Monday, June 29, 2009

Checking in

Whew! This moving and building business makes you busier than you think you'll be. We broke ground on the property today--actually, guys were there at 8 o'clock this morning taking down some trees in preparation for leveling the building site. (That's what the picture is about.) We were there to ceremonially watch and photograph the first lick of work to be done, then we had an appointment with the kitchen contractor to talk about some design details we had previously not thought of (this rental house has reminded me of one thing I can't deal with in a standard kitchen: deep cabinets with stationary shelves under counters that make me scrunch this tall body down to its hands and knees looking for things. For another $1000 we added some drawers and pull-out shelves. We'll save that much in back pain meds.), then we went about getting our cars registered here. Must have a state safety inspection first, and the only place that does inspections for cars from miles around requires an appointment. Each inspection takes a half hour and we could only get appointments an hour apart. So that shoots the day for everything else. We still have to go to Elizabeth City, the nearest sizeable town, to see about a cell phone for Steve. That'll have to wait until tomorrow. Etc., etc. etc. I used to say, "that's life in the big city." Now it's, "that's life in the country."

I've entered a brave new world on the internet, as well. I'm coming to you via a broadband aircard that allows me only so much space per month and then I'll have to pay extra. Suddenly concepts like kilobtyes, gigs and megas have direct application to my life and I'm watching my usage like a hawk. I have no idea how much space posting pictures will take up, nor music, nor even sitting here on the blogger site. My posts will be fewer and further between at least this week, because we are traveling Wednesday to Cincinnati to visit our friends Michele and John for the July 4 holiday. After that, I'll just have to see what's doable.

The stars here are as visible as Mother Nature intended, and we've been getting what I can only call a phantasmagorical display from lightning bugs as they congregate in the trees surrounding this property. It's the biggest mass of twinkling light I've ever seen, and it only grows more intense as the night progresses. The goats next door came to greet us the day we moved in. Know what? Up close, they smell like goat cheese!

That's why we moved here.

it's so great to feel my fingers on the keyboard again! I hope to be back soon.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The last word from this perch

I'll be shutting the computer down and putting it in a box in a few hours, one of my very last acts in this house before handing it over to its new owners. My email address will be changing when we get our new ISP in North Carolina--my current account will be disconnected on Friday the 19th. If you have any comments or last-minute counsel, please try to send them before 3 pm EST or they may be lost forever.....

At a time like this I can say nothing better than what I said in 1973, when I wrote a song upon departing Boston to begin my Peace Corps career. Maybe someday you'll hear it, but the words are what counts.

See you in North Carolina!


One more walk down the road,
One more tear, one more load.
One more page to be turned,
New lives and loves with new ways to be learned
So let's all have one more toast to the past,
One more hand for the cast.
And then I'll be gone with the break of day.
When more has played out, we'll find the way
Back to each other.
The music goes on.

I'm not perfect, I know,
Now too fast, now too slow.
But love has filled all I've done,
And I know this time I've lost much less than I've won.
I know they say, "Out of sight, out of mind,"
But I hope you know that I was never that kind.
I'll take all that comes, I'm bound to explore,
I'll fly to the moon and maybe much more,
And you'll still be with me;
The music goes on.

So bring out the bottles and empty the jars,
For I know right now wherever we are,
We'll still hear the laughter.
The music goes on.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Monday, June 15, 2009

Final Days

It really is just about over for us here on 12th Street. The party Saturday was as wonderful as we had hoped. It started as scheduled in the afternoon, and then went on until midnight as our closest neighbors moved themselves from the back yard to the front porch for one last get together in that grand spot where so many fine times have been had before. We laughed so much, reliving the legends. The prank phone calls. The shopping basket that would mysteriously show up in peoples' living rooms. Stories of the incomparable Brian, who no longer lives here and couldn't be with us but whose ears must have been burning as we remembered story after story about his shenanigans. A lot of love came our way Saturday, and far from sad, I leave this place with the knowledge that our friends will be with us no matter where we happen to live. Life will go on as it always does and we will make new friends, of course, but they will merely add to our wealth, not substitute for anyone.

Yesterday we packed the kitchen. This week, we're eating breakfast and lunch out of the fridge on picnic supplies left over from the party; we'll be eating out or carrying in for dinner.

I'll see you one last time from this perch on Wednesday.

Friday, June 12, 2009



This will be my last Food Friday for a while. After we serve what's pictured above tomorrow at our farewell party, we'll be packing our last-minutes things, including computers, and will be living mostly with pre-computer communications until we're hooked up again in North Carolina, supposedly sometime during the week of June 22, but we'll see how that goes. I hope you'll have me to kick around until next Wednesday, anyway. But on Friday we'll be on the road.

Real barbecue is not something I grew up with. I came to the joys of smoked pork in all its various forms relatively late--sometime in my 30s-- I can't really remember when I first had it. Once I did, though, there was no turning back, and while my first taste of it came via the usual "sweet" school, probably made with store-bought, sugar-based sauce (and I liked it!) there was a more determined no turning back once I learned about Eastern Carolina-style vinegar-based barbecue mops. It's now the only way I do barbecued pork in any form.

I've shied away from sharing this recipe in the past because it requires special equipment (a water smoker) and lots and lots of time. Ideally, the meat will rest in a spice rub overnight, and then it will take the better part of a day to smoke. It's definitely a special occasion treat, but it's always a hit at the occasion.

If you don't have a water smoker, you can certainly do this on a kettle grill and get almost the same results, and in less time, though the moistness provided by the water smoker won't be there (the meat itself is so tender, though, that this is not a big problem), and less cooking time means less exposure to the smoke flavor. I'd certainly do it in a pinch and not complain about the results. (I guess it even can be done on a gas grill with a smoke box but I've never tried it.)

1 pork shoulder, bone-in, 6-8 lbs.
*Spice rub

Cut crisss-cross gashes across fat cap of pork deep enough to reach the meat below the fat. Coat meat thoroughly with rub and massage it in thoroughly. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Remove plastic and bring meat to room temperature before putting it on the smoker.

Prepare smoker: soak mesquite or hickory (or your choice) chunks in water while coals heat. Completely fill charcoal pan at bottom of smoker with charcoal and light. Allow to heat until all the charcoal is tinged with gray. Add wood chunks. Place pan full of water on rack above the heat source, put meat rack in place above the water and place pork shoulder on the rack. Cover and allow meat to smoke at least 5 hours, or until a thermometer in the thickest part of the meat reads 160 degrees. Check charcoal level every three hours or so and add more as needed, and add wood chunks as they burn away. Open the smoker as seldom as possible in order to preserve heat and not further prolong cooking time.

When meat is done, remove it from smoker to a large bowl and mop with sauce. Allow meat to cool enough so you can work with it, then pull the meat off the bone and either tear it into chunks with the grain, or (easier) cut it into chunks. Lightly chop the meat in a food processor so that some bite-size chunks remain, put in a large bowl, and pour mop to taste over. Taste for salt. Reheat, either in the microwave (my preferred method) or in a sheet pan, covered with foil to prevent drying, in a 350-degree oven for 30 mintues.

Serve on hamburger buns with your favorite coleslaw, either on the side or as a topping.

*Spice rub:
1/2 cup chili powder
1/4 cup brown sugar (light or dark, whatever you have)
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 heavy teaspoon black pepper

Shake well to combine, stores indefinitely in a cool dry place

1 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/4 cup chili powder
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons paprika
a few drops tabasco (optional)

Shake to combine, store indefinitely in refrigerator.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A good excuse: preparing for some changes

One thing led to another on the computer this morning, one of the very few I will have left for a while to sit here and let the ether muse drag me hither and yon to places unknown. First I opened Itunes. For the umpteenth time, "Genius" started to gather information about my library so it could make recommendations on music I don't have but would probably like. Unlike all other times, when I stopped the process in revolt against Big Brother Apple examining my stuff for marketing purposes, I let it go this time.

Lo and behold, it came up with stuff of which I'm ashamed to admit I was completely ignorant. (Or maybe had mentally filed away for future reference so effectively that I had forgotten about it.) I sampled the music and loved it, of course, and wanted to buy it.

Then began the rationalizing process for spending the money. It didn't take long to come up with a good excuse. These are the last few days I will be able to enjoy internet speeds measured in the "megas" instead of the "kilos." In the remote corner of North Carolina that will soon be our home, internet and TV cabling have not been priorities for counties with villages teens of miles from each other. Our houses, both the rental and the one about to be built, will be festooned with at least two satellite dishes, one for TV and another for internet service. Neighbors in Deep Creek Shores, our little development at the end of a 12-mile road, tell us that TV reception is great, includes HD and a DVR box and everything, just like we have here with love/hate Comcast. But internet will we much slower than what we have become accustomed to, and my hours spent in front of the computer may be filled with just downloading rather than enjoying the fruits of it. And just for internet, not counting TV or phone, we will be paying $70 a month for the privilege! Who said things were cheaper in the sticks? To communicate with the outside world, we will be paying substantially more for less service. Mais c'est la vie. That's apparently what we've signed up for. We'll make up for it with lower taxes. (We hope!)

So I bought two albums. I'll be sharing the fruits those purchases today and tomorrow.

Monday, June 8, 2009


It's 9 AM and already the house, all the windows open, is filled with the aroma of smoking meat. This pork shoulder will smoke until 1 or 2 this afternoon. Then I'll shred the meat off the bone, mix it with a vinegar sauce, and freeze it in preparation for the feast this coming Saturday, when our friends will come for one last reunion at this house. If the weather holds and everyone comes who says they will, we're expecting 60+. It will be a wonderful memory to savor as we begin the final countdown next week.

The recent days leading up to this time have been just about idyllic. Yes, the house is topsy-turvy and full of boxes, but the major packing is done and we are free to contemplate last-minute arrangements without panic. The weather has been good, for a change, and not as hot as one might expect for this stage of the DC springtime, so we've spent a few hours on the deck just enjoying the breeze and watching the birds. This much relaxation is almost unheard of for Steve--I was afraid he'd have forgotten how to use it. But it all comes back, just like the proverbial bicycle.

This week includes but little cooking for me, as we will be visiting friends for dinner twice and we'll go out to eat at least once. Next week I'll pack the kitchen and won't cook at all. Hope I don't forget how! (Oh yeah. That bicycle.)

Friday, June 5, 2009



These days I'm emptying the freezer of soups and sauces that have been patiently awaiting use these many months. I ran across a container marked "gumbo" a while back and saved it for a special night when we were hungry for something that was special, but wouldn't take forever to cook. I knew I only needed to add some shrimp, andouille sausage and okra, so I pulled it out and defrosted it for dinner yesterday. Imagine my surprise when what I finally poured out of the plastic freezer container was pumpkin pie filling! (Well, they look alike when they're viewed in a rock solid state through Tupperware!) It was approaching 5 in the afternoon, but I braved rush hour traffic to pick up the rest of the makings. I had all those shrimp, after all. Luckily, gumbo doesn't take long to cook. And it was delicious.

What gives gumbo its distinctive flavor is its thickening base, the roux, which can be a bit scary upon contemplation, since it involves slightly burning the flour, but with a bit of care and common sense this step is not complicated. This recipe is an intuitive amalgam of my own based on watching an old New Orleans friend make it and backed up by what's found in many cookbooks.

1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 medium green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
2 medium ribs celery, coarsley chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped fine
2 bay leaves
2 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 lb. okra, trimmed and sliced
1 14-oz. can diced tomatoes with their juice
1 lb. smoked andouille sausage, sliced into chunks
1 lb. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

Cooked rice

Pour oil into large saucepan and whisk in flour to incorporate completely. Over medium high heat, stir flour and oil until flour begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until flour is nut-brown, almost cocoa-like, in appearance and has a warm, nutty aroma. Remove from heat.

Add bell pepper, onion, celery, garlic bay leaves, oregano and pepper flakes to roux and return to heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until all is well coated and vegetables slightly softenend, 5-7 minutes.

Add sliced okra, stir to combine, add andouille and tomatoes, stir to combine, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, cover, and cook about 20 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in shrimp, and allow shrimp to cook in residual heat for about 5 minutes. Adjust salt and pepper. Serve immediately over rice.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Boxes boxes and more boxes...

...and still more to come! We decided there was no more room in the garage to store the boxes we brought from my sister's house yesterday, so they're all in the living room now. And as we continue to pack, more will be added. We're hip-deep in boxes at the moment, and soon it'll be neck-deep. As you can see from the picture, actual life continues amidst the chaos, so we leave oases for it. Ivy kitty, relaxing so peacefully on the easy chair, has no clue what's about to hit him.....

Project for the day: defrost the stand-up freezer in the basement and get it ready to move. It ensues as I type.

I was up to watch our President's speech in Cairo. I am proud to be an American.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Coasting, and on a roll

We continue to bask in relative relaxation these days as the countdown to moving day continues. Today we will work a little bit. We're renting a truck to retrieve the roomful of boxes we took to my sister's house a couple of months ago so they can be here for the truck. A little exercise. That's a good thing.

A couple of other good things have also happened for a change. We had a meeting with Steve's financial advisor yesterday and learned that Steve's retirement account is actually in better shape than we thought it was, meaning a higher combined monthly income. Every penny helps! And the really big news: a bi-partisan committee in Congress is set to vote next month on a bill that would, among other things, allow domestic partners of federal retirees (that would be Steve) access to those retirees' health benefits (those would be mine), and it is expected to pass! That is just about the best news we've had in nearly 30 years.

And so timely, with Steve's work insurance ending this month. It's as if my exhortations to America to start treating us like humans are finally being heard. Well, mine and thousands of others.


Monday, June 1, 2009

We've earned it

Friday was the last day there will be for a while dominated by labor related to the move. After I finished here, I spent the next several hours moving all those boxes from the dining room (there were more on the other side of the room) and the basement out to the garage, (pictured above) which will be the final staging area for them until the truck comes to take them (and the rest of our earthly possessions) away. We still have a pickup's worth of boxes stored in a room at my sister's house, which we will get this week and, believe it or not, stuff into the scene you see up there. (It can be done!)

Yesterday we did the last bit of boxing up of things that we know we won't be using for the next three weeks. All that's left now is last-minute kitchen stuff and the lamps. So we find ourselves with a little time to kick back and plan some actual fun.

We spent a good portion of Saturday with the woman buying our house and her partner. We always imagined that if we ever sold this place, it would have to come with its own user's manual; we invited them here to start that process with a little walk-around tutorial on how things work, everything from the various gardens to the sprinkler system to the water filter. We had a wonderful time with them and will probably see them again once more before closing on the 19th. They kept swearing they will keep doing things exactly as we've done them, right down to the color of the petunias in the garden out front. All we could do was laugh. We know they'll take possession of the house and make it their least we hope! A museum, meant to be kept as it is now, it most definitely is not.

We're having a very big farewell party on the 13th of June, which will be so crowded and busy there will be very little chance for any quality time with our favorite people. With that in mind, we're planning a very small dinner the week before just with them so we can savor each others' company once again--and I can start emptying the freezer! The soup and dessert have been waiting to be used for months. Now's their chance.

Steve's in his long-anticipated decompress mode, the worst of the time-sensitive work behind him, and his physical office closed down. He'll do light work from home for another two weeks, and then he's officially free. It's nice to have him back.