The Vision Thing

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A car speeds through a crosswalk as a legally blind pedestrian with a white cane waits. Sometimes, she has to wait up to five minutes to cross.

I fear certain things.

Flying, illness, rodents, huge waves and crowds top the list.

But one of my biggest fears is losing my eyesight. Don’t get me wrong. I love the sound of a symphony, a great guitar riff, robins in spring, and even a rooster’s wakeup call.

But eyesight? That’s the one. I hate darkness, so the concept of dimmed or no vision frightens me. I read The Miracle Worker in third grade and ran into our family room asking my mom to check my lower eyelids for granules. Helen Keller’s lower lids were grainy. I wanted to make sure mine were smooth, pink and normal.

I’ve always taken pride in my eyesight, as if I did something to deserve it. People with sharp eyes do this. We pride ourselves on our hand-eye coordination and knack for finding golf balls in four inches of rough under a leaf. We’re proud of our ability to see road signs at night, the hawk hiding in the trees, or the seal in the surf.

Good vision is a gift, but certainly not an entitlement. The Curmudgeon has worn glasses since he was a kid and has more eye appointments in one year than I’ve had in the last decade. He’s worn contacts for so long that his eyes are rebelling, becoming prone to irritation, infection and occasional blurriness. He sees OK, but when his eyes hurt we all suffer because he’s miserable.

Like a lot of things in life, we don’t appreciate eyesight until it’s compromised or gone. My mom has three close friends with macular degeneration who can’t do things they enjoy, like sewing, crocheting and reading. But the biggest loss is their inability to drive and independence. They rely on friends or strangers to grocery shop, go to doctors’ appointments or the hair salon. Otherwise, they’re pretty much stuck.

One of mom’s friends was so upset when her daughter took away her keys that she kept her car in the garage, occasionally pulling it out to start it up. I get it. I’m one of those people who feels trapped when my car’s in the shop for a few days. I get uneasy. I want it there, even if I don’t use it.

I have a friend we’ll call Amy who was born with a genetic disorder that limits her vision. She’s legally blind, so she can’t drive, cruise beaches or dash to the mall for a new party outfit. Though she’s a go-getter – she just returned to college to get her degree after taking time off for kids – she mainly walks or gets rides.

Trouble is, we live in suburbia. Out here, you need a car. I put about 20,000 miles on my car driving kids to activities every year. The Curmudgeon accuses me of driving around aimlessly, but seriously? No one in their right mind would do that. You know those oval magnets with the names of high school sports teams on the back of cars? They’re our merit badges for hours of driving to practices and games.

Amy is one of a very few pedestrians here. She walks to destinations in Guilford, where she grew up the youngest of four daughters. Her parents still live in the ranch-style house where she was raised. They give her rides, but they’re getting older and have health issues of their own. Amy volunteers two days a week at the town’s social services department, where she greets clients and does office work. It’s a five minute walk from her condo, but it means crossing a busy street.

Amy has complained that drivers don’t stop despite a freshly-painted crosswalk and two yellow signs pointing it out. I wanted to see for myself. I am, after all, a Sound Runner ambassador. Part of our mission is promoting pedestrian safety. I’ve been passionate about this issue since I covered the trial of a drunk driver who struck a 13-year-old boy as he walked with friend in Milford, CT.  The boy later died.

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Light up the night: It’s getting darker earlier, so make sure you’re seen. Sound Runner advises wearing as much reflective gear as possible.

The case has stayed with me for 30 years because of the boy. He was 13 and walking in his neighborhood. Just a kid in the wrong place at the wrong time. It could be any of us or our kids.

The case underscores the dangers we face sharing the road with cars. I don’t know any serious cyclist who hasn’t been hit by a car. Several runners I know head to trails or use treadmills because the roads are too dangerous.

I wanted to see for myself, so I met Amy last week after her shift ended. Carrying her white cane, she stood at the crosswalk and waited. A half-dozen cars sped by in both directions before a guy in a white truck stopped. Amy had to wait another 30 seconds until a car in the other direction stopped.

 

We ran this experiment a few times and it confirmed what Amy’s been saying: most drivers are oblivious to pedestrians, too focused on their own thoughts, phones or agendas. Part of the problem is there are so few pedestrians that people aren’t programmed to watch for them. Drivers aren’t changing so car companies are. Lexus has equipped its new line with sensors to detect pedestrians. The car blasts warnings and starts to brake if the driver doesn’t react in time. I can’t decide if this is brilliant or a terribly sad commentary on drivers today.

Every fall when we turn back clocks, pedestrians are struck. Drivers complain that it’s pedestrians’ fault – why aren’t they wearing reflective gear, carrying flashlights or using headlamps? They have a point – pedestrians must make themselves visible. They should also follow the rules of the road: pedestrians face traffic, cyclists go with it.

Everybody needs to step it up. Wear reflective gear to make yourself visible to drivers. Slap-on reflective armbands, wristbands and ankle bands are inexpensive, and just a little badass. So are reflective shirts, belts, running shoes, and LED lights that clip onto clothing, baby carriages and dogs’ collars.

“People have to be aware all the time whether they’re walking or driving,” said Janice Heggie Margolis, executive director of MADD’s Connecticut chapter. She noted that drunk drivers tend to veer toward objects in their peripheral vision, making pedestrians and cyclists prime targets. MADD’s East Haven, CT., headquarters is lined with photos of DWI victims who were killed while walking or standing outside their cars.

Unfortunately, we’re living in an age of defensive walking. Are you ready for battle?

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Light up your pants! New Balance has a new line of running pants featuring reflective dots that glow in the dark. The dots appear gray during daylight hours. I found these at Sound Runner in Branford, CT.

 

 

 

Of Cabbages & Kings

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OK, so I had a little fun with cabbage and a crown. Thanks to my bud JB for reminding me of this line.

It’s hard to get excited about cabbage. Even its name rhymes with baggage, bringing to mind burdens – things weighing us down. But give it a chance and it my surprise you. I think it’s the most underrated vegetable in the patch.

I got a cabbage the size of a bowling ball in my Community Supported Agriculture share last week and immediately cleaved it, setting aside half for a cabbage/kale slaw with lime dressing. Lime adds a tangy zip to any recipe, and the slaw stayed remarkably fresh for a few days. I served it instead of salad one night, and as a topper for tacos the next. It’s always a relief to have something in the bullpen at dinnertime.

I usually bypass cabbage in the produce section, but was intrigued with its appearance in my CSA basket. Loaded with nutrients, low in calories and touted for its health benefits (more vitamin C than orange juice), the dense green orb was a welcome diversion from lettuce and other greens.

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A bin of fresh cabbage outside my local Big Y supermarket. I got some in my CSA share, but there’s a bounty this time of year.

This week, Rainbow Chaser and my buddy Flower Power share their favorite cabbage recipes. Flower Power joined our CSA about a month ago, and gives it mostly positive reviews. But she’s a planner, so she says it’s hard to plot meals when you don’t know what’s coming. And she takes exception to a few limp carrots and a puny zucchini that creeped into her bin last week. I reminded her – or maybe I just thought I did – that being in a CSA is a little like having your own garden. You get what it gives, and sometimes it ain’t pretty, but still tastes good.

Will she stick with it? Only time will tell. I should point out that she and I are receiving small family-sized shares for $15/week. Not bad for a bin full of organic produce.

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Change of pace: sautéed cabbage. Add sausage, shrimp, beef or chicken for quick and tasty one-dish meal.

RAINBOW CHASER:

In my mind, it’s the Rodney Dangerfield of vegetables – it gets no respect. Other than its annual roll out on St. Patrick’s Day and starring role in cole slaw, I gave cabbage little thought. I picked around it when it was served with corned beef – to avoid eating it.

When I received a large head of cabbage in my CSA basket, I asked the Kale Queen what to do with it. She suggested sautéed cabbage. Huh? She advised that Ina Garten has a great recipe for it. I was skeptical, but she insisted it’s very good. Since I’ve discovered so many delicious vegetables that I didn’t know existed though the CSA, I was willing to give the recipe a try.

It had so few ingredients, I couldn’t imagine that the dish would be special, but when I tasted it, I was hooked. I invited my husband to try it and he demurred, but I insisted. Like me, he was shocked to find that he likes cabbage after all.

We served it with sausage and sautéed onions for dinner that night. A great meal, built around a very respectable vegetable.

SAUTEED CABBAGE

Cut the cabbage in half and, with the cut-side down, slice it as thinly as possible around the core, as though you were making coleslaw. Discard the core.

INGREDIENTS

 1 small head white cabbage, including outer green leaves (2 1/2 pounds)

 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

METHOD

Melt the butter in a large saute pan or heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add the cabbage, salt, and pepper and saute for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is tender and begins to brown. Season, to taste, and serve warm.

Author Credit: Ina Garten, 2001 Barefoot Contessa Parties.

FLOWER POWER:

After reading the first of several installments in this blog series on Community Supported Agriculture, I immediately wanted to try it.  I had long been curious, but didn’t really know anyone with firsthand CSA experience. After several weeks of participating, I’ve made a few great dishes: sausage and peppers, roasted tomato soup, roasted butternut squash and apple soup, some tender lettuce salads and a roasted cabbage slaw.  I was thrilled to have my first purple carrot ever and enjoyed the challenge of finding recipes to use my new bounty of produce.

On the negative side, I’m having some trouble using the amount of produce I’m receiving. Some of the greens are unfamiliar so I’m not sure what to do with them.  One week we ate out three nights in a row so I had a surplus.  I must admit on a week like that my compost gets the excess leafy greens. Overall, it’s an interesting experience. I got the following recipe from themediterreancook.com. It’s a nice alternative to cole slaw for those who dislike mayonnaise, like me. I loved the dish, which I made without the mint because I had none available.

 

ROASTED CABBAGE SLAW WITH ORANGE-GARLIC VINAIGRETTE

 

Sweet Carol(yn)

My last post about my occasional New York accent mentioned my name Carolyn. I was named after my father’s Great Aunt Caroline, aka Aunt Clara.

I loved Aunt Clara – she was my godmother too – but she often told me I looked like her. I didn’t want to look like Aunt Clara. She was in her late ’50s, overweight and had a habit of talking with her mouth full. Her face was heavily powdered and her hair was orangey red.

Growing up as a little girl in the ’60s, you dreamed of one day looking like Ginger from “Gilligan’s Island” or Jeannie from “I Dream of Jeannie.” You certainly didn’t want to look like your father’s rotund aunt. At least I didn’t.

Little girls love when they share names with beautiful women, but I was always hard pressed to find a pretty Carolyn. I enjoyed the fact that John Kennedy’s beautiful wife was named Carolyn, though I think she pronounced it “line.” Hey, you can’t have everything.

If you don’t think people associate names with famous people with the same name. consider this random conversation with a tennis pro. “Hey, Carolyn Murphy is on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. It’s a good thing you look like you do or we wouldn’t be able to concentrate.” Gee, thanks for that observation. Do you want to know how I think you stack up to Raphael Nadal?

Beautiful women (and men) stop us in our tracks. You  pause to take in their beauty, sort of like a show dog at the dog park. This happened to me and my dog Cali when two perfectly groomed afghans showed up one day. We both stared at them. I’m not sure Cali recognized them as dogs.

There are lots of pretty Carolines: Princess Caroline of Monaco; Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg; Caroline Wozniacki, and Carolina Herrera. I even know a stunning woman named Caroline. Neil Diamond extolled the virtues of Carolines with his classic, “Sweet Caroline.” So did Fleetwood Mac on the album “Tango in the Night.”

I’ve never heard a song about Carolyn, but I understand there’s one by Merle Haggard. I’ve never heard of it, have you?

If you doubt what’s in a name, consider there are websites devoted to the sexiest and hottest women’s names. I’m not sure parents had this in mind when naming their daughters Lexi (rhymes with sexy), Brittney, Ashley, or Alessandra, but these names are smoking by those who compile such lists.

Aside from its spinster connotations, Carolyn may be one of the most butchered names on the planet. After playing golf with a man who called me Carol all day, he asked if I preferred being called Carol or my nickname Murph (long story.)

“There was only one person who called me Carol and that was my paternal grandfather,” I told him. “He got away with it because he was old and I loved him.” Actually, my first landlord, who is now my handyman, calls me Carol too, but it sounds charming with his Portuguese accent. There’s nothing wrong with the name Carol. It just isn’t my name or nickname.

My hero Dale Carnegie, who wrote How to Win Friends & Influence People, said that “there is nothing sweeter than the sound of one’s own name.” He urged us to pay close attention to names because people cringe when you say the wrong one. I know I do.

You see, Carolyn is not Carol or Marilyn, just as Stephen is not Stephan; Maura is not Moira; Joanne is not Joan; Diane is not Diana; Janet is not Donna; Patty is not Tricia; Marianne is not Marian; John is not Jack (unless you want it to be); Bob is not Rob; Bill is not Will; Cynthia is not Cindy; Rich is not Rick, and Margaret is not Peg, Peggy, Margie, Marge, Meg, Maggie or Mags.

Our names are part of us and it sounds weird or disloyal to yourself when you answer to the wrong one. I’ve known people who’ve changed their names – Lisa became Lindsey and Stacy became Alexandria, but I would never do it.

I’ve gotten this far with it. I couldn’t bear starting over again.

 

Can You Say ‘Orange’?

<a href="https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/orange/">Orange</a>

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I shouldn’t have a New York accent, but sometimes I do.

Take my hometown of Orange, Connecticut. Everyone pronounces it “Oar-ange,” while my sisters and I say, “Are-ange.” All of my friends called their mother’s sisters “Ont” while we said, “Ant.” Kids said they went to “Am-ity” Regional Senior High School, while we said, “A-mity.” My husband accuses me of saying “Ah-mity,” but that’s not it. It’s “A-mity.” Who would ever say “Ah-mity?”

Connecticut is sort of neutral ground with accents, or at least it seems that way when you’re between New Yawk and Baa-ston. I don’t think Nutmeggers have distinguishable accents, but we can pick out a Massachusetts or Rhode Island accent quicker than you can say, “Pock the cah.”

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The Orange Congregational Church on the Green.

My sisters and I really didn’t stand a chance. Though my parents moved to Connecticut when my older sister was 1, they were native New Yorkers with accents to match. Mom is from Bayside, Queens, while Dad grew up on Avenue M in Brooklyn not far from the legendary Brooklyn Dodger Gil Hodges. (I know this because my grandmother used to brag that he lived a few blocks away and went to her church.)

They moved to Connecticut in 1958 after my father found himself standing in the middle of the Belt Parkway screaming at other drivers. He realized that he didn’t have the temperament to sit in rush hour traffic so they moved to the suburbs. The move solved his rush hour problem, though not his temper.

They bought their first house in Orange in 1960, and raised seven kids in the town a 15-minute drive from New Haven. Originally settled as a farming community, Orange is a quiet suburban town known for its schools, nice homes  and excellent shopping strip along Route 1. The Firemen’s Carnival is the social event of the season, and many kids (including yours truly) went there on our first dates.

Though my father loved Orange, he could never get over the lack of street lights in our neighborhood. I think he even complained to the first selectman, who lived up the street. Dad’s home truly was his castle. He loved nothing more than sitting in his recliner or puttering around the house. One of his last wishes was spending his final days at home.

Despite living in Orange since age 2, I never got the hang of Orange-speak. People used to make fun of the way I said certain words. They said “Cam-era” and “Cam-ero” while I said, “Ca-mera” and “Ca-mero.” My name Carolyn posed the most problems. I said, “Ca-rolyn” while they said, “Care-olyn.” I can’t tell you how many people thought my name was Karen. Sometimes, I didn’t bother to even correct them.

I tried saying Care-olyn, Orange and Amity like my friends, but it sounded odd. I knew I could say “OntJoan,” but hated the way it sounded. It felt somehow disloyal to say words, especially my name, differently from my parents and siblings. There was this unspoken code. We are, after all, half Sicilian.

 

Survey Says . . .

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On a scale of 1-5, rate how much you dislike surveys.

The Curmudgeon and I are considering solar.

As part of the exploration process, I asked an acquaintance what he thought of the company that sent a representative to my house to give an estimate.

“I didn’t like the online reviews I read,” he said, “so I just decided to bag it.” He acknowledged that people are more likely to post negative reviews, but didn’t seem to care. I told him I don’t trust online reviews. People are wielding too much power today under the cover of anonymity.

I understand the importance of customer satisfaction and feedback, but the whole survey/review movement is out of control. A friend was given a survey card after having an MRI at a major hospital.  The only thing she was unhappy about was being asked to do the survey.

Here’s an impromptu survey question: how sick and tired are you of being asked your opinion on things that never occurred to you 5 years ago?

Online customer reviews are our barometer for where we eat, what we buy, where we stay and who treats us when we’re sick. The majority of reviews are probably valid, but some are posted at the request of people who want to boost business. I’ve been asked to post reviews, and I’m guilty of it too. I asked some people to write a review for a family property to generate online traffic.

Newspapers, magazines and websites post annual “Best Of” issues, but I often wonder who filled out the surveys. There’s a restaurant in our area that repeatedly wins top prize for best patio dining that baffles me and everyone I know. None of us eats there because it’s overpriced, gives small portions and there’s often a long wait. You think, “Who’s filling out this survey and what else are they wrong about?”

I worked briefly for a website that relies on ads for revenue. During a food tasting for a dinner party, we ate vegan cheese that tasted and looked like white Play Dough. Come to think of it, Play Dough is better. We all agreed it was horrendous, but my boss insisted we needed to say something positive because the cheesemaker was a friend and advertiser.

The request for reviews is everywhere, from the supermarket checkout line to the dealership servicing your car. Can anyone give grocery baggers anything but a glowing review when they’re standing next to you as you fill out the form? Within a half-hour of returning home from the Honda dealership, a customer service representative left a message asking me to call to answer a service survey.

I didn’t call her back because I was satisfied. I’ve called service places when the car broke down on the Bourne Bridge or my front right tire flew off on a country road, but  those were exceptions. If I’m happy, you’re probably not going to hear from me.

Though I know people who rely on online customer reviews, I don’t. I’ve read too many critical comments about places or people who didn’t deserve it. Sure, people are entitled to their opinions, but some people are never happy.

It’s hard to imagine someone finding fault with an herb farm, but a woman wrote a scathing review of Lavender Pond Farm in Killingworth, CT.  The writer was disappointed by the number of lavender plants in bloom, the cost of gift shop items and the size of the farm. After reading this review, I became convinced that people can and will criticize anything.

A writer I know penned her first novel, leaving her open for reviews on Amazon and social media platforms. Though many comments were positive, some were cutting and nasty. What I thought reading them was how brave this writer is to have her book published. It takes enormous courage to put your work up for public review, ridicule and rejection.

My first job out of college was an editorial assistant at a major publishing house in New York City. I was thrilled to land the job, but I was little more than a glorified secretary. After I fetched coffee for my boss, he said, “Here’s a stack of unsolicited manuscripts. Read the first page and if they look interesting, put them in one pile. If they don’t, throw them in the trash.”

I was 21 with no professional editing experience, poring over manuscripts that writers spent months or years working on in hopes of getting published. It seemed unfair that a neophyte was making such an important call. I didn’t know much as a new college graduate, but I knew I wasn’t qualified to decide an author’s fate.

Instead of focusing on reviews and surveys, businesses and professionals should spend resources giving consumers the best service. Remind sales clerks that they’re there to help customers, not to play with the clothes steamer and bemoan how hungry they are. Remind waitresses that they’re there to serve customers, not to share how much they’re sweating because the kitchen is hot. Remind road construction flaggers that they’re there direct traffic, not to scroll through their I-Phone.

If everyone just focused a little more on their jobs and a little less on surveys, we’d probably all be a lot happier.

 

Simple Meals MVY-Style

Note: This is the 5th in a series of posts about Community Supported Agriculture. Today, we tackle cookbooks, one of the most crowded markets in publishing. Here, we review Susie Middleton’s book Simple Green Suppers. For more on Middleton, visit her website at http://sixburnersue.com/cooking-fresh-eating-green/.

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With all the new cooking books, where do you start? Here’s just a sampling of the latest offerings at my hometown bookstore Breakwater Books in Guilford, CT.

I have a little thing going with my sister-in-law Ann.

We often exchange “gifties.” I’d love to take credit for the term, but it’s undeniably Ann. She’s the type of gal who spends hours wrapping Christmas gifts in her impeccably equipped wrapping station. She’s the kind of woman who wears a turtleneck and black skirt and makes you think, “How elegant.”

My mother-in-law had a term for her: “Our Ann.” Those who know her know what I’m talking about.

Ann and her husband Ted, who live on Martha’s Vineyard, stayed overnight last spring en route to New Jersey, and she presented me with a fantastic giftie. It’s a signed copy of Simple Green Suppers: A Fresh Strategy for One-Dish Vegetarian Meals by Susie Middleton.

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The front cover of Simple Green Suppers by Susie Middleton. All of the meals are vegetarian, but the book leaves lots of room for improvisation.

Inside, Ann wrote: “I hope you love this as much as I do.” Yes, I do. I really do.

What I love is it’s the best of Martha’s Vineyard – plainspoken, down to earth, relatable and breathtakingly beautiful. (We won’t talk about the worst of MVY, one of which is referring to it as MVY.) Leafing through the recipes and Randi Baird’s stunning photographs, you feel closer to the land. Middleton’s voice is casual and comfortable – like a friend who stops over for coffee and helps you rearrange your pantry.

It’s a primer on quick healthy meals with plenty of room for improvisation. It also advocates shifting to one-dish suppers rather than putting three different foods on the plate. Where has this woman been all my life?

At the Kale Queen’s suggestion, we decided to dive into Middleton’s 4th cookbook and test drive a few recipes. What I enjoyed most is mine required no cooking except for the pasta. It keeps the kitchen – and the cook – cool on hot, steamy nights.

TUSCAN PASTA with NO-COOK TOMATO, OLIVE, BASIL & CAPER SAUCE

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Some people like their tomatoes diced finely, but I like larger pieces. Here, I topped off the dish with some Parmesan cheese.

I made this dish a few weeks ago when I got about a dozen beautiful red and yellow tomatoes in my CSA share. The hardest part was keeping tomato juice from dripping down the cabinets while slicing and dicing. I made it again last night and put a small cutting board in a rimmed cookie sheet to catch the juices.

I eat a lot less red sauce, or what my Italian grandmother called “gravy,” these days because I have a problem digesting acid in canned tomatoes. This dish allows me to indulge in one of my favorite meals. You can serve the olives on the side, but don’t skip the capers. They make the sauce.

INGREDIENTS

1/4 cup mild extra-virgin olive oil

2 TB orange juice

1 TB finely chopped capers

2 tsp fresh lemon juice

1 tsp freshly grated lemon zest

2 tsp chopped fresh garlic

2 tsp honey

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

Kosher salt

Freshly ground pepper

2 cups diced ripe beefsteak tomatoes, cored but not seeded or skinned, juices included

1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, cut lengthwise into quarters

4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

1/3 cup torn and packed fresh basil leaves

8 ounces (I used a full pound) gemelli or other twisty or curly pasta shape

  1. In a large wide mixing bowl, whisk together the olive oil, orange juice, capers, lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic, honey, red pepper flakes, 1/2 tsp of kosher salt, and several grinds of the black pepper. Add the tomatoes, olives, feta, and half of the basil and toss well. Let sit for 15 or 20 minutes while you cook the pasta.
  2. Bring a small stockpot of well-salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook al dente (about 12 minutes). Drain well in a colander but do not rinse. Transfer the warm pasta to the mixing bowl with the tomato mixture. Season the pasta directly with a big pinch of salt, then add most of the remaining basil and toss gently but thoroughly. If needed, season with more salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Transfer to a large, shallow serving bowl or individual bowls or plates. Garnish with any remaining basil and eat warm.

Serves 4

KALE QUEEN:

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Roasted cherry tomatoes and butternut squash combined with lentils and corn make a quick and satisfying dish.

This recipe’s initial appeal was it incorporated several ingredients I had on hand: cherry tomatoes, butternut squash, corn, cilantro and a can of lentils from one of my favorite purveyors, Bioitalia, an Italian brand.  But, I had some concerns.  Combining butternut squash and lentils? Their affinity for each other didn’t seem obvious.  And would the end result look pleasing or like random ingredients thrown together?  Some quick research revealed that butternut squash and lentils are often paired in Mediterranean cooking.  Since it’s one of my favorite cuisines, I decided to proceed.

Assembly was easy.  The butternut squash and tomatoes roasted quickly.  Corn was blanched. Garlic and cilantro minced.  I put everything in a bowl with the drained and rinsed lentils and added a little lemon (I didn’t have the specified lime) and orange juice and salt and pepper to taste.  Time to complete took about a half hour.

The salad was terrific! The roasted tomatoes add a special sweetness and for those who like cilantro, it adds an intriguing zip. I liked using Bioitalia’s canned lentils—I think they are Umbrian. They are perfectly cylindrical and stay intact.  Even though it’s easy to make a batch of lentils, I’d worry they would be mushy and unappealing in this salad.

Although this cookbook is about simple, green “suppers,” I associate supper with an evening meal. I think this recipe is better for lunch or as a first course.  I’m not sure it would satisfy my hungry guinea pig (a human being, not an animal) by itself as a meal, but as a side, he gave it a thumbs up.

(G Sandwich: I didn’t have any lentils so I substituted quinoa. It was delicious.)

ROASTED CHERRY TOMATO, BUTTERNUT SQUASH, AND WARM LENTIL SALAD (With Citrus Mojo Dressing)

8-9 ounces ripe cherry tomatoes, cut in half

2 TB extra virgin olive oil

10-12 ounces butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch slices

2 cups cooked lentils

1/3 to 1/2-cup fresh corn kernels, blanched or microwaved for 30 seconds or frozen corn, thawed

1 TB plus 1 to 2 tsp lime juice

1 TB orange juice

1 tsp minced fresh garlic

2-3 TB chopped fresh cilantro

  1. Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees. Line a heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. In a medium bowl toss the squash with 1 TB of the olive oil and a big pinch of salt. In other medium bowl, gently toss the cherry tomatoes with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and a big pinch of salt.
  2. Spread the squash in a single layer over one half of the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 5 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and carefully tip the bowl of cherry tomatoes onto the other side. (If most of the halves can be side up, that’s ideal.) Bake for 22-24 minutes, until the squash is tender and browned and the cherry tomatoes are shrunken and a bit charred around the edges. (You can flip the squash once with a metal spatula, but don’t mess with the cherry tomatoes.) Let the veggies cool for 10 minutes or so on the baking sheet.
  3. If the lentils are cold, microwave them for 45 seconds to 1 minute to take the chill off.  Put the lentils, corn, 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of the lime juice, the orange juice, garlic, a big pinch of salt, and 1-2 tablespoons of the cilantro in a large bowl. Toss gently but thoroughly. Taste, then add more salt and/or the remaining teaspoon of lime, if needed. (Be aware that all the flavors build over time.)
  4. Using the spatula, gently scrape the cherry tomatoes and squash off the baking sheet and into the bowl with the lentil mixture. (Don’t worry if some of the tomatoes fall apart, just be sure to scrape the bits off the pan-they are full of flavor.) Toss gently again. Transfer the warm salad to a serving dish or three serving bowls, and garnish with the remaining tablespoon of cilantro.

Serves 3.

 

Get Thee To A Nunnery

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A slice of heaven: the Virgin Mary shrine at Our Lady of Grace.

“To a nunnery, go, and go quickly too.”

The words are William Shakespeare’s and the play is Hamlet. But Bernie Triche took them literally when he got three auction pieces inscribed in Latin that needed translation.

Entrusted by a 90-year-old woman with the 19th century framed pieces, Triche wondered where to find a Latin translator. His search brought him through the heavy wooden doors of Our Lady of Grace, a tiny Dominican monastery in North Guilford, CT.

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Doll depicting a nun in the Our Lady of Grace gift shop. The nuns there wear white habits though.

“I was hoping one of the nuns could take a look at these and tell me what they say,” Triche said as he carted the pieces inside the basement gift shop. “When I was a boy, I remember Catholic  masses were said in Latin. I’m hoping someone here can help me.

Triche hit the proverbial jackpot, receiving typewritten translations a few weeks later and putting the pieces up for bid at his auction house, Lotus International Auctions LLC.  He made a small donation to the monastery to thank the sisters for their time and trouble.

Triche could have Googled the verses to translate them, but he did it the old-fashioned way. That’s becoming a rarity these days. Everyone’s in a hurry, demanding answers in split seconds. We get mad or concerned when someone doesn’t instantly return a text. We fret when medical test results don’t come within a day of our blood draw, mammogram or MRI.

I’m one of the worst offenders, so I get it. But I think we all need to chill out. Instead of the information age, I’m beginning to think it should be called age of impatience. We’ve all lost our ability to wait.

Back when I wrote for newspapers (sound the violins), the average story was 10-12 inches. Today, the average attention span is eight seconds, and people prefer pictures to words. “It’s a visual society,” my crazy ex-blogger boss told me. “And I don’t like what you wrote. It’s too newspapery. People don’t want to read this.”

Yes, she did a number on my ego and confidence until a friend advised that getting fired was a good lesson for my kids. “Now you can tell them you were fired and it wasn’t the end of world,” he said.

Our need for speed is everywhere. A friend confided that when she launches into a story, her husband begs, “Can you just give me the Twitter version?” My mother was chastised by a physician’s assistant when calling her (former) gastroenterologist: “Hurry up. I have a waiting room full of sick people in here.”

It was upsetting for my mom, who was married to a cardiologist for 53 years, to be treated so poorly. More than anything, she lamented that my father would never treat a patient so brusquely.

A surgeon and medical school professor I know complained that some medical students use Google instead of reading and research. That’s a terrifying thought. I want a surgeon (well, any physician) who didn’t cut corners. I bet everyone else does too.

I guess this is why I’m heartened there are still guys around like Triche. A New Orleans native who moved to Connecticut 25 years ago, he still has his distinctive Louisiana drawl. It’s the kind of accent that transports you to the bayou and convinces you to finally book a flight to the Big Easy.

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Dominican nuns were happy to translate these Latin verses for Guilford, CT.-based auctioneer Bernie Triche.

Though the Dominican sisters spend most of their time in prayer, they often get requests from the public and do their best to accommodate them. As one of a posse of volunteers who run the shop, I run interference for them most Thursday mornings.

Seated behind an old wooden desk, I’m off the grid for two hours. There’s no internet, cell phone or computer service at the enclosure. Being there is like stepping back in time:  there’s a lazy Susan called the “turn” where we put notes to the nuns. We use an adding machine, handwritten receipts, and a metal cash box. We don’t take credit cards, to the consternation of many customers who dash out to find the nearest ATM.

One of the things visitors comment on most is the serenity of the setting, which includes rolling farmland, beautiful hiking trails and rooms for personal retreats. The birds’ calls are sharper and the wind rustling through the trees is louder there. One of my favorite spots is an outdoor shrine to the Virgin Mary and life-size stations of the cross near a pond.

People who come through the door are often searching for a miracle or peace of mind.  Faced with the reality that they’re utterly out of control in a situation, they come to pray and maybe buy a trinket or two. One of my favorites  is a small Jerusalem stone that reads: “Relax, God is in control.”

What I enjoy most about being there is the sense of peace and meeting people I wouldn’t encounter under different circumstances. Some people assume everyone, including yours truly, is a nun, which will amuse those who know me. I could never do their work, not even for an hour, but I  admire them tremendously. I’m happy they’re there for me, and anyone else who needs them too.

To visit Triche’s website, click http://www.lotusauctions.com.

To visit the monastery’s website, click http://www.dominicannuns.org.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lavender Fields Forever

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Some of about 9,000 lavender plants at Lavender Pond Farm in Killingworth, CT.

Sometimes you just need to get out and smell the lavender.

In this corner of Connecticut, we’re lucky to have Lavender Pond Farm, a place where your heartbeat slows and blood pressure drops as soon as your tires hit the gravel driveway. There’s something magical about this bucolic oasis, where the sweet scent of lavender washes over your frazzled nerve endings with every breeze.

Instead of sweating over your schedule or commitments, there’s a gentle yet unwavering tug to slow down. You watch honey bees and butterflies do their thing in impeccably groomed beds. You sniff the air for more intoxicating lavender, wondering why you don’t light lavender candles every night in your home.

You plunge your hands into dried lavender, hoping that’s OK, and sniff lavender pillows and sachets, wondering how many you can buy without seeming obsessive. You pay $4 for homemade bottled lavender lemonade, noticing it’s just slightly less intoxicating than wine.

Just being at the farm – where you won’t find a single weed – makes you want to go home and tackle rumpled flower beds. You consider – and then ask – if they need any counter help, knowing you’d be a different person if you were around lavender all day.

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Butterflies, honey bees and lavender.

I went to Lavender Pond Farm last week with a friend. Though we didn’t have any plan for the afternoon, I’d been thinking about visiting the farm for some time. Peaceful places call out to me in stressful times. Sometimes I know enough to go, realizing they always improve my mindset and outlook on life.

“Whatcha want to do today?” I asked my friend.”What do you think about going to this place called Lavender Pond Farm?” she said. “It looks interesting.”

Don’t you love when that happens? You have exactly the same thing in mind as another person. It doesn’t happen often, but enough that I’m convinced it’s no accident. So off we went, turning onto Roast Meat Hill Road (always makes me think of mutton) in Killingworth, CT., in our search for tranquility, or a reasonable facsimile.

You know you’ve arrived when you spot the white gazebo at one edge of the farm. Turning in, you’re awestruck by the thought, planning and care that goes into this place. Roughly 9,000 lavender plants are arranged in circles and orderly rows across 25 acres, giving the appearance of a formal English garden. The order is punctuated by whimsical touches – huge chess pieces like sentries on blue stone slates; brightly colored Adirondack chairs near the fresh water pond; handcrafted stepping stones, and all manner of animals created from rocks and forged metal.

Walking the grounds, you sense it’s a special place. The owners acquired the land in February, 2014, and set out to create a farm to make the world a more beautiful place. The farm was inspired by two women, one fictional and the other very real.

The first is “Miss Rumphius” from the children’s book by Barbara Cooney. It chronicles the long life of Miss Alice Rumphius, who, despite all her adventures traveling the world, felt she hadn’t solved the mystery of “why are we here?” Recalling her grandfather’s advice- “to make the world more beautiful” – Alice lives the remainder of her life trying to do just that.

Remembering the joy that flowers, especially lupine, brought her, she decides to  scatter lupine seeds wherever she goes. Soon “the lupine lady” has completely transformed the rocky landscape around her so that everyone can enjoy its simple beauty. She has finally found fulfillment and solved life’s mystery. The story ends with Miss Rumphius passing the message onto her great-niece so it continues with the next generation.

The second lady is the owner’s mother, who fought breast cancer for 10 years before her death in September, 2011. In her final weeks, the owner read some of her favorite children’s books, including “Miss Rumphius,” to her mom. The farm is a tribute to her mother, who always maintained her sense of humor and purpose throughout her illness.

The farm was surprisingly uncrowded when we visited, allowing the space to walk, sit, sniff, reflect and just be on a sparkling fall day. We had lots of fun browsing the gift shop, slaking our thirst with the lavender infused lemonade that had lines out the door over the summer. I’m not sure I could deal with lines at such a tranquil place, but who knows? I once calmly waited with thousands of other people to see an American Idol and didn’t flinch.

The woman behind the counter was as lovely as the setting. She told us times to come when it isn’t crowded and about upcoming items, including lavender-infused cider. Sounds great, doesn’t it?

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A gazebo with a view: it’s no wonder this place is popular for weddings, professional and amateur photo shoots and family outings. It’s glorious.

Zapping the Cooking Rut

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Note: This is the 4th in a series of posts about Community Supported Agriculture.

A woman and her 6-year-old son are sitting on a couch at the YMCA at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday when it comes out of nowhere.

“What’s for dinner?” The mom continued scrolling her I-Phone, but the kid persisted. “What’s for dinner” “Um, I don’t know, Daddy’s making it and he’s figuring it out.”

Ah, the eternal question. People don’t much care what’s for breakfast or lunch, but dinner? It’s a question on most people’s minds. Maybe it’s because it’s the last meal of the day or the one time the family gathers around the table. Or maybe it’s just the anticipation factor – something to look forward to at the end of a long day.

I’m convinced dinner becomes a preoccupation with age. I learned this as a teen-ager from Granny, who quizzed about us dinner options as we stumbled to the breakfast table while our parents cavorted in New York City. “Geez Gram, give us a chance to wake up. How can you even be thinking about dinner at 7 a.m.?” (I just realized that sounded a little like the Beaver.)

Now that I’m a little older, I understand. Granny wanted ideas so she didn’t have to wrack her brain. She wanted a plan so she wasn’t rushing to the store at 4 p.m. She wanted the dinner quandary settled so she could relax and enjoy her day.

Consider that meal preparation is one of the first things to go when a person is sick or injured. (The other is mowing the lawn.) Some of it’s physical, but I think it’s just as much mental. Sick people don’t have the interest, motivation, energy or resolve to think about dinner, let alone make it. Illness pretty much kills the desire for alcohol too, though some people drink (and smoke) under any circumstances.

When my mother-in-law was suffering from a mysterious illness that we eventually discovered was Lou Gehrig’s disease, she immediately surrendered her role as cook. She watched me from a living room chair as I made dinner one August evening, a mixture of awe and sadness in her eyes. She had always made dinner a party, sipping white wine loaded with ice as she marinated chicken or made spaghetti sauce.

Now she was confined to the sidelines, too tired to know or much care what was cooking.

Leaving the kitchen was the first in a long list of things she abandoned in her very swift decline, but I think it was one of the most difficult. Her days as a cook, which began when she married at 19 and continued through four children and eight grandkids, were over after 53 years.

My dinner dilemma began when I began shuttling my kids to sports and other activities from 3-7 p.m. Instead of being home browsing cookbooks or oogling Take Home Chef’s Curtis Stone, I was driving to soccer, tennis, band concerts and CCD. Some mothers served dinner in mini-vans, but I couldn’t. There is something sad about eating dinner in a vehicle (breakfast and lunch are OK). Besides, I didn’t have a van. I had a cool SUV the kids trashed about a year into the lease.

I know some moms are crockpot queens, but that requires organization and forethought. I have neither, which means instead of preparing meals, I threw them together when I got home. I settled into a rut the size of the Grand Canyon, making hamburgers, spaghetti with sauce, chili, tacos and all manner of chicken. I feel I should apologize to my family for the monotony, but I was in so deep I didn’t realize it.

I had some high moments: the time I declared “Diner Week,” when I made moussaka, chicken orzo soup, turkey clubs, pancakes, hash browns, shakes and plated frozen pie slices under a glass dome. But I couldn’t keep it up. I think all moms eventually reach this point. I was at a playground when the kids were little and a mom begged, “Just tell me what to make tonight.”

“Hamburgers!” I declared. This wasn’t rocket science, but she was out of ideas. I’ve been there. Which is why I’m enjoying our new CSA feature. Instead of feeling alone in the kitchen, I have comrades in arugula. I talk to my sisters often, exchanging recipes that have rekindled my interest in cooking.

I love the sense of kinship. It brings me back to the early days of my marriage, when I talked to my family and friends about food instead of college tuition, obnoxious teens, natural disasters, terrorism, fur babies, ingrown toenails, bad neighbors and political buffoons. Cooking is finally fun again, but I’m not getting cocky. Like most things in life, I’m taking it one day at a time.

 

 

 

The Discipline Dilemma

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My dog Cali was better behaved and more respectful of the priest at the Blessing of the Animals Sept. 30, 2017, than some kids are in church. If animals can behave, shouldn’t kids?

When is it OK to scold kids who aren’t yours?

I was sitting in a pew at confirmation orientation for my daughter (who was on the other side of the church) when three teen-age girls behind me began talking. It wasn’t a stray comment or two. It was constant and it was loud.

Between their chatter and laughing, I couldn’t hear the priest say how impressed he was with everyone’s behavior. I considered turning around and telling them to be quiet, or motioning them to join me in the vestibule for a dress down.

But I chickened out. You know how mean girls can be. I knew they were by themselves – no mom would tolerate their behavior – but I was unsure what, if any, role I had. Did I have an obligation to tell them to be quiet and respectful in a house of worship? Or was understanding and keeping my mouth shut part of being a good Christian?

Instead of focusing on the Mass, I was wrackeIMG_1904.jpgd with indecision. My shoulders stiffened a few times and I nearly turned and then . . . nothing. I decided to keep quiet. But I was thrilled when the Smart Mom in front of me calmly turned around and gave them a look that said, “Are you serious? Shaddup already.”

I forgot about the Mom Stare. With a turn of the head and narrowing of the eyes, it conveyed the message. After the MS, the girls stopped talking – for about two minutes. When they started up again, Smart Mom calmly turned her head again. Genius.

The thing about teen-age girls is the things they find funny are idiotic by anyone else’s standards. You try to be patient and remember you were once their age and then boom – something pushes you to the brink. In this case, it was one of the girls walking backwards on her way back from communion.

A friend said it was just as loud in her corner of the church, but noted, “Look at the bright side. At least they’re here.”

True. It’s not all their fault. Somebody dropped the ball. It’s up to parents to tell kids it’s not OK to talk in theaters, scream in stores, climb on restaurant tables, talk in houses of worship, fool around in class, scroll I-Phones in class and argue with coaches.

I took 6-year-old twin boys (long story) on a Target run last week. Though adorable, they were screaming in the store. It didn’t take long for customers to give me the “shut those kids up” dirty look. Keep in mind that my daughter hated shopping as a young child and I stayed home for nearly five years rather than inflict her screaming on other shoppers. Yes, I’m that considerate.

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Faced with stereo screaming, I immediately found myself quoting Barney: “Let’s use our indoor voices!”  Somewhere in the recesses of my brain was the purple dinosaur that my daughter loved so much. Say what you will about Barney, but he teaches the basics: Keep your voice down inside. Clean up after yourself. Please and thank you are the magic words.

When I was growing up, you didn’t challenge adults. My mother didn’t yell, but my father screamed so loudly you could hear him in the front yard. No, make that the street. Let’s just say you didn’t want to annoy him. As my nephew once said, “That’s one scary dude.”

I don’t think a lot of kids respect adults today. I’m shocked by some of the things that come out of my kids’ mouths. I’ve done my best to discipline them and command respect, but I get some pretty horrendous back talk. So do other authority figures. When my son called a serve out in a recent college tennis match, his opponent began throwing F-bombs at him and his coach.

The coach marched up to to the kid and said, “Who do you think you’re talking to? I played for a top 10 college team. I could beat all of you with my left hand.” I understand his rage. As a coach, you expect some respect.

Kids need authority figures to set them straight. We had to tell our college kid that online gambling isn’t a good idea, nor is sleeping in the dorm hallway when you stumble back at   5 a.m. We had to tell my daughter that it’s not OK to watch Netflix in study hall even if everyone else is doing it and the teacher doesn’t care.

A few weeks ago, I was playing golf with three guys when the twosome behind us drove a ball within two feet of us. We politely told them to cut it out. Two holes later, they almost hit us again. A guy in our foursome pulled out his best Dad voice, screaming “That’s twice now. Don’t let it happen again. This is completely unacceptable.”

We speculated that he was in the military, most likely the Marines, to have such a scary  Dad voice. We decided to toe the line for the rest of the round, just to be on the safe side.

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The Blessing of the Animals celebrates St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals and ecology. Among the animals blessed on the Town Green in Guilford, CT., was a chicken. Here, Cali gets her first of two blessings.