Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas (and here's why)

Merry Christmas to all!! 

I love Christmas for a lot of reasons.  Has it become totally commercialized?  Well, I would say yes and no to that question.  If I hear one more newscaster talk about the "short holiday shopping season this year" one more time, I swear I'm going to lose my eggnog.  Let's make it clear here that there is no rule that says you can only holiday shop after Thanksgiving.  None.  In reality, there is no such thing as a holiday shopping season.  There is simply a holiday season.  And let's not forget that it includes quite a few holidays.

But right now, I'm talking about Christmas. 

One of the reasons that I love Christmas is that you can celebrate it for so many reasons.

First, there is a religious Christmas.  Celebrating the birth of Christ and, therefore, the birth of Christianity.   It's a big religion followed my millions (perhaps billions) of people worldwide.  And to all of you, I say Merry Christmas.

Then there is historic Christmas.  A lot of people who don't follow the Christian faith, still find a lot of good in Christ as a purely historic figure.  There's a lot to be said for this.  He seemed like a nice guy.  His message to the world was basically "be nice".   Kind of hard to argue with that.  And to all of you who celebrate this, I say Merry Christmas.

Then there is the purely secular Christmas.  There are also quite a few people who do not follow the Christian faith and who aren't at all interested in a guy who lived thousands of years ago.  Yet the idea of the holiday--"Peace on earth, good will to all"--resonates with them and they celebrate it.  To all of you, I say Merry Christmas. 

To everyone who is left, I still say Merry Christmas.  Because I am celebrating it!!  And I believe in sharing celebrations with those around me. You can simply tell me to have a nice day.  I'm totally cool with that.

P.S.  And to all, I ask only one thing in return.  Please don't say or use Xmas.  You don't do "Xukah" or "IndepenX Day".  Don't do it to Christmas.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

If Grey Gardens Was About A Car

Anyone who as ever been in my car knows that there is a significant amount of flotsam and jetsam that accompanies me wherever I go.  Empty (or sometimes not so empty) Diet Coke cans.  A huge assortment of grocery store bags.  Sweaters.  Yarn.  The occassional strategically placed double point needle.

It's a mess.

Yesterday we had our big "all staff" day at work which just added to the chaos in Ruby (that's my car's name).  Along with the normal detritus in the back seat there was a huge black garbage bags with about 70 t-shirts in it.  On top of that was my shopping cart.  Because how do you schlep a big bag of t-shirts without a shopping cart?

On the way home I thought it would be a good idea to stop at Home Depot and pick up a plastic shelving unit for the storage locker in the basement that all of Brian's tools belong in.  So that was on top of the bag of tshirts and the shopping cart.

Since it was Friday, I had to stop and pick up wine on the way home.  I was happily tootling along with absolutely no ability to see out my back window or use the passengers side mirror when all of a sudden, out of the blue, the car starting shaking.  For a hot second I was sure that that the aliens were taking me (again).

It was just a flat tire.  And I was right around the corner from a gas station so I--slowly--worked my way over there.  For future reference, 10 past 5 on a Friday is not a good time to show up at a gas station with a flat tire.  There was only one mechanic still there and he was (I swear to God) already in his car.  He started to drive away but must have gone to Catholic school so he came back.

And he was pissed.

He said back up over there.  So I did.  Then he hollered at me because I almost hit the cones which I couldn't see (see above for details).   He asked if I had a spare which, of course, I did.

And then I remembered.  Have you ever read the book The Shining (it's not in the movie).  There's a whole thing at the end about remembering to "dump the boiler" and then the whole place blows sky high.  My remembering was not quite so dramatic.  I just remembered that there was an air conditioner in my trunk.

Yup.  An air conditioner.

Cranky young mechanic (righfully so) hauled the AC out of the trunk and got the spare.

Then he put it back.  Now, me being me and having a huge fear of being undercaffinated, had a 12 pack of soda in the trunk.  Which he hit with the AC.  Which singled out one particularly delicate can of soda.

Which blew up in his face.  Which made me start laughing insanely.

And that's when I realized that I should just put my bra on over my shirt, slap a turban on my head and call myself Little Edie.  Did I mention that I was already wearing a big huge plastic sequined bow ring and that half of my underwire was buried in the garbage in the ladies room at Concordia College (because you don't leave random underwires on the top of the garbage to freak other people out)?  And wearing a bra with only one underwire is the best way to end up walking in circles.  

But I digress.

Dude changed my tire and didn't charge me for it. 

P.S.  About the mention of being taken by aliens again--I don't mean that I was taken.  It's just that on more than occassion, I have thought I was being taken by aliens.  I think I watched too many alien movies when I was a kid.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

There Is No Such Thing

Let's make on thing perfectly clear here.  There is no such thing as gay marriage.

It is just marriage. 

And here in the U.S. it is quite simply a contractual agreement that two consenting adults enter into.  That's it.  And the rules say that you can't discriminate against someone in a contractual agreement.  Done. 

The contractual agreement has nothing to do with whether or not you love each other or whether or not you are sexually attracted to each other.  It is an agreement that says you and I will share responsibilities for each other.  It's actually quite nice in its simplicity.  At its basest, "If you throw up, I will hold your hair back. If I throw up, you will hold mine."

Not for nothing, you might think that by saying "I am a straight person who supports gay marriage" you are helping the cause but I really don't think you are.  You are perpetuating the myth that there is something different in the relationships that gay people have versus their straight counterparts.  Better to say "I'm a human being and I like the idea that people want to take legal responsibility for each other."  

And guess what, I think it's great when people who get married actually love each other and are sexually attracted to each other.  The lucky ones are. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Baking Day

Yeah, I know, this is supposed to be more of a knitting blog but I'm going to go with the cooking thing again.  Because today is Irish Soda Bread baking day here at Chez Chaos.

Unlike pizza, there is such a thing as bad Soda Bread.  If it is dry and mealy you don't have to eat it just because it is March.  It's bad. Don't do it.  No matter how much butter you put on it, it's still going to suck.

Unless you use both of the b words.  Then it will rock.

Hmm...I hear your brains churning away.  What could those b words be??

Butter and buttermilk.  (And really, what could be better than butter and another word that starts with butter.)

I've been using the recipe from the Silver Palate New Basics Cookbook (if you don't own it, buy it--it's worth every penny) with a tiny modification.

Here's how it works.

Before you do anything, take a stick of unsalted butter out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature.

When it is soft, put two tablespoons of it in the microwave for a minute to melt.  Let it cool to just about room temperature.

Take your round cake pan (about 8 1/2 inches) and trace it onto a piece of wax paper.  Now smear two more tablespoons of butter onto the bottom and sides of the pan (it will seem like a lot).  Put the circle on top of the butter on the bottom of the pan.

Next sift together 3 cups unbleached all purpose flour, 3/4 cup granulated sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon baking soda and 1 tablespoon baking powder.

Add 3 generous handfuls of raisins to the flour mixture and toss to coat.

In a separate bowl beat 2 large eggs.  Add in 1 3/4 cup of buttermilk and the melted butter.  Whisk it all together.

Pour the liquid into the dry and add 1 tablespoon caraway seeds or more if really love them.  Mix it all together with your wooden spoon until it just comes together.  Don't get crazy but make sure that all the flour is mixed in.

Dump it (when you do this you will understand why dump is the correct word here) into the prepared pan and smooth it out a bit.  Dot the top with 2 more tablespoons of butter

It will look like this.

Bake it at 350 degrees for an hour.  I always put it on a sheet pan because if you don't you'll end up with butter on the bottom of your oven and that's just no fun.  And it doesn't smell too great either.  Turn it around half way through baking and start checking it at about 50 minutes. 

By the time it's done the house will smell divine and the neighbors will be banging on your door with their teacups.

Friday, March 1, 2013

You Still Gotta Eat

I'm not going to get into details here but suffice it to say, I would like to remind an old friend that along with the horrible things that happen in life, there are many joyful things as well.  For me, cooking a good hearty meal for some good hearty friends makes me ridiculously happy.

As I am not there to cook for him today, I'm giving him this to cook for himself in the hope that it is a little bit of blue sky on a very gloomy day.

Karen's Sauce

First you get your big pot.  I have a 5 quart dutch oven which works just great.  Add about 1 1/2 teaspoons of olive oil and put it over a medium flame. 

While the oil heats up season six bone in, skin on chicken thighs with salt and pepper.  Put the first three in the pot, skin down and raise the flame to medium high.  When the skin is nice and brown, flip them over and brown the other side.  Once they are nice and brown, repeat this with the other three chicken thighs.  If you can find pork neck bones, brown off about 3/4 lb. of those as well.  I use the lid of the pot to hold all the already browned meat but you can certainly use a plate if you want to.

If you are making a vegetarian version, skip this first paragraph and start with about 1/4 cup of oil in your pot. 

While the meat is browning, chop up about 2 cups of onions.  No need to be exact.  Imperfection is the rule here.  Not too small, not too big.  Just chop away.  Once alll the meat is browned and of the pot, put the onions into the hot chicken fat (yeah, this shiksa cooks with schmaltz).  Give them a good stir and a good pinch of salt and get them sauteeing.

While the onions are cooking, chop up about 2 tablespoons of garlic.  Hard to say how many cloves.  Just chop away until it looks like two tablespoons.  The onions will be nice and golden and have some brown bits on them by now.  Toss in the garlic.  Stir it all up and let the garlic cook for a few minutes until it gets lightly golden.  By now your onions should be pretty soft.

Add about a cup or so of water.  I usually just use a coffee mug.  Turn the heat to high and bring it up to a boil scraping up the bits on the bottom of the pot.  Once it is boiling, turn the heat down to almost low (not quite all the way low) and let it simmer away until it all reduces into a mush that is just starting to stick to the bottom of the pot.  This will take about 15 or 20 minutes.  Stir it every so often.  For some reason, this step is key.  It does something with the fat that was left in the pot and the onions that make them melt once the sauce is ready.  Yum.

Next step--easy peasy.  Add about 1/2 a little can of tomato paste.  Stir it all up until the tomato paste melts into the onions.  Grab your coffee cup that you used for your water and fill it with cheap, fruity red wine (I like Paisano for this).  Pour a little in the pan and deglaze it again.

You're almost done!  You need three cans of tomatoes.  Your choice.  I like smooth sauce so I use one can of crushed and 2 of puree.  If you like it chunky switch out one or both puree for whole peeled tomatoes.  Just break them up with your hands as you put them (and all their juices into the pot).  Now line the three cans up, pour the rest of the wine into the first can, swirl it around and get all the leftovers off the can and then pour it into the second can.  Proceed until you have rinsed all three cans with vino.

Pour the wine into the pot.  Add a small palmful of dried oregano and a small palmful of dried basil.  I always rub the dried herbs between my palms to open up the oils.  Give it some black pepper, stir it all up and put all the meat back in the pot.  Bring the whole thing up to a boil.  Note:  If it seems really thick at this point, add a coffee cup full of water. 

Once it is boiling, turn the heat down to low and put the lid on the pot, slightly askew.  Stir it every so often and keep a nice chunk of Italian bread on the side so you can taste it as you go.  Let it simmer for about three hours.  Once it's done, take the meat out.  Toss the neck bones and shred the chicken.  You can do whatever you want with the chicken.  Sometimes I mix into baked ziti.  Sometimes I make lasagna.  Sometimes I just toss it back in the pot.  The acid from the tomatoes keeps it very moist (at least that's what I think does it) and it doesn't get dry and stringy like most boiled chicken.

Now for the meatballs.

1 1/2 pounds 80% fat chopped meat
1/2 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
2 teaspoons dried onions (also called instant minced onions)
1 teaspoon worcestshire sauce
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350.  Mix all the ingredients with your hands.  It will be a very wet mixture.  Roll it into the size meatballs you like, put them on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until done.  It depends on the size--they should feel firm when you touch them.  Or just cut one open and eat it.  It should be just barely the other side of pink.

Eat, eat, eat. 



Sunday, February 24, 2013

Please Sing

I just watched the Les Miserables performance on the Oscar and I was amazed by all the people who I never thought of as singers.  Actors, yes.  Singers, no.  As an aside, Russell Crowe was not one of them as my friend Kathleen dragged my sorry ass to Philadelphia once to see his band.

Many years ago I saw the architect Bill McDonough speak.  If you don't know who he is, google him.  He's pretty rockin'.  One of the things that he said that really stuck with me was that if you ask a group of kindergarteners if they can sing, they will not only all say yes but they will offer to sing you a song.  But if you go back to the same group of kids 10 years later, for the most part, they will say that they cannot sing.  His point was that somewhere along the line we were teaching children what they cannot do rather than what they can.

The performance tonight reminded me of that.  We all have the physical ability to sing but for the most part, we don't.  We talk without ever worrying about what our speaking voice sounds like but we are so very shy (unless there is alcohol involved) about singing.

Last night we went to Brian's cousin's house.  Around 9 o'clock, much to my surprise, they turned on the karaoke machine.  And everyone sang.  We sang Beatles songs and Lou Reed and everything in between.  Bob and I sang "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me"--he was Elton John and I was George Michael just so I could say that big, loud "Ladies and Gentlemen Mr. Elton John".

Today, I couldn't stop singing.  I sang "The Witchita Line Man".  I sang "Bang Bang".  I sang AC/DC, Tanya Tucker, Kiss, and everything in between.

A long time ago at the end of a long night, I sang Amazing Grace for some friends.  I sang it with no shame and no worries.  And it was so beautiful.  A few months ago, I sang  "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" for Brian.  And he thought it was beautiful.

So lets "forget your troubles and just get happy" and just for a few minutes, sing like you are an Oscar winner.

What will you sing?