Thursday, April 30, 2009

It's Over When It's Over.

I found out today.  I am divorced.

Not a shocker, I know.  My (now) ex-husband and I separated over a year ago.  We submitted ourselves to three excruciating days of mediation seven months ago.  We (and by "we," I mean the royal "we" -- our lawyers) finalized and stamped the necessary reams of paperwork a few weeks back.

Then, the way it works (at least here in NC), you can send everything to a judge.  You don't have to show up in court.  Bizarre to think that marriage, which begins with so much fanfare and publicity and adulation, can, after 23 years, end with nothing more than the quiet scratching of a 79-cent Bic pen by a grown man wearing a robe.   A week or so later, you get a notice in the mail.  The end.

Better, of course, than pointing fingers, pulling hair and gnashing teeth in a courtroom.  But still.

Frankly, I'm not sure how to feel.  My friends don't know what to say either.  "Congratulations" doesn't sound right.  Ending a marriage -- particularly one that includes two amazing, beautiful, articulate children -- is hardly the occasion for a party.  Even if that party includes sangria.

But my friends and family know that, after enduring and supporting me these past many months, "I'm sorry" isn't appropriate either.

Maybe the one thing I most want to hear is, "I'm still here."  True, the need is no longer urgent.  The kids and I have adjusted and acclimated and agree that we're much better now than we ever could've imagined a year ago.  We have routines.  We have friends.  We have fun.

As one similarly divorced friend put it, "It's OK.  Just different."

Still, our emotions seem to have the flickering consistency of a candle on a windowsill.  But how much of that is this and how much of that is that?  After all, we're all hormonal in this household.  The kids, in their pubescent ways.  And me, in my, well, hormonal way.  It's just life as we know it.

This week, as I awaited the news, has been unexpectedly difficult.  I've not been my best self.  Fortunately, there were few opportunities for me to act on the emotions I was trying to wrestle.  Had circumstances been presented differently, I could've been that mom -- you know, the one who is told by the ump to leave the baseball game for bad behavior or the one who backends the other mom in the carpool line.  Lucky for me, I made it through.  I don't know how I could've explained jailtime to my kids.

And although I'd never want to go through it again, I learned a lot this past year.  I honestly never realized how many remarkable friends I have -- or how strong and supportive and intuitive they are.  I'm somewhat embarrassed that it took a crisis for me to recognize their depth and perceptiveness.

I learned that my kids are more fragile and vulnerable than you'd ever imagine.  And they learned that they are more resilient and resourceful and capable than anyone ever knew.

I learned a couple of new words, "malaka" and "skatouli" -- both very handy when you need to express yourself explosively, without offending bystanders (as long as those bystanders are not Greek).

And I learned, not necessarily proudly, that I can drink an entire bottle of wine on my own in a single evening.  No problem.  (Or no problem that Advil can't help solve.)

In the end, though, we're OK.

There's no recipe tonight.  The kids are with their dad, and after the revelations of the day, I'm craving something I learned to make when I was eight years old -- tuna salad.  Lots of lemon, lots of pickle and chopped celery, some minced onion, barely any mayo, and absolutely no boiled eggs.  Don't forget the salt.

I also put a bottle of champagne in the fridge.   Not that I'm celebrating the divorce.  I'm celebrating that I'm still here.  And doing just fine.

And if you're reading this, then I thank you.  I couldn't have done it without you.

xxx ooo

Monday, April 27, 2009

"What Do You Do All Day?"

I'm a stay-at-home mom.

It happened haphazardly.  Fourteen years ago, when Son was born, we quickly realized that someone would have to stay home and tend to him.  (Like most first-time parents, we considered our child to be unusually advanced, but would he be able to change his own diaper at six weeks? Iffy.)  Since I was self-employed at the time -- and therefore available and cheap -- I was as likely a candidate as anyone.  Indeed, when you consider that I'm roundly-acknowledged to be a wee bit of a control freak,  I may have been the only candidate.

When Darling Daughter was born two years later -- and refused to be held by anyone other than, well, me -- the "self-employed" facade came crashing down.  In no time at all, I was 0% bringing home the bacon and 100% frying it up in the pan.

Well-meaning friends would sometimes ask, "When are you going back to work?" but when it became plain I had no immediate intention of turning a bedroom into an office, much less returning to a world of artlessly-written job reviews, mind-numbing meetings, and incomprehensible healthcare plans served with a cup of burnt coffee, they'd then ask, "What do you do all day?"

The brave ones still do.

The honest answer?  I do what has to be done.  I wish it included eating bonbons and lifting my feet as the "help" runs the vacuum.  Instead, a huge chunk of my day is spent in the car -- chauffeuring, eating, doing homework, running errands, getting to doctors' appointment and after school activities, and commiserating with the kids about their day.  During soccer and baseball seasons, our all-but-abandoned house functions more like an over-priced closet than a home.  It is simply the place where we stash our clothes and Christmas decorations and dishes.  As the car floormats attest, most of the "real" living and dining is done in our Honda Pilot.

I also volunteer at the kids' school a lot -- as in, "a lot" more than the kids would like.  Bummer for them, but I enjoy it.  Eighth graders -- so cool and charming -- are quick to greet me, only slightly averting their eyes to ensure I understand my place.  Sixth graders aren't able to fake it.  They all but shield their eyes and moonwalk backward to avoid having to say, "Hello, Ms. Wiles."

Now that the kids are older and so preoccupied, a return to the workforce wouldn't be out of the question -- except when you consider that the current N.C. unemployment rate is about 11%.   My time will come.  So for now -- I'm sticking with my bonbon-less life.  I'll keep doing whatever has to be done and enjoy this gift of spending time with the kids and their friends.  Every now and again, I'll throw a party to celebrate the many blessings in my life.  And when I do, I'll be serving this amazing sangria.  Cheers.

Although you can mix this up on the day of your party, it's even better if you give the fruit and spices a couple of days -- even a week -- to macerate in the rum.

5 lemons, sliced into thin rounds
5 limes, sliced into thin rounds
5 oranges, sliced into thin rounds
5 peppercorns
1 stick cinnamon
5 whole, dried allspice berries
5 whole, dried cloves
5 cups spiced rum
2 1/2 cups sugar
5 (750 milliliter) bottles dry red wine, chilled
5 cups orange juice, chilled

In a very large pitcher, combine sliced rounds of three lemons, limes and oranges (reserving remaining fruit for when sangria is served), spices, rum and sugar.  Stir and mash until sugar is dissolved.  Chill for at least two hours, or even better, up to a week.

When ready to serve, crush fruit lightly, and strain into punch bowl or serving canister.  Add fruit that had been set aside.  Stir in wine and orange juice.  Serve over ice, garnished with a lime wedge.

Note:  Leftover sangria keeps well, chilled, for about a week.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Price Of Putting Your Kids Out The Car? Solitude.

OK. Someone has to say it.  A mom put her bickering kids out of the car and told them to walk the rest of the way home?  (Complete news story.)  

Big deal.

(Notice I didn't say, "BFD."  Not because I don't feel that way, but because my kids may read this.)

Err --- what I meant to say was:  Scandalous!  Ghastly!  Appalling!

Puh-leeze.  Cheese and rice, people!  Every mom can relate to how she was feeling, and if you haven't done what she did, I bet you know someone who has.  (Don't ask.  I'm not giving up my peeps.  They inspire these blogs!)

There are only two reasons I haven't shoved my own kids out the Honda Pilot backhatch.

One, my kids don't usually bicker in the car.  They save it for the dinner table, church, or (my personal favorite) when we have guests.  Their best performances are reserved for family members we see only a few times a year.

Two, I never thought of it.  Dang.

Here's my real question, though.  As she spent the night in jail (you betcha she was incarcerated!), how did the mom feel?  Badly?  Duh.  Guilty?  Sure.  Humiliated?  You bet.

Yeah, she was wrong.  She lost it.  She over-reacted.  Her kids were hurt.

Plus, joining the penal system meant making a a few sacrifices, including that reprehensible mugshot, a glow-in-the-dark jumpsuit, and those matching, intertwined plastic bracelets.  On the upside, though, her lucky family's now got a go-to story every Thanksgiving for their rest of their lives.

Still, for her night in the big house, I hope that mom reveled.  What a brilliant plan!  She needed time away from her kids.  She needed peace and quiet.  She needed to be able to go to the bathroom on her own.  Ick.  That last one may have come off the table in this deal, but overall, she got most of what she wanted, right?  Great success!

In the end, I am confident that they all -- every one of them -- will be OK.  Truly.  I once heard of a dad who put his rambunctious kids out of the car on the INTERSTATE, telling them to run to the next exit, where he would be waiting.  They were fine.  And are still laughing.

Of course, mom probably should make a little special something upon her return home -- just to fast-track everyone's road to recovery (and minimize the number of future therapist appointments).  I'd recommend these crazy good chocolate toffee treats.  Just as with their mom, you're not exactly sure what's going on inside.  But it's all comes together in a surprising way.

Chocolate Toffee Cookies

1 sleeve saltine crackers
2 sticks butter (not margarine)
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 12-ounce bag of good chocolate chips
1 cup chopped toasted pecans

Preheat oven to 350.  Line a rimmed cookie sheet (11 x 15) with foil, and spray with nonstick spray.  Place saltines, in a single layer, in the pan, covering the entire pan.  You may need a few extra to fill in all the spaces.  Now, heat butter and brown sugar in a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil and continue boiling three minutes, stirring occasionally.  Pour mixture (carefully) over crackers and spread to edges.  Bake for 20 minutes.

Remove pan from oven and immediately sprinkle with chocolate chips.  When chips soften from heat, spread to edges with spatula and sprinkle with pecans.  Chill for at least 30 minutes, then break into bite-size pieces.  No one will ever guess that crackers are the base of this treat!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Paving My (Well-Traveled) Road To Hell

The kids are away this weekend.  My daughter snagged an invite to birthday beach party in Charleston.  My son is testing his freshly healed and reconditioned rotator cuff by sea kayaking at a another Charleston beach.  And no, neither has any concept how lucky they are.  (Truly, what did you do with your weekends growing up?  Getaways to the most beautiful beaches in America -- where we visited just last weekend?  Or chores?  Me, too.)

Naturally, when friends hear that I'm kid-free for 48 hours, they can't prevent themselves from asking, "Whatever will you do with all that free time?"

Umm.  Hmm.  Well.  I suppose I could clean out that coat closet.  It'd be nice to be able to close it without a strength training class.  My daughter's jewelry-making beads seem to have spilled across the tile floor in the sunroom.  Someone should definitely take care of that.  And given that the coming week holds, at a minimum, three baseball games, two baseball practices, two music lessons, a school concert, a Scout meeting, a parent meeting and a doctor's appointment, a smart single mom would use this time to stash a few meals in the fridge and freezer.

My high school English teacher used to admonish, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."  Given that my relationship with project due dates and term paper deadlines at that time could best described as an open relationship, I was a frequent recipient of this cautionary tale.  I'd cringe as she delivered the message.  And I was conflicted:  Did I feel guilty?  Or worried that she might be fired for using such language?  She was a good teacher.  I would've missed her.

But now, it's already Sunday afternoon.  My son's about to return, and his sister will be on his heels.  The closet's still choked, the beads sprawled, the meals unmade.  What did I do this weekend?

Nothing, I guess.  But wait.  I did laugh for nearly four solid hours Friday night.  I got together with some work friends from 15 years ago, who are among the wittiest, quickest, most self-deprecating storytellers I know.   As one friend pointed out, the punchline to nearly every story was, "Needless to say, we didn't get that account."  I guess you had to be there.  I wasn't quite to the point of tears streaming down my cheeks.  However, I may have identified a new marketing angle for Depends.

I was still smiling -- and occasionally laughing out loud -- Saturday morning.  I guess that's when the rest of the weekend went to hell.  (I'm not a high school English teacher, so I can use that language.)  I got my hair cut.  I Facebooked.  I drank wine.  I watched an indulgent chick flick.  OK.  Actually, I watched two, but fell asleep during the second.  I already knew that Meg Ryan figures out, in the end, that it was Tom Hanks all along.

Sunday morning, I was still smiling.  I planted more herbs to supplement the ones that didn't succumb to the freezing temps and hail of a week ago.  I shopped.  Sure, I did a couple of household maintenance things, but nothing I want to brag about.

And I'm still smiling.  More important, I don't feel guilty.  Scientists insist that laughter is good medicine.  If so, I'm pretty darn healthy this weekend.  To welcome the kids home, I'm going to make something that always makes them smile, "Beer Butt Chicken."

The name alone does it, right?

Plus, it's always good, always juicy, and is guaranteed to start our meal off with a smile.

I'll get to the closet, the beads and the meals.  It's not as if I'm still in high school.  But for tonight, we're going to smile and laugh and enjoy being back together.

Beer Butt Chicken
Truly, the name is a bit of a misnomer, as you can replace the beer with Coke, for that matter, and it's still really good.  And I think most people refer to it as "Beer Can Chicken" anyhow.  But right now, I'm going with what makes me smile!

1 whole chicken (about 4 lbs.)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon (about) fresh ground pepper
1 teaspoon (about) fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Zest of one lemon
1 clove garlic, minced
2 additional cloves of garlic, peeled
1 sprig of rosemary
1 can of cold beer

Preheat the grill.  You'll be cooking the chicken on "indirect" heat.

On a cutting board, using a chef's knife, "cut" together the spices, the lemon zest and minced clove of garlic.  You'll end up with a "rub" which you'll use on the chicken.  Make sure to rub it in well, over the entire chicken, including under the skin.  As you're rubbing the seasoning under the skin, try to loosen the skin as much as possible from the bird, which will improve the browning and crisping of the skin.

Drink the top off the beer.  The can should now be about 2/3 full.  Drop in the additional garlic and rosemary.
Taking care not to spill it, put the beer can in the chicken's, ahem, cavity.  Position the chicken, standing up on the beer can, over indirect heat, on the grill.  Tuck the wings behind the bird, so they don't splay out.  Use the chicken legs to make sure everything balances.

Close lid and cook for about one hour or until done (when juices run clear).

Let rest 10-15 minutes before carving.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Rules Parents Make Up.

Three days have passed since we celebrated Easter.  The wine, the arguing and the candy have all returned full-force.  True, none of us at the Wiles household experienced a totally abstinent Lenten season.  There were slip-ups, or should I say sip-ups, but of all the things back in our house, the one thing I'm already exhausted by is the candy.  (You didn't think I was going to say "the wine," did you?)

Parents constantly have to make up new rules.  The standards -- "Be nice," "Don't forget your manners," "Don't run with scissors," and my father's favorite, "I'm not paying to air condition the backyard," really don't cover as many situations as you'd hope.

Among the many others I've added are:  "No one wants to smell your feet," "Fist-size is not bite-size," "Jock straps don't go on your head," and "Never break up with someone by text message."  Those last two were made up for the same child.

There's also:  "If you can't brush it, you can't have it" (regarding hair), "If I can hear it, it's too loud" (regarding iPods), and "If I can see it, it's too small" (regarding clothing).

Finally, there's:  "Washing your hands requires actual water -- and soap," "Gummy worms are not an entree -- even on top of ice cream," and "Chick-Fil-A is not your actual home (although Starbucks may be)."

As a teenaged babysitter, I once had to spontaneously invent a rule for a kid who had lost a tooth:  "Teeth don't go in ears."  Huh.  Didn't work.

But here's the newest rule, which will welcome my kids upon their return from school today, "No more candy -- ever."

OK.  Even I can't impose that one, but still, I've got to come up with something to manage all this candy. 
I'm tired of stepping on sticky, half-masticated jelly beans with all the color and flavor sucked off.  Those flimsy foil wrappers that are so decorative when fitted around little chocolate eggs lose their appeal when they re-appear in pet poop.  The earless, legless and eyeless chocolate bunnies seem more appropriate for a carnival freak show than someone's bedside table.  And the cat and the dog are wearing grooves in the floor, skittering after random Reese's Pieces and SweetTarts.

I'm tired of it.  And I need some real nutrition.

Lucky for me, roasted vegetables are a cinch to make.  And lucky for the kids, they won't even be home for dinner tonight to complain about my meal choice.  And that ends up being lucky for me too, because I know exactly where in their rooms to find dessert.

Jelly bean, anyone?

Pan Roasted Vegetables
The oven has to be hot, hot, hot for this to work -- 450 degrees.  Anything lower, and some of the vegetables can end up stewing, instead of roasting.

handful of baby carrots

1 fennel bulb, cut in wedges
1 parsnip, peeled, cut in large, bite-size chunks
1 onion, peeled, cut in wedges
red bell pepper, cut in large, bite-size chunks
asparagus spears (thicker ones are better)
1-2 garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 cup olive oil

2-3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
fresh rosemary
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 450.  (If you've got a convection oven and ever wondered when to use it, now's the time.)
Toss all prepared vegetables with oil, vinegar and seasonings.  Spread carrots, fennel and parsnip (single layer) in a large baking pan, and roast about 20 minutes.  Stir in remaining vegetables, sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper and rosemary, and roast another 20-25 minutes, or until all vegetables are tender and somewhat browned.  Serve, if you wish, with another dash of balsamic or lemon juice.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

There's Only One Place They Call Me One Of Their Own

It startles -- and probably concerns -- my children on those rare occasions when someone asks me where I'm from, and I name my hometown -- Charleston.

Their confusion is understandable.  Charlotte, not Charleston, is the only home they've ever known.  Besides, I haven't lived in Charleston for nearly 30 years.  In a way, it's just one more item tacked on the ever-lengthening list of "Ways Mom Is Losing Her Mind."  (This list, which includes things as mundane as "Can't Remember Where The Car Is Parked" and "Called My Friend 'Sugar'" and "Asked How Many Vegetables I've Eaten Today" is not as long as the list of "Ways Mom Embarrasses Us," but there are some redundancies between the two.)

A friend claims that Charleston is a balm to my soul.  He's right (a nasty habit which I overlook, because, well, he's often right).  When I roll over the bridge on the way to James Island, I eagerly roll down the windows, hoping for that funky, decaying, salty smell that signals low tide, and which, to the unfamiliar, smells like something that maybe needs to be flushed.

Sure, given its balmy breezes, overwhelming history and unceasing charm, Charleston is popular with lots of people.  But it's not home to lots of people.  Home is home, whether it's Aiken or Atlanta or Summerton or San Francisco.  There's an odd comfort in returning to the place where we're as well known for our flaws as for our achievements.

When I'm home, my mom knows I can cook, but she also knows full well about my need to be right, my inability to be patient in the face of stupidity, and my intolerance for bad table manners (with the exception of mine, in which case, I'm just being funny, not rude).

My dad knows that although I've got plenty of good intentions (with which I'm undoubtedly paving a highway to hell), when it comes to certain situations (and relatives), I am downright harsh.  He also is aware that I've gotten away with plenty of things by insisting that I'm not a good liar (except on rare occasions when I am).

My sister.  Well, what doesn't my sister know?

Still, when I go home, they welcome me, they feed me, they take care of me.  Sure, they may buy me drinks, too, but that's not why I go.

It's home -- H-O-M-E.  One day, my kids will feel that same way about their own hometown -- with its incredible canopy of trees, clean streets and street names that suddenly change without rhyme or reason.

Until then, they'll have to tolerate my affection for my own hometown, and my understandable craving for the seafood of my childhood.  This dip is actually named for McClellanville,  a small coastal town just above Charleston, known for its fishing and shrimping.  I never actually even ate it growing up, but the tastes are so familiar, it always reminds me of home.

McClellanville Caviar
This is the dip the folks always crowd around at a party.  Serve it with big, hearty chips -- Fritos Scoopers, for example.  The next day, you can also scoop any leftovers onto a bed of lettuce for a quick salad or fold it into an omelet.

1 1/2 pounds cooked shrimp

1 16-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup finely chopped bell pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped Vidalia onion
1 1/2 cups prepared salsa
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
fresh ground pepper

Finely chop shrimp (or even quicker, carefully pulse about 20-30 seconds in food processor).  Toss shrimp with remaining ingredients.  Taste for seasoning (particularly salt and lime juice).  Cover and refrigerate for 8 hours, stirring occasionally.  Serve with chips.  (Keeps for 2-3 days.)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Hope Springs. With Greek Orzo Salad.

Provided you could overlook the pollen-induced chartreuse film, yesterday was absurdly gorgeous here in Charlotte. (Big shout-out to the manufacturers of Nasonex and Allegra!)

Sunny, slightly breezy, high in the 70s -- it promised to be an ideal outdoor day.

However, our local meteorologist was quick to caution us gardening types against plunging into the potting soil. The weather is expected to dip below freezing again later this week, and tender new plants risk being reduced to nothing more than 8-inch deep cylinders of good dirt, if set out too early.

Now, I'm not a risk taker. First, I'm a mom. Caution's part of the package they send home with us from the hospital. Second, I'm a divorced mom. Adventure's not part of the package they send home with us from the lawyers' offices. Finally, well, I've always preferred certainty, to um, not.

Whatever. I ventured forth to our local Home Depot. Just to see what they had. OK, fine. Let's skip to the last chapter, where I ended up buying a ridiculous number of plants. The hydrangeas, with their woody stems and the parsley, with its cool weather tolerance, shouldn't have any problem. The daisies? Iffy. The 18 coleus plants, six New Guinea impatiens and two basil plants? Well, I should know better.

When I was a kid, my bus stop was in a neighbor's front yard, and on the very coldest days of the year, the dozen or so of us would huddle against the side of the house. There was one particular spot where warmth just seemed to leak out between the bricks.

Now that I'm a homeowner, I can't say that I've ever longed for similar insulation-failings, but just in case, I did set the most tender plants close to the house. Maybe it will help. Or maybe I'm just kidding myself.

Inexplicably, I also put out some dill this year. I've never had luck with dill. I plant it every year, and every year, within two months, the potting soil it arrived in is all that remains. What the hell. That'll be another $3.48 (plus tax)

If you don't allow for the time I spent planting, I'll be out a grand total of, well, let's not do that math, OK?

Look at it this way. If the dill survives, it'll be an unexpected gift. The coleus plants and impatiens? To be honest, they make me happy. I'm just crossing my fingers that the happiness lasts more than three days. The basil? I adore fresh basil and it was worth a shot to have an earlier crop. If I'm very lucky (and the meteorologist very wrong), in three or four weeks, I'll be cutting it for fresh arrangements and working it into one of my very favorite pasta dishes.

The temperature's already dropped to 53 degrees. Maybe I'm a greater risk-taker than I realized. Hope springs ...

Greek Orzo Salad

3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced fine
1 teaspoon oregano (rubbed fine between palms of hands)
salt and pepper to taste.

1 lb. orzo pasta, cooked, drained and rinsed in cool water
1 cup chopped fresh basil
8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
2 roma tomatoes, diced
1 medium can black olives, sliced
4 cooked boneless chicken breasts, diced (or optionally, 1 1/2 pounds cooked, shelled shrimp)
Mix dressing ingredients. Pour over remaining salad ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Chill and serve. (Keeps for several days.)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

I "Heart" Embarrassing My Kids

It's not hard to embarrass my kids.  Indeed, it's embarrassingly easy.

Among my daughter's concerns are my laugh (too loud), my stomach (too white), my singing (true, I don't always know all the lyrics and sometimes, none), my existence (usually in the school hallways, but sometimes on the very planet), and my choice of workout music (Justin Timberlake, Soulja Boy, the Commodores, The Pussycat Dolls and the cast of High School Musical).

Among my son's complaints are my singing (what's this obsession with lyrics -- am I raising Simon Cowell?), my texting him (on which I won't relent because it's useful and sometimes I'm too lazy to go upstairs and tell him it's dinnertime), and finally, my use of 21st century vernacular.

"'Sup?" (as in, "yo -- whatssup?"), "true dat" and  "chillin'" are all off-limits.  Sparks recently flew when I said to him, innocently, "Feel free to dance."   By which, I meant, your sister is having a Zumba class for her birthday, and if you'd like to come and dance, we'd love to have you.  What did it mean to him?  I have no idea, but clearly, I overstepped.  I am allowed to say, "Rock on with your bad self," which sounds better than it reads, but that's plainly from the 20th century (Rock the Boat, The Hues Corporation, 1974), so I'm in the clear.  Given my age, he also suggested that "groovy" and "far out" would pass muster.

My most recent transgression involves clothing.  It's a T-shirt -- not too tight, not too short, and not too flambouyant.  The embarrassingly white stomach is well-concealed.  There's no mention of sex, drugs, rock and roll, or even rock and roll lyrics.  I ordered it from (home of Top Chef) and it says, "I Heart Fabio."  OK, it doesn't exactly say that.  It says "I," then there's a cardinal red heart, and then, a photo of Fabio, my favorite Top Chef contestant.  Got the picture?

Now picture this.  My son insisted I not wear the shirt anywhere that anyone could see it.  Grudgingly, he agreed it would be OK under a sweatshirt.  Given that the sweatshirt sports the logo of my perennially-losing alma mater, the South Carolina Gamecocks, I guess it was a concession.

My daughter begged -- begged - me not to wear the T-shirt to school.   She pleaded her case for a full 10 minutes, despite knowing full well that I rarely wear T-shirts and certainly don't wear them to her school.  The next day, though, I had to rush to school, unexpectedly, to pick up her sick brother.  Yep.  I arrived at school in said T-shirt.  Busted.  Oops.

Oh well.  Their own dresser drawers and shelves spew T-shirts.  Soccer, baseball, cross country, and others of that ilk, as well as such gems as "Gossip Curls," "No, Really, This Is My Halloween Costume," and "The National Sarcasm Society.  Like We Need Your Support."  In this week's laundry stacks are "Green Monsta," "Green Eggs and Ham," "Led Zeppelin," and "Carolina Girls."

I'm over it.  I'm wearing Fabio even as I write this.

Lo and behold, certain ingredients are also embarrassing.  I can't fit it in my head how a kid who will eat octopus sushi and another kid who names calamari as her favorite appetizer could ever pass judgment on someone else's dining choices.   And I can't imagine how even the pickiest eater could ever deride artichoke hearts.  They're not actual hearts, OK?  These hearts are no more real than the heart on my Fabio T-shirt.

Then again, there are times when I don't mind embarrassing the kids.  So guess what we're having for dinner?  And then, guess what I'll be wearing.

Chicken with Artichokes and Olives
After you brown the chicken, this is a ridiculously easy "dump" dish.  Just dump everything into a slow cooker and let it go!  Amazingly good and fragrant!

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 lbs cut-up chicken (I prefer dark meat, but a mix is fine)
1 onion, halved and sliced thinly
1 10-ounce package frozen artichoke hearts
1 6-ounce jar pitted kalamata olives, drained
5 cloves garlic, peeled
1 lemon, thickly sliced, plus additional 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon kosher salt
fresh ground pepper

In batches, brown chicken (well!) in olive oil in a large skillet.  Put browned chicken in a slow cooker and add remaining ingredients.  Toss to coat.  Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours in slow cooker.  Serve with hot rice or buttered noodles.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Isn't There Something You'd Like To Say?

Yesterday was one of those days where I had to do what every good parent has to do from time to time -- absolutely nothing.  I simply sat on my hands and bit my tongue.  Suffice to say, my tongue is perforated.

It's a hard thing to watch your kid make a mistake.  It's miserable to sit on the sidelines while they learn "the hard way."

Nevertheless, there are lessons we all have to learn.  One of them is how to say, "I'm sorry."

A good "I'm sorry" resolves a myriad of issues. I'm not talking about one of those through-the-teeth and half-unspoken, "I'm sorry" (and silently, that you ran full force into my clenched fist.)  Or, "I'm sorry that your feelings were hurt" because you're such a wimp.  Or, "I'm sorry" that I got caught.  Or worst of all, "I'm sorry" that my mom is making me apologize.

I'm talking about a selfless, "I made a mistake, please forgive me, what can I do to make this better?" that eases the pain of the recipient and the provider.

Empathy can be a tough thing to teach.  But as my own kids hear over and over again, in addition to being the "right" thing to do, apologizing and admitting your error can make you feel better.

It's our job as parents to help them learn this, and the sooner the better.

So I've got a question for the various CEOs and bonus-hoarders and investment bankers and Ponzi-schemers currently making headlines and devastating American families and institutions alike:  Does your mother know what you're up to?

Actually, I've got quite a few questions.  Were you raised in a barn?  Do I have to call your father?  Where are your parents?  Isn't there something you'd like to say?

Yes!  Lawyers be damned, there is something you need to say.  Two words.  1) I'm.  2) Sorry.

Groveling isn't required, but surely would work in your favor.  Belly-crawling would be fine by me, as well.  I'd even accept tears, but since I suspect you'd only be able to muster the alligator variety, I won't insist.

To be sure, this mess is so deep and so smelly that an apology wouldn't actually fix anything, but it might ease the pain of some of your many victims.  And, if, down the road, leniency is ever an option, a heartfelt and well-rendered apology may work to your benefit.  OK.  Probably not in this life, but maybe in the next.

My son's seventh grade science teacher had a phrase that comes to mind --  "Man up."  When any of the boys in class shirked their responsibilities or complained about the workload, she'd summon a sharp, "Man up!" to remind them to behave accordingly.  I love how much meaning is packed into that one phrase.  Man up:  Stop thinking only of yourself, you are better than this, do the right thing, we expect more of you, take responsibility.  Man up.

That's my advice to Wall Street:  "Man up."  Apologize.  And start setting this right.

If your mom is Southern, she'd probably point out that proffering a plate of cheese wafers wouldn't hurt, either.  Some of the best apologies are catered.  This recipe makes about 300, which isn't nearly enough for the mess you've made.  But combined with a good, old-fashioned "I'm sorry," it's a start.

Cheese Wafers
These crackers are the perfect nibble at cocktail parties.  The recipe is easily halved, but I prefer to make a larger batch and then, freeze half of the dough "logs," to be thawed and baked as needed.

1 lb. extra sharp NY cheddar cheese (alternatively, use 1/2 lb. cheddar and 1/2 lb. blue cheese, crumbled), grated
1 lb. unsalted butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 cups flour
1/2 - 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2-3 tablespoons poppy seeds
2 cups pecans, chopped (optional)

Beat butter until light and fluffy.  Stir in cheese, salt, cayenne pepper and poppy seeds.  Gradually stir and mash in flour.  Eventually, you'll have to use your hands to incorporate all of the flour, because dough will be very crumbly, and then, stiff.  Using your hands, incorporate the pecans.  (Be patient, this takes a while.)  When all ingredients are incorporated, break off a chunk of dough about the size of your fist and roll it out into a log.  I prefer my wafers small, so my "log" is usually slightly larger than the diameter of a quarter.  If you're feeling fancy, you can then roll the log in any extra poppy seeds or nuts (or even kosher salt -- lightly!).  Wrap the log in plastic wrap, and repeat with remaining dough.  Refrigerate logs for at least four hours (or as long as four days).  To bake, preheat oven to 400.  Remove plastic wrap from log, and, using a serrated knife, slice into 1/4" thick wafers.  (Note:  dough will not rise or spread.  What you cut is what you get.)  Place wafers on parchment paper on a baking sheet and bake approximately 10 minutes, or until lightly golden.