Just Some Friday Randomness

Random Drops of WaterBecause I got nothin’ else.

I woke up this morning with my right hand swollen as all get out, unable to move my thumb at all.  My arthritis strikes again!  And leaves me wondering what the hell I did in the middle of the night to bring this on.  I’ve spent all morning wrapping, unwrapping and re-wrapping my hand in an Ace bandage – the bandage helps with the pain (somewhat), but I can’t type with the damn thing on and it makes my fingers fall asleep after awhile.  This is NO fun and I wonder how my girl Twenty Four at Heart manages with her entire right arm being out of commission.

Of course, there’s an upside to everything:  it’s keeping me from compulsively playing with this promotional Rubik’s Cube keychain one of our business partners gave everyone in the company.  (It has a small “made in China” sticker on it in the corner…I guess I won’t be chewing on it, either.)

Speaking of the middle of the night, I had this bizarre dream where someone was trying to give me a large, marquis-shaped, violet-tinged diamond to replace the one in my wedding set.  It was gorgeous.

Beloved, dear, I think my subconcious is talking to you.

Alert the media – I have no idea what I’m making for dinner tonight.  Just that it will include squash.  And maybe carrots and celery.  And rice.  Chicken?  Water chestnuts? Ginger?  Oh, and onions (sorry about that, Tricia!).

Okay, I’m dragging out the wok and making a stir fry.  I’m glad that’s settled.

My search terms have been mildly interesting this month – as usual, I get a lot of visits from people looking for recipes, but over 120 hits for “scalloped potatoes” alone?  Damn, I never knew the dish was that popular.  And “banana bread” wasn’t far behind it.  (I also got a lovely lecture from someone about my White Chocolate Cream Cheese Buttercream recipe, informing me that white chocolate is not real chocolate.  Hey, I didn’t name the stuff – I just use it to make cake frosting.)

Hmmm – I have a surplus of baby carrots (they were on sale last weekend), and some raisins.  And if I’m not mistaken, some Nestle’s White Morsels.  All I need is some pineapple…oh, I bet we’ll be eatin’ carrot cake before the weekend is up.  (Note:  if you ever decide to make the carrot cake, use the white chocolate cream cheese buttercream to frost it; it’s much better than the icing included with the actual carrot cake recipe.)

Where was I?  Oh, yes – search terms.  My favorite one this month has got to be this:

“Is there a disorder that makes you creampie a lot?”

I have no idea what that means, but it cracks me up every time I see it.

One last thing, you bunch of crazies dear readers – yesterday’s post on barbecue got Beloved searching the interwebz frantically for a new smoker/grill.  He’s decided on The Big Green Egg.

The thing ain’t cheap.

Which is not to say we can’t afford one, because we can, but I’ll have to pay for it with the money I’ve been saving for the solid oak, Amish-made bookshelves he’s been lusting after for the living room.   I’ve told him this, and he’s now waffling back and forth.  (He stares at our cheap and not necessarily matching present bookshelves and goes, “Hmmmmm” and then turns around and tells me that since The Egg is green, it will match the outside of the house.)

I believe he needs some help deciding, so I’m taking a poll:

Solid oak, Amish-made bookshelves that will look absolutely fab with our vaulted, cedar ceiling, or a 200 lb. ceramic smoker/grill that will hold a 20 lb. turkey?  Oh, and that matches the outside of the house?

Barbecue (And a Sauce Recipe)

BBQ RibsMy sister-in-law, Tough Yankee Broad, spent the last week visiting a girlfriend and her husband who have moved to Missouri.  They took her out to eat several times, mostly to eat barbecue (the husband is big on barbecue apparently).  Our conversation (via Yahoo IM) went like something this:

TYB:  They sure are big on BBQ out there, and so is M – personally I don’t care if I see anymore BBQ sauce till Labor Day – and that might just be too soon.

Me:  ROFLMAO – I miss barbecue!

TYB:  For me, a little BBQ sauce goes a long way and the places we went to seemed determined that the chicken had to drown in the stuff before it was cooked and then eaten!  It was like it had simmered in in a gallon of sauce.

At that point I went, well, ballistic.  If you think I’m picky about chili, you haven’t seen anything until I go off on a tangent about barbecue.  I once wrote an email to a restaurant that claimed to have “authentic Texas barbecue” (because, excuse me, it wasn’t) that was apparently so scathing they took the claim off of their menu.

Just to be perfectly clear, barbecue is not a sauce; it’s a method of cooking. The sauce is almost incidental.  To whit, the definition of barbecue that is accepted by most authorities is “meat or other foods, cooked in close proximity to a fire of coals or wood, usually with a sauce applied.”   Note that it does not say “always” (to say nothing of “drowned in sauce”); in fact, I’ve had some damn fine barbecue meat only dressed with a dry rub or even just plain, with a little sauce served on the side if you want it.  Even then, the sauce is usually not applied until the last 15 minutes or so of cooking – any good barbecue sauce is going to contain sugar (but not too much) and/or tomatoes.  The sugar will burn and tomato can become bitter with long cooking.

Barbecue purist say you can’t call it barbecue unless it’s slow-cooked in a pit all day, but most of us are not quite that stringent (who wants to have to dig a pit in their back yard?) – a barbecue grill is certainly sufficient.  Having said that, if you have a gas grill you’re stretching it – real barbecue should be cooked over a wood embers or charcoal.

As I mentioned earlier, unless you’re a Kansas City Barbecue fan (and I won’t hold it against you if you are…you poor thing), barbecue sauce isn’t supposed to be real sweet.  It should have a good tang to it, and if you’re a hot head it’s perfectly okay for it to have a some kick.  If you’re going for a bottled sauce, the original Sweet Baby Ray barbecue sauce is pretty good, although a tad on the sweet side (they also make some damn fine marinades/mopping sauces that the barbecue  sauce compliments wonderfully), but if you want to make your own, this one is pretty damn good.  It lends itself well to modification, too, and makes a ton.  The original recipe called for 1/2 teaspoon dried mint, but I tend to object to mint in barbecue sauce.  But give it a whirl, if you want.

Barbecue Sauce

3 cups chopped onion

1/4 cup honey

3 cloves garlic, crushed

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon salt

1/2 cup chopped, fresh parsley

3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1 cup dry white wine

3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon liquid smoke

2 cups ketchup

1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce, or to taste

Place all ingredients in a heavy saucepan or Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Cover and cook, at lowest simmer, for 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Slow cooking is the secret of this sauce. If your sauce should become too thick, thin it with a little white wine.

Turn and Face the Strain

DespairWhen I was about 10 years old, my great-aunt Maxine, who was in her early-to-mid 50s at the time, came to babysit us for awhile while my mother re-entered the workforce after the birth of my youngest sibling.   As I remember, it was not a very pleasant experience.  She was short-tempered and out-of-sorts all the time.  It was nearly 20 years later when I mentioned this to my mother, who told me, “Yes, well, she was going through The Change.”

To my 28-year-old self that sounded so exotic and frightening, but also remote and fantastic.  Like most young people, the thought that anything like menopause could happen to me was simply absurd, and if it did I would most certainly handle it with dignity and grace.

Sheesh, we can be stupid when we’re young; to say that dignity and grace have been in rather short supply as of late would be a bit of an understatement.   And as I move into my late 40s and perimenopause engulfs me a little more with each passing season (and winter is the worst time for me personally), I find myself thinking about my first exposure to The Change…and wondering how my great-aunt Maxine felt.

I wonder if she was lonely and afraid.  I wonder if her loved ones stood around and stared at her as if she’d sprouted a third arm (or perhaps horns, hooves and a pointy tail).  I wonder if she wished someone would give her permission to just sit down and have a good, long cry – that it was okay to be confused and upset because she felt tired all the time, had no real control over her emotions and couldn’t concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes no matter how hard she tried.  I wonder if she felt like she were losing her mind.  I wonder if she felt horrible, terrible guilt for not being able to “just handle it.”

I wonder what she would have thought about the fact that there are 473 products and “treatments” on the market for “natural male enhancement” and “erectile dysfunction” and not ONE to effectively and safely ease the symptoms of menopause.  Oh, it seems like every “expert” you talk to has their own little pet cure, but if you can find two of them that can agree on what it is (not to mention prove its efficacy), I’d love to hear about it.  Hell, more than half the websites I’ve visited claim that the only “true” symptom of menopause is hot flashes, and that all the rest – the mood swings and fatigue and depression and decreased libido and inability to concentrate – have other, external, causes.

Which is not to say that external forces aren’t taking their toll – in the midst of what was probably the worst menopausal meltdown I’ve experienced to date, I ran across this post by Irish Gumbo, who expressed what it is like to feel alienated yet overwhelmed by the world around us far better than I ever could.  At one point he wrote “(I) feel…lost. Sort of ‘in’ the world but not really ‘of’ the world. Does that make sense?”

Oh, you bet it does.  I read that and just…well, lost it.  Bawled like a baby.  It seems unfair to me that just as we’ve gotten to a point in life where the kids are almost all grown and we’re able to begin to start to finally focus on us, our lives, our plans that I am taken hostage by my own traitorous body, who has become so terribly inconsiderate of my plans, wants and desires and seems determined to make me crazy.

Never one to just give up and give in, though, I’m planning a counter-attack against this Benedict Arnold I call a body.  I’ve bought a light box to help counter the effect that living in such an overcast place has on me.  I’ve bid a not-so-fond farewell to my morning pot of coffee (and attendant half and half; who knows how many calories I’ve just saved myself) and switched to herbal tea in the morning.  I’ve cut back on the amount of alcohol I consume, limiting myself to a glass or two of red wine once or twice a week, instead of 2 or 3 glasses nearly every damn night.  I’ve reacquainted myself with the treadmill in the basement once again.

And I look forward to spring.  I look forward to the world waking up all around me.  I look forward to turning my face up to blue skies and closing my eyes while I let the sun shine down on me, enveloping me in warmth.  I look forward to change of a different sort.

A change for the better.

Posted in particiaption with the Spin Cycle.

Mother of the Year – You Can Start Nominating Me Now

Gold TrophyIt turns out that The Young One does not have a virus that is causing his rash – he has hives.  A horrible, terrible case of hives that got much, much worse before it began to get better (which it just began to do, like, two days ago) and the poor kid looks like a prime candidate for a leper colony.  We finally sent him back to school yesterday, because a little research inidicates that if we wait for the rash to go away the school year could very well be over before the last spot fades and we stop telling him, “Stop scratching!  You’ll just make it worse!”  He is now dosed twice daily with Benadryl and has taken on a lovely pink sheen from all of the Caladryl lotion we baste him with.  I have also taken away his Axe body wash and replaced it with Ivory soap and Johnson’s baby shampoo.  You’d think I’d suggested he begin shaving his legs and armpits, he was so appalled.

Nor do things seem to be getting better for him, for he brought home his progress report for the nine weeks yesterday and all of his grades are great except for gym, which is a 71 (he failed basketball – hello!  Mom’s gene’s took over on this one!) and social studies, which is an 80.

“How the hell can you have an 80 in social studies, living in this house?” asked Beloved (to say we are both history buffs is something of an understatement).  “What are you studying?”

“The Civil War.”

I resisted the impulse to grab the poor kid and shield him with my body.  Does everything we say just go in one ear and right out the other?  Does he not hear the debates?  (Yes, we argue about the Civil War.  Oh, shut up – it’s our marriage.)

You can all relax, no harm came to the boy, unless you consider watching Ken Burn’s The Civil War for an hour and a half before dinner torture.  I promise that if you say “Battle of Bull Run” he won’t start to wail, “No – it’s Manassas!  MANASSAS!” over and over again.

We’re not complete ogres, you know.

We let him watch an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation afterwards.

Money in the Bank: Chicken Noodle Casserole

Piggy BankBefore I get involved in what I’m sure will be an absolutely mesmerizing post on the creative use of leftover roast chicken, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who left me such kind and wonderful comments on my anniversary post Friday.  You all help make it worthwhile and are what keeps the whole blogging thing enjoyable.  Thank you all, so much, my dear bloggy friends.

And now on to the business at hand.  Since I missed participating last week in Smart Mouth Broad’s new Money in the Bank…doohickey…thing…what would you call it?  Really?  At any rate, I’m taking up the money saving reigns today and will keep you enthralled with my shopping and cooking exploits from the weekend.  I won’t go into the hormonal hysteria I suffered from Friday and Saturday…yet.  I’m saving that little gem for this week’s Spin Cycle, which is all about The Change.  (It just may be “change” for you, but in my world it’s about THE Change.  And it’s not pretty.  Just thought I’d warn you.)

Anyhoo, they had some interesting sales this week, and roasting/stewing chickens were Buy 1, Get One Free again and holy, er, cow, ground chuck was $1.99 a pound.  Not only that, but red bell peppers AND extra sharp cheddar cheese were on sale, which means only one thing at the Sushi Bar:  pimento cheese.  So I made a roast chicken for dinner last night, along with some of my grandmother’s cornbread dressing (if I ever lack the ingredients for making either cornbread or cornbread dressing you can just call for the men in the white coats with the butterfly nets because you’ll know I’ve completely lost it), and as usual when I’ve roasted a chicken I have tons of chicken left over.  Sometimes it’s made into chicken salad (I’ll post my recipe for that another day, ’cause it’s goooooood stuff), sometimes it’s thrown on a green salad, sometimes it’s put in a stir fry, and sometimes it’s made into a wonderful, homey casserole.

While this is not a difficult dish to prepare, it’s not exactly one of those easy to put together casseroles, although I suppose you could do something similar with cans of cream of celery and cream of chicken soups, but it would be a pale imitation of this glorious dish.  This is the kind of casserole that gives casseroles a good name; it’s the kind of food that comforts and nourishes the soul as well as the body.  I have yet to meet anyone (besides The Young One) who doesn’t gobble this right up, and then go back for seconds.  Made with homemade egg noodles, this is nothing short of ambrosial.

If you have some leftover chicken (and I’ve done this before with leftovers from one of those rotisserie chickens from the grocery store), you’ve probably have everything else on hand to make this.  If you don’t – tsk, tsk.  We’ll have to work on that.

Chicken Noodle Casserole

serves 8

2 1/2 cups of leftover roasted chicken, cubed

1/2 stick butter

1 small onion, chopped

2 stalks celery, thinly sliced

1 large carrot, peeled and sliced

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 can low-sodium chicken broth

or

2 cups homemade chicken stock

1 1/2 cups milk

I cup frozen peas, thawed and drained

Salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste

8 ounces medium egg noodles

2 cups fresh breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons melted butter

Preheat the oven to 350° F.

In a large, heavy skillet, melt the butter over low heat and saute the onion, celery and carrot until the onion is soft, about 5 – 7  minutes.  Stir in the flour, making a roux, and cook for anther 5 minutes.  Whisk in the chicken broth, then the milk, and increase the heat slightly.  Cook the mixture, stirring frequently, until it thickens and coats the back of a spoon.  Season to taste.

Meanwhile, cook the noodles according to the manufacturers instructions; drain.  When the sauce has thickened, stir in the noodles and peas and remove from the heat.

Pour the chicken and noodle mixture into a 9 x 13 baking dish, sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the top, then drizzle the melted butter over the breadcrumbs.

Bake for 20 – 30 minutes, until the breadcrumbs are browned and it is all heated through.  Let it sit for about 5 minutes before serving.