Saturday, March 29, 2008

Lights Out for Earth Hour!

“Hey, don’t forget to turn out the lights from 8-9 on Saturday night.”

I heard snippets of conversation in the halls, at tables in the cafeteria and even from various bathroom stalls (I kid you not) about Earth Hour tonight. Folks seem to be interested and embracing the idea. I got an email from a friend weeks ago about it. And for once, I was actually in the loop--even got to tell someone else. Wahoo. So what’s the buzz? Tonight from 8-9pm is Earth Hour. And the point is to turn off your lights. All of them. (Hmmm, maybe the TV too, but that is just me.)

From what I understand, the aim of the campaign is to show that our individual actions on a mass scale can help change our planet for the better.

If you plan on burning candles during Earth Hour, make sure you use 100% beeswax candles which are gentler on our planet – smoke free, non-toxic and non-allergenic and the ones I get are drip free!!! They are also made of natural products, not petroleum-based stuff, so they are effectively carbon neutral. I use them exclusively (alright, alright I do have a fondness for the scented Yankee Candles in the jar-the Caribbean mango one is perfect for Spring), for the dining room table and anywhere I have tapers.

I am planning my day around it. I have finished the laundry and vacuuming. I am off to the store now because I want to cook Indian food for dinner and I need to get started soon. Then, I will light the candles, open a nice bottle of wine and voila! Here’s to Mother Earth. Chin. Chin.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Monday, March 24, 2008

Winkie



The thundering herd of elephants that courses through the halls and up and down the stairs every night is a 7lb streak of lightning named Winkie. She is occasionally chased by Tonka, who is double her weight and not as light on his feet. But she asks for it. I have seen her innocently stroll by, then just as she is past him, reach out a paw, smack him, and then run. You can almost hear her laughter. It is a game they both enjoy. She is so full of energy that she sometimes runs just to run.

She is now a very different kitty from when she came to me. Living in an empty house with her owner packed off to a nursing home, she became fearful and skittish. The neighbors came in to feed her and Bourka once a day. No one scooped their litter. The whole house smelled. The day I went to visit, I only saw a black streak dash past to disappear into the basement. When we went to look for her in the dim unlit nether regions she bolted for a Stygian hole in the cinder block that led to a crawl space. In the end they had to trap her to get her out of the house.

When they came in with the cat carrier and opened the door she was huddled in the back. We left the carrier in the kitchen and went into the family room. When we came back to check on her the carrier was empty and she was not to be found. Later I discovered her in the basement squeezed under the landing box. A few days later, she migrated upstairs under the guest bed in the blue room. She stayed there for weeks, coming out only to eat and make the long trek down to the basement to use the box. At that time I had 3 cats that no one ever saw, including me.

Eventually they all came around. Now Winkie sleeps on my hip, riding the wave when I turn over in the night. She insists on sitting on my lap or will perch on one knee if that is the only thing available. She will visit with company if they are well-mannered adults, allowing them to pet her--shoulder to tail (she does not like having her head touched). She is a joy. It has taken 5 years for her to gain confidence. Now she is a terror, that strikes fear in the heart of guests sleeping in the blue room when she thunders past in the wee hours.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

I love Easter.


I love that the Hyacinths, opening in the warmth of the house, fills each room all the way to the basement with the smell of spring.

I love the little wicker baskets stuffed with wisps of green cellophane grass and foiled-covered treats.

I love sharing my table with my loved ones at this first feast of the barely budding new season. 
 
I love the bright plastic eggs lovingly stashed in the crevices of rock walls by the Easter Bunny.

I love the ham, Au Gratin potatoes and asparagus with Hollandaise that we eat every year without fail.



I love the set of springtime dishes that grace the table with their gold rims and flights of butterflies, dragonflies and other winged things.

I love that there are 2 little people that look forward to coming to my house for Easter and start to pester their parents months in advance.

I love that this is the day that we celebrate our faith. Without the crucifixion and resurrection we would not be Christians.

I leave you on this Easter Sunday with my Aunt Evelyn’s recipe for Herb Rolls. She made them for every holiday when I was growing up.

1 pkg dry yeast
3 ½ C. flour
2 tsps. celery seed
¼ tsp. sage
1 tsp. parsley
1 ¼ C. milk
¼ C. shortening
¼ C. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 egg

In a bowl mix together the yeast, 1 ½ C. flour, and the herbs. Heat together the milk, shortening, sugar and salt until just warm (not too hot), stir to melt the shortening. Stir wet into dry. Add the egg and beat at low speed for 1 minute, then move to high speed for 3 minutes, scraping the bowl constantly. By hand, stir in enough flour to make a stiff dough. Grease a large bowl. Put in the dough, turning it over to grease all sides. Chill 2 hours covered with a damp cloth. (Don’t do it overnight, the dough grows too much in the fridge and oozes out of the bowl, then does not rise well when cooked. Been there, did that.) Pinch off a piece of the dough and roll it in the palm of your hand to make a 1 ½” ball. Put 3 dough balls in each opening of a greased muffin pan. Let rise about an hour until doubled in size. Bake at 400F for 12-15 minutes. Makes about 18 rolls. These can be made the day before and put hot into aluminum foil, sealed tight and refrigerated. Pop the unopened foil package into the oven, after the potatoes come out, for about 15 minutes. Set out the butter lamb to soften at the same time. One of my favorite things. I love these. Enjoy.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

There but for the grace of God

I got an email from my friend Howard yesterday. He had fallen on some black ice while clearing off his Jeep. It was a crappy morning and he did not want to take out the good car that was parked nice and dry in the garage. He cleaned off the snow and ice from the front of the vehicle then walked around the side to do the back. On the way, he slipped and his feet flew out from under him. He fell flat on his back on the blacktopped driveway. He hit his elbow, hip and smacked his head. He immediately drove himself to the Emergency Room in Morristown where they stitched up his elbow, X-rayed the rest and sent him home.

Two weeks later, he started to lose his words and his right foot was dragging. He called his doctor, went back to the hospital and had brain surgery the next day. Brain surgery- the scariest of surgeries. He had a Subdural Hematoma. He said he had no headache. No symptoms. After the surgery the bleeding did not stop, so they had to go back in again to find the cause. It could have been much, much worse.

After 2 surgeries and a stay at a Rehab center, he is now home. I spoke to him today and he sounds normal. His voice is strong. He is tired, but on the mend.

He told me of the misery of those in the hospital and in rehab--the pain and suffering that happens around us that we do not know. While in the hospital he prayed for all those suffering in the world. He said it was a wake-up call. "Your life can change in an instant. We should all be thankful for what we have."

In this Easter season let us hold up to the light all who suffer. As I sit down with my guests for Easter dinner, I will pray for Howard who may be having Easter lunch at a diner, but is alive and well enough to go out-even for a short distance. God Bless.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Early Spring Sunrise

As the creeping dawn paled the inky blackness
to shades of gray;
from the east slivers of pale yellow
created Scherenschnitte of the bare trees.
The sun strengthened to light the long layers
of clouds with peach, orange, fuchsia.
High above in the bright pink sky
a river of birds flowed north.
Some still strong after a long night’s flight,
others straggled to keep up.
Rest was just beyond the horizon.

More used to appreciating sunset than sunrise, the drive to work was an unaccustomed pleasure.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Perfect End-of-Winter Fare

While most of my friends are adventurous eaters, thank God, I still have requests for “regular” food now and then. (Picture eye rolling and head shaking at requests for regular food). As a result of my outside the box cooking (it happens when you take classes at the CIA), I haven’t made braciole for years. (I don’t know that I have ever made it in this house.) I saw a package of the beef at the store weeks ago and it triggered a memory of dinners past with friends. When a spontaneous dinner party came together yesterday, I immediately thought of browned beef with a lovely turkey cheese stuffing wallowing in a thick brown wine sauce with creamy risotto with mozzarella and parm accompanied by asparagus with mushrooms. Perfect end-of-winter fare. And to bring a touch of spring, fresh strawberries with zabaglione.

I do not stuff my braciole and instead of pork filling I use ground turkey. Let me give you the Robertsonian method.

Buy the cut of meat called braciole at the local market. It is large very thin slices of beef. Prepare the stuffing with a package of ground turkey, a handful of Parmesan cheese-about 4 Tbs, another handful of chopped parsley, 4 cloves of chopped garlic, S&P and 2 eggs. Mix it together and then spread it on the slices of beef. Roll the slices up and tie them with kitchen string. Coat the bundles with flour and brown them in 2 Tbs of butter and 2 Tbs of olive oil—more or less depending on how many braciole you are making. When they are browned nicely, pour in ½ a bottle of white wine and scrape up any brown bits. Cook them for about an hour. Take out the bundles and thin or thicken the sauce as needed. Put the braciole on a platter then pour the sauce over them and put any extra in a gravy boat. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

It’s HOW much?

Is it me or has the price of food suddenly become astronomical?

On my way home, I popped into the local A&P to pick up a few odds and ends until I can do my big shopping on the weekend. I bought 1 rotisserie chicken, a package of turkey dogs (better for you), a bag of salad, 4 apples, a 5lb bag of potatoes (99 cents on sale), a carton of grape tomatoes, a carton of eggs, a quart of goat milk (really love it in coffee), 6 cans of cat food, a box of the cat food in pouches that they like and a carton of strawberry ice cream (yeah, yeah, I know, but it was on sale). 47 bucks? Even after the Price Plus card. Whaaat! I don’t want to use credit at the grocery store!

While I was there, I noticed an old man in the dairy/bread aisle. He was holding a bag of store-brand white bread and reading the nutrition label. I thought it was odd. He then moved down the aisle to the milk and was carefully looking at all the price tags on the shelf. There were very few items in his cart. It struck me. How are retired people faring in this tough economy? What about families with kids? The price of gas is outrageous and now food costs are going through the roof.

Forget organic. Or going to Whole Foods. I am going to start shopping at the local Asian market near where I work. I’m going to start buying the Sunday paper with the most coupons. I am going to start using said coupons. I am going to start eating less. I am going to start entertaining less. Well, right after Easter. Or do you think I can serve Turkey Dogs?

Clare at The House and Other Arctic Musings did a cost comparison. Holy Cow! We have nothing to complain about. Check out these prices!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Lazy Italian Sausage and Potatoes

I have just gotten back from a business trip to California and I was on vacation for 2 weeks before that. My flight yesterday was diverted to another city and delayed 6 hours because of high winds. I did not end up getting home until midnight. I fell into an exhausted sleep and woke up to the time change. I feel out of it.

There is nothing in fridge to eat and I am too tired and lazy to go back down the mountain to the store. Knowing I was going to be away, I have not bought anything fresh for weeks.

After scrounging around in the freezer and pantry I give you a spur of the moment, throw it in a pot dinner.

Italian Sausage and Potatoes

1 package of slightly freezer-burned luganega (a type of small Italian sausage. You could even use breakfast links) cut into small pieces

2 onions sliced thin

3 cloves of garlic sliced thin

Cook everything in a frying pan with some olive oil over low heat until the onions are wilted and tender, then turn up the heat and brown them.

Dump in 1 large can of tomatoes and a few bay leaves (I used 4). Cook for a while-like 15 minutes.

Add 3 or 4 peeled chunked potatoes (snap off any growing eyes and use 'em anyway). Cook until they are fork tender. Add salt and pepper.

Hearty. Easy. With stuff hanging around the house. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Solo Travel

“Excuse me, do you speak English?”

I looked up from my book to see an older gentleman and his wife looking bewildered in the milling crowd around the security checkpoint. I closed my book with my finger marking the page and got up. “Can I help?” The relief flooded his face. He turned to his wife, “See honey, I told you we would find someone.” He turned to me, “We don’t know where to go.”

After I checked the monitor for their flight and pointed them in the right direction, I sat back down to read. I still had an hour for my flight.

“Excuse me.” I looked up again and over at the woman sitting next to me. “Have they started boarding this flight?” I looked around. “No, that was a flight to Paris.” She smiled, “Oh, I thought they called us. Will you let us know when to go?” “Of course.”

A woman leaned around the man sitting next to me, “Do you travel a lot?” I smiled and nodded. “I do.” She leaned back, “I thought so, you are so confident.”

I looked around, perplexed. How did I become info central? The other people waiting were nervously jiggling their feet, glued to their chairs, clutching their bags, checking and re-checking their tickets, or getting up and down at every announcement. While it was a little more chaotic than any US airport I have been in, it was not frightening or unusual.

Once through immigration and security the airport in Rio was not difficult to manage. The waiting area at the gates was small but with all available seats taken; many people were standing around. It looked more confusing than it was. The announcements for boarding and gate changes came and went in Portuguese. Then with a few minutes delay were repeated in English.

Airports around the world are basically the same. Most of them have signs in English as well as the local language. Once you have negotiated a few, it becomes easier. The departure and arrival procedures are similar. All baggage claim areas and ground transportation are on a lower level.

Taxis will try to rip you off no matter where you are. Take a deep breath. It’s OK.

Traveling alone has good points and bad points, but do not stay at home because you have no one with whom to travel. I have met wonderful people traveling around the world, many of whom I would not have if I had had a companion.