To Be Or Not To Be (Happy That Is)

Saturday was Valentine’s Day which always brings out a range of emotions in people from absolute joy to feigned indifference to downright loathing (usually depending on what your Facebook relationship status currently shows). I wasn’t going to do a blog post about this holiday because it just seemed like something that everyone would expect from a blog written by and for single adults, but then a lot has been going on in my life since I last blogged, mainly the fact that I got super busy for about 2 weeks straight with fundraisers, cat sitting, dinner parties, church activities and a new part time job at a very popular Omaha Coffee House and Wine Bar just in time for Valentine’s weekend! Then just as I thought things were going to slow down, my dad got sick, ending up in hospital and a co-worker suddenly passed away and my emotions went on high alert and once again I sat down to think about the motions of life, love and happiness and what it all means to me.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve had an extraordinary life spending much of it in places that were not home. Before I knew it I was 40 and still single, and, I will admit, there was a time in my life when I thought that was awful and that I must be really unattractive and unloveable. But as I began to really evaluate my life and how much good there was in and around me, I began to realize that almost everything I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, was already there, (I say ALMOST everything because it would be at least another year before Oliver would be born and then 6 more months before I would find him) and that is the message I try to portray to other singles, regardless of their age or past relationships.

It was easy when I was on tour to not think about this because we were constantly on the move, our lives completely mapped out for us including when and what we ate, where we slept and who we hung out with. But when I unpacked my suitcases for the final time, I looked around, and for the first time in my life I felt alone, even though I had family and friends who loved me to the moon and back. It was during this time that I knew that I was going to have to make the effort to be truly happy. It wasn’t going to just happen. It never does. You can spend your life waiting for the “one” to come along, and sweep you off your feet so that you can live happily ever after, or you can let life sweep you off your feet by plugging into family and friends and church and community service and by loving yourself enough to not settle simply because you don’t want to spend the rest of your life “alone”. Every week my calendar fills with social activities as well as coveted alone time at a museum, hiking trail, antique store or my big comfy sofa with Oliver and a book. I’ve learned to garden and preserve and bake.  I’m learning Tai Chi and Yoga and gearing up to train for a Breast Cancer Ride in Austin, TX with my best friend this fall (and hopefully Melanie and Laurie as well- hint, hint if you are reading this). I’ve tried new restaurants with Christine and Jenni and Kathy, hiked around Boulder and Colorado Springs with Terri, sobbed and laughed through movies and musicals with Karen and spent countless hours swimming and playing games with Gene, Lora, Matt, Penny, Jenni and Mandi.  (Don’t even get me started on my Minne Lusa and Trinity Lutheran families.) I’ve transported rescue dogs, organized fundraisers and almost perfected my Gateau au chocolat: Le Diabolo. I’ve joined a book club and have grown passionate about literature from all around the world.  I’m falling in love with the poetry of Rumi and Auden, the architecture of France, and Dutch and Spanish painters. I’m not saying this to sound haughty or make myself better than anyone.  I’m saying this because there was a time when I thought that life began and ended with a diamond on my left hand and a husband to come home to; and that is a lie that I allowed myself to buy into for too long. I don’t know what my life would look like if I had married and had children.  Maybe I would have had time to develop the same passions I have now, but more likely I would have developed other passions (between shuttling kids to activities and doing piles of laundry) and that is okay…but… I can’t imagine never having experienced my life as it is right now. Life and love and happiness are what I (and you) choose to make of them and until you willingly choose to be happy, no physical relationship will provide what you are looking for.

Friday and Saturday night I worked at Stories helping out with their Valentine’s Dinner and all around me were couples lost in each others eyes, holding hands, stealing kisses, oblivious to the fact that I just spilled a pitcher of ice water all over their table (okay…not really), but you get my point. Not once did I stop and think, “Wow…I wish I was the one sitting at the table, staring into the eyes of my true love while my steak and asparagus gets cold.” Instead, I truly enjoyed watching couples of all ages swoon and fall in love all over again around me and when my single friend Melissa posted a picture with her new guy on Facebook under the caption “Love is…like a cat. It jumps onto your lap when you least expect it,” I was truly happy for her and couldn’t help thinking, “Yes, Melissa, it is”. But then again, sometimes it is just like an old faithful dog who has been there all along.

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The Art of Relaxing

I am sitting at my kitchen counter, a piping hot cup of Trader Joe’s Harvest Blend Herbal Tea in front of me, 1940’s music playing on my iPod, watching the snow fall outside the living room window. When I woke this morning it was cold and rainy and I really wanted to stay inside, but needed to take care of a few errands, including conducting an interview with a woman and her daughter who, along with the rest of their family, raise chickens in North Omaha. Thankfully, I had done my grocery shopping earlier in the week, so the barbecued chicken was in the crock pot and the chickpeas were already soaking in water to be converted to falafel later in the day. After a few hours I was back home and back in my pajamas for the rest of the day and maybe even the rest of the weekend depending on what this winter storm decides to do overnight. I’ve already made plans with my church cleaning partner in the event that I am unable to get there tomorrow and I am set to stay put until Monday morning if need be! This doesn’t happen very often, but I so enjoy it when it does!

I used to fight against days like this. I felt like I needed to fill my days with activity, running here and there, shopping or meeting friends for dinner, a movie or some other activity. Even when the weather was bad, I’d clean off the car and be on my way the minute someone would call to do something or I got a craving for something that wasn’t in my fridge. A few changes have occurred in my life since then, mainly that as I have gotten older, I find I dislike the cold and wind more and more, and I hate having to don boots, a heavy coat, gloves, hat and scarf just to go outside.

Sadly, it seems like much of our society frowns on relaxing (unless it is while on a high priced vacation to a Caribbean island where even then we fill our days with a variety of activities, our smart phones close by to snap endless selfies, check Facebook and respond to emails both work and personal. Even our children are taught at a young age to constantly be busy. No sooner does school let out for the day then they are whisked off to Scouts or dance, or sports, or music lessons, often 5 nights a week and Saturday mornings find a vast army of mini-vans crisscrossing the city on the way to games, recitals or birthday parties at pizza parlors or indoor trampoline parks. Don’t get me wrong, these activities are all wonderful and allow kids (and adults) to get out and have fun while often learning valuable life skills, but is it any wonder that so many of us exist day to day on highly caffeinated energy drinks and use more sick days then the generation before us (okay…I honestly don’t know if that is true or not, but it sure seems like a lot of people are sick a lot of the time now- more than I remember before we became permanently available to everyone and everything).

I think it is time we bring back the art of relaxing, whether it is curled up on the sofa with a good book and a glass of wine or cup of hot tea, taking a leisurely walk with your four legged friend, allowing him to sniff every blade of grass, leaf or broken stick lying in the street, soaking in a hot bubble bath with soft music in the background and only candles for lights or enjoying a cup of coffee or cocoa in front of a fireplace with a friend.  Shut off the phone, turn of the television, hide the car keys and let the world around you and all of it’s stress, bad news and demands fade away- even if only for an hour.

That is my challenge to you in the coming week!  I’d love to hear about it from you and how you felt afterwards!

Reflections On A Life Well Lived…And A Life Yet To Live

MelanieandMacy

Last night a very large group of us got together at Jimi D’s to see our mutual friend Melanie off as she returns to Austin College for a year to complete her Master’s Degree. There was a lot of laughter, some catching up for those of us who haven’t seen her in a while, and some reminiscing of our lives over the past several years since many of us met. I took quite a bit away from this evening of revelry. More than I would have thought before I decided to start blogging about life.

I have had an amazing life so far. Case in point:  Melanie, the friend we were celebrating, and I met on the David Copperfield Tour back in the late 90’s! How many people can say that? We’ve been to Spain and Portugal together and have A LOT of stories that are probably best left untold. Somehow, we both landed in Omaha when we decided to settle down. She because her family had settled here after living in Oklahoma for years, me because I found a job that took me from my home in Ohio. We’ve watched each other suffer through hard times and celebrated even more good times. Towards the end of the evening, I popped over to the table where her sisters and their husbands were sitting. I’ve known all of the family since I moved here and have been a guest at their holiday dinners and other family functions on more than one occasion. I even bought my car from her brother-in-law. Her oldest nephew is about to begin college in the fall and so Lisa and Rusty (Melanie’s older sister and her husband) and I began to talk in amazement about just how quickly time has gone by for us. It’s hard to fathom that you have a son in college when you still feel the way you did when you were in college! We started calculating how long we have been in Omaha and were shocked to realize that they have been here 19 years and I have been here 12. During this conversation I declared “I can’t believe I am only 4 years away from 50!” I don’t feel like I am older than 30 most days! I can see how folks in their 70’s and 80’s can look back in wonder at how they got to the age they are. And as Rusty reminded us, this is why we need to live in the moment and enjoy every second of our life.

This can be hard for me. I often find myself dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, instead of living in the moment. But that’s not how life is meant to be lived. By doing this, I often miss the great things that are happening right at this moment- the things that will become the past soon enough. People often ask me to talk about my life on the road, the tours I’ve done, the countries I’ve visited and how amazing that had to be. It was pretty amazing and often when it is cold and rainy outside and I’m curled up with a book on the sofa, I let my mind wander back to London and Paris and Milan and Madrid and the friends who I shared those experiences with. I tried to enjoy every second of those experiences so that I would have them for the rainy days. But as amazing as those moments were, there are other great moments in my life. Right now as I type this, I am savoring the smell of roasted tomatoes and garlic that will soon be turned into Penne Alla Vecchia Bettola. Nothing beats a dinner with friends around a table in Milan, except for a dinner with friends around your own kitchen table where the smells linger for hours afterwards and the sounds of laughter still ring in your ears as you drift off to sleep later that night. Or how about giggling with friends as you trip your way through a Sunday afternoon Tai Chi class or gather around a table to play board games which turn into free-for-alls since nobody really wants to read the rules?

These moments and more are all a part of a life well lived. I’ve learned that it is often in the less flashy moments that the best in life comes out, but you have to be open and ready to recognize those moments while they are happening. Last night was one of those moments. Sitting around the table, scarfing down sweet potato fries and cold bottles of Peroni while watching Melanie make the rounds, smiling and laughing and geared up for the next great adventure in her life; listening to Gene and Lora talking about their four-seasons room and thinking about future evenings spent hanging out there after an afternoon in the pool; laughing with Jenni and Mandi as Jenni described the “hot salsa” she had the night before, I couldn’t help but take a deep breath and sigh in pleasure at another moment that I will remember and treasure for years to come.

Little Women (The Musical)

It’s been a long time since I covered live theatre for my college newspaper, so my review skills probably need some honing. I’m also on a budget these days, so when my friend Lara invited me to the final dress tech rehearsal for Little Women at the Omaha Community Playhouse on Wednesday night, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see a show that was on my “must see” list for 2015 and also review it in time for my friends to have a chance to see it (those of you who know me well know that  I am infamous for attending final performances and then raving about how great it was).

I don’t know where to begin. I cannot think of one time during the 2 hour 40 minute (give or take) production that I was not emotionally charged. From the opening scene where Jo March (Sims Lamason) is acting out one of her stories to Professor Bhaer (Chad Bradford) through the end of the performance when you watch them walk hand in hand through the garden gate, I was mesmerized. Being around live theatre for a good portion of my life, I find myself easily distracted and restless after about 2 hours of most performances, but this was not the case with Little Women. This production did what any good production (in my mind) should do. There were moments when I laughed out loud, such as when Jo mimicked the actors portraying her characters as she told her story to Professor Bhaer or when the sisters got into a rough and tumble pile in the attic while performing their “operatic tragedy”. But there were just as many moments where I shed tears. –(SPOILER ALERT)-  Even though I knew that Beth March (Carly Schneider) would die from scarlet fever, the scene on the beach at Cape Cod when she pleads with Jo to let her go was so real that I am tearing up even now just thinking about it, and when Jo sobs to Marmee (Camille Metoyer Moten) that she just wants Beth back and if she hadn’t moved away to New York City to pursue her dream of being a famous writer this never would have happened, I could feel her pain radiating through my own body as I thought of loved ones taken too soon.

This story is a classic and though I have loved movies based on the book, I wasn’t sure how it would translate to a musical, but it does, quite splendidly in fact. Ballads such as “Here Alone”, “Some Things Are Meant To Be” and “How I Am” resonate passion while the more catchy numbers such as “An Operatic Tragedy”, “Could You” and “The Weekly Volcano Press” have you laughing, tapping your foot and wanting to dance along.

The cast are all extremely talented, but I have to admit, I was pretty giddy with excitement when I saw that Camille Metoyer Moten was playing Marmee and it was nice to see names familiar to me from other OCP productions like Tim Abou-Nasr (Laurie) and Bill Hutson (Mr. Laurence). I could go on and on about how expertly they each played their roles, but suffice it to say, there was not a single weak, or so-so performer in this production. Sims Lamason blew me away in the role of Jo, however, and at one point I leaned over to Lara and said that I could see her in the role of Elphaba in Wicked.

In a world long before “coming of age” stories were a dime a dozen, Little Women was a true “coming of age” story. Louisa May Alcott created strong independent women (and men who encouraged their strength and independence) in a time when young ladies were taught to marry well and move up in society. Although this musical will appeal to all ages and genders, I highly recommend mothers, daughters and sisters to attend together.  I can’t think of a better mother/daughter, aunt/niece or sister/best friend outing than this.  I also love that you can purchase a ticket package that includes a copy of the book, so what better way to get your daughter, granddaughter or niece interested in reading this classic than to let her see it live and then read it!

Little Women opens Friday, January 23 and runs through February 22 at the Omaha Community Playhouse.  To purchase tickets or find out more about this incredible production, visit www.omahaplayhouse.com.  If you’ve never attended a production at OCP, please do not let “Community” scare you away.  These folks know what they are doing and every production is top rate.

There are some amazing stories behind several of the actors so I am including links to those as well!  Enjoy!

http://www.jrn.com/kmtv/news/Omaha-actress-overcomes-cancer–289374081.html

http://www.omaha.com/go/thanks-to-family-s-help-mother-of-twins-to-play/article_574a62ff-c4d5-522d-ae49-11ca15c67679.html

Little Women

Love Yo’ Pup

I sat down with Nina Austin over coffee at Huckleberry’s in Florence on a cold, snowy Sunday morning and by the time I left, I felt like we had known each other for years and not just a few hours.

As a dog owner and animal advocate I was excited to have the chance to meet and chat with Nina about her organic, wholesome dog treats (and my fur baby, Oliver, was eagerly waiting for my return in hopes that I would come bearing samples for him to try).  I was not disappointed (and neither was he…but more of that later).

Nina is originally from Omaha (her parents moved here from Arkansas before she was born), and has lived in the Minne Lusa neighborhood for 14 years.  She and her partner wanted to live in a neighborhood where everyone knows their neighbors, families still go for walks around the block and everyone looks out for one another.  They felt that they found all of that here.

Shortly after moving into their house, they noticed an extra dog playing in the backyard and after chasing him around a bit, was able to catch him and bring him in.  This poor pup had obviously been dumped and, based on his condition, they were pretty sure that he was a puppy mill reject – but to Nina and her partner, he was perfect.  Oscar became a permanent member of their family.  Sadly Oscar has crossed over the Rainbow Bridge, but he is still a vital part of Love Yo’ Pups and is the mascot featured by a caricature on all of their treat bags.

I asked Nina where she got the idea to make homemade dog treats and she explained that after baking for humans for years, she was a little burned out.  After pet food and pet treat companies began issuing recalls on their products a few years ago, she decided that it was time to do something about it and with encouragement from her friend Nick set about creating the perfect, healthy dog treat.

From here, I am going to take the liberty of quoting their mission statement because it really says it best.  “At Love Yo’ Pup, we feel that we are all stewards of the earth.  That responsibility extends into every aspect of our lives, from utilizing renewable resources to supporting our community through locally sourced ingredients.”  Nina believes that a healthy lifestyle should extend to every member of the family, including the four-legged, furry ones and therefore Love Yo’ Pup treats are made with only the finest, healthiest ingredients including free range buffalo, locally harvested venison and organic chicken.  They also use organic oats for healthy digestion, spinach that is rich in vitamins and iron, and flax meal for shiny, beautiful coats.  Love Yo’ Pup even has its own in-house quality control and flavor experts – Vlad and Ruby, two adorable little Chihuahuas who make sure that every batch is perfectly seasoned!

Nina’s compassion for animals runs deep, and she credits her father for passing on his love of animals, especially the strays.  She wants to spread her love of all pets as far as she can and is starting to network with other pet rescues in the area.  In fact, a portion of the proceeds from every sale goes to Wags to Riches and Midwest Dog Rescue to help homeless pets find their forever homes!

Currently the dog treat menu consists of the following 9 flavors (some are seasonal):

  • Buffalo Thunder Bites – made with free range buffalo, sweet potato, peas and carrots
  • Chicken Box Dinner – made with organic chicken, organic apples and organic sweet potato
  • Peanut Butter Chicken – made with organic peanut butter and organic chicken
  • Venison Stew – made with locally harvested venison, organic blueberries, organic sweet potato and organic peas
  • Hamburger Hound – made with grass fed organic beef
  • Cheeseburger (Seasonal- Summer to Labor Day) – made with grass fed organic beef and cheddar cheese
  • Pumpkin (Seasonal- September / October) – made with organic roasted pumpkin, organic apple and organic peanut butter
  • Thanksgiving Dinner (Seasonal- November) – made with organic turkey, organic sweet potato and organic cranberries
  • Duck the Halls (Seasonal- December) – made with duck, organic sweet potato, organic cranberries and organic green beans

Love Yo’ Pup treats can be purchased at Wag Pet Store located at 2450 Harney Street-  just east of downtown and the Old Market- or on Etsy at LoveYoPup.

Oh…and those treats Oliver was anxiously awaiting?  Thank you Nina for the bag of “Chicken Box Dinner” treats.  He goes crazy every time I pull out the bag to give him one (or two).  He’s already made a wish list for other flavors he wants to try!

Love Yo' Pup

Baked With Love

I love treating my friends to homemade goodies. It’s one of the things I try to do on a regular basis, whether it is baking their favorite cupcakes for their birthday or showering them with jars of homemade jellies, salsas and pickles, it allows me to do something I love (bake and can) while hopefully making their day a little bit better.

I’m lucky to work with one of my closest friends, Jenni. On Monday, Jenni returned to work after being on maternity leave for 8 weeks. I’ve missed passing her in the hallway at work or popping over to her cube to chat with her during the day, so I decided I would welcome her back with one of her favorites – jam thumbprint cookies rolled in coconut. But there was a catch…I HATE making jam thumbprint cookies. The recipe that Jenni fell in love with a few years ago is hard to work with and the cookies crumble and crack and never look pretty – but I will admit, they are yummy, especially when filled with my homemade elderberry jelly. I make them every year at Christmas, just for her, and this year was no different. For her surprise, though, I decided to try a new recipe and see what she thought.

I loved this recipe! The dough has cream cheese in it so it is very soft. It rolls nicely into balls, and when you smush them with your thumb, they stay together and look nice and pretty. I was out of elderberry jelly so I used strawberry jam instead. I dropped the cookies off first thing in the morning on Monday and by 10:30am I had received the following email:

I am supposed to be eating good and I have already had three cookies!

The recipe is not as good but still gooooooooooood!

FYI – Next year I am going elderberry hunting with you because that is darn good jelly. Strawberry is not as good.  🙂

Thank You!!!

Later in the day, I asked that she send me a picture of the cookies for my blog. My camera is old and no longer works so I wasn’t able to get a picture before I gave them to her. Along with the photo of the cookies was this message:

I had to eat two more cookies so you could have a good picture.

This recipe is one that I clipped last year and was in the pile to try or toss this year. They are definitely good enough to make again, but for Jenni, I suppose I can make the old recipe. However, I am going to take her up on her offer to go elderberry hunting with me this summer. It’s much more fun climbing into ditches along country roads when you can do it with a friend! And picking all of those little berries off of their stems will go much quicker with four hands instead of two!

Strawberry-Coconut Thumbprints

1 cup butter, softened

1 (3-ounce) package cream cheese, softened

1 cup sugar

1 egg yolk

1 T vanilla

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/4 cups shredded coconut

1/3 cup strawberry jam

1.  In a mixing bowl beat the butter and cream cheese with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds.  Beat in sugar until combined. Add egg yolk and vanilla; beat until combined. Beat in flour. Wrap and chill dough for 1 hour.

2.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll balls in coconut. Arrange 1 1/2 inches apart on cookie sheet. Use thumb to indent each cookie.

3.  Bake about 14 minutes or until edges are light golden. Cool on cookie sheets 1 minute. Use thumb to re-imprint cookies. Spoon about 1/4 tsp. jam into center of each. Remove and cool on wire racks.

Makes 48 serving.

Cookies

The Coffeehouse

It shouldn’t surprise me that many of my happiest moments occur while I am sipping a cup of coffee. It is one of the reasons why I chose to call my blog “A Single Cup” and why the home page picture is of a beautiful cappuccino along with my journal. Whether it is standing at a coffee bar in Lisbon, Portugal with my friend Keirstin or sitting across the table from my friend Christine at Stories Coffeehouse here in Omaha, conversations just seem to flow so much better when there is a warm cup of coffee sitting on the table in front of you. Last night was one such treasured moment.

I hadn’t seen my friends Lara and Craig in a while. In fact the last time I saw them was at a reading that Lara was directing and Craig was running sound for, so we didn’t have time to chat beyond the quick “hi” and hug. Between all of our busy schedules it is often hard to find an evening or afternoon that works for all 3 of us, so last night we jumped at the chance to meet at Stories and catch up while listening to Chris Saub perform one of his amazing acoustic coffeehouse concerts. The evening was relaxed, the coffee hot and comforting, and the deserts were to die for. It was fun to introduce my friends to this welcoming place that feels like a second home to me. We sat in front of the fireplace and caught up while relaxing and listening to Chris, who is an old friend of theirs and one of my favorite local musicians.

The concept of the coffeehouse here in America is a little older than most of us probably realize. For many of us, we think of the rise of Starbucks as the “birth” of coffeehouses where you can sit and read or browse the internet, but this morning while waiting for my car to have it’s oil changed, I stumbled across an article in Smithsonian Magazine that talked about how the Roosevelt Family built a New York Coffeehouse chain 50 years before Starbucks! I was immediately intrigued. Theodore Roosevelt’s love for good coffee is a well known fact, but he passed this love to his children as well and in 1919, just a few years before prohibition, they opened up the first of what would eventually spread to four coffeehouses in New York. The coffeehouses served only the finest Brazilian coffee and each of the 30 small, oak tables contained a compartment stocked with ink, envelopes and paper inscribed with “Brazilian Coffee House”, the original name. They also kept encyclopedias and dictionaries on hand! The concept of an establishment that allowed patrons to sit and talk or write without being rushed was a novel idea at that time and caught on very quickly, especially after the rise of Prohibition. Three other locations soon followed and they became gathering places for a diverse group of people including actors, artists, journalists and musicians. Pretty cool stuff huh?

I’m not sure what it is about coffee (or even tea) that brings folks together, but I like it! Years ago when more women stayed at home, you would often here moms talk about going next door for a cup of coffee and often neighboring ladies would gather around the kitchen table for coffee and a bit of gossip. Nowadays we are more prone to meet somewhere outside of our homes, but the concept is still the same and that is to find a moment of time to relax and savor the aroma and taste of a good cup of coffee and the presence of a good friend.

If you would like to read the Smithsonian Magazine article, here is a link to the online version.  I highly recommend that you take the time to read it, especially if you are a coffee and coffeehouse fan like me!

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/roosevelt-family-built-new-york-coffee-chain-50-years-starbucks-180953398

A Cup of Coffee

Baby It’s Cold Outside!

Last night’s temperatures were expected to dip well into the negative numbers, so I couldn’t think of a better way to spend the cold, snowy, winter evening, then under a blanket on the sofa, with Oliver curled up beside me and a book in my hand.

I love a good mystery, and one of my favorite authors is Louise Penny, so how perfect that the book I chose to curl up with was Penny’s second in a long list of Quebec based murder-mysteries. Like most of her books, A Fatal Grace takes place in a small village called Three Pines. Just north of the Vermont border, it is a quiet little village, hidden away from the main roads and not listed on any maps. I’ve read all of Penny’s books, but last year decided to reread them all in order after the release of her latest novel this past fall. I’ve grown to love all of the characters from Armand Gamache, the head of the Sûreté du Québec Homicide Division, and his wife Reine-Marie, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, his friend and lieutenant, and Three Pine residents, Peter and Clara Morrow,resident artists; Myrna Landers, a retired psychologist who owns the bookstore next door to the Bistro; Ruth Zardo, the rude, obnoxious, elderly drunken poet; and Olivier Brule` and Gabri Dubeau, a fabulous gay couple who own the bistro and B&B. Whenever I pick up a Three Pines story, I am instantly immersed in the life of the village. Oh how I dream of living in a village just like it, eating at the Bistro every night, browsing the used books or sitting down with one in a comfy wingback chair next to the wood burning stove with a cup of creamy hot cocoa and a fresh home baked cookie.

This particular story takes place during the Christmas season where temperatures in Quebec reach well below zero and snow can pile several feet high. As the wind howled and the snow flurried around the street lamp outside my window, I completely plunged into the lives of this colorful cast of characters as they try to figure out who could have murdered CC de Poitiers, an angry, vindictive woman whose death nobody seems to be overly upset about.

Penny’s books are vivid with descriptions of life in Montreal and Three Pines. You can practically taste the food served at the Bistro and feel the warmth of the eiderdown comforters on the beds at the B&B. You can smell the cold winter air and hear the laughs of the villagers and the barks of their dogs as they chase snowballs around the village green or watch their children skating on the frozen pond. It’s no wonder that I can lose entire evenings whenever I pick up one of her books. Three Pines is my happy place.

It’s going to be another cold night, so I think I will curl up once more with this marvelous book and pretend that I am sitting in front of the wood burning stove in Myrna’s bookstore, sipping on a Cafe` Creme` from Olivier’s bistro.  Maybe tonight I will find out who did it!

For those of you who are interested in reading Louise Penny’s books, you can check out her website at http://www.louisepenny.com

Coffee, Conversation and Eats! (and maybe a bit of friendly competition)

One of my goals for 2015 is to clean out the piles of cooking magazines and recipes that have accumulated over the past year.  I have the best intentions when I see the pretty pictures of the perfectly baked, broiled, grilled or fried dishes featured in  Food and Wine, Southern Living or Bon Appetit, but after a year of clipping, my coffee table is a mountain of recipes that I have long forgotten about.  So I spent New Year’s Day listening to college football bowl games and going through the stack, recipe by recipe, tossing the ones I know I will never attempt and organizing the ones I’m pretty sure I will.  What better way to find new favorites then to try one new recipe a week.  If I like it, it gets filed in the recipe box for future meals; if I don’t like it, it gets filed in the recycle bin.

Most Saturday mornings you can find me visiting my friends at the Minne Lusa House in north Omaha.  I met this fantastic group of women (and men) several years ago after reading an article in Edible Omaha (a quarterly magazine that highlights local food and drink as well as providing gardening tips, recipes and stories about individuals and organizations making an impact on the community), and have been spending my Saturday mornings there ever since.  Coffee and conversation is the primary mission of the Saturday morning get-togethers, but someone is always mixing up an egg casserole, frying green tomatoes or setting out a platter of doughnuts, pumpkin bread or cinnamon rolls.

I had recently run across (and cut out) a recipe in Food and Wine for a Potato and Manchego Casserole with Maple Bacon and it was one of the recipes that survived the purging.  Since egg casseroles don’t reheat very well, this was definitely one to try on friends, so after a quick trip to Trader Joe’s to pick up a few missing ingredients, I headed to the Minne Lusa House with my bag of groceries, excited to start implementing my one new recipe a week resolution.

With the help of my friend (and Minne Lusa House native) Diane, we shredded cheese, whisked eggs and fried bacon and after about 1 1/2 hours, what emerged was really pretty yummy!  I’m not going to lie- I had 2 servings and I’m pretty sure I saw Diane and Beth go back for seconds as well.  Of course, all of that conversation and rounds of challenging 3-D Tic-Tac-Toe does build up the appetite, and Beth’s fried green tomatoes disappeared pretty quickly as well.  Here is this wonderful recipe.  I will add that the next time I make this, I will probably dice the potatoes into smaller pieces and bake for a little less time.

Potato and Manchego Casserole with Maple Bacon (makes 8 servings)

Working time: 20 minutes; Total time 1 hr. 45 minutes

2 pounds fingerling potatoes

12 ounces applewood-smoked bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Butter for baking dish

6 ounces shredded Manchego cheese (about 2 cups)

5 scallions, white and green parts chopped

6 large eggs, beaten

1 cup whole milk

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F).  Meanwhile, in a medium pot over high heat, cover potatoes with water and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer; cook until potatoes are just tender, 10 to 15 minutes.  Drain potatoes and let rest until cool enough to handle.  Cut each in half lengthwise.  Set aside.

2.  In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook bacon until crisp.  Remove skillet from heat and stir in maple syrup and cayenne. Set aside.  (Even though the recipe does not say to drain the fat from the bacon, we did).

3.  Butter a 2-quart baking dish and set aside.  In a large bowl, stir reserved potatoes and maple-bacon mixture, plus cheese and scallions, to combine.  Transfer to prepared baking dish.  Set aside.

4.  In a large bowl whisk eggs, milk, salt, and freshly ground pepper to combine.  Slowly pour over potato mixture.  Bake until top is golden, about 50 minutes.  Let casserole cool slightly before serving.

Pour yourself a hot cup of coffee or some fresh squeezed orange juice and enjoy!

Viki Roark Anderson and John Backus waging a friendly battle of 3-D Tic-Tac-Toe

Viki Roark Anderson and John Backus waging a friendly battle of 3-D Tic-Tac-Toe.

Welcome to 2015!

I have been struggling for the past 4 or 5 months about creating this blog.  I’ve had so many friends and acquaintances encourage me to write and I’ve really gone back and forth with it.  I’ve tried blogs in the past and found it hard to keep inspired, but I’ve never blogged about what I’m truly passionate about so maybe that is the key!  Life and all aspects of it IS my passion.  As a single adult women well into what historians would have called “spinsterhood” I am often used by friends who are parents of young adult women, as an example of how full your life can be if you learn to truly love being with yourself and you find something(s) to be passionate about.  I am always flattered to hear that so many of my friends view me this way and I do want to be an encouragement to young ladies (and men) that life is there to be lived with or without a life partner.

So, I’ll start with a few ground rules, namely what this blog will be and what it will not be.

What this blog will NOT be:  This will not be a blog glorifying singleness over “coupleness”.  I believe that everyone has a purpose and every relationship has a purpose.  It won’t be fluffed up to make it sound like I have an amazing life that everyone should envy (even though I have an amazing life that everyone should envy).

What this blog WILL be:  This is a lifestyle blog that will cover everything from cooking to reading to social activities both alone and with friends and family.  It will be about life – living and enjoying it and sharing it.  And for those of you who can’t get enough about Oliver – he will make many, many appearances I am sure because he is a very important part of my life!

I am always open for suggestions as well – new things to try, new places to visit, new people to meet.

I will close this welcome post with a quote I read this morning on a friend’s Facebook page because it really does sum up my hopes for you in the coming year and is a great intro to what I hope this blog will be.

“May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness.  I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art – write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can.  And I hope somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.” – Neil Gaiman