Shoot for Just Right

Archived | April 28, 2014 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. The rain hadn’t started yet, but the skies grew dark through the evening and you could smell the rain comin’, that earthy green scent rising up out of the grass into the faded-yellow-tinted air, clouds burgeoning up over the trees to the west. The rain started up sometime after we all climbed into sleep, and continued all night, and through the day Sunday.
I vacillated between wanting to do every inside thing, and napping a while. Made some cream cheese bars, and a barbecued chicken pizza, and some dip for potato chips, and boiled some eggs for the younger daughter, who ate three of them over a few hours as she worked on a paper for school. While I cooked and baked and folded clothes that had been waiting awhile, and paid a few bills, and organized the pile of lists and papers and schedules on the kitchen counter, our son — who was listening to 800 year-old Icelandic hymns on his computer down in his room — came up and told me his about his date Saturday night while he ate some warm coffeecake. He and his girlfriend, instead of attending the school prom, went to Perkins for breakfast food, took a hike by the falls, got pulled over for a headlight issue (“It was terrifying for a moment and then I was all calm and everything…”) which resulted in a verbal warning (Amen to that). They then went to a party with a bunch of friends who did attend the prom and watched movies into the wee morning hours. Somehow our conversation ended with me telling him about my first kiss, and how it was nothing at all like the first time Mr. S kissed me, and he said, “Really,” and smiled, and went back down to his Icelandic hymns. Our daughter asked me to print her paper as she started another, and I mixed up dough for a batch of sugar cookies, wondering whether it was raining out in Ohio, where Mr. S was for the weekend, giving a talk called “If Nothing’s Perfect, Shoot for ‘Just Right’.” Thought about our oldest, too, away at college, spending the day with a group of high school friends who got together and drove up to spend the day with her. I imagined them kind of piled together, all laughing, pizza boxes and pop cans scattered about.
Sometime in the afternoon, the kids and I sat by the fire and watched “The Shawshank Redemption.” He fell asleep after not too long, and she got up a bit later to do some more school work. I watched the entire movie, something I’ve not done in a long while. And then I watched a good part of “The Green Mile”, another amazing movie, until what would be, on a sunny day, twilight. That’s when I got going on sesame chicken and fried rice, as the wind picked up outside, howling, and the rain came down in sheets.
Without Mr. S and our oldest daughter around, and with the number of frogs I had to contend with in the garage after I found someone had left the door open, and the fact that I ran out of butter, it wasn’t quite the Perfect Day. But it was Just Right, and I felt alive and happy as night fell and the storm stormed on. The kind of day I’ll think of on my last day, and one of the reasons I’ll be smiling.
If you’re not tired of comfort food yet, here’s a dish that’ll warm away the damp in your bones fa stretch of April rain can bring. A meal in itself, though some broiled asparagus or a small salad on the side would add a bit o’ green.
Chicken ‘n Dumplings
2 cups flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 pinch celery salt
1 pinch salt
2 T butter
1 cup buttermilk, a bit less than a full cup (you can certainly substitute with milk)
2 quarts chicken broth
3 cups cooked chicken
1-2 dashes pepper
Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Add butter; cut in with a fork or pastry blender. Add milk, mixing with a fork until the dough forms a ball.
Heavily flour a work surface. Roll the dough out thin with a heavily floured rolling pin. Dip a pizza cutter or butcher knife in flour, and cut the dumplings into squares about 2″x2″. Odd shapes will work just fine. Lift dumplings with a small spatula onto a heavily floured plate, sprinkling flour between the layers you make.
Bring the broth to a boil in a large pot on the stove. Drop the dumplings in one at a time, stirring gently while you add them. The extra flour on them will help thicken the broth. Cook about 15-20 minutes or until they aren’t doughy tasting. Add the cooked chicken to the pot and let simmer a bit and there you have it!

Mindful Ways

Archived | April 21, 2014 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I’d been out and about most of the day picking up a few things for Easter, including bag #3 of jellybeans, and the weather was lovely. Sun and 60s. Nice. A lot of people were out, doing what I was doing, picking up flowers at the floral shop and fresh asparagus and pineapples at the grocery store. Rushin’ around. And here’s a secret: I’m a counter; I count things, often without thinking about it. I count steps sometimes, and birds I see, and the number of jellybeans I eat in succession. What I counted at a larger intersection in town has been bothering me and I feel the need to say something.
There were seventeen cars lined up at a red light, waiting to go straight or turn. As I passed by in the other lane, I counted thirteen people of those seventeen texting, or talking on a cell phone. Not one of them saw me. The other four did see me: two of them smiled; one of them waved. The other looked a bit preoccupied, but we did make eye contact.
I read in the paper or heard on the news in the last week seven stories, each with casualties, where distracted driving was involved. People died because someone was telling her mother about a test she took. A boy is paralyzed, neck down, because a teenage girl was flirting with her boyfriend. Via text. Those are two of the stories. I won’t go into the other five, and then there are all the others I did not read or hear about.
I’m not a fan of belaboring issues, or chastising, or pointing a finger. I am a fan of common sense, and it seems we need a bit of self examination if we’re multitasking while we’re driving our cars. Think about it. Count the number of lives crossing the path of yours in a day. Now imagine ending one of them because you weren’t paying attention. Eating a cheeseburger, picking up some change, going over the Easter menu with your brother on your cell phone at a light.
If you’re going to alter the course of another person’s life, let it not be a result of distraction. Let’s shoot for mindful ways, and the kind of story that may not make the news because it’s an ordinary one, happy even, where one stranger helps out another, where no one gets hurt, where there’s nothing to count but blessings at the end of an April day.
Here’s a recipe I made for Easter Dinner. It’s in the cookbook, but I thought I’d put it out there for those of you who don’t have a copy. It’s just plain delicious cake, and easy, and goes with spring the way some cakes do.
Pistachio Cake
1 box white cake mix
1 cup oil
1 cup 7-Up (or Fresca)
3 eggs
2 small boxes instant pistachio pudding
1¼ cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
8 oz Cool Whip
Whisk cake, oil, 7-Up, eggs, and 1 box pudding until blended, and mix another 2 min. Bake in a greased and floured tube or 9×13 pan at 350 for 40-45 minutes.
Mix remaining box pistachio pudding with 1¼ cups milk. Add 1 tsp vanilla and 1 8 oz container Cool Whip. Fold together until blended. Frost when cake is cool. Refrigerate, and serve.

Glories to Balance Out the Muck

Archived | April 12, 2014 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. How could it be? Spring arrived sometime that day, with sun and light, and the scent of grass on the wind. Combine that with the music on the show and some baked salmon, and it’s an evening of the highest quality. Banjo music would have been nice, but I think of banjos as summer instruments, so we’ll be patient and stop jumpin’ the gun.
I’m not a fan of spring, I’ll admit. When you live in a place with four seasons as I do, and sometimes a fifth if the wind blows for more than a week between summer and autumn, you’re bound to have a favorite. Spring is not mine. I would place it last, in fact. I’m not a mud person, nor am I interested in garter snakes in my basement, and how suddenly there are centipedes in my laundry room, and ants scurrying all the heck over the house. I can roll on the lawn any other time of year but spring; it’s all matted and brown and squishy. And the smell of worms. And…okay. I’ll shut my piehole.
Like everything, there are glories to balance out the muck. Birds. Children blowing bubbles. Open windows. The sound of chimes, and the hint of green, and blossoms. Anticipation of summer’s long heated days, and quiet, humming nights. Yes. Glories. I’m noticing people are smiling more, much more, and pleasant, and wanting conversations on street corners, and waving as they go by. And instead of a snowstorm this weekend, there will be thunder, and I can’t wait.
When I was growing up, there was a plaque in our bathroom I read every time I sat down. The words were, “Let the rainclouds gather; let it storm awhile. What care I? If I may have the sunshine of your smile.” I think of that quote when I hear a storm is coming. There’s a sweetness to it, and it’s true. A thunderstorm when you’re home with someone you love is one of the best things. Especially if there’s a homemade chicken potpie in the oven. Which there will be, when the storm comes, if I can get my act together.
These bars are somethin’ else. Take care making them, and cutting them, and with whom you share them. Because the people with whom you share them will be back for more.
Maple Nut Goodie Bars
6 oz chocolate chips
6 oz butterscotch chips
1 cup peanut butter
Melt in top of double boiler and pour half of this mixture into lightly greased 9×13 inch pan. Set in refrigerator.
½ cup butter
¼ cup milk
2 T regular dry vanilla pudding mix (not instant)
3 cups powdered sugar
¼ tsp maple flavoring
Beat butter, milk, pudding mix, sugar and flavoring until smooth and spread over first chocolate layer.
Combine 1 cup salted peanuts with chocolate remaining in double boiler. Spread on top of other two layers. Refrigerate and cut into small bars.

Let the Next Mantra Begin

Archived | April 4, 2014 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. It’s been a week of variables, in weather and moods, and what’s for dinner. We’re still in comfort food mode, and I’ve made white chicken chili this week, and a cheesy hotdish, and I’m thinking about a pan of enchiladas for tomorrow. We’ve had a few warmer sunny days lately, but the snow falls as I write and it seems the drive will be full of snow soon. “Shovel-able” snow, they say. Which is how I would describe the pile of scholarship applications, letters of recommendations, copies of transcripts and essays, college information, and stamped envelopes on the work counter in the kitchen. Shovel-able.
Not a complaint, mind you. It’s simply that time of year when young people heading off to
college in the fall are swimming through requests for this and that, a stream at first and then a flood, and by the time it’s all said and done for our son, it will be September and he’ll be in college, and there will be one young person at home, the youngest, and it won’t be long before the paper flow begins again.
When people talk about Empty Nest Syndrome, the general tone is not one of joyful exuberance. An empty nest implies silence, loneliness perhaps, maybe a “what now” kind of feeling. I get it. I miss the kids when they’re away, and there will be days once the youngest leaves when things feel dark and silent. There are days like that now, on occasion, with the first having taken flight.
But this is the way of things. A child is supposed to leave home. A child heading off to college is a bonus, The Big Payoff in ways for eighteen years of wonderfully exhausting parenting. You spent all those years supporting, loving, lifting, feeding, reprimanding, encouraging, listening…and reminding: You Can Do Anything You Want to Do if You Set Your Mind to It. It’s true. And then they’re gone.
But your life isn’t over then; things are simply shifting. They’ll come back. You’re their
parents; you are home. The trick is to remember, in the midst of the papers and graduation parties and packing and goodbyes and phone calls and homesickness, that you have your own life. You set your mind once, long ago, to raising children, and you did it. And now? Let the next mantra begin. Ask yourself how you want to live, and then set about it. Make a craft room out of one of the kids’ rooms and start up a business. Take dancing lessons. Fly to New Zealand for a week. Write that book. Drive out to the Grand Canyon. Have mushrooms for dinner. Get a job doing something you always wanted to do but couldn’t because it didn’t pay well. Learn carpentry and build yourself a bookshelf and fill it with all the books you’ve wanted to read but couldn’t, because you were busy living the life of raising children so they might live their own. And they will.
My search for the perfect chocolate chip cookie will continue for as long as I live. Thank
goodness there are far more recipes for chocolate chip cookies than Eskimo words for snow, because I aim to try ’em all. One recipe at a time.
Donna’s Light and Puffy Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 cup shortening
1 cup oil
Beat together
Add 2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp salt
2 tsp soda
4 tsp cream of tartar
4¼ cups flour
2 cups choc chips
Bake at 350 on foil lined cookie sheets, 8-10 minutes or until they reach your preferred level of doneness.