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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Okay So It's Technically Still November. You Know What I Mean.

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This was the view out my kitchen window last night. (You can see a little sneak peek at all those lights Al put up weekend before last.)

Rain. In {practically} DECEMBER.

And I was thinking, as I washed dishes and watched the drops pelt and roll down the panes: This is probably the first time ever, in my whole life, that it's rained in {practically} December and I haven't held my breath, watched and waited, and wish-wish-WISHED the temperature would drop and it'd

Turn

into

SNOW!


Ah, but you've done it, you long, cold, brutal, bummy-chapping (for real!) Great Lakes winters.

You've turned me - ME! - into a Snow Grinch.




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Monday, November 29, 2010

What I Did on My Thanksgiving Vacation, by Megan F.

1. I'm here in the office writing this while Peabody naps (in the car, as usual) basically in order to keep my hands busy so they won't escape into the family room and "fix" the Christmas tree that Bean and Peabody and I decorated yesterday while Al huddled in a corner and shivered pitifully. (He hates the kids to sit on the 28 inch barstools at our kitchen counter, so the 15 foot ladder I had 'em climbing all over pretty much sent him over the edge.) The tree looks fine, especially if you are a fan of say, flocks. Or herds. Schools? Packs? Because that is how all the ornaments are arranged. There's a flock of brass teddy bears on the bottom front, and a herd of handmade red and green mittens to the left of that, and a full litter of Winnie the Poohs wearing a Santa hats on the back. It's okay though. I love it, and I can still hear Bean saying, "Here, Peabody, hang the gingerbread boy RIGHT HERE ON THIS LIMB!" and then squealing with delight and proudly exclaiming, "Great job, buddy! MOM, Peabody did it! He hung up an ornament on the tree!" and Peabody giggling and giving her a high-five and saying, "Ningnoo, Nee!" (Thank you, Bean!) And you know, that's a better Christmas memory to hold onto forever than a perfectly-decorated tree with all ornaments distributed with mathematical precision using the complex formula that Al wrote up for me the first year we were married.

Or so I am forcing myself to believe. (Just keep typing, just keep typing, just keep typing.)

2. I may have intimated at some point that Al's the funniest person I've ever known. He's ridiculously clever and quick, and has nearly perfect comic timing. But dare I mention? Al is also, um... naughty on occasion. He keeps it between us mostly (thank GOODNESS), but he has a penchant for BAWDY humor and occasionally says things that make me turn beet red and hide my face in my hands. (It's still funny, though, even when it makes me blush all the way up into my hair follicles.) Since I've been writing about him a bit more often lately, he's paying closer attention to his material, I think. Usually after he's said something off-color, he'll laugh at my mock-disapproval and "Al FriedOkra! YOU ARE A BAD MAN!" and say, "AW, COME ON. YOU GOTTA GIMME A LITTLE DAP ON THAT ONE. YOU KNOW THAT WAS FUNNY." Lately though, he delivers his punchline and then looks at me with big, wide eyes and says, "HA! LET'S SEE YOU BLOG THAT!"

And I absolutely won't, because he does NOT need to be encouraged in that way, and you don't need to have your sweet, pure minds mucked up with his grossness. Trust me, I didn't either but it's too late to save my sweet, pure mind.

3. Speaking of Mr. Dirty-Old-Man, he and I had a hot date Saturday night and we went to the movies, which we haven't done since well before Peabody was born. But we didn't go to just ANY movie, people. We went to a Gold Class Cinema (check and see if there's one near you or a distant relative you can up and decide to visit out of the blue once you hear about our experience!) and saw Morning Glory, which was cute and enjoyable in and of itself, but WO-O-OW, people, I don't think I can go back to the regular old movie theater after this trip to cinema-goers' heaven. Total luxury. Upon arrival, we entered not into the typical sticky-tile-and-glaring-neon free-for-all of your local flicky mega-plex, but a sleek urban lounge/bar, featuring deep, dark, rich, modern furniture carefully arranged into small seating areas like you might expect at say, the lobby of a W hotel. We were greeted by two well-groomed hosts who took our name and handed us a leather folio that held our movie pass, and then shown to a surprisingly comfy velvet sofa and handed a large menu of cocktails, appetizers, entrees and desserts. (The food was pricey, but we had a gift card so we splurged.)

Our server arrived and explained that we could order drinks and food as we relaxed in the lounge, so that once we were in the theatre, she could bring it all to us quietly and leave us in peace to enjoy the movie. Well y'all, as parents of small children -- parents who never, ever get through an entire meal or even the trailers of a movie without a trip to the bathroom or a more-ketchup run or a yogurt clean-up, that idea held an enormous amount of charm for us, so we happily did as she suggested. Movie-time approached and she showed us to our theatre - a small room with tiered seating for about 40 people, ALL IN HUGE, FLUFFY, OVERSTUFFED (clean, non-sticky, you-don't-want-to-immediately-spray-them-with-disinfectant-and/or-boil-them-before-sitting-down) RECLINING CHAIRS.

(Al began to weep openly as we rounded the corner and beheld these glorious chairs, my friends.)

Perched between each pair of these wondrous chairs was a small cafe-sized table top for food and beverages. We settled in, accepted the blankets and pillows offered us (also lovely, fluffy and clean), and began enjoying the movie. Our food and drinks magically appeared, dishes were whisked away quietly, and drink refills apparently poured themselves, so smooth and completely undetectable was the service. Y'all, this was movie-going nirvana. After the show was over, Al and I both simultaneously fell to our knees and begged to be allowed to stay there forever and ever, amen.

4. Thanksgiving dinner turned out beautifully. Bobby Flay's dressing absolutely blew my mind with its combination of smokey bacon and earthy mushrooms and lovely fresh sage and of course the quarter-cup of butter I added on my own because his recipe didn't call for butter and Hello? Bobby? Don't like to tell you how to do your job? But, hey? Dressing needs butter. Everything needs butter. And speaking of butter, I cooked a Butterball turkey for the first time.

Yeah. HIYA MR. BUTTERBALL. WHERE HAVE YOU AND ALL OF YOUR JUICE BEEN ALL MY LIFE?

Only issue being that it was a frozen Butterball, which come-to-find-out meant, according to Ree, that I couldn't use her brine because then the whole deal would come out too salty seeing as how frozen turkeys are injected with a saline solution before they're frozen so they stay nice and juicy (and as I said, they do!) But my neighbor DID use her brine, and she said her turkey came out to be the best she'd ever had, and the best her mother-in-law had ever had, and her mother-in-law is apparently no slouch in the kitchen, so you do the math. Next Thanksgiving I'm buying a FRESH Butterball and brining it with Pioneer Woman brine, and I fully expect to be speechless with delight until sometime after Christmas.

And there's more, but Peabody has been honking out there in the garage for about 15 minutes, so I guess he's ready to get up now. (I'm kidding! He's strapped into his car seat! He can't really honk!)

How was your Thanksgiving weekend and how's Monday treating you?




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Friday, November 26, 2010

Note to Self

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He's jealous and naughty and gets aggressive with her when she's home from school all day, taking up chunks of his Mama time with crafts and conversation.

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She thinks he drives her Jeep like a crazy man and wants him OUT of the driver's seat. NOW!

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Sometimes I run interference or try to thoughtfully coach their behavior.

Sometimes I lose my cool and speak to them in my mad-Mama voice. (Sometimes I can't stand the words that come from my mouth, even as they are exiting right out my lips.)

Sometimes I put them in their rooms, separately, and go sit at the kitchen table long enough to drink cup of tea with honey and lemon, and then we try again.

Sometimes, if no one is in imminent danger of physical harm, I just ignore them.

(And maybe roll my eyes and growl under my breath a little.)

(We'll call that final approach "teaching them to work things out on their own," because it has a nice good parent-ish ring to it.)

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Honestly? They're all pretty effective on different occasions.

But ... I'd done that last thing just a few minutes before I snuck these pictures.




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Thursday, November 25, 2010

To Live Gratitude

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Happy Thanksgiving with lots of love, y'all.

Al, Megan, Peabody, Bean

and

(of course)

teddy.



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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Al's Idea of Mood Music

Al came home last night and said, "I found a great Pandora station for us to listen to this week."

"Really? What kind of music is it?"

"Piano music. Like George Winston-ish stuff."

"Ooooh. Sounds great! Let's hear some."

(He fidgeted with his iPad and soon we heard beautiful piano music. Tinkling, gentle, soothing piano music.)

"Hear that?" he sighed.

"So pretty... Perfect." I agreed.

"Isn't it Thanksgiving-ish? Close your eyes and you can picture crisp leaves blowing in the wind, chilly farmers bringing in the last of the seasonal harvest... (long pause as we listen together, quietly)... turkeys pushin' their weak cousins to the front of the barn..."

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Sticking Ourselves Back Together Again

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We all had one of those days yesterday. Silly argument in the morning, tired, tantrummy two at lunch, and an exhausted schoolgirl with a broken heart came home crying at dinner time. Inside our warm kitchen as I cooked noodles, I made my heart and voice try to find words to put her together again. And as they sometimes do, my words failed, and hugs didn't stop the tears. I wanted to cry along with her, from the frustration of the whole stupid day, and those tears that wouldn't dry.

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She asked to "do some homework," and I gave her craft supplies and an idea. Soon I could hear that familiar scratchy, deep sound of scissors on construction paper, and the soggy hiccups of a cry-storm blowing itself out, finally.

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By the time the tape whisper-whined off its roll, she was calm and focused, and I watched her concentration deepen, enjoyed the purposeful motions of her hands and fingers. (I loved tape as a child, too. It was magic - the stuff of endless possibilities.)

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She lost her heartbreak in the joy of working with her hands. Art overcame sorrow. Color and texture and creation blurred out grief.

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I look back over all that I've done with my own hands since my grandfather died, and glance again at her peaceful, relieved face, and I understand her just a little bit better. And me, too.


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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

MERRY THANKSMAS!

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As I survey FriedOkra Manor, inside and out, this morning, I'm seeing our own familial head-nod to that ever-increasing holiday-blending phenomenon, Merry Thanksmas. On the large gable above the garage hangs our biggest evergreen wreath bedecked with red velvet bow and sparkly garnet ornaments. On the front door? Twig wreath with orange and yellow fall leaves and a smattering of acorns. Schitzo-season-phrenic much? The trees in the front have already got their twinkle on, and in the back yard every limb of every shrub or tree and every fence post groans under the weight of a full encrustation of white lights.

(You see I mentioned last week in passing, Gosh, you know, it'd be so nice to be able to look out the kitchen windows and see a few lights here and there on some of the shrubs. Just a few. I think I'll toss a strand or two out there over the weekend. Fast forward to Sunday - Al spent ALL DAY LONG stringing cords here and there and now my back yard is this gorgeous sparkly winter wonderland at night. No kidding. All we need is an ice skating rink and a gigantic decorated Norway spruce - and a few hundred blocks of cityscape, no big whoop - and we'd have ourselves Rockefeller Center.)

(STAY WHERE YOU ARE, AL! Just another of those gross exaggerations I toss out to make a point, NOT a suggestion!)

(I do love my backyard fairyland.)

(It hums.)

(I am not exaggerating about that.)

And then we're no more decisive inside, where I'm up to my neck in the rest of the wreaths (a dozen or more) and garland that all need floofing and poofing for hanging on the outside of the house, and of course the countertops and favorite decoratable nooks and crannies all over the house still sing an ode to October with their pumpkins, gourds and fall foliage. I've currently got a rosemary Christmas tree arranged in a small kitchen forest with my favorite autumn topiary that bears large pods of dried okra and black-eyed susans.

Our reason for blending all the holidays is simple: We like to enjoy the fall decorations through Thanksgiving, but also feel pressed to be hasty about gettin' the Christmas stuff up lest the first major blast of winter make slipping and tripping around outside decking this and that with boughs of holly and swaths of electric-glow a dangerous and painfully cold endeavor.

By Saturday we'll have come to our seasonal senses and made the full transition from fall to winter. We'll build a fire in the fireplace, play some carols, help the kids decorate the family-room tree, and sink into the blissful joy of the Christmas season. Hopefully soon thereafter, we'll welcome the first snowflakes of the season.

Where are y'all on the Merry Thanksmas spectrum?







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Monday, November 22, 2010

In Which *I* Am the Turkey!

Oooooh! I'm so frustrated! I can't figure out where I found this idea, y'all! It was on a blog that I think someone linked to on Facebook, but I've searched and looked and scrolled and wandered around the internet and I can't seem to retrace those particular steps, so if YOU linked to the (absolutely adorable) blog that featured this neat little craft recently, let me know so I can give proper turkey credit where turkey credit is due. (Also, their turkey was much cuter and more turkey-like than mine and I'd love for you to see it done RIGHT!)

I am such a dork!

But despite my dorkiness and my amazing superpower of expeditious brain emptying, I wanted to show y'all what I'm working on today for both of the kids' classes to share this week.

This little turkey treat is really just a large paper grocery bag full of popped popcorn. To get around the "no homemade snacks" policies upheld by our schools, I used microwave popcorn (popped) and left it in its sealed bags. I will also take a couple of extra bags of popcorn and some napkins to make sure sharing with the whole class is as easy and as neat as possible for the teachers.

The corners of the big bag are squooshed to be a bit more round (I used a little hot glue here and there to help hold things in place), and the open end folded, tucked under and sealed into a narrow shape with my trusty glue gun. I created the legs with smaller lunch sacks stuffed with old plastic bags and then trimmed with construction paper frillies and hot glued those into position as well. The "lettuce" under the turkey is just plain old green tissue paper. I taped the whole contraption to a large dollar-store tray so it won't slide off in transport.

Because I'll be the one who transports it. And as I mentioned before: DORK. And also? BONUS! Clumsy, awkward DORK.

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Again, this guy was totally NOT my idea but when I saw it I thought EUREKA! The perfect snacktime treat for all of the precious little loveys in Bean and Peabody's classes.

(You know, often I think to myself, "Gosh, I wish Bean's family could be more present and involved in her class, without embarrassing her to death.")

(And until I saw this idea, I'd taken a full and honest inventory of my own personality and pretty much concluded that the best option to accomplish that goal was to stay home and send Al.)

(But now I can send a turkey. And there's more than a little poetic justice in THAT, don't you think?)

Anyway, inside that envelope on top of the bird is little poem I quickly penned.

This part WAS my idea!

This turkey’s so excited,
To join your class today,
To tell you we’re so thankful
For each and every day
Of friendship, fun and learning,
And laughter, joy and play.

You all are special people,
Each of you unique,
All with different qualities
That make your class complete.

We wish you a happy Turkey Day
Great times with the ones you love,
For now enjoy this turkey treat
(But can you guess,
What yummy snack it’s full of?)


Happy Thanksgiving,
From Bean and her family



*** This just in: Please, please go HERE to see the directions and see how the turkey's s'posed to look. You will also notice that WOOOHOOOO! I made my turkey upside down. ***

*** I REST MY CASE. ****

*** This also just in: I texted Al to point out that I made my turkey upside down just now and he shot back, "You just made an OLD turkey." "Old?" I asked. "Yeah," he responded, "Breasts down to the knees, mid-section up to the chin."***

*** This thirdly just in: It is the joy of my life to be this guy's straight man.***




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Friday, November 19, 2010

MY Hero

So, I'm back from South Carolina where family and friends said goodbye to my Granddaddy Clover.

And my poor Grandmama, y'all. I'll protect her privacy by not going into the particulars but I will say that when I saw her, she first asked who I was, and then exclaimed, "OH, MEGAN! You have GROWN. I think you're going to be the tallest of all of them!" (which was admittedly funny, I'll grant you), and over the course of the next two days she got increasingly less lucid and the multiple conversations we had to have with her about Granddaddy were just plain brutal. I must've hugged her and told her I love her a thousand times before I left. Because ... (sticks head in sand.) Ugh.

But overall the trip was good. Sad, but as with all funereal-type things there was laughter and hugging and all those other lovely aspects of a family gathering. Still (or maybe, As a result) since I got home, I've just been a little bit off. I'm not so much grieving, I don't think. I just feel a tad gloomy in an undefined way, and I've mostly wanted to hole up at home and be all hermit-like. But not in an "I don't like you get away from me" way, more along the lines of "I'd love and welcome your company, but I really don't have much to contribute in the way of conversation at this time." Maybe I'm tired? Or still processing it all? Wanting to soak up home and family and re-nest myself here again?

Or maybe I'm just COLD. Holey Whack-a-Mole, the bottom has up and FELL OUT of the thermometer up here all of a dang sudden.

But in all of this ... there's Al, y'all. Oh that man. He is such a ... a ... well I mean how to put it? Throughout all of this, he's very lovingly and unquestioningly allowed me to make selfish decisions when I've needed to, he's listened and listened and listened without jumping in to try to FIX, he took care of our high-maintenance kids and kept the household running and the literal and proverbial home-fires burning while I was gone. HE EVEN HAD TO TAKE BEAN TO A GIRLY LITTLE BIRTHDAY PARTY! And with all of that chaos to manage, he still had time to make my girls (Mom and my sister Jackie) and me LAUGH LIKE HYENAS many times while he and I were apart, via texts and emails and phone calls. At one particularly low point for the three of us ladies, he posted this picture of himself and "letter from Bean" on Facebook.

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Hi Mom,

It's Bean and Peabody! We really miss you, but we are doing well. We have managed to "occupy" Dad, and we have complete control of the house!

I am now making dinner. We are having ice cream sandwiches, jelly beans, and cupcakes. And for dessert, MARSHMALLOWS!

Love,

Your adorable kids

P.S. To our cousins in VA, just tell Uncle Jerry that you would like to "give him a chair massage." It works every time!


See? How funny, creative and sweet is that man? But he's also been deeply reflective since Granddaddy died, and now he's back at work all day but he still took time to text me yesterday with a series of thoughts inspired by all the serious illness and loss we've been dealing with in our lives lately:

This is why I snuggle you up. 'Cause life and good health is the ultimate gift, but it doesn't last long. We rent it only for a short time. And I just love you. I'm glad God gave me a second chance to love someone like you.

Sigh.

And I don't mean to sound... smug? Like I'm bragging? And I don't think I have to tell y'all that I know nobody's perfect and that even THE GREAT AND GLORIOUS AL has his faults (For example he owns every single flossing gadget ever created. We have a full bathroom drawer devoted exclusively to flossing gadgetry. Every company in the dental hygiene industry has an entire division devoted to thinking up new flossing gadgets for that Al FriedOkra guy, and even with all those dedicated resources they can't keep up with his flossing demands. This is a person who cares WAY TOO MUCH about flossing. But would he take a second to tell me, "Hey you've got a green thing the size Hartsfield International Airport INCLUDING THE NEW RUNWAY AND THE ECONOMY PARKING LOTS between your two front teeth, hon."? No, he would not. He cares about between HIS OWN teeth. Between my teeth? Total superfluity to him.) And even AL AND MEGAN get into arguments (Well, I bet you can just imagine now, can't you?) and sometimes his love for getting the laugh makes me roll my eyes and stomp my foot because HELLOOOOOO, COULD WE JUST PLEASE JUST HAVE A CONVERSATION -- A 2 MINUTE-INFORMATION-GATHERING/IMPARTING CONVERSATION-- HERE?

(The answer, by the way, is KNOCK KNOCK! WHO'S THERE? NO, WE CAN'T.)

But as Phil Collins would say, No-ooo I-hai-hai ... I DON'T MIND.

Because driven home for me (for the bazillionth time) these past two weeks?

That man is darn near perfect FOR ME.



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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Absolutely No Point at All, But That's How All the Best Conversations Go, Isn't It?

So, did you watch The Pioneer Woman last night on Food Network? I sat riveted to my TV the whole time she was on, pausing only briefly a couple of times to email my sister with a terribly important comment or question, mostly on the subject of the much-lamented-over empire waist top. We debriefed afterwards and came up with the shared sentiment that we're both makin' Ree's meal (I am hoping the rest of her recipes appear magically on her site today, but for now I'm linking to her turkey brine recipe, because that's what I'm currently thinking the hardest about ... the brining of the bird, and so should you be, people!), but with the addition of Bobby Flay's brussel sprouts, for which I've been unsuccessful at finding a recipe so far but I know it includes pomegranate molasses, (which, by the way, OH EM GEE-ranny will I have to make that myself? Where do you get pomegranate molasses?) because those looked exquisite to me.

And I do not use the word exquisite lightly, my friends.

(I can assure you that no matter how they are prepared, my children will classify brussel sprouts as "anything BUT exquisite, MO-OM," but I am putting a few on their plates so that they can push them around for awhile and then toss them on the floor, like they do everything else I serve them. Someone told me this method will eventually make them like everything, and so I do it, but part of me thinks it'd be easier to just take the portion of the meal I plan to serve to them and sprinkle/smear it directly under the table to save them all the hassle of having to whine and groan and contort their faces into those "GACK! I THINK I SAW IT MOVE!" expressions they don when I put anything in front of them other than Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.)

Thank y'all for your input on the PIVOTAL bread machine decision. I'm sharpening up my letter-to-Santa pencil today and I think that all things considered, I'll go ahead and add said gadget to my list, and then be very, very, ever-so good for the next month and a few days in hopes that one will find its way down my chimney. Only thing is, Al reminded me last night that I'd already mentioned how badly I want and need a larger slow-cooker to Santa. So possibly I'll have to take GOOD to all-new Megan highs and hope Santa loves me big enough to give me both.

Either that or I'm gonna have to somehow convince Bean to ask for a great big slow-cooker (possibly by suggesting she could use it as a hot tub? I'm just thinking outloud here.) and then I can ask for the bread maker myself.

Think she'll go for it?

She does love a hot bath.


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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

In Which I Stand at a CRITICAL, LIFE-DEFINING Crossroads and Ask You for a Map.

While I was down South for my Granddaddy's memorial service, we received the thoughtful gift of THE BEST BREAD I'VE EVER EATEN. It was gone in about 43 seconds flat and I'll somewhat abashedly confess: There was no small amount of jaw-unhinging involved.

I got home Monday and made haste to thank our thoughtful friend for the gift and politely demand request the recipe.

And now I have it. The directions say to use the "dough" setting on my bread maker.

Easy enough!

Except that I don't actually HAVE a bread maker. Which is not to say that I haven't wanted one off and on throughout my adult years. I have no idea if they're worth it, though, and I have a lot of cabinet space, but I only like to take up said space up with the most loyal and useful culinary implements. (Hint: Like the pasta maker and all related attachments, which I have used exactly ONCE in 25 years.)

Which leads me to this earth-shattering, road-forking decision and this is where YOU come in.

Come on in, y'all!

Christmas is right around the proverbial corner. Should I ask Santa for a bread maker?

People, I'd be humbly indebted to you if you would share with me all of your collective bread-maker-pertinent wisdom.


Here. I'll make it easy.


Breadmaker (Please check all that apply):

a) Had one. Used it a few times. I'd liken it to having to build a new car from the ground up every time I wanted to go somewhere, plus it took up too much room in my cabinets. Dumped it at my last garage sale and haven't looked back.

b) Have one. Love her. Use her all the time. Her name is Hyacinth and she sleeps in a flannel-lined dog bed that I keep in the corner of my bedroom. She's like one of my children, except she actually does what I tell her to do.

c) Never had one, but have kicked around the idea here and there. I've been drying myself with corn husks lately so I think I need new bath towels worse.

d) What is this, the Spanish inquisition?

Discussion question: If you answer with any combination of letters that includes b) or c), please expound, and further, if you have recommendations on a brand or model of bread maker, do also share those things. I have issues with decision-making.

Well, maybe not.

No, yeah, I guess do.

Probably.

Well, only sometimes but ...

*** ON A RELATED NOTE, IF YOU LOVE YOU SOME PIONEER WOMAN LIKE I LOVE ME SOME PIONEER WOMAN, DON'T FORGET REE'S COOKING THANKSGIVING DINNER, IN THE LODGE KITCHEN, WEARING AN EMPIRE WAIST TOP TONIGHT ON FOOD NETWORK'S THROWDOWN WITH BOBBY FLAY. 9/8 CENTRAL, PEOPLE... BE THERE OR BE MAKIN' BOXED STUFFING AND CANNED GRAVY NEXT WEEK - I'M JUST SAYIN'. ***


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Friday, November 12, 2010

I Did it My Way

I stopped going to school and staying with my boy two weeks ago.

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(Old Blue Eyes)

He's doing great!


He's happy. I'm happy. The teachers are glad to be rid of me delighted.

Hey, listen, Mamas and Daddies: Don't let anyone tell you that you HAVE to just hug your child and leave him to get him used to going to school or daycare without you for the first time.

I'm not saying that's the wrong way to do it. I'm just saying that there's more than one way to do it. Work with your school or daycare to find a transitional strategy that is most comfortable for and best-suited to your child (and you!).

I've observed tons of these situations with my kids and other kids. And I'm getting there. Finding MY style. I've learned that both of my kids adapt well to new situations and bond beautifully with other trusted adults -- as long as I stick with them and give them time to do it in the comfort and security of their mother's presence.

Thankfully, Alex and Matthew's teachers and school director have been perfectly understanding and have encouraged me to do what works for my children and me.

Perfectly!

Matthew is in love with his teachers.

I show him his class picture and he points to each of their faces and smiles until his dimples climb up to the middle of his cheeks, and then he says his own sweet Peabody-ese version of their names.

Are those your teachers, baby? I smile back at him.

Still smiling, he nods the affirmative. Yeah.

Where are they? (I like to hear him say it.)

'Cool, he whispers.

Do you have fun at school?

Yeah. (Vigorous nod.)

And I give him hugs and kisses.

I'd have been (ecstatically) happy to have him stay home with me these 5 hours a week if he hadn't been ready. School is certainly not necessary for him right now, and I treasure having him with me - he's my buddy. But I'm also (ecstatically) happy to let him go have fun with other children and two loving ladies who recognize how special he (and each of his classmates) is, in his own Peabody way. (And they sometimes even call him Peabody.) (It's hard not to, when you know him pretty well.)

'Cool.





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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Chicken Marsala Soup

One day week before last my taste buds got themselves all screwed into knots craving Chicken Marsala, so to unscrew them I went out and bought a bottle of Marsala wine that very day and made the dish for dinner. My Chicken Marsala recipe only calls for a cup of wine, and lemme tell you, Marsala wine is NO GOOD for drinking, so I still had most of a bottle left, just sittin' there, burning a hole in my pantry. And my taste buds were still sighing wistfully about the goodness of that Chicken Marsala and begging for more.

I (very providentially) had The Girls coming over for our regularly-scheduled Tuesday Sanity Lunch this week, so I decided to see if I could turn the simple goodness of tender chicken and earthy mushrooms in a velvety, wine-tinged sauce into a warm, comforting soup to pair with a salad and serve to my friends.

And as it turns out, I could!


You can too.

Oh yes you can!

I didn't get to take a picture though, (sorry 'bout that), so you'll have to close your eyes and use your imagination. Imagine a rich, creamy, slightly golden soup with lovely bite sized pieces of tender chicken breast and thinly-sliced baby portabello mushrooms. Imagine the pleasant aroma of wine, garlic and mushrooms with the slightest hint of rosemary.

Are we there yet?

Sniff. Mmmmmmmm. Oh yeah, baby.

Hey, good imagining, people!

Now snap back to reality, and let's make some soup.

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Chicken Marsala Soup

1 split chicken breast, pounded to about 1/2 inch thickness
Garlic salt
pepper (I used lemon pepper)
Olive oil
2 Tbsp. butter
1/4 cup finely diced onion
2 cups thinly-sliced baby portabello mushrooms
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp dry rosemary leaves, crushed
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup Marsala wine
40 oz. good quality, low sodium chicken stock (or homemade)
3/4 cup half and half

Heat a pan over medium high heat and add olive oil. Sprinkle chicken breast with garlic salt and pepper and sautee in the olive oil until golden on both sides and done through. Set chicken aside.

Heat a soup or stock pot over medium heat and add enough oil to coat the bottom. Stir in the butter until melted. Add mushrooms and onions and cook, stirring, until veggies are tender and onions are transparent. Add garlic and rosemary and cook another minute. Sprinkle flour over veggies and toss/stir to coat. Slowly add Marsala wine and stir to avoid the formation of lumps. Slowly add stock and and continue stirring until mixture thickens. Reduce heat to simmer, cover soup and cook over low heat for 30 minutes. (Dice cooled, cooked chicken into bite-sized pieces while you wait.) Add cooked, diced chicken to soup. Remove from heat and allow to cool for a minute or two. Stir in half and half and adjust seasonings. Serve immediately with croutons, or keep warm until serving time over very low heat and stir well before ladling into bowls. Serves 4.




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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Soul Rainbow

And so, it rang. Yesterday. The call came fairly early in the morning, and caller ID registered my mom's cell phone number, which she never uses unless she isn't at home. Even before I picked up the phone, I already knew.

Yesterday's quiet moments ticked and tocked, slow and difficult for me and I didn't want to be alone. I'd already arranged to have some good friends over for lunch, so I stayed busy cooking all morning and then relaxed while they were with me.

My mother called throughout the day to check in and share details and ask questions. At one point she called from the car as she and my Aunt and my Grandmama were at the drugstore picking up a few things (Ponds Cold Cream and emery boards, and no, I am not kidding. Life goes on, people. Skin still needs moisturizing, fingernails still need sanding into perfect ovals.) and I heard all three of their voices (LOUD voices, because my grandmother can barely hear) in turns, directing, planning, organizing, clucking, and then Mom quickly said OKAAAAAY, I have to hang up now! BOOM, just like that. And as she was hanging up, for another tiny split second, I could still hear what was going on in that car, and honestly? I have to confess that I had a little giggle at the image those three (wonderful!) women's voices created in my head. Lord help us, the three elder Clover women out there together, tooling around (slowly) in a vehicle, ticking off the to-do list, their three little short-haired heads barely peeking up over the head rests, Mom and Aunt Joy yelling at the top of their lungs so Grandmama can hear them, Grandmama in the back seat going, "WHAT?? I CAN'T HEAR YOU! I CAN'T HEAR YOU!" All three freshly grieving their husband and father, each of them so strong and determined and resilient, and each of them every single bit herself, but oh-so alike, too, and therefore probably irritating the living you-know-what out of each other.

Like a scene straight out of Steel Magnolias only with way less hairspray.

I really needed that giggle. I just gave in to it for a few minutes, and in those minutes I loved those ladies, and thanked God, so, so much, so crazy much for each of them, and for giving me that giggle. Doesn't it seem like He so often brings a comforting, joyful reprieve of unexpected laughter in moments of deep sadness? Kinda like a soul rainbow.

I have so many things about Granddaddy I want to share. Actually though, I guess the sharing's secondary to just wanting to think deeply, remember, and write about him. I want to capture my grandfather's life in words, so I can read and examine every line, tracing each letter of his life story while combing my own heart to find the matching alphabet of his influence and love. All of a sudden, I need to pinpoint specifically what parts of me also belonged to him, and keep these elements of him lit up with my own life. I'd love to help my family find his legacy in themselves, too. What better gift to give a man who loved to live than to illuminate a search of the hearts of the people who loved him for his lasting impact?

I have planning and packing and traveling ahead of me this weekend. And togetherness with my family. And sadness. And much more laughter, no doubt.

And so much remembering. Oh yes, I will always be remembering, no matter what else I'm doing.



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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Her Hero

On Friday we woke up to the news that my Grandaddy Clover, (not the sweet potato Grandaddy, who was my Dad's dad, but my Mom's Dad), who's been battling (for want of a better word -- on the whole I don't really think it could be characterized as a battle, but I'm currently at a loss for another way to phrase it) Alzheimer's disease, has taken a turn for the worse, is going down hill quickly, and likely won't make it through the week.

He's 92. I waiver between the pragmatic, philosophical -- "He's lived a long and happy life and it's best he goes now and doesn't spend years trapped in a living but weak and deteriorating body long after his mind has failed him," and the emotional -- "But he's my wonderful, ebullient, life-savoring, quirky, adorable Grandaddy and I'm not ready to let him go." I've spent these past two days awash in my best, happiest memories of him, wondering about the answers to a few questions I'll never be able to ask him, deeply saddened I forgot to send a card and a few pictures of my kids to him last month for his birthday.

I was positive for a long, long time that I was my Grandaddy's biggest fan. I'm sure if I asked them, my sister and my two cousins would each say that SHE was Grandaddy's biggest fan. I don't know how Grandaddy has measured his self worth, that's one of the questions I'd love to have answered but never got around to asking, but I think that having each of your four granddaughters believe confidently that she loved and revered you more than anyone else did is probably a pretty good sign that you're flat-out awesome.

The truth is my Grandmama has been his biggest fan, of course. Grandaddy isn't and hasn't been any more perfect than the rest of us, and they had their issues, and often her dependence on him as her rock, her stability, her hero, which began when they were young teens, came cloaked under this child-like, scornful, petulant brusqueness that never seemed to bother him, and that I just took oddly for granted -- there was something self-explanatory about it, although it was never officially explained. What I understand even better, as the wife of my own hero, is that he has been hers, and he has cared for her well, and that she will be lost without him. I've found that many of my tear-filled moments this weekend have come from allowing my mind and heart to go where hers soon will. To this void, where half or more of her just isn't anymore, this reaching and not finding, this looking and not seeing, as shocking after 75 years of marriage as searching a familiar household mirror and not meeting one's own reflection there. I think I have always believed/assumed (or hoped, if there is such a hope) that she would go first.

I feel utterly helpless being far, far away, separate and distant and just ... un-there, un-able to lend any meaningful support or comfort to my Mom, my aunt, my Grandmama (who thankfully seems oblivious to the gravity of the situation at this writing) beyond a quick email or a phone call. I can't go now, though, as we have no real idea of how long he'll last, and I'll want to be there with my family after he passes away. So here I stay, carrying on as mother and wife and me, wiping or blinking to catch and hold a slow, quiet, private tear when I let my mind wander, wishing for conversations that I won't have, wishing I'd thought to wish for them sooner, wishing I could set it all back right for these generations.

Waiting with my ears and my cusp-of-broken-heartedness for the phone to ring.

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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Chicken & Sweet Potato Stew

Photobucket

I used to HATE sweet potatoes. It was a joke in my family when I was growing up. My Grandaddy FriedOkra, who lived in Clemson but had a farm in ... Snellville? Close to Snellville? NO! I remember now. In beautiful Campobello, SC! The town of Campobello, y'all, whose web page declares, "It's the nicest place I know." Is that not the cutest slogan for a town you ever heard? And the Sheriff's name is Andy Taylor, and everything's in black and white there, and there's chintz curtains on all the windows and everybody sits on on their front stoops of an evenin' and whistles. Or whittles.

Possibly both.

Yes, Campobello, South Carolina. Where Grandaddy's farm was. Way back when. He grew peaches there. And other stuff. But not sweet potatoes. But he knew where to GET sweet potatoes, and get them he did, and he'd deliver them to my parent's house with an uncharacteristic grin and the occasional guffaw. Yes, GUFFAW. He'd come wheelin' up in whatever vehicle he was currently driving - he changed vehicles like other people change pants, so really you just never knew - but you could be sure he'd park whatever it was square in the middle of the driveway with absolutely no regard for the inhabitants of the household and where they might need to go, blocking the way in, barricading the way out. But he never stayed long, just long enough to drop off some fresh produce and then he'd be gone, leaving nothing behind but the echo of a guffaw and a clod of chewed tobacco out on the driveway.

But while he was there, he'd tease me though a wheeze, "Maig-uhn," (He called me that. I can still hear how he said my name in my head.) "I brought you your favorite today," and he'd hold out a bag to me, and inevitably I'd get all excited and think, CORN! or, of course, OKRA! and then I'd grab the bag, and it'd weigh about nine hundred pounds and anybody who knew anything about corn or okra immediately knew, NOPE NOT CORN OR OKRA and then my heart would go AWWWWW MAAAANNN and I'd open the bag and he'd GUFFAW, and there would be 14 sweet potatoes staring back at me with their yucky little hairy brown eyes. "One for every year of your life!" he'd chuckle. And I was a little bit scared of Grandaddy FriedOkra, so I'd laugh, too. But inside I was not amused. (I was, afterall, fourteen.) One time, though, he handed me a really light bag, and I opened it up and there was this teeny-tiny sweet potato about the size of a grape inside, and Grandaddy said, "Just the right size for a gal who likes sweet potatoes as much as you do! GUFFAW!"

And actually, I did think that was pretty funny.

ANYWAY. I hated them.

But soon after Grandaddy died, I noticed myself being more and more able to tolerate sweet potatoes. I have no idea how that happens, do y'all? And now, years later, I actually ENJOY them. I wonder if Grandaddy went up to God and said, "You made me this granddaughter who's still down there. Skinny as a wet cat and not much sense of humor but fairly smart and well-behaved, my main complaint bein' that she hates sweet potatoes." And God said, "POOF. ALL FIXED!"

(I'm decidedly not skinny anymore, either.) (DARN YOU, GRANDADDY!)

(Hold on. Now wondering to self why Clemson hasn't won a national championship since Grandaddy died.) (Hmm.)

But I did not come here to tell you about my grandfather's posthumous conversations with God, or about how I was miraculously healed from humorlessness, thinness and hatred of sweet potatoes mere moments after he passed away.

I came to tell you what you could do, if you were so inclined, if someone were to come barrelin' into your driveway today on two wheels, stop abruptly in the most inconvenient spot possible, (LIKE THEY'D GOTTEN OUT A YARD STICK AND MEASURED ONE NIGHT WHILE EVERYONE WAS SLEEPING OR SOMETHING), and hand you a bag of sweet potatoes.

One for every year of your life.

Ohmygranny! That's a lot of sweet potatoes, people.

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Chicken & Sweet Potato Stew

2 chicken breast halves, diced
garlic salt
Olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 medium sweet potatoes, diced
1 large carrot, diced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons flour
1 cup dry white wine
3/4 chicken stock
1/2 tsp. curry powder
1/3 cup half and half
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 350°.

Heat a nice big oven-proof pan that has a fitted lid (I used my huge All-Clad saute pan) and add enough olive oil to cover the bottom. Toss the diced chicken with garlic salt and then throw it in the pan to brown on all sides. Doesn't have to be cooked through, just golden on the outsides. Remove the chicken to a plate and add a tidge more olive oil to the pan if it's dry.

Add the sweet potato, carrot, onion and garlic to the pan with a sprinkle of garlic salt and keep those moving over medium high heat until they're brightened in color and starting to get tender. Now this part is a little unorthodox, I'll grant you, but I've found it's the best way to accomplish the thickening task we have ahead of us, so please just suspend judgment and follow me. Add the butter to the pan and stir it into the veggies until it's melted. Sprinkle the flour all over the top of the veggies and then stir that all around to coat them. (TRUST ME.)

Add the cup of wine and stir well until it turns yellow and starts to thicken up. Add the chicken stock and the curry powder and continue to stir as the mixture bubbles and thickens. (I haven't tried this, but if your family isn't a fan of curry, you might ditch the curry powder and just throw in 1/2 tsp. of dry rosemary here.) (But the curry was really nice in the dish, just that subtle hint, you know? Not too much. In fact, even my own discriminating palate may have had a hard time picking out "curry" in this dish, but it'd have known there was something besides salt and pepper.)

Put the lid on your pan and toss the whole thing in the oven for an hour. Make yourself a nice spinach salad, and fire up a pot of whole wheat cous-cous cooked in chicken stock and flavored with some lemon zest and sliced scallion. (That's my favorite way to make cous-cous. It's insanely good.)

An hour later, remove the stew from the oven and let it cool with the lid off for about 5 minutes. Stir in the half and half and adjust your seasonings to taste.

Serve the stew over the cous-cous, or some rice, or some whole wheat pasta.

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For the record, NO. My kids didn't like it.

They hate sweet potatoes.

(Did you hear Grandaddy guffaw? He's on his way to talk to God again. WATCH WHERE YOU PARK, GRANDADDY! GOD HAS PLACES TO BE.)

(And mention that national championship while you're there, too, wouldja?)






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