Pistachio Pudding to the Rescue!

Chuck had a dream last night. I won’t analyze it, although I’m sure it has some parallels. The highlights are these:

We lived in a cramped place, and we were in a situation with a lot of anxiety. Chuck was working in the kitchen, I was struggling to get a box of something from the basement, and Amigo, just a toddler, played on the kitchen floor.  (La Petite didn’t make an appearance. Maybe she was at school.) When Amigo was young, he sensed anxiety and reacted to it in his own toddler-on-the-spectrum way. Chuck and Amigo collided, Amigo fell to pieces in a total meltdown. Chuck knew that the only thing to combat this meltdown was — pistachio pudding.

Long story short, he made pistachio pudding, put the toddler in the high chair, and all was well. Messy, but calm.

When Chuck woke up this morning, he came downstairs and made pistachio pudding. Inspired by his dream solution, he wanted to have pistachio pudding with lunch. It wasn’t that easy, though. Monday is typically our grocery shopping day, and our supply of milk was low.

Enter Daisy the Doomsday Prepper’s stockpile of sorts: dry milk! I had some! I only use it for baking bread and occasionally making oatmeal, so of course we had plenty in the cupboard. Chuck read the directions on the package, mixed up two cups of milk, and made pistachio pudding.

Amigo thought the dream was hilarious, and he could picture himself playing on the kitchen floor in our old tiny duplex. Pistachio pudding was a hit with lunch, and we continued on with the day. Chuck and Amigo grabbed the peanut butter jar to return (that’s a whole different story, and you probably know the background, readers), and headed off to shop for groceries.

Readers, has a dream ever inspired you? Serious or wacky, tell us!

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Taking the Day Off Post-Show

Chuck came downstairs today and asked/announced, “Can I take the day off?” Amigo did almost the same thing an hour later. Why? you might ask. Day off from what? would be a good question, too.

Yesterday was the Big Spring Show for Amigo’s barbershop chorus. This Spring Show was bigger than most because, well, pandemic. This was the first actual Spring Show since 2019, so it was special. Important. Exciting. Insert any comparable adjective here, and it’ll fit just fine.

These guys, like many of us, suffered through massive cancellations in 2020. They had to cancel a show, cancel rehearsals, and lost a major fundraiser as well. Singing, you see, can be a super spreader event. A show in theater that seats 700 was out of the question. Eventually the directors consulted their college-age daughter who guided them in the process of Zoom rehearsals, which led to in person sectionals (masked), and finally in-person rehearsals.

You can read between the lines: this year’s spring show was a Big Deal. A really, really, Major Big Deal.

In a typical week, Amigo had rehearsals every Tuesday. Chuck usually drove him to rehearsal and stayed to help out if he was needed. The week leading up to the show was bigger and busier. Tuesday’s rehearsal was a tech rehearsal. Chuck, former broadcast engineer, always helped out with audio and microphone cues. In addition, the two actors who carried out the story line between songs couldn’t make it for tech rehearsal, so Chuck and Yours Truly played their parts. Fun, yes, but it was a late night and a tiring evening full of details.

The usual Friday night dress rehearsal included the regular actors, thank goodness. Chuck still helped the tech crew, but I was able to stay home and clean the kitchen (hahaha) and make fresh ice cream (yay!).

All things considered, by the time the show was done, all three of us were thrilled and happy and wiped out.

We were thrilled to be back into show mode, performing in person for an actual audience. We were happy to be perform and socialize with the rest of the chorus. We were happy to bring Petunia and Robin and even La Petite and her sweetheart to the concert. And after coordinating all of this and enjoying the show, we were tired. Very, very tired.

Really, folks, this is the best kind of wiped out tired there is. Covid19 isn’t gone yet, but numbers were low enough to allow a performance with audience. The emotional high from this day will be with us for a while. Meanwhile, I think we’ll all three take a day off.

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Why Amigo and Chuck do the Grocery Shopping

Amigo and Chuck have been doing the family shopping for a long time. By now, we consider it routine. They rarely take me along, which is okay, I guess. Maybe. Why?

  1. Chuck worked in grocery stores in the past; he knows the tricks of the trade.
  2. Chuck knows how to bag groceries. When I do it, it’s a mess.
  3. They make the list in order according to the store layout.
  4. They’re fairly efficient and cost-conscious.
  5. Chuck is a good cook; he’ll look through the departments with menus in mind.

But the main reason they take on the shopping without me is this: I’m a closet prepper. When I see something we use and it’s on a major sale, I tend to buy a  lot. Like, “Ooh, baked beans are marked down! I think I’ll buy six cans.” Or I might think, “Jello? We don’t use much jello. But then again, if we’re sick we don’t want to make an extra trip to buy jello and chicken soup. I’ll grab a few boxes – like, maybe, five.”

Then there are the loss leader prices: the ten for $10 deals. I’ll reach for the shelf and hear Chuck saying, “Dear, you don’t have to buy ten to get the good price.” And I’ll shake my head, think “Busted! again,” and only get a few.

In support of my own contributions, I’ll remind you that I’m both gardener and canner. We rarely buy vegetables at the store because we buy veggies in season at the farmers market all summer and fill our freezer. I make and can pickles, tomatoes, tomato sauce, jams, and more.

So, readers, how does grocery shopping shape up for you? Who is the main shopper, and why?

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Butternut Squash Soup

The storage area that is usually cool and dry is, well, neither. Thanks to an unseasonably warm October and a streak of rainy days, the back hallway is not a good place to store my vegetables. I disposed of two potatoes, a large red onion, and half of a butternut squash this morning.

Then I cleaned the containers and added the little “dryers” that come in packages. Does this do any good? It can’t hurt.

And then I made soup with the remaining half of the butternut squash. I used my standard recipe and cut it down to match the amount of squash I had left. Here it is, folks, without adaptation. This is a lot of soup; use a BIG crock pot if you make the whole thing.

Ingredients:

1 large butternut squash (about 4 lb), peeled, seeded, and cut into pieces(estimated amount: 10 cups)

1 large apple, peeled, cored, cut into 1-inch pieces1 medium white onion, diced

1 large carrot, peeled, diced

2 teaspoons curry powder, 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, 1/8 teaspoon white pepper

3 1/2 cups chicken broth or chicken stock

1 Tablespoon minced fresh ginger root

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

Directions: Spray slow cooker with non-stick spray. In cooker, toss squash, apple, onion, carrot, curry powder, salt, and white pepper. Pour broth over vegetable mixture. Cover; cook on low for 8-10 hours or on high for 4-5 hours. Use immersion blender or remove small amounts of soup (3 cups at a time) into blender to blend until smooth. Add brown sugar (and milk or cream, optional) while blending. Turn heat setting to high. Cover; cook for another 30 minutes. Serve. Enjoy.

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Shortages and Pantry Raids

The latest shortage: certain ink cartridges. Or so we thought – and then we discovered Chuck had “remembered” the wrong number for our printer. We’ll return the wrong one and hope that maybe the office supply store has the right one in black and in color.

I keep seeing blank shelves in the grocery store. Fortunately, we’re fairly well stocked. Chuck teases me a little (more than a little) about my prepper tendencies, but stocking up makes it easy to keep on cooking.

Pantry Raids are easy ways to create a side dish or an entire meal – and tonight it was a side dish. I chopped up two apples leftover from cidering and simmered them on the stove with cinnamon sticks (a bonus included in an auction lot of canning supplies). Simple, delicious: a perfect pantry raid.

I predict more pantry raids, of course, as shortages go on. The unseasonably warm October weather is keeping my tomato and tomatillo plants giving, so we may have more tomato soups or salsa.

And so it goes, readers. I hope your pantries are full and your families are healthy.

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The Black Walnut Project

I have been attempting various foraging projects and no-waste cooking projects. Roasted maple seeds: success! I’ll plan to collect and roast maple seeds every spring from here on out. Saving corn husks to make tamales: nope. I read up on it, browsed recipes and tutorials, and realized it wasn’t going to work in this busy home – mainly because of the time involved. Now for the latest: harvesting black walnuts from the trees in La Petite’s backyard.

Short version: fail. Not going to happen.

Slightly longer version: There were a lot, and I mean a lot, of nuts on the ground after a recent wind storm, so I decided to collect a bucket full and see what I could do. Like I did with the corn husks, I read up on harvesting walnuts, I watched video tutorials, and browsed recipes, too. The first fail: it’s too early. Black walnuts ripen in September and October, and the solid green nuts on the ground were nowhere near ripe. It should have been a clue that not even the squirrels were picking them up.

The next obstacle: time. Most of what I read suggested setting the nuts on a screen to dry for several weeks. After that, I could cut or tear off the outer shell. Then they’d need to dry – again! – for a few weeks.

Details of the process aren’t necessary here. It’s enough to say that despite the vast quantity of black walnuts in La Petite’s backyard, the nuts will never become a food source for her family. The wait time and the work time investment are just too much.

La Petite does, however, have two awesome raised beds and several container plants. She might not get walnuts from her yard, but she grows tomatoes, peppers, green beans, and more.

What should my next foraging experiment entail? Anyone have a suggestion for me?

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One Year Later

All the major news outlets are going into retrospective mode, so I don’t need to share the details. You know how to find the details you need, readers.

What I can do is make it personal. One year ago, we were hearing about the coronavirus, the novel, or new, coronavirus that was trickling into the U.S. I remember reassuring my students (fifth grade) that the virus hadn’t reached Wisconsin yet. We were not at risk. Yet.

Within weeks that shrunk to days, my workplace had closed up and sent us all home. We kept teaching, and teaching online is what we do, but we moved out of our office. I left my big desktop with two monitors behind on its stand-up option desk and set up a Chromebook on a small vintage desk in the corner of my living room. A box of my teacher manuals and a stack of intervention reading books were tucked into a corner nearby, and my notebook and clipboard sat on the file cabinet beside a coaster for my coffee cup.

From the hints of the virus to the major shutdown seemed to come incredibly fast. I exchanged texts with La Petite, learning that none of her colleagues had been in China recently to visit the knitting plants because they didn’t usually travel during the Chinese New Year celebrations.

I messaged a cousin in Utah who had posted pictures of huge trucks loaded with bottled water and toilet paper. Little did I know that the TP shelves would empty in my neck of the woods, too! It became a joke, sort of – March Madness cancelled? They must have run out of toilet paper. Spring training came to a screeching halt? Toilet paper shortage! Our nervousness showed in our attempts at humor.

I remember the mood – the feeling of what’s next, what else can shut down, are we ready, are we ready, are we ready? Well, we didn’t know and certainly couldn’t predict how serious the pandemic would be in the U.S., in Wisconsin, and even in our own city. Tension, stress, and the feeling of simply living each day not knowing what was next on the list.

Now, one year later, we’re getting our vaccines. Chuck and Amigo and La Petite have all had their first shot and scheduled their second. I will get the one-dose vaccine on Saturday. We’re cautiously optimistic – quietly hopeful.

But I still might maintain my stockpile of toilet paper.

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New Year, New Post

Once upon a time, a rather long time ago, I used to blog regularly. I haven’t abandoned Compost Happens, but I haven’t blogged regularly lately, either. Sometimes I posted a retrospective, complete with links, to the first posts of each month in the previous year. Sometimes I posted a brief look back. This year?

Well, I’m relieved that 2020 is over, and I want the Covid19 pandemic to wither away, too. Looking back on the year has a lot of Fortunately, Unfortunately feeling about it.

Unfortunately: the governor shut down schools, offices, and non-essential businesses. Fortunately: Chuck and I are both employed by essential businesses. Also fortunately: my work went on with a few changes, including moving from an office setting to the corner of my living room. Fortunately, I have a vintage writing desk that is just the right size for a laptop.

Unfortunately: Any gatherings of more than 50 people (eventually 10) were cancelled. Amigo’s barbershop chorus lost big on this one. Their main spring show was cancelled (theater that holds around 700 in its audience) and the fall fundraising festival, Octoberfest, was also cut. And worse: rehearsals were cancelled. Singing turned out to be a dangerous activity, a super-spreader of this nasty airborne virus.

Fortunately, the chorus resumed rehearsals by way of Zoom. The director offered voice lessons free, and Amigo enthusiastically joined up.

Many events that mean a lot to our family were cancelled. Much of our entertainment dropped from view, too, including March Madness college basketball and Major League Baseball. When the National Football League resumed play, games had few fans, if any, in the stands. Lambeau Field with no fans? It still looks spooky on TV.

Holidays that usually involve family get togethers — well, didn’t.

Fortunately: we have kept close to family members by text message, email, Facetime, Zoom, Google Meet – thank goodness we are geeky enough to make this work! Petunia (my mother) and Robin (Chuck’s mom) remain isolated, but not fully quarantined. We help them by running errands and we stop by, suitably masked, for visits.

2021? I hope it looks better. And no, I’m not saying any of the dangerous phrases. You won’t hear me say “What else could go wrong?” or “It can’t get worse, can it?” or anything else like that. Oh, oops, I just did. I didn’t mean it! Really!

Readers, here’s wishing you a peaceful and healthy 2021. It can’t…never mind.

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Writer’s Block?

Amigo keeps asking me if I’ve blogged recently. It’s not that there’s nothing going on; it’s more like there’s too much going on. Focusing in on one topic seems overwhelming.

George Floyd. The protests he inspired; the riots and vandals that tagged along.

Buttercup. Our sweet bunny, about 14 years old (ancient!), passed on last week. I still expect her to meet me at the bottom of the stairs every morning when I get up.

Covid19. Again. Still. Pandemic hasn’t let up, despite its being relegated to smaller status in the evening news stories.

School. Work from home. How it’s different, both better and not so good.

The ever present garden! Some of the peas haven’t come up; there are blank spots in the lettuce patch. I blame the chipmunk who has taken up residence under one of the boards in the raised bed. Dang pest.

Sports. Amigo and I really, really miss sports. Baseball now, football in the fall – we’re left at loose ends.

Local protests vs. nearby cities vs. larger cities – compare, contrast, consider.

Barbershop chorus! They keep rehearsing in Zoom, but their two biggest fundraisers for the year have been cancelled. What does the future hold?

Meanwhile, I’m watching the world spinning around me and wondering when it will slow down and maybe even stop.

Where to go next? Too many directions, too many important topics in our lives, here at the O.K. Chorale.

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More Cancellations

The ax fell two nights ago; Amigo’s barbershop chorus fully cancelled their Spring Show. Initially they had hoped to postpone it to a date in June, and eventually they realized that wasn’t realistic. The board met, and they made the hard decision to cancel.

Amigo could have been beside himself. He didn’t fall to pieces, though. He could have, and we would have understood. In fact, I kept waking up at night, wondering if I should check on him, but…well, other mothers of young adults will understand.

In other current events, gas was $1.01 today. As usual, I glanced at the fuel gauge to see it reading firmly FULL. Amigo helped me fill up the tank a few weeks ago, and, well, I haven’t been going anywhere. Chuck goes to work, I work from home, and I’m not driving Amigo to rehearsals anymore, either. We’re hardly leaving the driveway, much less using up a tank of gas.

In the rare occurrence that I do get out of the neighborhood, I’ve noticed people taking precautions pretty seriously. Maybe it’s the fact that Wisconsin just crossed the threshold of its 100th death from the Coronavirus. Whatever the reason, the staff at Lowe’s kept their distance and wore gloves and masks as they looked for what we needed.

Walgreen’s, however, looked mobbed. I stayed in the car; Chuck went inside to pick up medication. Tomorrow, I’ll pick up Amigo’s.

Meanwhile, we’re expecting a snowstorm Sunday night. Never a dull moment, here in the time of Covid19. Never a dull moment.

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