Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The case of the missing hair dryer

I was looking through pictures this morning, searching for something I took in Mississippi that I needed when I ran across this one.  You might wonder why someone would take a photograph of a hairdryer box, and typically, it would not be in my repertoire either.

Rand and I went to England several years ago when I was presenting at a conference in London.  We looked all over that hotel room for a hairdryer...and finally went across the street to the pharmacy and bought one.
Now, we are talking very small room here, as you can see.  There was a small bathroom just inside the door.  I am not complaining about the size--I hardly think one needs a gigantic space in order to sleep while traveling.  But one would think if a hairdryer was to be found, we might have located it.
On the last evening there as we were packing, Randy noted a small label affixed to the top desk drawer, and bent down to inspect it.  He called out to me, "Found the hairdryer!"  Clearly, we had not looked everywhere; it never occurred to us to look in the desk drawer, where I would have expected to find stationery (do they even do that in hotels any more?)  After laughing, we then noted another small door and a sign that said "kettle."  Sure enough, there was the electric kettle and cups, tea, etc, stashed away inside a small cubby with a door hiding it from view.

It gave me a chuckle this morning as I recalled a memory I had not thought of in a while.  I think it possibly a cultural difference.  While I personally am all about hiding utilitarian items in boxes, baskets, behind doors, etc., I am used to traveling and finding a hair dryer hanging on the wall of the bathroom.  Even where I have stayed in hotels or guest houses in South Africa, the hair dryer hung on a hook--albeit generally closest to a plug, not in the bathroom where there might not be a plug.

It is a tidy solution, and with the labels, should save the frantic search and trip across the street in search of a place that sells hair dryers.  I still have that hairdryer (safely stored out of the way under the bed, waiting for another trip abroad) and it has accompanied me twice to South Africa since then.  Although I have to use a plug adapter, the voltage is correct and saves me having to use the transformer to dry my hair.

Differences: it's what makes the world go round.

Friday, May 23, 2014

May is my favorite month in Mississippi

 Last year I never got around to putting out flowers as I spent the several months in recovery from the knee surgery.  By the time I was able to do so, it seemed pointless as summer was almost gone.  Yesterday was a beautiful day, though, and I hopped in the car and went flower shopping.  It was quite the task to clean up the flower pots and pot the new ones, and I found myself running short of both potting soil and planters--seems that I have lost a few to breakage in the last year or so.  Looks like I will need to go shopping again today in order to finish.
 I have two large planters waiting for the zinnias and impatiens, but not enough potting soil.  One would think while I was filling up my basket with flowers and herbs yesterday that it might have crossed my mind that I would need a medium in which to plant them, but noooooo......
 I love to be able to go out to the front porch and snip fresh herbs during my summer cooking.  I also bought some bee balm, which I have never used, but liked the sound of its name.  One is supposed to be able to brew tea with the leaves, and the plant produces a flower that attracts bees.  I already have more than enough bees in my yard due to the honeysuckle and the wildflowers that proliferate this time of year.


I noted the first bloom on the magnolia Wednesday evening as well.  I finally figured out how to feed the birds without luring them in for the cats.  I put the feeder tray inside a wire hanging basket.  It provides protection for the birds should the cats leap up from the ground (as I saw them do last year, and thus, stopped feeding the birds...but I missed them).  By hanging it on a smaller limb toward the outer edge of the tree, the cats cannot get to it from the tree itself.  Voila!  problem solved.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Warm spring salad with edamame and asparagus

Here's another quick and easy keeper, ready in 10 minutes, tasty and delicious.  The creamy cheesiness of the tortellini makes it satisfying, and combined with the soybeans, a touch of protein.  I found this recipe in the Kroger booklet they send out to me with my coupons, and it just enticed me from the get go.

It could not be easier.  Boil a pot of water, toss in the soybeans and cook for 3 minutes; remove to drain and rinse under cold water; toss in the asparagus and cook for 3 minutes; remove to drain and rinse under cold water; cook the pasta according to package directions. (This is Buitoni cheese tortellini--you can also use spinach tortellini) which requires 7-9 minutes.)  Drain.

Here is where I deviated from the recipe.  Add 2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil (I use Paul Newman's--great flavor), 1 tablespoon basil pesto (I use Dellano) and toss gently.  Serve with a sprinkle of Kosher salt, fresh cracked pepper, and shredded parmesan.

Refrigerated leftovers can be eaten cold, or one could warm it slightly.


Saturday, May 17, 2014

Butternut squash with cumin and feta

While checking out at the store a couple of days ago, a woman stepped over and asked me how to cook butternut squash.  I told her the quick and easy way (microwave in a shallow dish with an inch of water in the bottom) or the really tasty way, brushed with olive oil, sprinkled with cumin, and baked in the oven, topped with feta cheese once it is done.

She asked if it was sweet.  A little, but not as sweet as a sweet potato.  It has an earthier taste than does a sweet potato.  You can also peel it and dice it, then stew it and serve it in chunks or mashed.  It makes a wonderful soup when cooked with an apple (to thin it out a bit) and add a bit of cream at the end.  I ended with the comment that I had learned to prepare and eat butternut whilst in South Africa, and that it is a staple food there.  She did not seem interested in that part of the story, though, wanting only to know how to cook it.

During the time that I spent three months there on sabbatical, Jeanne and I cooked many simple and tasty meals in our tiny kitchen in the flat, equipped with only a small microwave, an electric skillet, and refrigerator.  Knowing I did not want to eat microwaved food for three months, I bought the electric skillet, and learned to cook some amazingly delicious meals in it, from vegetables and pizza to meat entrees, to cake.  Yes, that's right, even cake.  I developed the specialty of pineapple upside down cake which works well in a skillet on a cooktop so I figured I could adapt to electric skillet.  On occasion, I experimented with other desserts.  I did not prepare dessert often as the melk tarts (a South African custard) at the bakery across the street were delicious and cheap.
 Butternut, along with spinach--the broad leaf variety, not the baby spinach we often eat here--was one of the other staples.  Cheap, easy to grow in a small area of soil, easy to prepare when one did not have the luxury of a kitchen (whether in a small flat, or living in a shanty in the township and cooking over an open flame or on a paraffin stove), nutritious and filling.  Both their variety of spinach, and particularly so the butternut, contain fiber.  The butternut especially is fibrous, and aids in a feeling of fullness.  It is tasty and colorful in addition, which also makes it an enjoyable meal.

Because I could not really eat much this past week (major dental pain from an abscessed tooth awaiting a root canal) I looked for things that would not require chewing--or much of it--and I have never cared much for canned soups; antibiotics eliminated pudding or ice cream or yogurt. 

However, in the ensuing few days, I also discovered that I was feeling better in a lot of ways, and lost weight.  Out of my diet for a week has been junk food, fast food, wine, meat (other than stir fry with  a small amount of chicken one evening, and tilapia last night).  There is nothing like losing 9 pounds in a week to motivate you to keep going.  There is nothing like feeling better physically and mentally and emotionally to tell you that you are on to something--even if it is something you already knew, it motivates us to get some positive feedback from our bodies and ourselves.

Many were the evenings during that time in South Africa that Jeanne and I supped on a half a butternut with feta, with a side of spinach or possibly some other vegetable picked up at the market or purchased from the vendors who would stand at the busy intersections hawking bags of vegetables.  We walked almost everywhere we needed to go in town, and only used the car for trips to other areas.  It has been 12 years since that exciting visit for research and study to learn what their communities and organizations had been doing both before apartheid and after to address the social needs.  That visit for me was 10 years into post-apartheid South Africa.  The memories are in many ways as fresh as ever, and it takes only something as simple as explaining how to prepare a butternut, or the act of eating one to bring back so many of the experiences I could never have imagined having.

Probably best not to ask me if I can make a potjiekos.


Friday, May 16, 2014

Follow up to having so much fun

Clearly, given the length of time since that last delirious post about every day should be so much fun, and this post, there has not been a lot of fun having around Lottabusha.  In fact, things rather started going immediately downhilll from that point forward.
Ever the pronoid, I just kept saying "it will pass" and doing that thing I do about trying to make meaning and learning and growth out of things that happen, use it for benefit, and wait for the upturn.  All the long laundry list of "and then..." and "what happened next..." really is never the point when I am not moving past the impasse.  Oh, of course I whine, or cry, or feel despondent, or experience anger, or whatever the actual appropriate feeling is.  I am a firm believer in the philosophy that feeling feelings is important in the ability to move through them (note, not "get over them", but move through them--different); and, not just feeling them, but naming them, describing them, and understanding them, and the connections they have to our thinking and our behavior.  Because at heart, humans are complex and our thoughts, our emotions, and our actions are related.  Changing any or all of those domains affects the other domains, because humans are also systems, interacting with our environmental systems and all the other people and events in our systems.
Even when we understand feelings, and what causes them or supports their continued existence, or connections between all of our domains, it can be difficult to be ready to move to new thoughts and behaviors.  That's why change is so difficult.  And, the more stressors that impact our lives, the greater the challenges to coping are for us.  It is one of the reasons poor people, or people who are systematically and regularly oppressed in any fashion, have worse physical and mental health than people with access to resources and support and inclusion and acceptance and opportunity.  Frankly, it's just a grind to have to cope with one hit after another and they pile up, taxing our resilience even more.

So, my absence is a bit of an indication of those series of hits piling up, and zapping resilience.  Most of the time, experiencing difficulties--once I work through them in my fashion--have enabled me to have greater compassion for the experiences of others, and greater depth of understanding for why it is so hard for some people, along with a dose of acknowledgement and thankfulness for my blessings, and the awareness that I could be standing hip deep in fish guts in a freezing processing room.
In the midst of those episodes when it is hard to acknowledge painful things, and the desire to just mentally or emotionally check out for a while, there are usually indications that things might be looking up, that just perhaps, the "this too shall pass" is about to transpire.
It brings the joy of hope back into our lives, and the thought and belief that we might just make it after all.  Life is, if nothing else, a series of challenges.  The opportunity is what we do with it and where we opt to go.  It's not that there is only one right choice, or even one best choice, because the reality is that whatever choice, it will bring with it a series of choices as well.

Our experiences teach us to expect something good behind that closed door, or to avoid opening it for fear of what might be there.  Even when we have "learned" Open the Door!  Open the Door! It's good stuff! there is always the possibility that it won't be.  For me, the challenge when it's not what we want behind the door has been to re-imagine it until it becomes the good stuff--Not Pollyanna good stuff, but something that I do not need to fear, and something that I am confident I will be able to manage, one way or the other.

What's behind the door for you--the Lady, or the Tiger?