Despair Loves Company

Archived | February 28, 2014 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. Anything to take a person’s mind off the weather is not bad. They’re calling it “polar vortex syndrome” at the café. Seems everyone’s chronic issues are getting worse — high blood pressure is going up higher, depressed people are feeling more depressed, annoying people are more annoying, etc. — and there’s not a lot a person can do. Mr. Sundberg has been unusually quiet, and I’ve been baking more than we can eat. It’s as if a sinkhole has opened in the atmosphere and we’re finding ways to fill it so we don’t get pulled in.
There’s something called a “misery index.” It’s a measure of economic well-being for a specific economy. It’s pretty much the sum of the unemployment rate and the inflation rate for a given time. The higher up it goes, the worse the climate of the economy. I’ve never been much into economics, but this makes total sense. And because I have always been into the weather, I’m thinking there’s a similar index for meteorology. We might call it the “desperation index.” Add snow amounts and temperatures. The more snow there is and the lower the temp, the more desperate people become. Though “misery” would work as well.
I think, in order to combat despair, we all need to stop what we’re doing and play for a while. I know playing outside is not an option at this time, but it’s not the end of the world. The only thing coming to an end is Winter, and it is taking its own sweet time, so we need to switch it up a bit and help it all along. It seems the opposite of despair might very well be delight, and it seems a great source of delight is Play. So let’s.
You knew how when you were young; time to channel that kid you were and have a little fun. Make some homemade Playdoh. Play PileOn. (This is where someone yells, “Pile on Dad!” or “Pile on Henry!” or “Pile on Grandma!” and everyone does. It’s great fun.) Take photos of the snow on the trees, or of each other’s feet. Bare. Make a gingerbread house, and write the story of who lives there. Plan and cook and serve a gourmet meal. Watch a trilogy of movies, popcorn and all. Have letter writing time with some lime vodka slush on the side. Paint a room a color you’ve been wanting to paint a room. Give the dog a bubble bath. Host an appetizer party. Or a dinner party, where everyone at the table has to confess something. Prepare food you’ve never made before. (I’ve never made a tuna loaf. Or an Olive Pickle Jell-O Salad.) Get out the Twister game. Make confetti from old magazines, and throw it up in the air.
Misery loves company, and I’m guessing so does despair, so call up your friends and invite ’em on over for a cheese exchange or a craft project, and see who has the best snow-clearing story. Someone will. And, as the sun sets on the cold horizon, there will be, where you are, laughter and delight. Tomorrow we’ll deal with when we get there.
It’s still soup and stew season, and these puffy biscuits will go well, or on their own with some jam or berries or a slab or good cheddar cheese.
Soda Pop Biscuits
4 cups Bisquick
1 cup sour cream
1 cup 7 Up
½ cup butter, melted
Dash salt
Mix Bisquick, sour cream and 7 Up. Dough will be very soft. Knead and fold until coated with baking mix. Pat dough out and cut biscuits using a round dough or cookie cutter. Melt butter in bottom of 9×13 pan or casserole or cookie sheet, and place biscuits on top of melted butter. Bake at 435 for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown.

Something to Count On

Archived | February 21, 2014 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I was reclined in the tub for most of the show, with pomegranate scented bubbles piled high on top of me and a hand towel rolled up under my neck and a glass of reasonably priced white wine next to me, and a lit candle too. Blackberry scented. The radio was on the counter, turned up just enough to drown out the house sounds and the wind and the movie the kids were watching (something about zombies and the end of the world).
It was as decadent as I could get on a Saturday evening, and I was doing my best to channel Spring. Berry scents, and light. And warmth. I hesitate here, the temptation being to go off on a rant about how much shoveling I did that day, and since. Amazing numbers of hours heaving snow up into piles over my head. I spent much of last evening up to my hips in snow, shaking snow and ice from tree branches in the year to save them from splitting and falling to the earth. They were touching the ground, those birch branches, bowing to the power of Mother Nature at her icy best, and I had to do something. It felt like forgiveness, shaking them as I did, thinking “Rise up, go back to where you were, live!” and it felt silly, too, as snow spilled down my jacket and shirt and filled my boots while the kids watched from the window (cheering, I like to think, but probably laughing at their mother trying to save the treescape from the unrelenting snow).
The temptation is to rail against this weather, to complain about how my back aches and how I pulled something (hamstring? butt muscle?) when I slipped while shoveling, to consider seriously a move to a warmer place where the elements are gentle in their ways and the breeze blows warm every day of the year. Tempting to use the “F” word, holler it out to a sky a color somewhere between steel and salt. Tempting to invent my own expletives, meting them out in threads of glorious curses. Yeah, tempting.
Not going to though. Because I’m not only a “cup is half full” kind of gal, but I’m grateful that there’s water in the cup (it could be gasoline, or pee, or empty). I was raised to look at the bright side, to see the stars through prison bars, and ignore the mud. It’s in my blood and in my bones: I can do this. And to remember that, in the burning heat of August, I will miss this day, and all the snow out there, and the whistling wind, and the rattle of iced branches on the kitchen window, and how it feels to stand there and be finished, again, clearing the snow away.
I know spring is coming; I smelled it last week. And summer shortly after, and then autumn, and back here to winter again, where we’ll marvel at how fast it all happened. A dear friend told me recently that it’s not the seasons she loves so much, it’s that they turn. She’s got a point. Something to count on. Beginnings disguised as endings. No, I’m not complaining. Just sayin’ how good that green grass will feel under my feet, how sweet the air, how blue the sky.
For now, I’ll find Spring in the bathtub. Outside? It’s all white and crunchy and cold, but it’s sparkling. Only few more hours shoveling if we’re going to get where we’re going today, over here on the bright side. And we will.
Not a lot of time for cooking some winter days, and a big thank you to whomever came up with the crockpot. This recipe takes only a few minutes to throw together, and a few hours to cook, and if you close your eyes while you’re eating, you’ll taste summer. And it’ll taste dang good.
Crockpot Barbecue Chicken
4-6 chicken breasts
1 bottle (18 oz) barbecue sauce (Sweet Baby Ray’s is the way to go)
¼ cup vinegar
1 tsp red pepper flakes
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tsp garlic powder
Combine everything but chicken.
Place chicken in crockpot (frozen is ok).
Pour sauce mixture over chicken and cook on low 4-6 hours.
Serve with sweet potato fries or cheesy potatoes.

The Red Thread of Fate

Archived | February 14, 2014 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. Still so cold but every day is a bit warmer. I’ve been baking a lot this week, too, and that helps with keeping the house warm. Baking cookies, mostly, in heart and snowflake shapes, but mostly hearts. I do cutouts a bit on the thick side, and once frosted they look almost like muffins but not quite. Almond-flavored with pink frosting all over the kitchen, and I’ll be sharing them with friends, I’m thinkin’, ’cause they’re EVERYWHERE.
Been thinking about friends this week, and love in general. It’s not hard to love people–though I have encountered a few who present a challenge–but maintaining a healthy friendship takes time, and good energy, and deserves both because friends are important. They really are. It’s healthful to have friends. And having friends makes you feel good. The nice thing is that a good friendship will allow for time and space. You can come and go in each other’s lives and the price is that you get to miss each other.
Somewhere along the way I learned about the red thread of fate, an East Asian belief that started up in Chinese legend. According to this myth, the gods tie a red cord around the ankles of people who are to meet one another in a certain situation or help each other in a certain way. (The Japanese say the thread is tied around the little finger.) The thread may stretch or get knotted up, but it won’t ever break. (I’m wondering whether this has anything to do with how clumsy I am…)
I like the idea of threads of fate, and the thought of fine red filaments crossing here and there over the planet. I like the notion that some of us are meant to find each other, and we do, and will always remain connected. May your threads be many, and untangled, and strong. And may you continue to find, and to be found.
Here’s a tangy treat to make for someone you love on cold winter day. An appetizer, perhaps, while the shrimp scampi or chicken potpie is in the works.
Bacon Wrapped Shrimp
1 pound large shrimp
⅓ cup chopped fresh basil
1½ T freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
16 pieces thinly sliced bacon
½ cup prepared barbecue sauce (fruit-based is best)
Peel and devein shrimp, leaving tails on. Butterfly shrimp by cutting a slit along the back and gently pressing open.
Combine basil, Parmesan, and garlic in a small bowl. Gently pack basil mixture evenly in shrimp openings; press shrimp closed.
Cook bacon over medium heat until partially cooked. Drain on paper towels. Wrap each shrimp with 1 slice bacon, and place on greased baking sheet. Brush barbecue sauce over shrimp, and bake at 400° for 8 to 9 minutes.

The Math of Life

Archived | February 8, 2014 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I took a break from sorting through statements and receipts so I can do my taxes quickly and efficiently, in order that I might fill out the FAFSA in time so the kids can apply for scholarships before the deadlines. Yeah, it’s been a stretch of forms, but the taxes are done, earliest ever, and I’m feelin’ alright. I don’t mind paying taxes. Sometimes I don’t like how MUCH I have to pay, but I feel pretty lucky to live where I live and how I live and if it weren’t taxes there would be something else.
Thing is, I am not good with numbers. I’m just not. Letters and words, yes; numbers, no. They make me nervous, and they have always had a better chance of making me feel crappy than words might. Test scores, blood pressure, weight, IQ, the heating bill, credit scores, age, speed limit, calories, tuition. All numbers. And then there are numbers for the sake of numbers — trigonometry, algebra, geometry, calc. Thank the Lord I’m done with math as a requirement for graduation. Now I deal with the math of life, and that I can manage.
One of the beautiful things about growing older is that you gain the wisdom and insight to designate what is and is not important in your own productive, happy life. I do my taxes, pay my bills, and celebrate my birthday. I register for the census. I observe and generally obey the speed limit. But I haven’t weighed myself in years, and I’ve forgotten whatever number was assigned to my IQ. Oops.
Numbers are important, yes, and necessary, but words are what I love, and they can take the place of numbers quite nicely if you let them. I can tell you my blood pressure is low, my heating bill is high, and the number of calories I consume daily is enough. I passed the last test I took and I did alright. When the kids ask what time dinner will be ready, I reply, “A few minutes after you set the table” or “Sunset” or, on long days, “When it’s ready.”
Mr. Sundberg prefers words to numbers, too, I think. He has a few beers occasionally, and works enough hours a week to get the job done. When it’s below zero out there, numbers don’t matter: it’s “ass burn cold”, and if you ask him how long we’ve been married he’ll lean back in his chair, and smile, and say, “Well, not long enough.”
Here’s a recipe you might choose to be a bit creative with for Valentine’s Day, or St. Patrick’s Day, or for the next day the temperature rises enough to open a window. Simple ingredients, and a good amount of room for decorative license. A nod to Kathy Z. for sending it along. Nice to have the gift of a good recipe now and then.
Imperial Cookies
2 sticks butter
¾ cup sugar
1 tsp cider vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
1½ cups flour
½ tsp baking soda
Cream butter and sugar, add vinegar and vanilla. Mix flour and baking soda, and slowly add to butter mixture. Combine well. Roll by heaping teaspoons in to balls, and flatten a bit as you place on baking sheet (these cookies tend to spread out). Bake at 300 for 20 minutes.
You can decorate, if you so choose, with a pecan half in the middle before baking, or any type of sprinkles, or try M&Ms after they come out of the oven.