My daughter, Melissa, has always said the best thing we do together is laugh.
That premise was to be truly tested after I finally scheduled Total Knee Replacement surgery for mid-April. When I called to tell her, she replied, “ So I’ll come for two weeks to take care of you.”
Whoa… As she already knew, I don’t accept help graciously. But even this Mama Bear knows that Independent, Solo and Alone don’t cut it when someone else is doing the cutting. Instead, I thanked her. We were on.
This surgery revelation is not surprising. I had Knee Arthroscopy, a minimally invasive procedure, thirty-five years ago. It was a short-term fix. Eventually my left knee started talking back again. Like so many other people, I chose to ignore and endure it.
Two years ago I realized it was affecting my lifestyle. There were activities I avoided and mountain tops no longer within my reach. Last fall I cancelled my upcoming winter trip to France. Paris is a walkable city but not if you can’t walk. That same day I made an appointment with a surgeon relatively new to Aspen. His assistant said to stop by later that same afternoon. I liked and trusted the doctor who seemed to like and understand me. Together we nailed down a surgery date six months hence.
Before leaving Aspen for the winter, I stopped by the hospital to be measured by a machine affectionately called “the doughnut.” For the new knee, my doctor, Jared Lee, the Medical Director of Aspen’s Steadman Clinic uses Conformis, a company which applies a CT scan to design a customized knee replacement to my size and shape. This was going to happen.
Fast forward to surgery time. Melissa arrived two days before my April 19th surgery and immediately turned my condo upside down. She and The Gant’s housekeeping staff rolled up my oriental rugs, moved furniture and brought in piles of the sheets, towels and pillows I needed for a sterile environment. She picked up a walker, crutches, cane, etc., from a recent veteran of replacement surgery who gifted us with her largesse. As for me, think ‘deer caught in headlights.’
Unlike most patients, I was not interested in knowing about the intricacies of my upcoming surgery. To my mind, that was the doctor’s responsibility. Because Melissa’s business evolved around providing care and healing, that was her lane. As for me, I would commit to months of post-op rehabilitation without complaint.
What I’d mostly heard about this surgery is it’s painful. Melissa followed the agreed upon Pain Protocol religiously and managed to stay ahead of my pain. She was up 3-4 times each night to give me pills. Everyone has their own threshold for pain. I was lucky to need only one Oxi. Let’s just admit when my nerve block wore off, I was rethinking Life itself.
Admittedly, there were moments. In the hospital the night following surgery, I wanted to turn my phone off. Although my room was dark I spotted the bright red button on my phone and pushed it. 911 answered. It seems we had a conversation. (Actually I called them twice!) Finally a nurse stopped by, I told her my problem and she shut it off. By the next day the discussion that I was confused and probably should not be discharged yet had picked up steam. When the doctors came to check on me, my soft-spoken daughter stepped up. “Listen,” she said, “My mother is sharp as a tack. She is NOT confused. She does stuff like this all the time.”
I was discharged.
I began PT the day after surgery, three times a week with my therapist Nicole. I hit the jackpot with Nicole. She always coaxed more out of me than I thought I could give. On other days I did the 18 short exercises she had suggested by myself.
After coming home and in anticipation of my living alone, every morning Missy and I grabbed our coffee and spent an hour discussing what’s working, what wasn’t and what questions we had to ask. By the time she left last Saturday we both were confident I’d be fine. Before leaving she filled my larder, did all the household chores. and stuck cards/post-its everywhere reminding me to do or not do this/that. The oriental rugs are still rolled up, I can no longer remember what is shoved under beds, chairs which serve as exercise stations are still in place and food that was inaccessible is sitting on my counter. I am forbidden to climb on a foot stool — like, well, forever.
Following my two-week post-op with Dr. Lee this week, I’m off crutches, the walker and use a cane only if needed. I can drive. Nothing hurts. To my mind, Dr. Lee and his crew can now just stand back and accept my gratitude. As for Melissa who is back in California, Mom-Mission accomplished. Now it’s on me. This is the “do the work” part of the story. The spotlight’s on me and I’m here for it.
On this Mother’s Day, this Mother would like to pass on her roses to her daughter. For everything you did for me and to me and with me and even, in spite of me, thank you, Melissa. I still think the best thing we do together is laugh.
Or, as we say in English,“Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you.”
This week I pulled up my tried-and-true soda bread recipe, delicious in its own unforgettable way. I always wonder why I bake it only once a year. It’s especially necessary this March 17th because it’s routine, a habit and l wander through years of soda-bread memories while baking it.
Truthfully, my routine is out-of-wack, a bubble or two off right now. Your’s too? Still, I wake up early. Snatching that hour or so of solitude is a gift to myself each day. Flip on CNN, put on mute and read the crawl (news ticker) to check if President Zelenskyy is alive and Kiev, still standing.
Pour coffee, power up the computer to watch Chef José Andrés’ morning video from the war zone. Since 24 February, his World Central Kitchen has served over 1 million meals to refugees crossing the border into Poland, Hungary, Romania, Moldova and Slovakia. The group is also working with over 110 suppliers in 58 cities to provide hot meals and deliver bulk food product— including produce and dry goods—to refugee centers.
Then I take some deep breaths and get on with it which, today, is packing and celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.
I read an article this week about Jenn Drummond, a 41-year old Utah woman who thrives, like me, on her solitude while also claiming it’s a balancing act. “Solitude is happening for me,” she said. “Loneliness is happening to me. That little shift makes the biggest difference.”
This week-end I’ve decided to go home, two weeks earlier than scheduled. For the past eight years I’ve loved every moment of my gypsy winters. I also know there are more adventures in my future. But most importantly, I’ve always known I have choices and can go home. Home, it is.
Please pray, dear Readers, for all the people in this world who don’t have choices.
Mrs. Frings’ Irish Soda Bread from Sweet Paul Magazine by Staffer Paul Vitale
3 cups Flour
1 stick (1/2 cup) of cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch dice
1/2 cup Sugar
1 to 1 and 1/2 Cups of Golden Raisins (your discretion)
1 tsp. Baking Powder
1/2 tsp. Baking Soda
1 tsp. Kosher Salt
1 1/2 cup Buttermilk, shake well before using
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Mix all dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
3. Mix cold butter into dry mixture by hand until clumps disappear.
4. Slowly add in buttermilk that’s been shaken until you can form one big clump of dough.
5. Toss the raisins into the clump of dough and knead into the dough.
6. Place in 8 or 9 inch round, springform or cast-iron pan that is been coated with butter and flour OR form into freestanding round loaf which you put on parchment paper to bake.
7. Don’t forget to slash a 2-inch X with a serrated knife into the dough to either 1) ward off the devil; 2) bless the bread; or 3) let heat penetrate into the thickest part of the bread. Your choice.
8. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean. When you tap the loaf, it should have a hollow sound.
9. Remove from oven and place on rack and drape with damp cloth until cool. Slice and enjoy with Irish butter!
Few of us can ignore or not be affected by the news coming out of Ukraine right now. Dark moments like these challenge us to remember once again who we are and what we can endure and refuse to tolerate.
Last Sunday, however, I needed to shelve those loftier considerations of ‘what I could endure.’ I wasn’t even enduring the weekend. My jangled nerves weren’t responding to “Just Breathe.” Although I could locate Ukraine on a map, I didn’t know it shared borders with seven other countries. If called to perform, among other things, I can now name all those bordering countries and their capital cities.
Which brings me to borscht. A female store owner in Kyiv recently said to CNN, “I’m not scared anymore. I know Ukraine will win. The two things a Ukrainian woman needs to know is how to make borscht and Molotovs!”
Ukranians consider this beet soup, with its 30 different varieties, to be their national dish. It is a hearty vegetable soup made out of beets, cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, parsnips onions, garlic, dill and may include meat or fish. Food is part of Ukraine’s culture and identity. Every babulya (grandmother) has her favorite version.
I’d never made or even tasted borscht. Last Sunday that became my project. Fun fact. To even grasp what I was creating, I first purchased a jar of Manischewitz Borscht for tasting purposes! After scanning the internet for various recipes, I settled on Natasha Kravchuk’s meatless version (recipe below). Another fun fact. Starting your meal with a hearty vegetable soup like borscht is a fantastic way to lose weight! You end up eating 15% fewer calories over the course of a meal.
WORLD CENTRAL KITCHEN
In 2017 when Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria, killing 2,975 people, the deadliest U.S.-based natural disaster in 100 years. World Central Kitchen, a not-for-profit organization devoted to providing meals in the wake of natural disasters and led by the celebrated Chef José Andrés, was first on the scene. Since Adriana Angelet, a member of our French Fridays with Dorie virtual cooking group, was Puerto Rican and dealing with the devastation, we “Doristas” decided to contribute money to WCK in her name.
Since that time as Chef Andrés has expanded his impressive food relief effort throughout the world, I’ve contributed monthly to WCK, making it a recurring donation. He is a phenom. In time, I predict he will win the Nobel Peace Prize. When Russia invaded Ukraine, his team quickly organized to feed what is now almost 1 M refugees. Currently, WCK meals are being distributed in five Ukrainian cities and on the Polish, Romanian, and Moldovian borders. Learn more about wck.org here.
CLASSIC UKRAINIAN BORSCHT (Beet Soup) by Natasha Kravchuk of NatashasKitchen.com
4 medium beets, peeled and grated, 2 cups ( I used refrigerated and vacuum-packed beets for this recipe.) 2 Tbsp olive oil, divided 4 cups chicken broth, add water as needed 2 medium/large Yukon potatoes, peeled and sliced into bite-sized pieces 2 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 celery ribs, trimmed and finely chopped 1 small red bell pepper, finely chopped, optional 1 medium onion, finely chopped 3 Tbsp ketchup or 3 Tbsp tomato sauce
1 can white cannelini beans with their juice or shredded cabbage 2 bay leaves 2Tbsp white vinegar, or to taste 1 tsp sea salt, or to taste 1/4 tsp black pepper, freshly ground 1 large garlic clove, pressed 3 Tbsp chopped dill
Peel, grate and/or slice all vegetables (keeping sliced potatoes in cold water to prevent browning until ready to use then drain). I used refrigerated and vacuum-packed beets for this recipe.
Heat a large soup pot (5 1/2 Qt or larger) over medium/high heat and add 1 Tbsp olive oil. Add grated beets and sauté 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until beets are softened.
Add 4 cups broth. Add sliced potatoes and sliced carrots. Cook for 10-15 minutes or until easily pierced with a fork. If more broth is needed, add 1-2 cups of water.
While potatoes are cooking, place a large skillet over medium/high heat and add 1 Tbsp oil. Add chopped onion, celery and bell pepper. Sauté stirring occasionally until softened and lightly golden (7-8 minutes).
Add 3 Tbsp Ketchup and stir fry 30 seconds then transfer to the soup pot to continue cooking with the potatoes.
When potatoes and carrots reach desired softness, add 1 can of beans with their juice, 2 bay leaves, 2-3 Tbsp white vinegar, 1 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp black pepper, 1 pressed garlic clove, and 3 Tbsp chopped dill. Simmer for an additional 2-3 minutes and add more salt and vinegar to taste.
Add a dollop of sour cream or yogurt on top.
CELEBRATING 70 YEARS of FRIENDSHIP
My long-time Manchester, Iowa friend, Cindy, drove from Colorado Springs to have lunch with me at Boulder’s St. Julien Hotel. Before we sat down, Cindy ordered champagne. We were off. Our cute U of Colorado waitress was totally into celebrating 70 years of anything! The hostess made it clear it was “our” table. By the time we left, 2 1/2 hours later, most of the customers at the surrounding tables were celebrating as well. It truly was joyful.
Before Tom Sawyer, before Huckleberry Finn, when Mark Twain was an underpaid wanna-be newspaper reporter, he found himself in Hawaii. In 1866 at just 31 years of age, The Sacramento Daily Union sent him on assignment to the Sandwich Islands, present-day Hawaii. He spent four months in the islands, sent back 25 letters and was paid $20 a dispatch.
It wasn’t until 1947 that a collection of those letters was turned into a book, Letters from Hawaii. One present-day East Coast reviewer called it ‘a foretaste of genius and the best travel writing about Hawaii I have ever read.’ The book is still available today. Although Twain never returned to Hawaii, late in life he wrote, “What I have always longed for was the privilege of living forever away up on one of those mountains in the Sandwich Islands overlooking the sea.”
In the Eighties and Nineties Michael and I vacationed in Hawaii often. We visited every island, toured the war memorials in Honolulu and enjoyed all that was available to a tourist. Now, almost twenty years since our last trip, unlike Twain who never was able to return, I wanted one last trip to those old haunts.
But once again Covid ran interference to all my plans. Having arrived in Maui to face the increasing Omicron surge, island hopping, Pearl Harbor, revisiting special restaurants and mixing it up with the tourists on Kaanapali Beach and Lahaina’s historic Front Street were off the table. Surprisingly, my time here has taken on an amazing personality of its own without the possible discomfort a walk down memory lane might have pulled up. I have pictures…
“Ooooommgawd is this amazing!!!
I’ve got a little baking adventure for you. No electric mixer needed. A cinch to throw together. No outlandish ingredients required. And if you’re over holiday sugar and sweetness, how about plain and simple. This Poppy-Seed Tea Cake’s texture is ‘a delightful cross between the close grain of a poundcake with a spongecake’s bit of bounce.’
Thanks to Omicron, I am still my personal chef this winter. Not complaining, I have a dream kitchen here in Maui. In Dorie Greenspan’s January “EAT” column in New York Times Magazine, she wrote about her grandmother, childhood memories and poppy seeds. In ten years of cooking through this woman’s cookbooks, I’m entitled to gush over Dorie and her recipes. This is a three-gusher.
Having already baked several of these loaves, I prefer plain. The glaze glams it up, adding a tad of sweetness. I’m baking half-glazed, half-plain today for my neighbor. Friends here played taste testers. Leslie’s response is the caption above. The cake apparently also passed muster with her husband with the “WOW” factor. Let’s just leave it there.
DORIE’S POPPY-SEED TEA CAKE by Dorie Greenspan, EAT, New York Times Magazine
For The Cake:
Butter and flour for the pan
1 1/2 Cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 Cups of Sugar
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon or tangerine
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons of lemon or tangerine juice
11/2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
51/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/3 cup poppy seeds
For the Glaze (optional) :
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 to 2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon poppy seeds, for sprinkling
To make the cake, center a rack in the oven and pre-heat to 350 degrees. Butter and flour 81/2-inch loaf pan. Place the pan on two stacked baking sheets OR an insulated baking sheet.
2. Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl. Put the sugar in a large bowl, add the lemon or tangerine zest. Rub together with your finger until the sugar is moist and aromatic. Add the eggs, one by one, whisking in one vigorously before adding the next. Whisk in the juice and vanilla and then the heavy cream until smooth.
3. Add the flour mixture in three additions, using the whisk to gently stir the dry ingredients into the batter. When the flour is incorporated, add the butter in two additions, again stirring gently with the whisk. You should have a thick, smooth, shiny batter. Switch to a flexible spatula and stir in the poppy seeds. Scrape the batter into the pan.
4. Bake until it has risen and cracked along the center and, most importantly, a tester inserted deep into the cake comes out clean, about 60 to 70 minutes. Take a look at it after about 45 minutes and tent it loosely with foil if it’s getting too dark too fast.
5. Transfer the pan to a rack, cool for 5 minutes and then run a table knife between the cake and the sides of the pan. Unmold the cake and then turn it right-side up onto the rack. Cool to room temperature.
6. Stir together the confectioners’ sugar and 1 tablespoon lemon juice until smooth. If needed add more juice, a drop at a time, until you have an icing that falls slowly from the tip of a spoon. Spread it over the cooled cake to coat evenly, sprinkle with poppy seeds and let stand until set.
7. Wrapped well, the cake will keep at room temperature for about 4 days. Unglazed it can be stored up to a month.
Did anyone besides me need a nudge into 2022? If only we’d had a Trailer like the movies with some teasers as to what’s ahead. I’ve always trusted that I can bloom where I’m planted, make the best of any situation. Right now the situation is 2022, we’re in it, let’s sparkle.
I’m still in Maui and recently found a 20-year old timeworn book of recipes, The Hali’imaile General Store Cookbook. The General Store, 19 miles from me, is still in business. When first glancing through the recipes, it fell open to a dog-eared page with directions to Italasia Shrimp and Scallop Pasta. While more Italian than Hawaiian, Chef Beverly Gannon claimed the dish was an instant hit with customers.
With Omicron at our doorsteps, most of us will be pulling together more meals at home. Following the holidays, we meal-makers need easy and tasty. Why argue with a dog-eared recipe? Who doesn’t deserve a macadamia nut or two in their future? Need more kick than basil pesto? Use cilantro, the chef’s suggestion.This is simply-made comfort food. With a green salad and country bread, it’s a 5-star home-cooked meal.
THE VALLEY ISLE
The County of Maui includes four islands: Maui, Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi, and Kahoʻolawe. Launiupoko, where I live, is a spacious unincorporated community in West Maui with about 700 residents. When the holiday crowds departed I had planned whaling excursions, birding trips and the like but that’s delayed another week or so. Despite the Covid resurgence, I still walk/hike on local beaches, the Honokohau Ditch Trail and up into the hills and mountains behind my house and hit the beach to watch the sunset.
I was invited to join eight others for an extraordinary hike through the privately-managed Merwin Conservancy. Never heard of it? This small arts and ecology organization is the conservator of a lush and rare 19-acre palm forest that two-time Pulitzer prize winning poet W.S. Merwin, over a thirty year-period, planted and tended on land designated as agricultural wasteland.’
This magical experience included a hike into the Peʻahi Stream valley, historical and botanical conversations and poetry readings by program director Sara Tekula. With over 2,740 individual palm trees, featuring more than 400 taxonomic species and 125 unique genera with nearly 900 different horticultural varieties, the late Merwin’s garden is recognized as a living work of art and one of the largest, most extensive palm collections known to exist on earth.
UKU ( Gray Snapper )
Before Omicron became more than a pest, I enjoyed dinner on Christmas Eve with 10 other vaccinated, tested and, fortunately as of today, Covid free. Although the crowd-pleasing Opakapaka, was on the menu, recent storms made it difficult to find. Make that, none at all in fish markets. Some chefs believe uku is the most overlooked/under-appreciated of the Hawaii bottom fish.
ITALASIA SHRIMP and SCALLOP PASTA adapted from The Hali’imaile General Store Cookbook by Beverly Gannon
1/4 cup whole macadamia nuts, toasted 2 cloves garlic 1/1/2 cups of chopped fresh cilantro (basil is a tasty substitute) 1/3 grated Parmesan Cheese 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper 1/2 cup olive oil
Shrimp and Scallop Pasta
1/2 pound dried farfalle pasta 2 cups heavy cream 2 tablespoons unsalted butter 1 pound peeled and deveined shrimp 1 pound sea scallops
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
For the pesto combine the nuts, garlic and cilantro (or basil) and pulse until a paste forms. Add the Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper and pulse 3 or 4 times. With the motor running, add the oil through the feed tube and process until the pesto is thick and smooth. Measure out 1/2 cup for this recipe. Refrigerate or freeze the leftover pesto for other uses.
Bring a large pot filled with salted water to boil. Add the pasta, stir well and cook for 6-8 minutes until al dente. (If you live in high-altitude, al dente will take 8-11 minutes.) Don’t overcook. Drain, place in a warmed bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons of pesto. Cover to keep warm.
Place the cream and the remaining 6 tablespoons pesto in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce to medium-low and simmer for about 10 minutes until the sauce reduces and thickens.
While the sauce is reducing melt the butter in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp and scallops and sauté for 3-4 minutes until almost cooked. Pour the reduced sauce over the shrimp and scallops and heat for a few minutes longer until the seafood is cooked through.
Pour the sauce over the pasta and toss to cook. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, minced cilantro and chopped macadamia nuts and serve.
HAU’OLI MAKAHIKI HOU 2022, Readers. ( Happy New Year.)