A Corner of Paradise Itself

Made a meal of hot ham and Swiss sandwiches and chicken soup on Saturday, and it was not bad. First beauty of a spring day we’ve had, I’d say, with warm breezes and puffy white clouds and enough sun to give my shoulders what I’d call a light burn while I was out staining the deck. Yep, that’s right. Once again, the deck was in need of a coat of stain and Mr. S and I had at it. Together. We. Us. Now there are about seven directions I could go with this, but let’s just say I’d recommend it for those of you having occasional disagreements, struggles, or a general lack of communication.

See, there are a good number of life situations that will tell you just about all you need to know about a person. Being stuck in an elevator together, a flat tire in the middle of nowhere, two weeks on a cruise ship in the middle of the Atlantic, a wad of large bills just lying there in a ditch, a house fire, an insane tax bill, a warm frosted chocolate cake just sittin’ there on the counter, a venomous snake bite, wallpapering a bathroom and, well, staining a deck. Yep. You pay attention and you’ll know what you need to know about where a person’s heart is, about his or her priorities, about what makes the person with whom you are…tick.

They say it’s the things that attract you to another person that will one day grate your nerves down to filaments. It was Mr. S’s quiet, gentle nature that caught my attention. His cornball sense of humor. His affinity for plaid shirts and work boots. His love for animals. And I imagine it was my organized self, my determination, my baking frenzies, my down-to-earthiness that drew him near. And it’s true; those very things, over time, got to us. I told him he was too quiet; he told me I ought to talk less and I’d hear more. I suggested he dress up now and then; he asked exactly how many pounds of flour I go through in a month (and proceeded to calculate what I will spend on flour in my lifetime). He told me I ought to sit down and relax. I told him if he didn’t stop drawing onto the porch most of the animals within a one mile radius, I was going to go out and buy a new enormous crock pot and have at it.

Of course, he didn’t mean it about the flour bill, or that he wanted me to talk less. And I do still enjoy his quiet presence and wouldn’t imagine cooking those raccoons that have been visiting lately. Thing is, being with another person for more than a stretch is not all the proverbial wine and roses, walks in the park, naps in the hammock and nights under the stars. No, siree Bob. It’s WORK. Hard work. Exhausting, frustrating, sometimes agonizing work. That’s where the naps in the hammock come in. And the walks in the woods. All those small things — a bunch of wildflowers, a homemade cake, an offer out of nowhere, “You wanna stain the deck together tomorrow?” – that make Life in a life.

Yeah. I’d recommend it. Or if you’re really up for a challenge, pick a room and wallpaper it. The smaller, the better. Or consider re-sodding the lawn, or sealing the driveway. Together. Because the most important things take the most patience, the most energy, the most understanding and diligence and even some faith. And I’m not talking about yard work here. I’m talking about life work. The relentless kind. The work that makes your very soul tired some days, and jump for joy others.

Learned it when I was young pulling weeds in my grandmother’s garden. It was a circle of hell, I was convinced. For all the times I hadn’t eaten my vegetables. And then, nearing harvest time, I visited that garden, and lo and behold. A corner of Paradise itself. Works that way most times, seems to me.

Here’s a batch of soup for a round of spring colds, rainy days, chilly evenings.

Homemade Chicken Soup
3 tbsp. butter
1 onion, chopped
2 large carrots, sliced into rounds
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, plus more for garnish
3 cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp. all-purpose flour
4 c. low-sodium chicken broth
1 c. heavy cream
1 c. wild rice

In a large pot or Dutch oven, melt butter. Add onion, carrots, and celery. Cook, stirring, until vegetables are tender and liquid has evaporated, five minutes or so. Add chicken and cook until golden, about ten minutes, then add thyme and garlic and stir until fragrant. Season with salt and pepper.

Add flour and whisk until golden, and pour over chicken broth and milk and season with salt and pepper. Add rice and bring to a simmer until rice is tender and chicken is cooked through.

And one for the road. Sometimes when Mr. S is away, I make a pan of these sandwiches for myself. They are best left over, and when everyone’s around, they disappear. A batch’ll last me three or four days, and my oh my.

Sweet Hawaiian Ham Buns

12 Hawaiian Buns
Ham Slices or shaved ham, enough for 12 small sandwiches
Cheese, your favorite (cheddar or Swiss are good)

Cut buns, place ham slices and cheese inside buns, put buns in 9×13 cake pan.

1 stick butter
2 T. brown sugar
1 T. mustard
1 T. Worcestershire sauce
1 T. poppy seed (optional)

Bring all sauce ingredients to a boil in a saucepan.
Pour sauce over ham sandwiches in cake pan
Bake @ 375 until lightly browned.