Foodie Tuesday: Nuts about ‘Em All

I’ve been MIA here for long enough. Long enough to have a really dandy hiatus and enjoy my break from daily blogging. Long enough to think it’s time to get back in regular practice with my readin’ and writin’ skills. And definitely long enough to be going a little nutty with the urge to eat—and blog about it, of course.

Nut-urally, I’m going to start going nuts here if I don’t.

Sorry, couldn’t help it. ‘Cause I really am kind of nuts about nuts. Can’t think of any kind I’m not fond of in one way or another. They’re so versatile. They go with savory foods and sweet ones, they’re tasty on their own or as ingredients in every possible course from soup to…well, you know.Photo: Pine Nuts

I’m happy to munch a handful of toasted nuts for a reasonably healthy snack. Might be almost any kind, depending on what I have around or am just in the mood to eat. Pignoli, or piñones, toasted in salted browned butter are a fine way to start, light and tender and full of really tasty fat that’s only delicate as long as its volatile nature stays fresh, and with just a tiny hint of the piney woods about them. Or maybe I want to get a tiny bit fancier and toast a mix of nuts together, and throw not only a little salt into the butter but also perhaps some cinnamon and sugar and a dash of cayenne. Very lightly candy them, say, a blend of almonds and pecans and pistachios.Photo: I'm Nuts about 'Em All

Sometimes I might even have the patience to use some finely ground nuts to coat a chicken breast or slice of goat’s cheese for frying into a crispy coating. Almonds are of course classic for this, but again, nearly any nut will do, as long as it can take the heat required for the dish: pine nuts would be a poor choice for something that has to cook or bake or fry for too long and/or at too high a temperature, unless you think you can make little teeny charcoal shavings look and taste yummy somehow. The harder, higher-heat-resistant nuts are preferable in those instances. Of course, there’s such a range of nuts and the nut-like seeds that can join them, you might well choose ones that complement every single course of the meal.Photo: Chicken Amandine

Dessert being, often, the most important course. To be honest.

Since I’m such a—you knew this was coming—nut for all-things-dessert-ish, I am quite adept at finding ways, means, and excuses to incorporate nuts of one sort or another into the final (or only: still being honest, here) course, whether as the course, or alongside the cheese or on top of the ice cream or pudding, or perhaps as a nut crust cradling a pie or tart, if I’m patient enough to wait through the prep and baking/chilling time required for such a treat. Oh, who am I kidding. Waiting? Now that’s just. Nuts.Photo: Candied Nuts on Top

Back to Work—but First, a Pause for Plain Old Happiness

It’s strange, this mysterious netherworld between having produced and published a post a day every single day for 4+ years and now trying to find a footing in the more sporadic presence of blogging only when I have the time! I will figure it out, no doubt. But for now, I’m feeling my way in the dark, it seems.

Okay, I’ve not been utterly inactive elsewhere while not posting consistently. Continuing the detailed work of settling into our new home keeps me doing small projects of all sorts as I figure out precisely how we’ll use the spaces and the things in them, and what might enhance the usefulness or appearance, or better yet, both, of everything here. Life goes on with its usual flurries of school and home office work, hosting various visiting friends at mealtimes, break times, and/or overnight times, and tending to the business of a semi-normal schedule, albeit a surprisingly full one.

And I do find or steal time to play when I can, taking outdoor walks or just wandering up and down the aisles of the grocery store without a plan when I go to stock the pantry and refrigerator, stopping to scrawl a poem or jot a drawing idea. All good. Not to mention that a body’s got to eat, so I do whip up the occasional actual meal, especially if I’m dining with my husband and other friends. Oh, and I’m actively working on my next book or two or ten. And some song lyrics. And finally adding some new stuff to my Zazzle store, which has lain neglected for too long without new merchandise designs. And I’ve been slowly developing yet other, still unnamed and undisclosed, arty projects. I’m not just lying about in my expensive silk-embroidered negligee and eating Belgian chocolate truffles while a harpist plays softly in the corner of my palatial living room.

Though of course that takes approximately 72% of my time, on an average day.

Today, especially, I must take occasional breaks from that normal activity in order to show proper respect for the fact that this date marks the anniversary of my father’s first glorious appearance on this earth. Happy Birthday, Dad! During my commemorative pauses, I am reminded that I have always had before me the example of a very busy, highly productive, and multifaceted guy in my father, one who scarcely took visible breaks himself during his official working years from doing, learning, and attempting a wide variety of amazing feats. So if I have what feels like relatively little time for fiddling around pointlessly or I think I’m a bit overwhelmed by the range of things I’m wanting or needing to accomplish, I am glad to remember that I have grown up in the shade of one who still manages, after years of gaining expertise in the art, to Get Things Done on an impressive level.

And, more importantly in my book, who does so with great good humor and a remarkable ability to find the pleasure and positive aspects in whatever he’s undertaking. Something any of us would do well to learn long before we meet the other sort of undertaker.

Yeah, I’ll get back to my own chores and tasks pretty soon, because I do want to get a thing or two done before my time is up, but there are some more important sorts of items than just what lurks on the to-do lists, like remembering my father on his birthday. Dad, I hope you’re having a superb day, whether it’s spent in high gear Getting Things Done or is a welcome break spent lounging around in your own palatial spot with the aforementioned truffles and sweet serenading as your constant atmospheric enhancements. You are still a fine standard-bearer for the life well lived, and I thank you for it!Photo: Happy Birthday, Dad

Have I been Left Behind by Life?

Photo: Left Behind 1Do you ever feel like the speed of life is just a passing blur, and you’re still sitting on the hall bench where everybody and everything left you? I don’t, often, but when the schedule and events get just a hair crazier than usual, it can happen. When I was in my spouse’s school office yesterday, filing last semester’s leftovers and collecting the recycling and tidying up the various heaps and stacks no longer in use, I went to take the recycling basket down the hall and saw a lone object propped up on the bench near his door, unclaimed and not in the hands of whoever brought it there anymore.Photo: Left Behind 2

Well, of course. I can’t say whether the person who’d been reading it was actually raptured away or some happy prankster just had a moment of hipster meta-irony, but either way, I felt a certain kinship with the piece of flotsam lying there thus disconnected, for just a second. Then, naturally, I collected my thoughts and the escaped, trailing pieces of recyclable paperwork, hitched up my pants, and went along my way to finish the task, and that was that. Life goes on, yes, but mostly (when it matters) I just catch my breath and catch up with it again. It may not be as drama-filled as being raptured off to heaven, but it’s good enough for me.

I Post: Therefore, I Am

Photo: One November in PortlandI took a month off from blogging. Many of you will not have noticed at all, but it was a big deal to me. I hadn’t taken a full day off of blogging in the four and a half years since I’d started. I wasn’t even really planning this hiatus, but I think it was destined. And necessary.

Since I last posted here, much has happened. The vast majority of it was at least semi-planned, and generally was wonderfully welcome, too. But it would take more time than it did to live it if I were to try to fully document it here, and that might take a little of the luster from the memory, something I would surely begrudge rather than delighting in the telling. So I shall give you a relatively brief recap and call it good.

You know from my last posts—if you were picking up on the heavy hints—that after our return from Portland (Oregon) where he was conducting one of his choirs at a wonderful conference and we were happily reunited with a number of dear friends and colleagues, my husbandly partner and I had a brief breath-catching, laundry-attacking, household-packing few days at home before jetting off again, the next time for Sweden. That trip, too, was for both work and play purposes. The original excuse for the trip to our beloved home-from-home turf in Stockholm was my husband’s invitation to be interviewed for a radio broadcast celebrating the history and future of Swedish choral music in general and the Swedish Radio Choir (Radiokören, or RK) in specific, as part of RK’s gala celebrations of its 90th birthday. After a literal false start to the trip, when bad weather in Chicago made our flight connection there impossible on the scheduled day and forced us to take a next-day pair of flights bringing us to Stockholm hours instead of a whole day ahead of the onstage interview, we tumbled happily into place at “our” fabulous accustomed apartment in the heart of the city and made a running start at the planned activities.

In all, there were three concerts, the radio interview, another radio interview for him with a second broadcaster on a different program, walks all over town, a day-trip out to Uppsala, and meetings and meals with dear, wonderful, longtime friends at pretty much every lunch and dinnertime throughout our stay. We even enjoyed a full-on, all-American Thanksgiving dinner on the official day, made by a beloved Swedish friend who lives much of the time in the US, served in her Swedish love’s warm and beautiful apartment, and shared with another pair of dear friends—an American expat conductor who is my spouse’s brother-from-another-mother, and his brainy and beautiful wife. And of course we still failed to see everyone (you’re not off the hook forever, Anna!) and do everything we wanted to do before we had to head back to Texas. Real life, and all that jazz.

Plenty of excitement in real life, too, for that matter. We got to bed just after 2 a.m. on the 28th of November after our journey back from Stockholm, and at 8 the same morning, the movers arrived to pack us up for our home relocation across town. Thank goodness it was just across town. Tight timing and a few hiccups in schedule-coordination along the way meant that although we had sold our house for one of the three solid offers within 48 hours of putting it on the market—and less than three weeks after seeing an apartment ad that convinced us we could be comfortable in a place half the size of the house—moving so immediately on our return from the second trip in a row was dicey at best.

Photo: Meanwhile, back in Texas

Meanwhile, back in Texas, there was a walk around the lake on Christmas day in shirtsleeves, supervised by our friendly local pair of vultures, Heckle and Jeckle.

But it all went smoothly enough, in the end. We’d hired a previously-used great company for the move itself, the friend who had been our realtor when we bought the house to re-sell it for us, and a terrific lady who managed a complete living-estate sale to reduce our belongings enough to fit us into the apartment. A scant couple of weeks after all of that, I am sitting in a very comfortable living space in a well-managed rental with nice, quiet neighbors, and I know that we did the right thing. Lighter housekeeping has its appeal, and it’s simply fun to reinvent the nest once in a while as well. Something so refreshing lies in the revised view of myself that comes from sorting through the tangible stuff of my life and deciding what to change, what to keep, what to eliminate, and what to add. We are still in the same town, barely a few miles from where we lived, but with a change of view in many ways after 6 and 1/2 years here.

Including, as it happens, that since the location of the apartment doesn’t offer any views other than of rather grungy local roads, parking areas, and a cement plant, the artificial views I’m making at the windows by having my scenic photos printed on curtains that let light through without making us look at the dullness outside. Never let it be said that I lack a rich fantasy world, no matter how excellent my real world happens to be. I’ve loved the rather fantastical life that our travel and change-of-venue adventures afford me, but I can find much to delight me in the everyday, too.Photo: Skillet Cornbread, Again

To make myself feel right at home when we returned to our current place of actual residence, I whipped up some good old skillet cornbread for tonight’s chili dinner at a friend’s house. This batch of cornbread was seasoned with salt and white pepper, smoked paprika, roasted coriander, mace, and powdered dried orange peel, and to confirm my devotion to Texan treats, I brought a ridiculously tasty spread to slather on it: about half butter and half sorghum-molasses, whipped together with a hefty splash of Texas bourbon and a sprinkling of coarse salt. I may not be a native Texan myself, but I can walk the walk.

Photo: Boozy Butter

Boozy butter, anyone?

Now that I’m back to the blog, I cannot say that I feel the need to post every single day again, as I go forward. I expect I’ll post often, most likely several times a week, but it’ll be when I have the time and the gumption and the wherewithal to create posts. Blogging is, after all, only my avocation. I don’t make a penny from it, and it takes a remarkably large quantity of my time and efforts and brain-power just to develop sufficient content for the images and words I post, never mind to keep up with the expansive correspondence shared with my readers and fellow bloggers and friends. I enjoy this blog greatly and am enriched by being the sort of diarist I am in this place, but it’s not the center of my life.

So I will see you, often I hope, and when I am not fully occupied with other things. I will, in a literal sense, keep you posted. And I salute you for your kind visitations and the warm and wonderful companionship you’ve shared with me along the way! May the year ahead be a grand one, kind and generous to us all and filled with the wonder that brings me here to visit with you in the first place. Happy 2016, everyone!

Next Thing I Know…

I have never lived for any great length of time without wondering what would happen the next year, the next day, or the next hour in my life. It’s a deeply inherent part of my existence, and I suspect, of most other people’s as well. But I’m experienced and grown-up enough by now to recognize that I should jolly well limit my mulling over that mystery enough to spend the majority of my energies on getting the most out of the present—and putting the most that I can into it.

Call it whatever you please, devotion to making myself better in the here and now seems to me far more useful, meaningful, and simply enjoyable than mooning and swooning over what might be, may be, could be, or should be. I try, and I hope to try better. I mean to try better.

But really—what is coming? I can’t quite let that alone, either. Too tantalizing….

Meanwhile, in the here and now, I am tremendously grateful for many wonderful things. I am rich with love and friendship, with food and shelter and opportunity. And I have one of the greatest treasures of all, the knowledge and experience of peace. It may be a slightly rare commodity in the unknown, unplanned chaos of everyday life, never mind in the wider world’s daily struggles. But I have known peace and am gifted with times of deep and comforting peace through those riches I have just enumerated for you. And through no deserts of mine—I am glad beyond imagining that whatever lies ahead, I expect to keep looking for, and finding, Peace.

Happy Thanksgiving, and I wish all of you the opportunities to experience peace, and to share it with all of those whose life paths your own intersects. Peace among us all.Photo: Thankful for Peace

Everything Old is Still Old Even When It’s New Again

Tonight I saw a humorous ‘fashion show’ of the choir dresses from a long part of the Swedish Radio Choir’s 90-year history. I’d share photos of them, but you’re undoubtedly going to get better views of them if you look in the choir’s archives. Having a good laugh over them in person, despite the uneven lighting and mosh-pit activity at the reception, was tremendous fun. Reflecting on what I myself wore in the eras when these sorts of dresses were fashionable is either hilarious or horrifying, depending upon my mood and whether you ask me or someone who had to look at me in said clothing.

It’s a good reminder that what is merely Old Stuff has a world of possible interpretations when revisited, either because it becomes popular once again after a time of absence or it is unearthed as it was in this little bit of choir jollity. Is it vintage, or passé? Sexy or silly? Trendy or timeless? So much depends upon the moment and the company. Point of view determines value, more often than not.

After seeing those dresses of yesteryear, I was reminded that what I’m currently sorting for our household downsizing will inevitably raise the same question, whether I am the one later coming across objects I opted to keep or somebody else is discovering my discards. I have no excuses. I’ve seen what happens many, many times. But we never tire of the New, do we? Good thing we like combing through the Old, too. Hope most of the people I hang around with will find me closer to vintage than just junk as I keep aging.Photomontage: Old Stuff

Like Clockwork

Don’t you love it when things go smoothly? Even when the means are antiquated—say, when the person involved is kind of, no, extremely low tech—it’s rewarding when the plot in hand goes just as planned, or even better. Clearly, this is somewhat rare, or it wouldn’t be a big deal; nothing about ticking along at speed without a hitch would be memorable.
Digital montage from photos: Mighty Machines

But it is. And we do have technology, however old-school, to thank much of the time. I’m no expert, but I am thankful to have so many handy props for getting the job done, and I hold in reverence the invention and creativity that make my life easier and more pleasant even when I don’t know the cogs are turning behind the scenes to make it all possible.