Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. With the onset of autumn, and darkening skies and a bit of rain over the weekend, the ol’ mood has been a bit low and all it took was “Blue Eyes Cryin’ In the Rain” to get me going. Not an all-out cry, mind you. A few tears for a song that takes me to way back when, to when I was a girl and life was simple and things like first kisses and willow trees and big parts in musicals took up my time and attention, a time when I waited for the phone to ring and painted my nails pink and pretended to be asleep on the couch hoping my father still might have it in him to carry me on upstairs and tuck me into my bed.
No, the all-out cry came Friday afternoon. I suppose you could chalk it up to the weather, which was somewhere between drizzle and rain. No thunder and lightning, no drama — just a steady steamy stream of water pouring on down. The windows in my van kept fogging up in the midst of my errands, people were generally quiet and without a smile, and I felt somewhat lacking in something. Courage, maybe. Or strength. Or motivation. Or whatever it is that sustains those always-happy people. Not that I aspire to constant joy, but there are days when I feel its absence like we all do, and Friday was one of ’em. Of course, it could have been a hormonal thing, or the pizza with extra cheese I’d eaten the night before, or the fact that the kids have been a bit more needy than usual with the start of school and puberty and all. Or maybe I was just having a really crappy day. I’d lost my umbrella, and my hair was out of control, and I couldn’t seem to catch up with myself.
I was fine as I visited the bank, the post office, the gas station, and the movie store. I even hummed a little bit as I wandered through Target picking up a few things we’d run out of. I suppose I didn’t need the three large bags of M&Ms, nor did I have to buy a box of Little Debbie Nutty Bars or seven boxes of Kleenex. Nope. But I did. And I bought a notebook too, just to have. I took it all out to the car and loaded it up and that’s when I came undone. The tears started, and they weren’t stopping. I drove to the back of the lot by some trees near a pond and parked the car. I locked the doors, left the music on, took off my shoes, and climbed to the way back seat of the van where I wrapped myself tight in the plaid wool stadium blanket I keep just in case, and I cried. For a good hour, I lay there with the windows all steamed up and cried about nothing in particular and everything at once.
They say that crying releases protein-based hormones and painkillers and toxins that build up in your body. It cleans you out. It’s like a built-in rinse cycle, and women cry 64 times a year and men, 17, for a reason. It’s healthy. And it feels good. Felt good to me, anyway, all curled up in my van with the rain beating on the roof on a Friday afternoon somewhere between summer’s end and the first leaves of autumn.
For company or comfort, hot or cold, this homebrewed tea will hit the spot.
The staghorn sumac is turning red, a darker red than the maple, and its red, fuzzy cluster of berries can be used to make tea once used for refreshment by Indians and pioneers. In a big pot, cover a quart of seed heads with a gallon of water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes or so, then set aside for an hour. Drain off the tea using cheesecloth or a coffee filter. The tea will be pink and sour and tastes something like lemonade. You can sweeten it with honey or sugar and serve it hot or cold.
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I was a bit drowsy much of the day as I’d been up late reading the night before, and I planned to do it again. A good book is a good book, and not much is going to get in the way, let me tell you. Though one must be considerate when one’s reading gets in another’s way. Which is why I, on occasion, read by candlelight. It feels adventurous and mysterious. Moreso this time around, as I’m reading a book that hasn’t been released yet.
Now, don’t get all bent out of shape. It’s Mr. Keillor’s book, Pilgrims: A Wobegon Romance, and it’s going to be released on Tuesday. My dear friend Angela, the one who told me there’s a word for reading by candlelight (lucubration) works part time in a bookstore and I just happened to drop in on Friday when she was putting up a poster advertising Mr. Keillor’s book and she happened to let it slip that she had a copy at home. Well, you can bet I dropped by her house that evening with a fresh peach pie and what do you know, she let me borrow the book as long as I promised to keep quiet…
Anyway. It’s a lovely book. A wonderful book. I can’t give it away, of course, but I can tell you I have a hard time putting it down, and when I do, I have a lot to think about until I pick it up again. There’s someone in that book very much like me, and I always enjoy that. What I like so much about this book is the whole notion of what it means to be a “pilgrim,” but even more the idea that if you have a dream, it can be as simple as deciding where “there” is, choosing whom you’re taking with you, and going.
For the record, I’m not finished with the book yet. Not quite. I’m a journey person, myself. Destinations can wait.
Barbecued Chicken Wraps
This recipe is one of the kids’ favorites, especially on an evening when everyone has somewhere to go.
1 lb boneless chicken breasts
1 18 oz bottle barbecue sauce (Sweet Baby Ray’s Hickory Brown Sugar)
6-8 flour tortillas or soft pitas
8 oz shredded cheddar cheese
Trim fat from chicken. Place in skillet with 1-2 T oil. Fry on both sides until there isn’t much pink to be seen. While in skillet, cut breasts in half and shred with two forks. Continue to cook over medium heat until pink is gone. Season with salt and pepper. Pour one bottle of barbecue sauce over meat. Simmer 20 minutes. Scoop onto warm pita or tortilla. Sprinkle with desired amount of shredded cheese and roll up or fold. Serve with rice, salad or chips.
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. Now that the kids are in school I’ve been able to calm down a bit and take stock of things. It’s not just school starting, though, that has me in that mode: my age went up a year this month and that tends to get one thinkin’. There’s a quote I read recently, written by a man named Paul Zimmer. “Pay attention to what you take for granted,” he wrote. It’s common sense, really. But it must take a special kind of energy or awareness or something, because it seems we forget pretty regularly and end up taking things for granted. It’s inevitable. I haven’t got the energy to pay attention constantly. I mean, come on.
So then the other day Mr. Sundberg builds a campfire so the kids could burn their old homework from last year and one of the kids fuels it with an armful or two of sticks and leaves and what seem to be weeds but is actually poison ivy. And then stands there awhile as smoke billows up out of the fire, smoke laden with whatever bears the nasty poison of that particular ivy plant, and that poison makes its way across my child’s skin, over her eyelids, down her cheeks and neck and arms and legs. The next day, she’s red and swollen and itching and in pain. Oozing pain. As I dab on the calamine lotion, I think about her beautiful, soft skin, and her bright blue eyes. I remember her smile and the curve of her jaw as she throws her head back in laughter, and how her curly hair bounces on her shoulder. She is trying not to cry. “When will it stop?” Going to be a while, Honey, I tell her. You did a number on yourself. But it will stop, I promise.
Now, I didn’t need that whole poison ivy encounter to take place in order for me to appreciate my daughter’s smile. Surely not. Perhaps what I needed, though, was that short time with her and a bottle of lotion. Longer than a pause and shorter than a while. Enough time for attention to collect its due. Enough time to notice what was missing.
Scalloped Potatoes, the Good Ol’ Way
Here’s one from my childhood, a real comfort food. My mother sometimes threw a layer of leftover cooked ham in the middle, and often served ham on the side.
3 T butter
2 T flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
3 cups milk
6 medium potatoes, pared and thinly sliced (about six cups)
2 T chopped onion
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 2 qt casserole. Make a basic white sauce using the butter, flour, salt, pepper & milk. Melt the butter and add the flour, salt and pepper. Add milk and stir over medium heat until thick. Set aside. Wash, peel, and thinly slice (width-wise) potatoes. Place half the potatoes in casserole. Cover with about half the onion and half the white sauce. Repeat layers. Cover and bake 60-70 minutes. Test with fork to make sure potatoes are almost tender. Uncover and bake another 30 minutes.
Feeds 4 hungry people, so you may want to double it.
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I think I could listen to “Unchained Melody” all day and all night for a month of Saturdays. My gosh, what a lovely song. I feel like being quiet every time I hear it and I couldn’t tell you why. Just do. Something about the whole notion of someone waiting for someone. They always do come back, but sometimes it takes a good long while and when they do they smell like a pool hall or they’ve dropped out of school and decided to grow apple trees instead or they have grass stains all the heck over their brand new jeans. There’s always a story to hear.
The kids went off to school today, and I watched them go. I waved from the front porch like I always do, and they turned and waved back and blew a kiss or two. I watched them climb on up into the big yellow bus and watched the door close tight and then they were gone. I sat awhile on the porch and felt what it feels like to be alone. That took about fifteen minutes, and then I got going on all the things I pushed to the side over the summer. I wrote some thank you notes, cleaned under the stove and refrigerator, wiped down the pantry, sorted through the books in the library (which consists of a few shelves in the living room) and put about half of ’em in a bag for the community library. I swept the sidewalk, and hosed down the trampoline just for the heck of it.
When I thought to look at the clock a few hours later it was nearly noon, and the kids would return in only three hours. Imagine that. Not even half a day had passed and I’d found myself wondering when they’d be coming home. It’s like that, you know, when you love someone. They go away and you busy yourself with dusting and such, and you might even get a notion to paint the hallway or start writing that book you’ve envisioned yourself publishing one day. But whatever you come up with, part of you is listening for footsteps, for the rush of the door opening, for a voice calling out your name. “You’ll never guess what happened today,” the voice calls out. No, I won’t, my Dear One, you whisper, and then you call back, Why don’t you come on in here and tell me.
Garlic Bubble Bread
This recipe is easy enough for the kids to throw together while you make the main dish. Serve it with pasta, chicken, or with a big ol’ salad and some cherry pie for dessert. Be prepared to hand out copies of the recipe. It’s a keeper.
1 loaf frozen bread dough
2 T melted butter
1 beaten egg
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 T parsley flakes
1/4 tsp salt
Thaw and soften dough.
Blend together all other ingredients. Cut off pieces of dough the size of a walnut and dip into butter mixture. Place in a greased bread loaf pan until all dough is used. Cover and let rise until double in size.
Bake 30 minutes at 375. Brush with melted butter. Break off pieces when eating.
On a road trip a while back, I met a man from Seattle in a coffee shop in Wisconsin. He told me he’s seen Spam, but he’s never eaten it. Something so familiar, something I grew up smelling as my mother fried up thin slices with eggs on Saturday mornings before my father and brothers and I went out to chop and haul wood. Hard to believe there are people who could see Spam but not eat it. The same man told me about grilled asparagus, which I’d never made, much less eaten. So when I got home, I tried it. Can’t hold the Spam thing against him if I’m unwilling to try asparagus. Life is like that. It’s a big world, and if you stay where you are, you won’t run into much that will challenge your routine. But get out there now and then, meet a few new people, visit a place you’ve never been, and you’ve got to re-think a thing or two. Maybe it’s time you get yourself a pair of hiking boots. Maybe you ought to learn how to properly cook a sea bass. Perhaps, at long last, you ought to climb into a kayak and see what happens. There aren’t many guarantees in life and winter is not long off. Have an adventure today, my friend. Even if it’s a trip to the market to buy some asparagus. No one’s going to make your life wonderful for you. Thank goodness you’ve got it in you to make it so yourself.
Take a bunch of fresh asparagus. Wash the stalks and trim the cut ends. Soak in olive oil for a few minutes. (Any olive oil will do – doesn’t have to be from a specific region of Italy.)
Turn gas grill on to med/high or prep charcoal grill to where coals are red hot and ready to go. (Gas grill is preferable, I must say.)
Lay asparagus stalks down on grill and salt and pepper quite liberally. Cover. Let cook five minutes or so, then roll stalks and cook another five or so. It won’t take long; you’ll have to keep an eye on ’em, and you’ll know when they’re done. (Careful – don’t wander off and forget. Asparagus don’t take long to vaporize.)
Remove from grill. You may wish to squeeze a bit of fresh lemon over the stalks, especially if you’re serving them with fish.
Or make a lot, and serve as its own meal with some homemade Hollandaise.