Friday, November 30, 2007
I'm a Christmas music junkie. I will not lie to you, when Al came in the house the day after Halloween with a scowl on his face and said, "Can you BELIEVE those nutty radio people are doing the 24/7 Christmas music ALREADY? Gotta sell those advertising spots! Grrrrr...." I had to bite the insides of my cheeks to keep from grinning. I do love me some holiday tunes - mostly the traditional ones, but there are a few I love that are more contemporary, too.
I DO restrain myself and NOT listen to any Christmas songs until Thanksgiving Day. That's my own little rule. It's hard for me to keep to that rule! I don't want those songs around so long I get tired of them, but I do want a nice long month to fa-la-la along before I have to give them all up again the day after Christmas. Because on the day after Christmas, it all just starts to be depressing. I don't need to be reminded of the joy of Christmas because it's over now, blah, and I have a whole 'nother year to wait before it gets here again.
Christmas music, to me, is happy, joyful, sometimes funny, sometimes sincere, sometimes bouncy and rollicking, sometimes sweet and melodic. But Christmas music should never make you want to rend your garments and cry out in anguish. Y'know? Give me some Burl Ives singin' about the Holly Jolliness or Bing Crosby belting out instructions to Deck the Halls or - sigh - Nat King Cole, y'all. Oh, my man Nat, roasting those chestnuts on that open fire. Yes! Those songs - they capture the mood, they set the stage, they make me want to whip up a fruitcake and string cranberry and popcorn garlands. Build me a snowman and pretend he's Parson Brown. Pa Rum Pum Pum Pum on my little toy drum for my new baby Savior.
But lemme tell ya what ain't doin' it for me. And it's a new phenomenon.
The addition of "Another Auld Lang Syne" by otherwise fine musician Dan Fogleberg to the holiday play list. Because, ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
Check out the lyrics, people, in case you aren't familiar with them, or have blocked them out as a measure of self preservation because you, like I, inevitably end up weeping into a head of cabbage in the produce department every time this song gets played at your local supermarket:
Met my old lover in a grocery store
The snow was falling Christmas Eve
Stole behind her in the frozen foods
and I touched her on the sleeve
She didn't recognize the face at first
but then her eyes flew open wide
Tried to hug me and she spilled her purse
and we laughed until we cried
Took her groceries to the checkout stand
The food was totaled up and bagged
stood there lost in our embarrassment
as the conversation dragged
Went to have ourselves a drink or two
but couldn't find an open bar
Bought a six-pack at the liquor store
and we drank it in her car
We drank a toast to innocence, we drank a toast to now
Tried to reach beyond the emptiness
but neither one knew how
She said she'd married her an architect
Kept her warm and safe and dry
She said she'd like to say she loved the man
but she didn't like to lie
I said the years had been a friend to her
and that her eyes were still as blue
But in those eyes I wasn't sure if
I saw doubt or gratitude
She said she saw me in the record store
and that I must be doing well
I said the audience was heavenly
but the traveling was hell
We drank a toast to innocence we drank a toast to time
We're living in our eloquence, another old lang syne
The beers were empty and our tongues grew tired
and running out of things to say
She gave a kiss to me as I got out
and I watched her drive away
Just for a moment I was back in school
And felt that old familiar pain
And as I turned to make my way back home
the snow turned into rain.
- Dan Fogleberg "Same Auld Lang Syne"
And if thoughts like snow turning into rain, old familiar pain, loveless marriages and sitting in a parked car drinking canned grocery store beer with your old lover on Christmas Eve (SHUD-DER!) weren't depressing enough, throw in the dirge-like tempo and the sad, whining sax solo of the REAL Auld Lang Syne at the end, and what you have is a recipe for total emotional disaster. Stay away from the knives people, Dan Fogleberg's warming up at the mike and he's wearing his Santa hat and carrying a six pack.
As Charlie Brown (and my mother) would say, "Goooooood grief."
Oh, and that "Christmas Shoes" song?
DON'T EVEN GET ME STARTED.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
In a flippin' violently red flannel nightgown.
Now, would you believe, the internet has gone kaput at FriedOkra Manor. Umbilical cord to outside world? Meet rusty, jagged scissors.
Oh, you weren't using that life's blood, were ya?
(Thank you Nicki for letting me pirate your connection. Is it pirating, even, when they give you the password?)
Y'all. This just couldna come at a better time! (Irony.) (Or sarcasm?)
VEXED doesn't even begin to describe my current frame of mind. Please, can anything else go wrong? WAIT! Don't answer that.
So, this here is my NaBloPoMo post for the day, and yes, so noted, I'll be losing another 4 of my 5 readers, (2 of which are related to me by blood and one by marriage). Because I have lost my bloggin' mojo, apparently.
It feeeeeeeeeeeeeell down the se-ew-wer, with my siiiiiiiiis-ter's I-D.
I do appreciate the kind words with regards to my searing red kitchen and soothing khaki family room. (Thank you Lord for the wisdom to at least choose a cool neutral to act as an environmental salve to our burned retinas on the occasions that we have the opportunity to
Sigh. I am still hoping the RED grows on me. It is a lovely color, this red. IT'S JUST THAT THERE IS SO MUCH. SO MUCH OF THE LOVELY COLOR. MY COLOR RODS GO COMPLETELY LIMP AND NUMB AFTER BEING IN THAT ROOM FOR 15 MINUTES AND THEN EVERYTHING I SEE IS JUST DULL, DINGY, GREYISH-GREEN.
Not the effect I was going for, really. But I will say that it IS hastening my efforts to FIND SOMETHING. FIND ANYTHING. MAKE HASTE! TO PUT THINGS THE WALLS AND COVER SOME OF THIS UP. PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF MIKE. AND IKE. WHO MAKE "HOT TAMALES" BY THE WAY. WHICH INCIDENTALLY ARE THE SAME COLOR AS THESE WALLS. THESE WALLS WHICH ARE CLOSING IN ON ME.
And now I shall go and phone my lovely internet provider. I'm simply filled to overflowing with joy.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Anyway the painters finished and left at three this afternoon. I've been busy putting all The Stuff back since then.
When you think about it, we humans (Westerners?) are bizarre little creatures. We have these houses, basically intended to shelter us from the elements, but bein' sheltered isn't enough. Oh no, being sheltered's completely forgotten about in our mad rush to fill up the shelter with Stuff. And then, because having shelter and all That Stuff is still not enough, we get this colorful goo and use it to coat the inside of the shelter, because we must also have the right colors surrounding us, and it must coordinate with all of The Stuff. I would be more specific here and maybe I'll readdress this issue when I am less pooped and don't have a toddler standing before me whimpering, Daddy maked me cry Mama. Look I have drips comin' out my eyes!"
I am grateful to Megan at SortaCrunchy who, despite the fact that my life's been completely consumed with barf and paint and a couple other things for the past several days, still has hope I'll write something worth reading and nominated me for some Blogger's Choice Awards for next year. That is a testament to Megan's faith, right there. Thank you sweet Megan! I think you are the awesomest.
Here are some pictures of the paint dryin'. Y'all tell me what you think, but go easy because you know darn well I have to
And did y'all see that comment from my Aunt Joy that said her kitchen and dining room (also brand newly painted) are red and tan? And we never discussed it or anything. My sister's too. And my mom's is black, white and red.
Apple. (Not much space.) Tree.
Tomorrow - CONTENT! Unless something else weird involving paint or barf happens between now and then.
Monday, November 26, 2007
The human body can hold a lot of stuff, and can pretty effectively spew it all out when it chooses to. I am never eating Pumpkin Crunch again.
See y'all tomorrow. I'm sure I'll be way better by then.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
But even with all my blood flowing properly on accounta the vigorous scrubbing, I was vexed about what to blog you this fine Sunday. And then I remembered the Random Things Meme and realized, hey, if today ain't random, ain't no day random around here, ever.
And I'm gonna holiday-ize my Random Things, because this is my blog, I've been cleaning up big chunks, little chunks and everything in between since before daybreak, and darn it, I need me a little of that holiday joy right about now.
1. On one evening the first week in December, Al and I have a special date each year. I make a heaping plate of little snacks and appetizers, we pour ourselves a couple glasses of wine, and we curl up on the sofa in the glow of the pretty lights on the Christmas tree and have a little light dinner while we listen to and read all the words to Handel's Messiah. The first time we did this, I surprised Al with his wedding ring, so he could try it on and make sure it fit before our wedding a few days later. I love having traditions that bring back such wonderful, sweet memories.
2. Bean has loved candy canes since almost the very beginning of her little life. I adore how she lights up every time she sees one and says, Look Mama, Canny Cay-yans!!!! (I don't know why she calls them that, she can SAY canes, she just won't. Like she insists on calling Yams Hams and Pams. Mind of her own, that one has.) So starting her second Christmas, in addition to delivering the Big Present and stuffing the stocking and leaving a heartfelt note of gratitude, wisdom, and reflection, Santa also hangs plentitudenous big candy canes all over our Christmas tree on Christmas Eve night.
3. On that same night, Bean puts out the traditional cookies and milk for Santa, along with carrots and water for his reindeer, all in a special sectioned Christmas tray. With the help of a small drop of red food coloring, the water gets pink when Rudolph accidentally dips his nose in it while he's drinking. All three of our kids love this little magical tradition and pronounce it quite nifty on Christmas morning!
4. Every year, as he did at my house growing up, Santa leaves a letter wedged into the branches of the tree. In it, Santa responds to the letters written and left for him Christmas Eve by the family-members-in-residence. He also recaps the past year's highlights, lauds the accomplishments and special events in our lives, and reminds us that although we love and enjoy the tradition of Santa, it's the birth of Christ we celebrate most at this time of year. My Dad always wrote the funniest, smartest, most moving Santa letters when I was a kid. I'm sure mine pale in comparison, but I am doing everything I can to maintain this aged and important tradition here at FriedOkra Manor.
5. A few of my favorite holiday treats to make and enjoy around this time of year are spicy roasted pecans, whose recipe comes from an old dog-eared, red-and-white-checked Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook I use just about every day, hot mulled wine with cranberry juice, my Mom's recipe for pomanders (a chocolate and orange flavored rolled cookie, easy as can be, but unfortunately, as my sister very aptly pointed out a year or two ago, the lowliest of the Christmas cookies, because they just aren't all that pretty), jam thumbprints with currant jelly and Emeril's baked ham, which goes into the special ham biscuits I make and deliver to the local friends and neighbors on Christmas Eve.
6. I still can't sleep on Christmas Eve night. Forty years old and still listening for the prancing and pawing of each little hoof. Silly Mama!
7. As hard as it is to fathom, I can literally feel the love and gratitude I have for God, who's given to me - silly, unspeakably flawed, unworthy little me - this beautiful, hilarious, amazing family, growing ever stronger and more passionate during this time of the year. And is it any wonder, y'all? Just look at 'em!
Saturday, November 24, 2007
I need to blog, but all I can think about right now is me, in my new red kitchen, draggin' out all of the leftovers from Thursday and building myself a big ol' Dagwood sammich, piled high with stuffing, turkey, gravy and cranberry sauce. And a plenty o' mayo and a dash salt. And my extra-special, double-secret ingredient, a tiny sliver of a slice of a zingy little pepperoncini. Hot stuff, right where you least expect it.
You know, to create the element of surprise while eating, and for several hours afterwards. Urp!
So tell me, what do y'all like on YOUR turkey sammiches?
Friday, November 23, 2007
Don't panic for me. Yet. I just went back in, and after another coat (there will be a total of 4 coats) things are looking much less orange.
(The area beyond the arches will be a very dark tan.) (In case all the BRITE BUILDER WHITE glowing beyond the RADIOACTIVE RED is causing you to feel like the earth is shifting a little bit on its axis.)
I hope things tone down even more after the third coat.
'Cause I'm not sure how much longer I can hold my breath.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
I'm thankful my daughter's getting so grown up and fearless.
We went back to her room, snuggled under her covers and read a story together.
I'm thankful for all the books we could ever want, right around the corner, FREE, at our beautiful little barn-shaped public library.
After the story, I lay with her for just a minute, pressing my cheek against hers, kissing her forehead, holding her close.
I'm thankful for her smell, her softness, the remnants of babyhood that still stubbornly cling to her big girl self.
Then I went back to bed and curled up into my sweet, warm husband who slept through all that but still immediately wound an arm around my waist and tucked his face into my neck.
I'm thankful for my best friend, the way we fit together, the way he's always kept me warm and safe in one way or another since the day we first met.
I lay beside him, willing myself back to sleep, but with my head full of excitement and plans for the day ahead. The week ahead. The month ahead. Sleep wouldn't come.
I'm thankful for these moments of quiet thinking without interruption, pretty much whenever I can get them.
I got up and lifted a few slats in the blinds, and looked out the windows to admire the season's first snow, having fallen silently overnight, frosting everything I saw: the homes of my neighbors and friends, the sidewalk and street, the trees.
I'm thankful for this, our prairie life, so different from what I've known, yet so much a home to me now.
I thought of my parents' waking soon down South, probably for their last Thanksgiving morning in my childhood home.
I'm thankful for my parents. Plain and simple.
I reflected on Thanksgivings past. Where I was, who I was. What I have learned and how God has shaped me in my lifetime. The simple miracle of growing up and becoming that accompanies aging.
I am thankful for every part of my history, even the painful parts.
I await the sunrise now and the start of a new, busy, happy day. I anticipate an afternoon of delicious food and family time with my sweet friends and their children.
I'm thankful for the blessing of having a deep, valued old friendship made new again, and the chance to spend this day celebrating together with our families. How the past and the present meet comfortably, and our children's laughter now mingles with our own.
Happy Thanksgiving, Everybody.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
I'd almost forgotten how much joy a plain ol' roll of tape can bring to a little girl. I'm getting so much done this morning!
Here's to you, Mr. Scotch, wherever you are!
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
I mean, not that I ever look at my stats.
(Hold please.) (Clickity click click.)
Where was I?
Oh! No recipes, but I am gonna confess to you right now that I make REALLY EXCELLENT HOMEMADE CHICKEN STOCK. I mean like chicken stock that causes that stuff in those boxes and cans turn 400 shades of red and rush to hide behind the institutional-sized jugs of Hellmann's™ Real Mayonnaise and dill pickle chips when I turn my cart down its aisle. Yeah, THAT good.
When I am all stocked up with homemade chicken broth, I feel positively RICH. This may explain my propensity to over-produce in this area on occasion.
Which brings me to the point of today's little yarn.
One day a few months ago, I'd just finished brewing up "a little extra" chicken stock when I discovered, much to my dismay, that I had brewed up about 2 quarts more stock than I could feasibly store in my freezer. What would I do with the excess? I puzzled and puzzed 'til my puzzler grew sore, and then it came to me! I'd give it to Nicki (My Boys and Me), who loves to cook, and does so frequently, in large volumes and also! Also, she owns a large chest freezer!
I dialed her up breathlessly, poised to spring this piece of fantastic news on her and then stand WAY back for her excited, enthusiastic reception.
"Nicki! I've just made some homemade chicken stock and have some left over that won't fit in my freezer. Would you like to have it?"
And. She didn't want it! Didn't know how she'd use it. Thanked me profusely for my kind offer but turned down. that chicken stock. flat.
I was crestfallen. Not only because Nicki didn't WANT my chicken stock, but also because it meant that I was going to have to (and it pains me even now to write it out, months and a couple of counseling sessions later) pour homemade chicken stock DOWN THE DRAIN.
GASP! Quelle horreur!
I know. Are y'all crying yet?
We have mended our fences, though, and all has been forgiven. It's been hard, but we're neighbors, you know, and we have to see each other pretty much daily, so I thought it best to just apply a generous helping of grace to the situation so we wouldn't become like the Hatfields and the McCoys and end up duking it out over the porkchops-on-a-stick and sweetcorn at Bubba and Bean's wedding.
A little foresight goes a long way, even in the face of snubbed chicken stock.
Today I had to go get some Design Assistance on a little project I'm working on from Nicki, so Bean and I ran across the street to her house for a minute. When I'd finished picking Nicki's brain, I mentioned we were headed out to the grocery store next to pick up a few last minute items for Thanksgiving dinner.
And there was a little pause... a quiet, thoughtful, calculating pause... in the conversation.
"If I give you some cash will you buy me two boxes of chicken stock?" Nicki spat out.
"Absolutely! You don't even have to give me cash, you bought me onions a few weeks ago, remember?"
I remembered The Chicken Stock Incident.
"You know, Nicki, I seem to recall a phone conversation..." I laughed.
(And her eyes said, OH, BOY. HERE IT COMES!)
"...not too long ago when I offered you some of my homemade chicken stock and you just couldn't think if why you'd ever need it."
"Yes," she giggled back, "I seem to recall that conversation too, and I KNEW you were gonna bring that up when I asked you to buy me some."
And she was right.
And I am vindicated.
And the next time I make chicken stock, you can bet I'll be making a half a gallon extra.
Monday, November 19, 2007
Go do it. And download whatever you've got on the camera now before you start, too. Then you'll have plenty of room for pictures of all that loooooovely turkey come Thursday!
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Garlic Cheese Grits
1 cup regular (not quick-cooking) grits
4 cups water (But use half milk, remember?)
1 Tbsp. salt
1/2 cup butter
6 oz. rolled garlic cheese (I can't find this anymore, so I'd suggest 6 oz. Velveeta and 1/2 tsp. garlic powder. If you are feeling adventurous... and rich... you could use garlic and herb Boursin cheese. YUM.)
8 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, grated
2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
Cook grits in salted water (water-milk combo). When cooked, add butter, cheeses and Worcestershire sauce. Stir until butter and cheese have melted. Place in a greased casserole and sprinkle with Paprika. Bake in a preheated 350° oven for 15 to 20 minutes.
Orange Zested Grits
3 cups water (I'm not sure about adding milk to this one because of the citrus juice. Mebbe curdle it? Not so yummy.)
1 tsp salt
1 cup quick-cooking grits
1/4 cup butter
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 cup orange juice
4 eggs, beaten
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
Bring water and salt to a boil; add grits. Cook over medium heat for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; add butter, orange zest, orange juice, and eggs. Mix well. Pour mixture into greased 1 1/2 quart baking dish. Sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Serves 8.
Read my lips: No New Recipes Tomorrow.
Heavens I am up to my neck in holiday projects. Those Buttons are making me one Very Happy Little Elf indeed!
Saturday, November 17, 2007
As the title above would imply, I'ma tell y'all a little bit about grits today. 'Cause I find that when I attempt to serve a grit to a non-Southerner, the first thing he or she wants to know is, well, WHAT IS THIS?
A grit is a teenytiny grain of ground, dried, hulled corn, usually white corn. Basically it's a course-ground white corn meal. Preparing grits is simply a matter of boiling up a whole mess of these little teeny grains in plenty of liquid. Most package directions'll say water, but well, that's not exactly right. If you want to make grits so they're really truly good'n creamy, you need to use some milk, too. Mebbe half the liquid should be milk, mebbe more. And, much like rice, for a really neat and interesting flavor boost, you can even use a nice rich chicken stock for the liquid as well. Bonus vitamins!
Southerners eat grits with a little red eye gravy*, butter, CHEESE, salt-n-pepper, hot sauce, you name it. Traditionally a breakfast favorite, grits find their way to the Southern table round the clock these days. 'Cause we can't get enough of them, frankly, and also thanks to the fact that they can be dressed up or down, served all fancied up or plain and simple, creamy and spoonable, baked or even fried polenta-style.
Got it? Ground corn + liquid / Boil until soft and creamy = Good ol' fashioned grits. From there, the sky's the limit, as it were.
Now I'll give you some recipes. (Edited to say, Okay just A Recipe this time.)
My Shrimp and Grits
(If you don't care for shrimp and/or you don't care for grits, make this, and it will completely alleviate both those problems, I promise.)
2 cups of your favorite smoked pork product - Diced ham, smoked sausage, or maybe 6-8 or well, 10-12 slices of bacon (I'm easy. I'll even let you use turkey ham or turkey smoked sausage if you want. I've done it myself and come to no harm at all!)
2 onions, cut into rings
1 red pepper, cut in strips
1 green pepper, cut in strips
2-3 goodly sized garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup chicken stock, white wine or beer
1 lb. of peeled, deveined shrimp (Whatever size you prefer, I like mine on the medium/largish side)
1 tsp garlic salt
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes
4 to 6 cups grits prepared according to package directions, except substituting milk for at least half of the water
1 - 1 1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
Place peeled, deveined shrimp in a collander in the sink and sprinkle with garlic salt and cayenne or red pepper flakes. Toss with fingers to coat. Leave in sink to drain and marinate.
In a large skillet or dutch oven, render fat off meat and cook until meat begins to brown nicely. Remove meat onto paper towels and reserve. Drain pan if necessary or add olive oil to leave 3 tablespoons or so of hot fat in your pan. Add onions, peppers and garlic to fat and saute until veggies are getting tender and the kitchen is starting to smell like you imagine heaven to smell. Add about 1/2 cup of wine, beer or stock and stir/scrape in the pan until the browned meat bits are loosened and begin to darken up the liquids. Now we're gettin' somewhere. Let the liquid reduce a little, maybe for a couple of minutes. Toss in your shrimp and cook, stirring occasionally, until they become pretty, pink and opaque and they curl up. Toss your meat back in to heat through.
In cooking the grits, just wait until they are thickened and soft and then turn off the heat and stir in the cheese until its melted evenly and the grits are yellow/orange.
To serve, spoon grits into individual shallow bowls. Top with shrimp and veggie mixture and a little spoonful of the pan drippings kinda drizzled over the top.
Do not neglect to include those pan drippings, people, they are liquid gold!
Well, I had a couple other recipes to tell you about but they'll have to wait until tomorrow because I'm all outta time. And I'm hungry now, too.
*What's Red-Eye Gravy? Quite simple. You fry a hamsteak or some minced ham or even some smoked sausage in a pan. Remove the meat to your plate, preferably beside a fried egg or two. Then you pour a little water into the pan you cooked the meat in and stir up all the browned bits from the bottom (maybe 1/2 cup). Then you pour in some coffee. Yes I said coffee. Maybe another 1/2 cup. Turn up the heat until it boils and let it reduce about a minute. Serve over hot grits. YUM!
Friday, November 16, 2007
One day while we were all in our bathroom together, Al heard Bean ask me if I needed a personal hygiene product, which she mentioned by (slightly altered) name.
Al: (With a mildly shocked and questioning look) You taught her THAT word?
Me: Well, she ASKED. I didn't know what else to call it! Plus, I figure she might as well learn the right words from the beginning.
Al: (Shakes head in fairly common combination of resignation and dread.) Risky, Mama.
Six months later (yesterday):
Bean strolls into the kitchen with the white, spring-action bar to the bathroom tissue holder in one hand, waving it wildly.
Me: Whatcha got, baby?
Bean: (Loudly, of course.) OH, ISS JUSTA PAMPON, MAMA.
Me: (Cracks up.) (Oops!)
Bean: But diss pampon is all outta bafroom tissue. We needa put some more on it, 'kay?
And coincidentally enough (I promise this is not staged!), here's Bean in the process of unbundling after our morning walk yesterday.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Of course we spent our days in that gorgeous city 27 floors up in the conference room of a high-rise, with only a few windows overlooking more high-rises and the occasional glimpse of a blue sky to remind us where we were. (But gosh, y'all, there's something about San Francisco. The quality of the light. The way that no matter where you look - every single vista, the views down any street or around any curve - your eyes behold a scene right off a postcard.)
Oh, and of course the Starbucks® on literally every corner.
The out-of-towners always stayed at the Pan Pacific Hotel right on Union Square, and we'd walk the few blocks down to Firm Headquarters each morning, stopping at one of the five (Yes, FIVE. In three blocks!) Starbucks® we passed along the way to grab a coffee. When the meetings began we'd all be full of energy and creativity - my team, usually scattered about the country and all focused and engaged in on our own geographic regions, worked so well together and had so much fun on the occasions we were all in the same room. And the mega-doses of caffeine didn't hurt either. We'd plow through the morning's work, talking and laughing and bouncing off the walls, until lunchtime rolled around.
On the first couple trips out to San Francisco, I followed my non-native colleagues blindly to lunch, where we'd snarf down marvelous fresh shrimp and Bay scallops on beds of garlicky, creamy pasta, sourdough bread bowls brimming with hot, buttery clam chowder, and ginormous hot fudge sundaes swimming in molten Ghirardelli chocolate sauce.
And then we'd go back to the highrise and sit down in the warm, sunny conference room.
Where, being from the East coast, I'd immediately fall into a time-zone shuffled, carbo-loaded, caffeine-buzz-fizzling afternoon coma. And come to, hours later, to the curious, fresh-scrubbed, ruddy, well-rested, daily-exercised, overtly healthy and never-overfed or under-hydrated faces of the West Coast contingent, staring back at me, smiling bemusedly, having been involved in coherent, focused, productive conversation for the same several hours I'd just spent frantically squinting my eyes and shaking my head to prevent the lines of the snappy tweed upholstery of the back of the chair in front of me from blurring into oatmealish oblivion and my forehead from lolling forward and thudding onto the large metal rings of the binder on my desk. The only rival to the haze in my noggin was the cloud of garlicky smog floating all around my seat.
This was embarrassing, to say the least.
And then when I'd go back home and get on my scale, I'd face the ravages of those lunchtime carbo-binges, and spend the remainder of the quarter working them off at the gym before my next trip to San Fran was upon me.
I resolved on my third trip that to preserve my employment, I really needed to stay awake for the meetings I'd flown out for, AND I really didn't want to need an additional plane seat for the flight home. And that's where the recipe I'm about to share with you comes in. Down at the foot of one of the Firm Headquarters buildings sat a shy but bright little sandwich and juice shop. At lunchtime the first day of trip three, my friend Kristin and I reluctantly shrugged off the seafood-and-starch-o-rama and walked down to that shop, where we perused walls of freshly-made, healthy sandwiches and salads. I found the salad below and bought it, with a bottle of sparkling apple juice, and we sat down at a little table outside to enjoy our lunch. Staying awake after eating such a vibrant little meal was considerably easier, and gave me the option of actually opening my mouth to speak in the afternoon meetings without fear of killing a colleague with my dragon-breath. And bonus! No extra seat necessary on board the return flight.
Salads like this one have always been among my favorite lunches - they're quick, healthy and full of flavor, and don't cast a drowzy pall over the rest of the day. I whip this crunchy bowl of color up frequently now, and something about the crispness, the clean, simple goodness, and the bursts of sweet, vitamin-packed flavor always take me right back to that beautiful city, the rich, filtery light, the post-card scenery, and my San Francisco friends, those rosey-cheeked, hearty, robust natives that ran the show from headquarters.
When Al and I were married, one of those friends sent us a set of gorgeous salad plates from Gump's, each bearing a tiny, finely-etched likeness of the Golden Gate bridge. It's a special treat to finish up my light lunch and catch a glimpse of that lovely landmark, a warm reminder of some truly happy, satisfying times of my life.
My Version of That San Francisco Salad
Hearts of romaine lettuce, diced
Very thinly sliced red onion rings
Blue cheese crumbles
Dried, sweetened cranberries
Roasted hazelnuts, or a mix of roasted nuts including hazelnuts, pecans and almonds
Peeled oranges, sliced horizontally to create orange rounds
Dressing (Enough for 2 to 4 salads)
1/2 cup salad oil
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup orange juice
2 Tbsp. spicy whole grain mustard
2 Tbsp. honey
salt, pepper to taste
Assemble salads individually on plates or shallow bowls lettuce first, followed by onions, cheese, cranberries, nuts and oranges. Combine ingredients for dressing in a cruet or jar and shake vigorously. Pour over salads just before serving.
I'm forty. These things will happen. Sigh.
Y'all go see what everybody's cookin' up next week and share your own favorites too. Meanwhile, enjoy this little family favorite of ours, which is as good as a side dish with your Tom as it is heated up for breakfast the next morning. Make a bunch, you'll be wanting it.
As my sister would say, "You need this recipe."
3 cups appled, peeled and cubed
2 cups fresh cranberries
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup quick oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter softened
1/3 cup finely chopped nuts
Combine first six ingredients and pour into 2 qt casserole. Combine topping ingredients and sprinkle over apples. Bake at 350° for 1 hour. Serve warm.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
I didn't write that, y'all. I don't know who did, I just got it this morning via email from another of my sweet college roommates with whom I'm fortunate enough to still keep in touch on a semi-regular basis.
Hi Whit! (She reads the ol' blog from time to time.)
You know who I thought of when I first read that little joke, though? My brother-in-law, Jerry. My sister Jackie has been married to Jerry for sixteen-point-something years. Together, they've produced five incredibly beautiful, smart and sweet kids ranging from almost-12-years down to almost-18-months old, the elder several of whom my sister homeschools. As you can imagine, Jackie's a ridiculously busy SAHM (who is generally not actually 'AH' all that much anymore with 4 of the 5 kids involved in sports, music and art classes in addition to their schooling at home - in fact she's probably more of a SITVM - Stay-in-the-Van-Mom - than anything).
My brother-in-law travels extensively for his work. In fact, traveling IS his work, so he's gone many days each month, but when he's home (and even on the mornings he leaves at o-dark-hundred to hop on the next plane), Jerry brews the coffee for the household. And countless times I've even seen him pour Jackie a cup and take it upstairs to her in the morning.
She's never been much of a morning person, my sister. Jerry gets that.
As simple a gesture as pouring water, grinding beans and flipping a switch may seem, Jerry's daily coffee prep symbolizes to me (and granted, we're talking about a woman who can illicit deep meaning from the pattern her hair makes in the shower drain) my brother-in-law's understanding and acceptance of and willingness to serve the unique needs of his wife.
I wonder when he brought her coffee the first time. I wonder if they ever talk or think about this ritual and the meaning it conveys to other people about their life together? Will my nieces and nephews remember Dad bringing Mom her coffee? When my parents visit my sister's family, do they notice it? How does Jerry's tiny gesture play out in the lives of all the people who've witnessed it over the years?
As for me, anyway, I'm pretty sure neither of them knows I held this small detail of their marriage up as a symbolic example (internally, I mean) for my potential mate during the years I was single and tentatively searching for one (although for most of the time I was convinced I didn't want to find him), and now in my marriage to Al I look at it as an example for myself of service to my good-hearted, selfless (and hard to serve because he's always serving, much like my sister!) husband.
Well, they know now, I guess, and maybe now they'll also understand why I almost always send them a bag of special coffee at Christmastime.
(Incidentally, Al brought me coffee one cold morning after we'd first made the decision to date. Just brought coffee, out of the blue, from 35 miles away. He showed up at my doorstep with a cup of coffee and no expectations, just this sweet, loving smile on his beautiful face. And he handed that small but symbolically HUGE cup to me, and darn it, my resolve to stay single and free and ... safe ... crumbled a little.)
Thanks to our schedule around here and the automatic timer on our pot, I usually make the coffee in our household. But every once in awhile, when I least expect it, Al arrives unprompted at my bedside bearing a little of that Morning Nectar. And when he does, I thank him... really, really, thank him, and then I snuggle a little further down into my pillows, take a sip, and offer up a silent toast.
To Jerry! Long may he brew.
Who makes the coffee at your house? What are the seemingly tiny ways in which you and your spouse or significant other serve one another every day and what do they mean to you?
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
They got home just in time for me to serve them a little bite of warmed up leftovers from the fridge for dinner, and as I was getting it all ready, Al went to powder his nose and Bean trotted circles around the kitchen island, waving her arms, saying, I wish you a Merry Christmas. A Lease Mobby Dot.
Perplexed, I finally interrupted her, "Wait, what are you saying?"
B: I'm saaaaaaaaaaaaying, I wish you a Merry Christmas. A LEASE MOBBY DOT!
Me: (Scritch scritch scritch.) A lease mobby dot?
B: A LEASE MOBBY DOT. Merry Christmas!
Me: Stares blankly. Wanders away mumbling "A lease mobby dot?" over and over again to self.
Al returns to the kitchen.
Me (to Al): A lease mobby dot?
Al (singing): Yeah. They're already playing Christmas music on the radio (eyeroll). FELIZ NAVIDAD, DOO DOO DOO DOO DOO DOO DOOOOOOO...
B (singing and hopping): A lease mobby dot, Mamaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!
Next day in the car.
B: Mama, why dat radio don't play de DOT song?
Me: The DOT song? (Thinks.) OH!, you mean "A Lease Mobby Dot?"
Me: Oh they'll play it. Many many times. Don't you worry. (Chuckles.) By January you will never want to hear that DOT song again, sweetie.
B: Well, I hope dey play it NOW. Cuz I like dat song.
I'll quote her, because she summed things up nicely.
"You need this recipe."
Nuff said, y'all?
1 pkg yellow cake mix
1 can (16 oz) solid pack pumpkin
1 can evaporated milk
1 1/5 c sugar (I used 1 1/4 cup)
1/2 tsp salt
4 tsp pumpkin pie spice (I don't have this so I made my own from a recipe I found via Google™)
1 c chopped pecans
1 c butter, melted
Whipped topping if desired
Preheat oven to 350°. Grease bottom of 13x9 pan. Combine pumpkin, evaporated milk, eggs, sugar, spice and salt. Pour into pan. Sprinkle cake mix over top and then pecans on top of that. Drizzle melted butter over all. Bake for 50-55 minutes. Serve w/ whipped topping. Refrigerate leftovers (ha ha).
First Place Winner
... Ah, Katie. What can you say about Katie that will do her justice? She's funny, she's down to earth, she's very sweet and thoughtful and positive and always has a smile on her face, a big, happy, contagious smile, she's a WILDLY ENTHUSIASTIC Bears fan, she's a school teacher (she's one of those teachers who is still a teacher even though right now she's a SAHM. She just IS a teacher. It's in her blood.) Katie's husband Adem is one of my favorite guys on the planet. He LOVES FOOD and makes no bones about eating being one of his very favorite things to do. I remember one of the first two or three times I met Adem, he voluntarily bragged about his wife's culinary skills with an enormous amount of pride and passion. I was so impressed by that. And he's right, she's a fantastic cook. And they are both fantastic people - truly the salt of the earth. They have two adorable kids - Emma, who's 4, and BabyKevin (as he's known around the 'hood, because he's the youngest of all of "our" kids) who is quickly approaching 18 mos. Shew, where does the time go?
Katie loathes beans. With great enthusiasm. Her chili is beanless. Go Katie!
Katie’s Championship Chili
What you need:
2 small sirloin steaks (cut into cubes) or cut up steak that is prepackaged
1 lb. of lean ground pork
2 lb. of ground beef (You can use ground turkey meat as well.)
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions (Vidalia onions are yummy too!)
4 cloves of garlic
2 small green peppers
3 small jalapeno peppers
3 small red peppers (The hot ones, I'm not sure of their exact title.)
1 (28 ounce) can of petite diced tomatoes
1-2 cans of tomato sauce
2 cans of tomato paste
1 can of beef broth
1-2 Tbsp of beef bouillon (I used the Better than Bouillon brand.)
3-5 Tbsp of chili powder
1 tsp of oregano
1 tsp of basil
2-4 Tbsp of ground cumin (I added based on taste.)
1-2 Tbsp of Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp of soy sauce
2 Tbsp of brown sugar
1 can of beer
If you like your chili spicy, I am sure you could add a Tbsp of jalapeno juice or cayenne pepper.
How to make it:
Heat olive oil in large pot. Add the chopped up onions, peppers, and garlic (I just pressed the garlic into the pot.) Let the onions and peppers cook until they have softened.
Add the lean pork and cubed pieces of steak to the onion and pepper mixture. In another pan brown the 2 lbs. of ground beef and then drain off the excess fat. Add that to the onion, pepper and meat mixture in the large chili pot.
Add the spices to the large pot gradually. Then pour in the tomato sauce and diced tomatoes. Stir well and bring to a boil. Then add the tomato paste and reduce the heat to medium low. Add in the brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce. Stir well. At this point the flavors will not be completely strong, but taste the chili and see if it might need more spices or sauces.
Slowly add the can of beer. I would add half at first and then taste to see if you need more. This is a very large batch of chili and it may need a little more for excellent flavor.
If the chili seems too soupy just add a little more tomato paste. It should be perfect! I like to let my crockpot do all the work, so I transfer the large pot to a large crock pot and turn it on high for a few hours. Then I taste it to make sure that the meat is getting nice and tender and that the flavor is full. At this point you may add anything you think might be missing! Make sure to stir the chili a couple times an hour.
After a few hours on high you can lower the heat to low and let it simmer for at least another 3-4 hours. The longer it simmers the better it tastes. I actually made it the night before the competition and then let it heat up all day. ENJOY!!
Second Place Winner
My family's been cooking and eating this chili and only this chili for many many years. If you ever make it, you'll taste why.
Nevada Annie's Champion Chili (1978)
3 medium onions
2 medium green peppers
2 large stalks celery
2 small cloves garlic
½ (or more) small fresh Jalapeño pepper, diced
8 pounds lean chuck, coarsely ground
1 7 oz can diced green chilies
2 14½-oz cans Hunts stewed tomatoes
1 15-oz can Hunts tomato sauce
1 6-oz can Hunts tomato paste
2 3-oz bottles Gebhardt chili powder (I used Penzey's Medium Hot)
2 tablespoons cumin
Tabasco sauce to taste
1 12-oz can Budweiser beer, divided into two portions
1 12-oz bottle mineral water
2 or 3 bay leaves
garlic salt to taste
salt and pepper to taste
Dice and sauté the first five ingredients. Add the meat and brown it. Add the remaining ingredients, including ½ can beer (drink the remainder, says Annie). Add water just to cover the top of the mixture. Cook about three hours on low heat, stirring often. Serves 24+.
Modification to Laverne Harris's original recipe: I stir in one can of refried beans about 2 hours into the cooking process, to give the chili a bit more richness and texture.
Third Place Winner
Paula and her husband John own their own business in The City and are the most, you know, urbanish, cool, jet-setty of all our neighbors. Paula is a no-nonsense, matter-of-fact lady with a wickedly dry sense of humor and a knack for just rolling her eyes and waving her hand in dismissal when anything or anyone gets too serious. Our little group of women is always kicking around emails organizing events, sharing jokes, newsy updates, and the occasional neighborhood warning, and I always await Paula's simple, sharp, funny responses because I know I'll get a laugh. Paula and John have two handsome, busy, active boys, Johnny and Mitchell.I totally love that you can actually see the Paula-ness of Paula shine through in her recipe:
Hey there - Here is my recipe. By the way, I don't measure anything.
2 lbs. Ground beef Browned with 1 large white onion. Drain
Add 2 - 3 cans Brooks Chili Hot Beans (sorry Katie)
2-3 cans Brooks Chili Tomatoes
2 - Pkgs. Chili Seasoning
Here's where the measuring gets creative.
Pace picante Sauce
Crushed Garlic & Garlic powder
When i make it really hot:
Crushed red pepper
Sour Cream on top is usually a must to tame down the heat. Enjoy! Paula
Mom's recipe for Brunswick Stew has the lima beans but no squirrel. The one below has neither! I'm goin' for it this weekend, I think!
Country Brunswick Stew
(from On Mimosa Boulevard: Memories, Meals and Blessings, published by the women of Roswell Presbyerian Church in Roswell, Georgia, November 2005.)
1 lb. beef
1 lb. pork
1 lb. chicken
Boil each in water (I'd add at least some salt and pepper to the water, myself) seperately, cool, then finely chop (in the food processor, if you have one). Save broth.
1 20 oz. can tomato puree
1 lb. onions, finely diced
1 20 oz. can shoe peg corn
1 8 oz. bottle ketchup
2 1/2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 oz. white vinegar
Tabasco sauce to taste
salt and pepper to taste
6 1/2 cups broth from boiled meats
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
Combine meat with remaining ingredients and cook together for 2 hours.
Monday, November 12, 2007
I post the recipes, and the stats, they sputter and droop. I mean, an important handful of you like the recipes (thank you for your lovely comments!), but most of y'all hie yourselves hither when I put one up.
Come on back. I'll talk about shoes. And hair.
Or POOP! Everyone seems to love a good poop post! Poop-story days are always glorious days in the Land of Blogstats.
I don't have any recipes that include shoes, hair or poop though. You would never think that NOT having a recipe that features shoes, hair or poop as an ingredient would be to a woman's detriment, would you?
But there you have it.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
We laughed uproariously, we gushed romantically, we dreamed, we bubbled about the kids, planned vacations we envision taking in the next few years - just the fun stuff. The happy, so-in-love-with-life-and-each-other conversations you get to have when all the stars and planets and hormones align that one special night a quarter or so.
And the topic of retirement came up, as it will, when hopes for the future are on the table.
"You know, I just don't get why people retire up here..." pondered Al.
"Well, their families are here and they want to be near their families." I speculated.
"I'm not gonna still be here when I'm old... shoveling snow. (Pause.) When I'm 70, the only frost I ever see's gonna be on the outside of my beer glass."
Sigh. Don't worry prairie friends, we'll be back for the summers. And you can come down and sleep on the pull-out in February.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Red Beans & Rice
(from On Mimosa Boulevard: Memories, Meals and Blessings, published by the women of Roswell Presbyerian Church in Roswell, Georgia, November 2005.)
1 lb. kidney beans, dried
1 lb. sausage
1 lg. onion, chopped
1 tsp. garlic, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1-2 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste
1 T. oil
1 cup long grain rice
In a Dutch oven over medium heat, cook oil, sausage, onion, garlic and celery - about 5 minutes or until onions are clear. Add beans, bay leaves and enough water to cover all (about 5-6 cups). Cover and bring to boil. Lower heat and cook 4 hours. Stir often and add water as needed (1 cup at a time). Serve over cooked rice with corn bread or French bread.
Recipe Note: This can be put into a slow cooker all day. Also, to get the beans creamy, take out 1 cup and mash them, then return them to the pot.
More detailed slow-cooker directions (Thanks, Laura!): To make RB&R in your slow-cooker, use 1 1/2 quarts of water. Soak beans overnight, then drain and rinse. Add all the ingreds to the pot (except the rice) at the same time with the water, cook on HIGH, covered for 2 hours, then reduce the heat to low for 10-12 hours. (I know, that's like forever!)
Mom's Red Beans & Rice
1 lb. red kidney beans
1 lb. smoked sausage, cut into 1/2 inch slices, then quartered (turkey smoked sausage works dandily, too.)
5 strips bacon
1 medium onion, diced
1 smallish green pepper, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
One hambone or ham hock
1-2 bay leaves
1/8 to 1/4 tsp. each of garlic powder, pepper, thyme, sage, oregano and dried parsley
Soak beans overnight in water to cover. Drain well and rinse beans. Cook bacon in Dutch oven until fat renders and bacon is done. Remove bacon and set aside. Add onions, pepper and celery to pan and saute until softened. Add soaked beans and then water or homemade chicken stock to pot to just cover beans. Add bay leaves and other spices/seasonings and immerse hambone or hock in the center of the pot. Bring all to boil and reduce heat to low. Simmer. Simmer some more. Keep simmerin'. (Simmer is a fun word y'all)... say it with me now: SIMMER SIMMER SIMMER) You can simmer these forever (but at least 2 hours, I'd say) and they will get nothing but better, as long as you just stir them periodically and keep an eye on the liquid level so they don't dry up. About 30 minutes or so before you're ready to serve the beans, take out the hamhock and the bayleaves and drop in sausage and the crumbled bacon. Wait until the hamhock cools and remove the meat from it and put it back in with the beans to get hot. Serve the beans over cooked rice or do it like they do in Nawlins: Serve a big ol' bowl of beans with a generous scoop of cooked rice in a ploob on top. You probably won't need to mash any beans to make this creamy since you've soaked them first. But if you feel the need to take matters into your own hands, by all means, be my guest!
Recipe Note: Hambones/hocks are not just out there for the takin' in all regions of the country, but most meat departments will gladly save you one if you ask nicely and bat your lashes a few times. Also, you can just save one next time you serve ham and keep it in the freezer until it's time to make RB&R. Never throw a hambone away.
That's just wrong.
Friday, November 9, 2007
Bean and I have been busy (and will continue to be busy until sundown and well beyond) making actual real edible (theoretically, anyway) gingerbread men today but I gotta post, so I'll make this brief. And sticky.
We have the cookie dough made now (which was pronounced Super Duper Awesome by my official dough tester!) and it's chilling in the fridge so we can roll it out and cut it into little raisin-eyed dudes the moment she reappears at the bottom of those stairs over there looking nap-bedraggled but ever-so-ready for action. (You undoubtedly know this look.)
In the meantime, I have another little project to keep me occupied, thus hopefully preventing me from harkening to the call of the Larval Gingerbread Boys Choir, who are singing my name in harmonious wee little voices from the second shelf of the refrigerator.
Over the weekend, I'll post the Red Beans and Rice and Country Brunswick Stew recipes from The Cookbook, another chili recipe or two, and a new Pumpkin Crunch recipe I just got from my sister that sounds absolutely ska-rum-sheee-us! Slurp!
Thursday, November 8, 2007
Fourteen Fake Red Birds, and a Sinkful of Mother-of-Pearl Buttons. (Sing that to the tune of The 12 Days of Christmas, please.)
Though that concept would certainly make an interesting addition to HGTV's line-up, would it not?
Despite what you are undoubtedly thinking, six of my crazy Bunco lady-friends and I are NOT planning to don these aviarily-inspired earbobs and crash an ornithology convention in downtown Chicago this weekend in hopes of attracting gorgeous but nerdy (What? That's how I like 'em!) male birdwatchers to ourselves like cardinals to seed-encrusted fatback. Nope, I'm going to secure these 14 cleverly-fastening little fellers to the FriedOkra Manor Christmas Tree this year. I will have you to know that serendipitously enough, the cardinal is in fact the state bird of Illinois.
We are nothing if not State-riotic around here, people.
I got these little birdies at local fabric store for free the day after Christmas a few years ago. Yes, my friends, gratis, as in Go on ahead, ma'am, you can just take this bag and walk right out of the door without fear of having to explain to the FBI why you've been busted in awkward and guilty-looking possession of fourteen hot red Styro-foam® birds which were just reported stolen from Jo-Ann's this very morning, because they were evidently NOT-so-cleverly fastened to a shipment of wreaths for the holidays earlier that year and therefore found themselves pecking forlornly at the bottom of a sale bin on December 26th, uncleverly unfastened and piteously unlabeled and, except to the professionally-trained eye of a glue-gun-wielding, penny-pinching, newly-crafty housewife like me (or YOU, of course!), completely unpurposed.
Now, I am happy to report, they're a flock of Christmas tree
Oh, and yes! That IS one-and-a-half pounds of now-sparkly-clean mother-of-pearl buttons draining away merrily in each of two colanders perched in my kitchen sink. Why-ever do you ask?
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
Which is why about oh, the first 100 times or so that I've attempted gettin' crafty with my Bean, the whole SHEbang has ended with her frantically sucking her fingers and begging for hotmilk (the magic elixir of tranquility) and me seething, gritting my teeth and vowing that neither of our hands will ever touch another object bearing the names Crayola®, Elmer's®, Prang®, or, shudder, Fiskars®. My daughter and I could not craft together. The two of us attempting to make art together was basically Expressionism and Realism duking it out at the kitchen table over a bathroom tissue roll and a purple glue stick. Or Felix and Oscar going head to head in a curmudgeon-off, armed only with a couple ounces of glitter and a yogurt cup full of chartreuse tempera paint.
Because she WILL do things as she sees fit. And I WILL become frustrated that YOU'VE GOT THE TURKEY'S FEET COMING OUT OF ITS SOLAR PLEXUS, FOR PETE'S SAKE, CHILD! and attempt to wrestle the project from her eager, determined hands and MAKE IT RIGHT! And within minutes, she's sniffling pitifully as she sits watching me self-righteously amputate and reattach the turkey's feet WHERE THEY BELONG.
Oh there have been such good times for both of us at that crafting table. Such Good Times indeed.
So NOW, when, during naptime, it's time for me to research and prepare for the afternoon's craft, I pull together all of the supplies to do the craft TIMES TWO. That way I get to do the craft step by step EXACTLY THE WAY IT SHOULD BE DONE, and Bean gets to follow along behind me, step by step, watching and learning and STILL NOT DOING IT RIGHT but having a great time and loving spending relaxed, productive, fun learning time with her Mama, not some crazy old anal-retentive bat dressed up in Mama's clothes.
Here's how we made a cute Gingerbread Boy on Monday.
Bean's little stack of supplies (the gingerbread boy is assembled but not glued, so she can see what he'll look like) awaits her creative hand!
I always try to save one simple cutting task for Bean, because she loves to use her scissors and she's getting pretty good with them! In this craft, she cut along a straight line to make Gingy's green hat.
Next she moved on to sticking all Gingy's little parts on, using her glue stick.
And then we got out the crayons, because no project is complete without a bit of coloring!
Gingy's baby gets a FACE!
And here's the final product with his beautiful, pleased creator!
You'll find the pattern for Gingy here, along with patterns for loads of other cute preschool craft ideas. The whole website, as you'll see, is chock full of fun things to do with your preschooler... I've bookmarked it and I'm there almost every day.
Today we're making Curious George puppets out of bathroom tissue rolls!
Hmmm... I can't wait to see where she puts HIS feet!
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
A little over a month ago, I turned 40. And I felt 40. In fact, I'd felt 40-on-a-good-day for about 6 months prior to my birthday. On bad days, I felt about 78. I'd been tired, sluggish, prone to spells of depression and frustration, bored, unmotivated and just plain done-in. Bean would wake from her nap and I'd stare miserably at the clock realizing that with another nearly 4 hours of entertaining, cooking and cleaning up to face before Al got home for dinner, I was totally devoid of energy, ideas or enthusiasm for those tasks and just wanted to climb into my bed and sleep the afternoon away. Which, of course, wasn't an option.
Is it because I'm older than most Moms of toddlers? I reckoned. I AM forty. Maybe this is just what forty feels like?
And OH Y'ALL, how THAT thought terrified my soul. If I felt that bad at 40, where on earth was I going to get the energy to deal with homeschooling and continuing to run my household and be a good wife and companion to Al by the time I turned 45?
I was afraid. And further depressed. Yet in all of it I never felt alone because I KNOW there are other women, my age, older AND younger, who battle fatigue and blah-ness on a daily basis. It's an awful way to spend a day, much less months or years on end.
So I started tinkering with things, as I am wont to do when I am displeased with the current situation, whether it be in the kitchen, a relationship, or my cluttered and chaotic basement.
And something about my tinkering has made for a pretty dramatic night and day difference in me, mentally and physically, in just one little month.
In the interest of helping another Mama out there who is propped in front of her computer screen RIGHT THIS MINUTE feeling worn down, wiped out, pooped, weary, forlorn or any combination thereof to feel more energetic, happier, more hopeful, creative, patient, loving and/or vibrant, I'm going to tell you the few simple things I've changed over the past 6 weeks, all of which I suspect have worked together to get me out of my middle-aged slump and back into the land of the living.
1 - I've made getting enough sleep (8 hours a night, whether I feel like I can spare them or not) every single night a HUGE priority. This has meant giving up most night-time TV and a few late-night outings with The Girls so that I get to spend time with Al AND get some evening blogging done before I have to kiss each day goodnight. Now don't get me wrong, I still end up losing an hour of sleep here or there to a restless husband or a stuffy-nosed Bean, but I am making myself go to bed earlier so as to minimize the effect of these disturbances.
2 - I've sworn off Benadryl, which I have, in the recent past, taken in very small doses once a week or so as a sleep aid (I have chronic insomnia) AND an antihistamine for a weird rash I get all over my neck and shoulders every fall. Benadryl (and its generic cousins) even in teenytiny little amounts is, for me, a wonderful sleep aid, but also depresses my system for a full 24 hours after I take it, leaving me groggy, thick-headed and depressed. It does the same for Al, as well.
3 - I've significantly reduced my caffeine intake. By about half, I'd guess, or even more. This seemed backwards to me at first, but I realized after some pondering that perhaps part of the misery of the afternoon was caused by the plummet my system went into as the effects of the WACKY, INSANE amounts of caffeine I'd guzzled in the morning finally wore off. I now drink one 14 oz. cup of half-caff coffee in the morning, and do not touch another morsel of caffeine the rest of the day. Period. No matter how much sleep I've gotten the night before.
4 - I've been very diligent about my daily walks. I walk at least 5 times a week now, 3 miles at a rate of about 4 mph. Before this month I'd been walking sporadically and excusing myself from daily exercise for all sorts of silly reasons. NO excuses anymore. Bean goes with me. In her stroller. When it's too cold or rainy or whatever, I walk on the treadmill in the basement during naptime. Which stinks, but it must be done.
5 - I've doubled up on my daily multi-vitamin. It's supposed to be a one-a-day, but I'm taking one with breakfast and one at bedtime.
6 - I'm also taking a time-released B-12 supplement every morning with breakfast.
7 - And probiotics twice a day.
8 - And about 4000 mg of Vitamin C, a portion of that dosage with each meal.
9 - And a calcium supplement. A chocolatey chewy calcium supplement. YUM. (They say calcium helps the symptoms of PMS. Where did I read that? I can't remember. I'll see if I can find it again sometime.)
10 - I've started eating a little bit more meat again. Still very little red meat (maybe twice a month or so?) but more turkey and chicken. I think I eat meat about 5 times a week now, whereas I was down to 1 or 2 times over the summer.
11 - I'm trying to plan afternoons better. I'm planning a post for tomorrow about learning how to do crafts with Bean in a way that keeps us both happy and entertained for about half an hour. We craft after naptime. We're also starting to do short afternoon outings to the library, the local nursery, grocery, craft stores and so on. Her naps are shorter now so we have time to get these activities done before it's time to make dinner and get ready for Al's homecoming.
12 - And lastly, I've made an effort to very frugally update my fall-winter wardrobe with some pieces that fit well and complimentarily and can be easily mixed, matched and accessorized to create several easy, flattering and comfortable looks. (I'm going to be blogging about this phenomenon with a friend or two after the holidays - I think you're gonna like that series.)
I'm certain there are a few more things I've done, as well, but those are the biggies. I'm excited to be feeling, as a result, better than I have since well before I was pregant with Bean, day in and day out. I'm also pleased to whisper to you, out of the earshot of any men who may be reading, that Priscilla Maude Sybil and I just had the most pleasant visit that I can remember in all of our years of knowing one another. Just another happy and unexpected side-effect of the changes I've made... she seems to approve whole-heartedly, and y'all KNOW how hard she is to please!
What about you? How are you feeling lately, and do you have any secrets for keeping yourself peppy, energetic and full of life and love? If you do, I'd sure enjoy hearing about them!
Made by my friend and daily walking partner, Jennifer, it was the FIRST of the ten chilis we tasted, and started off the event perfectly with a light, delicious combination of traditional chili flavors in a hearty thick, ivory-colored stew. If I had to do it all over again I might have moved this one to the middle of the tastings just to break up the beefiness of all the next entries.
Jennifer's an avid cook-book reader and passionate cook, who possesses a heapin' of culinary talent and creativity in addition to being the mother of two very handsome boys, Grant and Luke, and wife to her funny, gregarious after-hours DJ husband, Terry. As if that weren't enough to keep one very energetic woman fully occupied, Jennifer also owns and operates her own very successful embroidery company, Fox Point Designs, and was gracious enough to embroider the neat black apron our First Place winner took home, which is pictured here, in Nicki's post about the Chili Cook-Off. Thanks Jen!
And thanks for this GREAT recipe:
JenJen's White Chicken Chili
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 cooked, boneless chicken breast half, chopped
3 (14.5 ounce) cans chicken broth
2 (4 ounce) cans canned green chile peppers, chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
5 (14.5 ounce) cans great Northern beans, undrained
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and saute for 10 minutes, or until onions are tender. Add the chicken, chicken broth, green chile peppers, cumin, oregano and cayenne pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and add the beans. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, or until heated thoroughly. Pour into individual bowls and top with the cheese.
Monday, November 5, 2007
Vidalia Onion Casserole (#1)
(from On Mimosa Boulevard: Memories, Meals and Blessings, published by the women of Roswell Presbyerian Church in Roswell, Georgia, November 2005.)
5 medium onions
1 stick margarine
1 Tbsp milk
Slice onions thinly and saute in margarine until limp but not brown. Turn off heat. Place one-half onions into casserole dish; sprinkle generously with grated parmesan cheese. Crumble Ritz crackers over cheese. Repeat layers. Bake in 325° oven for approximately 20-30 minutes. If casserole looks too dry add one to two tablespoons of milk before baking.
Vidalia Onion Casserole (#2)
(from On Mimosa Boulevard: Memories, Meals and Blessings, published by the women of Roswell Presbyerian Church in Roswell, Georgia, November 2005.)
2 large Vidalia onions, sliced thinly and seperated into rings
2 T. butter
2 cups grated Swiss cheese
1 tsp. soy sauce
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 loaf French baguette bread
Saute onions in butter until softened and place in 9 x 13 inch glass dish. Cover with swiss cheese. Mix soup, soy sauce, milk and pepper together and pour over onion/cheese mixture. Cut bread into 3/4 inch slices and butter both sides. Place on top of casserole and bake at 350° for 1/2 hour.
My Sister Jackie's (Vidalia) Onion Pie
(Which may or may not actually be HER recipe, but she's where I got it and there's no other note on the little scrap of paper it written on as to its origin, so she's gettin' the credit.)
1 deep dish pie crust (frozen)
2 large Vidalia onions, sliced thinly
1/4 cup butter
3 eggs, well beaten
1 cup sour cream
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp white pepper
1/4 tsp Tabasco® sauce
Grated parmesan cheese
Saute onions in butter until tender. Stir in eggs, sour cream, salt, pepper and Tabasco®. Pour into pie crust and top with grated parmesan cheese. Bake at 450° for 20 minutes.
Enjoy these! I'm off to do a gingerbread boy craft with Bean, which I'll be blogging about on Wednesday!
Sunday, November 4, 2007
Nicki and I co-conspired to create, design, produce and host the Blankington Lakes First Annual Neighborhood Chili Cook-Off today in Nicki's back yard.
I've been so darned excited about this shindig (Such that I haven't slept more than a couple of winks in 48 hours. Yes, Seeeriously.), one that started out last Sunday as a mere email feeling out a few families for interest in such an event, and culminating only a week later, on this beautiful, nippy fall afternoon, in a 10 family, forty-leven person chili-swillin', trash-talkin', cash-prize winnin', s'more-stackin' SmackDown!
Y'all, I'm still sportin' two feetfuls of toe-cicles and my nose looks like a radish, but inside I'm warm as toast 'cause my belly's full of some of the most delicious chili I've ever laid my tongue on AND I got to spend a peaceful Sunday afternoon outside with the gang doin' about 9/10ths of my Top Ten list of the most funnest activities in the whole big blue wide world.
Nicki and I both have fun tales of the Big Event (including information on who won AND puh-lenty of fantastic chili recipes, because I just KNEW y'all were gonna ask for those!) to regale y'all with this week, but for now, just feast your eyes on these 10 simmering Crockpots O' Luv and drool a little. This is just about the ONLY decent picture I have of the whole soiree because YES, O YES, Ai CAN haz hartbern, but apernuntly ai cant haz FOKISS.
Tum, tum, tum TUM TUUUUUUMS®!
Saturday, November 3, 2007
Then I got to thinkin'. Well, I can't give you all a cookbook, but I can share some of the recipes inside it with you, by posting them here all month long. I'm gonna post one or more recipes from the book every Saturday this month, and perhaps a few more on other days as time allows!)(and it will allow, because I'm doing NaBloPoMo this month!) To make it easy for you to locate these recipes, I'm publishing them all under the label Southern Recipes, so you can just click that label under The Leftovers on my sidebar and find everything in one place.
And the first recipe I'm gonna share with you this very day, this very beautiful, crisp, third day of November, is none other than the recipe for Southern Pecan Pie!!! I chose this one first because several of you, even my own big sister, whom I consider to be a very skilled and experienced and well-versed Southern cook herself, have requested it specifically.
But first I believe we have a little bizness to attend to, so without further ado, I give you the winner of this week's bloggy cookbook recipe:
Congratulations and I hope you enjoy your new cookbook!
And now, I give you ...
Southern Pecan Pie
(from On Mimosa Boulevard: Memories, Meals and Blessings, published by the women of Roswell Presbyerian Church in Roswell, Georgia, November 2005.)
3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
3/4 cup dark Karo® syrup
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
11/2 cups pecan pieces
1/2 stick butter, melted
1 deep dish pie crust
Stir together eggs and sugar with a wire whisk. Add Karo® syrup and continue to whisk, adding salt, melted butter, vanilla and pecan pieces until completely blended. Pour into pie crust. Bake in pre-heated 350° oven for 1 hour. Cool completely on wire rack.
Recipe Note: Do not seal, cover, or refrigerate. To save, cover lightly with paper towel. This keeps the crust and pecan top crisp.
Fruit Bearer, enjoy your cookbook!
Everyone else, enjoy this recipe and please let me know if there was a recipe or two you saw listed in the original cookbook post that you really want to try, and I'll be sure and post it for you!
Friday, November 2, 2007
And speaking of bandwagons. (That's me, second from the left.)
In a fiery head-on collision of my two most notable character traits - heavy, molasses-thick procrastination and pronounced joinerism that would put even the most highly impressionable lemming to shame - I went ahead and committed myself to posting daily for the entire month of November by signing up for membership in the NaBloPoMo blogging community, in the virtual Nth hour.
So if you come visit me and find nothing but a shopping list, a scrawled long division problem, or a hastily-slapped-together declaration of my undying and slightly unnatural love for fist-sized globs of Nutella® on pretzel rods, you'll know I've stretched my already-threadbare creative fibers to their ultimate breaking point and am now just plugging in random snippets from the worn, crumpled doodlepad I keep in my purse. (To tell the truth, it won't be the first time I've resorted to such.)
But the good news is I've at least got tomorrow's post all planned out already: I'll be announcing the randomly-selected winner of the cookbook giveaway AND delighting the rest of you
Don't miss it, y'all!
And come back each and every day thereafter, now, so you can witness my brain slowly unraveling as the month wears on.
Thursday, November 1, 2007
But I can't let Halloween get by without sharing the high and lowlights of the past few days at FriedOkra Manor. And I think you'll nod your head in vigorous agreement when I say that run-down is perfect for a Special Seasonally-Themed List®, in fact, really nothing less would do!
1. Al's been traveling non-stop now for what seems like an eternity. And that man can't drive past the EXIT to the airport, much less get on a plane, without contracting a nasty cold, so he's all stuffy and headachey and miserable as he globetrots, which y'all know if you've ever done it is just TREMENDOUS fun. So, taking a page from my sister's book, I recommended he start popping the probiotics and mega-ever-lovin'-doses of Vitamin C. He came home for an overnight stay on Tuesday evening and I put a little pile of pills beside his orange juice glass at the dinner table, which he unquestioningly ('cause he's good like that) horked down with nary a pause. (I know, how handy is THAT for future reference?) Trouble is, y'all remember how the probiotics and massive-ever-lovin'-dosage of Vitamin C were having their way with MY digestive tract? Well, I won't go into details here about the impact on Al's guts, but lemme tell you that the night in question I was finally, after several thunderous eruptions with eye-watering aftermaths, forced to abandon the marriage bed and camp-out in the guest bedroom for the night. He slept right through it all but it caused me to start off my Halloween Day in a bit of a haze, both literally and figuratively speaking.
2. Also on Tuesday (Tuesday was an insane day here, are you gettin' that?) I realized I had not passed along the Boo'ing to the next victims in a timely fashion, partly because I am a LOSER and partly because of Al's constant gone-ness and my strong disinterest in attempting to perpetrate the standard after-dark Boo-age with a three-year-old, who of late speaks in ALL-CAPS AT ALL TIMES, at my side, and so gathered my cute bags of goodies together and attempted to BOO in broad daylight as my neighbor Jennifer and I did our routine morning walk. Since I was doing the deed in the daylight, I felt it only wise to select victims from among the households in which both parents purportedly worked, thus preventing discovery. Well. I'd chosen the home of a friend of mine who decorates her front porch in a manner that causes me to cease breathing when I drive by her house as it's so dark and foreboding. Yet duty called, so I pushed Bean's stroller up the walk, put on the parking brake (safety first!) and left her sucking her fingers in perplexidity as I timidly crept up the front steps, tiptoed across the porch, willing myself not to make eye contact with the ginormous hairy black spider leering at me from its web or to accidentally brush against the life-sized grim reaper guarding the door, and I dropped my Boo bag on the "Enter if You Dare" welcome mat and turned to flee, WHEN! The door opened with a loud crunch and a groan. At which point I simultaneously jumped 4 feet in the air, gasped, and squealed like a little small pig, while scrambling down the steps and fumbling frantically to release the stroller parking brake and get myself and my innocent lamb off the property. However, the wheels of the stroller became mired in the damp grass and though my feet were spinning like Shaggy-on-Scooby-Doo's, Bean and I budged not an inch forward but were propelled straight upward by the force of our sheer determination to escape. My friend's husband sauntered out to the daylight guffawing, holding the Boo bag, and teasing me not to tear up his grass. Jennifer was doubled over laughing without making sounds, and Bean was saying, MAMA WHY'S DAT MAN LAUGHING LIKE DAT?
3. Because Al was coming home early especially to go Trick-or-Treating with us girls, I wanted to do something extra special for him, just so he'd know how glad we were he'd thought to organize his travel schedule around a mid-week family occasion. So I made him a sour-cream apple pie with brown sugar struesel topping AND, more importantly, I'd shelled a pound of shrimp and had it waiting in the fridge to be whipped up into some shrimp and grits (a favorite dish of his, and my father's, by the by, interestingly enough). When he arrived I pointed out the pie and he nodded, drooling, and thanked me profusely. "And," I said, "Guess what's for dinner?" "Take out Chinese?" he replied. "Better! Shrimp and grits!" And we trick-or-treated like bandits one short step ahead of the law because that man was in a HURRY to get home to his pie and his shrimp and grits and quite possibly the warmth of the homefires because y'all, it was colder than a well-digger's buns out there last night. Well, we got home and I fired up the stove and had the sausage sizzlin' away merrily and Al came in and hugged me and said, "Mama, you're so sweet, thanks for making shrimp and grits for our Halloween night treat!" "Oh I'm happy to do it! I've been looking forward shrimp and grits all week!" and then "FFFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUDGE!" because at the moment I finished that sentence I reached up into the cabinet for the grits canister and peeled off the lid only to discover no more than 9 grits lying pitifully at the bottom of it. Which brings me to the Treats list, because...
1. We had a new family favorite for dinner Halloween night: Shrimp and Cheesey Rice. Which I may even be able to tempt these grit-fearful Midwesterners to try at some point! It was darned good, too.
2. Then we dug into the pie I mentioned above, which was delicious and transported Al and me right back to Halloween night four years ago, right after we were engaged, when we drove up here and spent the day hiking (Atlanta and North Georgia folks, if you haven't taken this little daytrip, put it on your calendar for soon, okay?), then had dinner at the resort, which we topped off with, you guessed it, sour cream apple pie with brown sugar streusel topping. And Al remembered, and we talked about that trip over dinner and laughed about getting lost in the woods (it wasn't funny at the time) and remembered how beautiful the view was from the back porch of the main lodge. We sat out there in rocking chairs and drank coffee, inhaling the fresh night air, fragrant with a hint of smoke from the valley chimneys and the fresh, earthy smell of autumn leaves. What a beautiful night, four years ago, and what a beautiful night, last night.
3. We Trick-or-Treated with a wild pack of our closest neighbors' children, the adults walking along laughing, freezing, and taking pictures, the kids running, trudging and toddling from house to house, some ahead of us, some behind us, all jumbled up together, Moms, Dads, kids, and even a Grandma. Gosh we are blessed to live here among these sweet, loving families. So far from our home yet so much at home among our friends, always. Sniffle!
4. Alex made an adorable duck. She became insensed though, when our neighbor Vince insisted on clucking at her. "I'm not a CHICKEN! I'm a DUCK. I go QUACK QUACK QUACK!" She quacks me up, that kid of mine. She was very much into the Trick-or-Treating and seems to have her father's serious work ethic. Again this year I think she would still be out there shivering and trudging along from house to house cheerfully ringing doorbells and collecting candy in her pumpkin. Once you give that kid a mission, she does it with purpose, determination and tenacity. And oh, how I love watching her go.
4. OH YEAH, and it looks like I'm gonna win those buttons.