Archives for the month of: January, 2014

ImageI hear them at night. Dragons breathing as they swoop low, close to the windows of my house, then whoosh up to the sky over Kachemak Bay. Their great tails nick the edge of the garbage can on my deck. One little breath expressed, and fishing floats scatter on my front porch.

In another time, before understanding, but when imaginations could render dragons for eyes to see, the dragons’ breath caught the sparks from fire pits , then cobbled chimneys. With their awful breath, they spit consuming fire.

I am tucked inside a house built to protect against the elements. It’s so tight that there’s a system to exchange inside air for what’s outside. The windows are snug and double-glazed, but I can hear the dragons. In another time, before understanding, I would have been freaked out. The wind here is big.

Copyright 2013-2014 Genie Hambrick

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More sunrise Jan 25 004posteredgeGood coffee in the morning while I read the NY Times online is plenty enough to make me happy to wake up in the morning. I don’t care how cold or dark it is, but lately, I’ve been even happier when I wake up.

This is not because we’re having springtime weather in Homer. This is not about mortality, not about being glad I’m alive, because if I’m not alive, I’m dead, and I won’t know it. This is about waking from crazy, scary dreams as my half-awake self comforts my half-asleep self: “Hey, hey, hey. Take a deep breath. You’re OK. This is just a dream. You haven’t lost your cell phone or your car. Your cell phone is not being controlled by aliens. The brakes on your car work just fine. Breathe. Just breathe. Sat nam. Sat nam.”

Last night, with my boyfriend (remember, this is a dream) I was on the run from Eastern European thugs, who had a scam tree-trimming business in Gainesville, Georgia. They didn’t know jack about trees, and they did bad things to people with chain saws.

Dreamboat and I escaped from the bad guys by jumping into a sewage treatment pond, then breathing through straws as we hid. He had it all figured out. “They won’t look here,” he said. “No one in their right mind would hide here.”  I don’t know how we happened to have straws.

In my dream I thought, “Oh, yeah. I can do this. I’ve survived the claustrophobia of an MRI, so I can damn well breathe my way through this. Sat nam.” And then I woke up. What a relief.

I got up, made the bed, scooped Leo’s litter box, made my coffee, and looked out the window, so glad to be alive after the night’s ordeal. The moon was up over the big spruce trees out back, and stars twinkled over Kachemak Bay. Leo and I stood on the deck for a while (it’s warm enough for that). Then we came inside. He tucked into the in-box on my desk, and I read the “paper” online.

As I moved from the Times to e-mail, through Writer’s Almanac, and Fr. Richard Rohr’s daily meditation, the sun began to rise in the east. Here in my office, a window high on the wall frames the view.

I went out in the front yard and stood there in my pajamas. I took pictures with my iPhone, which nearly always works just fine.

Oh, yeah.  I am happy to be awake today.

More and more sunrise 002filmgrain

Cat butlerOn Sunday, I vacuumed the entire house, cleared snow from the deck, front porch, and steps, defrosted Silver twice, and used him to self-plow the driveway so I could go to water aerobics the next day without much scraping and plowing. I completed the ritual chores of making the bed the minute I get out of it, scooping Leo’s litter box the next thing after that, fixing breakfast and lunch  and unloading the dishwasher, which I don’t enjoy, though I am grateful to have a dishwasher and water and power to run the thing.

I also went grocery shopping at Sav-U-More because a refrigerator without raw vegetables is barren, and mine was, except for a cabbage that deserved more than being turned into slaw. When I got home, I washed lettuce, green pepper, and cilantro, and put those in the refrigerator, which looks so much better. To the antique reproduction dough bowl that sits on top of my authentic antique countertop microwave, I added sweet potatoes, oranges, limes, garlic, and onions. I arranged new produce among the old, tossed out a lemon that was long gone, and created a little Cezanne study.

When I do housework, my thoughts turn to celebrities and just how much of this they do.  This started years ago when I read an interview with Jane Pauley—I think it was in Life magazine. Jane said she did all her own housework. I thought, “Why on earth would she do that? Can’t she and Garry Trudeau come up with enough money to have help?”

For a while, maybe when I was feeling pretty settled in my life, I didn’t have these thoughts. But then, in the early 2000s, my Sonicare toothbrush went rogue one morning and splattered the bathroom mirror with toothpaste. I was getting ready to go to work. Immediately, I cleaned the entire mirror – my splatters and any other that might have been there for a few minutes (I have a thing about this). For some reason, Catherine Zeta-Jones came to mind. I thought, “Would Catherine Zeta-Jones clean up her own mirror spatters, or would she call in someone else to do it? How long does she allow spatters to stay on her bathroom mirror? Does Michael Douglas spatter the mirror? Do they use the same bathroom?” Now, probably not, since they’re separated.

Anyway, at the moment, the “Awards Season” really has me going. Emma Thompson has become an activist for flat shoes, and, apparently in her cups, has spoken publicly about the discomforts of menopause. Charlize Theron, whose neck is stretched to unbelievable length in a Dior ad, has  a new boyfriend, Sean Penn, and she’s inspired him to have his gun collection melted into sculpture which Chris Martin of Cold Play has bought for the benefit of Haiti.  Gwyneth Paltrow, who’s married to Chris Martin, has now got to place the sculpture in their house when she’s not cooking and writing about what she’s cooking. Will she find the place for the sculpture, or will she bring in a designer? Will she tell her children not to touch it? Who will dust it? Will she burn what’s she cooking while she’s installing art? And, if Gwyenth is not the duster, will she tell the duster to dust, or will the duster just go ahead and do it? Who will wash the dishes? In life, who is the upstairs and who the downstairs?

I took a FaceBook quiz recently, and I am definitely downstairs–Mrs. Patmore, on the first try, then Bates. I’m feeling useful and really good in basic black.  

Copyright 2013-2014 Genie Hambrick

CranesSometimes, when I should do something, I don’t want to do it. Like unloading the dishwasher, which takes only about as long as it does to make a cup of coffee. I timed it this morning, so I know.

Sometimes, even if it’s something I enjoy, just feeling I should do it is a turn off. Like exercise. I love getting exercise. I love the way I feel when I exercise, but lately, I’m feeling that I should exercise, so I don’t want to do it. If I weren’t paying membership dues to the Bay Club, I would be even lazier than I am right now.

Then there’s organizing tax documents. Not that I would ever want to do that, but I am really not into it right now. So, with a freezer full of soup and leftover tuna casserole and squash lasagna (an experiment that did not turn out well), I had to find a different diversion. Given my current state of mind about exercise, it definitely should not be cooking.

So last Sunday afternoon, I decided to make origami cranes. I couldn’t follow the instructions in the kit my niece gave me, even through they were not in Japanese, but I found an online video of hands folding a crane. Over and over again,  graceful, smooth hands fold a square of purple paper into a perfect crane. I gave myself a week to learn to make one without watching the video, and by yesterday (Wednesday), I did it. I had to start over a few times, but I think I’ve got it now.

I have heard that a wish will come true if you make 1,000 cranes, but I can’t think of anything I want that much. Besides, if I start thinking that way, I’ll feel as if I should make cranes and then I won’t enjoy it anymore. Of course, I’ll come up with something else fun to do, and, believe me, Homer is a great place to find it.
Copyright 2013-2014 Genie Hambrick

LIGHTIt’s January, and Alaska is cautiously withdrawing small amounts of sunlight stored last year during Daylight Saving Time. We’re cashing out a few minutes each day, so that by the Vernal Equinox on March 20 we’ll have equal amounts of day and night. After that, for a while, we’ll have more sunlight than we know what to do with. As some now curse the darkness, some will then go to extremes to banish light–at least between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. I remember reading that Elvis had Las Vegas hotel room windows covered with aluminum foil so he could sleep in the daytime after performing all night.

Anyway, in what some people call the Dark Time, I have abundant light. Lots of it. So much,  that I took  inventory. And what better way to spend a few minutes on a rainy, blustery January Day? I’m not about to slog up Reber Trail in rain gear and cleats. I don’t do needlecrafts, and I can’t bear the thought of organizing documents for my tax return. I have enough soup in the freezer to last until June, and I’ve made muffins with rice flour. Not great, by the way. I threw them over the deck for the neighbors’ dogs to snack on while they’re out relieving themselves in my back yard.

I have a total of 38 can lights in the ceilings throughout my house, plus sconces in the stairway and the bathrooms, plus overhead bathroom lights. Lights over the stove and inside it; in the refrigerator and microwave. Closet lights, porch lights front and back. In my office, two desk lights and a SADD light, which I call HAPPY.

Do computer screens count as lights? TV screens? Modems and routers? I have several of these. There’s my iPhone and alarm clocks, and tiny green lights in the controls for the air exchange system. Flashlights and one night light downstairs. Car lights, exterior and interior. Electric window candles that I couldn’t bear to put away with the Christmas decorations.  Wax candles on the dining table and coffee table, and on a corner cabinet in the living room. Candles in the bathrooms, though their true purpose is not lighting.

Lamps. Numerous lamps throughout the house, but probably a dozen less than I had in Atlanta. That’s counting the ones Stet and Typo broke and those I gave away when I moved.

If I bought lamp oil at Ulmer’s Everything-But-Groceries-and-Pets, I could include oil lamps in the inventory. And that might be a good idea, because as I sit here and write in the glow of the HAPPY light, I realize how dependent I am on Homer Electric Association. And light bulb and battery manufacturers.

I’m a pretty good cheechako, but I wouldn’t make it as a pioneer.
Copyright 2013-2014 Genie Hambrick

soup imageA recipe in Jane Brody’s Good Food Book inspired me to make soup from scratch, and for years I followed the instructions for Molly Katzen’s “Gypsy Soup” as if the IRS or Social Security Administration had sent them by certified mail. One teaspoon of turmeric meant no more, no less than a level teaspoon. Err a pinch one way or the other and expect fines up to $500 or imprisonment or both. Do not, under any circumstances, proceed to Part B. Assembly unless you can check off every box in Part A. Ingredients.

The first time I made Gypsy Soup, I had invited a work colleague for dinner. She was unattractive and notoriously blasé about her job responsibilities, but she was smart and interesting, and my husband tolerated her. He was the chef in our household, but insisted that I prepare dinner that night since she was my friend. So I settled on soup and salad, perfect for a cold winter night in the Shenandoah Valley.

After that, I made the soup a few times a year when some of my friends came for dinner, and my husband ate it, complaining all the while that it wasn’t enough for an entire meal. It did take several bowls, half a baguette and a hunk of cheese to satisfy six feet and four inches.

Now I make Gypsy Soup and one hundred and one variations as often as I want, and with reckless abandon. A pinch of this, a pinch of that—maybe a lot of that if I’m listening to Rodrigo y Gabriela burn up their guitars. I toss my pretend hair (I’ve had a short cut for years). I peel, slice, dice, dance. And if I’m missing an ingredient and don’t want to make do, I’m off to Safeway and back before Rod and Gab have segued into Andreas Scholl’s luscious countertenor. Now I run the kitchen. I choose the music, the volume, and the menu.

As my house begins to smell like an honest-to-gosh cook lives here, I listen to music and nibble on memories, savory and sweet. The friend who came to dinner the first time I made Gypsy Soup later became my boss, albeit for a brief time, thank goodness. The cast iron Dutch oven, color soleil that handles both cooking and serving, was a gift to my departed husband a few birthdays before the leather chair and ottoman. I can’t afford pots like that now—or leather furniture—so I’m thankful he didn’t like any of it enough to take with him.

Beans, a basic ingredient in nearly all my soups, send me back to my hometown, Kingsport, Tennessee. On days when the cafeteria of Andrew Johnson Elementary School served brown beans with onions, I didn’t walk home for lunch. I loved that meal, and we didn’t have it at home because my mother was more Southern than that.

My mother-in-law, however, was the champion brown bean cook of all time. Born and raised in Saltville, Virginia, she called them October beans and cooked them with salt and fat back. I tried to master the art of October beans—stirring them just enough to create a creamy broth. But mine were never better than OK, and occasionally a disaster. Something would divert my attention—a baby crawling out of his crib, toddlers who never took naps, a girlfriend calling to gossip—and the next thing I knew the beans were a smoldering mess. A few times I just threw the pot away with the beans.

When I add cumin or any kind of hot peppers to a soup, I think of the first real Mexican food I tasted. That was with an adventurous, world-traveling friend at a restaurant inside Super Mercado Carillos #2 on Atlanta Road, in Gainesville, Georgia. Cayenne pepper stirs the same memory, and I’m convinced stimulates brilliantly colorful dreams about fabulous houses. Chinese food, by the way, seems to cause a recurring nightmare: the brakes fail on the blue Volvo station wagon I drove for years, and I end up on the precipice of a cliff at the edge of a big lake.

If I purée part of the soup to create a bisque, I’m with my sister, an artist who creates energetic, gorgeous abstract paintings and, out of everything but the kitchen sink, makes tasty cold soups. With her red-haired head inside the refrigerator, she says, “This needs to be eaten,” and into the blender go kale that’s just this side of compost, green pepper, apple, lemon wedges, garlic, ginger. Whatever goes in comes out delicious, and a beautiful color. Then she tops it with a dollop of yogurt or goat cheese crumbles, and we take it to the screened porch.

On Friday, I pulled a small container of soup from the freezer. I made it more than a month ago with a bag of Safeway house-brand dried beans. I ended up with enough beans to buy Jack Beanstalk’s mother a herd of cows and a couple of bulls. So I kept adding more ingredients—more tomatoes, carrots, celery. I tossed in more turmeric, cumin, cayenne pepper, tabasco sauce, black pepper, even salt. I splashed in lemon juice, guaranteed to punch up the flavor of a dish by a friend who was anything but bland.

Still, that soup was no fun to eat, and completely unsatisfying for lunch after an hour of water aerobics with the Silver Waves. So I added the last bit of a tomato bisque soup I made for the first time a couple of weeks ago. Lots of fresh basil in it.

Pouring the tomato soup into the other, I thought about the night I made it. A first night, again. New friends in a new place. New memories.
Happy New Year!
Copyright 2013-2014 Genie Hambrick