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Archive for the ‘Not About Food’ Category
I never expected to have the last six months. And I thank God for them, because it’s been a long preparation for this day.
Harmon has slipped away, very quickly and over just the past few days. It doesn’t matter what’s wrong because we don’t need to know. We just know he’s very ill, he’s very old and he’s leaving us. We need to make his final journey a peaceful one. For the unconditional love he’s given to me over the last 17 years, I owe him as little suffering as I am able to give. It doesn’t make the ache in our hearts any easier but he deserves nothing less from us. For every snuggle, for every jet engine purr and painfully hard head-butt he’s sent me over his lifetime, and for the six months that I’ve had to try and somehow accustom myself to living without him, I can make one of the hardest choices of my adult life.
Inevitable, and bittersweet. There are no more Spring days for him lolling on the patio or chasing grasshoppers, no more expectant faces at the snack cupboard, no more heavy bodies cuddling up to me while I work, or watch TV or sleep at night.
I don’t really know what Bustopher will do. Or for that matter, what we will do.
So please excuse my absence from here for a while.
Yes, it’s that time of year again.
I used to really dislike my birthday, take the day off work or school, not tell anyone and simply just let the day pass, maybe taking the phone calls from my parents or siblings but that’s it. I never enjoyed it or wanted to celebrate. Somewhere along the way, thankfully, that shifted. And now I love to celebrate my birthday.
I doubt that it has much to do with that increase in age, the point where you can look around you and see others in your age bracket that have left this life, although that can be awfully sobering. Death is capricious at best, a random event that is out of our control. We can take steps to push it ahead of us, to keep moving and living life while we’ve got it by the reins, but when it comes to us, we are usually powerless to stop it. I’m not grabbing my birthdays with two hands in an effort to stave off the inevitable. I guess I just realized that there was no use attempting to avoid March 1st. It will arrive whether I want it to or not, and it will never be that my birthday isn’t happening. So I accept and embrace.
And even rejoice in it.
Last year I threw a huge party and it was mayhem, chaos and beauty. It exhausted me, inspired me and lifted me up. I loved every minute of the noise and crowd in my house, the people who came to help me celebrate and all the hugs and love that came my way. It was glorious. This year, however, there will just be a quiet celebration with my guys. I did ask for one thing though.
Because there just can’t be a birthday without cake. Chocolate cake. The Teen, hopefully, will be able to pull it together before we head out for a celebratory dinner at Brasa Minneapolis Monday night. That and a scoop of mint chip ice cream on the side and I’ll happily tell everyone that it was the best birthday ever. Because it is. Right now I feel like I am in the midst of some astonishing happenings in my life- people are coming out of nowhere and entering in to life with me, and I’m thrilled that they can show me more discoveries, more ideas, brighter outlooks, infinite joy, laughter and limitless potential. I came into 2010 thinking that it was going to be different, that something tremendous and wonderful was going to happen and it hasn’t disappointed. It’s definitely a cause for celebration. My friends, old and new, I thank you for being here with me, celebrating life and enjoying every moment.
So, will you raise a glass with me?
These days, the buzz words of anything food or culinary related seem to center around the latest thing Michael Pollan has talked about. I’m no MP basher- I like the guy and I even willingly watched ‘Oprah’ the day he was on it because I think he’s got his finger on the right idea. But, and forgive me, he isn’t the last word in what we put in our mouths. We are. You are. Everyone needs to take their food rules to a level that works for them.
I haven’t read this book. I probably will when the hype over it lessens and it sits on the library shelf all by itself. It’s not long and it isn’t complicated, and from what I’ve seen, it’s chock full of sound advice. “Eat food that comes from a plant, not food that’s made in a plant” or something to that extent, is pretty clear. The more natural, the better. We all know that buying products with an extensive list of unpronounceable ingredients just isn’t good eating. We know that factory farmed meats are not the best option for our bodies. Vegetables are laden with pesticides. Sugar is hidden in everything. Every single day we’re bombarded with news about our well-being, proper nutrition and health crises that are out of control. People lament “I don’t know WHAT to eat anymore!” And to this I just say ‘Stop.’
We need to make our own choices. And we need to be content with those choices, both with what we bring into our homes and that which we see around us. Some of those choices may not be practical for everyone, and we need to remember that we’re not all the same. We’re raised to be who we are, each with our own fingerprint, our own set of values and our own means of taking in and digesting the world around us.
My food rules have changed dramatically over the past few years, and I have a lot of ideas about how I want them to be different, but given our current financial situation, I’m not doing absolutely everything that I want. Some day, perhaps. I need to pick which ones, right now, are most important to me, are within my budget and my desire to live healthier.
Simple to address; eating out. We don’t do it much at all. I’m a very good cook and as much as I love to have someone else prepare my meal, I know about raw food costs, and sometimes menu pricing makes me irate so I protect my blood pressure by staying home. It protects my budget too. When we dine out, I like to go to restaurants that prepare food I tend not to make, so we frequent ethnic restaurants. And a few tried and trues places that make a 15-year old boy and both his parents happy. That’s not an easy challenge. We don’t eat fast food, but we’ve gone to Chipotle, Baja Sol, Davannis (local chain that serves pizza and hoagies) and Mavericks (local shop that makes killer roast beef sandwiches). Those places are OK by me, on occasion. I don’t make it a habit by any means. And it’s at those places where I tend to drink the only soda I ever consume. We don’t drink soda at home. If my son wants it, he spends his own money on it. I don’t like it, but it’s his choice.
At home, I make most everything from scratch, but I don’t make my own pasta sauce. I’ve done it from scratch and it’s fine, but the overall cost of ingredients can be staggering so I buy a good quality jarred option. I avoid any products with MSG as I am highly sensitive to it, and am adamant about avoiding high fructose corn syrup and any kind of trans fat. I love Wheat Thins, but they have HFCS. I love Ritz crackers too- again, HFCS. I buy some boxed cereals but they tend to be healthier options, occasionally a sweeter version hits my pantry, but I don’t eat cold cereal much, so when I do, it’s more like a treat. I buy and eat a lot of oatmeal, and get the thick cut version, basically one step down from Steel Cut, and I like the hot cereals from Bob’s Red Mill. We don’t eat frozen meals, frozen pizza, or boxed meals; I buy the best yogurt I can without artificial sweeteners. I make pancakes and waffles from scratch, and all my baked goods are from scratch. I don’t use cake mixes, and have recently decided that I need to stop using refined white sugar so I’m researching alternatives- thanks Angela!! I started making almost all of our bread, using the Healthy Bread in 5 minutes book, and we make pizza dough from scratch. We love the flavor of the bread, it’s better for us, and cuts back on the cost of packaged. I’m very diligent about reading labels, and buying products that contain recognizable ingredients. My son loves to snack on Nachos, and I will buy jarred salsa only with fresh ingredients. I’m sure I could make my own but I don’t. That’s my decision. Sometimes those decisions are simple. Other times, they’re not so cut and dried, and I wrestle with the best way to choose.
We eat meatless as much as possible, and that’s hard because you all know that I refer to my boy as The Carnivore. He thinks that no meal is worthy without meat. I’m happy that he loves black beans, as beans and rice is a cheap meal that is nutritionally sound. He’s pretty good about eating what I make even if it isn’t his favorite; the alternative is to make his own dinner, and he’s just a tad too lazy for that. I don’t argue about the food he wants to eat. Up until a few years ago, he never made a stink about our meals, but now that he does, I feel it’s just his way of trying to control what he can. I don’t fault him. I know the ground work has been laid, and living by example is just fine with me. We eat cheese, but don’t drink milk. I use soy milk for coffee, cereal and baking and buy a soy based sour cream and cream cheese. I use butter and sometimes Earth Balance soy based butter. We buy only whole bean coffee of good quality. I don’t use canned goods other than beans, tomatoes, coconut milk, and pumpkin. I use olive and canola oil. I do not use margarine, I’ve got a container of non-hydrogenated organic shortening on hand for those recipes where it’s a must, and I basically sub whole wheat flour for all-purpose so much now that I won’t be buying AP once the current bag runs out. I utilize whole grains like farro, wheatberries, millet and barley, we eat a lot of nuts and plenty of vegetables. I prefer to buy some of my produce as organic, but it isn’t necessary that it’s all that way. During Farmers Market season, I buy almost all our vegetables from the markets.
And like I said, there’s lots more I wish I was doing, but this works for us, for now. I’d love to hear your personal food rules- what you eat, what you avoid, what you wish you could be doing. I think we all have a lot to learn from each other, don’t you? My quick on the draw friend Barb already has hers up on her blog. Feel free to put yours in my comments.
I’m Minnesota born and bred, raised on summer sunshine, hot dish and 10,000 Lakes. Although there are times that I wish I had the experience of living in other places, experiencing other cultures, I can’t deny my roots, the ones that run deep. My entire family is from this area and I’ve never considered living elsewhere.
Almost all of my upbringing occurred in South Minneapolis. As an adult, I migrated across the river and took on Saint Paul, learning to love it’s unique fingerprint, then I packed up and ditched the urban landscape for the quiet of the exurban living, out where frogs sing to the glory of a spring night, coyotes howl and possum wander lazily under the bird feeders (and pick the underside of your sunroom for their demise- ugh!!) Deer are pretty used to seeing humans, and vice versa. But my heart, my life and all my stained glass mosaic of childhood are firmly rooted in the 55419 zip code. There isn’t a time of my entire life, from my first permanent memories onward, that did not include the tiny commercial corner of 50th and Bryant, the two brick buildings that lined 50th Street, home to an ever-changing parade of tiny businesses. It was a nod to “Locally Owned and Operated” before anyone even knew what that really meant, or how important it was to a community.
And it simply shredded me inside to watch it burn.
The power of social media and the internet reaches beyond almost any scope of comprehension. I turned on my computer around 1:30pm on February 18th and took in one Tweet from the local Twitter populace that said ‘Corner of 50th& Bryant in SMpls is scene of large fire” and something clutched deep inside me. I could see the area in my eyes, and as the tweets, news videos and updates began pouring through the internet, I sat utterly transfixed with tears streaming down my face. The heart of my upbringing was so deep in that area. I sadly posted the news on Facebook and the lifeline reached out even more.
My high school is just up the road from there- Washburn High School, of which I entered in 1978 as the first Freshman class, and exited in 1982. Through the magic of Facebook, I have gotten back in touch with all of my old high school friends and they are scattered around the US, and even in other parts of the world, but when they started seeing my update, the shock and grief overflowed. As did the memories. It was a flood. Between that and the Twitter updates, the scenes of devastation playing out live in front of me, it was all I could do to keep from laying my head on my arms and weeping uncontrollably.
I lived barely 1/4 of a mile from there as a child, and as a very young girl walked with my sisters and the neighborhood girls, nickels clutched tight in our hands to the tiny store that was once in that building. The owner, a crotchety guy named Paul, always intimidated us a little, but the candy selection gave us reason to face him. Back when candy was a nickel, we got off easy at that place, gleaming through bags of Sugar Babies, ropes of Bub’s Daddy bubble gum and Black Cow suckers. One of the earliest and most painful memories of my life occurred at that store; it had a huge heavy door that we always struggled to push open, and one day as I attempted to dart through it, it slammed shut on my hand shattering the tip of a finger. It was a ugly bloody mess that dripped all over the worn linoleum floor of Paul’s store. And the stain never went away. I could go back time and again only to see the shadow of my blood on the floor. Paul eventually passed away from a heart attack, and the store closed.
There was an incredible deli in that building at one point, named Zorka & Ollie’s. It was a tiny, tiny space that made monstrous and delicious sandwiches, slathered in their signature Zorka sauce that was both spicy and sweet. It was the first place that dared to sell thick cut potato chips, and I distinctly remember the initial magnificent crunch that hit my mouth. Z&O’s had wonderful coleslaw and terrific potato salad. It was way ahead of it’s time with the fresh made flavor, variety and personal touch that everyone craves, and these days actively seeks out. A sandwich from Z&O’s was a feast.
In the corner of the building, long before Patina took root- an event I remember feeling quite ambivalent about- there used to be a store called Punky’s Corner Consignments, and long before that, a gorgeous Antique store. That antique store was where I honed my love of antiques, and of classic old china to be exact. As a young girl I would go in there with my Mom and marvel at the patterns, the delicacy and the array of beautiful dishware and serving pieces. To this day that love remains. And Punky’s was a fun, funky and odd place that you could find any manner of interesting and unique items. My friends and I could roam there for hours.
All of these memories came roaring through my head, as I watched video and took in photos of the flames eating up a piece of history. The loss of the current businesses is sorrowful; the two restaurants were stellar destinations in the local dining scene, and at the forefront of a whole movement bringing fine dining into neighborhood pockets of the city. I don’t doubt the area will be rebuilt, but the historical aspect of that building, with it’s artistic brick work and façades can never be duplicated again. Driving through there, even with the new businesses so well established and a more modern feel to the block, I never failed to sense the tremors of history, the laughter of my friends and I, the wonder of the small child in me as acutely as if those moments were still occurring. With the collapse of the roof, and the imminent wrecking ball, it likely will all be pulled down, memories gone for good. Hopefully a new generation of locals will come to know and love what stands on that corner in the future.
Even with such devastation, two high points are well worth mentioning; other than minor injuries to two firefighters, no one was injured and there were no deaths from the blaze. And the venerable Malt Shop, in a building across a tiny alley was spared any damage. The Malt Shop holds a vast sea of memories for myself, my friends and more people than I even care to imagine. My friends and I almost lived there in high school, and the wait staff knew many of us by name. One underlying current that came in from many of my old classmates flung far and wide was the urgent need to know that The Malt Shop survived. Some of these old friends of mine left Minnesota after graduation and have returned only for visits, but the history, nostalgia and a piece of their heart is still there with me in Lynnhurst.
He makes every day like Valentine’s Day for us.
Happy Valentine’s Day to my sweetheart!
Every year, with the boxes all around me and the tissue paper pushed back, I gaze at my life in ornaments and baubles and am in awe yet again at the wealth of memory and nostalgia that we place on the accepting branches of our chosen tree.
That gorgeous crocheted Santa, aptly named Lunar Santa, was made by my sister. It’s one of my most favorite ornaments. And I still have a handful or ornaments that my Grandma made for us. Every year when she came for Christmas, she would bring a box of her handmade treasures. They had tags on them, with our names in her perfect script. Several of mine still hold those tags, that memory of her permanently in ink. Some of the items on our tree were made by Griffin’s paternal Great-Grandmother too.
I love this faded and fragile paper Christmas tree, with Griffin’s tiny little face in the center. He made it in Kindergarten and I hope I never forget the look on his face when he brought it home to me. He swelled with pride when we placed it on our tree that year. Next to it, see that even more faded little paper chain? I made that in Kindergarten, thirty years earlier that the date on Griffin’s tree.
The year that Christmas almost wasn’t was when Griffin was three. It was a pretty hard time of my life and the ocean of sorrow that swirled around me left me almost broke and lacking much holiday spirit. A friend of mine refused to let me wallow, and said “You need to celebrate for your son’s sake.” They took me shopping and bought me a few ornaments, a tiny little tree and stand and a few groceries. Among the ornaments was a box of these old-fashioned styled glass baubles in all sorts of shapes and colors.
My family had some ornaments like this when I was very little and they reminded me of a better time of life, a time when we just had no clue as to the difficulties that lay ahead. Now, when I pull out the tin that lovingly holds this collection, not only do I remember some beloved childhood treasures, but I also recall the support and guidance of someone who gave selflessly to me at a critical time of need.
It really isn’t fully festive during our decorating time unless someone grabs the Santa-inspired tree skirt and dances around the house with it around their waist. Usually it’s me. This year it was Griffin and I almost collapsed from the hilarity. But shhhhh….don’t tell him I mentioned that here. He is 15, you know.
And me? I’m way beyond the need to shake the packages under the tree in a vague attempt to identify their contents, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t feel the urge every year when they start to accumulate.
I hope that your Christmas is full of treasured people, whether it’s family, or the friends that feel like family. I hope there is delicious food, warm genuine smiles. I hope it is peaceful, because I sure know about celebrating Christmas when it’s the last thing you want to do. I hope snow is involved, if the climate allows, and twinkling lights fill your eyes. We’ll be staring at magical Christmas snow in amazing abundance this year. It is a VERY white Christmas.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!
This time of year it isn’t unusual to find the long winter shadows start to appear around early afternoon. With the swift approach of the Solstice, the darkness seems almost interminable. But the nice thought is, after Monday, the days grow progressively longer. And Spring will be three months away.
Are you one of those, at least those of us in the grasp of a northern hemisphere Winter, that feel the night descend so hard that the 7:00pm darkness can often feel like midnight? Like we need to be going to bed instead of finishing up the dinner dishes and thinking about how to manage the evening ahead? We’ve been plagued with that quite a bit at our house. And I’m never sure how to get past it except to just roll with the changing light and keep in mind that the tilt of the Earth always brings us back to warmer weather, dripping eaves and bare brown patches that miraculously change into green again. And up until recently, I never considered actually embracing that darkness. It was always about trying to get away from it. Then I read this essay by Jeanette Winterson. And I read it again. It struck a chord in me and suddenly the coming darkness that evening didn’t seem so daunting.
Winterson’s essay is all about the enjoyment of darkness for many things considered normal in our lives. She speaks eloquently of the effect of the night on love, cooking, thinking, creativity and all manner of human purpose. Most of it I’ve never considered at all, especially the cooking aspect, at least not in the way that she explains it.
She talks about how our culture has phased out the night, treating it more like failed daylight than a time of slowness and silence, which she urges us to acknowledge as a correction of the day. I especially loved how she talked about the slim hour of time where the day and night meet, where the darkness slowly envelops the light.
“City or country, that sundown hour is strange and exhilarating, as ordinary spatial relations are altered: trees rear up in their own shadows, buildings bulk out, pavements stretch forward, the red wrapper of brake lights turns a road into a lava flow.”
In the wintertime, this twilight, or “blue time”, as a friend of mine has coined, is my absolute favorite moment of the otherwise dark and chill that surrounds it. It’s perfect for reflection, a cup of tea and the rather soothing way that the shadows turn the snow from white to opal to purple and then finally to the deepest blue-black of a December night.
Sometimes, if we’re lucky enough to lift our eyes to the sky, we can be rewarded with sunsets like this:
Which, to my utmost surprise on this particular evening, not only painted the western horizon in this creative and colorful light, but tossed pastel tinted clouds all over the eastern sky as well….
And the sight of it all nearly gave me whiplash as I spun back and forth trying to catch the prime moments happening on both sides of me. With this kind of beauty ushering in our winter darkness, it almost seems a shame to turn on the lights and chase away the winter night. But that’s what we do. Most of the time anyway. For one night, while the guys were gone, I decided to defy that urge and do what Winterson suggests. Sit among the dark, with a fire and candles, and relax in the moment. I actually looked forward to the hours ahead. But I cheated just a little in terms of light though, loving the twinkling look of this bakers rack that resides in the corner of our kitchen.
Fortified after an intense outing on my cross country skis, I made sure that a simple dinner was on hand. A baked sweet potato and a cabbage salad seemed perfect for a solitary night with a few candles and the fireplace. I wished the evening was temperate enough to be out at the fire pit, enjoying the crackling of a true wood fire. Our gas fireplace as all the ambiance of watching a bunsen burner, but the warmth it puts out left the room cozy and comforting. The cats settled on the sofa with me, the contentment seemingly catchy. The flickering candles had a soothing effect on my thoughts, and I found that I had no urge to push through the hours until I could go to bed. It was a nice surprise to find that I really was enjoying myself. With 2010 bearing down on me, and a less than stellar 2009 fading in the rearview mirror, I welcomed the opportunity to reflect and look forward to starting something new again. I enjoyed my simple meal, and more importantly, my own solitary thoughts. I likely will repeat this in the coming months. Anything to break up the monotony of those long, dark hours. I hope it instills in me a new appreciation of these inevitable winter months.
“Food, fire, walks, dreams, cold, sleep, love, slowness, time, quiet, books, seasons – all these things, which are not really things, but moments of life – take on a different quality at night-time, where the moon reflects the light of the sun, and we have time to reflect what life is to us, knowing that it passes, and that every bit of it, in its change and its difference, is the here and now of what we have. Life is too short to be all daylight. Night is not less; it’s more.”
And it was more, for one night anyway.
I almost feel cheated waking up to a fresh snowfall. After all, watching it come down is the best part.
But then again, I finally got to see this.
And making this trail made my day much better.
Thanks to those of you who still ask about Harmon. It’s been two months since he was diagnosed with cancer and really, he’s doing pretty good. It’s surprising to me, joyful and really a bit scary too.
I’m afraid that I could get complacent about him. That I’ll forget that anyone even uttered the word ‘Cancer’ to me, or that he could well have a ticking bomb inside him that could burst forth one of these days and swiftly remove him from my life. I did prepare for it, and process it and felt like I at least got to a place of good reckoning. I am at peace. But for each day that he lifts his head in his customary chirp of greeting, that he settles in to snuggle against me in the morning as I sip coffee and surf or climbs on my lap when I sit down in front of the television for a movie or show, I have to remind myself that it’s one more day that is gifted to me that I never expected to receive. I have to remember that I am not promised any tomorrows with him, or even a ‘next month’ kind of scenario. I listen to his breathing. I feel and stroke his chin for any suspicious lumps that might indicate a resurgence. I note his stiff, old-age gait and the amount of time he sleeps and wonder about him. I wonder constantly. I hold him as much as he’ll allow, and to his credit, he seems so much more tolerable of being drawn close to me than at any other time in his life.
And I am more tolerable of indulging him in the foods that are usually forbidden in a feline diet, mainly anything off our table. Harmon has always had a taste for people food, with thanks to me, but lately, as I have watched his former bulk shrink to being almost non-existent, I’ve felt that to slip him a few nibbles from my plate isn’t such a bad thing. He has, of course, taken this to his full advantage. Harmon is a true gourmand. He enjoys all manner of people food, not just the normal aspects of our diet that one would expect a cat to enjoy, like meat or cheese. He eats legumes, and seems to have a particular love for them, well, unless they’re highly spiced lentils. He does spit those out. But great northerns? Black beans? Pintos? Chickpeas? He eats them all. He loves cauliflower too. Go figure. And peas, corn and green beans as well. He’s more adventurous than my teenager when it comes to food he hasn’t tried yet either, willingly accepting it and showing us his most baffled expression if he’s not so certain whether it’s to his liking. Is this guilt driven, my slipping him the good stuff? No. It’s more like my wish for him to be happy, to put something in his tummy. Although his ample belly and squishy pouch is still evident, there is no more intense reminder to me of the state of his health than the fact that his spine and rib bones, once sheltered in his former bulk along his back, are now clearly visible and sharply defined. Petting him is emotionally painful, to feel those old bones. If his time with me were to end tomorrow, the last thing I would be concerned about was sharing the grand tastes and flavors of life with him. What a way to go.
So there it is, for now. He’s well, apparently, and is quite content and happy. He is in no pain that we can tell, unless you count his old-age stiffness. He eats like a champ. He still purrs his trademark rumble, and snuggles in at every chance he gets. I’ll take it. And for as long as I can. Every day with him is a gift.