This is spicy and tasty with lots of room for your imagination. 

1 can of black beans. You can drain them or not. I prefer not, but that is personal.

1 bottle/can of salsa. Mild, medium or hot. Suit yourself. Don’t skimp.

3 small boneless chicken breasts (or 2 large.) Washed not cooked. You can also use chicken tenders which seem to be everywhere these days. I think it helps to flatten plump pieces so they cook more evenly.

DO THIS:

Put the beans in the bottom of an oven proof pan or casserole. Lay the chicken on top of that. Spread the salsa on top of that. Place this in the middle of a 350? pre-heated oven and bake until done, about 35 minutes. You can make sure of doneness by slicing through a thick part of the chicken and looking. It can be juicy but not pink.

With about five minutes left to doneness, sprinkle a liberal amount of shredded cheddar, jack or whatever cheese or combination of cheeses you like over the top and melt thoroughly. You can even buy a package of shredded Mexican Blend cheese, whatever that is. I tried it. Not bad.

This is a great low cal but tasty meal.  But if you don’t care about that kind of thing, keep reading.

This goes good with a tasty beer or if you’re feeling lucky, a margarita, straight up, and maybe a tortilla – flour or corn. If you like sour cream, here’s a good place to use it. You can serve it on a corn tortilla. I’ve even considered cooking it on a bed of corn tortillas. There’s little you can do to mess this up.

Enjoy.

One of the most important features about growing older is an inevitable mushrooming collection of memories. This is a good thing. It provides continuity to our lives. It’s good to have people around who can remember other times. It helps to render perspective in our thinking as a community. It’s what gives depth to culture.

I’ve tried to imagine a culture without memory, say farther back than six months, or even a longer but limited time, like five years. Even saying it doesn’t make any sense. It would be like a world populated totally by suffers of a kind of Alzheimer’s Disease. Where’s Rod Sterling when you need him? Wait a minute! Did he already do this?

I have noted many times how memory, as one gets older, is more like fiction than history. Was it really that good then? Or are we just making it up, now? I think that mostly we are dealing with differences. As in, time changes everything. Comparing then with now is a favorite pastime among those who can actually do that. It isn’t necessary to be old to do it. It’s particularly revealing to hear a teenager talk about when he or she was little. There they go, building continuity into their lives.

So apropos of nothing, here are a few examples of things I remember that are quite different from the way things are now. If you need to go rake some leaves now would be a good time.

FOOD. As a boy in South Louisiana, it was a culinary axiom that if it tasted good it was good for you. All of it tasted good. Today, there are all kinds of warnings that pop into one’s head as one cruises down the grocery isles. That’s too fat. That’s too caloric. That’s dairy. That’s full of cholesterol. That’s not enough fiber. We read labels.

I can remember when we began eating tinned food. There were home canned things in jars, but that was a whole other thing. We didn’t need labels. You could see what was in there. Mostly we ate out of a garden all year long. All my food was naturally “natural”. Nowadays that costs extra.

Furthermore, today, food is all about marketing and nutrition. Not freshness and flavor. If the right chemical nutrients are present, then it’s good. It’s full of the sunshine vitamin and calcium for strong bones! But does it have any flavor? And nobody ever mentions gravy. How can you have a decent life without gravy?

MUSIC. In my college years I studied voice. Elvis was shaking out “Heartbreak Hotel” while I was standing stock still and stiff as a broom handle belting out classical art songs, and hymns. When someone sang a song it was all about the voice and the words that were to be clearly understood. Enunciation was in. Even though Elvis was all over the place, he could be understood. Today it’s all about a full body contact performance. It’s production, lights, movement, layers and layers of anything that glitters, rattles or slithers. It’s outsized, electrified, amplified and if there is room, exploded. I suppose someone is understanding the words. I don’t.

TELEVISION. I remember no television. (OK, that’s my problem.) We watched the radio. (And we saw things too.) And we talked about it. When we did get TV, it was mostly some painfully simple local product. I can remember watching Dolly Parton and Porter Wagner in black and white with a microphone – and that was it! No strobes or side singers.

There were, of course, those actual old, made for the silver screen movies. Drama was in. Soon there were programs made specially for the TV format and the industry began its numbing and dumbing down process to where it is today – in my opinion. Oh, we watched it and the price we began to pay was the absence of conversation and intimacy.

TV has a role in our culture. It is like visual muzak. It relieves us of the threat of needing to speak to the other person in the room, or even looking at them, while being able to say we spent the evening together. I mean, how cool is that?

Anyway, I remember. I can almosgt feel the continuity.

I wonder if Pawn Stars is on tonight.

Be well, and stay tuned.               I’m Jerry Henderson.

Dear Sunshine Friend

I woke up this morning to three inches of new snow, which should be no surprise here in New England where March and April – oh that bitch April – simply can not be trusted with any serious thoughts of bone healing warmth. Oh, we have had some warmth. We reveled in it while keeping a cocked eye to the North for what was bound to come. No one in Maine seriously bets on spring. Well, I guess I’d have to confess to putting a few pennies at risk from time to time. You never know.

While I shoveled off the deck and hung out feeders for the early finches I saw you in my mind’s eye walking Sophie out beneath those towering moss draped oaks on the water’s edge, poopie bag in your belt. It can’t be too difficult a task, in short pants and sandals, a brace of those elegant Sand Hill Cranes on patrol near by. I suppose there will be coffee by the pool and perhaps a ball game somewhere this afternoon – hotdog and beer in the sunshine.

Don’t worry about us here. We’ll be stoking the fires and keeping the walkways clear in case you come by. After all there has to be a credible Yin for there to be a workable Yang. While you coffee by the pool, I’ll put another log on the fire. There’s a rhyme there somewhere.

Be well and stay tuned.

Jerry

Visiting other places inevitably seems to bring up a fair amount fantasizing about living in those “other” places. This is not a serious thing but a simple hold over from those halcyon days of youth when the world was out ahead of us and we were all happily engaged in catching up to our dreams.  

On a recent trip to Florida to visit family CA and I were sitting out in what is called a Lanai, a screened in pool area, and admittedly a lovely setting with balmy breezes and fresh coffee, when the subject came up about spending extended periods down there.  Something beyond ten days.

We’re not talking about the textbook “greener pastures” disease for which, I believe, there may be a real diagnostic code for insurance claims.  We actually  live in that very “green pasture”.  It’s just that March and April are not that green in Maine and spending a month or so in Florida about then could be viewed as a touch of good judgement.

Meanwhile, the air, sitting by the pool in the shade, was perfect but we both knew that later in the year it would become so heavy you would need to chew it before it was breathable.  It’s not a bad feeling but one that takes some skill to work through.  But any time the subject of being in he south in summer is even imagined, CA is ready to hoist the red flag of humidity in my face.  She is one of those people for whom sweating is tantamount to hemorrhaging.  Since it appears beyond reason that we would ever be in the South in summer, this level of resistance seems an un-necessary diversion.

Ten days later, I am thinking of all this as I am turning over the soil in my garlic bed, earlier than ever, in 85? sunshine, sweating bullets, in March, in Maine!  If you’re paying attention, life is never boring, and you’re thankful.

So far, my choo-choo train experience has been quite a bit less than I had hoped for. As I have mentioned, my enthusiasm got shot in the head almost immediately. But I kept believing that things would get better and they did not.

I looked around at others near by to see how they were handling our common situation. Honestly, quite a few seemed as bored and challenged as I was. A few seemed able to read or knit or even write. Some hand eye coordinated activity has always been there for me, but for some reason – possibly my less than optimum experience so far – these standard distractions were ineffective for me. Add to this dilemma the compulsive talkers, squeaking children and cell phone assholes close by and you can fairly taste the comfort of a roomette.

Sitting in an airline type of seat without an effective foot brace made getting really comfortable impossible. Translation: my butt was sore and then numb. I was told to walk. I did walk. Where are you going to go? What was near by was the bar. Even that demanded some imagination. One brand of everything. The woman running it was possessed of a quiick sense of humor and that made purchasing a $7 bottlette of gin kind of fun. I asked what kind of gin she had. Beefeaters, she said. How about Tanqueray, or Bombay or Boodles I said. Beefeaters, she replied. I said, I believe I’d like a Beefeaters. I figured, “What the hell, I’ll just ‘buzz’ through the night.

The bar closed at 11 PM. I was not settling into my nest well at all so I made a 9-1-1 trip to the bar just before closing and found 20 people lined up with the same thought. The inhospitable attitudes I had encountered at dinner were not present in the bar line. It was more social and lively with the prospect of some liquid reward at the end of the wait. There was laughter and camaraderie in the line. I am sorry I didn’t suggest to everyone that we all meet up in the club car and sing songs and tell jokes and perhaps do a little line dancing .

I did bring along my laptop, which has always been a comfort to me. It was almost impossible to use it in my seat so I took it to what was euphemistically called the Club Car. There was no discernible “club”. Just some formica tables extending out from the walls with plastic bench seats and extremely bright lights. A little indirect lighting and more comfortable seating and I could have almost imagined “club”.

On this long leg of my trip there was no wi-fi. I had to remind myself that this was the 21st century where driving down the street with your phone or laptop on would reveal one after another wifi signals, but on this 80 mile an hour wonder of the rails, there is no wifi? It would have helped. Anything would have helped. Actually, the gin helped, but that, as we all know, has it’s limitations.

I have always been a huge supporter of the trains. In the “commuter” sense, it seems that the trains work. You go to an overnight leg and the system only works if you can afford some kind of sleeping arrangement. I could have had that for more than three times the cost of my ticket. I could stay at the Ritz for that. I thought several times that night how nice it would be at the Ritz.

All long sleepless nights end. ( I always wanted to say that ) As the sun rose and we approached Orlando I began to perk up in the expectation of seeing my old friend, Bruce. The station there is a throwback to a bygone era of stucco, palms and tile roofs. It is indeed an old but elegant building. It looks like a train station. And there was my friend waiting to help me to his car – the final and best of the upsides of this journey. I think I did look as though I could use some help. He said my eyes looked really red. They felt red.

Sitting down in the comfort of his new sedan that did everything but hand out neck massages, was just like coming home after my 30+ hour rail ride. From here on out my vacation was absolutely wonderful, restful and bathed in warmth moved along by a gentle Gulf breeze. That’s what I’ll remember.

I began making notes for this post on the Silver Meteor somewhere between Baltimore and Washington DC.  The sun is down.  I am well fed and working on being well libated.  It will have been a week in the writing when this is posted.  That doesn’t mean it’s good, but only that it took that long to filter out the expletives and over the top ranting.

March 5, 2012.  This has been one of the most surprisingly stressful travel days I have ever spent.  Here’s how it began.

Concord Trailways is, hands down, the most efficient and comfortable way to get to South Station and Logan Airport from Portland, Maine.  I was primed to have a repeat of former experiences early this morning.  That is until this rather porky guy decides to sit with me along with a case that should have never come on board.  He spilled over into my space, and he knew it.  He made several attempts at adjusting his angle of attack so as to lessen the crowding effect on my left shoulder.  I had to give it to him.  I simply, but quite uncharacteristically, smiled and tried to “share” the situation in good humor.  After all, here I am on this vacation trip on the choo-choo train.  And the bus ride is only two hours.

Arriving at South Station I got some of the most unhelpful instructions as to how to get to the trains.  I had it in my mind that the Amtrak and the Commuter Rail were two different things.  I guess they actually are but they occupy the same space in South Station.  It’s just not clear to the first-time ever user just what and where things are.  Someone might consider an inside walkway to the trains instead of having to go down to the street level and walk zig zag back up a couple of floors to reach the train station.  Even then, confusion and streams of rushing commuters still reigned supreme.  Thanks to a friendly Red Cap I was able to figure it out and get a sandwich as well.  But not having a clue and not finding my way in a timely fashion was troubling.

I should mention that I had little sleep the night before.  This not Amtrak’s fault, but it should be part of a cultural norm when dealing with the “weary” traveler, that they should employ the common curtesy of looking at the person they are talking to, smile and give that person the feeling if not the fact of rapt attention until they know without a shadow of doubt that that customer’s needs have been met.  I’m the first to say that that ain’t ever gonna happen.

My head was numb from the lack of sleep.  But the train ride too New York was speedy and well handled.  I ate the remaining part of my tuna with red peppers and downed a bottle of water.  Next stop New York Penn Station – Hell on earth.  It was my first time in New York.  There might have been a better way to do this.

All I needed to do was to get to the right track on time.  Simple.  I suppose, in all fairness, the experienced traveler would find my comments quite odd, but my experience is my experience.  When the information I needed appeared on the info board I then had to find the appropriate track.  I had 15 minutes!  I asked 4 different “officials” (about half of these people could be let go for all the good they are doing) for directions and got 4 different answers.  Their mistake – and it was a mistake – was to assume I knew something about the geography of the damned place.  No, wait, I meant to say the goddamned place.

In desperation with 5 minutes to spare and overloaded with luggage, I asked a guy with a broom if he knew where my track was and he pointed it out to me – directly.  “Bless you, my son, for your simple act of kindness”.  Ah, but I had only just begun to enter the labyrinth. 

You would think that on a train you could find a seat and sit in it.  Wrong.  Although I did find a seat and sat in it, I was told by a woman, whom I found to be the Car Commander, that I was in the “wrong seat”.  God help me!  Not only that, I was in the wrong car – even though she told to get on THAT car when I got to the train.  You can’t even begin to imagine the emotion welling up within me.  I said something like, “This is a seat on the train to Orlando.  I am going to Orlando.  What’s the problem?”  I could go on and on but it boiled down to this cardinal fact of choo-choo life: this woman, who had nary a clue as to how to employ authority, was my Lordett and Masterett for the duration.  People should never be given authority until it has been determined that they  know how to handle it. I am sure there is an Amtrak god of superior status than that of this woman and he or she shall hear about this.  Gerrr!

The Car Commander led me to the next car and to a particular seat next to another man, even though there were a dozen seats totally empty.  OK, as I have said, I could go on and on but it boiled down to this, as far as I could deduce, that Orlando passengers MUST be in the same car, and all the seats were assigned.  OK, as it turned out, all but a few were.  I am nonetheless not mollified, as none of this has yet to be explained to me.  Simple information is the first building block of comfort and satisfaction.  I’d fire everyone of those bozos that didn’t understand and employ this principle.

The upside, and there were a few, was that my seat companion was a most interesting man with whom I enjoyed the trip as we both commiserated about the foibles and tricks of mass transit, as well as the fact that he periodically came to Maine on business.  Hmm.

It just seemed that nothing was as I had expected.  I needed a success experience.  That would be dinner.  Upside No. 2.  My seat mate told me that the steward just passed by taking reservations for dinner.  As usual, I did not hear this announcement.  My hearing alone is subject for an entire story.  I made tracks for the dining car and got the last slot for the evening.  

The menu included an herbed half chicken with snap beans and a great rice pilaf, chased by a cold bottle of chardonnay.  The food got good marks and it was prepared right on the train.   However, my table partners were sorely lacking in the social skills needed to take the edge off, what has been up to that point a disappointing experience .  They all left before I did without a word.  They didn’t know how to respond to simple things like, “So how is your trip so far?”  Nothing.  Old, What’s-his-name, sitting by me in the window seat, nearly choked on the necessity to ask me to let him out.  A completely unremarkable specimen!

Stay tuned for the next installment: ATTEMPTING SLEEP WITHOUT A PLACE TO SLEEP.

03/08/12

Jerry H – iPhone