Monthly Archives: September 2014

Poo-Poo Platter

flag.jpgAbout five o’clock at the lake house, we prepare for a “cocktail cruise” which entails a flurry of plastic cups and drink grabbing, a run down the hill to the pontoon boat, a blur of life jacket throwing on, hook up for favorite cruise playlists, the blessed sound of reverse, then out onto the water to ride around in slow circles or drop anchor and watch the sun set behind the black shadows of the mountains.

It’s a tough life at the lake but someone’s gotta do it.

But on the evenings that the hope for a beautiful sunset is especially inviting and the late afternoon sun is dancing like diamonds on the water, we plan ahead.  Some of us shower and gussy up, some wipe off the seats of the boat from the day’s outings but the most important contributors, prepare a poo-poo platter of hors d’oeuvres to take on the boat with our cocktails.

Now just to be clear, a poo-poo platter is actually a pu-pu patter, introduced to me by my very plan ahead and organized houseguest friend who arrived for a weekend stay with three bags of pu-pu platter fixings and five gallons of craft beer growlers for her and her husband’s three-day stay.  She had mentioned the pu-pu platters when we spoke about the weekend’s plans the week before and I was all for them, in spite of my interpretation of the name as poo-poo. Anything in a kitchen that involves work beyond scrambled eggs or sticking something in a vase in the middle of the table, I am a fan of others doing the preparation.

When she started the first evening’s poo-poo platter by cutting up carrots, celery and broccoli for dipping, I immediately understood the poo-poo part of the platter’s name.  Roughage.

I mentioned this to her and with her signature giggle, she explained it is pu-pu, an American Chinese or Hawaiian hors d’oeuvre tray of a little bit of this and a little bit of that.  Theirs are traditionally miniature egg rolls, chicken wings, cured meats, mini-meatballs, fish, etc. So on we forged for three days of her version of pu-pu platters, each with a different ethnic theme–Mexican, Middle Eastern, American. And on we went with our altered version of their name, digressing from pu-pu to poo-poo to simply poopy platters.  I know, very sophomoric but lake air does that to you.

Especially at 3,200 feet.

So the next weekend, my oldest friend in the world who is of Lebanese/Syrian descent arrived and announced that her “poopy” platter would include homemade hummus, olives and some delicious crispy bread things from the old country that are perfect for dipping in or spreading with the hummus.  Now if you are a Samba, Three Tribes or Oasis fan for hummus, once you taste the homemade recipe that follows, you will never buy store-bought again. Handed down through three generations of my friend’s family, this recipe is the real deal. Originally made by her grandmother who spoke heavily-accented English and made her pita bread fresh on the open flame of her kitchen gas stove, how could her hummus be anything but authentic–and delicious? Sitte, as she was affectionately called by her American grandchildren–a derivative of the Lebanese name for grandmother–served hers with open arms and a warm smile. You can serve it however you like, just don’t forget the olive oil.

hummus 3


one can garbanzo beans/chickpeas–I use organic

one lemon

one (or more) cloves garlic

2 tbsp. tahini (I prefer Krinos brand–no oily mixing before use)

extra virgin olive oil and/or water

sea salt and pepper to taste

First of all, this is a very “to taste” recipe. Garlic lovers will like two cloves, I prefer one. I think a few big pinches of sea salt is perfect but my husband likes at least a half teaspoon, if not more…Ina Garten’s instructions for hummus in general, not this old family recipe, is to dump it all in and mix.  But I have found a few general tips for mixing helpful…

Drain chickpeas. Put one clove garlic (Sitti used lots more) in a small Cuisinart-style chopper. Chop for a few spins to mince. Add chickpeas, the juice of one lemon and 1 to 2 tsp. olive oil or water.  Chop and grind mixture until smoothish. Add tahini and keep the chop/grind going. Keep adding water or olive oil to get it to the texture you like. I prefer mine with some chunks because I think it tastes better but also I don’t have the patience to get it completely smooth. Salt and pepper should be added all along the way.  It takes more salt than you think and I use very little pepper. Sitte used to poke a fork in a fresh lemon half and squeeze it by twisting the lemon around the fork, picking out lemon seeds as she went.  If you can do that and rub your stomach and pat your head at the same time, go for it. I do mine in a manual juicer.

Serve at room temperature, or cooled, with warm toasted pita or veggies or any dipping think you like. Drizzle with olive oil and chopped parsley to garnish. Other popular garnishes include sprinkled ground cumin or sumac. Not the poison one, of course.

And if anyone poo-poos this recipe, they haven’t tried it.

“Things are always working out for me…”

thigs I have a gifted massage therapist friend who is an inspirational yoga instructor as well.  We had heard each other’s names for years before we actually met.  You know, “Do you know so-and-so? Really?  You should.” Or “I’m sure you know so-and-so. No? Oh, you have to meet her. You will really like her.”

I’ve often wondered in these situations do we talk alike, think alike, look alike, laugh alike or are the same amount of weird alike?  When we finally met, it was as though I was catching up with a long, lost friend. And as for when we finally met, as the title implies, it was when the stars, for whatever reason, were aligned for our meeting.

She had experienced a life-changing event that shifted her perspective on her purpose in this world and her career, and she did an about face that brought her to massage and yoga.  I, on the other hand, am constantly searching and waiting for that “ah-ha” moment that will explain everything that has happened in my life and give me the peace of “Oh, that’s why.  Now I get it.”

But on the day of our first encounter, I was just dog-tired and begging for relief and a massage seemed like the perfect answer. Little did I know that the answer would come in the form of the massage therapist herself. During my massage, our conversation (of course, I talk during a massage) quickly moved from perfunctory getting to know you chitchat to the meaning of life chitchat.

Although I come from a very traditional religious background and I maintain some of the tenets of that religion, I’m not much of a church person these days.  I like to tell myself my years of three times a week church (Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday prayer meetings) stocked me up so that I am excused from class from here on out. But churchgoer or not, I consider myself a spiritual person.

Searching for perspective outside my traditional upbringing, I have encountered people, such as my masseuse friend, who look beyond the day-to-day to a broader vision of a spiritual connection we all share with each other and our world.  And I am drawn to these people in their conviction that there is meaning and purpose in our time here on this earth.  Something I have had doubts about. Especially when I have been thrown up against a life-altering brick wall. During these moments, I have shaken my fists at the heavens saying, “I get it. Stop teaching me.  I know I have no control.” But obviously I don’t believe it. Because the brick walls keep coming and when they do, I keep looking for some feeling of control to rein in the chaos I feel around me. Or at least an answer to “why?”

As a reasonably well-educated person, I know there is no perfect answer to the “whys,” so I have shifted my searching to some sort of positive spin to put on the things that stop me in my tracks and make me question everything.  In this search, I’ve acquired a team of spiritual supporters for accepting the good, the bad and the ugly.

And the team that has rallied is not the team I had expected.

A world renowned brain surgeon, a friend or two who have died of cancer, a Southern Baptist converted to Buddhism, several shrinks, my dear attorney friend–as broadly, positively, openly spiritual as she is practical. My yoga/masseuse pal. One of the country’s most prominent Presbyterian ministers. And a  few essential everyday and forever, “save me, I’m drowning” friends.

As diverse as they are, they all share a passion for the moment.  And living in it.  Because that is all we can be certain of. Not two minutes ago, not the future but right here, this minute, this “now.”  Despite prognosis, despite fear, despite rejection, grasping for hope, they keep me grounded and lift me up and help me hobble on.  Or on a skipping along day, they cheer me onward.

So to come full circle here, “things are always working out for me” was introduced to me in the form of an inside windshield bumper sticker sort of thing that reminds me daily that what we send out into the universe is reflected back at us.  Thinking being–angry, sad people who expect the worst often receive it. And vice versa–welcoming the good, sends it your way, too.

things sticker (1)It was handed to me by said masseuse friend (all this anonymity to protect the innocent is driving me crazy but I’m committed to it) to place on my dashboard as I set off on a ten-hour road trip.  To West Virginia, of course.

At first confused, I slid it on the dash and what to my wondering eyes did appear but “Things are always working out for me” reflected in my windshield. And darned it if didn’t work.  I shot out of Chicago, no traffic, faster than I have ever made it to the Skyway.  The wreck along the way was quickly cleared and I wasn’t in it. Several weeks of having it staring me in the face, literally each time I get in the driver’s seat, I have come to embrace it, believe it and even be so bold as to expect it.

Curious about this magic mantra, I asked her where it originated. She said it was from Abraham Hicks. One Google hit later and I found out, unfortunately, that there is no Abraham Hicks. Abraham-Hicks Publishing is the home of inspirational speakers, Esther and Jerry Hicks who authored bestseller, The Law of Attraction. According to the Hicks, Abraham is a group of spiritual entities that are “interpreted” by or channeled through Esther Hicks. Abraham tells Esther that whenever one feels moments of great love, exhilaration or pure joy, that is the energy of everyone’s “Source,” and that is who Abraham “is.” A little too voodoo for me.

More than slightly deflated by the “Source” of my newfound inspiration, I texted her and said, “Car stopped on the side of the road.  It is the black of night on a backwoods highway.  You thought Abraham was driving.  But Esther steps out.  You, my friend, have just crossed over into the Twilight Zone.”

A few LOL’s later, with her admitting “It’s a little weird,” I regained my composure and decided it didn’t matter if my new mantra had come from a former Amway sales person (Esther) and her former circus performer husband (Jerry). It is working for me. And I am sticking to it.

And anyway, the rectangle has already faded a spot on my black dashboard so if I take it out, Abraham’s inspiration will still be staring back at me.

Channeled, of course.

Talking smack, on and off the track…

derbyYesterday I received a comment that the reader enjoyed my post but disagreed with most of what I said. I wasn’t at all offended but thought, “that’s why they have horse races,” thinking that is a well-known expression meaning we can all choose our own horse; decide what we do or don’t like. I thought is was an old horse-related adage as familiar as “close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.” The full version of this quote, by the way, was originally stated by Frank Robinson in 1973 when he said,  “Close don’t count in baseball. Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.”

But much to my surprise, after an extensive Google search, I could find no such “why we have horse races” expression quoted by a famous baseball player or anyone. Nowhere. Not even in Kentucky.

So I must have made it up, or my dad made it up or Grandpa Kyle made it up, but looks like it didn’t permeate common speech as far as I had thought. In my search, I was intrigued, though, by how many everyday expressions do allude to, and are derived from, horse racing terms. Many readers may already know these (yes you, Alan,) but I thought they were of interest and worth sharing. So for those of you as ignorant on this subject as I, here you go!

Horse Racing Terms Used In Common Speech 101:

across the board

Across the board originated around 1903 as a betting term in horse racing. Wagering across the board means betting that your horse will finish in either first, second, or third place–effectively betting all the way across a single line of the board.  In contemporary usage, this phrase indicates the inclusion of everyone or everything in a given scenario, such as across the board layoffs.

charley horse

What does a sharp muscle cramp have to do with a horse named Charley? The term charley horse began as baseball slang around the late 1800’s. Some think the phrase might be named for pitcher Charlie “Old Hoss” Radbourn, National Baseball Hall of Fame 1939, who suffered from sudden leg cramps. Again we have baseball and horse racing terms rubbing elbows–go figure. The Online Etymology Dictionary states that charley horse may be derived “from somebody’s long-forgotten lame racehorse.” But it’s suspected the cross-over to baseball was created by player Joe Quest, Chicago White Stockings (love the Stockings–now we in Chicago don’t even spell Socks right) from 1879-1882. Quest is quoted as saying, “the ball players troubled with the ailment hobbled exactly as did an old horse, a charley horse.”

dark horse

Dark, a term meaning lacking light, also means concealed, secret, or mysterious. By that token, a dark horse is a horse about whose racing powers little is known; a horse unfamiliar to the race organizers and the odds makers. Dark in this sense has nothing to do with color but more the unknown qualities of the horse. In daily speech, a dark horse often refers to any unexpected success. In politics, a dark horse candidate is one who seemingly appears out of nowhere and experiences a sudden gain in popularity.

front runner

Similarly, a front runner is the leading candidate in a contest, competition, or election and comes from the horse racing term referring to a horse that runs best while in the lead.

give and take

Give and take was originally referred to in horse racing.   The give and take plate was “a prize for a race in which the horses which exceed a standard height carry more, and those which fall short of it less than the standard weight,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary.  By 1769, give and take also referred to races in general in which bigger horses were given more weight to carry, lighter ones less. It was around 1778 that the phrase gained broader popular use meaning, “the art of compromise.”

hands down

To win something hands down means to win it easily. It comes from the practice of horse-racing jockeys loosening the reins and lowering their hands when it seemed certain that they will win. This type of confident finish in any scenerio has come to be known as winning hands down.

home stretch

When you’re in the home stretch, also known as the home straight, you’re almost done with whatever you’re trying to accomplish. That meaning began as a horse racing term in about 1841 and refers to the final length, or stretch, of the racetrack.

in (or out) of the running

In horse racing, those horses in the running are the lead competitors. This term came about in the mid-1800s, while the figurative meaning referring to viable, and not so viable, political candidates originated a couple of years later.

a run for one’s money

To give someone a run for their money means to give them a challenge. The term originated in horse racing around 1839, with the meaning “to have (or get, want, etc.) a successful race from a horse one has backed, especially when that horse appeared likely to be scratched, or  withdrawn,” again from the OED.

running mate

Running mate is yet another political term that we get from horse racing. It refers to a candidate or nominee for the lesser of two closely associated political office. In horse racing, a running mate is a horse used to set the pace in a race for another horse, and also, a horse that runs alongside a trotting or pacing horse in double harness, relieving that horse of some of the effort of pulling a load. (e.g. G. W. Bush/Dick Chaney?)

also ran

Commonly used to refer to the losing candidate in an election, an also ran is also an equestrian driven term for a non-winner. At the track, the results of each race would post the top finishers as well as the rest of the field. Any horse that doesn’t win is listed as an also ran.

down to the wire

Every procrastinator knows what it’s like to be working on a project till the last minute, but why to “a wire”? Today this expression refers to something being incomplete or unfinished until the last possible moment, but it originated in hotly contested horse races. A thin wire was strung above the finish line of the track to help the official—and later cameras—spot the horse that crossed the line first, and tight races went literally to the wire.

win by a nose 

This expression has spread to all different sports as a metaphor for a close contest even though a nose isn’t the first body part to cross the finish line in most human competitions. However, a horse’s nose is first over the line at the racetrack and is used as the reference for judging the victor. In racing, a “nose” also refers to the smallest margin of victory allowed for a horse to be officially declared the winner. Races won by a nose may also have been fought “neck and neck” as the horses ran side by side all the way to the end.

So there you have it, a former English teacher’s version of either boring you to death or a nice little distraction from whatever else you might be doing on this cool and rainy Thursday afternoon.

Tomorrow’s lesson will be on the unique verbage of petit point stitchers as well as a discussion of ocean allusions in space travel.

And if that appears, I will be hands down, across the board an also ran who before the home stretch of my short but hopeful blogging career was out of the running and dubbed, yet another equestrian term used in common speech, a horse’s ass.






“Montani semper liberi”–Mountaineers are always free

WVAs I have mentioned before, I spend any time I can at our lake house in my home state of West Virginia.  After we purchased this house eight years ago, I realized that novelist Thomas Wolfe was wrong, you can go home again.  I tell friends I exhaled for the first time in thirty years the day we signed the contract. These mountains are in my bones and this is the land of my people. I have always felt like a bit of a visitor living in the flatlands of the Midwest.

You see, West Virginians are fiercely loyal–to each other and their state. In fact, more West Virginians return to their home state to be buried than any other state in the union. The joke they tell here is the one where St. Peter is escorting a soul through heaven and is asked why there is a section that is walled-off. He replies: “Oh, that’s where we put the West Virginians. Otherwise they try to go back home on the weekend.” I don’t know a West Virginian on earth that doesn’t tear up, stand up or dance it up at the sound of the state’s now official state song, “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”

Because of our mountains and sparse population, West Virginia is somewhat of an enigma to the rest of the country. And beauty is, West Virginians don’t really care. They like their state overlooked and underappreciated.  Leaves more room for them to live as they please.

As a whole, Mountaineers are completely uninhibited and comfortable in their own skins. If you ask a West Virginian for the time, they will tell you their name, their kids’ names, what they had for breakfast, their mother’s maiden name and how long the neighbor’s dog barked last night. And maybe get around to finally looking at their watch.

Unlike some other states that think pretty highly of themselves–California, New York, Texas, California–West Virginia doesn’t take itself that seriously. There is an unexpected candor and lack of pretense among West Virginians not often found in adults.

I was standing by the dryer sheets in Kroger recently and this voice beside me launched into an explanation of the many uses of Bounce, least important putting it in a dryer.  She said she had wasps on her back porch and she nailed dryer sheets all over her screen door and not only did the wasps disappear, the bees did, too. I was afraid to ask her where she had hung her Tide.

I actually found out later this a valid use of dryer sheets and had one friend tell me her allergist told her to keep them in her purse and car close to her allergic son’s epipen. Good sound horse sense and an unaffected ability and desire to share it with others. That’s a West Virginian.

My housekeeper, Trina, and her husband, Dean, told me that they were in Walmart last week in the ladies’ intimate apparel department. A lady engaged Trina in conversation beside the underwear, or “drawers” as Trina calls them. The woman said she had the hardest time finding the right size in stores. In fact, she told Trina, “I’m wearin’ my daughter’s bikini underwear right now.” “Why would I want to know what her underwear looked like?” Trina asked me as Dean added, “If she ain’t been so ugly, I would’ve asked her to seen ’em.”

Trina smacked his self-tattooed wrist (with her initials, by the way) and giggled. She cleans houses and he mines coal, both for 36 years.  One of the best marriages I know.

Many West Virginians are connected in some way by their shared livelihood, coal.  Whether you own it, mine it or cart it away, coal mining touches most families in the state. The mean income per capita and per household in West Virginia both rank forty-ninth out of our fifty states, with averages hovering around $22,000 to $38,000 per year over the last ten years.  Only Mississippi ranks lower on both counts. With this sort of struggle in its residents to stay afloat, one might suspect an “every man for himself” mentality when, in fact, it is quite the opposite. There is a common bond to keep their coal industry, and their beloved mountains that hold it, alive.

I was checking out at Walgreens and when the check out girl asked me if I had any coupons. I said I did not, lowering my eyes and thinking about what a lazy, spoiled person I am. With that she pulled out a black, plastic-lidded box with index card dividers delineating products. Shuffling through, she pulled one out and said brightly, “Here’s one for your razor blades.  And here’s another one for those batteries.” “Where do you get those I asked?” as she continued gliding her blue polka dot fingernails across the tabs. “A lot of the time I cut them out of the Sunday paper to bring to work. Just to help people out,” she replied.  She was all of 25.  I exited saving $7.00 as she waved me off with a smile.

In it together.

I suspect some of this unity is derived from the fact that West Virginia was the first, last and only state ever granted the right to secede from another state.  Passionately divided by northern and southern viewpoints during the Civil War, President Lincoln allowed western Virginia to separate from Virginia to become a new state, West Virginia. Something he safeguarded in the young nation’s Constitution to never be allowed again.

e card (1)

And so we were free.  Free to be the wild, wonderful state that we are.  A beautiful mountainous state with bountiful natural resources–the least of which is its people.

And I’m damn proud to be one.