Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What's that you're cooking?

When I find recipes I like on the internet, I generally scrawl them down on a piece of scrap paper, using whatever writing tool comes to hand: an ink pen, a stubby pencil, a highlighter marker. The other day, I was looking for a recipe for a potato crust (using instant potato flakes) for the tilapia filets we're having for dinner tonight, and I scribbled down this list on a Post-It, using a purple highlighter:

1/2 cup flour

1 egg, beaten

1 cup pot flakes


I was going over that recipe just now to get ready to do some cooking when I gave it a second glance and realized that, for anyone who doesn't know what a strait-laced little goody-two-shoes I am, that "1 cup pot flakes" might seem a bit, I don't know, naughty.

And expensive.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Respect thy elders, and I mean NOW

I swim five or six days a week at our local YMCA, appearing poolside in bathing suit and flip flops, toting a towel, a water bottle and some four pound Styrofoam water weights, searching for an open lane. I get there anywhere between six o'clock in the morning and six o'clock in the evening, depending on the day. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are the busiest days, the ones in which the hard-core lap swimmers come and shame me with their flip turns and their butterflies and, apparently, their fully functioning gills.

I combine my laps with water aerobics because there's just no way I can swim laps for an entire hour like some of them do. Because the pool schedule designates the hours I'm there as LAP SWIM, I made sure to check with the aquatics director before just blithely taking up an entire lane so that I can occupy one small part of it with my Aquacise; I don't want to annoy anyone who comes in to swim laps, being one of those people who is hopeful of getting along nicely with others, although sometimes I wonder why I bother.

Today, for instance. Today, I got to the pool at 7:30, which is usually a good time to find an open lane. Unfortunately, every lane was full -- and this pool is enormous -- and some of the lanes had two swimmers. On days like this, there's nothing to do but just take a seat on the bench outside the ladies' locker room door and wait. Which I did. Patiently. Although I have to admit, I wish the YMCA, which has wi-fi, would set up some desks so that people could get some work done while they're waiting. I found myself thinking longingly of my laptop and all I could be getting accomplished instead of staring alternately at the clock and the pool, back and forth, again and again.

It took about fifteen minutes for one of the lanes to open. The lifeguard, who'd come over to sit beside me and chat, said, "Looks like you can go ahead and jump on in. Have a good workout!" The man who was climbing out gave me a nod and said, "Good morning! Feels great in there!" and I swam my first couple of laps with a light heart and a feeling of goodwill for everyone, embarking on my aerobics program with vigor about fifteen minutes later.

Thirty minutes later, I was still flailing away like a little trooper, having moved over to what we all call the "step lane," which, quite simply, is the lane that is shorter than the others because of the set of steps with two handrails that descends into the water to a distance of about four feet from the wall. The lap swimmers don't like to swim in that lane, obviously because it's painful to glide headlong into a set of steps. That kind of thing can really mess with your stroke. I use that lane a lot and have grown to feel that it's my special place in the pool, not only right there by those steps (which I need to get in and out of the pool due to my handicap) but also in easy view of both clocks, the one that marks the hours, and the one that marks the seconds.

So I'm doing my thing, right? And I've been there doing it for about forty-five minutes, having a pretty good workout. Heart rate up, burning fat, taking in air IN through my nose and OUT through my mouth and moving that water, when....

...what? What?

Ladies were starting to gather in the water at the other side of the pool for the nine o'clock water aerobics class and both dedicated lap lanes still had swimmers in them, so there were people around. But out of nowhere, someone's finger tapped me on the shoulder, and not in that "Hey, hi! Remember me from the bank/grocery/post office?" kind of way. It was more of a stabby kind of thing. Startled, I turned my head as I was jogging and saw an elderly lady standing there, far enough away that I wasn't going to nail her with an elbow, but still pretty darned close, considering we had an entire giant pool at our disposal.

I gave her an inquiring look, bemused at the fact that she was scowling at me under her white swim cap like she'd just found out I was a secret pool-pee-er.

"I'M GOING TO SWIM HERE NOW," she shouted at me, indicating the lane I was exercising in.

"Oh?" I replied politely, bringing my jog down to a light bounce.


"This lane isn't open," I pointed out.

"WELL, I HAVE TO HAVE SOMEPLACE TO SWIM," she yelled and grimly began to paddle toward the deep end, doing some kind of weird back stroke that involved using her hands like flippers. She lifted her head out of the water and gave me one last glare before making a "Hmmmph!" sound and putting her head defiantly back in the water. She looked like a great big old grouchy manatee.

So what was I supposed to do? She was an elderly lady, and I was brought up to respect my elders, to treat them with courtesy and gentleness, not to shout, "BRING IT ON, MAMAW!" and hold them under water. I mean, I could do that because I was at least thirty years younger than her, plus I was armed with those Styrofoam weights and I could have clocked her right in the side of her old grey head. But I didn't.

I did, however, do the next best thing: I ratted her out to the lifeguard. So ha, ha, HA.

"Oh, that's Madge," sighed Tara, the guard. "She's nasty like that to everyone. Just ignore her."

So we'll see how that goes, won't we? I seriously do not want to start anything with anyone, particularly an elderly woman. On the other hand, I don't think that either the elderly or the very young should be encouraged in their bad behavior because no one is brave enough to confront them. Like the three-year-old whom I observed throwing a huge fit in a restaurant the other day while his hapless mother dithered around saying, "Brandon, stop that. Stop that, honey! Get up off that dirty floor, sweetie, and Mommy will give you a piece of gum," I don't think Madge should be allowed to bully her way into other people's swimming lanes because people, namely me, will allow themselves to be run off from the lane they had to wait fifteen minutes to claim.

It remains to be seen if Madge will allow herself to be ignored.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Menu Plan Monday

I usually write my menu plan for the week on a piece of paper, a hard copy, menu on one side, grocery list on the other. I don't have any kind of fancy plan for either side; if it's a good week, I'll write things down in the order they appear on the shelves at the supermarket as we follow our typical path through the aisles. On bad weeks, I lose the list, either before or after I've done the shopping. Losing it before the groceries have been bought is by far the worst, because then I have no clue what I'm supposed to be shopping for. I may have a vague memory of someone's telling me we need more dental floss. Unfortunately, dental floss is not an ingredient in any of the foods I make, although I suppose you could use it to truss up a chicken for roasting. But if I forget to buy the chicken, where are we then? I'll tell you where we are: We're going through the stack of take-out menus we keep on the side of the fridge, fastened there by a number of magnets. And we argue endlessly over what we want. Pizza? Chinese? Italian? Burgers? Nobody agrees with anyone else and my husband shoots me narrow-eyed looks and mumbles things about "grocery money" and "why bother."

So I try to enter the grocery list into the phone app called Catch, and that would probably work better if I didn't either have to keep expanding the text to make it big enough to read, or taking off and putting on my glasses. Annoying!

By the time I get around to posting my menu plan, I may or may not have a kitchen full of groceries, and if I do, I may or may not have any idea what dishes the various foods are supposed to be assembled into, if you see what I mean.

Happily, this was not one of those weeks, but for all I know, next week might be.
Menu Plan for the Week of October 10, 2011

Monday - Sloppy Joes and potato puffs, at my husband's request

Tuesday - Layered Mexican Casserole, courtesy of my friends Todd and Cecile. Cecile found this recipe on the Weight Watchers site and she and Todd made it and loved it. Todd, knowing that I like t0 try new recipes, sent it to me on Facebook. I made it tonight (because I am actually typing this on Tuesday, not Monday, because I'm a big cheater) and it was fabulous, one of those recipes that makes you say, "This is diet food?"

Wednesday - Italian Wedding Soup and homemade bread

Thursday - Jalapeno cheeseburgers and pan-roasted potatoes

Friday - Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, some kind of veg and cherry cobbler

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Lazy Sundays

The best times of the year for Lazy Sundays are in the autumn and the winter. In the spring, you're so sick of the cold and snow - at least you are if you live where I live, and if you live somewhere that has summer-like weather all year 'round, just hush up because no one likes a bragger - that you're itching to get outdoors and just roll around on your back in the grass like a horse. In the summer, it seems like there's always something going on, even if it's something as simple as getting up off the couch to make the hamburger patties and set the pot of water on the stove to boil for the sweet corn.

But in the autumn...and the winter...things are delightfully different, aren't they? It feels like a duty, almost, to put something on the stove, or in the oven or the slow-cooker, that will have to simmer and fill the house full of savory smells. And then, naturally, once that business is seen to, you proceed directly to the couch with a book, preferably wearing, if not your actual bathrobe, clothing that is more suited to indoor warmth and comfy-ness, like fleece apparel. You never see anyone doing her Sunday lounging while wearing a J.C. Penney power suit, do you? If you ever do see such a thing, please tell her to get up and go change and stop being such an uptight dork.

Slippers are a requirement, an absolute must. There will be no arguing this point: Slippers. On your feet. All afternoon. Wear socks with them so they won't get stinky.

I put a pot of chili on the stove today, somewhere around noon. While it was doing its thing, I threw a package of shredded cheddar on the kitchen table, got out the jalapeno peppers and stuck a fork in the open jar (because honestly, you wouldn't believe some of the barbaric behavior I've seen around here, such as licking off a fork that has already been used to eat taco casserole and sticking it back into that jar to spear a few pepper slices), some mini-packages of goldfish crackers and a stack of saltines. I filled my great-grandmother's burl bowl with a couple of handfuls of snack-sized candy bars. Bowls, napkins, spoons. I went to the kitchen doorway and stood there overlooking the dining room and living room and said to the assembled family members and a friend of my husband's who was here helping us solve some IT issues with our Netflix video streaming queue, "Chili's ready on the stove, so go grab a bowl and help yourselves."

Everyone wandered in as the mood struck them, and it was very pleasant hearing the fridge open and close, spoons clinking against bowls, and an occasional howl of either rage or joy from the men, depending on which way the football game was going. I sank into my seat on the couch and looked at my be-slippered toes, contemplating the fact that it's really a bit too warm on this particular Sunday for socks and slippers, but knowing I'd regret it if I took off the socks.

One 45-minute nap later, I woke to find the whole rest of the long, slow happy day stretching in front of me; Sunday bliss.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

How I know it's fall

I always know when fall arrives because, first of all, my husband insists that we no longer need the central air to cool the house. Generally, he's right about this, but there are those times when an Indian summer day sneaks in and I find myself gasping and sweating while engaging in a strenuous activity like typing a handout on the life of George Orwell. I have no qualms about turning the AC back on, because I've managed to convince him that a Cool Wife is a Happy Wife. Being too hot makes me mean.

The other way I know it's fall is because we sleep with the bedroom windows open at night, just a crack. This is my favorite way to sleep, in a slightly chilly room with the sound of the wind rustling the leaves in the tree right outside our west window, and the milk truck going by early in the morning. Occasionally, I can hear the train whistle from ten blocks up the street, and that is my favorite middle-of-the-night sound ever.

As much as I like sleeping with the bedroom windows open, I have to be very wary of my husband, keeping a watchful eye on both him and the overnight weather forecast. Comes a day when he says, "I opened the windows and, hey - we don't really need this big blanket on the bed, do we?"

I sighed and carried on slathering moisturizer onto my face. We go through this same conversation at least three times a week during early-to-mid October, and it always happens in the evening when my defenses are down and my last available nerve has been worn down to a nubbin by the events of the day. "I think we need to close the windows a little bit because they're both wide open and it's supposed to get down in the low forties tonight. And yes, we will need that blanket."

"You may need it on you," he said, kicking vigorously at the blanket in a manner that always makes me want to clock him - I prefer to have the blanket neatly folded, accordion-style, at the foot of the bed, not thrashed down there in an untidy heap - "but I don't need it on me. I'm too warm."

"You won't be later," I remarked, putting the lid back onto my bottle of moisturizer. I went to the south window, which is nine feet tall, sash-style, and opens up to half that length, which exposes us to almost as much night air as a sleeping bag placed on the lawn under the stars would. I pulled it down to a height of about two inches and went to the other window, identical in height, and closed it altogether.

My husband immediately began gasping. "It is SO HOT in here," he complained. "No air at ALL." (This, in spite of the fact that a pedestal floor fan was on the medium setting and pointed straight at him.) "I feel like I'm going to suffocate." He slapped his paperback novel onto his bedside table and grumpily fell back onto his pillows, huffing.

"You won't think that later when it gets really cold in here, somewhere around four o'clock this morning."

"I don't think I'm going to last that long. It feels like a sauna in here."

I sighed again and switched out my lamp, settling myself back onto my own pillows and silently complimenting myself on my virtuous restraint from holding one over his face.

Later on that night, I woke up shivering, so cold that it was hard to bend my fingers. I was curled into shrimp-shape, huddled up with a light Arctic breeze ruffling the exposed right sleeve of my nightgown. I turned over in bed to find an edge of the sheet to pull over myself so that I could ward off hypothermia, and as I did so, the expected sight met my eyes through the darkness: that of my husband rolled snugly in ALL the sheet and ALL the thick, fleecy blanket, peacefully snoring his head off while I chipped ice particles off my eyelashes.

Three seconds later, he came back to consciousness with a yelp of surprise and surrendered my share of the bedding. See, one of the reasons why I like having long fingernails is because you can use one of them to make a swift, silent point and make it seem like an accident.

"Sorry, honey," I murmured, turning back over in the bed and pulling the warm covers up to my ears. "Sleep tight."

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Menu Plan Monday (on Tuesday, but it's already been a long week)

You know those Thursday mornings when you wake up and open your eyes and then realize that it's really only Tuesday? You know how you DON'T just leap out of bed with your arms in the air shouting, "Yippee!!! I thought this week was almost over, but I've actually still got more than half of it yet to go!"


So times like these make me really happy to be participating with a whole bunch of other mommy bloggers in Laura's Menu Plan Monday feature at her blog, I'm An Organizing Junkie.com. Because all that you see below was planned out last Thursday and purchased last Friday, back in the good old days when I still had my wits about me. Because if I were trying to plan menus, say, yesterday? We'd be out in the front yard eating the fallen leaves off the tree.


Monday - I looked in the refrigerators -- both refrigerators, the one in the kitchen and the one in the utility room that is generally known as the Beer Fridge -- on Sunday afternoon and realized that we had enough leftovers from last week to create a perfectly respectable sort of buffet dinner. We had a bowl of brown rice left from the stir-fry, some spaghetti sauce from Friday's jaunt to New Castle, meatloaf from last Monday and lentil soup from whatever day we ate that. I made a baked spaghetti casserole with the rice, the spaghetti sauce and some mozzarella and turkey pepperoni I found in the fridge, heated up the meatloaf, sliced thin, topped it with a slice of cheddar and plunked it on squares of homemade bread, added a little cubed ham to the lentil soup and told everybody to jump right in.

They told me it was the best meal they'd had in weeks.

I'm not sure how I feel about that.

Tuesday - Aisling's dinner request for tonight was homemade biscuits and gravy with scrambled eggs, so I made that for her and my husband. Meelyn and I, however, have reached that point in life where we don't feel called upon to consume vast amounts of calories, fat and carbs that we really don't enjoy all that much, so we each had a Weight Watchers Smart Ones microwaveable meal, both of which were very good.

Wednesday - Roasted chicken breast with balsamic vinegar glaze, sweet potatoes and one of those yummy Green Giant Steamers veggies, although I can't quite remember which variety I chose.

Thursday - Meelyn and I are experimenting with a breakfast casserole, trying to see how much of the fat and cholesterol we can remove before all the taste goes along with it. I haven't decided if I'm going to go the route of my mother's Christmas Day Breakfast Casserole (although it really frosts her doughnuts when I make this out-of-season) or a crustless quiche. If the recipe I choose is successful, I'll post it. All I know right now is that it will include some nice lean ham instead of sausage, have some egg whites substituted for at least half the amount of whole egg called for, and also....


Fat-free cheese.

Heaven help me.

Friday - I think I'm going to have to go to a restaurant. I can just feel it. It may be Wendy's, for all I know, but I am deeply hoping for Chili's.