The Most Beautiful Music

Both Bill and I grew up in the Midwest where winters are cold and snowy. You would think, therefore, that we would be used to bone-chilling temperatures and shoveling snow. Alas, we both hate it, Bill even more than I. Hence, a house in AZ. Unfortunately, we didn’t get there soon enough.

A few weeks ago, my sister Jen and I planned our annual trip to Rocky Mountain National Park to listen to the haunting and beautiful sound of the male elks bugling for their mate. Well, MATES, actually, since they don’t seem happy unless they have a whole herd. Greedy little devils. When we made our plans, the sun was shining and the temperature was in the mid-70s.

About a week ago, it became abundantly clear that fall was making itself known, and winter was just around the corner. Our lovely weekend was threatened by the forecast of snow and cold temperatures. I know I’ve been whining for a week now about the cold, but the forecast was for truly COLD temperatures — highs in the teens.

We considered canceling. After all, part of the fun is sitting on the car at dusk and listening to the beautiful mating calls, then returning to the Deercrest Inn, lighting up the firepit, and drinking a cuppa hot chocolate spiked with Fireball whiskey. All of that would be considerably less fun if the temperature was 12 degrees.

We didn’t actually make a final decision until Friday, when the forecasters were telling us that Saturday would be in the 60s, and wouldn’t turn cold until around dusk. Snow, they promised, would soon follow, the amount of which they are always vague. Very vague.

We decided to risk it. With the help of a rental SUV that had solidly good tires and all wheel drive, Bill and I drove to Estes Park, where we met up with Jen. After a quick trip to purchase the essential taffy, we returned to the Deercrest Resort and enjoyed the warm(ish) fall temperatures, with the help of some wine and (as the temperatures began to drop) the firepit…..

It is never unusual to see a lot of elk this time of year, as they come down from the high mountains to the more clement weather to graze and hook up. This big bull elk was hanging out all by himself at the Deercrest. He was clearly old and fairly crippled, so I think he was glad to get away from the youngsters’ shenanigans and enjoy some peace and quiet. All that bugling and testosterone, doncha know. It wears on one’s nerves…..

We made it into the park and though it took a bit of hunting and the help of a park ranger, we were able to locate a herd of elk. In addition to the mating calls, we were just a few feet away from a battle between two young bull elks…..

And Sunday morning, we woke up to a temperature of 12 and this…..

We all made it home safely, with another year of elk bugling under our belt. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

I could live forever without the snow, however.

Saturday Smile: Friday Night Lights

Last night I did something that I hadn’t done for literally YEARS. Bill and I went to a high school football game. Truly, I believe the last time I went to a high school football game was when Court had his short-lived football career at Littleton High School back in the 90s. But our eldest grandchild goes to Thomas Jefferson High School, and their team was undefeated. So why not? I recently wrote a blog post about my high school football experiences (I was a Pep Club lettergirl and proudly sported the letter G as in GO SHAMROCKS.

We had a grand time watching the Spartans…..

….even if they suffered their first loss of the season, 39-22. But I’m crazy about one certain TJ Spartan student…..

Have a great weekend.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Masterpiece

I love books that provide me with a historical perspective. I especially love when I can learn something new from a novel. I realize a reader has to take care to remember that it is a novel; still, I always hope that the author has done enough research to make a reasonable attempt to educate their audience accurately.

Author Fiona Davis has written two previous historical novesl: the first — The Dollhouse — provided the reader with a clear picture of the famous Barbizon Hotel in NYC, where young women trying to become models or actresses or secretaries could live and feel safe. Her second novel — The Address — used the famous (or infamous) Dakota Apartment on NYC’s upper west side as its location. I liked that book a bit less than the author’s first. Still, I loved what I learned about perhaps the most well-known apartments in New York.

Fiona Davis takes the reader on an artistic journey with her third novel, The Masterpiece. The star of this novel is a real-life art school that existed in the 20s and 30s in Grand Central Terminal — The Grand Central School of Art. In the late 20s, Clara Darden teaches at the school. She is the lone female teacher, and struggles to maintain respect simply because she is a woman. Fifty years later, divorced Virginia takes a job — her first following her divorce — at Grand Central Terminal in the information booth. This leads to that, and she discovers a hidden painting by Clara Darden.

The reader is taken on a journey of two women becoming independent in different ways. The Masterpiece is also the story of Grand Central Terminal, and the art school that lived within. It was the work of some committed people that prevented Grand Central from being torn down and made into condos. Sound familiar?

I liked The Masterpiece a lot better than The Address. I felt the characters were much more realistic and the back stories were more interesting. It provided a history lesson while reading a book with interesting characters.

Here is a link to the book.

Thursday Thoughts

No Griping Zone
I promise that today I won’t do any complaining about the cold weather. It is October in Colorado. The temperatures are about what they should be, after all. And my hair stylist broke it to me the other day that it is supposed to be an El Nino year, meaning lots of snow. I, however, will be in AZ for most of it.

Snuggle Up
Having promised I won’t complain about the snow, I will restrict myself only to telling you about the most wonderful winter item I sell on my Etsy page……

These wonderful blankets are made out of the softest, warmest chenille blanket yarn that you can imagine. They are lap-sized, perfect for covering up as you watch television or read a book. The blankets are 48 inches long and 39 inches wide. The assortment of yarn colors is large. I sell them for $65. If you’re interested, see the link above to my Nana’s Whimsies Shop.

A Different Color
Our seemingly endless construction project continues. We have a painter who is working diligently on painting most of our ceilings and walls. You know, those walls that I said I couldn’t live with 26 years ago when we moved into our Denver house. The man is amazing, and bit by bit, the house is looking better. At the same time, Bill is doing some of the finishing touches such as baseboards. I am seeing a light at the end of the construction tunnel.

Smile, You’re On Candid Camera
The grandkids’ school photos are dribbling into Nana. Kaiya and Mylee always take a good photo…..

Cole’s photo makes me laugh. He looks like he’s grimacing, but I am assured that the look on his face is simply his version of saying cheese!…..

And perhaps cutest of all is this photo of Micah. I know he’s saying cheese, but there is enough mischief in his eyes to know that it was all he could do to sit still…..

Keep those school photos coming, Family. I love them most of all.


Cold Feet

The weather is still cold, and I’m still crabby. I can practically hear you all now collectively saying, “Oh, for the love of all that is holy and good, will the woman get over the fact that the nighttime temperatures dropped into the 30s.” But I finally figured out that the reason I’m crabby actually has little to do with the weather. I’m crabby because, well, I’m simply a grouch. I’m getting a head start on the Get-Off-My-Lawn-Old-Person Crabbiness. And I’m pretty good at it. I learned everything I know from my brother who can do grumpiness better than anyone, especially for a pretty pleasant guy. It’s a gift.

As I pondered my crabbiness as it relates to cold weather, I realized that while Bill dislikes cold weather even more than I, he has a valid reason. Cold weather exacerbates his PD symptoms. In cold weather, his hands get so cold, they could cool down a pitcher of warm lemonade.

I, on the other hand, dislike cold weather primarily for two reasons: coats and shoes.

I’ve never been a big fan of shoes. Most of my grandkids are the same way. They deposit their shoes in the entryway as soon as they come in the house. They would leave them off until they go home except for the fact that if their visit involves outdoor activities, I insist they wear shoes outside because we have lots of wasp visitors. Wasps as in the mean-spirited stinging insects, not wasps as in Princeton grads who summer in the Hamptons.

My grandmother used to tell me a story about the time she took me to the five and dime store a couple of blocks from the bakery when I was 5 or 6 years old. When we left her apartment above the bakery, I was wearing shoes. When we returned, I was not. We trudged back to the store and went aisle by aisle, finally finding the shoes which I had apparently discarded. I have no recollection of that day, but I also have no doubt that the story is true. I still often wish I could discard my shoes while shopping.

Take yesterday’s trip to Target. I was forced to wear regular close-toed, rubber-bottomed shoes as there were snow flurries on and off all day long. Rubber-bottomed shoes and I don’t get along. After a couple of episodes of my shoes sticking to the floor as I walked, nearly sending me flying, I finally began carefully lifting my feet as I took a step. I resembled a dressage horse…..

Alas, the weather required me to wear something other than my flip flops.

As for coats, I hate them. HATE them. Winter coats truly make me feel as though I’m in a strait jacket. Trying to get in and out of the car is bad enough, but the simple act of putting on a seat belt is like wrestling Hulk Hogan. So frankly, I mostly don’t wear a coat except under the most dire conditions. Like 10 degrees below zero.

It won’t be long before we leave for AZ, where I still often don’t wear shoes. There’s no snow, but there’s scorpions! They make me even crankier than cold weather.

Stand By Me

It’s not tipping I believe in. It’s overtipping. – Steve Martin, My Blue Heaven

I must start by reminding you that I warned you yesterday that the cold weather was liable to make me grumpy. This perhaps explains — no, justfies — why I’m taking a stand.

Yesterday, Bill and I went to Tokyo Joe’s for lunch. We haven’t been for a while, but their chicken and rice bowl sounded good on a chilly day. I placed my order and handed the cashier my credit card. The setup was all fancy-dancy, you know, where you sign your name with your finger on an iPad. But before you do that, there’s a spot where you are to add your tip.

And that’s the point where I took my stand. I didn’t tip. I didn’t overtip. I didn’t undertip. I simply didn’t tip. Because all she did was take my order, and frankly, didn’t smile even once as she did that.

Now is the point where I will tell you that I am a good tipper. While the fact that customers have to subsidize restaurant servers’ wages via tipping annoys me, I’m also aware that if that practice went away, restaurant owners would be required to pay their servers better and that cost would be passed on to consumers. So I tip. And frankly, no matter the service, I almost always tip at least 20 percent. But that’s when a human being is taking my order, placing the order with the kitchen, bringing me my food, filling and refilling my water glass, listening to my complaints if necessary, and so forth.

Not just standing at a counter, punching in my order, and taking my payment.

So I’m taking a stand: no more tipping counter help. Haters, don’t hate.

The practice of tipping counter help sort of snuck up on consumers. A few months ago I was at a bakery near our house that specializes in cinnamon rolls. There a sign on the counter that said: If you think we did a good job, leave us a tip.

No. Nope. Nein. Your paycheck requires that you do a good job.

I grew up working at my dad’s bakery. I gave every person really exceptional service. I would take their order, place it in a bag, ring up the order, take the money, and give the necessary change, all with a smile and concluding with a thank you. I didn’t have to move from behind the counter. I didn’t have to refill coffee cups. I simply put donuts in a bag. No tip.

Restaurant servers get paid terribly low wages because they earn tips. I didn’t ask the cashier about her paycheck, but I’m pretty sure it is more than the base salary of the server that works at the Village Inn down the street.

Wow. Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I feel a lot better. I’ll just wait to hear from all of my family members and friends in the food service business. Probably no birthday gifts this year.

Oh, and by the way: I also have stopped contributing money at places where the cashier asks, “Would you like to donate money to the Give a Kid a Break Fund?” Why? Because I would rather give money directly to a nonprofit instead of giving Target or Whole Foods or Walmart the tax break and the decision about where the money goes, thereby allowing them to boast “Benny’s Big Box donated a million dollars last year to charity.”

Have a nice day. And you’d better hope that the weather warms up.


I’m Swiss But the Steak Ain’t

As I’ve mentioned in the past, Pinterest frequently decides what it thinks I’m interested in, and sends suggestions to me. The suggestions are often inexplicable and confusing. For a while, for example, I was getting pin after pin about how to build a chicken coop. I don’t want to build a chicken coop. I also don’t want to style my hair in an angled bob, mostly because I’d have to grow my hair for two to three years in order to cut it in such a style. I’d sooner shave my head.

Lately, however, I have been getting numerous suggested pins for Swiss steak. And for once, Pinterest got it right.

I frankly had forgotten all about Swiss steak. It was on Mom’s regular meal rotation. I recall liking it very much, especially if I could dip the meat into mashed potatoes. The tomatoes provided a tangy gravy that I loved. But she must not have had a recipe, because it certainly wasn’t in her recipe box upon which I rely to make her dishes, and peruse frequently.

Though I hadn’t given it a single thought as a child, I began wondering why it was called Swiss steak. My paternal grandparents immigrated to the U.S. from Switzerland, and I don’t recall Grammie making Swiss steak. I’ve visited many German restaurants in my life, and nope, no Swiss steak at any of them.

So I googled it. It appears no one really knows how it got its name, though most agree it didn’t originate in Switzerland. The best suggestion I read was that it came from the word swissing, which means pounding fabric to make it flat. Since Swiss steak involves tenderized (or pounded) meat, it makes a certain degree of sense. Well, a teeny-tiny bit of sense.

The weather has turned cold in Colorado, making it finally feel like fall. If I sound sentimental, just wait. Some weather forecasters are predicting snow, and then I will go back to just being grumpy.

But cold weather makes me in the mood for comfort food. You know, like Swiss steak. When the house is chilly and it’s even colder outside, running the oven for a few hours in order to braise a tough piece of meat into submission is a great idea.

So is making bread, which I did on Saturday. Breadmaking is a challenge to me. I have never been quite satisfied with my result. Until Saturday, that is. My white bread turned out perfectly. The outside was crusty and the inside was soft, with a perfect crumb. It had a nice yeasty, slightly sweet flavor, thanks to the addition of honey. (And don’t worry, I didn’t waste a drop of Dee’s Bees Honey on my bread; instead, I bought inexpensive store brand honey. I will put Dee’s Bees Honey ON the bread instead of IN the bread.)…..

And, by the way, despite the fall weather, I didn’t make a single pumpkin spice anything. But I did bake some raspberry cream cheese danish, thanks to store-bought puff pastry…..

By the way, at the end of the day, out of all of the numerous Swiss steak recipes fed to me by Pinterest, I chose to use a recipe by Alton Brown, as it seemed as close to my mother’s recipe as I could recall…..

 Swiss Steak

4 cube steaks
2 t. salt
1 t. black pepper
3/4 c. flour
1/4 c. vegetable oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 T. tomato paste
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 t. smoked paprika
1 t. dried oregano
1 T. worcestershire sauce

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Season the steaks on both sides with the salt and pepper. Place the flour into a pie pan. Dredge the pieces of meat on both sides in the flour mixture.

Add enough  vegetable oil to just cover the bottom of a Dutch oven set over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the steaks to the pan. Cook until golden brown on both sides, approximately 2 minutes per side. Remove the steaks to a plate and repeat until all of the steaks have been browned.

Remove the last steaks from the pot and add the onions, garlic, and celery. Saute for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and stir to combine. Next add the tomatoes, paprika, oregano, Worcestershire sauce and beef broth and stir to combine. Return the meat to the pot, submerging it in the liquid. Cover the pot and place it in the oven on the middle rack. Cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until the meat is tender and falling apart.

Nana’s Notes: This is basically Alton Brown’s version of Swiss steak. I used cube steaks that have already been tenderized, whereas he used bottom round and tenderized it himself, mostly because he is Alton Brown. I only used 2 cube steaks, but left everything else the same. It took 2 hours. We ate it over mashed potatoes. Yum. Welcome to cold-weather cooking!