Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Study in Mushrooms: Watercolor

I don't know which is more fun-cooking the mushrooms, eating them, or painting them! This dish was from over the weekend (see older posts) but I did the painting last night. I am enjoying the immediacy of watercolors again and had a lot of fun blending the colors for the cast iron skillet.

Have you ever noticed that black is never really black? There is a multitude of shadings all along the color spectrum from indigo blue to a russety deep brown and of course various saturations of color to take advantage of the white of the paper. One thing about working with whites-in a watercolor, they make the painted areas around them really "pop" so it's critical to save a great deal of the white wherever you want sparkle and movement.

Speaking of movement, I had fun washing in the background color in a concentric circle around the shape of the pan. Our stovetop is a shiny black glass which bounces a lot of light around, so getting (again) the sense of light and the fun colors from the reflective surface made it an interesting piece to do.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Shortcut to Mushrooms!

Spring vegetables are so easy to prepare in California, it's practically obscene to call it cooking. Asparagus come in so sweet and tender to the local markets, all you have to do is rinse them off.

I remember as a young woman first learning to cook in my very own kitchen, having to ask a coworker how to prepare asparagus. We'd never had them in my family of origin. I don't know if that's because they were among those "exotic" vegetables that my Michigan- and Ohio-born parents never ate, or if they were among the long list of fibrous foods that irritated my father's stomach ulcer. At any rate, my coworker's instructions included a burdensome amount of scraping, paring, and scrubbing. They then had to be steamed, feet down, in a tall basket within a tall pot, with their toes in 1" (precisely) of boiling water.

Happily, I have learned better since. To do our asparagus now, Dan and I often simply break the toe-end of the stalks off where they naturally "snap", rinse them well in cold water, and toss them into a skillet of simmering water for about 5 minutes then rescue them, shake off the excess moisture, and plate them with butter. If they're large and tough, Dan peels them about the ankles but I just snap them off higher up. Nothing is wasted anyway, since we compost everything.

Mushrooms are even easier since I learned this trick: Don't wash them when you bring them home. Instead, keep them loosely wrapped in the crisper drawer and when ready to cook, take them in the plastic bag, fill it with enough water to cover the 'shrooms, twist the top tightly and shake the bag vigorously for a few seconds. Dump them out into a strainer or colander and rinse quickly with cold water. Spin them in a salad spinner if you have one, or blot them with paper towels if you don't. Slice them into 1/4" slices and put them immediately into a hot (360) skillet with 1-2 T. melted butter and about 1 tsp. olive oil. Keep them moving but do not stir because this will bruise them! If you want a really savory treat, add a bare splash of Worcestershire sauce about 30 seconds before taking them off the stove. They're great with red meat when prepared this way.

Incidentally, that was one recipe my mother did teach me to make, although I was an adult before I liked them!

Dan grilled these steaks out on the patio to make our Saturday dinner perfect. Is it any wonder I'm crazy about weekends?

Apologies to Philippe Gandiol

It helps if you paste links correctly, I've found. Try to see his light-filled, Northern California-oriented works. What a painter!

Bee Hives at River Dog Farm

The piggies at River Dog Farm were adjacent to this verdant meadow. Altogether, probably 40 or so beehives formed this little condominium development, and it was far enough out from the center of the farm that none of the other painters ventured out here. In contrast to the swine squealing and arguing, the honey bees set up a warm, delicate vibration throughout the area so that you could almost feel the pulsation against your skin.

We've had so much rain that the grasses and wildflowers are deep around the bases of the hives, and the hills are covered in green velvet and peau de soie.

I snagged one painting out of the morning, and invaluable advice from the master artist of the trip, Philippe Gandiol. I will spend the next several days practicing painting with white, and learning to refine my values more dramatically when painting en plein air. Great teachers are such a gift!

I decided that Saturday morning's painting trip was like going to the golf course and hitting one dead, solid, perfect tee shot down the middle of the fairway, clearing the water hazard and lying up just 20 feet shy of a downhill putt that you know you can sink in two. It just doesn't get any better.

Unless you could take a piggy home with you.

Don't I Love Weekends!

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Painting a Day-Why Not Three?

In the interest of catching up on the 60-day discipline of producing a painting or drawing each day, now that I have a day or two available I am going back and today played with a couple of things I mentioned earlier in the month on this blog. In case you were wondering, we really are eating lemons preserved in brine, and here's the painting. They're not for all tastes, but the Moroccans have been using them for centuries, so we said what the heck.

I also interpreted the bowl of brown rice pasta with peas and cheese form lunch the other day because I just really loved the way the shadows from the shrubbery fell over the backyard table. I had a version of it for lunch today, too, but it didn't taste the same, eating it indoors!

Last but not least, no these are not Easter eggs but a nod to the many varieties of laying hens kept by the good folks of Davis. This painting will be donated to the Davis Farm-to-School connection for their fund-
raiser, the first annual Tour de Cluck. I hope they make some money from it!

We'll see on May 22 at Central Park. Wish me cluck-er, luck!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Eggs-A Study for the Tour de Cluck

Thanks to my friends on Facebook for weighing in on my assortment of photographs of eggs-as-still-life (funny when you think about it, shouldn't eggs really be quickening life, not still life? Just asking) This is the basic composition I'm using to create the 10"x10" painting I will donate to the Tour de Cluck for their auction to benefit Davis Farm to School Connection.

The Tour is a Chicken Coop Crawl (on bicycles, of course-this is Davis!) around town to visit chicken coops. I kid you not.

People are paying money to gather on May 22 in Central Park for the fun. In addition to the art auction, there will be a Fowl Food Fair and the poultry-lovers' answer to hog-calling: the "Courage to Cluck" contest. If you don't believe me, check it out at

This is coming just in time for our candidates for city council to come out and show the voters they're not chicken.

Dinner Day 20, and a Census Push to Deadline

Yesterday we had a 12-hour work party at my house for our Group Quarters Enumeration Team, which had the unenviable task of processing, checking, and double-checking census forms for the dormitories on campus at UCD. I started my day by moving furniture and putting leaves in the dining room table so we could work in an assembly line fashion. You would think that the census effort would be much higher-tech than #2 pencils, blue-or-black ballpoint pens, and paper forms on someone's dining room table, but there you have it.

Dan likened it to the wheat harvest, with us trying to gather in every single grain of wheat from the field at the peak of ripeness. Actually, that's not a bad analogy but no one gave us any picnics nor are there any celebrations. When it's all over, you hope and pray for a low percentage of errors and a high percentage of completed forms, so that resources dependent on the census are allocated where they are most needed.

Dinner under the circumstances was quite the nifty affair, with all team members having to reach a logical stopping point in their work so they could bail out and let me catch some dinner. Fortunately, it was Tuesday and Sean's night to cook. He made the family some killer omelettes, stuffed with sauteed mushrooms, onions, Canadian bacon, and cheese. He seasoned them with a few shakes of Montreal Steak Seasoning for an extra savory touch, and served them with asparagus spears alongside.

It was a real winning combination and his timing was impeccable-he got Dan and himself served, and my omelette came hot off the stove just as I was laying down my government-issued black ballpoint pen.

Artichoke Season!

Sean, Dan, and I sometimes have lively discussions at the dinner table. They usually revolve around music, sports, movies, and, inevitably, get around to food. One thing we all love is when artichokes are in season. Our favorite way to eat them is with melted butter seasoned with garlic. Sean is a master at getting this just right.

The main dish is a spicy stir-fry with a sauce I made up using soy, ginger, some thai chili sauce, a little garlic, a dash of rice vinegar, and a pinch of sugar. You can always tell when I cook because I typically cook brown rice, whereas whenever Dan uses rice it's usually a long-grain white variety.

I haven't had time to paint this yet, but I am always beguiled by the artichoke's lovely design, especially viewed from above. Maybe this weekend!

Chicken Cutlets with Preserved Lemons and Rice

This chicken dish, served with fresh fava beans and white rice, made for a delightful if unusual combination of flavors for dinner a few nights ago. Let me note here that I am really behind on my dinner "self-portraits" but who knew the US Census would be so time-consuming?

In an attempt to catch myself up and return to discipline and order to whatever extent is possible, the entries for the next couple of days will be brief.

The sauce for the chicken is made from lemons preserved in seasoned brine, a canning recipe from the book, Well-Preserved, by Eugenia Bone. The book was a gift to Dan from his sister Ann, and we enjoyed canning the lemons several weeks ago and then trying them out in this kind of North African-influenced meal. The lemons themselves are tasty, tart, and salty. Dan cooked the fava's with a little bacon and we used a plain white rice to balance the flavors. If I'm not mistaken we enjoyed Clos du Bois Sauvignon Blanc with this.

I love how our family indulges our foodiness. We'll have to put a treadmill on our wedding registry, though, after 2 months of such wonderful dinners.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Rites of Spring (Photos)

Dinner with Al...Al Fresco, That Is

The verdant qualities of spring combined with the first opportunity to grill outdoors and eat on the patio combined for a high-spirited dining experience this evening!

In SoCal, the vegetable garden would have been planted by Easter. In Illinois Dan would still be waiting for the Farm Bureau's go-ahead to put the tomatoes in the ground. This weekend, here in NorCal, not only the tomatoes but the peppers went in! And, happily, we got to hang all the laundry outdoors instead of using the dryer. There is just something so perfect and real about hanging clothes on the clothesline, and about grilling the first meal outdoors and sitting outside to eat.

Dan made Julia's* dense and delicious French potato salad. I grilled Burgundy/garlic pork sausages and tossed together a fruit salad of local strawberries, kiwi fruit, and (not local) bananas drizzled with honey and lemon. Simple stuff, amazing meal, and such fun to eat outdoors with the cats running about and posing for the camera while the laundry floated with the breeze.

Wine for this evening was Robert Mondavi Pinot Noir. It's good to live in California!

Al should have been here.

Friday, April 16, 2010

First Dinner, Then Pictures, Then a Walk, Then Painting

This is one of the rare times when I have worked on a Friday in, well, forever. In the life of the church, Friday and Saturday were my weekends. Sunday was the first day of my work week. Since I have stopped working for the church, I have had the luxury of being home whenever Dan was off and sharing an extended weekend with him: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

In working with the census, we work when the work is to be done. Today, Friday, my team processed the >1,100 census reports from UCD students in the Greek system to go to the local census office and be scanned in to the count. It was huge, rewarding, gratifying, and, well, kept me away from home for 10 hours on a Friday.

Back at home, Dan cooked. I took some pictures. We fussed in the kitchen until there was a minimum of a mess, then we went for one of our long walks. A very,very welcome time to be together after an extraordinarily long week. I don't feel much like painting. If it gets done at all, you'll probably see it sometime tomorrow.

BTW, dinner tonight was pork chop, carrots, and corn spoon-bread. After working all afternoon in the meeting room adjacent to the Veterans' Hall as they prepared their Friday Fish-Fry, it was a great welcome-home meal. Later I'll paint!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Rabbit Trail

When I was working at Cottonwood Presbyterian Church in Salt Lake City and taking classes at the Salt Lake Theological Seminary, I used to try to take my weekly day off on Tuesday so I could fit classes and chapel worship in together.

It made for a long day, and if I had a church history class or a theology class after chapel on a Tuesday afternoon, it was fun and rather stimulating to get Dr. Huggins to run off down a rabbit trail, tangential to the subject. That is the strategy tonight.

This post is today's lunch and I interject it into this series because I noticed something that many of us share. It's related to the dinner self-portraits because self-portraits are, after all, supposed to help the artist and those around her/him catch a different view of a familiar visage.

Yesterday I was laid low with a migraine brought on by the usual suspects: Wheat gluten overload from too much mac-and-cheese and birthday cupcakes combined with sleep deprivation and a crazy schedule. I suggest to anyone who is allergic or sensitive to wheat (or suspects that they are)to try going gluten-free for two weeks if your symptoms are not so acute that you suspect celiac disease or feel that you need to seek medical help immediately. I am exploring gluten-free cooking and sometimes need to try new things or dream up ways to use gluten-free ingredients I have on hand to give myself a meal that will re-energize me.

I think periodically I'll post some of my more edible concoctions. As I discover products which provide acceptable substitutes for those containing gluten, I'll share what I find and I invite you to try them or share your own experiences. So, in search of good food that won't leave you feeling terrible,

Here's what I invented today, and it was yummy:

Pasta Bowl with Fresh Herbs

2 oz. brown rice pasta (favorite: Tinkyada brand,
2 T. extra virgin olive oil, divided
1-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped, depending on personal taste
Generous 1 T. fresh herbs, such as oregano, basil, and Italian parsley, chopped
1/4 C shredded flavorful cheese, such as pecorino romano or parmagiano reggiano
Scant 1/2 C cooked vegetables (leftovers such as peas, broccoli, etc. work great)
Salt and pepper

Boil about 6 C water with 1 T of the olive oil over high heat. Add rice pasta and cook for about 12-15 minutes, or until pasta is al dente. (Note: some rice pasta will become mushy if cooked this long. If not using Tinkyada, check after 5 minutes for doneness)

Meanwhile, heat 1 T. olive oil in a small saute pan and saute garlic rapidly until it just begins to turn brown. Drain the pasta, transfer to a bowl and toss with the garlic-and-oil, the cheese, vegetables, and herbs. Salt and pepper to taste. (If not overly concerned about fat, you could add a little butter and it would be divine) Serve immediately.

Note: If gluten really is a problem, Tinkyada is manufactured in a completely wheat-free environment. It has the same calorie count as semolina wheat pasta and I don't get the symptoms after a meal using this pasta that I get when I use wheat pasta. Plus, there is a
chewiness to the texture that you'll notice from the brown rice. If you are also dairy-intolerant, try substituting almond or soy cheese for the dairy cheese.

In hopes that we may all eat well, and have a peaceful night afterward. Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Mere Shadow of a Dinner: Turkey Pot PI

As I was sitting at my desk in the residence hall at UCD to collect census forms today, I realized
that one of the pages in my sketchbook had the bleed-through or "shadow" markings on the next page from the marker I'd used to draw the Turkey Pot Pie from April 9th.

Just for fun I played around filling in between some of the dots with census-inspired strings of numbers in place of lines and tic marks where there might be color variations until the rough shape of a piece of pie came through.

I kept adding the names of residence halls, sorority and fraternity houses, and the names of ingredients like peas, potatoes, and carrots until the thing looked sort of like a pie on crack or something. Finally, I sketched in a fork and supplemented the drawing with a little watercolor wash.

It's the shadow of the dinner of leftover turkey pot pie I would have enjoyed on April 12 with my honey had I been home with him instead of at work. As it was, I was on campus with my carrots and Jell-O that night. That's OK.

If we believe that saying, "Oh, but that's OK" when our truth is actually something else, that's a misdirection of emotion, and if we were honest, there would probably be some anger in there too.

There are three stages or levels of anger, I think. Level one anger is the bright but harmless flare-up that quickly passes and has little or no lasting effect, like steam escaping from a boiling tea kettle. Level two anger is dangerous. It's the kind of anger that bores inside because we tell ourselves "Oh, but that's OK" but then we get migraines or yell at our kids instead of regarding the truth it reveals to us.

Level three anger is a call to act. To confront, to make changes, and to state our needs and desires. It's a productive force which drives us new life if we recognize and embrace it. We can make art with it, write because of it, and forge new ways of living using its energy.

It's a call to push through the shadow of "kriya" and say, "Oh, for cryin' out loud."

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Day 13-Virginia's Birthday

No brown bag dinner tonight! It's Virginia's birthday, and we celebrated with a mac-n-cheese dinner she loves made from a NY Times recipe Dan always uses and cooked by Sean. We are definitely blending this family! Instead of cake, Dan got individual cupcakes for each of us and I missed the chance to photograph them before they were devoured! Maybe tomorrow I'll have time to paint them.

Landen, Dan, Virginia and I had a lot of fun playing after dinner and I don't think there were any leftovers once all was said and done. I'm very grateful for our terrific kids and thankful that we were able to share this special evening together. Virginia is now no longer a teenager! OMG!

Brown Bag Supper at the Census Desk

A quick pencil sketch of my carrots, water, and Jell-O from home (packed thoughtfully for me by Sean-more on this in a moment) supplemented by a chicken Caesar wrap and diet Coke from the student convenience store.

It was about the best I could manage in the few minutes away from receiving completed census packets last night. UCD freshmen received their census forms Monday morning in their mail boxes at each house-some 4,700 individual students living on campus in student housing. That doesn't even include the Greek system-about 1,200 more.

I'm so grateful for the work and the income at present, and the census is only going to be going on a short while longer. If it weren't, I wouldn't be able to stand the pace. Since it is a limited project, I didn't really mind putting in the 15 hour day yesterday, which started with fingerprint training in West Sacramento at 8:00 AM and ended around midnight last night on the UCD campus. All to the tune of relentless rain, which snarled the freeways and slogged the causeway between Sacto and Davis.

There were only moments to stop at home in between the two sites to grab food and get into some dry clothes. Sean was at home and put together a wheat-free supper for me in a brown paper sack-yogurt, snap peas, sugar-free Jell-O in a custard cup, and some sliced turkey.

I don't yet see the "where"of this new path I'm on. I really don't know what I am supposed to take away from this work on the census and I'm surprised to see that I have been given the gift of fingerprinting, among other gifts.

One thing is very clear, however. In the time that I have been releasing the things that are not authentically useful in this new phase of my life, I have once again had to confront the truth of who I am rather than what others were comfortable with who they wanted me to be. Life just proved out once again that sorrow at loss and celebration of the new and suitable can be at once bewildering and energizing.

I am reminded that melt-downs and euphoria accompany these times. Julia Cameron writes that such crises of spirit have a name in Sanskrit: "Kriya". For me they are the times I cannot move during the week after Vacation Bible School is over, or the deep depression that sets in after a particularly challenging retreat or even the high/low following a mission trip. Part of it is that during it all you don't take the time to confront the truths that are being revealed as you go through the experience. Part of it is that it doesn't make sense to you until later.

Like, the truth is "I can't work 50 hours a week at an underpaid job where people are constantly fighting everything I do." The kriya for me was nearly six months of illness last year, alternating between flu and colds and headaches and stomach trouble. But the truth is that I am happy to work 15 hours in a day when my contribution is appreciated and my gifts are recognized, even if it means an occasional brown bag supper. I wouldn't do it permanently, but it's been a great experience.

I just wonder how God intends me to use my newly discovered gift of fingerprinting.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


I wondered, back before I began doing this daily (nightly) discipline of art and blog what would happen when the census work really ramped up, so I gave myself permission in advance to treat myself gently and follow the advice I have given to many, many others.

Treat yourself gently. Recognize the need for rest. Rest in the Spirit.

So tonight I am honoring my personal need for not only rest but integrity. I can hardly fail to honor that wisdom which I have in the past foisted upon overly committed sisters and brothers, now can I?

The census is not only taking its count but taking its toll. The only thing I plan to count for the next 8 hours? Sheep!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Turkey Pie in Patee Brisee

Have You Sent in YOUR Census Form Yet?

Word of the Day for Friday, April 9, 2010

indefatigable \in-dih-FAT-ih-guh-bul\, adjective:

Incapable of being fatigued; not readily exhausted; untiring; unwearying; not yielding to fatigue.

She was always seeking to add to her collection and was an indefatigable first-nighter at Broadway shows.
-- Meryle Secrest, Stephen Sondheim: A Life

For the next thirteen years, with indefatigable zeal he rummages the libraries for charts and details of the spice trade and Pacific voyages.
-- Alan Gurney, Below the Convergence

Ernest Hemingway was, luckily, an indefatigable letter-writer.
-- Carlos Baker, "A Search for the Man As He Really Was", New York Times, July 26, 1964

Indefatigable comes from Latin indefatigabilis, from in-, "not" + defatigare, "to tire out," from de-, intensive prefix + fatigare, "to weary."

I offer the above definitions, example, and contextual readings at the end of a twelve-hour workday spent trying to get UC Davis census packages ready to be delivered to the student housing units by Monday. So many gifts have been brought to our team by so many workers from such diverse walks of life. It's crazy working in a boiler room with people ages 18 through 70+, people with every conceivable level of education represented from high school drop-out to bachelor's degrees plus teaching credentials plus seminary training, grad school, even a PhD among our ranks.

Some of us are truly task-driven organizers, energized by the project and stimulated by assuring that every jot and tittle of information that goes out to our segment of the to-be-counted public is error-free and legible. Wonderful to have folks who can ensure that each form goes to the correct dormitory or fraternity occupant and that all records intended for that individual are consistent and correct!

Others are team players, whose major gifts for insuring harmonious cooperation among diverse workers ensure that everyone from an overachieving grad student to a high-school level career veteran find common touchstones and can work under the same roof in very close quarters hour after hour in common cause.

The long list of persons who come together in this massive project are as different from one another as the media I used for tonight's self-portrait of dinner, Dan's delicious and very fragrant turkey pot pie. All the ingredients in tonight's portrait are done in very distinctly different media. You'll notice the shadings of colored pencil, giving subtle color variations to crust, gravy, light, and shadow. Conversely, the black marker gives a bold, starkness to the line and shape of the drawing.

Just as several ingredients combine in a one-pot pie like this to create an unexpectedly rich and satisfying supper, I played with diverse tools to get an unexpectedly gratifying picture.

Just as many people from all walks of life are pooling their talents and skills to accomplish the decennial census.

Just as untold numbers of persons of countless personal attributes comprise our communities.

Just as people of all walks of life, religions, and political persuasions create our country.

Just as all humanity constitutes the children of the Creator.

Divine love holds us all, kind of like a wonderful patee brisee cradles a wonderful pot pie.

When I consider our Creator's forbearance with us all, it makes me a bit less tired, less fatigued, less jaded with my amazing fellow human beings. Carrots and peas, potatoes and onions, here we all are together and why shouldn't we be?

Makes me feel downright INDEFATIGABLE.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Night off

And on the seventh day she rested, and said it was good. Or words to that effect.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Simpler is Better Still

Every so often we do taco night. It's something I've done since the kids were little and everyone likes it for the most part. Thinking about painting and staging and photographing the food makes it at lot less simple and pleasurable than it used to be. Apparently the photjournaling of food is part of a growing trend. (See link-today's NY Times, The difference for me is that interpreting the meal is also part of an intentional structure I've designed for myself to insure that I am writing a little bit and doing a little bit of art every day.

Part of it is looking at what I'm actually eating. Some of the people in the Times story photograph every morsel, including a solitary bite of shredded wheat. As with anything: weddings, spiritual disciplines, hand-washing...anything can become obsessive if we lose sight of what the point is. And just as I got to thinking about simplifying the wedding last night, tonight I got to thinking in terms of simplifying the art, as well.

So instead of last night's rather fussy interpretation of a kitchen still life tonight I saw 2 tacos on a plate. Simple is good. Simpler is better.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Simple is Better

After a quick supper of pork loin stir-fry, Dan and Sean and I ruminated a little bit about our upcoming wedding, which will take place on June 12th. Sean and Dan began the conversation by brainstorming what they might think about wearing, and I got the opportunity for input because, geez, I'm the bride.

I like that we can feel comfortable saying what we really want to have happening at this event. I like having the freedom to tell the guys how the dress I really wanted to wear is out of stock and none of the other dresses I like would work. Then their eyeballs rolled back into their heads and they both began to look like the melting wax models in the first Indiana Jones movie. They had obviously stopped listening several sequins previously.

Something I do really like is that these terrific male persons who share my life are very willing to open up to my being as as inscrutably female and flower-bedecked as needs be for this wedding to take place on June 12th. They are willing to embark on this no matter how complicated the cake, the flowers, their clothing, the invitations, or the logistics need to be. It is good, however, that none of these things needs to particularly complicated. Like a good stir-fry, when it's brought to the table, it can be served up in one elegant bowl with a savory sauce and enjoyed by all. I find grace in the fact that Sean would wear a tuxedo if I demanded it, which, incidentally, won't be the case.

I find grace that I could wear a cotton eyelet dress and carry daisies and my dear Dan would find it satisfactory, if we could only wrestle the logistics into submission. Before all of our planning is finished, we may find that this IS the case.

I ask for grace from my lovely friends and family who may think I'm dithering about making arrangements. I assure you this is not the case. As we continue to make plans for our reception, it may intrigue folks to know that we are plotting a wonderful time in the country for our celebration together! (Hint: Got a GPS?)

I give thanks for my friends, for love, for the simplicity of fresh food, and the time to enjoy it.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Monday Blahs: Dinner, Day 5

Any dinner that features reheated frozen broccoli and cauliflower deserves to be called "blah". Not even the leftover roast lamb from Easter dinner was enough to save the day. One day's passover is the next day's barely passable. Surprisingly the best part of the meal was the simple salad of greens, tomatoes, and fresh buttermilk dressing. No company, no gathered family, and no sugary Peeps or starchy potatoes.

Is dining alone more palatable when the food is more interesting, or is it that it's easier to take shortcuts in the preparation when there is no family to care for and no guests to cater to? I know single women who scrounge the fridge every night for leftovers, sometimes satisfied to stand over the sink with a days-old chicken leg and a pudding cup and call it dinner. I used to belong to that tribe. Or some nights I'd open a bottle of wine and forget to eat entirely, content with a book and network TV.

When I remember all the subsequent suppers of kid food that later took the place of over-the-sink leftovers or dinner in a bottle, I'm pretty grateful. That I had fish sticks, mac-and-cheese, and hot dogs meant I was sharing them with two of the most wonderful little boys a mother could ask for. It meant I was spending time at the table getting to share who those little people were turning into.

Here it is, now, the day after Easter and it's easy to sink into the Monday blahs if we think about it. The family has dispersed, the guests have gone home, and the plate is full of leftovers. On a spiritual note, the church choirs and musicians gave it all their best yesterday, with jazz bands and brass, organ music played too loudly, and children's processionals. A lot of clergy spent this day at home, relaxing and thanking God another Easter is in the can.

There will be a huge drop in church attendance next Sunday. There always is. No one wants a plate of leftovers, and church attenders know from experience that the sermon may be tepid, the music overdone, and their fellow congregants are taking the weekend off after the Lent season of faithful attendance.

I take this as a look-me-in-the-eye spiritual challenge. Not a challenge to the preachers to make the sermon more interesting or to the musicians to entertain us all the more. Rather, I take it as a look-me-in-the-eye and face the amazing nature of resurrection. The nature of resurrection demands that we confront the possibility of living new and fresh on the day after Easter, because the whole point of doing Easter was to give us a starting point for renewal.

If I could only get that part right, I'd be satisfied with a week-old chicken leg and a pudding cup over the sink, because the true feast remains.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Even the Peeps are Rising!

Here we are with dinner of roast herb-encrusted leg of lamb, new potatoes, and petite peas. Out whimsical dessert was Easter baskets with the ubiquitous Peeps in my good crystal sherbet goblets and, since there's such an emphasis on free range poultry here in Davis, I couldn't resist making this free-range Peep in colored pencil. Hope you all had a wonderful Easter Sunday. He is risen!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Today's Pic: Chicken & Rice w/ Fennel & Shallots

Holy Saturday, Batman!

Holy Saturday, Batman!

Today is Holy Saturday. I can't help but notice that Holy Saturday has four more letters in it than my favorite expletive, which is "holy s&@t", usually followed by the word "Batman". This is something I never, er, usually don't say in church and also not typically on Holy Saturday. Today, however, was remarkable for a couple of reasons having nothing whatever to do with the Great Vigil of Easter and rather more to do with the recurring theme of combining households with the love of my life and preparing to spend the rest of our time and space together.


We had the fifth of five and, hopefully, the last of our consolidation sales. Our first was held in the dark days of early January at my old house in my living room due to the nasty cold and rainy weather. We did two more in the same manner on consecutive weekends after that because it was really gratifying on any number of levels. We both enjoyed meeting a great many international students and others associated with UC Davis, who felt free to hang out and visit while browsing through books and other collectibles of five decades' gathering. Coming into the house also added an air of collegiality when we explained that we were combining two households and that the object of the game was to fit us and our stuff into one place. It was as if the folks answering the "Moving Sale" ad on Craigslist became team mates with us to work toward a common goal of dispersing stuff.


We had some fun with it, even brainstorming a fantasy story that we were selling everything we owned so we could run away to Brazil and grow soybeans! Perhaps the idea of two middle-aged people doing something as silly as getting married and intending to live happily e'fter (my new contraction for ever
after) was too unbelievable or too mundane or a bit of both. But with every passing sale as we got rid more and more of the big, obtrusive things I felt as if we were closing in on our real fantasy, that of putting our past selves, replete with past stuff, into the real past as we opened ever more willingly and fearlessly into the future possibilities of unimagined future stuff.


Some of the most successful couples I have ever met are those who live in the reality of the present, surrounded by the stuff that sits on their present coffee tables and bookshelves, happy with what was on those shelves yesterday but not burdened by them. As for the future, they seem to be able to welcome whatever stuff comes to delight them and let it occupy those same tabletops and shelves for a while, then move on.


As I watched a woman walk away with an elegant raku vase given by a former boyfriend, it felt so liberating. I felt new breath entering and new shapes shaping and blood pumping more warmly than previously. Now trying yet another new recipe (chicken, shallots, asparagus-what could go wrong? )


I think of all of our future shapings, and stuff, and bookshelfdwellers. It's a great time for Easter, and a great time for resurrection to begin.


With all of Christendom, watch. Watch and see.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Day 2 - Good Friday "Forager Soup"

Soup. The traditional Good Friday meal.

Add the idea of fresh meatless soup to a recipe Dan found for using such greens as dandelion (we like to be right on the cutting edge of food fashion.) What for thousands of years peasants throughout Europe and North America have known today the New York Times identifies as trendy. We can follow in the muddy Wellington boots of our Irish ancestors and forage for greens such as sorrel or dandelion to chop up into a simple creamed soup for a hot and hearty spring supper. How perfect for Good Friday, when we often eat a simple meatless evening meal.

Now if your lawn yields more turf than dandelions you can substitute mixed spring lettuces, arugula, etc. Or do what Dan did. Buy a bunch of dandelions in the produce department of your local high-end grocers. There's foraging for you.

This was actually pretty fun to make and lower in fat and calories than the original recipe. Instead of cream, we used fat-free half-and-half, and nonfat milk instead of whole. It thickens anyway because diced potatoes starch it up. I don't know which was more fun; arguing over the liability of fat-free half-and-half due to the occurrence of corn syrup in its list of ingredients, or Dan using my blender for the first time and exploding hot soup all over the kitchen.

When we finally sat down to eat I nearly forgot to take a picture. But it was bitterly tasty and made for a nice meal with a nice cheese and crackers, a dish of fresh strawberries, and a sauvignon blanc. I haven't found all my colored pencils yet but even when I do I'm not sure I have one that exactly captures sauvignon blanc anyway. But I'll remember the color of the soup for a long time-something tells me I'll be cleaning it off the kitchen cabinets for weeks to come.