mulberryshoots

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

cucumber soup! . . .

cucumber soupEnglish cucumbers have been on sale at the market and I usually have one or two in the fridge. They’re crisp and flavorful to add to salads or to combine with wakame seaweed for a quick asian relish.

This morning, I thought it would be nice to have cream of cucumber soup for our lunch. It’s such a simple recipe and takes no time at all.

Wash the cucumber and slice lengthwise. With a spoon, gently scrape out the seeds; then rinse and cut the two lengths in half again. Then cut up into pieces about half an inch cubes. Melt some unsalted butter in a 1.5 quart pot, chop up half a vidalia onion and stir fry in the butter along with the pieces of cucumber.

When the vegetables have nicely browned, add 1/2-2 cups of chicken stock and cover, simmering for a half hour until tender. Let cool with the lid off. When soup is room temperature, pour into a blender and process into a smooth consistency. Pour back in the pot and add some light cream – a 1/2 -3/4 cup.

Taste it for seasoning – I didn’t add any salt but it’s up to you.

This cream of cucumber soup is light, tasty and so easy to make – I could probably eat it every day!

 

 

 

lemon ricotta pancakes for breakfast! . . .

lemon ricotta pancakesLEMON RICOTTA PANCAKES for breakfast!

I don’t know about you, but I seem to be seeing recipes for lemon ricotta pancakes in cooking publications online and off. A few of them were very fussy, separating eggs and beating the egg whites with a mixer, then folding them in.

This morning, I just winged it and made batter using Aunt Jemima Pancake mix, one egg rather than three, lightly mixed in with a fork, some buttermilk, melted butter, a dollop of whole-milk ricotta, lemon zest and juice from a wedge of lemon. The batter was medium thin and I cooked the pancakes one at a time in a small pan. A pat of sweet butter on top and warmed maple syrup.

Subtle, fragrant and delicious. Almost no fuss!lemon ricotta pancakes 2

best key lime pie! . . .

key lime pie

BEST Key Lime Pie tonight: Original recipe from Joe’s Crab Shack and tweaked by me. This is a relatively easy-to-make recipe that hits the spot in the summertime: cool, creamy, tart and just sweet enough. A favorite!

1. Buy a prepared honey graham crumb crust (remove plastic lid & bake for 10 minutes by itself in 350 degree oven – critical step so that crust is crisp and does not absorb filling and become soggy.)

2. Zest skin of one fresh lime on a microplane (about 3 teaspoons)

3. Separate and beat 4 egg yolks with lime zest using electric mixer/whipping attachment for 5 minutes

4. Slowly add 1 can of Eagle brand sweet condensed milk until incorporated – do not overbeat

5. Turn down mixer and add juice of 4 fresh limes (about a scant 2/3rds cup; do not use artificial lime juice – it leaves a metallic aftertaste)

6. Turn filling mixture into pre-baked graham cracker crust and bake for 10 minutes in 350 degree oven until set. Remove and cool thoroughly.

7. While filling cools, place glass pyrex mixing cup and clean whipping attachment in freezer to chill

8. Whip small carton of heavy cream in chilled glass container with mixer until stiff. Do not add sweetener. Pile onto cooled filling

9. With flat of cake knife, smooth whipped cream to edges of pie filling and pile higher in the middle. Chill in FREEZER for 30 minutes

10. Remove from freezer and cover with aluminum foil; store in refrigerator for a few hours until ready to serve

It may not be very pretty with the prepared crust in aluminum foil pan . . . but it sure tastes fabulous!

“my life belongs to me” . . .

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Charlize Theron (in June, 2015 issue of ELLE, UK magazine):

“For me, the greatest success of my life, and something that I am really proud of, is that through my career, or through love, or through friendships, or through relationships – I have lived my life authentically to me, . . . Meaning, I take full ownership in all of my decision-making. And some of it was really bad, and some of it was really good. But I’m most proud of that – that my life belongs to me.”

Isn’t it comforting when we can individually take responsibility for our lives?

Me in garden 1

ballet! . . .

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A cornucopia of ideas has arisen from reading the New York Times this rainy Sunday morning. In the 1960’s, I was fortunate to attend most of the New York City Ballet’s performances while George Balanchine’s works were performed by his hand-picked ballerinas in their prime: Suzanne Farrell, Patricia McBride and Kay Mazzo.

I was reminded of that era while reading a long feature article about Sara Mearns this morning. At the end of the article, it describes a summer visit by the Company to Saratoga Springs in July wherein numerous Balanchine ballets will be performed. In reviewing the calendar, I noticed that there will also be performances of “Goldberg Variations” a ballet set to one of my favorite pieces of music by Bach, choreographed by Jerome Robbins in mid-July.

Looking at the map, Saratoga Springs is about a two and-a-half hour drive from my doorstep. Highway driving and manageable – it’s twice as far as driving to Northampton and I do that easily numerous times a year.

So, I’m tempted to take a mini-vacation to visit this area and see a couple of ballet performances. Who knew that something so luscious and enjoyable from my past could be within reach a few hours from home this summer?

‘old fogeys’. . .

Egyptian camel_2

James Salter, a “writer’s writer” died last week at the age of ninety. Accolades written about him repeatedly talked about how beautiful his writing was and that in spite of it, his books were not best sellers, nor was he known as widely as he would have liked. I wondered why that was and borrowed a novel and autobiography from the library.

It’s always interesting when people talk about “technique” whether it’s in writing or in playing the piano, for example. Technique is what you learn when studying an instrument so that you develop facility and consistency in the way that you play the notes. That’s only the beginning, however, because there are as many different techniques as there are pianists. Playing scales, double-thirds, Czerny and Cramer exercises are all tools toward developing technique when playing the piano.

The thing is, being facile and playing evenly or with endurance is not even the half of it. Playing music so that it speaks to the listener is the endpoint one strives for after learning years of technique. It’s similar to what they say in sports – when you’ve got it mastered, then you can let go and just enjoy yourself. So while technique is great to have, it’s only a part of the “have-to-haves.”

Apparently, James Salter had it in spades. His sentences are interesting, varied and have rhythm. I enjoyed reading parts of his books. What I discovered in perusing both of them is that they are in large part autobiographical and moreover, they reflect a lifestyle of his social strata – well off, and hobnobbing at restaurants and parties with many of his peers in New York, Paris and wherever they travelled. Meals and what they ate reflected a period in time when certain foods were fashionable. There wasn’t any fusion cooking there.

And that’s where I reflected on why his books had not become more popular: they weren’t because they didn’t appeal to a broad spectrum of readers, just a narrow one similar to his own background and life experience. This is when I began thinking about “old fogeys.” He wrote about what he knew but I don’t know if he was aware of how ensconced he was in the half century he wrote about constantly. His descriptions were similar to stories written by Louis Auchincloss, John Cheever, and most of all, John O’Hara. Men wore hats, women wore fur coats, they all smoked and drank a lot. Many of them had affairs. That was the social milieu of those writers.

Salter’s books were similar, I couldn’t really tell if his writing was better. I had read Cheever and especially O’Hara when I was in college and that was a long time ago – about times that were distant in time from when I read them too. That got me thinking about how we might think about ourselves, our habits and our lives at our age. That is, that naturally, we might only look through the prism of the era and the age that we lived through – not necessarily even in the present, and definitely not different for the future, whatever that might be.

And that’s my point. If we decide to be “old fogeys” about what we think about and how we think about it, we’re hopelessly living in a time-capsule of our own making. Things have to be just so this way. Or, things can’t be different in that way. Because that’s the way we’ve always been used to things. OMG! I don’t want to be stuck in an era like Salter’s books.

That doesn’t mean that I’m trying to act like a Millennial, not that I could figure out what that was. But, for the first time, I’ve actually realized that there are true generation gaps no matter how spry you might think you are mentally. We ARE a product of our generation. And if we don’t watch out, that’s all there will be until we croak unless we recognize that we might be shutting down.

So, I decided to shake it up, or shake it off (according to Taylor Swift’s song) and to become more aware of either being complacent without realizing it, or being so habituated to patterns that life becomes boring and uninteresting, to put it mildly.

I’m not sorry that I read Salter’s writing. I wanted to understand what his life was like. And I think I have a pretty good idea from reading about him online and reading his books. He had a good life. He was lucky too to have married someone who was good for him and loved him to the end.

But there’s an awful lot written about writing as “craft.” And I think it’s overrated, to be honest. In music, I’ve listened to plenty of pianists who played musically and with genuine feeling, communicating with the audience. And their technique was not barn raising either. I’ve also listened to lots of technical pyromaniacs who set the piano on fire with their technique but you didn’t really care if you listened to anything they played or not. So, technique doesn’t get you there. It helps, but it isn’t the magic potion that accounts for concert bookings, book sales nor lofty reputations.

This little exercise of reading and reflection has moved me to think about the hat that I’m always wearing, to take it off and to look around for other caps to try on. It’s never too late, they say. And it’s time to shake it off, shake it up or go back to bed.

 

a “new” normal . . .

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Last night, it rained so hard that it woke me up. I walked around silently closing the windows all around the house. It was an interesting night because I found myself dreaming what felt like a very long saga of a melodrama about changing patterns. As with many dreams, it was vivid at the time and harder to remember the blurry edges now that I am awake. Suffice it to say, it was vividly about changing patterns, sequences and designs of layouts in a fantasy world of characters I did not recognize and at the same time, felt like myself.

When I woke up (a second time,) I felt that the Universe had shifted slightly and that the dream’s gestalt had permeated my consciousness – at least I remembered its energy as being very positive at the same time that it was challenging me, as if to pose an important question. Yes, I said to my inner self. Instead of looking at health issues as the glass half empty, it’s time to look at the broader context of our lives as brimming with all good things that we worked hard for and which we may now enjoy together.

A case in point is an experience G. and I shared last night while watching a documentary of the Polish pianist, Piotr Anderszewski, filmed by Bruno Monsaingeon, a master producer of intimate, poignant films about famous musicians, notably of Sviatislav Richter, near the end of his days. I observed as the film progressed, how intently G. listened to the music he played. In parallel, I also listened intently to a young man (at the time) who was difficult to watch sometimes in his facial expressions, but whose playing was infinitely musical. In a way, it was a paradigm of the kind of intimacy that we share in our married life together: individual reactions, yet shared at the same time – and in the end, compatible in the assessments we make separately when we discuss them later on. It is a rare thing, I think – and each time it happens, I am touched by it.

In any case, I messaged a pianist friend of ours about the documentary to let him know about it and he returned almost immediately with a Youtube clip called “Technique Doesn’t Exist!” featuring one of our favorite pianists, Maria Joao Pires. It turned out to be almost an hour long so we’ll watch it together this evening. The opening of the Pires clip showed her and one of her star pupils playing Schubert’s well known Fantasie in F minor, four hands together on the same piano. This is a piece that I’m familiar with, having played it with others and also listening to Radu Lupu and Murray Perahia go at it in one of my favorite recordings. It gets a little bombastic in the middle but that’s the way it goes.

In an interview online, Anderszkewski related that in Warsaw during Chopin competition years, the local populace’s passion for it was similar to ours with football. In fact, he recalled in 1957, that his Aunts got into such a disagreement about who played Mazurkas the best that they stopped speaking to each other for weeks! His sister, Dorothea, is an accomplished violinist who is a concertmaster of one of the major orchestras in Poland. The pressure to practice at an early age coming from their strict father has obviously been rewarded by two ardent musicians who enjoy each other’s company musically as well as being siblings.

All of this, the changing pattern dream-like message, the music we witnessed separately and together last night and the cool, rainy Sunday morning that we are enjoying with our coffee this morning has made me realize that in fact, it’s time for a change. With an all-day rain predicted for today, I’ve decided that tomorrow would be good timing to transplant a bed of a half-dozen dark red day lily plants from a side plot that has been shadowed by trees to a sunny front garden which has successfully evaded a permanent planting of perennials so far because previous attempts have been unwittingly mowed down by mistake every summer up to now.

With the soaking rain today, it’ll be easy to weed the front plot, add some loam, dig up the daylilies which are robust and healthy and transplant them while the ground is soft and yielding. Maybe this time, after mulch is added, I’ll pick up a little plastic picket fence divider as a boundary to protect it until the transplants get established.

Most interesting is the strong impulse to play the piano again today. To review and enjoy some of the pieces that we played for each other twenty years ago: the second movement of a Mozart sonata, Bach partitas and even perhaps some Chopin ballades and mazurkas!

Life can indeed be seen as a glass half empty or as one that is half full. Ours is the latter and it only takes a little prodding every once in awhile to renew that perspective and enjoy our good fortune. With thanks and gratitude to the Universe which moves in mysterious ways and to a family whose understanding and love is appreciated every day.

one of the “biggest losers” . . .

DSC_0735Today at the end of our Seniors Strength exercise class at the YMCA, one of the members introduced his grandson (I’ll call him “Andrew”) who was visiting from Vancouver, B.C. A year ago, this trim looking fellow weighed 323 pounds, his grandfather said, relating that out of 1000 applicants, he was chosen as one of the 20 contestants for the reality show, “The Biggest Loser” which began in May of 2014.

He managed to stay on the show for six months (the winner’s pot was $1M) but was cut three months from the end of last year’s series. It turns out that there was a consolation prize for those who were eliminated who lost the most weight at home by the final viewing of the show. And guess what, Andrew did just that, weighing in at 181 pounds and winning $100,000 which was no small chunk of change either.

When asked what motivated him and kept him on track, he said it was the pending birth of his son (born in October, 2014) and living long enough to see him graduate from school and to have children of his own someday. Andrew described how he learned to cook his own food on the reality show, making up shopping lists, and providing his own meals in addition to exercise and training. Now, he cooks all his meals for the week on Sunday so that he doesn’t get tempted to stray during the week.

As has been reported recently in other news briefs, what you eat and how much less you eat is the biggest factor in weight loss, much more so than exercise. Perhaps even as high as an 80-20 percentage (eating better to exercise.) He also said that when you snack on an apple, to add some protein to it so that the glucose spike and drop doesn’t occur as sharply as it might with just fruit alone.DSC_0015

When he got home, he emptied out his pantry and lost enough weight to win the runner-up prize three months later. He gave one metaphor for what to eat: which was if you’re stranded on a desert island, you would eat four kinds of food: fish, vegetables, nuts and fruits. That about sums it up.

What I found most interesting about the visit by Andrew was the discussion about personalized motivation. My husband’s mother is 96 going on 97 in October. Despite falling, eye problems and taking about 16 different medications every day, she is determined to live long enough so that her son, J., doesn’t have to retire prematurely (forfeiting part of his pension) in order to take care of her. They live in the same house across the street from us and J., my husband’s younger brother who never married, enjoys taking care of his mother in her old age. Without his care, she might be living in a nursing home by now. He has sixteen weeks to go before he retires with a full pension. You can bet she’ll be around to see that happen too, four months from now when she turns 97!

So, if you want to be healthier for the sake of your children and your own health, that’s a strong motivator. If you want to stay alive long enough so that others aren’t penalized for taking care of you, that’s another. For myself, I think I would like to have a healthy life with few physical ailments and see my children get to the age I am now and see how their lives turn out.

And more than that, I’d like to stick around long enough to be able to keep taking care of my dear husband, G., and myself as long as I can. Now is the best time to start, whatever age we might be.

Rather than forcing ourselves with abstract goals (lose weight, get healthier) identifying personalized goals can give us a sense of meaning. Which makes all the difference, don’t you think?

maple-oatmeal scones! . . .

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Today, I watched someone on a cooking show make scones and it inspired me to make a half batch of my own for dinner tonight. I used Ina Garten’s recipe for maple-oatmeal scones but I cut it in half. The other thing that I did was to process the entire dough in my Cuisinart and patted the dough into shape with my hands rather than handling it further by rolling it out.

In order to make it easier to follow, I hand-copied out the ingredients halved in order to make about half a dozen scones. I had two sticks of unsalted butter, fresh buttermilk, and two large eggs in the fridge. The dry ingredients were readily available also, which I added together in my Cuisinart, whisking it together to blend before I added the cold butter. Then, I gently pulsed the mixture until the butter became small fingertip sized bits in the flour/oatmeal mixture.  The wet ingredients went in next – just a quarter cup each of buttermilk and sugarless maple syrup plus the eggs. Pulsed it some more and the batter was a little sticky but mixed together. Rather than add more flour, I floured a silit pad and added the sticky batter, rolling it in a little flour to offset the stickiness. Instead of rolling the dough with a rolling pin, I gently patted it with my fingers to about 3/4 of an inch thick.

I used my crimp edged 3-inch biscuit cutter (dipped in flour) and placed six tender scones on a baking sheet lined with pre-oiled aluminum foil. Brushed egg wash on the top and slid them into a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes. When they came out of the oven, I brushed the egg wash on again while they were hot and sprinkled oats on the top.

Tonight, we’re having wild-caught haddock, fresh spinach with garlic and these scones. If we’re going to have a few carbs once in awhile, this is a great way to have ’em!

 

NBC et al. . .

photo from NBC news media

photo from NBC news media

A fresh update on Brian Williams’s fate appeared in the NYTimes today:  NBC will retain Brian Williams on MSNBC, its cable TV news station, but has solidified Lester Holt as its primetime announcer. The article was based on hush-hush, off-the-record information from confidential sources not at liberty to be quoted. Nevertheless, it’s a “leak” that will test the winds of public opinion before an official announcement is made later this week.

To the over 200 comments that followed this article, I added this one: 

“Wipe all the judgment aside. This is a cold-blooded business decision and a politically astute one too, it seems to me. MSNBC has been floundering for quite some time and where else to give Brian Williams a probation period to prove that he can do something else besides read the teleprompter and embellish himself in editorial comments? NBC has nothing to lose (except perhaps poor Andrea Mitchell who deserves a safe haven somewhere at NBC and not under Brian Williams, God forbid.) Plus, it puts Williams on ice as it were, as mentioned in the article, so that he doesn’t move to another network, spill more NBC dirt, or try to compete with NBC. Very smart move – Solomonic, even.

Let’s see what they do with Lester Holt’s succession queue too – Savannah Guthrie appeals to women, Millennials and would retain older viewers too. Her appearance this week has been refreshing even as we acknowledge that Lester Holt has lightened his anger and trimmed his physique to stay the course for NBC after Brian William’s public hara-kiri on screen.

The only reason we’ve watched NBC is not who reads the news, but that their news organization actually goes to places that matter and shows more in-depth coverage than the People-Magazine human interest stories that seem to proliferate on all three major networks. So, let’s keep our fingers crossed for Andrea Mitchell and hope that she can hold her own – or move up to another level of national political reporting on NBC itself. She deserves no less.”

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