My cupboards are full of a mixture of many things. When I was younger, I wanted everything to match, whether it be clothing, furniture, dishes, or flowers. The coordination of colors and objects gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling inside, and all was right with the world. You may call it shades of OCD, but I just wanted everything to be perfect. Fast forward to the darker side of middle age: During my spring cleaning this year, I got rid of a cupboard full of heavy, matching dinnerware that I’ve had for years and replaced them with lightweight plates and bowls. Why have half a cupboard filled with matching cups when everyone always reaches for their favorite old coffee mug? Why keep a coordinating teapot that has been used only twice? I made room for the new dishes and some of my mother’s things with a little room left over. I acquired my brother-in-law’s grandmother’s plates through a series of sisterly “if I take this, you must have that” trades as we cleared out our mother’s apartment. I don’t know if other sisters do things like that, but we do it often. Squeezing the contents of three households into two was not easy for either of us, and some things just had to go to make room for both old and new. I cleaned out a few drawers and went on to the closets, too. Getting rid of stuff feels as good as losing ten pounds. Well, almost. Our Easter table this year was a mishmash of different things from different people. Mom’s quilt was the tablecloth for the new/old pastel-colored plates and platters. The wine was poured into garage sale crystal glasses and the salad was served on my favorite little china dishes which once probably belonged to someone else’s mother. Nothing matched. The ham was baked in my grandmother’s old beat-up roasting pan. The pickles, a gift from my cousin, were made using Auntie Olive’s recipe and served in a relish dish that was a wedding gift to my parents nearly 57 years ago. Dinner conversation between family and friends was punctuated by the squeals of our toddler grandson as he threw my mother’s silver spoons on the floor one by one, over and over again. If there was ever any worry about missing loved ones, it was gone in a minute. You see, they are always with us in one way or another. Perhaps it is through a quilt or a pile of old dishes. Perhaps it is through a recipe or a memory or the laughter of a baby on a beautiful spring afternoon. Easter is the season of miracles, comfort, and rebirth. The combination of the old and the new was a gentle reminder to me that life indeed goes on. That, my friends, gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling like no other.

Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they  are after.      Henry David Thoreau

As much as I yearn for the summer sun to warm my back as I work in the garden, I yearn for the glorious feeling of a boat rocking beneath my feet while I’m reeling in a fish. In the summer, of course, because I am a fair-weather fisherwoman. If I can’t be in the boat, the end of the dock will do. Each worm placed on the hook and each cast of the line gives one a wonderful sense of anticipation, and there’s nothing else quite like it. Each little tug on the line offers the same sense of anticipation, although more often than not, it is a tiny little sunfish nibbling rather than the monster bass I had pictured. Fishing is one of the few things that HE and I have in common. A few years ago, we were spending a lovely summer Sunday on the lake. It was early enough in the day that I wasn’t yet having that feeling of sadness that the weekend was over. The sun was warm enough, yet not too warm. The breeze was breezy enough to keep those pesky flies from nibbling at my ankles, and Barney the Chihuahua was curled up in my lap, taking an afternoon nap. He likes to go fishing as much as we do. I tossed my line into the perfect spot at the edge of the lily pads when the fish hit. It wasn’t a taste or even a nibble. It took my worm, the line went taut, and the pole bent over nearly double. I’ve been fishing that lake my whole life, and have never, ever had a fish that big on the end of my line. Whoa. “I’ve got a big one,” I said. HE, who rarely pays attention to what is on the end of my line sat up a little straighter. It was a fighter. Barney the Chihuahua woke up from his nap and stayed on my lap, but sat up to see what was going on. The reel of my fishing pole, made for catching small sunfish and crappie, was making noises that I had never heard before as I cranked it in. It fought, I cranked, they watched. I reached my right hand over to adjust the pole. The line snapped. HIM: “You touched the line.” Me (knowing full well that I touched the line): “No, I didn’t.” HIM: “Yes, you did.” Me: “No…I did…..yes, I did.” Shoot. I lost it. I lost the biggest fish I might have ever caught. Perhaps the biggest fish ever caught on that lake. I think he was big enough to have given me bragging rights and a lot of stories, but I touched the line and he became the fish that got away. The biggest fish I almost caught didn’t know this, but we would have taken his picture and let him go, because that’s what we do with great big fish on summer Sunday afternoons. If we catch them. If they get away, it just gives us something to look forward to the next time.

Grandma’s chicken pie. Grilled beef tips with sweet potatoes. Sunday roaster with organic garden vegetables. Wild-caught salmon with brown rice. I know your mouth is watering right about now. Mine would be, too, if I didn’t know these were flavors of dog food and not on the menu of a fine restaurant or dinner at Mom’s. Barney the Chihuahua is as spoiled as can be and enjoys a variety of treats. His favorite is a chewy beef with oatmeal, apples and sweet potatoes or a plain smoked pig ear as big as his head. He likes wild and natural things as much as the next dog and although he has been known to eat a few disgusting…er…organic things found in the back yard, he prefers to roll in them. I have never been able to understand that if an owl drops one dead mouse somewhere over our 7 1/2 acres, Barney manages to find that one small mouse and roll in it during the ten seconds he is off his leash. Luckily, small Chihuahuas, even stinky ones, are fairly easy to bathe. Barney’s shampoo is scented with lavender, which might seem silly but smells much better than dead mouse, and since he sleeps with us, he might as well smell good. I purchase as much organic people food as possible, but don’t quite understand the organic pet food movement for animals that turn over the trash cans while you are away, eating last night’s dinner and Lord knows what else. The dog food companies are out doing themselves by making more exotic flavors such as Spring lamb with barley and grilled wild duck. My daughter, the City Girl, has two huge drooling overly friendly yellow labs who would probably love the wild duck flavor. When she and her husband first moved to Minnesota, they lived at a duck camp out in the middle of nowhere that was absolutely the perfect place for honeymooners, large dogs, and porcupines. One day, with company coming for dinner, she was busy cleaning the house when one of the “boys” did just what retrieving dogs do….he carried a long-dead duck in through the doggy door and plopped it in the middle of her couch. Bad boy. I don’t think she ever quite recovered from that one, and shortly after what the family refers to as “the duck incident”, they moved to town and have been living happily ever after. Whatever you feed them, whatever you bathe them in, remember this: Dogs are people, too. The dog food companies are counting on it.

Forty-five years ago, my mom purchased a mantel clock. I don’t remember if she saved money or saved Green Stamps to get it, but she loved that clock almost as much as she loved us. We couldn’t touch the clock except to gently dust it when it was our turn to wield the feather duster, and if you know kids, you know that happened as little as we could get away with. We weren’t allowed move the clock, just to dust around it and on top, for fear that we would somehow knock it off the mantel and break it into a hundred pieces. Nobody wound that clock except Mom. Not my sister, not my father, and especially not me, whose middle name used to be “Oops!”. She wound it carefully and lovingly every other day by opening the door on the front, putting one hand on top to keep it from slipping, then placing the key into each of three holes, winding ever so carefully, just enough and not too much. I watched her do it so often that I could have done it in my sleep, but still wasn’t allowed to wind it until I was about fifty and even then she gave me step-by-step directions from her chair as she was recovering from surgery. I may have been fifty, but in Mom’s mind I was twelve and still an accident waiting to happen. The chiming sound would be stopped when we had overnight guests, but the rest of the time, the gentle ticking and chime on the quarter-hour was the background music to the hubbub of ordinary family life, Cribbage games, and waiting for teenagers to come home. I’m sure that as each of us grew up and left home, the ticking seemed louder, but after my father died, the familiar sounds probably made the house seem not so empty. Last December, my beautiful mother started to fail. When nothing else could be done, she chose to spend her last days at home with her family, surrounded by what was familiar. Although these days were hard and we knew the time we had left together in this world was limited, it was also a joyous, memory-filled ending to a wonderful journey. Funny thing about that old clock, though. Somehow, during those last few hours of my mother’s life, the clock started slowing down, too. Little by little, it started losing time. First a minute or two, then ten, then thirty. My sister and I found it kind of strange, remembering a childhood song about a grandfather’s clock that we used to sing on family car trips. We wound that clock as carefully and lovingly as we had seen so many times before, but it stopped working altogether shortly before she died. I don’t know if it was just a coincidence or something stranger than that, but I do know some things for sure: 1) Your mother is always right. 2) No matter how old you are when you lose your mother, you feel like a twelve-year-old orphan. 3) Even without speaking aloud, your mother will always manage to get the last word in, and it will probably be “I told you so!”

Chickens are fickle creatures. In a perfect world, they are supposed to eat, lay eggs, and hatch dozens of cute little fluffy chicks every spring. My world, as we all know, is far from perfect. For the last five years, the chickens in my coop have managed to hatch just one cute little fluffy chick, which turned out to be a big fat rooster. Just my luck. Every spring, the girls start laying eggs in a hidden nest, thinking they’re hiding them from the human who gathers them every day. At least I think that’s what they’re thinking. Every spring, I pretend to ignore the hidden nest and wait for someone -anyone- to start sitting on that nest. Nobody ever does. Every spring, one by one, I throw a basket of rotten eggs into the swamp. After last year’s rooster, I gave up. I decided to change my way of thinking, purchase my baby chicks every year from the farm store and not worry one bit about the birth rate in my own coop. There’s nothing wrong with that. You can always choose laying hens of different breeds, unless you’re unlucky like me and manage to pick the one baby rooster that was put there by mistake among the dozens of hens. I won’t have to ignore the hidden nest anymore and that means more eggs and less waste. Two days ago, when I went to gather eggs in the evening, one of my younger hens did not jump out of the nesting box to greet me like she usually does. When I reached under her to gather the eggs, she glared and squawked at me, but let me take an egg. Yesterday, she glared and squawked again, but when I reached under her, she pecked me. Hard. Hard enough for me to feel it though my winter jacket. Hard enough to hurt. Today, she just glared at me when I walked into the coop. Now before you think that I am just some crazy Farm Woman who has had just a little too much of a very long winter under her belt, I am here to tell you that a broody hen CAN give a stink eye that can put you right in your place. This time, I know exactly what she’s thinking, too. “DON’T. TOUCH. I’ll draw blood next time.” Yes, Ma’am. I think I’ll leave Mama alone and let nature take its course, but I will not, under any circumstances, count my chickens before they are hatched. Well….except to send a small prayer heavenward that there will be no more roosters. Think pink.

I will be the first to admit that I watch way too much television during the winter months. Besides classic movies and cooking shows, I love to watch people on the hunt for their dream houses. Using my DVR, which is the next best thing to chocolate, I can record any number of these shows and find out how the rest of the world lives and watch them any time I want to. I’ve discovered why the rest of the world laughs at Americans. Here a couple of typical scenarios: A young couple in their twenties are lucky enough to have a chance to live in Paris for a few years. Their monthly budget is more than I would ever dream of in my lifetime, even if I wanted to work overtime every single day plus holidays, which I don’t. They walk into the quaint little Parisian flat and with a disdainful look around the kitchen say, “This is way too small, and the entire room needs to be gutted. Where are the granite countertops and stainless steel appliances?” Or a recently retired couple who are looking to downsize. They appear to be years younger than we are and I admit to being more than a little jealous and wonder just how they managed to retire while paying for their current palatial home in the suburbs. Their idea of downsizing is a 5000 square foot home with four bedrooms, room to entertain, and (you guessed it) granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. Some folks are even looking for vacation homes in countries with armed guards at every corner just so they can have a oceanfront view but insist on modern conveniences while the poorest of the poor exist just down the road. Maybe the shows are staged, and maybe they’re not. I am a little naive and tend to believe everything just because it is shown on TV. I am going to offer a suggestion to the producers of these programs. Show us some real Americans on real budgets. Show us how to squeeze a family of five with two dogs and a gerbil into 1200 square feet and one bathroom. Show us a retired couple downsizing so they can afford to pay their property taxes on what they earn from Social Security. Show us city neighborhoods, simple country cottages and farm houses. Show us the real world. I am living in my dream house right now. Our home is what those TV people would call “tight”. It is the perfect word that not only describes our square footage but also our budget. I can hear the horrified gasps from here, but my appliances are white. My kitchen cabinets are from the mid-century before mid-century became a popular catch-phrase, and they will be refinished when I have the time. Right now they have bumps and bruises and plenty of character. Our dining room is painted bright yellow to ward off the winter blues, and right now there are dinosaur stickers all over the front window. Thankfully, there will be no television crews at my house any time soon…at least I hope not.

I promised myself that I would not write about the weather or the cold temperatures this week. What I will do is offer you a spicy soup recipe that is sure to warm you right down to your toenails. It’s also fairly inexpensive to make, so that should help you when it comes time to pay your propane or electric bill. Since I can’t be outside in the garden, I often spend Sunday afternoons experimenting with recipes using what I have on hand. HE prefers plain country cooking and eats neither rice, beans, nor kale, so I’m sure he was relieved when I told him this soup was just for me…and for you.

Spicy Black Bean and Rice Soup

1/2 pound dry black beans 2 cups water

1/2 lb. dry-type sausage in casing, diced (andouille, chorizo, smoked, or polish will work, but the spicier the better) 1 medium green pepper, diced 1 medium onion, diced 1 carrot, diced 2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 10 oz. can Rotel diced tomatoes (may substitute a 14.5 oz. can regular diced tomatoes if you prefer it less spicy) 5 cups water 2 t. Cuban seasoning (or 1 t. dried oregano and 1 t. dried cilantro)
2 t. cumin 2 cups chopped fresh kale or spinach 1 cup cooked brown rice (leftover rice is fine)
salt and pepper to taste

Rinse beans and cover with 2 cups water. Cover and bring to a boil. Once beans come to a boil, turn off the heat and leave covered for about 20 minutes. Drain.
In a soup pan, saute diced sausage until lightly browned. Add green pepper, onion, and carrot; cook for 5 minutes. Add crushed garlic cloves, drained beans, tomatoes, water, and seasonings. Simmer on low heat until the beans are soft but not mushy, approximately 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Add kale and cooked rice the last 15 minutes of cooking time. This may be assembled and put in the slow cooker for about 6-8 hours, but don’t add the kale and rice until 30 minutes before serving. Serves six.


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