Monday, December 27, 2010

Hey there big girl, want some candy??

Candy. The stuff of children's dreams, something to hock your milk money for, a product that, according to your mother, can rot the teeth right out of your head if you don't brush your teeth before the taste even leaves your mouth, that will make a diabetic drop dead if they eat even a mint (that one probly came from my brother). They've made movies about the stuff, some holidays are becoming homages to it, and clothing is even made out of it - but in MY mind "candy panties" cease to be edible once they are removed from the box (not that I'VE ever owned any).

I grew up living maybe a mile from the quaint little bohemian town of Multnomah, a suburb in the SW part of Portland. Well, it was just a small town then, NOW it's considered "quaint & bohemian"....Portland is weird and full of aged hippies, and I think they've found a nice niche there. And although I found it interesting and somewhat entertaining - the gift and novelty shops, little cafe's and pub-ish establishments etc, it lacks the substance it had when I was a kid and it was still a real town.

There was a hardware store, a ladies clothing shop, a diner, a bar, a grocery store, a music shop, a hobby shop, and my two favorites, a Rexall Drug and Trapp's Bakery. Many a day I squandered my milk money on a maple bar on the way to school, all the while wishing I had enough to buy a "skate", which was a delightful thin crispy pastry covered with cinnamon sugar and bigger than your whole head. Which was saying a lot considering I looked like a bobble-head when I was little and I still can't wear hats even when they're men's X-Large. That bakery was like walking into heaven....I can still close my eyes and taste the maple icing on that doughnut with pure delight as my bones slowly disintegrate into a fine powder due to a lack of calcium in my growing years.

The Rexall Drug was a place of wonder too - like I wonder how they got so much crap into one dinky little store. I think it was a lot like those shops at the beach that have crappy little souvenirs made of seashells and nuts, and a few clothing items, drugstore stuff (altho I can honestly say I do not recall any health and beauty aids whatsoever), and of course, the mother lode of candy in every color, shape and form. They still had the little glass bins, each one filled with penny candies - pixy stix, root beer barrels, wax lips and soda bottles, that black and white taffy, and Bazooka Joe - I could stand in front of that display for eons trying to figure out the best way to stretch a dime.

And I think I had money more often than my siblings, because I was always on the lookout for money, and was not embarrassed to dig for it - my route to school included every vending machine, phone booth, paper box and even bubble gum machine in town to check for jams, forgotten change and even stuck money...if some idiot was dumb enough to put a dime in a quarter or nickel slot and not know how to get it out, I was all over it. They give me crap about it to this day, but it's just jealousy....and I never once got the dread "lugey" or razor blade they were always warning me about...jerks.

My sister's favorite was lemon drops - not the lemonheads in the little boxes, but the big kind with sugar on em that would remove the skin from the roof of your mouth like sandpaper taking the finish off mom's chippendale end table. I thought they were OK, but preferred sour candy - I now have something called "Geographic Tongue", and firmly believe it was due to a steady diet of Jolly Ranchers, Sweetarts and Pixy Stix in my formative years. I have to be careful now, because citric acid will make it hurt like the dickens in short order, but I still love it.

So lemon sister introduced me to a fine recipe a few years ago, for the more sophisticated and adult Lemon Drop - one with vodka that if you drink enough of, will take you back to your childhood...the part where you're a drool factory with no bladder control. So don't drink that many....if you're alone and the vodka in the bottle gets below the top of the label, you should stop. Trust me. I find it hilarious that this recipe came from a Catholic High School fund-raising cookbook - but then you know all about us Catholics and alcohol....Jesus performed miracles involving it, so it's perfectly acceptable in moderate amounts. So remember that label tip....

Lemon Drop Mix

Simple Syrup:
3/4 C. sugar
1/2 C. water

Boil for a minute or so, or until sugar is completely dissolved. Let cool.

1 C. fresh squeezed lemon juice* (FRESH. unless you LIKE the idea of purgatory)
1/3 C. fresh squeezed orange juice** (I have been known to use frozen)

Mix together with cooled syrup, keep refrigerated. It will mold eventually, so try to use it within a couple weeks....once I had to throw out over a quart of it and I still tear up thinking about it.

To make a Lemon Drop:
1. Rub the rim of a martini glass (or a quart jar, whatev) with a wedge of lemon
2. Dip in sugar (superfine if you have it)
3. In a cocktail shaker (I use a 4 cup measuring cup because I am a hick and don't have a martini shaker), pour 2 parts mixer with 1 part Absolut Citron Vodka - don't expect it to taste the same or even good if you aren't using this DEFINITELY makes a difference
4. Add crushed ice and shake or stir until very cold
5. Strain or pour into glass with ice - ice is a choice, and I like to water down my drinks.
6. Enjoy until you are pleasantly buzzed and have become the most witty person in the room. Unless you were anyway, then just drink until someone informs you that you just ate a plastic grape from the fruit bowl on the sideboard.

*5 lbs. of lemons will make 4 batches, so it will take about 1-1/4 lb. per batch
**1 good sized orange will probably give you 2/3 C. juice

Enjoy, and just in time for New Year's Eve - may you be healthy, happy and moderately sober on the first day of 2011!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Family Hazing: Sport or a Test of Character?

I thought with Christmas winding down the the last few minutes, and the New Year fast approaching, that I should suggest a family tradition so you don't have to wait until Easter to foist a new one off on yours. We all have ours, from dressing up in old-timey clothes and caroling to neighbors who will hide behind the curtains rather than open up their door to a bunch of dorks that don't even sing "Santa Baby", to Advent calendars that teach children that Jesus coming to earth as a flesh-and-blood human being is always predicated by a delicious chocolate for 24 days prior. Good luck getting those kids through an entire Christmas Mass....

I have to tell you that when I was a kid, we actually did go caroling door to door - we lived in a suburb of Portland and my parents thought that was a keen idea. Most of the time people did not come to the door...I mean really, it was the 60's, and I mean NINETEEN SIXTY'S you smart ass...we did not drive sleighs or wear top hats, and it was just a weird thing to do then. Sometimes I wonder if our own parents sent us out with our musty-smelling songbooks they must have rescued from a moldy church basement and giggled furiously thinking how stupid we must have looked to all the neighbors. Luckily I was young enough to think it was fun, and that I could actually sing....and sometimes they would open the door and give us a piece of candy or something - it's a good thing kids are stupid.

We have a family tradition that is at least as old as me - a half a century or more qualifies it as official in my book, and no newcomer to this clan can escape it entirely - it has been handed down generation to generation, and all those born into it accept it like taking breath. It's like having two arms, freckles, or pasty white skin - you can't imagine being in our family without it. The newcomers, those who marry into it, tend to look at you like you are trying to kill them, or perhaps playing an elaborate prank where they ingest something that makes them projectile vomit until they can no longer stand on wobbly knees, then vow to never eat any of the products that make up the whole of this recipe....I KNOW, how could something so delicious seem so bad?? This tradition, one that I have never heard of anything that even remotely resembles it, is what we simply call "Polish Dish".

As I may have mentioned, my great-grandparents, Peter and Tecla, came from Poland originally - not sure how far back this recipe dates, and if it was translated from Polish as that is what Tecla wrote her recipes in, but I am guessing it goes back at least to their generation. And since my grampa was born in 19somethingteen, that makes it an antique. I did some research online, and finally found some references to a similar product, and the most common name for it was "White Borscht". Which is weird since borscht is made with beets...maybe they were so poor they didn't even have those? Dunno....but it is what it is, and most of us LOVE it...the best part is foisting it off on the latest fiancee and watching them take the first bite after you've told them what's in it. Now there's a Kodak moment....

Polish Dish

1 quart (that's 4 cups to you who are measurement challenged) water
1 polish sausage - they usually call them kielbasa nowadays, 12-16 oz.
2 tsp. salt
3 T. white vinegar
1-2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 small onion, cut in half again, or 1 tsp. onion salt (cut salt to 1 tsp. if you use)
1/2 tsp. sage
1 C. milk
4 T. flour
1 egg

12 hard boiled eggs
Horseradish root or the stuff in the jar if you can't find it

Put sausage in water, bring to a boil and cook 20 minutes over medium heat uncovered. Add salt, vinegar, onion and spices, bring to a boil, remove from burner and let stand 1-2 minutes. Remove sausage and set aside on a plate. Mix milk, flour and egg in blender, dump into soup all at once and stir, whisking over medium high heat until it comes to a boil; continue to whisk for one minute to cook the flour, remove from heat. Cut sausage into 6-8 pieces and add back to broth.

To prepare soup, serve broth at the table with a bowl of hard boiled eggs, cutting boards or plates you can cut on, and bowls for eggshells. You also need to peel the outside skin off the horseradish root (if you found some) and include that with a microplane or fine grater for guests to add it to their soup. Each guest takes a piece of sausage, cuts it up in small pieces and puts in their bowl. Then they crack and peel one or two eggs and chop, adding to sausage, then ladle broth over all and grate fresh horseradish on top to their liking. It's also kind of fun - interactive eating per se.....and yes, it's a bit odd and unconventional, but then so was milk the first time someone pulled on those dangly things under a cow and drank what came out. Be a pioneer - start a trend! Polish Dish bars will start popping up on every corner, and you can say you were there when it started. And you're not even Polish!

OK, here's a couple super secret tips in case you are really going to try this and not just make a face and say "She's GOT to be one would really EAT that crap". My mother bucked tradition a few years ago, and due to a less than flavorful sausage pick, started adding "Ham Base"...not sure where all you can find this, but I get it at Cash & Carry in Aloha. It's a concentrated paste that comes from boiling a bunch of ham products into soup and then down to a paste, and will really pump up the volume for this, pea and bean soups, and country gravy if your meat has less "flavah" than Vanilla Ice. If your broth is wimpy, add maybe a teaspoon and see what it does. Also, she started experimenting with different kinds of sausage - we've tried mixes of kielbasa, brats, other smoked sausages, and even little smokies to great effect - just don't use the kind like they put on the buns at Costco...they don't exude enough juice to flavor it worth a damn. I think beer brats are always good....and I think I'm going to try the chicken apple sausages just for shits and giggles - a little apple never hurt anyone, and I think it sounds "Old Country", so what the heck.

Hey, look at that - Christmas is officially over! Better get crackin and find you some good sausage....PD is also a great hangover cure. It'll either snap you back to life or make you puke so you can start to feel way or another! Happy New Year!!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The 8th Deadly Sin....Cheese

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways....I love thee on a cracker, in tacos, on bread delightfully grilled with sinful amounts of butter and a sprinkling of garlic powder, in, on and under potatoes, drowning macaroni with your greasy goodness, in salad, dressing, celery sticks and melted in a toasty tortilla, and even just shaved right off the block and stuffed in my round, fat little face. I think I was a milkmaid, or possibly a rat in a former life...cheese is one of the things I miss the most now that I'm cutting back.

For Christmas this year I said I was going to make a German feast, with all the usual trappings and not without the most important element, melted cheese. I have seen travel shows between the ever-increasing fund drives (pretty sure they're every other weekend now), and would someday like to go to Switzerland so I can go to a restaurant that serves cheese that you cook on this little iron thing on your very own table so you can scrape it up and eat it all melty-like. "Alps? There were mountains there??" Oh yum, how I love cheese.

So anyway, shit happens and things change, and now it does not appear we will be having fondue....which is more painful now that a friend has requested the recipe for holiday use. I may find an excuse to drop by when they are having dinner - maybe a QC check to make sure the thickness is correct, possibly to ensure that the bread cubes are properly toasted, or maybe just to see that the fondue forks are forky enough so a dipper is not lost in the maelstrom of cheesy delight....we can't have that. Maybe for New Years??'s just not in the cards, I will have to be content with the fabulous scalloped potatoes we will enjoy with our ham at our family feast....I have a petite block of Gruyere and Fontina to that end, and it WILL be delicious too!

This recipe came from the Rheinlander Restaurant in Portland - the one I also got the lentil soup recipe from I've already shared. I guess if you're a fondue snob, you will turn your surgically altered nose up at this - the cheese used is processed....but I say if it looks like cheese, smells like cheese, tastes like cheese, and makes fondue that is so good you'd swear it would make a dog turd taste good (no, I don't know for are welcome to test that premise yourself tho), it's cheese to me! Enjoy, and besides the bread cubes, be creative with your dippers....steamed veggies are excellent in it, and will help to balance out the constipation factor - every little bit helps!

Rheinlander Fondue

5 C. processed Swiss/American Cheese (that is 20 ounces)
2 C. water
1 C. chablis or moderately dry white wine
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 T. butter
1/4 tsp. MSG (I suppose you could replace with salt if you are opposed to it)
Dash each nutmeg and white pepper (I've used black too)
3 T. cornstarch mixed with small amount of cold water
1/2 loaf each sourdough and dark rye, unsliced (good luck with the rye..more later)

Preheat oven to 325. Cube bread in 1-2" pieces, spread out on cookie sheet and set aside. Grate cheese, set aside. Bring water, wine, butter, garlic, MSG or salt, nutmeg and pepper to a boil in a large skillet or saucepan, add cheese one cup at a time, stirring until melted; whisk until smooth and no more cheese lumps. Turn heat down to medium low and add cornstarch/water mixture, whisking until smooth, and cooking a couple minutes until thick enough for dipping - if not thick enough to coat bread chunks nice and thick, you can make more cornstarch/water slurry and add until it's as thick as you like. If it gets too thick, use water or wine to thin a bit, whisking to smooth after each addition. Remove from burner and place in fondue pot or over double boiler with hot water to keep warm and thickens when it cools. Put bread cubes in oven and heat maybe 10 minutes....they should be lightly crispy but not browned. Serve with a basket of bread cubes, a tray of steamed veggies, or whatever you feel like dipping in it's wonderful cheesy deliciousness. I think squares of grilled cheese sandwich would be juuuuust right....oh BABY!

A couple tips: I get my cheese at Costco - those big 5# packages of food service slices are da bomb; if you don't have access, I've seen a box of cheese that also works in larger grocery stores, but it's been so long I don't know if it's still out there...seems to me the box was blue? Also, rye bread is not a deal breaker, but it is just so damn good with this - finding it unsliced is akin to uncovering the Holy Grail when digging with a plastic pail and shovel at the beach. BUT....if you go to the bakery at Fred Meyer, and ask nicely, you can usually order a full or half loaf of a beautiful dark rye for I think 5.99 for the full and quite big comes frozen and you just throw it in the oven. I've done that and cut it in half, saving part for the next time. Good luck, and happy dipping....and rub some butter on your chin in case you have an errant flow hit you'll slide right off onto your shirt for later snacking!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Where did I leave that wheelbarrow of sugar?

Easter is nearly upon us, and although the reason for this holiday is so far removed from 99% of what we are bombarded with from Valentines Day till that Holy Sunday (St. Patrick always gets short shrift), we should remember that He is not just the reason for Easter, but for the existence of all mankind - I'd like to see any of YOU create the world and it's inhabitants out of absolutely nothing. Yeah, yeah, aliens too....that is a shout out to you nutjobs who think there are more beings out there than just us. Area 51 called, they said you left your UFO parked next to a hydrant since 1960something and you owe a bazillion dollars in fines.

Every year it's the same thing - I balk at continuing my tradition of filling Easter baskets for my GROWN CHILDREN (OK, sorry Becky - when you move back to Oregon I owe you 10 Easter baskets) and think they should be mature enough to realize it is not the Easter bunny, or even Jesus in a glowing bubble who's been doing it until now, and that life is hard when you grow up and decide to be cool and not believe in Santa anymore. But when I mention to either of them, I get pouting, and pouting, altho not the most mature thing to do when you're 6 foot huge and have more hair than a yak, is still terribly guilt-inducing to mother's of exceedingly high caliber everywhere. And it matters not that NONE of us need all that crap - I am sure I have been the recipient of many a curse after the holiday madness has died down and the watery Oregon sunshine of May rears it's ugly head and illuminates the dimpled flanks brought forth by the sugar massacree of the holiest of spring holidays. Not to mention for the stigma of having black licorice, a bag of mini marshmallows, and organic chocolate bars with real ground tree bark because I did some "quality control" and ate all the good stuff and had to replenish the night before at 7-11.

I remember each of us getting our own Easter basket, and they always had the same things - whoppers (I think it was before they were egg shaped), those giant brightly colored candy shell eggs with the white fluffy stuff in the middle, circus peanuts (yes, the orange ones...) and cheap-ass jelly beans. No chocolate bunny, no delicious peanut butter cups, peppermint patties, crunch bars, or butterfingers....just crappy Easter candy. And we were happy to have it - swapping whoppers for circus peanuts was lucrative business - everyone knows you get two peanuts for one whopper because I was the only one who liked em, I knew it, and could rule the market. I also liked the giant eggs....I've been on a few sugar highs from those and fondly can't remember a thing.

The egg hunt came after church and our breakfast of refined sugar and high-fructose corn syrup with all the deadly food colorings thrown in, and we played for keeps. First Mom and/or Dad (no idea who because I didn't cheat and watch, CHRIS) would hide them all over the living room, then let us loose to kill each other trying to get to the obvious ones first. I'm sure we got yelled at to let the little kids find the simple ones, but we were cut-throat...if you made it past diapers, you were on your own. (staying in diapers until you were 7, even just around Easter, didn't work either...) After that, someone would hide them again, but made it WAY harder....I think eventually Mom would find them all, if only by smell, then yell at us for hiding them too far inside the couch. This is a bit off topic, but one time I remember her cleaning out the cracks in the couch and coming up with her uber sharp butcher knife....what else are you supposed to use to trim your toenails, I ask? Luckily they were smart enough to never take us to a public Easter egg hunt - I imagine it would be like the footage of the Hindenburg exploding...carnage with little bits of gaily colored eggshells.

Anyway, the purpose of this is to get my juices flowing for Easter Breakfast - we ALWAYS have Polish Dish, which is under the "Soup" label, but I like to include an alternate breakfast dish for the sad few who can't be team players and don't much care for it....altho in MY own little branch of the family, they ALL love DIL-to-be endearingly slurps it down, and I"m 99.9% certain my SIL loves it too - but he cares less about what food tastes like and more about getting it inside him as quickly as possible. Kind of like my Grandson - his recent desire to become a "chef" is no doubt due to the fact that if he makes it himself, he will be way faster about getting it done and in his mouth. So here is a delightful egg dish I willfully stole from my Black Butte Ranch cookbook, and have never had anyone turn down - it's simple too, just a few steps and a fairly short cook time and you're ready to rejoice!


12 corn tortillas (not to be food racist, but I prefer white)
3 T. butter, divided
11 eggs, beaten
1/2 C. green taco sauce
Salt & pepper
1 can sliced black olives, drained
3 green onions, sliced (optional - I love em, Handsome Stranger does not)
1 lb. grated cheddar cheese
1.5 Cups sour cream

Cut tortillas into 1" squares, beat eggs thoroughly. Melt 1 T. butter in a 10"-12" skillet over medium high and add tortilla squares; stir until they start to brown a little. Sprinkle with a little salt, push to the sides of the pan and turn heat down to medium. Melt the other 2 T. butter in center, then pour eggs in center - when they start to set, stir in tortillas until well coated. Add green sauce and stir in - it should still be wet, but should be fairly well set up. Sprinkle olives and green onions evenly over the top, then cover with cheese, and drop sour cream by spoonfuls all over the top. Carefully use the back of your spoon to cover everything with the sour cream, then turn down to low and cover (you don't have to but it speeds up the warming process) and let warm through - 10 to 15 minutes or so, or until you can see the hot cheese start to bubble and the center of the sour cream is warm through. Cut in wedges and serve with salsa if desired - really good and no meat!

You can play with this to your own liking - you could add canned green chilies or jalapenos, use red taco sauce or canned chipotle sauce, put chorizo or turkey sausage in - I think it would be good with shredded chicken breast too - the only sin is to cook it too high or too long because it is possible to dry it out...but with that much sour cream and cheese it's highly unlikely. I would, however suggest you not add circus peanuts to it...I will trade you for ALL my whoppers.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A momentary lull....

Now that Thanksgiving is over and Christmas is nearly upon us, my motivation to write blogs has all but flown out the window, got caught in the power lines, and been fricasseed into a smoking, steaming and unrecognizable lump of imagination that was. I have SO much to do this time of year, which really starts 2 weeks prior to Halloween and my grandson-who-lives-far-away's birthday, and will not end until after Mass on January 1st. Work is horrific the first half of December, but I still have to do my shopping for the Georgia branch so it can be shipped in time so E still knows we love him, and I am quite peeved at my employers for no longer giving us the minimal perk of letting us ship UPS through them. USPS apparently straps their packages in the roomy seats of business class, either that or they're having lavish parties and romps to tropical places for their employees from charging me as much as my fancy car payment to ship a cardboard box filled with stuff that costs less than the postage will.

I need to figure out what we're going to have for Christmas dinner, and see if my family will even be here for it. Son #1 has a GF who is sweet as pie, but her family likes her too, so I have to share him now. Son #2 will probably be here, but he tends to flit off at the drop of a hat to one of his friends, or friend's family that wants to adopt him (NO, he is still OURS...get your OWN Kenny...) - if I cook something good tho, he will be here at least for dinner. And my baby girl? I think someday she will miss us bad enough to move back to a non-brown state, but is taking her sweet time. I've only seen my SIL a couple times EVER...geez, you'd think he spends all his time overseas....wait....

So I thought I had been making it clear that I wanted to have a German Feast for this important occasion, and make all my favorites - Sauerbraten with gingersnap gravy, potato latkes, Rheinlander Fondue with that delicious dark rye and sourdough cut in big chunks and toasted ever so slightly in the oven, and of course the most delicious lentil soup EVER. Now I'm getting dissension in the ranks....someone in my house mentioned doing "Ham and mashed potatoes with peas" for dinner...really? Just because you get a free ham from work, and you could eat your body weight in peas and mashed potatoes every single day for the rest of your life?? That sounds SOOOOO boring to me! So now I have to make a decision; make what I want, make what HE wants, or see what everyone else wants and play eenie, meenie, miney, mo. DAMMIT don't you people KNOW that I know what's good for you??? But a people pleaser I just have to put up with my shenanigans to get what you really want.

Now for some serious silliness....I am now following a program to make myself even finer than I already am, and to prolong my life beyond the 47 years that those crazy life calculators are always malfunctioning tell me I won't last beyond....HA, I'm already 50, so take THAT, you cheap dime-store hood. Anyway, butter and mayo and cheese, oh my....all things I have put at arms length, and we're talking arms of that giant mutant Asian dude who plays basketball - I"m scrappy and even chubby white girls can jump if you put chocolate too near them. So finding acceptable treats to reward myself for not eating the things I truly love but that were slowly killing me was quite a daunting task. But here is one...and you may scoff, but to me it's like a cannoli stuffed with whipped cream and drizzled with chocolate, or a giant wedge of mile high mud, no it isn't. But it's good, and I highly recommend it....and you know I like good stuff!

Hunka Hunka

1/2 multi grain sandwich thin (OK, they look like a wheat hamburger bun that an elephant sat, they are NOT corn pads for NBA players)
1 T. peanut butter, SMOOTH (chunky will not spread far enough...get over it)
2 T. marshmallow creme (FAT FREAKIN FREE!)

Spread peanut butter on your piece of bread. Put marshmallow creme on top and spread to edges. Eat around the edges until you have a circle about the size of a silver dollar (alright, you whippersnappers that have never seen a silver dollar, about the diameter of a shot glass...and I KNOW you've seen a LOT of those), then say to anyone around "look what I got!" and pop it in your mouth, chewing audibly and making yummy noises. 4 points, and if you use almond butter it tastes like divinity with nuts....oh crap I want some divinity with nuts. Be back in a bit, after I'm done with reporting, shopping for Georgia, shipping said booty, and figuring out what the heck I'm gonna wear to my nieces wedding on New Years Eve...hopefully it will be a size smaller!