The Best Things in Life


Made some chicken yesterday and it was not bad. Chicken is never bad. It’s always a go-to for me when I don’t know what to make. It’s the kind of meat that goes with anything, really, and I like it so much for that reason. Even grapes. I had a chicken salad on Sunday on Mother’s Day, and there were green grapes and cashews in it, and I have to say it was pretty good. It’s good with curry, too, and barbecue sauce; gravy and red rice and beans, and alfredo sauce.

It’s a practical meat source, chicken is. I like practical. Always have. The kids know this, as my Mother’s Day gifts were all practical, and I was happy. They gave me a crock with “One Wild and Beautiful Life” written on it, and some wooden spoons, and packets for a facial and a foot soak. All good, simple gifts I can use and that have meaning, and those are the best gifts.

Their words, however, meant the most. Written on cards, the sweet words of one’s children are the best part of Mother’s Day, of any day, really. All about love and gratitude and being the Best Mom in the World. I think every mom is the Best Mom in the World, to someone. That is the way of it. And all those Best Moms don’t care much what they’re given for Mother’s Day. Not as much as time spent together. That’s where it’s at. Time and space together, and expressions of love, and memories, and all those things to which we look forward. That’s what Mother’s Day is about. A pause where we think about our mothers and what they have done, and how hard they work, and all those meals they made for us when we were young and growing. Especially all the cookies they made, and the Christmas dinners, and the chicken stuffed with spinach and things we weren’t sure of that tasted so good after a long day at school with play practice afterward.

The best things in life are the most simple, I say. Flour sack towels, wooden spoons, recipes and the memories that go with them. What is better to celebrate on a Sunday in May than the simple things, our mothers, and the coming summer days? Here’s to all that, and to the next thing, whatever it may be. Perhaps there will be a crock pot full of chicken, coated in barbecue sauce, and a pan of bars fresh out of the oven. May we all have it so, and may we all know its worth.

Here’s a simple recipe for two, something delicious for a May evening under the sun-setting sky.

1 teaspoon olive oil
1¬½ cups fresh baby spinach
¼ cup ricotta cheese
2 – 1-pound chicken breasts
⅛ cup white cheddar cheese, grated

Preheat the oven to 400.
In a sauté pan over medium heat, add the oil and cook the spinach in it for 3 to 5 minutes, until it is slightly wilted. Stir in the ricotta and cook for a further 30 to 60 seconds. Allow to cool.
Cut slits into the chicken breasts, about 1 centimeter apart and 75% of the way through the chicken, so long as you don’t cut all the way through it! Stuff all of the spinach and ricotta mixture into the cuts. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the white cheddar cheese generously on top. Generously sprinkle the paprika. Bake in the center of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until the cheese has melted and the juices are clear.


And Then I Took a Walk


Made some taco dip yesterday and it was not bad. And then I took a walk out in the sunshine, and did that ever feel good. It just did. The air smells so fresh and green lately, and the sun was not too hot and there were birds everywhere calling out each other. There were children at the playground down the road in the park, and were they ever laughing and having the best time swinging and spinning about on the merry-go-round. Their mothers and fathers were sitting on park benches and talking, and there were people out walking their dogs and pushing strollers and some just out for a run with music in their ears.

I’ve never been a fan of organized exercise. It’s just not in me to be a runner. It looks painful and I never get to that feel-good place people talk about. I like to swim, under my own terms, and I have always enjoyed dancing. Weight lifting and workouts have never really appealed to me, and why would they? I lift enough in a given day, and housework has always been my yoga workout. Think about it. Doing laundry, folding sheets and socks, raking, sweeping, dusting; it’s its own yoga and I do it every day. Even mixing and rolling out dough is its own exercise. I have some muscles to prove it.

But. A walk is its own beautiful thing, and seems the most natural, most real and all-around healthful form of exercise. It’s natural to walk, and you get the bonus of scenery and fresh air and conversation if you have a partner. It feels as if you’re helping the world turn on its axis to take a walk, and there’s no agony; only this kind of warm, quiet energy which rises up gradually and stays the rest of the day. Walking seems to benefit mind, body AND spirit, so it’s my exercise of choice and always will be. And whatever there is to do work-wise at home, I’ll take it. The chores and movements of an ordinary life keep a heart beating just fine. They sure do. Even dusting, on a good day, can feel like dancing. Give it a whirl sometime, and see if you don’t agree.

This recipe is forgiving if you’re missing something on the list. Add whatcha got and make it your own. Serve with a Mexican meal, or make it your lunch on a cloudy spring day.

7 Layer Taco Dip
1 16oz can refried beans
1 cup sour cream (you can use mayo if you don’t have sour cream)
1 package taco seasoning.
Salsa – to cover sour cream mixture (you can use chopped tomatoes)
Cheddar cheese – to cover salsa
Black olives
Green onions for garnish
Tortilla chips

Spread refried beans on bottom of a pie plate. Mix sour cream with taco seasoning and spread over beans. Pour the salsa over the sour cream mixture, and sprinkle shredded cheese and black olives over, and garnish with green onion.
You can also add guacamole, fresh lettuce, hamburger, etc.
Make it your own!

That Feeling of Care-freeness

Made some strawberry dessert yesterday and it was not bad. The weather wasn’t bad either. Not sunny but not dark and cloudy. A bit of wind blowing and the smell of spring in the air. Perfect day for a road trip, so that’s exactly what we did. Got into the car and headed north awhile along country roads. Ducks and geese sat in pairs here and there along the way, and we saw a red fox and more birds in the air and it was entirely relaxing. Listened to the radio awhile and talked about where we might go on our next vacation and decided maybe Italy or Scotland or even a train trip across Canada.

I have always loved road trips. For me they’re about scenery, conversation, silence and that feeling of care-freeness in simply going somewhere. No definite destination except a place with coffee and soup or pie along the way, nothing fancy, nothing formal. It was like that when I was young. My father would holler, “Who wants to go for a ride?” and my brothers and I would come running and pile into the back seat of the big station wagon and off we’d go. He would take us out on the country roads and up through the hills around my small town. A lover of nature, Dad pointed out unusual trees and random wild life, and sometimes he would park the car and we’d get out and go on a hike in the woods. There he showed us morels growing around rotting trees, winter green berries hidden under their leaves, and markings of deer in rut on the low-hanging limbs of trees. Worn out after a while, we piled back into the car and off we’d go to get some ice cream at the local café. One big scoop on a sugar cone, and the ride home silent as we ate and listened to Johnny Cash on the radio.

Such days those were. Now that I look back, I imagine he took us out on rides to give our mom a break awhile. She did come along sometimes, but most often she stayed home and waved us goodbye from the porch. Funny thing, how we all have different ways of relaxing and just being in the world. Sometimes it’s a car ride, sometimes it’s a hike. And sometimes it’s being home alone awhile with quiet in the house, the radio playing a song from way back when, and an apple-rhubarb cobbler in the oven. Which is how I’m spending today, and I like it. And I’m reminded that – wherever we may go — the destination is, inevitably, home.

Here’s something light and sweet for a cloudy spring day. Just the thing to share with whomever might drop by.

Whipped Strawberry Sensation

4 cups fresh strawberries, divided
1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
¼ cup lemon juice
1 tub (8 oz.) Cool Whip, thawed, divided
8 OREO cookies, finely chopped
1 T butter, melted
Line 8-4 inch loaf pan with foil. Mash 2 cups of strawberries in a large bowl. Stir in condensed milk, juice and 2 cups Cool Whip; pour into pan.
Top with combined chopped cookies and butter; press into mixture. Cover.
Freeze at least 6 hours. To serve, invert onto plate. Remove foil. Frost with remaining Cool Whip. Top with remaining strawberries, sliced.
Makes 12 servings.

A Simple Way of Saying

Made a ham casserole yesterday and it was not bad. Used up what was left of the ham, and threw in some corn and cheese and potatoes. I have an affinity for leftovers. Always have, and for ham especially. And turkey dinner, too, of course. Sometimes it’s better the second time around. Like egg bake. And spaghetti ‘n meatballs. And pizza. Oh yum. Now I’m making myself hungry. There are things that aren’t good after the first serving, I do confess. Malt-O-Meal. Eggs. Fish. Some things.

Holiday meals are such fun to cook. I love the planning and the ingredient gathering and the mixing together and timing of what goes in the oven when. I love the flurry of people arriving, people tasting this and that, the small talk and the children laughing in the background. I love the smells that rise up and mingle, and the questions of who sits where and more flurry, and at last the serving. Sometimes buffet-style, sometimes family-style. I love the quiet as people dig in, the eventual conversation, the clinking of utensils, the exclamations of “OH, this is good” and “I need this recipe!” and “Pass more potatoes, please.” The lull after the meal and the clearing, and the ensuing review of dessert options. “Apple, please.” “I think I’ll try the Key Lime pie.” And, “How ‘bout a sliver of each?” And the a la mode, the plate of bars, the mints and the scent of coffee. That feeling of satisfaction at a meal well eaten. A holiday meal.

I have to say that I love ordinary meals just as much. Smaller celebrations of the food with which we are blessed, Mr. S and me. Pork chops and apples. Trout on the grill. Tuna noodle casserole. Chicken pot pie. Sausage and kraut. Pancakes and bacon. BLT sandwiches. Just a big ol’ salad and some fresh bread. Oh, sighh. And then the gingersnaps and lemon bars and cinnamon coffeecake. All of it. I just love to cook and bake and that is all there is to it. It’s a simple way of saying so much. “Here, eat. I love all of you and want you to thrive.” And, “Here, eat. I love you and I want you to live for a very long time.”

Just like that. It’s a gift, cooking is. A gift to be able to do it in the first place; a gift to others.
I simply had to say all this, simple though it is. It’s true. Much like most simple things. It is what it is, and thank goodness it IS, and what would a good life be without it?

Get out that leftover ham. This recipe is gonna bring it home.

Ham Casserole

2 cups cooked, cubed ham
2 cups diced, cooked potatoes
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
¼ cup fresh minced parsley
1 T chopped onion
¼ cup butter
1/3 cup flour
1 ¾ cup milk
1/8 tsp pepper
4 oz shredded cheddar cheese (or Velveeta)

Combine first four ingredients in bowl and set aside. Saute onion and butter for a few minutes; add flour and stir well. Add milk and pepper and bring to a boil. Cook and stir for 2 minutes. Pour over ham mixture and stir well and pour into an 11x7x2 baking dish. Cover and cook at 350. After 20 minutes, sprinkle cheese over. Bake another five or so uncovered.


It All Rolls Together Somehow

Made some wild rice casserole today and I plan to serve it up on Sunday, alongside a corn casserole, green bean hotdish, a basket of fresh rolls, cheesy potatoes and, of course, the ham.
For dessert, some lemon bars and vanilla ice cream with lemon zest. Simple. Just plain simple.
The way it should be. Because Jesus is Risen, not hatched, and the main thing isn’t what we’re eating on Sunday, but that we are together with people we love celebrating something of a glorious mystery. We eat to live, not live to eat, my friends. Though I’ll confess I am planning a candy and egg hunt, and I’m taking a break from frosting a hundred or so cutout sugar cookies.

I thought holidays would be a bit more calm now that the kids have gone, but I was wrong. They aren’t necessarily more stressful; the type of stress is a bit different. Trying to get everyone and his/her partner at the table is a major challenge, along with the grandbaby’s nap schedule, work schedules, church events and cooking time. Plus we have three other families to keep in mind with two married children and one in a close relationship, along with our parents and our own siblings. But it all rolls together somehow near the big day, though sometimes our time together is the day before or after when everyone else on the planet seems to be celebrating. Doesn’t matter much to me, and our policy is and has always been if you can make it, great; if you can’t, no worries. No guilt.

Holiday guilt is something I have simply done away with. I no longer experience it, and I make a point to not to elicit it from the kids. Guilt in general feels like a waste of energy to me, except for those things we do or don’t do that are simply WRONG, if you get my gist. You know. Stealing, lying, causing harm with intent, prejudice, and so one. Guilt has its purpose, but feeling guilty or making someone feel so because they can’t make it on Thanksgiving Day or Easter Sunday? Bah. Might as well flush your good life energy right on down the toilet. Rather, give that energy to something good. We need to feel good, not crappy. You might Skype with someone who couldn’t make it. Or send photos. Or make a phone call. Or write a group letter.

I have some cookies to frost and decorate with sprinkles and jellybeans. One of my favorite things to do. No guilt attached for this cowgirl. Giddyup.

Here’s one to serve up alongside a nice spiral sliced ham, glaze and all. YUM.

Wild Rice Casserole

1 cup wild rice
3 cups hot chicken broth
1/2 stick butter
½ onion, chopped
4 oz fresh mushrooms, sliced
¼ cup chopped cashews, optional

Heat butter in a frying pan over low heat. Saute onions and mushrooms. Add the wild rice and blend all together. Transfer to a greased casserole dish and add chicken broth.

Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed.
Garnish with chopped cashews.