Baked Eggs and Ham: Meal for All Seasons

On Sunday mornings, my husband cooks breakfast. As I like to start the day with protein, he comes up with the best recipes from his considerable collection (he’s a personal chef) to delight us with.

What I love about this breakfast is the versatility. OK, I love the way it looks, too. Essentially, he bakes eggs in ham squares pushed into cookie tins. The ham corners stand up and get brown and crisp.

Baked Ham and Egg Cups

Baked Ham and Egg Cups

The mushrooms between the egg and the ham get juicy and flavorful.

But wait, there’s more! You can eat it for breakfast with a slice of whole-grain bread and be ready for the day. Not a big breakfast eater? Just eat one egg cup.

You can eat two for lunch and add a slice of melon or some berries for dessert and have a meal that tastes great and is healthy–something most people appreciate.

And yes, you can eat it for supper by adding a green salad, some herbed bread, and a dessert like a fruit crisp (in autumn) or fruit sorbet (in hot weather) and feel deliciously full without overburdening your calorie consumption for a day.

If you have company, it is a breakfast that doesn’t demand constant watching and can be made for a lot of people without a lot of work.

Here is the recipe he used:

Baked Ham & Egg Cups
Serves 2

4 eggs
4 slices boiled ham, thin but not shaved
2 shallots, finely chopped
4-6 button/cremini mushrooms, cleaned, stemmed, finely chopped
4 +/- sprigs fresh thyme, finely chopped *
2T butter, unsalted
S&P to taste
Minced chives for garnish

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Saute the shallots until translucent, about 4 minutes, stirring now and then. Add mushrooms, sauté until they start to give up their liquid. Add thyme, season with S&P. Continue to cook until most of the mushroom liquid has been cooked off. Remove from heat.

Spray the center 4 cups with PAM. Line each cup with a slice of ham, being careful to avoid tearing. Divide the shallot/mushroom mix among the cups. Carefully crack open the eggs, placing one in each of the four cups.

Bake for 15 minutes, check for doneness. Depending on how loose or hard you prefer your yolk, you might want to continue baking for an extra 2-3 minutes.

When done, carefully transfer to plate. Garnish with minced chives, serve immediately.

* The original recipe calls for tarragon, but I find it a bit too pushy for my taste.

—Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach married to Kent, a personal chef who cooks yummy (and healthy) meals for busy people. He’s the owner of KentCooks. She’s happily letting him do the cooking now that they are both on the same side of the country.

Pizza for Supper

Every Sunday, we have pizza for supper. My husband makes a wicked good wheat crust, and the refrigerator gets scoured for meat and vegetable sources for the top of the pizza. Cheese, often small leftovers of various kind, get added and so does a homemade tomato sauce.

Homemade pizza from KentCooks!

Homemade pizza from KentCooks!

Some weekends, it’s a traditional pizza–mushroom, sausage, just wonderfully fresh tomatoes. Our “everything” pizza is the ingredients equivalent of the Mid-Western hotdish, the German-community Auflauf, and the East Coast casserole. It’s always delicious, you have to combine the right ingredients, not just clean the fridge.

It’s always good, whether with a special green salad, bottle of wine, or followed by an incredible dessert. Life is good.

—Quinn McDonald, a certified creativity coach, is married to a personal chef. See her work at QuinnCreative.com See his work at KentCooks.com

What I’ve Learned. . .

Yesterday was a milestone birthday. At these times, most people begin to think about what they’ve learned in life. I made a list, then edited out all the things that everyone would put on such a list. Here are the ones that are left over:

–After a natural disaster, taking a shower at the large animal vet’s outdoor horse stall  is better than not taking a shower at all.

–The two best pairs of shoes for after a disaster are the two pairs you didn’t take–a pair  of hiking books and a pair of flip flops.

—-No matter how much you wish it were true, a non-working freezer won’t keep food frozen even if you duct tape it shut.

—It’s OK to cry when you are burying all the tomato sauce you froze just two weeks ago that spoiled in the freezer.

Pool with sky

Pool with sky

–It’s OK to tell the roofers who are putting a new roof on the house “Don’t leave the propane tank on the roof when you leave for the day.”   It is also OK to check to make sure they did.
Same is true with asking them to check to make sure all the torches are really turned off. Even if they think you are a controlling, crazy woman.

–When your house burns and the roof collapses through your studio, the person who complains about the mess the fire fighters made in your yard is not your friend.

–The person who complains that her house smells of smoke when yours went up in smoke in also not your friend.

— Your friend is the one who helps you dig through the ivy for the tiny things the fire fighters threw out of your studio.

–A great friend is the one who brings you lunch and cold water and listens to you say the same things over and over.

–Yelling full voice at  people who are taking pictures of your burning house and blocking the firefighters is OK, even if you are in the South where women don’t yell or curse.

–Putting things in the attic sounds smart after the flood, but after the fire you realize there are no safe places for photographs and keepsakes.

–When all your writing samples either got drowned in the flood or burned in the fire, no client will believe the story, so don’t even try to explain why you don’t have samples.

–People who send you emails telling you what you should have done differently deserve to be put on Ghanian spam lists.

–If the new house comes with a pool, don’t think about how much of a pain it is to maintain a pool until you have floated on your back and watched a zillion stars come out. A little maintenance is worth a world of mental health.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. See her work at QuinnCreative.com

Doubt

Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones, has this to say about doubt:

“Every other month I am ready to quit writing. The inner dialogue goes something like this: ‘This is stupid. I am making no money, there’s no career in poetry, no one cares about it, it’s lonely I hate it, it’s dumb, I want a regular life.’ These thoughts are torture. Doubt is torture. If we give ourselves fully to something, it will be clearer when it might be appropriate to quit. It is a constant test of perseverance. Sometimes I listen to the doubting voice and get sidetracked for a while. . . .Don’t listen to doubt. It leads no place but to pain and negativity. . . There is nothing helpful there. Instead, have a tenderness and determination toward your writing,  a sense of humor and deep patience that you are doing the right thing. Avoid getting caught by that small gnawing mouse of doubt. See beyond it to the vastness of life and the belief in time and practice.”

We all have doubts about our decisions, our choices, our life. Doubt is like getting nibbled to death by ducks. There is no way to back up, it surrounds you. Make a decision. Right or wrong, you will know, but if you doubt, you just sink deeper into doubt.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. (c) 2007 All rights reserved.

Creative Boundaries: Full-Head Helmet

You hear it all the time–women complaining that their husband gave them golf shoes or a garbage disposal for a birthday, when it wasn’t at all what they wanted. I lucked out. I got exactly what I wanted–a full-head helmet. This is an odd request for someone with claustrophobia. But then again, it’s not your average full-head helmet–it has a clear face shield, an additional slide-down tinted shield that’s retractable with one hand. The front of the helmet unlocks with one hand and moves up and over the top of the helmet.

Full head helmet with plain and sun shield

Full head helmet with plain and sun shield

Why would I want this? Several practical reasons: it doesn’t rain here much, so there is always dust on the roads. Small rocks stay on the road and get tossed into your face. A three-quarters helmet leaves the bottom quarter of your face unprotected. I’d finish rides and have a film of greasy dirt from my upper lip to my chin and several small cuts.

We also have crunchy bugs here in the desert (crunchy bugs are the ones who have a chitin carapace to protect their wings) and they hurt at 60 mph.

Full-head helmets are also useful in the case of an accident. They keep your nose and jaw from being crushed, and they keep more skin on your face. Useful. As my brain is the part I need most for my business, I wanted the full-head helmet. I worked for weeks to ease into it without claustrophobic panic. This model has a larger face opening, so I have complete peripheral vision. It was the helmet for me. Even in a state that has no helmet laws.

And, of course, I began to think of the full-head helmet and creativity. Sometimes we have to give ourselves boundaries, hard-edged fences, to function. Sure, it would be easier to write the sucker-punch, highly-emotional piece. And it’s easier to say “it’s a real experience, so it’s valid to write it.” We can avoid the hard work of editing, choosing, forcing ourselves to write with the easy excuse of “it’s real to me.”

Writers need to demand more from themselves than even their readers do. It’s too easy to reach for the emotional flash. But it won’t last. Half an hour later, the reader will be hungry for meaning again. And you will want to write something that is meaningful, powerful, energizing. So put on the full-head helmet and get busy. The world is hungry for a gravel-rattling ride of writing.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer. She also teachers others how to write and keep journals and is a certified creativity coach. See her work at QuinnCreative.com

The Last Thing You Hear

When I teach any of my writing courses, I ask who has had a class in analytical thinking. I’ve had maybe two or three hands go up in over 1,200 students. Why does a writer need analytical thinking skills? Because otherwise you believe the last thing you hear. Every speaker sounds true. The aperture of your world twists down to one truth at a time, all equally true.

Analytical thinking is the hand-grenade in the hand of someone who demands meaning. You pull the pin and drop it into a pile of deep verbal sh stuff, and all the easy answers go away.

High fructose corn syrup, picture via www.specpage.com

High fructose corn syrup, picture via http://www.specpage.com

And that, of course, is the problem with analytical thinking. No one wants messy. No one wants unanswered questions. No one wants to live in anbiguity. It’s easier to be spoon-fed fads, trends, poll numbers, and sound bites. See it on You Tube. Find someone you like and agree with their choice.

Analytical thinking involves asking simple questions with hard answers. “Have we tried this before?” “What happened then?” “Where did you get that figure?” “Where is the source material for that fact?” It’s hard to think of good questions, but without good questions, all the answer sound similar.

But it’s intellectual work, and that is not valued in our current culture. The trouble is, if no one asks the hard questions, we’ll each have to do it individually, and each become experts, which is too much work for the average person.

Here’s an example about analytical thinking:  At the moment, I’m seeing a commercial about high fructose corn syrup. The point of the commercial is that corn syrup is very much like sugar, and fine in moderation. I began to wonder why this commercial is being run. Here are the questions I’d ask:

1. Who is paying for the commercial? As Deep Throat said, “Follow the money.” The person who is paying for this must have a reason for running it.

2. Why is the message ‘high fructose corn syrup is fine in moderation” important to the person paying for it? What is the payoff?

3. HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) is a sweetener, but I started checking labels and it is also in bread, ketchup, cereals, instant stuffing, Shake n Bake glaze, tonic water, Starbucks Frapuccino, Eggo pancakes, Heinz 57 sauce and Robitussin cough syrup. And more food and medicine items than I can list. Why is it in items that don’t need sweetening or that could use sugar instead?

3. What does the company paying for the commercial want the result to be?

4. What is the complaint against high fructose corn syrup?

5. How is corn altered to create high fructose corn syrup? (I noticed that the word “natural” isn’t in the commercial. “Natural” is such a keyword there must be a reason it’s missing.

6. Who stands to gain financially from the sale of lots of corn?

Each answer will bring more questions. And eventually your discover facts you didn’t know before. That there is a “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico, off the Texan shore. It’s the size of New Jersey and nothing can live there, there is no oxygen left in that part of the ocean. What happened to it? Well, all the organisms were killed off by the runoff from giant corn fields. The fertilizer is one culprit and the herbicide atrazine is another. All crops require some help, but corn is particularly energy-INefficient. Corn is grown in the same plot of land year after year, so it needs more fertilizer and herbicides than other crops.

Taxes on imported sugar keeps the price of corn used for sugar fairly low, making it easy to use and over time, gave us a taste for the sweet taste of it in food. Now the corn fields are being turned to fuel for our cars, and people are starting to eat less processed (and that means HFCS) food. So to keep up the use, we start to see commercials praising it as a yummy food used “in moderation.”

You can read more about HFCS in this Washington Post article. Meanwhile, a few questions turn up a whole interesting string of facts that are all tied together and make for some interesting diet decisions.

Analytical thinking can be as interesting as unraveling a mystery, help you discover real answers and make good decisions for your life. Not a bad advantage for a few questions.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach who asks a lot of questions and lives happily in ambiguity. See her work at QuinnCreative.com.

The Lizard’s Tail Tale

One of our cats was paying rapt attention to something on the rug. He had that ears-cupped-parallel-to-the-floor look, and was holding absolutely still, eyes wide open. He does this only when there is something of great interest to him, and that is almost always something that is about to become dead.

I got up, and looked at the spot on the rug. I nudged it gently with piece of paper towel, thinking it was a cat gak. Almost all the spot on the rug shot across the room, leaving a wiggling piece behind. Nature works really well. The thing was a lizard, and it had dropped its tail, which wriggled appealingly, allowing my cat to focus on it, while the rest of the lizard scrambled across the room.

A common lizard in Arizona

A common lizard in Arizona

Unfortunately, it sought refuge in the one place in the kitchen that really isn’t safe–the place where the cats are fed. And one was hanging around, looking for a snack.

In order to make sure the now-tailless lizard didn’t become the snack, I grabbed the cat by the scruff of the neck, and picked up the lizard with the paper towel I still had in my hand.

I stepped out the door and shook the paper towel out gently, close to the ground. The little lizard body tumbled out.”Must have picked it up too hard,” I thought, feeling sorry. Just as I thought it, the lizard pulled out of its frozen position, and shot, tailless, up the lemon tree to safety.

I knew that some lizards dropped their tails, but I’d never seen it work so well. The cat was perfectly happy to let the business part of the prey escape if he got to keep the wiggly part. Of course, the lizard has just one tail, and would have met an unhappy end with the other cat.

[Note: I don’t know what kind of lizard it was. We have a bunch climbing on the brick fence around the house. The link above is to a page that will help identify lizards. The photograph came from that site, http://www.gc.maricopa.edu/biology/aznature/pages/uta.html%5D

How did the lizard get into the house? My best guess is that it was napping in the Blue Palo Verde tree that hangs over the fireplace chimney. We haven’t trimmed it because it was too hot to stress the tree that much. He must have fallen (or crawled) down the chimney. Even with the flue shut, it’s a small lizard and can manipulate through small openings.

Lucky this one gets to live another day.

—Quinn McDonald is a writer and a certified creativity coach. She has a coaching practice for people in transitions and those undergoing changes in thier lives. See her work at QuinnCreative.com

If you live in a stone house. . .

I’m already used to the teeny-tiny hoses that drip precious water onto the roots of plants here in the West. No Rain-Bird (TM) whoosing across the whole lawn for us.

drip irrigation for natal plum bush

Drip irrigation for natal plum bush

We ooze out water on timers, delivered directly into the plant very early in the morning. No wasting precious resources for us. We don’t have them to waste. You can see the hoses, skinny as a pencil, connected to the water pipe in the picture on the left.

I’ve even gotten used to seeing aloes and natal plums (fussy houseplants in the East) growing in front- and back yards.

Aloes under the fig tree

Aloes under the fig tree

This house, however, is a totally new architechtural view for me. The eaves of some houses here are done in stone. At first I thought it was Formstone, the faux-stone outdoor covering made popular in the 1930s row houses of urban neighborhoods in the East. Baltimore has some fabulous examples of Formstone.

This is different. Real stone, set into the eaves as decoration. Interesting, although I’m glad I didn’t have to lift them up there and cement them into place.

Stone eaves, house circa 1980, Arizona

Stone eaves, house circa 1980, Arizona

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach loving every minute of her new life in the West.

Less than Meets the Eye

My morning walk is a meditation and a way to stay open to new things. Part of the walk is along a rather dull stretch of road, and I’ve noticed that I have taken to trying very hard to make this piece of landscape more than it is.

Morning walk (similar to Morning Pages for those of you who follow Julia Cameron’s Artists Way) is early, so it didn’t occur to me to simply choose another path until the following incident.  I was slogging along on a stretch of hot sidewalk, with a goal of making it to the traffic light way off in the distance. It’s a feeder route, so I’m walking past trailer parks and speeding cars. I’m not meditative. I’m cranky.  Ahead of me, I see an unknown plant and a seed pod underneath it.

The seed pod is unusual. Not that it is green, we have plenty of those on the way to turning another color–this cold be a dropped citrus. But that the plant that produced it is small, too small to produce a seed pod this size.

Rubber ball cleverly disguised as seed pod

Rubber ball cleverly disguised as seed pod

As I get closer, the seed pod seems to move, and it takes a minute for my brain to figure out that I’m seeing evaporation on the surface. I look for the drip irrigation tube, but don’t see it.

As my brain continues to puzzle over this, I hear scratching footsteps approaching. I look up just in time to see a yellow labrador retriever fly by me, and pick up his ball, covering it fresh with saliva, for his owner to throw again.

Sometimes a round green thing is just a round green ball.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer who does morning walking meditation. She is also a certified creativity coach. See her work at QuinnCreative.com

Women and the Election

Even though the election has been going on for at least two years, it wasn’t until recently that the men seemed to step aside and all the women took center stage. Michelle, Hillary, Sarah–we’ve heard a lot about them, sometimes more than we could take.

This article isn’t about any of them. It’s about a woman we hardly hear about, and you may not even know her. She’s not famous in any traditional way. She was born in Pennsylvania in the late 1930s, and grew into a tall, willowy swimsuit model. When she was just 21, she married a graduate of the Naval Academy, who became a pilot. They had two children, but it was the 1950s, and Naval pilots cut a dashing figure. Infidelity was the listed reason for their divorce in 1964.

This young woman then fell in love again—with a classmate of her first husband. Eventually she married again, and her husband adopted her two children. This husband, too, was a navy pilot. He was from Alexandria, Virginia, and his high school yearbook gave him this description: “His magnetic personality has won for him many life-long friends. But as magnets also must repel, some have found him hard to get along with.”

Washington Post. The 1965 wedding.

Photo: Washington Post. The 1965 wedding.

The couple had a daughter, but the Viet Nam war gave them little time to spend together. The husband volunteered, was stationed in the Gulf of Tonkin, and flew 22 successful missions as a bomber pilot. On his 23 mission he was shot down and taken as a prisoner of war by the North Vietnamese in 1967.

His wife lived the terrible life of a military wife with a missing husband. The military never knows how to treat dependents–they aren’t really part of the military, yet they can’t be ignored. She stayed in Florida, working with POW/MIA organizations. She never lost hope. She never lost focus on raising the children.

In the winter of 1969, she took the children to spend Christmas with her parents in Pennsylvania. On Christmas Eve she went to deliver Christmas presents to her friends. It was snowing. She was alone in her car when it skidded and struck a utility pole.  She was thrown through the windshield of her car, where she lay, undiscovered with two broken legs, a broken pelvis, a ruptured spleen and a broken arm.  She was finally discovered, and would spend months in the hospital. Her doctors told her she would never walk again. She underwent 23 surgeries in the next two years that left her four inches shorter. She struggled to learn how to walk.

She also refused to have the military get word to her captive husband. ‘He’s got enough problems, I don’t want to tell him.’ She healed slowly. She would be disfigured for the rest of her life. But she never stopped struggling, first to live, then to get out of a wheel chair and walk. Her determination worked.

In 1973 her husband returned home. The terrible years should have been over. But they were just starting for a military wife who had undergone the worst of trials anyone should endure. Her husband, whose arms were so damaged he could not raise them above his shoulders, told friends he no longer found his wife attractive. She had gained weight while in and out of the hospital. But they remained together. She got a job as the head of the White House Visitor’s Office and became an event planner.

In April, 1979, while on business in Hawaii, the 42-year old husband met a 24-year old woman at a party. The young woman was four years older than his oldest son. But the husband fell in love. He wanted to marry the 24-year old who was the daughter of a very wealthy beer distributor. Court records show that he secured a marriage license in March, 1980, while still legally married to his first wife. His divorce became final in April, 1980, and five weeks later, he married his much younger bride.

She wasn’t the first woman to be dumped for someone young enough to be her husband’s daughter. She wasn’t the only VietNam-era wife whose husband wanted to make up for lost time, preferably with someone young and without a limp. But it seems a lot to wait for someone for five years, to nearly die, to raise three children on her own, only to be set aside for someone 18 years younger and far wealthier.

Yet, his first wife refuses to disparage him publicly. After the divorce, she stayed in Alexandria, VA for a while. He moved to Arizona, the home of his new wife, and began a political career. This unknown woman of the 2008 election season is Carol McCain, the first wife of John McCain. You don’t hear much about her. She doesn’t give interviews. Now, at 70, she still refuses to discuss her marriage or tell tales about her ex-husband. All things considered, I find her story far more compelling than much of the froth the women of this election season have stirred up.

—Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach who has lived in Alexandria, VA and in Phoenix, AZ. (c) 2008. All rights reserved.