“Sitting inside the warm, pleasant kitchen while icy rain beat against the window, I felt the wordless contentment of a horse in a stable or a wren in a birdhouse,” author Gretchen Rubin wrote. I can so relate. And of course while in the kitchen I cooked and baked this long weekend. Some for Dean and I, and some for others needing an extra dose of love. “The people who give you their food, give you their heart,” Latino civil rights leader, Cesar Chavez once shared. “Cooking has nothing to do with the ingredients, but everything to do with love,” author Dominique Browning commented. I make-do with the ingredients in my well-stocked kitchen, but I beg to differ with Dominique that the right ingredients can make foods taste better. Muir Glen’s organic tomato sauce is the best for a rich red sauce contrasted with a from-scratch white sauce for spinach cannelloni. I happen to pick up a couple of cans last week. Of course, everything is done with love when it comes to cooking, even the acquiring of ingredients. That’s where my organic gardening comes in. Slow cooking, fresh, from-scratch and homemade reigns. “Through cooking, touching, feeling, preparing, and savoring good, real food made from real ingredients, I get to fully inhibit my kitchen; heal my body; connect with friends, family, the Earth, and the larger community where I live,” quoting Mark Hyman, MD. I had a fun weekend in my warm kitchen!
No winter-like simulation now, it is the real deal. The winter weather seems to be sticking around for more than a few days. Icy, sleety, and snowy last week, and again this week dipping into the teens overnight and staying below or close to freezing during the day. Due to budget constraints our winter vacation week was decidedly best to stay in our home state of Missouri this year. No expensive sandy beaches to sunbathe on. Making the most of our budget and what our state has to offer during this winter season, Dean and I chose to visit our state’s Ozark Mountains. Most of our vacation budget is for a lovely lodge in the woods, the journey there only a 5-hour drive from home. Home-cooked meals prepared in a well-stocked kitchenette, and an occasional meal out satisfy us both. Every night a vignette of soft lights dot the mountain sides from the valley we are nestled in.
Dean and I venture out on half-day trips for a couple of days, visiting small towns and cousins. We went target shooting at an outdoor range one afternoon. We meander into northern Arkansas part of the week. Naked hardwood trees, pines, and cedars clothe the mountains along with icicled cliffs and crags much like glittered ornaments. Flowing valley streams, swooping birds of prey, and cattle feeding in the fields are the only movement around. Dormancy is what we experience, and what we need. Oxford’s online dictionary defines dormancy … “the state in which a plant is alive but not actively growing” and with this sentence example “dormancy allows woody plants to survive these unfavorable conditions”.
The quiet, unassuming beauty of the woods in dormancy stills my busy body, mind, and soul. Very present moment several times each day, a retreat without structure. Just being, breathing in and out, and audibly awake. It is not necessary to block out the static and noise of my job, the house, and almost no obligations as I am far enough away from these occupations. Words come in and out on occasion, Dean and I relating this quiet vacation week to our retirement years. Some words make a page in my journal, and others are just thoughts in dormancy for a later writing in favorable conditions and more life lived.
This year I am ending the summer season of my wellness career. The autumn season of my career follows, short and sweet like Missouri’s autumns with the winter season close behind. The dormant season always emerges into a glorious spring song. A book of collected letters, Letters To A Young Poet, poet Rainer Maria Rilke urges the young budding poet, Franz Xavier Kappus to look inward and know what motivates his own writing. Rilke encourages the development of a rich inner life which is the process of creative art. “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet. In today’s words, live today, be present moment. Some answers come eventually.
The weather people have been telling us about this big winter storm coming to our region by the weekend. Amazing how they can view the weather patterns over the ocean and predict conditions 5 days out and 2,000 miles away. Sleet, ice, and snow in that order. Well, they are right about a winter storm. Although snowflakes started a couple of hours ahead of their initial timeline, and the precipitation is snow rather than sleet. Too cold for sleet and ice. Thank God! But much more snow than first thought, now close to a foot by the end of the storm.
I am in the comforts of my home, and no plans to go out this weekend. Church may not be attended on Sunday. Much depends on the city’s plowing services. Just heard one go by. The neighbor boy cleared the walking path to the street late afternoon yesterday, and my Dean cleared it again this afternoon. We are ready if we had to go out.
So home equals comfort, the warmth of good food, robes, blankies, and candles. We went grocery shopping a couple of evenings ago based on the forecast, along with many others by the long checkout lines. Freshly baked orange-cranberry scones for breakfast, the buttery aroma enveloped our home. And then homemade chicken veggie soup for lunch. Relaxing this afternoon, so leftovers will do for dinner tonight. A veggie lasagna will be made for Sunday dinner. A couple of library books at hand, a decorating one caught my fancy today, Cozy Minimalist Home. I am writing with the warming orange flicker of the candlelight nearby. The song birds are feeding outside the window before tucking in for the night. At this moment I would not trade this to a secluded sunny beach. See how many more snow days before I change my mind! Right now, all is good!
The “Christmas Trees For Sale” sign in the store front window caught my attention. Fresh pine scent, the friendly “howdy” greeting, footsteps on the squeaky wood-planked floor, and the jingle of the door bells as I enter and close the door into the little gift shop … each liven my senses … bring me to back when. A little pony-tailed blonde-haired girl. Cannot wait for the holiday season, Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Years. But all the events leading to those wonder-filled holidays. Baking, decorating, crafting, wrapping, and for me living on a tree farm, setting up the pine trees to sell. Always Thanksgiving weekend my Dad and Grandpa brought in a truck and trailer overflowed with fresh cut Christmas trees. Scotch pine, white pine, and spruce trees planted, trimmed, and cared for by Dad, and any family members looking for some extra $$ pitched in. My siblings and I included. We would play hide-n-seek in the pile of cut trees until there were no more to set-up. Snow, ice, or rain, it did not matter. Wholesome fun. We had the time of our lives back when.
A weekend away in Branson, Missouri for early Christmas shopping and a membership inquiry with a vacation club for more of these empty nest long weekends and longer week dream vacations. Dean and I are local shoppers, whether in our home town of St. Charles, Missouri or while on vacation. There is something down-to-earth about brick & mortar and mom & pop shops. Branson has the downtown landing and tourist attractions, but take us where the locals shop, eat, and play, please! Nostalgic Dicks 5 & 10, Main Street Flea Market, the Classy Flea, and the Farmhouse Restaurant … Back when the Nativity was in every shop, home, and city hall. The holidays included real pine rope trimmings with bright red velvet bow wreaths and pine cones. Back when that fresh field-cut Charlie Brown tree was dressed with hand-sewn ornaments, Shiny Brite glass balls, and a collection of heirloom from Germany or England, wherever your family originated from. Back when home-baked breads were served at every meal with a home-jarred fruit preserves, and your favorite sugar cookies piled on a plate or in a large jar for the eating any time. But not too close to your mother’s or grandmother’s home-cooked dinner, “not to spoil your appetite”. The house smelled of a fresh pot of chicken & dumplings. I imagine my father’s Christmases in the 1940’s. Filled with joy to have his father, my Grandpa Earl back home from the war. Grandma Anna doting over the menu preparations. Two or three simply wrapped presents with his name “Marty” on the tags under the tinseled Christmas tree. Back when is close to my heart at this present moment in the guest bedroom of our 1940’s house. My family has been blessed with fond memories and we will make more.
“Ice ice baby, too cold. Ice ice baby, too cold,” as the lyrics from singer Vanilla Ice go. We are under an ice storm warning here in Missouri. Freezing drizzle. Freezing rain. Sleet. Ice pellets. Ice. Whatever the frozen precipitation is called, it is slick. No need to be out on the roads. Stay indoors in the comfort and warmth of home, if at all possible. Such a sharp contrast from last Friday. I was in sunny Florida. I welcome this surprise 4-day weekend winter hibernation as Dean and I’s government offices are closed today as most of Missouri is. Malls and shops closed mid-day.
Today it is 30 minutes of sweating to Richard Simmons’ Sweatin’ To The Oldies, reading, blogging, caring for my indoor green friends, movie watching, and the homemade goodness of orange cranberry scones for breakfast, white chili for lunch, roasted root vegetables and sesame pork for dinner. The weekend paperwork and housework will be tomorrow.
The last day of November was warm with a brisk wind to scurry about the colorful leaves. I walked the streets in Clayton to do some banking and grab a bite to eat on my lunch hour. The wind whipped from the west and changed directions several times that hour. The tell-tale sign of changing seasons. A mild autumn is quickly going into winter-like weather this week. The weekend forecast includes snow flakes, and colder than normal temperatures next week. “Each year is a parable begun in stillness, and chill, of bare ground warmed with spring life returning, then bursting, buzzing, peaking in summer, and issuing a final flare in autumn, to subside in another winter’s seeming nullity,” author Stephanie Mills writes in her book Epicurean Simplicity.
Preparations for the winter season may not be a necessary stack of firewood in my suburban lifestyle. I remember as a child the excitement of my family’s annual New Year’s Eve stay at the one-room cabin my father built on the family farm in Franklin County, Missouri. The simple shingle covered dwelling probably no bigger that 500 square-feet had no bathroom or electricity, but a wood stove for its heat source. My father and Grandpa would cut down old trees on the 100+ -acre farm and split wood throughout the autumn season in preparation for deer hunting trips and these winter weekend visits to the family farm. My current preparations include sweaters and boots being pulled from the depths of the closets as well as my epie pin and antihistamine stowed in my purse for the next 4 months. An allergy to cold air and water is not easy, but is not the worst a person would have to deal with. Thank goodness for gas heat.
And now I focus on my own heart matters for today. Simplicity. “Try to see the beauty in your own backyard to notice the miracles of everyday life,” religious leader Gloria Gaither says. I would say that is great advice. Perennial thoughts and ways, appreciating what you have now, and making do. Simple, thankful, authentic, resourceful. I am intrigued by the choice of voluntary simplicity as I further my research for an enrichment class to teach at my work place. There are authors, activists, and societies devoted to this way of thinking and lifestyle. Choices made such as local community versus global; homegrown versus mass produced; renovate or upcycle versus disgard; a 3-generation home versus having separate homes; public transportation, carpooling, or riding a bicycle versus commuting to work with one’s own vehicle everyday; hand-crafted versus manufacturer made; purchase local versus big brand, slow food versus fast food, and the list goes on. As author and ecological activist Stephanie Mills states“bigger has not turned out to be better.” I like the change back to some old ways and traditions. What does simplicity mean to you? How have you made simplicity a lifestyle choice? I would love to hear.
This weekend Dean and I hibernated in Hermann, Missouri. We were invited to stay at a lovely guest house by some wonderful folks. We took a gander at antiques and patronized a gift shop in the historic downtown area. The friendly salesman at the gift shop greeted us warmly and proceeded to tell us where he was from and why he retired in Hermann. This retired banker from St. Peters, my hometown says the cost of living is so reasonable in Hermann, and so many services cater to the aging population in the quaint German town. Just my thoughts exactly for the past almost 6 years, retiring in Hermann.
“You had me at ‘hello'” was displayed on a wooden sign in the gift shop. That would be my Dean and I. Love at the first sight, e-mail, FB message, and date 6-1/2 years ago. Our garden courtyard wedding took place 5-1/2 years ago just 4 blocks from where I stand at that gift shop. We had to pick up a pastry in this old Old World town. A local bakery was spotted amidst the neighborhood bars and shops. A kringle, “krakeling” filled with strawberry ooze called out our name as we perused the dessert selections. My diabetic diet just went to pot, but back on track come Monday. Besides the small town walking helped, right?
After an early Saturday dinner at the Tin Mill Brewery, Dean and I hung out with the local folks at the firehouse fundraiser mouse races. We fit right in, happy women with full hips and bearded men with a sense of humor. Homemade chili and desserts galore. Bids for cash and guns kept us on our toes. Loads of fun! The laughter got louder as the evening went with the number of empty beer & wine bottles and whiskey & coke glasses. German people know how to celebrate life! Not a need for a wedding or birthday to live life fully.
Sunshine beams through the tall-pane window as I sit in an elegant armed chair. Next to me my cup of hot Earl Grey tea laced with bergamot and half & half while a couple of Italian dark chocolate wafers await my consumption. This crisp January afternoon brings my dream to life once again. The heart dreams where the soul needs to be. Our house and bed & breakfast in Hermann, Missouri. We feel at home, at peace every time we come to Hermann. From the time we cross the lighted bridge over the Missouri River, we are home. Oh Hermann, we will be here to stay within 5 years.
I just told Father at church last week, I need to be more present moment. My job requires planning weeks and months ahead, and family life the same sometimes. I miss moments in the planning. Nothing like being present moment with a stomach bug. I came to a screeching stop. Not knowing which end to put on the toilet, and then sleeping most of the day and night the next 36 hours. Every waking moment is a “thank you” for life and sleep. I could hear and see the spring rains come down several times, raindrops rolling off the windowsill. The birds sang to their heart’s content. I went from eating nothing to sipping ginger ale to nippling a couple of saltine crackers, and finally today able to keep a piece of toast and a boiled egg down. I have always felt stock made from the bones can cure many ails, so a couple of chicken breasts went into the crockpot with Deanna Greens and Garden Art fresh herbs and Hannahway Farm’s homemade wine. I will be sipping a cup of homemade chicken soup for tonight’s dinner.
This afternoon I managed to put my jeans and a blouse on, and I believe I lost a couple of pounds. Not my idea of a weight loss program, but I will take the reduction any way. The trees and grass are greener. “You gotta take the thunder with the rain”, I tell our Midnight, our 85 lbs labrador/flat coat retriever mix. He is terrified of thunder, but loves the rain and sleet. He snuggled on the bed yesterday as a couple of thunder showers went through. More violent today, storms. This afternoon tornado watches and warnings have been issued. Midnight and I will keep a watch out. I find that relationships are a bit like storms, too. There is a time to play in the rain, and a time to find shelter from it. Gotta take the thunder with the rain.
“Herbs deserve to be used much more liberally,” quoting food writer and chef, Yotam Ottolenghi. I keep telling my friends, family, and co-workers the marvelous benefits of herbs. Bursting flavor and full of nutrition! I recently found this guide, the ANDI guide which rates foods based on nutrient density. My ravings on herbs are justified according to ANDI. ANDI stands for “Aggregate Nutrient Density Index,” a scoring system that rates foods on a scale from 1 to 1000 based on nutrient content. ANDI scores are calculated by evaluating an extensive range of micronutrients, including vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidant capacities.
Here is a list of basic herbs and their scores to illustrate this concept.
Herbs/ ANDI Score
Bay Leaves/ 271
Basil rated the highest of all the herbs! Such an easy herb to grow in terra cotta pots in the kitchen window sill or in a sunny garden spot. Our bed of herbs in the screenhouse of our greenhouse include a few varieties of basil. Genovese, lemon, and Tai to name three. In the heat of the summer, it is prolific! Basil nutrients rate up there with arugula, leaf lettuce, and radishes. It’s about 50% the value of superfoods kale and garden cress, but 4 or 5 times more than soybeans or pinto beans. The Italian and Mediterranean cultures include basil in many of their recipes as well as Thai and Mexican cultures. Where I live and work in the St. Louis, Missouri region, there is an Italian restaurant or pizzeria on every corner of the block and in between. We love our pasta and pizza! My home kitchen has the flavors of Italy with my own fresh homegrown basil. Cost pennies to grow. Last night I made homemade pizza with a cup of fresh Genovese basil leaves cut into strips and atop tomato sauce, Italian sausage, Canadian bacon, garlic and black olives. Sometimes its a veggie pizza, with chunky tomatoes, mushrooms, bell peppers, spinach, arugula, black olives, etc. You know, the plumposity of veggies in a single slice of pizza pie! Then there’s pesto! It’s flavor tastes how the word sounds when you say it. PEST-O! More flavors to discover in this nutrient dense herb … sweet, lemon, Tai, spicy, lime, Genovese, cinnamon, anise. Cannot wait to make some lemon scones with the lemon basil this weekend. What herb has captured your taste buds?
The enticing aroma of homemade soup filled my kitchen and home on several occasions those chilly days of winter, with Chicken Noodle-Vegetable and Italian Stone Soup the most frequent two. A big pot of soup goes a long way with just Dean and I, and always plenty if we have company for lunch or dinner. Spring finally arrived this month of April, but yesterday the air turned cold as the day progressed with more rain. With the cold dampness, soup was in order for dinner. Soup du jour was Roasted Red Potato and Cauliflower with Leeks & Garlic. A warm pot of all organic, plant-based ingredients even the stock. Yes, a vegetarian recipe. And organic tastes better. It is what I had in the kitchen. Accompanied was toasted ham & cheddar on fresh rye bread I picked up at a St. Louis local Bosnian bakery. Please feel free to try my soup recipe placed on the What A Dish Recipes page found on this WordPress blog. Bon appetit!