Thursday, August 07, 2014

Piddling by Candlelight and Other Delights

Domesticity comes to me in spurts. I get by on a minimum, get by, get by, get by, until the howl goes up "There's nothing to eat here!" usually on an unannounced visit from The Bean. Warn me and I will provide, drop in and you'll eat as the Romans do. Us Romans eat well. We eat our veggies and drink our wine and are generally happy as clams with the service. Twenty-somethings we're not, but I like The Boy to visit and don't want him to starve while here......So.

Early in the week the fridge looked a little bare. I could feel a spurt coming on. We'd worked our way through all the leftovers and hadn't seen The Bean for a week. First I made Carrot and Beet Salad, a recent discovery from Scaling Back, my current, favourite food blog. It's a simple recipe but Oh! So delicious! If you can get yourself into a zen-like trance, the julienning and slicing of the carrots and beets won't seem too tedious. Zen-like trance achieved, I chopped away.

As my hands chopped and sliced, my mind wandered back to the weekend. Sunday afternoon we re-connected with an old friend and set off "on an explore." It was a grayish day, a delight in Florida, and raining sporadically. But neither wind nor rain nor gloom were about to deter us from our explorations, so, in the middle of a drenching downpour, we were confident that, in five minutes or less, the sun would peek through again. And so it came to pass.

We wandered down side roads to little towns off the beaten track. It was like stepping back in time to an older Florida, one in which amusement parks and frenetic fun were not the main draw (can you tell I'm not a Disney fan?)

One where time passed more slowly, while you lingered under giant spreading oaks and sipped your iced tea and watched the world go by. We found a little grove by the water and sat under some of those shady trees to eat our sandwiches.

My friend has a of wide range of interests so we chatted and sat and caught up on a few lost years.

Then off to explore some more. To a little fishing village, way out on the gulf, surrounded by water. We had an idyllic afternoon, just wandering around and, towards evening, stopped at a little, rustic, seafood restaurant for supper.

It was raining hard when we parked and dashed for the entrance. Inside was decidedly dim. Ambiance, I thought. But no, a power failure. They seemed unconcerned and ushered us to a table by the window. It was casual and cozy but we could still read the menu. Leaving the OC to peruse it, Becky and I went in search of the ladies' room. Oops. Total darkness!  As in inky blackness. Death by falling into a porcelain commode did not sound inviting.....What to do? Cell phones? Hardly enough of a glimmer. Then, through the gloom, a woman approached bearing candles. Aha! We would not have to cross our legs and sit tight for the duration! So we got our ambiance --- piddling by candlelight!

By now I had all my beets and carrots chopped. It had seemed effortless.

Next I made some hummus. Yum, yum.

And then a cake. Yes, the OC is trying to lose a few pounds, and I'm not trying to have what he loses come to roost in my britches but it is nice, like Winnie the Pooh, to have a little smackerel of something sweet with your tea and your books in the evening. Hence Strawberry Almond Cake. If you're not drooling you should be. It's delicious....

Spurt of domesticity over, I exchanged my Kitchen Goddess tiara for my gardening hat  and headed outdoors to my pet garden project, but that's a story for another day.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Who Has Problems Cooking Water?

because photos of tea kettles are boring...

Have I ever told you about my adventures boiling water?

A few weeks ago our kettle started leaking, but no matter, I could still make a cup of tea. I reported the problem to the OC who probably wondered what I expected him to do about it but wisely made no comment other than a non committal grunt. 

Last week I went to turn it on and nothing happened.
"The kettle has finally kicked the bucket," I reported.The OC, who sees no point in complaining if you're not going to fix the problem, fixed the problem. He went on line and ordered a new kettle.Meanwhile I boiled water for tea in a cooking pot. Later on, unaware that he had ordered a new one, I tried the kettle again. It worked. 

Seems it had been unplugged. Ahem..

Years ago my cousin and her husband were visiting us in our new house in Minnesota.
They'd been out seeing the sights all day and were gasping for a cup of tea, so I put on the kettle and we waited for it to boil. The burners on the stove in that house were those flat, easy to clean ones but they took forever to heat up and forever, again, to cool down. So we waited. And waited. And Mairead nearly passed out from the thirst.

“Molly,” said she in her rich Irish brogue, “would ye ever think about buying an electhric kettle?”

“Why?” says I, “what’s wrong with this one?” (I wasn’t quite as thirsty as Mairead.)

“A body could die around here waiting for a cuppa tay!”

So off we went to the store and bought a fancy new kettle. Mairead enjoyed many speedily made, restorative cups of tea on that visit and I wondered what was wrong with me that I’d never thought of buying an electric kettle before. I’m a creature of habit is my only excuse. I like to do things the way I know how to do them. 

When the OC came home, decades ago, with a microwave oven, I thought he was mad. I was sure those things were dangerous and it took me a while to accept that it might come in handy sometimes, like when you’ve forgotten your tea and you don’t want to drink it stone cold. Another time, out of the blue, he brought home a food processor. I told him I didn’t need it and hid it in the cupboard for months. I was afraid it would be so complicated I wouldn’t have a clue how to use it….or some such rationale. Finally one day, with mounds of vegetables to chop, I surreptitiously snuck it out of the cupboard to have a go and have been using it ever since.

I buy a box of Barry's tea about every six weeks. A few months back we decided that, in order to make more cupboard space, we should buy no more tea until everything we had was used up. We had run out of Barry's at that stage so we've been drinking herbal, green, and all the accumulated teas that we ignore when there's Barry's around (or if we're really lucky, Yorkshire!) They're all pale and insipid excuses for a decent cup of tea. 

One of the purposes of a cup of tea is to restore your balance when you're feeling discombobulated. There aren't many problems that won't seem better if you can think about them over a nice, hot cup of tea. These teas were doing absolutely nothing for discombobulation. Yesterday I could stand it no longer. I stopped at the Irish Shop and bought some Barry's and caught up with Ellen, the owner, who thought I must have died.

Mairead eventually went back to Ireland and I went from strength to strength in my ability to boil water in the new electric kettle. Then one morning, about a month after she’d left, I came downstairs,only half awake, and groped my way into the still dark kitchen. Of all the places we've lived, my favorite kitchen was the one in that house in Minnesota. It had two windows that met at right angles over the kitchen sink so that, as I washed dishes, I could gaze out into the trees and daydream. That morning, on auto pilot, I filled the new kettle and put it on to boil, and, looking forward to that nice cup of tea that would wake me up, I turned to the sink to wash some dishes from the previous evening. My mind was a thousand miles away as I scrubbed and dreamed until, suddenly, I noticed a really obnoxious smell ……what on earth…..?

 I turned towards the stove, from whence it came, and saw the kettle floating in a sea of black melted plastic on top of the smooth burners. What a mess! Old habits die hard. I guess it had not been quite long enough for the newfangled way of boiling water to gel in my brain. In my half awake state I had turned on the stove and plonked the kettle on top, as I’d been doing for decades, forgetting all about the little plugged-in black plastic stand it was supposed to sit on.

The new kettle arrived this morning. I bought those Barry's tea bags in the nick of time. I'm much better than I used to be, even a week ago, at cooking water. I've had several cups of good strong tea today and there's no discombobulation anywhere in sight. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

A Post From a Ghost of Bloggers Past

The best thing about okra...

You may have noticed the dearth of blogging in this little corner. It was not intentional. When I'm out in the garden, pursuing my personal vendetta against stink vine for instance, drunk on sunshine and great ideas, I'll promise myself that as soon as I go inside and wash the grime off, I'll sit down and wow you with my brilliance. Maybe exhaustion has a withering effect on great ideas because there's been nothing for weeks months now.

April...Getting started

With the OC retired and back in residence, all the little things that I let slide in his absence are being taken care of. Stuff grows in Florida. And how! Especially weeds. Stink vine is a pretty little creeping weed that crawls across the ground, knitting itself in every couple of feet, until it covers a huge area with it's ingratiating web. When you pull it up it lets off an odor that would choke a horse. Sneaky, because the leaves are very pretty,but in no time flat it can take over and choke out the good stuff unless you let it know who's boss. We usually dump garden debris at the back, on or near the compost pile. But stink vine goes straight into a bag for the garden waste collection. Let it take over the world at the landfill, not here!

And in the usual way of one thing leading to another, gardening has led to more experiments in the kitchen. For one thing, there's a man in the house who needs regular feeding so meals once again are a daily occurrence. They were spotty, at best, when it was just me. Now, with an appreciative eater in the house (who also does dishes) meals are fun again.  In addition to fools, there's another thing the OC does not suffer gladly: dull tools. Ergo, my kitchen, since his return, is full of lethal weapons. I've been thinking I should buy stock in the company that manufactures bandaids. The occasional sprinkle of blood here, small piece of finger there notwithstanding, we've been having some delicious fare. Slicing the cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant that the garden has produced is also a lot easier with a sharp knife.with regular healthy eating the OC has lost some weight. Unfortunately, it didn't go far. It settled on me.

The biggest hit from the garden has been kale. My favorite salad of the summer is made with kale, garlic, pecorino Romano, raisins and walnuts. When beets were in season I found a beet and carrot salad recipe that was out of this world. I'll put them on Molly and Lily in the Kitchen, where, even though there's been scant evidence of me in recent times, there's been even less of Lily.

At the other end of the scale we had okra, which is not even on my cooking radar, but beggars can't be choosers and The Bean, who did all the donkey work in getting the garden started for us, thought we should have okra. It grew beautifully but when I added it to a salad (it oozes a mucous-y sticky substance that does nothing to whet your appetite,) the OC bluntly told me that if he wanted snot in his food he had his own supply, thank you very much. In the interests of waste not, want not, I had to choke down the rest of that salad myself! Okra does have one redeeming quality --- the most beautiful flower!

And here's another beautiful flower who, sadly, isn't growing in our garden.......but we're grateful for regular updates!

Now that I've broken the long silence, maybe I'll get back to more regular blogging. Meanwhile, "Happy (recent) Birthday" to Isabelle and greetings to the other die-hards who have doggedly hung in there during the drought!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

So Many Books, So Little Time....


When we were young and foolish and anxious to impress ourselves and others with how learned and well-read we were, we bought, one at a time, the hundred best books in English literature. They are beautiful, leather-bound books and have followed us back and forth across the country and the globe, adding that learned and well-read  ambiance to all the places we’ve lived. Needless to say, in over forty years we've still read fewer than fifty percent of them between us. New plan: now that the OC is retired  we plan to read more of them.

The OC recommended  I start with The Odyssey. Really? I wasn’t thrilled with that suggestion as there was already a teetering pile, threatening to collapse from my night table onto the floor, of library books and books from friends, waiting for their turn to dazzle me. But, I made a start, fully expecting to be bored out of my mind. And truthfully, remembering the torture of translating Latin passages in school, expecting to be reminded that I am not intellectual enough to get a thrill from, or even to understand, the scribblings of long-dead Romans. But, surprise! It wasn’t at all boring. Very readable in fact. I could actually follow the thread of the story. Maybe those old geezers’ writings have survived because the things they wrote about are things that are still relevant today? That said, I’m not exactly steaming through it. As with rich chocolate, I’m pacing myself. One delicious morsel per day as opposed to gobbling the entire box in one sitting. And in between morsels I’ve been chipping away at the teetering pile.

I recently re-read Sebastian Barry’s “A Long, Long Way.” I loved it as much the second time around as I did the first. We all have access to the same vocabulary but the way Barry puts words together is to my ears what chocolate is to my tongue. Another of his, “On Canaan’s Side” is waiting on the night table. And I’m even thinking I might like to reread “The Secret Scripture.” And then there’s “The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty,” and I could even reread “Annie Dunne” just for the pleasure of feeding more chocolate to my soul.

 I have Alice Munroe’s “Dear Life,” a book of her short stories, out from the library. I’m half way through and it’s due back tomorrow. My heart won’t break. I can’t get enthused, which is probably why the Pulitzer Prize committee has not contacted me to sit on their selection board.

A friend lent me Robert Graves “Goodbye To all That” and I’ve dipped in and out and will finish it, in time. Another friend lent me “Life Stories” by Susan Vreeland, and I’ll get to that too. But somewhere in the midst of all these I happened onto “The Rosie Project” by Graeme Simsion, an Australian I'd never even heard of and had to drop everything while I giggled my way through it. Absolutely hilarious, especially if you have a friend or acquaintance with Asperger’s. It reminded me of "The Humans" by Matt Haig and how much fun that was to read. Note to Birdy: drop everything and go get it. The Scot can fend for himself for a day or two.

Waiting at the library for me today is Anna Quindlan’s new book, “Still Life With Breadcrumbs.” Will report back when I finish it. Meanwhile, time for another few chapters from Mr. Homer.

And just in case I blaze through the teetering pile with unaccustomed speed, I’d love to hear what you all have been reading while I’ve been gone.*

* Absence unintentional.. Life gets in the way sometimes. I kept thinking “this week for sure,” and the weeks kept slipping away.  Thanks for your concern and sorry to worry you. All is well. Come see me, I've missed you all.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Critters and Procrastination

I haven't been sewing or quilting much since England and summer. In fact, I've been so bad I'd need a map at this stage to find my way to my sewing room. Which is not good. There's a lot I should be doing in there. I should be working on little grand daughter's quilt, if nothing else. Last thing I sewed was a doll's dress. Here's the doll wearing it....

Her other grandparents live on a farm with chickens and pigs, guinea fowl and sheep, geese and goslings, so it seemed logical that her quilt should tie in with that since she and her big brother are there a lot and love all the critters..

 And so The Little Red Hen quilt was born. Or maybe I should say conceived. Since the actual birth is turning into quite a long labor. One of love, it goes without saying, but protracted nonetheless. The contractions seem to have stopped. Pass the ptocin. Move that part of my anatomy upon which I sit.

So, you may ask, what is the problem? The problem, though I don't think of it as a problem really because I love it, is the writing. The scribbling, the editing, the follow up to Julia Cameron's first book which our library group has now embarked on, as well as the smaller group meetings, all these things can be grouped under The Writing. And as far as sewing is concerned The Writing seems to be the villain.

A start had been made, pre-England. Hope ran high that I would take it along, but alas! The part upon which I sit does not move with that kind of speed. In case you suspect me of prevarication, observe...

These here critters will scratch and dig, snort and quack their way around the outer edges of the quilt while the inner part will (eventually) fill up with pinwheels.

At least that's the plan. Anybody got a stick of dynamite?

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Miss Muffet Falls in Love

Bygone days by Nick.Coombs
Bygone days, a photo by Nick.Coombs on Flickr.

Looks like my cheering section's down to a few die hards, those who can deal with the randomness, and the frequent total absence of a blogger on these pages! One of these stalwarts is Isabelle. I was catching up on her blog last night....(I've been very baaad....had to go back quite a ways)...and came upon a post about the Yorkshire Tea Song, complete with video. It was brilliant! I became a Yorkshire tea addict this past August when I visited the OC in England, toppling my former favorite, Barry's, right off its pedestal. I even cautioned the OC when he made reservations to come home in October, that if he didn't bring a very large box of Yorkshire tea with him, he might want to make other plans. It's important to get the priorities straight.

"Hovis - for Grandma too!" - advert issued 1923, illustrated by Rowles by mikeyashworth

The Yorkshire Tea Song reminded me of the Hovis bread advert from back in the last century (I love saying that! It makes the Bean roll his eyes. Silly old lady, thinks she's funny!) Anyone else that ancient remember it?

"Little Miss Muffett sat on her tuffett as busy as busy could be,
When along came a seaman, a stout hearted seaman, who asked her to join him for tea.
But Miss Muffet said "No!" to this bold mattillot, until he produced some Hovis.
So naturally nice, such a wonderful slice! At last she's found out what true love is.
Now Little Miss Muffett's no longer Miss Muffett as she's driven away in a carrriage,
As wedding bells sound, in Hovis they found the perfect beginning to marriage!"

 "Hovis - for Grandma too!" - advert issued 1923, illustrated by Rowles, a photo by mikeyashworth on Flickr.

It must have been a radio commercial back in my teens. It just came flowing out of me like a river, no google , no pen chewing, no wrinkled brow or straining brain. It came like a torrent. Now, why can't I store important things in the part of my brain that so lucidly and cleverly stores rubbish --- with apologies to the brilliant Hovis advert creators.

The memory is an amazing organ, even mine, which those who know me acknowledge is tottering towards oblivion. When the OC calls each evening and asks what I did today the memory routinely fails.

"What did I do today?" I cast about for morsels of memory....

Surely I did something, other than drink tea and pull wool out of my navel? Meanwhile, he's waiting, and breathing. He's not a patient man so I've told him it helps to b_r_e_a_t_h_e  while he's waiting for my memory to kick in. Often, after an especially lame attempt, I'll hang up the phone and then, too late, as Christy Brown said, the full list of my day's accomplishments comes into focus. International calls to cell phones are too expensive so I don't call him back but make a mental note to wow him belatedly with my industry, on the morrow. Unfortunately, on the morrow it'll all have gone south --- again! And so, round and round the rugged rock the ragged rascal runs.

I cannot remember what I did a few hours ago.

But inconsequential ditties from long ago?

No problem! I'll even sing them for you!

One of my recent reads was The Humans by Matt Haig. I loved it! He has so many hilarious observations about humans, English humans in particular.

And yes, I wrote them down. It would be folly to depend on my memory. Here's one:

"I was drinking a cup of tea. The tea seemed to be making things better. It was a hot drink made of leaves, used in times of crisis as a means of restoring normality." (This from an alien who's been sent to earth to inhabit the body of a professor at Cambridge University. Read it yourself. You'll love it!)

 Everyone knows that about tea, right? A nice cup of tea has restorative powers pharmaceutical companies can only dream of. But I hadn't heard it articulated quite like this before and it made me laugh.  I would have posted this several hours ago but I ran into a snag.

I  remembered I'd written the quote down, in one of my notebooks.

 What I couldn't remember was which notebook? They are legion. I can rarely go to Target or Staples without buying another one 'cause you never know when you're going to run out of notebooks. And what, in that unlikely event, would I do then? Thwarted, I went to the library. The Humans was on the shelf and I found my quote.

When the OC called tonight and asked the predictable question, I debated. Should I tell him I spent a large part of the day hunting for something I wrote somewhere then lost? And then more time searching for it at the library? Yeah. You're right. Better to tell him about the bills I paid, the laundry I washed, the vacuuming I did, the weeds I pulled, the grocery shopping. And leave
 him in the dark about the writing, the reading, the blogging, the left-over snickers bars, the nattering and the tea drinking. (Yes, he did bring a big box.).

 I was in luck. He was too excited about Glasgow (though he doesn't understand the language, which is certainly not English, he claims) and the Hebrides and Whiskey distilleries, to have more than a cursory interest in "what I did today."

Next time I go to England I'll be on a mission to rediscover Hovis, that "wonderful slice!" I might even "find out what true love is, and be driven away in a carriage" to a sweet little cottage where I'll live 'til I die, eating Hovis every day, washing  it down with Yorkshire tea and finishing all my quilts. But, based on weather reports from Isabelle, I'd more likely freeze to death in the first few hours.

One sugar or two? 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Fairies Didn't Steal Me, Isabelle

Wheeling the bin out to the curb one recent dark night I gazed up at the peaceful, almost full, moon and thought about how small and insignificant our little lives and occupations must seem to the wise old man up there. And the very next thought was ---

 "I wonder if the Blister looked up at this very same moon earlier tonight?"

The Little Blister and I, in August, by the Thames

She might well have tried, but the chances are good to excellent that the weather meter in Ireland was stuck on "piddling rain," as usual, which would mean clouds, which would mean no moon, and since it's getting into Autumn over there, there could, along with piddling rain, be chill-inducing temperatures, unlikely to encourage mooning about in the driveway, gazing up at the sky.

 So, I wondered.

Did she stay inside today, wrapped in blankets against the Celtic chill? Did she beat the Retired One to the cozy chair? And sip hot tea while knocking off a scintillating post about the state of the world, on her laptop? Am I in for a treat when I nip over there later to check?

We had a long natter on the phone last weekend and made a pact to each write something on our blogs by Sunday. We didn't, however, sign it in blood. If she's feeling as distracted and discombobulated as I am, I'll forgive her if she's late. Big of me, I know.

I want to write, I have the time, but nothing comes that doesn't sound like drivel. What gives? Travelling, they say, broadens the mind;  "fills up the well." Can you hear the sloshing? All those new sights and sounds. Maybe they just went very deep and will take a while to swim up to the surface? Fingers crossed!

Meanwhile, since I have nothing inspirational to say, I'll try for some inspirational pictures.

So much for Trixie, of the six inch stilettos, in history, telling us about the evil Sassenachs. Cromwell and his ilk may have been evil, but the English I met were normal and charming. I may be just a teeny bit biased. You'll see why.....Here's exhibit A...What's not to love?

Little grand daughter

And exhibit B ......likewise.

Her big brother --- not-so-little-anymore grandson

The OC was besotted...

Oh Grandpa, what comfy shoulders you've got!

I'm putting the above, which has been languishing in draft form for weeks, out here so you'll know I tried. But it fizzled. My heart wasn't in blogging it seemed for now. All my writing energy, such as it is, is being absorbed by writing and editing for the writing group. And continues to be. Whether anything will come of it is anybody's guess, but I'm getting a lot of editing practice.

Meanwhile, the OC came home for an unprecedented two weeks! It was a shock to the system. I'm not used to company 24/7!  It was all "go" around here for the duration. The TV didn't know what happened to it. It actually got turned on at least once a day! The OC was in high velocity, organizational mode. Lots of hopping to it, clicking of heels and manning the shredder. Yard equipment humming and buzzing. And then, in a blink, he was gone. Tonight he's in Dublin. Verily I say unto you, there is no justice in the world. The man doesn't even like Guinness.

Another reason for quiet on the Mollybawn front is that I've been reading voraciously. The Blister kick-started me when she came to visit us in England and brought me Olive Kitteridge, and I found myself making notes of whole passages. Back home I devoured Light Between Oceans, Sweeping Up Glass, The Art Of Hearing Heartbeats and The Sense of an Ending. This list is for Birdy's benefit! They were all excellent but that last one was riveting. (Thank you Blister---It took me long enough to get around to it sez you!) I usually take more than a week to read a book. Now I'm scarfing them down like a starving woman. I've just started on Alice Munro. If you want to see me you'll have to make an appointment. My secretary is usually chasing lizards around the pool, so be patient. He'll fit you in between his kibble and his catnaps, while the house slowly caves in around us.

The clock is ticking and there are still an awful lot of books to read.

Tomorrow a quilt show! Stand by for pictures. We can breathe life into this old blog yet

There Isabelle.

 Look what you made me do......