Friday, December 31, 2010

new year's eve or is it?

My paternal grandfather used to shout, "Happy, happy, happy, Merry Christmas!"  

He liked to cook and he very often made Brunswick Stew for holidays or for Sunday dinners.  The rich stew took a few days to make and I remember how anticipation would build because most everyone loved it.

On the eventful day, he'd duck into the kitchen now and then to "check on the stew".  That really meant, have a shot of whiskey.  After a couple of trips to the stove, he'd return to the room with cheeks a little rosier than normal, and in a jovial voice exclaim, "Happy, happy, happy, Merry Christmas!"

Funny the things we remember...

I never recall seeing my grandfather, holiday or not, in anything but a perfectly starched dress shirt and tie.  Ever. 

Our family seems so small now.  No one makes Brunswick Stew.

My sister and I work to make sure the family holiday celebrations continue.  We have our own traditions; to start, cheap champagne and Mom's Scallion Puffs.  But despite all efforts, this year nothing is happening.  Zilch.  "Crazy Dallas weather," we curse out loud, comforted by strangers we overhear in line at the market, saying the same.  Everyone's sick!

So, it looks like the luscious, linguine dinner I'd planned, will have to wait a few days... 

I'll ring in the New Year myself, in a quiet way.  At midnight I'll whisper, careful not to wake Spoke, "Merry, merry, merry, Happy New Year!"

Sunday, December 26, 2010

no question about it

Today, a nap.
A nice long nap.
A day-after, I-hope-the-phone-doesn't-ring kind of nap.

1950s throw by Georgia Lowder.  Ganny to me.


On Christmas Day back in 2003, my mother gave me two special gifts.  One was a Waterford crystal jar, the other; the small book, Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

In the wee hours following Christmas night, I placed the jar on my glass desk, sat down, and in the quiet, read the entire book. 

Whether you have known the beach, had a marriage or not, had children or none, there's "so much in this little book," as my insightful mother inscribed. 

I have shells collected from years past, which I look at with wiser eyes now. 

And the crystal jar ... it has and will always remain empty, reminding me that less is more.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Friday, December 24, 2010


This is Oplatki, a Catholic communion wafer, shared in Polish homes on Christmas Eve.  It's a long standing tradition in Spoke's family. 

When she moved to Dallas, we began to spend our Christmas Eves with Kevin's mother Ellie, and Aunt Millie, her sister-in-law.  The two ladies spent much time together.  (Think a Neil Simon play; that's how they were.)

Until the later years, Ellie would do the cooking for the Christmas Eve dinner.  Of course it was always fish, and since I raved about them the very first time, she'd make Egg Noodles with Poppy Seeds, just for me.  She was like that. 

The Oplatki, often blessed by parish priests, would be waiting on a small china plate and when dinner was ready, Ellie would break the wafers.

You'd be given a piece which you'd offer some of to another person, taking a piece of theirs at the same time.  You'd both eat the wafer as you do at Holy Communion, then hug and wish each other blessings for the coming year.  By tradition, you will break bread with everyone present. 

There may be lumps-in-throats, even tiny tears, as one might get a little sentimental, or come to realize any old issues just melted away. 

Spoke and I would put on a big, romantic show for the ladies when we were sharing our Oplatki.  They got such a kick out of that.

I'm proof that you don't have to be Polish or Catholic to celebrate with Oplatki.  I highly recommend it.  It's quite a warm-fuzzies tradition. 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Monday, December 13, 2010

here we go

Bah Humbug!

So much to do and so little time.  No cheer to be found. 

That whirlwind of unwanted but unavoidable activity, is coming.

It's coming on Christmas,
they're cutting down trees.
They're putting up reindeer 
and singing songs of joy and peace.

Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on....


Better get to it.  

We have an odd, narrow hall closet where we tuck away boxes and boxes of Christmas ornaments.  I  unwrap old ones...

and newer ones...


Spoke pours me champagne. 


I take a break.  Relax.  The wind is really howling this evening and I find myself humming again.

The snow is snowing,
the wind is blowing...

Before I know it, the wreath is on the door, every room in the house glitters, and I'm thinking maybe tomorrow I'll make that cranberry sauce. 


Bring it on.  I'm ready.

Jalapeno Cranberry Sauce

12 ounces fresh cranberries
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 jalapeno, seeds and membrane removed, chopped fine
zest of one orange
juice of one orange
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
several gratings of fresh nutmeg

Place all ingredients together in a saucepan and bring to a boil. 
Reduce the heat to medium low, cover but with the lid cracked open a little, and simmer until the cranberries have popped and the mixture has cooked down to a sauce consistency. 

It will thicken as it cools.

{This is the sauce that Dear Old Dad exclaimed at Thanksgiving,
"is so good it should be bottled and sold". 
The very dad who refuses to knowingly (wink-wink) eat anything with a jalapeno in it.}

RIVER by Joni Mitchell

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sunday, November 28, 2010

the beat goes on

They had so much fun; my parents and their friends.  I'd give anything to be hanging out with them, the way it was back then. 

My mom says we measure our lives in decades.  

To a great extent, I measure my life by their decades.

Such vivid details I've stored; the earliest and most nostalgically memorable, are of Cooper Drive.  There we lived smack in the middle of The American Dream.  

It was a small house in a new suburb.  Hip black and white linoleum tiles were laid out in a dizzying pattern.  We had a tiny concrete patio outside the sliding glass door.  Occasionally, Big Dan, our distant neighbor's Basset Hound, would lumber up to our door and my dad would call his owner, who would come and lead the old dog home.

The kitchen had a built-in, curved, counter top.  I'd sit with my dad on the bar stools while my mom fried oysters for him.  He'd eat them in batches while they were hot, passing some to me.  I don't know if I really liked them or if I just really liked sitting there with my dad. 

That was the decade the music started for me. 

There was always music.  My mom was a jazz singer, my dad, a jazz aficionado and her biggest fan. 

The stereo cabinet housed a turntable and beneath were two doors which you slid left to right or right to left, depending on which album (stacked alphabetically) you wanted.  From that little cabinet came trios, quartets, sextets, big bands, and Sunday operas.  My favorite-----Bossa Nova! 

             "Tall and tan and young and lovely...."

Getz/Gilberto/Jobim would be playing as my parents dressed to go out for the evening.  Mom's dress always had a zipper up the back.  She'd hug me goodbye, leaving the slightest trail of Arpege. 

There were spontaneous, neighborhood parties too.  It was a cocktail world back then; wine was rare.  My dad had a tall martini pitcher.  Whenever he made a batch, I'd hear the clink-clink, clink-clink of the long, glass stirrer as it hit the sides of the glass pitcher.  Then the doorbell would ring and the music would start. 

I wish I could find that pitcher.  I'd give it to my friend Cindy. 

She had a Friday afternoon martini party long ago.  She served the classic drinks in sixties-style martini glasses.  You know the ones---just small enough to assure your martini will still be cold when you reach the olives.

My parents are in their eighties now and have lost most of their friends.  They look at me and see decades they wish they could have back.  I look at them and long for decades as rich as theirs.

The music continues. 

A day doesn't pass that my dad's not playing something from his vast collection and Mom and I have been hanging out at local wine bars, listening to live jazz.   

I'm soaking up all I can from this decade of theirs; one day, one song, and one martini sangiovese at a time.

Cindy's Sixties Martini

Keep the martini glasses in the freezer. 
(More than one, just in case.)

Keep the gin in the refrigerator. 
(Boodles highly recommended.)

Put one or two drops of extra dry vermouth in the frozen glass.  Swirl and pour out any that does not cling to the sides. 
(If you've had a really bad day, skip this step.)

Fill the martini glass with Boodles, leaving room enough for two, large green martini olives or a nice sliver of lemon rind.

Monday, November 22, 2010

may i present

Isn't she beautiful? 

You can almost hear the red trumpets blow, announcing her arrival.

Kevin and I've been talking to her every morning.  We're getting quite attached.

I wish she could stay forever.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

i am woman

I met a lady named Florence.

She wore a turban on her head. 

I was instantly drawn to her by her name, since Florence is, as you know, my favorite city.  Also, I'll let you in on a little family secret.....  I was conceived in a small town named Florence.  

I find that so fitting. 

Florence is the founder of Noble Women Of Impact, an organization which works to provide opportunities for women in Uganda. The evening I met Florence, she was a guest at a Women Intelligently Networking meeting.  She told us a story about her homeland, giving us such insight into the lives of those Ugandan women.  Her story went something like this:

A woman wanted to attend a cake-baking class being offered to the women in her village.  She walked to the class even though it was a far distance.  Her husband owned a bicycle but she dared not ride it without permission and she knew that to ask, might cause disagreements about her attending the class.

That afternoon she learned how to bake a cake and proudly brought hers home, serving her husband a piece of it that night.  He was very surprised to hear that she had attended the class but so happy to have cake that he told her she could not only keep attending but she could ride his bicycle to and from classes.

I purchased a cloth from Florence that night and have since joined in with other Networking women, each of us trying to sell three strands of beads for the organization. 

The necklaces can be worn singly or wrapped twice.  Here's the amazing part; they are made of paper.  

Begun by a woman named Margaret, in the town of Jinja, forty-seven other women now make the necklaces to sell in the bead co-op.  They twist long, thin triangles of magazine paper into shapes and string them, along with small, colorful beads.  The necklaces are then varnished.  Each one is $20.

I know, it sounds like an awful lot for a strand of paper beads.

But the next time you kick back with that second glass of Shiraz, take a minute; those three necklaces will send a child to school for an entire year.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Monday, November 15, 2010

under the radar

Okay, maybe I did have just a wee bit of vino before Sunday's Anna Bolena.  But I wasn't seeing things.

I love the Winspear.  That blood red!  That chandelier!

Spoke and I were walking through the beautiful lobby; soaking up the space before the show.  Just to my right, close enough to touch, was First Lady Laura Bush. 

Not one to be star struck, I was star struck.  Like the rest of the crowd though, I managed to stare discreetly.  That wasn't our give-away.  It was the hush that had come over the lobby bar as we all watched her get in line with everyone else.

A First Lady not wanting to be first.  

There was no privileged exiting either.  She stayed til the fat lady sang.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Thursday, November 11, 2010

you know who you are

We fly a flag here at 3906.

We will always fly a flag.  I can't imagine ever not flying a flag.

It's such a little thing.  But oh, it's such a big thing.

Happy Veterans Day

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Friday, November 5, 2010

Sunday, October 31, 2010

knock knock

Trick or Treat!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

not your neighborhood cafe

Oh that I could. 

I'm talking about the Cafe Carlyle. 

Mr. Steve Tyrell has, for several years now, entertained holiday diners at the Upper East Side icon, following the death of Bobby Short. 

Most often two dinner shows a night, from early November through December, serenading guests with jazz standards. 

I've been looking at website photos of The Carlyle. Maybe one day I'll get to make the tough choice of listening to Tyrell in the Cafe or at Bemelmans Bar.  I'm leaning toward Bemelmans.  It's not that I'm intimidated by an extra fork or two in front of me; I just can't figure out how in the world I could possibly eat and listen to Tyrell at the same time.

Now relocated to his hometown Houston and about to be married, Tyrell showed up in Dallas the other night with his fiancee, so I found myself back at the Lakewood Theater. 

The show, although minus horns, was packed full of classics. Tyrell had me before Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered, but this night's GET-AFTER-IT version, was the best I've ever heard. 

The show was very much a Cafe Carlyle tour, the disc, STEVE TYRELL LIVE AT THE CARLYLE, available only at venues.  (If you find a bootleg copy, don't hesitate.) 

Following the performance, Tyrell patiently signed every CD, at a narrow table under the big stairway.

Mr. Tyrell, I have a feeling, was as gracious at this eclectic, neighborhood theater as he probably is in the very posh New York hotel. 

For the themes he sings connect us all.  They've stood the test of time and still ring true.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

what i want

I walked through Cotton's this week, hoping to find some inspiration.  I haven't been cooking and I miss it.  I miss wanting to cook.

I've been busy doing other things, like making these cookies for a special event.......

......and helping my friend Beth photograph the beautiful jewlery she makes.  She's an artist, she is, yet doesn't even know it.  Here's my treasure of a little sterling spoon she made for me. 

The weather here has been gorgeous and so, as sheets of cookies would go in the oven, I'd go out to watch the crows. 

They come every day to drink the fresh water Spoke so diligently puts out for them.  I watch those big black birds take big sips before throwing their heads back to swallow.

They aren't tame enough for me to get a close photo so you'll have to trust me when I tell you that their wing spans must be three feet wide.  Seven of them have hung around all spring and summer but they're mild-mannered, eating at dusk along with everyone else. They leave the peanuts for the bluejays and the sunflower seeds for the cardinals, choosing to eat the tiny, round, hard seeds that no one else wants.

I've been listening to the late night owls too.  One outside our bedroom window starts around 1:00 am.  Hoo-hoo-whoo-hoo.  Hoo-hoo-whoo-hoo.  Sometimes another owl answers from far away.  I lie in bed, trying to remember the lyrics.....

Soft through the dark...
The hoot of an owl in the sky
Sad though his song
No bluer was he, than I

The moon went down...

In Cotton's, I walk endless circles around the tables and crates of local produce before I spot, of all things......peanuts!  I laugh because suddenly, I want to cook. 

There are scallions in our fridge and a Hatch in the freezer, so I grab a few bell peppers and I'm out the door, home in time for the robins' afternoon baths.

Peppers and Peanuts with Steamed Rice

cooked white rice
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons grapeseed or canola oil
3 bell peppers, any color, cored, seeded and chopped into chunks
1 bunch scallions, trimmed and cut into inch size pieces
1 hot pepper like Hatch or Anaheim, seeds and membrane removed, and cut into chunks 
2 cups water
4 garlic cloves, crushed
Chinese chili pepper sauce
Hoisin sauce
Unsalted peanuts, shelled and roasted

In a hot saute pan, pour a tablespoon or so of oil.  Swirl the pan to coat with oil and add the peppers.  Cook about 10 minutes, stirring often. 

Add two iced tea spoonfuls of pepper sauce and a little water.  Stir to combine and cook over medium low heat, continuing to add small amounts of water at a time.
Cook for 10 or 15 minutes, until the water is gone or the vegetables have softened a little.

Add the scallions, garlic, and a heaping soup spoonful of Hoisin sauce.  Cook until hot, adding a little water if it appears too dry.

Top with peanuts and serve with steamed rice.

The Night We Called It A Day
Matt Dennis and Tom Adair

Friday, October 15, 2010

getting nervous in dallas

With those gladiolas fresh on my mind, I was jolted when unexpectedly shown this urn the other night.  Jolted!

I am drawn to it.  I can't quit thinking of it.

It's absolutely beautiful; an urn you really could wrap a hug around.

What's going on?  The coincidence is creeping me out.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

so glad

Nope, nobody died.

Gladiolas were on sale. 

I've never seen pale green blooms like these; reminders of the delicate, Bibb lettuce I picked fresh from the clay pot on the patio last spring. 

Maybe it's a generational thing or maybe it's a southern thing, but for as long as I can remember, gladiolas have always been considered  'funeral flowers', displayed only in parlors or at grave sites. 

I used to want to be buried, my coffin to be spread, not with flowers but with a pall.  There's something so beautifully elegant yet simple about them.  I wanted Kevin to receive the pall, as I will receive a flag if he dies before I do. 

Such a hard decision to make but Spoke and I've decided to be cremated.  We can give the other a cheery "Good Morning, Love"  and literally wrap a hug around the (Italian marble would be nice) urn. A really big hug to help you get through the day...


Happily, glads make me think only of bistros. 

There is nothing like a vase packed full, sitting in the corner of a dark wood bar, its blooms multiplied by a wall of beveled mirror... 

I was at a local bistro Friday night.  Sat outside.  It was as if we all knew we'd better soak up each of these glorious nights while we can.  No schedule, no cell phones, just martinis, and ice buckets chilling bottles of Happy Hour wine as waiters offered appetizers like Shrimp Tempura and Seafood Fondue.

Bistros are good. 

Life is good.

I hope the market stocks more gladiolas next week.  Deep purple!  Episcopal purple, I call it. 

I'm just dying for some of those.