Monday, Oct 15, 2018
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio

Mary Alice Powell

Making the most of those house-bound winter days

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This winter could have been a real bummer for this certified road runner, who is usually up and out the door with a destination.

But, as the old lemon story goes, I turned house-bound, sub-zero days that became weeks into lemonade.

Or, as another saying that is framed and hanging on the wall suggests: “If life gives you a rainy day, find a puddle to splash in.”

The puddles I splashed in were closets and drawers that had been neglected since the move into the little green bungalow, when stuff was unloaded and shoved here and there to get it out of sight more than to organize.

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Powell

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Just think, when spring arrives, and we all know that it will, those of us who turned cabin fever into productive housework can return to our wanderlust ways: meet friends for lunch, go shopping, take a leisurely drive, and get a head start on gardening with seed packets.

It would be nice to also visit a friend you haven’t seen in a long time, but we don’t do that anymore. Once upon a time it was OK to drop in on friends if you happened to be in the neighborhood or just were thinking about them.

But nowadays such surprises are not customary. Etiquette rules we should make a date for the visit via email, text, or phone if we expect a warm, wonderful welcome.

It’s a toss-up whether the neat closets or the stacks of throwaways stir the most pride after the organizing frenzy is over. There is definitely a flash or pride when I finally decide to part with something not worn for a long time, either because it no longer fits or because the 20-year-old style just doesn’t make it.

I pulled a beautiful grape wool, feather, and sequin-trimmed sweater from the closet to wear to a Christmas party. Depression-era mentality was one reason I had saved it for years. It was pricey 20 years ago.

At the party, a friend said, “Nice sweater. Is it vintage?” I wanted to ask, “Me or the sweater?”

I still have the sweater, but several other pieces of clothing and other things are boxed to be taken to the Salvation Army, the Cherry Street Mission, the Delta Thrift Shop, or one of the other agencies that welcome clothing and household items, which are, in turn, sold or given to the less fortunate.

The discards prompted an FYI written to myself that hopefully I will keep in mind when the winter sales begin. More than half of the clothing items that are being given away were purchased at such good sale prices that I couldn’t pass them up. Somehow, racks of clothing with 40, 50, and even 70 percent off draw women like bees to honey. We grab the bargains like a cat does a mouse. We feel triumphant when we pull the bargains from the shopping bags at home. But, when we still prefer wearing the old favorites in the closet, it’s a clue that not every sale is a good one.

The discards included things other than clothing that have been taking up space and never used. A monkey pod wood tray and a crystal wine glass are in the disposal box.

The tray that was brought home from Hawaii broke when it was dropped years ago. The wine glass may be Waterford, but that doesn’t fix the deep chip in it. There are 11 more glasses just like it in the cupboard. So why save the one with the chip? Pitch it.

Giving away a signed piece of art was a tougher decision. Should the only painting I have ever attempted be added to the pile of stuff that will be put out for grabs? Worse yet, what if no one wants the painting and it just sets on the shelf and collects dust like it has been doing in the little green bungalow? Or, what if someone recognizes the artist’s signature and says they can’t believe I would put my name on such elementary work?

The watercolor of trees and flowers in vibrant colors is the art lesson that I developed painfully with guidance from a patient instructor at a painting class two years ago. The classes, popular for group parties, included wine, which eased the tension for beginning artists. The only thing I learned at the class is to respect artists more and stick to writing.

Mixing and matching foods in the freezer, refrigerator, and pantry became a passion during the freeze-in. Appetizing comfort dishes resulted by combining what I had forgotten was in the freezer with basic pantry items. One of the best examples was a chunk of cooked beef chuck that was carefully preserved in freezer paper. Cooked down slowly with beef broth, noodles, and a dash of thyme, it made supper for two nights.

Then there was the thick frost-covered mystery package that I nearly tossed, until a half-pound of bacon emerged when it was unwrapped. With rice and tomatoes in the pantry along with the appropriate spices on hand, old fashioned Spanish Rice was made easily.

Once a popular low-cost family dish, it seems to have fallen out of favor. It is also called Mexican Rice and can include jalapeños and chicken. Spices commonly are chili powder, paprika, and garlic. Green pepper adds color. A more American Spanish Rice calls for ground beef. My choice was, of course, the bacon I found in the freezer.

The following one-pot, stove-top recipe is an old-timer from my very first cookbook, Better Homes and Gardens, that I received for high school graduation in 1946.

Spanish Rice with Bacon

6 slices bacon

1 medium onion, chopped

1 small green pepper, chopped

1 28-ounce can tomatoes, crushed or chopped

1 cup water

¾ cup uncooked long grain rice

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Salt to taste

1 teaspoon chili powder

1/8 teaspoon paprika

Cook bacon until crisp and crunchy.

Reserve 2 tablespoons bacon fat in pan and cook chopped onion and pepper in the drippings. Stir in all other ingredients. Mix well and cook for about 30 minutes until the ride is thoroughly done. Top with crumbled bacon.

Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor. Contact her at poseypowell@aol.com.

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