Sunday, July 31, 2011

"The Blondes Leading the Blind"

So said Maureen Dowd of the Republican women who want to dismantle this country. Ken Doll men and Barbie women. Republicans. Do they speak for you? Let us get real. Stop the wars. Social Security and Medicare are not the problem. It's the illegal wars, Stupid.

Friday, July 29, 2011

"A Billion Here, a Billion There, Pretty soon You're talking about Real Money"

I dedicate this post to my late father, one of the wisest men I knew,though I discovered this too late. He quoted the great Everett Dirksen, author of the quote that leads this post. A Republican. A statesman. Think also of George Aiken. Senator from Vermont. Lover of wildflowers. The man who said of the sadness of the Vietnam War "Let us declare victory and come home". And Eisenhower-"Beware the Military-Industrial Complex'. And let us add a Democrat. Lyndon Baines Johnson. "Come let us reason together." Now look at what you and I have sent to Congress. We should be ashamed.

The Tea Party hangs up on me.

I tried to be a responsible citizen today. The president asked that we call our congressmen. And I did. Bob Corker. Lamar Alexander. Jim Cooper. All their staffs were civil and courteous. And then I called Marsha Blackburn's office. They did not want to hear that if Social Security checks did not go out that Republicans would never be re-elected. They cut me off. I was talking to dead air. The Tea Party can dish it out, but they cannot take it, So much for populism.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Zucchini, Feta, and Phyllo Casserole

"All do not all things well", wrote the poet Thomas Campion. I thought of this line as I woke this morning, trying to understand why I am so skilled in the kitchen with some things and so hapless with others. I was wrestling yesterday with phyllo dough, and I could not master it. As I pulled it out of the package it shattered and crumbled like ancient parchment. I had a pile of shards. But I also had two 6 inch zucchinis, a yellow onion and 5 ounces of feta. And 3 cloves of garlic. Time for improvisation.

I put the onion and the zucchini through the grater blade of my food processor. I was too tired to dice the onion. I was too lazy to hand grate the squash. I sauteed the onion until it was just golden. In olive oil of course, with some sea salt added. Then I added the zucchini and several more tablespoons of olive oil. I tossed it well to coat the vegetables, and threw a little more sea salt in. I tried to be judicious with the salt, remembering that I would be adding feta. Next I added the garlic cloves, which I sent through the garlic press. I could have diced them, but I did not feel like doing anything bitty. When the Zucchini had softened and cooked through, I added 4 ounces of Feta cheese, and mixed everyting well. Then I spooned half the vegetables into the bottom of a small two handled casserole pan. Then I layered on the phyllo pieces. A double layer, enough to hide the vegetables beneath. Then the rest of the squash mixture went on top of the second layer. I used a bit more phyllo this time, and I brushed some olive oil over it before I put it in the oven. I baked it at 325 for 25-30 minutes. It would have served two. Everything can be doubled if you need more. It was very savory. It would go well with a yoghurt cucumber soup or with fresh tomatoes sliced and dressed with sea salt and fresh basil. Oh, and I forgot to mention I added a dash of Cavender's Greek Seasoning to the mixture.

The two handled pan I used was one of a set of four I found at an estate sale. The pans were made in Italy, though they look like paella pans .

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Ghost of Mary Hitchcock

One night many years ago, when I was a new nurse and working on a Neurology ward, one of my patients turned his call light on. "You are going to think I'm crazy", he said. "I think I just saw the ghost of Mary Hitchcock."

He had not, but the live woman he did see would have had much in common with a ghost,for she, like a spirit, haunted the hospital halls. She was Mrs. Gertude Lacosse. Ancient. Venerable. And feared. She must have been 80, but her old legs still brought her silently down the halls.She patrolled ceaselessly. She made rounds, and she looked in on every patient. One, or many, never dared to look idle when she came around. If cell-phones and Kindles had existed then, she would have confiscated every one.

I have, over the years, met several of her tribe. But none lately. Some nursing supervisors these days seem to be office-huggers. They wish to be where the patients aren't. That is why they are not staff nurses.

And the head nurses of yore are gone now as well,replaced by "Unit Managers". Their job is to be unreachable at all hours. No e-mail, phone call, or visit in person ever finds them. I remember an old joke that circulated at one hospital here in town. Whenever someone finally spotted the boss, it was called a "confirmed sighting".

But back to the old time supervisors- Will anyone who worked at St. Thomas Hospital in the eighties ever forget Mrs. Mattie Parham? Pristine from head to toe , with thick glasses and spotless white shoes. Shoes were her obsession. She demanded that ours be clean, and that our nursing caps stay on. She felt that if we were disciplined in our appearance, we would be disciplined in our practice. Yet she could be kind and tolerant. I made an error one night, when I was new at that hospital, and I was almost in tears. I made out an incident report and handed it to her. She tore it up.

And I remember Mrs Mary Burrows, at the old VA hospital in White River Vermont. She walked around with a copy of "Stocking Up" under her arm and if anyone needed to know how to make zucchini bread she was the one to ask. But behind that folksy exterior was a shrewd woman. I thought she was a genius after she informed me one night that there were three sides to every story. Your story, my story, and what really happened. Trite perhaps, but in a hospital-how true.

And I wonder now, in this age of blatant disrespect of all and everything who our young nurses have to look up to. I hope the ghosts of Gertrude LaCoss, Matty Parham, and Mary Hitchcock are still out there somewhere.


I moved to Nashville in 1981. I was 31 years old. Not old by New England standards, but superannuated by southern ones. I was not married, nor was I interested in getting married. I was already the New England old maid I was born to be.

A contrast to the many young women five to ten years younger than I, who I worked with in the Intensive Care unit of a large Nashville hospital. To some of these girls life beyond 22 without a wedding ring was unthinkable. Pitiable. These girls had already failed to find men at college, or at church, and their hunting ground now was the hospital with its abundant supply of medical residents from Vanderbilt University.

It was a fad at the time for the nurses I worked with to call each other "Belle". "Belle", they would shout across the unit "Your patient is trying to fall out of bed!". "Belle! Your patient is coming out of the OR in twenty minutes". "Belle! "We're ordering from The Cooker!"

They even called me Belle, though no woman over 25 is ever a Belle. Even if I had been 21 ,I would not have been one, for I did not have the aptitude, the looks, the provenance, or the skill with eye makeup. I had never put makeup on my face. These women had put it on since birth. No Belle would ever walk in from the freezing parking garage in January wearing a coat. These were women who would ,in future years, be fully made up in photos taken two minutes after having a baby. These girls might wear a hat to the Iroquois Steeplechase, but since they knew that a woman was her hair, they refused to cover it any other time.

One of the young woman I worked with had been a genuine Belle, but her Belle-hood ended , as it must, when she landed an orthopedic surgeon. Her family was prominent, her father was a top doctor in the city. She was lovely, pale, and diminuitive. I never knew where she was educated, but I expect it was at a place such as Harpeth Hall. She was a gracious person, even to a short, minimally groomed Yankee such as myself. "You sound like Mork from Ork," she said to me one night after I came back from the hospital cafeteria with a Pattie Melt and a side order of fried okra. I never had eaten either before, and I went on at length about how exotic they were. I imagine her nursing life was a short one, for she would have had trouble fitting in the Junior League and the social mandates of her post-Belle years.

The other girls I worked with came from more working class and middle class families. I remember another young blond lovely, so desperate to marry that she aligned herself with a young doctor she hardly knew. Success is not always success. Her dream was Belle Meade, or at least Brentwood. His was a nuclear-weapon free world and third world medicine. A split was pre-ordained.

There were three other young women who hunted as a pack. Two had the same name, which I shall not reveal here, and one was model beautiful. I remember that one night she most conspicuously picked some lint and dog hair from my scrub jacket. Poor me. I was everything she was far too fortunate to be. She married of course, but not until after dating a local politician. Perhaps her fate was happier than that of one of her friend, who married a surgeon without looks but with a handsome future income. Age and gravity come to us all but her defects, when they came, went public in the operating room where her husband shared them with the scrub nurses and anesthesiologists.

Despite my being the very worst sort of Yankee- Brooklyn born and New England raised- most of these girls accepted me. We would drive out to the Loveless Motel and Restaurant after work for breakfast. Even there I was ever the hapless northerner. Bottles of ketchup did not explode all over their white uniforms, as one did over mine. We ate at the Pancake Pantry in Hillsboro Village. We went to The Cooker on West End and to Moon Drug for bacon and eggs. Sallie H., one particular friend, drove me to Chattanooga just to eat the mile-high coconut pie at the Chow-Time Barbecue. Sallie insisted we visit the black velvet Elvis paintings and the Goo-Goo clusters at the Tennessee-Alabama Fireworks Store. "Wait until you see this place. It's like a schizophrenic's mind!", Sallie said as we coasted over Monteagle Mountain past the runaway truck ramps. Sallie could have been a Belle. She had the looks. She graduated from Emory. But she liked being free. When her husband turned out to be a loser who never could pass his bar exam, she ditched him. Where she is now I cannot say, but knowing her, it will be where she wants to be.

I have not mentioned that I was not the only non-Belle working in that ICU. There were three other northerners, all of them unlucky. A Belle might chase a man, but she would never be desperate enough to follow him across 1000 miles of state lines. The doctor who would not marry you in Boston, or Pittsburg, or West Virginia, is not going give you an engagement ring when you arrive in Nashville. He may break up with you the minute you arrive to join him. Perhaps you will stay on here in Nashville by yourself. Perhaps you will go back to Boston and marry a restauranteur. Perhaps, one night, after a bad fight and too much to drink, you will miss a curve out in Fairview on Highway 100. Your parents will take your body back to West Virginia.

Friday, July 22, 2011

" I Pity the Poor Immigrant"

I am an immigrant. I may not have crossed national borders to get to Nashville, but the cultural, social, and personal borders I crossed to get to this city 30 years ago were just as profound. The Kurds came here to escape Saddam Hussein. The Hispanics came to work in in what may be one of the last boom towns in this country.

"Why did you come here?"' I asked a young Spaniard, whose family left Spain for Mississippi, and who , in his turn, left Mississippi for Tennessee. This young man had just passed his nursing state boards.

"The opportunity," he said, "The opportunity".

I came for opportunity as well. I came to escape the New England smog- that snobbery that pegs people by prep school and college and by what boat dumped their ancestors onto some rocky Massachusetts beach. I came as much for experience as I did for money. For the experience in an alien place where one knows no one, and where courage can build up a new life, brick by brick.

I walk into the Bellevue Kroger on Saturday night, and I hear six different languages. I work with Jamaicans, with Filipinos, with Haitians, with Kurds, with Nigerians, and Somalis. With refugees from Detroit and the Rust Belt. With young people fleeing their oppressive little Tennessee towns and their narrow parents and the Church of Christ. I have quoted it before. I will do it again.

"City air makes you free".

Bob Dylan sings that the immigrant he pities "wishes he had stayed at home."
Not I. Of course there is nostalgia and loss. The family we may never see again. I miss hearing the veery sing from the New England woods. I miss the Connecticut River, and every road I ever wandered searching for black raspberries in Vermont. Who does not miss their youth? But we grow up. And instead of wondering about the great world we go to live in it.

Some have called this city the New Ellis Island. An Immigrant Portal. A destination City. This is true. This is why I live here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Roast Goat Experiment

I have wanted to roast goat meat ever since I watched one of Keith Famie's Adventures on the Food Network. Famie was in Greece, and he visited the cookbook writer Diane Kochilas's restaurant on Ikaria. Kochilas fed him wild Ikarian goat. Just writing this makes me sad to see how far the Food Network has fallen, for I find nothing on it now worth watching. Famie's show was intriguing and evocative. One could almost smell the goat, the wild herbs, the air from the sea-

I only lately discovered goat meat at the Ethnic Market. It came in small pieces with bone attached, and today, after browning it in olive oil, I wrapped it in foil along with thinly sliced purple potatoes which I had coated with more olive oil and sea salt. I threw in some whole garlic cloves as well, and baked the goat one hour at 300 degrees.

The goat meat gave a wonderful flavor to the garlic and the potatoes. And the meat nearest to the bones was tender and delicious. But alas, most of it was the texture of an elastic band, albeit a tasty elastic band that would have to be spit out. I think I made a mistake roasting it instead of braising it, or perhaps this was an old goat or a very athletic and lean young goat. I still have pieces frozen in the freezer. I can try again. Now my dilemma is whether to give the goat to the beagle or to the porch possums. Since I must work tonight I think it best not to challenge the dog's digestive organs when I am not at home. Lucky possums!

Stuffed Tortillas

In a previous post I wrote about the Guerrero tortillas from K&S World Market.Because these tortillas puff up when fried whole in canola oil, I thought they could be stuffed with a savory filling. And I was right. The filling I chose was more picante than many people would like. I used strips of roasted poblano peppers, sauteed white onion, kernels from two ears of corn, Mexican crema and Mexican chorizo and adobo seasoning. But one could substitute ground beef for the very hot chorizo, and sour cream for the crema. I suppose strips of green bell pepper could stand in for the poblanos, though poblanos are available everywhere and are just mildly hot. I would imagine that children would like the ground beef version.

This is how I made my picante filling. I sauteed one small white diced onion in 2 tablespoons of lard.( but I realize that others would prefer to use corn oil). When the onion was soft and translucent I added 7.5 ounces of chorizo, and the corn kernels. Then I added the poblano strips, which I had put under the broiler to char their skin so I could peel it off. I added 3 tablespoons of crema, and when the mixture was thoroughly cooked I added a bit of adobo seasoning to taste. I did this last since Mexican chorizo comes uncooked, and I wanted to make certain I would not be tasting the filling while the sausage was still raw. Some salsa or more crema or sour cream would be a good condiment. If you choose to make the picante, version have some sparkling water or pomegranate juice to quell the heat. For those who drink it, beer would also suffice.

I need to add that I also used strips of a sweet yellow bell pepper in the mixture. It had languished too long in the crisper, and I needed to do something with it. It also made the filling more colorful.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Dinner Party- Part 2. An Entertainment

This is the second half of an excerpt of a bit of fiction I have been writing. The first part is my last post. Of course I must say that this is fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead makes it even more fun.

As his guests took their places at his table, and as his wife was retrieving a rack of lamb from her oven and wondering how her invitation to Dr. Tesh and his wife Belle had turned into a night with Scott and his scrub nurse girlfriend, Will Ryman laid out a few ground rules.

"No shop talk", he warned Murray Schram, who was already talking and bemoaning St. Sanctimonia's Press-Gainey survey. "Dis-engaged and "apathetic employees" were not a fit subject for a pleasant evening.To be sure there was a down-side to the no shop talk rule in mixed company, especially for the men, who had to confine themselves to three of the four F's- Finance, fishing, and football. Fortunately, if Renee ever came out of the kitchen , Ryman would have the help of a woman who knew how to steer a conversation.

"That is why God created the New York Times Bestseller list", Renee had once told her husband. Of course that applied to gatherings of people who read books, and those gatherings did not usually include doctors.

Lois Schram was heartened by Will's ground rules.She had spent a ghastly evening not long ago out to dinner at Barolo with Dr. Kevin Drice and his wife. Drice had pulled out some horrid little computer gadget and passed it around the table. It was a video from Dr. Drice's endoscope showing him removing a pin from the esophagus of a drunk, who had used it to pick his teeth. People need to be civilized about what they discuss over dinner. Lois was even more mortified when Drice insisted on showing the video to the wait staff and Barolo's head chef. The chef thought it was funny. "That could have been me!" he said.

And now- here was Murray, talking wistfully about tarpon fishing off Indian Pass. Lois would give him three minutes, which was all she thought a tarpon merited. After all what could one say about tarpon? That they were large? That they were silver? That they were inedible? What if I bored everyone by babbling on about the cultivation of miniature tulips from the Caucasus thought Lois, who had , in fact ,just published a monograph about those microscopic flowers in the Journal Of The Rock Garden Society.

Murray slurred a word, and Lois jumped in, pre-empting Renee, who had wanted to talk about the new book "Too Smart for Their Own Good". It was a profile and an expose of the Friend hospital empire, headquartered right here in the city. But Lois wanted to talk architecture.

"Has anyone read the piece in the City Scene about about the Tilley house? It was in last week's annual "Best and Worst" issue".

"Well, what was it Lois? Best or Worst?" , asked Scott Tesh.

"Worst!" said Darlin'." I read that piece. They said it was officially hideous. They said Judge and Clara Ritchie had a landscaping company come in and put in a row of Leyland cypresses so they don't have to look at it".

"It's going to court", Lois added," Timmy Tilley is suing the Ritchies for blocking his view . The paper says he got into a fight with one of the Mexicans who was trying to plant one of the cypresses. He had one end of the tree and the Mexican had the other."

"Who is Tim Tilley?", asked Tesh.

"He's that new singer", said Will, "He won best new artist at the Music awards. "He's not even American. His real name is Trudic or something. He's from the Ukraine. Rags to Riches."

"And back to rags before you know it, "said Darlin'" Fruit flies have longer careers than most of those guys-".

" That house is awful", said Will. "It looks like like a big pink antacid pill. 15000 square feet of fuscia stucco all on one level. It's like really bad Googie architecture".

" I think it looks like a pink Pentagon", said Darlin'".

Tesh laughed. " I can see that. The roof rolls back, and the missile silos pop out-" Tesh started laughing. Every one else did too.

Except Dr. Ashley. She seemed confused.

"Where is it?", she asked.

"Near the park. Near Cerner Road", said Will.

"Oh, the park", said Dr Ashley. "I run there everyday. Sometimes I do five miles. Sometimes I do eight. I'm running in the Boulevard Sprint next month. I had to stop running last year for two months. I had plantar fascitis. It was awful. I put on five pounds. I was up to a size 6. My father was going to disown me- My BMI was through the roof".

Lois Schram had dined with too many runners. She knew what was coming next. Carbohydrate loading. Running shoes- Dr Ashley had to be stopped.

"Where do your parents live?", she asked.

"Dallas. They're orthodontists."

That explains the teeth, thought Lois.

"Dallas! I love Dallas! I love the Galleria! I made Will take me there last summer when I could not tolerate another day in Tiptonville", said Renee.

" What's wrong with Tiptonville?", asked Scott Tesh."I like it up there. Will and I shot a mess of ducks up there a few winters back. Good times. We drank a lot of bourbon-".

Scott was still drinking bourbon, and not yet the Cotes de Rhone that Renee had chosen to complement her cumin and garlic encrusted leg of lamb, and her pancetta and rosemary roast potatoes. Scott and Will began to talk of good old times in the duck blinds. "Remember the time Timmy Friend's black lab knocked over his gun and blew a hole in the bottom of our boat?" said Scott. "We had to wade out the rest of the way to the blind. Damn. I it was a good thing it was January or the cottonmouths would have gotten us!"

AS the men talked ,Darlin' noticed Dr. Ashley had not touched her wine or the lamb.

"I don't drink", said Dr. Ashley. "And I'm a vegan".

Then why, thought Darlin', did you let Will Ryman put lamb on your plate, and wine in your glass? Darlin' was never surprised by the terrible manners of doctors. By how poorly socialized they were. Excluding Scott, of course. He had beautiful manners, though some lapses in taste.

Ashley, for example. But Darlin foregave him. Blondes from Texas were hard to resist.

Murray Schram had never shot a mallard or sat freezing in a duck blind. Now he was nodding, and Renee saw it was coffee time. Within fifteen minutes, Lois put Murray in the back seat of her Lexus and drove home.

Scott and Darlin' dropped Ashley off at her apartment, then went downtown to listen to jazz at Bennie's. They held hands until three in the morning.

"Let's go to Provence next year", Renee said to her half-asleep husband.

Will said nothing. He was thinking about going back to Tiptonville. At the rate St Sanctimonia Hospital was imploding ,he might be unemployed by next summer. He could spend the evenings out under his pecan trees reading Patrick O'Brien novels. He could get a new dog. Another chocolate lab.

Renee would not be happy about the dog. She had not been sad when Buster Brown had wandered away. "He was probably chasing a duck", Renee told their neighbors over at the next farm. Everyone in Lake County went out looking for that dog. That's what happens when you offer a five thousand dollar reward-

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Dinner Party- An Entertainment.

This is an excerpt from a bit of fiction I have been working on. For anyone who has not read previous excerpts, I will identify William Ryman as the CEO of St. Sanctimonia Hospital. Dr Murray Schram is Medical Director. His wife Lois is one of the city's most storied gardeners.

Fairleigh Ashley started her affair with Dr. Scott Tesh when she learned he was friends with Tim Molinari, a vascular surgeon at Duke. Molinari was looking for a new partner for his group. Dr. Ashley, a vascular fellow at Lea University Medical Center, was looking for a job. Tesh recommended her unreservedly, but Tim Molinari was blunt.

"I don't want a woman.I don't care how good a surgeon she is. She'll get married and have a kid and then she'll want to work part time. Then she'll quit and stay home. I'd have to find someone else. I might as well find someone else now".

Initially disappointing, not to mention erotically enervating, this turned out to be fortuitous for Dr. Ashley. Within a month Saint Sanctimonia had forcibly retired Dr. Leland Byswatter, Tesh's partner, and Tesh was looking for a replacement. By then, the Tesh-Ashley affair had petered out for lack of motive. Even knowing that he would never see Dr. Ashley's sports bra again, Tesh offered her the spot. He was not regretful or angry, and Darlin' Devoe, his on and off long time ladyfriend and personal scrub nurse was forgiving. Tesh and his paunch felt more comfortable with Darlin' anyway.

In the third year of her surgical residency, Dr. Ashley, frustrated one morning by the old ring binder patient charts the Catholic hospital still used, wrote an order for the ward secretary to thin out a chart, which was over-stuffed and about to burst.

"Thin this chart ASAP", she wrote.

Kiss my ass ASAP thought the ward clerk, who left the chart for someone else to not do.

The next morning Dr. Ashley brought the chart back to the secretary's desk. She raised it over her head, then dropped it on the floor, where it exploded.

"If I can't order you to thin this cart, I'll make you do it", said Dr. Ashley.

"Snarley Ashley" the ward secretaries called her after that. The operating room nurses already called her "Fairleigh Nasty".

Midway through November, Renee gave a dinner party in honor of Dr Ashley's ascendancy to Tesh Vascular Associates. Renee hoped to snag Belle Tesh, Scott's wife, as a guest, and had more of the others who were invited thought that Belle might appear, they would not have sent their regrets. Several of them were sorry they hadn't showed up when they later heard that Tesh arrived in the same car with both Dr. Ashley and Darlin' Devoe.

The Schrams were the first guests through the door. Lois, who had traded an interest in fashion for rare flower bulbs 20 years ago was wearing an old blue Norell suit. Murray, unusually relaxed from a combination of port, nerve pills ,and beta blockers came in a sports jacket with mismatched socks inside his frayed work loafers. Lois gave Renee a hostess gift. A dozen miniature daffodil bulbs.

"Even a novice can grow these", she assured Renee.

Scott and Darlin' presented the Rymans with a $150.00 bottle of Pinot Noir from the Double Ducky Vineyard in Oregon.

Fairleigh Ashley just presented herself.

If women were bottles of wine ,thought Renee, Dr Ashley would be a Pinot. Her blond hair was free of its mandatory work ponytail. She was wearing a sleek black sheath and four inch heels. Her teeth gleamed.

Darlin Devoe, fifty, and looking it,was a $5.00 bottle of pink Zinfandel. How many years had it been since Renee saw someone wear a peasant blouse, an ankle length madras skirt, Birkenstocks, and three inch hoop earrings that looked as though they were carved out of balsa wood?. A long time.

Appalling as well was Scott Tesh. In a green jacket and pink pants, he looked like an overfed old Dartmouth alum. The kind Renee first saw under a striped tent on the Hanover Green when her first husband Jack Cravalle dragged her to his class reunion. And Tesh smelled. Like smoke.

"We were doin' a bit of burning at the house", Tesh explained. He did not think his hostess needed to know that the burning was done by Belle, who ordered their houseman Leon to burn an oil painting Tesh had brought back from Hilton Head and hung on his side of the foyer at "Just Blissful", Belle's ancestral home. The Tesh's Boulevard neighbors had called the Fire department. No one on the Boulevard would have been surprised if Belle had just decided to burn the place down- But Belle thought the painting- of golfers out on an emerald fairway surrounded by bright flags- was in poor taste. She ordered Leon to douse it with kerosene.

Since dinner was twenty minutes from ready, the men and women separated. The men went to the bar. The women went to the kitchen. Renee's culinary temple. She expected Dr. Ashley and Lois to be impressed.

But Lois Schram, with a garden full of herbs and a freezer full of frozen lasagna, saw only pricey clutter. Dr. Ashley did not notice at all. She owned one aluminum pan, though she had a set of copperware in storage. Dr. Ashley didn't need more than one pan. She lived on yoghurt.

Darlin' was studying Renee's cook books. "Oh, Elizabeth David. I love Mediterraean cooking. Have you read Patience Gray's "Honey from a Weed? She lived on Naxos, and in Provence".

Renee had never heard of her.

"I was in Provence last summer", said Lois. "Our garden tour went to Lawrence Johnston's garden in Menton-"

"We're going to France next year", said Renee, who had just decided this.

Provence. Naxos.

Dr. Ashley had never visited either of these places. The only country she had ever been to was medical school.

(Thus ends part one of this chapter. To be concluded on Sunday or Monday)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Today's Kitchen Adventure- Almost Airborne Tortillas

The flour tortillas I bought at the K&S World Market today are the best I have ever eaten. They are the Guerrero brand, baked in Irvine,, Texas and sold as "Tortillas de Harina Caseras". They are very soft tortillas, and, when fried in very hot canola oil, puff up like little balloons. They can be opened then and stuffed with salsa or taco filling or sour cream. And their puffiness persists. They do not deflate like a souffle. One can buy 2 22.5 ounce packages for five dollars. They would make a great party dish if served with quacamole and beer or Margueritas.

I also bought goat meat and duck legs today. Meats and poultry I buy at K&S have always been good. Today's only mistake was buying frozen baby octopus in a block. I planned to subdivide them among several freezer bags, but alas, they were fit only for my porch possum and visiting raccoons. But even those freeloaders may not want them. My mistake. I had forgotten that all seafood one does not buy wriggling is guilty until proven innocent.

Not: A wok makes a very good tortilla fryer.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Mediterranean Idyll with Lady Winifred Fortescue

This battered, creased, mildewed book changed my life just over ten years ago. The gaily colored little hot air balloon that was my youthful wanderlust- that took me to Californa, London, Nantucket, and across the South into the desert Southwest - that wanderlust was dormant. Vines and roots tethered it to the ground, and for the next twenty years I never left this city. I wanted to, and in night dreams I tried to, but every trip ended at the first rest stop. I had too many dogs, too big a garden, too many debts, a house, a fear of bridges and interstate driving. Substitute children, caring for an old mother, a bank account in the single digits the day before payday, and I describe how others' lives become rootbound.

Lady Winifred Fortescue and her husband lived in Provence, and she wrote many books about their life there. But she wrote "Sunset House " after her husband died, and decided to stay on by herself.

To anyone who has read Peter Mayles or Francis Mayes , this may sound like well-trodden ground. Restoring a house,haggling with the rustics who surround her- We have, we think, read this before. We know where this is going.

Until we arrive at Chapter 5- "Lotus Land"- a memoir of several September weeks spent in a rented,deserted, Coast guard station on the Mediterranean. Lady Winifred and her friend -known only as" Mademoiselle"-
drive gut-wrenching mountain roads to get there. They travel light. Two dogs, raingear, a few provisions, swimsuits, and one accordian. Fishermen help them air out the cottages, and bring them fish and wine. There is a parafin lamp, but no electricity. Driftwood keeps them warm. They live in their swimsuits. They wade shallow pools and find sea urchins. A vacation for the soul. Yet when Lady Winifred frets over what the workmen may be doing to her house, her friend begs her "Relax. Oh do RELAX!". And Lady Winifred at last does. Here is her description of the Mediterranean:

"And what a sea! That marvellous Mediterranean blazed and scintillated as though some alchemist had thrown all the sapphires, emeralds, turquoises. aquamarines, crystals, and amethysts in the world into one great crucible and transmuted them into fiery fluid".

I read "Lotus Land" over and over. Then I persuaded my younger brother to travel with me to Fort Morgan , Alabama to see our own American Mediterranean. For the next seven years I travelled spring and fall, though never as lightly as Lady Winifred and her friend. Fairhope, Alabama. Through Florida to St George Island, to Ocklochnee Bay, to Cape San Blas, and to Cedar Key. And though I have been dormant for the past three years, and not by choice, I will go again. I will pack little. Nothing I cannot unload in under ten minutes. I do not have an accordion or play an instrument, but there is always the radio. Or maybe I will choose silence. I will not seek the sea urchin. A mess of blue crabs will satisfy me.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

An hour at McKay Books

My estate sale habit caught up with me this week. Paragon china teacups commissioned by Queen Mary do not fit in my gas tank, and I needed some gas money. So I took 4 sacks of books over to McKay, and their money machine spat out 50 bucks. Enough for gas and a small deposit to keep Netflix from costing me a $35 overdraft fee.

One of the customers who came in after me said she heard the store was closing. And it is, sometime next year when the new store opens up near Pug's Corner and the Gower School in Bellevue. Bank robberies take place in daylight just across the street from this bookstore ,and street people rummage in the discard book bins outside. I wanted to put some DVDS McKay did not want out in the bins.

"Oh, no", said the clerk. "We don't put media out there. People take it and bring it in here to try to sell it again."

McKay will give you cash or store credit.I could have had $100.00 in store credit, but that was not the unleaded I needed ,so I settled for $50.00.

It took 45 minutes to sort my books, so I sat on a bench and people- watched. I did not venture into the stacks to check out the cookery books, for it is too depressing to see a book I want and not be able to buy it.

People came in with various little digital devices I did not recognize.

"Dude", said the clerk. "You are going to have to clean that up. We can't take anything that dirty."

People came in with boxes of LPs with scruffy covers. The manager was dubious. "You won't get anything other than store credit for that." The LP owners shrugged.

An unkempt older man,wobbly on his feet, came in with a sack of paperbacks. The store clerk refused to take discarded library books from another customer. Against their policy.

I wonder if the move out to dull, placid Bellevue is a geographic cure, with the store hoping to shed the homeless that hang around that neighborhood. And a store that pays cash might be a mugger's dream.

I have since read in the Nashville Post that there may be a coffee cafe and a restaurant next to the new store. The gentrification of everything. But I think I will miss the old McKay. After all it is not every day one gets to witness a bank heist while shopping for second hand cookbooks.

The Beach Book

Since Borders and Davis-Kidd Booksellers both closed, leaving Nashville with only used book stores, I have to find new books at Amazon. Or ,on impulse, I might browse the magazine aisle at Kroger, which is as well-stocked with new hardcovers and trade paperbacks as it is with magazines.Then, exhausted by working night shift and worn out by summer heat, I reach for the summer beach novel.

Beach novel covers feature deck chairs with a towel tossed over them, or a sunhat on a dune, or three lithe young blondes arm and arm, sister with sister, finally learning to get along. Some take place in Maine. Three I read were set in Nantucket, where beach houses rent for 35 thousand dollars a month.Now I once rented a house on Nantucket, out in Madaket. I was making under five dollars an hour as a new RN at the time. I cannot remember how much the rent was, but I know it was not $8000.00 a week.

Looking at their covers one might become suspicious that these novels might be the same book. And one would be right. I read four of them back to back, and when I closed the cover of the last one ,I went running for my Library of America Phillip Chandler to resuscitate my brain. There is nothing "The Long Goodbye" and "The Lady in the Lake" cannot cure.

Except cancer, the most frequent cause of deaths in beach books right along up there with personal sailboat accidents( which could be suicide or homicide or maybe a combination of both. Or the deceased might just have been drunk).

These books always have a small coven of women who are either sisters, cousins, aunts, or mothers. If they don't get along at the beginning of their vacation they will by the end, and one of them will survive chemo. In one book the 60ish heroine has a heart attack at the end and is welcomed to the afterlife by the Great Love of her life, a pre-teen boy who took a sailboat out on a suicide run after his father broke it to him that their family was Jewish.

In a second book, just released, the sad, broke wife of a Bernie Madoff like figure spends the summer on Nantucket with a rich friend, hiding out at the friend's cottage. The disgraced wife is honest and goodhearted. We know this because she is so accepting of her boutique-less future. But who needs Chanel shoes to walk down a beach with rich friends who never let the lobster run out?

The women in these books are not graduates of Tennessee Tech. They went to the best prep schools, the finest colleges. And so did the men in their lives. Men who turn out to be lying cheaters. Yet there is solace for these disappointed women. The islands are full of caretakers, house fixers, and male nannies who are nothing less than Nature's Noblemen. They are often widowers, which makes things convenient for the final wrapping up of story lines. And what if one not only is a caretaker, but the owner of many rental houses. More lobster! More Shoes! More $10 designer muffins!

Forget Nantucket. Give me some LA noir and Raymond Chandler. And by the way I rented that house on Nantucket almost 40 years ago. I do not think the middle class is allowed there anymore.

Monday, July 4, 2011

U R an Idiot, and unemployable!

I hope the friend who told me this story does not mind my telling it. And "telling" is the word, for it describes the world of stupidity and post literacy we find ourselves in now.

She spoke to a woman who works in Research for a large Nashville hospital, and when this woman's department needed help, prospective help responded with their resumes. A handful of those resumes were written in text-speak, as though these ever- hopefuls were out on I-40 going 70- doing, you know, like the resume thing. After all, who wants to read all those stupid words? No one, it appears. The Research woman assured my friend that some things do not even merit a response. Just the "delete" button.

Roasted Potatoes with Garlic and Rosemary

This is one of my favorite vegetable dishes. It is easy to make, economical, and bathed in garlic and olive oil, which is always a wonderful thing. I cooked it last evening. I planned to have roast lamb or lamb chops with it until a trip to the Publix meat counter disabused me of that idea. The lamb chops were 18 dollars for a small package. Th lamb legs were haunches. The biggest was 45 dollars. The smallest 21 dollars. Instead I browned, then roasted the duck legs I brought home from K&S World Market for $4.50.

I peeled, then sliced ,five medium Yukon gold potatoes. I put them in a bowl, doused them with olive oil. then added a generous amount of sea salt. Then I tossed them with my fingers to coat them. Then I layered them in a round pie pan. I cut several rounds in half and lined the edges of the pan with them, as though they were a crust. With each layer I tossed on some sliced garlic and some diced fresh rosemary leaves. Then- one last sprinkling of sea salt. At 375 degrees they take about 45 to 55 minutes to roast, soften , and brown.

In winter I often add diced pancetta, but this was a summer evening, and the duck was rich enough. This would go with steaks or even with hamburgers, and I think even children and teenagers would like it.

July 4, 2011 Nashville

Here is a view of the Ensworth School Bell tower, taken from the Harpeth River Greenway across an unmowed field of Johnson grass and ironweed. I took it on this morning's walk as I stopped to listen to music coming from the carillon. Whether it was real or taped, I do not know. But there it was between seven-thirty and eight.

Another humid morning with thunder in the distance and twenty-seven days of our hottest month left to get through. But I have decided this year not to be satisfied with enduring July. I want to enjoy living every day of it, for what if I never see another? So today I am glad to see a blue grosbeak on the paved trail, searching the ground for breakfast. To see a brown thrasher and a male goldfinch, resplendent and singing. To see a family of Indigo buntings.

The Fourth of July has never meant much to me beyond potato salads and picnics I never made it to because I was working, recuperating from work ,or getting ready to go to work. But I once had the privilege of being off on one of the landmark Fourths of all time. I was living in Woodstock, Vermont then. In a small apartment of a big yellow house known as 22 The Green. I spent that Fourth walking out past the Billings Farm, out along the road that followed the Ompompanoosuc River . I saw farm children laughing and playing on the hill behind their barn. They were waving flags for it was July 4, 1976, the Bicentennial. In New York Harbor, in came the Regatta of the Tall Ships, broadcast for all to see. We were hopeful then. Watergate was over. Vietnam was over. I was 26 years old.

I will not live to see the Tricentennial, and I wonder what will be celebrated then. Better we cannot see the future. And even though I must drive out to work tonight to cover the clinic in a place no one is free, I will enjoy this day.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Estate Sale Diaries Early Summer 2011

As neighborhoods grow old, so do their people. This is the only way I can explain the many estate sales this past June in the Nashville suburb of West Meade.

West Meade is a good neighborhood, but a poor cousin to Belle Meade, the best neighborhood. Highway 70 ,also known as Harding Road , divides them, as does a single lane railroad track. Both share Richland Creek, a nasty little watercourse capable of awful things, as we all discovered during last year's flood.

West Meade is modest, tree and church lined, and so identical are the homes and steeples that one easily gets lost and turned around among the great magnolias and the pink crepe myrtles. On a recent Saturday I was lost there for 20 minutes. I felt like Charlie in the old 60s song- lost forever on the MTA beneath the streets of Boston. The man who never returned.

But I did return, having found the day's second estate sale on a street not far from Charlotte, a street and a neighborhood which are a very different story-

How easy it is to label people, to think we can know much about them from the books they leave or the pans they cooked in or the entire rooms devoted to Christmas tableware, decorations, music, ornaments. I look instead at the remnants of their hobbies, the mementos of other places they have lived or travelled to.

By coincidence both these estates were of people of conspicuous religion. Perhaps the first house, on the nicer edge, belonged to a minister and his wife. An open minded minister with a library spanning the Catholic catechism to the Book of Mormon. Mrs. Minister collected hand painted pottery and vases. I believe the couple had once lived in Tampa. There was a framed map of Tampa Bay and Ybor Ciy. I bought their copy of The Gasparilla Cookbook (collected by the Junior League of Tampa.) I did not buy the map. I wish I had. I also brought home one of her tall painted vases, and a small, flat, well seasoned cast iron pan I will use as a comal.

The second sale , inside a small and undistiguished brick house with a minimalist yard, was more surprising. Books by Anita Bryant, books that boasted good, clean Christian jokes. Religiosity everywhere. Until one looked deeper. I found and bought the Gene Stratton Porter books here. An obvious remnant of a childhood. One book was 90 years old. The other was published in 1904. And in the basement I found the remains of a seeker. A vast rock collection, unlikely to have value to anyone but a collector. Boxes, and jar after jar of shells. Hundreds of National Geographic magazines. Bits of Mexican Pottery. A field guide to cacti. Maps of Colorado. The sandstone in my photo with a pastel of a yucca plant and an adobe village in the distance.

I think I would have liked to meet the person who had these passions.

Not all the items in my photos came from these two sales. The Steubenville china tea set came from another West Meade sale. The Paragon china teacup and saucer was part of a set I bought yesterday in River Plantation.

Saturday July 2 Percy Warner Park . Nashville, Tennessee

Here is a view toward the hills of Brentwood, south of the city of Nashville. How green it is. How well watered, for our summers too often are dry and brown. Johnson grass on the road edges is taller than I am. The woods are quiet, with the birds having little to say. What a paradox, that even as the days become hotter, they relentlessly grow shorter. The solstice is behind us. Only two more months of barn swallows in the evening-