Monday, August 31, 2015

Sheer Misery - Don't Try This At Home (Clam Croquettes)

A long, long time ago, when I was young and worked two jobs and went to night school in Brooklyn, I wore Sheer Energy pantyhose to help my overworked legs. I still don't know how I did it back then - eighty hours a week, half of those on my feet - but as I say, I was young and except for heart palpitations, morbid obesity and high cholesterol, a reasonably healthy individual. These days I am old and decrepit and I haven't worn pantyhose since March 2, 2015, but if I did, they would likely be called Sheer Misery, and would not help me one whit. I have reached the point where I believe I am beyond help.

Not a great harvest today

The Clam Croquettes are also beyond help, I regret to report to my cooking audience, whoever you might be.  I suspect that the texture of the flaked tuna fish in the original recipe helped to keep the mixture from disintegrating in the frying pan.  As it is, all but one of the nine croquettes dissolved, and in giving up their corporeal existence released a great deal of liquid to the pan. The resultant splattering was intense and probably created some kind of record for spitting distance by a hot liquid. But the greatest disappointment is not that I expect to have to still be cleaning up at midnight, or that I am going to have blisters and welts all over my arms from being pelted by hot oil drops. Rather, I am aggravated about the croquette fail because the mixture was so delicious, so blissfully seasoned and balanced, that I was really looking forward to eating the damn things.  With tartar sauce and real lemon quarters to squeeze over the perfect crispness.

I have a few ideas as to what would alleviate the croquettes' tendency to give up the ghost upon being immersed in 350 degree oil.  Me and my ideas, right?  I'm not sure if or when I'll get around to trying them, as The Nero Wolfe Cookbook with its two different clam cake recipes is arriving tomorrow, but here they are anyway; first, I would advise very strongly NOT to try the original recipe at home.  I can assure you there is going to be a horrid mess and the real possibility of injury from flying canola oil.  With the changes I'm considering - well, I would still hold off until I get a chance to try them, here in the Inspiration Nation Kissimmee Test Kitchen.  Really, I'm quite serious, as I do not want anyone to get hurt.

2-6.5 oz. cans chopped clams, drained, clam juice retained
4 tablespoons (half stick) butter
4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) all purpose flour
1 cup of the saved clam juice
1 teaspoon parsley flakes
1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
1/2 teaspoon dried chives
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
dash of cayenne pepper

dry, unseasoned bread crumbs
kosher salt
black pepper

Prepare a roux from the butter and flour.  Add the clam juice and whisk over heat until the mixture bubbles and thickens.  Remove from the heat.  Stir in the parsley, Old Bay, chives, white pepper, black pepper, and cayenne.  Stir in the drained clams.  Place the mixture in the refrigerator for about an hour.

Prepare the breading by mixing the bread crumbs, salt and pepper in a flat dish. Heat about an inch of canola oil in a heavy skillet to 350 degrees. With a medium scoop, scoop up some of the clam mixture and drop gently into the bread crumbs.  With a fork flatten a bit and then turn the croquette over.  Repeat to ensure the croquette is well-coated in crumbs.

If I ever try these again, I'm going to add a lightly beaten egg or two to the clam mixture after it cools down a bit and also coat the croquettes by dipping them in flour, egg, and then the bread crumbs. Someday.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

They Call Him Mister Pibb

Hum.  Well, I was reading a Nero Wolfe mystery, and Archie Goodwin mentioned that he and Wolfe were about to be served fried shrimps and clam cakes, prepared by the incomparable Fritz Brenner. Next thing I know, I'm switching gears from Kindle to Safari so I can search for clam cake recipes.  Did I mention that I've been feeling sick to my stomach this morning?  Yes, so I can't imagine how I found the idea of food attractive, but fried seafood sets my heart aflutter, and I was pretty sure one can make a decent clam cake from canned clams.

I always roar at the contestants on Guy's Grocery Games who, being restricted to canned foods or some other fillip thrown in to make their food preparation more challenging, sniff and turn up their noses, complaining, "I never use canned goods!"  Oh please, you snippy little yuppie larvae ... don't tell me you don't use canned tomatoes or canned pumpkin!  Real people use canned goods.  Bobby Flay uses canned pumpkin, for heaven's sake.  I keep a variety of canned fish in the house - tuna, salmon, sardines, clams, and even crabmeat.  I grew up eating tuna fish sandwiches and chances are so did you. There is nothing wrong with tuna fish in a can that can't be cured with a couple of tablespoons Hellmann's Real Mayonnaise.  Canned corn is better than frozen. Yes, fresh corn is best but I never got any complaints about my corn fritters and they are made with the canned stuff.

Canned clams happen to be a pretty good product, and a lot easier to find than 4 dozen cherrystone clams, especially in Central Florida.  A good white clam sauce - mine, for instance - calls for both canned and fresh little neck clams.  Guess what? In my opinion, you can't make a decent white clam sauce without canned clams. My research shows that clam cakes can go either way.  I have a feeling Fritz Brenner used fresh clams, but then I would expect him too.  So would Wolfe.

I have an idea for a recipe to make clam cakes, quite a bit different than what I am finding online which all sound like pancake batter with clams dumped into it. but my curiosity remains unabated, so I just ordered the Nero Wolfe Cookbook, which is way out of print, but isn't everything available through Amazon?

I do think that's one of my best run-on sentences of all time.

My idea is based on one of my oldest and least-utilized recipes, this one for tuna croquettes.  I think the last time I prepared them was before Cory was born, or maybe a year or so after.  He's twenty-eight.  I had every intention of trying out my idea using clams, but on our way to CVS my back and the back of my head and shoulders crashed.  No clam cakes or croquettes, and no cat today. I could have had me a kitten, but fibromyalgia won.  Today, at least, I have no energy to cook and no energy to introduce a new kitten to our pack.  Never thought that would ever happen.

First Ira

The cats were being BOGO'ed at Petco, where we had stopped to pick up Chelsea's eye wash.  Oy! Not one but three boy tabbies looking oh so adoptable! And of course I had to look. And pet. And otherwise interact. And ultimately walk away because a new kitten (or two) is a lot of work and I wasn't even up to making a couple of clam cakes.

Second Ira

First I met Leonardo and DaVinci, two gray and black mackerel tabby brothers.  Leonardo was a doppelgänger of the Second Ira, while DaVinci clearly resembled the First Ira with his milk paws and other white markings. Leonardo was the front man while DaVinci napped at the back of the cage.  Imagine having both of them!  But I had raised twins before, Dora and Deety, and it is more than double the work. So I moved on to another cage which contained Sprite and Mr. Pibb, also alleged to be related although Sprite was a smooth orange tabby, while Mr. Pibb was a First Ira - gray and black mackerel tabby with quite a lot of white on his chin and chest. I caught his eye, and I could see he was following my movements back and forth.  He really liked my hat. And Robert was amenable, if that was what I really wanted.

There comes a time in every pet lover's life when you realize you can't take it anymore.  Not necessarily the care and vet and all the responsibilities that go with being owned by a cat or dog, but the terrible toll the loss of the pet takes on you.  I have outlived 10 cats and 2 dogs, holding most of them in my arms as they died.  I still have 4 dogs and 1 cat in my care, and at this point it is becoming a crapshoot as to who is going to outlive who.  Even the Queen of England has announced that she will not be bringing any more corgis into Buckingham Palace.  My friend Terry, one of the world's greatest pet lovers has made the same decision regarding cats and dogs.  For the first time in the many years that I know her, there are no cats in her house, and a greatly reduced number of dogs.

But I have been known to act foolishly in the face of all these inner arguments; this time, however, fibromyalgia won. Standing there in Petco, all I wanted to do was go home and lie down in my own bed.  Goodbye and good luck, Mr. Pibb.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

I Found My Thrill, Part Deux - Anawana Orange and Blueberry Muffins

Yesterday was an okay day, productive even.  But here is the curse of fibromyalgia: today already sucks. August 28th will always be a sucky day, but this particular August 28th even more so because it hurts to stand up and my brain, she is foggy.

Today is my Pop's birthday, and if had lived - oh, if only he had lived! - he would be 107 years old, not an impossible number these days.  Today is also my first Ira's birthday, and he would have been 39, which is sort of an impossible age for a cat.   But still, birthdays are happy occasions, and so the memories are bittersweet.  Next to me, Pop was the first Ira's favorite human in the whole world, so it is sweet that they shared the day.

We Jews have something called a yahrzeit, the remembrance of the anniversary of a loved one's death. As it happens, tomorrow will be my mother Joyce's yahrzeit (August 24th would have been her 84th birthday) but today is the first anniversary of my second Ira's passing. There is no reason why a Jewish cat should not have a yahrzeit, and this is his.  Yahrzeits are never happy nor even bittersweet.  They bring sad memories and they hurt, damn it.

August 20th was the yahrzeit for my father Mike, but that's not one that affects me in any way, save a feeling of mild regret.  Oh, my scattered and shattered family ties, what grief you have brought me!

Yes it's true, I have a great deal more feeling for Ira than the father I barely remember.  Ira's death, and the night and day that preceded it, are stuck in my head.  So many of my pets had crossed the Rainbow Bridge in a short period of time; I had lost my little girl Athene less than a year before, and before that my poor Zebbie, my orange twins Dora and Deety, my precious Emeril, and the list goes on.  Too many in too short a period of time.  That stress, and the monumental blow from losing my oldest and dearest friend Bethe in February 2013, had fractured my personal infrastructure.  Those last days with Ira, the seismic seizures, the cancer diagnosis, the massive doses of  phenobarbital I had to administer to him, the look on my vet's face and the look on Ira's face, at the end ... well.  I was telling you why August 28th sucks, and now you know.

Oh ha! here's a good one - now my right arm, which daily bears the brunt of being a cane-holder, is protesting the assignment.  Crap. Look, I gotta use a cane. I gotta hold the cane. I am an unrepentant rightie, no ambidexterous talents in this decrepit little body. And now, because fibromyalgia is a harsh mistress, my upper right appendage, from fingertip to shoulder, hurts like hell.

Let's talk about my childhood.  Not the bad parts, you get enough of that when I'm in drama queen mode.  No, there were good parts, irregular like certain verbs, but good nonethless.  My favorite memories - besides eating, shopping for food with my grandmother in Waldbaums, going to restaurants to do more eating, and spending time with my cousin Cary and brother Elliot - were the summers I went to the ubiquitous sleepaway camps of upstate New York (everything north of the Bronx is upstate, by the way), and the best of those were the three years I went to Camp Anawana in Monticello.  The reason I bring this up is to segue into today's recipe for Anawana Orange and Blueberry Muffins, a first cousin of my Monticello Blueberry Muffins from a few months ago.

Apparently everything is on the internet these days, including a picture of me from 1961.  I was scrolling through some sites dedicated to Anawana alumni and nearly jumped out of my skin because  even from a small thumbnail on the screen knew who a certain chubby kid was.  I remember the picture, and probably have it tucked away with others my parents collected from those summers, but this one, with the bright orange and blue banner, is positively iconic.  I have good memories - this was pre-adolescence, before the Dark Times, before I became a moody teenager.

Anyway, I always associate blueberries with my summers in Monticello, and when I had a brainstorm regarding the use of the orange cake mix and dried blueberries in my pantry, Anawana came to mind. Our camp colors were orange and blue (no kidding) which made it practically impossible to conform to the dress code, so to speak, because orange is an odd color and solid orange clothing difficult to find.  Fortunately blue and white was an acceptable substitute.

Orange is my second least favorite color, but it is my favorite fruit. I am crazy for citrus in general, and orange in particular and I kept trying to come up with a recipe to incorporate the orange cake mix for at least a week.  Even if you never went to summer sleepaway camp, you will love these muffins.

1 box Duncan Hines Orange Supreme cake mix
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sour cream 
1/3 cup canola oil
3 large eggs
1-3.5 oz. bag Mariani wild blueberries (these are in the dried fruit section)
1 cup Kellogg's Cracklin' Oat Bran cereal, crushed

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Wipe the top of the muffin pan with a paper towel sprayed with Pam. Place a paper liner into each muffin cup.  

In a large bowl, combine the dry cake mix, baking powder, flour, sour cream, oil, and eggs, and stir together with a wooden spoon; don't worry if there are some lumps left.  Fold in the blueberries very gently with a spatula.  Let the batter sit for five or six minutes, then use the spatula to fold a few more times.

Scoop into the lined muffin cups, dividing the batter evenly between the cups.  Sprinkle some of the crushed cereal on top of each muffin, gently pressing in to the batter.  Bake for 21 minutes in the preheated oven.  Let cool a few minutes, then remove the muffins to a metal rack to cool completely.

Makes 12 muffins.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Madness and Anarchy - That Cabbage Soup

Is it something in the water?  Eating too much GMO or fast food?  Too much ADHD medication as a child? I am referring to what feels like an almost daily assault on the senses as young and not-so-young men go on murderous rampages. Strangers, ex-coworkers, police officers, neighbors, schoolchildren. The latest was the videotaped shooting of a reporter and a camera man in Virginia.  Apparently the killer, who later saved the state a whole lot of money and shot himself to death, had carefully planned and publicized the event. Why? He was, by all reports, a very angry man. Resentful. Litigious. Confrontational. And now, as we know, murderous.  He wrote that the massacre in the South Carolina church was the last straw, the thing that set him off for the last time.

Some people are saying he was crazy.  Sorry, I've seen crazy and he wasn't crazy. Mean, nasty, hateful, but not crazy.  No excuses there. Did he have a sense of entitlement that wasn't being satisfied?  I don't know, I have no answers, but I don't like it at all. So many people to whom the rule of law and basic morals no longer matter.  No one is in charge, no one is in control.  We are living in a dystopia of our own crafting.

So many murders this past year.  Is it a global societal phenomenon we have to learn to live with? Or does it seem more prevalent and widespread because social media is a virus that spreads the news faster than Fox, speedier than CNN, and with more information than MSNBC?

This is madness. This is anarchy. The world is falling apart while our leaders, our elected officials, the celebrities we listen to, are acting on their pedophilic wet dreams. Some beat on their wives while others cheat on their wives, and the cheating is planned on the government's time clock.  Crap. I could go on, but let me end this rant in the best way I know how: What the fuck is happening here?

I want soup.  I love my egg drop soup from China King because it doesn't have a lot of stuff in it to get stuck in my throat.  Can't eat egg drop soup all the time, and most of my soup recipes have stuff in them.  Chunks of vegetables, slices of spicy sausage, bodacious beans and plenty of pasta.  Delicious but likely to cause me to give it right back.

So in my head I got stuck on that old-fashioned cabbage soup that used to form the basis of this crazy diet that must be one of the only diets I was never on.  But we had a similar soup recipe out of Weight Watchers, and God and Jean Nidetch know that I've been on that diet since Broadway was a prairie.  Both versions were cabbage vegetable soups, no beef, nothing like my mother's sweet and sour Jewish cabbage soup but delicious in its own way, and totally customizable.  And since I am trying to achieve a thinner, non-chunky soup, I chose fresh vegetables that given time and heat will cook down nice and soft. It helped that they were all precut and prepackaged from the Publix produce section.

To start, I sprayed my 6 quart crock pot with Pam, and added about 3 tablespoons of butter, one large white onion, thinly sliced, and half of a pound bag of cole slaw mix.  I set it on low, and left it overnight, starting at around 10:15.  The idea is to get some depth of flavor from caramelization.  I have caramelized onions in a crockpot several time before, but the cabbage was a new idea.  

I checked on it around 5:30, and it was just barely south of some of the cabbage getting burnt, damn it.  So I fished out some of the darker pieces and kept the rest, which was still sweet.  I'd have to say 4 to 6 hours would have been plenty`but I'm going to work with what I've got.

To the cooked onions and cabbage in the crockpot I added:

1-28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
the remaining cole slaw mix, about 1/2 pound
1 package (a little over 3/4 pound) precut peppers and onions
1 large stalk celery, chopped
4 cups unsalted chicken stock
1 package (a little under a pound precut new potatoes, onion, and carrots
2 teaspoons (about 4 cloves) minced garlic
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon ground sage
4 cups vegetable juice, plus more as needed (V-8 comes in a 46 oz. bottle)

When it came to the precut vegetables, I wanted them even smaller, so I took out my trusty santoku knife and whittled them down to size, especially the carrots. If you want to leave them chunky, that's fine. It only took me a few minutes to place the vegetables on a cutting board and chop them somewhat smaller (oh yeah, I got a very sharp chef's knife and I know how to use it). By the time I got everything in the crockpot, it was 6:30, so I covered it and plan to let it continue to cook on low for 8 hours while I move on with the rest of my day.  I love my crockpots, all four of them.

After two hours, I add several freshly-harvested okra pods that I sliced kind of thin (for okra), as well as a green plum tomato that had been knocked off the tomato plant by this morning's early rain storm.  It looked like a flat pear, rather than a plum, but I chopped it anyway and threw it in.  After four hours, I re-seasoned the soup with half the amount of each spice in the list of ingredients, including the sugar and the minced garlic (I'm using a squeeze tube of garlic for this).  I also added a little more of the vegetable juice.  I ate half of a very freshly-baked orange and blueberry muffin (quality control, you know) but that's another blog post.

Sneak peek. Wait for it ...

I'm holding the baby spinach till the home stretch. After the library, after lunch.

Now at hour seven, I threw in the last ingredient - several big handfuls of hand-torn baby spinach.  The spinach will wilt and does add a certain bitterness which I offset with a few pinches of sugar.  You can always leave the spinach out; the soup is good either way.

And now the great reveal: In the end, I had to pull some rabbits out of my chef's hat to make it delicious (and it is. Was.)  In retrospect, the spinach was a bad idea.  The soup tasted better, and brighter, before I added it.  I had to fiddle with the soup. which had gone flat.  I know, I'm fussy and I'm also my own worst critic, but I had Robert's help on this and he agreed something was missing. Sugar, lemon juice, more salt, Worcestershire sauce, the remaining vegetable juice and Knorr beef bouillon cubes were added in succession, and we tasted and re-tasted until it was good.  So next time, I will start with 4 cups of beef stock rather than chicken, plus 2 Knorr beef bouillon cubes, and I will leave out the spinach at the end. Oh, and if the precut vegetable packages include baby carrots, skip them and chop up a couple of regular carrots instead.  They cook up softer and sweeter.

Serve hot with garlic cheese biscuits. Pass grated cheese at the table to sprinkle on top of each portion.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Just a day - an Apple a day

Not a bad day, not a good day.  Just a day like many others, when it's tough to get out of bed (it doesn't help that the bedroom floor slants precariously) and the pain in my back and right arm reminds me of things I'd rather not be reminded of.

Yesterday I did a lot, perhaps more than I should have.  There are so many other things I have to do - some of them are long-term projects that will give me something to do during my unintentional retirement. My garden is crying out for some serious attention, but the state of my back, and the dog days of August, are slowing me down. Others are the short-term, gotta-do-them-today sorts of projects that stress me out, like driving to the office by myself to finish the packing, and putting together my appeal of the the disability rejection.

What I really want to do today is mix up a batch of Mild Jamaican Jolt to replace what I used up during yesterday's mad smoking session, try a new cookie recipe, and maybe sit still long enough to do some knitting.  What I have to do is get my ass, and my rolls of bubble wrap, over to the office.

Speaking of stress, I just got a weather pop-up advising that Hurricane Erika is expected to reach Florida on Friday, two days from now.  Well, crap. Just yesterday I was standing on the back porch, mourning the loss of so many of the beautiful trees that graced our streets before the hell that was Hurricane Charley and his two evil female companions, Frances and Jeanne.

Jamaican Jolt Dry Rub for those with a delicate palate and a short memory
2/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup freeze dried chives
2 tablespoons coarse black pepper
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 tablespoons granulated garlic
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 tablespoon dried thyme
2 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons dried ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

When all is said and done, I crossed my Rubicon and lived.  It took six months, four different medications and a dry run on Sunday, and I finally made it to the office, during office hours.  Did some more packing and communed happily with my peeps, who I have missed very much.  One more trip and it will all be done. If somebody says "closure", I will have to cyber-slap you upside the head.  Call it evolution, call it progress, but don't call it closure. Thank you. 

Most of us know what a smart phone (smartphone?) is and probably own one of the many available models. I would now like you to view this picture of a stupid phone (or stupidphone).

No, that's not a Star Trek flippy-phone communicator; it is an AT&T "Go Phone", my bridge to the future, which should arrive around 3 weeks from now.  I am an iPhone sort of gal, and even after Robert and Cory switched to their Galaxies, I stayed true to Apple. Which is kind of weird, since I've never owned or even used an Apple computer. Well, after almost 3 years my iPhone battery sputtered and died.  Requiescat in pace.  Apparently you can't switch out an iPhone battery, so there's a new phone on the horizon.  Unfortunately, timing sucks, because the new iPhone model is due out momentarily and if I have to put down $200 for a new old phone, I'd rather wait a few weeks and put the same $200 down for a new new phone.  

Now, I am not one of those frakking idiots who can't go to the bathroom unless they are talking on the phone glued to the side of their head.  Walking across a 4-lane highway? Phone glued to the head.  Driving at 75 mph down the Florida Turnpike? Phone glued to the head. No, that's not me; besides that bathroom thing grosses me out more than I can express.  I have always disliked telephones, long before they got smart. But damn it, Jim, even I need a phone to receive any calls or texts from my husband, son, doctors, pharmacy or even the occasional stranger bearing good news.

Turns out AT&T has the answer - this cheap little "go phone" which will serve my basic phone needs, utilizing my own phone number, until that day Apple announces the release of their newest model.  Genius.  I like genius.  I like the young lady at the AT&T store in Kissimmee, across from the Loop, who has helped us repeatedly.  So instead of minor despair, I just saved $150.  That's better than a slap in the face with a wet flounder.

So like I said at the beginning, not a bad day.  Maybe even a good day.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

One Crazy Cat Lady, One Crazy Cat - About Barbecue

Hello, my name is Cindy and I am a Crazy Cat Lady.  At least I used to be.  At one time I lived with 7 or maybe it was 9 cats in addition to 2 or maybe 4 Yorkies.  I can't keep track anymore.  Right now, I am down to one cat and definitely 4 Yorkies.  But that doesn't change the fact that at heart, I am and always shall be a CCL.

I wonder if there is some omen involving the appearance of two cats at different times on the same day.  One was a gorgeous ginger that the Doctor would envy, and the other was a tabby with the strangest markings I have ever seen - the head, shoulders, and front legs were grey and black mackerel tabby markings, while the rest was bold classic tabby with wide stripes and the telltale "bullseye" on the side.  It looked like the head of my first cat Ira and the back of my third cat Dora, crazy-glued together.

Official Office Cat

What was odd, besides the grey tabby's markings, was that they were there at all.  We simply do not have stray cats hanging out around here anymore, and I can't remember how long it's been since a cat strolled across my property.  Not that I don't welcome them - in fact, we used to welcome them too much, leaving food for them, inviting them into the office for a visit, even for a while trapping-neutering-returning them (that was actually Maria's hard work), and finally adopting some of them.  They hung out around here, much to the distress of a certain mean-spirited neighbor, who called Animal Control because of the "feral" beasts.  We weren't the only office feeding the cats, but it was one of our mama cats who got trapped.  We convinced the Nice Lady from Animal Control to return Nala to us, and she became an inside cat. Nala, not the Nice Lady.  She became an Official Office Cat, and Maria stopped by here every weekend to leave her food.  Only one of my clients didn't like her (Nala, not Maria), and I had a lot of clients back then.

A Ginger and a Mackerel Tabby

The ginger was an orange tabby with golden brown eyes. James found her trying to check out our storage closet in the back of the house, so he picked her up and brought her in.  It was clear to all of us that she was not feral, and obviously attached to a person or property, so we released her.  I raised two oranges, and they are sweet cats, but we don't really need another pet, and she did not appear to need us.  I think she may have a relationship with my neighbors to the east, and if so, she is already being well-cared for.

El Exigente

That crazy-quilt grey tabby was hanging out in my parking lot when I came out for my walk last evening. It would not let me get close to it, but it also did not run away.  Me and my cane like to walk around the block, and when I got within sight of my back door, I could see that the cat was still hanging out.  I tried to entice it closer, but that kitteh wasn't having any of it.  When I got back inside the house, Anakin was sitting quite close to the door, giving me the eye.  I gave him my best Bill Clinton defense ("I did not pet that cat") and all is well.

Highlander Cat - "In the end, there can be only one."

And now, from the "Aw geez, not again" department here at Inspiration Nation, comes the report that Jeff Ashton, the Orange-Osceola State Attorney who came to fame as part of the Casey Anthony prosecution team, accessed the Ashley Madden site. From a personal computer, utilizing public wi-fi ... while sitting in his office.  What this whole Ashley Madden scandal shows - the site was hacked and names started coming to light, including Josh Duggar, another high-profile admitted sex offender - is that there are an extraordinary number of sick, twisted adults in this world (PC alert) and the majority of them are men.  Sorry, but that's the truth.  I am not unaware of the number of females who engage in similar behavior - too many young teachers and their underage male students come to mind - but for pure, down-in-the-mud dirty rotten behavior, men take the cake, especially men in positions of power.  What the hell is this all about?

Best - Cat - Ever

Two things come to mind - unfortunately for him, Jeff Ashton is going to have to resign.  Although he has given the standard line "this is a personal matter" he is a public official and there is an appearance of impropriety.  That, my friends, is the phrase that paves the way to unemployment.  He could probably ride it out, but his effectiveness as a prosecutor has been impaired in the public eye. Besides, the police union is gunning for him now, and there will be the never-ending investigations.

Second, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs wins the award for most quotable statements arising from this sorry mess: she told our local Fox News that "he has to answer to his family, to his faith, and to this community." But my favorite statement from my (former) mayor is that she admitted she was unaware of Ashley Madden and thought it was a lingerie site.  Me too, Teresa!

I am treating myself to a slow-paced cooking day. Tomorrow is soon enough to tackle the remaining packing up at the office, and I have another day or so to construct the appeal of the state's rejection of my application for disability.  There is, after all, just so much my head and my heart can take before my circuits overload.  So I am pleased to announce that the pork shoulder has been smoking since 10 am and the whole bologna went on about 11:30.  It doesn't appear that I can smoke the chicken wings at the same time due to space constraints, but once the bologna comes off, the wings go in. Time enough for smoke love. And to do a load of dishes.

I am perfuming the neighborhood, which includes the courthouse. I hope it makes some folks smile.

Now as far as recipes are concerned:  smoking, grilling, and barbecue in general are very personal matters, more personal than Jeff Ashton's ill-fated subscription to the Ashley Madison site.  Coming from the northeast, I did not know diddly about real barbecue until I moved south.  The very nature of barbecue is affected by region, type of smoker, size, shape and temperature of the meat to be smoked, the weather, the pitmaster's mood, and your horoscope.  Then there are the matters of rubs, injections, mops and sauces. Do you remove the membrane on the back of the ribs?  Should you slather mustard on a pork shoulder so that the spice rub adheres better?  Should you inject the meat? There are a trillion recipes online, several million cookbooks, and whole cable networks devoted to the fine art of barbecue.  Rob and I wait for the new season of BBQ Pitmasters with the same enthusiasm with which we wait for Doctor Who or basketball season. When we are on the road, we check out as many barbecue joints as possible, and hope we are catching them when the moon is in the seventh house.  We've gotten really bad 'cue in a really good place (Central BBQ in Memphis) and really great BBQ from a place in a strip mall (Thompson Brothers in Smyrna, right outside Atlanta).

And now the really big question - should I wrap the pork in foil, and if so, when?

What it comes down to is this - good barbecue is whatever you like it to be.  Being a northern girl and a BBQ novice, I would not presume to tell you how to make great 'cue.  I can tell you what I did, but I also fiddled with the heat and smoke during the day and made other adjustments as needed.  And while everything turned out really good, delicious even, I wouldn't call it great (but then I tend to be my own worst critic).

Go online or to the library and look at some of the barbecue cookbooks out there. Steve Raichlan is my go-to guy for instructions and recipes but there are a lot of published pitmasters out there. But if you want to know: I mocked  up a smoker in a gas grill; I smoked at 250 to 275 degrees.  With the pork shoulder, I injected apple cider and then sprayed the pork every hour with a mixture of apple cider and a touch of apple cider vinegar.  I used yellow mustard on the outside, and two different rubs.  I used an instant read thermometer and cooked to 180 degrees (I should have gone a little higher, but it was getting dark out there). I wrapped at 165 degrees. I used both hickory and apple wood.  I pulled part of it and sliced the other part. I tasted it with and without sauce and it was good both ways.

Now while the grill was running those 11 hours I also smoked whole chicken wings, and finished them with buffalo sauce, and I finally smoked that bologna.  I had quite a learning experience today, and ended up with enough food for a week.  Maybe more. And I had fun, which has been in short supply.  I also did my cardio walking to and from the grill 11 times to spray the pork.  Hey, maybe I'll sleep well tonight!
Finished wings

Pulling the  pork with two forks

Pulled and sliced

Monday, August 24, 2015

An Election, A Rejection, and Fried Okra

I wonder what it is like to see the entire political landscape in all black-and-white.  Is there really such a creature as a true liberal or conservative?  What brought up this question was a Facebook posting by an old friend, wearing a Hillary for President tee shirt and holding  a Stand With Planned Parenthood bumper sticker.  Maybe it's my adult attention deficit disorder, but I can't settle on one clear political path or the other. Whenever I registered for one political party, I always ended up voting for the major candidate from the other. I finally threw up my hands and went the Independent route, which is thankfully not a real party here in Florida.

Voted for both of them (twenty years apart) while registered to their opposition party. Confused, I am.

I mean ... sometimes I really like Hillary but there are days I would gladly vote for Mike Huckabee or Donald Trump.  And I've previously subjected you all to my views on women's rights, abortion after the first trimester, the death penalty, and Planned Parenthood, and I am all over the place, I know. And just to be clear, I'm not targeting liberals or Democrats or even socialists like Bernie Sanders. My conservative friends can be just as focused a
nd single-minded in their beliefs.  I just wonder what it feels like to be totally devoted to one party.  I've never been there, even on my first go around in 1972, so it's not like I've evolved or something.  Confused, maybe but not evolved.

Today (Sunday) I managed to accomplish something, a big something for me.  I made it to the office and cleared out, not all, but about two-thirds of my stuff. Maybe three-quarters. Rob and Cory were with me and helped with packing, plus did all the heavy carrying.  I left the Magic Cookie Bars where they would be found (I told you they weren't for home) and also left the finished Pandora knock-off bracelets I'd offered to fix for Terry and Brenda quite a while ago.  I felt good about the whole thing.  I will go back tomorrow or Wednesday, when the lawyers are not tied up in court with Attila the Hun, and finish the packing, turn in my keys and phone, and finally say adios.  This is such a huge thing for me - it probably sounds silly, but I have been emotionally frozen and it took my going in on a Sunday, with both my boys, to break that ice even a little bit.

Monday I got my disability rejection letter from the Division of Retirement folks in Tallahassee, and their letter was nicer than the dismissal letter that was generated locally.  Someone in their office should give letter-writing lessons to someone in Orlando.  I was expecting the initial rejection, as both of my doctors were - how shall I say this delicately? - less than helpful.  I will appeal it, and the appeal allows me to, in effect, introduce all the evidence I was restrained from providing the first time.  I also sent in the initial documents to the Social Security advocate, including an agreement for representation.  Let's hope I can hold myself together long enough to follow through.  On bad days, I am useless, to myself and others.

Having said all that, the pain is getting worse, and more frequent. Having picked up the spare cane I left in the office, I am now leaving it in the car.  Although I try, I really can't be without it.  Even cooking is become more difficult for me, as I cannot stand for any length of time.  I also can't sit for any length of time (same problem - it triggers pain) so I am constantly jumping up, and that has negatively impacted my knitting.

I finally collected enough pods off of my okra bush to justify heating up enough cooking oil to fry the little darlings.  Tonight I sort of forced myself to do the frying, even though my back is breaking, by dumping the remaining buttermilk over the pods.  No choice but to coat them, fry them, and ask Robert to taste test them.  He said they were good, and crunchy.

There is nothing magical about frying okra. The method is quintessentially southern: soak the whole pods in buttermilk (I added Crystal hot sauce) for a while.  Combine equal amounts flour and cornstarch and season the flour mixture with salt, pepper, and anything else you like.  Dredge the okra in the flour, and fry in 350 degree oil.  Drain, salt, and eat.  Here's a link to the recipe I used. I happened to notice nice bags of fresh whole okra in Publix, just in case you don't have a 6 foot okra bush in your yard.  I like to dip them in a horseradish sauce, but the lady at the link recommends malt vinegar, like for fried fish.

I'm still working on those smoked meats. But when it's 100 degrees, I tend to think twice about lighting up the grill, especially when I can stay in my air conditioned house and work on my disability paperwork. What a great choice.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Well, Hello Dollies - Magic Cookie Bars

My new pretty girl, and she's wearing a red ribbon

I've bought a lot of cars in my long and evil life, but buying the Escape was the best experience yet.  I will tell you we bought the car from Kisselback Ford in St. Cloud, and our salesman's name is Jim. Excellent salesman, had a "just folks" approach that was so much better than the hard sell.  (Not like the time I had to drive off the lot at a certain Kia dealer in Orlando to get away from a gaggle of salespersons clinging to the bumper of my car.)  Very professional and pleasant staff in the business office. As I say, a good experience at Kisselback.
Tap the picture for your daily ear worm

The only thing that was weird - funny-weird, not bad weird - was the number of people who came forward to shake our hands, congratulate us on our purchase, and thank us for our business.  It was like a reception line at a wedding, except nobody kissed me, which was fine.  Unfortunately, we were standing outside, it was 101 degrees in the shade, and I was leaning on my cane for dear life.  I was ready to call it quits after meeting the owner Bobby Kisselback (if you are a local, you've seen him on the TV ads and you are now going to have to endure a wicked ear worm from the jingle), but he brought his whole staff with him.  Nice man, nice staff, nice car. Great air conditioning.

I moved the stuff I'd cleared out of the late, lamented Expedition into the Escape, and was reminded of what a sentimental fool I am.  What absolutely HAD to be placed in the new car: a red ribbon (actually two); the little brown bear Donna Dorer gave me about 12 years ago; the 18 cents my mother-in-law always puts in the glove compartment of our new cars; the hand knit sweater and little shirt Tuffy was wearing when we took him to the vet for the last time; and the Mardi Gras beads Dave Abercrombie brought me back from New Orleans a good long while ago. Now I can drive the Escape without fear of marauding deer.

The only part of me left in the Expedition were two artificial poppies, one on each visor:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly.
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

So my first "new car" project was set for today, to clear out my office at DCF.  But things aren't happening the way we planned, ha ha.  I got an email late yesterday from Brenda, letting me know that the empty cartons she had so carefully collected for my use had been co-opted, or recollected or maybe it was recycled by persons unknown - in any event, they are gone. Rob and I started scraping up boxes and cartons, only to discover the dogs had made a statement and peed on most of the plastic boxes.  Instant clean-up job needed.  They are drying on the front porch as we speak.  And then, Robert is on his way to pick up his Mom, and Cory is working a birthday party, and I still can't do this alone.  Let us wait ... I'm good with that anyway.  Not enough sleep and I forgot to take my medication until just now, which means I was late for a very important date.  Miss the meds, feel like hell.  Even when I take the meds I feel like hell; apparently, after 33 years on the same medication, my heart palpitations have decided to make an unwanted reappearance.  I guess that's so I don't dwell on the back pain too much, but ha, that doesn't work.

Robert has returned, but so have the monsoons.  We are clearly not going to get the move done today, but tomorrow is another day.  Thank you Margaret Mitchell.  Frankly I don't give a damn.  You all know I am not looking forward to this trip to the office anyway.

He's baaaaack!

I did manage to bake Something Good: I've always known them as Seven Layer Bars, and Magic Cookie Bars, which is how they appear on the back of the box of graham cracker crumbs, but they are also known by the much more lyrical title of "Hello Dollies." They are ridiculously easy, incredibly customizable, and outrageously good. There are a million variations; just check Google.

The "magic" comes from that most amazing ingredient, sweetened condensed milk, the very same stuff that makes a real Florida key lime pie so good.  Besides the key lime juice, of course.  The Dollies have two or more kinds of chips, sweetened coconut, and, barring any allergies, nuts.  Neither Rob nor I can eat walnuts, but this batch isn't for home, so walnuts are included as well.

1/3 cup melted butter
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1-14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/3 cups flaked coconut
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cups peanut butter chips or butterscotch chips
1/2 cup chopped pecans, walnuts, or almonds

Spread the butter in a 9x13 baking dish.  Sprinkle the crumbs over the butter.  Evenly pat the crumbs into the pan.  Drizzle the condensed milk over the crumbs.

Sprinkle the coconut, chips and nuts over the top.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes until light brown around the edges.  Cool completely before cutting into bars.  Store in the refrigerator.

Try not to eat them all in one sitting.  Try hard.