Archive for December 2009

Remembering Mrs. Hermann, Remembering Me

December 10, 2009

Gym class, circa 1969-1972, Halifax Elementary School.  There I stood, from first grade through third, tall, skinny, knobby-kneed, in Keds girl sneakers and little tan corduroy pants with a matching purple and tan long sleeved cotton shirt, or maybe a cotton shorts and smocked blouse ensemble from Carter’s, waiting for Mrs. Hermann to start us jogging laps around the gym.  For the first three years with Mrs. Hermann, I held onto the hope that gym class would turn into something fun, where we might play games like catch, with a big, bouncy rubber ball.  Remember those gym balls?  They were about the size of a basketball, but so rubbery and bouncy that the slightest touch would send them bobbing across the room, bouncing off the cement wall and plop-plopping right back to you.  Or maybe she would put on a record and we’d play freeze dance, or just any kind of dance, and we could wiggle and giggle around until we were a little bit sweaty and tired.  Even going outside and swinging on the swing set would have been great, but that was apparently not in the curriculum.  Instead, we jogged laps around the gym, starting with ten the first week  in September, and adding a lap each week until by May we were spending half the class time running in circles.  Then we did sit-ups and push-ups.  We learned the finer points, often by trial and error for me because I had never played any of them before,  of dodge ball, basketball, volleyball, and gymnastics.  I dreaded gym each week, afraid I wouldn’t be able to run the laps and would be unable to perform even half of the sit-ups and none of the push-ups.  I was afraid I would get hit by a ball, and I knew I would never be chosen for a team, but would be the last one standing after the captains had made their best choices.  Each week I tried to stand next to the other girl who didn’t seem to be good at gym, either.  Her name was Brenda, and she was nice to me, and whispered not to feel bad when the kids started choosing teams.  She was a chubby girl, so chubby that her mom made her special stretchy pants with big bell bottoms because none of the kids’ clothes in the stores fit her body.    We were always the last, and Mrs. Hermann would make the captains choose us, because we had to participate.  It was the rule.

By the time fourth grade rolled around, I had become a chubby girl too, with a round face, serious thighs,  and little breasts pushing against my cotton undershirts.   Hair had started growing under my arms and between my legs.  My sweat glands began working overtime, even when I was at rest.  I got my period.  I’m pretty sure I was the only ten-year-old in my elementary school who started menstruation in fourth grade.  Mrs. Hermann still began our weekly class by having us  jog laps around the gym, and I had become disillusioned— with jogging, team sports, and anything else to do with fitness.  Mrs. Hermann had two favorite students and I remember their names still:  Barbara   and Lonnie.  They could run circles around me, literally, and could climb the ropes to the top.  Every year they each won the Presidential Physical Fitness Award.  They dashed the 100 yard dash in record time, hung forever in the spiral arm hang, and did hundreds of sit-ups and push-ups.  I remember hearing Mrs. Hermann tell another teacher in the hall once that Barbara and Lonnie were real college material. They were true athletes.   Apparently her standards were only related to physical fitness, as neither of them were particularly good students.

Jogging the laps was the hardest, not including dealing with the embarrassment of being picked last for every team sport we played.  Mrs. Hermann consistently chose Barbara or Lonnie to lead the class, and at the completion of each lap, they would yell out the lap number so Mrs. Hermann didn’t have to keep track herself.  She played records while we jogged.  She was quite fond of “Jingle Bell Rock”, which she played year-round.  I started off strong each week, but by the fifth or sixth lap, I would feel a stitch in my side, or feel sick enough to have to run to the big trash barrel in the corner to throw up.  If the stitch started, I’d try to ignore it.  I’d slow down until I was the last jogger.  Soon, Barbara and Lonnie would pass me, grinning and making faces, and I’d feel the tears start to prick behind my eyes.  I’d slow down to a veritable crawl, holding my left side, and Mrs. Hermann would trot over to me and ask me to walk in circles around the center of the gym until the stitch subsided.  Once in a while, a girl named Shelly would get a stitch too, and the two of us, not friends at all, would take small, easy steps together around and around while the rest of the class finished their laps.  Shelly never looked at me or talked to me, but I could sense her embarrassment too, for having a stitch, and for having to share the center of the gym with me.

By fifth grade, we were still jogging out the first part of class,  climbing ropes that went up to the impossibly high ceiling, (or at least some of us were), playing dodge ball, (those big bouncy rubber balls hurt when they hit your head or chest, especially when flung across the room by a boy), and learning basic gymnastic skills like the parallel bars and the horse.  Once in a while I came close to  feeling happy, like when Mrs. Hermann taught us square dancing.  She pulled out her old record player and put on a vintage call record, and the boys and girls in class giggled and stumbled as they tried to follow the calls.  Because my grandparents square danced, I was familiar with the calls, and loved trying to make it work with my classmates.

Mrs. Hermann was old, and smoked Pall Malls.  She would sometimes go outside and light up and watch us jog in circles around the gym through the big plate-glass windows that looked out onto the teachers’ parking lot.  I could see her taking long drags off of her cigarette as I plodded along in the line.  She was always tan, from being outside all the time playing tennis and softball, and from taking two weeks off in February to go to Florida.   Her eyes were bright blue, her hair short, curly peroxide-blond.  She dressed in old-fashioned navy blue ladies’ gym dresses with little white panties underneath, and tennis shoes.  She was as wrinkled as a raisin from all her time sunbathing, and I wondered how her chicken-y neck was able to get as brown as her leathery face.

Mrs. Hermann was Jewish, which was a novelty for all of us kids in our small town.  None of us knew anyone else who was a Jew, and some of the kids got annoyed when they heard she would be absent for the Jewish holidays.  I was secretly thrilled, and prayed to Jesus every week that Mrs. Hermann would be celebrating one of her special holidays because I knew I would never be singled out by the substitute gym teacher.  The sub was usually the principal, Mr. Malone, and he liked me because I was well behaved, and because I was smart and did well on standardized tests.  He said I helped make it look like he was doing a really good job.  I knew Mrs. Hermann did not think I made her look like she was doing a really good job.

Once, after several weeks of working on gymnastics, she  invited our parents in for a special event to see how well our skills had developed.  I’m sure she was trying to keep me from feeling bad about myself, or maybe it was for her own benefit, to a degree, but each time it was my turn to demonstrate an activity, she quickly skipped over me and went on to the next kid.  Finally, when it came time for the horse, everyone had a chance but me.  I stood up, shaking with nerves, and told her I was ready to take my turn.  She acted surprised that she had missed me, but as I walked, trembling to the edge of the mat, she encouraged me to do my best.  I ran the length of the blue mat leading up to the horse, but chickened out and barely made it onto the smooth leather at the top of the equipment.  Dismount?  I gingerly slid off, and all the parents clapped as if I had just done something marvelous and Olympics-worthy.  She told my mother that I tried hard, but just didn’t have the body or the drive to do gymnastics.  I really wasn’t an athletic child.

Mrs. Hermann was not mean to me.  She consistently gave me an S2 on my report cards, which indicates satisfactory performance with average effort.  By the time I was in sixth grade, I was honestly not earning a 2 in the effort department, but by that time she probably just felt bad for me.  Things were different then, teachers didn’t look to individual children’s needs they way they do now.  She was probably as sick of me as I was of her.  When we played softball, I took the outfield, and if a ball came my way, I happily moved aside while the shortstop took over for me and caught the fly ball.  When we played dodge ball, I stepped into the ball right away so I could sit on the edge of the gym floor and daydream while everyone else played.  For volleyball, I served the best I could, then got out of the way so the good players could try to win.  I was not interested in playing, never mind winning.

I left elementary school, and went on to junior high and high school, where I held onto the same feelings about gym class.  I was no longer chubby, but I knew I was not an athlete.  I put forth some effort, but not much, and eked out what little I had in me to pass gym.  By high school  we had some choices in what we could do to earn our credits,  and I spent my time in the weight room, chewing gum and chatting with the other lazy non-athletic girls, carefully listening for Ms. Maynard coming up the stairs.  When we heard her coming, we’d grab some free weights or flop onto a mat and start some leg lifts or donkey kicks to look busy.  I spent all that young life embarrassed and afraid of moving my body.  There are days still when I can hear Mrs. Hermann’s raspy Pall Mall voice calling me to the center of the gym floor to walk off that stitch, or waving me off to the nurse’s office because I threw up in her trash barrel.

Cape Ann, this morning.   I ran 7 1/2 miles.  I ran fast.  I did not get a stitch in my side or throw up in any trash barrels.  I felt my legs, powerful and strong, my heartbeat, steady and rhythmic, and my breath, even and deep.  I ran downhill, uphill, by the sea, by shops, and by other runners and walkers.  I came home and took a deliciously hot shower.  Just then I thought of Mrs. Hermann, and a small part of me wanted her to see me now, just to show her the  athlete I have become.  The bigger part of me stood tall, muscular, and slim in front of the bathroom mirror.  I looked at my reflection, and recognized that nervous, awkward little girl still there inside of me.  I touched her gently on her shoulder  and  gave her a smile of encouragement.  I told her she did fine after all.


Christmas Eve Lasagna

December 8, 2009

Christmas Eve Lasagna

I have already had a few requests for this recipe I mentioned in yesterday’s piece, so here it is.  It’s work, true, but well worth the effort.  If you don’t like smoked salmon, you can substitute fresh lobster meat and/or shrimp instead, but omit the nutmeg and use 2 tablespoons of fresh thyme in its place.  Don’t cook the shrimp first.  Stir it into the sauce and it will cook just fine when you bake the lasagna.

Ingredients: 1 pkg lasagna noodles, ¼ cup milk, 8 oz. mozzarella cheese

For the sauce layers: 3 tablespoons butter, 3 tablespoons wheat flour, 2 cups evaporated skim milk or 2 cups scalded skim milk, salt and pepper, 1 ½ cups micro planed or fresh grated Romano cheese, 12-16 oz cold smoked salmon, 1 cup frozen peas, 2 small or 1 medium yellow squash, 1 small sweet onion,  2 tablespoons olive oil.

For the ricotta layers: 8 oz. ricotta or low fat ricotta cheese, 8 oz low fat cottage cheese, 2 eggs or ½ cup egg beaters, zest of 2 lemons, ¼ tsp grated fresh nutmeg.

Method: Oil a lasagna pan, (approx. 11”x15”), and pour ¼ cup milk in bottom.

Cook lasagna noodles in a large pot as directed on package.  Rinse with cold water, drain, and layer flat on waxed paper or plastic wrap until ready to use.

Chop onion into fine dice, squash into medium dice.  Grate Romano cheese.

While noodles are cooking make the sauce and ricotta filling:

Sauce:  In a medium skillet, saute onion in olive oil over medium heat until translucent.  Add peas and squash and saute for two minutes.  Set aside.

In a large non-stick skillet, make roux with butter and flour, cooking over medium-low heat until golden.  Whisk in milk, ½ cup at a time, and raise heat to medium-high until mixture begins to thicken and bubble.  Add about 1 tsp. salt and ¼ tsp. or a little more to taste fresh ground black pepper.  Lower heat to simmer, and gradually whisk in the Romano cheese.  Stir in onion, peas, and squash.

Remove salmon from packaging and chop coarsely.  Stir salmon into sauce.

Ricotta filling: In a food processor or large bowl, beat together the ricotta cheese, cottage cheese, eggs, nutmeg, and lemon zest until mixture is light and fluffy.

To put it all together: Cover the bottom of the lasagna pan with one layer of noodles, slightly overlapping them.  Drop dollops of the ricotta mixture onto noodles by tablespoonfuls, using about 1/3 of the mixture.  Don’t worry if all the noodles are not covered, just try and evenly distribute the ricotta mixture.

Spoon 1/3 of salmon sauce over top.  Add another layer of noodles, then1/3 of the ricotta mixture, then 1/3 of the sauce, then ½ of the mozzarella.

Add final layer of noodles, then last 1/3 of ricotta mixture, then last 1/3 of salmon sauce.  Sprinkle top with remaining mozzarella.

Cover the lasagna loosely with foil and bake at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes.  Remove foil and bake another 10 minutes, or until edges are bubbling and top is lightly browned.

Serves 10-12 hungry revelers.

This can be made ahead and refrigerated up to two days before final cooking.  It also freezes very well.

Typing up this recipe, which first popped into my head almost three years ago, makes me think this blog was a good idea— if for nothing other than a place to record my favorite recipes I have created over the years.  As for running, I hit the road for 5.3 miles today, which felt as though I had taken it easy.  I remember not too long ago when 5.3 was my long run…and am amazed by how my body had adapted to this daily motion.  Which means, in the end, I can eat two servings of this decadent lasagna and not worry about the calories!

Umbrella Trees, One-Eyed Angels, and Dust Bunnies

December 7, 2009

I have been reading a wonderful book titled What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, written by Haruki Murakami.   Murakami, a famous novelist and distance runner from Japan, writes from his heart about writing, running, and life.  He has an easy writing style and high expectations of himself, as well as an attitude I admire about just doing the best he can with what he has and who he is.  He’s never full of excuses for his choices as he goes about his life.  He’s not trying to sell running to anyone either, but rather expressing what drives him to be the man he is.  Reading this book is helping me put things in perspective as I make my way through the month of December.

Last week I logged 35 miles.  I ran six days— two with my friend Sue, the rest on my own.  I spent most of my running time  thinking, which I really don’t like to do when I run.  It seems like there is so much extra to think about lately— preparing for the holiday season, preparing training sessions, planning healthful meals for my family, never mind the war, universal health care, and my mother’s current conversations on cremation vs. burial.  Whew!  I have been trying to remind myself that there’s only so much one person can do, and to continue to be grateful for my life and my family.

Today after thawing out from seven miles of cold, cold running and slipping over ice puddles, I thought about my goals.  Not just my running goals, but the ones for this month.  They are primarily focused on the holiday and shopping, cleaning, decorating, and cooking.  I don’t particularly enjoy the shopping, cleaning, or decorating, but the cooking?  That’s my favorite part.  It’s where I best show my love for my family.  This year for Christmas Eve dinner, I am going to make oven-roasted asparagus and a white lasagna with smoked salmon, peas, and yellow squash.  The sauce for the lasagna starts with a roux base to which I add milk,  Romano cheese, lemon zest, and a tiny bit of nutmeg, which complements the smokey flavor of the salmon in a surprisingly good way.  I still have to decide on dessert— my two nieces count on something special but not too crazy, which leaves me thinking of plates of gooey brownies and cookies for them, and perhaps something fancy and rich for the rest of us.  Easy.  Done.  Check.

Which leaves the shopping, (thank goodness for the internet!), the cleaning, (it should be pretty dark, maybe no one will notice the dust bunnies laying in wait in the deeper corners of my living room, kitchen, and under my dining room table), and the decorating (the tree is still mashed in all its plastic glory in the tree bag in the basement waiting for one of us to drag it upstairs and trim it).  I have been having fantasies about trees that work on the same principle as umbrellas, where I just push a little metal button and out pops a lit, decorated tree.  How easy would that be?  I’m sure almost everyone else loves to decorate a Christmas tree, hanging hundreds of little ornaments from fresh pine branches, but not me.  Even when I was a little girl, I preferred to sit on the couch and watch everyone else place the ornaments just so, and at the end, I’d hang my favorite ornament, a small white felted angel.  (I still have that angel and do put her on our tree, although she is missing one eye now.)

It’s only December 7.  There’s plenty of time to finish reading Murakami, log another hundred miles or so, and put that tree together, one eyed angel and all, before my family shows up on the 24th.  They will know I love them the best I know how, even if those dust bunnies nip their ankles from under the dining room table.

In the Kitchen with Grandma

December 3, 2009

Running in the cold yesterday morning made me hungry.  I ran 7 1/2 miles, so had plenty of time to think about winter cooking, and favorite dishes my family loves.  My father’s mother, Grandma Baier, used to make a goulash she called Cabbage Dish.   She made it whenever we went to the island to visit, which was usually during the summer months.  I make it only on cold days, and although the recipe makes a huge amount, my family happily eats it until it is gone.  We are lucky if we have enough for two nights, plus a couple of lunches.  I thought about my grandmother and grandfather as I ran along the shoreline of Cape Ann, feeling fortunate to have been able to spend time with them during my childhood.   I remembered how patient and kind my grandparents were, and how much I loved them.  I have written a few stories about my grandparents and Martha’s Vineyard in my memoir class,  and decided to share one with you. The recipe at the end of this story is on deck for this weekend, when we expect the first snow of the season.

In the Kitchen with Grandma

My hip is pressed close to my grandmother’s, and I watch closely as she slices onions, green peppers, carrots, celery, and cabbage into bite-sized pieces.  She leans over the old red Formica tabletop, cutting right on the table’s surface, her back rounded as she leans over, her lips pressed tightly together in concentration.  The sharp smell of the onions cuts into my nose, and tears pour from my eyes.  I try to wipe them silently, but look at my grandmother and see her tears, too.  I have never been this close to onion slicing, and am surprised by the sting.  I look at her, and she gives me a wide smile.  I smile back, but am quiet, listening to her breath and mine together as she chops.  I am straining to pay close attention so I can learn how to make this favorite dish.  My mother does not cook this way, nor does she invite me into her kitchen when she makes dinner.  I am too old not to know how to cook anything yet, but today I will begin to learn.

I ask if I can help, and she lets me sweep the onions and peppers off of the tabletop and into a large aluminum pot while then turns to light the gas stove.  The blue flame jumps up, and she places the pot over the fire.  She adds a large dollop of corn oil, and in a moment, the tiny kitchen is filled with the pungent smell of cooking vegetables.  The sharp onion smell begins to mellow, and mingle with the scorched smell of the oil heating too quickly.  She lowers the flame and stirs the vegetables, watching them carefully.

“Always cook the onions and peppers together first, not too hot, until the onion bits start to turn translucent.  Then add the carrots.  They take the longest to cook.  Let the carrots go for a few minutes, then add the celery and cabbage.”

She lets me help with this, too, and I see that my hand is as large as hers.  Her nails are long and filed to a nice oval, mine are bitten to the quick.  I notice this as together we pile the rest of the vegetables into a bowl to pour into the pot.  Grandma digs the old wooden spoon deep down into the vegetables to stir everything together.  I peer around her shoulder and see how the bright orange of the carrots is beautiful mixed in with the green and white cabbage.  My grandfather comes into the room, and wraps his arm around my shoulders.  I lean my head against his chest.  He is warm and he smells good, like Old Spice, shellac, and mint toothpaste.  “Helping your Grandmother?” he asks me.  “Paulie, don’t forget the water,” he tells Grandma, and she fills the old stainless teakettle from the tap.  She pours the water over the steaming vegetables, and the pot hisses at the coldness of it.

“K.O., could you get the mustard, the soy sauce, and the molasses?” my grandmother asks my grandfather.  She always calls him K.O.- that’s short for knockout, which she says he was when she met him, and still thinks he is.  I think he is too, but I just call him Grandpa.  My grandfather retrieves what she needs from the cupboard and the refrigerator, and carefully lines up the three bottles on the table.

The cabbage has a strange smell when the water begins to boil.  This is the part I don’t like about Grandma’s goulash.  Before she adds the seasoning, it smells kind of like the dump, or the hallway of an old apartment building.  I wrinkle my nose, and walk closer to the window.  I don’t want to hurt Grandma’s feelings by talking about the smell, so I don’t say anything.  I pace to the top of the stairs, and breathe over there for a little while. Then I ask, “Can put the mustard in now?” and Grandma says, “Okay, but go easy.  Start with about half the bottle.  We’ll add the molasses and soy sauce together.  They are strong flavors, and we don’t want to overdo it.  The balance of sweet, tart, and salty is tricky.”  She smacks her lips, and I carefully spoon out some of the yellow mustard from the jar onto the top of the vegetables.

Grandpa reaches under the stove and pulls a skillet out of the broiler drawer.  He takes a small package of ground beef from the refrigerator and turns on another burner, plops the red ball of meat into the skillet, and breaking it up, browns it nicely.  He adds some ground black pepper. Again, the smell in the room changes, the searing meat adding richness over the smell of the cabbage.  “Make sure you cook the hamburger separately, Elizabeth, then drain it well.  Add it to the vegetables before the carrots are tender,” he offers, knowing how much I want to be able to prepare this on my own.  I venture a question.  “Grandpa, why do you have to cook the meat by itself?  Can’t you just throw it in the pot with everything else?”  “Well, it’s important to drain the fat off of the meat before it goes into the goulash.  Otherwise, the whole dish will be greasy.  It tastes best when the vegetable flavor comes through clearly.  The meat is supposed to be just a little taste.  Ja?”   He still slips into the German yes at the end of his sentences sometimes.  I love to hear him do this, and to hear him talk to Grandma in his native language, even if I understand only a little of what he says.

I sigh to myself, thinking I should be measuring and writing everything down as we cook, but I don’t move to get a pencil or paper.  I feel warm and safe, and the familiar smells make my heart stir even as my stomach rumbles.  I will be able to remember.

Grandma reaches for the soy sauce and the molasses.  She uncaps both, holds them over the pot, and the sticky blackstrap molasses oozes onto the cabbage, the soy sauce dribbles beside it.  She is not measuring.  Again.  I watch.  When each bottle is about half gone, she quickly turns the two bottles upright and puts them down beside the stove.  She takes the spoon and stirs in the mustard I have added into the pot with the other two seasonings.  Almost magically the funny cabbage smell is gone, and replaced with a sweet, sharp smell that makes my mouth water.  Grandpa stirs in the meat, and the crumbled brown bits fall into the wrinkles of cooking cabbage and onions.

Grandma grabs the lid to the big pot and places it on top, slightly off center to let steam out as the goulash cooks.  She waits a few minutes, watching my grandfather scurry about, wiping up the table and washing the hamburger skillet.  He dries it carefully, and puts it back into the broiler drawer.  She puts her hands on her hips, does a little dance step, and I whirl beside her while we wait for Grandpa.  She always makes the messes, and he always cleans them up.  That’s how they are, and when I am there, I am a mess maker, too, just like Grandma.  Then the three of us breathe deeply, drawing in the smell of the goulash.  Grandma takes the cover off of the pot and pulls a tablespoon from the drawer under the table’s center.  She dips the spoon into the dark, rich broth and tastes.  “Ah.  Good.”  She dips again, allowing me to test the flavor.  The broth is intense and mysterious, hot, salty, and earthy.  “I think it needs to be a little sweeter,” I say.  Grandpa tastes, too, and agrees.

Grandma pours in more molasses, and stirs.  While she does this, Grandpa and I set the table.  We put out mismatched spoons, white paper napkins, three stoneware bowls, and three blue plastic glasses.  Grandpa fills our glasses with Carnation milk from the glass pitcher he mixed up earlier, and we all sit down to wait.

In a little while, Grandma gets up to taste again.  I am right behind her, and see that the vegetables have shrunk down so that the pot is only about two-thirds full.  I know this is a sign that we are close to eating.  “How is it now?” I ask, hunger and desire making me impatient.  “Almost ready.  The cabbage needs a few more minutes to be tender.”

And then she is ladling out big spoonfuls of goulash into our bowls, pulling out her chair to sit beside me, and Grandpa is bowing his head.  We do, too.  “Bless this food, Lord, and use it to strengthen our bodies that we might do Your will.  Amen.”  “Amen!” Grandma and I say, and pick up our spoons.

The cabbage curls around the meat and other vegetables, nestling them into every bite.  The broth is rich and full-flavored, curious and delicious.  It reminds me a little bit of Chinese food, but not the kind from American- Chinese restaurants- the kind from Chinatown, where my dad takes me sometimes for Dim Sum.  The vegetables are tender to the teeth, but not mushy.  The meat flavor is there, but Grandpa is right- the flavor of the vegetables is not muddled by grease.

We eat quietly at first, and slowly.  Grandpa sighs, “Ah.  Delicious.  Perfect.”  Grandma and I nod in agreement.  The food is hot, and the kitchen is, too.  The kitchen is on the second floor of the cottage, and the heat from the day takes a while to leave the tiny room, although a small breeze stirs the ruffled curtains Grandma has thumb-tacked to the curved windows.  We can see Ocean Park through the window, and hear children playing tag and catch across the street from the sea.  We are too hungry to do anything but blow on each bite, and slurp scoops into our mouths.  When we finish our bowls, Grandma fills them once more, and I notice how carefully my grandfather chews his dinner, how greedily Grandma and I gobble ours.

Grandma Baier’s Cabbage Dish


1 small head of cabbage, 1 bag carrots, 1 large green pepper, 1 large Spanish onion, ½ bunch celery, 1 pound ground beef, ½ cup (+)* prepared yellow mustard, ¼ (+)* cup low-sodium tamari or soy sauce, 1/3 cup (+)* molasses, 2 tablespoons canola or corn oil,  water, black pepper.

*  (+):  extra to adjust to taste


Wash all vegetables and chop them into bite-sized pieces.  In a large stock pot, combine oil, onion, and pepper and saute over medium-high heat until onion is translucent.  Add carrots and cook for 5 minutes more.  Cover with water, turn heat to high, and bring mixture to a boil.  Add celery and cabbage.  Add more water to within two inches of vegetables.  Stir well to mix.  Lower heat to simmer.  While vegetables are cooking, cook ground beef in a skillet over high heat until browned, breaking up the meat with a spoon.  Grind in black pepper to taste. Remove from heat and drain in a colander.

Add beef to stock pot.  Add mustard, tamari or soy sauce, and molasses.  Continue to simmer until vegetables are tender, about 30 munites.  Taste and correct seasoning.  The flavor should be balanced between sweet, tangy, and salty.  Add more of the seasonings, one tablespoon at a time, until the desired taste is reached.

Note:  This dish can be made without meat and is still good.  I have also substituted ground turkey with excellent results.

Ice Cold

December 1, 2009

Rabbits, rabbits, rabbits.  Welcome to December and its swollen, orange moon that shone in my bedroom window at 5 o’clock this morning, awakening me from a deep sleep.  I wondered who could be shining a flashlight in my face so early, but when I opened my eyes to see, I was caught in a moment of glowing glory such that I had to awaken the hubby to share it.  We ooh-ed and aah-ed over it for maybe two minutes, rolled over, and slipped back into dreamland for another half hour.

At 6:30, I bundled up for the first below 32 degrees run of the season.  My friend Sue had reminded me last week that soon we would be navigating ice pools, and that was indeed the case this morning.  As I wished for my ice skates while running along and dodging the slipperiest looking spots on Eden Road, I happily anticipated the coming winter.  This is only the second time in my life I have looked forward to the season of cold and snow.  Running has turned me into an all-season lover.  Before this passion for pounding the streets, I was a summer girl, barely tolerating spring and fall, but hating winter.  I’m always cold unless it’s 80 degrees outside, and during winter, I have been known to hibernate, hunkered down inside the house under piles of fleece and blankets, getting up only to make hot tea or to get another sweater.  I have crocheted king-sized afghans as gifts for people for selfish reasons.  Yes, just to try to keep warm.  But running makes me feel so good- so powerful and happy- that I now participate in winter.

As I ran this morning, I thought about snowshoeing in Dogtown, as I have done for the past two winters.  I also thought about cross-country skiing, a new sport for me last year.  Both mimic running in a way, and both get my blood moving enough so that I feel warm all the way through.

Dogtown is an abandoned settlement spanning between Gloucester and Rockport. It is beautiful all year, but particularly so in winter.  It’s silent in there, except for the cracking sound of frozen tree branches and the occasional squirrel, coyote, or deer rustling off-trail in the depths of the forest. It is impossible to imagine I am close to either the sea or civilization as I move through the quiet.  I seldom come across another person, but follow tracks made by other winter adventurers as I make my way along the main trails and tiny, rocky goat paths that weave through the acreage there.  My friend Jane, an excellent guide, has taught me the trail-marking system in Dogtown over the past few years so that I am confident about trekking alone.  I carry a rough map of the area, and look for landmark stone formations like Whale’s Jaw and Peter’s Pulpit.

Babson Trail boulder

I veer from the path to search out the Babson Trail boulders, which have wise words and sayings carved into the granite stone to remind me of ideas, ideals, truth, and kindness,  and to use my head.  There is a boardwalk trail lined with mountain laurel and an icy river to cross that challenges  every muscle and clears every thought from my head and I am completely in the moment, exactly where I want to be.

Today I ran up the hill toward home thinking  of deep snow, woods, and solitude.  I thawed out in front of the pellet stove, then went to look for my snow shoes.  I am ready to move through this winter.  I welcome the ice the cold, and the snow.