Sunday, August 28, 2011

Good Golly, Tamale

What the hell was I thinking of?

Making the masa for the tamales.  Somebody shoot me, please.  This is a job for Superman, or in the alternative, a half dozen abuelitas, each outfitted with her own heavy duty stand mixer.  I haven't made the sauce yet, or prepared the potatoes and zucchini.  Madness, I tell you.  Sometimes I am done in by my own ambition.  The smell from the masa is terribly seductive, however, and I will push on even if I'm steaming these babies at midnight.

And now, a restaurant review:  Tarantino's Italian Restaurant, 4150 West Vine Street, Kissimmee, Florida

Tarantino's opened in Kissimmee in 1993 in a funky metal building on the corner of Oak and John Young Parkway (it was still called Bermuda Avenue back then) and we started going there about a year after they opened.  It was then, and remains today, the best New York Italian food in Florida.  They are now in their fourth location - third move since the funky first - and it is a very nice location with ample parking. 

Having said all these nice things, a couple of things to watch out for:  the wait staff is hit or miss.  Our waiter last evening was friendly, delightful and eager to please, but terminally forgetful.  Even after he wrote orders down, he would get them wrong.  Fortunately, he got all the entrees correct, and they were delicious.  I had the Best Linguine with White Clam Sauce in the world - nay, the Universe - and I can make a pretty mean white clam sauce myself.  Rob had his favorite, Saltimbocca a la Romano, and our dining companions had the Stuffed Chicken with Vodka Sauce, and the Stuffed Basa.  Judging by the condition of their dinner plates, they enjoyed what they ordered.  No desserts, the portions are rather large.  But we have had the tiramisu in the past and it was wonderful.  Other problems - the second bread basket is extra.  Most special orders involve a small charge.  Check before ordering.  And stick to the wine selections, the bar service was just so-so.  Minor stuff, in my opinion.  I'll be back.

Back to the Saga of the Tamales.  The recipe should have a big warning on it:  don't try this at home.  It took me two hours to get the masa prepared.  Next time I will cut the recipe in half.  I don't know what made me think I could put 12 cups of masa harina plus 8 cups of chicken stock in the bowl of my Kitchen Aid, but I sailed right into disaster, and had to back up, divide, and conquer.  Once again, here is the recipe I am preparing.  Right now, I've got everything ready to go, so I'll be building the tamales to ready them for an hour of steaming.  By the time this is done, I think I can safely say it has taken me six eight solid hours to put the dish together, which makes it fussier than sweet and sour stuffed cabbage.  Is it worth it?  Only my taste testers know for sure.

Goodnight, Irene, you windy bitch.  We were beyond lucky here in Florida, but back home in New York, not so much.  Broad Channel, that weird island in the middle of Jamaica Bay, just south of Howard Beach, has been trashed.  If you have never been there, you will find it hard to believe it is part of New York City, as the homes are on stilts.  It looks more like a New England fishing village, and less like Queens.  Today it looks like all hell has broken loose.  If you get a chance, check out this link to Forgotten NY, as well as this update from the same site.  You really won't believe you're in New York.

Tomorrow is my first full day in the new office.  The files are still packed up, so we are all going to court with nothing except cover sheets to write on.  Should be fun.  I hope the Judge has a sense of humor.

There are 19 tamales steaming in the oven.  I still had half the ingredients left, but I unceremoniously threw out the corn husks and called it quits.  Instead, I am assembling a tamale pie, which I will put in to steam when the tamales are done.  Same ingredients, different cooking method.  There is no way I will ever take on the task of making that volume of tamales again, and if the pie works out, that's gonna be the way to go in the future.  This has been one day in my life that I have not enjoyed cooking, not one bit.  My back hurts, my head hurts, I broke a chain I've been wearing for many years, and Romeo fell in the pool.  Ha.  Bounced right back out, my scrappy little man.  But he was wet and very upset when I had to take his collar off to dry him.  He loves his collar.

I did manage to turn out a delicious batch of pecan crusted catfish nuggets, and when my head stops pounding I'll put those nice and easy directions on the recipe blog.

So I removed the finished tamales from the oven.  Opened one for Rob and me, and one for Cory.  Tasted.  Tasted again.  And came to an awful conclusion:

They are AWESOME!!!  Which means I will have to make them again.  Only next time I'll cut the recipe in half or less.  There will still be enough to feed an army.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Saturday, Part II: Toxic Friends, Hot Tamales, and The Eleventh Doctor

So I was reading the news online, and a couple of headlines grabbed my attention.  N.B.:  Not one of them has to do with Casey Anthony.

We all have them.  So-called friends who suck the joy out of life - your life, to be precise.  I have, or should say, had two of them, individuals towards whom I felt great affection and a sense of loyalty that kept me tied up in their emotional baggage for far too long.  Proof positive that loyalty is a highly overrated emotion.  Both were incredibly negative, needy persons who could be caring and charming when it suited them.  My Jewish mother's heart got sucked into the drama, but at a cost to my own emotional well being.  So, to quote my late, unlamented grandmother (another toxic personality), I "played lose me" with them.  One is so incredibly self-centered as to not realize I have withdrawn from the friendship.  The other one is well aware, and after many years, still without any insight into my decision.  The old saying goes, "You can choose your friends but not your relatives."  I am most definitely pro-choice in these matters.

I have my husband and son, my in-laws and extended family, my only cousin and his family, my beloved pets, my wonderful coworkers, and a few treasured friends from the good old days, and an even shorter list of new friends from our Florida days, all of whom fill my soul with peace.  The power of positive thinking, it's a good thing.  I feel sorry for the ones I left behind, but life is too short to drink cheap wine.

Flash Mob Alert:
And now, from the "Can you believe this #%&!" Department:  Driver courtesy be damned - Florida law enforcement has been handing out tickets to drivers who, having spotted a speed trap, flash their headlights to alert oncoming traffic.  Except there's no such law on the books, and the tickets, when challenged, have been routinely thrown out by the courts.  What if we just opened the window and shouted out, "hey, cops down the road!!" - would we get ticketed?  There is a First Amendment right at issue here.

I have the answer:  FLASH MOB!!  Yes, at a certain hour of a certain day, everyone who wants to be part of the Flash Mob should flash their car headlights, no matter where they are.  That should do it.

Yes, this is still a food blog:

Let's talk about tamales.  I love them.  Unfortunately, they are not easy to make, and even Mexican restaurants shy away from including them on their usually extensive menus.  I have made them, following Irish-American Chef Bobby Flay's recipe for shrimp tamales with a very unauthentic masa, and they are delicious.  I have had them at Mesa Grill in Las Vegas, and they were superb, but that was over five years ago.  Since I do not see a trip to either Las Vegas or New York in my immediate future, I am going to have to resolve the tamale problem right here at home.

(I also love deep-fried chile rellenos, but there is no way I can address that issue and deal with my tamale problem at the same time.  In other words, that's another blog post.)

Tonight at 9:00, if you have access to BBC America, starts the new season of "Doctor Who".  I know I pitched a fit when David Tennant morphed into Matt Smith, but I am reconciled to the change.  Loved the guy playing President Nixon.  Too bad the Doctor advised him to "record everything."  Anyway, no more spoilers.  Watch and be entertained.

Speaking of Doctor Who, I had a plan for tonight.  It involved a mess of chicken wings, barbecued nachos with all sorts of tasty toppings including homemade guacamole, and pecan-crusted catfish nuggets.  Feet up, a cold one clutched in the left hand while the right hand navigated delectable tidbits mouthward, the Doctor up there on the screen.  Damn, spit, and dirty socks, it's not going to happen that way at all.  When I got home from Publix, having happily transported my cache of great ingredients, my husband reminded me we had a dinner engagement tonight.

Quel disappointment.  I really did not want to have to prepare all the snack food and the tamales on the same day - too much work - but it looks like I will have no choice.  And no Doctor Who on Sunday.  Humbug.

That aside, I have gathered all the ingredients to prepare Family Chicken Tamales tomorrow.  This recipe is from a neat little cookbook entitled Tamales 101 by Alice Guadalupe Tapp, and there is also a link to the recipe online.  This should be even more fun than making sweet and sour stuffed cabbage.  No, really, I love to make stuffed cabbage.  Once a year.

Tamara's Tamales Family Chicken Tamales

If you are interested in making Family Chicken Tamales, click on this link, gather your ingredients and we'll do a cyber cook-a-long tomorrow.  I've already prepared my chicken, which was as easy as purchasing a rotisserie chicken from Publix (I happened to pick up the mojo flavored birdie), stripping off all the skin and pulling the meat off the bones.  It's important to do that while the chicken is still slightly warm.  Then I cut the chicken as the recipe directs, and stored it in the refrigerator until tomorrow.  One rotisserie chicken will give you almost exactly four perfect cups of diced chicken.

My husband just wandered in to tell me that when Teena snores, she sounds just like the Tardis.  We don't call her Weezie for nothing.  And gee, I wonder where she got that from?  Could it be my precious little girl is fulfilling my recently-acquired ambition to be one of the Doctor's companions?

I just discovered that August is National Catfish Month.  Awesome!


Goodnight, Irene

Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I'll see you in my dreams

Sometimes I live in the country
Sometimes I live in town
Sometimes I have a great notion
To jump into the river and drown

Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I'll see you in my dreams

Quit ramblin' and quit gamblin'
Quit stayin' out late at night
Stay home with your wife and family
Sit down by the fireside bright

Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I'll see you in my dreams

I asked your mother for you
She told me you was too young
I wished to God I'd never seen your face
I's sorry you ever was born

Well, we're all sorry Irene was ever born.  Her trip through Puerto Rico was a disaster, and she didn't do much for Haiti or the Dominican Republic.  Thursday is the day she was supposed to hit Florida right in the chops, but three days ago she started to veer right.  Good for Florida, but bad for everyone else.  Over the water, she blossomed from a Category 1 to a Category 3, and she looks to be heading up the coast towards my hometown.  As if things weren't bad enough, New York and Long Island got hit by the outer fringes of an earthquake.  I still can't wrap my head around an earthquake hitting New York City.  Irene spent far too much time in the Bahamas, that windy bitch, and left an awful mess.

I have lived through many hurricanes in my life, and they all suck.  My first memory of a hurricane is the 1960 version called Donna.  Lots of flooding, but at 7 years old, living in a solid brick house on Kings Highway in Brooklyn, it was all very exciting.  My worst memory of a Long Island hurricane is 1985's Gloria.  No electricity for three days.  That was also the first time I passed out from the air pressure changes.  I can tell when a hurricane is approaching, which is a talent I could live without.

No hurricane could match the trauma of the 2004 trifecta - Charlie, Frances, and Jeanne - that decimated so much of Central Florida.  The morning after Charlie, Rob and I tried to make our way from our home to our office near the courthouse in downtown Kissimmee.  I've never seen destruction like that in my life.  I hope all our friends and family up north stay safe.  Mayor Bloomberg, the wuss, has ordered that all NYC mass transit will stop - imagine no subway service, no bus service, no airplanes being allowed to land - but he may have the right idea. 

Recently I posted a swipe at President Obama regarding his rather inopportune vacation in Martha's Vineyard.  Some folks thought that my trashing the O-Prez indicated my support for Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman, Rick Perry or even Governor Voldemort.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I have no use for either party, or for any politician currently on the scene.

What would happen if all the pill mills were shut down?  Would legitimate doctors be able to handle the onslaught of raging drug addicts, claiming elusive back pain?  Would the doctors succumb to the ease of writing prescriptions to shut these addicts up, or would they stand firm and tell their patients that oxycontin was not the answer, no matter what the question?

Meet Romeo - the newest addition to the Rothfeld Family Menagerie:

Before and After a visit to A Classy Place.

The Never-Ending Move.  Dear God in Heaven, are we ever going to finish moving to the new office?  UPDATE:  We're finally in.  The absurdity of different occupancy rules for state employees, when we are colocated with private employees WHO ARE AGENTS OF THE STATE, held the legal department up for over a week.  Productivity has been shredded like a confidential document. And we are all very tired, physically and mentally.  Moving in the worst weather of the summer - in Florida - it has all been an event I plan on consigning to forgettable short term memory.  We are all glad to be in our new digs, however long it took us to get there. 

Rooms with a view.

I am thinking about making tamales. I am also thinking about going back to bed for a nice long nap.  Only time will tell.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Buttered Rolls, Close Friends and Therapists

If you know me, you know I am a 7-Eleven junkie.  Not all 7-Eleven stores, mind you, but "my" 7-Eleven, across the street from my soon-to-be-former office, and a few other select locations.  I am a creature of habit, so much so that it occurred to me I make it easy for my stalker, if I had one.  7-Eleven is a palace of guilty pleasures.  Decent hot dogs with all sorts of toppings.   Surprisingly okay pizza.  Really good apple fritters.  And a never-ending supply of A&W Diet Root Beer.  Never-ending because the manager special orders it for me.  My favorite salty snacks, like cheddar and sour cream potato chips.  Good, fresh coffee any time of day.

One tragic flaw - no buttered rolls.

Buttered rolls are apparently a Greater New York City thing, and one that I was totally dependent on.  If it wasn't from the 7-Eleven, it was from the coffee wagon right outside the Long Island Railroad Ronkonkoma station, or the tiny deli tucked into the side of 14 Wall Street.  You get the idea.  The ubiquitous buttered roll and a cup of hot coffee was THE Breakfast of Champions for New Yorkers on their way to work.

In addition to real bagels, great pizza, and Imus in the Morning, buttered rolls became another reason to miss New York.  I suppose I've gotten over it in the past twenty years, but every so often I stage my own personal buttered roll breakfast, with real butter and pretty darn good rolls from the Publix bakery.  If I close my eyes, I can feel the sway of the diesel train on it's way to Hunters Point.  If I open my eyes, I realize I am running late, and besides, I don't have to catch a train to Kissimmee.

Oh, crap.  Came across this headline when I pulled up the Orlando Sentinel on my iPad just a short while ago.  "Casey Anthony Back in Florida."  As my late grandmother would say, who needs her? According to Jose' Baez, her attorney-turned-publicist, she is back just in case she does have to start serving probation. Can't she serve her probation somewhere else ... like Afghanistan?

"Baez confirmed to Geraldo Rivera that pictures of Casey taken in Ohio that appeared on TMZ were indeed real and that she was in Columbus."  (Hello, Life ... Goodbye, Columbus.)

"Baez wouldn't say where else Casey has been since she was acquitted of murder, but did say she's been spending time with close friends and therapists."  Ha ha.  Looks like Baez coined the phrase that pays.  And could there be any other reason he would spill the beans on Tot Mom's whereabouts to his BFF Geraldo?

I would like to ask Jose' the question on everybody's minds - are those "close friends" real, or are they Memorex?

Other news - President Obama headed off for an expensive vacation at Martha's Vineyard (ever hear of Camp David?) while the world goes to hell in a knitting basket.  Have you no shame, Mr. President?  What you do have is chutzpah.  I did not vote for you the first time, and I sure as shootin' won't vote for you this time.

The Republicans are no better, mind you.  Surely this had to be an inopportune time for Mitt Romney's plans for expanding his oceanfront mansion to hit the airwaves.

All this just goes to show you how out of touch politicians are with the problems of us little people.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Another Pleasant Valley Sunday

You know those studies that discuss the beneficial effects of petting dogs and cats? Well, I'm a believer (note to self: thanks for the ear worm. Like things weren't bad enough, I have to have Micky Dolenz in my head). I know that homebound invalids as well as nursing home residents do feel better after a visit from a volunteer pet.  There is something so relaxing, so calming, about stroking a small, furry critter who purrs or gently licks your finger.

Well, I feel the same way about yarn.  Yarn may not lick your finger (it does purr occasionally, however) but the feel of fiber under your fingers is extraordinarily calming.  During the last week, I found myself picking up one of the two projects I've been shlepping back and forth, just to hold them and maybe finish off a couple of stitches.  Knitting is better than Xanax.  Now there's a slogan worth promoting.

Moving is stressful under the best of circumstances.  Moving crosstown from one office to another when one is a professional clutterer, is painful.  I am that clutterer, although my office clutter is always neat.  I like to feng shui my office with all sorts of stuff.  I get a lot of compliments from coworkers.  Of course, they are not the ones who have to pack all this crap these adorable collectibles, and then move them personally, because I neither expect nor trust the movers to do so.  And because we were not sure when we were being moved, I spent a good part of each day last week carefully packing the personal items, and then transporting the boxes to my husband's office near the courthouse, getting them out of the way of the traveling furniture.

So I'm more tired than usual, which is a really sad thing.  I have cooking to do, and we are going out to dinner with friends to a new restaurant in downtown Orlando.

So now that I've indulged in my requisite old-lady bitching, let me move on to the good stuff.  I noticed there is lobster bisque on the menu at tonight's restaurant, so I'm smiling.  My chicken ratatouille, which I pulled out of the freezer, was a very big hit with the folks who attended the Open House at Victory Martial Arts.  I have made some very fine progress on my pi shawl and on the "aunt-imony" blanket, while destressing.  Nice multitasking, if I say so myself.  My boys scarfed up all the ribs and wings from last week, so no leftovers and a perfectly good excuse for a cooking frenzy.

I have already been to Publix today.  I had a vague notion of what I wanted to make, and after much internal debate about the beef, I broke down and bought an eye round roast as the main ingredient in my still-developing recipe for pot roast.  I also bought the ingredients for jambalaya.  Yesterday I was talking to my friend and coworker Brenda about Puerto Rican rice and gandules, and trying to pry the recipe from her (she graciously complied with my unsubtle request) so I already had rice on the brain, and then I came across one of my four million cookbooks scattered around the house which touted the benefits of Johnsonville sausages, and there you have it.  Jambalaya.

The pot roast has been in the oven for the last ninety minutes or so, and the house smells divine.  Better than air freshener.  If the taste matches the smell, I will be sure to share the recipe with you tomorrow.

And now that it is tomorrow, I am somewhat disappointed in the pot roast.  It's good - okay good, if you know what I mean.  The meat is quite tasty, as eye round is an extremely versatile cut of meat, despite it's lack of marbling.  You can roast it, pickle it (like corned beef), and pot roast it.  Most cuts of meat are not that talented.  But the sauce is just okay, in my estimation, and my idea of putting the dish together with oven-roasted carrots and sweet potato chunks, and dried apricots and prunes, is falling flat.  I am my own worst critic, I know.  We'll see how it does upon reheat.

To assuage my disappointment, I am going to put together a traditional jambalaya, replete with bacon, chicken, ham, andouille sausage, shrimp, and oysters. 

Last night we had dinner with friends at Terrace 390, in the Bank of America Building at (what else?) 390 North Orange Avenue, right across the street from the Orange County Courthouse.  I did not go with the lobster bisque, but decided to follow the lead of my fellow eaters and ordered maple bourbon glazed chicken breast with sides of spinach sauteed with garlic, and truffled mac and cheese.  The chicken breast was incredibly moist, enhanced with the flavors of applewood smoked bacon, roasted corn, salsa, and topped with melted cheese.  What can I say about the truffled mac and cheese?  Incredible.  Even the vegetables, usually a throwaway item, were delicious, sauteed lightly with enough garlic to please my palate, and to keep me safe from vampires until the year 2024.  Another of the diners at our table ordered from the appetizer menu, and her seared sesame tuna tacos were also a big hit, served with guacamole, jicama, cucumber and mixed green salad,  and a cucumber honey wasabi drizzle.  Now that the craziness of the Casey Anthony case is over, I would recommend you head on over and check out these and other items on their menu.  Oh, and don't forget the drink menu.  I had a key lime martini.  Wheeeee!

Jambalaya recipe is up.  The pot roast is good, but not blogworthy.  The jambalaya is spectacular, if I say so myself.  Which I did.  Check it out on the recipe blog.

Any Words with Friends players?  Always looking for new competitors.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


I love Dr. Drew.  He is so balanced, so professional, so darn normal after watching Jane Velez-Mitchell and the always-over-the-top Nancy Grace.  Watching Nancy Grace is a guilty pleasure.  Watching Dr. Drew is interesting and informative without the hype or hyperventilation.  I started watching Celebrity Rehab a couple of years ago, and while there was a certain amount of sensationalism generated by the celebrities - remember, this was on MTV - I developed a certain amount of respect for Dr. Drew Pinsky.

In the waning days of the Casey Anthony-thon, while Nancy Grace evoked visions of Satan with her pronouncement "the Devil is dancing tonight", and we all watched to see if her whirling dervish-self would self-ignite from her righteous indignation, Dr. Drew was already steering his show into other waters.  Warren Jeffs (talk about the Devil!) was on trial in Texas, accused of what is in my mind the worst crime imaginable, sexual misconduct with not one, but two minor children.  Adding insult to injury, this wretched, evil man did so under cover of religion.  God's will and all that jazz.

What I love about Dr. Drew is his willingness to express his horror over a story without becoming the story.  When he states that the thought of certain events upset him, or turn his stomach, we understand completely.  He is speaking for us because as parents, we all feel as he does.  We will never understand how Casey Anthony, assuming she is telling the truth, could party like it's 1999 while her child's flesh rotted off her bones in a nearby swamp.  We will surely never understand how a 55 year old man could force sexual intercourse upon a 12 year old child while the "sister-wives" held the child down.

Even after the verdict was in, Dr. Drew did not abandon the story, and for several days he worked the air waves, asking the questions, trying to understand how these holy-roller pedophiles could continue to ply their evil trade without the slightest attempt of intervention by law enforcement.  It amazed me that so many people accept the explanation that in certain parts of certain states, the FLDS controls law enforcement and the local government to the extent that this cult can get away with the most heinous behavior.

Say what?  Since when did Utah, Arizona, Texas, South Dakota, and British Columbia become the North American anarchist wilds?

I have done a little reading on the 2008 "raid" on the compound in Texas and the 1953 Short Creek, Arizona raid.  The good news from the 2008 action is that a number of the elder males were charged, convicted, and imprisoned for sexual assault charges.  The bad news is that Texas CPS took a big hit from the public outcry over the mass removal of the compound's almost 500 children.  The Texas Supreme Court did not support the agency's actions, and accused the original judge of abusing her discretion in keeping the children out of their parent's custody.

I am going to guess that this would have played better if CPS had not tried to remove all of the children at one time, but I think the appellate courts got it wrong.  I am not sure what the law is in Texas regarding prospective abuse and neglect of children, but it is likely similar to what we have in Florida.  Those children are clearly at risk of terrible abuse and neglect, if the tapes and testimony presented at Warren Jeffs' recent trial are any indication of what is going on in the FDLS compounds.

Oy!  I just had a vision of the CPS workers asking to staff all of those cases with their agency attorneys, and then deciding that the legal department should file nonshelter petitions.  Several hundred nonshelter petitions.  That would at least keep CPS in the picture, as the children would have to be seen at least once a month, and the court would have to review the children's status and well being every six months.

That's not just a massive undertaking, or a guarantee of job security for the folks at CPS - that's insanity.  But there has to be a way to protect those children, if only on a much smaller scale.  Maybe the Royal Canadian Mounted Police will have better luck.

Speaking of luck:

May the One who blessed our ancestors
Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
Matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah
bless and heal the one who is ill
May the Holy Blessed One
overflow with compassion upon her,
to restore her,
to heal her,
to strengthen her,
to enliven her.
The One will send her, speedily,
a complete healing
healing of the soul and healing of the body
along with all the ill,
among the people of Israel and all humankind,
without delay,
and let us all say:  Amen!

A Misheberach for two close friends, two of the strongest women I know, both living with cancer.

Lime Green Awareness Ribbon

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Monday-freakin'-morning, and the Next Food Network Star is ...

... Jeff Mauro, the Sandwich King, stand-up comedian and all-around nice guy.  Can I call 'em, or what?

Jeff Mauro

Waking up early is highly overrated.  Waking up early on Monday morning should be a federal offense, a violation of the RICO Act or maybe the Mann Act.  Something.  I haven't gotten this right, not once, in the forty years I have been working.  Whether it is catching the 6:37 am out of Ronkonkoma or navigating to my car for a 9:00 court hearing, I stand before you the consummate failure.  Mornings suck and Monday mornings suck the most.

In the middle of my sucky mood, I continue to pack up my office.  I hate the fact that I am such a clutterer, and I know I will not stop.  Every time I have moved into an office, I have filled every shelf and niche with pictures, figures, flowers, and even little toys.  All symbolic and quite pleasing to my eye.  I can tell you what each item means to me, and who gave it to me or how I otherwise acquired it.  All nice memories.  My plants.  Handmade afghans.  If it wasn't for the fact that I try to keep everything in there neat, relatively clean, and organized, I'd worry about being labeled a hoarder.  People love my office, and find it homey and restful.  But it is a bear to pack up, and that's the point I am at now. 

Like I said, sucky.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

And the Next Food Network Star is ...

How the heck should I know??  Do I look like Giada de Laurentiis?  Ha ha, don't answer that.  No really, don't answer that.

In case you are interested, I'm predicting Jeff Mauro, the guy on the right, but any of these three will do the network proud. 

Vic Vegas, Susie Jimenez and Jeff Mauro

Because it is Sunday, after all, and the road trip to Savannah did not pan out - 97 degrees with high humidity is not walking weather, even for a faux Floridian like me - we ran to Publix (actually drove sedately in my Expedition), picked up a few things and headed back for cooking.  The heat may be outdoors, but it has affected my state of mind, which means the cooking is gonna be fast and easy.  Precut barbecue ribs roasting slowly in the oven, and I'm using Sticky Fingers Sweet Carolina Barbecue Sauce.  My home fried potatoes and I used canned diced potatoes.  Don't wrinkle your nose, they are delicious.  I made devilled eggs for the boys to munch for lunch (no, I did not boil the eggs myself) and I have a bag of frozen mixed cauliflower and broccoli to dress up with a sauce I will no doubt create out of items in my pantry.  I made a bechamel sauce just yesterday, folks, give me a break!

I decided to forego defrosting the chicken wings, and just threw 'em into the oven with garlic butter, salt, pepper, and granulated garlic.  Eventually they'll be almost done, so I'll drain the liquid and pour on the wing sauce.  Same thing I'm doing with the ribs, which are oiled and heavily seasoned, baking away merrily for a couple of hours, getting tender.  I admit they are not Thompson Brother's quality, but nothing else is.  My buddy Tony, his partner Rodney, and their son were in Atlanta this weekend and they made it to Thompson Brothers.  And loved it.  Does my heart good to spread the good news.

Here's a scary story - a woman in Texas is fired for refusing to color her naturally gray hair.  Say what?

Since I went gray two years ago, I have gotten a whole lot of compliments.  And not once have I been threatened with termination for refusing to color it.  Maybe it does make me look older, but who am I trying to fool? 

Karma is a Bitch (and then you make one serve probation)

Call me vindictive.  See if I care.  Because I am relieved and just a bit tickled pink that MY Chief Judge, Belvin Perry, issued an order requiring Casey Anthony to serve one year of supervised probation as clearly intended by Judge Strickland.  Not only that, but Judge Perry took the opportunity to smack Jose' Baez up the side of the head ONE MORE TIME for his disingenuous behavior in taking advantage of a scrivener's error to his client's advantage.  Honestly, how did Baez get past that mandatory professional responsibility part of his law school education?  A little aside to That Old Fool Cheney Mason - I guess Judge Perry didn't agree with your public pronouncement calling Judge Strickland's clarification order "stupid" - gonna flip him the bird, too?

AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

The media is acting kind of goofy about this - I thought Nancy Grace was about to bust into a chorus of "nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah" - and Jane Velez-Mitchell actually had the 'nads to suggest that Judge Perry made this decision to ensure his reelection next year - but ignoring that sort of silliness, it is clear that the Judge took his time in researching and writing what was called by cooler talking heads "a well-reasoned decision."

Anyway, the saga continues, as we should expect appeals and applications for stays and then all the drama generated by the Casey Trackers (sort of like the hurricane trackers, only weirder).

Oh, fudge
Who knew that fudge could go bad? I certainly didn't, so imagine my surprise on Thursday morning when the chocolate pecan fudge in my desk drawer appeared to have grown a downy covering of white peach fuzz. And it was really good fudge, too, part of the haul Rob and I acquired at Ellis Brothers Pecans, on our way home from Atlanta. I guess that's what happens when all-natural ingredients and no preservatives come together. I will definitely pick up more fudge next time I am driving by that part of Georgia, and I will remember to store it in my teeny-tiny office refrigerator.

Part of the problem - besides the exquisite purity of Ellis Brothers Fudge - is the depth of my obsession with snackable foods.  I was always a nosher - that's Yiddish for incessant snacker - but since I am no longer able to eat full meals, I rely on snacking foods as my main source of nutrition.  Forget the food pyramid, or pie-shape or whatever the USDA is promoting these days.  My snacking falls into one of two basic food group categories, salty and sweet.  I make sure that both my office and my car are properly stocked at all times.  Nothing meltable in the car, lots of meltables in the office.  My favorite types of chips.  Cookies.  Crackers.  Honey roasted cashews.  Cinnamon roasted pecans when I can get them, which isn't often enough, in my opinion.

Segue back to real food, and I am getting ready to try to create the perfect bowl of clam chowder.  What I really want is to make a nice big pot of Lundy's clam bisque, but that recipe is lost forever.  I am not the only Brooklyn ex-pat roaming the internet in search of the recipe, but all of us have met with failure.  So chowder it is.

Really good news - I finally managed to book our condo at the Edgewater Resort for when we attend the Battle on the Beach.  Rob and his brother Charles will be competing, while my sis-in-law Diane and I will be relaxing at the edge of the beautiful Gulf of Mexico.  I am so ready.

Finally, another time warp moment.  My friend Mark has a blog of his own, and the latest entry is special because he writes about a father's feelings as his daughter readies for her wedding at the end of this month. 

For me, knowing both of Iris's parents for over forty years - really, in some sense, having grown up with them since we were still legal children that first semester at college - the whole idea of Iris being "all grown up" is practically surreal.  I guess I now understand why senile dementia patients can remember the past while forgetting the present, because even the unafflicted remember the past with such clarity that getting older becomes an illusion.

As the Ninth Doctor would say "fantastic!"

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Battle on the Beach

The other day I told one of my friends that I feel like I am living from vacation to vacation.  There was a ten year period during which I took no vacations - seriously, dude - but then in 2000 our friends Jay and Laura Wheeler convinced us to travel with them and their kids to St. Croix over the Thanksgiving holiday, and I've never looked back.  Only the current economy prevents me from traveling far and wide.  I would like to return to Italy some day, and see Great Britain and Ireland and return to South Korea.  I have come to hate to fly for a variety of reasons - the ridiculous prices and the total lack of comfort - oh yeah, and that groping session by some TSA thug - but I can still get in my car and see the USA in my ... Ford.  I am looking forward to my next mini-vacay, our annual trek to Panama City Beach for a really swell taekwando event, sponsored by Grand Master Emeritus Soon Ho Lee.  Very cool.  Let me just live through the next two weeks, including our office move to the new digs in downtown Kissimmee, and I will be relaxing at the beach overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. 

That is the good news.  The bad news is that the economy, as personified by the stock market, is bouncing around more erratically than Charlie Sheen's career.  I am honestly frightened, as I have never seen anything quite like it, and I have lived through several recessions.  No one is immune, and no one seems to know what to do.  People are rioting in Great Britain, of all places, while one of my Facebook posts, spreading the blame across Bush and Obama, sparked a verbal cyber altercation among otherwise civilized individuals.

The other bad news is that my scoleciphobia, fear of earthworms, reared it's ugly little invertebrate head once more.  Walking back from the courthouse yesterday, the weather evoking memories of a warm, rainy spring day in Brooklyn, I suspiciously eyed every twig and pine needle resting on the cement sidewalk.  Dreading the possibility that even one of those twigs was actually an earthworm, my heart pounding, I made it to my car just in time.

Back to good news - I am working on a recipe for a clam chowder that suits my taste.  Also, yesterday was our last party in the office before our move to City Centre.  Big potluck, lots of cooking and baking talent.  For once, we had the best-smelling social service office in the state.

I love working with social workers, and not just because they can cook.  The great thing about our move to City Centre, besides the view of  Lake Tohopekaliga and the proximity to the Farmer's Market on Thursdays, is that all of our case management agencies will be together under one roof.  Never mind that my new office is the size of my walk-in closet at home; it has a window, after all, and on the fifth floor I'm unlikely to get shot at.  There is a catwalk outside our windows, so I can step outside for a breath of fresh air (yup, we have fresh air in Florida), or step to the other side of the office and stand on the terrace while gazing out at the lake.

For those of you who understand state agency alphabet-speak, the move means that CBCCF, DCF-CLS, YFA, CHS, and ISI are joining forces at one location.  Since I never liked privatization, the idea that we are (almost) all together again pleases me.  Now if we could just recapture DCF-PI and CPT, I could close my eyes and pretend it's 1995, which means I'm in my early forties and I'm working for HRS.  Whoa.  That's a little too far back.  Although those HRS folks could really cook ...

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Let's Do the Time Warp Again

It has been a while since I attended a birthday party for a one-year old.  This one made me feel like I fell into a crack in the space-time continuum.  At one point I turned to my husband and said, "you know how we say we're turning into our parents?  Well, today I feel like we're turning into our grandparents."

I know that time speeds up as we get older.  It seemed to take forever for me to become a teenager, but then once I became (nominally) an adult, 35 years passed in the blink of an eye.

At the same time that we were here in Florida, snapping pictures of my cousin's grandson happily eating birthday cake, my Number One Niece was in New York, being surprised by a baby shower in her honor.  Number Two Niece, who had driven from New Jersey to be there, has already texted me a picture of the two of them together.  Beautiful! 

I'm finding it tough to write about, because I find I am humbled by Life.  It just keeps rolling along, regardless of how bad the economy is, or who is the current President, or how many wars are raging somewhere out there.  People have children, their children grow up and then they have children.  It sounds so simple, but it is really so complex.  The past playfully intrudes upon the present.  Memories of similar events superimpose themselves.  When I look at baby Jake walking around with the wide-legged, belly-first gait of a brand-new walker, I see his mother Stephanie at the same age, and then I see her older brother Peter, my godson, star of stage, screen and soon-to-be television, watching me as I help my own son open his first birthday presents.  Memory time slips back and forth in no particular order, leaving me breathless with joy and sorrow.

I had always planned on aging gracefully, accepting and enjoying this time in my life.  Some days, though, I find this stage of my life even more difficult than adolescence, without the excuse of raging hormones.

When you know someone from before they were born - never mind the internal illogic of that statement - it is hard to see them as anything but extensions of their parents.  They are, after all, our children and we define them as much as they define us.  When they become the self-sufficient individuals we want them to be, we become ... what?

No idea.  I'm still working on it.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

OTC Delicious

In a recent recipe post, I posed the following:  "For the dressing, I used Ken's Lite Northern Italian.  You can make your own vinaigrette, but why?"

For all you chefs out there who make everything including your mayonnaise from scratch, just shut your browsers now.  Why you would dirty up your food processor or even worse, develop tennis elbow from whisking like a whirling dervish while dripping olive oil into eggs,  is beyond me when there is Hellmann's-known-as-Best-Foods-west-of-the-Rockies ...!

But before that - Judge Stan Strickland gets his "gotcha!"

"Orange Circuit Judge Stan Strickland signed amended court documents this morning that he says will have the effect of requiring Casey Anthony to serve one year of supervised probation as he originally intended back when he sentenced her in her check fraud case."

During the brief time I engaged in representing persons accused of crimes, I understood "probation upon release" to mean just that.  I don't know any way someone could serve probation while incarcerated, since there are standard and special conditions of probation that must be complied with.  I could be wrong, and it seems everyone has their own opinion.  It should be interesting to see how the Fifth District Court of Appeals and the Florida Supreme Court deal with this issue.

Back to the topic at hand.  Have you strolled down the condiment aisle of your favorite mega-mart lately?  You know, this is the aisle that has all those salad dressings, mustards and barbecue sauces along with olives, pickles, giardineras, oils, vinegars, wing sauces, hot sauces, chutneys, remoulades, and those two pillars of all things culinary, Heinz ketchup and Hellmann's mayonnaise.  In other words, the most interesting aisle in the supermarket.  Seriously, have you tried some of that stuff?  I have - in fact, my pantry closet and spice cabinet are in a contest to see which one can implode first.  In the case of the pantry, the critical overload is due in great part to the inventory of sauces and dressings and mustards.  When I was growing up, there was one kind of mustard, and it was yellow.  There was one kind of barbecue sauce, and it did not come from the supermarket.  My mother would not have known Grey Poupon from Grey Goose, and if she did, she wouldn't have bothered to buy either one.

While I always keep a bottle of my mother's precious barbecue sauce recipe all made up in my refrigerator, it is hardly the only barbecue sauce I use.  Jack Daniel's, Sonny's, Cattleman's, Sticky Fingers, Big Bob Gibson's, K.C. Masterpiece, Bulls-Eye, and others I can't remember.  They are all good - beyond good, they are delicious.  OTC delicious.  Same thing with salad dressings.  I can make my own vinaigrette or creamy salad dressing, but except for something like a blue cheese or feta cheese dressing, I can get really good quality out of a bottle.  These aren't the bottled salad dressings of years back, full of unprounouncable ingredients and preservatives.  Today's stuff is really much better, and if you don't believe me, read the labels.  Good ingredients.  I am always impressed when a label shows the same ingredients I would use.

I almost always use bottled pasta sauce, but then so does Giada de Laurentiis.  That should tell you something.  On the other hand, I dislike bottled ranch dressing, but then I dislike ranch dressing no matter who made it.  You've got to read the labels, taste the product and make up your own mind. 

As an aside, I do steer clear of low fat and fat free variation of anything.  As a lifetime member of Weight Watchers, dating back to the late seventies, I have tasted commercial attempts at low calorie foods that were so awful, they should be publicly burned.  There are ways to eliminate a few calories which do not involve sucking all the flavor and enjoyment from a product (click on the link and scroll to Food Cartoon #2) - as I mentioned earlier, Ken's Northern Italian dressing is considered "Lite" - but once you head into real low fat and fat free land, you might as well start start eating library paste.  Eat less, eat it less often, but eat the real stuff.  Your tastebuds will thank you.

It has been a while since I made soup.  I suspect this is directly related to the temperature display in my car, which rarely drops below 98 degrees.  But, I am thinking about cream of carrot soup.  If the temperature drops to 95, it will be cool enough for me to consider it.  Whoa.  Can't believe I just typed that.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Mother's Little Helper - Part II

Don't despair - I will be talking about food as soon as I get off Captain Bucky O'Hare's space vehicle* and back down to earth.  I still have to post the Chopped Salad recipe, and I have plans involving a 3 1/2 pound package of beautiful market ground beef and some smoked mozzarella.  But now, on to the rant:

One pill makes you larger
And one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you
Don't do anything at all
Go ask Alice
When she's ten feet tall

I have never experienced pregnancy or childbirth. For almost ten years this was a source of much sorrow, until that moment in May of 1987 that our social worker from Spence-Chapin placed my son into my arms.  It was a surreal experience, standing in the international terminal of Kennedy Airport, watching the much-anticipated invasion of tiny Asian babies as they were delivered into their parent's arms and hearts forever.

Still, because Cory is so much like me, we decided I must have given birth to him in another dimension.  Now while that would make a great made-for-TV movie on SyFy, the truth is, as we all know, that another lady, half a world away, gave birth to him on February 19, 1987.  Every day of my son's life I thank that dear lady, his biological mother, for all she did to give him a good and healthy start.

Which is why articles like this make my head explode.  If a single lady, without much in the way of resources or family assistance, living in a country that was absolutely unsupportive of unmarried pregnancies, could give birth to a healthy, happy, nonaddicted infant, why can't these women?

"The number of babies treated at Florida hospitals for drug-withdrawal syndrome continued to skyrocket last year, further evidence of the far-reaching impact of the state's prescription-drug epidemic.

In 2010, 1,374 babies were born addicted to drugs because their mothers were users — a 42 percent increase from the year prior, according to new Agency for Health Care Administration records obtained by the Orlando Sentinel.

Though the data don't show which drugs the newborns tested positive for, doctors in Central Florida have said most of the local cases are prescription drugs.

The babies — whose withdrawal symptoms can include sweating, stiff muscles, irritability and diarrhea — can spend days, even weeks detoxing.

At issue in many instances are women who use prescription drugs such as the painkiller oxycodone who cannot simply quit taking the medications when they learn they are pregnant.

Doctors say it's too stressful on the mother's body, which causes stress on the developing baby. So, methadone is often prescribed in place of oxycodone."

And if you go chasing rabbits
And you know you're going to fall
Tell 'em a hookah smoking caterpillar
Has given you the call
Call Alice
When she was just small


Although I was never pregnant, everyone around me was at one time or another.  A few observations I'd like to make for those of you out there who think I may be too hard on pregnant women:

From the moment they learned they were pregnant, those women - my close friends, cousins, sisters-in-law and coworkers - would not take so much as a Tylenol for a headache.  They stopped drinking anything with caffeine.  They ate healthy food - mostly.  C'mon, I'm not heartless.  If they smoked, they stopped, and they kept their distance from other smokers.

Now for all the folks out there who think I'm a certified bitch, think about this - if so many women will not even take an aspirin for fear of what effect if will have on their unborn child, why can't you stay off the oxycontin?  Do you have any idea what effect oxy or methadone have?  Is that loving feeling you get from drugs so much better than the feeling you get from holding your healthy newborn?

I do not need nor want that kind of job security.

*Bucky's ship is appropriately named "The Righteous Indignation"

Mother's Little Helper - Part I

What a drag it is getting old
"Kids are different today"
I hear ev'ry mother say
Mother needs something today to calm her down
And though she's not really ill
There's a little yellow pill
She goes running for the shelter of a mother's little helper
And it helps her on her way, gets her through her busy day

At the very end of my father's life, his doctors increased the dosage of intravenous morphine so that he slept.  And slept.  And slept.  And after two days of painless sleep, he quietly lost his 16 month battle with cancer and slept forever.  Prior to that, during the two days I did have with him, he was awake but clearly under the influence.  His thinking was clouded and there were times I was convinced he was "seeing" his mother and father, gone many years before.  The nonreligious explanation would be that he was hallucinating from the strong medication which gave him that blessed relief.

During the 16 months of his illness, Pop tried to live his life as normally as possible.  That meant he did not drug himself up with painkillers, and it boggles my mind to think of the pain he endured.  I remember a time, many years before that, when he was suffering from terrible dental pain.  He finally gave in and took aspirin.

Perhaps his non-use of painkillers was influenced by the short life and sad heroin-induced death of my mother, his stepdaughter Joyce.  Or it was simply that he was of a generation when men presented a strong facade and never admitted just how much they might hurt.  Raised in that tradition, I just don't get drugs, not for recreation and not for killing pain - unless the pain is killing me.

"Things are different today"
I hear ev'ry mother say
Cooking fresh food for a husband's just a drag
So she buys an instant cake and she burns her frozen steak
And goes running for the shelter of a mother's little helper
And two help her on her way, get her through her busy day

For the past few years, the vast majority of child abuse cases that I handle are the direct result of drugs and alcohol.  While domestic violence has risen tremendously since I started doing this type of work almost 20 years ago, it is almost always triggered by substance misuse.  Unless you have been living in a cave, or ignore the news as a matter of principle, you must know that the greatest drug-related threat is coming from perfectly legal prescription medication.

Doctor please, some more of these
Outside the door, she took four more
What a drag it is getting old

Obviously, I cannot share the details of any of my cases, which involve serious prescription drug abuse by mothers AND fathers, except to say that when the drug screens come back positive for opiates and benzodiazaphenes, the universal cry from the parent is, "I HAVE A PRESCRIPTION!"  Yeah, so you do, but how did you get it?  What sad tale of woe did you tell the greedy little pill mill doctor to get him to scribble a scrip for Hillbilly Heroin?  Did you tell him your back hurts?  Aw, poor baby, my back hurts too - has been hurting since I was 11 and got my first period.  Have you even tried a non-narcotic OTC like Advil?  Or just learning to live with a little discomfort?

For a long time, I am of the opinion that if an adult wants to drug themselves into oblivion, they can do so provided they neither try to operate any heavy machinery, nor have any children in their care.  I kid around about being a rational anarchist, but really if someone chooses to live in a drug-induced coma, who am I to interfere?  Just do not allow your chemical dependency to impact the welfare of other people, and most especially your children.  And please don't apply for Social Security Disability, because that's an insult to all the truly disabled individuals out there.

What set me off this morning was an article in the Orlando Sentinel, coming hot on the heels of another article, both of them about what happens when parents indulge in prescription medication.  Neither of these are my cases, nor taking place in my county, and the details are quite public.

"A Volusia couple was charged with child abuse and neglect after their 2-year-old son ingested prescription pills and was rushed to the hospital, authorities said.

Kurt Vineis, 34, and 31-year-old Katrina Palmer were charged with aggravated child abuse, child neglect and obstructing an officer without violence Saturday afternoon after medical officials found opiates in their toddler's system.

... the parents initially denied they had prescription medication inside the house but later admitted that they only had Xanax. But deputies could not find any prescriptions in the house so they pressed the couple.

Vineis confessed they had a stash of pills in the trunk of their car that included Diazepam, Alprazolam, Carisoprodol and Oxycodone.  Deputies are investigating why the couple had so many pills."

And another one:

"A 32-year-old mother from Casselberry was arrested in Maitland early Saturday, after police said she crashed her car with her daughters inside while driving under the influence of prescription pills.

... Officers noted that the Kia's windshield was broken, and that Singletary's speech was slurred and she was struggling to keep her eyes open, according to the report. She complained of dizziness and back pain, the report states... 

Singletary was put in an ambulance, where police questioned her further. An officer asked for a blood sample, which she refused ... She was put under arrest and taken to a hospital. There, the report says, Singletary told police that she refused the sample because "I know you would find Oxy[codone] in my system.""

"Life's just much too hard today,"
I hear ev'ry mother say
The pursuit of happiness just seems a bore
And if you take more of those, you will get an overdose
No more running for the shelter of a mother's little helper
They just helped you on your way, through your busy dying day