January 25th, 2016


January 25--Goodnight Irene with 10,000 boys

As I was driving home from work this afternoon, the song Goodnight Irene came on the radio. It took me back to my first job working in the kitchen of a nursing home. I was hired on my 16th birthday, and started as a pot washer. I eventually worked my way up to the weekend cook, as I was taking a vocational culinary class in high school which was a lot better than taking real classes.

There were about 160 residents of the home that we served meals to. I worked mostly with a bunch of older women. One of them, Lina, had come from Estonia, and was the one who taught me how to cook for 160. I enjoyed that job.

There was one resident of the home whose name was Irene. She had dementia, and we would often find her standing behind doors or in corners facing the wall. She was almost always making a motion with her arm that looked like saluting. She looked a bit like Walter Cronkite.

One of the women I worked with, Mary Anderman, had a fondness for Irene, and would always talk to her a bit when she wandered down toward the kitchen. Mary would ask her what she was doing, and Irene would invariably answer, "counting the boys". Mary would ask how many boys there were today, and the answer would range from a handful to over 10,000. When we asked where the boys were, Irene would say, "they're in my pocket". Then Mary would sing a verse of Goodnight Irene to Irene, and she would wander on to another corner somewhere to count the boys.

I am amazed how clear that memory and those names are 40+ years later, and how a song can bring it right back.


Up until a few minutes ago, the only picture I took today was of a bowl of oatmeal. I decided I needed something else, and took this shot of a couple of decorative mice in the guest bathroom. The white one is from my mom's house--it is about the only thing I brought back with me after she died. It has a special quality that I will reveal some time in the future. The other mouse is one we bought on our trip up the coast a few weeks ago. I found it at the Mendocino Botanical Garden gift shop. I buy something almost every time I visit. My office coffee cup is from there.

When I pulled it out of my backpack when we got home and asked Malida where we should put it, we both thought it needed to be in the bathroom next to the other mouse, and so there it is.
  • Current Music
    The Weavers--Goodnight Irene

Supplemental--My friend's Creamy Mushroom Soup recipe

This is the recipe for the soup I made the other day. It is from my friend Eliza.

Creamy Mushroom Soup
1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 pounds sliced fresh mushrooms
1 pinch salt
1 yellow onion, diced
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
6 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 cloves garlic, peeled
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup heavy whipping cream (I use light cream, works just fine)
1 pinch salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves for garnish, or to taste
1. Melt butter in a large soup pot over medium-high heat; cook mushrooms in butter with 1 pinch salt until the mushrooms give off their juices; reduce heat to low. Continue to cook, stirring often, until juices evaporate and the mushrooms are golden brown, about 15 minutes. Set aside a few attractive mushroom slices for garnish later, if desired. Mix onion into mushrooms and cook until onion is soft and translucent, about 5 more minutes.
2. Stir flour into mushroom mixture and cook, stirring often, for 2 minutes to remove raw flour taste. Tie thyme sprigs into a small bundle with kitchen twine and add to mushroom mixture; add garlic cloves and bay leaf. Pour chicken stock into mushroom mixture. Bring to a simmer and cook for 1 hour. Remove thyme bundle and bay leaf.
3. Transfer soup to a blender in small batches and puree on high speed until smooth and thick. (I just use an immersion blender)
4. Return soup to pot and stir in cream. Season with salt and black pepper and serve in bowls, garnished with reserved mushroom slices and a few thyme leaves.