Foodie Tuesday: A Little Bit of This and a Little Bit of That

A light lunch is often just the refresher needed to get me through the afternoon. Nothing heavy to dull me terribly and make me too somnolent to get anything useful done after 1 pm, and enough protein and pizzazz to fuel me without being boring. Bits and bites. Snack-sized items. A good mix of the five tastes, whenever possible, and I’m good to go.

 

Photo: Lunch Bunch with Crunch

A lunch bunch with crunch: homemade sausage patties sauced with spicy balsamic-tomato dressing, bacon chips, apple-almond truffles, bacon chips, and cardamom-maple yogurt.

Having a couple of friends over for said lunch is a fine time to practice this method, not only because it allows for a variety of preferences to be served but also because I know that many of my friends have the same wish to stay awake and productive in the afternoon but without losing out on a quick collation of varied treats.

Photo: Blackberry Chia Pudding

Blackberry chia pudding is a terrific happy-flavored dish for any meal of the day. Doesn’t need much more than pureed fresh berries, water, honey, a pinch of salt, and chia seeds to make my mouth cheer right up for the afternoon.

Today, it was a combination of savory quinoa cakes, warm and served with butter and honey and, for salad, one from my ever-lengthening list of sprightly green-and-crunchy ‘nottawaldorf’ salads, this time, cucumber and apple, fresh mint and celery, snap peas and candied ginger all chopped, tossed with a pinch of salt, and dressed with lime juice and ginger syrup. Some sliced Jarlsberg cheese and smoked wild salmon to nibble along with the quinoa cakes, and sparkling water to wash it all down with the equally sparkling presence of my friends.

Photo: Tuna Salad & Co.

Tuna salad is an old stand-by favorite in our household, and it doesn’t have to be sandwiched to please: here, with nut-and-seed crackers, cheese crispies (nothing but slow-melted and cooled flat cheese pieces), a fresh salad, an apple…fun and done.

And for dessert, another happy variant: chia pudding, this one a very slightly thickened slurry of nothing but ripe, sweet strawberries and coconut milk with the tiniest pinch of salt, sweetened with elderflower syrup and pureed thoroughly before stirring in a handful of chia seeds to chill together overnight. Bright, intensely strawberry-fruity, and just the thing to jazz up a super simple lunch. That was already pretty jazzy, thanks to the good company, that is.

Photo: Strawberries and More Strawberries

Really, can there be many things more luscious than perfectly ripe seasonal fruit in an uncomplicated preparation to cleanse the palate and lighten the heart?

Short & Sweet

Digital illo from photos: Dark Waters

Waves of sorrow will pass soon enough…

The interlude between uneasy emergency-room visiting and the expected, probably not too fun, Expulsion of a certain little hunk of rock from the Paradise of my innards is a brief one, but it’s amazing how lovely it is to feel pretty good in between times. The stone has kindly opted to not move during this intervening couple of days, and I am grateful! It meant, among other things, that I felt well enough to deal with a heap of post-hospital laundry, tidying up the general wreckage of a house neither of us has been free to visit much in the last week, and just admiring how lovely it is to have an ordinary day. I fully intend to be a poster child for pain-free, speedy resolution to kidney stone fun, but I have to be fair and say that I’ve already had about the shortest and easiest passage through this little form of bedevilment anybody could have. And I am cognizant, more than ever, of how incredibly fortunate I am not to face the chronic or the deepest forms of pain.

Remind me of that when I’m whingeing about my suffering later. Because, being human, and being a pretty unspectacular specimen of the species as it is, I will. I apologize in advance. But I really, truly, and with all of my heart thank everyone who has been so stupendously kind and supportive when I do get all misty-eyed over my supposed sorrows and tribulations, because it’s you who make any and all of it bearable. And keep it, despite my foolish self-centeredness, in perspective.

Joy for the day!

Digital illo from photos: Time to Make Waves

Let the happiness and love wash over us all!

Calling All Saints

This is a day designated by the Christian church for the remembrance of all the good, fine people who have lived, illuminated our lives, led the way for the rest of us, and now are also gone before us in death. Recollection, commemoration and admiration of those who have lived as great-hearted souls on the earth and set an example, large or small, of excellence for those of us who follow is, I think, a practice that anyone of any stripe, religious or not, can embrace; we are certainly all made better by such meditations, especially if and when we are made stronger by their guidance to follow in our honored loves’ radiant footsteps.Photos + text: How Sweet the Moment

Spending a day in remembrance of loves lost is bound to be bittersweet, of course. When the bond has been close in life, it remains so in death, and however the pangs of loss may subside over time, on a day devoted to thoughtful recognition of our trusted and beloved friends, mentors and avatars of all things great and good, the pain can be as sharply new again as in the first sweep of sorrow. But if I am genuinely mindful and respectful of their gifts in life, I think that this can be transformational and healing and comforting, too.Photos + text: Bittersweet

Can I live as a reflection of my most-admired angels? It’s too tall an order for any ordinary mortal, I know. But that’s exactly why I think we have these living and loving models among us: to show that in community and mutual, loving support and with determined and patient growth on our own, greater things can happen than if we try to do significant and meaningful things independently. We are raised up by the waves of support around us. How can I not be grateful for that! This realization sweetens the day perceptibly. Do I wish that I could have my lost loves back again? Who would not! But I wouldn’t trade one tear, one iota of the hurt and anger and grief I’ve felt over any of their losses, to miss out on recognizing the beauty and joy and brilliance that they brought to this world in their too-short tenure here, and I know that some lights seem so bright in life that they can blind me at close range to what’s more easily discerned, when seen from this greater distance, as having the distinctive shape of an excellent soul.Photos + text: Last Lullaby

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

I didn’t know if I should tell this secret, since it wasn’t entirely mine to tell, but now that I see she posted about it too, I can brag that I will have a fabulous family of new neighbors in just a few months! This is the second time I’ve gotten to meet blogging friends in the real world, and the second time it’s happened because they moved to the same town where I live, a double bonus in my experience. First, it was the estimable man and marvelous photographer/artist Ted Griffith who arrived with his lovely wife and landed in this place that’s turning into a tiny hotbed of blogging, apparently. I got to tell you about that happy crossing of paths earlier.

Now I’ve also had a fantastic visit from the fabulous Marie and her charming and delightful husband and granddaughter, who will move into this same town, just down the pike from us, along with another two members of the family and brighten the north Texas landscape yet further. What a superb and unexpected benefit of blogging. Life is so full of happy surprises!

I suggest you have a nice visit to both of their blogs, tout de suite—Ted’s very inspiring photography and photo-based artworks can be found at Ted Griffith’s Blog and Marie’s world of wonders resides at (for now, anyway) her own little corner of Rhode Island. I’m just guessing there may be a quick little change of blog title somewhere in Miss Marie’s future, if you know what I mean.

The more important purpose of my post today, of course, is to celebrate that serendipitous joy of worlds colliding in the happiest of ways. I have been the blessed and blissful beneficiary of many of the marvels of this ever-smaller world’s confluences and connections. There’s such joy to be found in the miraculous meetings of the wildly interconnected world, and it’s amazing how often the seemingly unrelated threads and paths of our existence meet. What’s not to like about finding the commonalities and happy relationships between us by having our separate and distinct journeys intersect in unpredicted and wonderful ways!

Digital illustration: Confetti

Let’s throw a little confetti and a ticker tape parade in honor of serendipitous connections, my friends!

Pretty Thievery

You’ve heard of petty thieves; this summer I saw a pretty thief. My husband and I were visiting in Washington (state), seeing family, attending a fundraising event and spending a couple of days at the end of the trip where my partner was doing some work conducting a choir (comprising as its singers a batch of veteran choral conductors and teachers, a handful of whom are longtime friends of ours) in a workshop. It was all quite delightful, with the exception of the horrid respiratory gunk that my guy received as a gift along the way and that cut short the workshop fun. [He has fully recovered by now, thankfully.]

But another unexpected happy thing about the trip was that the fundraiser was held very near a condominium we own that, while it’s normally rented out as a residence—so we’ve not been inside it since we viewed it for purchase—our property manager informed us that we were getting a new renter and our visit sat right in the between-renters gap. So there was this handy opportunity for us to go in and renew our familiarity with the place where we might conceivably someday live ourselves as retirees, not to mention a chance to measure rooms, note the condition of things now that the home was actually clean and unfurnished, and so forth. All useful, along with the visit to that town itself, in reminding ourselves what had attracted us to the locale and the home in the first place.

Another attraction we were reminded of appeared serendipitously on this visit. As we were wandering through the neighborhood and trying to remember exactly how to find our only-once-visited place, we passed a house with beautiful dwarf fruit trees planted along its street side, and there stood a deer, placidly unruffled by either our passing car or the midday sun, casually balancing on two legs to reach up and nab some marvelous, rosy ripe apples and munch them one after another. We stopped, rolled down our windows to enjoy the sight, and listened to birds chorusing in the trees, and vowed never to turn in such a charming miscreant even if it one day dined on our own deck plants.Photo: Pretty Thievery

Discretionary Fun

Digital illustration/drawings: Mood & 'TudeI get the impression that some people treat non-work times as the only times when they’re allowed to be happy. I do understand the need for income that can drive one to spend time in a job that doesn’t fulfill any other need or desire in life, and many of those are in the least-compensated positions at low-paying employers’ as it is. Been there, done that.

But I can say, too, that the greatest misery in my work life was attitudinal, and the more I did to discover and avoid the things that made me unhappy in my work, the less miserable I was. The more I sought to learn what I enjoyed in work and chose ways to magnify that, the closer I got to contentment both at and out of the workplace.

I grew more cognizant, at the same time, of not wanting to waste precious time on work that challenged my inner playfulness or threatened my general sense of joy and purpose. I was given a great gift in being able recognize the longing and accept and pursue it by choosing a much lower-paying job (on paper, at least) with a great happiness-quotient. I’ve seen, over the years, that many of us are easily misled when we try to calculate what we think we need for our daily expenses, and how much it costs us to earn that. Yes, we get those paychecks, but if the job requires, say, clothes that we wouldn’t wear other than at work, child care, transportation, professional training and memberships, and that sort of thing, how much pay on an annual or monthly or hourly basis does it really cost to go beyond paying for those, at least far enough to keep a roof overhead and food on the table as well?

Nobody knows this awful kind of math better than the working poor. I’ve been in that category more than once in my life, but have always had safeguards others lacked—like friends or relatives from whom I could rent living space more cheaply than I could even a minuscule, run-down apartment in a scary part of town—so I also know that I am luckier than most. Now, when I am married to a person who is not only able to make enough income to support both of us but is willing to do so, I am among the most privileged and fortunate of creatures, and I know that, too.

But one of the best things I learned along the way when I was living on a very slender, sometimes sporadic, income, remains valuable to this day: if I spend so much time and energy on just ‘getting by’ in life and don’t put forth equal effort to enjoy, live, and love my life along the way, all of the pennies I earn are of little value at all. And while I can’t always afford the most thrilling and glamorous ways of keeping myself amused, especially when I do need to be working at any task or job, I had better find the simpler and cheaper ways and the most reliable ones to fill my life with happiness and contentment, I know by now that surrounding myself with people I love, admire, enjoy and respect is the very best solution. And if my job doesn’t allow for that kind of happiness and contentment, then it is costing me more than it pays, in the end.

Foodie Tuesday: A Toast to Skagen

I have not yet been to Skagen, that Danish destiny so alluring to international tourists, fishermen and art lovers, but I have long since had an imaginary affair of the heart with it, thanks to the popular Swedish concoction known as Toast Skagen. It’s quite a simple thing, really, just toast points with a light shrimp salad on them, but when the shrimp are just-jumped-out-of-the-sea fresh and sweet and the preparation of them done with a delicate hand, it’s just about as good as seafood can get. So between visits to Sweden, I pine for the treat. It’s not that I couldn’t make my own facsimile of that assemblage, for even in the heart of north Texas there are places where one can lay hands on pretty good shrimp (at a price), but since the presence of briny air and piercingly radiant northern light and the lilt of Swedish conversation all around are also key ingredients regardless of their absence from the written instructions one might find for the preparation of it, Toast Skagen is still best savored in Scandinavia, and worth the protracted longings between visits.

That is why, if it appears on an even moderately trustworthy menu in Stockholm and its environs, I am likely to order Toast Skagen without even giving much of the rest of the menu a fair study. On the visit that just ended a few days ago, I did just that. Several times. And I was not disappointed—unless you count each time I ate the last bite.

The simplicity of the combination is key, because it must showcase the freshness of the shrimp, but there is room for subtle difference just as there is in any classic food recipe or combination that has survived the twin tests of time and chefs’ egos. The best preparation of Toast Skagen begins with fresh, perfectly cooked cold shrimp, is seasoned with nothing more noticeable than fresh lemon juice and fresh dill, lest the delicate salty sweetness of the shrimp be overpowered, and is bound with mayonnaise and served with or on bread. That’s about it. The subtleties come in with the proportions in the combination, the type of bread or toast, the presentation, and a few possible additional flavors and garnishes that won’t attempt to compete with the simple perfection of the concept.Photo: Toast Skagen 1

On this visit, I managed to taste three slightly different, all delicious, versions within the bounds of our ten days. I’m sure I’d have done more, but I did have to leave room for other favorites, and despite having eaten extensively and often, I did have to accept the finitude of hours in the day. Even though with midsummer daylight, those were admittedly impressive. The version of my shrimp-laden toasty dream that I’d been contemplating for the longest before our recent trip was had on our last day in Stockholm, for we had plenty of other places to go and people to see before then, but we did finally go to Sturehof, a venerable restaurant in a swanky but not stuffy neighborhood only a hop, skip and short T-bana (subway) ride from where we stayed. At Sturehof, I was greeted by lightly toasted points of white bread and a copious hillock of shrimp shaped with the help of a very light coating of mayonnaise. A toss of snipped dill, a mild dash of perhaps Dijon mustard to undergird the squeeze of lemon I’d give it, and a spoonful of Kalix Löjrom (caviar) to give a little snappy texture and sea flavor boosting, and it was a filling but refreshing luncheon to give our last day of play in Sweden a far less melancholy tinge.Photo: Toast Skagen 2

The second version of Toast Skagen was almost an afterthought in the middle of our visit, but far from negligible in the eating. My husband and I went with a dear friend to visit the fantastic Artipelag, part seaside park, part eco-tourist experiment, part art museum and all Swedish brainchild of the inventor of the BabyBjörn line of child care products. Unlike many museum cafes, this place’s eateries are worthy of a visit entirely unrelated to the call to check out all of the other wonders of Artipelag. We didn’t even bother to go up and dine in the restaurant upstairs after having a quick look at the buffet in the less fussy main level. It was an extravaganza of delicious and beautifully prepared traditional Swedish foods and their contemporary companions, and reasonably priced for such a grand meal at that. Among the attractions for me was an early spotting of other visitors parading their plates to the table with enticing spoonfuls of Toast Skagen in their midst, but when I arrived to select my foods at the board, the Skagen bowls were empty. Empty! Thank goodness I noticed that the staff continued to keep most of the dishes there overflowing with fresh batches of food, so I pulled up my fainting spirit and managed to down great quantities of other delectables before going back to find the missing delight replenished.

It was worth the wait, which, given the quantity and quality of everything else I’d been eating quite happily in the meantime, was no small feat. This version of Toast Skagen was either the plainest or the most complex of all, depending upon how one chose to dish it, dress it up, and/or accompany it when choosing from the fabulous array of salmon with baby peas, lovely cool salads, savory sausages, buttery tiny roasted potatoes, and so much more. I opted to keep it somewhat unfussy since it was really the dessert after I’d consumed so much other tasty food. There was splendid chewy, crusty peasant bread to be freshly sliced by my own hand from a warm loaf, so it seemed the obvious thing to merely take a slice or two, give it a slick of good cold butter, because to ignore good cold Swedish butter is very nearly a cardinal sin, and put a fat spoonful of shrimp on top. This variation had the mayonnaise and dill and very little else, but because the shrimp and bread and butter were so fresh and delicious, it was as close to perfect as need be.Photo: Toast Skagen 3

The first, and not least, helping of this craved creation that I had on the journey was on a tour boat that we took with other great local friends, while cruising leisurely through the archipelago‘s canals to have a short walking tour in Sandhamn before boarding for a leisurely dinner cruise back to town. The dinner onboard was a very pleasant, well-prepared selection of Swedish favorites, like the Artipelag buffet, but at this sit-down meal one had the choice of two fixed menus, with or without drinks and dessert, and ours had an option for my object of Swedish shellfish lust on it, so that was a foregone conclusion. This was the prettiest plating of the three, and had a couple of good signature tweaks worth mentioning. Besides the creamy, dill-speckled shrimp salad and a scoop of Löjrom for that snappy seaside pizzazz, there was a small stroke of Balsamic reduction brushed onto the plate and its piquancy gave a sweeter buzz to the usual lemon spritz, the latter still perfect in its way. And the garnishing lettuce and cucumber on the plate were so bracingly fresh that I only barely resisted turning Toast Skagen into Vietnamese-style salad rolls for the occasion. I munched the greens as a mini side salad, instead. Great textural contrast in one uncomplicated gesture.

Now, should you think I was so obsessed with this specific dish and with All Things Swedish All of the Time, I can assure you that my euphoric revisitation of beloved Stockholm and environs was filled with beloved friends, too, and yes, lots and lots of non-shrimp-toast-related food. More on that later. For now, be content that you know a plain yet elegant dish worthy of single-minded pursuit, and go forth in search of it yourself.