Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A Walkabout Among Kissimmee Architecture - Creamy Pine Nut Chicken

Today is still Labor Day and I'm playing catch up with the blog posts.  I'm also trying to work my way through tasks on my list, and while I've made good progress on the cooking projects, the cleaning projects are another matter.  I feel like I am a full half day behind myself, and that is resulting in a small but definite panic attack.

In yesterday's blog post I made a brief trip past Lawrence High School in Cedarhurst, my educational home for four mostly happy years.  While doing a bit of googling on my old stomping grounds, I discovered that my alma mater has a school motto.  I don't remember a school motto, so it must be a more recent innovation, but when I read it, it gave me definite pause: "Vestigia Nulla Retrorsum" literally, "I never retrace my steps" or "No Stepping Back". Ha! The course of my entire life might have been different if it had been subject to that train of thought, said the woman who remarried her first husband. (Unlike Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis, I've been married only twice, and both times to the same husband.)

Less specifically, I take it to mean "don't dwell on the past", or maybe "don't make the same stupid mistakes."  Certainly my remarriage was the farthest thing from a stupid mistake.  But I do tend to dwell on the past, excessively, obsessively, and that leads to panic attacks and getting stuck on stupid - I should say stuck on "Stop".  Sometimes I get so wrapped up in what I haven't accomplished in the proper linear order that I can only look backwards, which just compounds the problem. That's what I am trying to avoid today, this Labor Day.  Move forward and keep moving.

I set one task for myself for today, which was to clean and set up the upstairs hallway.  As soon as I came downstairs, I realized there were two or three important things ahead of it, which meant I might not get to it, which sent me spiraling into an anxiety attack.  Crap. 

But I take heart from the completion of those other tasks which were just as important, and much more immediate, and that thought helps me beat the panic back down where it belongs. And there's always tomorrow; it's not like the upstairs hallway is going to disappear by falling into the time-space continuum. Besides, Cory made progress on moving a few things from the hallway, which makes my job much easier.

Whatever you do, DON'T BLINK!

So as the afternoon shadows grew long and my energy level grew short, I gave up on the hallway and went on a walkabout. My daily walk is critical to my health - I get up, I get out, I breathe reasonably clean air. I listen to music, I admire the landscape and architecture, and I think. Bipedal meditation. I have to use my cane, and my speed walking days are over, but that little bit of exercise is officially my daily cardio.  It's all I can do and I'm doing it.

The Weeping Angel of Kissimmee

I altered my route slightly and got photos of some of my favorite places. These buildings, which are behind the new courthouse, are off the beaten path and if you don't know they are there, you will miss them altogether.  Prior to 2000, there was nothing but a badly-paved parking lot with enormous trees where the courthouse now stands, and the objects of my architectural affection were easily visible, but now, tucked between the back of the courthouse and the railroad tracks they are the purview of seekers of the arcane. Like me.

The Weeping Angel spends her days in front of this absolutely fabulous building on Vernon Avenue -

- which happens to be a lovingly restored home turned into a law office.

A goodly number of the homes in the area, including mine, have housed law firms at one time or another, although I'm not sure of the ratio of law office to private home.

Many private homes are well-maintained -

- some not so much, although this house is architecturally incredible -

- or not at all, although this may be a forgotten victim of Hurricane Charley.

This one was a law office when I first saw it; now it is a residence. To its left is a law office. Across the street is the Weeping Angel law office. We are nothing if not "mixed use" zoning in Historic Downtown Kissimmee, which in my opinion is one of the things that makes this area so charming.

This fantastic wreck - literally on the wrong side of the tracks on Vernon Avenue - has a twin that is a law office. Although the beautifully restored and maintained twin building fronts on Emmett Street, it sits on the corner of - you guessed it - Vernon Avenue. It's no mistake that before the new courthouse was built and Courthouse Square created, the old courthouse address was 12 South Vernon Avenue.

And we could park, in precious 1-hour spots, right in front of the courthouse.

One of these days, I'm going to get brave enough to cross Emmett Street on one of my walks, to check out the great buildings on that side.  But, that is another blog post. I hope you enjoyed this walkabout.

This recipe is inspired by James Nair's Creamy Almond Chicken recipe, from his cookbook called, appropriately, Chicken. I don't remember the year of publication, but I do remember typing the recipe into my personal collection in 1990. It's a neat little book.

Mr. McNair's recipe called for 12 oz. of fettuccine, cooked, and some pesto sauce and/or spaghetti sauce for serving.  I love pasta, but it always soaks up way too much of whatever sauce I've prepared, so I tried this with a layer of some of my favorite vegetables instead.

Creamy Pine Nut Chicken

1 stick butter, melted
2 teaspoons celery salt
1 1/2 teaspoon oregano
2 teaspoon paprika
1 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
kosher salt
ground black pepper
2 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts (3 large breasts)
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 1/2 cup half and half
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup sherry

Cut the chicken in half, horizontally, to make 6 thinner cutlets. Combine the butter, celery salt, oregano, paprika and curry powder, and add salt and pepper to taste.  Set aside.  Dredge the chicken in flour, then roll in the flavored butter.  Arrange the chicken pieces in a baking pan. Scatter the pine nuts over the chicken, and then pour the half and half over the top.  Cover the pan with foil and bake in a 350 degree oven for 50 minutes.

Arrange the cooked chicken on top of the vegetables.  Add the sour cream and sherry to all of the cooking liquid from the chicken and whisk together until smooth. Pour this mixture over the chicken (try not to dislodge the pine nuts) and bake uncovered until tender, 15 to 30 minutes more.  Baste the chicken once during this time.  Serve with the vegetables.  If you have extra sauce, you can ladle it over a small side of pasta or rice.  Or egg noodles which go great with a creamy sauce.

Vegetable Layer - Prepare this before the chicken:
1 - 10 oz. package frozen broccoli spears, defrosted and partially cooked (about 4-5 minutes in the microwave is more than enough)
1 Japanese eggplant, sliced thin
1 yellow bell pepper cut into strips
1 shallot, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 pound white button mushrooms, sliced

In a deep baking dish arrange the broccoli spears, then sprinkle with some kosher salt and black pepper. In a skillet, heat a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.  Add the eggplant in a single layer and fry over medium-high heat until just a bit brown and crispy on both sides.  With a slotted spoon, remove from the skillet and spread over the broccoli.  Add the peppers to the skillet and cook for a minute or two.  Add the shallot and garlic and cook another few minutes, just until the garlic is fragrant. Be careful not to burn the garlic.

Lower the burner heat to medium.  Add the butter to the skillet, and then add the sliced mushrooms. Cook for 10 minutes or until the liquid released by the mushrooms has evaporated and the butter is mostly absorbed.  Spoon the cooked mushrooms over the other vegetables, and then set aside this baking pan.

The finished dish, combining vegetable with chicken

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Rain in Spain - I Did Them My Way Clam Cakes

Today is Labor Day, a rite of passage holiday always symbolic of new beginnings.  For us New Yorkers, the official end of summer and beginning of a new school year; for many of us, the start of a new job (I think I mentioned that I had started half the jobs of my life the day after Labor Day); for those of us who are Jewish, a reminder of the period of introspection that is represented by the Days of Awe and our upcoming New Year; for all us baby boomers, the requirement to sit respectfully and watch the entire Jerry Lewish Muscular Dystrophy Telethon; and for me personally the thirty-third anniversary of The Collapse of the Living Room Ceiling at my parent's house on Daniel Street, which occurred during, you guessed it, the Jerry Lewis Telethon. Why this sticks in my head - besides the mess, which was normally never tolerated in that sterile house - was that just as all the sheetrock came crashing down onto my mother's pristine orange carpet, the phone rang for me. It was one of my Lawrence High School classmates, a young man I'd been kind of sweet on, and I had to give him the bum's rush to get off the phone and help with the ceiling post-mortem. Knowing how I was back then, I probably gave him some flippant, disjointed, self-important explanation that failed to convey my delight at his call and my regret at having to cut him short.  Since I was leaving for my sophomore year at New Paltz the next day, I would not be able to easily receive or make a return call, and so we did not speak again. Ever. I told you I was my own worst enemy.  I'm pretty sure he did not attend our  high school's 20th reunion, and I did not attend the 25th, 30th, or 40th.  I'm not even sure there was a 30th, but if there was, I wasn't there. Ah youth!  Not only wasted on the young, but positively misspent and squandered.

While Al Gore and Mark Zuckerberg made it possible for me to reconnect with a great number of Lawrence graduates, he was unfortunately not one of them.  Wherever you are, Richard Nilsson, I hope you are well and enjoying a wonderful life. Sorry for being so abrupt with you on Labor Day 1971, but my social skills were pretty darn shaky back then. (They are a little better now, if you discount my tendency to live like a 21st century hermit.)

Sunday - Yesterday was Clam Fail 2.0, but I am determining to overcome the damn clam.  We shall overclam? Actually, I am beginning to wonder if this is all about the pan, rather than all about the clam.

I was preparing to publish a successful recipe, including photos of the GBD (golden brown and delicious) clam cakes when the unthinkable happened yet again.  While frying gently, the clam cake began to disintegrate, so that all the lovely potato-clam filling slid noisily into popping oil, leaving a crispy panko shell behind. I really could not figure out why, and it was late, so I covered the clam mixture and shoved it none too graciously in the refrigerator for an overnight rest.  

This morning, as I approached the refrigerator, it occurred to me that maybe this had nothing to do with the recipe, which should have worked, and everything to do about my used of a cast iron pan.  I admit to grasping at straws, but in any event, I pulled out a nice heavy nonstick skillet and started heating up more canola oil. I also decided not to try to coat the outside with crumbs or flour; the potato-clam mixture is fragile, even after a sleepover in the fridge, and I was hoping that the less I handled it, the more likely the success. 

Here's your ear worm, duckies - "The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain ... by George, she's got it!" Yep, I got it.

So - they held together just fine - the texture is beyond delicate; I wish I could have used the panko, but these little cakes could not have withstood the additional handling. As it is, I had to remove them from the frying pan after the initial browning so that they could be finished in the oven.  Timing is critical, both in the skillet and in the oven.  The flavor is absolutely wonderful, and I really consider these clam cakes to be a great success.  You taste each and every element.  If food could sing, this would be a perfect harmony.

There happens to be a recipe for an accompanying sauce in The Nero Wolfe Cookbook, but I keep vacillating as to whether I should prepare it. It's easy enough, and I have the ingredients at hand.  It may depend on which chicken recipe I decide to prepare, as I don't want to overly-replicate creamy textures and dairy-based sauces. 

Hello, my back is breaking. Breaking bad. Badly. I've decided on the chicken recipe - and it does eliminate the clam cake sauce from the menu - but I am going to have to wait before I do any more standing. The Creamy Chicken with Pine Nuts is, as they say, another day another blog post.

I Did Them My Way Clam Cakes

4-6.5 oz. cans minced clams, drained (keep the clam juice for another recipe; I froze mine)
4 large potatoes
1/2 cup cream
4 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons finely minced shallot
1 teaspoon parsley flakes
1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
dash of cayenne pepper
2 extra large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
Canola oil for frying

Prepare mashed potatoes from the potatoes, cream and butter.  Use a hand masher, but do try to eliminate lumps.  Add in the clams and the remaining ingredients, up to and including the cayenne pepper.  Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Whisk the eggs until frothy, then stir them into the room temperature potato mixture until fully incorporated.  Add the flour, stir well, cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, heat the canola oil in a large non-stick skillet.  Using an ice cream scoop (the type with the lever to release the contents) carefully place three scoopfuls into the hot oil.  Let them cook, undisturbed until the bottom is lightly browned and crispy.  Now, very carefully turn over each clam cake and ever-so-gently press down with your spatula just barely enough to flatten the side against the pan.  Cook undisturbed until that side is also lightly browned and crispy.  Move each clam cake to an aluminum baking dish.  Repeat until all are done; you will have between 24 and 26 clam cakes.  Place the baking pans into a 350 degree oven for 15 to 30 minutes, until the clam cakes are hot inside.  Serve immediately.

Commercial accompaniments can include Kraft Horseradish Sauce, McCormick or Hellmann's Tartar Sauce, or McCormick's Cocktail Sauce. A couple of tomatoes from my garden wouldn't hurt either.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

It's a Clam Cake Kind of Day

Jedi Knight Knits. Nice.

The nicest thing happened to me yesterday evening.  Me and my cat-cane took my walk rather late - the sun was starting to set - so I headed down to the courthouse where the street is well-lit. Just as I crossed the street to turn and head home, a car pulled over, a window rolled down, and there was my CLS supervisor, with a big smile, a bigger hug, and bearing gifts. It seems she was heading to my house on her way home, to drop off the gift bag, and there I was. It was such a lovely surprise; I told you I worked with really nice people, didn't I?

When I opened the gift, I was touched and thrilled.

Yes, that is a coloring book, but not just any coloring book. This is a book for "experienced colorists" which is fancy way of saying it is for grown-ups who finally learned how to color inside the lines.  It seems there is an adult coloring book craze out there, that I was slightly aware of, and of which I wholeheartedly approved.  Why? Well, think back to the last time you wielded a crayon - for me, that's about 55 years - and try to remember how much fun and how relaxing it was. Think about that time you were in a restaurant that provides crayons for kids to divert their attention from the fact that it is taking 30 minutes for those chicken nuggets to arrive, and you found your fingers itching to pick up your favorite color and scribble along. Ha!  I knew it!

I immediately pulled out the colored pencils she had thoughtfully included, and started to work.  I figure when It is all done, I can give it to Cory to hang on the refrigerator door. I already have the perfect magnet picked out. Thank you, Raquel, this was truly the perfect gift.

That was the good news.  The bad news is that our clothes dryer caught on fire, almost taking Cory's best taekwando uniform with it. Damn.

As you probably know, we are a Fox News type of family.  We evolved over the years, from CNN and MSNBC to Fox. Yeah, I know. Surprised me too.  There are a few things I don't like about Fox - the childish snarkiness that slips out from otherwise terrific reporters like Ed Henry and even Bret Baier of "Special Report" every so often when discussing a Democratic candidate, and the way that all but a very few of the women commentators are dressed, coifed, and made up to look like a bunch of busty Stepford Wives (the notable exception being Greta Van Susteren, who is allowed to wear slacks, sensible shoes, and her own hair).

What galls me is that these are all extremely intelligent and well-spoken women who don't need to dress up to be listened to.  If I close my eyes during "The Five", Kimberly Guilfoyle is the voice of conservative reason and I really enjoy listening to her.  If I make the mistake of opening my eyes I see a highly-rouged bimbo in a tight dress with a ridiculously short skirt and plunging neck line.  She always sits at the end, out in the open, swinging one leg over the other while showing off 5 inch heels.  All she needs is chewing gum to complete the picture.

When K.G. is not there, her spot is often filled by Andrea Tantaros, wearing the same wig, the same dress, and the same dominatrix heels, swinging her leg with that same come-hither attitude that detracts from her obvious intelligence.

There must be Female Fox uniform that includes an overly-snug sheath dress with or without sleeves (and sleeveless without a jacket is cheesy, in my opinion) and one of two identically-styled wigs, one blonde and one brunette.  You know which hairstyle I mean - overly thick and glossy, side-parted, impossibly long and perfectly curled on the sides and ends.  Even Judge Jeanine Pirro, looking good at age 64 (I wish I looked that good) has taken to wearing sleeveless sheaths with plunging necklines that would do BeyoncĂ© proud.

What caused this rant was the appearance of Meghan McCain on "The Five" last night.  Ms. McCain, the daughter of Senator John McCain, was in standard Female Fox uniform, and she was wearing The  Blonde Wig. (Actually it was her own hair, painstakingly styled to look like The Blonde Wig.)  It would have been funny if The Blonde Wig hadn't already appeared on the heads of guests on the Sunday news programs.  Instead, it bordered on the pathetic. Ms. McCain should also steer clear of the too-tight sheath. Dana Perino, former Bush White House Press Secretary, is the only one who can get away with it, which is why they always seat her behind the table.

If Fox wants the female news contributors and commentators to be taken seriously, they need to drop the Long Island Hooker look, starting with taking a chisel to Kimberly Guilfoyle's face make-up. The men are allowed to look normally well-groomed and mature; why not the women?

Okay, that was silly.  Even a bit petty on my part. Downright catty, you might say. Tomorrow I'll go back to picking on Donald Trump's hair or Geraldo Rivera's mustache or even Bret Baier's tie.

But now, finally, clam cakes.  I had the recipe from The Nero Wolfe Cookbook, and I could see right away it was going to hold together much better than my clam croquettes had.  Like a vegetarian cutlet from Ratner's, the starch factor in these clam cakes comes from mashed potatoes, which are generously enriched with heavy cream and butter. Where I deviated from the cookbook was in using canned clams - four cans will give you the 1 1/2 cups of minced clams called for by the recipe - and by amping up the spice ratio quite a bit to broaden the flavor without masking the clams. I also did some other stuff that had worked for me in other recipes, like the Latknishes.

Most of the recipes in this cookbook seem to me to be somewhat under seasoned, at least by today's standards.  Considering that the majority of the Nero Wolfe mysteries were published pre-World War II, and the first version of the cookbook came out in the seventies, that was probably to be expected. But you know me, I had to do it my way.

I Did Them My Way Clam Cakes

4-6.5 oz. cans minced clams, drained (keep the clam juice for another recipe; I froze mine)
4 large potatoes
1/2 cup cream
4 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons finely minced shallot
1 teaspoon parsley flakes
1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
dash of cayenne pepper
2 extra large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
panko bread crumbs for breading (4C brand seasoned panko)
Canola oil for frying

Oh, for crying out loud!

To Be Continued ...

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Love Is In The Air - Clam Cakes Tomorrow - Meet Delphi

Something new: Please check out the new link at the upper left-hand corner of the blog, titled "The Place to Discuss Inspiration Nation." Click on the link and you will be magically (ha!) transported to Inspiration Nation at Delphi:

Inspiration Nation at Delphi Is Up and Running: How It All Works


Welcome to the Delphi adjunct to Inspiration Nation. I've been on Delphi since 1999, and always liked the relative ease of having a real conversation. My blog is over on Google, and each day I post an article that usually includes a recipe. Most of the recipes are original, but if not, I'll let you know and post a link. I plan to post a link to the daily blog post in the (surprise!) Daily Blog Post discussion. I will also post the recipe, in its entirety (but without all of the photos) in the Daily Recipe discussion. So, if anyone wants to discuss something I brought up in the blog, or if there is a question about a recipe, or if you just want to make a comment, this is the place to do it. If you like to cook, there are already hundreds of recipes on the Inspiration Nation blog which can be reached by going to any daily blog post link. Welcome!

Because Delphi is designed for discussion forums (fora, yes thank you grammar police) it is much more user-friendly when it comes to back-and-forth chatting and interaction. You have to sign up, but it is free and painless.  It's especially good if you want to get into a discussion on a hot topic that really doesn't belong on Facebook.  The comment section for this blog is not really amenable for that kind of discussion, although you are always welcome to leave a comment.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled program:

I try to take a walk everyday, and today, the sky was so very blue and the sun so warm without excess humidity that I happily veered off my regular path.  I could not help noticing that the crape myrtles are in bloom and love is in the air.  Make that love bugs, in the air, in your face, all over the front bumper of your car.  Welcome to September in Central Florida, the beginning of the very best weather we have to offer.

Well, Google finally came through, but now my garden is giving me the business.  My daily harvests have become laughable; particularly the okra is just sitting there, refusing to grow to a measly one-inch length.  The okra bush is displaying a vast multitude of baby okra, but they are all premature.  Mocking me with their unfulfilled promise of gumbo-worthy vegetation.

Donald Trump pledged allegiance to the Republican Party, and Kim Davis, the frice-married Kentucky county clerk who decided the law did not apply to her, is spending her first few hours in jail.  Now let's see if her deputies start issuing those marriage licenses. Update: Yes they will, all but her son. What is it with county clerks and nepotism? Our county clerk here in Osceola has had his own share of misadventures, dutifully reported by the press, but unlike the hapless Ms. Davis, he embraced the marriage equality law as soon as it hit Florida. Not only did he issue marriage licenses to gay couples but he cheerfully started performing their marriage ceremonies at 12:01 AM of the day same-sex marriage became legal here. Whatever else his faults, Mr. Ramirez appears to be a hopeless romantic and a proponent of equal rights, not a bad combination.

I have not brought up the tragedy of Aylan Abdul, the little boy who perished trying to cross to safety with his family, in a very unsafe raft. I turn away from the photo which is now being shown by the media.  I have no answers to the migrant problem, which is widespread thanks to the neverending terrorist attacks in the Middle East and adjacent region. The world is held thrall by ISIS and the president blows it off. Plays golf. Travels to Alaska to rename a mountain with a perfectly good name. Declares climate change the greatest danger we are facing. All he needs now is a fiddle and a blow torch.  Don't get me started. The rest of the world's leaders are not much better. I said not to get me started. Thank you.

Sports news: my favorite Western Conference team, the L.A. Clippers, have finished hiring EVERYBODY.  The wildest free agent season ever! Woot woot, Doc Rivers, for gettin' the band back together.

Today was supposed to be Clam Cake Day, thanks to Nero Wolfe and the Viking Press. It certainly can't be Gumbo Day, because my okra plant has gotten downright nasty to me, and the okra available for sale in Publix is unfortunately too big and too woody to be eaten, at least in my house where Okra Aficianados abound.  But even the clam cakes didn't happen - too many errands, not enough time. and - wait for it - my back hurts.

Yesterday, I bathed two of our doggies while the boys were out. Although they are small, and get washed in the kitchen sink, it is still a major production (you do know that I am talking about the dogs here?).  Three shampooings and a conditioning.  Repeatedly rinsing, soaping, combing out knots, snipping the ones that are resistant to combing.  Clearing out drain traps 3 different times - these are Yorkies, and they shed hair like humans.  Which I can't allow to get into my ancient kitchen pipes unless I want to call Josephine the Plumber yet again. Blow-drying. Chelsea hates the blow drier. Oy. All on my feet, and I always pay for that sort of abuse.  And so I am and will ever be. Fibromyalgia - just me and my shadow. Of course it did not help that I was up most of thenight with   Chelsea out of fear for her breathing, which sounded seriously bad.  And then there were the soap bubbles coming out of her nostrils long after the bath was over.  No sleep ... no clam cakes. She's fine now; me not so much.

A very happy birthday (September 4) to my nephew Eric, the first baby I ever diapered.  He's 39 now, and I may have embarrassed him. Sorry. Eric is the oldest son of my college roommate Kathy; he's got a good job, a great wife, and two terrific kids.  He coaches the soccer team and brews his own beer.  I am proud to call him my nephew even though we're not related, technically speaking. But only technically.

Have a good day everyone.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Mea Culpa, Mr. Pate - Fleet Feet Bran Muffins

"Your name is Jim ..."

No, actually it's not.  My husband just informed me that I gave kudos to the wrong person last week, and I feel genuinely compelled to set the record straight. The gentleman, and I mean that in every sense of the word, who sold us my wonderful Ford Escape (and also treated my aging Ford Expedition with kindness and respect) was not named "Jim", but is actually and accurately Mr. Jack Pate of Kisselback Ford in St. Cloud.  If you are in the market for a fine used car, please ask for Mr. Pate. You can preview the available cars at Kisselback's online site, and then call him for an appointment to see the cars in person. As I said then, that was the best car-buying experience of my life.

"Your name is Jim ..."

Yes, yes it is. Brighthouse Network joke, and I have been watching too many commercials. This is what happens when you retire early and involuntarily. My old friend Steve - not to be confused with my cousin Steve (who happened to retire just two days ago) and my nephew Steve (who is a long way from retirement) - has been trying to make me feel good about retirement, which is what old friends do.  Did I mention that he is retired also?  Are you beginning to see a pattern here?  I know Steve since my days at New Paltz; he was a friend of a friend who is also now retired.  If someone had gathered us around in 1971 and told us one day we'd be discussing the finer points of retirement, we would have thought that person was indulging in one of the many pharmaceuticals available for sale on campus. Steve reminds me how nice it is to be off of a schedule and not having to do that which I don't want to do. He's right, of course, but I have a tendency to overthink and guilt-shame myself, which is complicating this thing called retirement. Story of my life. But thank you Steve, for being a good and loyal friend.  I really am listening to you.

Right now I am pretty pissed off at Google.  I admit this blog platform is free, and free is good, but half the time I can't make necessary changes and the other half the damn thing makes its own unneeded, unwanted and unnecessary changes.  Google glitches driving me crazy and we all know that for me, that's not a very far drive.

So yesterday's meatloaf was deemed "very tasty" and "very good" by Robert. I would have liked a "fabulous!" or "the best damn meatloaf I've eaten since the last time you made meatloaf" but I guess I'll just have to settle, and two out of three ain't bad. Cory was much more effusive in his praise. I happened to have tasted a tablespoon of the meat mixture, which I cooked in a pan, before turning it into a loaf, and I have to say it was really good.  One might even say it was delicious. So please try it; besides, it's a sneaky way to get some vegetables into your kids. Leave out the Scotch bonnet and throw in some carrot. Michelle Obama, the First Lunch Lady, could learn something from me, but she's on her way out and will just have to remain clueless.  And no, I'm not a racist; truth be told, the last First Lady I really liked was Betty Ford.

In addition to the meatloaf, my brain is still set on the clam cakes and a real bran muffin, one with rich assertive taste that would make you stand at attention and declare "now THIS is a bran muffin!"  I love bran muffins for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is that they are one of the only high fiber foods I can eat with impunity.  My old Weight Watchers bran muffin recipe, which makes a mighty fine muffin, was in need of some heavy updating. Cory doesn't like pineapple and Robert doesn't eat or drink anything with artificial sweetener. That meant I had to start searching through my own cookbooks for an appealingly branny muffin.  Since I have whole books that are devoted to muffins and baking, that took a while. Along the way, I realized that I wanted to try maple syrup as an ingredient and I expanded my search to the internet.  And of course, I am always attracted to muffin and cupcake recipes that include sour cream.

This also took me off on some side research about the use of baking soda as the leavening agent for batters that include sour cream, but it got sort of technical and while I got it, you might be bored.  I am taking a big step and adding some baking powder along with the baking soda, because while I want a substantial muffin, I certainly don't want it so dense that it can be used as a weapon of mass destruction. Although if this chemistry experiment fails, I know exactly who I am throwing them at.

Fleet Feet Bran Muffins

3/4 c. Log Cabin syrup (real maple syrup forms crystals during baking)
2 extra large eggs
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 1/2 cup bran (1 1/2 cup All Bran Buds, 1/2 cup Post raisin bran (hand crushed), 1/2 cup unprocessed miller's wheat bran)
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup prunes (dried plums), cut into smaller pieces (dust with 1 teaspoon of flour; will help prevent the prunes from sinking to the bottom of the muffin)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup Cracklin' Oat Bran cereal, crushed with rolling pin, hammer, or cast iron skillet 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a medium bowl, sift together the AP flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, lightly whisk the eggs, Log cabin syrup and canola oil.  With a wooden spoon, stir in the 3 brans, and let stand for 5 minutes. Next, stir in the sour cream and let stand for 1/2 hour. Add the flour mixture to the bran mixture. Stir only enough to moisten, then stir in the prunes.

Scoop into a muffin tin that has been lightly wiped with nonstick spray across the top, and lined with paper cups. Sprinkle the crushed oat bran cereal on top of each muffin. Bake in the 400 degree oven for 18 to 20 minutes. Let cool in the muffin tin for 10 minutes, then remove the muffins from the pan to finish cooling on a rack.                              

Really good, delicious, etc., but not the dark branniness I was expecting.  And then, it hit me like a fist pounding on a judicial bench: molasses.  If not molasses, then brown sugar. That will have to be another time, place, and blog post, but until then both Robert and I recommend this one. The Fleet Feet Bran Muffin, replete with fruit and fiber. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Clerk is a Crackpot in Kentucky - Pizza Pizza Meatloaf with Everything No Anchovies

Just once I would like to wake up without a headache, without a backache, without a buzz saw across my midsection, without a heart palpitation and without a panic attack.  This morning I've got brain fog and depression added to the list of Usual Suspects, so to conclude I was a mess would be a vast understatement.  I have a formidable list of things I have to get done, and have neither the strength nor the fortitude to start any one of them.

Yesterday was an okay sort of day.  I was able to do some food shopping at Walmart, despite the buzz saw, which got bad enough that I purchased a bottle of generic Zantac and swallowed two of them before I even left the store.  I planned out a couple of new recipes in my head and picked up the necessary ingredients.  I cleaned up after my pets, cheerfully and repeatedly.  In the evening, I took my walk to new places and I even climbed steps and peered into windows at the old courthouse and the Carson-Bryan House, both of which are blissfully just down the street. Gotta keep moving.

But ... continuing along on the roller coaster that is my life, I crashed by 8:30pm while watching Roger Mooking set fires all over the place on Cooking Channel.  We went upstairs a full hour early, and I guess I fell asleep, because I would have had to be asleep to wake up not less than four times during the night.  And then this morning - well, you already heard me bitch and moan.  Which brings us to now.

Didja hear the one about the clerk in Kentucky who is refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples? Actually, now she is refusing to issue licenses to anybody.  I guess she figures that makes the whole deal fair and balanced, and this way she won't accidentally be tricked by a gay couple with gender neutral names.  This four times married little chippy, who is an elected official, has essentially gone over the Supreme Court's head, straight to God. I'm okay with God as you all know, but last time I checked He does not sit on the United States Supreme Court or any other governmental agency above the Supreme Court.  He sure as hell isn't living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but that's another blog post. Perhaps this Kim person, who apparently inherited the clerk's position from her mother </sarcasm> has not heard of the First Amendment or the Constitution.  Does anyone know why she hasn't been fired, suspended, or put on unpaid leave?  WTF is going on in Kentucky? (I understand that she and her band of Merry Meatheads are due in court tomorrow for what sounds like what we call a show cause hearing - essentially, a contempt hearing. Can't wait.)

Another police officer shot and killed on Tuesday in Illinois while the President is up in Alaska changing the name of Mt. McKinley.  Priorities, Mr. President. You ain't got 'em.

I love pizza. Real New York pizza, not the deep dish pies they call pizza in Chicago which are delicious but not pizza. Seriously, who decided to call what is more like a quiche than a pizza, a pizza?  Anyway, the problem which really is a problem because I live practically next door to Al's Pizza which makes the best almost-New York pizza in Florida, is that pizza doesn't like me.  Our relationship came apart on June 2, 2003, the day my entire digestive system got rearranged.  Although I've apologized repeatedly, pizza continues to plague me in the most distressing ways.  Two bites and I'm finished.  I can't swallow pizza with any degree of comfort and if I become so bold as to try it shows me who the boss really is by coming right back up. Just to show pizza there are no hard feelings for causing me to throw up for a dozen years, I created this meatloaf to honor the flavors I love and miss so much.  I hope Rob and Cory enjoy it, because I can't eat meatloaf either.

Pizza Pizza Meatloaf  With Everything No Anchovies

1 pound ground beef
1 pound Jimmy Dean Italian pork sausage roll
a few shots of Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup pepperoni slices, chopped

In an extra large mixing bowl, combine well and set aside.

3 slices bacon, diced
1/2 large white onion
1/2 green pepper
1 small hot pepper, minced (optional)
4 or more large cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup sliced black olives, drained
1-DR WT 4 oz. can Giorgio Chunky Style Portabella Mushrooms, drained

In a heavy skillet over medium high heat, cook the bacon until just about half-done. Add the onion and green pepper and cook a few minutes until the vegetables start to soften.  Add the hot pepper and garlic and cook about 5 minutes longer until the vegetables are tender, not brown; the bacon is cooked but not crisp; the garlic is fragrant.  Take off the heat and add the olives and mushrooms, then set aside to cool.

2 extra large eggs
1/4 cup cream
1 tablespoon grated Romano cheese
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 teaspoon sugar

Combine in a small mixing bowl and whisk gently with a fork.  Set aside to allow the herbs and spices to 'bloom'.

Once the vegetables are cooled to room temperature add them to the meat in the mixing bowl and use a wooden spoon to combine.  Next, add the egg, cream and spice mixture, and stir to distribute.

2 cups Italian seasoned panko bread crumbs

Add the panko, and with a spoon and/or your hands, work everything so that it holds together.  Spray a baking pan with Pam.  Form a loaf about the length of the baking pan (9 inches). Preheat the oven to 475 degrees.  Spray the top and sides of the meatloaf with Pam. Place the meatloaf in the 475 degree oven for 15 minutes, until the exterior is sealed from the heat.  Remove the meatloaf from the oven and lower the temperature to 350 degrees. Carefully pour off any accumulated fat in the pan.

1-14 oz. jar Classico Traditional Pizza Sauce
1-11 oz. package sliced mozzarella

While the temperature adjusts, spoon about 2/3rds of the pizza sauce over the meatloaf; return to the 350 degree oven and bake another 45 to 55 minutes, until the interior temperature is 150 degrees.  Remove the meatloaf from the oven and increase the temperature to 400 degrees. Spoon the remaining pizza sauce on top of the meatloaf, slide into the oven for 5 to 10 minutes.  Place slices of mozzarella over the sauce and bake just until the cheese is nicely melted.

By the way. Somewhere in the Great Afterlife, my grandmother is screaming at me: "oy vay, who eats something like that?" Sort of how she used to scream at Pop when he liberally peppered the chicken soup she had slaved over all day.  And yes, I did get my love of excess black pepper from my Pop. Just like I got my love of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and cream cheese and jelly sandwiches from my grandmother, who prepared my school lunches every day until I started junior high.  What she could have never imagined is my preparing and eating a peanut butter, cream cheese and jelly sandwich for lunch.  That's strawberry preserves, by the way. Mom always used grape jelly, which I still love, but is too messy for my sixty-something sensibilities. Mom, I made it and I ate it and I'm glad. You were right about whipped cream and applesauce, but this is really really good.

(That last paragraph is what they call lagniappe down in the Big Easy - a little something extra. Have a good day everyone.)


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

See You In September

It's been a while since I planted a happy snappy singing worm in your ear, so let's start this month off the right way:

See you in September
See you when the summer's through
Here we are (bye, baby, goodbye)
Saying goodbye at the station (bye, baby, goodbye)
Summer vacation (bye, baby bye, baby)
Is taking you away (bye, baby, goodbye)
Have a good time but remember
There is danger in the summer moon above
Will I see you in September
Or lose you to a summer love
(counting the days 'til I'll be with you)
(counting the hours and the minutes, too)

If you must know, September is one of my favorite months.  For one thing, I always started school in September, and I loved going back to school.  September, and more specifically the week after Labor Day, is when I started three (and possibly more) of the jobs I worked as an adult, including my time at Robert Hall, American Hull Insurance Syndicate, Alexander & Alexander, Part Deux, and the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services. Big days for me, as I loved starting new jobs.  

The Jewish High Holy Days almost always fall out in September, and this year is no different: Rosh Hashonah, the Jewish Year 5776, begins at sundown September 13, and Yom Kippur at sundown on September 22.  I really like our High Holy Days; this is, after all, the beginning of our New Year, with all that implies - God's judgment of each of us; teshuvah (repentance), tefillah (prayer), and tzedakah (charity) to avert the severe decree; traditional foods like apples and challah dipped in honey to symbolize our hope for a sweet year, and salty foods like herring to get us to drink a lot of fluids after the Yom Kippur fast. 

This year Sukkot (Feast of Booths) also falls out in September, and this brings to mind my favorite story from The Year I Taught Hebrew School.  You have to understand that I had never gone to Hebrew school, and could not read Hebrew, having to rely on transliterations to pray, which I did not do all that much. Ethnically and culturally I was Brooklyn Jewish to my bone marrow, but almost completely non-observant.  Having undertaken the rather daunting task of raising a Jewish child, I had to become more than someone who could only recite the blessings over the Sabbath candles and challah because I had learned them at Jewish summer camps. So a number of years ago, I made the decision to make a decision about me and my religion, and I self-studied extensively. I also learned basic Hebrew from our Rabbi.  I determined that for the most part, I was philosophically aligned with Reform Judaism, and it was at our first Reform congregation that I did my teaching stint, working with the younger children regarding Jewish history, holidays, and the same basic Hebrew I'd learned not all that long ago.

Best sukkah EVER!!

Anyway, this is a Sukkot Story, and as it happened I was teaching the kids about this holiday, including the tradition of inviting honored ancestors into the sukkah, the temporary booth or hut constructed as yet another symbol of the holiday.  I had already taught them about the Jewish Patriarchs.  I asked them who might be invited into the sukkah, and then depending on their answers, my plan was to go over all the possibilities.  Well, the kids were pretty engaged, raising their hands and calling out names like Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus.

I guess I should have mentioned that fully half the children in my class came from "mixed" families - one parent Jewish, the other not.  Most of those children had Jewish mothers, which, according to Jewish Law meant they were Jewish even if their father happened to be the Archbishop of Canterbury. Oy, I'm telling this story and I realize I am about to get into Sensitive Topics.  Don't kill me because I'm honest, okay? A very few of those children had gentile mothers, and Jewish fathers, and herein lies the problem.

In the world in which I was raised, maternity was a matter of certainty while paternity was a matter of speculation. A child was Jewish if the mother was Jewish, because that is the only thing you could be sure of.  I realize science has brought us to a whole new way of thinking, but I'm going to ignore that philosophical discussion, at least for now.  In my world and in my family, Jew married Jew (except my late Uncle Marty; his mother, who was my grandmother-who-raised-me, never got over this) and that made things ever-so-easy.  As I got older, it was obvious that intermarriage numbers were rising dramatically, but still Jewish Law prevailed and told us who was who and who was a Jew. 

Let me interject that I continue to be a Reform Jew, and what I have always especially liked about the Reform movement is its open door policy of inclusion.  The first woman cantor, the first woman rabbi, the first acceptance and welcome of intermarried families and gay families, all championed by the Reform.

However, remembering that I am a child of the fifties, in my world the stay-at-home mother was primarily responsible for imbuing their children with religion.  For reasons that I shall leave as an exercise for the student, I still believe that is the best way to go. The Reform organizations had a different idea:

In 1983 the Central Conference of American Rabbis adopted the Resolution on Patrilineal Descent. According to this resolution, a child of one Jewish parent, who is raised exclusively as a Jew and whose Jewish status is "established through appropriate and timely public and formal acts of identification with the Jewish faith and people" is Jewish. These acts include entry into the covenant, acquisition of a Hebrew name, Torah study, bar/bat Mitzvah and confirmation. (taken from reformjudaism.org)

The problem, at least in this particular case, was that the non-Jewish mother had agreed to raise their child Jewish, but personally had no idea how to do so.  She had no plans to convert and from what I could see she was the primary child-rearing parent.  So my little student, his face bright with joy, wanted to invite Jesus into the sukkah, no doubt because his mother, who set the tone for how the household was run, along with all of his maternal relatives, praised Jesus as was to be expected. All together now:  Oy!

I did not want to hurt, or confuse, or insult this child, or his mother.  I was brought up to respect anyone who practiced their religion (caveat: I was to respect them, not marry them. My parents' open-mindedness went just so far.)  As far as the teaching gig, I was staying one step ahead of the kids and nothing in my teacher's manuals had prepared me for this.

After 20 years, I don't remember exactly what I said, but the main idea would have been that we all worship the same God, different religions in different ways.  I would have pointed out the similarities between Judaism and Christianity.  I would have spoken respectfully of Jesus and explained why we would not invite him to this particular party.  It must have worked, because there were no complaints from parents or the Board of Directors of the congregation.

So that is my sweet and funny Sukkot story.  I hope you enjoyed it.  As for me, I never taught Hebrew school again after that year.  I don't know what happened to that little boy, but I suspect he grew up in his mother's religion, and in my singular opinion, that's the way things should be.  Apparently I am a Reform Jew with Conservative bone marrow.  

This day, September 1st, marks the 24th anniversary of our move to Florida, the day we landed (literally) in Kissimmee to take up residence in an apartment while our first Hunter's Creek house was being built.  That's a long time ... an entire generation that we have spent in this nominally southern state.  I am no more a Floridian than Chris Christie. I sound like New York, I think like New York, and I react like New York. And yes, I love my bad attitude.

No cooking today. Cooking tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Thou Shalt Not Be An Amoral Wretch - Sufferin' Succotash

By way of Greta Van Susteren: Three law enforcement officers executed in one week.  I hadn't been keeping count, but I knew, as does anyone who pays attention to something besides the antics of the repulsive Kardashian Klan, that there has been an epidemic of cop killings. If anyone knows why this is happening, now would be a good time to announce it to the world because really, this has to stop.  

I could blame it on President Obama or any number of public figures, but the truth is that there is something truly rotten in the fabric of society. President Obama's lack of support for law enforcement is a symptom, not the disease itself.  In this regard he is no different than a great number of people who were raised to fear or disrespect representatives of the law. And if I were to be totally honest, at this point it would not matter if he stood at the podium extolling the virtues of law enforcement and honoring those who have died in its service, because both the office of the presidency and the current occupant no longer garner respect from a majority.

Passing more and more restrictive laws is not the answer when neither Congress nor the criminal class respect the law.  Depending on people to do the right thing is hopeless when a vast majority of the world continues to engage in amoral thought and behavior.  Moral behavior does not depend on religious belief - atheists, agnostics, and those who believe outside of Judeo-Christian religions are perfectly capable of living moral and ethical lives - but organized religion does provide a reliable framework of right and wrong.  A hardcore atheist could (and does) ignore the first four of the Ten  Commandments, follow the remaining six and still be in pretty good shape, but I'm here to tell you that the believers are in as bad a position on those last six as the non-believers.

Let me give you the Jewish version of  "Ten Commandments, the Short Form":
1) I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
2) Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.
3) Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
4) Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.
5) Honor thy father and thy mother.
6) Thou shalt not murder.
7) Thou shalt not commit adultery.
8) Thou shalt not steal.
9) Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
10) Thou shalt not covet anything that belongs to thy neighbor.
Mel Brooks and the 15 Commandments

The world is in a sorry state, my friends, and that is about as philosophical as I can get on a Monday. I do, however, take the massacre of law enforcement officers quite personally (family members), just as I take anti-semitism personally.  There is a bigger picture, of course, beyond what is personal to each of us, and that requires us to be cognizant and considerate of each other and that is what I think is lacking the most.  

I am in pain - what else is new? - and the pain is distracting me from things I need to do.  It's the kind of pain that comes from a buzz saw cutting me, front to back, at the top of my ribs, through what used to be my stomach. It's a vicious mother, I cannot lie nor can I even wear a bra.  Since I won't leave the house without a bra, I have crawled back upstairs to my bed, with my books and a bowl of mashed potatoes.  I'm a damn sorry mess. I even thought I heard someone shoveling snow outside, using the kind of heavy coal shovel we used when I was a kid growing up in New York.  I actually peeked outside, ignoring the truth of the matter, which is that it is 84 degrees outside.  Chilly for Florida, but still not the type of weather to induce snowflakes to fall.  Someone was repairing a small patch of the road, making those scraping sounds by applying a heavy shovel to asphalt.  Pah! Snow would have been so much more interesting.

So I spent the day inside which gave me chance to thumb through the Nero Wolfe Cookbook. More about that later. I also checked on cooked food supplies and decided to pull out a tray of manicotti with sage cream sauce from the freezer, not knowing if I was going to feel well enough to tackle oxtails, cod fillets, or even a chicken.  I also decided to try to do something to revitalize the mock choux succotash, which had gone over like a lead balloon.  It was a vegetable side dish, which I keep trying to sneak in on the boys, but this time it didn't work.  Since I hate to waste perfectly good food, I set about chopping onions, bacon, and garlic, and sauteed them while cooking some boil-in-bag rice.  I also threw in a Scotch bonnet pepper, minced, and raided my garden for more okra, a handful of cherry tomatoes, and two Japanese eggplants, which I sliced and cooked separately.

Everything got combined and generously seasoned with salt, pepper, and Emeril's Cajun seasoning, then covered with foil and placed in the oven just long enough to warm up and make friends.  Between the rice and the spice, I think this time I got it.