August 28, 2010

Return of the Mac

To make a long story short, my husband is a genius and my hero. His Internet searching prowess led to the miraculous resurrection of the Oracle, also known as my trusty MacBook Pro. Its malfunction? A problem with the graphics card, subject to a recall. So the expired warranty ceased to be an issue. The Mac is back, and it didn't cost us anything. They even fixed the battery and disc drive! Hooray!

I always try to savor it when things break our way. It's a precious experience around here.

Anyway I've spent this evening catching up on the 45 blog posts Google Reader saved while I was in the laptop desert. And a couple of my Internet friends -- by whom I mean my only friends, for I am a hermit in my old age -- have been writing about life struggles. My heart aches with theirs, and I wish them comfort and courage.

Food photo break!

I love late summer...

That's a couple of tomato slices, with fresh mozzarella, basil leaves, and a sprinkle of salt. Crusty bread or crackers make it the best lunch of the year. I had this like, three days last week. Though I have to admit: that fresh basil did a flat number on my breath. Sorry, front row public speaking students.

Now back to that comfort and courage. Man I have been on the receiving end of a Cosmic Screw-You or two. Of late, comfort has come to me in simmering pots and sizzling pans. I get courage from my friends and family, and a stubborn, inflated belief in my own genius.

My grandma always says you speak into existence. As in, if you say you're having a bad day/week/life then the bad will keep coming to you. In my experience, it totally works. So, listen up, universe. Give my girls a break. Share some of this love you've been giving me lately. There's plenty enough blessing to spread around. I claim their victory.

You know who you are if this crack at encouragement is meant for you. Much love, ladies. It passes. I promise.

August 17, 2010

I am computerless

Call it the perfect example of how the universe likes to test me. Early this morning I was online, reading the news, peachy as pie. When I got home from campus this evening, nothing. It powers up but displays nada. Not even on an external monitor.

Now... Get this... My warranty expired... THE DAY BEFORE YESTERDAY. I shit you not.

There are bright sides. Like how I procrastinated buying the new battery I've needed since April, at least. Like how I put off upgrading my OS & Office software. Like how we just got the Airport to work with Doug's laptop on Sunday.

So, I don't even know what this post will look like. Hopefully Blogger will cleverly interpret the html I've punched in here. If not I humbly apologize for the eyeball-assaulting block of text with pointless tags crammed in.

Oh yeah, and, Casey was soooo right about the other day's chili recipe. It was short on beans. Thanks for calling me out, bitch. I was gonna write up some variations today, but for now I'm getting carpal tunnel from Blackberry typing. Stay tuned...

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

August 13, 2010

Pull it together, sister

Oh, the dog days of summer -- an expression which, I read somewhere, has to do with the dog star Sirius. And the fact I couldn't even sustain a thought train through my first line of typing today ought to tell you something about my state of mind. (Hint: steaming hot mess.)

The food-blogging drive has abandoned me. Not for lack of cooking -- my kitchen is kicking out luxury! Like the day I fixed chicken nachos...

Which I set out intending to write about

Or when I lost my mind and just had to make these brownies I found on The Food Blog...

Hooray for my Green Boxes!

Gotta love those Blackberry pictures, huh? Anyway...

I'm sort of out of my mind prepping one of my classes. Apparently I have a limited daily allotment of creativity. Which? For now is going into assignments I hope won't provoke my students to mutiny. The previous syllabus included a lot of "type memos" kind of projects. I don't mean to be a hater, but when's the last time you saw a typed memo?

It's been fun though. No really! It's just sucking away all of my time and attention. Poor Doug must think he's married to the back of a laptop. And just wait til speech season kicks off in earnest.

Can I just marvel at my privilege of having a job to bitch about? Also, can you just marvel at how that's my idea of a positive attitude? I am sunshine incarnate, I tell ya.

Happy Friday the 13th. There's a slasher movie marathon in my future. Sweet.

August 10, 2010

Downs and ups

It was tough to admit.

Doug lacked to have fainted when I copped to him.

I never thought I'd feel this way.

I -- um -- well -- I miss Bowling Green.

Only on Saturday morning, I swear! Specifically, I miss my old farmer's market. Something awful. My weekly jaunt to the hospital parking lot brought me such joy. I saw classmates and teachers from WKU -- even bought stuff from a few of them! I built relationships with local farmers. I even got to listen to a family bluegrass band from time to time. I looked forward to the market. Couldn't wait for Saturdays. Felt a little lost when fall arrived and I got stuck with Kroger.

It's not like that here. I have a choice between two markets and both leave something to be desired.

If I want better selection, I go to Marietta. It's my worst nightmare. Instead of being spread across a spacious parking lot, it's crammed into a single block of a single street. It's worse than Walmart at Christmastime.

Y'all know how I feel about crowds.

Smyrna is a nicer experience. Baptist church parking lot, same vendors every week -- it has a lot of the qualities I loved about Bowling Green. But it's teeny. Two stalls of vegetables. Two. Also, you have to be there before 9:30 a.m. if you're gonna get eggs. Ugh.

Also... well I don't know this for sure, but I have a suspicion I'm not seeing actual producers. I hear tell one of the biggest farmer's markets in the world is in the city. And that most suburban vendors go there first, then set up stalls elsewhere to resell. I know that's the story in Marietta. And it seems to be the case in Smyrna too.

This is not what I got into the farmer's market scene for. One of the problems with reselling is the markup. Back in Kentucky, I used to laugh at the suckers paying outrageous money for Chilean produce at Kroger. Not around here. Half the time the vegetables are more expensive than the grocery store. I have to poke and pick to find actual producers selling their own stuff.

So I miss Bowling Green...

Until later that day, when I realized I had ten stores to visit in search of new work clothes. TEN! As opposed to the showstopping two stores to check out in Bowling Green. You give and you take, right? More to come on my buying binge, over at AKoP.

How was your weekend?

August 06, 2010

Chili for realz

I'm informally designating today as my one-year anniversary of hardcore cooking. Good friends and regular readers already know this story. So y'all can skip the next two paragraphs. Go on ahead, I'll never know.

Last August, I came home from a month of speech camp with massive anxiety. No job, no prospects, and badly banged-up self-esteem. I decided, if I wasn't going to be adding any income to the household, the least I could do was contribute work that would cut down our weekly expenses.

Hence, the cooking. For less than a hundred bucks a week we could both eat really, REALLY well. This year, as I'm about to re-enter the workforce, I'm feeling kind of angsty about where the time to cook will come from. Gotta work on my repertoire of things that re-heat well. Gotta do something, cuz the thought going back to takeout kinda disgusts me now.

Yep, I've turned into one of those a*hole food people.

One thing on the agenda is to make gallons -- literal gallons -- of chili. Right now, while tomatoes are cheap and taste perfect. Chili keeps well in the freezer for months, so the more I crank out, the more quick meals I'll have through the fall.

I know I've covered chili on this blog before, but I wanted to share the recipe with fresh tomatoes instead of canned. The process isn't substantially different. Just a little more prep but a lot more flavor. I don't know who invented chili, but bless their memory all the same.

Chili on the "For Real" (a.k.a. with fresh tomatoes)

What I used:
  • 1/2 cup dry red kidney beans, rinsed and soaked overnight
  • 8 or 9 medium tomatoes (I can't remember for sure -- say a pound pint* and a half)
  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 large sweet yellow onion
  • 1 medium green bell pepper
  • 1 small red bell pepper
  • 4 stalks celery
  • 4 large garlic cloves
  • Anaheim, serrano, and red and green jalapeno peppers
  • 5-6 shakes mild green Tabasco sauce
  • Cumin, parsley, cilantro, and cayenne
  • Salt and pepper
Phew! Okay, so the first thing was to pre-cook the beans. Following the package directions, I let them go for a good hour before starting the chili prep proper. Next I put the ground beef on medium heat with some salt and pepper, and blanched my tomatoes.

In two batches, because I was using my big pot for the chili -- duh...

I was thinking the other day, I don't believe I've ever broken down my blanching philosophy. I bring the water to a good rolling boil, then carefully add the tomatoes (or peaches, or green beans, or whatever). Then I bring the water back up to boiling, and let it go for 3-5 minutes. For these tomatoes, I gave them the whole five. After that I fished them out with a slotted spoon and gently relocated them to a giant bowl of ice water.

While all that browning and boiling were going on, I was chopping up all the veggies except the hot peppers. Those go in later. Then I put the browned beef aside and drained most of the grease, using what was left to sweat down the veggies.

Oops. Over-drained the grease. No worries, just sprinkle in some olive oil.

You'll notice I used celery here, which falls outside my usual onion-bell pepper-garlic trinity. In this recipe it adds some much-needed moisture. Without the extra juice from canned tomatoes, that's a big bonus.

Once the onions started turning slightly transparent, I dumped in the beef and beans and reduced the heat to low.

The beans should be *almost* done at this point. Think al dente.

Next went in the tomatoes. Again, to conserve moisture, I peeled and shredded them right over the pot. That way all the drips ended up in the chili and not on the cutting board. I hope it goes without saying, I cut out and discarded the stems.

It was looking a little dry, so I added in a few ladles of the tomato-blanching water. Then I stuck a lid on all that and let it simmer while I diced up the spicy peppers.

L-R: 1/2 a serrano, 1 red jalapeno, 1 green jalapeno, and 1/4 Anaheim

I chucked those in the pot and added the Tabasco, cumin, parsley, and cilantro. Taste. Oddly not that spicy. So I added some cayenne. And a little more salt and black pepper.

Stick on the lid and it's ready to simmer.

Now my favorite part of chili making. Walk away. Go do other stuff. I mean, I do check on it from time to time, give it a stir and a taste, maybe adjust the seasoning. But the standing around, bent over a cutting board? That crap is over. I gave it an hour, maybe more. The biggest thing was making sure the beans were good and tender.

Actually, forget what I just said. THIS is my favorite part of chili making...

You know, the eating.

We had some for dinner, and lunch the next day. The rest I stored in a freezer bag. I'll be super grateful to thaw that out, some chilly night this fall. (See what I did there? That joke's for my Dad.)

Yeah, it took a while, but most of that time was spent sitting on my butt. And it's so worth it, to have real-life-from-scratch chili! I bet this would be awesome in a crock pot too. If I had a crock pot. Are you listening, Santa?

I close, dear readers, by begging for your favorite freezable recipes. I've got two weeks until school starts and I need to do some hoarding. Recommendations?

Updated Aug. 10: Pints? Pounds? Whatever! Read what you write, girl.

August 03, 2010

I'm so mean I can't even stand myself

Maybe it's the cosmos punishing me, for bragging on this blog about how much my lady problems have eased. Because this week, I'm in hell. I start work in less than two weeks, and still haven't seen the textbook from which I'm supposed to prep a class. And this morning, I stepped on a bug. Some kind of GIANT MUTANT bug. In my bare feet. A steaming shower didn't un-gross-me-out.


I'm also stinging from another gumbo mega-fail. I don't know what my problem is either. I learned to make gumbo last summer, and my very first batch came out awesome. Every attempt since then has gone to hell. Beginner's luck I guess.

Now a disclaimer. Any proper Louisiana cook would probably give me a slap for what I call gumbo. For one thing, I don't use a roux. I know. I too felt that rush of wind as the whole gulf coast just gasped. I tried it a few times, and it turned into the nastiest gloop you've ever seen. So, I just rely on the rice for thickening. Don't even get me started on the "right" sausage...

Anyway, as of this week I hadn't given up yet. Okra's in high season right now, so I nutted up and bought some. Now for, ahem, "gumbo." Everything seemed in order...


(Not pictured because raw chicken looks gross)

Onion, celery, bell pepper, garlic


Anaheim, serrano, and red and green jalapeno

All slow cooked with chicken stock, and mixed with rice at the very end.

Spicy and savory... 

It was really good when it was fresh.

Looks good, right?

But by the next day, when I heated up some leftovers for lunch, it had turned into an icky mess. Shoot me. If I could just remember exactly what I did that first attempt... Too bad I wasn't blogging all my cooking at the time.

The worst news is, I made a shitload. I kinda had to, in order to use up all that okra. If you put it in the freezer before you add rice, it's supposed to keep for a couple of months. Now I'm worried when I thaw that base, it's gonna be inedible. Sigh... Obviously, I'll need to be ready with a backup when it's gumbo time again.

There's always Papa Johns I guess.