Thursday, March 19, 2015

Making It in the Valley

To stop going to church because it has hypocrites is like not going to the gym because of the out-of-shape people. Anonymous

Oh, what to fix for dinner.

One of the problems one faces when he or she gets to a certain age is running out of ideas for a meal, although running out of an appetite has never been an issue for me.

If our household is like your family in any way – first of all, you have my condolences – then you probably suffer from that basic array of meals that shows up time and again toward the end of the day. There’s the meat loaf and mashed taters, or the chicken and rice casserole, or the pork chops and onions with baked potatoes.

Our meals are pretty much variations on all that. Beef? Check. Chicken? Cluck. Pork? Oink. I will admit we don’t eat a lot of fish. If fish would learn to moo I could probably get in more of a “moo”d for it, but as it is I’ve just never developed much of an appreciation for the life aquatic – despite my Scandinavian heritage.

So, when it’s my turn to cook (yes, my better half and I take turns; she cooks six nights a week, and I get one. I try to save leftovers for my cook-night, but she sort of frowns on that. I think the words I hear through my bleeding ears are, “That’s not fair!” but I can’t be sure, for the audio distortion is pretty bad when the volume meter hits that point), I do what I can to break the routine; I go online and check out recipes for something unique.

There are two things I look for in a recipe: One: something that looks different but intriguing; two: something with ingredients available at our local market.

My personal preference is a meal that can be cooked in one dish as I have no skills at coordinating a feast involving more than one pot. I suppose that makes me a true chef, as the professionals tend to dole out their meals one item at a time. They call them “courses” but, of course I know that in reality they just can’t get their act together either, so the meal comes out in dribs and drabs and costs an arm and a leg as it takes all night (calling it “elegant dining”).

Invariably I’ll find a recipe I want to try but for which we have few ingredients at home. That’s alright with me as I like to put a meal together using fresh ingredients from our local grocer.

Doing meals that way puts me into a nostalgic frame of mind, for I remember that’s how my grandmother used to cook.

She didn't stock up for Armageddon, intending to subsist on canned goods for a decade in a fallout shelter. She would plan a meal (which always consisted of her using several pots and pans – she was a true wizard in the kitchen), then send us around the corner to Loomis’ store where we would hand Old Man Loomis the list, he would gather up what we needed, bag it, and put it on Grandma’s tab. Ah, those were the days.

So when I prepare a meal like that, I feel right at home. I, the hunter-gatherer, then get to work, feverishly chopping taters, onions, garlic, and such whatnots, tossing them into the slow cooker or baking dish – excited to see my partner’s face when I tell her what we’re having. Many times I find her speechless, for which reason maybe I should cook more, but that’s another tale to savor for another time.

Well, life is like that. Our days are often filled with routines that meet our needs for the most part. But every now and then, it’s nice to take a break from our habits and shake hands with a new experience.

Sometimes we worry that we won’t like the new experience – or that we’ll be criticized for it – but diversity keeps life interesting. To embrace the new is NOT to let go of the past, but to create a new past to be remembered fondly tomorrow.

Variety truly is the spice of life, and that’s what we’re having for dinner tonight in this, our valley (and I can’t wait to find out what it is).

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Lost in the Valley

The human being is a flute which makes music when the breath of God blows through … Rumi

I am such a loser.

By that I don’t mean to imply that I have low self-esteem or anything like that. What I mean is that I am constantly misplacing things.

One year at Thanksgiving dinner, my grandmother’s home was all decked out with seasonal knick-knacks. I was probably about ten years old and had my eye on a little wax-turkey candle decoration and, being somewhat precocious (more accurately “avaricious”, but I was too young and innocent to know the difference) I asked my grandmother if I could have it.

“Well,” she said, “You’re just going to lose it, but OK, you can have it.”

Well, I took that as a personal challenge and so I took it home and put it on a shelf and never touched it. Every time she came to visit, I would drag her down to the basement to my room and show her I still had that turkey. Hah! Lose her turkey, indeed; double HAH!

Of course I have no idea where it is now. I guess she’s probably up in heaven chuckling over that.

Anyway, last Christmas my wife gave me a knife to replace one that had disappeared. It was a nice Swiss army knife with a number of blades and gizmos. I’d had it for years and then, sometime last fall, it went missing. I didn’t lose it, you understand. It went missing.

I knew exactly where I had last seen it, but it wasn’t there. I’ve checked everywhere for it and it is nowhere to be found. It is somewhere – of that I am sure, but today it is apparently caught in a crack of the time-space continuum that surrounds us on every side. No doubt it is being held hostage by all those single socks that have “gotten lost” since time immemorial.

Anyway, I digress. Barb knew my distress at having had my old knife run away from home, so she bought me a new knife for Christmas. It is nice and red, has the cute little cross emblem I love, and all the blades, gadgets, and gizmos the old knife had. It’s not exactly the same as the old knife – and it will never cut the emotional ties I had with my first multi-use pocket knife – but it is a worthy successor.

That’s why – horror of horrors – I was horrified to discover my new knife had gone missing barely a month “out of the box”! I looked everywhere for it and, like the first knife, it was nowhere to be found.

I knew at that moment I was a dead man walking. I have a sweet, loving, doting wife; that’s all true. But I kept hearing my grandmother’s voice echoing between my ears: “You’re just going to lose it …”

So I did what any sane man would do – not that I am sane, but I put myself in the shoes of a sane man and said, OK, that’ll work – I kept my mouth shut. I checked my clothes, the laundry, my offices, under the bed, under the couch where I sit (and between the cushions), and – nothing!

A week or two passed and there was a commercial on TV for a thing that fits between a car seat and center consul (to catch coins, cell phones, and valuables). A three watt bulb lit up over my head in a badly drawn cartoon bubble. I grabbed my flashlight (which has a few more candles of illuminating power) and checked the space in the car between the driver’s seat and center consul and VOILA! I found m’knife!

It turns out that it isn’t safe for me to carry a knife while wearing dress slacks. I know I will likely be cast out from Montana for wearing an article of clothing that was outlawed since forever; I’m pretty sure denim is the state cloth. Still, separation of church and state means I can wear my church pants, even if it also means separation of man and knife.

I think people are like pocket knives. We may get lost for a time, but God never stops looking for us; God smiles when we’re safely back in the palm of his hand. I find that comforting in this, our valley. I hope grandma does, too.