Cooking With Aching Muscles

I’ve been working hard to give one of the bedrooms in our house a makeover. The house is nearly a hundred and fifty years old, and nothing is truly level or plumb or straight. You can’t just nail in a panel or board, everything has to be custom fitted. Makes a lot more work. It also guarantees muscles that ache at the end of the day. Don’t get me wrong, I love the fact that it’s an old house, even though it means work. I find it fascinating to see what materials were used. They made-do with whatever they had. Makes me wonder what they had to eat at the end of the day. Without a nearby grocery, I assume they made do with whatever they had on hand, but even then, no microwave or quick solution to the question of what to eat? Open a can of beans? Only if they had canned food. Thaw something from the freezer? Only in the winter, I suppose, and only after a good fire was blazing. I’ll bet pancakes and a few slices of bacon came into play on occasion.  An omelet might do well. In my case, I’ve been fortunate to have a meal cooked by Lesley, but I still think about those on their own at the end of a long, hard day, even my series protagonist, Bobby Navarro. He likes to cook, but a long day on a motorcycle can produce it’s own set of tired, aching muscles. I think soup, fortified with beef jerky would be a good bet for Bobby. Now, what about others? What works for a writer who has written past a reasonable hour and forgot to take anything out of the freezer?

Pickling

I’ve been learning how to pickle vegetables recently. Turns out, it’s fun and it’s as easy as they say. I’m especially liking pickled red onions. I’ve long enjoyed oil and vinegar salad dressings, but except for noting such variations as using balsamic versus red wine vinegars, and discovering how delightful rice wine vinegar can be, I haven’t given vinegars much thought. Pickling an extra red onion, like using leftovers to make soups or salads, turns out to be a great way to get more out of the food supply. I like to use a heavy, dark honey for the sweet element of the pickling liquid. It gives the pickled veggies a great depth of flavor.

Somehow, making pickled vegetables puts me in touch with ageless food practices that were everyday routines on self-sufficient and pioneer farms. It’s even better than watching how off-the-grid Alaskans and Appalachian people approach life on TV. I like the idea of self-sufficiency. In a simple way, it puts things in perspective. I think that is part of what I love about cooking.

My mother taught me some basics of cooking when I was growing up, and I’ve loved cooking all my life. Bobby Navarro, the protagonist in the mystery series I’m writing started cooking when he was a kid in a dysfunctional family as a means of picking up the pieces his parents weren’t handling well. In the first book of the series, Murder on Route 66, Bobby learns to handle sourdough cooking on a cattle ranch in New Mexico. He takes the skill with him, along with sourdough starter. Obviously, he gets something out of  it. I enjoy it when a protagonist in a good book likes to cook. It’s not something you find all the time, but for me, it connects the story with a sense of reality.

Salad with pickled red onions and pickled cabbage

Salad with pickled red onions and pickled cabbage

Old friends bring new writing insights

I recently came into contact with some friends I hung out with in high school, but haven’t stayed in touch with since then. It’s been great. An unexpected and exciting adventure. To me, as a writer, it’s fascinating to learn what the other three have done all these years. I still remember them as they looked and were back then, so it’s like seeing our life stories play out with all the surprises revealed that we never dreamed might happen back then. I could never have predicted much of what my life has been like, let alone the others.

And, this morning I read a great piece in the paper written by a young woman about how people have asked her what she wants to be when she grows up or what she wants to major in when she gets to college. Like many of us at that age, she just wishes she knew the answers. Well, my friends and I didn’t have the answers then either, but our lives have played out pretty well anyway. I think the important ingredient was the underlying values and strengthening experiences we acquired without even realizing it. Those were the essential determinants in the stories that have played out as they have, even though they were only vague shadows in the backgrounds of our consciousness at the time.

Again, as a writer, I find it fascinating to reconcile those vague shadows with the lives that evolved. I also think the characters in the books I love best are presented to us readers with those shadow indications of what underlies our heroes personalities, and makes them real and interesting. Also, capturing those shadows in our own writing is an essential challenge to us writers.

Looking ahead

The weather continues to warm up here in Florida, families are visiting from the North, and winter visitors (snowbirds) are packing up and leaving the neighborhood. For myself, I find I’m giving more and more thoughts to the projects awaiting me once we make the semi-annual trek to upstate New York, as I mentioned in my last post. I’m also giving attention to getting as well-organized as I can so I can get everything done, especially the writing I have in mind. I’m used to thinking of Fall as a busy time of seasonal transition, getting wood cut and stacked, lining up snow tires, etc., and Spring as a (sometimes dreaded) time of house cleaning, but I guess any seasonal change offers an opportunity to get your stuff together and position yourself to do well in the anticipated months ahead of you. Why doesn’t that work out better in real time?

As far as my writing is concerned, I’m thinking of adding some Okeechobee time for my protagonist in my next novel. I had decided to set it in the Florida Keys, but have received encouragement to include this area, Okeechobee, as well. Now, I have to figure out how much. With some improvements in weather and opportunity, I’ve gotten out on my own motorcycle more lately and keep feeling some of the things that would resonate with Bobby Navarro—openness of the landscape, fewer people, abundant wildlife. These are things that Bobby found so important to his being in the Southwest in both Murder on Route 66 and my latest publication, Murder on the Mother Road. It’s funny how you learn about your character as you write. Meanwhile, I still want to enjoy what we have happening here in rural Florida.

Enjoying Rural Florida

Enjoying Rural Florida

 

Labor Day Parades

 

Yesterday morning, about a dozen farm tractors, some new, most vintage, drove past our home in upstate New York. I thought they might be gathering for a parade, but it didn’t turn out that way. I tried to get photos as they drove by, but I was too slow. So, no photos. . ..

Linn, an old tractor no longer manufactured, was built here, and was used not only on farms, but in the logging industry in the Adirondacks. The people who built the Linn helped lift the area out of the horse and buggy era, and that’s what Labor Day celebrates. Linn tractors were impressive machines, with a combination of wheels in the front and tracks for the rear.

I think parades are one of the things that typify village life. They are likely to include a high school band or two, maybe an honor guard of American Legionnaires carrying the national flag, and possibly a few floats as well. Of course, there will be a line of fire trucks, and participants will toss candy to the kids lining the sidewalks.

In a small city in Connecticut, a bunch of people decided to do their own parade when the official one was cancelled. They got out on bicycles, and carried boom boxes (portable radio/tape players) on their shoulders. It went over so well, it became an annual tradition. For our village, I think a string of farm tractors is ideal.

Would my series protagonist, Bobby Navarro, be likely to participate in a parade? I doubt it. I don’t think I’ve ever read a murder mystery in which the protagonist takes part in a parade. But, maybe if there were fifty other Harley riders in it, he might. What do you think?

Bobby Navarro is on the road again

It’s springtime in Florida. I can tell. It’s warming up, people are flooding the airports trying to get here, and daylight savings is back. But, I can also tell by those mysterious inner workings that start me thinking more heavily about the projects I have planned when we get back to our northern cottage in upstate New York and all the things I want to do and enjoy before we leave here. High on the to-do list, both here and back North, is writing. I want to complete the manuscript for the third novel in my series featuring Bobby Navarro. That’s right, number two in the series, Murder on the Mother Road, at long last is completed and available through Amazon. The story is set in Arizona this time. Bobby discovers a body in the trunk of a parked car, meets an eccentric who claims to know who the killer is, decides to join a Bible study group at the Holiness Pentecostal Church of the Brethren, run by ex-motorcycle gang members, in order to chase down suspects and suspicions so he can help a police officer he had a crush on in high school determine whether the story told to Bobby is true. In other words, Bobby Navarro never tires of taking his motorcycle out on the highway, and never fails to run into a few problems and adventures when he does.

Outdoor living

Today was predicted to be steady rain, heavy at times. We’ve had rain in the forecast quite a bit lately, but the days have turned out to be absolutely beautiful. This has meant dropping any competing plans wherever possible and working in the yard. Spring yard work is usually a narrow window of opportunity. Naturally, when it wasn’t raining when I got up this morning, I decided to see how much I could get done before it started.

It started raining almost as soon as I got outside, so naturally I told myself I’d work until it started raining hard. In the meantime, I was laying weed prevention cloth in the flower beds and covering the area with mulch. That meant I repeatedly decided I’d just finish the section of cloth I had laid, or work until I’d dumped the rest if the bag of mulch I’d just opened. As you can guess, I was pretty wet by the time I went inside for a late breakfast.

Actually, being out in the rain can be great if you’re dressed for it. I’ve many memories of hiking in the rain because I wanted the exercise and fresh air. I suppose that would explain why I spent so much time after breakfast this morning looking out the windows. Spring rains, they can be beautiful.

When I think of loving the outdoors, I usually think of hiking, biking, canoeing, skiing, sailing, and so on. It occurred to me that working in the yard, or on the outside of the house, can be compelling as well. It usually beats taking up the long list of indoor projects I have piled up and waiting. Even when it’s raining. Besides, the sourdough pancakes I made for breakfast tasted extra good for having done the work in the yard.

 

 

 

 

A Plan for Healthy Eating

Last posting I talked about the snowbirds leaving the south and looking ahead to our garden and all the good eats it will provide. Well, this post is from out cottage in upstate New York. We just accomplished our semi-annual migration ourselves, at least the trip north. We are still in the throes of unpacking and settling in. One of the things our moves spur us to take a look at is all the stuff we really shouldn’t be carrying back and forth. We also take a look at things we haven’t used and probably can get rid of. But that’s not all. Like New Years, our semi-annual trek encourages us to give consideration to what we are eating. You see, we tend to work hard,  exercise less, and eat things we shouldn’t because of end-of-season get-togethers, a need to boost our energy, and because eating on the road is hardly diet-friendly. Invariably, the change of season move results in a weight gain–followed by a renewed resolve to eat a healthier diet. So this is it, the semi-annual resolve.

Actually, I enjoy most of the process. New beginnings can be fun. The splurges leading up to a need for a new beginning can be fun as well, although I keep telling myself the better answer is learning how to better limit those splurges. Forever an optimist, I even enjoy the thought I might succeed in this endeavor, after all, I think I am learning how to eat healthier and enjoy it.

I’ve tried an assortment of diets, most of which pointed out that the plan was to change the way we eat, not just lose a few pounds. They generally worked to lose some weight, but did not become a life-style change. I love good bread. Why not? I’m a sourdough aficionado. I love pasta. I love baking.  I love eating. I love the foods I associate with cold weather, wood stoves and campfires. So adopting a diet plan that substitutes artificial flavors for real food hasn’t worked, no matter what the form. That leaves limiting caloric intake, which has been a problem too. Did I say I love eating?

On the other hand, all has not been for nothing. I’ve made little gains, no pun  intended. I manage to keep some of the weight off. I have also made some changes in what I actually enjoy eating, and what I can cut way down. Bread, good bread, is something I won’t give up at this point. I have discovered I don’t need to eat nearly as much of it as I assumed was essential. For example, I used to think two pieces of toast with breakfast was a minimum. Now, I realize I don’t need toast at all a good part of the time. I’ve discovered that savory, old fashioned oatmeal is a delicious compliment to a breakfast egg. That’s right–an egg. An extra large egg, but just one nevertheless. Savory oatmeal is also an excellent alternative to rice or potatoes as well. In a future post, I’ll share my recipe for cooking and flavoring it. I’ve also learned I don’t need as much meat as I used to think I did. This even helps eat a little healthier on the road. A SMALL steak and a big salad is terrific after a long day of driving. Of course, it helps when you love oil and vinegar as a salad dressing.

So, my spring resolve is to exercise more, eat a little less, and eat better without giving up my love of good food. I’m almost eager to begin. Oh, did I mention. . .? The biggest contributor to my seasonal weight gain may have something to do with enjoying a good martini before dinner and wine with. Oh well, nothing ventured, nothing gained–or, in this case, nothing ventured, too much gained.

Spring is the time to….

In Florida, you know spring is here because all the snowbirds pack up and leave for the north. It always seems that we have left too early when we get close to our northern home and find the trees still bare, the hillsides wet and brown, and the skies overcast. We’ve seen it snow three inches in the middle of May, though, so picking the time to return north becomes more a matter of appointments and commitments than weather.

Once back however, attention turns to all the work to be done, the flowers that have pushed through the snow, muck, mud, or whatever to make their annual appearance, and the condition of the raised beds that will produce the summer’s yield of vegetables. This has truly been a joy. We’ve become thoroughly spoiled on fresh-picked lettuce, squash, beans, tomatoes and cucumbers. I love salads, and I especially love garden-fresh salads.

Last summer we had so many cucumbers we made pickles, and we are still enjoying them. What a treat! We also canned applesauce and made strawberry jam. I can easily see why so many people are turning to growing and preserving their own foods these days. It’s a healthier way to eat and a tremendously satisfying way to get in touch with something that seems real and natural. There is so much information available on the net for cooking ideas, recipes, and techniques. It seems a logical extension to taking cooking to the next level of getting back to basics and grow and preserve some of the food we eat.

My niece Reseda used to write me about the foods she had grown and preserved at her home in Washington. I really loved getting those letters. We don’t grow nearly as much as she did, but we love the results of our garden nevertheless. So, a toast to all the folks who are adding the joy of fresh, home-grown vegetables to their culinary lives. I can’t wait for the first of our garden to find its way to the table.

By the way, I had another reason for this blog in addition to the season and the annual migration of self and neighbors. I was checking through my old blog and clicking on the follower icons. One of them turned out to be that niece’s oldest daughter. Talk about a special discovery! So with all the good thoughts of summer meals on the back deck, fresh salads from our own garden, and the simple joys of getting back to basics, this blog is to Reseda and Julie. Julie, I’m so delighted to discover you have been a follower.

New Web Site – New Blog

Welcome to my new blog site – Glenn Nilson

Recently, I decided to combine my blog with my web site. I’m hoping it will be easier having everything together. I intend to keep my blog posts along the same theme as before: love of the outdoors, love of motorcycle riding, camping, cooking, and sourdough. In addition, just as I started my former blog as a means of sharing my book promotion tour along Route 66, on occasion I intend to use this blog to talk about my writing interests and activity.

I appreciate your visit to my new blog, and hope you’ll take a moment to check out my whole web site. As the weather warms up I’m already looking forward to what the outdoors has to offer this summer. I hope you’ll join me.

Glenn Nilson