Big Fun

Jambalaya and a crawfish pie and fillet gumbo
Cause tonight I’m gonna see my ma cher amio
Pick guitar fill fruit jar and be gay-o
Son of a gun we’ll have big fun on the bayou.

We’re over a week away from the real Fat Tuesday, but that didn’t stop our family from celebrating Mardi Gras yesterday in typical fashion: lots of food and lots of fun. Son of a gun.

My day started out early as it always does, only this time, at 6 o’clock yesterday morning, I was chopping, chopping, chopping — preparing what Cajun cooks call the Blessed Trinity. Onion, green pepper, and celery. My job was to prepare the red beans and rice for our Cajun dinner…..

As in years past, Bec hosts our family for this celebration of good food. Erik is the prime cook, and he did himself well this year with his jambalaya, prepared with chicken, andouille sausage, and shrimp. Yum. Bec made her traditional maque choux — creamed corn on steroids. Jen pitched in with Cajun cole slaw, a cooling match to the spicy jambalaya and my red beans and rice.

As usual, however, we started out our meal with muffaletta sandwiches — ham, salami, swiss cheese, provolone cheese, and yummy chopped olives…..

While, we love the food, what we most enjoy is the gathering of family…..

This year, Carter was the lone boy. He made the best of it all, however, and spent much of his time watching the NASCAR race on his nana’s television.

l-r: Lexi, Kelsie, Jenna, Kenzie, and Ava.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Mardi Gras celebration if it wasn’t for the King Cake, a traditional cake that includes a tiny baby doll somewhere within. This year, there were two cakes, thereby offering two opportunities to bite into a baby! The kids, in particular, await with hope to be the lucky one with the baby in their piece of cake…..

This year, Lexi was the first one to find a baby in her cake…..

Carter was lucky enough to find the second baby in his piece.

When all is said and done, we all agree that this particular gathering is perhaps our favorite of the year. And it couldn’t happen if this amazing woman didn’t make the necessary arrangements. Thanks, Bec, for a wonderful day. We have big fun, even if we don’t have a bayou…..

Saturday Smile: You Asked For It

In my Thursday Thoughts, I mentioned that I used my Kitchenaid stand mixer to make delicious lemon bread. I got many suggestions — requests, really — that I share the recipe. The reception to my bread made me smile.

The recipe really comes from our neighbors here in AZ. She brought us some of the bread when Jen first got out of the hospital, and we all thought it was delicious. We thought it was delicious because, well, it is.

With thanks to my friend Jan, here is the recipe for lemon poppy seed bread……

Lemon Poppy Seed Bread

1-1/2 c. flour
1 c. sugar
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
2 eggs
1/3 c. sour cream
2/3 c. milk
1/3 c. olive oil
2 T fresh lemon juice
zest from 1 large lemon
3 T. poppy seeds

Glaze
1 c. sugar
2-3 T fresh lemon juice
1 T. lemon zest

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and grease a loaf pan.

Mix dry ingredients. Add dry ingredients to wet, and mix together. Add the poppy seeds.

Pour into pan. Bake for 35 – 45 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in middle of loaf comes out clean. Let bread cool for 10 minutes, and then remove from the pan. Let cool for 15 minutes. Pour glaze over slightly warm bread.

Enjoy!

Have a great weekend.

Friday Book Whimsy: One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow

One for blackbird, one for the crow, One for the cutworm, and one to grow. – Traditional

Followers of my book reviews will recall that I am drawn to books that take place in middle or western America during the period from the middle 1880s through the Great Depression. You know, ala My Antonia, by Willa Cather. And furthermore, I judge books by their cover, no matter what anyone says. I mean, really!…..

One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow, by Olivia Hawker, not only has a title that caught my attention immediately, but it takes place in rural Wyoming in the late 1870s. And look at that beautiful cover.

The Bemis family and the Webber family farm out in the middle of nowhere, miles away from the nearest town in rural Wyoming. One day Ernest Bemis is out hunting and comes upon his wife Cora having sex with his neighbor Substance Webber. Before he has time to think, he shoots Substance dead. He subsequently turns himself into the town sheriff and is sentenced to two years in the town jail.

Winter is upon them, and Cora is left to fend for herself and her children. At the same time, Substance’s wife Nettie Mae and her son Clyde are in the same boat. Needing each other to survive, the Cora and her kids move in with Nettie Mae, who naturally hates them. However, Nettie Mae knows she needs their working hands and stored food as much as they need hers.

What follows is a lovely — simply beautiful — account of how forgiveness and friendship and love for nature and one another can overcome unbelievable hardships and obstacles.

Don’t misunderstand — this is not a book of action. It’s lyrical and slow-moving and doesn’t contain a lot of dialogue. But the writing is so beautiful it’s almost poetic.

One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow will be one of my favorite books of 2020.

Here is a link to the book.

Thursday Thoughts

Food Frenzy
The other day while watching Bill at his boxing class, my phone rang. Well, it wasn’t really my phone, because I keep my phone in my purse in the trunk of the car while attending the class, so it was my cool sooper dooper Apple watch that rang. Normally I don’t answer my watch because I can’t really hear the other person that well unless I’m in a quiet room, but more important, because I think I look silly talking into my watch. Like Maxwell Smart talking to Agent 99. Anyhoo, a woman identified herself as being with some organization which name I couldn’t hear. Did you recently spend time in the hospital, she asked me. I told her I had, excited because I could actually understand something she said. She went on to say that 14 days worth of food is being sent my way to help me feed myself and my loved ones as I recover from my hospital stay. Now, my readers know that I have frequent hospital stays; however, this is the first time any person or organization was worried that I wasn’t able to cook. Be on the lookout for 14 days worth of frozen food that will be delivered on Tuesday, February 11, she sternly instructed me. Yes Ma’am, I answered meekly. When I got home, I told Jen that we needed to clean out our freezer so that I could fit all of the food that would be delivered in a few days. She understandably was confounded as to why I said yes to the frozen food delivery, but it was a question that I simply couldn’t answer. It all happened so quickly and via my sooper dooper Apple watch. (I’m trying really hard to blame it on Apple.) When Tuesday came and went, I gave a sigh of relief. Perhaps I had imagined the call. But yesterday morning, Jen, who was reading in her room by the window, announced that Fedex had just pulled up and the delivery person had pulled two enormous boxes out of his truck. Yes, friends, it was my food delivery. I opened up one of the boxes, expecting there to be stacks of frozen dinners. Nope. Instead I saw the FIXINGS for 14 dinners — things such as bread and juice and desserts, and who knows what (because we only opened one box and the other probably contained 28 cans of tuna). So, yesterday afternoon, we put the boxes in our car and carried them to the Superstition Food Bank in nearby Apache Junction where I hope someone needier than I receives the food. But I will think twice about answering my Apple watch in noisy confines.

Whiskey Row 
The other day, following a visit to a flooring store where we began the task of choosing new flooring for our AZ home, we drove to Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row restaurant in Gilbert. For the uninformed, Dierks Bentley is a popular country singer who hails from AZ, and has opened a number of his restaurants around the area. The food was delicious, but Bill was slightly taken back at the glass in which his Bud Light was served. “I’m 77 years old, and I’ve never had a beer from a glass that looked like this,” he said…..

The look in his eyes says it all.

Last Laugh 
Bill is 11 years older than me. When he turned 50, I was only 39. However, at 50, he received his AARP membership. The thing is, as his spouse, I was automatically a member as well. And boy-oh-boy, did he LOVE that. He gave me my membership card with such glee that I should have filed for divorce immediately. Everyone seemed to think it was very funny. The other day, I got a text message from my 42-year-old-stepdaughter Heather, with an attached photo of her new AARP membership letter.  It said Look what I got today!!! I’d like to apologize for teashing you when you became a member when Dad turned 50. Now I know what it feels like. Aging doesn’t get any easier from here on out my dear!

Fancy Tools

When my son was school aged and always hungry, I cooked for survival. I put a bowl of strawberry oatmeal from a little packet in front of him for breakfast while I filled his Transformer lunchbox with  a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, mandarin oranges, Cheetos, and a Little Debby apple turnover. After working hard for my money for eight hours or so, I would come home to make something reasonably palatable for dinner, something he wouldn’t push around with his fork until I finally excused him from the table.

After he left for college, I started convincing myself that cooking was fun. I watched Food Network shows that had started appearing in the early- to mid-90s, and the featured chefs made cooking look like so much FUN. “BAM,” Emeril Lagasse would say as he threw the garlic and hot sauce into whatever meal he was making.

I could do all of that, I thought. I just needed all of the necessary equipment. I needed a Le Creuset enamel-coated Dutch oven. I needed a Cuisinart food processor and a Cuisinart immersion blender. I needed to grind my own coffee beans. I needed a fancy decanter into which I would decant my expensive wines after which I would pour the wine into expensive glasses that would allow the wine to aerate as I swirled the wine, checking its legs.

And I certainly needed a Kitchenaid mixer. That was the most important thing. I needed a Kitchenaid mixer with a dough hook so that I could make all of my bread from scratch. My kitchen would always smell l like yeast.

And now, here I am, much older, a bit wiser, and trying to figure out what to do with most of the crap I bought in the 1990s. It didn’t take me long to figure out that when you spend $7.99 on a bottle of wine, there is really no need to aerate or swirl. My one-and-only Le Creuset Dutch oven is used now only in the rare instances that I am cooking for a crowd since it is HUGE. I mostly use my 4-qt. Lodge enamel-coated Dutch oven which cost me $59 on Amazon and works fine. I buy my coffee already ground, and (don’t tell anyone) I sometimes turn the pot back on when it shuts off after two hours.

I use my food processor mostly when I make a pie crust and my immersion blender mostly when I make cream-of soups.

But I will admit that I do, indeed, use my Kitchenaid stand mixer. It was one of only a few kitchen items that I consider so essential that I bought one for our AZ home. Read about my purchasing exploits here.

My kitchen doesn’t always smell like yeast, as I had hoped. In fact, my bread-making activities have been largely unsuccessful. But I use it for every other baking activity. And while I have finally come to grips with the fact that I’m not ever going to be on Food Network, I will happily bake up a batch of cookies or banana bread or cupcakes any day of the week! I pulled out my Kitchen Aid stand mixer last night when I made lemon bread. Yum…..

By the way, I began thinking about cooking appliances because I read an article recently from Atlantic Magazine from which I learned that millennials are much like me. They want to like to cook, but mostly they want to impress their friends, family, and Instagram followers with their Le Creuset Dutch ovens and Kitchenaid stand mixers.

Things don’t really change all that much.

Good Neighbors

When the Phoenix home market was at a low back in 2010, Jen called me one day with an idea. Why don’t we go together and buy a house?

Bill and I had seriously considered buying a home a few years earlier, back when the market was high. We were wise enough to put the idea on hold. When Jen presented us with the notion — and after much consideration — we jumped on the idea. This led to that, and pretty soon the three of us were the proud co-owners of our Mesa home. It was perfect for the three of us — two bedrooms, including a split master — a nice little office, and a small but pretty back yard.

But here was the thing: I was retired, and Bill worked from home — or frankly, wherever he was at the moment. Jen, on the other hand, still worked hard for her money and was some 10 years or more away from retirement. So for the past 10 years, Bill and I have spent winters here, while Jen came and went as she was able.

The bottom line: We never had to spend too much time together in the same house.

But as you might remember, she arrived with us on Christmas Day, and prepared to have her knee replaced. She had the surgery here instead of Fort Collins because we have such a nice little house with no steps to climb. Oh, and she has two sisters and a daughter who could provide her with excellent tender love and care.

I’m not afraid to tell you that I was a bit worried about how we would all manage living in such tight quarters. Don’t get me wrong; we love one another and get along just fine. But she has been single for almost 20 years and has her own way of doing things. Bill and I have spent a number of winters here, and we have settled into a certain kind of way of life.

Who will cook? Who will buy groceries? Will her habits make me crazy? Will the way I spend my days make her pull out her hair? Will Bill’s boxing make her scream? These were all things I worried about for months when I would wake up in the middle of the night and wasn’t concentrating on concerns that my grandkids will end up being serial killers or bank robbers.

Now, nearly two months into our cozy lifestyle, I think I can say for all of us that we have done remarkably well. Of course, it’s easy for ME to say that on MY BLOG. Perhaps if she had a blog, she would be begging for suggestions on how to commit murder without getting caught.

We share cooking, taking turns preparing meals. Not necessarily a firm every-other-day situation, but as life (including such things as physical therapy, grandkids’ soccer and baseball games, dinner dates with friends, etc.) dictates. Jen and I both keep a running financial total in our head, and for the most part, I think costs have evened out. Every once in a while, I will wake up in the middle of the night (assuming I’m not worrying that my grandkids will drop out of college and sell drugs for a living) and remember that I owe her $24.78. She might even sometimes gently remind me.

Bill has taken things completely in stride. He refers to us as his sister wives since we both nag him in our own special ways. Those of you who know Bill understand that not much gets under his skin. He’s even grown especially fond of Jen’s dog Winston, who eagerly greets him every morning…..

…..and vice versa.

Jen and Winston will be in AZ until the beginning of March, and I think we are going to be just fine until then, and after as well…..