Running ladies and reaching out

Several times a week, for at least the past six months, the boys and I drive past a woman we’ve taken to calling “The Running Lady.” In cold weather or warm, rain or shine, she runs. Her outfits are coordinated and weather appropriate, and always she wears a backpack.

Perhaps it’s a Camelbak, carrying water so she stays hydrated. Maybe it’s a standard pack that carries first aid supplies, her phone and keys, or sweat towels. It could even be a stamina-enhancing device; run with weight, train harder.

She is always red-cheeked. Often, she looks tired, as if her exertions are just that: exertions. Her shape is not perfect. Her runs don’t look easy. I admire her perseverance.

I have come to count on The Running Lady, as a basic, trustworthy symbol of dependability. I appreciate her commitment, I enjoy seeing her; it’s as if we are friends, but she just doesn’t know it. In a very basic way, I count on her. I would like to meet her some day. The boys and I have discussed writing her a card of appreciation or admiration, but then we decided that would probably be weird.

I am grateful for rocks like The Running Lady. Like my boys waking up between 6 and 6:30 each morning and my husband coming home between 7:30 and 8 each night. My cat nipping at my ankles if I’ve not remembered to refill his bowl of kibble. February being the suckiest month of the year, each and every year.

I am grateful that my favorite recipe for bread always rises, that Nanny’s cranberry sauce makes everyone smile. I’m grateful that my sons are healthy and bright, that my car starts each morning, that I love my parents and sister and my in-laws too, that the Soda Stream was invented.

I am grateful for good food and wine, for writing, for my friends. I give thanks for my sons’ school and for the endless beauty that is everywhere, if only we open our eyes and look. For strong boxes and packing tape, shredders and bubble wrap.

These rocks constitute the foundation on which I root my life, my future, my sense of the world and my place in it. And yet I know that in many ways, those rocks are illusions. Tenuous, they could slip at any moment. An aggressive tide could wash in and sweep a cornerstone away.

Life is never sure, never fully in control, never wholly known, no matter how much we wish it so. That truth is a tough pill to swallow, but as we grow older, it’s worth remembering that even concrete and diamonds crumble under the right pressure.

People die too soon, by their own hands or those of others. I’ve lost acquaintances to both this month. This month. Goodbyes to homes, pets, finances, friends and family are forced upon people in our midst all.the.time. To pretend otherwise, to ignore the truth of those losses weakens the foundation on which we all live; it debases the communities we could and can, do and need to share.

I am grateful for the people in my life who are there for me regardless of how I present myself. Who pick up the phone to my glee or tears or wonder and say, “Bring it on. I’m here.” I’m grateful for all the friends who let me be that ear to them.

Not everyone has that, or thinks they do, and that is a shame of epic proportion. Let people know you love or value them, for every reason or none at all. Reach out, show compassion, write the note, look around. Even a stranger might welcome an admirer or friend.

*This post is in honor of my cousin, CBA, and is in response to last week's Finish the Sentence Friday prompt, "I am grateful for...", hosts for which were Kristi of Finding Ninee and Lizzi of Considerings.

Mardi Gras 2016

It's that time of year again, y'all. Mardi Gras! Fat Tuesday is tomorrow, a final day of celebratory excess before the Lenten season commences with Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras became a holiday in Europe in 1582 but didn't arrive in North American until the late 17th century. It became an official holiday in Louisiana in 1875.

My New Orleans friends and family have been enjoying days of parades, bead throwing, mask wearing, and king cake eating. I definitely want to take the kids down one year to spend Mardi Gras with cousins. They would love it.

Here, I've hung purple, green, and gold bunting from our front porch, and have gotten together a large basket of beads and made two king cakes for the boys' classes; I'll bring them in tomorrow, give a brief presentation about the holiday, and hope they enjoy the cake.

King cake has never been a favorite dessert of mine, but I love making them each and every year. I love the smell of yeast and flour, butter, sugar, and cinnamon. I love to watch the dough rise, to roll the cinnamon-sugared rectangles into smooth logs, to join the ends and seal the rings. This year I used Southern Living's traditional king cake recipe.

all puffed up and ready for the oven

all puffed up and ready for the oven

This year, I let the kids decorate; naturally, they have a heavier hand with the colored sugar than I do, but really, the cakes look all the better for that.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Fettuccine with Toasted Broccoli Breadcrumbs, Parmesan and Ricotta

My appetite is slowly returning and primarily for carbs. Whoa nelly on the pasta, bread and cake I crave.

Last night, after spending nearly four hours trying to get an answer from various health professionals about just what is ailing Oliver, I was exhausted, hungry and in possession of some gorgeous fresh fettuccine from Vace, a fabulous little Italian market nearby.

It seemed reasonable to consider that my body would revolt if I didn't feed it something green, so I decided on broccoli as I'd purchased some fresh heads earlier in the week. 

Y'all know when you roast broccoli and the tree-top ends get blackened? The flavor concentrates? And you just wish every bit of the broccoli tasted like those little frondy ends? I adore those bits and pieces so decided to basically shave the head off the broccoli stalk and make "breadcrumbs."

I tossed the broccoli shavings with some regular breadcrumbs (made from stale baguette; the best), garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper, and then roasted the whole mess on a sheet pan in a low oven, maybe 250 Fahrenheit, until everything was toasty and just-crisp, about 25 minutes.

When all that was nearly done, I boiled the egg fettuccine (isn't egg pasta insanely lush and wonderful?) until just done, reserved some of its cooking water, drained it and then returned it to hot pan. I added back some cooking water as well as a few spoons of fresh ricotta and a generous shower or three of freshly grated Parm.

When that was fairly well incorporated, I drizzled some top-quality olive oil on top and gently folded in most of the breadcrumbs. Then more Parm and finally the rest of the breadcrumbs. Voila! I ate enough to feed a small army. Delish!