Ever have a run of days where it just seems like nothing goes your way? That was pretty much last week for me, and while, of course, nothing monumental like being stuck in a hurricane (or cleaning up after a hurricane) was part of my litany of woes, I did have woes. Small, persnickety, still-annoying woes.

You’d think a girl would feel a little embarrassed, complaining about relatively inconsequential things during times like these, and I guess I do. Sort of. But then again, isn’t that my right as a citizen and member of the human race? Thou shalt have the right to complain about your irrelevant but irritating shit? That right is written in the Constitution somewhere, I’m sure of it. So here goes.

Woes in the Animal Category:

Our geriatric, crotchety rescue cat, Aria, has become increasingly and persistently vocal…in the middle of the night. For hours, in the middle of the night. She’s got a horrifically loud, annoying meow to start with, but to be awakened (and kept awake) at all hours with her howls is wearing on all of us. There’s a reason the word “caterwaul” was invented. It’s a horrendous sound.

There’s no physical reason for this vocalization besides old age and perhaps her being pissed off with the presence of foster kittens, although I have taken great pains to keep the kittens separated from her. We have resorted to putting her in the basement or the garage at night, but her yellin’ and yowlin’ is so freaking loud that we can hear it quite well from those spots, even with a white-noise machine blasting in the bedroom.

It’s beginning to make us unhinged and slightly murderous-feeling.

Woes in the Physical Fuckery Category:

As if things weren’t already wonk in the sleep department, let’s ratchet things up a few more notches with the arrival of crippling, nighttime leg cramps. Did the Sleep Gods get together over beers some night and say, “You know, tinnitus and the howling cat from Hades just aren’t cutting it. What else can we add the the mix? How about stealthy, sleep-interrupting bursts of muscle spasms and agony? Yasssss. More beers all around! High five!”

They started months and months ago, but they were few and far between. The past month or two, I’ve been getting them nearly every night, multiple times. They’re the kind of cramps my mother used to refer to as “charley horses,” if that makes any sense? Basically, your muscles seize up violently and angrily, so you are forced to leap out of bed, hop around and shriek like your hair is on fire.

On good nights, I get one or two of these treasures. On bad nights, I get three or four. On really bad nights, I’m doing the midnight disco every 40 minutes, on repeat.

Which is why I am now sleeping in the basement. My daytime job of cooking, cleaning, driving, pet wrangling, homework monitoring and attempting to write is something that isn’t best done on 2-3 total hours of sleep a night, but it can be done. My husband is another story, so he’s sleeping elsewhere until we (hopefully?) get this sorted through. It just makes sense. Clean laundry vs saving lives? Not a hard decision.

I’m not happy about looking like Alice Cooper and Iggy Pop’s love child, though.

Yes, I’ve seen doctors about these mean fuckers.  I tried the recommended potassium, magnesium, epsom salts, melatonin.  I tried stronger sleep meds and medication for restless leg syndrome, even though that’s not what I have. I stretch and I massage. Nothing works. I have one more last-ditch medical appointment later this month but what I keep hearing is: “Well, Hell. We don’t know.” If you look in a dictionary under “Well, Hell, we don’t know?” do you see my name? I feel like it ought to be there.

Woes in the Kitchen Category:

I’m feelin’ like this last one owes a lot of its heritage to the two previous categories of woes. Someone as sleep-starved, pissed off and alas, despairing as I am right now probably shouldn’t be lurching around a kitchen with appliances that heat up or can be left unattended.

I’ve had more kitchen fails and episodes of culinary stupidity in the last few weeks than I’ve ever had in a lifetime of cooking. I’ve forgotten the cookies in the oven, I’ve charred the pizza, I’ve left pots of things boiling until overflowing, I’ve incinerated ALL the toast.

I even screwed up something that’s almost impossible to screw up: meat loaf. My sweet Daddy-o had oral surgery last week and couldn’t do much more than gum down food, so when he came up for Saturday football-watching and a meal, I needed to make something pretty mushy, and meat loaf and mashed potatoes definitely fit the bill. I wanted to send him home with leftovers, so I hustled off to the store and bought 2 1/2 pounds of organic, grass-fed bison and tons of potatoes, intent on making the mother of all meat loaves. I spent the whole morning shopping, chopping, sauteeing and mashing. I popped that bad boy in the oven before kickoff and figured that by half time, we’d be sitting down to a dinner that at least the men in the family were  going to love.

And I’m sure they would have loved it, but then I took it out of the oven and somehow dropped the whole business on the floor. I have no idea what happened. One minute I’m taking Meat Loaf MotherLode out of the oven and the next minute, I have a shattered casserole and a floor full of deceased loaf.

Hoo-boy, was it a mess.

Everyone but the dog looked on in horror. Mozz-man thought he’d won the lottery, and he pretty much did, considering he was pacing hopefully for hours while the thing was being assembled and baked.

Minutes passed and we just stared at the landfill of meat loaf on the floor, and then I began laughingandlaughingandlaughing because I’m just so damn tired and yes, it was a horrible mess but the world is flooding and on fire and it’s just friggin’ meat loaf, thank Jesus.

We cleaned up the hot disaster, and I made an emergency run to our local Sprouts market and purchased all of the meat loaf they had in the case. Sorry, people intent on Sprouts meat loaf last Saturday…you were out of luck.

We eventually sat down to eat and the boys deemed it delicious, and Mozzy ate his bowl of bison chow. Day was saved. Well, everything but my poor casserole dish.

I’m thinking maybe I shouldn’t cook anything ambitious when I’m this tired, though. Since Saturday, we’ve stuck to tacos, paninis, salads and this Thai-inspired slaw. You can even do as I did and add rotisserie chicken (or cooked shrimp) to this slaw, boil up some frozen potstickers and call it supper. It’s not spicy, despite the jalapeno jelly called for–it just has kind of a nice zing to it. It’s perfect for busy–or exhausted–days.

Much love to you, readers. I hope you all are in good health and good spirits. Now please send some sleep vibes my way, would you?

 

 

 

Thai-ish Slaw with Pepper Jelly and Peanuts

serves 4-6

 

1/4 cup jalapeno pepper jelly

1/4 cup red pepper jelly

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1-2 tablespoons cider vinegar

salt and pepper, to taste

16-ounce package coleslaw/carrot mix

1/2 cup sliced red onion

1-2 diced jalapeno peppers, seeded

1/4 cup chopped basil or cilantro, optional

1/2 cup lightly crushed dry roasted peanuts

To make it a meal: add shredded rotisserie chicken or cooked shrimp

 

 

In a small bowl, whisk together the jalapeno pepper jelly, red pepper jelly, olive oil and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

In a large serving bowl, combine coleslaw mix, red onion, diced jalapeno and basil/cilantro, if using. Toss with the dressing (start with about 3/4 of the dressing, toss, and add more if you like). Top with peanuts.

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What the heck, Colorado? The month of August was, for the most part, cool and rainy, making me think all sorts of Autumnal-leaning food thoughts, like a nice pot of soup or a homey, fall-apart tender roast (with lots of potatoes, naturally). And then, whammo! School begins and you whack us in the face with Indian summer temperatures hovering near or above the 90-degree mark. It hit a steamy 97 degrees this weekend, smoke from wildfires made the air hazy and the wasps were buzzing in full force, sending skittish Minxes indoors. It made us a little bitter.

Isn’t the start of school shock enough to the system? Now I have to crank up the dial on the air conditioning too?

Speaking of shocks to the system, I also decided to kick off the start of the school year by agreeing to foster two adorable kittens, because I’m tender-hearted a moron like that. Perhaps I needed a distraction from the inevitable empty house that comes with the whole back-to-school business? Does anticipatory loneliness atrophy the brain? Well, whatever the reason, when a couple of sad-sack kitties needed a temporary home, I said, “Why not?”

These poor kittens were terrified, traumatized little bags of bones when I picked them up, and it took several weeks of concerted effort to build their trust enough so that they didn’t cower under the bed every time I entered the room. They didn’t bristle or hiss at me, but they were spooked as Hell. I despaired a little that first week and a half, wondering if they’d hate me forever. Luckily, they decided that this weird lady who kept feeding them chicken and chattering in a soft voice wasn’t so horrible after all, and after another week, they were happy to accept pets and ear scratches and nibble treats out of my hand.

Then I had to fuck up the whole affair by taking them to the veterinarian to be “fixed,” which is something you really have to do as a foster, but hoo-boy. I had one of the most harrowing hours of my life trying to wrangle those half-wild kittens into transport carriers Wednesday morning. By the time (with the additional help of my harried husband) those kittens were contained, they were pissed, I was crying and bloody and my husband was exhausted.

                    ^This pretty princess was the most pissed princess of them all. Feisty ball of hiss.

 

      ^Pancho-man turned out to be a girl(!), and she was more terrified than hissy. She is still under the bed, trusting no one.

 

 

They have remained fairly pissed for days, although the blue-eyed Siamese is coming around. She has adopters waiting for her, and as soon as her stitches heal I am supposed to get her back in a transport carrier again. Christ on a cracker, you guys. HOW the bloody hell am I going to do that, you reckon?

Frankly, the prospect makes me green around the gills.

Anyone want to don a Hazmat suit and come help me do this? I’m not sure I can stomach it again.

And then, of course, there was every kind of media bombardment regarding Hurricane Harvey. My husband’s parents and his sister are all in Houston, so there were lots of worried phone calls and hand-wringing. They are okay, thank goodness. I tried to focus on that, and the uplifting stories and the footage of people coming together but Jesus. So many people and creatures fighting for their lives, or what’s left of their lives.

All of this fumbling and clatter and feelingthefeels and drama has made for full days, full wineglasses and sandwiches for dinner. It’s sizzling outside, to boot, so firing up the stove or even the grill doesn’t seem appealing. I will admit to ordering pizza on Wednesday night after the vet debacle, but by Thursday, I decided I needed to do a little better. Shoveling junk into my body isn’t going to improve affairs, is it? Besides, I should spend my pizza money on people who really need relief.

Time to haul out the slow cooker. I know for some of you, that seems odd–isn’t the slow cooker for the winter months? And naturally, it is perfectly suited for snowy weather but the trusty old crockpot works quite well in the summer months, as well. The newer models really don’t heat up the house at all, so there’s no reason to stow it away. Use that sucker!

If you can get organized in the morning, you can be sitting down to a healthy, un-pizza based dinner in a relatively cool house. That sounds pretty good to me. This recipe packs a lot of flavor for just a few ingredients; I always appreciate that in a recipe. This chicken is juicy, slightly sweet and just a tad spicy. I actually doubled the amount of Sriracha called for because I like things fiery, but do as you please.

You can serve this with steamed rice (or those packages of pre-cooked microwaveable rice if you really are pressed for time), cooked rice noodles, or as a base for lettuce wraps. The leftovers are aces, too.

I hope you all had a wonderful Labor Day weekend, staying cool and spending time with family. Now…who needs a kitty in their life? Anyone?

 

Slow-Cooker Soy Citrus Chicken

serves 4

slightly adapted from Food Network magazine

 

1 onion, halved and thinly sliced

1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup sweet chili sauce (you can find this in the Asian aisle at the grocery store)

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

2 tablespoons Sriracha

1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce

1 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated

3 minced garlic clove

1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

1/4 cup chopped toasted almonds (optional)

 

Lay the onion slices in a 6-quart slow cooker. Toss the chicken with the flour, lemon and orange zest, 1/4 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper in a large bowl. Add to the slow cooker in a single layer. Combine the chili sauce, orange juice, soy sauce, Sriracha, ginger and garlic in a bowl; pour over the chicken.

Cover the slow cooker and cook on low, 7 hours. Uncover and transfer the chicken to a plate. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, remove onion slices. Return chicken to the slow cooker gently stir, breaking up the chicken into large pieces and tossing with the sauce remaining in the slow cooker. Let stand 10 minutes.

Check for seasoning and add salt/pepper if necessary. Top chicken with cilantro and almonds, if using.

 

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Week 2 of school and things aren’t slowing down one dang bit. If anything, it’s been busier this week with all of the hoopla surrounding the eclipse. We reached about 94% totality (I think?) in my neck of the woods, and I was glad the girls’ school provided glasses and the opportunity to view it. I remember the last eclipse I viewed–I was 10 years old and we used those light box/paper contraptions. Personally, mine didn’t work very well and I ended up feeling frustrated. Luckily, the day got better because one of the rascally boys in my 4th grade class found a snake on the playground and hid it underneath the teacher’s desk. It scared the bejeezus out of her, which was quite gratifying. She was not a very nice woman–not at all. She was by far and away the nastiest teacher I ever had. Made for a memorable eclipse, though!

The girls have been downright blessed in the teacher department, and for that I’m grateful. They both came home energized and excited on Eclipse Monday. I was feeling all nostalgic and made them a retro-style treat for after school Monday, which I’ll tell you about in the future. I’ve made the girls several homemade after school treats in the last few weeks. For some reason, I’ve been missing them terribly this time around. Keeping busy in the kitchen helps occupy my idle hands and wandering mind, and it also entertains the dog, which is no small feat when the house is empty.

I’ve been so busy making treats that I’ve been slacking a bit in the dinner department. I’ve been relying on quick and easy suppers since school began, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We’re still adjusting to getting in a homework routine, and my husband has been working some long and crazy hours, so “family meals” have been scattered affairs at best.

It’s something I know a lot of people feel guilty about…you read all of these articles lamenting The Death of the Family Dinner, etc. and feel scolded. I’m not immune, either, but I also try to be realistic about things. Life is busy. Adults work, sometimes a lot and sometimes late. Kids have activities. I’m lucky to get everyone fed at all, let alone together. The truth is, lots of times I catch up with the girls about their day in the late afternoon, while I’m cooking dinner or packing lunches for the next day, and they’re at the kitchen counter doing homework. If my husband’s going to be late or we’re eating something the girls won’t appreciate, I feed them early. That’s a-okay in my book. I’m still talking to my kids and connecting with them daily, and that’s what’s most important.

Call me a radical: Family is about connection, not pot roast.

Seriously.

One of my go-to easy meals is this riff on cajun/creole food: red beans and rice. In Louisiana, red beans and rice is often served on Mondays, as a way to use up leftover odds and ends from Sunday dinner. Anything that utilizes “leftover odds and ends” is a keeper in my book.

One leftover thing I always seem to have is leftover cooked rice. For some reason, I never manage to make the right quantity of rice for my family. I end up with a big pot of the stuff, and then I have to figure out what the heck to do with it. Fried rice is, naturally, a frequent occurence in our house, but sometimes I’m not in the mood for soy sauce and chopsticks. Sometimes my hankerings lean toward the bayou, so red beans and rice it is.

Red beans and rice is also a tremendous vehicle for whatever leftover protein you have hanging around in your refrigerator. If I have rotisserie chicken, I’ll throw that in. Shrimp or sausage or even ground beef–toss it into the pool. Ham is a great addition, too.

The most time consuming part of this recipe is chopping the vegetables, but even with that step, dinner is on the table in under 30 minutes. Perfect for those busy fall evenings, when everyone’s still struggling a bit to fall into study habits and jam-packed schedules.

I hope you all are starting to find your groove during this busy season. I saw lots of Halloween decor in my grocery store last week, so I know those Autumn days aren’t too far behind, and to be honest, I’m ready. The girls have been ready for Halloween since last Halloween, those little freaks. Bring it on!

 

 

 

 

Speedy Skillet Red Beans and Rice

serves 4

 

12 ounces spicy chicken sausage (pre-cooked) cut into chunks

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 cloves garlic, chopped

3/4 cup chopped celery

3/4 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup green bell pepper, diced

1/2 cup red bell pepper, diced

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 can (15-ounce) kidney beans, rinsed and drained

1-2 tablespoons chicken broth

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

1/4-1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

2 cups cooked leftover rice (I had brown on hand so that’s what I used)

1/3 cup chopped scallion

 

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and the sausage and cook until browned, about2 minutes. Remove sausage, leaving any drippings in the pan. Add garlic, onion, celery, both kinds of bell peppers and saute until tender, about 4 minutes. Stir in the seasonings, beans, chicken stock, red wine vinegar, crushed red pepper and a dash of salt and a few cracks of  black pepper. Cover the pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Using a fork, lightly mash about half of the beans. Stir in the rice. Cover and cook about 3-4 minutes or until bubbly. Adjust for seasoning. Sprinkle scallion over and serve.

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