Thursday, June 30, 2011

Avoid the Birthday Alternative

Birthdays come and go, and they mean different things depending on who you are and how fragile your psyche is about getting wrinkles, droopage, and having to put your name in your undies so you and the nice lady who finds you wandering along a busy urban highway wearing said undergarments over your pants will know your name. I love the pic on my blog - it's me at my birthday party, I'm guessing year 3 maybe? I look snarly even then....but then it was probably a good thing I didn't smile a lot considering I had the front teeth of a mature beaver, albeit not as nicely spaced. But birthdays when you're a kid are almost always don't know what's going to happen to you in what seems like just a few short years.

Because of all the kids in our family unit, most of our parties were just us, and that was plenty. Add grandparents if they're in the area and we still had a crowd around the dining room table to sing Happy Birthday in the most heinous notes we could Grampa went to his reward without us ever heeding his plea to "Let's sing it NICE this time!" Poor Grampa....he was a wonderful piano player and loved Lawrence Welk, and I'm sure we were a great musical disappointment to him. Mom always made a cake from a box, and frosting from scratch, and it was always good. Everyone had their favorites - I really only remember my older brother's was always German Chocolate with broiled coconut icing....can't even remember MY fave - cake was cake, and I didn't care what kind it was as long as I got a corner piece with lots of frosting.

One year mom made my cake in the shape of a butterfly, and it was so beautiful with colored coconut on was Saturday, so we had to go and help Father Aldo by stapling the church bulletins for the next day's Mass, so it was left on the table for our return and the big par-TAY. We got back and found the door open, and my cake had been violated by small hands....there were large chunks missing, and a bit of a mess....we followed the trail, and found that the little kids two doors down came over when we were gone, invited themselves in and had a little party all by themselves. We (me especially) were quite indignant that they only got scolded, and that she gave us their "dessert" of stale cupcakes she had lying around....I was ready for a trial and public hanging. Stupid little kids.

I think when I was in 3rd grade, I had my one and only REAL birthday where I got to invite girls from school. I have pix of that too....I am still mad at my Mom that she thought I would look cute in a pixie haircut "just like Sandy Duncan in Peter Pan!"....really? Nothing like taking a kid with a giant head, bigger teeth and not much in the way of social graces and shaving her head so she has to hide in the library at lunchtime so as not to get tied to the tetherball pole and smacked around for looking like a hare krisna without the tambourine. But my classmates came, I got some cool stuff (real GOLD giraffe necklace and ring...), and we had cake and ice cream while I wore a pretty dress (hand me down of course) and only got sent to my room once because I didn't want Debbie Lees to play with my new Barbie clothes and lose the shoes. I wasn't being selfish, it was my BIRTHDAY....moms are SO mean.

Now birthdays are passe....I like to spend them with Handsome Stranger, maybe my kids if they don't tease me if my undies are on the outside. The big milestones are always a crap shoot....never know when some relative is going to decide this is the one where they need to bust out the polident, depends, and the cane with the horn, rear view mirror and bicycle bell on it. Lucky for me, mine are mostly ambivalent about that day themselves, so rarely put themselves in a position for payback. There are far more embarrassing things you can do with two pink Hostess Snowballs than make them into a boobie cake, and I WILL utilize them if need be. I like the day to pass quietly and without fanfare....which is why I try to always take the day off from work. Altho with Tina around, you can't escape....she is one of those birthday fairies that WILL make sure everyone knows....but in nice ways so it's OK.

# 1 son had a birthday bash/hippie fest up here in the woods Saturday/Sunday and it was an absolute blast - great fun was had by all, young and old, hip and not so much. He tells me he doesn't like cake, and from my sketchy recollection (I just keep getting older), I do recall he always asked for blueberry cheesecake on his birthdays. This year he wanted strawberry-rhubarb pie, so who am I to say no? But since I know most of you would not even attempt such an undertaking, I will share two of my favorite frosting recipes, one from when I was a kid, the other from my wedding Betty Crocker cookbook - I put the French Silk one on chocolate fudge cake mix, and Creamy French on pretty much anything....but graham crackers are a fave! Cake is not cake without icing....and cake from a box is A-OK in my book! Lick the bowl, baby....

Creamy French Icing

I have no idea what makes this was in the St. Clare's cookbook, circa the 60's, so probably got the name from someone trying to be fancy. Or perhaps they used it to glue together an Eiffel Tower made of salty pretzel sticks?? Dunno....but it's "tres bien"!

2-3/4 C. powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg (yup, I said egg....stop cackling, would I steer you wrong?)
2 T. water
1/4 C. sugar
1/2 C. shortening (butter flavor will make pale yellow frosting)
2 tsp. vanilla (so even if you use white shortening it will be beige-ish)

Mix powdered sugar, salt and egg in a bowl and beat with mixer until combined. Put water and sugar in small saucepan and bring to a boil, cook 1 minute or until sugar is dissolved, then pour in a thin stream over sugar/egg mixture and beat until smooth, scraping sides of bowl. Add shortening and vanilla, beat until fluffy.

My mom always put chopped walnuts in this and mixed it in - it seems weird to eat it without. I think it reminds me of divinity....but that is a judgement call, you can do what you like.

French Silk Frosting

This is just's light, fluffy and does not suffer in chocolate flavor just because it's not dark and fudgy looking - it's my fave choco frosting, and can transform a chocolate fudge, German chocolate, or even brownie mix into a stunning dessert....with the German choc I also put coconut-pecan filling in the middle, which requires me to go find my elastic waist pants.

2-2/3 C. powdered sugar
2/3 C. butter, softened
2 oz. melted unsweetened chocolate, cooled a little*
3/4 tsp. vanilla
2 T. milk

Beat powdered sugar, margaine and melted chocolate with vanilla in a small mixer bowl on low speed. Add milk gradually, beat until smooth and fluffy.

*OK, I never EVER had unsweetened chocolate on hand before - that stuff tastes like crap when you're looking for a choco fix. SO.....I always used the substitute: 1 T. shortening, melted + 3 T. cocoa powder PER OUNCE of chocolate. Melt the shortening in the microwave, then stir in the cocoa powder....and since I use the extra dark stuff, it gives it a much richer choco flavor. I think you can use sweet chocolate too....there really is no such thing as the WRONG chocolate.

There you go - now you can whip out a cake mix and frost it with one of these and tell everyone it's "home-made" without lying. Or you can just make a bowl of either one, then sit and watch all of the Anne of Green Gables DVD's and eat it with a spoon. Not that I would know anything about that....

Saturday, June 18, 2011

"What is it? I dunno, I dug it outta the dirt....let's eat it!"

If you start thinking about food, it has to make you wonder who first thought that some stuff might be a great thing to put on a plate and feed your family with. Snails, for instance....REALLY? Unless Pierre was lost in a vineyard with no compass, no baguette or stinky cheese and felt the need to stay alive long enough to don a beret and grow the moustache of a simp, and decided the only way to sustain himself was eating a couple slimy things he pried out of a shell he found climbing up a grapevine, I can't imagine anyone thinking "Hey, I bet those slugs crawling around in my bushes would taste delicious in some garlic butter". Same thing goes for moldy guess is that Marie Curie had a big hunk of delicious cheese in her icebox, then she got busy radiating herself inventing, well, radium, and the next time she went on a midnight raid, found it was tainted with blue fur. So, being the entrepenur she obviously was, she told everyone it was her new invention, and it became famous and people ate it because they thought their friends would think they were cool. I just made that up, except the radium part, and she did discover penicillin, but probably not with cheese. And the radium killed her...or MAYBE it was the cheese....

So potatoes....Idaho russets look like a dirt clod, so it must have been a huge leap of faith to actually cut into one and eat it - good thing someone did though, because if not we might be eating turnip fries. Altho I am still not convinced that turnips are or should ever be considered a food..yuck. Stuff that requires more butter than a Holstein can produce milk for in a week to be edible aren't really considered food by me. There are also different kinds of potatoes - red, yellow, purple, sweet, yams, new....probably more, but those are what I know. And they are either waxy or russets....I think brown are the only ones that aren't considered waxy in the non-sweet variety - waxy have more water content, and in my opinion have more flavor and creamy texture than brown. But they all have good points, and a brown baked in the oven after washing, poking with a couple holes, coating with olive oil and liberally sprinkling with kosher salt is a carb in need of some serious fat that I can't say no to. Mealy, dry but moist, and smells SO good - I wish I could just eat it plain, but it begs, no DEMANDS to be fully loaded with butter, sour cream, green onion, bacon, salt and pepper. No wonder the cellulite in my thighs has eyes.

Anyhoo, the great debate on potato salad will never die as long as more than one person is left on earth. You know how God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are all one? I bet they each have their own pref....I"m going to guess that Jesus likes his with dill pickles, the Holy Spirit with sweet relish and Miracle Whip, and God likes his straight up with Best Foods. And I know they say God is perfect and all, but that whole Miracle Whip, if true, would shake my faith to the core. Does anyone really like that crap? It's like Mayo and Marshmallow cream went on a date and they were parking and watching submarine races and some weird glittery cloud engulfed their car and turned them into the hideous Miracle Whip. That's what you get for making out, you ridiculous condiments.

My mother-in-law Carol was famous far and wide for her potato salad, and after my mom's version (uh, my hatred of Miracle Whip came quite honestly), I found it to be light, refreshing and frikkin delicious. Then my sister-in law Pam introduced our family to HER mom's p-salad, and I became confused....Mary McGregor sang about it in "Torn Between Two Lovers" back in the olden days (I bet you didn't know that was about potato salad). BUT, her version required slight adjustments....celery and radishes, altho trendy and hip, were not gonna happen in my ps. Handsome Stranger suspects anything with crunch is filled with eggshells, and he is fearful of a goodly number of vegetables. The cool thing about my MIL, God rest her soul, was that she would CATER to her children and make separate salads for the whiners that don't eat eggs or onions...sorry Deb and Walt, you know who you are, and how much your mom loved you.

I still can't pick a winner - I always lean towards Pam's because I love red potatoes more, but Carol's is SO DAMN GOOD....makes me question the winner every time. And both very simple, not a pickle in sight - for cryin out loud, if you want a pickle, go get a deep fried one at the Iowa State Fair - just keep them outta my PS. So here are both recipes, even tho Pam's is more of a guide....never pinned down qty's, just throw it together every time. But it's ALWAYS good....and if by good, you think I mean blow your socks off, tickle your funnybone, curl your eyelashes good, you would be correct!

Carol's Potato Salad

10# bag of russet potatoes
1 dozen eggs
1 bunch green onion
1+ jars of Best Foods Mayo (you can use others if you like it crappy)
1/3 C. lemon juice, nothin' fancy, right outta the green bottle is fine
1/3 C. dried parsley (don't use's like garden mulch in this)
Salt & FRESH GROUND Pepper to taste

Wash potatoes (just rinse them, you peel so who cares about dirt), cover in stockpot several inches with water, bring to a boil and turn down to a simmer, cover and cook 20-30 minutes or until the biggest ones can be easily pierced with a sharp knife. And were you aware that undercooking potatoes for salad is against the little known 11th commandment, Thou Shalt Not Useth Hard Spuds? Drain and cool on cookie sheet. Put eggs in large saucepan, cover with cold water a couple inches above eggs, then bring to a boil, turn down to a low boil and set timer for exactly 10 minutes unless you like gray egg yolks. When the timer goes off, drain off most of the hot water, then put under running cold water until eggs and water are both cold. When cooled, peel potatoes and eggs.

Clean and slice green onion thinly, using white and green part. Quarter and slice cooled potatoes into thin slices, put in LARGE bowl. Add onion, then cut eggs in half and slice thinly; add to bowl with lemon juice, a full jar of mayo, the parsley and some salt and pepper. Stir until combined and taste - adjust salt and pepper to your preference. If it's too dry for your taste, crack the other jar and add a little at a time - you don't want to swim in it, but it should be creamy. And there you have it - light and lemony, with a mean eggy flavor....crap, I need another bite now.

Pam's Potato Salad

Red potatoes, let's say 5#
Eggs - how about a dozen? Yup...LOTS of eggs are key
Mayo - BFFBF - Best Friend Forever Best Foods
Salt & Pepper

OK, now do everything I said in the last recipe, just omit the lemon juice, parsley, and green onion. And I tell you honestly, you will wonder HOW the HELL 5 ingredients can make you want to spread this stuff on your waterbed mattress and wrestle in it (sorry Pam, didn't mean to let your secret out) - it's wicked good, especially on potato chips for dip. And if you like crunchy veggies in your p-salad, go ahead and add sliced celery and radishes - shoot, you can undercook the potatoes and use Nayonnaise if you want, just be ready to eat the entire bowl yourself because even the garbage man will take that mess out of the can and leave it on the lid for you to take back home. And happy upcoming 4th of July - and just say NO to pickles and Miracle Whip!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Do you hear the "Rocky" theme song?

WHEW....I made it! I was sweatin' it, and didn't eat breakfast other than coffee and water, and when I weighed in today, I lost EXACTLY enough to reach the 75 lb. mark - couldn't believe it! Boy that felt good...and it gave me motivation to be good even tho I was pretty hungry by then. After a moderate lunch I felt even better, then proceeded to annoy the crap out of my co-workers by sticking my magnet in their faces. But they are troupers, and were all so happy for me....another reason why I love my job. It also helps to know that there are people everywhere watching me as I nonchalantly wander the building, stopping by the desks I know have a candy dish, jar or drawer that I can rifle through at will, or cruising the lunchroom to inspect meeting leftovers or any unattended nugget-du-jour that someone with more willpower than I left in there as a me-trap. That's what I get for attending an at-work meeting - thank you, you're more helpful than you know!

I know that we're supposed to break the habit of celebrating with food - years of "Yay, no bills in the mail!" and "Yippee, no one put a red sock in the load of whites!" soirees filled with melted butter with a few popcorn kernels sprinkled in and chocolate chip cookies bigger than a 59 Cadillac hubcap got me where I am today. Beg pardon...where I was in October. But it's a deeply ingrained ritual that's nearly impossible to eliminate altogether, so I'm trying to make it a more healthy where pants stay buttoned and you don't need an entire bottle of Shout to pretreat your shirt when you're done.

I decided on the fly this day deserved a top notch end and stopped at Fred's for a few things - I always crave red meat, and rarely eat it anymore (HA...I said rarely), so I went high end and small - a couple filet's, and balanced it out with seafood, some lovely asparagus and a killer loaf of roasted garlic french bread. I know, bread is a killer, but once in a while you gotta break out and experience life - just not the whole thing and not slathered in butter.

I got home, used my ninja skills to whip the kitchen/dining room in shape, turned on the oven and prepped the asparagus for roasting. I washed a half dozen baby red potatoes, poked em with a knife and threw em in the microwave to cook about the same time I put the olive oil/kosher salt sprinkled asparagus in the oven at 350. Opened the cocktail shrimp and artfully arranged over the rim of glasses I got when I bought a bottle of cheap imitation Baileys (hey, they both get you buzzed), then because I didn't want to take them off, put cocktail sauce in a Ziploc, cut the corner off and squirted it in between the shrimps into the bottom of the glass. Out came salad plates, baby spinach portioned out, sprinkled with a bit of Gorgonzola, a T. of sunflower seeds, some pickled beet butterflies and then drizzled both with some delightful balsamic vinaigrette I invented. In the fridge with those and the shrimp, then into the oven with the bread after pulling the just done asparagus out.

Next the steak. Filets are wonderful, and unless you overcook them, you really can't screw em up. Kosher salt and pepper on both sides, then into a very hot skillet with a little olive oil and sear on each side for 2-3 minutes. I like to turn them on the sides for a few secs if they're very thick...not everyone can stomach seeing it raw on the outside. Then I took them out and put them on the cookie sheet I just removed the asparagus from, and put it in the oven on the rack UNDER the bread. I tossed the potatoes in the skillet, sprinkled them with kosher salt and pepper, and rolled them around a bit until they were a little browned on the flatter sides...yes, skin on - it's where all the nutrients are! I then opened the oven, threw them on the sheet with the steak, and took the bread out - almost there.

I uncorked the bottle of Menage a Tois that is by the way delicious and found at Costco AND Fred Meyer, put two pretty dishes on the table with a dipping dish that I splashed a skosh of olive oil and balsamic in, then set the table for two, including a cute floating flower candle in a pretty dish of water and rocks, and the flowers I picked outside the other day. I took the steak/spuds out of the oven and put them on a plate - they went in the microwave with the asparagus for the second course. Cut up part of the bread and put in a basket with a napkin, and Handsome Stranger arrived home right on time....he also weighs in on Thursday when he gets home, and HE reached 50 the same night - we couldn't NOT celebrate!

I did all this in under an hour, and he loved everything, but especially me...heehee. We toasted to each other, and enjoyed the HELL out of everything, just not until our eyes were bulging and our chairs started creaking...we're learning. But we still ate too much bread. It helps to eat salad first, before anything else is on your's nice and bulky, low in fat and high in fiber, and will slow you down when you get to the hard stuff. I hatehatehate low calorie dressings, and he hates vinaigrettes, so after having one I LOVED at a restaurant, I messed around and came up with my own creation which we both love, and that I have gotten very good feedback on from others. One of my bosses told me how happy she was that I was eating better because she likes me and wants me to be around a long time...that really made me feel good. So I told her I would give her this recipe because she said how much she liked it after telling me she ate her salads with no dressing...must be good, huh? Oh, and because I like her....I love my job!

Balsamic Vinaigrette

I buy Balsamic from Costco - I've had cheaper ones from Trader Joes and others, but this seems to be thicker and more mellow....I've heard that the more you spend, and the older it is, the better, so go with what you can afford. Just don't pour half a bottle in a pan and put it on high and leave the kitchen until it boils away into a black, crispy mess. Your son-in-law will question your sanity even more than he already did. But if you watch it, it makes an unbelievable syrup you can pour over steaks, or whatever...yum.

1/4 C. balsamic vinegar
1/4 C. olive oil (extra virgin or light)
2 T. canola oil
2 T. honey
2 T. honey mustard (I like Beaver Mustard, but it's an Oregon product)
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Put all ingredients in a bowl and whisk until it emulsifies and makes a thick, silky and beautiful dressing. It will not separate - the mustard suspends the oil or some such malarkey, and it will remain a thing of beauty until you try to lick the remains out of the container you put it in and sprain your tongue. I like to put it in a squirt bottle like you get ketchup in in some restaurants...then you can squirt it over your salad in pretty patterns, which everyone knows makes it taste better. This is NOT a diet dressing tho - a Tablespoon will set you back 2 points plus. But a little goes a LONG packs a punch so you don't want to overdo. And you can use other mustards - I tend to use honey and Dijon mostly when making dressings, but you could use grainy ones too - they just have little bits of seeds.

So remember, eat to live, don't live to go to Claim Jumper and order the chicken pot pie because it's like 48 points and the fruit that comes with it is just a trick to make you think it's healthy but it's not and will DEFINITELY make your butt look fat in those jeans. But if you do, get DIET coke with it...that always works (rolls eyes).

Sunday, June 12, 2011

I'm cookin' baby....just not food.

*WARNING - I am about to bare my soul.....*
I was thinking in church last night (I quickly thanked God so it counted as a prayer and I don't get dinged for not paying attention) about what it is that's motivating me to lose weight and stick to the WW program, and realized that God is playing a big part in this. Father Eric talks a lot about how the good things in your life are God's doing, and the bad parts are courtesy of the boogey man from H-E-double hockey sticks (we weren't even allowed to say "Hell" when we were kids, unless we were talking about it in context) - and I never thought a lot about that until now. But I think he's right, and I try to keep that in mind....sure I'd like to say I"m Superwoman and it's my own sheer will that keeps me from eating an entire Motherlode chocolate cake in one sitting (60 bucks, and I would so barf after maybe one-eighth), but I know better. I am NOT doing this alone.

I asked Handsome Stranger why he thought that this attempt has been so much more successful than any other, and he didn't know - but he does give me major credit in HIS success this time around....and I do the same for him. I listen to women in meetings talk about their spouses who say "WW won't work for me", and who buy naughty foods and leave them in plain view to taunt and mock their beloved, and who have so many reasons to WANT to do it (besides the obvious.... a body that should be outlawed from even THINKING about a Speedo....they are also in terrible health), and I am SO thankful for Handsome Stranger's love and support, and how SMOKIN' hot he looks in his overalls now. I also give huge credit to the co-workers who I started this with - they and my fb peeps are a polarizing force in reducing my equator...I would make them all cookies, but already know that that is a dangerous pitfall, complete with tigers, poisonous snakes and pointy sticks at the bottom. Geez, YOU never think that when you eat a chocolate chip cookie, do you?

My point is, that when it comes to the question of "How do I do it?", I think my focus is less on the massive amounts of vegetables I eat and that I've eaten less butter since October than I probably ate in a week prior and that I had to file for divorce from Mayonnaise because that bitch kept washing my clothes in hot water and shrinking them, and more on the things that keep me going in a downhill direction. They are many....things that I have discovered make me want to keep doing this, and that share equally in my success:

1. Climbing a flight of stairs without sounding like the chick in "Blair Witch Project"
2. Making it through a day w/o foot pain OR uggo orthopedic shoes
3. Not having to pry "tiny" chairs at work meetings off my arse when I stand
4. Full body hugs from Handsome Stranger (NOT that kind you pervs)
5. Less acreage to cover when shaving my legs & wearing clothes that show them
6. Having people tell me that I motivate THEM

There are many others, but they all play a part - I also feel like me, but with a better attitude and outlook....I didn't realize that as I was plodding through life, I was looking down and in, not up and out, and am amazed and thrilled with how people respond to that difference. I don't think people avoided me because of my weight, but because I had a pretty defensive demeanor - who wants to engage a cranky bear who appears headed towards her first bathroom break since winter? And yes, I probably looked just like that, hairy legs, snarly face and all. Sorry to put y'all through that, and thanks to those who were brave enough to "bear" it....hahaha, I am such a dork.

I am so close to my next goal I can taste it, and thought it fitting that when it arrived I could share it with my own personal cheerleaders - and you KNOW how I feel about cheerleaders in general - duct tape, a well-used sweat sock and a nearby goal post are too good for the overly perky. And even tho I know you miss the Big-O cupcakes, Mexican Wedding cakes, Strawberry-rhubarb pie, and even the burgers and fries at Amy's because I always bring my lunch or want to eat somewhere with healthier options, I think you would miss me more...right? RIGHT?? You are instrumental in this change, and I thank you...just not with baked goods. And be warned....I still have a LONG way to go - but every day I find another reason why it's totally worth it, so until that stops, I will keep going, and going, and going.....dang it, now I HAVE to GO!

OK, back again. I thought I would post something fitting, so here is a recipe from my vast store of WW adapted ones in my etools. Points plus value included. And it's not crappy either, so wipe that look off your face and try it, dammit! Actually, most people shouldn't need a recipe for this, but so many ask I'm starting to wonder....this is our number one breakfast choice, and is delicious AND filling - and only 3 points plus! Because I haven't had a real one for so long, I am convinced it's a milkshake....

Breakfast Smoothie

Yogurt is something I think most people should rethink. Mindlessly grabbing a carton off the shelf can result in a punch of fat, sugar and not much else....some yogurts are made with gelatin to thicken them, and may not even have live cultures. And those are our friends, ladies - they help to keep your flora/fauna in a state of happiness, and any woman can tell you that cranky flora/fauna result in major bitchiness. I"m not a fan of fat free, and actually use full fat Nancy's Honey Yogurt because I think it has a better mouth feel overall...but if YOU can't tell, use fat free, less calories is always good.

3/4 C. PLAIN yogurt
1 banana
1 to 1.25 C. frozen fruit, whatever you like
1 or 2 packets stevia sweetener - no points and not artificial is good

Put yogurt and banana in blender, process until smooth. Add frozen fruit (break it up, silly...don't try to put in a solid chunk unless you like to clean smoothie off the ceiling) and PUT THE LID ON and process until it stops sounding like you put concrete chunks in there. Add sweetener to taste, give it another whirl and enjoy! Shoot, if you can find long enough straws, you can drink it right out of the blender and avoid getting a glass also coated with what appears to adhere to containers like super glue...rinse everything ASAP so you don't have to scrub!

We buy blueberries, strawberries, and mixed frozen fruit - they have stuff with peaches, melon, pineapple, mango, berries, even grapes and it's all good...I think my fave combo is blueberry peach. Or maybe it's blue/straw/raspberry? Dunno....never had a bad one! Oh, and if you use the etools tracker, it will add extra points for using multiple fruits - I finally made it a recipe and only put one fruit and added it to my favorites to make it work...when they say "FRUIT IS FREE", I take that very seriously and will not fall for that crap. It's not like I just cleaned out an orchard, for cryin' out loud....

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike...

If you just came out from a cave in France after 10 years, then you probably don't know, but seems everyone else has heard that there is a linear trail in our fair town of Banks, Oregon that has become quite the destination for pedal jockeys far and wide. It became a hot property when they finally completed the trail head, which is a tiny paved parking lot with a restroom that will probably be trashed and forever locked shortly if I know Oregon State park users. I noticed this weekend that they've opened up a narrow graveled spit on the other side of the road for overflow parking, and MAN was it overflowing on that first warm weekend in a while....normally traffic jams only happen in Banks when it's the morning or afternoon school bus runs, or when a lumber train drives back and forth through the crossing for no apparent reason. Who knew?

We are within spittin' distance of PDX, which is a mecca for spoke heads, a percentage of which are rather militant and like to pound on city buses or beat their rides against cars of those who offend what they consider their personal space. I don't blame them, just get tired of hearing them whine publicly about us scofflaws when I rarely see one stop at a light or stop sign, and sometimes do stupid things downtown to bog up traffic in the interest of "education". I also would not do what they do on a bet....people in cars are a-holes, and "I'm sorry" doesn't count for much when you're being scraped off the road with a shovel.

I do, however, get some amusement seeing those who are rigged out with gear that most likely cost what would probably finance a coup in a third world country. I want to buy a beater bike, rig it up with a bell, maybe an air horn, tassels for the handlebars, a basket with flowers, mirrors, and cards in the spokes. I an use would use random items for padding/helmet (one of those German helmets with a spike would ROCK) and ride up and down the trail on full capacity weekends. I would be the Crazy Bike Lady of Banks....and I'm sure I would be alone because I can imagine the look of horror Handsome Stranger would display if I suggested he join me. Diff'rent strokes...

But really, who doesn't love a bike? When you're a kid, it's freedom - you can extend your boundaries, feel the wind in your hair, and show off to your peers by running over a half-inflated kick ball lying out in the road...but you know how that goes, right? When the tire runs over the ball, it pushes the air in the ball down and makes you crash and burn spectacularly, requiring you to force back tears, pick up the stupid bike, and limp home to the jeers and laughter of the neighbor kids who were watching out the window.

My big sister had a giant cruiser bike - too big to reach the pedals, so you had to stand on them and go up and down as you pedaled. My older brother got a 10 speed when they were first popular because mom and dad obviously loved him best, and I got his hand-me-down....the second coolest ride I've ever had. It was a gold Schwinn Sting Ray, with a 5 speed gear shift, a tuck and roll silver glitter banana seat, and HAND BRAKES. It was the SHIT of bikes...who cares about a stupid green 10 speed? I loved that bike...don't remember if it survived me riding out of a blind driveway into the back fender of a passing gold Cadillac, but it earned me a ride in the back seat when that poor rich lady had to pick my unconscious bad self up and take me to the address I kept repeating over and over. AND she put my bike in the trunk.

The youngest of us 5 got the ultimate was a small, blue one-speed antique of a bike, and it had no brakes. You cannot tell me that my parents didn't think that one through...I swear it was the Catholic way of thinning the herd. Mom used to yell at him for the holes in his tennis shoes...he had to drag his feet to stop, and even the rubber toes were no match for blacktop. One time he was riding down the neighbor's long driveway that dumped onto our street, and unfortunately met with a motorcycle heading in a perpendicular direction. I heard he hit the front wheel of the dudes bike, flew through the air, and actually landed on the wheels of his own bicycle before crashing. And the bike was OK....for round two.

I believe the last time it was ridden was down that same driveway, where he safely negotiated the intersection with the road, but not so much the post alongside the neighbors driveway. His entire body launched over the handlebars and made sickening contact with the 4x4...which was turned ever so slightly so he "luckily" caught the corner. He had two black eyes and a bruise line that was slightly off center from his forehead all the way down his chest. I remember waking up that night to his screams because his eyes swelled shut and he thought he was blind. I'm surprised he still remembers how to tie his shoes, for crying out loud....I think he finally started riding a bike again in his 40's.....

So yeah, bikes are fun...most of the time. I am really thinking about buying one for reals for me and Handsome Stranger and riding down the linear trail for exercise, and so I can walk funny the first couple weeks because my butt muscles hurt from saddling up. But we'll see. A bike rack will never touch my Camaro, so we have to figure out a way to strap them to the Hyundai first. In the meantime, how about a recipe? This is an oldie from when I was a kid - it may not be exactly the same, because I don't have mom's church cookbook, but it's in one of my old Betty Crocker cookbooks and tastes just like what I remember. The only resemblance to this post is that the sugar on top is sparkly, just like my bike seat...

French Breakfast Puffs

My mom served these with a dish of melted butter and one of cinnamon sugar. We were double/triple/quadruple dippers, so when you were done, the butter resembled a wet sponge which was also dispatched with by the first one finished with their muffin - oh how I miss the unfettered use of butter! Now when I make them, I just dip the tops and leave it at that - restraint is the new excess.

1 egg
3/4 C. milk
1/2 C. oil
2 C. flour
1/3 C. sugar
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt

1/2 C. butter, melted
1/2 C. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

Heat oven to 400; line 12 muffin tins with paper or foil liners. In a medium size bowl, beat egg, stir in milk and oil. Stir in flour, 1/2 C. sugar, baking powder and salt just until moistened - it should be a little lumpy. Fill liners 3/4 full and bake at 400 until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Let cool a couple minutes and remove from pan to cooling rack; when still warm, dip tops in melted butter, then in cinnamon sugar to cover entire top. Any leftover butter and cinnamon sugar can be used for double/triple/quadruple dipping by the cook or her preferred would be a sin to just throw it away.

These would not be so good to take on a bike ride - your fingers get all buttery, your hand could slip off the hand brake and you could end up in the blackberry brambles with hipster spoke heads in aerodynamic helmets and bike shorts that clearly delineate the best man pointing and laughing at you. And no one wants that...

ps, I forgot....PW makes these and takes the liners off when they cool and rolls the WHOLE MUFFIN in the butter/cinnamon sugar. Which is why I love her. And I posted a better pic - stop licking the monitor!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Water, water everywhere, nary a drop to flush

We take a lot for granted in our lives, and are usually pulled up by the short hairs when things go awry and stuff doesn't work like it should. Recently we had such a day at our house....after working all day, then coming home and making pies for an auction, salad for a Cinco de Mayo lunch at work the next day, and throwing dinner together, I walked over to the sink to rinse something off and when I pulled up the handle on the faucet, nothing came out. Brain: "WTH?" Hand: "Do it must have screwed it up!" Mouth: "HONEY....we don't have any water. Crap". Handsome Stranger looks at me from his easy chair with a blank stare. He gets up, follows me to the kitchen, and does the same thing I just did. Nothing. Mouth: "Wow. I never thought to try THAT"; he makes no comment to my smartassery, just shuffles off to find his shoes and a flashlight and heads out to the pump house. Pump comes on, buzzes for 5 seconds then shuts off. Hmmm. No gurgle, splash or trickle of water into the cistern, just a dry silence. Nuts.

We've lived with a well for about 15 years now, and it never ceases to amaze me that we are never prepared for it going down. Altho old-timey wells with a handle are nice at times like this, it's ever so much more pleasant to have one that does all the work for you....pumping enough water to use in a day would probably result in us all being musclebound freaks who have to tear the sleeves off every shirt we own. And it happens more than you'd think....we live in the black forest, have above ground electrical cables, and trees delight in falling or dropping their branches on wires just to pay us back for chopping down one of their friends and cremating the remains just to toast our marshmallows. Once we had one tiny branch that forked itself over the wire right near the house, and ice built up on it until it shorted out, burning entirely through one cable and causing a power surge that made all the lights go so bright that I thought the ATF was raiding us for two pellet pistols and some homemade kahlua in our possession. It was fine tho...the insurance company deemed our stuff too cheap to bother with covering so we cancelled our claim and got some cool new electronics that might be worth 30% of what we paid for it if it ever happens again. Not that I'm bitter...

I sat on the couch, and texted my boss, hoping for some sympathy and the words "Don't worry about coming in tomorrow, just take care of business and yourself". After several return texts taunting me about moving in with my mother, sharing a latrine in the woods etc, it dawned on me that I had recently purchased 2 cases of bottled water for just such an emergency....thanks to her callous insensitivity I was able to have coffee and a refreshing sponge bath before work the next morning with a bottle of Western Family's finest. I hear you're not supposed to wash your hair every day anyway, and that if you don't shower, eventually your natural musk stops trying to compete with your deodorant, soap and the like, and mellows to the point you only smell like a festering yak on those not-so-fresh days or after bucking hay bales and slopping pigs. And I hate washing dishes, so it's a win-win.

Later that morning the pump guy showed up at 9, did a couple tests and determined that, indeed, the pump was fried. Several hours later, a cute little "skylight" in the pump house roof, 245 feet of pipe, a new pump, and a bill which I have not yet been apprised of, and we are doin' the wave again....I flush, therefore I am. After droughts where we lugged dirty clothes to the laundromat, hauled water in a portable cistern with our truck that subsequently got a new transmission (You haul heavy water over the Sylvan hill every day and that is inevitable), and have to wash dishes BY HAND for months, and you too will tell The Man to do what he needs to get your water back, please and thank you very much.

Think of this as part service announcement (ALWAYS have a case of bottled water on hand, you will not begrudge one drop of it when your 23 year old son who lives at home and eats a lot of cheese and beans comes out of the bathroom and says "I wouldn't go in there if I was you" because the remaining water in the pipes was frivolously used by his elderly parents to take their medication). Also, make sure to pay the pump guy on time with a smile and write "THANK YOU" on the check - I"m sure they can find stock rooms to clean and company trucks to wash and detail before they come help you next time if you bitch about the bill. And how about a recipe that fits right in with this subject?'s got beans....

Chili Corn Bread Salad

This sounds really weird, and it's less like a salad and more like....well....I don't know, it's just weird. But if you never gave me a chance after my first post, you wouldn't be reading this right now, so see? Weird CAN work....

1 package corn muffin mix (8.5 oz?), prepared as per directions
1 can chopped green chilis (4 oz), undrained

1 C. mayonnaise
1 C. sour cream (I always use light...if you can find Breakstone it's da BOMB)
1 envelope ranch dressing mix

2 cans S&W Pinquitos, drained (you can use chili beans, just make sure they have sauce)
2 cans corn, drained, or 4 C. frozen corn, cooked, drained and cooled
3 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 C. green onion, thinly sliced (optional if your man is all whiny about it)
10 bacon strips, cooked crisp and crumbled
2 C. cheddar cheese, grated OR mexican blend from a bag

Mix cornbread according to instructions, but stir in the chilies and then spread in a greased pan the size the box says. Bake at 400 20 to 25 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean, let cool a bit. In a small bowl, combine mayo, sour cream and ranch mix, set aside. When cornbread is cool enough to handle, cut in half and break up half of it into another 9x13 pan or dish. Layer with half of EACH of the beans, mayo mixture, corn, tomatoes, onions, bacon and cheese; crumble the other half of the cornbread on top and then the other half of beans, mayo, corn, tomatoes, onion, bacon and cheese. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours, then have at it. So many flavors, but it just works....I just haven't figure out why they call it salad because it has everything to be a one dish meal - just extra delicious!

I have just succeeded in making myself very hungry, and Handsome stranger is gonna be late tonight...I gotta stop blogging before dinner. Maybe I should have a nice big glass of.....WATER?? Thanks pump guys!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Well, shut mah MOUTH!

I hate eating my words. If you know me, you are well aware....I am stubborn to a fault, and will defend myself ridiculously even if I'm the only one that sees the logic in my argument - if I think I'm right, you will have to play back the tape showing me otherwise to get me to cave. But I can admit when I'm wrong, even if it's through gritted teeth and an insincere smile - just don't say "I told you so" unless you want to eat only what you can suck through a straw until your new dental implants are ready.

A surprise call from my daughter in Georgia asking if we wanted to go to Disney world in a couple weeks kick-started our first real vacation in 7 years...I say if you don't fly somewhere or spend at least a full week away from home you're not on vacation, you're just hiding from work. After some discussion, we decided instead to fly to their home in Georgia so we could help get their house ready to put on the market, and next year we'll all go to Disney world from Oregon. That gives me a year to convince her that my grandson would much rather go to Hawaii or someplace where there are not a billion screaming kids and they don't have pay slots on the water fountains and a snickers bar is a hundred dollars. So off we headed to 10 fun-filled days of sweating in the humidity and heat of the land of peaches, peanuts, Baptist churches, Dollar Stores and Waffle Houses.

Since it was "vacation", we thought we would take a couple days from the honey-do list and go see the sights on the other side of our world, and set off for Savannah - being close to the ocean always appeals to me, and since even on the hottest days of the year in Oregon you still have to wear a bunny suit on the beach, I figured that it would be neato to go to one that was actually hot. And hot it was - 88 was smokin, as were my bare feet on sand that was near melting point. The water was disturbingly warm, like a bath but with crabs and jellyfish and Jaws lurking under every swell - but it was the only way to cool off, so I put my brave hat on and it was AWESOME! Handsome stranger took a photo of me coming back to his shady rest, and luckily for him it was a fair distance so I did not rip off his shutter finger and fling it to the great one needs to see that except people on a beach I will never run into again.

The second day we went into Savannah proper, and took a trolley tour of the towns 24 town squares. Now the trolley's have no air to afford you the full effect of the exhaust filled, 100 degree blast furnace with 90% humidity. LORDY it was hot! Near the end, we got off and walked a block to The Lady & Son's restaurant, because if you're in the South and you want to experience Southern cooking, Paula Deen jumps out from every corner holding a plate of some butter and cream infused heart-stopper and invites y'all to sit a spell until the button on your pants threatens to escape it's thread shackles and take a nearby fellow tourist's eye out. 3 floors and no wait (it was midway between lunch and dinner), and we were seated at a table for 5 that was neatly set with lace doilies at every place. I felt a disturbance in the Weight Watchers force, and when I saw "Buffet" on the menu, all bets were off.

I do not have cable, so I visit those who do and find ways to get them to turn to the Food Network to watch ANYTHING....they are more obstinate on Superbowl Sunday, but I usually get my way. One such time I watched my first Paula Deen show, and was APPALLED....the woman was a FRAUD. She made appetizers on the grill using Boboli Pizza crust, canned sauce, and SHUT THE FRONT DOOR.....BISQUICK. A Southerner using bisquick is worse than an Oregonian drinking a Coors with his free range alligator and hazelnut pesto's a sin against nature. From that point on, Paula was my own personal whipping girl - an example of what is wrong with the explosion of cooking shows that offer quick and uninspired recipes to those who think they don't have time to cook REAL food, and will never try anything from "scratch" because Paula has an easier way. BAH!

So yeah, the buffet. I limited myself to one plate, one time through, and one salad plate, but it mattered not....the first thing they do after they take your drink order is to bring you a plate with a hoe cake and a garlic butter biscuit. I'm like "Pfft...probly bisquick", then promptly ate my hoecake and thought about throwing a dollar on the floor to distract Ethan so I could snag his too. When butter drips down your fingers and you haven't put any on it, you KNOW you're in trouble. Off to the buffet, where I judiciously took only things I wanted to try, and no more than a very reasonable amount of each. My choices were touching each other, but not all up in each others bizness...I did good (see pic above). Then a salad, and altho it was quite healthy, drowning it in what appeared to be the most amazing blue cheese dressing was not so much.

The chicken fried steak was incredible, the blue cheese dressing made me want to fill up my purse with it, but someday, if my dream comes true, I would like to compete in a contest where I am dunked in a vat of Paula's cream corn and have to eat my way out. I looked up the recipe online, and sure enough....butter and heavy cream were the supporting players....I didn't know it was corn until I pointed at it on my plate and asked the waiter through a mouthful WHAT hot, fine mess that was I was eating. I'm pretty sure my family will ask for two tables when they eat with me from now daughter took pictures, and in every one my arms were blurs, my mouth in varying stages of shoveling, chewing, and dribbling goodness. (I fired her as the official photographer for the rest of the day)

So, in front of the world (OK, my small but merry band of blog followers), I would like to officially apologize to Paula for calling her a fraud. She can whip me up a batch of cream corn anytime, and if she also throws in some fried green tomatoes with vidalia onion relish, I will kiss her grits. And in her honor, I am offering up a very special recipe that I invented, one for sweet cornbread that is so good I thought about keeping it all to myself, but because of Paula, decided to share. And it has cornbread mix in it....not EVERYTHING has to be from scratch....

Best Damn Cornbread EVER

1 C. uncooked cornmeal
2 C. flour
1 C. corn muffin mix (I use bulk, Jiffy or Krusteaz would work fine)
1-1/3 C. sugar
2 T. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
4 eggs
1/3 C. butter, melted
2/3 C. oil
1 C. buttermilk
1 C. milk
1 C. frozen corn, divided

Preheat oven to 350. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl, add eggs, butter, oil, buttermilk and milk and mix just until dry ingredients are mostly incorporated (it should still be lumpy). Put half the corn in a blender or food processor and process until a paste, add that and other half of corn to batter and mix just until blended. Pour into greased 9x13 pan and bake at 350 for 45-55 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean.

The first time I made this, it took several days before I could no longer stand seeing it on the counter and threw the rest in the freezer. I told my son if he wanted it, he would have to thaw it out and he gave me such a look...."Why in the freezer??" I told him "Because if I have to take it out of the freezer and thaw it out in the microwave, I will have to think about my poor decision long enough to change my mind." A few weeks later I pawned it off to my niece, who didn't really want it but didn't want to be rude and took it home. Her mom emailed me the next day and said they HAD to have the recipe....when I say Best Damn about anything, do not doubt me....enjoy, all y'all!