Friday, December 31, 2010

New Years Eve - Gargoyles, Genghis Khan and Guns

It started on a grey, overcast winter day. Except it's 60 degrees. Even the friendly neighborhood gargoyle looked like he was ready to go out and celebrate the New Year with a perfect day to explore. With Tam and Roberta X as well as friend, blogger Turk Turon, we made a morning and afternoon of it.

After a drive around Northern Indianapolis with talk about all kinds of things, Huck the new cat, Roberta's new book, the latest news, which this morning was some guy arrested after exposing himself on an airplane to a young woman and then claiming to the arresting officers that he had spilled some hot sauce on his junk and was just trying to remove it. Me - "Would that be pleading the Dave's Insanity Defense?".

Soon we were at our first destination, a trip for Mongolian Barbecue.

Decorated in an urban Genghis Kahn motif, you started with a big bowl and the basic buffet of meat (which included scallops and rib eye).

Then you added all the veggies you wanted, and an assortment of sauces from sweet and mild to hot and spicy (throw in some extra spice if you want).

Then they expertly cook it on up on this giant sizzling hot table.

And serve with other goodies, in our case, three kinds of rice and tortillas to wrap it all up in.

The food was wonderful. When what you have in your bowl is cooked and consumed you have the option of a NEW bowl. Oh this is dangerous. After we were so full we could barely invade Turk's Mafia Staff Car, let alone a neighboring country, we headed over to Penzey's, a store whose products I've used in a lot of my recipes here on HOTR.

We wandered through their collection. Tam - "they have dill weed" (chuckle) and Turk - "Saffron!", we all walked out with a little something.

Then on to Gandor Mountain where we looked at outdoor clothing. Me -(holding up pink and green tactical hot pants) "Tam, if I ever try to wear something like this you have permission to shoot me." Then on to the guns and other displays. Like this one for the product you want as back up for your Pez Dispenser (and as scary).

After that we loaded up and went on to the amazing Artisano's for more spices, handcrafted gourmet olive oils and balsamic vinegars. Bobbie is a loyal customer and they had to show me the place, knowing how much I'd like it. They were right.! It's on 86th but back behind another business, you need to look for a Wendy's on the south side of the 86th and turn further south on the side street next to Wendy's and there it is!

The lady managing the store today was quite welcoming and let us try little samples of all kind of things while she showed us all the store had to offer.

Among other things, I brought home a bottle of 18 year old balsamic vinegar that made me moan when I took a little sip of it in the store. Awesome stuff. Bobbie loves their white truffle olive oil (she pops popcorn with it the old fashioned way) and blackcurrent balsamic vinegar and Tam got some Espresso Sugar, some of the flavored sugars they have, in addition to the wide assortment of unique fresh spices.

A wonderful little store off of the beaten path in Northeast Indy and one I will definitely be back to again and again. If you live anywhere in Central Indiana you need to check this little gem of a store out!

click to enlarge photos

Too soon, it was time to head home with my purchases. Barkley was not happy I did not bring home a Mongrel Hordes doggie bag but he was happy to see me. Tonight, I have a small party to go to with neighbors, just an informal gathering of friends and food and an early evening home.

What to bring? I have all these great oils and spices in which to make a dipping sauce. I think a loaf of homemade bread is in order.

click to enlarge Thanks, my friends, for a wonderful adventure. For my readers, for tonight, wherever your adventures take you, have a safe and wonderful New Year.

- Love , Brigid

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Look it's BACON !


Bacon Infused Venison Burgers with Bacon Coleslaw.

Venison, while very healthy, can be a bit dry, so to the venison burger I added bacon, and bacon drippings, some spice and seasoning and a couple other not so secret ingredients. Serve with your favorite toppings, cheese, lettuce, etc. or for a change of pace add a couple tablespoons of bacon coleslaw on top, which has chunks of pepper and lots of peppery, smoked bacon in it. Bacon a deux. It doesn't get any better.

It was dark when the photos were taken, but click to enlarge.

6 slices bacon, finely diced
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 shallots, minced
2 pounds ground venison
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 Tablespoon Guinness
1 teaspoon McCormick Monterey Hamburger (or Steak) Seasoning
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 egg, beaten with a fork

Cook bacon in a skillet over medium heat until browned and crispy. Remove bacon, leaving most of the grease (there's not a whole lot for just six pieces). Add garlic and shallot to bacon drippings and cook and stir until softened on medium heat, about 3 minutes; then remove and add to bacon.

When cooled, mix in venison, Worcestershire sauce, Guinness, (oh look there's most of a can just going to waste), parsley, salt, pepper, steak seasoning and egg until evenly combined.

Refrigerate for 15 minutes while you heat up an outdoor grill to medium-high. Shape into six patties and grill.

click to enlarge photos

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Birthday Message - A Letter From a Daughter

The story I tell is as old as time, and something I only found the courage to tell in the last couple of years, as "pro choice" seemed to be the banner of so many politicians. And I am going to tell it each year at her birthday time, at the urging of a fearless, teddy bear loving young redhead who looks just like me. She sent me a poem called "two hearts" in the mail, and urged me to tell my story so that a young woman, perhaps reading this blog, might see it and make the right choice.

I was a teen, just starting college, when I found out I was pregnant. I remember hanging up the phone in shock and just opening up a book I was reading. Was it raining? Was the sun out? I don't remember, but the day was ordinary. It usually is when your life changes. Most people aren't really doing anything noteworthy when the carefully guarded and fragile pieces of their life shatter with something they never expect.

I was not the face of teen pregnancy. I was from a sound, middle class Christian home, with loving parents who had adopted me as an infant and provided time, morals and balance in my early formative years. My Mom left a career in law enforcement to be a full time mother, and did so with the values of generations. I was the girl who still wore dresses to school long after everyone wore only jeans, and didn't mind. I was a straight A student, a volunteer, an Honor Society member.

And I fell in love. With the breathtaking tumble that you think you'll only experience once in your life and grab onto like a lifeline. He was older than I. We'd met in a summer college classes I took in addition to my high school ones. We talked of my finishing school, getting married, taking on the world by storm. I didn't tell my family of my feelings. Did it mean that they were not there to listen? Did it mean they were too busy? No, I was a teenager, and at that age you don't tell your parents everything, nor do you make the best decisions, even with the best of parenting. And one night, just one time, I listened to him and not my upbringing. I made the wrong choice.

When I told my love I was pregnant, I expected he would marry me or at least offer. I would be legally an adult when the child was born. He did not. He very cruely and coldly shoved enough money in my fist to "take care of the problem" and then shoved me out of his life. I thought I was part of his dreams and plans and then suddenly I was alone and all that remained was huge question of where this new destination in my life would take me.

I expected a firestorm at home. But I did not get it. I knew my actions had created great disappointment but it was not shown to me. Only love, and support.They could have sent me to stay with relatives out of town to be more discreet about it. They did not. My Dad simply said. "I know you will make the right decision about this" and gave me a big hug.

I was only a teenager. I was scared and angry at myself as I first prayed "oh please don't let me be." I had not known with certainty that life itself lay embedded in each single, shiny moment. I had not grasped the mystery of how miracles duplicate, be they moments or cells, or of unforeseen healing - forgiveness flowing in to what had only held anger and hate. In all those years I went to church with my parents, I had sung a hundred old hymns and loved the music, but had not yet known that in my own flesh I would see that which is consecrated. I was, I am, we are all destined to die—but just as surely to participate in our role in the creation of hope.

And she was born. I had prayed that it would not happen. Now someone new and beautiful lay sleeping, dreaming new dreams all her own. I really didn't know how lacking in hope I had been until then. And the event that I had prayed would not take place became my greatest accomplishment and her small being , my biggest act of courage.

That act of courage involved a couple who had been on a waiting list to adopt a baby for 7 years, and had pretty much given up. When my doctor told me of them, the woman being related to one of his staff, the answer to my huge question was just a feeling, one of actual hope and a sense of meaning. When that is what's going on inside, you know you've finally seen your destination come into view.

It's almost never where you expected it to be.

Several months and 34 hours in labor later it's over. I called my love, not expecting anything, he'd already signed the consent for adoption papers, the decision was made. I simply wanted to inform him of the birth . I was told that he was in love with someone and was going to marry her and don't ever call again. At that point, tears drying on my face, one of the nurses came to my room to see me. I'm not sure what to say to her and she sits down and softly starts humming a little song.

If you go down to the woods today,
You're sure of a big surprise,
If you go down to the woods today
You're better go in disguise,
For every bear that ever was there
Will gather there for certain because
Today's the day the Teddy Bears
have their picnic.

I smiled and hummed along, her hands clasping mine. Then she leaves, with my life. I am determined to be strong, smile, not say goodbye. Never goodbye. The big beige door swing shuts behind them. Then quiet. My Dad comes and tries to talk to me of hope. He talks of being brave, and the past and a future and urges me to leave with them to the cabin for a few days. My emotions are rumblings, faraway thunder, eclipsed by the lightning bolt urgency of others You can't leave alone, no one told you that you could love anyone so much. You're going to gather up whats yours and go home.

But I'd made not only a decision, but a promise, and I leave with my loving and forgiving family, with my empty arms and heart. Some people are less than kind about my decision. Many thought I should be a single mother, when as a young student, I had no way in which to provide. It would be a two job, no father, kind of life that didn't provide for a child. If I left school, all I could probably get after our local employers massive lay-offs in the area, would have been a minimum wage job, even less of a future for us. The option of living off public assistance, suggested by several, was never considered. Surprisingly, many thought I should have had an abortion. Apparently abortion in was more acceptable than adoption for a few pro-abortion folks verbally vilified me for "giving your kid away like it was a puppy", harsh hurtful words.

But my decision was as difficult as anything I have ever done in my life, any such decision is, and for people to openly judge that decision was a cruelty that only honed my pain to razor sharpness.

In time there was a shift, a lightness, undetectable to everyone but me, and I could finally sleep without tears, and I knew I would be forever changed, but I would survive.

All I had was a faint memory from the delivery room of sweet baby smell and red hair. It was an open adoption so I knew where my heart was at. So many times I would have given my life just to just fly there and sit by their house, to watch and breath in that life. But I made a promise to them, and my word is my honor.

There is an imperceptible pause of a life in the moment between the event and the moment of the knowing. After it's happened but it hasn't been formed into words.The click between one life and another.The phone rings early and I'm sleeping so soundly I think it's in my dream. It's for me. . and it's a hesitant. . . "hello. . is that you?".

In talking, for hours, for days, we discovered that we are alike in so many ways. A mirror image of me but with her parent's heart and laughter. We love steak, macaroni and cheese and books. We loved "Princess Bride", "Firefly" and "Red Dwarf". She loves the outdoors in which I breathe.

We owned almost all of the same books.

As we went through the process of becoming friends with each other and I heard in detail the wonder of those happy, secure early years growing up, I was amazed of my role in this. When I met her Mom for the first time, she grabbed me in a big bear hug, openly crying and thanking me for my gift of "our daughter". Moments like that are what makes life real.

When she graduated at Boston University not so long ago, a National Merit Scholarship winner, I watched quietly from the crowd as a guest, with as much pride as any parent there. I treasure my family and her family is as dear to me as my own. But when holidays roll around and I am often alone, my joy is occasionally bittersweet and the reality of what I had to give up stirs in my heart. The mother daughter bonding, girl scouts, camping, that first prom, all of which I only experienced in my heart's longing.
But she is in my life now, with her parent's blessing. Small precious moments, sharing with someone so like myself, yet living her own dreams.
Some people may say I didn't do the right thing. But I did. For my precious child, I did the absolute best I could. But it is not society's or the media's role to judge my decision. And it certainly is no reflection on the kind of person I was at 18 or what kind of parents I had. We make our choices, we make decisions, good and bad, and if we have any strength of character, we own up to them, and try to make them right.

I have a letter from a daughter, wrinkled and stained with tears, that bears witness
to this truth.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Friday, December 24, 2010

It's a Scandahoovian Christmas

Def: Scandahoovian. A Hoosier whose ancestry includes that of Scandinavia.I'm Mostly Scottish (according to DNA tests) with a scattering of other more exotic bloods. Yet adopted and raised  by a Swedish/Norwegian Mom (and after her death, a Norwegian StepMom) I strongly relate to Luther League, lutefisk (as a science experience), the art of Norwegian seduction (yah, you have some nice snow tires, you betcha) and I have been trained in the art of making food that can be classified by the FDA as a sedative.

Like lefse, unleavened flatbread make out of mashed potatoes, cream and flour and cooked on a griddle. I eat mine a common way, adding butter to the lefse and rolling it up (lefse-klenning in the mother tongue). Other options include adding cinnamon, or spreading jelly or lingonberries upon it. We'd also eat it for lunch with thin sliced Danish ham and cheeses.

But most of Mom's Scandinavian Christmas dishes were of the cookie/dessert variety, mostly made at Christmas. One of those is Krumkaka which consists of a light sweet batter which is poured onto a hot mold and then quickly cooked and rolled into a cone shape while it is still warm. It's often served filled with real whipped cream, or just munched plain, while crisp, buttery and warm. (Note: photo was cropped to remove evidence of crime scene tape).

click to enlarge photo

Then there are the Rosettes. Also a batter in which a hot iron mold attached to a handle is dipped and the results deep fried and dusted with sugar. The cookie is light and delicate, almost like puff pastry, if done right. It looks easy. It is not. I've had many slip off the iron into the hot oil because the batter is too thin or the wrong temperature, only to resemble floating, fried .40 casings, and others that looked OK maybe, but would have ripped the dentures out of great grandma with their shriveled chewiness.
click to enlarge photo
But sometimes you get it right. Light, crunchy, perfection with just a hint of Cardamom.

Then there was fattigman, known as the "poor man's cookie", though our version was dressed up with a tablespoon of brandy to add to the heavy whipping cream, flour and butter. Like all of these recipes, it did require a special tool, one that is passed down from mother to daughter.

All the recipes seemed to call for lots and lots of flour. Why? Probably because my family could go through these cookies like locust on a summer day. Hours of work gone in minutes. I never knew how much energy, how much time, effort and love Mom and Grandma wrapped up in all those holiday treats until I tried to make them myself to share with coworkers and friends.
Only then did I truly appreciate the love that went into them.

These quiet times in the kitchen are my way of regrouping after a a long day or a long road trip. It's a time, wherein the faith I have, that can take a beating during the work week, is repaired, threads of hope and strength woven back into the areas that feel tattered as the leaves clinging stubbornly to the trees outside my window.

I love to cook for my friends and family. I've always spent at least one vacation week a year out West at my parents. There, I'd just give Mom a vacation herself and cook them three big meals a day, clean the house and do some light outdoor chores and keep them company while they got to put their feet up. Not much of a "vacation" for me, rest wise, but I loved how it made my parents smile and how good it was to hear them laugh.

I'll volunteer to take duty again  this Christmas to free up someone who has small children.  My Dad wants to be alone with his memories, not celebrating the holidays since my Mom died.  I understand.  There will be other Christmas's where I can cook and entertain. For meals here for my friends during the year, bring back memories of days when we had a family dinner table meal every night except the Saturday barbecue night. I can't recall so much of what we talked about or exactly what each meal was, memory being not just selective but discriminating, in the end only as reliable as we are. The dates and times and actual meals themselves are insignificant, but I remember the gathering, the smells of beef and fresh vegetables, of laughter, of stories from school, from work, a discarding of weighty thought and the simple gathering of those you love, for nourishment of the soul. I can't recreate that through what I cook, or who I serve it to, but I still can remember how those simple meals made me feel, the redemptive power of the communion of family.

For those of you who have that, treasure every moment.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

For Mom

I consider myself very blessed. I had not one Mom who loved me but two.

The second, I've written of here many times, especially in that we lost her this year at the age of 86. But the Mom that adopted me, first showing me love, occupies more thoughts than words, and for her, on her birthday, I wanted to say just how much she meant to us.

It's winter and it's chilly, overcast, flirting with snow. Lines of storms have been traveling through. Far north now, the skies were low and leaden, and thundersnow that cleaved my morning still carried as an echo even as I drag to my hotel room after a 15 hour day.

People tease me about it, but I love storms, and I love a winter landscape. I want to tromp through the cornfields with Barkley, walking through snow upon snow, the earth standing hard as iron, the waters like stone. But the ice of winter is here, the memory of yesterdays warmth is long gone. Storm clouds ease on eastward, the pale sun imperceptibly in their trail, the cool breeze a lover's kiss of betrayal. Strangely, I always feel safe and secure when it's cloudy and coldly still, and especially when the snow or rain is coming down. I savor the slow creep into summer The chill flurries of March. Those deceptive days in April when the breeze is the cool conceit of a lingering winter.

I was just four when my Mom was diagnosed with cancer. My Mom was one of the strongest women I've known. She came from a line of strong women. My grandmother came to the United States as an immigrant, a young woman educated only as a cook and a talented baker. Even though she spoke no English, she got a job as a cook for a wealthy New York family. But she fell in love with another immigrant, a rough around the edges, yet philosophical, Norwegian logger, and she ended up in Minnesota and later the Montana mountains, where my Mom was born. My grandfather was killed in a logging accident when my Mom was a young girl, but using her cooking talents, my grandmother was able to put all three kids through college, the concept that in the 30's my Mom would not be college educated as foreign to her as these shores had once been.

Mom got a degree in Criminal Justice, started out as a Court Reporter and after marriage to my Dad, her high school sweetheart, on his return from WWII, ended up a Deputy Sheriff, a job she held for many years, until children came along, after years of trying. Life for her, then, was complete. She was happy, living a life in the mountains of the West, with my Dad, and the family she always wanted.

Tall and strikingly beautiful, my blue eyed Mom and my red haired Dad made quite the pair and sometimes they would let us ignore our bedtime to stay up and watch them dance around the living room, the sounds of old Big Band records echoing across the hardwood floors. Music revolved around us and laughter was as much of a sound in the room as the joyful strains of a clarinet.

That cancer showed up uninvited when she finally had the family she wanted was as cruel a blow as could be imagined. But cancer and tragedy know no compassion for a life well lived.

While she was at the hospital I would take a fuzzy white blanket that smelled of her perfume, Chanel No. 5, and drape it over the card table to make a fort. That was my refuge, my safety zone. Unable to process the fear in my father's eyes or my mom's sudden absence I made a little world for myself, with a small lamp to do puzzles by and a couple beloved toys. For that time I withdrew into that white ecosphere of make believe warmth. She came home after Christmas, chemo shunt in place, and did everything in her power to make our  childhoods as normal as possible.

I remember mornings at the breakfast table. We'd look out at the fog shrouded trees behind our house. The geese foraging for their breakfast on their seasonal stop. The sun acted as if it is preparing to take on a Broadway stage, first peeking from behind the closed curtain of clouds, then coming out to bow upon the new fallen snow to the thunderous applause of the neighborhood snow blowers. We cherished the beginning of another day together. She'd feed us sweet Danish rolls and sugary Bear Claws instead of sensible oatmeal and we'd laugh. Oh how we'd laugh.

We weren't deluding ourselves. My parents had laid things out for us as best they could and we knew that she was very sick. Our breakfast may have been sugar coated, but the truth wasn't. But we learned early on that even after cancer, or other tragedies that life later drops on you, that there is a normal, it's just a NEW normal. So with a smile, Mom would hand us our snow gear and off we'd go, another day of childhood, our Mom waiting for us with treats when we got home, refusing to let us see when she was worried, when she was in pain.

Before cancer, our list of "should do's was really quite long. And like other families that cope with tragedy or disease, we quit using the work "should" quite so much and enjoyed every day, as if it was our last, because, quite frankly, we were never sure it wasn't.

She crammed a lot of life into her remaining years, which were much too short.  Having death a presence that crept into each room behind her, she developed a joyous enthusiasm for living that forced it's shadow into deep dark corners where it was, for the moment, hidden. Her lack of self pity and embracement of the good in each day, invigorated those around her, who, had we been forced to suddenly grow up to embrace life's unfairness, would have inevitably been stripped of the wonder and joy that life brings


There is a brief moment when one has cheated death, be it in a hospital or perhaps an airplane, a fleeting feeling of being utterly alive which occurs in times of danger or great physical intensity. In Zen Buddhism it is reached through meditation and is called kensho, a moment of feeling one with the universe. It's a life altering change, and often one that makes a person wholly appreciative of all the gift's God has given them. Mom savored those gifts and passed them on to us. From her I inherited her love of the outdoors, and her badge from the Sheriff's Department which lays proudly in the drawer next to my own badge. I hope that in me also resides her courage and her loving heart, truly things worth keeping. On this chill Winter day, I hope Mom can somehow look down and read these words.

As I look out my hotel window I notice a white quickening on the horizon small grey clouds scurrying as in first defense of the next band of warrior winter white. I can almost see the promise of a quiet quilt of snow to be spread across the landscape during the night. And I think back to those small comforts, the safe refuge formed by a old blanket and a card table as I waited for my Mom to come home. The afternoons building forts and futures out in the snow. As an adult now, I look into the grey cocoon of the advancing low overcast and feel, not grief, but comfort as the brisk wind through the trees carries the memory of love to me

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Don't Drink and Decorate

We've all had some dwelling in our youth that was less than "tastefully" decorated. But as we grow up and move into adulthood, we sometimes get to experience some really nice places, be it a vacation, our dream home or a honeymoon or first class business trip where you get to stay in a luxury multi star hotel

It was a hotel with good expectations. Highest Four Star hotel rating, fine dining and "new and complete renovation". It billed itself as a "peaceful oasis of sophistication" in a bustling city down south. I had visions of a long swim, or a soak in the hot tub followed by a night of relaxation in soothing decor for the weary traveler. For the price I expected, well , peaceful luxury. Soothing colors, a virtual SPA of a room. What I got was red, black, ultra modern with lots of bright shiny silver and the Bathroom from the OK Corral. It was so ugly I actually called a couple people and described it. Then I walked a careful grid in the room until I found alcohol.

Boring blog fodder for a Wednesday night but I couldn't resist as my friends told me I had to post this.
I will leave the name of the establishment out of here because the wonderful staff, I'm sure, didn't pick the decorator and they were really nice. The bed was comfy and the food, quite tasty (if you don't mind paying $50 for an 8 ounce steak and a side salad). But the room. Oh my eyes, my eyes.!

<----- Maybe there's one of these with the soap and the shampoo.

The lampshade was bright shiny red and brought an interesting red glow to the room. I figured if I got lonely enough I could open the curtain and light the lamp and within an hour there would be five guys looking for a good time at my door.

The extra chair for lounging was comfortable if you were a anorexic Hobbit.
We'll start with the art work. First the one over the desk. Don't look directly at your computer monitor. Medication questions should be posed to a pharmacist. Readers experiencing nausea should leave the post. I called this one, "Road Trip from Hell".

Over the bed was the artists rendition of Cirque de Soleil, but which I called Les clowns sur les drogues. Maybe it's just that I'm not deep enough for modern art.. Maybe I just don't "get" modern art like this guy does.

At least I can turn the one light that's not red off and get a bath.

Maybe not. The bath was painted in Cow Patty Brown with a towel rack that resembled something that I think was leftover from Chain Gang Fantasy Camp. There was no other decor but a stark mirror, some shampoo, soap and such, and alas, no eye mask.

The wall couldn't decide it it was world's biggest padded headboard or padded walls. What wasn't padded was a muted CP Brown and, ever so soothing with the bright red, brown, black and silver. It was a room with the coziness of a dental lab, albeit without the sink to spit.

As I settled in, I had this nagging feeling I'd seen this room before. Then it hit me. It looked like the modernistic furnishings from a scene in Woody Allen's 1973 movie Sleeper. I didn't see the movie when it came out, as I was too young to pay much attention to such things. But I saw it later and remember certain bits and pieces of it.

Hmmm. Let me check the closet. If they have an Orgasmatron in here, I may reconsider my review of this place.

Stay warm. I'll talk to you all soon. - Brigid