Hash Browns and Christie

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This evening I fixed sausage and hashbrowns for dinner, with a token vegetable on the side. Sometimes I need its crispy, greasy saltiness. It’s something in which you can lose yourself, your cares drifting away while its flavor arrests your attention.

Today and yesterday, I needed to lose myself as much as possible. In part, I’ve done this by juggling three different Agatha Christie books, which is entirely possible when reserving e-books through a public library. Several of your awaited titles can become ready for check-out at the same time. When this happens, I don’t trust that I’ll be able to finish all the books I have checked out during the three-week loan period allotted to each title, so I switch between different ones in case life might get in the way of finishing them. So far this I haven’t had to return a book before it’s done and find my place at the end of the line waiting for it to become available again.

So how have I found the time to read more than 60 Agatha Christie books in the past eight months? It helps that I can read the electronic editions on my phone. I’ve increasingly abandoned TV in favor of reading, too. No TV in my house has been turned on in my house in over three weeks.

I’ve turned away from national TV news of any bias. When I was on medical leave last year, I watched James Comey’s live televised admission that the FBI had been investigating the Trump campaign for ties to Russian election interference. At that moment, I felt like a gong banged inside my mind to signal that national news had fallen into the theater of the absurd. Even if the reports were true, the national news media as a whole had jumped the proverbial shark, and I didn’t need the added stress of watching more of it.

I have a subscription to my local newspaper, and I read online news stories. When something “big” happens, I sometimes toggle between the CNN and Fox News homepages to see how differently they’ll spin the same stories. The best is when one has several headlines about the same story and the other has no headline concerning it at all, or just begrudgingly offers some coverage on a belated basis (e.g. Stormy Daniels).

I’ve found greater solace in reading Christie as relentlessly as I can. I’ve even read her books while riding an exercise bike.

With Christie, there’s an interesting thematic unity across her body of work, so switching between stories isn’t as confusing as it could be. Despite this unity, her stories are not boring. Today I’ve been reading a short story of hers called “The Man from the Sea”. It’s one of her Mr. Quin stories. The Harley Quin stories are intriguing because one is left to wonder at times if Mr. Quin is supernatural or merely human. I’m halfway through this particular story, and there’s a raw beauty that spares no feelings. It shares some of the realism of And Then There Were None, wherein the selfish, delusional part of humanity is laid bare against a world sometimes more beautiful than those who live there.

Yesterday I had my second epidural injection. The epidural I had in February was fairly carefree in comparison. This time I was not so lucky. I had a different doctor this time (luck of the draw, I guess), and he vented that he saw little to gain from the treatment. He warned me that I’d likely get a spinal headache because the interval where I needed the injection was so jammed with scar tissue, adjacent hardware, and stenosis that he couldn’t fit the needle in without risk of piercing the dura matter around my spinal cord.

I can’t say I disagreed with his point of view. It’s one of the shitty aspects of health insurance. At times one is expected to follow through with risky “conservative” measures before the next step of treatment is approved. Insurance preapproved an epidural injection that neither this patient wanted nor the doctor wanted to deliver, but nothing else could happen unless it was done.

Within an hour of returning home, I got up and felt as if a bookcase had fallen on my head. I called the clinic to report that the near-inevitable had happened. I was instructed to lie flat and drink as many caffeinated beverages as possible. Thank God I was spared that crushing feeling as long as I didn’t lift my head. Thank God that my spinal headache lasted just three hours.

I also thank my husband for figuring out how I could drink those caffeinated beverages while lying flat (btw, keep the drink beside your couch or bed and drink through a straw with your head turned to the side). I’m also grateful that my sister came over to hear my tale of woe and help with the things I couldn’t do. My daughter was there with questions and hugs as well. When my headache was over, she strolled through the garden with me as the summer sun gave glory to all the blooms not yet shrouded in shade. That garden walk is a memory I will cherish.

Unsweet Ramen Salad . . . and a Summer Picnic

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I haven’t posted a recipe in at least half an eon. Yesterday evening my daughter and I attended a summer potluck picnic at Bittersweet at Betty’s Farm here in Lima, Ohio. Bittersweet offers a range of services for people with autism. My daughter has been participating in their periodic social living programs for a couple years now.

Three times a year (weather permitting) there are gatherings for all of the families served by Lima’s Bittersweet. Yesterday’s picnic offered the full array of Ohio picnic fair, from ambitious dips served in Crock Pots to cream pies.

Pictured above are my indulgences from the picnic. Yes, I rested a chocolate chip cookie on top of a slice of gouda cheese, and all was good. I was so delighted to spot a ramen salad on the buffet tables that I filled a bowl with it.

I hadn’t thought to make a ramen salad myself until today. I decided that I’d rather not add sugar to my version. I’m finicky about sweetening an otherwise savory salad because it’s so easy to overdo it.

Here’s my super simple version of ramen salad:

Unsweet Ramen Salad

(good for a picnic potluck or a dinner inspired by such cuisine)

  • 2 – 3 oz bags ramen noodles, your favorite of the simple flavors; I chose chicken
  • 1 16 oz bag coleslaw mix (shredded cabbage and carrots)
  • 1/2 cup additional carrots, sliced (optional)
  • 2/3 cup Italian dressing (use more or less to taste as long as the salad is saturated)
  • 1/2 cup roasted peanuts

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the Italian dressing and ramen noodle seasoning packets. Break up the ramen noodles and add to bowl. Add the coleslaw mix, carrots, and peanuts to the bowl. Stir all together gently, lest the noodles and cabbage scatter about your kitchen. Cover and refrigerate for an hour before serving.

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Now that I’ve shared that recipe, I will offer a few of the highlights of the picnic aside from the food. There was a spirited bubble battle. I so wish I’d brought a camera aside from my cell phone. My daughter is just emerging from depression, and I was thrilled to see her so happy and engaged in the presence of others:

The picnic’s music was great as well. I heard Ike and Tina Turner’s cover of “Proud Mary” for the first time in over a decade. I mustn’t forget to buy a copy of it. How did I go so long without having it in my sonic arsenal?

It’s one of those songs that’s bound to grab people’s attention. I could tell that about a third of the people at the picnic had not heard it before. I was so delightful to see another generation won over by this song’s impossible, arresting charm. One after another just froze in place long enough to “tune” into the song and begin the toe tapping and hand clapping.

To Wish Impossible Things

I don’t have much time for writing this evening. This is the sort of reasoning that drives my dwindling number of blog posts. I don’t know where to begin, and I don’t have the time to start.

If I keep waiting to write until an afternoon yawns wide before me, eventually I’ll cease writing here. This blog will be yet another casuality of attrition.

So I will share this evening’s stream of thought, that I need daydreams about as much as my body needs oxygen. I’ve learned that waking dreams can be crucial in coping with many forms of adversity, especially chronic pain.

The key is to persuade my mind to reflect of pleasing things rather than awful ones. I’ve had persistent nerve pain in my right hip this week, which is a distressing development because my as-known nerve damage is on the left side. The pain strikes like a beacon from the black box of an airplane that’s crashed and refuses to let its wreckage be lost. The volume of its signal is a solid 7 out of 10 while I drive.

It is very tempting indeed to anticipate more of the same suffering in the days to come. However, I’ve found that a daydream of a perfect place is the best tool I have to cope with this nerve pain.

My perfect place isn’t merely some generic place like an idyllic beach. It is impossibly perfect, a forest retreat with city utilities and Wi-Fi that never fails. Here I relax in a cabin that is covered in vines and surrounded with flowers year round. Here I can stop time and have as much time to myself as I need. I might even let a pet or two join me in my repose:


I feel that this place has such a conducive vibe for learning that L’Orange and I could read through spans of the canon of literature with ease. He’d take along my copy of Washington Irving’s short stories that’s been collecting dust and good intentions on my coffee table in real life, and we’d thrill over those pastoral, sometimes spine-tingling tales.

My perfect place would be self-cleaning. It would engage all my of senses.Any food I wanted would appear at my wish. There’s something so comforting to me in imagining a perfectly satisfying meal, which would depend on what combination of salt, fat, or sugar I’m craving at the moment. Or sometimes I imagine something quite wholesome, like garden-fresh tomatoes on top of barley with a brightly flavored dressing.

What seems delightful today would be a small plate of the best fries I ever tasted, which was at a random restaurant in Solvang, California, back in ’94. I ate them at a sidewalk table, and the fries had a stellar crisp-to-fluff ratio with a hint of garlic flavor. The weather was superb for outdoor dining, as it almost never is semirural Ohio. In the perfect place, I’d eat those fries with a bit of fresh dill on top and school cafeteria ketchup for dipping. No ketchup has ever rivaled the high vinegar type of my school days.

And now my time for writing really has dwindled this evening.

Do you have a perfect place you visit in your mind?

By the way, I feel like I am remiss in writing about L’Orange without mentioning his real life sidekick Buddy:

Ham and Bean Soup

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I haven’t written much about food lately. My love/hate relationship with this necessity of life has trended toward the latter in recent months. The root cause of this discomfort has been the intent to reverse the weight gain associated with my back surgery. At best, I’ve stalled that gain.

My husband started a diet around the same time with lots more success than I’ve had. When I mentioned this contrast to my family doctor recently, she told me, “Don’t despair about this. My husband could lose weight just by sleeping fifteen extra minutes a day.”

Right now my husband is resting. Sleep has been elusive for him this week because he had his second rotator cuff surgery in 18 months. I’ve heard that such a surgery used to be remarkably painful. Now there’s a 3-day nerve block that alleviates the worst part of recovery from the surgery.

Unlike me, my husband is practically a model patient, good-natured and oriented to reality. He is not grouchy or prone to confabulation. He wouldn’t complain loudly about the help then whisper that he’d given birth to alien twins that had been absconded moments after birth, which is exactly what I did once upon a time years before I met him.

I decided to make him some ham and bean soup today. Now that his appetite is returning, I thought I’d make him something to help him rebuild after the surgery. The soup was well-received, for he ate four bowls of it.

This soup has plenty of onion in it. Actually, both my husband and my daughter railed against the smell of the onions sweating in butter. My daughter hid from it, complaining that the smell would be bonded to her shower-wet hair. Then my husband asked me to open a couple windows to air out the house.

I suppose that they do not have the happy association I have with that smell. It is the scent that assailed me every time I arrived for a holiday meal with extended family while I was growing up. In my family, a good gathering began with the sight and smell of yellow onions sweating in hot butter or lard.

Ham and Bean Soup

Serves 6-8

  • One large yellow onion, finely diced
  • generous dash freshly ground pepper
  • 3 cups sliced carrots
  • 3 stalks celery, sliced
  • 3 T butter
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 8 cups chicken broth
  • 1 lb ham, cubed into 1/4-1/2″ pieces
  • 3 16 oz. cans great northern beans, drained

Melt butter in dutch oven over medium. Add diced onion and pepper to pan and cook, stirring occasionally until translucent. Stir in carrots and celery. Cover and cook for five minutes. Add remaining ingredients, cover and turn heat to medium-low. Simmer for 45 to 60 minutes until vegetables are tender. Serve with toast or garlic bread.

Anticipation

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I rarely eat dessert after dinner. This evening I ordered ice cream at dinner because today is my birthday. No matter how old I get, I still get a thrill of anticipation over my birthday.

This week’s photo challenge is Waiting. When that dessert appeared in front of me, I wondered how long I could wait to dig into it. I was able to stall just long enough to take this picture.

Mushroom Barley Vegetable Soup

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My birthday is just days away, so I went to the license bureau to renew my car’s registration. One of my neighbors works there, and she asked me about my back. It so happens that she is also having trouble with her lumbar spine, so I commiserated with her briefly about my muscle spasms that have been flaring up this week. She advised me, “You need celery.”

The line was moving too quickly for me to ask how celery had helped her. Obviously food choices do have an impact on health. I’m uncertain of what magic celery could work on muscle spasms. Perhaps it is one of many fruits and vegetables that reduce inflammation.

This is the second time this week my curiosity has been piqued about celery. Yesterday I read a superb food history article called “Celery Was the Avocado Toast of the Victorian Era” by Heather Ardnt Anderson. It seems strange indeed that such an unremarkable vegetable once occupied center stage on the dinner table.

All of this reflection on celery inspires me to share my favorite recipe that includes this vegetable.

Mushroom Barley Vegetable Soup

Serves 6

  • 2 T butter
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cups sliced carrots
  • 1/2 pound sliced mushrooms
  • 5 stalks celery, sliced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 t freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup quick cooking barley
  • 1 14.5 oz can petite diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 15 oz can dark red kidney beans, drained
  • 4 cups beef or vegetable stock
  • 1 cup fresh parsley, chopped (I used a whole bunch from the grocery store because I love parsley)

Melt butter in dutch oven over medium heat. Add diced onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms, carrot, celery, ground pepper, and bay leaf. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in tomatoes, beans, barley, and broth. Cover pan with lid and let simmer for 30 minutes or until vegetables and barley are tender. Stir in chopped parsley, remove bay leaf, and serve.

 

PB&J Smoothie

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A few days ago my daughter and I visited a smoothie shop that recently opened in our neighborhood. While their fare was delightful (and I wish them the best of luck with their business), I walked away calculating how I could make similar drinks that could cost less in dollars and calories.

My childhood love of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches has not diminished in adulthood. This smoothie uses frozen fruit and peanut powder to infuse this drink with PB&J flavor with less fat and added sugar.

This time I used frozen grapes, but almost any fruit that freezes well would work in this recipe. I froze these grapes myself almost four months ago, and they are still holding up well in my freezer. After rinsing and drying them, I plucked them from their stems and packed them in freezer bags. Once frozen, they are great in smoothies and homemade sorbet. I suppose they could also be used in place of ice cubes in cold drinks.

PB&J Smoothie

Makes one serving

  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1 frozen sliced banana
  • 1/2 cup frozen grapes (plus a few more for garnish)
  • 3 T peanut powder

Place all ingredients in blender and pulse until smooth. Serve topped with a few frozen grapes.

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