Wednesday, September 30, 2015

True Confession: Why I Will Never Be The Next Food Network Star - Quick Scotch Eggs and Quicker Chicken Noodle Soup

My father used to say I had two speeds: slow and stop. True dat. I never liked to rush. I have no need for speed. I suppose you could say I was born punctuality-challenged, like Bill Clinton.  I have a problem with time zones, existing neither in Eastern, Atlantic, nor Central Standard. I'm in something I like to call Dawson Standard and we'll just leave it at that.

Now that's not to say I can't move faster, because I can.  Push me into Trial Prep Mode, and watch me rock and roll. I develop hyperdrive and tunnel vision all at once and what has to get done gets done. Then I go home and collapse.

I realize that I cook the way other people engage in their favorite hobby. There is no hurry, just the steady pace of enjoyment, like when I am knitting. It would seem to me that picking the Next Food Network Star should be more about quality and less about running around like the proverbial headless chicken, but on the other hand, watching an old lady leisurely prepare comfort food is probably not Good TV.  

When we designed the new kitchen for this house, it was done with a careful eye to minimize unwanted steps.  Although I have long, unbroken expanses of countertop on which to work, the layout is so efficient that it naturally flows from prep to cooktop or stove. Completely opposite to that are the studio kitchens, where I might as well just strap on a pair of old-fashioned four-wheel roller skates and spin my prayer wheel.  I could never keep up with all the crazy contestants running amok with 14-inch super sharp chef's knives in their sweaty hands, shoving each other out of the way to grab the last pound of butter.

And that, dear blog peeps, is why I will never be the Next Food Network Star. The only reason. Uh huh.

So today is Saturday, and I took my sweet time preparing some chicken noodle soup and finishing the Scotch eggs.  So no new recipes, except I changed what I did the last time.  Big surprise.

For the soup, I sautéed two carrots, one stalk of celery, and a bunch of green onions, in some olive oil. Threw in some dried oregano, dried thyme, a couple of chopped garlic cloves, two small bay leaves, some salt and pepper, and after a little while added the breast of a rotisserie chicken, which I chopped pretty small. Once the carrots were softened, I poured in 6 cups of chicken stock and 2 cups of water, and over medium high heat, brought the soup up to almost a boil. Then I added about a cup of very fine short pasta, the type you find in a small bag in the Hispanic foods section.  They will cook in about 4 minutes.  Shut off the heat and enjoy. I filled up two 1-quart plastic containers, the type in which you get your take-out wonton soup, one for the freezer and one for the fridge. I'm in soup heaven.

The Scotch eggs are basically the same recipe, but I took a few shortcuts which proved to be very successful. First, I bought a bag of hard-boiled eggs.  I like Eggland's Best when I can find them. Then, while I was in Walmart, I bought a package of Italian-style sausage meatballs. Twelve meatballs to a 12 ounce package.  Ha, this is the kind of math I can do!

I used 2 of the sausage meatballs to cover each egg, then set them in one of the ubiquitous aluminum baking pans, and then floured them by shaking Wondra flour over and around each egg.  Next I broke two eggs into a ziploc freezer bag, and informally beat the eggs. In another freezer bag I put the Italian bread crumbs. Finally I heated canola oil in a medium pot, enough to cover two or three eggs at a time.

That freezer bag thing is my newest favorite kitchen hack. First I put two of the floured Scotch eggs into the bag with the eggs, zipped it shut and gently worked the eggs around so they are covered with egg, Next I used a small slotted spoon to move each egg into the bag with the crumbs and gently rolled them around until each egg is neatly and completely covered.  Only then did I use my hand to move them into the hot oil.  Fry, fry, my darlings - NO CLUB HAND! You will break out in a happy dance, I guarantee.

They will need to be fried until the crumbs are a deep dark brown to ensure the sausage is cooked all the way through. Cut them in half to serve, hot, cold, room temp, whatever.  I first enjoyed Scotch eggs accompanied by a big whipped cream topped Irish coffee at the English pub in EPCOT, but these days my drinking is limited to black coffee and Crystal Light. Between the dairy and the booze, an Irish coffee would probably put me into a coma, or at the very least, a painful stupor. Crap. Whoever it was who said that these were the Golden Years needs to be beaten - with my crutch.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Arrivederci, Papa Francisco - Chicken with Yams, Bananas and Prunes

Sunday - Sorry for the out-of-order posts. The blog actually makes more sense this way, as much as anything I write makes sense. We will return to our regularly scheduled programming in a couple of days.   Maybe a few, or several. Stay tuned.

While I am writing this, Shepherd One, the airplane carrying the Holy Father, Pope Francis, is taxiing  for take off from the airport in Philadelphia on its return trip to Rome and Vatican City. Although there were many jokes to be made about "Pope TV" and "The Pope Channel", the concentrated media coverage was a welcome relief from the usual crap of hatred, mayhem, and politics.

I know, I know - the Pope's message was filled with politics, but his delivery was gentle and full of hopeful  prayer.  His airplane is in the air.  Safe trip, Papa Francisco.

FOX News switched back to U.S. politics so fast I bet the Pope hadn't had the time to rip open that little packet of pretzels.  I'm just not ready for that yet. The politics, not the pretzels.

Spoilers - if you haven't seen the series finale of CSI yet, keep scrolling.  Okay, so what if I haven't actually watched CSI for six years? I still loved it, loved the entire franchise, but eventually grew tired of it, as I have grown tired of the NCIS franchise and Bones and Castle. I am still a fan, and last night's finale had everything a true CSI fan wanted to see.  They got the band back together - at least as much of the band as most of us wanted to see (sorry, Morpheus) - and it was good. Best of all, Grissom was back. Although Robert was disappointed, it wasn't Lady Heather that old Gil sailed off with into the sunset - it was his ex-wife Sara, and it was corny but in a good way.

Monday - there is a Big Hole in the middle of my street, and there are several Really Big Trucks out there, trying to do something about the water bubbling up from under the road. So this part of Bryan Street is blocked off at both ends, and my driveway is completely blocked by a mechanical behemoth from the Toho Water Authority. My plans for a trip to Walmart are on hold, and all I can think is that it's a good thing I don't have to get to the office.

Like most Mondays, I am in a cranky, muttering-under-my-breath sort of mood, and even the prospect of all the cooking I have planned is not cheering me up. And I have a lot of cooking planned - I'm cooking ahead, some for the freezer, but more importantly, some to send over to Mom and Dad.

Last trip to BJs I picked up a package of chicken breasts - and these must have been some pretty big-bosomed chicken, because 10 breasts added up to almost 8 1/2 pounds - and figured I would do two dishes, but then I decided on three, so here is the first one, which I made up as I went along.  Welcome to my kitchen.

Chicken with Yams, Bananas, and Prunes

1 - 15 oz. can Bruce's Yams (Cut Sweet Potatoes in Syrup), drained, syrup reserved
1 banana, cut into chunks
8-10 whole prunes (dried plums)
2 tablespoons butter
light brown sugar
ground ginger
ground cardamom
kosher salt
black pepper
2 very large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into large cubes
Cajun seasoning blend, to taste (I used Emeril's)
olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup V-8 fusion peach mango juice
1 tablespoon creme de banana liquor
1/4 cup very cold water
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Set the oven to broil.  Place the butter in a baking pan, and melt in the oven till very lightly browned. Watch carefully so butter doesn't burn. Remove from the oven and add the banan, prunes, and drained sweet potatoes. Sprinkle with the brown sugar, ginger, cardamom, salt, and pepper to taste. Place back under the broiler for just a few minutes to let the brown sugar melt. Remove from the oven and set aside.  Change the oven setting to bake at 350 degrees.

Heat the olive oil in a large deep skillet.  Season the chicken cubes with kosher salt, pepper, and the Cajun seasoning.  Add the chicken to the skillet and saute until the chicken is light brown on both sides.  Don't worry if it is not cooked all the way through, as it will be finished in the oven.  With a slotted spoon, remove the chicken to the baking pan with the fruit.

In the same skillet, add the onion and cook until it starts to brown around the edges.  Pour in the reserved syrup from the sweet potatoes and cook over medium high heat until it is reduced by not more than half.  Add the peach mango juice and the banana liquor and bring to a steady simmer.  Mix the water and cornstarch together and then add that to the simmering sauce.  Stir and continue to simmer until the sauce thickens.  Spoon the sauce and onions over the contents of the baking pan; cover with aluminum foil and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, until the chicken is done.

Serve with rice or orzo.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Alice Doesn't Work Here Anymore

Sunday - it's another Breakfast with Baker, courtesy of the BBC. Good excuse to get up early. No oversleeping allowed when plans for the day include a final pack-and-go trip to the office.  I have raised procrastination to a high Art.  Everybody should be known for something and I am known for abundant procrastination and a complete lack of punctuality. Now there's a splendid epitaph for my gravestone, if I was going to even have a gravestone, which I'm not. Cremate me, put the ashes in a cute little urn, or perhaps one of those little bear-shaped squeeze bottles that Jimmy Bear's uses for their barbecue sauce, and put me on the shelf next to Ira and Athene.

Oh crap, I overslept anyway. Fortunately it is still mid-morning and time is on my side. Not so much that I can sit down to an hour or two of watching Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor, but we watched a tremendously good "Doctor Who" last night which just goes to show that while Clara Oswald, the Impossible Girl, was born to save the Doctor, Peter Capaldi was born to play the Doctor.

No sense delaying the inevitable.

Everything has its time. And everything ends.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Zen Cats, Karma, and Coloring Books

Friday - Let's get this day started, shall we?

I have to work myself up to walking downstairs, although it is Friday and my new iPhone is due to be delivered. As with everyone else in the Known Universe, I have things to do, and for reasons known only to the chemicals in my brain, that simple fact rattles my cage. Too many notes, perhaps.

My garden is just about finished for this growing season, sad to say.  The okra plant, which grew to be taller than me, has given its last pods, which I gratefully incorporated into yesterday's briami.  The tomato plants are still chugging along, but slowly, slowly.

I continue to engage in some zen coloring. Ridiculously soothing; no wonder I was so happy in kindergarten (well, except the time I got hold of some scissors and cut a hole in a classmate's dress sleeve.  I got sent to the cloakroom for that.)  Finished one, started another. Ommmmm ....

And now from the "karma is a bitch" department ...

A number of times during the past 6 months, I've made references to the suboptimal courtroom conditions that exacerbated the physical and emotional issues I've had to deal with because of the fibromyalgia. I have alluded to the source of those conditions, but have held back naming names and giving details. Partly because of my innate respect for the Bench, but mostly because I was still employed by DCF and did not want to create any impediments to a proper resolution. So I waited ...

... and that's all I had to do was wait. I promised all would be revealed in the fullness of time, and that time is now. Forgive me if I start to ramble, but I have been holding back for six months and I want to savor these moments.

A little background - I practiced in dependency court, what lay people think of as child abuse court. I practiced juvenile dependency law for over 23 years, 15 of those as an attorney for the state agency (HRS, DCF) and the remainder as a parent's attorney. Over the course of those years, I appeared in Brevard, Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Hillsborough, Polk, and Duval counties. That adds up to a lot of judges, and almost across the board I have had positive experiences. There were four exceptions, two in Orange County (but those were short term appearances, thank the good Lord) and two in Osceola - one was bearable, but one was not. This one. Never in my entire legal career, and that includes my cases in family, criminal, and delinquency court, have I ever had to deal with someone so unreasonable, so disrespectful, so totally convinced of her own rightness, and so completely out of touch with the grim realities of social work.

Side topic - and this is a shout out at all you Circuit Chief Judges - why must you send so many brand new, green-as-grass, never-set-foot-in-dependency-court-before, didn't-study-this-crap-in-law-school,  lives-at-the-complete-opposite-end-of-the-Ninth-Circuit judges to Osceola County? Do you think that little of us and the children we serve that you would saddle us with a terrified, resentful newbie?

Of course, we have occasionally been blessed with a newbie who rises to the occasion, self-educates, sets a professional tone, and leaves us with good memories of his term, but someone like the Honorable Keith Carsten is a rare gift to the judiciary and to all in his courtroom. And then there were those halcyon days - years, actually - when I was privileged to appear before The Best Dependency Judge Ever, the Honorable Daniel Dawson.

I could go on, but let me throw out a couple of links about the judge I consider to be the proximate cause of the 6 months of hell I just barely managed to live through. It's not my nature to be mean, so I am going to erase some of the other stuff I typed and stop here.

Here are the links, duckies - I report, you decide.
Osceola judge faces misconduct charges
Notice of Formal Charges
Fiery judge's campaign riled legal community

As my friend Kevin would say, alRIGHTY then!  Let's see - I saw my office peeps today and it did my heart good.  Lots of hugs and kisses and I was able to deliver those European Union Brownies (big success!) Oh, how I miss them all. Terry had a big bag of homegrown Florida avocados for me, and I even got some good news about some of the kids on my (former) caseload. My office, which is still not completely emptied, still has my name card up and Raquel taped up a picture from a long-ago adoption, when I was a redhead. That story had a tragic start, but a happy ending. I don't think Raquel realized how that case consumed me for five years before we got to the adoption, and is probably the case I am most emotional about. My plan is to go back there this weekend with Rob and finally clear out the shrine. Hard for me, hard for the peeps, but it's time.

The iPhone 6s arrived while I was out and about. So cool, Siri is voice activated now.  Although the AT&T folks did a great job activating and moving data from my terminally ill iPhone 5, it's still going to take a while to download apps and generally fix it up the way I like it. But you know what? I'm retired now and have the time to do it, while wearing flip-flops, no less.

No cooking today.  I started to prepare the Scotch eggs, but after cloaking them in pork sausage and dusting them with flour, I had to leave the frying for another day. Tomorrow is another day.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Cranky, the Blogster and Briami, the Greek Ratatouille

Thursday - What a perfectly sucky morning, a direct result of a perfectly sucky night of constantly being woken up by a restless husband, a cat sleeping on my head, a dog checking to make sure I'm still breathing, another dog who sounds like the Titanic when she snores, and an overactive bladder. I am so cranky right now I could scream. I still have not made it into the office bearing brownies and bubble wrap, and I don't see that happening today.

Fresh herbs from the garden: Italian oregano and sweet mint

As I am typing this, I am sitting in the corner of the living room, in the dark, wearing a big floppy hat. What the hell is that about? I crack myself up sometimes, I really do. Off to the library. I've already been into the garden to gather a few handfuls of fresh herbs, an eggplant, a tomato, and what surely is the very last okra of the season, which I added to the piles of veggies on the counter, a not-so-subtle reminder to make the damn briami already.  But first, the library.

My trip to the library garnered me two mysteries (Sue Grafton and Jane Haddam), a novel (The Help), and a cookbook specializing in recipes prepared in cast iron cookware. Just being in that building, with cool air, quiet people, life-sized cardboard stands of Mr. Spock and Loki, and a whole lot of books, improved my mood enough to head over to Publix for naan bread to go with the briami I was going to prepare, hell or high water, and the tzaziki I had purchased at Whole Foods the day before. Cedar brand tzaziki, and damn near as good as mine.

Briami (Greek Ratatouille) is a recipe I found at the OliveTomato site, a food blog that highlights Greek food.  I got there by typing the name of all the garden vegetables I had collected from my garden, plus the zucchini and green pepper I had purchased on a whim. Unbelievably, a recipe popped up - this one - that included all of my refrigerator produce, and some herbs that just happened to be growing in my garden, so where the blogger, Elena Paravantes, used dried herbs, I decided to use fresh.  Let's hope I don't regret that choice.  Frankly, anytime you are going to be cooking something for an hour or more, dried herbs are the way to go, so I can see why her recipe includes them, and if I hadn't happened to have fresh oregano and mint in the garden, I would have happily rocked along with their dried versions.

I wish I'd had more of the cherry tomatoes. So sweeeeet!

The thing with briami, caponata, or ratatouille is that the exact proportions of one kind of vegetable to another are not set in any kind of stone.  I used Elena's recipe as a guideline, and added the okra, along with two unpeeled Russet potatoes, about 5 Japanese eggplants, 1 1/2 large zucchini, 1 large onion, about 3/4 of a dry pint of cherry tomatoes (those were from my garden, and looked like they would almost fill the kind of dry pint container you find in the supermarket), and a nice big green bell pepper, along with the garlic and a good amount of fresh oregano and fresh mint. I liked her cooking method, so I'm trying that out as well.  If you would like to try her original briami recipe,  click on the OliveTomato link above.

I now have two soups to make, the creamy tomato soup recipe from yesterday or maybe it was the day before, and an easy chicken soup. I bought a couple of bananas with the idea of adding them to my peanut butter, cream cheese, and jelly sandwiches and maybe baking banana muffins. My brain is going around in circles, but I think I can still handle the soups. Not sure about the Scotch eggs; I'm wearing down, kids.

Creamy Tomato Soup, a done deal. Yum.

Pope Francis has left D.C. and is heading to New York City, the city that really knows how to show a Pope a good time.  I love the Catholic religion, and I've often said that if I hadn't been born Jewish, I would be Roman Catholic. New York is a very Catholic city and they are going to love love love having Papa Francisco there.

I had the briami for dinner, topped with some feta cheese, naan and tzaziki.  Oh my.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Yom Kippur, Gom Jabbar, and Potato Gnocchi

Tuesday - No blog post tomorrow, as it is Yom Kippur.  But until then ...

Thought for the Day: Everything you need to know about Middle Eastern politics is set out in Frank Herbert's Dune series, especially the first book which was published in 1965.  So, was the Reverend Mother Helen Gaius Mohiam subjecting Paul Atriedes to the gom jabbar or Yom Kippur?  The gom jabbar was used by the Bene Gesserit to test a person's  humanity.  And really, what is Yom Kippur all about?

On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed,
And on Yom Kippur it is sealed.
How many shall pass away and how many shall be born,
Who shall live and who shall die,
Who shall reach the end of his days and who shall not,
Who shall perish by water and who by fire,
Who by sword and who by wild beast,
Who by famine and who by thirst,
Who by earthquake and who by plague,
Who by strangulation and who by stoning,
Who shall have rest and who shall wander,
Who shall be at peace and who shall be pursued,
Who shall be at rest and who shall be tormented,
Who shall be exalted and who shall be brought low,
Who shall become rich and who shall be impoverished.
But repentance, prayer and righteousness avert the severe decree.

Okay, that was just a wandering thought, and I'm not sure where it wandered in from, but I apologize in advance for any hint of sacrilege. 

During dinner with my New Paltz friends, we got to talking about retirement. Who could have imagined us sitting around having this conversation all those years ago? We were so young back then; we couldn't vote (voting age was still 21) and we couldn't drink (drinking age was 18). 

Those of us who are presently retired agreed that once you get used to the idea of it, retirement rocks.

I can stay home on bad days, and not worry about my sick days or worse, missing a trial.
I can wear flip flops almost all the time.
I can rest assured that I will not be driven to murder an elected official.
I can plan and cultivate an urban garden.
I don't have to wear pantyhose. Ever.
I can spend time in the public library and read large-type books.
I can set all my doctor's appointments during what used to be working hours.
I can hear myself think.
I can spend time with the people I love.
I can do what I want, even though it does not involve saving children's lives: I can read, knit, cook, blog, listen to music, and color cats and peacocks.
Wednesday - Today is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. I am not davening in a synagogue and I am not fasting.  I have certainly done both of those things in the past, but this year is not one of those times.  I cannot think of any congregation within reasonable driving distance that I would want to attend. In the past, I belonged to a Reform congregation and was quite active attending Shabbat and holiday services, teaching in the Hebrew school, editing the newsletter, and working with the other members of the Sisterhood. Those were good days, but they are gone now.  Everything changes, except my essential relationship with God.  I talk, He listens.

Today is also Chelsea's birthday. We think she is 11 years old, but she could be thirteen. Or nine. Whatever her age, she is the perfect example of just how important it is to consider adding a rescue dog to your home menagerie.  My first-ever doggie, the incomparable Athene Minerva, was purchased from a breeder.  An excellent breeder, one who we had known prior to deciding to bring a dog into our cat-centric home. Every dog since, all Yorkies, came to us from some sort of rescue situation, mostly rehomes. We even have a Yorkie boy who rehomed himself, but that's another story.

I did cook - actually, I surprised myself by turning out a batch of ethereal potato gnocchi.  The recipe is from Jenn Louis' cookbook, Pasta By Hand.  I haven't been that excited about successfully executing a recipe since I made spaetzle earlier this year. The potato gnocchi are nothing at all like the store-bought variety- these are light and pillowy, and if you eat them with just a little butter, salt and pepper, you can really taste the potato at it's best.

The photos in the book are extremely helpful, but I will tell you that the trick to a light gnocchi is a light hand, same as when you are handling pastry dough.

I got the biggest kick from being able to hand form the traditional gnocchi shape across the back of a fork. You really should take a good look at the book on Amazon, or at least click on the link to this recent article from Saveur. If you type Jenn Louis' name into your browser, you are going to get an absolute embarrassment of riches. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Spoilers - Creamy Tomato Soup

Arrrgh, Monday. Even though I no longer go to work, I hate Mondays on general principle. I hate this Monday because my back is on fire and breakfast got stuck in my esophagus. 

Now that you've got that lovely picture in your mind, let's move on to the important stuff. I have my (palpitating) heart set on making potato gnocchi to go with those lovely fluffy meatballs, but I don't know if I can stand up long enough to do it. Gnocchi is a stand-up production, what with ricing the potatoes, kneading the dough, and forming the gnocchi.  I am pumped to do this - I have a new cookbook, Pasta by Hand, by Chef Jenn Louis, and it is every bit as wonderful as the Amazon reviews and Mario Batali said it was.

My plans for today were simple: telephone the folks at the agency assisting me with the disability claim to go over some paperwork I received from the Feds; head over to the office with bubble wrap and brownies to visit with my peeps and pack up the rest of my stuff; and to try out one of the gnocchi recipes. Well, I made my call, and then everything came to a complete halt. Pain, bringing on panic, bringing on depression. Today is shot to spit, and any moment I am headed upstairs to my bed. The Advil is not making a dent in this.

Spoiler Alert: If you have not yet seen the first episode of "Doctor Who" Series 9, proceed at your own risk.

Yesterday, Rob and I finally watched the first episode of the new season of "Doctor Who". It may be a very short season as both Clara (his current companion) and Missy (the current iteration of the Master) were killed by the Daleks, who were in the midst of destroying the TARDIS just as the episode was ending. No TARDIS, no companion, no lifelong best frenemy - what's left? Who knows? Maybe it's the end of the series, much as I hate these short seasons. Maybe the Doctor will wake up from this bad dream just as Clara steps out of the shower. Maybe Michelle Gomez will turn back into John Simms. Maybe Steven Moffat will get off the kickapoo joy juice. Big thrill for us Whovians was the connection to a (much) earlier episode in which the Fourth Doctor contemplates life, death, and little children who grow up to be monsters. What else can I say? Stay tuned.

End of Spoilers, and don't tell me you didn't read the first word of the title of this post in River Song's voice. Goodbye, sweeties.

Such a lovely list of foods I want to prepare, besides the potato gnocchi: peanut butter bars, briami (a Greek ratatouille), Scotch eggs, and Glazed Lemon-Lime Ginger Cookies. Since I am not up to any of that right now, let's talk about polls and politics. The most recent Republican debate appears to have had a significant impact on the standing of the candidates for nomination. The Donald is still at the top, although his numbers have drifted a bit southward in the past week.  Oddly, or maybe not, he has been moving under the radar; maybe to let the latest controversy die down, or maybe to get ready to announce a specific plan for tax reform.

Carly Fiorina's numbers made a leap worthy of Angry Birds, jumping from around 11th to 2nd in the polls. As a result, everybody is now picking on her.  Hey, it's the American way. Chris Wallace of FOX subjected her to some pretty tough questioning, and she really did a swell job holding her own.

A few days after the debate, Dr. Ben Carson made a politically incorrect statement worthy of Donald Trump, stating unequivocally (on "Meet the Press", no less) that he would not support a Muslim for U.S. President, as Islam is inconsistent with the basic tenets of the U.S.Constitution. What was utterly predictable was C.A.I.R. (Counsel on American-Islamic Relations) calling for Carson to drop out of the race. What was unexpected was Dr. Carson's reaction to the hysteria. No apologies, no weaselly explanations like "that's not what I meant." Nope, in fact, his business manager responded that there are many Americans who believe the same thing.  If the individual starting his question to Donald Trump with the sentence "we have a problem in this country - Muslims" is any example, then Dr. Carson's business manager has a point. Besides, C.A.I.R is not a benign organization of peace-loving Muslims. Let's leave it at that.

Dr. Carson is presently third in the polls (he had been second), now that Carly Fiorina has jumped to second.  Of course, once the "low-riders" - my name for the low single digit candidates -  drop out, I expect we will see major reshuffling of the poll numbers for the remaining brave souls.            

Let's talk about the Democratic nominees, shall we? Okay, to start, it is no secret that despite my conservative leanings (do not interpret that as support of the Republican Party) I would vote for Hillary Clinton tomorrow if her name was on the ballot.  I have been waiting over 6 years to do so, and I can wait a little longer.  Although this drives my husband crazy, and although I am well aware of the problems Mrs. Clinton is facing, I am firmly convinced that she will make a wonderful President (and don't interpret that as my support of the Democratic Party).

Her main opponent for the nomination is Bernie Sanders, Senator from Vermont, a self-proclaimed socialist (although no one is disagreeing with his self-assessment) who is really giving Hillary a run for her money.  He pulls big crowds and polls big numbers. He is very personable, very knowledgable, and it is clear he speaks from the heart. He was born in Brooklyn, which gives him high points from me. But if I may, here are a couple of reasons Mr. Sanders will not be the nominee of the Democratic Party, and if I am wrong, the reasons he will never be elected President.

Bernie is 74 years old. Let's get real folks - everyone ages, even those folks who are doing everything possible to turn back time.  God don't make no junk, but He does believe in planned obsolescence, and we all start to really feel the aches and pains about the time Bernie wants to take on the toughest job in the world. Next, Bernie is a socialist, which places him to the left of Barack Obama.  My taxes are already supporting several families, I think I've shared enough of my earnings with perfect strangers over the past 45 years. And one other thing, which I hate to write, but the truth of the matter is that Bernie Sanders is Jewish. His mother was Jewish. His father's family was killed in the Holocaust. As an adult, Bernie spent several months on an Israeli kibbutz. The voting public of the United States is not willing to elect a Jew to the Presidency. Old prejudices run deep.  Sorry, Bernie.

NYC, 2013. Seriously.

Besides, Hillary's numbers are on the way back up, despite the strong presence of an undeclared candidate, Vice President Joe Biden. Uncle Joe needs to make up his mind - fish or cut bait - or just cut bait. I've seen Joe Biden make a run for the Democratic nomination before, and it was his first attempt that solidified my opinion of him. I never see an ads or articles about hair plugs without thinking of Joe Biden. Instead of being able to hide somewhere and let his hair grow so he would look youthfully hirsute, he had to sit in front of TV cameras, at the main table next to Teddy Kennedy, day after day after day during Clarence Thomas' Supreme Court confirmation hearing. The entire nation got to see Biden's vanity - and his aching, itching scalp - on display throughout the long, painful days of Anita Hill.

Nominating Joe Biden would be a huge mistake for the Democratic Party, because he is so closely aligned with the Obama administration, much more than even Hillary, and the country is ready for a change. It would also be a mistake for Joe Biden, the grieving father.  He just buried a child, and there is no more terrible thing that can happen to anyone, ever. Running for President as a way to forget the pain is not fair to him, or to the American people.

Governor Scott Walker just announced he is dropping out of the presidential race.  So it goes.

I really hate to leave you without a recipe, so let's call this Throwback Tuesday and this is one of my favorite recipes from a 2011 blog post. I subsequently made some revisions, which are in parenthesis:

Creamy Tomato Soup

In a large pot:

2 large onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped

Season with kosher salt, black pepper, and a little sugar (dried herbes de Provence, sweet paprika, dried thyme leaves)

Sauté in a combination of butter and olive oil until soft and a little caramelized.  Then add:

1-14.5 oz. can well-drained petite diced tomatoes and cook with the onions until soft.

(Deglaze with a small amount of white wine, then)

Cover with:

Chicken Stock (Broth)

Simmer together

Then add:

1 jar Bertolli Spicy Marinara Sauce
1 jar Classico Vodka Sauce

Simmer everything together while seasoning to your liking.  Add more stock (broth) if too thick.  At end, lower heat and stir in:

Heavy cream or half and half to taste.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Thank You For Being A Friend - Meatballs As Big As Your Head

Thank you for being a friend
Traveled down the road and back again
your heart is true you're a pal and a confidant
And if you threw a party
Invited everyone you knew
You would see, the biggest gift would be for me
and the card attached would say,
Thank you for being a friend
I'm not ashamed to say
I hope it always will stay this way
My hat is off, won't you stand up and take a bow
And when we both get older
With walking canes and hair of gray
Have no fear, even though it's hardly here
I will stand real close and say,
Thank you for being a friend

Today's ear worm, second only to "It's a Small World" in its ability to stay stuck in your head and drive you slightly batty, came not from the misfiring nerve endings in my slightly addled brain, but from a Perfect Stranger.  He was indeed, perfect at being a stranger, because I do not and will never know who he is, but he left his lasting mark.

Picture it - September 1970, New Paltz, New York. A bunch of freshman, kids (seriously - half of us were still underage) are randomly thrown together in dormitories and in classes like freshman English with Professor Anthony Robinson, that snarky pseudo-intellectual.  Now jump ahead, oh maybe 45 years, give or take a decade. Still hanging out together (sort of); still 18 (in our heads).  Still friends.

We try to get together when we can - some of us live in Florida, some are snowbirds, others have an annual time share or visit the Central Florida area when possible. We've never been able to get all of us together in one room at the same time, unfortunately (but it gives us something to aspire to in our declining years.)

Saturday evening some of us got together for dinner at the Orlando Ale House on I-Drive.  If you've never been to the Orange County Convention Center vicinity of International Drive, you have managed to bypass an experience akin to Times Square.  Crowds, you know. I hate crowds.  Having said that, Orlando's answer to Bright Lights, Big City has the best non-Disney hotels and a fantastic selection of restaurants. Parking is only for the patient, but it is possible.

We were waiting outside for our table, when Mark and Robert decided to take a picture of the three ladies on the bench. At some point, a youngish man, the aforementioned Perfect Stranger, surveying the tableau, called out good-naturedly"say Golden Girls!"  So we did.

Big smiles and a couple of unladylike guffaws. And the start of a truly fun evening.

Oh, okay. Here's the meatballs:

2 3/4 - 3 pounds ground beef (I use Publix market beef or you can use ground round)
1 - 1 pound roll hot sausage
4 extra large eggs
1 - 15 oz. container whole milk ricotta
1 medium onion, grated
1 small carrot, grated
1 small or 1/2 of a large zucchini, grated
4 garlic cloves, grated
1 - 5 oz. package herb croutons, crushed
1/2 cup Heinz 57 Sauce
2 tablespoons granulated garlic
2 tablespoons parsley flakes
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 1/2 tablespoon dried basil
1 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon Hungarian sweet paprika
1 tablespoon coarse black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
crushed red pepper, to taste
2 teaspoons ground mustard
3-24 oz. cans Hunt's garlic and herb pasta sauce

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and lightly spray the bottom of three casserole dishes, preferably the aluminum 9x13 size with deep sides, with olive oil spray.

In the order given, combine all the ingredients except for the pasta sauce, in a very large bowl. Start mixing with a large metal spoon, breaking up the meats and ricotta cheese. Take off your rings, and mix thoroughly, dispersing all of the ingredients,evenly, especially the seasonings and the eggs.  When everything is well mixed, take a small portion of the meat, form a very small patty and cook it in a pan.  Taste the cooked meat and make any seasoning adjustments to the meat mixture in the bowl.

Using a 1 cup measure, divide the meat into 12 or 13 portions.  Form the meatballs, and divide them between the prepared pans.  Spray the tops with the olive oil spray. Place in the oven, uncovered, for 25 minutes.  Remove, carefully turn the meatballs over, and return to the oven for another 25 minutes. Remove the pan and turn the meatballs over one last time, so that the most rounded side faces up.

Pour one can of sauce into each pan of baked meatballs; add a little water to each can, swish to capture any sauce clinging to the sides, and pour into the pans. Cover with aluminum foil, lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees, and return the pans to the oven for 55 minutes.  Check for doneness with a thermometer - it should register 165 degrees internal temperature.  Add more time as needed to finish the meatballs.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Bringing Bubble Wrap and Brownies - European Union Brownies


Sunday - after a wonderful evening with friends, a successful if expensive jaunt to the AT&T store (my new phone should be arriving this coming Friday), and a fun trip to the Crayola store on Saturday, Rob and I had nothing more strenuous planned than to sit in front of the TV and have "Breakfast with Baker" on BBC America. Tom Baker, you know, the Fourth Doctor. I see a lot of "Star Trek" influence in this episode, which is kind of weird, but after all, these two science fiction icons have been practically contemporaneous for 50 years. 

My back is breaking from my mall-walking adventure, which is why I have yet to start the meatballs. Must start the meatballs ... a handful of Advil and another cuppa coffee, and I'll be right as rain. Right, ha. Good thing I have this brownie recipe to share with you.

My plan for Friday, as much any of my plans pan out, was to get my butt into the office and finish packing it up. (Never happened. Shooting for Monday.) Seriously. I haven't worked there since March 2, and have been officially separated (I like that word so much better than terminated) since August 27, but nobody seems to be in a rush for me to pack up and leave. Eventually, I expect that the position will be filled, and someone out there with a J.D degree and stars in their eyes is going to want my little office. Friday seemed like a good day.

Since I hate to visit my office peeps empty-handed, I decided to bake some brownies, but of course, not just any brownie: something different, extra-rich, and perhaps even a bit elegant. I had two packages of brownie mix remaining from the four package box I bought in BJs a little while back, and a pantry full of different chocolate chips, nuts, and ... Nutella. Ooh, la la! I started dreaming my way through Camilla Saulsbury's Ultimate Shortcut Cookie Book - 745 recipes that start with cake mix, brownie mix, refrigerated cookie dough, or even ready-to-eat cereal. What I came up with was a mash-up, literally, of two of her very best brownie recipes plus an online recipe for a Nutella ganache, and my unquenchable predilection for throwing extra chocolate chips into everything I bake.

I therefore present to you my recipe for European Union Brownies, which is what you get when bakers from Italy, Austria and France all hold hands and sing Kumbaya. The appearance of the baked brownies, like the relationships between certain members of the EU, is somewhat rocky. As I sit and write this, I don't know about flavor and texture - that will have to wait until we cut into it on Friday (which is now set for Monday).

While I was preparing it, I realized that the hazelnut swirl was not coming out the way it was described. Instead of being smooth enough to spoon over the batter and swirl with a knife, the Nutella seized somewhat as I added the eggs and flour, forming almost a crumble, which I finished by working with my hands. It was delicious nonetheless so I crumbled it over the top and then dropped spoonfuls of the raspberry preserves in spots that weren't covered by the crumble.  It is a very damp and humid day here - monsoon season persists - and that may have affected the texture. It also might have happened because part of the Nutella I used had been previously refrigerated, although it was at room temperature when I used it.  Who knows? I guess I'll just have to try these again, someday.

2 - 18 to 19 oz. packages of brownie mix
2 sticks of butter, melted
1/2 cup water    
4 extra large eggs, whisked
1 cup milk chocolate chips
1 cup chopped hazelnuts

1 - 13 oz. jar Nutella, divided in half
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 extra large eggs, yolks only
1 - 18 oz. jar seedless raspberry jam
1/2 cup heavy cream
additional chopped hazelnuts for topping

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spray the bottom the the pan with Baker's Joy or Pam for Baking.

In an extra large bowl, combine the brownie mix packets, melted butter, water, and eggs.  Use a wooden spoon to mix everything until blended and all the dry ingredients are moistened. Stir in the chocolate chips and hazelnuts. Spread the batter in the prepared pan.

Mix one-half of the Nutella with the 2 egg yolks and flour.  Drop by spoonfuls across the top of the batter.  Next drop spoonfuls of the raspberry jam across the top of the batter, using about half of the jar. Use a knife tip to cut through the batter to create swirls.  Place in the oven to bake.

I ended up giving this behemoth 1 hour and 10 minutes in the oven, then took it out to cool while Rob and I took care of a few chores. When we got back several hours later, the pan of brownies was still slightly warm, and there were some areas that were still not done. Cursing the great gods of brownie-baking, I rebooted the oven, and not wanting the edges to get any darker, covered the pan with foil. Fifteen more minutes, and the brownies were finally done - I hope.

Remove the finished brownies from the oven and set the pan on a metal rack to cool. When they are cooled to room temperature, prepare the ganache - heat the cream just to boil and immediately pour it over the remaining Nutella.  Stir until the Nutella is completely melted and the ganache is smooth.  Pour over the cooled brownies, starting in the center. Sprinkle the ganache with additional chopped hazelnuts. Store in the refrigerator to keep the ganache firm.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Plans Within Plans, Dune it all on a Saturday - Corn and Sweet Potato Chowder

Saturday: I think this is going to be a Good Day.  I have plans, and I intend to enjoy each and every one.  First, a trip to the AT&T store to preorder my new iPhone. My current iPhone has some kind of terminal disease; if I take it off life support, it will die. Very sad, as I loved that iPhone and had no desire to replace it right now. For the past three weeks I have been using a "go-phone" so I can at least make and receive calls, but it's been most unsatisfactory. Can't text easily and forget accessing the internet.

Second, Robert is taking me to the Crayola store at the mall to check out colored pencils.  This is a very big deal because I NEVER go the mall. But I love colored pencils and I love coloring in the grown-up coloring book my supervisor gave me, with a good selection of pencils to start. Coloring is a wonderful stress reliever, which I have known since my kindergarten days at P.S. 217 in Brooklyn. Thank you, Raquel.

Third, we are meeting New Paltz friends for dinner tonight - Mark and Sandy and Lynn - and the only disappointment is that Barbara is feeling under the weather and won't be able to make it.

Today is the day for the broadcast of the first episode of the ninth series of "Doctor Who".  I feel like I've been waiting a whole year for this, but it's only been 8 or 9 months. Ha. Due to our dinner plans, Rob and I will watch it at another time through our cable provider's OnDemand service. I will plan an appropriate array of snack food, but assure you that the menu will not include jelly babies, jammie dodgers, or fish fingers and custard.

Friday: Finally found the dark flip-flops I've been searching for.  Since I don't go to court anymore, I can show off my pedicure with gay abandon. Ninety-eight cents in Walmart.

Thursday: This may sound crazy - and boy, do I know crazy - but I feel cold. I just checked with Siri, and it is 75 degrees and overcast. That's practically winter weather here in Central Florida, and that calls for hot soup and plenty of it.

Yesterday, when I headed out to Publix, it was 79 degrees and I put on a light sweater. Part of that is that Publix, like many stores here, keep their buildings colder than North Dakota in January.  I fear frostbite while shopping in produce, and avoid the frozen food section altogether.  When I got home, I had some of the cabbage vegetable soup for lunch.  

Our house holds steady at 75 degrees, but with no heat radiating from outdoors, I feel like a member of the Frozen Chosen. This chilling season is going to continue into next week, and that calls for soup variety which provided the opportunity to go searching through Paula Deen's new book, which just made the New York Times best-seller list.  Take that, Food Network.

I admit I made a few changes right off the bat, based on my odd taste preferences (canned corn over frozen) and the contents of my pantry (no chicken broth, lots of Knorr chicken cubes), but it is essentially her recipe, and it is delicious. The original recipe can be found on page 85 of her cookbook Paula Deen Cuts the Fat and I highly highly highly recommend you treat yourself and buy the book.

Corn and Sweet Potato Chowder

3 tablespoons butter
1 onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 poblano chile, seeded and finely chopped
black pepper
1 large clove garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon tomato paste
4 cups water
3 Knorr chicken flavored cubes
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 white baking potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 - 15.25 oz. can whole kernel corn, drained
1 1/2 cups whole milk

In a large pot, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the onion, celery and chile.  Cook until the vegetables are tender, 10 minutes. Towards the end of this cooking, add black pepper to taste and a bit of sugar, and the garlic.  Cook a few minutes longer.  Add the thyme and cook another minute.  Stir in the tomato paste and cook for one more minute.

Add the water and Knorr chicken cubes and stir to dissolve the cubes.  Add the sweet potatoes and white potatoes.  Hold off on adding any salt till the end, as the Knorr cubes contribute a good amount of salt.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover and simmer for about 25 minutes until the potatoes are very tender. Add the corn and simmer 5 more minutes. Slowly add the milk and bring up the heat slightly. As you stir, the potatoes will break up and naturally thicken the soup.  Taste and adjust the seasonings. If you need more salt, this is the time to add it. I like a lot of black pepper and thyme in my chowders, and I added just a touch of granulated garlic because that's the way I roll.   I hope you enjoy it, but if you don't, it's not Paula's fault (me and my changes, you know.)