Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Making Christmas Memories

This year's Christmas party on the Memory Care Unit was an extravaganza of Santa, presents, food and music. My parents, Jude and Gord, came along and even agreed to wear Santa hats and reindeer antlers to help make the second floor south feel more like the North Pole.

It started out with volunteers passing out lefse and julekage, sweet treats from Scandinavia that probably meant more to Gudrun (above) from Sweden than to Rosalie from New Orleans. The residents that can't tolerate solid foods enjoyed chocolate Snack Pack pudding instead. Nobody seemed disappointed by this, no matter what I might have thought. After snacks, the lyrics to several well-known Christmas songs were passed out to everyone and I'm pretty sure not one of them was used. Folks either sang from memory or they didn't. Lorraine, one of my favorites, knew the words to every song and happily sung along, her tiny little mouth ringed with chocolate pudding and shaped into a huge smile. I've never seen Lorraine so happy and just that alone made the whole party worth the effort. Singing Christmas carols while using the lyric sheet always reminds me how few of the words I actually know to the classic tunes. Lorraine had it all over me there.

When the three carols had been sung, suddenly a very feminine Santa showed up, much to the delight of the residents who didn't seem to know Santa wasn't a dude. I knew there had been trouble finding a Santa, I think in the end they had to use a female employee. But it was neat because she knew sign language so she was able to communicate with Inez. I never see anyone communicate with Inez, who is deaf and mute, so that made for a nice Christmas itself. Santa brought two gifts for everyone and we assisted residents in opening them and then labeling their new stuff so that they would be sent to the proper room. Presents ranged from new shirts and track suits to socks and boxes of fancy shortbread cookies. Don, below, was thrilled with his fancy new pen and notebook and immediately wrote his name in an old man scrawl on the first blank page. Don already sports quite a fine pen collection in his shirt pocket that I comment on every time I see him. You can't say too many things about a four-color pen!

Today someone asked me if it's sad for me to visit the nursing home every week. I really had to think about it because, in a way, it certainly is. It would be nice if the folks could still be in the homes they loved, near the people that adore them, and it is sad that this is no longer a possibility. But since that's not reality and as sad as it is that the Memory Care Unit is home now, I think it would be even sadder to think of nobody visiting them at all.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Instant Christmas Classics

On a whim, I whipped up this Almond Puff Pastry on Christmas Eve day, for no more reason than I had all the ingredients on hand and I love to bake. Who knew it would turn out to be the most delicious almond pastry of all time? Decadently infused with crispy and doughy and buttery layers of goodness and topped off with a sweet, almond icing, this dessert was off the charts.

On Christmas day, when my family traditionally gets together with a group of friends at someone's house, this year we opted to meet at a local Northeast Minneapolis bar. The 1029 was the scene of Christmas, at least a barfly sort of Christmas, and it was spectacular. While the weather outside was frightful, inside all of us shared some Christmas cheer and hoisted more than a few lagers, then headed over to the 331 Club for some more. These are the sort of Christmas traditions to warm your heart, indeed.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

How Does Your Garden Grow?

The chives are growing like crazy, if "crazy" means "two inches tall and not even remotely useful yet." Still, I'm excited every day to see the progress of my lush herb garden. I thought the grow light, which is quite bright and stays on for seventeen hours per day, would drive me nuts since in such a small home it's pretty much visible from everywhere, but I've come to enjoy the light and how it brightens up the dining corner of my living space. Now if I could just come to enjoy waiting for my herbs to grow to fruition!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sweet Lorraine

Last night at the home an exciting, glamorous lady joined the folks on the Memory Care Unit. While I complimented Alma on her new red Target bag that I watched her open at the Christmas party and she replied, "Thank you, I received it for my birthday," the folks ate and complained as usual that they don't get enough sugar. I thought it was going to be a regular old night, void of much Christmas cheer, even with the strains of Nat 'King' Cole serenading us about chestnuts on an open fire, but then the new Lorraine showed up late to dinner.

I was sitting between Gudrun and Mary, making sure each ingested enough calories to keep them healthy and alive, when a woman I'd never seen before entered the dining room. She wore only a hospital gown but she had fire-red hair, reminiscent of Lucille Ball's iconic mop, except that it was jutting out in crazy puffs all over her head, the victim of a rough afternoon of sleep. She sat down at the table with the most able residents and began talking right away. She bellowed out to anyone that would listen, "Who is singing this song?" When nobody answered, she asked again until I called across the room, "It's Nat 'King' Cole!" "That's right," she replied, "I love Nat 'King' Cole! He sings my song, Sweet Lorraine!" That's when I learned her name really is Lorraine, which makes her the third Lorraine on the unit, and she even shares the same last name as another Lorraine there! It's a small Lorraine world.

But this Lorraine was different than the others. My original Lorraine is quiet and nice as pie, rarely complaining and always smiling anytime her head isn't lying on the table top while she naps before dinner. The second Lorraine suffers from male pattern baldness and whines a lot about not wanting to eat her dinner. She's tougher to love, but looks so much like a sick child that you can't help it. But this new Lorraine was like a hurricane whirling through the unit! Her fiery hair and tongue hide the symptoms of dementia, at least so far. She just seemed like a kooky, fun old lady. Throughout the meal the firehead Lorraine talked and talked and talked and I strained to hear everything she was saying because so much of it was amusing. But Gudrun had a lot of Swedish to speak to me, or to anyone really, and she had some singing to do, so I couldn't hear it all.

When folks were finishing their meals and the nurses were making the rounds, recording how much food each resident had eaten, like they do after every single meal, Kollie stopped at the new Lorraine's table. My ears perked up when I heard Lorraine ask demure, shy Barbara over and over, "How old are you? How old are you? You can't be sixty, you look too old to be sixty. Maybe seventy? How old are you?" Barbara wouldn't answer, she rarely does more than smile in response to anything said to her, but Lorraine wouldn't have it. She turned to Kollie who was standing there with his clipboard and she asked him, "How old is this lady? She won't say anything!" I looked at Kollie with an uncomfortable grin and he lifted his eyebrows as if to say, "How did I get into this?" But he calmly replied to Lorraine, "I don't know how old Barbara is, you have to ask her." Lorraine, clearly exasperated, barked, "But she won't tell me! I've asked!" Kollie, quick as a wink, then said, "Maybe she doesn't want to tell you. How old are you, Lorraine?" To which Lorraine snapped back loudly, "That's none of your damned business!"

I think I'm going to like Sweet Lorraine.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bradstreet Crafthouse

When a restaurant goes above and beyond the call of duty both in service and in quality of food and beverage, it deserves to be celebrated. Today I celebrate Bradstreet Crafthouse at the Graves 601 Hotel in downtown Minneapolis, across from the Target Center. Seriously, this place blew me away.

My coworkers, Becky and Liz, and I decided that rather than exchange unnecessary Christmas gifts this year, we'd go out together for dinner and drinks. After lots of discussion, we settled on Bradstreet Crafthouse because of its intriguing cocktail menu and because none of us had been there before. The place is sophisticated and sleek, modern but not cold, with lighting that could make Ed Gein look vaguely attractive. There are three main dining areas, with large comfortable tables in the bar area, kitchen seating where you can watch the chefs prepare the food, and a lounge area that is dark and cozy with music you can listen to without shouting for conversation. We chose the lounge and settled into our low table with comfortable banquette seating and table tops especially designed to complement the cocktails. Yes, the cocktails.

Bradstreet Crafthouse is all about the mixology. That's fancy talk for slinging drinks. But the drinks slung here are at a whole other level than most people are accustomed to. Bradstreet makes eight of their own bitters, fresh squeezes their juices, and includes crazy things like elderflower liqueur and Zwack in their drinks. I don't even know what Zwack is, but it makes me feel pretty cool to be around it. When we asked a few simple questions about our cocktail choices, decisions that were tough to make due to the number of delicious-sounding concoctions, our server Jesse presented us with three brown apothecary bottles filled with bitters. He invited us to stretch out our hands and he proceeded to add a couple of drops to our palms, then instructed us to rub our hands together and smell them. The difference in scent between the three bitters was amazing, I never knew that bitters had such depth. One smelled earthy and gingery while another presented a Christmas-y spiciness. Who knew? I just thought there was one kind of bitters. Jesse taught me that my least favorite alcohol of all time, Campari, is a form of bitters. He also told us about the "ice program" at Bradstreet, the fact that they offer five different forms of ice in their drinks, including a perfect ice sphere about the size of a tennis ball that takes four minutes to create each one. I'm telling you, the entire evening was one fascinating lesson after another, presented in a fun and informative way.

The whole experience started with a liquid amuse bouche, a small cocktail that the mixologists create each day that are presented to each diner. Ours was called Merry Christmas Kermit (for the green color) and though I don't know what was in it, I could easily have downed several. After that I enjoyed two different full cocktails, the Lima Sour and the Moscow Mule. The first is a potent mixture of Pisco (Peruvian brandy), fresh lemon juice, egg white, pineapple and bitters. I drank many of these in Peru a few years back and this one really brought me back. The Moscow Mule, on the other hand, made me yearn for the tropics with its organic vodka, fresh lime juice and ginger syrup. Yum. Beyond the drinks we shared the hot, tasty, toasty house bread and a delightfully simple cheese plate. For entrees, all under $10, we shared duck confit quesadillas, beef sliders with house made ketchup, and a BLT made with crispy, melty fried pork belly, chard, tomato jam and a fried egg. Every dish was better than the last and the portions were perfectly sized to allow you to enjoy your drinks and your dinner without feeling overly full. Not large portions, but just right on, especially for the price. For larger appetites, there are plenty of options to fill you up.

All three of us have pledged to return to Bradstreet Crafthouse and to bring friends with us. I'm very excited to spread the word. Don't miss it.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Power of Doing Nothing

Well, I guess Martha Stewart will be calling me anytime now. Turns out I'm quite the gardener and, after just one week, my Aerogarden is sprouting some pretty impressive thyme plants. There's so much thyme coming off this thing that I'm practically sick of it! Ok, not quite, the plants are miniscule, but good things come to those who wait! It helps that with the Aerogarden, I don't do anything for weeks at a time and stuff just happens. It's how I live my life, but with vastly different results. Sigh.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Santa Socks

Christmas came a little early to the Memory Care Unit today when Santa (played by a girl who knew sign language) showed up to shower the residents with fun gifts plus treats and music. Here is one of my very favorite gals, Bernice, showing off her new Gold Toe socks. She thought they were pretty cool. I think she's pretty cool.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Aerogarden Saga Begins

Come along for the ride as we follow the progress of my new Aerogarden 3, a particularly awesome gift from my brother and family! In just weeks, if everything goes as planned, I will be enjoying fresh hydroponic basil, thyme and chives infused with my morning eggs. I don't really have a green thumb, currently there is not a living plant in my house and there is good reason for that. But with a grow light that stays on for 17 hours per day, perhaps this Aerogarden stands a ghost of a chance.

Tonight I set up the little operation, added water and the "seed pods," plus a nutrient pill into the water. That was it, really. Oh, I guess I put those little plastic domes on each seed pod as well. But that was really it. Every two weeks I add water when it prompts me, as well as a new nutrient pill. Should be pretty cut and dried (herb pun intended), no?

Stay tuned for periodic updates!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Garage Gougeres

Football parties are an opportunity for me to see friends, taste a myriad potluck items, and most importantly, to try to cook or bake something new. Notice I didn't mention anything to do with actually watching the football game.

Short on time, I needed something quick and easy to make for today's garage party, so named because once per year I have friends who enjoy watching the Vikings on a TV inside the garage, without benefit of heaters and other such frilly modern inventions. I don't know why this is fun, standing there shivering in snowmobile suits and Sorels, but they like it. I like to see everyone, but I tend to make it a short visit. So this morning I thought about a recipe I had read about recently that took the usually complicated pate a choux dough and simplified it for the every day cook, like me. It seemed like a good, basic recipe to have in one's repertoire, a versatile recipe that could go from sweet to savory in no time flat and could be made increasingly indulgent with any number of add-ins. I chose to go simple today with just gruyere cheese so that the little cheesy puffs, called gougeres, could be served alongside chili or other soups.

Easy doesn't begin to cover this recipe. I simply simmered some water with butter, added flour and cooked and stirred the mixture for a couple of minutes. Then I placed the dough into my KitchenAid and mixed in the cheese, eggs and salt. Final step was piping the dough onto cookie sheets and baking. Easy peasy, and the result was divine. Friends seemed to love them and now I am determined to turn them into some sort of dessert. And I'm not waiting for a dumb ol' football game to do it.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Portrait of the Artist

This week, this month really, is getting away from me. Something going on every night, super busy at work every day. December is always a crazy time. It's even tougher for great artists, like myself, who create in order to express their innermost thoughts and feelings. When great artists, like me, produce great art, it takes time and can be exhausting. Case in point, my Christmas ornament made from sour gummi worms and circus peanuts. Great art like this doesn't make itself, it needs to be nurtured and encouraged so that it may become a life force unto itself. And that's exactly what happened when I got a hot glue gun and an idea to incorporate my company's logo into an ornament. You can practically smell the life force, can't you?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Bundt or Backhand?

Today I made this banana bundt cake and I took my first tennis lesson. Let's just say I should probably stick to baking. My bundt is better than my backhand!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Christmas Came Early

At my place of business, anything can happen if one lives dangerously and walks away from their office. I went to lunch one day this week and returned to almost everything on my desk covered in red Christmas bows. Even my stickie notes.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

My Cat Is An Animal

My boy Hakeem received a clean bill of physical health from the vet the other night (woo hoo!!), but I'm not so sure how the doc feels about his mental health. Nobody who knows my big guy, who has spent any time with him around my house, who has seen this cat visit patients at a nursing home, would ever believe he's anything but a big, fat, sweet kitty. But the folks at the veterinary hospital probably feel differently. Hakeem's nothing but an animal there.