Sunday, December 13, 2015

December in Florida - The Fauna and the Flora

Happy 8th and final night of Hanukkah!

Well peeps, it's Saturday and I've already blown all of my weekend spoons. I am sitting here stupefied from a day of too much stuff going on. First Tai Chi, then Publix, then Chelsea's awesome 90 minute wash and blow dry, then cooking one dish, then another dish, then baking and icing and cleaning up the mess.   Bottom line here is that after all that cooking I am too tired to type up the recipes for the blog.  As Pooh would say, "Oh bother ..."

Check it out!

Between Publix and returning to the house, I took a few minutes to take photos of all the reasons I like living in Florida.  Remember, it's mid-December:    


More Bougainvillea

Incipient Blueberries

Tomatillos (God willing)


Ichiban Eggplant

Maybe Zucchini

Mustard Greens and Collards or maybe that's Broccoli

A Red, Red Rose




Coming Soon To A Parking Lot Near You: Loquats

Even our weeds are pretty ...

... pretty weird

That's the flora, and here's the fauna:

My beautiful girl, simply exhausted after her bath

The Last Centurion

Coming attractions:

Portobellos. BIG mushrooms.

Yin and Yang


I really want to dig up some spoons for tomorrow, but so far it's not looking good. Another Hanukkah without potato latkes.  Have to shoot for Christmas.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Doctors, Ex-Lawyer, No Indian Chiefs

Happy 7th night of Hanukkah!

So I managed to wake up, get clean, and get to the disability doctor right on time.  I love when I get somewhere on time; it feels like a moral victory. The appointment went well, I think. I saw the intake lady and the doctor, and I am pretty certain that they got the whole picture, which let's face it, is pretty pathetic. They were very nice to me. Now, we wait. I wait. Again. You know, I wake up each morning and think this is going to be over and I'm going to have a normal life again. Of all people, I am the one having trouble believing I am permanently disabled. Then I remember I am, and the day goes to hell again.

I have quite a bit of catching up to do. My garden ... oy, what a shanda (shame).  I've had to neglect it for weeks, because the pain has been too frequent and too debilitating for physical work under the sun. There are plants to be trimmed or planted, weeds to be pulled - many, many weeds - pepper plants to be sprayed, and even a few vegetables to be collected. God give me strength.

And the cooking. And the baking. Okay, so once the disability exam was over, I headed out to Walmart. I had a list, and I pretty much stuck to it. Well, I did buy myself a Christmas present, to replace the one I bought in 1978. Isn't that cool? Truthfully, I no longer have the strength in my hands to take out the Kitchen Aid, so I've been avoiding any recipe that demands a stand mixer. But this heavy duty hand mixer should be able to handle anything the stand mixer could. Merry Christmas to me!

Up until now, my baking has been purposefully confined to relatively simple drop cookies. I've avoided frosting and glazes and really tried to make it easy on myself, while still delicious for the tasting public. My next part of the cookie project involves more complicated recipes like nut cups, rugelach, blind date cookies, hamantaschen, and the like.  Little fussy things, very special and very tiring. I may have to take a nap between the Christmas Fruitcake Bars and Esther's Pastel Drops.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

And then, there is cleaning. Housework. Oh, the disability examiner asked me if I could do housework. No, ma'am, and I can't practice law either. I think she believed me, especially after I registered pain on all of the fibromyalgia pressure points. (By the way, if you've never gotten an invitation from me for a cup of coffee or a cannoli, that's why. The boys do the best they can but with 4 dogs, it's tough, really tough.) I used to hate housework, although not so much anymore. I am going to have to buy me some more spoons and use them judiciously. Except I don't think you can buy more spoons, and I seem to be losing some of mine. Like losing your marbles, only easier.                                          

I did lose a small amount of weight on the cruise (I know, crazy, right?) which meant I could try to eat a little more, and was therefore excited by my proximity to a Wawa  and my first Turkey Bowl of the season. So was Woody; when I got home, I set the bowl on the little table near my seat while I went to put on water to boil, and Woody ate most of the turkey. He left just enough so that I could give a bite to Indiana and Romeo. But the stuffing was tasty, and it wasn't like I was going to keep any of it down. I still wonder why the only solid food I seem to be able to keep down is pickled herring.

Let's not talk about politics today. I am very, very angry, and you wouldn't like me when I'm angry.

I made the filling for stuffed mushrooms today, definitely different as it involves arroz y gandules verde, and a spicy chorizo, and a jalapeño from my garden. Ooh la la! Official Stuffing of the Mushroom tomorrow after Tai Chi. Stay tuned.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Thursday in Port, Homeward Bound

Happy 6th night of Hanukkah.

Home, and glad to be there. I missed my own bed, I missed my son, I missed my furry babies, and I missed my kitchen.  I knew it was time to go home when I started talking to Robert about the menu for Christmas Day, which is a stay-at-home-all-day-wearing-pajamas-and-watching-Doctor-Who, sort of a bizarre family tradition. We never go away during the holiday week, because back when I was a working girl, I was always willing to cover so my Christian colleagues could celebrate their holiday. They always covered for me, it was the least I could do.

So the first thing I did when I got home, besides exchanging hugs and kisses with my furry babies, was to curl up on the couch and go back to sleep. Sitting in the car for the hour drive from Brevard was uncomfortable; amazing that I made that trip twice a day, every work day, for four years.  Was I ever that young? (I was 39 when I started working for HRS.) More importantly, was I ever that pain-free? I slept for a good 4 hours.

Tomorrow I have my doctor's appointment for Social Security disability. I hope I can adequately convey the depth of pain, the mental confusion, the pain, and did I mention the pain? Oh yes, the insane itching, the deterioration of my eyesight, the pain ... you get the idea. Pain. My grandmother used to say I was a pain in the ass. Well, you were right, Mom, and every other place too.

Tonight I went to my Tai Chi class and we concentrated on the Preparation and Beginning forms. I still can't remember forms for shit, even immediately after following the form with Sifu Tony.  My balance was worse than usual; even my 'strong' side was wobbly. Well, I had been onboard a frisky cruise ship for four days.

It felt good to sleep in my own bed, even if all four Yorkies felt compelled to join us. Actually, because they joined us.  Romeo doesn't usually sleep in the bed - he has a special spot on the floor from which he guards the door - but he was so happy to see me, he was positively giddy and goofier than usual.  Woody planted himself at Robert's feet and did not move.

It's good to be home.  Next cruise is January 3rd, on the Carnival Sunshine, just before we enter the Interregnum of the Profits (tax season, the fifth season of the year). I may not bother unpacking.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Wednesday Fun Day at Sea

Happy 5th night of Hanukkah!

So I woke up this morning having a panic attack over a dissolution case I handled at least 13 years ago. I have no idea where the hell that came from - the kids are all adults now and my client is married to his third wife (I handled the divorce from Wife #1). That's all I'm going to say about that. I took my medication and hoped it would do the trick. Life is strange enough that I really don't need long-buried cases crashing through the barrier between my subconscious and my conscious.

Today is the last full day of the cruise, and we are spending it "at sea", which means we're sort of dog-paddling just off the coast of Florida.  Since we are not moving, and the sea is relatively calm, I can't explain why I had the overwhelming need to put on my anti-motion sickness wrist bands, but I did. For someone who loves to cruise as I do, motion sickness is becoming a royal pain in the tuchis.

Today is the day to do shopping and catching up on any shows we missed and eating excessively. Right now we are at the Sea Day Brunch, waiting to be served Steak and Eggs and Huevos Rancheros. The choices were wonderful, and they even have desserts on this menu.  The bread basket is beautiful - hold the steak and eggs, I could make breakfast just from the basket, with croissants, pastries, a variety of miniature muffins, and slices of quick breads. Even the coffee tastes better.

One of things I am hoping to buy, at the inch of gold sale, is a silver chain sturdy enough to hold Ira. (Warning: if you get creeped out by discussions of cremains, this is the time to skip down to the next paragraph. On second thought, you've probably figured out where I'm going with this.)

Ira was the feline love of my life, and since I lost him to advanced cancer in August of 2014, I continue to hold him close to my heart - literally. Some of his ashes are in this pendant, which I wear around my neck, suspended on the strong fabric "chain" which came with the pendant.

I have been wanting something prettier but still sturdy, and appropriate to honor my lost boy. I did buy something I like quite a bit, as does Robert, and I think Ira will like it too. I can pick it up after dinner. Photos to follow.

I haven't been writing about current events over the past few days, but that's because I am already in quite a bit of pain. Like most Americans I am frightened and angry and frustrated all at the same time. I am waiting for Donald Trump's campaign to implode, but it just doesn't seem to happen. Which says something about this country I am not sure I can easily analyze. (But please remember I said just a few weeks ago that 9/11 changed our country forever, and not for the better. You know what happened to American citizens of Japanese descent after the attack on Pearl Harbor.) We have been watching the news pretty steadily during the cruise, but it is all CNN and CNN International, and sometimes the self-righteous droning gets on my nerves. I am also tired of being scolded by this sorry excuse for a President. Your mileage may vary.

We are close enough to Florida at this point that we are again caught up in the bad weather. The ship is back to rocking and rolling and the motion sickness is just making the fibromyalgia worse.  I have been hurting quite a bit throughout, and even wholesale consumption of Advil and Zantac paired with a once-daily dose of Meloxicam is not really helping. Not even a mostly pleasant and restful vacation can stave off this pain. I am looking forward to my Tai Chi class tomorrow night; if only for a few moments, it does help me feel better.                                         

I am ready to go home.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Tuesday in Nassau, Funky Nassau

Happy 4th night of Hanukkah. Chanukah. Whatever.

It's still raining. If I had paid good money for an expensive trip to Paradise Island, I'd be pissed. The day we went to Paradise Island several years ago, it was warm, sunny, and mostly boring. I used to get off the ship at Nassau to buy a certain perfume (First, by Van Cleef and Arpels) I could not find at a decent price back home, but I now have a certain perfume outlet back home, right next to the Walmart Grocery on W. Vine Street, that carries all of my pretty scents, with the exception of Estée Lauder's Azuree. Of course, nobody carries that one, which I fell in love with the summer I temped at Estée Lauder on Long Island.  If you live on the Island, you know exactly where it is.  My point is, we have no reason to leave this boat today, and besides, I spotted mussels and clams on the Mongolian Grill yesterday.

There are a couple of activities I've marked on today's schedule - Guess that Song: Classic Rock, at 3:30, and a Hanukkah Service at 5:15. I also took out our traveling chess set (courtesy of Carnival - we get some nifty gifts each time we sail, now that we are Platinum).

Speaking of Fantasy-class ships, look at the sweet little old lady sitting next to us in Nassau:

The grande dame, the oldest extant ship in the Carnival fleet, fraternal twin to this ship and the Ecstasy, still kicking up her heels in the Bahamas. Old like me, but still useful.

Damn, there were no mussels or clams at the Mongolian Grill today.

The Hanukkah celebration was surprisingly accurate and quite nice, with a BIG electric menorah, Hanukkah gelt, Manischwitz wine, challah, and the strangest (but tasty) latkes I'd ever been served.

The only bummer was overhearing that the event was not being announced, although the person running the event had asked for it to be.  I suppose someone, somewhere on this ship might object to the celebration of a religious event ... that is indeed sad. But other than that, we had a swell time.

The food has been pretty good lately.  Those 2 bites of tiramisu I had for dessert were awesome. As usual I freaked out the waiter, who worried that the food was no good, while Robert patiently explained for the 4,257th time that I am a very small eater.

I think I am getting my knitting mojo back, and I've made great progress on my Knitch mini-shawl during this trip. I did some coloring yesterday and it continues to relax me almost as much as Tai Chi. If I get crazy and combine Tai Chi breathing with coloring, I am so relaxed I could attend my own execution by firing squad.

Chag Sameach, and may your Hanukkah latkes stay crisp and your sour cream never curdle.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Monday in Freeport

Happy 3rd night of Hanukkah!

I don't know how the weather is in Freeport, New York, but here in Freeport, Bahamas, it is raining. Actually, it's pouring. We don't really mind, though, because we had no plans to disembark and wander the streets. We've been to the Bahamas too many times to remember, did a little tour the first time, and never disembarked again.  Freeport is the most yawn-worthy stop we've ever cruised to, and  Nassau is a dirty, crimey, tourist trap. So these are the days we enjoy staying on board, eating a very leisurely lunch, reading, knitting, and people watching. It's a good day if you want Mongolian Grill for lunch (blah), or something from the grill (much better) and it is much easier to find one of the patio tables we favor on the Lido patio deck.

The view from our cabin

We are relaxing, which was the whole point of this Cruise to Nowhere Worth Seeing. We know this ship quite well; this is our third or fourth trip on the Sensation, and we sailed in her sister ship, the Carnival Ecstasy, so many times we lost count. The maitre d' knew us by name, knew our preferences, sent us a bottle of wine. The Ecstasy sailed out of Port Canaveral for years, and we were not the only locals who came to think of it as our "home" ship.

The view from the deck - Freeport

I don't expect this Fantasy class of ships to be around much longer. Most of them are 20 or more years old; the "youngest" two ships are already 17, our dear Ecstasy is 24!  If I remember correctly, all the ships have been refurbished at least once. This is the class I started cruising on in 2001; our very first cruise, which we took with our dear friends Bethe and Maurice Lipper, was on the Carnival Imagination. As you know, we were hooked.

The toast to Bethe and Maurice - although I've never had a mudslide garnished with fruit

From where I'm sitting I can also see the Port of Freeport with containers piled high and those huge crane things that are used to move them.  It looks like Port Elizabeth, New Jersey and that's not a compliment. I did get some nice shot of the MSC Busan, which is slithering right past our ship, and one of the tugs that is guiding her our of dock. Reminds me of the days when I helped my boss, Charlie Nutter, manage the insurance for companies like United States Lines, Central Gulf Lines,  and Texaco. Another lifetime.

It's been nice to sit still for a while, if only to ensure not falling ass-over-tea kettle. As I mentioned yesterday, the ship was pitching like Elvis' pelvis. At least I remembered to bring my cane; last cruise back in April, I left it home, and I had a dreadful time.  I don't know what made me think a cruise was a no-pain zone, but I found out it is most definitely not.

You know things are bad when the barf bags go up by the elevators

It is formal night, which means I wore regular slacks and blouse instead of jeans and tee shirt. For the first time, there were no lobster tails on the regular menu (!) but there was a new item - roast duck - and despite Carnival's well-earned reputation for so-so food, it was utterly delicious.  And speaking of so-so, the musical show, "88 Keys" was a big disappointment.

We are enjoyed this much needed break from routine. Hope your holiday preparation is going well.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Moving Towards Sunday Funday on a Funship - Big Fat Oatmeal Cookies with Pumpkin Spice Chips and Dried Cranberries

Lately, I keep asking myself the question, knowing what I know now, would I still have gastric bypass surgery? Not a day has gone by in the past 12 years, 6 months, and 5 days that I have not had some sort of trouble with food. Sometimes, even chocolate doesn't stay down. (For some reason, pickled herring gives me no trouble whatsoever.)

My entire life has been centered around food, and the surgery brought some profound changes to an otherwise happy relationship. I cannot eat 95% of what I cook. I became lactose intolerance. My tolerance for alcohol is practically nonexistent. Eating out in a restaurant is no longer fun; I cannot eat pizza or pasta or prime rib or even salad, which I dearly love. Speaking in general terms, my digestive system does not function normally. Long before fibromyalgia screwed up my life, I had daily pain, sharp and nasty. I keep bottles of Ranitidine (Zantac) in my purse, and almost every room in the house.

On the other hand, I could see my weight continuing to spiral upwards, bringing with it all the nasty co-morbidities of obesity, like diabetes, heart disease, and knees that go 'crack' in the night, not to mention emotional anguish. I can shop in the regular ladies department now. I can climb stairs and walk without falling down, which I did at least once a week. I can take a seat on an airplane without being mortified.  I no longer hide behind my son in family pictures. I own a bathing suit, and I do wear shorts ... if I'm on a cruise ship.

Speaking of cruise ships, that is exactly where Rob and I are heading. I'm already debating what sort of sandwich I am going to have once we reach the deli on Lido deck. Traditionally it has been bagel, lox and cream cheese, but I may change my luck.

Yesterday was a nice send-off to our vacation, starting with my Tai Chi class, dinner at Morimoto's Asia in Disney Springs, and the series 9 finale of Doctor Who, which made up for last week's dreadful "Groundhog Day" rip-off.  It was the proper send-off for Clara, which after two doctors and three series (British for seasons) she really deserved.

Once on the ship, we fell into our usual routine; lunch at the deli, accompanied by a drink.We toast Bethe and Maurice, grit our teeth through the safety drill (me and Horatio Caine - and Rob, of course - no longer have to climb 4 flights of stair to the muster station, We get to take the elevator, and we are absolved from climbing another 2 flights for the embarkation station), and head back to the cabin while the ship takes off. But holy Mother of God, we were still in Port Canaveral and the ship started rocking and rolling like Elvis on the Ed Sullivan Show! I wear those weird anti-motion sickness wrist bands, so I have no desire to barf, but the constant rocking of the ship has given me a headache. Fortunately I brought a 2 month supply of Advil, so I'll make do.

Tomorrow the ship docks at Freeport, and we'll find a table and chairs out on the patio deck and read, knit, and relax. Tonight though, we came back from dinner and found a surprise had been left in our cabin, along with tomorrrow's schedule and a towel puppy.

Carnival clearly understands how frustrating it is to have been born the day after Christmas, and gave me a birthday present nice and early. Actually, it was for sailing during my birthday month, and because we are Platinum, which in sailing terms is better than Titanium. This is something new, because we've been sailing during my birthday month for years and this is the first time I got a present. Two presents, two gift cards, one for the regular shops and one for the candy store. I'm going to be a kid in a candy store!

Last recipe for the rest of this trip - I snagged some pumpkin spice chips during an earlier trip to Walmart, and ended up incorporating them into this big, fat oatmeal cookie (my favorite type of oatmeal cookie) based on yet another recipe from Camilla Saulsbury's wonderful book. The shortcut here is a cake mix; other than that, this is a "from scratch" cookie.

Big Fat Oatmeal Cookies with Pumpkin Spice Chips and Dried Cranberries

1 - 18.25 oz. package spice cake mix
1/3 cup turbinado sugar
2 sticks butter, softened
2 extra large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
cinnamon and nutmeg, to taste
2 cups quick-cooking oats
1 cup pumpkin spice chips
3/4 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and prepare baking sheets with no-stick spray or silpat (my preference).

Place the softened butter in a large bowl along with the butter, eggs, vanilla extract, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Blend with an electric mixer. Add half of the cake mix and mix for 1-2 minutes until smooth. Add the remaining cake mix and blend until mostly combined.  Add the oats, chips, and cranberries and mix them into the cookie dough with a wooden spoon and/or plastic spatula.

Using a 1/4 cup measuring cup or scoop, portion out 12 cookies on each baking sheet.  Roll each cookie with your hands into a ball, and place back on the baking sheet.  Cookies should be about 2 inches apart.

Bake for 13-17 minutes until the cookies are set at the edges and just barely set in the center when touched lightly with your finger.  Cool for not more than 5 minutes on the baking sheets, then use a metal spatula to move the cookies to a wire rack to finish cooling. The recipe makes about 24 big cookies.

Happy second night of Hanukkah!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Happy Hanukkah to the MOTs - Espresso Fudge Cups

Saturday - I went to Tai Chi class this morning.  Me, morning, early. Ha! But I made it, and glad I did.

And then I went shopping at Walmart, stuff I really needed.  It wasn't bad at all, except when I stopped by the women's department for some slacks and tops. Almost all of the clothing there was either super-sized or junior-sized. When I finally found my current size - medium, nothing exotic - all the tops were long-sleeved.  In Florida. What???

But I'm all set now, in fact, I'm packed. I'm never packed the day before and I'm still in shock. Must be the Tai Chi. I'm not kidding. Now I can relax and enjoy our dinner at Morimoto's, assuming we can get parking at Disney Springs. And after that, the season finale of Doctor Who. And after that, the Magic are playing the Clippers in L.A. Might have to miss that, since it starts at 10 pm. Way past my bedtime.

Another recipe for you, and then that will be all for a few days.  The one thing I am absolutely not going to be doing onboard the Carnival Sensation is cook. Or bake. Hopefully I have left you with enough of a variety of cookie recipes to augment your personal Christmas cookie agenda, and have also pointed you in the direction of several excellent cookie cookbooks.

Espresso Fudge Cups

These are from Marlene Sorosky, an excellent cookbook author and food writer. They are in the same little book as the Luscious Lemon Drops, which I received as a "thank you" after making a contribution to M.A.D.D.  In September of 1991, while we were living at the Simpson Ridge apartments in Kissimmee, while our first Hunter's Creek House was being built.  I really do remember some of the oddest things. I have made these many times since then, and they are always appreciated.  I love these - chocolate and pecans and lots of butter.  Smooooooth ...

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon instant espresso or coffee granules
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans
24 pecan halves

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Melt the butter and chocolate together in the microwave; stir till smooth. Let cool slightly. Whisk in the eggs. Stir in the flour, coffee powder, and sugar.  Mix well. Stir in the chopped pecans.

Line 24 mini-muffin pans with paper muffin cups. Spoon the batter into the cups, filling them almost to the top. Place a pecan half on top of each. Bake for 18-20 minutes until the tops are set and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.  Cool for 2-3 minutes in the muffin pan, than remove the cookies to wire racks to finish cooling.

Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah, and I would like to wish all my Jewish friends a very happy, healthy holiday. Pray for peace in Israel and may another miracle happen there.  If you need a latke recipe, use the blog's search engine.  Most importantly, enjoy the company of family and friends.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Desperately Seeking Sanity Chocolate Chip Fruitcake Drop Cookies

Today is Friday, still my favorite day of the work week, even though I no longer have a work week. Especially this Friday, as it signifies the beginning of what I hope will be a lovely weekend - dinner with friends both tonight and tomorrow night, the "Doctor Who" season finale Saturday night, and then we start our cruise on Sunday.

Yesterday I overdid seriously and stupidly and suffered accordingly.  But geez, that stuff had to get done. I can't leave everything for Robert, as good as he is.  It's not right.  Same thing for Cory.  Anyway, I was in bitter pain by the time I tried to creep into the car on my way to Tai Chi class. I admit to taking a single Meloxicam, an NSAID that goes by the name of Mobic. I was prescribed these by the orthopedist after that bad fall I had taken at work last year.  Blessedly it started to take the edge off the really dreadful pain, and that allowed me to participate in class, and the Tai Chi took care of the rest. Really. Surprised me a bit. The exercises, properly done, will help to relax you, and I even derived the benefits when I was able to get out of bed this morning with only minor aches.

Continuing down a path lined with fresh-baked cookies, I made some ricotta cookies yesterday, and carrot cake cookie jumbles today, both recipes from Camilla Saulsbury's book.

This is something I sort of made up; it is still overwhelmingly a chocolate chip cookie, crisp and just a bit fruitcakish (if that's even a word.) There are no nuts, which I thought would make them more available to me during my dentally-challenged moments, but as it turns out the fruitcake mix firms up a bit, just enough to require I glue in my choppers. But that's my problem; these are delicious.

Desperately Seeking Sanity Chocolate Chip Fruitcake Drop Cookies

1 - 16.5 oz. roll refrigerated chocolate chip cookie dough
1 1/2 cups fruit and peel mix
1/4 cup chopped dates
1/4 cup dark raisins

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and prepare a baking sheet (I use silpat).  In a large bowl, break up the cookie dough and let stand for 10 to 15 minutes until somewhat softened. Add the fruit and peel mix, the dates and the raisins, and with a rubber spatula work them into the cookie dough.

Using the 2 tablespoon scoop, place 12 cookies on the baking sheet.  Roll each cookie with your hands into a ball, then place back on the baking sheet.  Bake for 12 to 14 minutes until the cookies are golden brown around the edges. Let the cookies sit on the baking sheet for 5 to 10 minutes before removing them to a wire rack to cool.

I baked all day. I can't even remember how many, but boy, they were good. Tomorrow I'll give you the recipes for the Espresso Fudge Cups and the Big Fat Oatmeal Cookies with Pumpkin Spice Chips and Dried Cranberries.  Right now, all I can think about is Mexican food. Oh, and that the Magic won last night, making it FIVE IN A ROW.  And that by this time on Sunday, I will be done with the damn safety drill and free to enjoy the rest of our cruise.

Friday, December 4, 2015

One flew east, one flew west, one flew over the cuckoo's nest - Pistachio Jam Cookies

Lost in the mists of my law degree and my years in marine insurance is the fact that my undergraduate degree is in psychology, and that I was halfway through a graduate program in psychology when I decided that particular program was not what I was looking for. So I remember the move towards community mental health, and the move away from the ginormous state psychiatric hospitals, which was already in progress while I was a student at Stony Brook. I did not know exactly why, but the local psychiatric hospital, Central Islip State, was utilizing only a small number buildings while the rest of the campus was falling into disrepair. During one semester I did volunteer work on one of the wards, and I still have nightmares. That then begs the question, where were the rest of the mentally ill people going, if not to C.I. and Pilgrim State and Kings Park and Creedmore?

When I got to graduate school, I got the answer: community mental health.  This article from the Wall Street Journal gives a good historical perspective on how we got from Over the Cuckoo's Nest to weekly massacres. I remember how, back in the late seventies while I attended grad school, the idea of community mental health did not make sense to me - set all those really disturbed people out on the street? That was also when I could not help but notice how the homeless population in New York City was increasing at an alarming rate. More alarming was when I started to see so many clearly mentally ill homeless on the previously pristine street of Orlando. And now, all these years later, I can see how the whole concept of community mental health, initialized by President Kennedy and pushed along by President Reagan, has so seriously weakened the fabric of American society as to cripple us all. We are being attacked from within. There is no gun control law in the world that can stop an at-large schizophrenic from doing exactly what he or she want to do.

"From the beginning, it was clear that CMHCs were not interested in taking care of the patients being discharged from the state hospitals. Instead, they focused on individuals with less severe problems sometimes called "the worried well." Federal studies reported individuals discharged from state hospitals initially made up between 4% and 7% of the CMHCs patient load, and the longer the CMHC was in existence the lower this percentage became.
It has now become politically correct to claim that this federal program failed because not enough centers were funded and not enough money was spent. In fact, it failed because it did not provide care for the sickest patients released from the state hospitals. When President Ronald Reagan finally block-granted federal CMHC funds to the states in 1981, he was not killing the program. He was disposing of the corpse."
I mentioned the Cuckoo's Nest (Jack Nicholson's finest performance), because there is no question that those state mental hospitals could be terrible, evil places. Their greatest virtue was keeping dangerous mentally-ill people off the street. Somewhere out there must be a plan or procedure for getting these people off the streets and into humane facilities where they can receive whatever treatment might help them, and the daily care they will always need.

I'm going to tuck my soapbox back into the corner and switch gears to cookie-baking. The pistachio jam cookies are coming along nicely, with the first batch in the oven and the second batch being set out on a silpat. The problem is - and there's always a problem - is that in the middle of preparing the dough, I started to clean the floor in the kitchen, dining room, and entranceway.  The truth is that my pets, although pee pad trained, miss their targets more often than not. To exacerbate the problem, my dining room floor is scattered with large plastic file boxes full of photos and whatnots and thatches and other stuff I should have put away a long time ago, and so when one of the boy pups feels the need to lift his leg, those boxes make a splendid target. Without going into too much detail, I realized there was a pressing need to move all of those boxes to dry locations, covered with clean pee pads, and to apply the cleaning formulas best suited to removing the offending build-up.
So after I cleaned out the litter box and mopped in the kitchen, I attacked the other two rooms, and they attacked me right back. I lifted things and moved other things and I probably should have known better, especially after I dropped one box on my big toe. Fortunately it was not from a distance, but it still hurts. Oh hell. Everything hurts. I mopped all of the offending spots with clear water and with the exception of the kitchen, left the second mopping-with-chemicals to my dear husband.  Although the dining room is still a visual mess, it is quite a bit cleaner than it was, and that, as Martha would say, is a Good Thing.

My Florida retirement quest is rocking along, but that's a story for tomorrow.  Today I am (finally) going to give you another fabulous recipe for cookies, namely the pistachio jam beauties I prepared. I have it on good authority from my Chief Taste Tester that these are fantastically delicious. Bake them and judge for yourself. These are known as Karithata in Greece, their country of birth.

1 cup of butter (2 sticks), softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup shelled, roasted pistachio nuts, finely chopped
1 jar seedless red raspberry jam (you will have plenty left over)

In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter, sugar, honey, vanilla, almond extract, and salt until light and fluffy. Beat in the flour, 1/2 cup at a time until there is just 1 cup left, and stir that in by hand. Stir in the pistachios. Cover the dough and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using silpat, no-stick spray, or butter, prepare a baking sheet. Portion the dough onto the baking sheet, using the smallest scoop. Place 20 cookies at a time on the baking sheet.  Roll the dough with your hands to form balls, and arrange back on the baking sheet. Using your pinkie finger (I used the bottom of the handle of a wooden meat mallet) make a deep indentation, almost to the baking sheet, in the center of each ball. With the tiniest spoon you have (I used one of Cory's baby spoons) carefully place a small amount of jam in each indentation.  Bake the cookies for 8 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Leave them on the baking sheet for a few minutes, then use a metal spatula to move them to wire racks to cool. I think I got a little more than 4 dozen cookies.

Once I was properly outfitted with dentures, I tasted a cookie, and as George Takei would say, oh myyy!

I am off to my Tai Chi class.  I seriously messed with my chi during my cleaning adventure; let's hope I can repair some of that damage.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Wednesday, wherein we address the question, do retired people have Hump Days?

When I was a Working Woman, Wednesday was Hump Day (as in Over the ...) but as a Retired Person, it is just plain old Wednesday.  Well, that's not entirely true ... it is also the day I meet with my therapist. Maybe I should call it the Sacred Day for Seeking Sanity. The day will come when I no longer need to meet with my therapist, but that is also likely to be the day before my funeral, so you see how that works.

I am trying to gather myself together for our cruise on Sunday.  The important stuff: passports, boarding passes. comfortable shoes, one pair of pantyhose and a 2 pound bag of Hershey's milk chocolate nuggets. And books, library books that won't keep me awake like electronic books do when I read at night in bed.  So I visited the library today and damn near got lost in the stacks. I could spend hours checking out all the books.

There's been another shooting in San Bernadino, California. Twelve reported dead. Yes, the world has gone to hell one more time. That number has been increased to 14 dead and 17 wounded. The perpetrators are dead, and some questions will never be answered.

It is almost as if a mass insanity has gripped our country.  I realize that we all want to find somebody or something to blame, but damned if I can figure it out. All I know is that, anecdotally speaking, the events of September 11, 2001 did something to us that changed the US forever. Pushed us into an alternate dimension, perhaps.  I am certainly old enough to remember the civil disruptions that accompanied the Vietnam War, the assassinations of President Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy, the start of the Gulf Wars in 1990. Maybe our country has been going crazy for a very long time.  Total societal collapse.  Wasn't Armageddon supposed to occur around the turn of the century?  Maybe it already has.

My fibromyalgia has been attacking my sleep patterns these last few weeks. Insomnia, with pain followed by oversleeping, stealing most of my daylight hours. The only thing that is constant is the pain in my back. My cookie-baking, like my knitting and coloring, has been slowed down to a crawl.

I haven't even been good about getting you the recipes for the cookies I have managed to bake.  Here is the link for the Butter Cookies recipe, and let me reiterate that if you bake only one cookie in your entire lifetime, it should be this one.   The other recipes have been primarily from Camilla Saulsbury's cookie book, so at this point I am going to strongly recommend that you buy one or all of her cookie books.  They are well worth the small investment.

My plan for Thursday is to bake Pistachio Jam cookies, and that recipe comes from another wonderful book, named appropriately The Joy of Cookies, by Sharon Tyler Herbst. This appears to also be out-of-print, although available used on Amazon. Very well worth to hunt it down. Incidentally, I have purchased used cookbooks through Amazon on a number of occasions, and have never been disappointed.                                                                                                                                                                                                                

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Tai Chi Tuesday

My head is not working real good this morning, and I am really hesitant to get out of bed because I sense the presence of Pain right there at arm's length. Fortunately my phone was close enough for me to call the oddly-named Decent Nails and make an appointment for a fill (acrylic, baby, acrylic) and a pedicure. Those acrylic nails are the only reason my arms are not more torn-up than they already look; when the insane itching attacks my scrambled nerve endings, I scratch with a vengeance which leaves me looking like the victim of a particularly ugly form of violence. Since I made the appointment, I have to get up and out. My nail tech doesn't make house calls, but then neither does my doctor.

I started taking Tai Chi class on November 14, which means, if I can count right, tonight will be my seventh class. Part of my study is to keep a diary of sorts regarding Tai Chi, and so far that has been the most difficult thing to do.  I have many thoughts about Tai Chi, but have not been able to commit them to writing. Perhaps it is because I am not yet familiar with the Chinese terms (having responded to Korean instructions for so many years) nor am I able to easily recall which exercises we have done because of my faulty memory. Right now everything is experiential, and I can at least describe how I feel during and after the exercises (which are not exercises at all): I can float. Not in the literal sense, of course, but through a feeling of lightness. I can't yet fully explain it, which is why it is proving difficult for me to keep the diary. I will tell you that it is relaxing, both in body and mind. Normally it is easy for me to write - and write and write - and as you probably guessed, writing is my preferred means of expression - but I am struggling with this.

Today is also the day Rob and I were supposed to see Emeril, but that got rescheduled till April.  The week is still going to be a good one - dinner with friends on Friday night (really good Mexican) and then with more friends on Saturday night (Morimoto's!) and then we sail on Sunday afternoon.

Today, though ... a fine pedicure, including a massage of my lower legs. Do other people feel pain? I do, although it is not unbearable and does help to relax them. My skin is impossibly thin on my arms and legs, so I bruise easily. Pain is everywhere, damn it.

I am thinking about checking out Fortuna Bakery and Cafe for lunch or snack or something, since it is a 30 second walk from the nail salon.

The Magic are playing the Timberwolves tonight. They have been playing so good, I'm afraid to say anything for fear of giving them a kinehora.

So here's the day's recap: my nails and toes have been painted Big Apple Red, and I am feeling quite festive. Fortuna Bakery and Cafe should be on your list of Places To Go To Eat; I had a spinach and cheese pastry and a tres leche and if I had a good excuse to be in that part of Orlando today, I'd be trying a whole bunch of other stuff. Their pastry cases are gorgeous. The Magic won, that's four in a row, although they blew a 17 point lead in the fourth quarter proving that they like to live dangerously.

Tuesday's tai chi class was full of new and old stuff to learn, and I had a swell time, even if I was feeling a bit clumsy. As gentle as tai chi is, I still felt pain in my back, but that was likely from standing on my feet for too damn long while preparing and baking The Best Cookies In The World, also known as my mother-in-law's recipe for butter cookies.

And so it goes ...

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Oh, Monday - Spoilers! (Rated PG-13 or maybe even R for strong language)

Monday, the traditional day of renewal. New opportunities, new weekly schedule, the day everyone starts their new diet. I always swear off excess chocolate on Monday morning.  Ha!

Even though I no longer slip into pantyhose and travel a great distance to court or the office, I still view Monday as the first day of my work week, and a chance to get things right. You know, to organize, to set tasks and apply myself to completing them. Ha! Again. But I did make a list last night, which affords me the pleasure of checking off some, if not all of the items.  Top of the list - well, not really on the list - is plugging in my iPhone. Or else I can't do some of the other stuff on the list. I don't always miss a land line, except when I forget to charge the iPhone. (Actually, we do have land lines in the office, but that would take away my excuse for avoiding the phone. My relationship with telephones is complicated. Sorry, Don Ameche.)

Monday, I start the day with hope. I get up at a very reasonable hour, I head downstairs to Do Stuff. I take care of a disability matter and off goes that fax. I headed outside and watered the vegetables on my porch. I sprayed my entire garden for insects, and I fed a number of the plants. When I got back inside, I started messing with the oysters.  Literally. I tried breading them with egg and panko and it was a disaster; I ended up rinsing off whatever panko had stuck to the oysters, and started over with a fresh egg and very fine cornmeal.  That worked quite nicely.  Single breading was more than enough. I was left with some egg and seasoned cornmeal. And then things got weird.

While I was waiting for the oysters to set up for frying, I took two lonely baking potatoes, left over from the German potato salad, stripped them of their dusty skins, boiled one and shredded the other.  I chopped up a couple of green onions that were quietly contemplating their own demise in my refrigerator drawer. At which point I realized I was in enormous pain, all the way down my back and one leg, the type of pain that makes your eyes water. And yes, I sat down for a bit, and I swallowed some Advil, but I was too far down the road to abandon this project, so I gritted my teeth and got back on my feet.

Follow me:  I mashed the boiled potato with a little butter.  I beat the remaining egg from the oysters with some sour cream.  I mixed the two potatoes together with the green onion. I mixed the egg into the potato, seasoned it and threw in some baking soda for good measure.  It was a trifle soggy, so I stirred in the remaining cornmeal with which I'd breaded the oysters. Fried the oysters, lowered the heat and fried the little potato pancakes I'd formed. By then, I really was in tears from the pain. What can I say except, and at the risk of sounding like Malcolm Tucker, fuckity fuck fuck!  I am in so much fucking pain! Even my good days always turn fucking bad! I can't call them latkes, because they taste suspiciously like oyster, which is one of those foods you just don't eat when celebrating a Jewish holiday like Hanukkah, plus you sure as hell can't eat these with apple sauce. I can't call them potato-oyster cakes, because there's really no oyster meat in there. They are simply Weird Fried Things with an interesting flavor, which is the culinary equivalent of saying your blind date has a great personality.

In case you are not familiar with Malcolm Tucker ... plug in your earphones if the kids are around

Well, that's enough of that. Excuse me while I scream.

Dear God, this pain is well above the limits of my tolerance, and imperviable to Advil. What the hell did I do to deserve this? (Insert another Malcolm Tucker rant here.) I have no recourse but to take the Methocarbamol and Meloxicam that I was given by the orthopedist for muscle spasms and pain. They offer a bit more relief for a short period of time, but I have to ask myself if the assault on my stomach is worth it. I have no answer. When the stomach pain cuts across my entire diaphragm, I take Zantac and spin my prayer wheel.

Speaking of Peter Capaldi, I watched "Heaven Sent" again, and although I found myself drifting off yet again, after paying better attention to details, I got it. About as subtle as a crutch, and I got it. Not as bad as I originally thought, just not as good as I had hoped. But after I spent my own painful day in Hell yesterday, I was cheered up by the news that the Doctor Who Christmas Special is going to feature one of my favorite characters. Hello, sweetie!