Saturday, February 8, 2014

when life throws a curveball, squeeze it till the lemonade flows

     As I wait quietly in a nursing facility room watching my mother-in-law doze, I read. Today's selection is a delightful memoir by author and chef Marlena di Blasi recounting her time in beautiful Venice. Here is the paragraph I'm taken with at the moment. She is speaking of her husband's plan to grow olives in Tuscany when they relocate:
     “He has planted in little plastic pots twelve eight-inch-high olive trees that he plans to transplant down the western slope of the garden. He’s calculating that his first harvest will happen, if all goes reasonably well, in twenty-five years and will yield a cup and a third of oil.”  An excerpt From: Marlena de Blasi. “A Thousand Days in Venice.” Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2013-05-21. iBooks.
     Marlena, you're killing me, girl!  Just the notion of starting over is massively appealing. Her reasoning makes me laugh, as she and her husband are past middle age. Feelings of wanderlust swell somewhere deep inside, stirring envy mixed with the desire to just jump up and go... But here I sit.
     Life boldly throws curve balls whenever it chooses. It's rude like that. Life shouts at me, Hey, don't get too comfy. You don't really think you're in control, do you?
     Head and heart know only Jehovah Jireh, the Living God Who Provides, is truly in charge. He's not only large and in charge, but He totally understands my traveler's heart. (After all, He made all the magnificent things I want to see.)
     He also knows how impulsive I would choose to be.... you know, if I were in charge of the world. (Hey, isn't that a Dr. Seuss title?) I want to go, to explore, to learn more and to be someplace new. Every single day.
Lovely 'Lita, in better days. Easter Sunday 2012
     The past two years has seen drastic change. My husband's little 86- year old mother is declining in health and bed-bound. Specifically, the last seven months has seen our entire family taking turns sitting by Lita's bedside, caring for her every need, attending doctor visits and hospital stays... waiting, waiting and waiting.
      A while back, she and I reminisced about better days, discussed family history and laughed at our attempts to get her legs to work again... (a very long story.) Now she struggles to even speak. I feel her frustration... Her sharp mind and strong will crave control, but that frail, little body isn't cooperating at all. We spoke of irony... Lita's 93-year old brother, my husband's Tio Miguel is physically healthy as a horse, but Alzheimer's disease has slowly purged his mind.
Our girlies with their Abuelita. Easter 2013
     Recently, I've missed quite a few work days. I only managed fourty-two posts in 2013  and thirty-seven the year before. Ouch!  And I've read. Oh boy, have I read! My literary choices have ranged from non-fiction, cooking essays and fiction to memoirs, travel essays and Scripture.
     I've also played countless word search games. Efforts to keep my sanity while increasing my vocabulary are progressing quite nicely. Ha.
     When life comes at you with alternate plans you hoped were years away, all you can do is hold on tight and shout, WHEEEEEEEEEEE! A good attitude, hopeful spirit, compassionate nature and stubborn perseverance is what's required. And lots of prayer. And a second-hand iPad.
The Fam with 'Lita and Uncle Greg. Easter 2013
"1 The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I {ever} need.
He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams.
3 He renews my strength, {
every single day.} He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to His name.
Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for You are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. {
Right in front of them!} You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings. {Better blessings than I could ever think up and way more than I deserve.}
Surely Your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever." 
{Amen and amen}
Psalm 23. New Living Translation, {with bracketed emphasis added my moi:}

Lita with Claire, 2012

let's review: molly macpherson's richmond hill

     We decided to go out for dinner Saturday night. BIG date night... not even leaving the Hill, we hit Dollar Tree and headed for Molly's on Highway 17 in Richmond Hill. We're just two wild and crazy kids!
fish and chips with Guinness (photo compliments of MMP)
     We've dined here several times and consider it to be the best all around restaurant in town. That's right. You aren't seeing things... I said, It is the best place in Richmond Hill, Georgia for a nice dinner. Not fancy-shmancy, but a great meal for what you pay and lovely, knowledgeable staff. Consistently good food is important to me. I know who to count on.
     I always order the same thing... Honey Thistle Chicken paired with neeps and tatties, and a freshly steamed vegetable selection. (And a crazy-good yeast roll served with honey butter. Yum!) Neeps and tatties are turnips and potatoes whipped into glorious submission. The hubs likes to mix it up and orders something different each time, so I decided to be brave and do the same this time.
     I asked if the herb-crusted salmon could be grilled instead, with the cucumber-dill sauce on the side. It is served with potato scones and the veg of the day. Oh, and the roll. I'm now brave and full... Grilled is the way to go!
     He ordered Steak and Guinness Stew. It was so good, it made me want to rush home and make some! Steak, potatoes, carrots and onions in a hearty gravy. The yeast roll perched on the side of his bowl, ready to swan dive into the rich sauce. (The plate was clean when we left.)
     We love Molly's pies. Chicken, Shepherd's, Steak and Guinness. The meatloaf is good, a huge portion large enough to share or save for a second meal. And if you fancy something sweet to end the night, go for the Sticky Toffee Pudding.
photo compliments of MMP-RH

     Stop by Molly MacPherson's in Richmond Hill, just of I-95 on Highway 17. You'll be pleasantly surprised.
 Molly MacPherson's Scottish Pub & Grill on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

goodbye 13... a different kind of year.

     I noticed a few blog posts with an end of year wrap-up as theme. So, here's my take on 2013... Whew, I'm glad that's over and we all survived.
     It has been at times both good and bad. Simple one minute and difficult the next. And guess what it is called... LIFE. That's it, just life. Crazy, wonderful, happy, sad.
     My computer's photo-log tells a visual story of our year. 2013 began with sadness as we said goodbye in January to one of our faithful companions, the favorite canine of many... our sweet Sophie girl.
     February saw one daughter get her first real, grown-up job and move away from our little nest to a shining metropolis miles away. And my little baby turned twenty-one!
     I've sure done a lot of cooking... surprise, surprise. I've really been a hit and run blogger in 2013. As you've seen from the lack of posts, I've been flitting between work and home with little time for lighting on a chair to write. That's a fact I don't love.
    It's been a year filled with a bit of travel, a smidge of renovation and a ton of food. Spending time with friends and family is always my favorite part... and I'm so blessed to be surrounded. People you love just make everything better, don't they?
     All in all, God has remained faithful... whether or not I take time to stop and pray. If I remember to thank him or if I don't. Even when I miss church services on Sunday for weeks at a time due to an illness in the family... He still calls me His child.
     I celebrate that every day. It's not about me... I'm thankfully not in charge of anything but my own attitude. I'm called to love God and love people like Christ loved the church. Period. The end.
     He gave His life for every single one of us, (whether we believe in Him or not,) when we deserve absolutely nothing. We're not called to judge. Or hate. Or change people... just to love.
     My world is crazy and filled with drama and I'm sure many of you can relate! Health issues and situations have changed in the blink of an eye. People move in and out of our presence when we least expect it... So hey, don't get too comfy. Change is inevitable. And still, God is our one constant..." Draw near to Him and He will come near to you." James 4:8.
     Here are a few of my favorite 2013 images:
Happy New Year! Thanks for staying connected.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

toscana rustica revision

      It is nasty and cold outside... all of a sudden! The weather has gone from yesterday's rain and muggy temps to cold, gray and blustery, overnight. The kitchen smells like Thanksgiving. I'm one happy chick!
     While trying to keep everyone's fingers out of the Thanksgiving pie, I threw together one of my faves... This hearty soup will hit the spot tonight. All I need now is a roaring fire!
     I used Publix Greenwise chicken Italian sausage this time, but have also made it with turkey or traditional pork Italian sausage. If you're a spicy person, try the hot Italian, but omit the red pepper flakes until you taste the soup. It still has a bit of heat the way it is written. Proceed at your own risk!
     I love, love those itty-bitty, golden potatoes they sell in most food stores. Have you found them? I roast them in the oven quite a bit, but decided to try them in soup. I cut them in half to speed up the cooking time. If you can't find little potatoes, use about five regular-sized bakers. I didn't peel the babies, but you might want to peel large, thicker skinned potatoes.
     I bought the kale that was already chopped, washed and ready to cook. It really saves time, but you could wash and chop your own bunch, if that's how you roll. Kale is one of the most popular greens these days. I've even seen baby kale among the salad fixings. It is very, very good for you and unobtrusive in a soup... Give it a try!
Ingredients
5 chicken Italian sausage links, casings removed, hot or mild
1 large onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced
2 slices bacon, cut up
1 tsp red pepper flakes (you can omit if you used hot sausage)
3 cans fat free chicken broth or 6 c. homemade stock
2 c. Dutch Baby gold potatoes, halved
2 t. salt
1 t. pepper 

2 cans of evaporated milk, (I used fat free)

4 c. Kale, chopped and ready to serve
Directions
In a large, deep pot on medium heat, brown sausage and bacon with onion, garlic and red pepper flakes. Break up the sausage chunks as it cooks. When onion is translucent and meat is cooked through add a splash of broth and scrape the browned bit off the bottom of pot.
Add remaining broth and potatoes, salt and pepper. Cook on medium low for  about 20 minutes until potatoes are tender. Add evaporated milk and simmer for another few minutes. Toss in the kale. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if needed. Let cook another 10 minutes on a low simmer.
Serving idea: Serve along-side a salad made of sliced tomatoes, basil leaves and fresh skim mozzarella drizzled with a balsamic vinaigrette.
Weight Watchers Points plus value: 4 per 1 c. serving. Makes 10-12 servings.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

a time to purge: living with less...

     Today, it is muggy and drizzly outside, dusty and cluttered inside... but just my bedroom and closet. Why do master bedrooms serve as a dumping ground for stuff you don't know what to do with??? I need a force field or an electric fence to prevent all of the stuff from entering.
the finished product. neat and pretty
     I began early, after the Master himself got out of there, and started by stripping the bed. While the cozy, light gray flannel sheets launder, I'm planning to dust, vacuum and purge.
     Let me stop first and talk about sheets. Specific sheets. Solid Hemstitch Flannel from Ballard Design. They're aMAZing and velvety soft. They're I'm-not-EVER-leaving-this-bed soft. These sheets feel like you'd imagine a bunny's ear would feel. The more you wash them, the softer they become.
     I ordered them when they went on sale, which they frequently do. I may never stop sleeping on them until they completely wear out. (It may involve a super high air conditioning bill in the Southern summer, but we'll see.)
photo courtesy of Ballard Design
     So, back to purging. I gathered a few laundry baskets and filled one with things for donation to a clothes closet. In another, I placed gently loved clothing that could be sold to a designer consignment in town.
     The third, I placed paper items to be moved to my office for sorting at a later time. I also had a very large trash can ready to fill with paper items that did NOT need to move from one place to another.  
     I removed all hanging clothes and shoes from the closet. I then dusted and vacuumed the entire little room, including shelves. All summer shoes were place on high shelves and winter shoes, including boots below, within reach. (A couple of seldom used things, like a basket of ball caps and visors, and my hiking boots leftover from life in Tennessee, were relegated to the rafters as well.)
     Shoes are required (by moi,) to be in some type of box. It can be the original shoebox or a plastic one. This way, they stay dust-free and don't fall off the shelf or go wandering around and get lost from a mate.
     There's nothing so annoying as one lone shoe, is there? I currently own two pair of rogue, un-boxed boots... I'm trolling the shops for suitable containers.
wall of shoes
     The same organizational reasoning is behind the order of hanging items. Warm weather gear and light colors toward the back wall and cold weather things in the front near the divider. I looked over purses, totes and belts, and dug through my large basket of sheets, removing things not recently used. Items not worn in the past year are placed in or next to baskets to discard. When purging, you must be tough and brutish. Show no mercy. Get rid of it!
hanging wall
      I usually hang the lighter weighing, shorter shirts and caridgans on top of the divided side. Group colors together and place all patterned items near the front. Sweaters in the middle, shirts near the front. (My chef shirts take up the rear.)
     On the bottom are short jackets and coats, skirts and a few blazers. The long-hanging side is organized by season, then item and length. A stylish wicker hamper hold small washables.
     I placed my three scarf and hat boxes on the shelf. Two baskets on the shoe wall hold linens and purses. Two large, pewter hooks hold hats, a couple of belts and a few aprons.
behind the door...
     This took me quite a while to do, but I was rewarded with dinner out, a clean room and a beautiful closet NOT filled to overflowing. I'm ready to snuggle in the cozy sheets. The master suite is once again SWEET! And clean sheet night is my favorite night of the week!

Friday, November 22, 2013

let's review: green truck pub

     I've been meaning to tell you about a great, little place in Savannah. Since the weekend is here, you might want to hurry on down there...
     Gail and I stopped in at Green Truck Neighborhood Pub for an early lunch. We needed fuel... lots and lots of energy for combing through the eye candy at Habersham Antiques, located across a parking lot from the Truck.
photo compliments of GreenTruckPub
     We had our hearts and taste buds set on a big, juicy burger... and this is surely the place to find it. We settled into a booth and looked over the menu. Here's the item that tickled my fancy: The Rustico; Goat cheese, balsamic caramelized onions, roasted red peppers and fresh basil.
     Oh. My. Goodness. The one-third pound, grass-fed-beef burger is locally sourced from Hunter Cattle Company, (one of my favorite farms.) This beautiful creation arrived still oozing a combo of meat juices, homemade ketchup and melted goat cheese.
     I tried not to make a spectacle... Once you take that first bite, the blend of flavors will make you smile really big, totally ignoring the fact that you have caramelized onions hanging out of the corners of your mouth and basil in your teeth. You just. don't. care.
      Go ahead. Let it run down your chin and onto your arm as you bury your face in it. The server will bring extra napkins. Or a hose. They may even set up a partition around your table so you can be alone with your burger, if you ask nicely. Or if you repulse enough other patrons. Whatever.
     Finishing my meal was similar to coming to the end of a really good book. A mix of sadness and wonder plays with your emotions. I thought about heading for the kitchen to hug the chef, but instead used those happy endorphins for some retail therapy.
     Someday, I'm going to be really brave and order the Whole Farm burger: A burger and bacon and cheddar AND a fried egg. Sigh.
photo compliments of GreenTruckPub
     I have to confess that I've been back a few times since that first day with my antiquing girl, Gail. I finally introduced my hubs to the place. And, btw jsyk, the Hot Rod burger is just as amazing as the Rustico.
     I've also enjoyed the Green Greek and the Farm Truck salads. The Farm Truck is my fave with spiced nuts, crumbled Gorgonzola cheese, crispy apples, balsamic caramelized onions, dried cranberries and drizzled with a balsamic vinaigrette. You can order it as a side with any sandwich. They make all salad dressings in house. And ketchup. And pickles. I just love that!
     The only tiny, little negative thing I can find to say is that the fries I had should have been crispier. They seemed like they had been sitting for a few minutes and had cooled. I rarely eat things that are fried. If I'm going to order french fries, I want them to blow me away with their crispy, salty crunchy exterior and steamy, hot potatoe-y insides. They need to work on their delivery.
     A recent tweet (@greentruckpub) announced that they're now serving Chocolates by Adam Turoni... Hmmm, I'm checking my calendar to see when I can go back.

Green Truck Pub on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Monday, November 18, 2013

vintage post: thanksgiving, the rodney dangerfield of holidays

Note: This post was originally published in November of 2010, year One of the blog. It is one of my favorite early posts. I thought it would be fun to dust it off and trot it out for everyone to see. Again. 

      Just as the Halloween frenzy fades, Christmas decorations are allowed to blatantly take over the world. Visions of sugarplums are dancing well before the beginning of December.
     The overhead speakers in every store chortle a selection of distorted carols. And my favorite of all the holidays, the humble, loveable underdog is again, getting NO respect.
     As I contemplate the menu, count tables and chairs and pencil out a guest list, retail stores are exploding with holly and ivy. Even a few of my friends are mulling over the question, "Is it too early to put up the tree?"
     I am horrified by the thought of putting up a Christmas tree in early November. I just want to stand up as tall as my five foot-three frame will allow and shout, "This is the Thanksgiving police. Step away from the tinsel!"    
     What about the Pilgrims and the Indians? The endless types of pie, the savory stuffing and the rice and gravy?? It's not just any gravy. It's TURKEY gravy, people. Pure gold!
     What about deep, red cranberry relish with grated orange peel, tiny brussel sprouts sauteed with garlic and whole fingerling sweet potatoes, oven roasted and sprinkled with brown sugar, cinnamon and sea salt?
     We should be reminiscing about smiles on the faces of beloved family around our table. Or mulling over which orphaned friends have no one to dine with. We should be pondering our gratefulness to God for just one day, before we get sucked into the great commercial vortex of holiday shopping.
     Seldom do we stop and smell the turkey. We forget to be thankful on a daily basis. Thankful for our health, of getting up one more day and breathing in air. Thankful for our disfunctional families that alternately drive us insane or fill us with joy and wonder.
     Thankful for the country in which we live, for freedoms purchased with the blood of many brave souls. Even thankful for our seemingly inept government officials, which WE, the people put in places of power.
     So, in spite of what the rest of the country is doing, I will be here organizing acorns and pinecones, stacking firewood, ironing napkins, picking pecans and calling people I love.
     I will light candles, get out the serving platters, fill bowls with candy corn and whole hazelnuts. I will bathe the dogs, shake rugs, fluff pillows and get out folding chairs.
     I will eat too much, talk a lot, listen more, play in the yard with the kids, take a little tryptophan induced nap, and say, Mmmmm too many times to count. I will be very, very thankful for one whole day... before heading to the woods on Friday to pick out my tree.
     It's Thanksgiving season, y'all... Santa can wait;)