Summertime Blues

The best laid plans… I said I’d be writing more regularly last time, but the week after my post I was in the hospital again with stroke symptoms, arrhythmia, and shortness of breath.  Sigh, just when I thought I was out of the woods.

I spent a few days there, having every conceivable test known to modern mankind, including checking for Covid-19, which may have been the worst one!  I’ve been neurotically careful;  mask and physical distancing when I must go out, so, of course it was negative.

The results: they think I’ve been having TIAs, perhaps because my blood pressure isn’t controlled enough by the meds I’m on. Perhaps because of one of my meds. Perhaps because some things are just unknowable. Bottom line: they don’t know what’s going on, so I was told to get off my hormone replacement therapy. Without the hormones I’m afraid I will feel like… well, Dorian Gray’s portrait hidden up in the attic.

 I’ve always joked that you’d have to pry my hormone supplements out of my cold, dead hand… but sometimes it’s wise to stop and think, “Is this really the hill I want to die on?”

Speaking of old, I had the funniest conversation with my youngest sister, Elizabeth. I have a lovely silk spaghetti-strap top I bought last year and never wore. Now, I can’t see myself ever wearing it. I knew it would look great on her, so I sent a pic and asked if she liked it, telling her I’d feel like mutton dressed as lamb in it. Her response:

I’m sure most of this is in my head, because so far, I don’t feel bad at all except that I’m not sleeping. To counter this I’m maximizing foods that feed my brain and help handle depression, anxiety, insomnia and treat menopausal symptoms.

Like what? A Mediterranean-style diet, primarily of fruits, veggies, extra-virgin olive oil, real yogurt and cheese, legumes, nuts, Omega-rich seafood, whole grains, small portions of red meat, lean chicken and pork. The variety in this real-food diet provides our brain the nutrition it needs, regulates our inflammatory response, and supports the good bacteria in our gut.

Very often, what’s eating us… may be what we are, or aren’t,  eating!

Speaking of good eats, our dear neighbor, Rich, loves to cook and brought me over a container of fresh Gazpacho. (I used to make Ina Garten’s recipe, but haven’t in years since my sweetie won’t eat cold soups.)  It was absolutely delicious, and motivated me to make Anthony Bourdain’s Vichysoise to share, since I now had a fellow cold-soup enthusiast.

As a “thank you”, he gifted me one of Bourdain’s cookbooks given to him by a coworker he dislikes so much that just seeing the book on his shelf aggravated him. I’m still laughing over my good fortune!

I don’t know about the weather where you live, but it’s been hot as Hades here in Texas, so last night I made a batch of my creamy, cool zucchini soup.  It’s easy as all get-out, delicious,  and perfect for these inferno-like temps. I have been making this chilled soup every summer for at least 25 years. Try it, I know you’ll love it too.

Recipe:  Three (3) medium-sized zucchini, sliced, and one (1) medium white or yellow onion, diced. Put in a sauce pan with three (3) cups of natural chicken broth and simmer about 10-15 minutes till nice and tender. Let cool 10 minutes. Add 3/4 cup of plain Greek yogurt to the pan and stir. (I use whole milk yogurt for the richness, but use what you have). In two batches, whir in blender till smooth and creamy. Pour into large container and chill. Garnish with chives, parsley, a bit of fresh dill, spinach leaves, or some fresh black pepper. Bon apetit!

XO Donna

 


Learning Curve

Trying new things can be either an exciting and rewarding learning experience, or fraught with anxiety if, like me, you hate to get it wrong.

I was raised by a “failure is not an option,” father. No learning curve allowed. I was expected to do everything right, right off the bat. Many parents, and some grandparents, mistakenly think that this attitude presses kids to do their best. But, pressure stifles a sense of wonder and experimentation, and diminishes the self-confidence necessary to try something repeatedly until you succeed. Often  these feelings carry forward into adulthood.

These days I’m adhering to a new school of thought, “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.”

Fifty years later, after some therapy, and online access about how to do anything, PLUS a global pandemic… heck,  “Time is on My Side.”  I not buying into  “can’t teach an old dog new tricks!”  That’s just an excuse, not a fact.  I have been trying lots of new things, straying from the comfort zone of the things I know how to do well, and having quite a few interesting outcomes!

Heavenly Blue morning glories.

First, I planted morning glories, and they took forever to sprout. Like a good Jewish Mother, I checked on them daily encouraging them to grow babies, grow. Only three out of the six seedlings made it, but they are strong and happy.  I also planted a Shishito Pepper and some Thyme and Oregano in a big pot in the sun. I talk to them too, and they are all thriving! We ate my first handful of peppers sautéed with shrimp for dinner  the other night.

Oregano, Thyme, Shishitos

Then, I had an applesauce cake FAIL.  A familiar recipe, except that this time I used French flour that I ordered from Amazon. I’d  heard that people who react badly to American wheat are able to tolerate this better.  What I didn’t know is that without adjustments, it would come out so dense.  How dense was it, Donna?  It was as dense as an apple-scented fire log.

In it’s favor, it was beautiful.

After lots of research on why this happened, I learned that this type of flour (t45) is usually reserved for pastry and cookies.  It’s lower gluten creates much less sponginess, and the fineness of the flour  soaks up much more liquid than I could have imagined. The Gremlins won that round as I threw it in the trash.

Still a little bummed-out, I decided to try a new recipe for cornbread, since I’ve  been making the same cornbread for 40 years. Although the recipe is from a cookbook I’ve enjoyed many things from, their cornbread was a disgusting failure. No idea why… absolutely none at all. Into the trash it went, too.  Another win for the Gremlins.

Reluctant to waste any more hard-to-come-by ingredients,  and trying to bolster my sagging ego, I pulled out a tattered Ina Garten corn muffin recipe that I’d scribbled on an envelope and carried around for years, but never baked. They were unequivocally the  most delicious corn muffins I have ever eaten! They were perfect with a pot of chili for dinner,  and still perfect when split, buttered,  and toasted the next morning with my coffee.

Of course they’re delicious, they’re by Ina Garten!

Ina is one of two or three people on my “People I’d Love to Meet” list. When I was very ill years ago and couldn’t eat, could barely get off the couch, she was the bright spot in my day as I’d watch her cooking for her darling husband and friends. I would reminisce about my 25 years living on Long Island, too, and even driving around the beautiful town where she lives. I fantasized about being  invited to her house to chat with her as she cooked, and afterward, eating a beautifully prepared meal with her .

(If any of you have connections to Ina, and can arrange it, I’m game!)

So, without any further ado, here is the recipe that gave me so much delight this week:

Ina’s Corn Muffins

Mix 3C flour, 1 C sugar, 1 C cornmeal, 2TBSP baking powder, 1.5 tsp. salt in large bowl.
Whisk 2 sticks butter, melted and cooled, 2 XL eggs, and 1.5 C milk together. Add wet to dry. Don’t overmix the batter, quick and easy does it.
Scoop into 12 lined muffin cups, bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 25-30 mins. Halves easily for 6 muffins.


Up to Speed

What do you do when you procrastinate?  

I have a friend who works on spreadsheets. My youngest sister cleans. Me, I bake. I have a batch of almond-flour chocolate-chip cookies in the oven as I write. 

So much has happened, I hardly know where to begin. My posts have been sporadic, but I feel up-to-speed now, and I have a new computer to boot. 

I hope it’s true that learning new things is good for our brains, because I am transitioning from PC to Mac… and it’s a little like learning a new language. On the plus-side, my sweetie is pretty fluent in Mac. And I think my iPhone and iPad experiences have helped me. 

Just like all of my years of baking have made the transition to wheat-free recipes easier for me. I mean, look at these gorgeous cookies!

 

I made the PC-to-Mac transition because I was ready to get back to work on the book I began writing before my strokes. However, my computer lacked both the drive and the memory for the necessary updates. I can sympathize.  Encouraged by friends to make the switch, I stalled – afraid of something new and different, of failure…

 But, after weeks and weeks of mulling it over, when I found what I wanted for 25% less than in the Apple store… I was finally inspired to dive in. 

My exquisitely packaged MacBook sat on my desk for more than a week before I was brave enough to even open it. Gosh, I’m really embarrassed to admit that. 

But, here I am, writing you today on my Mac. And wait, there’s more! I also signed-up for an English grammar class taught online through MIT!
I’m excited, and nervous: I think it will be a fun way to get more comfortable with my computer, yet nervous because I chose to be graded, knowing it would make me more diligent. I’ll keep reminding myself of how much I love adventure.

Speaking of which, we sold our motor-home last month. We both have mixed feelings since it was such a wonderful part of our lives. We had a blast, and we have lots and lots of photos to remind us of our wonderful trips. The best part of all is that the people who bought it are the nicest couple ever! We are so happy for them.

A week later, we traded-in our faithful pick-up truck that was now too road-weary, and needed repairs. This seems to be a recurring theme today. LOL!  After joking about Corvettes and Mustangs, we now drive a mid-sized SUV that’s got all of the modern technology anyone could want. Maybe more than anyone wants, truth be told.

It’s sleek, has a couple of nifty features that I find incredibly helpful, it’s gas-efficient, and has a net for my yoga mat and blanket. What more could you want from a vehicle?

All-in-all, things are feeling steadier these days, a perfect environment to flourish in. And who knows what adventure is awaiting us just around the corner, right?

XO Donna


Walking on Sunshine

I studied with a wise business mentor who always said, “If you’re on time… you’re late.” 

It was a great way to drive home the necessity of being early, and made more of an impression than my mother’s, “The early bird catches the worm.” 

I’ve certainly never wanted to catch worms, have you? However, having all of my ducks-in-a-row is a wildlife metaphor I can subscribe to. So much less stress-inducing than a last-minute mad dash to get everything done! Both my mentor and Mom would be proud of me this year, I’m ready way ahead of schedule.

Just like Santa, I made a list and I’ve been checking things off as I go.

This year I had my heart set on creating my own holiday cards using a photo from our travels. I asked my friend, Maria, (who teaches creativity workshops ) how best to do this. She said that she’s had success with Walgreens personalized cards before, and she was right. I unleashed my inner-artist by uploading a special photo, choosing a design template and a card stock, then even created envelopes with our return address printed on them. They were ready 24-hours later, and with a 50% discount coupon I found online, they were very reasonably priced.

Since it all seemed too easy – I worried whether they’d be worthy of being mailed out? I’m happy to say they are!  I’m addressing them today, and tomorrow they will be dashing through the snow. 

They had to be ready, because Thursday morning we leave for our much-anticipated Christmas gift to ourselves – five nights at a quiet little resort we love on the beach in Mexico. 

There have been days when I wondered if I was actually going to make it… 

For two weeks I’ve been organizing my clothes and now they are stacked on my dresser with care.  They only need to be fitted into a carry-on, along with the small arsenal of health & beauty products a woman of our age requires.

Speaking of products, I visited a friend’s shop last month for a Consuela sale. I needed a makeup bag that could stylishly survive a leak or spill while traveling. I found the perfect one: it’s roomy and lined with sparkly spill-proof vinyl that reminds me of my aunt’s 1950s Formica table-top. Made in Mexico, with lots of styles and designs, her website is consuelastyle.com 

Sunshine, delicious food that I didn’t cook, (meaning no dishes for my sweetie to wash) and a pool surrounded with palm trees. What more could anyone want? 

Since you asked, the highlight of the trip is that we are meeting four other couples there. We are all of a certain age, and have had enough life-experiences that we don’t take friendships, or precious time spent together, for granted.

I feel like a kid, excitedly counting the months, then the weeks, and now it’s down to counting the days till we all are officially on vacation.

XO Donna


Don’t Tread on Me!

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I was greeted yesterday morning, over a delicious cup of coffee NOT made by me (since I’m clever enough to sleep an hour later than my darling) by the news that our neighborhood newsletter was warning more about snakes needing to be removed from people’s homes.

Do you remember the scene from the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indiana Jones is hanging over a pit full of writhing serpents and says, “Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?”

That’s exactly how I feel about them, and to hear about this before I’d even finished my coffee.  Arrrggghhh!!  

So what’s a gal to do?  Since we live in a city, (we’re out in the country, but it’s still within a city) a shotgun is out of the question. Not that I’d ever kill one, no matter how afraid I was.  Education (as with most things in life) is the answer!

Having been horrified when I moved here, upon learning that there are poisonous snakes everywhere in Texas, I took advantage of an avid herpetologist friend’s knowledge  to learn everything I could about snakes.  I wanted to be able to recognize the ones I needed to worry about…  instead of worrying about them all.

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As it turns out, any snake will try to bite us to defend itself, even a little green garden snake.  The State of Texas is home to 15 potentially dangerous snake species or subspecies. 

Despite this, each year, there have been more deaths in Texas attributed to lightning strikes than to venomous snakebites. The four poisonous snakes species here: rattlesnakes, copperheads, water moccasins, and coral snakes.

By not hanging around the banks of rivers, streams, and brooks, I can avoid water moccasins. Copperheads? Rattlesnakes? Out here, in the woods… and I’m not a hiker through uncharted trails. Nope, thanks.

Coral snakes are small with little-bitty mouths, usually only biting fingers when we stick our hands somewhere without looking first. I don’t garden without gloves, don’t reach into trees or bushes or woodpiles without looking first. 

 Snakes tend to be accidental house crashers. You might find one curled in a corner on your patio looking for coolness in the heat of the summer. Or in your garage… seeking the same. 

The good news? Rattlesnakes will usually signal if you’ve startled them by rattling or buzzing their tails,  giving you an opportunity to pee in your pants then run in the opposite direction! 

I’ve lived here for 41 years, and have never seen a dangerous snake anywhere besides my herpetologist friend’s house! More good news – they are as afraid of us as we are of them! 

The newsletter shared common-sense tips for living where there are poisonous snakes: turn on a light and have a look around before stepping out on your patio at night, or into your garage. And even look around first before stepping out on your patio during the day. Mindfulness, that’s all.

If you encounter a poisonous snake in your garage, on your patio, or in your garden… run away, and call wildlife management. Or, if you live out here, you can call the group of “snake wranglers” who will come fetch them. 

XO Donna

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Now We’re Cookin’

I don’t know whether my favorite room in our new house is the bathroom, or the kitchen – well, put that way, the kitchen wins –  but it’s been such a pleasure to take a long warm shower in such a roomy space. A luxury that I often took for granted before our RV life!

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I’m spending a lot of time in the kitchen baking – I love to bake, (in the 70’s and 80’s I baked all of my own breads) and I love having my tools and a big oven again! I want to share this GF Carrot Muffin recipe with you, not because it’s inherently healthy, or even healthier, but because it’s a darn delicious recipe. And it had me scratching my head, then laughing at my dense-ness, over the directions!

But, before I get to that, I want to chip in my two cents about GF cooking and the fact that going gluten-free isn’t healthier than eating gluten. Gluten isn’t some evil poisonous thing that’s been added to our food. Gluten is a protein found in flour, nothing more. It is this protein that grants things made with flour their elasticity, texture, rise, and exquisite flakiness. 2D676278-6ADA-48B8-947D-63F91A2274D8

Only a small percentage (1-2%) of the population are truly gluten intolerant (celiac disease) while 6% are gluten-sensitive and, like me, plain old allergic to wheat. We must avoid it to be well and healthy.

Switching to GF substitutes made of white rice flour, brown rice flour, potato starch, sorghum flour, etc. isn’t going to help if you’re switching  hoping to lose weight: pizza, even a GF one, is still pizza.

A cold-weather cozy: if you have access to Netflix, I highly, highly, highly recommend watching Michael Pollan’s fascinating four-part series, COOKED. The section entitled AIR is my fave… about bread.

If you want to make a healthy change, try switching to organic breads, and using organic flour for your baking. I personally use King Arthur products (and, no, I’m not being given anything for saying that) and they have a wonderful website and a good GF flour blend. I’ve worked out, and adapted, some great GF recipes… for when I want a treat. I’m happy to have them, but they are no comparison to wheat flour…  That said, this Carrot Muffin  recipe from The Minimalist Baker (nothing minimal about this recipe, the ingredient list is a mile long, but worth it) is pretty darn close!

After these muffins are baked, they must cool in the pan for a bit, then the directions tell you to, “turn muffins on their side in the pan.” I swear… I was stumped!  Do what? How?  Then I realized that she meant turn each muffin sideways in it’s space so air could circulate around the bottom. Like this: 6E2A9BF2-4150-4D15-8DF4-373F9E76EB3F

I couldn’t wait to eat one, but they must cool completely or half the muffin sticks to the paper! And, GF tends to taste better after it’s cooled, honest.  I store them for a couple of days in a big ziploc, then refrigerate or freeze. Let me know what you think!

XO Donna

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Like Goldilocks

I realized after we moved in that I’d sold my set of modern black bookcases. Somehow, I remembered having kept one… just in case. 

Now, in order to set up my office and conquer the chaos, (I have six boxes of books waiting for a place to live) I need to buy a new bookcase… which is actually pretty exciting. 

I also realized that I have finally outgrown my “black phase,” which is pretty exciting, too. This all seems relatively simple and straightforward, right?  

What I want is a white bookcase. Or maybe a very light grey one. Under $200.00. With a little bit of trim, so it won’t look like dorm furniture.

Plan A:  Get online at IKEA, since there’s one nearby, and see if there’s one that fits the bill, then go get it. I’m always up for the challenge of assembling a piece of furniture. I quickly found exactly what I was looking for, and my sweetie and I headed off for a short field trip. 

We thought we knew the shortcuts through the maze at IKEA, but they have done some rearranging and we ended up totally missing the furniture section and display of bookcases. 

No matter, I went to the Information kiosk, looked up the product number and aisle location, and voila! There was just one problem: the box was more than six feet long and weighed almost 75 pounds! We couldn’t lift it. Well, he couldn’t do it alone, and I couldn’t help since my shoulder is still out of whack. This bookcase was just too big!

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I moved on to Plan B: Find someone who delivers… preferably for free. Amazon, Rooms to Go, and Home Depot (did you know they now sell really nice looking furniture online?) Nothing I liked on Amazon. Nor at RTG. I went to Home Depot’s website and found a beautiful bookcase, but it was shorter than I wanted; so maybe a pair might work. Alas, side-by-side they were five inches too wide for the space allotted. Dang it, this bookcase was too wide!

 Who knew that buying a bookcase could be such a challenge? 

I looked further, but I wasn’t finding what I had in mind. Staring at the floor, well actually, at my new rug, I realized I could probably find one at BirchLane.com the same place I bought the rug. As Gomer Pyle used to say, “Surprise… surprise, surprise!” 

They had so many nice ones that I had to enact another plan.  Plan C: pick out the first three white ones in my price range, write down their measurements, see which fits best and get ‘er done!

One of them was off-white, and another was rustic white; picturing them next to my modern white desk, I decided on the third one, which was white. At last, a bookcase that was just right! 

image from catalogue 

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I was expecting it Monday, but got an email this morning saying it would be delivered today. It just arrived, and it came with free shipping!

XO Donna

(P.S. – I am not compensated in any way for any store I mention when I write. I wish! I have faves, and I like to share what I have good experiences with.)


Got the Blues

Before we left Texas, I’d harvested a bunch of the red fruit (tunas) of prickly pear cactus where we were camping. I’d made prickly pear juice quite a learning curve, with quite a few sticky (ouch!) issues.  And I had another bag full of tunas thinking I’d do it again, using my new wisdom, and make thick syrup to give as gifts for swirls in Margaritas.

Passing through Santa Fe, we were invited to return for Mad-Stock, a Woodstock themed celebration of music, peace and love. I decided I’d make tie-dye shirts for the guys our of the prickly pear juice! Both said they didn’t mind wearing hot pink… what a washout!!!  After all my work; cooking them in the hot juice for an hour, then letting them sit overnight in plastic bags, when I untied them they were gorgeous. When I washed them, this color faded completely away.

Now, you know full well that if I spilled any on a good white blouse, it never would have come out!

I was even more determined now, and after looking through Pinterest, I decided to try again, this time using an old friend from the 70’s…  RIT dye in a lovely Indigo Blue.
I used some of my old tying techniques (I used to love doing tie-dyes in pretty patterns, but simple, beautiful colors) incorporating tying stones into the folds, simple pleat-and-band, and Japanese Shibori folding and resistance techniques.

I followed RIT’s instructions TO THE LETTER, and when I pulled them from the dye bath (done in a 3-gallon bucket in my kitchen sink) I was over-the-Moon thrilled! Indigo blue! Shibori folds! Gorgeous circles with marigold-like patterns within!

Still following instructions carefully, I washed and dried them, and what I pulled from the dryer 40 minutes later was a pale imitation of what I had put into the dryer.  My well-defined lines of indigo and white had become a soft cream and denim blue design. Sigh. I went to bed that night feeling like a failure…

Turns out the failure was in RIT’s isstructions, for when I looked online there were completely different guidelines than on the box. Had i known, I would have gladly taken all the extra time they were proposing. I hoped the guys would still wear them.

The next morning when I awoke, the first thing I saw on my FB feed was this post by a friend, Lynn – “Failure is an event, not a character flaw.”  That changed my mind, what I did failed, but now I know where to pick-up next time. This was entirely too much fun, too relaxing, and too fulfilling to quit. I’m not ready to take orders yet, but I see a lot of Blue in my future!

 

XO DONNA



Mother’s Day

 

It’s been raining cats and dogs, accompanied by thunderbolts and lightning. Although it’s just past breakfast-time it’s as dark as night and the volume is MUCH louder in our motorhome than in a traditionally built home.  Read More