Corona Cooking – at home, of course

Our menus are looking more and more like midwinter comfort food or even dorm cafeteria food. Tonight it was baked macaroni and cheese – from scratch, of course. I have a sizable stockpile of various pastas, and we always have cheese. Throw in a cup of frozen peas, reach for the closest Italian season, and there it is. Comfort food, Wisconsin style.

Like a good pantry prepper, we have canned tuna. I’ve made tuna casserole recently (pasta, tuna, yada, yada, yada), and tuna salad would only work for Chuck and me. Amigo doesn’t go for cold. I got creative with the English muffins in the refrigerator, topped them with tuna and (or course) cheese, and ta-da! Tuna melts.

Last night I pulled together paninis. Sandwich ingredients, grilled with my cast iron press, and then – soup, of course. An ultimate comfort food, but instead of made from scratch, I’d picked it up at a local restaurant. Soup and sandwiches! Simple, but satisfying.

Then there was the shredded pork on a bun – with my own homemade rhubarb barbecue sauce. It makes a big batch; I put half away in the freezer for another day.

It’s not restaurant quality. It’s not even Master Chef style. But comfort is in short supply these days, and I can cook up darn good comfort in the form of lunch and supper.

Readers, what are you cooking these days?

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Shelter in Place continues

It was a dark and stormy morning. Rain, lots of rain. I did a rare out-of-home experience and brought Petunia her newspaper and her groceries. We unfortunately picked out the wrong kind of oranges, so I may (or Chuck) look for a time when few will be out and get the Clementines she needs from the grocery store. It’s not a hardship; it’s just a little less likely to happen right away.

I bought myself a treat for breakfast when I picked up the paper – a breakfast sandwich from the convenience store. They no longer have their coffee bar or roller grill, but still have a few hot sandwiches, individually wrapped. I gave myself a sausage, egg, and cheese croissant.

I was settled in on the couch for a Harry Potter movie marathon, with my breakfast sandwich and coffee (made at home), when the landline phone rang. It was Chuck’s mom. He’d replaced the batteries in her smoke detectors yesterday, and now one was beeping repeatedly. She couldn’t get it off the wall or get the battery out. What else could I do? I woke Chuck.

Eventually, all was well. We took care of our mothers and then ourselves. Life goes on. It’s not normal, but it’s life. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

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And the Lockdown Continues

Yesterday we took chances. It was definitely in the category of Essential Activities, but it was still chancy.

We brought groceries to Petunia. Twice. I was bending the rules at her senior living apartment complex because all deliveries were supposed to be picked up in the lobby rather than having people walking in and out of the hallways. Petunia is still quite weak from a tough pain stretch last week, and I’m not going to make her walk the long walk to the lobby to meet me. I brought her a newspaper and picked up her credit card, and then I headed home.

Home, where the boys, Chuck and Amigo, were still asleep. Since I’m still on a schoolteacher’s timetable, I am awake in the mornings when they are, well, not. It gives me a quiet house in which to work, with few if any interruptions. Yesterday being Saturday, I didn’t even open up the school Chromebook. Mainly, I took care of Buttercup the bunny, cleaned up the kitchen, and then stretched out on the couch with a little HGTV and my own newspaper – and coffee.

Coffee. Coffee brewed in my own coffeemaker, on my own kitchen counter. When I picked up Petunia’s paper, I confirmed the news: Kwik Trip has closed their coffee bars. It makes sense, I guess. Pouring our own coffee, flipping through the lids that always seem to be stuck, touching one handle after another – and sharing space with others doing the same thing – all of those are risky in these Pandemic days. Good thing my Prepper Self always stocks up when coffee is on special!

Ah, my Prepper Self. Chuck is starting to bend my way in stocking up on necessities. With a few special trips to the pet store and the meat market, this trip to the store was short and still productive. We stocked up mainly on items that we couldn’t make or improvise on our own, like sodas. Mixers, to be honest. I have gin, I want my tonic. We have rum, now let’s make sure we have Coke. You get the picture.

Sunday, today, we stayed home. I ventured outside the house to empty kitchen compost and a bunny litter box, but other than that, I’ve stayed within the house. As the virus spreads in my community, I predict more days of staying in. We’ll see how that goes.

Readers, what kind of necessity makes you leave the house during the quarantine days? Leave a comment to share.

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Ah, Barbershop. Harmonizing all the time.

The holiday show in December was a tear-jerker – in a loving, tug-on-the-heartstrings way. Spring show was even bigger: 75th anniversary, Going Platinum, with short videos of members (including Amigo) talking about how and why they keep coming back to sing barbershop.

Being a barbershopper means listening, too. Amigo made friends with our local Sweet Adelines chorus last year when he won the Pie of the Month Club at their Sweetie Pie Social concert and fundraiser. We brought home a big hanging basket of geraniums (door prize) from their spring Barbershop in Bloom program. At the same time, Amigo made friends with two women who sing with Sweet Adelines choruses elsewhere and meet up to enjoy concerts. Amigo and his two new friends had a great talk comparing notes on concert venues and fun times with barbershop harmony.

And the music goes on. Yesterday, Memorial Day, Amigo joined his local chapter in singing patriotic songs for a local celebration. It was pouring rain, so the usual outdoor ceremony was moved into the town administration building. Nevertheless, they persisted, and contributed their harmony to the solemn occasion.

Summer will have many singing opportunities. They’ll sing at the local ballpark with the local symphony orchestra for (are you ready for this?) Brats, Beer, and Beethoven concert. It’s always an experience. They’ll perform a variation on the spring show at an outdoor venue, and that will be a good time, too.

Barbershop harmony started in our family with a Christmas holiday program. It has grown to be a year round adventure. There’s always a reason to sing, no matter what the season.

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Once Upon a Coupon

One Saturday night, not long ago, Chuck and I pushed a cart around the grocery store and filled it with all the necessary foodstuffs on our list. At least once, we encountered a very focused shopper noting totals in a notebook and sorting through piles – I kid you not, piles – of coupons. 

She was a Real Live Super Extreme Couponer. In our store! In our city! Wow! Where were the cameras? 

When we were ready to check out, there was only one checkout lane open, and she was in it. More power to her for taking the time and making the effort to shop this way, but we did NOT want to be in line behind her. I looked toward the self checkout, looked at my cart’s contents, and said nope, not going the selfie way. Luckily for us, the store staff provided another checker. Phew! As we left the store, we could hear Ms. Super Extreme Coupons with her checkout still in progress. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. 

The next day, we took the minivan to Kwik Trip to fill out the tank, and grabbed a few coupons on the way out the door. Chuck dashed into the mini mart to get the free bananas, dozen of eggs at half price, and a dirt cheap cup of gourmet hot cocoa. The cashier rang up his purchases, scanned his coupons, and then swept his Rewards Card. With the rewards card discount, his total came to a negative number. They owed him money. And at that, the cash register froze. 

He tried to pull it up into the positive numbers by buying a tube of Chapstick. The Chapstick wouldn’t scan. The cashier tried entering the code number manually. No luck. So Chuck tried again; he grabbed a candy bar. This treat scanned successfully – sort of. The total went farther into the negative, and this time read Transaction Finalized. Amid much laughter from the other customers,  including one who had offered to help out when it appeared Chuck was short on cash, he headed quickly back to the van. 

“Don’t say a word! If the cops stop us, let me do the talking!” “What?!?” He laughed and laughed as we zoomed home and tucked the minivan in the garage. 

Chuck the Super Coupon Man. Go figure. I never would have guessed. 

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Amigo’s Turn on Injured Reserve

Amigo asked me to look at a “mole” on his hip. This mole had always been there, as far as he knew, but it had started hurting. At first glance it looked like a big bug bite: raised center, red rash around it. I touched it, he flinched, and I realized there was more under the skin.

We made an appointment to see Family Doc, the guy who knows us best.  The pain had increased overnight, and the red rash had also gotten bigger. Doc gave Amigo the news: it was a cyst, the cyst was infected, and it had to be lanced and drained. He would numb the area first, and then get all the gunk out.

Oh, it wasn’t pleasant, but Amigo took it like a trooper. He managed to stay still despite the pain of the numbing agent, and then accepted a damp compress on his forehead to help him focus and relax. Doc removed what he needed, stitched the area closed, and then covered it with a piece of gauze and tape.

We’ve been back twice to have Family Doc monitor his progress. Amigo took antibiotics to kill the infection, too. At this time, I’m checking on how it’s healing and putting clean gauze on the wound each night. Eventually, he will need the cyst removed. Neither of us are looking forward to this.

Fortunately, a cyst on the hip doesn’t stop him from singing. Amigo has joined a small group in the barbershop chorus: the Mixmasters. More music is good music! or something like that.

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Injured Reserve

I’m temporarily on injured reserve, as Chuck puts it. I cannot lift anything heavier than 5 pounds or handle anything dirty or germ-laden. Such is life as an artery heals!

Friday went smoothly overall. Pre-procedure fast: check. Light breakfast (two frozen waffles, toasted): check. Morning medication: check. Doze off while reading newspaper: check. Oh, I admit it, that wasn’t on the list, but a nap was still a good thing. Anti-germ shower with soap from doc’s office: check.

Arrive at hospital on time: check. Find registration in a labyrinth that is the hospital: with the help of a volunteer: check. Change into hospital gown and socks: check. Vital signs: check. Blood draw, IV inserted, etc.: check. Admire the nurse’s Crocs featuring the Swedish Chef: check, bort! bort! bort!

Procedure: one long involved check. The purpose for Friday’s O.R. encounter was to insert a catheter through my wrist and send dye coursing through the arteries in my head to confirm what the MRA and Doppler Ultrasound showed. Stent in right interior carotid is working well; blood is flowing through the artery as it’s intended. Aneurysm on the left: somewhat larger than it was a year ago.

Recovery! Remove catheter from artery: check. Place pressure bandage over artery: wow, check. This thing was “blown up” with air to hold it tightly on the artery and prevent bleeding. Move patient (me!) upstairs to hospital room for observation while recovering: relief of sorts, check. Nice view of the river below and the pelicans and geese feeding. Rather fun, really. If I had to stay longer, I’d like a room like that. But anyway, over a span of a few hours the nurse gradually let the air out of the pressure bandage and verified that the artery was closing. I had a hospital supper: baked penne pasta with marinara sauce and a small lettuce salad. Yum. Hospital food has come a long way since I was a teenager working in a hospital kitchen!

Well, folks, that was Friday. The prep, the procedure, the recovery, then home. My discharge instructions were what put me on Injured Reserve, in Chuck’s words. The remaining bandage stayed on for 24 hours. Limit lifting to 5 pounds. Avoid contact with contaminated items, including litter boxes or gardening. These limitations are in effect for 3 days or until the wound heals. I can water the garden using my left hand, but I can’t weed it or otherwise play in the dirt.

I might be sore and tender for a week or two. There’s a little bruising, and that’s considered normal. As I heal, I’ll get back to the normal roster of gardening and cooking and other daily tasks. Meanwhile, I might just hang out with my laptop and rest. After all, I am on injured reserve.

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Making and Keeping Rules

I told myself I’d never risk my health – my life, even – for my job. That was in November of 2010. I’d landed in the ER with chest pains, much worse than the average Sunday evening stress-stomachache. I went to school at 10 that night to leave sub plans instead of staying overnight in the cardiac care unit. Long story short, it wasn’t worthwhile.

In spring of 2014 I advised my coworkers “Don’t Wait!” I’d just found an interior carotid artery 99% blocked. Thanks to the timing and to the good luck of having an amazing doctor, the blockage was cleared and a stent installed.

So when the phone rang and I was offered Friday or the Monday or Tuesday that followed,  I looked at everything else on the calendar, took a deep breath, and said yes, I’d take the appointment. I didn’t put it off. I didn’t work around my staff development schedule.

Taking this appointment meant postponing the family garage sale indefinitely. It meant that La Petite will come home to help with the driving duties because Amigo has an important appointment an hour earlier than mine – in a different location, of course.

Rather than tie myself in knots to put everyone else first, I’m following my rules. I’ll have my head examined (a cerebral angiogram), get the results, and then plan for treatment of this rogue aneurysm if we find it has grown.

And that, my dear readers, is playing by all the rules.

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Independence Day!

Here’s hoping that all the fireworks around your home are the literal kind – the kind in the sky. Have a great holiday week!

Top row: Chuck, Daisy
Front: Amigo, La Petite
Photo, of course, by La Petite.

She’s probably embarrassed that I keep reusing it every July 4.

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Cooking without a Kitchen – still

Monday was a Planned-overs type of day. Planned overs are like leftovers, but cooked on purpose. In this Era of No Kitchen, we are cooking planned overs at least once a week so we have something decent that can be reheated in the microwave.

So, Monday. Burgers were on the menu. Side dishes, cooked on the coals in foil, were potatoes – diced reds and fingerlings with Scarborough Fair seasoning (parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme) and green & yellow zucchini squash with onion, salt, and pepper. These turned out very well.

Ah, the planned overs. We had a pound of French Onion bratwurst from the local meat market, and brats are always better on the grill, so I jabbed them with a fork and cooked them on the top rack. Someone recently suggested cooking bacon on the grill, so I tried it. As I pushed the burgers out of the flames so they wouldn’t get charred, I wondered if Someone had cooked bacon on a gas grill, not charcoal. The bacon smelled good, as bacon does, but it had a definite char look to it. I tried a piece on a BLT, and it tasted like bacon. Okay, it was okay, but I don’t think I’ll try that trick again.

Monday, as you see, was an adventure. I didn’t take any pictures because I was too busy moving bacon around to prevent total burn-to-a-crisp status. The veggies were a hit, the burgers were delicious (Amigo had two), and the bacon and brats went into the meat drawer for later.

Tuesday, I learned how to bake a pot pie in the toaster oven. Here I am, in my 50s, and I’ve never used a toaster oven. Now I can cross “Toaster Oven Use” off my bucket list.

Tuesday night I decided to do an experiment with the multitude of green onions in my garden. I pulled up several. Okay, if I’m honest about it, I pulled up a lot. I cleaned them up in the bathtub – no sink, remember – and packed the green tops into a crock pot set on low. I left it on Keep Warm overnight. In the morning, I removed the green tops, added the white bulbs sliced small, and seasoned the onion broth with a little salt and pepper and garlic.

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