, but he's been too busy teaching high school kids how to think.  He married a woman a little older than he, and they've been good together.  Then there's Mike, married to Jenifer, who writes x-rated literature that so is funny you have to come up occasionally for breath.  Bitsy is his main character, so you sort of get the drift.  He only writes 2.5 pages every three months or so, given his legal practice, so it might be awhile before you can get your hands on his story.

I was the first one to be published, but I've always, always  known I was the least talented of
the bunch.  By a long, long measure.

We had dinner together.  Les picked up gyros and spanikopita.  I brought exquisite tomatoes, fresh from the Marshal's and Jeanette's garden, tomatoes that had been artfully tended.  They were seasoned a little bit, some dried basil, a little salt and pepper.


Monday, October 1, 2012

Beer and Bibles

We're Methodists, which means we're left to our own devices to figure stuff out.  We're given credit for our brains and expected to use them.  John Wesley, our founder, felt like there were only a few things that he was profoundly adamant about—love God, treat other folk well, trust the God stories in the Bible.  That's about it.  Otherwise, he wasn't particularly particular.

So lots of people wind up under our cathedral ceilings.  The refugees are there weekly, have many different spiritualities, and we love them.  The homeless and  the penniless are there daily, and we love them.  We feed them weekly or if they need a sack lunch.  Our organist actually belongs to another religion, but there are few people who can master our immense, world-class, bigger-than-any-other organ in the northwest, let alone levitate all of us a good six inches off our pews.  And we love him.

So Wesley wasn't explicit about what we were to drink.  We could go either way.  A beer here or there was up to us.  We were left to our own good judgement.  A glass of wine with dinner, OK.  Eight or ten, not so OK.

We have a new pastor, one who ardently believes you oughta go where the people are, just hosted his first Bible study in a bar.  You heard me right.   It's a neighborhood bar, with an immense patio on the front side, and a garage in back.  It has a garage door that can be opened on a summer night.  A few tables.  A few people were there too who weren't part of our congregation, two drunk girls were outlasted.  About 20 other people.  We talked. We studied the first chapter of the gospel of Mark.  So it was a real Bible study.  I've never been in a livelier discussion.  We laughed often.  People, who didn't know each other, communicated easily.  The pastor had a beer.

I just don't think we're going to be hampered with too much stuffiness.

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Wedding in the West

This weekend I attended a very sweet wedding, a medium-sized wedding about 200 people, set in a lyrical  mountain valley surrounded by sky-high mountains, albeit there was some smoke.  Still, it was clear enough to see and we were outside.  Horses in the pasture.  Leaves starting to turn.   Little girls leaning out of the 2nd story window of a barn, waving to their family and friends.  Beautiful table settings with white flowers and little votive candles. The great expanse of newly mown grass, deeply green.

Tucker, a righteous young man, at a little over 30, is ready.  He married Daniela, the daughter of a South American family, now living in the Pacific Northwest.  Tucker is the son of close friends, Tom and Colleen, and handsome enough that people used walk up to him and comment; Daniela is a striking beauty.

As weddings go, it was Western casual.  The groom's men were dressed in their spanking new jeans, a tux shirt and suspenders, a little bit a humor was involved.  Tuck wore the standard denims with a tux shirt and jacket.  The bride's maids wore dresses they picked out, but were within the same color family. And leggings. Spritely and a little sassy.   Daniela wore Colleen's wedding dress, a cotton with exquisite embroidery.  Fresh and crisp and lovely.   And then there were the kids—these families have way-cute kids.  I'm looking forward to more of those.

Pastor Bob taught from the Song of Solomon, the basis of a very lusty, happy marriage. It is the first marriage for Tuck and Daniela, more than likely to be the last, given their parents' model of living through some tough times together and their own religious sensibilities.  My favorite line:  "You ravished my heart."  Deep sigh here.

Dinner was chicken and ham, salad and rice with little baby shrimps, homemade cookies.  This isn't a family that drinks, so there was fresh pink lemonade.  Besides the roads getting here require a clear head.

When I walked up to congratulate the bride and groom, Tuck blew me a kiss and breathed out,  "This is the best day of my life."  I promise more.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Fall Festivals

This time of year is paradise.  The intolerable heat is gone, but the day time  temperatures are in the 80s and 90s, and the evenings are long and sweet.  We have all kinds of festivals, an art in the park, a nationally known walk/race for women, and neighborhood festivals.  Since we're more urban than rural any more, the Harvest Festivals are out of town in the villages, and the neighborhoods, provided the neighborhood has a personality, has taken over the job of celebrating the season.

A favorite is the Hyde Park Street Fair, in a neighborhood known for it's iconoclasts, it's tree-lined streets, and it's artists.  Metal artists, potters, painters, dancers and young people engaged in politics and the ecology, meet in the coffee shops and talk away the afternoons.  A lot of them eke out skinny livelihoods, but have great lives.  It's a neighborhood not for the faint of heart.  You have to be know who you are and what you want from your life before you venture into those realms.  People who are clear-headed do fine.

I'm with some of my best buds: Tim and Julie, Cheryl and Larry.  And it's Tim that helps us find an old friend.  Rick, the guy who is in Iron Man training, has been out all week with a tummy upset.  Fair food doesn't seem like that good an idea.

There are a hundred booths, the usual political booths, but these are more towards the liberal side of things, in keeping with the accepting nature of this neighborhood, soy products, tie-dye shirts, summer hats.  If you think this is a throw-back to the 60s, you'd be right.

The Street Fair is a great place to people-watch.  At the pack of the park is one of our town's famous foothills, a golden one, and around the hill comes the local high school cross-country track team.  Their dark blue shorts are brilliant against the hills.  All night long the kids try to run up the trail and then slide back down.

A young woman, decked out in dred-locks, big thick honey-golden ones, and too little clothing steals our attention.  What clothing she had was beaded, tie-dyed, patched together.  She had on amazing amounts of jewelry: bangle bracelets, pendants, pierced earrings, and chokers.  She was astonishing enough, until we saw her mother.

A young handsome man who had shiny, beautiful  hair down to the middle of his back, was dressed in a mid-calf length wool coat.  Black.  Trimmed in fur.  He didn't have on a shirt.  He did have on black pants and knee-high black boots.  I watched him for about half an hour, and then he pulled up the hood on his coat and covered his head  and left.  It's 92 degrees.  So here is my question:  Do druggy kids have trouble maintaining a normal body temp?  I know, with some diseases, that some patients have a really hard time with that.  Cancer, for example.

Most of the people are young families, groups of friends, the adventurous, cyclists, runners, and mountain climbers, an outstanding number of athletes.

So, for the joy.  My friends and I got to see Dayo.  He went to our church for a time, and we grew so fond of him.  He is from Nigeria and has to be the son of a grand Nigerian king.  Has to be.  Stunningly handsome with a beautific smile.  His heart is big and his mind is a good one.   He has a daughter that he is so very proud of.   He works in a bank by day, and then is the heart and soul of a community organization that fosters the arts and the music of people from all over the globe. His life's work.  His area at the fair takes up a quarter of the park.  On stage, at that moment were beautiful young girls who were doing Mexican dances.  They are dressed in white lace gowns and vibrant, red flowers, and on each of their heads is an unlit candle (watchful mamas) that they balance throughout the dance.  Dayo is a great family and community man already, and this project will take him around the world.  He believes peace and understanding break out when people sing and dance together.

I that happens too when people eat together. So what did I have for dinner:  A Baja Taco with shrimp.  Here's how I would make it at home.  They had 4 large shrimp for each taco.  I'd use 10 or 12 big ones.  They grilled them a minute or two, seasoned them with salt and pepper and a little mild chili powder. They used a grill pan, which is what I have too.   They used homemade tortillas and since those are beyond me, I'd use a large flour or corn tortillas.  They used diced fresh tomatoes, crunchy shreds of both red and green cabbage,  green onion, cilantro, and a little bit of lime.  They had a sauce,  which was delicious and is still a mystery to me.  I'd get close with a little bit of sour cream, thinned with lime juice and some chili powder, salt and pepper.

You eat these tacos with a fork, if you treasure foods that actually make it to your mouth.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Blueberries, anyone?

Last night, I attended a cancer survivors workshop at our local hospital with my cousin, Julie.  They had a wonderful agenda, one of the social workers talked about coping with massive change; the acupuncturist, a guy's guy,  gave a cooking demo and a dietician gave wonderful, practical advice about developing menus that were easy, packed with nutrition, and practical.  I think she needs her own advice, because she hates grocery shopping, and cooking, for that matter.  Funny.

Here's what she recommended for both prevention of cancer and  treatment of  cancer:  eat 2 1/2 cups of veggies a day; along with a 1 1/2 cups fruit.  I love those foods, but you have to realize the French fries don't count.  We're talking broccoli here.

Anyway, as helpful as these workshops are, the really interesting part was the survivors.  It was easy to spot the survivors and their caregivers.  Everybody looked as if they had been through a major war and had lost ever so much, rattled and not entirely clear about what their lives might be.

As helpful as the new meds are, and they are saving the lives of people right and left, cancer still scares us at the core.  I've felt that fear myself, and my cousin, Julie, got the big whammy.  She knows what it is.  It turns out that 1 in 25 Americans is now a cancer survivor.  So the good news, lots and lots of people live through it.  Kudos to them.  The bad news?  Too many people have cancer.  One person is bad enough.

I noticed this:  Hair.  Post-chemo, the hair comes back.  But it doesn't come back in the way it left.  It can stick out in odd directions, be beyond any attempts at control, or it can be a different color or texture.  Most people in the room were in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.  Some of those folks tried to master their new hairs, others just let them be what they wanted to be.  My personal favorite: the 80-year-old woman who dyed the ends of her hair pink.  She's my kind of person, with the strength and humor to take something very bad—and put it in its place. Pink is the color of breast cancer survival.

The other thing I noticed was that kindness and compassion, a deep understanding of real live suffering is prevalent. Anything other than kindness is sacrilege.  Nothing else is called for.

They ended with a panel.  Dr. Dan was on it.  While everybody did a really good job, Dr. Dan was our favorite.  In this community, he is a beloved oncologist. We trust  him so deeply.

So, blueberries?  Here is the recipe for Blueberry Granita,  We had it for dessert; it was miraculous.  The recipe was developed by Alan Shaw, our chef/acupuncturist.  A couple of caveats here:  my math is not up to changing pounds and ounces into cups and half-cups; and the sugar issue.  Sugar feeds tumors, not something you want to be doing if you have active tumors.  It was also a little sweet for me.  So, I'd start with 4 ounces of sugar, and then add 1 tablespoon at a time until it becomes sweet enough.  Or you can use non-sugar sweetener.  You already know which ones work for you.   Start with a little, (very little actually, 8 ounces of sweeteners will melt off your ears—they are thousands of times sweeter than sugar) and work up.  It's worth the effort, because the taste of blueberries is regal.

Blueberries are one of the super-fruits, bold fighters against cancers of all stripes and stages.  You can eat as much as you can hold.  Turns out that your veggies and fruits are primary warriors against cancer.  That's what Julie did.  She took hold of her own recovery and eats fruits and vegg by the bucket-full.  She's closing in on her 5th anniversary.

Blueberry Granita
1 pound and 8 ounces of blueberry puree ( You can't buy blueberry puree in the store; but you can buy 3 small cartons of blueberries, cook them down  on top  of the stove with about 1/4 cup water, and then run them through a colander or a strainer. The liquidy stuff is puree.)
24 fluid ounces of water.
8 ounces of sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Pour the mixture into a metal pan and place in your freezer.  Sir the mixture every 15-20 minutes until it resembles crushed ice.  Think snow cone ice.  Cover it tightly and keep it in the freezer until you serve it, or it  disappears.  I like it better than ice cream; and I like ice cream plenty well.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

My New Russian Friends

So, something very strange happened yesterday. My Blog stats suggested that more Russians (yep)
read my Blog in the last week than people from the United States. I'm still at the baby stages of blogging, but this strikes me, surprises me. I'm getting a few hits from Southeast Asia, Mexico, and Great Britian.

What does that tell me about the Russians? That they like food, that they are fond of laughter, that they are particularly enamored of children. Perhaps their own.

I've always been fond of them. They birthed and nurtured those thundering geniuses: Rachmaninov and Tchaikowsky; Dostoyevski and Tolstoy. I love the domed architecture that shelters the Russian Orthodox church, the lush countryside and beautiful roads, their dark Russian bread. They are great at cold-weather foods.

I found a Russian cookbook. This is my experience: you can be a great cook—in your own tradition. You really need a mama to show you how to do it. Mine is German-American with a little bit of Amish/anabaptist tossed in. But I'm spotty, at best, with food that comes from outside my own culture. I was lucky with an Americanized version of Japanese hot pots, but I didn't understand the original recipes. I was embarrassed by my uninspired, insipid macaroons.

I did find a recipe for Russian roasted pork loin with a stuffing of apples and raisins and orange. Yummo. I'll let you know how it goes.

Thanks to everybody who checks in.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Summer Chocolate

A three-layer chocolate cake with chocolate frosting  is one of my dream foods, but it's too hard and too fussy to make in this heat.  It's an all day project, and if your kitchen is  hot, then the frosting can melt off the cake.  That happened to me last summer, so I know it can be done.  Only it wasn't chocolate; it was strawberry.  Only it wasn't cake, it was cupcakes.  Ones that were warm from the oven, warm from the day.

Still and all, it is somewhat of a shock, when your beautifully frosted little cakes wind up naked.  And the frosting is spreading out over the table cloth.  So, how do you have your frosted chocolate cake and summer all at the same time?

Here's the cake I make for picnics or Sunday evenings on somebody's patio:  Yummers.

1 good quality cake mix.
1 cup of rich and hearty red wine.  I prefer Merlots or Sirah's, although a fiesty Cab is good too.
(Or 1 cup of a home-brewed, strong coffee, if your prefer.)
4 eggs
1 cup of veggie oil
1 large Hershey's Dark Chocolate bar, frozen. Hershey's has the perfect choco/sugar ratio.  If you want more of a bitter chocolate, pick one of your own choosing.  If the bar is frozen, the chocolate breaks apart cleanly, instead of melting in your hands.  Don't freeze it too long, half an hour maybe.
1-2 tablespoons cream

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour a large loaf pan.  Bust up half of the chocolate bar with a hammer.  You want shards of chocolate, small ones.  Put them on waxed paper and back in the freezer.

Mix up the cake mix, wine or coffee, oil, and eggs.  Beat  2 or 3 minutes.  Add the shards of chocolate to the batter and mix with a spoon.  Pour the cake into the loaf pan.  Bake for at least an hour.  Start checking at the point.  The cake should feel firm to the touch.  A toothpick should come out clean.
You might need to go an hour and twenty minutes, depending upon your oven and your altitude.

Pull it out and let it cool in the pan for 30 minutes or more.  Gently loosen the cake from the pan.
Turn the pan upside down on a plate and let the cake come free.  Turn it right side up.  Continue to let it cool for an hour or more.

You can sprinkle the top of the cake with powdered sugar or you can melt the rest of the chocolate over hot water and add the cream, beginning with 1 tablespoon.  You can add more to reach the consistency you wish to have.  Let it cool for a few minutes, and then drizzle it over the cake.  The cake is rich enough that you don't need frosting, this little drizzle of chocolate is enough. Let it cool for a few minutes.

Put the cake in plastic wrap and wrap it tight.  Store it in the fridge until you are ready to serve.  The cool chocolate cake is perfect for picnics with ham sandwiches or turkey croissants, with veggies and dip, with fresh fruit.  It is so moist, it travels like a champ.

‎"Where there's cake, there's hope. And there's always cake." -Dean Koontz

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Unintended Gymnastics

So I was a marginal employee.  I made mistakes right, left and central, didn't always respect my elders or my betters, daydreamed all too frequently, and served as a role model for what not to do.  I landed in places that wanted/needed logical and consecutive thinking, and my brain patterns were loopy. I mean that—I went round and round and then in through the back door.

I made some sorta sense, sometimes.

The thing that saved me was that I have a wicked sense of humor and was more playful than less.  And quite extraordinary things happened in my presence. Or I did them.

Mid-afternoon.  Typical work day.  I took a call/message for a nurse destined to walked through my Center any second. In she came.  I leaned back in my office chair to catch her attention and deliver the message.  Only I leaned too far, too fast.  The desk caught the edges of the middle part of the chair, and did not hamper the bottom or the top. The result: I was catapulted out of the chair, into mid-air.I did a perfect 360-degree somersault, backwards.  And lit in the far corner of my office, on all fours.

Knees and hands.

I had a little conversation with myself.  "Are you all right?  Is anything broken?  Can you possibly be OK?" The only thing at risk was my pride.  I had a long, flowy skirt on and a slip. That was apparent.
I had on knee-high nylons. That was apparent.  I had on underwears. That was apparent.

And the nurse.  The kindest, most professional, caring of women? She laughed so hard she couldn't stand up.  For ten minutes.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Beautiful Food

Farmer's Markets are the most beautiful, abundant places,  Golden corn, deep red tomatoes, blackberries sit in the sun next to somebody's apple pies, Northwest wines, along side snapdragon and sweet pea.  There is such abundance in the West, such pleasure for the eye, such scents: mint, basil, lavender.  The space labeled Pacific Northwest is a garden framed by azure mountains on one side and the deep blue sea on the other.

So this  dish arises from my own creative and  from this abundance.    Nothing is difficult, but there are steps.  You will be making stuffed cabbage.   A caution: read this recipe all the way through.   You can be caught unawares.

Here's what you need:  Brown or white rice that you will cook in a fruity white wine and a little chicken stock.  You'll need 1 cup of rice  and 2 cups of liquid.  Put it in a sauce pan with a lid,  bring the broth/wine to a simmer, and then add the rice, cover with the lid and let it sit for 45 minutes.  Check for doneness at 40 minutes.  

While the rice is cooking, poach the cabbage leaves.  Choose the biggest ones you can find from your cabbage.  You'll need a big leaf for each person you are serving.  Bring water to a boil and slip the leaves in for 1-2 minutes. You just want a quick cook.  The leaves will be a lovely soft green that maintains a little bit of crunch.  You'll want the leaves pliable enough to wrap around your filling.

You'll need 1/2 cup rice for each serving.  Saute about 1 cup of sweet onions until they are crispy.  
If you want them a little bit sweet, add 1 tablespoon sugar at the last to carmelize them.  Roast hazel nuts in the oven for a few minutes at 350 degrees.  Then put them in a processor, or a nut chopper, or chop them by hand.  You'll need a couple of tablespoons full for each serving. Saute about a cup of sliced white mushrooms and add those.  Dice a red pepper or two and peel and shred a couple of peeled carrots.  If you want a little protein, you can add some cooked, shredded chicken.  Or maybe some shrimp.   Mix all  of this together,  salt and pepper to taste. A little bit of butter, if you wish. 

Now comes the tricky part.  Add about 1/2 cup of the mixture  to the middle of a cabbage leaf.  You can add a few shreds of basil if you wish, maybe some mint, or dried lavender blossoms.   But I'd be too scared to try all three at once.  Choose one.  Either roll your cabbage leaf around the filling or make cute little  packages.  Put the packages or the rolls in a steamer, and steam them for a few minutes until the cabbage leaves shine.  Put them on an exquisite platter.

In the meantime,  cut 3-4 big beautiful tomatoes into quarters  and 1 medium-sized baked beet (Put the beet(s) in a small glass pan, add 1/2  cup water and bake at 350 for an hour or so. Cover them with foil. You'll be able to peel the beet and cut off the ends easily after they are baked. )  Add about half a cup of the wine, salt and pepper, and let the tomatoes and beet cook slowly for 15 minutes or so.  Pull out the tomato peelings and the seeds.

Mash them all together.  You are making the most beautiful garnet-colored, sweet and sour sauce.  Start with 1/2 teaspoon vinegar or lemon juice, and about 1 teaspoon of sugar.  Increase those amounts to suit your own taste buds.  Add the beautiful sauce to your exquisite platter.  And decorate them with edible flowers: Little baby violets, maybe. 

It's almost too much to take.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Sun Valley Summer

Summer is as much a state of mind, as it is a season. Things you can't do without?  Iced tea, new mown grass, kids playing in the sprinklers, corn on the cob, maybe some ice cream.  I'm also thinking you might need concerts under the stars, 'smores, and any one of hundreds of sporting events.  We have cycling races and their attendant crashes, rodeos, and the most devastating, straight up and then straight back down, half marathon on the planet.  You've earned your ice cream if you can do that.

Two of my favorite summer memories comes from Sun Valley.  If you live outside of the West and are not prone to skiing, you might not know what it is.  It's an older resort community in the central mountains of Idaho. A little river runs through it, mountains surround it, and you are better off with a little bit of money when you go there.

The grand Sun Valley Inn has a rich history of movie stars and athletes, wide expanses of lawn, ponds with swans in them, an ice rink with a grand old show and dinner outside.  Not exactly a picnic, but the food is great.

Last summer, I drove over to attend their famous writer's conference, which is not a writer's conference so much as it is a stage for showcasing well known writers, reading their work.  My star-struck heart was on full display in the outdoor pavilion, listening to one of my heroes, Pico Iyler.  Sometimes you are confronted with a mind so dextrous and so profound, you realize just exactly how unsophisticated you actually are.  That happened.

But an image that stays with me was lunch.  Hamburgers, I think.  It was on the back lawn of the resort.  Hundreds of white picnic tables were stark against the grass, shaded by open umbrellas in pastel yellow, greens, pinks, and blues, vividly framed by snow-capped mountains.  It was all a girl could want.

Later  I met friends for dinner at a famous restaurant at the Inn, The Ram, where we ate outside, along a meandering sidewalk,  a swath of  grass, the pond with black swans.  We didn't have any kids with us, all of us being well past the kidhood stages. Either one of them.  But the table next to ours did.  Their little girls were dressed in frocks, and the little boys had on madras plaid shorts and sandals.  And they had taken over the grass, running in and out of sprinkler range, their giggles echoing off the regal old walls of the Sun Valley Inn.

Now, that's summer.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Cool and Luscious, Strawberry Pie.

We're used to the heat in the Pacific Northwest.  Big portions of the West are land-locked desert or high plains, both of which attract heat like butter to pancakes.  We have triple digits in July and early August, cools off to the 90s in the last of August.  It's October before we see the 80s.  The heat roils in from California, Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico, followed by thunderstorms and eardrum-rattling lightning.  Possibly we're not in the Kansas category, but it's all I want.    

When the heavy, soaking rains come, we relish the sound, coolness, and the scent.  There's a word for it:  petrichor.  The smell of falling rain on hard, dry dirt.  It's delicious.  So until that happens, I go through gallons of iced tea, take walks in the morning before the heat sets in,  and run the air conditioner at night.  So far, Obi, my  giant, long-haired ragdoll is doing all right.  As I am.  

And when the occasion calls for it. I make Strawberry Pie.  My church buddy, Rick, just completed an Iron Man race in the north.  His wife, Suzie, is here for the summer, and we're celebrating his accomplishment.  A big deal, given the fact that Rick is 58. 

That calls for Strawberry Pie.  

For the crust:  The day before.  

1 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 teaspoon sea salt  -  run a whisk through it.
Add chilled, 3/4 cup shortning,  cut in pieces. Then I used two knives to cut in the fat. 

When the mixture resembles pea-sized bits,  I add 6-8 tablespoons for
iced water. Mix it all together and form a ball.  Put the ball in waxed
paper, a let it rest for about an hour, or overnight.

Roll it out, it's a big crust.  Roll, east-west, north-south.  When it's bigger
than the pie pan, gently put the crust in the pan.  Carefully make sure
the crust is patted into place.  Trim off the extra.  (I make a bigger
crust, because it's easier to trim than patch.)  Use a fork to press in
a pattern along the rim and to poke holes in the crust across the
bottom and along the sides.  Let it sit in the fridge, for an hour.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.  You can use parchment paper
and a couple cups of dried beans to make sure the crust doesn't fall in
on itself.  Start checking on it at 10 minutes.  Let it cool at least an hour.
The hard part is done.

Here's the filling.  You'll need 6-8 cups of strawberries.  Wash them by
running cool water gently over them.  Cut out the hulls and cut the 
big ones in half.  Otherwise, let them be.

Take about 1 1/2 cups strawberries, and put them into a sauce pan.
Don't add any  water.  Take a potato masher and break up the strawberries.
Add  2 tablespoons of corn starch, 1 1/2 teaspoons SureJell, and 1/2 cup sugar.

Let the mixture come to a boil, and then let it cook about 10 minutes.  The
sauce will clear.  Take it off the heat, and let it cool for about 15 minutes.
You don't want to pour hot sauce over the rest of the berries.  That will cook
them.  You want them the way nature intended.

Then add the sauce to the strawberries,  stir just enough to coat the berries.
Pour them into your prepared pie crust.  You can press them into place a little
bit. Let the pie finish cooling in the fridge at least 4 or 5 hours.

Serve with sweetened, whipped cream.  It's cool, it's luscious, it's perfect.

I got the recipe from Cook's Country chefs.  They are beyond  brillliant.