Sunday, February 28, 2010

Personal Chef


Last night I had just a glimpse of what it would be like to have a personal chef and I really liked it.  My friend and instructor from Hill’s Kitchen came to our house to cook a belated birthday dinner for us.

My husband had made all the arrangement, but I was in on the menu selection.  Our only job was to supply the kitchen and buy the wine.  That I could easily handle.

Brock rolled in with two big bags of groceries and a lemon tart already baked.  We were also the benefactors of several Hill’s Kitchen classes with tasty leftovers.  The rest of the dinner was mostly demonstration with a little participation.

Here’s the final menu:

Three kinds of homemade sausages (chicken, pork, garlic) with homemade pub mustard and blueberry chutney
Grilled rack of lamb with a savory rub and a pomegranate molasses glaze
Baked Brussel sprouts with pralined pecans
Celeriac-potato puree
Arugula salad with blood oranges and toasted almond slices
Fresh-baked Italian bread
Lemon tart with candied lemon slices

We ate the grilled sausages, drank Prosecco, and watched as Brock made the lamb, Brussel sprouts, root vegetable puree, and salad, all in the space of a little over an hour.  We couldn’t find a working meat thermometer, so he simply determined the doneness of the meat by pinching and it was perfectly medium rare.

By the time we sat down to eat, everyone was salivating.  And Brock’s tee shirt of the evening “Animals Taste Good” proved to be quite true.  (Was I the one who was recently talking about becoming a vegetarian?)  Every single dish was cooked to perfection.

It was great to have the company of both of our children and some neighborhood friends to enjoy this feast with us.  Jake was on his best behavior, mostly hanging out under the table.

The reminder that I don’t lead a life of luxury came when Brock packed up and went home, leaving us with a kitchen and dining room full of dishes.  I felt a little like Cinderella as I rolled up my sleeves to clean up.  Fortunately my daughter proved to be an excellent dish washer, only quitting when the hot water was exhausted.

I’ll pull out the leftovers and whip up more humble fare for dinner tonight.  But it certainly was fun to see a bonafide chef work in my kitchen and get to eat the fruits (and chops) of his labor!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Welcoming Elijah

Baby namings are always special events for me in the life of Temple Micah.  Today was no exception.

Last week I got the first glimpse of baby Elijah as he slept in the arms of one of his two fathers, his dark skin quite a contrast to their whiteness.  They beamed as they told me how he had come into their lives just weeks before with only 4 days notice.  How does anyone prepare for a baby with so little time?

But he settled right in with them at one week of age, sleeping through the night almost from the beginning.  Their smiles conveyed the love that is now enveloping their family of three.

After the rabbi had blessed the baby, his dads explained the origin of his four names.  His given name Elijah comes from the old testament prophet.  They quoted from Malachi 4:6 which speaks of Elijah:  “And he shall return the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers.”  It is Elijah we invite each year to our Passover seder, with the thought that he will bring us into the Messianic Age.

They concluded by noting how many barriers had already been broken, such that two gay men (one of whom was not Jewish) could proudly stand before our congregation and introduce to us their black baby Elijah.

It was definitely a mazel tov occasion.  We sang and clapped and shed a few tears of happiness.

Friday, February 26, 2010


I’m about halfway through Committed, Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest book.  It is just as accessible and entertaining, while at the same time informative, as her best-seller Eat, Pray, Love.  I came across something yesterday that caused me to think about honesty in relationships.

While waiting out the INS decision on whether to allow her intended Felipe (not his real name) to re-enter the US, Liz and this older Brazilian man she met in Bali are biding their time in Laos, a country that obviously could not care less about their citizenship, their relationship, and their intentions.  Neither of them had intended to enter into marriage again after each having had a disastrous first marriage and divorce.  But their only hope to ever live together in the US seems to involve marriage.

They both do a lot of soul-searching, trying to make sure what they are about to do doesn’t end in another disaster.  At one point Liz compiles a list of her 5 most deplorable faults, just so Felipe will be forewarned.  This is what she comes up with:

1.  I think very highly of my own opinion.  I generally believe that I know best how everyone in the world should be living their lives -- and you, most of all, will be the victim of this.

2.  I require an amount of devotional attention that would have made Marie Antoinette blush.

3.  I have far more enthusiasm in life than I have actual energy.  In my excitement, I routinely take on more than I can physically or emotionally handle, which causes me to break down in quite predictable displays of dramatic exhaustion.  You will be the one burdened with the job of mopping me up every time I’ve overextended myself and then fallen apart.  This will be unbelievably tedious.  I apologize in advance.

4.  I am openly prideful, secretly judgmental, and cowardly in conflict.  All these things collude at times and turn me into a big fat liar.

5.  And my most dishonorable fault of all:  Though it takes me a long while to get to this point, the moment I have decided that somebody is unforgivable, that person will very likely remain unforgivable for life -- all too often cut off forever, without fair warning, explanation, or another chance.

As she said, it is not an attractive list.  I love Felipe’s response to this list:  “Is there anything you would now like to tell me about yourself that I didn’t already know?”

If nothing else, I applaud her for her honesty.  It seems quite unusual to be so up-front about one’s faults before the knot is even tied.

I look back at the 3-year courtship my husband and I had and wonder if we ever once even discussed our respective faults.  Probably not.  Most people are all too busy trying to keep those closets shut as long as possible.

Fortunately love has the capacity to overlook some serious shortcomings of our intended, partner, or spouse.  It often causes us to look for compromises or alternatives instead of walking away.

I've made my own mental list, which I'm sure my family would not disagree with.  Let's just say my list starts off pretty much the same way Liz's does.  But after #1, I have other deplorable faults than the ones she listed.

What’s your take on this form of honest self-assessment?  Is it more likely to ward off problems or create them?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Comfort Food at its Finest

I had decided to hang out at Starbucks between an appointment in Bethesda and reading to my shelter kids, so as to avoid driving down I-395 in rush hour only to turn around and go back into DC.  When suddenly the thought of pizza came to mind and I looked at my watch.  4:53 PM.

I had exactly 7 minutes to get to the best pizza bargain in town further on down Macarthur Boulevard.  Who ever heard of a pizza happy hour?

Every weekday from 3-5 PM all pizza is half price -- $2 a slice -- at Palisades Pizzeria.  They are generous slices, so that is quite a bargain.

I rolled in the door at 4:58 and ordered 4 slices, 3 to go and a sausage piece to eat there.  It was the perfect snack to give me the necessary energy to deal with a dozen very active children for an hour or so.

Tonight’s read-aloud was about fractured fairy tales.  So we read The True Story of The Three Little Pigs by John Sciezska, as told by the wolf in which the he claims he was framed.  We read Once Upon a Time, the End (asleep in 60 seconds) by Geoffrey Kloske, the very abbreviated stories a father told his son to try to get him to go to bed.  And the children made their own puzzles (another form of “fractured”) to take home.

Then I came home to a second piece of pizza and two for my husband.  A quick carrot-spinach salad with Asian dressing completed our otherwise take-out dinner.

Pizza is such comfort food.  I especially like the thin-crust variety with mostly vegetables and just a little meat thrown in.  (Not a vegan just yet obviously.)

Next time you are in DC on a weekday afternoon and you get a craving for pizza, try the happy hour at Palisades Pizzeria.  It will not disappoint you!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Top Ten

My ongoing dialogue with my English professor of 4 decades ago has revealed that his attitude toward modern literature is much the same as mine toward modern music.  We both seems to think the best stuff was written a while ago.

Growing up my sole musical interest was in classical music.  I didn’t watch American Bandstand.  I didn’t know how to do the mashed potato or any of the current dances.  When I became a teenager, it became increasingly obvious that unless I wanted to seem like a freak, I had better make an effort to at least become familiar with popular music.  So one summer while I painted the interior of our house, I listened to the radio and learned the lyrics of what was popular at the time.  That would have been things like “Hey, Mister Tambourine Man”, “Hot Town Summer in the City”, and “I’m a Believer”.

Then I was really introduced to The Beatles when someone I admired loaned me the Sergeant Pepper album. Their music appealed to me in a way nothing had before.  It was a healthy combination of happy and sad that ran through songs like “Norwegian Wood”, “Yesterday”, and “Strawberry Fields Forever”.  I bought every Beatles album I could get my hands on.

But then my interest in popular music pretty much stopped.  I just couldn’t find anyone who could equal The Beatles and they had broken up.

To this day I remember a few popular songs -- like “Hey Jude”, “Red Rubber Ball”, and “Strangers in the Night” -- because they remind me of the people I was with when I first heard them.

But today when I am in my car, it’s always classical music that entertains me.

I happened to ask my former professor what he was reading these days.  In his opinion the last really great authors were Faulkner, Hemingway, Updike, Fitzgerald, PennWarren, Porter, and Cather.  Tony Morrison is the only contemporary author to whom he gives any credit.

I happen to disagree with him on this one.  So I sent him a reading list of some of my favorite book club reads over the past 12 years:

Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth
The Sunflower by Simon Wiesenthal
Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Grabriel Garcia Marquez
Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
The Magus by John Fowles
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark haddon
When Nietzsche Wept by Irvin Yalom
The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster
Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson
Atticus by Ron Hansen

These are certainly not all “modern” authors, but they are for the most part more current than his list.

This exchange reminded me how easy it is to get stuck in a place where we feel comfortable, not recognizing that new talent is being born every day in literature, music, and all the other arts. 

I will be curious to see how he reacts to this list and whether he goes to the library to find some of these books.

Meanwhile maybe I should listen to some of today’s music and see if there is anything that speaks to me.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Make new friends, but keep the old

I feel increasingly like someone whose friends have left the playground and gone home.    So many people in my link list don’t write much any more.  Some of the others who do write don’t visit my blog often or if they do, they don’t comment.  A handful still seem to both write and read on a regular basis.  I have a few faithful readers who don’t have Blogs of their own.

So today I’m attempting to “make a new Blog friend”.  I found Bev Sykes at the suggestion of Bozoette.  I immediately liked the style and candor of her writing.  If nothing else, hers will be a great new read.

I’ve never been the greatest at making new friends, but unless I want this Blog to become basically a diary, I obviously need to invest some time in reaching out to the Blog world. 

Has anyone else noticed a declining interest in Blogging, or is it just me?  I have this feeling that some are moving on to Facebook and Twitter and other ways of social networking that so far have not appealed to me.  Maybe others are recognizing it for the time sink it is and finding better ways to use the hours of the day.

I could end up being a Blogging dinosaur, talking to myself, some day.  I still like the idea of writing whatever is on my mind every day and reading similar thoughts from like-minded people or even from those with really opposing views.

Monday, February 22, 2010

USPS Strikes Again

We’ve recently had several experiences with the USPS that would recommend UPS or FedEx instead.  The purse incident is the latest.

Several weeks after our daughter had returned to San Francisco after her Thanksgiving visit, I found the above purse in her trash can.  Perfectly beautiful with a broken strap.  Kids look at problems like this as recyclable.  I looked at it as something that could easily be salvaged.

I found matching thread and within 10 minutes had made the purse usable once again.  It was way too cute to throw away.

I put it in a mailing envelope and sent it on its way to SF the week of Christmas.  That was my first mistake.

But it did have a tracking number and I breathed a sigh of relief when it showed as delivered at 11:44 AM the Thursday before Christmas.

But then my daughter never got the package.  Her neighbors hadn’t accepted it.  There was no note from the USPS about an attempted delivery.  So we eventually assumed it had been stolen. 

This never made any sense.  No one in his right mind would steal a used and empty purse, especially not one where the strap had been repaired.

Guess what showed up in our mail delivery today!  The package mailed 2 months ago and supposedly delivered.  I had to wonder where it had been for the past 2 months.  I also had to wonder who had reported it as being delivered. 

The package did not appear to have been tampered with.  So it’s not like the USPS delivery person had kept it, checked it out, and then decided to put it back in the system.

I’m sure we’ll never have answers to these questions.  But I feel like asking USPS to return my $4.06.  And I feel like telling them I will never again entrust anything I care about to them for delivery.

It’s a good thing my daughter is coming to visit next Saturday.  I can personally give her the repaired purse, which happened to be a favorite of hers.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Poetry then and now

Reconnecting with my college English professor has reminded me of the rigor with which we studied poetry back then.  Forty years later I realize that the poetry I like best no longer requires so much effort to understand it.

Was that approach to poetry a thing of the 60’s and 70’s?  We carefully identified metaphors and similes.  We scanned each line to determine the meter that informed the structure of the poem.  We looked for symbolism and we looked for imagery, with the discovery of phallic imagery being tantamount to finding the golden Easter egg.

I recall doing statistical analysis of how various people scanned a select group of poems  in order to write a paper on poetry scansion.  I can’t remember what I concluded.  I can only remember that most people differed somewhat in how they read the poems.

It was just assumed that the likes of Dylan Thomas, T.S. Eliot, and William Yeats had a very hidden agenda when writing their verse, one that only the most persistent could uncover.  Nothing was ever taken at face value.  It was always necessary to ask oneself, “What could he have possibly meant by this?”  (And more often than not it was a HE.)

I think it was this very rigor that convinced many people that they couldn’t read poetry, perhaps that they didn’t even like poetry.

Many years later I discovered Billy Collins (I’m not sure how), and the simplicity and readability of his poems about life and his world instantly appealed to me.  Then I found David Budbill, while sitting out on a front porch of a big country house near Chautauqua conversing with a fine artist.  Mary Oliver seems to be everywhere these days.

All of their poetry has a similar look and feel.  It speaks for itself with little prodding.  The images are every bit as powerful as those I conjured up decades ago, but so much more accessible.

So my question today:  Is the style of these contemporary poets different from that of the old masters or have I changed in my approach to poetry?  I am the first to admit that most things can be read on multiple levels.  Maybe there is a hidden agenda in the modern poetry and I am content to enjoy only what immediately jumps off the page at me.

I wonder how they are teaching poetry in schools and universities these days.  Are more students coming away with a love of poetry instead of a fear of making fools of themselves? 

Have you experienced a similar evolution in your attitude toward poetry or perhaps your choice of poets?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Where to draw the line

Maybe it was because I hadn’t been to Shabbat services in a while for a variety of reasons including several feet of snow.  Maybe it was because my soul needed to be recharged.  Whatever the reason, today’s service made me realize how lucky I am to have found my religious community at Temple Micah.

Our rabbi Danny began the service with a quote from Rabbi Nachman of Breslov about prayer.  It was something to the effect that prayer simply made up of words is a waste of time.   It’s only when the feelings of one’s heart accompany those words that they can rise up to God.  He very much supported spontaneous prayer, but the heart component seemed essential.

The real meat of the service was a discussion of the commandment “Thou shalt not covet.”  The question Danny posed was whether this commandment referred to covetous thoughts as well as actions that resulted from such thoughts.  In other words, is it OK to want something if you don’t ever try to take it?

Various learned rabbis have had a field day with this question over the years, taking quite opposing positions.  The scrupulous person would say that even having such thoughts breaks the commandment.  Whereas the practical person would admit that human nature makes us want things we can’t necessarily have. 

I fall into the practical group.  I somewhat liken this to the situation I often find myself in meditation, where thoughts continue to come into my mind as I attempt to sit.  Finding it unrealistic to think that we can make our minds go blank, I simply try to acknowledge those thoughts and let them go.  So too with things I covet that belong to someone else, I don’t feel I have done anything wrong if I simply recognize my feelings and then dismiss them.

It was a lively discussion among the congregation.  One person offered the legalistic view that you have to actually do something to be charged with a crime.  Some one else postured that if you had covetous thoughts and didn’t act on them outright, you still might change your behavior in a negative way toward the person who had what you wanted.  Most people agreed it was humanly impossible not to ever want what someone else had.

As I emerged after services into the bright sunshine, I clearly heard the bells of the National Cathedral just down the street ringing loud and clear.  Although it was not their Sabbath, it served as a reminder of the greater community in which we find ourselves.  I wondered just how Christianity would interpret that commandment.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Hot rice is nice

Last week I sent my husband to my new wonderful massage therapist and he came away with an injured neck.  So the least I could do was offer to make him a therapeutic rice “collar”.

It’s interesting how different people are affected by any sort of healing treatment.  He loves the sessions with his chiropractor.  I came away feeling not so good the last time I saw the same doctor.

The massage therapist is exactly what my body needs.  For my husband, his work was just a little too deep.

I had heard from Rayna about little pillows made of rice that you throw in the microwave and then apply to whatever hurts.  I went out and bought a big bag of long-grain rice and got out my scraps of material to make one. 

One design on the Internet suggested a horseshoe shaped thing.  But that seemed wrong to me because our shoulders are not flat. 

So I came up with this one that is more like a quarter moon.  Inside the soft outer cover is a similar shape with 30 “pockets” of rice.  I determined the rice had to be sectioned off so it wouldn’t all slide to the outer edges.  I learned that you can sew through rice without breaking a needle!

I added some French lavender to the inner pocketed structure to give it a relaxing smell.

My first attempt wasn’t long enough in the back.  So it went back the drawing board for the addition of another row of rice pockets.

This one is adjustable.  By using the second button, you can bring it up higher around the neck.

Just 90 seconds in the microwave provides at least 20 minutes of heat.

Hopefully the warmth of the hot rice and the sweet smell of lavender will soothe his aching neck! I will definitely not be sending him to Bill, the rolfer. Oh no!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Why Blog?

Reya’s post yesterday about how Emily Gould’s young life had been pretty much ruined by Blogging caused me to wonder just why it is that I am writing post 1,893 in as many days.  I hope I’m not also suffering from some variant of the addiction that ultimately caused Emily Gould to crash.

After writing for almost 6 years, I have seen a handful of local Bloggers who reached the  triple-digit comment mark and seemed to thrive on their popularity.  But then most of them either quit or started over with a different, perhaps less popular, focus and began posting only sporadically.  Only Wonkette stands out as a local Blogger who became syndicated.  (I’m sure there are many others.)

I’ve never experienced that sort of fame and never will, but I have come to know what appeals to the larger Blog world and often it’s a post at someone else’s expense, even if that person remains anonymous.  That was the element that seemingly fueled Emily’s addiction -- the ability to bring someone to his knees with the click of a keyboard -- and in her case to be paid for doing so.

For me writing about someone else and getting “caught” is enough to make me physically ill.  I never knowingly do it.  But sometimes it just happens.  I could relate to Emily’s argument with her then-boyfriend Henry about his request that she delete or edit a post that exposed him and her reluctance to do so.  I’ve had that discussion with my husband, who inevitably finds my mention of him uncomfortable.  But I have always acquiesced to his not-always-calm requests.  For the most part I try not to write about family, feeling it is safer not to take a chance.  On the other hand, Jake has given me full license to expose him.

But just this week I wrote about someone else -- an English professor from decades ago  who recently resurfaced in my life.  Then an anonymous comment suggested that he might not like reading everything I had written about him.  I broke out into a sweat worrying about the source of that comment and quickly deleted the meat of the post, including 4 comments (my apologies to Kristin, Steve, LR, and the Anon one).  It is difficult to delete well-meaning comments.

So back to the question of why I write.  Especially in my retirement, it has added an element of regularity to my days that I enjoy.  Sometimes I do feel a little like a reporter looking for a story as I view the world through the prism of “Bloggable or not?”.  I do love the connection with my small band of readers, some of whom don’t even write a Blog.  For the most part, people make meaningful comments and don’t tell me I’m full of crap.

Another enjoyable element of Blogging is reading what others have to say.  After all, we each have a unique take on filling the blank page.  Lately I’ve come to realize that many of those on my link list don’t write often or at all these days.  So I would appreciate your suggestions of Blogs I might enjoy reading.

As long as I know I could go to sleep without writing a post if I had nothing to say, I am content that I’m not addicted to this pastime.  Most days still provide a nugget to chew on and share.  I hope I will know if and when that is no longer the case, when I will quietly pack up and move on.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


For the last month of so I have felt like a whirling dervish as I attempt to make connections with living and dead who have crossed my path at some point.  I wonder what that’s all about?

I have long been interested in genealogy, attempting to trace multiple family lines back as far as they will carry me.  I know about ancestors who lived in the remotest parts of Norway in 1200 and how they came forward to my generation.  I’m troubled when I hit a roadblock and am constantly searching for a way around it.

I’ve lately begun serious work on my mother’s family since I pretty much figured out all I’ll ever know about my father’s Norwegian family.  Recently I’ve talked/e-mailed at length with Helen (90), Bob (83), and many others who are somehow distantly related.  One of my Edgar relatives (42) is determined to prove that our family descended from Edgar, King of Scotland.  And maybe we did.  I hope he figures it out.

I’m working hard to convince my son Dan to be interested in his family roots.  I hauled him down to the basement when he was last over to show him old and older photos of his ancestors.

It almost seems like I have the fervor of the Mormons who are trying to trace everyone back and convert them after the fact.  For me, of course, it has nothing to do with religion.  In fact, most of my ancestors would probably turn over in their graves if they knew I had converted to Judaism.  There’s just something about knowing who came before me, where they lived, and even some anecdotes about their lives that would tell me what kind of people these were.

I also find myself reaching out to people I haven’t seen for decades -- people who were once important in my life, people who perhaps influenced the way I view the world. 

I keep hoping this sudden surge to connect isn’t a sign that I’m on the way out, but rather that I simply want to re-establish communication with people I was too busy to seek out for these past decades. 

I feel energized by all this digging and reminiscing.  I’m happy to remember common friends I shared with people, to try to remember the sound of their voices, to only imagine how they must look today having dealt with the aging process just as I have.  I love the feeling of anticipation of a new exchange, a new branch of the family tree completed, a chance perhaps to meet up in person with an old friend who has resurfaced.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Skin check and still a lot of snow

If I were a resident of DC, I would probably not be giving Mayer Fenty my vote on the basis of his snow removal efforts.  This was not a good day to try to drive in for a mid-morning dermatologist appointment.

It usually takes me 15 minutes to get to the Foggy Bottom area of DC from our house in Virginia in non-rush hour.  I left home at 9:45 for a 10:30 appointment, allowing a little extra time for parking.  I knew I was in trouble when I-395 seemed like a parking lot, hardly moving at all.  I called to say I would be late.

I used to dread these skin exams, fearing yet another melanoma or basal cell would show up.  For years I have paid the price of basking in the hot Florida sun.  Part of me almost wished my appointment would be canceled, because no news is never bad news.

By the time I struggled into a parking place at 11:10 and got into the office, it was empty of patients and my doctor had gone to lunch.  The receptionist said I would be the doctor’s first patient upon his return.

When he finally did see me and while he scanned every centimeter of my body for any sign of trouble, we talked about retirement.  He said he is not doing much Mohs surgery any longer, instead letting his three children who are all in practice with him do it.

He is such an ardent Republican.  As such, he was always the first choice when the Reagans and the Bushes needed surgery for skin cancer.  He operated on one President and another First Lady.  One of these was in his office, which was then filled with Secret Service.  He actually did house calls to the White House, once making small talk with the President for 15 minutes.

But most of his patients are people just like me, who rely on his eagle eyes to detect skin cells gone awry.  I came away with a clean bill of health today and made an appointment for August.  In between I will see another skin specialist for another set of eyes.

Meanwhile back on the streets, I observed people struggling with things like parking and boarding a bus.  There is still no clear path between the street and the sidewalk, meaning everyone has to work hard to negotiate the remaining piles of snow. 

Monday, February 15, 2010

Thank you, Facebook!

Let's just say I found someone I have been looking for for a long time with the help of the Internet.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Day -- Past and Present

In going through a box of my mother’s old things recently, I came across this heart-shaped box, which I remember her saying had been given to her filled with candy by a boyfriend.  I also came across a diary which made me wonder if that boyfriend was someone other than my father.

One thing I learned growing up was that my father was a kind man who knew nothing about choosing and giving gifts.  It was after he gave my mother a fertilizer spreader for Christmas that she appointed me to choose her family gifts.  I was 10.

As I looked at the heart-shaped box today I could just picture it filled with delicious chocolate truffles.  How very romantic!  And after the chocolates were gone, it became a jewelry box for costume jewelry like the grasshopper with a fiddle or the ceramic flower broach. 

A few pages into the diary (from 1939), I read “Bill called.  I have a date with him!”  I just couldn’t bring myself to read any further, not wanting to know what this guy Bill meant to her.  I could picture some suave, debonair guy delivering the heart-shaped candy box to my mother on Valentine’s Day.

I can’t remember ever receiving candy and seldom flowers on Valentine’s Day.  Today I got a Blue Mountain e-card from my beloved.  We went out to brunch at a local restaurant.  I treated him to lacy black underwear and will soon bake a chocolate heart-shaped cake.  Rather low-key, but that’s the way it’s always been and it’s fine because we know we love each other.

I do wish I knew the full story of the heart-shaped box and its contents, probably none of which came from my father.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Rediscovering the art of bread-making

I once knew how to bake bread well.  I baked all our bread and it looked and tasted good.  But then decades went by and I lost that skill.

I’m determined to rediscover the art of baking homemade bread.  I decided to start with figuring out why my last few attempts at challah-making had resulted in loaves that had lost their braid and spread into big bread puddles.  They were tasty (especially fried in butter as we did during the power outage), but they certainly didn’t look authentic.

I decided to change several things when I started the most recent challah.  Instead of turning the oven on and off briefly to provide a warm space for rising, I decided just to put a hot tea kettle in the cold oven with my rising dough.  I used more flour.  I did the unthinkable (heretical?) and used 40% whole wheat flour.  Out of convenience at midnight, I braided the challah on a cookie sheet and threw the whole thing in the refrigerator to rise overnight.

When I got up this morning, my braided dough was plump and ready for the oven after a quick egg wash and poppy seeds.  The house was filled with that wonderful smell of baking bread as the cooking gave those braids a brown glossy look.

My husband had submitted the picture of our flat, braidless challah to a food Blogger contest, actually hosted by someone I had met through meditation.  I would be embarrassed if anyone knew I had baked it.  I may try to convince him to substitute a picture of my latest whole-wheat challah, which although it is somewhat a half-breed is a lot healthier.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Beware the knife

It’s never more obvious how important a finger is until you slice into it and temporarily put it out of commission.  I was supposed to be cutting up shallots to go into a made-up recipe for leftover turkey breast when I sliced my index finger instead.

It was a rather superficial wound from a knife that could have very easily sliced off the tip of my finger.  The beauty of our new Mac knife is how effortlessly we can slice, chop, and mince things.  But the downside of that is the fact that this beautiful Japanese knife can’t discern human flesh from a piece of ginger or onion.

I felt the sudden pain when it happened and watched that little wound bleed for at least 30 minutes even with the pressure I was applying in between cutting up the rest of the ingredients.  I’m sure there was actually very little blood loss, but it was slow to clot.

I had never realized what a key role my right index finger played in my life.  It figures heavily into flossing my teeth.  I use it to put on my shoes.  Most pieces of piano music rely on every finger to pull its weight.  I quickly learned to avoid putting pressure on that finger because it was likely to reopen.

This is 2 days later and it actually looks quite good now.  I played the piano yesterday and hardly felt my cut any longer.  But I continue to avoid using that finger for many of the tasks it used to do, instead letting the other 9 do its work.

Within a few days I expect my finger to be totally healed and back in service again.  The human body continues to amaze me in its capacity to deal with adversity and to recover often with no trace of the injury.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Lost and Found

It seems like for much of my life I have been looking for something that has disappeared or more likely been misplaced.

For many years it was a ballet slipper for my favorite doll, a knife from my maroon and gray plastic tea set. You get the picture.

Recently I had been missing this photo of my one and only dance recital, which I had in my mind but could no longer put my finger on. It was after this recital that my parents gave me the choice of more dance classes or kindergarten and I chose kindergarten.

Last week as I was going through old photos in the basement by candlelight, I found the photo tucked into an album with pictures totally unrelated. Who knows how it got there, but it was found. So I can cross that one off my “missing” list.

I was always tall as a child. You can see I’m about a head taller than any other 4-year-old in the class. I knew the dance well, so I was in the front row.

I thought about this photo on Tuesday as I worked with my trainer Emily. She had me stepping up on a step and extending opposite arm and leg for balance. It sort of reminded me of my dance recital routine.

As a more immediate concern, we just noticed that Jake could actually step over the fence (instead of burrowing under as he used to do) if he wanted to escape. I can now see the metal fence piece is no longer connected, so some repair is in order if the snow ever melts.

Some very sweet Hispanic guys, who spoke only enough English to convey the price, came by already this morning and gave us a head-start on digging out of yesterday’s blizzard.

The sun is shining strongly today. I’m hopeful the big melt will begin. It’s time to start watching the spot in the basement which tends to let in water from excess rain and snow.

Maybe I’ll brave it and take a walk down the middle of the still very white and virgin road.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


The only other time I can recall being in a blizzard was the winter of 1951 when we were in Minnesota to visit my father’s family.  I was 2 and was constantly sick with tonsillitis. 

We headed out from Minneapolis to drive down to “the farm” near Wanamingo, where the family had originally settled after coming over from Norway.  It was snowing, but no one knew it would turn into a blizzard.  (Weather prediction was still in its infancy.)

Part of the way there we got stuck on the road with a lot of other cars that couldn’t go anywhere.   I remember the panic that ensued because it was so cold and I was sick as usual.  Finally my uncle rescued us in a truck and we made it to the farm.  None of the other details other than the fear among the adults sticks with me today.

At some point in the trip, my aunt took the picture above, which shows my parents happier than I remember them ever being.  It shows the ashtrays which were everywhere in those days.  It also shows my right femur already rotated when I was but 2 years old.

It’s a wild scene looking out the back window today.  It has been snowing furiously ever since I got up.  The deck table is just about out of view, as are the weird chairs around it.  Jake has made a little tunnel near the house that he scoots into to return only minutes later after he does what he’s out there to do.  I’m wondering just how much shrubbery we will lose to the storms of 2010.

The good news is we still have electricity.  I hope my dire predictions of losing it at noon today never come to fruition. 

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Healers with X-ray vision who don't need X-rays

I have recently encountered three healers who seem to have X-ray vision but never needed to see an X-ray to determine their treatment.  They seemed to figure things out by observation and inquiry.

My piano teacher Anadel told me she had recently had the best massage of her life.  She is 76 and probably has had a lot of massages so that is significant.  I went to see Dan Bettes, the guy she recommended, and determined she was absolutely right.  He is probably in his fifties, living and working in the Foggy Bottom area of DC.  He mentioned “I noticed you had a bit of a limp.  Tell me more about that.”  And that’s how we got started. 

It was one of those massages where I totally lost track of time and just thought about breathing.  He did things with my legs and hips that no one had ever done.  At one point when I was on my stomach, he was on the table too lifting, stretching, manipulating my legs and lower back.  It was not a gentle massage, but the result was immediate and quite therapeutic.  I had never found anyone who got it so right on the first visit.  I have my second appointment to see him on Friday if the snow permits. 

About 10 years I fell as I was hurrying to a meeting in my old place of work.  There was no outer damage, but my right hand had taken the brunt of the fall with the fingers bending back much further than they were ever supposed to bend.  It was black and blue for a week or so and then stiff. 

At one point I saw an orthopedic doctor who specializes in hands.  He took an X-ray and confirmed nothing had been broken.  But the stiffness persisted.

My piano teacher Anadel immediately spotted my difficulties in holding my fingers in the right curve and in playing anything that required speed in my right hand.  She suggested I see Jan Dommerholt, a physical therapist who deals mostly with musicians.  He began by manipulating my hand and within 10 minutes had pinpointed the problem to some inelastic tissue between fingers 3, 4, and 5 on my right hand.  His comment about the orthopedic doctor:  “They only look at bones and joints.  Many times that’s not the problem.”  He had pioneered a technique called dry needling, which created quite a stir in the acupuncture world because it uses the same needles they use, but insurance pays for PT.  I had the first of 4 sessions with him, experiencing the pain of the needling technique, but also realizing a greater freedom of my fingers afterwards.  He is hopeful that he can fix my hand problem even after 10 years.

The third of my healing wonders is Bill Short, who had been a certified rolfer for 20 years, leaving a lucrative job as a hospital administrator to devote himself to healing with this technique.  Rolfing works on the connective tissues that hold our bones together and sometimes lose their flexibility and get somewhat stuck.  The picture above shows what this webby stuff looks like.  So far nothing he has done has caused me screaming pain.  There has been some discomfort, but nothing I couldn’t easily breathe through.  His approach is to treat the whole body, not just the part that seems problematic, so that is exactly what he is doing.  After each session, I have been able to look in the mirror and see the change.  After the first, my right shoulder no longer dipped below my left.  After the second, I was considerably more grounded on all parts of my feet and my snow shoveling backache had completely disappeared.

I appreciate the fact that tests and X-rays and MRI’s are often necessary and informative, but I have a new-found admiration for healers who seem to have the unique ability to climb inside one’s body and see things without the aid of this external information.  I am totally in awe of Dan, Jan, and Bill, all  guys with X-ray vision.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Let there be light!

I can’t tell you what a relief it was to hear the power come back on as I was showering and washing my hair in a 45 degree bathroom around noon.  It solved my problem of how I was going to dry my hair.  Not that it was immediately toasty, but at least my hair dryer would function.

We actually survived quite well over our 3 day ordeal with no power.  It was amazingly quiet and the television was silent.  I really liked that part.  There were no disagreements and we did a lot of reading.

We had to be resourceful to do things we normally took for granted.  My techie husband found something called CellSpin for $1.99 that would allow me to post (albeit crudely) from my iPhone.  We fried our toast since the toaster didn’t work.  We took our phones out to the car (after the snow was cleared from it) to charge them.  We laughed a lot at our efforts to behave like pioneers and our obvious dependency on electricity.

I ventured out this afternoon for my second appointment with the rolfer, which I was determined not to miss.  The roads were surprisingly bad -- even I-395, where only one lane was down to pavement.  Many of the streets in DC hadn’t been plowed at all.  I was somewhat afraid that I would never get out of the space which I finally managed to get into.  (I will soon write more about Bill, the rolfer, because he deserves his own post!)

On the way home I decided to stop at Whole Foods because another storm of 10-20” is predicted for tomorrow.  There were no bananas.  Nor were there any at Safeway, where there were also no batteries (D cell).  Giant came through with bananas, but no batteries.  CVS had batteries.  Fortunately the bank still had money since we may need to shell out another payment to the Hispanic guys who come through with their snow shovels and help us dig out.

As for snow removal, Arlington County gets my vote for doing it right.  The main thoroughfares were plowed down to the pavement and traffic was moving well.  I certainly can’t say as much for the other jurisdictions I traversed today.  And my neighborhood is almost impassable, even in one lane.

I am waiting for Pat Robertson to tell us the DC metro area has been hit because we’re all such sinners.  I’ve actually had the fleeting thought that perhaps God is punishing us for something.  This is the most snow I’ve seen in the shortest time in my 39 years of living here.  I will be very happy to see Spring this year.

But for the moment at least we have light and we can watch "24" tonight!

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Making hay while the sun shines

See post below.

Making hay while the sun shines

I have a new appreciation for this adage as we go into day three of no power. We are currently reading by candlelight and trying to decide what leftovers to retrieve from the deck. We are hopeful for the return of power tomorrow, but Dominion Electric is making no promises.

Meanwhile my whole body is feeling the effects of hours shoveling and freeing up the shrubbery.

Tomorrow I will be up with the sun.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Socked in and Lights Out

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Socked in and Lights Out

Power failed as predicted at about 15". We are lucky to have gas fireplace, stove top and hot water heater and each other to cuddle up with. No land line, no Internet, no tv. Food stored in cooler and bags on the deck. 24" and still snowing. Thank god for the iPhones -our only connection to the outside world. Guest blogger: David D. who now knows how to post to blogger from an iPhone complete with pics.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Snow-inspired Challah

There’s something about being socked in by a big snow that makes me feel so domestic.  I got up thinking about bread -- homemade bread, challah to be precise.

The only yeast I could find said “Best if used before July 2009.”  Figuring that yeast didn’t just completely stop working on the expiration date, I decided to chance it.

I was surprised to learn my husband had never had the thrill of baking bread.  How could a good Jewish boy have gone through 63 years of life without ever kneading a challah?  So I convinced him to help. 

We shared kneading and then put the dough ball in for the first rising, hoping it would feel inspired to double in size.  And indeed it did, taking on the elasticity characteristic of dough with air in it.

I punched it down and divided it into 4 pieces for braiding.  We each made long ropey pieces which were then woven together.  The scraps went into making a tiny braid to adorn the top.

Another hour rising for a second time.  And then we will wash it with egg yolk and add poppy seeds.

The best part of bread-making is smelling the loaf as it cooks in the oven.  It will take great restraint not to just whip into that challah when it emerges hot from the oven.

Then it’s on to making a turkey breast for dinner.  The plan is to have enough food already made so that when we inevitably lose power, which I imagine will happen at about 15”, we will not starve.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Everything but the Kitchen Sink

It’s the season of soup.  With what may be a record-breaking snow coming this weekend, it just seemed right to make a huge pot of hearty warmth.

Yesterday I got inspired by a bag (about 2 cups) of Great Northern beans from the CSA that had been just sitting in wait on the shelf.  My “recipes” always start with “What would go well with this?” 

I decided a full-flavored stock would be a good place to start.  So yesterday I got out the stock pot, added a meaty beef shank bone (osso buco), and bits and pieces of vegetables:  the green tops from a bunch of organic carrots, some nubs of ginger, a garlic clove, scallion tops, and pepper corns.  After filling the pot with water, I let it simmer on the stove for hours.  After it cooled, I put it in the refrigerator to let any fat congeal.  At the same time, I put the beans in a pot to soak overnight.

This morning even before breakfast, I rinsed the beans and added the de-fatted stock.  I set aside the lean pieces of beef to be added later.  Then I let the beans cook while I had breakfast and figured out what else to add to the soup.

Here’s what ended up going in after being chopped/minced and sauteed in some lemon-flavored olive oil:

1 onion
1 large shallot
3 garlic cloves
2 carrots
1 red pepper
1 poblano pepper
1 red jalapeno pepper
4 chard leaves
3 links of mild chicken sausage (removed from their casings)

After adding 2 bay leaves and simmering for another 30 minutes, I added a package of fresh shelled English peas, the reserved beef, and a can of fire-roasted tomatoes.  I also added about 1-1/2 tablespoons of salt.

After another 45 minutes, I have now turned off the soup to allow it to cool.  The broth has a very rich earthy taste. 

I can imagine dipping French bread into this hearty soup, that is is complete meal in its bowl.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Spices of The Silk Road

Did you ever wonder if you could duplicate the Coca-Cola formula if you knew the ingredients? Probably not because the proportions are of the utmost importance.

Along those lines, I just had the following exchange with someone at The Spice House in Chicago:

Me: I was disappointed to find out you no longer make Silk Road Seasoning. When I was in Chicago, one of your employees helped me purchase the ingredients to make my own, but it has never tasted quite right, probably because I don't know the proper proportions.  Would it be possible for someone to send me the "recipe" so I can try to duplicate this seasoning I have come to depend on?  Thanks for any help you can give me!

SH: We wrestled with your request as recipes are considered intellectual property and huge law suits take place over the confidentiality of these. We have been involved in several of these with employees who stole our recipes and started their own companies. Unfortunately, these are very fresh in our mind, and even though  your request is an innocent one, money spent on lawyers has caused us to be overly cautious now . So I hope you understand that we can not share the recipe, it is a blend we might want to sell again.

The best I can do is give  you the ingredients, in the order of the largest to smallest amount used. I hope you may be able to work with that. Ginger, salt, sugar, cinnamon, turmeric, black pepper, coriander, cumin, mustard powder, cardamom.

Again, I hope you can understand our logic.

We do appreciate your business,

Patty Erd
The Spice House

Me: I totally understand your position, although I assure you my
intentions were solely for making seasoning for my personal use.

Given I can't get the recipe, would it be possible to make a special
order of a sufficient size that it would be worth your while?  We have
gotten used to Silk Road Seasoning on a number of dishes and my
concoction just isn't working.  Just let me know if this is an option.

Thanks so much!

I’m waiting for an answer to my last message.

So here’s the question: If they decided never again to make Silk Road Seasoning, do you think they ought to share their recipe with customers like me who have enjoyed it? I wish there were statues of limitation for things like recipes.

My son, the intellectual property lawyer, says The Spice House people are perfectly justified in guarding their secrets forever.
2/4/10 Update:  Here is the answer to my last message --

We have a smaller recipe that makes 2-3/4 pounds that we could make just since you seem to like this so much. If you would like for us to do this, please call our shop at 312 274 0378 and ask to speak with a manager. It is hard to turn down someone that likes your product so much. (but please don't tell  your friends we do this!)

Patty at The Spice House

All's well that ends well!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

A poem (I wrote) about Jake

If He Could Speak

What would he say to me -- this yellow half-breed of a dog --
   if he could speak?

Would he tell me how he resented being called “Right Shoulder”
   for the first 10 weeks of his life before he came to us?

Would he tell us how much he hated the trainer who taught him
   obedience like a Nazi SS man??

Would he congratulate himself on robbing the old Dylan of his
   alpha dog standing in our house?

Would he complain about all the days when he walks around
   kong-in-mouth begging for someone to throw it?

Would he brag about his success in the kibble strike that
   resulted in my making his food now?

Would he pour out his jealousy of listening to our love-making as
   he remembers his manhood was taken at an early age?

Would he take on the surliness of a teenager who is out to 
   impress upon the world that he is in control?

All questions that remain answerless as he carefully licks a paw
   and settles in for yet another nap on the black couch.

Monday, February 01, 2010

R&R at Marshall's

After making it through an hour at the gym for the first time in a while, I decided to treat myself to a trip to Marshall's, in honor of the fact that I finally seem back to health.  I still have an occasional scary cough, but essentially I am well and no longer contagious.

It wasn't that I needed anything at all, especially not anything to clutter up my recently cleaned out pantry and kitchen.  But that is the department I head to immediately upon entering the store.

You can see the entire purchase above, all $57 of it.  I can only feel proud if I tell myself it would have cost $114 at full price.

Here are a few close-ups of the goods.  I didn't bother with the tea this time.

Every other day in my life is an "egg day."  I look forward to watching that yellow yolk run out of my fried egg and sopping it up with good toast.  This tiny skillet (about 4" across) guarentees the perfect fried egg.  And the cute little chicken face on the handles perfectly matches the handle of my favorite mini-whisk from Hill's Kitchen.

This rainbow wooden bowl was the high-ticket item at $15.  It matches the two wooden spoons a good friend had brought me from Thailand several years ago.  I've never had the right thing to use them with and now I do.

Olive oil flavored with truffle seemed a perfect ingredient for risotto.  I get a kick out of using flavored olive oils of all sorts, so I will add this tiny bottle to my stash and look for a good recipe calling for truffle oil.

We have been in need of a table-size pepper grinder since I co-opted our pepper grinder for Borsari salt.  This one at $4 seemed the perfect answer.

This much pure Canadian maple syrup for $6 was too hard to pass up. I hardly ever use it, but it does taste great on the occasional weekend pancakes.

I keep buying my new favorite shampoo and conditioner every time I go to Marshall's because I'm fairly sure the company is out of business and when these hair products are gone, that's the end of them.

Obviously it doesn't take much to make my day.  Instead of splurging on a gourmet lunch in the company of friends, I treated myself to gourmet at Marshall's.