A Recipe of My Own

The other day, I was forced to create a recipe of my own. A friend gave me a bag of squash linguine from Sunrise Creative Gourmet. She received it as a gift and didn’t think she would like it because she doesn’t like squash. Since I never made that sort of pasta before, I tried to find a sauce to go with. The Sunrise Creative Gourmet website recommended making an olive oil and parmesan cheese sauce. It also indicated that roasted vegetables, chicken, or salmon would make a good addition. While I searched the Internet for a more specific recipe, a recipe that called for a third of a cup of olive oil looked like a good place to start. The rest of the ingredients didn’t sound appetizing, so I made it up as I went along, keeping the Sunrise Creative Gourmet’s suggestions in mind.

While the water for the pasta was heating up, I poured the olive oil in a large skillet. I had already sliced the chicken into bite-sized pieces. As the chicken cooked and filled the house with a delicious-smelling aroma, some of my favorite recipes came to mind, and this is what got combined:

Chicken, Squash Linguine with Olive Oil
and Parmesan Cheese Sauce

Ingredients:

1-16 oz. package of linguine (squash, if you can find it; regular, if you can’t)
1.25 pound package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 big clove of garlic, minced
½ cup thinly sliced red onion
½ cup red pepper, chopped into ½-inch pieces
15 grape tomatoes, sliced lengthwise
1 tablespoon parsley flakes
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ cup lemon juice
½ to 1 cup of shredded parmesan cheese

Directions:

Cook linguine according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook chicken in olive oil over medium heat until meat is no longer pink. Add garlic, onion, and red pepper and heat until red pepper is cooked through. Add tomatoes, parsley flakes, salt, red pepper flakes, black pepper, and lemon juice.  Cover pan and simmer until tomatoes look a little wilted. If the pasta is done cooking, drain pasta, add pasta to skillet, and mix altogether. Top with parmesan cheese and enjoy.

The flavors blended together nicely.  The funny thing is that the pasta didn’t really taste like squash! It might have been that the onion and garlic overpowered that taste. Any old sauce would have tasted okay, but it’s better to have this recipe of my own.  Besides, this concoction disappeared faster than it took to make. If you try it, let me know if you like it!

How Netflix Ruined My Writing Routine

It took a long while before Netflix made an appearance at our house. Before then, I rarely watched TV. I’d have one or two favorites I tuned into once a week, but once Netflix arrived to our home about two years ago, I got hooked. At first I was able to stick to my writing routine, but the idea that limits could be enforced flew out the window the moment I discovered the first episode of the first season of an addictive show: Breaking Bad. How would the main character, Walter White, weasel his way out of all the trouble he got himself into on a daily basis? I waited for what I thought was his true character – an honest chemistry teacher – to shine through and conquer his evil, nasty drug maker and dealer side. I was surprised how fast I got hooked because this show wasn’t even remotely similar to other shows I watched. I mean, Walter White is so different from Laura Ingalls Wilder from Little House on the Prairie!

Once I made it through all the episodes of Breaking Bad, a friend recommended Mad Men. Donald Draper loomed large over the television screen almost nightly. Mr. Draper’s charismatic personality charmed both women and men with his advertising talents, among other things. 😉  During each episode, I waited for what I thought was his true character – a person wanting to show love and be loved – dwindle away. Would he ever find happiness and stop being such a womanizer? You’ll have to watch and see.

As I commiserated to a writer friend about how I was becoming addicted to Netflix, she advised that writers should watch shows to give us ideas to use in our own writing. So I happily continued on while pen and paper waited on the sidelines. Netflix was like a box of chocolates sitting on the kitchen counter. I just had to have one more.

Parenthood became one of my favorites. The drama in the characters’ lives kept me hooked like any soap opera would. Even though there was a lot of arguing between the grown brothers and sisters, their young children, and the grandparents, it helped them resolve or work through the many problems they had to deal with. The series taught me a bit about autism since one of the children and an adult struggled with the disorder.

Heartland, a Canadian drama TV series about a family living on a horse ranch, was recommended by another friend. Finally, back to my Little House on the Prairie roots in a modern sense, I enjoyed seeing the beautiful scenery of Alberta and watching how Amy helped the traumatized horses get back to their normal lives. With a more relaxed story line, I was able to nod off and figure out what happened without hitting the rewind button. (This show is still in progress.)

At first, Switched at Birth didn’t seem like it had a realistic plot because the teenage girls that were switched ended up living close together after one of the daughters figured out she wasn’t her parents’ biological child. However, I enjoyed how the show brought up everyday problems of teenagers and how their friends and family found solutions. The series also shows the problems deaf teenagers and their families deal with and viewers might even learn some sign language along the way. (This show didn’t have a true ending, and I am not sure more episodes are forthcoming.)

The Tutors, a show about King Henry VIII, is a historical drama. This one had me Googling events to see if what was happening was factual. I ended up learning a lot about history but had to cover my eyes during the gory torture scenes. I kept waiting for the king’s life to get better, but I knew not to expect a happy ending.

Reign, a show about Mary, Queen of Scots, also captivated my attention. Even though we might think the life of a queen would be luxurious, it doesn’t look like a job for the weak and timid. I’ve read this show is not true to actual events, but it does seem to follow some of the life events of this queen. If you listen closely, you will hear modern tunes played by the orchestra. (The next episode will soon air on regular TV on the CW network.)

Doc Martin, a show which takes place in a seaside village in England, ends up being the one that gave me the most laughs. The small town scene helps the viewer get acquainted with the quirky characters of the village. I wonder if the grumpy doctor will figure out how to have a more pleasant bedside manner and be able to keep his wife and son close to his side. (Doc Martin has six seasons on Netflix. The seventh season will hopefully arrive to Netflix soon, and the eighth season will be its last.)

Now, all I have to do before I get back to my writing routine, is to get through the first season of Stranger Things, a new Netflix original series. The children in this show are what keep me watching. Will they find their missing friend? What worlds will they have to explore to find him? Will they find out all the mysterious super powers of the girl, Eleven?

All this busyness of keeping up with what’s on Netflix could have possibly ended up with a writer creating about five books the size of War and Peace!  I’ll never be able to catch up to Netflix, but maybe I can catch up on my writing.

After nourishment, shelter and companionship,
stories are the thing we need most in the world. ~ Philip Pullman

Garth Stein – Author Event

A couple of weeks ago, I saw Garth Stein, the author of The Art of Racing in the Rain. Eden Prairie Reads* sponsored the author event which was held at St. Andrew’s Church. Mr. Stein was introduced to the crowd by the chair of the committee. A grand entrance was made from the back of the church as the crowd of about 100 people applauded. When Garth dropped something on the floor, the clapping stopped, but Garth asked us to please continue with our applause until he got to the podium. The audience complied.  🙂

Mr. Stein started his talk by saying, “Wait a minute.” He pulled his phone out of his pocket, took a picture of the audience, and told us he would post our picture on his Facebook account. He also said he had to take care of a little business before he started his reading. He asked us to sign up for his newsletter and giveaways after the event. He also explained how he likes to write books, but he also needs people to read them. He thanked the booksellers, librarians, and teachers and asked us to please buy books from bookstores.

Garth Stein Event
I’m way in the back!

Mr. Stein then recited:

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

Someone in the audience knew that this stanza was from a poem written by T.S. Eliot. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, I discovered after I googled a few key words.  Mr. Stein read a few lines from the beginning of The Art of Racing in the Rain and told us that the question people ask him most is:  Where did the idea come from? “So many different places. It’s like a stew. All the different ingredients come together.” He talked about how he moved to New York from Seattle in 1983 and worked on documentary films. In 2001, he moved back to Seattle. While working in New York, one of the films they were working on was about Mongolia and how they believe dogs reincarnate as men. The idea really stuck with him. When he was back in Seattle with Billy Collins, a poet, Billy read his poem The Revenant, a poem from dog heaven. More ideas came to Mr. Stein and he was able to write the book very quickly even though the main idea of it came to him about six years before.

At the beginning of his writing career, Mr. Stein drove around to different book stores and asked if he could speak there. When he was in Plano, Texas, he did a reading for the one person who showed up. He asked his fan if he would like to just go to the coffee shop instead, but the guy said “no” – he wanted Garth to do a reading for him. It was from his book Raven Stole the Moon. His wife is his first reader and wondered what he was doing during the day while he was touring with Raven Stole the Moon because the book signings were in the evenings. She figured out he was going to the movies – the movie ticket that she found in his pocket was a big clue. She thought it would be a good idea if Garth wrote during the day, and that’s when he wrote The Art of Racing in the Rain. He sent the manuscript to his agent, and he waited. He waited, like his dog Comet likes to wait for pancakes to get made on Saturday mornings: very attentively. He watched his phone for several days. When his agent finally called, Garth asked, “What did you think?” The agent said, “It’s narrated by a dog.” The agent didn’t know how he could market a book written from a dog’s point of view, and Garth replied by saying, “Victor Hugo wasn’t a hunchback.” So Garth fired that agent. Garth sent his manuscript to many agents and they all thought the same thing – they didn’t know how to get it published. When he was at a Literary Lions gathering and was getting introduced to people at his table, he told them how frustrated he was since he couldn’t find an agent. One guy at the table said, “My book is written from the point of view of a crow!” That book is called Song of the Crow, by Layne Maheu. It’s a story about Noah’s Ark, and that’s the tale of how Garth found his new agent.

Garth talked about how aspiring authors ask him what information he has to help them get started writing a book. Garth said that it’s like Pin the Tail on the Donkey. You start at one point and work your way around. You can move the pin as many times as you like.

Garth’s new book is called A Sudden Light which is based on his play Brother Jones. It’s a spiritual ghost story. He shared the story about his father’s death and how a “mystical thing” happens to him when he’s writing.

Garth was currently reading The Brothers K, a sports book by James Duncan. He also recommended reading The Trouble with Poetry. Some of his favorite authors are Ken Kesey, the author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; John Steinbeck; and Flannery O’Connor.  Universal Studios is working on making The Art of Racing in the Rain into a movie, and Garth has written some children’s books with Enzo, Zoe, and Denny, characters from The Art of Racing in the Rain.

This was my first time going to an author event, and I thought it was very entertaining and inspirational. How about you?  Have you ever attended an author event?  What did you think?
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* “Eden Prairie Reads is a community grassroots group whose purpose is to promote reading, encourage discussion and strive for a new level of connection in the Eden Prairie community. We try to select books that will have broad appeal in the community while at the same time challenging us to think, and talk about issues we all face.” For more information, check out their website at http://www.epreads.org.

The Right Amount of Sweetness

Every Saturday when I was a kid, my mom made pies – two pies of the same flavor – to be exact. The kinds of pies Mom made were blueberry, apple, cherry, rhubarb, pumpkin, or lemon meringue. She used the same two glass pie pans. As she rolled out the dough on the wooden board in our kitchen, I watched sometimes, but didn’t quite get the knack of making a crust like Mom made. It was flaky on top and crunchy on the edges. When my fork dug into a piece of Mom’s apple pie, tiny flecks of cinnamon could be seen in the juice of apples that had baked away. Each remaining apple chunk was the same size and each bite melted in my mouth. The rhubarb was just as nice as the cherry and blueberry.

The fruit and pumpkin pies were Mom’s specialty, and then she experimented by making lemon meringue. The lemon was tart and made my mouth water and pucker up underneath my cheekbones. The meringue reminded me of clouds floating up to make mountain peaks, and the taste was just the right amount of sweetness to blend with the lemon and chase the tartness away.

It would be nice to get a taste of any one of those pies today because no store or restaurant can top the flavor of what Mom used to make. I never became good at it myself because it seemed like such a chore. A pie crust needed to be made, and it had to be an even thickness and in a circle to fit a pie pan.  Apples needed to be peeled or pumpkin had to be cooked (yes, she really made it from scratch), and an entire hour would have to pass by before the pie was done baking. Mom would always laugh and tell me it was so easy to make a pie crust! To me, the entire process seemed like so much work and the pre-made crusts at the grocery store weren’t the same.  Plus, what had been created disappeared faster than the effort.

I wonder if I ever really appreciated that labor of love when I was making Mom’s creations disappear. Even if I forgot to thank her for the pies, I bet she knew we loved the treats by how fast we made them vanish.  If I can drum up a little patience, I’ll bake a pie and hopefully it will taste just as good as Mom’s. I just have to remember to use the right amount of sweetness.

I think careful cooking is love, don’t you? The loveliest thing you can cook for someone
who’s close to you is about as nice a Valentine you can give.
~ Julia Child

Better Than a Rat’s Tail

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Lila & Kona

I thought Lila, our dog, looked fine, but we kept hearing comments about how she looked “plump” or “overweight” or “is she getting bigger?” which made my heart feel sick since my husband and I make a point of exercising her regularly. Last summer, it also seemed like her energy level decreased.  Then, last November, we noticed her tail looked like a rat’s tail.  There were big splotches of fur missing.  We thought she might have a thyroid problem so we went to visit the vet.

Doc felt her fur and agreed that it didn’t have the luster that a Labrador’s coat usually has. Lila stepped on the scale, and her weight was the highest it’s ever been even though we cut back on her food.  The vet took a blood test to see if Lila had a thyroid issue, and sure enough, a few days later, he called to tell us that she needed to go on thyroid medication. We were surprised, since no one else in the family has a thyroid problem.  😉

Last weekend, Lila had another checkup, and when she hopped on the scale, she was 12 pounds lighter. Doc and his assistant were surprised to see that she lost so much weight since her now luxurious fur can make her look a little puffed out.  “Her fur is so soft.  She looks like a stuffed animal,” the assistant said.  Her fur is as soft now as the day we brought her home, and thankfully, Lila’s energy has increased too.  Doc would like her to lose a little more weight because it’s hard on dog’s joints and they can get arthritis if they get too heavy, so we’ve been instructed to cut back a little more on her food.  Of course, we’d never let her get too skinny, and she wouldn’t let us do that either, but I’m hoping the sticks and whatever else she munches on in the backyard don’t have a lot of calories!

Now with spring arriving, Lila’s beautiful coat is shedding and blotches of fur are showing up on the carpeting, but the fur loss is not as bad as it was before she went on medication.  Seeing the fur on the carpet is so much better than looking at a rat’s tail!

America the Beautiful

Today is the last day of Macy’s annual flower show in downtown Minneapolis.  This year’s theme is America the Beautiful.  There are displays of flowers or plant life from every region of the United States.  As usual, the scenes were beautiful.

Bachman’s replaces some of the flowers, such as Daffodils, Hyacinths and Tulips, to keep the flowers looking fresh.  Each year, more than 65,000 people visit, and it’s always on my list of things to do in the spring.  Seeing the flowers gives us hope for our gardens as we wait for flowers to bloom.

Earth laughs in flowers.  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

No Crumbs Were Left Behind

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For Christmas, my husband surprised me with a gift of a weekend getaway for both of us at the Ann Bean Mansion in Stillwater. As the temperatures dropped, my vision of wandering around Stillwater to shop sunk like the rapidly decreasing temperatures. We knew it was going to be a hibernating sort of weekend, and we decided it would be a great time to hang out in a mansion instead of being cooped up at home.  Besides, it gave us a reason to be lazy and just relax, which is always nice.

Before we went to the mansion, we stopped at Pub 112 in downtown Stillwater for dinner.  To warm my bones, I had a Sunburnt Nutty Irishman which is made with Tullamore Dew, Frangelico, Bailey’s Irish Cream, River Moon Coffee and topped with whipped cream.  I also ordered the Guinness Beef Stew.  The beef was tender and accompanied by root vegetables, peas, mushrooms, fresh herbs and topped with baby red mashed potatoes.  The green stuff that adorned the plate tasted like kale.  When I asked the waitress what it was, she confirmed my suspicion and said it was deep-fried.  The crisp kale was different prepared that way, and I wondered if all the nutrients got fried away too.  As I savored each bite, hubby enjoyed his burger.  After we cleaned our plates, we were off to find the mansion which was just a short trip away.

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When we entered the place, it felt warm and cozy even though the entryway is quite large.  We were greeted by Jeremy, the innkeeper.  Jeremy and Erin, a husband and wife team, have been innkeepers since 2004.  Jeremy told us that the mansion was built in 1880, and he escorted us to the Hersey room.  Mr. Hersey was part owner of Hersey, Bean and Brown Lumber just when the town of Stillwater was getting settled.  To read more about the history of the mansion, click here.

Jeremy brews his own beer and told us about the never-ending supply of warm chocolate chip cookies that can be found in the dining room.  After we got settled, we ventured off to find the cookies with melted chocolate chips.  We had to restrain ourselves from visiting that room too much, but we did go there a few times!

We explored the living room, and I took these photos.

I enjoyed looking at the antiques and the beautifully carved woodwork that surrounded the rooms.

Mr. Hersey’s room, below, was quite large and is heated by a fireplace.

Looks like someone forgot their shoes!

That night, besides eating cookies, we lounged, watched TV, and I browsed through the History of Stillwater where I discovered that Mr. Hersey was quite the lumberman. It was very quiet even though we heard other guests come and go every once in a while. I was surprised that the old windows in the building didn’t make the place too drafty, but closing the shades helped a lot.  The still night turned into a peaceful morning.

We had breakfast in our room, but guests do have the option of eating in the dining room, if they’re feeling social that is!  Somebody knocked at our door, and left a sumptuous tray of food without being seen.  No crumbs were left behind at this meal either!

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Menu:
Merlot Poached Pears with Yogurt and Granola
Cheddar Gougere with Tomato Jam
Buckwheat Blini with Dutch Apple Compote and Sausage
Peach Mango Crumble

St. Michael's

Thankfully, our old van turned right over even though the temperature was still below zero.  We visited the Church of St. Michael for mass a few blocks away.  We got to explore another beautiful old building that is one of the oldest parishes in Minnesota that was built in 1853.

We had such a nice and relaxing time, we’re thinking about going back again when the weather gets warmer or maybe we’ll go when it’s below zero again…