The Audacity to Bloom

Jamal:name.JPGA few months ago, we had some really windy days –the kind that knock down power lines and blow my casement windows open — and a tragic thing happened. Jamal got knocked off our back stairs.

Jamal is a cactus my daughter bought years ago at Ikea. He’s one hell of a cactus. He sat ignored in my daughter’s room for about a year, then got moved to the outside stairs, where he was even more ignored. Occasionally I watered him when I remembered he was even there. But mostly he was forgotten.

Jamal's first bloomJPG.JPG

Jamal’s first bloom!

Until one day when I walked past and he had a glorious yellow bloom bursting from the top of his prickly little head. I couldn’t believe it. I took a picture, told my daughter and we were in awe of him for a few days. Then Jamal’s bloom faded and we went back to forgetting him.

 

Until this year when the wind knocked him off his perch on our back stairs. I told Milena we needed to get some cactus planting materials and fix him. He’d lost all his stones and most of his dirt, but she claimed poverty.  I kept forgetting to go buy the needed soil and rocks while Jamal sat and waited in his bent, little tin pot.

Jamal's bent pot.JPG

Jamal’s bent tin pot

But did he moan or groan or act like the world was ending? Nope. Not that a cactus could, but I half expected him to do something dramatic and droop or pucker. Instead, he had the audacity to bloom. And this time, he gave us three blooms instead of one.  Plucky Jamal, who was knocked to the ground, probably mostly starved, ignored, and in a beat up pot, not only survived, he produced three beautiful yellow blooms.

The irony wasn’t lost on me. It became even more clear when one of the beautiful roses in my favorite red vase in my kitchen, just up and died.  The rose was in clean water in my cheerful, little kitchen full of white cabinets with red handles, surrounded by other beautiful healthy roses enjoying nice cool days. Yet that carefully tended rose rotted at the stem and died.

the dead rose.JPGWhat the hell? How does a scrappy little cactus survive Beautiful roses.JPGabandonment, a nearly fatal two story fall and loss of its foundation, and not only endure, but produce three flowers — when a perfectly cared for rose just up and dies?

It got me thinking about life and why some people seem to survive when you’d lay bets they wouldn’t, and others seem to wilt when they have it all. I think about things like that probably because I have way too much time on my hands.

Then I heard a Ted talk about grit, and it became clear, that was the difference. The ones who survive have grit, and that’s what makes them hang on, even when you wonder what they’re hanging on for. It was a great talk by a former teacher named Angela Duckworth, who wondered what made some students excel, when others, who were more intelligent gave up.

Jamal's 3 bloomsThis woman’s been studying this phenomenon for years and even she confesses she still doesn’t know what parents can do to instill grit in their children.  My theory is you’re either born with it, or not. But I think parents can nurture it by forcing their kids to do chores and things they don’t want to do because at least it teaches them that, if they can get through the crap, there’s relief at the end.

I think it’s that dream of things getting better that keeps us going. My friend Allegra got through a difficult divorce, then went back to graduate school with three kids in elementary school, and no child support, while working the whole time. She’s now got a great job, her kids are grown and one just graduated. If it wasn’t for her grit, I’m not sure what would have happened to them.

Grit and optimism can keep you blooming even in the toughest times, because you just never know when it’s all going to turn around — and it would be a terrible shame if you weren’t there to enjoy it.

 

 

The Days of Spatula Licking are Almost Over

This week, I baked cookies because someone at work asked me to. I’m pretty easy. All you have to do is flatter me by telling me my cookies are the best you’ve ever had and I’ll bake for you too.

I also baked because one of my young co-workers lost his dad to a sudden heart attack a few weeks ago and the pain is still so raw for him that it breaks my heart. So, baking his favorite chocolate chip cookies couldn’t hurt.

Miss Milena

She had the whole thing licked clean before I could even take the picture.

As I was in the kitchen baking, my daughter was on the comfy, sage colored couch in the living room working on a paper for school. I was cleaning off the beater, wondering if she’d want to lick it like she used to when she was a kid. I hesitated, thinking she might not go for it, then offered it to her. She happily took it like she did when she was three.

It was a pretty sweet moment. I’m savoring times like this because in a few months she’ll be off to college.  My cookie batter days with her are numbered, so I’m enjoying every one.

I know she has to leave the nest eventually, but I’ll miss her. We’ve gotten through all the stages of her being a teenager  without me killing her, and now she’s 21. We can talk and hang out and it’s really nice that she’s starting to feel more like a friend and less like that lump of clay I’ve been molding for years. Hell, I might even miss the piles of clothes she leaves all over the floor in her room — wait, no probably not. But I do tear up thinking about the day it’ll just be me and my short, furry husband, Topper.

M&M bag recipeIn the meantime I’ll keep baking and writing about it. The recipe I’m writing about I got from the back of a bag of M& M’s. You can look and look, and even try recipes from Baking Illustrated, where baking nerds like me tweak recipes again and again, until they think they’re perfect, and still I was not wowed by their chocolate chip recipe. Sometimes the good recipes are on the back of a bag of plain M&M’s.

Cooks Illustrated note

Proof that not every recipe in Cook’s Illustrated knocks my socks off.

This recipe made really good M&M cookies and even works with chocolate chips. These cookies are especially yummy when they’re right out of the oven, because the cookie outside is a little crisp, but inside it’s moist, and the chocolate inside the candy is all melty and wonderful. These have just enough salt in them too.

 

After I made these cookies once, I wanted to make them again, and when I realized I didn’t have a bag of M&M’s, I went online. This recipe was nowhere to be found,  and the other recipes are not as good as this one. Plus, the M&M’s website doesn’t even list this recipe!  Shame on them.

Red’s Amazing M&M’s Brand Cookies

M&M Red

This little guy knows his cookies!

1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter (use regular, not unsalted)

2/3 cup brown sugar

2/3 cup sugar

1 egg

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 cups flour

1 1/4 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

1 3/4 cups M&M’s milk chocolate candies

Preheat oven to 350. In a large bowl, cream butter and both sugars until well blended. Add the egg and vanilla extract and mix to combine.

In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking soda and salt together. Slowly add these ingredients into the butter mixture and stir until combined. Fold in the M&M’s  and chill the dough for 1 hour or overnight. (I did not do this because I didn’t have time, and it made no difference in how they turned out, but next time I’ll try it.)

Drop dough by rounded tablespoons onto a lightly greased tray about 2 inches apart. (I didn’t grease my tray and they came off just fine.)

Bake for 8-10 minutes for chewy cookies or 12 to 14 for crispy cookies. (13 minutes is about right so they’re crisp on the outside, but chewy on the inside.)

 

 

 

Women Always Find the Good in Each Other — Garlic helps

Theresa is the first wife of my ex-husband.

Theresa and Fran.JPG

Fran and Theresa the only two members of a very exclusive club.

She rocks.

But for years I didn’t realize that because I was married to my then husband, and his characterizations may not have been completely accurate because pesky emotion was involved.

I should have known better because the son she and my ex had together is absolutely wonderful. You don’t turn out that great if there isn’t someone molding you, and the master molder was Theresa. We only got Brandon a few weekends a month, so we were assistant molders. And I have to say, that my ex was a good dad to Brandon. He loved him completely, Brandon knew it, and that makes a big difference.

But now that my ex is my ex, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Theresa much better. It all started around the time I was getting divorced. I had the massive realization that there were going to be stories out there about me that might be one-sided, colored by emotion and, therefore possibly, not completely true.

I realized then, that for decades, I’d only been getting half the story about her and their relationship.  Much of it was factual, but much was colored by emotion, and we all know emotion is a lousy gauge for accuracy.

As my grandfather Bernardo once said, “You gotta eat a sack of salt with someone before you really know him/her.” It’s so true. You only sprinkle a little salt when you eat, so it takes quite a while to get through a good sized sack of salt and that’s how long it takes to truly know someone.

Sometimes people can fool you, but most of the time, you see what people are about.

So, I wrote to her on Facebook because she was nice enough to friend me after the divorce.  I told her I was sorry if I ever misjudged her, but if I did, it was because I was only getting half the story. I also told her I respected her for being a fantastic mom to Brandon. And I meant every word of it. She was in her early 20’s when he was born. (I would have been a hideous mom at that age!)

I didn’t plan to go on so long about this, because it’s becoming more a story about exes than the yummy garlic spread recipe Theresa shared with me, but it’s a story about how to deal with divorce, and it starts with love.

I knew two things when I first got involved with my ex:

#1. I loved my mom more than anything and would have happily strangled anyone who said anything bad about her.

#2. I knew Brandon loved his mom, so I did my best to always let him know I totally understood and supported him in that love, because I loved my mom too. And I’m sure Theresa did the same for me. Feeling that love and understanding it, makes you much more compassionate.

You never score points with a kid by badmouthing their parent. That lesson came in handy years later when I was getting divorced. God knows it’s hard not to say what you’d like to when you’ve been hurt. But it lessens you, and it hurts your kids who are one half the “other” parent. Of course I’ve slipped, no one’s perfect, but I think my kids have always known that my intention was never to harm their relationship with their dad.

Take that little bit of wisdom to heart, divorced parents. I’ve lived it and I know it’s true.

Now, back to Theresa. Our first meeting without other family members around was a lunch a few years ago. She was visiting family about a half hour away and drove down to meet me for lunch.

The second time we got together alone, she was driving down to see my ex’s mom, Lois, who was very ill. We’d both been wanting to see her and were always told by our mutual ex, that it was a bad time, so she asserted herself and said, “I’m going. You’re welcome to come if you want to Fran.” I did want to go, so she picked me up and off we went.

It’s about a two hour drive to San Diego and back. Turned out, it wasn’t a bad time to visit. Lois was happy to see us and perked right up. And we were so glad we went because she passed away a couple weeks later. Theresa and I talked the entire way there and back. And my suspicions were confirmed, she is totally cool, which explains at least half, or more, of Brandon’s wonderfulness.

But what inspired this blog is that our first meeting, was at Zankou Chicken. We talked nonstop then too.

Zankou chicken.JPG

Zankou chicken.

Zankou Chicken appears to only have locations in Southern California, but I think it’s worth a trip here, it’s that good. The first time my father tasted it, he took a bite, chewed, then looked up at me with a glee I rarely saw him exhibit, and said, “Holy hell, this is good! His eyes opened wider and he said,  “This is the best chicken I’ve ever had!”

After years of my mom’s cooking, he knew good food.

I’m not sure what they put on the outside of their rotisserie chickens, it could be toum, a garlicky paste, but their chicken turns out incredibly flavorful with a slightly salty, almost sticky skin you’re helpless to resist, even if you’re not a chicken skin fan. But the crowning glory is the small pot of creamy, white, garlicky spread, they serve with it. We used to call “Garlic Goo,” before we learned its real name is toum.  Toum apparently means garlic in Lebanese.

It’s amazing! And Theresa, who has a reputation for being a fabulous cook, just whipped up a batch.  She was kind enough to send me the recipe and I’m passing it on to you.  This recipe makes a lot, but maybe you can invite your husband or wife’s ex over to help you eat it. It’s great on chicken, but is probably good on anything!

Because I have been running myself ragged trying to get all things done, I did not have time to make toum tonight to test out Theresa’s recipe. But I totally trust her and you will definitely become addicted to it. It doesn’t look that appetizing, but wait until you taste it!

Toum, by Theresa Lobue

Toum.JPG

They give you two or three little containers of toum at Zankou…but we always ask for more.

1 cup peeled garlic gloves

4 cups grapeseed oil

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice 1 to 2 lemons

1/2 to 1 tsp salt
In a sturdy blender add the peeled garlic and half the salt. Blend until fine. Scrape down sides. Turn blender on highest setting and stream in 3 cups of oil. This takes time, about fifteen mins. Scrape down sides occasionally. With blender on high add lemon juice slowly then the last cup of the oil. Taste for salt. The garlic sauce should be the consistency of mayonnaise. Use it on everything that calls for oil and garlic. Theresa says one of her favorite ways to enjoy it is on pita with a bit of flake salt.
There is another recipe on the Splendid Table website, which calls for two cups of garlic,  a half teaspoon of salt, three cups of oil, 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice and 1/3 cup of water. And the Lebanese Kitchen has yet other ratios of ingredients and one that got good ratings is from the Kevin is Cooking blog. Which is better?  I’m not sure, but I’m going to make it and find out. I just need to find the time.  Let me know if you make it!

Six Months of Sitting 8 Hours a Day

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Great Veggie Soup – my vegan friends will be thrilled.

I love my job writing radio commercials. Its’ great because I love writing, and because people at my workplace actually seem to appreciate my work, which will never stop thrilling me. I’ve worked plenty of places where I was not appreciated, so I know this is not the norm.  Being valued makes you shine and want to work really hard.

The tiny downside to this job is that I sit 8 hours a day.  I’m often up and down printing things and I try to walk during my lunch hour, but sitting, not only makes me a little crazy, it’s making me round.  I’ve gained close to 10 pounds since I started. I have the beginnings of what an old boyfriend used to call, “government butt.” Not a very nice term for what government employees develop by sitting all day. Continue reading

Dante vs. Cream of Wheat

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Cream of Wheat with blueberries and candied pecans, drizzled with honey.

I try to be deep, honest I do. I do my best to read classics and ponder life because I aspire to write deep, philosophical blogs. In fact, I’m currently reading Dante’s Inferno — who knew hell could be so icky? But because of the ADHD I keep denying I have, my brain prefers to escape the circles of hell and fixate on something I enjoy more, like food. This week I’m enamored with Cream of Wheat. So,  it’s Philosophy – 0 Food – 1 Continue reading

Saint “Tude” Knocks Me on my Butt…Again.

Dictionary of Saints

This was one of my mom’s books.  I had no idea there were so many saints!

I just consulted my Dictionary of the Saints and there is no Patron Saint of Gratitude listed. Maybe she or he is going incognito, but there is definitely a presence out there because any time I start having one of my self-indulgent, poor-me moments, I am busted by the Patron Saint of Gratitude. I think I’ll call her St. Tude. This happens about once every 1.5 years, like the day I was on my way to the therapist in 2015, and on Valentine’s Day 2014.

Continue reading

EGBOK

A few nights ago I was doing my bedtime ritual of piling pillows around me just the way I like them. I got all nice and cozy, then reached up and turned off my bedside lamp. I waited for sleep to knock me out, which for a Tunno takes about seven seconds. As I lay in the darkness of my bedroom I saw something I hadn’t seen in years.

It’s been like summer here recently with highs in the 90’s, so I sleep with my windows open. There was a little sliver of an opening, where the edge of the window swings away from the window frame and that’s where I saw it. My blazing little star.

The last time I saw it, or its cousin was probably 15 years ago when I was going through the hell that precedes a divorce. I was miserable and either unable to sleep or woke up in the middle of the night.

That night also, I saw the navy sky through the tiny space between the curtain and the window. As I lay there, I could see a small star gyrating wildly, as if it was doing everything it could to get my attention. I watched it flicker and flash for a long time, like a lit fuse. Not only did it make me feel better, but it felt like a message from my mom (a lit fuse of a woman if ever there was one.)

Then in my head, I heard her voice. She told me not to worry, that everything would be OK, and that someday I’d have more money than I knew what to do with. (This was in the midst of some serious financial crap.) I couldn’t imagine things ever getting that much better, but she was always good at making stuff up to make me feel better.

Well the star was back this week, and I waited for her voice, but never heard it. This time the voice came from inside me. It said, Keep working hard and things will turn around, you’ll see. Just keep moving forward. That’s what I’m doing and I think that’s what we all have to do right now.

I’ve talked to so many people in the past few months, who are so discouraged by politics and government and I understand. Politicians on both sides, seem to be playing a game, but to us, this matters. Our daily lives are affected, so everyone wants his or her voice to be heard.  I say write letters, make phone calls and do what you have to do to change what you can. Don’t just complain, do something. I am writing my representatives and asking them to bring back the Fairness Doctrine because I think it will make us less polarized. But we can’t let this stuff make us crazy.

I try to do what my friend Carolyn does. She seeks to understand. She really tries to figure out why people feel the way they do. She may walk away still thinking they’re totally misguided, but it makes her empathetic. And empathy is the gateway to understanding, tolerating and eventually liking others. This is very beneficial since I am the lone Democrat in a family of Republicans I happen to love. Maybe if we just pretend that everyone of the opposite party is family, things could work out.

Plus, here’s some heartening news, Glenn Beck is preaching love and understanding. Check out this article called, Glenn Beck Wants to Heal the America He Divided, One Hug at a Time, and be amazed! If this can happen, what then is not possible?

I’m old enough to know we’ve lived through frightening times before and probably will again and somehow we’ve managed to eke out some progress. I have to believe that with so many smart people in the country wanting to do what’s right, things will even out. So, I’m going to continue to work hard, stay positive and keep an eye out for twinkly stars. I feel fairly certain that if we can all avoid cataclysmic death, everything’s gonna be OK.

Or as they used to say on the Ken and Barkley morning radio show, EGBOK

best egbok

 

Happy Birthday George Harrison – You Were Part of My First and Best Concert!

Beatles ticket stub cropped.jpgWhen talk of first concerts comes up, I always sit quietly, smugly waiting for my chance. Then, as casually as possible I say, “My very first concert was a Beatles concert at Cleveland Stadium in 1966.” People’s jaws usually drop. They are amazed, either at how wretchedly old I must be, or that I really got to see the Beatles in person. Continue reading

The Most Awesome Cheesecake You’ve Ever Had

first-page-cheesecakeI am finally getting my bearings after the shock of going back to being a full-time employee on November 3rd.  I’m trying to get back on a weekly blogging schedule, and will do my best, but don’t hold your breath.  However, I just had to write about this cheesecake because it’s worth every decadent calorie.

I know I already laid claim to the best Carrot Cake ever. I’m going out on a limb again because I also have the recipe for the best cheesecake ever.  I may be a lapsed Catholic, but I cannot lie (not convincingly anyway) and I’m serious, this is the best cheesecake I’ve ever had. The common denominator for both these outstanding recipes is my sister-in-law, Donna. Her attention to detail is almost mind-numbing.   Continue reading

The World’s Greatest Sleepers

I was at work last week, fighting a nasty bout of  bronchitis and kept nodding off at my desk. I thought I was being very sly, but someone walked past, noticed and mentioned it to me. He said it looked like I was in deep thought, but I think he was just being kind.

I know what I look like when I’m nodding off and it is definitely neither thoughtful looking nor attractive. I never think I’ll do it, but learned years ago that nothing can stop a determined Tunno sleep gene. Continue reading