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Twelve

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Another year. Another anniversary of retirement.

We still live in the same place. We aren’t looking to move. We really want to “age in place” and are taking steps to make our house even more comfortable for us old folk.

I am happy these days being a homebody, since we spent so much time on business travel when we worked. I also am not enamored of living in close quarters like we would be if we moved to a retirement community.

What are we doing differently than when we first retired? Anything? We are having more outdoor work being done by contractors.

We have been retired twelve years. Are we bored? Certainly not. Could we stay here if we want a single level home? Definitely.

Coming up? A summer of renovation. New second story windows to make the house much more energy efficient.

A newly configured laundry room, and maybe the master closet. Still not ready to tackle the master bath or the kitchen.

I decided to cut back on the garden plantings since we will be dealing with contractors all summer, but I still plan to have tomatoes, onions and herbs. Most of my plot will be planted for food bank harvest.

I did find my first asparagus of the season which will go onto a flatbread tonight with some leftover Easter lamb.

I actually cut these below the soil line to get them out of the ground before our Sunday night frost warning. Gives them that white asparagus stalk.

Besides that, the cooking bug is still alive and kicking. Lots of experimentation using old magazines and a few new downloaded cookbooks.

Yes, that’s a nine year old Virginia Chardonnay, the last one from the cellar. Absolutely exquisite, served with another version of the clams and pasta dishes we’ve made this winter.

Here’s to many more seafood experiments this spring and summer. Can’t wait for crab season to get here.

Retirement. Doesn’t get much better.

Dinner’s a Winner

Some days it just amazes me that I can whip up something and put it out there to “rave reviews”. Well, at least from my husband.

The simplest pork chops, pan seared, quick finished in the cast iron pan.

Mango salsa, because we have an excess of mangos from our CSA.

They were green when we got them a week ago but now they are ripe and ready to use.

Air fried sweet potato fries. We get these monster sweet potatoes in our CSA box. Like these.

One potato. Sliced, parboiled and finished in the air fryer while I cook the pork chops. Avocado oil and garam masala. Served with a drizzle of Carolina style mustard dressing.

A simple salad on the side. One of those 30 minute meals (ah yes, who can forget Rachel Ray).

The star of the meal? Those fries. I am so happy I got that smart oven.

Bundookies

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Lithuanian Meatballs.

Why am I writing about Lithuanian meatballs? Because a deli in my husband’s hometown had them in their freezer. Along with kielbasa.

We took a trip to “Shen-do”, Shenandoah PA, where my husband was born and grew up. It’s been at least 4 years since we took that three hour drive and all because of kielbasa.

According to my husband Kowalonek’s makes the best kielbo. The absolute best. Fresh kielbasa, heavy with garlic and coarsely ground. I have bought kielbasa many places in MD and southern PA but they don’t measure up to his favorite.

This is a local staple, and one that draws people from out of state to buy their fresh and their smoked versions. Lots of non-PA license tags in the parking lot. Take a number. We were #21 and they were serving #11 when we visited two weeks ago. People were spending quite a bit to stock up. Like over $100 of mostly $5.99/lb rings of kielbasa. Coolers in their truck bed. This is serious Polish sausage love.

We also saw they have a competitor. A Lithuanian deli just down the road off Main St. That’s where we found bundookies, and brought them home. Along with fresh and smoked kielbasa from both places.

Kowalonek’s has the best fresh kielbasa and Lucky’s has the best smoked version.

We did a smoked kielbasa throw down one night, and declared the really smoky, dense Lucky’s kielbasa the winner. Those rings of kielbasa turned into five dinners

Lucky’s is owned by a Lithuanian family. My mother-in-law was Lithuanian and we know she made us bundookies but just called them pork meatballs. They are an interesting blend, using saltines as the binder. You mix them all up, sear them in a pan and finish them in the oven.

I got the recipe from a “coal cracker” website. Doctored it a little, as I didn’t have evaporated milk. The recipe calls for allspice, which most definitely gives it a different profile than our Italian inspired versions of meatballs, The amazing coal cracker blog from Lori has the full recipe.

I will be making these often. Defrosting some ground pork to make them again this weekend.

Memories in a pan.

Snowdazed

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You know what? These constant snow alerts are getting old. Would it snow Thursday? How about tomorrow? Not looking like it right now thankfully. We got lucky this week.

It seems to be shaping up as one of those winters.

Snow on the ground and icy spots in the driveway. Not fun as we age.

We didn’t get the latest expected snow but we certainly are getting the cold. We have the faucet in the upstairs hall bathroom dripping since that is our weak spot when it comes to pipes getting cold enough to freeze. We updated the insulation everywhere we could access, just to prevent any reoccurrence of our minor flooding catastrophe that we had in January 2014.

Sometimes I feel like we are just living in anticipation of the next unplanned challenge. Every bathroom has a couple gallon jugs of water snuggled by the toilet for use in power outages. Burlap stretched between rebar is protecting the evergreens from wind damage. The newest trees have been treated with deer repellent.

The local meteorologists have a thankless job in the midAtlantic. Water to the east. Mountains to the west. Lots of hills and elevation changes that create uncertainties. Yesterday was a bust for those predictions with schools closing when they didn’t have to close.

When we moved out here 17 years ago, we moved 10 miles north but 250 feet higher in elevation. Temps are 2-4° colder than those in our old neighborhood. We get more snow, more ice and some serious wind.

This is also my time to use the oven and stove often in the kitchen. Keeps it warmer in there. This winter I am breaking in a new appliance and learning while experimenting.

I resisted following the trendy items like juicers, instapots, etc. But I finally caved and got an air fryer/smart oven. Threw away our old toaster.

I am having fun with it. Frying with very little oil. Proofing my dough for my bread baking. Making flatbreads and pizzas. And this summer I intend to use the dehydrator instead of my regular oven to process the cherry tomatoes from my garden.

Some recent uses.

A supreme flatbread with salami, ground beef and homemade tomato sauce on a quick rise dough.

White chocolate macadamia nut cookies from dough frozen before Christmas. I have several small containers with enough to make 6-8 cookies in each. The oven is a perfect size to make small batches.

I air fried button mushrooms stuffed with crab for dinner last night. Tonight I am experimenting with parsnips. Air frying them with Indian spiced seasoned salt.

I enjoy trying new things. Keeps us from getting bored during our cold dreary winters. I do have one small complaint. It takes much longer to make toast in this oven. It is perfectly toasted though, but five to six minutes is an eternity when you want breakfast.

Winter in Maryland. Completely unpredictable. We can embrace it, endure it or leave it. We aren’t going anywhere.

Just hurry up springtime!

Crabby

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It’s been decades since we last steamed blue crabs. Last weekend we finally had the opportunity to put half a bushel in the pot and have our own personal crab feast.

I grew up looking forward to those rare celebrations of the “beautiful swimmers” as our Bay blue crabs are called. Simply prepared. Steamed in either vinegar or beer. Covered in Old Bay Seasoning.

Put the newspaper on the table, grab a mallet and a knife and get down to business. We have been enjoying the eastern shore crab houses the past few years. Not making the mess in the kitchen steaming them ourselves.

Now we have a neighbor who crabs every week and sells what he catches. We bought half a bushel of mixed size “sooks”, which are mature female crabs.

Cost us less than a pound of lump crabmeat costs these days. We ate a few dozen right from the pot, and then started picking crab meat to make soup and crab cakes,

The crab cakes were worth the time to pick all that backfin.

I made these in my cast iron skillet using browned butter to get them nice, crispy and dark.

We have until the end of the month to get more if we want to do this again. It’s been far too long and besides the little mess in the kitchen, they aren’t that hard to do.

Makes me remember growing up in crab country.

Cooking Up a Storm

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I don’t know about you but we can’t believe the thunderstorms we have been experiencing this summer. Major rainfall amounts and lots of wind damage with it. Flooded areas in our yard, even with all the improvements we made to handle it. Yeah, a 4.68 inch per hour rain rate will overwhelm your drains. Add to that, we had high winds which took down telephone poles on our main road. We ended up with a 27 hour long power outage. The longest outage in our 16 1/2 years here.

We had to deal with no sump pump while it rained, and then hours where we were finding coolers and ice to protect our frozen foods. We think that it is now time to do the generator purchase. We lost a little bit of food, and had quite a bit that was starting to defrost.

So, we cooked it all up.

From top to bottom. Bacon. London broil. Beef sausage. Shrimp. We ate for a week from these proteins. A steak salad. A beef ragû. Shrimp scampi. BLTs for lunch.

Of course, if we add to this the abundance from my garden, you could see how this could be overwhelming.

Tomatoes, peppers and okra. More than enough to keep me busy in the kitchen.

Dog Days

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You learn something new every day. I never knew what dog days of summer meant. I thought it had something to do with dogs. Not astronomy.

We are officially in the dog days, since the Dog Star Sirius has done its annual rising in alignment with the Sun. The ancient Greeks thought that the hottest time of year was caused by the Sun and the brightest star (Sirius) focusing their heat on the Earth.

Well, we are certainly getting our share of hot days. Another warm week ahead. This is the time in summer when I don’t want to cook much. Lots of salads and easy meals.

The tomatoes are starting to ripen, which means I will be heating up the kitchen making sauces and roasting cherry tomatoes to put away for the winter.

I made a trip To Sprouts Market yesterday to pick up simple items to continue this pattern in meal prep. Lots of cheeses, olive mix, some prosciutto and nuts/seeds.

Some of my latest successes.

An updated fennel and orange salad, with the addition of blueberries and almonds, and on a bed of leaf lettuce.

A Greek salad using a massive heirloom pineapple tomato, from my CSA. My large tomatoes are just beginning to ripen.

Tonight though, I put together one of my absolute favorites. Peach, tomato and burrata salad.

Tomatoes and basil from my garden. CSA peaches. Burrata bought at Sprouts. Olive oil from The Breadery in Oella.

This is a restaurant quality salad. At a fraction of the cost. Worth splurging on the burrata.

I also made a simple gazpacho today which is resting in the fridge. It will be dinner tomorrow, with a side dish of prosciutto wrapped cantaloupe. Some crusty bread. A local rosé wine.

I can handle the dog days.

The Waiting Game

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Well, the garden is planted. Just in time for heat to arrive. Daily watering to get the tomatoes going. Now, we wait for six to eight weeks for the first ripened goodies.

I started seeds at home and they were getting rather leggy while I was waiting for the weather to warm up.

I planted three varieties of heirlooms from Monticello. Red fig, purple calabash, and prudens purple. These were the last seeds from a trip to Charlottesville a few years back. All of them from the descendants of three hundred year old stock.

Last year only the purple calabash survived. Crossing my fingers that these healthy looking plants make it.The purple calabash have won ribbons for me in the county fair.

Every day I go up to the garden, I cross my fingers as these heirlooms are far more fragile than the hybrid tomatoes available to grow.

I do mix in some hybrids, like sungold and celebrity and early girl.

This year my theme is tomato sauce. I planted onions, peppers, basil and tomatoes.

A few squash plants, and a handful of okra. Yes, I really like okra especially when I can oven bake them as “okra fries”.

So easy to make. Crunchy. I use garam masala on mine, and dip in ranch dressing.

In the meantime, while waiting for the main event of the summer harvest, we continue to enjoy the asparagus and rhubarb in many ways. The latest?

Rhubarb crisp. A simple recipe from the web. Served with vanilla ice cream.

And people wonder why I don’t eat out much. I have too much fun creating things here and enjoying leisurely meals with a good bottle of wine. While waiting for those tomatoes to produce.

Eleven

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I am sitting here watching the news and thinking about eleven years ago. And not having to get up to go to work on Monday morning. Ever again.

I retired April 1st 2010. A good way to spend April Fool’s Day. I have never regretted retiring as early as I could. Particularly when years like 2020 come along and recalibrate your plans.

I think retiring in the spring is a smart move. My husband retired in January. Dark. Cold. Stuck indoors most of the time. It is hard to transition when you are limited in things to do.

I found my hobbies and interests kept me busy. My garden. Cooking.

I then discovered the Conservancy and volunteering and the last ten years have been filled with activities that keep me busy even during the pandemic.

Last year I spent every other day for six months in the community gardens, tending my own plot, and helping with the food bank.

We have done more than a ton of food each of the past two years. Many of us who are retired use this outlet as our way to give back, while keeping active.

I also volunteer in many ways to support my husband’s hobby. Amateur radio. I cook for Field Days. For the annual “Fowl Fest”. I hope we get to conduct those activities soon, as we miss our friends and the good times we have when we are together. Like our crazy summer emergency preparedness field days. In the heat. Or rain. Or wind. But still, enjoying our hobbies with our friends.

I miss cooking for the radio guys. They are so appreciative of what we make for them. Yeah, we enjoy our meals here, but I have been cooking dinner every night for almost 400 days now. I really want to have those restaurant nights again, and want to cook for friends and family.

I know. This evening I am reminiscing, and also whining a bit about this lost year. Missing friends. Missing family. Missing my 50th reunion, which I hope will someday take place. Missing the gatherings. The sharing.

We just need to hang on a while longer. Beat this virus. So we can enjoy decades more of retirement.

But one good thing about this forced isolation. My husband got back into cooking. making a number of dinners now. Like the clam and fennel chowder I wrote about. And just simple things like pasta.

Here’s to better days. And meals with friends. And dinners at restaurants. And travel. Yeah, I miss travel. We will get there. Won’t we? I have faith. And I want to get out there.

Decadent

So OK, it is just Wednesday. No holiday. No significant life event.

But we live a fairly reclusive life, with no restaurant visits, no day trips, no outdoor activities because of the weather. We have been doing a weekly “cooking as a couple” dinner, which was a New Year’s resolution.

Tonight we cracked open a new cookbook of mine, I Cook in Color. By Asha Gomez.

Clam chowder, made with fennel and leeks.

We are using small, local businesses in our sourcing of ingredients for our cooking. We are supporting the small grocers, liquor stores, farms and a friend who is a wine broker.

We love Italian wines. Todd Ruby Wines is a wine brokerage owned by an amateur radio friend. He brings in awesome wines like this Greco di Tufo. Procured for us by The Wine Bin in Ellicott City. Perfect with the rich clam chowder.

As for the soup ingredients, Some of them came from Boarman’s. Our local grocery store. Littleneck Clams. Clam juice. Canned clams. Leeks. Fennel. Yukon Gold potatoes. Diced pancetta, which was a substitute for the smoked clams in the recipe.

We made our own seafood stock yesterday from leftover lobster claw shells. Used my CSA veggies in the stock.

The finishing touch, flour mixed with half and half, used CSA flour from a mill in Amish country PA.

How did we make it? Chopped leek, fennel and potato. Sautéed in butter. Added three cups of seafood stock. A bottle of clam juice and a can of baby clams. Browned pancetta. A pound of littlenecks.

Finished with a thickener of 1/3 cup of flour and a pint of half and half.

We have enough left for another night’s dinner. We only used half the clams from the bag. They were Chesapeake Bay clams from Virginia, harvested Monday, bought on Tuesday and cooked today.

This expansion of our cooking hobby is what is keeping us sane. While enjoying the fruits of our labor. Wonder what we will tackle on Valentine’s Day?