Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Silent Night Broken By Song



Rarely do the holidays evoke anything more than commercial harassment, accentuated by the grumpy red eyed shoppers, who in the spirit of giving, trample each other to get that last hideous holiday sweater for the family dog.

This year, I wanted to see the other side. The side of people that made me not despise the whole of the human race. Oddly enough, one of the activities was sent to me via e-mail from my local events committee. Apparently, there would be caroling at the "Bean" (aka Cloud Gate, which sounds like a sequel to Watergate, but I digress...).

On the last Friday performance, I bundled up and headed out of my office, happy to leave off the long hours of staring at a computer to see how the rest of the world was spending this holiday season.

Upon arriving, I was shocked. A crowd had already formed, smiling and cheerful, and oddly polite. There were patient lines for free hot cider, the coffee and hot cocoa having already been chosen and consumed by those who arrived earlier. Another group of volunteers handed out song books and cupped candles.

People waited their turn, said please and thank you- all of this out of the ordinary for the holidays.




Once the choir began, a hush spread across the expectant crowd.- without the requisite pushing to get into a better position. The crowd listened to instruction and obediently turned to the various pages to sing along with the Wicker Park Choir. Children danced and leapt around, watching their reflections moving this way and that in the surface of the Bean.

And when the last song was sung, the last applause complete, people parted in an orderly manner moving passed the ice skating rink and their other fellow patrons, still warmed by the congeniality of the singing and community, not to mention the hot beverages, experienced all in the name of the holidays upon us.

Here's to hoping that your holidays had a moment of calm, clarity and serenity that will last you throughout the coming year.

Happy New Year All!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Gingerbread Brownies (recipe)



To get into the season, I decided to make gingerbread inspired desserts. My first item was a gingerbread brownie recipe that I came across. It is quite easy and not a whole lot of mess. I should also mention it is more of a cake brownie than a fudge brownie.

Ingredients:

1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder (Droste Cocoa is my favorite)
1 to 1 1/2 tps ground ginger (depending on how sharp you prefer it)
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground clove
12 tbsp butter, unsalted (melted and cooled)
1/2 cups molasses
1/4 cups milk
1 egg
1 1/2 tps baking soda and 1/4 cup of boiling water
8 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

Directions:

Butter (or oil) and flour a 9 x13 pan and preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, both sugars, salt, cocoa powder, and spices. Create a well in the center of the dry ingredients.

In a separate bowl, mix together the butter, molasses, milk and egg. Once well mixed, add this to the dry ingredients. Combine until all the dry is mixed in. Then add the boiling water/baking soda mixture to the batter. Again, mix until well combined. Add the chocolate chips.

Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake for approximately 45 minutes, or until your toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool and then cut into pieces.

(the original recipe can be found here, but I tweaked it a bit to reduce the ginger and egg content).

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Peach Vanilla Preserves


So, the peaches. Peaches as far as the eyes can see.

What to do with that many?

Well, one of the things that I decided to try was peach preserves. I have made strawberry freezer jam, but never preserves and never with peaches. Here we go!

Ingredients:

5 pounds of ripe peaches (I put them into a container and weighed them on the bathroom scale- I have no idea how many peaches would total 5 pounds and I do not have a kitchen scale).

3 1/2 cups of granulated sugar

1/4 cup of lemon juice (fresh)

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla  

Directions:

Wash peaches and then cut an X in the bottom of each peach.






Place peaches in boiling water for approximately 45 seconds, then immediately place them in an ice bath to stop them from cooking.

The skins will pull right off  (if they are ripe). Remove the skin, pit and cut the peaches into 1/8ths, or so. Combine the peaches, sugar and lemon. Cover the container and place in refrigerator overnight.




In a large sauce pan or stock pot (the stock pot is usually a better choice since sugar can and does boil over), bring the sugar-peach mixture to a simmer, skimming the foam from the top. Continue to stir occasionally for the next 20 minutes or so. Remove the pot from heat and stir in the vanilla.


Fill the prepped containers with the preserves leaving approximately 1/8 inch of space from the top. Place the seal and tighten the rim, but do not over tighten. Wipe down the rims and seals.

Place the sealed cans in the hot water (BUT NOT BOILING- you don't want to break the cans) making sure that they do not touch or tip over. The containers need to be immersed in the water (check that the containers are covered with about 2 inches water). Cover the pot with a lid and bring the water to a boil. Once boiling, process the containers for 5 minutes.



Remove the containers from the boiling water and place on wire rack to cool for 24 hours. Once cool, check the container seal by pressing on it to make certain there is no give. If it pops back up, it didn't seal properly and you should place it in the refrigerator and consume it with in a month. The other properly processed containers can be shelved for up to a year in a cool dark place.



I had some left over preserves that didn't fit in my larger jars, so I reserved that for a little taste test. I found the preserves tasty and I hope you do as well!

Next up canned peaches.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Some Thing Blue (Making Jewelry)



While out with one of my dear friends scouring the streets of the fashion district for a ribbon shop, we came across Bead World. The draw of the word bead was enough for me to suggest entry into a world of beads of various shapes and sizes, all begging for a home. Glass beads, wooden beads, beads of clay, bone, metal, etc. adorned little squared containers creating a kaleidoscope of colors and textures.

While perusing the wares, I came across a lovely blue flower shaped bead. For $2.80, how could I pass it up? After deciding to buy the bead I looked helplessly at my friend, a seasoned jewelry maker, as to how to proceed. What do I need next? She effortlessly whirled me around the store showing me clasps, chains, spacers, etc. After hemming and hawing, I made my selections under her watchful eye- making sure I had everything I needed to commence my first jewelry making endeavor.

Once back home, I spilled my bag of goodies onto a table excited get started on creating my first necklace. I snipped and bent very small pieces of metal into what appeared to be normal "necklace" shapes, or at least ones that looked similar to the other necklaces I used check my work.



The most difficult part was attaching the clasp. I was warned that jewelry making takes a steady hand and patience. I would have to agree. I fussed with the chain and clasp hoping that it would miraculously form the loop that is was supposed to create, and the slight chain would not escape, once again, from the silver ring. Finally the loop lined up and sealed itself giving form to the pieces making up the necklace.


The final product is one that I will be happy to wear as the little flower will remind me of my wonderful and helpful friend, a nice getaway and a fun new project gone right.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Peach Time


Being that peach season is nearing its close, I made my trek to Michigan for some of the lovely fruit. This year I decided a camping trip was necessary to add to my journey. Sitting around a camp fire as a light evening chill falls upon me, watching the flames dance as they do. Too bad I forgot my vegan marshmallows! Oh well, next time.




My favorite picking place is in Sodus, MI. It is a nice drive up to Sodus- living in a city it is easy to forget how nice the countryside can be.



After picking a 1/2 bushel of peaches, I couldn't pass up an opportunity to stop at the various wineries in the area. One of the staple go-tos is Round Barn. They were having their harvest festival with music and such to celebrate another good year.


 
I am not a fan of Michigan's red wines, however, its white wines are quite pleasant. I think it has something to do with the temperature in Michigan. It feels like Germany and I have yet to find a good German red, but the whites are lovely. The Kerners, Gewurztraminers, Rieslings, Traminettes, oh my!
Then again, what do I know about grapes? I have yet to add vigneron to my list of things to try. I think I will stay on the tasting side rather than the growing side for now. Cheers!




At the end of the day, daydreaming of what to do with all of my peaches, I headed back home. Peach jam... canned peaches... peach pie... so many options!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Training It (A poem)

Step into the steel coffin bidding farewell to the light of day
Metallic teeth clamp tightly around fearing your escape
Moments pass and time stands still
Slowly swallowed deeper and deeper into its cavernous self
And, finally, the first level of hell

Voices of those who came before flutter around,
adhering to your already clammy skin
Broken time machines force you into queues,
questioning everything

When passing through Hades’ gates a fine must be paid
The gate keeper, with his vigilant eye,
tucked safely behind his oracle glass peers out at nothingness

Down deeper and deeper,
the temperature rises higher and higher with the smell of decay and loneliness fresh in your nostrils

Other lost souls surround you,
but remain unaware of the existence of god,
each in his own separate hell
You shed the limply fluttered voices with the roll of sweat down your back
Instead, you are covered in the worries of others and the worries of your own,
some converging, some alone

Booming voices commence
demanding respect, a response, anything,
from the lost souls, the gatekeeper, anyone
Again time passes, lined up like cattle for slaughter,
when will your number be called?

A rush, whirlwind of dust, more voices, ordering the cattle herd on
Hades intestinal snake slithers you through its dark cavities,
lulling you
Taking the herd further and further from sanity with its chortled vibrations contently
devouring all

Heat almost unbearable consumes even the most frigid of hearts
The sweat,
eyes darting anywhere but home,
touching anonymity
Time honored panic bubbling up
each knowing the journey may last for infinity

And then it stops
And then the gate opens
Released back into the sun and the rain
Free again, you smile along with the other souls, but only to yourself.

(J. Smith, copyright 2011)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

This Year's Glenwood Ave Arts Fest In Visual Review

Scarlet Mountain
Another fantastic year of...

music,

B1g T1me

B1g T1me

 and more music,


art,


 and artists,

Deals Gone Bad

 and more music,


and dancing,

Deals Gone Bad

and more music,


and hula hooping,

and more art.

Always an enjoyable festival!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Celebrating the Full Moon

There is a group of very entertaining and courageous individuals that gather during the summer on the full moon to dance, play music and share their talents with others. Oh, did I mention the pyrotechnics?




Nearing dusk, families, friends, photographers and such make their way to a grassy location near the Foster street beach in Chicago. Some bring their grills for a full on BBQ, others just sandwiches and other accoutrements to snack on while positioning themselves on spread blankets so as not to miss a single, spectacular moment.

By the time dusk has given way to its darkest glow, the drum circle begins beating their drums. Tum, tum, tum… each drummer plays together, alone, but creating excitement and preparing the spectators for what’s to come.

A bit more time passes and then, show time! Various men and women confidently stride to their designated locations while carrying balls of fire. They twist and turn the fire balls this way and that, dancing and twirling along with the beat of the drums… tum, tum, tum… Some juggle, some rotate their hips spinning hula hoops of fire. There are the fire breathers and those extinguishing flames upon their tongues.

The night progresses and the acts become more urgent and intricate. The dancers shift places and change props, but the fire remains throughout. The drumming continues… tum, tum, tum… beating to the heartbeats of spectators, holding our breath, watching in awe.

As the performance (or performances) come to their peak before being snuffed out for the evening and thus for another 28 days or so, the dancers come together turning the single performers, dancers into one. One winged fire breathing dragon!

At the close of the dance and as the drums are placed onto the backs of the musicians, the families and friends collect their remnants and castoffs from the evening making sure not to leave a trace of this quite fabulous event. The blankets are folded; the meal arrangements are neatly placed into their sacks and small sleepy-eyed children are carried on the backs of gentle men with their others in tow.

I make my own way back to the car and notice the full moon hanging its reflection across the ink colored waters and wonder if it appreciated the evening as much as the others.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Glass Messenger (A poem)


Your words drop heavily to the floor,
without hope of recovery
Sealing the coffin on my dying will
And silencing the remaining light in my eyes

Drunk on the vibration of your voice,
I slip quietly into panic
Seeing through you, around you
Without you, before and after you

There is no reflection,
yet the sharpness cuts and brings forth blood
red, coming fast, draining from my face
Covering your words thickly
cloaking them, protecting them
Forcing them into the crevices of the wooden floor
Adding character to the room
Stealing character- mine, yours, ours

Shattering the broken harmony,
You too fall to pieces,
mixing into the split red, the words
spinning apologies into liars webs
catching flies and dead dreams
and forgotten memories and finished futures

Mixing them, breaking their boundaries
adding a pinch of salt
To the wound
For good measure, for the good of us all

(J. Smith, copyright 2011)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Pancakes Worth Making (Recipe)


This recipe is first and foremost for my cousin. I have been trying to share this each and every time I see her, but we tend to get sidetracked on other matters and so I have decided to share it with everyone. Here it goes...

Ingredients for Pancakes:


2 tablespoons of butter, melted
1 cup of flour
11/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup of milk
1 egg
fruit of choice (optional)

Ingredients for berry sauce:

1 cup fresh strawberries, cut
1 cup fresh raspberries
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons sugar
*(you can add 1 teaspoon of cornstarch, in a 2 tablespoons of water, if you want the sauce to thicken)


Putting it together (sauce):


Some people prefer maple syrup. If I am making fruit pancakes, I would rather have a nice fruit sauce to go over them. In a small heated sauce pan place all the sauce ingredients together, except the cornstarch, if you are using it. Keep stirring so as to avoid anything sticking on the bottom of the pan. Once the mixture starts looking like a sauce, about 10 minutes, you can add the water/cornstarch mixture to the sauce. Keep mixing for another 5 minutes or so. Remove from heat. This sauce can be made before hand and placed in the refrigerator for later. Great on ice cream too.



Putting it together (pancakes):

sift all the dry ingredients (flour,sugar, salt and baking powder) together, put aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk the milk and egg- then add the melted butter. Once well mixed, stir in the dry ingredient mixture. Set aside and let rest for 5 minutes. While waiting, pre-heat your griddle or pan. Add butter or margarine to pan.

Place a small ladle full of batter in pan. I prefer smaller pancakes so I can cook three at a time.  Add fruit to the exposed uncooked batter (in pan). Adding the fruit this way allows everyone to have the type of pancakes they prefer- no need for early morning negotiations. Cook until bubbles form on expose side and then flip. 



Plate and serve! The sauce compliments the berried pancakes nicely.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Waffling (suiker wafel recipe)

I have a sweet tooth, a serious sweet tooth, and am happy to seek out the best of the best when it comes to sweets- tasting as I go, nonetheless. And, to date, these are my favorite waffles. Suiker wafels are waffles that have beautiful pieces of sugar cooked into them- some remain whole others are nicely caramelized when cooked.

The recipe I use is a bit time consuming, but worth the effort. It is difficult not to eat all of them by yourself while cooking. I suggest having at least one other person around to protect you from yourself and your taste buds.


Ingredients:

5 3/4 teaspoons of dry yeast
9 tablespoons of butter, room temperature
1/4 cup milk, warmed
1 Egg, beaten
1 cup and 7 tablespoon of flour
2 tablespoons of granulated sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon of baking powder
1/4 cup of water, warmed
pinch salt
1/2 cup Pearl sugar (or sugar cubes crushed up)

This is the sugar I use. I buy it when I go to Belgium because it is the most perfect waffle sugar I have found.  I have used others, but I like this the best. There are some specialty stores that sell it too. You can search for pearl sugar, hail sugar, or nib sugar- these should get you to a good sugar product (I do not recommend using the Lars brand sugar for these waffles- the pieces are not large enough to give the authentic feel of the waffles). Here are a couple sites that have the sugar: http://www.belgianpearlsugar.com/, http://chefshop.com/HAIL-SUGAR-PEARL-SUGAR-P5944.aspx. I have never purchased it from these sites, but the sugar looks right in the pics.


Recipe:

Take your butter out well beforehand. It needs to be soft. If it isn't soft wait to make the waffles. Do not try to rush the softness of the butter by placing it into the microwave. It causes it to become liquid, not soft. You do not want liquid butter for this recipe. You want soft. Again, soft butter. Butter can survive being out of the refrigerator for a while. If I am going to make waffles, I have been known to take the butter out the night before so that in the morning it is ready to go before I am. If you want to know more about the great butter debate, check out some of the comments here.

Warm the water to about 100 degrees (or to where it feels warm to the touch- I am a knuckle temp. tester, I must confess. I have never actually checked the temperature of the milk with anything other than my knuckle and it has yet to kill the yeast.)

Sprinkle the yeast into the water and add about a teaspoon of sugar and a teaspoon of four to feed the yeast. Set the mixture aside for 5-10 minutes to allow it to proof. If you want to know more about proofing yeast, go here.

In a large bowl (large enough to allow dough to rise in) sift your flour. Although I do this sometimes, I do not do it all the time and it still turns out fine. Make a well and add your egg, yeast concoction and warm milk. Mix well with a spoon, preferably a wooden spoon. Cover with a towel and leave to rise to about double/tripled in size.

In a second bowl (medium sized), mix butter, 1 teaspoon of sugar, pinch of salt, vanilla, baking powder, and 7 tablespoons of flour together. Once mixed, throw in the pearl sugar and mix again. It seems to work better that way.

At this point get your waffle iron started. It needs to be hot- you don't want mushy waffles. That is just sad after the work you have already put in.

Once the rising dough is ready, place the contents of the second bowl into the first. The second bowl dough will deflate the rising dough a bit. This is a picture of what it will look like.





Mix the two doughs together with your hands. It will stick. It's supposed to do that. Try to get as much back into the bowl as possible rather than on your apron or in your hair.

Once well mixed. I use a silicone spatula and a butter knife to make the 8-10 balls of dough ,which I flour and allow to stand on a cookie sheet for about 10 minutes.

Then, in your heated waffle iron add the dough balls and allow them to cook. Because the waffles were floured, I do not usually use any butter or oil in the waffle iron, however, you can if necessary. Cook until golden brown then place on cooling rack- or eat warm.



In the end you are left with about 8-10 beautifully crisp waffles, that is unless you ate them all before you finished cooking. These are dense awesome waffles. There is no need to add syrup or anything else to them. Easy to just pick up and eat. No need for plates or other silly nonsense. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Just Before Morning

When I sleep I am sometimes the wilting stalk surrounded by pillow petals and when I awake my pillow creases match those of linen. With hair well coiffed due to a night of kneading by a cat named Mo, I stumble around in the dark because, once again, the internal clock refused to sync with the external.

Before sunrise I sit with the joyous ones following their schedule more than my own. Could that be due to the constant dancing being choreographed and performed all night long? Those midnight dancers sleek and limber! At times I am just an inattentive observer picking up pieces of the more daring moves, usually the ones accompanied by song. Other times, I am an unwilling participant dragged from the audience or, better yet, a stage prop here to assist in the most final stages of the fight or flight steps.

The dance I love most is the “are you awake yet” dance. Sitting/standing between my shoulder blades, while performing in time to Fuz’ throaty bass tones, Dell smoothly taps his toes and fingers into my upper back all to the missing beat- he is a cool cat! Even when I shoot him looks of displeasure he is always mildly surprised that I might find the performance uncouth.

If after his display I make the slightest gesture that it is possible I will awaken from my shallow slumber, he is satisfied and joyous to the point of joining his brother in song. Once they succeed and I rise up with the congregation to congratulate them with a victory meal. They then settle down for a long day’s nap content to know the bed is unoccupied. I free Mia from her bedroom suite where only she seems to have acquired the beauty sleep I so longed for when I laid my heavy head on the pillow petals the night before.

And, just before there is any chance of being fully awake, I snake off hoping to catch a quick cat nap before the intruding alarm sounds again.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Asparagus Cilantro Soup (Recipe)

Another throw together recipe here. I had some aspargus that I needed to use up and what better way than in a soup! The preparation for this recipe is fairly short and easy- I made it on a "school night."

Ingredients:

1 bunch of asparagus cut in pieces, separate out the spears
1/2 Spanish onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, diced
1/2 of lemon (juiced)
1 carrot, chopped
1 potato, diced
4 cups vegetable broth
small hand full cilantro, chopped (to taste)
grapeseed oil (or other veg oil)
just a drop (or so)  of a white wine
1/4 to 1/2 cup of almond milk
bay leaf
adobo seasoning
hot chili pepper powder
salt
pepper

Directions:

In a heated stock pot, drizzle oil thrown in onion, garlic mix until translucent. Throw in bay leaf potato and carrot. allow to cook for 5-10 minutes while moving ingredients so as not to burn. Then add vegetable broth and asparagus. Allow to simmer for 30-50 minutes, stirring periodically. During that time feel free to add spices to taste.



At this point, remove from the heat and, using your handheld blender, blend the soup well. Add almond milk, lemon juice and wine. Place back on heat and allow to simmer another 10 or so minutes. Add the asparagus spears previously placed a side and cilantro. Cook soup another 10 minutes.

The soup works well with a sprinkle of chihuahua cheese.



Enjoy!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Open-faced Quesadilla Breakfast Recipe


Every now and again, bored from the run of the mill eggs, potatoes and toast breakfasts that normally suffice, I try to get a little creative. Last weekend was one of those times. I had some bits of veggies and such just waiting for a creative spark. Here's what I came up with...

Ingredients:

Open-faced  Quesadilla breakfast:

2 potatoes (cubed and boiled)
3-6 eggs
1/2 of a red pepper, diced
1/2 of a poblano pepper, diced
1/2 red onion, diced
fist full of corn
1 can of refried black beans
1/2 jalapeno pepper, diced
3 garlic cloves
Soyrizo (or if you are a meat eater, chorizo, a Spanish sausage)
corn tortillas
approx. 1 1/2 cups Chihuahua cheese, grated
approx. 1 1/2 cups Cheddar cheese, grated
Mexican seasoning (chili pepper, paprika, cumin, oregano, garlic powder)
salt
pepper

Salsa:

tomatoes
red onion
garlic
jalapeno pepper
cilantro
Mexican seasoning
adobo seasoning
salt and pepper

Directions:

In a pan, using a little oil (your choice, maybe grapeseed) saute the onions and the garlic until translucent. Add the peppers (including the jalapeno) and potatoes to the pan making sure to stir. Add seasoning. Continue stirring. Add corn and Soyrizo.

On a cookie sheet, place several tortillas well spaced. This recipe should make about 4 well covered tortillas. Spread the refried black beans on to the tortillas. Then, dish out, evenly, the Soyrizo/potato mixture on each tortilla. Sprinkle the Chihuahua/cheddar cheese mixture on top of the Soyrizo/potato mixture. Bake in a preheated oven at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes or until the cheese has melted.

While the tortillas are baking, prepare the eggs. I tend to go with scrambled (adding a little salt and pepper) because the are easiest, but this would work well with a sunnyside up egg as well. If you are doing sunnyside up then you will only need 4 eggs- one per each tortilla. Also, I reuse the pan that I just cooked the Soyrizo/potato mixture in. It picks up some of the spices left in the pan.

Once the cheese has melted, remove from oven. Plate the tortilla. Add the eggs on top of the Soyrizo/potato mixture and place a little tomato salsa on the side. If you have avocado, you can add a little of that as well.

...and voila! A nice twist on a regular breakfast.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Around Town this weekend: Printers’ Ball

This weekend is the 7th annual Printers' Ball in Chicago. Live performances, readings, costumes, etc. how can you go wrong? And, Its FREE!!!!!

Details:

Friday, July 29, 2011
6 pm to 11 pm
The Ludington Building
1104 S Wabash Ave, Chicago

if you have some free time this Friday you should definitely check it out. There are also some pre-ball events starting tonight.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Visitor (short story- fiction)

Only parts of me survived being hit by that train- the ugly parts, those previously well hidden behind the mask of beauty. A gentleman walks passed me smiling and I can only garishly flash my teeth at him, unable to conjure up normal social politenesses. They are overrated- that is what Ann says anyway.


In the elevator, I face the corner, like a naughty child, safe in my small space, alone. Thoughts never cease within the quiet times, but instead control me racing me in circles until I am too tired to resist them and my confidence falters. I reach my floor, my door, my prison. I enter willing. I am both the prisoner and the executioner and for this I am thankful as only I know the cruelty within and what can break me.

I am not ready, but time has a way of moving regardless of whether one is ready.

He enters. “What a lovely apartment you have!”

I robotically respond, “Thank you and thank you for coming.”

I mention, no it isn’t rented, but owned. He is surprised. I cannot decide if he is surprised because I own it or because he realizes how little he knows about me.

We fall into a workable silence. It is a silence that crashes over me breaking into pieces only to pierce my brain. I want to scream, say something, anything to break the silence between us. But, I do not. I cannot. There is not enough air in this apartment of cheery walls and photographs that are not mine but someone else’s that never existed.

He senses something, maybe the flat air or my refusal to look at him again for fear of betraying myself. The subject changes to open cafes and the gentrification of the neighborhood. I relax into the evening. Wine and food, comfort I know. He chatters on about this or that, avoiding the recognized forbidden topics. Tip toeing around them like an adept dancer beautifully weaving in and out creating art out of nothing but sensitive words and well placed pauses.

He leaves. And a relief returns calming my nerves knowing that what was left out remains still intact and safe. Curling up on my favorite chair I release myself to my thoughts that bind me, control me.

(J.Smith 2011)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Taking It Slow

Slow moving is not something synonymous with my normal state of being. I tend to move at a pretty good clip, weaving in and out of other slower pedestrians, rushing to the next thing on my ever mounting list of to-dos.


So much is missed in the rush of things. I am sure I will be surprised at how quickly death arrived when I reach it, regardless of whether it is tomorrow or 50 years from now. And my break neck speed is not helping. It is the journey we are supposed to savor, not just the destination.  A mantra.

Now, having just completed my stint on crutches, a good six week endeavor, I am required to walk slowly. My knee will not allow what the rest of me would like to do. Annoying? Yep! But, it has also given me time to enjoy the falling of dusk on my walk home from the train. I have a chance to actually enjoy the birds chirping as night falls upon the neighborhood. I get my daily update on a two story full gut-rehab along my path home- watching the beginning demolition through the installation of new windows. Each day something new. In my normal “bat out of hell” rush to and from the train I would miss all of these changes. Instead of noticing the changes as they occur, I would be surprised at the completed project.

Oddly enough, I am enjoying the slowness- watching the ants journeying to their destinations- on their own missions. I have met neighbors I have never spoken to, let alone seen. Taking time to notice the wild nature that grows so well within its urban habitat, I smile at its ingenuity. Watching my transitioning neighborhood lurch slowly forward, with new shops filling abandoned spaces, I am again excited at the reinventing of the old. New lights illuminating the anonymity of the darkness.

I stroll passed, sharing in the smells of another’s dinner hanging on the evening breeze- it warms me and reminds me that life exists behind the closed doors - each weaving their own stories and histories, which remain secret to outsiders. Maybe I am sharing in their secrets, just a little.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Time for Catching Flies

After our dinner was finished and the table cleared, my father and I would set out in preparation of another’s meal. At the time we lived on a dead end street which butted up against the railroad tracks. Across from our house was a small field, probably something to do with the railroad, but I cannot say for certain. The grass and weeds would grow tall thereby protecting whatever wildlife having ventured into its canopied self.


Our mission was not to disturb the variety of wildlife which made its home there, but instead to catch flies for our amphibious friends at home. I had toads. Probably not one of the best pets for a child, but I thought they were fascinating and wonderful. As an adult, I realize that they, like the other wildlife just outside our door, would have preferred the freedom of the field rather than the artificially lighted home that was made theirs against their tough skinned will, but children rarely make that connection and I was no different. I loved them and wanted then near and because of this I thought that they too would obviously feel the same. Poor creatures.

My father was given the task to escort me into the field to catch flies to feed our toad family as my mother didn’t find the process necessarily pleasant. The process was simple enough, find a sleeping fly and cup it in the palm of your hand until you could transfer it to the waiting container. I am certain that the unsuspecting fly did not have this relocation in mind when it had settled in for the night, giving way to the much more interesting fireflies.

I can recall the excitement of seeking out the resting flies on the underside of leaves and crevices found on plant stalks. The hunter and the hunted, but the hunted had no idea that it was indeed being stalked by a small child and a giant of a man. The flies, normally shunned by their human counterparts, must of have been quite unsettled with this change of events, but my loyalty lied with the toads in their homemade swamp, rather than the fly.

Catching flies is a strange skill to hone, but when you have small hungry mouths to feed, you take it in stride- just as my father did, with my insatiable curiosity and want to be in the world, rather than just observe. He maintained his patience while showing me the ways in which nature worked, playing out its joys and sorrows. Sometimes, most likely against his better judgment, he allowed me to intervene in the natural outcome of things, just a little, but that is what dads do.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Winding clocks Backward (A poem)

Once we were free,
Without time on our heels
Winding clocks, still mysterious in movement and rhythm
Bees demanded our attention, not world politics
We did what we would, what pleased us
Flitting like butterflies through the neighborhood
With sunlight tangled in our wild hair
Wild as our thoughts and dreams, running
Bare feet touching every other step
In the tall grass of our safari fields
Searching out large and small game
Seeking knowledge not found in books
Or on advertisements
Cupping grasshoppers and crickets alike
Listening to their wise words and sharing our secrets
Knowing our secrets were safe, unbroken
Within the kaleidoscope of perfect childhood wonder
(J.Smith 2011)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Saag Aloo Soup (Curried Potato and Spinach Soup) Recipe


June has been strange thus far- highs in the high 90s and lows in the low 50s, sometimes within the same day. For me, the chill in my bones on a gray day can only be cured by a good soup. So, yesterday, to ease my chilled bones and summer spirit, I threw together a nice curried potato and spinach soup.

Ingredients (Vegetarian or Vegan):

4 golden potatoes
1 large leek 
2 tablespoons of butter or margarine
2 cups vegetable broth
2 cups water
1/2 cup milk or almond milk
4 cups chopped fresh spinach
1 teaspoon hot curry powder
2 teaspoons mild curry powder
1 dash garam masala, a nice addition, but not necessary
salt and pepper to taste

Cube the potatoes leaving the skin. Boil until soft and drain well. While the potatoes are boiling, prepare the leek by removing the fanned stalk and the roots- use only the white and light green part of the stalk. Cut the leek in half, lengthwise. Wash thoroughly- leeks tend to get dirt in between their layers so make sure to clean them well- grit, although interesting in texture, does not necessarily belong in a "warm your bones" kind of soup. Once clean, thinly slice the leek halves.

In an evenly heated stock pot, toss in your butter/margarine allowing it to melt then throw in your leek and cooked potatoes. Saute' until the leek is translucent, but keep any eye on it and mix every so often- you don't want the leek to burn or attach to the bottom of your pot.

Before adding the stock, mix in the curry powders and garam masala. Once the spices are well distributed, add 2 cups of vegetable stock and 2 cups of water. Let simmer for approximately 30 minutes- periodically stirring the pot.

While the soup is simmering. chop the spinach. I grab a handful and slice it into ribbons, then make a mound of what I just cut and chop it one more time for good measure. Set the spinach aside.

After the 30 minutes or so is up, using a hand blender, puree the potato/leek mixture in the stock pot until smooth. Once smooth, mix in the 1/2 cup of milk and fold in the chopped spinach. Add salt and pepper to taste. Allow to simmer for another 10 minutes or so.



The soup can be served alone or with rice or naan.

Enjoy!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Train to Munich

Many years ago while I was studying in Rome, Italy, I took an overnight train to Munich. My friends all opted for the sleep cars, but I decided to try my luck in second class. The seats on the train were designed to slide down and meet in the middle creating a sort of bed, which was more than sufficient for my needs as a traveler.


On the platform, my friends and I parted ways for the approximately eleven hour journey, they, to the front of the train, I, the back. Each train car contained several discreet compartments along with some pull down seats along the aisle. I chose a compartment in which two older gentlemen had already claimed the window seats. It was clear that they knew each other and, not long after our night train departed, they began preparing the little fold out tables for their train picnic. Each brought something- a little sausage, some wine, bread, cheese, a cylinder package of cookies and a thermos of coffee, perfect for two travelers settling in for the long journey from Rome to Munich. The two chatted quietly to each other and offered to me various morsels of their dinner for two. I declined, not wanting to usurp their meal or invade their conversation.

As the evening wore on and the book and my eyes grew tired, I began studying these two men. Both in their late 50s, early 60s, each a little round about the waste, with hands showing signs of hard work. Each supported a kind face and permanent crinkles around their eyes, which still sparkled with boyish charm, as many men’s eyes continue to do long after they have finished their rites of passage of rough housing and pranks.

We all settled in for the night. Pushing the two seats together I laid down, covered myself with my coat and fell fast asleep. The two men did the same- each trying carefully not to invade my space.

Some time late into the night we awoke to the Austrian border patrol pounding on our compartment door demanding to see our papers. All three of us, blurry eyed and chilled by the icy air pouring through the open doors, produced our various forms of id. This was still at a time when Europe had borders, a strange concept now that we can zip in and out of countries no differently than leaving city limits. Apparently, there had been an avalanche on the tracks and we were being rerouted. No problem.

The night continued. Falling in and out of sleep as happens on trains when someone needs to exit the compartment to use the bathroom, smoke or just move their legs. We three moved through the night, through tunnels and valleys, without being able to see a thing. At some point, the heat in our train car went out. The thermos reappeared and this time, when the thermos was offered, I thankfully accepted.

As the temperature dipped further and we were able to see our breath, the two men began their quest with me now under their wing. They told me to stay put and they would find a more suitable location for the three of us to ride out the rest of our journey. (Note: I am not used to this kind of ... chivalry? Letting someone else take care of things? What a very strange idea.)

A short while later, they returned, suggesting I grab my bag and we were off, through stomach of the snaking train to our new, warmer compartment. This compartment was cozily crammed with significantly more people and luggage. We shimmied into our assigned seats exchanging pleasantries with our new neighbors. Sitting next to me was one of my original train mates, now awake and prepared for an even longer journey than originally bargained for. We swapped stories and photos.

Although life long Italian resident, this lovely man had made up his mind to relocate and open a pizza restaurant in Munich. How amazing is that? How often do we, at any age, throw caution to the wind and follow our dreams? His friend, as he told me, was coming along to help him set up and visit his son while there.

The early morning became late morning. We shared stories and cookies amongst the group. Instant friendship- we melded together so easily - crossing the abyss of language and culture and age. I cannot say I have ever experienced something as naturally cohesive as that group. Oddly, I felt at home in my overcrowded compartment.

Pulling into the station we each said our goodbyes and wished each other well. They continued on their journey, I on mine. Further down the platform I found my friends wide eyed, refreshed and ready to tackle Munich. I cannot say I was quite as refreshed, but I was happy, and Munich awaited us.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Stowaways, Circa early 80s

When I was a child my family spent most of our vacations in Hayward, Wisconsin. As long as I stayed within shouting distance, I was pretty much allowed to run free. With that freedom, I was left to explore the little fish swimming near the dock, various bugs, and other wildlife- probably to the chagrin of all the aforementioned.


Frogs, one of my favorite specimens to observe, and play with, were plentiful and easily found hoping around or taking a dip in the lake. I loved frogs and toads. The variety of shape, size and skin type was astounding.

I also loved our nighttime drives down the long secluded road leading to the large white gates that signified we were home. The headlights of our old car would illuminate a path for all the little bouncing frogs and toads out for their evening meal. My father would do his best to carefully drive around them so as to give them another day to eat their fill of our arch nemesis, the mosquito.

Packing the car to return home, which was always a long process since it included strategically placing everything that we came with, the random things we purchased while there and collecting our four cats that found hiding better than returning to the loathed cat carrier and then, worse, the car, I decided I wanted to take some of my amphibian friends home with me. I asked my parents if I could add two little frogs, each the size of the tip of my thumb, to our already overcrowded car, which came a reply- a resounding no.

Not to be deterred, I fashioned a brilliant plan to hide them, better yet, stow them away in the car until it was too late and they were home with us. Instant new pets! Excited, I found a hole in the car door just large enough to place my special stowaways. I popped them in with absolutely no trouble at all.

I must have looked guilty because not terribly long after I executed my "could not go wrong" plan, my plan was discovered! The horror!! Luckily, my father, a man of many skills, including taking a car door apart, was there to liberate the stowaways. Both escaped unharmed, but, I am sure, quite bewildered by their strange journey from the grasses behind the house, to the hands of a giant to the dark warm mobile cave that they inexplicably found themselves. Their lives would never be the same.

We, on the other hand, had to get on the road, and, without much further ado, minus some reprimanding and a bit of a grumpy driver, we were. The white gates faded in the distance all the while cat sirens provided back up to ELO’s "Don't Bring Me Down." An all time favorite of the grumpy driver.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Neighborhood Politics

Have you ever had a neighbor that you appreciate, but, when you see him or her, she/he will take up more time than you have available? Always wanting to linger just a few more minutes discussing the weather or the gardening on the street? Do you find yourself hiding or waiting until you are certain he or she is in their car or has passed along far enough not to see you and stop? I have this type of relationship with a neighborhood cat.


The little girl is a lovely sleek black cat that lives with my neighbors across the alley. The little cat disappears for the winter, but come the nicer weather she is out in force soaking up sun and tormenting the squirrels of the neighborhood. She has the kindest disposition and is always ready to greet passersby.

A couple nights ago, I was coming home from dinner with a friend of mine walking down this little cat’s street. I noticed from afar her shadowed black shape perched on the curb and, as we approached, I acknowledged her as I would with any of my neighbors (at least the one’s I like). She, as is her way, ran over to greet us, rolling this way and that, content to make the acquaintance. The problem always comes when I go to take my leave. She is willing to forget her sentry position on the corner and follow me. I say my goodbyes and try to slip away. The little black cat, on the other hand, is not yet finished with the exchange. She happily trots off after us.

My friend, who cannot stand being followed by the furry friend, keeps turning around to peek at the little cat, I reprimand. “Please don’t even glance at her. She will get sidetracked and stop following us soon enough, but each time you look at her she takes it as a cue that maybe she isn’t keeping up and will quicken her pace to meet up with us.” My friend, a caring sort, begins to feel bad about the situation and gets slightly upset with me for saying hello to the little cat in the first place. I will have none of it. The little cat is like any other neighbor and should be treated as such. With that, lost in our debate, we turn the corner, reach the gate and the little cat is gone.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Roasted Beet Hummus Recipe

So... last year when visiting family in Belgium, I was introduced to beet hummus. Although no recipe was provided, I decided to see if I could remake this lovely pink hummus. Below is my concoction. I hope those of you who try it let me know if it works for you.

 Ingredients:

1 can chickpeas (a/k/a garbanzo beans)
1/3 cup tahini (add it if you want it- if you don't, skip it)
Juice of 1 lemon (approx 1/4 cup)
4 roasted garlic cloves
1 medium sized beet
cayenne pepper to taste
salt to taste
garlic powder (if the 4 roasted cloves weren't enough)

Preparation:

Peel and then roast beet with garlic in oven- 45 minutes to an hour depending on beet size. After roasting, place chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic in food processor and mix until smooth. Throw in beet (diced) and blend until the consistency matches your preference. Remove mixture from food processor and add salt, cayenne and garlic powder to taste.


Serve with tortilla chips or pita bread. Enjoy!


Friday, April 29, 2011

Here for the Time Being and Other Thoughts


Here For The Time Being
 Often I want to disappear, evaporate into the masses and be consumed in the cloak of anonymity within the chorus, but then, I also want to be remembered. There would be no other reason to even place these words upon the proverbial (or literal) paper, if that were not the case.


If only remembered as part of the chorus, it wouldn’t or couldn’t be “part” of the chorus at all, but instead the chorus is actually a whole, even if it is a collective of parts. It is as if one can remember a lone note within an entire musical movement on its own, singularly. That is not the norm and would not be likely but the case in anyone's memory of a chorus. It is the background. White noise.

Recently, I went to the opera. Not just any opera, the robot opera. Yes, an opera that included robots. There should be no judgment here. Be it novelty, or curiosity, I went. It was created by someone at MIT, someone that clearly enjoys opera and robots and I am willing to support those that have passions, even when they are a bit out of the ordinary. Fringe opera. Anyway (or bref as my French tutor often reminds me), I went. The robots were the chorus of this Greek-esque opera- a tragedy of sorts. The tragedy being men attempting to live forever within the machine without realizing or recognizing what is lost in the changeover. Not a new concept, but entertaining as it offered movable, lighted robots that looked a tad like Mac computer aliens- the stereotypical alien of triangular heads too large for their small bodies.

I am not an opera critic. Actually, I have only been to a few in my lifetime, but I would say this opera could have been better if it had kept the concept of the robot chorus, but moved away from the clich├ęd man vs machine. And, why is it always men (not women) who want to become part of the machine and live forever? Rarely is the female character depicted as the one that wants immorality in this manner. She can be reasoned into it or pulled into the scheme for the love of the man who wants to live forever, but I cannot say it is a common theme, woman as the seeker of the mechanical ever after. I would have to look more thoroughly into this if I was actually making a thesis out of this, which I am not. It is just my take. I am curious, but not curious enough to run more than a quick search and be done (in which I found nothing that exactly matches this idea). If you have examples of women vs machine in this manner, please share. Otherwise, enjoy the weekend!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Failure to Compute (A poem)


Pounding away at anonymous keys


The zeros and ones abound

Beautiful designs created behind the desolate whiteness

Each zipping effortlessly through cyberspace,

Sending unsympathetic letters and numbers to digitized sub-humans

The failure to compute yours or any syntax in this the wire jungle,

Is a failure of the operator and the receiver, but not the syntax itself

What is less than three? Infinity? Your love?

Love letters and letters of dear John arrive at rapid speeds, before

Cerebral sparks have finished firing,

Their last strokes connecting within the almighty operator god

Last chance to recall the ones and zeros become the past without further thought

Carelessly, like the train leaving the station

With you chasing after it, luggage strewn about

Emptying secret contents onto the platform floor.

Alone and exposed, lighted by the glow of the monitor

A single sub-human tear passes, zipping effortlessly down organic matter

Because it cannot feel the ones and zeros, only the sorrow they bring

(J. Smith 2011)