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.

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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.   

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