Enough is As Good As a [ _____ ]

When Claudia visited in 2016, her first trip to the states in a few decades, we were acutely aware of how rare and precious our time together was. You know how it is – time flies with dear friends. You want to do everything you’ve been talking about for so long: Let’s make that no-knead bread and the homemade mozzarella cheese and a salad so you can dress it the way I love, oh and let me show you how we make our pizza now. Let’s watch Downton Abbey and Witness and The Lives of Others – and have you seen The IT Crowd? (Both stupid and hilarious, for when we just want to laugh!) Monticello is nearby, and Yoder’s, and the downtown pedestrian mall that’s so much like Burlington’s, and don’t forget Barboursville Vineyards with its cool stone ruins of Governor Barbour’s mansion. Let’s take walks in the morning when it’s brisk and in the daytime when the sun is warm and in the evening when the sun glows in the western sky – oh, yes, and Humpback Rocks is a great hike, best in the evening (not like Tirol, okay, but for Virginia, a great hike!).

Claudia and me Humpback Rocks Oct 2016.jpg

We had only nine days. And when I had asked her ahead of time what she wanted to do when she came, she replied with one word: “Rest.”

So let’s, instead, be real. Life comes down to choices, right? As I lamented, she comforted: Zu viel nimmt weg von genug, which I wrote down on a post-it, duly translated and left stuck on the side of my fridge.

Too much takes away from enough.

You could play with the translation and say Too much is worse than enough or Too much negates enough. The idea made sense – if we try to do too much, the time will not be restful, we’ll make ourselves crazy, we’ll miss the balance. And the German had a nice cadence to it. But the verbatim translation didn’t quite work for me. It stuck in my mouth somehow. And it never occurred to me to flip it around and put “enough” at the beginning.

This past week I got help from Mary Poppins. As I watched my five-year-old great niece giggling her way through this classic, I stumbled on a translation of Zu viel nimmt weg von genug that I’d missed the last, oh, say, five times I watched this movie. After the bit of nursery magic when all the toys and clothes dance and bounce and jump around, finding their way into drawers and cabinets and closets, converting the room from messy to tidy in a few delightful minutes, Jane and Michael wanted to do it again. More magic! More fun! How can that be bad? Mary Poppins drew the line in her practically-perfect, matter-of-fact way: “Enough is as good as a feast.” Click on the link to watch her say it.

Well, look at that! In 1910, the setting for this film, they too were struggling with When is enough? Where is the line? Clearly this is not a new problem. Well before that, people in biblical times were likewise advised about moderation. Have you found honey? Eat only what you need…. (Proverbs 25:16)

The idea of potential excess, should-I-or-shouldn’t-I-cross-that-line, comes up all the time.

What fills a day (or nine days)? Activity, yes, but how much is enough to be fun and satisfying yet avoid utter exhaustion?

What fills a house? Stuff, but how much is enough to fend off clutter and inundation?

What fills our bellies? Food and drink, but how much is enough for good health? How much crosses the line?

Decisions. Every day I have to make hard decisions – not every day as in on a daily basis, no, I mean continually    throughout    every    day – what to say yes to, what to spend money on, what to put in my mouth. Abundance has a downside, some would say a curse.

Funny, we don’t have trouble deciding how long to stand there rubbing our hands together with the soap before we decide they are clean enough. We know when’s enough. We’re pretty good about knowing how fast to drive (we value our lives), how much physical space should exist between us and the person standing next to us (how close would be too close), how many toppings we want to put on our pizza (how many would be too many), when we’ve been sitting too long (need to move!), when enough time has passed since we last heard from an old friend (time to send a message). How come that same mostly-good judgment can’t apply so nonchalantly and easily to (pick a temptation, any temptation) shall we say ice cream?!

While standing in line to get ice cream recently, the person next to me ordered a small but said out loud while staring at the price list that looked something like this,

ice cream price list.2mp.jpg

“I want the super-size.”

Aren’t people the same no matter what year it is!?

A friend who was watching her weight once told me that a small scoop of ice cream didn’t taste better than a large bowlful, and that when she had less, she savored it more – or at least she was trying to train herself to think this way!

Maybe training is the answer. We can train ourselves (or be trained) to do new tasks at work. We adapt to new surroundings or circumstances with a bit of self-talk. It’s an idea.

Hmmm, but I like a feast as well as anyone. (We have only nine days! … That bread is fresh now! … I really like that bowl/table/shirt/game/book/gadget!)

How about mental gymnastics? Maybe I could reconfigure the feast, spread it out over time a bit or have one a little less often?

I hear once again my wise professor’s words. The topic at the time was bacon: Should I eat it? Shouldn’t I? How much? He calmly said three words: Balance. Variety, Moderation. Is it really that simple? Maybe.

Chocolate Chip Walnut Biscotti

Most people have an aversion to certain foods. They don’t like bananas, or are allergic to garlic, or can’t stand cilantro. I don’t do nuts of any kind, and I don’t drink coffee. This biscotti recipe contains both nuts and coffee, a double whammy for me, so I cannot tell you that they are good. But you could believe me when I tell you that everyone who has tried them has loved them, and then give ‘em a go yourself.

I doubled the recipe* because I like to have enough to give some away. Okay, I give all these away. My friend Melba and her husband Brian had sad news recently about their beloved dog, and I hope these biscotti will help console their hurting hearts. If you know someone who could use a bit of cheer, consider a small gift of something homemade. We cannot change the circumstance, but we can remind people we love that they have been on our hearts. Food conveys love, care, warmth.

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It’s an easy dough to put together, but I don’t know why they set up recipes the way they do. If they want you to cream the butter with the sugars and then add the flour and other dry ingredients, why don’t they tell you that? In that order? Why do they tell you first of all to combine the dry ingredients and then set them aside? Why would I want to wash two bowls when I can wash just one?

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I suggest: combine the butter and sugars, add the eggs, then the dry ingredients (I do not sift together these together, I just put them in), then the chips and nuts. This recipe says to use an electric mixer. You know I love my new mixer, and certainly you are welcome to use yours, but this is one you could manage with a good spoon. Your call.

The dough is like a cookie dough, pretty stiff, easily pulling away from the side of the bowl.


I did not have instant espresso powder, whatever that is. But my former barista son Samuel tells me that ground coffee is the same thing, that the difference between coffee and espresso is in the brewing method and the brewing method only. Well, I hope so because he was sequestered while I was making these, solving yet another perplexing coding problem, and I had some ground Folger’s in the fridge, so I substituted that for the instant espresso powder.

The walnuts are another thing. I had bought them already chopped but have learned from making this recipe in the past that if they are too big, the loaves are harder to slice when the time comes for that, so I chopped them smaller. For this purpose may I present the best chopper I know (Kwik-Kut Mfg. Co, Mohawk, NY). I’ve had it for decades but I know they still sell them. I got some for gifts at Yoder’s this past year. (Great for egg salad too, if you are into that.)


I put the 2 cups of nuts (remember I doubled the recipe) into my four-cup glass measure and chopped them right in there (again why measure in one cup and chop in another – that would be two things to wash instead of one). I didn’t get carried away and I didn’t go for a specific size piece. I just chopped till I got tired of chopping.

chopping nuts.jpg

I suggest using mini chocolate chips instead of the regular-size morsels (again for the ease-of-slicing reason), but I didn’t have enough (having used half the bag in the oatmeal cookies I made yesterday). So I used some regulars too, and tried chopping them into what I needed, the same as I chopped the nuts. It was a little harder but I reduced their size a bit. Using all mini chips would have been better. Get the minis.

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Once all of the ingredients are combined, you can use your hands and form one solid ball of dough. I cut this into four pieces so that I’d have equal-size loaves.

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I formed these quarters and put them on my pans, hoping they wouldn’t spread too much. They look like little meatloaves to me!

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I found that it took longer to bake than the 25 minutes at (fully pre-heated) 325F for these loaves to be firm to the touch, more like 35 minutes. I gave them their prescribed five-minute rest period, then used the right knife for slicing biscotti to slice them. Between the nuts and the chips, and the loaves still being pretty hot after the five minutes, it was not as smooth going through as perhaps it might be (you see a few breaks), but I managed to slice them, put them cut side down and bake again. This too took longer, more like 15 minutes per side.


Who knows, maybe I sliced them thicker, or maybe my oven is on the cooler side and I should have upped the heat. Whatever the case, they looked great in the end, even if I cannot tell you they tasted great. Samuel gave them the thumbs-up, and he doesn’t even like sweet things generally.


Doubling the recipe made quite a few; I count about 30. These keep well, ship well, dunk in coffee well 😊 Enjoy!!


*recipe from my William-Sonoma Cookies and Biscotti cookbook, Time-Life Custom Publishing, 1993

In a Pickle

Some things ask to be done, and it’s best to just do it. I had not planned to make pickles this week, but it’s the middle of the summer and five more cucumbers in the garden were ready to be picked (with more to come!) and there were already nine in the fridge, so it was time.

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I started with 14 cucumbers, sliced them up and layered them with salt in my big bowl (which is 7” high and 12” across the top). If you want to make these yourself, you let that sit about an hour. You could add sliced onions or green, yellow, red or orange peppers, or cauliflower cut up into florets, but I had so many cukes, I’m stopping there this time.

Part of cooking, part of life, is knowing where to draw the line.

Kenny Rogers doesn’t know it, but he really helped me a few years ago. I had a difficult decision to make and I kept hearing him singing in my head: You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run… Kenny knew. Sometimes you are just in a pickle about what to do and there are reasons for this choice and reasons for that. Should you hold on or let go? Stay or move? Buck up or give in? Hope for more or settle for what you have?

In the end, back then, I knew it was time to walk away. Not run, not bolt. Just walk. The voice in my head – his voice in my head – guided me not only in what choice to make, but also in the best way to do this thing that had to be done. Funny, the song doesn’t tell you what to do. It just tells you there are choices and you have to pick one. You can’t waffle, and you can’t pick them all. You think it through, you pick a route and you take it. It leads to new scenery and new experiences that you would not have on another route.

I picked the route tonight that included 14 cucumbers and it led me to nine jars of pickles! I made the dog happy too. Within seconds of opening fridge and beginning to bring the cucumbers out, she was out of her sound sleep, off the couch and at my feet. She LOVES cucumbers!

coco better.jpg

Carrots too, in case you’re wondering, and the heel of the romaine lettuce head, and peppers (the guts or the outside part with skin that we eat), and watermelon!

But we are on pickle-making now: Here are my cut-up cukes, resting, sweating (the salt will cause them to do that, really), relishing (hehe) their final unpickled moments.  cut up and salted.jpg

As soon as I am not being distracted by how many cucumber chips a small black pug can eat, or watching her adorable begging, I go get my jars. Everyone has a cabinet with jars in it, right? Mine contains the ones I’ve been saving because they are just too pretty to put in the recycle bin. Or too potentially useful down the road. If you have not been doing this, you might have to buy mason jars, which are great also, but if you had been saving jars all along…

You laugh, but jars come in very handy. You just ask the 35 or 40 jars in my basement how useful they have been, how many times they have been called to action, how integral to the operation they are, how versatile, how easy to clean, how good looking – the list goes on. If jars had feelings, mine would feel good!

Make sure your jars are clean, inside and out, and that the lids are good. By good I mean they have that rubbery ring along the inside edge which provides the seal. I keep my pickles in the fridge, and I give them away, so I am content with this kind of seal. The yummy pickles are not going to last that long.

While the cukes are sitting with the salt, and once you have your jars clean and ready, you can prepare the brine. I like a sweet-sour taste, also called bread and butter pickles. The brine is basically vinegar and sugar and spices. You can put together your own combination of spices (recipes abound) or buy something called “pickling spice.” The one I got at Yoder’s includes mustard, allspice, coriander, cassia, ginger, peppercorns, cloves and bay leaves. I am happy with this one, but you might have particular flavors that you like or don’t like or want to include more of. That is the joy of cooking – you make it the way you like it!

The basic method is

  • Cut up the cukes/other veggies
  • Layer with salt and let sit an hour
  • Prepare jars
  • Prepare brine
  • Pack salted cukes in jars
  • Pour brine over top
  • Close up jars and refrigerate

The basic proportion is for every 3 cups of cukes/veggies, make a brine with 1 cup sugar, 1 ½ cups vinegar and about a teaspoon of pickling spice. Figure out how many cucumbers you have and do the math. I find the easiest thing is to let the cukes sit in the salt for an hour or so, then stuff them into the jars. Put as many as you can fit in there. That tells you how many cups of cukes you have, so it’s easier to do the math. Then measure out your vinegar, sugar and spices into the pot and turn on the flame.in jars waiting.jpg

If you don’t have a garden or access to a farmer’s market, you can use cucumbers from the store just as well. I would use the European cukes because they simply wrap them in plastic instead of putting a waxy whatever on their skins. You don’t want that waxy stuff.

You can use brown or white sugar. A combination is good. With this batch I used up a bag of brown sugar that had gotten too hard. It dissolved in the vinegar over a flame just fine, but the proportion of brown to white sugar made my pickle brine darker than usual. If the amount of sugar seems too much for you, use less. The pickles will just be more sour and less sweet. It’s up to you. You can use white or cider or rice vinegar or a combination. The flavor you get — just like the scenery you see and the experiences you have! — comes from the choices you make. Have fun! Every time you make pickles, make them a little different. Why not?

Combine the sugar, vinegar and spices in a pot and bring it to a full boil (making sure the sugar is dissolved). The slight fuzziness you see in this photo is not blur. It’s steam rising from a fully boiling brine.

full boil.jpg

Use a 2-cup or 4-cup glass measuring cup that has a pour spout to get the brine from the pot …


into the jars filled with cukes. Be careful. The jars are so full of sliced cucumbers, it could make a splashy mess otherwise, and still might.


Oops. It did make a mess. I poured too fast. Bother.


You can see that the pickling spice likes to collect at the top of the liquid. If you end up with a lot of the mustard seeds or whatever sitting on the topmost cucumber in the jar, you can spoon some of that off. You don’t want your pickles that spicy. Or maybe you do?

As each jar is filled, use a damp cloth to clean the outside of the jar and around the rim where the lid will seal against the glass. Put the lid on and set aside. Keep going until you have filled and closed up all your jars. Set the jars in a nice place and take a picture of your collection to show your friends! When they are cool, put them in the fridge.



The Story of the Roast

We all fall into traps. One common trap is the Trap of Must. It’s the one that comes into play when something Must be done this way or Must be said that way or Must happen in this sequence. It could also be called the Trap of Habit. Some habits are not good. Some are. I have a habit of putting coleus in the planter boxes that lead to my front porch. I do this because they always do well there and look really pretty.

The coleus are the ones with the colorful leaves closest to the porch.


This goat has a habit of sticking his head up over the fence of his enclosure.


Why is he doing this? Because he wants food. His chances are better that someone visiting Yoder’s will come along and give him some if he sticks his head out and lets everyone see those big eyes. Experience has taught him this.

Coco has a habit of coming to you with her one-legged monkey (one-legged because she tore the other leg off), standing there, staring at you and expecting you to know what to do. Play with her. Just play.

Coco and monkey

The habit of play is good, assuming you make it a habit. Mom came with Jerry yesterday and taught me and Kaileena a new game called Phase 10. Sandy joined us even though he is generally very bad at games and habitually avoids them. (He ended up dominating completely!)

In it you have to put your cards together to make runs and sets such as a run of 4 like 2-3-4-5 (and they don’t even have to be the same colors in this game) or a set like three 10s or four 6s. Sometimes you want to make sets and sometimes you want to make runs, and sometimes a combination. The card on top of the discard pile might be just the one you need, but sometimes someone else takes it because it’s their turn or they put a card on top of it, burying it forever from usefulness. This is maddening of course.

Say you are on the “phase” of the game where you have to make one run of four and one set of four. Until you manage to make this, you cannot proceed to the next phase. As happens in games that involve some skill but mostly luck, you sometimes get stuck. Jerry found himself continually able to make a run of three or a run of four, but his cards did not seem to want to make sets. He cracked us all up when he blurted out (clearly without considering the alternate meaning), “I seem to get the runs easily.”

I plant the coleus because they look pretty, the goat stretches his neck in hopes of food, Coco comes with her monkey because she wants to play, and Jerry gets the runs easily!

playing phase 10

The world is complicated and our lives are full. We go about our days and weeks and years on autopilot sometimes. As long as those planter boxes are there, I will automatically think of coleus when the time comes to plant pretty things every spring. That goat will look longingly at every last visitor to Yoder’s: You have food for me, right? Coco will come to you at least three times a day with the monkey (or the fox or the giraffe or whichever toy she has not yet torn to pieces — and fyi, no matter what they are, they are all called monkey, no point confusing the poor dog). Jerry’s runs, even though they were by chance – to say nothing of hilarious – did happen over and over and somehow got me to thinking about habits, which is how I got to this topic.

Every once in a while, it is good to think about why we do what we do. Autopilot has its merits. We do a thing because we’ve always done it. We do a thing a certain way because we’ve always done it that way. We have enough to think about, too much to think about, and being able to do some things without really thinking about them is useful.

But not always. Sometimes we do things blindly with no good reason. We just do them because someone said to do it that way or we always just did. Which brings me to The Story of the Roast.

A woman was preparing dinner one day and her daughter watched her cut the end off the piece of meat before putting it in the roasting pan. The girl said, “Mommy, why do you cut the end off the meat like that?”

The woman said, “I don’t know. My mother always did.”

The next time the woman visited her mother, she said, “Mom, a question for you. Why do you cut the end off the meat when you make a roast?”

The mother said, “I don’t know. My mother always did.”

The next time the woman visited her grandmother, she said, “Grandma, a question for you. Why did you always cut the end off the meat when you made a roast?”

Grandma said, “My pan was too small.”

See? Blind habit. Only the first generation had good reason to cut the end off the piece of meat. Subsequent generations had different pans.

There might be very good reason for all of the things you do. There might not. Just think about it.