Friday, December 28, 2012

2012 Not Real Sorry To See You Go...

Not to spit in the face of fate, but let's admit it, some years are better than others. Save for one bright, warm day on the 4th of July... 2012, was not my favorite year. For the most part, there have been challenges.  First of all, no matter what was happening, the world was supposed to end on the 21st. of December, so I thought I could handle anything because I wouldn't have to tolerate it for long. Wrong.

Since we’re all still here, I not only have to tolerate situations, but now conquer them as well. In 2012, I have had more ups and downs than Lindsey Lohan had arrests, which is considerable.  So with that being said, here is what I learned this year:

  • 2012 had issues. Being a presidential election year was one of them. Too many commercials, too many forced smiles, too many promises, too much rhetoric, too many questions, never enough answers.
  • 2012 had weather. Lots and lots of weather issues. From a crippling drought in the Midwest, record setting tornadoes in the south, to a devastating late fall storm on the east coast, Mother Nature had her way with us this year. That being said;
  • 2012 showed the good in all of us like never before. The humanitarian response to such complete and udder havoc heaped upon thousands was nothing short of heartwarming. 
  • 2012 had its’ share of tragedies. If you attended a movie showing in Colorado, a day of shopping at an Oregon mall, or story-telling time in a first-grade class in Connecticut, you stood a very good chance of being shot to death. Mad men with guns made unassuming events into all-consuming catastrophes. If we don't hold our government to its promise to address this issue in 2013, we will all have a hand on the next gun used to kill innocent people.
  • On the upside, 2012 was an Olympic year. We all watched our American athletes with wonder and patriotic pride. We held our breath watching the fearsome five fly through the air and shouted “pull” as our swimmers glided through water. In my house, and I'm sure millions of others, nothing jolts your love of country like the Summer and Winter Olympics. 

Additionally this past year, the social media explosion made the world so much smaller. I communicate with people from around the globe and am always amazed by the conversations. There are people that I now consider good friends that I have never actually met. We have shared some of our most private thoughts and I have come to the conclusion that words are more important than faces. These women  inspire me on so many levels. 

On a more personal note, for the most part, this year has kicked my ass. In July, one of my closest friends suffered a debilitating stroke. An otherwise healthy, relatively young, strong-minded, professional woman was brought down by a single clot. I stand by her now as she fights her way back and reclaims her once energetic life. She is frustrated with the time it is taking her to heal. I’m just glad she is still here, still fighting. In my heart of hearts, I know her determined spirit will shine through and the battle will be won.

Those who know me personally know that in October my world was rocked to its foundation. Without going into detail, something I thought would last forever…won’t. After floundering for weeks, I found my footing. As 2012 ends, I am standing strong and looking forward to the New Year. Especially since we have a wedding coming up!! My son and his beautiful fiance will be married in June. I can't wait! "The Engagement" was one of my most read blogs and I urge all new readers to go to the right side of this page and click on its link.

Which brings me to the fact that at the end of this coming January, Kitchen Clatter will be one year old. I started out not knowing what to expect. I only use Facebook and Twitter to share it and was hoping that maybe a couple hundred people might read it. Well, 11 months later, it is closing in on 20,000 views and has been reprinted in newspapers across the country, and recently, one across the sea. I am thrilled and encouraged to continue. From the bottom of my heart, I thank the many of you who have shared Kitchen Clatter with your friends and followers. Without you, I would never have reached the thousands who have read it.

So bring on 2013! I don't think I have ever been more excited to hang a new calendar, begin a new year, start a new life. Stay with me. We are just getting started!!!!!

Image by ImageGoggle

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

T'was the Week Before Christmas...Like no Week Before

T’was the week before Christmas and all through my place
Was a forced spirit of Christmas invading my space
There is shopping and baking and so much to do
Add wrapping and cleaning to name just a few
But the stockings aren't hung yet, must buy some things
Like underwear and belts, but nothing with bling
My children are men now, not much more can be said
It just adds to the mystery of what goes on in their heads
I don’t own a kerchief, I don’t own a cap
There is no time to sleep and I'm struggling at bat

Cause last week, in the world there arose such a clatter
We collectively turned to see what was the matter
We sat still in our kitchens, couldn't move in our cars,
Starred hard at our monitors, no laughter in bars
The unthinkable had happened, the unfathomable shed
There was madness and gunshots and children were dead
In a hall that festively decked out paper chains
Lay a principal, teachers, hero's, unwanted fame
The nation watched in silence, not knowing what to do
Its people started crying, its President too

A small town in Connecticut brought the world to one prayer
"Lord, give strength and some peace to the families there" 
In Newtown, so many young lives were taken
And left millions with sadness and faith that is shaken
But in the background where questions and anger abounds
Are brightly lit trees and houses and towns
It is Christmas... It is Christmas... No need to atone
It's the child in the manger who has now led them all home

This year's harder, admittedly, to decorate the tree,
but find your spirit, your faith and let Christmas be
So hang the holly, get in lines, sneak a cookie or two
If your're like me, there's a week and still plenty to do
It is Christmas...It is Christmas... Don't let the Season cease
May we all find compassion, may this earth finds its Peace.
But on this Christmas Eve...look up toward the sky
There will be twenty-six new stars, shining brightly, hanging high  

Image by ImageGoggle

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

When it is all just too much...

This 12th month of the year can be absolutely stunning. The holidays, the lights, the music, are all  pure compensation for those long, dark December nights.  But when the stars are not aligned, when things beyond your control are tearing your holiday fabric at the seams…a December to remember can become a nightmare hard to forget.

When Joni Mitchell wrote the painful lyrics “It’s coming on Christmas, they’re cutting down trees, they’re putting up reindeer's and singing songs of joy and peace…oh, I wish I had a river, I could skate away on”, she captured the true need to escape it all.

2012 has not been the kindest year for everyone. On the east coast, a vicious October storm left many, many people without homes and businesses. Treasured ornaments crushed below raging flood waters could not be hung even if there were trees to gather around. There are no halls to deck. For many others, there are no jobs.

In some cases people struggle with the holidays because the family landscape has changed; the passing of loved ones, divorce, or even more common, over time, members of the clan have scattered geographically and those memorable festive gatherings have become a thing of the past. Almost all of us can identify with at least one of these circumstances. So what is there to do when every Christmas commercial looks like a Norman Rockwell painting and you feel more like Mona Lisa…struggling just to smile?

Well, there will be other Holly Jolly Christmas’s so it’s okay to sit this one out? Maybe, but not completely. Because Christmas isn't just a day, it’s a season; it’s hard to ignore the holiday atmosphere that permeates the air from Thanksgiving to New Years. So I, who has always been a complete Christmas geek, and this year find myself somewhat festively-challenged, vow to conduct a search and recovery of my own spirit.

What I discovered is that; it is okay to scale things back. Maybe, you’ll re-establish some of the old traditions next year…maybe not. That decision doesn't have to be made this year so take it off the list of things to stress about. And most important, no, maybe a better word would be most essential, is that you take one thing, one very special tradition that you hold most dear, and adapt it to your current life. Stay with me here:
  • If you are in a FEMA trailer or shelter, find a way to bake some cookies with your kids. There isn't a church in the area that would deny you access to the use of their kitchen. Gather up others in a similar situation and make it a party. Restore the spirit.
  • Recently, I watched a news story involving a young mother living in a women's shelter with her two kids, and again this year she  is looking forward to sending out her Christmas cards. “One of my favorite holiday things to do, is to spend an afternoon writing out cards for my family and friends. I make some tea and sit for hours”, she told the reporter. They’ll be no return address on those cards, but to her, it doesn't matter where they came from, just that her seasonal thoughts and greetings get to her loved ones. She bought cards that the kids have to color. It’s a family affair. In spite of everything, she continues her spirit.
  • Help someone else. If you have nothing but your time to give, it will be more than enough for someone else who needs it. The feeling that you get back is indescribable. The act of giving doesn't have to be the result a something bought in a store. Find your spirit and share it.
  • Every night, turn off the television for one hour and put on a radio station that plays nothing but Christmas music 24/7. Music soothes the soul like nothing else and it will create a holiday atmosphere that cost very little. Create your spirit.  
  • Keep moving! Staying involved in life and off of the couch is crucial. It is a medical fact that exercise decreases stress levels. Gather the family and find a brightly lite neighborhood and walk through it. Doesn't cost a thing and will bring long lasting memories. Invent your spirit.
Listen, I know, when it is just not your year, none of this is easy. But trust me, it is all do-able. Don't let life's circumstances dissolve your desire to celebrate the season.  Recover, restore, continue, share, create and when needed, invent your spirit. It's  the best gift you'll ever give yourself.

Image by ImageGoggle

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Christmas...What I Know For Sure!

Andy Williams sings to us that “It’s the most wonderful time of the year”…and it can be. But if you’re the person at the helm of creating that entire “wonderful” atmosphere, wrapping it up and delivering it on tray of fresh baked cookies, it can be downright overwhelming. So as someone who has survived the hustle and bustle, the holly and mistletoe, the prep and the landing for well over five decades, here is what I know for sure:
  •  The directions on a bag of Toll House Chocolate Chips are wrong. The two sticks of butter should not be room temperature. That only causes the cookies to flatten out. Cold butter works much better, causing the dough to raise higher.
  •  I am pretty sure Santa is a woman. Think about it; packs well and does the impossible all in one night…and all with a twinkle in the eye! Yep. A woman.
  •  I don’t like “The Twelve Day of Christmas”. It is annoying and sexist. It is a party where everyone is having a good time except the ladies. The Lords are a-leaping, the drummers are a-drumming. And the maids? Well of course, they’re a-milking the cows.
  • I can’t pass a Salvation Army bell ringer without putting something in the kettle. If I’m healthy enough to be walking by and blessed enough to have a little change in my pocket, I’ll share.
  • I learned early on when my sons were very young; beware of toys that consist of thousands of small pieces. My boys are both in their late twenties now, and I swear every once in a while, I still vacuum up a Lite Brite peg.
  •  Just for fun, after loading your packages in your trunk at a crowded mall parking lot, as cars race to juggle for position to get first crack at your spot – close the trunk, smack your forehead as if you forgot something, and start walking back in. I usually respond to their one-finger Christmas greeting with "And thank you...same to you!"
  •  December snow has always been and always will be the best snow of the year.
  • If you are watching your caloric intake or just have egg issues like I do, but still want the taste of  eggnog, put two scoops of low-fat (or sugar free) vanilla ice cream, 2 or 3 drops of eggnog extract, and a shake of nutmeg into the blender and liquefy. I promise you, it will be delicious.
  • I don’t like “gift bags” under the tree. Christmas presents are meant to be opened, not grabbed from a bag.
  • The first night your tree is decorated, stay in. Put on your favorite holiday movie and drink a cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows. It is one of the rare quiet joys of the season that does not require a lot of money and the feeling is long remembered
And most important...when it all gets to be too much. When you want to delete the Hallmark movie channel from your programming...when your credit card won't come out of your wallet because it melted to the leather...when you can't dip another carrot stick into the spinach dip... remember Linus. 

He stood under the spotlight on an empty stage and recited the story of a very special night in a Bethlehem manger. He then walked over to his friend who had been broken by the holiday hype and commercialism, and simply said "That's what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown." 

Enough said. 

Images by ImageGoggle


Monday, November 26, 2012

Holiday Decorations? Less is More...More or less

Simply Beautiful!!
Whoever first spoke the words “Less is more” had to be my age. Someone who after years and years of spending hours and days decorating every room in the house for the holidays, finally asked themselves “why?” I will admit to some degree that come December each year, my house looked like Christmas on steroids. Lights, garland, tinsel and holly everywhere. And let’s not forget those dreaded village scenes. Days of creating miniature ceramic towns where it was forever winter, forever wonderful…and now, forever packed away in the attic.

Today, my house is on a holiday trim-down, a diet, more or less. I have come to realize in my middle years that simple is better. Simple is elegance. Simple is easier. And I am lucky to come to this realization at a time in my life when any other any other way of of doing things would just cause exhaustion. I’m also tying this new way of thinking into the fact that this is an adult house now. No young children to dazzle with displays. We are hovering in between engagements, long-term commitments and grandchildren. On Santa’s radar, our house is in the no-fly zone. So, simplicity works! Don’t misunderstand though, I love Christmas and all that it stands for, I am just more likely to remember these days that what goes up, must come down.

More to point, I recently changed my profile picture on my Facebook account to a holiday photo. It was a picture of a tree from Terrain at Styer's, a beautiful landscape and nursery business in Pennsylvania. This tree, in the photo above, intrigued me. A small simple Fraser Fir that looks as if someone started to put lights on, got to a point and said “ah, that’s enough” and walked away. And even in its unfinished state, it is gorgeous. It's well...simple.

I started taking stock of my attic inventory. There were four large plastic containers each marked with decorations for various rooms (I am not including the trim-a-tree totes in this count). Anyway, as I rummaged through the containers, I realized that a lot of what was in them hadn't been put up in years, so trash bags were brought into play. Anything with fur or made of ceramic was disposed of. Then I gathered things I would sell at a yard sale I am planning to have this spring and boxed them up. When I was finished, four totes fit into two. Now we're on task.
So pretty, so simple, so inexpensive!
Hellooooo  Santa!!

I came back downstairs and took stock of each room. I am not a designer by any means. But even I can look at magazines and get ideas from those with real talent, and the one thing I've picked up on is the simple beauty of fresh greens. They are so fragrant. So naturally beautiful. So easy to throw out at the end of the season. No storage. 

Like most of us, my kitchen is where I spend a large amount of my time during the holidays. I will admit that in the past, more than once, I would have to move holiday decor to roll out the cookie dough. Not this year, lean and mean is my motto. My kitchen Santa, who once wore a red suite and moved his head from side to side to keep an eye on two young boys at the table, has been replaced by one dressed much more casually and bearing wine. Now that is a mature holiday kitchen!!

Over the next several days and weeks, there will be many, many blogs and posts by people who have the talent and the knowledge to make your home a spectacular holiday vision. I'm not one of them. But, I can tell you this. For die hard Christmas addicts like me, it takes more than a notion to scale down the decor, to throw out the old and faded, and to bring in the simplicity of nature. But once you do, you will be thrilled by your new holiday look. Give it a shot! I promise you, less is definitely more.

Photos by Jo Ann Phelps, ImageGoggle 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Cottage Cheese for Thanksgiving?...Yes!!!

Can almost smell the turkey cooking!
Who else has cottage cheese on their Thanksgiving table? Come on, let me see a show of hands. There we go… no one else. But my table does and it is a very popular side dish. Let me explain how this came to be. Well actually, that may be a little difficult because the people that started this rather unconventional tradition are all gone now. But for as long as I can remember, there has been a delicious mixture of small curd cottage cheese, shredded sharp white cheddar and diced bell green pepper next to the turkey every Thanksgiving. And believe it or not, it is a popular item. 

Our family holiday table can range between 15 and 20 people, depending on the year, and I will hear several of them say "pass the cottage cheese please". Not something that is probably being said around most tables. But since I remember this concoction as a very small child, the oddity of it's presence wasn't brought to my attention till my sons and nephews started bringing guests to dinner. The look on their faces when they heard someone asked to pass the cottage cheese was priceless.

I think it is the irony of the dish that takes most people off guard. Thanksgiving is a day of feasting. Gravy, pies, heavy sauces and such. It probably is the only night of the year where on or about nine o'clock, someone still watching football will request a stuffing sandwich on a left over dinner roll with mayo and a diet coke. It is caloric ground zero. On the other hand, cottage cheese has long been associated with dieting. So you can see the gestational confusion here.

Now, over the years, my core family has divided into two areas, south and north. The northern transplants to Florida will migrate to my brothers house outside of Tampa. Those that have stayed north will gather at my house. We even have an exchange program going on. My sister's daughter moved to Florida a few years ago, her and her family now go to my brothers. That same brother's son, has moved to New York, so he now comes to my house. Sometime during the day, the phone will ring and the tables from the north and south will meet. By the way, they do not have the infamous Thanksgiving cottage cheese, but the former northerners who now live south will make sure there is, what I have learned recently is another rare dish on this day...coleslaw.

Pop's Creamy coleslaw!!
My father, who was always the cook in our family, made coleslaw every Thanksgiving. He also made it every time he made a roast beef for Sunday dinner. It is creamy and rather sweet, and is forever known in my family as "Pop's coleslaw". After we lost him, it took me a few holidays to get that great taste he created nailed down, but I believe now that I have.

At a gathering with friends recently, we were talking about Thanksgiving traditions and when I brought up coleslaw, the conversation came to a complete halt. "You make coleslaw for Thanksgiving?" was almost simultaneously asked. At that point, I didn't think it wise to bring up the cottage cheese thing.

"Would you like to try some cottage cheese?"
So, with a few days left to prepare the annual feast, I would like to hear from anyone else who also makes things that are traditional to them, but the rest of us? Maybe not so much. It would be fun to compare notes on this subject. Let's bring together our own individual versions of what makes this day so special for our families. Even if we end up thinking outside of the box. After all, the Indians and the Pilgrims managed to merge their culinary cultures to such success that it has been celebrated for hundreds of years since.  Although, both sides did show up armed so maybe it took much less convincing to have someone try something different. Come on! What is that one thing you make that is not on my table?

Photos by ImageGoggle

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Groom's Side, Part IV...How's It Working Out?

Our march towards June continues. There is much planning going on from all of those on both sides the aisle. The bride and groom are selecting registries, deciding on photographers, music, menus and such. The bridesmaids, I’m sure, are emailing and texting each other with secret planned events. With my one son being the groom, my other son being the best man, overheard conversations with other groomsmen regarding a party in April just scares me.

 Me? I’m sticking to my plan to lose enough weight (or, when possible, redistribute it to other places) to look good in a dress that my son insists I wear. I am proud to say that I have been faithful to my personal pledge. Monday through Friday I am at the gym at 7:00 a.m., doing a brisk one hour walk on the treadmill.

I am encouraged with the weight I have lost but will not reveal the total amount till next spring. I have set levels of weight loss that when achieved will then lead to the next level of difficulty. Example; lose so many pounds on the treadmill, and then onto the elliptical, next level, the stair climber (a piece of equipment that makes me want to go home and stick my head in an oven just by passing it). I go early because I usually find that my favorite treadmill is not being used. Don’t ask me how I found a “favorite” when the 25 of them are exactly alike, but I have. And so far, this is what I have learned:
  •  Treadmilling is boring. If you do not have good headphones to watch one of the 15 overhead TV’s or to listen to an iPod, forget it. There is no surviving walking in place for an hour without a distraction.
  •   If you want to slow down time, get on a treadmill. Trust me. I set it for 1 hour and it feels like three.
  •   On the other hand, I like when I get up to speed, walking briskly and safely (unlike outdoors where there is always the chance of getting attacked by a pit bull or hit by a car I didn’t hear coming because Adele was blasting in my ears). At this point, I can actually feel my legs strengthening. My breathing is controlled and my heart rate in check! I am mastering this!!
  •  …And then I hit the incline button and suddenly feel like I am pushing a Chevy that ran out of gas through the Lincoln Tunnel (something I actually did so I am familiar with the feeling – and by the way, people are not always as understanding as you might think).
  •   I've said this before, but never has there been such visible proof; I have short legs…long torso, but short legs. If someone next to me has the same pace setting on their treadmill as mine, my legs are moving twice as fast.
  •   Being on a treadmill allows you to people watch. There is a couple that I am guessing is around my age that comes in each morning and step on adjoining stair climbers. They are good at it. But a recent ladies room conversation informed me that they just bought into a 55 and older community designed for one-story living. Now they come here where they pay to simulate climbing stairs. Hmmm….
  •   Every morning there is a short, rather heavy set lady that comes into the gym about 15 minutes after me. God bless her, she is working that treadmill! But she is rather well endowed, probably in the double D range (I don’t have to go up that high on the bra rack so I don’t know what comes after that, could be higher) anyway; she does not seem to be aware that they sell sports bras to control the upper action. If she graduates from walking to jogging, she seriously could knock herself out.

Sadly only seen in pictures now...
I must admit, I started this mission to look better at my son’s wedding, but my motives have altered slightly. I like the way I am feeling lately and recognize the need to exceed my goals passed a one day event. There are many special days ahead and I want to be around to enjoy them all.

Also altered since the last "Groom's Side" post, is the Jersey coastline from the devastation heaped upon our shores by hurricane Sandy. Keeping in perspective that thousands of people have lost their homes and all belongings, it is still okay to be a little sad about losing the background of the wedding site, the old 59th St. Pier, in Ocean City. Long a place for photo ops and memories, the skeletal wooden columns held strong for many storms and hurricanes, but not against Sandy.
The Bride...see what I mean?

 However, the rock jetty and beach have held well against the storm and will still provide a beautiful wedding site. And besides, judging by all the buzz and questions (and, no, I haven't found it yet), I’m betting that my first appearance in over 30 years wearing a dress will provide much distraction for my family and friends...

...Right up until the bride shows up, and then all bets are off. 

Photos provided by ImageGoggle, Jo Ann Phelps, Trevor Phelps

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Devastation, Memories...And Heartbreak

The curious and stunned came to remember...
In the early pre-dawn hours, sitting in my warm kitchen with hot coffee and electrical power is probably something that I will never take for granted again. After spending a cold, blustery November Saturday delivering donations and touring some of the Jersey Shores severely damaged areas, the surreal scenery is weighing heavily on my mind.

My sister Betty had spent the last few days working social media sites asking for much needed clothing and food items that we could collect at a designated spot and transport to a coastal drop off site. The great people of Burlington County, along with Twitter and Facebook friends did not disappoint. Car after car met us on site bringing, canned goods, water, clothing, cereal, even dog food. We packed my big SUV without an inch to spare and headed east to one of Egg Harbor Townships fire departments (a large community on the mainland side of Atlantic City). Once there, we got into a line of cars and trucks that had done the very same thing; appeal to the goodness of their friends and neighbors and headed towards the shore.

Here lies the Jersey Shore - RIP
The “what else can I do” spirit of the volunteers emptying the cars, and that of those delivering, was nothing short of heartwarming. But then, the short ride into Atlantic City, over the Albany Ave. Bridge and onto Winchester Ave, where rows of homes got caught between the rising bay and the crushing ocean turned to nothing short of heartbreaking.

These are not multi-million dollar vacation homes; these are the row homes of casino workers, firemen, bus drivers and school employees...and most of the contents of their first floors were out on the curb saturated with sea water. Carpets, furniture, appliances, the very things that made a house a home on Sunday, rendered it inhabitable on Monday.

Traveling further down the road toward the inlet section, this usually bustling city had no traffic lights…or traffic. The casinos, which had to close because of mandatory evacuations a week before, had reopened hours earlier to the public, but the public wasn’t returning on this day. For a gambling town that has been struggling to hold onto its’ patronage since the opening of competing casinos in neighboring states, a forced week-long shut down, has to be devastating.

We kept going toward the inlet section because this is what I needed to see. A few years back, I worked in neighboring Absecon for a while. When time allowed, I would the take the mile ride on Rt. 30 into AC and have my lunch break up on the inlet boardwalk and sea watch. It was a stressful job and this was my release. This portion of the boardwalk, away from the casinos, restaurants, amusement piers, and upscale shopping malls, belonged to the people. It was where residents went to fish, to walk and socialize. It seemed that everybody knew everybody else. I went often enough that an occasional familiar face would smile and say “hey, what's for lunch today?”

My former favorite lunch spot.
I had seen video footage of the “1/4 mile portion of the AC boardwalk that was swallowed by Sandy” and had to see for myself if it was the section I became so fond of. It was. As we crossed over Atlantic Ave., beach sand had been plowed to the sides and straight ahead the beach was empty with nothing left but a few pilings and ocean. People were mulling around the smashed dunes and water’s edge. No socializing or friendly chatter, just a realization that a piece of their life had been claimed by a force so strong that cement columns were reduced to rubble. 

"My father and sons fished here almost every Saturday for the past several years" said one woman turning  her collar up to ward off the cold wind. "With everything else that's been damaged, this will probably be the last thing they fix."  And sadly, she's right. The casino workers, firemen, bus drivers and school employees will have to wait their turn in a very long line.

Red tag on door - "Uninhabitable"
Over another bridge and onto Brigantine Island led us to more devastation and amazement. Vicious winds whipped around the end of the island at the sea wall rendering million dollar homes tagged with red signs reading "inhabitable". Boats, once docked in marinas, now littered the streets, sometimes miles away from where they belonged.  

On the bay side, are year round residential communities where some homes looked untouched and others lost almost everything. Streets lined with indoor and outdoor furniture made some road impassable.

It goes without saying that the entire New Jersey coastline has forever been altered. It will take much time, money and effort to right the wrong that Sandy has inflicted on us. Some things may never be right again. Seaside Heights where I spent many Saturdays during my teen years, putting quarters down to spin the wheels or eating sausage and pepper sandwiches, is in ruins. It is hard to imagine where to even begin the cleanup. 

President comforts a Brigantine resident.
It is now one week later and I think of the thousands still in shelters, or living without power or heat on this cold November day. If you are reading this warm, dry and in your own home, then make the effort to help those that are not. Blankets, coats, underwear and food are in much need. Compassion is the first step toward getting our neighbors back into their homes and the first brick in rebuilding our shores. Step by step. Brick by brick. Board by board...we'll get there!

Photos by Jo Ann Phelps & ImageGoggle

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Ode to The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown...and October

I get so caught up in this time of year. Anyone who knows me knows my passion for fall. There is very little else that makes my spine tingle more than orange and crimson colored leaves, blue skies, cool temperatures…and pumpkins!  October rules in my book! Between the heat and humidity and having to scrap ice off my windshield, is this most glorious month that speaks to my soul. Sadly, this month is coming to an end way too soon. Now for children, the end of this month is what they have waited for. The excitement, the costumes, the candy and fun of Halloween make the wait for this last day of October almost unbearable. Not so much for me.

You tell him, Sally!
But I do remember this excitement with my own boys and it started with the viewing of  “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”, Back in the day, when their ages were still in the single digits the anticipation of watching the Charlie Brown Halloween special came only second to Christmas morning.

 Now, I have always believed that Charles Schulz wrote his cartoons and specials more for adults than children. I mean, what women can’t associate with Sally who after being deceived by her “man”, by convincing her that waiting for the Great Pumpkin was more rewarding than trick-or-treating, stands under a full moon and shouts “I believed you! What a fool I am. I WANT RESTITUTION!”

Or Charlie Brown telling Lucy who promises to hold the football steady while he kicks it...which she never does. “I don’t mind your dishonesty half as much as I mind your opinion of me”. Come on! These lines are life lessons! And, for those of us who tend to leap before we think, that sage advice from Linus who disappears into the colorful fallings of a tree with a taffy “Never jump into a pile of leaves with a wet sucker”. So true.

"All I got was a rock"
Charles Schulz’s alter ego Charlie Brown has given us words to live by. Now, what my sons got out of it I’m not sure. They actually gasped the first time they saw Charlie Brown get rocks in his bag instead of candy. I can remember my six year old son Trevor actually standing up in his pajamas, outraged “Ah dag, that sucks!”  His younger brother Kyle was more worried about the reality of it just days before he went trick-or-treating, “Would people really do that Mom?” I recently found out that my boys weren't the only children ones traumatize by a kid receiving a rock instead of a Reese’s cup upset by that scene.

First aired in 1966, people from all over the country still annually send candy to CBS studios, marked “For Charlie Brown”. But again, lesson here is that even when you’re young, sometimes life just isn't fair. I know that feeling because it is just how I feel this time every October. The days are so much shorter. It is almost a crime against nature that just when the landscape is bursting with the colors of fall, darkness comes so soon. So, gone will be the brilliant red twilight skies of autumn, golden trees, and leaves swirling down the sidewalk.

Against all odds, Linus holds on to his beliefs.
Linus would have understood my passion for October because it is the very month that he holds his annual ritual of waiting for The Great Pumpkin. "I don’t see how a pumpkin patch can be more sincere than this one. You can look around and there’s not a sign of hypocrisy. Nothing but sincerity as far as the eye can see." I couldn't agree more Linus.

All images provided by ImageGoggle

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Maryland Crab Soup....

Mug, recipe and soup!

Have I been doing it wrong all of these years? Can’t be. I’m the soup lady. It’s what you might call “my thing”. Following a pattern set by my father many, many years ago, starting the first weekend after Labor Day till the first warm day of spring, there is a pot of homemade soup going on the stove every Saturday afternoon.

Best soup after a high school football game? Chicken noddle accompanied by a chip steak sandwich, chips and pickles. Something to take the chill off the late afternoon of a brisk October day? How about a hot bowl of baby Lima bean soup? If it’s Saturday, there’s soup to be made! And while everyone in the family has a personal favorite, the recipe that always brings a unanimous rave is one that I copied off of an apron that was hanging on the wall of a crab house in Annapolis Maryland. At the time, I had a job that required me to work a few weekends each summer in this beautiful historic city. My family would often accompany me and during down time we would wander around its' streets, the Naval Academy and the fishing piers along the fabulous Chesapeake Bay. 

The scent of seafood, especially the infamous steamed Maryland blue claw crabs, permeate the air and the atmosphere of this bay side town, and it is your nose that finds best places to eat. Such was the case as we were passing by a small wooden shack with an aroma that stopped us in our tracks.  Inside were bubbling cauldrons of a soup so laden with wonderful spices that it made your mouth water in anticipation. One styrofoam cup filled, and I was hooked on Maryland crab soup. This concoction is the sea’s version of a good, hearty vegetable soup but instead of beef chunks there is a generous supply of lumped crab meat. The broth, which in many variations is based in a beef stock, is generously seasoned with the infamous Old Bay Crab Seasoning or Maryland’s own, J.O. Seafood seasoning (my personal favorite). With the salt air scent of the Chesapeake Bay coming in the back door, and the pungent aroma of the soup wafting up with the steam, I was in soup heaven. I just had to know how to make is!

I asked the elderly man dipping a very well-worn ladle into the soup, if there was a recipe card available. He grunted something and pointed to the wall behind me where an old, soiled white apron hung. Hand written in red ink, were the ingredients, and not much more in the way of directions. I copied them down on the only thing I could find to write on…a napkin. Ten years later, I still have that well-worn napkin tucked in a cookbook.

And until recently, it was the only version of Maryland Crab soup that I knew. But a few weeks ago, on an autumn weekend getaway with friends, my husband and I strolled into a store in St. Michael’s, Maryland and found a huge mug with the recipe for our favorite soup printed on the side. I picked it up and while reading it said to the sales clerk “I thought I knew how to make this, but I never put cabbage in it like it says here”. A pleasant looking gray hair woman, who looked like she’s made several pots of soup in her life, replied. “Now how can you make Maryland Crab Soup without cabbage?” How? It wasn’t on the apron! As I continued down the list, there were other ingredients I didn't recognize like Kitchen Bouquet and Chesapeake Fire Sauce. “What is Kitchen Bouquet? I've never put it in my pot. And hot sauce, are you kidding me?” The lady took the mug from me and wrapped it in tissue. She knew I was buying it. “Honey, I don’t know what you have been making, but this is the only way to make Maryland Crab soup.”

And WOW! What a difference! So without further ado, below is my new recipe for crab soup. It only cost me $500 for two nights in a beautiful hotel, about $250 for meals at some of St. Michael’s fabulous restaurants and about $120 in gas. But don’t worry; I’m giving it to you for free!

2 quarts and 1 cup of beef broth         3 cups mixed vegetables
1 cup chopped celery                          1 tsp Kitchen Bouquet
1 cup chopped onion                           3 cloves of minced garlic
1 Tbsp parley leaves                            1 lb lump crab meat
1 qt chopped tomatoes                        8 tsp of crab seasoning
3 cups of chopped cabbage                 Add Chesapeake Fire hot sauce to taste (just a few drops)

Combine all ingredients in a large stock pot except the crab meat and seasoning, bring to boil and then simmer for 1.5 hrs. Then add crab meat and seasoning and simmer for another half an hour.

Note: I usually add an additional 1/2 lb of crab claw meat as well because it has a lot of flavor. I put the hot sauce on the table and let the men have at it!
More Important Note: The only other essential item needed with this soup is a loaf of crusty Italian or French bread and a tub of butter! If you don't have this...wait till you do to make the soup.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Getting to the Heart of the Matter......

The march till June continues forward and up until now, things were staying on task. As promised to myself, I joined a local gym and decided to stick to the treadmill till the first 20 pounds were lost. I keep my eyes glued to the overhead TV’s so as not to notice that almost everyone around me is at least 30 years younger. I try to always get in the first row so I don’t see the low heart rates that 20 something’s at a higher mph and longer duration that I can handle, have, glaring at me from their screens. I keep focused.

Then early last week, during a routine physical from my doctor, I brought up the subject of workouts and heart rates and she stopped me cold. “I know your son is getting married and that your treadmill walking, so why don’t we do an EKG? It’s been a few years.” It was okay with me since I didn't feel that there were any problems to worry about. A short time later, I was lying on a table while a young technician attempted to attach the leads to my chest and thighs. “Okay,” she said, “Let’s fire this thing up”.

 I was feeling rather relaxed until I heard her say “Oh, this can’t be good”. Now my heart had her attention. “Let me check all the leads and do it again.” So she climbed up over me and checked all the connections. She ran the test again and turned with a slight smile, “I’m going to get the doctor now.” I tried to sit up but was tethered by all the wires. “Is something wrong?” She started disconnecting me, “Oh, I can’t give you the results. That has to come from Dr. Ball” Not known for my patience, I started to help pull the patches off “Well then, go and get her.”

I have been a patient of Dr. Ball’s for the last 20 years. She knows my personality. “Don’t panic,” she said, “there is just a little something that wasn’t there when we did your last EKG five years ago. Could be nothing. Could be you had what is known as a silent heart attack.”  Whoa, from nothing to silent heart attack is a broad spectrum. “Okay, a few questions,” she said. “First, I know you don’t smoke now but have you ever smoked?”, “No”….”Do you ever have a shortness of breath?”…..”No.” …..”Are you always tired?”…..”I get up at 4:30 a.m., five days a week. I’m always tired.”….”Okay, I’ll rephrase that, are you fatigued, like, just too tired to do the everyday things you normally do?”…..”No.”……”Do you ever feel like someone is sitting on your chest?”….”Only when someone is sitting on my chest.”…..”Okay,” she smiled, “I’ll take that as a no. But still, I want you to see a cardiologist.”

A few days later, I was in the office of the cardiologist that Dr. Ball arranged for me to see. Although she said that there was no immediate urgency, it seemed that things were moving fast. After a very short wait, another technician was attaching wires to my body for the second EKG in six days. She seemed to have a little more authority over this procedure so you can imagine my surprise when I heard are say, “Uh oh, something’s wrong.” Then she got up and went to the back of the terminal. “Ok, here it is, a plug is out” ARE YOU KIDDING ME? “If I survive the testing procedures, my hearts in good shape!" She smiled and flipped the switch to start the procedure. “I have a few questions to ask. Do you smoke?” Oh brother….

A few minutes later the cardiologist came in and introduced himself. “What brings you in here,” he asked. I explained the circumstances that led to the appointment. I assured him that I felt fine and that I was just trying to get in better shape for my son’s wedding in nine months. “I can understand that,” he mumbled while looking at the EKG readout. “I’ll tell you what,” he finally said, “I’d like you to have an echo cardiogram and a stress test this afternoon.” This afternoon? Sensing my growing anxiety, he said “Look, I have a light afternoon.  I can meet you at our heart center in a few hours and we can get this over with, and then you can go back to working out without worry.” I wasn't worried about anything till I saw a doctor. I agreed to meet him later in the afternoon and went home to wait.

My mind was racing. In a few short days I went from wanting to look good at the wedding to just wanting to survive till it. I was sitting quietly in the living room where two hours seemed like an eternity.  I turned on the TV to drown out the clock ticking on the wall. Surfing through mindless daytime TV, I found the new Katie Couric show. Today’s guest was legendary singer Barbra Streisand. Good! A long-time fan, this would help pass the time. I flipped it on just in time to hear Barbra say “Heart disease kills more women that all cancers combined because we don’t get the classic heart attack warnings that men get.”  Oh, just shoot me now. This had to be an omen to beat all omens. It seems that Ms. Streisand had just donated millions of dollars to a heart center in Los Angeles that now bears her name. The subject is her new passion. I turned her off to watch the weather channel. I was sure there were clouds on the horizon.

A few hours later I was once again half naked on a table where wires were being connected to various parts of my body and another EKG was performed. “First, I am going to take a picture of your heart,” the doctor explained. “Then, we are going to put you and the treadmill and increase the speed and elevation every three minutes.” I couldn't help but ask “for how long?”….”Until I think you've had enough.”…..”Should I tell you if it feels like someone is sitting on my chest?”….”Don’t worry, I’ll know.”, he answered me. “Then, I will stop the treadmill abruptly and guide you quickly back to the table and perform the second echo cardiogram.” Wait a minute, “So let me get this straight. There may be a problem with my heart so you are going to pump it to capacity and hope it doesn't blow before you can get a second picture?”….”Basically,” he smiled, “but we are equipped to handle all emergencies.”

Well, my heart it the ball out of the park. Not only did I handle everything he threw at me on the treadmill while engaging me in conversation, the second echo cardiogram showed all four chambers pumping fine with no apparent arteries clogged. “Your heart is working beautifully!” the cardiologist said beaming. "Go back to working out."

One primary doctor, one specialist, three EKG's, one stress test, two echo cardiograms, and many worried hours later,  I was told I was fine....which is what I started out telling everyone to begin with.   

Photos provided by ImageGoggle

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Ruining Thanksgiving Dinner.......In September

Start with fresh corn

I almost blew it. Thanksgiving is still 8 weeks away, and I nearly ruined my family’s favorite holiday meal in this, the last week of September. I woke up with an agenda on the most beautiful fall Sunday. A power walk with my husband on the path of a local park where a river ribbons through it and a 58 degree breeze across the water was a little more than I was prepared for. Then breakfast at our favorite diner, followed by a stop at a local farm market for the first of the season apples, and the last of the season corn. Then, I would spend Sunday afternoon in my kitchen, baking an apple pie, watching football and preparing bags of corn for the garage freezer.  

And plans were going great! Sweatshirts I found in the back of my car solved the wind chill issue on our early morning walk. An asparagus and egg white omelet washed down with mugs of hot coffee provided fuel for my afternoon activities. Now to the market for some mums, a pumpkin, apples and Jersey white corn!

When we pulled into the crowed parking lot, the first thing I noticed was that the large table of corn that I frequented all summer, now contained gourds and pumpkins. “I guess the corn is in the back since it’s no longer the star of the season.” I said to my husband.” It wasn’t. 

Boil 3 minutes and then place in ice bath
I started to panic. Jersey corn on our Thanksgiving table is more than a staple, more than a tradition. It’s a representation of my Dad, who always believed that this part of the state’s harvest should sit alongside of the turkey. We lost our Dad about 12 years ago, but “Pop’s corn” has never missed a Thanksgiving.

“No corn?” I asked the young girl still wearing a market T-shirt with a graphic of a corn husk on it. “Sorry, it was finished last weekend”.  I was going to protest, but she turned and walked away. “Come on,” my husband Mike said. “We’ll take a drive, I’m sure other markets have it.” Three stands later, still out of luck. We were heading further and further away from our house. We live about an hour from the coastline and we drove halfway to the shore desperate to find the last of the sweet silver queen corn that Dad would cook for three minutes, cut off the cob and then freeze in plastic bags. One of the last things he did before dinner was served on Thanksgiving day was to place the frozen corn in a pan and warm slowly with butter, milk and sugar. Simple, delicious and an absolute must find.

After Dad died, I took ownership of cooking all Thanksgiving dinners, his corn recipe, his traditions. And now, because I waited one week too long to buy the corn, I felt as if I was letting everyone down. “Maybe you could buy the frozen shoe peg corn and make it the same way your Dad made his corn” Mike said trying to sound optimistic. But we both knew the obvious. Once, 15 years ago, I invited my family back to the house for dinner after my son’s football game. Not having time to make my homemade lasagna; I served them a well-known frozen brand. To this day, I still hear about it.

 Use frozen store bought corn in place of Jersey white corn? Are you kidding me? My family takes this corn thing seriously. Two years ago, my younger sister, who alternates the holiday with her husbands family, complained that her in-laws don't serve corn. That afternoon, she was bombarded by pictures of hot buttery corn sent to her iPhone from my nephew and sons sitting at our table! I can't let them down. Somebody, somewhere has to still have fresh corn!

Use a bundt pan to catch the corn! Works great!
And then, out of nowhere, it happened. When Mike was looking for a place to make a U-turn on a rather busy highway, a small, green pickup truck parked on a side road caught our attention. My husband had to restrain me from leaping out of the door as he tried to navigate down the dirt path.

There, in all its splendid beauty was an old truck full of just picked corn. Sitting next to it, in a well-used lawn chair was an old man in a Phillies hat. If you knew my father, you would appreciate the relevance to this notation. It was all too surreal. An old man, in a hat, in the middle of nowhere, selling corn from an old truck, in late September. 

I was actually speechless. Mike bagged the corn and paid for it while I stood to the side. I was convinced that when we got to the end of the road, I would turn around and find the old man, his truck and the corn, vanished. I did not turn around. I was just content to know that "Pop's corn" will be on the Thanksgiving matter how he got it there!