Cooking With Myra: Whip up batch of biscotti
By Myra Starkey
Jan. 21, 2014 at midnight
Updated Jan. 20, 2014 at 7:21 p.m.
"Give me the discipline to get rid of the stuff that's not important, the freedom to savor the stuff that gives me joy and the patience not to worry about the stuff that's messy but not hurting anybody."
- Vinita Hampton Wright, "Simple Acts of Moving Forward: A Little Book About Getting Unstuck"
Last week, I drove to Lake Charles to visit my dad and help him with some family real estate business. My good friend, Janet, went with me since we also hoped to continue the cleanout phase of my parents' lake house.
Janet is a really excellent helper. My 81-year-old dad moved to town a few months ago, so the old house must undergo the necessary purging to make it ready for the next family. In other words, we want to sell it, so we need to clean out all the junk.
My youngest sister, Cindy, decided to join us at the last minute so we could have an extra set of hands. The three of us set about the unpleasant task of erasing family memories by removing all of my mother's treasures.
These are not treasures in the sense of having great monetary value but rather were treasures to her in some way. Only she died, and like they say, you can't take it with you. I toted boxes, packing tape and all things necessary to complete our task.
I hate to admit it, but Cindy and Janet did most of the house clean out. I was in charge of going to meetings with dad and was in town most of the daylight hours while they were packing up. I did help a lot in the evenings.
Janet is one of the quickest people to clean out a house because she has no emotional attachment to anything, and she considers most things not worth saving. So she just puts lots of it all into black trash bags and tells us not to go through them.
Being with dad is always a great. He is quick to pass on wisdom and lessons he has learned in life, and I am always willing to listen so I can avoid the pitfalls of doing things the hard way. I love hanging out with him and his friends, most of whom are in their 70s and 80s.
These guys have been around the block a time or two. Listening to them talk, it seems like not all that much has changed - unless you get them talking about Fox News. This gets them really riled up, and they expect that life as they know it may soon cease to exist.
On one of the days, I accompanied Dad and our real estate agent, Eddie, to an abandoned warehouse in a small town near Lake Charles called Sulphur. I don't think Sulphur is all that appealing of a name for a town. There are many petrochemical plants and refineries in the area.
We are going to rehabilitate this building, so we can lease it out. I had packed my snake boots and a shovel in the car. This property is pretty overgrown. The weather was chilly, so I had wrapped myself in my favorite cotton shawl knowing that we would be walking around outside.
Upon arrival, we realized that we had forgotten the key to the property. I felt like I could have pried one of the doors open with minimal effort. We soon discovered that the key was unnecessary since hoodlums had broken in and stripped the property of all copper wiring leaving several door locks broken.
I heard Eddie calling my name. I walked back around the exterior of the building, hacking away at the neck-high weeds to make a path for dad and me.
Unfortunately, I accumulated every variety of seed pod and sticker burrs, which were sticking to my hair, clothes and shawl. Only my snake boots seemed to resist the accumulation.
Eddie and the gentleman he brought to meet me were looking at me like I was somebody who had just stepped out of the deep woods. These guys were in business attire and not dressed for weed-whacking. Instead, they both looked like they came from an office building on their way to happy hour.
We looked around the messy warehouse and then went into the office area. The burglars had also gone through some storage boxes my mom had left there. Apparently, she thought it a safe enough place to store old furniture, Christmas decorations and used dental equipment from my dad's dentist office.
Rats had also found their way into the building and had chewed on almost everything in sight. Dad said the building had been empty for more than five years, and by the look of the place, those rodents had an opportunity to raise multiple generations. I would say it was their permanent mailing address.
With my trusty shovel by my side, we discussed my plans to remodel and rent the property. I could tell Eddie and the other gentlemen were not willing to plow through the torn boxes and scattered couch cushions, so I did what any Cajun gal would do, I asked them to step aside while I shoveled a path.
It really wasn't that bad except for the dead rats that had discovered that Christmas decorations can kill you if you ingest enough of them. In all my life, I had never before been forced to pick up a dead rat. There is usually some chivalrous male around to carry out the undesirable task. In this current situation, I was the only one dressed for the task.
I put on my brave face, shoveled them up and pitched the hairy critters out the front door into the high weeds far away from my path to the car. We completed our meeting, and Dad turned to me to comment, "You're pretty good with that shovel." I beamed with pride.
Of course, I had hand sanitizer in my car, and I slathered on the stuff before picking the remaining seed pods from my hair and shawl. I am not sure how I appeared in the eyes of the other two men, but I know my dad felt like I handled the situation just like he would have if he had on the snake boots.
The lesson in all of this is that our lives are often cluttered with stuff, and in the end, no matter how hard we try, if we keep material things too long they might rust, decay or get chewed on by rats.
The best option of all is to give away what we don't use or don't need, hoping that it might benefit someone else.
I am guilty of keeping too much, such as storing magazines, which I'll likely not find time to read or saving clothes that I'll never shrink into.
After I arrived home and unpacked my mother's teacups - Mother had a lot of tea parties - I decided to whip up a batch of biscotti.
Here's a little recipe that Mom didn't know, but I hope you enjoy.
Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or email email@example.com.