Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Just passing through

I am incurably sentimental, part of my being an old soul who lives in the past.  Going through boxes of old stuff just makes me feel sad. Actually, everything makes me feel sad, and just a trifle panicky. The world has turned into a universal war zone and the Dark Side of the Force is prevailing. And like any other extended family, we are facing inevitable health issues. Late night calls, little sleep. A general feeling of emotional and physical malaise. Attack of the killer fleas. That surrealistic feeling that it s no longer safe to be a Jew in America.

I hope your week has been going  better, but unless you are living in a cave without wifi, you've been hearing the same news reports. These are terrible times, my friends.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

These are the ends, my friends ...

It's Tuesday, and I headed downstairs with a Doctor Who earworm in my head and a couple of crocheted scarves around my neck. The weather got funky again, causing local temperatures to plunge into the low forties. In Florida. In late March. Pretty darn uncomfortable. Anyway, I grabbed a G hook on my way to the stairs so that I could finish pulling in the ends on the scarves while wearing them to keep warm. In my kitchen. In Florida, did I mention that?

I love scarves; I love to wear them, inside or out.

I also love to make them, knitted or crocheted, mostly for my personal use, but occasionally as a gift for someone who appreciates handmade stuff (most people do not.)


I have only owned one store bought scarf in my life, and that's because my mother bought it for me when I headed off to the Shawangunk mountains for college. It was part of a set that included a hat of the type made popular by Ali McGraw's character in "Love Story." Orange and gray. Damn, a really ugly scarf, but my mother honestly loved the color orange. Matched her hair, the living room carpet, and the flocking on the wallpaper. Somewhere among all my possessions (I hope) is the first scarf I ever knit, in a box stitch pattern I worked out myself, in blue and gold. (Go Lawrence Tornadoes!)

Doctor Who got stuck in my head because my wake-up alarm uses the opening theme for the Twelfth Doctor. I'm probably doomed, at least for the rest of the day, but I have to admit it makes a very effective alarm. If I'd had it back in the sixties and seventies, my Pop would not have had to call me every morning while I was away at college. That 8:00 AM biology class was a killer, and he knew it.

(This is also a very bad morning - if you follow the news then you know that Belgium has had multiple terrorist attacks, killing at least 31 people. I'm not sure of the number of injuries, but I do know that this is unbearable. There is not one world leader who knows how to deal with ISIL and its colleagues-in-crimes against humanity.)

Fibromyalgia killed my fall/winter garden, incapacitating me so that some planting never actually got done, and the whole thing was neglected to the point that the weeds were choking out the vegetables.

I have flares that can knock me on my ass for days or even weeks, rendering me ritually useless, and that is exactly what happened this growing season.

Here comes James to the rescue. Today weed pulling, tomorrow roto-tilling, after that a visit to Lowe's to start building the spring garden. I'm already craving tender okra (which doesn't grow during the fall and winter. Ask me how I know.)

Will I never learn? I did too much - much too much - purging my closet of clothes I will never wear again.

Not only sizes I will never wear, but my entire work wardrobe - suits, jackets, skirts and dresses all terribly worn because, having not received a raise in over 8 years, I simply could not afford to replace them. Five enormous bags ready for Goodwill. I didn't do any of the heavy carrying, but it was still too much. I also finished sorting my craft books, making up bundles of Workbasket and Annie's Pattern Club (and her Crochet and Fashion Knitting clubs) booklets to pass on to friends who I know will enjoy them. I've been shlepping those booklets from one house to another since 1979 and it is time to share the love. There's a lot of great ideas in those pages, but most are for items I no longer have an interest in taking on as a project.

Truly, I am too tired to write anymore. More thoughts, more recipes, maybe tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Watcha Dune? - Plans Within Plans

Plans. I got 'em. More than the Bene Gesserit, kinder than the Harkonnens, better than the Emperor of the Known Universe.

Cooking. Baking.


Taking control.


None of these are moving anywhere except backwards. The last week has been a dreadful combo platter of chest pain, brain fuzzies, and worst of all an exhaustion that left me unable to even knit a sock, with featherweight needles and a few ounces of super fine weight yarn. All I've wanted to do is nap. No strength in my hands or arms.  Can't keep my eyes open. Can't think, can't type, can't blog. Thank you, fibromyalgia, you joy-sucking miserable f*cking son of a bitch. Yeah.

So here it is late afternoon Sunday and I've decided to give up until tomorrow. Although I am well-primed with Ranitidine and Ibuprofen, it seems a better plan to hold onto my spoons until tomorrow and then try this Living Thing again. Monday is a good day for Plans. Doesn't everyone start their diets on Monday? There you have it.

Except Monday turned out to be, well, Monday. I did a little cooking (recipe to follow) a little complaining to the firm handling my social security disability claim, and a little organizing of craft booklets and pamphlets (no lifting, can't lift) and all that did was get me ready for a 4 1/2 hour nap. My communication with the social security disability firm was ultimately helpful, however, I was
distressed at being told that obtaining a hearing in front of an administrative law judge involves an 18 to 24 month wait. Since we've already spent 6 months getting to this point where we can file an appeal, that means I will receive nothing from the SSA until I am 64 or 65, even though I retired when I was 62. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, knowing how long it can take to get a termination of parental rights case through the state court system or for veterans to receive medical care. I just wonder, how are people supposed to pay their bills when their claim gets stuck on sluggish? It looks like I'm about to find out.

This recipe is from last week. Sorry for the delay, but I've been knocked on my ass (tuchis to my fellow MOTs) most of the time in between.

Hawaiian Barbecue Flanken Riblets

First of all, flanken is a crosscut short rib, very popular in Jewish and Korean cooking, which suits my family to a tee. My mother (and therefore I) used flanken when making cabbage soup. Best
cabbage soup ever. Better than Toojay's, better than your Jewish grandma's version, assuming you have a Jewish grandma. Better, best. But that's another blog post.

Next, I made this dish to include rice with fire-roasted green bell peppers, to go along with the Hawaiian theme. I held back on the pineapple - Cory is not a fan - and Robert agreed that it would
not have added anything to the finished dish.

2 pounds chuck flanken (mine was frozen), a total of 6 pieces
2 Knorr beef bouillon cubes
2 tablespoons McCormick garlic pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons turbinado sugar
1-18 oz. bottle Sweet Baby Ray's Hawaiian Style Barbecue Sauce
4 medium green bell peppers
Buttered rice, for serving

In a large pot, just barely cover the ribs with water. Add the bouillon cubes, garlic pepper, and sugar. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover the pot and simmer the ribs until tender, about an hour. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Move the ribs to a baking dish and pour on about 2/3rds of the bottle of sauce. Cover with foil and bake in oven for 45 minutes or until the riblets are tender enough to be enjoyed by the dentally-challenged. Using kitchen shears, cut between the bones to make riblets, and set aside while you prepare the peppers.

Broil the peppers on all sides until he skin is blistered and charred. Immediately place in a plastic bag, sea, and set aside for at least 10 minutes. When cool enough to handle, use your fingers to remove the skin. If you don't get every last bit off, don't worry about it. Do not put the peppers under water while you are peeling them; this washes away a lot of the flavor. Remove the seeds and stem and cut the peppers vertically.

Cover bottom of a baking dish with cooked and buttered rice.  I used 2 boil-in-bag packets, a lot of butter, kosher salt and white pepper. Place the pepper strips over the rice. Spoon the riblets with all their sauce over the peppers. You may want to reheat the dish before serving so that all the elements are hot at the same time; if so cover with foil so the riblets don't dry out. Serves 4 to 6.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Coal Hauler's Daughter, or Somebody Get The Number of That Truck

Damn. When it happens, as it did on Monday, it feels like I've been run over by a 10 ton Mack truck hauling coal. The process of taking a shower was fraught with fright - will I be able to stand up the whole time? How will my skin feel when the water beats down on it? Will I be able to blow dry my hair or have to give up and go back to bed, leaving my hair (and my mood) in tatters?

Got it done, but every other plan has been put on hold.

Generally speaking, this has been a lost week. Little has gotten done, and I keep experiencing anxiety atttacks. I've gone through the motions but my heart, and certainly my head, are not in any of it.

I am in a very dark place, not so much for me but for people around me. Empathy is a two-edged sword. Their stories are not for me to tell, but I hurt for each and every one. Life is not only not fair, it positively sucks a good deal of the time.

Personally speaking, I hurt all over, and so I live on Advil and Zantac and Baclofen. I practice my tai chi to hopefully gain a few precious moments of relaxation. I try to make progress on the new Project Zero, but so slowly that it is imperceptible. Most of the time I end up sitting on the bed, exhausted from nothing. I knit ever so slowly. I spend time loving my pets, aware that Woody's time with us is drawing to a close.

I squint now, at everything. There is a serious disconnect between my eyeglass prescription and my vision, which is leaving me just a tad shaky whenever I leave the house. Hasn't even so bad since third grade, and I didn't drive back then. I am crazy anxious to get the cataracts taken care of.

I read the news voraciously, surprised to discover that I don't always disagree with President Obama. His choice for SCOTUS nominee is positively brilliant, and the Republicans are looking even more like the damn fools they are by refusing to even consider him. I am so glad that I dropped all affiliation to either party, even though I was unable to vote in the primary.

I guess I should publish this post; it's only taken 6 days to write it.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Knitting The Hand Basket to Hell

Tough night, rough morning. No details, just - rough. Yesterday I overdid, skittering around like a high-strung hummingbird on speed, letting myself feel overwhelmed, resulting in an anxiety attack. During the night there was pain. This morning, there is exhaustion. I do not have the strength to chew a bagel. Oy. I also do not have the patience to discuss politics. Today I am annoyed with all of them, including Hillary (and I usually give her a pass.)

If you haven't been watching All-Star Academy on Food Network, you missed Andrew Zimmern getting feisty. Let me paraphrase - "Sure, they're all Iron Chefs, while I'm just the schmuck from Travel Channel with too many frequent flier miles." I wish I could get the actual quote; there was something about eating bugs (or was it whale anus?) and he may have mentioned Brooklyn. Crazy competitive and darkly determined, he won the challenge. Good show @andrewzimmern!

My current project goal is organizing the upstairs bookshelves which should bring me naturally to the next project, organizing all of my craft materials - knitting, crochet, needlework, jewelry-making, and even my coloring books and pencils. Even after giving away enough yarn to start a small store, I still have too much of everything. That includes a ridiculous number of UFOs (unfinished objects), another dirty little secret of knitters and their crochet cousins. Some of my UFOs date back to the early eighties. Others need nothing more than to have the ends woven in, or a few buttons sewn on. And still others just need to be blocked, one of my least-favorite finishing activities.

Of course that doesn't even touch on the painful topic of half-finished afghans, scarves, shawls, hats, and socks, all requiring thousands of hours of actual knitting or crocheting. No wonder I got that overwhelming feeling. Better that I not think about that too much and just stick to finishing the dozen or so pairs of socks.

Why, thank you, Doctor! Now let me show you what a well-turned heel looks like:

I haven't really been up to cooking lately, so I pulled a few finished dishes out of the freezer, but having never learned to leave well enough alone, I did play around with a package of frozen flanken, spring boarding off of my recipe for beef ribs. It's pretty easy but I still shouldn't have done it, but what the hell? - Gotta eat, right?

Look for that recipe tomorrow. I just realized I am practically spoonless, and Blogger is getting wonky as I type.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Spin A Yarn, No Cannoli

The Audience: the Portugeuse have dropped out of the race leaving the Brazilians to pick up the slack on behalf of their national language-in-common. The United Kingdom has reappeared in a "big" way, which pleases me because I've always had a special place in my heart for Queen Elizabeth II, 1952 being an exceptional year for both of us.

Russia is back, but even better is the appearance of The Netherlands, representing one-eighth of my personal genealogy. It gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling to imagine Russian Osherowitzes and Dutch Nathans searching for me out in the Infinite Internet. (Waving) Hey! Over here!

Speaking of dropping out of the race, things are getting interesting in The Realm of Presidential Politics. I don't know what to think. Is Donald Trump really the Second Coming of Hitler? (No.) Are his followers all candidates for the New Neo-Nazi Party? How does Ted Cruz feel about being endorsed by Caitlyn Jenner? (Forget that last question. If I go there, I'll lose my mind.)

Shifting into The Next Project made me pensive. Where should I start? Bookshelves, boxes, closet? (Bookshelves won.) And why did I start unpacking two years ago, and then stop, leaving unopened boxes and bags piled hither and yon?

I could blame it on fibromyalgia, but I had the same problem when we moved into our second Hunter's Creek House in 2002, pre-fibromyalgia. Both times I started out like gangbusters, got a lot done, and then stopped as suddenly as a contestant on "Chopped" when Ted Allen yells "your time is up!" Except I never moved on to the next round, and no one ever offered me $10,000 to push through to the finish line. That house had too many rooms, and we had too much stuff. Maybe I was overwhelmed. Definitely I was depressed, but then, I'm always depressed.

In 2002 I was still hauling around 150 pounds of excess weight, and that wore me down. And I used to fall a lot. In 2014, I was deep in the throes of fibro flares f*cking up my ability to do much of anything. So, am I lazy? (According to my mother, yes I am. In my opinion, anyone who works 60 to 70 hours a week or works two jobs, or works and goes to night school is not lazy.)

There is no simple answer. I consider it a character flaw, and at my age, I'm not likely to undergo a complete change of character.  All I can do is break the task down into individual pieces and do my best. But at least now you know why I haven't invited you over for coffee and a cannoli.

Even though I have been knitting for 50 years, and crocheting almost as long, I am still shocked at all the craft-related stuff I have collected and held on to. Last night, as I nibbled at the edges of the project, it was all about books. Pattern books, stitch libraries, you name it. Photocopies, Internet print-outs, pamphlets, handwritten notes of something I designed.

I have no idea how many projects I've completed over the years. Different times brought different obsessions - baby clothes and blankets, adult-sized afghans worked on jumbo needles, crochet slippers that can be finished in an hour for the pair - one year I crocheting slippers for everyone in the legal department, Merry Christmas! - prayer shawls, scarves,

mittens, sweaters, hats, clothes for Cabbage Patch dolls,

... and of course, the omnipresent, ubiquitous socks.

I can't begin to enumerate the projects I started and never finished - WIPs (works in progress) are the secret shame of knitters and crocheters everywhere, and let's just leave it at that. Except to say that the problem of unfinished yarn-based WIPs parallels my unpacking problem. Interesting. Procrastinators of the world, unite! Maybe tomorrow ...      


Saturday, March 12, 2016

Who, Nu? - Mexican Chorizo Stuffed Artichokes

Project Zero is, for all intents and purposes, completed. I would feel elated but for the fact that a project that should have taken me four hours had to be stretched out over two weeks. Moving on to the next project, I have started sorting books for the shelves in the upstairs hallway, and this is going to lead naturally into The Wonderful World of Fiber Arts. Yarn Out The Yin Yang. Innumerable Needles, Hellacious Quantities Of Hooks. Going through my craft supply boxes is like a mini-Christmas morning, which raises the oldest question in the Universe, the one I've been running from my entire life: Who knew I had all that stuff? Who Knew? Who Knew? (If you don't get the joke, Google Dorium Maldovar.)

But for right now - it is Saturday morning - I can do little more than sit on the bed, work on the blog, and indulge in some health-related worrying. Last week the optometrist very carefully explained to me the seriousness and symptoms of retinal detachment. She explained how to check for it, and what to do (treat it as a medical emergency) and which doctors to make an appointment with should the symptoms appear. This was all separate from the whole cataract extravaganza.

So I appreciated her caution, because who knew that five days later I would start to see the little flashy things - light bursts - in my right eye? And that the very next day, upon awakening, I would see the floaters? And why do these things always happen to me on the weekend?

Monday. I'll call the retinal specialists on Monday. Until then, I'll worry.

Last night Rob and I were guests at an engagement party for Terry and Dan's oldest son. I like happy occasions, and this crowd was happy.  The only sad part was being hit in the face with the Wet Fish of Regret, reminding me how much I miss working with Terry and Brenda and having them as part of my daily life.

Here is the Stuffed Artichoke recipe. Very adaptable to different types of sausage or cheese (pepper jack, anyone?) and variables such as bell peppers or jalapeƱos cooked along with the leeks and garlic.

Alcachofas Rellenas (Stuffed Artichokes)

4 medium artichokes
1-6 oz. box Stove Top Savory Herbs Stufing Mix
1 1/2 cup hot water
About 6 oz. of Mexican chorizo
2 medium leeks, light parts only, halved and sliced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons grated cotija cheese

Olive oil (garlic-infused if you have it)
Additional grated cotija cheese

Cut off the top 1/4 to 1/3 of each artichoke and trim the stems. Steam the artichokes, cut side down, for 15 minutes. Once they are cool enough to handle, remove the inner leaves and the choke. Be patient with this step; you want to remove all of the spiky, inedible choke without removing too many of the center leaves. Trim the spiky tips of the leaves with kitchen scissors.  Set aside while you prepare the stuffing.

In a large bowl mobile the stuffing mix and the hot water. Use a fork to combine just until the stuffing is moistened, then set aside.

Remove the chorizo from its casing and place in a skillet over medium-high heat. Break up the chorizo with a metal spoon as it cooks. After 2 minutes, it will have fallen apart and released a good amount of fat, so add the leeks and garlic, lower the heat to medium, and cook until the leeks are tender and the chorizo is lightly browned. Combine the chorizo with the stuffing mix, and add the cotija cheese.

Stuff each artichoke starting with the center, and then between the individual leaves. Place the artichokes in a baking dish so that they fit snugly and sit upright, or cheat like me and use an extra-large muffin tin (sometimes called Texas-sized). At this point I covered them with foil and put them in the refrigerator until it was closer to dinner time.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Drizzle some olive oil over the artichokes and sprinkle with a good amount of cotija cheese. Pour a small amount of water in the baking pan, or in the empty cups of the muffin tin (my preference), cover with the foil and bake for 30-40 minutes, until the stuffing is heated through.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

At Least It's Not A Dirt Nap

Monday: At the end of this day, I've spent at least a third of it napping. Just sorting and organizing a few papers knocked me out. My back is breaking badly, I can't see worth a damn, and my gastrointestinal system is feeling the burn.  Night sleep is elusive; I wake up every hour or two only to become active for the next two hours, working on Project Zero, adding some pithy verbiage to the blog, or rereading any one of the Heinlein novels on my night table. Nothing restful in that mix.

Daily napping is the new normal. I don't know what I would do if I had to actually be someplace in the afternoon, much less communicate coherently with an authority figure.

I had plans for today, Tuesday, but the fibro had other ideas. Part of the problem is that I've never really completely shaken off this viral thing that triggered the horrid fibro flare a few weeks ago. I'm tired of getting beaten up by microscopic nonbiologics that I can't freaking see. Not that I can see much of anything these days, but I might feel better if I could land a nice hard front kick, or even one of my wicked, board-breaking elbow strikes, at the virus' nonexistent head. That is so-not-tai-chi that I should be ashamed of myself, but when I feel the need to defend, it's the taekwondo that comes to mind.

"A long time ago ..."

"... in a galaxy far, far away."

I woke up much too late, ruining my schedule, feeling like that viral thing was back in full swing, and that led me down the path of depression, but I reached a fork in the road and spent 10 minutes listening to an interview of Peter Capaldi and now I'm as right as rain. Which just goes to show that sometimes, it is all about finding the right doctor.

I am working on a recipe for stuffed artichokes involving Mexican chorizo. When I have the wherewithal to proceed, I'll bring you into the loop. In this case, wherewithal includes the ability to stand on my feet without wanting to fall down into a frog crouch. Maybe tomorrow.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Three Days, One Post, Sixteen Perfect Beef Ribs

Saturday: Nothing says "thank you" like 21 pounds of 4-ply yarn.

I am thrilled by the opportunity to say "thank you so very much" to someone who is doing/continues to do me a ginormous favor. This little giving just happens to coincide with the goal of my next project, which is making room for all of my yarn-related materials. Passing on this yarn to someone who will use it was the best way, a win-win situation. So I start the day in a rather good mood, despite a night of dramatic sleep deprivation.

Never mind the usual list of fibro-related complaints; yeah, I pushed too much today, but I do have a pretty terrific recipe to share, involving beef and barbecue sauce.

Sunday: I finally had my appointment with the optometrist, but that didn't go the way I expected. Yes indeed, my prescription has again sunk to new depths in just the year since I was last examined, but this time new eyeglasses aren't going to fix the problem, at least not on their own. The good news is I do not have macular degeneration nor is my retina detaching - yet. The bad news is that I am in serious need of cataract surgery. Since I inherited my grandmother's fear of going blind, this did not come as good news. I know it is a very routine and highly successful surgery. Fear is the mind-killer. I'm trying to stay calm.

If only ...

Several of the family and friends close to us are facing some serious health problems, and as of this moment all of them are in a hospital, and my heart is heavy. Being retired gives me more time to think but also more time to pray, and so I have on all of their  behalfs. The worst part of getting older is not necessarily one's own health issues, nor the wrinkles on one's face, but rather the problematic health of the people around you. Part of being human is feeling for others (unless you are a psychopath, terrorist, or both). I'm a Capricorn, I worry, and right about now my "worry meter" is off the charts. The price of being human.

Monday: After so many years working outside the home, it is virtually impossible to break the "Blue Monday" mindset. Since I am no longer compelled to leave my home to start the week, I've been using Monday as a transitional day to ease into the following days. Today is all about sorting through papers related to my disability claims and retirement (in other words, I'm doing some filing), recording some appointment dates, working the Lazy Susan, and finishing Project Zero. I am determined not to give any thought to politics today, and I will knit the current pair of socks as necessary, i.e., for rest and relaxation.

Organization In Transit. Pay no attention to the cat in the sink; he is NOT being helpful.

That also means I'm going to finish this post and wait before starting a new one. Multitasking is no longer one of my strong points.

The recipe is for Braised and Oven Roasted Barbecue Beef Ribs. Very very easy - it calls for bottled sauce and spice blend - and so tender, you may find yourself doing a little happy dance. I shared a moment dancing with Horatio Cane, then promptly sat down, and counted it my daily cardio.

You will need 2 packages of beef ribs - not short ribs. Walmart carries them.

You will use up an entire small bottle of this spice.

Sticky Fingers is a restaurant chain (we've eaten there in Savannah) and the sauce is available in your local supermarkets. Get the 40 oz. bottle if you can find it. 

Using all of the spice blend, season the ribs on both sides and set aside for about 10 minutes. 

Heat 4 tablespoons of canola oil over medium-high heat in a large, deep skillet, and working in batches, lightly brown the ribs on all sides. Do not let the spices burn.

Return all of the ribs to the skillet. Add water to almost cover the ribs but leave some space between the water and the top of the skillet. Don't forget to use some of the water to swish out the pans that held the seasoned meat, and add this seasoned water to the skillet. 

Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and cover the skillet. Simmer the ribs for 90 minutes,  rotating the position of the rib after 45 minutes. 

Move the ribs to a clean baking pan and pour the barbecue sauce over each layer.

Cover with foil and cook in a preheated 350 degree oven for  60 to 75 minutes, until the meat is meltingly tender. Beef ribs tend to be tough, but these ribs will surprise and delight you.