Category Archives: Out and About

A little get away goes a long way

img_3729One hour south & a lifetime away! A seventh annual gathering. I knew this’d be a tribal exercise — all of us women of a certain age, many lawyers, all engaged & smart sharing an exuberant relationship to food. I didn’t expect to find more profound tribal bonds in the realm of heart ache. Without getting into the details, let me just say: what a lot of familial misery between the nine of us!

I went to the first gathering and missed the intervening six. It was useful to acknowledge what prevented attendance in those years, but listening to others describe challenges and interventions for sons, siblings, & parents, I couldn’t help but wonder what I might’ve learned or employed to good effect had I managed to show up.

Put that wonderment in the category of ‘parental hand-wringing.’ Reflexive regret doesn’t get a free pass around here, just so you know. I’m working on it.

I should have handled it differently. Is that true? Not sure. Not definitively. When I think, “I should have handled it differently” I feel bad and there’s no good reason to hang onto the thought. If I turn it around here’s what I get: I handled it just right.


I don’t beat myself up for being an introvert anymore, but I live so privately these days that I have the luxury of forgetting how my style of communicating comes across. It’s not that I forget how interruptive, easily excited, and opinionated I am. It’s that I forget that for some, this is off-putting.

(“I’d rather need modulating than feel compelled to shush people,” is something I would never say.) 

Anyway, it was no big deal. And one guest informed me in her quiet way in the kitchen yesterday that she appreciates ‘direct people’. . . likes ‘knowing where she stands’. It was nice to hear, but also just weird to even be thinking about: ‘I’m this. I’m that.’

I’m glad to be home, that’s for sure, nice as it was, even though it is cold and rainy again. I have the heat on. Just a little. No apology. 


The doctor’s office called. The test was negative for shingles but probably is shingles given the presentation. My brother seems pretty sure that the reason it doesn’t hurt is because of the recent vaccination. Maybe that foiled the test, too.

Whatever else this diagnosis says about my stress-level, chocolate consumption, or immune system, it feels appropriate that my cheek is weeping. Weep, weep, weep. I keep wishing I could go somewhere and cry but I can’t or won’t, so maybe this’ll have to do.

If it weren’t for a phone call with my sister, I would say that today is a very good day and even with a phone call from my sister, the day rounds into new territory. Less hostile, that is. Calmer. Rain or no rain: mine. Blame and vitriol or none: mine. Weeping blisters or none: coming ’round the bend.

I always think I’ll be back sooner than I am, so in case I’m not — will you watch the Comey hearing on Thursday? I will and in real time, with friends.

Imagine peace 

Imagine peace. Such a refrain! A sewn pin from Liz in Texas renders the reminder tactile and lovely.

With the pin, came a stitched date: June 17, 2015. This, as you know, was the day of the tragic shooting at the Charleston Emanuel AME Church and Liz was one of the contributors to the “Hearts for Charleston” quilt (see side bar). The pin and date-cloth seem very at home in a sweet grass basket made in Charleston, don’t you think? There they are on a pile of shells gathered south of the city along with a wasp’s nest (also found somewhere in SC).

Look at Liz’s capable hand! Seeing her tiny, regular stitches reminded me of the pleasure of collaborating on our quilt for grieving Charlestonians last year. Making hope tactile while affirming friendships all over the globe is a powerful thing. Thank you, Liz, thank you and thank you – both for the gift itself and for setting a moving example.

My mad play with pix of villains, on the other hand, is likely pointless. But, look at that face — even if the stakes were low, would YOU trust him? With an image like that, you don’t need to evaluate his lame, contradictory explanations of recent blundering and partisan actions to conclude that the House Intel Committee’s work is done. Toast.  I went to the Mother Emanuel Church while in Charleston recently. It was drenched in sun and very still, in spite of a fair amount of traffic out front. I felt a sense of sadness being there and also care — I did not want to intrude. Sometimes even taking pictures can feel transgressive. Fortunately, no one came or went while I took the photos below.






I found all the shells on Folly Beach as the sun came up. K and I thought we’d have the place to ourselves, but lots of people were there — a military jogger and his handsome German shepherd posing for pictures; a rashy-faced photo enthusiast talking up his Facebook page; other tourists; a guy with a metal detector who reminded us of those funny nerds on “The Detectorists”. The pier’s criss-crossing supports looked like a row of herringbone stitch connecting the ocean to the sky.



Naturally Finn joined me as I took a selfie on the sunny staircase yesterday — he always knows where the action is! He kept looking up as if peace was just there, slightly beyond my reach or capacity to see.

Prose and soup

“Read at the level at which you want to write.” Jennifer Egan (brainpickings.org)

I couldn’t read Roth until I was older and now he is one of my favorite writers. I hope he never dies! I may have read this Zuckerman novel before (or maybe it just seems familiar because it takes place in the Berkshires where I was born and lived a good many years?) No matter, it’s worth a re-read.

Here’s a sentence: “My guess was that it would take even the fiercest Hun the better part of a winter to cross the glacial waterfalls and wind-blasted woods of those mountain wilds before he was able to reach the open edge of Lonoff’s hayfields, rush the rear storm door of the house, crash through the study, and, with spiked bludgeon wheeling high in the air above the little Olivetti, cry out in a roaring voice to the writer tapping out his twenty-seventh draft, ‘You must change your life!'”

Swoon.


Beef with barley soup for lunch after another frigid walk with the dog. And since K won’t be here for dinner, I’m not even cooking: a bowl of fruit, yogurt and sunflower seeds topped with honey from Charleston.


*thank you Mo for link on FB to the article.


Soup and salad


This shrimp, bean, and chicken sausage soup was delicious! Not only does it come together in a hurry, but most of the ingredients are stock pantry and fridge items, meaning it could become a regular in my weeknight lineup. If you’re like me, you keep onions, black beans, and boxed chicken stock in the pantry, as well as frozen shrimp and corn in the freezer. I very often have a four pack of chicken sausage in the cold cut drawer as well because they keep forever and are a good alternative to beef and pork. Cilantro was the only thing I might not have on hand, but thankfully, I did.



There are both black beans and white beans in this soup, but the starring role goes to the white beans — baby white limas. I went in search of these beans while still in SC after an outstanding lunch at Bertha’s Kitchen* in North Charleston. I gushed about the meal on Facebook and a former Charleston resident commented, “Go to Doscher’s Market.” (That would be Donna Hardy of Sea Island Indigo. She ran the workshop I attended in 2014).


Doscher’s Market is an IGA in West Ashley that’s been run by a German family for generations. Part of the secret to their success has been to cater to their customers, who are largely African American. One article I read noted, “there are smoked pig parts representing everything but the squeal”.**

While I looked for the dried beans, K wandered along the seemingly endless meat counter in curious amazement.

Here’s the recipe.

Shrimp, Sausage and Bean Soup
Serves 4

Night before: pour boiling water over one cup of baby white lima beans and leave to soak. While assembling the soup the next day, drain the beans and bring to a slow boil in about three cups of water. I did not add salt.

1/2 onion, chopped
2 chicken sausage, cut in quarter moons
1/2 T red pepper flakes
6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
28 ounce can diced tomatoes, with liquid
14 ounce can black beans, without liquid
one box organic chicken stock (if no homemade in the house)
1/4 c chopped cilantro for cooking, more for serving

Handful frozen shrimp
1 c frozen corn
And, if on hand, two cups cooked rice

S&P

Saute onions in olive oil, add salt, and once wilted, throw in sausage and red pepper flakes. Stir to coat. Add six or seven cloves of diced or smashed garlic, allow their aroma to rise (about 90 seconds), then pour in chicken stock, diced tomatoes (with juice) and black beans (without liquid). If white beans are done, add them as well. Because the delicious, soupy side dish that I had at Bertha’s Kitchen looked to contain bean cooking liquid, I included some here. I happened to have cooked white rice from the night before, so I added two big clumps. Smash to separate and then throw in cilantro, frozen corn, and frozen shrimp. Cook to heat through, roughly five minutes.

Serve. Add more fresh cilantro and salt and pepper to taste. If desired, add a few jazzes of hot sauce. I poured my husband’s soup over toasted and buttered, homemade cornbread. With two kinds of beans plus rice and corn in the soup, that’s a little bit of carbo overkill, but not enough to render the dish unhealthy. Mine, I ate as is and it was very good and just as good the next day!

Now on to a spectacular lobster salad. If the soup belongs in the realm of week night cuisine, this one is for special occasions. A friend who parked her car in our driveway for two consecutive weekends brought us a container of cooked lobster as a thank you (she’s from Maine). That container was crammed full with SIX lobster tails. Oh man!

Lobster Salad 

1/3 c chopped red onion
1/2 T fennel
Put these two ingredients in a bowl and cover with boiled water. Soak while assembling the rest of salad.

1/2 green pepper, diced (would have used celery, but was out)
1 T capers, rinsed
2 generous T sweet relish
Couple big blobs of mayo
6 lobster tails, cut in chunks

The mayonnaise, which was probably about 1/2 cup, was slightly excessive. Also, we use full fat mayo in this house but I’m certain substituting a reduced fat version would have worked (but never no fat — gross!)

I didn’t think it would need salt because of the capers, but just a little dash helped. Since part of the glory of this gift was how easy it made dinner prep, I forewent spritzing the salad with lemon just before serving… it would have brightened the flavors nicely, I’m sure.

The fennel seeds were my sister’s idea. She’s a more adventurous cook than I and also had, coincidentally, just seen a cooking program on which the chef asserted that ‘no French cook would dream of serving seafood without fennel’. I was skeptical but went ahead anyway and I have to say that small cluster of seeds added a subtle and nice perfume. Definitely recommend.

Oh yum. YUM!  And there’s enough for Saturday lunch!

PS  When the news gets too unbearable to discuss, too awful in too many directions to wrap your mind around, count on food posts. They are reliably engaging to write and wonderful, constructive distractions.

* Bertha’s Kitchen has just been named an America’s Classic by the James Beard Foundation. The prestigious award is reserved for “beloved regional restaurants, distinguished by their timeless appeal”. Read more in this Post and Courier article.  

**Tim Allen of Rebellion Farm wrote that IGA article. Funnily enough, I’ve eaten pig that he’s roasted. “How can that be?” you ask. Well, he was the farmer who hosted Donna Hardy’s indigo workshop. Well-known Charleston Chef BJ Dennis catered the rest of the meal, by the way. (I didn’t know how illustrious he was until later, when I started to follow him on Instagram). Here’s my description of that meal from 2014. If you do a little research on southern food, you will find interesting and on-going discussion about cultural appropriation, foods of the African diaspora, and lasting contributions of the enslaved to Southern culture. 

Hail Mary, solicitors, and hope

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Two days ago, when I was editing a published post about the only Catholic prayer I still say and a little about travel by air, the phone rang. It was a persistent solicitor — a number I’ve been seeing every day for weeks. I picked up to politely request my removal from their list while simultaneously saving the post —

and the whole thing vanished. Not just the updates — all of it.

I walked away, resolved not to let negative narratives spin up around the glitch, but also without the energy for a re-do. The negatives arose anyway (was silence imposed because the post was braggy instead of vulnerable? was it too facile with the Catholic rituals? not remotely concerning what is truly and deeply on my mind?)

What IS truly and deeply on my mind?

Yesterday, the wordpress app on my phone seized. Geez! Haven’t I said, I’m not shutting up?

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So by way of recap, here’s a little from the other day — I hope I never stop feeling a sense of wonder about being up in the air and seeing the coast lit up below. I hope the Virgin hears our prayers. I hope Mary’s mercy can guide me to learn more about the complicated landscape of South Carolina. Help me filter history through a tender and flexible compassion.

Here’s one surprise from my recent trip. The most restorative aspect of our visit to Charleston came from a major reduction in news consumption. Not the sun, the 70 degree temperatures, the incredible food or historic sites (though they were amazing, too). It was LESS NEWS.

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For wisdom about the business of balancing duty and lightness, I turn to Rebecca Solnit (“Hope in the Dark”). Even though since November I’ve had a hard time reading political commentary that predates the election, she will be an exception. She wrote:

“Joy doesn’t betray but sustains activism. And when you face a politics that aspires to make you fearful, alienated, and isolated, joy is a fine initial act of insurrection.”

Giving is an act of insurrection, too. Did you hear about the crowd sourcing that planned to raise $20k in a month for purposes of repairing the vandalized Jewish graves in Missouri? They exceeded their goal in THREE HOURS. Or about the million-plus dollars raised to rebuild that burned down mosque in Texas? Twenty-three thousand people contributed.

Closer to home, my city just voted to be a sanctuary city.

Powerful examples of our collective goodness absolutely abound right now. To stay sane, I really need to pay as much attention to them as I do to the ugly and dark work of the GOP.

  • Photos of Virgin, magnolia tree and house were shot at Magnolia Plantation, SC last week.

Knocking on doors in NH

Most people didn’t answer their doors and the few who did mentioned we were the fourth crew to come by recently. There were a few hostile white male millenials. My favorite encounter was with two young girls in pajamas who came to the door and announced that their mother was voting for Hillary. My second favorite was when a pink-slippered older woman smoking on her porch emphatically informed us that she never told anybody who she voted for, ever.

I can’t say canvassing was useful in terms of the election’s outcome but it offered unquantifiable value in dragging me away from the news. There were some seriously beautiful clouds, too.

When I got home, the earlier-setting sun lit the autumnal canopy on fire.

The pictures don’t capture the light at all.

Between the clouds in New Hampshire and the gorgeous sunset at home I was reminded that even in a world tainted by the ascension of a madman, there is majesty and expanse, light and sky.

Textiles at The Elms

The Elms — one of the many Gilded Age mansions that line the coast of Newport, RI. These gigantic, opulent structures were used for eight to ten weeks a year as summer homes. We did the 1/2 hour tour, which means we didn’t learn all that much about the family. But a couple of tidbits were garnered: the owner’s sister was an avid bridge player and if she couldn’t get a table of equals together, she’d recruit the butler to play. He had to stand for the entire game.

At dinner, not only was one not allowed to show appreciation for the food being served — (no ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ at the lifting of the metal domes), one wasn’t even supposed to watch to see what was there!

I never would have survived.