Well, the response to my last post just bowled me over. Y’all were so kind to send your prayers, suggestions, compliments on my hot physical therapist/husband and recommendations for a massage table. Several of you are fighting pain battles of your own, and there is strength in numbers. Hearing each of your stories made me feel stronger and more determined: “If she can do it, so can I, because I am Superwoman, hear me roar!”
It’s hard to know how to convey thanks over the internet, but I figured you could always use some new recipes, and of course Mothers’ Day is coming up, so gift ideas might be welcome.
(Lawyers love to organize documents with Roman numerals)
One time I tried one of Cooking Light’s desserts. It was a disaster. The magazine took a classic recipe, replaced all the ingredients with fat-free versions, and reduced the amount of chocolate chips required. The end result was crumbly and not even the dog would eat it. It was my fault I guess– desserts are meant to be sinful, not reduced-calorie. Anyway, I quit using the magazine after that debacle, even though some of our favorite recipes originated there, like Pork Lo Mein and I think the Chicken Fricassee with Orzo.
I’ve picked up a couple of the latest issues, however, and had Bill select recipes, and we’ve hit the jackpot.
Like everyone else, we’re trying to cut costs, and groceries are a great place to cut. I still make a master list for the week and try to get it all done in one trip. For chicken recipes, I’ve been purchasing the breasts on the bone, and Bill and I fix ourselves a gin and tonic and have a boning party on Sunday afternoon. You can save at least $2 per pound this way. Publix had boneless chicken breasts on sale this week for $1.50 per pound, so I stocked up on those and froze them.
I’ve proclaimed that I’m a seafood snob, and buy only from the fishmonger. That’s changed. We have plenty of shrimp recipes that are heavily seasoned, and I’ve been experimenting with frozen shrimp. Aldi and Costco sell frozen, uncooked shrimp which are much cheaper than fresh shrimp and my family hasn’t noticed a difference.
Now when I go to Costco I buy seven gallons of milk, Parmiggiano-Reggiano cheese, several packages of Stacy’s Pita Chips, coffee beans, salted and unsalted butter (I freeze it and use as needed) and packages of shrimp.
That said, here’s what we’ve been enjoying lately.
Lemon Pepper Shrimp Scampi (that link will take you to a page where you can print out the recipe)
I’ll admit, I’m more about the Cooking than the Light, so I may have used seven tablespoons of butter instead of teaspoons, and I added more garlic, and of course I used fresh, not bottled garlic, and we all slurped it up. I made extra and Porter ate the rest for an after-school snack.
Dude! I may have actually followed the recipe on this one. I served it with noodles and a cucumber salad. Porter is in charge of making the cucumber salad, but basically it’s:
2 cukes, peeled or not, seeded or not (chef’s choice) halved lengthwise and sliced
Sprinkle with some toasted sesame seeds (you can purchase them already toasted), a tiny bit of sesame oil, some rice vinegar, a dash of soy sauce. For the spicy version, add a squirt of Sriracha .
Not everything we eat is Asian. The Chipotle Sloppy Joes were a great success.
Some of these recipes call for pre-sliced veggies. Knock yourself out if you have that kind of money. Otherwise chop it yourself. Also, I’m getting a bit peeved about the number of cans of chipotle chiles I purchase, just to use one chile. (You find these in the grocery by the taco kits). Last night I made another recipe that called for one chile and a teaspoon of the adobo sauce, so I spread the remainder on some wax paper and stuffed it in a baggie and froze it. If I remember that it’s there, I’ll let you know how a thawed chipotle tastes.
I have the same beef with tomato paste. It’s one thing to buy a can for 33 cents at Aldi and just use a tablespoon. But it irks me to spend 89 cents on it at Publix and use less than a third of it. I know it can be spread out and frozen; again, the trick is remembering that you have a flat square of frozen tomato paste in your freezer when you’re trying to prepare dinner between Cub Scouts and drums.
I thought that Curried Beef Short Ribs sounded nasty, but Bill thought differently and Finn complained that he never gets to eat red meat so I gave it a go. It was one of our favorites of the year. The recipe says that 2 pounds of ribs will feed six, but I would only go by that if three of you are vegetarians. Next time I’ll use at least 3.5 pounds.
Red curry paste used to be difficult to find – I had to go to the Asian market for it. No longer! Now it’s in the aisle with the soy sauce in a glass jar. Always start with half the amount a recipe calls for and add more, tasting as you go. Some people must like to use the stuff to blow out all their earwax during dinner, but I think that’s what Q-tips are for.
Coconut milk is in the same place – there will be some in the Mexican section and some in the Asian section and one will be cheaper. I never buy the low fat or light anything. Fish sauce is there, too, but I do think it’s worth going to the Asian market or Whole Foods and getting a decent bottle. Don’t smell it if you’ve never cooked with it before. Just use it.
The rest of these recipes are Asian. But if you click on the Let’s Eat tab in the left sidebar you’ll see plenty of family-friendly non-Asian recipes.
Hoisin Flank Steak with Asian Cucumber Salad fulfilled Finn’s desire for red meat while giving us an alternative to our usual cucumber salad, and it was yummy. I sprinkled cashews on my salad to be daring.
I usually don’t fool with goofy ideas like the wonton chips that they mention, but I did those, too. We hate five-spice powder, though, so I brushed the wontons with sesame oil and sprinkled them with sesame seeds. The guys felt like they were getting to eat bread, which is rare in our house. Every week they say they want rolls with dinner and every week I come home and tell them I forgot to buy them at the grocery store. I figure that makes up for the fact that we are sinners who eat white rice instead of brown.
Guess where I got the cashews I sprinkled on my funky salad? They were left over from our Chicken, Cashew and Red Pepper Stir-Fry. I wasn’t going to try this because sometimes I think all stir-frys are alike, but this one got Cooking Light’s highest rating, and why would I ignore a winner? It was peppy and simple.
Finally, Finn has become a devotee of Chicken Panang, which he’s had at a restaurant in NYC and here in Birmingham. We’ve cut back on eating out, but he didn’t cut back on his desire for Chicken Panang, so I explored the internet, mixed a little of this with a little of that, and came up with the following recipe:
1 pound chicken cut in strips
1 cup coconut milk
2 T red curry paste (I actually use about 1.5 t)
1 T fish sauce
2 T peanut butter (choosy moms choose Jif)
1 T sugar
1 sliced red bell pepper
8 basil leaves, sliced
Brown the chicken in a little oil. Push it to the side and fry the curry paste for a minute. Add the coconut milk and stir til the paste is mixed in. Add the pb, fish sauce, sugar, and bell pepper. Stir everything together. Cook about five minutes and add the basil.
II. Mother’s Day
While we’re on the topic of cooking, I have a couple of kitchen related gifts to suggest. You know how you always buy a pepper grinder and it works for a couple of months and then dies? I did quite a bit of pepper grinder research last winter and discovered the Unicorn Magnum Plus Pepper Mill . I gave it to my mother-in-law, who has been pleased with it. They offer a smaller version also.
Nothing is more infuriating than to cook in a kitchen without a sharp knife, but knives can be costly. New York magazine had an article about a knife that is reasonably-priced, a good size for many tasks, and holds its blade. I bought it for my mother-in-law also. The Victorinox Cutlery 8-Inch Chef’s Knife is quite a bargain – though you can spend more if you splurge for the one with the rosewood handle.
The best item I’ve purchased all year is unromantic. We had a set of two cordless phones with an answering machine, and then we bought another phone, but they were cheap, the batteries kept fizzling, and we didn’t have enough phone coverage for the house. The phone would ring and I’d sprint from room to room, only to stop in disgust as the machine picked up and recorded Bill saying, “Honey, I know you are at home. Why don’t you answer me?”
I invested in the Panasonic Dect 6.0 Series 4 Handset Cordless Phone System with Answering System and my life is much improved. The handsets are numbered so we know which one is missing, there’s an intercom system if I need a boy to refresh my ice water while I’m in bed, and I am nicer to my family as a result.
Of course, some would argue that Mother’s Day is for sweeter gifts, like a Mac Viva Glam VI Lipstick and Lipglass. (I can’t make a link to it, but it’s a color that’s flattering on most.) Does your mother work out? Has she been wearing the same faded shirt to exercise in for years? Buy her some new workout wear. Academy has a large selection at great prices.
Look around the house and see if there are things she uses every single day that have gotten beat up and gnarly. Some ladies would love a new set of measuring cups. Others would spit in your eye upon receipt.
I saw that Pottery Barn has some colorful cocktail glasses. Fun!
Okay, it’s time for me and Bill to head to physical therapy for another lesson. I’ll let you all put suggestions for recipes AND Mother’s Day gifts in the comments.
The theme for Flashback Friday this week is “The Letter R.” I don’t have a clue how I came up with that or what I’ll do with it, but feel free to join in.
One year ago on My Tiny Kingdom: All For One
I can’t manage my back problems by myself anymore. My physical therapist stated the obvious as we were going through a pattern of exercises designed to stretch out my hip flexors and prevent them from over-rotating, which is one way my body compensates for its limited motion between my shoulders and my hips.
“You’ve done a fabulous job of staying fit and flexible,” he said, as he pushed his fingers around my hip bone and held the muscle in place while I slid my leg slowly up and down the table.
I turned on my left side and relaxed my right shoulder so he could reach under my shoulder blade and pin down the muscle under my scapula. I raised my arm from the elbow up and down, slowly, as if it were a new part of my anatomy I was testing. I started sweating as the muscle throbbed through the rotation.
“I’ve seen a lot of patients in much more pain who’ve had considerably less surgery. You’ve got a lot going on in that back, with all that hardware and the muscles that haven’t moved on their own for years. I think you’d benefit from being stretched out this way several times a week,” he said, burrowing his fist deeper into my shoulder. “You’re contracted across your upper back, and by having someone help you lengthen the muscles several times a week you can counteract that effect.”
I was silent, remembering the last time I had to rely on someone to help me with physical therapy. Before my first spine surgery, my mom and I got up early every morning to do a series of exercises intended to stave off the need for surgery. My mom handled it perfectly. She’d wake me up and we’d head to the den, with my mom clapping and singing all the way, like the only thing she had to do or wanted to do all day long was hold my feet and arms in various awkward positions while I twisted and turned, trying to strengthen the muscles on either side of my stubborn spine.
I’ve known this time would come. For the past several months I’ve had to lie down each afternoon to rest my burning muscles. At night it’s difficult to sleep when the nerves in my arms and legs tingle and my fingers and toes get numb. And I know it could be worse. I remember thinking before that second surgery that I’d be in a wheelchair by the time I was 40 if I didn’t do something drastic. The surgery was drastic, certainly, but since my recovery I’ve been able to resume most of my activities and Jazzercise without falling on my face or crying in agony. I’m much better off physically than I have any right to be.
All the same, it was a humbling afternoon when Jon, Bill and I met at therapy so Bill could learn how to work my hips and upper back. Jon stretched my left hip flexor, then showed Bill how to do it. Bill’s hands felt familiar, of course, but less certain than Jon’s.
I had to close my eyes and concentrate on the muscles Bill was holding, telling him to pin deeper, or higher, and I reminded myself that while I felt helpless, he was feeling the pressure to get it right. He had on his “Bucy face,” his look of greatest concentration. I named this look after a favorite, challenging law professor of ours twenty years ago. He wore that face every minute of her class, as if he thought that relaxing his jaw and eyebrows would make every bit of criminal law he’d retained magically disappear.
We’re embarking on a new era, one in which I’ll have to depend on him to help me manage this body, with all its frailties and kinks. Our plan is to try the exercises at night, and to look around for a massage table so that we won’t have to get on the floor to work out. I have a hard time getting up and down from the floor, and it’s easier for the therapist (or husband) to perform the maneuvers in a standing position.
I’ve talked with the boys and told them my back just isn’t as strong as it used to be. I might lie down more often in the afternoons, or need a bit more help around the house, particularly with lifting laundry and groceries. I explained to them that Daddy and I would be working on my back so I could stay strong, and that if they wanted to watch or to learn how to help with the exercises, I’d love it. I grew teary when I talked to them. I’m used to being the savior, not the saved.
Finn was sympathetic, hugging me, telling me it would be fine, pointing out all the activities I could do. Drew listened and reminded me that he loves to chop ingredients for dinner as long as he has a good knife. Porter assured me he’d still snuggle with me every morning while we listen to NPR.
And so this Flashback Friday, I’m looking back at our family as it was , and how we are now. And I’m wondering how the future will be. But I suppose that’s true for all of us.
Family Portrait 2000
Me and the guys, 2009
Me and my new therapist
It’s your turn to join Flashback Friday. Directions are here.
It didn’t just promise Happy Hours – it delivered, affording mothers throughout the Tiny Kingdom five hours of peace and giving three, four and five-year-olds days of kindergarten bliss.
Here’s the graduating class of Happy Hours kindergarten in 1973.
(click to enlarge)
We learned all sorts of important life skills at Happy Hours. We learned how to cut with pointy scissors, how to stop eating the jar of paste, how to go all the way across the monkey bars without stopping and not to hang on them upside-down on the days you wore a dress.
See the clock in the background? We probably couldn’t read that. We didn’t focus so much on letters and numbers and real school stuff. The teachers at Happy Hours wanted to make sure we knew how to share, how to get to the bathroom on time, to say please , thank you, yes ma’am and no ma’am. That’s what everyone learned in kindergarten back then.
When you were five, Mrs. Sillaman, who owned the school, was your teacher, and she ensured you were ready to make your way in the world. Everyone graduated well-versed in a variety of songs and dances, including “Way Down Yonder in The Paw-Paw Patch,” “Skip To My Lou,” and the Hokey-Pokey. We memorized and recited the 100th Psalm every Thanksgiving after we’d made hand-turkeys.
There was one kid in my class who said everything like it was a question? And Mrs. Sillaman made him repeat every sentence without the inflection on the end? And even at that young age I thought I might be capable of murder? And I cannot for the life of me remember which child that was to identify him, which is probably best for all concerned.
I remember plenty of the others, though.
I suppose everyone who moves back home experiences this– the people from your past pop up in unexpected places. Today’s Flashback Friday has shown me just how much our lives are interwoven.
The boy on the end of the front row is Archie, and he and I went to school together through high school. You know the kid who could fix the film projector when it broke down and then grew up to be a computer genius? That’s him. He also married a gorgeous blond-haired, blue-eyed girl who was several years younger than we are. She Jazzercises with me, and has the tight ass and firm thighs that come along with that activity.
Now that I’ve complimented her I suppose it’s a convenient time to confess that I remember a certain boy-girl party in the 7th grade where Archie and I flirted and danced. I don’t think I kissed him, but I sure thought about it. I actually had a crush on his older brother, Charles, but figured that any male from that family (and there were several) would do.
Despite growing up with brothers, Archie now has three blond, blue-eyed daughters and is hugely outnumbered in his household. Dude, I feel your pain. Sometime we need to trade: you can come to my house and play the Doorknob/Fart game with my boys and I’ll go to your house and braid hair and sprinkle glitter.
The red-head on the other end is now a judge. Happily, he’s not the judge who has a daughter that Finn decked in the face in second grade. He has a boy Finn’s age and they are great friends. He also has twin boys who look exactly like he does in this picture.
In the second row, the boy in the red and white stripes (which are probably meant to be crimson, for all the Bama fans out there) is now a successful insurance salesman with a lovely wife and children. I cannot believe I don’t have any dirt on him, as we ran in the same circles. Thank God I showed some restraint with someone.
I’m in the middle in the blue dress, and next to me is Katie Stroud. I played with her a lot. Her mom looked a lot older than my mom and wore her hair piled in a bun on top of her head, and long skirts, like a German hausfrau. I couldn’t picture her wearing the flashy bikini my mom sported. Hairstyles aside, I thought Katie’s mom was great because she let Katie have an E-Z Bake Oven, while my mom told me I could use the real oven and be happy about it. Katie and I probably made 1000 saucer-sized chocolate cakes at her house through the years.
John is next to her. He played football at Alabama. Several of my friends kissed him in high school, but I didn’t. Today he owns Greek restaurants and sushi restaurants which both rock. Bill and I had a wonderful dinner at his fancy sushi restaurant, Ginsei, and sat next to a guy who was wooing a Greek medical student. She was hot, his lines were witty, the rock shrimp were luscious and we drank two bottles of wine while we eavesdropped on their date. Space between tables is not the restaurant’s strong point. The wooer is now engaged to someone else, which is a whole ‘nother story, but I hear that the med student is the most eligible Greek in town so she’ll be totally fine.
The first guy on the last row is Steven, and we had one date in high school. (Just to show you the connectedness of the Tiny Kingdom, he’s now married to the sister of someone I practice law with, his mother lives around the corner, and his brother’s mother-in-law lives down the street.)
Steven and I went on a double date with his mother and Fred, her now husband. At that point they had been dating five years or so, and my parents knew that we were at the movies with Steven’s parents. Fred had some sort of car trouble, and I got home five minutes after curfew. My parents were way uptight about the curfew, and I intend to be the same way. There were no cell phones back then, and Steven had the pleasure, which he assures me he has never forgotten, of walking me to the door, where he was met by my dad, clad only in his boxers.
My dad was unforgiving, Steven and I were horrified, and his mom and Fred were in the driveway waiting on Steven, either laughing or making out. I should ask her.
The next guy, Brad, was your typical Bad Boy. Not the sexy kind of Bad Boy, just Bad. We carpooled with Brad. His mom had pale skin and blonde hair and the look on her face when we picked him up for school was one of pure relief. I sympathized; that’s the look I had on my face when we dropped him off. He kicked girls and teachers, threw tantrums, refused to color when it was time to color and he was the worst dancing partner.
I couldn’t remember the name of the next girl, but Paige, in white, says her name was Arden Ripple. My God! What an awesome name! It’s my personal belief that she changed her name to Angelina Jolie and became obsessed with children, but if not, I hope the real Arden Ripple will let us know what she’s been up to.
Paige gets the award for least changed, despite birthing five boys. Oddly, she looks even more like herself today in the 3 year-old class picture than she does here. Sigh.
The boy in the brown and white stripes is Lee and he has a great recollection of the Happy Hours gang. In fact, he wrote that he painted the tree on the far right and Archie did the apple tree next to his, which he felt was inferior. He knows that a girl created the tree on the left hand side and remembers thinking it was awful. Archie commented that the girls were totally responsible for painting all the bunnies.
The boy in blue is named Duvergne. You pronounce it “Doo-vern.” Clearly that’s a French name, but I remember my mom insisting it was Spanish. Whatever. Foreign languages were not her thing. In 6th grade all the kids in the Tiny Kingdom take ballroom dancing lessons at Steeple Arts. I did it, our parents did it, and Finn did,too, though Bill was unsure when he would ever use them, as he grew up in Auburn and has never had to do an impromptu foxtrot himself.
Duvergne has not lost his love of the dance; he was one of the ballroom aids during Finn’s class. When I told Finn that I’d known Duvergne for 35 years he about fainted, because I’d been telling him I was thirty for quite a while.
Here we are at four:
(click to enlarge)
I’m in the middle again, with pink and white. The boy in blue by my knee was named Blair, and he had the longest eyelashes ever. I’m sitting next to Dana Goldblatt, who has disappeared. It’s a shame, because I went to her house after school a lot.
Dana told me that if we touched the tips of our tongues together a fairy would appear and we could boss her around. We tried it several times but we never got a fairy. You might think it’s gross to touch your tongue to someone else’s, but the great thing about Dana was that she was also a big fan of eating Gleem toothpaste, so the tongue-touching was a minty experience. Generally we’d get home, have a snack, eat some Gleem (I didn’t swallow), go outside and touch tongues, and spend the rest of the afternoon on the swings.
Here we are at three:
(click to enlarge)
Archie’s on the second row, and he’s whooped. Paige, John, Russell, me and Katie make up a happy back row. It looks like we couldn’t draw trees, but we were able to cut out Easter Eggs with our safety scissors at that young age. Even then we were headed for great things.
I’m not sure how the girl in the green and red in the middle row got to be in this class. Kathryn lived behind us, and her mom was in my mom’s wedding. I know for a fact that she was only two-and-a-half. She must have been a toilet-trained prodigy to have been at Happy Hours.
My family did a lot with her family. They had a poodle named Celia, and Kathryn had two little brothers who were always climbing on furniture and bleeding. I thought they were gross. I was too young to see an omen when it was right in front of me.
To her right is Allen, in the Peter Pan collar. We carpooled with him, too, and he was always late. Their maid would walk him out to the car with his lunchbox and make sure he got in the Chrysler safely. In high school, his sister and I were hookers. I don’t mean the kind of girl who sleeps with an older married man with children, hoping he’ll buy her a fancy new Lexus. We were Dorians together, on the dance team, and we hooked arms when it was time for us to do high kicks. I’d go to her house to change between the football game and the party afterward, and one time Allen walked by the room where we were changing and saw me in nothing but my fishnets and my bra. I screamed, he screamed, and we didn’t talk again for years.
I’m sure if I sat here longer I could bore you with more kindergarten tales, but really I’d like to encourage the other graduates of Happy Hours to click on “comments” and let us know where you are and what you remember. In particular, if you know what a paw-paw is and why you put it in the basket, please chime in.
Join in with your own Flashback Friday! Directions are here.
Hoards of readers have written to ask about the finer points of vermicomposting, whether I was joking when I said I was keeping the worm bin inside, and how the red wigglers are faring.
Those of you who didn’t know we have a full-blown worm farm in the house can click here for the story of the genesis of this operation.
It’s no joke– Squirmy and his friends reside in the area once known as “the living room” but now known as “the ping-pong/laundry-folding/worm room.” The space we used the least has now become a hub of activity, now that we stored the fancy rug and candlesticks and have games to play, work to do, and worms to care for.
The weather has been a bit nicer lately, so I’ve taken the bin outside so the worms can get some fresh air, and that’s where I took these photos to demonstrate the latest in composting with worms. Squirmy and his friends eat, poop and reproduce at an astounding rate.
As you’ll recall, they live in a set of stacked bins, and when they’ve munched everything in the bottom bin, you add one to the top and start adding food scraps to it and the worms climb up to the food and work on that tray.
Looking at a working tray is not going to take your breath away. Once you lift the lid and pull aside the newspaper, what you see is a conglomeration of food, shredded paper, dryer lint, coffee grounds, dry leaves, and anything else you’ve stuffed in the bin.
And if you dig into the mass a bit, you’ll find worms. Thousands of worms. You have to take their picture quickly or they’ll burrow back down to finish their eating or pooping or lovemaking. Single-minded, these worms.
The tray below is much more satisfying to look at. The worms are about finished with it, so it’s mainly full of compost. Actually, it was totally compost, but I had so many worms crowding the upper tray that I stuck a little food from the top tray that was almost completely digested, and added several hundred worms to see of they’d get fatter when they have more room. No one has suggested this is a good or bad idea; it’s just a wormy experiment I’m conducting. It’s better than trying to magnetize them with batteries, for God’s sake.
Here’s a closeup of the compost. Look at that rich soil!
The fact that it’s really worm poop grosses out my boys. Yes, the boys who announce, “Don’t leave yet– I gotta take a big dump” when we’re already late for drums. The boys who brag about burping and farting simultaneously. The boys who love to yell “frank ‘n’ beans” just before disrobing.
Dude, you pour the liquid from that tray onto your garden and you will see some pansies that look like they’ve been hanging out with Jose Canseco.
Anyway, the horny worms that just want to make love and don’t want to do their fair share of eating and pooping hang out here. They hide on the sides of the tray. Every once in a while I have to gather them up and dump them back in the working tray.
“The orgy is over– back to work.”
So far I’ve mixed the compost with water and watered my winter plants, which have all perked up like the steroidal pansies. When it’s time to change to warm weather plants, I’ll incorporate the actual compost into the soil. I’m giving vermicomposting two thumbs up here. It’s easy and entertaining, depending on how exciting the rest of your life is.
Two years ago in My Tiny Kingdom: Blast From The Past: Potty-Training Nomad Style (contains rear nudity)
Don’t forget- this week’s Flashback Friday theme is “There Once Was…”