Pie of a Lifetime

Yesterday, I made the above. It’s a butternut squash pie, and I got the recipe from a chef I’ve been following on Twitter for a while, Amethyst Ganaway. She goes by @ExcuseMyFly on Twitter and @thizzg on Instagram and she’s definitely worth following. She’s a young, Black, Charleston, SC, low-country gal living in the high country of Albuquerque, NM and she writes a mean article about pie, grits, food and work equality in the business, and other interesting things. The link is to the article and recipe for the pie, but check out her other things and definitely give her a follow. You won’t be sorry.

I was never a pumpkin pie fan. In fact, I never ate pumpkin pie until I was an adult. My mother didn’t abhor it, but she always said she just preferred sweet potato pie, so that’s what she made, and that’s what we ate. I loved her pies and make a pretty good one myself. However, when I read Ms. Ganaway’s article, I knew I had to give butternut squash a go. I already had a go-to soup recipe, so adding a pie just made sense. I used store bought, deep-dish pie crusts and I actually par-baked them for the first time. This definitely made a difference.

I confess that I am that person who looks at a recipe and immediately starts finding ways to modify it in my head, and I confess when I looked at the pie recipe, I thought, Oh, let’s add this and try that, etc. But, since it was an “heirloom” recipe, I wanted to make it just as is, at least for the first time. Other than slightly decreasing the sugar, I followed it to the letter. I am so glad I did, because it doesn’t need one other thing. The recipe is easy. I baked three butternut squash, used two of them for the pie puree and froze the other one for soup later. Just a few simple ingredients whisked together, poured into the shells and off they went. I had to bake them a tad longer than an hour, but they set up perfectly.

When I posted the above photo, Amethyst responded, “Tomorrow morning, have it with a hot cup of coffee, early if you can while it’s cold and quiet out. It’s gonna be life changing.” I got up around 6, which is still pretty dark in Texas. I put my pork roast in the oven, made my cup of coffee and then cut that pie. Sitting at the table in the early morning quiet of Christmas day with it was a gift. I watched the eastern sky get light out the living room window and savored each bite. It was a perfect moment. The pie is light, fluffy, just sweet enough, and believe it or not, that half-teaspoon of lemon zest came through. If you make the pie, do not leave it out! I had all kinds of feels when I ate that pie. I thought about how recipes and cooking tips get passed down in families and I smiled at the one tip for cooking chicken that my paternal grandmother gave to my mom, that I still use today. She was a terrible cook and she hated doing it, but I still cook chicken like she said and people still ooh and ahh over it. Food memories are an unbreakable connection to your past and a way to forge the future.

“It’s gonna be life changing,” she said.

She wasn’t wrong.

Thanks, Amethyst. Merry Christmas.

A Different Planet

I’ve been in my new space in Texas now for a little over a month. As far as I can tell, things are going well. My friend and new roommate suffers from depression. She has dealt with this most of her life for various reasons. This was not a surprise to me. She also hates to cook, something I knew as well, and one of the ways I feel all right living here basically rent free, since I take that worry off her shoulders and try to make sure she eats a little better than she has been. She is type 2 diabetic and trying to get her blood sugar under better control and hoping to get off insulin in the near future. As far as these two things, nothing has been unexpected. However, I didn’t realize that entering the kitchen of a depressed person who hates to cook would feel like being on a different planet.

When I got here, I stayed for just a couple of days to get my rental van unloaded, then drove back to Denver to get my car. During the time I was here, I cooked several different things that ensured there would be good food that could be heated up, etc. for the coming week or so until I got back. I left the kitchen pretty much spic and span, aside from the parts of the counter taken up by piles of junk mail which I didn’t feel was my place to simply throw in the trash (although most of it is likely months, if not years, out of date).

When I got back, I wasn’t quite prepared for the kitchen. I had made a batch of Brunswick stew which I left in the crockpot in the fridge. Apparently, they had finished it a couple of days before I got there, but the crock was still in the sink, full of water. Most of the dishes were also in the sink or across the counter. Friend had said she made Salisbury steak a night or two previously and the skillet with remains was still on the stove. There were horse buckets in the middle of the kitchen, which is difficult, since the kitchen is TINY and nearly all of the floor space is taken up by an island which contains the stove top. There is barely enough room to open the side-by-side fridge on one side and the dishwasher on the other. Clearly, not a well thought out design. But the up side is that you can access the stove and cook on any burner from nearly anywhere in the room!

Mail and clutter was piled up where there were no dishes. The dog’s water dish was in exactly the right place for me to kick it across the room every time I moved (that was fixed immediately). The floor hadn’t been swept (a tile floor that is breaking and cracking due to house settling as the result of a flood which didn’t enter the house but washed underneath) probably in days and there was absolutely no rhyme or reason to any of the cabinets.

I say this as a description with absolutely no judgment. While I am not depressed now, I have been in the past and there are days when simply walking down the hall to the bathroom seems to be more than one can cope with. Only the thought of having to change the sheets from wetting the bed got me up. So, if there were dishes in the sink and dust on the floor, I could deal with it. Once I got the rest of the stuff out of my car and got in for real, things moved quickly. There is still a massive pile of junk mail in one corner of the kitchen, but it’s not a corner that would be used much anyway due to its location, so it can stay there a while.

The other interesting thing was finding about half a million lids for food storage containers with no container that fit them. Cabinet by cabinet, I searched and finally made some matches, but decided that if I couldn’t turn up a match for a lid or a container, then out it went. That freed up some space quickly.

Then I had to assess utensils, cookware, etc. One nonstick skillet, mid-quality, one small cast iron skillet, a little too small for much (maybe baking cornbread). Stoneware baking things. No cookie sheet but this horrible heavy stoneware thing. Pampered Chef, maybe? Regardless, I’m not a fan. A pizza stone, which is fine. There’s a 3 quart stoneware casserole dish with a lid that won’t fit in the oven except on the lowest rack, which appears to be the only baking dish she has, so I bought a nonstick cookie sheet, one of those speckled roasting pans and a glass 8 x 8 dish at Walmart. She had muffin pans and loaf pans and other small kitchen items.

I got the pantry cleaned out and organized as well as the fridge. Items from 2015 to 2019 got tossed. Old spices got tossed. Rusty cans got tossed. Friend and granddaughter talked about a cake mix she had bought “a while ago” to make and showed me round cake pans. When I found the mix in the pantry, it had expired in 2016. When you hate to cook, a mix is too much.

So now we have a routine. I got her some protein-y things for breakfast (keto type cereal, full fat Greek yogurt, etc. She HATES eggs and cannot eat them unless they are baked in something). She’s all about leftovers, so that’s good, and she is more comfortable now asking for something she wants. She’s a fiend for chicken salad and loves mine. I’ve rearranged and reorganized things to where they are a bit more functional and logical (for me, anyway). Granddaughter is bringing dishes out of her room on a more regular basis and also eating with us. We run the dishwasher most every night and tonight, she even washed the dinner pan and put stuff in the dishwasher before she headed to bed.

I think the planets may be coming into alignment, and this is a good thing.

Irony

The last time I had “real” insurance was in 2000, when I worked for the HMO. My job there ended in September, 2000, due to a layoff because the company closed. I was one of the last three employees left, as I managed the appeals and complaints and I had to stay and make sure claims were paid and everything was handled according to state and Federal regulations.

Once that job ended, I obtained care via the Pueblo County Health Department. This public health entity should be a model for the rest of the country. You go to the administrative offices to sign up. You have to have proof of address and income (if any); however, even if your income is too high to qualify for the discounted program, you can get care with a higher copay. Over the 18 years since the HMO job ended, I received great care from PCHC. I had good providers, the offices are just as nice as any doctor’s office I’ve been in, and for the years my grandson lived with me, my copay for regular visits was $22. I went there because the jobs I have had since 2000 either did not offer benefits at all or they cost too much for me to buy.

When I moved to Denver, I thought surely a big city would have something to rival little Pueblo when it came to public health. Nope. When I went to the clinic for my financial interview, it turned out that I made one thousand dollars a year too much to qualify. There was no discount or just a higher copay. If I wanted care, I had to pay a $90 “deposit” and then be billed another $90 (at least). Lab work was separate, of course. The provider I had in Pueblo kindly wrote me a prescription for the one medication I take for a year. When I saw the provider in Denver, she was reluctant to write more than 3 months without major lab tests, which would have cost approximately $300 on TOP of the over $200 I ended up being billed for the first actual visit. So, a $10 prescription (filled at Walmart) was going to cost me nearly $600. What is wrong with this picture?

Now comes September 2020. The last day at my transcription jobs was September 4. Because of pay lag and cashing out my remaining PTO, I received 2 full paychecks that month. During that time, I applied for Colorado Medicaid. BOOM. As of October 1, 2020, I was immediately accepted for Medicaid. Now ANYTHING I might want to have done, would be covered. Any test, any prescription, any treatment. Now at the point of NO income, suddenly I am eligible for decent coverage. This makes absolutely no sense to me, but I’m not going to turn it down!

Now I have relocated to Texas. At the moment, I am still not working, so I am going to apply for Texas Medicaid. We’ll see how difficult they will try to make it. I have to say, Colorado has streamlined many of their bureaucratic functions to be manageable. I wonder how Texas is going to stack up.

I’ll keep you posted.

Happy What?

Well, it’s not quite July 4 in this neighborhood, but it will be soon. This year, I have extremely mixed feelings about this holiday. Am I grateful to live in the US of A? Prior to 2016, I most likely would have answered yes without hesitation, despite the fact that I was certainly aware of the vast inequalities that lie underneath the surface of “we the people” and “all men are created equal.” This year; however, it’s going to take me a long time to answer that question. So I will digress a little.

“Normally” on July 4, I nominally celebrate by watching the movie version of the Broadway musical 1776. I discovered this musical shortly before the actual bicentennial, when I was in high school and becoming active in theater and drama. A friend of mine had the album of the Broadway show and she raved about it and thought I would enjoy it. I did. Later, as a senior, in my first attempt at set and costume design, I chose that play, creating a set of movable ramps and levels, and sketching out the costumes and finding fabric swatches in my mother’s ample scrap bags.

Still later, I introduced my mother to the movie and it became one of our Fourth of July traditions to watch it together. When I first met my roommate, when we worked together at the HMO, I discovered she was a musical theater junkie and 1776 was one of her favorites. In fact, we once regaled the entire medical staff with our spontaneous rendition of “Sit Down, John” out of nowhere, simply because we could.

One of the things I like the most about the film/play is that it does not ignore the fact that slavery was an issue in the forming of this country from the beginning. Jefferson, in listing his grievances against King George III, apparently had passages that referred to the “cruel war” he had waged against “Persons of a different People who never offended him…” In the film, this leads to one of the most powerful performances I have ever seen, “Molasses to Rum to Slaves” performed by John Cullum. If the hair doesn’t stand up all over your body when you watch this, you have no soul. Cullum plays Edward Rutledge, delegate from South Carolina, who wants the above passage stricken from the Declaration, stating that the South’s “peculiar institution” of slavery is a “cherished way of life” and the song points out that people in the North may not own slaves but they certainly profit from the procurement of them by the triangle trade.

After the song, Rutledge and the delegates from all the Southern states walk out, and Ben Franklin tells Adams that if they want the resolution on Independence to pass, they will have to take out the mentions of slavery. Adams rails and refuses, but Franklin says establish America first and then deal with the rest. And “the rest” is history.

Now I wonder. I understand that what those men were trying to do nearly 250 years ago had never been done before. I understand they wanted to be “united” in their break with England, and thereby create a single new country of independent states. But what would have happened if Adams had his way and refused to budge on the slavery item? It’s pretty certain that the south would have left the table right then, and we might have had a civil war before we even had a country. What would that outcome look like? Perhaps we would have a continent that had a Canada that came down to the Mason Dixon line, and a Southern States of America. Would the SSA still practice slavery today? Would the rest of the world have allowed that to carry on? The slave trade was officially ended in 1807, carried out until 1811, but slavery itself was legal until the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, and in some places until Juneteeth, when the news finally got to Texas. So, if the South had left the Continental Congress and there had been no Revolutionary War, would we have had the migration west? Or would the land mass that is now one country so desperately divided by race, religion and political beliefs have been carved up into different governments, fiefdoms, etc. I’m not one of those people who can extrapolate very well, so I have no idea. But I know we would be looking at a very different “America” if that had happened. Would it be better or worse? Who can say? But taking the time to think about it is sobering. I wonder if one more day or two of argument and exhortation on the behalf of those “Persons of a different People” might have changed everything about what’s happening today. Perhaps we wouldn’t be celebrating “independence” at all but something even greater:  The recognition of the humanity of ALL people who live on this planet and perhaps that sometimes interdependence is greater than independence.

 

#Deucember – Day 7 – Another Day

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I’ve fallen behind on Deucembering already.  I had to work two solid 12-hour shifts on Saturday and Sunday nights, and the rest of time I was sleeping or trying to sleep, so that took a bite out of writing time and I had a list today and I tried to get through most of it.  It’s now just after midnight into another day, but I managed to get most of my list done, which makes me happy.  I actually did my laundry AND put it away today, something that almost never happens.  Usually the clean laundry just gets worn out of the basket and then tossed on the floor until the basket is empty and is usually by the next wash day.

I got a letter done to my aunt in NC, that I have owed her for a while.  I also went through photos and pulled out some things to send to my younger cousins.

I cut the batting for two quilts that need to get done.  I’ve got some social things going on over the next couple of days but hopefully I can get at least one of them sandwiched and ready to quilt.

While I was going through photos, I found a few of a friend and her daughter from a long-ago get-together.  I wrote a quick card and will pop them in the mail to her tomorrow.

And now, I have to make up my bed before I can get it because I washed my sheets, etc. as well.  Making up a bed inside a tent is a challenge, but the reward at the end of the struggle is Clean Sheets!

And then I shall read until I fall asleep.

#BuckFifty – Day 8 – Making the Groceries

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When I lived in New Orleans, I learned that people “made the groceries” when they went grocery shopping.  I loved that phrase and I sometimes still use it when I shop.

There are many ways in which I seem to be different from most folks in the mainstream and one of them is that I love to go grocery shopping.  It’s true.  Being in a grocery store just makes me happy.  Even if I’m kind of in a hurry, have a strict list and can’t spend much time, I just love walking the store and looking at all the cool things to eat.  I say thank you to all the fruit and vegetable pickers when I choose my produce, and I’m grateful for over-the-road truckers in the entire store because without them, we wouldn’t have three-quarters of what we get to choose from because they bring everything to our local stores.  Grocery shopping is definitely a collective effort.

I got my love of shopping from my mother.  Of course, she took us all (4 kids) with her when she made the groceries.  Being the oldest, I got to hold the list and check off all the items.  I don’t remember spefically that my mother taught me about bargains, coupons etc., but in all those trips to the store, some of it must have just soaked in by osmosis.

Coming home from the store was also an event.  The back of the car (station wagon, of course) was always full of those large, brown paper bags (which my mom recycled by using them to put fresh-baked cookies on to cool).  I could carry one, maybe my 2 brothers were allowed to carry the non-breakable things, and we talked the whole time about what she bought, what she was going to cook, how and where to unpack everything, etc.  My mother was the Broadway of grocery shopping.

So, cut to my second marriage.  I’m home from the store and my husband wants to help me with the groceries.  Nice, I think.  (First husband couldn’t have cared less about helping with anything, so it had to be an improvement, right?)   Suddenly, a whirling dervish is by my side, grabbing bags, slinging them on his arms (we had graduated to plastic by then), frantically trying to get everything out of the trunk in less than 3 minutes and running into the house to dump it all on the table.

I was really upset and I couldn’t figure out why.  After all, he was “helping,” right?  Why was I mad at him?  Why did I want to tell him to leave me alone and get the hell out of my way?  I really couldn’t understand.

It took me a few years, and then I realized.  For me, shopping and coming home was an event.  For him (and I think for his mom, too), it was a chore of drudgery to be gotten over with as soon as possible.  Multiple trips to the car for groceries?  Oh, no, it all had to be out of the car and done with in one trip, period.  I tried to explain it to him but he really couldn’t understand.  It just didn’t make sense to him.  So, I countered by doing the shopping when he wasn’t home, so I could take my time unpacking and indulging in my own little household ritual.

Grocery shopping still reminds me of my mom.  I wander the aisles and think about things we used to cook together, things she taught me how to cook, how excited she was that I worked in a restaurant in New Orleans and made gumbo by the 20-gallon barrel.  Some people remember their mothers sewing, some singing lullabyes, some maybe cleaning the house from stem to stern.  But for me, making the groceries will always be a way to connect to my mom and to that feeling of being completely loved and cared for.

 

A Moment

Today I was working at my second job.  On Tuesdays, I work at a local quilt shop, general duties, helping people pick out fabric, cutting, ringing up, all the usual things one does in a small retail shop.  I like the job for lots of reasons but one of the biggest is that the customers, other quilters, are almost invariably pleasant, creative, interesting people.   Today was a little unusual because we have a sale this week.  My boss isn’t big on sales as a business model because she says people will just wait till you have a sale to come into the shop and stay away otherwise.  But, we have a LOT of inventory on the shelves and more coming and we need to make some room, so a sale for the next three days is in effect.  It’s 20% off all fabric, but if you buy the end of a bolt, then it’s 25%.  That’s to encourage people to just snap up those small amounts left on bolts to put in their stash.

Around mid-morning a lady came in and wandered around for a while and finally settled on a bolt of red that she wanted to pair up with a blue.  I showed her where things were and she found a blue fabric she liked and pulled that out.  Turns out, she was going for the ends of bolts on both, and there were about 4-5 yards of fabric left on each bolt, so a pretty good purchase, even with a discount.

As I was unfurling the fabric to measure exactly how much there was, we were chatting about it and what her plans were for it, etc.  Being red and blue, of course, I was thinking something patriotic for Fourth of July and mentioned that.

“Yes,” she said, “I make a patriotic quilt every year and donate it to the Friends of the NRA so they can raffle it off to raise money.”

“Oh,” I said, pretty much at a loss for words.

“Yes,” she said again.  “The one I donated last year ended up going for $750!”

I suddenly wanted to grab that fabric out of her hands and tell her to just get the hell out of the store because I was NOT going to sell her anything that could be used to benefit that crazy terrorist organization.  It was really all I could do not to.  My hands nearly cramped up with the effort.

But I didn’t.  First of all, the woman was probably close to 80 years old and second, my boss, who owns the shop, also own guns, although I’m pretty sure she’s not a fan of the NRA, as I know lots of gun owners are not.   So I just smiled and nodded and sold her the fabric and was very happy when she walked out of the store.

“Friends of the NRA.”  Damn, who knew?

Leaving

Once upon a time, I put everything I owned in the trunk of my car and left behind a house that I had lived in for a long time, but wasn’t mine. I moved to a different city and lived in a mostly empty two-room apartment, that never really felt like mine, even after I bought a table to sit at and eat breakfast. I was scared to death at first, but eventually enjoyed myself and learned a few things.

Then, after a little while, things there got hard and sad and I retreated back to the other house that felt like home but still wasn’t mine. It was comfortable there, but I had become used to moving and so after a while, I found a job that moved me all over the place until I decided to “settle” in a number of ways, in another tiny apartment that did feel like home for a while, but then it didn’t and I left that and moved again, to a larger house that was nice but isolated and far away. Things got scary there, and one night, I left everything behind and moved out in a hurry, in order to save my life.

I went back to the house that still wasn’t mine and stayed there for a while, but all the things I had taken out of the last house stayed boxed up, as if they were waiting for the time that I would move again. When it came, I left most of that behind, put just a few things in a moving truck and this time went across the country to live in another house that wasn’t mine. I had hope that perhaps one day it would feel like mine, and it was comfortable for a while, but then, once again, things happened that caused it to feel strange and alien, and so, leaving everything but a few of the necessaries that I had schlepped from one state to another, I moved into a different small apartment, that for nearly a year, really did feel like home.

Then another opportunity arose to once again live in a house that wasn’t mine, but most definitely felt like home for a longer time than any of the others. But when things went wrong there, they went wrong in a hurry, and all of a sudden, the home was simply another place to leave and I found myself in another small apartment with almost the exact inventory of things that I had left home with nearly two decades ago.

Now, I am in this home-feeling place, but I know that in a fairly short while I will once again be leaving. I’ll once again move to a house that is not mine and leave behind anything that won’t fit in the trunk of my car. The circle will be unbroken.

We come from a long lineage of leavers. Our forebears left countries and societies that had become impossible for them to tolerate, whether for political, economic or religious reasons. They settled for a while along the Eastern shores of a new country, but then, even then, some of them weren’t satisfied and had to leave again, to forge out into the unknown parts of the vast country they found themselves in. They left behind men, women, children, possessions, security. They didn’t know what they would find, didn’t know if they would live long enough to get back, only knew that for some unknown reason, they couldn’t stay.

Today, we leave jobs, we leave homes, we leave relationships, we leave loved ones and not so loved ones, we leave children, we leave friends, and wonder what went wrong. What if nothing went wrong? What if, by a process of selection, like blond hair or big ears, we have simply evolved a leaving gene? What if all this leaving over the span of hundreds of years, has made us incapable of sustaining marriages, jobs, relationships, for more than a few years at a time. You could argue that it’s society that has changed, becoming more mobile, causing the need for job transfers, etc., and that the age of working for one company for 30 years and then retiring is over, and that is true. But how did that happen? When you drill down, what is the basic source? Perhaps our society has evolved this way to actually support the idea of leaving, that “getting out” is what you do, that staying anywhere long enough to put down real roots has become uncomfortable, like feeling trapped. Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

I can’t answer that question and all of the above are just rambling thoughts that have been going through my mind for a while. Why does one person manage to find a partner, a job, a life that satisfies them for thirty or forty years with relatively minor changes, and another person rambles through their life the way I have, completely uprooting themselves every so often in ways that their friends often can’t comprehend? I may never know, but at least now I’m comfortable with the idea of being a loner and a nomad, and I can pursue my path without disrupting anyone else’s life. For that, I am thankful.

A Week

Yesterday was a week since we moved. It seems like we have been here forever and that the last 13 years were but a dream. Isn’t that odd? I expected to be more broken up about the break up, but I’m not. I confess that sometimes I wonder about myself. I wonder if there is something missing inside me, because I can detach like this, almost in an instant. I wonder where the line is between detachment and pathology is–if one can be so detached as to just fall off the edge. Does that make sense? Can you have passion and detachment at the same time? I wonder.

I’m still unpacking, but nearly done. Mostly it’s books now, and where they should go. I got the furniture in the bedroom rearranged yesterday and I think things will stay this way for a while. This bedroom is REALLY big. I see where I might need a piece or two (I need a low sort of table or night stand right next to my floor bed. A regular one is too high for me to reach the lamp at night, and I want to get the lamp off the floor.) I guess this means I can take the tape off the file cabinet drawers and file a few things.

The one issue I have is that the closet doors are mirrored. No, no, NOPE. I hate mirrored closet doors…and the ones in the model that I looked at were not. For now, the doors are just open, so it’s almost like my closet at the other place, but a friend of mine sent me this brilliant article about using fabric for “wallpaper” and putting it up with liquid laundry starch. I might find myself some funky fabric and do that…after I test that it will stick on the mirrors and that I can get all fabric and starch reside off the mirrors without a problem. It would definitely give me a pop of design color/accent in this otherwise very beige/white room. And as long as I could take it off harmlessly before I moved (hoping THAT won’t be for a while), it should be okay.

I still have to hang pictures and I still have to get quite a bit of artwork from the house. I’m sure G is worrying with that like a bone. She’s already moved everything down to my old meditation room, but I know she hears it nattering at her constantly. I need to coordinate with friend D, who drives a large truck for his job. He’s been so willing to help me out with just about anything. We just have to work around his schedule, which takes him out of town on the road on my days off. But we’ll get there.

All in all, I feel pretty settled. I’m hoping to get back to the pool next week…this new place is SO much closer…I could probably ride my bike if I wanted to…and I might ride up to the college just to ride, but not lugging all the swim stuff too. I don’t think I’m that coordinated.

And now I need to go cook part of dinner and maybe unpack a few more books. Thank you for all your good thoughts and encouragement. It means a lot and I really appreciate it!