Some of my writer friends and I are about to lose a wonderful friend. Harriette Austin is now in hospice care in Athens, Georgia. She has aggressive pancreatic cancer. She is in her middle 90s.
Harriette was our teacher in a continuing-ed class called Murder and Mayhem for Money, until she retired for the last time a few years ago.
I met her in 1995, after Richard and I moved to Athens. A friend at UGA knew that I was interested in writing and sent me an announcement for a writing class. I mentioned it to Richard, who said, "Why would you not do this?" so I immediately registered for the class.
Harriette's method for conducting the class was to have members read excerpts of what they had written. Almost anything goes, she told us, except for two things: 1) don't have the bad guy kill an animal in your story (it's a cheap way to make the bad guy seem evil); kill all the humans you want to, blood and gore and everything, if you feel like it; and 2) don't read any graphic sex scenes; write all the sex scenes you want, just don't read them in class.
Her other rules included 1) pay attention to the person reading, particularly don't chat with another class member; 2) when you criticize, do it in a positive way; 3) don't clip your nails or floss your teeth; and 4) don't eat noisy food while others are reading. All of these rules boil down to common courtesy.
I spent the first four weeks of class just listening, and not saying much. When I did finally read something, my hands were shaking and my voice was trembling, but I got through it. When I finished, I told the class I'd rather cook for my mother-in-law than read aloud. Harriette and the class were very complimentary and encouraging (one long-time member said if I cooked as well as I wrote, he and his wife (also a class member, now published) would be over for dinner..
Like most of the other members, I took the class every quarter for the whole six years we lived in Athens. We "old timers" were not required to show up to the first class each quarter until about 20 minutes after the start time. That gave Harriette an opportunity to explain the dynamic of the class to new students.
Our class loved to party! Near the end of every quarter, Harriette would call for a volunteer to host the class party, and we'd set a date. Every party was a true potluck: the food was not planned. Harriette said even if we all showed up with just a dessert, it was all right. That never happened, dammit, but every meal at these events was fabulous! (Not only could we write, we could cook.)
I'll probably be heading to Athens in the not-to-distant future, for one of the worst days of my life. Harriette always referred to herself as "Mother," and she considered us all her children.
It's an honor to be so considered and to be in such good company: Charles and Beverly; Genie; Judy and Takis; Diane; Paige and Mike; Patricia; Alan; Lin; Dac; Larry; Donna; Gleam; Jackie; Betty R; Dawson; Billie; and any other of the regulars I missed.
ONE: We keep getting phone calls from "Cell Phone NY," with a number which comes up in a Google search as a scammer's. I think we got a dozen calls from them/it on just one day. I've read even if you actually answer your phone and immediately hang up, then scammers can get enough information to delve into more of you personal info. There was a time, before caller ID, when you might answer your phone and some idiot friend of yours has gotten another person to call and tell you things like, "This is the phone company. We're going to be cleaning out the phone lines, so to keep dust from blowing out of your receiver, you should cover your phone with a large towel." Yes, I got that one years ago. I almost went after a towel, then I said to myself, "Self, don't
be a moron. You know that's not possible." Dimwit.
TWO: I need to go to the gym, and since I'm retired, I can go pretty much when I like. There's only one, teeny weenie glitch in that plan: I'm very self-conscious about my weight, so I want to go at a time when there aren't that many people there. Now, apparently, half the population of the damn county doesn't need to be gainfully employed, so they show up in their designer gym clothes, all skinny and toned, at all times of the day! Dammit! When I was still working, I'd go at 5:30 am when they opened. There really were only a few cars in the parking lot at that time, and I felt comfortable enough. So... I'm going back to arriving somewhere in the neighborhood of 5:30 am. It may be a bitch to get up that early now that I'm retired, but the upside is I will have the rest of the day to do pretty much anything I want to. So there!
THREE: I haven't embraced the vegan lifestyle, and probably never will, but I don't eat meat as often as I used to. I'm frequently just as happy with a nice salad with chunks of a yummy cheese, some bread alongside, and some fruit later. I don't think I could ever get used to not having dairy products, and my husband and I buy from local farmers as often as we can. Not too long ago, we had a really nice vegetarian meal: pappardelle (from a farmers market) with exotic mushrooms.
FOUR: Here's a quote I like:
"I don't have pet peeves; I have major psychotic fuckin' hatred." -- George Carlin.
FIVE: Here's a poem:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
This recipe falls under my category of Made-it-By-the-Recipe-and-Then-Tweaked-it-to-Make-it-MUCH-Better. I don't remember what I did to itto make it better because when we loved the new-and-improved version, I tossed the old recipe. So here 'tis:
tbsp unsalted butter
tbsp olive oil
yellow onion, diced
garlic cloves, finely chopped
tsp smoked paprika
tbsp tomato paste
can (28 oz.) of crushed tomatoes
can (15 oz.) fire-roasted diced tomatoes
stock (vegetable stock for non-carnivores)
and pepper, to taste
1. In a large pot melt the butter
into the olive oil.
2. Add the onion and cook over
medium-high heat until tender.
3. Add the paprika, some salt and
pepper, and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute or so.
4. Add garlic and tomato paste; cook
for about 30 seconds.
5. De-glaze the pan with some beef (or veggie)
6. Add the tomatoes, sugar, rosemary
sprig, bay leaf, and about ½ cup beef (or veggie) stock.
7. Bring the mixture to a boil,
reduce heat, cover and simmer on low heat for about 30 minutes.
8. Remove the rosemary sprig and bay
9. Season with salt and pepper, if
needed, and serve.
I made this for knit night the time Lisa reproduced -- magnificently, I might add -- my Over-The-Top Grilled Cheese Sandwiches.
Forget the white loaf bread and the Kraft American cheese slices. Get yourself some really good bakery bread and slice it a little thick. Find three different kinds of deli cheeses, like Havarti, Gruyere, and aged white Cheddar or use your own combination (I don't think I'd use a bleu cheese for this, but to each his own). Stack up 2 bread slices with the 3 cheese slices; generously butter the outside of each bread slice, all the way to the edge; and cook on a seasoned cast-iron griddle or skillet, until the bread is lightly browned and the cheese is melty. YUMM-O!
Doesn't that look tasty? The dish is called "Lemon Pepper Shrimp Scampi with Orzo." Here's the recipe, just for you. I made the dish pretty much according to the recipe, except I used some Lemon Garlic Orzo which I got from Pappardelle's Pasta.
Lemon Pepper Shrimp Scampi with Orzo
It’s a simple sauté of some shrimp
swimming in a mixture of butter, lemon juice and garlic (don’t you just want to
swim in this?!). Once the shrimp gets all cooked through, you can serve it on a
bed of orzo, making sure it soaks up all of that lemony, buttery goodness. Easy
1 cup dry orzo
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, plus more for
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
In a large pot of boiling salted
water, cook orzo according to package instructions; drain well. In a
medium bowl, combine the orzo and parsley; cover and keep warm.
Melt butter in a skillet over medium
high heat. Add shrimp and garlic and cook until the shrimp is pink, firm
and cooked through, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in lemon juice; season with salt
and pepper, to taste.
We also had some pretty yummy green beans. Richard had bought some fresh from our local farmers' market, so I used this recipe to cook just enough for the two of us. I added a little bit of lemon juice, leftover from the Scampi, probably half a tablespoon.
Quick and Easy Green Beans
12 ounces trimmed green beans
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1. Place green beans in a large skillet; pour in 1/4 cup water.
2. Bring to a boil over high heat. As soon as water comes to a boil, cover pan and cook 3 minutes.
3. Uncover pan, and stir in butter. Cook 1 minute or until water evaporates and beans are crisp-tender.
This recipe is from Cooking Light (see My Recipes).
Let me know if you try either of these. Both recipes are going in our permanent collection.