Autumn returns, and with it, a new school year, both as expected.
Unexpected returns, much less welcome, came too. The dog I fostered for a rescue was delivered back to me by his adopters. He arrived with hundreds of dollars of crates and toys and treats and a dog-sized yellow raincoat, as well as tales of volatile, aggressive behavior. Tales that – if true – will result in euthanasia, tales that are retracted as quickly they were made. The rescue starts an investigation to find out the truth, while I begin to work with the dog to untrain the rude manners he learned during his short stay with the family that almost immediately regrets their decision and asks to have him back.
I spend my lunch hours taking him on lengthy walks quarantined dogs are not allowed to go on, and give him bits of cheese to reward him for his good behavior, and wait for the rescue to make its decision.
In the evening, the Red Dog returns to his spot next to me on the sofa – one he had forsaken in favor of the floor – but he needs to be closer to me now. The foster dog finds the only spot left, on the back of the sofa, where he licks my ear and offers me a paw to shake whenever I pay too much attention to the Red Dog or whatever is on TV.
When the phone rings, they both become alert – I am talking to someone, so it must be one of them. Conversations become challenging, though I am not much of a phone talker on the best of days, so I avoid answering most calls, except for the one I don’t expect. My cousin calls, a rare treat, and I am glad to hear from him and glad to listen to him vent about the verbal abuse he has suffered at my mother’s hands. But I know that he usually avoids spending time with her – he has learned, as I have, that the true secret to happiness in our family is simply to avoid them – and so I know that it was not a pleasure trip that inspired him to drive from Wisconsin to Nevada with my mother, to pick up his mother, and her belongings, and drive her back to a place she has not considered home for three decades.
It is a return forced on her, a trip forced on him; there was a lump, and it was ignored, and the cancer spread until she was too weak to be treated or to care for herself.
My aunt told me many times in the past that she’d rather be dead in the desert than alive in Wisconsin, but in the end, dying takes time and one must go somewhere to do it.
I cope with this information the way I cope with all matters related to my family: I send a fruit basket and avoid thinking about it, or anything else.
I focus my energy on managing the foster dog, and giving extra attention to the Red Dog, and creating new escape routes for the cats who live in fear of the dogs, and finding hundreds of minor tasks to do that could easily be left undone but which are suddenly urgent, and whose completion soothes me as I lie on the sofa each evening, nestled between dogs and wondering where it all goes.
One of the tasks involves purging. The Child and I become obsessed with an organizational book based on the premise that you’ll be happier if you just throw out everything you don’t love, so we each set about purging our belongings, starting with our closets, moving to our books, and then our stuff, our cd’s, our collections.
You know, the cookbooks.
It’s surprisingly easy. The guiding principle of the program is to hold every thing in your hand and decide if it sparks joy, which isn’t really that hard to decide when you realize that if you clear off all the cookbooks whose recipes weren’t worth cooking, you’ll have room for more cookbooks might actually inspire you to cook.
A large box of books goes off to Goodwill, along with sacks upon sacks of clothing.
You’re not supposed to open the books as you decide, but I do anyway, because usually when I buy a cookbook, there is one recipe in it that made me think, I must try this. So it was with Gordon Ramsay’s Healthy Appetite, a book which contained only one recipe that I got excited about, one that was followed by a recipe for basic oatmeal, which both confused and irritated me.
There is someone out there who believes it is necessary to pay an author to write and publish a recipe for boiled oatmeal. There is also someone out there who paid for the book containing that recipe, and that someone was me.
The recipe I bought the book for, though, was also devastatingly simple: A warm compote of dried fruits simmered in orange juice and spices, perfect for spooning over yogurt, or pancakes, or, well, oatmeal. It’s a quick and lovely dish, and easy to swap out ingredients – if you have raisins or other dried fruit handy, by all means use them. I followed the directions, but wouldn’t normally have dried blueberries on hand, but it wouldn’t matter much, as nearly any dried fruit would work.
I served the compote warm over steel-cut oats, made using the recipe on the back of the box.
- 1 cup dried prunes
- 1 cup dried apricots
- ½ cup dried cherries
- ½ cup dried blueberries
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 star anise
- zest of one orange
- juice of two oranges (about a cup of juice)
- ⅓ cup of water, plus more as needed
- Put the dried fruit in a pan with all remaining ingredients, and stir a couple of times to distribute everything evenly. Cover the pan and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer about 10 minutes. If things seem to get dry, add a bit more water.
- Let cool in a bowl, and spoon over plain oatmeal, yogurt, or pancakes, as you prefer.