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Friday, December 31, 2010

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Crazy

First, thank you dear sweet friends for going there so supportively with me when I had to get all "heal the world... make it a better pla-a-a-ace " for a day or two. And it's not that I'm not all "heal the world" anymore, it's that I've got a more pressing concern right now which is OHMYGRANNY, these small critters need to get up outta here and off me for a little while.

SHEW. Lawsy mercy, it's times like these I thank God I came to my senses a few moments after Peabody was born and kicked my plans to homeschool to the proverbial curb. I know y'all know I love these varmints my adorable, angelic children, so I'm not even gonna go there with a preamble-ish, qualifying clause. I'm just going to lay it out there, bare and unadorned: IT IS TIME FOR SCHOOL TO START BACK. Because if I have to go potty with a kid on my lap and a kid sitting on my feet just one more time? If I have to stretch my arm around not one but TWO pajama-clad houligans to get my coffee mug to my mouth of a morning, I'm going to STRIKE MIDNIGHT and tiny little birds are gonna shoot outta my eye sockets on springs squawking CUCKOO! CUCKOO!

When I was a kid, my parents used to play the old vinyl record of Nat King Cole's Christmas album and he'd be singin' "It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas" and the line that goes, "... and Moms and Dads can hardly wait for school to start again!"'d come on, and I'd be all sensitive and get my feelings hurt. And now I'm all grown up and have kids of my own and I bought Nat King Cole's Christmas album on iTunes and when I hear that line I think, "I coulda totally WRITTEN that particular bar of music."

NAT KING COLE YOU GET OUT MY BRAIN!

And now, to deflect the "bad mother" death-rays all pointed in my direction, I'll show you pictures of the fabulous tea party we had here yesterday for Bean and her friends and their American Girl dolls. Inside, I may be pulling my hair out, but outwardly? Y'all can rest assured I'm still June Cleaver with a big old floppy Martha Stewart hand-woven, meticulously-tied bow secured tightly around my neck!

Oh. Did that sound a little bit crazy?

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I'd dreamed up the tea party idea before Christmas when I had a hunch ol' Santa was bringing Bean her new doll, Lily. Did y'all ever read A Doll's Christmas by Tasha Tudor? Sweetest. Book. EVER. It was one of my very favorite stories as a little girl, and in it, the main characters, two little girls about Bean's age and their dolls, Sethany Ann and Nicey Melinda, host a big Christmas party for all of their cousins and friends. It's darling. I wanted to recreate a bit of the magic that story holds for Bean and her friends.

I also thought it might hold the additional benefit of keeping us all from killing each other.

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'Course our tea-party had a modern twist - I sent out the invitations via eVite and the RSVPs came back via email on my phone. I think that whole concept would've blown Sethany Ann and Nicey Melinda right outta their freshly-starched pinafores, but other than that, we kept it simple and home-made just like it was way back when.

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Miley, Rosie and Lily discussed literature over their tea. The big girls discussed The Sweet Life of Zack and Cody.

We drank tea (pink lemonade) out of my twenty-sumpm-year-old pink tea pot and tea cups (the dolls used tiny cups and saucers and the girls got bigger ones), we ate cupcakes and gum drops and party mix. Then we got out the glue and felt and beads and scissors (or as Peabody calls them, SHI-SHERS!), and we made snowmen. The big girls made big snowmen out of foam balls, and the dolls made their own diminutive frosty creations, with a bit of help, using small white pom-poms.

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The lovely Lily with her snowbaby.

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They look like they're about to burst into an a capella version of The Candy Man. Who can take a rainbow ...

And after the girls all left with their dolls and their snowmen, I cleaned up, and as I wiped counters and picked sticky plastic jewels out of carpet and vacuumed up party mix and cupcake crumbs, my darling child looked at me and said, "I'm bo-o-o-ored! What are we doing next, MOM?"

Preach it, Nat!

(And Happy New Year, y'all!)



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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wave

We went to the grocery store Monday, Bean and Peabody and I, which is crazy because OHMYGRANNY how could we need anything food-wise after the GRUBFEST of the holiday weekend? Nevertheless we did need things. Staples. Meds (we are all sick with colds, as is our Christmas custom). Milk for hot cocoa. So we went. And Bean hasn't come to the grocery store with me in a long time, since she's normally in school when I sally forth to the Jewel.

We walked in, and the first thing she did was pick up one of those little balloons on a stick. You know the teeny tiny ones? She got one for herself and handed her brother one, which he proceeded to brandish on and about my head the entire trip around the store, yelling, BOP! BOPBOPBOPBOPBOP! and yes, it about drove me crazy but? It kept him from craning his whole torso heavily from one side of the cart to another and stretching himself out like a post-nap kitten to try and reach stuff he saw that he just. couldn't. live. without.

Bean, on the other hand, followed me around, using her balloon as a magic wand. With a flourish, she made items appear on the shelves - the milk, the Ovaltine, the loaf of bread, the ditallini (that one took some doing!) - just before my fingers reached for them.

And it's trite, but I'm saying it anyway: I double-wish. I quadruple-wish! That I could hold a balloon-on-a-stick magic wand in my own hands. Right now, (as ever), I look around me - just around me in my own tiny little life! - and see so many difficult situations, so many hurting hearts, so much illness and pain and suffering; death, divorce, sickness, despair, depression, loneliness, anxiety, boredom and beaten-down-ness, misunderstandings and misrepresentations, and just ... miss-ing. And I quadruple-wish I could wave a pink Care Bear balloon over all of this and make it stop. MAKE IT STOP. Even my own little wounds and aches and not-understandings, though they pale in comparison to some of the other problems and heart-holes that gape awkwardly out at me from the faces and voices of people I care about (and people I don't even know), ... I'd (probably) put myself last, but in the end, I'd finally wave a wand over ME.

And oh, how I wish I had a cheery philosophically-minded bow to wrap up a post like this - God is in control! He's already written the ending to each of these stories! He's bigger than the biggest chaotic hair-ball of pain and envy and suffering and unfairness! Even though I do believe each of those things with all of my heart (and most of the time I walk through life in trust and hope that may appear ridiculous to some), today I want to wrest that wand away from His hand and, not because I want the power or glory of it for myself, just because I want the end to suffering to come NOW, I just want to wave it.

Wave it hard and high and mightily over everything and everyone, to clean it all up and make it stick that way forever. Put the broken back together, infuse the hopeless with delight, wipe the despairing clean and shiny with promise, restore the down-trodden to liberating joy. Survey the peace around me and breathe, finally, a sigh of relief.

I'm not big enough. I know this. I can't see the real truth in it all and my solutions would mix together wrong because I'm not Him.

But I still want to wave it.

I still do.



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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Red and Green, Then Not-Quite Blue

Usually I truly love a day like tomorrow. A little-bitty starting-over of a day. A hint of a new beginning-ish thing. The first Monday after a holiday, a vacation (a staycation, but still), and even though school doesn't start back for a week, there's still a return to normalcy.

And I'm the kind of person who thrives on that. It's like a pivot-point back to sanity and productivity for me. I like routine. I like order. I like freshness and blank-canvasness. I like looking forward to what lies ahead.

Usually.

But this time?

Oy, I hope I wake up tomorrow in a different place than I am in right now. Because tonight?

Wow. I'm just not ready.

For the snow-globe magic to fade.

For Al to go back to work. All day, all week.

For that "it's (already!) over" feeling to set in.

For taking the decorations down. (I'm not one who can't wait to get rid of them, are you? I love the warmth and coziness they give our home.)

For no more sweet family pictures and holiday wishes in my mailbox.

For breakfast, lunch, dinner, wash, fold, clean, dry, wipe, sweep, lather, rinse, repeat.

For the low-carb/high protein diet that always comes after the carb-binge of holiday food. (Even though I know it'll make me feel so much better.)

Just not ready.

I wouldn't call it the post-holiday blues.

It's more like the can't-we-postpone-the-post-holiday ... um .... purples?

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Not Forever in the Snow Globe, But for Now.

Al took this week off from work.

It's the first time he's taken any significant time off around the holidays since we were married. I've been looking forward to this week since sometime back in the summer, when he surprised me with the news one evening while we were sitting in the kitchen together having just put the kids to bed for the night.

It's just big, to me.

Sometimes in my life, I've looked at Christmas as if through a window. Standing outside, watching and wishing for whatever that magic was that everyone else seemed to feel, but I didn't, or couldn't. Like shaking a snow globe, watching the snow fall on the little cottage with the fence and the smiling snowman out front. Wanting to climb inside.

I know that my husband felt that way many more times than I did.

And I also know that there are people right now who feel that way. Most of us go through those times in our lives. This is not a perfect world and there are no perfect people.

And there is sadness. Of course there is sadness. And loneliness. Brokenness. No one escapes to the other side of that window completely or forever.

But we took a train ride today, the four of us, on this Tuesday before Christmas, and got off at a white-roofed brick station. Bean and I wore matching boots, and we tromped together in a scene made movie-set perfect overnight by a fresh snow that covered sidewalks and rooftops and frosted every tree limb and windowsill.

I just held her small hand.

We walked around town for a bit and landed at a table by the window in a warm cafe, carols playing, the kids singing along to Jingle Bells.

And Al looked at me and said this:

"We live in that snow globe right now, Mama."


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Friday, December 17, 2010

Welcome, Welcome Fahoo Ramus, Welcome, Welcome Dahoo Damus

And what happened then?
Well, in Who-ville they say
That the (Snow) Grinch's small heart
Grew three sizes that day!


(PTOING!)

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Fahoo fores, dahoo dores

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Welcome snowfall bring your light

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Fahoo fores, dahoo dores.

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Welcome snowflakes sparkling bright!



(I made up that last part all by myself.)

(I know. Very impressive.)

(I'd have never come up with such genius as "fahoo ramus, dahoo damus" though. Clearly Dr. Seuss will always remain in a league all his own.)


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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My Dad Reads the Blog So I'm Not Going to Spell It Out Any Clearer Than That

Hormones.

Grouchiness.

I snapped at the kids about a million times this morning and in between, I was sarcastic and snotty. I haven't even the thinnest veneer of patience today. Heck, I've been employing Preemptive Snark with them before they even do or say ANYTHING.

BECAUSE I KNOW WHAT'S COMIN' NEXT, AND I AIN'T PUTTIN' UP WITH IT TODAY, YOU LITTLE TURKEYS!

And I really hate myself for that. I've apologized, but even the apologies have been that kind of a put-out, irritated, because-I-know-I-have-to I'm sorry I .... but you two are just (insert mean accusation here) today apologies. The kind of apology that adds insult to injury, really.

My kids deserve better. My family deserves better. I hate hating myself, and even *I* deserve better!

So I need an instant!! attitude!! adjustment!! As in NOW! I've decided how to do it, too.

I'm writing quick list of great things about this day (great ALREADY! And it's only 9:00! That I already have great things happening so early on a Tuesday is a great thing in and of itself.)

WHICH CAME FIRST? THE GREAT THINGS OR THE GREAT THING LIST? I don't know! Let's ponder, shall we?

No! Let's NOT waste time pondering. Let's make a list.

You add some too.

We'll make us a huge GREAT THINGS ABOUT TODAY list together. How many things can we get on here by noon? By 3 PM? By dinnertime? I bet if all 475(ish) subscribers add ONE GREAT THING about today, we can start a movement! A GREAT THINGS ABOUT TODAY MOVEMENT. Y'all in?

Here are mine:

1. My friend Katie sent me an email today to ask for support in getting together Christmas gifts for 117 local kids. And I (we) have things we can give them. Responses started flying in the minute (almost) she sent out the email.

2. The sun is shining. And it is GORGEOUS out there, beaming away, like it doesn't have a care in the world. Like it has no idea how FRIGGIN' COLD IT IS. I adore how sun and shadow work together on freshly fallen snow. It appeals to my love for order and perfection. The lines of a suncast shadow on smooth white snow are amazingly crisp and perfect.

Photobucket3. The cookies I baked for the neighborhood cookie exchange came out beautifully. They still need their frosting, but I've NEVER had a batch of sugar cookies come out so well. I found a great new recipe courtesy of The Pioneer Woman (and a great new blog to read, too!). These cookies came out thick, crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside, prefectly smooth and a pale, creamy color. Stacked in perfect silos in a cake-taker, they also appeal to my love for order and perfection, but in such a sweet and charming way.

4. It's Sanity Tuesday and I'm not hosting, which means I don't have to make lunch today AND I get to hang with my girls for a little while mid-day. And of all days, today is perfect for Sanity Tuesday.

5. Matthew has school today. And I should maybe miss him, but he's been cooped up in this house for DAYS because of the cold and the snow and DUDE! He needs to get out of here and AWAY FROM ME for a few hours. Desperately!

6. I have pictures and recipes to post from our neighborhood's progressive party last Saturday night, and even though I know y'all won't comment, I know you're going to love seeing them, and maybe you'll find a recipe or two you wanna try during the holiday season, and to know that I've helped out in some way or given somebody an exciting reason to get into the kitchen and have some fun? Well, that's all I can ask.

7. Yesterday was Al's and my SEVENTH anniversary. We have now officially both been married to one another longer than we were married to our first spouses, and for some reason, that makes us both very, very happy. I love being in love with that man!

And that's a good one to end upon! Y'all add yours!



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Saturday, December 11, 2010

December, You Are The Total Package

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Busily getting ready for another party. Tonight it's the neighborhood progressive Christmas party, and FriedOkra Manor is home numero uno, so we're in charge of appetizers and pre-dinner cocktails. Which means we got to buy some GOOD wine.

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It also means I have to clean the downstairs. AGAIN.

But it's okay because really, it needs to be cleaned this often. And if I didn't have people coming for a holiday soiree?

I sooooo wouldn't do it.

I guess December has what it takes to make me do things I wouldn't normally do.

December! You little vixen!

What are you doing this month that you wouldn't normally do?

Whatever it is, I hope it's fun!



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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Christmas Lunch with The Girls

I have a little early Christmas present for y'all. Last night while Al was out having some sort of business dinner with uppity-ups, I sat here in front of this computer and finally figured out how to dump the Disqus comments I've been using for way too long that everyone hates including me but I couldn't figure out how to get rid of 'em.

Turns out it was ridiculously easy. And now it's done. Back to good old Blogger comments again, and I'm feelin' like Dorothy. Oh, I had complaints before the cyclone, but now?

There's NO PLACE LIKE HOME.

So if you'd all but given up commenting because IT WAS TOO HARD, (it was!), now you can do it with relative ease.

And please do!

Anyway.

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Remember those Sanity Tuesday lunches? Well, my turn to hostess rolled around again, and since we're all up in December and mistletoe and ho-ho-ho and Herbie-doesn't-like-to-make-toysiness, I decided I wanted to do something special for the ladies. Simple, quick and light (wink), but ... special.

The Lunch Menu

Miniature Chicken Pot Pies in Pastry Cups (recipe below)
Apple Pie Acorn Squash (Click for the recipe.)
& Christmas Ambrosia (recipe below)

I'd already made Herbes de Provence Chicken last week and had a full quart of chicken, veggies and juices in the freezer and ready to go, so I thawed that overnight Monday night and woke up Tuesday morning ready to cook. Now I'm gonna let y'all in on a little secret here. When I went to bed Monday night, the entire first story of FriedOkra Manor was strewn with toys. It looked like the full cast of The First Christmas had fled Bethlehem and ended up somewhere in Tennessee for a NASCAR race. We had HotWheels cars and Fisher-Price nativity characters spread from the back door to the family room, various other toys filing in alongside them like they'd taken one look at the excited faces of baby Jesus, his parents and the host of wise-folk and angels and quick-dropped what they were doin' to follow them off to Nashville. There was a little wooden train and a bunch of track there, too, and for a minute I wondered why they didn't just all hop on board and get where they were goin', but then I heard Joseph gently tell Mary that there was no room left in the sleeper cars.

So I had cleaning to do and nary a moment to waste. Good news? I was able to have this lunch completely prepared except for baking the pastry cups in a matter of about 30 minutes. Possibly less, because I stopped a million times to take y'all some pictures.

Rachael Ray, you watch your back, girl.

And then I cleaned for two hours. I didn't take any pictures of that part. Are you disappointed?

Back to the FUN part.

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My first step was to cut the squash in half and scrape out all the seeds and pulp, which I did. Did I say "fun part?" Acorn squash is TOUGH, people. I 'bout gave up mid-cut on squash #3. But turns out, I'm tougher than any squash on the block. Not by much, though.

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I diced the apples and sprinkled on cinnamon, fresh nutmeg and brown sugar and topped it all off with plenty of butter.

("Light." Hee hee hee.)

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Mmmmm. Fresh nutmeg.


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All done and ready for the oven!


Next I turned my attention to the Christmas ambrosia. All this is is one fresh pineapple, peeled, cored and diced (by yours truly and believe you me, after cuttin' all those acorn squashes, I made QUICK WORK of that pineapple), a can of mandarin orange sections, about ten marachino cherries cut in half, and maybe a quarter of a cup of sweetened, grated coconut. I mixed all those together gently and then put it into the fridge to chill until time for lunch.


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So easy!

And then? It was time to tend to the star of this show, the pot pies.

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Mini Chicken Pot Pies in Pastry Cups

3 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. flour
1 quart left-over herbes de Provence chicken
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 pkgs. (6 each) Pepperidge Farm Pastry Cups
rosemary sprigs for garnish

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Melt butter over medium-low heat and stir in flour. Blend well to remove lumps and allow to cook, stirring, for a minute. Pour in the quart of chicken and broth and stir well, incorporating roux into the chicken mixture. Raise heat to medium and allow to come to a boil and thicken. Remove from heat and stir in heavy cream, cover and let stand.

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Little discs of pastry dough, waitin' for the oven.

Meanwhile bake pastry cups according to package directions. I always put a trimmed piece of parchment on my baking pan just to be sure the cups don't stick or get too done on the bottom. Once baked, the cups will have a little "lid" attached to their tops. Just carefully pry the lid off and set it aside. Spoon your hot chicken mixture into each cup, stick a little sprig of rosemary into the chicken and then prop a lid on top.

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Precious, isn't it?




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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Slow Cooker Herbes de Provence Chicken

This is a delicious and exquisitely simple (can something be exquisitely simple? For these purposes, we will press forward under the assumption that it can) chicken dish that I serve for dinner frequently (yep, the kids eat it and love it) over rice with a quick salad or some green beans. The best part of it, though, is that the leftovers from this meal make the base of a scrumptious chicken pot pie. In fact, tomorrow (or, you know, whenever I have time, you just can't predict such things around here), I'm going to post the menu and recipes from a lunch I hosted for the girls today, including individual pot pies made out of the chicken I'm showing you here.

Herbes de Provence is a blend of herbs traditionally used in French cooking, on chicken, meats and even vegetables. I have ordered my herbes de Provence from Penzeys.com on occasion, and sometimes I just make my own using a recipe like this one. The flavor combination of this blend is so unique it really defines the dish. You can make slow cooker chicken without it and have a fantastically yummy dish, but adding the h de P takes it to a whole new level, flavor-wise, and sets it way, way apart from the ordinary. Once you've had it, you should expect to crave it from time to time.

It's a curse.

And a blessing.

Being introduced to herbes de Provence? Is a blurse.

Slow Cooker Herbes de Provence Chicken

8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs or an equivalent portion of your favorite chicken parts (you can even use a whole chicken but that's going to cut down on some of that "simplicity" I sold you on earlier.)
1 medium onion, diced
3 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 ribs celery, sliced*
1 cup sliced mushrooms (I just use plain old button 'shrooms)
1 tsp. herbes de Provence
3 garlic cloves, rough chopped
freshly ground pepper
1 cup low-sodium or homemade chicken broth
1 cup dry white wine
water
1 tsp. chicken soup base

* I also add a few stalks of sliced fresh fennel stems when I've just made this Sausage and Tortellini soup (which is also often, it's good soup and my kids eat it, as well!), because I have them left over and they cook up beautifully with the chicken and veggies and add just an extra touch of fennel flavor to compliment the h de P.

Place the chicken in the bottom of a slow cooker. Over the chicken, layer the onion, carrots, celery and mushrooms, then sprinkle the herbes de Provence, pepper and garlic on top of the veggies. Pour in the chicken broth and wine and then just enough water to cover all of the chicken and vegetables, plus the chicken soup base. Cook on low all day or on high for 4-5 hours. Uncover and shred or "chunk" chicken with a fork, as it will be very tender. (If you've used a whole chicken, bless your sweet heart, you'll have to remove it and take off the skin and cut it all up, etc. and then return it to the crockpot to serve.) Serve hot over rice.

Now, after you've served your dinner portion of this dish, pour all of the leftovers, letting not one single drop of that delicious juice escape, into a container and store them in the fridge or freezer until you're ready to make easy, mouthwatering and suprisingly impressive pot pies.

(Recipe to follow shortly.)

(-ish.)




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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Followed By A Wicked Good Time

Oh, people.

The Saturday in the city with friends? For which y'all so wisely advised me to put on some stinkin' CLOTHES, for the love of Mike?

Absolute perfection.

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Bean and her friend Emma waiting for the train on the Metra platform as the sun rose behind thick snow clouds

We left home at 6:30 and got to the train station with 3 minutes to spare, catching the 7:05 into the city. The night had brought a few inches of beautiful, fresh white fluff, and the snow came down hard on us as we drove through the pale blue light of early dawn and boarded the train. The girls chose seats on the top level of the two-story train car and we settled in for the ride.

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The FriedOkra ladies on board and ready to ride

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The girls enjoyed the wintery scenery as it passed by their window


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A heavy snow continued to fall as we pulled into Chicago's Ogilvie Station

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Safe and sound inside the dazzlingly decorated and always-bustling station

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We fueled up on donuts and coffee inside where it was nice and warm before catching a cab to our first destination.


The girls were understandably quite enthusiastic. About EVERYTHING. On our way outside to find a cab, we passed a gentleman with gray hair, beard and mustache wearing a red crew neck sweater, and Emma and Bean took one look at him and squealed SANTAAAAAAAAAAA!!!

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A brief taxi hop through town and we arrived at our first, and most highly anticipated location, the American Girl doll store.


Oh, WOW. Now I'd been to the Chicago American Girl store once before. Back when I was pregnant with Peabody, my sister brought my two sweet nieces on a little junket to visit us, and we all took the train into the city together. The American Girl store has moved since then, and now covers two stories of a huge retail space. Packed to the brim with all things AG, it's quite fascinating. Bean's been asking for an American Girl doll for about a year now, and I think Santa just might deliver one this Christmas, so we looked around carefully and found The Doll for Bean, which we will tell Mr. Saint Nick about in our letter, along with a million outfits and accessories she absolutely HAS TO HAVE, MAMA!

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Well. Of course.

The girls also made selections of some small items they could bring home from the store that day. What's shopping in the city without a few bright red bags of loot to show for it? And this day was meant for a bit of spoiling and some special surprises!

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Friends don't let friends ride escalators alone.

A very quick step across the now-busy streets and we were in the lobby of the famous John Hancock building, where we stopped for a brief session with the paparazzi.

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The girls made friends with some toy soldiers.

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My baby (BIG) girl and me

As you can see, I went for outfit Option A for the trip, with the boots, as many of you suggested. It was a good choice, although I certainly could've gotten away with B, as well. I was never for a minute cold, even on the several-blocks-long, post-dusk walk back to the train station after the show. In fact, being outside was very refreshing. Al had mentioned to me that in his years of working in the city he'd always been surprised at how hot they keep the buildings. My contacts had dried into raisins by the time we were ready to come home!

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Still, the boots DID come in handy.

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Up to the Hancock building's 95th floor we went, where we all had a FAINCY lunch in The Signature Room.

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Can't have a FAINCY lunch without water toasting.

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To Bean and Mama!

Lunch was fabulous, even if Bean did fill up on bread and then take only ONE bite of ONE of her THREE teeny-tiny cheeseburgers. I had a chicken piccata dish that had capers as big as your head. Not kidding! It was delicious and I'm already wanting to see if I can replicate it here in my own first-story kitchen.

After lunch we quick-hopped into yet another cab, this one complete with Caribbean steel drum music playing and some more very hot heat! By the time we'd covered a block or two I'd begun craving fruity drinks with umbrella and wanted to strip down to my bikini.

Instead, I stayed dressed and we disembarked outside the lovely old Cadillac Theatre where a throng of theatre-goers were already gathered in anticipation of WICKED.

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There were many moments on the trip, as there always are when I visit a major city, when I thought, "I could so totally live here." This was one of those moments.

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Anticipa-a-tion!

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Mom, there are already people IN THERE, she sassed. WHY ARE WE NOT GOING IN?

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You can't see it, but she's tapping her foot impatiently. That chick is a chip off the old Okra.

We waited outside because the lobby was PACKED. But once inside, the first thing I noticed is how very similar The Cadillac is to The Fox Theatre in Atlanta. It was LOVELY, ornate and plush, and full-to-brimming with that electric feeling I always sense in live-theatre venues. I've always just loved that breathless feeling and I miss how it kept me stirred up and thrilled inside back when I worked in a performing arts center for a few years after graduating from Furman.

I'd go back and do that again, if I could. Any moment I get to spend feeling that feeling is a very good moment indeed.

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A glimpse of the hallways leading to our seats. We weren't able to take photos inside the theatre proper, but I wanted to capture the splendor of the building.

The show itself, WICKED, left me nearly speechless. (I said NEARLY.) If you've not seen it, don't be thrown by the title. It's not wicked at all. It's a study in friendship and love and self-sacrifice and the mysterious, inexplicable attraction of opposite to opposite. The music and songs had me wondering how quickly I could have the soundtrack uploaded to my iTunes, and one song in particular, For Good, had me cryin' the ugly cry right there in my seat, it was so powerful and sweet and moving and just ... Wow. I had reservations about how Bean would do in this show, knowing there would be some scary moments, but she never flinched (I wrapped my arm around her when things got frightening), and even though I think most of the story-line probably went over her head, she was smitten with the lead characters and drawn in by the plight of those bizarre little flying monkeys. I'm not going to give any more of it away, but I'll say if you ever have the chance to see this show, DO.

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Katie and Emma cross the river on the way back to Ogilvie Station

After the show, we walked a few dark, snowy city blocks back to the train station, Katie and I each holding the mittened hand of our own little girl. The day had been truly magical, and the snow not a hassle as it can be on regular day, but the perfect glittery touch to this day that seemed to celebrate sparkle.



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Friday, December 3, 2010

A Wicked Decision

So, for months I've kept a GREAT secret from Bean. (I'm proud of myself. Secrets are not my strong suit!) (Especially really GOOD secrets.)

Tomorrow, on the day of what is believed will be the first snowstorm of the season (RATS!), Bean and I and a couple of our good friends are taking the train into the Big City (Chicago) to shop on Michigan Avenue (did I mention the snowstorm) and have lunch in a fancy top-story restaurant, and see Wicked.

I know! So excited to share this AWESOME Big Girl day with my Big Girl!

But. In light of the combination of all these exciting things - the snowstorm, the train ride, the walking around outside, the fancy restaurant and the hit Broadway show, I'm stumped about what to wear.

I need your help.

Badly.

Which one of the following outfits should I wear? And you have to pick from these three (even though I still may end up wearing another outfit completely because I am a woman and that's how I roll, and plus Bean and her buddy Kyle (aka Bubba) got tired of taking pictures for me and scampered off to have another lovers' quarrel, because that's apparently the thing they love to do best. Quarrel. Lovingly.)

(It's cute.)

(But sometimes I want to send them to marriage counseling.)

(That's another post.)

Look at these outfits, please, and then tell me what you think. Quickly, because there isn't much time. We are taking the 7:30 train tomorrow morning, which means I had to go to bed 3 hours ago to get the kind of sleep I'm going to need to keep up with two VERY EXCITED girls during a blinding snowstorm on the streets of a major city after a trip to the American Girl Doll store. (OMGranny. I can't WAIT!)

Here. Seriously. Look. These outfits would all be accessorized with appropriate (sparkly, but within proper daytime limits, I think?) jewelry, of course. I didn't take time to put it on for the photos because the lovers were warming up for another quarrel and I thought it best to get my pictures taken before the rolling pin or cast iron skillet came out.

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Option A

The most conservatively festive of the looks. Also the one that makes me look and feel the fattest. Camel wool gabardine pants that are about a half a size too tight right now (thank you, Thanksgiving), a sleeveless cranberry sweater with a ruffle at the neckline, and a sparkly camel shrug with a sateen bow, and some new cranberry Mary Janes that are very comfortable and sturdy and have a nice grippy sole, but don't cover my whole foot and thus may leave me walking around on frozen stumps during parts of the day (the outside parts, I mean.)

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Option B

Option B started out slow but is growing on me a bit more every time I look at it. It's a gray cotton-knit wrap dress with cable details at the waist (it is very, very comfy and I feel thinner and prettier in it), paired with brown leather boots. Warmer feet, possibly colder legs (the coat I'd wear with this outfit is pretty much the same length as the dress). Maybe the boots are a little too rodeo for the more classic styling of the dress, but then again, it's not like they have embroidered stars on 'em. Or spurs. And possibly the rodeo thing is all in my own head because they're brown leather instead of black leather, which is what EVERY WOMAN IN ILLINOIS WEARS except me, and then here comes Miss Southern Thang in her brown boots and who does she think she is, Ms. Texas?

I don't know. I just don't. That's why we're here together on a Friday night lookin' at pictures of me in what may very well be some seriously questionable "outfits," you see?

(I really want to get out of my fashion comfort zone, lately.)

(And believe me, this whole post is making me feel GOOD AND OUT.)

(But still we must press on.)

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Option C

Here we have the same grey wrap dress as above, this time paired with cranberry tights and the cranberry Mary Janes from Option A, which apparently gave me a fairly serious case of rickets (or is it scurvy?) when I put them on. My concern here is that my neck and arms do not match my legs, which happens when other people wear tights, too, but for some reason never looks as disturbing on them as it does when I see it on myself. My other concern is really - Seriously? Who do I think I am? I'm 43! Can I wear that dress and show that much leg at my age? Can we say Granny Long Legs?

I'd do it, if y'all said it was okay.

So what do you think? Seriously? Help a cowgirl out here.



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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What to Do With Thanksgiving Leftovers

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And while we're on the subject of food...

Sunday night after we finished our 213th turkey sandwiches of the weekend, Al looked at me and said, "That was ... good." And he cleared his throat and looked me in the eye and then looked away hesitantly like he was a tad nervous about what was coming next and added, "... and, um ... I'm done with turkey now."

Now I cooked a small (just over 9 lb.) turkey. And I made the smallest possible iterations I could mathematically figure out of all the sides. Still, we are two people (the kids don't even COUNT as people where meals are concerned, so small are the portions they "eat") so despite my carefully scaled-down preparations for Thanksgiving dinner, we still had enough of all of it, except the gravy, because LAWD KNOWS THEY NEVVAH IS ENOUGH GRAVY, to feed another family of four (four actual eaters, I mean.)

Do y'all still have leftovers? What do you do with 'em? (Besides sandwiches, which are, hands down, the BEST!) Tell me!

In the meantime, I've got some ideas for y'all to try. Are you interested?

Here's a great recipe for turkey tetrazzini that everyone here eats and enjoys. This is adapted from my friend Kim's Chicken Tetrazzini recipe, the only real change being that I use turkey instead of chicken. Is that an adaptation, or just a substitution? I'll let you get back to me on that. Here's the recipe:

Kim's {Turkey} Tetrazzini

1 lb. pasta, cooked according to pkg. directions and drained well
1/2 lb. fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 stick butter, divided
2/3 cup flour
1 large onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups light cream or half and half (milk is fine, too)
1/4 cup dry sherry (I just use whatever dryish white wine I have around)
4 cups diced cooked turkey
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
salt/pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400°. In a large skillet saute the mushrooms and onions over medium heat in about 2 tablespoons of the butter until the onions are tender. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds or until you begin to smell the garlic. Melt the remaining butter into the pan and stir in the flour to coat the veggies, carefully breaking up any floury lumps that form. Slowly add the broth and stir as the mixture comes to a boil and thickens. Reduce heat to low and stir in the cream or milk. Taste for flavorings and add salt/pepper as needed. Stir in turkey and pasta. Loosen the mixture if needed with a bit of pasta cooking liquid - it will dry a bit while baking in the next step. Pour pasta, sauce and turkey/veggies into a well-buttered casserole and top with grated parmesan. Bake at 400° for 20 minutes or until the top is golden brown.

This recipe makes enough for about 6 very hungry people. I usually divide mine in half and freeze one casserole for another night.

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Potato pancakes are a wonderfully delicious and slightly whimsical way to use up your leftover mashed taters. My kids actually liked these, especially after I gave them a puddle of ketchup for dipping. Traditionally, potato pancakes are served not with "dip-dip" as Peabody calls it, but with apple sauce and sour cream, and lemme tell you, in my opinion, that there is the WAY TO GO.

Potato Pancakes

olive or vegetable oil
1 cup cold mashed potatoes
1 egg
2 tablespoons flour
milk
2 tablespoons of finely diced onion, sliced green onion, or about 1/4 tsp. onion powder
a few little grates of fresh nutmeg, or a dash of ground nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

Mix your ingredients together adding milk as needed to make a batter that isn't quite pourable, but spreads out when dropped from a spoon. Heat a pan well and add enough oil to just cover the bottom. Let the pan and oil get quite hot over medium-high heat, and then spoon about a 2-3 tablespoon-sized dollop of batter into the pan. Reduce heat to medium. Repeat with remaining batter and allow the pancakes to cook on that side until you begin to see bubbly holes forming far into the edges of each pancake. Gently turn the cakes over with a spatula and cook another 3-4 minutes or until golden brown. Drain briefly on paper towel and serve hot with your choice of condiments.

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Now, here's a new one for me. I have a ton of Cranberry Onion Sauce (by Michelle at Scribbit - Oh y'all, so many of her recipes are among my favorites!) and I could freeze it, but my tongue isn't quite tired of that cranberry tang, so today I made a spinach salad and created a really delicious cranberry dressing to go over it. This recipe would work perfectly with any leftover cranberry relish or sauce, though, I'm confident of that. (You might have to nuke the jellied stuff to get it to dissolve first, though.)

The salad was simple: fresh spinach, raw pecans, diced leftover turkey, tiny chunks of pepper jack cheese (goat cheese, gorgonzola or bleu cheese would be awesome here, too), and croutons. I can see apple or pear chunks or dried cranberries in this salad, too, but I was happy with what I had going on so I stopped short of those and topped it with this dressing.

Cranberry Vinaigrette

1/4 cup cranberry sauce or relish Photobucket
juice and zest of half of a fresh orange
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
sugar to adjust sweet/tart balance*
salt and freshly ground pepper

Place all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until combined. If you want a really, really fancy vinaigrette, put everything in the bowl except the oil and mix, then SLOWLY drizzle in the oil while whisking quickly. Since it was just me eating, I didn't care if my dressing was a little broken up. I'm not picky about that sort of thing, it just has to taste good.

But ya'll, broken or not, just feast your eyes on color of this dressing! Isn't that beautiful stuff? And it was delicious, too. You're going to try it, right? So easy and such a great use of something that will otherwise just grow blue fuzz and get dumped down the sink. (Promise me you won't let that happen!) (Promise me!)

*The sugar amount will vary with the tartness of your cranberry product. Just add a little and taste, then add more and stop when you get to a good sweet/sour equilibrium) (I know that sounds awfully vague, but your taste buds can figure it out, I just know they can!)


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