every girl needs a greek chorus

a blog about hope


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Tuna Noodle Casserole? Seriously?

A sFullSizeRender (5)mart cook always has certain staples in the pantry or freezer.  Besides the obvious, like flour, sugar, onion, garlic,  celery, carrots, butter, and milk, there are some things that I always have on hand: tomato sauce, tomato paste, French onion soup and various broths (chicken, turkey, Thai), dried pastas and rice, frozen peas, frozen hamburger, steaks, and chicken breasts, frozen puff pastry, frozen nuts (walnuts, almonds, pecans, and pine nuts), shredded cheeses, and albacore tuna in water.  Always.  I can concoct a gazillion recipes from that combination.

Tuna noodle casserole seems to have been a staple of everyone’s childhood.  Everyone but mine.  I don’t remember My Mother making it, because, in most households, it involved Cream of Mushroom soup, a staple in many pantries, but never in My Mother’s, because my family wouldn’t eat it.  Instead, she made Tuna Burgers, what we now call a “Tuna Melt.”  We’ll get to that some other day.

Tuna is a tricky thing.  There was a time when I didn’t eat it, and some people still won’t, for a variety of reasons (yes, I’m pointing a finger, and you know who you are).  I only eat albacore, the white tuna, packed in water.  The Veterinarian didn’t understand that.  He was perfectly happy to eat that dark stuff packed in oil, when we were newly-married college students.

“Look at how cheap it is!” he would insist.

“Yeah, but it’s no bargain, if I’m not going to eat it.”

We compromised with light tuna packed in water.  Mixed with a (very) little mayo, spread on white bread and consumed at football games with a Thermos of whiskey sours (one can lemonade, one can water, one can whiskey).

One day, I discovered a recipe using Rice-a-Roni to make “Tuna Jambalaya”  (ok, ok, don’t judge me or the recipe until you’ve tried it), which used enough sweet pepper to camouflage the taste of the tuna, but, eventually, I concocted my own tuna casserole recipe.

I rarely eat pasta any more (since I created my own stupid diet that omits pasta, rice, and potatoes — it worked for me, but I hate it), so I rarely make this.  In the bleak mid-winter, it does warm my tummy and my heart, especially with a glass of white wine.

Tuna Noodle (Pasta) Casserole

2 cups uncooked farfalle (bow-tie pasta), cooked, drained, and set aside

2 Tablespoons butter

2 Tablespoons minced onion

2 Tablespoons flour

Salt & cayenne pepper to taste

2 Tablespoons white wine or dry Vermouth

1 cup fat-free milk

½ cup frozen peas, thawed

1 5-ounce can of albacore tuna, drained

½ cup finely shredded Swiss cheese

Preheat oven to 375°.  Butter a 2-quart casserole dish and set aside.

In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat.  Add onion and stir for 30 seconds.  Gradually stir in flour, whisking until smooth.  Cook and whisk for 30 seconds.  Very gradually stir in the wine or Vermouth until smooth.  Very gradually stir in the milk.  Continue to stir until the white sauce (roux) has the consistency of a milkshake that slides effortlessly through your straw.

Stir in the thawed peas, the tuna, and the cooked pasta.  Gently toss to coat; spoon into prepared casserole dish.  Top evenly with the shredded Swiss cheese.

Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes to heat through and melt the cheese.  Increase heat to “Broil” until the cheese browns lightly.  Remove from oven and serve.

Notes on making roux:

A roux is a wonderful base for so many dishes.  It can run from a thin sauce that is the basis for gravy or crème anglaise through the medium sauces for pot pies and scalloped potatoes to a thick, dark base used in Cajun and Creole cooking (that roux that the late Chef Paul Prudhomme called “Cajun napalm”).  I never use a roux to thicken a soup.  I prefer reduction of stock, a purée of vegetables, or a touch of sweet or sour cream.

Two things are important in a roux, that it be smooth, which takes slow incorporation of the flour into the fat, and that it is cooked enough to dispel the “raw flour” taste, without burning it (unless you’re making a dark roux).

 


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Glamour

Lend me a tenor 1994

A costumer’s idea of glamour, 1994 Photo by Norman J. McCullough

Just when you’ve packed away the glitter of Christmas, a season nearly as glitzy is underway. Hollywood is on parade, and many of us revel more in the fashion extravaganza than the awards (I don’t know most of the shows and players, anyway).  In the ugliness of the world, who can’t use an occasional foray into glamour?

From last week’s Peoples’ Choice awards and Sunday night’s Golden Globes, through the SAG Awards, the Grammys, the Oscars, the Cannes film festival, up to the American Theater Wing’s Antoinette Perry Awards in June, it’s a treasure of the good and bad, the sublime and the outrageous in fashion.  If you throw in the Met Costume Gala, you’ll see everything au courant in the “World I Will Never Inhabit.”

Essentially, actors are just ordinary people, like you and I, dressed by costumers to create a character.  In my very small pond of theatrical endeavors, I’ve been dressed inappropriately by costumers on very limited budgets.  (Of course, I’m also pretty good at sweet-talking costumers into working with me.)  So, given the enormous budgets of Broadway shows and movies, I expect near perfection.  Still, I would never blame the actor for their on-stage or on-screen appearance.

However, in their “red carpet” lives, actors turn themselves over to stylists to dress them as their “real” selves.  If they don’t like the stylist’s concept of them, they can refuse to wear it.  When they show up on my television looking goofy at a media or promotional event as their “real” selves, they’re fair game for my expert analysis.  As My Mother says, “Don’t they own a mirror?  And don’t they use it?”

At the awards shows, they teeter on their sky-high stilettos and platforms (like I should talk), trip on their trains, and fall out of their bodices, accidentally. (Or is it part of their publicist’s plan?)  They flash their borrowed diamonds, reveal their manicures and pedicures on tiny cameras, and show the contents of their evening purses.  All in front of millions of people, just waiting to see the show. When, someone says their dress is unflattering or doesn’t fit or they look like a teenaged hooker, they protest our scrutiny.

“We’re expressing ourselves,” they say.

“Me, too,” I reply.

Frequently, they blame it on dehydration, stress, Botox, starvation diets, and herbal supplements (wink, wink).  I’m not going to criticize them when they’re photographed coming out of Ralph’s pushing a grocery cart with a giant zit on their famous forehead.  That’s their private time, and, God knows, I’m forever running into acquaintances in the store when I have a zit and didn’t bother to conceal it because I’m just running to the store to pick up milk.  I understand.  My high school graduation photo was retouched to remove a blemish…or two.

Anyone can be glamorous, despite the efforts of fashion and media to tell us otherwise, especially in the past 40 years, because contemporary fashion has very little to do with real women with real bodies.  Fashions are hung on girls over 5’ 8” tall and under 120 pounds.  On the Center for Disease Control’s BMI scale (body mass index), that’s underweight.  Basically, they’re clothes hangers for clothes with nothing to fill them out.

Fashion has become about revealing a woman’s “goods,” which, if they aren’t pristine, destroys the mystery that is glamour.  She got that impossible body from old-fashioned American work and healthy eating — yoga, Pilates, running, kale — didn’t she?  Or did it come from smoking, appetite suppressants, stomach bands, liposuction?  Or was their some “digital enhancement” involved?

Glamour is an illusion.  Real women create their own charm with what they’ve got to work with, and that’s glamour.  We enhance our best features and minimize the questionable.  I use eye-catching earrings to focus on my face and distract from my pudgy tummy, even when I don’t wear make-up.  I wear black, so you’ll think I’m thinner (ha!  like that works!).   I’ve been told I have a good smile, so I’ve learned how to make myself smile credibly, even when I’m terrified.  Dancing taught me to stand up straight, which makes me appear confident, even when I’m a wreck.  It’s all an illusion.

I choose to show what works for me and what doesn’t.  Unless it’s hot or I’m wearing a bathing suit, I don’t even willingly expose my upper arms outside the privacy of my own home.  Well, I will if I’m certain you aren’t going to get too close to see those crepe-y little dimples under my arms.  I’m going to camouflage my shortcomings, if I can, but I’m still going to be short and a little bottom heavy and have lines in the corners of my eyes.  Meh.  If I can’t fix it, I’m not going to sweat it.  I also have freckles, which I prefer to think of as “memories of happy days,” much as the faint red wine stains on my white dinner napkins are “happy memories.”  Not “sweating it” exudes glamour.

They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I think we are more likely to agree on what is beautiful than what is glamorous.  Beauty is classic.  Glamour is fleeting, a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t moment.  One woman’s glamour may be another woman’s tacky.

When I was a girl, I used to pore over an album that My Mother created when she was a teenager in the 1940s.  She filled it with sketches of clothes, sportswear, day dresses, and evening dresses.  I would dress up in her old prom dresses and stride around the house in the flimsy creations, straps slipping off my t-shirted shoulders.  Her jewelry box was a treasure trove of glitzy costume jewelry that I never saw her wear in real life.

“You should wear this rhinestone necklace,” I would encourage my pedal-pusher-wearing PTA mom.

“Oh, yeah,” she would answer, “I’ll wear that to the next hot dog luncheon.”

Glamour is all about flair, a glance, a laugh, a sway in the walk, a catchy phrase.  I read an article recently that said Ava Gardner was unremarkable in her first years of modeling, just another sweet pretty, small town girl with fabulous legs.

Eventually, she developed an expression that set her apart; she tilted her head back, narrowing her eyes so that she was peering at the camera from the bottom of her lashes.  According to the article, that became her signature look.  Fame soon followed, along with a series of tempestuous marriages and relationships, a small town girl plagued, according to the article, by her glamorous image for the rest of her life.

There is no glamour in falling off your shoes or exposing body parts that no one wants to see or being outrageous (Lady Gaga seems to have hung a certain dress permanently in her meat locker, because she’s been looking swell, lately).  We’ll talk about you, that’s for sure, but I don’t think that’s what you have in mind.

DATE UPDATE:

I look at my Match.com photos and see a sweet, smiling lady in every one of them.  99.99% of respondents mention my smile.  It could be the opening line that they all use, but it may be what they see.  I’m pretty sure it’s not who I am. I tried Ava’s signature, seductive look, but I appeared to be on the verge of sneezing.  And we all know what happens when you put a glamorous wig and slinky dress on me:  comedy.  I’m much more comfortable making people laugh than I am trying to seduce someone.  I suspect this is yet another reason why I remain dateless.  I depend more on my wit, which doesn’t translate well in online dating.

While I admit that I updated my profile photo, because I don’t want to mislead men that I’m not as young as I was last year, I kept four others from earlier in 2015.  Imagine my surprise when two men with whom I had previous contact wrote to me, as if they had never seen me before.  One of them sat across from me at dinner twice in four days just five months ago!  Wow!  Nice to know I’m so memorable.  It was that serial dater who told me about his “friend” who tries to see if he can get attractive women to date him.  Here’s what I wrote to him this time before I blocked him:

photo (12)

I may not be a glamour puss, but I’ve got a way with words that can put a smile on his face or put a jerk in his place, so, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).   Soli Deo gloria!


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Chilly Chili Days

Winter finally arrived this week.  I’ve pulled out my fleecy pullovers and leggings, and even the BFF won’t stay outside very long.  This is the time of year when I’m glad I’ve stored up hearty soups and stews in my freezer.  I’ve got French onion, beef barley, broccoli, butternut squash, and potato-corn chowder.  Today, I want something with a little extra heat, the kind that comes from chiles. The kind that heats up your mouth as well as your bones.  Today, I’m making chili with black beans and chopped lean chuck, so it’s extra hearty, too.

Chili is one of those syncretized American foods, like pizza, whose closest origins are in Italy but became an entirely different type of food when it got to our shores.  Chili began in the southwest, borrowing flavors and ingredients from indigenous people (beans, chiles, spices) and was adapted for mainstream palates.  Certainly, Spanish settlers in the area brought stews with tomato bases, garlic, onions, meat, and, the most important ingredient, peppers, much as Creole cuisine developed in Louisiana and the Caribbean with Spanish, French, and African influences.  See what wonderful flavors we get when we share?

“Tomato or no tomato?” is the question in some parts of the country.  “Meat or no meat?”  is the question in others.  Even the 1930s editions of Joy of Cooking, that bastion of 20th century American cooking, recommends both, albeit in the form of tomato soup. (Can you imagine anything more pedestrian?)  It also recommends that you use either onions or half of a garlic clove!  (Can you imagine anything more tasteless?)

Chili is an opportunity to use all kinds of meat, because, with enough other vegetables, herbs, and spices, who knows what you’re eating?  Once, when visiting The Veterinarian’s grandmother in Florida, she served us an intensely-flavored chili, sitting back and watching us with a smirk on her face.  After we had finished cleaning our bowls, she revealed the secret ingredient, ground elk meat, which his grandfather had shot on a trip to South Dakota.

This is my syncretized version of American chili, using black beans, chiles, garlic, onion, and spices, garnished with corn tortilla chips and cheese.  I recommend that you start with one jalapeño and add the chili powder gradually.  While I like considerable heat in my chili, The Daughter and others do not.  I don’t believe in hot for hot’s sake; the flavors should only be enhanced by the heat, not overpowered by it.

And how do you temper that heat?  Sour cream is good, but my favorite is that syncretized beverage, the frozen Margarita, or a frosty beer.  Stay toasty, my friends!

Black Bean Chili with meat

½ pound dried black beans, rinsed  (see “Note 1” below)

1 quart water

½ pound raw chopped or ground lean beef chuck, or raw ground turkey

1 cup chopped onion

1 clove garlic, minced

1 large jalapeño, seeded and minced, use two, if you like a lot of heat (see “Note 2” below)

1 small can tomato paste

1 Tablespoon good quality chili powder (I sometimes just use a pinch of chipotle powder.)

½ Tablespoon oregano

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground cumin

Cover beans with water and bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce heat and simmer for 1-1/2 hours.

Add meat, onion, garlic, jalapeño, tomato paste, chili powder, oregano, salt, and cumin.  Simmer 30 minutes, until thickened.  Adjust seasonings.

Serve with any of these garnishes on the side: chopped sweet onion or scallions, shredded Monterey Jack or sharp Cheddar cheese, queso fresco, sour cream, tortilla chips, shredded lettuce.

Note 1:  This recipe saves you from soaking the beans overnight.  Yay!  You also can substitute 2 cans of undrained black beans for the dried beans, and use 2 cups of water, but I like the texture of freshly cooked beans.  If it is too thin, you can simmer it until thickened, or, if too thick, add a little water.  You can also omit the meat entirely.

Note 2:  Take care when handling hot peppers.  A pair of disposable gloves are helpful.  Lay a sheet of paper towel on your counter.  Over the towel, slice off the stem end and slit the pepper lengthwise.  With the tip of a paring knife, flick the membrane and seeds (where most of the capsaicin — the volatile irritant in peppers — is contained) onto the towel.  Roll up and discard, where children and pets can’t get into it.  Still wearing the gloves, mince the pepper and add to the chili.  Clean up your cutting board and knife, then discard your gloves.  I recommend the gloves, because I, invariably, forget that I’ve cut up a pepper without them, and, even hours later, will touch my eyes or nose and burn myself!  Maybe you won’t, but I thought I’d pass it along.

How to chop beef:  Slice into strips, then whack with a cleaver until it resembles very coarsely ground hamburger.


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Rationalizing Resolutions

I’m so glad winter is here.  I didn’t think I would be, but I had a rough holiday season.  I overate at parties and dinners and a tea and three luncheons. I sang cheerful and poignant holiday songs at least once a week for six weeks and put smiles on the faces of strangers.  I gave gifts and got gifts and cards and letters and emails.    And The Daughter introduced me to Peppermint-Chocolate Chip milkshakes at Chick-Fil-A.  All that fun was exhausting.

I needed to put on the brakes.  If I had been a runaway train, at least I would have been moving and expending calories, but standing around with a glass of wine in my hand at a party doesn’t register much on my Fitbit.  Everything that I ate, from Thanksgiving on, settled in parts of my body that hadn’t seen fat in months, and it needed to vamoose pdq, asap, or at least before I leave on vacation in a couple weeks, where I will be required to wear a bathing suit in public in front of people who know me.

Mary See probably was making happy memories.

Mary See probably was making happy memories.

Did you realize that chocolates come with “nutritional statements?”  I didn’t either, but they do.  On the box of chocolates that My Sister gave me, they even break it down according to “milk” and “dark” chocolates.  I’m partial to dark chocolates, which are higher in iron than milk chocolates.  Milk chocolates have 2% of the recommended daily requirement of iron, while dark chocolate has 4%.  That’s twice as much!  Yay, dark chocolate!

I checked my other Christmas treats, and, sure enough, there was a nutritional information sheet for the pralines.  Who does not know that pralines don’t provide any shred of essential nutrients?  They’re just sugar, butter, milk, and pecans, which are probably the most nutritious ingredient.  Really, people.  It’s c-a-n-d-y.  No one expects it to replace any major food group, although it will probably be outlawed by next Christmas for my protection.  Glad I stuffed myself when I had the chance.

Plus, I ate potatoes.  Well, you can’t have the Christmas standing rib roast without mashed potatoes, can you?  What are you going to put the au jus on?  The Yorkshire pudding can’t soak it all up.  And no one would take the leftover mashed potatoes home with them, so I put them into a potato-corn chowder.  Then, I made scalloped potatoes because there were potatoes left in the bag.  I was tempted to make home fries or French fries or hashed browns, but I resisted.  Instead, I baked one and ate it with butter and sour cream.  I do that when I’m feeling content.  I can’t eat when I’m upset.

Like I said, I don’t make New Year’s resolutions because, what is the point?  (see last year’s Resolutely Not Making Resolutions) I am not going to keep them.  Oh, I try to be sensible.  It seems reasonable for me to make changes in small steps.  Yep.  Two weeks is a reasonable length of time for my energetic (and somewhat scattered) brain to stick with something.  On New Year’s Eve, on the verge of not making New Year’s resolutions, I made sure that I had eaten all of the sugary chocolates, pralines, cookies, and cakes that were gifted to me in December.  And I vowed to plank every day.

I failed with the sweets immediately.

The Daughter and her beau came for dinner on Sunday, bringing the most amazing chocolate cake, a box of macarons, and — you won’t believe this — a “Red Velvet” cupcake, which is wrong for so many reasons.  I could have killed her.  PLUS, I made her favorite scalloped potatoes with the potatoes that were left in the bag from Christmas.  I am my own worst friend.

The cupcake, of course, was easy to resist, because there is no commercially-produced “Red Velvet” cupcake that will meet my standards.

“It’s terrible, Mom,” she said, as she handed it to me.  “Really.  I’ve never tasted anything like it.  The frosting isn’t even cream cheese, so you can eat it.  You taste it and tell me what you think it tastes like.”

“Of course, I’m not going to taste it, but that chocolate cake looks like heaven.”  And it tasted like it, too.  For three days.  About 4” in diameter and unfrosted, it had the rich flavor of cocoa and the texture of a Queen of Sheba cake without the almonds.  I made her eat a quarter of it and then ate one remaining quarter a day.

That was good, right?  I was tempted to eat the whole thing after they left, but I resisted.  I resisted eating the remaining half yesterday, just enjoying a quarter after lunch with a cozy cup of tea.  Today, I made it until lunch time, when I finished it off for dessert with an espresso…right after I ate the leftover scalloped potatoes.

Against all my principles, I tasted the Red Velvet without the frosting.  The Daughter was right.  It was completely tasteless.  Whew!  Saved a few calories there!  Besides, it’s sub-freezing today, and I can use a little blubber to keep me warm.  I still have the macarons to go, but I have planked every day and walked more steps than the minimum, so I’m actually feeling quite virtuous.

I just need to take it slow and easy.  Maybe if I take the first two weeks of each month and follow something.  Planking this month and (mostly) avoiding dessert.

Ok.  What can I add on in February?  How about avoiding dessert and keeping my closet clean for 14 days?   Between February 1 and 14, I will put away, in its proper place, everything that comes out of the dryer and goes on a hanger.  I will clip every skirt to its own hanger, carefully drape every pair of pants so it doesn’t need to be ironed before I wear it, put every shoe back on the rack, every purse on the shelf, every belt on the hanger, every odd sock in the sock drawer.  I will fold every set of sheets and all the clean towels and put them on the shelf instead of tossing them on the chair next to my bed.

That should work.  The first two weeks of February will end with Valentine’s Day, and, although Lent starts on February 10, the 14th is a Sunday, which, technically, isn’t actually Lent (there are 40 days in Lent; you do the math).  How virtuous!

DATE UPDATE:

In my second week of my return to match.com, they have not found me one, single “mutual match.”  That’s where they tell me what men are looking for what I have to offer.  They’ve thrown a lot of “Maybe you’ll like this guy” (I paraphrase) at me, and now they’re giving me options from out of town.  Way out of town.  Like, Watkins Glen and Nyack, NY, Hampton and Virginia Beach, VA.

I had coffee (that I purchased for myself) with a man one year younger than I who said he was retired.   He looked and acted like he was 80. He didn’t want to talk about his children, his previous job, or his education.  He said that he had been “in real estate” and fills his retirement hours “reading,” “playing a little golf,” and “travelling.”  No volunteer work.  No hobbies.  He wasn’t even close to being “Athletic and Toned” (more like “A Few Extra Pounds”), and, apparently, has lost the ability to carry on a conversation.  My BFF is more interesting.

Match says that I should “Make sure [I] haven’t been too restrictive with [my] matching criteria.”

Let’s review this:

Men 50-65. (I’m not sure I can take someone much older, if I could find someone who was interested in a woman over 50.)

Never married, divorced, or widowed.  (I’m not going down the slippery slope of “Currently separated.”)

With a photo.

Body type “About Average.”

Within 50 miles.

Some college education.  (I really like to have intelligent conversations.)

Most any occupation.

I’m not sure what else I could ask for.  I’d like someone who can cook, but I don’t say that because it seems to be a rare commodity in a man, although the Veterinarian and many of his friends were great cooks.  I’d like someone who knows when to wear a coat and tie, but that’s probably elitist of me, so I don’t say that.

Match tells me that more new people sign up between Christmas and the end of January than at any other time of the year.  I guess the competition is too stiff.  Too many attractive younger women who don’t mind dirty baseball caps and sunglasses and suggestive t-shirts and motorcycles, who kayak and cycle and hike in the wilderness and — <shudder> — camp.  You know what that means, don’t you?  The guy is too cheap to take you on a real vacation in a real hotel with running water.  And you get to do the cooking!

Oh, well.  I still have those macarons, so who am I to complain.  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo gloria!

 


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Casual Glam

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

Here’s a toast to an exciting, safe, and glamorous New Year’s Eve for us all!  I will be on the sofa with a bottle of Champagne, in my Sparty yoga pants, watching my team in the Cotton Bowl, instead of doing the lotus position or planking or whatever it is that people who do yoga do.  (I wouldn’t know.  I just own the pants.)

While most people think of celebrating bowl games with chili or nacho cheese dip, I prefer to be a little more “casual glam” on New Year’s Eve.  You know what “casual chic” is, I’m sure, which, as a hotel in Bermuda once told us, “casual but elegant.”  Well, I’ve coined the phrase “casual glam” to describe enjoying fine French wine with fancy snacks, while wearing casual, but glamorous, clothing.

As a multilinguist[1], I had to look up the word “glam” to ensure that I wasn’t misleading you, Dear Reader.  The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “glam” with two meanings:  “1. extravagantly showy glamour” and “2.  Glitter Rock.”  [Glitter Rock is also known as “glam rock.”  Think Abba, Elton John, David Bowie.]  A search of the word on Urban Dictionary turned up their usual snark.  But they’re people born a long time after the 1970s, so, what do they know?

In the spirit of “glam rock,” my nails are painted a chic shade of silver, which my friends (who all survived the 70s) have commented on, favorably.  So, that’s how I’ll be “glamming” up my New Year’s Eve.  [Note to Urban Dictionary:  It is not erroneous to say “glamming” if you’re coining a new word.  Stick that in your dictionary of snark.]  I’ll be the most glamorous woman in my living room, although the BFF will come a close second.

Happy New Year!

Smoked Salmon Mousse

This recipe has been adapted from the late, great chef and writer Pierre Franey.  Tonight, I’ll just be smearing mine on toasted and buttered croutons (pre-sliced baguettes from Wegman’s that I brush with softened butter and toast on baking sheets in the oven).

8 ounces smoked salmon (I like to use thick pieces)

8 ounces cream cheese (not whipped)

1/4 cup fresh dill (without stems)

1/3 cup chopped scallions or very sweet onion

½ teaspoon ground cumin

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Tabasco to taste

2 Tablespoons vodka

Garnish:  Snipped chives, capers

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse just until blended but chunky.  Adjust seasonings.  Transfer to a serving bowl and chill.  Before serving, bring to room temperature, so that it is spreadable.  Serve on or with buttered toast points or croutons or toasted mini-bagels (nice for brunch).

If you want to be really fancy and have more time on your hands than I usually do:

Preheat oven to 450°.  Grease a baking sheet or line with a silicone baking mat.

Thaw a sheet of frozen puff pastry for 20 minutes.  Open onto floured board and pat out flat. Cut out shapes with a cookie cutter (stars are perfect for New Year’s Eve; fish are cute; hearts are romantic for Valentine’s Day) and transfer to baking sheet.  Bake in preheated oven until puffed and golden, about 8-10 minutes.  Remove to cooling rack and bring to room temperature.  Split figures in half.  Fill a pastry bag with softened mousse and pipe onto cooled pastry, using a large cylinder tip or large star tip (if you are really fancy).  Garnish with any combination of dill, capers, and/or chives.

[1] Actually, I had to look up “multilinguist” to find out if it’s a real word, but the online Merriam-Webster is not certain, either, and asked me to explain why I was looking it up.  I know.  That sounds weird, even to me.  I told them I was trying to be pretentiously humorous.  I am fluent in English, get by in French and Spanish, can order in Italian, and sing in German.


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A Closet Full of Hope

The Daughter made me buy a deeply discounted party dress the other day when we were cruising the outlets.

“Where am I going to wear this?”  I asked her.

“I don’t know.  You go places,” she responded.  “Maybe New Year’s Eve.  You have to buy it, it’s just so classy.  It’s so You.”

“Oh, I just don’t know…”  I carried it to the dressing room.  I only have one plan for New Year’s Eve, and it involves my couch, the television, and a bottle of Champagne.

“You have a million party dresses that have only been worn once,”  The Shrew who lives in my head piped in, as I stood, looking at my image in a charcoal gray dupioni silk with embroidered silver polka dots, fitted waist, and slightly poufy, knee-length skirt.

“Season-spanning,” I told The Shrew.  “Versatile.  A great buy.  I have a pale gray Pashmina I could wear with it and about five different pairs of shoes, not to mention a wide selection of rhinestone earrings and bracelets, representing a lifetime of never cleaning my closet.”

“You already made up your mind before you even tried it on, didn’t you?”  The Shrew looked back at me from the mirror.  “You’re pathetic.”

“So, we can buy it?”  I smiled brightly as The Shrew rolled our eyes.

I am addicted to the sparkly.  To the glittery.  Like a crow to bits of glass in the sun.  Me.  A woman who spends more of her life in jeans or yoga pants or leggings, writing or going to the grocery store or to rehearsal or church.  There’s hope in the flash, the distraction.  I have an overstuffed closet full of hope:

Oooo, look!  Here’s the sequined dress that I bought for a veterinary gala in 1986, when I was still a brunette.  And here’s the beaded black silk cardigan that I always wore with a floor-length skirt when we went on cruises.  Here’s the gold metallic sweater that I wore once with the striped evening pants.  The silver lace mini-skirt.  I forgot I had the white angora shrug with the silver beading.  It would be perfect with the new dress.  The clear slingbacks with the rhinestone trim.  The silver satin slingbacks.  The black strappy sandals.  The black pumps with the rhinestone heels.

After I hung up the new dress in my Closet of Hope, I realized that my New Year’s Eve plans call for a Spartan green sweatshirt and black yoga pants with the Sparty logo, and the Cotton Bowl at 8 in the evening.

I wish it was the Rose Bowl, because the Rose Bowl is on New Year’s Day and was always the pinnacle of football success in the Dark Ages, when I was a kid.  It has the best parade with the most amazing floats made out of flowers and vegetation, marvels of engineering and art.

Now, we have this farce of playoffs and playing for the national championship.  We can’t just have tradition.  The Cotton Bowl doesn’t even have a parade any more.  According to Wikipedia (if you can trust it), the parade became the Comerica Bank Parade and then died.  Kinda like my dating hopes.

But we’re in a major bowl game!  Anything can happen!

DATE UPDATE:

Another of my friends recently began a relationship with a man she met on match.com, so I re-enrolled on Sunday.  I posted all new photos, changed my profile name, and wrote a lovely, non-sarcastic profile.

Am I stupid or what?

The first man to contact me was on when I was on last year.  In all nine of his photos, his grandchildren are crawling all over him.  They are the “joy of his life.”  Great.  Enjoy them.  I’m not a baby-sitter.

The second man is a scammer from last year.

The third is a self-professed widower from Texas.  A Google Image Search shows that his profile photo belongs to a man with a wife in Illinois.  He wrote an interesting email, so I responded, “Aren’t there taller and richer women in Texas?”  He said I shouldn’t discount love whether it is found in Texas or Maryland.  Do you see my problem?

Overnight, there was another self-professed widower, a local guy without a profile photo, whose profile name was one thing, but he signed his email with an entirely different name.  He was witty and flirty and literate.  His profile says he’s looking for an “honest, sincere woman.”  He asked me to meet him for coffee.

I told him, “I make no promises, especially since you have the advantage of being invisible…I’ll consider having coffee with you, if you can reveal yourself a little more. Looks aren’t everything, but it helps if your written description is corroborated in some way.”

His reply?

“I couldn’t use my own email address here…I don’t know how to post photos…meet me for coffee so we don’t waste time on photos.”  And he wants an “honest, sincere woman.”  Ha!

My reply?

“Get back to me when you’ve resolved your issues.”

<sigh>

He won’t be seeing me in the cute gray dress with the silvery polka dots.

MSU 2015

Of course, I’ll be on my couch with smoked salmon mousse and Champagne cheering on the Spartans in my green Spartan fan-gear. After we swiftly staunch the Tide (and I know all my Auburn friends will be cheering with me), I’ll turn off the drunken celebrities slurring their top-40 hits in Times Square.  I hope to be asleep at midnight when the neighbors start the fireworks, cherry bombs, and automatic rifles, at which point the BFF will run from window to window, barking ferociously, setting off the glass breakage alarm.  The alarm company will call and ask repeatedly,

“Are you all right?”  “Are you sure you are all right?”  “Is everything secure?”  “Do you need assistance?”

My answers will be, “Yes.”  “Yes, I am.”  “Yes, it is.”  “Send a cute and honest man with a bottle of Champagne, asap.”

Still, it’s better than being in a crowd of couples who probably met on match.com, kissing at midnight.  The BFF may not be much of a kisser, but she’s honest.

There’s hope for 2016.  College basketball season is upon us, so, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!

And GO GREEN!


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O Magnum Mysterium

O magnum mysterium,photo (14)

et admirabile sacramentum,

ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,

jacentem in praesepio!

Beata Virgo, cujus viscera

meruerunt portare

Dominum Christum.

Alleluia!

O great mystery,

and wonderful sacrament,

that animals should see the new-born Lord,

lying in a manger!

Blessed is the Virgin whose womb

was worthy to bear

Christ the Lord.

Alleluia!

Tonight, we come to the second greatest event in Christendom, the birth of Jesus.  Some will consider me an apologist for God, purveyor of myth (in the true meaning of a myth, I am), childlike (yep), superstitious (never), or simply irrational (sometimes).   Some may say that Christians have co-opted other traditions (syncretism), commercialized a sacred belief (agreed), and/or persecuted those who aren’t “believers” (regrettably).  But on this night, all I can see is the hope lying in a modest dwelling, not in a palace or floating on a yacht or drifting magically through the sky.  The baby is human and real and vulnerable and generating the love and peace and hope that we appear, at first glance, to have so little of.  It is the great mystery. It’s a gift.  It’s irresistible.  Seize it.

O Magnum Mysterium, from the Matins said by the Church at Christmas, comes as close to expressing how I feel about Jesus’ birth as anything I’ve read or recited or sung.  Two musical settings, written 400 years apart, particularly convey the mystery. The elder was written by the 16th century Spanish composer Tomás Luis de Victoria and the more contemporary (1994) by American composer Morten Lauridsen.  Both are a joy to experience as a singer, the harmonies, dynamics, and movements telling the story as much as the words do.   Listen to the simple, ancient words in any of the fine versions on YouTube.

When caroling with friends, visiting shut-ins, or even singing in the bar of an upscale tavern, as much as we bring the good news of Jesus’ birth to our community, we share our own joy with one another.  At one stop, we were even joined by a kennel full of foxhounds howling along (no, it wasn’t someone singing out of tune).  In the clear, cold sky, Orion made his winter appearance, just as he did on that holy night.  Same stars.  Same creation.   Same love.  Same hope.

On Christmas Eve, as I sing with these same friends in the choir at the 265-year old church where I worship regularly, I will face this beautiful window.  Floodlights outside will illuminate God’s beloved creation.  The animals will breathe comfort. The angels will shine gloriously. Mary and her baby will glow.  The mystery will be clear.

Inside, the lights will dim when we sing “Silent Night” as the Eucharist ends, and most eyes will be damp.  What moves us?  Sorrow?  Dementia?  Hallucination?  An evolutionary, even reptilian, reaction to sound waves?  It’s a mystery.  The Eucharist itself foretells the greatest event in Christendom that we will observe in a few short months.  Another mystery. More improbability.  More irrationality.  More hope.

All of these mysteries engender love and peace and hope, if we embrace them.  It doesn’t mean that we put down our intellect or our reason.  It doesn’t mean that we dominate others.  All earthly life is messy.  Scripture does not promise us otherwise.  It promises that, in all the messiness of sin and pain and sorrow, God will continue to send that love and peace and hope that heals and sustains us. Gloria in excelsis!

As I age, I learn that I don’t need an explanation for everything that happens.  I know the nuts and bolts of life, the tools of physical survival, but the unmeasurable part of me, my faith, lifts me when I cannot lift myself.  How does faith work?  It’s a mystery, but to me, it’s very rational.  Like planking, which strengthens my physical core, I work on it.  As I work at staying in touch with friends, I work at staying in touch with God through prayer and study and fellowship and evangelism and stewardship, all of which are concrete and very real.  Frequently, I fall, but others, who also see the mystery, are there to help me upward and onward.  We are God’s gifts to one another.  We are God’s love and peace and hope.  So, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!