Monday, February 10, 2014

J is for Journaling

We had a lovely, if chilly weekend, for our J date. Friday, I had lunch with a new friend, Connie, the wife of one of Jeannene's co-workers. The food, at a local Chinese & sushi place called Ming's that bills itself as having "the best Chinese food" in town, was not very good at all, but the proprietor kept our teapot filled and the conversation flowed for almost 4 hours. It's fun to have someone to hang out with right here in town. After she went off to pick up her husband, I came home to put on a pot of ham & bean soup and try to finish season 2 of Downton Abbey. I can't get over how lovely the interiors and the costumes are. The storyline is good, too, but the sumptuousness of the surroundings really nourishes my eyes. When the soup was nearly finished and Jeannene was home, I fixed some corn muffins to add to our supper. Friday's holiday was Muffin Day, so it was perfect. The soup turned out beautifully and Jeannene told me it was as good as her dad's, which is very high praise. Jeannene's dad was the cook in the family, a man who showed his love by feeding people. His Kentucky rearing showed in his food, too, and he was well-known for making Southern classics like biscuits and gravy superbly. His bean soup was renowned within the family, as well, so I was very proud for Jeannene to give me that compliment. My grandmom made terrific bean soup, too. When I was 21 or so, I set myself a goal of being at least as good a cook as her and my almost-grandma, Mary, by the time I was 40. I don't mean to sound arrogant, but I believe I have hit my goal. I love to cook and I think I do it very well, for the most part. I credit much of that to having learned to read recipes for successful ones and not using ones that will turn out poorly.

That said, this past week, I managed to make dinners 2 nights in a row that Jeannene wouldn't eat, at least in part. The first night, she objected to the Asian flank steak. I wasn't terribly surprised, as she is not a big fan of Asian food in general and hoisin sauce in specific, but she had just used hoisin on our Super Bowl Cornish game hens, so I thought she'd begun to like it. She thought the marinade made the meat taste tainted. Me, I liked it. She also doesn't dig chorizo, especially the Spanish-style chorizo I simply adore. The next night's dinner was, admittedly, not my favorite. It wasn't horrendous, however. The recipe called for cheapo white bread and American cheese, both of which I like for grilled cheese sandwiches. However, I apparently don't love them for cheese-stuffed French toast and Jeannene objected, as well. I ate mine, but I would make it next time with some good, thick sourdough or challah and cheese like Cabot extra-sharp cheddar or a nice Gruyère. The recipe was from Woman's Day way back in 2000 and, not meaning to sound snobby, I often find that recipes from that magazine turn out not to be my favorites. When I was in my 20s and learning to cook, I found it very useful, but my tastes have evolved. Perhaps, too, their recipes have evolved since 2000. All this is to say that I was quite relieved to have made a dinner she found "fabulous!" I guess I show my love by feeding people, too.

Saturday morning, Jeannene returned the favor with a meal worthy of her dad, something, in fact, that I suspect he made often. I'd never had smoked pork chops before I met Jeannene, had never had them until this winter, in fact, when she picked some up at a smokehouse near the plant. To me, they're like ham elevated to a higher level. Not that ham itself isn't good and, if it's country ham, there is little better, especially if it's served with delicate little biscuits and you are at the Loveless Café in Nashville. But, I digress. Jeannene made smoked pork chops, eggs over-medium, and biscuits for our breakfast. It was delicious! In trying to eat healthier, I am going the route of smaller portions, less processed food, less salt, less sugar. Moderation. I am also learning only to eat what I really want, what is really worth it. That breakfast was worth it! After breakfast, we meandered over to the local coffee shop to sip a couple of lattes over books before our J date. This shop, Crates Coffee House, has only been open a few weeks. The owner is interested in making it a real community center and has created a wonderfully warm and lovely atmosphere. Having finished our drinks, we headed to the library for our J date. I like to keep the dates a surprise until we are actually there. When I turned onto the road for the library, Jeannene guessed that I wasn't just dropping off the audiobook of Neverwhere, but that our date was there. It was especially funny, then, that there was a big sign out front for a kids' movement class. The sign wasn't super-clear on it being a kids' event, though, and so Jeannene thought I was making her go to a dance class, jazz dance to be specific. I giggled like mad and was utterly delighted. She has been dragged by me to belly-dancing classes twice. Once was with our women's spirituality circle years ago and we both found it completely puzzling, although fun. The last time was on a women's retreat last winter. They'd planned to bring in a ballroom dance instructor who ended up not being available, so they did belly-dancing instead. We laughed so hard our faces hurt as we tried to do the complex motions. It was actually a grand time.

Once we entered the library, though, Jeannene realized it was a kids' dance thing and was vastly relieved I was only making her do art. Our library has all kinds of cool workshops. I was really mad at myself last month when we missed out on a found object necklace workshop because I neglected to register in time and the class filled. So, I had registered for the art journal workshop almost immediately so we would be able to do that. It just happened to work out well for our J date, too. We had a wonderful time creating pages for a journal and learning about some techniques, as well. One of my favorite ideas was to use a picture of a door as an actual, moveable door on the page. Jeannene made a door in hers of Citrucel-treated paper that looks really cool. I did not make moveable doors for this piece, but have noted the idea for the future. I also got to see, in person, the results of a packing tape image transfer and will be playing with that technique. The best idea I got, however, was that of creating books from empty toilet paper and paper towel rolls! I always hate the waste of them, but find the toilet paper rolls without cardboard unwieldy and hard to use, so I just chuck the tubes in the recycling bin. But the little books were so cool and would be so much fun to make! I bet people would like getting them as little gifties, too. Perhaps even little recipe collections? Illustrated. Wouldn't that be cool? I felt sorry, after the class, to hear Jeannene say that she would probably just throw hers away. I think hers is really cool, but she doesn't think she can do art, always says it looks like a kindergartener made it. Hell, what does she think a Pollock looks like? The main point is that we have fun making art. But also, we need to realize that we create differently. It doesn't mean we are better or worse, just that our style is different. In her family, though, her brother was always the artist and she was the writer. So, thus it must remain. She knows she's a kick-ass writer, at least.

After the workshop, we lingered in the library, choosing movies. Both Captain America and Thor were in, so we decided to make it Superhero Night! First, though, we headed into Oxford to pick up a gift for Pie's girlfriend. She'll be 21 next week. On our way to the shop, we spotted a local goods store, things produced in Michigan. Inside, lo and behold, there were postcards for sale! I have been looking high and low for postcards for the last couple of weeks and have not been able to find any. I'd been afraid that postcards might be going the way of the dodo, but there they were. Jeannene teased me for buying 20 on the spot. We were also able to order, from a wine shop, the Elektra moscato we've been looking for ever since we moved. We were both hungry, so we popped into a Mexican place she'd heard was good. It was, indeed. We split a chicken chimichanga, with a couple of gorditas on the side. I'd been tempted to order the carnitas, but they are so often lacking in flavor. I was glad Jeannene got a carnitas gordita because I was able to discover that this is the case here, as well. However, the shredded beef was stellar, juicy and flavorful. We also got tropical drinks, a Blue Hawaiian for her and a Sexo en la Playa for me, in hopes that they would chase all thoughts of winter away. Not so much luck with that. It's been such a miserable winter that I've begun to tag all of my Instagram snow pictures #livingonhoth. I am ready for the thrill of crocuses, for waking up to birdsong instead of snowblowers in the mornings, for heading outside on the spur of the moment without lacing up boots and shrugging into coats and wrapping a scarf around my neck and pulling on hat and gloves. It makes me tired just to write about it. Once home, we got a cozy fire going, snuggled under blankets on the couch, and watched our superhero movies.

Sunday morning, after staying up until nearly 3, we skipped church in favor of sleeping in. What luxury to be able to do that, after 3.5 years of being at the church, ready to help lead service, every Sunday by 8. We had a little breakfast and packed up our things for a long day at the coffee shop. Jeannene's got a big week coming and had a lot of work to do. I filled my bag with my computer, colored pencils, a coloring book, magazines, the Anne Rice novel I'm reading (The Wolves of Midwinter), postcards, gel pens...that is to say, all sorts of tools for fun! I happily sipped Earl Grey Lavender tea and wrote out postcards to Anke in Germany, Alexandra in Russia, Catherine in Belarus, Joona in Finland, and Coby in the Netherlands. I am delighted that Tyler hepped me to the fun of Postcrossing! I can't wait to start getting postcards from all over the world. It's fun to learn about the people, too. This one loves to cook, that one is a Harry Potter fan, the other one is only 9 years old and loves animals.
We'd gotten to the coffee shop right after the birthday party for the owner's grandma and it was very quiet after the mirth. I was honored that the owner's daughter, who is a tiny, blond 2-year-old whom I had not yet met, saw me and immediately broke into a large smile and raised her arms to be picked up. It's a shame my hands were full. Her father was apologetic, which just seemed all kinds of strange to me! Whyever would you apologize for having a lovely, friendly little girl?

Although I did not think it a good idea, given Jeannene's busy week upcoming, we took the time to drive out to the bookstore and Whole Foods before heading home. I'm glad we did because I was able to get the books for both my book groups. One is for the Uppity Book Women, Sarah Addison Allen's latest, Lost Lake. I started it when we went to bed and could not stop reading it, only finally putting it down and removing my glasses when I dozed off repeatedly and almost dropped the book. The other is Tell The Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. I love belonging to a book group that's not mine because I end up being challenged to read books I'd not otherwise choose. This one looks great, too! I also picked up a large, attractive book about vegetables to turn into a journal. It cost the same as the discounted journals, but is hardbound rather than spiral bound and gives me more surface on which to work. We were disappointed at Whole Foods not to discover the Greek Gods salted caramel yogurt Jeannene was seeking nor reasonably priced cornmeal for my enchilada soup. I may, if I dig deep in the pantry, discover that I have a partial bag of masa which should suffice nicely. We simply do not like this location nearly as much as the one we frequented in Dublin. It's close by, but it's just not doing it for us. Maybe we need to try the one in Ann Arbor or Detroit.

Once home, I dove into fixing supper while Jeannene relaxed on the couch with her Persians. I made a cheater chicken tagine, using skinless, boneless chicken breasts in a skillet atop the stove instead of whole chickens, cut into pieces and placed in my tagine in the oven. The chicken violation alone is enough to cause revocation of my serious foodie card, I know. I just get the heebies when eating chicken on the bone, unless it's cut from a whole roasted chicken or southern-fried. So, revoke away, food snobs of the world, and I will continue to eat what I like. I will used condensed cream of mushroom soup in recipes and American cheese on my grilled cheese sandwiches. I will nibble on Ho-Hos and eschew caviar (unless I get to poink it merrily across my plate in a fancy restaurant----then, by all means, bring on the caviar!). I will avoid rabbit and elk steadfastly and chance the neon orange of Cheetos on occasion. But I will also make apple cider vinaigrette from scratch and put chile powder in my chocolate cookies and relish plump organic raspberries and make my own marshmallows and play around with maple syrup in my cheese crisps and devour half a head of kale at a sitting in Tuscan kale salad. And I will not apologize for any of it.

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