Cool Food for Hot Days

A Salad 1

One image I have in my memory of the summer days of my childhood is that of my mother leaning over a hot stove, lifting glass canning jars in and later out of a large pot steaming with boiling water. Regardless of the heat, she never wanted anything to go to waste. When her beans were ready to pick, she would be sure to can whatever we didn’t eat at the time she picked them. She canned corn scraped from the cob, and peaches too.

There were probably lots of other things she prepared that I can no longer remember. We did not have a big freezer. We had a food storage closet in the basement that every summer filled with rows of jars as well as paraffin sealed jellies. There were potatoes stored there too and it was my job to go down there periodically to pick off the sprouts so the potatoes would stay edible.

I am glad I don’t have to do what she did. When the temperature soars, I lose my enthusiasm for cooking. My appetite suffers too, which is one of the reasons I am so fond of fall. As I get older, this condition gets worse, and these hot days I have to work hard to keep Stephen and myself adequately nourished. I’ve never been one for pre-prepared meals. Heat and serve is not normally my friend. Outdoor cooking is not an option where we live, nor a preference for either of us. That leaves salads.

A salad that provides sufficient protein is vital for us both. Again as I get older I need to beware of consuming too many carbohydrates. My small but useful electric indoor grill can provide easily cooked hot dogs and hamburgers, however, I like variety and wouldn’t wish to serve those more than once a week at the most. That’s two out of the fourteen lunches and dinners in a week. The cooked chickens from the supermarket can provide several more meals.

Our favorite protein salads are chicken, egg, and seafood, with occasional tuna. Aside from the  protein source, the basic ingredients for my salads consists of finely chopped scallions or sweet onion, celery, herbs as appropriate, mayonnaise, horseradish sauce and sweet mustard or honey mustard dressing. The herbs nearly always include parsley, sniped with scissors, and either dried or  fresh tarragon, thyme, ground garlic, and lemon pepper. Sometimes I use curry powder instead of herbs. One or the other is good, not both.

For egg salad for the two of us, I hard cook (never boil) four eggs and use parsley, thyme, ground garlic and lemon pepper, mayonnaise and horseradish sauce. Dill is good too. For a chicken salad I cut up around two cups or so of the cooked white meat that Stephen prefers. I use tarragon, parsley, ground garlic, and lemon pepper, mayonnaise, horseradish sauce and sometimes some mustard. A smidgen of salt is good. Thyme instead of tarragon is also good with chicken. My recipe for canned tuna or seafood salad is the same. I use the packaged imitation Crab and find it economical and tasty, as well as nourishing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hand of Time

Clock Flowers 7  The single metal hour hand lay on the table in front of me. Stephen and I had been playing with an old clock in an effort to get it to work. However, once the hands become loosened from the mechanism that counts off the minutes, even if it still ticks, the clock is effectively broken. We took the clock apart and kept the face to use for an art project. Gazing at the pointed hour hand I wished I could think of a way to put it to use. Finally I gave it to Stephen, thinking he might be able to make use of it in a collage.

The hand of time touches us all. Sometime it strokes gently, lulling us into complacency until we sit up and take notice. “Where did the time go?” we say and look around us to see if we can locate the lost minutes, hours or years. At other times it seems to have an iron grip on us, passing so slowly we want to scream in frustration. It’s definitely fickle and frolicsome, turning hair grey when our backs are turned. ave written a lot of poetry about time and its effects.

I have found that time is strangely elastic. It can stretch or shrink to suit how I am feeling. When I’m impatient, it seems to pass ever so much more slowly than when I am not thinking about it at all, but fully engaged in what I am doing. I remember once playing music with a friend during our lunch hour. We met in the room set aside for time off and began to tune our instruments. Then we started to play. I was fully engaged in the extraordinary joy of it.  Eventually I came to and began to worry that we had overstayed our time. When I looked at the clock I was amazed. It seemed we had entered a timelessness that stretched on and on, yet in real time we had been playing music for only half an hour.

The older I get the more conscious I am of the passage of time. Perhaps that is because there is less and less of it left to me with each passing year. Although almost nobody knows their expiration date, we all know that there is a limit to the time we have left, regardless how long or how short. I do not feel anxious or fearful about my personal duration; it’s just that I wish to make the best use of whatever time remains to me. Most have heard about one’s so-called bucket list. I gave that up a while ago. I prefer to content myself with making the most of every day I have. That gives me a better focus.

It’s odd how we speak of spending time. Minutes and hours are not real like dollars and cents. Yet often we treat time as though it was tangible–to be stored up or spent or hoarded or wasted. I remember my delight as a child at the thought of having a whole afternoon to do what I liked. Now I am grateful to have an hour or two when I might do something meaningless as opposed to productive. Sometimes I feel I am stealing time from what I ought to be doing. Then I remind myself that it is my time to do with as I wish, and I am a not a human doing but a human being.

Small Blessings Bring Joy

Dandelion and pebblesKittens grow up and become cats. They learn to use their claws on the furniture, and then they reach a point where if we do not pay attention, they may produce more kittens. Snow falls, gets turned by snowmen by eager, mittened fingers, and then when the sun comes out and the cold retreats, they melt. I wash the dishes, polish up the burners on the stove and sigh, remembering that there will soon be more dishes to wash and something will fall on the cooking surface and smell of burning if I don’t notice it before I begin to cook again.

It is important to me to take notice of how nice it is to have an empty sink and a clean stove. If all I do is think about doing it over again I will miss the feeling of how nice it is to have done with my small tasks. They can become routine, done without thinking, and without appreciation for the effort as well as for the result. When I take the time to notice, I feel better about myself and about my life in general.

When spring comes and the first bluebells and crocuses poke up through the thawed ground, how wonderful it is. We say, “Spring is here.” And it is. Yet spring turns to summer. Then we rejoice in the longer days and firefly strewn nights, until the hours of daylight begin to shorten again. Fall’s bounty of color comes and then goes.  It is good to appreciate what we have while we have it because as a wise teacher of mine used to say, the only constant is change.

It’s easy to take for granted small blessings that pass quickly. We do it all the time without thinking. We’re actually more likely to take notice of what is wrong than what is right. I’ve read that our brains are wired that way for self-preservation. It’s important to make note of the danger lurking nearby—is that a wild beast? Or see the car coming a little too fast as we are about to cross the street. However, our built in warning system can override our joy.

Just recently the wild roses bloomed. Their sweet smell permeated the air by my back porch. I made sure to take time to enjoy their scent. Now the petals have turned brown and I have to wait until next year to enjoy them again. Still, I do have the memory, and although it does not have an actual scent, it can still bring back the pleasure of what I enjoyed when the petals were fresh.

If I am focused on regret because the roses have passed, it is more difficult for me to remember the joy they brought me. As well, I might not be able to take advantage of some new and pleasant experience that could await my notice. Small blessings do not announce their presence with a shout but rather with a whisper. The bright dandelion by the side of a building might go unseen and unappreciated if I am not aware of its gift. If I am only looking at the trash around it, I might not see it all. Small blessings bring joy.

Farm Stand Strawberries

I hold the ripe berry and bring it to my lips.

I taste the sun that ripened it.

My teeth bite into it

tangy juice bursts in my mouth,

followed by soft sweetness.

 

Gratitude blooms in my heart

for the back that bent to pluck it,

for the fingers that picked it

for the hands that planted

the roots that bore this fruit.

 

I give thanks to the earth

that nourished the roots,

and to the rain that drenched them.

I taste all these as the rich

red essence overwhelms all thought

 

until there is only the taste of  strawberry.

Honoring my Father on Father’s Day

Even though she didn’t like to cook, my mother would not allow my father to do so. She said he burnt everything. She had a strong fear of wasting food. Later I think he occasionally tended a barbecue, however they were not in vogue when I was little. I have early memories of him polishing the family silver. My mother didn’t do that and didn’t wish to even display it. We had many different pieces. They were family heirlooms, inherited from elders who had passed on. I remember a huge tea set with lots of shiny parts to it that rested on a big silver tray on a large wooden sideboard. My father loved and cherished it.

As it is wisely said, no one is perfect because God isn’t finished with us yet. Perfection may be something to strive for, and attaining it is most likely impossible. People are people and bound to mess up. Fathers can’t be perfect either. Some are cruel, whether consciously or unconsciously. I knew someone once who said that her father used to tell her and her brother to jump of the kitchen table and he’d catch them, only he wouldn’t. He told them he wanted to teach them not to trust what anyone said.

Doubtless he meant well. Perhaps he had suffered from believing, himself. My father would taunt me and my siblings when we made mistakes. He wanted us to toughen up, learn not to care what people thought. Did he succeed? I believe he did, however it took a while to sink in. Meanwhile, I resented his pointing finger and his “ha ha” followed by some negative comment. That was not all; we had a lot of fun together too, and he could be very kind. I once came home to the apartment my young husband and I shared to find him sweeping the rug. I didn’t have a vacuum and hadn’t realized I could sweep it with a broom. He used to give me lovely valentines.

He bought me my first washing machine—it was state of the art for the time, with a rubber tub that squeezed the water out of the clothes. He taught me how to dance, and he was a good dancer. He gave me money for years, an allowance that helped greatly when I was first married. Later on he paid for my health insurance because he wanted to take care of me. No, he wasn’t perfect, and I didn’t care. I loved him faults and all. He lived large and had wonderful charm. He had a lovely smile and he smiled often.

I miss him. Yet I miss most the father of my childhood and youth, when he was strong , energetic and good looking. He was a snappy dresser and loved loud ties and colorful clothing.  Bad habits and ill health took their toll. His later years were not happy and he declined mentally. It was difficult to see him so diminished. Yet once in a while the old smile radiated from his face and sometimes he told a joke or said something cute and funny that recalled the man he had been when I was little, and we used to build sand castles and jump the waves together.

Lemons are Luscious when Sweetened

Lemons, front and back together.png  There is a wonderful song by the Kingston Trio from the 60’s I believe, about lemons. It contains a real truth concerning them: they must be sweetened to taste good. The chorus goes: “Lemon tree very pretty, and the lemon flower is sweet, but the fruit of the lemon is impossible to eat. Very true, and it is also true that lemons can do all sorts of things besides make good recipes..

Versatile lemons can serve us in so many ways it is impossible to count them. You can use them to polish your furniture or to soften your elbows.  I found a lot about their uses when I was doing research for my book Up to my Neck in Lemons. In the Middle Ages ladies used a special straw brim with holes in it to lighten their hair. They would pull strands of hair through the holes and bleach them by painting them with lemon juice and sitting in the sun.

According to my research, the origin of lemons seems to be a mystery. They may have originated in India or perhaps China and are probably a hybrid of the sour orange and the citron. They were known in Egypt and the Middle East from 1000 AD.  They were used primarily as medicine or as an ornament. Once sailors learned to carry them on ships they prevented a disease called scurvy that comes from a lack of vitamin C. Christopher Columbus brought the seeds to the United States from Genoa, where they had been cultivated and used, though often as ornaments. When I visited southern Italy I saw lemon trees growing in gardens there.

Though as I discovered they have so many other uses, we usually think of lemons as food. Yet unlike most fruit, they are not meant to be eaten plain–like apples, or even peeled and sectioned like oranges.  Rather they make a fine ingredient or a wonderful seasoning. Life’s lemons are equally useful. They can season or sweeten our experience, helping us to make our best use of it to learn and grow. However it does take experience and tenacity both to learn this and to put it into operation.

The first and most important skill to develop is observation. I must first notice how I am looking at my life lemon. Once I see how I perceive it, I can change my perspective and see it differently. For example if I am feeling frustrated because something isn’t working the way I want it to, I can keep pushing against the difficulty or I can look to see if there is another way to approach it or perhaps even how I can use it to my advantage.

I can choose how to use this particular lemon—as a sour taste or as a reminder that something must change in order for me to succeed. Of course this can take time and effort, but so does any good recipe, whether for happy living or lemon meringue pudding or pie. In my new book, Up To My Neck in Lemons, I have many actual lemon recipes together with poems, and essays that provide examples of how I have dealt with some of my life lemons. If you would like a copy, please contact me. I’ll tell you how to get a personally autographed copy.

The More Things Change…

TashasSpiralGarden          Of a recent Saturday, we were out and about checking the yard sales. While Stephen was perusing the items displayed there, I fell into a conversation with the person in charge. She had grown up in Grafton and spoke of how much had changed in the years she had lived here.  I agreed. Although we have lived here only thirty years as of this year, we too have seen many changes. This got me to thinking about how it was then compared to how it is now.

When we first moved to Grafton the shopping center that is now home to the Stop and Shop had a department store where we found a winter jacket for Stephen. He wore it for many years and finally gave it away, still in useful condition. There was a drug store where the deli and sandwich shop is now, and I remember when the drug store went out of business. I bought a pair of real nylons with seams left over from the fifties or sixties.

Restaurants have come and gone in the building by the lake, and there still is one there. There was a book store and later a market where now other stores are, yet the plaza remains and the stores sell items, just different ones. It is truly said, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

The garden I began at the first home we lived in in Grafton, has with its different owners, undergone many changes, yet it still exists in its current form. I have had many gardens in my life and all of them have evolved in their own ways. Now though I no longer garden, I still in a way tend to one of another kind: my life has become my garden.

Many years ago I had a dream in which in some way I cannot explain I was both a garden and its gardener. This has become a kind of metaphor for how my life has evolved. Those I love and tend could be said to be similar to plants that grow and thrive as I care for them.  Too I am my own garden as I care for this body the best I can, though sometimes I neglect it and then like a garden deprived of proper nourishment, I suffer for it.

As once I studied how to make my garden grow at its best, so now I try to learn what best nurtures me and those I tend with the same love and care I once devoted to my gardens. At times I weed out what no longer belongs in my personal garden, and at times, those I have tended outgrow their place in my garden and transplant themselves elsewhere.

Or like other plants, they outgrow their earthly existence and move on. My life like my garden provides me with wonderful opportunities to learn and grow, and I try to take advantage of them. What matters most to me is that I do whatever I can with whatever resources I have to be a good gardener, and that I stay awake and aware to what works best to make my gardens grow.