salad

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All I wanted was a salad. I’ve been living on popcorn and bananas for two days while I rebuilt Windows and Microsoft Office. Something green sounded really good. Also the sun was shining.

Back Yard Burger apparently went on break and just left the people in the drive-through to sit and wait on her return.

McDonald’s was stacked up so I tried to go in and order at the counter.

But the door was locked. Also they don’t even have salads anymore.

I somehow drove right past the Wendy’s on Yates.

Is it even still there?

So I ended up in Germantown. They were out of the salad I wanted but the one I ended up with was quite good.

The lettuce was very fresh and the chicken was still hot. The tea was also freshly made but they were out of straws so I’m waiting until I get home to drink it.

I mean, my antivirus software assassinated my laptop last week so I’m not very trusting of the cosmos right now. Gravity could fail at any moment.

The first quiet spot I found to rest and eat lunch happened to be Germantown Cemetery.

I like dead people. They are sometimes surprised to see me but they never turn me away and they don’t bug me too much. I see one guy is a Mason. Another has a plinth but no monument. Maybe that is the monument.

Another has a fine looking obelisk but I will have to return to investigate when it’s not so marshy. The recent storms have left piles of debris in the parking lot that look like giant wads of freshly spat tobacco and I am reluctant to tread there.

Plus I have three more hours of CNN in Ukraine to edit.

The dearly departed glance at one another and, one by one, slowly fade from view. And I know what they’re thinking: extra greeters will be needed in Europe’s corner of Heaven tonight. So that’s where I’m sending all the spare beats of my heart for today, just in case it will help.

❤

Photo by Steve Masler, June 19, 2015.

strange times

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I gave up trying to go back to sleep at 4 am and made coffee. I usually only have these wide awake, wandering wee hours in the spring.

To say they are strange times seems kinda duh.

I opened a window in the living room to let in the cool fresh air. Then I wandered out onto the porch in my bare feet, in my summer nightie, and caught the moon backlighting the clouds.

About two miles away, in what used to be a highly desirable residential area, there is gunfire every few days. Yesterday someone on Nextdoor found half a dozen spent casings in their yard. But it’s quiet now.

I’m just about over my cold. But it wasn’t a cold. I don’t know what it was. Fever, chills, headache, yadda. I’m not concerned. I won’t be seeing any of you anytime soon so you shouldn’t be, either.

I can hear a train running alongside Poplar Avenue like I’ve heard a gazillion times. It sort of roots me to the moment, reminding me that some things are still the same. And the moon is still the same, though barefoot photography in December is rather new for me.

I think about some of my younger friends, who are fighting time the way the gangs in Yorkshire are fighting each other, desperately, with no apparent effect other than distress and grief.

Let me tell you, from the winter of my life, I would not trade these quiet moments of wonder and contentment to be 40 again.

Strange times indeed. And I’m glad for them.

Happy Tuesday, y’all ❤

Braised Pork & Rainbow Chard

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First of all, that package of meat labeled “country style pork ribs” — they are not ribs. They’re not even all that close to the ribs.

I don’t know why they call them ribs. Maybe because they kind of look like short ribs. But it’s a good way to get a decent portion of pork shoulder without having to buy a whole one.

Second, let me tell you about fond. If you know what it is, just stand by for a minute. When you get to the step where you’re taking the cooked meat out of the pot, there’s this residue at the bottom. It can be a dark, gooey liquid or just bits of stuff left behind.

That’s the fond. Its whole name is the French term fonds de cuisine and, unless it’s badly scorched, it is like magic for a sauce, a gravy or whatever this is we’re making.

If you don’t have time for all this and you want to skip to the end, just use some leftover pork roast or pot roast or even shrimp. It’s all about the chard anyway. Heat some oil in a large kettle on the stove. Chop up an onion and a bell pepper. Prep the chard as in step 12. Saute the onion until it starts to soften. Then pick up at step 16.

OK, you may proceed. First, gather your equipment.

cast iron Dutch oven or other large oven-safe pot/baking dish with lid

tongs or meat fork

cutting board

chef’s knife

heat safe plate

pot holders, obviously, unless you are Superman

INGREDIENTS

  • cooking oil
  • 2 lb country style pork ribs
  • seasoned salt, pepper and paprika (or whatever salt/spice/herb you like)
  • 1 t ginger paste (optional; can substitute ground ginger)
  • 1 T minced garlic
  • 1 large onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 2 bunches rainbow chard
  • 1-2 cups broth, stock of your choice or water (I used beef stock)
  • 1 T fish sauce (optional)
  • Base: cooked pasta, cheese grits or rice
  • Condiments: chopped cilantro, chopped peanuts, sambal oelek (Indonesian chili paste)

DIRECTIONS

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Put a heat-safe bowl of water on a separate rack in the oven. This will help keep the meat from drying out.

2. On the stovetop, heat 2-3 T. oil.

3. While oil is heating, remove pork from package and place on cutting board. Salt and pepper all sides and rub with paprika or whatever.

4. When oil starts to shimmer, add ginger paste and garlic and cook for about a minute.

5. Add pork and sear on all sides to a nice brown crust, 1-2 minutes per side. Lower heat if meat starts to scorch.

6. While pork is browning, wipe off cutting board and cover with a couple of paper towels.

7. When pork is ready, remove from pot and drain on paper towels. Leave pot on hot burner and do not turn off the stove.

8. Loosen fond slightly at the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon or spatula. Add a little oil if you need to, about 1-2 T. Add half the chopped onion and stir to coat. Then put the pork back in the pot, on top of the onion.

9. Pour in 1 c. stock.

Pause for a moment to give thanks for the fond. If you’ve used an enameled cast iron Dutch oven, this is a magical moment. Just appreciate the sound, the smell and the way it looks when the fond melts into the stock and sizzles to the surface. This is my favorite thing in cooking.

10. Turn off the stove, cover the pot and put in the oven for an hour. Check every 30 minutes or so and add stock as necessary to keep meat from drying out. Add water to that bowl on the other rack if it’s all evaporated.

11. While meat is cooking, rinse off cutting board. Wash, seed and dice bell pepper.

12. Separate stems from the chard leaves and discard any tough stems or yellowed leaves. Wash stems and leaves under running water and pat dry. Slice stems into 1″ pieces and chop or tear leaves into mouth-sized pieces.

Helpful tip: you can leave all these vegies on the counter while the meat is cooking unless you have dogs like Salvador and Lenny. They will eat anything. So you might need to put your vegies in the fridge until step 14.

13. After the meat has cooked for an hour, reduce oven temp to 275. Then check every 20-30 minutes to see if the meat is tender. Uncover to reduce the stock if there’s too much (more than 1 to 1.5 cups). Otherwise, add more stock if you need to and replace the lid.

14. When meat is FINALLY done, remove from the pot with tongs and put on the plate to rest. Put the pot back on the stovetop burner and turn on high. When stock begins to bubble, add the rest of the chopped onion and braise until it begins to soften.

15. Meanwhile, pull or cut meat into bite-sized pieces if desired.

16. Add the bell pepper and the chard stems to the onion in the pot and toss together. Braise for a minute or two longer.

17. Then add the meat back to the pot.

18. Stuff as much of the chard leaves as you can into the pot. You might have to do this in batches.

Cover the pot and turn heat to medium-low and cover.

Every 2-3 minutes, stir the pot to move the wilted leaves to the top until all the leaves have been braised. It doesn’t take long.

This is a good place to check for seasoning, add what you need, including a tablespoon of fish sauce.

19. Plate your food by ladling onto a bed of hot pasta, cheese grits, rice or nothing. Add a dollop of sambal, a sprinkle of cilantro and a spoonful of peanuts.

20. Dig in. Don’t burn your tongue.

booster

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maryoliver.wingsIn a rare moment of clarity I scheduled my booster shot for when I knew I’d be off the next day. My reaction is much milder than from my second shot but I’m going to stay in bed and drink hot tea until it passes.

The beautiful man in the blue scrubs at the Kroger pharmacy was clearly stressed but treated everyone with kindness and joked with staff and customers alike, even the ones who were maskless.

He cleaned the vial as if he was about to vaccinate his own child. I did what I usually do with people and asked him how he was doing.

He said he just wished it was over and things would go back to normal. I told him that, when I dream, no one is wearing masks. He found that really interesting and he seemed to brighten a little bit, reflecting on his own recent dreams.

I felt the bump of the syringe but not the sting of the needle and I complimented him on his technique. He said he had given about 10,000 injections so he had gotten pretty good at it. He probably meant it as hyperbole but I did the math and that’s about 14 a day so he’s probably not too far off.

I wasted a minute of his time by sending him on a search for my vaccination card when I had already pocketed it. I apologized for my mistake and thanked him for his service. I wished everyone a Merry Christmas and the response was what you might expect from people who are just plain worn out.

I see you, cashier with the pink braids. I see you, postal worker with the wire rimmed glasses. I see you, produce clerk, apologizing for the empty bins. I’m grateful for you and I hope your jobs eventually get easier. I think they will if the Kroger guy keeps on giving 14 shots a day. Thank you for your service and stay well.

Happy Friday, y’all ❤ #AngelsEverywhere

trust the process (2)

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Queen of Cups

art from biddytarot.com

About once a year, when I’m particularly stuck, depressed or just want to run away, I will do a random Hoyle deck draw of three cards and then do a tarot interpretation using:

hearts : cups
diamonds : pentacles
clubs : wands
spades : swords

So I had drawn the Queen of Cups, who appears to be far and away my totem. In some illustrations she even has a mermaid tail, as do all Capricorns; though in tarot, cups represent the water signs.

But her characteristics are:

emotional receptivity
relational fluidity
intuition
psychic ability

This from nylon.com, a site I’d never seen before.

Nylon.com says Capricorn’s card is The Devil, “driven to succeed but chained by earthy expectations.”

And that rings a bell.

“The Devil, too, wants you to know what is and what isn’t right for you — but he wants you to find out the hard way.”

Well, that pretty much sums up my life.

Turns out nylon.com is a pop culture and fashion site. So IDKAT.

Wasn’t sure what “relational fluidity” meant, so I Googled it. Now Google was convinced I meant “relationship fluidity,” and most of those hits pertained to sex, especially bi/trans sex.

So I pressed for my original query (butt out, Google) and those hits brought up papers on social rhythms, autonomy and identity. Now we’re talking.

I think, for me personally, the attribute of relational fluidity means that I relate to all kinds of people, not just the ones mother liked.

Oxford defines the pros and cons of fluidity:

smooth elegance or grace
vs
unsettled, unstable, changeable

— so presumably the Queen of Cups reversed.

Being naturally wary of things deemed superstitious (but intrigued by them nonetheless), I roll everything around in my head like a ball of dough until it becomes smooth and looks like just one single thing.

I’m reminded of what Colin used to say, that the universe is just one big thing doing one big thing.

Googling that quote takes me nowhere relevant, which is why we need librarians.

Also it’s vintage Colin and we don’t have a lexicon for him yet, as far as I know. Maybe I should build one.

But I digress.

I like to say I trust the process, even when I can’t tell what it is and where it’s taking me. And that’s never been truer than now.

Last night I moved from my bedroom to the guest room because it’s better insulated from the sound of drag racing on I-240. I had the sense of staying in an Airbnb — cozy and impersonal.

So I thought, what if instead of running away, I just pretend I’m already where I want to go?

For one, it would be a lot cheaper.
Two, I’m still not entirely settled from the last move.

So staycay starts today, albeit a working one. Gotta save up for when I truly do run away.

Curry Tikka Soup

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I’m doing this quasi-keto thing, experimenting with a new product I found at Sprouts. I didn’t like my first pass with it so I added some things. I’m happy now. Really wish I had some warm naan to go with but I’ll save that for Splurge Day.

Now I was completely prepared not to like riced cauliflower. But I’m amazed at what a great substitute it is for regular rice, at least in this dish. Actually, I think this soup would be marvelous over grits but that’s another recipe.

INGREDIENTS
1 package (4-5) fresh skinless boneless chicken thighs
1 large yellow onion
1 jar Maya Kaimal Tikka Masala Indian Simmer Sauce
1 package frozen riced cauliflower, steamed, buttered and Season-All’d
1 c heavy cream (I actually used a can of Nestle Media Crema)
1 c sliced mushrooms, sauteed
1 t green curry paste
olive oil
cilantro garnish

DIRECTIONS
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Spray a large baking dish with oil.

Wash and pat dry chicken thighs, dice into large chunks.
Peel and dice onion into large chunks.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet on the stovetop. Add chicken to brown, turning once. Season with salt, pour into baking dish and set aside.

Add onion to hot skillet and sauté until translucent. Spread evenly over chicken.

Pour simmer sauce over chicken and onion and cover dish with lid or foil. Bake 45 minutes/until tender. Remove from oven.

Strain chicken and onion from dish. Pour hot simmer sauce into medium saucepan. Return chicken and onion to dish.

Stir green curry paste into hot simmer sauce until well blended, then add cream. Heat just to simmer. Stir in sauteed mushrooms. Pour mushroom sauce evenly over chicken and onions and fold together.

Scoop a mound of cauliflower into a large soup bowl and ladle chicken and sauce over the top. Garnish with cilantro. Serve with warm naan bread or accompany as you wish. Or not.

Serves 3-4.

Retail Reverie

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Retail Reverie

I couldn’t get it all at Kroger, so I went to Walmart. I was just too tired to shop two stores.

It was like entering a church. People were solemn. I’d call it a skeleton staff for a Friday evening, more checkouts closed than open. Some of the produce bins were empty, no potatoes or onions left.

I didn’t care. Whatever I bought I’d have to carry upstairs and my feet hurt. So I stuck to my very short list. I was done in no time.

Checking out, though….

Paper products used to be here. Wonder how long these shelves have been bare. — at Walmart Cordova.

The lines were 15 deep. Carts were as full as folks could get them. Then a lane opened up on the opposite side of the store. I headed that way as nonchalantly as I could, not wanting to set off a stampede.

My cashier’s name is Judy. She would not make the cut at Aldi. She bagged every single item as if it were a carton of eggs. She’s older than me and she has osteoporosis. She should be at home in a big soft chair.

This concrete floor is getting harder by the minute. I do some stretches next to my cart, which I have placed strategically to keep the customer behind me from breathing down my neck.

This is not new behavior for me. My personal space just has a much bigger radius in Walmart.

“Customer needs assistance in fragrances,” the intercom says.

I guess it’s important to smell good in a crisis. The shopper behind me, who is still close enough for me to hear, says something about needing perfume when the toilet paper runs out.

The woman in front of me is wearing a white wig that is in braids down her back. Over that she has a rasta-looking slouchy hat. A few minutes ago she was in a good mood, chatting on her phone. But now her debit card has been declined.

Suddenly I inhale a cloud of perfume. I guess that customer got their assistance. Must have tried every tester on the counter.

I really need to cough. But I read somewhere elbows are no good. Now we’re supposed to cough into a tissue. No more elbows. But I don’t have a tissue, just a grimy hoodie sleeve. So I cough into my armpit. Maybe I’ll start a trend.

The woman with braids has been digging into her bag for at least two minutes, sliding coins across to Judy, who has sat down on a stool to wait. I’ll bet Judy’s feet hurt, too. I step forward.

“How much do you need, honey?” I ask.

Her smile has some teeth missing and it is sheepish but genuine, grateful for my concern. She apologizes.

“That’s OK,” I reply and pat her shoulder. “We’re all just doing the best we can.”

She pulls her cart away in triumph but not before thanking everyone in the queue for their patience.

“Hi, Judy,” I greet the cashier as I pull out my credit card.

I’m glad I have a credit card. I’m glad there’s money on it. I take the bags as she fills them and pull my card from the machine.

“You have a good evening,” she says as I walk away.

I know it will be better than hers. I get to go home now and say hello to what’s left of my toilet paper.

Miss Beulah

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It is 1957. I will be 4 soon. I am in the playroom at the department store. My mother is shopping for a dress.

All the toys and books are for babies and I am bored. My pink dress is scratchy and I cannot sit still.

I wander out the door and down the hallway. There are lots of doors and one is open. I look inside.

A man sitting at a desk says, “Well, hello there, young lady.”

He walks out from behind the desk and picks me up. He sets me on top of a big metal box with handles on it.

His hair is slick and oily and seems too small for his head. He looks at me like I am some kind of bug. I think he would like to crack me open like an egg and see what is inside me.

“Mr. Crenshaw?” A woman’s voice comes from the doorway.

“Is something wrong?” she asks.

The man says, “Hey, Miss Beulah. This little girl was rubbing her eye. I thought she might have something in it.”

“I’ll take care of her, Mr. Crenshaw,” Miss Beulah replies.

She pushes past the man and scoops me up. I have never seen anyone like her. One of her arms is as big as my body. Her skin is dark brown and she smells like she was just starched and ironed. Also there is something inside her that feels like iron. She does not seem to like me much. But I think I like her.

One thing is for sure: she doesn’t like Mr. Crenshaw.

She holds me without moving. I don’t move, either. We both watch as Mr. Crenshaw ambles toward the store and out of sight.

She takes me back to the playroom and sets me on a bench. She looks at me for a minute.

She says, “Don’t go out there again.”

But I have already decided I won’t.

When my mother comes to pick me up, I run to hug her. Then I turn around and run to Miss Beulah and I hug her.

Miss Beulah jumps. She looks scared for a minute and she looks at my mom. Then she looks at me and her eyes get red and shiny.

“Goodbye, baby,” she says. “You be good now.”

I will try.

field trip

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on the Memphis side of the Hernando de Soto Bridge

Maybe a field trip to Marion wasn’t such a good idea, I thought, stuck in the stop-and-slow on the Hernando Bridge, bouncing ever so slightly from a cosmos of 18-wheelers. But I really needed some big sky and wide open spaces.

The Big Muddy is murkier than usual and has surged deep into West Memphis. But the corn is up, ears already fat and round, the size of a man’s fist. Rice fields are exuberantly green from so much rain. And there’s more coming, overhead clouds plump and milky enough to satisfy Howard Hughes.

I don’t know why the tree died but its skeleton is like silver in the sun,
reaching up as if to reanimate itself as a still living thing.
It could happen on a day like today.

I meet some people who are happy to see me and my money. At a tiny charity shop, I buy a whole bag of stuff for friends I haven’t met yet. On a nearby shelf, a radio is tuned to a talk show. The guest tells her host that he must be sanctified for his works to be good.

I decide this is Cheat Day and drive to a shady parking lot to eat my drive-thru burger and fries. Across the street is an older house I would love to own. I picture myself on the porch, looking at paint swatches for the trim.

Heading back, I take the old route home on a 2-lane, where there is hardly any traffic. I wish I could play hooky for the rest of the day. But work is waiting and I’m glad for it. And my whole body is smiling.

Improv Tom Kha Gai

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I had most of the ingredients for tom kha gai but I just didn’t have time to skip out to the Asian grocery for traditional elements of this soup, like kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass. Shiitake, oyster or maitake mushrooms weren’t available at my grocery but baby bellas are a nice substitute.

I had bought a jar of almond butter that had way too much oil floating on the top. So I poured it off and used it to saute my onions. SUCH amazing flavor. But ordinarily I would use EVOO.

There is no substitute for fresh ginger and cilantro. There just isn’t. So if you have them, use instead of ground spices. Sauté a sliced 1/2-inch nub of fresh ginger with your onions and add a handful of chopped cilantro at the very end.

If you want to use precooked chicken, add it at the mushroom stage.

Sambal oelek is my favorite way to add heat to a dish. But you can use red pepper flakes, Louisiana Hot Sauce or sriracha sauce as you like. I would advise not adding so much that you drown out the other spices.  But, hey, this is your soup, you can do whatever you want.

If you have more people than soup or want to stretch it out, ladle it over a bowl of rice noodles or vermicelli. IMHO, nothing is finer than finding noodles at the bottom of my soup.

INGREDIENTS
extra virgin olive oil
1 large sweet onion, coarsely chopped
1 large red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 fresh whole chicken breast, cubed
1 cup chicken broth
1 can coconut milk
2 cups sliced baby bella mushrooms

2 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground coriander

2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sambal oelek, more or less.  Or none.

salt to taste

DIRECTIONS
Heat olive oil over high heat in a Dutch oven and sauté onion for 2-3 minutes. Add peppers and sauté another minute or so until the onions are soft.

Add cubed chicken and cook just until all the pink disappears. Add a little more oil if you need to. Don’t overcook. It will finish during the simmer phase.

Stir in chicken broth and coconut milk and when it reaches a simmer, turn down the heat to continue simmering.

In a small bowl, stir together brown sugar, ginger and coriander. Stir in soy sauce, lime juice, rice vinegar and sambal. Add a couple of tablespoons of the simmering broth to the bowl and stir well. Then add all this back to the pot and stir.

When your chicken has simmered for 10-15 minutes, add the mushrooms and simmer another 5-10 minutes. Then turn off the heat.

I like to let mine rest for 10-15 minutes. It’ll still be hot enough to eat but that allows the spices to continue to bloom.

Taste your broth and add salt, lime juice, soy sauce or sambal as you like. Garnish with fresh cilantro if you have it.