Ireland, Aging Parents, and Pubs, or, Why Go Halfway Around the World to Go For a Walk?

In my experience, there are three reasons why Americans travel to Ireland:

  1. Their heritage is Irish. (ethnic pilgrimage)
  2. They’re in love with Irish culture music or whiskey, or both. (cultural pilgrimage)
  3. It’s so greeeeeen! (photographic pilgrimage)

There are probably a few other reasons, and some hybrids. But here’s the reason the Mate and I are going:

my parents

That’s it. (And no, they’re not Irish, nor do they live there.)

The Mate and I made a list a few years ago of trips we hoped to take one day. Then we put those places into three categories: a) need to go as soon as possible; b) can go any time in the next 10-15 years; c) can wait until one or both of us is no longer mobile.

Many countries and special places made the list (like New Zealand and Grand Canyon). Ireland did not. So why are we going?

Well, turns out one of the “places” on the “as soon as possible” list was, “somewhere we can go with Gretchen’s parents while they’re still as active as they are.” They are GREAT travel companions. But since they’re also great travelers, finding a spot to visit together was actually a bit tricky. Slovenia? They’d just been. Ditto Croatia, and various parts of Italy.

Then, last year, my folks did a walking tour of the coast of Cornwall–you know, the kind where they carry your luggage for you from wee hotel to hotel, or inn, or B & B. Very local, very low-key. They LOVED it. So I tried to find another bit of the U.K. to walk, and quickly found that the chunk of Cornish trail they’d walked was the flattest available, and it had challenged them.

(Did I mention that my folks are 82 and 87?)

So I started looking around…and this bit of southwestern Ireland seemed to be rated gentler than its counterparts in the U.K. The tour company could be totally blowing smoke. We might ALL be challenged. And, if I know anything about Ireland in September, quite wet.

OK, so it looks a LOT like where we already live…but hey, cute little hotels, right? And that accent! (courtesy Hillwalktours.com)

But we’ll be happy. And feeling blessed. And I’m pretty sure I’ll learn some Irish sayings about that.

So please don’t bother sending me lists of ancient sites we must see or pubs we must visit or bands we must hear. We’re going to Ireland to do something we can’t do in the U.S.: walk together for days, from quaint hotel to quaint hotel, meeting mostly sheep along the way.

I also fully expect–hope!–to be slammed by love for a culture I know mostly through music.

And speaking of music…I’ll leave you with this heart-rending version of Mo Ghile Mear by the silvery-voiced Mary Black.

So thanks, Ireland, for the grand excuse. And readers–I’ll check back in on our return. For the next two weeks, I’ll be walking and talking and looking at sheep. And hoisting a Guinness or two, with my very cool parents.

Real Soul Food: 30 Years of Marriage, and the Best Damn Fried Chicken in the Country

On September 6, the Mate and I celebrate 30 years of marriage. I don’t know what we’ll have for dinner. All I know is, it won’t be fried chicken.

Not because we don’t love it…but because we do. Specifically, we love Mama Dip’s fried chicken from Chapel Hill, North Carolina (where we met in 1977 and were married ten years later). We loved Mama Dip’s chicken so much we got her restaurant to cater our wedding. So now we’re spoiled; no one else’s fried chicken comes close.

Mildred Council, a.k.a. “Mama Dip” (courtesy WRAL)

***Sigh…might as well have spaghetti…***

Of course with fantastic fried chicken come all the fixins: fried okra, stewed greens and tomatoes, black-eyed peas, cornbread, biscuits, corn on the cob…Some folks would add mac ‘n’ cheese to this list, or Brunswick Stew, or pulled pork, but to me those are meals in themselves, demanding their own sides: cheese grits, home fries, slaw…OK, I’ll stop.

“Care for dessert?” Are you kidding? I’ll just start over with another meal. (courtesy Black Hair Media Forum)

The Mate and I are very health-conscious people. We’re lifelong athletes–in fact, distance running is how we met. But we LOVE our soul food. In fact, I love even the IDEA of soul food.

Here’s how Wikipedia defines it:

Soul food is a variety of cuisine originating in the Southeastern United States. It is common in areas with a history of slave-based plantations and has maintained popularity among the Black American and American Deep-South “cotton state” communities for centuries; it is now the most common regional cuisine in southern cities such as New Orleans, LouisianaCharlotte, North Carolina, and Atlanta, Georgia. Soul food influences can be commonly found as far north as Richmond, Virginia, as far east as Jacksonville, Florida, and as far west as Houston, Texas. The expression “soul food” may have originated in the mid-1960s, when soul was a common word used to describe Black American culture (for example, soul music).

Home, sweet home. (courtesy TripAdvisor)

I TOTALLY dig the idea of food feeding one’s soul. Soul food is culture, family, love. Yearning. Nostalgia. Gratitude. Nourishment of your deepest parts.

The Mate and I might not be southern by heritage; we might have abandoned the south to live all the way across the country. But Mama Dip’s chicken and okra and cornbread fed us and our 250 guests on a day of torrential September rain back in 1987, and that food and those memories continue to nourish us daily in this hard-work miracle known as marriage.

Since we can’t be in North Carolina on September 6, I’ve asked my parents, who still live there, to go out to Dip’s for us. Their own marriage is in its 63rd year. Guess they must have found some soul food of their own.

 

Hate Phone-calling? Me Too. But Let’s Not Let the DACA Dream Die.

I hate calling politicians. I’d much rather go for a walk with them and rant and rave lecture them ask them what the hell they were thinking explain my point of view–and, of course, politely listen to theirs.

But today I called a whole bunch of them about DACA. [That’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama-era act which has granted permission to stay and work to about 800,000 immigrants brought to the U.S. originally by their parents.] 

DACA’s the kind of act that makes me feel proud to be an American. Stay, you fine, hardworking kids, you Dreamers–stay and prosper! (And while you’re at it, teach some of our native-born kids what it means to be an American.)

And DACA being under threat makes my stomach turn heavy and cold. This is what last year’s election boded. Now it’s happening. Or it might.

From the May 2006 Immigration rally in Los Angeles (courtesy Jonathan McIntosh, Wikimedia Commons): No Human Being is Illegal!

Hence the phone calls. The president is on the fence so far. As the New York Times explains,

 

Since attacking DACA on the campaign trail, President Trump has pledged to keep the program alive, calling recipients, also known as Dreamers, “absolutely incredible kids” who deserve compassion. But in recent days, key players in his administration have advised Mr. Trump to wind down the program, and his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has informed him he considers it unconstitutional and cannot defend it in court, according to people familiar with the discussions who insisted on anonymity to describe private deliberations. While the White House has declined to comment on the fate of DACA, several officials and people briefed on the discussions now say the president is on the brink of ending it, although they note that Mr. Trump often changes his mind.

Mr. Trump has been pondering — and publicly agonizing over — what to do about the program since he took office. But discussions about it inside the White House took on new urgency after a group of conservative state attorneys general threatened to sue the Trump administration in federal court unless it begins to dismantle the program by Sept. 5.

Maybe I’m naive. But I see a slim bit of hope here. If you do too, here are some people to call to register your opinion:

White House Comment Line: 202-456-6213

Jeff Sessions, U.S. Dept. of Justice Comment Line: 202-353-1555

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan: (213) 335-2244

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (855) 336-0788 (Note: these last two numbers will begin with a brief message about the threat to DACA–very useful info)

And if you prefer to talk to (and thank) someone standing up for immigrants, Washington’s Attorney General Bob Ferguson is leading a coalition of 15 other attorneys general to support the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) against a separate legal challenge.  Is your state’s AG on this list? Call Bob’s office to find out: (360) 753-6200.

You know what? I still hate calling politicians. But I feel better knowing that maybe a few of you guys are now joining me.

Scrubbing Our American Nooks and Crannies: Racism and Other Filth

I don’t want to write about Charlottesville. I don’t even want to THINK about Charlottesville.

Last weekend I was in a sleep-deprived daze, going straight from wilderness camping to back-to-back days at my bakery job. And the Mate was out of town. I didn’t see any news, and since the twentysomethings I work with were even more exhausted than I, we talked mostly of cinnamon rolls and music.

Now the Mate is back home, the news is back on, and a weight has settled in my stomach, completely at odds with the fresh, beautiful view I see from our window.

So I’m going to write about my kitchen floor. It’s spotless again. So is the nook behind the toaster, and the gap between the dish drainer and the wall. Because–as I just mentioned–the Mate is back home.

It’s not that I’m a terrible housekeeper. I’m great fine perfectly quite competent. I keep my dishes washed and my counters wiped. But somehow, when the Mate is away for any length of time, my kitchen starts looking filthy.

It’s not that he’s a major cleaner. He’s a MINOR cleaner. He wipes a different spot each day, making the rounds. Today: behind the toaster. Tomorrow: under the fridge. Like painting the Golden Gate Bridge, once done at one end, it’s time to start back at the other. But it’s no sweat, ’cause each spot-clean takes maybe two minutes, max.

Gotta stop pretending this ugliness will just disappear if I don’t look at it.

We live on an island of mostly left-leaning, mostly-white people. Not all privileged, by any means, but protected by race and by distance from the ugliness on display at Charlottesville. That weight in my stomach is for my country, not for myself.

But it is my weight just the same. Our weight, whether we live near or far. The threat of virulent, presidentially-approved racism is, in fact, a threat to us all. Our community.Our democracy.

A visitor told me this week he had seen a Confederate flag flying near someone’s driveway at the far end of our island. I don’t know when or how, but I’m going to find the person who owns that flag and talk to him/her. I’m not looking forward to the conversation. But that flag is a little pocket of grime in my kitchen, and I know what happens when you let those little pockets alone.

Begone, Confederate flags. You know what you really stand for.

Huh. Guess I wrote about Charlottesville after all.

 

This Means War: My Neighbor Food-Gift Arms Race

It started with lettuce. You can’t freeze the stuff, right? Or bake with it, or make lettucesauce or lettuce jam. It’s just…lettuce. And there’s only so much salad two people can eat.

So I brought a bag to the neighbors. They were grateful.

Next week I brought some more, plus some arugula. Same story. Except Neighbor Rick mentioned they were going crabbing and would bring us some if they got lucky.

For a time, they didn’t. Meanwhile, I brought them more lettuce.

Then the crabs found their way into Neighbor Rick’s pots.* He brought us two–cooked and cleaned. We dined in ecstasy. And I brought them a small bowl of raspberries.

[One of my favorite sayings is, “I don’t want a ____, I just want a friend with a _____.” In this case: boat, pot, crab license.]

Couple days later: two more crabs. “I work at a bakery,” I told Rick. “Can I bring you some treats?” But no–Rick and family are trying to stay away from those kind of temptations. Curses! Nothing for it but to bring more raspberries.

Then Neighbor Rick upped his game. “We’re gettin’ a buncha crab now, gonna make some gumbo,” he told us. “Can we bring you a little?”

We were imagining a wee side dish for our dinner, and we were excited for that. But when Rick came over with the gumbo…well.

Unfortunately, I did not think to take a picture of the beautiful domed island of white rice, sprinkled with spices, rising from a sea of okra, tomatoes, shrimp, chicken, andouille sausage, fish, with four more crab-halves dangling their claws over the edge of the dish. But here’s what the leftovers looked like the second night:

This is only about a third of the leftover crabmeat…

…which is also when Neighbor Rick dropped off the rack of “extra” baby back ribs, barbecued in a marionberry sauce. This time I remembered to take a picture.

So…full…but it still makes my mouth water!

At that point I FORCED him to take home a fresh baguette from my bakery, and a bowl of truffle balls from my freezer.

If we don’t achieve some kind of detente soon, I may forget how to cook. But I see no end in sight. And me with no zucchini!

It’s August. Anyone have a food-gifting story to share? (I still have raspberries.)

Berry Odd Life Lessons: Wisdom From the Razz Patch

My raspberries have gone crazy this year. Out of control, fill-the-fridge-wait-no-start-filling-the-freezer crazy.

I’m not bragging, understand. I’m simply gobsmacked. Because my raspberry patch’s fit of overabundance owes NOTHING to me. I’ve done diddly. Weeding? Nope. Fertilizing? Are you kidding? I didn’t even water them.

Note: this is a salad bowl, not a cereal bowl. And I’m filling it daily, and then some.

Wait, take it back–I did fight off a few salmonberry bushes a couple of weeks ago, which had insinuated themselves into the razzies–just enough to reach the good stuff. I won that little war, but the salmonberries definitely left their mark:

…and I’m not even showing you the scratches on my arms.

Point is, though–I didn’t EARN these berries. And yet I still get to enjoy them. Apparently Nature ain’t no meritocracy.

This is what benign neglect looks like.

Ironically enough, though, as I’m picking my way through this undeserved bounty, I find I’m practically killing myself to get every…last…berry…through the salmonberries, through the chain link fence the original planter of these berries put up…ooh! those ones just out of my reach look even better than the ones I just picked!

Just walk away, Gretchen.

Which tells me…what, exactly, about myself? I am perfectly happy to accept good fortune–so happy, in fact, that I unconsciously turn privilege into right and strain for the very last drop of goodness as though I had worked for it. 

Hmm. Lesson? Learn to accept the berries I cannot reach just as delightedly as those I can? Gratitude AND grace?

Workin’ on that. I’ll let you know.

The Flip Side Of White Privilege: White Outrage. So Where Is It?

White folks–are you woke?

During the Vietnam War, the term was “consciousness raising.” People who weren’t directly connected to the brutality in Southeast Asia via a family member or a job found little reason to care…until somehow their consciousness was raised. Maybe it was that famous photograph of the My Lai Massacre, all those dead villagers in a ditch. Maybe it was simply the stark rise in Walter Cronkite’s nightly death count. Or those white college kids getting shot at Kent State. But once that tipping point was reached, the war became an acknowledged mistake, a heartache, a cause for redemption ever since.

Black people have a briefer term for having one’s consciousness raised: “woke.”

I’ve been pondering this term since the verdict came down from the Philando Castile case in St. Anthony, Minnesota recently. You remember Castile, right? The Black man who was shot by police?

Damn, I wish that were funny. 

Anyway. Castile was shot exactly a year ago, in his car, with his partner, Diamond Reynolds,and her four year-old daughter, watching. Ms. Reynolds captured the immediate aftermath on her phone. Those of us who watched it felt sick.

But the officer who fired those seven shots was put on trial for manslaughter. When the jury saw what we’d seen, justice would surely be served. Right?

Wrong. Three weeks ago, the jury acquitted Officer Jeronimo Yanez. He was let go by the force, but the point of the trial wasn’t punishment. The point was redemption. Instead, the not-guilty verdict left me feeling more hopeless than I can remember feeling about the future of my country.

Trevor Noah (who isn’t an American but who IS a Black man who’s already been stopped by police multiple times in his few years in this country) speaks my heart:

Laura Bradley of Vanity Fair captures Noah’s stark emotional response better than I can:

 

And then, Noah got to the most heartbreaking detail of all: for years, the hypothetical solution to murky police shootings was body cams—because in theory, video footage would resolve any lingering questions people might have. “And black people have already taken that initiative, right?” Noah pointed out. “Thanks to cell phones, every black person has a body cam now. Black people have been saying for years, ‘Just give us an indictment. Just an indictment. Just get us in front of a jury. Just in front of a jury of our peers. Of our fellow citizens. We’ll show them the video, the evidence, and they will see it, and justice will be served.’ And black people finally get there, and it’s like, ‘Wait, what? Nothing?’ You hear the stories, but you watch that, and forget race. Are we all watching the same video? The video where a law-abiding man followed the officer’s instructions to the letter of the law and was killed regardless? People watched that video and then voted to acquit? And the saddest thing is, that wasn’t the only video that they watched.”

Noah then played part of the video that Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds,posted live on Facebook soon after watching Castile get shot next to her in the car. Now, just like before, the most striking and gut-wrenching detail is the composure with which Reynolds addresses the situation, and the officer who caused it.

“‘You shot four bullets into him, sir,’“ Noah said, quoting Reynolds. “It’s fucking mind-blowing that Diamond Reynolds has just seen her boyfriend shot in front of her. She still has the presence of mind to be deferential to the policeman. In that moment, the cop has panicked, but clearly black people never forget their training.”

So, what does it say that a jury was able to watch both of those videos in a courtroom and decide that the officer, Jeronimo Yanez—who, since the verdict, has been dismissed by the St. Anthony, Minnesota police department—was justified in fearing for his own life? Noah gave his own unambiguous verdict: “Let’s be honest. Why? Why would you say he was afraid? Was it because Philando Castile was being polite? Was it because he was following the officer’s instructions? Was it because he was in the car with his family? Or was it because Philando Castile was black?

“It’s one thing to have the system against you—the district attorneys, the police unions, the court. That’s one thing. But when a jury of your peers, your community, sees this evidence and decides that even this is self-defense, that is truly depressing. Because what they’re basically saying is, ‘In America, it is officially reasonable to be afraid of a person just because they are black.’“

I started this post with a term: consciousness-raising. Here’s another: white privilege.

White privilege is the equivalent of not having to know what’s going on in Vietnam. If you’re white like me, you can afford not to know about Philando Castile (or Freddie Gray, or Alton Sterling, or…). Sure, I heard about the verdict when it came out, and I was startled, but I was also very busy. Didn’t get around to thinking about it right away. ‘Cause I could afford not to.

Now I’m thinking about it. Now I’m woke. Now I feel sickened. “In America, it is officially reasonable to be afraid of a person just because they are black.” 

Is that where we are? Is that where we’re going to stay? Black outrage clearly means nothing in this country. So what about white outrage? Shall we try some of that? What would that look like?

What would America look like if white people like me got woke?

Happy Whatever of July

“Does Canada have a July Fourth?” goes the riddle. The answer still makes me chuckle. (I’m not writing it here; if you don’t know it already, think about it.)

My own personal riddle goes more like, “When does July Fourth end?” Answer: “Are we there yet?”

OK, maybe that doesn’t qualify as a riddle; pretty sure riddles are funny. My point is, for people who work in the tourism/food industries, Independence Day is one killer holiday. And when it falls on a Tuesday (which is generally the best day for small food businesses to close), what should be a three or four-day weekend suddenly becomes a week-long tunnel. (In the case of Holly B’s Bakery, where I work, it’s a tunnel of Love & Butter.)

20 to a pan. On July 4 we baked 19 pans…and still ran out.

Not complaining! It’s great work. I’m just throwing this out there to remind everyone to be kind to their servers this week–they are probably exhausted.

(And to explain why I’ve been AWOL for a week. I’m back…and might even have something intelligent to share by the next post!)

Till then–Happy Birthday, America! Now I’m going back to bed.

Aw, They Grow Up So Fast: My Lil’ Grandgarden Turns Three

I’m gonna have to stop calling it my Grandgarden. 

Three years ago, when Son Two hacked a couple of rows out of our backyard’s over-shaded, overgrown onetime raspberry patch and stuck a few seeds in, that’s what I called it. Didn’t take any responsibility beyond watering for a few days when he went off-island.

Fast-forward three years. Son Two’s long gone to the east coast. Last year I decided I could handle the responsibility of planting and watering my own seeds. So I did…full of trepidation about getting tied down to another 20 years of garden maintenance (which I thought I’d left behind when Son Two graduated and we moved to an island full of organic farms).

So it’s MY kid garden now.

Nothing ambitious–a few rows of greens. Some broccoli and potatoes. And some strawberries, originally planted by Son Two. Sure, I can handle that. Didn’t even get too bummed when the raccoons beat me to the ripened strawberries.

This year, I cleared a little more. Still didn’t plant anything I wasn’t sure could thrive in such shady conditions.

Secret to success: low standards!

Still didn’t commit myself to fertilizing, beyond a few shovelfulls of compost, or staking. Got too much going on to spend hours out there. But regular minutes, weeding, watering, harvesting? In MY garden, once more?

Yes. And I’m not even counting on those strawberries. The raccoons are even more committed to my garden than I am.

Try not to notice how big those berries are getting…

Thanks, Son Two, for getting me re-started. And my hat’s off to all you COMMITTED gardeners. This semi-committed one is glad you’re there. Got any strawberries, just in case?

Reuse, Recycle, Renew Your Appetite: “Upcycling” Cooking Boo-Boos

If you’re like me, you HATE throwing away good food. The more you need to toss, the more you hate it. So imagine the loathing that accompanies needing to compost an entire 20×30″ pan of overbaked brownies, for example. This tragedy plays out all too commonly in commercial kitchens.

But it doesn’t have to!

At Holly B’s Bakery, we are becoming (we modestly think) the masters of up-cycling “useless” food. Let me give you three scrumptious examples.

Example #1: those overbaked brownies. We tossed them in the Cuisinart with a little butter to glue them back together, then pressed them into a buttered pan as a pre-baked crust…which we then proceeded to top with dulce de leche cheesecake filling. Sprinkle with sea salt…bake…heaven.

Honestly, it’s more like cheesecake frosting on a brownie. Only more so.

Example #2: over-toasted Cappucino Bars (our name for espresso shortbread with tiny chocolate chips and a cinnamon-espresso glaze). Once more into the “Cuize” with…wait for it…a glob of ganache (a.k.a. the essence of a truffle: dark chocolate melted with whipping cream). And a healthy dash of Kahlua. Form into balls, dip into more (much more!) ganache with toothpicks, and voila…Kahlua Truffle Balls.

Even better than they look. Seriously.

Example #3 isn’t due to an overbake, but rather a scraps problem. When you cut croissants from dough, you end up with bits. Lots of bits. What to do with them? After only a couple of weeks of croissant-making, we were drowning in bits.

Too…many…bits!

So…we baked them. Note: please force yourself past this part of the process. If you stop here and just start eating warm croissant bits, all is lost. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Mmmm…the bits…the bits are calling me. DON’T GIVE IN.

Once baked and cooled, we bag them and freeze them until it’s time to make strata. Guess what? It’s always time to make strata.

Strata before…

Strata = croissant bits (Most people just use stale bread–I recommend this! Much healthier. A little less delicious.) + beaten eggs + a little milk or cream + tomatoes (fresh, canned or dried) + cooked greens of any kind + sauteed onions and mushrooms + mozzarella. Topped with Parmesan. Baked till brown and bubbly.

Strata after. Yes please.

And the best part is feeling so good about avoiding waste! No, I’m lying–the best part is eating your creation. But that no-waste thing is pretty cool.

So…what do you think? Pretty droolly, right? Got any delightful/delicious food-upcycles of your own to share?