Looking for a Sharp Knife

I am slowly replacing all my knives. By slowly, I mean I’ve been in the process for maybe 25 years. As a wedding gift we received a knife block and also a set of knives. The knives all had brown plastic handles. The set only had a paring knife, a serrated vegetable knife (supposedly for slicing tomatoes), a meat clever, a bread knife, and a fillet knife. It was a “starter” set. We also managed to acquire a 3 piece carving set as a free gift for allowing a vacuum sales demonstration. That set had plastic faux ivory handles. Coupled with the knives (wooden handles) Sparky and I each owned prior to merging our households we managed to fill (just) two knife blocks. Plastic handles tend to get brittle over time and the paring knife handle disintegrated, followed by the fillet knife. Eventually I decided that I wanted knives with metal handles that wouldn’t fall apart in my hand. My mother had a knife that was made by my great grandfather (or maybe my mother’s great grandfather?), any way it had an aluminum forged handle that was quite formidable. It is still in use and looks like a machete. It is perfect for hacking apart big hunks of meat. Anyway I’ve found at garage sales and at resale shops many aluminum or stainless steel handled knives. With each new find I replace a wooden or plastic handled blade. I was down to only the carving set as needing to be swapped out. I found a meat fork and purchased it. I’d looked all through the bins for the matching knife to no avail. A week later and at a different Goodwill, I found the matching carving knife! I was thrilled. I’ve now passed the still functional carving set to my sons. Now as you may deduce, many of the knives I’ve obtained as pre-owned are not sharp. That is however not a problem. You see when I was in college one of the skills I was required to master was sharpening knives and scalpels. There were at that time (in the ancient days of yore) still surgeons using scalpels that were not disposable. They had to be sharpened after every use. And the Veterinary Technician (now Veterinary Nurse) was responsible. I had to purchase my own hone. I still have it and use it as needed to keep my cutlery sharp. (I also got A+ in my sharpening skills tests.) As I was sharpening my newest purchase (for 19 cents) I was inspired to pen this little Nonet. If you aren’t familiar with the nonet, it is a reverse etheree but instead of the first line starting with 10 syllables it starts with 9 and each successive line is reduced by one syllable with the last line having a single syllable… Enjoy.

I know how to sharpen every knife
From paring, carving, and chef’s blade
Make it a keen razor edge
Able to split a hair
Slices paper thin
Needs no pressure
Carves off fat
Cuts deep

Looking Berry Good

Sparky just turned 62 years young. When I inquired what kind of pie he wanted for his birthday he responded with “any kind except mincemeat”. He is not a fan of raisins. As I probed to discover his heart’s desire he finally announced that he’d like rhubarb or cherry. As I prepared to make his special pie I discovered that I had only 1 and a quarter cup of rhubarb in the freezer! I thawed a package of tart cherries (one and a quarter cup after draining off a cup of juice) that we had squirreled away from the cherry harvest this last spring. That was only 2.5 cups of fruit. So I rummaged around in the freezer and came up with a quart baggie of red raspberries and another half bag of blackberries. I ended up with 5 cups of fruit. BINGO! I was in business. So here is my recipe for my Rhuberry Pie complete with my secret ingredients:

1.25 cups sliced rhubarb
1.25 cups cherries
1.5 cups raspberries
1 cup blackberries
1.25 cups sugar
0.25 cups granulated tapioca
1.5 t. cinnamon
0.25 (one fourth) t. cardamom
0.125 (one eighth) t. freshly ground nutmeg
a pinch salt

Mix all ingredients and turn into an unbaked pie crust distributing the filling evenly in the crust. Top with a second crust and crimp the edges to seal. Cut vents in the top crust. Bake 1 hour until top is golden.

Looking at Food Porn

It has been awhile since I posted any food photos or recipes. Well, here it is in February and I’m trying a new recipe. As you might know I like my recipes to be ones that don’t require exotic ingredients or utilize strange cooking techniques. I am getting about 6 magazines per month that provide me with some new and often weird food presentation/recipes. I was enticed by the Woo-hoo deal at Kroger’s to purchase a jar of capers. They are regularly $4.29 for a little 3.5 oz jar. I got a jar for $0.79. I’ve been trying to find a recipe that sounded good. Low and behold the magazine came through – Lemon Chicken with Capers. Now I know that the test kitchens for Martha Stewart and Bon Appetit would never ever use canned anything so I made some substitutions. And honestly I’m willing to give up a little bit of snobbery for convenience!
4 boneless skinless chicken thighs or breasts (I just cooked them instead of pounding them to 1/2″ thickness)
1/4 c. flour
1 t. pepper
1 clove garlic crushed (or 1/2 t. garlic powder)
1 T. butter
2 T. olive oil

1 can chicken broth
2 T. flour
1 c. heavy cream (instead of the broth, flour and cream I used a can of cream of chicken soup and a cup of milk – I mean if you want to spend the extra time, calories, and money go ahead but it worked just fine using the shortcut)

1 t. lemon juice (from a bottle instead of squeezing a lemon)
1/2 t. lemon zest (from my spices instead of zesting a fresh lemon)
2 T. capers drained and rinsed

Mix flour, garlic and pepper and dredge chicken. Melt butter in skillet and add oil. When oil is hot, put the chicken in the skillet and cook ~ 6 minutes on each side until browned and cooked through. Remove chicken and place on a plate to keep warm. To the skillet add lemon zest and lemon juice along with the can of soup and milk. Stir until smooth, scraping bits from the bottom of the skillet. Return the chicken to the skillet and coat with the soup mixture. Heat until bubbling. Remove from the stove and transfer to plates. Sprinkle capers over the top. Garnish with thinly sliced lemon wheels and fresh basil according to the recipe. Of course I don’t have any fresh basil in February so I used my slightly dehydrated basil. I didn’t have a fresh lemon so I passed on that. It was still good.

I served the chicken over super greens spaghetti. Sparky really liked it and said I should put it in the rotation. His only suggestion was to double the sauce. What I needed to do was use less chicken! I had purchased a family pack with 8 thighs and didn’t double the sauce… Total time (my way) 30 minutes total prep and cook time. Total time according to the recipe – 20 min prep time, 30 min cook time.

Looking at the Sweetness

This last fall Sparky and I went apple picking. We traveled into Michigan to the Tree-Mendous fruit farm. That is the only place we have found that grows Mutsu apples in these parts. Not only do we get Mutsu but also Cortland, Empire and a slew of other lesser known varieties of apples. The result is that son#1 is an apple snob. From an early age he has had a discerning palate when it comes to apples. He won’t eat a Red Delicious apple unless someone has a gun to his head. He loves a good Empire, Jazz or Pink Lady apple but his all time favorite is the Mutsu. We picked a half bushel for him and he managed to eat them all within 3 weeks – an apple a day. And they were big apples! At the time we were picking there were very few people around. We thought it was due to going in the middle of the week but found out that it was mostly due to fear. You see the owner/manager of the orchard was hospitalized with Eastern Equine Encephalitis and it was uncertain if he was going to make it. People were afraid they would be exposed picking the apples. We picked lots of apples and even giving son#1 his cut left us with a lot more than I could use in a couple of weeks. Having done this before I set to sorting and storing the apples.
1. Use only perfect apples and sort from largest to smallest.
2. Wrap each apple individually in newspaper.
3. Place the apples in a box or basket (we use a milk crate) putting the smallest on the bottom.
4. Store the box in a cool basement, garage, fruit cellar or refrigerator. Apples will freeze if the temperature dips below 30°; and will ripen quickly, if the temperature goes above 40°.
That said I’ve had wonderful apples for pies at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Now that we’ve moved into February my supply is dwindling. The newspaper announced that due to the age of the owner and his health, coupled with no one to carry on the business, Tree-Mendous had closed permanently Dec. 31, 2019. It was news that was a huge blow to our family traditions. I am savoring these last late apples.

Apples just ripe and warm from the sun
Crisp and crunchy with lingering tang
September glow a blush on each one
Their flavor and texture virtues I sang

To a February apple they can’t compare
Cocooned in paper and kept cool
Treasured and hoarded, I reluctantly share
In tarts and pies and apple fool

Peel changes from thick to thin
Green-yellow to a translucent gold
From smooth to soft wrinkled skin
A fresh faced girl to a beauty old

These apples of snow and dark
Are not for eating out of hand
A contrast to cold winters stark
They speak of sky and summers grand

When ice and blizzard snow is spun
With the golden orb my tongue enthralled
Releasing my memories of sun
In pan or skillet life’s sweetness recalled

Looking at Disaster Averted

My mother fell this last weekend. She posted on Facebook that she had gotten light headed and fell in her little kitchen area. She fell hard. She maintained that although bruised she didn’t think anything was broken. My sister (with whom she lives) ministered to her with ice packs and some over the counter analgesics. My mother didn’t think she was going to go to church on Sunday and she was right. Instead of church she was taken to the emergency room. In fact, my sister insisted despite my mother’s protests (she even used some cuss words which is out of character so she must have really been in pain). The long story short – She has several broken ribs (which they found while doing a CT scan of her kidney – because that was where most of the bruising was located). In addition she has newly diagnosed Afib (Atrial Fibrillation) which might have been a contributing cause of her dizziness as well as dehydration from not drinking enough water after taking her “water” pill. After a long wait in the emergency room and an even longer wait for all the testing to occur, she was admitted to the hospital. That was Sunday. Monday found her feeling better since they fed her and she was less “hangry” but she had to remain overnight. As of this post she is finally home. The broken ribs will take some time to heal (87 nearly 88 year old bones don’t knit together as fast as a teenager’s). In the interim she will have to try not to cough or sneeze as that is pretty painful. She has some additional medications to take for the Afib. The bruising is starting to fade. The trauma of this episode will also fade (for me and her) but probably not as quickly as the purple and blue areas on her side.

Looking at Fungi

I am fascinated by these things, fungi. Neither fun nor male. A plant that grows in the dark and damp spreading spores not seeds. Some delicious and some deadly. The trick is to be able to tell the difference. Sautéd as a treat or a last meal, we take our chances. On these weird forms, little umbrellas or soggy soccer balls, we dream or is it hallucinate. Who is to say? So many colors and textures that catch our eye and we must decide if it is a toadstool or mushroom, benign or lethal, harmless or pathogenic. I wonder if spores released and accidentally inhaled would change me. A parasitic fungus spreads in my lungs, over takes my body, morphs me into something akin to a zombie. Will I seek the dark and damp? If I then ingest portabella is it cannibalism? I never liked to eat mushrooms as a child. Perhaps it was because of a Twilight Zone episode. You know the mushrooms being grown were really taking the place of people, or people were being devoured by the mushrooms. It is hard to tell anymore. I sit huddled next to the space heater on one side and the humidifier on the other trying to get comfortable. We all want comfort and dark and warm and sometimes a little dampness. Like when your hair is wet and wrapped in a towel.

The above is my prose poem about fungi. I have lots of photos as I love to take a few pictures of fungus especially the pretty ones (pretty to me anyway). So here follows a few of my favorites.

This is in response to calmkate’s Friday Fun – Fungi post – please go visit and join in the fun(gi)!

Looking at My Sweetie

St. Valentine’s Day has rolled around again. The stores are piled high with poor quality chocolates in expensive boxes (heart shaped no less). Tomorrow the remaining candy will be 50% off. But for today they will hold the line to wring every penny from the young men and women who will rush in after work in a panic to get a gift for their sweetie at the last minute. I’m old and Sparky and I have been married for a long time. We don’t spend loads of money on this (made-up) holiday. Well, to be honest it isn’t completely a fiction but the current iteration is so commercialized that it barely resembles anything St. Valentine would have endorsed. Nevertheless we celebrate but in a slightly different fashion. First we will go out to eat at Taco Bell. The whole meal will probably come in at just under $6.00. Then we will head home. Yes, we are really wild things. You see love is not about money or gifts. True love is comfortable and warm. I don’t need fireworks. A snuggle on the sofa and a cup of hot cocoa can be as romantic as a fancy dinner out. Too many people seem to think that if there aren’t flashing lights and loud music it can’t be love. As soon as the thrill (a transient experience) is gone they pitch the relationship. At the first sign of disagreement or conflict they bail. Too many think of love as a roller coaster ride and once the thrill ends they move on….

She had dreams born of chocolate
Silky smooth and sweet
Wherein her love was gallant
And kind and noble
His hair thick and untamed
But they always dissipated
Once she swallowed
Eyes open her hero stood
Not on a battlement
But on a step stool
Hair thinning and a paunch
Light bulb in hand
Balancing the ceiling light
Removing the dead bugs
With gentle eyes he smiles
And calls her “my love”
And it is sweeter than chocolate

Looking to Giggle

Sparky and I made the rounds to several Goodwill Stores on their Senior Half Price Sale day. At the first stop I didn’t find much (a pair of leggings – yeah I know) and a top. Sparky on the other hand made the big score. He found for himself 2 wool shirts (think lumberjack), a like new Nike Predator exercise shirt, a cool t-shirt with airplanes on the front, 2 DVDs, and some ankle weights. He was very happy. At the next Goodwill Store we both found some things along with a laugh. This store is in a very shady part of town and I never go there without Sparky. The store has a career center next door and most of the employees working on the floor and the back are doing their mandatory community service. Anyway, I was trying on some shoes while Sparky was photographing a violin case to see if Son#2 was interested for $2. As I was bent over wedging my foot into a short boot someone put their hand on my backside. I jumped and straightened up turning only to see a strange man smiling at me. His smile turned to surprise and faded to horror as my eyebrow shot up to stratospheric levels. He sputtered an apology as he furiously looked around. Seems he was looking for his wife and mistook my behind for hers. She was located on the other side of the shoe rack. I had a good chuckle and the man was relieved that I was not screaming for the police. He must have said he was sorry a dozen times. I imagine he was going to have to explain to his wife why he was so red in the face!

We then traveled to another store. I managed to find a dress and another pair of leggings (yes I have a problem). I also found some silverware that matches my everyday stuff – and scored 8 soup spoons, 4 teaspoons, 4 tablespoons and 4 dinner forks. The big find was a Vera Bradley snap closure purse for saintvi. So we go to check out and I buy the purse and leave Sparky to make a separate transaction with the rest of the stuff (including another shirt for him). I’m standing there watching as he fumbles for his Good Points card and credit card. The cashier is efficient and friendly – emphasis on efficient. She quickly rings up the all the spoons and forks, the clothes, and reaches for the coffee mug. As she is turning it upside down to check the price Sparky is gasping and stuttering “N-N-No!” You see the mug was Sparky’s and had coffee in it! That will teach him to put his coffee on the counter or maybe he will remember not to bring it into the store. The cashier was laughing about it and said she was going to charge him for his coffee and the mug! I giggled all the way out…

Sometimes the simple things can bring a smile or a giggle. Although we found some treasures (another hammered aluminum bowl for me and a couple really expensive shirts for Sparky), the real find was a little mirth from some interactions with the people we met.

Looking for Number Three

Bad things seem to happen in threes. Mr. Fudd’s father in law passed away. He had had surgery for bladder cancer a couple years ago. It had returned but he kept that a secret from his family and especially his wife. He had to be taken by ambulance to the hospital where the truth came out. He died just a few days later. This is a tragic event as his wife is in poor health with declining mental acuity. Mr. Fudd’s wife and her siblings are trying to figure it all out – how to navigate the legal stuff and what to do with their mother who needs assistance now that their father is gone. I will be finishing up part of a study in his place.

The wife of a friend of a friend (only 59 years old) died tragically and suddenly. She and her husband were scuba diving in the Florida Keys. They were exploring a ship wreck about 100 feet down when she started experiencing “distress” according to the news accounts. They were able to get her to the surface but she was pronounced dead at the hospital. They had gone to school with my husband and his siblings. Sparky’s next younger sister was hit hard by the news. She had dated the widower before he dated his wife. They knew each other and the fact that she was so young really took her aback.

I was waiting for the third tragedy. And I didn’t have to wait long. I am talking about events that occur in my sphere – not the national stage so Kobe Bryant, Kirk Douglas, and Robert Conrad’s untimely deaths don’t count in my count-down. It really made me nervous. But as it turns out my third death was not as tragic as it could have been. In fact it isn’t really a tragic death at all. It was my computer and the mouse. I was having issues where my mouse froze. I was sure it was the computer being glitchy and kept rebooting it. Finally I discovered that even a reboot wouldn’t make the cursor move. If I used the pad on the laptop I could move the cursor no problem. It was then that I examined the mouse. The red light had gone out. There was no life left. I was very very distraught. I couldn’t comment on WordPress, I couldn’t do my daily crossword, I couldn’t play Panda Mahjong! With the help of son#1 I went in search of a replacement for the nearly 11 year old dead mouse. I was a tad attached to it since it had out lived 3 computers and fit my hand perfectly. However I found a beauty. It was on sale and has many features the old one didn’t – it has a scroll wheel, it lights up in sync with my keyboard, and has several programmable buttons on the side. It is also ergonomically designed which makes it even more comfortable to use. Seems only fitting that I should get a “gaming mouse” to go with my gaming keyboard…

However it took less than a week to discover that the computer was ill. Not terminal. It was stuck in an endless loop that prevented me from doing anything including turning it off. After a trip to the tech guru and a 2 day “hospital” stay, my computer is back to health. A resurrection of sorts. The mouse was a goner but the laptop pulled through.

Looking Aghast

Yesterday I had an experience that took my breath away. A friend and I went shopping at a national department store. We were looking for an item and stopped a clerk to inquire about the availability. As we patiently waited for her return, we discussed things like lunch and where we should stop next… When the clerk returned she informed us that the item was available only online. Then it happened. She turned and stated clearly that “if we wanted to check for any other items we find the prices at the Heil Hitler kiosk.” My mouth dropped open. I looked at my friend and she looked at me. We were beyond speechless. I asked her if she heard what I heard. Yep. She heard it as clearly as I had. The thing was this woman said it as if it was just a figure of speech, the way you’d say “fly by night” or “new-fangled”. As my head spun and my stomach churned I just wanted to leave the area as quickly as possible. Sadly I couldn’t out run the soul sickness I was feeling. I could only think of my grandmother, a little Jewish lady. She would have immediately responded to the outrage. She would have slapped the woman’s face so hard it would have sent her into the last century. She would have sent up a hew and cry that would have woken the dead. She would have had the clerk’s head on a pike. She lost relatives in the Holocaust. My cousin lives in Israel and is an Orthodox Jew.

I decided action was required. I had been so taken aback that I hadn’t gotten the clerk’s name. We circled back to housewares trying to figure out a way to get her name. Divine intervention occurred when I kicked something that went skidding across the floor. It was a name tag for Taylor. Picking it up I was able to return it to a woman working with the mystery clerk; her name was Becky. At the customer service desk I spoke with a manager and expressed my outrage and shock. I let her know that Becky needed some serious sensitivity training and possibly be moved to a job that had zero contact with customers. The manager was shocked and assured me that the situation would be addressed.

My friend realized that the clerk in question looked familiar, but she was a school teacher for 35 years so everyone looks familiar to her! But once we had her name it all clicked – she was someone from the neighborhood where my husband and her husband had grown up. They had all gone to school together… I’m still confused by her flippant use of a phrase that is so loaded with negative connotations. Was she trying to send a message? Did she really have no clue? Was she announcing her affiliations? Trying to recruit us?

What is the world coming to? Is this a harbinger of things to come?