Thursday, January 27, 2011

RECIPE: Best Darned Tartar Sauce Ever

I suppose I could have taken a picture of the tartar sauce I made to go with our baked tilapia last night, but when I looked at it there in the bowl, I had a sudden intuitive moment that told me that tartar sauce tastes better than it looks: it's not one of those photogenic foods like a crown rib roast or even a simple bowl of glazed carrots. No, tartar sauce just looks pretty bland and dull and would continue looking like that even if I posed it in a bowl made of diamonds with rare orchids around the rim, so you'll just have to take my word for it that it is ANYTHING but bland and dull. It's so good, my husband swore that he could have eaten it out of the bowl with a spoon. Now that's a sauce to be proud of!

So here it is, the superlative, ultimate, yay-for-Lent-and-fish-on-Fridays tartar sauce.

Best Darned Tartar Sauce Ever

1 cup mayonnaise (use light only if you must, and if you use non-fat mayo, I have it on good authority that the piece of fish you're having for dinner? It will COME BACK TO LIFE and bite your head off, so...)
2 tablespoons minced sweet onion, three if you're fond of onion
1 tablespoon sweet pickle relish, slightly drained
1/4 teaspoon lemon juice


Mix all ingredients in a small mixing bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and allow the tartar sauce's flavors to blend in the fridge for at least an hour before serving, two hours would be prime. Makes six servings. Keep tightly covered in fridge for up to three days.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

MOVIE REVIEW: The Full Monty

The Full Monty is just, like, one of the best. Movies. Ever. It's an especially good one to watch in the midst of a recession, we find, because of the overall message of the film: Times might be really tough and life might kind of suck, but in the midst of it all, there are people who, in the immortal words of Tom Jones in his tender ballad "You Can Leave Your Hat On," give you reason to live.

One of the best scenes in the movie is this one, when Gaz watches his mates, who are standing in line at the unemployment office to receive their dole checks, start absentmindedly grooving to Donna Summer's "Hot Stuff" when it comes on the radio. That is the moment when he knows that his racy scheme to earn enough money to pay his in-arrears child support is actually going to work. The smile of amusement and relief on his face is priceless. And Gerald's trench coat-swinging turn isn't bad either.

The language used by these ex-steelworkers isn't exactly pristine, but somehow doesn't sound as jarring when rendered in the soft slur of a Yorkshire accent, but be warned anyway. The language plus some other choice scenes make this a grown-ups only kind of show. And by the way, there is no actual full monty in the show, but there are a thousand laughs and a few tears, but only the happy kind.

Friday, January 21, 2011

HOW TO: Make me want to pull your hair

I have a pet peeve. Oh, shut up. Okay, I have a LOT of pet peeves. But I swear to you that this one is at the top of the list.

I ate lunch in a casual restaurant today, meaning that the clientele there were mostly business people who'd left their offices to come get a club sandwich and some iced tea, but also a few moms and their babies meeting friends and breaking the cycle of cabin fever that threatens to have us SAHMs getting all Jack Nicholson on our husbands and children. The business people talked quietly to each other, or read the newspaper, or pecked away at their laptops or simply stared off into space, quite obviously lost in bitter contemplation of their lack of inherited wealth.

The mommies sat and talked to one another and allowed their babies to make horrible messes on the floor, which they blithely stepped over on their way out the door and left for the wait staff to clean up. And I'm not talking about a few cracker crumbs: I'm talking about a shredded and gummed-wet placemat and big chunks of baked potato and about a million Cheerios and a discarded baby wipe that had been used to clean Junior's grubby little face. A mess.

I used to have babies and my husband and I used to take them to restaurants. They used to make messes. And if it was anything beyond the gentle dusting of cracker crumbs one could reasonably expect of a high-chaired baby, my husband and I always stooped over with napkins in our hands and picked up the worst of our offspring's litter. I never thought it was okay to just leave a pile of garbage for someone else to pick up, and neither did he. Our kids, our responsibility, right? And besides, what better way is there to model that responsibility than by showing your kid that it is bad manners and leave your nasty mess behind for someone else to clean up?

So this baby at a table near ours created this pile of debris that was very nearly knee deep by the time her mommy tore herself away from her friend and grabbed up her purse and the diaper bag -- which was big enough to hold a Shop-Vac -- and said, "Whoopsie, boopsie! You just made such a mess, kitty cat! Look at all that icky-wicky ucky-yucky stuff on that floor!"

And then she scooped the child out of his high chair and just left, a half-empty container of Gerber baby applesauce spilling its contents onto the tile floor, cracker wrappers and all manner of disgusting crud left right where it was sitting, poking me in the (figurative) eye.

I wanted to follow her and say, with all the wisdom of my middle age, "Look, sister, have you ever heard of that whole 'do unto others' thing? Because if you haven't, I'm already worried at what you're going to be unleashing on the rest of us a few years from now. But if you HAVE heard of that and you STILL left that mess on the floor over there, then shame on you, you nasty thing. Go back over there and take a napkin in your dainty little hand and pick up your kid's crap. Nobody's baby is so cute that you can feel free to leave a disaster area under that table.

"And don't give me that line about how 'these people are paid to clean up messes' because you and I both know that the mess your kid left? It is WAY above and beyond the usual run of messes a member of the wait staff should be expected to clean up, especially during the lunch hour when they're all so busy, and especially since that table won't be habitable by anything but hyenas or billy goats until it's done."

So get yourself back over there, little missy, and clean that crap up and stop feeling like you are just too good to dirty your precious hands in picking up after yourselves and if you leave a restaurant floor looking like that where everyone can see it and judge you, then what in the world must your bathrooms look like at your house? Hmm? So stop being so selfish and rude and MOVE MOVE MOVE MOVE MOVE!!!!"

Phew. I feel better now. Or at least I will until the next time I'm in a restaurant and see some parents walk off and leave a mess under the table.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Good hands, bad hands, it all depends on your perspective

We do not have Allstate insurance, mostly because I had one tiny little wreck, an ACCIDENTAL wreck, in the parking lot of St. Anne's in New Castle, bending a fence post and bruising some chain link. And almost totaling my minivan. You would have thought I'd purposefully driven a tank straight at the Hoover Dam, the way they acted up at the home office. Our agent, a lovely and funny woman named Janet, put it to us this way: "They dropped you."

"Dropped us?" my husband said, his voice rising. "I've had this insurance since I was eighteen years old! You've been my agent for twenty years! How can they just drop us?"

Chagrined, she looked down at a sheaf of papers on her desk, picked one up and said, "They say here that anyone who could cause that much damage in a church parking lot was not a good risk." She and my husband traded a glance and Janet started to say something, then closed her mouth as if she'd reconsidered.

My husband turned to me accusingly. "Allstate canceled our insurance," he said, as if I weren't there sitting in Janet's other chair listening. "Because of your weird little wreck. If you'd taken our that statue of Our Lady of Lourdes, they probably would have come to our house and put you down like a rabid fox."

"Yes, but I'm a really good cook and we can get another brand of insurance," I said compellingly. "Can Allstate insurance fix you a homemade chicken pot pie with the real vegetables and the homemade chicken stock? Can they make that pie you like with the melted candy bars and the Hershey's syrup?"

"No," he admitted grudgingly, shifting in his seat. "I suppose not."

"Well, good, then, that's all settled!" I got to my feet, shook Janet's hand and headed for the door, calling over my shoulder, "Hey, honey, can we go to Los Amigos for dinner? I really don't feel like cooking."

So my experiences with Allstate have not been all that great, but this commercial featuring actor Dean Winters playing the strangely sexy Mayhem just couldn't be funnier.

Monday, January 17, 2011

I'd like my sinus infection on the side, please

It is no great revelation to anyone who knows me that I am the world's biggest hypochondriac, sometimes experiencing other people's symptoms of illness concurrently with them, even though I am not sick myself. Like, come up to me and tell me about your tonsillitis, your migraine headaches, your inability to digest soy and pretty soon I will be standing there feeling feverish while experiencing an aura along with a pressing need to visit the restroom.

I think it has something to do with my great love and compassion for all humanity. I take your pain: I make it my own. And then I'll want to tell you all about my suffering, so please stay close to your mobile phone, your email and your Facebook wall.

At the present time, I am all on my own with sickness. Having pneumonia over Christmas just righteously sucked and then to get a sinus infection on top of that mess was just adding insult to injury. Today was the blessed day when I finished the last of the amoxicillin the doctor prescribed for my sinuses and I am so glad because I am convinced that the side effects of that crap are quite possibly worse than the infection it was supposed to treat.

For the past seven days or so, I've been experiencing a series of delightful side effects from the amoxicillin, ranging from a horrible bitter taste in my mouth, to dizziness and lightheadedness, to nausea....oh, it's just been so much fun. There have been times when I have wanted to call the doctor back to demand some kind of drug that would counteract the stupid side effects.

I blush to tell you that my attitude through all of this hasn't been one of tolerance and good cheer. In fact, I've been surly and grumpy, complaining loudly and with frequency about my various ills. Not for me the old Catholic manner of "offering it up" with prayer for the salvation of souls. No, I'm too worried about my own and how it's faring in there, what with the constant, jostling nausea that makes my tongue lump up like a big, wet piece of army blanket about sixty times a day. I want other people to offer their stuff up for me, mostly in the area of bringing me a cup of green tea with honey and rubbing my feet and adjusting a pillow behind my weary head. And bringing me a new selection of library books to while away the time when no one is around to hear my roars of outrage.

With that last tablet, hopefully my sinus infection will be gone and the side effects of the amoxicillin along with it. Just in case either is still lingering, please pray for my family.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

RECIPE: Freshencan Salsa

Salsa, I have heard, is the most popular condiment in the world. I know it gets a lot of use at our house, the hotter the better. Taking "better" to "best" requires homemade salsa, though, so it's a good thing homemade salsa is very easy to make.

I have a couple of friends who make their own salsa, and I think one of those uses everything fresh from her garden and puts it up in cans, which for those of you who aren't from the midwest United States means that she first grows the vegetables and then picks the vegetables and hauls them inside to wash the vegetables then makes her salsa, then boils some glass jars and metal lids and rings and packs the salsa into the jars being careful to leave, I don't know, air space? Then the jars are sealed and set on a shelf in the pantry and it is a long, thankless and sweaty process undertaken in the kitchen in the hottest part of the summer. If I ever attempted it myself, my entire family would be dead from botulism by the time you finished reading this paragraph.

I do the shorter method and use some canned ingredients and some fresh ingredients, hence the name "Freshencan Salsa." I don't think it's quite as good as the total-freshness of self-picked garden vegetables, but it isn't bad. In fact, it qualifies as "pretty darned good."

This recipe makes a lot of salsa, so if you don't want a lot, cut the recipe in half.


4 can tiny-dice tomatoes (I like the kind with green chilies or garlic/onion), undrained
1 can white corn, undrained
1 large white onion, finely chopped
2 jalapeno peppers, washed and finely chopped (use at your discretion, depending on how hot you like your salsa - better to add too little to begin with than to set your tonsils aflame)
approximately 1 1/2 cups chopped cilantro
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
the juice of two limes (real limes, not that crap in the plastic lime-shaped squirter - don't make me come find you)
1 tablespoon salt
1 dashes hot pepper sauce

Open tomato and corn cans and dump them in a large mixing bowl. Get out your food processor and throw the onion, jalapenos, cilantro and garlic into it - process until finely chopped. Scrape out of food processor into mixing bowl. Add lime juice, salt and hot pepper sauce; stir.

Allow flavors to blend for a couple of hours. Add more salt if needed. If the tomatoes are a little acidic, throw in a pinch of sugar. Serve at room temperature with chips that have been warmed in the oven (I throw a bag of chips in my roasting pan, spritz them with cooking spray, toss them, re-spritz, give them a sprinkle of salt, re-toss, and then put them in the oven at 250 degrees for about fifteen minutes.)

Friday, January 14, 2011

HOW TO: Eat using chopsticks

A Cooking with Cam video where he not only does some razzle-dazzle on the stove, but also gives a chopstick-using lesson, which will probably be lost on me. Chopstick lesson starts at around 1:44 on the vid.

And to make myself feel completely awkward and inferior, here's this little sweetheart eating her noodles for lunch with complete chopsticky prowess.

Barb and Julia's sushi-lovin' post

This is a picture of my lunch, taken about five fleeting seconds before I consumed every single grain of rice, which I retrieved with the tip of my gently moistened finger.

These cute little California rolls are from Kroger's deli, surprisingly enough. Kroger isn't ordinarily a place I'd associate with good sushi, or more to the point, bad sushi. But our local "nice" Kroger has a sushi bar that features a choose-your-own option as well as pre-packaged bento boxes with a fairly wide variety of sushi rolls. Today I noticed the California rolls we ate, plus sushi made with crab meat, shrimp and tuna. Which is pretty good for a mid-size Indiana city. This geographical region is one that is more likely to associate a word like "sushi" with hog-calling, as in "SUUUUUUUUUUUU-SHIIIIIIIIIIIII! Suu-shiiii! Suuuu-shi!!!!"

I hear you can win a trophy for doing that at the Indiana State Fair.


I went out and bought our California rolls this morning and they looked so fresh and tempting in their little boxes. The small Japanese man who stands inside the sushi bar's interior and makes long rolls of lovely sushi every day smiled at me like I was doing him a personal favor and nodded obligingly when I picked up my boxes, my soy sauce packets and my chopsticks. When I picked up extra containers of wasabi and candied ginger, his face split in a wide, gap-toothed grin.

"You like?" he said with a cackle. "Hot! Hot, hot, hot!"

"Delicious!" I said, smiling back. I kissed my fingers and patted my little stack of boxes. He nodded approvingly, still beaming.

"Enjoy! Enjoy!"

Once I got home, that's exactly what I did.

Here's how I eat sushi:

1. I start out by dressing each sushi roll to my own personal specs:

a. dribble on some soy sauce

b. add a schmear of wasabi, enough to add some heat, but not enough to make my head explode

c. sprinkle on a few toasted sesame seeds

d. top it off with a good, thick slice of candied ginger

2. I pick up my chopsticks and make a grab at a sushi roll, which should be a fairly easy object to pick up, you'd think, being solid and of a good size, plus coated in sticky rice. It should be a sure thing. It rarely is.

3. I lean so far over the table that I'm practically lying atop it and manuever the sushi roll to my mouth with the purpose of biting off half of it.

4. I drop it on the table

5. Undeterred, I pick it back up again with the chopsticks and the sushi roll once again undertakes its voyage to my mouth.

6. Again with the dropping (repeat 2x more)

7. I get a plate and a fork from cupboard and drawer and sit back down at the table, grimly determined to eat my lunch in an un-cool manner, or risk having no lunch at all

8. Cut, spear, lift, bite, chew, swallow, swig of Diet Coke, repeat -- LUNCH!!!

Monday, January 10, 2011

RECIPE: Easy King Cake (Laissez les bons temps rouler!)

King Cake, a pastry common to the Cajun culture with origins in 12th century France to celebrate the coming of the Three Magi to see the Infant Jesus, is a fantastically fun way to celebrate from Epiphany through Mardi Gras. King Cakes tend to be big, and messy and gaudy. They're frosted with gold, green and purple icing (I make a simple buttercream) and of course, each color is significant. The gold stands for kingly power, which I assume is the power of the newborn king who was also the living God; the purple stands for justice and the green stands for faith. That's nice, isn't it? It is until you actually see the King Cake -- the icing is generally glopped on and it runs down the inside and the outside of the cake in a haphazard manner. When I say inside and outside, I mean that the King Cake is made of braided cinnamon bread dough baked in a bundt or tube pan. The idea is that the cake is baked in a circular shape to signify the eternal nature of God and the continuity of Christian faith. Thrifty and more self-controlled people use an easy powdered sugar-and-water glaze, but to my mind, there's nothing like about a pound of colorful buttercream frosting flowing all over over the place to make you want to par-tay.

Some people decorate the cakes with colored sugars on top of the icing, adding little colored candies. Some people wind strands of Mardi Gras beads around the outside edge of the cake. I've also seen cakes with little flags -- Lousiana, French and papal -- stuck on top. Basically, what you're going for is not a Mies van der Rohe-of-the-patisserie kind of look, all simple and clean lines and constructed with minimalism in mind. No, you're going for a party-shop explosion of a cake, the more decorated the better.

But it's what's inside the King Cake that makes it truly special. See that little package of plastic babies I'm holding in the photo above? I got those at Balloons, Etc. in the baby shower aisle for about two dollars. For an authentic King Cake, you take one of those babies (representing the Baby Jesus) and stick it in the cake after it's finished baking. Then you slop all that colored buttercream over everything to help disguise the baby's whereabouts -- because the three kings had to search for the Holy Family on their travels, right? -- and decorate accordingly. NOW you have yourself a King Cake.

If the people who are going to be eating the King Cake are not hip to the fact that there's going to be a plastic baby in there somewhere, you might want to warn them. I'm thinking that chomping down on a plastic baby might not be such a happy way to celebrate the Magi and the visit they paid to the babe in the manger with their rich gifts.

The person who gets the baby gets a little prize of some sort and the honor of being the one to bring the King Cake to the next year's Epiphany or Mardi Gras party (or any party in between those two dates.) The little prize could be religious in nature, like a rosary or a little bottle of holy water or some holy cards. Or it could be some candy, preferably something in gold wrappers, like Rolo candies. If the finder of the plastic baby requires the winner to show her boobs before she can claim her prize, YOU ARE AT THE WRONG KIND OF PARTY AND PROBABLY MAKING THE BABY JESUS CRY.


3 cans of refrigerated cinnamon roll dough, like Pillsbury or similar

1 cup of butter, softened
approximately 8 cups confectioner's sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup half-and-half

purple, green and yellow food coloring (I prefer Wilton's gel icing colors, which produce a deep, rich color)

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. On a clean working surface, unwrap the containers of cinnamon roll dough. Unroll three strands of dough and pinch them together at the top, then braid them into a nice, long braid. If you have daughters and spent their childhood years braiding their hair, this will be a very easy task for you. Repeat with the rest of the cinnamon roll dough; it will come out evenly.

Place the braids into a Bundt or tube-style cake pan that has been well-misted with cooking spray. As you add each braid, pinch it onto the one you put in before so that there's a cohesive mass inside your cake pan. Place the cake pan in the preheated oven and cover with a strip of aluminum foil to prevent over-browning. Bake for twenty minutes. At the end of twenty minutes, remove the foil and continue baking for another fifteen minutes or so.

[Make your buttercream icing while the cake is baking]

Warning: This is one of those recipes where you're going to have to rely on your sense of smell to know when the cake is finished baking. And also, depending on the size of your Bundt or tube pan, the dough may rise up over the top, necessitating an evening-up kind of maneuver once the finished cake has cooled. That's because our familiarity with cinnamon rolls generally extends to them being baked separately on a cookie sheet, whereas now they're all squashed together in those braids, so being able to smell "doneness" would be a great thing. If the dough gets too brown in spite of your best efforts, comfort yourself with the thought that it's all going to be covered up with a ton of icing, so no one will be the wiser.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about fifteen minutes on a wire rack. Carefully invert the cake pan over a cake plate. There are chances that the cake will be lumpy and bumpy instead of smooth and taking on the scalloped shape of the Bundt pan, if you're using one. That's okay. This is a King Cake and we're not looking for wedding confectionery perfection. While the cake is still cooling, take one of your plastic babies and stick it somewhere in that inner circle where it can't be seen.

The buttercream icing is so easy to make. The most important thing is to make sure that your butter is SOFT but not overly melted. If your butter is too stiff, there will be ugly little lumps in the icing. If it is too melty, you won't have a good texture for spreading and you'll wind up with bare patches on the cake's shoulders and huge puddles of gooey frosting on your cake plate. So stir those ingredients together, adding the confectioner's sugar little by little so that you don't cause whiteout conditions in your kitchen. Divide the completed frosting into three bowls, add a small drop of each food coloring to each bowl. Stir and add more to make the color more vivid, if you'd like; you simply cannot be gaudy enough with a King Cake. You may not need ALL the icing, it's hard to tell. Wait until the cake is well cooled and start glopping it on there. You be the judge. You can also use cream cheese icing, by the way, but it is so enormously rich on the already-rich cinnamon bread that I think it's just a little too much of a good thing.

If you have them, you can sprinkle gold, purple and green colored sugars on the cake. Be-dazzle the cake with little silver dragees or M&M's in the appropriate colors. GO WILD. Do not show your boobs to anyone who comes into the kitchen. That will make you a bad, bad cook, even if your cake tastes delicious.

How long have I been cooking again?

I started cooking -- really cooking -- when I graduated from college and got my first job. I had my grandmother's copies of Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volumes 1 & 2 and I enjoyed myself a great deal cooking for myself and a couple of teacher friends. Then I got married and cooking became an everyday thing, especially in the first honeymoon year when I got up every morning and cooked breakfast for my husband, stuff like scrambled eggs and bacon, pancakes and homemade oatmeal, and then packed him a big lunch and then had dinner ready when he got home from work, in spite of the fact that I was working full time, giving piano lessons and doing some tutoring.

Then I was expecting Meelyn and throwing up every fifteen seconds and that put an end to the cooked breakfasts and the packed lunches. I did manage to carry on with cooking dinner, although it was quite often late and sometimes things got burned while I was vomiting in the bathroom. Pregnancy loved me. My husband still speaks of the days of his crashing fall from the culinary wagon with a reproachful note in his voice. I don't know if he blames me for not being made of sterner stuff or Meelyn for her fetal assault on my digestive system. Possibly both of us. Being a wise man, he doesn't say.

So, all this cooking, right? A great deal of experience in the kitchen, all the way from the lofty heights of French cuisine down to the lowly down-home goodness of Hoosier home cookin'. That leaves me with no explanation as to why I would throw a truly enormous ham bone I took from the freezer in to a small Dutch oven along with a great many dried beans of mixed varieties plus a very large sweet onion, covering it all with water and then being surprised -- stunned, even! -- when it all boiled over and made a hideous mess on the stove, illustrated above.

I had to hastily transfer the whole contents of that Dutch oven into my large soup kettle, a process which saw me nearly drop the extremely hot ham bone on the kitchen floor as I unsteadily maneuvered it out of one container and into another, using a wooden spoon and a meat fork. Then I used a one-cup measure to scoop up most of the beans and water, which ended up being more splashy than anticipated: I burned my hand. Then I picked up the Dutch oven to pour its remaining contents into the soup kettle and nearly caught the kitchen towel I was using as a hot pad on fire when it made brief contact with the gas flame I'd neglected to turn off. I shrieked and threw it in the sink, kind of lost my grip on the Dutch oven, and burned my hand again. A chunk of onion, irretrievable for the time being, slipped out of the Dutch oven while I was trying to keep my towel from bursting into flame. It landed under the soup kettle and is sitting there growing squishier and squishier.

It's going to be so fun cleaning up that mess, once it's had a good hour to harden in a starchy and difficult-to-remove-without-sandblasting manner.

Doesn't this all sound like the silly fiddling of a new bride bravely making her way through the kitchen's unfamiliar territory? Good grief....

An intervention is in order

For so many of us, winter is a time of piling on heavy garments to the point of losing the ability to bend your arms, having toes that are permanently cold and accommodating yourself to the fact that your skin is the color of salt. (Notice: If you are a person who lives in an area of the world that is always warm, or if you are a non-caucasian with lovely, warm skin tones, kind if you are thinking of posting a smug reply to this blog entry.)

Layered looks, however uncomfortable, can always look spiffy and I supposed if you want to wear four pairs of socks with your L.L. Bean hiking boots your toes can eventually warm up, but some people seem to have a real problem with the pasty skin part of winter.

To illustrate, I give you the beautiful singer/songwriter Christina Aguilera. She is so pretty, or at least she was before she started turning herself into an Oompa-Loompa. Why would someone do this to herself? I mean, I do admit that it's not as dangerous and downright frightening as the appearance of Christina's fellow chanteuse Amy Winehouse before she got hold of her addictions to booze and drugs and started turning her life around. But my gosh! The girl is ORANGE! My thought is that she's either fake tanning to the point of developing Cheeto-colored skin or she's hanging around a pet store's rabbit hutches and stealing carrots from the bunnies.

Someone who loves Christina needs to sit her down -- preferably on a stain-resistant surface, just in case whatever it is that's making her that dreadful color can rub off -- and say, "Christina. Honey. You have got to stop. You are the color of a traffic cone. I've seen tangerines that are less orange than you are. It's just wrong."

My thought is that Christina is surrounded by far too many people who won't tell her the truth about her appearance, so she needs to beware every time she eats a salad. Because if her entourage can't bring themselves to mention that her skin looks like she was colored with an orange Sharpie, there's no way they're ever going to tell her about the spinach leaf stuck to her tooth.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Signs that the apocolypse is upon us

"Every time it's so right, it feels sooo good," croons the blue bear to the tune of a sensuous soundtrack while the Missus sits on the love seat next to a romantic fire burning on the hearth, twiddling her hair bow and sending sexy, come-hither eyes his way.

Then a voice over comes on and tells us, "When you have a softer bath tissue, you can enjoy going more while still using less."

Which is when you realize that the bear is on the toilet taking a grizzly-sized crap while the little lady waits for him to finish up so that they can get back to making sweet bear love, hopefully not on that grandma-shaped rug in front of the fire. Because there is nothing that puts a girl in the mood like her lover saying, "Listen, baby, Big Daddy's gonna go lay down some stink in the bathroom, but then he's comin' back to rock your world."

These Charmin commercials have always been weird, but this one goes over into the EWWWWW territory with the music, the man-bear on the toilet getting WAY too much pleasure out of wiping his furry bottom (he actually pulls the paper off the roll and holds it to his cheek before, er...wiping) and the lady-bear sitting there all rowr!, not to mention the fact that Charmin has set up a website called, where we're informed that some lady named Iris H. from Alabama has been awarded the title "Queen of the Charmin Go Nation" which is the same as saying "Queen of the Crap," right? Gee, thanks.

It's all just so many kinds of wrong, it's hard to wrap your head around it.

This can't be good

Woke up this morning at 4:25 a.m. for the fourth morning in a row, feeling a vigorous sense of persecution at the idea of a new year looming over me and how we're all supposed to be whipping ourselves into shape -- spiritually, physically, intellectually and emotionally -- like lean young greyhounds. Clearly, it would be much better if we all skulked under the blankets until, say, March, nursing our grievances and keeping ourselves well away from everyone who is determined to make a good start of things. Because those people? They wear on my last nerve, the one that has already been frayed threadbare by the knowledge that Oprah Winfrey, who is surely the devil, has launched a new network called OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network, "devoted to self-discovery, to connecting you to your best self and to the world."

I'd vomit if that wouldn't make it necessary to change the sheets. Just. Vomit.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Epiphany - The Three Traveling Kings on the Third Day

"I thought we were supposed to turn left at the bazaar."

"No, it was right! I know we were supposed to turn right!"

"Well, Wise Man, if we were supposed to turn right at the bazaar, how'd we wind up here, at the wrong manger?"

"This is very awkward. What if someone sees us carrying these gifts and thinks they're for that porcelain baby?"

"Just keep your head down and keep on walking. Don't make eye contact."

"Hey, maybe we could ask that shepherd there if he knows where the poly resin manger is."

"Okay, maybe you've missed this, but we are the MAGI. We don't have to ask for directions from anyone, especially some simpering porcelain shepherd. KEEP WALKING."

RECIPE: Samuel Adams's Boston Lager Turkey

I made this turkey yesterday as a last hoorah for the holiday season and it turned out really, really well, I felt. There were compliments bandied about the table and that's a good sign. Because you know what isn't? People pushing bits of turkey around on their plates and when you ask them how they think it tastes, they say, "You know that dinner you make? The one with the tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches? How's about we have that sometime again soon?"

Anyway, this turkey was served with all the trimmings and I roasted it just in the pan because there were so many irritable complaints about the turkey-in-the-bag I made at Thanksgiving. I thought that method just ROCKED, but everyone in my family hated it: they said it made the turkey TOO MOIST, if you can imagine that.

So here, for your discernment, is Samuel Adams Boston Lager turkey: just moist enough, flavorful, lots of good broth for the gravy and a pleasurable time around the table for all. Well, except for Mr. Tom, I guess.

By the way, here is the Killian's Irish Turkey from last year's holiday season, if you'd like to compare the recipes.


1 turkey, thawed, approximately 12-18 pounds
1 large sweet apple, such as Honeycrisp, or 2 or 3 smaller apples, washed and quartered
1 large Vidalia onion, outer skin peeled off, onion quartered
2 celery stalks, each cut in half
2 large carrots, scraped, each cut in half
1 pound butter
2 small cans chicken broth
1 bottle Samuel Adams Boston Lager

Pre-heat oven according to package directions (mine said 325 degrees). Unwrap turkey and remove giblets; rinse in cool water. Salt inner cavity and place in roasting pan, breast side up. Stuff cavity with 2 sticks of butter, half the apple, onion, celery and carrots. Strew the rest of the apple and vegetables in the roasting pan. Softening the remaining two sticks of butter and rub the turkey's skin with a bit of the butter as if you're massaging it. Salt and pepper the outside of the turkey generously; add a bit of paprika if you'd like.

Pour about 1/3 of the beer and half a can of chicken broth on the turkey. Allow to roast for forty minutes; scoop up some of the remaining butter with a spoon or a knife and glide over turkey's skin; add a splash more beer and chicken broth. Continue doing this until the turkey's skin is a nice, deep golden-brown color; cover turkey with a little tent of aluminum foil so that the skin won't burn. Continue buttering and basting at forty minute intervals until turkey is done. Use a meat thermometer to figure out when that is because every turkey and every oven is different and there's just no sense in poisoning your family members with underdone meat.

Carefully lift roasting pan out of oven. Remove apples and vegetables. Decant the broth into a saucepan. Allow roasted turkey to rest for about twenty minutes before carving. Easy-peasy.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

There comes a time....

...when I am so abruptly sick an' tired of all the Christmas decorations, I just want to hurl them all out into the street. I can usually make it all the way to Epiphany on January 6, but Epiphany isn't on January 6 this year, it's TODAY. I don't understand exactly why it's today other than that the holy days of the Christmas season all fell inconveniently on the weekend, but I do know that it gave me a good reason to say, in a feverish voice, "Okay, let's do this. Now." Plus, the tree was getting dried out and it was shedding needles like a collie sheds hair.

So we did. We filled up red Rubbermaid totes a-plenty and carefully jammed the lids on them and piled them in the kitchen hallway for my husband to take downstairs to the crypt. I mean, the basement. I feel kind of bad for being tired of Christmas, but to be perfectly honest -- and when am I not? -- 2010 is not a year I'll be looking back on with a bunch of fondness and this Christmas was a particularly difficult one, thanks to the ongoing recession, and I am ready to just move it along to the new year. Not that I'm bitter or anything, just ready to forge ahead.

Frikking recession.

Okay, maybe a just a little bitter.

Epiphany - The Three Traveling Kings on the Second Day

Today the Three Adorable Magi found themselves in the kitchen, toiling through the ingredients for the roast turkey preparations which are currently underway in the oven. They seem to be in good spirits, in spite of the precariousness of balancing on orange, celery and carrots, but it must have been more taxing than it seemed because they've already taken shelter from today's travels by coming to rest on top of my CD player, which has an accommodating flat top to it.

RECIPE: Shelley's Cranberry Relish and Katie's Cranberry-Orange Sauce

First of all, let me just say that if I ever attempted to make my family even taste either of these recipes, they would fall to the ground clutching their throats and writhing around, wailing that I was trying to maliciously POISON THEM: death by cranberry.

Second of all, let me tell you that some people -- people with educated palates and discerning taste -- really love cranberries in many forms, including juice from Ocean Spray and that layered cranberry-lime Christmas Jell-O concoction (the one with the pineapple in the lime layer and the some-other-fruit-I-can't-remember in the cranberry layer, divided by a cream cheese layer which is just so colorful and festive) your elderly aunt makes and craisins on our chef salads. We also love cranberry sauce and cranberry relish and we're glad, you hear? GLAD that you don't like cranberry relish or cranberry sauce because that way THERE'S MORE FOR US SO HA HA HAHAHA!!!


Anyway, both of these recipes are easy and delicious, one from me and one from my friend Katie W., who is half of my Ka(yte)ie pair of chums. I'm serving cranberries in some form or other for today's Sunday dinner, the last spread of the holiday season.

Shelley's Cranberry Relish (pictured above)

2 cans whole berry cranberry sauce
1/2 cup boiling water
1 large navel orange*
1 large apple (I like sweet apples for this recipe, such as Honeycrisp)*
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Empty the two cans of cranberry sauce into a large mixing bowl. Add the half-cup of boiling water and stir to allow the cranberry sauce to dissolve, using a spoon to chop up the larger bits.

While the cranberry sauce is dissolving, peel and chop the navel orange, grating one teaspoon of the zest into the cranberry sauce. Finely chop the orange and add it to the cranberry sauce. Wash the apple and dice; add to the cranberry-orange mixture. Add spices and stir thoroughly.
Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least two hours to allow flavors to blend.

Serve in a pretty dish and place on your beautifully set holiday table where it will look lovely throughout the meal because no one in your family will touch it except for you. Sulkily remove from table at the end of the meal and return to fridge; eat in your own over the next few days, congratulating yourself on the delicious and nutritious value of all the fruity goodness.

*Substitute two smaller fruits for one large

Katie's Cranberry-Orange Sauce

1/2 cup of water
1 1/2 cups of sugar
4 cups cranberries
1 orange, peeled, seeded, chopped
2 tablespoons freshly grated orange peel

Place water and sugar in a saucepan. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil, and add the cranberries. Boil, stirring, just long enough for the berries to pop, but not to cook them very much. Cool. Add chopped oranges and grated rind. Taste for sweetness; add more sugar if desired. Chill thoroughly. Yield: about 5 cups

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Epiphany - The Three Traveling Kings

It's that time of year again, even though it really isn't. You see, all the holy days fell awkwardly on the weekend this year, which meant that Epiphany was changed from January 6 to....January 1? I don't really get it, because how are we supposed to be experiencing the twelve days of Christmas if there are only seven of them? I am not one to be easily separated from any bit of celebrating I can wring out of the Christmas season, especially if there's a chance that more presents might come my way, so I decided that the three Magi would go ahead and journey on to the kitchen windowsill, where they shall find the Jesus in his little manger. On January 6.

Last year, the three Kings from my porcelain nativity journeyed all over the house between Christmas and Epiphany, so I thought it would only be fair for these cute little guys to do their own stint of wandering and posing for this year's blog edition. Here they are pictured on one of my cookbook shelves, cheerfully strolling along past Julia Child and Giada de Lorentiis and Peter Reinhart, so they'll be well fed on their travels.

Happy New Year!

It's 12:08 a.m. as I type this first post of the new year -- my first New Year's resolution is to make my post goal for next year. The girls are swigging sparkling cider and quarreling with one another and the rain is pouring down and my husband just came into the room, kissed me on the forehead and said, "Well, babe, I'm headed up to bed."

Perhaps this is an inauspicious beginning to twelve brand-new, shiny months? I'd better fortify myself with another glass of champagne, that Barefoot Bubbly you see in the photo above which I took all by ownself. I think it's kind of a good one. The champagne is actually pretty good too.

The girls are now dancing crazily to an Enrique Iglesias video and it has set the dogs to barking. From the sounds of things, you'd think that something much more interesting was happening in here than what is actually going down. It may sound like a drunken revelry, but I'm guessing that the entire house will be shut down in the next half hour with all of us in our cozy beds, listening to the sound of rain on the windows.

Happy New Year, dear readers, and may this one be a lovely one for those of you who have struggled and likewise for those of you who haven't. Be safe, be well, be good, be happy.