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Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Day the Music Died

Well my dishwasher died today. I am not surprised as it has been making a funny noise and the last time I had the repair man out he told me not to call him anymore but to let nature take its course next time....

The reason I am not upset about this is because a serious kitchen remodel is looming on my horizon and the more "dead" appliances I have out of the way the better to make room for all the bright shiny new ones right?

Ever look at how you react to an event in your life and compare it to a time in the past when the same type of event occurred? Ever happen to notice that your current reaction is more tempered and steady than your younger self would have reacted? I guess that is one way to tell that we are not static in our own lives isn't it?

Like a litmus test of adaptability to the changing circumstances we find ourselves in.

When my first dishwasher died I was a veritable wreck. If I had known about blogging then I'm sure I would have blogged on for days about it. As it was I still wrote about it.

As a fitting memorial service for this currently demised dishwasher I thought I would post the story of my first brush with dishwasher death and the profound effect it had on me then, versus my grief less self of today. What a difference a few years makes!

Be back later - I'm off to look at dishwashers!

The Day the Music Died
written in 2000

I am having a love affair.

It is with my dishwasher.

I admit it. It is my favorite appliance! Sure, a microwave "nukes" and a dryer "dries", but my dishwasher?

It must go back to my small town southern upbringing. On warm summer nights after dinner, I would be busily engaged trying to catch fireflies in an old pickle jar and the call would come......"time to do the dishes...." Ugh! Mountains of cold greasy dishes.

Eventually my family bought a dishwasher that was stored by the washer and dryer and then grandly rolled to center stage in front of the kitchen sink each night. I would load it and hook its tubes to the kitchen faucet and Viola! It would actually wash dishes. Later I would unload it and roll it back out of the way into the laundry room where it would spend its day as a handy folding counter. As an adult, both of my homes, first a mobile home and later a vintage farmhouse did not include, guess what? Many nights I washed dishes with babies sitting around my ankles while I threw them bubbles. Later pouting teenagers glared at each other over "their night" to wash and dry. Still later my husband and I glared at each other over the dishes while growing kids were out stretching curfews!

So it was with my obvious delight that for our 18th anniversary my husband ripped out a kitchen cabinet to make room and Sears installed a BEAUTIFUL dishwasher. Total instant love! With only two kids left at home now I had gone back to work and the days had a rhythm. Come home, fix dinner, help with homework, return phone calls, hectic evening. Kiss kids good night, flip off lights, sort mail, load dishwasher, take a shower- get out, start dishwasher, hmm......that sound of rain in a box.

Quiet house,day over. A mug of tea or a glass of wine. The dishwashers OM became my mantra for "end of day". Shutting the door and hearing the whoosh - water running in - every muscle relaxed, my bones jellied. The perfect ending of a day.

Then one ordinary and horrible day, my "alter" I mean "dishwasher," BROKE! If I started it? Water poured on to the kitchen tile. My husband in his ultimate wisdom said "Don't use it for now."

For now?

Monday night basketball practice, working late, pick up kids, pasta for dinner, kitchen a mess......OK! Bite the bullet; you can do this I tell remember how. I plug the drain. Fill the sink with hot water and squeeze in soap. Pile in dishes....I cant believe I've come to this.

Quiet kitchen, of course not one member of my family would come in here now!

I'd forgotten all about looking out the window over the sink at dusk. You cant do that when your bent over a dishwasher. I see an inky blue sky with a smattering of early stars. The rough familiar outline of trees in the backyard. Our yellow lab turns a tight circle three times and lays down with a soft heave, head on paws she looks in the window at me. I smile back. Pulling clean forks out of hot soapy water my mind drifts to when I was ten and my job was to put the clean silverware away. I always pretended the silverware drawer with its divided slots was a cash register. I would sort the forks knives and spoons into their respective spots pretending they were money and I ran the cash register at some really cool place - like McDonald's....

Now, I let the warm soapy water soothe my tired hands. I had forgotten how it feels to stand on the soft rug at the kitchen sink, my hands and wrists plunged in warm water. It warms the back of my neck. Peace creeps up my fingers to my elbows, my shoulders....

I catch myself looking soft in the now darkened glass of the kitchen window. I swirl my hand through the water, no more dishes. Just a clean shiny stack of plates and glasses, drying on the counter.

I pull the plug, listen to the soft sucking gurgle and feel....relaxed.

I used to keep hand lotion near the sink. Now I go find it. My hands are unbelievably pink, soft and supple. I rub the lotion in. It feels wonderful.

I go into the den to say goodnight to my son, hunched over the computer. I touch his face with the back of my fingers. "Don't stay up late sweetie" I say and stifling a yawn I turn away. "Your hands feel nice Mom" he says distractedly without looking up. I smile. He is right. My hands do feel nice. My attitude feels nice.

We will get the dishwasher fixed, but there's no hurry.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Todays thoughts are by a guest poster, my friend Maggie. I hope you enjoy reading her words, which are every bit as delicious to the soul as her pie recipe is to the taste buds.

If there were ever a pie that was aptly named it is the “Lemon Angel Pie”. I defy anyone to eat this dessert without thinking of soft summer clouds rolling gently across the sky or silken angel wings fluttering in the golden sunlight. The recipe is from “Cleora’s Kitchens, The memoir of a Cook & Eight Decades of Great American Food”. Cleora was a cook in Tulsa who worked in the mansions of the oil rich families from the1920s and into the 1980s. The oil flowed in the old Tulsa and the wealthy celebrated that flow with lavish and extravagant parties; it was a time when the talent of the household cook was an important and necessary asset.

The book is partly a history of Tulsa when it was called the “Oil Capital” and is partly a recollection of good recipes from her parents and grandparents who cooked, often from the wild, without the kitchen niceties that we have today. The children picked wild strawberries, plums, and blackberries for the jelly and jams that their grandmother made each year. And they picked wild Possum Grapes for her exquisite wine. Cleora became a professional cook while still a teenager. It was a craft that she had learned from her mother and grandmother and one which she developed into a long and rewarding career.

The Angel Pie was a creation of the decadent 60s. It was a decade of great change nationally, but the rich held on to the self-indulgent lifestyles that their families had enjoyed for generations. And I can imagine large, beautiful dinner parties topped off with a slice of Angel Pie. It is a pie that commands a place in the memory of anyone who enjoys a good lemon pie.

I have a friend, Cynthia, who lives her life with great flare. She struts around in designer clothes, flashy jewelry and strong perfume. She owns a company that helps companies like our family business put together benefit packages for their employees. Cynthia is the best in her field. Her manner screams confidence, but never arrogance, and when she calls and identifies herself on the phone, there is a melodious ring in the way she says her name as if she were introducing a VIP.

A man who came to sell me insurance once just closed his presentation folder when I said we used Cynthia’s company and said that he could not compete with her, that she was the best in the business. And she is fearless. If she feels that an insurance company is taking advantage of us and rejecting a claim unfairly, she just stomps into the middle of the argument with spike heels, pulls her small frame up to its maximum height, and tells the company how it should be and almost always wins.

I was once denied a large claim by an insurance company. Cynthia did not represent the company but I called her just to get a suggestion on how to deal with the woman at the claims office who seemed very rigid in her denial. Cynthia listened and then said, “Got a pen? You need to call this man.” She gave me the name and said that he worked directly under the president of the company and was responsible for their affairs in my part of the country. “Call him and tell him your situation.” Then she gave me his phone number, his direct line. Within a few days I was assigned a new person to work with in the claims office, the claim was paid and I received a letter of apology from the company. Dang!!! She was able to help me accomplish that because of the respect that people in the insurance industry have for her.

Her dress habits are not at all like my worn jeans and tired sneakers, but other than that we have much in common. And so when I call to ask a short question about some employee’s policy, I had better set aside the entire afternoon, because we just go on and on. We talk about all the things that business owners have in common, about food and politics, anything and everything. And she loved my beloved Jack Russell, Stan, that we had to put down. We both cried, two tough, hardened business women who had seen it all just sat and blubbered over a 17 pound dog.

So we were on the phone one day and were having a conversation about how she loved to cook when she got home from work. That was relaxing for her. We were sharing our favorite recipes and she asked if I remembered a particular restaurant in a trendy part of town that had closed a few years previously. No, I had never eaten there. Cynthia said that they made the world’s best lemon pie. When they closed Cynthia had asked the owner for the recipe for the lemon pie, but the owner said no, she would not give out the recipe. Cynthia reminded the owner that she had stopped by after work for several years to buy a pie to take home or to give as a gift. The owner thanked her but still would not give her the recipe. The owner had been a friend of Cynthia’s mother so Cynthia tried to call in a favor. It didn’t work. She tried to buy the recipe. Not a chance, she was told. She had tried to reinvent the recipe but admitted that it was not the same, not as good.

“What’s it like?” She said that it was upside down. Her voice trailed off and took on a dreamy tone. “A meringue is the crust. But it is crunchy, not soft. And it is filled with a lemon filling and whipped cream. It is fluffy and light, sweet and tart…….”

I told her that I made that pie and loved it, too. The next few minutes were filled with questions from an excited Cynthia. She finally asked, “Where did you get the recipe?” And when I told her it came from “Cleora’s Kitchens”, she was as excited as a small child at his birthday party.

She almost yelled, “I have that book!” And the next few minutes were filled with mutterings about “stopping by the grocery store” and “needing lemons” and then an abrupt “I have gotta go.” I laughed and I knew what Cynthia would be doing that evening.

Too much praise for one lemon pie recipe? Perhaps. Perhaps not. The mansions where the pie was first served have long since become public and are now garden centers and museums.

The gold leaf gilding has been covered over with two coats of latex paint and the linens and lace, the china, crystal and silver have long been forgotten, but the thought of the Angel Pie still causes excitement. Here it is.

Meringue crust
4 egg whites
2/4 teaspoon cream of tarter
¾ cup of sugar

For the crust beat the egg whites until frothy. Add cream of tarter; beat until soft peaks are formed. Add sugar gradually, beating until stiff peaks are formed. Spread over the bottom and sides of a buttered (important) 9 inch pie pan. Bake at 275 degrees for 1 hour. Set aside to cool.

Lemon filling
4 egg yokes
½ cup sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1 cup whipping cream

For the filling: in the top of a double boiler beat the egg yokes; add sugar, lemon juice, and lemon rind (zest). Cook over boiling water until thickened, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Whip cream until stiff. Fold half of the whipped cream into the cooled lemon custard, blending gently. Pour into cooled meringue crust. Sweeten remaining whipped cream and spread over filling. Pie may be frozen if desired. Serves 6 to 8.



Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Harvest Time

Living in Florida means we pass through the seasons very quickly. We had our spring in March and April and now we are into our summer. Summer begins the harvest on a Florida farm. We planted oats back in December and they grew all bright and green through the winter. In the spring they began to turn a beautiful golden color. Today we started harvesting. A huge combine mows down the oats and loads them into a waiting trailer.

Here is the oat field just before cutting

This next picture is after the combine has made the first swath or cutting. The threshed oats are loaded into a trailer (that big gray thing in the foreground). It hooks on to a semi which will be along later to hook up.

A few more stops along the way and voila! Now it is a big steaming bowl on your breakfast table

Not feeling quite that wholesome?

then maybe this

or this!

However you like your oats and however they end up being served in your house, now you know where they got their start!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Today is Memorial Day.
A day where for some strange reason, those who have died in war are remembered by people grilling in their backyards, drinking beer and going swimming. I was reminded Memorial Day was approaching when I tried to enter the local Jiffy Mart and was faced with the towering display of a cardboard and glass mountain. ""What's all this beer stacked here for I asked? (ever the journalist I am, yesiree...)

"Oh that's cause its Memorial Day this Monday" said the casual clerk with her chewing gum. Oh yes, that's right I thought! I am always caught off guard with these summer holidays. They seem to pile up while I'm not looking. I stared at beer mountain and wonder when exactly it worked its way in as a symbol for this particular holiday.

When I was a little girl my grandfather took this day most seriously. I remember sitting in lawn chairs on the well manicured and pristine front lawn of the retirement village where he and my grandmother lived, watching the plastic lawn ornaments flutter in the breeze, while my grandfather talked about the war. He talked about when war was necessary and when it was not. I didn't know that those conversations were being recorded in my long term memory, I only knew I adored my grandfather and that he was sitting with me and I loved that.

While my own philosophies concerning war seem to fall more along the lines of John Lennon's song "Imagine" and my grandfathers were centered around the glory of WW 2, it is still my grandfathers voice that comes back to my ears today after all these years and I wish I had listened more closely and asked more questions. Not only about war and when it is or is not necessary but about everything else that I would eventually want to know about. Grandpas are one of lifes greatest gifts. So wether he served in any war or not if you still have yours with you, treasure him. Oh....and ask him lots of questions about life while you sit on the front lawn.

Pie In the Sky

There was a picnic this past Saturday. The thing I most like about a picnic is the plethora of food that one did not have to cook oneself! People really outdo themselves at a picnic and that most be why the common rule of "bring a dish" turns into dishes that is more like platters and that can feed a multitude. I decided to bring pies. 2 cream pies and a Key Lime pie, just for variety. I started making the pies the night before, because I wanted them to be perfect and really well chilled and because I am not enough of a morning person to be using measuring spoons and a double boiler in the a.m..''

Turns out it was a good thing (and not in a Martha Stewart kind of way) that I did them the night before. I casually snagged a chocolate pie recipe off the Internet that looked really good.


In spite of cooking the mixture for what seemed like forever, it never thickened beyond what one could optimistically call pudding. Not firm enough to put in a pie shell and subject to 98 degree heat at a picnic that's for sure. I could just hear it now....."Hey who brought the liquid pie?" or "What do you call this, chocolate milk pie?" Yikes!

So I poured the sweet smelling chocolate goo into a bowl, stuck it in the back of the fridge where mistakes go and started over in my effort to create the perfect chocolate pie.

The second time was a charm and I was one down and two to go!

The other two pies cooperated fully. Perhaps they knew that I have a limit to my patience, or maybe they just felt sorry for the woman with chocolate smears all over her arms, but I felt like a semi pro pie person after the banana cream turned out creamy and the key lime turned out well, limey!

The chocolate and banana cream pies got topped with fresh whipped cream which turned out amazingly light and wonderful and the key lime got meringue as its topping. Meringue is some amazing stuff. On its own, it is just the same lowly egg whites I make into an omelet some mornings for breakfast. Mostly fat free and carb free and just some low calorie good for you protein. But when you add that little hit of sugar and vanilla and beat it round and round in a bowl something magical happens. Not to mention when you put it in the hot oven and the air begins to fill with a smell akin to roasting marshmallows. Pretty amazing stuff when you think about it.

Once at the picnic under a swollen purple sky, there was the expected amount of food fit for a king. I met a captivating little old lady who was extraordinarily proud of her baked beans (which were very good) and she gave me her recipe. I love love love it when people are proud of something they feel is their little specialty Her baked beans really were very good and she has a right to be proud of them. Good for her!

Baked Beans

1/2 lb. ground beef
31 oz. pork and beans (canned)
1/2 of 8 oz. bottle of Catalina salad dressing
1/2 of 8 oz. bottle of catsup
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 TBSP yellow mustard
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 green bell pepper, chopped

Don't saute the onion or bell pepper (she was adamant about this). Brown the meat and drain. Add all ingredients together in a baking dish and bake uncovered for 1-1/2 hours at 350 degrees.

Not spicy and slightly sweet but very good~

While I am posting recipes here is a good one for Key Lime Pie. While I did not invent this recipe it does meet my criteria for a great one. The criteria being EASY, FAST & FEW ingredients.

Easy Peasy Key Lime Pie
One 9 inch graham cracker pie shell

One 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk

3 egg yolks slightly beaten

1/2 cup Key Lime juice.

Blend the milk, eggs and juice together by stirring or with mixer. Pour into pie shell.

3 egg whites, stiffly beaten
3 tablespoons granulated sugar

Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. While beating, gradually add sugar.
Spread meringue on top of lime filling.
Bake pie at 300°F until the meringue takes on a delicately golden color with lightly browned tops.


Saturday, May 23, 2009

After I started this blog, it occurred to me that not all of you know me (or me you -for that matter) as I see a few new names here. I should probably introduce myself

I am Indie, aspiring writer and living the farm life being my chief current preoccupations.

I love feedback and comments so I hope you will post your own thoughts here too. I would love to hear any of your poetry and writings also, as that is my passion.

I am going to put some things in here that I have written previously. I am not going to enter them in any order, just as I get around to it. So if you read something about a cold winter and it is summer (which it happens to be right now) I hope that wont confuse anyone.

So to give a little background on this first story...this is 2 years old. I wrote it at the end of January 2007.


I am big on starting things on the first of the month or the first of a week (don't ask me why it makes a difference but it does so I go with it) SO I decided last month that the 1st would be exercise day for me! Way back in the day I used to run 4 miles a day. I felt and looked great. I worked in a hospital and was a single parent and was busier than I am now. I should be able to pick up where I left off right? So in the interest of extremism I decided that is what I would do!

I woke up the next morning feeling puffy from having wine and chips the night before (a condemned woman's last meal I suppose) I made a cup of hot tea and stood there thinking when?????

When do I go out and run?

I decided I would be better off to just do it rather than have it hanging over my head like some aerobic sword of Damocles all day. Besides if I wait till later and somebody has a flat tire or I have some other distraction then I will use that as my "reason" not to fit it in, and I will miss my first of the month deadline and will then have to wait until next month.

So I sat my tea down (it was too hot anyway) and went to dig out my jogging shoes. I still had the pair from my last attempt at walking with a neighbor about 4 years ago. She moved and that had ended that. My jogging shoes are the kind that are "engineered" and cost the same as one semester of my sons classes at college so I really needed to find them.

I finally did find one (we have a new puppy so lets just go ahead and blame her) and it was missing the shoelace. Not to be out witted by that, I DID discover my hiking boots which predate the tennis shoes and are leather and comfy and well structured and should work just for today. I can interrogate the puppy and buy shoe strings later. Now on to my attire...too cold here this morning for black bikers shorts and my big black T shirt. I don't have any of my fat pants left because of all the "experts" telling me to get rid of them when I lost weight, so I did that months ago. Haven't bought any new pants except one pair of dress slacks and one pair of Capris. Even I know the dress pants wont work, so on with the Capris! My hiking boots are brown, my Capris are black, I found a black tank top (and since I'm nothing if not fashionable I dug out my brown and black herringbone sweater) and I'm off!. I didn't dare look in the mirror I just went with it.

When I hit the front door my very startled old dog Sasha waited till I had laced up my hiking boots to get up and stretch and yawn. She couldn't believe her eyes but was too polite to say anything. SO.... off we went(Sasha came too) There was pretty much trouble immediately. I was out of breath from jogging by the time we got to the edge of the yard and the road stretched out ahead of I decided to amend things to a very fast walk. My knees were feeling very creaky which I guess is only fair giving the fact that they are very small compared to what is packed on right above them...see I am one of those women who is shaped just like a pear. From just above my knees to right around my waist things are very bad. From my waist up there is someone else's body who is several times smaller. This has its advantages and its drawbacks.

My sister says "at least your face is never fat in pictures." This is true (and the main reason you can always find me in family pics standing in the back behind my sister) but have you ever noticed what happens when you put something small next to something LARGE??? Well yeah....the large thing (in this case my butt we are talking here) the LARGE thing looks even Bigger. Its just wrong to mislead someone with my skinny face and then turn around on them! OMG! Their eyes could fall out from the shock!

It really would only work out well if I got a job involving being seen only from the waist up. Like maybe a television anchor, or the ticket taker at the movies. That should keep everyone's eyes safe. But I have neither job and so I just walk around menacing the eyes of society right and left which IS one more reason WHY I am jogging! It's practically a community service! Hooray!

By the first 40 feet (hope you all don't mind me reporting this first "run" in feet instead of miles...will work up to that later...) my knees were joined in their protest by my right hip and it was a little hard to breath. I decided to call my "run" a jog just for now and I started walking....I DID walk real fast though! Like the hounds of hell were after me! Really it was just Sasha and she was actually ahead of me, but you can picture how fast I was walking right? I got pretty warm pretty fast for some reason and I had to shed the herringbone fashion statement pretty much in the first block.

Fortunately for me I didn't care anymore I just wanted to draw a complete breath. I didn't stop moving though and when I saw an ever so slight downward incline in the road I broke into a jog again. Well it was kind of a sloooww jog maybe a SLOG??? But when each hiking boot hit the ground I felt the ripple effect of jiggling fat up my thigh and around my butt. Fat cells under attack! Just thinking of how startled they must have been made me laugh. AHA! Take that! I said as they jiggled around in a panic.

I SLOGGED a little farther than I intended just because at some point I was able to breath less painfully and to noticed the absolute brightness of the sun and the clear cold sky. The combination of warm sun and cold air made my face tingle. Or maybe it was an artery unclogging but I prefer to go with the first thought.

I almost hated to turn around...Ok that is a lie. I have never been so glad in my life!

On the way back I did notice that my knees didn't hurt anymore, I guess they either went numb or decided to get with the program. I actually made it home without encountering anyone at all except my son on his way to work who said "Mom what are you doing?"

"I'm jogging silly" I gasped, as I clung to the side of his truck window for a second to catch my breath. Since I know him so well I know his look of skepticism masked how impressed he REALLY was and on that note I said "well have a good day at work, I have to keep my momentum going!"

I slogged back all the way across the front yard..BIG FINISH and up the front steps. According to the clock I had three more minutes and I would have been exercising for a HALF hour! What to do????

Cross training I thought! So I jogged into the dining room and grabbed two wine bottle off the wine rack and did some presses while I jogged around the dining room table.

It took another 45 minutes before I felt cooled off... I sure hope that was a big ole metabolic hint to my body! It has now been 90 minutes and I have NO hunger although I did force down a cup of hot lemon water.
So all in all I view today as a huge success. Marathoners look out, here I come!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

broken dishes/broken dreams

I was fixing a meal in the kitchen and just like that, a dish slipped off the counter and on to the tile below. I watched it happen. It only took an instant and it was no longer a dish but a remnant of "what was left". Dishes break as do dreams, I mused as I picked up the shattered pieces. The two comparisons veer off and lose their similarity once they are broken though. The dish was a victim of a wet counter top and an unmindful cook. But dreams? They break more slowly and deliberately. They are a direct result of our choices or the lack thereof.

Now that is a scary thought. Much easier to believe that our dreams get lost to us through sheer accident rather than by our own acts of omission/commission. Much harder to find that tipping point where our dreams slowly became the "remnants of what is left". Rather than being an accident, it seems it is more a matter of courage or lack thereof. We all want our dreams with one hand, while we want to indulge our need for safe and secure with the other.

This was pretty heavy duty for reverie. Especially since I had the rest of a meal to prepare. I threw the bits and pieces in the trash and went back to the work at hand. I hope I got all the tiniest of slivers so I don't get an unexpected painful reminder later when my bare foot finds it. Ouch! Although that cant possibly be as painful as the merest sliver of a reminder of broken dreams can it?

Fortunately for the dreams, its not too late. There is still today.

Followed by tomorrow and the rest of the future, blank with possibility.

Reminds me of the words of the song

/Listen to your voice
The one that tells you to taste past the tip of your tongue
Leap and the net will appear /

This is from"Make It Mine" by Jason Mraz.

You can hear the song here

I found this remarkable songwriter when he hooked up with one of my very favs Colbie Caillat. Here they are doing their duet "Lucky"">

Hope you are having a great day and are moving in the direction of your dreams, even if its in a small way. Courage is found in small things acted upon.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Home Alone

The most perfect of days and also the most rare.
Living on a large working farm you really do bring your work home with you. There is always somebody around. Farmers stomping in and out in muddy boots. Other farmers stopping by. Grain trucks, milk trucks, in and out. People coming from the city to get manure for their gardens (this is mostly a springtime event) at times the line up of cars almost looks like we are having a party.

But today circumstances have aligned themselves so that I am the only one here.

Well, me and one son who will be so busy doing the chores normally shared by 3 men that he will work a 17 hour day - if everything goes well, more if it doesn't.

As if that wasn't enough, the weather has stacked the odds in my favor. The hot dry temperatures of last week have given way to rain and wind. What started as gently falling spring showers a couple of days ago, has now turned into a torrent of water and gale force winds. Not only is this my favorite kind of weather, all wild and chaotic and gray, it is also practically a guarantee that there will be no one seeking manure for their garden, or anything else for that matter.

In the farming world this is the kind of day where everyone just waits out the weather. A kind of down day which will be followed by long days of planting to utilize the moisture as soon as the storms pass. Normally this day would have everyone in the house doing the kind of annoying guy things that men do when they are in the house on what would normally be a workday. But an unexpected business trip has come up instead.

So I am locked down in my cozy quiet house looking out at the world all blurred and beautiful in shades of silver beyond my window.

I am alone.

I feel a frisson of excitement shimmer up my spine.

What to do first?

Run with scissors? Turn on every light in the house? Jump on the bed? Maybe listen to Credence Clearwater while I jump on the bed?

One thing is for sure. That is what I will not do...
I will not be cooking a prodigious farm lunch for hard working hungry mouths.
I will not be running to the door to check on what/who the dogs are barking at now. Even my phone seems to be in on the conspiracy as it hasn't chirped at me once.

This combination of circumstances and mother nature have created a perfect storm of opportunity for my inner child to have the liquid equivalent of a snow day.
Perhaps it wont be so much what I do or don't do with this gift of a day, as it is that utterly wonderful feeling of the freedom to do anything I want. The knowledge that I am completely unburdened by the regular routine of every day.

Now that? I can almost taste on my tongue!

Monday, May 18, 2009

On the Power of Friends...

I had lunch today with a group of women. Different ages and backgrounds, all centered around one woman we all know and love. We met at a restaurant and as I sat down at the large round table, I was struck by our diversity. As we moved through placing our orders and getting our salads I watched the diversity fade and the similarities emerge. This was fascinating to me personally as I have just come out of a very hard "friendship" time.

Its funny how we ALL have friendships that end, and even if they devastate us with their ending? We somehow dismiss it lightly with a slight gesture of a hand and an airy tone in our voice "Oh yes we were friends but we grew apart" OR "Yes I don't see her much now that she moved.." The truth is, letting go of a really good friend is as hard as letting go of a husband, or watching an adult child walk out the door. There is a sense of loss. A supreme desire to try in some desperate way to recapture, to go back. To love the unfaithful lover as we did in the first. To make the grown child a baby again. To keep the friend we knew.

The unescapable fact is people change. Life changes too. Quickly and often. And our reaction to that is to hold most desperately anything that seems solid. Real. Defined. We form rules and boundaries very quickly in a friendship." I am the comforter YOU are the explorer"...YOU are the "solve it" person I am the questioner"...We settle in to these roles the same way that we move into a house. The idea being to get comfortable. To land. There really must be nothing so suffocating to a friend than being held to the former bonds of what was a comfortable friendship, while they are experiencing a time of growth. The living of that, the tumultuous feeling of being uprooted and repotted by the changing circumstances of life is a hard one for a friendship to endure, bound as it is by the hard the and fast rules of commonality. To weather that is going to take a lot.

Sitting there in that restaurant, surrounded by what amounted to 4 generations of women, I was struck most of all by the acceptance. The simple joy of celebrating the uniqueness of each one there.

I felt my personal stiff upper lip of the "friendship factor" quiver, and my spine relaxed into my seat in the easy joy of their company .The clink of glasses and forks, the warm freshly baked bread was a soothing background to this easy acceptance .

The seemingly effortless flow of food and conversation. The genuine look of celebration in the eyes of each one, happiness for the forward moving moments since we had last talked. The gentle feel of support for the lost parent, the difficult child the errant spouse. We covered it all as we moved our way to dessert, and the late afternoon sun watched as we lingered over coffee. It all played across this gentle winter afternoon like a ballet, orchestrated against a symphony of linen, china and the inept impervious waiter. My triumphs had been celebrated and my sorrows had been acknowledged. My heart had spent an afternoon being wide open and felt richer for it.

Goodbyes were said, much too soon it seemed. As I drove into the clear light of the setting sun, I noticed an unfamiliar as of late, feeling... warm, heavy.

It was the feel of contentment glowing deep from within the center of me. It settled down as gently as the water colored winter light in front of me, and had nothing to do with the salad, the main course, or the exquisite chocolate dessert. This was the feeling of friendship...I had felt and thought. I had sympathized and rejoiced, I had heard and been listened to, all in turn.

A Tale of Two Chicken Dinners

So what day is more perfect for southern Fried Chicken than a Sunday? I guess this tradition got started way back in the day when homesteads were isolated and preachers traveled on a circuit, only showing up in a persons area once in awhile. The visit of the preacher meant dressing up in your finery and hearing a "real sermon". An occasion like this or any other important visitor would call for killing a chicken, for a dinner worthy of such a guest.

Things are a little more modern here, the preachers voices pours in from the TV on an early Sunday morning if one is so inclined and you don't have to go chase a chicken around the back yard, axe in hand, you can simply buy one already plucked in a bag. I am definitely living the right era!

Since Dee ( my "nickname" for DD -dear daughter) was recovering from dental surgery to remove impacted wisdom teeth, my cooking spree on this fine Sunday morning actually began as a way to make her a healing type soup that she could manage to eat without pain.

But standing there looking at that plump bird in a bag my mind kind of took off in a different direction. That was a lot of bird for soup! Besides, the Hub (DH) hates soup on hot days which is basically any day past March here.

So down the Sword of Damocles came! Really it was a kitchen knife but that doesn't sound near as dramatic and decisive does it? So with the now split in half bird I separated the thigh, leg, wing, breast etc...

Half the bird went into a pot of salted water with celery (the leafy tops included) an onion, peeled and left whole and 4 cloves of smashed garlic. The reason for leaving the veggies whole is so they are easier to fish out and discard later. This needed to simmer for two or three hours. After that amount of time, strain out bones and veggies. Add shredded meat back to broth. Add some chopped carrots and bring to a boil. Once it is boiling, add dumplings. Cover. Turn off heat and let sit for 10 minutes. Stir gently to seperate dumplings and it is ready to serve. Easy peasy.

Fried chicken on the other hand, is not a dish that I like to make. Its messy. All that flour and grease seem to go everywhere but I was committed at this point. My usual "sides" would have been mashed potatoes with gravy and cole slaw. That is "traditional" right? Maybe its where I am at in my head right now but lately all things traditional bore me. I mean where did it all start, a particular "tradition"? Maybe it was just what someone had laying around on that day. And here the rest of us go following it for a 100 years. That is my current opinion on "tradition" but I digress...

Working off of that thought about what a person might just have had lying around becoming tradition, I decided to peruse the fridge and see what I had lying around. Since I hadn't really planned a fried chicken dinner and this was impulse cooking I didn't have even one measly potato or any cabbage to work with tradition wise. I did have some lovely tender asparagus spears whose original destiny was to be paired with fish. Well, said fish was in deep hibernation in the freezer and asparagus was on a different time clock and needed to be used and so the decision was made!

I also had some fresh yellow squash from Dilly's (my little darling daughter in laws) garden. Squash is always a good idea around here as long as there is bacon involved!

I decided that if bacon was going to be involved that the "in for a nickel in for a dime" rule might just as well apply. I threw 4 slices of bacon in a heavy cast iron skillet. A little bit of heaven for ones nose! After it was cooked most of the way I poured the bacon and its grease into a bowl, leaving just a sheen of bacon fat in my skillet.

While that was all taking place I prepped my asparagus in a way that I consider unique and all my own but which is probably a well known culinary rule, involving some kind of mysterious word like parboil or something . I start a small pan of water to boil. I rinse the asparagus stems while leaving one of the purple rubber bands ON the asparagus (this is part one of my brilliance) then stand the banded asparagus in the boiling pan of water for just a couple of minutes. Come to think of it the correct term for this might be blanch, although to me that sounds more like the character in "A Streetcar Named Desire than anything involving water and a vegetable, but I don't make the rules.

After a quick bit of time I turn the water off and the asparagus over so the tops are sitting in the hot water for a minute. Then I drain on a paper towel (resist your urge to cut that rubber band) now my little green spears are perfectly ready to pan grill. The sheen of bacon grease will add flavor but I add a drizzle of EEVO (you all do know that means olive oil, right? If not, just watch Rachel Ray for 15 seconds sometime...anytime) this will insure a nice browning of the asparagus.

Heat the skillet and (this is step two of my brilliant plan) lay your spears in the skillet and NOW you can cut the purple rubber band off. This leaves all your spears with the tips facing the same way.

Gently flatten the spears with your hand or the back of a pancake turner so they are all in contact with the bottom of your skillet and none are stacked on each other. Let them sizzle for a minute or two. You can use tongs to lift a test spear and see if the browning is like you want it. When it looks good, use your tongs to turn half the spears over. Then turn the other half. If some don't look ready to turn just skip them briefly. You will be able to tell which ones need more time because they will now be facing in the opposite direction of the ones you already turned. This is not just wonderfully appealing to the OCD side of me it is also a very handy way to get a uniform look without overcooking such a delicate and tender vegetable. This whole grilling process took longer to type out than it will take you to do. Try it sometime if you want crispy/tender asparagus instead of one of the "mushier" types of preparation.

Time for the squash. Yellow squash is so easy it can make any cook look good. Throw in onions and the rest of the bacon and drippings in the bowl and it takes care of itself.

Now when it comes to that chicken, the star of our show, I have a confession. Not only do I hate frying chicken, it never turns out well. It isn't crispy enough. The last pieces burn and it is always either over done or undercooked. But today in the spirit of adventure, I am trying something new. While the other food has been cooking I put the cut up chicken pieces one by one in a bowl in the micro for a minute to 90 seconds, depending on their size and thickness. All except the wing, poor little thing, I just left it like it was. My goal here was to not have to depend on figuring out when that darn chicken is actually done. By partially cooking it my hope is that when it is coated and fried crispy on the outside - the inside will be just right too.

When I first moved to the deep country of the south and began learning all the "country ways" of cooking, I must admit I really tried with chicken. I have tried all the "tricks". I tried soaking it in milk. I tried milk plus vinegar. I tried the two dipping's of milk then flour then milk then flour again......

well today I stumbled on a trick that like most good ideas, was born out of necessity. While it breaks with all tradition to fry chicken when you know full well there isn't a potato on the premises to serve as a side, it is downright immoral to begin to fry chicken when you are (gasp) out of garlic powder!!! While most well bred southern women are a little afraid of real cloves of garlic and use them gingerly (and never more than one at a time) they are in love with their garlic powder and it is found in all self respecting recipes under the general term "seasonings". While I had the rest of the good stuff that makes fried chicken edible I did not have the star of the cast...garlic powder. So what to do???

Feeling something of a rebel ( fortunately for me, I DO keep fresh cloves of garlic) I decided to make my own seasoning. While everything else simmered and bubbled I ran 4 cloves of fresh garlic through my garlic press (the most wonderful tool you can own in a kitchen) and added it with some oil to a pan. I turned it as low as possible and just let it heat for about 15 minutes. After just that brief amount of time I had a wonderful infusion of aromatic garlicky oil.

I used that instead of milk, instead of milk with vinegar etc etc etc.. to dip my chicken pieces in. Then the flour. I made one more big break with convention here too. I didn't dump all my other spices into the flour. I was on a quest to see if I could not serve burnt on the outside raw on the inside chicken and I was deeply suspicious that spices (being that they are powdered) might be what was contributing to my burning problem. So the flour was just that, flour. I imagine good southern cooks everywhere turning over in their graves. No garlic powder! No milk with vinegar! No seasoned flour!

I felt totally on my own but I was too far gone to turn back now. I dropped my experimental semi southerly legal pieces of fowl into the hot oil. Because I had semi cooked them I didn't have to do the brown it, turn it, now turn it again nonsense of my previous chicken frying days. As a side benefit there was no giant popping explosions of fat and grease either. I think that must have all happened earlier in the microwave which has a door which closes instead of while my face was hanging over a hot skillet.

One quick quarter turn for each piece to brown and out of the skillet where I had my spices waiting to sprinkle on. I used a mixture of salt, pepper, paprika and sage. The spices clung to the hot chicken and dissolved leaving a nice paprika red tint that was gorgeous. I have never used the word gorgeous in connection with my fried chicken ever in my life before. Not only did it look good it was tasty and incredibly tender and juicy.

Move over KFC!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

On Having One Purple Plate

I saw the purple plate on the sales rack and I stopped

Funny, as I have never liked purple as a color

or maybe I did

back in first grade

purple was a color and a flavor

purple was definitely someone to reckon with

back when I was a girl

so I bought this purple plate

$3.99 for a plate

Next morning the bright early sun flowing

irrergardless of whether i was ready for it or not

I found that I liked my purple plate

It stood out among the other beige plates

it was thicker

and had more personality

my husband would actully skip to the next plate rather than use the purple thick unweildy one

I began to fall from my infatuatuion with beige to a deeper more mature love

with purple

This plate became my hallmark, my insignia, my banner

I greeted the morning with joy and gratitude over this simple purple plate

I rejoice unseemingly when no one wants to use it but me.

Purple, is the color of royalty

a symbol of value


distinct and different

all good thoughts to hold bound up in one

purple plate

We have rain! After weeks of watching the sand blow around the plowed fields and the leaves curl inward on the trees it is finally raining.
Rain means water and water means life but nowhere is this more apparent than when you live on a farm. The weather connection there is clear and immediate. It becomes the focal point of conversation everywhere from the dinner table to the feed store. Without rain everything ceases. The plowed fields lie waiting for the seed. There is no point in planting with no water to put everything in motion.
So today it has rained. A long glorious liquid blessing from the sky.
Now the tractors loaded with seed can begin their work. For us that means planting peanuts.
I wonder what is making other people happy today? For me and mine this long spring anxiously waiting for rain is over. We have rain. And while it may mean that somewhere a ball game got cancelled or a BBQ has been hurridly moved indoors, I do not seem to mind.
Rain makes me happy.
How simple is that?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Blackberry Hill is a magical place.

Here, where the land is mostly flat, it rises majestically and lets you look at the surroundings from above.

You see things from a different perspective. Kind of like writing does for the writer. True to its name, this gentle hump in the land grows the most delicious deep purple berries in the summer and gives us a great place for fires and wienie roasts in the fall. This hill is where my children came, pails in hand, to pick berries when they were young. Now I bring my my little grandchildren here to do the same.
This is the place I feel drawn to when I am sad or need to contemplate my small part in the vastness of all that is life and its out workings. I guess then it could go without saying that Blackberry Hill is my spot to come and write. To pour out what ever thoughts seem to be most tangled up in my head, and the ideas that are sticking close to my heart.

Up here on the hill on this day of gray and mysterious weather, I lay back in the grass and watch the clouds moving in their apparently aimless fashion. Pushing and bumping against each other, then drifting apart and away. Where do they go next, these clouds? Little gusts of wind blow a whistling symphony in the grass around my ears and the clouds seem to hear it and respond. I feel so a part of it all and my heart soars.
Even though I don't understand much at all about this universe, I am here. It lets me be a part. I share the mystery. I get to experience this while I roam around inside my own head. I am reminded of the words of Tolkien... "Not all those who wander are lost."
Recently on Blackberry Hill we had a wonderful memory building moment. My son got married in one place on the farm (a hay field) BUT he and his bride had their pictures taken guess where? Why Blackberry Hill of course!
I have to tell you that I had nothing to do with this decision. If I had we would have held the wedding there too! But after serious hours riding around together on a tractor together scouting out locations and lighting (family sanctioned dating here in our neck of the woods) son and soon to be wife decided that Blackberry Hill would be "The Photo Spot". Of course there are many shots from this location of that day, but none of them speak to me like this one.
The bridal party was moving down the hill to catch the light for more pictures. The bride is way out in front in the light colored dress. The father of the bride carries the flower girl in his arms. Others lift their long skirts to walk in the tall autumn grass.
I love this one picture the most because it caught the happy and spontaneous mood of the moment. To have planned this shot would have been next to impossible.

 It just had to "happen".