Mouse Tales/Tails

 

Last Sunday, my intention was to write about food. It was so rainy miserable outside and I looked forward to puttering in the kitchen and maybe share my recipe for homemade granola. I was excited by the idea of venturing away from my usual dark subject matter. Ah, best laid plans!

Oats tossed in coconut oil and molasses toasted in the oven, filling the kitchen with cinnamon smells. I might even have been humming Christmas songs when… I discovered signs of mice. Apparently they’d been enticed by the regular bounty of Rufus’s dried food he often leaves untouched for hours. A veritable dish-worth was tucked between the napkins and dish towels in one drawer, another stash in the tea drawer, a few nuggets hidden in the hollow handle of the hand mixer. Gross. The day turned into pulling drawers apart, washing dishes, cutlery and gadgets. The kitchen remained a mess for days with counters and table covered with drawer and cabinet contents waiting for the all-clear.

The only kind of traps we had were the horrible sticky ones but I still set them leaving one of the uglier napkins in a drawer as a decoy lest they suss out the danger. Monday morning I could hear the frantic scratching sound from the living room. Yay! Success! Ugh! I couldn’t just let it die slowly, possibly gnawing one of it’s limbs off to escape. I went into the garage and found a small garbage can and in the bottom of it was a rock. Thank you Rob who collected them and left them all over the place like this one, miraculously appearing — I needed to sink the mouse. He once called me in tears because a bird had smashed into his windshield on the highway but he had no problems murdering rodents.

I woke my accomplice Molly, who with much commentary and horrified noises, gamely accepted her assignment and pulled out the drawer. Don’t look at it! I said as she followed me out the door to the hose spigot. I filled the garbage bin, then, with more ewing and squawking and fighting back tears, she dumped the sadly, pretty-cute mouse we were torturing, into the plastic bag with a rock in it. I pushed it down into the water. We both went off to work a little late and a little traumatized.

Of course, there’s never just one. The next day I found more droppings where yesterday there had been none. My local hardware store had more sophisticated and humane traps that kill quickly and you don’t see it – well, except for the tail of number 2. Not moving though so we knew he’d been squished.

It’s been a few days and so far, the other trap is still empty and there’s no scat in sight. Rufus will have to learn to eat when the food is out.

When I was a conscious child and then a teen and maybe for a little bit longer past that, I was a vegetarian. I could not bear to see dead animals and would shake my fist at cars with deer carcasses on top of them during hunting season. I have become more hard-hearted. I do not weep when the neighbors’ dog makes a dent in the groundhog population. Sometimes I find carcasses – maybe just a fluffy tail with a bit of skin – of one of the millions of squirrels who entertain Rufus. I get a shovel and feeling a little like I might throw up, I fling it into a nearby wood. I am still thrilled by sightings of live deer and saddened by dead deer killed by cars although they are pests in this corner of Connecticut. But I’m tough and practical in my old age. Everything has an expiration date and every day that we live, we draw closer to our own. Sorry-not-sorry about those cute brown mice.

So much for not writing about death and darkness. Hey, and let me know if you want my granola recipe!

Drink Your Veggies

I think about food and cooking a lot. But with so many incredible foodie bloggers out there, I lack the gumption to pipe-in, even though I’m a pretty good cook. Still, I love eating (of course), reading and talking about food and can’t resist sharing my new favorite kitchen thing with you.

preblend

The Nutribullet. This wonderful gadget now commands prime kitchen counter real estate next to my kettle. Every morning I spend less than 5 minutes throwing a mix of veggies, fruit, nuts and liquid into one of these jars, blend for about 40 seconds and presto, I’ve got an incredible, nutrient rich drink to either down right away or bring to work for a lovely boost later. This morning’s concoction was relatively tame consisting of lettuce, kale, strawberries, banana and some chia seeds (yes, “chia pet” chia seeds) with almond milk.

blended

You can throw virtually anything in without chopping it to bits – just remove big pips and apple seeds. The super-duper version will chew it all right up and comes with a variety of jars for blending that also can be used to store or drink your potion. Also included is somewhat of a cheesy book: Nutribullet – Life Changing Recipes. Interspersed between recipes are testimonials from rheumatoid arthritis sufferers, cancer patients and of course a few about weight loss. At least some of these, along with the smiling geezer pictures, could have been sacrificed for an index – there is none. Wondering if there’s a smoothy for your rutabaga? The only option is to flip through all the recipes and smiling geezers again. For inspiring smoothie recipes that are certainly compatible with the ‘Bullet’, I picked up a copy of Superfood Smoothies by Julie Morris who also has a great website.

Forget the blender and juicer — this is the gadget. No pulp clean up!

greens

These days, I need ways to use the bounty of vegetables in the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) I share with my friend Chris. Collard greens anyone? I’m a white girl from the Bronx who grew up on canned vegetables, so collards are new to me and a bit overwhelming. We eat bacon sparingly (although it is one of the most delicious things on the planet) and most collard recipes seem to call for cooking them in that yummy pork fat. Instead, I’ve been steaming the gigantic leaves, letting them cool and then substituting them for a wrap or tortilla. Lovely for a packed lunch. For me. No one else in the house will go for that. I haven’t Nutribullet-ed them yet — I’ll let you know. Might be just the ticket. And then there’s all the cabbage sitting in the crisper drawer … any ideas? (I already have some fermenting.)

CSAs are a great way to support local farms and get fresh, organic produce. Our’s – Stone Gardens Farm, drops off a box at Chris’s office (this week 2 boxes because there was so much) and we divvy up the goods that evening, preferably while drinking a glass of wine. Lots and lots of greens these past weeks, radishes and more radishes, summer squash, cucumbers – great in a smoothie – with avocado and apple and tumeric – refreshing! From May through October – sometimes even into November, the CSA supplies all my veggie needs allowing me to walk right through the produce section, pausing only to buy avocados.

Now your suggestions for collards and cabbage, please!

PS: I am delighted to report that collards make delicious smoothies. I made mine with banana, strawberries, a slice of lime, a few Lemon Balm leaves from the garden, a couple of ice cubes and used rice milk as my liquid. The collard is not at all overwhelming and I’ve already chewed up a few of my big fronds this way.

A Tast of Spring

Finally, that endless crush of snow has melted!  For a few hours today, in the cold air and bright sun, I raked leaves and discovered —

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At last! Keen to find more, I made my way around the yard to every patch where I know spring bulbs are ready to burst, to clear away blankets of rotting leaves. Sure enough, there are plenty of emerging crocuses (croci?) in different stages of bloom – some still torpedo like, others, sweetly opening up to the sun.

We don’t take autumn clean-up very seriously around here (truth is, we don’t taking any clean-up seriously around here!) and as a result, there’s a lot of good compost material to be had. Sure, we end up taking some to the town leaf-dump, but mostly we throw it in to the vegetable garden – in-place-mulching, if you will.

I ventured up in to the vegetable garden I’ve mostly abandoned to the greedy groundhog these last years – who shockingly, doesn’t seem to enjoy asparagus. I’m hoping that this year’s yield will be enough for more than a meal or two. I cleared away the matted, dry grass that had encroached on the patch to more easily spot the lovely spears.

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These scraggly sprouts are Horseradish plants that have multiplied from one that I planted years and years ago. Horseradish spreads just enough to be a handsome, leafy addition to the garden without bullying other things out of the way – not like the damn mint that would swallow the house if I let it. I dug up a root to grate. Fresh horseradish is intense – but then, that’s kind of the point, isn’t it?

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I’d forgotten how much I love working outside. I think better with my hands in the dirt, I see things – well, differently. I become absorbed in a way, transported into a zone – very like the place I aspire to be in when I write.

With the changing, warming light, I can feel my winter-torpor fading. It’s time for me to get efficient and disciplined again. In the garden, in my work! Enough of this lounging about in front of the fire! I’m ready to feel the ache of my body after a day of gardening. Ready to feel the heat of the sun on my body, to get my vitamin D not from a pill. I’m ready to savor meals (outside!) with fresh sage, basil, oregano.

Yeah, I’m ready. Are you?

Not Available on Amazon

Christmas is over. Phew. The craziness of retail is exhausting. Not unpleasant, just whirlwind-busy with very little down-time. Unwinding at the end of a day was nearly impossible as even in my dreams I was ringing up customers and searching for books before I got to wake up and do it all again for real.

And really, it’s enjoyable. Most people are happy to be in a bookstore and that makes for good company. Customers exclaimed over and over again how nice it was to see the store so busy and I agreed. Other stores that sells clothing or towels usually just feel frantic and unbearable when they get crowded. A good atmosphere exists in our store because we sell BOOKS – books that inspire, excite, move — hell: that sometimes save us!

Most of the year, my position entails a lot of hours in my little back office and outside the store’s walls, working on sales to schools and companies. (Call me when you need to buy in bulk!) But during this time of year, it’s all-hands-on-deck, the ‘deck’ being out on the book floor.  For me, being with customers looking for books is a treat. Of course, we sell a lot of other great and beautiful things, but it’s books that really jazz me.

After all of these years, the store feels a bit like my home – and when customers come in, I genuinely welcome them. My favorite is seeing a blank face – an obvious call for help in finding a book, or even better – making a suggestion. Best of all is when they are looking for a book for themselves. I ask questions: Are they taking a trip? Where to? What was the last book they loved? Together we wander the tables and shelves – a mix of gems, new and old.   Of course, suggesting is particularly easy if we share the same taste, but if not, I still can connect them to other books that they’ll like based on the clues they give me. Or if it’s sci-fi (sorry, I’m lost then) I’ll introduce one of several of my colleagues who love that genre. Likewise, we have history buffs, mystery and of course, kid’s book experts.

Grandparents often seem stumped when it comes to finding books for grandchildren and I suggest they choose ones they loved as children rather than trying to figure out the hot new series and whether the kid will like it. This usually launches a great discussion about their lives as we ponder the selections together. (The Wind in the Willows anyone?) What beauties there are on those Children’s Classics shelves!

Hearing my customers’ stories while trying to find them a book is an honor and the connections made in the aisles of the store can be profound. I’ve shared tears with people struggling with addiction-fall-out, or grieving the death of a loved one. I’ve shared travel stories with customers planning trips across the globe, recipes and favorite cookbooks, dog stories in the pet section, garden joys and woes in the gardening section and every kind of story in fiction. You name it. The stuff of life, everyday.

When someone is nearby while I’m discussing books with one customer, sometimes I’ll see another listening in.  That third person may pipe in too, making their own suggestions, unable to resist the urge to passionately gush about a book they loved – or hated – often going on to share their story. I love this infectious engagement, a beautiful face-to-face bonding over books made possible in our brick and mortar bookstore. Not available on Amazon.

Artists’ Retreat 2013

The idea started on my visit with Jane in England a few years ago. It had been a long time since we’d seen each other since we lived an ocean apart and were both juggling our hectic lives as mothers with full time jobs. Lingering for hours over drinks on the roof of the Tate and then again around her massive wooden kitchen table,  we spoke of more than just our present lives dominated by beloved kids. We remembered who we were many years ago as art students together. Then and still, we were travelers, artists with rich and active inner lives. We just needed to remember. With our shared history, we recognized this in each other and spoke for hours about our too-often neglected creative process and how we had become overwhelmed by dishes, laundry, making a living, struggling in our marriages (in my case anyway!). Energized and inspired by each other, we decided we must fan these creative coals.

“Wouldn’t it be fantastic to rent a house together, with …” I rattled the names of women who had also studied with us decades earlier. “We could paint and write all day and have great dinners at night with lots of wine.”

“Let’s do it!” Jane agreed.

And so we did.

That summer, about a dozen of us kin-spirit women gathered for a week in a rambling old house in the Catskills. We christened ourselves the Studio 70 Sisters – after our art teacher Mike Skop’s school in Kentucky, the place where we’d connected decades earlier.  Jane came from England as promised, others from Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. We stepped away from our busy lives as mothers, spouses, workers, and for the rich communion with familiar, creative friends. Days were spent doing what ever we wanted — some went off painting together, others spent time alone, reading and in my case, writing.

Evenings we gathered in the kitchen sharing wine and recipes and remarkable, delicious dinners came together effortlessly and went on for hours. Afterwards, we moved to the living room to talk some more. For one week together, merely by being present and paying attention to each other, we felt nurtured.

We met at some rambling house in the Catskills for 3 years in a row.  We missed last summer but are on again for this year. Today we will all converge on a little town in Litchfield County. Laura found this year’s spot and generously organized a week of possibilities including the promise of some Renaissance music, maybe some yoga, maybe a massage…

Doesn’t this sound like bliss to you?

Summer Sunday

Mangos were on sale and how could I resist a whole case for less than $10?

Summer Fruit
Summer Fruit

My mango slicing technique stinks, but by the third fruit I was doing an adequate job of slicing the mango off the pit with skin still attached, criss-cross slicing the flesh attached to the skin, popping the skin inside out and deftly lobbing off nice chunks of fruit. I confess, I am still not very ‘deft’ but the resulting dish was delicious.

Black Bean and Mango Salad
Black Bean and Mango Salad

A simple recipe courtesy of Mark Bittman: a can of rinsed black beans, a deftly sliced mango or two, scallions, mint, salt, pepper and a squeeze of lime juice. (Thank you, Kitchen Express.)  I also made a lassi/smoothie with mango and mint with a batch of yoghurt that never quite turned solid enough (though it worked well for salad dressing)  blended together with ice. Lovely.

I also snipped at the herb pots with my scissors and made this beverage with my clippings – a concoction of lemon verbena and lemon balm and mint, a good squeeze from the rest of that lime and a dollop of honey blended up with some ice.

A Jug of Garden to Drink
A Jug of Garden to Drink

A lazy and spectacular summer day, savored here with the Sunday paper …

A Spot to Read and Nap
A Spot to Read and Nap

And here…

The Deck
The Deck

Bliss in paradise.

Getting the Lay of the Land in Early June

Tetley's Morning WalkThis morning’s walk with Tetley after yesterday’s monsoon-like storm, everything felt charged. Green stuff erupted everywhere – certainly the bittersweet that threatens to topple the trees along this wooded stretch of ignored land seems to have grown by feet overnight. The blue sky through the green canopy promises a lovely day.

Blue sky beyond the bittersweet.
Blue sky beyond the bittersweet.

A few years ago, I threw a few strawberry plants in the sloping patch beside the driveway just to get them out of my vegetable patch. Here they thrive and continue to multiply and after this storm, so did ripe strawberries. I had to bring Tet inside so I could use both hands to pick the good ones.

Strawberry Patch
Strawberry Patch

In harvest-mode, I wandered around to the back of the house to see what else might have erupted into ripeness. Before yesterday’s soaker storm there had been days of sunshine and heat – just what a garden loves. Looks like a little salad might be possible. Certainly there’s arugala-a-plenty as you’ll see in the next image.

Baby lettuce mix.
Baby lettuce mix.

Plenty of horseradish and a tomato plant holding it’s own between them. And mint hovers in the background ready to strangle everything.

Tomato tucked between wild arugala (it just keeps coming back - a good bite to it - yum) and horseradish.
Tomato tucked between wild arugala (it just keeps coming back – a good bite to it – yum) and horseradish.

Unfortunately, my beloved Peonies took a beating yesterday and I’m not sure I’ll even be able to salvage another bouquet. Is it ridiculous to say that the incredible bank of Peonies is one of my favorite things about this little patch of property? They’ve been here forever and were also beloved by the old woman who I bought the house from in 1997. Their heady perfume evokes all that is sweet about summer as well as the melancholy of passing too quickly. Ah well. Seize the day … and the flowers, while they blossom.

Battered Peonies
Battered Peonies

The weekend weather report looks good for planting – if I could only decide where to set these Zinnia and Cleomes so they don’t get eaten by the ravenous groundhogs. I guess the not-yet-eaten lettuce patch bodes well, I may tuck them in there.

Waiting for a home.
Waiting for a home.

The Roses blossomed over night and after the storm, have taken a dramatically desperate pose, don’t you think? I really like Roses although they are a bit prissy. Give me a giant, scratchy Sunflower any day over these posies. But then again, I appreciate their hidden toughness – they are deceptive with those treacherous thorns!  And I love their scent. I do make it a point to always stop and smell the roses – much to my daughter’s embarrassment. In any case, these need to be tied up. (!)

Roses striking a tragic pose.
Roses striking a tragic pose.

Around the side of the house I check on the Blueberries. This is the first year I’ve seen so many berries. These bushes are smack under a Mulberry tree that grows like a weed. The birds will be swarming in a few more weeks, to get the fruit of the tree and maybe they’ll miss these little guys waiting to ripen. Bird netting is on the to-do list.

Blueberries not yet blue.
Blueberries not yet blue.

As is mowing the lawn, weeding, weeding, weeding. And the hedge is crazy-high again.

Behind the house.
Behind the house.

And, looking at this photo, plenty of cleaning up to do. Time to clean up the furniture and get ready for outdoor feasting. In the pots, I confess, I thought I was planting Dahlia bulbs I’d carefully saved from last autumn — but I think they’re Gladiolus. Again, not my favorite flower — rather funereal, don’t you think? I’m thinking I’d rather not be wasting those pots on them – better to pick up a few herbs or plant some of the Zinnias in there … work, work, work!

Homemade yogurt and granola with just picked strawberries - and aspargus! (not for breakfast though.)
Homemade yogurt and granola with just picked strawberries – and aspargus! (not for breakfast though.)

But first, breakfast.

Drifts of Snow, Angles of Light

snowbound

The snow brought a lovely quiet and a rare state of ‘not-doing’ to my home.
Life always seems a constant of ‘must-do’s’. You know, the endless lists: laundry, cook, clean, groceries, pay-bills, exercise squeezed in around a 40 hour job. Even things I enjoy  and some I love — have an element of ‘must’ to them – or at least a feeling of ‘should’ –  socialize, write, walk, even read. Do, do, do!
from the bedroom window 2

But this weekend, blanketed by record snows, we were told by the authorities (!) to stay home. Stay home. You must stay home! How sweet. Obediently, I didn’t budge. I did a few things from my enjoyable ‘must’ list like reading and cooking and a little writing – but for a few hours of being home-bound, I did nothing. Except, look.

Rob at bedroom window

In winter, I get up to go to work in the dark. Dressing by the light of the closet so as not to disturb still sleeping R, I often choose colors or socks that are just a tad mismatched. By the time I lumber upstairs again at the end of the day to change out of work clothes, it’s dark again. I rarely see the light in my sweet bedroom. So on one of these frozen days, stuck at home by snow drifts and howling winds, I sat on my bed and watched the light and the views from my bedroom window.

bedroom ligth

I reveled in the sweet angles of golden warmth and shadows I rarely glimpse. Like a cat, I curled up in the slowly shifting patches of warmth and did not leave until the light was gone and the sky had faded to a chilly pink.

Homemade Yogurt and a Website of Quirky Things

This morning, a glorious, sunny Sunday morning, I feel terribly shallow — no insights or inspiration — I just want to tell you about the joy and simplicity of making yogurt.

All it takes is about a quart of milk and this:

Really, you don’t even need the powdered milk – I just like my yogurt a little on the thicker side and this seems to help do the job. Just heat up the milk (I use fat free) to 180 degrees. I put in a sprinkling of the dried milk and then stand over the pot and whisk-away so the milk neither burns on the bottom of the pot or grows a nasty skin on top. Alas, my stove top is electric and after many mediocre batches I’ve found it’s best to stand over the pot and stir constantly. It takes less than 5 minutes until the milk reaches the desired temperature.  Then, turn off the heat and leave the pot there to slowly cool down.

This is the perfect window of time to make a cup of tea maybe or eat a breakfast of said-homemade yogurt, granola and strawberries.

Check on the temperature of the milk regularly and when it gets to about 120, add your room temp (sort of) yogurt starter. (You can use about a 1/4 cup of your last batch for a few times – then you want to get some store bought stuff – with lots of lively acidophilus) When the thermometer drops to 110, I pour it into a container from a yogurt making kit I purchased off of a wacky-website called Daily Grommet and insert it into this thermos type container that’s been filled half-way with boiling water.

While wonderful, this contraption is not necessary — any-old thermos will work fine or, if you are lucky enough to have a gas oven where the temperature inside the oven is always warm, just put a cloth over a glass bowl and place in the center of your oven. Check back in 8 hours and voila, homemade, unadulterated, delicious yogurt.

That’s my ‘Suzy Homemaker’ tip of the week. By the way, here’s another Daily Grommet find I couldn’t resist for those mornings when I want a tea for the road. Just insert the ‘to-go’ into your canning glass.

And check out this weird recent product from the same site:

Who knows how someone might make their millions!

Eggplant Rescue and a Re-discovered Cookbook

Cookbook Shelf

We’re a little sick of eggplant around here. We joined a different CSA this year because the previous one (that I loved – every week a new culinary adventure of heirlooms and weird vegetables)  no longer drops at a convenient pickup location. This new farm, while perfectly fine with very generous shares,  has a rather blah selection and too much repetition. Green cabbage again and again, cucumbers, cucumbers and more cucumbers. (I think we’re done with them… no photos to show.) Yummy – but just same ol’ tomatoes and collard greens gigantic enough to cover a roof with. And eggplant. Week after week – at least one, and usually more, eggplants. And that’s even after splitting the share with my friend. (Do I sound like a brat, complaining about this bounty?)

Farm Tomatoes, My Peppers

Of course there is eggplant parm, baba ganoush, stir fried, thin slices salted and made into ‘chips’. I’ve made them all for what has become, an ambivalent audience. And in the next week’s load of vegetables – more eggplant!  This weekend I remembered a recipe I’d made years ago out of  Festa del Giardino: A Harvest of Recipes and Family Memories.  While this not the kind of cookbook I’m usually a sucker for — no beautiful photos — it has concise, easy to follow recipes that result in obviously memorable dishes. Like this Caponata I whipped up yesterday.

Caponata

I remember Molly being younger than 10 and a kid who hated veggies, digging in. I’m afraid you might be hard-pressed to find this book now out-of-print, by local author and lovely Sally Maraventano who came to the store for a book signing in 1999.  (But she does have her own cooking school.)

Festa del Giardino

I’m delighted to have found this obviously well-used cookbook again and inspired to rediscover the great recipes in it and the rest of this overflow stash that always escapes my periodic book-purges. Next, maybe I’ll bake bread…

Cookbook Cabinet