Power to the Pupil

November 27, 2010 at 9:37 pm Leave a comment

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As most of my acquaintances will tell you, through a weak and weary smile, I am all about lessons learned. Maybe it’s because I came late to viewing life through grown-up eyes, I don’t know. But I have an unfortunate zeal for spreading the benefit of my revelational experiences throughout a sometimes disinterested population of family and friends, and it does seem that life lessons pop up around every corner. 

My major writing project these days presents such surprises on a regular basis. I am rewriting journal notes I kept while assisting my aging father and stepmother from January of 2005 through June of 2006. Reliving the joys and frustrations of weekdays spent with them is a rewarding but emotionally draining exercise – and one that leads me to stumble onto insights that only become apparent when viewed from a distance.

In one recounted scene, a gentle therapist helping my stepmother deal with Parkinsonisms tells me to remind the patient to “look to the horizon,” rather than let her head fall forward and her gaze drift down. These days I catch myself, on my long daily walks, letting my own head fall forward and my gaze drop as I contemplate weighty matters beyond my control. “Lift your eyes to the horizon,” I remind myself, and I’m rewarded with welcome distractions: the peach-toned underside of a bank of silvery clouds; a neighbor’s color-burst front porch arrangement of fall foliage; the frisky antics of a pair of scampering squirrels, taking a play break from the work of foraging for winter’s needs. 

When the first wet, heavy snow of the season caused power lines to sag and we lost electricity for three days the second weekend in November, I had another opportunity to “lift my eyes” – first of all from my minor, into-my-chest grumblings about the inconvenience to see that the temperature outside was – thank the Lord – 40 above, and not 40 below. By the time it was all over, I had realized a thing or two about the imposed tranquility of not being able to carry the day’s work into the evening hours, and that the world does not stop spinning on its axis if dishes pile up in my sink or my blog is late getting posted.

What a luscious luxury to while away a few morning hours writing birthday poems and Thanksgiving cards in a sunny corner of the dining room, or to play a leisurely game of Scrabble by candlelight after the evening has rolled darkness into that same corner. Not being tied to the clock or to my chore calendar went from exasperating to calming as we lit dozens of candles for light and warmth and psychological comfort, and soaked up the restful quiet like grateful birds refreshed by a gentle summer rain. 

Thanks to lightable gas burners, meal preparations were done range-top. An uncomplicated stew of lots of glistening, golden-browned cubed onions tossed in with cubed pork and sweet potatoes, doused with a few cups of chicken broth, a few sprigs of fresh rosemary laid across the top, and simmered until we felt like dishing it up along with olive oil, lemon, and garlic-dressed steamed green beans. Sheer simplicity, served up on sturdy, coated paper plates by lantern-light. 

Another night, ground chicken mixed with soy sauce, a pinch of garlic powder, and some soy protein for binding made up into flavorful patties, to fry as a small pot of brown rice was bubbling alongside. Toss a few dried cranberries into the rice and add a plain spinach salad with sliced red onion and sunflower seeds, and we had supper number two, with no fuss and no muss.

A recent company dinner menu of mine had included pumpkin soup with homemade cinnamon croutons; pork tenderloin with figs and caramelized onions; wild rice with wild mushrooms; a savory phyllo pie with eggplant, walnut, leeks, and Pecorino Romano cheese; marinated white and green asparagus; and baked peaches served with homemade caramel ice cream and the cookies described below. So, yes; I love to cook. But being in and out of the dim-lighted kitchen with evening left to spare on both sides of dinner hour was a nice change from my usual “every meal a big production” approach.  

Fortunately I had some of those wonderful Corn Meal Cookies left over from the dinner party, and we had dreamsicle ice cream softening in the freezer, so dessert was covered effortlessly. Consistent with the simplicity theme I will share that easy recipe, inspired by an episode of Baking With Julia which turned out a beautiful batch of cornmeal biscotti.  Here, I splice that formula together with a few online variations to come up with my own, less work-intensive product:

2 sticks softened butter                                    ¼ C sugar

3 tsp grated orange zest                                    2 tsp grated lemon zest

1 tsp vanilla                                                            1 C unbleached flour

1 C stone ground corn meal                             ¼ tsp salt 

Cream the butter and sugar until well combined, then stir in orange and lemon zest and vanilla. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, and salt. Gradually add dry ingredients to butter mixture and roll batter into 3/4” balls. Place balls two inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets, flatten them with your palm, and bake at 350° for 10-13 minutes, or until lightly browned around the edges. 

The moral of this dark tale? Some learning experiences are fairly painless, with lessons both short and sweet – once you get past the groan-inducing pun-twister of a title.

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Entry filed under: Musings of a Midwestern Foodie. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , .

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About

Recipe. According to Encarta, "a list of ingredients and instructions for making something." The thesaurus offers the alternate terms, "formula, guidelines, directions, steps, technique."

And what is the "something" we are aiming for here? Simply a life of robust good health in every important area - spiritual, physical, cognitive, and emotional.

To that end we offer inspirational real-life stories about PEOPLE OF FAITH AND COURAGE; menus and cooking directions meant to fuel your creative inclinations and your healthy body in the form of MUSINGS OF A MIDWESTERN FOODIE; and ADVICE FOR LIFE from the perspective of those who have lived it to maturity. (Click on the green category tabs at the top of this page to learn more about each section.)

Have a taste and see what you think. If you like what we are serving up, please tell your family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors to stop by for a visit, too.

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