Food Friday: Potluck Book Club Baked Potato Bar and Pot of Chocolate

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IMG_0735I had to chuckle when someone in my book club brought this New York Times article to my attention:  Really? You’re Not in a Book Club? 

It seems everyone today is in a book club. In fact, I have been in one or another for the past 23 years. The first one was formed by a couple of new moms and myself when our babies were very young and we thought we were losing our minds. Our only rule was that we couldn’t talk about our children. Ten years later, in a new city, a friend and I started a Mother-Daughter Book Club that included those very babies I had been escaping earlier. I have belonged to couples book clubs and neighborhood book clubs, serious discussion groups and free for all get-togethers. When I moved to Boston I was lucky enough to be invited to join a wonderful group of women who have been reading and discussing books together for years. I knew right away I would like my new home.

While each club has been different, there is one element they all have in common: food. From snacks to dinners to desserts, every group provides some kind of food and drink to bring everyone together and get the discussion started. Today, however, there are so many dietary limitations that providing a meal can become a minefield. Paleo? Vegan? Gluten-free? Lactose intolerant? Food allergies? What should be a warm hospitable offering becomes fraught with obstacles. Add to that the busy schedules we all keep, and hosting book club can suddenly become a stressful chore.

Our book club members began addressing this issue recently and we have almost giddily released ourselves from expectation and obligation. Instead of the required dinner of the past, now we each get to decide what we will do when we host: heavy appetizers? Dessert only? Potluck? Take-out? Anything goes and everything is accepted. What a relief!

When my turn came to host last week, I decided on a Pot Luck Baked Potato Bar. I provided the baked potatoes (Russet and sweet) and a few toppings, and everyone brought a topping or two to share. I sent an email out the week before asking people to let everyone know what they would bring so we didn’t end up with 5 bowls of sour cream. We kept it simple, so that no one felt burdened.IMG_0729IMG_0730

As the hostess, it was the easiest meal I could imagine. Baking the potatoes and a making a few toppings is a breeze. All the toppings, as they come in the door, get lined up buffet-style on the kitchen counter. The theory is that everyone starts with a potato on a plate, sliced open and steaming, and they each go down the buffet counter adding the toppings they chose: everyone gets to make their own perfect plate. The needs of every diet are met: toppings span the Paleo to vegan range. The reality that evening was even better than the theory: everyone approached it her own way. Some people ate in courses, eating one layer of toppings and then going back for different ones until they got to the potato skins. Some of us loaded everything on at once and mixed it all up. Who said grown-ups shouldn’t play with their food? We all had fun and were plenty stuffed by the end.

After a short break though we were all ready for a treat, of course: a pot of melted chocolate with fruit to dip, another potluck opportunity.

 

POT LUCK: Book Club Baked Potato Bar and Pot of Chocolate

PROVIDED BY HOSTESS:

Extra large Russet potatoes, 1 per person plus a few extras in case one has a bad spot inside

Sweet Potatoes, a few for those who don’t eat white potatoes

Wash the potatoes and prick them several times with a fork or sharp knife, to allow the steam to escape as they bake. Otherwise they can explode in your oven! Bake the potatoes at 425 degrees for about one hour. They are done when you give them a slight squeeze (with your hand in an oven mitt) and they give and are soft inside.

 

TOPPINGS:

PROVIDED BY HOSTESS AND GUESTS:

Veggies

Roasted asparagus

Roasted red peppers

Sauted zucchinis

Sauteed mushrooms

Steamed broccoli

Chopped scallions

 

Protein

Garbanzo beans

Bacon

Sliced steak or chicken breast

 

Extras

Butter

Vegan margarine

Sour cream or plain yogurt

Pesto sauce

Grated cheese

Olives

 
CHOCOLATE POT

PROVIDED BY HOSTESS:

Melt 2 cups chocolate chips with about 2/3 cup milk (or almond or coconut milk) in a double boiler, stirring until smooth and glossy.

Serve in individual little bowls with dippers.

 

DIPPERS:

 PROVIDED BY HOSTESS AND GUESTS:

Strawberries

Pineapple

Bananas

Marshmallows

Cookies

Nuts

Pretzels

 

 

Morning Miracle

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The woman in front of me is coming undone. Wrestling a huge suitcase and a tiny child she is getting tied up in the black stretchy divider keeping the mass of people in orderly lines. Muttering to herself, she is close to tears and I hear a voice cut through the din around us: “Ma’am, do you need some help?” It seems that everyone who is awake in Boston at this predawn hour is right here in the JetBlue security line at Logan. What are they doing here? Through the crowd, an agent in blue has spotted her. “You look like you are having some trouble there, ma’am.”
Pulling, tripping, dragging, desperate to get out, the woman says, “I left my ID at home. I have to go!” With the conviction of one who knows she can actually help, the JetBlue agent, or perhaps I should say, angel, calls out to her again. Whipping her way through the dividers, she keeps asking her questions, gets her to look at her, to take 10 breaths, to believe her when she says she can work it out.
As I inch my way through the line I am able to watch their progress. By the time I reach security I see the woman joking, laughing and shaking the hand of the JetBlue angel who goes off to save someone else’s day. “Who was that masked woman?” I feel like asking. Wow: making a difference before the sun is even up.
Then I realize: she isn’t the only one. JetBlue must have some special screening and training procedures in place. Everyone here is helpful, and it is contagious. As I watch the sunrise through the picture windows of the airport I have an eerie sensation, like Alice must have had when she went down the rabbit hole. Here I am in this massive crowd and no one is grumbling. Having chosen the slowest security line, the one I am in, the young woman behind me starts to panic because her flight is already boarding. The blank faces around us suddenly come alive and everyone is moving her forward, carrying her bins full of shoes and coats to the front of the line.
Now that I think I of it, even the cab driver at 5 am in this 10 degree weather was uncommonly good company, and the checkin agent waived the fee on my overweight bag.
What is going on here? I only slept one hour last night. Perhaps I am hallucinating. Seriously, I am starting to wonder. On a completely full flight the seat next to me is inexplicably empty so I have a little extra room. I am going to sleep now, and when I wake up I expect the world to be back to normal. Ah yes, there is a screaming baby now: that’s more like it.

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FOOD FRIDAY: Brewed Roasted Cocoa Beans – Could this be love?

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I cannot drink coffee, or even tea, regularly and that has put me at a disadvantage. I used to wonder why I seemed to have so much less energy than the rest of the world until I realized that most of the world is fueled by caffeine, and I am fueled by, well, sleep. I wasn’t even competing in the same league.

I also noticed that while I clamor for FOOD in the morning, my husband could drink a latte and not be hungry until lunch. But I think the biggest thing I missed out on by not drinking coffee was the routine. Coffee drinkers I know have all sorts of rituals: the coffee maker is set up at night to start brewing in the morning, luring sleepyheads to wake up with the delicious smell, or the coffee shop is a scheduled stop after the gym or on the way to work. It’s like they all had the promise of a secret pleasure to get them out of bed and I had, well, nothing.

All that has changed, my friends. I have a new fuel to energize my day, a new routine to get me up in the morning. Let me tell you about Crio Brü: roasted cocoa beans, ground and brewed like coffee. The taste is slightly bitter, like coffee, slightly chocolate-y, and when you pour it into your mug it smells like what I imagine Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory smelled like. Real coffee drinkers, like my husband, may turn their noses up at it but that is fine. More for me.

You can drink it anyway you would drink coffee: milk, sugar, half & half, black, but I use my immersion blender to whip in a bit of butter, cinnamon and turmeric to keep me feeling full and clear-headed all morning. And now I have a lovely routine to ease into the rigors of the day. I shuffle downstairs, sleepily boil the water and scoop the ground cocoa beans. By the time my drink is ready the chocolate smell has already made me happy and I am mostly awake. And that first sip…ahhh! The promise of a secret pleasure, fulfilled.

Crio Brü’s website lists all the health benefits of this roasted cocoa drink. It is full of anti-oxidants and zinc to boost your immune system, lots of magnesium and other minerals, and some natural chemicals to keep your mood elevated, your brain sharp and your energy level high. It can also help curb your appetite and support weight loss. Read more about it here: www.criobru.com

I order it online but you can look at the website to find stores that sell it near you.

The thought of a warm mug of Crio Brü gets me up in the morning and makes me smile. On this Valentines’ day Friday, I daresay, this could be love.
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Shifting Gears

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The plate flips and lands on the floor with a crash. My expletive booms into the air, bounces off the walls and then, just as suddenly, the silence closes back in around me like a vacuum seal. Having jumped off the couch when I knocked the plate from its precarious perch, my heart still pounds. I looked at the upside-down plate, food scattered around. For a suspended second I listen, but no one comes, no one calls out. No one is here except me. A few hours before, someone would have clomped down the stairs to see if I was ok. Someone would have handed me a paper towel. There would have been a witness to my clumsiness, a recipient of my momentary irritation, a shared laugh to soothe it all away. But they are all gone. My sister is on her way back home across the country; my husband has flown off on business; my children are away at school.

In a house so often filled with others, there is suddenly just me. Me and my plate, on the couch.

Shifting gears has never been easy for me. Even though I have almost always driven a stick-shift, the car often lurches when I gear up, and gearing down is no better. Revving the engine just the right amount to move into a higher gear, or breaking, slowing down to smoothly put the car into a lower gear, is an art I have never quite mastered. As empty-nesters very well know, the months from November to January provide good practice in changing gears. Having just adjusted to sending the children off to college, the holidays bring them back, along with lots of other family and friends to juggle.

I admit to dragging my feet just a little back then, at the thought of the work ahead. We drop the new routines we have just adopted, and our relatively empty houses once again need us to orchestrate food in the fridge and sheets on the beds. Piles of laundry multiply and the house is full of voices. There is a charge in the air as we interact, a physicality to the togetherness as we all try to fit on the couch.

Then comes January, and they are gone. The motor is still in high gear, but it is time to gear it down, and then shift back into “me” gear. All the work I had put aside is still waiting for me patiently. I don’t have to check in with a houseful of people before making plans; I don’t have to coordinate schedules, meals or who has the car. In fact, unless I pick up the phone, I don’t have to speak at all. I can eat when and what I want, and watch whatever TV shows I chose. There are definite benefits to this, and I will relish it, I am sure.

But these first few days, when everyone first leaves, the quiet just booms so loud in my ears.

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Please and Thank You

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In the thick soft quiet that descends upon the city when it is blanketed in snow, I heard it: the scraping of a snow shovel, and I thought: “Thank you.” When I went out walking later, I thought those words again every time I reached a stretch of shoveled sidewalk or crossed the plowed streets. In this season of miracles, in this month of lighting up the darkness, in these very last days of the year, I think the greatest gift we can give is gratitude.

At Thanksgiving celebrations we tend to focus on the big things: family, health, prosperity, friends. Too often though, the daily offerings of life go unnoticed. Every day, people get out of bed and go to work, and each of us benefits. Stores open, trains run, restaurants serve food, electricity flows. What would happen if no one showed up for work?

When I was a young mother much of what I did was thankless and invisible. Really it was only noticeable if I didn’t do it, but for the most part, I got it done. The children were clothed, fed and loved, but I used to joke that babies never sit up and thank their mom for changing their diapers.

Have you said “Thank you” today? Maybe someone turned the heat up before you got out of bed this morning, or braved the cold to bring in the paper. Did you say “Thank you” to the bus driver, the gas station attendant or the barista? We are all taught to say “Please” and “Thank you” early in life but it takes awhile to understand the true power and meaning of these words. As we grow, we come to realize that people have a choice as to what they do and how they do it. “Please” acknowledges their choice, and “Thank you” recognizes their effort. Hearing those words can make someone’s day. Saying them can make yours.

Everyday countless little miracles occur. The mail arrives, the garbage disappears, groceries get bagged. Houses are cleaned, hair is cut, yoga classes are taught, cars get fixed. Planes take off, beds are made, factories produce. And sure, lots of people are just doing their jobs, and maybe the paycheck is their best reward. I can hear some of you out there saying, “Hey! We don’t need to laud everyone just for doing what they are supposed to do.” But I am not suggesting we give out medals. I am just suggesting we say, “Thank you.”

It feels good to be acknowledged. It feels good to be thanked. And here is the secret: it feels good to appreciate what people do. It feels good to say “Thank you.”

So today I challenge you to be part of an Exercise in Gratitude. In the midst of your holiday tumult see how many people you can thank, just for doing what they do every day, and see what happens. Just for fun, write me comments on how it goes. Catch the eye of the bus driver when you thank him. Get off your cell phone in the grocery line and thank the cashier. Thank the toll booth attendant. Thank your spouse for emptying the dishwasher. Thank yourself for working so hard. And while you are at it, call your mother. Those diapers didn’t change themselves, you know.

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Waning Light – A Photo Essay

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Fiery ball dropping
Fiery ball dropping

Busy with my indoor tasks earlier this afternoon, I received this text message from my husband: “Go outside. It’s beautiful” I looked out the window and saw blue sky. Catching his sense of urgency, I was quick to put on my walking shoes to be out in what could be our last glorious mild day. One benefit of living where there are four distinct seasons is a deep sense of appreciation for good weather. We never take anything for granted, or fall into the kind of complacency of which my California family members are guilty. Weather of all kinds impacts our daily life and it is never boring. When I am wilting in the summer heat, one thought of winter temperatures in the teens snaps me out of my whining. Likewise, when the chill of a February snow storm keeps me inside I remember that soon enough I will be sweating and I contentedly sip my hot chocolate.

The transitions, however, cause a feeling of vague anxiety. As summer slips into fall with winter  looming, we are all in a state of constant vigilance. Especially after the time change, when dusk settles on us by 4:30 each day, the waning of the light is a physical reminder of the waning of the year. We recently had some days with lows in the thirties, giving me a little thrill of anticipation as I tried out my new down coat, but there is a special value to a mild day after a cold snap . Such days are Nature’s gift to us and a reminder to appreciate each degree of warmth and ray of gold shining through the branches.

Yesterday was such a day. The sun-warmed air held a soft comfort as my husband and I went to Fresh Pond to soak up the autumn beauty. While my husband ran the 2.2 miles path around the lake a few times, I strolled and stopped often to capture moments on my camera. Ducks floated in groups, completely still as if in meditation, on water an inky mirror of the trees and sky. There were birds on branches too, looking out ahead, planning, perhaps, their upcoming journey south. People walked their dogs, and strolled in pairs, deep in conversation, or singly on the phone or with earphones plugged in, but I was glad to have no distractions from the beauty around me.

The news had warned of a cold snap coming, and when it poured all night last night, I thought our calm interlude was over. What joy to see that urgent text on my phone today as a reminder that it isn’t winter yet. I rushed out in time to see the waning of the day in Cambridge Common, the squirrels and children frantically scampering about. The squirrels ,of course, were earnest in their preparations for the inevitable cold ahead, but the children were as earnest in their oblivious joy in the moment.

“Wait! Wait for me,” I heard a tiny boy call, half-heartedly, to his mother hurrying far ahead. In his hooded red fleece jacket, he lingered and stalled, pausing to pick up a stick and throw it. “Wait for me,” he tried again, taking in the beckoning park, until reluctantly his little legs picked up speed and off he ran down the path.

Looking to the journey ahead?
Looking to the journey ahead?
The last of the Fall Gold.
The last of the Fall Gold.
Fall lights on trees lining the path
Fall lights on trees lining the path
Companionship
Companionship
Squirrel up a tree
Squirrel up a tree
Scampering squirrels
Scampering squirrels
Golden light
Golden light
Waning light
Waning light
Nature's art
Nature’s art
Peaceful reflections
Peaceful reflections
Meditating ducks on mirrored water
Meditating ducks on mirrored water
A Golf course oasis
A Golf course oasis
Framed contemplation
Framed contemplation
Stretching his wings
Stretching his wings
A few green leaves left
A few green leaves left
A breeze rippling
A breeze rippling
Cloudy mirror
Cloudy mirror
Path around the lake
Path around the lake
Leafy path
Leafy path
Fall at FreshPond
Fall at FreshPond

 

Home

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A few months after we moved to Boston we flew to San Diego to spend the holidays with family. We had been flying in and out of San Diego where my sister and her family live for over 20 years and that airport felt as familiar as an old friend. When we flew back into Logan Airport it was with a strange, uneasy feeling to think we were coming “home”. Much as we loved living here it hadn’t yet earned that title.

Now three years later, I boarded a plane bound for Boston and my heart sang, “home” with all the relief and longing that word holds, even as I knew that I would miss the love and connection with all the family and friends I had just visited.

Such is the world today. I am sure there are many who still live in the towns in which they grew up, surrounded by faces they have known since birth, but most people I know live far away from their families. It is the cost of having an adventurous spirit, the drawback to having what my family calls “itchy feet”. My mother left her hometown of St. Louis for the heady world of Los Angeles in the early 50’s, my parents moved our family to Portugal in the early 70’s and we have all been on the move ever since. California, Oregon, New Jersey, France, England, Scotland, Australia, and Alaska are only a few of the places members of my family have called home.

So what does home really mean? I just spent two and a half weeks in 6 different cities soaking up “home” in all its beautiful forms. Long conversations with my mom on the couch; morning natters with my sister, her at one end of the bed and me at the other; poolside chats with my brother-in-law. Working side by side with my brother in his carpentry shop and my sister-in-law in her classroom. Stolen moments catching up with my cousin long into the night when we really should have been sleeping. Car conversations with good friends on long drives, because at a certain undefined point friends become family too. Holding warm cups of tea, curled up on couches, perched on kitchen stools, cutting up vegetables, cooking, washing dishes together. Lubricated conversations over delicious meals; sleepy words in the early morning, shared worries, offered hopes, the slightly ripped feeling in your heart when you have to say goodbye. These are the people who populate me even when we are far apart.

Yet when I look at what home has meant these past few weeks, it has not only been the people but the places themselves that have spoken to me. The soothing, healing crash of the ocean; the deep warmth of the California sun after the fog has burned off; the sideways rain and the green, green, every shade of green in Oregon. The familiar wood cabins on Cascade Head filled with writers and inspiration. My garden. Oh my garden, the moist earth soft beneath my feet, scattered with fallen golden leaves already. Every plant and tree I had lovingly placed greeting me like an awkward teenager, taller, leggier and leafier that when I had left 3 years ago, apples weighing down the branches of the sapling I once knew, the air thick with woodland magic and the sweet scent of herbs. How had I ever left this place?

How can there be so many homes? By the end of my travels I longed for my husband, my children, my bed, my solitude: for home, even as it hurt to say goodbye. No one place is everything, but each fills up the little places inside us that together make us who we are. I kept an ongoing list along the way, every book recommendation, every promise I made, every idea to pursue and revelation to ponder. When I wake next week in my quiet house I will follow up. I will integrate my places, my people, my thoughts, and I will feel at home once more.

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Sisterhood

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Women need sisters.

I am immensely lucky: I was issued the very best of sisters at birth. Despite my annoying behavior as a child, including sabotaging her first dates and breaking her entire collection of miniature glass animals, she has always had my back, loving me in a super hero kind of a way. And the feeling is definitely mutual. Having a sister like mine makes the world feel like a safer place.

I want to state for the record here that I am by no means knocking brothers: I have an awesome one, as does my daughter, but brothers are a topic for a different day. Today I have been thinking a lot about sisters.

My sister’s pregnant friend came to Boston with her family this summer to visit her own sister. This lovely young woman went into early labor and has been living in a hospital here for the past month, 3000 miles from home, recovering and caring for her strong little preemie daughter until they are both able to go home. If ever there was a time for a sister, this is it, and sure enough, her sisters have kicked into high gear. The one who lives here was with her as she gave birth, an old friend stepped in to take care of her older girls (as did her brother!), and then both her sister-in-law and another sister have flown in to be with her. Because she is my sister’s friend I reached out to her as well: sister by proxy.

Sometimes sisters are related, and sometimes they are connected through the greater fabric of Sisterhood. If you are lucky, you will have enough hardship in life to find your Sisterhood.

Think of women as a bunch of purses: different on the outside, but the contents are remarkably similar. We share the same combination of the practical: wallet, brush, lipstick and Advil, and the messy: tissues, receipts and gum wrappers. How do men get by with just a wallet in their pocket? Some purses, like my sister’s, contain the most impressive collection of everything a person could need including gluten-free snacks and Bandaids, and some are lacking even a pen that writes. But for the most part, we know what’s inside, we share the same dark places, the same needs, the same concerns. And so, when the façade is down, we recognize each other, we can step in, we can lean on each other, we can be unashamed as the contents of our purses tumble out and we can help pick up the pieces.

Sisters tell you when you have spinach in your teeth. They don’t hesitate to talk about periods and poop; they listen and they speak the truth and then eat chocolate with you. They hold your hand during the hard stuff and bring you food. You don’t always get along, but you always love each other. And when one needs the other, there she is.

My mother will be 87 in a few weeks, and she still talks with her 93 year old sister on the phone every day. She is going on a cruise this fall with another soul sister, her maid of honor from her wedding almost 60 years ago.  These sisters, no doubt, are very familiar with the deep recesses of each others’ purses but their bond is iron clad.

What does a woman do if she hasn’t been given a sister of her own, or if the one she was issued is defective in some sisterly way? I worried about that at first with my daughter, who was provided a great brother but no sister. But I have come to realize there are ways to remedy this problem! Adopt one, borrow someone else’s, train a wild stray. Snag a female cousin. Marry a man with a good sister, pray that your brother will marry a promising sister-prospect. That worked really well for me on both counts. Sisters-in-law make wonderful sisters.

You can never have too many, so be on the lookout and collect them when you can. Learn to spot those special friends, roommates, colleagues and neighbors who will develop overtime into your Sisterhood. Open your purse a bit so they can see you. Reach out to them: it feels good. My female friends are my safety net. Each time I open my heart, there they are.

When I gave birth to my first child, a female friend across the country called me and somehow she knew just what was going on with my breastfeeding traumas though we had never talked so intimately before. In that moment I knew the truth about the importance of women friends, the extended Sisterhood.

I know my sister’s friend will weather this hard time, with her immediate and extended Sisterhood to support her, and she is setting a beautiful example for her daughters. When I heard about the two older girls’ first meeting with their littlest sister, my heart melted. They fell in love with her, in all her tiny glory. What a lucky baby, I thought. Yes, what lucky little girls, to start life with a built-in Sisterhood of their own.

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Roots, Wings and Tattoos

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Remember in Mary Poppins, when the wind changes direction and it is time for Mary Poppins to open her umbrella and float away? Well it feels as if the winds are changing in my life.

After an unexpected post-college year at home, our son has left for a two year graduate program in Berlin many miles and time zones from home. Our daughter is set to leave for her second year of college and plans to spend next summer working far from home as well. My husband and I will actually be empty-nesters for the first time. And after 23 years of living our family dream, I will spend my days fulfilling new and different dreams of my own.

So when my daughter asked me to mark this moment by getting a tattoo with her, holding on to this moment of letting go, I said yes. Celebrating our special bond of a shared birthday, and inspired by the saying “First you give your children roots, and then you give them wings,” we decided we wanted a tree with two birds, one in the branches, one flying away. Josh McAlear, a wonderful artist at Redemption Tattoo created two different versions according to our visions and today was the day.IMG_2217 IMG_2216

I cannot say it was an easy decision. Tattoos are common amongst the younger set, especially in Portland where my children grew up. Our son had already broken the ice in our family with a beautiful illustration by J.R. Tolkien on his upper arm.DSC02053

But I am 52 and well aware of the negative feelings many people have towards tattoos. Perhaps – no, certainly – my decision will raise an eyebrow or two among people whose opinion I really do care about (sorry, Mom).

But for me, this tattoo is a symbol: a symbol of love, a symbol of intention, a symbol of gratitude, and a symbol of hope for this next stage in all of our lives. Sometimes a grand gesture is needed to mark the moment. Consider the moment marked. Let the winds change!

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I include here a poem written by my daughter about a year ago. Just read it, and you might want to go get a tattoo too!

 

Departures

 

I.

 

You give your children roots

Then you give your children wings.

We know not what to do.

Our bodies spring loosely from the soil, reaching

for the sun.

 

Caked in the rich soils of our past,

our feet ache

to remain here

in fertile familiarity.

But our heads

see undiscovered horizons

and ache to fill each cavity

with

all that, out there.

 

Our hearts, right here,

right in the middle,

yearn for the answer.

The freedom to fly,

But strength

to carry our homes along for the ride.

 

II.

 

I once tried to fly away

too soon,

my feet caught among the brambles,

my skin stretched too thin across my rib cage.

Familiar hands tickled my sides

with rounded nails slightly too long.

I fell back to earth.

 

As the date crept ever closer,

I tried to burrow deeper,

Thought

maybe I’d like to be a seedling

again.

But I dirtied my wings,

and scraped my toes along the sheetrock.

 

III.

 

One day,

our roots loosened,

wings strengthened,

ready to weather the weight

of hearts grown heavy as rocks.

 

We took flight.

Mud dripped from our feet

to the grown-ups on the ground like toy figurines

shrinking in the final rays of day.

 

Wind will toss our bodies like rag dolls, tatter

our fragile wings.

Our feet will yearn for stability or permanence.

It’s departure time.

We’ll take what we’ve been given,

And figure the rest out

along the path.

Food Friday Mango Chutney a la Francesca

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imageSure it is great when you have a recipe, a shopping list and a plan. But what about those days when the challenge of getting from one end of the day to the other did not include that level of organization? That is when creativity becomes an important cooking skill. Making something appetizing from what’s in the fridge can really save your tastebuds and your wallet.

It is helpful to keep a good supply of the basics on hand, and our weekly CSA basket is a great asset in that regard. Smoothies, stir fries, pastas, and omelettes can be made in endless varieties. It is all about indulging your food imagination and creating what you crave.

After years of being intimidated by their food domineering mother in the kitchen my children have caught the cooking bug and I have been loving playing sous chef when they take charge! This is how it went last night with my daughter who will have a kitchen in her on campus apartment next year and who is showing awesome creative cooking talents:I decided it was time for fish – my go-to choice for a light meal on a hot day. The store had a great special on wild caught salmon: perfect! I asked my daughter how she wanted me to make it and that got her going: “mmmmm, with a brown sugar glaze? Hmmm, how about a sauce?  Ooh. Something fruity, like mango chutney – not the kind in a jar… We can make it!”  And we riffled through the fridge and brainstormed: we had frozen mango in the freezer  and peaches and onions from the CSA. She looked up some recipes and decided it would need rice vinegar, and then we picked mint from our neighbor’s garden. While I sprinkled the salmon with salt, pepper and a few spoonfuls of turbinado sugar to be broiled for about 6 minutes and sautéed some spinach and bok choy, my daughter chopped and mixed and tasted until the mixture in the bowl matched the taste in her imagination. Mmmm-mmm. A delicious hour together and a delicious dinner too.

Here is her recipe – worth buying the ingredients for if they are not in your fridge:

MANGO CHUTNEY A LA FRANCESCA

1 peach, cubed

1-2 cups cubed mango chunks, fresh or frozen

1/3 medium onion, finely chopped

1 large handful of fresh mint, finely chopped

1 TBSP rice wine vinegar

2 shakes tabasco

a pinch of coarse salt

Mix and let stand for flavors to meld. Serve on broiled salmon with a salt, pepper and brown sugar glaze.

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Food Friday – Chicken in Curry and Coconut Sauce

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The glorious and somewhat excessive heat we have been experiencing here in Boston broke temporarily this week, with temps tumbling into the 60’s and rain pouring down. With the cooler air, our appetites returned a bit, as no-one seemed to be too hungry when it was so hot.

My son, who has been doing the cooking this summer, took advantage of the cooler kitchen to add a new dish to his repertoire: Chicken in Curry and Coconut Sauce. With only 6 ingredients and a prep time of about 10 minutes, it was really easy (especially for me, as he did the cooking!) and an instant hit with the family.

The recipe was adapted from a lovely cookbook entitled: French Cuisine for the Young and Broke, by Eleonor Picciotto. Having grown up in France, Ms. Picciotto enjoyed cooking for friends in her tiny kitchen when she was an undergrad at Boston University. She was inspired to write this cookbook of easy, healthy and inexpensive recipes to show her classmates an alternative to a steady diet of take-out food: she provides proof that there is no need for a lot of ingredients, a fancy kitchen or a big budget to   eat great food!IMG_2063IMG_2062

 

Chicken in Curry and Coconut Sauce

½ medium onion

2 garlic cloves

3-4 chicken breasts, cut into 1-2 inch cubes

I cup canned coconut milk

3 TBSP curry powder

a pinch of salt and pepper

Chop the onion and garlic very fine and put in a sauté pan on high heat. Add the chicken breasts with 2 TBSP of coconut milk.

When the chicken starts to be cooked, pour in the rest of the coconut milk and the curry powder. Add salt and pepper.

Stir gently until the sauce is evenly yellow.

Check that the chicken in thoroughly cooked and not pink in the middle.

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We ate it served over white rice (or steamed broccoli for the Paleos), with bowls of chopped cilantro, chopped onion, chopped mango and dried coconut on the table  to garnish the curry to our own taste… that’s the fun part! Chopped banana, oranges, nuts, mango or raisins are good garnishes too.
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Paris Tapestry

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We exit the Metro, climbing the steps out of the Porte Maillot station, and I orient myself with my Plan de Paris, a little blue book of maps discretely tucked into most Parisians’ pockets and purses. It has been 30 years but I am hoping that I have this right. I am trying to find a restaurant my husband and I frequented when we were young. With only the name “L’Entrecote,” and the arrondissement, 17th, I had enlisted the help of a friendly local with internet on her phone. She gave me the telephone numbers of three possibilities, and the first one I called informed me they don’t take reservations: Bingo! I remember that fact, unusual for Paris restaurants, and off we went to find it.

IMG_1484“If this is it,” I say, “it will be on a corner right up there,” and I point up ahead. As we turn right onto Blvd. Perreire, it appears before me, exactly as I remember it, exactly as it was 30 years ago. I stand in line, not with my husband this time, but with my daughter, a dear friend, and her daughter, and time warps back on itself. I feel a shifting, a vibration, as my past and present align: my 22 year old self and the 52 year old me, with my friend who didn’t know me back then but is beginning to see the whole of me now.

 

I like to think of life as a tapestry. We live our days weaving our current piece of thread back and forth through the sturdy warp threads that provide the structure of our world. The colors of the threads change and multiply with every experience and relationship, adding depth and beauty to the tapestry of our life.

As with any work of art there are focal points where all of the themes and colors come together, where threads from all different parts of the whole weave themselves into a beautiful pattern that draws the eye and speaks to the heart.

In the tapestry of my life, my recent week in Paris was such a time.

I first moved to Paris when I was 22 years old. A recent college graduate, I was offered an unpaid 6 month internship at an international organization there. I almost didn’t take it, for reasons I cannot fathom now – something to do with a more practical job choice closer to home – but in the end I decided to live adventurously, and a bright new thread was woven into my life. I loved Paris with every fiber of my being. It felt like an answer to a question I had not even realized I’d been asking. Six months became 3 years as I explored, worked, ate food that spoke seductively to my taste buds, and made friends who were as intoxicated with youth and this city as me. My college boyfriend followed me to Paris and being single and in love led to being newlyweds in love. Paris can do that to you.

Fast forward 24 years: We lived in Portland, Oregon in a big beautiful house with 2 children. Those vibrant and lively colors of my youth were still there, but in the background, and my tapestry had become richer, denser and more complex. I was still the person who had come of age in Paris but that part of me was under deep cover. My days were filled with all the highs and lows of parenting, carpooling, volunteering and the challenges of shepherding children into adulthood. Thank goodness for our next-door neighbors who shared the journey with us. For 14 years, our wonderful neighbors were my children’s second family and vice versa. Our family was a little older than theirs, so our children were like siblings, and we two moms, sisters of the heart, shared our parenting woes and joys in equal measure. We wove similar color threads into our lives despite our different backgrounds: where we lived before children just wasn’t important. But in our musings one day she brought up my Paris days, wistful that she hadn’t gone there herself.

Over those years, I watched my friend’s children when she went to the hospital in labor with her third baby. I watched the children again when she rushed her daughter to the ER with a split chin. But when she went to the doctor recently herself and was given the kind of news that makes you realize every moment we have is precious, I started planning a trip to Paris.

What is special about L’Entrecote is that when you sit down you are asked only 2 questions: “Rare, medium or well-done?” and “Red, white or rose?” And then you are served perfectly cooked sliced steak in a delectable pool of herb and mustard sauce next to a pile of crispy delicate fries. It tasted just as I had remembered in my head.

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Just as I remembered, only better, because my friend could taste it too.The_Lady_and_the_unicorn_Desire

 

 

 


The next day we went to the Musee de Cluny, the National Museum of the Middle Ages, in a beautiful old building originally built in 1334. We went specifically to see the famous “Lady and the Unicorn” tapestries, but I was dismayed and disappointed to learn that the Lady and her magical unicorn were on a trip themselves, on tour in Japan.

 

No matter, I realize now, looking back. There is no way those tapestries could be as magical as the one we wove ourselves that week together in Paris.

Soundtrack to my life movie

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There are moments when my life has a soundtrack. The first time my two young kids and I rode bicycles down a cobble stone street in the town of Hilversum in the Netherlands, I thought I was imagining the accordion music that accompanied us. We had the oddest sensation of being in a movie of our life. It was a magical feeling. When we spotted the bearded man on the corner providing our serenade, I swear he had a twinkle in his eye, as if he had been planted there by the great movie maker in the sky. 
There have been other musical moments in our life movie and on our recent trip to New Orleans music filled the very air we breathed. It floated around corners, tickled our ears, teased us and made our toes tap. 
Far more unexpected though, was the soundtrack playing in a seemingly innocuous scene today: a long layover in Newark airport. As far as movie scenes go, it is one that is usually cut, the boring lead-up to a really juicy scene. I was on my way to meet up with my daughter, one of my very dearest friends and her teenaged daughter in Paris. Newark was a 4 hour pause before the fun could start. My friend and I live 3000 miles apart now, so any chance to see each other is something to look forward to.  A few months ago we decided to actually do something that is easily just daydreamed about: go to Paris together. My friend had never been before, though deep in her heart I suspect she has always wanted to. I had lived in Paris and can’t imagine anything better than to share it with her. The time seemed right, our daughters – practically sisters – were ecstatic to be invited, and so, the next thing I knew I was in Newark airport.
 
I had walked off the plane into the huge bustling terminal, preparing myself for a four hour wait in limbo. Wandering towards the food court my ears twitched at an unfamiliar sound amongst the din of gate announcements, rolling suitcases and conversations: an angelic swell of music. 
“We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when…”. 
There down the hall, gathered together, hanging on each others’ notes, was a lovely group of 16 women, their leader guiding their individual voices into perfect acappela harmony.
 I stopped, transfixed. How did they know I was on my way to meet an old friend? 
Busy travelers slowed their pace to listen. A little boy and his mom sat right down on the floor to take it all in. 
Next came Nat King Cole’s ”Unforgettable….” and I thought, “Yep, that’s what our trip will be..”
I chatted with these ladies for a bit as they waited for their next flight. They were there on a layover between Denver and Ireland. The High Country Chorus, a chapter of  the Sweet Adelines, they were on their way to tour and perform in Ireland,  a first trip for some of them, probably a dream come true just like ours. 
While I had planned to sit and block the world out during that long wait, they did everyone a favor and sang to us, their sweet notes lifting our spirits and providing the perfect soundtrack for my life movie. Thank you ladies and bon voyage!      
If you want to know more about the singers, check out their website www.highcountrychorus.org
And if you want to know more about our trip to Paris, stay tuned: first I have to live it, then I can write about it! 

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A canvassing experience from start to finish

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This is what I was thinking: 
I don’t have time, I don’t like knocking on doors, I already volunteered, my son volunteered, my daughter volunteered, I have to pack for my big trip, I have work to do, I am being guilted into this, I have done enough!

This is what happened: 
I whined and complained to all who would listen about volunteer abuse. And then:
I committed to one canvassing shift anyway because I was guilted into it and because I actually want Ed Markey to win the election.
I did most of my packing for my trip uncharacteristically a day early and stayed up too late doing it. I fueled myself the next morning with self righteousness and a large iced tea from Dunkin and checked in at the Markey campaign office. I studied my turf map and reviewed Markey’s stand on the issues and walked a block in the wrong direction before GoogleMaps set me straight. 
I knocked on doors.
 
This is what happened next:
No one answered. No one was home. It was a beautiful day; they were all probably out on walks enjoying the sunshine. I was relieved. It was a beautiful day; I was out walking, enjoying the sunshine. I hung campaign information on door handles reminding people to vote in the special election on June 25th.
I kept thinking about numbers. It is all about numbers. Each vote really does count. 109,000 Democratic voters stayed home during the special election for Senator Kennedy’s seat and the Republican candidate won by 107,000 votes. Every person needs to vote to make their voice heard. I cannot tell you who is the right candidate for you, but I can tell you with complete certainty that the only way for your choice of candidate to have a chance of winning is for you to vote. 

And then, this is what happened after that (it was a long morning):
Someone answered the door and smiled, and I got to check off the first “strong Markey supporter” box on my tally sheet. Once I stumbled through my first lines it wasn’t even awkward. I remembered my son, who is working on the campaign, telling me, “When I started canvassing I tried to imagine how you would do it, Mom, because you can talk to anyone” and I tried to live up to his compliment.
 
And so it went: knocking on doors, up and down steps (though I passed on the crumbling stoop with the yellow caution tape), opening gates, searching for doorbells. Talking to people in yards, through screens, in doorways. I talked to the weary woman caring for her elderly mother, and left a note for the veteran in his 70′s. I spoke with the grandmother of the runny-nosed toddler, and the ponytailed young woman recently separated from her husband. I listened to the disabled man in his wheelchair who had just received an eviction notice and the middle aged woman who was going to try to get her husband to vote this time around.
 
This is what I saw: 
I saw people of all colors and ages living their lives on that pretty June morning. All sorts of people, all of whom have the right to vote. 
I saw that the policies made in Washington affect every person behind every door and it is up to each person to decide who represents their interests best.
I saw why it matters that we participate in the process, no matter which candidate we support.
And I saw how lucky we are to be in a country where we have a choice as to who will represent us in DC, and how important it is that we not waste our good fortune. 

This is what I learned:
I learned that despite what we learned as children, sometimes it’s ok to talk to strangers. 
I learned that despite the very real menace of volunteer overuse and abuse, there is something very satisfying about being part of the democratic process at the grass roots level.
And on a more practical note – future canvassers, listen up! – self righteousness is fine, but I learned that it is never a good idea to fuel up on a large Dunkin Iced tea when embarking on a 3 hour canvassing shift.
All things considered, not a bad way to spend a Saturday morning after all.      

Dancing in the Rain: Graduation 2013

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The weather roller coaster continues its crazy ride. It poured rain again Friday with temperatures in the 50’s after cycling through the 90’s, 80’s and 70’s all in the past two weeks. This being graduation season, when I saw that rain I felt bad for all the families braving the elements to cheer their students on. It felt very familiar: that was my family this past freezing cold Memorial Day weekend.

A few years back, when the younger generation of my family started growing up, we decided to try to get as much of our family together as possible for the upcoming college graduations. That is not so easy anymore with everyone scattered around the country with different work and school schedules, but my nephew’s graduation from Brown was most certainly an occasion worthy of the effort of gathering the clan. Eleven of us – my mother, sister, brother, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, nephews, children, husband and I – all descended on Rhode Island just in time for the skies to open and the temperature to drop below 50.

Most of Brown’s festivities were outside, starting with the Campus Dance on Friday night. A long time tradition, 11,000 people gathered under the stars, or in this year’s case, the clouds, to dance and toast another successful graduating class. Eleven thousand people wrapped in coats and hats, with shoes covered in mud, danced and let loose in time-honored celebratory style. Those 11,000 people, defying the weather and risking pneumonia, were making quite a statement: graduating from college is something really worth celebrating.

The class of 2013 has worked hard. It is difficult to get into college in the first place, and no easy feat to complete 4 years of study. In addition to the course work, the students learned to live on their own, do laundry, build community, feed themselves and juggle responsibilities. Hopefully, there has been some mind-stretching, some thinking, and with any luck they have developed a love of learning. These young people have reached a goal they had been working towards pretty much their whole lives. It is important to stop at a moment like that and recognize the accomplishment.

At the graduation ceremony that Sunday, still freezing and wrapped in blankets, I was struck by the bitter-sweetness of the moment. My graduating nephew’s two brothers and two cousins sat in the audience cheering him on. The younger ones are still in college looking forward to this triumphant moment. The older ones are on the other side of that mountain. Those two looked a bit subdued, thinking perhaps about the realities they have faced since their own starry eyed walk across the stage.

The graduation ceremony is actually called Commencement, which means “beginning.” The beginning of the rest of their lives. The beginning of life in the “real world.” Reality can be a rough landing after the high flying days of graduation, especially in a bad economy where jobs are limited and competition is fierce. Commencement of the next stage can feel like a hangover from more than just the celebration parties. The giddy happy graduating students had a slightly hysterical look in their eyes as everyone started to realize that an ending and a beginning were taking place.

After 4 years together the members of the class of 2013, feeling closer together than ever at Commencement, were about to be separated, each on their own individual paths. Many of their friendships will keep these grads afloat through the years ahead, their shared experiences and value systems providing a bond of reassurance as they go out into the world, but they walk their paths alone. They don’t know it yet, but graduation means they are ready now for the hard stuff.

Ultimately the learning they accomplish on their new paths will be as valuable as that which has happened within their classroom walls. They will learn to work hard, even when the work isn’t compelling. They will learn to dig deep and find their inner strength, discover what they really want to do on a daily basis, and what they can do when they have to. They will have less control over their options and more control over what they make of those options. They will learn the incomparable sense of satisfaction that comes from a good day’s work, and they will learn humility in the face of what it takes to be a contributing member of our society, no matter what kind of work a person does.

My mother always taught us to “make an occasion.” Life is hard. Don’t miss the chance to celebrate the high points, stop and cheer the accomplishments, acknowledge the work that went into reaching a goal. Dance in the rain with those who have come out to celebrate with you, and you will be humming that song when you start real life in the morning.

There will come a time when you believe everything is finished; that will be the beginning.” Louis L’Amour

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Messy, Muddy, May-hem

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Have you ever noticed that the root of the word “Mayhem” is “May”?  Yes, mayhem, defined as rowdy disorder[1], or riotus confusion[2], is based on that lovely spring month, May. I forget every year what happens in May. In the depths of February I look forward to spring, to flowers, to warmer temperatures, to May: the gateway to summer. But in fact May strikes every year with the force of a runaway train.

When my children were young and in school, every evening and weekend in May were booked with the culmination of the year’s efforts: end of year dance and music recitals, championship games and team dinners, volunteer appreciation teas, school auctions, Scout ceremonies. We would arrive at the end of the school year panting, ragged, and ready for summer. The reality was that by then everyone needed a good few weeks of crankiness to readjust to a calmer schedule and to catch up on sleep.

Last May, for example, was a doozy: we had two graduations, one from high school, one from college, complete with visiting family and parties, on top of the other end-of-year festivities. All good and happy times, yes, with many photographs snapped that we will look at later when we are old and gray, but in a word: May-hem.

Thinking I was immune from school scheduling craziness this year, I was shocked to discover that May has still been messy, muddy and full of “riotus confusion.” Take the weather for example: just last week I was still wearing my down coat, and then a few days later it was 80 degrees. We have had thunder and lightning, 30 degree temperature drops overnight, and rain pouring in torrents. Wind has whipped hats off heads in big gusts and sent pollen and petals flying. There seems to be a battle raging among the weather gods.

Our daily lives have followed suit, a roller coaster of angst, contentment, good news and bad. As I have been getting to work on my memoir and enjoying work at WGBH, all my other responsibilities have teetered unsteadily, some toppling over to be dealt with later. We are excited to start what will probably be our last summer with both kids home, but the chaos of readjusting to having us all under one roof has us all a little off balance. The car has chosen this week in May to break down, the week that we will be welcoming all the family coming to town for my nephew’s college graduation.

So now I believe it is time to acknowledge that this “rowdy disorder” is simply the nature of the month of May. In my favorite musical, Camelot , Queen Guinevere enthusiastically sings, “It’s May! It’s May! The lusty month of May!” I admire her positive spin on it, but for now I think I will just sigh and recognize the “May-hem” it brings and try to hang on till June.

A beautiful sign of spring on Orchard Street  in Cambridge.

A beautiful sign of spring on Orchard Street in Cambridge.

 



[1] Random House Kernerman Webster’s College Dictionary, © 2010 K Dictionaries Ltd. Copyright 2005, 1997, 1991 by Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.

 

[2] The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

 

Food Friday Salade Composee

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I really hate making lunch. Breakfast, ok, I am half asleep and working on automatic. Dinner, great, I can be creative and it is a good change from the work I have been doing all day. But lunch is annoying. If I am working at home that day, it seems I have just cleaned up from breakfast and gotten settled and I have to stop what I am doing, interrupting the flow. Or, if I pack it in the morning, it is a struggle to think about what I will want to eat later, especially since I don’t like sandwiches. Leftovers are the easiest lunches, but my favorite solution to the lunch dilemma is what the French call Salade Composee:  salad greens combined with a protein, some veggies, possibly some fruit or cheese, and dressed with a simple vinaigrette.

It is very straight forward, and many of you have probably already been doing this (and if so, why didn’t you let me in on the secret?) but in case you haven’t been, here are my suggestions for easy, varied and delicious lunch salads.

I make sure I always have a big container of salad greens in the fridge. Sometimes I rinse them, but if they are fresh enough and the bag says “triple washed” I often chose to trust they are clean. I put a couple of handfuls in my bowl or lunch container. Then, depending on what my taste buds are asking for, I add a small handful of crunchy veggies, a few slices of avocado, a portion of canned fish or leftover meat, and a sprinkling of nuts, fruit or cheese. Speaking of canned fish, don’t be afraid of sardines! I love them. My friend Debra at Blue Raven Wellness led me to this great article about them.

For both taste and ease of preparation, I keep the dressing simple. Since I don’t like bottled dressing, I usually sprinkle the salad with salt, pepper, thyme or dill, garlic, a tablespoon or two of olive oil and about a tsp or two of either lemon juice or vinegar (rice wine vinegar, red wine vinegar or balsalmic). If you have a favorite dressing recipe, make it up in advance and keep it handy in the fridge. Feel free to share your recipes in the comments below!

I like lots of textures and flavors in my salad, and mixing and matching different ingredients keeps me from getting bored. To make this easy, here is a list of ingredients to keep on hand. Print this out, stick it on your refrigerator, and lunch will never be annoying again.

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CHOSE ONE OR MORE FROM EACH CATEGORY

These are just suggestions to get you going. The possibilities are endless.

 

Greens

Baby spinach

Arugla

Romaine

Butter lettuce

Watercress

 

Accent Veggies

Shredded or chopped:

  • cabbage
  • carrots
  • broccoli
  • zucchini
  • jicama

Artichoke hearts

Hearts of palm (Trader Joes has good prices on these)

Tomatoes

Onions/scallions

Avocado (these go on almost every salad I make)

Steamed asparagus

 

Protein

Canned tuna, salmon, sardines, anchovies

Hardboiled egg

Baked or grilled leftover chicken

Sliced leftover steak

Flaked leftover fish

Smoked salmon

Beans, if you are not on a Paleo diet

 

Nuts

Toasted, candied or raw:

  • Walnuts
  • Pecans
  • Almonds
  • Cashews
  • Macadamias

Pumpkin seeds

Flax sees

Chia seeds

Sunflower seeds

 

Cheese

Cheddar

Feta

goat cheese

 

Fruit

Chopped:

  • apple
  • pear
  • mango
  • oranges
  • peaches
  • strawberries
  • papaya
  • grapefruit

fresh blueberries

dried cranberries

Iwo Jima and Gratitude

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On my recent trip to Washington, DC I stayed in a hotel in the concrete jungle known as Rosslyn, Virginia. With its high-rise office buildings and hotels it lacks the red brick charm of its neighbor, Georgetown, just one mile away across the Key Bridge, but it is very close to one of the area’s important monuments. While most of our nation’s capitol’s sights are centralized around the National Mall, the US Marine Corps War Memorial, also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial, is often missed because it is across the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia.

When I lived in DC many years ago I somehow never managed to visit it, so this time I decided not to miss the opportunity. Certainly not a pedestrian friendly area, I felt like I took my life in my hands on the 10-minute walk from the hotel, but once there I was mesmerized. The statue by Felix de Weldon is a bronze recreation of Joe Rosenthal’s famous photograph showing US Marines placing the flag during the battle to take Iwo Jima Island in Japan during World War II.

Set in an open park-like area overlooking the Washington Monument in the distance, the statue is massive, and the 32-foot high figures are breathtakingly life-like. It is dedicated to all Marines who have given their lives since 1775 and is engraved with the name of every battle fought since then, along with these words: Uncommon Valor was a Common Virtue.IMG_2356

On this pretty spring day there were throngs of tourists who had come to take pictures of the memorial. Small children played, shrieks of laughter ringing out as they ran about, oblivious to the meaning of this huge statue. Two young men, hand in hand, meandered through the park with a photographer, posing for formal pictures together, the kind used to announce an engagement, perhaps. The scene was one of ease: people enjoying, in peace, the freedom for which those Marines had fought.

The gay couple taking photos in the shadow of the monument, on the very day that the Supreme Court was joining the national debate over same-sex marriage, was a vivid reminder of the freedom I so often take for granted.

I do not like war. Really, does anyone? I abhor the senseless loss of life, and I oppose it every chance I get. I do not always agree with the decisions made by my government. Again, does anyone? But it is exactly that right to dissent, my right to vocally disagree without repercussion, which is guaranteed by my government and protected by those who have gone to battle. The memorial filled me with gratitude for the freedom we have here to live as we chose, and to continually participate in the governing discussion.

IMG_2359Today, in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, I am also feeling gratitude for those who risked their lives for others here. The “first responders”, those bound by their profession, firefighters, police and medical workers, and those there by circumstance, put their own safety aside to save others. My father was a policeman and I grew up knowing he was a hero. If ever there was an emergency, he was the man you wanted to be nearby. There is a special place in my heart for all those like him, who choose to step toward danger to shield others, those for whom “uncommon valor is a common virtue.”

That day in DC I wandered a bit further down the hill and found Arlington Cemetery laid out before me, IMG_2377white marble headstones glowing in the soft light as dusk fell, a beautiful and sobering sight. And also nearby, a modern bell tower guarded by two statues of lions, surrounded by beds and beds of tulips just beginning to bloom. “What’s this?” I thought. It is a Carillion, donated by the Netherlands to express thanks for the United States’ aid during and after World War II. The bells ring out every day, a regular reminder of gratitude.

Gratitude: definitely the theme of the day.

For more photographs, go to my Photo Gallery.

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Sign on the Dotted Line

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Earlier this year, in the depths of winter, I saw a little crack of light ahead. I could see that some time was opening up, time for me. I know how quickly those windows can close, so I was determined to make the most of this, to act and not let that time slip by.

What would you do if you saw a bit of time ahead? What dream would you make come true?

I had a list of what I wanted to do once my children were out of the nest, and writing was at the top of the list. So, not certain what would come of it, I set up this website. I got myself writing again with Christina Katz’s 21 Moments Writing Challenge and soon I was blogging. As more people read my blog, I committed to writing more posts. And a couple weeks ago, I went to the first session of the JumpStart Your Memoir class I had signed up for way back on that winter day.

What a shock.

This is no airy-fairy theoretical class. The first thing we did was draw up a contract with ourselves regarding when and how much we would write every week. We wrote an outline of our book. An outline? This book has been an idea in my head forever and I hadn’t thought about the nitty-gritty details. Help! But I did it. I wrote the outline, and I signed the contract with myself. I put on paper the concrete steps I will take STARTING NOW to make my dream a reality.

And yes, I am a little freaked out. Another plan I acted on was to volunteer to do some research and support work at our local public radio station WGBH. And now that is happening too. And wait, what about the homeopathy cases I am taking on?

No one can do it all. This will take some juggling, some creative scheduling, and it will take some saying, “No.” Taking on new goals means letting go of some parts of my life. I will not be spending as much time cooking, or connecting with friends. I will not be posting as many blogs. I will hopefully procrastinate less because I have a commitment to keep, a commitment to Myself.

This seems to be the season for signing on the dotted line of dream contracts. My friend just signed away some frequent flier miles for her long dreamed-of trip to Paris. My hairdresser here in Cambridge just signed the lease on her very own salon and has been happily posting pictures of the remodeling on Facebook as her dream becomes real. My son just signed the paperwork to study at his dream graduate school in Berlin next fall.

None of these dreams came true quickly. Those pens were put to paper as a culmination of hard work, lots of thought, some aimless wandering and some dark times. But when that crack of light appears, you have to step towards it. Each step will bring more clarity, more information, more direction, and will move you forward.

So dream, dream, dream, yes; but to make your dream come true get out your pen and sign on the dotted line.

Therapeutic Cooking Blueberry Ribs

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What can you do when you are held hostage in your house, along with an entire terrified city? What can you do when you are sick at heart and in spirit, and you wonder how a seemingly good person could have gone so very deeply and horrifyingly wrong? When your body is exhausted and your eyes are sore and raw and endlessly glued to the television and the sound of the video of the gunshots and explosions is repeating over and over in your head, while the silence of a deserted city hangs outside your window?

You take out a chopping board, and a sweet onion. You grab some garlic and a big pot. When you slice into the onion the tears are already there. You get the big bottle of olive oil, and the meat you had taken from the freezer the night before, before this day. You go through the motions, and the onion smells good and house warms up, and your mind quiets and you feel more grounded, and your tears salt the sauce. But your heart is still heavy.

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Blueberry Ribs

(This recipe works well with country style pork ribs or beef short ribs. I cook this in a LeCreuset casserole that can go from stove top to oven. If you want, you can brown everything in a stovetop skillet and then put it in a covered casserole, pouring the sauce over and making sure to scrape in the good stuff from the pan.)

 

2 ½ -3 lbs. country style pork ribs, or beef short ribs

1 TBSP olive oil

SeaSalt, pepper to taste

1 tsp each thyme and tarragon

1 onion, chopped

3-4 cloves garlic, crushed

1 gala apple, finely chopped

2 cups blueberries (fresh or frozen)

¾ +  cup white wine

½ cup apple cider vinegar

1 TBSP Dijon mustard

1 TBSP molasses

3 TBSP maple syrup

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.

Season the ribs with salt, pepper, tarragon and thyme. Heat olive oil and brown the ribs on medium heat in a wide shallow skillet that can fit them in one layer, about 3 – 5 minutes on each side. Remove to a plate. Add onions and garlic and cook a few minutes until browned slightly. Add apples and cook a couple of minutes, stirring and scraping the pan to keep from burning. Add blueberries and toss till starting to wilt. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer, scraping the bottom of the pan. Add the meat back in or put all in an oven proof casserole. Cover. Cook in 325 degree oven 2-3 hours until meat is tender and sauce is thick. Add ½ cup water periodically as needed if sauce gets too thick or starts to burn.

Serve over rice with a green salad.