Happiness in the Form of Bananas?

February 19th, 2019 9:28 AM

It’s been a rough winter for those of us living in the Midwest. In the past month we’ve seen several snow storms that dropped over 10″ of snow each, two back to back ice storms and a polar vortex system unlike any we’ve seen before. For several days our high daily temperatures were -25 degree with wind chills in the -50’s. Not fun.

To make matters worse, Dennis was traveling for work during the weeks when most of the crappy weather hit. Not that I’m not capable of handling crappy weather on my own. I am. But, somehow, crappy weather doesn’t seem quite so crappy when there’s someone else stuck in the house with you to commiserate with. There’s a reason that old adage, “Misery loves company” has survived. It’s true.

Aside from the crappy weather, it’s personally been a bit of a challenging winter. A relative that my mother was estranged from for the last decade, but whom I’ve been debating reaching out to for the past few years, passed away unexpectedly after Christmas. I guess I shouldn’t have waited to reach out.  Now the reason I hesitated, because I was embarrassed that I didn’t keep in contact with her after my mother severed their relationship, seems silly. I should have just told her the truth, that I lost track of her because I was busy working and being a single mother. Not a good excuse for sure, but better than her thinking I was following my mom’s lead and severing the relationship, too.

Another ending that happened this winter, is also a beginning, so it checks both the loss and anxious check-boxes in my psyche. I’m finishing up with the coaching and revising on my novel. Which is a good thing, of course, and what I set out to do last summer. However, that means it’s time for me to start a new novel and with that comes the unknown. Which I hate. You’d think being an author would give you the ultimate control to manipulate your characters into doing whatever you want them to do. You’re their master, their god, and the decision-maker of their destinies.

Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s true that authors create characters and breathe life into them, but after that, the characters take it from there. You can put them in different situations and conflicts and they’ll handle them the way they want, not the way you want. And if you try force it, to say, try to stick to your outline that you foolishly created when you thought you actually controlled the creative process, they’ll dig their heels in and refuse to obey. My book stalled for a year and half because I was forcing a male and female character to be romantically involved. Eventually, I couldn’t move forward in any part of the plot because their relationship wasn’t working. Once I cut over a hundred pages, and changed the nature of their relationship, I came to find out that the male character in the relationship was gay. Well, no wonder it wasn’t working! Once I sorted that out, the characters played nicely together for the rest of the book and plot continued on. I never looked at the outline again.

Now I have to go through that all over again with a new book and new characters. It’s kind of like getting divorced and starting over in a new relationship, trying to build a life and a new family. It’s hard. And awkward and I miss my old, familiar characters.

And how does all this relate to bananas, you ask? After all, the title of this blog entry is Happiness in the Form of Bananas? Today, in midst of my winter doldrums filled with loss and angst and heavy dose of cabin-fever, I received an unexpected bunch of bananas. Not just one or two bananas, but a large bunch of bananas. Much larger than I would ever buy seeing as how bananas are one of Dennis’ top three things he will never ever eat, right up there with sauerkraut and horseradish. When I buy bananas, I buy one or two at a time for myself.

Today I received an order from Peapod, the grocery delivery service. I don’t use them often, but the ground lamb I buy for Charlie’s dog food is four dollars cheaper a pound through Peapod than it is at the grocery store. Considering I buy it in ten pound increments, it’s a significant savings. Since I’m paying for delivery anyway from Peapod, when I order the lamb, I order a few more things for us, too.

Included in today’s meat-laden order (I got 20 pounds of lamb today because it was on sale) there was this lovely bunch of organic bananas.

bananas

I called Peapod and told them I received some one else’s bananas, but instead of sending the driver back for them, which I expected, they told me to keep them. Well, that’s kind of cool, I thought. But what am I going to do with all these bananas?

And then the creativity began to flow. Strawberry banana smoothies? Or how about banana bread? With walnuts and fresh butter? Yum. No, I know! Banana cupcakes with chocolate frosting! That’s it. Yummy and easily frozen in single portions since Dennis won’t eat them. The perfect treat.

Did I mention that Dennis and I have been dieting this winter? Nothing cheers a person up on gray, cold winter day like eating a piece of damned steamed fish. These bananas were a gift. A sign to shrug off the caloric restraints for a moment and go play in the kitchen. Psychotic rationalization of someone who’s tired of being perpetually hungry for a month? Quite possibly. Do I care? Not even a little bit.

So, on this 26 degree morning which is actually sunny and warm, (yes, I now consider 26 degrees a warm day), instead of working on the new book or finishing my revision on the old book, I’m researching banana cupcake recipes which I will bake this afternoon and consume happily later today. Probably before dinner. And then again after dinner.

Thank you, Peapod.

February 19, 2019. 10:22 PM

 

Christmas with an INFJ and Five Four-legged Hoodlums

December 21, 2018 4:03 PM

I’m not a fan of Christmas. I don’t think of myself as a Scrooge character, per se. It’s not like I begrudge other’s from enjoying the holiday season — whichever holiday it is they choose to celebrate. Christmas and all the hoopla that surrounds it just seems to touch on everything I hate. Here’s a few of the major challenges I face every year.

Socializing. My Myers Briggs personality type is INFJ. The I stands for introverted. (Read more about INFJ in I Always Knew I was an Odd Duck )That means I don’t like large gatherings of people of any kind. I define a large gathering as a guest list with over four in attendance. Unless there are playing cards involved. Then I’m good with six, maybe seven in attendance at the most. Since most Christmas get-togethers involve more than four people and do not involve playing cards, I generally avoid them whenever possible.

Awkward gift-giving. When you give a gift and they don’t – or worse, they give a gift and you don’t. I realized this year that I inadvertently put myself and my neighbor in this position.

My neighbor has dogs. I have dogs. We’ve become a bit friendly in the past couple of years because of our conversations about the dogs — as in are your large, unleashed German Shepards going to eat my small Pomeranian mix? And I’m really sorry my old, cranky Bichon Mix bit your unleashed miniature poodle who wandered into my yard while my dog was leashed.

Seriously. My neighbor is a very nice guy. Who doesn’t leash his dogs. But I like dogs and his dogs are friendly, friendlier than mine are, so it’s all good. Last fall, around early November, I had accumulated a bunch of new toys that my dogs didn’t like for whatever reason. I put them all in a bag and gave them to the neighbor thinking his dogs might like them. Christmas Eve last year, the neighbor showed up with doggie gift boxes for my dogs and, horror of horrors, I had nothing for him. Not so much as a Christmas card (because I don’t send Christmas cards). I was so embarrassed. I’ve been embarrassed for the past year because of my faux pas. I was determined that it wouldn’t happen again this year.

I shopped in early December and bought doggie toys for the neighbor’s dogs. (No, I didn’t buy him three leashes, although I was tempted). I wrapped some of the toys and put bows on the gift boxes. I’ve been ready for him to stop over with his Christmas gift for two weeks. This afternoon, I saw he was outside so I sent Dennis out with the bag of gifts for his dogs. I even put in a Christmas card. (I got several sent to me when I donated to an animal fund).

When Dennis gave the gifts to the neighbor, the neighbor looked at the bag in horror and said, “Oh no, not again this year!”

Oh my God. The neighbor misinterpreted my dumping off gently used dog toys last year as an early Christmas gift! He was reciprocating my used toys with his Christmas gift last year. It’s like the reverse Gift of the Magi. Neither one of us wants to exchange Christmas gifts but we’re doing it anyway.

God, I really hate Christmas. INFJ’s don’t have nearly enough tact or social skills to deal with these kinds of situations. (Doug, if you happen to read this blog, please don’t reciprocate with a gift this year. We’ll call it even and ignore Christmas next year!)

Christmas Cards. I like getting mail as much as the next guy, but then there’s the problem of what to do with the cards I receive. Do I put them on the mantle and let the cats knock them down and the dogs chew the paper? Do I scotch tape them to a door frame and let the cat chew the scotch tape, knock down the cards and have the dogs chew them? It seems like a shame not to display them. And it seems like shame to read them and throw them away. So I end up tucking them away in my bill box for a month until I need the space for all the Christmas bills that are pouring in and I throw them away in February and feel guilty for not enjoying them more. Only an INFJ can feel guilty about a Christmas card.

I did send Christmas cards once upon a time when I still bowed to the social expectations of the holiday. I didn’t enjoy it. I never knew what to say. I always ended up sending them out on the 23rd so most people didn’t get their card before the holiday anyway. Slowly, I parsed down my list to only the really old relatives who would be offended if they didn’t get one. Now those relatives are all dead, so I don’t send out any cards out any more. I know that probably sounds tactless and harsh, but it’s the truth. If you don’t get a Christmas card from me, don’t be offended. Be flattered. You’re not old in my eyes.

Holiday Decorating. This one is probably the greatest bane of my holiday hate-list. I do not like decorating anything. Houses. Christmas Trees. Cookies. Don’t like decorating any of them. Christmas is nothing if not all about the decorating.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy a nicely decorated house for Christmas. I just don’t want to do it. And I don’t have a talent for it so when I did do it, it didn’t look very good. Plus, there’s the five four-legged hoodlums that rule the house which would destroy a Christmas tree and, more importantly, make themselves sick from eating stuff they’re not supposed to. One cat eats ribbon, tinsel and bows. Two cats eat plastic. All of them eat yarn. One dog steals whatever is dangling within his reach and eats it. Any Christmas decoration I have has to be something that’s not tempting to eat, chew or climb. That leaves this.

xmas

This is a small ceramic Christmas tree I bought for my mom at a craft fair thirty-two years ago. We unplug it and put it in a cabinet every night so the four-legged hoodlum cats can’t knock it off the table.  There’s also a small fabric Christmas tree on the kitchen table which you can sort of see in the corner of the picture. It’s crooked and bit sad seeing as how I’m not the greatest seamstress. It’s also bare, since a hoodlum cat pulled off all the bows last year, and I had to remove the bells because another hoodlum cat was trying to eat them, but at least it’s something.

Holiday Baking. I like to cook. I do not like to bake. It’s fussy and it requires lots of measuring which means lots of things to wash. However, I do have fond memories of Christmas cookies and do feel that having a few of the standby’s are a necessity for Christmas. So I suck it up and bake Pecan Fingers and Peanut Butter Blossom cookies every year. On a good year I’ll do a roll out sugar cookie and decorate it with colored sugar which is much quicker than going the royal icing route.

One thing I do like about holiday baking is I get to look through the baking section of my recipe books which is something I don’t do very often since I don’t bake very often. It’s like looking through a scrapbook. I have many, many handwritten recipes from my mom, my grandma, my aunt and even a great aunt.

aunt gladys2

My mom baked a batch of cookies for Christmas as a gift for me eleven years ago. My Aunt Gladys made them for me when I was little and I love them. Mom included the original handwritten recipe for the cookies and these pictures. My mom’s handwriting is on the top gift tag. The picture is of my Aunt Gladys (in the middle) my mom when she was fourteen (on the right) and her cousin, Myrtle, (on the left) in downtown Milwaukee. The year is 1943. I love the hairstyles and street car in the background.  The picture on the right is of my Aunt Gladys in her later years in 1975.

 

aunt gladys

This is the original recipe written in my Aunt Gladys’ handwriting. I don’t think I’ve ever made the recipe myself because they’re super putzy.

stangels

My grandma’s original recipe for Stangels, a German cookie with walnuts and meringue on top. Love these and I may get ambitious yet this year and make them. 

almond cookie

Also my grandma’s recipe card for Almond Cookies. They’re hard to make, almost like making a pastry crust with ground almonds. They were my dad’s favorite and I made them a few times for him after my grandma died. Since they’re hard to make and require rolling out the dough to cut them out and decorating, I haven’t made them in years.

 

This year I ran across a cookbook my kindergarten teacher made for my class in 1971. All our mother’s sent in their favorite holiday recipe and the teacher compiled it in a book. I remember we got to draw a picture of ourselves at the bottom of the recipe. My picture is really big. Apparently, I had no problem with self-image at the age of 5.

kinder cook

Dig that funky seventies wallpaper cover! I remember picking that pattern out. I picked it because I liked the pink and orange combination. I still do like pink and orange together.

kinder 2

me

There I am! An artist, I am not, even back then. It’s funny, but I don’t think my mom ever made this recipe. If she did, I don’t remember it. And who puts raisins in Snickerdoodles? C’mon, Mom! 

paul

This one made me sad. Paul was my first best friend and he taught me how to ride a two-wheeler bike. Paul passed away, far too young, around twenty years ago.

Which brings me to my last Christmas complaint. Melancholy. This time of year is a hard one for many people and many people have much more difficult circumstances to over come than I do. They deal with true tragedy — like I’m sure Paul’s family does this time of year. I don’t deal with tragedy. I deal with the passage of time and the losses that inevitably occur because of it. Especially if one is lucky enough, like I have been, to experience the passage of time for the past fifty-two years.

Most of the time I do not struggle with sadness and depression, but the holidays do tend to hit me a bit harder than they used to since my son is grown and moved away and my parents have passed away. Dennis and I were talking about this the other day, and I reminded him that we have to remember we are in the good years of life. We’ve lost some people in our lives, but we are together and healthy and someday, when we’re old and possibly alone because one of us has died, we’ll look back on these Christmases we grumbled about as the “good times.”

Did I mention that INFJ personality types are supposed to the perfect personality to be a counselor? I think I’m missing that aspect of the personality type. All my patients would be suicidal after a couple of sessions with me.

In spite of the parts of Christmas I don’t like, I do very much like seeing my son for the holidays and all the fun and non-social activities that go along with it. I look forward to it all year and I cherish the memories during the following one. That’s the part of Christmas to hang on to.

Tonight is the Winter Solstice. I am a fan of the solstices, winter and summer. It’s a time when I look back on the 6 months from the last one and take measure of where I’m at. Yay or Nay? Yay means things are as good or better than they were six months ago. Nay means they’re worse.

This year’s Winter Solstice? A residing Yay. 2018 is one of the good years.

5:10 PM

 

The Rush of Creating Something New

September 15, 2018 3:37 PM

Earlier this month, I accomplished a goal that I’ve wanted for a very long time. I finished the rough draft of my book. When I typed the words, “The End”, I had written 297 pages, and 91,644 words.  I was very, very happy. For about three days.

After three days, I started missing my characters. I felt like I lost friends that I’d spent years with. Feeling this way makes absolutely no sense because even though the rough draft of my book is complete, the book is far from done. It’s a rough draft. Which means revision needs to happen, many times, probably, to get to the final draft. I am still spending plenty of time reading, editing, rewriting and tweaking my book. I’m with my characters almost every day because I am working on revisions almost every day.

But I’m not creating any more new content. I might add a little extra something to a scene, but the story line is done. I know how it ends. There’s nothing new left, and I miss the rush that comes from creating something new.

I talked with my writing coach about this yesterday, and she said it was common for writers to feel the way when they finish the rough draft. She also cautioned me about starting another book just for the rush of creating. She said that’s how books never truly get finished. They sit in rough draft form forever because the fun part is done.

I can see that, although, I really am itching to start on book 2 of the series. I wasn’t sure there would be a book 2 when I committed to completing the rough draft earlier this summer, but now I’m sure. There will absolutely be a book 2. Even if I write it just for myself. But I won’t start it now. My writing coach is an author who has published many books of her own. I trust her judgement so I’m delaying starting book 2 for now.

But I still have that itch to create. What to do? Make a new quilt? I could, but I have two unfinished quilts already that have been sitting while I dedicated the summer to writing. Write something else? A short story, perhaps? Maybe, but I have a writing submission due to my critique group on Sunday that I should work on first. How about cooking? I like to cook, but I haven’t done much out-of-the-ordinary cooking like recipe testing/creating since I dedicated the summer to writing.

Cooking it would be and I knew just what I wanted to try to make. Deep-fried Swiss and Rye on a stick that I get at State Fair. Earlier this summer, I wrote a post entitled To Fair or Not to Fair, That is the Question, where I discussed my love, no, not love, obsession with deep-fried Swiss and Rye. Us Wisconsin-ites are known for our deep fried, batter coated, heart-attack-inducing cheese treats, but the Swiss and Rye takes deep fried cheesy love to another level. The batter isn’t light and crisp like you normally find on a deep fried cheese curd. It’s thick and flavorful, kind of like the batter used on a corn dog, only rye-ier.

Often, as I said in my fair post, my husband and I go to the Wisconsin State Fair on multiple days and part of the reason is so I can get the Swiss and Rye more than once per season. For the same reason, we sometimes go to our local county fair, so I can get the Swiss and Rye. This year has been a busy one, and we did’t get multiple fair visits in. Nor did we go to multiple fairs. I got one, ONE, Swiss and Rye this year, which I shared with Dennis. (I rarely share my Swiss and Rye. I wait for it all year and when I finally get it, it’s mine, all mine and I’m not sharing.) I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m addicted to Swiss and Rye, but I’m walking a very fine line and I know it.

Today, I decided to try to recreate the Swiss and Rye at home. I do not have a recipe. I only have the memory of the taste and texture to go by. Since the batter is very corn dog-ish, I started with the corn dog recipe from Cook’s Country, my favorite cooking site.

I tweaked the recipe quite a bit, omitting some of the cornmeal and cayenne and adding more rye flour and some water to loosen the batter up. There wasn’t much counter space left by the time I gathered all the ingredients I needed.

prep

Unlike writing, you can see the tangible effort of creating something when you cook.

 

Swiss and Rye from the fair is huge. You are served a large block of crispy, batter coated cheese. It’s roughly the size of my hand as you can see below.

swiss and rye

The is a picture of Swiss and Rye from State Fair. It’s the pinnacle of fair-food, in my opinion. (picture from Shepard Express)

I decided that my version of Swiss and Rye would be smaller. They’d be nugget sized. So I diced my Swiss cheese into 1″ by 1 1/2″ blocks. I mixed and measured. I whisked and stirred. I carefully heated my oil to right temperature. Once it was there, I battered one nugget of cheese and dropped in the oil.

It immediately started to bubble and all the batter stayed on the cheese, which was a relief. I very rarely deep fry anything, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. After just a few minutes, I pulled out a perfect miniature version of Swiss and Rye.

nugget2

It’s a little Swiss and Rye Nugget! Looks a little like a hushpuppy, doesn’t it?

I anxiously, and with much trepidation, took my little nugget of heaven over to the kitchen table to try it. Would it be close to the fair food perfection I know and love? Or did I just make a big mess in my kitchen for nothing? Only one way to find out. I cut it open.

nugget1

The gooey inside of my little Swiss Nugget

What was the verdict? Not bad. The cheese to batter ratio was a bit off. I now understood why the vendor uses big chunks of Swiss cheese in their Swiss and Rye. The batter is so thick, you need plenty of cheese to stand up to it.

The flavor was good. It had the hint of the Swiss and Rye flavor, but not the full on, in your face, rye pop that I love. In writing terms, the rough draft of the book was done, but it needed some revision.

I added more rye flour to amp up the rye flavor, and then a little more buttermilk and water, to thin it out. The ratio of cheese to batter was a problem since I’d already cut up all my Swiss cheese into chunks. I dug around in the kitchen drawers and came up with some nice wooden skewers. I have no idea why I have them, but I did.

I carefully stacked three chunks of cheese on the skewer. This worked for nine pieces of cheese. A lot of the cheese pieces broke and cracked when I tried to skewer them, so I needed another method to stick them back together to create a larger chunk of cheese. Enter the toothpicks. I was able to thread two chunks of cheese on one toothpick without the cheese disintegrating. It wouldn’t be as big as the skewered pieces, but they’d be better than frying them individually. I hoped.

I brought my oil back up to temp, battered all my cheesy morsels of various sizes, and plopped them into the oil. I’m not gonna lie, there were a few casualties. Some of the cheese broke away from the skewers which meant part of the cheesy nuggets weren’t battered as they bubbled away. They floated in my oil like naked, gooey orphans. I tried to salvage them, and let them cook, but they were messing up my oil too much. Eventually, they had to be plucked from the group and thrown away. That happens with writing, too. Sometimes characters that I really like won’t play well with the other characters, and I have to pluck them out from the story, and get rid of them, too. Being creative isn’t for the faint of heart.

After a few more minutes in the oil, the rest of the cheesy survivors were ready. I scooped them up and popped them on a paper towel.

pic2

There are three chunks of cheese nestled under that crispy, golden batter. This looks exactly like the State Fair Swiss and Rye only a little smaller.

pic1

Finally! The perfect cheese to batter ratio!

I called Dennis is to come and taste test with me. We each tried the skewered ones first. When I cut it open, I could’ve sworn I was at State Fair (minus the crowds, the heat and the juggling the hot cheese while I’m walking.) The cheese to batter ratio was perfect. And the taste? Spot on! I nailed it. It was as good, if not better, than State Fair Swiss and Rye. The breading was crispy but not greasy and with the perfect amount of Rye savory flavor to meld with the hot cheese.

The toothpick ones were good, too. So good that I forgot to take a picture of them. It wasn’t as fun to eat them, however, because they had to be cut open in order to extract the toothpick. It’s more fun to eat Swiss and Rye off the stick, like it’s meant to be done.

We slathered them in dipping sauces (mustard for me, marinara for Dennis) and ate all we could, which, honestly wasn’t that much. These suckers are filling! We have plenty for left overs, although, I have no idea if they’ll be good reheated. If not, that’s okay, we really shouldn’t eat two meals of Swiss and Rye anyway. Actually, this recipe isn’t something I will make very often. I’m thinking the next time will be in January or February, when it’s below zero outside and we need a taste of summer to perk us up.

It was fun to create something this morning. It didn’t stop me from missing my characters, but it was a good creative outlet, nonetheless.  There is one down side to being creative with cooking. Clean-up. When I’m done writing, it takes me about three seconds to close my laptop and put it away. Cleaning up this disaster of a kitchen took a lot longer than that. It was worth it, though, to bring a taste of State Fair home.

stove after

Glass cook tops are great in theory, but they’re a real pain in the butt to get oil off of.

4:34 PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Found a First!

August 2, 2018 3:24 PM

A momentous event happened in our house last night. It was more than momentous, it was a first. When you’re fifty-one, it’s not easy to have a first of anything, or at least a first of anything you that haven’t already wanted to try.

What was the blessed event that moved to me write a blog post today, when I haven’t written one in the past week? (Sorry about the limited posts of late, but I’m spending all my spare time working on my novel, which is now at 56,800 words. My goal is to get the first draft done, which will be about 75,000 words, by the end of the month). Anyway, I digress. Back to the blessed, momentous, first-time event that rocked our world last night.

Here it is. Are you ready? Dennis ate this last night as part of his dinner.

coleslaw

Yes, it’s a bowl of coleslaw. Nothing special, just plain coleslaw with a few sunflower seeds, almonds and crunchy ramen noodles thrown in. This can’t be the momentous, first-time, earth-changing event, can it, you ask?  Well, no. I never said earth-changing. It was, however, a momentous, first-time event in our house because Dennis does not eat raw cabbage. Ever.

In fact, when I met Dennis back in 1995, he didn’t eat much of anything other than pepperoni pizza, grilled chicken breast sandwiches plain, sweet and sour chicken (but no peppers or pineapple) french fries and hamburgers with ketchup.  If he ate spaghetti, it was with a canned sauce with no hint of vegetables in it. Anything with an unidentified chunk of anything was dismissed an inedible and very likely to kill him if he tried it. Onions were, and still are, the bane of his existence.

Gradually, as the years passed, I noticed that Dennis was making an effort to expand his palate. He tried an egg roll when we were out for lunch at a Chinese restaurant, and he liked it. (I didn’t tell him there was cabbage in it for twenty years).

He began to accept chunks of tomato in his spaghetti sauce. He ate my Swedish meatballs with relish (there were tons of grated onion in them). Around the time we got married, Dennis warmed up to the idea of eating something green. We started with iceberg lettuce which is a very pale green. That went okay, so I tried Romaine. Still good. We’ve branched into all kinds of baby lettuce now, although purple lettuce and spinach are still verboten in our house. I can live with that.

Last night, as I was making the coleslaw salad for myself, Dennis saw the almonds and the sunflower seeds out on the counter. Dennis loves sunflower seeds. I tease him that he adds a little lettuce to his sunflower seed salads.

Sunflower seeds AND toasted almonds got his attention. How bad could coleslaw be, he asked, with those as the ingredients. I suggested he give the coleslaw a try. After all, I reasoned, he’s been eating cabbage in egg rolls for years. This isn’t much different. I even offered to make him his own salad sans the green onions. (I didn’t want to push my luck.)

To my utter shock, Dennis agreed. Dennis agreed to eat raw cabbage. And he liked it! The man who, twenty years ago, ate nothing but a five or six different foods, none of it green or raw or a vegetable, actually enjoyed a coleslaw salad.

Hurray! I thought. Now I have a reason to make it more often. The last time I made that recipe was around 1998, for an office party. It seems like a lot of work to make for just me. If we both enjoy it, however, it becomes much more feasible.

While it was only coleslaw, it was a momentous occasion in our house. (And it possibly illustrated the fact that Dennis and I need to get out more if his eating coleslaw is a momentous event. But that’s a whole other blog post.)

Unfortunately, the coleslaw-high was short-lived. Dennis woke up with a migraine this morning and his migraines are often triggered by food. The coleslaw was the only new thing Dennis ate yesterday, so he’s blaming the coleslaw for the migraine. I’m holding out hope that it was just a fluke.

Unfortunately, I expect it will take another twenty years before I can talk Dennis into trying coleslaw again.

3:56 PM

 

Battle of the Ear Worms

July 1st, 2018 6:57 PM

Oh, I love to cook, I love to bake, I guess I’ll make an acorn cake.

This little rhyme has been going through my head all day. It’s from a children’s book, one of my favorites, called Miss Suzy. Miss Suzy is a mild-mannered little gray squirrel who likes to bake and clean in her house at the top of her tree. One day, some nasty brutes, the red squirrels, invade her home and she’s forced to evacuate. Thankfully, the tin soldiers who befriend Miss Suzy defend her against the red squirrels in the end. (Sorry about the spoiler.)

Miss Suzy

Isn’t Miss Suzy cute?

suzysong

I don’t think I’ve read this book for forty-five years, at least. But I still remember the plot, the characters, and the rhyme. Please don’t ask me what I made for dinner on Friday night. I won’t remember that.

The reason for the rhyme running endlessly through my head today is because I made a peach coffee cake this morning. From scratch. This is a significant thing for me. I’m not a big baker. I like to cook, and while I can bake, I find it to be tedious. Plus, my tastes tend to run more toward savory treats than sweet ones. I’ll take bowl of fresh, hot buttered popcorn over cookies or cake any day.

I do like coffee cake, however, since it isn’t too sweet. When I make it, which is about once every couple of years, I always opt for the recipe on the back of the Bisquick box, which is fine. However, the recipe that I used today was from America’s Test Kitchen, my absolute favorite source for recipes. You know how there’s some chefs that make recipes sound so good but when you actually make them they’re awful? (I’m looking at you Rachael Ray!) America’s Test Kitchen (and Cook’s Country and Cook’s Illustrated — they’re all the same organization) has never, ever steered me wrong. Their recipes always work out. Always. Which was what gave me the courage to try a cake from scratch.

Their recipes are not easy, mind you. The often have fifteen or more ingredients and they are, as my mother would say, “putzy”. So was this one. I had to slice two peaches in 1/2″ slices and macerate them in sugar and a pinch of salt for a half hour in order to extract two tablespoons of peach syrup. Which I did. I had juicy peaches so I actually got three tablespoons of syrup. I know you can’t futz with liquid to dry ratios in baking, though, so I didn’t throw the extra tablespoon into the batter, even though I was tempted. I threw it in a glass with some diet Pepsi and gave it Dennis. (He loved it! He said it tasted alcoholic and that made him happy. I’ve decided not to analyze the meaning behind that comment).

In addition to fresh peaches I also had to dig out vanilla and almond extract (I actually had some to my surprise), peach preserves and a 9″ spring form pan. That one was tricky. I knew I had one because Dennis had a set of spring form pans he brought with him when we got married. Not being a baker, I’ve never used them in the 10+ years we’ve been married.

Then there was the usual butter, cinnamon, flour, sugar (white and brown), baking powder and sour cream. There was a three-step assembly process that each required seperate bowls — wet ingredients, dry ingredients, and the topping ingredients (as well as the macerated peach bowl, the strainer and the additional bowl to catch the peach juice. I think I used every bowl I own. The counter and sink were strewn with bowls, utensils, and measuring cups. This is why I don’t bake, I thought to myself half way through. Miss Suzy was nuts; clean-up is going to be a bitch.

So I began assembling the cake. I measured, I hand-blended, I mixed, and I whisked while the entire time Miss Suzy’s song ran though my head. Oh, I love to cook, I love to bake, I guess I’ll make an acorn cake. 

Forty-five minutes in, I wanted Miss Suzy to shut the hell up already. I played one of the darkest, most haunting songs I could think of to drive Miss Suzy out of my head. “Take Me to Church” by Hozier. It didn’t work. Apparently, my ear worms are multi-taskers because Miss Suzy’s rhyme and Hozier’s song have been alternating running through my head ever since. It’s an interesting combination to be sure. Take me church, I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies…

Here is a link to the YouTube video of Take me to Church by Hozier, in case you’ve never heard it. (I cannot be held responsible if it runs through your head for the next three weeks).

Finally, it was time to get the batter into the spring form pan. Spring form pans are tricky. If the bottom isn’t in right you end up with a mess in the bottom of the oven. I was very, very careful to make sure I got the pan put together securely before I put my precious batter inside. (I was a good hour in, with another hour of clean-up in front of me. No way was I wasting that batter.) …I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knives…

The spring form held the batter, thank goodness, and then it was time to arrange my 1/2″ slices of peaches, that were now sticky and slimy from macerating in sugar, into a concentric circle on the top of the pan. Sure. Piece of cake. Oh, I love to cook, I love to bake…

Or not. My concentric circle wasn’t all that even. it was more of a concentric blob than a circle, but I was losing patience at this point. Besides, I reasoned, the concentric circle gets covered up with the crumble topping. No one will know.

peach1

My non-concentric peach blob with crumble topping ready to go into the oven.

Once I covered my not-so-concentric mess with the crumble topping it looked pretty good. Time to bake it. Take me to church…

The recipe said it should take forty-five to fifty minutes. However, my stove has been flaky so I truly had no idea how long it would take. I set the time for thirty minutes and kept checking on it from there. Forty-five minutes in it started to smell really, good. It ended up taking an hour ten minutes to finish and I was afraid I dried it out with all the extra cooking. I really need a new oven. I bet Miss Suzy didn’t have these problems. I’ll worship like a dog…

I finished cleaning the kitchen about five minutes before the cake was done. This sucker better taste good. I took it out of the oven and it looked perfect. Just like the picture on the recipe. My non-concentric blob was totally obscured by the crumble as I expected.

peach 2

The finished product cooling.

Did I dig in and confirm my efforts were worth the end product? I did not. Because the damn cake had to cool for two hours. I pried the outside ring off it at an hour, and I was relieved it didn’t stick.

Finally, it was cool enough to try. At this point it was 4:45 and I was getting dinner ready being the busy little squirrel I was today. (Personally, I think if one bakes, cooking should not be required in the same day. That’s double the dish duty. Just sayin’).

So how was the end result? Amazing. It’s probably the best coffee cake I’ve ever had, hands down. I saved out two pieces for dessert tonight and I cut up and froze the rest. No way is any of that going to waste.

peach 3

Yum! It turned out perfect.

Oh, I love to cook, I love to bake, I guess I’ll make an acorn cake. 

The cake experience was a success but, unfortunately, the battle of the ear worms continues to rage on with no relief in site.

7:36 PM

 

 

Checkout Clerks and Crocheted Pants

June 15, 2018 1:55 PM

I got a glimpse into the how the other half lives today.  And it happened, of all places, in the checkout line at my local Meijer store.

For those of you who don’t have a Meijer store, it’s similar to a Target with a super large grocery store attached. Our Meijer has meat and produce that rivals the high-end expensive grocery stores in my area.

I go to Meijer once or twice a month, usually when they have half pork loins on sale. Pork loin is one of the main foods Charlie can eat, so when it goes on sale, I make a trek to Meijer and buy a lot of it. At least eighteen to twenty pounds at a time.

Meijer canned vegetables are inexpensive, and they have the handy pop tops. Normally, a pop-top can vs. a can-opener can wouldn’t motivate me to hike a store roughly the size of a two football fields to buy it. However, when I’m making Veg for Charlie, having pop top cans makes a big difference. I use twenty cans of carrots and greens beans. That’s a lot of cans to open manually and my can opener is slow.

One Meijer trip a month is dedicated to buying 20 cans of canned pop-top veg for Charlie. I try to not combine the veg purchase with the pork purchase in the same shopping trip. The cart gets pretty heavy to push around with 20 pounds of pork and 20 cans of vegetables in it.

I was in a hurry today, though, so I bought both pork and veg. And I shopped for our Sheepshead card group party. We rotate playing at different houses, and it’s our turn to host this month. I grabbed a few bags of junk food, and some cute little bakery angel food cakes for strawberry shortcake. I needed bacon for a recipe I’m making. Meijer only had the super, big, two pound package of the brand I like, so I had that in my cart as well.

While I was in the meat section, I tossed a package of brisket burgers in the cart for dinner tonight. So while I didn’t buy a lot of different items, my cart was pretty heavy and laden down with meat. Lots and lots of meat.

There are down sides to Meijer. The main one is that most of the check out lanes are self-service. There are very few checkout lanes that are manned by Meijer employees and, in my experience, Meijer checkout clerks are the slowest individuals I’ve seen work a register.  I can check myself out and bag my merchandise much quicker than going through a checkout lane.

However, today, I was feeling lazy, and I was pushing about twenty-five pounds of meat plus all my veg canned goods and I just didn’t feel like bagging it all myself. The check out lanes weren’t busy, so I gave it a shot.

There was a lady with a pre-teen daughter in line ahead of me. The lady was probably in her mid-thirties and she was tall and slender. I noticed this because she was wearing black crocheted pants like these.

black crochet pants

I thought they were cute on her. Never in my life, even at my thinnest weight ever, could I pull off wearing crocheted pants. I would have to sandwich my thighs into them and little pillows of flesh would be poking out of the crocheted holes. When I peeled them off at night, the indentation from the crocheting would leave patterns on my thighs. Kind of like when you cut a tied rump roast out of it twine. Not a cute look.

When it was the Crocheted Pants’ turn to be checked out, the checkout clerk decided he needed to refill his bags. He still had, what looked like to me, plenty of plastic bags on his carousel, but apparently I was wrong. He needed more. Many more.

While I waited for him to get the bags from another lane, and load them up on the carousel (moving in slow motion the entire time, I swear!) I had plenty of time to survey the items Crocheted Pants had on the conveyor belt.

She had organic milk, frozen salmon burgers and tuna. I considered leaving the line to swap my brisket patties for salmon burgers for tonight’s dinner. I’m sure Dennis would love that. I’ve also considered making riced cauliflower “mashed potatoes” for Dennis in the past. I like being married though, and I think passing salmon off for brisket or cauliflower off for potatoes is grounds for divorce in Dennis’ mind.

Accompanying the salmon burgers, Crochet Pants also had a plethora of green veggies – fresh, not canned. She had some box that boasted quinoa as an ingredient and several frozen entrees that said Vegetarian in big, bold letters.

And there I stood, behind this bounty of healty food, with twenty-five pounds of meat in my cart. The contents of my entire cart looked like a mound of flesh – except for the canned veg and a couple bags of junk food. I wanted to tell her, it’s for the dog! All the pork is for the dog! We eat fresh vegetables, too. The canned veg is for the dog! The two pounds of bacon are for a party. So are the bags of junk food! Truly, this isn’t how we eat every day.

As we continued waiting, Crochet Pants and I, for the checkout guy to finish loading his bags, Crochet Pants’ daughter started to get restless. She was surveying the candy that lined the aisle for all the impulse purchases. Eventually, she grabbed one and started badgering her mother for it.

What did she grab? Peanut Butter cups? Nope. Snickers? Nope. Gummy Bears? Wrong again. She grabbed Extra Sugar Free gum.  Her impulse purchase was sugarless gum. Even the kid eats healthy!

Perhaps, I thought, if I ate that way, I too, could wear black crochet pants without my thighs poking through like a bratwurst splitting out of its’ casing.

Did I mention that Dennis is barbecuing a beef brisket for our card party tomorrow?

brisket

This is why I will never wear black crocheted pants.

When the clerk finally finished loading his plastic bags, Crochet Pants Lady produced her own reusable shopping bags for him to pack her groceries in. I would say if she produced those earlier maybe the checkout clerk would have delayed the restocking of the bag routine, but he probably saw twenty-five pounds of meat in my cart heading his way. I don’t think it would have mattered.

As the checkout clerk slowly, and methodically checked out Chrochet Pants’ groceries (I saw tofu go by!) and there was more space on the conveyor belt, I started to load my meat on it. Each pork roast was at least five pounds and encased in plastic. They made a thwap sound as I hauled them onto the conveyor, similar to the sound my thighs would make as they slapped together if I wore crocheted pants. But the meat is for the dog! Really! 

Two pounds of bacon went on top of the roasts. It’s for a party. I won’t even use it all. It’s just the size they had.

When it was finally my turn to get checked out, I have to admit, I was cranky. At this point, I had spent more time waiting in the checkout line than I did shopping. I was not in mood to make small talk with the checkout guy. Apparently, he didn’t sense this.

When he saw all my pork, he laughed, and made a comment about how we must be grilling out a lot this weekend. Finally, I thought, it’s my chance to explain the plethora of meat! Unfortunately, Crochet Pants was long gone and would never know.

“It’s for my dog!” I said. “He has allergies and all he can eat is pork and lamb. I like to stock up when it’s on sale.”

The checkout guy looked at me as if I’d lost my mind. “Your dog?” he said, as if I told him I was going to throw the meat directly into the garbage. Obviously, he was implying that no one should be spending that kind of money on an animal. My pork was on sale for $1.30 a pound. I wonder what he would have said if I had bought the ground lamb, like I sometimes do, at $9.99 a pound?

My crankiness with this guy was escalating.

After a few moments, he said, “I have to ask so I can tell my wife tonight. How does your dog like his pork prepared?” His words were polite, his tone was not. He was judgemental and condescending. Those are the nice words that I thought. There’s were others I won’t share here.

I explained my process of grounding the meat, mashing the vegetables and frying it all together. I was very polite, even though I didn’t want to be. I did not share that the dog belonged to my dead mother and I was doing what I had to do to keep him alive and happy. No need to justify my choice. I also held back the urge to sarcastically comment how glad I was to be offering conversation for him and wife tonight. I guess it’s only fair that I provide some entertainment for him, since he provided a blog post for me.

In the few minutes I spent talking with this guy, I decided that someone who is in their late fifties and clerking at Meijer probably didn’t take the job to pass the time. That’s hard work and a lot of standing. I am fortunate that we have to means to be able to purchase the food Charlie needs. Not everyone would be able to do that. I don’t know if that is the situation that caused the clerk’s attitude or not. Maybe he’s just not an animal person. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume it’s the former and not the latter.

It was an experience using the Meijer checkout today. It showed me a glimpse into two different ways of life and attitudes. One made me chuckle. One made me mad. Next time, though, I’m going back to self checkout, no matter how many pounds of meat I’m lugging around.

2:51 PM