Let’s have a party

By Catherine Keefe
Faced with a choice, I’d prefer to throw a party than offer almost any other gift.

invite 2

Invitation by Paperless Post

If you want to know how deeply I love to celebrate your new baby granddaughter, jubilate in your high school graduation, rejoice in your 79th birthday, or revel in your nuptials, just come in my open front door, grab a plate, some cheese, a glass of Viogner and we’ll dance late into the evening. Motown. Van Morrison. Maybe a little Michael Franti & Spearhead.

I want to hear about your trip to Crimea, your knee replacement surgery, the tai chi classes you’ve begun and what it’s like teaching English to newly arrived immigrants in Korea Town. When I hug you hello, I want you to feel like you’re home and when I kiss you goodbye, I’m not really ready for you to leave. Don’t even ask; I’ll refuse to let you do the dishes.

J will scrub the big pots and pans, stack the plates into the dishwasher while I hand wash and dry the goblets with a white cotton sack cloth. In my mind, your face is still smiling and I feel your spirit warming my home, sure as the candles flicker low.

Yes, we’ll talk about you. T looked good. D seems so happy right now. It’s too bad about G‘s brother. We’ll compare notes as we wipe the countertops, thank the dog for licking crumbs off the floor, turn off the lights and sink into bed.

For an introvert who can get physically exhausted by conversation, I have an amazing capacity to entertain.

For a joyful person, I write a surprisingly deep well of sad poems.

When I was a new writer and first realized this, I felt sure I was in my “tragic artist” phase, a period I’d outgrow once I left graduate school.

When I’d sufficiently drained my tolerance for this, I tried and tried to write happy poems. And I did. Write them. Over and over and then I edited them to death because they sounded like Hallmark card jingles that deserved to languish unpublished.

Then, like Goldilocks finding the just right chair, I discovered “The Party,” a poem by Jason Shinder. Reading it feels like looking into a mirror.

The Party by Jason Shinder

And that’s how it is; everyone standing up from the big silence

of the table with their glasses of certainty and plates of forgiveness
and walking into the purple kitchen; everyone leaning away from the gas stove

Marie blows on at the very edge of the breaking blue-orange-lunging-

forward flames to warm another pot of coffee, while the dishes pile up in the sink,perfect as a pyramid. Aaah, says Donna, closing her eyes,

and leaning on Nick’s shoulders as he drives the soft blade of the knife

through the glittering dark of the leftover chocolate birthday cake.
That’s it; that’s how it is; everyone standing around as if just out of the pool,

drying off, standing around, that’s it, standing, talking,

shuffling back and forth on the deck of the present
before the boat slowly pulls away into the future. Because it hurts

to say goodbye, to pull your body out of the warm water;

to step out of the pocket of safety, clinging to what you knew,
or what you thought you knew about yourself and others.

That’s how it is, that’s it, throwing your jacket over your shoulders

like a towel and saying goodbye Victoria goodbye Sophie goodbye
Lili goodbye sweetie take care be well hang in there see you soon.

Shinder knows that gathering friends is “warm water,” a “pocket of safety,” how true art captures the bead drop between celebration of life and death. Shinder wrote “The Party” after he was diagnosed with lymphoma and leukemia. It was published posthumously in Stupid Hope. I didn’t know all this when I first read the poem, but now it makes sense, this abuttal of celebration and loss.

On Monday my daughter tells me one of her 29-year-old friends has been diagnosed with Astrocytoma Glioma, a malignant brain tumor expected to kill her within the year. “It’s so sad I can’t even bear to think about it,” my daughter moans and I hug her close, impressing her sweet scent in my mother heart.

On Saturday, instead of writing or editing or grading or submitting poetry to journals, I’m hosting a baby shower for the daughter-in-law of one of my dearest friends. This isn’t my friend’s first grandchild and this isn’t the daughter-in-law’s first baby, so the event has surprised some. Why have a shower now, they ask.

Why not, I say. Faced with a choice, I’d just as soon compose in strawberries and champagne, a little Lorde music and pink lace. Is there any better gift than gathering young mothers with wise elders to sit and bask in the sun? For one afternoon, let there be nothing but joy.

Cheers,
Catherine

Talk About Going Off!

 By Susan Greene

Not since January of 1983 had the waves been as big as they were in the South Bay of Los Angeles county a couple of weekends ago. big surf redondo beach, CAA major rain storm brought a large swell with it, resulting in huge waves. On Saturday the 1st of March, the waves were so large and walled, or breaking without much chance of riding the face, that there weren’t any surfers in the water when I was there. But Sunday things changed.

surfer watching surf, Redondo Beach,CAThe waves were still large; so large they were crashing over the break wall in the harbor of Redondo Beach.

wave breaking over break wallThe surfer on the crest of the wave gives an idea of just how big those waves were.

big surf Redondo Beach, CAThe shape was better on Sunday.

surfer riding big waveYou could feel the waves’ energy in the air.

surfer riding big wave Redondo Beach, CAWatching the surfers riding the waves with their grace and athleticism is great fun.

surfer riding big wave, Redondo Beach, CAWhen one is in the barrel, it is always thrilling.

surfer riding big wave, Redondo Beach, CAThe beach was crowded with people coming out to see the show.

It’s good to be reminded of the beauty and power of nature every now and then.

~ Susan

Images Out a Window

northern california coast, big surRiding shotgun on a cross-country car trip provides the opportunity for being a witness to  a lot of scenery. I will ride with my camera on my lap gazing out the window when something will strike me. Depending on your time limits and companions’ patience, your chances of pulling over and taking a shot may be limited. I quickly learned, yelling “pull over so I can get a shot of that ____,” too many times will result in a loud groan response. Other times it’s just not feasible to pull over. So, instead of forcing another stop on begrudging backseat passengers or passing up on some of the shots I wanted, I will roll down the window and make them on the fly.

field of sunflowersIt’s not easy and many times they don’t turn out, so if it’s a subject I care strongly about capturing I will insist on pulling over. But, to me it’s worth taking that shot for the memory of a trip and re-visiting the road when at home.

hay rolls in fieldsThe novelty of the open spaces and rolling fields of the interior of the country inspires a sense of wonder in this shore girl.

farm house in fieldThese picturesque fields seem to go on forever.

rolling corn fields AmericaWhen we do stop and explore an area further, a through-a-window shooting opportunity can still be present.

South Dakota Chief Crazy Horse MonumentThe Chief Crazy Horse monument visit was such an opportunity for me. The statue of the Chief inside the museum with the view of the mountain project outside, through a nicely cleaned window, grabbed my imagination.

When shooting out the window of a moving car, a fast shutter speed is required to capture the scene without getting camera blur from the movement of the car. Steadying your camera against either your body or on the edge of the open window helps as well. The key thing is to have your camera in your lap and ready to go.

Always glad to be on the road,

~ Susan

The Weekend Dish – Avocado, Cilantro, Cashew Cups

Avocado, cilantro, cashew cupsInspired by the avocado egg rolls at the Cheesecake Factory restaurant, I headed to the kitchen to see what I could come up with to achieve similar flavors and textures at home. They are a mixture of crispy outside and creamy inside all dipped in a tangy and sweet sauce – a delicious treat. It takes great restraint to keep me from drinking the dipping sauce on it’s own. Wanting the crunchiness of the outside but not the greasiness and mess of frying, I decided to use wonton wrappers and bake them until crispy.

Avocado, cilantro, cashew cupsDipping the cups in the sauce could make it awkward to eat, so I opted to mix the dipping sauce and filling together and then place them in the cup, creating a two bite finger food, success! One of our seasonal family birthday celebration extravaganzas was the inaugural attempt of this recipe and it was a hit. I think you will find this handy appetizer a welcome guest at your next party too.

Avocado, Cilantro, Cashew Cups

  • 1 pkg of wonton wrappers
  • 2 ripe avocados, peeled, pitted and diced – it helps to have ripe but firm avocados
  • 2 Tbsp red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp cilantro, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Place the wonton wrappers in a mini muffin tin and press them in to the bottom and sides. Bake in a preheated 350° oven for 9 minutes or until slightly browned. Remove from oven and leave in pan until cooled. Meanwhile place the avocados, onion, cilantro and salt together in a medium bowl, being careful to keep the avocados in pieces rather than smashing. Set aside and prepare the sauce.

Sauce

  • 4 tsp white vinegar
  • 1tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • juice of 1 lime

Mix these together in a microwave safe bowl for 30 seconds and stir until the honey is dissolved, set aside. In a food processor combine:

  • 1/2 cup cashews
  • 2/3 cup cilantro
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 green onions
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • pinch turmeric
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, or less depending on your taste

Pulse until the cashews are chopped fine, add the vinegar honey mixture and olive oil and pulse until incorporated. Pour about half of this mixture, more or less depending on your taste, into the avocado onion mixture and stir until just mixed. Fill the cups and serve.

Makes 24 cups

Avocado, cilantro, cashew cups

This weekend finds us celebrating the winter birthdays of the family.

Cheers!

~ Susan

Mardis Gras – Hoorah

By Susan Greene
It’s March and that means a not only a new month but a new literary theme to investigate here at backyard sisters. Imagery is our term of exploration this month. Photography is imagery – thank-you Catherine. Since today is Mardis Gras, I decided to make some images of items associated with this day’s merrymaking.

Mardis Gras masksMardis Gras means fat Tuesday in French and is traditionally the day before Ash Wednesday. Many use it as a day to “live it up” before the somber season of Lent. The city of New Orleans, Louisiana is known for its Mardis Gras festivities – parades, parties and balls are all celebrated and have been since the early 1700′s.

Mardi Gras maskMasks are worn by many to all of these celebrations.

Mardis Gras maskThe wearing of masks as a part of the celebration is believed to be rooted in ritual. In the beginning they allowed the wearers from all classes to mingle and join in the revelry free of societal constraints. This anonymity undoubtedly is a contributing factor in the raucous behavior so often associated with Mardi Gras.

Mardis Gras maskStrings of colorful beads are also identified with the festivities.

Mardi Gras beads in flightThey are tossed from the floats to the cheering crowds lining the parade routes.

tossing Mardi Gras beadsThe spectators jostling to catch as many as possible.

Mardi Gras beads in air The king cake is another of the Mardi Gras traditions.

king cakeTraditionally, it is a ring of braided dough filled with a cinnamon and sugar filling, although now other fillings are used as well. A tiny plastic baby is  baked into the cake.  It is frosted and covered with colorful sugars of the Mardi Gras colors – green, purple and gold. Tradition has it that the person who receives the piece of cake with the baby in it is asked to host the next king cake party – which are held regularly throughout the Mardi Gras season or Carnival, which runs from January 6th,or Epiphany, to the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.

Having never been to New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras, I can’t speak of these things from experience but would like to one day. I won’t let that stop me from joining in spirit.  If you would like to read further about Mardi Gras and its history, traditions and activities, this site is a treasure trove of information.

In true Mardi Gras fashion, live it up, for tomorrow we fast.

~ Susan

Self portraits on a path to voice

By Susan Greene

As I was pondering our theme of voice this month, I came across this self portrait of Henri Cartier-Bresson.

It’s not often I turn the lens on myself. So I decided to give it a go. The photo of Cartier-Bresson captured my eye with his use of three different views of himself and his involvement both working and pausing to look out the window. My kitchen window is the same sort of set-up for me. I have spent countless hours standing at the kitchen sink looking out the window while washing dishes or twirling around doing the kitchen dance of food prep, throwing dirty dishes in the sink and washing fruits and vegetables while preparing and cleaning up meals. For many years, I was the privileged observer of my children’s games and make-believe worlds. As they grew and ventured from our immediate backyard – their backyards expanding into the larger world, I started noticing the sometimes quiet other times flurried rhythm of the birds, trees and flowers in the yard.

self portrait in window

Thinking of the backyard days of my children triggered thoughts of my own backyard days and the pure joy of playing outside. It has been quite awhile since I have done that.

self portrait backyard activityFor a time, I was transported to the backyard play of my youth, able to tap into the carefree times of romping in the backyard. The difficulty of running back and forth from inside the house to the outside counting down the seconds to shutter release trying to capture a jump at just the right moment then back in to check the result was a small price to pay.

In the Accidental Creative, author and speaker Todd Henry poses “ten questions that will help you find your voice.” One of the ten: as a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?  I think we can benefit from re-examining our younger selves to clarify our future selves and hopefully this will lead us to creative outlets for expressing our voices.

~ Susan

The Weekend Dish – The Oscars 2014

popcorn popped and unpoppedBy Susan Greene

The Academy Awards are a little over a week away, Sunday March 2, and it’s that time of year to  think about parties you may be hosting or attending or simply how to enhance your own viewing pleasure. I am talking about food, not just any food, but food that has some sort of tie-in to this year’s best picture nominees.

I am going with mostly appetizer and dessert  dishes. So here goes:

American Hustle, an account of the ABSCAM scandal of the 70′s. Clams casino works on many levels here. The Italian, casino and 70′s themes are all represented by this dish.

Captain Phillips, the story of the capturing of a container ship by Somali pirates. Somali food is a natural for this one. Hummus  on the Somali kitchen blog sounds good serve with flat bread, crackers or vegetables and you could put out some olives and call them cannonballs (pirates).

The Wolf of Wall Street, the story of Jordan Belfourt and his exploits as he came to “make it big” on Wall St. Excess and extravagance are everywhere in this movie so sushi, maybe some brie and lobster if you’re feeling really extravagant.

Dallas Buyers Club, the tale of real life Texan, Ron Woodroof and how he deals with his AIDS diagnosis. He takes his doctor out for a steak dinner so grilled rib eye would be nice or since Texas is a pecan producing state you could have these nut cups, which are like mini pecan pies:

Nut Cups

  • 3 oz cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sifted flour

Blend cream cheese and butter (can use mixer), add flour and mix thoroughly. Chill for 1 hour. Make small balls (24) to fit in mini muffin tins. spread dough into tin with thumb. Fill with filling.

Filling:

  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp melted butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup chopped pecans (or walnuts)

Beat egg slightly. Add sugar and then other ingredients. Blend. Fill dough lined muffin tins. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes. Let cups cool slightly before removing. When cooled, dust with powdered sugar.

Nebraska, a son agrees to help his father make a trip to claim what he (the father) believes to be a winning million dollar sweepstakes ticket. Since Nebraska is the cornhusker state, a corn casserole represents well.

Philomena,  an Irish woman’s search for the child, conceived out of wedlock, she was forced to give up for adoption in her youth. She has a fascination with croutons when she encounters them at a salad bar so make your own by cutting a loaf of french bread into cubes, spraying them with enough olive oil to coat, and place on a sheet pan in a 350º oven until crispy (or buy some) and serve on your favorite salad. I like mixed green with balsamic vinaigrette and maybe some red bell peppers or other vegetables of your liking tossed in as well.

Gravity, a woman mission specialist’s struggle to find a way to get back to earth after a disastrous spacewalk. I loved the weightlessness of the movie and seeing items floating in space, especially in 3D. I am going with root beer floats (root beer soda with a scoop of vanilla ice cream floating in it) or if you want to get fancy, floating islands or ile flottante.

12 Years A Slave, the tale of a free black man who is captured and sold into slavery and his continuous efforts to free himself. Since he uses blackberry juice to try to write a letter with, a blackberry cobbler would do nicely here.

Her, the story of a lonely man who falls in love with his computer’s advanced operating system in the not too distant future Los Angeles. He plays a video game while visiting one of his friends and earns “perfect mom points” for making cupcakes. So you should too. There are vanilla and chocolate cake recipes here, to make cupcakes – instead of a cake pan pour the batter into paper lined muffin tins and bake at 350° for 20-23 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. You can make the chocolate frosting also which accompanies these recipes or any other one you prefer.

popcorn

If you haven’t seen these nominees, there’s still time, just pop some popcorn and get viewing. Let me know your choice for winner.

All of these dishes can be accompanied by the beverage of your choice. How about a little bubbly?

~ Susan