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Archive for April, 2009

Another beautiful day here in Kansas! Today the temps should stay in the 70s, and right now it is about 54 degrees outside. I will not have to run any air systems in my apartment today! It may rain, but we can use a little, so all is good. So, right now I’m listening to the birdies communicating with each other while I enjoy a delicious cup of morning coffee. Oh my goodness what a wonderful way to greet the day!

I know I usually talk about food, but maybe not so much today. Oh sure, you know I have eaten this week, but mostly quick meals. Very busy and worked longer days at the library than usual. And I will continue to work some today, only work here at home. So much to do! But you know I love it.

I took several walks during my lunch break this week, some with Regina, one with Leo, and one by myself. I found these walks really help “wake me up” again after lunch, because eating in the middle of the day often leads me into an early afternoon drowsy period. Actually, according to my pedometer I wear every day, I walked over 40 miles this past week. Didn’t lose any weight (well, bummer), but I know the exercise was good for me anyway.

Last night I went to Tara C’s house for beans and rice. It was really a very delicious and healthy meal, and I simply had a wonderful evening. She felt the dish didn’t have enough flavor, but the essence for such a meal came after the cooking! We added sour cream and cheese and then she had this amazing salsa that spiced it up just right. I don’t like too much heat or spice, so to me the meal was perfect. Hmmmm…….I wonder if there are any leftovers. Maybe more than she wants? I will just have to ask. She’s a good friend, she likes me (why of course!), so maybe I can impose myself that way. Worth a shot! Oh my! I can just taste those beans with the wild rice……they are waiting for me…..somewhere in her refrigerator…..just calling my name…..can you hear them? And maybe I’ll make some cornbread. I wonder what God thinks about me coveting someone else’s food on a Sunday morning? Maybe I better calm down a bit.

Today, since there really isn’t any other meal to discuss but the one Tara prepared, I have something else on my mind to share. I’m wondering about the squirrels that live and play on our planet. Earlier this week, during one of my lunchtime walks, I saw one little fat squirrel venturing out on the end of a small, thin limb to eat whatever tasty morsel grew out there on the tip. As I mentioned, the limb was thin, not very sturdy, and as she was lying down, trying to hold on, the wind was blowing and her weight was causing the limb to bounce. (With the red fur and fat little belly she reminded me of myself! So I believe she was a girl. Well, I don’t have red fur, but I do have red hair.) Her big ol’ belly was splatted out over that limb for the world to see, but she did not seem to care one bit! All she wanted was that tasty nut or bud or whatever was at the end of that limb.

This scene got me to thinkin’. How do squirrels know how many nuts to hide away for winter? For each one they eat, do they hide one? Do they actually count, “One acorn, two acorns, one more nut, that makes three. There is a pile of 10, added to those other two piles, now I have 33.”? Or do they gather a pile together and think to themselves, “That pile is 15 centimeters high and approximately 25 centimeters round; that’s enough for December, so in this next tree I’m going to hide another pile for January.” As far as I know, they have no measuring tapes nor calculators. Amazing. I know every autumn they party in my chimney. Really, they get pretty wild up in there. They chatter, they jump around, they even make such a fuss that bits of dust fall through the crack in the damper. They must scurry down to one of the local “quick shops” and purchase the beer. (I figure that when the noise stops each evening they have passed out.) So, how do they pay? With nuts? Or do they actually have cash hidden in the chimney?

I will add here that these squirrels are beautiful (another reason I think of them as girls. Yeah, well, you know, I just do.) They are so chubby, as if they have two fur coats, and they remind me in color of a small red fox. Chubby is the way to go in my book! And since I would fit in so well with these cute little creatures, maybe I will join the next party. And represent.

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It’s Saturday morning; I’m drinking my first cup of coffee; my window is open; I’m feeling the cool morning air and listening to the birds chirping in many different……hmmm….languages? What do you call that? I know so little about birds and I’m not sure if the different “chirps” between the species would be considered languages or dialects? Or maybe something else? Golly! The Starbucks freshly ground coffee I have mixed with my Folgers (my own favorite custom blend) surely has my mind thinking hard and wide already this morning!

You may ask, “why Starbucks?” Well, our daughter works part-time for Starbucks in North Carolina, and one of her benefits is a package of fresh coffee every week. She cannot drink it that quickly, so she shares with me. Plus, that company has been very, very good to her. Too many large businesses do not really show concern or even fairness to their employees, but Starbucks is different. Even though I enjoy very much my Radina’s Coffee House and Roastery here in Manhattan, when I travel, I love to go to a Starbucks.

Today I will be going back to the library for several hours to finish a deadlined project and perform mega chores at home after being away pretty much for three weeks. There is mail to go through, checkbook to straighten out, refrigerator to clean (oooh yuk), carpet to sweep and vacuum, and my usual cooking before the week. I also plan to get in some walking and make a drop-off at the recycling center. I hope I can complete much of those tasks today so I can relax and goof off tomorrow.

In my last posting I wrote about my mom’s cooking, but today I will try to bring us all up-to-date (including myself, before my tired and caffeine-induced brain forgets!) with all the tasty meals I have devoured recently.

During my two trips home and I had three delicious meals based on scrumptious fish. I met my public policy interested, world events follower, culturally curious friend, Luann, for lunch one day at the fantastic Molasses Grill in Halifax, VA. She enjoyed the cobb salad (remember? I wrote about that salad on this blog once before, loaded with creamy yet crumbly blue cheese and avocado – yum!), and I ordered the Fish ‘N Chips plate, which focuses on crispy, non-greasy, fried catfish. (OK, so they don’t describe it that way but they should!) They serve it with what I call a really good Southern cole slaw (sweetened with a little honey), a tartar sauce which includes capers and a little lemon, and French fries. [I had no idea the first time I tried this tartar sauce that I would enjoy it, because as much as I like capers, I just couldn’t imagine it in my tartar sauce. It was awesome! Totally. I was wrong. Again.] I had ordered this meal once before and it was just so delicious last time that I had to repeat the experience. Molasses Grill did not disappoint! I splurged on a piece of pecan pie that was absolutely out of this world! Plus, the serving was humongous! I enjoyed several bites with a cup of coffee and then took the rest home. It was gooey and sweet and drizzled with a little caramel and chocolate. I think next time I will ask for it without the chocolate drizzle, only I am sure there are many, many chocoholics that would love that little extra! I’m just not one of them. Oh, don’t get me wrong…….I definitely did not feel or taste the need to send it back! It was absolutely spectacular anyway – but you know I’m not the greatest choco fan out there.

One day Brent went fishing and brought back white bass, cleaned it, fried it, and then we ate and ate on that fish. There were a few bones to deal with, but since we were sitting at home, just the two of us, I just used my hands and took care of that with no problem! And the meat was so snowy white and flakey (duh. is that why they call it white bass?). I know we had a vege of some kind – maybe potatoes? I don’t remember the vege, I just remember the delicious white bass. Oh my goodness my man is such a grand fisherman and remarkable cook!

Oh yes! One night Brent and I met our high school friends Luann (yep! again.) and Amy for dinner at Four Oaks, the restaurant where my brother heads up the kitchen. I ordered fried oysters, and oh my goodness how delightful! The conversation was fantastic and relaxing. We tried to catch up on what our other high school friends were doing, talked about a few public policies, and sat there and ate and conversed for quite a long time. Four Oaks does not have the most extensive salad bar I have found in some restaurants, but for some reason it is one the best. Maybe fresher? Maybe it just offers all my favorite raw vegetables? I’m not sure, but it is quite a special place for a bowl of grazing goodies.

Brent’s mother prepared one of her usual “thrown-together quickly” feasts that would wow the most sophisticated entertainer! There was corn pudding, ham, deviled eggs, potato salad, green beans, corn pudding, butter beans, mac and cheese, and …..did I mention corn pudding? I think she prepared that pudding especially for me, because that is absolutely my favorite dish in the world! There were surely other delectables, but I can’t remember them all. There were at least two desserts in the kitchen, maybe more, but I only remember the piece of cake and the slice of pie I ate. Oh my goodness!! That woman is a master in the kitchen. For real. She invited anyone who wanted to experience her kitchen expertise to come to her home after my mama’s graveside service. I can’t explain my gratitude to her enough for all she did for me that day. She has had ear and throat troubles herself lately, but set it all aside just to fix us all a memorable and delicious meal. Giving us all time to relax and visit. She’s the best, I tell ya!

There were more tasty meals, but you know what? I really cannot remember. I recall going to the grocery store, and I know I myself cooked a few meals, but I’m afraid so much of that time is just a blurr. And I have no clue what meals I myself prepared. Age issues? Why absolutely not! It was just a busy time and a few sleepless nights that could confuse even the youngest of daughters. Word.

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In memory of my mom

I have been away from my Kansas home, visiting with family and good friends in Virginia. My mother has been ill, she eventually passed over into Heaven earlier last week, and is now resting peacefully I am sure. Those of us that knew and loved her have spent many of the recent hours talking about her, telling funny stories, and reminiscing about her cooking and housekeeping skills. She loved a clean house and always worked hard to keep it that way. However, you know me. Even though I also like a clean house (Really. I do!), I find it not nearly as exhilarating as a good meal! So, I’d like to devote a little of my blog today to her cooking. Oh my goodness how delicious!

I grew up in the Piedmont area of Virginia, in a small town, in the middle of rural tobacco country. There was a lot of magnificent country cooking going on, with sugar and butter and grease and fatback. However, not so much in my family. My father had a heart attack when I was 7 or 8 years old. He was only 45, and he survived. One of the reasons for his living another 31 years was the fact that my mother knew all about a healthy diet, and what she didn’t know, she learned through pamphlets from the doctor’s office. With his heart attack came the diagnosis of diabetes, and so from then on, supper was a serving of lean meat, one serving of a starch (which in the 1960s was a term we used instead of carbohydrates, and there probably is a difference in the two, but you get my message!), and a green vegetable. If there was dessert it was always low in sugar. No breads. Sounds boring, but these meals were not. She could take that simple formula for a healthy meal and turn it into a delicious feast every time.

Living in the South, there was always iced tea. Always. But never with sugar in our house. My mama knew a lot about nutrition, because in 1942 she graduated from Brevard College in North Carolina with a degree in Home Economics. Back then Brevard was a junior college, and even a two year degree was quite something for a young woman to earn. Homemaking was “her thing”.

We all loved her fried chicken. Hers was extra crispy, and I do mean extra crispy! Not burned, just really crispy. Her beef? Well, it was good if you liked it super done. She could not stand the appearance of any rare beef, which is what I really preferred. However, it was seldom dry. Somehow she could accomplish over-done and juicy in the same oven. At the same time. Strange.

My favorite meal was her meat loaf, and when I was away at college in the 1970s and came home on a Friday, that night she would always serve meatloaf, green peas, and creamed potatoes. OK, so there we had two “sugar” veges, but I was home from college! I was worth the celebration! I’ve never quite been able to duplicate that meatloaf. I can make a good one, but hers was absolutely the best.

Oh my goodness and her asparagus casserole! Mama always made a delectable white sauce, and with added cheddar, then poured over asparagus, hard-boiled eggs, and toasted almonds, it became her magnificent asparagus casserole. Back then in the 60s it was canned asparagus, but now I can make it various times of the year with fresh asparagus. [This dish was a staple of mine when I was a true pescetarian.] She’d use this same cheese sauce to make a broccoli casserole or potatoes au gratin, or if she simply added cooked elbow pasta we had the best mac and cheese in the world. Truly, I’m sure it is written in a book someplace that the best mac and cheese ever made was prepared in her kitchen on South Avenue. But the asparagus combination was my favorite.

Side note – as I remember our meals together around the table in our kitchen, my brother never had the weight problem I did. He is my older brother and still does not have the need to watch his grease and starch intake quite like I do. Anyway, sometimes Mama would serve boiled or baked potatoes, and there I would be sorta measuring out my margarine onto my potato, and he’d dump his potato into a small deep bowl, and follow most times with a whole stick of butter! Really, a whole stick. Not fair. However, now that I have learned that butter may be healthier than any of these “food science” products that are developed to taste similar to butter, I use real butter. But the measurements? Yep. Still a part of my daily meal routines. No whole stick of butter for me. Dang it.

She was famous for her date nut bread which she made every Christmas with lots of dates and black walnuts. I’m not a fan of walnuts, so it wasn’t one of my personal favorites, but she gave many loaves away for Christmas gifts. It was a most wanted gift by others. My hubby always talked about it, and she made sure he got one of the first loaves each year. He liked a slice of this sweet loaf most often with a schmear of cream cheese, accompanied by a cup of coffee.

For sweets I really liked her German chocolate cake, and she made me one many times for my birthday. Like I mentioned, my “body type” has always been on the chunky side of just right (and for several years on the very chunky side!), so there were not a lot of sweets for me. But for my birthday? I was allowed. Daddy’s favorite was coconut cake, and every year for his birthday, and sometimes just for the heck of it, she would make him one, always from scratch, and always with the freshly grated coconut. She would buy the fresh coconut at the grocery store and grate and grate by hand. As time went on, and he struggled more with keeping his diabetes under control, she restricted this homemade masterpiece to only his birthday. Sometimes I think he continued to live just to reach another birthday and another coconut cake!

She and one of her best friends in this world, Barbara, made the best cheese straws. Ever. Lots of cheddar. I really miss those, because I tried to make them once and just plain ol’ got tired of trying to push out that heavy, thick cheesy dough through the little hand machine. Oh my goodness UGH!! But Mama’s always had a nice crunch to them, and then they would just sorta dissolve in my mouth. Yes, one of my first experiences into my life-long desire for cheese. I wonder if Barbara still makes them?

Pork has never been one of my favorite foods, but she could prepared a very tender and juicy pork roast in the oven that I could gobble up just like the most devout pork lover. I learned to like the pork roast by dipping each bite into the apple sauce she always served with it. You know, the way some people dip their chicken nuggets into a special sauce? Even today, if I eat pork in any form, I want a sweet something with each bite. Maybe apple sauce or fried apples? With a shredded pork BBQ sandwich, there must be sweet cole slaw. Absolutely a must.

Yes, I learned so much from my mom. The eating I learned to savor on my own, but the “organized” meal of a tasty lean protein, green vege, and a starch, I first learned from her. I’m still trying to train myself in her housekeeping skills, but that one may be lost on me! [“Mama? I’m still going to try to improve on the cleaning skills. Honestly. I’ll continue to give it a try. But maybe after I eat another bite of the absolutely wonderful asparagus casserole created with your recipe? Mmmmmm……..”]

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