Sunday, July 26, 2015

Art to Art - Perfect Iced Coffee

Anakin admiring a Linda LeKinff, from her cat series.  
Another LeKinff, musical instrument series, is on the right.

We discovered Park West, the cruise ship art dealer, on our very first cruise in 2001.  It's been a good couple of years since we purchased anything - not because we've stopped cruising, but because we've already gotten quite a lot of good stuff over the years, complimenting a gorgeous collection of needlepoints created by my mother-in-law, and original art from members of my side of the family.

My favorite needlepoint

I've lived in three different houses since 2001, and each one had different amounts of available.wall space. The worst house for available wall space was, oddly enough, the largest of the three houses. Lots of open spaces and glass made it a very modern Florida home, but most of our wall hangings, including my favorite needlepoint, were stored away and unseen for eleven artless years.  I think the best house in terms of wall space was our first house in Hunter's Creek, but this old house in Kissimmee isn't bad at all.  Of course a good part of that space is on the office side of the building, so Rob is going to end up having the nicest accounting office in Osceola County.

For all the years we lived in the second Hunter's Creek house, I had a perfect view of my favorite Tarkay print.  In fact no matter where you stood in the kitchen, family room, dining room, or foyer, you were going to see it.

It now hangs in a place of honor in this house - guests won't see it, but Rob and Cory and I will see it every day, first thing before we even make it to the first floor.  I'm very happy with how that worked out, and I don't get very happy very often.

I have been getting a lot of good advice, and support, and sympathy from family and friends regarding my turtle-paced movement towards state and federal retirement disability.  I have learned a lot from those who have had to follow similar paths.  I am going to try to put it all together and get this thing done.  I will try to consult with a lawyer for whom this is a specialty.  My head still doesn't work and besides, this is an area of law I know nothing about.

Three generations of needlepointers

There are still a couple of recipes I owe from yesterday's post, and I want to get them typed and printed before I move on to today's cooking adventure (Ichiban Caponata!)  The first one is easy, as I am going to link you to the Pioneer Woman's recipe for Iced Coffee, and then call it a night.

The PW is Ree Drummond and I love her just like I love the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten.  Both the PW and the BC stick close to home with their cooking, both have adorable husbands, and both do the kind of cooking I am crazy about.  I have all of their cookbooks and I rely on them for a bunch of recipes.  The PW makes this iced coffee, and now that I've made it and enjoyed it these past few days, I might just start calling it caffeine crack.  If you are a caffeine addict, like me, if you need a break from hot coffee, like me, and if you think Starbuck's price are practically confiscatory, like me, you will leave your house NOW - I know it's 2 AM, but Walmart is open 24 hours - to buy the few things you will need. My biggest problem was finding a container that would fit between my refrigerator shelves.  I'm telling you, go to Walmart.  I paid $1.98 for each of these, and they work perfectly.

The PW calls this Perfect Iced Coffee.  I agree, and I even bought new straws to use when drinking this glorious stuff.  I followed her recipe exactly, although it took some complicated (to me) math so that the ingredients would fit in the smaller containers I had purchased.  Basically it works out that for every ounce of coffee (and I weighed the coffee grounds in my little kitchen scale, which I never get rid of because you never know when I might wake up 80 pounds heavier and decide that I need to go back on Weight Watchers), you will need 2 cups of very cold water.  Remember that if you have a 2-quart container, you cannot put a full 2 quarts of water in there because the coffee takes up a good bit of room.

Okay look, math was my worst subject in school, so work this out yourself to adapt to your personal stash of containers.  Also, if you don't have cheesecloth, use paper towels, two pieces which are placed perpendicular to each other.  I like the paper towel method, and also use it for straining chicken soup.

Once you taste this iced coffee, you don't have to thank me.  You might, however, want to thank Ree.

If anyone out there has any extra prayers they would like to use in a good cause, please think of my cousin Cary, who is having some surgery on Monday, and for his wonderful wife Maura. Cary's mother and my grandmother-who-raised-me were sisters - think the Duras sisters from the Klingon Empire - and he is especially dear to me as we go way back (at least as far as my birth - he's 8 weeks older than me) spending weekends together during most of our childhood.  Thank you for your good thoughts, I know they will help.

And a very happy birthday to my godson Peter, and to Iris, daughter of my friends Mark and Sandy.  Iris is nine months pregnant, so next year, we might be wishing happy birthday to yet another.

A cat's a cat, and that's that

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Where the Fork is the Cheesecloth? - Iced Coffee, Arroz Rojo con Chorizo, Sprightly Stuffed Artichokes

I'm already in a bad mood.  I should say I am still in a bad mood.  I hurt, damn it.  Here I am on the precipice of retirement, looking forward to 30 years of daily pain.  Hey, it's all been worth it to reach this point! Those two hour trips on the Long Island Railroad, working two jobs, 3 1/2 years in law school, the school loan we got paid off just in time to pay Cory's college tuition, 15 years in the service of the State, working weekends, no overtime, no raises, saving children's lives with no recognition from the public or the Bench that we had done something remarkable under difficult conditions - priceless.

Fibromyalgia is not always an invisible disease

Yes, I am bitter. I am in chronic pain, I am facing impoverishment, and I can't remember the good times because my brain is befogged, and there weren't really any good times to remember.  I worked my used-to-be-enormous ass off my whole life, gave everything I had to give, and got a lot of grief or it. (Thank you very much, what have you done for me lately?)

In my next life I am going to skip all that school shit, and become a plumber, like Josephine.  Using my intellect, such as it is, got me where I am today.  Nowhere.

Got my last paycheck today. Happy happy joy joy.

Screw this. Let's talk about iced coffee.  I love iced coffee. I finally pulled my act together sufficiently to cold-brew a batch, following the Pioneer Woman's  recipe.  Really good, even without the sweetened condensed milk (I am a Sweet & Low kind of gal, and that is not likely to change).  So I've been drinking it all day, practically for free.  Would have cost me $13 in Starbucks so I'm feeling good about that.

Oops, I did it again.  Couldn't sleep, although the pain was bearable after I took some Ibuprofen PM. Decided I wanted a little pickled herring, so I headed downstairs, where I had a brand new cast iron skillet winking at me, calling me to light its fire.  Well, I can't resist that siren song, even after midnight, so I prepared some rice to go with the Midnight Tamales, and I almost ate the whole pan by myself. Okay, maybe I exaggerate just a tad. But really, the flavors I chose came together in a lovely, gently-burn-your-mouth sort of way.  If I enjoyed it, it can't be too hot.

Finally, due to circumstances beyond my control, I was sticking very close to home - actually, to my kitchen.  Work was being done inside and outside, and I needed to be attentive.  It was all good stuff, like pictures being hung (yeah, I know we've been here a year.  I've been busy).  While sorting through needlepoints and prints and deciding where they should go, I worked on my recipe for stuffed artichokes, and they were frankly delicious.

Seeing the pictures on the wall gave me a warm fuzzy that I hadn't had for a long time.  I had forgotten some of the framed prints we had bought over the years on cruise ships, and it was sort of like Christmas in July to rediscover them.  Still have more to do, but still have lots of wall space.

Oh, those recipes?  Maybe tomorrow; there's always time enough for food.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Conquering The Big Tamale - #spooniethatsme

Finally, at long last.  Easy tamales.  I'll post the recipe after my usual (or unusual) rant.

There was a time I thought Planned Parenthood was a great organization. My opinion has changed, because I find the harvesting and sale of fetal body parts to be morally repugnant.

Well first of all, in all honesty, I am in a different place regarding abortion than I was 20 years ago.  Even before Roe v. Wade, my home state of New York had legalized abortion.  I was a kid, a legal minor when the law was passed, and it frankly meant nothing to me. Later on, I adopted and maintained the position that  a woman should be in control of her body.  This was no easy thing for me; once abortion became legal in New York, the availability of adoptable infants plummeted.  By 1979 it was clear that adoption was likely in our future, but I continued to strongly support the right.

Then in 1986, while completing a paralegal course, I had the opportunity - and obligation - to read Roe v. Wade, in its entirety.  This was repeated when I took constitutional law in law school. I knew then that one day the decision would collapse in on itself.  And it has, in a very poignant way.  So let me explain that while I remain pro-choice, I sincerely hope the parents choose life.

Why the shift? Well, it was clear, at least to me, that given ever-increasing scientific achievements of the last 40 years, the day would come that the viability of the tiniest preemies would increase considerably. If you have ever looked at a one-pound micro preemie in a NICU - and I have - you quickly learn to appreciate the miracle of life.  Viability at 23 weeks. Most states permit abortion up to 24 weeks.  Some years ago, I was at Winnie Palmer Hospital in Orlando, a mini-field trip arranged by my employer, and I was shocked to tears by what I saw.  I could have held these tiny humans in my hand. Their little diapers were the size of an old-fashioned menstrual pad. And yet, the law allows them to be aborted, their organs harvested, and their remains casually discarded.  This causes me to cry and makes my head want to explode.  This is reprehensible amoral behavior.

And that is why I don't like Planned Parenthood all that much anymore.

I survived one of those terrible nights last night.  It followed a terrible day.  Lately my pain has been worse than usual, and that is saying something.  I had to take two Benadryl to get to sleep, and that was after 3:30 AM, and after I'd spent hours crying in pain.  This morning I've got the Insane Itching thing going on, which is weird because of all that Benadryl.  Now I am waiting for a phone call from the Very Nice Lady in Employee Relations.  I have a pad and pen ready because if I don't write everything down, I will forget the whole conversation.

From the "what was I thinking of" department: I need a bra that fits me properly.  This has been a problem my whole life, or at least since sixth grade.  We also needed fitted sheets, and Robert was pretty sure that the ones we liked had been purchased in Walmart. So my cane and I headed over to do some shopping at Walmart.  Holy crap, what an adventure!  First, I was there for close to 2 hours, and did not get either of the items I was looking for.  No matter what size I happen to be, I can never find a bra that fits me.  Where were all those 48DDDs I saw today, when I needed them?  Why is there (apparently) no such thing as a 36DD?  Yes, yes, I'll start investigating on Amazon, but why can't I just walk into a store and snag a sling for the girls?

I did communicate with the VNL from ER, and I wrote down what she explained, and she was, as always, helpful and kind.  Thank you VNL!

Gorgeous Globe Artichoke, TBS (To be stuffed)

I want to give you the recipe for the tamales, even though I haven't created the rice dish to go with it (it's in my head, and you know how that goes).  My refrigerator is, as Rob noted, wall-to-wall aluminum pans, which means I've been cooking too much for this audience.  But I've got some coffee being cold-brewed, Mexican chorizo sausage, a gorgeous artichoke and a sharp sharp knife.  Tune in tomorrow.

Easiest Tamales Ever: Midnight Tamales

oil for cooking
1-15 oz. can corned beef hash
3 large scallions, sliced thin
3 large garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 small red bell pepper
1 1/2 tablespoon Paula Deen's Southern Spice Rub
kosher salt
ground black pepper
dried oregano
1-10 oz. can Old El Paso Mild Green Chile Enchilada Sauce
queso fresco cheese, cut into 2 x 1/2 inch pieces
12 stuffed green olives, halved
zante currants or dark raisins

1-18 oz. tube precooked polenta

Wrap - a - wrap - a - wrap:
15 dried corn husks (you will only need 12, but just in case any rip during soaking)
12 pieces kitchen twine, 10-12 inches each
No-stick spray

Paula Deen's Southern Spice Rub - make it in advance; days, weeks, a month or two
2 T. ground cumin 
2 T. chili powder
1 T. ground coriander 
1 T. kosher salt 
2 t. ground pepper
1/2 t. ground cinnamon 
1/2 t. red pepper flakes

You need to soak the dried corn husks for a couple of hours at least.  Place them in your largest pot (the one in which you boil spaghetti, make all your soups, chilies and stews - you know, the one you can't live without.  Mine was part of an engagement present - one of my parent's friends worked for Farberware - and after 41 years of almost daily use, it looks pretty good) and fill the pot 3/4 full of water.  Bring the water to a boil, weight down the husks with a heat-proof plate, cover the pot and turn off the heat.  Leave the husks to soften, up to overnight.

Prepare the filling - heat about 1/4 cup canola oil in a large skillet - add the hash and cooked until it falls apart and browns a bit.  Add the scallions, garlic, and red bell pepper, cooking for a few minutes after each addition. Add the spice rub, salt, pepper, and oregano, and cook for a few more minutes. Add about half of the green enchilada sauce, and simmer for a few more minutes. Set aside and allow the filling to cool to room temperature, or even better, refrigerate in a small square container overnight.  Next day, divide the square into 12 even pieces.

Remove the polenta from the tube; cut off the rounded ends (discard or pan fry for another dish) and slice into 12 equal pieces.

Create the tamales: I work two at a time.  Lay out two of the corn husks, smooth side up.  Hit them with a shot of no-stick spray across the top half of the husk.  Place one slice of polenta, and a one-twelfth piece of the hash filling.  Place one piece of the queso fresco in the middle of the hash filling. Place 2 olive halves on one side of the cheese, and about 5 currants on the other side. Spoon a little more of the green enchilada sauce over the filling.  Wrap and tie each tamales using the twine.  Place the finished tamales, open end up, in a steamer.  I don't own a fancy steamer, so I put on inch or so of water in the bottom of my 41-year old wonder pot, place the tamales in an old fashioned metal colander (older than the pot; my mother gave it to me when I started cooking) and then put the filled colander in the pot.  Divide any remaining sauce over the top of each tamales..   Place the pot on the  stove, bring the water to a boil.  Put the lid on the pot and lower the heat to simmer, and steam the tamales for 50 to 60 minutes.

Serve with Spanish rice (recipe tomorrow, kids), and congratulate yourself on conquering the Big Tamale!  Next time we make the masa from scratch.  It's not overwhelming if you limit the batch to one dozen tamales. I'm game if you are.  Well, even if you're not.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Sign of the Times - Midnight Tamale

A sign two doors down, sending me a message

Petula Clark was my first.  (Stop dancing off into the gutter, you with the leer on your face.) She sang my first favorite rock song, "Downtown" which I listened to every hour on the hour on the old WMCA-AM radio station in NYC, home of the Good Guys and the Woolyburger (a 1965 version of a Wookiee. Yes, let the Wookiee win.)  Petula also sang "It's a Sign of the Times", the source for my ear worm which came out of my current pissed-off-at-the-President mood, and half a dozen other favorites which I still listen to.  Without a doubt, I am a child of the sixties.  In my sixties, ha.

Petula Clark, Harry Belafonte, and "The Touch" felt around the world, 1968

It's a sign of the times
That your love for me is getting so much stronger

It's a sign of the times
And I know that I won't have to wait much longer

You've changed a lot somehow

From the one I used to know
For when you hold me now
I feel like you never want to let me go

Corner of Rose and Patrick, across from the courthouse

I caught the above photo during one of my strolls, and it pleased me.  I'm not sure whose office building this is, but it did my heart good to see our flag being displayed right out there, upfront where it belongs. 

The American flag should be a sign of respect, but under this pathetic administration, it is not being properly used as a sign of the time.  The President screwed up (AGAIN) and probably insulted at least as many veterans as did Donald Trump when he dragged his feet as to lowering the flag to half-mast in honor of the shooting victims in Chattanooga. Now I've been told by some that it is "contrary to military protocol" to lower the flag - like this president ever cared about military protocol, or the rule of law for that matter. The President has the authority to lower the flag whenever he damn well pleases, and for some reason it did not please him to honor dead servicemen. After being pressured, however, he gave the order, just in time to prevent White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest from expiring from terminal shame and embarrassment.

Now one of the sixties references I am so fond of - are you familiar with the movie "Midnight Cowboy?"  If you're not, perhaps you are too young to be reading this blog.  "Midnight Cowboy" was downright scandalous for its time and place, because when released, it was the first X-rated mainstream movie.  It starred Dustin Hoffman, for crying out loud, and this was only a few years after "The Graduate."  If you are not familiar with "The Graduate", I give up.  Here's to you, Mrs. Robinson.  "Midnight Cowboy" also starred Jon Voight, before he ruined "Mission Impossible" for me forever.  Rest in peace, Jim Phelps.  And also before he donated his genes to a certain Angelina Jolie, who really should treat her father a little better.  If nothing else, then to thank him for his awesome genes. Ungrateful brat.

"Midnight Cowboy" is also glorious proof that we all get older - some, like Dustin Hoffman's co-stars  the late Anne Bancroft and Meryl Streep, are ageless.  Others, like formerly gorgeous Robert Redford and "Cowboy" Jon Voight, not so much, but having said that, I give them credit for putting their aging faces out there without going all Kenny Rogers on them.

I fell into this whole "Midnight Cowboy" train of thought in the middle of last night, when I went downstairs for a snack, and after sharing some chicken with Anakin and Romeo, I started to prepare tamales. Midnight Tamales. From now on, I am going to start all my tamales at midnight.  These were particularly easy and turned out to be ridiculously tasty, and it helped to prepare the filling and set the corn husks to soak the night before.  One thing I did not have to do was prepare the masa, because I used a tube of pre-cooked polenta.  I know, ridiculous, right?

This turned out to be a pantry-buster, because I hadn't been planning to making tamales this week, much less when I walking down the stairs.  I admit that I don't normally stock dried corn husks, but after this I may treat them as a necessity.  The rest of the recipe shall be revealed in the fullness of time - which means tomorrow - because I've run out of energy and my day is done.

Now there's a sign I would love to see.

I have moved one step closer to retirement, as I gather all my forms and such to ship off to the Division of Retirement in Tallahassee.  I am at peace with my decision. I wish I was better at following through in a timely linear fashion, but fibromyalgia continues to scramble my brain.  Filling out forms and following procedures are mostly beyond my abilities. Logic is a foreign concept.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Ack! - Sloppy Jo Comes Home

"Ack" indeed.  Well, that's how I'm feeling this morning - like a "skinny, half-dead Garfield" - and if you don't know who Bill the Cat is, you are too young to be reading this blog.

I made the biscuits this morning, doubling the recipe.  Don't double the recipe; it will be difficult to work with it, although still delicious. Here is the original recipe from the November 21, 2014 blog post and I really encourage you to try it because these biscuits are so good, I want to eat the entire pan.  With one egg.  One medium egg.

This morning's batch of biscuit

I wish that my medication was somehow more efficacious, I really do.  I know that the doctor has told me that only time will bring the desired result, but it seems that I have been waiting forever for something resembling stabilization.  For now my hands shake and my mood swings more than Benny Goodman's band.  After the last five days, Josephine the Plumber has risen to the top of my hit list, right behind Jim the Tech from Bright House Networks. (Relax, these are both imaginary characters.) My Internet connection is for shit, while pots and pans are piling up on the kitchen counter.  This isn't helping my mood, which is no longer swinging but stuck on uber-cranky.

Serve the Sloppy Jo with biscuits, or corn bread, or mac & cheese, or rice,

I also made the Sloppy Josephine - this version being a Spicy, Sexy, Schmaltzy Josephine - and it turn out quite tasty. I recommend serving this on a Sprightly Biscuit, or with some good old fashioned long grain white rice.  Rice is nice, but biscuits are better.  Ack! Alliteration!

He wanted my flip-flops, I gave them to him

Anakin is acting weirder than usual - he was trying to steal my flip-flop right off my foot.  He has a terrible wound on his tail, a good 5 inches along the tail's length.  As best we can tell, and I agree with Robert, his tail got burned while he was sashaying across the cooktop.

He wanted my seat, so I let him have it

It has been healing; today, however, a long scab came free, and he is showing some raw skin which has to be painful.  I found the scab, which was furry on one side (gulp) and I saw the redness which may have involved some surface bleeding.  My poor Ani.

He played the cute card with me, and he won

So I cried for him, and gave him my flip-flops for a while.  Then he decided he wanted to sit in the seat I happened to be using, so I moved.  He seems to be quite comfortable now, and not in pain from his wound.  Me, well I'm comfortable in an alternate seat, but I am always in pain. Damn, spit, and dirty socks.

Time to make friends with Sloppy Josephine.  She's cheap, easy, and no jokes, thank you very much.

1 to 1 1/4 pound ground beef (market beef or ground round)
1 large red bell pepper, large chop
1 large green bell, large chop
(Optional: jalapeno and/or red hot chile pepper)
1 very large onion, chopped
4 or more large garlic cloves, chopped
1 - 14.5 oz. Green Giant corn niblets, drained
1 - 15 oz. can black beans, drained
1 - 15 oz. can light red kidney beans, drained
1 large (about 28 oz.) can Sloppy Joe or Manwich sauce

My spice blend, to taste
Dried oregano, to taste
Cayenne pepper, optional
1/4 cup oil for cooking

Heat about a tablespoon of the oil over medium-high heat and add the beef.  Break up the beef while cooking, with a pastry blender (this works so well).  At the end of cooking, stir in the dried oregano and remove from the heat. Remove the cooked beef to a plate or aluminum pan; use a slotted spoon, and then discard any grease in the pan.  Set aside the beef.  Add the remaining oil to the pan, and heat over a medium-high setting.  Add the bell peppers (and spicy peppers, if using) and onion.  Season with the spice blend, sugar, and cayenne.  Sauté the vegetables until softened.  Add the chopped garlic and continue cooking until the onion starts to caramelize.

Add the cooked beef and stir. Add the the drained beans and corn; stir and adjust seasonings.  Add the Sloppy Joe or Manwich sauce, lower the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes.  And enjoy enjoy enjoy!  This is hearty and wholesome and just plain good.