I used to be a gourmet cook.  I did just about everything but churn my own butter and I probably would have done that, had I had access to organic cream.  I put up summer tomatoes in jars, made my own jam and sought out obscure ingredients. Gourmet magazine was the bible from which I cooked complicated recipes that took all day.   Julia Child was my mentor.   You remember that movie about Julie and Julia?  That could have been me.  I had specialty pots and pans and Williams Sonoma was to me, like Toys R US is to kids. The gourmet market, the Italian Market were my Saturday quests.   I spent time developing culinary delights and actually invited people over to eat them.  I traded increasingly complex recipes with other foodies.  I once invited my parents to Thanksgiving and told them I was making turkey hash with Mornay sauce that I had read about in Gourmet.  But at the last minute I decided that traditional is best for some meals and  I  went to a lot of effort that year roasting my free range turkey and  making all the sides from scratch.  Spring Mix salad, created from a variety of greens that I had hand picked at the gourmet market,  was new then.   I guess it was too much for my mother, because for all my efforts at dinner, all she told my sisters was that I had fed her weeds.  For years, Lamar and I referred to Spring Mix as “weed salad”.

Channeling the ghost of my inner gourmet past, last year we invited Lamar’s son, his wife and her two girls to Thanksgiving (and mysteriously, her mother showed up too, but Granny didn’t make it. Such is life in the South, where you never know who will show up).  I bought a big indoor turkey fryer at Costco and gallons of peanut oil.  I made an expensive trip to Williams Sonoma for special seasoning and special bread crumbs for dressing.  I needn’t have bothered.  Her mother, Lamar and I ate the dinner, my step son’s wife ate about a teaspoon of everything, and the girls ate the biscuits with ketchup. My stepson, told the table to take whatever cranberry sauce they wanted, because he would eat the rest…. and he did.  That was all he ate.  And it wasn’t a even homemade cranberry sauce, it was the regular old canned.  I was sure glad I had bought 2 cans, otherwise he might have starved to death.

My mother did not cook, and if she did, we were sorry for it.  She could make a grilled cheese that was burnt on the outside and  not melted on the inside.  Until my sisters were born (when I was 10), we had a large dorm refrigerator and no freezer.  We ate out.  At age 10, I might not have seen a roast, but I could face down any menu that you put in front of me.  Fast food burgers were just making their appearance about that time, and one summer, while my father was away taking a class, my mother and I lived on them every day.  Once my sisters were born, we acquired a full size refrigerator with a freezer.  My  father, who did all the shopping, discovered the golden age of frozen food. Everything we ate involved an aluminum pan and an hour in the oven.  When other people talk misty eyed about an old family recipe, my sisters and I smirk since our only “old family recipe” is  frozen lasagna.  Well, there was La Choy canned chow mein too.

These days, my gourmet cooking is behind me.  Williams Sonoma is just a place to buy overpriced sauces, despite the best efforts of a pushy saleswoman trying to interest me in pots and pans that I already own.  I tell her that I have been buying from Williams Sonoma since they were just a catalog, but given her age, I doubt she knows that there was such a time.   Julia Child has gone to that big kitchen in the sky and Food Network doesn’t inspire me.  I’m about convenience and taste, less about fancy techniques and food to impress.  Most of my fancy specialized pans are resting in packing boxes and will likely be donated to Good Will where people will wonder over my Windsor pot, polenta pot and my saucier.  My copper pots when to auction last year and sold to a man who seemed delighted with his bargain.    Now that I have all the time in the world for spending the day cooking, I’m more about what I can do in 45 minutes or so.

Last night, I had a cooking disaster.  I purchased a jar of Thai Red Curry Simmer Sauce from Williams Sonoma and decided to use it with some chicken and vegetables and brown rice.  It was inedible.  I watched my husband’s face turned redder and redder as he felt the burn.   This is a man that used to be known for his 6-alarm chili, his willingness to sample hot chilies, and even to try some hell fire hot sauce.  I don’t know where that man went, because he no longer exists as my husband.  He declared it inedible and made himself a ham sandwich.  Even with the sauce wiped off, the dogs wouldn’t eat the chicken.  To make it up to all of them, tonight I’m making a plain old pot roast in the crock pot,  no cayenne involved.

Until next time, Elsie








This morning, I am watching the news and they are talking about a new “epic” snowstorm that is bearing down on the Mid-Atlantic.  But first, they talked about what happened last night when a light dusting of snow and ice on roads that were not pretreated with sand and salt made for bumper-car rides on Highway 66 and the Interstate 95.  Four hour car trips home, numerous fender benders and some pretty pissed off people.

I lived and worked in Northern Virginia for 18 years, so I have lived the nightmare.  Working for the government, I have experienced the thrills of having the Office of Personnel Management decide that conditions are now bad enough for the entire government to be shut down all at once – creating a commuting flash mob – only to have them sit on the fence at 5 am the next morning over closing the government office or authorizing “unscheduled leave”.  The schools announce their closures early, leaving frantic parents scrambling to find all day child care. Sometime the Office of Personnel Management will decide to open the government, only to decide at say, 7 am, when most people have spent 2 hours shoveling driveways, deicing cars and well on their way on the interstate roller derby, that maybe, in fact, it will close.  One only need to look to the Office of Personnel Management on a snow day to understand the decisiveness with which the government manages it’s challenges.

Have you ever heard about black ice?  It’s the ice you cannot see, yet will cause your feet to slip out from under you and before you know it, you are on your back, wondering what the hell happened.  It loves black top driveways, where it glistens so that it appears merely wet, and then slams you to the ground while you are rushing to snatch the newspaper from the driveway. It often lays under the snow.   In my case, it loved to lull me into a false sense of security as I backed my Honda out of the garage and gunned it down the driveway, only to find myself off the driveway, into the snow and sliding sideways down the incline of our side yard.   And then it laughed as I had to be pulled by my disgruntled husband’s 4 wheel drive truck out of the snow.  It exists on the roadway too.  You may be driving along fine then hit a spot of black ice that will leave your car gliding over the road like an ice dancer, oblivious to the cars slamming on their brakes around you. “HA!”it says, to your white knuckled hands gripping the steering wheel for life.  “Fooled you!” it hisses.

One of the more charming aspects is that the D.C. area is home to people from all over the country, as well as all over the world. That is, until it snows, which means you are now on the road with those that know how to drive in snow, as well as those who feel omnipotent in their 4 wheel drives, and those for whom snow is something that they read about in books.    The 4 wheelers are whizzing along, ignoring the black ice layer under the snow.  There are those that are driving 10 mph, clinging to the side of the road, clearly terrified; and just like on a normal day, there are those who persist in changing lane continually,  convinced that 2 lanes over is moving much faster.  The ride to work will take you anywhere from an hour to three hours and when you get to work, assuming you haven’t engaged in bumper cars and that the pay lot at your building has been plowed, you engage in a very productive hour of talking about your experience with 3 other brave souls who have made the trip, and listening to the voice mails and reading the emails of all those who have decided to work from home today, anticipating the arguments that ensue because they aren’t authorized to work from home.

But this is all a memory for me now, almost 8 years removed from Northern Virginia and my working days.  In my part of Alabama, we rarely have snow, rarely have ice and it is rarely bitterly cold. No snow shovels, no snow blowers, no reports of the news of what is being done for the roads in anticipation of the weather.   Snow here is a magical thing, where everything closes down and children are outside trying to build pathetic little snowmen out of what is not more than a dusting.  People longingly say “I wish it would snow”.


Until next time – Elsie











When in New Orleans

I love New Orleans.   I love the people and the food, I love the way you can be yourself.  Want to wear glittery eye shadow and purple hair?  No problem.  This is very different from where I live most of the time -where someone would be blessing your heart to your face, and praying for your poor misguided soul behind your back.  Here is it just a matter of choice in how you will express yourself.

A friend of mine, who owns a second home here, wants to open a glitter shop.  All nature of sparkly things.  She thinks it would do well here and I have to say I agree.  No other city loves glitter quite so much.  In my friend’s spare time, she makes glittery shoes with feathers and other doodads, which her group throws from their float during Mardi Gras.  Is there another city where you could be hit by a flying heeled shoe and be grateful?  They are a prized collectible.   A woman in a store today was telling me that her 7 year old grand-daughter just moved here and already she wants to wear her sparkly silver shoes and could-she-maybe-some-sparkly-eye-shadow too.  It must be in the air.  I can’t say that being here makes me want to wear glitter eye shadow,, but I have been known to add it to a painting and my art teacher, who used to hold paint parties, told me if you bring out the glitter, women get excited.  It must be in our DNA.

And then there is the food.  The waitress did not look oddly at me when I ordered a full dozen char-broiled oysters at Dragos.  She did bring an extra fork  but I told her it would not be necessary. Iif my husband had attempted to use it, I would have stabbed his hand.  There is something about the  seasoning and cheese and the oysters that makes me selfish.  And then there is the bread pudding – the husband and I do not attempt to share it, because I eat faster than he does and he figures he’d lose out.  My favorite comes from a small restaurant – although I heard that one of the big restaurants in town has “the best” but if it is better than this, it’s probably illegal and twice the price.

I remember about 15 or so years ago, a colleague and I traveled here to make presentations to a work group.  It was the first time he and I had ever been here, and he was talking Bourbon Street all the way here (making it a rather looong plane ride).  We no more got the hotel and I was chasing after him, across Canal street and into the street where the bars never close and young woman show their breasts for beads.   We walked several blocks and then he turned to me and said “I’m 20 years too late”.  And I knew exactly what he meant.  My sister observed to me the other day that if we bared our breasts more than likely young men would yell, pull down your shirt and I’ll give you the damned beads!”.

Until next time – Elsie







Reflections of an Older Woman

I guess I should start by introducing myself.  My name is Elsie and I am 61 years old.  It still surprises me that I am that old, because like most people, it snuck up on me .  Sometimes I stand in front of a mirror and say it to myself and then think  Holy Crap! How did that happen?

I am a New Jersey Yankee, living on a lake in Alabama.  I’m “not from around here”, I am not related to anyone that anyone knows, no grandchildren, no church affliations.  In other words, I don’t exist.  And at my age, as every woman who is over the age of 50 knows, I am invisible.  I don’t fit into anyone’s demographic except those of the drug companies and AARP.

Once, I was hard-charging career woman.  A career civil servant in Washington D.C.  Pearls of wisdom dropped from my mouth and people took me seriously.  I worked 14 hour days and had an electronic leash and was tired all the time.  Then in 2006 I was offered a chance to escape the rat race and I took it.  I spent almost 2 years overseeing the building of the house that now my home, much to the chagrin of the builder, who had never encountered a career woman, much less one from NJ!  And then I spent another year having a boat house and a garage built and another 6 months having my terrifying landscape fixed before, as the landscaper told me, my house and it’s property ended up in the lake.  And then one day, I woke up and it was all done and asked myself what now?  What indeed?

So now I paint (there will be more on this in the future), I read books, I cook and I spend my day letting my three dogs in and out.  Oh yes, and there is a husband too.  One with a severe hearing loss – and my first reflection is this:  by the time you repeat some quip you made by the third time, it is no longer amusing and you cannot keep the edge out of your voice.

So until next time – Elsie