Lyrical Laughs

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Improvising - a disaster for recipes?

Last weekend I decided to try a new chili recipe, mainly because I wanted to use up the ground turkey I had thawed and get rid of the butternut squash on the counter that’s been staring me down for weeks. I looked up one of those reader reviewed recipe websites, you know, the kind where readers try and replicate a submitted recipe by boasting about how delicious it was after they changed at least a third of the ingredients. I’m not one of those readers. At least 90 percent of the time I am a stick-to-every-detail kind of recipe follower.

This time I got brave. I strayed. With all good intentions of following the recipe to the letter, I decided to double the ingredients. My kitchen could have been mistaken for the canned goods section of a grocery store, there were that many little aluminum vessels of sauce, beans, broth, chilies and hominy taking over the counter. By the way, now I know what hominy is and where to find it on the shelves. I’m not sure what the purpose is of torturing poor, defenseless kernels of corn and stripping them of their golden sunshiny color, but it was a very nice addition to the chili.

I like my chili to have substance and not turn out like soup, even though I love a good soup. I also want it to have gusto, which should be the goal of any chili, in my humble opinion. So I deviated just a slight bit from the original recipe, which was minus the kick for me, by draining a couple of things it specifically said not to drain and adding a few extra spices. Nothing too crazy, just some oregano, a few red pepper flakes, and a touch of hot paprika straight from Budapest (you heard about Second Born’s study abroad and our trip, didn’t you? I can remind you later). The end result was a little taste of heaven with a dash of devilish heat.

Growing up in an Italian home, watching my mom cook was like seeing great art being created. When my parents owned a family style restaurant her days were spent putting together enticing dishes and bringing them into the restaurant. It was torture coming home from school to the scintillating aroma of eggplant parmigiana or sausage and meatballs, only to have it be packed up and carted away. The nerve of her to cook my favorites for other families.

My older sister has wonderful memories of learning to cook with Mom. My only memory is sneaking into the kitchen after she started the spaghetti sauce – which also meant trying not to leave footprints on the freshly washed kitchen floor - so I could dunk a piece of bread in and wolf it down before she returned.

When Mom was cooking for our little family she was an expert at reeling us in with her delectable meals. But ask her for a recipe and it was almost impossible to pin her down. I’ve tried to replicate a couple of her dishes but I wonder whether it could really taste the same if it doesn’t come from her hands.

A few years ago I made the world’s best pork roast. Spouse loved it and raved about just how good it was. I used the perfect combination of olive oil and spices and perhaps a little wine as a marinade. Darned if I can remember just what the combination was, and I didn’t write it down because I was improvising. Obviously I need to make notes when I improvise.

There was one little glitch with last weekend’s foray into chili perfection. I got started later than expected on putting it together, so I stopped by the frozen food case for one item that wouldn’t take as long to prepare.  Guess what’s still taking up residence on my kitchen counter?

Looks like I’ll be giving butternut squash soup a try.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Magazines - an idea I shouldn't subscribe to

This was last week's column... I just need to add here that the February issue showed up yesterday... or maybe it was March. Really??

I realized several years ago that it takes me a long time to catch up on my reading - mainly because I was already several years behind. In fact, it never really happens. Even after I go on a recycling spree the pile of newspapers will gather quicker than you can say Stop the Presses.

Once in a while I just have to say that.

Spouse, by the way, is worse than me. His “I’ll read this later” collection is scattered all over the house, clinging to corners of the kitchen table (don’t get me started), living room coffee table, and his nightstand.

So what possessed me to buy a new subscription to a women’s magazine? It was a really good deal and a publication that I’ve subscribed to before. Why not, I thought.

Now I remember why not. Issues of this same magazine that I swore I’d get around to reading have been collecting dust under my bed since 2009.

In mid November my first issue arrived. Sounds like a lovely gesture on the part of the magazine people to make sure I got the issue that was currently on the magazine racks in the supermarket. Don’t fall for it. This is a ploy they use to get rid of extra copies prepped for recycling before the next issue comes out in five days.

If you recall (i.e. if you read this column once in the last three months), we were a little busy in November preparing for our Excellent Adventure. The night before we left I shoved the magazine into my “I’ll read this on the plane” bag. That periodical never saw the light of day for two weeks. It was bent, curled, and stuffed under extra clothes, tour maps, trinkets or water bottles. It made a great cushion.

I never found the time to read all about the perfect roasted turkey recipe or how to never be late again (hey, I can dream). I didn’t even get through the first 27 pages of advertisements, but I was determined to take time to read it from beginning to end when we arrived home.

When we returned from our vacation two weeks later the December issue had appeared. This one had several seasonal giveaways, ideas on decorating in the home for the holidays, and cookie recipes that promised to be the best ever.

By the first week in January I hadn't even cracked open the cover. Sigh.

It’s hard enough to find time to read the one full newspaper we get a week. I am a little behind with it. The same goes for coupons stuck inside the Sunday newspaper, like the ones I just tossed that expired in August. The only reason I went through the stack of papers and coupons in the first place was because we needed the extra chair around the kitchen table during our family weekend.

Just when I had convinced myself I should skip Emily Post and speed read through cake hacks in the November issue so I could flip through the five-minute make-it-yourself Christmas stocking session in the December issue, guess what showed up at my door? You’ve got it – come on in, January issue with your bright, inspiring hues and your promises of easy furniture makeovers and healthy recipes.

Yes, it is ironic that I can’t find the time read these magazines and yet here I sit writing about not reading them. One (or more) might say I need to manage my time better.  I have no less than three articles on time management tucked into the bookcase shelves to read sometime.

In the meantime, here's the name of one of the articles in the latest issue I received. They want to answer all my questions? I've got one for them - for the love of all that is recyclable, how do you expect me to read four months' worth of magazines in four weeks??

Last weekend we took Second Born back to college and when we returned the Sunday newspaper was waiting for us. I dug out the small pile of Sunday papers from November and December and put them back to their rightful spot. As much as I will miss having our girls around, it’s probably a good thing it will be just Spouse and me for a while.

I need the storage space on the kitchen chairs.

Bread and milk season once again

This winter has been the weirdest of all. A few weeks ago I caught a weather teaser on television a couple of hours before the newscast. The meteorologist blurted out his five-second preview, “Highs near 60 and a little bit of snow in the forecast at 11.”

Wait – what?

On Christmas Day Spouse and I stood on the shore of our local beach watching a gorgeous sunrise. We were not bundled up and freezing. In fact, we were barely dressed for winter, and a few hours later the temps soared to 60-something. Not one snowflake was to be seen. Confused plants have begun to re-bud in the past month.

Fast-forward three days. The supermarket was overflowing with shoppers rushing out to get milk and bread if nothing else. Many were filling their grocery carts as if Armageddon was at the door. The reason: a weather report that predicted our first major snow storm slipping and sliding into the area by the next morning.

Welcome to New England.

Sometimes it’s important to know the right people, like plumbers or politicians. In Maine it only matters that you know someone who owns a truck with a snowplow. It’s not even like you need to call them each year to tell them you could use their services again. They just keep on plowing until you call them because really – why would we cancel? If we ever move from here I need to add that to my to-do list: cancel the snowplowing. Or maybe I’ll just leave his name and number for the next owner to cancel. Chances are they won’t want to change a thing.

By the time you read this Second Born will have been home for a total of 12 days and is now back at school in Pennsylvania. One of her requests (besides my stuffed shells before she goes back to college) was snow on the ground. I was relieved it didn't arrive until after she arrived home, only because I didn’t want anything hindering the progress of her flight back from London

It is January and it is Maine, so chances were slim that my wish would override hers. The fact that folks were walking around in shorts at the end of December ago doesn’t mean anything when you live in New England, as we all know. The bread and milk panic eventually hits, the snow blowers are started up and the roof rakes get broken in once again.

My newest accessory that I’m carrying around with me these days is a pair of ice cleats. The brick sidewalk from the garage where I park my car to my office can become a skating rink this time of year. Though I spend the short trek to work fretting about falling (and not being able to get up) I am thankful my car sits in a covered garage all day and I’m not shoveling and scraping (and perhaps mildly swearing) at the end of the day.

I’m not anti-snow. I just preferred that it held off until after Second Born was home… and then after The Love Couple flew up for a visit the following weekend… and then after we made the ten-hour drive to Pennsylvania to moved our college student back to her dorm in last weekend.

Guess what? It waited just long enough for us to hit the road last Saturday, and it continued to plague our progress until somewhere in Massachusetts when it let up. Our three-car caravan crawled along, passing plenty of cars that slid off the road or into each other. But we made it. I have no fingernails let, but we made it.

So maybe I am anti-snow sometimes. I think it is more that I don’t have young children whose school cancellations give me the perfect excuse to stay home for the day. We also don’t have the same amount of help clearing the white stuff off the cars and driveway as we used to. Sometimes I miss getting kids bundled up to work and play in the snow. I enjoyed prepping hot cocoa for everyone to warm up with once the shoveling was done, even though it also meant chunks of snow melting all over the kitchen floor down the hall to the bathroom where all soaking wintry items are hung.

I still make hot cocoa for Spouse and me. He still carries snow throughout the house. We grumble a little more each year as we get older and the cold seems colder.

And we pick up bread and milk two days before everyone else.