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

Foreshadowed

There we were in our hotel room in Prague—much more sophisticated and glamorous than the sort we’d have booked for ourselves, to be sure, thanks to the tour organizers—and I looked up and saw this through the curtains on our window:
Photo: Through the Curtains

Isn’t it amazing how just the hint of an image, a fluttering silhouette in the afternoon sun, can promise so much romance and adventure?
Digital illustration from a photo: Shades of Dusk

You know, naturally, that since we were in Prague, any promise of romance and adventure was bound to be fulfilled and, indeed, surpassed. A holiday of any sort is not to be shunned, generally speaking. But when I find myself in a city so marvelously compounded of history, mystery, drama and delight as Prague, I feel from the first glimpse of its thousand towers that frisson, that lovely shiver, presaging wonderful things not yet imagined even by me in my most vivid dreams.

Another Wild Hare

When we revisited the lovely Bellevue Botanical Gardens with Mom and Dad Sparks this summer, there were some excellent new elements to enjoy throughout the park. As always, the plantings were bursting with color and perfume and native beauty, but in addition there was a handsome new educational and administrative building complex in the entrance of the place, a splendid new suspension footbridge spanned the ravine in the most thoroughly naturalized section of the gardens, and the progress in that segment toward fuller removal of the invasive plants is more impressive than ever.

One new addition we enjoyed on this visit to the Botanical Gardens was not listed anywhere in the visitors’ pamphlets, as far as I could see, but no less delightful, welcome, natural and local: a pert little wild rabbit who sat nibbling the grass next to the biggest flowerbed in the middle of that pretty afternoon. Never let it be said that there’s nothing new under the sun.
Photo: Funny Bunny

Water Babies, All

digital illustrationOcean-front Property

A stroll along the esplanade, sun-worship on the beach,

Dining on oysters, clams or cod, there’s pleasure fit for each

And every taste, along the shore, delights enough at sea,

That, whether you are rich or poor, seaside’s the place to be!digital illustration

Kick Up Those Heels and Run

I was watching a television interview with a couple who had just come in from horseback riding on their beautiful Montana acreage. The man was walking his horse to the gate the woman rode up, dismounted and pulled off her horse’s tack. Both horses were beautiful, healthy and contented looking animals, and clearly had bonds with their riders. But when the woman took off that bridle, the mare kicked up her hooves and ran into the pasture at top speed, rocking like a foal over the tussocks with her tail streaming behind her.digital illustration

There was no sense that she wanted, let alone needed, to get away from her Person. Still, she seemed to relish the unencumbered moment and revel in what she could do all of her own volition in it. And that, I think, is a wonderful thing.

Shouldn’t we all remember, from time to time, to throw off the traces of what we must do, throw our propriety and responsibility and all of the trappings of expectation and normalcy and Requirement and just cut a little caper? Isn’t there a reason we are capable of being free, adventuresome, unpredictable and happy? I’m pretty sure that the earth will not stop rotating on its axis if even the most high-powered and busy, the most seemingly essential and useful people on it, actually get out of harness once in a while and take pleasure in the moment with childlike innocence. And I’m even more sure that once anyone has taken the break that offers such a sense of independence, ease and simple happiness, he/she can return to work as a healthier and more productive person; whatever might have been missing or diminished in the time of absence is caught up and refreshed, right along with the person who does it all.

What could be better than to return to our day-to-day Normal life refreshed, renewed and recharged because we dared to demand a moment of freedom and playtime! Yes, we do have to demand it. It’s almost unheard-of that anyone would hand any of us a one-hour holiday, let alone a day or two. Why should they? Every one of us has a whole list of things we need, or at least want, others to do for us, so we aren’t likely to cut each other a break from supplying our wants and needs unless and until they buck their bonds, too.

It won’t do to be rude and selfish about it, but I would advocate for our all keeping our eyes open and ears pricked up so we can notice any opportunity to stand up for our good health and happiness. And take it. And take off with it!

Watching the World as It Passes

The day after Christmas has a long history in the western world as a day of strangely battle-weary living for many. All of the wildness and extravagance people can conjure has been devoted to getting to and through the 25th of December, and little thought or energy or resources remain for anything that follows, least of all the day immediately on the heels of the Christmas holiday. That’s okay. Everyone has his or her way of celebrating, or avoiding what they see as the excesses of others’ celebrations, no matter what the holiday and Christmas, with its western prevalence and pervasiveness culturally, has expanded into something astonishingly complicated even for those who have no connection to the origins of Christmas at all.

I have experienced Christmas in a multitude of ways myself. I grew up in the Christmas tradition of church and family, gift-giving and observance intermingling and filling all of the days around the date, but as an adult no longer living in my parents’ home, and especially as the spouse of a professional musician, I have spent many subsequent Christmastides attending concerts and services not in the same place and with the same people, some of the occasions entirely secular and some fastidiously and formally religious, and often have felt myself simultaneously immersed and somewhat removed–an observer of this strange phenomenon that is Christmas in the modern world.

What I feel now also changes and flickers like a candle flame. Part of me is moved and absorbed to the degree that I hardly notice my immersion, and part remains surprised, mortified, mystified and/or delighted at the lengths, depths and heights to which people go in pursuit of their own understanding and expectations of the holidays. As I grow older I am also more aware of the plethora of significant events and holidays meaningful in so many other religions, cultures and personal realms, and these often change my view of the practices related to Christmas in and around my life, too. Even the most hermit-like must be so affected in this day and age, it seems, and that’s not entirely a bad thing. If we live in the context of all of this, we should certainly be conscious of how these differences and nuances and variations inform and even influence our experiences in this life.

All of that aside, one of the least spiritually driven aspects of the winter’s holidays that gives me a certain amount of real pleasure is knowing that on the 26th of December a fairly large percentage of people in the western world are frantically rushing around in the pursuit of shopping exchanges and returns, after-Christmas sale bargains and last-minute, end of the year party preparations, and another portion of the population is collapsed in utter exhaustion from the foregoing revelry–and I am in that most enviable state of being and doing neither of those. Preferring as I do a quieter, less frenetic and far less shopping-oriented way of celebrating important occasions in my life, I find the rebound from them equally reduced in intensity and stress. That, to me, is the gift that does keep on giving.

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As you were! You feel free to go about your business and do your celebrating as you like, and I’ll happily wait right here for you in my royal lassitude. Happy holidays to all!

Seasonal Allergies

Can political correctness kill a holiday spirit? Oh, yes, it can. We’ve all seen it. There are times and places when and where we have to tread so lightly around people’s tender feelings regarding their special holiday or occasion–or someone else’s–that it’s hard to believe that any of us retain those passions and beliefs after a while. It’s as though we’re allergic to each other’s seasonal happiness. All the same, I do understand that we ought to show reasonable forbearance regarding others’ dearly held views, no matter how far from our own they may be, so long as those views aren’t harming anyone else. And so very, very few of them are, to be fair.

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Remember to tread lightly on others’ ground!

But if others want to celebrate things I’m not so attached or attracted to myself, who am I to stand in the way?  I like holidays, parties and celebrations very well. I may have even occasionally co-opted others’ holidays just because I think they’re wonderful excuses for enjoying the great things about life and history and happiness. Whether I do or not, I am happy to see my own holiday leanings in any odd spot that inspires me at any moment.

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Ho-ho-ho, happy people, whoever you are!

I’m from a pretty common kind of American, Protestant, middle class background myself, so it won’t surprise anyone that I grew up surrounded by the trappings of the middle class, Protestant American version of Christmas. Won’t even shock anyone that after my decades of being surrounded by it, I grew more than a little jaded at the horrendously fat, greedy, commercialized version it morphed into in the public eye and felt shy of celebrating Christmas in that atmosphere. But there’s that sense of tradition and family tied into it as well, and the knowledge that the origins of the holiday and the celebration of it are worlds removed from those crass retail versions of it that irritate me so. So when I see the famed color combination so associated with Christmas in this my home culture, I think I am in a more forgiving mood toward the genuinely human and sometimes very foolish ways that others spend their celebratory energies, and maybe even toward my own.

I wish you all a happy holiday season, whether you celebrate any particular occasion or just enjoy seeing others revel in theirs. There should be plenty of pleasure to go around!