Saturday, April 28, 2012

Do you have what it takes?

There have been several times in my life when I wished I had the kind of quick thinking and reacting skills to do the right thing in an emergency. Not just anything, but the correct thing. My first self realization occurred after I showed up for jury duty for Salem's 1992 fire bombing trial. I had been anxious while I filled out the long qualifying questionnaire, finding the correct parking area and trotting the somewhat long distance with a fellow member to the court house. But that's who I am--an anxious person.

We potential jury members were part of a larger than normal pool. They ushered us through the metal detector and into a large courtroom. There was standing room only. A judge told us of the possible long time commitment and began the process of listening to those who asked to be excused. My fellow trotter and I, leaned against the back wall next to one another.

And then it happened. I felt my fellow trotter's shoulder lean into my own. He was an older gentleman and we had been standing a long time, I justified. But then it became clear that he wasn't leaning, he was experiencing a medical emergency. I eased his limp body to the wood floor. My first thoughts didn't include heart attack, I assumed he had locked his knees and fainted. I removed my jacket and placed it under his head. Luckily, another juror with the needed experience and response, handed my jacket back to me and said we needed to keep him lying flat.

I stepped back to let those amazing people who knew just what to do, step in. Paramedics arrived immediately. I remember hearing they had been in the basement preparing for their day. I read in the paper that the man passed away a week or so later.

Self realization number two: During my drive to work I spotted a woman walking her little dog. A much larger, unleashed dog, was harassing her dog. When I mentioned it at work, my co-worker asked, "and you didn't stop to help?". I'm embarrassed to admit that the thought had never crossed my mind.

And the latest? Two days ago, I was driving to my credit union to deposit a check and spotted a dachshund walking on the sidewalk without his owner. I drove slowly and thought about parking in the next available spot and returning to pick him up, but what would I do after that? Take him back to work with me? As the questions rolled through my head, I spotted 2 other cars pull over and walk back to rescue the dog.

Are some of us just wired better to respond to situations? Or is there a way to change how we react?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Flourless Chocolate Cookies with Chocolate Chips & Cocoa Nibs

Franny made these for us last night. Not sure how I've kept from eating them all, except I'm pretty sure she keeps a secret tally. ;>)

It's true I am a bit naive when it comes to baking or any other kind of cooking, but am I the only one who has never heard of toasting walnuts before adding them to a recipe? I get the adding flavor thing. I've just never heard of toasting walnuts.

The recipe came from

Flourless Chocolate-Walnut Cookies
Adapted from Francois Payard via New York Magazine*

- Intended to make 12 large cookies or more on a smaller scale according to your preference (about 20 for me) -

2 1/4 cups walnut halves
2 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large egg whites, at room temperature*
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

* I dialed down the amount of walnuts and sugar in the recipe. The original calls for 2 3/4 cups of walnut halves and 3 cups confectioners' sugar. Also note that you may not need to use all the egg whites, as per the instructions below.

Start by toasting the walnut halves. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place walnuts in a baking sheet to bake for about 10 minutes until they are golden brown and fragrant. Let cool slightly and coarsely chop.

Lower oven temperature to 320 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer on low speed), whisk confectioners' sugar, cocoa powder (sift in if very lumpy), and salt together, followed by the walnuts. Gently whisk in (or on medium speed in the mixer) the vanilla extract and half the egg whites. Start with about half the egg whites and add more as necessary until the batter is just moistened. Switch over to a wooden spoon if necessary and stir until the batter is thick and scoopable like brownie batter. Do not overbeat or the batter will stiffen.

Spoon or scoop the batter into 12 large mounds (or 20 smaller ones) onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake for 14-16 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time. The cookies are done when they are shiny and the tops are lightly cracked. Remove the pans from the oven. Slide the parchment paper, with the cookies, on to wire racks to cool completely before removing. Store cookies in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

...And for those who want to play around, here's the other version:  click for the second recipe and to read the interesting commentary.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

No proof

She came to me
as I lay with you
on that golden afternoon.

Our bedroom
throbbed with her presence.
Like a rush,
a tall ocean wave,

She brought
all the love and memories
that only she could bring

The intensity of her presence
washed over me and through me
and I wept.


Sunday, April 8, 2012

Things I never tire of

Cherry trees blossoming
Watching birds and clouds
Feeling the sun on my head
Seeing children's smiles and hearing their laughter
Catching a glimpse of the first daffodils
Noticing how everyone's smiles broaden on a blue sky day
Watching the buds on bushes and trees swell and burst open

. . . maybe I should've just written "Spring".  :>)

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The act of composing a letter

When I'm in the shower, my brain is often at it's most creative or ready to tackle problems. How about yours?

Here's what happened in my shower this morning:
I hate replaying troubling incidents in my life and have doubts about the value of doing so. But this morning, that's exactly what I found my brain doing.

Someone close to me, to whom I have extended a helping hand in the form of an open door and a seemingly endless capacity for listening, became someone I have little time or patience for. It happened one summer several years ago, during one of those "Mi casa es su casa" moments.

Over the years, we had come to accept the unpredictability of when this person would be around for dinner or not. We did our best at making sure there was enough to feed an extra diner. It's true, I enabled this behavior, but they were often broken or wounded when they landed on our doorstep. Our home was their refuge.

But that summer I mentioned? They brought their newest love to meet us all. I doubt I'll ever recover from losing their last love from our lives, but we opened our arms and welcomed the new one in. Sadly, instead of the new person suggesting that perhaps they should let us know the whats and whens of their comings and goings, it became two people to possibly feed and entertain or possibly not.

I don't remember details, but it wasn't a great summer for me before they arrived. The unpredictability made it worse. As well as the new person's desire to stay in the back bedroom whenever they were in our house. My irritability and anxiety began to ratchet up as the days went by. Especially when I heard from siblings they had visited up north and how delightful the new love was. What? Delightful? How do you know? All they do is hide when they're here.

And so that open door closed. And I festered for the next 4+ years. And siblings tried to carefully mend things between us. I wasn't interested. I was done.

That's how I found myself in the shower composing a letter. Not to the person close to me, but to their love. I wanted to offer up the possibility of starting over. What happened instead? I ended up with a better understanding of that summer and the closing of that open door.

That act of composing a letter was an interesting exercise in unraveling that relationship tangle. I recommend it.