Monday, May 30, 2016

Mint garden spring 2016

I finally got the mint plants in and hauled in some of the flat rocks that were under the deck before we put in the concrete.  It's looking a little sad - may have to spring for a few more plants this week, but it's a start. Look at the one plant from last year - it's looking pretty good and it was choked by violets. Hopefully the new plants will be robust and spreading next year without all of the violets competing. The flat rocks will prevent their regrowth, and I can move them out as needed to make more room for mint.

Fred is watching over the garden.

All done for now. They will grow . . .

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Cruising down the river on a Sunday afternoon . . .

I learned to play that song by ear on the piano when I was only eight years old.  I loved it, in part because I always loved the water whether it was the mighty Illinois river 10 miles from our farm, or the lakes in Wisconsin where we rented housekeeping cottages for our annual vacations. Listen to it here. Somewhere in the piles of old sheet music around here I might find this very piece.  I'm pretty sure I had it once, since the cover looks very familiar to me.

Today, Catherine, Elena and I cruised down the river - well, actually UP the river, to the dam at Capital.  We spent a couple of hours paddling around in our kayaks, saw osprey, Canada geese, a couple of Mallards, and a pair of swans.  When a boater disturbed the swans, they took off and flew almost directly over my head! They are magnificent and very, VERY large! Oh, and we saw a blue heron, well, two actually, but they were not together. We parked along the shore near the osprey nest that city workers built a platform for when they were doing some work that disturbed their old nest (yes, they built a nest on the platform!). We hoped to see the adults feeding the young, but while we saw the mother perched on the edge of the nest, we didn't see more than that.

Finally we let the current take us back to my beach.  Then we had ribs from the grill and decided we are going to do this again very soon.

Hope everyone has an enjoyable weekend, and if you get the chance, cruise down the river!

Friday, May 27, 2016

A new venture in the kitchen

When my cousin Ruth and I were in Paris, we went to a bread baking class.  My baguettes are definitely better since that class. I learned so much! But we didn't just do baguettes. We also did brioche and a couple of other breads.

Yesterday I made brioche dough for the first time. This is all new territory. It was HARD! While I was teaching a class on making baguettes, I remember saying often, "There's nothing to this!  You can do it."  Well, maybe, but I got a taste of how each of my students will feel the first time they make a baguette on their own at home. I am already mentally making my next batch of brioche dough, correcting several mistakes of the novice.

Tonight I rolled out the dough and rolled 2-1/2 sticks of cold butter into it, making layers for a roll called a brioche feuillete.  It is a delightful cross between puff pastry and sweet dough.

I bought rings to put the formed rolls in at Dehillerans in Paris. More about that here. I only had a dozen rings, so with the remaining dough I formed some cinnamon rolls with walnuts and raisins. I'm leaving them in the fridge for a slow rise until morning, when I will be baking them along with six baguettes, all for the farmers market. But the brioche feuillete are in the oven right now. They are so full of butter that they will hold just fine until morning!

Tomorrow morning, the display on the counter at market will be quite nice. Six baguettes, 12 brioche feuilletes, and 12 cinnamon rolls, much more than I usually do. I hope my customers like them. Need to work on sizing. I'm a stickler for weighing things, but I obviously didn't do it with these. They are small, medium and large, not intentionally! Next time . . .

On the cooling rack

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Decisions, decisions . . .

I have been a staunch supporter of Purple Porch since its inception and am a stockholder there. I have also supported them by being a producer at their Wednesday evening farmers market.

When I was on the farm, I had plenty of products to offer. There were organic garden produce, greenhouse plants in the spring, fruit, baked goods made with organic ingredients and items from my line of skin care products from Ceres & Co. (click this link to get to my website, or come on down to the South Bend Farmers Market, 1105 Northside Blvd., South Bend, IN.).

Then I sold the farm. No more plants, no more garden produce, no more sour cherries - the list got much shorter. People come to the Wednesday evening market at the Porch mainly for produce, which I no longer had. But I still had a pretty good following for my baked goods. Adding my line of soaked and dried nuts as well as my Trail Mix, all organic ingredients, made it worth my while to show up most weeks, and I like the community of the producers and customers.

As I wrote recently in this blog Passionate Phoenix can feel it coming on. I am ready to make some changes in my life. For me, anyway, change is the spice of life. But if something new is coming, then I acknowledge that something else has to go. I want time to hit the river in my kayak, throw a line in the water, tend my gardens. No more 12 hour days!

Last night was my last night to bring product to Purple Porch. It was the "something" that had to go. I have mixed emotions about it. I reminded my customers that I am still at the Farmers Market, at least for the time being, and they can always call for special orders.

Au revoir, Purple Porch. I will still be there for your excellent salad and soup bar. I'll stop by on Wednesday evenings to shop, but I won't be behind a table selling my wares anymore. It is bittersweet, but while I am floating on the river from the dam back home, it is a decision I will not be regretting.

Where I want to be

Sharing with the goslings

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

We have a visitor

A baby raccoon was in the yard this afternoon, near the river.  Fred is in the yard with our visitor. They even touched noses when they first saw one another, then both jumped back. Of course by the time I got my camera and got down there, they were keeping their distance.

Here are a few pics.
So little!

Not kissing anymore!

He hissed at me.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Morris and Holly, a tale of two cats

A couple of nights ago, Holly Berry came into the bedroom in the night and slept on my chest, with - GASP! - Fred on the bed right beside us. She didn't stay long, but it seemed like a step in the right direction. Then she disappeared for two days. While they poured concrete, I had shut off the automatic dog door so the dogs couldn't mess up the project. But that meant Holly couldn't get in, so I shut off the basement stairs to keep the dogs out of the basement, then turned on the switch for the door so that Holly Berry could get in. I figure a lightweight cat isn't going to ruin the concrete. But this morning, still no Holly Berry, I was getting very worried!

Part of the reason I was more worried than usual was that she had been so friendly a couple of nights ago, and it reminded me of Morris (a cat with about the same attitude as Holly) and our last night together.

More about Morris.  My husband and I were returning home from visiting my sister and were traveling on I-80. We stopped at the rest stop near Morris, Illinois to take a break. There was a cat hanging out there, no collar, very friendly, but apparently abandoned. A worker at the rest stop told us he had been there for several days. No one had come back for him. Of course, what would Susan do? I took him home with us. He was a yellow tiger, and we found him near Morris, Illinois, so of course we named him Morris.

Morris was a good cat, but like Holly Berry, he disappeared from time to time, always to return. Dave and I had a blended family, with four kids between us. In the summer, we were often empty nesters, and Morris took to sleeping in one of the kids' beds through the day, usually with us at night. But when they were home, he got displaced. And he didn't like it. He displayed his displeasure by defecating somewhere other than the litter box or the garden. When he was REALLY pissed off, he would leave a pile at the bottom of the steps into the garage. I truly believe he knew exactly what he was doing!

In the fall, two of the kids were with us all the time, and every other weekend there were four, using up all of the beds in the house. Morris began to stay away longer and longer, sometimes for as long as a week. One night, I remember there was a full moon because I could see him quite well in the yard. I opened the door to let him in for food and water. He came into our bedroom, something that had become quite rare. He walked across both of our chests, and he talked to us, was quite friendly. That morning, we let him out, never to see him again. I truly believe he had come back to tell us good-bye. His frequent and ever lengthening disappearances bespoke of him having found another home. At some point, he decided the other family was a better deal, but was nice enough to come back and thank us for everything - or whatever he was doing that night.

Back to Holly Berry. This morning, she was still nowhere to be found. Had she pulled a Morris and found another home? But good news, her food and water were gone. I went outside and called her, then I called inside the basement. I heard the bell on her collar ring, but couldn't see her  Finally, she sauntered into the laundry room. Where is she hiding now? Weird cat! I do so love her. I hope she is not cultivating a new home, one without an annoying dog in residence!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Concrete was poured today, now aging, just like me.

Well, I'm walking dogs because they can't go out their door, across the concrete, until tomorrow afternoon. Just what I need - more walking! The guys carried the lawnmower out of the basement to the yard, so I was able to mow. Walking behind a mower to do a half acre lawn is invigorating. I won't have to see my watch yelling at me because I wasn't active enough today!

The concrete looks great. What a difference it makes. Tashi's dirt bed is gone, and no more mud will be tracked into the basement. I'll have no excuse for a dirty basement floor anymore.

So here's the finished product, as well as a shot of all of the stuff that will have to be carried back to the space under the deck on Saturday.

Neatness counts

The guys did a great job.

All of this can be moved back under the deck Saturday.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The mint garden

Last year I planted several mint plants under the play platform. This spring, I discovered only one had survived. You know the old joke, "How do you get rid of mint?  Move!"  I don't have to. It grew beautifully at my house in Chicago, in fact pretty much took over the garden, but I never successfully grew it on the farm. The soil there was very sandy, and I was hoping this black soil around my house on the river would be more conducive to its growth.

Only one mint plant left from last summer? I think I know my problem. I have a veritable thicket of violets. Yes, they are pretty, but they take over just like my mint did in Chicago. So this morning I dug up every last violet plant in what I hope will be my mint garden, exposing my one and lonely mint plant from last year. Take a look at that mass of violets at the far right.

About two thirds of the violets gone
All cleaned out
The only, lonely 2015 mint plant
I bought four new mint plants at the market Saturday - one each of chocolate mint, orange mint, spearmint and peppermint. I'm going to plant them in this nice bare soil and move some of the old stones we took out from under the deck, where the concrete will be poured tomorrow, to make stepping stones in the mint garden. Next year, will it be beautiful, bountiful and violet free? Hope springs eternal.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Usual Saturday morning . . .

Six baguettes are about ready to go in the oven. While waiting for bread to rise and bake, I'm scrambling to make up labels for and fill essential oil bottles for market. All the other printing got done last night, including our newly designed Ceres & Co. labels for our bags.

Ceres the Goddess - holding the dwarf planet Ceres

Hope we have a good day at market. Phyllis is coming in for Saturday help, and she is making popcorn. I'm making Mexican hot chocolate. Free samples today! People love our popcorn samples, and I'm hoping the scent of freshly popped corn will get people to my booth.  At this time of year, everyone is buying plants for their gardens. While I don't miss the loooooooooooong hours in the greenhouse (well, maybe a little), I do miss having people lined up at Ceres & Co.'s booth for their organic heirloom tomato plants. So today hopefully they will stop by for organic Mexican hot chocolate and Ladyfinger popcorn samples. Maybe I will see you at the Farmers Market today! We're at 1105 Northside Blvd., South Bend, IN


Friday, May 20, 2016

Cat, canine and concrete

Argh! Fred and Holly Berry got into it yesterday morning, right in the middle of the exposed dirt where the concrete is to be poured. Holly Berry disappeared for the whole day. Since she had begun to show up in the house proper every now and then, I actually thought the two had reached detente. But she stayed away all day. In the evening, she did show up to let me know she was still a member of the family, but she slept outside. I have no idea where she goes. For all I know, she has another family, blessing them with her company when she is fed up at my house.

This morning, she showed up in the kitchen. That's a first since Fred came to the household. I held her and petted her and she wasn't as nervous as she usually is when inside. Maybe, just maybe it is going to work out.

As for the concrete, first it didn't happen because the forms didn't get in place in time to get the truck out with the concrete on Wednesday. They were supposed to come the next morning. But two of the regular crew were sick and couldn't make it. All of this concrete has to be hauled down a pretty steep slope (a nine foot drop over 30 feet - think about it!) in wheelbarrows. So scratch that. Now delivery has been rescheduled for Monday  All of the damp dirt is sitting exposed, right outside the dog and cat automatic door. It's getting pretty messy inside the door on the basement floor.

Oh, well, hopefully no one else will get sick, schedules will be met, and I will have a concrete pad poured and curing by Monday afternoon. And only then will I have a grooming session scheduled for Tashi. I am NOT paying to have her groomed until her dirt bed is gone forever!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

A low carb gourmet meal for two featuring spring delights

Today I want to write about food again, but this time it will include some recipes.  It's fairly simple, low carb and luxurious. It's for two people, and can be scaled up but will take some help in the kitchen while you are finishing the main course. For only two people, you can handle it alone. Detailed instructions follow. Read through before beginning. It's all there, from start to finish. Reading through it and doing your mise en place  (click the link for more on that) will make your task easier.

What you need to buy:
2 pieces wild Pacific salmon, 6 to 7 ounces each (not steaks, but from a fillet)
6 to 8 stalks asparagus, depending on their diameter.  (Here's something to keep in mind.  Each asparagus stalk is the same diameter when it is one inch high or one foot high.  Fat ones aren't "old and tough" and skinny ones aren't "young and tender." The skinny ones are from younger plants but no more tender than fat ones. Just be sure to snap off any woody ends before cooking, no matter what the diameter.)
Scallions and radishes if using
A couple or three shallots
Spring greens (buy up to two days before your dinner)
White wine vinegar
French cheeses preferably soft such as Camembert, brie and chevre - or whatever you prefer
Nuts of your choice. See a good list here to minimize carbohydrates.  Lowest carb nuts

What you may already have in your pantry - add to grocery list if you don't:
Herbes de Provence or Italian seasonings (they are a lot alike, just a matter of taste)
Light olive oil
Peanut oil and/or canola oil
Unsalted butter
Fresh garlic
Garlic powder
Sea salt
One lemon

Pan fried wild Pacific salmon with asparagus
Spring greens salad
French cheese and organic nuts
Coffee or tea
Serves two people generously

Pan broiled sockeye salmon with buerre blanc

Organizing your time -- Set out the cheese (I recommend soft French cheeses such as French Bucheron, Camembert and chevre), which should be at room temperature for serving. Give them at least two hours, so plan your time accordingly. Put a bowl of nuts and the cheese on a cheese board in center of table. Set the table. Put salad plates in fridge to chill. Keep serving plates by stove. If serving coffee, get it measured out and ready to brew. Put small dessert plates on table beside the cheese board. Now you are ready to start preparing the meal.

First thing is to check the fillets for any pin bones and to make sure that all of the scales have been removed.  You can use a tweezers for the pin bones, and the side of a spoon for the scales.  It's not a big job for two pieces of fish.

Prepare the salad dressing. Do it first and refrigerate until ready to use. Wash, sort and spin dry the spring greens; put in fridge in a plastic bag until ready to serve. (You can do this up to two days before your dinner.)  Keep extra vegetables to a minimum. Thinly sliced scallions and radishes are my additions of choice, since this is a spring meal. If using, slice them thin and keep in ice water. Drain and put on paper towel to dry when ready to assemble salads.

Salad dressing:

2 small or one large clove(s) garlic, roughly chopped
1 shallot, roughly chopped
1/4th cup white wine vinegar
1 tsp. salt
3/4 C. light olive oil or canola oil (first press olive oil overpowers light spring greens, IMHO)

Whir the first four ingredients well in a food processor or blender.  Then slowly dribble in the oil - really, as in drops to begin with. As it begins to emulsify, you can increase the speed at which the olive oil is incorporated to a slow steady small stream.  Put into a glass jar until ready to use.

Finely mince the shallots for the buerre blanc.  Put in a heavy saucepan along with the white wine vinegar. Let sit on the stove with no heat - yet!

Snap the base of the asparagus spears by bending the end. Bending will find the beginning of the tender part of the spear. Put spears on a half sheet or jelly roll pan lined with foil or parchment paper. Drizzle with 1 or 2 tbsp. olive oil, then sprinkle lightly with salt, pepper, garlic powder and Herbes de Provence or Italian seasonings. Shake the pan to distribute the oil and herbs. Preheat oven to 450º F.

While the oven heats, prepare the salad by tossing the greens with a shy two tablespoons of dressing.  Add radishes and scallions if using.  Now sit down and enjoy your salad with your dinner companion. Take your time. Enjoy! The main course is going to take less than 10 minutes. Your guest can spent a few minutes digesting while you get busy with the main course. Don't be shy about asking your dinner guest to stay out of your way for the next few minutes! This is crunch time.

By now, your oven should be hot.  Put in the asparagus and set the timer for five minutes, just to remind you to check the pan and give it a shake if necessary.

Buerre blanc:
2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
2 tsp. finely diced shallots
1-1/2 to 2 sticks cold unsalted butter diced (cut each quarter in fourths lengthwise and then cut in 3/4" chunks) and kept in fridge until ready to use
Pinch salt (taste - the vinegar creates illusion of salt, so you don't need much)
Pinch white pepper

Turn the burner on under a 12" iron skillet and the vinegar/shallot mixture for the buerre blanc. Bring the cold butter chunks from refrigerator and sit beside stove. The vinegar and shallots should reduce to about a tablespoon, kind of "syrupy." Now turn burner to low and begin to beat in the butter. Take pan from heat. Separate the chunks of butter and throw in about four or five at a time. Beat hard with wire whisk. When the first chunks of butter are just about melted, throw in more chunks of cold butter and beat, beat, beat! Hold the pan off the heat, but put back over low heat if it gets too cold. You will see it begin to emulsify.

Pan fried salmon:

2 pieces salmon cut from filet, 6 or 7 ounces each
   (Clean well - check for pin bones and scales when you get the filets home so they are ready to go.)
1 Tbsp. peanut oil (it's best oil to use at high heats)
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter

This is the trickiest part because you are going to have to jump between the fish and the buerre blanc. By the time half of the butter is beaten into the reduced vinegar and shallot mixture, your skillet for the salmon should be screaming hot. Put in the oil, then the butter. Immediately add the filets, skin side down. Set timer for three minutes and turn heat down to medium, then go back to your buerre blanc. Check the asparagus and shake the pan. If it is starting to brown a bit, turn off the oven and leave it until you are ready to plate.

Once you have all but the last half stick of butter in the buerre blanc, add salt and pepper to taste. You probably won't not need the last half stick of butter.  Set the buerre blanc on a warm part of stove, no heat under the pan now.  It's ready to go!  If it starts to separate before you are ready to serve it, beat in two or three more chunks of butter.

Your three minutes for the salmon should be about up.  Carefully use a chef's slotted fish turner or a wide metal pancake turner to flip your fish. If it sticks, give it another minute, then flip it no matter what. Set timer for two or three more minutes (should be a total of six minutes for both sides). When the six minutes is up, press the fish. It should still have some give in it. Immediately remove from heat. Don't overcook! Once the fish feels completely firm, it is too, too done. Better a little undercooked than overcooked. Remember that it will continue to cook while you are grabbing your serving plates and putting the asparagus from the oven onto the plate.

On each serving plate, first put half the asparagus spears, then one salmon filet.  Put buerre blanc over the salmon filet, and put a small custard size dish of buerre blanc on the plate for dipping asparagus spears.  Dress the plate with some lemon wedges if you wish.

Now it is time for your low carb dessert. When you take your empty plates back to the kitchen, hit the switch on your coffee maker. When the coffee is done, bring to the table and choose cheese and nuts from the cheese board. Heavy whipping cream in your coffee adds to the dessert experience.

Here's the scoop on the carbs in this meal.

1 g. carb in every 2 tablespoons of buerre blanc
Zero carbs in salmon
2.4 g carbs in each serving of asparagus
2 g carbs in each cup of spring greens
0.5 g carbs in each tablespoon of salad dressing
1 g carbs in each ounce of soft cheese
Nuts - best are Brazil nuts, pecans and macadamia nuts; stay away from cashews. Click here for Lowest carb nuts

A note to low carbers - if you want to stay in ketosis, keep your total grams of carbs at or below 50 per day. Subtract fiber from carbs for net carbs. A low carb ketogenic diet can contribute to better health, physically by keeping the alimentary tract working more effectively and by reducing inflammation. Physical disorders that are aggravated by inflammation require a whole separate blog so I won't go into them here.  Later.  In the meantime, Google "ketogenic diets and inflammation" if you want to see for yourself.  Neurologically, a ketogenic diet can help to control (or even eliminate as in epileptic seizures in children) such anomalies as depression, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, autism and Parkinson's disease.

À votre santé et bon appétit!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The project

This one will be short. I'm busy! I'm working in yard with the guys who are putting in the concrete pad under my deck.  Right now, it is a muddy mess, no matter what, and the dogs drag in lots of dirt.  Tashi has a dirt bed under the steps where she loves to lie. Sorry, Tashi, it's going to be gone soon!

Here are pics - before and during. Right now they are putting in the forms. This is a bit pricey, since the cement has to be hauled in with wheelbarrows, down the hill by the side of the house, not a simple feat!  They are taking the dirt that has to be moved to a place in the yard that was a flower bed.  I've been mowing it but it needs a layer of dirt, and then I will put on grass seed.  They also hauled a bunch of stone and patio blocks from under the deck down to the river's edge, where I am putting in a little path.

I'll add the "after" pics once the concrete is poured, but this is it for today.  They may not pour until tomorrow morning, and I have to get back outside now.  I want to make sure that the dirt goes to the proper place in the yard.

Before - see that bare dirt!


Putting in forms

Putting in forms

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

My mother's coffee cup

My mother, Charlette Siemers, loved her coffee!  She even let us have coffee in our little tea cups when we were kids, much to my dad's chagrin, worried that it might ruin our health.  It was mostly milk, and of course we dunked cookies in it, but nonetheless, my love of coffee was instilled in me by my mother at a very young age.

I loved (and still love) the smell of it brewing.  Someone once remarked that he thought people liked the smell better than the taste.  Speak for yourself, sir!  I love the smell, but more than that, I love the taste.  My Swedish tea drinking first husband referred to my family as a bunch of coffee slurpers - in a totally loving way, of course.

On my counter, I have an espresso machine, a four cup (two mug) Mr. Coffee, and three - count 'em, three! - Moka Express Italian stove top coffee pots.  I got a one-cup as a gift, bought a 3-cup because that just wasn't big enough, then bought a 6-cup too, for when I have company.

Tucked in a cupboard is a one-cup French press, and in the garage a 10-cup programmable pot with a built-in coffee grinder.  Yes, you set the time and the grind, fill it up, and (if you didn't err in your settings) you wake up to fresh ground coffee brewing at 7 am.  Pretty nifty, hey?

As for coffee cups, my mom had quite a collection of them.  But some were rarely used for various reasons.  They had too small an ear/handle (Mom had big hands), they were flared and so allowed the coffee to cool too quickly, or she didn't like the decorations on them, to name a few.

One year for Mother's Day, my two sisters and I took Mom for lunch at a tea house in a neighboring town.  There was a small antique shop next to the tea house, and we went in for a browse.  Mom found a coffee cup.  First thing in its favor, it wasn't flared which meant the coffee wouldn't cool too fast, second the ear comfortably accommodated her finger, and the third thing was something I had never thought of.  Our Mom was a lefty, and she pointed out that the focal point of the decoration on the cup was meant to be seen by someone who was left handed. She was delighted! But then she saw the price - $30!  She put it down and said there was no way she was buying that cup.

One of my sisters managed to sneak it to the register and we bought it for her.  We didn't give it to her until we were safely home so that she couldn't just walk over to the cashier and take it back.  She fussed that we had spent too much, but we could tell she was delighted.

She didn't use it a lot because she was afraid of breaking it.  I have it now.  As I was putting away dishes from a dinner party I recently had, I saw it sitting there.  I wish she had used it more. What are we saving things for?  As I age, I realize I cling to things that should be used, even at risk of breaking. I am using my mother's treasured cup for my morning coffee today, and I'm using my left hand so that I see what she saw when she used this cup.

Front of cup - for lefties, that is!

Front of cup for righties - boring.  

Monday, May 16, 2016

C'est tout

The First Unitarian Church of South Bend holds a service auction each fall, and one of my offerings for the past two years has been Dinner on the Deck.   First one wasn't on the deck because rain kept us inside.  This year it was COLD!  But no one seemed to mind that we weren't on the deck.  The dinner is a celebration of spring, featuring wild Pacific salmon, asparagus and strawberries.  That makes a tasty meal indeed, whether inside or out.

My dinner party seemed to be enjoyed by all.  I was able to sit and eat with my guests, always a pleasure.  That is really the best part, the good company.  It was a leisurely meal, and we spent more than two hours at the table, then wandered down to the river where a few of us enjoyed cigars, a gift from Jim Curlee.

Jim was also the photographer.  As usual, I have pictures of food before the meal, and then of the mess and cleanup afterwards, but during the meal, the camera is the last thing on my mind.

Here are Jim's pics from the dinner.

The bar is open.

French cheeses, terrine, fruit and nuts and the first baguette

Spring salad, with the second baguette!

Main course, wild salmon, asparagus, fingerling potatoes

Strawberry rhubarb pie for dessert

Now for the "afterglow," evidenced in my pictures of the rubble and the cleanup.  I'm sitting in the kitchen at my computer now with another cup of coffee.  The cleanup is done, last load of dishes is in dishwater, self cleaning oven is at work.  I hand washed and dried the crystal and silver, which I find pleasurable.  All's right with the world.

Kitchen wreckage in background

Dinner's over
Crystal is shining, silver and china are already put away.

C'est tout.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The cat with attitude is living in a box on the file cabinet.

My new dog has been renamed - from Figgy Pudding, which is really cute but unisex, to Fred, definitely a male.  Since he moved in after I lost Ayn Chee, a female, I was constantly referring to him as "her" and "she."  So Fred helps me to remember he is all boy!

Unfortunately the boy in Fred, or perhaps just the dog in him, led him to chase the cat, Holly Berry, at their first meeting.  Holly Berry has not forgotten.  Being a cat, she probably never will.  He leaves her alone, doesn't even get close after many reprimands, but like I said, she has not forgotten, nor forgiven.

A little history on Holly Berry.  She was one of six kittens born in our garage at First Unitarian Church.  When I arrived at church one Sunday a couple of weeks before Christmas, I was greeted with, "Oh, Susan will take one."  Oh, yeah?  I already had three dogs, a cat and a parakeet and I had no intention of taking on another pet.  And I said so.  An hour later, I left with a 15 ounce kitten tucked in my pocket and headed home.  She was obviously strong willed, as I found out on the ride home.  She wanted to be free to run around the car, and even with several stops to put her back into a box I had found in the car or back into my coat, it was a losing battle.  She would have her way.  By the time I got home, she owned me, as cats so often do.

She took over the other cat, an adult male.  She would straddle his back, tiny little kitten, and wash down Smokey's head and ears.  And he let her.  There really was no arguing with her.  As for the dogs, there was no problem, no growling or chasing, they pretty much ignored one another -- except for Tashi.  Tashi was the newest in the household, probably less than a year old (strays don't come with paperwork so the vet was guessing her age), and she didn't want to hurt Holly Berry - she wanted to mother her.  She, a fifty-five pound dog, carried this 15 ounce cat around in her mouth.  They became close, and played together often.  I found one pic of her sleeping with my beloved Ayn Chee.  So I guess they did more than tolerate one another over time, but they were never a close as Tashi and Holly
Ayn Chee and Holly Berry getting along
About a year after I lost Smokey, someone asked me to take a cat because they were moving and couldn't take him along.  It took Holly Berry about a week to run him off.  Never saw him again.  He was twice as big as her and scared to death of her.  One night he slipped out the door, and that was the last of him.  Holly had won.

Our household has lived in animal peace - until Fred.  It has been over three months, and Holly Berry now lives in a box on top of a four-drawer file cabinet in my office.  Occasionally she crawls into the insulation around the foundation, since I didn't put a ceiling in the basement.  So I see those eyes staring out at me from this pile of insulation, just above her file cabinet condo.  She comes down to eat, to go outside, and if Fred is in the kennel at night, occasionally she will come upstairs in the night, licking my hand, lying on my chest, establishing her right to be there - so long as Fred is NOWHERE TO BE FOUND!

Yesterday morning I was working in the soap room.  I heard Holly jump onto the desk that is beside her file cabinet condo, then she wandered into my soap room, where Tashi lay at my feet.  Fred was absent.  She walked right up to Tashi and nonchalantly kissed her.  And then, of course, she went back to the box on the file cabinet.  The message was loud and clear - Tashi is acceptable, Fred is not.

She obviously still loves Tashi, she has not been declawed so can protect herself, and Fred truly leaves her alone.  What is her problem - other than that she is a cat?  Exactly once, she has come upstairs to the bedroom when Fred was sleeping in the bed.  She did the hand licking, hung around on the floor for a few minutes, then she was off.  Perhaps there is hope.  She really needs to get over this!  I feel bad that she is living in a box.  Yeah, I know, it is her choice, but I want her back in the fold.  Sigh . . .

Here's holly in a box of papers in my computer desk.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Vacation leftovers

It's time to pay my Citibank bill, the credit card I used for just about everything while in France.

I'm sorting by date, and as I look at the bills, I am feeling a little blue - what was once a dream of the future is all just a pile of bills and a bunch of memories - c'est tout.  The vacation of a lifetime is done, reduced to paying the bill for Metro tickets, grocery store purchases, meals out, and one for which I owe a whole pile of money.  What was THAT for?  Some of the bills are in both francs and euros, so I thought it must be francs, but no, it is euros!  Oh, my!!

Then I saw the name Dehilleran on the bill and knew what it was for.  It's the bill from the cooking supply store in the heart of Paris, the one recommended by Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa.  I do not regret one penny spent there.  My third terrine is in the refrigerator, meats and spices blending for 12 hours before going into a water bath in the oven for two hours.  After weighting it down in the fridge for another half day or so, it's time to remove the terrine from the terrine (terrine is both the name of the cooking vessel and the end product), wipe down the exterior, wrap tightly and refrigerate until Sunday.  Then I will slice it and serve with Cumberland sauce to my dinner guests, along with a freshly baked French baguette.

My vacation is not over; it lives on - so many pictures, so many memories, so many good meals enjoyed and to be enjoyed in the future with recipes, ideas and cookware from the City of Lights.

Bread baskets and copper - who could ask for anything more?
Better than Christmas morning!
I missed these demitasse cups.  Will have to go back for one.

Provence souvenirs on the left, Dehilleran on the right - rolling pin, melon baller, molds, fish spatula, terrine, paring knife.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Passionate Phoenix can feel it coming on . . .

A few days before my sixty-first birthday, I was croned by my dear friends.  There were about 50 women and men there, from four states, from old jobs, family, fellow drumming women, young, old - and of course the first two crones in our group - Sparkling Wisdom (who has since passed to the Summerland) and Flowering Creatix, also known as Butterfly Peggy, a woman who has a way with words.  We wanted to capture the poet in Peggy, hence her crone name Flowering Creatrix.

So there is this thing about crone names.  We don't get to pick our own; we are named by the group.  The woman being croned has to leave the circle while the group deliberates on what her name will be.

Before I left the group to their task of choosing my crone name, I read a couple of letters, one from my sister Lynn who wrote about how as a young child, I had always opened green beans to look for worms before I ate them.  She related how my mother tried to break me of it, but even if she put a cream sauce on the beans, I still broke them open in spite of the mess.  One day I found one!  Whoa!  Lynn recounted my mom saying, "Well, I'll be darned!"  It got a laugh.  And of course, having found one worm just once, the deal was sealed.

My daughter Valerie couldn't be there, but she wrote a lovely letter and said that my name should be Passionate Flower, because I am passionate about everything I do and I loved to garden.  Her suggestion was taken into consideration, but she wasn't there, so the others would have their say. My friends sent me for a walk in the woods while they took up their task.

As I left the circle, my friend Matt said, "How about Worm Seeker?"  THAT got a laugh, even from me, but fortunately the group kept working on my name while I walked until I was out of earshot.

I heard someone shouting that I should come back, that I had a new name.  I returned to the circle, stood in the middle, and learned that my crone name would be Passionate Phoenix.  They all agreed with Valerie on the Passionate part, but given that I remake my life every few years, they came up with Passionate Phoenix, which I find very appropriate!  I love my crone name, and feel comfortable calling myself Phoenix every now and then.

It is true that I have reinvented myself more than once.  Wife and mother in my early 20s, I became a single mother at 27, worked hard at whatever jobs I could get (why did I quit college?), started taking some night courses, eventually remarried, sold real estate, then fell in love with a little Victorian house and put a restaurant in it.  Next I followed my husband to Chicago where he had taken a new job.  At that point, I got serious about school and transferred my credits to the University of Illinois at Chicago and got a degree in statistics.  When my husband moved to Florida for his job, I remained in Chicago to finish my degree and decided to stay there after graduation.  The salary for my new job seemed like a lot, until I tried to live in Chicago on it.  So I started my graduate degree at the ripe old age of 55, at Northwestern University's Kellogg Graduate School of Management.

I moved to Indiana, where the cost of living wasn't so prohibitive, and drove back to Chicago one night a week to finish my MBA at Northwestern.  At last, I was able to get a really good job as a program manager in the aerospace industry.  I was making good money.  But of course I couldn't leave well enough alone.  There were some things about the corporate world that didn't sit well with me, and when I got the opportunity to take early retirement with some pretty good benefits, I jumped at it.

Oh, I forgot to mention, I had bought a farm, designed and built a house, put up a barn to store a couple of tractors, and had moved there a couple of years before the early retirement.  On the farm full time, I got organic certification, bought a small dairy herd, put up a dairy barn and a greenhouse - yup, another reinvention of my life!  But it was hard work, and when I reached 72 and got a new knee, the work started getting to me.  I put the farm up for sale, and after a long search for a house in town, I got the farm sold and the house in town habitable at about the same time.  That was a stroke of luck!

I still have my booth at the farmers market.  I am a one-woman manufacturing department, making soap, skin care and herbals, and bottling essential oils and aroma therapy formulas.  There are no more greenhouse plants or garden produce to deal with, but I'm tired.  My 75th birthday is just around the corner and I'm beginning to feel my age.

I can feel it coming.  The Phoenix needs to rise again from the ashes.  I think I know what my next reinvention will be.  It has been gelling in my mind for several years, but I have repeatedly pushed it aside.  There were always other things to do.  But most of those take more energy than I have to expend.  I was thinking about doing cooking classes, but I did one Sunday and it took me two days to recuperate.  This other idea churning around in my mind takes less energy, and it is rearing its head more and more often.

I envision myself lying in the settling ashes of my life as it currently is, the Phoenix bowed but not dead.  My wings are moving, brushing aside those ashes and the cobwebs in my mind.  I feel it rising - another incarnation, another challenge, another reason to look with relish and purpose to the days ahead.  Soon, soon . . .