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Archive for October, 2009

Trick-Or-Treat

This was taken in August at Penny Newkirk’s Country Garden Cuisine on the outskirts of St. Charles. It was a wonderful day learning about her bountiful gardens and cooking school, soaking up local history and being inspired as we watched her cook in her impressive kitchen. We then had the pleasure of eating the fruits of her labor in her historical house. Penny had an impressively sprawling pumpkin patch that harbored this beauty, all for her grandchildren to enjoy come Halloween. 

Do you remember your childhood Hallowed Eves? For many like myself, times were simpler. We wandered about in large groups with grocery bags or pillowcases and only came home for a quick bite to eat – or, more likely, to empty our bags, now too heavy, and go out for more. An older youth was usually  in charge and, as we treated about, we’d run into other gangs of cowboys and princesses, ghosts and goblins, and we would exchange useful information, such as where the best treats were or what houses were really haunted.

One year a neighbor, who had a dutch door and was dressed as a witch, cackled away, the bottom door closed, just like the witch in Snow White. She handed us caramel apples, leaving the imprint of her long pointed ruby tinged fingernail in the gooey coating – her mark, so they said, as we hurried away, not quite sure. 

Another year, I was a witch, with a long black robe and a floppy, pointed hat that blocked my vision. This was the 50’s, folks, and there were lots and lots of kids roaming about our neighborhood. My mom was with, so, I was still pretty young, and I was longing to be big enough to go without her and bigger enough still to cross the expressway to the vast unexplored land to the south where even more treats awaited.  I floated that year in my costume of crone, a little bit spooked as a black cat followed us. I was, shall we say, an impressionable child, and so spooked by that cat who was trailing me that while queuing up at one house, allegedly stocked with Hershey bars, I tumbled off the porch, onto the bushes (note, onto not into), my robe ’round my knees, my hat slightly askew and my dignity bruised – an eerie foreshadowing of a life full of tumbles.

The black cat followed me home that night.   Do you have a scaredy-cat story?

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If you read yesterday’s ramblings, you know I was moved by an equine visitor, who passed by our home as we worked on fall chores.  It is one of many pleasures that pass our way .

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While watching the leaves tumble and twirl to my idle delight, I noticed this lone sycamore leaf clinging to a barren Rose of Sharon. It reminded me of O’Henry’s short story, The Last Leaf, first read in high school.  I pulled it up on this wonderful tool we have called the internet and read it anew this morning. Have you read it? You should.  

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The Last Leaf

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A Box of Forrest’s Chocolates

I need a box of chocolates. 

I am having a Forrest Gump sort of day and I need a big box of chocolates.

Tom was out on the riding mower, mulching leaves and raking some onto a tarp to haul back to the makeshift compost pile. I was up front, trimming back hosta leaves, now limp and brown and no longer the golden hue they were a week ago. I would like to say it was quiet, but,  a foundation was being laid down the road and a helicopter was circling overhead. We don’t have the airplane traffic we had in Elmhurst, but, every once-in-awhile we hear the chop, chop, chop of a copter. A few times we have heard its distinctive clip only to go outside and discover one hovering directly over our house. As I said, it seldom happens and is really no big deal, except for today. I wanted today to be quiet. We don’t always get what we want.

An inner resolve to focus on the beauty around me grew and as if by magic, I was almost instantly rewarded as a rider on a magnificent white steed emerged, strutting at a healthy clip down the cutoff and into the secret forest path. 

Back to work.

Raking and cleaning up. Still so much to do. The ground was wet as well as the leaves with even more raining down upon us as we worked. It felt good to be outdoors – we haven’t had many days of late that weren’t laden with rain and holding us captive inside. We have our work cut out for us for awhile.

So, with all this work, I just stood there. Clippers in one hand, one glove on, one glove off, watching. I stood there. Just watching. Small leaves and large leaves, maple and walnut, a melting pot of color and texture painting the driveway and borders and beds. I just stood and watched and as I watched, my excitement grew, like the Grinch’s heart, it built and grew and I smiled a little. The sycamore was shedding its leaves in a perfect and synchronized way. One by one,  each and every leaf put on such a magnificent performance, breaking loose from a branch and swirling down from the very heavens above;  floating and twirling and spinning in abreviated motion, cupping itself to catch the breeze. I was mesmorized by the simple beauty playing out before me.

I thought of Forrest Gump, sitting on the bench, waiting for the bus, a lady or man beside him, telling us all that life was like a box of chocolates, you never knew what you would get, with a single leaf slowly floating by. 

The leaves will be there on our lawns and steps and driveways and eaves. They will make a mess and stretch our backs as we rake and haul and compost and toil.  They will all be there, waiting for us to rake them up and make things neat and tidy, but, take a moment, that’s all it takes, to watch a few fall down, clothed in all their majesty, to our waiting earth.

Now. I’m going out for a box of chocolate.

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Chopsticks

I went to Japan last night.

It was an adventure to Tokyo and Kyoto, Hiroshima and the Japanese Alps, tastes and textures and cultures and even the rejuvenating Japanese baths. I ventured thousands of miles away travelling through the prism of a dear friend’s eyes in her comfortable, suburban livingroom.

Marilyn, a gracious host and always a teacher, had just returned from her latest worldly adventures, which included an extended trip to Japan with schoolyard friends and new acquaintances from her childhood home of Hawaii. Always enriching the lives of others, she entertained several of us last night and once again expanded my view of the world.

We nibbled on appetizers and drinks as she shared pictures of friends and places both commonplace and exotic on the island of Japan as we browsed books of Japanese woodcuts, artwork and even pages from her traveling journal, each of us learning something new in our own way, and collectively enjoying Marilyn’s experiences – and each other’s presence.

We delighted in gifts of bookmarks, each as beautiful and graceful as the culture they represented, and reverted to schoolgirl glee in making our choices. I knew Marilyn was enjoying the gifting as much as were enjoying the gift.

A Japanese dinner followed at her serenely appointed table, where we were first instructed in the graceful art of not only using chopsticks, but, in making a “boat” out of the paper wrappers on which to rest the implements when not in use.  We all made it through the salad course, chopsticks in hand, and I was inordinately pleased at my simple success.

Dessert was a continuation of tasty delights as our hostess took us back to Hawaii and Father Damian’s canonization to sainthood.  Marilyn spoke with reverence about this priest, the “Apostle of Lepers” with a servant’s heart , her experience of visiting Kalaupapa on the island of Moloka’i, and her ancestral history there. I am certain that as she goes forth to speak to classes about Father Damian and his ministry in the late 1800’s that children will be awakened to yet another of all of our collective history and if even one heart is touched it will move our world to be a better place.

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Sweet Autumn

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Tada!

These little friends are resting on our porch.  Aren’t they cute? This was a picture taken the first autumn we were here. I wanted to experiment with adding photos to the blog. I won’t tell you how long it took me to figure this out, but it was long. Very, very long and I squealed with delight when I accomplished this simple task that is second nature to most of you. These things don’t come easy for me. I’d rather be nestled in a book than using technology,  BUT,   I do love a challenge and thank you for allowing me to experiment on you.  

I’ll write again soon and tell you all about my trip to Japan.

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The Great Mocha Pumpkin

I should never, ever attempt to check my emails when I have an early morning meeting. I know I shouldn’t, I swear I shouldn’t, I really shouldn’t, but, like the cat curiosity killed, I did. I awoke with plenty of time, but a full agenda, and I still peeked. Of course, this morning’s inbox was full, and it wasn’t the early morning junk mail I usually have waiting. I shouldn’t have looked, but, I did, and there I was, with an early morning meeting followed by another, and  suddenly late!

A mad hatter rush ensued as I showered and dressed, bolting out the door with wet hair and shortbread stuck to my teeth. It was the last possible moment I could leave and still make it on time. This rush left me of course with no time at all to brush the bevy of new fallen leaves glued to my car.

My car is being punished. Left out in the cold. Banished from the shelter of the garage where piles of wood sit in great anticipation of supporting an arbor that is currently being built. Our first grade neighbor can’t quite figure this latest development out and refers to it as “Penny’s Arbor House”.  (Maybe he knows something I don’t know. Maybe my car isn’t the only thing to be left out in the cold. Hmmmm. ) 

Penny’s Arbor House, though a work in progress, is already beautiful. It compliments the dormers on the barn and the back entryway and is another work of art designed and built by Tom. It needs to be large because it will lead us to “the back 40″ and be a pleasant distraction from the busy world beyond. It will have seats and plenty of room to read and reflect and will provide support for enterprising vines to adorn. For now, however,  it looks like the promising skeleton of a ship, ready to take us away on a briny adventure. 

Well, with no time to lose and looking like the Great Pumpkin in black pants and an orange turtleneck, I tumbled into the car and rolled down the driveway, leaves plastered to every last inch. I was, in effect, camouflaged. A camouflaged pumpkin, tumbling down the drive in a leafy latte colored VW with mocha interior (would I kid you on these colors?) and out onto the cutoff, leaves scattering about, evoking Chevy Chase’s hilarious character in Funny Farm as I picked up speed – the Great Pumpkin Penny, rolling along in another fine mess.

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Trembling taste buds

It has been a busy day for me – catching up on paperwork, letters, filing, and such. It is raining here and cool. A gloomy sort of day that is just perfect for a pot of homemade chicken soup. I also caught up on some phone calls and discovered that my friend June was also making chicken soup. 

I found myself missing my friend, Sharon, today. She is off with her husband on a river boat cruise down the Danube. I am sure she is seeing spectacular sites and is eating some delectable cuisine and I know she is having a good time, because Sharon has a good time wherever she goes. I love that she is experiencing this new adventure that I can’t wait to hear about. I was missing her specifically today because she and I share so many recipes and cooking tips. It was from Sharon that I learned the trick of dipping a baby spoon into cold water before scooping out dough for dumplings. They slide right off with the greatest of ease!  She and I don’t make our dumplings the same way and mine aren’t really dumplings. I not really sure what they are, just that they are a comforting sort of egg noodle that I improvised as I traveled along the life of cooking in my kitchen, with Tom trying to explain years ago something his mom put in her potato soup. I don’t know if mine are like hers, but, they are pretty good anyway,  if I must say so myself, and it is just the sort of day for my chicken soup.

How about you? Was kind of day leads you make a pot of soup, chicken or otherwise?  How do you make your soup? Is it from a can, bouillon cubes, chicken breast or beef bones?  What makes your taste buds tremble and your tummy warm on a gloomy fall day?

Time to make those dumplings.

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