Monday, February 29, 2016

DIY - Food and Friends

Sunday we were up early as that was the day we were pulling the old sink and counter top (one piece stamped steel) out of the kitchen, dismantling the plumbing to it and adding the antique farmhouse sink with a temporary drain until we can get the wall apart to plumb it back behind the wall in prep for the new cabinets.
It's not that big but that sucker is going to be heavy.  Once all the small appliances were moved to the basement, we rearranged so the farmhouse sink could get wheeled in. The fridge is still wheeled from when the tile went in as it will get moved one last time for plaster work and painting.
 Ding Dong - the back up troops have arrived to help.

 Midwest Chick and Mr. B. are Here!  Scritches for everyone!
OHHHH! Midwest Chick brought a goodie bag.  Hammond's candy bars, some Italian dressing in a wine bottle from St. Julian winery and. .
incredible truffles from the Chocolate Garden in Michigan - the Citrus Ginger ones were the bomb.
But back to work.
After the counter top was carried off to the garage, it was time to "exterminate" the plumbing as they say on Dr. Who.
 Midwest Chick and I fled to the safety of the jeep with some new cookbooks to peruse.
One section of cabinets was removed so we had space to put the temporary drain from the farmhouse sink until it can get plumbed back behind the wall as the cabinets go in.  Then a temporary wood counter top went in so I had a clean space to work the next few weeks. I am so going to love having a solid space of counter from wall to wall.  With the appliances and the sink in the middle, weekly bread baking was challenging.

Time to eat. While the menfolk worked away Midwest Chick and I caught up discussing important things like raw honey face cream, wine, and if there is a physiological correlation between too much botox, the frontal lobe and voting liberal. It was good to laugh and be silly  - the last year with aging parents was tough on us both and we had little time to do this.

Then, while the menfolks were at a stopping point, we  hit a local family owned Mexican place. Sometimes the tiny little "hole in the wall "places are the best.

No tomatoes for this redhead but I do love my Americanized (on request) carne asada tacos with the homemade hot sauce and lime. (the tortillas are made every morning from scratch).  Their hot sauce is so good I ask for extras for my eggs later in the week.
It seems like the other day when this wall (home to a long, ugly window) looked like this. (I do NOT miss the red peeling linoleum floor).
The walls will be painted a light creamy yellow which will really make the sink and the window"pop".
It's in - and we have water.  A few more weeks for the cabinets to be completed and then we can touch up plaster and paint the walls and ceiling after the soffit is removed and on to the next project.

Reinforcing the front porch which has all the fortitude of a campaign promise, new front steps and fresh paint trim around some of the windows.
It never ends when you have a 100 year old house and it's SO worth it. Especially when you have wonderful friends to help relax and unwind after the adventures.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Ciabatta Sundays

Today the old sink is unplugged and the antique farmhouse sink is set up with the drain system to be put in. The countertop to the left which is solid, is coming out with a little help from two friends, and a piece of hardwood is going on top as a temporary counter as the custom cabinets are being finished up (about five more weeks). We're going to wait and finish the paint and plaster work after the cupboards, backsplash and inlaid light is done as the whole soffit is coming out and we'll have to repaint anyway.

This wall originally had a long, ugly window that Partner replaced with the smaller stained glass. Then he plumbed it to free up the single countertop to the left for a long counter, without a sink in the middle.  The kitchen is quite tiny, so space is carefully planned.

So - before the water was turned off, breakfast. I usually make French toast with leftover white bread but today I had some crusty Ciabatta that was getting old and I have to say it made the best French toast ever. Because there is so many large holes, there was lots of opportunity for the rich batter to seep into every nook and cranny. You will need to let it soak in the egg an extra minute and swish it around gently to get the holes filled in but it makes a GREAT breakfast.
It's about as easy as breakfast gets.  Slice four slices per person and set aside.  Using one egg for each person whisk in bowl and add a splash of milk (about 1/4 cup for two people), a few drops of vanilla and a small spoonful of honey.  Soak the bread for about a minute each side then cook on a hot griddle. The center is all soft and pillowy, almost like brad pudding and the crust has a nice bite to it without being "crisp".
I don't think I'm going to make my old French toast again. Pair this and a plate of bacon and some orange juice and coffee and everyone will be happy.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Happy Birthday Big Bro

Today would have been my Big Brother's 60th Birthday.  I think about what I would have done today if he was still here - probably onlibe looking for a horrifically tacky and politically incorrect floral bouquet to send him (teleflower, you are MUCH too tasteful, all you have  are beautiful flowers in lovely arrangements, I couldn't find anything involving cactus, spent brass and a fart cushion.).  If I'd been able to visit him where I would have made his favorite cake.  He baked one for me one time when he was a teen - it was burned on the outside and raw in the middle  - apparently in "doing the math" he thought if 45 minutes at 300 F was good, 20 minutes at 500 was even better.  Dinner that went with it was egg rolls and Tater Tots. But I loved him for the effort. By the time e got into his 20's though he was a good of a cook as I, though he went to his grave with his recipe for Bullie Beans (with tequila, I'm sure of it) refusing to give it to me until I gave him his Rat Fink ring back, a much beloved joke between us).

He always did something special when I came home, balloons for my bedroom, a gallon of my favorite Tillamock Marionberry ice cream in the freezer, a card.  Always.

I know if I could turn back time and see him again,  I'd hold him close in a hug, even though he towered above me and was twice my size, telling him I loved him and he'd tell me back, for he never had a hard time with those words.

So for tonight - I'll raise a toast and share a chapter from Saving Grace - A Story of Adoption which is as much about he and I as my having a child and giving her up.  This months proceeds from both books are going to the Ontario SPCA .

That's Ontario Canada, not California, an organization some friends are part of.
Chapter 49 - Lifespan

I tried to visit Dad as often as I could in those first weeks after we lost my brother. He wished to remain living in his home, so a home health nurse was hired to provide full time in-home care and drive him where he needed to go. I had mentioned his getting another dog---but he was having difficulty standing up, so a dog that had to be let out would probably not be a good idea.
But Dad has had a number of rescues over the years, the last being a Dalmatian named Ashlee. When he got her he was 90 and the dog was almost 12. There was no telling who would outlive whom; but he was so happy to have that four-legged friend to share his big old house with.
But with good quality food and regular veterinary care, Ashley the Dalmatian lived two very comfortable years with her; and Dad at 94 now is doing better than average.
Think about it. As a society we now live decades longer than our ancestors. I remember reading the book Alaska by James Michener; in the opening chapter, there in the dawn of time they speak of "the Ancient One," a woman who was a great healer and spiritual leader. She was in her thirties. Oh great, I thought as I read it, first the big three-oh, now I'm ancient.

These days most of us can expect to live well into our seventies and eighties, some even into their hundreds. Yet some creatures live only months or even days.
Late one fall a cricket moved into my garage of the house. Night after night he chirped away on the other side of my bedroom wall. Leaving the garage door open a bit didn't encourage him to leave, only to have a party with some of his bigger friends. I was able to shoo them out, but he hopped into a little crack to hide so he could continue to serenade me. After a few nights of that I was wondering as to ways to dispatch him. (Would using a silencer on a cricket be illegal or apropos?)

I did a little checking online---apparently
the life span of the average field cricket is just a couple of months. Already an adult, he likely had only a few weeks to live, if that.

The poor little guy wouldn’t even make it to Halloween; but each night he sang as if he would live forever. I didn't have the heart to capture him and move him outside. He could stay safe in my garage as my pet cricket. I named him "Mort."

Consider the hummingbird: such a small creature with such a high metabolism, yet it has a life span much greater than you'd think, with some living more than a decade. I watch them from the feeders in summer, warring for the liquid nectar found within, fending off others that wish to take it; watching, guarding, always wanting more of life's sweetness. No different than what we want.
I think of lives cut short that achieved so much for their brief time here, like my favorite poet John Keats, who threw over medicine to write some of the most sublime odes in the English language and died at 25 from tuberculosis; Percy Shelly; M.F. Xavier Bichat, French army surgeon turned pathologist; Évariste Galois, mathematician and inventor of group theory who died at 20; Robert Fergusson, Scottish Poet; Saint Albertus Magnus. Their words, their teachings still follow me where I go, whispering to me in unexplored depths or darkest of nights---such great thoughts tinged with wonder and mystery, those whispers of slain genius.

Fortunately our human life span is much longer than most creatures’---if we are blessed and take care of ourselves. But even the greatest expanses of time seem so short in recollection. Walking through the little village where I live, the sidewalk glinted with little bits of mica. Not the prophet Micah who told us our human task is to do justly, but the geological kind. As a kid, the sidewalk would glitter like broken glass upon the tide flats from the small glints of mica within it. My brother said it was made of broken starships, and I believed him. For though there are limits to what we may accept as children, there is no limit to what we can believe, nourished as we are by the embrace of the incredible that is found right beneath our feet.
Into the warm days of fall that is childhood's longest hour, in those weeks of summer vacation we believed we'd live forever. We weren't content just to ride our bikes on these glittering trails of star-stuff; we'd get big pieces of chalk and drew on them, hopscotch, tic-tac-toe, our names. We'd play well into the dark, coming in only when we were hungry, the front doors unlocked to our comings and goings---time for us was something we could pick up and put in our pocket.

When I go home and my brother’s laughter is silent, there is no weather of distance between that time and now. It seems like yesterday. But I have realized that the saying is true: man does carry his life in his hand. My dad's siblings, though blessed with a hardy disposition, also possessed an intrepidity of spirit and courage that might have been called reckless in others; but in them it was a natural trait when tempered with a soundness of choice. They honored their bodies as vessels of God and didn't abuse them with drugs or an excess of alcohol or even food. In the pictures I have of them together I see only lean, honed strength and purpose of duty.
I look at a collection of bones on a table, beautiful to me in their pristine immobility. I look at a glass box my aunt left me that sits on my desk. In it is Urania ripheus, more commonly known as the sunset moth, hovering on lifeless wings that glow in the light as if lit aflame. The sunset moth is found on the shaded areas of river banks in Madagascar. The essence of life floats elusive, half submerged in the waters of science, buoyed by God. I've spent the last fifteen years studying the many tragic ways life ends; and still I draw great comfort for the way it fights to remain.

Somewhere a thousand miles away, meal time drawn to a close, Dad will be in his recliner reading that old family Bible, the book for all the days remaining. Dad never knew his destiny would be to live to great age, to love deeply, outliving children and two wives. A love that entranced him and made him its own to the most secret of thoughts, to the disquiet of blood, to his last exhalation. He did not know his destiny but he followed it with unfaltering footsteps. The Bible is gently laid in his lap as he nods his head for a nap. The winter window fades, then glows---a living spark there among the shadowed embers as at his feet lies an empty dog bed.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

There's Not Much that Can't Be Improved by Chocolate Chips

On the wall at Dad's is a platter that my Uncle the engineer brought back from a business trip to Iran back in the late 50's or 60's.   He had told my Dad that it was a serving plate, covered with olives and all sorts of tidbits and they gave him the platter as a gift.  I went to snap a photo and only after enlarging it, did I see someone in the kitchen pilfering a cookie.

When I arrived at Dad's on a recent trip out, Dad only had packaged cookies from the store, made out of special Keebler Kevlar, so I said I'd make up a batch from whatever was on hand, once I got a nap. He's sleeping a lot more now, but for being almost 96, I'm just astounded he still gets around, riding his exercise bike each morning and going for a walk on any day it's now snowing or pouring.

Dad was a little low on chips, sugar and real butter. so I added in some sour cream for moistness, and a hint of cardamom and orange zest to accent the reduced dark chocolate.  It made a soft, almost cake-like cookie that Dad raved about.

2 cups flour
1 and 1/2  tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
pinch of sea salt
1/2 tsp cardamom
1 tsp. orange zest
1/2 cup butter, gently melted so it's mostly  liquid but not hot
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream (NOT light or non -fat)
1 cup dark chocolate chips.

Preheat oven to 375 F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or grease it well, even if non stick).

In a large bowl, with a hand mixer, cream together the melted butter, sugar and vanilla until smooth. Beat in eggs and sour cream until well blended.

Sift together flour, baking soda, salt and cardamom, stir into the butter mixture. Mix in the orange zest and dark chocolate chips.

Drop dough by heaping tablespoons 3 inches apart on cookie sheets. Bake 13 to 15 minutes, until lightly golden brown.. These will be a soft, lightly colored cookie so do NOT over bake. Let cool on wire rack

Dad didn't get a fancy platter, but after his late afternoon snack of cookies, he did get a small martini and both remotes so he was a happy man.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Scotch Night

Of course the Scotch night where friends sampled this was the week I got suddenly sick with a horrible head cold/flu thing and didn't even hear about it til later.

But for future Scotch nights with friends and family - some quotes.

“It sloweth age, it strengtheneth youth, it helpeth digestion, it cutteth flegme, it relisheth the harte, it lighteneth the mynd, it quickeneth the spirits, it cureth the hydropsie, it repelleth gravel . . . and trulie it is a sovereigne liquor if it be orderlie taken”.
Raphael Hollinshed,  - Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, 1577

“There is no such thing as a bad whisky. Some whiskies just happen to be better than others.”
- William Faulkner
“Set up another case bartender! The best thing for a case of nerves is a case of Scotch.”
- W. C. Fields quotes
“No married man is genuinely happy if he has to drink worse whisky than he used to drink when he was single.”
- H. L. Mencken
“The light music of whiskey falling into a glass – an agreeable interlude.”
- James Joyce

“Too much of anything is bad, but too much of good whiskey is barely enough.”
 - Mark Twain
“For God’s sake bring me a large Scotch. What a bloody awful country. “
- Reginald Maudling

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Dear Chick Fil a

Thank you for taking coleslaw off the menu.  For you see, I was eating at Chick Fil a EVERY single week, to get my fix of a chicken sandwich topped with the coleslaw as part of my sandwich. I'd add to that a small waffle fries with Ranch to dunk them in and a drink, figuring I probably spent $400 at Chick Fil a last year. Sure, for the rest of the week I skipped the fast food - this was my treat on a busy workday.

But apparently, people want a Kale salad, to go with the breaded and fried items instead of looking at the meal as a treat. I'm not sure when kale got its own marketing company  but it went from the vegetable that was hard to clean, tough and bitter to the world's greatest superfood almost overnight,

I admit I tried kale, trying a "Paleo" diet to lose the extra 4 holiday pounds. Lean meat, berries and lots of salad, right?  But the end game to that experiment was not the kale in salad which was as fun as a root canal, but the Kale Chips.  Yes, Kale salted and dried in the oven until they were bite-sized little flakes that tasted like dirt (but with natural sea salt!).  No wonder the mastadons died off.  The caveman fed them kale chips.
It's bad enough that when I buy yogurt there's about 55 different kinds including, soy, cow, goat, coconut, Greek, Icelandic, Australian, low fat, non fat, full fat, baby yogurt (seriously, you have to spend twice as much for a brand with a picture of a  baby on it?) Yogurt used to be a 3 second stop to make a selection, now it's harder that buying a dang bra.

But Chick fil a said we wanted kale in our lives. It's hip!  It's healthy! (you can burn extra calories with the gag reflex due to the taste of kale!)

So they gave us the recipe for the coleslaw that had been around since I was in grade school so I could make it at home.  It was then that I realized that in occasionally wanting the beloved foods of my youth, things that simply tasted delicious, instead of worrying about how many anti-oxidants I'm getting at the drive through as I suck down a drink with 87 grams of sugar - I am officially old and no longer the key demographic for hip products..

So Chick fil a -  have fun with the millennials sitting around crunching on their kale salad while they stare intently in their smartphones in case some pop star sent out a Twitter post.

I'll be with my old fart friends, sharing some stories, laughing, drinking a beer and eating THIS.
Because I didn't go to Chick Fil a for my health.

But I appreciate the recipe.

Love  - Brigid

Monday, February 15, 2016

For Michael - The Music of Motion - an Airman's Story

What is the first sound you can remember? Most might say their mother's voice. I struggle to remember her voice, she died when I was just entering adulthood.  But  I do remember her smell, a mixture of clean rain and Chanel No. 5. It's a smell, like that of sandalwood, that I can't catch a whiff of now without going soft and quiet, with this little echo in my chest.

Dad kept a few of her things around, her light blue sweater draped over the armchair where she read all her books, her robe, last  in my closet where I took it to wear in her last days in hospice so I could smell her scent.  It was as if their tiny presence somehow compelled this home to remain that, more than brick and mortar, but the place that held the sentience and character of the woman who graced it.  Instead, just looking at them in the silence was simply an affirmation of emptiness, and soon, they too were put away.

I still have them, the sweater, the robe, but I do wish I could remember her voice.

One of my earliest memories of hearing comes from the sound of the ocean during summer vacation, flirting up against the sand while I played with a little bucket and shovel while gulls cried around me like mewing kittens. So many sounds as I grew, the clatter of my Mom juggling pots and pans making us dinner every night, the spray of the garden hose as my father washed our station wagon every Saturday, the wind pouring through the masts of trees, and later . . . . the sound of an airplane.

When I travel, I hate sitting in the back of the plane, it's noisy, but the noise of strangers. Give me the cockpit any day. A cockpit is rarely quiet, but it's a symphony of familiar sounds. The voice of the air traffic controller, a reassuring sotto voice confirmation that two minds are in agreement, and all is well with the world. The clatter of a trim switch and the beep of an altitude alerter, sounds of warning that the earth is approaching, throttles coming back, there it is. The ground. It's solid underneath you, and hard, and if you flared too high you'll break your aircraft against its incontrovertible passivity. But sometimes the earth acquiesces and the wheels kiss the pavement like lips against a warm neck at dawn

Aloft and level though, airplane sounds stabilize into a gentle song with just the occasional background chorus of the controllers, and you would have time to think and perhaps chat a little. Pilots talk of many things aloft settled into a long cruise on autopilot, and the adage is true, when with the opposite sex, pilots talk about airplanes, and in an airplane, pilots talk about the opposite sex. We talk of the spiritual and we talk of the mundane. We talk about families and jobs, spouses, children, food, pranks played, food again and surprise - we talk more about airplanes.

There were nights were we got in a long enough layover to play tourist or simply catch up on relaxation and sleep, carrying the cockpit conversation over to a bar or a little restaurant.  Such were the nights where we'd have a spot of whiskey, telling  tales of adventure of some pilot, who could have been any of us, or none of us, a story that was not boasting but simply a telling, stories that had been lived or inherited, those stories that have been told over whiskey since time began. There was just something comforting in the voices, the words, the recognition of sound in the air, the clink of ice, and if you were in a really low end part of the world, the cluck of the basket of live chickens hanging from the ceiling.

Then, there are the days where sleep was hard to find, the day grinding into the night, when the only words spoken outside of flaps and slats and EPR's were, with a quick look at your "dinner",  "gee, I bet this would taste good warm".  On such days we simply continued on in silence, surrendering our misfortunes and our joys to God and Pratt and Whitney, which sang to us outside like a Mockingbird in the moonlight.

I think of a flight back before I hung up my wings, one last long flight over foreign lands.  Up at altitude, across that vast stretch of blue, we laughed and we shared. Much of it was happy, but occasionally a story would come back from a compatriot Gone West, and through the laughter, tears stung our eyes as a familiar awe-filled sadness enveloped our little space and we grew silent, remembering him, sounds of mourning and respect. Airmen and soldiers are a small community of thousands, and we never forget our dead.

It was still dark as we flew over the Prime Meridian after stopping for fuel in Greenland. The Prime Meridian is the common zero for longitude and time reckoning throughout the globe. The one place where we are all at one point, and the moment stands still, an absolute where for a second, time and motion are tethered to our aircraft like a careless rope.

As we cross over I'll synchronize my watch with my copilots and attempt to capture that time, to somehow gather it to us. Only then does it hit. all we have experienced from this cockpit, Different languages and sights, smells and sounds - the roar of an Allison engine, as it starts with that artistic endeavor of curse words and meditation, the underlying scent of jet fuel, oily and dark, that hangs in the mist on an early morning ramp.

The morning air burning with cold as we trace the soft scratches in the panel with gloved hands, trying to keep them warm while we wait for orders, the worn red ribbons of red laying like frozen icicles against the landing gear as the crew chiefs finish their tasks Yet such thoughts disappear as the sound of the engine brings us back to our tasks; we're still at the Prime Meridian where there is precision and accord, spoken with the deep anesthetic hush of sameness.

We sit in that quiet hush, veins flowing with JP4, the nourishment of salt that comes from flesh and our eyes, that old blood that has explored new lands and ancient skies, the hardships of separation and the circumstances that lurk, to hurl you into wonder, or to snatch you from that blue, into the dark.  We've seen glory, tears and abrogated peace from this windshield.  Though we miss being home, we'd not have missed it, given a choice for this duty, not deferred, is the ultimate protection of those we leave at home.

The sun began to awake as we neared our destination, the shadow of our craft skimming the clouds. The descent was at hand and the day surged towards sunrise or would if we could see it through the prevailing, thin mist of a foreign world. The sound of conversation ended there. We simply basked in the hum of the engines and the view out the window to our world. The clouds gathered up in a huddle of virgin thunderstorms. Up above, through a small portal of light, the trail of another aircraft 1000 feet above, vanishing upward like smoke as we started the ballet of preparing a jet aircraft to land, staring mutely through a spattered windshield across which the wipers swung like metronomes.

The morning sun hits the windscreen, an explosion of white light that leaves nothing, no bone, no ash, just a vast deep plane of blue, the alter onto which we lay ourselves down at .82 Mach.  For just a moment, I leaned my head wearily against the left side wall of the cockpit, as the sun, my ship and I were, for a moment joined, an eclipse of light and sound and motion.

Up ahead the outline of land, there in the thin clouds, dissolving away beneath unfettered rain as if eroded by the sea. For just that instant, I felt, rather than heard, the vibration rattle through my bones, breathing in and letting the surge of the engines push me on into the light.  It's at once, the sound of an ocean, the laughter of a young girl, all wrapped into the bright continuous hum of a jet engine. The music of motion that pushes us towards home. 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

February 14

Whatever you end up doing, whoever you chose to spend your time with, may you all have a day that balances the sweet and the dark.

Happy Valentine's Day
- Brigid

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Stay in the Boat

True Blue Sam the blogger is someone perhaps just a few of you know as a long time friend and commenter here.  He's also something more special. He's my father in law. He and my mother in law, both firearm owners and skilled and proficient shooters, had a home invasion on Thursday night. The person involved may have been high on drugs (I'm guessing meth) - he DID ransack one of the freezers in the garage, taking a ham hock, a tub of lard and some ocra.  Just saying.

No one was hurt, but there are lessons to be learned.  Not just the fact that the perp been detained earlier for a event, had a psyche eval (by Skype no less) and was released to continue his night of mayhem. But rapid response when this sort of thing happens. (Semi Auto is your friend).

We always worried that  being in the city that something like this would happen here, and in addition to our stickers shouting alarm system! we added extra bolts, top to frame  and bottom braced against a floor joist, for the walk out basement doors, in addition to cutting back shrubbery and adding extra lighting.

But this happened in a very quiet rural area, where the nearest "city" is houses, a barber shop and a church, just as they were heading to bed, and not thinking of defense.

Just some things to think about folks and we're just thankful they are safe, though a vehicle was stolen and totaled (after getting some serious air time during a chase through the woods) and there was a lot of damage to the home as the perp used firewood outside to break out several windows in an attempt to get into the main house before hitting the garage.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

What Europeans Think Americans Eat for Breakfast.

Sent by a friend who said someone thought I'd taken the picture to which Old NFO replied "It couldn't have been her.  Brigid would have laid the pistol on its left side to make it faster to pick up!!"

HA!  (but it's making my triple berry muffin  this morning look sort of wimpy now).