Thursday, June 30, 2011

Taking It Slow

Slow moving is not something synonymous with my normal state of being. I tend to move at a pretty good clip, weaving in and out of other slower pedestrians, rushing to the next thing on my ever mounting list of to-dos.

So much is missed in the rush of things. I am sure I will be surprised at how quickly death arrived when I reach it, regardless of whether it is tomorrow or 50 years from now. And my break neck speed is not helping. It is the journey we are supposed to savor, not just the destination.  A mantra.

Now, having just completed my stint on crutches, a good six week endeavor, I am required to walk slowly. My knee will not allow what the rest of me would like to do. Annoying? Yep! But, it has also given me time to enjoy the falling of dusk on my walk home from the train. I have a chance to actually enjoy the birds chirping as night falls upon the neighborhood. I get my daily update on a two story full gut-rehab along my path home- watching the beginning demolition through the installation of new windows. Each day something new. In my normal “bat out of hell” rush to and from the train I would miss all of these changes. Instead of noticing the changes as they occur, I would be surprised at the completed project.

Oddly enough, I am enjoying the slowness- watching the ants journeying to their destinations- on their own missions. I have met neighbors I have never spoken to, let alone seen. Taking time to notice the wild nature that grows so well within its urban habitat, I smile at its ingenuity. Watching my transitioning neighborhood lurch slowly forward, with new shops filling abandoned spaces, I am again excited at the reinventing of the old. New lights illuminating the anonymity of the darkness.

I stroll passed, sharing in the smells of another’s dinner hanging on the evening breeze- it warms me and reminds me that life exists behind the closed doors - each weaving their own stories and histories, which remain secret to outsiders. Maybe I am sharing in their secrets, just a little.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Time for Catching Flies

After our dinner was finished and the table cleared, my father and I would set out in preparation of another’s meal. At the time we lived on a dead end street which butted up against the railroad tracks. Across from our house was a small field, probably something to do with the railroad, but I cannot say for certain. The grass and weeds would grow tall thereby protecting whatever wildlife having ventured into its canopied self.

Our mission was not to disturb the variety of wildlife which made its home there, but instead to catch flies for our amphibious friends at home. I had toads. Probably not one of the best pets for a child, but I thought they were fascinating and wonderful. As an adult, I realize that they, like the other wildlife just outside our door, would have preferred the freedom of the field rather than the artificially lighted home that was made theirs against their tough skinned will, but children rarely make that connection and I was no different. I loved them and wanted then near and because of this I thought that they too would obviously feel the same. Poor creatures.

My father was given the task to escort me into the field to catch flies to feed our toad family as my mother didn’t find the process necessarily pleasant. The process was simple enough, find a sleeping fly and cup it in the palm of your hand until you could transfer it to the waiting container. I am certain that the unsuspecting fly did not have this relocation in mind when it had settled in for the night, giving way to the much more interesting fireflies.

I can recall the excitement of seeking out the resting flies on the underside of leaves and crevices found on plant stalks. The hunter and the hunted, but the hunted had no idea that it was indeed being stalked by a small child and a giant of a man. The flies, normally shunned by their human counterparts, must of have been quite unsettled with this change of events, but my loyalty lied with the toads in their homemade swamp, rather than the fly.

Catching flies is a strange skill to hone, but when you have small hungry mouths to feed, you take it in stride- just as my father did, with my insatiable curiosity and want to be in the world, rather than just observe. He maintained his patience while showing me the ways in which nature worked, playing out its joys and sorrows. Sometimes, most likely against his better judgment, he allowed me to intervene in the natural outcome of things, just a little, but that is what dads do.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Winding clocks Backward (A poem)

Once we were free,
Without time on our heels
Winding clocks, still mysterious in movement and rhythm
Bees demanded our attention, not world politics
We did what we would, what pleased us
Flitting like butterflies through the neighborhood
With sunlight tangled in our wild hair
Wild as our thoughts and dreams, running
Bare feet touching every other step
In the tall grass of our safari fields
Searching out large and small game
Seeking knowledge not found in books
Or on advertisements
Cupping grasshoppers and crickets alike
Listening to their wise words and sharing our secrets
Knowing our secrets were safe, unbroken
Within the kaleidoscope of perfect childhood wonder
(J.Smith 2011)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Saag Aloo Soup (Curried Potato and Spinach Soup) Recipe

June has been strange thus far- highs in the high 90s and lows in the low 50s, sometimes within the same day. For me, the chill in my bones on a gray day can only be cured by a good soup. So, yesterday, to ease my chilled bones and summer spirit, I threw together a nice curried potato and spinach soup.

Ingredients (Vegetarian or Vegan):

4 golden potatoes
1 large leek 
2 tablespoons of butter or margarine
2 cups vegetable broth
2 cups water
1/2 cup milk or almond milk
4 cups chopped fresh spinach
1 teaspoon hot curry powder
2 teaspoons mild curry powder
1 dash garam masala, a nice addition, but not necessary
salt and pepper to taste

Cube the potatoes leaving the skin. Boil until soft and drain well. While the potatoes are boiling, prepare the leek by removing the fanned stalk and the roots- use only the white and light green part of the stalk. Cut the leek in half, lengthwise. Wash thoroughly- leeks tend to get dirt in between their layers so make sure to clean them well- grit, although interesting in texture, does not necessarily belong in a "warm your bones" kind of soup. Once clean, thinly slice the leek halves.

In an evenly heated stock pot, toss in your butter/margarine allowing it to melt then throw in your leek and cooked potatoes. Saute' until the leek is translucent, but keep any eye on it and mix every so often- you don't want the leek to burn or attach to the bottom of your pot.

Before adding the stock, mix in the curry powders and garam masala. Once the spices are well distributed, add 2 cups of vegetable stock and 2 cups of water. Let simmer for approximately 30 minutes- periodically stirring the pot.

While the soup is simmering. chop the spinach. I grab a handful and slice it into ribbons, then make a mound of what I just cut and chop it one more time for good measure. Set the spinach aside.

After the 30 minutes or so is up, using a hand blender, puree the potato/leek mixture in the stock pot until smooth. Once smooth, mix in the 1/2 cup of milk and fold in the chopped spinach. Add salt and pepper to taste. Allow to simmer for another 10 minutes or so.

The soup can be served alone or with rice or naan.


Friday, June 3, 2011

Train to Munich

Many years ago while I was studying in Rome, Italy, I took an overnight train to Munich. My friends all opted for the sleep cars, but I decided to try my luck in second class. The seats on the train were designed to slide down and meet in the middle creating a sort of bed, which was more than sufficient for my needs as a traveler.

On the platform, my friends and I parted ways for the approximately eleven hour journey, they, to the front of the train, I, the back. Each train car contained several discreet compartments along with some pull down seats along the aisle. I chose a compartment in which two older gentlemen had already claimed the window seats. It was clear that they knew each other and, not long after our night train departed, they began preparing the little fold out tables for their train picnic. Each brought something- a little sausage, some wine, bread, cheese, a cylinder package of cookies and a thermos of coffee, perfect for two travelers settling in for the long journey from Rome to Munich. The two chatted quietly to each other and offered to me various morsels of their dinner for two. I declined, not wanting to usurp their meal or invade their conversation.

As the evening wore on and the book and my eyes grew tired, I began studying these two men. Both in their late 50s, early 60s, each a little round about the waste, with hands showing signs of hard work. Each supported a kind face and permanent crinkles around their eyes, which still sparkled with boyish charm, as many men’s eyes continue to do long after they have finished their rites of passage of rough housing and pranks.

We all settled in for the night. Pushing the two seats together I laid down, covered myself with my coat and fell fast asleep. The two men did the same- each trying carefully not to invade my space.

Some time late into the night we awoke to the Austrian border patrol pounding on our compartment door demanding to see our papers. All three of us, blurry eyed and chilled by the icy air pouring through the open doors, produced our various forms of id. This was still at a time when Europe had borders, a strange concept now that we can zip in and out of countries no differently than leaving city limits. Apparently, there had been an avalanche on the tracks and we were being rerouted. No problem.

The night continued. Falling in and out of sleep as happens on trains when someone needs to exit the compartment to use the bathroom, smoke or just move their legs. We three moved through the night, through tunnels and valleys, without being able to see a thing. At some point, the heat in our train car went out. The thermos reappeared and this time, when the thermos was offered, I thankfully accepted.

As the temperature dipped further and we were able to see our breath, the two men began their quest with me now under their wing. They told me to stay put and they would find a more suitable location for the three of us to ride out the rest of our journey. (Note: I am not used to this kind of ... chivalry? Letting someone else take care of things? What a very strange idea.)

A short while later, they returned, suggesting I grab my bag and we were off, through stomach of the snaking train to our new, warmer compartment. This compartment was cozily crammed with significantly more people and luggage. We shimmied into our assigned seats exchanging pleasantries with our new neighbors. Sitting next to me was one of my original train mates, now awake and prepared for an even longer journey than originally bargained for. We swapped stories and photos.

Although life long Italian resident, this lovely man had made up his mind to relocate and open a pizza restaurant in Munich. How amazing is that? How often do we, at any age, throw caution to the wind and follow our dreams? His friend, as he told me, was coming along to help him set up and visit his son while there.

The early morning became late morning. We shared stories and cookies amongst the group. Instant friendship- we melded together so easily - crossing the abyss of language and culture and age. I cannot say I have ever experienced something as naturally cohesive as that group. Oddly, I felt at home in my overcrowded compartment.

Pulling into the station we each said our goodbyes and wished each other well. They continued on their journey, I on mine. Further down the platform I found my friends wide eyed, refreshed and ready to tackle Munich. I cannot say I was quite as refreshed, but I was happy, and Munich awaited us.