Scalloped Potatoes

Scalloped PotatoesI just realized that I haven’t posted a recipe in over a week – what’s up with that?  Too much goin’ on, I guess.  Well, and insomnia.  But the good news there is I fell asleep at about 8 p.m. last night and didn’t wake up until the alarm went off at 6 a.m. this morning – it’s about damn time!

Anyhoo, I was going to post a recipe for chocolate bread pudding but, gee, I haven’t made it yet so you get scalloped potatoes.

I love scalloped potatoes, although for many years I only made the kind that came out of a box.  Which is fine, if you’re really, really into dehydrated potatoes, modified food starch and preservatives.  Nor are they necessarily economical – the box says it will serve 5, but have you ever really gotten five servings out of it?  In my family, where until recently I was feeding anywhere between 5 and 8 (if not more) people at any given time, I often found myself making two boxes at a time.  That’s over $5 for a stinkin’ side dish, when you figure in the milk and butter (and if you use margarine, I’m just really going to have to speak to you.  Really.).

So here is my recipe for scalloped potatoes.  It makes twice the amount for a lot less money, tastes better and is better for you.  Yes, it is a little more work – you’ll have to slice the potatoes, although you don’t have to peel them if you don’t want to – but it’s not difficult at all and chances are you already have all of the ingredients on hand.

Note: While I prefer Yukon gold potatoes for most potato dishes, plain russets are better for this dish.  For slicing them, I recommend using the slicing disk of your food processor, although you’ll probably have to halve the potatoes in order to get them to fit in the feeding cylinder.  If you have one, use a mandolin – I love mine and use it to slice all sorts of things; a good one will also cut french fries.  This dish also lends itself really well to modifications – the addition of some grated cheddar cheese or grated onion and minced garlic really take it over the top.

Scalloped Potatoes

serves 6 to 8

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons all purpose flour

2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

3 cups milk, preferably at room temperature

6 cups thinly sliced potatoes

Preheat oven to 375 F.  Soak the potatoes slices in ice water while you prepare the sauce; this will keep them crisp and help prevent browning.

In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat; whisk in flour and stir until smooth and bubbly, about 2 or 3 minutes. Stir in salt and pepper. Gradually whisk in milk, stirring constantly until thick and smooth (you’re basically making a medium white sauce). Drain the potatoes and add to the sauce; cover and simmer for 8 minutes, stirring once halfway through.

Pour into a 12 x 8 baking dish that has been lightly sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.  Bake, uncovered, for 40 – 45 minutes, or until potatoes are tender and the top is beginning to brown.

Interview With a Vamp

VampFirst off, I must apologize to Janie over at Midlife Slices for taking so long to do this – I truly meant for it to be last week’s Thursday or Friday post, but as the song says, “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.”

Then there’s the tried-and-true, “Shit happens.”

Anyhoo, there’s a lovely little meme going around the blogosphere where you get interviewed.  I threw caution to the wind and told Janie to ask whatever she wanted – she threw caution to the wind and, well, asked.

1.  If you could choose one person in your life who is now deceased and ask them one question, what would that question be and why?

My mother, and the question would be, “Are you proud of me yet?”  Mother and I were not on good terms when she died.  I also spent a lot of time when I was growing up trying to please her, and rarely felt that I lived up to her expectations of me.  I’d like to think that she would be proud of me and my life presently, but even now I wonder if the reasons she would approve of me are the reasons I’d want her to, if that makes any sense.

2.  If you could look in a crystal ball into the future at least 10 years, where are you and what are you doing?

Still employed and with a healthy investment portfolio/retirement plan.  As things stand now?  Well, hopefully my future won’t include a bridge and a cardboard box.  If my future is option #1, I imagine I’ll still be in Podunk, Ohio.  If it is option #2, I’m moving back to Texas where the climate is a little more suitable for bridges and cardboard boxes.

3.  When you die, what will the epitaph say on your headstone?

I plan to be cremated, but I can answer this one without hesitation. When The Young One was much younger, he wrote me a poem for Mother’s Day:

Roses are red,

Violets are blue,

Chips are sweet

And so are you.

You bring Spring showers,

You bring May flowers,

You bring love,

You bring sunshine,

You bring chips.

Since my tenure as a Mother couldn’t be put more eloquently in a million years than those last three lines, I have instructed Beloved no matter whatever headstone, memorial, plaque, or sticky note that is left in tribute to me, it is going to say, “She Brought Chips.”

4.  What is one major misconception other people have about you?

That I’m tall and thin.  Oh, wait – that’s my major misconception about me.

Actually, there are two and which one you have depends on how you first met me.

If you met me in person initially, you’re likely to think I’m a huge scatterbrain at first; part of it is the accent (I’ll be the first person to admit I sound like a cast member from Deliverance) and part of it is that I don’t always do very well in situations that require a lot of “getting to know you” small talk.  I sometimes try too hard to be witty and often end up with my foot so far in my mouth that I might as well just slather it with A-1 sauce and serve up a side of grilled mushrooms and onions.

The biggest misconception people who meet me online have is that I am well-educated.  I’m not – I only have a high school diploma – although I am more or less well-read and fairly well self-educated (just don’t ask me to add or subtract).  I also have decent writing skills; I am, in fact, a stickler for punctuation, grammar and spelling, but you’ll have to trust me when I say I write far better than I speak. My lack of a formal education doesn’t make me stupid – far from it – but it still makes me uncomfortable to admit that lack when asked which university I attended or what my degree is in.

5.  List 3 of your strengths and 3 of your weaknesses.

Hmmmm.  Beloved would say that our greatest strengths are the source of our greatest weaknesses.  He’s not that far off.

Strength #1:

I’m smart.

Weakness #1:

I’m a smart ass.

Strength #2:

I don’t lose my temper easily.

Weakness #2:

When I lose my temper, run.  Really, really far away – it’s going to take everyone involved some time to recover.

Strength #3:

I don’t take myself too seriously.

Weakness #3:

Chances are, I don’t take you seriously, either.

So, there you have it.  I seem to be the kiss of death to memes, but if you care to be interviewed by me, just leave me a comment indicating that, and I’ll be more than happy to grill you like a cheese sandwich.

Spin Cycle: It’s About Time

astrological_sundialI’m feeling a trifle melancholy today; it may be because Beloved is out of town this week, or the bad patch of insomnia I’m going through right now, or the bleak, gray, cold weather that is the norm this time of year in our little corner of Ohio.  Of course, it could just be stinkin’ perimenopause.  Whatever the cause, it’s not characteristic and I don’t like it, but I deal with it the best I can (which is to say not well at all a lot of the time, a fact I’m sure my immediate family will attest to).

The subject of this week’s Spin Cycle – write about a song that speaks to you – has had me in “pondering” mode for nearly a week and is following me into my melancholy mood.  Beloved is a music enthusiast and has one of the most ecclectic collections on his (80GB) iPod of anyone I know.  There is rock, for sure, but he also has bluegrass, jazz, dixieland, big band, swing, reggae, Motown, blues, gawd-help-us-Johnny-fucking-Cash and, of course, everything ever committed to media by the Grateful Dead (including every recorded burp, snort, gasp, wheeze and gurgle of Jerry Garcia).  He’s even got some Kenny G on there, and if one day he were to slap his favorite toy into the Bose docking station and it started playing Zamfir, Master of the Pan Flute, I would be the least surprised wife on the planet.

I, on the other hand, am a rock ‘n’ roll animal; I always have been and probably always will be.  If it was recorded between 1965 and 1983 and is classified as rock and roll – not pop or bubble gum or punk (although I am rather fond of the Sex Pistol’s version of My Way) or – shoot me now – disco – it is most likely on my iPod.  I grew up in an era where the sun rose on The Eagles and set on Steve Miller, and in a part of the country where the Holy Trinity consisted of Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top and Stevie Ray Vaughn (in fact, Stevie Ray and I grew up in the same neighborhood and attended the same high school).  There is a good amount of blues and Motown in my mix, because I love the genres, but for the most part, it is nothing but good old classic rock ‘n’ roll for me.

At any rate, as I began pondering what song I would write about – the one that speaks to me – I began thinking about what my favorite songs mean.  I know I’m going out on a limb here, but by and large, classic rock ‘n’ roll isn’t exactly a genre of profoundly meaningful lyrics – you’ve got Billy Joel trying to talk a Catholic girl into doing the horizontal bop on one end of the spectrum and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s classic tribute to being a love ’em and leave ’em kind of guy on the other end.  Oh, sure, you’ve got songs like Stairway to Heaven (if you know what it means, please let me know, m’kay?) and You Can’t Always Get What You Want (pretty self-explanatory), but profound?  Um, no.

There are exceptions, of course, and the song that really speaks to me the most these days is one of those songs that I really enjoyed when I was younger, but now makes me stop, listen, and think about how time transforms us. Quietly, mundanely; often insidiously.  How our expectations and perceptions of ourselves and the world around us changes as we grow older, and how often we end up someplace completely different than we anticipated when we were young.  When everything was ahead of us, and the world was ours for the taking.

And of course, it has a completely bad ass guitar riff.

Time

Pink Floyd

Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day,
You fritter and waste the hours in an off-hand way.
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way.

Tired of lying in the sunshine, staying home to watch the rain.
You are young and life is long, and there is time to kill today.
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you –
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.

And you run and you run to catch up with the sun, but its sinking
And racing around to come up behind you again.
The sun is the same in the relative way, but you’re older;
Shorter of breath, and one day closer to death.

Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time.
Plans that either come to naught, or half a page of scribbled lines.
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way
The time is gone, the song is over, thought I’d something more to say.

Edited to add:  It occurred to me that not everyone is a Pink Floyd fan, so I’m (attempting to) embed the song here.  I can’t NOT jam to this music.  I just can’t.

The Story of Tenacious N

preemie1I was 27 weeks pregnant when I started feeling, not necessarily bad, but not really good, either.  I wasn’t too terribly worried – after all, I was six months pregnant, my job was stressful, my home life was stressful, lots of things were, well, stressful.

I should have been worried.

The not feeling well came to a head a few days later, in the middle of the night after Darling Daughter’s eighth birthday celebration – there was no denying something was wrong.  And indeed it was; by 7 p.m. January 27, 1995 I had been diagnosed with preeclampsia and was being wheeled into an operating theatre for an emergency c-section.  Nor did the doctors and nurses pull any punches – it was highly unlikely that this baby was going to make it.

The Young One weighed 2 pounds, 4 1/2 ounces when he was born.  Two days later, he weighed an even 2 pounds.  He was on a respirator and a feeding tube.  He spent a lot of time being stressed.  So did we.  His paternal grandfather, seeing him for the first time, said, “I’ve seen baked potatoes that were bigger than that.”  His paternal grandmother (without whom I’d NEVER have kept my sanity throughout the whole thing – she was absolutely wonderful during the entire ordeal, and I could never thank her enough in a million years) dubbed him “Spud”.

But he was also unusually active for a baby born that premature – the nurses quickly learned to restrain his arms because he would actually try to pull the tubes out of his nose and mouth and the IV needles out of his hands.  He seemed unusually aware of his surroundings.  He was taken off of the respirator sooner than anyone, even the doctors, anticipated and not long after that, they took out his feeding tube; in fact, when we first fed him a bottle with the special, cross-hatch cut nipples – premature babies lack the sucking instinct at first – he damn near drowned himself.  His sucking instinct was apparently just fine, thank you very much.  He became the talk of the neo-natal intensive care unit, and although the word “miracle” was never officially used he was, in many ways, a medical miracle – there is no real reason he should have survived.  I often think he willed himself to live.

The hospital released him to come home on March 17, 1995 – less than two months after he was born.  There were babies in the NICU that had been born healthier and nearer to full term than The Young One who were still there when we welcomed him home.  He not only survived through sheer force of will, he thrived.  He’s had moments – hernia surgery when he was six months old, as well as surgery to correct strabismus in his left eye in second grade – but to this day, out of the five children Beloved and I have between the two of us, he is the one who is sick the least.   Before we knew it, that tiny little guy, smaller than a baked potato, grew into this:

happy_baby

A cheerful little guy swilling milk and scarfing down Fruit Roll Ups at Grandma’s house.

Then we blinked, and he became this:

da_boy

A 14-year-old smart ass with long legs, body odor that would paralyze the inhabitants of a large sulfur mine and his own minion pet, Zombie Dog Scooter.  He is happy, healthy, above normal and the apple of everyone’s eye.  I couldn’t ask for more – I love this kid to death.

Happy birthday, son.

Happy Birthday, Darling Daughter

kateTwenty-two years ago today I was, quite frankly, screaming in pain.

The doctor had put me on bed rest two weeks prior and although she wasn’t due for another two weeks, he decided to induce my labor just to be on the safe side.  Now, I’d gone through 16 hours of labor with Oldest Son without the benefit of an epidural or any painkillers, so I thought I knew what I was in for.

Yeah, well, that’s what you get for thinking when you’re 24.

Normally, labor is a very steady and progressive thing – you have contractions at increasingly shorter intervals, and as the intervals become shorter the contractions become more intense until you feel the need to push and just get the whole damn thing over with.  Normal labor gives your body time to adapt and at least attempt to relax between contractions, but not when you’ve been induced.  Having labor induced is a lot like being strapped to an Acme Rocket Sled with Wile E. Coyote – you’re going somewhere, you’re going there fast and NOTHING can stop you till you reach the end of your extremely interesting (to say nothing of terrifying) journey.

So what had taken me 16 hours three-and-a-half years earlier took me just under 4 hours this time.  I’m sure my doctor never forgot the experience either – when it came time for me to push the idiot man stood there and said “You’re not ready yet!” and I said “Oh, YES I AM!” and before he could say “No, you’re not” again, I promptly pushed and pooped all over him (I bet he made sure the enema they give prior to the whole shebang was truly effective during subsequent deliveries, if he didn’t simply decide to become a podiatrist).

Naturally, I was right, because the examination that promptly followed the clean-up revealed that I was already dilated to 10cm and the next thing I knew they were throwing the little paper gown and booties at my ex while we broke land speed records wheeling me to the delivery room (I swear we left a sonic boom in our wake).  They had no sooner gotten me onto the table with my feet in the stirrups and the doctor was poised with a hypo in one hand and a scalpel in the other, preparing to perform the episiotomy when three things happened:

  1. I bellowed – loudly.
  2. I pushed and suffered from a truly delightful periurethral tear.
  3. Darling Daughter popped out into the world without warning and without waiting (a taste of things to come 13 years down the road).

I swear the doctor would have been far better prepared if he’d brought a catcher’s mitt, for she didn’t so much as travel down the birth canal as shoot right out of it.  Of course, when it was all over I had a truly darling daughter – charming, talented, witty and beautiful.

Mother loves you, dear.

Now, get a job.