Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Very Good Book

I haven't read anything by Robert Olen Butler for years, but he was always an author who sent arrows to my heart. And I've found that to be true with his most recent novel, A Small Hotel, which I picked up on a serendipitous trip to the Bar Harbor library last week. I finished all 241 pages in a matter of days during a week in which I had little time for casual reading. In short, I was mesmerized and couldn't put it down.

A Small Hotel tells the story of the relationship between Michael and Kelly, a 50-something couple with one child and married over twenty years. The story opens on the day that their divirce is to be finalized. Their life together is told in flashbacks from the point of view of these two main characters, and despite the fact that Michael has a much younger girlfriend the story is not what one would expect.

Why did I like this book so much? These all too real characters are my contemporaries and I know and at least hope I understand what it's like to be in a long-term marriage. Butler's adept weaving of the past and present made me have to know what was coming, and in the final section as Michael is racing against time, the author resorts to run-on sentences of such gripping intensity that my heart was racing, too.

The book speaks eloquently and convincingly of the importance of saying I love you to those we do, in fact, love. Words of wisdom.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sunday Psalm

Yesterday's Psalm spoke to me.

Lord, you have been our refuge
from one generation to another.

Before the mountains were brought forth,
or the land and the earth were born,
from age to age you are God.

You turn us back to the dust and say,
"Go back, O child of earth."

For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past
and like a watch in the night.

You sweep us away like a dream;
we fade away suddenly like the grass.

In the morning it is green and flourishes;
in the evening it is dried up and withered.

Return, O Lord; how long will you tarry?
be gracious to your servants.

Satisfy us by your loving-kindness in the morning;
so shall we rejoice and be glad all the days of our life.

Psalm 90:1-6; 13-14

I've been feeling a bit like the tree in the photo above...struggling and weatherbeaten by the winds of life. One evening last week, all of a sudden, something went wrong with my left eye. I was seeing flashes of light and big black blotches everywhere. I was scared. Everything that just a minute before I'd taken for granted seemed to be at risk. But fate was kind and the next morning, after some frantic searching, I got an immediate appointment with a specialist only 5 minutes away. The technical diagnosis is posterior vitreous detachment which will likely heal itself if I can rest and avoid heavy physical activity and reading.

Yes, reading...that's a hard one. Of course I read music, too, and my usual solitary hours of practice are out for awhile. But I now have the OK to do what I need to in order to play on Sundays and keep my students in order.

I am grateful that healing has begun and you can believe that I will take care of my eye. And that means signing off now...but one more thing: this Psalm spoke to Brahms, too-he used it in his Requiem.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Summer of Love

This was the summer for memorable weddings. First it was the one with Yo-Yo Ma and then Emily's on August 14. And between these two I played for a same-sex commitment ceremony at St. Saviour's. Although it is not yet legal here in Maine for a same-gender couple to marry, I am fortunate to work for a church and denomination that allows and even encourages blessings for gay couples.

Rick and Josh are about 40, I'd guess, and had a civil wedding in DC. But they wanted a church blessing as well, and being die-hard Episcopalians fate led them to us. I realize that gay marriage is controversial and I'd dare say some of my dear friends and family would not support the idea. But I am of another opinion and feel that two people who love and care for each other have the right to get married, period. I know several long-term gay couples that could teach us heterosexuals a thing or two about a loving relationship.

For the purpose of this posting I will call Rick and Josh's ceremony a wedding. And what a glorious one it was...never have I worked with a couple so intent on designing a service which spoke to their love for each other, their friends and family, and God. Every hymn and scripture reading was carefully chosen and their vows, while traditional, included some timely modern adaptations. Communion was a big part of the service, and the hymns chosen for that spoke inclusively of God's love for all. The whole thing was capped off by their yellow lab emerging from the wings to recess down the aisle with them.

I have played for so many weddings where the couple and their friends are ill at ease and just anxious to get to the party. Not this one...I felt that we were all part of something beautiful, meaningful and even eternal...the way weddings should be.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


It's fall here in Maine-sweaters and fleece jackets have come out of storage, nights are cool, and the furnace has even been on a couple of times. A fire is laid and ready to go in the woodstove. As hard as it is to give up what was a beautiful summer, there is one thing I'm happy about and that is the garden is just about finished! I've slaved over pasta sauce from our tomatoes and pesto from the basil, and numerous servings of both are in the freezer for a cold winter night. I'm glad that we still have chard, lettuce and herbs, but I've cooked and eaten enough green and yellow beans to last a year. By far, though, it's the summer squash which have just about driven me batty. Almost every day since late July Bill has harvested one, or two, or three, or the occasional zucchini baseball bat. A plethora of squash, yes. If man could live by squash alone...

In the past couple of weeks I've served the following dish 3 times at dinner parties and potlucks, always to great acclaim. I like it because it uses up lots of squash and you can put it in the oven and forget about it. And, by the way, it tastes great! Enjoy.

Scalloped Squash

1. Preheat the oven to 350. Butter a 9 x 13 baking dish.

2. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt 3 tablespoons butter. Whisk in 3 tablespoons flour to make a smooth paste. Whisk in 1 1/2 cups milk and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and stir in 1 1/2 cups sharp cheddar until melted and sauce is smooth.

3. Slice 2 medium yellow squash and 2 medium zucchini in rounds. Slice or chop 1 onion. Layer these in the baking dish, sprinkling with salt and pepper frequently. Cover with cheese sauce and 1/4 cup dried bread crumbs.

4. Bake for 60 minutes, uncovered, and serve hot.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Bill and I have just returned from Cape Breton Island, the northernmost part of Nova Scotia. We spent 4 nights in the town of Cheticamp, exactly 550 miles from our house, as part of a much needed post-wedding getaway. Across the street from our cottage was a quiet, almost deserted beach, perfect for early morning and sunset walks. We explored every inch of the charming Acadian village, with its impressive St. Pierre Church and Les Trois Pignons Museum. But best of all we were near the Cape Breton Highlands National Park where we took many short hikes and stopped at every scenic overlook. I was overwhelmed with the amount of wilderness there...one could look off into the distance for miles and miles and know that there were no roads, no trails, no people. The scenery was stunning and unlike any I'd ever seen-so beautiful that I can't find words to describe the beauty, so I'll say it with photos.

Looking down at the village of Pleasant Bay

Happy hour on the beach

The marsh behind Aspey Bay

Aspey Bay, where John Cabot is thought to have first landed in North America.

Me, rested

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Emily's Wedding

Our dear Emily was married last week, a day full of happiness and joy. For several days before the event I felt very strange-an odd combination of anxiety and anticipation with a touch of sadness. I daresay I don't need to explain that to any mothers who have had a daughter or son marry. Here are some of the highlights that I will always treasure:

Before the actual ceremony there was a private signing of the marriage contract (the ketubah) with the rabbi, Emily and Jeff, the parents and a few guests. As we began the rabbi spoke some words of wisdom to this effect: We often go thru our busy lives just moving from one thing to another, hardly aware of what we're doing. Right now, Emily and Jeff are about to cross a bridge from being single to being married. Let's take a few moments to be quiet and acknowledge this step that's being taken and how all our lives will be changed because of it.

After the signing Jenny and I broke a plate together. It was made of heavy stoneware and wrapped in a cloth. Our first attempt was unsuccessful, so on the second try we slammed it down on the back of a chair with all our might and that did the trick. There are a number of explanations for this ritual, but the one I like best is that the breaking of the plate symbolizes the irrevocable nature of the wedding contract.

At a Jewish wedding the bride and groom process down the aisle escorted by both parents. As Bill, Emily and I began our walk with Elgar's Nimrod playing, Em burst out in peals of laughter...laughter stemming from pure happiness. I have never seen my daughter so ebullient. And then Bill added his own thoughts...this is quite a moment, quite a moment. On arriving at the chuppah Emily circled Jeff seven times, another traditional ritual.

The ceremony itself was rich with meaning. There was the customary stomping on the glass to ward off evil spirits, but my favorite part was when the rabbi wrapped Jeff's beautiful prayer shawl, which had belonged to his grandfather, around the shoulders of both the bride and groom.

There was a reception with good food, good music and great conviviality. We had the usual toasts and a rather unusual one...mine. I knew that I would not be able to say much without choking up, so I decided to "play" my toast. Fortunately the inn has a baby grand piano in the dining room. I began by saying that all my feelings and wishes for the newly married couple could be found in the piece I was about to play, and one could hear a hush fall over the room as I began Debussy's Girl with the Flaxen Hair. It is one of Emily's favorites and it truly did convey what I could not say with words.

Dancing the Horah was the most fun of all. Can you believe this was the first Jewish wedding I've attended? The band played Hava Nagila over and over and over and we all held hands and danced in circles, laughing and singing. The bride and groom, holding a napkin between them to stay connected, were hoisted up into chairs and promenaded around the dance floor. The fathers, Marty and Bill, were next. And yes, you guessed it, before I could even protest I was up in a chair (Jenny, too), feeling as if I were riding a roller coaster at the fair. I can't remember when I've had such a good time.

And now, a week after it's all over, I look at the photos and reflect on this occasion with awe. There is much love between Emily and Jeff, and even more encircles them from all of us, friends and family.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Music with Yo-Yo

Yes, that's me in the photo. Yes, that's the organ in St. Saviour's Church. And yes, that is most definitely Yo-Yo Ma standing next to me. This is a real photo, friends, not photo-shopped or manipulated in any form or fashion.

Last weekend I was the organist for the wedding of a delightful couple who attend my church. They are the type of young Americans that give one hope for our future. The woman went to school with Yo-Yo's children and playing for her wedding was his gift to her. Back in May, when our rector Jonathan told me what was going on, I just could not believe it! It was all very hush-hush, too, and boy was that hard.

What a marvelous experience and the opportunity of a lifetime for me. Due to travel problems Yo-Yo was quite late to our rehearsal. There was little time for pleasantries; we had to get down to work. We began with Handel's Largo and as he played the long opening note I was moved to tears by the most beautiful musical sound I've ever heard and by the realization that I was, in fact, making music with the greatest 'cellist in the world.

He could not have been more gracious, humble or generous. Before the wedding I introduced him to Bill and he handed over his Strad, offering to let Bill draw a bow. And unlike most weddings, where the prelude music serves as background for chatter, the proverbial pin drop here would have seemed like a clashing gong.

People anxiously asked how nervous I was and my answer surprised most of them. I really wasn't nervous at all, just very, very excited and filled with gratitude for this extraordinary opportunity and for Yo-Yo Ma.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Coloring Book

On these blissful summer mornings, when the sun peaks over the horizon at 4:15, I like to read some poetry before the real world takes over. Here is what I found today:

Coloring Book

Each picture is heartbreakingly banal,
a kitten and a ball of yarn,
a dog and bone.
The paper is cheap, easily torn.
A coloring book's authority is derived
from its heavy black lines
as unalterable as the Ten Commandments
within which minor decisions are possible:
the dog black and white,
the kitten gray.
Under the picture we find a few words,
a caption, perhaps a narrative,
a psalm or sermon.
But nowhere do we discover
a blank page where we might justify
the careless way we scribbled
when we were tired and sad
and could bear no more.

Connie Wanek (from On Speaking Terms)

In my sleepy daze I didn't get it at first, but slowly I began to realize that this is my story, my reason for leaving the Southern Baptist church and a minister husband, Lubbock and my home state of Texas. Even after all these years I sometimes doubt myself...my gratitude to the poet, who said it more clearly and eloquently than I ever could.

Almost makes me want to change the name of this blog to Found in Maine...

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Since last October our daughter Emily has been studying Judaism at Sixth and I Synagogue in Washington, DC. Initially she began the classes to learn more about her future husband's religion, but rather quickly became fascinated and decided to convert.

Until she went to college church was a big part of Emily's life, whether she liked it or not. Going to church on Sundays is just what I do, so naturally Bill and Emily would go with me. As a baby she was baptized a Methodist and when we moved to Maine we all slipped easily into the UCC (Congregational) church. For awhile I think she even had fun going to church (good chance to see her friends, play on the elevator, run wild around fellowship hall)...but all that came to a screeching halt in 8th grade when we had to beg and bribe her to roll out of bed on Sunday mornings. It didn't matter that our church had an active youth group, opportunities for mission trips, and a good youth choir-she just didn't want to go.

We mamaged to strike a compromise...she would sing in the choir (directed by me, of course) but not have to attend regular services. I came to depend on her sweet voice, capable of singing either soprano or alto depending on what I needed, yet I struggled with the knowledge that she did not want to be there. In high school Bill and I persuaded her to be a part of the confirmation class, with the caveat that she could make up her own mind when it came time to decide whether or not to become an official member of the church. Not surprisingly she chose not to be confirmed.

As I look back now I can see that this is a normal progression and rebellion for many children, particularly for those who have a parent working in the church. Unfortunately, for a time I took it personally and was even embarrassed in my role as Music Director. But as my own theology and spiritual direction have changed and grown I have come to accept and have faith that Emily has her own path to follow.

I was surprised and even thrilled at her interest in Judaism. In my own quest to learn more about the religion I find I am impressed with its emphasis on education, history and the importance of family ties. I hope that in the not-too-distant future Bill and I can attend a Passover Seder with Emily and Jeff.

At the end of the conversion process, which included a bet din with 3 rabbis (all women) and a ritual bath (the mikveh), Jeff, his dad Marty and I were invited to be part of a welcoming ceremony. Emily received her Hebrew name (Binah) and the rabbis blessed her. We were invited to give our blessing as well, and I bungled mine big-time. Yes, I got choked up and could not get the words out (preview of the wedding?) and so now, dear Emily, here is my blessing for you.

For my daughter:

Since you were small I have known that there is a part of you searching for that which is beyond our everyday existence. I am grateful that you have found something which will sustain and honor that desire. It is your path and one that is full of richness, tradition and meaning. May your spiritual journey be a source of joy and comfort, and always know that you have my blessing.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Advice to Myself

Think not of the amount to be accomplished,

the difficulties to be overcome, or the end to be attained,

but set earnestly at the little task at your elbow, letting

that be sufficient for the day.

Sir William Osler, physician (1849-1919)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Visit from the In-Laws

Earlier this month Emily's future in-laws, Marty and Jenny, spent a few days with us. We are so fortunate- even if our 2 families were not going to be joined by marriage I think we'd like to be friends. We were busy with wedding preparations from sunrise to sunset, and what a beautiful wedding it's going to be. We visited the Bar Harbor Inn, site of the ceremony and reception, had dinner there to decide on the menu, visited the old schoolhouse where the rehearsal dinner will be held, met the barbeque caterer, wrote the invitations...well, you get the idea.

About the schoolhouse...we didn't merely walk in and look around. Actually, we broke in...that is, my 77 year-old husband found an open window and with a boost from 70 year-old Marty climbed in. The door was supposed to be unlocked, we needed to see the place...what were we supposed to do?

Not to be undone by our older husbands, Jenny and I decided that sampling the beer options for the rehearsal dinner would be in order. We marched off to the local grocery to purchase a Bar Harbor Brewery Pleasure Pack. And did we live it up? Let me count...I believe we downed 3 1/2 bottles among the 4 of us.

With all the goings on, not to mention the frantic cleaning spree before our guests' arrival, I needed something delicious and easy to serve for dinner. Grandmother's crock pot came to the rescue, with a very tasty recipe for short ribs. Enjoy!

Short Ribs with Chinese Flavors

8 short ribs, about 3 pounds

1/2 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup sugar or honey

3 star anise

6 scallions, trimmed

1 3-inch piece cinnamon

5 nickel-size pieces of ginger

1 teaspoon peppercorns

Combine all ingredients in slow cooker. Cover and cook until meat is very tender, 5 hours or more on high, 7 hours or more on low. Taste and add salt if necessary. Serve over rice or quinoa garnished with scallions or cilantro.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Organ Adventure

I've recently returned from playing an organ recital in Stamford CT. Our friends Christie and Jay (see Cooking with Christie, January 2010) attend the Unitarian Universalist Church there and late last fall came up with the idea of having a recital to raise awareness of the church's instrument and money for its upkeep. It is a notable pipe organ-an 1870 Johnson-that's rarely played.

The Johnson firm built hundreds of organs in the New England area and this is one of the few that remains in its original location. It sits high up in a loft in front of the church and commands one's immediate attention. I had not played the instrument before and arrived 2 days ahead of the recital in order to have time to adequately discover its beauties and adjust to its inevitable eccentricities. The first of these oddities made itself apparent immediately-the bench was designed for someone much shorter than my 5'9, so I had to prop it up on hymnals. This in turn made it near impossible to get my right leg under the keyboards to control the swell pedal. Anytime I wanted to control the volume with that pedal I had to twist my leg into a bizarre position, all the while playing away seated on a tottering bench. My finesse in crescendo and diminuendo was not quite what I wanted!

But that was the worst of it, and I generally found the organ to have many lovely sounds and to be perfectly suited to the room. It spoke clearly into that space, whether with a tender flute or the full, booming plenum. This instrument is generally played only at Christmas and Easter and I had the enviable responsibility of showing the audience what it can do. After studying the stop list from 450 miles away, I carefully chose my repertoire to demonstrate what I surmised to be the organ's possibilities and I got lucky. I began with a Voluntary by William Clarke, a New England composer working at the same time as Johnson, then played Bach's sublime Pastorale, which showcased the warm flute stops. A terrific pianist, violinist and violoist performed in the middle of the program, then I finished it off with Denis Bedard's Suite du premiere ton. This work made use of the expressive oboe in one movement and ended with a pull-out-all-the-stops finale.

This was such an exciting experience and I wasn't even all that nervous. Instead of obsessing about every detail of my playing I thought instead of how much fun it was to put the organ thru its paces and show it off to the listeners. Afterwards I invited interested folks to climb up to the loft...and they came, from gifted organists to those who had never seen an organ up close. Perhaps, hopefully, some new organ enthusiasts were born.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Duets with Mary

Earlier this month I was in the New York City area and had the privelege of meeting Jeff's (son-in-law-to-be) grandmother. Mary still lives in the Lower East Side apartment where she raised her family. One of her great pleasures in life has been playing the piano and a small Steinway grand sits prominently in the living room. Mary is deep into Alzheimer's, but remnants of her former self still show forth in her sparkling eyes and sweet smile.

A collection of Beethoven's piano sonatas sat on the music rack and I asked if I might play a bit. I began with the slow movement of the Pathetique and before long I heard Mary, sitting nearby, humming along. She moved over to the bench and played a little piece for me, over and over, something I didn't recognize. I suggested we play together, and while I read thru the Moonlight she watched my hands like a hawk and tried to imitate what I was doing. Occasionally she would go back to her own piece and the resulting cacophony was both hopeful and bittersweet.

I will not forget that afternoon of playing duets with Mary. It is another reminder, among many, of the power of music to heal, to cross boundaries, and to connect us with one another.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Six Days of Retirement

The first week of February I made an unexpected trip to visit my parents and aunt in Texas. My mom and dad had been having a particularly rough time and needed some shoring up. I was feeling helpless and very far away, so with little notice I made a plane reservation, contacted a sub, and cancelled my life here in Maine for a week. It was easy.

Immediately I felt a strong sense of relief and it was truly a wonderful trip. And believe it or not, I count ice and snow as the reasons for it being exceptionally good. I left here on a frigid, snow-covered day and looked forward to early morning walks by the canals of Irving and taking in some Vitamin D. It was balmy when I arrived-for a few hours that is. I woke up around 4 am to the sound of something coming from the sky-a little like rain, but no...it was ice, and lots of it.

The Dallas area does not have the capacity to clear all the roads in this type of situation and naturally they go after the major highways first, like those leading to the Super Bowl, which was taking place later in the week. The temperatures remained well below freezing, while we remained in the apartment. I made a short, petrifying trip to the supermarket, and that was it.

When I visit the folks they like to get out-go to a movie, a museum, a restaurant. We come back from these outings exhausted, impatient and demoralized. This time we were forced to do things in the retirement facility and it was so much easier. Everyday we watched a movie, usually on the Turner Classics channel, accompanied by popcorn and soft drinks. I cooked simple meals for supper and we played dominoes, sometimes in the public game room. One afternoon my aunt and I went to "Happy Hour" where a resident got a bit tipsy and began dancing in her wheelchair. Another lady looked at me and asked Are you new here? Surely she had had too much wine to see clearly...

There was even some excitement one night around 11 when the fire alarm went off. I awoke to bright flashing lights in every room and an alarm so piercing I had to cover my ears. My mother and I were frantic, trying to figure out what was going on, and suddenly I became very sober, going over in my mind how we'd get my helpless dad up and out in the event it was a fire. It was only 10 degrees outside and a feeling of vulnerability seeped through every pore of my body. The emergency turned out to be a broken water main, causing one wing of the building to flood.

There is no real conclusion here, or a happy versus sad ending. No big decisions were made, I didn't fix anything, and we didn't even have one of my dad's infamous family conferences. We just were and it was a lovely 6 days. My mom and dad continue to struggle, but in the midst of that we experienced joy.

Monday, February 28, 2011

An Attempt at Correction

In my last post I tried to include a link. I would certainly fall into the category of technology dummy, and knowing that, I even practiced setting up the link! Well, it didn't work, and I'm trying it again: http://www.theproject333.com/getting-started/. If that doesn't work, please just google Project 333.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Drowning in Stuff, Part 2

Last June I wrote about feeling overwhelmed by the amount of my possessions and the size of my house. Although I haven't said anything about it since, I have been actively thinking and actually doing something about it. Throughout the past few months I have cleaned out every shelf and cupboard in the kitchen, continued to sort and donate books and clothes, and weeded thru my piano teaching music. And I have found a new home for my 12 place-settings of Lenox Solitaire china. We used it at Christmas and when I courageously (it was hard!) offered it to Jeff and Emily they quickly gave a unanimous yes. Now it's just a matter of getting it to them in Washington.

But the thing that has made the biggest difference to me is participating in Project 333. Started by a minimalist blogger, the idea is to whittle down one's wardrobe to 33 items for 3 months. This includes clothing, shoes, coats, jewelry and accessories, but not underwear, pajamas, workout wear or around the house lounging clothes. Knowing that it was only for 3 months was a big help, as well as the plan to merely store extra items rather than get rid of them. My 3 months began on January 1, which also made it practical as I need heavy winter clothing thru March.

I began by buying a plastic storage container at Wal-Mart and within a couple of hours I was back for another. (I wonder here at the irony of going to Wal-Mart in order to simplify.) I decided on a basic wardrobe of blacks and grays, with a brown skirt thrown in for variety, then added some sweaters and tops in more vivid colors. The clothing works in such a way that almost every top goes with every bottom. As I filled the containers with cast-offs I became almost giddy with the relief of unburdening my overstuffed closet and drawers.

Many people participating in this project publish a list of their items, but I will not bore you with that. I do have a list, though, and find I haven't done too badly with this first go-round. And I feel liberated! Gone are the days of opening the closet door and trying to make a decision between too many choices. No longer do I try on several necklaces or pairs of earrings, attempting to find just the right look. I admit that paring down the jewelry was the most difficult of all and here I will give you my list: pearl studs, small diamond drop earrings that Bill gave me for my 50th birthday, a Celtic cross from Ireland, a simple silver pendant necklace from Ecuador and my grandmother's pearls and brooch. This selection of jewelry goes with just about everything, although I have admittedly cheated a couple of times.

I realize that countless numbers of people in this world could not pare down their wardrobe to 33 items because they don't even own that many things. That makes me feel a little guilty and self-indulgent...here I am, spending a significant amount of time and energy trying to have less. But it shows me that there are other and more meaningful ways to spend my resources, and I don't just mean money. Paradoxically, all this cleaning out has caused me to focus on things more than usual and I am anxious to reach the next step and think about something loftier. This project has been a kick-in-the-butt for me to actually do something substantial instead of just going thru the bookshelves once again. It is showing me how a less cluttered life would feel, and I like it.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

There are 2 means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.

Albert Schweitzer

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Simple Sunday Supper
It's entertaining season again...yes, I know the holidays are past, when most folks do their partying, but that is a non-stop time of work for me. The cold, desolate winter months are when I most enjoy having friends over for dinner and we do it on an almost weekly basis. When I plan these dinner parties I normally start with a clean slate: looking thru cookbooks and my pile of clipped recipes for ideas, making a grocery list and then shopping, cleaning, setting a pretty table, and cooking. It's my favorite winter sport.

On a recent Sunday evening we hosted our good friends Debby and Paul, both musicians, and I decided to do things a little differently. Having just come thru a rather pricey Christmas and with a wedding coming up in August I wanted to see how little money I could spend and still serve up a marvelous meal. So I took stock of the freezer and cupboard and went to the store for only 4 items, which amounted to a mere $15. Here's the menu, and how I did it:

Appetizers: A small chunk of Jarlsburg, found in the fridge, with crackers from who knows when (but still fresh), some leftover kalamata olives, and smoked mussels that I purchased to serve at Christmas but never did.

Main dish: Pasta sauce from the freezer, with ground beef, served over colorful bowtie pasta.

Salad: Generously contributed by Debbie.

A loaf of whole grain artisan bread.

Dessert: Pecan pie, made with nuts from Texas given to us by my Aunt Dot. (for recipe see No. 10, Rx for the Winter Blahs)

Wine: An Australian Malbec, in stock, so to speak.

This was a stick-to-your ribs winter supper and I'm happy to report that I have enough sauce in the freezer for 2 more company dinners. A note about the pasta sauce: in August, when our tomatoes are at their peak, we gather them for several days, filling the fridge with baskets and baskets of them. I then make a sauce, loosely following the Italian Tomato Sauce recipe from the Moosewood Cookbook and using as much produce from the garden and farmers market as possible. This includes lots of onions, garlic, herbs and zucchini.

Ragu? Paul Newman? Barilla? Sorry...you don't stand a chance.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

For the New Year, 2011

The Guest House

This human being is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

--Jelaluddin Rumi