Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Only You...

...can prevent writer’s butt. And forest fires. But mostly writer’s butt. Truly, I spend very little time in the forest these days, so I’m not sure I’m much good at preventing forest fires.

However, sitting for hours upon hours in front of my computer, snacking the day away as I float from the dining room table, to the couch, to my office, and back, has not been kind to my waistline. After spending Saturday on the boat (in a bathing suit, of course) sitting beside my lovely and uber-fit friend, I’ve decided it’s time for me to get my tush in gear.

Now, any normal person might say, “Hey – why don’t I start running again!” or “I know, how about a nice refreshing swim?” or better yet “I’ll join a gym!”

Yeah. Not me. First of all, I positively melt in the southern heat, and running while getting all icky and sweaty as the sun beats down on me is not my idea of a good time. And swimming, well, its too tempting just to paddle around and play when I’m in the lake. And heaven knows I live too far out to belong to a gym.

So, what’s my solution?

Waterboarding. Okay, so it’s actually P90x, but it might as well be waterboarding. Having successfully completed the program two years ago, I thought, sure, I can do this again! Piece of cake. An hour and a half of exercise six days a week? Sign me up!

Well, two days in, all I have to say is uuhhhggggnnnrrrrr. Didn’t get that? That would be the unintelligible moan you would have heard if you were sitting here with me instead of reading my written words.

My back hurts. My shoulders hurt. My legs feel like two well-formed stacks of jello. My arse hurts, my chest aches, heck, even the balls of my feet aren’t happy. It is only through a miracle from heaven that Tony Horton didn’t devise an exercise to bulk up the muscles in my fingers, therefore leaving me with the ability to type.

So, what on earth made me think that I could do this? Rake myself over the coals each day (except Saturdays – yay!) before collapsing on the couch each night as a useless, half-dead bag of quivering muscles? I’m convinced I have some sort of inherent disconnect between what I can do and what I think I can do.

Seriously, do you ever watch, say, HGTV and go, yeah, I can retile my kitchen! Or observe a reality show where some former Navy SEAL make a fire out of a tin can, a marshmallow, and a button and roll your eyes and think, well, who couldn’t start a fire with those things? Do you sit on the couch and shake your head at the Tour de France cyclists and wonder how far you could bike if you had a $15,000 carbon-frame bicycle in your garage? How about those cake competition shows that you know you could kick there butt in if you were there?

Honest to goodness, I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I have some crazy, delusional side of me that doesn’t seem to get that I’m not superwoman. No, I can’t make snowshoes out of the rusted engine of an abandoned lawnmower. No, I will never be able to bike my way through the French Alps, no matter how expensive my bike is. And if I am ever dropped on a desert island without a lighter or a pack of matches, I’m just gonna have to learn to like sushi.

Honestly, I should just give up now and donate my P90x DVDs to some college kid who can actually do this stuff.

But then again… there is a lot of power in mind over matter. I mean, I said I could do a triathlon, and I did. I wanted a screened in porch, hardwood floors, and a finished basement, so I built them. I believed I could make a wakeboard groomsman cake despite the fact I'd only worked with fondant once before, and I figured out how to do it. I envisioned a career as a writer, so I sat down at the computer and wrote.

Which brings us back to the dreaded Writer’s Butt. Perhaps I can suffer through a little soreness if it means feeling good about myself and being as healthy as I can. Perhaps the pain, the sweat (ew), and the exhaustion are worth it. After all, I’ve done this before. I can do it again. And with time I’ll conquer the things that have been bothering me. No more tiredness, no more feeling blah, and no more Writer’s Butt.

Only I can prevent forest fires and a flat butt. And by jove, I shall.

So tell me, what impossible task do you think you can do? Have you ever tried it, or are you happy knowing that you could do it, if you ever decided to try? ;)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

More Than Words

The motions are so familiar to me by now, I really don’t need the recipe that stands at the ready on my iPad as I mush bananas with my pastry knife. I’ve made this banana bread again and again, surely dozens of times over the years. It’s my way of communicating with others; to celebrate a new baby, to welcome new friends and to offer cheer to old ones, to teach little ones to bake, or to give small comfort to my family. And, for times like today, to offer my condolences in the way I know best.

Carefully measured sugar blends with butter and soft white cream cheese, and I listen to the beating of my KitchenAid, its steady thump the heartbeat of my kitchen. Words are the medium in which I have staked my career, and yet at times like these, I can never seem to find the right ones. No words can properly express sorrow or sadness for the loss another has suffered. There is no right thing to say, no words for me to offer condolences in a way that scratches the surface of the true emotion. Without words, baking is my true medium.

Adding the eggs one at a time, I watch them swirl into the batter, adding a hint of color to the creamy mix. The dry ingredients come next, dusting the surface before being scraped into the mixture. I time the addition of each cupful just so, achieving the perfect, slightly stiff consistency. Gently, purposefully I add the bananas, working the spatula with a practiced hand until I sense the moment is right.

A few miles away, tears fall like raindrops, splashing on the empty place once filled with sweet smiles. Silence replaces the hum of life, a quiet so foreign it roars in the ears. In my own home, my oven beeps—the temperature is just right. In goes the carefully filled pans, and I settle back to wait. When the next beep comes, the house is warm and fragrant, and in the batter’s place is golden, domed goodness.

I can’t find the words, but I can offer sustenance. Sweet, dense bread, a flavor well-known from childhood. Soon it’s wrapped and ready. With sure hands I hand over my offering. In it is my heart, my prayers, and those unfound words.

I’m grateful for this, my comfort food, for always knowing what to say.

I hope you’ll forgive the melancholy mood. At times like these, it strikes me how elemental baking is for me. It is the physical manifestation of my wish to create for others, to have something to offer them that is of myself. I’m infinitely grateful that God saw fit to give me this unexpected talent. With out it, how else am I to share glimpses of joy, welcome, celebrations, and caring? Truly for me, a baked good is worth a thousand words. Is there anything like that for you?

The following recipe is an adaptation of a Southern Living recipe, and will make two loaves.

The Perfect Banana Bread

-3/4 cup butter (1 & 1/2 sticks of butter) softened

-8 oz of Neufchatel cream cheese (1 package) softened

-1 and 1/2 cup sugar

-2 eggs

-3 cups all purpose flour

-1/2 tsp baking powder

-1/2 tsp baking soda

-1/2 tsp salt

-4 large ripe bananas – ripe

-1/2 tsp vanilla

-pecans or walnuts optional

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour 2 loaf pans

Cream together butter and cream cheese, then gradually add sugar. Once combined, beat on medium high for 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating until just blended after each one.

Combine dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Slowly add to batter while blending at low speed until just combined. Add bananas and vanilla and stir by hand until well combined.

Divide batter evenly between the two pans and place in oven for 1 hour or until a toothpick comes out cleanly. During the last 15 minutes, tent a piece of foil over the pans to prevent the top from over-browning. Cool on racks 10 minutes before removing from pans.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Constant (Wannabe) Gardener

I want to be the eccentric old writer who lives in the rambling, ancient house covered in vines blooming with heavy purple flowers and surrounded by gardens covering every square inch of my property. I want to rock on the porch swing and look out over the lush landscape, mildly ordered and carefully unstructured. I want hydrandrea blooms the size of my head, and peonies of every color, and vividly verdant evergreen plants that offer tiny red berries against the white blanket of winter.

All through the spring, summer, and into fall, I want to fill my home with flowers, brilliant pops of color that brighten my mood and my life whenever I look at them. I want my husband to roll his eyes and chuckle when I exclaim over a perfect new rose bush, or declare that a particular bloom has the finest scent ever to touch my nose.

I hope that the neighborhood children peer through the slats of my vine-covered picket fence and make up stories about the strange old couple within. They’ll whisper of walls covered in actual books—the kind you actually have to hold in your hand and turn each and every page—and notebooks filled with the curling, uneven stokes of a type of writing called cursive. Through the swaying branches of the weeping willows standing guard in the front yard, they’ll catch fleeting glimpses of the stately old house. Every now and again I’ll look furtively out the window and swish the drapes closed dramatically, if only to give them further fodder for their gossip.

Behind our house, fountains will gurgle, whirly gigs will turn, and birdhouses adorned with copper roofs and tiny shutters will be home to happy songbirds of every color. Kirk will tinker in the quaint shed out back, biding his time in whatever way that pleases him. Our dogs will sun like lions on the grass, moving every so often to keep up with the slow spin of the earth beneath their lazy bones.

At mealtime, my table will be heavy with the bounty of my gardens. Bright red tomatoes and emerald leaves of lettuce, crisp, cool cucumbers and the sweetest sugar snap peas ever grown will fill our salad bowls, our crisper, and our bellies. Dried herbs will hang from the cupboards while fresh ones crowd my windowsills, their fragrance mingling pleasantly with the fresh flowers filling glass bowls on the kitchen table.

Yes, my future will be filled with gardens, and sunshine, and flowers, and neatly pebbled paths. And in the meantime, I will ignore the sparse, spindly branches of my much-tended tomato plants, forgiving them once again for stubbornly refusing to produce so much as a single tomato. (Yes, somehow this year managed to be even worse than last year, though I wouldn’t have thought it possible). I’ll chalk up the cost of their organic soil and fertilizer to my continued learning experience in how not to grow a garden. I’ll overlook the sagging retaining wall, barren grounds, and wholly uninspired box-hedges and think of how glorious things will be when I finally grow that green thumb.

I would say I don’t know why I try, but I do. I want a garden. I want to look out with pride at the things that I grew. Why nature keeps thwarting me so thoroughly, I can’t imagine. Alas, I can already tell you that I will try again next year (this time with more squirrel-proofing, if the rascally fellows are indeed my saboteurs, as I suspect). And the next year, and the next. I‘m going to keep trying until I succeed, by jove, and when I do, I will shout it from the rooftops that I have at last tamed nature, and have brought food to my table through the sweat of my brow.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to run to the grocery store for the ingredients for today’s recipe.

:) Please tell me I am not the only one who lacks the tomato-growing gene. Have you tried and failed to grow something? If you’ve succeeded, I don’t want to hear from you. All right, you can post, but I will NOT be smiling when I respond, lol. All I have to say is thank goodness for grocery stores, because without them, I’d truly be up a creek!

Below is one of my very favorite recipes, made by my husband from the freshest of ingredients. For now, the veggies are store bought, but someday…

Garden Delight

-2 pounds tomatoes (fresh or canned) chopped

-1 carrot, chopped

-1 stalk celery, chopped

-1 small zucchini, chopped

-1 small squash, chopped

-1 medium onion, chopped

-1 clove garlic, crushed

5 Tbsp olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

a few leaves of basil to taste

Place all ingredients together in a large saucepan and simmer for 30 minutes. Puree the sauce in a food processor. I like mine to have a slightly grainy texture so that I have a little something to bite into, but you can puree as smooth as you like. Either serve hot over pasta or cold as a soup. Enjoy!!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Guest Blogging Today

Happy Tuesday, all! Today I am blogging at the Lady Scribes blog. Curious to see exactly how many outfits I fit into my one little carry-on for my trip to NYC last month? Stop by and see the video - I bet you're gonna be surprised!

Click Here

I hope to see you there!