Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Stressed to the Nines

I think there are about eighteen things I have been meaning to blog about from the last few days, but work and other life events have kept me on my toes and away from the computer. And as the sun has set on my day and my eyes are beginning to cross, the only memorable (to my hazy brain) event I feel the need to report is the fact that Isaac has aged another year, while I have not. Pretty neat trick, eh?

I was unable to get my 12-hour workday covered, Martin took care of most everything for the big day, with the exception of a ninth birthday cake prep (see, Judi, I still do it, though with far less enthusiasm than in the old days), as well as fulfilling his breakfast request, coffee cake. So after work, I reported to a local pizza joint where Isaac and three of his friends were excitedly awaiting the second leg of their party -- bowling. We left shortly after my arrival and headed to Mission Bowl for ten frames of unbridled joy for the kids. Ten frames of personal humiliation for me. And then cake and gifties. A darn fine time, I'd have to say. It's good for me to surrender control of the party and food for a change. I guess I'm accepting my new role as working mom.

And as you can see, Isaac wasn't too bruised by my lessened participation as party manager.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A New Lease on Life

Some time ago, I acknowledged that I needed to "get a job, move out, get a divorce, and then [have a crappy mini-relationship]." It took two months to manage even the first of the three. Then I was inspired to get the ball rolling on the divorce while Martin was in China because I knew it could take months to get that finalized. But securing housing was a big looming cloud. With only a couple of months of employment under my belt, I knew it would be a challenge to find someone willing to take a chance on me. And while I'd crunched the numbers over and over and over, I was unsure that my budget could truly withstand the weight of rent and all of its accompanying expenses.

But as a gesture of goodwill to myself, I kept my eyes open for rentals. I checked out apartments in the area and frequented Craigslist to see what was in the neighborhood. It seemed that my bank account was not Johnson-County-Friendly. . .if I wanted more than one bedroom, that is. Soon, a couple of distinct possibilities worked their ways in and out of my life. And then last Saturday while I was running, I spotted a FOR RENT sign out of the corner of my eye (as I sped so quickly past a side street that I nearly missed it!) In our first phone conversation, I learned that the owner was hoping for more than my means allowed. I squeezed in a little ditty about being handy and having chutzpah and he encouraged me to see the house nonetheless. So Sunday morning I did. And it's a great house. Better than a previous one that I thought to be perfect. I was upfront about my history and current situation and a couple of days later, he informed me that he wanted me to be his renter. Within my fiscal parameters.

Then I ran through Hope Care Center in such a state of glee that the nurses likely thought I was having a seizure.

Tonight I signed my lease. I will be moving mid-October. This is as big a step as I've taken on my new journey.

Lucky me. Now I'm eligible to have a crappy mini-relationship. Hmmm, I hope that's optional.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Projectile Pyrex

or Martin Has Turned the Kitchen Against Me

Martin prepared a big pasta casserole for the kids for dinner. Shortly before it was ready, little neighbor Vincent came by and whisked the kids away on an adventure of some variety. When it was done baking, Martin got a piece for himself and left the rest on the stovetop. And the kids continued to play without sustenance for a solid hour.

A bit later, Audrey directed my attention to a strange smell in the kitchen and I headed in to investigate. I could see by an indicator light that a burner was on but it was too dark to know which one. I flipped the light switch but it only turned on the ceiling fan. I could tell that Martin had powered the wrong burner to heat the tea kettle but couldn't find the knob. And then POP! A 10 x 13" glass dish and its contents were strewn about the room. I shoo'd Audrey away from the shards of glass as she was shoeless. And then it started to sink in just how amazingly fortunate she and I were that we weren't hurt. We were both within two feet of the dish upon detonation. And pieces of Pyrex flew as far as 20 feet away.

Martin and I got to work on cleanup. I'm certain we'll be finding splinters of glass for the next several weeks -- hopefully not in our feet or our food. Emily was concerned that I'd be sad about the broken dish. Martin and I were bummed that the kids didn't get any tasty casserole. And Audrey will probably wince every time she sees a clear baking pan anywhere near a tea kettle.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Reunited. And It Feels So Good.

When a partnership is new, it's easy to appreciate all of the positive attributes of the other party. Excitement and new possibilities abound as the relationship grows. But as time wears on, that presence becomes commonplace and it's easy to forget about the very reasons you embarked on the journey in the first place.

Then one day you look at your partner with fresh eyes. You remember why it is you clicked in the first place. And your interest is renewed. Love is a beautiful thing.

I love my Cuisinart. Both of them, actually.

My big one had been relegated to nothing more than a dough mixer. For pizza at that. And the Mini-Prep, heck, it hadn't been plugged in for over a year. Then the Korean Pancakes happened. Julienne my carrots and I'll bend over backwards for you. Prune puree for carrot cupcakes? Pull out the Mini-Prep. Now it seems we're invincible as a team. I'm glad they didn't give up on me just because they were under appreciated. They knew I'd be back someday.

And so I will share with you a delightful sauce I whipped up for dipping my tofu (already fried! A Chinese market treasure). It's my tweaked version of a recipe from This Can't Be Tofu! (I bet you can guess what I added)
Sweet-and-Spicy Dipping Sauce
1/3 c. rice wine vinegar
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 t. salt
1 t. grated fresh ginger
1 t. red pepper flakes
2 scallions (greens & whites) thinly sliced
1 T. minced cilantro
3 T. roasted peanuts, finely chopped (a perfect job for a Mini-Prep)

Combine vinegar, sugar and salt in a saucepan and simmer until bubbles appear all over the surface. Add ginger and continue simmering until slightly syrupy (about 10 minutes). Remove from heat and add remaining ingredients. Makes about 1/2 cup.
This was a really lovely sauce. I think it would be great on chicken or fish. Oooh, asparagus! And broccoli! I wouldn't say the possibilities are limitless, but I'm certainly open to suggestions.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Good, The Bad and The Fluffy

As I am fairly weary, I think I'll just give you the short version of the last 24 hours.

Good Parts of my Day:
1. I ran five miles.
2. I met Emily's teachers and they all really like her and she's doing well in middle school.
3. I used the last two ripe bananas.
4. Audrey really likes being a Girl Scout.
5. The Fluff is gone.

Not So Good Parts of My Day:
1. I twisted my ankle while running.
2. I twisted my ankle while walking.
3. I twisted my ankle while standing.
4. I am now a Girl Scout.
5. The Fluff is gone.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Hypothetical Warning

So, say you're walking down the street with your jar of Fluff and you need to tie your shoe. You don't want to put your Fluff on the ground, right? And then you see me approaching and you think, "Hey, I can ask Jennifer to hold my Fluff while I tie my shoe." But that would be the wrong thing to do.

Because I have a spoon in my purse.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Guilty Pleasures

Somehow I feel a tinge of guilt when I enjoy myself as much as I have today. Sure, I put in 64 work hours last week, but seriously, following it with three days off then a real weekend? I feel like I'm on vacation.

I woke well before the sun made it over the horizon and after a good while of tossing and turning, hit the road for a sunrise run. The air was so crisp and clear, I felt like I could go on forever. Five miles is as close to forever as I've ever gotten, so I was pretty pleased with my trek. Then I came home to make the aforementioned muffins, which continued to get rave reviews as an after school snack (Me: "Wow, you kids are sure eating a lot of those." Isaac: "Have you tasted them, Mom? They're awesome!")

An hour or so later, I went to the gym for lifting, followed by my favorite first fitness foray, yoga. Aaaaaahhhhh. It was magnificent. I twisted and folded and stretched and arched much to my delight. And from there I enjoyed Korma Sutra with MySpace Steve. I think yoga followed by Indian food is some kind of karmic bonus round. I'd been craving it for weeks so it was the perfect end to a perfect day.

Oh wait. It's only 1:00 p.m.

Then I'll pick up a couple more ingredients for tonight's dinner and head home. I know you're chomping at the bit wondering from which cookbook I chose the menu. Ok, it's not even worth bringing up, but I do think I'll snap up all of the $.46 copies (yes, the $.44 one has apparently sold) and give them as holiday gifts. Salmon in a Vibrant Sauce. Swiss Chard and Sweet Pepper Stir Fry. Chilled Plum Soup with Ginger Syrup. (Darn it, none of the recipes are on the Eating Well website.) As always, I savored my time in the kitchen and was pleasantly surprised at the dinner table when Emily and Isaac loved the salmon, though Audrey didn't. She admitted that she didn't want anymore green food (the marinade had lots of cilantro and jalepenos) because she'd eaten so many spring rolls last night.

And now I'm delighting in a glass of Shiraz. Finally, the perfect end to the perfect day.

Orange you glad I didn't say Banana?

Did you think I forgot about those bananas? Hardly. . .and I knew you didn't want to miss a minute of my life so I'll ramble for a moment or two to distract you from thinking about your failing stock portfolio.

I wasn't even going to mention these. Then Isaac said, "These are your best muffins ever, Mom," at which point I felt compelled to share my concocted recipe with you, my adoring fan base.

(If you do choose to make these, please don't measure anything carefully. I eyeballed most everything, and only after Isaac's comment did I decide I should jot down the gist of the recipe.)

Best Ever Banana Bran Muffins

Makes 24 standard sized muffins

2 c. wheat flour
2 c. wheat bran
2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. freshly ground nutmeg

1 c. raisins soaked a bit in 1/2 c. orange juice
2 large ripe bananas, mashed
3/4 c. plain yogurt (I used fat free)
2 eggs
1/2 c. brown sugar (honey, agave nectar or molasses would be great)
1/3 c. hazelnut oil (olive, grapeseed, vegetable oils or melted butter should work)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Prepare two muffin tins by oiling cups or using cupcake papers. Whisk together dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. In a medium bowl combine wet ingredients. Pour wet into dry and mix until just combined. Now would be a great time to add a handful of walnuts or pecans if your son isn't allergic to them. Pour into prepared muffin tins. Sprinkle tops with cinnamon sugar if you roll that way. Bake for 13-16 minutes, or when a toothpick comes out clean.

I wish I'd remembered to use some ground flax seed in these. I'll probably add 1/2 cup or so next time and reduce my oil even further. Vegan substitutions would be super easy too. And there are enough to last a few days in the breadbox.

Only three ripe bananas to go. . .

Monday, September 15, 2008

Seoul Food

Just as Big Sis is skipping her way through The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, I guess I'm hurrying through my Rush Hour cookbook. As seems to be my modus operandi, I spent my first day off work cleaning, shopping and cooking. This morning I had a couple of cookbooks out looking for a banana bread recipe (they're really ripe) and realized I should plan a dinner. Since my last menu was such a hit, I grabbed my new favorite book and browsed the summer menus. And though I'd never even eaten these before, I was certain that Korean Pancakes would hit the spot tonight. It was accompanied by Sticky Rice with Peas and I reprised the Gingered Peach Gratin as per Isaac's request. Made a shopping list and, well, I went thrift shopping. Luckily there is an Asian market next door to a store I frequent so I easily justified my trip. While in the market (oh, what fun it was!) I was inspired to add spring rolls to my menu and picked up a couple of other interesting finds.

Long story short (and you do know that I could go on and on, right?) Delicious! I couldn't have imagined a tastier, more perfect meal. I really didn't know what to expect and the pancakes were magical. The dipping sauce was amazing. The spring rolls were fresh and, well, springy (Audrey ate ten) and their sauce was delightful. I subbed red sticky rice and it was quite lovely. Added some fiery kimchee and I couldn't have been more pleased. Or full. But it's a happy full. And my soul is nourished too.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Weight-ing is the Hardest Part

So it would seem that someone who averages six workouts each week would be pretty fit and lean, right? Well, that's what I thought, but over the last few months, I've watched (and felt) my britches getting tighter and my blouses all the snugger.

Not long after I began spinning, I felt like I finally had found my size. But do you know what happened then? Those darn Peanut Butter-Jalepeno Sandwiches. Sometimes I'd eat three or four a day. And then I started eating lots of raw nuts. Cashews, almonds and pistachios, oh my! I was pretty sure I was immune to weight gain. I was working out all the time, right?.

I realized after none (oh yes, I mean none) of my shorts fit that I should probably step on the scales. From my pre- lifting/spinning weight, I'd packed on a whopping 17 pounds. How does that much fat sneak up on a body conscious woman? Ok, I acknowledge that some of that is muscle mass. But certainly not even half of it. So I figured I'd drop 10 lbs. -- a simple task, right? -- and be on my merry way. Well, since that was June and this is September and I'm telling you about it now, you can probably infer that it was not, in fact, a breeze.

And, just in case you haven't been taking notes, I'll remind you that I work in a kitchen. Ever heard the saying, Never trust a skinny cook? Well, I'm apparently trying to appear very honorable in my profession. One month at work = five pounds on my ass. (Mind you, I'm not wigging out over this. But I would like to pull on my jeans without doing a funky dance. And more clothes seem economically foolish compared to less food.)

So I've been watching what I've been putting in my mouth over the course of the day for the last week. And I equate how my own personal mass has increased to a trip to Costco. You put this and that and a few of those in your cart and all of the sudden, your total is $300. Same goes for all those little calories in all those little tastes I take. In the name of feeding people well, mind you.

So must I become like a wine-taster and expectorate after I have sampled the flavor?

Oh, if I could just stay away from those pesky nuts that have caused me so much trouble. And manage to keep my fingers out of my sauces. . .

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Sailing the Exxon Valdez

What on earth is she talking about? She's getting more cryptic by the day. I hope she's getting enough sleep. . .

Ok, so today was looking like a super-easy day at work. I got there and Chef had a gorgeous meal ready to pull together when noon rolled around. I only needed to make a mir poix for a shrimp stock and assemble one chef's salad. Dinner was a simple menu that I could prep and then sit on the counter listening to NPR for a couple of hours. For the moment, I would keep up with the dishes and help serve out lunch. So I hit it. Among many utensils and pans is a 12 quart stock pot with about a gallon of oil that we'd used for a couple of days. Typically, I just run it down the drain with some hot water and run the disposal at the same time.

You're kinda seeing where this is going, right?

In a matter of seconds, I felt myself slipping. I looked down and oily water was spilling from the trap at the bottom of the dishwasher. The sink drain was clogged and I had created the mother of all oil slicks. All just twenty minutes before serving lunch. We scrambled a bit and then manage a squeegee and a mop to get up some of the mess. The floor was ridiculously slippery so I put down a generous serving of baking soda all around the kitchen. As the activities assistant pointed out, it looked like a coke party gone bad. But we were able to walk without falling and got lunch out with more effort than usual. And maybe an extra yelling match as well. (No, I wasn't involved in the tiff. . .just responsible for it)

My Super-Nice Maintenance Guy observed the fiasco. He could tell right then and there that any plans he had for accomplishing anything today were shot. Drains were disassembled, grease traps were examined, pipes were snaked. . .and the water still wouldn't drain. A couple hours into the saga, while sweeping greasy baking soda in a kitchen with no clean dishes, I could see that I had created quite a situation. Maintenance, housekeeping and kitchen staff were all directly impacted by my mistake. But I learned something new today. We have a grease pit outside next to the dumpster. "At the expense of 22 man-hours," grinned Chef.

Then he and I brought the lunch dishes outside and washed them in tubs with the garden hose, bleach and a scrubby. Dinner's got to be served, right?

Actually, in the end it was not my grease that caused the drain back-up. It was the masses of food we put down that disposal on a daily basis. I just timed my oil dumping perfectly so that I could make the kitchen floor disastrously slippery for the next week or two.

Because I like to shake things up, you know.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Eating Well, Indeed

Tonight's menu was compliments of a cookbook that I picked up at the Pembroke Hill garage sale a couple of years ago (I hear they have a good soccer team this year) but have never used. Last night as a surveyed my oversized collection of books, I pulled the Eating Well Rush Hour Cookbook out (available for $.44 used on Amazon), thinking it might be destined for the to-go pile. Then I thumbed through it. It's brilliant! Fifteen menus for each season. A main dish, a side and a dessert. Nutritious and delicious, each and every one. Pictures for some of the items. And that is what got me. Those balsamic roasted onions. I had to have them, despite being from a winter menu. I paired them with their cookbook counterpart, the pasta ruffles, and added dessert from a summer menu, the gingered peach gratin. In less than an hour we had a delightful dinner. I guess I should pay more attention to the books I have.Pasta Ruffles with Tomato-Basil Sauce, Balsamic Roasted Onions and Gingered Peach Gratin

Saturday, September 6, 2008

To Tell the Truth

It's been nearly two years since Martin returned from L.A. with the news that he wished for a separation from our marriage. That was followed by many months of me pretending he hadn't said that in a very, "ignore it and it will go away" fashion. I experienced a moment of clarity in August of last year after insisting we go out to celebrate our 15th anniversary. We conversed in a rather civil fashion and while I took that to mean, "sure, I'm committed to this", by the end of the evening I realized in a gasping-for-air sort of way that, in fact, the train had derailed and that all my strength and will were not enough to get it back on track.

So I went to therapy a few months later. And I know she was trying her best to be objective, but in retrospect I can only imagine that my therapist was in disbelief that an able bodied woman couldn't muster the courage to put her children in school, get a job and move out on her own.

So here another nine months have passed and I'm finally getting to that place. There were a lot of changes for me to wrap my head around, so I'm not faulting myself for taking a little extra time. Kids in school. Check. Full-time job. Check. File for divorce. Check. Tell the kids. Ooops. We'd best address that. . .

So a couple of weeks ago I looked ahead on the calendar to see when I would have a free weekend that we could break our children's hearts. We agreed today would be the day. After lunch. You know I didn't sleep last night, right?

I must give credit to Martin for much of the ease with which the kids took today's news. He transitioned very smoothly from, "the landlord wants to sell this house" to "your mom and I will be living in separate spaces." I watched Emily closely and saw the moment when she clued in and she actually smiled. They immediately mentioned their friends who have two homes and how that was perfectly okay. Audrey later addressed a concern about time lines and wondered should she be packing. Martin merely suggested that she could start purging but that there would be plenty of time to prepare. I managed to interject what I felt compelled to say, but no one seemed bothered by the revelation. . .at any point during the day. I just put them to bed and all seems fine. I imagine there will be a greater reality to it when I move out (more on that soon), but they could prove me wrong again.

And I must admit, I feel a little empty that their reaction wasn't more dramatic. I think I needed today (which I had anticipated with much anguish) to be another big moment for me. And it wasn't. Don't get me wrong. I'm grateful beyond words that they are, for the moment, doing quite well with the news. I had no idea what to expect. And I certainly didn't expect this.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Jesus was a community organizer. Pontius Pilate was a governor.

(Credit to Daily Kos via Wasabi Boy)

Like much of the nation, I was interested to hear what Sarah Palin had to say last night. I tuned into the Republican National Convention shortly after 7:00 pm and painfully listened to the same re-hashed criticisms through four speeches. First, Mitt Romney -- what a bore! I can't believe he made it as far as he has in the political arena. I think he might be a droid. But that would be an insult to droids. Second, Mike Huckabee. Honestly, he was probably your (and I'm speaking to my two-and-a-half conservative readers) strongest shot at the White House this year. His was actually remotely interesting and though I personally wouldn't vote for him, I think he could've mustered more states than McCain. Guiliani. Aacck. More of the same attacks while patting himself on the back for being the NYC Mayor during 9/11. And Palin. She reads a good teleprompter. And she has sharp delivery. Her speech writer must have woken up on the wrong side of the bed. I didn't hear much that wasn't a jab, or just flat-out incorrect. Oh well. I wasn't expecting to be pleased with what I heard when I tuned in.

I've been trying all night to force myself to listen to McCain. But forty more minutes of the same might make my ears bleed.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Long Goodbye

Yesterday I unknowingly fed someone his last meal.

It was harder to watch him die than to know he had passed. He'd come to our center on hospice, though I wasn't told that until he'd been there for nearly a month. Watching him deteriorate -- from my perspective was to see him eat full meals upon arrival, then later to nibble at a tomato and leave the rest of the plate untouched -- was dramatic and astoundingly quick.

He became skeletal as his cancer took away the man he had once been. He'd lost his life partner to AIDS three years ago. And the person who visited him the most was his mother-in-law. She would bring those tomatoes he loved, sit with him in his room and just be there. It was beautiful to witness. She was saddened by the suffering he was experiencing. Her son had also succumbed to cancer, but it was much quicker and far less painful.

As his remaining weeks became days and then hours, we at the center tried to give him a sense of normalcy. He'd do little but quietly nod, if respond at all, to our comments and questions. He had fourteen siblings. Five or six were able to make it into town to say goodbye. I was moved at how they brought nothing but love and hope. Over my long working weekend, I got to know them well. I fed them and baked fresh cookies. My passion for tea gave his sister-in-law a mental distraction while we shared a pot. I told him that I'd see him on Monday when I left for the weekend. But he was gone when I arrived.

I thought I'd cry. But I haven't. By the last three days, he was a shell. His barely functioning body struggled with his soul to let go. And finally he was able to leave. We'll do a small in-house memorial and I'm sure I'll be moved to tears then, but for now I'm happy for him where he has no pain, no big sister speaking to him like a child, and all the garden fresh tomatoes he can stomach.