Monday, November 30, 2009

Dinner and a Move

On our last night of official residence in this our old life, I have succeeded in creating one more dinner, sans range, from our diminishing larder. I whipped up a little salad of chickpeas, cherry tomatoes, feta, and crumbled bacon dressed with lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Sides of leftover cabbage with lime juice and cumin and toasted whole wheat bread completed a very satisfying meal. Dessert was cardamom dusted orange slices with candied pecans leftover from a school dish. My husband thinks I'm a genius.

It would have been a lovely vegetarian repast without the bacon, but it needed to be used and, well, I just love it. Although I am all for healthy eating (I'm sometimes quite annoying to my friends and family about this topic), I have my indulgences. Bacon is one of them.
Many a dish can be yummied right up with the addition of a little bacon. Or ham or pancetta or sausages or proscuitto. I am basically a sucker for cured pork products, which do come from time-honored traditions and taste so salty-licious good. I have not yet, however, succumbed to the current fad for bacon and sweets, like chocolate dipped bacon or bacon chocolate chip cookies. I guess I'm a little old fashioned that way.

Other than dinner, the goal of the day was more packing. The rooms are beginning to echo a bit now that their sound absorbing furnishings are being removed in layers. The walls grow more bare. The anchoring necessities that remain are fewer. I even stripped, washed, and stored all the bed linens to burn our bridge, so to speak. It's time to begin the going away process. I am grateful for the grace period that makes the task easier.

In a few short minutes we leave for the farm with a few clothes and personal effects, a tiny step in the process of changing our lives. I am past the pangs of loss and the cloud of doubt and into a subterranean excitement. Bring on the change and the knowing. At least we're moving, not standing still.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Fire on the Range

In the midst of all our household moving and life transition chaos, a family member stroked out and went comatose. Wait, it's not as dire as it sounds. It's just the range (or stove, as my mama would have called it), not a beloved person or pet. But to me, it's one more loss in a season of losses. Besides, this is as special a range as I could afford six years ago when I was forced to part with a whole lot of money for appliances in order to be a homeowner. It's a dual-fuel, the best of both cooking worlds, with a gas cooktop and an electric oven. It cost me $1,100.00 back then--on clearance! And that was a bargain price for its kind. This is a big deal.

Luckily, it died just after I pulled two homemade pizzas out of the doomed oven. The story of the conflagration is proof that regular old real life can be pretty interesting.

Near the end of the pizza baking, the smoke alarm started going off.
(I promise that smoke alarms have never gone off before when I've cooked. My sweet husband would vouch for me.) I thought the cornmeal that I use on my pizza peel was burning and setting it off. Then I noticed smoke exiting the oven vent, which could have fit with that theory. However, the popping sound and flash of light behind the control panel that followed most decidedly did not. I yelled something intelligent like "It is a fire!" to my husband who, while I was running around looking for a charged fire extinguisher and positioning myself Barney Fife-style to spray that sucker down, said calmly "Unplug it." His quiet response to most all trauma (usually mine) is one of the reasons I love him.

After freezing ourselves by opening all the windows to let out the yummy burnt wire smell, I started planning. You see, dinner is my main hobby. I'm foodie enough to become a culinary student after all. Being deprived of the most obvious and normal way to produce dinner is a blow to my heart and routines. Just ask my son. I'm pretty sure he's the only one of his peer group, if not his generation, whose mom insists that the family sit down to dinner together--at a table--every night. Well, every night that she's home to cook, since she started school. It's one of the cruel occupational ironies everywhere that whatever you do a lot of outside the home, whether for a living or for study, doesn't get done much at your own house. Ask the plumber's wife.

When my bright boy was informed of the vegetative state of our range, he said with mock sorrow "I guess we'll just have to eat out every night." Not so fast. One of the fortunate side effects of going to cookin' school is that eating out becomes way less appealing, especially in a small town. I can produce much better food (although I am no Top Chef contender) than one can buy for any reasonable price. Plus, have you noticed that fast food isn't cheap anymore? I was determined that we would resort to purchasing prepared psuedo-food as little as possible.

I am happy to say that I have succeeded in my aim. In the last few days, I have learned that you can make Alfredo sauce in the microwave to use up the cream in the fridge that's about to expire and the hunk of Parmigiano that's too good to waste. Said sauce makes a pretty good topping for micro-baked potatoes. Dried beans and the crock pot helped, too. With an extra bit of chorizo added and some warm leftover tortillas on the side, they made a filling supper. Eggs and bacon cook up all right in the microwave, as well. I don't know how long I can keep this going, but I won't have to find out. We begin sleeping at the farm on Monday night, where the mother-in-law has a shiny new range that works.

With our life going into storage-building limbo, one would think I could put off the care of specialists for my baby til later. There is just one little hitch. I had promised the nice people who are buying our house that we would leave the appliances for them to use temporarily, since they spent their appliance fund on repairing the garage. So I called the repairman to make good on my word. It seems that a tiny little part called a wiring harness (Now I know what that is. I pray that no one I love ever will.), the box where every single wire that runs the entire appliance comes together, was burnt but good. Just my luck, this is an unusual problem for a range to have. Mr Repairman wasn't even sure that the part was easily available. I guess it wasn't, since it's been days, and I have heard no word. I also got the impression he's none too eager to tackle the job of tracing back every single wire to make sure it's all hooked up right again. We'll see. It has been a holiday week.

This whole experience serves to reinforce my belief in silver linings. The Big Reason I went to culinary school wasn't to be a chef or own my own restaurant, although that's what everyone assumes. What I really wanted was to become so intimate a friend with foodstuffs that I could improvise. I wanted to be one of those people I read about who could assess what's in the kitcen and just make up dinner on the spot. That facility is what I have always admired about chefs, not their shiny whites or their reputation for perfection (and certainly not the long hours on their feet that the masses don't see on the Food Network, but that's another story). It seemed like magic to me, since I had always felt chained to a menu plan and a standardized recipe. Although I didn't want One More Thing to take care of right now, I now know that I can improvise with equanimity. I'm just a little more free, which is a fine state indeed.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Limbo Lessons

Here is the nature of our limbo. My husband and I have an a-rational desire to relocate to his family farm and live an allegedly simpler life. It's an undeniable call that we've spent years now dreaming about. So far, we have sold our house by near-miraculous means and come to the nervous conclusion that we must move in with his parents while we figure out how to actually live on the land we covet. I told you it was irrational: there is no water, power, septic, barn, or house on our promised land. There is only a fabulous view and beautiful quiet.

The sale of our current cottage is one of the reasons we feel now is the time to go. We all know how the housing market has been. It is not normal right now to find buyers inside of two weeks who don't even feel the need to negotiate the price and are willing to fix up the neglected garage at their own cost just to satisfy FHA. (The house was priced with the garage as is. Neither we nor the buyers cared, but FHA did.) The whole deal is way too coincidental. We believe in signs, so we go.

Here's what I forgot about departing to start anew: We have to move all our stuff! I've been through this kind of heavy realization before. When I was 26 I literally woke up one morning and knew I was ready to have a baby (Remember how life veers?). Only after I was good and pregnant did I realize how sick I was going to be and how terrified I was of labor and delivery. One wants the baby or the new life, but the gateway process is exhausting. I'm forcing myself to pack a little on each day that I can and to accept that there will be a transitional phase. I note here that I am not good with transitions and messiness.

We had a tidy life in an affordable and conveniently located cottage. It would have been so much easier to stay where we were. But there's no growth in that. Complacency and safety do not make life a finer thing, so off we go into attenuated adventure with all the lessons it will bring us. My goal is to accept and ennoble the changing process of life by writing about it, breathing with it, and letting myself love all its messy glory. The big lesson of limbo is freedom.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving at the Edge of the Map

I begin by confessing that I have only recently been sucked into the blog-reading vortex. This is remarkable because I have for years prided myself on living my own life, not being a voyeur to others' lives. I don't watch TV, which practically makes me unAmerican and causes many blank looks when I reply that I have not seen that cute commercial someone wants to tell me about. I didn't even own a computer or have internet service until I married my sweet husband who brought both with him. Now I know how it starts--a casual mention in a magazine, a brief visit, then hours spent reading the entire archives in date order, feeling a mixture of guilt and inspiration. Then I found myself saying "I could do that," to which my husband said "Yes, you should," because he's terribly supportive of his wife's still-slightly-squashed spirit. So I have sat myself down, with my belly still full of turkey and all the trimmings, and determined to begin one more new endeavor among many. I'm 42 years old. Time to get busy.

I don't know if anyone else will ever read my electronic scribblings, but exposure isn't the point (although it could be some really nice gravy). After reading the real-life adventures and explorations of other normal people, I realize anew that we are all a story. I want to tell mine to myself, at least, in the hope that I will begin to live as the heroine of my own novel and stop incessantly feeling less-than. That goal may seem a selfish pursuit, but I have learned that sometimes what we think we're doing for just ourselves is really meant to bless others as well. (Thank you Molly and Jenna, though I never commented.) We must obey the inner voice when it speaks and let God put the pieces together. I will take one more step to make my life a finer thing, which I believe is a noble and frugal effort.

The irony is that I commence this account in limbo, crashing through doubts to just do, when my first sneaky inklings were to wait to start at a new beginning and recount the building of a Whole New World. That's how life sometimes is, veering and surprising. That's how I've found myself doing some of the best things I've ever done, in fact. Instead of a neatly packaged launch, I am shoving off from where most of us live, the messy middle, toward the edge of the map where unknown territory awaits. I pray there be no dragons.

Today, on this Thanksgiving at the edge of the known, I am thankful that life and our minds can change
. That hope is why I'm beginning this chronicle.