Friday, October 28, 2011

Halloween Used To Be Less Tricky

I love this time of year but I have to say that part of the magic of it is stolen by Christmas decorations that now appear in July.  When we were kids didn't Santa hold off long enough to let The Great Pumpkin have his day?  Greedy old man.  Other things have changed too. Halloween decorations are dragged out and the real cobwebs are swept off the fake ones in September.  How is any child supposed to be frightened of plastic tombstones they've been looking at for a month? Oh wait, those pint sized gremlins aren't coming to the door anyway because once again in their zeal to completely sanitize and child proof a perfectly good holiday, modern parents drive their children to officially non scary, candy inspected, "events".

I remember well riding the bus home from school on Halloween DAY and listening to everyone talk about how they were going to decorate. What made it scary when you walked up to a door was that you didn't know what to expect.  Dads who were good sports (like mine) were known to run around in sheets scaring children as they walked to the next house. I don't remember anyone being worried if any of us were going to be emotionally scarred for life by this or if we were inadvertently paying homage to Satan. Wasn't innocence grand?

It was simple too.  There are pictures of me in a store bought costume when I look to be maybe 2 or 3, but for the most part every kid I knew had a costume he'd made himself.  So out we'd go with pillow cases (I'm holding fast to the idea that childhood was at its best when it was low tech) and without adults.  Routes were plotted carefully. A child who could not remember how to add fractions for a test had no problem remembering which house gave out full size candy bars the year before (we call those priorities).  It really did seem as if magic was afoot some years. I remember hitting over a hundred houses one night with a giant harvest moon looking on, beyond trees made suddenly spooky in their bareness.  It was cold, my shoes were wet, and I was overjoyed at the ever increasing weight of my treasure.


Once home the second part of the ritual began. This constituted dumping our our ill gotten gains and comparing with siblings while parents insisted that all their favorites did indeed need to be carefully "inspected" (a great game in which they pretended they were actually going to EAT part of your loot).  The trading began; I hated candy corn and always traded it away. Sometimes there were homemade popcorn balls which we were allowed to eat even if our parents didn't have the social security number of the maker.  Some wise guy dad who was a dentist always gave out fruit (I never understood his business plan) and the really cheap parents always had those terrible peanut butter things in orange and black wax wrappers.


 The next day at school the mischief of the previous evening was recounted and embellished to no end.  The Halloween decorations of the houses were carefully critiqued as were the candy choices of the owners. Costumes were judged posthumously, exaggerations of all kinds were allowed and encouraged.  It was all glorious, simple fun that has for the most part been replaced by something called "Trunk or Treat" and "Fall Fests".  BOO!

* From the Housewife's archives. (2010)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Therapy With a Side Of Pico


I had lunch yesterday with a friend I hadn't seen in a while. It went like this:

We see each other and there are hugs and kisses and "I've missed you!"s

We sit down and start catching up.




The waiter comes. We haven't opened our menus, but order drinks.

We resume talking.
He comes with the drinks. We still haven't opened our menus.
(Do you see where this is going?)
He goes away.

He comes back but we are laughing so hard we can't talk.
We wave our arms. "No, no we can order."
My friend to me: "What are you having?"
Me" "I'm not sure."
The waiter shifts his weight...
I then order my "go to" choice when I don't know what to order, chicken fajitas. (This isn't always appreciated at a Thai restaurant.)
He goes away.

We discuss: My daughter's wedding, chickens, our children, everyone's job situation, my blogs, how hilarious Modern Family is, her work, retirement, love, life, how much we've changed over the years of our friendship, and our trip to Italy.

We both agree those were probably the happiest 9 days of our lives (we always wonder if being sans husbands and children had anything to do with it).  But rolling around on the floor of a villa overlooking Rome and laughing so hard you can't get up isn't easily surpassed by anything. Though having every single person who loves you and your child in the same room (and knowing you can cancel the insurance) at your daughter's wedding comes close.

At some point during all that, the food arrived and now sat getting cold because given the choice between talking and eating we'll choose talking. We do manage to finish our meal. The waiter comes back to ask if everything is okay and we are laughing hysterically.

He passes by a few minutes later with a tray of food for the booth next to us and we are crying and my friend is passing me a tissue.

I'm fairly sure our waiter thought we were a meeting of the Women's Bipolar Lunch Club.

She's under a lot of stress, has had to deal with lots of health problems the last couple of years (ever since that gypsy in Florence put a curse on her), and now her doctor has told her she needs a knee replacement. Then she says something to me that makes us laugh UNTIL we cry.

"I had to borrow my mother's walker."

I am doubled over with laughter and trying not to spit out my water when the waiter returns.

I check my watch. We have been in this booth for 3 hours.

Oh no. I had promised  my daughter I would eat, pay, leave after a record 4 hour dinner last year.

But honestly, where else am I going to get therapy this cheaply...

and with a side of extra pico de gallo. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Bride's First Cooking Experience

Last night the bride called. I'd been to her house on Sunday written out a simple chicken recipe that can be modified several different ways. I wrote out a list of things I always have on hand because I use them in so many ways, and gave her a few cooking tips: You don't use a metal spatula in your Teflon cookware. How to deglaze a pan. That large shallow thing is called a skillet.

She was ready to attempt to cook. First time, one month in. In some states you can have a marriage annulled for that. Now the problem with my helping anyone to cook or give out recipes is that I'm a throw things together kind of cook. A friend requested my salsa recipe the other day. It went like this.

I wrote down the ingredient list. She asked how much of everything. I had no clue. I cook in handfuls, dashes and pinches. I mean haven't we been over the "I'm not a detail person" thing already?

I did, attempt to write a recipe for my daughter complete with measurements.

"That sounds good, Mom. What's it called?"
"I don't know. I made it up."
"Of course you did. Now make up a name."
"I'll call it Kiki's Chicken Cozumel."

So when my daughter decided to cook this for dinner last night she called to have me walk her through it. We chatted while she defrosted chicken.

"How is everyone there? The same?
"Yes. My blog tomorrow is going to be about the myth of the Empty Nest Syndrome."
(Coming next week.)

Time to take the chicken out of the microwave.

"OOOOOHHHH...it looks disgusting!"
"Hush, it's just raw chicken."
"Do I have to TOUCH it???"
"Oh for crying out loud just throw it in the skillet!"
"WITH MY HANDS?"
"NO! With tongs or a fork or whatever."
"Okay. I did it."

We then went through cooking the chicken, testing for doneness, and "Yes, all of your mother's recipes are healthy. Not like when I got married and decided I didn't want to cook like my mother (everything had hamburger or potatoes)  or be a Southern cook. I spent hours at the library with books on California nouveu cuisine, and southwest cooking. I had to learn everything myself because I didn't know anyone who was cooking the way I wanted to."

"Hey, Mom! It doesn't smell disgusting anymore."
"What does it smell like?"
"Chicken."

Here's what the bride made for her first meal. I may have to rename this recipe that. ;)

Kiki's ( Kiki is my son in law's nickname for me) Chicken Cozumel:

Ingredients for chicken and beans:
2-4 chicken breasts thawed
olive oil
garlic
cumin

Black beans
Cheddar cheese

Ingredients for side salad:
Avocado
Jalepeno
Tomato
Onion
Cilantro
Lime juice

(Instead of avocado add a can of Rotel and a can of fire roasted tomatoes, pulse in the food processor a few times and you have my salsa--best if refrigerated overnight.)

I'm sorry. Did you think there were going to be measurements? It all depends on what you like. Play with it! Hate cilantro? Leave it out. Love garlic? Add extra. I have confidence in you. :)

Heat olive oil and garlic in skillet (that's a shallow round thing with a handle).
Add chicken dusted with cumin and cook over medium heat 3-4 minutes each side, continue process until thoroughly cooked. Remove to a plate.

Deglaze pan with lime juice and add one or two cans of black beans. Season with a bit of cumin and salt. Stir until heated through.

While your chicken and beans are cooking chop the ingredients for your salad. If you want to serve them atop your chicken, cut them a bit finer. Toss vegetables together with a dash of Kosher salt and lime juice.

Top your beans with cheddar cheese. I like to add the chicken back to the skillet and let everyone serve themselves from there.

She finished everything.

"Well, what does it look like?"
"Ohmigosh, it looks delicious! I did it!"

Then came THE moment. The moment you hope you live long enough to see when you are serving your ten thousandth meal and your family is picking at it and asking questions like ..."Ewww, what is that? Is that a MUSHROOM??? "

Or you've made an amazing meal and they all got Chinese on the way home from the game.

Or they pick at dinner, tell you they aren't that hungry, and then head to the pantry for cereal.

Cereal is the bane of my existence.

My daughter said to me..."This is a lot of work, then people just eat and, and ...it's gone."

THE HEAVENS OPENED. THERE WERE CHOIRS OF ANGELS SINGING A SONG OF REDEMPTION FOR EVERY WOMAN WHO HAS EVER STOOD IN FRONT OF HER PANTRY WITHOUT A CLUE WHAT TO MAKE FOR DINNER. A CELESTIAL LIGHT SHONE BRIGHTLY IN MY KITCHEN. MY HEART SANG.

"Try it for 28 years."
"I just wouldn't have done it."
"Yes, you will. Now go eat your super delicious dinner."
"Thanks, Mom."

MORE SINGING BY ANGELS...:)

Friday, October 7, 2011

Recycling Glass: Bottle Cutting 101

We've all had this happen-- you finish a bottle of wine or use up the last of your olive oil and look at the bottle. It's a really nice piece of glass. Maybe it's the shape or the color, maybe it has sentimental value like a bottle of strawberry wine I brought home from Italy in '09. You don't want to throw it away but...other than keep the bottle as is, what else could you do with it?

 
 There is confusing information about recycling glass. My local municipality says it isn't cost effective, but this article from Earth911.com indicates otherwise. 

If we can figure out how to reuse glass we won't have to worry about recycling. Bottle cutting is a project I've been wanting to try for a few years but like the recycling issue there is so much conflicting information about it I kept putting it off. I recently found a youtube video by Dan Rojas of Green Power Science that caused me to order a glass cutting device and give it a try. You can watch the video here.




 Here is the assembled glass cutter.

 I started out with 6 bottles I'd been saving of various sizes and types of glass. The instructional video made by the manufacturer of the cutter, Generation Green, says to dunk the bottle in buckets of alternating hot/cold water. I followed the advice Dan gave in his video however and just poured the water on the score line. It seemed like less trouble. If there is an easier way to do something this housewife is going to use it.

The basic method here is just scoring the glass and allowing the heat/cold to actually do the breaking.

 Of the six bottles I used I had perfectly clean cuts on two of them. The Generation Green instructions say to remove the labels but that is a lot of extra work for a bottle that may not break evenly. Plus, with wine bottles especially, the labels make the finished project more interesting. You do have to make sure you aren't trying to cut through the label; it will affect the break. The main thing that is difficult to grasp with this project is NOT applying too much pressure with the cutter. You aren't actually cutting the glass but scoring it to control where the break is going to happen. I was also supposed to oil the cutting wheel which I forgot to do. I woke up in the middle of the night and remembered. That would probably have made a difference. Oh, and my bottle from Italy? Worst cut of all, jagged and unusable. Sad.


When you have your bottle separated (I did this in the sink with a towel in the bottom for the top to drop on) you sand the top to smooth it down. Now that you have your bottle cut what can you do with it? This large wine  bottle will be used for a vase. My next step with this will be glass etching to create a design. Beer bottles would be the perfect size for drinking glasses

If you are planning on using your finished product as a container you can leave it as is. If you are going to use it for something that is going to require washing, you'll either need to remove the label or seal it with a water proof sealer.

There are other ways to use glass. Here's an article with a few of them from Apartment Therapy. At a craft fair last week I saw wine bottle cut just like the ones I've done here  and filled with candles. I'll be trying that soon! And when I look at those tops lying there I'm thinking funnel. I need a funnel come to think of it.

Got other ideas for how to use glass? Let's hear 'em!

 Reduce, Reuse, Recycle...Repair, Rethink, Recreate...



Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Home Made Italian Seasoning


Every home needs an herb garden. The bees will love you and your family will as well when you are roasting a chicken with fresh rosemary or topping their favorite pasta dish with fresh basil. In the late summer before the whole thing fades to nothingness except the thyme and rosemary it's thyme ;) to harvest, dry, and store.

For Italian seasoning I like to plant: oregano, flat leaf Italian parsley, basil, and garlic chives.  You can start cutting and drying them in mid summer. Place them on a cookie sheet in a warm oven, or if you don't care how long it takes you can play Little House on the Prairie and hang them up to dry. A food dehydrator is more trouble than it's worth since it's another gadget that must be stored except for the couple of times a year you are going to use it.

When they are dried enough for you to crumble them in your hands break them up over a strainer to keep out the larger pieces.

Break them up until the pieces are fine enough to be used in an herb or spice shaker you have.




Store in an air tight jar in a cool, dark place until you need them.

You can experiment with different blends of herbs you like to make your own, one of a kind mix!

Perfect gift for the foodie in your life. :)