Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Really? And recipes.

So much for feeling like a bad-ass.  I had it all together yesterday.  Yoga'd when I was supposed to yoga.  Shopped for the entire week.  Had the kitchen cleaned and ready for my two-meal cooking session.  And just so you can experience my bad-ass-ness with me, here are the recipes, so you can follow along.  Pay close attention.

Quick Crock Pot Garlic Chicken Thighs
(from Williams Sonoma New Slow Cooker Cookbook)

3 to 3.5 # skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
salt and pepper
olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, diced
15 cloves garlic, peeled but left whole
1/3 (who are we kidding? 1/2) cup white wine
3 stems thyme
3 bay leaves

Pat thighs dry with a paper towel and cover both sides with salt and pepper.  Add olive oil to coat the bottom of a heavy skillet and heat on high heat.  Working in 2 batches (my 3.5  pounds was 8 thighs), place thighs in skillet and brown - skin side down.  Leave them where they are to brown for about 4 minutes.  Do not turn over.  Once skin side is well browned, put thighs in crock pot.  Repeat with second batch of thighs.

Once chicken is browned, pour off any accumulated fat and recoat skillet with olive oil.  Reduce heat to medium.  Add onion, garlic, and thyme and allow to soften and turn golden (6-8 minutes).  Add wine and bayleaf, scraping the brown bits from the bottom of the pan.  Bring wine to a simmer.  Pour onion/wine mixture over chicken in crock pot.

Cook on low heat in crock pot for 3 hours.  Recipe continues below as noted.

Hear strange noises from the oven - sort of like a clicking noise that seems to be coming from the control panel.  Pay no attention.  Wash pot from chicken to use to prep quiche.

Quiche with Leeks and Greens (makes 2)
(I never make just one of these - pie crusts come in packs of two and we always want the leftovers for lunches.)

2 frozen whole wheat pie crusts
6 slices low sodium bacon
olive oil
1 bunch leeks (usually two large or three small) (No leeks?  Use one yellow onion)
2 bunches greens (usually chard or kale, but use anything you have - spinach, even mustard or collards although they will need a little more wilting time; heck, you can even use leftover broccoli, asparagus or other cooked veggies that you have around.  This is a kitchen sink kinda meal).
1/2 to 2/3 c. shredded parmesan cheese (or jack or swiss or cheddar or whatever you like)
12 eggs
3T skim milk
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350.   Prick pie crusts with a fork and prebake while prepping other ingredients (about 15 minutes - I like my crust pretty dark).

Chop bacon into small pieces.  Place in cold skillet and bring skillet up to medium high heat.

Notice that burner on stove does not appear to be working at all.  Notice that no lights, time, or other evidence of life is coming from the control panel.  Become concerned.  Because you have no back up plan.  Turn on burner again.  Notice that turning on burner appears to cause control panel and oven to turn on, but burner does not turn on.  Turning burner off appears to disconnect oven.  Become very concerned.  Attempt to use oven by turning on burner which does not heat.  No heat in oven either despite promising beeping and lights on control panel.  Become hysterical.  Call neighbors and see if you can use their stove. 

Give up on bacon temporarily. Pull only partly prebaked pie crusts out of broken oven.  

Prep remaining ingredients:  cut off all but white and light green of leeks.  Halve leeks and then chop into small pieces.  Place chopped leeks into deep bowl filled with water.  Swish leeks around and then LEAVE.  Sand will fall to the bottom.  Take stems off of greens and roughly chop.  Place in colander and rinse very well with cold water.

Take large pile of chopped up stuff across the driveway.

Chop bacon into small pieces.  Place in cold skillet and bring skillet up to medium high heat.  Brown until crisp.  Remove bacon pieces to paper towel and drain bacon fat out of pan.  Leave brown bits on bottom of pan.  

Reduce heat to medium.  Pour a touch of olive oil in, just to cover the bottom of the pan.  Remove leeks carefully from water, leaving grit at the bottom of the bowl (use slotted spoon) and add to skillet.  Saute until very tender (5-6 minutes, depending on the size of the chop).  Damp leeks will pick up some of the color from the bacon bits on the bottom of the pan.  When leeks are soft, add greens and a couple of pinches of salt (I use kosher) until wilted and very tender (this will take next to no time for spinach and leftover cooked veggies, a little longer for chard and kale, and quite a bit for mustard and collards.)  Once greens have fully wilted, mix bacon pieces back into greens.

Run back to the house carrying large skillet to prep eggs and finish quiches.

In a large bowl, crack 6 eggs.  Separate remaining 6 eggs, keeping egg whites and discarding yolks (Ooooh, or save them for lemon curd.  Mmmmmmm.).  Add milk and salt and pepper and whisk together.

Assemble quiches:  place half of greens mixture in each pie crust.  Sprinkle half of cheese on each quiche.  Pour half of egg and egg white breakfast over each quiche.  Place quiches on sheet pan.

Run back to neighbors carrying sheet pan and two pies to use oven.

Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes or until slightly golden and just set in the center.  They will continue to firm up as they cool - this is a matter of taste and also will depend on how much water your vegetables contain, so keep an eye on them.  Allow quiches to cool slightly before serving.

Run home to finish chicken.  Realize that you can't cook noodles.  Run back to neighbors to boil noodle water.  Run home to finish chicken.

Chicken Thighs (continued)
After three hours, pull chicken out of crock pot and reserve on a plate, covered with foil.  Strain cooking juices through into a small sauce pan.  Reserve garlic cloves and keep warm with chicken.  Discard all other solids.  Cool liquid for a few minutes until fat rises to the top and skim the fat.

Run back to neighbors with chicken juices.  Run back to house to get noodles.  Cook noodles at neighbors while gravy is reducing.

Bring chicken juices to boil and reduce to simmer.  Simmer until reduced to a thickish gravy (I didn't let it go all the way to thick because I wanted a little extra to serve over the noodles).

Run back home with noodles and gravy.

Pour gravy over chicken and serve.


Monday, February 27, 2012

Battle Plan

Okay, so, I am going back to work this week.  Now, please don't mistake what I'm doing for real work.  All of my teacher friends are doing this day after day in the trenches, and I'm swooping in to help teach something I love with few strings attached.  I won't have to do the grading, make the copies, follow up each of the mini-lessons, etc.  God bless Jenn and Emily for all that they do.  And for letting me come.

That said, I am going to be working full-time days Tuesday through Friday this week, which will be the first real test of The Project.  I've had some busy days here and there, but nothing like this.  So, Saturday night, I started my battle plan.  I did a full week's meal plan (except for the large family dinner I have planned for Friday night.  Because I am insane).  I have made some notes about prep or entire meals that can be done in advance, and I am relying heavily on my gas grill and crock pot this week.

I made a list with all the necessary ingredients and shopped Monday.  The Month II banner is a picture of my menu plan and shopping list.  Yes, that does say cheap vodka with a star by it -- it's for my homemade cleaning spray, people.  Seriously?  Do I sound that unhinged?  Oh.  I guess you could drink it in case of dire need, but really, why not drink Tito's?  Anyway, I'm hoping that a little advance preparation will make things work.

I also know how handy that Sonic is, too.  The sign in front of our local Sonic now says, "WE HAVE SWEET POTATO TOTS."  Get behind me, Satan.

So, here's the plan:

Saturday:  Make salad dressing for the week ( I almost never buy dressing anymore.  It's super cheap to make and doesn't contain all the unpronounceables).

Sunday:  STYX concert!  What?  The 1980s show band with the hot blonde lead singer?  The one that sang Domo Arregato, Mr. Roboto (sp)?  Indeed.  I'm sure they haven't aged any either.

Monday:   Shop.  Yoga.  Tennis night.  Make quiches for Tuesday dinner.  Garlic chicken thighs in crock pot.  Rice.  Salad or broccoli.

Tuesday:  School.  Gym.  Appt.  Percussion concert.  Quiche.  Marinate skirt steak.

Wednesday:  School.  Math tutoring.  Skirt steak sandwiches on ciabatta roll, arugula salad (dressing from Saturday) on sandwiches.  Marinate pork tenderloin.

Thursday:  School.  Gym.  Blessedly nothing unless I'm wrong about the track meet being next week.  In which case, I will be on the floor in a fetal position.  Grilled pork tenderloin.  Mashed potatoes.  Broccoli if it lasts that long.

Friday: School.  Whatever I can pull out of my ass for my parents and my brother's family.

It all looks so easy on the screen.  Ha!

Pray for me.

Friday, February 24, 2012

If you don't have one, get one

If you've never had the experience of working closely in partnership with someone who so completely complements (with an "e") your own skills and who reads your mind and finishes your sentences and makes everything you can do look even better and more creative and wonderful, you should.

Let me start by saying that I cannot be easy to work with.  I know myself well enough to know that I am always right, violently oppose change, rarely listen to things I don't want to hear, and don't always remember my deodorant.  Which makes it all the more miraculous that the funny, creative, wonderful woman that I worked with for five years (that's 27 in public education years) not only put up with me but allowed me to be a part of the best team I've ever been on.

And I miss it.  And leaving her was the worst thing about leaving my job.

But next week, I get to go back.  My BFF teacher friend asked to me come back and help lead a writing boot camp for their 7th graders, who are facing a new and daunting form of the torture that we call STAAR.  Thanks,  No Child Left Behind.  I cannot wait to be a part of the classroom again.  I can't wait to see it begin to dawn on the kids that their ideas have wings.  And most importantly, I can't wait to feel like the best version of myself.  
I've missed that. 

Let's do this.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Nature's Most Perfect Food, Part Un

For the first time in a long time, those ads on the right side of my Facebook page got it right.  I usually have requests to take off that stubborn belly fat, to try laser hair removal, and to spoil my grandchildren.   Day after day after day.  I don't know whether to be horribly offended or utterly humiliated.  How did they know?  Does it look that thick?  I will KILL her.

Anyway, today was different.  It was if the clouds had parted and the angels began to sing.  The top ad on FB today was for a t-shirt.  The happiest, truest statement t-shirt ever.  It said:

Either you like BACON
or you're wrong.

Can I get an amen?

I have this ongoing argument with my dad about what is nature's most perfect food.  He thinks it's Fritos.  Now, he likes bacon as much as the next guy and being from West Texas, grew up eating bacon with pretty much everything.  But he believes that Fritos are nature's most perfect food.  When I pointed out that chemically-extruded fried corn snack chips don't exactly qualify as natural, he was unmoved.  Which led us to a significantly more scientific analysis.

So, here's how the conversation usually goes:

Me:  Dad, there are three basic qualities that NMPF must have.  It must have the power to make you feel good.  

Dad:  Fritos make me happy.  I love them.  And they love me.

Me:  But not like bacon.  You know that feeling when you wake up and you smell bacon cooking and you know it's going to be a good day?  

Dad:  I like the smell of Fritos.

Me:  But how do can they make you happy?  

Dad:  Because they are always accompanied by chili or bean dip.

Now, you know and I know that the second quality of nature's most perfect food is that it should enhance or improve the flavor of everything it's served with.  I'll grant that chili and bean dip are lovely with Fritos.  But, you can wrap anything in bacon and it will be instantly elevated to greatness.  You know that moment when the waitress is telling you the specials (won't be having that moment for a while), and she mentions some item wrapped in bacon?  And you know how you can't remember any other special mentioned before or after except for the one wrapped in bacon?  You don't even remember what it is that is wrapped in bacon, but you order it anyway.  I know.

Let's be honest.  You could wrap anything in bacon, and I would probably eat it.  Fritos do not lend themselves logistically to wrapping or fine dining.

Me:  But Dad, the most important requirement for NMPF is that it has to be able to be served with all three meals - breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Dad:  Fritos can.

Me:  You can't eat Fritos for breakfast.

Dad:  I can.

This is pretty much how every argument I have ever had with my dad ends up.  But, they're not making Frito t-shirts, are they?  Or Frito bandaids, or Frito lip balm, or Frito car fresheners, are they?  No, they are not.  But they are making all of those things in Bacon.  Is it wrong that I know this because I own or have been given, at one time or another, all of these items?

If it's wrong, then I don't want to be right.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Oh, baby!

It's been raining here. It's rained a lot this winter.  But more importantly, it's raining babies!  Oooooooh, I just love babies.  I didn't really love babies very much when mine were babies.  They were so smelly.  And needy.  And messy.  And I don't think I was very much of a little kid person.  But I am now.  Isn't that always how it works?

Two of my BFF teacher friends and my new boyfriend (who slept in his carseat most of the time) went down together to a baby shower for another teacher friend of ours who is having her first baby in two weeks.  Great shower, super cute, young couple, love them, etc., but have you SEEN baby stuff lately?

It's like I raised my children in 1890.  There are video monitors!  There is a three-sided pack-n-play that becomes a crib next to your bed!  There are car seats that anchor into the car!  Modern baby things are like Transformers.  Car seats that become boosters that become strollers and later a robot babysitter.  Even the bouncy seat is unrecognizable.  Aside from actually securing your child in the chair, bouncing seats now vibrate, bounce, and turns into a swing and a child seat.  Jesus.  Really?  All it was lacking were add-on wheels for when she turns 16!  

When G was born, we had a hand crank swing, a crib, a car seat, a stroller, and (we thought) the greatest thing of all.  It was the newest of the new.  All the very best parents had them.  It was the bouncy chair.  The bouncy chair soothed, it calmed, it relaxed, it bounced.   It was a death trap.   It had a metal frame and a papa-san type fabric seat.  The fabric stretched around the frame relatively tightly so that the seat would respond to the the bounce of the wire frame.  And the baby was secured in with fabric strip that velcro'd to the side of the chair.  You heard me.  VELCRO.  So, basically, we set our six week old sack of flour in a virtually upright hammock anchored only by velcro.  It's a miracle she survived.  

I should have known things were changing when I bought the shower gift.  I went into the Target, a magical land from whence all great things come, printed out their registry, and went to the baby section.  I innocently scanned the four-page registry.  I wasn't concerned initially that I couldn't identify most of the things on the registry.  Um, red flag?  No!  How hard could this be?  Undaunted, I switched gears.  I found an item in our price range and slid my finger across the page to see the "Bumpo" something something.  It was in the same category as the high chair, so I went to the high chairs.  No Bumpo.  Car seats?  No Bumpo?  Is it one of those thingies you put over the teeming-with-bacteria shopping cart for little kids? (We didn't have those 15 years ago either - we just called it immunity building.)  Nope, not a Bumpo.

I had dropped by the Target in between two appointments.  I had exactly seven minutes to get the whatever-the-fuck-this-thing-is, wrapping paper, a card, check out and get to my next appointment.  So, I resorted to Item No. 528 in the list of things that my mom does but I said I would never do.  I became that older lady in the baby section.  Who accosts the new mother.  To ask for help.  

But I was in a hurry.  

Me:   "Uh, I'm so sorry to bother you.  But I can't identify anything on this registry.  Can you tell me where I might find a Bumpo?"  

Brief, awkward silence.   

New mom:  "Um, it's right there behind you."  Sweet smile, look of pity. (The look may or may not have been because of my ignorance.  It also could have been the gym clothes, which I may or may not have worn the day before, too.  Hard to say).  

Me:  "Oh, right, great!  Um, what is it?"

New mom:  Sweet smile, look of pity. "It's a seat for your baby to sit in before it can sit up (??).  It's great for when you're cooking or cleaning or working." 

She was really very sweet and went on to extol the virtues of the Bumpo.  After while, I stopped listening and wondered what was wrong with just sticking them in the play pen with some toys.  Which is when I realized yet again, how fast things are changing and how long ago my children were babies.

I feel a little bit like the Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey (yes, I have spent the last three days watching every epsiode.  I was a little late to the party). When they brought electricity into the sitting room, Maggie Smith's character has to shade her eyes from the glare.  

She's not ready for the future to come either.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Upside: It's not a goiter.

Nobody ever tells you how dangerous your snack food can be.  Tuesday night, I was cooking dinner and wasn't going to make it.  Not even close. I could feel the tendrils of mean-mom-ness coming on and the half-glass of wine wasn't sitting all that well.  

You know that part in the horror movie where the blonde on the stilettos walks into the dark, desolate parking garage alone?  It was just like that.  Except that I was in my kitchen making pizza dough at 6 in the afternoon.  With three other people around.  Anyway, I grabbed a handful of cashews and began chewing.  No big deal.  Suddenly, one of the cashews decided to stab me.  Now, I generally consider cashews to be a relatively peaceful snack food, unlike tortilla chips which will shank you without warning, but this cashew had a score to settle.  He poked the inside of my mouth under my tongue.  I did what everyone does when stabbed in the mouth.  I swallowed the little fucker and washed him down with some cabernet.  

The rest of the evening was peaceful.  Dinner was lovely and violence-free.  The next morning, my cup of coffee was perfectly hot and delicious.  All was well.  That is, until the cashew chose to exact his revenge during breakfast.  Halfway through my homemade replica of the Starbucks protein plate minus the cheese, I noticed, mid-bite of bagel with peanut butter, that my neck felt uncomfortable and I was having some trouble swallowing.  These are rarely good signs.  

I reached up to the right side of my neck, which hurt like hell and was approximately the size of Chet's neck in Weird Science.  When T returned from walking the dogs, I asked, "Does this look swollen to you?"  "Wow," he said,  "that's really something."  I think that was a take on "that's some baby" from Seinfeld, but I wasn't exactly focused.  And then,  "you might want to get someone to look at that."  So I did.  Despite my totally irrational and pathological fear of doctors.  Which should tell you how big my neck was.

Three hours later, I'm telling my super-fabulous nurse practitioner, whom I love, the whole shocking story.  By then, my neck had reduced in size to smaller than a kiwi.  Which was apparently all she needed.  Turns out that my cashew arch-nemesis had left a microscopic calling card in one of my salivary ducts, blocking up my salivary gland.  So every time I ate something, the saliva wanted out of saliva gland prison, but that cashew was blocking the emergency exits.  And swelling at an alarming rate.  As soon as I wasn't eating, it started to go down.  Gross, right?

And here's the best part:  the prescription for a blocked salivary duct is . . . candy.  Are you kidding me?  I KNEW that whole insurance gig was a racket.  Turns out that what they do for blocked saliva glands is give you lemon drops.  Honest.  I made Kate write me a script so I could prove it to everyone that I wasn't making it up.   

The sour makes you salivate and the sucking on a hard candy creates a vacuum.  So, I ate soup and lemon drops all day long.  And by the time I got up today, I WAS CURED! 

So, what can we learn from this?  You CAN medicate with food.  Can I get an amen?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Untitled No. 1

S came down after breakfast this morning with the following:

"I brushed my tongue so far back that I almost threw up."

I don't know what you do with that.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Why internet privacy is overrated.

I was cookin' some chili.  (Apparently, I have to write in dialect when makin' chili).  "Ping" went the cell phone.  My dear, precious, and wonderful friend DAC had a question:

DAC:  "Are you there?"

Me:  "Si.  Que paso?"  (This is funny only because neither of us speaks much Spanish.  Despite that fabulous Spanish for Educators summer class we took.  We took the class -- the Spanish didn't take).

DAC: "Is S's fb pic the boy who lahvs her?"

This may not sound all that important, but S is not allowed to have a boyfriend.  No, I'm not mean, I'm a middle school teacher.  There is nothing good that can be accomplished by having a boyfriend in middle school.  It becomes a lot more about being able to talk about having a boyfriend to everyone else you know rather than actually having a relationship with someone.  To the extent that you can have a relationship with a 15-year-old-boy.  Who lives three towns over.

That said, this is a pretty cute boy.  This boy has been in love with S SINCE THE FOURTH GRADE.  And he respects our rules and calls me ma'am.  Every time.   And since adolescent-boyfriend-girlfriend-duration years are like dog and cat years put together, that's really sayin' something.  So, S got to invite this boy over for her Super Bowl/Birthday Party.  And apparently, during this party, S and "the boy who lahvs her" took a picture and put it on her Facebook page.

Which brings us to the very, very best part of the story.  Someone NOT AT MY HOUSE was checking out my kid on Facebook and within 30 seconds had texted me to make sure that she was not sneaking off with said boy for middle school romance things.  I don't even want to know what those are.

Stalking is cool.