Ramblings of a Sick Woman

22 09 2012

Hello Blogosphere!  My goodness, I have been wanting to write to you about so many things over these last weeks and just haven’t had the time.  The powers of the universe have now granted me the time to catch up with you, but I had to get a nasty little head cold to get the time off.  In fact, yesterday was spent working at home with a stack of paperwork from the store and the use of a remote access program to tap into the store computer from home.  I got a lot done despite the pile of Kleenex.  Today, my friends, is reserved for you.  OK, really, it’s reserved for me, but I choose to spend it with you.  I mean, I’m not going anywhere further than the kitchen for more chicken soup.  But you know what I mean.

There are so many things rattling around in my tiny mind that I want to share with you, I thought I’d try to address a few at once with little snippets in one blog post.  If my attempt to limit myself is unsuccessful, I apologize in advance.  How many words is in a snippet, anyway?

Not Your Average Hip-Hop Fan

I was driving down the street last week, slowing as I approached a red light.  I hear a ‘rolling sound system’ coming up from the rear.  As the offending vehicle pulls alongside me, I do a double take.  Serious rap music, subcompact white late-model car, white female driver – 30-something, severe librarian hairdo, somewhat overweight, doctor’s office-type uniform – groovin’ to the beat.  There was just something so incongruous about my visual and auditory perceptions in that moment – the music just didn’t go with the picture.  It got me thinking about how many of our commonly held beliefs and stereotypes can be so far off base.   Why do we insist on limiting ourselves and others with these notions of what we should be? You go, hip hop woman. (This could be an entire blog post, but I’ll let you ponder it without my expert elaboration – for now.)

Entrepreneurial Spirit?

I was driving along, minding my own business, when a vehicle caught my eye.  The license plate said “Lost Temp License.”  The light I was sitting at was a long one, so I had time to think about this.  When the light changed, I got my phone out and got the camera ready then snapped this photo as I was approaching the next light.  In the car was a rather handsome young couple.  When they realized that I was intrigued with them, they proceeded to speed away and turn off onto a side street. I don’t know what they were up to – undoubtedly it was no good.  But I wasn’t thinking about that.   I was wondering about that plate.  Apparently there is a business out there making plastic license plates for the crooks among us.  Is this a legitimate business born of the illegal activities of others, perhaps?  Do people really fall for this stuff?  Doesn’t the fake plate draw more attention than no plate at all?  Was it some sort of social experiment of which I was an unwitting subject?  Yes.  Exactly.  All of that.  Just think about it for a while.  Or not.

Doggone Mission

What is my dog thinking when he goes and goes and goes and goes like this?  He’s not visibly chasing anything – trust me, when he sees a cat or a squirrel I know.  Most of the time when we take our walks he just ambles along, or he catches a whiff of something and goes a short distance at high speed stopping abruptly when the target of his olfactory prowess is at hand, er, paw.  But I really don’t understand these occasional forced marches he takes me on.  It’s clear that he is going somewhere, in search of something – he’s on a mission.  He doesn’t stop to pee, doesn’t pause to smell things, he just goes and goes.  One of these days when I have recovered from this head cold I might just let him take me wherever it is he seems to want to go.  I worry that there isn’t really a destination in his pea-shaped brain and at some point he will wear himself out and I will have to carry him a mile home (this has happened).  Where is he going?  What is it?

I Love a Good Double Entendre…

I love humor that doesn’t smack you in the face.  Don’t draw me a diagram, let me get to the funny on my own.  I love to laugh – it’s good for the soul.  Not too often does something strike me as truly funny, but when something does it is almost always full of unspoken subtext.  I just love a double entendre for this very reason.  I meant what I said AND I meant what I didn’t say.  It’s hilarious.  Like this one.

…And Animal Jokes

Maybe it’s because I almost always know a person that’s just a teensy bit too much like the animal and it just cracks me up to see it presented in a way where it is actually talked about and no one can sue.  For real, people.  You can’t say stuff to people’s faces these days without getting sued for defamation, even if it’s true.  But you can write a joke and put it on the internet without names and everyone will still know who you are talking about without the lawsuit.  I also like the ones that poke fun at all of us, because sometimes you just need to call a cow a cow.  Like this one (you know who you are, so just quit being so uptight and laugh at yourself):

Cows & Politics Explained

A CHRISTIAN DEMOCRAT:  You have two cows.  You keep one and give one to your neighbor.

A SOCIALIST:  You have two cows.  The government takes one and gives it to your neighbor.

AN AMERICAN REPUBLICAN:  You have two cows. Your neighbor has none. So what?

AN AMERICAN DEMOCRAT:  You have two cows.  Your neighbor has none.  You feel guilty for being successful.  You vote people into office who tax your cows, forcing you to sell one to raise money to pay the tax.  The people you voted for then take the tax money and buy a cow and give it to your neighbor. You feel righteous.

A COMMUNIST:  You have two cows.  The government seizes both and provides you with milk.

A FASCIST:  You have two cows.  The government seizes both and sells you the milk. You join the underground and start a campaign of sabotage.

DEMOCRACY, AMERICAN STYLE:  You have two cows.  The government taxes you to the point you have to sell both to support a man in a foreign country who has only one cow, which was a gift from your government.

CAPITALISM, AMERICAN STYLE:  You have two cows.  You sell one, buy a bull, and build a herd of cows.

BUREAUCRACY, AMERICAN STYLE:  You have two cows.  The government takes them both, shoots one, milks the other, pays you for the milk, then pours the milk down the drain.

AN AMERICAN CORPORATION:  You have two cows.  You sell one, and force the other to produce the milk of four cows.  You are surprised when the cow drops dead.

A FRENCH CORPORATION:  You have two cows.  You go on strike because you want three cows.

A JAPANESE CORPORATION:  You have two cows.  You redesign them so they are one-tenth the size of an ordinary cow and produce twenty times the milk. You then create clever cow cartoon images called Cowkimon and market them World-Wide.

A GERMAN CORPORATION:  You have two cows.  You reengineer them so they live for 100 years, eat once a month, and milk themselves.

A BRITISH CORPORATION:  You have two cows.  They are mad.  They die. Pass the shepherd’s pie, please.

AN ITALIAN CORPORATION:  You have two cows, but you don’t know where they are. You break for lunch.

A RUSSIAN CORPORATION:  You have two cows.  You count them and learn you have five cows. You count them again and learn you have 42 cows. You count them again and learn you have 12 cows.  You stop counting cows and open another bottle of vodka.

A SWISS CORPORATION:  You have 5000 cows, none of which belong to you. You charge others for storing them.

A BRAZILIAN CORPORATION:  You have two cows.  You enter into a partnership with an American corporation.  Soon you have 1000 cows and the American corporation declares bankruptcy.

AN INDIAN CORPORATION:  You have two cows.  You worship both of them.

A CHINESE CORPORATION:  You have two cows.  You have 300 people milking them. You claim full employment, high bovine productivity, and arrest the newsman who reported on them.

AN ISRAELI CORPORATION:  There are these two Jewish cows, right?  They open a milk factory, an ice cream store, and then sell the movie rights. They send their calves to Harvard to become doctors. So, who needs people?

AN ARKANSAS CORPORATION:  You have two cows.  That one on the left is kinda cute.

Maybe I’ll post a recipe later after I’m done watching Miss Congeniality.  Hey, I’m easily amused and entertained.

Go forth and ponder people – and don’t forget to laugh.

Tale of a Spoon – and an awesome pasta salad

15 07 2012

Hello Dear Readers,

Moving sucks.  That was the title of my last blog post.  I could probably say “‘nuff said” and that would be sufficient to describe my past two weeks to you.  But when have I ever let you off that easy?  So sorry, but I have more to say.  It was finally over Friday night at about 8:30pm.  By “over” I mean that there was nothing left to move.  This does not speak to the state of disarray that encompasses the new apartment; that will be addressed as frustration over not having something trumps exhaustion one box at a time.

I packed and moved gradually, bringing a few boxes over at a time; moved the furniture a week ago today; and the last of the miscellaneous stuff arrived two days ago.  Because I had to go to work most days for at least a few hours to keep things glued together, it just kept dragging on.  I did not have the luxury of taking two or three days in a row to just get it done.  While I cooked for classes at work, there were no meals made at home by me, for me.  Save for the emergency bonbons, I have been living on take-out and fast food.  That may continue for a few more days, although I might be able to actually sit at a restaurant and have a meal now that I am not sweaty and dirty from moving.

As I sit here on the bed – one of the few spaces in the apartment that doesn’t contain stacks of boxes – reflecting on the long, drawn-out process that moving has been this time, I find myself thinking of everything and everyone that helped me get through it.  I was blessed by my friend the professional painter who painted this crap-tastic joint for me and even walked my dog (the dog had him trained in about an hour); my awesome friends who helped me move the furniture in 100 degree heat; my fantastic new staff that somehow managed to keep the business moving along in my absence with only a minimum of training; and this spoon.

This ordinary disposable plastic spoon – the kind commonly provided with take-out food with a matching fork, knife, and useless napkin in a little cellophane packet – turns out to be a lifesaver.  As of this writing, I don’t know the location of my real flatware.  I am still using this same plastic spoon acquired over a week ago from the tasty Thai/Vietnamese restaurant near my new apartment.  This spoon has delivered yogurt to my mouth; it fished the emergency bonbons out of the melted chocolate and onto the plate; and when I left the dog’s food in the cupboard at the old house along with my spatulas, it scrambled him some eggs for dinner and for breakfast the next morning.  It fed me this pasta salad, leftover from my cooking class yesterday, for dinner last night.  Now, it is spooning the sugar that I finally found into my morning tea.

My girlfriend says it’s all that adapting we learned to do in the Army over a lifetime that has allowed me to survive this craziness intact.  I say it’s the spoon.  Either way, try this pasta salad and your friends will think you are a culinary genius.  Not only is it delish, it’s also vegetarian, so you have nearly everyone covered in one dish (sorry vegans, you are on your own).  It doesn’t have anything in it that will spoil in the heat, which makes it highly adaptable as a part of your next moveable feast to take to the beach, boating, on a road trip, or to the races.  Pack it in individual portion containers – and don’t forget the plastic spoons.  I’m just sayin’.

Pasta Primavera Salad with Lemon Artichoke Parsley Pesto

This crunchy, lemony salad is the perfect foil to a hot summer day!

1 pound Small Pasta, cooked al dente, drained, and chilled (Israeli Couscous/pearl pasta or orzo)

3 stalks Bok Choy, rinsed and diced

1 bunch Scallions, sliced thin

½ cup Artichoke Hearts, diced

1 Orange or Yellow Bell Pepper, seeded and diced

1 cup Cherry Tomatoes, quartered

1 large Banana Pepper, seeded and diced small

Zest of one Lemon


For the Artichoke Pesto:

2 large garlic cloves, chopped

1 generous handful of Flat Leaf Parsley leaves

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

½ cup Artichoke Hearts

3 tablespoons Pine Nuts (optional)

¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon Sea Salt

1 teaspoon Cracked Black Pepper

¾ cup Good Quality Olive Oil (+/-)

Combine all the pesto ingredients except the oil in a blender or food processor.  Pulse until well combined.  With machine running, drizzle in the oil until a smooth and thick, but pourable, consistency develops.  Set aside.

Prepare the salad ingredients.  Combine all the prepared salad ingredients in a large bowl and toss with the pesto.  Pack into portable containers and chill until ready to eat.

Make Ahead Note:  If not serving the same day, keep the salad ingredients and pesto separately in the refrigerator, where they will survive for days.

Serves 6.

“Moving Sucks” Emergency BonBons

11 07 2012


Day 11 of moving, now down to one more room to clear – the office/craft room. What has interfered with me just simply getting it done, you ask? Work has interfered, weather has interfered, having too much stuff despite two garage sales has interfered, running out of tape to assemble boxes has interfered, and being exhausted and unable to carry one more freaking box up the stairs in 100 degree heat has interfered.

Let’s just put it out there, shall we? If I was married, I would be moved. I had men to help move the furniture, but I don’t have anyone who can sort and pack or trash, as appropriate, but me. I needed a husband – just for a week. Or a wife. Yeah, a wife would be even better. Then it would be done right, like we had a Vulcan mind meld. Men don’t really get these things – they just throw everything in a box and put it in the car.

Anyhow, I don’t have a husband or a wife. So the only thing I made to eat in the last week was a scrambled egg for the dog when I forgot his food in the cupboard at the old house. As you can see by his expression, the dog was thinking WTF? My spatulas were still there too, so I used a plastic spoon to stir the egg in the pan.

What did I eat? Why, emergency bonbons, of course. It’s a good thing they only require 2 bowls and 3 ingredients.

1 cup Peanut butter, chunky or not
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 cup-ish chocolate chips

Mix the peanut butter and sugar together. Should be stiff like cookie dough and pull off the sides of the bowl. Melt chocolate in microwave 30 seconds at a time, stirring well between blasts.

Roll peanut butter mix into balls. Roll in chocolate and use your plastic spoon from takeout dinner to scoop them onto a plate. Freeze. Eat.

If you have time and a cooling rack & sheet pan, put the bonbons on the rack over the pan instead of on a plate to freeze. They will be prettier.

Thank God for bonbons and ingenuity. Almost as good as a wife.





The End of Everything: Cold Thai Beef Noodles

30 06 2012

I am moving into a very small apartment to downsize my budget and amass more cash to fund my future Indy novel and whatever travels I may choose to embark upon.  I am calling this coming week “moving week” as I am picking up keys on Monday, cleaning, painting, and installing flooring in the kitchen of the new apartment for the next few days, then next weekend moving the furniture while the men I know are available.  Then I have another five days to deal with the little stuff on my own.  So far I packed three boxes of books.  Later, I had to unpack two of them to find my reference material for my cooking classes.  The math says that I now have only one box packed.  It’s not going well.

My crisper drawer post-dinner

In an effort to have less to pack, I have been selling things off.  The guest beds are gone, so if you come to visit in the future you can choose between the sofa or a hotel.  Sorry if it makes me a bad host, but I’m not giving up my bed.  I’m saving enough by moving that I can take you out on the town for some good eats and recreation, my treat.  So don’t complain.  Also gone are chairs, tables, a mountain of clothes, a 15 year old television that still worked great but was too big for the new place, a baker’s rack, a wrought iron patio set, miscellaneous stuff from closets, and the makings of a commercial bakery that were in a storage shed.  I feel relieved.  But I have a garage to sort through and a dining room table to offload.  So there will be one more garage sale next Saturday.

Today at 5:00pm I started my first 36 hours off since June 18th (save for sleep time).  I will be trying to minimize my time at work this next week so the moving process can be completed – emphasis on trying.  This mostly involves just not going in at all, because once I am in there it’s like a black hole from which I can’t escape.  I have instructed my employees to put me on speed dial and just do the best they can.  Take care of the customers, sweep the floor, take out the trash, and make sure the money is accurate.  Everything else can wait.  Priorities, ya know?  The paperwork can wait a week.

Immediately upon my departure from work today, I cruised into Port City Java for a Mocha Freeze and some South ‘n France Bon Bons.  The bon bons did not make it off the premises.  The freeze accompanied me to Lowe’s where I selected the paint for the living room and kitchen in the new place.  I have the colors for the bedroom and bath at home as they currently adorn the same rooms in this house.  I will have to go back with the barcodes tomorrow for more paint.

Upon arriving home I remembered that I forgot to go to the grocery store across the street from Lowe’s.  Fudgesicle.  Oh well, I need

“Perfect Prime Rib” left from class

to clean out the fridge anyhow, and I’m really good at making stuff up in the kitchen.  Inspection of the fridge revealed a few tiny center stalks of bok choi, limes, a handful of snow peas, a par-shriveled yellow pepper, and the tail end of a Perfect Prime Rib made two nights ago at a class of the same name, and Thai chilis.  This is where my awesomely stocked pantry comes in handy – and having worked with other cooking instructors who know things like Thai and Vietnamese.  I saw the chilis, limes, and beef, and I knew exactly what I was going to do.

One of our instructors made this Thai dish once that had a whole chopped lime as part of the ingredients.  Yes, rind and all.  It was fabulous.  The flavors just exploded in my mouth.  Normally I am sensitive to pepper heat, but this lovely concoction made me embrace the heat – it’s just so good!  I had never eaten the rind of a lime before that, but now I am always trying to think of how to incorporate it into dishes for texture and big lime flavor.  This is a totally made up spin on what Linda – the Queen of Asia in our cooking school – did with that Thai dish that converted me to using the whole lime.  It was co-inspired by the Thai Beef Salad served at Thai Peppers in Fayetteville, NC (and probably a million Thai places around the country) – a regular lunch spot of mine just outside the Reilly Road gate of Fort Bragg back in the day (it’s still there).

You can serve this hot, but now that it is as hot here as it is in the upstate where Heather from SugarDishMe lives, I too opted for cold.  I like it better cold.  If you don’t have Thai chilis in your fridge, you aren’t a crazed cook like me yet.  Never fear, you can use a jalapeno if you must – but you’ll have to control the heat to your liking.  I know what I’m getting with one Thai chili seeded.  You are on your own with how much jalapeno to use.  This easily doubles, triples, or quadruples to serve your family.  I am just one person, so this is just two generous portions – one for dinner, and one for breakfast.

I have heard it said that eating chili peppers in the heat keeps you cool, presumably by causing sweating that helps to cool you.  I don’t know if this will cool you off, but the end of everything fresh in my fridge made a delicious meal.

Oh, and if I was not a beef eater, I would love this with some tofu.  Not so much on the chicken – don’t know why, but for my tastes if it can’t be beef, just skip the meat altogether.

Cold Thai Beef Noodles

8 ounces Rib Eye Steak or Prime Rib, cooked medium rare, chilled, sliced very thin

2 stalks Bok Choi, rinsed and sliced on the bias

3 ounces fresh Snow Peas

1 small or ½ large Bell Pepper, julienned (any color you desire)

½ white onion, julienned (optional; I didn’t have any, but it would be a nice addition)

1 tablespoon Canola Oil (or other neutral tasting oil, like sunflower, grapeseed, or peanut)

1/3 pound Thin Spaghetti, cooked, drained well, and chilled (I cook mine in the microwave!)

For the Thai Lime & Chili Relish (the deliciousness in this dish!):

1 soft Lime, ends trimmed, chopped finely

1 ½ tablespoons Toasted Sesame Oil

1 tablespoon Honey

½ teaspoon Sea Salt

1 Thai Chili, seeded and minced

2-3 cloves Garlic, sliced thinly

Stir all the relish ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside to develop flavor and soften the lime rind.

Heat the canola oil in a skillet over high heat (yes, high).  When it is just starting to smoke, toss in your bok choi, snow peas, bell pepper, and onion (or whatever veggies you are using).  Toss them constantly on high until they caramelize a tiny bit and are tender.  Spread them on a sheet pan or plate and put them in the blast chiller for 5 minutes.  What?  You don’t have a blast chiller in your kitchen?  Then put them in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Toss the chilled veggies and beef with the noodles, then toss in the relish a bit at a time until it’s as tasty as you want it to be.  I used all of mine.


Sunny Side Up

17 06 2012

Hello Dear Readers!  I apologize for my long silence.  I was apartment hunting as my house is finally sold and I now have to get the f#@& out of here.  The long wait is over and time is now short.  If you care to know more about my house situation, read this.  If not, no worries.  There are no rules out here in cyberspace – you can do as you please (and I really dig that, don’t you?).

Since my budget is so puny (hence the need to sell my house), I started at the bottom rung of the lists of apartments from several realtors.  I tossed all but two of the lists in the trash since the bottom rung wasn’t low enough on the others.  I also drove around looking for signs and made some calls.  Then I set about going to see the apartments on the lists, pretty much ruling out nothing.  After all, I don’t know where I am supposed to be; I only know what I can afford.

Wilmington is not a large city, but it is good sized.  With about 900,000 people in the metro area, it falls firmly into the “civilized” category, having enough of the trappings of big city life to keep the ex-pats from up north happy while still managing to be charming.  I have lived here 10 years and there are many corners of town I have not seen.  My explorations while apartment hunting have rendered it obvious that there are certain corners of Wilmington that I do not need to see.  What I have missed is either way out of my budget or way too scary for a casual round about the neighborhood.

I found a nice looking apartment on one of the realtor’s websites that seemed worth checking out.  It was almost too good to be true.  A duplex with about 1,000 square feet, hardwood floors, washer & dryer hookups, and water/sewer/trash included for just $625 per month.  The pictures looked great; it seemed to be light and cheery on the inside with lots of windows.  So I called, got the lockbox code, and took a drive.  I knew the general area but had never been back into this neighborhood – I thought it was all industrial.  As it turns out, it is industrial – if you are in the market for some crack or weed, I’m pretty sure that’s the hub of the illegal drug trade industry in Wilmington.  Apparently that industry doesn’t pay well, because there were grocery store shopping carts strewn about, indicating that cars were not available for transporting the groceries home.  There were a number of not-so-friendly looking types lounging on sofas on front porches, and a few vehicles that were like a living cliché of pimpmobiles from Law & Order SVU.  I never saw the apartment nor even identified the building – I just kept driving.  I guess all those windows in the apartment make it easier for the dealers and pimps to keep an eye on you.  It was like a scared straight program for newly broke 40-something women.

After that, I started to explore apartment complexes.  Even though I really don’t like their vibe – feels a bit like a human storage facility – they were looking substantially better after visiting the ‘hood.  At least the likelihood of being shot through the window was greatly reduced, and they have amenities like pools and laundry hookups that many small apartments do not.  Screaming babies? Check.  Rowdy college kids? Check.  But no drive-bys.  This didn’t last long, really about 2 hours.  Then I went back to the lists of privately owned apartments and carried on about the unexplored regions of Wilmington.

I viewed a really nice trailer on a private lot in a quiet neighborhood that had been completely renovated – they really did a good job with it.  I should have taken pictures for Heather at SugarDishMe & Trailer Trashtastic – she’d have no doubt found inspiration in it.  I’m pretty sure they converted the walls to drywall, and they put in laminate flooring and new carpeting, new kitchen cabinets, new siding on the outside – it was really cute.  I really wanted it.  It was more space than I needed, but not excessively so.  But they were asking $725 and were not including any utilities or yard work.  I could get me a human storage unit with utilities included for that, and I sold my lawnmower for a reason. I kept it on my list, but moved on.

In the midst of this house hunting I began talking with my ex-business partner about the woes he is facing with the business.  He was open to my opinion and insight (I had, after all, been the managing partner, so I know where all the bodies are buried); actually, he wanted my advice because he was having some problems and didn’t know what to do about them.

At first I was giving advice.  Within a couple weeks we were talking about my possibly returning to manage the place for him.  Next thing you know, here I am – employed again.  It was not that simple, of course, but to tell you the details would be TMI.  We have also had a long-time employee give her notice this week, saying she feels he is going “backward.”  That’s code for she just doesn’t like me.  I’m cool with that.  The place needs an adrenaline injection to get it back on track and fresh, friendly faces will help.  This way, I will be the only one who knows where the bodies are buried and that’s not a bad thing.  They need to stay buried.  I have hit the ground running, resetting the displays and cooking for two events in this first week.  Onward and upward!

Now that I am working full time, moving just got a bit more challenging.  It turns out that the universe has that handled, also.  A few days before starting back to work, I found a lovely little garage apartment.  It has its issues to be certain, like the almost total absence of closets (the exception being one 16” X 24” box in the bedroom that won’t hold much more than an ironing board).  But when I walked into the living room, I stood still and tuned in my eyes and ears.  I had seen some dark, dank hovels.  This is bright, light, and sounds of lawnmowers, dogs, and kids playing wafted in the windows.  What came out of my mouth was that line from Sex in the City the movie, the one uttered by Carrie when she and Big walk into the penthouse apartment in Manhattan: “So this is where they keep the light.”

Did I mention the bathroom?  The claw foot tub is a nice idea but lacks a certain functionality – one has to worry, when one is standing between two shower curtains on an oval curtain rod, about getting wrapped up like a sausage and getting stuck.  The tub does make a nice arm rest when on the throne, though.  Serious storage issues here, but I shall figure it out.

My brain is hard at work on solving the inherent storage issues, and now that I have a job I can purchase things like, perhaps, a wardrobe.  Not having closets is better than having poorly placed closets – I can design this anyway I want, since it is basically a big box.  Now that I have a floor plan (yes, my OCD kicked in; I measured and drew the apartment to scale on the computer so I can plan where to place all the furniture), I know what furniture I need to sell.  The universe took care of that, too.  I met a young man this week in a similar situation who has no furniture and is coming today to take my spare bedroom set and some miscellaneous stuff off my hands.

Given my new-old employment, I could have upscaled to a better apartment.  But this place spoke to me, and it has character.  I don’t need more space, even if I might lust after something more modern.  I saw modern and it cost more for less space – and it was dark.  I can afford this apartment with or without the job, which provides a sense of peace.  I am not afraid of what the future may hold because I have a place to live no matter where life takes me professionally.

The kitchen is worthy of a blog post of its own, and probably a “before” and “after” perspective.  It will be a challenge.  ‘Nuff said.

Crappy Little Apartment with Character:  $525 per month including water/sewer/trash

New Closet Substitute:  $500

Peace of Mind:  Priceless

If you are local, come see me at the store.  I’ll pour you a wine sample and find that obscure must-have kitchen gadget you’ve been looking for.  If you are not in the area, I’ll see you out here in cyberspace!

A Quickie: My Sentiments, Exactly!

30 05 2012

If you are good at your job, a true professional, and have earned the respect of your peers through sweat equity, then you will totally appreciate this video from Huffington Post.  Especially if you have ever had someone who is not in your industry attempt to critique your work.

Mario Batali tells why he left the show “Iron Chef” and he doesn’t hold back.

The laugh is on me.  Happy Wednesday!

Memorial Day: When You Live at the Beach…

25 05 2012

As the family and friends of people I know descend upon our fair seaside city for the Memorial Day weekend, I find myself pondering holidays past.  I don’t have any plans this weekend, and I don’t have any guests coming for the first time in all the years that I have lived here.  I feel a little left out.  I used to look forward to these holiday weekends with friends and family, planning special meals, tidying the guest rooms, and anticipating the fellowship we would enjoy together.  Then the guests would arrive.

What can I say?  It always sounded better talking about it than it ever was.  My expectations continued to soar year after year despite plenty of historical evidence that it wasn’t going to be all I had built it up to be in my mind.  What the hell was wrong with me?  What was I thinking?  I was clearly deluding myself.  There was rarely any of the convivial conversation, shared moments, and communal meals I always envisioned.  I invited people to come for the companionship.  But they didn’t come toWrightsville Beach, NC see me.  It was all about location.

There’s a long-standing joke about how many devoted friends and relatives you find you have if you live at the beach.  It looks real cute on the cocktail napkins and kitschy wall signs that sell like hotcakes down here.  But folks, it’s no joke.  It is very serious business.  I have had friends and family show up with total strangers in tow.  No thought was ever given to asking me if I minded an additional guest for the weekend.  Generally, I am a “the more the merrier” kind of person, but it would be nice to be asked.  Here’s a little chronical of Memorial Day Weekends Past:

Sister Gertrude shows up with her friend Eunice and Eunice’s bratty 10 year old boy in tow, and already you know things are not going to go as planned.  As more people arrive, you start inventorying your food supply.  When Eunice goes looking for a glass of wine and you offer her a nice glass of Pinot Blanc, she announces that she only drinks Blue Nun Riesling.  You tell her the grocery store is two blocks away and give her directions.  In about 20 minutes, your partner comes walking in the house with a bottle of Blue Nun in his left hand and his car keys in the right.  You then realize you have picked up the bar tab for this uninvited guest, and you want to go strangle Gertrude.  Instead, you butcher another chicken for the grill.  Don’t come in this kitchen right now people, I’m just sayin’.

Brother Bart arrives next with his wife Betty and their teenage kids Billy and Bobbi Sue (gives you a headache just hearing their names, doesn’t it?).  They take over the third floor loft in which you have placed air mattresses for the kids and a pile of sheets and towels.  Boom, boom, boom go the heavy footsteps up and down, up and down, until finally they all exit just as quickly making a beeline for the beach.  Did they even say hello?

Next are some friends with a boat.  It’s a problem, this parking thing.  We are a few houses up from the waterway on a narrow street and there just isn’t room.  We have a plan for the boat – a narrow alleyway across the road that will not be used for its usual commercial purposes since this is a holiday weekend.  At this point I don’t know who is sleeping where and I don’t give a damn.  Figure it out people, just stay out of my room.  There are so many people here now it is a veritable see of humanity, and wait – who is that?  I no longer care.  But I go hide my purse in the closet just in case.

An hour later, your partner’s mother shows up.  Now this is a smart woman, and the only one with any manners in the whole bunch.  She comes last, which means her car is at the end of the driveway, poised for a quick getaway.  And get away she will, long about Sunday morning while the moochers are still in bed.  I so want to scream, “TAKE ME WITH YOU!” every time she does this.  By Sunday morning I am ready to get the hell out, but I live here.  And there is no relief pending because it’s a holiday weekend and they are staying until Monday.  AAAAHHHHHHHH!

As I am in the kitchen Saturday afternoon preparing the evening meal, a post-sun and sand meeting is occurring on the front porch.  It is decided in my absentia that the whole crew will go out to dinner.  Tonight.  It is now 5PM, and I have all the food prepped and ready to cook when someone pops into the kitchen for a cold beer and says, “Oh hey, Susan.  What’s all this for?”  And that, my friends, is how I find out we are going out to dinner.  Did I mention that we are a party of 14, it is Saturday evening at 5pm on a holiday weekend and we don’t have a reservation?  I’ll just put this food in the fridge and be right there.  No problem.  I wonder where we are going.  HA.  This should be good.  I think I need a drink.  And how did my partner end up picking up the tab for the entire group?

When his Mother leaves, she removes the sheets from her bed and takes them to the laundry room, tidies things up, and leaves no trace behind.  I think she even cleaned the bathroom.  When the rest of them leave on Monday, it’s much like when they arrived – they just disperse.  When I suddenly realize it is quiet and start looking around, my suspicions are confirmed.  They are gone.  The piles of sheets and towels, no so much.  I think this trail of sand leads right back to the beach.  Proof that there is a God appears in the form of a cool beverage and a rocker on the porch.  The rest I will deal with tomorrow.  Finally, my weekend has arrived.  Bruce is singing “Glory Days.”  This is the life.

So as I sit here now, just me and the dog, I am grateful.  I have a pool in the backyard and a fence that normally serves to keep the dog in the yard.  This weekend, it serves to keep the crazy people out.  I think it’s time for a little float.  As I gaze at the blue sky watching the contrails of the airplanes overhead, wondering where everyone is headed, I thank God for the peace and quiet.  I send up a special prayer for my fellow veterans still standing guard, wherever in the world they may be.  They make this peaceful, carefree weekend possible for me.  May God bless every one of you and keep you from harm’s way.

Have a great weekend folks, and thank a veteran for it.

“Apple-Free” Chicken & Potato Roast

22 05 2012

There are no pictures of this dish – you are going to have to use your imagination.  If you’ve seen a roast chicken before, you are halfway there.  Why are there no pictures?  Well, I take all my pictures on my cell phone and it has been toast since last Thursday night.  Yes, I am aware that there are inexpensive digital cameras out there, just like AT&T wants me to know that I can purchase a cheap phone to use as a backup when my beloved iPhone breaks.  I don’t know how to express this without seeming a bit peeved, but here goes:  I don’t have the money for extra phones and cameras.  To those that would tell me to buy more stuff in case my stuff breaks, I submit this:  How about someone makes a product that doesn’t malfunction all the time, then I won’t need “backup” devices.

One of the best things I ever spent $60 on was the Apple Care Plan for my iPhone.  They have replaced it twice now, and I am quite certain that my purchase of said plan doesn’t even cover the overnight shipping that has been spent getting my phones to and from the various Apple facilities in California and Pennsylvania.  So thank you to all of the people who purchased the plan and have never needed to use it – your contribution has made my obtaining two new phones possible.  I only have 4 months left on my “care” plan – I sure hope the new phone doesn’t break.

Well, now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk chicken and potatoes.  I shared a recipe a while back for my Chili Lime Chicken, a variation of which was to put the chicken on skewers with blanched potatoes and grill them.  This recipe is down that road, but I made it in the oven.  It could be made on the grill over low heat, wrapped in a foil pouch, though you won’t get the crispy skin.  This is not a “wow” dish.  I haven’t created anything special or innovative here.  I was literally trying to make something with the things I had on hand and not bore myself to death.  I’m telling you about it because I thought that it might provide some inspiration for you to do the same.  It also gives you an opportunity to use some of that chili oil that you made after reading my compelling post containing the recipe.  Ha.

I had four organic bone-in leg quarters (leg with thigh attached) of chicken that I got for under $5 on sale.  I used one of those for this dish and froze the rest of the chicken.  But you can use any skin-on, bone-in chicken pieces you have, like a split breast for instance.  My other frugal find at the grocery this week was four pounds of russet potatoes for $1.50.  They are smaller than most russets, and were on sale because a few in the bag had gotten old and been removed.  The remaining potatoes were quite firm and didn’t even have any eyes.  So that was a total steal.  I may make gnocchi with some of them, and if they start to look like they are going downhill, I will slice, blanch, freeze and use them another time.  As you know, potatoes freeze well as long as you blanch them and cool completely before freezing.

I don’t know why, but chicken and potatoes don’t seem to be married together in a lot of recipes.  I think the difference in cooking times may be part of the problem.  You can totally modify the cooking time of potatoes by cutting them into smaller pieces, which is what I have done here.  I also put the chicken on top so that its drippings would further season the veggies underneath.  You can use any veggies you have on hand for this – if they are quicker cooking, like zucchini, slice them thicker so that they will hold up during the time it takes the chicken to cook through.  Despite the name of this recipe and post, thick slices of apple would actually be very good with this.  I’m just sayin’.

Gratuitous Picture of Roast Chicken, for reference

Now if you will excuse me, I am going to go take a swim.  I will be moving out of this lovely home soon and must take advantage of its amenities while I can.  Plus, my iPhone is on the truck and due to be delivered this afternoon.  I only have a few hours left until I am once again part of the mainstream.  It sure has been nice being Apple-free.  I may have to learn to use that off switch more.

“Apple-Free” Chicken & Veggie Roast

1 Chicken Leg Quarter or Split Breast

1 large or 2 small Russet Potatoes, scrubbed

½ Onion, sliced into ½” thick rounds

Chili Oil

1 tablespoon Smoked Paprika (Spanish Smoked Pimenton – hot or sweet, your choice)

1 tablespoon Granulated Garlic or Garlic Powder

1 tablespoon Sea Salt

½ tablespoon Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

Slice the potatoes about ¼” thick lengthwise to create long planks.  Arrange them overlapped (like the slats of window blinds when they are closed) in the center of a baking dish or pan (a cake pan works just fine).  Use a pastry brush or fork tines to sprinkle the chili oil over the potatoes.  Sprinkle them with some of the paprika, garlic, salt, and pepper.  Layer the onion slices atop the potatoes and repeat seasoning with oil and spices.  Top with chicken and season with the oil and spices as with the veggies.

Bake in a preheated 350oF oven until the chicken is cooked through and the potatoes are tender, 30+ minutes.  Remove from oven and rest for 5 minutes before serving. (The resting period will allow carry-over cooking to ensure the chicken is cooked through, and will help ensure it is moist).  The chicken should have an internal temperature of 160-165F, so don’t be shy about using your instant-read thermometer to check it!


Serves 1 or 2.

The Last Cold Box: The Pizza Project 2.5

16 05 2012

I think I mentioned that I was fast approaching the end of my frozen pizza explorations.  Well, it’s finally over. You can consider this the after action review.  I should be moving onto the fresh take & bake portion of this project category now, but I think I need a break from pizza.  Really.  Just for now.  So let’s get on with it, shall we?

My last frozen pizza in the freezer was from Kashi.  I have tried Tony’s, Totino’s, California Pizza Kitchen, DiGiorno, Gino’s East, and now the offering from the company that claims to embody the motto, “Seven whole grains on a mission.”  I know there are many more frozen pizza offerings out there on the market, but I just can’t go there.  I’m done.  Like burnt toast.  I’ve done my best to be objective; I’ve taken the monetary and nutritional aspects into consideration; and I’ve explored a representative sampling of all price ranges.  After this, you are on your own picking frozen pizza.  I can hear the collective sigh of relief from here.  You are welcome.  But I digress.

Kashi.  Yes.  Well, I think my overall opinion of this offering is the same opinion I have of a lot of health foods that try to imitate their tasty, not-so-healthy muse:  No.  Like California Pizza Kitchen’s frozen offerings, the toppings were somewhat tasty, but the crust is just not good.  Low calorie?  Yes.  Low fat?  Yes.  Healthy?  Maybe, in a better-for-you-than-the-alternative way.  But if I am opting for a pizza for my meal, am I really all that concerned about healthy eating in that moment?  I mean, I don’t want to clog my arteries and induce a heart attack with one repast, but I’m pretty sure that my overall health isn’t dependent upon the quality of one meal.  So why would I torture myself with food I don’t like in the name of health?  People, the Kashi pizza is edible if you must eat it.  But you can do much better.  What mission are those seven whole grains on anyhow?  Perhaps it’s a mission to see if they can sell their products on the basis of them being “good for you” alone?

While the gloves are off, let’s just go for it, shall we?  If you are going to opt for the convenience of a frozen pizza, why not go for the best?  If you want the best in frozen pizzas from those that I sampled, grab the DiGiorno and you won’t be disappointed.  If you like deep dish and can’t get to Chicago for the real deal, then the Gino’s East frozen offering will hit the spot.  The rest of them?  Don’t bother.

As for the whole “healthy” thing where pizza is concerned, I submit my likely unwelcome commentary:  If you are on a diet, don’t buy frozen pizza, or just have a portion instead of eating the whole thing.  Lean Cuisine is in the same aisle.  I’m just sayin’.

Now if you will excuse me, I am going to shower, dress, put my kid gloves back on, and go out into the world and try to be nice.  This has been very therapeutic.  Thanks for listening.

Until the next time we meet on The Pizza Project road, piece people.

Vote for Me! I Clearly Need Help

15 05 2012

A few weeks ago I posted my recipe entries for the Stonewall Kitchen Blogger Mustard Recipe Contest.  If you haven’t seen my recipes yet, take a look – they really are good eats.  I am confident in my cooking skills.  My blogging skills, well, not so much.  I’m a total rookie in the blogosphere.

I am shamelessly writing this post to beg a moment of your time to surf over to the Stonewall Kitchen Facebook page  or place a comment on the SK Pinterest page on the photo of one of my dishes to vote for me.  Just me.  Not those other guys.  I don’t have very many followers, and if my odds of getting some props for my recipes depend upon the number of “likes” the photo gets, I am screwed.  So have mercy on a baby blogger and give her a “like.”  At least it will save me from the utter embarrassment of being the no-vote contestant. Thanks!

This is my first cooking contest, as I have been too busy running a business, teaching cooking classes, and feeding people all these years to enter a contest.  Until recently, that is.  It’s just my luck that my first foray into competition happens to be a “virtual” contest.  I have no doubt whatsoever that if you put me in a kitchen with these competitors and cut me loose with the clock ticking – al a Top Chef – that I could kick some serious butt.  Garnering votes on a picture on a website – not my fortè.  So it is up to you, my dear readers, whether I will get some sort of honorable mention or not.  So please take pity on me and click through – you can just use this cute button right below (now that I figured out how to insert it – rookie!).

Vote for me!

Being a rookie at the contest thing as well as blogging, I was very careful with my entry.  I made sure to follow all the rules exactly and make the submissions on time and in the format required.  I posted to my blog, to Pinterest, and via email as instructed.  It occurred to me at one point that I really had two recipes, though they were intended to be eaten together and both used the same mustard from Stonewall.  So I sent SK a message asking if this was allowed.  I was told that it was allowed, but that each recipe would be judged separately.  Thus, when I put the final tweeks on the recipes and took my photos for the contest, I photographed them separately and submitted them.


This week I received an email message from the SK staff announcing the finalists, of which I was one.  The message stated that they couldn’t narrow it down to their usual top 10, so they have 11 finalists.  I suspect I might have been #11 – I probably didn’t have any votes, but they tested the recipes in their kitchen and maybe they included mine because my food was good.  It’s just a guess, but mine IS the last (11th) picture in the line-up on Facebook which otherwise doesn’t seem to have a set order (such as alphabetical by Blog name or recipe title).  I don’t really care, it’s just nice to be recognized – I didn’t expect to make the list of finalists because of this whole rookie blogger thing.  So this is great!

As I was reviewing my competitor’s pictures, I was frozen in my virtual tracks at picture number one.  WHAT. IS. THAT.  One of my competitors had prepared a compound (two-recipe) dish like mine but plated them together.  I referred back to my picture on the page and noticed that they listed both of my recipes in the text on the picture, though the picture is of the Southwest Salad alone. Well, OF COURSE IT IS, because I was told they would be judged separately and photographed them separately.  Had I been informed of the rule change (was there one?), I could have made the dish again and taken a new picture showing both items – the way I wrote it to be served originally.  Or perhaps the other contestants should have been informed of the single-recipe rule.  Either way, since it is a competition, shouldn’t all of the contestants have been informed of ALL the rules so we could compete fairly?  If that other compound recipe submitter wins because of that pretty picture including BOTH of their dishes, I’m gonna be really pissed!  It’s so unfair!  This is a lesson in begging forgiveness being better than asking permission.  Arg!

Yes.  Well.  My reaction to this is yet another sign that I have too much time on my hands – I really need to get a life.  More fodder for my therapist.  Who cares?  There is no money at stake here, just a gift basket and 0.5 seconds of fame amongst people who follow mustard recipe contests.  I’m guessing that’s a relatively small audience, of which you are now a member since you are reading this post and have so kindly surfed out to vote for my under-represented contest entry.

Sorry about the characterization as a  mustard recipe contest follower and thanks for the vote.

I’ll let you know if I win, place, or show, since I doubt it will be on the evening news.  I’m just sayin’.


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