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You know how the Vietnamese serve noodle bowls with grilled meat, vegetables and noodles over lettuce? I love that.

Tonight for dinner I had in mind to stir fry a lite smoked sausage (turkey sausage) with some vegetables. I wanted to use squash since we were discussing that this weekend and Michael said he likes fried zucchini and I realized I've never given him any at home.

So I planned to use onions, green peppers, carrots and broccoli for sure. But I also bought a little zucchini, a little yellow squash and another little green squash.

I had fun using my mandoline slicer. I love that thing.

I also cooked some egg noodles. I sauteed the veggies and sausage in some balsamic vinaigrette. I let them carmelize a little bit. Then I poured in the cooked noodles and tossed it all together, seasoned it and put a little bit more balsamic vinaigrette.

Michael picked out all the noodles. I served mine over lettuce. It was delicious. I love the cool crunchyness of the lettuce along with the soft, chewy noodles and the smoky, oily sausage and tangy vegetables. Then Michael picked out all the sausage. I insisted he try some squash. He declined to eat any more. However, as a consequence, he did not get a treat after dinner.

But we did listen to music while I cleaned the kitchen and he danced around.


Tonight at the grocery store I found myself fighting down a flash of irritation as I got stuck behind a very old lady. I was irritated because she was moving incredibly slowly and didn't move to the side so I could get around her.

I forced myself to be patient and quiet my irritation. It's no use being in a hurry at the grocery store on a Monday evening and she had as much right to be there as I did.

Later, as I waited for my groceries to be bagged, I saw her again. She had on a tan-colored wooly hat and a Navaho print blouse in bright sunset colors. Her pants were thin white cotton and she had on loud orange socks with no shoes. She was carrying a red two-handled grocery basket that contained a red, chrome-shiny, two-slice toaster with the round-cornered retro look, like a minaturized Airstream trailer tinted red and made into a toaster.

She was saying she'd gotten separated from her family and was looking for them. She passed by me twice.

I thought the toaster was cool. I hope she found her family.

Living Each Day as a Journey

A writer writes.

Just received a copy of "One Year to a Writing Life: Twelve Lessons to Deepen Every Writer's Art and Craft" by Susan M. Tiberghien. Some of it may be a bit touchy feely, but the basic ideas are sound and it never hurts to practice writing.

I'll be posting more as I go through these exercises. I wonder if I can even manage a BloPo Year? That may be outrageously ambitious, but I have every intention of making this a summer of transformation. So, making more time to do my own writing would not be out of line with that.

At any rate, I shall approach the writing life with the full commitment of a writer who loves to write and look forward to the relaxation that comes with doing something I love, while at the same time realizing that the reality of every day may from time to time interfere... as it always does.

I'll be interested to work on more creative writing. Professionally, the writing I do is either news writing (which follows a very specific and limited format) or creative non-fiction, with emphasis on non-fiction and very little on creative. I love it and there's no question that's what I'm best at, but I'm anxious to explore other writing styles and see what I come up with.


I've noticed that I think about food and cooking quite a bit and thought to wonder if that means I'm obsessed with food. Certainly I am fond of food and eating, but I'm not sure that is the only factor.

The preparation of delicious food is a creative act, and thinking of ways to combine flavors and textures in an abstract way doesn't mean I'm always thinking of my next meal. In many cases, I'm not. I'm simply thinking of menus or how to use ingredients I have to make something different or what one protein could I add to make a complete meal or what seasonal ingredients could I use to make a fresh meal?

Lite smoked sausage. Onions, green peppers, carrots, broccoli. Maybe a little bit of noodles. Some fruit perhaps? I'm in the mood for something very quick and very light tonight.


I'm supposed to live each day as a journey and pay attention to the small things. Which is always a good idea, hence the expression, "stop and smell the roses." Living that way also helps with perspective and the ability view each day as a gift.

I never wanted to be too gooshy about viewing each day as a gift. But it's true. And what I definitely do NOT want, is to be a whiner. Especially because I know good and well that I have nothing to whine about.

Minor inconveniences don't count, everyone has those.

And did you ever notice that the people who have most reason to whine (like cancer patients, for instance) are the least likely to? I just try to remember that I don't want to get to the end of my life and realize I missed all the great stuff because I spent too much time agonizing over inconveniences.


I've been trying to remember to put only one space after a period when I type. I was taught, many years ago, to put two spaces after a period. But that was a technique necessary only on old-fashioned typewriters because typewriters didn't put the space of another letter after a period, computers do. Always. So there's no need for that extra space and there hasn't been since we all started using computers.

It's a difficult habit to break, though.

The Week in Food

Last night, I made pork chops, sweet potatoes and broccoli.

I bought the center-cut, thick-sliced boneless pork chops and marinated them in a spicy rub that included 4 T. minced garlic, 3 T. canola oil, 2 T. brown sugar, 2 T. kosher salt, 2 t. paprika, 1/2 t. ground black pepper, 1/2 t. cayenne pepper.

Actually, those measurements are directly from the recipe but I'm pretty sure I used a full tablespoon each of the ground black pepper and the cayenne. Yes, I meant to say tablespoon.

I mixed the ingredients together and smeared it on both sides of the pork chops and let them sit for about 2 hours. That made ALL the difference.

In the meantime, I preheated my oven to 450 for the sweet potatoes.

I peeled them and cut them in to chunks then tossed them with melted butter and thawed orange juice concentrate, then tossed them with a little brown sugar (1/4 cup maybe?). I spread them out in one later on a high-sided baking sheet then sprinkled them with a little bit of salt and cayenne pepper. Then I topped the whole deal with a mixture of equal parts chopped pecans and brown sugar (1 cup each perhaps?). I baked them at 450 for about 15 minutes, then lowered the oven to 350 and baked for another... mmm... probably 30 minutes or so. Until they were tender and had the glossy dark brown richness of carmelized sugar.

When they were done, I turned off the oven and just let them stay in there while I finished with the pork chops and broccoli.

I cooked the pork chops on my contact grill for five minutes. Then tented with foil and let them rest for about five minutes.

I steamed the broccoli for 10 minutes, then let it sit in the steamer for another five. I tossed them in a bowl that had one lemon's worth of zest and juice along with 2 tablespoons of melted butter, then sprinkled with salt.

The pork chops were juicy and incredibly flavorful and the sweet potatoes were rich, sweet and slightly spicy. Michael loves lemony broccoli and gobbled down a giant pile of it.

Tonight I'm making us our own little pizzas. Mine will have tomato sauce and cheese topped with turkey pepperoni, mushrooms, tomatoes (yes, more tomato!), green olives and tangy pepperoncinis. Michael will probably want alfredo sauce, pepperoni and four cheese blend on his.

Wednesday I'm planning to make baked ziti. Except, I never can find ziti so I use cavatapi noodles which I like better anyway. The lines on the corkscrews hold the sauce and cheese so beautifully.

I undercook the noodles by half, then drain and let them cool slightly. I pour the whole deal out into my big glass Pyrex standard 13 x 9 inch pan (doesn't everyone have one?). I stir in cubed mozzarella, then pour on jarred marinara. I could make my own marinara, but I can't make it any better than jarred and jarred is way, way faster. So I go with that.

I'm also going to drizzle on some rich, creamy bechamel and top with Parmesan. That bakes for... I don't know. A while. Until it's done... short of an hour, I think. Until it's all hot and bubbly and all the cheese is melted.

I'm planning to serve that with bakery fresh garlic bread and a little spinach side salad with just some carrot, tomato and homemade Italian vinaigrette in which I will utilize some of the fresh oregano and parsley I have growing in my herb pot on the back deck. <-- It's not what you think!

It's surprising how intensely delicious something so simple is... but just thinking about it is making my mouth water. I am a big fan of tomatoes, though. I suppose those who don't like tomatoes might think it sounds gross. I can't imagine, though!

Thursday, Michael and I will attend a work-related dinner, so I won't be cooking on Thursday.

Friday, I'm planning to make cream of broccoli soup and paninis. I'll have to post the recipe for cream of broccoli soup, it's outrageously creamy and delicious. Condensed cream of broccoli soup with sour cream, half and half, milk, a little bit of velveeta cheese, frozen broccoli. It's simple and easy to make, but crazy good.

The paninis will have carmelized peppers and onions, pepperjack cheese and strips of peppered bacon. Little paninis, just a bite of something crunchy to go with the rich, creamy soup. Mmm! Can't wait until Friday!!!

I wish I could say I'll have photos, but my camera is still busted. Maybe I can borrow one...


15 Bean Soup

15 Bean Soup

2 strips thick-sliced, peppered bacon, diced
2 onions, diced
1 green pepper, diced
3 stalks of celery, diced
1 huge clove garlic, minced
3 quarts liquid (I used chicken and vegetable broth, water would work, too)
1 package Hurst's Hambeens dried bean mix (15 different kinds of beans all in one little bag)
2 bay leaves
5 - 6 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1 t. dried)
1 lb. good quality salty ham cut into 1-inch cubes
2 cans diced fire-roasted tomatoes, drained
2 cans diced green chiles
Salt and fresh ground black pepper

Crisp bacon in a 5 qt. pot (no need to drain or remove bacon), then add in onion, green pepper, celery and garlic. Saute until vegetables are soft. Add in liquid, bay leaves, thyme and beans; bring to a boil. Simmer, covered, for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Add in remaining ingredients and return to simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Season with salt after beans have cooked to avoid making them tough. Also, taste before adding salt... I like my food pretty salty, but because a lot of salt cooks out of the ham as it simmers, I found that I barely needed to add any salt.

Note: Hurst's Hambeens come with a "ham seasoning" packet. I've never used it.


One for the books!

Backstory: Tonight, I took Michael to Buffalo Wild Wings for dinner. Now... he doesn't normally eat chicken off the bone, he usually gets his chicken in strip or nugget form. But tonight, he decided to be adventurous and get the real wings.

After nibbling all the crispy, juicy, chicken-y goodness of his first wing, he held the gnawed bone up and said:

"Look, Mom! My first bone!"

"Wow, yeah... okay." <-- I didn't laugh or smirk or anything, but you know I wanted to.

Then he said, "Well, my first big one anyway."

And all I could think was, "I can't wait to remind him of this conversation when he's 15."


Death of a Hairdryer

Yesterday... as I was drying my hair... my hairdryer said:



Followed by a flat *click*

So I turned it off.

When I turned it back on, it halfheartedly said, "Rrrr... rrr... rrrrrrr..."

Later that day, I bought a new whippersnapper of a hairdryer. A sleek, compact little young thing that gleamed when I took it out of the box and smelled enticingly of new plastic.

It blows. Which is a good thing if you're a hairdryer. Indeed, new hairdryers have a tendency to blow more than old ones because they're not so choked up with... whatever that linty stuff is that gets stuck all over the intake screen... that you can't clean off. It's sticky or something. Which worries me a little... I'd hate to put any of that under a microscope--I'm sure you'd find all manner of nastiness you'd have been better off not knowing about. But that linty stuff is like high cholesterol and arterial plaque for hairdryers and it is definitely what killed my last hairdryer. Congestive air intake failure. *sniff*

Don't worry. That hairdryer had as good a life as any hairdryer has a right to expect and I definitely buried it with all due pomp and circumstance. Or, you know, just threw it out.

Today... my hair is dry. That's not a statement on the characteristics of my hair, simply an indication of a state of being. Yesterday, I was forced to hurry on my way with damp hair... interestingly, my hair looks almost exactly like it did yesterday.

Company is coming!!!

You know what that means, right? Yep! Food, food, food. And now, on to the planning.

For lunch I am making Greeky Shrimp Salad with Pita Chips.

Large, succulent shrimp roasted in the oven combined with cherry tomatoes, artichoke hearts, cucumber, black olives and orzo dressed with mayonnaise with lemon zest and Greek seasoning mixed in all topped with feta cheese crumbles and served in a lettuce cup with some of those fabulous multi-grain pita chips on the side.

For dinner we're having Pulled Pork with root beer barbecue sauce, cole slaw and broccoli salad.

I'm not sure what the recipe is for the barbecue sauce because it's always my mom who makes it, but I do know you have to reduce an entire liter of root beer down until it equals just one cup. Then you mix in things like vinegar, mustard, ketchup and some other seasonings. It's so super sweet and tangy that it's making my jaws seize up just thinking about it. It goes so beautifully on the richly oily pork.

And you have to top it with cold creamy cole slaw, that's a southern rule. Ours is as simple as simple gets... just cabbage mixed with a dressing of mayonnaise, vinegar and Splenda. You could use sugar or honey, but the Splenda actually dissolves better than anything else I've tried and in this instance, even I, who despise fake sweetener and can always taste it when others can't, notice no difference.

The broccoli salad is also reasonably simple. Just put that same dressing on some slightly blanched broccoli and mix in chopped onion, crumbled bacon (gotta be real bacon), halved red grapes and top with toasted sunflower seeds. Best to leave the seeds until just before serving so they don't get soggy. And toasting them is important.

For dessert!! Pineapple Bread Pudding with homemade Vanilla Ice Cream. Wow. I can hardly wait for that!

The recipe for the vanilla ice cream is from Martha Stewart and well worth the trouble of cooking the creme anglaise to make the base. Creamiest, richest, most lusciously vanilla ice cream I've ever had and every time I make it, it just blows every other vanilla ice cream I've ever had away. (Sorry BlueBell, your homemade vanilla is very good, but this is better.)

Now imagine that melting over a pile of warm, sticky, crusty, sweet pineapple-y bread pudding. Woo! Can't wait for that, either. I love taking advantage of fruit in season and as I've observed before: hot, baked fruit (crisps, cobblers, pies, whatever) simply cannot be beat for dessert.

For breakfast the next day: Migas!

Eggs scrambled with sauteed onion, jalapeno, red peppers, crushed tortilla chips and a little pepper jack cheese for tang, served in a puddle of spicy enchilada sauce alongside a warm creamy pile of refried beans (also with melted jack cheese). I also top with more crushed chips, drizzle on some lime/toasted cumin crema and crumble over some queso fresco cheese.

I'm also going to serve a small grapefruit and avocado salad drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with chile/lime salt.

We may have breakfast beverages with that, too. Mimosa possibly or more likely a ZingZang Bloody Mary.

And now, I'm off to make shopping lists! Stay tuned for photos of all the deliciousness.


Luscious Lunch

Day before yesterday, I lovingly peeled a pound and a half of shrimp. I seasoned them with salt, black pepper and garlic powder after coating them with extra virgin olive oil. I roasted them in a 400 degree oven for five minutes (plus one minute with the oven off) until they were plump, pink and delectably sweet and succulent.

That night, I added them to some rice noodles stir fried in garlic, ginger, fish sauce and rice vinegar along with bright green fresh broccoli, crunchy carrot and crisp celery. It was so good, even Michael ate it... although he did skirt around the carrot and celery, he ate everything else and said he especially liked the shrimp.

Last night, I used the rest of the shrimp to create one of the best shrimp salads I've ever had.

I combined my succulent, sweet shrimp with some juicy, rich cherry tomatoes, crunchy cucumber, creamy black and green olives and some tri-colored orzo with a dressing of mayonnaise, lemon juice, lemon pepper and heavily perfumed gourmet Greek seasoning and lots of fresh, peppery parsley. I topped it with tangy feta cheese crumbles.

I ate that for lunch today with the pita chips I recommended the other day.

Best. Lunch. Ever.


Awkward use of the word awkward

Tonight Michael asked me what's for dinner.

I told him I was making chicken patties topped with mustard, frizzled ham and melted cheese (Swiss) along with fettucini in a creamy cheese sauce with green peas.

He said, "Hmmm. That's an awkward combination."
I have a new appreciation for those who write cookbooks. Reconstructing things I've made by the seat of my pants is often difficult. But I made this dish the other night, a variation of a recipe I've been making for years, and it was so spectacularly good, I need to write it down so I don't forget how to make it. And I promised my mom I would, too.

2 ribs celery, diced
2 small onions, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 to 1/2 c. canola oil
3/4 can tomato paste
2 - 3 T. flour
1 T. ancho chile powder
1 T. Durango chile powder blend (from Pendery's)
2 T. fresh ground cumin, black peppercorn and red chili flake blend (equal parts of the three)
3 cans diced tomatoes in sauce
1 can broth (I used beef, but vegetable would work well, too)
10 tiny sprigs of fresh thyme
1 T. pepper sauce (Tabasco)
1 1/2 T. apple cider vinegar
1 lb. hot smoked sausage
1 lb. medium shrimp, oven roasted (directions follow)

Start by roasting the shrimp: Pre-heat oven to 400. Toss peeled, de-veined shrimp in extra virgin olive oil, salt and fresh ground black pepper. Spread in an even layer on baking sheet.

Roast shrimp for 5 minutes. Check to see if shrimp are firm, if not, turn oven off, but leave shrimp in for a further 2 minutes. If they're medium shrimp, they should be perfect after that amount of time. DO NOT OVERCOOK the shrimp. But if they're not cooked through, continue in two minute increments in oven with temp off until they are.

For the creole: Sautee the trinity plus garlic in canola oil over medium-high heat until vegetables are soft. Then stir in tomato paste and mix thoroughly. Add in all spices and flour. Stir and cook until the flour is incorporated and cooked slightly. Pour in canned tomatoes with sauce and broth, increase heat and stir constantly until thickened. If it's too thick, add more broth or water. Season with salt.

Add in sausage. Put sausage in freezer for about 10 minutes so it gets very firm. Cut sausage into two pieces, then split lengthwise in half, then cut each half in half again (so slices will be quartered). Slice thinly and add to pot. Add in fresh thyme.

Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Season with salt again to taste and adjust chile seasonings as well, if necessary. Add in pepper sauce and vinegar, stir well to incorporate.

For Polenta:

1/2 stick butter
1 c. broth (I used vegetable)
1 c. heavy cream
2 T. fresh ground cumin, black peppercorn, red pepper flakes mixture
1/2 - 3/4 c. corn meal

Heat broth, cream, butter and spices until almost boiling. Slowly whisk in corn meal. When polenta is thickened, stir in salt to taste.

To serve, spoon out about a cup of polenta and put 1/2 c. of shrimp next to polenta, then spoon the creole on top of shrimp to warm them.




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January 2011



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