Weekly Small Pleasures: Thanks for no wilderness adventure

Earlier in the week I posted on the Not Just Sassy blog about my long healing journey. Then a few days later I watched an old Super Soul Sunday I'd picked up, in which Oprah interviewed Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild*.

Her story is amazing and I was really impressed.  But as she talked about the journey and her feeling that everyone needs to do that, I found myself thinking, “No, no, no.”  I hate camping.  I like a nice hike of an hour or two and then I want to go back to plumbing and electricity.  While I don’t doubt that I could learn things from such a journey, I just don’t wanna.

When I lived in the Pacific Northwest several friends who were sure I’d love it if I just experienced it–if I’d tried it and not liked it, apparently I just hadn’t been treated to the right experience–so they dragged me off to camp in the woods.  By the end of each experience my guide was so tired of me whining about bugs and wet wood that wouldn’t let us light a fire (leading to NO COFFEE), rocky ground, animals noises, claustrophobia in sleeping bag, etc., they never suggested it again.  Yea!

It occurred to me as Ms. Strayed continued that I’ve been on my own Pacific Crest journey, it’s just played out in my body.  I’ve had to dig deep, discover my mettle, find my own way, learn about myself, etc. in order to traverse this journey through mysterious muscle issues that few knew how to address.

Hard as this has been, as soon as I realized I just walked a different path into the wilderness, I felt so thankful that the Universe didn’t send me out in the real wilderness and make me camp and hike and live with bugs.  Thank you God for this small pleasure — not camping!  I’m gonna try to remember that when my head aches and I haven’t slept for days thanks to the unwinding muscles in my face…

* Link takes you to our beloved local independent bookseller, Joseph Beth.  Please support independent booksellers.

Small Pleasures: Coffee and vision

Bialetti Moka Express Espresso Maker-pot made ...

Bialetti Moka Express Espresso Maker-pot made of aluminum alloy, cast in three parts, plus plastic handle and spout. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After participating in the NaBloPoMo challenge — and the subgroup Nano Poblano– I’ve been looking at some of the other challenges offered on WordPress.  Came across this weekly challenge for Sundays:  Small Pleasures, which invites us to post about small pleasures of the last week, in whatever form — photos, lists, essays, etc.

1.  Early in the fall I discovered that my favorite coffee place, LaCoppa,  still has a mail order business.  When friends in Marin County (CA) reported that the shop closed, I thought they were gone.

I struggled to find another place with coffee anywhere close without success.  So I excitedly put in an order without thinking about how much coffee I already had.

Since my order arrived, one of my greatest pleasures every day has been that great cup of coffee.  I’d just gotten coffee from another place and a friend brought coffee from Pittsburgh, so I’ve been rotating a bit.  This week I finally got around to grinding some of the Espresso Speciale from LaCoppa.  While their Mill Valley Blend is my absolute favorite, the Espresso is pretty great.  There’s a cup sitting beside me as I write and I’m savoring every yummy drop.

2.  I’ve been occasionally chronicling my unwinding head saga, in the Not Just Sassy blog, for a long time.  Short version:  head used to be like cement, a mass of intertwined, twisted up, glued together muscles.  After a few years of craniosacral work, it started unwinding on its own.  It’s been a crazy ride and this last year has been pretty tough.  Friday night, as muscles yanked and jerked, something opened and there’s finally movement in the steely mass behind my left eye.  Since then there’s been a lot of activity and the area around that eye has loosened up quite a bit.  That’s much more than a small pleasure, really.  But definitely a pleasure!

Finding a little Christmas spirit

English: Carols around the Christmas Tree The ...

English: Carols around the Christmas Tree The Mayor’s annual carol service around the Christmas Tree in the Market Place is held every Christmas Eve. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For some years my mother and I have been sharing a house.  There aren’t any children around in the family any more and a several annual Christmas parties that one or both of us attended regularly have ceased to be.  In recent years we’ve felt a serious lack of Christmas spirit during the holiday.  I finally decided that we needed to find a way to make it fun.  Neither of us has a big budget so fun needs to be cheap.

A few things we found:

1.  A candle lighting service at a little Science of Mind-style church a few days before Christmas.  Lots of warm feelings and not particularly denominational.  Loved it and we’re not big on church.

2.  A half-hour Christmas eve service at a local church that’s for children, so just children dressed up as shepherds, etc. reading Christmas verses, punctuated by lots of singing the best Christmas carols.  It gets us out, it gives us some fun watching children have fun… and we get to sing Christmas carols!

3.  There’s an area a few miles from us where people have a neighborhood decorating contest — and can afford the fancy decorations.  One night we just spent some time meandering past decorations.

4.  We thought up a couple of restaurants that we’d not been to for a while and ate out in a new place.

5.  The rolling Bluegrass hills are lovely even in winter, so a ride out of town always cheers us up.

6.  Historic Lexington is still much the same, so we drove around a little bit in the parts of Lexington that hold nostalgia — always fun with my mother, who at 89, points at various houses and reminisces about who used to live there.

7.  A few historic homes around here get dolled up for Christmas and you can tour for a modest fee.

None of it was a big deal.  But just the fact that we chose to get out and do little things that we enjoy really lifted our spirits.  Except for the dining out and small donations at the churches, most of it was free – and we eat out fairly often anyway.

Sometimes it just takes stepping out of routine and doing small things to shift your spirits in a happier direction.  Do you have little drives or house tours or services or similar things you can do to enjoy the holidays more?

Whew!  Written for today’s 10 minute challenge on the Daily Prompt.

Daily Prompt: Feeling Fancy

English: Thoroughbred racing at Churchill Down...

Thoroughbred racing at Churchill Downs.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Today’s Daily Prompt is:  You’re given unlimited funds to plan one day full of any and all luxuries you normally can’t afford. Tell us about your extravagant day with as much detail as possible.

One day makes it tough for me as most of my luxury wishes involve Europe.  Unless I imagine a “beam-me-up” world in which I can be on Ischia or in Montepulciano or Villefranche-sur-Mer in a blink, I’m stuck here in the Bluegrass…  Where, other than some good restaurants, there’s not much to do that would feel luxurious to me.

So let’s stretch credulity and assume I had a heads up far in advance of this day.  I researched offspring of my late grandfather’s (Allen B. Gallaher) champion racehorse, Chilhowee, and arranged to purchase a promising horse from Chilhowee’s bloodline on the day of the Kentucky Oaks (which happens to be my day of luxury).  In honor of this grandfather I never knew*, I name the horse Allen B. Another of granddad’s horses won the Oaks in 1927 so I’ll be covering a couple of bases when my new horse wins.

The race is late in the day, giving me time to pick up cashier’s checks for my favorite charities, then head out to the Iroquois Hunt Club.  I’ve paid through the nose to belong for a day, to swim in my favorite swimming spot ever.  The  Hunt Club is on one of those narrow, winding Kentucky roads and sits in a glen by Boone Creek.  You can float in the pool and look up at tree-lined cliffs as the creek gently flows nearby.  The Club is in an old mill that was built in 1803 and it’s about as unpretentious as it could be.  No, I never rode the hunt, though my aunt did.  I just swam in the pool and wandered the nearby lanes.

English: A narrow country road in the Bluegras...

A narrow country road in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since I loathe crowds and parking in busy places, there’s a limo to whisk me and a few friends from Lexington to a private entrance to the track.  Never been to Churchill Downs so I have no idea if that’s possible but hey, it’s my day so let’s pretend.  For the ride out of Lexington I request that we take the Old Frankfort Pike out to where we can catch the freeway.  The Pike is one of the few relatively untouched horse farm areas.  The gently curving road passes rolling green hills on which horses graze and play–other than a few newer houses, it looks just like it did when I was a child.

I’ve organized a private box to avoid the crowds and there’s a  nice buffet set up with a tantalizing light selection from Lilly’s.  Sorry, no mint juleps.  They’re horrible. Even when my aunt used to make me wander through her parties checking on drinks no one was EVER drinking a mint julep.  I’m just saying.  My crowd would mostly want bottled water or cappuccinos.

Back when my aunt Mary Jane became the first woman turf reporter in something like 1949 she was banned from the press box by the men, so I’d bribe everyone necessary to get my female self a tour of the press box.**  My friends wander down to the rail and, since I actually find the races kind of boring, a masseuse arrives to massage my shoulders and neck and then I snooze in the box until it’s time for  Allen B.’s race.

After I accept the trophy with a charming nod to my forebears in the horse biz :-), the limo heads back to Lexington.  San Francisco’s Kabuki Springs and Spa has been magically transported to Lexington for the day so we’re all able to steam and soak and sauna before heading off to dine at Merrick Inn.  Merrick is in a historic home and much of the cuisine is very Kentucky so it always reminds me of the many restaurants in historic spots around the Bluegrass I’ve enjoyed throughout my life.

Although my aunt Mary Jane tried very hard to press me into “The Horse Crowd”, I never found the endless drinking or the snottiness all that appealing so I’m afraid my day doesn’t involve copious amounts of bourbon nor were any of the folks in my limo Horse People.  No boisterous cocktail parties till all hours.  No one crashing a Jaguar in a tree on the way home*** …  how did I resist all this???.

Nope, after the lovely dinner I’m more than ready to go home and hunker down in front of the TV, laptop in my lap, writing a post about my winning horse.  Sadly I had to sell him at the end of the day.  Happily I don’t have to go to the track any more…

* Both grandfathers died when my parents were children.

**One day she took advantage of being banned to hang out at the rail, leap it and beat the seasoned reporters to a scoop with the winner, which earned her a place in the box.

***  True story:  after a party out on one of the farms, fellow climbed, drunk, into the WRONG Jaguar, missed a curve, hit a tree, died later.

Butternut Squash Pear Soup–Heaven in a Bowl

I have all three of Anna Thomas’s Vegetarian Epicure books and all have recipes that figure regularly in my cooking repertoire.  The one I almost always keep on hand is Butternut Squash Pear Soup from her New Vegetarian Epicure*.  Made a double batch last week and am thrilled to have a big supply in my freezer.

I’m a pretty big tweaker, but this is a recipe that really doesn’t need to change.  I’ve served it to many people and it always garners comments like:  “Nirvana”, “Best soup I’ve ever tasted”, “Amazing”.

I am a lazy cook and I avoid dairy so I have changed some of the process and made one substitution.

10 oz. diced butternut squash
1 large yam
2 cups vegetable broth
1-1/2 cups water
1 stick cinnamon
3/4 tsp salt
2 Tbs. Butter
2 medium onions
3 large Anjou or Bartlett pears
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/4-1/2  cup soy or coconut creamer
white pepper to taste.
optional garnish: chopped chives or sprigs of cilantro
If you don’t mind peeling, gutting and dicing, get a 1 lb squash and do all that.  If you’re like me, get some already diced squash (Trader Joe’s has it) and use kitchen scale to weigh 10 oz. Peel and dice the yam.  Put them both in a pot with the vegetable broth, water, cinnamon stick and salt and simmer until tender, about 40 minutes.

Squash,  yam, cinnamon

Squash, yam, cinnamon

Peel and quarter the onions andthen put through the slicer blade on food processor.  Melt the butter and gently cook the onions in it, stirring occasionally, until it begins to caramelize.  Peel, core and thinly slice the pears and add them to the onions. Continue cooking for about 5 minutes, stirring often.  Add the wine, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

Pears, onions, wine

Pears, onions, wine

Add the pear mixture to the soup, simmer a few more minutes, then discard the cinnamon stick.  Puree everything in a blender in batches or use an immersion blender.  Add thecreamer and some white pepper, and a bit more salt only if needed.  Heat the soup again just to a simmer, but do not boil.  Serve plain or garnished with chopped chives or sprigs of cilantro.

Squash pear soup

Squash pear soup

Serves 6-8
*The link takes you to Joseph Beth Booksellers, a locally owned independent bookstore.  Love to help keep the independent bookstores alive.

 

Hey, Geek Squad, give Linda G. a new laptop

Originally posted on Mark Bialczak:

I think Linda G. Hill deserves a brand new laptop from her local Geek Squad.

Do you want to become part of a grand blogging/social media experiment with me today?

Reblog. Share. See how far we can get this statement out, out, out.

Here’s the back story, as I was reminded by Nano Poblano teammate Linda G’s post Friday.

(From geeksquad.com)

(From geeksquad.com)

She took her broken laptop to her Geek Squad reps with a battery problem half a year ago. The battery they ordered just came in. It was the wrong battery. They want her to wait around some more.

She wondered in her little story why they don’t give her a new laptop. Take a look at the happy Geek Squad agents in the logo I culled directly from their site above? Don’t they look like they might get on the phone, call headquarters, and get the OK to…

View original 326 more words

Born to Dance–More fun on Turner Classic Movies

To be honest, I sometimes forget to even look at TCM’s listings.  Periodically there’s such a run of Westerns or war movies or gangster movies or one star movies that I just quit looking.  But I happened to peruse a few days of their schedule yesterday and saw a spate of ’30’s musicals early this morning.  Most starred Eleanor Powell but the collection featured a host of favorites, so I set record on most of them.

The first one I chose to watch was Born to Dance;  though a lot of the plot made no sense or was silly, I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Buddy Ebsen, Virginia Bruce, and Una Merkel, among others, as side characters were great fun.  Lots of zany 30’s humor kept me laughing.  And the Cole Porter score included a number of his greats.

Una Merkel on the Argentinean Magazine cover.

Una Merkel on the Argentinean Magazine cover. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The song choices also included a couple so stupid I had to remind myself that Cole Porter must have written these too; took him down a notch or two in my estimation…  The tune about the Pekingese… oh boy!

The annual What a Character series is running — bloggers pick character actors and write posts.  I read all the ones she listed on Day 2; well worth checking these out if you like old movies and character actors.  One of the posts noted they used to write great scenes for character actors and that doesn’t happen any more.  This film devoted several long scenes to just the character actors and, with the fresh realization that character actors are no longer given the same status, I appreciated even more what a treat those scenes were.

Although Eleanor Powell’s name is completely familiar to me I can never call a face to mind and as I watched, I really wasn’t sure I’d seen one of her movies.  Since I’m a huge fan of 30’s movies and she was a major star, that surprises me and it’s possible I just don’t remember.

It led me to look her up on line.  I was amazed to find out she was considered the one female dancer who possibly could out-dance Fred Astaire and that he was intimidated by her.  Once I watched her dance, I could really see how this might be.  Apparently a dance number they performed in Begin the Beguine is considered one of the best ever so I’ll be watching for it on the TCM schedule.  Also didn’t know she’s credited with saving a failing MGM in the mid 30’s with her Broadway Melody hits.

All in all great fun.  I’m so looking forward to watching the rest of the recordings over the next few days!

10 questions and 10 answers

A cup of espresso

A cup of espresso (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Liz, over at be.love.live posted 10 questions and 10 answers today and added a list of 10 questions.  The ones she answered were posted on her Love’s blog here.  I seem to often wind up hazy about the instructions for these things.  I gather that I should answer Liz’s 10 and then add 10 of my own.  But I kind of like both sets of theirs and I’m hitting my fatigue wall so brain not functioning to think about new questions.

I’m just going to answer both sets and invite you to answer one or both and, if you like, add another 10 questions of your own. I’m not big on rules so I’d say participate in whatever way suits.

1. What’s your morning routine?

Jump into old comfy sweats.  Use nasal cup. Prepare supplements for the day.  Fix and eat breakfast.  Fix a pot of stove top espresso and hang out savoring my one fabulous cup of coffee of the day.

2. Which part of the year is your favorite, and why?

Hard choice between fall and spring.  I like the moderate weather and the wonderful colors of both of those.

3. What’s your favorite drink?

Coffee.  More specifically espresso based drinks like cappuccinos and lattes; I just make espresso and dump cream in so it’s slightly more like Paris’s cafe creme.

4. What would you do on a day off?

A day of pampering at a spa.

5. Where would you like to go at this moment?

Ischia

6. What’s your favorite dish?

I’m a foodie so that’s a tough one.  Anything fabulous that’s sitting in front of me?  I’m a big lover of French and Italian country cooking so high on the list would be things like beef bourguignon and ribollita.

7. What are the first five things you would save out of a fire?

My mother, cat, laptop, file of old family photos, a beautiful scrapbook that was made for my mother as a child with children’s book and magazine illustrations from late 19th and early 20th century.

8. What’s your favorite book, movie, and TV-series?

Another tough one, since I’m an avid reader, love movies and have always watched too much TV.  Probably all time favorite book would be a tie between Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Secret Garden and Georgette Heyer’s The Grand Sophy.  Movie:  such a fan of 30’s films, it’s hard to pick; all those William Powell, Myrna Loy, Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, etc. movies.  TV:  current, Parenthood, all time, Friday Night Lights

9. What’s your favorite music right now?

Paul Horn, Inside the Taj Mahal

10. What are you looking forward to in the next week?

Working on Thanksgiving.

And Liz’a 10 questions

1. What moment from your life always makes you smile when you remember it?

There was a crazy moment on one of my house sitting getaways in Marin:  I was SO thrilled to be there.   I went out one perfect day for my favorite walk and when I hit this winding, tree-lined country-style road I love I starting doing a happy dance right then and there.

2. What are three words to describe who you are (not what you do)?

Determined, serene, becoming

3. What movie or tv-series could you watch over + over?

Gilmore Girls, Return to Me, Philadelphia Story, Friday Night Lights (TV, not movie)

4. What song would be the soundtrack to your life?

Justin Hayward’s version of This is the Moment

5. Who is the most memorable/interesting person that you have met in 2014, and why?

My friend Cecy brought her friend Bozena to Lexington not long ago.  We had lunch and spent the day at the races. Bozena and I just had so much in common and felt so instantly comfortable– I look forward to seeing her again.

6. You’ve been given a month to travel! Where are you going to go?

The south of France, Tuscany, Elba and the Amalfi Coast/Ischia

7. What websites do you visit every day?

WordPress!  Earthlink Webmail. And I’m out…

8. What is your nighttime routine?

Don’t exactly have one; other than the usual ablutions and reading a bit, my night time schedule these days is so all over the map, I don’t have a routine I can plan on accomplishing.  Which kind of works for me since I don’t much like schedules or rules…

9. What is your favorite space in your home? Describe it!’

Because of issues with my hips, I’m more comfortable sitting on the floor — keeps them even.  So I have a stadium seat thingy on the floor, leaning against a chair with a lap desk nearby.  It’s not far from the TV, which I run incessantly– often not paying much attention, sometimes on a music channel.  Much of the time my laptop is in my lap and I’m reading blogs, writing posts or a piece of my book, researching, playing games, etc.  Sometimes I sit the computer on the lap desk and actually pay attention to something on TV.

10. What are you longing for?

Having good enough health, energy and strength to rejoin the world.

Thanksgiving – dressing update

A few years ago I posted my Thanksgiving menu with recipes; all of them tweaked to reflect a no wheat no dairy diet.  I’ve tweaked the dressing a bit more, so thought I’d give an update.

The original dressing recipe came from Barefoot Contessa. I first tweaked it by using gluten-free stuffing cubes from Whole Foods.  I found them hard to work with, though, because they’re too large for the way I fix dressing.  I use a cupcake pan and make individual servings–every serving has some of that crunchy outside. The cubes are also hard as rocks and almost impossible to cut.

The second time I made it I ground them in the food processor; they were tough for the food process to grind but eventually I got there.  It worked much better but made me wonder why I needed the cubes — gluten-free bread crumbs are readily available so that went into the next round.  This year I’ll be using the crumbs.  I add 2 tsp each of thyme and sage to get the seasoned bread crumb flavor.

I use apple cider instead of Calvados, mostly because I don’t keep Calvados or brandy on hand and I always have apple cider. And I skip the pine nuts–just a personal taste thing.

With the sausage, figs and cranberries, this dressing is hearty and SO delicious.  Plus, the individual, small muffin size servings can be made ahead and put in the freezer.  I like to make Thanksgiving in steps so that very little is left to do on that day.  That way I can sit down for the meal feeling relaxed and well instead of wishing I could just skip dinner and go to bed.

It MIGHT snow tomorrow — stock up on milk :-)

English: Uath Lochan in light snow

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My family has deep roots in Kentucky (back to the 1790’s) but I grew up in Michigan and lived in the Chicago area for many years.  So I’ve been here in the Bluegrass for 15+ years and I still get the biggest kick out of how much everybody here freaks out about winter.

When I was a kid we prayed for snow days; in Michigan they waited until the last possible minute (i.e. 6 a.m. that day) to decide whether to cancel school.  There had to be something like 10 inches already on the ground for us to get a day off.  No such thing as calling school because it was too cold.  In Chicago the kids even go to school on those days when the windchill is 55 or 85 below zero.

Here in Kentucky if they tell you on Thursday afternoon that it MIGHT snow tomorrow, school and business closings start rolling across the screen within the hour.   People flood the grocery stores and buy up all the milk and bread.  Because you know how often you hear that Kentucky has had so much snow that no one can get out of their house.

In my lifetime-62 years –that would be …. NEVER.  Once there was a big snow that messed up the freeways for a week or so but nobody in my family mentioned being unable to get out in town.

If there’s a light dusting of snow that melts instantly, leaving the streets wet, people slow down and drive 5 mph.  The same folks drive like bats out of hell if it’s raining… leaving the streets wet.  No one can explain to me why wet streets are sometimes a cause for terror and other times cause for no concern at all.

If the temperature dips to something like 5 or 10 degrees, school is cancelled because there’s apparently something bad for children about walking from the drop-off by the school to the school in 10 degrees.  Often on the same day it’s 20 below in northern Minnesota or Michigan and kids walk to school.

This Winter Panic Syndrome apparently happens pretty much anywhere in the South where winter  weather occasionally shows up.  I just can’t figure out why the panic in places where there’s rarely more than an inch of snow or a brief dip in temperature.

They say there may be snow starting late tomorrow and going into Monday.  Uh oh.  Better buy a few gallons of milk.  Or not.  I don’t eat/drink dairy.  And I’m not afraid we’ll be housebound beyond the limits of our well-stocked fridge and freezer.  Because this is Kentucky, not the Upper Peninsula.  And you can actually drive with snow on the ground.  To the groceries stores, which miraculously don’t close just because it snowed.