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I had a friend in need and I am a friend indeed.  About a week ago, a friend of mine asked me to help her out because she was going on vacation to the Bahamas and needed someone to straighten up her apartment and give the keys to some women she was letting use her place.  When she mentioned what day she would need me, I realized it would be my birthday, but I didn’t tell her because she would be upset that she asked me and then have to scramble to find someone else.  I mean really how hard could this be?  Clean up the apartment a bit, make sure the sheets were clean and meet them with the keys about 6:00pm.

KEYS

                  KEYS

I figured I could do the work in the morning, then go to the office and be back in time to let them in. WRONG!  She had left her keys with my doorman a few days earlier.  When I opened up the bag, I saw a LOT of keys, unmarked of course –  Not a good sign.  And then the phone calls and texts began… There was a set of keys with an orange tag and those keys were for some office space in another borough, possibly someone might come and pick them up, possibly… And by the way, if it hasn’t rained lately would I please water the plants in her garden?  Oh sure.

On the morning of my birthday, I woke up in a bad mood, didn’t open any of my cards or the two presents that were there. NOT a good start to the day. I went to my friend’s apartment and after trying each of the 15 keys in the bag, I finally got in.  Once I was in the hallway and in front of her door, the dog across the hall started to bark and bark and bark and bark.  It sounded like a  very upset German Shepherd!

I’m in the apartment and putting away some clean dishes, mugs and silverware left in the dishwasher and there was something wrong with the silverware drawer – there really wasn’t one.  Apparently, the forks and spoons went in one drawer, the knives in another and the utensils were in big jars.  The drawers seemed jumbled so my OCD kicked in and I straightened them out.  Since I know how I am about putting things in their appropriate place, I felt the the strong need to do the same in her apartment.  That required a couple more calls; like where does the small glass bowl go and oh by the way, did she know there were only four bath towels in the closet?  “NO” she did not!  So could I call the laundromat and have them pick up and deliver the dirty towels in the hamper?  Well at least she didn’t ask me to do the washing myself!

I had asked Peter to come with me and maybe between the two of us we could whip this place up in no time.  So you (Peter) do the watering and I’ll make the bed.  Oh for God’s sake, he couldn’t find the hose.  So like a jerk I call her instead of looking around myself and when she tells me where it is, I point it out to you know who and of course if it had teeth it would have bitten him in the ass.  Then I’m hearing that he didn’t know gardening was part of this favor and he’s wearing white suede shoes.  So?  So don’t get them wet!!!  Believe it or not, he couldn’t figure out how to turn the hose off – I’m not kidding at which point I screamed, “please go home and leave me alone”.

Finally we’re done and I’d come back before the women arrive to receive the laundry and then open the door for them. I left all the keys in the apartment except for two on a little ring.  Peter was to pick out two of the loose keys and match them to the ones left in the bowl on the table by my friend; Those were the two keys that would open the main door and the apartment door. 

Who Put The Wrong Keys On The Ring?

Who Put The Wrong Keys On The Ring?

I went back to my own apartment, it was gray and chilly out, not too propitious for a birthday.  I wasn’t in the best of mood so I decided to just stay home, do the laundry and iron the last of the summer clothes.  So far the best part of this day was getting a free Venti Americano from Starbucks because it was my birthday!

I went back about 5:30pm thinking I would give myself enough time to get the laundry delivery, put the towels in the closet and wait for the guests. I couldn’t get into the building! Neither of the keys fit – damnation.  I ring several buzzers and finally someone lets me in after I tell them who I am and where I’m going.  As soon as I get to her door, the monster dog across the hall starts barking and barking and barking.  The keys won’t open her door either.  I can’t f_____g believe it and call Peter up screaming about the wrong keys being on the ring.  He feigns no knowledge of such a mistake so I hang up on him.  I frantically call my friend and try to have a conversation with her while the maniacal dog across the hall continues to bark at the door.  We discuss a locksmith and then she says, try a credit card.  Of course I don’t have one with me.  Just then Peter shows up and luckily he had an old card we could use.  After 20 minutes of dog barking and trying, he actually gets the door lock to slip and we’re in!  Thank God!  I send him home and sit down to wait for the laundry and the guests.

My cell phone rang, it was my daughter grand kids all singing Happy Birthday to me!  Of course they’re on cell phone  speaker so it’s hard to hear with all the background noise but I was thrilled to hear from them.  Just as I am talking to my daughter, my cell phone is beeping in with call #2 and it is my friend.  I hang up with the kids saying I will be home in 30 minutes or so and let’s do FaceTime.  I don’t even remember why she called!!

It’s now about 6:45pm and no one has arrived. My phone rings and it’s my son calling from California to wish me Happy Birthday.  Since he asked I start to tell him some of my so far shitty day and the door buzzer rings.  I ask him to hold on.  I open the apt. door to go to the front door and realize it will lock behind me so I stick my Kindle in the door frame.  I’m back on the phone and my cell phone beeps again and I see it is my friend so “…can I call you back Joel”? No of course not, he has a photo shoot and a rehearsal and even later tonight will not be late enough for him so I suggest the weekend and hang up.  It’s my friend wondering if I got in and did the laundry arrive? YES! And can I leave a set of keys with my doorman for another friend to pick up just in case someone needs to get in while she is away because I am going away next week?  YES I will do that. 

At 7:30 there are still no guests.  At 7:45pm I call my friend and beseech her to find out just where the hell these women are!  Apparently their train was delayed an hour and a half – so why didn’t they call????  By 8:15 they have arrived, exhausted from their 8 hour train trip and I have a fixed smile on my face while I show them around and give them keys and suggest they go to the diner for dinner.  Maybe I’ll even see them there since I’m still in jeans and a tee shirt and it’s my birthday and I’m sure not cooking!

I call Peter once I’m outside and tell him to join me because I’m not coming home – I want to eat something.  As we round the corner heading to the diner, I see Arturo’s, a very nice neighborhood Italian restaurant and once inside with a glass of wine I am finally enjoying some of this birthday.  AMEN.

It never ends sometimes and Mercury is in full retrograde.  The next day I left the keys in an envelope addressed to Jennifer per instructions and a messenger was to pick them up.  Then she ( my soon-to-be-ex-friend) texts me some message I really don’t understand so I text back an inane reply.  The house phone rings and it’s our doorman saying there is a man here to pick up an envelope for Fay.  WHO? Oh geez!  I tell him to have the messenger wait and I will be right down.  Apparently the text was to let me know that the keys were going to someone else BUT the messenger was supposed to know that the envelope was addressed to Jennifer BUT of course the doorman was clueless and he wasn’t going to give the envelope over.  I straightened all of that out and the keys left – Thank God!

Once I got to the office I felt better, that is until I tried to print something!!!!

'Our printer cartridge cost are through the rood. Have someone in IT wirelessly connect all of our printers to a mimeograph machine.'

BEWARE!

BEWARE!

MERCURY IN RETROGRADE

Things began to go wrong two days before my birthday, which I now see as foreshadowing.  My company decided to upgrade (or downgrade depending on how you look at it) our email system.  We were being moved to a Microsoft Office system.  It probably sounded like a good idea at some Executive staff meeting, it might have even looked good on paper BUT, but, OMG!  Not Good! I think there was one whole day where we couldn’t get any emails at all.  Thank goodness for smart phones!  The grumbling and mumbling under one’s breath went on all day.  Some people even went home only to find out that they couldn’t access from there either. 

Uh Oh There He Goes!

Uh Oh There He Goes!

Day 2: They brought in a new printer.  NOTHING was wrong with our old color printer/copier – at least nothing apparent to us lay people.  We all knew how to use it, even the by-pass tray!  Of course, the new copier did not working or at least didn’t for those of us who sit on that side of the office.  That day we had to send our printing to the other side of the office, a bit inconvenient but, after all we had so much more time to do so  because we couldn’t answer our emails anyway. 

Here We Are In The Middle of Mercury In Retrograde

Here We Are In The Middle of Mercury In Retrograde

Day 3: Two IT guys camp out in our office.  They are attempting to install the new upgraded email system on each computer.  Foolishly I asked one of them if he could look at the printer but NO, he was only working on emails today.  He did tell me what the new email access address would be so I could get my emails at home.  Encouraging!  So that night after dinner, I tried to get some emails while my phone was charging – the addresses didn’t work.  Not surprised.

Day 4:  Supposedly the printer is set up to work with everyone’s computer.  So when I sent something to the printer, an error message came up saying the printer was OFFLINE. Seriously?  I asked Christina, our office manager to come help me and she showed me this elaborate 5 step process to do in order to retrieve your copies.  Interesting…but it worked.  It involved seeing the error light, having a screen with 10 icons on it pop up that indicates where the problem is ( ha ha ha) and then hitting cancel, and then pushing the reset button and then the copy button and then your page came out but not on the tray!  This is what I should do until the IT guys came back and fixed it. Ai yi yi….  Well okay that worked but I told Christina, “There’s another little glitch.  I had set the computer to print two copies and only one came out”.  She couldn’t believe it and as it was the end of the day, we both just gave up.  I actually tried that twice and each time only one came out, so now I figured when they fix this thing, a whole bunch of random pages will come spewing out.

Everyone was a bit frazzled, I walked by the concierge desk and as our leasing manager went by I heard him say, “What is going on here”?  I just looked at him and said, “Mercury is in retrograde”.

The End Result

The End Result

Spring Is Here And So Are The Asparagus Photo by Andrew Scrivani

Spring Is Here And So Are The Asparagus
Photo by Andrew Scrivani

Spring is here, asparagus are aplenty and we love them in our house.  I was about to toss out last Wednesday’s Food section of the NY Times when the headline, Breaking the Pasta Myth caught my eye.  I started to read the article which seemed to  be  pretty focused on fresh pasta and I’m not a fan.  I like my pasta secca or dry pasta;  the cooking time is so much more reliable and in many cases the amount of time it takes to reach al denté state, gives you plenty of time to finish up your sauce.

However, at the end of the lengthy article there was a recipe for this Pasta Primavera and as I read it, I could imagine just how good it would be and the perfect Saturday night supper for my husband and me.

INGREDIENTS

1/4 lb. sugar snap peas, stems trimmed

1/2 lb. asparagus, ends snapped

2 TBS unsalted butter

3/4 cup English peas

1/4 cup thinly sliced spring onion or use a shallot

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

12 oz fettuccine or tagliatelle

2/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano at room temperature

1/2 cup crème fraîche or whole milk Greek yogurt at room temperature

3 TBS finely chopped parsley

1 TBS finely chopped tarragon

DIRECTIONS

Bring large pot of heavily salted water to boil over medium-high heat.

While water is coming to boil, slice snap peas in half and asparagus stems into 1/4″ thick pieces; leave asparagus heads whole.

Melt butter in large skillet or braising pan over medium-high heat.  Add snap peas, asparagus, English peas and onion.  Cook until vegetables are barely tender (but not too soft or mushy), 3-4 minutes.  Stir in garlic and cook 1 minute more.  Season with salt and pepper; set aside.

Cook pasta, drain well, transfer pasta to vegetable mixture. Toss with vegetables, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, yogurt  and herbs.  Season generously with salt and pepper.

Recipe from NY Times

** What I did;  I increased the amounts for the ingredients because I wanted to cook a whole pound of fettuccine.  I used fat free Greek yogurt because that’s what I had.  I think next time I will use crème fraîche or whole milk yogurt because the dish was a bit dry.  And I actually had reserved about 3/4 cup pasta water which I also added.  When I reheated the leftovers, I drizzled some basting oil on top before popping into the microwave and it was very good and moister.

That’s right, there’s no recipe;  If the New York Times Cooking and Food section can do it, so can I, lol.  I worked late tonight, almost to 7:00 and walked home.  The last thing I wanted to do was cook dinner but I did because I knew I needed to use up those asparagus and that bag of arugula, not to mention I still had the quart of grape tomatoes I bought last Friday.

So here’s what I did and you can do it too – this is really simple and very delicious if I do say so myself.  I put of pot of salted water on the stove to boil for the linguine.  I put a tiny bit of olive oil, a good-size pat of butter and a garlic clove (minced) in a frying pan and threw in a couple of handfuls of grape tomatoes, on low heat.  I chopped up a bunch of asparagus  and another garlic clove and put them in my braising pan with some olive oil over low heat.  Seasoned everything with salt and pepper and added red pepper flakiest to the mixture.  Once  asparagus started cooking, I  turned up the heat under the water.  After the asparagus had begun to soften, I added a can of rinsed Canellini  beans and about 3/4 cup of broth to the asparagus mixture as well as the now caramelized and burst tomatoes.    I added the cooked pasta (reserving a cup of the water) to the braising pan, tossed it well and sprinkled it with Romano cheese.  And there you have a tasty dish made with ingredients that were hanging out in the refrigerator.

Every now and then I like to organize a MMT – A Magical Mystery Tour with my husband and sometimes with friends too.  Last week I surprised Peter and our two friends, Rosemarie and Murray with an early morning adventure outside of the City.  We left a 8:00AM, with my husband repeating dire warnings about rush hour traffic.  I told him we were headed across the George Washington Bridge and that’s when they knew we were leaving the island ( you know New Yorker’s).

There was lots of guessing along the way and as the signs for the Delaware Water Gap grew more frequent, everyone was really wondering just how far were we going?  It took us about an hour and a half and we were in Columbia, NJ.  Our directions took us up a steep hill and into some very rural woodsy area – we arrived at the Lakata Wolf Preserve. 

Timber Wolves

Timber Wolves

We were fortunate that the day was chilly and was drizzling on and off because there were only 8 of us scheduled for the morning tour and that made it like our very own private experience.  We were shuttled up into the huge preserve area where 4 packs of wolves reside, each in their own 10 acre compound. 

Jim, who runs the preserve with his wife Becky, was our guide.  He told us SO MANY interesting details about the wolves both in general as a species but also with anecdotes about many of his “kids”.  The wolves there have all been raised in captivity and believe it or not, they come running as he calls out their names.  Of course that fact that they know he has dog treats on him doesn’t hurt because wolves can scent for 2 miles!  The wolves are beautiful; There are Timber Wolves, Arctic Wolves and British Colombian Black Wolves.  Their luminous yellow eyes capture your attention as they study you while you’re admiring them.  The Arctic Wolves have beautiful white coats (although better not to be seen my dear) and are the least social of the packs.  They kept their distance for the most part only coming to the fence for a treat.

And they howl!! Peter and Murray attempted a wolf howl to see if any of the packs would respond but they weren’t fooled.  Jim gave out one long howl and one by one each pack began to howl.  That was AMAZING to hear!  Wolves do not howl at the moon – they do point their noses up in the air so that their howl will travel further and louder.  Howling is used for many different reasons and in different voices.  If you were a wolf you’d know whether or not the howl was meant to signal you to come and join me or if it was meant to scare you off and make the pack sound like there were more of them than you thought or should attempt to take on!

Wolf packs are structured with an Alpha male and a Beta male and as with most animal species it is the most fit that survive.  The alpha male always eats first and wolves will eat all they can at any time because they don’t know where their next meal is coming from;  hence they are on the move all the time looking for game.  These wolves are well-fed mostly with deer meat.  Jim tosses in big chunks of frozen deer meat for each one of the wolves.  By having it frozen when it lands in their den area, the alpha will take his and by the time he makes any headway into it, the others have had a chance to grab their portion and each retreats to their own corner to chow down.

I could go on and on about all the super facts and information I learned on this visit but I would rather you experience it yourself.  The link to their website is http://www.lakotawolf.com/.  There is also a store, which is as you would expect, exceptional.  Artifacts and highly unusual items fill this place and it feels like you are in a movie set for a Trading Post.  The women who run it are delightful. 

Murray Head took all of the photos in this blog.  He had a wonderful time doing so, only lamenting that the wire fence was messing up his shots!

Serious Staring

Serious Staring

Arctic Wolf

Arctic Wolf

Poised To Catch A Treat

Poised To Catch A Treat

“Can You Hear Me Now”

Oh My What Big Teeth You Have

Oh My What Big Teeth You Have

Stretching

Stretching

Nuzzling

Nuzzling

“Begging” for a treat

Guarding

Guarding

A Wolf At Rest

A Wolf At Rest

Beautiful To Behold

Beautiful To Behold

Photo by  Andrew Scrivani of NY Times

Photo by Andrew Scrivani of NY Times

The frost has left the ground, the daffodils, hyacinths and forsythia are all in bloom BUT we’re still a ways from seeing any of the grand summer fruits and vegetables. :(

What to do when you’re hungering for some greens and a hot meal on a cool (almost cold) night?  I adapted this recipe from one I saw in the NY Times.  I dumbed it down a bit for myself to make it easier and quicker and it worked just fine.  It has the warm triumvirate of Tunisian spices – coriander, cumin and caraway.

COLLARD GREENS TAGINE WITH FLAGEOLETS

INGREDIENTS

1 15oz can of small white beans

1 large onion

4 large garlic cloves; 2 crushed, 2 minced

1 tsp of coriander seeds  ( I used crushed)

1 tsp of caraway seeds

2 tsp cumin seeds ( I used crushed)

2 TBS EV olive oil

1 large fennel bulb, cored, diced, fronds chopped and reserved for garnish

Salt to taste

1 tsp paprika or Aleppo pepper

1 lg jalapeno, minced (about 2 TBS)* I substituted harissa sauce which I had in refrigerator

2 TBS tomato paste ( I put the rest of the can in a small plastic bag, flattened it and put in freezer)

1# (large bunch) Collard greens ( I used pre-washed and cut bag)

1 large bunch cilantro, chopped – about 1 cup and some for garnish

2 TBS minced preserved lemon (optional)

Cooked grains or couscous for serving (optional)

DIRECTIONS

Cut onion in half; cut one of the halves in half and chop the rest. Set aside chopped onion and put the quarters in a pot with the drained beans.  Add 5 cups of water (6 if serving over grains) and the crushed garlic and bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Let simmer for about 30 minutes and remove garlic and onion and discard.

Meanwhile in small skillet or saucepan over medium-high heat, toast corriander, cumin and caraway seeds together just till they begin to release their aroma, 2-3 minutes. * I only put the caraway seeds in the pan. Transfer to spice mill. * I didn’t have my spice mill so I smashed the seeds with a hammer. Put aside.

Heat oil over medium heat in large heavy skillet (I used my braising pan) and add remaining onion. Cook stirring till tender, about 5 minutes. Add minced garlic, diced fennel and generous pinch of salt and cook another 5 minutes, until fennel has softened slightly.  Stir into beans* (since I was using braising pan, I added the beans and liquid to the braising pan). Add the ground spices, paprika, jalepeno if using or your substitute, and tomato paste and return to simmer. Cover and simmer 30 minutes.  Taste and adjust seasoning.

Meanwhile, stem and wash collard greens (so much easier to use bagged) Cut into 1/2″ strips.  If you have bought bagged and cut, then just slice in some semblance of strips.  Add collards to beans and vegetables. Bring back to a simmer and cover and simmer 15-30 minutes until greens are tender.  Stir in cilantro and chopped fennel fronds, simmer another 5 minutes.

**Ladle into wide soup bowls and if using preserved lemon, place a a tsp on each serving.  Garnish with chopped cilantro and fennel and serve.  I cooked some farro and put a portion in the bottom of the bowl before adding the stew. Or you can serve grains on the side.

Recipe from Martha Rose Schulman – NY Times

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Death is…final, painful, dark, lonely and forever.  And as the song goes,”…forever is a long, long time“.  Death is a passage, a cyclical expected conclusion.  We know death is nearby when a person is very old and frail.  Or when someone is suffering from an incurable disease.  Then death is welcomed with open arms.  We pray – please make the suffering stop and when our prayers are answered, we cry.  Isn’t this what we hoped for?  But loss is painful even when you know it’s inevitable. It feels like there’s an anvil sitting on your heart and you think the knot in your stomach and the lump in your throat will never go away.  The loss is real, the pain is real, our hearts are heavy.

Life is affirming, death is negating.

BUT, but.. what happens when death like the proverbial thief in the night, swoops in and steals a life? Who knew? NO ONE!!! Nobody knew death was lurking nearby, no one suspected the Angel of Death was about to pounce.  We didn’t know that yesterday was the last day we would ever see, hear or speak to our friend?  How could we know? There was no time to prepare ourselves for her SUDDEN DEATH.  The horror and shock and disbelief do little to take away the knife-like pain in your chest.  This isn’t a heavy heart, no, it feels like someone ripped your heart out!  Denial shows up and for a bit, you tell yourself this can’t be true.  She can’t be dead…I just saw her, I just texted her, we were together all day on Easter, I made her hat for God’s sake. And you don’t really believe it happened anyway – because sometimes the tragic truth is too much to bear, to comprehend.  Yet the pain, the searing, stabbing pain, you know it’s true.

What am I going to do? Where am I supposed to go? Why isn’t she sitting at the desk next to me? How could she do this to me?  Yes, pain is personal and self-involving.  I ask…why did you leave me? 

Sudden unexpected death is horrible., SNAP! Just like that. She was my friend and now she’s gone.  She was a mother and now the girls are motherless, she owned 2 adorable little dogs – what’s going to happen to them?  A whole life has to be dealt with; leases, electric bills, credit cards, phones and on and on.  Who is going to remember that there is food in the refrigerator?  Who stops all the mail? What will they do with all the furniture?  Shall I clean out your desk?  Our lives are filled with SO MUCH (stuff and such) that the dismantling of a life is one hell of job!

“…and if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take”.  I hope your soul and your spirit are in a good place.  You left us without warning and that wasn’t very nice of you.  I miss you already and wonder what I’m going to do without your laughter to make my day at the office fly by.  Who am I going to tell my Peter grocery store tales to?  Who am I going to walk home with?  It’s all very empty right now. 

I’m so sorry you’re gone, I’m so sorry you’re not here, I’m so sorry for your daughters and I’m so sorry for myself and my husband who misses you terribly.  He really did want to hang those drapes you know.  You have left behind so many people who are really really hurting right now but thank God, you left us with some wonderful memories and nobody can take those away.

See you in the ‘ hood…

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