another day

So, as I write this, it is December 25th which we celebrate as Christmas, but 2020 is very different.

I haven’t been able to post much this month, in large part because we have been dealing with some health difficulties with my father, known here as Paco. He spent five days in the hospital and, earlier this week, was admitted to the skilled nursing and rehabilitation unit in the senior community where he lives.

Because of COVID restrictions, no visitors are allowed but we have been in touch by phone. Before he went to rehab, we did have a family early-Christmas celebration, but we sent a couple of small gifts to his room so he would have something to open today.

We hope to videochat with daughter E and family in London UK this afternoon, which will be evening there. They have already posted photos of granddaughters ABC and JG in their holiday attire. Last night, we were able to watch the Christmas Eve mass from their church. While it is sad that we were not able to see them at all in 2020, technology does help.

Spouse B, daughter T, and I are spending the day at home with scaled-back gift exchange and lots of our family favorite foods, fresh-baked date nut and cranberry breads for breakfast and lasagna from Nana’s recipe with homemade braided herb bread for dinner and apple-blackberry and an outrageously good brown-sugar and maple pecan pie for dessert. B enjoys cooking and baking special meals, so he is taking the lead with all this while I act assitant. It’s nice to have familiar things in such a topsy-turvy year.

Unfortunately, the huge snowstorm we had last week that dropped forty inches (one meter) of snow on us has set us up for flood warnings today. We got about three inches (8 cm) of rain yesterday and overnight, which, coupled with at least another couple of inches from snowmelt, has led to flooding. The Susquehanna is expected to crest tonight at major flood stage level in our town. While our home should be okay, we are concerned for our neighbors who live closer to the river.

I know for many Christians around the world, this Christmas is very different than the usual celebrations, but the underlying message of peace and good will to all is still there to bring comfort to us in these troubled times. I share wishes for peace and good will, for good health and love with all of you; whatever your personal faith or philosophy might be, these gifts are universal.

JC’s Confessions #15

In the first few seasons of The Late Show, Stephen Colbert did a recurring skit, now a best-selling book, called Midnight Confessions, in which he “confesses” to his audience with the disclaimer that he isn’t sure these things are really sins but that he does “feel bad about them.” While Stephen and his writers are famously funny, I am not, so my JC’s Confessions will be somewhat more serious reflections, but they will be things that I feel bad about. Stephen’s audience always forgives him at the end of the segment; I’m not expecting that – and these aren’t really sins – but comments are always welcome.

JC

I’m not a vegan.

I’m also not likely to become one.

I know that eating a vegan diet is gentlest on the planet and its resources and I have made a lot of lifestyle changes to address climate change and other environmental threats, but I can’t manage going vegan.

I try to be mindful of what we eat and where it comes from. We eat a number of vegetarian meals during each week and utilize local, in-season produce when available. You can read my paean to the 2020 strawberry season here. I often have access to organic produce and meats, which are less stressful on the ecosystem than large-scale conventional farming. I have tried to experiment with some of the plant-based substitutes for ground meat, but the smell, taste, and digestibility caused a number of issues within our family.

I enjoy lots of vegetables, fruits, grains, and nuts.

The problem is that I have a couple of medical issues that limit or eliminate quite a few vegan sources of important nutrients and there are times when symptoms are acting up that it is already difficult to figure out what I can safely eat without throwing in the additional strictures of veganism.

So, I will keep on, in my less-than-perfect way, eating not as bad-for-the-planet as I could be, but not as good-for-the-planet as I could be, either…

another strawberry season

We are almost at the end of strawberry season here in upstate New York.

When I was growing up in rural New England, we always went strawberrying every spring and made lots of recipes with the fresh, flavorful berries. Back then, you only had access to fresh strawberries when they were available locally. Now you can buy them in the grocery store year-round grown somewhere far away, but we seldom buy them because they are never as good as local ones.

For many years, I picked my own from nearby farms, but now I buy them from the farmstands and embark on the annual strawberry binge.

This year, we had some of our old favorites – strawberry shortcake, fresh strawberry pie, strawberry-rhubarb pie, strawberry salad, strawberry sundaes, strawberries with yogurt, and strawberries on pancakes. We also tried some new recipes – strawberry spoon cake, strawberry-rhubarb muffins, fresh strawberry tarts, and strawberry bread pudding.

Wow! That looks like a lot when it is all written out.

I think it will tide us over until next spring, when I’m sure we’ll be ready to dive into strawberry season once again.

in the pandemic kitchen

Many people are discovering cooking and baking from scratch during these past weeks of sheltering at home and less frequent trips to the store. The demand for basic ingredients has been so high that is still difficult to reliably find flour, yeast, sugar, milk, and eggs. There are lots of stories of people learning to make sourdough bread and to concoct meals with what they have on hand. Some people, who had always bought already-prepared meals or restaurant food, are finding out that they enjoy making their own dishes and baked goods and even find it relaxing.

At our house, we were accustomed to doing our own cooking and baking, although some things have changed. I’m definitely being more intentional with meal planning, both to make sure I have the ingredients on hand and to accommodate everyone’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Before B began working at home, he often ate lunch with friends; now, I try to have leftovers or some other options available for him.

Another thing that is different is that B is doing more cooking and baking. He actually enjoys kitchen work more than I do and finds it fun to make recipes that are more involved. I make bread in the bread machine; he recently made an apricot-raisin bread that took three days to make. He tends to wake up early and frequently makes breakfast treats – muffins, scones, even Chelsea buns. He does all the family grilling and has several special dishes that he prepares, including chicken marsala and Nana’s lasagna. I tend to make more old-style recipes, like meatloaf, pot roast, and soups.

Some people are also discovering things like pickling and making stock, things that I learned from my mom when I was growing up in rural New England. Of course, if you had a turkey, you would make stock from the carcass. Back then, it was considered frugal; now, it’s about better utilization of resources. I will admit, though, that now I will make a small batch of refrigerator bread-and-better pickles, rather than the dozens of jars we used to make and process in Ball jars and hot-water bath when cucumbers were in season. The pickles are still very tasty!

In some ways, my freezer and pantry resemble the ones from my childhood much more now than they used to. Because our house growing up was twenty miles from the nearest grocery store and there was a big chunk of the year when you had to worry about snow and ice on the road, we always had a stock of shelf-stable and frozen foods on hand. Now, in case we need to quarantine, I have followed the recommendation to have at least two weeks of food on hand, plus what we need to eat for at least a week or more so that grocery shopping would only happen every one to two weeks. Fortunately, I did this before the panic buying set in. A hundred days into the pandemic restrictions here in our part of upstate New York, our food distribution system has still not stabilized. Supply of some staples is spotty and a few things have been impossible to find for weeks. For example, I finally had to order a pound of yeast online in April; two months later, I still have not seen any in stores. My latest shopping triumph was finding quick-cooking tapioca, important this time of year for thickening strawberry-rhubarb and peach pies.

I’m not sure how long our current pattern of cooking, baking, and eating will persist. We have been ordering carryout from some of our favorite local restaurants, hoping to keep them going. Now that our area is in stage two of re-opening, outdoor dining is allowed, but not many restaurants here are set up for that. In a later phase, restaurants will be allowed to re-open indoor space, but probably only at 25-50% capacity. I’m guessing that we may still order carry-out rather than trying to dine-in.

The other wild card in all this is not knowing how long B will be working from home. If/when he needs to go back to the office, his return home in the evening will be too unpredictable for him to make weeknight dinners, so I will be back to more solo cooking. I had done that for years, so, of course, I can do it again, but I’ll miss having B here. Maybe it is a preview of his eventual retirement…

pandemic shopping

During our stay-at-home order period, shopping for food and other necessities has been one of the few opportunities to be away from the house, unless one is an essential worker. Most households have one designated shopper and it is suggested that shopping occur only once every 1-2 weeks.

At our house, I am the designated shopper. I also shop for my dad, who lives in a nearby senior community. He gets some meals through their dining service, but prepares breakfast and most lunches on his own.

Ideally, I would do one, very large shopping trip every two weeks, but this has proved impossible. Our area still has supply problems that cause stores to be out of stock of certain items, for example, flour, yeast, peanut butter, meat, toilet paper, canned beans, rice, frozen vegetables. It’s not that you can’t find your favorite brand. It’s that these products can be totally missing. There are also often limits to the number of containers you can buy of a product, as well. Staples like bread, milk, pasta, and canned beans are most likely to have that kind of restriction.

Because of this, I usually shop weekly, but need to go to two or three stores to find what we need. I am also making sure to keep a two-week supply of food on hand in case we need to quarantine, so I need to have food for immediate consumption and to keep the pantry stocked without compromising our emergency provisions.

We are also trying to give business to our local restaurants that are open for curbside pick-up. We are afraid that some of the local businesses that closed may never re-open, although we were happy that our favorite neighborhood Chinese restaurant, though closed for a few weeks, has now re-opened for carryout.

We have also been enjoying trips to our favorite ice cream stand, Sugar Lips, which makes their own hard ice cream and usually about ten vegan flavors. This is a special place for the lactose-intolerant people in my family. Sugar Lips usually attracts a lot of customers from the university, so we are hoping that the local folks can give them enough business to stay open until the students are able to return to campus.

Today, thanks to our region meeting the criteria for phase one re-opening, I was able to support one of my favorite shops in a nearby town to our west. They specialize in locally made products. I usually buy handmade soaps from them and I’m pleased that I was able to put in an order online. Bonus: they had some multipurpose headband/face masks for sale. Pickup from the store is by appointment. Maybe the next time, they will be able to be open for in-person browsing. I think that might be phase four, with facemasks and social distancing, of course.

Are you having shopping adventures in your area? Please share in the comments.

Family time in London

One of the great things about going to visit family living in a historic and dynamic city is that you get to experience non-touristy, neighbourhood life. (I hope all my UK and Commonwealth friends will appreciate my remembering to put the u in.) L, E, and ABC live with L’s parents in Plaistow. The row houses there remind me of ones that you see in some US cities.
Larry's parents' house in London
L’s parents love gardening. The weather in London is mild enough for flowers outdoors in the winter. There were definitely no flowers co-existing with Christmas wreaths at our house in upstate New York!

We were surprised to see a tree full of parakeets! Apparently, escaped parakeets have led over the decades to thousands of these birds flying about London.
parakeets in London!

We learned that while most of the utilities are underground, the phone lines are not. Londoners get a lot of use from one utility pole!
London telephone lines

While we sometimes went in a family car, we most often got around by train or bus. Never having lived in a large city with good public transportation, I appreciated the extensive network of routes. While people in the US tend to think of double-decker buses as tourist vehicles, they are the common bus on most routes. They can carry twice as many people as regular buses and there are definitely a lot of people on the move.
London bus station
ABC loves to go on the buses and trains, especially when she can sit in the front of a train car or the top level of a bus. She likes to pretend she is driving.

Another advantage of being with Londoners is that they can direct you to phenomenal neighbourhood fish ‘n chips shops that a tourist would never find. We decided on haddock and there was so much food it overflowed the plates!
London fish 'n chips
It was also great to have so many home-cooked meals, especially when we had Filipino dishes. Given that most of us came down with a cold, it was especially great to have homemade soup.

SoCS: triple play

Yesterday, ABC helped me make bread in our bread machine. It was a way to keep her occupied while her mom was resting. First, we had to weigh the flour using our kitchen scale. Then, she helped me put in the salt, sugar, and butter. Next, I measured the milk. I was using Fairlife milk, which is lactose free and higher in protein. Unlike other kinds of lactose free milk, Fairlife is lactose free due to being ultra-filtered. I think it tastes better than dairy products that are done with lactase. I used to use buttermilk powder, too, but I think it contains whey and other powdered milk components. At any rate, it was enough lactose to bother some of my family members, so I stopped using it. Finally, I put the pan in the machine and the yeast in the container on top. ABC couldn’t help with that part, but she did press the button to start the machine after I programmed it. Four hours later, we had a loaf of delicious bread and the house smelled wonderful.
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “weigh/way/whey.” I get bonus points for using all three – not that anyone is keeping score. My stream of consciousness today also seems to be anti-paragraph. Please join in the fun! You can find out more here:  https://lindaghill.com/2019/09/06/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-sept-7-19/

catching up – again

First, I would like to offer Passover and Easter blessings to those celebrating and sincere wishes for peace, love, and joy to all!

While regular readers might have thought I would have more time to post with daughter E and granddaughter ABC in the UK for an extended visit, and while I myself had hoped this might be possible, it hasn’t worked out that way, at least so far.

And, while I do try to write about the most salient things that are at the top of my mind, I am finding myself too overwhelmed to find words to express how I feel. Maybe, eventually, I’ll be able to. Perhaps in poetry. Perhaps years from now. Perhaps not.

In practical/physical terms, a large share of the last week has revolved around dealing with some changes in Nana’s condition. The edema from the congestive heart failure had accelerated but increasing the diuretics to address it lowered her already low blood pressure even more. We are trying to walk a very fine line to balance the two and, with her usual hospice nurse and aide unavailable for a few days, I have been trying to keep a closer eye on things and inform all the different private aides about the changes and new things we have to watch out for.

Amidst all this, it was wonderful to be able to celebrate Easter together. Daughter T and I attended Easter Vigil at church last night, which was a comforting blend of the familiar and the unique, with the once-a-year rituals of blessing the Paschal candle and welcoming new adult members to the church.

I had my pyx with me to carry the Eucharist to give to Nana today. T, Nana, and I prayed together before T gave communion to her grandmother.

We brought Easter dinner to share with Nana and Paco and Mary who is the Sunday daytime aide. My husband B made Swedish meatballs from a recipe that came to us through the Swedish landlady of my family when I was a toddler. For dessert, he made cherry pistachio biscotti and shortbreads, the latter from a recipe from his family. Not exactly traditional Easter foods, but delicious and special for us this year.

I wish there were a fast and easy way to get thoughts from my head into a post to send out to you all, but I’m afraid instead you will have to continue to put up with haphazard posts with various gaps that I may not even recognize in time to fill them. I hope to back up and write about a few things, like my second whirlwind trip to Northampton last month, as time and brainpower allow, but I know better than to make promises these days.

after the concert

Singing the Brahms Requiem was draining, but afterward, instead of feeling tired, I was having a bit of an adrenaline rush. I said some thank yous and goodbyes and headed back to my friend CK’s home.

When CK invited me to stay with her, she had graciously offered to have a few friends from our Smith years over after the concert. As it happened, a couple of guests grew to three, then five, then seven, until finally we were a group of ten alums from ’81-’83 with two spouses, one of them CK’s husband who was our co-host.

CK handled everything with aplomb, starting with cheeses, dips, and deviled eggs, moving on to three delicious homemade soups with bread and three salads, and ending with a make-your-own sundae bar featuring four pints of gourmet ice cream from Bart’s, a local company. And there was malted vanilla!

Whenever Smithies get together, there is an instant connection and always lively conversation. Each of us knew someone else there well, but each also was getting know someone for the first time. We talked about music, of course, as we were all choral singers, about Smith, about generations of family, about technology, and more, in various constellations, for hours.

It was a wonderful way to cap an amazing day!

Italian week

ABC, at eight months, is adding new foods to her repertoire.

This week, she has enjoyed mushroom ravioli, bucatini with tomato sauce, and caramel panna cotta.

She was especially enthused about me sharing my panna cotta with her.

It’s not surprising.

After all, one eighth of her ethnic heritage is Italian.