Saturday, February 28, 2015

"I have been, and always shall be, your fan" - Dill Pickle Soup

Today is Saturday, and based on the weather, it is what my grandmother-who-raised-me used to call a "mizzo" day.  It's one constant rain drizzle out there, and the skies are a sullen gray.  The electrician came to check out a few problems and gave us bad news. I keep repeating to myself, the house is almost 90 years old.  The plumbing, the electrical, the roof - it's always bad news.  Comes with the territory.

Anyway, that makes it a perfect day to (finally) prepare the Dill Pickle Soup.  No, really.  I know I've been promising for almost three weeks, but this time I mean it.  This is my recipe, inspired by the recipe created by Cathy Pollak for  Incidentally, I have no control over the rather weird text formatting.  Sorry about that.

1 stick butter, divided

1 bunch green onions, sliced thin, white and light green parts only (about 3/4 cup)
2 stalks celery, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
3 carrots, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 small clove garlic, minced
kosher salt, white pepper
2 large Russet potatoes, peeled and cubed (about 1 3/4 pounds)
1 - 49 1/2 oz. can Swanson Natural Chicken Broth
3 large dill pickles, chopped (about 1 generous cup) - purchase a large jar of dill pickles, as you will also be using most of the pickle juice; I use Batampte, found in the refrigerator section.  Also, I like the pickles chopped fine, but you may like them not-so-fine.
1 cup sour cream
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup water
2 cups dill pickle juice
1 1/2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

In a large pot, melt half of the stick of butter over medium high heat.  Add the green onions, celery, carrots, and garlic clove.  Season with a small amount of salt and white pepper to taste. Lower the heat to medium and sauté the vegetables for 10 to 15 minutes, until the onions are softened.

Add the potatoes, the remaining butter, and the chicken broth.  Bring to a boil and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.  Do not overcook the potatoes.  Add the pickles and continue to boil for 10 more minutes.  Reduce the heat to medium.

Combine the sour cream, flour, and water, and then add 1 cup of the boiling soup liquid, and whisk together until smooth.  Gradually add this to the soup, whisking well after each addition.  Stir in the pickle juice, the Old Bay, white pepper and cayenne, then cook for another 5 minutes.  The pickle juice is pretty salty on it's own, so don't add any more salt until you taste the finished soup.  I like salty foods, and did not need to add any more at the end.

This soup is crazy good!  You've got to try it!

So let me segue back to yesterday's unfinished post.  Part of it was a list of dishes I have been thinking about making this weekend.  As I sit here, the dill pickle soup is done.  I have no chicken wings in the house, nor do I feel the need to sally forth in the rain to purchase them.  Not sure if the potato salad was a good idea, so I'm crossing it off the list.  I do want to make the brownies, but not until my back recovers from standing for over an hour while preparing the soup.  

And then there was the sentence which ended rather abruptly - "In some ways, it is a true shame that the public is essentially unaware of" - and which should have ended - "the quality and quantity of work done by the attorneys for the Department."  Confidentiality and ethics most often preclude me from going into too many details about my work, or what goes on in my courtroom, which is unfortunate.  Juvenile dependency court proceedings are sui generis.  I have practiced in a number of other areas, but I always come back to dependency.

And that's all I can say about that.

Finally, I just want to return to the passing of Leonard Nimoy yesterday.  This link will take you to the article in the Hollywood Reporter, which includes a long list of tweets and quotes from many celebrities, mourning his death.  If you are a Trek fan, you should recognize all of the references (Genesis planet, anyone?), and probably already had them come to mind.  The one I did not think of, which is the title of this post, came from Nathan Fillion, and I found that it was perfect.  Like Nathan, but that's another blog post.

Friday, February 27, 2015

A Month, A Birthday, A Life

For such a short month, February is big on birthdays, and today is no exception.  Happy birthday to my cousin Gary - well actually, my cousin Sheryl's husband Gary - well, more precisely, my husband's cousin Sheryl's husband Gary - well, you get it.  We're family, and it's his birthday.  Happy Birthday, Grandpa!  I mean, Gary!  Boy, does time fly or what?

This has been a bizarre morning, full of aches and chills. Yes, chills. In Florida.  And just now, having committed myself to standing upright to get dressed for work, I feel light-headed, almost woozy.  Back hurts (what else is new?), as does my stomach.  Ahh, crap.  Throw me out and start over.

Ah ha, I made it into the office and thereafter to court for an emergency hearing.  I hobble triumphant!  I'm still waiting to be heard - another rather passionate hearing has preceded mine - but in the meantime, I am enjoying the hearing. Fabulous advocacy. And that's all I can say about that.

In some ways, it is a true shame that the public is essentially unaware of

Dill pickle soup
Mississippi mud brownies
Hoisin chicken wings
Potato salad

I made garlic bread last night - and have eaten it for breakfast - and cooked off the bacon from the open package, so the boys can snack happy.  Then there's my newest  toy, and I can use some of that bacon in a grilled panini with cheese and tomato. Ooh la la!

I was in the middle of drafting this post when I saw the news that Leonard Nimoy had passed away.  For one moment I thought I might lose my composure right there in court. I was just 13 when I first saw Star Trek in 1966, and I was immediately smitten with the stories and the characters.  The Star Trek universe was, and remains, very real to me.  After all, no one questions that Gene Roddenberry was a visionary.  With all that, my favorite character was Nimoy's Spock, half-human, half Vulcan, never really fitting in anywhere.  I suppose I could go on and on about Leonard Nimoy, but all of the news agencies have already done so, and there have been the heartfelt postings from former cast members.  What I do want to say is that Leonard Nimoy was a mensch, and that the world - no, the universe - will be a poorer place with his passing.

I apologize for the unfinished post, but I'll pick up on it tomorrow.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Day of the Doctor

Thursday - It's the Day of the Doctor.

No, not that Doctor.  For you non-Whovians, the gentleman with the hat is actor Sylvester McCoy, the Seventh Doctor.  Cory accidentally got the opportunity to take the photo a couple of weeks ago at the Coliseum of Comics.

I've actually got two appointments today, one with my PCP for blood test results, and one with a gastroenterologist to schedule an endoscopy and colonoscopy.  Ick.  Just knock me out and do what you've got to do.  Ick.  The colonoscopy is routine, although I've managed to avoid having one done for at least 12 years.  I hope I don't regret my lapse.  The endoscopy is to try to find out why I lost so much weight so fast this past year, which is tied to why I cannot swallow most food.

The news is depressing.  The government controls the Internet.  I don't know if that's good or bad.  Loretta Lynch is on her way to becoming Attorney General.  I don't think that's good.  The Clintons are in trouble again over donations made to the Clinton Foundation by foreign governments.  That one hurts, because I would like to see Hillary win the 2016 election.  More than 200 Christians have been kidnapped by ISIS.  Christian children are being tortured, murdered.  Why are we allowing history to repeat itself?  Where is our leadership?

I think that's all I can deal with tonight.  The endoscopy is set for the end of March; the colonoscopy will be set sometime after that.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Mark this day - Happy birthday to you!

Wednesday - Oh hell, back feels broken.  Let's work on sitting up straight, shall we?  The Yorkies are all downstairs napping (it's hard work waking up, walking down the steps, eating, and peeing) so Anakin is up here with me, enjoying some Mommy and Me time.  I love my doggies, and I know they love me, but nothing beats the love from a purring kitty.  Yes, I am a cat person.

I have another full day ahead of me, so while I am moving slowly, I will make it in to the office.  No court for the rest of this week, which right now is a tremendous relief.  Catching up with paperwork while trying to adapt to the very stringent requirements from a new judge has been stressful, and stress is bad - for everyone, but particularly for folks with chronic pain disorders.  I'm going to grit my dentures and carry on.

I took another look at the recipe for dill pickle soup, and I am still determined to make it, but it needs a little tweaking.  Just a tiny bit.  We'll see if I can manage a trip to Publix later.

Ah ha!  One step closer to making that dill pickle soup.  I stopped into Publix on the way home and snagged a couple of potatoes and a bunch of green onions.  That bit of shopping plus my work during a shortened day knocked me out.  But I did manage to work for most of the day, so I consider it a victory.  Now that I have all the ingredients, including some kick ass pickles, it's just a matter of time.  Let's hope I gather enough energy to cook the soup before the potatoes sprout and become inedible.

Speaking of time passing, I want to wish my very dear friend Mark a very happy birthday.  Hopefully he is celebrating his 62nd with more decorum than his 18th. Heheh. Yes, I know him that long.  We started college together at New Paltz in 1970 and have been friends ever since.  I have trouble believing that much time has passed, but Mark has two grown children, two grandchildren (twins), and another on the way, so I have to believe it.

Happy, happy birthday, old friend, and may you have many more happy and healthy years to celebrate with family and friends.

From chicken soup to pickle soup

Tuesday - Chicken soup for lunch, and then, we are soupless.  Never mind that the gorgeous pork, apple and sweet potato stew I made the other day is sitting in the fridge, waiting to be devoured.  Never mind that the smell of sweet cinnamon and earthy cumin emanating from that stew could drive a sane person hungry.  Then there is the rich, complex sauce contrasting perfectly with tender cubes of tasty pork ... never mind, you get the idea.  If you have not checked out the recipe for the Vaguely Mediterranean Pork, Apple and Sweet Potato Stew, I recommend you do so.  Buy a box of Near East Couscous, any flavor - I love the pine nut - and prepare it according to package directions.  Nothing easier.  Serve it with the stew, then sit back and enjoy the accolades.

In the meantime, I have to replenish my soup supply.  Once again I am planning on preparing that dill pickle soup recipe I found online.  That will require a stop at Publix, and I won't know until the end of the day if I am up to it.  Stay tuned.

I've paid little attention to the news these last few days, and just now trying to catch up.  So, did the head of the Veteran's Administration really lie about his military service?  Wasn't he hired to clean up the scandals, not create a new one?

Islamic terrorists are asking US domestic terrorists to blow up the Mall of America, and several other well-known and/or super-sized malls around the world.  The Secretary of Homeland Security is taking the threats seriously, which is more than you can say for the President.

"No boom today.  Boom tomorrow."

Ah, forget the dill pickle soup.  A very full and productive day at the office, and it's time to go home and rest.  I feel a rant coming on about kidnapped Christians in Syria, and that is going to consume some energy.  No energy left to go to Publix, and besides, I have leftover shrimp with lobster sauce in the fridge.

Not a bad day.  I worked, I napped, I knit, I had some leftover Chinese food.  I got to see Terry in the office.  She will be back full time starting Monday, which is a good thing.  I have missed her.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Contemplation of Cats, Canines, Cauliflower, Cooking, Baking, Biscuits, and Brownies

Sunday - My back hurts but it was worth it ... the doggies are clean!  They were very well-behaved while being showered, shampoo'ed, and blown dry, but there are four of them and I was on my feet for quite a while.  So I think it fair to say we are all knocked out from the experience.

The good news is that their hair - Yorkies have hair and don't shed - is sweet-smelling and soft to the touch.  The other good news is that I do not need to cook as I have a ridiculous amount of prepared food in the refrigerator.  That doesn't mean I don't have the itch to cook, but there is no need.  Especially as we have plans for sushi tonight, Cory's choice of restaurant for his birthday.  I probably would have chosen a.lure in Savannah.  Ha.  Still dreaming about fois gras on a deep-fried Krispy Kreme.  Sushi it is.

I have been thinking about baking beer cheese biscuits and brownies.  If I don't have to cook, I might as well bake, right?  Also, I have cauliflower mac n cheese and dill pickle soup on the brain.  That may explain the brain fog.  As Captain Picard would order, "make it so."  If only it was that easy - I can control my mental food meanderings a lot easier than I can control the symptoms of CPS.  Jean-Luc, you big faker.

In a whirlwind tour we've so far hit CVS, Petco, and Bed, Bath and Beyond.  Target next, so Rob can pick up his new glasses.  Then to Publix, back to CVS, and home.  And somewhere in there, a stop at hhgregg to look at DVD players.  This was Sunday on speed, and good thing I had my cane.  I've also been asking Rob to push the shopping cart, which is absolutely not the way I normally roll.  Pushing the shopping cart has always been my job, one I emotionally inherited from my grandmother-who-raised-me, and having to ask someone else to do it was a bummer.

Incidentally, what is going on with these businesses that do not capitalize their names?  Who decides these things, e.e.cummings?

While we were at Petco, we could not help but notice it was a cat adoption day.  While Robert set his jaw, I checked out every tabby there.  I had no interest in the females, other than noticing how absolutely sweet their faces were.  Two tabbies were asleep and refused to engage in conversation.  One handsome boy with a white chin, neck and chest was billed as "friendly" but there was no truth in advertising; when I offered him my finger, he sniffed, bit me lightly, and turned his back.  Alrighty then.                                
At Publix, I fought hard with myself to avoid new cooking projects for this week.  I have enough food in the refrigerator to throw my own block party.  With Robert's support, I did not give the meat counter even a passing glance, despite my recent thoughts of Swedish meatballs.  I whooshed through produce without touching even one head of cauliflower.  I did buy a jar of Batampte dill pickles; that chicken soup is almost gone and I have to have soup available.

Monday - Last night was one long adventure in sleep deprivation.  All four boys - Woodie, Anakin, Indiana, and Romeo - were bad to the bone, running and jumping all over our bed (and us) like it was the court at Amway Arena and they were members of the Orlando Magic.  No sleep adds to my stress, and stress adds to my pain.  Yesterday my brain was befogged and I could not recall words I needed.  I am afraid today may not be any better, and I have three trials.

I meditated, as I always do in the morning.  I took my medication, including two Advil.  That Gabapentin is not delivering the relief I had hoped for, something I will share with the doctor on Thursday.  I am approaching the point that I will have to leave the house and head to court.  Part of me feels like I am taking a short walk to my execution.  The other part is enjoying the sounds of birds tweeting up in the big, ancient trees near my house.

The tears are here, in back of my eyes, I can feel them, but I can't shed them.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Oh So Vermischt - Banana-Applesauce Muffins

During my long and chaotic life, I have had a number of mortifying moments, but Friday's events took the cake.  Or the muffin, since that is the recipe I am hoping to share, at least before the weekend is up.

First, let me say that I have pretty much decided to use the cane most of the time.  Here's my logic:  using it on the really bad days goes without saying; on the not-so-bad days, I walk around normally, which is to say, often.  I am always getting up from my desk to get something, or to talk with my supervisor or my paralegal extraordinaire, or to walk the 2 blocks from my home to the courthouse entrance. So there is always impact, although in the real world, walking is considered low impact.  I love to walk. Apparently in my fibromyalgic nightmare world, it is enough to rattle my nerves and cause to me to have one or more bad days.  I figure if I use the cane most of the time, it will help to absorb some of that impact, and assist me to avoid some of those reactive bad days.  So I was using the cane all day Thursday in court and in the office.  As it turned out, good thing, because by midday, I was starting to hurt despite my best efforts.  The downside is that I look like a permanently handicapped person.  Well, maybe that's not all that far from the truth.  But it sets people to worrying about me.  I guess I hadn't realized just how much.

Second, I have not been able to summon the energy or the interest to make up my face in the morning.  Put that together with the fact that I am in some kind of chronic discomfort, and I can only describe my face as ghastly.  Clean, but ghastly.  Oh yes, and my weight hasn't been this low since my gastric bypass surgery, when it fell below my post-surgery goal weight and way below my Weight Watcher's goal weight.

To sum it all up, I look like a candidate for a casket-fitting, and with the omni-present brain fog, I act like one as well.  So, when I did not show up for an 8:30 hearing on Friday, did not call or email my supervisor and paralegal, did not answer my phone, or return any messages ...

... my husband comes running upstairs to tell me there is a policeman downstairs for me - something about missing court - and for one crazed moment I thought the judge had ordered I be taken into custody for missing a hearing I hadn't realized nor remembered that I'd had. (Turns out my mistake the day before was checking the stack of files rather than the printed docket, but I didn't know that at the time, and just ran down the hall muttering "I don't have a hearing this morning, I checked!")  That I could even think that I was being arrested gives you an idea about my state of mind these past few weeks.

However, the truth of the matter asserted therein, as we lawyers like to say, proving that there was at least one phrase we remembered from law school, was that because I had been feeling so noticeably awful lately, when I did not show up for court, someone called my poor, beleaguered supervisor, and, having run to court in my place, when she could not reach me, there was a concern something truly terrible had happened to me.  In other words, I wasn't being arrested.  The policeman, who was actually one of my regular court deputies, headed out to check on my well-being, since I hadn't had much of that lately.  This is the same court deputy who escorted me home about a year ago, after the judge granted my petition for termination of parental rights following a lengthy, contentious trial, and the parents were somewhat upset with me.  I told you I worked with nice people, and for that reason alone, I am sorry my deputy had to see me in a robe, hair uncombed (who combs their hair when they are being arrested), and lacking certain foundation garments as well as my dentures.  My most profuse apologies to a fine gentleman, who probably ran out during his lunch hour to buy some brain bleach, or perhaps mental floss.  Yeah, it was that bad.

Thinking everything was back in some kind of order, I headed upstairs to get dressed, left a phone message and an email for my supervisor, and started to pull myself together ...

... when I hear Maria, Robert's long-time assistant, calling me, to tell me that DCF was on Robert's office phone.  So I ran back down the hall, this time muttering "what does DCF want, I don't have any minor children", forgetting for one crazy second that I work for DCF.  Fortunately, it was not one of the protective investigators, but rather it was my paralegal extraordinaire, doing the same thing the deputy had been doing. Apparently my inexplicable absence scared the bejesus out of everyone, (there was that time I was passed out in the car) and when I did not respond to my cellphone as expected (as I look at it now, it seems I missed six different phone calls from four different numbers.  Never heard them, and did not see them until it was too late to stem the tide of panic) she called my other paralegal extraordinaire, who is home recovering from surgery, for the number to Robert's office.

Can a person feel gratified and mortified at the same time?  The answer to that is a big, fat, honking yes.

I managed to get into work for all of 2.5 hours, because there were things I had to do, besides assuring my coworkers I was neither dead nor lying in a ditch somewhere out in Yeehaw Junction.  I had to get into the office to sign a stack of files the size of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and I had to get to court for the 2:00 hearing I did know about. And then, because the day hadn't been weird enough, ouch, I got hit right across the back when the hatch back door of the Expedition fell on me as I was reaching for files.

So, as I told the only other MOT lawyer (this ain't New York, you know) during my 15 minutes in court (at which time the judge ordered me to go home and rest, which was nice to hear since just that morning I thought she was having me arrested) I was completely vermischt.  In fact, I added, I was on my way to verblunget.  Since we have a trial together on Monday morning, the poor man now has something else to worry about.

Despite my jocular writing style (too much watching Mel Brooks) none of this was really funny, and it all points to the bitter fact that I am going to have to make some tough decisions in the near future.  But not today. Today I am doing nothing more complicated than washing dishes, bathing dogs, and baking banana-applesauce muffins.

So far ... two out of three ain't bad.  The dogs still smell like dogs.

Banana-Applesauce Muffins

2 large, very ripe bananas
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 cup Musselman's chunky applesauce
1/4 cup canola oil
2 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten with a fork
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
good pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Set up a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.  Break the bananas into a 2 cup liquid measuring cup, then mash them with a fork.  There should be just about one cup.  Stir in the lemon juice.  Add enough applesauce to make 2 cups, then transfer to a mixing bowl.  Add the oil, beaten eggs and sugar to the bowl and with a wooden spoon, mix all the wet ingredients together until well combined.  Add the remaining ingredients and stir till combined.  Do not over-mix.

Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups, filling each one to the top. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes.  Move to a cooling rack and after 10 minutes, remove the muffins from the pan, and place them on a rack to cool completely.  These are wonderful.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Spice Must Flow Again - Vaguely Mediterranean Pork, Apple, and Sweet Potato Stew

Thursday - My past two miserable weeks are taking a toll on my efficiency (ha ha). This has been my concern all along, since the CPS began flaring with annoying regularity.  Or irregularity.  But annoyingly frequent.  So maybe that should be annoyingly frequent irregularity?  Yeah, that's it.

I have been sitting on this unforgiving wooden bench since 8:30 this morning, and it is now 11:11 a.m.  I am waiting for my 10:00 a.m. case to be called.  And that's the way it is.  My back is starting to protest the less than optimal treatment.  I would love to head out to get something to drink (more coffee!!) and to be able to take my midday Gabapentin. Not that I have been taking a midday Gabapentin, but I am supposed to be and perhaps this would be a good time to start. Oh wait, the morning cases were not all called, have to come back at 1:30 p.m. for my 10:00 a.m. hearing.


And now I am sitting in a much more comfortable chair at counsel table, and I am deep in thought about ... banana muffins.  Well, my morning case has come and gone and I am just waiting for other counsel to review the order I just prepared.  So I am permitting my mind to wander, not that it ever needs my permission, and in addition to banana muffins I am thinking about Rachael Ray's recipe for Broccoli and Cauliflower Gratin Mac n Cheese.  I am thinking about getting rid of the broccoli, for starters.  I love broccoli but not in my macaroni and cheese.  Cauliflower, though, that's another matter.  Cauliflower and cheese sauce is one of my favorite food combinations, and I look forward to combining it with some macaroni, and the other stuff in Rachael's recipe, like sour cream, Dijon mustard, and chives.  I make no representations about completing or even starting either of these recipes.

Instead, let's talk about Vaguely Mediterranean Pork, Apple, and Sweet Potato Stew.  Like the asparagus, prosciutto, and bananas, I had picked up the ingredients for this particular crockpot recipe on Sunday.  Today is Friday.  While the bananas have clearly benefitted from their room temperature rest on my kitchen counter, the pork is nearing its expiration date.  Time to rock and roll.

Last night I put the stew ingredients together in the large 6 quart crock insert, covered it and put it into the refrigerator overnight.  This morning, just before I leave the building like Elvis, I will turn the crockpot on low setting for six hours until I can check it for doneness.

The inspiration for this recipe came from one of 37 crockpot cookbooks (okay, maybe only nine.  Or eleven).  I made some changes (surprise!), mostly additions or increases, and one notable substitution of sweet potatoes for white potatoes.  What makes this dish vaguely Mediterranean is the use of cinnamon and cumin, a combination you see in Greek cooking, for one.

1 tablespoon roasted garlic extra-virgin olive oil
2 pounds pork cubes for stew (best price was boneless pork ribs, which I cut into nice big cubes), seasoned with black pepper and granulated garlic.
1 1/2 medium sweet onions, halved and sliced, divided use
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 - 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
2 large sweet potatoes, prepared as below
1 1/2 cups baby carrots, cut crosswise into halves or thirds
2 medium Golden Delicious apples, cut into cubes
1 - 10 1/2 oz. can Campbell's chicken broth
1/4 cup Gulden's spicy brown mustard
2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1 generous tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 generous tablespoon ground cumin
kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper
dried thyme
dried chopped chives
1 1/2 cup frozen butter beans

Prepare the sweet potatoes: poke a couple of holes in each side of the potatoes, then place them into an aluminum baking pan.  Bake at 400 degrees for just 30 minutes, turning halfway through.  Remove from the oven and cover the pan with aluminum foil.  After about 15 minutes, remove the foil and pull the softened peel off.  Let the sweet potatoes cool completely (even better if you refrigerate overnight) before cutting them into cubes.

Assembling the stew: in a large deep skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat and add the pork.  Cook and stir until browned on all sides, then add one sliced onion (reserve the remaining half onion) and the garlic.  Cook for just 10 minutes, then transfer contents of skillet to a 6 quart crockpot insert.

Add the tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, and apples on top of the pork and onions.  Pour the chicken broth into the can from the tomatoes.  Add the mustard, brown sugar, cinnamon, cumin, salt and pepper to the can, and stir with a wooden spoon to combine everything, scraping up any remaining tomato.  Pour this over everything in the crockpot, and sprinkle with the thyme and chives.  With a metal serving spoon, carefully turn the ingredients in the crock over and over a few times to completely combine and evenly distribute everything.  Cover the crockpot and cook on low for six hours, carefully stirring after 3 hours (if you are not there to stir, don't worry about it.)

With cool water, rinse off any ice on the frozen butter beans and add them to the crockpot.  Cover and cook another hour, just until the carrots are done.  Try to avoid overcooking, or else the pork will start to shred and the sweet potatoes will disappear into the sauce.

You could serve this without anything more than a salad and maybe some bread, but I like the idea of making some couscous with chickpeas, and vegetables like zucchini to go with this really flavorful stew.

Friday, February 20, 2015

I'm Not Chucking Asparagus (I'm wrapping it in prosciutto)

So there I was in the midst of my misery, when I got a friend request on Facebook.  I love friend requests.  What's not to love?  Thank you for being my friend!

This one blew me away when I saw the name.  It was from my sister.  Yes, I have a sister.  From another mother, but the same mister.  This request thrilled me because Nora is not big on computers, and has never been on Facebook.  But her daughter, my niece Rachel has, and to make it easier for my sister and I to keep in touch, Rachel set up the Facebook account. Things like that are better than gabapentin.  Thank you, Rachel, and welcome to Facebook, Nora.

There was no way I was going to have to chuck out almost 2 pounds of gorgeous asparagus, no matter how lousy I was feeling, so I gathered my strength and the shreds of my dignity, and headed into the kitchen.

We had picked the asparagus and prosciutto up on Sunday, during our Big Box shopping expedition.  BJs had nice mushrooms, so I grabbed a box, with plans on drowning them in wine and butter.  When it came to green vegetables, it was a choice of fresh green beans, Brussel sprouts, and asparagus.  I left it to Rob, and he went for the asparagus.  Good call.  I know a couple of ways to prepare asparagus, including drizzling them with an unctuous blender Hollandaise, but I opted instead to wrap them in prosciutto.  Easy, right?

Now it's late in the Hump Day, and I've been practically incapacitated by this freaking fibromyalgia, and I am worried about losing my asparagus to some kind of refrigerator jungle rot.  It's now or never, I figure.  I'll just take breaks between the steps in preparation.

1 3/4 pound fresh asparagus, woody ends trimmed (I just cut them with a big sharp knife)
1 pound thinly sliced prosciutto
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons "Mild" Jamaican Jolt Jerk Rub (or any herb and spice combination)
roasted garlic extra-virgin olive oil
freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Combine the softened cream cheese, lemon juice, and Jamaican Jolt and place into a ziptop plastic bag, pressing the mixture towards one corner, and making a small snip at the tip.  Lay out the prosciutto slices, four to six at a time.  Refrigerate the remaining prosciutto while preparing the roll ups.  Place two asparagus spears next to each other, towards one short end of each prosciutto slice. Pipe a column of cream cheese between the asparagus spears, then roll the prosciutto around the spears, covering the cream cheese carefully. Drizzle some of the olive oil over the exposed asparagus, and season with some of the pepper.  Place in the oven and roast the asparagus prosciutto rolls for 30 minutes.

So, with all the rest breaks, it is taking me for-frakking-ever.  The first batch of six came out beautiful but the asparagus was too tough after the recommended 20 minute cooking period.  The next batch is still in the oven with a 30 minute bake time.

For the last batch I am trying something I saw Robert Irvine do in one of his online recipes. Instead of roasting the whole package and hoping the asparagus and the prosciutto are perfectly done at the same time, I am cooking the asparagus first in boiling water, chilling it down immediately, and then applying the cream cheese filling and wrapping it in the prosciutto.  Most importantly, I am not putting it in the oven.  Prosciutto does nor need to be cooked to be eaten - think of melon wrapped in prosciutto, an appetizer that has never gone out of popularity.

I took a lot of pictures, so it will all make sense. I hope.

"Mild" Jamaican Jolt Dry Rub for those with a delicate palate:  (and here is a link to the original by Steven Raichlen)
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

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk to combine.  Transfer to a large jar.  I keep this in my spice cabinet.

Later, after Cory came in from work and was piling his plate high with goodies from the fridge, we consulted regarding the asparagus.  This is a dish he knows well, as he has made it a number of times (without the cream cheese).  He liked both versions, and then told me how he handles the whole asparagus-doesn't-cook-as-fast-as-prosciutto issue:  he roasts the asparagus part-way first, lets the spears cool, and then wraps them in the prosciutto.  Returns them to the oven and voila! Everything cooks together, to the correct doneness, at the same time. My kid is a genius.

My personal preference turned out to be the cold version - boiled and chilled asparagus, a ribbon of seasoned cream cheese, all wrapped in prosciutto.  To my taste, perfect.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

An Offal Tale - Pan-Fried Calf Liver with Onions and Bacon

I'm a lover of liver, whether it be chicken, calf, duck, goose or beef.  Foie gras tickles my fancy, especially when it is served on top of a fried Krispy Kreme doughnut, the way they prepared it at a.lure Restaurant in Savannah, Georgia.  Right now a.lure is serving cornmeal-crusted chicken livers on their appetizer menu, while nearby Vic's on the River, another favorite in which I've ordered their chicken liver offering in the past, right now has fried chicken liver sliders on their menu of sandwich selections.  More proof that, as my friend Dave has explained to me more than once, Southerners really are one of the Lost Tribes of Israel.  Also more proof of why I love Savannah.  OMG the food!  And by the way, one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited.

Chicken livers are probably my all-time favorite, although my grandmother (she-who-raised me) made the most fantastic Jewish chopped liver using beef liver.  No hard-boiled eggs, either.  Her chopped liver was serious stuff, best consumed by people who came from Ashkenazic Jewish stock all the way back to the Russian shtetels of the nineteenth century.  In her mind, only Litvaks, Galicianes, and goyim ate chopped liver made from chicken liver, and as far as she was concerned, anyone adding chopped hard-boiled eggs to any chopped liver recipe was practically a heretic.

Preparing chopped beef liver was a production.  There had to be a lot of fried onions.  Substantial quantities of fried onions, which required peeling and chopping vast numbers of sharp yellow globes  capable of inducing more tears than Melanie's death scene in "Gone With The Wind."  Then you had to cook the liver, and I don't recall now if she broiled the liver (the kosher way to prepare it) or sautéed it in some of the onion-infused corn oil.  Her liver was never dried out, and she never kept kosher, so I'm voting for the sauté.

Finally, the cooked liver had to be eased into a meat grinder, which was of course, manual.  Mom still cooked like she was a young wife and mother back in the late 1920s, and wasn't big on any kind of electric appliances.  She did own a manual egg beater in addition to her hand grinder, which was pretty high-tech for her.

In time she came to appreciate the awesome qualities of true gehaktah leber made from chicken liver, which was a good thing since it was the way I preferred to make it.

When I was growing up in the Five Towns, our family used to go to a restaurant in Cedarhurst, the name of which I cannot remember. Two dishes I remember from the menu were Roumanian Tenderloin, which the rest of the world knows as skirt steak, and Liver with Onions or Bacon.  The liver was sliced thick - at least an inch, probably closer to an inch and a half, was crusty on both sides, and simply delicious.  I alternated choices, as the skirt steak and the liver were, and remain, two of my favorite foods in the world.  Ketchup was de riguere with both dishes (at this point, my beloved husband, who faithfully reads my blog posts, is no doubt shuddering with culinary horror.  Sorry, my love).

Chicken livers, and sometimes calf liver, are available in the regular meat case.  When available, I like to purchase organic chicken livers, but that's not absolutely necessary.  I do not buy the calf liver in the meat case,  just as I do not buy the veal, with the notable exception of breast of veal.  Veal is so expensive that it is rarely purchased by anyone, and it tends to sit there, passing the buy date while turning strange and unappetizing colors.

One day, when I was suffering major sticker shock while pricing brisket and ground beef, I decided to try the frozen calf liver, which seems to always be available at Publix.  I knew this was going to be something that only Rob and I would consume, because our son, who cheerfully eats all types of raw fish, eel, venison, elk, alligator, and ostrich, will not touch liver.  Take this kid into a Korean restaurant - or to Korea - and he will scarf down foods which leave me faint. Offer him a beautiful dish piled high with plump, sweet chicken livers cooked with tons of onions, garlic, and a touch of oregano, and he will run screaming into the night.

I blame it on a biology lesson he had, somewhere around fifth grade.

Anyway, if you are one of those people who think offal is awful, this would be a good time to jump ship.

1 pound of sliced bacon
1 large onion, halved and sliced
1 -1 pound package frozen calf liver (it comes sliced, skinned, and deveined), defrosted.
Milk or Half-and-Half
All-Purpose Flour
Kosher Salt
Coarsely Ground Black Pepper
Canola Oil

The night before, rinse the defrosted liver under cool water and place in a flat plastic container with a lid.  Pour in enough milk or half-and-half to cover, and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Lay out the bacon in a large baking pan with sides.  When the bacon is cooked to your favorite degree of crispness, remove it to cool on paper towels.  Pour the bacon fat into a large skillet with high sides, and add an equal amount of canola oil.  Over medium high heat, start to sauté the onions.

Place a cup or so of flour onto a large plate, and season the flour with the salt and pepper.  Push the onions to one side of the skillet.  Remove each piece of liver from the milk and let the excess drip off, then immediately dredge in the seasoned flour.  Repeat until each piece is floured.  Working in batches, fry the liver alongside the onions, turning the liver when blood starts to rise on the surface.  You want the liver to be browned on both sides and cooked through, but not dried out.  Take your time and check the doneness as you go along.  Also continue to stir and turn the onions so that they brown evenly.

Serve the liver with the fried onions and the bacon. My all-time favorite side dish for liver is mashed potatoes, and because I love them with mashed potatoes, cooked sweet green peas.  Don't forget the bottle of ketchup. Yes, it has to be Heinz.

Five Minutes - Happy Birthday, Cory

Five minutes.  That is all I need this morning to transition back to working mode.  Five minutes to meditate, without my furry children  bouncing all over the bed, and me.  Five minutes in which I can breathe deep and drink some coffee.  Five minutes in which to absorb the fact that it is 39 degrees out there.  What the hell?

Most importantly, five minutes in which to wish my son Cory the happiest of birthdays.  Today he turns 28, and I could not be prouder than I am of my handsome, loving, accomplished son.  Happy birthday, Boy.  I love you.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

No Good Day Goes Unpunished

One really good day, was Monday.  Felt good, despite an early lack of balance, accomplished much.  Since then, not so good.  As of today, Wednesday, only getting worse.  I tried eating a little protein around 11 - could not even consider taking my medication before that.  Now I just hope I don't have to throw up before the medication is absorbed.  The gabapentin is minimally helpful and the capsule is large and therefore difficult to swallow.  Both my arms are compromised today.  The dogs, especially Romeo, are overly protective. How do they know?

Rob comes in with bad news.  Another friend from our earliest days in Hunter's Creek, cancer, Stage 4.  Surgery and treatment, blah blah blah. F*ck you, Stage 4 cancer.  You are messing with too many people who I care about.

Standing for any period of time is painful.  If I had any doubts about that, the way that my back felt last night after folding a small load of laundry is proof enough for me.  I'd had to use the cane all day yesterday, but that was for walking, right?

Not being able to stand for too long also means not able to cook or bake. Fortunately I baked the Barely Bran Muffins before this latest flare.  And yesterday I garnered the energy to throw a pound and a half of whole, large button mushrooms into a crockpot along with some butter, wine, beef broth, Worcestershire and seasoning.  Then I went to work, which did not in any way improve the state of my health, but I had things I had to do in the office.  I suppose that holds true for today as well, as I do have court hearings tomorrow, but cane or no cane, I cannot navigate my way to work.  This is killing me (and probably not contributing anything positive to my supervisor's state of mind.  I am truly sorry, I wish I could stop this thing from interfering with my job.)  I also pre-seasoned the flap steak with garlic pepper, and left it in the refrigerator until such time as Robert has time to eat a decent dinner.  All easy stuff I could do without standing for long. Quick and dirty.

My doggies all need a good, warm, soapy bath, and I normally enjoy bathing them - they may feel differently, I realize - but I have had to put it off due to my #$%&!! limitations.  My doggies officially stink, damn it.

Back to the cooking conundrum - I have the ingredients for Spiced Pork and Apple Stew, which cooks in the crockpot, but does require some preparation, including browning the pork cubes with the onion and garlic. Since I decided to use sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes in this stew, I also have to precook those potatoes by half, as they will not cook as quickly as the white spuds and will therefore not be done in sync with the pork and other ingredients.  More standing, but just a little.  The rest of the prep? Not now, not yet.

That also goes for the asparagus wrapped in proscuitto. Yeah, I had big cooking dreams for this week.  Big working dreams, too.  

Note to the Universe:  On behalf of myself and all of my friends who are suffering with chronic pain and any other chronic disorder that sucks the joy out of living - 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Like a whirlpool - Barely Bran Muffins with Raisins

Dizzy!  I'm so dizzy, my head is spinning,
Like a whirlpool, it never ends

(Monday) Whoa!  What a morning. Trying to maintain a horizontal pose has been dicey here.  My balance is, how shall I put it, totally off, and not helped by the fact that not one floor in my house is level. The upstairs especially tilts precariously.  I don't know if this is because, over the past 90 years, the house has settled this way, or because the original builder was potted like a plant.  Either way, it is what it is, which is pretty funny most of the time, even when my balance is off and I'm a bit dizzy, as I am this morning.  I really love this house.

What I don't love this morning is having to go to court. Perhaps I need a break from the courtroom, with its inherent tension and inevitable drama.  That's not possible, of course; I am part of a team,  and we each have our own cases and our roles to play.  I am, in part, responsible for how this is done, because twnety years ago, when I took over as supervisor in the Brevard County office, I established that each attorney would handle their own cases, determined by alphabetic breakdown, from shelter to reunification or adoption.  Back in those days, we handled our own appeals as well, so our committment to each case was total and all-encompassing.  (Of course, when I transferred to Osceola County, I followed that paradigm as well.  I was the only attorney in the office, and had no choice.  Ha.  Talk about being hoisted on one's own petard.)

This was a change from the prevailing procedure, from when we had attorneys who only did the TPR trials, and in some counties in our district, specialization went further, with attorneys who only did shelters, arraignments, and judicial review hearings.

So here I am, wanting to head to the office to engage in a much-needed paper chase, but doomed to hobble into the courthouse for a judicial review.  Crap.  I meditated this morning, as I try to do most mornings, and it did not help.

It also did not help that my mother-in-law, who I love very much, is ill this morning and my son is taking her to her doctor or maybe possibly the hospital.  That also means my father-in-law, who I also love very much, is alone at home, as his mobility is severely limited.

I've been waiting over an hour for my 9:30 hearing.  Crap.  And whee! my head is still spinning, just enough to annoy me.  Hey, Head, I've got work to do!  Get your act together!

Okay, my morning went well.  And when I got back to the house to pick up my lunch, Cory reported that Grandma was okay, got treated, no hospital visit needed.  The witness lists are now done for all three trials, and passed along to Brenda, paralegal extraordinaire.  Seriously, the woman is amazing.

So I am here on time for my afternoon court.  It's astounding, time is fleeting. (Yes, madness takes it toll.) Crap. As the day goes on, that burst of energy that has carried me through the day so far is going to dissipate.  Hopefully I will be at home when that happens, and can land on my ass, if not my own couch, outside the sight of people whose opinion of my behavior really does matter.

Court finally ended at 6:20.  Let's do the Time Warp again, shall we?

Barely Bran Muffins with Raisins

1 box white cake mix
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup plain yogurt (2 - 5.3 oz. containers Chobani non-fat Greek yogurt)
1/2 cup canola oil
3 extra-large eggs
finely grated orange peel of one large orange
3 cups Post Raisin Bran
1/2 cup dark raisins

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.  Place the cereal into a one gallon ziptop plastic bag.  Press gently on the bag to crush the cereal flakes into smaller pieces.  It's not necessary to pulverize the cereal.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the dry cake mix, baking powder, and the flour.  In another large bowl, combine the yogurt, oil, eggs, and orange peel.  Stir in the crushed raisin bran, and let the mixture sit for 5 minutes until the cereal softens.  Stir in the dark raisins. Add the dry ingredients to the cereal-liquid-raisin mixture and stir together with a wooden spoon; don't worry if there are some lumps left.  Let the batter sit for five or six minutes, then stir a few more times.

Scoop into the lined muffin cups, dividing the batter evenly between the cups. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes in the preheated oven.  Let cool a few minutes, then remove the muffins to a metal rack to cool completely.

Makes 12 muffins.

I know, I've been promising these for a while ... finally managed to get them together tonight, despite the late quittin' time.  Easy commute home, you know.  Anyway, they turned out completely different from what I expected - nothing like a "real" bran muffin which is dark and deep and branny (is that even a word?) and somewhat oily. This is that bran muffin's sunny brother, light and bright from the kiss of orange zest and barely branny despite the 3 cups of flakes.  It's not oily at all, and the yogurt stops it from being too sweet, but still creates a beautiful crumb.

Never fear, I'm still working on one of those heavier bran muffins, made with All-Bran - but first, I feel a banana muffin in my future.  Your future.  Our future?  Stay tuned.

Monday, February 16, 2015

When A Good Man Goes To War

Yesterday, watching the news, seeing more of the Islamic terrorist's handiwork, hearing more about the President's request for war powers, the phrase "when a good man goes to war" popped into my aching head.  It's from a Doctor Who episode, but right now, it seems so apropos to what is happening in the very real world.

Demons run when a good man goes to war
Night will fall and drown in sun
When a good man goes to war
Friendship dies and true love lies
Night will fall and the dark will rise
When a good man goes to war
Demons run but count the cost
The battle is won but the child is lost 

  • I am a mom. I am a pacifist.  I am a child of the sixties, when the war in Vietnam had taken over the airwaves and politics.  I never wanted to see that again.
  • I am a natural-born citizen of the United States of America, and my country is under attack from Muslim terrorists on US soil, and has been since the 1993 bombing at the World Trade Center. 
  • I am a Jew by birth. My father was Jewish, my mother was Jewish.  Their parents and grandparents were Jewish.  My husband and son are Jewish. The Muslim terrorists wish to kill me, my family, and all of my co-religionists.  
  • I am Jew, and part of my family is Christian.  At least half of my close friends are Christian.  Almost all of my co-workers are Christian.  The Muslim terrorists wish to kill all Christians.  The Muslim terrorists wish to kill everyone who I love, every friend, everyone who means anything to me.
  • I am a Jew.  I have the Right of Return to Israel, a democratic nation created as a haven state for all Jews.  From the moment of its creation in 1948, the Muslim nations surrounding it have tried to destroy it.
  • I am a human being.  I cannot and should not ignore the holocaust being perpetrated by ISIS, the Islamic State, the modern-day Nazis, in the Middle East.  I am an angry, frightened, bloodthirsty bitch who would see all of the Islamic terrorists destroyed by US and European troops from on the ground and in the air.
I'm not an idiot; I know there will be a terrible price to pay.  But tell me, what choice do we have?  What choice have they left us?  So in this, I support the President.  Other things, not so much.  But I liked the selfies. Loved them, actually.  He's not a great president, in my opinion, but he is a good man.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Goldene Yoich - Easy Jewish Chicken Noodle Soup

I knew it was highly unlikely I would make any progress on my cooking list today, but I still held out high hopes for the raisin bran muffins.  Today was our big shopping day, when we hit BJs and Publix (and Jimmy Bear's BBQ), and it frankly wore me out.  I pray I don't pay for this tomorrow. Anyway, the only thing I did manage to prepare was salad - I cut up radish, cucumber, and sweet pepper to add to a precut superfood salad.  It's not bad, not bad at all. 

Raisin bran muffins tomorrow, God willing and the crick don't rise.  Maybe flap steak or spiced pork and apple stew for the crockpot.  Fresh asparagus wrapped in proscuitto.  Burgundy mushrooms soaked in butter and wine.  Ah, I got plans, I told you so.  But for today, I'm going to share one of my chicken soup recipes for Jewish chicken noodle soup.  

This is a chemo cap I am crocheting for a friend undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer.  When I am done with this one, I am going to start another one for another friend who is in the same situation. I feel sick for them, as well as for others, who may not need chemo caps, but do need prayers and empathy.  My heart hurts for all of them.

When you feel as blue as I do (a deep, dark blue, none of that light and lovely baby blue) there are few foods that can comfort without making me want to heave.  Out of that limited list, I settled on chicken soup.  Jewish penicillin, good for anything that ails you.

1 medium carrot
1 medium stalk celery
1 - 2 inch piece yellow crookneck squash, from the narrower part of the squash
1/2 medium sweet onion
1/2 cup frozen petit green peas
2/3 cup vermicelli in 1 inch pieces (I buy Modena brand, found in the Spanish food aisle)
1 - 32 oz. container chicken stock (important that you use stock, not broth)
1 small chicken breast, cooked (I remove the breast from a cooked rotisserie lemon-pepper chicken)
Kosher salt, coarsely ground black pepper
Parsley flakes

Cut the carrot, celery, squash and onion into small dice and put into a medium saucepan. Pour in just enough water to cover the chopped vegetable, turn the heat up to high until the water boils.  Lower the heat just to high medium so that the water continues to bubble and evaporate. When half the water is gone, add the peas and the vermicelli, bring back to a rapid bubble until the water is completely evaporated, and immediately pour in the chicken stock.  Cover the pan, lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.  Cut the cooked chicken into small dice pieces and add to the soup.  Cover and simmer another 10 minutes or until the chicken is warmed all the way through and the celery is soft enough to eat without having to put in one's dentures (just sayin').  Season to taste with the salt and pepper, and finish with the parsley flakes.

This will warm your soul.  Enjoy.

NBA All-Star game tonight, in Madison Square Garden.  Last night's All-Star festivities in Barclay Center in Brooklyn.  Like Dorothy said, there's no place like home.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Happy Valentine's Day - Mussels in the Style of the Harlot from Amatrice

I must be feeling better.  I have insomnia, and I don't mind one bit.  Friday the 13th is finally over, and here it is, 3:50 AM Saturday, and I am in the kitchen cooking mussels.  These mussels have been on my mind ever since I took them out of the freezer and sort of forgot about them for a few days while I temporarily unraveled.

I love frozen mussels.  I love their uniform quality, their availability, and their reasonable price.  But I did not want to have to toss them, no matter how reasonable the cost, so I started thinking about ways to cook them, now, immediately, not one minute sooner.  Since I was wide awake, I started researching on the Internet, which turned out to be a perfectly useless exercise, as apparently there are only two ways to cook mussels, in a white wine sauce and in a marinara sauce. Well, I got the white wine sauce recipe to end all white wine recipes - see the October 21, 2014 blog entry - and while I love marinara, I had just made a marinara sauce this past week to go with the chicken parmesan.  So I started thinking, and came up with this sauce, the nonmarital child of All' Amatriciana and Alla Puttenesca, and combined it with my now-defrosted mussels.

1 tablespoon roasted garlic extra virgin olive oil
4 slices bacon, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 - 14.5 oz. can fire roasted diced tomatoes
1 - 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1/2 cup red wine
1 tablespoon drained capers, chopped
8 pitted black olives, quartered lengthwise
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon fresh chopped basil (I used Gourmet Garden Basil Paste)
kosher salt, coarsely ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
2 pounds cooked frozen mussels, defrosted overnight in refrigerator

Warm up the oil in a large deep skillet and add the bacon.  When it is about half-cooked, add the garlic, lower the heat, and cook until the garlic is softened and just barely beginning to show color.  Add the diced tomatoes and the tomato sauce, then use the wine to swish out the inside of both cans to capture all of the tomato and add that to the skillet, along with the capers, olives, pepper flakes, oregano, basil, salt, and pepper.  Cover the skillet, leaving the lid very slightly tilted, and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring once or twice.

While the sauce is cooking, take the mussels out of the refrigerator, cut open the bags, and pour off any liquid.  Taste the sauce and re-season if needed.  Add the sugar if needed.  Stir in the butter.  Now add all of the mussels.  Increase the heat and bring the sauce up to a fast simmer.  Cover the pan, lower the heat a bit, and cook the mussels in the sauce for 4 to 8 minutes, stirring halfway through.  Pour the entire contents of the skillet into a large serving dish, and garnish with the chopped parsley.  Very good with bread to dip into the sauce.  Or, you could pour the finished mussels and sauce over 12 ounces of spaghetti or linguine, cooked according to package directions.  Either way, TASTY.

Today is Valentine's Day, and as always during the Interregnum of the Profits, Robert is busy working.  This year, he is just on the other side of the door between the office and residence, so if I want to sneak over with a kiss, I can ... but in all truth, after being part of each other's lives for 43 years, just having him nearby is enough.  When I was a young and callow youth, and even on my first wedding day, I could not imagine ever loving someone so deeply and so completely.  We have been through terrible and wonderful times together, but have always made it through because we had each other's heart.  Happy Valentine's Day, my love.

Failure is Not an Option - The Recipe for Phoenix Corned Beef Hash

And I shall call it "Phoenix".  You know the mystical corned beef brisket that arose from its ashes ... but first, a word from Morgan Freeman -

February 12 - Today is the day after I declared I was going to beat this thing.  So far, I got up, I got dressed, I drank coffee and I headed to court.  I did both of my scheduled morning trials.  I did not throw a chair at anybody.  And in just a few moments I am heading back for the remaining court appearances.

Everything was going okay.  I stopped when I had to.  I explained my situation to the judge, and she granted me permission to stay seated.  I used my cane, and it helped.  I took the new medication.  The Gabapentin, which is supposed to help with the pain, seemed to help.

And then, because I had been advised by my doctor's office to try the Mirtazapine again, this time with food, I did exactly that.  Took it at night, along with the Hydroxyzine and another Gabapentin.  Got into bed, tried to do some reading, felt woozy in a bad way and must have fallen asleep.  The next thing I knew, I was on the floor next to my bed, and Rob was asking me if I wanted him to call 911.  I had great trouble communicating with him.  I must have fallen asleep again because after that I remember nothing.

Friday the 13th - Come the morning, after stumbling about, unsteady on my feet, I asked Rob what happened.  He said "you tried to get up to go to the bathroom but you collapsed and the slid out of bed, between the bed and night table."  Apparently, and embarrassingly, I also urinated on myself, something I haven't done since I was potty-trained 58 years ago.  Rob managed to help me back onto the bed, and I fell asleep.  Throughout this, I remember trying to speak, but having trouble forming sentences.  I guess that qualifies as incoherent.

I am assuming it was the Mirtazapine, combined with my other medication, but I'm a lawyer, not a doctor, and it could have been a small stroke for all I know.  Right now I am perfectly worthless, a foggy mess, who made it into work wearing my longest skirt which has gotten longer since the weight fell off of me.  The only reason I went in is because I had a shelter hearing - it was all staffed and agreed yesterday, and I had arranged for my 9:00 case plan conference to be covered, and I get to the office ready to review the petition, only to discover they decided not to shelter because blah blah blah.  The last time the PIs did that on one of my cases, the child died and everyone got fired except for me.  And that's all I'm going to say about that, except I was already there so I stuck around and did some work.

Bottom line here is that I am not taking the frakking Mirtapazine, and right now I'm holding the Gabapentin and Hydroxyzine in abeyance until that chemically-induced weirdness departs my poor, frail body.

Tonight, Rob decided on corned beef hash for dinner, so I offered to heat it up for him in a pan with some eggs.  You've got to eat corned beef hash with eggs - I think it's a law or something.  That reminded me that I'd meant to write down the recipe, such as it was, for you and for me.  What started as an abject failure - heck, I overcooked that sucker by 3 hours - turned into an enormous success.  I'm not saying you have to overcook the corned beef and potatoes to achieve a great dinner, but if you do, it apparently doesn't matter.  Pretty cool, eh?

Into a 6 quart crockpot, add the following ingredients in order given:

8 small red potatoes, halved or quartered if a little larger
1 carrot, sliced
1 small onion, large dice
2 tablespoons butter, cut up
black pepper
crushed red pepper flakes
dried rosemary
dried thyme
smoked paprika
About 3 pounds corned beef brisket (these come in cryovac)
contents of spice packet (not all corned beef come with one, don't worry either way)
1 - 14 oz. can beef broth
equal amount water
1 - 12 oz. bottle beer (this is optional, just replace with more water)
4 cloves garlic, slightly cracked
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup orange blossom honey, drizzled over the top

Cook on High for 5-6 hours, turning the corned beef over twice.  When it's done, remove the corned beef, potatoes, carrots and onions from the liquid in the crock, place into an (all together now) aluminum baking tin, cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.

To make the hash:

2-3 tablespoons canola or olive oil
1 large onion, halved and sliced
1 bag frozen tri-color peppers with onions
kosher salt, coarsely ground black pepper

First, move the corned beef to a cutting board.  Chop and /or shred it into bite-sized pieces.  Heat the oil in a large, deep skillet over medium high heat.  Cook the sliced onions, lowering the heat if necessary to prevent burning, until tender and sweet.  Add the cooked potatoes, carrots and onions, cook and stir until the potatoes get a little crusty. Add the frozen vegetables, and continue to cook and stir until softened.  Finally, add the chopped corned beef, and stir well to throughly combine with all the ingredients in the skillet.  Cook over medium until the corned beef is heated through (don't let it dry out.) Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve with a couple of sunny-side up or poached eggs on top.  The yolks should be nice and runny, so that when you break them with your fork, they form a rich and unctuous sauce over the hash.

The Usual Suspects - Creamy Vegetable Soup "With Improvements"

Last night - really this morning - I found myself chopping and stirring and frying garlic at 3:00 in the morning.  Very bad insomnia, resulting in what I call a "white night."  No sleep until 6:30.

In addition to cooking, I was noodling around on Facebook, and came across one of those posts that have a poem or a warning or an inspirational saying.  This one was from the Fibro and Chronic Pain Support page, and it was their Insomnia Roll Call. I shared it, asking the question, "who do you think is awake at 3:17 am?"

Almost immediately I heard from the folks I've to think of as "The Usual Suspects", assuring me that they too were up and about.  No matter what time in the middle of the night I post something, I will always get a response or comment from Barbara, Vickie, and Lynne.  I had a few others join the list of Sleepless in Cyberspace, Mark, Jenny, Jean, and Carol.  Between us we must represent about 2 million hours of lost sleep which in my mind translates to a lot of daytime discomfort.  What a damn tragedy!

February 12 - Occasionally, I have the opposite problem - narcolepsy, when I pass out on the couch or in my car (one time I was driving).  Last night was one of those, and I don't know if it was the new medication or something else.  I had some pretty odd dreams, most of which I can only recall in fragments, but just before I woke up I was having a conversation with Governor Nelson Rockefeller and his wife, but they looked more like Ronald and Nancy Reagan.  Or maybe it was George W. Bush and Nancy Reagan.  I know they were sitting in wheelchairs, except when they were standing up.  Mrs. Rockefeller - Reagan was admiring my rings and Mr. Rockefeller - Reagan - Bush and I were having a serious conversation about human trafficking.  I can't make this stuff up.

What I can make up are recipes - this one kind of leapt out of my brain and took on a life of its own.  I started out wanting to gather the ingredients for dill pickle soup, but when I opened the refrigerator I realized I had too many fresh vegetables that were going to spoil if I did not use them up first.  So this soup, or stew, or stoup (a Rachael Ray-ism) was born, and I was very pleased with the results.

Also, it turns out this is a progressive soup, which is delicious but different at three different stages of preparation.  A soup that can multi-task!  Even Alton Brown would approve.

As to the title of the recipe, if any of my MOTs have Litvak ancestry, you may be familiar with a dish called "schav with improvements."  My grandmother (she-who-raised-me) used to make this for my Pop when we were getting served borscht for dinner.  Ick.  The borscht was cold, mixed with sour cream, and served with a hot boiled potato.  I don't like cold soups, and I don't like beets all that much.  The hot potato was the saving grace.  That being said, in 40 years of marriage I have NEVER considered serving that for dinner.  Ick.  President Bush 41 has broccoli, and I have borscht.  Ick.

The schav, which was purchased in a big glass jar like the borscht, was considered a grown-ups only dish.  It was bitter and sour and all the things most kid don't like.  There was sorrel, probably very badly prepared, and to this was added sour cream.  Let's face it, everything tastes better with sour cream.  Then there were the improvements - I think they were different sorts of fresh chopped vegetables, including the zippy radishes I love.  I think I liked them even then.

The improvements in this dish include your choice of diced meats - I used kielbasa and some of my tiny turkey meatballs - and the addition of biscuit dumplings.  Next time I make this, I am going to eat it naked - the soup, not me.  Just a creamy soup, without meat. Unlike schav, this dish doesn't really need any improvements (but feel free to try them, just the same).

Creamy Vegetable Soup "With Improvements"

1 large onion, large dice
canola oil
12 oz. mushrooms, sliced thick
4 stalks celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 large carrots, diced
6 medium red potatoes, quartered (or eighths if potatoes are large)
3 large yellow squash or zucchini (or mix and match), diced
1 - 32 oz. container chicken stock
Kosher salt, coarsely ground black pepper
granulated garlic
onion powder
bay leaf
1/2 cup frozen black-eyed peas
1/2 cup frozen green peas
1/2 cup frozen corn kernels
2 cans cream of mushroom soup 

In a medium saucepan, heat the canola oil and sauté the onions for 15 minutes over medium heat until they are softened.  Next, add the mushrooms, celery, garlic, carrots and potatoes.  Add more oil if needed, and cook, stirring fairly often, until the mushrooms are getting soft.  Add the squash, cook a little longer (keep stirring) and then pour in the chicken stock.  Add the seasonings to taste.  Bring the soup up to a boil, add the black-eyed peas and bring back to a boil. Immediately turn the heat to a low setting, cover the saucepan, and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the black-eyed peas, celery and carrots are almost done.  Add the peas and corn, cover the pan and cook another 10 minutes. Now stir in all of the mushroom soup.  Keep stirring until the soup is smooth and well-blended, and has reached your favorite soup-eating temperature.  Taste and re-season.  You can stop right now and enjoy, or go whole hog with improvements.


Up to one pound cooked protein - I used kielbasa and my tiny turkey meatballs, a little under half a pound of each.  I heated the kielbasa in a small sauté pan first, then added it to the soup with the meatballs, covered the pan and simmered a while longer until the meatballs were heated through. I would not use the kielbasa again, because it masked the delicate chicken flavor.  It wasn't bad, quite the contrary, but not the flavor I was seeking for this dish.

Biscuit dumplings - I took a tube of Pillsbury biscuits, cut them in quarters, placed them on top of what was now more properly called a stew, covered the pan and cooked until the biscuits had magically transformed into dumplings.  I love these, but for this recipe I should have used half the biscuits, and just baked the remaining biscuits for some other purpose.