Les restes. Doesn’t that sound yummy? It evokes meals on white plates enjoyed at tables draped in checkered cloths while Edith Piaf plays in the background. What kind of obscure French delicacy is that? Which wine would the sommelier choose for you?
You likely have the ingredients for it in the fridge. Les restes is the charming name given to the food that didn’t get eaten at one meal and now provides the raw material for another.
As in leftovers. The humble leftovers from last night’s dinner await transformation into today’s lunch or dinner. How?
If you have a relative who lived through the Great Depression, ask them how they or whomever was the cook in their house used up leftovers for inspiration. If you don’t, check YouTube for interviews with survivors.
Soup. You don’t need no stinkin’ recipe for a good pot of soup. Just aromatics (onion, celery, carrot), broth (in a carton is fine, if you can make your own from veg scraps and bones, the better), and then add whatever is lurking in the fridge.
Casseroles. Noodles, pasta, rice. Bits of this and that. Bind it all together with béchamel sauce (1 T. flour, 1T. butter–melt, sprinkle in flour, cook for a couple of minutes to get rid of the raw taste, then gradually add 1C. milk as you keep stirring. Add salt and pepper. You may also add nutmeg and/or the cheese of your choice). If you just can’t, canned cream of______ soup will bind it as well. And I won’t judge you.
You can make salads. Either cut into bite-sized pieces and add to a tossed salad or you can cut them a little finer, mix with mayo, mustard, some herbs, celery and maybe some onion, and create sandwiches or enjoy on crackers. Or eat off the spoon. Again, no judgement.
Oh, and another note about béchamel: if you feel like fussing with making crepes (there are about a million recipes for them out there) use some to bind leftover chicken or seafood, wrap it in a crepe, pour the rest of the sauce over the top, and bake for 20 minutes or so to be sure it’s all warmed up.
Just because consumer have to exercise more care than ever with groceries due to COVID-19 complications (interruptions in the food supply chain; prices going up something like 20%) it doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun while we adapt to current reality.
And if you can create something original out of your restes, so much the better.
I read cookbooks the way others read novels. In fact, I can’t remember the last novel that I read. That’s how long it’s been.
But give me a good cookbook and I will be happily amused for hours. And if I find a recipe that aligns with what I have on hand, you will, too. Here’s a glimpse of the ones that live on my bookshelf in no particular order:
French Country Cooking and A Kitchen in France by Mimi Thorrison. The recipes are easy to follow, even if they run on the complex side (the blanquette recipe is a bit complicated, but she did a great job of breaking it down into smaller steps, for example). Both books are visually stunning thanks to her husband’s photography. Plus, the back story of the house where they live and run a pop-up restaurant in the former is about as French as you can get.
More with Less, written by Doris Janzen Longacre, is a collection of recipes submitted by members of the Mennonite Church. The recipes are basic but delicious and include suggestions to avoid wasting food.
Chocolate and Zucchini by Clotilde Dusoulier contains the recipe for my go-to completely bombproof yogurt cake. It’s the first cake kids learn how to make and can be tweaked with berries or citrus or used as the base for a Victoria sponge. Also check out her recipe for mustard chicken stew.
Indian Every Day by Anjum Anand provides lighter spins on Indian food. Her spinach and chicken will give you new reasons to get up in the morning.
The New Nordic Diet by Trina Hahnnaman put the emphasis on seafood and grains and lower fat ingredients. The cod and shrimp stew and apple crumble will make you forget how healthy you are eating. And try the shower buns. Yum.
Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells contains my go-to recipes for pesto and pie crust. I love the illustrations in here as well: a combination of lovely line drawings and vintage photos from Parisian bistros.
And my all time favorite for sentimental reasons:
A just past WWII edition of The Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer. My parents received it as a wedding present in 1946. It’s falling apart and has to be stored in a plastic bag to keep it together. No matter. I still use her sugar cookie recipe when called upon to make something. Both my parents made notes in the margins and tucked recipes clipped from print publications or handwritten by the grandmas between its covers.
Forgive me for the pun. In no way was it intended to detract from or demean one of the great songs of the 1960s. I couldn’t help myself.
Now that the ear worm du jour has been activated, let us discuss quiche.
Let’s start with the crust. If it doesn’t have a crust, it is a baked omelet. It is a frittata. It is not a quiche, I’m afraid. Those have their charms, but I find that I really need a crust when I want quiche. You may use a frozen one for convenience if needs must. Otherwise, I recommend Patricia Well’s recipe for pate brisse from her book Bistro Cooking: 7 tablespoons butter, 1 to 1-1/4 cups all purpose flour (don’t use unbleached–for some reason it just doesn’t work as well), dash salt, and 3 tablespoons of ice water. I have the best results with cutting the butter into the flour and salt with a food processor. If you don’t have one, cut in the butter with a couple of knives. When it looks like sand, add the water gradually. Use just enough to make the butter and flour clump up, but not enough to make it turn into a ball. Place it on a sheet of plastic wrap or parchment paper (preferably the latter), pat it into a disc, and let it chill for an hour or so. Roll it out and line a pie plate or loose-bottomed tart pan with it.
For the filling, I use two or three eggs beaten with a cup of milk. If you want to go full frontal French, use cream. Or whole milk. I use 2% or skim depending on what’s in the house. For cheese, I’ve used cheddar, I’ve used Gruyere, I’ve used plain ol’ supermarket Swiss supercharged with parmesan. Grate the cheese and line the bottom of the shell with it.
Now, you can just pour in the eggs and milk and have a satisfactory product, or you can put cooked broccoli, cooked and drained spinach, sautéed onions or leeks, sautéed mushrooms, leftover bits of bacon or ham or other cooked meats. Scatter those over the cheese and pour on the eggs and milk.
I bake quiche at 350 for at least 45 minutes, or until it’s a lovely shade of brown and the filling doesn’t jiggle. Oh, and for the sake of your sanity, place the filled pie plate on a baking sheet before you put it in the oven, especially if you’re using a loose-bottomed pan. If the crust leaks, or the filling decides to climb over the sides, it will create a mess. Cleaning a baking sheet is easier than cleaning your oven. Trust me.
Let the quiche cool for at least 15 minutes before slicing into it. It can be served warm or at room temperature. I would do a small green salad or a fruit salad with it. And probably a rose that erred on the crisp side if you’re doing this for lunch or dinner. Even in winter. (I really don’t like white wine, so if you’d rather have that I’d encourage you to obey your tastebuds for a pairing.)
Quiche began, as have many recipes that rose from humble beginnings as a way to use up dairy products, small amounts of vegetables, and bits of meat that may not have constituted a meal on their own to a dish of some glamour and prestige. It can be served in any season and for breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner and be as posh or basic as needed. It’s one of the little black dresses of food.
The weekend’s ear worm was this. Replace “dance” with “ants” and you get the picture.
It’s not uncommon for us to see a creepy-crawly here and there. Usually I prefer to scoop them up and toss them back outdoors where they belong. With the exception of wasps, yellow jackets, and other undesirables, that is.
However, on a Saturday evening when one opens the door to the cabinet beneath the sink to discard some bit of flotsam into the garbage can and the top of the the garbage is black and crawling with ants, it is time to take steps. As many of them as it takes to get the back out of the door and into the trash can.
After that, Hubby sat down with his tablet and googled ants. After examining several specimens and comparing them to pictures, he deduced that we had carpenter ants. They chew through wood to enlarge their colonies. In nature, it’s to be expected and encouraged to clear the way for new growth. In the 2’x6′ framing of a house’s supporting wall, however, well, that could be a big expensive problem.
Usually, Hubby, despite many, many conversations with me about chemistry not always making life better, goes for remedies of a non-organic nature. Luckily, he came across a formula of 1 cup hot water, 1/2 cup of sugar or honey, and two tablespoons borax (available in laundry aisles and hardware stores). Mix, then soak cotton balls in it, and leave in the affected areas. The ants eat some there and take the rest back to the colony for the others to consume. The borax interferes with the ants’ digestion. Eventually, the ants will meet their fate without harm to humans or pets. It might take a couple of applications, but it’s less toxic and exponentially cheaper than calling in an exterminator.
So far, the borax and sugar is doing its job. We’ve only seen a few since yesterday. Here’s hoping it does the job.
The other suggestions for ant eradication involved making sure the area is clean. Hubby did so, and the dog-proof step-on trash can that’s not unattractive and doesn’t need to be stashed beneath the sink in en route. The one we keep forgetting to buy when we’re out running errands.
It will be here Thursday. I look forward to it. And garbage that doesn’t crawl when I open the lid or door.
My hair, overdue for a cut at the start of stay-at-home orders in late March, is at the annoying point of growing out where it’s long enough to fall into my eyes at will, but too short to pull back or put up in a clip. I negotiated Oakley’s time without daycare courtesy of extra walks and many games of “find it.” A lack of yoga classes has worked its way into my soul and festered some days. And this year, the big one for both of us: Ren Faire.
In the grand scheme of things, in light of what others endure on a daily basis, my complaints are quite petty. Inhale, exhale with a sigh, release. But wait, there’s more:
The absolutely most challenging thing: not shopping for groceries in person, even locally. I shop for food (and books) with the giddy abandon with which some people shop for clothes. The places where I love shopping are all near the yoga studio, but since they closed the physical doors in March, grocery runs there are a no-go since I have no other reason to run into town.* We’ve been ordering curbside from (aak) Wal-Mart or produce from the mom-and-pop place en route to Oakley’s day care.
In these times and by ordering curbside, a customer must relinquish control to an extent. I hate that. I want the sensory experience of shopping, the visuals of the fruit and veggies, the way the fruit or tomatoes feel in my hands as I slide them into the bag. And I want to know that it’s the best that I can get.
I’ve had better than expected luck with (aak) Wal-Mart. I hated setting up yet another account. I’m not a huge fan of their corporate policies, but they are one of the bigger employers in the area, and actually make positive contributions to the community such as health fairs and hiring differently abled people.
Sometimes you just have to suck it up and surrender to the facts and the situation: no vaccine yet, too many shoppers ignoring social distancing and mask wearing, and that Hubby was squeamish about me going into stores with anything less than a hazmat suit, 95N mask, and face shield. So I did. And was pleasantly surprised by their selection of organic products at decent prices, and the house brand chocolate.
For the most part, I’ve had good luck. I’ve only had two problems, one with oranges that had gone bad from the middle of the bag, and one from the mom and pop store with a tray of tomatoes that had turned sour and watery (my only bitch about their produce is that they prepackage everything and it’s hard to tell if something is going to go bad or not just by looking).
Whether I’m clicking and pointing, or able to shop in person, I always ask the Mystery to bless all those who brought it my way, everyone from the associate who arranged the displays or pulled what I needed for me to the trucker who brought it to the store to the farmer and workers who grew it. Since I am not adept enough with gardening to be self sufficient in the food department, I am deeply grateful to all involved, both for getting it on my table and for pulling it on my behalf in these times.
Another round of lessons in gratitude, acceptance, and surrender. These days are just a sliver of forever, and the faint glimmer on the horizon will grow into a sunrise of better days ahead.
Until then, my favorite farmer’s market opens up this weekend. I think a trip there is in order to tide me over in the mean time. With appropriate gear worn, of course.
*I make an effort to piggyback as many errands as I can into trips that way to conserve gas.
At the end of almost every yoga class I’ve taken, we end by raising our hands into prayer position and saying “namaste.” “Namaste” means “the divine light in me salutes the divine light in you.” Or as one of my teachers translates it, “the best part of me salutes the best part of you.”
“Namaske” is a play on that. I wish I had thought of it first. Yes, I saw it on a meme getting circulated on social media. It’s a playful reminder to wear a face covering to prevent the spread of this accused plague.
Unfortunately, some people, no matter how gently an idea is presented, no matter the science and facts behind it, either do not or will not get it. Like the couple in the oversized pickup truck speeding up the road from the boat ramp at the park yesterday.
The driver looked right at me and started laughing, as did the passenger, who took it upon herself to yell, “You don’t need a mask outside!” as they sped off to their next destination.
Um, Madam, I beg to differ.
While I do take down my scarf or mask if I’m on a back trail with a reasonably low chance of running into a fellow walker, I keep it on if I am near a parking lot, a picnic area, or a road with foot or automotive traffic. Why? I do not want to inadvertently pass it along to anyone. Other park patrons, including small children, may not be paying attention to social distancing guidelines. I don’t want to pass it to them and then risk them getting sick or passing it along to vulnerable relatives or friends.
I also really do not want to bring it home to Hubby. His age alone (in the neighborhood of 65) puts him in a risk group. Actually, between diabetes, COPD, asthma, cardiovascular issues, and age my entire family and several close friends can place chips on the COVID-19 bingo card.
In addition, I know at least three and possibly four people who have had COVID-19. The coughs, the aches, the misery they described is not something I would wish on anyone. I also know someone who was on a ventilator (Hubby’s brother in law, the one who died of cancer anyway eighteen months ago) and that sounded like a new frontier in hell. I would never want anyone to go through that, especially since there’s only a 20% survival rate for vented patients.
Not my idea of a good time. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Period.
If I made you laugh while holding up my side of the social contract, so be it. I will rest easily knowing that I fulfilled my civic duty twice over.
There are the springs the park is named after. Even in the most f-all cold weather, they still flow through the green cress lining their banks
And there are the Mother Maples, still standing after ten years of storms, their roots like knobby toes gripping, digging into the forest floor.
Ahead of us is the river, shining silver in the early sunlight. Oakley and I turn west on the trail, following paw prints that faded from the trail over time but never from my heart.
The last time I was on this trail was ten years ago. Solo, around Labor Day. back. I hadn’t been out there since the next to last week in May when Orion had crossed the Rainbow Bridge. I just couldn’t bring myself to walk there for three months. One of the other dog persons saw me walking alone, guessed what had happened, and threw her arms around me.
I hugged her back. No words were needed.
Before that, before the damned heart condition and the double damned lymphoma took him, Orion’s last hurrah echoed through the park. He caught the scent of a rabbit, the quarry of Brittanys across North America and around the world. With an unexpected burst of energy, he dragged me down the trail, up the hill to the larger lake, around the west end of the lake, up another hill, then turned us east and slowed to a tentative crawl as we went back to the car.
The final decline began the next day. He had problems getting up and walking and just wanted to lie in the grass in the back yard.
And then he didn’t even want to do that. He stayed in his spot by the back door. I stayed next to him, begging any deity who was listening to please intervene, to please guide me. Was it time to call in the vet?
No, he just had a rally and ate a little banana and a bite of turkey. He was acting more engaged and a little cuddly.
Maybe. He’s not in any pain, but I couldn’t get him out in time.
We’ll try sub-q fluids. That’s helping. He perked up.
And then on the last day, a Saturday, Hubby brought home a garden cart, one of the mesh ones, put one of Orion’s beds in the bottom, loaded Orion into it, and took him on a ride around the property lines and up and down our road.
We spoke of taking him for a ride the next day at the park, but then he crashed and burned.
I called the emergency number for our vet clinic. No one was able to come out and help with that final act of kindness. The nearest emergency vet was a half-hour away.
If he starts acting like he’s in pain, if he has respiratory problems…yeah. Otherwise…
We took him to his spot. I stayed with him through the night, candles lighting his way. Whispering that I would miss him, but I understood if he needed to go.
I laid on the floor next to him, watching the stars crossing the night sky through the skylights. The classical station played a lot of Bach for some reason through the wee smalls.
Just before the first cracks of daylight opened, I felt my heart get torn from my chest and had a mental image of Orion giving me a play bow, running around our back two acres, then taking off towards the east. I sat up. Checked the pulse points.
That stage of his journey was done.
Mine was beginning. The journey of fumbling through the darkness, the numbness. Not being able to even drive past the entrances to the park without tears scalding my cheeks.
Eventually, while the gaps and holes remained, they shrank, and the raw edges scabbed over and turned pink with new growth. I could walk at the park again.
And then came Oakley. While Orion had been exposed to the outdoors from nearly birth as part of his hunting dog training, Oakley had spent his first six months in a shelter with little exposure to the world outside the building. Walking him and showing him the world of his big brother was nearly impossible due to the anxiety triggered by the overwhelming scents and sounds.
Even with all the training mitigating his early lack of exposure, I just couldn’t take Oakley back to that park. He learned to love the other parks in our area, but the state park I just couldn’t…
But then came the current plague where social distancing became a must. Hard to do at the forest preserves and their weekend crowds. A couple of weeks ago we took a little drive and checked the parking lot to see if it was at 50% capacity or less per safety recommendations.
Deep breath, bite lip behind my scarf. Get out of car. Yes, I’m OK. Oakley’s OK. New playground gear? Great. That tree is still standing. Those outhouses, the ones where Orion and I took refuge from an out of nowhere electrical storm, finally came down. That final hard wind probably did them in. The flowering trees, the picnic areas hadn’t changed that much. We walked. Oakley sniffed. He may have listened as I pointed out Orion’s favorite places to sit and watch the river go by. But I think he was too busy sniffing to hear me.
Since then, we’ve worked the park back into our rotation. Early morning is best for contemplating the abundance of beauty around us in quiet and semi-solitude while we walk, my feet and his paws padding down the mulch covered trail by the river.
Sometimes in the silence occasionally punctuated by a bird’s call or the wind in the leaves, if I listen with my heart, I can hear an unseen set of paws running alongside us.
So how the heck are you, Gentle Readers? We are slightly bonkers here from the monotony of the days in the soybean field, yet we are grateful that we are well off in so many other ways.
We’re making an effort to stick to some kind of schedule. Meals and walks get served up at pretty much the same time daily as they were before the stay at home order went into effect back in March. The two changes: afternoon walks are later to avoid crowds at the parks, and we stop at 2:30 for tea, species-appropriate treats, and to watch the daily briefing from Governor Pritzker, Dr. Ngosi Ezike, the head of the Illinois Public Health Department, and other dignitaries with important information pertaining to this accursed modern-day plague.
Those, too, have patterns and rhythms. If Gov. Pritzker’s opening remarks include acknowledgements of people on the front line in one capacity or another, or introducing additional speakers, the statistics will run low. If he hands it off to Dr. Ezike right after thanking everyone for tuning in, we know the numbers are even less pretty than usual. It’s been interesting to listen to a National Guard commander detail what’s gone into transforming McCormick Place from a convention center into an alternative care facility for COVID-19 patients. I felt uplifted by the motivational speech by a young man who created a NFP to mentor teens in his tough neighborhood reminding them and others to use this time at home to set goals and work out game plans to achieve them. Next come the questions from reporters, and then everyone is thanked and that’s it for the day.
Sometimes we watch “Jeopardy” to cleanse our palates. Sometimes nothing short of time in the woods will shift gears. And sometimes as it’s been too many days this spring, it’s too cold and rainy, so we have another snack.
Luckily, the weather has shifted gears, finally. My plan, subject to change due to factors beyond my control, is to get the garden planted in the next week. One of my local organic farmers is selling plants with curbside delivery. I know that I can trust him to pick good ones for me. Usually, I would buy them form the ag store, but many shoppers there believe that masks and distancing are but suggestions.
The tough parts for me have been keeping Oakley amused (day care starts again next week–it’s located in a county that will start opening nonessential services on Monday) and not being able to shop for food in person. Well, I could. I don’t because as with the ag store, a lot of people in these parts see social distancing and wearing masks as a government plot to strip civil liberties. We’ve been getting curbside from a mom-and-pop near Oakley’s day care and as much as it gags me, Wal-Mart.
Will we have markets this summer? I don’t know. Right now, I would love to have tea or lunch in person with a friend, but because so many are in risk groups, and Hubby is in a risk group because of his age, I can’t and won’t take that chance.
Even back in the days of the Black Plague, people understood that isolation and quarantine was the best way to shut it down. In fact, did you know that “quarantine” is derived from the Italian word for forty? Now you do. And if this was something new, you may go take a nap.
The plague passed. So will this, eventually. Not unlike a kidney stone, but it will.
The yoga studio where I’ve been taking classes tried social distancing through limiting class sizes when this started, but then came the stay at home order. Unfortunately, places of yoga are considered nonessential, even if teachers and students gear up like the yogi/yogini in the above picture. In that light, they switched from physical classes to an online platform that other business avail themselves of for meetings in these days of COVID-19.
Which is nice, but between my techno-squeamishness and that the platform in question has been subjected to hacking and malware attacks, I decided to go on sabbatical.
My pass will be good until sometime in September. I will join them physically then. Until then, I’m continuing my practice solo with online videos or making it up as I go along. If you’re looking to do the same, check out Yoga with Adriene. She does a great job cueing, explaining, and leading you through the journey of your daily practice. Benji the Blue Heeler frequently joins her.
I wanted a little variety this morning, so I tried a vinyasa flow from an instructor I chose at random from a YouTube play list.
Bad idea. If done well, vinyasa practices help you push yourself a little bit into doing something you don’t feel comfortable doing. While the bulk of the poses are based on sun salutes and are a bit on the repetitive side, a good teacher will find ways to change up the poses a little to keep the students interested and focused while offering modifications for different experience levels and abilities. If not, it’s just boring and feels like a gym class from hell.
This video was in the latter category. I was at the point of no return when the irritation struck so I didn’t turn off that in favor of another one. And I couldn’t flip her off because several of the poses (downward dog, plank, low lunge) require hands for balance.
I stuck it out.
I did get a few endorphins going. I did feel pleasantly stretched.
For over half my life, my morning routine has included journaling. I note ten things I’m grateful for, such as health, friends, basic needs met, Oakley’s snoring–the stuff of life that makes it good. And then I write about dreams and analyze them. And then I just free write about how the day unfolds.
In addition to fit the puzzle pieces of my life into a coherent whole, I’m also aware that I have a responsibility to my descendants, to anyone who might be interested in the journals of a not-so-young woman living in these times to record events in real time.
Personal journals provide historians with a wealth of knowledge about what really happened, not just what governments and those writing history on their behalf say did. Queen Victoria’s journals gave hints about what being pushed into greatness at a crazy young age was like. Anne Frank’s diary should be mandatory reading in every school to educate further generations about being Jewish life in hiding in 1940’s Amsterdam under Hitler’s regime.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve journaled or not before now. Just get a blank book (Barnes and Nobel, Half Price Books, and any place that sells art supplies on line should have them on line. Please don’t go out unless you absolutely have to do so). Date your entry. And begin writing.
What should you write about?
Where were you when…your state/province/country went on stay at home orders? (Announced March 20, 2020, 3:10 PM. Order effective starting at 5 PM March 21, 2020.)
What were you doing? (Getting ready to get Oakley from day care. Ran to the store to get him some more food. Hubby and I had done a haul recently.)
What have you been feeling? Whatever emotions you’ve had are OK.
How have the stay at home orders impacted your routine? (Biggest thing is dog day care being closed until the order is lifted. Able to get grocery delivery from the mom and pop store near his day care. We’re still able to walk at the forest preserves. The state parks are closed until further notice.)
What have you done to cope? (Finding funny stuff on YouTube, cooking, longer walks with Oakley, making watching the daily briefings a time for ritual tea and treats.)
Moments of despair? (Two. One of the deaths in Illinois early on was a nine-month-old baby. I was just gutted. You could have called me a doe and hung me up by the ankles and finished the job. The other was John Prine’s death. I don’t openly weep for many performers, but he is one of them.)
Moments of hope? (Watching Governor Pritzker and Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the director of the public health department, doing the daily briefing.)
Inspiration? (The ones finding humor in the situation, such as the people on the Bin Isolation Outing page on Facebook. )
Has COVID-19 directly impacted you, your friends, or family? ( Two friends had it before it was a thing. Possibly three. She’s making arrangements to get tested as I type. Please send her good energy, thoughts, vibes, etc. )
What actions have you been taking? Have you donated to food banks, organizations that are helping people in compromised situations? Are you ready to vote in November? Are you contacting your elected representatives about the issues the pandemic has brought to light? (Need you ask?)
Self care? (More yoga, added strength training, trying not to compulsively eat, meditating to guided sessions on Mindful.org.)
What else would you like future generations to know about this time in history?
Every generation has their crises. Hopefully, we can distill our real life experience to guide the future through theirs.