Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Good Ideas, Cold Reality and Ground Turkey.

One evening this week, Darling Daughter -- just to prove how "darling" she is -- came downstairs to have a "talk." I know it was a "talk," because she actually interrupted the Winter Olympics, which meant I had to miss the first part of Bode Miller's gold medal run in the super-combined.

But it was important: DD wanted to know whether I'd be willing to push her harder academically.

I know, right? She's not a bad student or even a struggling student. However, she has had the fortune/misfortune this year of learning what high school seniors go through, as they negotiate the college admissions maze. DD's also witnessed the extra effort her own 9th grade brother has had to make this year as he moved up to high school. Independently, she determined to develop better study habits, so she's been burning the midnight oil recently (OK, the 10 p.m. oil), to see whether she can bump up her grades a bit.

Still, I was surprised by her request. Push her harder? Really? Does she not realize what kind of achiever I am? Does she not have some inkling of the beast (which I've long restrained) she's asking to unharness?

"Um. OK. Are you sure?" I asked.

"Yes. I really think you can help," she innocently responded.

And there it was. She opened the door, and I bolted in. "OK. Well good. Because I think you're entirely capable of A+s."

Um. Too much? Based on the searing glare I received in response, maybe so.

It's the difference, of course, between a good idea and a harsh reality.

Take "forgive and forget." Great idea. Love the principle . But the reality? Fuggetaboudit. Honestly, I'm a divorcée. I've got forgiveness down pat. But forget? Well, what in the world would I blog about?

Flossing twice a day is another brilliant idea, promoting good dental health and helping fend off all kinds of other nasty health issues, including heart attacks. So everyone should floss twice a day. Of course.  And I'm sure that those folks who work in a dental offices complete with dental hygienists who are willing to give their pearly whites a twice daily once over do exactly that.

Which is all to say that I like the idea of ground turkey. It's naturally lean, fairly affordable and high in protein.

The reality of ground turkey, though, is something altogether different.

Look, I adore roast turkey. That’s me, right there, elbowing my way to the front of the line Thanksgiving Day. And fried turkey? Bust out the peanut oil, because there is no bigger fan. I'm from the South, honey. We know a thing or two about deep frying. So you’d think ground turkey would be a quick fix for me when it's not Pilgrim Day, and I don't have access to a five-gallon vat of boiling oil.  And ground turkey would be a great idea, except that when ground, turkey lacks two things – taste and flavor. Actually, make that three things, because it’s not juicy, either.

Yesterday, however, Cougar Bait (I know, I know, he’s only 23 days younger than I am) told me he needed a meatball recipe. And that’s where ground turkey shines, because with a recipe like this, it's easy to build in the taste, flavor and juiciness.

Doesn't help a bit, of course, with DD's dilemma. But she did enjoy dinner that night. And I'm sure that, somewhere, there's a study proving that enjoying your meal adds three to five points to your report card grades.

Turkey Meatball and Gemelli with Lemon Parsley Cream Sauce
Serves four, generously.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 rib celery, chopped fine
½ cup finely chopped shallots
½ chopped parsley
zest of one lemon (optional)
20 ounces ground turkey
1/2 cup dried Italian bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne

16-oz box of gemelli

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup chicken broth
two lemons, zested and juiced
1 cup (no kidding) chopped parsley

Lots of fresh ground pepper

Form meatballs. In a heavy skillet, saute celery and shallots in oil over medium heat until soft. Let cool to room temperature. In a large mixing bowl, combine cooled shallots and celery with remaining meatball ingredients, using hands to combine thoroughly. Preheat oven to 400. Form individual meatballs (about 1” – 1 ½” in diameter), placing on nonstick cookie sheet. (Will make nearly 4 dozen meatballs.) Bake 10 minutes, until cooked through. Set aside.

Cook gemelli in a large pot of boiling, well-salted water. When done, drain and return to pot. Stir in cream, broth, lemon zest and juice, and parsley. Heat through and stir in meatballs. (Not necessary to use all the meatballs here. They freeze beautifully.) Taste for seasoning. May need salt  Serve hot.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

After 12 Months Of Feminine Wiles, Life Is Good.

When I woke up this morning, I knew exactly what this blog would be about. Today marks one year since I began writing Feminine Wiles.

I'd been waiting for this milestone. Waiting to reminisce. Waiting to explain why I began writing. Waiting to express my profound appreciation and gratitude to my friends - -including those I haven't yet met -- who read and comment on Feminine Wiles.

Well, you know what they say about "best laid plans."  That original blog idea was blown to bits.  Because at noon today, my 14-year-old son up and got into the drivers' seat of a total stranger's car and drove away.

OK.  "Total" may not be the fairest way to describe that "stranger," whose name was Caleb.  Caleb had been paid to come here. He's an instructor. But the fact remains that all I know about him is that he has an earring, there's a sign on the top of his car, and his first child (a son) is due next month.  (Crap.  His name was Caleb, right?  Is it possible I don't even have that part right? Who was in the car with my kid?)

And Son? Well, he's not exactly 14.  He's all-but-15. And What's-His-Name is teaching him to drive a car.

In less than 60 seconds, I watched Son drive away.  For the life of me, I can't figure out why What's-His-Name let him drive so quickly.  Does WHN not understand that Son does not know how to drive?   Shouldn't there be about a few minutes -- or a few weeks -- of instruction first? Maybe some time with a toy steering wheel?  Does WHN not realize that lurking in our neighborhood are massive, unyielding trees and careless, fleet-footed kids and sneaky, expensive-to-replace fire hydrants?

Blissfully unaware, they drive off.  Acutely aware, I come into the house. For me, the step is too big.  I want to cry. Instead, I cook.

In my very first Feminine Wiles post, titled, appropriately enough, "I Cook," I wrote:

I cook. When I'm happy, I cook. When I'm worried, I cook. When I'm celebrating, when I'm mourning, when I'm hurt, when I'm invigorated, I cook.

Exactly one year later, I'm happy, I'm worried, I'm celebrating, I'm mourning. 

I'm cooking.

Beef Short Ribs with Mustard are on the stove. Old-Fashioned Lemon Pound Cake is in the oven. And I'm about to pull out the peeler and get to work on Always Perfect Mashed Potatoes.

One year ago, I was in the midst of divorce.  I hardly knew which end was up.  I wrote that first Feminine Wiles one weekend when all the laundry was done, the groceries put away, the toilets scrubbed and the closets organized.  Yep.  Son and Darling Daughter were with their dad.

One year later, Son is driving, 12-year-old Darling Daughter is having giggle fits to the point of hiccups (seriously, will she never stop?), and Feminine Wiles is opening doors, windows, conversations and friendships I never could have imagined 12 months ago.

Life is good.  And so is this Lemon Pound Cake.

And the blog I originally intended for today?  Here's the bottom line:  Thanks.  I couldn't have gotten here without you.

Old-Fashioned Lemon Pound Cake

3 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups sugar
zest from two large lemons
6 eggs, room temperature
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

juice of one lemon (reserve juice from second lemon, using as needed)
2 cups confectioners sugar

Preheat oven to 325. Grease and flour a 10 –inch bundt pan. Sift together flour, salt and baking soda. Set aside.

In mixer, cream butter and add sugar slowly, beating constantly to cream well. Blend in lemon zest, adding eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in sour cream. Add flour mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, beating well and constantly. Stir in vanilla and turn batter into pan, rapping the pan sharply on the counter once or twice to release air bubbles.

Bake about 1 1/2 hours or until cake tests done. Place on a rack to cool for about 5 minutes. Loosen cake around edge of pan as needed and turn onto rack to cool completely.

Make glaze, stirring lemon juice and confectioners sugar together, and then, drizzling over top of cake. Serve as is, or with whipped cream and raspberries.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Second Day Of Lent. And Then, There Were Brownies.

Fact: Darling Daughter has given up sweets for Lent. 

Fact: Regardless of Lent, neither of my children eats homemade baked goods that have been out of oven for more than 48 hours – and usually, only 24. 

Fact: I baked brownies for Valentines Day. 

Fact: As of 7 a.m. this morning 10 brownies remained. 

Fact: Now there are seven.

What was I thinking? I’ve already given up chai tea lattes and Sauvignon Blanc for the next 38 days. So that leaves me with -- you guessed it-- brownies.

Seven of them.

Seven chocolate squares of perfect happiness. Delicately crispy on top, decadently moist and dense inside, and then, because the pan was parchment-lined, a fine layer of crust on the bottom. Kissed with cinnamon.

Make that six.

Somebody stop me. I’m begging.  To fend off the craving this evening, I’ve already crunched my way through a handful of raw broccoli, half a bag of baby carrots, a seedless cucumber (sliced and dressed with sour cream) and three ribs of celery (doused in ranch dressing). I’ve downed a liter of mandarin orange seltzer water, a hunk of cheddar cheese, several handfuls of whole grain Wheat Thins, and six prosciutto palmiers.  And to wash it all down? A brownie. Natch.

The only reason my mouth isn’t currently encircled in chocolate crumbs is because I have a fetish about scrupulously clean computer keyboards.

But if I wrap this up soon, I can get back to those brownies. They're in the kitchen, taunting me.  Or maybe – just maybe -- I’ll sprout a spine and will have the willpower to steer clear of them. At least until breakfast tomorrow morning. But first, let me share the recipe – adapted from one I found on The Food Network site.

Did anyone else hear that?  I think I hear something calling to me.  From the kitchen.  And I doubt it's the remaining half of bag of carrots.

No Glaze, No Nuts, No Goo – Brownies
8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, broken into squares
1 stick butter
1 ½ cups flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350. Prepare 13” x 9” pan by lining with parchment paper and spraying the paper with nonstick spray. Melt together chocolate and butter in the microwave, by heating on high for one minute, and then, allowing the mixture to rest for one minute before stirring. Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. In a separate large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar and vanilla. Stir in melted chocolate mixture and then, fold in dry ingredients, taking care not to over mix. Spread batter (which will be thick) in prepared pan. Bake 30 minutes, then, allow to cool in pan on a rack. When completely cooled, cut into squares and serve. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

It's Lent Chez Wiles. No Sodas, Sweets or Starbucks. Game On.

Life is a tad bit competitive Chez Wiles. 

Not when it comes to anything life-affirming or character-building, mind you.  We’re not into competing for good grades or good health or good deeds.  We’re more into racing for control over the car radio.   “Who would be a better driver” is another ongoing debate.  OK.  “Debate” is probably too civilized a word.  What I’m looking for is a word that describes a competition where the loudest and most persistent person wins.  “Argument” comes to mind.

“Name that artist” (musical artist, that is -- we’re not all that aesthetically informed) is another favorite and is in play 24/7.  To get the game rolling, all any one of us has to do – whether we’re in Starbucks, or the car, or a restaurant with a half dozen uninitiated friends – is blurt out “REO Speedwagon,” and we’re off to the races.

So you can imagine how we treat the holy season of Lent.  Last night, as we feasted on the traditional Shrove Tuesday dinner of pancakes and sausage and bacon and then, because it was so very good, more sausage, we boasted about what we intended to “give up” for Lent.  (Of course I’ve got a great pancake recipe.  Click here.)

Although I’m pretty sure the Church wouldn’t approve of our attitude, I ventured forth first, boldly vowing to set aside my beloved venti-nonfat-no-foam-chai-tea-latte for 40 days.  Which is all to say that if you hold any Starbucks stock, be forewarned that the next few weeks could be a little bleak as my considerable support is withheld.

As expected, Darling Daughter upped the ante.  Not only is she giving up a lifelong habit of nail-gnawing, she and a girlfriend have also decided to give up sweets.  Believe me, of the three of us Chez Wiles, she is taking the toughest route.  And is also most likely to succeed.

After some thought, and -- to be honest – after itemizing all of the habits he would never abandon, Son decided to forego soft drinks.  I don’t mean to be a doubter, but suffice to say I am considering purchasing a chain and padlock to assist in his efforts.  And, perhaps, a taser.

Darling Daughter, however, had no qualms about voicing her doubts about me.  There was no way, she insisted, I could go without chai.

Oh really?  OH REALLY?  Well how about no chai AND no alcoholic beverages? 

Dang.  Did I say that out loud?  'Cause what I meant, of course, was no wine.  Um.  No red wine.  On weeknights.  Unless I’m out with friends.  Or at home.  With clean glasses.

Sigh.  Let’s give it a shot.  Last Lenten season, I used the dregs of a bottle of white wine to make a wonderfully savory pan roasted chicken with pancetta.  Tonight, I poured out the last of a bottle of Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc to create a new chicken dish.  And it was really tasty (two thumbs up from the kids) – with red bell peppers and mushrooms (which neither kid touched).

I think I’ll try it again soon – and next time, in the slow cooker. 

There’s only one other thing that might make it a little better – a lovely chilled glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.  I’ll have to let you know.

After Easter.

Drunken Chicken With Peppers, Potatoes and Mushrooms

8 chicken thighs, well-seasoned with kosher salt and pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 red bell pepper, sliced in strips, strips then halved
4 large shallots, peeled and sliced thin
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
2 lbs small red potatoes

1 1/2 cups (more or less) dry white wine
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
2-3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

In a large, lidded, nonstick skillet, quickly brown chicken over high heat (3-4 minutes each side).  Remove chicken.  Reduce heat to medium high and stir in olive oil.  When heated through, sauté bell pepper, shallots and mushrooms until slightly soft and browned on the edges.  Stir in potatoes (cut in half, if too large).  Pour in wine, balsamic vinegar, mustard and thyme.  Heat to boiling.  Return chicken to pan.  Season with salt and pepper, place lid on, lower heat to low, and simmer until chicken is very tender – about one hour.

Monday, February 15, 2010

After Three Decades, A Mac 'n' Cheese To Love.

When I was a kid in Charleston County's public school system, one of the mainstays of our lunches was macaroni and cheese. 

To be honest, I can’t attest to whether it was, indeed, "gross and raunchy," although I can testify to the fact that most servings returned, untouched, to the kitchen.  I can’t say the pasta was overcooked, although I can say I never identified a single, unbroken piece of macaroni.  I can’t say it was under-seasoned, but puh-leaze – it was served on a institutional green divided tray.  Need I say more?

Not one morsel of that thick-skinned, rubbery, squared-up hockey puck crossed my lips.  Not once.  Instead, I set off on a course of avoiding macaroni and cheese for over 30 years.  This, despite being born and raised in the South, where the ubiquitous casserole graces most everyone’s holiday dinner table, church potlucks, work picnics and post-funeral home visitations.

I’m not saying we never had mac and cheese growing up.  The Winn-Dixie on Harborview Road often had that familiar blue box (their generic version, not Kraft) on sale, four for a dollar.  Prepared with milk and Parkay margarine, it was a predictable sidedish (along with canned green beans) to canned Hostess ham.

However, as soon as I was old enough to get away with saying “no thank you,” which, honestly, wasn't until I was old enough to vote, I never let the stuff  -- blue-boxed or otherwise -- touch my plate.

Imagine my surprise, then, when my own Darling Daughter became a mac and cheese aficionado, frequently ordering it for dinner when we're out, and, based on friend’s recommendations, suggesting restaurants serving superior mac and cheese.

Adding to the pressure, Son recently told me he was assigned to bring mac and cheese (for 16) to Room In The Inn (a church-based program providing food and shelter to the homeless).  OK.  Maybe it wasn't exactly a sign from God, but it was plainly time to give the homely dish another try.

It took some work, though.  I didn’t know what I liked – custard-based (with eggs) or roux-based (with flour).  I just knew I didn’t want what I’d had.

Lucky for me, I had a partner in eating.  Darling Daughter was more than willing to explain what makes a good mac and cheese.  The pasta has to be “loose” – which meant a roux-based, not egg-based, sauce.  It can’t taste like too much cheese – which mean 100% extra sharp cheddar was out.  And it couldn’t be too brown on top – which is easily resolved with a bread crumb topping.

After a couple of attempts, though, we’ve come up with what we think is a pretty darned good mac and cheese.  So good, I’ve even had it for breakfast.  Twice.

And suddenly, I’m looking forward to the next church potluck.  Sign me up.

Darling Daughter’s Macaroni & Cheese

2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons butter
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 ½ cups milk
½ cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon whole grain Dijon mustard
½ lb. cheddar cheese (not extra sharp), grated
¼ lb. fontina or gouda cheese, grated

¾ lb. macaroni (about three cups)

¼ cup breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons butter, melted
¼ lb. pancetta, diced (optional)

Make sauce.  In medium saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons butter and flour together over medium heat, stirring constantly.  (You’re making a “roux.”)  When well-combined and somewhat thickened, flour will have lost its “raw” taste.  Stir in red pepper flakes and 1 teaspoon kosher salt.  Using a whisk, very gradually stir in milk, whisking constantly.  Stir in cream and mustard.  Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes, or until well-thickened and velvety.  Whisk in grated cheese, stir until smooth, and remove from heat.

Cook pasta.  In a large pot of well-salted (about 1/4 cup salt to 8 cups of water) boiling water, cook macaroni until barely done (“al dente”).  Before draining, reserve about 1 cup of hot pasta water.  Quickly drain (for this dish, it’s best if the pasta is not drained very well), and stir into cheese sauce.  Use your judgment here.  If the pasta mixture isn't "loose" enough, stir in some of the reserved pasta cooking water.  The resulting mixture should be loose, not too sticky.

Assemble. Stir together topping ingredients – breadcrumbs, melted butter and pancetta (if using).  Pour macaroni and cheese into casserole dish (or 6 to 8 individual ramekins).  Use fingers to sprinkle topping over.  Bake in preheated 400 degree oven until hot and bubbling – about 30 minutes.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Four Most Powerful Words In My Arsenal.

Hi.  I’m Cheri, and I have two cell phones.

No need for eye rolling.  I’m a stay-at-home mom, and being employer-free, I need only one phone. The other is – you guessed it – not mine.

I do pay for it, though.  It belongs to my teenaged son.  And I pay and I pay and I pay.

Sigh.  The days of enforced timeouts and early bedtimes and withheld cinnamon Teddy Grahams have long passed.  The most punitive words I can utter nowadays are “Hand me your phone.”

Hence, the overburdened electrical outlet in my room.  Son’s not been on top of his work – either at school or at home – so I’m charging for two.

Now, everyone who knows me, knows that I'm not afraid of being named, The Worst Mom Ever.  But this time, as deprived as Son feels, I may feel even more so.  I’ve become accustomed to being able to track him down at any time.  I’ll call when he’s visiting friends.  When random thoughts hit, I'll drop him a text, “Don’t forget you’ve got Scouts tonight!  Love, Mom.”  (More than once, the response has been, “U don’t have 2 sign ur name.  I no who u r.”)

I’ve even texted (although not necessarily proudly), “Dinner’s ready.  Come downstairs.”  Truth be known, that’s probably what I text the most.

But what else to do?  Although I’m enamored of the word, I’m not about to start flogging him.  Caning's out of the question, too.  Son's bigger than me.  And funnier.  The best leverage I’ve got is the phone.  So for now, it’s mine.  Unless, of course, I change my mind.

This past weekend, for example, Son needed a phone while babysitting.  Like so many households, the folks he was sitting for don't have a landline.  Son needed a phone, so I handed his over.

That night, after he returned home and had dutifully returned the phone to me, I received a surprising text on my phone, from the folks for whom Son had been babysitting.

“You have a wonderful son.  I hope my son grows up to be like him.”

I know.  My Son?  The kid whose phone I'm holding captive?  It would be like me to say something snarky.  But the truth is, that unexpected and touching text was almost powerful enough for me to forget Son's homework transgressions and return the beloved phone.  Almost.  'Cause he really is a good kid.  So.  No.  I think I'll keep cluttering my electrical outlet for a while -- at least until the school's progress reports come out.

In the meantime, though, maybe I can cut Son some slack.  Some.  And make one of his favorite meals.

Waffles of Insane Greatness are always a favorite.  Who doesn't adore breakfast for dinner?  Or perhaps, Pork Fried Rice.

Hands down, the favored food group Chez Wiles is pork.  (I shudder to think of the number of pork roast, sausage, bacon, prosciutto, pancetta recipes already included in Feminine Wiles!)  This crowd-pleaser comes together very quickly when you’ve got leftover pork.  Which we often do.  Along with a spare cell phone.  Or sometimes, two.

Pork Fried Brown Rice With Broccoli
Note that this recipe requires the rice to be cooked in advance and cooled.  I usually do it the night before.

1 cup raw brown rice, cooked in 2 ¼ cups chicken broth, and cooled

3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
2 eggs, beaten

2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 cups (approximately) broccoli flowerettes
2 tablespoons water

2 cups (about) leftover pork, cut in bitesize pieces
½ teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1-2 tablespoons soy sauce (or more to taste)
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper

In a large skillet (with a fitted lid) over medium-high heat, heat 1 tablespoon oil until hot and rippling.  Pour beaten eggs into skillet, and cook (without stirring) until firm.  Remove cooked eggs to a plate or cutting board, and cut into bitesize strips.  Set aside.  Heat one tablespoon of oil in skillet and quickly sauté broccoli, garlic and red pepper flakes, stir frying  3-4 minutes, or until very fragrant.  Stir in water and cook (lidded), until broccoli is tender-crisp and bright green.  Remove vegetables, which will be stirred in later.  Now sauté pork with remaining vegetable oil and sesame oil in same skillet over medium high heat, until slightly browned on the edges.  Stir in rice and continue sautéing another 3-5 minutes.  Gently toss in soy sauce and return vegetables and egg to pan, stirring carefully.  Season to taste with salt and pepper, or additional soy sauce.  Serve hot.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

How Did You Find Me Here?

In the market for “Spiderman underwear for women”?

If so, you might ending up clicking on Feminine Wiles.

Looking for “ways to apologize to a Southern woman”?  Again, you could land on my blog.  Honest.  It’s been done.
Look. I’m no lingerie vendor.  (I do sometimes struggle to keep up with the laundry around here, but I’m certain no superheroes adorn our undergarments.  The washer is a comicbook-character-free zone -- no Betty or even Veronica.)

Apologies aren’t my forté, either.  The only advice I have to offer is that a genuine apology doesn’t include “but.”  (For example, “I’m sorry, but … you don’t understand/you took the wrong turn/what the hell were you thinking?”)

It’s not that I’m a technology-savvy blogger.  I’m not. Other than family and a few friends, I don’t really know who reads Feminine Wiles.  I don’t know everyone who subscribes to Feminine Wiles.  Some days, I don’t even know why I write Feminine Wiles.

But thanks to the supreme navel-gazing-for-bloggers web tracker,, I can see what “keywords” a person Googled before landing on my blog.

Useless?  Utterly.  Entertaining?  Vastly.

Just imagine the disappointment of “had to use the ladies’ room” when she landed on a blog post about the temperature in my house.

And, to the folks (more than one!) who Googled “how to study for exams with mom” and ended up reading tidbits like, “Put cat in dryer,” I’m sorry.  (Please.  It’s not as if the dryer was on.)

Can I define “feminine wiles”?  Um.  Not really.  And that’s a real shame, because “feminine wiles” is the most-Googled phrase leading readers to my blog. I hate to disappoint, but well, I do.

Here’s another puzzler:  “I can be as good or as bad as I want to be.”  Really?  ‘Cause I think once you’ve come to terms with that essential truth, there’s no help my – or any --  blog can offer.

Really, if you’re coming to Feminine Wiles for any kind of help, the most I can offer is recipes.  I’m slogging through life and parenting and middle-age just like everyone else.  And sometimes, I can get bogged down in even the simplest things.

Take these Rosemary-Garlic Oven Fries, for example.  Once you master the cutting of potatoes, oven fries should be about the simplest thing in a cook’s repertoire.  But for some reason, I was never satisfied.  Not until, after endless variations, I started soaking the raw potatoes to rid them of extra starch, which I suspect had been sapping them of crispiness.

So when it comes to oven fries, problem solved. 

But when I look at “master stir fry in peru keep cats in basement, I haven’t the foggiest.  Thoughts?

Rosemary-Garlic Oven Fries
Note that you’ve got to begin these fries a solid hour in advance.
3 medium-sized baking potatoes, well scrubbed
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1 clove fresh garlic, minced
1 egg white
½ teaspoon kosher salt
additional kosher salt (or seasoning salt, such as Canvender’s Greek Seasoning) nonstick cooking spray

Cut potatoes (skin on) lengthwise into ½" wide fries.  Place in a large bowl of cold water and allow to soak for 45-60 minutes.   (The bath helps remove surface starch, resulting in crispier fries.)  Drain well, using a clean kitchen towel to pat dry and return potatoes to (dried) large bowl.

Preheat oven to 450.  In a small bowl, use a fork to whip egg white until very frothy.  Stir in rosemary, garlic and ½ teaspoon kosher salt into egg white.  Pour over potatoes, tossing until well-coated.

Spray baking sheet well with nonstick cooking spray.  Spread potatoes on baking sheet, so the fries are not touching.  Spray potatoes with additional nonstick cooking spray.  Sprinkle with additional salt and bake approximately 10 minutes.  Remove from oven, toss and turn fries, spray again lightly with nonstick spray before returning to oven for another 10-15 minutes, or until well browned.  Serve hot.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Yes, I'm Divorced, But There's More To Me Than That.

A few months ago, when I was invited to “guest blog” on Charlotte Observer’s, I agreed to write about the struggles and occasional perils of being a divorced mom.  

And I tried.  Pinky swear.  (Check my October posts.  I marvel that a single scrap of skin remains on my body.)  But divorce is awkward.  It’s painful.  It’s ugly.  I don’t know how to write about that stuff.  And while I’m surely biased, I’m not so sure anyone wants to read it.

Yes, I can tell tales of the obvious:  the legal process, the single parenting, the navigation of “Couple Land” as a “single.”  Nevertheless, I’m ill-prepared to write about the many things I didn’t foresee.  

I’m no expert.  Mrs. Evelyn Hall, the high school composition teacher who taught me practically everything I know about writing and virtually nothing about the apparent rapture of coffee, cigarettes and braided hair, was adamant:  Write about what you know.  

Do I know what I’m doing? Most days, I haven’t the foggiest. Can I foretell how my post-divorce life will unfold?  Ummm.  That would be “no.”  Most days, I feel as if I’ve been air-dropped into a foreign country.  In another galaxy.

I didn’t foresee how differently I’d be labeled, for example.  In 30 years, I’ve gone from Cheri-Hyper-Blue-Eyes (I kid you not -- check The Iliad, my high school yearbook), to Cheri-Who’s-Married-To-An-Ivy-League-Lawyer, to Cheri-Who-Has-Two-Kids, to finally, sadly, Cheri-Who’s-Divorced. 

I didn’t realize how differently I’d be perceived as a single woman.  I worried – far more than was necessary – about whether other parents would be hesitant to let their kids come over.  I worried – far less than was necessary – about how I’d be regarded by men – both single, and, ahem, decidedly not.

I couldn’t have predicted the emotions – not just mine and the kids’, but also our family’s.  Our friends’.  Divorce is devastating, and the effect is ongoing.  The ripple goes on and on and on.  And just when you think everyone's OK, it goes on.  And then some.

All that said, though, I don’t want to be known as Cheri-Who’s-Divorced.  Surely there’s more to this story.  I’m not sure what lies around the corner, but the knowledge that other things do lie around the corner allows me to write about all kinds of things.  Cooking.  Parenting.  Laughing.  Dating.  President Obama.  American Idol.  Bad manners.  And on occasion, divorce.

At the moment, cooking’s what’s on my mind.  A few months back, Darling Daughter (DD) and I were inspired by the movie, Julie and Julia.  At that time, DD insisted that we needed to cook more.  (Of course, I blogged about it.  Click here.)  Because of the movie, our hearts were set on Boeuf Bourgignon, but in reality, no one here would allow the tine of their fork to even pierce a pearl onion, I’m the only one who would eat a mushroom, and Julia, really?  A six-ounce “chunk” of bacon?  

Yep.  We can improvise.  And although it may not be what was originally intended, It’s still pretty darned good -– post-divorce and pre-what-comes-next -– Chez Wiles.

Not Julia’s Boeuf Bourgignon
As much as I admire Julia Child, her Boeuf Bourgignon is more sophisticated than might be appreciated Chez Wiles.  This version is plenty hearty with lovely, layered flavors.  And since most of the meals I cook are of the 60-minutes-or-less variety, my kids think this slow-cooked maindish is pretty special all by itself.

Serves four
5 slices bacon, diced
2 ½ lbs. stew beef
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 medium onion, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
fresh ground black pepper
heaping tablespoon flour
½ teaspoon dried thyme
bay leaf
1 14-oz. can beef broth
2 cups dry red wine (pinot noir or cabernet saugignon)
½ cup V-8 juice (optional)
½ lb. white mushrooms, sliced, sautéed in 2 tablespoons butter

In a large, lidded, ovenproof saucepan, sauté the bacon until very crispy.  Remove bacon (you’ll use it later).  Heat remaining bacon grease over medium high heat.  When very hot, brown beef (in batches), until browned on all sides.  When all beef is browned, remove to another dish, and sauté carrot, onion and garlic in hot grease.  When vegetables are softened and lightly browned, return beef and bacon crisps to pan.  Heat through, and sprinkle with salt, pepper and flour.  When thickened, quickly stir in beef broth, wine, bay leaf and V-8 juice (if using).  Replace lid and put entire pan in preheated 325 oven for 2 ½ - 3 hours, or until beef is very tender.  Stir in sautéed mushrooms.  Serve hot, with buttered noodles or rice.