Sunday, February 28, 2010

Hooray for Old Technology!

We had a sudden tragedy the other night--late, post-dishwashing. Our coffeemaker's carafe slipped from its drying perch and just tapped the divider between the kitchen sinks. No one pushed it; it committed suicide all on its own.

. . . Fortunately, we keep on hand our trusy old-school Revere Ware percolator. Hooray!

And we remember how to use it!

It saved the day, by saving the next morning!

Mmmmmm . . . coffee!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sunshine: Keep It Coming, but Come On.

I think February is probably my least-favorite month around here. The “fun” parts of winter, like Christmas, New Year’s, and those lovely magical snowfalls, are long past, and what we’re left with is crumpled brown grass, brittle gray trees, grit and grime anywhere within view of a road, and yet still plenty of freezing weather. Nothing has greened up yet.

But it’s more than just these proto-springtime blues.

We had an ugly surprise last week. After we’d had snow, and it had melted some, then refroze, then started to melt again (repeat for days), we discovered water dripping through the window frames on our sunporch. It was coming from the ceiling and the soffits. It was soaking through the plaster and stucco. It soaked the wooden windows. It got on the floor. It ruined the exterior paint, which we’d had done the year before the roof. We will lose thousands of dollars repairing these damages.

This had happened before, a few years ago, but the reason we were surprised last week is that we thought we had had this problem fixed. A friend had suggested a handyman who could assess and possibly fix our situation, and by the time he left our house two years ago, I thought the roof was okay. We were planning this spring to launch into the thousands of dollars of repairs and repainting.

But obviously it wasn't fixed. There’s no quick fix when an entire section of shingles have to be torn off, the incorrect padding removed, and ice-and-water shield (which should have been used in the first place) put on, then the whole section reshingled. This is why it’s leaking again.

The company that put on our roof in 2006 totally ripped us off. The roof isn’t even four years old yet, but we’ve been “repairing it” ever since they left. (Don’t ask. It’s a long story. Just a tip: Make sure such folks actually sign their guarantee before they begin work.)

The discovery of the renewed leak of course put us in a sour mood, and the long, overcast, rainy spell we just had only made things worse—the leak, and our attitudes. It was simply pouring there for a while, outside and inside, literally and figuratively.

So I made the mistake of posting a sour comment about this time of year on Facebook for all my Facebook-friends to see, and in return I received flowery, “inspirational,” Pollyanna-ish comments from a few of my friends. “Oh but don’t you know, this is when spring is just about to arrive! The sap is rising, the plants are preparing for growth, and the male goldfinches are starting to acquire their brilliant yellows!”

Yeah, yeah, I know all that. (Graduate degree in natural sciences, remember?)

But their candy-ass happiness angered me. In part, I blame Facebook and our mutual laziness as friends: Facebook gives you the impression that you are connecting with one another, but that connection is actually very superficial, and here’s a case in point. We’re out of touch with each other; we don’t talk anymore as friends do.

The people who responded to me have absolutely no idea about what’s going on with our roof, or about the whole suite of unhappy things on my mind, ranging from financial concerns to friends struggling with serious illnesses, and much more. None of these things go onto Facebook, or even this blog, for that matter. (Okay, today is an exception.) Like most people, I suspect, I don't broadcast about my various demons.

In other words, these friends really don’t know my underlying issues. I’m sure if they knew how I was really doing, they would have responded differently. (At least I hope they would. One of them is studying to become a doctor, for heaven’s sake.) My response was to retract; I blocked their posts.

Indeed, the two chums who countered me with gushing optimism don’t even live in Missouri, so they weren’t here to see the soggy ground, the mud, the clouds for days. They don’t see or remember what it’s like when the snow is reduced to icy, gritty mounds, the whole winter’s accumulation of soiled, damp litter revealed along the curbs. It’s just ugly, and when it’s not sunny for days, and then you’re looking at thousands of dollars sunk into that damned roof—well?

But I still wondered about my downright angry response to their optimism—why should I spurn the sunshine and lightness that I crave?

Then it hit me: I wasn’t at all craving their response, which amounted to “lighten up, you grumpy Gus! :-) :-) :-)”

No one who is depressed wants to be told to “cheer up and look on the bright side!” Their flood of happy-dappiness seemed unreal, silly, forced. Such light-hearted cheerfulness is truly beyond the ken of someone in my position, emotionally. The contrast only accentuated the great distance I was feeling from “happy.” At those times, it seems like years since I’ve felt that happy. (Maybe I’ve never felt “that happy.”) —See what I mean?

And I felt like I was being argued with. I think that’s what bothered me most.

I realized that what I really wanted was to be understood, heard, empathized with. I wanted someone to take my side. I wanted to hear something like: “Yeah, Julie, this has seriously been a long winter, and I’m sick of these gray, cold, rainy days, too. But if we can hold out for just a few more weeks, we’ll be seeing undeniable signs of spring, and that will make a huge difference! Until then, hang in there, my friend!”

That’s what I wanted to hear.

. . . Meanwhile, I have to admit—those daffodils are pretty relentless.

Friday, February 19, 2010

ECCO Lounge: Venerable Jeff City Restaurant, Reborn

. . . Again! Reborn again! On this spot has been an uninterrupted string of bar-and-grills since 1860! In the 1800s it was the Farmers’ Home, a hotel and eatery for German-speaking farmers from out in the country, who’d arrive in town with wagonloads of produce and spend the night. The names changed over the years (though not since 1945), but the hospitality has continued unabated.

The ECCO holds warm memories for many in the area, and that’s why so many folks have been flocking to the newly reopened restaurant—that, and the fact that the new owners have done an incredible job of renovating the place while enhancing its historic appeal.

I feel like I ought to be careful here, in my description, not to say anything to offend people—like any previous owners of the business, or smokers. But you know what? This is my blog—I’m not a representative of a newspaper or TV station, so I can speak my mind. In fact, I think my thoughts generally “ECCO” those of most other locals.

The place is definitely cleaned up; I think the new owners, in their rehabilitation of the space, must have had to scrape, and scrape, and scrape! No doubt they also had to haul out all kinds of scary, serious cleansers and strippers (that is, where they didn’t just tear out stuff wholesale), in order to get rid of what must have been the grease of the ages.

What Did They Do?

From what I know, they did a “gut rehab.” They took the walls down to the bricks. They got rid of the drop ceiling and discovered the original, patterned tin ceiling—how cool is that! And nifty retro ceiling fans now dangle above the bar, but they don’t have much to blow around, since the restaurant is now nonsmoking.

Yes, you read that right: Nonsmoking. Unlike how it used to be, you can now stand at one end of the big room and actually see clearly to the other end of the room. Yeah! You can go in there, have a sandwich or a burger and a pint of beer, and emerge without smelling like an ashtray!

If you’re reading this and you’re a smoker, you’re probably “fuming” a little bit about my cheering, but face it: Smoking’s not healthy, and the new owners are simply going along with the evolving views of most Americans. Most of us don’t want to be subjected to smoldering tobacco; it just smells nasty to us. It’s only a matter of time before this city, and most others, enacts ordinances prohibiting smoking in public restaurants.

But I digress. The new owners, Don and Sally Powell and Mark and Anna Ewers, have over the past months accomplished a true transformation of the lounge. I’m sure that they remodeled the kitchen entirely. (Gosh, that must’ve been a frickin’ nightmare; think of the exhaust hood!) In the seating area, there are new tables, booths, and chairs, new walls, and new paint, to go along with a revamped menu.

Meanwhile, they’ve kept the nifty old stuff that used to lure me in the place occasionally these past years, despite the smoke: The large Buddha and a pair of Chinese foo dogs, acquisitions of Earl Childers, who initiated the ECCO incarnation in the early 1940s.

And the bar is still there. (I’ll bet they had to really scrub that thing, too!)

And there’s more: Nifty retro signs of long-defunct Missouri breweries, including Griesedieck Bros. brewery from St. Louis, and Jefferson City’s own Capitol Brewery, which closed in 1947 but had been located right across the intersection from the ECCO since the 1800s.

A very large neon sign for Stag hangs on the back wall, casting a warm red glow. All this stuff came from Don Powell’s “breweriana” collection, I think. (Well, we all need a hobby, right?)

Overall, even though the exterior of the building hasn’t changed much, the ambience of the restaurant has changed drastically. The stale smoke smell and the odor of rancid grease are gone: Gone, gone, gone! The tacky inflatable Budweiser bottles and NASCAR cars no longer hang over the bar.

And the people working there? They seem happy, friendly, and excited. (No offense to anyone, but I have to say that the service in the recent past had not seemed particularly cordial.)

In sum, the ECCO “feels” like a new restaurant. A new, old restaurant. The new caretakers of this landmark did a great job of uncovering and renovating its retro taproom past.

And yes, there’s a good selection of beers on tap, ranging from Anheuser-Busch products (well, this is Missouri) to microbrews and imports. The bar is fully stocked. You will find something to your liking here.

On to the Food!

I had been very curious about this, since the menu hadn’t seemed to have changed much since the fifties. How were they going to continue the tradition of burgers, shrimp baskets, steaks, spaghetti, and the like, while also expanding to include items that would attract, oh, state office workers, people watching their “carbs,” people counting calories?

They did all right; they kept the best and left the rest. They didn’t mess with many of the standbys. I think they kept almost all the old favorites, while adding several different salads (with all the dressings made in-house), new sandwiches, and some trendier seafood and chicken dishes (Chicken Asiago; Spinach-Stuffed Chicken; Southwest Chicken; Pan-Seared Salmon). And there are plenty of other dinner selections; steak, lobster, and so on. They kept the spaghetti on the menu, too!

The ECCO doesn’t pass as a “health-food” restaurant, but there are some reasonable options for people wanting lighter meals. Portobello mushrooms have also now made it onto the menu, as both a vegetarian sandwich with veggies and feta, and as a topping for a burger (with Swiss cheese). I suspect you can request that certain items be omitted.

The ECCO club sandwich is a delicious combination of turkey, bacon, Swiss, sliced apples, and a sweet and spicy mustard. I’ll bet you could order it without the bacon.

A Pastrami Reuben on Rye and a German Bratwurst are much-appreciated nods to the German history of the Munichburg neighborhood, which the ECCO is at the heart of. Another local favorite appears on the dessert menu: vanilla ice cream from Central Dairy, a longtime Munichburg business that is a tourist attraction in its own right.

The pork tenderloin sandwich is apparently one of the big favorites, and it’s available grilled or fried. All the sandwiches and burgers come with chips and a pickle spear. We got an order of onion rings for the table, and they were enormous, sweet, and tasty. I’d get them again for sure.

Here’s Why We Care

I admit a bias and a personal connection to this restaurant in more than one way. For one thing, we live in this neighborhood, and the renovation of this restaurant is part of a long-term, uphill battle in cleaning up this old-town district.

Indeed, that entire block of shops and restaurants, running east along Dunklin, is currently undergoing a major rehabilitation. This is big, folks, it really is, and the people who are doing this are to be congratulated, thanked, and supported. Otherwise, many of these historic buildings were headed for the wrecking ball.

Here’s the other reason we care about the ECCO: It truly is a tradition. I wasn’t surprised when we went there for lunch and noticed plenty of “gray heads” at the tables; most locals remember when this was a favorite, nice place to go for lunch or dinner, or to hang out with friends and family. When I was there recently, I noticed that everyone in the room seemed to be reminiscing about it, while glancing around and nodding approvingly.

I had the privilege of sitting at a table with my parents and my uncle and aunt, who all have a long string of ECCO memories. They were local children in the thirties and forties, young adults in the fifties and sixties, and as we sat there, they recalled some highlights of a lifetime of memories of the restaurant.

My mom recalled a time in the late 1950s before she got married: She and the other “Light Company gals” used to get together for dinner after work. They’d sit in the back room and eat spaghetti. It was the best spaghetti they’d ever eaten! And, my mom told me, cocking an eyebrow, this is where she discovered the delicious flavor of whiskey sours! (That’s big for a Lutheran gal!)

My uncle and aunt remembered a time back in the late forties or early fifties. When Uncle Richard’s aunt and uncle would come visit from Kansas City, they would stay here on Elm Street with Grandma, just a few blocks from the ECCO. They’d all walk together to the ECCO and get two-dollar fried-baloney sandwiches and drink beer! Boy, I’ll bet that was a good time!

Later, Uncle Richard said, in the eighties, once their own kids had grown and gone, it became a tradition for him and Aunt Carole, and my grandma, to go to the ECCO on their wedding anniversary. A shrimp basket or two, a pitcher of beer, a salad with bleu cheese on it, baked potato, or whatever.

My dad chimed in at this point and said that he, too, often accompanied them on these anniversary dinners, and that with Grandma there, the celebration usually included them all singing in German.

At this point in their storytelling, Dad and Uncle Richard began to sing one of Grandma’s favorite songs, a drinking song (I translate for you): “Morning’s with the brandy wine! Noon is with the beer! Evening’s with the young ladies! Nighttime?—Who knows! We live high!”

Of course, by the time Dad and Richard were halfway through the song, we all had joined in, oblivious to what other diners were thinking. (That’s how it always was with Grandma; she just sang, and we always sang with her . . .)

The Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau has recently been trumpeting a slogan of “You’ll feel the history!” . . . And here at the cleaned up, comfortable, renovated, friendly ECCO Lounge, you’ll taste the history, too! Kudos and best wishes to the new, old ECCO.

Ecco Lounge on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fastnacht: “German Mardi Gras”

Actually, it’s just as correct to say that Mardi Gras is the French version of Fastnacht!

If you’re in Central Missouri and want to try something new tonight, come to the huge, annual Fastnacht celebration sponsored by the Columbia United Church of Christ!

It starts at 5:30 this evening and is held at Columbia’s Knights of Columbus hall (2525 N. Stadium Rd.—that’s the part of Stadium that’s north of I-70, okay?)—yah, yah, yah, yah: You know you want to go!

Here’s why:

1) The “Trinity” (we’ve talked about this before): brats, kraut, and potato salad (German potato salad—is there any other kind?)

2) “Fastnachts.” These are sweet little fried pastries (similar to my family’s mützen), traditionally served at Fastnacht. (Get it? They’re fried: oil, grease, “fat”—as in “Fat Tuesday”). Yum-yum!

3) Music and dancing! This year, the Loehnig Band from Hermann, which has performed for the UCC Fastnacht celebration each year for 25 years—even when the weather’s been miserable!—is finally taking a vacation for Fastnacht . . . in New Orleans! So this year, the entertainment is from Columbia’s own 6-piece German band, “Der Musicmeisters.” (Um, shouldn’t that be spelled Musikmeisters?) (Anyway . . .)

German Fastnacht has deep roots, as deep as French Mardi Gras, and if you’re of German descent, or if you’re just looking for something different to do this evening, you absolutely need to check out this scene.

Yes, it’s sponsored by a local church as an outreach activity and fund-raiser, but no, you won’t be subjected to any sermons or preachin’ tonight. Just good food, music, fun, and friendly fellowship.

Alcohol will not be served, so everyone who goes can feel comfortable. (Naturally, if you want to continue your party, you can always head downtown afterwards for more abandoned types of revelry!)

Cost for tickets at the door is $10 for adults, $5 for kids 6–12.

For more information, look at the Web site of the Columbia UCC.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

Best wishes to you and to your special valentine from the Opulent Opossum!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Vintage Tofu Salad

“Vintage tofu salad”?! You’re probably thinking I’m way off my rocker here, but stay with me a moment: This recipe harkens back to the good ol’ days of Columbia Specialty Foods, for many years the mainstay grocery of my hometown’s health-food community.

And don’t go all “yuk” on me, either. Sure, you can laugh at tofu, it’s an easy target. The reason most people hate tofu is that it has, like, zero flavor. It tastes like egg whites, which is to say it tastes like nothing. But then, like egg whites (or a potato, or cottage cheese, or the like), it’s a blank slate, and you can spice it up and flavor it however you want, ranging from savory to sweet. It’s a real chameleon, and as you’ve probably heard, full of protein.

Here’s one of my all-time favorite recipes using tofu. I acquired it from someone who worked at the old Columbia Specialty Foods health food store back when I was an undergraduate at MU.

For you folks who don’t remember it, Columbia Specialty Foods used to be on Business Loop 70, near the intersection with Coats Street; it opened in the 1960s and was owned by a remarkable man, Richard Catlett, a pacifist and progressive way ahead of his time. In 1991, the crunchy-granola business was bought and turned into Clover’s. (Nowadays, I think that building is a “dating” service, strip club, or payday loan place. Skank!)

Anyway, this recipe is for the tofu salad sandwiches that Columbia Specialty Foods used to make and sell, back in the day. They would make them in the morning, wrap them in plastic wrap, and have them in a cold case, ready for you to pick up. Healthy fast-food!

After classes, I used to pick up one of these, an organic apple, and a jar of organic juice, and head for the hills. (Gans Creek.) This constituted many lunches while sitting on logs or boulders out in the fresh air.

I recommend halving it, if you’re cooking just for one or two folks. This original recipe makes a ton.

I also suggest using a firm-textured tofu: You want the tofu to retain some texture and not get all mushy.

It’s basically a mock egg salad, and rather mild. Sometimes you want mild, eh? But jazz it up however you want; you’re the boss. This is the kind or recipe you can fiddle with to your heart’s content.

Tofu Salad Sandwich
From Columbia Specialty Foods, ca. 1987

1 lb. tofu
1/4 – 1/2 cup mayonnaise (try an organic, soy, or vegan kind!)
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1/3 – 1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
1 tsp. no-salt herbal seasoning (see note below)
1/8 tsp. pepper
1/8 tsp. garlic powder
alfalfa and onion sprout blend (see note below)
“Super Salad Mix” sprouts (see note below)
pita pocket bread for stuffing

Mix together the salad ingredients (all of the above, excluding the sprouts and pita bread). Stuff the salad into pitas along with the sprouts to make sandwiches.

On the “no-salt herbal seasoning”—I think they used “Herbal Seasoning Blend” from Frontier Foods. The blend is definitely strong on the dill, and it works very well in this recipe. But you can use whatever you want. Fresh dill would be lovely. Or use “Mrs. Dash.” Or concoct your own blend (thyme, oregano, tarragon, parsley, all would be good).

On the sprouts: Well, around here, you used to be able to buy particular sprouts blends; you could get a combo blend of onion and alfalfa, and you could get one called “Super Salad Mix” that had lentils, radish, mung, and other sprouts. Alas, you can’t get these specific blends around here anymore. It was some local grower that made them. Oh well.

The super salad mix was nice and crispy, a little peppery (because of the radish sprouts); and the alfalfa-onion sprout blend added crunch and just enough onion flavor to make it taste right without becoming overpowering. (Soooo many vegetarian cooks habitually overdo the onions and garlic, in my opinion.)

So regarding sprouts, you just have to make do with what ya got. Onion sprouts plus clover or alfalfa oughta do it. Use your best judgment, and have fun!

And be healthy.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Happy Fisherman: Open Again!

Remember last March when I told you about the Happy Fisherman, at the Lake of the Ozarks? Well, they regularly close for the winter season. Sad, I know.

This is just a reminder that they’re open again now, so you can once again go to the Lake and get your Baitcaster’s Special and have an amazing, enlightening trip to the “Salad Boat.” Check out the rock shrimp, too!

On a lark, Sue and I toodled to the Lake last night (“I want to go somewhere for dinner tonight!”), and we were thrilled to see the Happy Fisherman open again. And it didn’t disappoint.

I had the frog legs (fried—though you can also get them sautéed with onions). Yum-yum! They don’t have frog legs at Appledies!

And the Salad Boat was full of imaginative salads that, well . . . they just remind me of church ladies’ cooking. There was a yellow hominy–based salad, for instance, made with Italian dressing, that was pretty dang good. But my favorite “take” from the Salad Boat was a slaw made with red cabbage, some pieces of bacon, and (I guess) coleslaw dressing. Very simple, very colorful, and yes, very tasty.

Anyway . . . we had a great time. For more on this restaurant, see my earlier post about it.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

For Valentine’s Day, May I Recommend . . .

“Oh, what am I going to do to make this Valentine’s Day really special?” . . . Do you find yourself thinking that some years? Well, if you live in Central Missouri, I’d like to suggest that you stop by the new B.K. Bakery to check out their desserts.

In particular, I would recommend their “individual desserts”—lovely, decorated miniature cakes that are perfect for two people to share. If you’re into chocolate, then the “Ultimate Devil’s Food” would be just the ticket, and a nice alternative to the big box o’ chocolates one usually presents on February 14.

The Ultimate Devil’s Food has devil’s food cake at its core, surrounded by dark chocolate mousse, all covered with a dark chocolate glaze, and perched on a chocolate shortbread cookie. They will pack it in a cute enough little box for you on ordinary days, but for Valentine’s, they have special boxes and Valentine’s-themed decorations for the cakes (see their Web site for that).

You can also get other, similar-sized cakes: Red velvet, “Devil’s Espresso,” “Medieval Carrot,” “Luscious Lemon,” “Vanilla Bean,” and German chocolate. Along with lots of other nice little creations—cheesecakes, brownies, cookies, full-sized cakes, and more.

We honestly haven’t been to B.K. Bakery much yet, but it’s very near our house, and as the weather improves I’m sure it will be on our morning bicycle route, what with their Kaldi’s Coffee (and espresso and all the rest) and fresh scones, muffins, danishes, and what-not. They have croissants, too: plain, chocolate (yes!!), almond, and ham and cheese (yum!).

Now, you already know that I’m always telling you to patronize your local businesses, and this is one. Check them out; give them a try. If they seem a little pricey, then remember this stuff was handmade. Look at their Web site—in addition to specially wrapped and decorated mini-cakes, they’re also selling chocolate-dipped strawberries. They’re requesting you order early.

One more thing to note: Valentine’s Day is on a Sunday this year, but they’re closed Sundays. Hours are Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Saturday, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. He who hesitates is lost, so don’t wait until the last minute!

B.K. Bakery
901A Misouri Blvd.
Jefferson City, MO 65109

(573) 632-0064 (voice)
(573) 632-0066 (fax)

(They're located on Missouri Boulevard near the intersection with Ohio Street--a little west of where Mo. Blvd. intersects with Highway 54.)

Monday, February 8, 2010

Katy Trail at Portland: More Opossum Tracks

Yesterday there was still snow on the ground, but it was melting and the ground was getting soggy, so instead of slopping through a muddy trail somewhere, we opted for the relatively tidy Katy Trail.

We walked on a part we hadn't been on before: Portland, Missouri, and a few miles east from there. A nice section of trail! Some parts of the Katy go through crop fields; others through woods. Here, as with other popular parts of the trail, rocky bluffs rise on one side, and the Missouri River and various jungly bottomlands spread out on the other. I suspect this section of trail isn't traveled as much as areas near large population centers.

Also, I love driving the section of Highway 94 near Portland--it curves through forested hills that open up occasionally to offer more expansive views. It's not an interstate--you know what I mean? Hooray!

Anyway, there is lots of evidence of wildlife activity in the area, notably beavers near Big Tavern Creek where it joins the river.

But what I especially wanted to share with you are a few more possum tracks in the snow. These tracks were right on the hiking/biking trail.

There were tons of various tracks all over the trail, by the way, but ours were the only human ones. It is so illuminating how the snow makes visible the hundreds of comings and goings of critters that otherwise leave little trace.

In these pictures, you can see the marks the opossum's tail made as it walked.

Hmmm. I'll bet their skinny pink tails get really cold in the winter.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

I Told You They Have Opposable Big Toes!

We slept late. It’s been a hard week. This morning Sue looked out the back window at the snow in the yard and saw tracks. They seemed roughly triangular. Had a goose walked around in our yard this morning? Unheard of!

Realize: We were looking at them from the second floor.

Upon closer inspection, and double-checking on page 26 of the impressive cornucopia of mammal information that is The Wild Mammals of Missouri, 2d rev. ed., by Charles and Elizabeth Schwartz (whose text and illustrations are often lifted by many other authors and Internet sites), we realized it had been an opossum that wandered around our yard last night.

The Schwartzes write that female opossums are more likely to hunker down in frigid weather, so the chances are better that it was a male who visited.

The tracks are in pairs—left hand and left foot together, practically touching, then the right hand and right foot together, etc.

The hind feet leave quite unusual-looking prints on account of the big toe, which spreads out widely so that the left big toe is at about 4 or 5 o’clock, and the right one is positioned at about 7 or 8 o’clock—very distorted compared to how you might think they “should” be.

What a nice little gift from the critters last night. That Mr. Opossum snuffled around our yard last night makes me smile.

(For more about opossums and this blog, click here.)

Thursday Night’s Recital

Thursday night we were social butterflies. First, across the river at Summit Winery, Smokefree Jefferson City had a “Let's Clear the Air Reception” for coalition-building purposes. This is Jefferson City’s group that’s trying to get smoking eliminated from public places such as restaurants. As usual, obstruction to progress seems to be coming down to the hemming and hawing of politicians, regardless of the overwhelming evidence of smoking’s bad effect on health.

Then we left the winery and rushed over to Lincoln University’s Richardson Auditorium, where we caught the second half of a concert by Susan Quigley-Duggan and Ruth Robertson, “Un récital à deux voix.” Dr. Quigley-Duggan, a soprano, is currently an assistant professor of voice and opera at the Swinney Conservatory at Central Methodist University. Dr. Robertson, mezzo-soprano, is a professor of vocal music at Lincoln.

They were accompanied by pianists Meg Gray and Barbara Hamel; the former is an associate professor of music at Lincoln, and the latter is a professor of music at CMU.

I think the overall theme for the concert was “let’s have fun singing together.” Honestly. They looked like they were having fun, as if they were not “working” at all. The selections were diverse in terms of style, subject, era, and language. There were works from Purcell, Rameau, Vivaldi, Dvořák, Debussy, Chaminade, Rossini, and Mozart, including solos and duets. Some of it was light, bubbly operatic stuff, while other parts were so emotionally arresting that time stopped for a while.

In the latter category were the “Sacred Songs by Contemporary American Composers,” sung by Robertson, three soulful selections with quite different styles. The first was “The Edge of the Hem,” a meditation upon the miracles of Jesus, written by Robertson herself, which uses harmonic minor scale forms and other stylistic components to evoke a Middle Eastern feeling. The second in this trio was “Angel Done Changed My Name,” arranged by Wallace Cheatham and performed exquisitely by Robertson, whose expressiveness on this piece could have melted hearts of stone. “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho,” arranged by Lincoln emeritus professor Robert L. Mitchell Sr. (who was there in the audience), is a stirring and “technical” piece—a rousing end for the trio, as well as a clear display of Robertson’s flexibility and diction.

The two singers, reunited on stage, then ended the program with a pair of light-hearted operatic duets by Mozart: “Canzonetta sull’ aria” (Song on the breeze) from The Marriage of Figaro, and “Prenderò quel brunettino” (I’ll take the little brown-haired fellow) from Women Are All Like That.

I was sad that we missed the first part of the program, but then I was also pleased that we caught as much of the concert as we did. It was incredibly enjoyable, and sadly, not many people were there—and yes, it was even a free concert. Okay, well it was snowing. At any rate, all the people who weren’t there missed an incredible display of musical skill and what can only be interpreted as an infectious enthusiasm for performing.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Slow News Day

Well, it’s 10:30 on a Friday night, and for the second day in a row I don’t have much to share with you. I’m working on some ideas, but they need some time to develop. I do try to make this a quality blog, with actual information on it, and not just my own personal ramblings, because that could get reaaaaallly old. And frankly, my mood has been pretty down recently. Who wants to hear about how depressed I feel?

See what I mean? As a topic, Jell-O is much happier than my “feelings.”

But tonight, since it’s a slow news day—no caves explored, no butter curlers discovered, no local color to crow about—I’ll give you one of these “here is where I am right now” posts. I’ve done a few of these before. I hope you’ll indulge me again. And no, there will be no photographs to “break up” the evil, bad “text.”

I’m typing this entry in bed, and I’m enjoying our heated mattress pad, because I’ve been trying to keep the thermostat as low as I can stand it. Flannel sheets, too. It’s pretty comfy. On the floor nearby (you’d think I’d never heard of a night stand) are copies of Edwin Way Teale’s Wandering Through Winter; Richard Bolles’s What Color Is Your Parachute? which makes me feel hopeless, awful and old, so it's on the bottom of the stack; and Donald Culross Peattie’s Flowering Earth.

Then also, there's my dog-eared copy of the Bhagavad Gita, which I’ve been memorizing, in part. On nights when I can’t sleep, I recite the verses in my head. It’s kind of like counting sheep, only much more useful and comforting.

What else. My laptop is playing music to me as I write: Joshua Redman’s Freedom in the Groove—which I’ve found is really good to edit and write to.

We had some good snow today; indeed, it snowed all day, but it was soft and wet enough that much of it turned to slush on contact, so the five or so inches that probably actually came down amounted to only about 2.5 of the white stuff accumulated. By this time in the evening, however, the slush on the streets is probably frozen. I’m glad not to have to drive in it.

This has been “kicking the tires” week. Dentist, haircut, routine doctor’s exam, got my car’s oil changed, and more. Plus there was more fun: a plumbing emergency that resulted in having a square foot hole poked into our downstairs kitchen ceiling, through the plaster and lathe. The leak was fixed, but now we have some serious plaster damage from the water. Gotta find a plasterer. . . . It’s always something, isn’t it.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Julie’s Vegan Posole

I’ve been making posole for years, but this is the first time I’ve made it without pork. I think it turned out well! Plus, it was easy to make!

This is what I made for the soup party last weekend.

Here’s my recipe for porkless posole. Posole is a Mexican hominy soup eaten traditionally at Christmastime, but it tastes great in all sorts of cold weather. If you can find dried posole (hominy), by all means, use it. (Like dried beans, it takes a while to cook and soften, so as a shortcut, I often use canned hominy.)

Use your own judgment about how much of what kinds of chiles to use, based on your preferences. I love the rich flavor of Chimayo chile powder, which I bought from the Santa Fe School of Cooking. You could substitute any other rich dried red chili powder, per your preference.

The canned chipotle, being smoked, adds an almost bacon-y flavor to help replace the pork that we’re missing so bad. Smoked paprika would be a good idea, too, I’ll bet. Of course, adjust all the spices and seasonings to your own taste.

Julie’s Vegan Posole

1½ cups chopped onion
2–3 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
2–3 Tbsp. olive oil
1–2 Tbsp. canned chipotle (crushed or chopped) with adobo sauce
1–2 Tbsp. Chimayo chile powder
1 whole chile negro, dried, ground up in a spice grinder (ca. 2–3 tsp. ground)
½–1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. crushed dried oregano
4 16-oz. cans white hominy, drained and rinsed
1 16-oz. can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
2 32-oz. tetra-pack boxes of vegetable broth (such as Swanson’s)
1 zucchini squash (ca. 9 in.) (quartered lengthwise and chopped into ½-inch chunks)
1 yellow squash (ca. 9 in.) (cut same as zucchini)
2 tsp. cornstarch
1 cup fresh, chopped cilantro (you can include some of the stems, chopped)
salt (to taste)

Cilantro sprigs and wedges or thin slices of lime

In a large stock pot, sauté onions and garlic in the olive oil until translucent. Add chipotle and all the spices and stir to distribute. Add hominy and stir to coat. Add beans and broth and heat to boiling; reduce to simmer. Cook for about 10 minutes to make the flavors meld. Add chopped squashes and cook another 10 minutes or so, or until squash is tender.

Place cornstarch into a cup, jar, or bowl; ladle about ½ cup broth into it and stir or shake well to mix. Add cornstarch mixture to the soup and stir to mix (the cornstarch will thicken and silken the texture of the broth, to replace the gelatin that meat would have provided; adjust the quantity of cornstarch per your preference).

Add salt to taste; finally, stir in the cup of chopped cilantro, which requires the least amount of cooking.

Serve garnished with pretty sprigs of fresh cilantro and wedges or thin slices of lime.

This soup is usually served with a salad/garnish of chopped lettuce, thin-sliced radishes, chunks of avocado, and/or sour cream.