Monday, February 27, 2012

5 Minute Salsa.

I make my own salsa, and this is one of my favorite versions-

Combine in a food processor and puree-

3 medium hothouse type tomatoes, or home grown if you can get them.

1 medium white onion

3 garlic cloves

1 seeded, fresh jalapeno pepper

Juice of 1/2 lime

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup shredded pineapple

Sea salt to taste

This makes about a pint.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Song for Sunday Morning

How sad- that ancient Greek music comes to us in fragments.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Sopa de Fideo, Italian Style

Here is a slice of toasted crusty Italian bread, torn to pieces.

And here is a variation on the Veneto classic "Pasta e fagioli" using fideo noodles, cannellini beans, garlic, and sour cream. I made this soup days ago, and to use one of my friend's favorite phrases, I have been "eating on it" for a week. The combination of fideo, a pasta that almost melts when cooked, and sour cream makes this soup delicious.


1/4 to 1/3 cup sour cream

3 cups of chicken broth

1 cup of water

Sea salt to taste, and to sweat onions.

1/8 tsp Italian seasoning

Olive oil to saute onion

1 medium yellow onion, diced and sauteed in olive oil till golden.

3 garlic cloves, crushed or diced.

2 tbs. butter

2 14 oz cans of cannellini beans

1 to 1 1/2 cups fideo noodles or vermicelli, snapped into 1-2 inch long pieces.

Heat the broth in a medium sauce pan, then add the sauteed onion, the beans, the seasoning, and the garlic. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Add the butter and the noodles, which should cook in about 7 minutes. Then remove from heat and stir in the sour cream.

This should feed four.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

I Go to Harvard! And Yale-

I sat in a classroom at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences yesterday morning, and heard a talk by Ferran Adria, the notorious Catalan chef from the late El Bulli restaurant. Harold McGee, the food scientist, introduced Mr. Adria, and Chef Jose Andres translated for the Spaniard.

This talk was the first of a series, all free, and all on the Internet. Other topics will be Chocolate, Emulsions, and the Sous Vide Method.

And since this was Harvard, and free, I sat for two hours as Adria theorized about sea weed and chemistry and something called "Aspherification". Eventually he and his assistants, using a water-chemical bath, produced little yellow balls of olive oil encased in gelatin. The chef called this "Olive Oil Caviar", now for sale in Europe. They looked like bath oil beads to me. They are said to "explode in your mouth".

I am hoping that future classes will have something in them for the plain home cook, though I am interested in watching to see if they try to corral chocolate in a gelatin ball-

Dazzled by the idea of the Ivy League on Line, I clicked my way to Yale University's "Open Courses". No cooking here. But free lectures on Modern Poetry and Milton and Greek History. I enrolled my self in the last one and listened to Professor Donald Kagan's introduction. And there are twenty five more hours! What happiness! To take a class because I want to. Not for credit, not so I can graduate, not so I can get tenure someday down the road-

As Stevenson wrote in "A Child's Garden of Verses", "The world is so full of a number of things. I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings!"

To Be Social, or Not to Be Social- That is the Question!

I received an anonymous comment this afternoon that I deleted as spam, for it seemed to have some tie-in with Domino's Pizza coupons. But it is possible that this comment was from a human, since the writer advised me to make this blog "more social".

I will speak to this by saying that there is no one less social than I. I put up a Facebook page several years ago at the urging of my sister. I abandoned it within a month. I did not want to be "friends" with the Claremont Brew Fest, nor did I want to be data mined and spied on marketers, my employer, the CIA, the FBI, Homeland Security, and the people I worked with.

Nor do I indulge in Twitter. Shakespeare and William Carlos Williams could put their genius into 140 odd characters, but I doubt the rest of us would.

My blog is idiosyncratic. It is irreverent and Ironic. It will never appeal to a wide audience. I doubt more than 20 people read it, though it is a magnet to spam farms in the former Eastern Bloc and in Russia.

I will be happy if I have one or two readers who care about what I have to say. And I will say what I want to say, and post what I want to post, even if it is doggerel verse and snippets of the fiction I call "Hospital Noir".

But thank you, Anonymous, for making your interesting suggestion, which I am certain was well meaning. And I apologize if you are not a Spammer-

Sunday, February 19, 2012

"If it takes off the cuticle,it must be working".

So said the immortal Florence Nightingale about the use of chlorinated soda to disinfect nurses' hands back in the Victorian era. It may be one of the only things she said that modern nursing would agree with.

If my nursing instructors at the late Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital School of Nursing mentioned Nightingale, what they said was forgettable, for I have forgotten it. And since I was in nursing school in the very late sixties, how much attention would I have paid anyway? It was the Age of Irreverence, and if I could not trust anyone over thirty, why would I have respect for a dead Victorian woman, who ,in the world's memory, is surrounded by a smog of sentimentality? We made fun of our own classmates if they were too traditional, too "nurse-y". We called them "Nancy Nurse" or "Nice Nursie". The only time any of us mentioned Nightingale was to repeat a scurrilous lie that she died of syphilis. We thought this was hilarious.

I have just finished Mark Bostridge's biography "Florence Nightingale-The Making of an Icon", and I have also read parts of Nightingale's own "Notes on Nursing", and I can state after my 40 years in nursing ,that no one in modern hospitals takes her beliefs seriously.

Take her pronouncements on sleep. She believed in it. She thought patients needed it. Never wake a patient from first sleep, she said. How quaint! For today's hospital, like Macbeth, murders sleep. In an ICU the nurses have no tolerance for it. The middle of the night is "Bath Time', and time to drag the patient from bed to chair where he or she will sit for hours. And even if the patient is spared these nurse tasks and manages to fall asleep in a comfortable position, he will be awakened, for the "Skin Bundle" mandates that he be turned every two hours to prevent bedsores. And why do we want to prevent bedsores? We want to prevent them because Medicare will not pay for treating them anymore. Do not look for lofty motives!

Nightingale may have been in favor of sleep, but she was strongly against noise. We laugh at this because noise has become an honorary nurse. Beeps, honks, chirps, screeches are the modern nurse's Little Helpers. They tell us when someone is trying to crawl out of bed, when someone's heart beat is too fast, or their blood pressure is too high, or when a patient has pulled himself off the ventilator-

But these are not the only noises. Pills must be smashed to bits before nurses flush them down tubes. I had a patient call one night and complain about this. "Are you building something out there?", he asked. Another patient groused to the head nurse that he was tired of loud talk at the nurses' station. "All they talk about is their boyfriends and how to make zucchini bread!", he said.

No, if Nightingale walked into one of our hospitals this very night she would not need a lamp. All the lights will be on. The unit secretary's radio will be dialed in to 92Q, and a toddler, spending the night in his father's hospital room ,will be howling. Housekeeping will be stripping the floor, for what time is better to do it than one o'clock in the morning? The nurses may be in the lounge watching ESPN or"Storage Wars" set on high volume.

Poor Nightingale. Now so irrelevant.

Catfish Cookery Part 3

"La Meilleure de la Louisiana"is a compilation of recipes collected by Chef Jude W.Theriot and published in 1989.The forward says Chef Theriot "learned the art of cooking in his native Louisiana at the hands of his Acadian-French grandmother,Euphemie V. Borel".

Both Chef and Grandmere seem like people one could trust to know where to get a good catfish recipe.In this case, from the Oaklawn Manor, on the Bayou Teche.

Note the grandness of the ingredients-sherry,butter crab meat,shrimp.This is fancy plantation house cooking-far from the plain cast iron skillet with its lard and cornmeal.Though this recipe does pose one question.

What are pimento crosses?

All I can imagine would be thin strips of red or green bell peppers, placed on top of the fish.One horizontal.One vertical,and so on.

And the next time my pocketbook affords it,I will make this.I will pretend I am dining in New Orleans or in a historic Bayou Country bed and breakfast,though all I am really doing is cruising around my kitchen in a cookbook.

*Credit for the photo of Oaklawn Manor goes to

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Kidney Beans with Sweet Red Bell Pepper, Mild Chiles, Onions, and Garlic

I have been looking through my New Orleans cookbooks this week, and seeing a recipe for Red Beans and Rice sent me into my cupboard pantry looking for kidney beans. I found one 14 oz. can. But when I found half a bell pepper left over in the fridge,I turned southwest and took a new route.I diced it up small and added it to my onions and garlic(sauteed in a little bacon grease and lard), then added the kidney beans. Then I added a 4 oz can of mild diced green chiles and half a packet of Iberia Sazon with coriander and annato. I sauteed the mixture for half an hour on low heat to let the flavors mingled. Then I put some in a small bowl and grated Mexican farmer's cheese on it. Delicious, with enough left over for three more servings.

I could have sauteed this in corn oil, I could have left out the Sazon. But what a difference it would have made.I know that some people cannot conceive of using lard, but I think a tiny bit of bacon drippings in your corn oil would give it that smoky flavor- As to the Sazon,one might use a little Adobo seasoning instead,if you live where no one stocks many Latino foods.(Though in this day and age I cannot imagine where that would be). Goya Foods does sell Sazon with coriander and annato on their website in the condiment section. 32 packages for just over $6.00. Badia and Iberia Foods sell it as well.


1 medium yellow onion,diced and seasoned with sea salt and sauteed till golden.

1/2 Sweet red bell pepper,diced.

Sea salt to taste,and to sweat onion.Be cautious.Sazon contains salt.

1 14 oz can kidney beans,drained.

1 can mild,diced green chiles.

1/2 packet of Sazon with coriander and Annato.

This could be served wrapped up in a warm tortilla,or with an avocado,some salsa,and some sour cream. This would be good for a potluck because it is not too picante.

*This tastes even better the second day!and sour cream. It would even be a great dish for a pot luck,as it is not too picante.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Catfish Cookery- Part Two

I have spent much time looking through my New Orleans cookbooks for catfish recipes. I looked in vain. For it seems that when cooks and chefs are minutes away from redfish and pompano and whiting,they choose to cook from the sea and not from a farm pond. I would have to look to inland and bayou Louisiana to see if the catfish had admirers there.

And it does,in the very fish camps and gentlemen's sporting clubs where happy judges and doctors escape from their families and wives. I found my unique catfish recipe in the same book and in the same chapter where I once found Judge Fred A. Blanche's recipe for fried squirrel. The book is "River Road Recipes 2. A Second Helping", and the chapter is "How Men Cook." The ladies of the Baton Rouge Junior League collected these recipes, and though no catfish is likely to make it into their kitchen,they are tolerant of the low habits of husbands away at camp with the boys.

Judge Blanche was content with cast iron pans and squirrels cut up into serving pieces. Dr. Malcolm J. Leveque was more inventive. More ambitious. He saw the possibilities for two pounds of catfish fillets cut into cornmeal coated fried nuggets and stuffed inside a hollowed out toasted loaf of unsliced bread, along with a jar of olives,half a dozen sour pickles,a sliced Bermuda onion, and a sauce made from 2 cups of ketchup,Tabasco sauce,Worcestershire sauce, and red pepper. And even then he was not through- Back on went the top of the decapitated loaf,which he then wrapped in foil and baked for ten minutes. I am sure the Doctor and his buddies did not waste one minute thinking about what wine would compliment this dish. Their malt whiskey would be just fine.

But as baroque and original as this recipe is,it does not appeal to me. I will spend one more day looking for a catfish recipe I would like to cook. If I do not find it, it's back to cornmeal and pan fried.

To be continued....

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Catfish Cookery- Part One

When I get in my truck and drive to some place watery, whether salty or fresh, McClane's "New Standard Fishing Encyclopedia and International Angling Guide " goes with me. Mine is the second edition, published in 1974. McClane's is five pounds worth of advice and information about all things fishy. Here I quote some of their reporting on the catfish-

"There are 15 or more families of catfish in the world.... Many of these families are highly specialized; There are walking catfish,talking catfish,blind catfish, tootheless catfish,armored catfish,electric catfish,climbing catfish,and parasitic catfish".

I,who live in the Mid-South,have never caught a walking,talking catfish,but I have caught the common catfish found in Reelfoot and Kentucky Lakes, and all of those I caught went right back into the water,since I lacked a board,a nail,or pliers to skin them. I have also caught the worthless salt water catfish that swim close to the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico. I throw them back,but most fisherman,annoyed by wasted bait and wasted time,do not. They toss the catfish carcasses onto the upper beach or into the dunes where they mummify,since neither gull nor ghost crab will eat them.

Only twice have I ever eaten wild caught catfish. Once,on the last night of a three day weekend spent at Kentucky Lake Cabins near Springville,Tennessee,I gave my left over red wriggler worms to a father and son just out for the evening. They thanked me by bringing me a foot long catfish
which I took home and baked- bones,skin and all. It had an earthy taste.

My other free fish was a Gafftopsail catfish, a salt water variety. I was staying at the Bon Secour Lodge cabins on Oyster Bay in Gulf Shores,Alabama, and my benefactor was a retired dentist. He and his wife sat on the stoop of their cabin dawn to dark smoking and drinking Coors, and making sure their little dachshund "Hildee" did not run off toward the sloughs and get eaten by an alligator. When the dentist's son arrived with a boat, a fishing party went out for the day. They came back with a boatload of beer cans and only one fish-the Gafftopsail that they gave to me. It was good, and easy to cook,since one of the party dressed it.

I did pan fry a catfish fillet this week. It was farmed catfish,possibly from Tennessee,but most likely from the Mississippi Delta where catfish aquaculture is big business. According to Richard Schweid,author of "Catfish and the Delta", "The low-cholesterol meat of the farm-raised fish is firm,white,and neutral in taste,completely lacking the strong,fishy,bottom-feeder flavor of a river catfish".

I did not look at catfish recipes before I pan-fried this fillet. I cooked it my own way. I soaked it in buttermilk for a few hours, then dipped it into a Remoulade-ish concoction of Duke's mayonnaise and Creole mustard. Then I put it in a plastic bag that had flour spiked with a teaspoon or two of Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning, and I shook it. I fried the flour dusted fillet in corn oil with a little lard added. It was very tasty. And worth doing again.

After the fact, I went looking through my sixty odd books on Southern cooking to see what novel things could be done to catfish.

There were not many. Buttermilk. Flour. Corn meal. Salt. Pepper. Egg batter. Oil or lard to fry.
That was the repertoire, for when it came to catfish,the Southern imagination failed to catch fire. The Uptown cookbooks, the cooking bibles of Our Ladies of the Junior League rarely mentioned catfish. Perhaps like Craig Claiborne's mother,their contributors were "too aristocratic" to cook a fish that evolution consigned to muddy lake bottoms and the fry pans of their housemen and maids.

Then,on a hunch,I looked up catfish in Mark Bittman's "The Best Recipes in the World". There in the Index I saw Catfish bouillabaisse. Catfish in caramel. Catfish with miso. Catfish in saffron sauce.

Yet, when I turned to the recipes I could not find a mention of catfish until I looked closer and saw it listed as just one of many fish that could be substituted in the dishes.Back we were at Richard Schweid's neutral,non-oily white fleshed Catfish Nouveau. A taste that would offend no one. The catfish as generic fish protein product.

I had one last hope for finding a novel recipe that celebrated the cat fishy-ness of catfish. So I asked myself this-What would the Cajuns and Creoles do?

To be continued on February 15th-

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Coconut -Lime Soup for a Cold Day

Here is the scene off my porch yesterday. A very light snow that even the camera had a hard time seeing. And when I woke this morning, there was a dusting on the cars. It may last, as we will not go much into the thirties today. This is the coldest spell of the year in Nashville.

I roasted a Cornish Game Hen last evening, which was good news for the possums, since I gave them the carcass on a night they needed extra fuel. I had a half cup of hen meat left over, so I decided to make a simple Coconut-Lime Soup. It required minimal cooking- just a warm-through to take the rawness out of the garlic and to blend the flavors. I suppose I could have thrown a handful of rice into it as well. Maybe next time. But I did achieve my goal, which was to use up a little meat that might have been ignored or forgotten in the refrigerator.

I can no longer tolerate waste now that I live in the Land of Economy.

I used:

3 chicken bouillon cubes and 3 cups of water ,or 3 cups of chicken stock.

1 14 oz can coconut milk

1 teas. prepared dry lemon grass

1 heaping tablespoon of grated ginger

Juice of 1 lime

1 large garlic clove, crushed.

1 tbs. of ghee or butter. I just added it because it adds a nice silkiness to the texture-

1/2 to 1 cup of cooked game hen meat or leftover diced cooked chicken meat.

If you are using bouillon cubes, heat the 3 cups of water until they dissolve. Then add everything but the ghee and cook on medium ten minutes to heat the garlic through. Add the ghee at the end, let it melt, then serve.

This should serve 4.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Visit to my Local Library and Some Thoughts on The War on Human Livelihood

I, having vowed not to buy any more books this year, am now visiting the Bellevue Library every week. Two weeks ago I brought home Mark Bostridge's "Florence Nightingale- The Making of an Icon".
I am halfway through it, but yesterday decided to drop in again to see what was there and to drop off "Antiques for Dummies". A book that may be useful to me someday, if I ever have money again, but is not useful today.

The Bellevue Library is small, and rumor for the past few years has had it being rebuilt larger and better over in the abandoned Mall or in a field behind the Bellevue Middle School. I have my doubts. I would not put it past Metro Nashville to not re-build at all. I would not put it past them to close it down and make everyone drive to Green Hills.

But until what happens happens, it is a useful place for finding cookbooks and biographies, though its fiction section is heavy on the Patterson and Koontz and light on the old dead novelists, who people in Bellevue don't seem to read anyway.

I found some interesting cookery books yesterday, most of them Southern. "Miss Mary Bobo's Boarding House Cookbook". "Martha's at the Plantation-Seasonal Recipes from Belle Meade". "A Gracious Plenty-Recipes and Recollections from the American South", written by John T. Edge, of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at Ole Miss. (More on these in future posts).

When I took these books to the desk, a smiling older lady checked them out for me, but mentioned twice that I needed to learn how to bar-code scan them out myself in the future, and that she would show me how next time. "We are not busy today", she said," But other days we might be, and we might not be able to help you".

This bothered me, and only after a night's sleep did I realize why.

Were I to go back to the library today, this is what I would like to say:

" Ma'am, be very careful about letting a machine take over your job. If a human asks a human to check out a book, do it without question, for therein lies your livelihood. What will the Cutters say when they see, and they will see, that 98% of your patrons bar code their own books.
They will see that they can eliminate another job. Perhaps yours. Perhaps your friend's."

See what has happened to telephone operators. Remember the last time you were marooned in a phone tree. Try getting a human at Bank of America when someone has stolen money from your account.

A friend, who still works at the hospital I worked for for twenty seven years ,tells me that Human Resources and Payroll are no longer in the hospital. They are not even in Tennessee, having been moved to Corporate headquarters in the Midwest.

Where is the person you talked to about your 401K? Gone. Where is the person in Payroll you talked to when you forgot to clock in for your shift? Gone. Replaced by a computerized time clock that makes each worker "approve" their time so a computer can tell a computer how much to pay you. No humans involved. Job by job, people disappear.

And if you cook burgers at McDonald's, or are an RN bar coding your patient's armband and the medicines you are giving him, be aware that out there there is someone working on a robot to replace you.

Humans are becoming superfluous. "Think!",cry the corporations, "How much money we could make, if we did not have to employ YOU!"

This is what I would say to the Library Lady.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Mock Cheddar Cheese Cauliflower and Baked Potato Soup

I found orange cauliflower at Kroger last week. I bought a head to make soup with. Since I also bought some Russet potatoes for half price as a Manager's Special, I decided they would go into the soup, even though they were baking potatoes. And so I baked two of them in foil for an hour at 400 degrees. The cauliflower florets, tossed with oil and flavored with sea salt, went into the oven with them. They were in a foil covered baking dish, and it only took 40 minutes to roast them.

I had thought of adding cheddar cheese to the soup. I did not have to. The addition of a 1/4 stick of butter and 3 heaping tablespoons of sour cream made the soup creamy enough. And it was creamy because pureeing the cauliflower and the potato I scooped out from the potato skins caused a kind of alchemy in the food processor bowl. I pureed the vegetables for several minutes until they were the consistency and the color of melted cheddar cheese. In fact, it was almost the consistency of a dough ball. I scraped it into 4 cups of chicken broth which was already heated on the stove, and to which I had added a few cloves of crushed garlic and sea salt to taste. I whisked the puree in briskly and thoroughly, and let it cook for 10 minutes on medium to cook the garlic. Then I took it off the heat, let it cool slightly, added the butter and the sour cream, and whisked them in.

A delicious creamy soup without cheese and with minimal sour cream and butter!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Against Open Visiting Hours in Hospitals

I will preface my comments by saying that I do believe in open visiting in Pediatrics, where no nurse can care for or comfort a child as well as its mother. I believe in very liberal visiting hours in Adult care, and open visiting when a patient is dying or there are other special circumstances.
If my patient has been married for sixty years, and has never spent a night away from his wife, I will not be the person who separates them. She is welcome to a cot and a tooth brush and a towel and washcloth.

But let us consider open visiting for everyone, all the time, for it is now the law of the land and happening everywhere. And I can speak to this ,for I recently left a hospital that had open visiting before it was a mandate.

Like all modern American hospitals, this one was a Petrie dish of unholy bacteria-VRE,MRSA,Clostridium Difficile,Acinetobacter. No number of reminders could keep isolation gowns on the families. Toddlers spent the night on cots with their mothers. Babies crawled on the patient's beds. The window sills looked like Mini-Marts- Six packs of Doctor Pepper, bags of cheetos and oreos, twizzle sticks, candy bars, half-eaten takeout in styrofoam boxes. One older man had moved a Coleman camping refrigerator into his wife's room. Many nights I felt as though I was nursing in a motel. And some families, mistaking it for one, grew angry when the lights had to go on when the nurse needed to check the patient, or the IV pump. Their cots might be cheek by jowl beside the patient's bed, making attempts to reach the suction catheter or the tube feeding pump hazardous. I cannot fathom how nurses in the small rooms in an ICU will be able to work.

Nurses argue that open visiting will disturb the patient's rest. Probably true. That it will sacrifice the privacy of other patients. Again, probably true. That it will make a mockery of Infection Control. Undeniably true.

Yet there are other dangers and other problems. In today's world , where hospitals provide free wireless to families with computers, a nurse may find every move she makes questioned and second guessed by people who do not care that they are distracting the one person they should never distract- the person who holds their loved ones well being in her hands. "What is that you're giving him", they ask. "How do you spell it? I don't want you to give that till I look it up."

A nurse I know who worked in a local trauma unit had a family tell her "Don't try to pull anything over on us. We watch all the medical shows."

Doctors can walk or run away, for they can always claim they have somewhere else they were supposed to be five minutes ago. Indeed I once saw a heart surgeon so averse to talking to his patient's family that he ran out the fire door and down the back steps to the loading dock to avoid them. Nurses cannot do this. We are omnipresent, expected to patiently answer the same questions over and over, to be endlessly available, always pleasant, always understanding, always presumed to have unlimited time.

Instead we are distracted and harassed by people and circumstances. Interrupted while trying to
prepare and give dangerous medicines. Interrupted when we need quiet and peace to think and make decisions. Interrupted by people who think Web MD makes them an expert on the level of a doctor and nurse.

Perhaps we should take open visiting to the next level. Why not allow the family in the Operating Room? Perhaps the surgeon could consult them on what size heart valve he needs to use. Maybe they could go to the Cardiac Cath Lab so they can tell the cardiologist how many vessels he needs to stent.

Absurd? Of course. But remember that in some hospitals families are allowed to stay when a patient is getting CPR and being resuscitated. All nurses know how violent this can be. Broken ribs, ruptured pulmonary arteries with so much blood spraying that the Intensivist has to block his face with a sheet. "This is absurd", he says, horrified at the pointlessness. Would he be able to stop, to do the decent thing, to say what needed to be said with a distraught family present?

Hospitals are serious places, not reality shows where everyone gets to act.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Every Thing Except the Kitchen Sink Custard Pie

Winter Squash season is almost over, and I had a lone butternut squash left sitting on a shelf. I decided to use it before it caught a fungus and shriveled up, as hard squash are sometimes known to do. I baked it last evening, and this morning dug out the pulp and put it into the food processor along with 3 cut up boiled carrots, a cooked medium sweet potato, and a cup of shredded canned pineapple. I added a couple tablespoons of vanilla sugar, 3 tablespoons of brown sugar, a pinch of cardamon and of nutmeg. I pureed everything, then tasted it for sweetness. Then I added 2 tablespoons of butter, 1/4 cup of heavy cream, and 3 eggs. I whipped the mixture in the processor for a few minutes, then poured it into a blind-baked pie shell. Then I baked it at 400 degrees until a skewer inserted came out clean- about 45 minutes.

It will be on the luncheon menu at Miss Betsy's Imaginary Tearoom.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

On Retirement

Retirement has been much on my mind lately, for though I have not, nor do I intend ,to retire from work completely, I have walked away from hospital nursing, which has been my profession for 40 years. I found that the aquifer of compassion and patience and diligence that had kept me green all those years had run dry. My temperament did not suit the modern hospital with its corporate ethics, its money centeredness , its exploitation of the dedication and the decent hearts of its nurses. My musings have led to these thoughts and this little essay on retirement.

On Retirement

To paraphrase one of Shakespeare's Great Clowns: "Some are born Retired. Some achieve Retirement, and some have Retirement thrown upon them".

Considering those of the last sort, who has not known or heard of the Company Man, loyal to his employer for decades, faithful to his employer's projects, who none the less finds himself discarded by a layoff or forced to take early retirement at an awkward time of life. For years he has headed his department, glad handed his way through his work days, been famous for the way, as he walked the halls, that he picked up stray pieces of paper or forgotten tissues. And then one day, he is no longer there-exiled from his work home to his street address. And then, within weeks, the people who knew him will be attending his memorial service, for he has had a heart attack and died.

Picture a small country store at a junction near Springville,Tennessee. Old men frequent it, and if by chance you stop one day to buy a barbecue sandwich after a morning spent birding at the Big Sandy National Wildlife Refuge, one may let you take his place in line. He wants you, who are going somewhere to see something,to get your fried fruit pie and sandwich first.

"Go ahead, Young Lady", he says, "I'm retired ,and I've got nothing but time". He says it as though time is his prison, to be endured by hours spent fishing, and mornings spent at the Old Man's table at the local McDonalds. He, in his minor way, is akin to Tennyson's Ulysses, who laments:

"How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life!"

As though the fishing pole or the golf club were sail enough to steer our way through the last years of our trek toward Eternity. Are they? I cannot say.

Then let us look next at men who are born retired, whether they are real men such as Henry David Thoreau or Jack Kerouac, or fictional alter egos of their creator, such as John D. McDonald's boat bum detective Travis McGee.

McGee, with his Boodles gin, his" broads", his house boat, the "Busted Flush", worked salvaging and returning lost valuables to desperate people . When the job was done, when he had the cash, he laid up, saying he was taking "another piece of my retirement.Instead of retiring at sixty, I'm taking it in chunks as I go along". While he was young enough to enjoy it.

Work was anathema to Henry David Thoreau, who did not want to own useless things or pollute his soul getting and spending. Even the work of reading a clergyman's biography, recommended to him by an aunt, was too much, leaving the old lady complaining "He stood half an hour today to hear the frogs croak, and he wouldn't read the life of Chalmers." A man who writes "Now I yearn for one of those old, meandering,dry, uninhabited roads, which lead us away from temptation" will not last long working at the pencil factory or the GM plant. He will never stab or claw his way to tenure, for he was born retired.

As Dionysian as Thoreau was temperate, Jack Kerouac preferred the wandering, Beat life to settled work, as did his friends Neal Cassady and Alan Ginzburg. He made Experience and Experiment his household gods, and being retired from birth, he pursued them, and drink, to an early grave, stopping along the way from time to time to write "On the Road" and "The Dharma Bums".

The work of achieving Retirement ,and finding in it a happy estate, fell to Charles Lamb, the English essayist. Never was a man happier than Lamb, when in his fifties, the counting house that had employed him twelve hours a day, six days a week ,fifty one weeks of the year since he was fourteen, gave him a pension and set him loose to wander a London he had known only on Sundays. Now rich in Time, Lamb feared squandering it. In his essay, "The Superannuated Man", he writes "I wanted some steward, or judicious bailiff, to manage my estates in Time for me". But he required no steward. He found that" that is the only true Time, which a man can properly call his own,that which he has all to himself". He called himself "Retired Leisure", and was content writing his essays and reading his beloved folios.

And even today, in a chance encounter at the Firestone Tire shop, one can meet a happy man of "Retired Leisure" who has his freedom , yet finds that the world still wants him. Wants his advice. Wants his experience, and is willing to pay him to drive from Charleston, where he worked for the police department all his life, to Nashville- to work as a consultant. Here he sits at Firestone, waiting for a blown tire to be repaired. He is a sparkling little old man in a brown leather bomber jacket. He wears an old time golf cap. He is 85 years old, and "They just won't let me stay retired", he says.

And perhaps we should plan, if we are lucky, to be like him. Retired, by all means, but still free to be out in the world seeking purpose and work that matters to us.