Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Not even fit for basic cable (part 2)!

I traded in my salsa shirt for an even crummier one today to ready myself for Pickle Day! Apparently, I'm just bottling up all of my sadness over the summer vacation drawing to a close. We filled the house with kids (my favorite sound), and with everyone happily busy, I got to work! The bread and butter pickle recipe I use has a couple of different weapons up its sleeve.

The first obstacle I faced was a small bag of onions, and they were truly diabolical! Perhaps it is the different cutting technique that is used for the pickles (thin rings) that makes the task so much more difficult, and tear jerking, than the chopping motion used for the salsa. Part of the problem, I am sure, resides in the fact that I am a terribly unskilled knife user...nope, practice is doing nothing to improve my situation. The mere fact that I am exposed to the onions longer as I try to make thin slices that do not involve any of my fingers makes the onions power over my eyes unbearable! I have never seen any footage of the cooking divas on TV showing them with both eyes, and nostrils weeping. My eyes hurt for the rest of the day, as if I'd gone on some major crying jag--which I guess I did. I took a glance in the mirror to see if I should have one of the children capture my visage...oops, no, not if I wanted anyone to eat what was in the jar...very unappetizing!

The other battle I had to face was with a spicy little chap named Turmeric (and perhaps his buddy mustard seed). His evil power is his similarity to permanent ink, as far as stain removal is concerned! When black utensils have a strange yellow glow about them...those are some badass spices! (Um, why is this post starting to read as though I am sniffing permanent markers? I need to get out more!) I am happy to report that I didn't ruin anything new this year...or at least nothing I've seen through my bloodshot puffy eyes!

Once again, I was armed with a time honored recipe. A recipe that I have chosen to not make any helpful notations on. It calls for four quarts of cucumbers thinly sliced. Every year I buy an eight quart basket and then ponder if I am doubling the recipe, or if that refers to an amount of sliced cucumbers. I don't know what I decide each year, I just know sometimes I have enough liquid leftover to bottle on its own. I was really glad that there were no other adults present today as my system was neither terribly efficient, nor pretty, but somehow there are nineteen sealed jars of pickles on my counter!

This should conclude this year's installment of "Watch out the stove is hot!" as I do not expect any incidents when it's applesauce time. (I already learned that it is not a good idea to peel apples outside on a nice day...when there are bees around!) I also learned a few lessons making blackberry jam, that should make raspberry jam day rather dull. (It will be truly uneventful if I miss out on picking the berries!)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

I'd like to Billieve it!

As my relationship with the Buffalo Bills enters its seventeenth season, it is clear that this story arc is on a rather downward slope. Or course you remember the fabulous Bills of 1990, 1991, 1992, and 1993? Well, I met my husband (let's call him Uberfan today) in 1994. I am not saying that I would've wanted to occupy a couch with him as they lost any of those four Super Bowl games, but the excitement during each of those seasons might have been worth something (like at least the cost of the season tickets). I would have also been more compassionate right from the start as we watched the downfall of Jim Kelly, as I would've immediately recognized all that he had been.

In order to feign any kind of interest in the Bills, as our relationship started out, I had to first muster up some interest in the game of football...which meant I had to understand something about this sport. My questions (and there were lots of them) were always received well and answered succinctly. The Uberfan has been a Pop Warner football ref for over twenty years, so I got explanations that a ten year old could understand, and that did not insult me at all. Once I had some general pigskin knowledge under my belt, and had made several trips to the Uberfan's hometown of Buffalo, I began to gain some appreciation of this team he loved so much. I was also extremely grateful for the fact that my Uberfan was still a reasonable man on Sunday afternoons and evenings, regardless of the team's performance. A loss did not spoil the rest of our day after away games, and he had always regained his composure somewhere between Batavia and our driveway after home games.

In an effort to show my support, I typically tried to watch any televised games he went to. I would note anything spectacular or quizzical. I just assumed it was proper to display an interest in what I figured was an actual hobby. The Doug Flutie years provided some moments of excitement, and our son liked him for some reason (the four-year-old boy demographic can be unpredictable). I was still holding firm as someone with moderate interest in both football and the Bills. With two small children, I had not yet entered the world of flopping down on the couch for a few hours in the middle of a Sunday. I tried to encourage them to have some general interest. (What else would we talk to Daddy about on Sundays?)

Once our kids got older, and I got lazier, I began to watch more football. As the Bills were getting worse and worse, I was being exposed to teams who were playing really well, against each other. I probably spoke more than was necessary about how easy other teams seemed to make the game look to play, and asked what was wrong with the Bills on more occasions than appropriate. However, my actions paled in comparison to when our son, on an apparent whim, jumped on the Patriots bandwagon right before they won Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002. He was almost five then, but he sure had good taste! He respects the Bills, but I really can't begrudge him for jumping ship to shout some "hurrahs" for a slightly more winning team. I got to the point where I was rooting for coaches (Tony Dungee), players (Brett Favre), or random underdogs. Eventually, I lost sight of actual teams and even in the sport itself (no thanks to Brett Favre and Bill Belichick). I was intolerant of poor behavior, both on and off the field.

In honor of the annual Family Day Bills game yesterday, and the Uberfan's desire to attend...with his family...we hit the Thruway. So, I went to my first Bills game in two years, and while I was not kicking and screaming, I will admit to pouting and grumbling. The Bills actually beat the Bengals, but I'm pretty sure that doesn't mean a whole heaping lot in preseason play. The Uberfan would agree, but that was not clearly evident, as his shouting began in minute two of game play. (I should mention that my husband is by no means a boisterous man...except during football games.) I guess nearly seven months is a long time to keep your outside voice dormant, and he had some preseason yelps of his own to work out.

I was focused on a variety of topics during the game, with apparel being the biggest. I scanned the crowd and found many decked out fans who I did not believe would even be able to answer how many downs for how many yards it takes to keep things going. I was amused by the variety of jerseys people wore. One woman actually had on a Losman jersey, now even I know enough to realize that was not a good purchase. I was alarmed at the Simpson jersey two rows in front of me until I realized it was not OJ Simpson's number (I know he was a great player, but yikes!). I decided that true sports fans should not have any glitter on their team threads. I am still baffled by the people who show up for a game wearing a jersey that is for a team not playing on the field. "What? The Colts aren't here today? Well that's who I really root for, and now I'm unsure what to do!" I felt a little badly that I was the only one of the four of us with no Bills flair on, but I could not be accused of being a poser...that's for sure. I had on a "half-full" Life is Good t-shirt, and hoped it looked like I was trying to display some optimism. They are claiming this is the "Season to Billieve"!

Another big distraction for me was the Jills cheerleaders. I am all for scholastic cheerleaders, as I do find those girls to be hard working athletes who do play a role in firing up the crowd. I just throw up a little in my throat when the hoochie outfitted ladies come out flinging their hair and pom poms around. I realize I am not their target audience, but aren't the men already paying attention to the game? As a special treat, the Junior Jills were on hand for the Family Game. As you can imagine, the Big Jills did not dumb down their routine for the youngsters; but, rather the youth took on their shake-what-they-don't-have-yet moves...yikes!

Luckily, I was not jonesing for a beer badly enough to pay $8.50 for one. I could've gone for a water, but at $4.00 a bottle, I refrained. The most troubling part of the water actually wasn't the price. The water servers took the caps off before handing them over. I was rather dismayed to think that we've gotten to the point in time when the risk of fans having full water bottles is too risky. You can be sure that if I actually paid the $4.00 for the water, the last thing you'd see would be me hurling it at another fan. If I did choose to throw the capless bottle, I guess I'd only really hurt the first person it hit, and everyone else would just get wet. I saw some people making paper airplanes out of the paper in the programs, and I was concerned that just one papercut to the face might cause them to eliminate weekly programs!

The Uberfan is not optimistic about the Bills chances to advance this season, due to the solid teams they will have to face in their division. However, he still bought his season's tickets, and will make that drive to cheer on his team. He has taught me a lot about the game of football, but has also shown me what it means to be a fan. The best I can do is make sure there is some dinner left when he gets back from home games, and try to plan mealtime appropriately for the games he watches here at home. Um, I suppose I could also try to keep SOME of my comments to myself.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Not fit for Food Network

I had a big day planned! It was going to require special (meaning already stained) clothes, a fancy hairdo (involving a hot pink clip I should never wear in public), and all of the math and organization skills I could bring to the kitchen counter...yes, it was Salsa Day! Am I a good cook? No. In my opinion a good cook is someone who can take an assortment of ingredients and create something delightful. I am an avid reader, with attention to detail, and the ability to follow directions. In other words, I can follow a recipe. About twelve years ago, my dear friend's mother was kind enough to share her salsa recipe with me (she was so not one of those "family secret recipe" types...and she treated everyone like family!). The card I wrote it on is spattered with my inevitable messes from each year since, and of course that's part of what makes it so special to me.

One might think that after so many years, I would have my system for this day down to a science...nope! All I know is that I buy a big box of tomatoes and a big bag of onions (no weight on either item is available for comment), and that is enough of those items for a few batches. Every year it is a game of catch up as I run out of certain things, while having a surplus of others. It involves many trips to the store and market. Some of the other typical queries are: What kind of hot peppers do I use? How many green peppers should I buy? Is it really OK to not process the jars in a canner?

Since I was running low on time and energy this week, I asked my produce company friend if she could just grab the items I needed, and I would pick them up from her house. I gave her my specifics on types and quantities of each item...that sounded like this "Yeah, a box of tomatoes...25 pounds? Um, is that the size you usually sell me? OK, and enough peppers for five cups chopped. Hot peppers? You have three kinds? Mix them up, and I need what will be two cups chopped." Would you believe that this information led to the best proportion of ingredients that's ever been on my counter for salsa-rama? Can you believe the size of these tomatoes in my 6 quart pot?

I do have a bit of a system as the whole event gets under way--it starts with notifying the children that I am not really available. (It is not as critical as the warning that goes out when I am making hard candy with 300 degree syrup, but any interruptions had better be important!) This is not to say that my system would appear terribly efficient to the outside observer, but it works for me. I do not use a food processor for the onions and peppers, and I don't really know why not. It is not as if I truly enjoy the tears streaming down my face, and trying to manage my nose with my shirt shoulder. I guess I find some peace and sanity in the chopping, oh, and I think it puts more love in the final product...and I'm pretty sure you can taste that...AND, my recipe doesn't mention a food processor. I have upgraded to using the assistance of an electric appliance for the hot peppers because the oil from those could kill (or burn) me. Although I caught some jalapeno vapor today that may have damaged my nasal passages. I use lunch bags for gloves when I am feeling particularly vulnerable to the heat beasts (this just adds another level to the beauty of my get-up).

This years planning snafoo came in the form of having purchased wide mouth lids, only to go to the basement to find pint jars with only tapered mouths. That resulted in an unscheduled trip to the grocery store for an exchange, but I was still chopping tomatoes by 9:00 a.m.

Did you ever notice how sometimes everything changes when you have even just one other person watching? A friend stopped by today with some lunch (thank goodness), and was visiting with me somewhere during batches one and two. Suddenly I realized that it may very well look like I had no idea what I was doing! Let's recap my scene at that point...kitchen a disaster with produce and dirty utensils strewn about and me a disaster with onion eyes, spattered clothing, hot pepper sinuses, and general mutterings about jar and lid sizes. I think there should be just one show on Food Network, once a week, that has a complete kitchen fool bumbling around, but turning out ok product in the end. Maybe it would be more inspiring to show that success can even come out of a mess.

My friend directed me back to whatever task at hand I had wandered off from a few times. Sure, I'd have found my way back on my own, but it saved some time. She now knows that I am afraid of my garbage disposal (and hot peppers). She learned that I like to clean everything up, but leave all of the newly jarred items on the counter as a visual of my accomplishment (also in hopes of warding off the dreaded "So what did you do today?" comment).

After everything was cleaned up (except for those items contaminated with hot pepper oil), she convinced me/we decided to just make a third batch and use up the rest of the potentially soon to perish ingredients. I let her use the big knives that I am afraid of, and let her turn the light on over the counter (see, my little knife in the bad lighting suddenly seemed ineffective). When I went to grab more jars, I remembered that I had returned those extra lids, and now had only six remaining for all of the salsa we were setting our sights on making. We solved our problems by using quart size jars--that's a bit of salsa for an evening, but I can pretend to have lots of friends.

When we were finished, she was able to depart looking like someone who could confidently be out in public. I, on the other hand...

By 4:30, there were twenty-nine jars of salsa on my counter. I could write down how many/much of each produce item I started with...I could, but I probably wont. I just hope Santa was listening when I told him I needed new jar lids and bands for Christmas...there was eye contact made, with a hint of information registering...I think.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Nothing in Common

We are vacationing in Orleans, Cape Cod--spending some quality time with family at Nauset Beach. Our trips to the beach must be planned (according to the kids) according to the tide chart. Years of practice have made this a near perfect science for us. In the five days we have been here, I have already learned some new lessons to be filed away for future reference.

As an avid user of sunscreen, hence my ivory (versus bronze) glow, I thought I had mastered this task. However, I had more to discover. First of all, it is important, when wearing a swim skirt and applying sunscreen, to consider the height that skirt will rise to if one sits in a chair. I got some fabulous high-thigh burn on day one. I had protected myself to right above the knee. I also realized that on windy days, one should take into account that using a barrette to keep hair out of one's face also keeps it off of her uppermost forehead. As a result, the sunscreen applied in typical fashion to my face, left about a half inch line of burn at my hairline. (Luckily these two areas are well hidden in everyday life.) Believe it or not, I was still considered qualified to apply spray sunscreen to my brother's back when he decided to grab a quick snooze at the beach. I really thought I was doing an adequate job...really, I did. It wasn't until later in the afternoon that we noticed the white scallop pattern down one side of his back, where I had artfully sprayed...then there was a pink middle section, and a more even whiteness on the other side. he did not appear to be in any discomfort, so I saw no need to alert him to the situation.

I am pleased to report that, according to me, it is easier to "sight-see" at the beach through the zoom lens of a camera than binoculars. I was expressing my fascination with the hairline of a man frolicking out in the waves, when it was suggested that "it" was a tattoo. Hmmmm, interesting choice of style...true t-shirt borders--including short sleeves. There didn't seem to be a way for us to get to the bottom of things, short of me freezing my feet off in the ocean. Then I realized, with the kids nearby, I could snap some unsuspecting photos (binoculars would've seemed out of place, as there was nothing fascinating going on that far off shore...except this guy). We were still uncertain, until I magnified the photo...then I was just in awe of what he'd grown.

I also found myself googling "beach etiquette" yesterday to find out "Is it just me?" or were other people concerned with issues beyond seeing more skin than necessary. The general rule is that common courtesy rules apply. This is always a sticky situation as it assumes all of those involved also have common sense.

When we arrived at the beach early yesterday, we found a crater that had been dug out (and clearly washed away a bit by high tide at 4:00am...in other words, not freshly done), so we dropped our things an appropriate distance from the two lawn chairs to the left and the couple of scattered towels behind. After we got all of our stuff spread out, a gentleman from the chairs came over, into the crater of our goods, kicked at a shovel in the sand, and walked away...OK, whatever. Then, he just sort of paced a bit. The six of us in our group headed down to the water, about 50 feet away. Chair-man was then joined by a small child, who started digging right next to the crater. Their subtleties led me to believe that we had inadvertently taken part of their spot (CLEARLY claimed by a stray shovel). I knew I was not going to be able to comfortably return to our blankets and chairs knowing I had spoiled anyone's fun, so my husband (with the reigning title of Ocean Treasure Collector...seriously he does it like it's his job) and I moved all of our stuff downhill, a little to the right, a little closer to the water. I told the boy we were sorry if we accidentally planted our stuff in his digging spot, and we'd move it out. The Chair-woman then rose to say "Sorry, we aren't usually so spread out, but we have nine more people coming." Well, they shouldn't have been left in charge of staking out real estate if they were just going to pout and not say anything BEFORE we put our stuff down. Two chairs and two blankets are not ample items to "reserve" beach space for thirteen people. This was not a movie theater--it's a beach!!! The Chair-man paced around for the next three hours like he was hosting guests in his yard. I am pretty sure it was a different family who smushed their five chairs right in front of the crater.

A couple of hours later, we had returned to our blanket and chairs to hydrate and enjoy the view of the ocean. With the rising tide, we were now about twenty feet from the water's edge, when a group of fifteen people decided to congregate about fifteen feet in front of us...standing...in a side-by-side line. It was so weird! They didn't even have their feet in the water. Their positioning was not only completely inconsiderate of us, but to anyone else who wanted to walk along the shore. "Down in front!" After awhile, there were just three obstacles left, and they did sit down. As a rogue wave came in, and got them wet, they did notice us when they went to move their chairs back, and sought higher ground. Thank you Mother Nature!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

When popcorn attacks!

Yesterday evening, the neighbor invited our kids over to watch a movie at night in their backyard, so I figured the least I could do was make some kettle corn. I was already in the kitchen making cookies, so I figured I'd dirty a few more pans. After much trial and error trying to come close to the quality of my dear friend's kettle corn, I have settled on some measurements that yield a decent enough product (I know she has the golden kernel touch and can just magically get things to work out without measuring spoons). I insist on looking at my three ingredient recipe every time, but I also need to follow the stove top recipe on the bag of popcorn, even if I am not adding the secret kettle corn ingredients. I have been a little bit cocky lately thanks to several successful batches. I guess one of last night's lessons was that I need to pay attention to what I am doing, as opposed to just periodically gazing longingly at my scribble notes, pretending to follow a recipe.

Part of my process for making kettle corn is to completely expect that I will burn one batch somewhere along the line...make three batches--throw out one is my usual (and yes, that counts as success). It isn't even always the first batch that burns...I can't explain. Through the past few years, I must've unknowingly developed "popcorn ear". The trick is that it only works if I am listening. My cooking space had been infiltrated by someone taller than me, for a change (yikes, my son is actually in that category now, but it wasn't him). I felt compelled to engage the intruder in friendly conversation. Suddenly, I realized I didn't know how far apart the popping sounds had gotten...critical error #1. So, I opened the lid very slightly to check on things...critical error #2. I should've let that baby burn, because that popcorn wanted OUT--I got hit in the neck, on the hand, and there were some zingers around the immediate kitchen area. Clearly not done popping. I had completely lost my rhythmic popping momentum, and a minute later, had to check the status AGAIN! Another shot to the neck, one to the finger, and more stray fire. Usually by the time I lift the lid, there is one kernel left to pop, and it leaps out of the pan joyfully, unlike the hostile enemy fire I was experiencing this time.

It is important to add that kettle corn has not only hot oil in its arsenal, but also, molten sugar! A tidbit of scalding sugar stuck itself to one of my fingers--ouch! Not only was my skin suffering from the schrapnel , but my impatient quality control instincts kicked in, so I was also burning my mouth conducting taste tests (I am both thankful and slightly disappointed that I do not have video of this to share with you). The only being in the house interested in helping was the dog, but I didn't need him involved in my situation. I was finally able to coerce someone into getting me a bowl to pour the well-done product into, as not to taint the salvaged portion. A few more kernels flew before I let the pan rest. Burn, rinse, repeat. I did make two more batches, so I suppose this was the norm in some ways.

This is what was not the norm...

Now I realize that these wounds are nothing to whine over (well actually they were, as they did sting for a few hours). However, there shouldn't be any first aid at all needed for popcorn making. I am considering having a popcorn dickie knitted so that I can confidently pop my corn on summer days when turtle necks are too warm. I should probably opt for some sort of safety goggles next time as well. I should also get out more than one bowl. Most of all though, I should double check what night the movie invite is for BEFORE making the snacks...oops, the outdoor cinematic adventure is tonight...and I can be rest assured that the children will tell the tale. I might be better off eating that treat myself and just sending them with candy...in hopes they forgot!

Thursday, August 5, 2010


Every time I see a pregnancy test commercial on television, my first thought is "who is asleep at the controls that I am being forced to watch something other than my show?" My next thoughts involve aggravation and slight offense. Why, why, WHY is so much money and technology being spent to make pregnancy tests "easier for a woman to read"? Fourteen years ago you had to look for pink lines, and I do not recall myself, or any of my friends, being so baffled by the findings on the stick that they had to call for backup. Even if you weren't clearly convinced that the color in the window was pink ("oooh, is that more reddish-orange"), there either were lines, or were NOT. The ads don't claim to be making the tests "more reliable"...just easier to read. Then, I am forced to ponder whether the insinuation is just that a female would have trouble reading the results--either due to some emotional component, or intellectual deficiency. That makes me feel even better that the other gender, stereotypically thought to be unable to read road maps, might be able to follow any other colored lines. I just don't want to meet the folks who have tried deciphering the magic wand pregnancy test, and threw their arms up in defeat. How far away are we from a voice chip proclaiming the news?

Last night as I was getting dinner ready, I saw some information on my bag of raviolis that further suggested that consumers are viewed as total idiots.

"Keep frozen"--ok, good to know. "Ready to cook"--well, I'm not sure what else I'd do to them, but ok. "Sauce not included"??????? It is a clear plastic bag. The photo does not even show sauce (blasphemy to suggest I might enjoy them without). Where is the disclaimer that I will have to provide my own plate?

Monday, August 2, 2010

I thought I was the ruler?

I just don't seem to be commanding the kind of respect I desire around the palace here. Oh sure, I am probably getting the respect I deserve, but that is besides the point. The latest round of cackling among the minions was this very blog. Needless to say, the children are not followers. I am not sure my husband has read more than the two requisite posts, after being informed that not knowing the blog address was NOT a substantial enough reason to not check it out. Perhaps his apparent lack of interest has something to do with the live technicolor version of my musings that he is subject to during my waking hours.

My latest business idea was being discussed (by me) at the dinner table, and the kids asked if I'd have as many customers as blog followers...(snicker, snicker). The son felt compelled to remind me that my goal was twenty followers (very lofty, I know)...the daughter, in turn, felt obligated to announce that there were currently only fifteen followers. Sure, they don't read it, but do make sure to take note of how many little boxes exist under the heading "followers" as they pass by.

I was not aware that my ego had become so inflated that I needed this kind of taking down. If you have any interest in helping me regain some clout around here (or in this blog in general), and one of those boxes over there on the left does not belong to you, please consider becoming a follower. Does membership have its privileges? Of course! I'm just not exactly sure what they are...yet. Monthly drawings for homemade chocolate chip cookie shipments?

So how do we measure success? Is it best defined by those who set actual personal goals, and reach them? Is my hope of getting out of bed in the morning, having had at least seven hours of sleep, setting the bar too low?