Saturday, January 28, 2012

Why I Dislike Rachael Ray (not personally)...

Imagine the boots in ladies size 11
and keep the jeans and that's me. 
I'm a addict now and in addition to finding more home renovation, craft, food, and design ideas than I can possibly implement in a lifetime, I am also faced daily with more linguistic mutilation from Rachael Ray than I can handle. Here's my [completely impersonal - I'm sure she's a lovely, hardworking woman] beef with Rachael Ray. She has coined the terms "Delish" and "Nutrish" (not to mention other irritants such as "Yum-O!" that I am blocking out right now) and because she's famous every wanna-be foodie has begun using those words. These insidious (because have no doubt it is her plan [or that of her very wealthy publicist/manager/advertising team] to suck everyone into using HER words so you buy HER products and watch HER shows etc) have been jammed headlong into the American vernacular.

It seems that many of my friends pin fabulous, decadent, drool-inducing delights from a wide variety of sources and I'd venture to say that 1 in 10 comments in response to their pins includes the word "Delish!". It makes me crazy. I blame Pinterest (sorry P - you know I adore you!) for bringing this abomination of the English language to the forefront of my language-related pet peeves (don't get me started on "there", "they're", and "their"!) as the frequency of food posts and subsequent comments outnumbers any other social networking site that I use.

The words are "Delicious" and "Nutritious". Abbreviating them in this way brings a lazy shame to the English language which has already been bastardized nearly beyond recognition as it is.

Here's the rub... I love playing with words - combining words or jumbling letters amuses me. Why is it okay for me and not for Rach-ish Ray-O? Probably because my silly words aren't intended to build an empire and probably aren't going to become a part of daily conversation for the general public. (I will certainly be happy to eat crow if I happen to build an empire that involves word play.)

[Steps off soap box and stores it for another day.]

Upcycled hat rack...

We have a beautiful vertical Amish coat rack that my mom gave us several years ago. I love it as it's made from rustic wood with a smooth finish. It holds quite a few coats and I often have to trim down the contents to just the jackets/sweatshirts/coats that are currently in circulation. One of the things that doesn't work well about it is if you hang a hat (like a baseball hat) on it, coats don't hang well over them and hats don't hang well over the coats. We needed a hat rack.

Recently we decided to do something about the hat issue and bought a hard piece of red oak. It was about 4'x3"x3/4" in size. We also bought some black faux wrought iron hooks for it.

My husband had gotten a router last summer and hadn't had time to play with it so he had fun routing the edge into a classic finish and then stained and finished it with polyurethane.

During the days after that it was drying, I remembered that last fall we had bought a bag full of maple sugaring taps at an antique store in VT and wondered if we could make those work as the hooks.

So A spent the afternoon puttering in his shop yesterday (he doesn't have a lot of time off so he doesn't get to his shop often enough) and figured out how to secure the taps as hooks.

Below is what it looks like. It hangs along the angle of the stairs (our makeshift mudroom) and looks great!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Cooking for 30... 40... do I hear 50?

A few months ago I learned that part of my husband's role in his fraternal lodge was to prepare meals once per month for 20-30 guys for the next year. Since I enjoy cooking I was happy to tell him that I would help him each month. Since we've begun cooking, we hit the all-time high number of attendees of 45 people this month. This makes me smile because I like to (arrogantly) think that the word has gotten out that the meals are worth attending!

We didn't make these but this is what ours look like...
plus chocolate chips. I'm drooling now.
The first meal that we made was easy - chicken, sauteed green beans, roasted rosemary red potatoes, and ice cream with hot fudge. It was a rousing success! The appreciative faces popping in the door thanking us inspired us to "up the game" for the next meal.

The next meal was inspired by our wedding meal. It was baked spiral ham, roasted maple and thyme root veggies, and homemade apple crisp. Again, a huge success!

Apparently around Thanksgiving the tradition is to have baked scallop casserole by one of the members so we got off easy that month preparing only the side dishes of roasted garlic asparagus, salad, and pie.

For the meal approaching Christmas we decided to make something un-Christmas-like since we figured everyone would have their fill of turkey and all of the fixings. We made homemade turkey and veggie lasagna with salad and deep dish brownies with ice cream and hot fudge. I made so much lasagna that I thought for sure we would have some to take home... but by the time the meal was done and everyone had their fill, there were only a few pieces left which I packed up (as we always do) for the wife of a member that has washed all of the linens every month for 30-40+ years.

In January we tried a new item that I'd never made in large quantities before - maple dijon pork tenderloin, apple sauce, green beans, salad, and roasted potatoes with... deep dish brownies (it's an easy fall back when short on time). I thought the fellas were going to knock each other over coming through the door to refill their plates and I had to act fast to even feed the kitchen staff.

This isn't our soup but ours looked just like it. YUM!
Also in January we made another meal for a separate meeting - Portuguese kale and linguica soup (loaded with veggies), rolls, salad, and ice cream with hot fudge. We made five gallons of it and thought is was waaaaaaay too much but by the time everyone left with a to-go container (they were lined up at the door to get their cups!) we ended up with only a half gallon left. Amazing!

Now it's time to think of what to do in three weeks for the next regular meeting. It's getting harder to be creative and not duplicate anything (except dessert... deep dish brownies are always worth repeating!). I admit that I've grown accustomed to the accolades and don't want to let them down!

The other fun thing is that we can feed this many people a fabulous meal without breaking the bank! It's usually around $150 for the fixings at BJ's (a club warehouse with really nice meats and veggies) and I think that's pretty good!

The rumor is that Andy will be voted into the same position for next year because the food has been so amazing. I don't think it's that amazing... it's how we cook at home but just on a larger scale. I really enjoy it and Andy and I both get great satisfaction from not only the kind words but the greatest compliments of all - when the come back for seconds (and sometimes thirds) and when they swing by the kitchen on their way out to see if there is anything left over that they can take home. That makes me happy!

Treasures in the dust...

We had a wine tasting. Don't judge us.
This past weekend I met a very dear gal pal for a short retreat in Portland, ME. It was fabulous! We chatted late into the night, ate badly (eating fru-fru cheese, fruit, chocolate and wine for lunch/dinner seemed like a great idea!), ran the stairwells and halls of the Eastland Park Hotel at 11pm as penance for the copious amounts of delightful calories consumed, and spent hours discussing wishful renovations to my house and realistic ideas for the home she and her husband are currently designing/building. We also spent several hours in my new favorite place - Portland Architectural Salvage.

It is the holy place for anyone with big ideas about upcycling products - making the old into something new. With 12,000 square feet of display space on four floors, it literally takes HOURS to see everything! I skipped an entire floor because I wanted to focus on the items on the other three floors (I'm not in the market for tubs and such anyway) and I'm sure I still missed lots of things!

Hard to see but there are two drawers here. The shiny thing is
a glass block reclaimed from a glass factory.
I walked away with three items that I love. Two are the same - they are wooden drawers from an old chicken egg incubator. I wasn't sure what they were at first but ventured some guesses including incubator drawer but I wasn't sure. They were clearly of an agricultural nature judging from the wire bottoms and unfinished wood. The salvage store owner wasn't sure what they were either but having had three immediate alternative use ideas for them, I haggled a lower price and brought them home. Upon closer inspection at home, I discovered bits of egg shell adhered to the inside of the drawer and found images of similar drawers from 1950's incubators on the internet and therefore confirmed my assumption.

Champion Milk Cooler and Aerator circa 1892!
The third item is an old fashioned milk cooler and aerator. I grew up on a small dairy farm but didn't recognize it as something that we had used. It was, after all, patented in 1892. It is the perfect shape and height to make it into the base for a table so I bought it.

My thinking is that I'd like to start making unique upcycled items and possibly sell them. But... After some research about the milk cooler and realizing that it's a very hard item to come by... I'm pretty sure it's here to stay.

I have begun looking for salvage stores closer to home and am thinking that this weekend might find me at one in New Bedford. Apparently my husband knew there was one there but was avoiding telling me... I think he's afraid that our basement (aka my workshop) will begin to look like a salvage yard.

My greatest struggle in finding really cool things to upcycle will certainly be... letting them go. I'll do my best though!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Frifildi... A fun combination of letters... or is it more?

Recently I posted a comment on my friend's blog and her word verification popped up with a fun combination of letters that caught my imagination. Frifildi. Come on... That's a fun word! So I put it out there in Facebook-land for my friends to toss out ideas for definitions of this as-yet-undefined word. Below is what they came up with... what about you?

Frifildi. It's the jumbled code that I just had to enter in order to post a comment on a friend's blog post. It makes me chuckle and I feel that it requires a definition. Please chime in. Frifildi.
 ·  · January 5 at 10:08pm near Hyannis, MA
    • Lorien Silverleaf The crap that ends up at the bottom of your purse. You know, "My gum ended up all covered with frifildi from the bottom of my purse"
      January 5 at 10:11pm ·  ·  3
    • Jewels Hadman-Annino A rash...that you get in Italy.
      January 6 at 9:08am ·  ·  1
    • Polly Tobin Goddard The joyful noise that bubbles out when you are having more thrilling fun than a mere laugh will cover. I'm pretty I'll frifildi the whole way down when I finally go skydiving. :-)
      January 6 at 9:55am · 
    • Jewels Hadman-Annino The next family to upstage the Kardashians....The Frifildi wedding will be the event of the century...24hrs later: Nicolettia Frifildi has filed for divorce...
      January 6 at 10:04am ·  ·  1
    • Polly Tobin Goddard Ha ha J - you've got some good ones!
      January 7 at 2:28pm ·  ·  1
    • Jewels Hadman-Annino Could also be a rare tropical flower that only blooms once every 122 years. "The Peruvian Botanical Institute anxiously waits for the Frifildi to unfurl it's delicate bloom."
      Or a Comet! "NASA has launched counter strike missiles against the Frifildi Comet. If they miss, most of the mid-west will become a lifeless crater."

A Meandering Path... The Early Years.

When I have conversations with people about jobs I've held or places I've lived, most look at me quizzically and wonder how I did all of that before I turned 29. Okay okay... I'm 42 but I did cover a lot of ground in my younger years. Since my resume no longer captures many of these gems, I am compelled to start at the very beginning and track what jobs I've had (and therefore, where I've lived) since I entered the workforce at the tender age of 13. Ready? Here we go!

Okay - I actually really first started earning money younger than 13 - I must have been 11 or 12 when I first started babysitting. The fact that the kids I babysat now have kids old enough to have kids is an entire blog post unto itself!

13 years old (Summer of 1983) - Moved to Ogunquit, ME and lived in a family friend's dingy basement apartment with three other 17 & 18 year old girls for the summer. I worked as a chamber maid at an inn next door, a dish washer at the neighboring restaurant, and a bus-person at a restaurant way down "the drag" on Route 1 - a long-arse bicycle ride away... especially in the pouring rain.

14 years old - Home (Cornwall/Kent, CT). Began teaching skiing at Mohawk Mountain Ski Area. I did it because I enjoyed a free season's pass as an elementary student in town but that opportunity dried up when we graduated from 8th grade. I ended up loving it and taught skiing at Mohawk off and on until I graduated college in 1993.

15 years old - Continued working at Mohawk and began my career as an ice cream scooper at Stosh's Ice Cream in Kent, CT. We dished up homemade (still one of my favorite brands ever!) ice cream to the likes of James Taylor, Kevin Bacon, and Michael J. Fox. Yep, I'm dropping names! While I'm at it, I should admit that I didn't know who James Taylor was until after I had served him some blueberry ice cream made from Henry Kissinger's (yep, THAT H.K.!) blueberry bushes. I was a pretty cool scooper until my co-worker said "Don't you know who that IS???"  I worked there for the better part of two years and loved it! It was the hub of our small town social life! My favorite dish to scoop was called "The Dip-a-dopolis" (sp?) and included something ridiculous like 32 scoops of ice cream and every topping on the bar. To this day I still can't offer anyone ice cream without asking "One scoop or two? Cup or Cone? Sugar or plain?"

16 years old - Ice cream scooper by summer (with mega buff right arm) and ski instructor by winter (with mega buff thighs). I also did a short stint working at the local dry cleaners. It wasn't my favorite gig as I hated the smell of the cleaning fluids and it was b-o-r-i-n-g when nobody came in for hours!

17 years old - This is when my lack of academic ambition came into play and I managed to convince myself, my parents, and my guidance counselor that it was a good idea to go on "Work Study" for my senior year of high school. I had two jobs: In the winter I ran the ski school desk and taught skiing (and skied during every free time we had - yeah, it was hard) and year-round I worked for Kent Carved Signs as a sign finisher. I blame my poor long-term memory on the long hours in the paint and stain room with zero ventilation.

From here on the ages get a little fuzzy so I'll ditch that format.

Garage Lacky at Tobin's Garage, Kent, CT. You might figure out that from the name of the business that it was a family business. This means that you do what needs doing no matter what it is, what time it needs doing or what other plans you might have had. I did everything from shuttle vehicles for the dealership and service department to drive school buses to invoice customers and do sales paperwork to bank/post office runs to lunch runs... it was my year of bouncing after an unsuccessful semester as a graphics design major and motivated me to find what I wanted to do and get to it!

Recreation Activities Aide (not sure about the title) at Lakeridge in Burrville, CT. This was a long way from home (45 minute commute) but it was my first stint in the world of recreation. I enjoyed it for the most part but soured on the job after continually being treated like a " second class townie" by the wealthy folks that weekended there. Ick.

That brings me up to around 19 years old. Not bad for just a few years in the work force, eh? Oh... it gets better and more varied as time goes on. Tune in for the next post!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Spring Cleaning... Not Just for Spring...

A year and a half ago when I was having bit of an existential crisis my dear dear dear friend asked what she could do to help. I blurted out, "Help me clean out my basement!" I tried multiple times to withdraw the request - they live in northern Maine for Pete's sake! - but they would hear nothing of it. I should have known that within weeks she and the troops would roll in. By "troops" I mean her, her wonderful husband, their two adorable little girls, and a babysitter.  Her two great loves had been called to duty - helping someone she cares about and organizing stuff - how could I deny her? At some point I had also mentioned that I wanted her to teach me to sew some day as I wanted to make some slip covers for some God-awful chairs we had bought. What did she do? She arrived with her sewing machine!

Between popping down to help her husband and me in the basement as we sorted and hoed out multiple moves worth of stuff, she sat on my living room floor and made slip covers for my chairs.

That, in case you are wondering, is the very definition of a very dear friend! We didn't have to talk about my existential crisis (I had just learned that biological children were not to be a part of my future and that trying to have them had given me a dangerous blood clot in my arm which prevented me from lifting anything heavier than 10 pounds for six months) because she knew... when faced with a setback, I drop back, punt, and keep myself very busy until I figure out a way around the roadblock. Unfortunately this was not the type of roadblock that I could get around so my E.C. was deeper than any that I had ever wrestled before. I needed a fresh perspective and she could help me by covering the navy blue with gold pinstripes chairs (seriously, hello Captain Steubing!) and helping haul away stuff that we had been dragging around due to a lack of actual time to sort through it.

It was the clean slate that I needed. They spent a long weekend scurrying about our home in October and by December my funk had lifted and I faced life with a new energy.

I realized that one of the reasons that I hadn't gotten into the basement myself before that was because I wasn't committed to living in this house for more than a few years. I like it but I don't love it. It is missing key things that I can't live without - a mudroom and a garage being the primary missing elements. As I dug deeper into those feelings (without even going to counseling!) I realized that part of my E.C. included the fact that this was the first time ever that I had unpacked my things with the very real possibility of staying in one place for more than two years. It was a little scary. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was more exciting than scary and I began to embrace it.

Isn't this magnificent?  This isn't mine but I covet it
 and have a similar item bookmarked at Ikea. Settling in affords
me the opportunity to find just the right piece for its purpose. 
Since then, I've been realizing the benefits of being settled in one place. Here are a few benefits in no particular order: I can find our Christmas decorations and I don't feel guilty about adding new items to the collection; I can design and re-design the use of a particular space until I find a use that works (see former 'dining space' that is now a sitting area. And when the cat goes to kitty heaven, just wait to see what I do with his sunroom!); I can get creative about some of the items I have collected from my family farm and have actually used an oxen yoke as a hanging pot rack and some old clapboards for additional shelving in the kitchen; I have taken a full inventory of the towels and sheets that I have collected over the years and (aside from my Sesame Street sheets) have pared them down to a reasonable amount that I can legitimately use and store; I can find a place for everything and put everything in its place... and get rid of the extra stuff that we don't really need or want; and I can feel good about choosing paint colors that we like, not fretting about if it is something that the new owners might appreciate (I'm pretty sure the carrot orange living room in our old house got painted over quickly, but that's okay).

Why am I writing this post? Well... because my husband has to work at midnight tonight and I am bored with watching TV and I just found myself down in the basement just hanging out and putting away all of the blankets and sleeping bags that I have spent the past week washing. I am now a basement junky! Oh... did I mention that I also carved out a crafting area in the corner of the basement? I'm not much of a crafter right now but it's part of the answer to my e.c. (notice it's lower case now? It's because I'm over it and that's all it deserves) and I'm going to be a crafter in my tidy, organized basement.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Healthcare - What a Mess!

A volunteer that I work with frequently has been keeping me in the loop about his healthcare issues. He suffers from a variety of issues including clinical depression and heart-related issues. I've known him for about six months and the depression has been debilitating for him. Some days when I've seen him, he can barely move or talk and he is pretty open about the medications not working and the doctor not believing him that he's having problems with it.

Last week he called me to check in about a project and he was... upbeat. It was the first time EVER that he answered "Good!" when I asked him how he was doing. He even laughed at himself recognizing this. This response was far different from the man who, the first time I met him, cried as he told me about his wife's passing and his inability to feel it because they had him on the wrong medications for his depression. Since that time two years ago, he has gotten off medication (and could barely function nearly losing his home and more) and tried new medication. His doctor told him to "get over it" when he talked about how his wife's passing had affected him deeply because of his inability to feel emotions during that time. "Get over it". Really? That's the best the doctor can do?

I am not a medical professional but after the first few interactions with him, I could tell that the guy had a will to live. He was trying to engage in life. Three days after having a stent put in, he showed up to help me do a trail maintenance project (which I never would have allowed had I known!). A week later he showed up to help with another project even though he was having some trouble with the surgical site (I managed to send him home early from this one). This guy was making an actual effort but his doctor's best advice was "Get over it and keep taking the medication that isn't working".

Finally fed up with a lack of response from this doctor, he changed doctors in December. The new doctor switched his medication immediately and within about a week, he started feeling different - better!

During the first week of January, he went to the pharmacy to get his new prescription refilled. He was clean-shaven, had gotten a hair cut. He was smiling. He felt... good. When he got there, they told him that as of 1/1/12, he no longer had any health coverage or prescription coverage. He was heart-broken. A different person would have quit. Had he not had a recent break-through with the new medication, maybe he would have quit. He had certainly considered suicide in the past! But he didn't quit. He called me and signed up for another trail project and he set about trying to get his insurance re-instated. 

After several calls he reached one person at the Medicare office who gave him the attention he needed. She helped him to get back onto a healthcare plan (without understanding why he had gotten kicked off in the first place) and even helped him select the right prescription plan based on his various medications. She was the bright spot in the darkness that is the current healthcare system.

I won't wax poetic about how to fix it. I'm not nearly informed enough to really know what needs to happen. I do know that in December I spent several hours sorting out my father's Medicare and prescription coverage because it was so confusing for him. I may not have the answers but I know that kicking people out of the system isn't it. I do know that they system is broken and needs serious attention!

The fellow I mentioned has gotten his healthcare squared away. He's got his medications covered. He's doing well. But how many other people got kicked out of the system and either don't know what to do to fix it or don't even know they don't have healthcare and may not know until they are in a bad situation? It's a mess.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Directness of Purpose...

It seems, in retrospect, that this phrase has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. When I was young, my older brother and sister both went to schools that included "Directness of Purpose" along with "Self Reliance" and "Simplicity of Life" in their motto. I later worked at one of the schools and drew on the words for many a fundraising letter. Much later I married a man who attended that school as well. The phrase wove through my consciousness for many years.

Today as I was walking at the cranberry bogs near our home with my husband and our dog, we spotted a young man carrying what looked like a very heavy pack. It's an odd sight because there are no hiking trails or camping areas near there and he was too clean and pressed to be homeless (also too far from town). We assumed immediately that he was in training for something.

The way that the bogs are laid out, you often see people a long while before you encounter them so you have plenty of time to size them up.I guessed him to be 15 to 16 years old and immediately thought that he was preparing for a Boy Scout trip. My husband thought he was a little older - maybe 19 or so.

After a few minutes our paths met and we greeted each other with a smile. I asked him if he was training for something and he said with a smile, "Yes, the military... some day." He was a bit awkward but wanted to pet the dog so we spoke for a few more minutes. "What branch of the military are you interested in?" I asked. "The Army!" he said with a broad grin. We told him about my many nieces and nephews who are or were in the Army and his interest was piqued and he asked what they each specialized in. As we listed "Helicopter pilot, military police, mortar man, supply, intelligence" and each of the ranks (that we could remember), he was enthralled.

After a few minutes we wished him well on his military career and set off to finish our walk. "Directness of Purpose" came to mind. That young man with the perfectly smooth, barely (if ever) shaved skin, flushed cheeks, and proudly wearing a ball cap displaying the American flag has a Directness of Purpose like I haven't seen in a young person in a long while. He is clearly focused and preparing and planning ahead.

My husband and I spent the last several minutes of our walk talking about our personal thoughts about the military - coincidentally, both of us feel that a period of time in the military would likely have been good for each of us. My thoughts were that I could have used the structure and discipline to help me define my goals and desires in life a little early. His thoughts were that he was thankful he had decided against it as he surely would have been in the Gulf War and he knows how that could have ended for him.

I couldn't help but think about that boy for the rest of the afternoon. He's young. He's determined. He's an idealist. He's a hero in the making. Anyone willing to write a check for their life is a hero in my book. And I couldn't help but think "If I see him again in five years, will I recognize him? He will still be young but will he still be an idealist? Will he still believe as fully then that the military was a good fit for him as he surely thought today?" and I couldn't keep my mind from asking, "Will he be alive."

Friday, January 6, 2012

Pulled chicken - the other white meat...

Yesterday my husband excavated a big package of chicken from the freezer with eight breasts in it. I wasn't sure what to do with it so, because my crock pot is still sitting on the counter after the workout it got last week, I decided to toss them in there. I found some chipotle barbecue sauce that has been hanging around for a while and poured it over the breasts covering them well. I set it on low for about four hours and then when the meat was tender, I took the breasts out of the crock to "pull" them. (Pulling them just means separating them with two forks so it's kind of stringy.)

My husband made some baked potatoes, I sauteed up some kale/spinach/something else green I can't recall with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper (mixed veggies for the rest of the family - they don't appreciate the "power greens" like I do) and voila - with very little work, we had a fabulous dinner.

It was the first time my step-son's girlfriend came over for dinner so I decided that steering clear of serving my usual goodies (tofu, avocado mashed into baked potato, sauteed eggplant etc) might be a good idea. She seemed to enjoy the meal so I think she'll be back. :-) (She's a very nice girl, by the way, so coming back is fine with me.)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

New Year's Resolutions...

I am not typically one to make New Year's resolutions because I've been famous (infamous really) for forgetting them by Martin Luther King Day. That's not a good track record. Pathetic really. Last year, however, I made a commitment to myself in December that I stuck to and it felt sooooo good that I've resolved to become a bit of a resolutionist. (It's my blog, I can make up words.)

In no particular order, here they are:

1) I will learn to knit this year. I visited a yarn store with a friend and some family members over the New Year's weekend and I realized that my need to have distracted hands while watching TV and my growing desire to be creative are possibly well-suited to knitting.

2) I will take the rest of the weight off that I didn't get to last year. Yep, that was my commitment to myself in December 2010 and without really killing myself, starving, or otherwise despising the process, I lost 50 pounds in 2011. It feels great. I now know what it takes for my body to shed the weight so why wouldn't I? I'll keep going till I'm just "the taller sister" not "the bigger sister". Borrowing clothes from my much more petite older sister has actually been a nice motivation - she's got more clothes that I like. :-)

3) I will learn to shape metal into artful, useful things. I grew up on a dairy farm with a blacksmith shop. It's in my soul and now I just need to learn how to let it out. I wish I could wind back the clock and pay closer attention to Uncle June's hammering and bellowing. The combination of fire, earth, wind and water to shape artful, useful things speaks to me.

4) I will continue on my current path of careerical joyfulness. I know. It's not a word but I like it. The past year has been a nice evolution in the enjoyment of my working life and I plan to continue to build on that.

5) Oh damn... I better finish off last year's project and write up the last few posts from my goal of experiencing 50 new things to do on Cape Cod and the Islands. I did them all, now I just have to finish writing them up!

That'll do for now. I don't want to go too overboard and experience resolution haziness come Valentine's Day.

Orange Blossom Deja Vu...

Earlier today I walked into one of our favorite lunch joints that smells absolutely amazing from the moment you get within a half mile (The Corner Store in Chatham, MA). I literally drooled when my husband suggested that we meet there. I think I could smell it from my office in Dennis. We've been going there for years and are big fans. I mean BIG fans. My step-son's picture is even on the wall because he wrote an essay about how good their burritos are when he was in 6th grade. It made the local paper and the owners gave him free burritos for a couple of years until he started to eat like a teenage boy. Did I mention that we are big fans?

I digress. So... for some reason, as soon as the spicy, smokey aromas reunited with my olfactories the words "I hope this is what Heaven smells like" crossed through my mind. It was a weird thought. I know.

As I stood inside breathing in the various scents (they have the most amazing burrito bar with all freshly-made things like today's special "Mango Chicken", homemade pico de gallo, corn salsa etc and fabulous paninis like the grilled chicken with pesto aioli, red onions, and cheddar cheese that I had today) I realized that the smells really aren't that heavenly after they linger in my nose and begin to creep into my clothing and hair.

My husband was running a little late so I had a few minutes to consider: If given a choice, what smell would I truly like to smell for all eternity? (I know. Who thinks these things in the prime of their life? I was hungry and had to distract myself from draping myself over the hot bar and dragging the magnificent smell into my lungs.) It didn't take long for my mind to wander to a scent from my life in the mid-90's in the central valley of California. The orange groves.

When the orange trees are in bloom, the scent is intoxicating for both drivers... and bees. Driving along the roads bordering the groves you are compelled to wind down the window and deeply inhale the ambrosial essence. But as much as you might want to, sticking your head out the window to enjoy the sweetness is ill-advised. Consumed with their pollinating, the bees are so singularly focused that their instinctive reaction to veer away is temporarily dampened by the luscious nectar. Inevitably they end up splattered and stuck to your windshield with their honeyed heinies. Orange-drunk drivers should take care not to follow suit.

The additional bonus of living in orange country comes on the other end of orange season - The Purchase. When you live near orange groves, there is an addiction that kicks in the moment that you see the first crates of the season loaded on trucks. An innate drive urges you to find the nearest roadside stand at the edge of a grove and buy a bag (or three) of oranges picked that morning for around a dollar a bag. Yes - that's about three dozen oranges for a three bucks! Try to match that in the grocery store! For the next few weeks, your life becomes dedicated to eating so many oranges that the canker sores are permanent (and you don't care) and finding as many ways to "put up" oranges so that in mid-winter, you might have a reminiscent moment with that delectable flavor. (At the time I lived in a cottage with no kitchen and had no way to actually "put up" the oranges... but it sounds quaint, doesn't it? If I lived there now I would definitely do it... so that has to count for something.)

Random insertion of orange-scented memory... Have you ever been to Disney World? We took my step-son about four years ago - the last trip that he willingly took with us - and went on the ride "Soarin'". During the ride (which simulates being strapped into a hang-glider and "soars" in front of a huge movie screen with rolling vistas of mountains, fields, rivers, skyscrapers etc below) one of the scenes was soaring over an orange grove and those clever Disney Imagineers piped in the scent of oranges to make it more realistic! I loved it!

So after that fond trip down memory lane while bundled up in long johns, fleece, and what I've recently come to figure out is a hat that makes me look like a man, I realized that yes indeed, I could smell orange groves for the rest of my life. It is truly a heavenly aroma!

After a tasty lunch and a wonderful walk in the woods with my husband, it was time to go grocery shopping.  In the store, I grabbed a bag of "California Oranges" without really looking closely. After I got home and put everything away, the oranges were calling me. I answered. As I opened the bag, I noticed that it said "California Oranges - Kings River Growers, Sanger, CA". Would you believe that my orange groves of the mid-90's that I was so fondly remembering earlier that very same day were those very groves! I lived in Sanger, CA. Amazingly enough, I had also been chatting with someone even earlier in the day who had just moved to Cape Cod from California and had mentioned Sanger (a very small town) and she knew it well.

I think it's a sign. I better have another orange to see if it helps me read it.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Feeding the masses...

When I tell people that I am the youngest of five kids, their mouth hangs open. Then I say, "We're Catholic" and they nod with understanding. Back in the 60's when I was born, large families like ours were the norm. At least they were in our neck of the woods.

Over the years we have seen the pros and cons of having a large family. Pro: We can field a basketball team with matching DNA. Con: We rarely are in the same place at the same time now that we have grown up and are each living our own lives. But despite the pros and cons, we tend to have a good time when we get together!

Recently we held a party in honor of my nephew in-law's recovery from testicular cancer - it was called "The Jungleberry Ball & Testicle Festival". We held it on my brother's farm in Tennessee on Halloween weekend and included Ugly Dress & Ugly Vest "contests", karaoke, dancing, apple bobbing, bounce house etc. It was a BLAST! Unfortunately not everyone could be there (that would be 37 people including my parents, siblings, nieces and nephews and great nephews. Wow... I haven't done that math before... Wow!) but we did get 23 of us there for the party.

What do you do with 23 people that come for a long weekend? Where do you house them? How do you feed them? Easy. Assembly line. We aren't like the Duggar's so we don't have barracks-style sleeping or cafeteria grade kitchens. We have regular sized homes that we cram into for the sake of being together!

To prepare for the Jungleberry Ball & Testicle Festival, my sister in-law and niece started cooking and freezing food a week in advance. They borrowed an RV and set up their pop-up camper. From there, we just rolled with it! With relative ease, we fed and housed 23 people in a four bedroom, three bath house... and we had a lot of fun in the meantime!

So it's just after Christmas/New Year's now and my brother's gang arrived from TN shortly after Christmas to our hometown in Connecticut where we stacked everyone like cord wood and shared big family meals together again. Having recently broken in my crock pot, I headed up the food this time (my sister in-law who is usually Chef Extraordinaire is recovering from knee surgery) so I had some planning to do in order to make sure nobody went hungry. Yeah, right. Here is what I served ~25 people for most meals over five days (four dinners).

Breakfasts were easy - eggs, bacon, English muffins, cereal, oatmeal, yogurt, and fruit. Superbly easy because I managed to not have to cook bacon once! I did do some quality control checks though. :-)

Lunches were easy - leftover ham (my gosh was there a LOT of ham!) for sandwiches, turkey chili, and leftover everything else.

Yes, lobsters eat BMWs.

  • Spaghetti with spicy turkey marinara sauce, garlic bread, and tossed salad.
  • Turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy (duh!), green beans, and tossed salad.
  • Lobster (yes... lobster!!!), homemade macaroni and cheese, butter... yes, butter is a side dish (see Dad's nutritional ideals), and tossed salad.
  • Pulled pork, homemade macaroni and cheese (even better the second time around!), a shite-load of appetizers because I forgot to start the pork before I went skiing for the day, and tossed salad.

Okay, who am I kidding? Tossed salad = copious amounts of cookies.

We also ate baked brie, hard salami & cheese, sea salted flatbread, and the obligatory veggie platter. And cookies. Did I mention the cookies?