Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Dear Stranger,

Dear Stranger,

When you saw me today at Wal-Mart, I wasn't looking my best. I realize that my yoga pants are stretched out and splattered with paint from the hallway project. I know yesterday's eyeshadow and mascara, instead of being properly removed from my face, instead gathered under my eyes, giving me a distinctly strung-out visage. I'm aware that my tennis shoes are in desperate need of replacement. For these things, I apologize. My grandmother would be terribly disappointed.

Yes, this is the same grandmother that, on my most recent visit exclaimed, "C's dress is so beautiful! Who'd ever have thought that you took her shopping!" but she's still holding out hope.

However, I would like to point out that my baby looked A-DOR-A-BLE. In her new pink knit dress with the brown polka dots* and matching beanie (beanie baby! heh.) and her little tights with the shoes and all...come on. I totally earned some points there. Nobody looks at me these days anyway.

The thing is, I've learned motherhood is all about priorities. Feed the baby, or go to the bathroom? Christmas shop, or pay the bills? Change the laundry, or look in the mirror? Today, it was a feed the baby, christmas shop and change the laundry day.

Tomorrow? Who knows. Just to be safe though, please judge me by my baby.


*did polka dots really originate with the polka dance somehow? What a strange thought. Or maybe "polka" refers to a place where both the dots and the dance were introduced. Isn't it funny to think that polka dots were once new and original? How funny history is...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dear Dreams?

*this an installment in my 30 Day Letter Writing Challenge. This time, I was supposed to write to my dreams.

How am I supposed to write a letter to my dreams? I've been pondering this question for at least two days, and I've yet to come up with any kind of cogent answer. It's hard enough to write a single letter to a plurality, but make that plurality as abstract as "dreams" and you've officially stumped the chump.

I was initially thinking, oh, this will be easy, I just write about my life goals and stuff -- that's what they mean by "dreams." That way I can dodge the whole issue of how weird my dreams are. But as Cinderalla says, "Dreams are a wish your heart makes when you're fast asleep" (again with the singular/plural issue!), so I'm right back where I started.

So two nights ago, I dreamed that I was cutting out pictures from magazines and gluing them to my baby. I was chatting to someone unseen, as I carefully snipped around the picture of a bare treebranch that looked a lot like a snowman's arm. Then, I affixed it to F's face with a gluestick. It was coming off her mouth, not unlike a skinny, crooked cigarette.

Earlier this year I dreamed that P and I were ghostbusters, un-haunting houses from a specific ghost which would eat odd table legs and children's toys. The ghosts lived in the two-by-fours that framed out the drop-down attic access door.

A few months ago I had a dream with a very elaborate plot, several acts and many costume changes. The final scene featured me in the ER waiting room with a terrible stomachache. A young female doctor came out to help me, and promptly cut open my torso (painlessly). After rooting around for a few seconds, she suddenly discovered the source of the problem: a baby alligator about two feet long. She pulled it out, then stuffed me full of dirty dishes, and sewed me back up again. It wasn't until I was standing in front a mirror admiring my new figure (oddly reminiscent of an overstuffed garbage back, with angles and points jutting out here and there around the dirty dishes) that I woke up.

It is with these in mind that I compose the following:

Dear Dreams,

Don't get a big head, alright? You are not exactly what I would call "a wish my heart makes" and I don't have any desire for you to come around during daylight hours. That said, thanks for being there. If dreams are the stuff of inspiration, I surely have something unique ahead of me.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Dear Closest Sibling (both in age and proximity),

*this is the latest installment in the 30 Letters Challenge I have taken up. Today, I'm supposed to write to my "sibling or closest relative." My brother R is both.

Dear R,

It's easy to forget, when you live as far apart as we do, how much I like you.

It's a lot. A lot, a lot.

Thanks for growing up with me. It's stupidly obvious that you are going to be world famous someday. I won't be a bit surprised.

It says a lot that I have to think really hard for an unpleasant memory with you. Given everything that we shared -- a room until I was five, classes in school, angsty teenage years, a cell phone, a jeep (well...that was really just me mooching your jeep) -- plus the number of things we don't share -- personality, talents, priorities -- it's sort of amazing that we didn't fight ever. But I guess you're just that awesome.

At any rate, this one's for you:

BROTHER AND SISTER, by Lewis Carroll

"SISTER, sister, go to bed!
Go and rest your weary head."
Thus the prudent brother said.

"Do you want a battered hide,
Or scratches to your face applied?"
Thus his sister calm replied.

"Sister, do not raise my wrath.
I'd make you into mutton broth
As easily as kill a moth"

The sister raised her beaming eye
And looked on him indignantly
And sternly answered, "Only try!"

Off to the cook he quickly ran.
"Dear Cook, please lend a frying-pan
To me as quickly as you can."

And wherefore should I lend it you?"
"The reason, Cook, is plain to view.
I wish to make an Irish stew."

"What meat is in that stew to go?"
"My sister'll be the contents!"
"You'll lend the pan to me, Cook?"

Moral: Never stew your sister.

Love Always.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Dear Parents,

*this is the third installment in my Letter Writing Challenge. Previously, I've written to my best friend and my crush. In this edition, I'm supposed to write a letter to my parents. I was inspired by the 1963 classic "Hellow Muddah, Hello Faddah (A Letter From Camp)" by Allan Sherman.

Hello Muddah, hello Faddah,
Have you yet seen Harry Pottah?
I've not watched it, but my fam has
and both Ginny and big Hagrid they dressed up as.

They went to the midnight showing
so I fed them, 'fore their going.
We ate lamb chops, quite delicious,
but the side-dish preparations weren't judicious.

I was prideful of my harvest
broccoli, carrots -- let's be honest,
I was lacking clearest thinking
which explains my momentary cheeks a-pinking.

Time I should have spent in rinsing
I instead took up with mincing,
chopping veggies from my garden
never thinking that I'd have to beg for pardon.

Only as I acted waiter
did I spy the infiltrator.
Fried up with our belly-filler,
sat a little, greenish brownish caterpillar.

Here I was with a conundrum;
it's not like I could refund 'um,
anyway I wouldn't want to
ruin appetites that have nowhere to run to.

So I waited till they'd finished
to announced that I had sinned-ish
Even then, though, I withheld it
From HC whose stomach may have just expelled it.

Husband laughed and brother snorted,
(more humor than I had afforded)
making me feel slightly better --
though the poor caterpillar could not be deader.

In its mem'ry I decided
that this tale would be recited
to the blogging world I know of
Hoping that my fellow cooks, toward bugs, show more love.

The End.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Dear Crush

Dear Crush,

Where do I even start?

Look, I'm sorry that we haven't talked in a while. When was it even? The last time I remember seeing you around you were in a two-liter hanging out with that guy I was dating back in 2003, and, frankly, I thought it was a bit childish of him to even take you out. At the time, I blew you off, given my aversion to consuming things that look like they were poured directly out of glow-stick, but I've begun to see you with a new interest now that I realize what an incredible breadth of experience you have in the soft-drink capacity.

I mean, Red Licorice flavored Crush? That's exotic. Pear? Intriguing.

Chocolate? Ok...that's just weird.

Anyway, I wanted to write and let you know that even when you feel like you're just the dumb little cousin of fancy-pants Fanta, I won't forget you. You were forever branded into my memory at Kelly's 13th birthday party when we were all swooning over JTT and the charm bracelet Kelly's Mom gave her. All of a sudden she got a sick look on her face, jumped up, and turning away from the cake table, puked her guts out into the swimming pool.

There you were, Orange Crush, mixed with the vestiges of her birthday lunch, hotdogs and Doritos, swirling your way through what was supposed to be the afternoon's entertainment. You were a neon-orange-mixed-with-chlorine-blue paisley reminder of what gluttony can do to a sensitive stomach.

Don't worry though, I'm sure I'll be seeing you around more and more, what with the young'uns around. Let's just let the bygones be bygones. I'll try and refrain from referring to you as alien blood if you try to stay where you're guzzled.


Monday, November 8, 2010

Dear Stop & Shop

Dear Stop & Shop,

Today I am supposed to write a letter to my best friend. Clearly, you are not my best friend. However, in all seriousness, I experienced something in your produce department today that I just can’t shake.

This is a thank you note.

It was still dark this morning when the phone rang me awake and a pre-recorded message told me the weather was so foul that HC’s bus would be two hours late. There was an ice storm out there, but it was warm where I was, so I promptly went back to sleep. About two hours later I woke up, put on a robe, fed the baby, and then took her back to bed with me where we cuddled under my covers while P made my tea. HC, delighted by her extra hours of sleep, joined me on the bed and we tickled F until P came in and summoned the teenager off to her coalmine for the day.

After several days of undiagnosed fussiness, Baby F has recovered to her normal happy and alert self. This baby is so smiley and laughy that it’s hard to get anything done around here – all I want to do when she’s in these moods is hold her and giggle, too.

The two of us eventually bundled up and went off through the ice storm for a grocery shop. I had only been tooling around your store for a few minutes when F made it clear that it was lunchtime for babies. I made my way to the nearest bench and settled us down, nice and discreet, to nurse for a little while.

Most people didn’t notice us. I doubt we were particularly noticeable – F was mostly covered by a baby blanket, only her little socked feet poking out, kicking away as always, and me getting a glazed look as I stared off into the pyramid of pomegranates ahead of me. One man caught my eye and chuckled, “Duty calls!”

I chuckled back, then drifted away again, pondering the produce.

Slowly, an aged-looking man approached me, shuffling. He was mostly bald with a small track of grey hair fringing the back of his head from one ear to the other. He was very short, maybe a few inches over five feet, and I assume he is a janitor. He pushed a grocery cart with a broom and dustpan inside. He has a pleasant face but his mouth was bobbing open and closed very quickly, as if he were struggling to say something to me. I smiled at him, assuming he had some sort of physical problem that inhibited proper speech, but soon I realized that I could make out a few words.

“She is so beautiful,” he said.

“Thanks,” I beamed.

“She is so beautiful,” he repeated, his eyes not leaving her little pink and grey striped socks. “How old?”

“Three months,” I said, pleased. He stood there for a few seconds, his mouth bobbing open and closed several times, but no sound came out.

He finally spoke, but in a voice so quiet I had to lean forward and read his lips. “I was married once.”

“Oh?” I said, confused.

“I was married once for nineteen years. But no children.”

I was silent, and sat there smiling stupidly on the bench, not knowing what to say. He looked at F with visible yearning. I realized that his mouth was bobbing open and closed, not because of any physical problem, but as an emotional hiccough caused by what he was trying to tell me.

“She got pregnant four times,” he said, “but lost them.” He gestured calmly with his hands, down and away, down and away. I could hardly hear what he was saying, but his eyes softened. “She was too small to hold them.”

He paused briefly, “I always wanted a baby. Now I’m 60 and it’s too late.”

I could feel F stretching her little arms and snuffling as she nursed. Her warm breath was captured under the blanket that covered my shoulder most of her body. I wanted to say something comforting to the man, and it occurred to me that I should mention P’s age and tell him it’s not too late, that P has this baby when he, too, feared it was too late. But I couldn’t. For several seconds he stood in front of us, motionless.

Then his voice cracked as he said,“You take care of that baby, now.” He turned back to his cart and removed the broom, then continued on, presumably to sweep up some spilled flour somewhere, or a broken jar of peanuts.

All day I’ve had the vision of that sad man in my head.

Why am I so blessed? How did this little baby become a part of my life? It makes me want do something really important and wonderful to make myself worthy of this gift. What can I do?

I don’t know yet, except to thank God for the many blessings in my life, and be the best steward I can be for them.

Thank you, Stop & Shop, for providing me with a reminder of how precious my little baby is. Every time I drive past your store, I’ll remember how lucky we are to have her.


PS: Also, thank you for the “customers with infants” parking spaces. They’re a big help.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


There's something about being a new Mom that is just sucking all possibilities of long-term, self-imposed concentration out of my world and all neighboring universes. It's hard to explain.

My life is not that hard, really. Things are (mostly) under control, and if I need help there is always a ready hand. The problem is that I started out as a bear of little brain, and I think I contributed whatever brain I *did* have to that tiny little being that keeps eating up all my time and attention.

So, as a way to stimulate my only two remaining braincells into creative action once again, I'm starting a new regimen. Beware: it's cheezy. And pray that I don't just lose my train of thought and wander around singing the Winnie the Pooh theme song. No matter how cute Piglet is, it just doesn't make good blogging.

Here's the deal -- it's call the 30 Day Letter Challenge, and just in case you didn't get it by the title, I'll be taking up the challenge to write 30 letters. I'm not going to promise to do it in thirty days, but we've gotta start somewhere. Also, I got this list from someone else, and I feel free to edit it on my whim.

Day 1 — My Best Friend

Day 2 — My Crush

Day 3 — My parents

Day 4 — My sibling (or closest relative)

Day 5 — My dreams

Day 6 — A stranger

Day 7 — My Ex-boyfriend/girlfriend/love/crush

Day 8 — My favorite internet friend

Day 9 — Someone I wish you could meet

Day 10 — Someone I don’t talk to as much as I’d like to

Day 11 — A Deceased person I wish I could talk to

Day 12 — The person I hate most/caused me a lot of pain

Day 13 — Someone I wish could forgive I

Day 14 — Someone I’ve drifted away from

Day 15 — The person I miss the most

Day 16 — Someone that’s not in my state/country

Day 17 — Someone from my childhood

Day 18 — The person that I wish I could be

Day 19 — Someone that pesters my mind—good or bad

Day 20 — The one that broke my heart the hardest

Day 21 — Someone I judged by their first impression

Day 22 — Someone I want to give a second chance

Day 23 — The last person I kissed

Day 24 — The person that gave I your favorite memory

Day 25 — The person I know that is going through the worst of times

Day 26 — The last person I made a pinky promise to

Day 27 — The friendliest person I knew for only one day

Day 28 — Someone that changed my life

Day 29 — The person that I want tell everything to, but too afraid to

Day 30 — Your reflection in the mirror

Saturday, November 6, 2010


The last few
golden leaves
are clinging tightly
to their branches,

Like they don't
want to let go.
Like they don't trust
what they don't know.

After several bleak days of damp sweaters and squelching mud, we finally have sunshine here. P has taken Ulrich out for a desperately needed walk. Ulrich doesn't care about the rain and cold, in fact he seems to love being outside in it. Perhaps it's his thick coat and German heritage that does it, but at any rate, he's been on his own the past couple days because when the choice is the big wet or the warm fire, you get one guess as to where I'll be.

"A" graduated from bootcamp about two weeks ago and now is off to Infantry Training with the Marines, leaving his chaotic room behind as a lonely reminder of his visit. I've decided to interpret his discarded jock strap in the middle of the hallway and crushed up potato chips in his bed as his way of saying he appreciates all I do for him. After all, he wouldn't want to deprive of of my life's passion: complaining. HC is deep in rehearsals for her upcoming performance in "Hello, Dolly!" and is busy attending to her hectic social life.

Baby F and I are just spending some nice quiet time together in the chilly fall weather. Tonight, we have a wedding to attend and for the first time, she's wearing shoes!

I was just thinking: what a wonderful day to have a wedding. The landscape is rather bleak, so the beauty of the ceremony and reception will have no competition. The weather is a bit chilly, and will encourage people to warm up to each other quickly. And every year when this time of the season hits, the happy couple will have fond memories to start them off well through the winter season.

Maybe I'm the only person in the world who relates cold, damp weather with love, but summer can't have all the fun.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


I changed seven diapers today. I tried two new recipes.

I put three plants into the garden, although I'm not at all sure their placement is right. I won't know until they bloom in the spring.

I quieted a crying baby four times. I made two phonecalls, and received one.

I changed the laundry twice, and should have changed it twice more.

There are five shoes on the floor next to my bed; one has been eaten by the dog.

I sliced two jalepenos. Afterward, I washed my hands three times (with soap!) before I picked up the baby, and was still afraid she might get pepper oils on her skin.

I prepared one gift. I wrote four thank-you notes.

I had one pretty good day. And tomorrow, I'll have another.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Mine, Baby.

So, exactly two months ago today, I wrote a blog entry about watching television over my bulging stomach, and then didn't write anything else until now. In the interim, I've cooked many a dinner, managed many a minor household catastrophe and valiantly attempted to keep the weeds out of my gardens.

Oh - and I had a baby!

She's truly wonderful. I'm calling her "F" and she is totally worth the seven-week hiatus from my dearest blog (no offense, but y'all have nothing on these big blue eyes and fuzzy blond head). She's peaceful and beautiful and I have this to say about motherhood: Disney is evil. If you think it's hard to watch the Baby Mine scene from Dumbo as a small child, JUST YOU WAIT until you have a small child. You'll never go to the circus again.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Hand Me Downs

My parents beat me as a child.

Not really.

Well, actually, now that you mention it, they did beat me, but only when I really deserved it. Besides, they were equal opportunity beaters - wooden spoons, bare hands, Dad's belts, that extra piece of baseboard found lying around - everything was fair game. After all, discrimination was not tolerated in our household. Discrimination is wrong. Beating children is just fun.

I'm not hung up on it. However, it's come to my attention recently that my parents did successfully cultivate within me some rather serious neuroses, which are, only now that I am a big girl and running a house of my own that has other people in it, coming to the fore.

The first one is fairly harmless: I store all my pots in the cabinet with the lids on upside down. Why is this? I have no idea.

My mom does it. But she does it because her pots have to fit in a taller, narrower cabinet and so they need to stack. Apparently balancing them on top of each others' little doorknobby handles didn't seem like a good idea. So, she turns the lids upside down creating flat-ish surface upon which to stack another pot. Smart, no?

Well not so fast. My pot cabinet is roomy. There is no stacking involved, but it doesn't matter. If I put the dishes away all the lids are carefully placed atop their big-bellied spouses, upside down. If HC or P happen to put the dishes away and neglects this little touch, I will stop everything in the kitchen to right the wrong. It's a sickness.

The other tic that I can't seem to shake is my fear of television.

It's not so much an actual fear of television itself, but a fear of being caught watching television. You've heard of guilty pleasures? Well, I like tv okay, but the emphasis is really on the guilt with this one.

Growing up, television was strictly off-limits. I was allowed to watch a few videos that my parents purchased (restricted mostly to edu-tainment or classic Disney) but only with express permission. If I were really, REALLY good, there was a very, very minuscule possibility that I might possibly be allowed to watch "Where In The World Is Carmen San Diego," but I only remember that happening like maybe 5 times. Ever. Other than the occasional Masterpiece Theater that I was able to sneak into while my parents were indulging, turning on the boob tube was a great way to get some quick and concentrated parental attention (see above).

My parents' ultimate position was that tv was a waste of time. If I was really finished with all my homework and chores (which, let's face it, was never even remotely the case) then I could go read a book. Or play outside. Or pick my toes for all they care - but watching tv would just turn my brain to mush.

That is not to say that I didn't watch tv growing up. Ohhh no. I snuck all kinds of tv. Being homeschooled with my Mom working part-time, I had plenty of time alone. Well, I wasn't technically alone since my siblings were home with me, but I have to admit I was the most hardened television criminal in the family. While my brother and sister would wander in and out of the room depending on whether there was actually anything interesting on, I watched everything. Trashy talk shows. Reruns of Coach and Full House. Local news. Every Monday night when my parents were off at ballroom dance class, my glazed over eyes were fixated on Ally McBeal and Seventh Heaven. I was so bad, I would sneak over to my neighbor's house where I was supposed to be practicing piano (before my parents bought one) and watch daytime movies. They had cable! How could I possibly resist?!

Ultimately, I suppose the thrill wore off. By the time high school rolled around I had pretty much shaken the habit and by college I was at the other extreme. I looked down on my fellow dormers who wasted precious Chipotle money on television sets and monthly cable bills. I got to the point that even the sound of a television turning on (you know, that really high-pitched whine?) could make my skin crawl. I once kept a television in my apartment for a couple months for a friend who was moving and I never once turned it on.

Now, I've chilled out a little bit. My pre-established household came fully equipped with several televisions, one of them enormous, and with full-on cable bill to boot.

But even now I find it hard to enjoy.

Here I am, as pregnant as a seahorse and unable to reach my knees; I can't do laundry. I'm a grown woman; I don't have any homework. My parents are half a continent away; I get to make the rules, dangit!

And yet I still get a panicky feeling in my chest when I hear footsteps coming toward me as I recline on the couch, remote control in hand. Without thinking I mute the volume, or sometimes I turn off the whole television, thinking for a moment that whoever is approaching won't catch on. Even when I'm completely home alone with the television on, a little voice comes into my head and says truly horrible things like, "is this really what you do with your time? are you really this lazy? I mean free time is one thing...but television? how could you sink so low?"

It is these times that I have to take a deep breath and just remind myself -- if I get at least three things marked off my chore list before Mom gets home from work, she'll never know!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Bun In The Oven and Tornado Pot Pie

I officially have 10 days until this bun-in-my-oven's timer goes off, at which point I'm going to cross my fingers and hope that this baby didn't inherit her mother's penchant for forgetful lethargy. I want her born asap. If she uses my ribs as a bracing point to push her head against my bladder one more time I might...well, let's be realistic. I'll probably just keep complaining.

In the meantime I'm distracting myself with various domestic challenges. They're proving even more challenging with a belly the size (and weight) of a prize-winning watermelon, especially since a watermelon doesn't kick and prod the poor 4H kid who has to haul it around, whereas my baby seems to have a take-no-prisoners attitude toward expressing her discomfort if I sit up too straight, squat for too long or even think about clipping my toenails.

One of the things I'm doing is cooking (shocker! I know). But actually I have no choice: Several days ago while at Stop and Shop, I was seduced by the "Big Buy!" chicken sale. I mean, who doesn't want save $18 on 10lbs of boneless, skinless chicken breast? Let's be real.

The problem came after I got home, and a freak tornado took out my power for the next two days. Yeah, that's right. A FREAK TORNADO. I moved allll the way from Tornado Alley to the Land of Martha Stewart only to have vicious winds toss around various trees all along our power line.

(Good Question: Why don't we just bury power lines now? It looks better for one thing, and Lord knows this county is all about aesthetics. Seems like it would also solve a lot of maintenance issues.)

Thank goodness no one was hurt, and that includes our house. Watching tree branches the size of my car fly through the air almost gave me second thoughts about living in what is for all practical purposes, a glass house. Don't worry, I throw no stones.

However, this meant that not only could I not cook for several day (electric stove and oven) but I also panicked any time someone would open the refrigerator as I imagined all the valuable cold air molecules tumbling out into my un-air-conditioned kitchen, leaving all the precious food inside to spoil. This did not bode well for my "Big Buy!".

Finally, early yesterday morning, the power was back. The chicken was fine, but it getting awfully close to its expiration date. Today, I took half of the chicken and made a couple of pot pies for eating and freezing. The recipe is really simple, so I thought I'd share:

As usual with my recipes, it's pretty flexible. I'll note various things as I go along.


1-2lbs of chicken breast, cubed (I consistently forget to actually *cube* the chicken meat before I throw it into the pot for cooking. Not a big deal, just let it cook and cool, then cube it.)
1 cup sliced carrots
1 cup peas, frozen (really this could be any kind of green vegetable you like. Broccoli? Sure. Green beans? Yep, just make sure they're cut up fairly small. Heck, you could probably throw in some spinach if you were able to get enough moisture out before hand. I think it is important to have a green vegetable in there both for nutritional value and for color, but don't hesitate to throw in random leftover corn, sweet peppers, potatoes or whatever else you have floating around. The only thing to keep in mind is that the more you put in, the more filling you are creating so try to keep the total veggie count below 3 cups. Also, if you're going to freeze it, only use waxy potatoes. The starchy ones get gross.)
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup onion, chopped
1/3 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon celery seed
2/3 cup milk
2, 9inch pie crusts (if you're making this to be frozen, I suggest only using one, as a top crust.)

1. Preheat the oven to 425. Throw the chicken, peas, carrots and celery into a pot and boil until cooked. When the carrots are al dente, drain the water but reserve 1 1/4 cup of it for later use. If you forget to reserve this, you can just use chicken broth.
2. Sautee the onion in the butter until it's soft. Add the flour and celery seed, stirring until thick.
3. Add the reserved water (or broth) plus the milk a little bit at a time, so that it ends up looking like cream of onion soup.
4. Mix in the chicken and veggies.
5. Season to taste. I usually use some unmeasured combination of salt, pepper, Lawry's, thyme, sage, parsley, garlic, tarragon etc. I'm not saying I use all of those things every time, I'm just saying those are some ideas to run with. Just add some seasoning, taste it, and add some more if it's still boring.
6. Grease/butter/spray the pie pan you're using so the crust won't stick when you go to cut it. Line the bottom of the pan with one pie crust, and fill it up with the chicken mixture.
7. Before you put the top crust on, now is the time to contemplate any decorations you want to put on the top, both to be fun and to allow for steam to escape while it's cooking. In the past I've don't initials, a turkey (that was for leftover thanksgiving potpie), polka dots, stars...whatever. Today I'm tired so I just took a knife and cut a large X across the middle.
8. Cover the filling with the to crust, pressing it onto the bottom crust to seal it.
9. If you are freezing the pie, wait for it to cool completely, wrap it in foil and saran wrap or freezer paper or whatever, and put it in the freezer.
10. If you are eating this pie for dinner, put it in the oven for 30-35 minutes until it looks really delicious.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Beat (the) Poet

I am not addicted to Facebook.

I think that Facebook is the sparkly new version of (and Google, now that you mention it) Big Brother actively feeding all my personal information to The Man. I know that Facebook tracks my likes and dislikes even beyond its own site and monitors my internet shenanigans all over the place, even beyond its own borders and on places like Youtube and whathaveyou. I know that it even censors private messages sent between users.

And I'm ok with that.

I've made everything private that I possibly can (not that that covers everything, but we all have to make compromises, don't we Facebook?) and refuse to "like" anything that's not a friend's status for fear of some giant corporation opening a file on my reading habits, political persuasions and "laughing so hard you clap like a retarded seal."

Also, I won't friend anyone who I'm not actually friendly with in real life. Real life. Remember that? It's that place where sunburns come from, where awkward silences cannot be dismissed with a simple "brb" and where your friend Kenny can't just decide to look like Chuck Norris one day -- because he actually has a strange resemblance to Homer Simpson and in the real world, there's not much he can do about that.

The point is, there are people I know, but haven't gotten around to facebook friending because well...well, actually because I'm lazy and I usually wait for people to friend me before I agonize about whether to accept. Requesting their friendship is just too much work.

Today, one of those people I've left lurking in the nebulous state of "friendly but not friended" posted a picture of himself rocking out with a can of bug spray. Several of my friends commented on said picture, and while I can view the photo because of our mutual friends, I can't comment on it because we're not actually facebook friends.

The bug spray though, is some inspirational stuff:

Once upon a time, I wanted to be several different types of things which would earn me all kinds of obscure accolades and non-fame because only four other people in the world care about them. Like poet. And philosopher. I wanted to be famously anonymous and live in a tiny studio apartment in a nondescript Chicago high-rise, with only my cat and the knowledge of my intellectual and artistic prowess to keep me company.

While I was in the process of burning out on philosophy, I took an "Introduction to Poetry" class. It was devastating. Not so much because my talent was outshone by the other brilliant poets in the class (believe me, that was not an issue - and my talent had nothing to do with it) but because I realized that poetry is hard. And I am lazy. And I have no patience for people slobbering up all their made-up angsty self-obsessed liberal sniveling about the combined tragedies of post-colonialism and the fact that love will never come to those who have to invent their own inner monsters in order to make themselves interesting. You think I exaggerate.

The point is, I got tired of all the drama. If I peer-reviewed one more free-verse poem whining,"who are you to compare your pain with mine*?" I was gonna show them what pain meant. In the form of a baseball bat to the face.

*Seriously. That's a direct quote from a preppy black sorority girl raised in the Chicago suburbs with a complete set of dutiful parents and a lovely pre-med boyfriend. Another girl actually used the phrase "whiter shade of pale" in one of her poems - not as a Van Morrison reference, mind you - and expected us to believe that it was original.

Fed up, I decided to write about my own personal tragedy. I tackled deep issues such as dehumanizing consumerism, love, filth, and death.

Despite the fact that I totally butchered the iambic pentameter, my teacher gave me an A.

Perhaps she sensed my inner pain.

Dead Bug

A can of Ortho household insect spray
There atop my antique television
Stands amid the causal disarray
Of books and clothes, a pillar of precision

Crafted by a nameless day’s machine
Exactingly its contents pressurized
Displayed in-store with glossy brand pristine
And labeled as house-wifely customized

This can of Ortho household insect spray
Was gifted me, from lover who espied
A nasty bug that skittered on its way
And down the drain as if a water ride

Depress the valve, aim, and hold your breath
So goes this insect’s harbinger of death

Friday, July 2, 2010

10 Unrelated Domestic Ponderings

1. If I wanted to, say, cut down some trees on a boundary line so that I can see a hermitic neighbor's pond more clearly - do I actually need to *ask* said neighbor for permission? The trees are mostly dead. I've never met him. The trees are not near his house, and neither will they make either of our domiciles more visible to the other.

N.B: I'm not asking if I *ought* to ask the neighbor. I'm really just whining about whether I *have* to.

2. Is it normal for service people to make one's life more difficult than easy? I've waited two months for the estimate for replacing the heating downstairs, TWO YEARS for a sink repair (to be fair, they have to totally recast a custom-made sink) and two weeks for a returned phonecall for tree pruning. Also, I was getting some painting done at the house we have on the market, and though they quoted us three days, it has now taken a full week. The garden beds that were supposed to be set up in front of the garage have been delayed by a month, and the "once a week" lawn mowing is happening more like every 10 or 12 days (yeah, that's right, Handyman Dan. I'm grumpy and pregnant...and watching the grass grow).

3. Is it a bad idea to leave the television in the baby's room? We don't watch it very often, but it's the only place we have to watch VHSs (see Domestic Pondering #10).

4. Is there some connection between testosterone and the leaving of bathroom cabinet and kitchen cabinet doors open?

5. If someone says to you when you're 8 months pregnant,"That dress makes you look HUUUUGE!," how would you take it?

6. What makes tartar sauce, tartar sauce? Is mayonnaise the only crucial ingredient? So, for instance, if I wanted to rip-off the the ancho chili tartar sauce that they serve on the amazing fish tacos over in Washington, are there any other elements I need to consider?

7. How come so many people say "I could care less," when clearly what they mean is "I couldn't care less?" Am I the only one that hears this?

8. Why is it that my darling stepdaughter scolds me for not buying energy saving lightbulbs but then throws piles of clean laundry into the dirty laundry basket? Exactly whose energy are we trying to save here?

9. How could I have lived this long before discovering the deliciousness that is cherries? I never ate them before - except for that one time when I shared a bag with my brother in the back of Nanny's car on a long roadtrip, and even then it took me like three hours to get up my courage and try one. I was afraid of fruit as a child. Perhaps I have answered my own question.

10. Why don't kids' movies have songs anymore? Toy Story 3 is a funny alright, but hearing the kids quote lines isn't nearly as fun as belting, "I wanna be a man, Man-Cub..."

Such. A. Good. Song.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Counting Down


That's how many weeks I have until my due date. I think. I'm not great at math, so give me a week or two on the ends.

So far I have a crib and changing table, a bouncy chair, car seat and bassinet, some clothes, a few sets of sheets for the crib and a baby book. I'm pretty sure I have most of my bases covered (oh, I also have a stroller) except that by "some clothes" I actually mean "like 5 onesies and this reeally cute raincoat that will fit a toddler". So that should probably be resolved at some point.

Everyone at the hospital recently has commented to how active the baby is. She never stops moving. It doesn't matter if I am awake or asleep, swimming, singing, gardening, happy, grumpy or just plain zoned out - I'm getting the feeling I have a lot of chasing around in my future. Even during the non-stress test monitoring where they make you sit on a bed and track the baby's heartrate the nurse was laughing about it.

"Usually we have to give the mother juice or a snack to get the baby moving around," she said, "but yours has a lot to say on her own!"

Greeaat. If there's one word that does NOT describe me or things I enjoy, it's "hyperactive".

That aside, it's pretty reassuring and actually kind of cute to know she's tap dancing around in there.

At my last appointment I learned that she is already 5lb14oz. That's real-live-baby sized!

Also, her legs are still measuring on the long side, so clearly she's meant to be the first ever infant supermodel.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

I Need This

to be installed near my bedside table.

and possibly my bathtub.

It's ok though, I'm patient. I can wait until the baby is born. After that, there are no guarantees.

P, that gives you about a month and a half. The original can be found at Bob Bob Ricard, the eclectic, new funked-up restaurant I've only heard about in London.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Family Dinner

Starting early this morning things were a little off. Ulrich von Dog has taken to waking up at 2am desperate to be let out, and then refusing to come back in.

In the middle of the night, while he's closed up in his crate Ulrich swears up and down that he really really needs to use the little boys yard. He whines and sighs and all but crosses his legs to prove that seriously he needs to be let out. The longer I ignore him the more desperate he gets until I'm sure he's for real and just about to pop.

At this point, I usually roll over mumbling something like"shutup Ulrich" and P gets up to let him out.

Have I mentioned that P is my hero? He also kills spiders. Amazing, I know.

I'm one seriously lucky girl.

However, this morning, I let P sleep and let the dog out myself. He made a beeline for the door, tore off into the dark and never came back. And by "never came back" I mean I fell asleep at the kitchen table facing the glass door and when I woke up 20 minutes later he still wasn't there. But I heard barking.

Since when does a doggy potty break require 20minutes and a barking session?

I grow suspiciouser and suspiciouser.

This is the fourth night in a row this has happened.

I think perhaps we have a herd of deer living in the woods that need an antelucan reprimand. At least, I'm hoping it's deer. There was a distinct whiff of skunk lingering in the air when I finally ventured out yesterday morning to poke at the garden, but I'm choosing not think about that.

I ended up just going back to bed dogless, leaving him to snooze on the porch when he finished the night shift.

Waking up groggy, various irritating meetings and a few disappointing service appointments later, I wanted to curl up and call it a day. At 5:30 in the afternoon. Forget laundry! Who cares that it's still light outside! We don't need no stinking dinner!

But let's be real - at seven months pregnant I'm ready to fall off the Cliff of Productivity into the Sea of Naptime at any given moment. So it's not like this is terribly unusual.

Even so, I was powering down.

A hungry husband and a cut of need-to-be-cooked-tonight-or-I'll-get-iffy meat in the fridge gave me a little push toward dinner. Saying I was motivated is overstating it a bit, but I was functional, and sometimes that all one can hope for. Inspiration was low.

It was a london broil that was in need of attention, so I lazily rubbed it with Lawry's Seasoned Salt and let is come to room temperature while I boiled some potatoes for mashing. Luckily, the beef I bought last fall from the local farm is so delicious and tender that I don't have to worry about it being tough or flavorless. Laziness is still tasty.

With a kitchen basket in hand I made it out to my vegetable garden and starting poking around. A small number of sugar snap peas were ripe, and I pinched off a good amount of lettuce. On my way back inside I ripped off a handful of my extremely enthusiastic chives and threw them in the mix.

This was officially the first full family dinner I've ever made with an entire dish out of my garden. Granted, it was awfully simple -- a handful of lettuce and two snap peas each -- but I feel like it was a milestone anyway. The chives I chopped up in the mashed potatoes.

Such a simple meal - sliced grilled beef, mashed potatoes and plain salad - but everyone loved it. Honestly, I got more compliments from this meal than I've gotten in ages, and I make some pretty complicated things when I'm inspired. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Maybe we're a just a meat-and-potatoes kind of family. I like to think, though, that it's all the little inspirations along the the way that contributed to my uninspired meal that made is special. The inspiration to buy local, grass fed beef. The inspiration (and perspiration...and exasperation...) that has gone into the vegetable patch. The inspiration that brings our family together at the table, and helps us entertain each other with pleasant conversation.

Ultimately, the wonderful time I spent with the family, that time that I was so tempted to discard, turned my day around. Now that's what I call a good meal.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Day 3 of CIA Bootcamp

There were two themes to Day 3 of CIA Bootcamp: fantasy and drama, deep fried.

First of all, the fantasy -

C and I were a little hesitant in our enthusiasm for the menu put in front of us today. I'm all about ethnic food and trying new things, but this list of Middle Eastern food sounded a bit suspect to me.

Falafel in Whole-Wheat Pita Pockets
Couscous with Red Lentils, Roasted Vegetables, and Saffron Broth
Egglplant Puree

In my humble opinion, hummus is more aptly named "ho-hummus" because it's just plain boring. Sometimes you get the fancy kind with garlic and roasted red peppers and junk, and those are fine. Not thrilling, but fine.

Once, when I was in elementary school, my darling Mama packed my thermos with some kind of yummy soup that had lots of vegetables in it. It was the first time I remember ever seeing a garbanzo bean in my life. My brother and I are very close in age and we were in the same grade, so he was sitting across the lunchroom eating the same thing I was. I leaned waaaaaay over the aisle between the lunch tables and and got his attention. He was in the middle of telling his friends something riveting, and they were reluctant to let him break away from the story. I got his attention though, and shouted across the lunch room, "Hey what are these in here?" holding up the suspect food item for him to inspect.

"I was just telling these guys," he responded,"they're ant brains."

Now, almost 20 years later, can I just say: Those ants had some biiiig brains for their little bodies! You'd think with all the brain power they could avoid being, you know... eaten.

Falafel is grody. The first (and only) time I tried Falafel was during an uncomfortable lunch in St. Louis where I found myself alone in a stinky -- seriously stinky -- Middle Eastern restaurant with my boss who I think had a crush on me. He presented me with two cd's of his favorite music at that lunch: one was from a band called "My Bloody Valentine" and the other was Belle and Sebastian's "Step Into My Office, Baby." I'm not always good at picking up on romantic signals, but this guy was about as subtle as the deep fried bitter garlic passing as food between those pita pockets.

C, aka The Incredible Shrinking Woman, knows a thing or two about nutrition that has aided her muchly in the dramatic weightloss war she's been waging for the past year. And boy, is she winning. She's lost 90lbs+ and looks truly amazing. Truly. Amazing. This CIA Bootcamp was partly her idea, since the whole week is focused on healthy cooking.

Being no fool, therefore, in the art of eating, C raised a suspicious eyebrow to the deep-fried chickpea recipe she was expected to produce for today's lunch buffet. Chef Bruno's defense?

"Well...when you deep fry something at the right temperature it really doesn't absorb any of the oil. It just cooks the food. So it's really a minimal addition of calories to the dish."

WHAT?! Dude, can I PLEASE go live on that fantasy island? You know, the island where chips and french fries are just potatoes and fried chicken has minimal calories added?

Phase two: the drama.

Now, technically we weren't deep frying the falafel, we were pan frying it. The difference is that in a deep fryer you heat up a ton of oil and submerge the food in it, while in pan frying you only use about half an inch deep of oil and flip the food over halfway through so it browns on both sides. Despite her protestations regarding its nutritional virtues, C valiantly volunteered to make the falafel while I worked on the couscous thing and eggplant puree.

Things didn't start out well for this particular recipe. The girl who was supposed to be helping us in the kitchen by laying out all our ingredients before we got there, and allotting the scarcer of the kitchen tools around the room, was not doing much to get herself on C's good side. I tend to live in La-La Land (it's a nice place, but clearly not as nice as Chef Bruno's) and really don't notice/care when the mise en place is messed up. I just float around and generally get things done on my own time. I improvise.

C, on the other hand, takes things very seriously when they are supposed to be done a certain way. Words have definitions. Recipes are followed. People are subject to expectations. Were not met.

We were supposed to have chick peas at our station which had been soaked overnight. C grabbed the container of chickpeas suspended in water and went about mashing them up with the other ingredients for falafel dough (is it called dough?). Chef Bruno came over and frowned. C bristled. Chef Bruno poked the dough. C put her hands on her hips and huffed, although quietly. I could see the storm rising, but I'm not sure Chef Bruno felt the wind pick up.

"This is way too wet." He said.

"Is it?" C asked, trying to sound calm. To be fair, she'd never eaten or even seen falafel before so really couldn't be held accountable for not knowing how moist it was supposed to bed.

"Waaay too wet. What did you use for this?"

"I followed the recipe exactly."

"What did you use for this?" he repeated. C's eyes flashed and she glanced in my direction - I transmitted calming vibes in her direction as I continued to roast my eggplant over the open flame of the gas range.

"Did you use chickpeas soaked overnight?"

"I used the chickpeas that were here for me in my mise en place. I assume that since they were put there for me they were the right ones. That's all I know."

Chef Bruno turned and shouted across the kitchen to our helper, who immediately fessed up: she'd forgotten to soak the peas overnight and so had substituted canned peas instead.

I could see C trying very hard to go to her happy place - yet another fantasy land, only this one seemed to me much less accessible than Chef's and mine. Thinking quickly, Chef located some chickplea flour and dried out the mixture before frying. All was right in the world.

Well, except in C's world. She got out a deep pan. Here she was, making a clearly unhealthy dish in a Healthy Cooking class. Into the pan, she glugged a sickening amount of oil. She'd been forced to use the wrong ingredients which brought her negative attention from the Chef. She turned on the burner. I had told her this dish tastes bad anyway. As she turned to grab the falafel mixture, part of her apron caught on the handle of the frying pan.


Our station looked not unlike the current state of the Gulf of Mexico. Oil everywhere, on everything.

I was a distance away, retrieving a digital scale from Team 2, when I heard her cry out. I only had a moment to register the miserable look on her face before our entire range station burst into flames.

Immediately, Chef Bruno took over, grabbing buttermilk from the nearest counter and barking out for the helper girl to bring salt. Each took turns attempting to suffocate the foot-tall flames with their respective extinguishers. It took a few minutes, but eventually it worked.

I admire the great emotional discipline it took for C not to burst into tears. I went over and gave her a hug, trying to convince her that it added fun and adventure to our day. She was unconvinced, but soon turned back to her fateful falafel with a determination to finish it.

And she did a great job. Those students in our class who profess to like falafel exclaimed about how nice it was. Almost our whole tray of falafel pitas was eaten - which almost never happened with any dish. Chef Bruno took the opportunity at lunch to regale his table with tales of kitchen fires throughout his career.

C and I sat at the other table and watched the rain through a giant picture window, enjoying our brownies stolen from the baking students.

"Tomorrow," I said, "you'll find this funny," and I offered a hug.

"Maybe," she conceded. "Or I'll just pretend it never happened." Outside, a waddling groundhog emerged from some nearby bushes, and the clouds began to clear. In friendly silence, we split the last brownie and wondered what our last day of class would bring.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Jumping Through Embroidery Hoops

I'm rushing around trying to get things in order (ha.) around the house before we leave for international travel. You know, since the CIA class was no problem I thought: I have an idea! When I'm 7mos pregnant I'll go to Turkey!

I'll be fine. After all, my ancestors crossed the prairie in covered wagons while pregnant and gave birth without anesthesia. My own mother climbed a Mexican pyramid. I'm pretty sure I can handle flying first class to a beachy resort.

At any rate, one of the things I'm trying to finish is a piece of embroidery that for super-secret reasons will not be discussed any further here. Except to say WHAT THE HECK CONNECTICUT. Is the entire state allergic to sewing projects or something?!

I'm supposed to be living in the industrialized North. Martha Stewart country. The fact that the nearest place for me to find an embroidery hoop and some halfway decent fabric is 40minutes away is unacceptable.

Seriously. Not even Walmart carries them anymore.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Day Two of CIA Bootcamp

I was up this morning, no problem. Going to bed early last night despite an extremely long dinner at Katarina de Medici had served me well.

The meal itself had been pleasant, but it dragged. Some groups of people when thrown together are like Sea Monkeys: just add water, and *poof* you're family!

This is not one of those groups.

These things happen. I think I may have identified a potential friend, though. I saw his eyes spark with appreciation when I let slip one of my stupider puns. He hardly said a word all night, but we punny people have to stick together. Wordplay is a sign of genius. I hope.

True to my resolutions, I had a nice breakfast of yogurt, half a bagel with cream cheese, smoked salmon, capers and red onions, plus about a gallon of coffee. The combination of non-grease for breakfast and caffeine gave my outlook on life and extreme makeover.

Lecture today consisted of basic methods of cooking with dry heat, such as searing, grilling, roasting and broiling. I actually learned quite a bit. For instance, when you put onions into a hot pan and they eventually brown and go limp, they've caramelized. On the other hand, when you put protein into a hot pan and it browns on the outside, it has been effected by the Maillard Reaction. The difference is that the caramelization occurs when sugar is converted to ... mumblesomething...whereas the Maillard reaction involves amino acids not present in caramelization. Strangely, caramel is not made through caramelization, but through the Maillard reaction.

I was super excited about Team 5's (that's me and C!) menu today: Buffalo chili served in baked whole wheat tortilla cups, with brown rice and fresh salsa. Plus, we were in charge of making two versions of corn chowder, one traditional and one low fat. Woohoo! Now that's what I'm talking about. Good eatin'.

Unfortunately, it didn't really turn out that way.

The problem with making chili with cubed (as opposed to ground) meat, especially lean buffalo, is that it takes a long time to break down and get tender. I knew this in the back of my mind, but figured that the CIA knew what it was doing in putting our recipes together so didn't worry. That was my first problem.

The second problem was that since yesterday I felt a bit, how should I put it? underchallenged?, today I wanted to try something daring. Leave it to me to produce yucky food at still feel underchallenged. I'm not terribly confident about my searing abilities, so I thought this would be a great opportunity for me to get berated by Chef Bruno and come out the other end with improved technique. I put meat in a hot pan, it puts me in hot water, and everyone gets what they want.

The key to a good sear is having the pan hot, putting the meat on, and not touching it at all until it releases itself. By the time the meat has gotten nice and brown, it will have left delicious other brown bits on the bottom of the pan, called fond. This fond is what is used to make delicious homemade gravy and sauces - deglazed with broth or wine or whatever else.

My problem is I burn the fond. Every time. The meat looks gorgeous. Unfortunately, the kitchen is full of smoke and the bottom of the pan looks less like it needs deglazing and more like the it's the original namesake of that Rolling Stones song. I wish I could say that now after an little tweaking from Chef Bruno I can fondle meat with the best of them (heh...get it?) but unfortunately Mr. Maillard harbors little fondness for me (bah-dum).

At the first sign of char, I raised my hand and Chef Bruno came chuckling over. He seems to do a lot of chuckling.

"I think I'm burning the fond." I said.
"You are." he replied, and looked at me nonplussed.

I looked at him in panic. Fix it! my thoughts screamed, or I won't have any dinner for my starving family! Oh...wait. My fat and happy family is at home, eating leftovers while standing over the sink. This is just Healthy Cooking class. Fix it anyway!

"Yeah, when that happens you need to start over in another pan. And maybe add some more fat." Did I mention this is Healthy Cooking?

Well, I started over with a new pan and more fat. Twice. By the time I had charred the bottom of my third pan and C was giving me concerned looks from behind her brown rice concoction, most of the buffalo was brown already. No fond for this chili. And thank goodness for dishwashers.

I threw all the other ingredients into to pot and got it on the stove as quickly as possible.

A short note about the gas ranges in our kitchen: they're totally bi-polar. On the dial there are these three sweet little flame symbols, each a bit bigger than previous one, theoretically indicating the size of flame that will correspond with each setting. In reality, however, there are only two settings -- "Off," followed by a cross between "Joan of Arc" and "Salem Witch Trial." Furthermore, if if you momentarily trick the burner into some kind of "medium low" flame height for, say, a simmer, God forbid you walk away. It gradually creeps up and up and up... at one point I looked over at my "medium low" only to see it had grown so high the blue flames were reaching around and engulfing the sides of the pot, nearly reaching the lid itself, a good four inches from top to bottom.

It didn't matter how high the flame was, though the meat didn't have long enough to stew and was too tough to eat. The flavor was great, but it seemed like a great chili base with pesky chunks of beef jerky floating around in it.

C was in charge of both chowders and the brown rice. I was so involved in my buffalo browning situation that I didn't have time to check in and see how things were going. C is an excellent cook, and I was confident things were under control. At least, more under control than my dish was.

It wasn't until the clock was getting pretty close to 12:30 that we both started to panic. My meat wasn't tender. At all. Also, there were only cherry tomatoes available for my salsa. Sure, they were delicious, but halving two cartons of cherry tomatoes one by one is about as close as you can get to time-gluttonous busy-work in the kitchen. I checked in with C, discovering that while the dishes looked great to me, the challenge of overseeing three distinct dishes that needed constant tending had taken its toll on her mood. We began to plate, leaving the chili on heat until the last possible moment.

There's not a lot of time in the kitchen for gentle conversations about what might work best. As much as C and I love each other, our conversation deciding on the way the plate was look was less like a pleasant discussion over tea and more like facing off in a dusty street at high noon. C shot out one idea, I shot it down, she returned fire. For a moment I was worried that this week could possibly take a toll on our friendship, but then I was distracted by Joan of Arc and had to return my attentions to the gas fire shooting out of my stove.

Ultimately, everything was plated nicely in a timely way, and we sat down in a huff to taste everyone's food. Actually, if I do say so, our plate was the prettiest one on the table. But that's not saying much. (Am I really this critical in real life?)

Here's a picture of our plate:

For the record, the lower-fat chowder was far tastier and creamier than the standard chowder. I'm going to try to post the recipe soon.

Our afternoon lecture was foregone in exchange for a campus tour. As I've already toured the campus twice now, I opted for coming back to the hotel and crashing. P is coming to visit me tonight so hopefully he will get here in time to shock everyone. I haven't given them any warning about our age difference. heehee.

Tonight our whole class has dinner reservations at American Bounty.

As if we need to eat any more.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Day One of CIA Boot Camp

N.B. Obviously, I'm a bit delayed in posting this entry. I was more wiped out at the end of the days in the kitchen than I expected, and am just getting around to putting these up. Have no fear though, I will. I promise!

It started really early.

You'd think that knowing I had to check in at 6am this morning would have motivated me to go to sleep early last night, but that would have been too easy. Despite my late night, however, my eyes popped open at 5:07 and there was no turning back.

C and I are staying at a little motel that is literally two minutes away from campus, so I lounged around in bed for a while trying to convince my racing mind to relax for another few minutes of sleep. By the time I finally realized that sleep was no longer and option, I barely had time to brush my teeth and throw on some clothes before heading out into the unseasonable cold of the uncivilized morning hours. It was so weird.

There were people. Walking around. Like it was daytime.

I mean, I get that it's light outside and some people are early risers, but walking your black labs at 5:45am is just sick. There are no excuses.

C and I were both a bit giddy. I babbled and cracked stupid jokes the whole two minute ride over. We made our way to the first classroom with a bit of an unplanned detour thanks to our wonderful map-reading skills.

We all congregated, in ones and twos, in a small dining room just off a hallway lined with big windows looking into industrial kitchens. It had pleasant but sterile decor, industrial carpeting and a few big round tables scattered around, not unlike a hotel conference room. Chatting amongst ourselves, we determined that there are two classes going on this week: mine - Healthy Cooking - and the class sharing the other half of our kitchen, Italian Cooking.

Somehow this seems unfair.

Our class is pretty evenly divided between girls and boys, although I am by far (well, C and I) the youngest in the class. It makes sense, I guess. Four mid-week days of expensive cooking lessons with no certification at the end - maybe this really is more like a vacation than a Boot Camp. They call it "Continuing Education," but I quickly determined there are no professional fooders in my crew.

In our group of 10 we have two surgeons (one maxillofacial and one orthopedic), one retired and one working on setting up an incentivised wellness program for the staff of his hospital. There is one physician from Miami, one mom from Chicago, one CFO who brought her assistant along, one retired nuclear power plant operator, and one retired computer guy who used to work for AT&T.

As we listened to the orientation speil about where to find the nurses office and how to exchange our uniforms if the ones provided don't fit, my stomach started to rumble.

I didn't bring any food along with me to the motel - I mean COME ON I'm visiting a Culinary School. They may not have have a football team, but odds are they have a good food plan.

Gradually the morning ticked away. Our classes divided and we met our teacher for the week. He isn't fat and he doesn't have a foreign accent, but I'm not holding that against him.

By 7:30 I was starving. As in, tummy rumbling, baby kicking, on the verge of breaking into cold sweats HUNGRY HUNGRY HIPPO. I started fidgeting. I started complaining to C. Maybe, I thought, I can break through that picture window and steal the dough off of that pasty student's station.

Pie crust is nutritious, right? RIGHT?

By 8:00, and I'd been up far too long without food. Just as the situation was becoming dire, we were all herded toward the dining room.

When I was growing up, my Dad used to wake me up far too early and force me to go on long bike rides through the Texas rural landscape. I hated those bike rides. I reluctantly nibbled the donuts he offered as an olive branch. I whined. I pedaled slowly just to be annoying. I walked my bike up the slightest incline.

Then I passed out cold.

Turns out, I'm sorta allergic to mornings - at least, that's my theory. Left to my own devices I wake up around 9:30, have a leisurely morning which doesn't usually involve toast or eggs, and then break my fast at lunch time with a nice sandwich or something. However, if forced to wake up early I need protein in my tummy almost immediately or someone's gonna die. And it might just be me.

Breakfast this morning was a close call. What met me at the dining room, however, was incredible.

First of all, the dining room is in what used to be the chapel of the Jesuit seminary which built the structures now housing the CIA. The soaring arched ceilings, cheerful yellow and white interior with intricate paintings and stained glass windows gracing the floor to ceiling panels are really a wonderful way to greet the day. Where there once were rows of pews, there now are long narrow dining tables.

On the one hand, the chapel's career-change gives this nice Catholic girl a little case of the creeps. To be stuffing my half-asleep face where devout people once worshiped in peace is disconcerting to say the least. On the other hand, it's a heavenly way to greet the day.

Secondly, I was right about the meal plan. On the menu for this morning was pretty much the most delicious breakfast food you can imagine. Pancakes. Bacon. Omelettes of all kinds. Eggs any style. Fresh fruit. Oatmeal and cream of wheat. Parfaits. Fruit marinated in some kind of alcohol that was delicious. Biscuits and gravy. Belgian waffles. Pastries and bagels...the list goes on.

C got the pancakes and I got a chorizo breakfast burrito, which, while delicious, turned out to be a bad choice. Note to self: eating a heavy breakfast on a sleepy morning and then going in to sit at a lecture for two hours - not a good idea.

The first lecture we had was on basic techniques in the kitchen, most of which was review for me. I already know what a batonette is, and how to blanche a fresh vegetable. Frankly, it seemed a bit elementary.

At that, we were thrown into the kitchen.

Our class of ten was divided into teams of 2, so C and I were naturally grouped together. Each team was assigned a set of recipes, between 3 and 5, and we were supposed to have them ready for consumption by 12:30.

It was chaos. We were lost, and the fact that our recipes were new and foreign didn't help with the discombobulation. C and I were supposed to make a veal medallions with bulgar wheat and swiss chard sides. We managed it, but frankly, they were disgusting. Of all the forty-some dishes that ended up on our banquet table, two were palatable.

It was pathetic, and I'm not going to lie, I was disappointed.

At one point, C turned to me and said, "Do you think this chop is even enough? I mean, I know this is how I would chop at home, but I'm not sure what the standards are here."

"Once you've seen that other team's julienne," I replied,"you'll stop worrying."

What I expected was highly skilled fellow students challenging me to learn new things and step up my game in the kitchen. So far, I'd been tired, hungry and confused and disgusted by the food our class prepared.

But maybe I'm just too tired and cranky to give an accurate assessment of the day. After all, there had been fun parts of the day: heck, just being in the kitchen was a thrill, with all it's huge, shiny, fancy equipment. And I got to wear a chef's hat, ten points for that. The two dishes that were tasty were INCREDIBLY tasty: a tuna carpaccio with wasabi sauce and a shrimp summer roll.

Also I learned how to turn a whole raw shrimp into a shelled, deveined shrimp. Useful.

After class, I came back to the hotel and crashed. After dinner, I have plans to go to sleep early and start tomorrow with a fresh face and new set of expectations:

1. Better breakfast choices
2. Coffee
3. Instead of following the recipe exactly, try to think of how to make it actually *taste* good.
4. Steal Team 3's work station. Theirs is nice and big, strategically placed next to the range, ovens and refrigerators. Ours today was a tiny rolling island off in Timbuktu that was right in the way of heavy traffic. I may be tolerant by nature, but this baby belly can only take so much leaning forward to let people pass with heavy or hot trays.

Their station will be mine!

Saturday, May 8, 2010


It's Saturday night. That means I have two whole days before my big exciting scary adventure at the Culinary Institute of America.

For our anniversary this year, P gave me a class - excuse me, "Boot Camp" - at the CIA. It was a great gift; I've been in love with the idea of going to the CIA for a long time. In fact, I first started fantasizing about it when I was about 14 and a CIA graduate opened a takeout lunch place right next to the coffeehouse where I worked. She made incredible pasta salad. Seriously. The class I'm signed up for is "Healthy Cooking" and I'm going with my trusty companion, C.

Honestly, I'm a little scared.

For one thing, I have no idea how I'll measure up to the other people in the class. I know I'm an advanced home cook -- but what does that even mean? Apparently a lot of the people who attend the Boot Camp sessions, and they have many varieties ranging from pastry making to Italian dishes, are professionals seeking continuing education. It's not going to be like one of those awesome "culinary vacations" you read about in the advertisements section of Food and Wine, where between sleeping late and touring the wineries you get to listen to a famous chef explain the secrets of his specialty ravioli and then get all dressed up for dinner by the pool.

No, this is for real. I'm just praying nobody yells at me.

What if I get there only to find out I'm not a good cook? What if I get there and find out that I'm so amateur that the whole class has to wait to learn souffles while I slowly process how to properly boil an egg?

Last night was a sort of a test for me, in that it was the first time since my marriage that I made and served dinner to non-relatives in my own home. Of course, I was tempted to throw everything I had into it and make some crazy, creative, mind-blowingly awesome dinner. Then, I reminded myself to stop watching so much Top Chef and decided to just make a yummy family dinner, using slightly nicer table settings.

In the end, my menu consisted of watermelon cubes dipped in Campari for P and the guests while I finished up in the kitchen, butter lettuce salad with marinated beets and hearts of palm, beef strogonoff, lemon pepper asparagus and chocolate chip cookies for dessert. P and HC tell me it was delicious. I have no idea because I over analyze everything.

On the one hand, the meat was wonderfully tender. On the other, the sauce was a little thin.

On the one hand, nothing was as hot as I wanted when I served it. On the other, it wasn't cold either.

On the one hand, one of the guests added both salt and pepper to her strogonoff. On the other, she also added salt and pepper to her salad before she tasted it.

On the one hand, HC is in love with my strogonoff -- and refers to it simply as "The 'Noff". On the other, my family tends to have simple, comfort-food tastes.

All I can do now is take the compliments I received at face value and prepare myself for Boot Camp. Sure, I'm six and a half months pregnant! No, I've never taken a formal cooking class in my life! Of course I can wake up at 6am every morning and be ready for a full day in the kitchen!

Tomorrow I'll be stocking my home fridge with vittles for the left-behind family members who'd rather not fend for themselves.

A vat of chicken and rice soup, plus a shepherd's pie, coming right up! (Did I say simple, comfort food taste?)

Saturday, May 1, 2010


How do you know when the Walgreens commercial you're watching needs a little tap on the "refresh" button?

When the extra's newpaper headline reads "Real Estate Market Explodes Giving Boost to Construction."

We're relisting our house this spring. Another round on the carousel of real estate...around and around and around she goes, if she'll sell, nobody knows.

You provide the salt, Walgreens, I'll provide the wound.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Only in New York

I did a search online today for fun fabric stores in "The City". That's what the snooty patooties up here call New York. In Texas we just called it "New York City?!?" like the good Pace Picante Sauce eaters that we were.

Point is, I made an incredible discovery.

Are you ready for this?

That's right, people. It's all spandex, all the time.
Who's in?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Inspiration: Kay Ryan

We returned on Saturday from a truly wonderful vacation in Los Angeles. I could say many wonderful things about our time there, but today, I'll share one particular souvenir.

On our last full day, HC and P and I went to Venice Beach and walked the long pavement lined with hippies, musicians and street vendors. It made us feel very exotic and dangerous to see medical marijuana advertised via sandwich-boards and stroll casually by oxygen bars in that bohemian grunge that is just gritty enough to emphasize the joys of clean sheets and shampoo. It was a beautiful clear day, a little chilly. The sand was clean, the sea calm and the dramatic outline of the mountains in the distance reminded us that despite the lightness of the air and sand and water, the Earth is indeed quite heavy.

I was interested but sleepy, and as we wandered I looked for a place where we could sit inside, looking out with a view of the ocean and drink coffee. This was a surprisingly difficult challenge, and the quest inspired us further and further down the sidewalk (not a bad thing, considering all the wonderful things to spy along the way). Finally, we reached a promising looking place the three of us ducked in to be seated inside an outdoor seating area that was temporarily sheltered with maroon and white striped canvas walls and plastic windows that made everything outside seem to wobble as we looked through them.

By sheer serendipity, the restaurant turned out to be The Sidewalk Cafe, which I had read about both in an English class in college and some of my California literature while planning the trip. The building that houses the restaurant has a vivid history and shares a roof with the independent Small World Books, one of the best bookstores I've seen. After a few onion rings and iced coffees, we went in a poked around the shop -- HC to play with the resident bookstore feline, and me to find some reading material for our five hour plane trip home.

I picked up two books: a volume of collected poems by Dylan Thomas, and "The Best of It", a new collection of poems by Kay Ryan, current United States Poet Laureate.

As a side note, I'd like to point out that I have looked for Ryan's poetry in many a Borders and Barnes and Noble to no avail. I'm not very widely read in poetry, despite my love of it, but she is my absolute favorite nonetheless. Small World Books had her book prominently displayed, along with copies of some of her earlier published collections.

I've since been sucked into reading poem after poem, and then going back and rereading the ones I already read. Ryan's poems aren't long, but they pack a huge amount of meaning into sharp, witty and easily accessible language. I love that they aren't obscure academic experiments wandering off into the ethers, and neither are they brutal confessions and self-examination.

I'll share with you one of my favorites:

A Hundred Bolts of Satin, by Kay Ryan

All you
have to lose
is one
and the mind
all the way back.
It seems
to have been
a train.
There seems
to have been
a track.
The things
that you
from the
abandoned cars
cannot sustain
life: a crate of
tractor axles,
for example,
a dozen dozen
clasp knives,
a hundred
bolts of satin --
perhaps you
more than
you imagined.

I'm not going to kill the effect by analyzing all the aspects of this poem that inspire me. However, there are a few things I'll say. First and foremost, this poem pretty much describes me in a nutshell and what better way to charm an audience than to give it personal and amusing attention. Second, the concise but light nature of the poem itself is just so wonderful. There aren't any spare words or concepts -- and when it closes, there's this feeling of completeness, like everything that needs to be said has been so and anything more would be superfluous. To me, this aspect of her writing is the most inspiring.

But inspiration is uncomfortable sometimes. It can arouse such a distressing restlessness. The power of the inspiration itself is like a reprimand of what little has been accomplished so far.

It's one thing to be inspired to learn to sew. There are instructions. One learns.

The call to wisdom, precision and wit prove more difficult to answer.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Mystery Tulips

I've been waiting with eager anticipation to see how the minimal landscaping I put in last year will turn out this year. I planted a lot of bulbs and transplanted peonies and ripped up about eight tons of other crud that was just plain irritating.

It's a lot of fun, a year later, especially since, as I may have mentioned before, I have the memory of a goldfish. I really have no idea what's out there now.

Except...there were a few things I was really excited about growing and what's blooming is ... not them. I like weird things, like giant globe alliums that remind me of clovers on steroids (with blooms like a foot in diameter) and exotic tiger's eye lillies. I like things that have strange and interesting foliage. My favorite things are unusual. Why put effort into things that are normal?

So you understand: I did not plant plain pink tulips. I did not ask for plain pink tulips. I don't know how they got there.

I don't think they were there last year. Were they?

Someone, please explain.

Hey, tulip invaders. You see that shadow? It's me. Not tiptoeing. Looming.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

After Easter

1. I'm sorta done trying new recipes for a while. They were good, but not *that* good (I'm talking to you, hummus deviled eggs). My brain is only so big, and there's really no excuse for the number of things I forgot this Easter.

One of the upsides to a total inability to delegate - nobody really knows what I was *supposed* to do but forgot! I would enumerate them here, but ... seriously... it's embarrassing.

2. I really don't suggest overeating when 5 1/2 months pregnant. The combined sensations of a stuffed belly and fetal flip-flops is weird. Real weird.


Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Easter Plans

Okay, so in an unprecedented act of planning ahead, I have officially (well, mostly) planned my Easter menu FOUR DAYS before Easter dinner is to be served.

This is incredible, especially if you remember that on Christmas, Peter had to drive around (at around noon, mind you, cutting it pretty close) looking for some store - any store - to be open and selling Christmas turkeys. I can honestly say that the Jews saved our Christmas dinner!

Easter Menu 2010

Hot Cross Buns (duh!)


Fresh Pea Soup

Lamb (recipe so far undetermined)
Spiral Sliced Ham

Thomas Keller's Homemade Creamed Corn
Raw Asparagus Salad
Stuffed Onions
Classic Green Bean Casserole
Shaved Carrot Ribbons Salad
Hasselback Potatoes

Bunny Cake (no, it's not made of bunny.)
Tour de Deviled Eggs

And these adorable little chicks!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

I Hate Paris in the Springtime

Springtime is like adolescence. No one enjoys adolescence.

Once the novelty of winter wears off, the snow gets slushy and all your cute sweaters and coats stop fitting because your pregnant belly is too unwieldy (oh wait, is that just me?) you're left just aching for those first few warm days of the new season. What you wouldn’t give for a little green in the garden. How you yearn for just one colorful flower, for the freedom of short sleeves and sitting on the back patio.

Then, all at once, a whole week of glorious weather opens up a world that you thought you’d forgotten. On your daily hike you see *gasp* a real live fern! Even the grossness of the season’s first tick stuck deep in the dog’s fur is made pleasanter by the subtle promise it holds of a whole summer’s worth of outdoor adventures.

Beware, though, this spring tease.

The following week will startle you out of your happy fantasies of gurgling brooks and daffodils.

It will get cold again. Quite cold.

And then it never. Stops. Raining.

(For the record, I've never been to Paris in the springtime or otherwise, so I really can't speak with much authority on the issue.)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Social Commentary from the Grocery Line

First of all, it was the express lane and that woman must have had 120 items. The sign says 12 ITEMS OR LESS for a reason.

Secondly, call me judgmental, but she didn't need all that food. She was, in my estimation, about 5'6" and around 250 pounds. Maybe 275. In spandex.

There are many, many reasons for people to be overweight -- I get that. Lack of nutritional education, eating disorders, depression, some sort of disability inhibiting exercise. Heck, we all can think of a bad day that ended in too much comfort food. It doesn't make it ok, but it makes it understandable.

Spandex, though? There's no excuse.

Here’s what really got on my nerves though: there was a little girl (offspring?) hanging off the front of her grocery cart, perhaps 5 years old and quite cute. She was cheerful and babbling on about some nonsense in the way that 5 year olds are prone to do. Despite how cute she was, I can understand the babbling getting a bit old and, if I were the adult in charge, I may even resort to the smile-and-nod routine for a few minutes.

Or even half an hour.

In such cases, no stones would be thrown by me.

However, this woman was not resorting to the smile-and-nod routine. She leaned heavily against her too-full cart with her back to the child, reading an US Weekly and listening to an IPod. Every once in a while the little girl would come around to the front of the cart and tug on her mother’s shirt, at which point the woman would turn and say, “WHAT?!” at that irritating I-have-headphones-in-and-therefore-can’t-gauge-my-indoor-voice volume.

Finally registering on the fact that her mother was far more interested in celebrity gossip than whatever cutie-patootie had to say, the little girl pointed to the cover and said “I like her shoes.”
For those of you (P, this is for you) who don’t know, Suri is the daughter of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. US Weekly thinks she might be growing up too fast, or so I gathered.

In response to this child’s innocent ploy for her mother’s attention, the mother ripped the earphones out of her ears and threw the unpurchased magazine back into the rack next to the Bubblicious and Almond Joys.

“NO!” she shouted, “those are supposed to be play-clothes! That is totally, completely inappropriate! NO. You do not like those shoes! They’ve dressed her up like a GROWN WOMAN. IT IS TOTALLY INAPPROPRIATE.”

Never before have I witnessed the word “inappropriate” being used with quite so much unintended dramatic irony.

And for the record, I think Suri looks cute. Especially in those shoes.

Q: Is dramatic irony always unintentional? If it is, does that make "unintended dramatic irony" redundant? Was my majoring in English a total failure? And while we're on the subject, why am I a 25 year old college graduate still unable to spell the word "exercise" without the help of a dictionary?
A: It's past my bedtime.