To Tanzania for lunch

George and I went to Tanzania for lunch today.

The fact that I’m writing this in my own living room is your tipoff that we didn’t board a plane to get there. Our ticket to this adventure was a Catholic Relief Services “rice bowl” that I found in the back of the church after Mass last week.

These rice bowls are, I think, a reincarnation of the old cardboard containers we Catholic Rice bowlschool kids once used to collect our pennies for the “pagan babies,” a term that’s politically incorrect now, I suppose. Back then, we knew what it meant, and it wasn’t disrespectful. Somewhere, across the globe, lived little kids who not only worshiped a god other than ours–maybe–but also lived lives devoid of the the basic necessities of life. They needed our help. All these years later they’re still there, and they still need help.

And so Catholic Relief Services still makes available these cardboard bowls with the slit on top for depositing spare change each day, or more generous portions of our grocery budget that remain when we choose to eat more simply for Lent. When we count up our largesse and send the money in after Easter, 75 percent will go to people in poor countries far away. Twenty-five percent remains in our own diocese to care for local needs.

All of which leads up to our Tanzanian trip. Included in the rice bowl is a calendar that says, “Lent is a journey. Where will it take you?” Besides the obvious spiritual places, this rice-bowl journey encourages solidarity with the poor of the world by including a recipe from a different country for each week of Lent. This week, it was Ugali and Bean Soup from Tanzania–along with the web address for a video about the country and how CRS helps there. (

“I think I’ll try this recipe on Friday,” I told George as we prepared our grocery list.

He raised one eyebrow.

“It might be good,” I cajoled.

“I suppose,” he said, always game for something new.

Twice after that he asked what we were doing for our Lenten, meatless meals on Friday.

“Oh yeah,” he quickly answered himself. “You’re doing that stuff.”

At the meat market, he found a nice piece of salmon in the cooler, and suggested it might make a good Friday meal. I hesitated.

“But you’re making that recipe,” he remembered. The salmon stayed on the shelf. Besides, it can’t be much of a penance to fix something that’s more expensive than the meatloaf I might ordinarily make. The money we didn’t spend on salmon will go in the rice bowl.

So here comes Friday, and out come the ingredients. Nothing fancy–except perhaps the coconut milk, which is the only ingredient that probably costs more for us than it does the people in Tanzania. But I wanted the authentic taste.

The ugali is just corn meal simmered in boiling water until the most of the water is absorbed, then formed into balls, placed in a bowl, and covered with the soup. It looked good, and it smelled good. All that remained was the taste test.Ugali with bean soup

George took the first spoonful. “Not bad,” he said.

I sampled mine, sure that a wad of corn dumpling was going to be less than impressive. But somehow, mixed with the coconut milk and the other ingredients, it developed a new flavor, and the more I ate, the better I liked it. George even had seconds. That’s when I really knew it had passed the test.

We cleaned our bowls, and I reached for the Lenten calendar. Next week, Gallo Pinto from Nicaragua. George’s eyebrow went up again, but I think we’re both approaching the next culinary trip with a little more confidence than this first time. Stay tuned.

If you want to try Ugali with Bean Soup for yourself, here’s the recipe that serves 4-6. You might also consider donating any money saved to a local food shelf, or to CRS itself.

4 cups water
2-1/2 cups cornmeal

Bean Soup:
1 small onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
4 T fair trade olive oil
1 t curry powder (I used the spicy kind)
1 t salt
1/4 t black pepper
1 tomato, chopped
2 16-oz. cans kidney beans, drained
3 cups unsweetened coconut milk

Directions for Ugali: Boil water in saucepan, then stir in cornmeal. Simmer until mixture is thick and water is absorbed. Stir often to prevent burning. Shape the mixture into round balls, one for each person.

Directions for Bean Soup: In a large pot, sauté onion and green pepper in oil until soft. Add curry powder, salt, black pepper and tomato. Simmer for 2 minutes, add beans and stir. Add coconut milk and simmer for 10 minutes on low heat. Serve over ugali.

Posted in Food, Lent, recipes, soup | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

AKA vitamin soup

Eat more fresh veggies, everyone says.

Well, there’s a problem with that. I don’t want to prepare and cook six different vegetables for one meal; and if there’s just two in the household, like ours, I don’t want to buy a huge variety to cook a little at a time and have them go bad in the fridge before I can get to them.

I think I’ve found the perfect solution. Since George and I love soup, I decided to make a big batch of vegetable soup, using almost as many vegetables as I could get, paying no attention to whether they supposedly go together. I also wanted a hearty,

Beef femur bones, in a pot of water, ready to make wonderful broth.

Beef femur bones, in a pot of water, ready to make wonderful broth.

healthy broth, and that’s when I remembered an article I read recently read about the benefits of bone broth, full of that life-giving marrow that primitive people instinctively knew to suck out of the bones.

My first stop at the grocery store was the meat department, where I asked a young butcher whether I could find beef bones.

“You want them for soup, or for your dog?” he asked, heading for the meaty soup bones and ox tails in the display.

“I want them for the marrow, for broth,” I said, and he got a sly little grin on his face.

“Then you want femur bones,” he said, switching direction and pointing to a refrigerated section with big, nearly bare bones. “They’re supposedly for dogs, so they’re cheaper, and”–he picked up a package–”you’ll get probably half a pound of marrow from this package.”

I thanked him, thinking to myself that there was a time when a person could get bones for free and the grocery store was glad to be rid of them. I also shuddered at the price I saw on those ox tails: $4.49 a pound. Good grief, hamburger is cheaper than that. But that’s another story.

Some of the fresh veggies that went into the soup.

Some of the fresh veggies that went into the soup.

Then I rounded up some veggies, leaving out things other people might add automatically, like corn and tomatoes. No special reason, just personal preference.

Back home, I put the bones in a pot with plenty of water and set them to simmering for a couple hours. Eventually, I used a knife to scrape out what marrow hadn’t melted into the mix, and removed the bones. Later, I’ll leave them in the woods for little critters to gnaw.

Then, I started cleaning and chopping veggies: celery, turnips, parsnips, carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, potatoes, rutabagas, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, garlic, onions and spinach (added at the very end when the soup is no longer cooking, so it simply wilts. The sweet potatoes tend to sweeten the soup a bit, so if you don’t like sweetness in a soup, leave them out.) While I chopped, I set some pre-soaked black beans to cook, adding them at the very end to provide protein.

And of course, the herbs. I have some hanging in my kitchen that I grew this past summer, so I crumbled sweet basil, parsley, sage, a little lemon thyme and some crushed red pepper flakes, and added salt and pepper to taste and a few bay leaves.

Now, with a simple bowl of soup, I have the vitamins from 14

Ready to serve: tasty, nutritious, economical "vitamin soup."

Ready to serve: tasty, nutritious, economical “vitamin soup.”

different vegetables as well as the vitamin-rich bone marrow. We can have a bowl of soup all by itself for a light supper, or add crackers, garlic toast, or even half a sandwich. We can have this as the vegetable with an otherwise meat-and-potatoes meal.

Best of all, we can feel just a little smug about finding a tasty, one-stop way to get lots of vegetables into our diet.

Posted in Food, nutrition, soup | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Absolutely nothing

My butt is going to take on the shape of this chair, I told George a few minutes ago.

He laughed, but couldn’t criticize, because his butt’s in danger of the same fate.

We promised ourselves after Mass today that we’d do exactly what we’re doing this afternoon: nothing at all. No laundry, no cooking, no shopping, no catching up on what we didn’t manage to finish yesterday. It’s Sunday, it’s our Sabbath, and we take that no-work-

Via Bing Images

Via Bing Images

on-the-Sabbath rule seriously.

Not just because it’s a rule, of course, but because it’s one of God’s gifts it makes sense not to refuse. It’s the day to pay Him a little extra attention and to re-create ourselves. So, it’s Mass in the morning, then out to lunch, a different place each Sunday, and a dog walk. In the summer, we’d probably take a drive, or ramble through the state park, or grab our cameras and go shooting. Today it’s 16°, gray and damp, and not very enticing.

Instead, we did inside stuff. Music is playing, George was napping a while ago. Before that he restrung a guitar, and I wrote letters to three of the diocese’s seminarians–a personal project that goes throughout the year. I read a couple of the newspapers I subscribe to, and prayed a Rosary. I’ve eyed my crocheting, sitting in a bag near my chair, but I think I’ll save that for later, while we’re watching a movie or an old television show. No TV now, though. It’s sort of an unwritten rule in our house that we don’t turn the boob tube on during the day, any day.

Sunday is a good time to reflect on things marvelous and mundane–on the week ahead

Via Bing Images

Via Bing Images

with its appointments and schedules; the upcoming meeting with a city alderman about a thorny issue and his disappointing vote; about the fluffy little birds in my feeder and how quickly they’re devouring seed on this frigid day; about the joy of sharing the silence with someone I love; about my sister’s health issues and the new challenges in her life; about the fact that it’s the International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking. (!)

We’ll rouse ourselves eventually, and meander to the kitchen for a little snack, which would be called supper on any other day, but which “lunch out” necessarily reduces to something much less. Besides, it’s ice cream night, and we both want to save room.

We deprive ourselves of ice cream the rest of the week, for health reasons, mostly. But we’re big believers in moderation, and neither of us believes anything should be left totally out of our diets. I promise, that ice cream tastes even better for being savored only one night a week.

Maybe this all sounds terribly boring. To us, it’s relaxing, because even though we’re retired, we have busy schedules. I’m a freelance writer, George is a freelance musician, and we both volunteer here and there. This is the day to indulge ourselves with the lack of activity that might be considered slothful on any other day of the week.

Then, tomorrow, we’ll work on getting these butts back to their normal shape.

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Dawn flight

Lean out, drop down, soar overhead.bird

Eyes closed,
Face the light.
Swim in warm air rivers
Through the morning light.

on golden swells.
Feel silent sky
Taste remnant dew
where dream impels.

Wider, higher, circle, soar.
Pierce the silent, empty sky
far from the shore.

Wings slowly beat a soft tattoo,
Feathers etch lazy lines
where golden hue will fade,
give way to blue.

The light…divine.
The sky…all mine.
To dip
And soar
And swim

Posted in Poem, Reflection | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Burgers ‘Chicago style’

It was to be a hamburger day, and I was trying to think of something different to do with mine.

There’s nothing wrong with a patty of ground chuck, simply seasoned with garlic, salt and pepper, and perhaps a little basil. But I’ve also stuffed them with blue cheese; mixed in crumbled bacon; and of course, topped them with sharp cheddar cheese.

Today, though, I remembered the jar of hot giardiniera sitting in the refrigerator, gift from a friend who lives in Chicago. Why not, I thought. Hot is good, giardiniera is wonderful. Hamburger is very accepting.

I had never heard of giardiniera until I moved to Chicago, IMG_1987but I became an instant convert. Giardiniera is an Italian or Italian-American relish of pickled vegetables in vinegar or oil. In Italy, it’s typically eaten as an antipasto or with salads. But Chicagoans have embraced it as a condiment, most often found as a topping on Italian beef sandwiches. Those sandwiches and the giardiniera alone made my time in Chicago worthwhile.

So, I eagerly reached for that jar of giardiniera, spooning perhaps three generous tablespoons of it onto a cutting board to be chopped, because the mix is is very chunky. My variety was in olive oil, the only way to go as far as I’m concerned, and it was spicy hot, not merely medium hot. Just the way I like it! I drained most of the oil off, but made sure some was left since it carried a bit of the flavor with it.

To the ground chuck–enough for two hamburgers for me and George–I added garlic, a little salt, pepper, and a healthy dose of cumin because I don’t mind at all combining seasonings from more than one culture. Then in went the giardiniera, and I shaped the patties.

IMG_1989I used a grill pan to cook them, and when I was finished I grilled top and bottom of a Brownberry’s “skinny bun” for George. I eat mine without a bun. Some cooked, mixed veggies, avocado chips, and this very simple meal was done. Then I waited for unsuspecting George to take that first bite.

“Whoo!” he said. Then he grinned. “WHAT did you put in these?” When I told him, he gave his famous response:


A couple days later I decided to make a meat loaf with the rest of the ground chuck. IMG_1991I bet you can guess what went in it!

(Now my dilemma is finding more HOT giardiniera. I located the medium variety at the grocery store, but that simply won’t do. Since Sturgeon Bay is close enough to Chicago that some of the big city’s cuisine can be found here, George has suggested asking our local pizza joint, which makes Italian beef sandwiches, if we can buy some giardiniera from them. I wonder if they sell it in bulk?)

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Saturday reverie

It’s 4:30, and I’m in my pajamas.

George just left. It’s his turn to have someplace to be today. This morning he agreed to forego our usual pancakes-and-bacon Saturday breakfast so I could get out of the house early and off to cover a story. When I returned, 4 hours later, he had made the bed, done the dishes, and baked a loaf of bread. He’s such a special guy.

Now he’s off to Appleton with another musician for a recording session. pickI miss him when he’s gone, but I’m glad he can do something dear to his heart: meet new music makers, and create tunes with them. In mid-winter, when gigs dwindle, it’s his personal cure for potential cabin fever.

The evening now belongs to me and Lady. She keeps me company, and I keep her content, sleeping in a relaxed beagle heap on the couch, happy to be home with at least part of her pack.

For supper I treat myself to fruit and cheese–cheese is my one weakness–eaten in front of the television, while I watch “Miss Potter” through Amazon streaming. I’ve seen it before, which is why I know I’ll like it now. Beatrix Potter, of Peter Rabbit fame, is treated with as much charm as she put into her famous children’s books. I remind myself to ask George if he’s seen it.

I close the blinds on all the windows as the evening progresses–not out of fear, but from a love of cozy closeness. Besides, it’s supposed to snow a bit tonight. I’d like to look out later and be surprised. The porch light is on in welcome for George when he returns, likely after I’ve already gone to bed.

Lady stirs and fixes round brown eyes on me in a steady gaze. Watching MomTreat time, of course. Every evening, when George and I fix our tiny snack, she gets her treats, too–two little morsels from each of us. Somehow, in mid-snore, she remembers what she’s due. Knowing that she’ll stare until she gets it, I get up. A cup of tea for me and a piece of orange-cranberry bread, and two little dog bones. Hopefully, she doesn’t miss the two she didn’t get from George.

The television is off, and I listen to the almost-quiet as I sip my tea. Our new humidifier hums gently in the kitchen, and the furnace breathes out its forced air now and then. I don’t mind the quiet. I let my thoughts drift, touching on the day’s events, the drive through farmland to the presentation I covered, the women of faith with whom I shared my morning, the plans for tomorrow, new recipes I’m eager to try (lemon linguini, served as a side with baked salmon–can’t wait!) and my end-of-day prayer time, when I talk it all over with God.

The phone rings and interrupts my thoughts. My son Justin, needing some cooking advice–which I couldn’t give him. Melting Velveeta cheese in a crock-pot? I’ve never done it. (Processed cheese is NOT my one weakness.) Try a double boiler on the stove top, I say. He laughs and says he’ll figure it out. Then I tell him about his aunt’s heart attack–she’s OK, now–and he promises to call her. Across the miles, across the country, family ties still twine about.

The dark outside is complete, my lovely little birds are all roosting somewhere warm and safe, Lady needs only one more trip outside, and then we’ll head for bed, where I lay awake for a time, whispering a prayer for George’s safe trip home, and ending with the familiar refrain from Compline:

“Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep, that awake, we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in his peace.”

moonWith half an ear, in subconscious mode, alert to the sound of keys in the door and quiet footsteps down the hall, I fall asleep. Day is done. Tomorrow awaits.

Posted in Lifestyle, Living with a dog, Music and musicians, Reflection | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Kay’s box

This past Christmas, my sister Kay made me a gift I had requested: a small, decorated, clay-covered “prayer box” to hold the names of people for whom I’m praying.

Tonight, Kay’s name is in the box.

Over and over, I say the words “heart attack” to myself, trying, but not entirely succeeding, in making it seem real. Kay is younger than I. We just saw each other this past October. We laughed like hyenas over silly things as we always do, we posed for photos, we cooked, we went to Mass, we waved cheerful goodbyes at the end of the visit.

With our cousins. Kay's on the right.

With our cousins. Kay’s on the right.

We may have arthritis and bad knees and need to lose some weight, we may be collecting Social Security while one of us is already on Medicare, but inside, in our heads, in the minds that guide our lives, we’re still 18. Life still amazes us, challenges us, even frightens us now and then. We still have plans to learn new things, to start new projects, to begin life-after-retirement careers. There are things we’re still learning about ourselves. Heart attacks aren’t part of our plans.

“We’re getting old!”our other sister wailed when she called to talk about Kay. “I don’t like it!”

We’re not really “old,” of course–although, when we were

On the cusp of adulthood. Kay's on the right.

On the cusp of adulthood. Kay’s on the right.

teens, people in their 60s seemed ancient. But things like heart attacks and high cholesterol, stiff joints, fixed incomes and dietary restrictions are now part of our lexicon. It feels strange. It doesn’t seem normal. It isn’t who we are.

We’re Monica-Kay-Denise, the threesome who grew up on Park Street in Muskegon, Michigan, right next door to our grandmother, in the shadow of our dad’s bakery. We followed each other through St. Joseph School, and then Catholic Central. Adulthood scattered us across the country, but we stayed each other’s best friends. We pray for and with each other. We’re always in close touch. And, much to everyone else’s dismay, we still laugh ourselves into tears and wheezings at the slightest provocation whenever we get together. We even did it at my dad’s funeral, scandalizing everyone there, I’m sure.

Heart attacks have no place in our story. The grim reminder of mortality, the stark admission that some day one of us will go first, are things that belong in the land of someday, not lurking in our phone calls today, in the now, in the realm of possibility.

Prayer boxBut–there’s that little prayer box. One thing we would all agree about is that the “realm of possibility” is always up to God. Kay’s name’s in the box, but her heart’s in his hands. All these years, it’s been a good place to be, and I don’t expect that to change.

Posted in Catholic, Faith-filled living, Memories | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Can you read this?


My grandmother's cookie recipes would not be nearly so precious if they'd been typed.

My grandmother’s cookie recipes would not be nearly so precious if they’d been typed.

My dad left a little of himself behind in this handwritten "formula" for raisin bread from the bakery he owned.

My dad left a little of himself behind in this handwritten “formula” for raisin bread from the bakery he owned.

Posted in Human behavior, Lifestyle, lost arts, Memories | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Days’ delights

One at a time they flicker down through the trees, so tiny I think they can never hold their own against winter’s fresh snow and cold. But they do.

I stand at my kitchen window, breakfast preparations on hold, as I watch then gather, flitting closer and closer until they finally make it to the platform feeders, or the house feeder, or the suet feeder against the tree.

I get anxious. I haven’t put new seed out yet. Three at a timeThey’re hungry, and have come to eat, come to this outdoor buffet they’ve learned to depend on. Somehow, though, they find food, scratching through the snow cover, digging through the empty hulls to find a seed or two left behind from yesterday.

Never mind our breakfast. The critters are coming and I can’t resist. I grab the “bird bowl” and fill it with sunflower seeds and shelled peanuts, throw some whole peanuts on top, slip into my boots and coat, and quietly open the door.

Wings flutter and they’re gone, leaving the feeders swinging and puffs of snow falling from where they’ve taken refuge on snow-covered branches.

ChickadeeI toss peanuts to the ground, empty the hulls from the platforms, and listen to the chick-a-dee-dee-dee from an unseen watcher and the screech of a blue jay, just waiting for me to get out of the way.

Back in the house, I go to the window again. For a few minutes, it looks empty of life out there as they test the wisdom of returning. Hunger wins. I stand still and let my eyes pick up the peripheral movement. A chickadee dive-bombs in a hit-and-run Wary visitorattack on the feeder, grabbing a goodie and darting off. A nuthatch does a head-first descent down the tree, makes a stab or two at the suet, heads for the feeder for a shelled peanut. A junco roots through seeds fallen to the ground, a flicker clings to the side of a platform and gently chooses a peanut piece. A little downy woodpecker, house finches, barely recognizable pale goldfinches–they all flit, flutter, dash in, dash out.

Masked visitorSquirrels show up, too–fat, furry bodies with white tufts behind their ears. One buries his peanuts in the snow so he can hurry back for more. SquirrelEven crows swoop in to dine on peanuts thrown in the front of the house to make smaller birds feel safe. They have to beat the blue jays, though, who swoop and grab while the crows are still sizing up the situation.

This morning ritual is precious, one of the first delights of the day.

Posted in Animal antics, Dealing with winter, feeding birds | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

New Year’s Eve, and all is well

In the days throughout my childhood and young adult years, when I faithfully kept a daily diary, Dec. 31 was special.

On that day, as I crawled into bed, I did my yearly summation. I carefully looked for significance, for meaning, for continuity, for failure, for promise found in each day of the now-finished year. I tried to be profound, and I was always hopeful. Even as a youngster, I believed God had his hand firmly on my life and that all would be well.

I don’t summarize any more, but newspapers do. “The year in review” they call it, which is really just a way to fill space in the holiday season when most of their staff wants time off and no one wants to do interviews or attend meetings. I know; I used to do that for a living.

Those reviews aren’t too bad, especially in the local paper, as they focus on the triumphs as well as the tragedies. Magazines and online sources are worse; their summations seem to point at one tragedy after another, as if our lives have been defined by neglect, violence, betrayal and hopelessness.

How depressing. And how inaccurate. Even where there are tragedies–like the persecution and massacre of Christians and other minorities by ISIS–there are the generous responses of other human hearts, as if they’ve been waiting for that need to reach out.

meHearingJust in my own town, reaction against a proposed hotel has brought together people of all ages, all walks of life and all religious and political persuasion, uniting for a common cause, agreeing to be civil and reasonable toward the opposition, supporting and using each other’s gifts, making and appreciating new friends. Whatever happens with the hotel, this large group of people will forever after have an affinity for each other in one degree or another.

While some bemoan the fact that they can do nothing in the face streetof worldwide need and so don’t even try, others makes loans as small as $25 to third-world people trying to start businesses through KIVA; Catholic Relief Services is first on the scene wherever tragedy strikes, leveraging my few dollars into mountains of help because so many work together.

Over the year, young students from my church have made mission trips to share with the less fortunate in other parts of the country; thousands of pounds of food have been donated to the local food shelf; dozens of quilts have been made for the needy; mounds of toys and gifts piled up under Christmas trees in churches all around town, to be distributed to those whose luck needed a little boost.

Kids skateboarded in a new park built through sweat, fund raising and cooperation. The Land Trust acquired more land that will remain public to be enjoyed for years into the future. Women cooked and baked and took the results to churches for funerals to help feed the grieving. Musicians played at nursing homes, adults read to first-graders in Reading Buddy programs. Neighbors watched each other’s pets during vacations, while others provided rides, shoveled snow, or just shared a cup of coffee with someone who was feeling low.

manboyThe tragedies do occur as life unfolds. And where is God? He’s there with OUR helping hands, whenever we respond to his quiet nudge to be part of the solution, to speak softly, to be kind where it’s undeserved, to support rather than tear down, to be patient with the unlovable. I see it all around me. I choose to focus on those things.

If I were still writing a yearly rosarysummation of my own life, my heart would swell with the gratitude I feel at the evidence of God’s hand everywhere, every day. Faith, hope, love and God’s presence are the strongest lights in my world.

And, icing on the cake, I have a wonderful husband to share it all with. So yes, 2014 was a wonderful year. I await 2015 with eagerness. I wonder what gifts and opportunities await.

Posted in Current issues, Faith-filled living, hope, Human behavior, Reflection | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment