Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Anyone Can Roast

I was always somewhat of an indifferent chicken cooker.  I was always much more comfortable doing a stir fry or some such thing with boneless bits rather than dealing with the entire beast.  The few roast chickens I'd attempted early in my cooking life were, at best, somewhat uninspired.  Then, when local markets started carrying juicy roast chickens, all bets were off.  I gave up on trying to roast my own and bought them at the store.  The one thing I didn't like was all the sodium that tended to be added to these.

One day I impulse bought, and I can't remember where, what looked like a totally funky contraption to hold a can of beer or soda over which you put your chicken to roast in the oven or the grill.  (Bayou Classic 0880-PDQ Stainless-Steel Beercan ChickCAN Rack) I tried it and the results were fabulous.  Nice moist meat and crispy skin with the fat most drained away from under the skin. And I had complete control over seasoning and actually enjoyed playing with mixes of various spices to rub on the skin.  That was a couple years ago or so and I didn't roast more than three or four chickens at the time.

About a year ago, I arrived home late one Saturday evening (probably close to 11:00) after a dance performance to see the bathroom light on.  That was odd because I expected the house to be dark at that hour.  I hauled my dance gear in the house and peeked in the bathroom to see what the deal was.  Well, not only was there a light on in the bathroom, but the light was on in the shower.  Not normal.   I slid open the shower door to be greeted by, "Peep, peep, peep!" 

I pop my head into the bedroom, "Why are there dinosaurs in the bathtub?"

The illuminating response was, "They were the last ones they had so we thought we'd better get them."  Oh...of course.

Long story short, the four baby dinosaurs grew up into lovely Wyandotte layers that provide us with gorgeous brown eggs.  Chickens had become part of our household.  We had already discovered that birds have tremendous personalities through some previous avian encounters but these chickens were better than TV.  The resident kid was totally enamored of the new additions and was having quite the blast rearing them and harvesting the eggs.

Meanwhile, I got laid off from my job and I started cooking more... partly because I had the time to enjoy it and partly to save money.  As I was poking around one day, I remembered my ChickCAN rack and thought I'd make us a nice chicken dinner with all the fixings.  As I set up the chicken and rubbed seasoning on it, I had the sudden uneasy thought that maybe the resident kid would object to eating a chicken that looked like, well, a chicken.  Once you've got the chicken on the can ready to roast with this gizmo, it looks like a naked chicken sitting there.  I thought maybe I could get it off the can and onto the plate before anyone saw it.  And into the oven it went.

I forgot about my uneasiness until I heard resident kid come in the door.  And, guess what, I'd left the oven light on.  Our oven is a wall oven and the window is at head and shoulders level for me and when the light is on, the natural response is to look in the window to see what's happening.  Well, kid dumps the stuff of the day on the floor by the door and walks towards the kitchen with the inevitable, "What's for dinner?"  I respond cautiously, "Chicken."  Kid walks in the kitchen and glances in the window at the chicken sitting on its haunches in a pan.  "Yum!"  A small cord of tension dissolves in my neck.  "You're OK with eating a chicken?"  No pause whatsoever, "I don't know that chicken."

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Going to the mattresses

The shock of a new, fast canine in a formerly feline-dominated world, sent LWK into a bit of a tizzy and, as I think I mentioned before, a retreat to the basement realm.  I would go down every morning and turn on a light and roust her out of a den she'd selected amongst some boxes in storage.  Her love of attention didn't change one whit but she was quite tentative about venturing upstairs.

I'd often talk to her as I collected jars from the pantry or socks from the laundry.  One day while I was folding laundry, she sat down nearby and struck up a conversation.  We stuck to small talk at first, until I broached the subject of the new dog.

"It's your house, too," I said gently, but also firmly.  I wanted to let her know that she had every right to the upstairs that she had previously enjoyed.  "Besides, she's a chicken, you know?  Just swat at her and show her where you stand."  As I said that, I swatted the air with my  LWK stared at me in disbelief.  I nodded, "You just have to let her know your boundaries."  I swatted the air a couple more times.   LWK stared and then slowly lifted a paw and swatted the air.  "That's it!"  I crowed.  Hauling my laundry load upstairs I left her to mull things over.

It must have taken her nearly a day after my pep talk to work up her courage, but LWK showed up, puffed out from her nose to the tip of her tail, and stood her ground to that freaky dog.  When Mimsy got too close, LWK swatted at her and Mimsy duly scrambled to cower behind a piece of furniture.  Mission accomplished, LWK reclaimed her post beside the kitchen phone.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Doppler 5

We settled into a long stretch of comfortable being with dogdom, about 4 years in all with little extraordinary in the way of happenings and events.  Doppler slowly, in the slow way only a fast dog can, slowed down a bit in terms of his frenetic puppyish chasing madly hither and yon.  A household routine took hold and everything held an even keel.

One of our first abodes in our new home town of Bend, Oregon was a minuscule rental house will all of 600 square feet.  The main attraction of this shack was that it was freestanding and it allowed dogs with relatively little fuss (in other words, you didn't have to sign away your annual income and your firstborn to have a dog in the house).  By the time we had found this place we had already accepted the fact that we would have to find a rental that would allow a dog because the alternative, giving up Doppler in order to find a place to live, was not tenable.

This little place, which has long since succumbed to the bulldozer, was one of three tiny houses where a variety of young wanna-be professionals/entrepreneurs lived.  We quickly made the acquaintance of our neighbors and started sharing hotted up barbecue grills and the like.  The back house had a young man living there for a short time at the beginning of our stay.  He ended up moving to Portland and left behind his cat, Pumpkin, in the care of our other neighbors until such time as he could find a place that would allow cats.  He gave them a huge jar full of change to pay for cat food and Pumpkin took to living under the houses in the crawl spaces.  As summer wore into fall, the former neighbor made contact periodically and we wondered if he ever would collect Pumpkin (who was, as you might have imagined, a very fluffy orange tabby). 

Doppler, it turned out, was very tolerant of cats.  If they ran, he would chase, but if they stood their ground and swatted, he would respect.  Pumpkin was one of the latter types and had both Doppler and the other neighbor's dog at quite the respectful distance.

Bend was a wonderful town in the mid-1990's.  It had a lot of characteristics of other towns we had traveled through on our early retirement trip (other stories to come) and we had decided to try to make a life in Bend.  I was working retail into the early evenings and Eric was working retail into even later evenings so I often found myself alone, with or without Doppler, watching TV. 

One bitterly cold night, after stoking the little woodstove into producing the 80 degree hot house that was inevitable because any stove was too big for this house, I propped open the front door to temper the heat.  After a few minutes I felt I was being watched and looked up to see an orange face peering in the screen door.  Being a total soft touch, I thought for perhaps a few moments before opening the door to let Pumpkin in.  He walked over and sat on the hearth in front of the wood stove as if he'd done that for years.  We spent a pleasant evening watching TV until Eric came home.  His words, upon entering and taking in the scene were, "So, do we have a cat now?"

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Home improvements

I long ago learned the value of color in making a space more habitable.  At one point, I thought I was one of those that liked the starkness of whites to "clean up space."  But I am in actually much more comfortable when in a non-white environment.  It feels unnatural at a most basic level.  I have to thank the contribution of my partner in life, because initially, many suggestions for some of the more daring colors we have used have come from that quarter, with the final decision often falling to me.

We have obviously been influenced by the art deco bathrooms we often lived with while residing in the Boston area.  These were prominent by their pink, white and black tile work.  As a result, one of the bathrooms in our vacation rental is pink, though not tile, mostly a sponge type treatment with black coming in from wrought iron accoutrement.  

Other rooms in this house are mainly shades of green and purple, with pink making a subtle reappearance in the kitchen.

This explosion in color is in part due to the fact that we had the luxury of working on a house while not living in it.  But the explosion really had its spark in our own house, which had the working moniker of "our homely abode" for many of the early years we lived in it.

One of the homeliest aspects of the house was the fake wood paneling in the living room.  I'm sure it was added at some point because somebody sometime was scared to deal with the old wallpaper covered lathe and plaster walls that lay beneath.  We were pretty happy to discover this because taking wallpaper off of lathe and plaster is pretty easy and the walls themselves are incredibly forgiving to work with.  My experiences with dry wall have not been nearly so enjoyable.

The interesting part of renovating this living room was the sense of relief we both felt when the "wood" paneling came off.  Even though the walls were a pretty awful yellow wallpaper, and yellow being a least favorite color of all time, we were so much more at peace in the space than we had ever been before.

I can imagine some new age type guru saying that the paneling was giving off some terrible cosmic vibration.  Maybe so ... weirder things have happened.  All I can say that the two colors of purple that now adorn the walls in soft venetian plaster are a joy to live with...even though, 14 years later, the trim still isn't finished.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Writing blockades

housecleaning, organizing, tidying, lightening
the loads of laundry never end
cooking, freaking, hiding, frightening
houseguests space to whom to lend

vacuuming, washing, scrubbing, tossing
recycling compost to the flock
working, dusting, never sitting
to break the lock of writer's block

Friday, March 19, 2010

Green in the high desert

As the calendar portends, spring is not until tomorrow, but today is a heady mix of crystalline skies, cool breezes, new crocus and frenetic dog.  Chores persist indoors with the threat of guests arriving next week so I clean, do laundry, clear the table and otherwise make a vain attempt to make the house presentable - all while coming off the rush of St. Patrick's Day.

The annual celebration in green is a holiday of major proportions here.  After all, being a family with an Irish dancer and guitarist playing in a band with a Celtic bent ( has both its compulsions and responsibilities.  All that makes for a satisfying alternative to a day that most people think of as an excuse for partying.

For many years now, my St. Paddy's starts early in the morning as the local Irish dance school trundles a troop of kids off on an itinerary filled with appearances at schools and retirement homes.  The first year or two of these events witnessed many of these youngsters being shy with the oldsters.  A few years of being on the stage at performances and competitions, though, have turned the youngsters into hams or near hams.  As a result, striking up small talk with the grandmas and grandpas of the day has become more natural. 

What's even more fun is a few of us adults get the roles of teacher/auntie/stage manager.  We shepherd these kids around and line them up and tell them what to do next in the midst of a dozen voices all asking questions at nine or ten different locations in a single day.  We get to dance with them, too.  Then we send them home with their parents, tired and cranky.  What's better than that?

My only regret this year was that I was too tired to enjoy a Guinness...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ghost stories for dogs

I think I mentioned that we recently added to our household a critter in the form of a miniature pinscher mix named Mimsy.  She's a cute dog, smart, personable, but a trifle hard for the cats, especially LWK, to stomach.  Thud and Mimsy are close in size, 14 and 15 pounds respectively.  LWK is about half that, tipping the scales at 6-7 pounds. *

The first week was full of the drama of introductions and various vocal displays.  Thud was somewhat unruffled by the advent of new dog, but then we always suspected she was part canine in character.  She quickly learned the ways of wrestling and escape.  She soon discovered the delights of sitting under the furniture that Mimsy wouldn't or couldn't get under and swatting at the poor frustrated dog. 

LWK (Little White Kitty) was less comfortable.  She retreated to safety in the basement, secure behind the baby gate at the top of the stairs.  Each day, we'd give her love and talk to her so she would get at least some of the attention she would normally demand and after a few days, moving whiteness would catch the corner of our eyes as she flitted around nooks and crannies upstairs. 

One night I had flopped down on the bed to read a bit when I felt Mimsy jump up next to me.  I didn't really pay attention to the fact that she didn't demand attention like she often does, in fact, I kind of appreciated being left in peace to turn the pages at my leisure.  Then I felt a tremor...kind of like the tremor that you might feel when a huge truck rumbles by, but here there was no noise.  There it went again  ... and again ... finally I noticed and looked up to see Mimsy sitting, tight and alert and shaking from head to foot.  She had never acted like this before so I sat up to get a bead on her line of sight and saw a demon ghost kitty sitting in the hallway with the light reflecting blue-green off her eyes.  I have to admit, I was a little spooked myself.  The ghost soon evaporated, leaving a shaken little dog in her wake.

Names have been changed in these stories to protect the innocent.  The fact that one of these names is real is probably an indication of non-innocence.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Science fiction and foresight

I happened to be quite sick earlier this week and ended up spending quite a bit of time lolling about with little energy to do anything.  Sleep eluded be because of congestion and aching body and so I tried reading a book.  Some might gasp at such audacity in this age of instant information in the micro-doses of tweets, but, in fear of stating the obvious, I am a blogger, not a tweeter, and so I relish the long form.

I actually ended up rampaging through two huge (1,000+ pages) books while actually ill, and two smaller books while improving.  Three of these happened to be books I had read before, and recent conversations or events prompted me to take them up again after many years.  Retreading old territory might have been helped by the fact that I was in no shape or mood to go peruse the offerings at the local used book stores.

At the time, especially which actively sick, I viewed these as a fun romp that diverted my mind, but now I am interested in how the three re-reads treated the issue of communication, particularly in today's world of e-mail, Facebook, and those giant brains lurking behind the internet where all of our missives are saved in perpetuity.

The first book, Battlefield Earth, by L. Ron Hubbard (no Scientology in this tome),  is set in the year 3000 with an alien race that has taken over Earth and the story follows how the remnants of humans quest to take back their own led by one incredibly smart dude.  What interested me in hindsight, and I think highlighted by a re-read of Asimov's Foundation immediately following Battlefield Earth, is the total reliance in Battlefield Earth on physical forms of communication.  Communications between worlds were printed, sensor readouts were printed, little messages rolling out on long strips of tape.  Shredders were a means of controlling the passing of information into unfriendly hands.  Given the publication date of 1982, the context of the writing is clear because the first Macintosh computer wasn't introduced until 1984,  fax machines didn't become really affordable until the mid-1980's, and e-mail and the internet weren't widely available until the 1990's.  Even when these machines and services came available, they used dot matrix printers rolling reams of perforated papers or heat sensitive tape.

The book is filled with other wonderful gizmos and technology and I'm stuck on the means of communication.  But then, like I said, I read Asimov's Foundation immediately following Battlefield Earth, and what do I find?  Little ticker tape communications coiling out of little capsules that were delivered physically.   The echo through four decades from Asimov to Hubbard was remarkable but the question in my mind is whether these major authors in the world of science fiction were constrained by the methods of communication in their respective experiences or were they actually so foresightful as to know that we may want to be able to control our personal information a bit more discreetly?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Doppler 4

We weren't long in Doppler's finding place before we decided we needed to move to the Pacific Northwest.  My memory is vague in the regards, but at some point we met one of Eric's friends from the Peace Corps in the Eugene, Oregon area.  She was visiting a friend and we were in the area so we decided to meet up. 

We spent the day in Eugene and went to the Saturday market in town, admiring the wares and getting a variety of foodstuffs.  Most of which we were eating on the spot but we did pick up a half pound of fudge to offer to the gathering that evening.  About half of the fudge was chocolate espresso bean and the other was another chocolate variety, probably rocky road or some such, because, after all, fudge isn't fudge if it isn't basically chocolate.

We had a lovely dinner with our friends, new and old and twilight had fallen before we remembered the fudge in the truck.  So we wandered out to collect it and to see how Doppler was doing. 

Well, Doppler was very excited to see us and highly anxious to get out of the truck.  As he bounded out we discovered that he had eaten the entire half pound of fudge. 

Oh, crap.

Well, we had heard about dogs and chocolate, but didn't really know what to do about it at night in the middle of a rural area that we were really unfamiliar with.  So we took him for a walk as that's what he really seemed to want at that point.  So we walked up through an undeveloped subdivision that was thick with trees and Doppler was an absolute freaky whirling dervish so either he pulled himself out of his collar or we finally wanted to save our arm sockets and he was off the leash.  Not only off the leash but off like a rocket.  He tore down the road and was off into the darkening night in no time at all and we were left hoping that he would remember his name.  We walked the roads calling for him for quite a while before we finally gave up because the night was pitch black and we couldn't see a thing.  We decided to give up for the night and try looking for him in the morning. 

We headed back for the house and our truck thinking terrible thoughts about what might happen to a chocolate poisoned dog in the middle of the night.  We came around the side of the house and there was Doppler sitting very properly by the side of the truck.  He got up and stretched and wagged his tail very lazily as if to say, "What the heck took you guys so long?"

We opened the door and he jumped in and curled up on the seat.  Go figure.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Gustatory delights of a different color

I took myself, via an excuse to buy a book for a young reader in my life, on a trip down memory lane this winter.  This is a purchase that I was very sorry to have to make because it meant that I have somewhere, somewhen during one of my many moves, lost track of a boxful of highly significant books.  These were probably only highly significant to me, but I, now that the internet makes such searching easy, have been sorry to realize that some may not be replaceable, at least in the form of which I was so fond.  But I digress.

This winter I bought a new copy of "The Magic Pudding,"* which was written and illustrated by Norman Lindsay.  This is the book that threw me for a loop about becoming an author as a child because it set a gold standard for me.  Not only does the book have an outrageous premise and outstanding characters, but the characters are fully animated right there on the page by the author himself.   Who could hope to compete with that? 

Well, my "I'm not worthy!" moment passed, although I am still hesitant to venture into the world of children's literature, and I sit here writing to the ether about how much I still chuckle over this book.

Have fun!

If you do order from Amazon, be aware that there is at least one softcover version that links to the New York Review Children's Collection edition when you click on the link to "Look inside."  The softcover version of the book is missing half the content, in other words there are no (ZERO) illustrations and it is cheap, cheap, CHEAP.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

All mimsy were the borogoves...

I had the opportunity to be in Salem, Oregon a couple times in the last month and I was taken by the daffodils and late crocus that were in full bloom.  These are some of my favorite flowers, but then, ask me in another month or so and my favorites will have changed.  I was particularly taken by the Salem daffodils because on my first trip to Salem, on February 12, I left Central Oregon still in the late winter doldrums.  Some trees were starting to set buds, but there were no crocus yet, apart from some foliage starting up in some sunny spots.  Now, here at home, the crocus are in full bloom around the house.  I have tended to plant a lot of crocus because the deer don't eat them and we get a spot of color early.  Last fall I planted more, because I wanted to mark Doppie's howe.  Much to the resident 10-year old's ire, I also planted a slew of bulbs in the lawn in front of our house..

Major complaints arose when she saw the first flowers popping out because she didn't want to walk on them.  "Just wait until they're done blooming," was my response.  I think I heard a slight growl but I'm really not sure.

Well, recently, a new member joined our family.  Mimsy, a miniature pinscher and something mix, is a sweet little critter that is only slightly frenetic for being about a year old and having gone through the shelter experience.  She still has those puppy qualities that make her simultaneously endearing and annoying, but she learns so fast, it is somewhat alarming.  She has been with us for less than two weeks and she is sitting, staying, dancing, almost heeling on command.  And, no, it's not like she had been trained to do these things previously, because the first action we worked on, sit, was actually hard to achieve because she wasn't what you would call a natural sitter.  Definitely didn't know the command on hearing.

I am sure that I sound like a proud parent as I boast of this little dog's achievements in so short a time, but really what I am amazed at is the difference in personality between Mimsy and Doppler.  Doppler was definitely all Dalmation when it came to working with him on basic actions.  A distinct stubborn streak would kick in and that, combined with a feigned deafness.  How do we know it was feigned, you ask?  Because that critter could hear a banana being cracked open, sight unseen from 30 feet.  I would open a banana in the living room and he would come trotting in from what I thought was a sound sleep in the bedroom.  For some reason, as a young dog, he liked bananas. 

Anyway, it's the differences between personalities and places that are startling and interesting and that really spice your life's experiences.  And spring is a perfect time to celebrate differences.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


One of my brothers had an inspired moment and sent his Christmas presents to us in February.  He said it made him so much more relaxed about the whole affair to just ignore the traditional deadlines and all.  I thought it was delightful to get a box full of Christmas wrapped gifts at such an unexpected time.

One of the gifts was the 1,332 page volume compiling all the Bone graphic novels (Bone: The Complete Cartoon Epic in One Volume (Vol 1)), which the resident kid immediately glommed onto and devoured in a couple days.  One of the questions that arose out of the reading was, "What is kwitch?"


It turns out that she meant "quiche" as in what real men don't eat.  I tried to explain what it was to her, and pulled out my handy-dandy new Betty Crocker cook book and read the ingredients.  Being a kid that loves her eggs, especially as they are home grown and fresh as can be, she though quiche sounded lovely.  So started an new litany of "When are you going to make a quiche?"  with said question invariably coming at a time when I was in no mood for a new cooking adventure.  I actually surprised myself by setting to the task within a couple weeks, which, for me the procrastinator, was at light speed.

I had thought to make a relatively traditional Quiche Lorraine but it turned out that I had some leftover crab from when I splurged during a sale on crab legs.  (That was a lovely night actually, cracking crab while watching the Olympics.)  Onward!  I embarked on a three-hour jaunt into culinary limbo.

I could indulge my penchant for providing the gory details of my adventures that afternoon, but I will make a long story short by saying that I think I outdid myself.  The resident kid looked in the oven and got quite excited by the prospect of a pie for dinner.

The quiche itself looked pretty good in spite of the fact that the crust puffed and shrunk horribly when I pre-baked it.  The pie itself was light and fluffy and savory.  Resident kid ate for a while in silence until I asked her what she thought.  "It's like mucous." Pause, "The cheese is like mucous."


Upon questioning, I figure out that what she thought was cheese was the custard from the egg/milk mixture.  Once she found out it was basically baked egg, she ate it pretty heartily...after dousing it with ground rosemary, which is what she favors on her eggs.

While I enjoyed my portion, resident husband said, "It needs some kind of savory spice."

I considered this and offered, "Like rosemary?"

"Yeah, that would do it."

I finished my part and wondered if maybe a crab omelette would do next time...

Doppler - 3

We settled into a routine pretty quickly with our new family member.  He was, by the vet's best guess, about 7 months old and still chewing things and rather rambunctious.  He was, also the vet's best guess, most likely a mix of Dalmatian and Blue Heeler, a mix we promptly dubbed a Dalmuttion.  Heelers are working dogs and tend to be busy.  Dalmatians are runners, often high-strung and headstrong.  In short, we could have been majorly screwed if not for the famous mutt gene that kicked in to mellow the mix a bit.

His coat was a mix of heeler and Dal but the spots were unmistakable in origin.  Along the ridge of his back the spots were smeared as if they smudged while the paint was still wet.  All of these characteristics were part of the name discussion.  "Spot" was quickly dismissed, "Jupiter" gained a small following based on a big black spot on his face, "Dappleganger" for a strange spotted apparition,  then finally "Doppler" arose, a grey-shifted Dalmatian, a name that tickled the geek in us.

Doppler was fast and needed to run a lot.  The easiest way for us to tucker him out was to take our bikes and run him along the river where a dirt trail went for miles and he could run flat out.  He loved it, the water was shallow and not more than chest deep.  Once back home he'd pass out for a few hours and then bounce up ready for the next excursion.

A favorite outing was a walk to the town park.  Especially near evening when the gnats were hovering above the thick green grass and the swallows were on the hunt.  The swallows would swoop and swirl about a foot above the grass and Doppler would be chasing them, nipping at their tails.  He never caught one, either they were too fast or too smart.  The swallows had the advantage of being able to turn on a dime in midair and he would spin out especially if the grass was damp.

Running, running, running....carriage dog all the way.