?`s and ANNEswers

Ten minutes to write. Less time to read.

And A Pickle Too

At least a couple times a month I eat at the unlikeliest of restaurants. I’m not even sure it has a name, but it is located inside the local hospital’s outpatient services building.

The staff is cheerful, the  tables are clean, the menu is varied, the price is just right. Granted they don’t bring the food to your table, but that’s a small price to pay for everything else. And did I mention it’s incredibly quiet for when you want to chat with your friend without commotion or music.

It started when a friend and I went to Panera for lunch. There was a sign that said we had to order at the kiosk because the establishment was short of cashier help. There was another sign that said the muffins were $5. And there were no diners in the restaurant.

So we decided to go elsewhere, that being the outpatient services café. And we got breakfast sandwiches and coffee for $5. When was the last time you got that?

Today I had a turkey sandwich on swirl rye bread, toasted, and a glass of water .And I paid $5.61, including the pickle.  My friend had soup and a panini with pesto. For under ten dollars. What’s not to like?

She got a pickle too. Mine and hers were both wrapped in paper and not sitting on the sandwich making it soggy. Score more points here.

We’ve already planned to return next time we meet.

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Cubs Win One

Yesterday the Chicago Cubs won a home game with the score of 5 to 1 against the St. Louis Cardinals. As a rule, this wouldn’t warrant an individual blog, but the Cubs have had a terrible time since May, losing more than two games for every one they’ve won.

Many of the good players are on the injured list; those who are not are in a slump. And the manager, Craig Counsell is stone-faced except when he’s eating cookies in front of the camera.

He never calls for advice, but Earl and I have plenty for him. First and foremost is to smile. Next is to reconsider his opinion that right handed pitchers pitch better against left handed batters and vice versa. Earl says this is standard baseball practice, but I think Mr. Counsell takes it to the extreme. Additionally, he tends to take the pitcher out before I would. But then he’s played the game for years, and my knowledge of it stems from my son’s Little League experience decades ago.

The irony is that Milwaukee, where Mr. Counsell came from, is in first place in our division . . . without him at the helm. And the Cubs are in fourth. Earl also says a manager is only as good as the players he has to work with. I see that point of view but the things I’ve mentioned are under Counsell’s control.

So far the Chicago press, which can be vitriolic about the city’s sports teams, is biding its time before being super critical. Me? Not so much.

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Birthday Gift

When I told a friend what I wanted for my birthday, she laughed.

“Why didn’t you ask for a cruise or jewelry or some special restaurant?”

Because we’ve done all those things. At eighty years of age, I’m staying closer to home,  reducing possessions, and enjoying my own cooking. Earl seems okay with it too.

I garden almost compulsively during the Michigan season from mid-May through October. There’s weeding and  tilling and planting and mulching and weeding again. In all the years I’ve done this routine, I’ve never had a good shovel. A trowel, yes; but not a shovel.

Recently I borrowed a friend’s shovel and was taken with what a great garden tool it is. It did the work of my small trowel in one scoop instead of several. It was easy to use too.

So I asked for a shovel, one that would be inscribed to honor my birthday but also one that would be utilitarian, because I intend to use it.

Yesterday, we picked it up from an engraver. The only place the engraver could do his job was on the wooden handle. But that’s fine with me. The inscription reads, “ AB – Digging it for 80 years.”

I can’t wait to get it dirty.

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The Party’s Over

It’s been ten days since I blogged. In that time, my close family gathered to celebrate my birthday (I’m partial to birthdays.) and my cousins in Denver buried my beloved Alice, their mother. It’s the sweet and the bitter in equal measure.

My birthday was a wonderful long weekend where the six of us enjoyed eating in and eating out, getting spa appointments, taking walks and taking photos. Two family members took on making a birthday German chocolate cake from scratch; another installed some yard art that is amazing; and yet another bought me the gift I’d requested: a shovel. (More on the shovel tomorrow.)

During the same time Alice was buried next to her husband of 75 years. I don’t know this because my cousins contacted me and wondered if I was coming. Instead, I know it because I went online to read her obituary and learned the important details

I couldn’t have gone to the funeral, since my family was still here. But it would have been thoughtful, from my point of view, for my cousins to inquire. It just confirms my long-held opinion that my relationship with them is probably tenuous at best.

No matter. My relationship with the birthday attendees is not. And I revel in that.

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Taking a Break

I’m taking a break for a week or so to remember Alice and celebrate my own birthday, one of the ones that ends in zero. It doesn’t seem appropriate to write about things more frivolous – like the Chicago Cubs or what felons are able to do or the price of tomatoes – under the circumstances. I need to take a breath.

I promise it won’t be a four year break, which is what happened the last time I did this. I’ll be back soon.

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Alice died today. She was 99 years old and doing well when she fell the beginning of April and broke a hip. She was my mother’s younger sister, nineteen when I was born.

Now there is no one left who’s known me all my life and who was occasionally mistaken for my mother as we both had blonde hair and blue eyes. Her husband, Dick, died the beginning of April. Since they were inseparable for 75 years, it wasn’t a surprise that Alice wanted to be with him. Her four grown children and I understood.

At least . . . I think we understood.

The news, although anticipated, is still so fresh that the reality hasn’t sunk in. It will take a while. In the meantime, I’ll cherish the items in my own home she gave me: her secretary, the Hummel, the handmade quilt, various books, the tanzanite ring, and the apple cake recipe. Most of all I’ll cherish the letters I wrote her over 20 years (which she returned to me a while back), and our Friday telephone conversations that took their place as writing by hand became more difficult.

I’ve thought of Alice constantly since she took a turn for the worse several days back. And what keeps coming to the fore is that I never called her Aunt Alice, unless I was referring to her in conversation. As a child, I nicknamed her Owl-see; as an adult she was just Alice.

It wasn’t our biological connection that made our relationship special. It was Alice herself.

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We have subscribed to three streaming channels, if that’s what they’re called, for a year or more. In that time, we’ve spent $40 a month and watched one program on one of the channels. This doesn’t seem like a wise financial decision to me.

So last week I set about to cancel our subscriptions to Netflix, Disney+, and Peacock. From now until the World Series we’re involved in baseball, so the odds of watching anything on those channels is practically nil.

Cancelling wasn’t easy.

I realize I’m not the most savvy computer tech on the planet, but I’m relatively analytical and can usually figure things out. However, the streaming channels don’t want to lose your money, so they make it difficult to cancel.

Long story short, after a personal appointment with Xfinity and several attempts online I managed to cancel our subscriptions. If you’re ever thinking of doing the same, allow yourself a couple hours on a rainy afternoon to complete the process.

I bet it won’t take as long to re-subscribe once baseball season is over.

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Lettuce, Part III

I’ll make this short in case you think I’m obsessed with lettuce, because I’ve written three blogs in a row about the greens. Maybe I am.

Last year I grew my own lettuce in large pots. It was spectacular, even if I say so myself.  This year, I’m doing the same thing with three different varieties. It’s not going so well, but in the end I think there will be an adequate crop. Water and sun will get me there.

There is nothing more fresh, crisp, and crunchy than lettuce from one’s own garden. I pick it just before dinner and give it an ice bath. Even Earl, who is not a salad devotee, agrees that home-grown lettuce can’t be beat.

Given my success with this leafy green vegetable, I planted cauliflower and Brussel sprouts in between my flowers this year. Earl likes those vegetables less than he likes lettuce, so we’ll see if home-grown holds any sway.

On to another topic tomorrow.

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Lettuce, Part II

If you’re interested you can Google® Via Carota. You’ll learn the restaurant in New York City’s West Village prides itself in offering simple Italian fare. But don’t mistake the word ‘simple.’ It really isn’t.

One of the establishment’s signature dishes is Insalata Verde. It’s a combination of lettuces and a special dressing. There are no onions, no tomatoes, no cukes, no other ingredient in this salad. But it does use five kinds of lettuce. Arugula and field greens, my least favorite, are not among them.

The process is far more complicated than that of Chef Briwa (See yesterday’s blog.) It isn’t something I’d do every evening. But it IS interesting.

The salad calls for five kinds of lettuce: Boston or bib, romaine, Belgian endive, watercress, and frisee. (For two people this amount of lettuce is overwhelming; obviously in a restaurant environment, it isn’t.) Then there’s the three-water bath with no ice cubes involved.

You wash the greens and fill a container with tepid water. Depending on the lettuce you do certain trimming before dropping it into the water. Next you wash all the lettuces in cool water and a third time in cold water. (That’s a lot of water!) The next step is to spin the lettuce and wrap it in a clean cloth.

I made this salad and its special dressing recipe only once. There was no doubt it was delicious, but it was a lot of work. So, for every day, I’m clinging to Chef Briwa’s approach. An ice bath for the lettuce is now my go-to.

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I like lettuce . . .fresh, crisp, crunchy lettuce.

Growing up, I ate it with most suppers, as my Mother was an avid believer in salads. Iceberg was her go-to. But over the years, I’ve gravitated to other kinds, except arugula. And field greens.

Recently I finished an online course in Mediterranean cuisine taught by Chef Bill Briwa (1957-2018). He was a professor of culinary arts at the Culinary Institute of America, and his course, titled “The Joy of Mediterranean Cooking” was a fascinating Cook’s Tour of the cuisine of such places as Italy, Spain, Morocco, Greece, Istanbul, and France.

But of the sixteen episodes, the one that stuck with me was about lettuce. Until the Chef taught me otherwise, I always washed my lettuce when I brought it home from the supermarket. Perhaps that’s because it was my Mother’s habit before it was mine.

But Chef Briwa said that was a no-no. “Never wash your lettuce until you’re ready to use it,” he instructed. When it’s time to prepare the meal, start with the lettuce. Wash it in a bowl of water; then add a couple cups of ice cubes to the bowl and refrigerate. Move on to the rest of the meal preparation.

I tried this method, and it produced the most wonderful lettuce, even when it went into the drink in a limp condition. It always came out fresh, crisp, and crunchy. In addition, I had a chilled salad bowl in which to serve my salad. You do have to dry the bowl first though.

If you think lettuce deserves only one blog, you’re wrong. Tomorrow I’ll write about Via Carota, an Italian restaurant in the West Village (NYC) that has an unusual take on lettuce.

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