Monday, March 13, 2017

Hello from very wet Seattle…

I have not posted anything to my blog in about four years, but I’m ready to make a fresh start.  Previously, this was all about food and the comforts of home and garden, as the roof of shelter over our heads, and the foundation of a floor beneath our feet.  And I will still share thoughts on these essential elements of life, but there is a whole world beyond my window that cries for attention and expression.

On this wet, mid-March day, my thoughts have drifted back to a sunny late summer memory of a glorious trip through France last year.  This image of the water lily garden at Giverny, just outside of Paris, reminds me that my favorite painter of all time, the master of Impressionism, Claude Monet, is still my lodestar of artistic guidance.

As his eyesight failed him, his passion to express what he saw was not diminished, but rather intensified through his later work.  As my eyesight begins to cheat me of all I used to love to do and am no longer able to because I’ve lost that very fine precision, I am turning to other passions.  I may not be able to read so well anymore, but I can still write.  I may not be able to sew as I used to, but fashion is irrelevant anyway.  I can still work in the garden, prepare a fine meal, and yes, I can still paint.

We will be taking a road trip with our precious border collie, Trace, in late April.  We will be following the coast all the way down to Southern California, and will even visit the desert of Anza Borrego.  With all the rain that California has weathered through this season, we are expecting the hills to be splashed with riotous color of exuberant wildflowers finally able to quench a six year long drought of thirst.

I will have my journal, my sketch book and my camera, ready to drink in the glory of spring…

Friday, January 25, 2013

Sunday Breakfast at Betty's

Like most families, we always have a special breakfast on Sunday morning, to set it apart from the hum drum of every other day.  It usually includes bacon and maple syrup in some combination with other menu choices.  Betty is often here for the weekend so we love to do a bit of a B & B special for her.  This past Sunday, we were at her house for breakfast. 
She wanted to make her special French toast for us, but she had used the last of the loaf of cinnamon raison bread that I had made for her.  Could I please make another one and bring it for her?  No problem; except I was out of raisons.  I substituted dried cranberries and added a small handful of chopped walnuts, just for a little added interest.
These loaves are always somewhat dense because of all the stuff that’s in them, so they work really well for French toast.  Betty soaked the thick slices in the egg mixture, and then placed them in her nicely buttered pan.  When she flipped them over, I suggested she might sprinkle them with a little cinnamon sugar and a little pat of butter.  Better yet, she melted the butter and cinnamon sugar in a bowl in the microwave, and then brushed the toasts with the sauce. 
Scrambled eggs, bacon, and French toast drizzled with a little ginger syrup.  Yum!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Balsamic Vinegar Reductions

Two years ago, I received as a gift, a lovely bottle of white balsamic vinegar that was slightly sweet in its softness, yet still with the unmistakable character of vinegar.  Hardly a vinegar, truly.  Perfectly clear light gold in its elegant bottle, when poured it was almost a very thin syrup.  Checking the label, the ingredient simply stated: Must of white grapes from Modena. 
I know this little bottle was very expensive, so it lasted me a year, until my son gave me another one.  Now the second bottle is almost gone.  Off and on over these past two years, I’ve tried to replicate its soft sweetness by adding a touch of sugar to other white balsamics.  Not at all the same thing.
I guess I’m a little slow that it took me so long to finally put two and two together to come up with the obvious answer.  A reduction.
When making jam, for instance, the sweetness and essence come from boiling away the water content in the fruit.  When making a wine or port reduction, at least half the water content is simmered off to make the intense syrup that still maintains the character of the wine or port, but with none of the alcohol and all of the sugar.  The same method is used in making a balsamic glaze.
Of course, the trick in all of this is how much the fruit, wine, port, vinegar needs to reduce to have the desired result.  When my sister Betty and I went on a cruise to Alaska, we had the memorable experience of one evening at the Chef’s table.  He explained that the thick, burgundy-hued syrup that he drizzled artfully over Crostinis and melted Brie came from a full bottle of port: 750ml slowly reduced to one cup.  Since there are a little over three  eight ounce cups in such a bottle, he had to reduce his port by at least two thirds.
I started by making a balsamic glaze.  I simmered two cups of Kirkland brand balsamic vinegar (from Costco) and reduced it to one cup.  That seemed about right except it resulted in a syrup that was almost too thick, so I added in a little more vinegar.  Next time, I will let it reduce from three cups to two and check it then.

Now came the true test.  I poured a full 16.9oz. bottle of Trader Joe’s white balsamic vinegar (somewhat tart all on its own) into a saucepan, and reduced it to 10ozs.  Still a little too sharp, so I simmered a few minutes longer to 8ozs.  I set the timer on this so that I could watch it more carefully (I tend to forget how long something’s been cooking away).  The whole process took about a half hour.
Now came a taste test.  I broke off a little bread and set out little dishes of about a teaspoon of each of the reductions: the balsamic glaze, the amazing white balsamic from Modena, and my effort to duplicate it.  Joe would have to be my taste tester.

As I suspected (because he really has a sweet tooth), his favorite was the reduction made from the Kirkland brand of balsamic vinegar.  His next choice, of course, was the true white balsamic, though he did say that my effort to duplicate was close. 
This effort has inspired me to try other flavors and to move beyond my basic herb infused garlic olive oil.  Delicacy has never been my forte in the kitchen, but I’m determined to explore more subtleties of taste.  For example:  Why not try something with an essence of Meyer lemon, since they are in season right now?

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Christmas Fleece

Embroidered Throws

The fleece was on sale, so I bought a yard of each color.  I thought I'd be able to make fleece tops, but a yard wasn't quite enough, so I just made throws, serged the edges, and did a little embroidery on each.  The little cat is for our new grandson, due to enter this awesome world in the beginning of January.  Our first grandson, after five granddaughters. 

Embroidered Fleece Tops

I went back to the fabric store and bought a little more fleece, enough to make two tops for our two older granddaughters.  I made a pattern a long time ago and have used it again and again.  With my serger, these only take about a half hour to make.  The embroidery is done by my machine, which stitches away while I do something else.  I only have to be mindful to change the colors of the threads.  I guess it's a little like having a stand mixer that kneads the dough for bread while I do something else!

Our Christmas Table

We had a lovely Christmas, with not quite as big a group as we generally have.  I like that because it's possible to engage in more conversation.  And since our house is kind of small, we don't feel quite so crowded.  Even so, as I look at this image, the table seems to stretch on for miles!

I'm looking forward to a productive and blessed new year. 

And I can't wait to hold my new grandson in my arms!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

"Tis the Season

My sister and I were experimenting with our iPhones at dinner the other night.  The light was low because Joe really likes the atmospherics, though I like to see the dinner I've carefully prepared!  Betty has the new iPhone5 and I have the 4S.  So we wanted to see the difference in quality of pictures.  Not much, it turns out.

Christmas Cactue in bloom

I like this image and put it on my phone as the wallpaper.  Then I tried cropping it and putting it here as the banner image for the header.

Hours later and with no success in the process, I called Kimmie for help.  I sent her the raw image as an email and in minutes she had it cropped and sized appropriately.  

We still don't know what I did wrong, but she said next time I want to change my banner image, I should just call her.

Blown Egg painted by Kimmie

Over the years we've gotten together to make tree ornaments.  This is one that Kimmie made a long time ago.  Maybe even before she was married.  It's one of my favorites.

I made this about 20 years ago, I think.

Decorated with leftover scraps from a wedding dress I made for a client.

My father taught me how to blow eggs many years ago.  He was so good at it he could blow out the contents with only a small pin hole at either end.  I'm not so good.  

With sharp scissors, I pierce each end of the egg, carefully turning the blade to create a slightly larger hole to make it easier to blow into, and blow out the contents.

It's easy to mod podge tissue paper over the egg and cover the holes, then decorate it; it stays quite strong that way 

With a long needle (I use a beading needle), it's possible to pass a thin wire through the egg so that it can be hooked onto the tree.

Maybe I'll make more eggs this year...

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Luscious Soaps

I've been tinkering with fragrances for these soaps I've been making.

The latest is a combination of geranium, frankincense, and grapefruit, with a smidgen of lavander to soften the intensity a bit.

Putting my nose to the test.

I'm selling them for $6.00 on Etsy, or three for $15.00, with a break on the shipping.  

I have a bit of a factory going in the guest room, where I put the soaps to cure.

When Mary walked in (she was trying on a dress she wanted me to hem up), she ordered nine soaps on the spot.  They'll be ready for her to pick up in about two weeks, in time for Christmas.

When the soap is poured (spooned) into the mold, it's the consitency of soft whipped cream; so it has little puffy mounds.

I Polish the soap with a soft cloth, to smooth out some rough edges.

This is a batch of lavender, frankincense and ginger scented soaps that is ready to go.  Ten of these will be delivered to my sister's English friend, who adores this soap and will be giving it to her friends as stocking stuffers.

Tomorrow, I'll start a new batch, with a more manly combination of scents.  This time I'll combine eucalyptus, lemon, ginger and bergamot.  I woul have used cardamom, but the essential oil is $59.00 an ounce!

These soaps are so soft on the skin and lather up really well.  I've refined a recipe that includes olive oil, palm oil, coconut oil, and 20% shea butter.  Very nourishing...

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Pooch Pouch

The Pooch Pouch with Frisbee, Chucker and Tennis Balls

We have a young border collie.  This sentence pretty well defines the activities of our days.  Trace is very smart, very focused, and needs a lot of exercise.  Or, as anyone who owns a working dog knows, he needs a job.  All the time.  We are fortunate to live near a very good off-leash dog park where we can take him to run, to fetch, to retrieve, even to swim.  He makes me think of a football player as he dodges other dogs, weaving in and out, in order to catch the ball with a graceful leap in the air.
Joe used to carry the balls in a plastic poop bag which he secured to the loop of his jeans.  He got very frustrated when the bag tore or snarled.  “Can’t you make something for me that will work better than this?” he said in exasperation.  So I thought about it and came up with what we are calling the Pooch Pouch.
Large enough to hold all necessary play toys, small enough to hang from your belt loops

Even if you don’t have a dog, but love to garden, for instance, this is a pretty useful piece of equipment.
Jean top cut in half before being sewn together differently

I took a pair of Joe’s old jeans, worn out at the knees, and cut the top part in half, then sewed the two halves together so that the front now has the rear pocket of the jeans, and the back is now the front pocket of the jeans. 
Pooch Pouch with all its toys and Spring Clips ready to attach to your jeans

Frisbee, balls, toys, towel, go inside the sewn together halves.  Treats or poop bags can go in the rear pocket (now the front). 
Front pocket with phone and car keys.  Side loop holds the Chucker

The front pocket of the jeans can hold car keys, cell phone, protected from falling out by being snug against your hip.  Two spring links are attached to the pouch loops, and then attached to the jeans.  I used some of the rest of the cut up jean to make a loop for the Chucker.
Repurposed and recycled, Joe's old gardening jeans are newly useful.
Joe loves his new pouch so much he was able to sell one to a dog walker at the park.  So now, I’ve made a bunch of them, cutting up old jeans I bought at Goodwill.  I keep them in the car when we go to the park so that maybe I can sell one to another dog walker!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Sourdough French Bread

Sourdough French Bread, right out of the oven

Perhaps the trickiest thing I’ve tried to do over this past year has been to finally succeed at making a good sourdough loaf of bread.  For me it’s almost been an obsession.  Since the days of living in California, especially near San Francisco, I have sought that elusive sweetly sour tang of a good artisan sourdough.  Yes, I know, it’s always deliciously served in a good restaurant: still warm, crunchy in the crust and chewy in the crumb.  Even better when it has a lot of holes, as in a Ciabatta, Joe’s very favorite kind of bread.
What follows is the step by step process that has finally led to a pretty good sourdough bread, with every successive loaf getting better and better as the starter continues to develop.
To make the starter:
1 cup warm water
1 cup bread flour (high gluten)
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
Mix all ingredients in a large glass jar with a wooden spoon until well blended. A one quart mason jar works well.  Put loosely closed jar in the oven with the light on for gentle warmth. 
After 24 hours, open the jar.  It should be bubbly at the top (if it looks pink or has a bad smell, throw it out and start over again).  Stir to mix.  Remove one cup and throw it out.  Add one cup warm water and one cup flour back into the jar and mix well.  Cover again and put back in oven with light on.  If you need to use the oven in the meantime, keep the jar of developing starter in a warm place.
Repeat this process for four more days.  By the end of five days, the starter should have a slightly sour smell and may even smell a little like paint (strange to say), or beer.  Each time you open the lid to “feed” your starter it should be a little bubbly.  The consistency should be like pancake batter.  
By this time, your starter is ready to use.  For every cup of starter used, refresh your starter with one cup warm water and one cup flour.  Every once in a while you can give it a boost with a pinch of sugar and a pinch of yeast.  When not using, starter should be refrigerated.  It will develop a clear to light brown liquid at the top.  This is the alcohol from the fermentation process.  Just stir it in when ready to use starter again.  If your jar gets too full of starter you can reduce by one fourth the amount of flour and water you add every time you use a cup. 

Sourdough French Bread
¾  cup warm water
1 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup sourdough starter
3 cups bread flour
1 ½ teaspoons salt
Put ingredients in bowl of stand mixer in order listed.  Knead with dough hook attachment for 10 minutes.  Put dough in large, well oiled bowl and cover with a light cloth.  Place in oven with light on for first rise, about two hours or until dough has doubled in size. 
Turn dough out onto well floured board and flatten with your palm to let out air.  Shape dough by folding it over and over with your hand to form a long roll about 15”-18” long and about 3” in diameter.  Place on floured parchment paper.  Score the top with diagonal cuts, using a sharp knife, every 3” or so.  Let rise for second rise until double in size (about one hour).
If you have a baking stone or a pizza stone, Place in oven and heat oven to 425°.  Slip parchment paper with dough onto heated stone.  Spray oven walls and dough with water and close door immediately.  If you don’t have a stone, put parchment paper on cookie sheet, then dough on parchment paper and put in preheated oven.  Cook for 30 to 45 minutes until bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped with your finger. Let cool on wire rack. 
Or, tear it apart then and there and slather it with butter.  Yum!

Sunday, October 21, 2012


After much fussing and frustration, I finally have a banner image that is sized to my liking.  Thank you Grace, for your advice.  I took a bunch more pictures, all horizontal, and this is the result.
Golden Cherry Tomatoes, still going strong
Hydrangeas, still in bloom

Fall Colors

My favorite old French Lavender Plant

Fall is always so beautiful in all its brilliant splendor as well as the more subtle muted shades that are still so vibrant.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


After many months away, it was time to revisit Roof and Floor.

I thought a new header image might be a good start.  Redoing the colors might also give a fresh look to the page. 

The new face of Blogger was a bit of a challenge at first.  Where was the apply changes button??  Searching on the help line (which is very helpful), I was directed to the upper right corner of the template page, but all I saw was a pale yellow box.  Not until I clicked on it were the words visible: apply changes.  My eyesight is pretty good, but this was a daunting challenge as I squinted closely at the screen.

But my greatest challenge has been the image placement in the header.  No matter how I've cropped or resized, the image invariably comes in vertically when I want it to be horizontal.  I finally decided to simply resize the image so now I have a huge blank space where I wish my image could fill.

I welcome any advice that might fix this!  Help!

Meantime, here are some images of my first successful effort at drying hydrangeas without losing their color or texture.  Kimmie led me this way: wait until the blooms are leathery and almost done, then strip the leaves and put the blooms in a vase without water.

These started out blue, but turned this vibrant purple as they finished their season

Dried and in a vase on my desk

Closeup of dried bloom

Since I destroyed my camera by leaving it our in the rain, I've been using my iPhone 4s, which takes remarkable pictures, but may be the reason I can't manipulate the images--even if i've done so in the phone.

I am utterly baffled by this problem and welcome any advice...

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Stretching Meals & Stretching the Budget

That’s what it’s all about these days.  How can I spend less and love it more—or at least as much?  Joe just walked into the kitchen.  “It sure smells good!” he said.  “That’s what’s so great about living in this house…” and he walked back into his office, knowing there would be something good to eat in a bit, and I could have the satisfaction of a worthwhile effort.
We like to have a little snack late in the afternoon.  For him it was always a few crackers with a bit of low-fat Laughing Cow cheese.  And I am particularly fond of chips and salsa.  Trouble is, the crackers get expensive and can be challenging for someone trying not to put on extra pounds.  The same is true for chips.  So we’ve substituted crackers and chips with toasted tortilla chips that I make periodically.  And of course, it’s easy to make my own salsa and I like that I know exactly what it’s made of. 
Fresh Tortilla Chips, right out of the oven

Today Joe smelled a fresh batch of tortilla chips toasting in the oven.  And yesterday, I made a huge jar of salsa so we’re set for awhile.  I make the chips from tortillas that I get at Costco.  I think the bag has a total of 40 tortillas for less than $5 and it makes enough chips to last about a month (if I don’t use some of the tortillas for tacos or burritos or quesadillas…) so I think that’s quite a bit cheaper than crackers or bags of chips.  Besides, since they’re baked instead of fried, that means less calories for us.
Last night we had spaghetti with marinara sauce and a bit of Italian sausage.  The sauce was a leftover (of course), so I stretched it a bit with a little more onion sautéed with one link of sausage which we would share.  I added a little red wine to the sauce and let it simmer for a bit to develop its flavors while I cooked the spaghetti.  For some reason, I really felt like cream but I didn’t want to put it in the sauce because there would be enough sauce left for yet another meal.  Instead, when the spaghetti was done, I drained it and added about 2 tablespoons of cream to it and a clove of crushed garlic.  I tossed that in the pot and then served it with the sauce over it and a bit of Asiago cheese grated on top.  The creaminess in the spaghetti softened the acidity of the sauce just enough.  Italian comfort food, I think.
I’m still trying to come up with a good sourdough starter—without much success so far.  The first batch I tried smelled bad instead of sour so I threw it away.  The second batch I made smelled okay but the resulting bread was definitely less than sour.  Good, but not sourdough.  I thought maybe I could buy the starter if I couldn’t make it.  No store seems to carry anything like that.  I went online and saw a site that was selling starter for $6.95.  Finally I went to and may have finally found what I was looking for.  And the reviews were all really positive, so I’m trying again.
The suggestion was to put the starter mix in a bowl, loosely covered, and put it in the oven with the oven light on for gentle warmth.  Seemed like a good plan and when I peeked it looked bubbly the way it’s supposed to look and it was beginning to get that nice, distinctly sourdough fragrance.  Then I forgot the bowl was in the oven.  I set the oven to preheat for the chips I was making and remembered the bowl just in time.  It got a little warm, but hopefully not too warm to kill the starter.  It still looks okay so all I can do is wait a day or two while it finishes doing what it’s supposed to do—get sour.
Zinnia seeds just beginning to sprout

On another front, I’ve started some seeds in flats which I’ve placed at the south-facing window of my office.  Seeds from the incredible tomatoes we had last summer will be germinating soon in their new little beds—I hope.  Kim gave me some heirloom flower seeds for Christmas.  When I exclaimed about the price on each packet she said, “You want to know what I paid for those packets? Ten cents apiece!  They were on sale at the end of the season.”  Smart girl, that daughter of mine.  She knows how to stretch a dollar really well!
Precious tomato seeds

Here, then, are two recipes:
Creamy Spaghetti with Marinara & Italian Sausage
1 hot Italian sausage link
½ medium sweet onion
2 cups marinara sauce with mushrooms
¼ cup red wine
¼ package spaghetti
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 garlic clove, crushed
½ teaspoon each ground sea salt and herbs de Provence
Sauté sausage and chopped onion in small deep pan until sausage is cooked through and onions are translucent.  Add sauce and simmer a few minutes.  Add wine, stir to combine, cover and simmer while spaghetti cooks.
Cook spaghetti in salted boiling water according to package directions.  Using a spider, drain water from pot.  Stir in cream, herbs, salt, and crushed garlic.
Ladle into bowls and top with 1 cup sauce and ½ link sausage per serving.  Grate cheese on top and serve immediately.  Serves two.

Sourdough Starter (adapted from
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 cups warm water
2 cups bread flour
Mix together in large non-reactive bowl.  Cover loosely and leave in a warm place to ferment for a few days.  If you put it in the oven with the oven light on, don’t forget that it’s in there (like I did!)
When mixture is bubbly and has a pleasantly sour smell it is ready to use.  Replace what you use with a fresh equal amount of flour and water and a pinch of sugar.  So, if you use 1 cup of starter, add 1 cup of water and 1 cup of flour plus a pinch of sugar to remaining starter.

I haven’t made bread with this starter yet because I think it’s still too young and not ripe enough.  Besides, I still have a lot of bread left from the last time I tried making sourdough.  As I said, it’s still good, but definitely not sour.
Meantime, my granddaughter (age thirteen) sent me a picture of Challah bread she made.  It’s perfect and so beautiful, I can almost smell it through the picture!  Yet again, I’m reminded of the long and wonderful heritage we share that has taught us, from my mother to my daughter, to my granddaughter, that we can live frugally—yet splendidly.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Meyer Lemon Marmalade

Meyer Lemons, ready to pick
My little Meyer lemon tree was finally ready to give up its glorious fruit.  Every day, I’ve been testing the golden globes to judge how close they might be to finally dropping into my hand, like a ripe tomato.  Since April of last year, when I first swooned over the intensely fragrant blossoms, I have been watching the progress of the fruit as it first began to appear in little green nuggets.  I suppose I could have picked the fruit a little sooner but I wanted as much ripening on the tree as possible.

I picked six lemons, leaving the remaining green ones to grow and ripen in their own good time.  Oddly enough, these are from a second blooming of the tree, which happened when we brought the tree in from the coming cold of late fall.
Sliced lemons in water with tea strainer full of seeds

I would make marmalade so that we could savor the taste just a little longer than if I chose to use them in another kind of recipe.  And I would make the marmalade the same way that I make orange marmalade since these little beauties were almost as sweet.  When I sliced them very thin I could see that there were a lot of seeds which would be very good for the natural pectin.  Perhaps I wouldn’t have to boil down the sugar quite so long.  I put the slices in a big bowl with a quart of water and put the seeds in a tea strainer and let it stand overnight.  The next day, I poured all this into my All-Clad stock pot, which I always use for making jam, and set it to cook slowly until it was reduced to four cups total.  I dumped in four cups of sugar, stirred it a little to dissolve and let the jam cook a little longer while I prepared the jars.
Meyer Lemon Marmalade

Joe loves this jam.  I didn’t think he would because it’s a lemon, after all.  But the lemony tartness is softened by the subtle tangerine hint that is so distinctive in a Meyer lemon.  I always thought this was a hybrid of a lemon and a tangerine, but in fact, the Meyer lemon is its own identity and not a cross of anything else.  The jam tastes a little like lemon curd but not as cloyingly sweet.  On a piece of baguette in the morning with an easy over egg fresh from my neighbor’s chickens, a half grapefruit and a steaming cup of black coffee and I’m in heaven.  Joe and I have decided that breakfast is by far our favorite meal and invariably exclaim with joy when we have finished the last crumb.
Joe's breakfast: scrambled eggs, turkey sausage and toast with marmalade

My breakfast: egg easy over with my own hot sauce (very hot), toast and marmalade

Meyer Lemon Marmalade
6 large Meyer lemons
4 cups water
4 cups sugar
Slice lemons in half, then in quarters, and slice each quarter very thinly.  Remove the seeds and put them either in a cheesecloth bag or a tea strainer.  Put the lemon slices, the seeds and the 4 cups of water in a bowl or a non-reactive pot, cover and let stand overnight.
After 24 hours, put pot on moderate heat and cook down to make 4 cups, about 45 minutes.  Add the sugar and continue cooking an additional 15 minutes or so, until jam is at soft-jell.  To test, put a little on a cold plate, tilt plate and if the jam slides slowly on the plate, it is done.  
Ladle into sterilized ½ pint jars.  Seal jars and boil in hot water bath for 10 minutes.  Makes 5 jars.  Will keep up to 1 year (if you don’t eat it all before then!)

Friday, January 20, 2012

Snowed In

Our Gardening Shed

This was a storm that had been expected to last only a few concentrated days of cold and snow, to be followed by a kind of “Pineapple Express” that would bring warm temperatures and lots of rain to melt away the anticipated 6 to 8 inches of snow.  We usually have fairly mild winters with only a few seasonal events.  This was one of them.  I guess it was our turn to get on the national evening news.
Late Wednesday night, when this was all supposed to be winding down and turning to rain, the snow continued to come—even more heavily.  Laden trees snapped their branches and knocked out power lines.  Just as our power went out, I looked out the window and saw an enormous flash and heard an immediate loud bang coming from the transformer across the street.  Throughout the remainder of the night, the snowplows criss-crossed our neighborhood streets, trying to stay ahead of the snow, even as power trucks were also repairing downed lines.  By morning our power was back, but the hard work of the snow crews was to no avail and it was evident that we wouldn’t be going anywhere—unless it was on foot or with skis.
But there is something splendid and even magical about this kind of enforced slowing down.  I called my young son to find out how he had fared and whether he had been able to get to work.  He drives a modest sedan, lives in the city but has to commute north to Everett for his job.  “Not too bad,” he said.  “You just have to take it easy and not go over sixty on the freeway.”  That being the speed limit anyway, I had to assume the freeway was clear—though reports on the news seemed to show otherwise.  As for my daughter, she and her family were at the epicenter of the storm, but since her husband is a teacher, this became a week of unplanned vacation, a time to slow down and breathe deeply.  There is much to appreciate when we can take the time to notice more.  I wasn’t concerned about my other son, knowing he would thoroughly enjoy any opportunity to put his Jeep Rubicon through some demanding road testing. 
View from my office window as I write

For Joe and me, this has been a time for reflection, coming finally to the understanding that we are really quite retired.  It’s been especially hard for Joe, because he’d really rather work—if there could be work to be had.  It’s not his idea to be put on the shelf while his colleagues continue to be creatively involved with clients.  And, truth be told, I also enjoy the stimulation of doing the kind of work that we have done together for so many years.  But it is what it is and we have no clients, so we accept our retirement and enjoy these times of quiet appreciation for the life that God has given us.
Meyer Lemons...almost ready

Baby lemon, still growing
Dried Dill silhouetted against snowy scene
Snow on the skylights...snow out the window, still coming down

I’ve been taking a lot of pictures, trying for a different perspective to capture the essence of what this week has been like.  Today it rained as the temperature went from below 30 to nearly 40 degrees.  Where we had snowbound streets, we now have mounds of gray slush that are quickly turning to rivers in the streets and all the parking lots.  Definitely not as picturesque! Joe and I ventured out, but are happy to be home again, ready for another lovely fire in the fireplace this evening.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

First Snow and Italian Sausage Soup

Last night, we had one of Joe’s favorite meals.  He is, after all, Italian.  My favorite market, which is usually too pricey, except when they have a special kind of deal, had fresh, small manila clams on sale for $3.99 a pound.  I bought a scant pound, just enough for dinner and maybe a little left over.  I would make Linguine Alle Vongole, linguini with clam sauce.
Trace came out with me, of course, to fetch the parsley from the remains of my herb bed.  It was dark (it seems that it’s always dark now after 5:00, even though the days are supposedly beginning to get longer) and I had to step cautiously because it had begun to snow earlier and there was almost an inch of accumulation already.  I groped for the parsley with one hand and snipped with my scissors, each little remaining head of parsley capped with a bit of snow.  Amazingly, it was still green and fresh and still seemed to be growing.  Our winter has been mild so far and the sleeping garden seems to like that.
This particular dish is my idea of really good comfort food.  Served in a soup bowl with a sprinkling of grated parmesan and a crusty piece of bread to sop up the wonderful sauce, it’s easy to understand why Joe, my sweet Sicilian husband, would love this so much.  It’s like bringing the sunshine in.

This morning, we woke up to a fresh winter wonderland.  It was still snowing when we took Trace for a morning romp.  We only had to say the word “walk” almost in a whisper and his ears shot up and he sat at attention, ready to go.  We barely had to ask him to get his collar or Joe’s shoes (mine were already outside).  He ran eagerly to Joe, collar in mouth, ready to go. 
As always, with a fresh snow, all sound seems to disappear into the whiteness. Our feet made a soft muffled thunk in the wet snow and every once in a while a clump of fresh snow fell from a branch and dropped to the ground in a whisper.  Sunday and no one was out and the streets were still pristinely white.  I was surprised to note that our lovely border collie actually looked a little dingy against the snow, his usually snowy collar now almost creamy by comparison.

Joe had the chucker and a ball so that was all that counted, as far as Trace was concerned.  Such a luxurious pleasure it was to watch him run flat out, in the street, free and unleashed, doing his border collie thing.  He ran and ran, not just chasing the ball, but running for the sheer pleasure of breaking free in his own neighborhood.  At some point, even he had to rest and catch his breath and lie in a snow bank, ball in mouth, tongue out, panting with pleasure.

I made an Italian sausage soup for lunch.  This kind of day called for a hearty soup, especially after a morning’s exercise in the snowy neighborhood.  I had some concentrated chicken juices from the roast chicken we had last week, and a couple of sausage links in the freezer.  This would also be a good time to begin to use some of the greens that I had frozen this past summer.  Joe was watching a football game, and I could hear the action from the kitchen (I’ve come to enjoy football, at least at the end of the season when the best teams duke it out), and as I put the soup together, I realized I was as happy as I ever could be.  I could look out toward the street and the trees, dressed in a white lace of snow, as we were snug and safe in our warm home, lights glowing softly, TV action in the next room, our border collie splayed out on the rug, relaxed after a big run.
We may be at the low end of the income ladder, but we have enough.  We have a snug home, we have our love and our health, and I’m making a good soup for lunch.  Life is good.

Italian Sausage Soup
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons EVOO
½ onion, chopped
1 or 2 Italian sausage links cut in pieces
1 carrot, chopped
1 cup chopped celery
1 can diced tomatoes, with juice
1 can great Northern beans, with juice
8 cups chicken stock (I used leftover pan juices, which are quite concentrated, and water to make about 8 cups)
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning (or Herbs de Provence—the same thing)
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 package frozen leaf spinach (I used 1 packet of frozen turnip greens from this summer)
In a large pot on medium heat, sauté the garlic, onions, sausage and herbs together for a few minutes or until sausage has cooked through.  Add carrots, celery, tomatoes, and beans and toss together.  Add stock and spinach and simmer until flavors blend, about thirty minutes.  Add ground sea salt and pepper to taste. 
Place a crusty piece of bread in a soup bowl and ladle soup over it.  Grate a bit of Parmesan cheese over the soup and serve.  Makes about twelve cups of soup.

Linguine Alle Vongole Linguini with Clam Sauce
¼ cup EVOO
4 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 can diced tomatoes
¼ cup white wine
1 pound small Manila clams
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1/3 package linguini pasta
In a deep pan, large enough to hold the clams, sauté the garlic and half the chopped parsley on medium heat, only until the garlic is fragrant and still golden, about 2 minutes.  Add the tomatoes and cook until much of the juice has thickened, about 20 minutes.  Add the wine and simmer for about 2 minutes until alcohol has cooked off.
Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to boil.  Drizzle in about a tablespoon of olive oil and add pasta.  Cook according to package directions, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Toss the clams into the sauce and cover immediately.  Cook about 5-7 minutes.  Discard any clams that have not opened.  Add the cream and stir together.
Using a spider, lift out the pasta from the boiling water and add it to the sauce.  Add the remaining parsley and stir together.  Serve in soup bowls with crusty bread.  Grate a little Parmesan cheese over each bowl.
I realize that as I write this recipe. I have used the word “about” quite a few times.  This is because this is such a malleable dish.  What we have here is the basis of most recipes, which begin with ingredients on hand, what can be done with them, what tastes good together, and even—what do I feel like eating as I put this together.  So, in this case, the recipe can be expanded to feed a large group—or family.  It can be adapted for only two people, and it only requires a few very simple ingredients.  I suppose if you don’t like clams, you could substitute another sea fish—shrimp, maybe?  And if you have an abundance of tomatoes (which, for me only happens in late summer), use fresh ones by all means.  The essential simplicity of this dish is what makes it versatile enough to be able to use the word “about” in trying to describe how to put it together.