Sunday, February 28, 2010

Dover sole,Braised Leeks, and Mashed Potatoes

My plan for Saturday night dinner was Sole Meuniere, a dish that would not only cost me $8.78 a pound , but 20 miles in gasoline. I tried to buy Dover sole at my regular favorite grocery store just up the street, but the fillets looked tired, and when I asked to smell them, they smelled old. I do not live in what one of my old work friends called " the money side of town". My suburb is plain middle-class, and most people here live in apartments. If they buy fish , it will be at Kroger, or Sam's Club, or Walmart, and they will not pay $8.78 a pound.

I had to drive to Whole Foods in Green Hills on a a Saturday night, something no sane person would ever do. My excuse is that a migraine was looming, and it affected my brain.

Green Hills is what this city's boosters would describe as a "premiere shopping destination". Its Mall has a Louis Vuitton, an Abercrombie and Fitch, and a Tiffany's. Up Hillsboro road , and south, is the Hill Center and Whole Foods. I was struggling to describe the Hill Center, getting only as far as "faux". Instead, I will let the people who developed it describe it. They call it a "mixed-use life-style center".

I have been to the Hill Center many times, and I fail to see what uses it has other than eating and shopping. Perhaps the developers meant walking along the narrow sidewalks under the bulbous street lamps. Perhaps they meant the adventures one has finding a parking spot. Or- perhaps "mixed use" is used historically , since General John Bell Hood , and what limbs he had left at the time, used this ground to fight the Battle of Nashville to try to win back a city held by Yankees. That the battlefield is reduced to one marker at the corner of Hobbs and Hillsboro is a tribute to the people of Nashville and their reverence for history.

I found my Dover Sole at Whole Foods. It was fresh, and three fillets cost three dollars. The store was crowded, but there were no lines. People were sitting at the Wi-Fi stations, but they were watching. Everybody was watching everyone else. An unpleasant looking older woman smirked at me. Twice. Perhaps she thought I was there for the promenade, and ought to be disqualified because I was wearing dog hair. I saw then that Whole Foods on Saturday night is Nashville's answer to an Italian piazza. A place to see and be seen. Who does not want the privilege of ignoring the famous actress standing in front of you in the checkout line?

At home and ready to cook , I found that I needed a lemon I did not have. James Peterson's recipe in "Glorious French Food" required it. I took a left turn instead, and went on on my own. What would New Orleans do? I mixed flour with some Creole seasoning and sea salt and dipped the fillets in it. I cooked the fillets in melted butter mixed with the juice of half a blood orange. When the fillets were lightly browned and done I saved them from the pan. I added two tablespoons of dry white wine to the pan juices , and reduced them . Over the warm fillets they went. I must say that the sole was sublime, and it went well with leeks sauteed simply in butter and with mashed potatoes. The meal was worth the money, the gasoline, and the traffic.


Saturday, the first day of my four day weekend off, was a day off in name only. After all, I worked Saturday from its birth at midnight until seven a.m. Then I slept until two P.M. My day off was ten hours long. I planned to do all sorts of things Sunday. Walk the dogs at the park. Work on my book. Work on new posts. See a friend in the afternoon-

It was not to be. I woke with one of the worst of time thieves waiting for me. Now, fourteen hours later, the migraine has left and taken my Sunday off with it.

I had my first migraine during my eighth birthday party. I have had them every month since, and sometimes more often. They are the prevailing weather in my life. And anyone who thinks a migraine is merely a headache has never known the moods and miasma that come in the days before and linger into the days after.

Let us not talk about seratonin and migraine personalities and triggers, for what is the point since these headaches are so entrenched. So inevitable and unavoidable. Let me ask a question instead. Do these headaches have a purpose, whether existential or practical?

In her "The White Album", the essayist and novelist Joan Didion writes of her headaches that " The migraine has acted as a circuit breaker, and the fuses have emerged intact". Oliver Sachs , the neurologist, in his "Migraine-Understanding A Common Disorder ", writes of "the major strategic roles that migraine may play in the economy of the individual".

I believe Didion and Sachs are right. I believe that migraines can serve as a time-out for the overtaxed soul. Is a day off a day off when it is stuffed with must-do and need-to-do and want to do ? When it becomes just another work day?

"Enough!", cries the over-burdened body and spirit, "If you refuse to rest, if you will not slow down- I will recruit a migraine to make you do it".

And now the headache is gone. I feel new. Energy is seeping back. I walk out to see a full moon. I think of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke who said " If my devils are to leave me, I am afraid my angels will take flight as well".

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Elderberry Syrup on French Toast

When I started this blog in January I promised to write about making elderberry syrup. But a recipe would be pointless now and better suited to late summer. If I can find elderberry bushes then that the Highway department has not bush-hogged to stumps. Last summer I had my eye on a large, resplendent elderberry bush at the corner of Old Harding Pike and Bellevue Road. It was across the street from a gas station and only feet away from the railroad tracks. Slash we must, declared the Highway department and there were no berries. I found another bush a couple hundred feet down the line and picked enough berries to make half a pint of syrup. Why the bush-hoggers spared it I do not know.

Elderberry syrup is the color of cassis, or Kir- a liqueur made from black currants, and that is what its taste reminds me of. I have heard of elderberry wine, though I do not know how anyone would ferment it. I tried several times to make elderberry jelly, but no matter how much pectin I added the syrup would never be still. It will give up and turn to purple sugar crystals instead.

Making this syrup is like walking back in time- perhaps to the kitchen of the Smith family in Vincent Minnelli's "Meet Me in St. Louis". It harks back to berry-picking days- blackberries, wild strawberries. To the black cap raspberries I found as a child in New Hampshire; they always grew around the charred timbers and cellar holes of forgotten farms that had burned to the ground. Here in Tennessee, where wild strawberries grow where I cannot find them , we pick blackberries from the field edges, and come home covered with ticks and chiggers.If we are lucky we may find Paw-Paws fallen beside the Warner Park auto roads. But in 30 years I have found only three. Wild persimmons are more reliable. Foxes, deer, coyotes, and possums love them. Beagles will eat them too. It is a myth that persimmons are not edible till after frost. Their orange pulp makes a fine pudding. So much for my little treatise on foraging. I am taking arms against the recession and spending some gas driving over to Whole Foods to find a sole fillet. Good evening.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Time For some comedy

To cheer myself up I have decided to post another fictional snippet. There are three characters in it who I need to introduce to you, though their parts in this little comedy are bit. Renee Lyman is the wife of St. Sanctimonia Hospital CEO Will Lyman, who you met in "A Meeting of the Board". Miranda Olsen is an Intensive Care nurse new to the Hospital. Timmy Profitt is CEO of Criterion Medical Corporation, a hospital company founded by his father W.E. Profitt

We Tube - by E.Sprague

Miranda's patient wanted to watch the ten o'clock news.

"How do I work this?". He handed Miranda the TV remote. Nine hours after bypass surgery, he was still shaky. But he knew what he wanted. " Could you put it on Channel 9?".

"Next- On Fox News Live at Ten", announced Calliope Acidophilus, the news reader, "A Southbelt neighborhood is up in arms tonight about a local man's plans to build a 50 foot tower of empty dog food cans in his front yard. A Belltown woman finds a squirrel in her dryer, and scenes from a local hospital end up on the Internet, and some people are not happy about it'.

"I wonder what hospital they're talking about," said the patient. Five minutes later he put on his call light. " I just saw you on TV," he said to Miranda.

Randy Snaggs and his friend Jimmy Burkle called the video they put on We-Tube "My Gran is a patient at the world famous St. Sanctimonia Hospital". They filmed Miranda through the window of Mrs. Snaggs' room.

"She's hot!", the boys agreed. Randy had hidden the camcorder in his backpack.

"Put it back," said Mrs. Snaggs, who saw Miranda coming toward the room.

Wasn't that just like Gran! The boys loved her. Who else would drive them ten miles out of a dry county to buy beer at a mini-mart? Who else would sit with them in their driveway, giggling and drinking?

The hot nurse left. Randy pulled a bottle of beer out of his back pack. He filmed Gran pretending to open it with her teeth.

Mrs Snagg's room was next to the fire door and the back stairwell. After the boys took some good shots of the bedside commode that the day nurse had forgotten to flush, they decided to explore.

The dust on the first landing was so thick that the boys scooped it into balls and threw it at each other. On the second landing they found a live cockroach and a dead wasp. They filmed a mock battle between the quick and the deceased. There was no excitement on the third and last landing. Until they found a bottle of vodka in a paper bag tucked under the stairs. The boys pretended to drink it.

The door outside was next. They opened it and surprised two rats eating chicken tenders someone had dropped on the sidewalk. Commentary from Jimmy- "World class St. Sanctimonia Hospital employees hard at work". The rats ran.

The security guard outside the Family Waiting Room entrance never saw the boys. He was smoking and facing the other way. The boys walked up the service road. At the loading dock, behind a dumpster, they saw two Enviornmental Services employees sharing a joint. "Got it," said Jimmy.

Their last coup was a long tracking shot right up to the doors of the Emergency Room. "Life and Death in the big city hospital," said Randy. A pizza car sped up, and the driver jumped out to deliver four pizzas to a waiting nurse. Behind him came another car which dropped off two bags of Chinese from the Jade Dragon Garden.

One of Timmy Profitt's sons saw the video on the news, and called his father.

Timmy Profitt called Will Lyman. " I can see you're making a big difference over there". Timmy was laughing.

"We Tube," Will said to Renee, "This must be it. 'My Gran is a Patient at the World Famous St. Sanctimonia Hospital' ".

"What are you going to do?", Renee asked after they watched the video. Why was Will so incapable of getting control of his hospital?

Will Lyman knew what he needed to do.

"Let's go up to the farm for the week of Thanksgiving ," he said.

( The preceding is a work of fiction, and part of a novel in progress- the Author.)

R.I.P- The Airpark Inn at Reelfoot Lake

These photos are from the Dyersburg Star Gazette. I found them tonight. The Airpark Inn is a casualty of State budget shortfalls. After neglect weakened it, and a fire destroyed some rooms, the State of Tennessee has decided to demolish it. I hope the state leaves the road to the Inn and to the campgrounds open. There is no better place to stand on a January evening to watch numberless skeins of wild geese flying to their roosts. I was going to post My Snake Adventures Part 2 tonight, but am now too dispirited to do so.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Cheap Soup and Hard Times

I am no Panglossian. I do not think that this is "the best of all possible worlds", though I think it unlikely any of us will get a chance at living in another one. We must do what we can. I realize this is an odd prelude to a recipe for Bean Soup , but these are hard, hard times.

Reduced by circumstances a week or two ago, I sold some books at McKay. As I walked in dragging two heavy sacks I overheard two young people talking. It appeared they had not seen each other for a while. The young man was gentle-eyed and bearded- just the sort of young man I would have admired 40 years ago.

"Yeah," I heard him say to his friend," They just called us all into a room and let us go. They're closing down".

I could not stay to eavesdrop more, but why would I have needed to? And this week,visiting a work friend in another part of the building I talked with her and with another woman working there. This woman was a dignified sole bread winner and the mother of several.

"I don't understand it. We work. We have jobs. Why don't we have money?", this woman asked.

During the first Great Depression people went to the movies to see the sleek Myrna Loy and the debonair William Powell with his ever-present martini. Glamour, sophistication, elegance in a theatre helped people forget what awaited them outside. No soup, or if they were fortunate- cheap soup. Thank God for Cannellini beans. (The Tuscans do.)

Cannellini bean soup.

2 16oz cans of cannellini beans

2 16 oz cans of chicken broth

2 to 4 cloves of garlic, or even more, if you can stand it.

3 three inch rounds of pancetta, or three strips of crispy bacon.

4 or 5 sage leaves , minced.

sea salt to taste

1 or 2 teaspoons of Italian seasoning

1 or 2 tablespoons of olive oil wouldn't hurt either.

1 tablespoon of tomato paste. ( For aesthetic reasons- it improves the soup's color.)

I hope anyone reading this is not such a novice as to need to be told to open the cans, but if you are- go and grab your can opener. Put the beans and broth in a biggish sauce pan. In goes the salt next. Then the garlic,sent through the garlic press. Italian seasoning, olive oil, diced pancetta, and minced sage next. Lastly add the tomato paste. Heat on medium heat covered until it just boils, then cover and simmer on low. I think a half hour to an hour of simmering is just right. This should serve 4, if the people you live with don't make pigs of themselves. I like a toasted slice of Italian bread with this.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

More Haiti photos

Haiti before the tragedy

A friend, Winsome Lowe, sent me these pictures. Winnie is originally from Jamaica. A friend of hers sent these to her. I do not know who took the photos.

Haitian Primitive

I bought this almost thirty years ago at a gallery in Green Hills. M. Louissaint painted it. A primitive but peaceful pastoral scene. I consider it one of my most precious possessions.

Friday, February 19, 2010

An Entertainment

When I started this blog I made the decision not to limit it to recipes and foodtalk. I uphold that decision, and in addition to posting the occasional poem I will post snippets from some fiction I have been writing. To any who might be alarmed by the idea of my writing a fiction about the goings on in a failing hospital I will repeat- This is a story. It is fiction! Since it is a chapter, and since time and modern attention spans are short I will serialize it over several days. This snippet will introduce William Lyman, the CEO hired by the Catholic Conference to fix its hospital.

A Meeting of the Board- by E.Sprague

Two days after the nurses gave Will Lyman their breakfast reception, the new CEO went to his first meeting with the Saint Sanctimonia Board of Trustees.

The trustees met in the dining room of the Executive Offices, and what a contrast those offices were to the dingy conference room where the nurses held their breakfast.The decor was elegant and restrained. There were Chinoiserie vases with real lilies. Silver coffee carafes and oil portraits of the nuns who once ran the hospital and the two CEOs who followed them who were not in jail or under indictment.

Lucille's Strictly Southern Party-Time Catering provided the buffet spread out on tables that lined two walls. Ross Midgett, COO, and Lyman's second in command was already eating. Dinner in reverse! He finished his slice of Mile-High Coconut pie as Lyman sat down.

The room smelled of barbecue, and there it was- in silver chafing dishes along with butter beans, fried chicken, Virginia ham, corn casserole, biscuits, fried catfish, and spicy shrimp. Ross Midgett grabbed a biscuit, and slathered it with peach preserves, acting as though it was the last biscuit he would ever see.

Lyman had met the Board the day the nuns hired him. Judge Ritchie was chairman then. Now the man in charge was Joe Strickland of Strickland International Motorcars.

"If we talk fast we can get on over to that sideboard", Strickland said. Meetings rarely lasted an hour, but since this was a reception no one expected the non-eating part to last more than ten minutes. "Let's do the Lord's Prayer", the chairman said. Rabbi David Plotz, on Strickland's right was the only abstainer.

News came next. Strickland read it off an index card.

"I'm sorry to inform y'all that Miss Viola Crowell, our Director of Volunteer Services for forty years, died two days ago of a heart attack. Now folks, I don't have any info on funeral arrangements,but I know somebody here at the hospital will be setting up a memorial service".

"Who died?" asked Judge Richie , who had missed the announcement because his pocket flask and his glass of ginger ale had just collided under the table. Ritchie was a great favorite Of the General John Bell Hood Boulevard Police.They regularly rescued him when he drove up the Boulevard the wrong way. As long as he missed hitting the cardiologists out riding their racing bikes and confined his hit-and-runs to possums no one said a word. Not Len Atkins, publisher of the City's one surviving newspaper, who was sitting to Ritchie's left. Not J.R. Swizzleberger, owner of Channel 15, who sat on Ritchie's right.

"Viola Crowell", ruminated Dr Sam Bush, in his deep baritone. Bush was a venerable African-American general practitioner from Speckled Fly, a town 20 miles north of the City. Six foot eight- with blue-black skin, white hair, and pale blue eyes, he was sui generis. No ER nurse in the Speckled Fly Hospital Emergency Room will ever forget his call to the Capers family to tell them that their 90 year old matriarch had driven her Cadillac across the Interstate 100 median strip and collided head-on with a pig-hauler.

"She's dead", he intoned,"Dead Dead Dead. And there's bacon all over the road".

To be continued-

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Omelette takes a bow!

Omelette with green chiles

When I was one of the charge nurses in a teaching hospital ICU, I would sometimes write my favorite quotes on the assignment sheet to give the nurses something to think about during their 12 hour shifts. I liked , in particular, the gnomic words of Yogi Berra and Satchel Paige, but my favorite by far was Winston Churchill's immortal "Most of the world's work is done by people who do not feel particularly well". This describes the plight of the night nurse perfectly, for not one of us ever slept enough.

I worked last night and slept only 2 hours today. I was getting ready for work at 5pm when my supervisor called and offered me a vacation day. No cafetorium food for me tonight.No pre-cooked cheeseburger plucked from greasy warm water to be re-heated on the grill. No shells with tomato sauce. Now I had to cook, and I did not feel particularly well.

Two beaten eggs to the rescue. I put a pat of butter in a hot skillet,added 2 ounces of diced mild green chiles, a little salt, and a couple of splashes of Chipotle sauce to the beaten eggs. I poured the mixture into the very hot skillet, and swirled it till it covered the pan. Then I cooked it till the downside was blondish brown and the top was almost set. I folded it in half , and lifted it to my plate for its closeup. Photographing it took longer than cooking it, which I estimated took under 5 minutes. The perfect fast food when one is too tired to cook. I drizzled a little hot sauce on it, and declared it good!

The Yearning for Beauty and Elegance

I wrote this years ago after reading about the Cafe Carlyle in New York. Most of us will never be thin, rich,or beautiful and spend our evenings there. We will accept how ordinary we are and life's great limits. Except in our imaginations of course-

She dreams of the Cafe Carlyle- a poem by E Sprague

Look for me among the slim women in backless dresses,

Poised on the arms of endless money.

I close my eyes- so sadly suburban-

Open them to a languorous world

Of dulcet women and knowing pianos.

To the company of men with unerring fingernails,

Wise in the ways of cabs.

There will be no common sidewalks here.

The pavement will bloom fallen carnations.

Light smoke will rise

To the sound and sequence of the city.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

My own snake adventures- Part 1

Like cooking, an interest in natural history is a passion for a lifetime. I have my mother and father to thank for the latter. They bought me binoculars and my first Roger Tory Peterson field guide. They took me hiking and berry picking , and let me spent my March afternoons after school tapping the sugar maples behind our house and boiling sap to maple sugar. I spent days in the woods by myself hunting for showy orchis and other wildflowers. This explains, I think, how a fifty-five year old woman wearing a sun hat and driving a Toyota Tundra with a beagle riding shotgun on the seat divider, stopped traffic one November day on Route 30a near Indian Pass Florida to usher an Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake across the road. It was a cool morning, and the snake was chilled and moving slow. I stopped a painters' van and a garbage truck.

"That thang will bite you!" yelled a painter, who now had a nutty old lady story to tell his friends.
"It's an endangered species!" I yelled back, and when the snake made the other side of the road my job was done. It is one of the perks of age not to be afraid of looking ridiculous while shooing the most venomous snake in North America across a road. For a woman this takes as much courage as wearing a hat! Another perk of age- unlike young women, old women know they are more than just their hair!

A Hero of my Youth

Elizabeth Lawrence, the great garden writer, wrote in her "A Southern Garden" that " Spring comes in February". But not this year. Nashville does not have the brilliant blue days that come after snow. We have weeks of dreary clouds, and the cold here is a damp, enervating cold.

I remember one February day a few years back when I saw a barred owl catch a snake at Edwin Warner Park. Such warm days were not unusual, and thinking of that day brought to mind two of my favorite books of my youth. One book was by and the other about a man with the unglamourous name of Raymond L. Ditmars. He, not Elvis or JFK, was the hero of my youth. He was a herpetologist, an expert on reptiles, and that rare being- a man whose avocation was his vocation. As a boy he collected snakes, and his mother once came home to find a python wrapped around her bannister. When dockworkers found Fer-de-lances in banana shipments they called Raymond. He devoted his life to the things he loved best. How many of us are that fortunate? Do young men and women read his books anymore? And as adults, when we see young people with passionate interests and pursuits, do we encourage or do we disparage? Random thoughts on another damp Nashville winter day.

Friday, February 12, 2010

An Afternnoon in the Garden of Damp and Frozen

From the New world Part 2

At first glance this amorphous white side-dish looks like mashed potatoes- or grits. But this is white hominy with sour cream and mild green chiles, and it was sauteed in a skillet.The recipe is based on James Beard's Hominy Casserole from his "The New James Beard".

My late father, on his first visit to Nashville, was astounded to find civilization here. ("Where did all this money come from?", he asked me.) He would have heard of hominy and put it in the same category as Dogpatch, Faulkner's Snopes clan, and hookworms. I too assumed hominy was hardscrabble food for the Southern rural poor. Yet looking through my cookery books I learned that it is a New world food,eaten throughout the Americas. Maria de Carbia and Helen Corbitt have recipes for "Chili and Hominy" and "Hominy with olives" in their "Mexico Through My Kitchen Window". Maria Baez Kijac in "The South American Table" writes that the Brazilians combine hominy with shredded coconut and coconut milk to make a pudding. And Diana Kennedy (The Cuisines of Mexico) gives us a daunting pork and hominy soup requiring three day's preparation and a hog's head. I think pork must have an affinity with hominy. The next time I can afford it I am going to make a Serrano ham and hominy casserole!

This recipe is simple.

Two 15 ounce cans of white hominy, drained and rinsed.

4 ounces of sour cream

One 4 oz can of mild green dice chiles, drained.

4 tablespoons of butter

Salt and Pepper to taste

Melt the butter in the skillet. Add the hominy, the chiles, and the sour cream and mix with the melted butter.Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Heat through and serve as a side to Fried chicken or catfish or any other iconic Southern entree. This is that easy. And to think that hominy comes from corn kernels treated with lye. Edna Lewis, in her "Taste of Country Cooking" describes how the people in her hometown of Freetown, Virginia made their hominy. I was just reading her story when I noticed that my 2 dollar paperback copy of her book is signed. Something McKay Books must not have noticed!

And as for this upcoming weekend- I am off and I am going to make Hominy and coconut pudding.

From The New World

Sunday, February 7, 2010

This is the picture I promised

Working dogs by Blogger Beagle

I see that She finally convinced the Little It to sit still long enough for her to take his picture. She has wasted dozens of shots on him and filled up her picture gallery with blurs. I am naturally well-groomed, calm, and photogenic. He is a mess, and getting him cleaned up costs more money than She has right now. Every month or so She goes at his face with scissors- I guess to see if he still has eyes. We watched a show about working dogs a while back while She was at work. I explained to the Little It that Rabbits were my profession , and that beagles were great favorites of the original Queen Elizabeth. Little It said his ancestors were royal dogs who sat around all day at the palace doing nothing but sitting in people's laps. The Little It said he wanted to be more than just a toy. He wanted a job.

First he decided to become a Chipmunk hound. He sat at the door to the porch all day , and watched them fighting and swinging around at the bird feeder. When they ran for cover he ran from window to window yapping. Thank God the cats came and chased the rodents away.

Now the Little It has decided to be a security guard. Every time someone slams a car door or goes outside to smoke he barks. When the Big Brown Truck comes with packages for everyone but us ( we are too poor to get packages) he scratches and busts another mini-blind. When a cube drops out of the icemaker we all hear about it. When I tell him to hush he gets snippy, and tells me he barks because I don't. He is right. I howl only when I see rabbits.

I told him the other day I was willing to let him be my personal assistant. He can help me drag race around the couch. He can play tag with me. And wrestle-. He says he will try to fit all this in when he is off duty.

Of course there are certain things I never let him do. He does not go near my food bowl. He does not sleep at the top of the bed with Us. He is never allowed to ride shotgun on the Tundra's seat divider. Other than that he is a free agent. And that is all I wish to say about him today. If I can pull up the picture gallery I will show you what he really looks like.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A portrait of Poppett

Fettuccini with crawfish

This doesn't sound good to you? It doesn't sound good to me either. And I never would have deliberately set out to make this. It was all a case of mistaken identity. I should label what I put in my freezer. I thought the freezer bag with the orange stuff in it contained Bolognese sauce. Since the microwave died I have been thawing some frozen dishes in a pan over low heat. I dumped the fettuccini in with the orange stuff. By the time I realized this it was too late. I had to eat it. I cannot afford to waste anything. I tossed in some panko crumbs and some parmesan, and the result was edible. Would I make this again? No. But I would wager that some young chef in New Orleans or in some other place where people worship the crawfish , has already cooked this. And is this not the way some recipes are born? As much in error, as with deliberation.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Stop Talking

One of the pleasures of owning dogs is that they do not talk out loud. They say enough with their tails,(and their eyes) to get their point across. They may bark when the mailman comes to the door with a certified letter one will later regret opening, but barking is their job. They will not bore you to death with it.

I am reading John Berendt's Venice book " The City of Falling Angels", and throughout it runs a river of good talk. Berendt meets a man at the Carnival Ball who may be real or who may be a con. This man claims to be an exterminator. He sells pasta with coumarin in Italy and deadly weiner schnitzel in Germany. "Rats eat what people eat", he tells Berendt, and we are willing to believe because his tale is so fascinating. By the end of it, an Italian woman who had turned her back on the conversation is mesmerized by it.

Perhaps Berendt never meets bores.They do not make it onto his pages. Would the rest of us were so lucky. How I would love to meet someone who would spin a story worth hearing instead of telling me- essentially a stranger- that they are Dual Diagnosis and taking all the newest most fashionable drugs. Even worse their children are on Drug A and Drug B too. "I don't want them turning into lying, drunk, broke bastards like their father", says this woman..

Their father. Her ex-husband. Someone she married of her own free will. Let us now walk out of the room, and talk to someone else. Someone who , in exhaustive detail, will describe her daily commutes between home, work, soccer games, Publix, and little league games. Ah- here is a way to spend an hour far more excruciating than trying to get through traffic on West End in front of Montgomery Bell Academy and the Aquinas campus.

We will leave this room too, and in a hurry. Was it not Alexis de Tocqueville who said that Americans spend all their time contemplating a very puny object- themselves ?

I would rather talk to Vermeer's Geographer, a new man in a brave new world. Note his intensity. He is a man seeing wonders and giving lands new names. Vermeer could paint silence, and one sees it in this wonderful painting.

Vermeer's Geographer

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Snow cannot live here

I took my dogs to Edwin Warner Park yesterday for the first time since the Big Snow last week. There was still some slush on the park roads, but on the warm south facing hillside fields there were bare spots. Birds were taking advantage of these. Big flocks of robins sick of eating berries were looking for worms again, and they were joined by a lone wintering hermit thrush and a hardy little phoebe.How I wish the hermit thrush would sing here, but he never does. He, like the veery, saves his songs for the north country and the mountains.Only the wood thrush sings for us, and that will not be until May. Oh yes, and the Swainson's thrush will warble here as well, but only as he passes through.

People had been sliding on this hill after the snow ended. I saw the artifacts, and I was glad. Good parents had been here, risking slick roads to get their children out to play at a pastime as old as Mankind. To get their children outside away from the television and the computer. Not having a sled did not matter. Someone had used the blue top from a big plastic storage container. They left it behind. Someone else- more enterprising and possessing ancient virtues had fashioned a sled from an aluminum paint roller tray, and had attached shoelaces for handles. I thought I'd bringthe paint roller tray sled home with me, but in the end I left it. Maybe parent and child would come back for it, or maybe the park people will find some use for it. It is unlikely we will have enough snow again this winter to sled on. If it snows again at all. Snow is so rare here, and when it comes it cannot stay. Our prevailing winds are from the Gulf, and yesterday I saw how close spring is. The glade cress,a plant of the cedar glades and limestone soils is already bloomimg. Soon the fields at the Steeplechase course will be purple and yellow with the blooms of the henbit and the Nashville mustard. And when they bloom the good parents will come back again to the park. They will bring their children. The children will bring
their kites. Even if I am not there the day the kites fly, I will know they were there. Kites will fly away in the time it takes to tie a shoe. They will go into the trees and stay, and next winter I will see them again, tattered and ready to break loose to join the winter wind.

I wish she would go to work so I can use the computer!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

An adaptation of Craig Claiborne's Chicken Pot Pie.

When a small woman roasts an $8.00 chicken for just herself she needs a plan for the leftovers. I decided to make a chicken pot pie. I tried to find a recipe for it in Mark Bittman's " How to Cook Everything". I tried the same author's "The Best Recipes in the World". I looked in Ruth Reichel's massive "Gourmet Today". I knew I could find one on the Internet, but with the number of cookbooks I own it seemed ludicrous I could not find a recipe. Craig Claiborne, in his "Southern Cooking" came through for me. The pie dough I made came from his "New York Times Cookbook", the 1990 revised edition. I picked it because I was going to make my first pie dough ever, and the recipe called for lard or Vegetable shortening rather than butter.

This pie, full of a nutritionist's nightmares, is one of the most delicious dishes I have ever tasted. But there is a caveat- You must eat small portions or you will feel as though you have been stuffed and force fed. It is that rich.

The Crust:

2 cups of flour
1/2 tsps salt
2/3 cup of shortening
1/2 cup cold water (I used iced- I saw it recommended elsewhere).

Put the flour, salt, and shortening in a food processor. Start pulsing and add the cold water slowly at the same time.Use only enough water to make the dough easy to shape into a ball. This dough ball will be just enough to cover a pie in a 10 inch pie plate. Chill for 30 min in the refrigerator.

The Filling:

1 1/2 to 2 cups of diced up chicken white meat (left-over roast chicken)
2 cups of peeled white pearl onions that have been cooked whole till tender.
Most of an 8 oz can of spring baby peas. This was not in Claiborne's recipe, but I decided to use it up.

5 strips of crispy bacon, cut up into 1 inch pieces.
1/2 cup cooked carrots preferably pre-cooked in chicken broth and butter and seasoned with herbes de provence.
1/2 cup of green beans cooked the same way as the carrots. Go ahead and cook them together if you like. Mine were leftovers I had in the freezer.

1 cup of diced cooked potato- I used left over butter roasted potatoes from my
roasted chicken dinner.

Mix chicken and vegetables in a bowl. Set aside. Hold on to that bacon- we are not ready for it yet. Taste the chicken-vegetable mixture. Add salt or a little more butter if you like. Then put the mixture into a 10 inch pie plate, being careful not to overfill. Put the bacon pieces on top.

White sauce:

4 tbsp flour
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
A few drops of Tabasco sauce
4 cups of chicken broth
1 cup of heavy cream

Combine the chicken broth and cream in a sauce pan. Cooking over medium heat add the flour and whisk it in until the sauce is creamy and starts to thicken. Add the vinegar and Tabasco. Whisk this in. Pour the sauce over the vegetable mixture. Do not overfill the pie plate or it may bubble over onto the floor of your oven. Leave enough room for the crust.

On a lightly floured surface roll out the dough and shape and coax it into a 10 inch circle. Fold it in half then gently lift it onto the pie plate and unfold it so it covers the pie/ Press it down gently onto the sides so it fits. Make a small hole in the center to let steam out. Brush the crust with a beaten egg, then bake the pie for 30 minutes at 400 degrees.

This pie differs from Craig Claiborne's in not using hard-boiled eggs in the filling. In this adaptation the chicken is already cooked and not poached in white wine and broth. I cannot imagine gilding the lily by adding eggs to this! It would be so rich then that one would only be able to eat a few bites.

As you may see from my last photo, this dish has the Beagle Seal of Approval!

Food critic


Egg washed crust

White sauce added

Chicken pot pie filling

Monday, February 1, 2010

At Fort Morgan Alabama

Billy's Seafood Bon Secour Alabama

Bought for a dollar at Buried Treasures

The Great Chipmunk Mystery

When I moved to this apartment 15 months ago I put up a birdfeeder. It took a week for the birds to find it , but only hours for the chipmunks to get here. I put a bowl of sunflower seeds on the floor of my covered porch as well, and when I walked at the Warner Parks I picked up sacks of pignuts and mockernuts. This helped cut down on the cost of birdseed.

I do not know if the 7 chipmunks I hosted were family, but they certainly hated one another enough to be. They quarreled, and spit, and chittered, and chased each other away. They reminded me of hummingbirds- always looking for a fight. They hurled themselves from the porch railing and the tops of chairs onto the hanging birdfeeder when pickings grew slim on the ground. Some were fatter than others. One had no tail. They interested the beagle intermittently, but mesmerized the Shih Tzu. The little dog knew their chipping so well that he would stop dead on our walks at Percy Warner when he heard their alarms.

The chipmunks built a suburb under the cedar tree outside my bedroom window. They dug hole homes and stashed the seeds and nuts they carried away. Some commuted. I would see them running up and down the stairs to upper apartments and the parking lots behind them. These lived under landscape timbers. They burrowed under the concrete foyers. They skittered across the parking like fallen sycamore leaves in a high wind.

Cardinals came to my feeder. House finches. Chickadees and titmice and house sparrows and towhees. They are out there now. But the chipmunks are gone. Even in the 60 degree weather of 2 weeks ago when we saw them at the park they did not come. They vanished in October when it was far too early and warm to go underground for the winter.

I saw the grounds people spraying the lawns in October, probably for grubs or weeds. Could this have killed the chipmunks? I began to spin conspiracy theories- The apartment people might have poisoned them for digging holes. Someone might have complained- This was a hard theory to prop up since killing the cute and furry never goes over well anywhere. In addition, the Maintenence people here are so casual that they have allowed bushes to grow in the gutters on the covered parking sheds. Hard to believe they would care about small, striped rodents.

Time to apply Occam's Razor- that the simplest explanation is most likely to be true-
And that explanation is that three huntresses have moved in. A tabby. A tortoise-shell, and a fuzzy gray cat now live here. I see them slinking and lurking around even on my porch. There are low to the ground holly hedges they can hide under to plan their ambushes.

There are more chipmunks up on the forest verge , and when the cats' owners leave (and they will, for these are apartments) the chipmunks will come back. They may be back sooner. Cats are not top predator here. Up in the woods there are coyotes, Barred owls, Great Horned owls, Red-tailed Hawks. Cats may be on the menu. She who lives by the claw may die by the claw. Be careful Kitty!