Hitchcock and Rosemary

Rosemary_bushA scene from Hitchcock’s The Birds. “This tilling of the soil can become compulsive, you know.” Suzanne Pleshette’s dirt-smudged face and sultry voice sticks in my mind as I wander the aisles of the local garden center, accompanied by a multitude of sparrows chirping in the metal rafters overhead.  Mental headline reads, “Woman Pecked to Death by Sparrows at Local Home Depot.” I smile up at them thinking “Not enough of them for an attack and they don’t look like the angry crows in the movie.” Not yet anyway.

I love shopping for plants. How can you miss the slow joy of wandering through a humid wonderland filled with flats of colors and scents, envisioning the English garden soon to appear in your back yard? How can you hurry through that experience? I see ample evidence of how all around me. The cloyingly sweet perfume of the frantic gardener next to me slaps my nose as she piles her plants onto a wobbly orange flatbed. I move over an aisle to get away from her. She clops past me all red lipstick and ridiculous spiky heels. Rushing her treasures to the check-out.

I take my time to breathe in the surroundings; the smell of fertilizer,wet potting soil, spicy tomato plants. I had made a list of plants I wanted the day before, which I know I will never stick to because plants I have never seen will call me and end up in my cart. I’m what you call an accidental gardener; I accidentally get a plant in the right spot in my garden and it grows. I love to grow things from seed, and currently Alyssum, Zinnias, Dianthus and Cosmos are the tiny seedlings making their presence known in my back berm. It’s cheaper to plant from seed and you get to know the plant foliage as it develops I reason. But today, while my sweet husband is looking at chain saws and weed eaters, he has turned me loose in the garden center to buy bedding plants. Heaven.

I’m practically mowed down by a plant vendor with a sweaty red face pushing a six-tier cart of tender young plants ready to be pushed onto the shelving. ” What the hell are you doing?” she says to the pimply faced worker she spots ahead, who is evidently not moving fast enough for her. “Get that stuff on the tables!” Sigh. I move over another aisle.

I think about my grandfather now, who was a real gardener, he kept greenhouses, widow ladies’ yards and knew plants. He had a true green thumb. I have red Begonias in my cart in his honor, he loved them. The riotous colors of the Moss Roses are for him too. The Spanish Lavender I chose is for my husband, who had never seen that variety until a landscaping company put one in our yard seventeen years ago. Now that I think about it, most of the plants I plant are about other people. Zinnias for my grandmother, the Cosmos, Larkspurs, Moonflowers and Morning glories are for my mother, who loved wildflowers, the Petunias, Dianthus, and Alyssum are for the characters from a book called “The Uninvited”, where a ghostly presence was heralded by floral scents.

I plant for animals too. Salvia and Cardinal vine for the hummingbirds. Sunflowers for the woodpeckers, mockingbirds, chickadees and titmice that populate our Texas yard. The Fountain Grass I choose because our kittens used to love playing hide and seek in the soft mounds of grass, leaping out to roll and tumble down onto our back patio. We no longer have the kittens, but just seeing this grass makes me smile inwardly.

And what new treasure did I find, just for me? A beautiful blue Lobelia. A feathery Yarrow plant and some Mexican Heather. New plants I’ve never planted.

And one old favorite, a Rosemary plant, for remembrance.

CC Image by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos

And So..The Museum

 

#mwisdmatters

As I heard my teaching partner Skipper Bennett describe this museum the other day, The Amon Carter Museum of American Art is “an exquisite little jewel-box of a museum.” I explored that jewel box again as we visited the museum with a group of 6th graders from Travis Elementary School this week. I found some new gems inside.

The building, designed by Philip Johnson, is a work of art on its own. But for the next two years, the building atrium is graced by a lovely installation work by Dallas-based Mexican artist Gabriel Dawe, Plexus no. 34, 2016. What fun to see the open-mouthed astonishment of our students inspired by this ephemeral art work. dawe-3

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On the atrium stairs at Amon Carter

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A soft web of over 80 miles of sewing thread is on display in the changing light of the atrium. In my head the colors sang to me, sounding like the whispers of wind over a harp.

With a little over one hundred students in two separate tour groups, the Museum Educators split our students up into workable groups of eleven or twelve and went on a 90 minute tour. The trip combined the study and writing of poetry and how it can be inspired by art. So with a dual purpose, our students got a lot of mileage out of those 90 minutes.

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One of the second gems on the trip was our students’ access to the Amon Carter’s research library, which I had incorrectly assumed was only available for scholarly research. The library was manned that day by Archivist and Reference Services Manager Jonathan Frembling, who was absolutely wonderful and friendly with our students, showing them  Josef Albers color plates and Calder pieces and reading poetry with enthusiasm and great feeling.  He said something that stuck with me, “Writing is your chance at a kind of immortality, the words you write may live long after you are gone.” dsc00643What a great way to talk to students and a key concept when art work (visual communication) and poetry (written communication) are compared and combined . Our students separated out and wrote poetry, then read it aloud. It was a nice moment.

dsc00619He invited us back to bring student groups and offered to put together any research materials we might need to use on a future project or artist. He showed Mr. Bennett and I an original survey of the Grand Canyon, made before photography was available, illustrated with stunning intricate line drawings. I found this part of our visit especially meaningful, surrounded by hundreds of art documents and books beautifully bound in leather and carefully preserved. There is a rich musky scent and feel to a quiet wood paneled room filled with journals and old books that just can’t be duplicated.

As the tour wound through the museum, they made several stops, taking in and writing about a diverse group of artworks, one of which is a newly acquired piece by George Bellows, with a surprising vivid color that was unexpected.

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We also stopped at the classic Dash for the Timber, hands down my favorite of the western art in Amon Carter’s collection.

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dsc00590invented-worldsbridgetdsc00608dsc00633It was a memorable trip, made comfortable and meaningful by the Museum Educators. A special thanks to those Educators, I don’t have all their names. But to Erin Long and Bridget Thomas and all the others, thank you so much. We felt very welcome.

 

 

 

 

 

Passive Transport

coffee-1895053_1280Early morning discussion at the coffee table about passive and active transport. “What is that?” you say? My husband and I, both teachers, are looking at my clear glass coffee mug, to which he just added my weekend teaspoons of Bailey’s.

A beautiful thing, passive transport, where the slightly darker Bailey’s makes cloudy swirls through the coffee. Passive, because it moves through that liquid with any other energy being applied, versus active transport, which is when you stir it with a spoon. Of course it is the first day of Christmas break from teaching for me, which makes anything quiet and peaceful and that tastes like Baileys even more beautiful.

We’ve had this conversation about passive and active transport often, because George really liked his high school science teacher, Mrs. Vanderpool, who taught him that concept. Great name for a science teacher, don’t you think? He graduated in 1973, and I graduated in 1974, so here we are forty-three years later…still talking about her. Funny thing about teachers, you usually remember what they never intended to teach you. He remembers her as being up there in years (which probably meant over thirty) when she taught him, unmarried and that her mother lived with her.  He also remembered that she pointed the fan out the window of the classroom to draw the hot air out of the room. Really, who does that? I didn’t remember that we didn’t have air conditioning in the high school back then. In Texas? I must have been tougher then.

I remember one of my high school science teachers, although I don’t remember his name, for a specific skill he had. In the middle of a lecture, he could kill a fly in the room with a rubber band. He would not skip a beat as he shot it and then would go right on talking. Now that was skill.

But I have to say, one of my favorite teachers was a music teacher. I had a choir teacher named Mr. Potts, which was funny enough all by itself, but he was a kind and patient man. His wife was also a musician and they had small children, so we would describe the family as “Papa Potts, Momma Potts and Potts tots.” We thought it was hilarious.

He taught me that teachers could cuss. I was in a school production of H.M.S. Pinafore. I was one of the “sailors on the side”, which means I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket and he had to give me something to do. So I was helping him after rehearsal when he accidently stepped into the unlocked footlights on the edge of the stage. They were the kind that flip up and they recessed about three feet into the wood stage floor. He had an armload of sheet music at the time and I remember it flew up into the air and floated down like snow all over the first few rows of seats, punctuated by some words I had never heard a teacher say. He was ok, but I honestly thought he had broken his leg and he carried a bruise for weeks. I loved Mr. Potts because he taught me a valuable lesson. He was a teacher and a human being; with a sense of humor and shortcomings and a family. That thought has sifted down through my teaching all these years. Now that’s passive transport.

image cco Pixabays

 

 

Swiss Cheese and Sausage Quiche

 

 

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I honestly can’t remember the first time I had quiche. I know my mom never made it; my Air Force Senior Master Sargent father did not take to such food, but being a child of the 60’s; which means a time before eggs and cream became a bad thing, I must have had it at restaurant. I was hooked.

Definitely not a diet meal, but in cold weather, a big puffy sausage, egg and cheese pie really hits the spot. I have a green salad on the side to make myself believe I am eating something healthy. This quiche is also good cold the next day.

Homemade pork sausage is a snap to make and doesn’t have those nasty little gristly bits that the store-bought breakfast sausages have in them. I must give credit here to Bobby Flay, who I watched make this sausage on the Food Network and then tweaked the spices to fit my palate. I use pre-made pie crust for my quiche, because I have never learned the art of a good pie crust. Gives me something to work for.

Hope you enjoy.

First, the sausage.

Homemade Pork Sausage

  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 tablespoon (at least) rubbed sage
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon paprika

Mix spices and ground pork together. Split meat mixture in half. Sauté half the sausage until brown, breaking it up into small pieces. Drain on paper towels. Make four patties with the remainder and save for breakfast sausages.

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Sausage for quiche.

 

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Breakfast sausage for the next day.

For the quiche.

Custard

  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • ¾ cup milk
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • ¼ cup white wine (or you can skip this and use more milk or cream)
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 Tablespoon flour
  • Pinch of Cayenne Pepper

Beat eggs and add milk, cream, wine, salt, flour and cayenne. Mix well.

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Assembly

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

  • Place one store- bought pie crust (or make your own) in a deep dish pie plate.
  • Place browned sausage in crust.
  • Chop 8 oz. of Swiss cheese and place on top of sausage.

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Pour custard on top of filling and bake at 375 degrees for 60 minutes or until puffy and lightly browned.

 

Mom’s Dressing

Mom’s Cornbread Dressing.

“Why is the dressing green?” my husband whispered in my ear. It was his first Thanksgiving dinner at my parent’s house. “Sage, my dear, the spice of the gods.” I whispered back. One or two big aluminum foil pans of the slightly green, spicy dressing, redolent with black pepper, onions, salty bits of giblets and turkey pan drippings scented my mom’s house every Thanksgiving and Christmas. I don’t know where she learned to make her dressing, she did not talk about cooking with her mom, but Lord it was good. There was no written recipe, but I watched her make this so often and tasted it for her so many times that the making of it is imprinted on my DNA. She would tell us kids, “Come taste this for me and see if it has enough sage.” knowing full well it was perfect; she just wanted to see our eyes roll back in our heads like sharks at a feeding frenzy.

Why is it that every daughter tries to recreate the taste of their mother’s cooking? I think it is one of those rites of passage that define us a family. So for this Texas girl, I try each holiday to recreate that taste, with maybe a little less sage in deference to my husband’s palate. dsc00256His contribution was this knockout smoked turkey breast. But that recipe is for another post. So this year, in my mom’s honor, I pass along the recipe as I remember it; simple in its ingredients, but layered with deep, happy memories of family gatherings. I took pictures and promise I got no kickbacks from the manufacturer’s presented. Substitute as you choose. I try to make the cornbread and the bisquick (mom called this bread pone) the day before the meal. Fresh breads are too moist and will gum up your dressing.

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Get a big turkey roaster-size aluminum pan and break up the cornbread and bread pone into crumbs. dsc00248In a small pan, cook the turkey giblets in enough salted water to cover with a roughly chopped onion, a stalk of chopped celery, a bay leaf and some pepper corns. Peel away any tough parts and chop the turkey giblets. Set aside.

In a small skillet, melt a stick of butter and sauté the chopped onion until tender and translucent. dsc00251Pour the cooked onion and butter over the bread crumbs. Add the chopped turkey giblets. If you have roast turkey drippings, pour them in too. Add at least one half container of sage and salt and pepper to taste.

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Mix enough of the chicken stock to moisten the mixture to the consistency you like. For me it takes one or two cans of chicken stock. When you mix this dressing, you have to use your hands. You cannot feel the consistency of the dressing through a spoon. Don’t be rough, as Emeril Lagasse says “This is a food of love thing.”

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Bake in a 350° oven for 30-45 minutes. There should be just a browned lovely crust on the top. I did not take a picture when it came out of the oven (duh). Too busy eating. I’ll update it with one at Christmas.

Ingredients:

2 packages of Bisquick

2 packages of yellow cornbread mix (not sweet)

2 cans of chicken stock

1 stick of butter

1 large onion, chopped

1 or 2 bottles of powdered sage

salt and pepper to taste

Turkey giblets cooked and chopped

 

Acorns

squirrel-1444350_1920I’ve been watching the oak trees on my farm drop a prolific crop of acorns this year. So many acorns in fact that I began to wonder if my trees were alright. Sources I’ve read say that despite the old farmer’s warning, a heavy acorn drop does not mean we will have a hard winter, it just means we had the right weather conditions for a heavy flower set on the oak trees this past spring.

So we have a bounty of acorns. My bay quarter horse Jo-Jo loved to eat acorns in the fall, but he could not stop himself from contentedly crunching them until he’d end up getting a colicky belly ache. Not good. Our resident squirrels (we don’t have many squirrels because of our healthy population of hawks and coyotes) stand in bewildered amazement at the abundance of acorns under our red oak in the back. At the rate they are burying them we should have our own red oak forest come spring.

Acorns plunk down into our waterfall pond like heavy raindrops and also into our coffee if we sit out by the waterfall on the weekends. Navigating our patios are rather like walking on a bag of marbles, no matter how many times you sweep the crackling, rolling carpet up.

But in retrospect, the bother balances with the good when I think of how many animals use the acorns as a food source. Between the deer, quail, squirrels, foxes, small little night rodents and the birds, a bumper crop of acorns means food for their winter. So the table is set for you guys at my farm. Bring your friends, we have plenty of acorns to go around.

Image CCO Public Domain Pixaby

Every Once in A While

feet-716257_1280#mwisdmatters

This is the long haul in teaching. From the enthusiasm and excitement of the first day of school in late August until the Fall Break in November. More and more on weekends I turn to my husband,who is a retired teacher, and say, ” Listen.” He says, ” I know, no one is saying your name, asking a question, tugging on your  arm…it’s quiet.”  I smile. He understands.

But yesterday, something happened that shook me out of my ” Oh my gosh, what now…” mindset. A small quiet fifth-grader, a slender wisp of a boy, did something so grand…..

We were at recess playing a game called ” Steal the Bacon”. Two classes line up at either end of the gym and when their number is called two children from either side run up and try to grab the “Bacon” (a cloth bundled to look like a slab of bacon ) and run back to their side without being tagged.  All children are included in recess games, so several students that have special needs are in the line-ups.

Not once, but twice, this quiet young man was paired up against a special need’s child. Both times, he let the special need’s child win, in a moment that was not too obvious but full of understanding. Both classes in the game applauded, no complaining. It was one of those moments in teaching that happens every once in a while and takes your breath away with its compassion. And in this bitter election season it gives me hope for humanity.

I asked the quiet boy privately why he did what he did. He looked up at me and said,” My mom told me that if someone is like that, it is my job to take care of them, to let them win if they can and feel good.” Good job Mom. I told him I was proud of him and gave him a 200 club ticket, something we do to promote unsolicited acts of kindness. So in this long haul up to Thanksgiving I am thankful to teach a child like that, to experience those moments and learn from them.

Image Pixabay CC0 Public Domain