Monday, February 22, 2010

The Magic of Simplicity

"Simplicity means the achievement of maximum effect with minimum means."—Koichi Kawana

How is it that the combination of seemingly innocuous and unrelated ingredients can combine to make the most delicious and satisfying nourishment? And I'm not just talking "satisfying nourishment" for the body but also for the soul.

Let's take pizza, for example. On the surface, it's just some very basic plain jane ingredients mixed together then baked in a hot oven. Take flour, salt, yeast, throw in some water, let rise, roll out and top with garlic, cheese, some tomatoes and a sprinkle of an herb or two, throw in the oven and, Voila!, magic. That rough day you had? Forgotten. Been craving something you can sink your teeth into? Done.

Nothing spectacular used to create it, no eye of newt or dragon's blood so where exactly does the Bibbity Bobbity Boo come in? Is it just me, or does the rising dough, all warm and yeasty, fluffy and puffy make you feel contented, happy, expectant? How about proud at the way you managed to stir some flour, water and yeast together and now your dough is rising like the phoenix from the ashes and you get to watch this transformation taking place before your eyes?

As I chop the garlic and grate the cheese, the aromas rise up and swirl around me filling our tiny kitchen with the scents of dinner, of home, of coziness. I walk outside to gather some of the herbs dancing happily in the evening breeze and their bouquet coats my fingers and blends with the cheese and garlic to create a symphony of savory perfume.

Now the magic is really picking up steam. The subtle mixing of flavors whispering promises of amazing and mouthwatering results. Into the oven, and the incantations begin, "Is it done yet?, How much longer? Oh, I can't wait, my stomach's growling. Wow, it looks so good". My husband does the requisite pizza dance. With oven mitt on hand, he peeks and peers through the tiny oven window, pacing back and forth while chanting some of the aforementioned incantations.

And, then...Bing!...the moment has arrived. Those simple, solitary ingredients have melded and transformed into a hot, spicy, tasty, gooey delicious circle of comfort and love, nourishment for both the body and soul.

I smile lovingly at my husband and he smiles happily back at me....then we both lunge for the biggest slice.

Magic in the simplest of moments....

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Blister for Valentines Day

For Valentines Day. my husband gave me a blister. Yep, no roses, no romance just a blister. And, quite frankly, I'm still wondering how it happened.

I'm usually much more savvy and wary than that. Look, when living with a mutant superhuman who thinks nothing of going out and running marathons before breakfast, one develops a keen sense of self-preservation because the mutant superhuman is ALWAYS trying to talk their normal and sane partner into doing extremely ridiculous and dangerously uncomfortable hiking to the top of Mt. Whitney with a 40lb pack strapped to your back ("because it's there and wouldn't you like to say you've been to the top of the tallest peak in the lower 48?"), or doing the Australian Wobbly Wine Cycling Tour ("See, it clearly states "no fitness required"". For the record, those Australians are lying bastards! I swear it was like racing Lance Armstrong up Mont Ventoux in the Tour de France....tipsy) or zip-lining through a Central American rainforest with a couple of local teens who had strung some wire up in the canopy and thought it was fun to go balls-out wearing nothing more than a climbing harness and a leather glove they had found in the barn hoping against hope today was not the day the line would snap and send us all crashing to the forest floor at least 1/4 mile below us....oh wait, that was my idea. Shit, well, that was only because my mutant superhuman husband must have spiked my drink and the heat and humidity had muddled my brain. Let's move on.

So, the blister. I vaguely remember him excitedly jabbering about all the races he was going to enter in the next few months but, since this is a weekly conversation, I was distractedly answering yea, yea, yea while painting my toenails and trying to watch the next contestant on American Idol make an ass of himself. I also do remember the words "5K" and "Walker friendly" being bandied about but I absolutely do NOT ever remember hearing "you are going to run a walker-friendly 5K...on VALENTINES DAY" Nope, I distinctly remember NOT hearing those words. He might have said something like, "I'm sending in the entrance form for you, ok?" But again, no mention of Valentines Day. None.

So, imagine my surprise when I finally got around to asking, "So, when is this 5k? and hearing the sheepishly mumbled reply, "Um, Feb 14th". Notice he didn't say, Valentines Day. Nope, he was hoping his normal and sane partner wouldn't recognise the date to which I say, "Are you effing kidding me?" I don't care what all of you haters out there say about good ol' V Day. I happen to think anyday that celebrates love....and the mass consumption of chocolate! should be celebrated EVERYDAY! In fact, I'm off to have some chocolate in St. Valentines honor right after this rant.

The fact that I didn't wring his neck goes to show the considerable restraint I've developed over the years. There's an Olympic event for you. And on February 14th, I found myself woken up not with breakfast in bed, not with a loving caress. Oh no, I was woken by my loving spouse yelling at me to get my butt 5:15 in the MORNING...on a SUNDAY. Grrrr!

It always amazes me how many people are willing to wake up at ungodly hours to run around and punish their bodies. You can always tell the mutant superhumans because they're the ones stretching and jumping and running around to warm up and slapping each other on the backs and excitedly chattering about how fast they're going to be able to run. Take a valium, would ya! By contrast, the normal and sane people who have not had their coffee, shuffle around, avoiding eye contact, and huddle miserably together and grumble if anyone asks them a question.

Notice the mutant superhuman in the foreground. They're easy to spot.

And that's how I found myself in a park with a bunch of lunatics before the sun was fully up with an electronic monitoring device attached to my foot. Funny where life takes you, isn't it? So, since I was up, I went ahead and ran the Palm Springs 5K. And I had a good time. I think this was due to the fact that I wasn't awake yet.

Erik told me that if I made a break for the car, they'd track me down

It really was a beautiful morning and since the 5K course winds through the old Movie Colony neighborhood of Palm Springs, I had a great time looking at all of the houses (and of course the landscaping, as I'm crazy like that) as I huffed and puffed along.

And, as is usually the case when I get roped into these ridiculous and dangerously uncomfortable events, I learned a few things along the way . I discovered that irritation is a great motivator and that I could run quite fast to escape the bullshit yammerings of my fellow competitors (if the guy in the fluorescent yellow running shorts had told his wife to "pick it up" one more time, I would have clobbered him!). I discovered that it was the 4 year olds you really had to watch out for. They'll take you DOWN!

My competition. Notice he's in front of me but the kid was quick as lightening!

I discovered not looking at the race route map before you start running could add quite a lot of distance to your run!

Aren't we only running 3 miles?

And I discovered that if you just keep going, you'll eventually make it it to the finish line.

Me in my snazzy Skirtports capris.

Ok, so I didn't get roses and chocolate for Valentines Day this year. Big, fat bummer, yea, but what I did get was my sweaty high-five at the end of the not so grueling but still unnecessary run...and the satisfaction that my very own mutant superhuman was proud of me and happy that I was taking part (albeit small and begrudgingly) in something he loves more than I love chocolate (I told you he was a mutant!). Oh, and, of course, let's not forget that blister!

Love you, baby!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Valentines Magic

Ahhh, breakfast!

So what happens when your new hobby, chocolate making, collides with your old, well-loved hobby of cookie baking? Magic...and a massive sugar rush...followed by the sugar crash of the century. With all the tasting I did, it took me two double espressos before I was able to be get motivated enough to finish. But after my heart started pumping again, I whipped these suckers right out!

I started off just dabbling with chocolate. I used both milk chocolate and white chocolate tinted with a pink icing color. (By the way, does anyone know of a line of food coloring that uses more natural ingredients? I just detest that chemical-y taste that some of the food colorings impart to your food. Plus, who KNOWS what you're ingesting! The FDA says it's safe but, frankly, I just flat out don't trust 'em. If anyone has any suggestions or has a favorite brand, could you please email me at inbetweendayz at hotmail dot com? Your suggestions would be much appreciated!).

After a few false starts, I managed to successfully pipe the chocolate into filigree hearts and circles then eventually graduated to writing. I have to say that the writing was the hardest part of the whole process. I'm a printer. I print EVERYTHING, from lists to love letters. Heck, I haven't written in cursive since 5th grade and wasn't even sure I remembered how but once I got my uncoordinated brain around the idea that the letters actually have to connect, the words just started flowing.

As the chocolate was left to cool and harden, I whipped up some sugar cookie dough and also the chocolate cookie dough I used for Valentines Day last year. Once the cookies were baked and cooled, it was time to decorate!

Remember the crafts table in Miss Barnett's first grade class? No? Well, too bad for you because it was AWESOME and this reminded me of it! Since I have no elaborate gardens to tend, sigh.... and yes! I'm still pouting so don't bug me about it, I have to find my zen place in other ways and this did the trick. Swirling and smearing and dotting and combining the chocolate with the iced cookies, it was like making those cut-out paper hearts at school and being so excited to run home and show them off.

Since I was duped by my trickster hubby into running a 5K on Valentines Day, (Who the heck organizes a race on Valentines Day?! You wanna know who? A husband who has run out of romantic ideas and figures putting on a race is a great way of skirting his romantic responsibilities! I swear, once I crawl over the finish line, I am going to stagger around until I find him and then I plan to clobber him with one of my cookies!), I probably won't have the strength to type. So, just in case I don't survive, I want to wish you all a very Happy Valentines Day. May your loved one give you something more than a sweaty high-five at the end of a grueling and unnecessary run.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Gardening Contained

We had a little orchid mishap on our way home from Vegas a couple of weekends ago. The motorhome took a bump just a little too fast and the landing was a bit too much for the pot containing one of my orchids. Of course this meant I was given free rein to run right over to a local garden center to replace the pot. Yippee...cough, ack....I meant, too bad, so sad.

The culprit that started the whole thing, Cymbidium, Eastern Promise. (Promise of inciting riots if you ask me!)

I charged...umm, I mean, I meandered very calmly and sedately on over to Lowes with the specific purpose of purchasing a single replacement pot...and, of course, the potting medium needed to repot a Cymbidium and, well, I needed orchid food as I have been using a generic houseplant food for quite awhile now....and of course, if I'm repotting one then I really need to repot the other as you want them to match, don't you? And since I was getting new pots, I should definitely get the platters for the pots to sit in to catch the water because EVERYONE knows that orchids need humidity so if I just put some of those cute, little river pebbles that Martha suggested in the platters and then set the pots on top and let the water pool, my orchids would be much healthier and happier. But why in the world would I buy a tiny little bag of designer rocks when I could go outside to the landscaping area and get a huge bag for half the price?

And this, my friends, is where it all, shall we say, hit the fan. (Honey, if you're reading this, close the page and walk away from the computer. You know darn well you love fresh herbs as much as I do and some sacrifice has to be made to have them. Plus, I promise I will not buy one more plant for a whole year....well, with the exception of another strawberry plant because who can have just one for godssakes?)

And so, the doors leading out to the garden area slid open, and so did my resolve. The sight of all of those plants just begging, BEGGING, to be planted almost brought me to my knees. The POTENTIAL of each and everyone one of them called out to me, seducing me with visions of lush, vibrant gardens bursting with life. Oh, the fun, the absolute joy, of designing and planting! Zen gardens, formal gardens, country gardens, water-wise gardens, cactus gardens. It all swirled and danced before my eyes. And the scent!Oh people! The glorious smell of blooming flowers, fresh dirt, tantalizing herbs and living, breathing greenness drew me in and seduced me like the infamous siren's song of sailors lore. Yep, I was a shipwreck waiting to happen.

Disaster was, indeed, on the horizon as I ran out among the plants, breathing deeply and stroking velvety leaves. Citrus trees and jasmine and hibiscus and, heck, they even had a PLUMERIA! A plumeria, people! (I still don't know how I passed that one up!) But it was as I was pondering whether I should go for the trumpet vine to entice the hummingbirds or the gorgeous pale pink hybrid tearose that I can never pass up that the buzz-kill hit. Hello, I live in a motorhome! Not only that, we pick up and move every 3 months so planting an extensive garden was absolutely not going to happen. Oh, the humanity! I wanted to fall to my knees and weep! The desire to walk out, get in my car and drive back to my little house in Montana was never so strong.

And, then, a miracle happened! As quickly as the buzz was killed, the inspiration came....YES! A container garden! Nothing fancy, just a few...small...containers. Everyone needs some fresh herbs and veges in their lives and we, of motorhome persuasion, are no different, right?

So, I put the rosebush down, picked it back up, put it back down, argued with myself, put it in my cart, pushed it around, took it back and put it down then walked away from it and only looked back twice...sigh... then headed home with my new, more compact additions.

And the funny thing is, even without holes to dig and dirt to turn and elaborate gardens to plan, I still found that lovely place I go to when I garden. That place where time stands still and the commotion of the world around you quiets and it's just you, in a garden, with a plant smiling up at you and the deep rich smell of dirt filling your senses and the promise of what will be staring back at you.

So the moral of the story? I guess you don't need a large plot of dirt to be a gardener, that the little things in life are just as meaningful, that a rosemary plant can be a great substitute for a plumeria......who the heck am I kidding?! I swear if I wouldn't get arrested for digging up the golf course green at the country club next door, I'd be over there with my shovel and breaker bar at first light and I'd have that labyrinth I've been dying to try put in before you could say "floribunda"!

To all of you magicians of gardening contained, I salute you!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Chocolate Frenzy

I'm addicted. I admit it. 100%, full-throttle, live it, breathe it, dream it addicted to chocolate. So there should be no surprise when I tell you of my new hobby.....chocolate making!

It started when I wandered past a heart-shaped chocolate mold and thought, Hmm, I could do that! And I did and I LOVE it! How fun it is to take the silky, fragrant, molten chocolate and shape it into wonderful little gems in all shapes and sizes. The scent of warm chocolate fills the motorhome and swirls out the windows making our neighbors lift their noses in the air and sniff deeply as they walk by. I love cleaning up and licking the bowls and spoons and my fingers and I love seeing the trays of cooling chocolates lined up in military rows with all the promise of their creamy lusciousness forming before my eyes. I love bagging the little nuggets of goodness in pretty little bags and passing them out and I love the smiles and excitement they bring and I love watching the pause as the receiver ponders the choice of which gem to pop in their mouth.

But, what I really love most? EATING THEM! Duh! Ok, enough typing. I'm off to tackle chocolate truffles.....


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