Easter

easter 2017

Easter use to be a religious holiday.  When I was growing up, we went to church every Sunday morning and evening.  Easter was a time of special significance.  Now we can no long call them Easter Egg Hunts.  They are now just Egg Hunts that happen prior to the day of the lunar month that holds Passover.  Passover is on the full moon and Easter is the first Sunday after the full moon.  Easter egg hunts now happen on the Saturday before Easter.

With the secularization of religious Christian holidays, society has brought about many changes.  Santa is now the symbol of Christmas as are the bunny and eggs of Easter.

When I was growing up everyone would dress in their finest for Easter Sunday.  Some folks only attended church for this day.  I guess they felt this was the most important Christian holiday.  It is the only one that falls consistently on a Sunday, thus it is easy to attend church on the holiday.

In the town where I grew up, Spring break coincided with the week before Easter.  Because some students needed time off for Passover and some for Good Friday, it was just easier to make the break the week before Easter.

Having learned to sew at a young age, Spring break always included making some new clothes, back then, dresses, as we seldom wore pants in public.  I always took the opportunity to make a new Easter dress for Sunday.  This ensemble almost always included a hat, the Easter Bonnet.  No one wears hats as a decorative accessory these days.  Hats are functional, the keep the head warm or hide the loss of hair, not decorative.

I loved hats and made a few of those as well.  When I was in college, it was still common for women to wear hats to church and special events.  I made one which was especially my favorite.  It consisted of a pheasant feather skullcap-like hat with three long tail feathers raked to the right side and back.  It featured a black tight-fitting veil that came down to my nose with black dots woven into the quarter inch holes in the netting.  It was gorgeous and I wore it until the feathers were too tattered to continue.  The long, tail feathers were replaced several times before the hat’s demise.

Easter morning always included an elaborate breakfast.  My mother liked to make eggs goldenrod.  This consisted of a base of toast on which was poured a white sauce made with the addition of chopped hardboiled egg whites.  Over this you would place egg yolk which had been forced through a sieve creating a fine powder of egg yolk over the entire dish.  It was good and we had it with fruit.  I almost made it this morning (Easter morning) just for old time’s sake, but the idea of the white sauce with boiled egg whites just seemed to blah.  I opted for a Pecan/Coconut Coffeecake, which is my husband’s favorite, and scrambled eggs with green onion.

Easter now is a turning point in the seasons here in Western Washington State.  It is about the time to clear out the greenhouse and start the seeds for plants which will be set out in the middle of May.  I plant late.  The plants do better than ones started early which languish in the cold soil and produce produce* the same time as mine. This Easter is intermittent sunshine and clouds and it is fifty-one degrees.  If we still had bees, they would take their purging flight today.

I sent my husband to the grocery to purchase lettuce for dinner and discovered that the price was $5 a head.  Horrible and probably caused by the fact that California has had so much rain.  It beats the lettuce into the mud and makes it inedible.  We will start the hydroponic lettuce bed today in the greenhouse and in a few weeks have $500 worth of lettuce.  I WISH! We will have the lettuce, but the price will have probably fallen at the grocery by that time.

This morning on my way to the woodshed to get wood for the stove, the cacophony of birds really told me of the joy of Spring and Easter.  It is hard for me to take the religion out of this holiday. Though I did not attend church this morning, the woods behind my house are a sanctuary for me and for the birds that sang so wonderfully this morning.  Though I didn’t make a new dress for the holiday, I do try to make life new with the renewal of spring chores.  Soon I won’t need the firewood to warm the house; soon the birds will have lots of little ones; soon the plum and apple and pear trees will burst into full blossom.

Ah Easter, a wonderful time of renewal.

 

 

*Chinese students of mine, here is a good one.  Notice the difference in pronunciation but not spelling.  Also a difference in meaning.

 

 

An Inspired Breakfast?

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An Inspired Breakfast?

Sometimes you get inspired to do something silly like make an extravagant breakfast.  This happened this morning.  I had purchased a bag of nice, sweet red peppers.  I had a can of homemade marinara in the refrigerator.  The pullets have started laying eggs, so I could be generous with eggs.  Why not make something special, although it was the middle of the week and not Sunday brunch.

I started by chopping the top off of the red pepper and microwaving it until it started to get soft.  I had supported this in a custard cup as I was afraid the whole thing would fall apart before it reached the table.  I think, when it was all completed, that it probably would have supported itself.

Next I put some sharp cheese in the bottom of the pepper.  I partially cooked some of our homemade pork sausage, about a tablespoon per pepper.  Next crack in a fresh egg.  This was topped with more cheese and homemade marinara.  Just a sprinkle of parmesan cheese and popped did continue to cook while it sat.

I put it into the 400 degree oven.  My husband likes his eggs medium and I like mine will done, so I put them in for differing lengths of time.  I was unsure, but his took about fifteen minutes and mine a few minutes more. Let it sit (rest) for a minute or two before serving as the container was so hot.

I served them in the custard cup, but he eventually lifted his out so it was easier to eat.  He suggested that next time I make a boat out of the pepper by cutting it lengthwise and then preparing as above, placing it in a gratin dish instead of the custard cup.  I will try that next time.

I did It was a yummy breakfast served with homemade onion rye bread and fresh oranges.  Elegant!

 

Chicken Noodle Soup for what Ails You!

IMG_3637The crud seems to be traveling around the U. S. this winter and both my husband and I have managed to come down with it last week.  Now we are doing better, but I asked him what he wanted for lunch and he replied, “Chicken Noodle Soup!”  I thought about it for a few minutes and decided I would make chicken won ton soup.

I had frozen won ton wrappers in the freezer and I used one chicken breast, a little Shaoxing rice wine, grated ginger, green onion, garlic, sesame oil, water chestnuts and a weed from our yard called upland cress. Wrapped that in the wrappers and put it all in a little chicken broth and we had chicken noodle soup.

Here are the photos.  Enjoy.IMG_3630IMG_3629IMG_3635

The New Polar North

img_3553I have an idea about global warming.  We are not seeing it so much here in the Puget Sound Basin.  We are having snow this morning, for the third time in a week.  It doesn’t stay long, but it is pretty, but it is also pretty cold.

This winter has been much colder than ones in recent times with temperatures in November/December in the 20s and the remaining since in the 30s with a high in the low 40s.  Usually it is around the mid 40s most of the winter, with rain.  We will have an occasional false spring where it might get up to 60 in January for a day.  We did have one day this January with a Chinook wind that was 58 degrees, but generally, this has been a cold winter.

I have decided that global warming isn’t really global warming, just warming in unusual areas, leaving those of us here in a general cooling spell.  My philosophy is that the poles have shifted and the Arctic and Antarctic are moving toward the area we would consider the equator and the Puget Sound Basin will become the new North Pole! Yes, I know that axis of the earth does shift and very gradually.  But it is beginning to feel like the polar north around here.

This winter we have had more days when it snowed than I can remember since I was a child, back in the dark ages.  But we also had snow for Halloween and Thanksgiving then.  We even had snow on April Fool’s day once.  The lowest temperature we have recorded here at our house was in 1978 at minus 10 degrees.  The pipes froze.  Luckily (?) this winter the lowest was 19 above.  Needless to say the fuchsias in the greenhouse won’t make it this year.

We live in a cabin in the woods, so the temperatures are tempered somewhat around us, cooler in summer and warmer in winter.  This morning it is three degrees warmer here in the woods than out in the open spaces.  We have natural air conditioning, keeping the house at least ten degrees cooler than the open spaces in the summer time.  It is great.

With a cooler winter this year, we are burning a lot more firewood to keep warm.  The woodstove is the primary heat in our house and I have to split and stack it every year.  Fortunately, this year we ordered extra and we still have reserves as we often need to heat until June.

When we had that Chinook day in January, a friend of mine was thinking of going out to plant her potatoes.  Washington’s Birthday is the traditional day to plant pod peas here.  If either of these activities happened, they are not going to make it.  Frozen potato sets do not produce potatoes. I am still looking at the seed catalogues, not having ordered at my usual time in January.  I need to get on my horse and get it done or they won’t be here if we have an early spring (please!).  I usually plant everything in May.  The plants are healthier and the peas come on the same time as those planted in February.

Well, so much for the morning snow gripe.  I am looking forward to a day indoors, painting a painting of an old truck that is in progress.  Hopefully I will have it finished by the end of the day.  Hope your day is one in which you can do something that you love too.

Culture and idiomatic English

This is a piece that I wrote for my memoir and I am sharing it with you today, timely as the Chinese Lunar New Year is just past.  It is sort of long and somewhat humorous.  I taught in Beijing in 2001 and 2002.  I am currently working on writing a book about the experiences.

 

Many of the students in China who wanted to perfect their conversations skills in various languages went to a place called English Corner, or French Corner, etc.  This was a street corner where, on certain days, all sorts of people met to speak the language of their choice.

My husband attended a couple of these and since he was a native English speaker, he became the focus of these sessions.  No longer were the attendees speaking in conversation to one another, but all were vying for Bob’s attention in order to practice with a real English speaking person. It was tedious and very tiring.

What could we do with our students that would help them improve their English speaking skills?  I used several methods, including debate, tour guides, plays, but the most popular by far was the soap opera.  I have to explain that in Beijing, soap operas are very popular, taking up a good percentage of broadcast time on many of the local television stations.  They are maudlin, with a good deal of intrigue to carry your interest to the next episode.

I used the soap opera was used in my classes for both semesters.  These performances were at the beginning of each class session; especially the ones after lunch, as it excited them and brought them fully awake from their postprandial stupor. I had noticed students in other classrooms sleeping after lunch.

When arriving in class, five students were told they were the stars for the day.  These five would go out in the hall to prepare for their performance.  They had ten minutes to work on their episode. Sometimes I would give a topic and sometimes I would allow them to carry on in their own way continuing the story from the day before.

I wish I had recorded these scenes as they continued to unfold over the term.  It was interesting to see what they would use for their own ideas, but also fun to see what they would do with the ones I presented them. Many had preconceived ideas of “the American Way” and it was interesting to see these ideas in play form.

One class originally started with a Chinese family that lived in the United States.  When I asked them to describe this family, they told me that they lived in a big house, had a red convertible.  This comes from watching too many American movies.  “Well what kind of family do they have?” I asked.  “Oh, Miss Deon, they will have twelve children,” they replied. My response to this was how do we fit them in the little red convertible when it is time to take them to the movies or school?  They hadn’t thought this through.  So in one episode, we went on to find an appropriate vehicle for this family, shopping for a vehicle for a large family.  (The large family is the Chinese couples dream as they have been so limited to one child for so long.)

After we had fashioned the U.S. family, we created a Chinese couple with a child who were coming to the U.S. to visit our newly created family. One episode included piling into the new fifteen passenger van the family had purchased (financing was never figured out) to meet the Chinese family at the airport.

We had engagement of oldest daughter, guys night at the bar watching football (read soccer), one child who wasn’t doing well enough at school, a neighbor whose daughter was pregnant out of wedlock, sightseeing to Yellowstone Park, Grandmother who gambled too much at mahjong, and many more.

After a while they became very talented in creating scenarios for these vignettes.  They were so comfortable doing this that I decided to occasionally throw in a monkey wrench to scenes.  During the one were the guys were in the bar watching football, I had arranged for one of the women in the class to enter the play and go up to her “husband” and say “Where have you been?  It is our anniversary and you promised to take me to dinner and here I find you playing with your friends at the tavern!”  You should have seen the actor’s faces.  They were mortified. The students in the audience already knew this was going to happen as I had arranged it while the actors were in the hallway working on the plot.  We all laughed hysterically.  If course, the carefully arranged plot needed to be modified and the rest of their play changed to an impromptu, extemporaneous skit.  They really had to think on their feet to finish their ten minutes of fame on stage.  I must say they managed to pull it off well.

Toward the end of the term, one group of actors, who now knew that I might throw in something anytime, arrange for a surprise of their own.  The pulled me into their plot from the audience.  I’m not sure they got the responses they wanted, because I made it more difficult for them to hold to the plot by playing around with their addition of me to the game.

Needless to say, this whole exercise really pushed them to learn casual conversation.  After the skit was over, we would talk about the cultural inaccuracies they had portrayed, like fitting fourteen people into a red convertible.  Since I was teaching Western Culture as well as idiomatic conversation, it was a learning curve all around.

My husband’s class decided to put on a play.  They chose, of all things, Snow White. Well, this seemed pretty straightforward and probably not too difficult.  They would practice their parts in class as well as in their dorms.  However, in China, all the important parts should be played by men.  Snow White is an important part; therefore, it should be played by a man.  Chinese men normally do not have much facial hair, if any, but the gentleman chosen to play Miss White had a full beard.

Well, if a man could play the main woman then women could play the men.  The whole play was done with cross dressing! All the dwarves were women dressed as men.  The wicked queen was a man, the prince (another important part) was the only part played without cross dressing.

So here is Snow White in a dress he borrowed from one of his classmates.  He is wearing Bermuda shorts underneath, thankfully, as he sits with his legs splayed in front of his audience,  the dress being hiked up to a level as to be too revealing. Well the whole play was a riot.  Though they practiced a great deal, the glitches, such as the queen tripping over the hem of his gown, and the dwarves singing “hi ho, hi ho” off-key, it was wonderful.  They invited all my students to come for the audience as his students all had parts and they needed an audience.

My students chose an abbreviated version of The Merchant of Venice, so abbreviated that it was a little hard to follow and the audience, Bob’s students, got a little bored with the whole thing. They had a good time doing it and developed elaborate costuming from their limited wardrobes, but they did get a chance to practice their English Conversation.

Needless to say, this was just a couple of more examples of my quirky way of teaching conversational English and Western Culture.

 

What do you eat?

What do you eat?

What kinds of food do you eat?  I was thinking about making dinner tonight and what I should make.  When I was thinking about that, I realized that the scenarios I went through were all “foreign” foods.  But really, what is American food?  Isn’t most of the foods we eat these days an amalgamation of many countries?

When I was in junior high, I was tutored for a whole summer in Hong Kong Chinese cooking.  When I lived in China in 2001 and 2002, I learned northern Chinese cooking and Szechuan and Hunan styles as well.  Hong Kong is more Cantonese or Southern and the dishes are sweeter.  Most of the early Chinese restaurants in the U.S. served southern style.  I also learned to make Dim Sum.

When I was in Mexico, I prepared Mexican dishes almost exclusively.  I have taught myself many other cuisines as well, French, German, Swedish and more.

I used to teach Greek cooking classes and prepared such things as domas (stuffed grape leaves), baklava (phyllo dough filled with nuts and honey), spanakopita (phyllo filled with spinach and feta cheese).  Later I taught Mexican, Italian, and foods from India.

When I think about what to eat, I usually think of something from another country.  Maybe it is because I am getting old and I crave strong, flavorful food.  Somehow a plain hamburger just doesn’t meet that need.  Cajun food does with its hot and spicy flavors, but it is really a combination of many cultures including French, African and American.  Their cornbread is not original to the U.S.  I ate corncakes for breakfast in China and they have been serving it since long before America existed as we know it today.  Cornbread (corncakes) is a staple in many countries around the world.

So what’s for dinner?  Chili Verde (pork in green chili sauce) with rice and black beans with fresh tortillas.  It is really cold, so this dish should warm our hearts and our taste buds. Since it takes a little while to cook, it will help warm the house too.  Sounds perfect for a twenty-five degree day.  Even better with eggs for breakfast burritos tomorrow morning.

Enjoying the Harvest

img_3498Being an avid vegetable gardener, I was very interested in a program that the local school district is doing to help children learn about food production and preparation.  It looks like it was a great success.  Go to  https://whidbeyschoolgardens.wordpress.com/ to see the results.

We did have a wonderful year for the vegetables.  We have been giving lots to the local foodbank and friends. The tomatoes were especially productive and we have definitely eaten our fill.  We also have several dozen bottles of various tomato products sitting in the root cellar shelves.  The Brussels Sprouts are just ready now as we have just had our first frost (a very late one this year) and now they will be sweeter to eat.  The leeks are wonderful too.  We will have those fresh all winter.

The gold nugget squashes are sitting safe from mice and rats and we can eat those for the entire winter.  They will probably be gone by spring and we must have had about fifty of them.  Gave quite a few away too.  We like these in particular as they are just the right size for two people.  Though I like baked squash, hubbards and their kind are just too big.  I have tried baking them and putting them in the freezer, but it is just too much, so we have settled on the gold nugget.  They are sweet, very yellow and are also suitable for making pies.  I cut them in half and fill with sausage or sausage and cornbread dressing, or just with butter and brown sugar. Yum.

Well the dark days of winter are here and some days I am not sure the sun has even come up.  Today we will have sunrise at 7:48 a.m. and sunset at 4:15 p.m.  Not a very long day, especially when you almost need flashlights during the day.  All the lights are on in the house just to help us stay awake.

I am on my way out to chop firewood again.  With this cold snowy weather, we have burned quite a bit of wood to keep warm.  Now it is time to warm myself working outdoors splitting it.  It is something I have written about previously in this blog and something I do enjoy.

Happy Holidays and keep warm!