Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Chutes, Ladders, And The Steps To College

So that’s that. Julia’s winter exams are officially over. “World Religions” marked another senior year “last.”

With that exam, she takes another step toward college. I’d rather not think that it’s another step away from me.

You might thing the path is predictable, but it’s not. It’s more like the Chutes and Ladders game we played when she was little.  There’s the Candy Cane Forest of college applications and the Gum Drop Mountain of exams. Julia moves forward a couple of steps, I get mired in the Molasses Swamp, and then, with a big fat college acceptance in the mail, she ascends a ladder. She moves forward a couple of steps, I move forward a couple of steps, she wonders about dorm life without her cat, Lionel, and before you know it, she tumbles down a chute.

Mostly though, Julia moves onward, onward, inevitably onward. And not just onward, but happily onward, too.

But not tonight. Tonight we’ll spend the evening watching old episodes of Parenthood and The Perks Of Being A Wallflower.  Again. And before you know it, I’ll be blinking back tears. Again.

But despite what you think, I’m happy about all these steps toward college. I really am.

Because when she’s gone, Lionel is mine. All mine.

Broccoli Soup
In my usual effort to pack in extra nutrients during exams, this "broccoli" soup also includes carrots and celery and onions and garlic.
1/2 stick butter
1 onion, chopped
16-20 baby carrots, chopped
1 Yukon gold potato, peeled and chopped
1 rib of celery, chopped
6 cups broccoli florets
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 quart chicken stock
1 cup cream
blue cheese crumbles (optional)

In a large, deep skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in onions, sauté until soft. Stir in carrots, celery, potato and garlic. Sauté until soft and slightly browned. Stir in broccoli and chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then, reduce heat to low. Simmer for 20-30 minutes, until vegetables are very soft. Use an immersion blender to smooth to an even consistency (I like mine somewhat chunky). Stir in cream. Season well. Serve hot -- with blue cheese crumbles on top, if desired.

Monday, December 15, 2014

One Last Time. With Potato Soup.

It’s broad daylight now, but I’m afraid to go upstairs. OK. I take that back. “Afraid” may not be the right word. More like “terrified.” “Petrified.”

Because although it’s been days since I climbed those mahogany-stained steps and peered over the wrought-iron railing, I know what awaits.

Our home is diseased. Closets, dressers, desks, athletic bags and backpacks are spewing forth their contents. Papers -- printed and lined and blank -- lie piled, stacked, crumpled. All-but-empty Diet Coke bottles are cast about like forgotten bowling pins. Coffee-residued cups line the end table. The bedroom wastebasket – usually emptied every month or so –can’t contain the current collection of dried out markers, inkless pens, inexplicable index cards, and Clif bar wrappers.

It’s exam time. Julia’s last set of high school exams. Sigh.

This isn’t my first rodeo. I know my job. I grease the tracks. I stay out of the way. I’m ever-present. You want fruit? Strawberries, blueberries, kiwi and grapefruit are in the fridge. Not happy with the lunch at school? I’ll be in the neighborhood – why don’t I bring you a chicken salad bagel? Running low on gas? I’ll fill you up. You’re tired? Let me fluff the pillow.

This is my job. I know it well. I’ve done it for years. But this my last. This is Julia’s last set of high school exams. She’ll have plenty more exams, of course. She’ll rocket off to college and pull all-nighters and down espressos and bounce off walls, but she’ll do it without me.

What’s most important in that sentence, I guess, is she’ll do it without me. She’ll be just fine. She’ll be awesome.

And me? I can’t even imagine. Really? I won’t be tiptoeing around the house at this time next year? I won’t be indulging unexpected requests for soup and cookies and Jello? I won’t be making last minute runs to deliver lunch to school? I won’t be dropping everything to hear what amounts to a 15 second story about a friend’s college acceptance? Or a 15-minute story about the cat?

What am I going to do?

I guess I'll cook. And perhaps, venture upstairs. Which will be neat and orderly and clutter-free –welcoming my exhausted college student home, with clean sheets on the bed, and nary an empty Diet Coke bottle in sight.

Potato Soup
Our tradition has always been that, as Julia studies, I cook and bake and try to anticipate what she'll want next. I lucked out with this potato soup tonight.

4 slices of raw bacon, chopped
1 onion, sliced thinly
16-20 baby carrots, chopped
2 ribs of celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4-6 Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly
2 bay leaves
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup cream
2 tablespoons butter
sour cream 

In a large, deep skillet, sauté bacon over medium heat. When very crispy, remove bacon browned bits, setting aside for later, and keeping bacon grease in pan. Add onion, carrots, celery and garlic to pan. Reduce heat to low, and sauté, slowly, until onions are translucent and slightly browned. Stir in potatoes and bay leaves. Pour in broth, raise heat to high, bringing to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer 30-45 minutes, until potatoes are very soft. Remove bay leaves, and using a potato masher or immersion blender, smooth out the consistency (we like it a bit chunky). Stir in the cream and butter. Season well with salt and pepper. Serve hot, with bacon bits on top, and, if desired, a large dollop of sour cream.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Chillin' -- And Saving -- Chez Wiles

On this beautiful autumn afternoon, it is 63 degrees in our house. Not in every room, of course. That would be crazy. We've had the fireplace crackling since 11 this morning; the family room is now a toasty 66, and my teens are draped in blankets. Adorbs!

My original intent was to wait until November to fire up the furnace Chez Wiles. But now that November is here, I wonder to what extremes the kids and I are willing to go. Down comforters? Of course. Four-legged, flea-bearing friends in bed? Perhaps. Seeing your breath in front of your face? Probably not. But then again ...

It's not, necessarily, that I'm trying to save money. I wouldn't deny the kids a warm home just to supplement my 401K. I would, however, stop spending $10 bills.

Yes, you read that correctly. I do not spend ten dollar bills. You won't find this advice splashed across the cover of Money magazine ("Single Mom Devises Retirement Strategy!") My plan is not supported by science or economics -- I'm a communications major, not an MBA. All I know is that when an Alexander Hamilton comes my way, I stash it in a pink leather envelope. When the envelope bulges, I deposit the contents at my neighborhood Bank of America.  And why not? Really. You don't see $10 bills all that often. Georges are everywhere. Andrew Jacksons abound. But if you're getting $10 in change, you're more likely to get a pair of Lincolns than an Alexander Hamilton.  So, when I see a $10, I hang on to it -- which has the side benefit of giving my kids one more reason to roll their eyes at me. (Nothing, though, gets their eyeballs spinning faster than my version of Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off.")

Think those eyes will be rolling when the thermostat drops to 60?


Roasted Lemon Chicken and Asparagus
Although this dish is special enough to serve to company, it's also super cost-effective. Use any leftover chicken to make Chicken and Saffron Rice.

One, 4-5 pound fryer chicken
1 lemon, zested
4 cloves garlic, grated (or minced fine)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 stems fresh oregano
1 pound asparagus

Preheat oven to 500, and remove all racks except bottom rack. Line a baking sheet with heavy duty aluminum foil. In a small bowl, combine lemon zest, garlic, oil, salt, pepper, and oregano. Use your hands to carefully loosen skin from chicken. Rub lemon garlic mixture under skin. Prop chicken on an upright roasting rack (I use a Roastup Rocket). Insert rosemary into chicken cavity. Tuck wings in back. Put chicken on the aluminum foil-lined baking sheet, put in oven, and immediately lower temperature to 400 degrees. Prepare asparagus by snapping off the woody ends. After chicken has roasted 45 minutes, add asparagus to baking sheet and toss with chicken juices. Roast an additional 15-20 minutes, or until chicken tests done. (Juices run clear when thigh is poked with a toothpick.)  Remove from oven and squeeze lemon juice over chicken and asparagus. Let chicken rest for 10 minutes before carving and serving with roasted asparagus.