Category Archives: Food

Saturday evening at home

Saturday evening at home. Snow is falling outdoors, and the roads are rough. I’m staying in, which is what I had intended to do anyhow.

The MainStage programming is all complete, the pieces are written, and tomorrow I meet the band and rehearse for the first (and only) time. This time next week, two Circus Harmony Fluente shows will be down, with four to go.

I’m spending the evening indoors, working on the NASM self-study that must be in the post on Wednesday. This project is giving me that feeling I have when I’m on my last day abroad — I want to enjoy one more day, but I can feel the call of home, and my mind is already there. My mind is already on other things, especially since school begins Monday.

And tomorrow is a circus day.

Realizing this morning what the weather would be today, I decided to make some shepherd’s pie. I had one brick of frozen ground lamb left in the freezer, so I thawed it today. Minced lamb with carrots and thyme and gravy was the base; mashed Yukon Gold potatoes with butter and Parmesan the top layer. Cheddar cheese finished it off.

Snickerdoodles

Vegetable shortening has no place in my house, since I don’t use it enough for it to keep without going rancid.

Snickerdoodle recipes almost invariably call for part butter, part shortening, so I’ve been on a search for an all-butter recipe that I actually like.

Thank you, Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, 10th edition  (© 1989) for this perfect recipe!

I spoke too soon in prepping this blog entry.

The cookies turned out like unleavened gooey butter cake.

A total disaster, except that that crumbs tasted like baked butter. Which I happen to think is a great flavor.

Tamale day

I finally put to use the recipes and skills learned in the tamale cooking class at Kitchen Conservatory some months ago.

On Monday I drove the 20 minutes west to Grace Jones’ home, where from scratch we cooked up pork tamales, a spicy tomatillo salsa, and a corn relish dip that actually worked beautifully as a side dish.

Along the way: a cup of lard, four different kinds of peppers of varying spiciness, eight ears of corn, an onion, a dozen limes, and much more.

Grace made a tres leches cake for dessert.  And a good time was had by all!

The masa is starting to come together. That’s just lard and cornmeal and salt.
And done!
Obligatory kitchen selfie.
Roasting corn and peppers for the corn dish.

That’s two dozen tamales in there….
The tomatillo salsa.
YUM!
All in all, a worthwhile effort.

2019 in pictures

And now abide (according to these photos):  family, faith, friends, travel, MUSIC, Circus Harmony, Variety, cooking, Auggie, the garden, and Webster University.  That pretty much sums it up.

Agenda: a snow day

Monday, 16 December.

School was canceled today, and the snow started in earnest just before 9 a.m.

I had stayed up late watching THE RAIN on Netflix, so I slept later than usual this morning.

Before even starting the coffee, I needed to finish payroll approvals for school.  That part of the clock never stops, even on a holiday or a snow day.  Then, with the Christmas tree lights warming the room, I put on the turntable an old Mantovani Christmas carol album, and started on breakfast.

We had planned a full day of juries at school today, so the emails were flying furiously this morning as four different area heads and two room schedulers tried to coordinate what to do.  The team pulled together beautifully, and we are in good shape, knowing we will witness all the necessary performance juries this week.

11.40 a.m. now.  A Honeycrisp & ginger apple pie is in oven, one I made from scratch in the last hour.  Robert Goulet’s really over-the-top Christmas album helped keep me in the mood.

Two loads of whites are in the basement.  It’s laundry day too.

The snow is storming down, and all is blanketed and soft outdoors.  D has just texted that he may stop by later.  If he does, he will find homemade apple pie and homemade potato soup, and a grilled cheese.

George Winston’s “December” album on the turntable now.  I love the pop and hiss of these old LPs.

Now I need to read Morning Prayer before noon.


4 p.m.  D stopped by, and thus I shared a meal of homemade potato soup, grilled cheese, and apple pie.  Now I’m on carbohydrate overload.

The Christmas cards are done.  All that’s left is to print the annual Christmas carol (written last week, and this year an Advent carol instead) and stuff the envelopes, then pop them in the post.

I had plans today to finish two Circus Harmony band charts.  But now it’s 4 p.m. and I just want a nap.

At least the laundry is done.


Evening now. A very kind neighbor has shoveled the front walk.  Elizabeth and James live next door, with their adorable daughter Olivette.  I’ll take to them in a few minutes peasant bread fresh from the oven, and some of the apple pie.

Schools are already calling off for tomorrow.  If Webster does, I have no Plan C for juries and finals.  The weather is tapering, and I’m hopeful.

Mushrooms are stuffed for an 8 p.m. late meal.  It’ll be light, believe it or not.

Evening Prayer tonight will be with special intentions, marking seven years since the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., and for Victims of Gun Violence in St. Louis, across Missouri, country, and the world.


All day long: this feeling that a cold is trying to take hold.  I’ve not had an honest-to-god cold virus in nearly ten years.  And I don’t wish to start now.  But the slight sore throat and drippy nose, coupled with the tired eyes and the slightly sore neck, cause me a bit of anxiety.


Evening Prayer was tearful.  Mother Kathie at Christ Church Cathedral sent the text of the litany at noonday today, and as I read it, I (and many others today) named aloud the names of the children killed seven years ago today at Sandy Hook, and also the names and ages of 27 Saint Louis children killed by gun violence in 2019.  Grief and rage and hope all huddled together in my voice and spirit for a while.

The closing exhortation was beautiful:

The wisdom of God, the Love of God and the grace of God strengthen us to be the hands and heart of the Almighty One in this world, and may God’s love and blessing continue to be with us always for life is short, and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us. So be quick to love, and make haste to be kind. And may the blessings of God be upon you, and stay with you, and those you love, now and forever.


Then comes the 9 p.m. text, telling us that Webster University is closed until 10 a.m. Tuesday. One more final (seven of them in the Department of Music tomorrow morning at 8) is now rescheduled.

And quite unhelpfully, the message says to consult your instructor on when tomorrow’s exam will actually be given.  No guidance for anyone . . . .

My final on-task hour of the day has been devoted to being department chair.  I love my job, but really?

And with that, good night!

2019 holiday letter

December 2019

Dear friends and family around the world:

The Christmas tree is decorated.  Candles are lit.  The house is increasingly scented with the warm spices of the holiday season.

And while all is not well in the world, all is calm here on Lawn Place.

I began the year on sabbatical, and now end the year in a frantic rush to finish a major accreditation report at the office.  The private studio has exploded in a lovely and fulfilling way.  My circus composing is going well. And I am loving working with the Variety kids.  Fulfilling is indeed the watchword.

As I near 60 years old, I’ve made some decisions about what the next few years are going to entail.  More on this as it unfolds and becomes real.  The great news here is that I’m figuring out how my contributions to my profession and community are maturing, strengthening, and broadening, and that makes me very happy indeed.

Virginia the Landlady, JC, Dean Peter Sargent

So changes are coming, and are present as well.  Peter Sargent retired in July after being the only fine arts dean Webster has ever had, and I now have a new boss.  Sadly, Peter died just a few weeks ago.  His death has left me in a well of grief for a father-figure and mentor I loved deeply.

One of the realizations this year: my life is enriched by a web of acquaintances of various degrees of closeness, without whom life would be infinitely less interesting and connected.  The New York Times earlier this year posted an article about how people with a robust group of acquaintances are generally happier.  Circus Harmony and Variety has helped me fill some of these gaps.  The brief conversations with parents of my private students add to connection as well.  And I’m grateful!


Travel this year included not one but two trips to Morocco. I enjoyed the first trip so much I grabbed my friend Kevin and went back again a few months later.  I’ve had some Chicago time, two trips to Washington, D.C., several NYC trips, and a bit of time in Lee’s Summit.

We are all getting a bit older.  My sisters and I are all in our 50s.  Karen is a grandmother twice-over now.  Beth has only one of her three children still in public schools.  JoAnne, our father’s widow, is now in a care center, and her home (the one she shared with Pop until his death) is now on the sales block.  Change is a constant.

With my sisters.

I’ve taken numerous cooking classes this year.  Sourdough bread has been a favorite, with a starter I’ve somehow kept alive.  A cooking class in Tangier was a delight too.

The Variety Chorus finished our Spring season with a performance with Sting in April! And my circus music was hit in January.

I’ve seen a TON of shows this year!

And this summer I said ‘see you later’ to three much-loved students:

Students fill my life with joy!

I had two incredible meals this year, one in Tangier, the other at a Cuban place in DC:

And finally, some of the circus kids have become my adopted family here in Saint Louis.  The Bailey brothers helped me celebrate my birthday this year, and their family has become a fixed point for me.

This holiday season is a time of darkness and expectation, light and hope.  May the light be victorious, and may we all enjoy blessings during this season.

Jeff

Thanksgivings of yore

I found myself thinking on feast day this week of Thanksgiving past.

My first real recollections of Thanksgiving are at Aunt Esther’s home in Columbia.  Uncle John would have been alive then, back in the 1970s.  The Carter crew would pile into the station wagon or the van and make the day-trip to Columbia.  This was always a pitch-in affair, although Aunt Esther did the most of the cooking. G-ma Blocher (my mom’s mom, and Aunt Esther’s sister) would be there, of course.  So would an interchangeable cast of Aunt Esther’s nieces and nephews (my mom’s generation) and their children (my generation).  I recall that the Musgraves were usually in attendance, and it seems that Paul Gutshall’s family was too.

I hated stuffing.  Just couldn’t stand it.  And then somewhere around 18, my taste buds found salvation.  I realized that I liked sage!  And thus began a love affairs with cornbread or bread stuffing that has lasted to this day.  None of oyster stuffing for me.  Give me sage and cornbread stuffing, with loads onion and celery, and I’m happy.

Stuffing also figures into one of my deep regrets with my own mother.  Her brother, my Uncle Edwin, and his wife Mary were up for Thanksgiving.  I was home from college.  And Mom was prepping Thanksgiving dinner.  I found out there was no stuffing on the menu, and I recall going on and on about that.  So did Uncle Edwin.  So Mary, to my mother’s pique, made cornbread and put together stuffing.  Mom said something along the lines of “my meal isn’t good enough for you.”  And I was instantly chagrined.

I don’t know that I ever made amends for that, as we never mentioned it again.

When my parents took off for Argentina, Thanksgiving was suddenly at G-ma’s home in Adrian.  Uncle John had died in 1984, and Aunt Esther was no longer doing Thanksgiving.  By 1990, though, I was having Thanksgiving with Jerry and Jeannie Young and their family in Independence, and later in Oak Grove.  They were second family to me for many years until I moved away after doctoral studies.  My sisters and I all fended for ourselves — Karen with her husband, Beth away in Brazil for two years, and then with G-ma.

My more recent tradition has been to host a friends Thanksgiving.  In Muncie, that was always with music faculty colleagues who weren’t traveling and would otherwise have been alone.  These pitch-in affairs lasted all day and into the evening, with loads of booze and way too much food.

Here in Saint Louis, that tradition has extended to inviting students from Webster to join me — kids in my voice studio or a class that I’m teaching.  They seem to appreciate a decent home-cooked meal at a real dining room table.  And sometimes a friend or three stops by as well for the meal.

Notable Thanksgivings away include one in Vienna earlier this decade, and of course 2008 when I was just back from Seattle, closed my new home the day before Thanksgiving, and then moved that same weekend.  (The day itself was with my colleague Glen Bauer and his late husband Tim, at their flat in the Central West End.)

Last year I was in NYC for Thanksgiving; the year before, with my family for the last holiday gathering with my father before he died.

Cheese grits are a fixture at Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is the holiday that moves me the most.  It’s this ‘autumn’ thing I have going on.  This year, Thanksgiving is colored by the death of my mentor and friend and former boss, and the huge void in this world that his death leaves.  But the day (as I write on Thursday) will be with people I love, and all will be well.

Photos from Thanksgivings past: