Monday, February 28, 2011

the biggest hurdle

The Mark McKenzie Quartet.... 

I went to hear them the other night, by myself.  Without Colleen. 

Had to. 

Yep, very hard.  Very, very hard.

Here's Mark.  I wish he was our neighbor.  Oh, what it must be like to open your windows and hear sax riffs on weekend afternoons!  Heaven.

This is Jon.

I have to credit Spoke; he's helped train my ear to hear that driving force of the drums.  I get it.  I love how Jon revs it up sometimes, too.  But sorry Jon; I'm not sure I'd be quite as enthusiastic to have you next door.  No offense. 

And look at Raylan here, playing what is my second favorite instrument, following a sax.  There is nothing like a deep, mysterious, sexy bass hiding in the background of any song.

There was a moment I wish I could have captured of Raylan, leaning on his bass, waiting; waiting patiently as musicians do, between sets.  I know from Colleen's recollections of bands...  It was classic and so film worthy yet I was the only one to see it.  An advantage to going alone.

And here's the talented Lakewood George, as I think of him.  Piano man.  Guitar man.  What an evening one could have around his piano; some vino, some cheese,  baguettes, and a very long list of requests.  

So, there's the quartet.  Four big-hearted guys who always went out of their way to stop by and talk a little jazz with Mom.  They've no idea how much the gestures meant to her.

I haven't been able to listen to much jazz since my parents died.  It's such happy music...

The group is helping me get there, even though they don't really play a lot of standards.  Well, not by my standards...

Still, I could listen to their jazzy renditions of songs like Bye Bye Blackbird, all night long. 

Every night.

Mark McKenzie Quartet
at D'Vine Wine, Firewheel


I'll see you there...

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

a daunting task

A blind child can't see his teacher standing at the door, silently reprimanding with her hands on her hips, her lips pursed. 

He can't see the lady with the tray of her daughter's birthday cupcakes for the class; he just knows there's suddenly new excitement in the room.

He also, now knows, what it means to nod.  He's been practicing; up and down for 'yes', side to side for 'no'. 

Their experiences live in my memory, dormant, emerging unexpectedly...

"Describe a car to me," I once asked of a young blind student.  Without hesitation, she said, "Well, it's like a sofa that moves." 
What could I say?  She was always hurriedly ushered into the back seat, where she sat for each and every ride.  The child had never walked around a car to grasp its size, felt the (four!) tires, or sat behind the steering wheel. 

A teenage student, who would later also lose most of her hearing, talked about food with me at lunch one day.  "So," I asked her, "What is okra like?"  "Oooh, so good," she exclaimed.  "They are little round things.  And they're crunchy!" 

I recall these conversations when I make dishes like this one.

I wash and peel carrots, wondering how many blind kids are unaware that carrots grow in the ground and hazelnuts on trees, the nut growing inside a hard shell and emerging with a papery skin which is very difficult to remove.

I slip thyme leaves from their stems by pulling them downward, the scent lingering on my fingers.

I toast the hazelnuts in the oven, first gauging when they are ready by the smell.  

I rely on all my senses, my good vision the most.  

I laugh remembering the stories.  I laugh to keep from crying.  

It's serious business; teaching unseeing children in a visual world. 

Multi-Grain Spaghetti with Carrot and Hazelnuts

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided 
1 cup carrots, peeled and cut into small, irregular chunks
salt and pepper
2/3 to 1 cup water
a large pinch of dried, red pepper flakes
3 to 4 ounces multigrain spaghetti
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons toasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a saute pan large enough to later hold the spaghetti. 

Add the carrots, add a little salt and pepper, and saute them until they have absorbed some oil and begun to soften. 

Add about 1/3 cup of water, allowing the carrots to continue to cook.  Repeat, adding additional cups of water, about 1/3 cup at a time.

While the carrots are cooking, boil the spaghetti according to package instrutions for al dente pasta. 

When the carrots are soft and the water has evaporated, add another tablespoon of olive oil to the pan.  Transfer the spaghetti to the pan.  Salt and pepper to taste, add the red pepper flakes and the thyme, and toss to coat the pasta with the oil. 

Transfer to a warm plate and serve with toasted hazelnuts on top. 

{one single serving}

bouncing off the desk

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Monday, February 14, 2011

a royal pain

Bugger!  Bugger!  Bugger!  Bugger!  Bugger!

Maybe my tirade has something to do with having just seen The King's Speech today.  Yes, that must be it because I really did tell you the truth yesterday; Olympia was that smart! 

Still, my oven just died. 

Bugger!  Bugger!  Bugger! 

I was looking forward to pizza tonight. 

Spoke and I ran into Central Market this afternoon after the show.  I grabbed three of those CM brand, Italian made pizzas, planning to stock the freezer and avoid the microwave.  Bugger!

I also swung by the salad-bar where I loaded up on hard-boiled eggs.  "Egg salad on a toasted, sesame bagel, dear?"

Ah, well.  No crying in my wine here.  Colleen's voice comes in loud and clear.  Think positive.  It could be worse.

Bloody right Mom Mum, I say to myself, now that I've had a couple of hours...  

...a new cook top AND a new oven! 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

i wish i were an...

Tell me.

How am I to cook my way out of grief without a cook top?

I had a great one before it died last week; solid cast-iron burners which were sealed atop ceramic glass.  I think across the pond they're called hob tops.  Or perhaps all British cook tops are called that.  The hobs suited my cooking but they're no longer made here.  Bugger! 

Since its demise, our dinners aren't the same; "Tuna salad on a toasted, everything bagel, dear?"

So we dug out our old microwave.  It was retired to the garage years ago because it took up space and had really only been used to cook hot dogs for "our girls", two Labradors.  You know the old, hide-the-pill-in-the-hot-dog trick which of course rarely worked, but did train the two of us to heat Oscar Mayers on command.

Here's Olympia.

We got her during the '88 Olympics.  She was fun, mischievous, stubborn, and so smart.  Gifted actually... 

One summer Olympia began going to the door and barking to be let out.  Potty time we figured, so out she went.  But she wouldn't potty.  She'd just walk a circle and then bark to come back in.  We'd let her back into the kitchen but maybe a half hour later, she'd bark again, waiting at the door for us to let her out.  No beeline to the grass.  Again, she'd just nose around a little, then want back in.

Olympia had learned that the air-conditioner would turn on whenever she came into the kitchen from outside.  Okay, she probably didn't understand why, she just knew it was magic.  She'd stretch out in front of the vent on the cool tile floor and when the room began to get a little warm to her, she'd know to do the in and out.

I swear on the life of my oven that this is true.

And here's Annie.  Sweet Annie.

She was an anniversary present, three years after we got Olympia. 

Annie was the complete opposite; shy, docile, loyal, and obedient.  She adored Spoke, and followed him wherever he went.  In her old age, she liked to go with him down the drive on trash day, the three of them lined up like train cars; the large green trash can, rolled from behind by Spoke with Annie bringing up the rear, right on his heels.  She'd never have thought to take off and explore a neighbor's yard; she'd rather be with him.

Back up the driveway incline they'd come, this time side by side.  Every Thursday.

If Olympia and Annie were still here and if I had a cook top, I'd make them some eggs.  Fried, scrambled, chopped hard-boiled, it wouldn't matter.  They loved them all.  Fried were the most fun to watch them eat.  They got their own plate which would soon be scoot-scoot-scooting across the floor as they each licked every last, gooey drop of yolk.

Eggs!  Maybe that's what I'll cook first on my new hob top cook top.  Poached, laying on a bed of frisee with a mustard vinaigrette.  And a warm baguette to wipe up every last, gooey drop of yolk.

It's obvious I need to start shopping for it soon.  Kind of exciting.  I hope I find one that's.......well, smashing!

Olympia loved to soak, sometimes
resting her head over the edge of the 'pool'. 
Annie would never, not even once,
lie down in the water. 


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

...and many more

I call him...The Top

Solid he is.  And humble.  So humble.  I think that's what I admire most about him. 

I call us... My Wink, His Smile.  That's how it's always been for us.  He winks at me; it makes me smile at him. 

I picture us this same way in our eighties.  Some rainy, autumn evening when we're having breakfast for dinner, I'll warm up a few scones to go with the overcooked omelets, and Spoke, with his head in the refrigerator, will say, "We're out of marmalade!" 

I'll pause; he'll have me for a split second, but then he'll turn and wink.  I'll smile. 

I'll smile because I love orange marmalade.

And I love him.

"You used to call me the top....."
from You Turned The Tables On Me by Louis Alter and Sidney D. Mitchell, 1936

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sunday, February 6, 2011

one dish at a time

I've been trying to cook my way out of grief. 

Unlike Jack McCall, in the novel Beach Music, who cooked so much for so many during his mother's death, I'm cooking for just two, here at 3906.  Two or a hundred, it's all the same.

We've been trapped inside by snow which fell following an ice storm and for several days my need to cook has been at the mercy of fridge and freezer. 

It started with potato soup.  Comfort, you know. 

I had a couple of potatoes, one yellow onion and some vegetable stock in the freezer.  I added several roasted cloves of garlic, topped the soup off with a touch of cream, and began to feel better.  

Then there was that Peppers and Peanuts stir-fry which is my standby.  It was all about wanting peanuts that day. 

The temperature continued to hover around 20 degrees, dipping very low at night.  I forged ahead with what I thought would be a sad version of Cioppino, having no celery for the sofritto and a very small selection of frozen seafood. 

Turned out only I was sad; the Cioppino was amazingly good.  I've had four bowls.

And then there were scones.  More scones.  I really need to stop baking scones...

Our house is always stocked for regular guests; birds.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner, they all watch us like hawks, spreading the call whenever we fill their stations. 

This is an odd, iron candle stand I came across and turned into a feeder. 

click to enlarge photos

Yesterday brought a thaw with some sunshine and I got a chance to inspect a new neighbor in the cul-de-sac.  "Welcome, Mr. Snowman," I said on my way to the market.  Last winter, a very large snowlady wore a tiara.

By this afternoon, we were warmer, revived, and ready for a Super Sunday.  I'm thinking fresh guacamole, salsa, and steamed broccoli drizzled with queso.  Then charred shrimp along with charred chunks of onion and pineapple, all glazed with fiery pepper jelly.  And a little fluffy rice.

Fluffy like the snow expected tonight.  

With a pantry once again full, I'm prepared for more winter.  I am. 

But in my heart, deep down in my heart, I know snow or no snow, I still have a whole lot more cooking to do. 

Snowy Day Cioppino

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large red onion, chopped
1 cup chopped carrots
1 bunch chopped spring onions, including most of the green stalk
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
2 large pinches of dried, red pepper flakes
6 to 8 ounces white wine
1 28 oz. can whole, peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand and any tough cores removed
6 cups stock, preferably fish stock but vegetable stock from the freezer was fine
6 cups water
1 large bay leaf
3/4 tablespoon dried tarragon
a few sprigs of Italian parsley, chopped
2 tilapia or other mild fillets
1 to 1 1/2 cups scallops, divided
a lemon
cooked rice (optional)

In a large stock pot, saute the onion and carrots until they begin to soften.  Add the spring onions and saute for several more minutes.  Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, stir for a minute but don't let them brown.  Pour in the white wine and cook until all but a third of it is absorbed.  Add the tomatoes, stock, water, bay leaf, tarragon, and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the soup has  reduced a bit. 

Add one tilapia fillet and about a half cup of scallops.  The seafood will begin to fall apart, seasoning the soup.  Simmer slowly for another half hour or so, adding water if needed.  Before serving, add the second fillet and the rest of the scallops and cook until the seafood is tender.

Serve with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice into each bowl. 
The soup is great served with bread or as an alternative, add a large spoonful of cooked rice to each bowl.
{Although the fish breaks down more, the soup is actually better the second day.} 

Friday, February 4, 2011