Waiting for Spring

Dinner was simmering. It was chili. Well, chili-ish, it was missing a few ingredients I thought I had on hand (tomatoes). Thankfully the grilled cheese sandwiches saved the day (one slice of cheddar, one slice of provolone, you’ll be a hero).

I stepped out on the front porch.

Tonight was the eve of the official first day of spring. Breathing deeply, I could smell the earth and the scent of emerging growth. Our porch, like the one pictured on the home across the street, runs the length of the house. I’ve a theory, totally unsupported by research, that world peace could be achieved if everyone had a front porch. A place for reflection, a spot to enjoy a cup of coffee or tea and watch the world that is your community go by. A place for sitting. A place for greeting neighbors. A place for watching the sun rise or set.

I’ve walked out of our front door onto the porch thousands of times. I’ve seen that tree an equal number of times. I have walked under it’s shade more times than I can remember. Tonight I was struck by its anticipation.

Our house was built in 1890. I’m guessing the house across the street can’t be too far off that timeline. The houses here in my neighborhood of famous Ferguson were constructed pre-bulldozer. The lots weren’t leveled, the basements were dug by hand, and unless a tree was in the exact location a house was planned, it was allowed to stand.

I’m not smart enough to tell you the species of the tree in the photo or its age. But I can tell you it’s dang ancient. It towers over a two-story house that most of us would consider old. It has stood by a street that was once dirt and provided passage to horse and buggy. It now stands sentinel over paved roads and automobiles. It has provided shelter for hundreds of generations of birds. It has withstood storms and tornadoes. In this current season, its gaunt limbs are raised in supplication. It waits for spring.

I too wait for spring. It is a time of waiting, a time of Lent. Then comes a time of new growth, a time of resurrection. A time of hope.

I really don’t like winter. Okay, let’s be honest, I hate winter. It’s cold, duh, it’s lifeless, colorless, and generally depressing. But without winter would I truly appreciate spring? Without barren seasons, would I truly appreciate fruitful ones?

I walked back into the house. I was greeted by the smells of mediocre chili, the chatter of a loving family …and hope. Spring is coming.

Peace, Poppy

 

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Fusilli with Roasted Asparagus/Piquillo Peppers

When tasty and easy-to-make intersect, it’s a win-win. This is a simple recipe with simple ingredients that makes a satisfying main dish without being heavy. Okay, enough hyperbole Poppy, let’s get to it.


Ingredients: 

  • 3/4 pound of Fusilli pasta (feeds 3-4)
  • bunch of asparagus
  • roasted piquillo peppers (more about this later)
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups of fresh grated Parmesan cheese
  • Coarse ground black pepper to taste (lots)
  • 1 tbsp. sea salt

Preheat your oven to 425° in preparation for roasting the asparagus. When choosing asparagus for roasting, I look for shoots that are about the diameter of my little finger. If it’s much thinner, lower the temperature or reduce the roasting time. If it’s much thicker, don’t buy it and plan something else for dinner.

Snap off the tough ends and cut the asparagus into 1 inch sections, leaving the tips longer. Toss in a little EVOO and spread on a foil lined baking sheet. Roast for 25 minutes.

While the asparagus is roasting, start your water boiling for the pasta, add the salt to the water. You should also have enough time while the roasting is happening to grate your cheese, cut the stick of butter into 8 or so smaller chunks (chunks is a very technical term). I struggle with timing everything, so to keep it simple, I usually wait until the asparagus is done roasting before adding the pasta to the boiling water.

Roasted piquillo peppers. I love these guys … they are one of Poppy’s “secret ingredients.” I have no idea where you might find them fresh, so I’m quite content to buy them canned. This is the variety I use.

For this recipe, I cut three of the peppers into 1/2″ squares. There is so much to like about these peppers. They are not hot, but sweet. The roasting or grilling adds a delightful smoky flavor to their sweetness. I use them in salads, antipasto, add them to fresh corn, and of course, pasta. Their smokey sweetness contrasts nicely to strong flavors like feta cheese or bacon, plus they add a great pop of red to any dish. Okay, back to the recipe at hand.

After the pasta has cooked (about 9 minutes), drain the pasta, but reserve 1 cup of the pasta water. Set the pasta aside and return the remaining pasta water back to the stove-top on medium heat. Stir in the butter a few chunks at a time, until it has blended with the pasta water. Add one cup of the Parmesan cheese, bit by bit, stirring constantly until the mixture is well blended. If you are going to splurge on anything for this recipe, treat yourself to a high quality, well aged wedge of Parmesan and hand grate it. You will tell the difference.

Add the pasta back to the mixture along with the roasted asparagus and piquillo peppers. Stir and simmer for a minute before serving. Top with the remaining cheese, a couple of tablespoons of the pasta water-butter-cheese mixture and a very generous grind of coarse black pepper.

Enjoy!

I think this would also be good with roasted tomatoes instead of the asparagus and peppers. It’s on my list of things to try.

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Of Head, Heart, Steinbeck and Zombie Mistakes

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up your men to collect wood and give orders and distribute the work. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of The Little Prince.

Sure, there was the Apple stock that I bought at $30 and sold at $36, congratulating myself for being so very smart and clever to make a 20% gain, but in general, I don’t have many regrets. I’m not much for digging up past mistakes, there are so many it would be a full-time job. It’s better to keep them buried. Besides, I’ll make some fresh ones tomorrow, I don’t need zombie mistakes following me around too.

The quote at the beginning of this blog illustrates that there is more than one way to get a task done. One way is through logic, through process, through delegation. In other words,  by using your head. The other way is driven by yearning, by passion. In other words, by using your heart.

A few regrets that I do have are those of the heart and represented in this blog; cooking and writing. I started cooking about nine years ago. I still love it. Do I wish I had started sooner? Yes, of course. But the regret here is pretty minor. I love coming home and turning on some music, pouring myself a glass of wine and start slicing, dicing, sautéing, simmering, roasting, broiling, whatever it takes to create a meal for my family. I enjoy it so much I want to stretch it out. This does not always go over so well with my family when their stomachs begin to rumble.

I started this blog thinking I would be focusing on cooking. But a successful cooking blog relies on exact measurements and precise steps not to mention some good photography. By the time I’m done, no one in the family wants to wait around while I stage a great photo, they want to eat! Then there is that exact measurement and precise step thing. My cooking technique more closely resembles a Jackson Pollack painting than a Rembrandt.  I sling ingredients around like Jackson Pollack did paint. By the time I’m done, I can barely remember what ingredients I used, let alone how much.

And then there is writing.

I grew up without a television, possibly the best thing to ever happen to me as it turned me into a reader. Our family Saturday routine went something like this. Shortly after it opened, I was dropped off at the local branch of the St. Louis County library system. This was the early sixties when it was safe to leave your child unsupervised for hours at a time in the library. I searched for undiscovered titles and repeats from my favorite authors. By the time my parents returned to pick me up, I had 5-7 books checked out and ready to go. When next Saturday rolled around, those books were finished and I was looking for more. I read adventure stories, science fiction stories, Dr. Doolittle, Danny Dunn and anything by Elizabeth Enright. I always read several grade levels above my actual grade, not because I was smart, simply because I just read and read.

Then one day I picked up a copy of The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.

By any measurement, it was not age appropriate for me. In retrospect as a young boy, many of the nuances of the human condition described in the book were beyond my understanding. In chapter three, Steinbeck takes a break from the main narrative to chronicle the journey of a turtle attempting to cross the road. The chapter is just over two pages long, but in those two pages I felt the sun beating down on the pavement, I sensed the dryness of the surrounding fields and the sounds of the summer insects. I struggled with the turtle as it attempted to mount the shoulder of the pavement. I held my breath as Steinbeck narrated the movement of the turtle crossing the road and the actions of the approaching drivers. Some swerved to avoid hitting the turtle, some swerved to hit the turtle. By chapter three I knew I had discovered something. I had discovered the craft of writing. I had discovered literature.

After the Grapes of Wrath I jumped to Of Mice and Men, I ran the table of everything that Steinbeck wrote, then moved on to Hemingway.

I continued to read and read. Slowly a small flame, a yearning, started to spring up within me. I wanted to write, but I knew good writing from bad. I knew I could never write like Steinbeck, Hemingway, Cormac McCarthy, Margaret Atwood, or (insert your favorite author). I listened to my head. My head spoke the truth, I can’t write like those authors. But in listening to my head, I failed to listen to my heart. I failed to understand that as I cook for my family, I can write for myself.

Now you know why I post more musings than I do recipes. I have discovered that writing is an itch I must scratch. I may never write anything longer than a blog post and that’s okay.

Cooking, writing, crafting, gardening, music, sewing, woodworking, painting, wherever your heart wants to take you, don’t be afraid to follow, and if you were lucky enough to buy Apple at $30, hang on to it!

Poppy

 

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On the Wings of the Morning

If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. Psalm 139

brownpelican

The coming dawn chases the stars from the sky as the moon retreats to another hemisphere. The predawn light is soft. The line of the horizon, so sharp at mid-day is a blurred edge, the ocean bleeds into the sky. For a few moments before the sun takes dominance in the heavens, the world exists in cool pastel colors with softened outlines.


She has no name except in the mind of God.

Throughout the night she roosts in an Australian Pine, just a few hundred yards from where the gentle surf of the Gulf of Mexico meets the sand and the scattered shells of Sanibel Island. She stirs and pulls her long beak from beneath her left-wing. The rhythms of the tides, the moon, stars and sun are hard-wired into her DNA, she does not question them. She blinks once then twice. Flexing her strong wings she stretches them  parallel to the shoreline before pushing her feet against the rough bark of the tree, launching into the air. Wings beating, beating, beating until she gains the needed altitude.

Then she soars. Soars on the wings of the morning.

She was born to this, she was created for this.

I stand with my feet planted firmly on the sand. Watching. Earthbound. Heavy. Logically I know I am a higher creature, but I cannot help but be envious.

In 1776, Carl Linnaeus gave the brown pelican her binomial name, Pelecanus occidentalis. By conventional standards she is not a thing of beauty. Until the brown pelican matures and its head feathers turn white, it is clothed in a consistent dull brown hue. She is a comical looking bird, with an over-sized bill and stubby body. Her dive into  the water to catch fish has all the grace and finesse of a falling rock. She will never be described as elegant or graceful. But she does not compare herself to other birds. The Royal Tern, the Roseate Spoonbill, the Ibis, the Great White Heron, or the Snowy Egret, she does not measure her beauty against theirs. She is comfortable in the knowledge that she is a magnificent creature of divine engineering. Her fall from the sky that we find so comical is designed to impact the water with such force that it stuns the small fish that are her prey. As she plunges into the water, her throat pouch expands to trap the fish, filling with up to 2.6 gallons of water. And oh, can she soar!

I rarely soar, mostly I plod.

Unfortunately as I trudge along, I also compare. My head has the knowledge that by almost any standard, I am blessed beyond measure. Yet I have to constantly guard that envy and discontent do not creep into my heart . I have to constantly resist the messages that my smile should be brighter, my laundry could be whiter and that I really should do something about my thinning hair. As a young teen, I had always hoped I would grow up to look like Mr. Grant. Looking in the mirror now, I see I may have gotten my wish. Unfortunately the Mr. Grant I most closely resemble is Ulysses and not Cary.

grants

Later in the same Psalm, the writer tells us, For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful.”

After reading that, how can we doubt that we are not exactly the right height, the right size, the right color with exactly the right features? I think it’s because we are so painfully aware of all the shortcomings of our inward self. We are both perfectly made and born into sin. It is one of the ironies of Christian life, that only by acknowledging our brokenness can we truly accept our Godly perfection.

It is then that we can accept our perfect role in God’s creation.

It is then that we can soar!

 

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Big Bucket of Fail!

bucket2

Even 10-year-old boys get tired of playing video games (not often, but it does happen). This past weekend, my grandson approached me carrying a box he had discovered while rummaging through our stash of board games.

“Do you want to put this together?” he asked.

The box contained a 1/200 scale model of a 19th century whaling ship. The pieces of the model were made from injection molded plastic, held together by a plastic web of connectors. We dutifully trimmed all the pieces from the web, sorting the components by color. The marketing copy on the front of the box, listed the attributes of the model in glowing terms. The first bullet point assured us that our purchase was, “Easy to assemble.” This should have been our first warning. The second red flag was the lack of any instructions, or at least any instructions in English.

Even without instructions the two halves of the hull and the large deck piece were an obvious place the start. Sad to say, even the largest and simplest components mocked us. We could get the two halves of the hull together, kind of, but when it came to connecting the deck to the hull we were stumped. With no diagrams or the ability to read Korean (the country of origin) we were at a loss with the deck unit. If we kept the hull pieces together, there was no way to attach the deck to the top of the assembled hull. When we tried to place the deck piece just under the top lip of the starboard hull half, the port section of hull no longer made connection with its mate. It didn’t take long for us to start laughing and getting silly with the whole project.

Still laughing my grandson announced, “This is going in the big bucket of fail!

When did 10-year-olds get so wise?

I almost titled this post, “The Lost Art of Failing.” In a culture where everyone gets a trophy, where “I’m a Winner!” stickers are applied indiscriminately, have we lost the ability to see the value of failing? Have we become so risk averse that we would rather attempt nothing than expose ourselves to possible ridicule for failing or God-forbid, being a loser?

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.”

Not failing proves nothing. Failing is absolute proof that you tried.

The famous inventor, Thomas Edison, is often cited as an example of someone who persevered  through many failures. My brief research revealed that his number of failed experiments in the process of developing the incandescent bulb are often exaggerated. Numbers of 5,000 or even 10,000 are tossed about when the actual number is closer to 1,000. That many failed theories is an incredible amount to work through but pales in comparison to the number of his attempts to develop the storage battery.

The authorized biography by Frank Dyer and T. C. Martin, Edison: His Life and Inventions (the first edition of the book is 1910), quotes Edison’s friend and associate Walter S. Mallory about these experiments:

“This [the research] had been going on more than five months, seven days a week, when I was called down to the laboratory to see him [Edison].  I found him at a bench about three feet wide and twelve feet long, on which there were hundreds of little test cells that had been made up by his corps of chemists and experimenters.  I then learned that he had thus made over nine thousand experiments in trying to devise this new type of storage battery, but had not produced a single thing that promised to solve the question.  In view of this immense amount of thought and labor, my sympathy got the better of my judgment, and I said: ‘Isn’t it a shame that with the tremendous amount of work you have done you haven’t been able to get any results?’  Edison turned on me like a flash, and with a smile replied: ‘Results!  Why, man, I have gotten lots of results!  I know several thousand things that won’t work!'”

I can’t help but wonder what Edison’s response would have been if someone had attempted to give him a trophy or a sticker before he actually succeeded? I can’t imagine that it would have been pretty.

Several years ago I taught my grandson to play chess. He has yet to best me in a match. One day he will beat me and on that day he will know that he has earned the victory. That triumph will be far sweeter than any hollow win where I did not play my best. I am not being mean. He is not being emotionally damaged by not winning at chess. Of course it does help that there are games he can whoop-up on me, such as the aforementioned video games.

chess

In some small way, I hope I’m preparing him for life as an adult, and who knows, maybe greatness. History is filled with many examples of famous men and women who fought through failure after failure to finally emerge victorious.

So grab yourself a big bucket and get out there and FAIL!

 

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Embers

embers

Never in a million years did I think I would be quoting Bruce Lee on matters of love! Breaking kneecaps, of course, it’s an obvious fit, but love?. Once again, as if we didn’t know it … life is complex, always unexpected, and wisdom comes from the most unlikely of sources.

“Love is like a friendship caught on fire. In the beginning a flame, very pretty, often hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. As love grows older, our hearts mature and our love becomes as coals, deep-burning and unquenchable.”  (Bruce Lee)

As I’m writing this, it occurs to me that there are probably at least two generations under me who don’t know who Bruce Lee is … Google it!

We live in an old house in Ferguson, Missouri. Built in 1890, by some standards very old, by European standards, pretty young. It’s an interesting relationship. Probably pretty much how Mrs. Poppy feels about me. It has it’s charm, but can also be infuriating. Certainly part of it’s charm are the three fireplaces on the first floor. One in the dining room, one in the living room, and one in what we call the family room, though back in 1890, it was probably referred to as the “drawing room.” Adjacent to the dining room, it’s where we spend most of our time. During the winter months, we have a fire in this room almost every night. Originally designed to burn coal, it makes for a very intimate and comforting fire.

I snapped this photo last night, Valentines Day Eve. I knew there was something there, but I wrestled with the idea that it might be misconstrued as a metaphor for a relationship where the fire has gone out. Then I stumbled on the quote by Bruce Lee.

By most standards, I’m a pretty boring guy. I have only one notch in my belt, only one conquest … marrying my high school sweetheart. Forty something years later, the embers are still hot. It may not be flashy, no dancing flames, but it’s deep-burning and unquenchable.

Happy Valentines Day, Mrs. Poppy, once again, I didn’t get flowers, but I’ll plant some in the spring, and they will live a long time.

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Old Dogs: The Solution for World Peace?

oldpug

It is generally acknowledged that dogs are therapeutic.  Notice I didn’t say, owning a dog is therapeutic, because I’m not sure who owns whom. Dogs of any age are a blessing, long after your kids no longer get excited about you coming home, a dog will always view you as hot property.


A word about cats and dogs.

Poppy has been blessed to have been owned by both dogs and cats, and both are great. But cats and dogs are different (see how smart Poppy is)? Perhaps the best explanation between the two that I have read is this: Dogs think; they love me, they feed me, they take care of me … they must be Gods. Cats think; they love me, they feed me, they take care of me … I must be a God.


Puppies, as cute as they might be, are exhausting. Perhaps it’s because my muzzle is also grizzled, that I feel a connection with old dogs. Old dogs seem  at peace with themselves, a virtue that is often hard to attain as a human. Years spent with a dog creates a bond unlike anything else.

On November the 8th, 2016 we said goodbye to Zsa-Zsa, our beloved pug of thirteen plus years. Yes, November the 8th was also election day (I choose not to read anything into the coincidence). Like most pugs, Zsa-Zsa was blessed with an excess of personality. She was fiercely loyal to her family, her pack. We may have failed at her training because I’m pretty sure Zsa-Zsa thought she ran the family. She also assumed the role of family protector. The family was outside once when she spotted intruders encroaching upon our property. Before I could stop her she was off. The matched pair of Rottweilers looked up, alerted by her barking, to the fast closing 25 lbs. of pure pug fury bearing down on them. Fortunately the dog’s owners were friends of ours. Even more fortunate, the Rottweilers had more sense than, Zsa-Zsa, our intrepid pug. They looked down on her with mild amusement and didn’t even offer a replying bark.

For reasons I don’t understand, God has decreed that our dogs will age faster than us. Zsa-Zsa got to the point where she could no longer navigate stairs, let alone charge Rottweilers. But her faithfulness never faltered. Old dogs have a way of looking at you that communicates something entirely different from a puppy. A puppy will look at you with eager eyes that say, “I love you, let’s play.” An old dog will raise its head from the floor, look you in the eye with a depth of knowledge about you that conveys not only love but that says, “I understand.”

Dogs are capable of mischief, they can be sneaky, especially when it comes to stealing food from forbidden sources, but they are incapable of duplicity. Trust, unwavering loyalty, steadfastness, these are the structural traits of our canine companions.  Old dogs are calming. No matter what is going on in the world, no matter what kind of day you’ve had, they understand.

I’ve started to think, that to say, “I understand,” or “I know you,” is more intimate than saying, “I love you.” Evidently the Psalmist thought so too. David in Psalm 139 says, “You have searched me, LORD, and you know me,” and later in the Psalm, ” If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”

I’ve watched Zsa-Zsa sleep the sound sleep of an old dog, her chest rising and falling with labored breathing, but still twitching as she chased rabbits and Rottweilers in her dreams. I’ve watched as she struggled to stand. I would scoop her into my arms then hold her fast in my right hand as I carried her down the stairs and to the yard outside. When I placed her down, she would often look up at me, and her eyes said, “I’m sorry its come to this.”

“I understand,” I replied.

The world is in need of a lot of understanding. The therapy of an old dog resting its head on our collective feet might be just what we need to put things into perspective. God created dogs with an honesty and empathy that often escapes us “higher” creatures.

We’re going to need a lot of old dogs!

…………………………….

In case you’re wondering, of course dogs go to heaven!

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