I’ve taught the guys that when things don’t go their way, they should tackle the problem head on, preferably in writing, with citations, and without grammatical errors. But you knew that. You remember the Tattle Box, don’t you? It’s gratifying to see that 13 years later, Finn has mastered the art of the written appeal.
I overheard Porter getting all riled up this afternoon:
“Drew, MOVE your clothes so I can vacuum. And don’t think about leaving that bowl there. Take it downstairs and stick it in the dishwasher.”
Yes, his girlfriend comes to visit tomorrow. Stay tuned.
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.