Discipline, Punishment & Pleasure?

Chapter 9.  Fifty Shades of Grey.  Late last night after the kids were fast asleep, I took a cool shower.  This was my attempt to wake up and get through more than five pages of Grey before passing out for the night.

All day long it feels like the sun is lying on top of me.  The Master bedroom in this house never cools down as completely as the other rooms do in the summer.    The sheets on our bed feel like I just took them out of the oven.  The only relief is the breeze from the fan swiping at me intermittently.  No surprise then that after cooling down from my shower and climbing into bed with Grey I was warm all over again.

Having read more than a hundred pages, I still stand firm – the writing is high-school level, maybe Freshman Composition at best.  But – this author can describe a scene with acute detail.  I have now “seen” Grey’s playroom.  And like Anastasia, I have chosen to stay and play.  And, like Anastasia, I’m really not sure how I could even consider this.

This is what I hoped to get from the author.  E.L. James is standing before her readers naked – confident that it is our human nature to keep staring even though we tell ourselves that maybe we shouldn’t.  She is taking us by the hand to the dark places within our psyche where the words, “discipline, punishment and pleasure” are somehow hanging out together.


Stay Here in the Heat with Me

It’s going to be another hot one today in Madison, Wisconsin.  Temperatures are expected to climb and claw their way into the very high nineties.  Early morning and already the humidity is beginning to tease and tighten the tangles in my dark hair.  It is time to give in to the heat.

I didn’t make it out of Chapter Two of Fifty Shades of Grey last night before falling asleep.  Maybe it’s the thick air that makes my eyes so heavy and leaves my will tired and weak as soon as I turn on my bedroom lamp.   Or maybe it’s lines like “Ground swallow me up now!” and “-my mother is all about new business ventures.” that are like a double dose of NyQuil for me.  This is how I feel so far – twenty-two pages in.  I am not afraid of changing my mind.

This morning I am re-reading the first few pages of Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  I’m sure the last time I read this was two summers ago and yet I can’t recall names or descriptions of any of the main characters.  This lack of memory worries me.  I know I read it because quite a few page corners are turned down to mark where his words come together in a way that gives me new understanding of the truth of our human-ness…

 “Little by little, listening to her sleep, he pieced together the navigation chart of her dreams and sailed among the countless islands of her secret life.”

Like I said it’s summer and it’s hot.  Rather than keep cool all day in the air conditioning, I prefer to sit still outside and read books that give off heat.  Authors like Garcia Marquez and Sandra Cisneros (The House on Mango Street) inspire me to pick on fresh fruit and cheese right from the fridge then sip a cool drink – allowing its icy sweat to drip down my fingers while swinging gently in a hammock on a lazy afternoon in July.

I’m Reading 50 Shades of Grey (I Know You Are Too)

We went on a family outing to Barnes and Noble yesterday late afternoon.  My husband took the kids to the childrens’ section while I walked up to customer service and asked the college-aged guy behind the counter if he had the following books:  My Life in France – Julia Child, Mexican Enough – Stephanie Elizondo Griest, Caramelo – Sandra Cisneros.  And then I said firmly, “And I’m sure you have 50 Shades of Grey.”  To which he replied, “Right this Way.”  There was no eye contact.

I stuck Grey in-between my other books and wondered if I could even bring this book – that none of the moms I know are talking about at the pool – up the steps into the childrens’ department where fairy-tale murals are painted on the walls and my own kids are innocently picking out more summer reading.  I lingered long enough at the bottom of the staircase and soon enough was joined by the rest of my family where we headed over to check – out.

Before getting in line, I put the book back on a shelf.   Standing next to my husband, he notices I am holding My Life in France and Caramelo and says, “Where’s 50 Shades of Grey?”  I explain that the books I have will help me become a better writer.  And then he says, “Yeah, but, I thought you told me the author of Grey is fearless?”  Hmm.  He got me.  I was chickening out.  From what I’ve heard, the author is fearless and that is why she is successful.  I dumped Julia and quickly reclaimed my copy of Grey.

The kids dropped their books on the check – out counter one by one.  I put Caramelo down first and then I dropped Grey wondering if the middle-aged woman with strands of white hair dividing her other-wise brown waves would look up at me and wink.  I really wanted her to wink at me.  I was ready to wink back.  No eye contact.  Maybe I am making too big a deal about buying this book.  Maybe the author isn’t as fearless as I desperately need her to be.  The cashier put all our books in the same bag and we were on our way.

After another errand and then a stop for dinner, we went home where we put on our pajamas and all of us climbed onto the couch to watch America’s Got Talent.  All I could think about was the book lying in the bag on our kitchen table.

Bedtime came for the kids and for me.  We all kissed goodnight and headed upstairs.  My husband, not ready to come to bed stayed downstairs on the couch.  After tucking the kids in their beds, I headed to mine, got under the covers and began to read.

I only made it half-way into chapter two when my eyes began to close.  The author is building up this guy Grey to be a powerful, wealthy, gorgeous, manipulative control-freak – it’s obvious where this is going.  I am surprised and disappointed to learn that he is not even 30 years old yet.  She is using the word “grey” and “steel” to describe a lot so far.  His eyes, his office.  Her name is Anastasia Steele for Pete’s sake.

It’s nine o’clock in the morning.  Twelve more hours until I can get back to this book.

For the Love of Truth and Balance

The last day of school was this past Tuesday.  All three kids are home now excited to begin their summer vacation.  It’s been three days and already we’ve been biking, swimming, reading and eating a lot to make up for those calories quickly burning off their small bodies.   I’ve refereed some fights, one involving Nerf baseball bats and administered First Aid for some minor cuts and bumps.  Have I mentioned it’s only been three days?

I’ve been putting off posting anything for fear that it won’t be perfect – at this moment I have half a mind on what I’m writing while out of the corner of my eye I’m watching to make sure my son and daughter don’t draw on each other with markers.   It’s early morning and we are sitting at our table on the back deck and I know I only have another twenty minutes or so before it will be time to pull them off each other and feed them breakfast.

Schedules change.  Routines shift.  Life moves us continually in different directions.  My life right now is about letting the kids stay up way too late to catch fireflies while keeping them well-rested enough to avoid the dramatic meltdowns.  My hope is to get them in the kitchen with me and cook up some granola, homemade pizza, and watch them put together a simple salad of their own desire.  I hope also to drop my expectations that my sentences need to be perfect and well-crafted and that I will just get the words out there because sometimes half-assed is better than no ass at all.

Here’s to Life perfectly as it is!

Update on Goulish Avocado Mango Salad and Last Night’s No-Plan Dinner Keeps the Vampires Away

After my last post I went grocery shopping and bought the ingredients I needed for Avocado Mango Salad.  I was actually surprised to find perfect, creamy, orange flesh when I sliced into each of the three mangoes (it’s been awhile since I’ve had a really good one – that’s why I bought three). The organic avocado, however, was a let-down.  I separated the two halves to find a grayish-green hue that reminded me of Frankenstein’s goulish complexion.  That night we had really sweet mango slices for dessert.  No regrets there.  The next day, feeling mildly obsessed, I returned to the store armed with my list of salad ingredients ready for a re-do.  I am currently giving the new avocado another day to sit on my kitchen counter and become the bright grass-green, butter-yellow delight we both know it can be.

In the meantime, yesterday was Monday, and as I sat at my kitchen table at six o’clock in the morning, having that first sip of coffee, thinking about the week ahead, the question, “What’s for dinner?” brought me into focus.  However, twelve hours later and I still had no idea, so instinctively I began to boil a large pot of water and took it from there.

Last night’s meal was simple and I threw it together as I went along: whole wheat spaghetti tossed with garlic and fresh sage-turned golden in a saute pan of a little butter and olive oil,  fresh green beans sauteed with more garlic and olive oil, and I’m just gonna say it – Trader Joe’s turkey meatballs that I warmed in the oven and finished with a drizzle of olive oil.  A girl has got to take a short-cut once in a while and Trader Joes brand rarely lets me down.  I sliced a little fresh mozzarella cheese for the table and done.

And then I wound up at Urgent Care at 9:00 pm with my daughter who accidently swallowed a rock.  She’s fine and I know I’ll be seeing that rock again one day soon.  But that is another story.

When was the last time you created a meal on the fly?  What did you make?  Did you surprise yourself with tasty results?

Paradise is Where You Find It

I’m a Jersey Girl recently transplanted to the Midwest.  I’ve traded ocean views and parkway exits for cornfield landscapes dotted with red barns and cows grazing.  My first winter here, I was surprised to learn that not every Midwesterner likes the cold and snow.  So I asked around to anyone who had a moment (and most people out here will always give you a moment and a smile), “Why live here?  It gets so cold and the winter seems to last forever!”  The best explanation I received was, “Have you seen our spring and summer?”  Yes, I have, and it really is gorgeous around here once the trees begin to green and the flowers and warm-weather birds return.

People are out walking and biking, kayaking and canoeing.  Kids are outside until dark, returning fresh-air exhausted with dirt between their toes.  The sky out here is so big!  I have seen my fair share of full moons over the ocean – magnificent! but I have to say, never have I felt so small as when I stood on a dirt road and saw that same full moon light up a cornfield in July.

When I think of paradise, I think of an island somewhere in the Carribbean, lush with hibiscus and palm trees – I think of mangoes, I think of sipping a mojito at a bar on white sand under a thatched roof – my eyes closed beneath the wave of a tropical breeze.  I’ve learned that paradise is a feeling that I carry with me.  And I can feel that state of bliss deeply no matter where I am – whether it’s the Jersey Shore, driving on long country roads, or sitting at my kitchen table deciding which recipe from my newly purchased Cuban cookbook I’ll try first.

So while I decide between Avocado and Mango salad or Black Beans and Rice, tell me, where is your paradise?

Schiacciata alla Fiorentina

My husband, kids and I were in Captiva, Florida with friends during Easter.  I was swimming instead of baking this year and so I did not get a chance to make a dessert.  Last week, I found this recipe by accident and decided it wasn’t too late to serve my family Schiacciata alla Fiorentina or “Orange Easter Cake”.  This is a good cake and as the recipe promises a very easy one to make.  The cake is golden when it comes out of the oven and I taste the nutmeg first which warms the flavor of orange.  It is perfect for breakfast with a cup of coffee perfectly French pressed with cinnamon.

It’s not, however, my childrens’ favorite although, as the days went on and I began toasting pieces of the cake, my one son became a fan of the toasty flavor.  I did receive the following comments from my little food critics: “Where’s the frosting?”  “What are those black dots?”  (nutmeg)  My husband says he can take it or leave it.  I like it and will make it again one of these afternoons and freeze it into portion-size pieces.

I have to say when I think of oranges and nutmeg, I think of Christmas time.  The warm, citrus- spicy aromas that filled my kitchen seemed a little out of place.  I will most likely then, save this “Easter” cake to brighten up the cold days of next winter.

Schiacciata alla Fiorentina (recipe from allrecipes.com)

2 c all-purpose flour

1 c white sugar

7 Tb warm milk

¼ c olive oil

1 orange, juice and zest

2 eggs

1 ½ Tb baking powder

1 tsp vanilla extract

½ tsp ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 360 (yes, 360) degrees.  Grease a 9×13 baking dish with butter.  Mix flour, sugar, warm milk, olive oil, orange juice and zest, eggs, baking powder, vanilla extract and nutmeg in a large bowl and mix until batter is well combined (I used a hand mixer on low speed for 30 seconds and then medium speed for about a minute). Pour batter into the prepared baking dish and bake in a preheated oven until toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean – about 30 minutes. Since my oven bakes fast, I began checking for doneness at about 20 minutes and every 5 minutes after.

How to Hard-Boil An Egg I Will Not Forget

Lo que bien se quiso nunca se olvida.

That which you greatly loved never is forgotten.

(A Creole saying from Memories of a Cuban Kitchen

By Mary Urrutia Randelman & Joan Schwartz)

Today is the second anniversary of my grandmother’s passing.  In honor of her memory, I made hard-boiled eggs and I ate a piece of cake.  It was my grandmother, Gertrude “Trudy” Ludwig, who taught me simple and good things like: the 3/15 minute timing for hard-boiled eggs, it is necessary to relax when the work is done, and that a woman should enjoy a piece of cake now and then.  For as many memories I have of her standing at the stove, I have just as many of her sitting in her lawn chair in the sun telling me stories while sipping a Coke.

The following is Grandma’s foolproof technique for hard-boiled eggs:

Cover eggs with cold water.

Bring to a gentle boil, continue to boil for 3 minutes.

Take off the heat and cover.

Let them sit for 15 minutes.

Finally pour off the hot water while running cold water over the eggs.

Leave the eggs to cool in the pot with cold water.

Go wash last night’s dishes or start a load of laundry.

If you haven’t made your bed, go – make it now.

Now sit for a moment and enjoy your cake.

The eggs should now be cool.

*Dry each egg with a paper towel and put them in a glass container with a lid in the refrigerator.

*A glass container with a lid is important if you don’t want to listen to your husband and children complain every single time they open the refrigerator door that “It smells like farts in there!”

The Beginnings of a Tasty Affair

What happens when the love of your life refuses to try anything with mustard, frisee lettuce, beans, green vegetables or tomatoes in it?  Where does a woman, who loves to try new foods, who loves to cook and learn new skills in the kitchen go when her husband will only eat the same eight meals over and over?  When her man would rather throw a frozen pizza in the oven and head on over to the couch to wait for the timer to ding? When the only cheese he’ll put in his mouth is American or Cheddar, the only bread, white or crusty Italian?

And worse, when your perfect children watch their hero, their killer of spiders – the guy who can fix anything- shrink from the broccoli on the table?

I’ll tell you what she’s done.  Time and time again, she has cooked the meal she knows he’ll eat and put the kids’ chicken nuggets in the oven alongside the carrots (orange, not green, and so, acceptable) and potatoes for him.  She’s chopped up rainbows of raw veggies for the kids to pick over.  And, finally, she has sat at the dinner table with gratitude in her heart for her wonderful, quirky family and with a furrow in her brow for the many recipes out there she might never get to try.

But, one day she realizes that she has a small window of time between dropping off the kids at school and picking them up.  She has a small moment of solitude in the afternoon when her husband is at work and she is left all alone.  And then it hits her!  Wham! She’s pulls her dusty cookbooks and recipe box down off the shelf and decides she will use this time to create wonderful meals for herself.  And who has to know?  These are private moments she indulges in and keeps them all to her self.

Until now, until Mangoes and Mojitos.