Sunday, January 29, 2012

I am now afraid of jellyfish and Hot Pockets and very strong margaritas

Things you should know, in case you didn't already:
1. I grew up in an ocean town.
2. I've been an ocean-frolicker for much of my life.

This morning, which was actually last Saturday when I started writing this and then got distracted by something shiny, anyway, on Saturday, way later than my Yankee* upbringing naturally allows,** I was lying in bed watching the National Geographic channel. This was not a choice. The Chef is in charge of the remote. I am in charge of watching whatever he and the remote choose.***

I enjoyed the show about octopuses, which I thought were octopi, but I assume National Geographic knows what they're talking about, so octopuses it is. Did you know each of those suction cups has a mind of its own? Each one can hold up to 35 pounds. This means all together, they can hold about 2 1/2 tons. And they can taste through their arms! Think of how fun that could be--although I probably wouldn't use the Victoria's Secret "Rapture" body lotion anymore.

Then NatGeo (which I am allowed to call them now because we are now BFFs) started in with the jellyfish. Here's what I know about jellyfish: We have Portuguese Man-o'-Wars (Men-o'-War?) in our area, which require meat tenderizer (the liquid, not the mallet) on the skin to neutralize the sting. Apparently peeing on the injury also works, but I have a shy bladder, so that's never going to happen. That's it! That's all I know, so therefore that's all anyone needed to know and/or all there is to know.


There are apparently umpity-kajillion kinds of jellyfish--some 12 feet wide and some a centemeter big. The little ones? More dangerous. Like dead-dangerous. And the box jellyfish? Get stung by their microscopic harpoons of death all along those lovely swaying tentacles and you are dead from exploding red blood cells, paralysis, and skin-eating poison. Good times. The end.

More things you should know, in case you didn't already:
1. I'm a lightweight in the liquor department
2. Drinking makes me hungry.

Why was I in bed so long?

Because The Chef and I went out last night, which was really last Saturday night, to our favorite place, Smoke Lounge in Providence, RI on Federal Hill. I had two margaritas and they were strong and delicious and then I talked a lot, even more than usual, which is a direct correlation.

When we got home, I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And then Hot Pocket roll-type things. This was as big a mistake as swimming in a bathtub full of jellyfish.**** I went upstairs and got into bed without telling The Chef I was going upstairs and going to bed. I know! Rude! He said we had this conversation when he came upstairs in search of my disappeared self:

Me: My stomach hurts.
Him: What's wrong?
Me: My stomach hurts.
Him: What's wrong?
Me: My stomach hurts.
::time passes::
Him: What's wrong?
Me: I feel like I could throw up. But don't worry. I won't throw up in bed.


What we now know:
1. I never need to eat another Hot Pocket for the rest of my life. And if I am forced to do so, I will not make it a peanut butter and jelly chaser.

2. As a really bad drinker with no tolerance for the devil's juice, I am not allowed to have two very strong drinks during the same outing.

3. Jellyfish are very scary and yet creepily pretty.

*As in New England hard-worker, not that baseball team to the south.

**More on this in a second. Get back up there and keep reading.*****

***Don't go getting all feminist bat-shit on me. I, for the most part, don't care what's on. With all those channels (who knew the world needed so many HBO and Showtime channels?), I'd rather not choose.

****I don't know why a bathtub would be filled with jellyfish and I don't know why I would even think about swimming in it, but...meh, go back to reading and pretend the metaphor is better than it actually is.

*****I lied. I don't feel like writing about this now. I also don't feel like going back and adjusting all the asterisks.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

FINALLY! Chicken soup in every pot (and freezable container)

We all know that when household collide, so do methods of food preparation. To wit: Chicken Soup.

My (Penny's) way of making chicken soup:
  1. Open can.
  2. Dump contents in microwavable bowl.
  3. Add 1/2 can of water.
  4. Microwave until you're tired of waiting to eat.
  5. Remove from microwave, taste, burn tongue.
  6. Shake fist at microwave.
Optional: Add a boatload of crackers because the soup may not taste exactly like a salt lick quite yet.

The Chef's way of making soup:
  • 3-5 pound chicken
  • 4-5 carrots cut in 3-4" pieces
  • 1/2 stalk celery with leaves cut in 3-4" pieces
  • 1 large onion cut in 3-4" pieces
  • sachet bag*, made up of 1/2 bunch Italian parsley with stems, 20 whole black peppercorns crushed, 2 T thyme, 3 whole cloves, 2-3 bay leaves
  • cold water (keep reading for how much!)

  •  To make stock:
  1. Using a cleaver, cut chicken into small pieces (each part of the chicken--leg, breast, etc-- should be cut at least in half to expose the marrow, about 3-4" pieces)
  2. Add enough cold water to cover approximately 6-8" above the chicken.
  3. Bring to a boil.
  4. Skim the scum. (Say that three times fast--fun!)
  5. Add carrots, celery, onion, and sachet bag.  Stir.
  6. Simmer for 5-6 HOURS** skimming off scum occasionally.
  7. Remove chicken and place on sheetpan to let cool.
  8. Strain stock through fine strainer. (Use fine chinois or cheesecloth if possible.) Let cool.
  9. While stock is cooling, pull chicken from bones. (Best to do this while watching the movie Until the Devil Knows You're Dead.)
  10. Evenly separate chicken stock into freezable containers. (Your choice but 1/2 gallon size works best.)
  11. Add equal amounts of pulled chicken to the containers.
  12. Freeze--EXCEPT ONE! We're going to keep going with that one container.
  • one 10-oz block frozen, chopped spinach
  • 1/3-1/2 bunch fresh chopped Italian parsley
  • About 1/2 pound of your choice of pasta (we like egg fettuccine, broken up into 1" pieces, which hurts your hands. ouch.)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Parmesan cheese (for garnish)
  1. Remember that container from above? Pour the contents into a large sauce pan.
  2. Add one block of frozen spinach. (Do not thaw.) Cook until hot.***
  3. Add chopped parsley.
  4. In a separate pan, cook pasta. Go PAST the al dente stage.****
  5. Strain pasta and rinse with cold water.
  6. Add desired amount of pasta to spinach/chicken soup and bring to simmer. Keep in mind that if you add too much pasta, it will suck up all the juices and you'll have one giant spinach noodle. Yuck.
  7. Season with salt and pepper to taste. This is the first time you're adding salt, so you may find it takes a lot.*****
  8. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese. I'm not kidding. These Italians put cheese in everything. I stopped my open mocking for a moment and tried it and WOW!
*sachet bag=herbs wrapped in a cheesecloth, tied with a string. This keeps all the little bits from floating all over the place. Little bits are like that.

**HOURS!!!! Hahahahaha!

***If you're using one of the frozen containers of the stock, pop out of container into saucepan along with frozen spinich. Cover and heat slowly (or quickly if you're wicked hungry).

****Be sure to wave to the al dente as it passes by.

*****The Chef says, "You can even add an egg to that." I say, "Why do you Italians have to put an egg on or in everything???" He defends this wacky practice by saying it would be like an egg-drop soup.  I say, "Whatever, dude."******

******And then he kills me for calling him "Dude."
I am delicious soup and you want to eat me.
You will use a spoon because if you try to slurp directly from the bowl, you'll spill it down the front of yourself. Trust me on this.

I'm denouementing. And whining.

Lots of writers say they don't like writing the middle of their stories, especially novels because they (the middles) are just so...effing...long.

Yeah, that can be a problem. Friend/mentor/really cool lady Pat Giff says we should keep making the problem (conflict) worse for the main character during this time. That has helped me a lot to get through those pesky long middles.

Me? I'm no fan of the denouement, the very very end of the story where everything wraps up. According to this source, which is not wikipedia,*  "Denouement is usually the final scene or chapter in which any necessary, and, as yet unmade, clarifications are made. The word is taken directly from French and means literally 'untying.' The French nouer is from the Latin nodare which was derived from nodus, meaning 'knot to untie.'"

Look! A graph! Or is it a chart? Or a map? ::shrugs:: I'll stick to writing.
My inclination is to write an ending something along the lines of "And then they died. The end" regardless of what came before that sentence, but apparently this is not an ending readers like. In fact this pesky denouement** is the only part of the Julia novel (which I've been working since...forever) that I have left to write. My friend Shelagh (check out her blog) said I'm not allowed to end this way. She is mean.*** 

How to tell I do not like writing that part of the book?  I'm explaining literary terms to you rather than just doing it.

In order to not have a predictable ending, I may have fiddled with the idea of the happy ending. I read recently, "You can write a good ending as some novelists do. You can write a great ending as fewer do. You could write the perfect ending as all too few do. Or... you could write the only ending. Ah, there's the rub. What's the perfect ending? And can the progression of the plot (i.e. the journey of the character(s) and chain of events) justify the denouement and vice versa?"

 I KNOW what the perfect ending is.**** I just don't want to write it because it may wind up being a little bit sad and I don't like being sad.

It's not like I am against happy endings in general. I love happy endings. (Shut up, you.) I just want it to be DONE already.****

 Fine. I'll do it. (After snacktime.) But I'm not going to like it. (But I will like the snack.)

What's that? You're worried because I seem to have completely abandoned Hazel?  Oh, on the contrary. She has some big news coming up in less than a month. But it's a secret so you will have to wait.

*Although they have a great breakdown of dramatic structure even though they are The Evil W.
**But I do LOVE to say "denouement" because it makes me feel really really smart.
***Not really. She is actually very nice.
****Because The Ending Fairy came!
*****And by DONE, I mean MOSTLY done. She still needs a good going through/editing, but that's different and way easier.

No chicken soup for your soul. Or bowl.

Apparently when you're writing a recipe, you are not supposed to only include the steps that interest you.  For that reason, you are not getting the chicken soup recipe I have been promising you in my head.

Oh, you'll get it eventually. Or I guess I could give it to you now, but it wouldn't work.

I wrote it, thinking I was Miss Sassy-Smartypants and I sent it to The Chef, asking him to check it out and he laughed and laughed and told me it was perfect except for all the wrong things and all the missing things. (I added the "perfect" part.) (He said all this very nicely because he is very kind and sweet, but we all know that's what he meant. There may have been some head-shaking on his part.)

So...if you're sick and you need chicken soup, just hold on! It's coming!

Someday I will tell you how to make this.

Inappropriate Response

Him: I am the saddest person in America.

Me: ::laughs uncontrollably::

Friday, January 20, 2012

Pork loin is not photogenic

It kinda looks like a dead, boneless animal, doesn't it?  Oh, wait. It is. But a very delicious one.

There really are no words, but I sure do like to write captions!

Here's the recipe, for those of you brave enough to slow-cook. I've slow-cookered thrice, so I'm a pro now. (And by "pro," I mean The Chef helped/supervised every step of the way. We should all thank him. If you think I'm kidding, see Step 2, which I did on my own.)

Non-Photogenic but Most Delicious Slow-cooker Pork Loin
  • 1 boneless pork loin, 2-3 pounds
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 3/4 cup water
Glazey McGlazerson:
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  1. Get your in-home chef to wash pork, trim excess fat, pat dry.
  2. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then prick the meat all over with a fork or skewer. (NOTE: I forgot to poke and no one would have been the wiser if I hadn't just narced on myself.) (ANOTHER NOTE: I said "prick.")
  3. In a cup or bowl, combine the brown sugar, mustard, and vinegar. Rub all over the hunk of meat. (Best to put the gloves back on before you do that--no messy cleanup!)
  4. Cover and cook on LOW for 7 to 8 hours.
  5. After an hour of cooking, add water around the side of the meat--not right on it!
  6. About 1/2 hour before the pork is done, combine ingredients for glaze in a small sauce pan.
  7. Heat and stir until mixture thickens.Pour off the excess juices and reserve.
  8. Brush pork with glaze.
  9. Add reserved juices to glaze and reduce on stove to nappe* stage. (The mixture coats the back of the spoon.) This is your gravy. You will drink whatever's left. I guarantee it.

*Does using this term make me sound like I know what I'm doing?

Ode to the garage

Dear Garage,

Thank you for keeping my car from
that would make me late,
for I never give myself enough time
before I zoom away.

"Did you have a hard time cleaning off your car this morning?"
asked my 82-year-old coworker.
"I had a devil of a time."

"I have a garage now!"
I squealed.
I am a jerk and I know it.

But I am a jerk with a spot in a garage!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

I am making food.

In the crockpot. Set on low. I have to STOP checking its progress. (Is it cooking yet? How about now? Now?)*

Here's a quiz (with imaginary prizes):

If left to my own eating devices, I would

a) Have a frozen dinner for just about every meal except the ones where someone else cooks
b) Die of malnutrition
c) Live on a giant batch of shepherd's pie.
d) Eat cake for almost every breakfast
e) Any and all of the above.

The answer is E, of course.

But you know what's funny, in a not funny-haha way? Every single solitary thing (book/story/whatever) I write has super descriptions of tasty treats (not just cake) and delicious recipes in them.  If pressed, could I actually make these recipes/foodstuffs?

Other people could. Me? Well...I have this whole following-directions problem, which kind of goes along with the shiny button syndrome.**

As I was falling asleep last night, I was thinking, "Hmmm...I could actually SHARE these things, these recipes with you all. And The Chef could help me make sure I'm not effing up big-time mid-creation."

What's that? You want to know what I'm making now? What would you say to Slow Cooker Brown Sugar Pork Loin

Get in mah belly. (Lousy pic, I know. I'll get you a mouth-watering one later!)

When The Chef emailed me the recipe yesterday, what I said was "This looks so good I want to have sex with it on the first date."  I know what you're thinking: Um, Penny, that (the food, not the sex) sounds fancy and direction-y. I KNOW! But two things:
  1. The Chef prepped the meat last night
  2. I only had to mix brown sugar with a few other things. When sugar's involved, I'm an idiot savant. (I love you, sugar.)
Plus another thing, which makes three things: slooooow cooker, whose motto should be I'll do all the work. You go relax--or perhaps GET BACK TO WORK! That book ain't going to write itself!

Is it done now? No.

More on this potentially-delish dish of deliciousness later, once full contact has been made with my mouth. Nom nom nom.


**Latest episode? Yesterday I was taking clothes from the dryer and something--the phone ringing? a bunny hopping across the yard? an alien invasion?--something happened and I walked away from the task; aforementioned incomplete task was discovered by The Chef. Open bifold laundry doors. Open dryer. Clothes spilling onto the dryer door like they were trying to make an escape.

"What the...?" he started.

"It's best you don't ask," I told him. That's best for everyone.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

You think I haven't been writing.

But you would be very very wrong.

I have. I've just been forgetting to tell you.  In fact recently, there was a 1494-word day and a 1775-day.

And just yesterday there were 1083+783 words, which makes...

(please sing to yourself for a minute...)

1866 words! That was on my new book, because I'm waiting for the Ending Fairy to come down and bless me with a satisfying ending for Julia.

Yes, this is the Ending Fairy. She also brings cake to celebrate.
In other writing news, I'm thinking about starting a blog based on writing alone because I'm sure you non-writers would rather stick a fork in your eye--or maybe a spork for more scooping action--than read about angsty writing stuff.  Just thinking about it.  In a procrastinating actual writing kind of way...

So I went to Pittsburgh...

And I ate this whole sandwich all by myself. We were at Primanti's, which you may have seen on various Food Network shows throughout the years.

I know what you're thinking: Holy moly. Are those french fries in that delicious looking sandwich? As I recall that ginormous meal also had pastrami, lettuce, tomato and an egg. Don't ask--the Pittsburgh people seem to like eggs on lots of things that normal people don't usually put eggs on. I've learned it's best just to accept that.

But I CAN explain the fries thing. Stolen directly from the Primanti's website

Back in the 1930's, Joe Primanti opened a cart in the Strip District selling sandwiches to truckers on the go. It was decided that he should expand to a small restaurant on 18th Street. The hours were 3am to 3pm to accommodate truckers and the like. His brothers, Dick and Stanley, joined him along with nephew John DePriter who was the cook.

According to John, "One winter, a fella drove in with a load of potatoes. He brought a few of 'em over to the restaurant to see if they were frozen. I fried the potatoes on our grill and they looked pretty good. A few of our customers asked for them, so I put the potatoes on their sandwiches." And the rest is history. The Primanti Sandwich: a true taste of Pittsburgh.

That's not all the deliciousness, though.

As you may know, or may not know because you live on the moon, my birthday is on Christmas. I spent the holiday and Christmas (heh heh. See what I did there?) with my family, in the traditional holiday/Christmas celebration: Helping my son pack a UHaul trailer so he could move to Missouri the next day.  Then there was food and presents with the whole clan. Delicious and fun.

The next morning I went to Logan Airport and got on a plane ALL BY MYSELF* with NO LUGGAGE** and a ONE-WAY*** ticket, which meant a first-class pass to a full body scan. Good times, people. Yeah, like I would risk blowing up my new Vera Wang purse or missing out on that sandwich above.

Anyway, back to food.

After apparently some serious shenanigans including The Great Search for a Round Pan and Is Your Lemon Curd Lemony Enough? on Christmas night, in anticipation of my arrival the next day, The Chef and his family stayed up all night while he created the best birthday cake ever, complete with homemade aforementioned lemon curd and delicious coconut, my all-time favorite cake flavors.

I will end this post by allowing you to bask in the glow of the lemon curd...and no, I will not stop saying lemon curd.****

I am a delicious cake and you should be jealous because you cannot eat me!

"Nom nom nom," said the little butterfly...

* I was only a little bit afraid.
** Because I had sent it along with The Chef when he drove out to see his family.
*** Because I would be driving back with The Chef and my luggage.
****Lemon curd, lemon curd, lemon curd...

Because this sums up my mental state at any given time...

Monday, January 9, 2012

Happy Birthday!

Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday, dear Son-o-Mine. Happy birthday to you. (Now where am I supposed to send the royalty check for getting you to sing that song in your head?)


Friday, January 6, 2012

I had an Epiphany!

It's Holly's Birthday!

Remember when I DRAGGED you to Disney World? Remember? And we had to make a stop?
Happy birthday--and nothing in this post is related to anything else in the post. I just wanted to use that picture.

LOVE this!

By Christian D. Larsen

Be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.

Talk health, happiness, and prosperity to every person you meet.

Make all your friends feel there is something in them.

Look at the sunny side of everything.

Be as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.

Forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.

Give everyone a smile.

Spend so much time improving yourself that you have no time left to criticize others.

Be too big for worry and too noble for anger.

Monday, January 2, 2012

What I read in 2011 (excluding the forever time that I forgot to write stuff down)

  • Santa Fe Edge by Stuart Woods (audio in car)
  • Can you believe I have been driving around listening to the radio because I couldn't get to the library for more audio books? Yeah, me neither. I almost DIED! Thank heavens for the Holly station on XM!
  • Full Scoop by Janet Evanovich and Charlotte Hughes (audiobook in car)
  • Reilly's Return by Tami Hoag (audiobook in car)
  • Grrrr. I forgot to keep track for five months. Dang it!
  • Murder Takes the Cake by Gayle Trent (iPad)
  • Raspberry Crush by Jill Winters
  • The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds
  • Prada and Prejudice by Mandy Hubbard
  • Call Me Irresistable by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
  • Prada and Prejudice by Mandy Hubbard
  • Happy Ever After by Nora Roberts
  • A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
  • Strategic Moves by Stuart Woods (audio)
  • The Girl in the Green Raincoat by Laura Lippman (audio)
  • Cross Fire by James Patterson
  • Creation of Eve by Lynn Cullen (audio book in car)
  • Union Atlantic by Adam Haslett (audio book in car)
  • Savor the Moment by Nora Roberts
  • Little Bitty Lies by Mary Kay Andrews (iPod)
  • I'd Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman
  • Taken by Storm by Tami Hoag
  • Every Last One by Anna Quindlen
  • House Rules by Jodi Picoult (audio book in car)
  • Fire and Ice by J.A. Jance
  • Aloha Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini (in car)
  • Bed of Roses by Nora Roberts
  • Fly Away Home by Jennifer Weiner (iPad)
  • Heart of Dixie by Tami Hoag
  • It All Began in Monte Carlo by Elizabeth Adler (audio book in car)
  • Rumor has It by Tami Hoeg (iPod/in car)
  • Vision in White by Nora Roberts
  • Hell Gate by Linda Fairstein (iPod)
  • Whiter than Snow by Sandra Dallas
  • The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet by Erin Dionne
  • Good Enough to Eat by Stacey Ballis
  • Star Island by Carl Hiaasen (audio in car)
  • Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen
  • Sunday, January 1, 2012

    Happy New Year!

    Our traditional/annual Grainy New Year's Eve picture!

    (Why the pink hue? Who knows???)