Friday, February 28, 2014

Welcome to the Cabin Fever Breakfast Bakery

Looking for New and Different, something really really Different, because otherwise I'd go nuts in this stubborn winter weather, I tried baked oatmeal. Add eggs and milk and sweetener, load it with nuts and dried fruit, sometimes chopped apple. Spread it in a loaf pan or divide it into "muffins" and bake. Eat hot or cold -- and this recipe has a twist: espresso powder gives a mocha touch. To eat: as a muffin, or place in bowl and pour milk over it.

Maple Espresso Baked Oatmeal (makes 12 "muffins")

2-1/2 cups rolled oats ("old fashioned" on label)
1 tablespoon espresso powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 ounces unsalted butter
2/3 cup real maple syrup
3 eggs
2/3 cups milk
1 cup nuts (pecans, walnuts)
3/4 cup dried fruit (raisins, cherries, craisins)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter in a heated pan until it browns slightly and smells nutty. Set this aside to cool. In large bowl, combine oats, baking powder, espresso powder and salt. In medium bowl combine maple syrup, eggs, milk and melted butter. Then add liquid ingredients to the big bowl, mix well and let it sit 10 minutes while you butter the loaf pan or prepare the muffin pan: Use liners, and grease them.

Then spoon 1/2 cup of mixture into each baking cup, or pour all into a loaf pan. Tamp mixture down. Bake "muffins" 30-35 minutes; loaf pans 50 minutes. Eat warm or cold. I like it chilled -- tastes like bread pudding -- but it's so much better for you, and the espresso wakes you up.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

It's Already Happened

My heart was squeezed dry like an orange today by news from a friend about her daughter's MRI and biopsy; the daughter's got holes in her bones; they can only wait for the test results, available Thursday; she told me, "Pray" and "You know what this is like."

I sure do.

A friend has a leaky heart valve that's leaked for a while and now it's time for open-heart surgery and repairs; his wife got skin cancer on her eyelid; her father committed suicide two years ago at age 94. They do not deserve this. Another friend sleeps in her clothes in case her husband has another heart attack and she has to take him to the hospital; about every three weeks there's a false alarm. Another friend died because her lungs hardened. It was genetic; there was nothing anyone could do.

I am grateful for the things that have already happened to me. I used to lie awake terrified of cancer, poverty, bereavement, job loss, debt, aging. These things happened and continue to happen; my only advantage is in having no children to lose. I am glad to have some first-timer's agonies over and done with. Having made it to the other shore, I can try to hold out a hand or a light to maybe help someone else across, or just stand there to let it be known it can be done.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Adult Onset

1. Prolonged and violent sneezing in the mornings for about an hour, beginning mid-to-late February.
2. Sensation as if a small Sputnik satellite was lodged in one nostril.
3. Same nostril constantly running.
4. Cloth handkerchiefs all washed, ironed, and strategically placed throughout the house, and in pockets, purse and car, because paper tissues for this purpose are too expensive and impractical.
5. Itchy eyes, and a belief lasting about two days that it's merely my powder eyeshadow.
6. Chills.
7. Sweats.
8. Utter exhaustion in midafternoon.
9. Nose blown until it's red.
10. Coughing up what feels like car parts, lasting most of March.
11. If I'm too cocky or luck is bad, bedridden for two or three weeks with crippling flulike sensation of having been beaten up with a baseball bat, with inability to eat anything but Rice Chex with rice milk, and me to miss Mardi Gras and the first few Lenten fish fries and all the rest of life, followed by three weeks of coughing up car parts and all my own bones.

Measures taken:

1. On or around February 18, begin daily dose of Loratidine (generic form of Claritin), taken at night to minimize violent morning sneezing; continue through November. They say if you take it before the season "really" begins you can squelch your histamines before they act up. [Note, from the above Weather Channel Chart, that measurable airborne allergens began floating up our noses on January 27.]
2. At first sign of hayfever take heaping tablespoons of locally-farmed honey, straight from the spoon: one tablespoon each day for seven days. (This seems to reduce symptoms by about 20 percent.)
3. Wash bedding; vacuum carpets.
4. Wear paper mask outside.
5. Monitor pollen forecasts and numbers.
6. Shower and shampoo after time outdoors.
7. Consume Cold-Eez zinc cold-prevention tablets.
8. Close doors and windows.
9. Start portable air filters.
10. Hot compresses on swollen sinuses.
11. Garlic broth.
12. Early bedtime and late rising.
13. At the Black Madonna of Czestochowa Shrine, dunk my whole head in its miraculous spring  and breathe its water up through my nose. This plus prayer eased symptoms for about four days.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Story of the Baby Cardinal

Today the male cardinal here sang his slide-whistle sound, a territorial song, sure sign of mating and spring. I've heard him as early as February 6 but I'll take him anytime. Reminds me of the spring that Demetrius parked his truck in the city on a tree-lined street, went to work, drove home 30 miles and then saw a live baby cardinal in the truck bed. Must have fallen from its nest into the truck.

Demetrius didn't tell me; he knew I'd fuss and maybe cry, and figured the little thing wouldn't live long (might have been in the truck bed all day) but the next morning it was still alive and looked him right in the eye and opened its mouth -- a language all live things understand. It wanted to be fed.

Demetrius phoned the Bird Sanctuary and then a songbird-rescue shelter and they said to put the cardinal in a paper bag, roll the top over, and bring it. By the time the indignant bird was in the bag Demetrius was fond of it and had named it Ounce. He returned to the shelter the next day before work and watched the rescue people feed Ounce by putting food paste on its beak.

He visited Ounce a third time and said the rescuer was a bit brusque and after he told me the whole story I said don't go back without a $25 donation and he took my advice.

For the rest of his life if Demetrius needed cheering up I reminded him that there are generations of cardinals because he was good to just one.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Ticks Don't Die

Planned to list here the good things about a snowy subzero winter, and the first thing I thought was that a hard winter kills ticks so summer will have fewer.

I didn't recall who'd told me that, but facts found on the Laboratory of Medical Zoology site say deep cold will indeed kill the ticks who are above ground--but most winter below ground, sleeping in leafmeal, and when it thaws they'll latch on to the first available warm body. Ticks are always aiming for a place on your or an animal's head or neck, where blood circulation is abundant and good. That's the bad news. The good news is that a tick who's been on you less than 24 hours is unlikely to have transmitted a disease. So the city-dweller freakouts I've seen when my guests find a tick are unwarranted (but fun to watch).

It's fleas who are killed by cold. But their eggs, wherever they laid them, are just fine and can take as long as three years to hatch.

So: One good thing about a miserable winter (sneeze) is that ticks are inactive.

Second good thing: Snow is picturesque. Photo is of my pumphouse this morning. That little plastic table I got from LaBarque Creek when it flash-flooded. I've never opened that door, having witnessed bees and wasps disappearing beneath its eaves into the pumphouse interior, maybe forming a whole colony. I can only tell you that it works and that its water is tasty but very hard. I've lived here 13 winters now and the pump (electric) has never frozen.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The View

"Let's hike at Castlewood State Park at 2 p.m. Sunday," said the hiking group. When I got to the park, a former resort for the swells of old St. Louis, I saw that everyone on the planet had the same idea. Castlewood has three parking lots. They were all filled. I drove around for 10 minutes, more slowly than the pedestrians walking their dogs, enjoying the 58-degree winter sunshine, sporting shades and shorts (always, someone prematurely wears shorts because it's very important to identify oneself on all possible occasions as a party animal). I gave up and was backing out -- couldn't hike if I couldn't park -- when I found and seized a spot. Children ran around. Cars nosed along the road in a long slow line. Bikers and cyclists powered through. A woman fished in the little creek. The park was crowded and we -- 20 hikers -- were only making it worse.

The trail we chose had been churned into mud by other hikers and big dogs and off-road bicycles. Almost nothing is more slippery than mud except for the watery ice we encountered on the next section of our trail. Traction was impossible. Some hikers turned back. Leaning on my hiking poles I bypassed this through a netting of brush. When regrouped, we took an alternate trail known to be rocky rather than muddy. Then approaching the cliff top we met with, like, a runway of mud again, and dozens upon dozens of people and dogs enjoying, in the rare sunshine, the view of the Meramec River. The way back down was a wooden staircase, thank God, but the path along the riverbank was muddy. At least it was level. We got our hike in, and the bluff-top view that the swells of old St. Louis thought would be forever theirs alone.