It’s a killer

I never thought I’d miss the squirrels, but I do.

They may be back eventually, but for now, I think there’s a big red X on our yard and they’re all staying away. I feel sorry for them, despite all the raiding they’ve done at our bird feeders.

The reason for their desertion streaked past us as we drove in our driveway the other day. It was a cat, a dark charcoal gray, lean and mean, squirrelwith the limp form of a squirrel clutched in its bloody jaws. One of our squirrels. One that we’ve fed every day, chased out of the bird feeders, allowed in the bird feeders, and laughed at for performing squirrel gymnastics.

I was outraged, but the cat took off running, firm grip on its prey. When I got to our door, I glanced at the empty feeders, still swinging. And then I saw the saddest sight: Squirrels, huddled here and there in the very top of the maple tree where they had run for safety. A couple chattered in that way they do when annoyed, and flicked their tails over and over in agitation. Most, however, sat quietly, afraid. In the branches below were the little brown birds who usually hang around all day. They were flitting and fluttering, but staying well out of reach of marauding ground prowlers.

An hour later, they were all still there, in the tree, afraid to come down. Later in the day I noticed they’d vacated the premises entirely, all of them, squirrels and birds, and things stayed empty.

I suspect that cat is feral because I doubt any well-fed house cat is going to bother tackling a squirrel. I also saw the same cat today, chasing a crow off road kill and running off with the carcass in its jaws. I suppose I should feel sorry for the cat, fending for itself in this cold and bleak winter.

turkeys-in-the-yardBut I don’t feel one bit sorry. I feel like a traitor, like an accomplice to the crime since I’m the one who put out the food–in effect, the bait–that lured the critter to our yard. And even worse, I suspect he’ll be back. If I catch him there won’t be a warm welcome.

Today the birds are back, but not the squirrels. Perhaps the ordeal will fade from their little brains in time and they’ll return, driven by the easy pickin’s in our yard–the same easy pickin’s we’ve provided for that blasted cat.

Maybe the solution is the flock of wild turkey hens that visits regularly. tillieIf I could work up a gang of attack turkeys, no critter-killing cat would trespass in our yard. Or maybe I should stake our beagle Tillie out there now and then. The cat wouldn’t stand a chance.

Posted in Animal antics, beagles, feeding birds, nature, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Window peeking

“Oh look, a chickadee just landed at the platform feeder–nope, it’s gone, but a nuthatch nuthatchnutis there now…was there, he grabbed a peanut and got chased out by a fat squirrel…”

It sounds like the running commentary at an avian sporting event, and it is a bit like a show. Every morning, while we’re fixing breakfast or doing dishes, the critters arrive for their handouts, flitting, fluttering, fighting and feasting on the goodies we put out just outside our window.

I watch a little downy woodpecker peck, peck, pecking away at a frozen piece of suet, look away, then glance hairyback to see that he has suddenly bulked up as if on steroids, still pecking. His super-sized lookalike is just the hairy woodpecker, of course, big enough to chase little cousin away. But his reign at the suet lasts only until the red-bellied woodpecker demands his share.

A cardinal lands on the swing frame and watches, head darting in all directions, always leery. The food lines are full, and he likes plenty of space when he grabs a treat. For just a moment, one feeder clears, and he takes his chance, swooping, grabbing a sunflower seed and leaving again in a bluejayred blur, while down below, a blue jay lands, claims a peanut-in-the-shell, then flashes up to a tree limb where he cracks it open and eats without being disturbed.

Nearby, at the standing-room-only millet diner, a variety of nondescript little brown birds line up. Some are on the cardinalperches, some wait on the deck railing, sitting on their feet to keep them warm; others flutter about the eaters in the hopes of forcing them to vacate their seats. A few hopefuls gather on the cedar hedge below, waiting for fallout or a chance to snap up a suddenly empty perch. A lot of people don’t like those little birds; not fancy enough, I guess. But hedgeI find them endearing, and since no one else wants the millet, I welcome them.

All the varieties give way to the squirrels in an explosion of wings, of course. They leap onto the feeders like the acrobats they are, sending them dipping and swaying while they expertly ride the turbulence, oblivious to the baleful glances of the birds or my own shouted protests. climbing-quirrel-collageI don’t protest for long. The winter wind ruffles their tails, they hunker down, and I concede that it’s cold and they’re hungry, too.

Everyone gives way when the turkeys arrive, and even the squirrels don’t argue with them. Still, big as they are, they are the most cautious, pecking and looking, heads down, heads up, alert even to movement from the window as I try to shoot a photo. A squirrel moves in, crawling flat as if in supplication, but gives up quickly, outnumbered and outgunned. The turkeys-2turkeys like the peanuts, but they like the cracked corn better, and since the other birds disdain it, they have it all to themselves.

The feeding frenzy continues and then suddenly, they’re all gone, responding to some subliminal signal only the critters comprehend. For the time being. The little brown birds will return to the millet regularly, the squirrels will hog the feeders on and off all day. The woodpeckers and nuthatches, in their backwards march down the tree, will steadily chip away at the suet.

Every day the show is at once brand new, and the same. Every day it entertains and amuses. And every day I know I have these critters to be grateful for.

Posted in Animal antics, feeding birds, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Happy mysterious new year

George and I won’t be staying up until midnight tonight. 2017 will have to usher itself in without any help from the Sawyns.

You’re thinking that has something to do with our age. Two old fuddy duddies whose biggest excitement is getting a new leash for our dog or finding a good movie on Netflix. I confess those things are pretty exciting, but age hasn’t a thing to do with it.

I lost my interest in midnight even before I was in high school, back in the days when the hours beyond bedtime were exotic and alluring. They were in the grownup’s territory where exciting things probably happened, or why would they be so determined to get us kids out of the way.

And then, one year, I had the chance to see for myself. After much begging on my part, my parents agreed that I could stay up until midnight and greet the new year. Their yes was the key into that forbidden world, thus far denied to the in-bed-by nine crowd.

Everything was in place. The television was on, snacks were spread out, my cousin Karen, invited to share in the adventure, was clad in pajamas as I was, and we settled down to wait for the magic to begin, to experience for ourselves the mysterious moment when one year fades into another.

It didn’t happen. The mysterious moment was to remain a mystery for a few more years yet, because neither Karen nor I could stay awake that long.sleepy I tried, convincing myself that I was having fun. But when sandpaper eyes gave way to a slight headache, the truth won out: I’m not a night person. I gave up and went to bed. The next morning, the new year had arrived without my help.

I’ve remained not-a-night-person my whole life. When the sun goes down, so does my desire to savor, explore,  cavort or burn that midnight oil. All I want to do is go to sleep. Which is to say, during the winter months, I’m getting sleepy around 5 p.m. A party girl I’m not.

So, this New Year’s Eve will be no exception. I’ll go all out and indulge in a glass of wine, maybe satisfy my sweet tooth with usually forbidden treats, and probably head to bed around 10:30.

George will be with me. So will Tillie. In the morning we’ll awake to 2017, and for me, its arrival will still seem like a mysterious event. And who doesn’t love a mystery?

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But no catsup, please

Today is Wednesday which means, at our house, it’s French toast for breakfast.

But when I woke up this morning, French toast didn’t sound appealing. Maybe my system is surfeited with sugar, thanks to all the Christmas cookies, the lemon-meringue pie and the pumpkin pie that we’ve splurged on–so far–this Christmas season. Adding maple syrup to the mix felt, to my stomach, like overkill.

“Didn’t you tell me the Europeans put catsup on their French toast?” George reminded me as we lay in bed having our pre-get up conversation. “Maybe they do theirs savory.”

I mumbled “egads” under my breath–savory French toast?–but George heard me.

“Aw, you have no imagination,” he said.

To a cook, them’s fighting words!

So, while he padded off to the computer to check for possible surprises in his email, I headed to kitchen with fire in my eye and a slight smirk on my face. Here’s what I did.

Instead of adding a pinch of salt and almond flavoring to the beaten eggs, I upped the salt just a bit and added generous amounts of garlic powder and pepper–the things that usually go into my scrambled eggs. I dipped slices of English muffin bread into the mixture and dropped them into the pan, where I use grape-seed oil because it’s better for you than most other oils, and has a higher flash point than olive oil. It’s also taste neutral.

When one side was done and I’d flipped them over, I sprinkled savory-french-toastgrated pepper jack cheese on top, and it melted while the second side was cooking. I plated the toast, added a strip of bacon–usually saved for Saturday–and called George to the table.

The savory French toast was a hit. Not sure what the French would think of it, and I sure would never put catsup on it, but at least I proved that there’s still a little bit of imagination lurking in the recesses of my sugar-fogged brain.

Posted in cooking, Food, recipes, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 2 Comments

And then came Tillie

It was such a long two months.

We said goodbye to the sweetest little dog we’d ever had, a beagle who went on our honeymoon with us, traveled on vacations, went on picnics, took us for walks, made us laugh. I wrote many a blog about Lady, and then I wrote her eulogy.

That was in September, and I haven’t written a blog since. I won’t say it was grief that dammed up my usual flood of words, but it was a big part of it. The loud silence, the one without a beagle bay or a jingling collar, seemed to fill my head and sap any desire to write about other ordinary things.

Two months later, six weeks ago, that all changed. In mid-November, Tillie arrived. Our home, named BeagleSong, once again lives up to its name.

Tillie came to us through Midwest BREW (beagle rescue, education and welfare).

Squirrel

I know there be a squirrel up there!

We had hoped to find another beagle through our local humane society but were having no luck. Then a friend sent us a photo of a beagle available through BREW. It wasn’t Tillie, but it made us aware of this all-volunteer organization that does a fabulous job of rescuing beagles from high-kill shelters and other precarious situations, and fostering them until a home can be found.

We knew we wanted an older dog. What would a couple in their 60s do with a bouncy youngster? And how could we, a couple of oldsters ourselves, see no value in a senior dog? So, it was easy to head to BREW’s online page of seniors and fall in love with every one of them. Tillie, however,

img_0612

Tillie’s furrowed forehead seems to hint at hidden worries.

caught our eye right away. We were delighted when, after the application process, the phone interview and our approval, Tillie was still available.

Tillie’s foster family met us halfway between their Illinois home and ours in Sturgeon Bay. At a PetSmart in Grafton, Wis., we watched our photo images of Tillie turn into real life as she jumped out of the car with the family who had given her respite for a few weeks, and was transferred to our family.

Since that day, we’ve been falling in love. Tillie is sweet and funny, and full of way more energy than we expected from a 10-year-old who needs to lose quite a few pounds. Her wrinkly forehead gives her a worried look; her long body and

practice-dog

George couldn’t possibly practice guitar without a dog on the bed.

shorter legs hint at basset somewhere in her ancestry, and her bugling bay is like an eruption of sheer joy. And Tillie figures every squirrel in the neighborhood is fair game.

Tillie has a big bed in our bedroom that she won’t use. She sleeps with us, straight down the middle, tucked up against one or the other of us, hogging all the covers. But that’s later. When she first gets into bed, ahead of us, she flops down on our pillows and hopes against hope that THIS night she’ll be allowed to stay there. It never works–oh, but it’s tempting!

“You have to move, Tillie,” George says, and she immediately gets up,

stuffed-toy

Are you going to make me move, Mom?

moves toward the middle, and flops down with a sigh. Humans! she seems to think. They’re SUCH slow learners!

Tillie is learning to be left alone now and then. As retired people, one or the other of us is usually home, but we do have to grocery shop, get hair cuts, go to Mass or choir practice. Her big test was last night, Christmas Eve, when we sang for the late Mass and had to leave her for two hours. It was a test that was announced right in church.

Before Mass began, Fr. Carl complimented George on his solo during the choir’s prelude music, and then expressed surprise that we were at the same Mass at the same time with our dog at home alone.

 

tilliepillows

Just let me lie here a little longer, please.

“They have a new dog, you know,” he explained to the mystified congregation.

But even earlier, at the Thanksgiving Day Mass, as he announced various things for which we could be thankful, he added, “Some people are thankful for a dog named Tillie.” It had begun even then.

Last night, our return home was greeted, as always, with a wildly wagging tail and wriggly body, and loud beagle yelps–which subside as soon as she sees one of us head to the treat cupboard. She always gets rewarded when we get home–and why not? She’s a very good girl who is never destructive when we’re gone, and who politely holds her functions until we take her out.

Her frog-leg stance when on her belly in the house, frog-dogher wildly flapping ears as she races through her walks, her thrashing body, legs in the air, when she rolls exuberantly in a snow pile–all are part of her endearing personality that emerges more and more every day. We’re teaching her our ways, she’s teaching us hers, and each day we all bond just a little bit more.

I think it’s safe to say, with this kind of motivation, the blogs will begin again.

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Posted in Animal antics, beagles, Living with a dog | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Remembering Lady

Today we walked the ski-hill trail at the state park. We’ve walked this trail dozens of times with Lady, and today was no exception. However, today she was with us in spirit only, and this was a memorial trek.

Lady died yesterday. Those are some of the hardest words to type, to say, to accept. I keep repeating them, and each time I feel the same lurch of my heart, the same gut-wrenching sense of loss. For six years she has been the third member of our family, the one who kept us faithful to daily walks, who accompanied us to concerts and on vacations, on picnics and photo treks, who shared snack time in the evening and our bed at night.

Six years doesn’t seem like a long time, but we got a late start.

mlboardwalk-manistique

Lady and I in Manistique, Mich., on vacation.

The humane society said Lady was 5-7 years old when we got her in May, 2010. We hoped she fell at the lowest end of that range. When we accidentally met her former owners, we discovered she exceeded it altogether. She was 9 when we got her, and 15-1/2 when she died.

The humane society described Lady as being true to her name, and as being confident. That’s pretty good for a beagle whose former owner said, “she isn’t good for anything because she won’t hunt.” We discovered Lady loved sniffing out rabbits, and even following them, but she was afraid of gunshots and thunder and other loud noises. The first part of her life was

sweet-lady

Our sweet Lady, who loved her walks, and who believed only in continuing forward, never going back. This was at Potawatomi State Park fall 2015, when I suspected it would be her last fall.

spent on a chain near an outdoor doghouse in the company of other dogs, and her skittishness around hand movements suggests she may have been hit. When we got her, she wasn’t used to living in the house, and didn’t know how to ask to go outside.

We solved the resulting potty problem by taking her out on a rigid schedule–and almost came to regret it, because Lady loved that schedule. She had no problem with potty outside, as long as it was accompanied by a walk–and where SHE wanted to go. We’re still amazed at how a 30-pound dog could become a boat anchor, with one leg braced firmly against leash tugs, when she had her own destination in mind. As often as not, we capitulated, because after all, the walks were for her. If we had to say no, she graciously accepted the verdict and never held it against us. Mostly, she just wanted to walk and sniff things. With Lady, there was no such thing as a brisk walk. There were far too many sniff stops for that.

Lady had her own corner of the couch, and was

dsc_4785christmasphoto-for-blog

George, Lady and I at the old ski hill, scene of our yearly Christmas photo. This was last year’s–and the last one ever.

beside herself with frustration if company dared to sit in her spot. She’d pace the floor, and stare at me, and if the person dared to leave the room, they found a beagle in their place when they returned.

She had her own bed in the bedroom, too, but was more likely to sleep with us, sprawled sideways so that neither of us had much leg room. And we let her. “After all, she IS the dog,” George would say. It became our mantra any time we gave in to her. Giving in never seemed to spoil her, which is why another mantra developed: “She is the BEST dog.”

If she had her own ideas about things, she was also patient with ours. She’d lie curled up near the kitchen table no matter how long or how late our meal was–because she knew

treats

Lady waiting for treats.

the walk came after the dishes were done. The other day, I saw her suddenly sit up expectantly when I took off my apron and hung it up, and realized she knew that’s when the work was done and the fun would begin.

Lady was a Mama’s dog–no need to apologize to George, because he told me that all the time. When I left the room, she’d wait a bit to see if I’d return. If I didn’t, I’d hear the jingle of her collar as she searched me out. The mornings were the most amusing.

snow-run

Lady always loved running in the snow. Last winter she preferred to walk.

She’d lie by the table while we ate breakfast, then follow me from room to room as I put things away, checked email in the office, made the bed, maybe threw in a load of wash–and finally I’d go sit in my recliner for Morning Prayer. I’d look up, and there Lady stood, in the kitchen, waiting for the signal. As soon as the chair’s foot rest went up, over she’d come, then jump up onto her corner of the couch where she’d curl up with a sigh. She knew I’d be there for a while.

She also knew that around 7:30 or so every

couch-corner

Lady on her favorite corner of the couch.

evening, George and I had a little snack and got something for her, too. Occasionally we ran late, or maybe forgot altogether. Lady didn’t. If nothing good to eat was forthcoming by 8 p.m., she’d hoist herself up from her comfy couch spot, wander over to my chair, and stare. Do you have any idea how loud a dog stare is? If I arranged myself so I couldn’t see her, she’d move so I’d have to.  And she’d continue to stare until one of us got up and headed for the pantry.

Unlike a lot of beagles, Lady was quiet and laid back. She never barked when company arrived and she paid no attention to other dogs (she’d had enough of them as a pack member, I think). Only two things induced her to let loose with that typical bark-howl we loved: our arrival home when she’d been left behind (we’d hear her through the window), and mealtime. “Are you a hungry girl?” always brought the familiar yodel, while she pranced at our feet, toenails clicking on the floor in eager excitement. Like all beagles she was a chow hound, so her food had to be strictly regulated.

In order to prevent separation anxiety when we first got her,

My honey and my dog...

George and Lady in the state park last fall.

we gave her treats whenever we’d come home. It took her only once or twice to figure out that routine! She’d meet us at the door, prancing and dancing and finally howling if we didn’t produce a treat fast enough. We became experts at finding low-cal treats to keep her healthy.

In the last year or so, the howling had all but stopped. Now and then a renewed burst of energy would bring it on, to our delight. Lady took a blood pressure pill, eventually another to keep her continent, an eye drop twice a day for a chronic eye condition, and most recently, her heart rate had slowed from 120 to 60 beats per minute. Then she developed a chronic nose congestion that could be very messy and off-putting. Considering her age, her heart condition and the high cost, we opted not to take strenuous and invasive measures to discover the cause. She still loved her walks, but now we strolled, slowly.

Thus we came to yesterday morning, after a night full of sneezes, snotting, breathing struggles, no sleep–and not for the first time. We made the hard choice, despite her bright-eyed appearance of well-being in so many other ways.

Today the house seems unusually quiet, except for the

taking-a-rest

Sitting in the shade on a hot day during a walk.

phantom jingling of her collar. I washed her bedding and her dishes, but can’t bare to remove the couch cover just yet. Her absence doesn’t seem quite real, and George and I both tear up at unexpected moments. We took our walk on the ski hill trail, talking about Lady most of the time, remembering her love of forging ahead until the day we noticed she was lagging behind–the beginning of the end. We laughed, we cried, we took pictures as always–but it seemed strange not to hand off the leash back and forth to each other in order to get our shots.

goodbye-lady

Her passing was peaceful, as you can see. (Photo by George Sawyn)

Tomorrow, we may take the loop walk, or skirt the bay on the Ice Age Trail. We may wander through the Habitat Park and into the neighborhood beyond–and wonder if anyone will notice we walk alone.

But we WILL walk. Twice a day, we’ve decided, we’ll head for the routes Lady loved. And always, I firmly believe, though no one will see, a little spirit beagle will trot along beside us, keeping us company as she always did. Rest in peace, dear sweet Lady.

Posted in Animal antics, beagles, Living with a dog, Memories | Tagged , , , | 14 Comments

A stranger’s gift

Today I prayed for someone I’ve never met.

I’m almost certain she’s no longer living, but I don’t know whether she died young or old. I picture her old, maybe older than my grandmother would be, which means she was born in the 1800s.

And while I picture her, I finger the beads of the rosary she once prayed on, and I wonder what her life was like.

I say “her,” because the rosary is white pearl, definitely a woman’s choice. I found it back in the late ‘60s when I was browsing through an antique store that also sold ordinary used items. Old jewelry was pinned to one wall, and hanging among the necklaces and bracelets was this sad-looking rosary, its circle broken at the third decade.

It seemed disrespectful, somehow. I know it had been blessed once, probably used often, and should have been passed along lovingly to another generation when its owner died. Instead, it had been tossed aside, unwanted, unappreciated, unused. I knew I had to rescue it.

I took it home and carefully fitted the broken sections together–not perfectly,

 

The flaw

The third decade flaw. The links look rusty in this photo, but it’s just the reflection of the counter on their very shiny surface.

because I didn’t have the little connecting ring. But it worked. I always look for that little flaw as I pray, and it always reminds me of my mystery lady. I wondered how it was broken in the first place. Only a hard yank could have severed the link of this sturdy circlet of beads. Who would be playing tug-of-war with a rosary? What could have entangled it that fiercely? Was it treated carelessly as handsful of “junk” were cleaned out after the funeral?

Once broken, a rosary should be reblessed, I was always taught by the sisters at my Catholic school. And what could it hurt? So, newly blessed, it was tucked into my purse and taken out regularly for prayer. As I prayed for my own intentions, I wondered about hers. Was she concerned about her health as she aged? Did she pray for children and grandchildren, for their spiritual and physical needs? Did she pray alone, or with a husband? Did it bring her peace and comfort?

Maybe she prayed for those she had lost, for the repose of their souls. I do. And I include her, maybe the only person left in the world who does. I feel a kinship, knowing she knows, and that she’s even grateful. As I run the beads through my fingers, I picture her hands doing the same, holding those same beads, whispering those same prayers. I kiss the crucifix at the end, an ancient and pious gesture, pressing my lips where hers undoubtedly brushed against the silver. Is there some little part of her that lingers, not totally erased by my fingers, even after these many years?

I wonder how she came to have the rosary in the first place.

Rosary

My rescued rosary. I added the medal on the right, attached to the crucifix.

Was it something she carried at her wedding? Perhaps a gift from her husband, or later from one of her children? Or did she buy it for herself, to have something beautiful on which to string her prayers?

Most of all, I wonder if she held it as she lay dying, finding comfort in its physical presence even as, perhaps, the words became harder to say, her thoughts harder to hold together. Did it accompany her to the threshold of that door to eternity? Was it wound around her hands in death and then removed as the cover was closed and the Requiem Mass began?

She couldn’t take it with her, but it’s been passed on to me as a sort of legacy, and I continue on those beads what she began. I pray for the world, our country, my kids and those who have died–and I pray for a nameless, faceless woman whom I know I’ll recognize someday when we meet on the other side.

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Posted in Catholic, Catholic life, contemplation, Faith-filled living, Praying, Reflection | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Gourmet masquerade

I’m not a gourmet cook. I don’t use exotic ingredients or fancy presentations. I don’t use obscure cooking methods, or dabble in recipes that require anything more than the basic kinds of utensils.

No, I’m more of an ordinary-food-with-an-extra-kick cook. (Hmm. That sounded a bit like kick the cook. Don’t you dare.) I’m a woman who has raised a family on a small budget and still lives on a small budget, so what I come up with has to be down-home cooking.

But don’t be fooled. “Down home” doesn’t have to mean plain. It doesn’t have to be smothered in fat, drowning in sugar, or come out of a box. It can be ordinary food that’s been prepared just a little bit different from what’s expected–like adding garlic salt to scrambled eggs, or almond flavoring to French toast.

All this is being said to give me an excuse to write about the rather ordinary meal I fixed today that was good enough for me to still be thinking about it. And planning to do it again.

This meal had to be worthy of Sunday dinner, but quick to fix, since we were just getting home from Mass and George had to leave fairly soon for an afternoon and evening of music gigs. So, this is how it went.

First, when I got up this morning I sliced half of a big boneless,

Chicken cooking

Monica Sawyn photo

skinless chicken breast into one-inch strips, then buried them in a a shallow dish of marinade. The marinade was, roughly (since I never measure) 1 cup of plain Greek yogurt, 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder, 1/2 teaspoon of tumeric, 1/8 cup of olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Covered with plastic wrap, the bowl stayed in the fridge until  was ready to start cooking. This could have been done the night before, too.

Since it was a warm day and George was in a hurry, we decided against grilling outside. Instead, I heated my grill pan that I’d coated with a little grape seed oil (which tolerates higher temps than olive oil does) and laid the strips of chicken on that. I plucked them out of the marinade and was careful that a good amount of the yogurt mixture remained on the chicken.

While those were cooking–I turned them a couple times–I cut up a couple medium-sized potatoes into bite-sized chunks, put them into a bowl, drizzled them with olive oil, covered the bowl and microwaved it for 4 minutes. Then I sprinkled garlic, salt and pepper (or lot of chili powder, for another kind of flavor), mixed it well, and microwaved them for 4 more minutes. When they were done, I let them sit until the rest of the meal was ready.

Meanwhile, I took the one shortcut I seldom take:

Plated

The turmeric gives the chicken a pretty yellow color. Monica Sawyn photo

I used frozen peas instead of some kind of fresh veggie. But, like I said, time was an issue. So, I prepared those on the stove top, and then topped the peas with sliced almonds.

And that was it. That meal, followed by fresh, locally grown cantaloupe for dessert, used basic ingredients most of us keep in our kitchens. But by using a few spices and an easy marinade for a little zip, every mouthful was savory and far from being bland or plain.

The key is experimentation. If you can bring yourself to do that, cooking–and eating–will seem gourmet even when it’s not.

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Switch-up enchiladas

It’s fun to try new recipes–and it’s fun to vary them. It’s the varying that inexperienced cooks are often afraid of. I know I used to be.

Back in my early days, I’d find something that looked really good, but if I didn’t have every single ingredient, I either put off making it,

enchiladas

Not mine. We ate them too fast and I never photographed them. But they looked much like this.

or dashed off to the store. That can get tiring, and it’s so unnecessary. One of the first things a new cook should learn is how to mix things up a bit.

Yesterday, for instance. I had some meat that needed to be used up, and I was in the mood for Mexican. So, I dug out one of my favorite Mexican recipe books.  I had bought some flour tortilla shells at the grocery store, but I discovered that was about all of the required ingredients I had on hand.

The recipe called for cream of chicken soup, sour cream, picante sauce, cooked chicken, and Monterey Jack cheese. I had none of those things. So, I used what I had, and the result was better than I remember that original recipe being.

Here’s the recipe, as I tweaked it:

1 can cream of mushroom soup
8 oz. plain Greek yogurt
1 cup black bean salsa (Mrs. Renfrew’s. I like it because it doesn’t have sugar in it.)
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 pound of ground chuck, browned
1 cup shredded garlic-and-herb cheddar
6 flour tortillas

1. Mix the soup, yogurt,  salsa and chili powder. Reserve 1 cup.
2. Brown the ground chuck, seasoned with homemade taco seasoning. (I make my own because I don’t like the unpronounceable ingredients in the packaged stuff. But go ahead and use it if you prefer.)
3. Mix 1 cup of the salsa mixture,  ground beef and cheese.
4. Spread about 1/3 cup of the meat mixture down the center of each tortilla. Roll up and place seam-side down in a 3-quart shallow baking dish.
5. Pour the remaining salsa mixture over the enchiladas. Cover and baked at 350° for 40 minutes.

It could be there’s a recipe just like that somewhere, but the point is, I didn’t know that. I substituted our of necessity. Back in my younger days, it would never have occurred to me to take such liberties; now I realize that’s what makes cooking fun. Most experienced cooks discovered that long ago. If you haven’t, try it!

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Posted in Food, recipes, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

It’s all about the socks

I walk a little more carefully these days, and I’ve been blaming it on my cranky knees. Now I know better. I’m wearing the wrong socks.

The revelation came to me during a moment of silence at the vet’s office. The overhead television, sound off, was flickering for those waiting for their pet’s appointments. I glanced at it casually to see a woman stroking her legs sensuously, a man tackling a treadmill with supernatural vim, and a 70-year-old jumping a hurdle as though he had springs in his feet.

They were all wearing white, knee-high socks. Exercise socks, according to the closed caption. And not your common or garden variety white athletic sock, either. These had magic fibers, or a magic weave, or something new and revolutionary enough that none of those people minded looking like total nerds with their knobby knees protruding from the top of the tight white casings.

One man looked into the camera, the very picture of sincerity.

“I was amazed at the difference these make,” the caption said. “They really do work.”

I sat there, staring guiltily at my knees, blamed for all manner of crabbed, mincing or measured steps on my part. I glanced down at my sandaled feet, bare toes visible, nary an exercise sock in sight. The trouble, I realized, is my muddled thinking. I thought eating right, taking glucosamine-chondroitin supplements and hitting the NuStep three times a week were all the tools available to keep me mobile. Little did I know it’s all about socks.

I know there are people out there who wear support hose, and

socks

Tres chic, eh?

I have no intention of doing that. I know there are support socks, and compression socks, and something called nurse mates. They all fit into the “squeezer” category, and that rhymes with geezer and who wants to admit to that?

Exercise socks, now, those will catch on. Those hint at fit, trim, active, even athletic people. Take a look around you. That senior jogging down the road? I bet he’s wearing white, knee-high exercise socks. How about that gray-haired guy trying to get on the high school track team? Pay no attention to his bony knees; focus instead on those classy white socks, the ones with the death grip on his legs.

I’m sold. I’m going to run out and get me a pair of those wonderful socks just as soon as I can convince my knees they’re not done for the day. If I’m lucky, by the time I find some, they’ll have come out with full body apparel in the same fabric. This gal is ready to be renovated.

Posted in getting older, Humor, Lifestyle, Social commentary, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 3 Comments