Everything but Sinatra

On steamy days like these, when the temperatures reach the high 90s, I wait until just before dark for my walk. The humidity hovers, and I have to push myself to reach my usual brisk pace. Water bottle held in one hand and phone in the other.

I pass familiar buildings, inhale the aromas from nearby restaurants, and check on the abundant brown rabbits that scamper in and out of bushes near homes and businesses. Happy to reach the halfway mark, I then turn.

Last evening, that change in direction delivered a clear view of the pinkish-orange platter of sun beginning its dip below the edge of the world. Even warmer on that leg of the walk, I then stopped for a swig of water.

Heading past a construction zone shut down for the day, I crossed the pavement and was met by a delicious breeze funneling along the street. The air was much cooler, and the rest of my walk would be easier.

When I stepped onto the sidewalk at the other side, I heard it. Saxophone music. It didn’t seem electronic, but more like a real person playing an actual saxophone. The notes, sounding like practice or scales, emanated from a four-story parking garage set in the block between a large church and library. I stopped, mesmerized.

Who could it be and why? Unusual acoustics. My senses strained on overload, while I looked and listened. Pastel fingers of sunset reaching from the horizon pointed at a slice of moon visible in the sky, above. The scents of miniature roses and squat rosemary bushes tickled my nose.

As I stood, imagining the musician, the casual noodling evolved into clear, plaintive melodies. One of those movies where lovers share dinner on a rooftop garden amid asphalt and skyscrapers came to mind. That song. I knew that song. Humming along, the words took shape in my head. “Fly me to the moon…hold my hand.”

Romantic, memorable and haunting. I try to forget, but thought about you, while I continued the journey back home.

Putting the “I” Back into Cook-I-ng

I spent years trying to please others through the act of cooking. As a young newlywed, I collected recipes that I wanted to try out on my husband and promptly struck out. If it didn’t look like something that his mother or grandmother often made, then he wouldn’t even taste it. For example, only “fried chicken” was acceptable, he said, and my attempt at that dish was met with disdain. Come to find out, his mother’s secret for “fried chicken” was really “Shake-n-Bake”! I gave up before I even got started. Over the years, I found quick and inexpensive foods that my daughters would eat. End of story (and marriage).

My second husband was a self-taught gourmet cook. No, I’m not just saying this in case he still reads my blog. He really is that accomplished and taught me a lot about cooking methods and ingredients. We took turns cooking, and I have to admit, that as my skills grew, I began to feel a bit competitive. My dishes started to turn out wonderfully and earned well-deserved praise. When my efforts didn’t work out, there were no polite or pretend compliments from him, either.

Cooking never came naturally to me, however, and I almost always relied on cook books and carefully measured ingredients. If a recipe was successful, I made a note of it on the inside of the book for future reference. Sometimes the pressure of producing acceptable meals was a negative force. Things went downhill when I started having digestive problems and had to give up many of our favorite foods and most wine. I won’t pretend these restrictions caused the end of our marriage, but they certainly did alter the daily dynamic of an already strained relationship.

I currently find myself “cooking for one,” a phrase that I’ve never really liked. I don’t even much care for recipes that say, “Cooking for Two,” as if someone is missing and this is all you have left. I occasionally prepare a meal for others, but more often than not, there’s one plate on my faux-Victorian dining table.

I made the early decision NOT to fall into the trap of watching television while eating. Sometimes I listen to my music, or enjoy tunes that emanate from a local activity in the Square, like the one going on as I write this piece. Other times, I read from a novel or non-fiction of recent interest, such as Art of Memoir, by Mary Karr. Weak indirect lighting over my table was an issue for reading. To fix that problem, I recently splurged on an attractive, industrial-style table lamp with a high-powered bulb, in an old-fashioned tone of light green.

Another big change is WHAT I make for dinner.  First of all, I’ve cut way back on meat and more often turn to other forms of protein…eggs, tofu, beans, and occasional seafood. Sometimes just a large salad appeals to me, and I jazz it up with some of my favorites, like olives, capers, and fresh veggies lightly cooked. My go-to cheeses are feta and goat, since they seem easier for me to digest. Olive oil ALWAYS for cooking and salads! I rarely buy according to a recipe, now, but purchase ingredients that look good to me and then just decide what to do with them, later.

I’m starting to have fun with this and don’t think I’ll go back to eating by candlelight any time soon. Following is one of my recent culinary creations:

Egg-cellent Baked Mushrooms

One or two extra-large portabella/portobello mushrooms, stems removed, cap side up in baking pan

One egg for each, cracked open into the mushroom cap

Your choice of fresh or dried herbs to taste

Light sprinkling of cheese, if desired

Bake at 350˚-400˚ until egg is set to your liking and mushroom is sufficiently tender (about 20 minutes minimum).