We’re Back!!

We are back–back on the Internet, back on the blog, back in an apartment that we can call home for at least a little while, until the sub-prime poo that has constipated the housing market gets cleared out and our house . . . well . . . until our house sells.

Moving on, so to speak, from infantile metaphors, I’ll give you a brief update on what’s been going on. During that little holiday towards the end of last month, which raised its feeble hand from the rubble of the consumer-crazed train wreck we call Christmas, Fred and I a) moved and b) visited our respective families in an odyssey across the Southeast. Our journey culminated in a six-hour drive with four sullen, mewing creatures in the back of a rented SUV as we continued the transfer of our worldly goods from Atlanta to Durham. (Poor Louise’s bladder gave out about an hour from Durham, so her first experience in her new home was a bath. She has since recovered–as I look at her now, she is sprawled out on the living room floor, just waiting for one of her kitty friends to stroll by so she can give her a good swat.)

The first part of the transfer was effected by Jamie (no relation) and Chris of Two Men and a Truck. They began in Atlanta at 9:00 a.m. and arrived in Durham that evening. They then spent a heroic four hours lugging furniture, and boxes and boxes and boxes of books, and painting after painting after painting, across roughly one quarter mile and then up three flights of stairs, finishing at 1:30 a.m.

Since then, I’ve been unpacking books, hanging paintings, and generally reveling in the arboreal splendor of our new home of a large, impersonal apartment complex smack in the middle of Duke Forest. As I type this, I’m perched on the third floor, staring out of a large window across our screened-in porch at . . . trees. (And the outline of a nearby condo, but you really have to be looking to see it.) No buses. No earnest, fat-eschewing thirty-somethings jogging along as they push the baby stroller and walk the Golden Retrievers. No drunken, meth-addled neighbors knocking on our door to ask for “bus fare” or a chance to mow our lawn for five dollars. No construction workers ripping down the small house next door to put in a half-million dollar monstrosity that will only CLOG UP the housing market even more and keep our house from selling.

I am beginning to like it here. Now we just need to get the Fred to join me. He continues to live in a vegetable-free house with a futon, a couch, and a TV, with the buses, the earnest joggers, the meth addicts, and the construction workers just outside the door. If you are one of our Atlanta friends, please do invite him over for dinner, or take him out somewhere besides Twain’s.

Soupy Comfort, Take 2

And now to finish yesterday’s post interrupted by unknown forces of evil* living inside my computer:

Lately I dream of change. Last night, for instance, I was driving down the Red Hill Road. This is the road that runs just south of our farm, through other farms that don’t have the misfortune to be located on a major trucking route. My father used to take me on “driving lessons” there most Sunday mornings while I was a teenager (a happy journey for me, a heart-stopping, dry-mouthed ordeal of terror for him). And so the route reminds me of security and good conversations with my dad (as he clung helplesslessly to the armrest, his foot pressing futilely on the invisible, utterly useless passenger-side brake).

Anyway, in my dream the Red Hill Road was a scene of devastation brought about by “progress”–forested areas blackened from fire in preparation for housing developments that were coming in and bright new gas stations with inky, freshly paved parking lots. Everything we grew up with was gone–the old schoolhouse from my grandfather’s generation, the McKay farm, the little cemetary next to the tiny Methodist church. Naturally I was distressed, but I don’t remember much else except that I tried to turn around in one of the gas station parking lots to go back to a part of the road that had not changed. I don’t know if I got back or not.

Even the cats could interpret that one–fear of the change involved in moving, fear that change will be destructive, desire to go back to the way things were. But even in the dream it was obvious that the change wasn’t going to stop and that I had to accept it–and that at least there was a place to stop for gas on the Red Hill Road.

At 42, I might, just might, be starting to grow up. But not so much that I don’t love potato soup.

When I was a child, long before I terrified my poor father behind the wheel of a 1972 Ford Galaxy 500, potato soup was a favorite comfort food–Campbell’s potato soup, that is. My grandmother, a fabulous cook who grew, canned, and preserved nearly everything the family ate, was also possessed by a strange post-Depression fascination with highly processed, heavily marketed foods. Pouring through the local newspaper, Mammaw loved nothing better than to try a new recipe that involved mixing together multiple canned products or adding Cool Whip, even as milk from our cow sat curdling in the churn, waiting for her to make butter. (Anyone who’s ever churned butter or canned green beans or cut corn from a cob will understand the attraction of such a recipe.)

At any rate, Campbell’s soup, especially potato, was one of those foods, and I shared her love for it. I begged for it nearly every day, sometimes more than once. I loved the creamy texture and the tiny bits of potato-like substances that floated in a sea of milky glory. I wanted nothing more in life than to have Campbell’s potato soup every single day.

And then I hit a wall. One day Mammaw opened up the can and heated it up as usual. I cannot remember how many meals in a row had involved potato soup, but it was many. And when the bowl was put in front of me, it was suddenly transformed into a gluey, fake-tasting, disgusting mess. Such is the five-year-old appetite. I have not eaten Campbell’s potato soup since.

I have a vague memory that my disgust with Campbell’s was the result of Mammaw making homemade potato soup one day, which spoiled me for anything else. Whether that’s true or not, it’s definitely the case that Campbell’s fall from grace did not put me off potato soup altogether. Potato soup remains a favorite comfort food, one that reminds me of a time when someone was making homemade butter and Cool Whip-infused desserts just for me. And what better time to make it when you are traveling down a new road with blackened trees and new gas stations that nevertheless holds the promise of something just a bit better beyond the curve.

Potato Soup with Bacon

8 slices bacon, sliced into 1″ pieces
1 large onion, chopped
6 medium Yukon gold or russet potato
Water to cover potatoes
About 1/2 c half and half
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste

Saute bacon on medium heat in large pot, stirring frequently, until it just begins to crisp around the edges. Add onion and saute until translucent, stirring frequently. Add potatoes, bay leaves, salt and pepper, and just enough water to cover. Cover pot and cook on medium heat for about 3o minutes or until potatoes are tender. Add half and half–more or less depending on how thick you would like the soup.

Variation: Add 1 – 2 cups chopped cabbage for the last 10 minutes of cooking.

*There was an article in the New York Times Magazine recently that claimed the word “evil” was dropping out of colloquial use. That person clearly does not use a computer.


Today the real source of my homesickness has dawned on me. Each new move, each big change, reminds me that there’s no chance of going home again.

This is probably because the home I imagine does not really exist. It’s a place where I’m sitting on the porch talking politics with my grandparents on a summer night. (“This war is all about getting oil for the Bush family,” said my grandfather about the 1990 Gulf War, so it’s probably best he isn’t alive to see today’s debacle.) It’s our farm, where we would pick blackberries in June and my grandmother would make them into pies and jams. It’s Christmas with all of my familiy together, everyone happy and stuffed with dressing and turkey.

All of that happened while I was growing up, but those events came only in transient moments. Home itself is transient. Whatever physical space or even relationship you create just won’t last. So you have to take whatever bits of it you can with you.

Home is where you make it. Home is here.

But I’m still homesick.

Just a wee bit lonely

It is time to confess that living apart from The Fred is getting to me. We met in Chicago this past weekend, on my family’s annual trip there, and I could hardly bear it to watch him walk away at O’Hare.

“But why,” you ask, “have you and your parents been gathering in Chicago every third weekend in September since 1990?” Well, I’m glad you asked. My stepfather goes there for a toy soldier show, which draws hundreds of collectors, and my mother and I . . . . well, we shop. Not on Michigan Avenue, usually, which is a bit out of our price range, but at Woodfield Mall.

And Fred goes to the Art Institute. In case you are wondering, cab fare from Schaumburg, where the show is, to the Art Institute is $65. Each way. But as my mother and I easily spend that much at Woodfield, it’s a small price to pay to make Fred happy.

“And what about the food in Chicago?” you ask.

Well, we are in the burbs. And the burbs are pretty much the same everywhere. We had dinner at Houlihan’s and lunch at the California Pizza Kitchen. No gourmet meals there. But they were joyful gatherings nonetheless, because I was with the people I love.

And that’s what food is really all about.

To My Fellow Liberals

Dear Liberal Friends,

You are the best, kindest people in the world. I share your politics and welcome your kind and gentle presence in my life. I too want to put an end to global warming, see George W. Bush exiled to Iraq where he can enjoy the fruits of his own experiments in “democracy,” and make the world a happier, better place for all.

But if I see just one more of you in Birkenstocks and a fanny pack, you’re on the next plane to Baghdad.

Perhaps it’s not fair to single you out. After all, there are those fundamentalist women wearing those dreadful floral prints and sporting 1980s perms topped off with those bangs that can only be described as The Claw. And those teenage boys whose pants have fallen down so low they can barely walk and who haven’t yet realized that style went out sometime in the last century.

You, however, are intelligent people who keep up with the news. You are educated. And I am quite sure that you are well aware that the 1960s ended, oh, about 37 years ago. So please, put away the bahtiks, the tie dyes, the shapeless tops, the shorts at special events, the floor-length floral skirts you bought at an arts festival in 1974, and for the love of God, you balding men, cut those scraggy gray ponytails OFF.

If you don’t, I’m calling What Not to Wear and siccing Stacy and Clinton on the entire city of Chapel Hill.

How not to boil eggs

Poor Fred. During our last visit, a quick perusal of the fridge reveal the following:

Piminento cheese salad (store bought)
Chicken salad (store bought)
White bread
Corned beef
Hot dogs and bratwurst
Unrecognizable vegetables in various states of decay

You will note that few of these items need any type of preparation involving a stove, with flames and heat and that sort of thing. Now I know why.

Yesterday Fred attempted to prepare a meal of boiled eggs. He put salted water in the pan, waited until it came to a boil, then added the eggs. He then went to surf the internet.

Some time later, a loud “ping” alerted him to the fact that all the water had disappeared from the pan and his eggs lay nestled in the blackened remains of one of their fellows, which had apparently exploded from the intense heat. I was not able to get a straight answer on whether or not the eggs were actually edible, but I imagine not.

Apparently he also melted a package of white bread to the top of the stove while broiling brats. I’ll have to assess the damage on my next visit. Let’s just hope the house is still standing.

I love that man.

No Food Today

Writing about the “fed” part of The Newlyfeds has been great fun, but I think that now, with my beloved Fred so far away, it’s time to write about the “newly,” as in wed.

It’s been hard for me to cook without Fred there to savor my latest experiment. My wonderful friend Donna, who is kindly providing shelter for me as I start work at Duke and the search for our new house here in Durham, would probably be a willing victim, but my heart just has not been in the kitchen these last few weeks.

Fred and I live in a strange liminal space right now–he’s in Atlanta, getting ready to be ordained, working at the hospital, and I’m here, starting a whole new life. We last saw each other Monday. It seems like it was last winter.

I really miss him.

What To Do When It’s 1,000 Degrees

It has been too hot to cook here (although I stupidly volunteered to make 100 chocolate chip cookies for incoming Duke Methodist fresh-people over the weekend, but that’s another story).

And I read the most horrific article in a women’s magazine (my first mistake) that basically said that if you don’t eat FIVE to NINE servings of fruits and vegetables a day and exercise SIXTY to NINETY minutes MOST DAYS OF THE WEEK you would DIE, DIE, DIE of a heart attack right this second. (Who are these people???)

So thank you, Raleigh, for having a real farmers’ market, where you can buy real honest-to-God tasty and delicious vegetables and fruit that will not only keep you cool but allow you to live forever.

Here are some of my recent meals:

1. Tomatoes with olive oil, a little balsamic vinegar, salt, and olive oil.
2. Cucumbers in a vinegar/sugar mix with salt and pepper.
3. The fabulous bean salad from a few days ago.
4. Watermelon.
5. Canteloupe.
6. Tomatoes with fresh corn cut from the cob, olive oil, a little balsamic vinegar, salt, and olive oil.
7. Pesto over green beans and rotini pasta.

That last one is getting fancy and so deserves a recipe. Or at least sort of a recipe. When it comes to pesto, it’s a matter of taste. Adjust ingredients to yours.

Pesto over Green Beans and Pasta (serves two)

1/2 lb. green beans, snapped into 1″ pieces
1/2 lb. rotini, penne, or gemelli
2 – 3 large bunches fresh basil, stems removed
1/2 c. (or more) olive oil
1/4 c. (or more) pine nuts
4 cloves (more or less) garlic
1/2 c. (more or less) grated fresh Parmesan cheese
Salt to taste

Cook pasta as directed. Place green beens in a saucepan with about 1/4″ salted water on the bottom and cover. Puree remaining ingredients in food processor (or blender if that’s all you have). Adjust ingredients to taste. Turn green beans on high and steam for 3-5 minutes or until just tender. Drain pasta and mix all ingredients together. Serve with more Parmesan.

Poop and Salad

As I was walking in to my office this morning, I felt breezily confident and airy despite the tropical 100+ heat here today because of my cool light blue linen pants, my new sunglasses, and my hair pulled back (I thought) rather elegantly. I strolled down campus drive, thinking of my own sophistication, thinking how Clinton and Stacy on What Not to Wear would view me as a veritable fashion icon.

I approached the office door, walking under a lovely magnolia tree. I pulled my hair out of its elegant updo (okay, it was a ponytail) in preparation for entering the cooler office.

And a bird pooped right on my pants.

I think that sums up today. However, for lunch, I do have a nice salad that is very easy and a good use for leftover pork. Do not let the proximity to the bird poop story put you off.

Summer Navy Bean Salad

1 pork chop, cut into 1/2″ cubes
1 large tomato, cubed
1 can navy beans

Drizzle above with 2-3 tbsp. good olive oil, 2-3 tbsp. white and red balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste.

Do not allow to spill into the bag you carry into work, as it is hard to get out of wallets, checkbooks, hairbrushes, and the serial port in your Blackberry.