The beginning of last week–the week stuffed to the brim with activities–got off to a tremendous start. I was organized, energized and determined to make sure things went off without a hitch. Without a hitch, I tell you!

I baked off all of the cutout cookies for Miss D.’s birthday party and froze them, ready for decorating on the big day. I bought all of the decorating supplies.

I made several meals in advance, anticipating crazy evenings.

I packed a week’s worth of lunches, ready to go.

I squeezed in workouts, even when time was fleeting.

By Wednesday, I was feeling quite pleased with myself. This busy week was my bitch.

And then Wednesday night, after I put the kids to bed, I began to feel a little…steamy. I figured it was one of those special hot flashes I’ve started getting, but just in case, I made a cup of tea, popped a multivitamin and went to bed. By midnight, I was downright blazing. I was sweating like Rocky Balboa, and when I woke in the morning, after a fitful night, I looked like him too. Holy under-eye bags!

My head felt like a punching bag and Jesus, my throat was in flames. I lurched to the kitchen to make tea and bid my husband good morning by growling, “Dammit, I’m sick.” He gave me a hug and a sympathetic pat on the shoulder and said, “I’ll see if I can come home from work a little early so you can rest.”  Then I got a text from him half an hour later: “Oh, man. Two of our docs are sick, too. We’re shorthanded. Sorry.”

I sucked it up and managed to be somewhat functional Thursday, although by the time I got to my afternoon hair appointment, I was really in bad shape. My stylist did the bare minimum and got me out of there lickety-split, so I could go moan on the couch for a bit before fetching the girls from school. My husband arrived after work with all of the essentials for an emergency Thoddy; it was that bad. Unfortunately, even my secret weapon didn’t work–I hardly slept at all that night because I couldn’t shake the headache and Jesus, that throat!

Even though I’ve only had strep once in my life (odd, since my sister always seemed to have it), Friday morning I went in for a strep test. I figured that since I didn’t have congestion or a runny nose, it wasn’t a cold, so maybe I had gotten my second case of strep in a lifetime of being unafflicted, but nope. Not strep. How could that be? Jesus, that throat!

Since the Thoddy didn’t work, I figured that I’d pull out my next favorite secret weapon against disease, a steaming bowl of pho from our local Vietnamese joint. The Vietnamese joint is conveniently located down the street from the doctor’s office, so I called right before my appointment so I could run in, grab my pho and go. No answer when I called. Hmph. Tried again. Nada. After my appointment, I drove there, parked, and when I walked up to the door, I noticed that the door was open, but the place was empty. And by empty, I mean no tables, no chairs, no nothing, except…charred walls.

The only place for pho in town had burned in a kitchen fire last week.

Of course it did.

Pho denied. I almost cried, seriously. No pho for me! Waaa! My screaming throat would have to deal.

Soon, I forgot about the throat. That evening, the gastrointestinal demons started a disco party in my lower bowel. Lots of quality bathroom time. By this time, I was getting mighty cranky. What sort of crazy virus was this?

I woke on Saturday–the day of Miss D.’s party–with a calm stomach, a throat that was sore but not blazing, a milder headache, and…a newly congested sinus cavity and endlessly runny nose. WTF? The Morphing Virus from Hades had now invaded my face.  I guess it just decided to visit every spot on my body, like a sadistic Santa.

Clearly, this was not one of my better weeks, but there were some silver linings:

- the week was front-loaded with a lot of the activities, so the only thing I actually had to skip out on was my husband’s holiday party on Friday night, and while I felt sorry for him having to attend solo, I’m not the best party person, so I wasn’t crying a river about staying home.

- when a virus goes gastro on you, you’re so relieved when it finally quits that wherever it goes next doesn’t seem so bad. Sinus, shminus.  So I look like Rudolph. Whatever. Pass the tissues.

- after learned that my pho joint had *sob* gone up in flames, I rummaged around the pantry and found that I had the ingredients to make my Faux Pho…sort of. I didn’t have any rice noodles or chicken or bean sprouts. But I did have the ingredients to make the broth itself, and that’s the healing part of the dish, anyways. So over the course of three days, I went through two big pots of broth. By myself. What I ended up doing was just keeping a big pot of broth on simmer all day, and every hour or so, I’d ladle some broth into my little “heal me Jesus please” cup and suck it down.

^Heal Me Jesus Please Cup. Cute, right?

 

I customized my broth as the virus worked its way through my person–when it was in my g.i. tract, I went light on the Sriracha and heavy on the mint; when it invaded my sinuses, I Sriracha’ed the shit out of it.

- sucking down all of that broth over three days really did, I think, make that nasty thing move faster through my system. By the time the of D.’s party Saturday afternoon, I could sort of function okay. The party was lovely and the girls had fun and many cookies were decorated.

^Yep, that’s a Christmas Ninja. Because holidays need Ninjas, y’all.

 

Man,can I tell you how LOUD 5 teenage girls can be? Holy crap. Those girls never shut up. Not for one minute. But gosh, they’re nice girls. Funny, sweet, self-depracating, blessedly un-boy-crazy girls. I know I’m working on borrowed time with the un-boy-crazy, but I’m grateful for late bloomers.

Mozzy is grateful for girls who throw little cookie crumbs on the floor:

 

Not only were Miss D. and her friends happy to include Mozzy in the festivities, they were happy to include Miss M., too. It melted my heart, seeing how patient, sweet and kind they were to Hummingbird, who was a bit slow on the decorating front, given her broken wing. I know that at some point, the gap will widen between my girls (at least for a while) but for now, they’re still delicious together. I’m so lucky.

And since we’re talking lucky–Happy Birthday, Miss D., the original Minx.  On this day in 2001, you made your debut, in the middle of the night, in a snow storm. All five pounds of you.

 

You are such a pistol, but you bring the joy, tilt-a-whirl girl.

 

 

**

Off subject, but one caveat re: the simmering pot of brew as a virus rememdy: While I do recommend the 2 Pots of Pho method in a viral emergency, it is generally not advisable to consume that much sodium over a 3-day period. I look a bit like a pufferfish. But in a case of pufferfish vs Morphing Virus from Hades? I’ll take the fins any day.

I’m still feeling mighty punky, so it may be a few days before I’m in this space again, but I’m sending you my love and hope you are surviving these busy times virus-free. xoxo

{ 12 comments }

Hi, Readers! Before I launch into all things vegetable, can I share Miss M.’s new (short!) cast with you?

 

 

How excited for Christmas is Hummingbird?

Luckily, she gets the cast off the day after Christmas, so she won’t have to worry about looking outdated for more than a matter of hours. She also had to get a tooth pulled (front and center) yesterday because her adult one was coming up in back of it–again, can I say: no holiday cards this year? Jesus, we’re a mess.

The next few weeks are busy for everyone, but for some reason, it’s this week that’s jam-packed for us. That seems a little weird; you’d think next week would be the craziest, but not for us. We have choir concerts, dental/medical appointments, voice lessons, holiday parties…and a certain Miss D. has a birthday party for her big 1-3 this weekend.

Thirteen. Gah. I can’t even.

If I’m facing a freakshow week, I am very tempted to cheat by buying the frozen lasagna or relying on takeout, but if I do that, I know we’ll pay the price. We’ll start to feel heavy and sluggish, we’ll spend too much money, and I’m for danged sure going to have to end up plunging a toilet or two, and there is no way I need that on my to-do list.

Instead, I need to make a different kind of to-do list: one that allows me to shop, prepare and store things in advance, so when the inevitable wave of exhaustion and “eh, screw it!” attitude strikes, I’m ready.

Stocking up on protein is easy, and I always have boxes and bags of rice or pasta in the pantry. It may sound strange, but what typically trips me up in the meal planning department is the vegetable part of the meal. I don’t want to have broccoli for four meals straight, and salad has a short shelf life, and cooked carrots are the Devil’s instrument, and how many ways can you stretch a bag of frozen peas?

Here’s the answer. You shop, stock up, and then shock.

Yes, shock. Bear with me. I’ll explain.

In busy times, I try to only grocery shop once a week. I am lucky, because our Kroger sells already snapped thin green beans, trimmed broccoli, snap peas, even asparagus. I throw containers of those suckers into my cart, tote them home, and then prepare (essentially) my entire week’s worth of veg in one big swoop via the shocking method.

At first blush, shocking seems like a pain in the ass, but actually, it’s a pretty efficient way of getting those side veggies on the table for a week’s worth of meals.

Tools you will need:

Big-ass pot of boiling, salted water

A spider or tongs or other tool that can extract things from said boiling water

Big-ass pot of salted ice water

A strainer and a salad spinner

Large ziploc bags

 

Method:

You are basically “shocking” your veggies, which means that you dump them into boiling water, cook them for just a few minutes, then extract them with a strainer or spider, plop them into ice water to cool them off (plunging them in ice water protects that pretty, bright green color so don’t skip this step!), spin the blanched veggies dry in the salad spinner and then store in bags for use all week.

I typically use this method every week for green beans, snap peas, broccoli and sometimes asparagus. I do it all at once because once you get the big-ass pots of water boiling and filled with ice water, you can just plow through each vegetable one at a time, using the same water.

Once you have your veggies bagged, all you have to do at dinner time is heat some butter in a skillet, add some aromatics like garlic or shallot, add your veggies and saute for a couple of minutes, hit the saucepan with a splash of white wine or fresh lemon juice, add fresh herbs/lemon zest if you feel fancy, season it with salt and pepper and Bam! done. If I’m feeling super-fancy, I might prepare them as I did in the recipe below, adding some toasted nuts for extra oomph.

It sounds like kind of an involved process, I know! But seriously. Try this method and I think you’ll be sold. It will take about 40 minutes out of your week to blanch and shock all the veggies (if you do as many kinds per week as I do) but then, when it comes to side dish time for those dinners all week? You are golden.

Little tip about the veg: winter green beans are a little tougher than summer ones, so give them about a 5 minute bath in the veggie hot tub, then plunge. Cut the broccoli in fairly small pieces and blanch 3 minutes before sending them to the ice chamber.

Hope you readers are plugging along with all of the hustle and bustle of the season without too much stress; I know it’s madness, but when you see those smiles on the faces of those you love, don’t you always admit that it’s worth it?

 

 

Shocked, Sauteed Green Beans with Lemon and Pine Nuts

serves 2 generously (can easily be doubled or tripled)

 

2 cups shocked green beans

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 teaspoon garlic paste or anchovy paste**

zest of one small lemon

juice of half a lemon

salt, pepper and red chile flakes to taste

2 tablespoons of toasted pine nuts.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic/anchovy paste and stir and cook until fragrant and melted, about 2 minutes. Add green beans and saute for 2-3 minutes or until tender. Add lemon zest and lemon juice to pan; cook one minute more. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a pinch of red chile flakes. Sprinkle with pine nuts right before serving.

** Garlic paste and anchovy paste are miraculous magic flavor bombs that will make your vegetables taste delicious. You can find them in the Italian section of most grocery stores–they come in little tubes, like toothpaste. Just squeeze some into melted butter, let it toast and get all melty, and watch people wolf down their veggies with relish. Don’t fear the anchovy paste!! It isn’t fishy at all when you let it melt into butter and cook a little; all you taste is a nutty, salty yumminess. Promise! Nobody will know it’s there–they’ll just think that you are the veggie whisperer. :)

{ 16 comments }

Don’t get me wrong–I love our weird-ass Thanksgivings. I really do. I think it’s fun to spend the whole day futzing in the kitchen over a traditional Spanish paella or a bubbling pot of cacciatore, picturing the poor fools having to endure green bean casserole and waldorf salad. Clearly, I’m a snot and have a bit of a superiority complex when it comes to Thanksgiving, but I’m adorable the rest of the year, right?

Maybe my arrogance caught up with me a bit this year, because this Thanksgiving really was a little more weird-ass than usual. I woke up in the middle of the night, Thanksgiving Eve, with an eye that was throbbing and thrumming like a metronome. I lurched to the bathroom and the damn thing was shriveled and an evil shade of crimson. WTF?

As I was inspecting the Eye of Two-Face, I heard hacking and wheezing from Miss D.’s room. Miss D. has been afflicted with respiratory CRUD for over two weeks now. It’s not going away and she’s not getting any better, and our resident doctor doubts antibiotics are going to help matters, so we’re in for God knows how many weeks more of Hackville. I rummaged around for her inhaler and delivered it with my hand over my eye.

“What’s with the eye?” she mumbled.

“Assholery,” I replied.

I found some medicinal eye drops in the downstairs cabinet and plopped a couple of drops in the offending eyeball and “Yargh! Fire! Fire!” I clutched my eye, hopped around the kitchen and cursed a Holy streak. Man, those things stung. No wonder, because in the morning, I complained to my husband and he looked at the container and said, “Um, these drops are for ear infections, Babe.”

Oops.

Luckily, when I called Mama (the medicine hoarder), she had some of the real stuff on hand, so she brought it with her when she and Daddy came for dinner. A few drops of the good medicine and I was a lot less squinty and watery. Mama and I had to laugh, though, because a few weeks ago, she had a terrible fall and–like Miss M.–took the brunt of the blow with her face. So there we were: Miss M. with her (fading, thank goodness) Hitler mustache and broken arm, and Mama with a face black and blue like carbon paper, and me with the angry ugly eyeball.

No holiday pictures this year, folks.

Then, the cat must have decided that I didn’t look ridiculous enough. She jumped on the kitchen counter to investigate the dumpling appetizers, and when I picked her up to remove her, she rewarded me with a deep, bloody gash on my arm. It’s really not sanitary to cook with a deep, bloody gash on one’s arm, so out came the peroxide and the gauze and the medical tape. Most. Awkward. Looking. Cook. Ever.

Nothing went amiss with the appetizers (aside from the cat incident), and we played a few rousing rounds of “BuzzWord!”–which is a great game to play during the holidays because the cook can participate while she’s busy in the kitchen–and then it was time to check on the pork roast.

Except my meat thermometer chose that exact moment to go kaput. No reading at all. Whaa? Then I remembered that I had a really old one in a back drawer somewhere…one that isn’t digital…rummage, rummage…okay, there it is…plunged him in and…NADA. That one didn’t work, either.

It totally sucks to shell out cash on a big, beautiful pork roast, spend a day marinating it in wonderful things, roast it with tender care and then not have any idea whether the damn thing is cooked or not.  Seven Kinds of Owl Shit!

I poked and sniffed and prodded and squeezed and decided to put it back in the oven for another 15 minutes. The idea of over-cooked pork wasn’t appealing, but it sure as heck beat the idea of bloody pork, so I took my chances. I may have said a little prayer to the pork gods, although I doubt they work on Thanksgiving Day.

I took the mystery roast out of the oven, tented it with foil and let it rest for 25 minutes. I nervously made gravy. Finally, the moment of truth: I cut into the mystery roast and…

It was perfectly cooked. Juicy, just the barest of pink inside, succulent and ready for eatin’.

Maybe the pork gods are real, after all?

I don’t know, but that was a Thanksgiving miracle. We really enjoyed the whole dinner, and I’ll share some of the recipes with you over the next few weeks, but since it was truly a weird-ass Thanksgiving, I thought I’d share this recipe for Snow Pea Salad with you first. Because that’s a pretty weird choice to share first, isn’t it? It’s a salad, for goodness sakes. And it’s dead simple–not fancy at all. Nor is it particularly impressive looking. But. It happened to be Mama’s favorite part of the entire dinner, and I have to admit, I was shocked by how good it was.

It’s fresh, it’s packed with flavor, and it’s a refreshing counterpart to a rich meal. I’ll be making this regularly from now on, and the leftovers are great. Because I’m a freak, I especially enjoyed the leftovers plopped on a bit of steamed rice with a dash of Sriracha for breakfast.

Holiday leftover bliss.

I hope you readers had a wonderful Thanksgiving, full of food and family and laughter. And now for the important question? Have you finished your Christmas shopping yet?

 

 

Snow Pea Salad with Sesame-Ginger Dressing

from the Sunset Cookbook

serves 4-6

 

1 pound snow peas, strings removed

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 1/2 tablespoons sesame oil

2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon hot Chinese mustard

2 sliced green onions

1 teaspoon sesame seeds, preferably a mix of white and black

 

Blanch snow peas in boiling water for 20-30 seconds; drain and immediately plunge into a bowl of ice water. Drain and pat dry. Slice on the diagonal into bite-sized pieces.

Combine all remaining ingredients except for green onions and sesame seeds. Whisk well and toss with the snow peas. Refrigerate for at least one hour to allow flavors to combine.

Just before serving, toss with green onions and sesame seeds.

{ 11 comments }

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