Simple joys

Driving into south-western Michigan along I-94 is beautiful. Woods, water, cloud dappled blue skies. Man, I’ve missed that landscape. Michigan is also an allergen landmine. My arms started getting small hives on Friday night – welcome, Jamie! – and they’re still present (but no longer red) today one day back in Iowa. They don’t mention that in the Pure Michigan! ad campaign. Regardless, I love seeing that Welcome to Michigan sign stretching across the highway. I feel lucky having grown up in such a beautiful, naturally diverse state.

Ian and my brother, two peas in a pod, love sharing a house and making music together. I’ve never seen either of them laugh or smile so often. What else could a mom/sister ask for? Other than seeing my mom walk up with giant bowls of just picked sweet cherries and blueberries to snack on and a gallon of ice-cold Hudsonville’s Traverse City cherry fudge ice cream on a nearly 100F day, that is? Those came pretty close, too.

I hope your weekend was a good one, as well.

Jamie’s Soapbox

I’d like to take a few minutes during this holiday trip to talk about two things that are near and dear to my heart.

#1 is trust. Trust is big with me. Trust is key. Trust is the cornerstone of all my relationships. I extend it. I expect it.

Sooooooo, if you see my journal, don’t read it. That’s my safe and sacred space. It’s where I figure myself and others out, it’s where I make sense of the world. It’s often ugly and messy and sometimes downright mean, because it’s better that I process those feelings and emotions there than (unfiltered and unconsidered) anywhere else. And if you leave yours out, I will leave it be too. Pinky promise.

There’s been only a handful of times that I’ve either stumbled across someone’s journal unknowingly or knocked against someone else’s and had to return it to roughly the same spot. Even after admitting it (asap), handling them at all has made me feel guilty and sleazy, like I’d committed a serious relationship violation.

If you want to know what someone thinks about XYZ, ask. Maybe they’ll tell you. Maybe not. They get to decide. Just don’t breach that trust, especially when someone is your guest. Your curiosity isn’t justification enough.

#2 is respect. I don’t need to agree with you about certain issues, especially if I don’t live with you. You don’t need to agree with me. We can be respectful to each other without a ton of shared opinions. Maybe the bulk of our (personal, political, religious) values aren’t even in agreement. We can still find some common ground on some things, if we try. Kicking puppies is bad. Cat videos are funny. Littering is unacceptable, so let’s each fill a bag before we leave the beach. Gently washing the dirt off a toddler’s wound is something we can both get behind. Focus on those.

I’m not you. You’re not me. We’re not them. I’ll do me, you do you. They’ll live their own lives thankyouverymuch. Bad mouthing someone’s spouse, job, kid, neighborhood, lifestyle, or housekeeping is uncalled for. Unsolicited advice is unappreciated. Pretty much always. You’re allowed to have your own opinion. You’re also allowed to keep your mouth shut. In fact, nine times out of ten, it’s highly recommended.

Doing, buying, changing, repairing things against someone’s wishes — and bleating the martyr’s “I was just trying to be nice” when the shit hits the fan afterwards —  is just plain not something to do.

Respect the No.

If you ruin something, yes, it’s reasonable to insist on paying for the repair (especially if it would cause a true financial burden for the other).

But — if you just don’t like the color of someone’s door and window trim, it’s not okay to paint them a color you think is better while they’re at work. It’s extra not okay to get pissy when they don’t appreciate your “efforts” upon returning home.

So there you go, my two cents. Enjoy the weekend.

Don’t knock the familiar

It’s surprising to me that so much emphasis is placed on the new, the different, the surprising, the exciting  when it’s often the familiar things/people/places that bring me the greatest peace, the deepest joy, the highest happiness. Don’t get me wrong, I like variety and see the value in not spending life at the mercy of the same ol’, same ol’. But what gives me the most comfort but the things and people, the places and meals that I go to time and again, the ones that I know will leave me with a smile, relaxed, or sighing with contentment.

Hot, steamy, sweat-filled day? That’ll be coffee-flavor Hagen Daaz ice cream, straight out of the container or a chocolate double scoop from Java Joes. Great news or terrible? My fingers head straight to a select set of telephone numbers. My feet could walk to Jeff’s office from anywhere in the city without any sight, sound or smell cues. One step off the escalator from Blaak Station and, “I’m home,” will escape my lips. Swiss chard in the CSA box? Check the egg carton because that means quiche. Super easy, always tasty, satisfyingly filling.

  • Pre-heat oven to 400F.
  • In a large bowl, whisk 6 large eggs with some sea salt and pepper. Set aside for 10-15 minutes.
  • In a non-stick pan, sauté 1 onion (chopped fine) and 1-2 cloves garlic (minced) in a Tablespoon olive oil. When nearly translucent, add 1 bunch chard leaves (chopped small-medium) and stir until wilted. Remove from heat.
  • Add 1 cup grated (medium cheddar, parmesan, or any other mild cheese in the fridge that melts well) and the chard mixture to the eggs. Stir well.
  • Pour into an uncooked pie shell. (You have one of those pre-made and hiding in the freezer already, right??)
  • Cook 30 minutes, or until a sharp knife blade comes out clean.

(Leftovers are also good cold.)

What does one eat after a mini-tri workout?

Anything one wants.

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In this case, a veg-heavy, clean out the fridge, grain bowl prepped beforehand and scarfed down afterwards.

  • farro
  • quinoa
  • steamed kale
  • carrots
  • white radishes
  • sugar snap peas
  • chickpeas
  • avocado
  • halved grape tomatoes

Topped with: 1 Tablespoon rice vinegar, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, 1 teaspoon soy sauce, 1 clove garlic sliced, sea salt & fresh ground pepper (shaken in jar, straining out the garlic)

Highly recommended accompaniment — sit on deck as the sun goes down and chat with neighbors over drinks about their recent holiday trip.

What messes we make of the inner worlds we trod upon

Having read The Ambassadors back during undergrad — that is to say powered through it fast enough to write a synapses, have a flaccid discussion with equally unimpressed students, and pass a test on it before shoving it even more quickly out of my mind — I finished Henry James’ tale of expectations, deception, relationships and authenticity again today. I didn’t remember even the barest of outlines re-reading it, and for that I’m grateful.

I feel stingy giving it only three stars on Goodreads because it deserves more, but the superfluous nature of every line that is quintessentially James’ style is such a chore to push through for 512 pages that I also can’t in good conscience give it any more. 

There is, however, no way around the fact that this story has snaked its way through my thoughts the entire evening, and that’s saying something.

Asparagus Risotto Cakes (- the Cakes)

Into the second week, the reality that our CSA (community supported agriculture) farm is inevitably going to give us a few things that we have no flipping idea about and/or far more of something than we know what to do with has hit hard. Garlic scapes? Never heard of them. Sorrel? Isn’t that a horse color? Lemon balm? Um yeah, I got nothing.

So a book I often go to first is From Asparagus to Zucchini: A guide to cooking farm-fresh season produce. (Please buy it locally if you can.) It doesn’t have every possible vegetable or herb under the sun, but it’s been quite useful to me over the years. It has an overview of each vegetable, cooking & storage tips, and a page (or two or three) of recipes to try.

I decided to try out Asparagus Risotto Cakes today, except it tasted sooooo good coming off the stove that I decided to cut the recipe short. “We’re eating this for dinner AS IS.”

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I ate my dinner so fast that I decided to get this little prep bowl full of risotto as I was typing things up just to show what it looks like. And then I ate that, too.

If you have some fresh asparagus on hand, I highly recommend you try making it. Just remember, like all risotto recipes, once you get started you can.not.stop.stirring until the meal is done. Stir, stir, stir, stir, stir and then stir some more. Therefore it’s essential that you get everything prepped and ready-to-go beforehand.

Asparagus Risotto Cakes, adapted from p. 19 of the aforementioned book

  • 1 pound asparagus, tough ends removed
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped onions
  • 1 Tablespoon minced garlic (I used garlic scapes*)
  • 1 1/2 cup arborio rice
  • 1 pinch saffron threads, crushed
  • 3/4 cup white wine (I used Pinot Grigio)
  • 6 cups chicken stock, hot (keep an extra 2 cups stock on hand, ready to be warmed, in case the rice looks like it’ll need a bit more liquid)
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (I had Parmigiano-Reggiano on hand)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • salt and pepper

Steam asparagus in colander over large pot of boiling water for 4-5 minutes. Rinse in cold water, cut thick stalks in half, chop into small (~1/4″ length) pieces.

Heat oil in saucepan over medium heat, add onions and cook until transparent. Add garlic, cook 1 minute longer. Add rice, stir 2 minutes. Add saffron and wine. Simmer hard, stirring, until liquid is reduced by half.

Add the stock, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly, until well absorbed each time. Half way through the stock, add some salt. Continue adding the stock, stirring until all the stock is absorbed and the rice begins to clump. It’ll take longer than usual for risotto.

Add butter, cheese, lemon juice, asparagus, pepper, and more salt if desired. Serve immediately.

*Garlic scapes are ancillary stalks removed as garlic is growing, to direct more energy to the bulb. Your farmer’s market might have them in stock early in the season. They can be used in place of garlic in recipes, salads, sauces, etc. I tossed the scapes in the food processor, chopped them fine, and plan to freeze the extras in small ice cube sized sections for future use.

Cardi(o) J

I messed up my right elbow about a month ago, maybe longer, I can’t remember. My memory of non-impactful things isn’t something I find I can trust much anymore.

Anyway, I lifted too much weight too many times when my fingers, wrists and forearms weren’t strong enough to match the rest of my larger muscle groups’ strength (and no, I’m not a bulky brick, thank you very much) so I injured the tendons at the elbow that connect my lower arm to my upper arm. It’s painful just to pick up a coffee cup, hold a book, find a comfortable position writing or typing. Good timing for the 150,000 words I have coming in for edits soon, no?

In short: no lifting at all for the bulk of the summer and possibly the entire summer and into the fall. This sucks. But unlike last year when I broke the left elbow, the ortho says I can still swim, bike, and run. So just call me Cardi(o) J, because I’m going to be hustling in one form or another from now until I can get back into the gym just to avoid losing my mind.

I’m down 2.5 pounds already this week. Sigh. Muscle takes so long to build but so short a time to lose.

Is it getting hot in here, or is it just the chili paste?

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Taken from The Food Lab by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

It doesn’t look like much right now, a somewhat disturbing tar-colored substance, but man oh man does it ever smell good. I’ll be using this tomorrow, meh maybe tonight even, for a batch of Beef Short-Rib Chili with Beans. I hear the Texans crying into their sweet tea already.

It’s pretty easy to make if you can get your hands on good, almost leathery (but not over dried and crackly) chiles. I ended up going to two stores to find mine. If you have a decent Mexican grocery in your area too, you’re probably all set.

6 Ancho chiles, de-stemmed and deseeded and torn into 1-inch sections
3 California chiles, de-stemmed and deseeded and torn into 1-inch sections
2 Árbol chiles, destemmed and deseeded and cut in half

DO NOT TOUCH YOUR FACE OR EYES DURING THIS ENTIRE PROCESS

In a dry, heavy-bottomed, medium sauce pot, stir the chile pieces over medium-high heat for a couple minutes, until they start to really release their scent.

Add 2 cups of chicken stock (or water) and simmer over low-medium heat for 5-8 minutes, until the skins get soft.

Carefully (!) ladle the hot mixture into a sturdy blender (glass top is preferred, although mine is not) and blend on LOW so the hot mixture doesn’t forcefully expand – high school physics at work here – as the blades begin to spin, splattering lava all over you and the kitchen. Scrape the sides down. Blend on medium. Scrape the sides down. Blend on high until a perfectly smooth puree is achieved. It’ll make about 2 cups of chili paste.

I’m going to use a cup in each of the two recipes I’m making, so I poured an equal amount into two storage containers. One went in the fridge, the other into the freezer. If you want smaller amounts, freeze in ice cube trays and pop into a ziplock bag after its frozen solid. Question your need for chili seasoning packets ever again.

Fools, said I, You do not know//Silence like a cancer grows

I have a confession to make.

I knew last Friday what the underlying reason for my ‘always a sound in the background’ situation was, at least I had a very strong suspicion. But this week has, with Jeff gone on a golf holiday with some friends, really driven the point home. I’d already noticed that I listen to far less music on the weekends when he’s home, but I assumed it was because he and I don’t share a lot of musical tastes.

Until this year, I’ve often spent my days around other people in some way: working in retail or local business projects, volunteering, training with Scotty or Jessica, passing an hour or two in a favorite cafe, chatting with my favorite store’s owners. But with our decision to not eat out, go to bars/cafe’s, to travel, and to cut way back on our spending this year, not to mention my lack of a regular training partner, now I can go days without speaking to anyone but Jeff after he gets out of work. Toss in my decision to logout of the more distracting social media sites and it’s pretty much crickets around here.

Now don’t get me wrong. I like my solitude, I value my time to myself, I think the decisions are good ones. I’m introverted by nature and by upbringing. But I didn’t fully realize how little I would interact with people day by day now, especially verbally. I promise I’m not spending hours crying into my teacup or anything, nor do I have any desire to start forcing conversation on poor underpaid grocery store clerks, but to say my days are quiet is like saying snow is white.

I understand that my own decisions are the root of the situation. I was the one to suggest we take on this challenge. I made the decision to stop volunteering, at least for a year. I know that I could look for a more social type of work than copyediting. I could even *shudder* join a club of some kind – running, reading, basketweaving. I don’t expect others to fix my silent world or ask you pity me.

I know that there are people isolated from and by society for a variety of reasons. People who don’t have the privilege of making the decisions that I’ve made and that I’m making. People who are so alone and lonely that their only conversational opportunities are with themselves, hour after hour, day after day, year after year. They deserve our compassion when seen mumbling to themselves in public parks, arguing with no one on the sidewalk, or forcing a one-sided conversation on a clearly disinterested bartender or barista. I can only imagine the pain of unrelenting, unending, unmediated aloneness.

For a few years, I shared lunch M-F with someone who, I quickly came to realize, often didn’t speak to anyone else the entire day. A few days before he died, he said something unexpected that I didn’t fully appreciate at the time, but which I’ve been thinking about a lot this week. “Of everything you’ve every shared with me, your conversation has meant the most.” I better understand what he meant these days. I wish I could tell him so.

Take care of yourself and each other.

For your listening pleasure, because it’s brilliant and beautiful:
Sounds of Silence

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
No one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

“Fools” said I, “You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you”
But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming

And the sign said, “The words of the prophets
Are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls”
And whispered in the sounds of silence

Songwriters: Paul Simon
The Sound of Silence lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group