BUCK REGALED ME WITH ALL SORTS OF ENTERTAINING STORIES when we were courting thirty years ago.  “Courting” is one of those sweetly anachronistic words that is fun to type, rich in images from an earlier century. Heh.  I laugh, but as a matter of record our courtship and marriage did happen in the latter third of the previous century.

One of his stories involved a beautiful blonde-headed toddler of a cousin named Marianne. Her parents lived in Washington, D.C. and little eight year old Buck, five years her senior, had come to visit. They fell in love, in the way of young children, and romped all over his Aunt Marguerite’s and Uncle Muegge’s house until young Buck outdid himself trying to impress Marianne and went sailing off a second story landing and bounced off the wood floor below, alarming the adults and bruising more than his ego.

Marianne lives on Pawley’s Island, South Carolina now. Like Buck, she has grown children and grandchildren. She lost her beloved Jon last March after 44 years of marriage. Let’s just say I cannot imagine and do not want to ever become a member of that club.

In a brave, intentional effort to emerge from a chrysalis of grief, Marianne came to see us last week, a side trip on her way to spend a week with old friends of hers and Jon’s in a resort on Anna Maria Island on Florida’s west coast. We took a field trip to Joe Patti’s Seafood Market one day to fetch cocktail crab claws and fillets of fresh red snapper, went to lunch at a wonderful new restaurant, IRON, another, but mostly we sat at a small round dining table in the Longleaf Bar and Grill right here at home and talked until the dinner, wine and ice cream were long gone and the short, fat candles sputtered. We brought out fragile old photo albums. We laughed, cried, and marveled together at the unexpected twists and turns on the road between childhood and old age. My fingers linger when I type “old age.” It feels presumptuous; inaccurate. Do I include myself? I don’t think 61 is “old.” Buck at 75 is not “old.” Where is the line? Is one old at 85? I know people whom I consider old (as in old fogies,not old souls) at 43.

And yet, a time may come, with longevity, when one is the eldest member of a particular blood-tied clan. I rather suspect it may be a peculiar, lonely feeling.  Saturday morning, as Marianne was about to leave, Buck said, “Well, I sure don’t feel like it, but I guess I’m the patriarch.”

Marianne said, “You sure are!”

The Hungry Writer’s Tuesday Kitchen

Sometimes you’ve just got to put down that roller ball pen and fix some real food! We had a hellacious thunderboomer yesterday with sideways rain and sky to ground lightning. Today was a gift, mild and overcast; perfect for chilling on the patio.

I started, finished and submitted a 2,000 word essay to a literary journal today, and am totally whipped out, but satisfied. Damn, it felt good to hit that “Submit” button. It’s been a long time since I sent something out.  The bar is high, and odds of acceptance low, but I am happy.

Buck and I are about to polish off the rest of some vanilla frozen yogurt we have stashed in the freezer and top it off with some fresh strawberries and blueberries. He may go back to his cave to work for awhile afterwards. Me? I’m going to bed with a murder mystery by Atlanta author Karin Slaughter. I’ve never read her work before, but got intrigued by an NPR interview with her yesterday morning. I heard it when I was driving over to feed some friends’ three cats while they’re out of town. One of those cats, Winston, is a slinky black character with grass green eyes. He has this playful habit of sinking a claw in my backside when I stoop down to put food in his dish. I’m pretty sure he was either a stand-up comedian or a hit man in a former life.

I’m zipping through books right now that either have a huge storm in the plot or have a particular slant on Gulf coast life or the South that I want to explore. So, technically, going to bed early to read a murder mystery is Research. Are you buying that line?

Just Life

It’s Thursday night, I think. Buck and I got back home to Pensacola last night. We made our way from Maggie Valley to Asheville and turned west on I-26 toward Columbia, South Carolina, where we picked up I-95 South to Savannah. I’d love to say we lingered in Savannah’s old town over a romantic dinner and walked along the river, but that would be a lie. Instead, we ducked sheets of rain and dodged wind gusts until about 5 o’clock. We found a bed and a delivery veggie pizza in a Hampton Inn at a motel city called Gateway South on the Jacksonville side of Savannah. Buck, dear soul, found a liquor store and bought me a fine bottle of single malt Scotch sippin’ whiskey to celebrate the eve of my 61st birthday. I didn’t hurt it too bad, though, anticipating the next day’s fasting for our annual Mayo Clinic wellness physicals.

We spent the evening talking about the romantic journey of our history together. We talked about our Maggie Valley stay, the visits with friends, the nice people we crossed trail with, how sweet it was to stay at the  “Awesome View” cottage, managed by Carolina Vacations, and how superb it was to live for two weeks in a Smoky Mountains’ rain forest garden.

I came away determined to garden again, despite arthritis that cramps my hands and shoulders, despite hungry deer that eat up all the proceeds.

Images of these perfect blooms will stay with me all through the heat of our Pensacola summer. We’ll be hunkered down here in the air-conditioned destination resort until September, when we’ll head to Bernard, Maine on Bass Harbor, back to the fabulously rustic “Captain’s Quarters” owned by the very dear golf croquet champion Jeanne Fernald. Got a note from Jeanne today, and she tells me there is still vacancy in July and August at Captain’s.  Shoot me a note if you’re interested and I’ll tell you all about it. We have stayed there at least three times in the past. Great place  — has its own lobster dock, and isn’t far from Acadia National Park.

This sweet little flower is on a vine I spotted this morning on an early walk down to our very own Longleaf Preserve gate. Early morning’s are the time to walk, while the air is still fragrant and cool. Our doc at Mayo said we should keep on keepin’ on, that our formula, whatever it is, is working. We’re apparently poster kids for the older set. Heh.

I’ve been talking to and writing back and forth with my brothers and sisters. Sweet wondrous folk, dear to my heart. Hard to think of old age, separation, illness and, you know. You know. The part I don’t want to think about. None of us do.

Our good friend, Betty Hunter, brought us a bottle of Pear Gorgonzola salad dressing when she and Jim came to see us in Maggie. I used some today to dress a salad of butter lettuce, Carolina Gold smoked turkey chunks, walnuts, red onion slivers, walnuts, and dried cranberries. Just about the best stuff I ever put in my mouth. Ooh, it was good.

Ain’t it pretty? Sockeye salmon in a teriyaki sauce with brown rice, baby spinach and wok-grilled red peppers and onions. Who says healthy eating is some kind of sacrificial act?

And doing a lazy backstroke in the cool blue open air pool surrounded by tall Longleaf pines, singing mocking birds,  flights of swallows,  the high drone of a circling helicopter, and the drifting perfume of vining honeysuckle, can you tell me that it really does get any better than this?

Yellowfin Tuna with Grilled Onions and Spinach

Sometimes a day just comes together and comes out even in a delightful way: a morning of writing on a new fiction short story that had my pen flying across the yellow legal pad with an excitement for writing I haven’t felt for a while, a veggie lunch with Buck, a self-indulgent hair appointment, a fly-by in the grocery store for tuna, spinach, potatoes and a mild onion, dinner, and fragrant clean sheets on our bed.

Night all. Sweet dreams.

Shrimp Stir-Fry

Just because I got rid of almost all my cookbooks doesn’t mean we don’t still eat. It’s just that after 40 years of learning how to cook, I think I’ve got the basics pretty well down. Besides, all the hot and cold running foodie Apps on my various wireless devices offer recipes, stylish food photography, and articles in case I am in sudden need of diversion.

We bought a couple of pounds of jumbo Gulf shrimp a few days ago. The first night we poached the shrimp in a seasoned court-bouillon and ate them, along with some cocktail blue crab claws. Buck makes a killer dipping sauce with ketchup, horseradish, Tabasco, Worcestershire and a tad of mayonnaise.  I saved half the shelled shrimp in a zip-lock bag to use for a stir-fry of onion, sweet red pepper, broccoli, garlic and mushrooms the next night. The bubbling mini-cauldron in the picture is boiling angel hair pasta. Good stuff.

Tender Bites for my Love on his Birthday

Sauteed these babies in Irish butter, with garlic and shallots, deglazed with white wine, sprinkled with chopped Italian parsley and basil, and tossed with Alma’s organic angel hair pasta. Pretty good supper for the birthday boy a few days ago. If I had known  74 year olds could be such  sexy hunks, I would have been propositioning them 40 years ago when I was footloose and hanging out with roués and cads in their mere twenties.

Seared Sea Scallops

These sea scallops were the best ever: patted dry with a paper towel, dusted with salt and pepper, then seared in a cast iron skillet (1 1/2 minutes on each side). I deglazed the pan with a splash of white wine. The mashed potatoes look like they have a volcanic lake of beef au jus, but it’s pan juices from the scallops. Frank Patti gave me several scallop shells to keep, and said I can get 4 more (free) everytime I come in, if I want them.  Now that’s some cool lagniappe!

Salmon Patty Supper

A supper of salmon patties is one of those plebeian meals that is always better than I think it will be. A can of red salmon is a terrific pantry staple. I didn’t want to go on with a lot of cooking tonight, but since I had bought those two pretty ears of bi-color corn and a nice tomato, fixing a can’s worth of salmon patties seemed like a small effort.

Ooh, that corn is pretty. I cooked it in a fancy asparagus-cooking pot that once belonged to my husband’s late wife. The crystal and silver carafe belonged to my late mother-in-law’s second late husband’s late wife. Got all that? Yep, I’m a museum curator, or so it would seem.

I slid into old pink Crocs by the door and ran out into the rain just so I could snip a couple of rosemary bush tips to add a little class to this photo. The yellow blob in the middle of the salmon patty is a smidge of garlic butter. Yummified the plate, that’s for sure.

The salmon patties are easy to make (and leftovers make a nifty sandwich). Drain a can of red salmon and flake it into a bowl. Add half a small onion, cut fine, plus one beaten egg, a couple of tablespoons of mayonnaise, about 10 pulverized Saltine crackers, a few shakes of Old Bay seasoning and a squirt of Worcestershire. Mix it with a fork, then make six balls, slightly flatten, lay them out on a plate and chill for a half hour or so, then brown in a non-stick or cast iron skillet. That’s it.

Oh, yeah. It’s still raining.

Menus for a Tropical Storm

Even if we lose power, which I doubt, we have a generator the size of a small truck which keeps the important things, like the bar ice maker, the air-conditioning, the refrigerator/freezer and the pool pump running.  The cook-top is gas, so we’re good to go in a power outage.  We’re too far in the boonies to be on the public gas line, but we have a 620 gallon propane tank buried out in the back yard. It feeds gas to the kitchen cook-top, a swimming pool heater and a couple of fireplaces. In this sweltering weather, we’re not bloody likely to need a whole lot of propane.

Looking over what I bought, it looks more like cold weather food, certainly not the summer staples of shellfish and grilled fish that I usually gravitate toward. Here’s what we’re going to eat this week:

1. Slow Cooked Italian Pot Roast (done in a Dutch oven with at least 16 garlic cloves — more if my fingers don’t give out with peeling them), red wine and fresh basil. Accompaniments include oven-roasted carrots, garlic mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli.  This dinner is for a birthday celebration for a 13-year old granddaughter and the bunch of kids coming likes green beans, but the only ones I saw in the store were sad-looking mushy bundles covered in age spots. Yech. The pot roast is a house favorite. I am hoping for some leftovers.

2. Smoked pork chops, collard greens (cooked with a smoked turkey leg), squash casserole, turnip roots, corn bread and sliced tomatoes.

3.  Salmon patties, butter and egg corn on the cob, sliced tomatoes, plus leftover squash casserole if there is any.

4. Basic spaghetti sauce (Publix had a BOGO on Newman’s pasta sauces, so I got one of Tomato and Basil and one of Sockarooni). I’ll brown a small package of ground sirloin to mix in with the sauce and add some snipped herbs. We’ll eat it with a big salad of Spring greens, feta cheese, scallions, Kalamata olives, Pepperoccini peppers and tomato chunks tossed with olive oil, red wine vinegar and oregano.

5.  Lunch stuff — I restocked the pantry with black and garbanzo beans, small cans of white shoe-peg corn and Edamame beans for the fridge. Mixed together with some red onion and herbs, they make a great have-on-hand lunch. Also, there’s a few more Cuban sandwiches to enjoy.

That’ll get us over the hump ’til the flood waters recede, the rainbow comes out, and we can make it into town for some fresh shrimp and crab claws.

Now that I know we’re not going to starve, maybe I can whittle away a few chapters of Another Shoe to Drop.