Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I'm A Listmaker. Not That There's Anything Wrong With That.

A few days ago, one of the kids’ friends asked whether I intended to buy the new iPhone 4G. 

Nope. There’s absolutely no reason to trade in my 3G, I insisted. Furthermore, exactly how crazy do I look? Do I look as if I’m made of money? (OK. I didn’t actually say that last bit. But my kids knew I was thinking it.)

Twelve hours later, my 3G hit the road – literally – one too many times. And there it was. The unalterably-blank screen. I now had a reason – an overwhelming one -- to trade in my 3G.

Sigh. Off to the always-mobbed Apple Store at Southpark Mall, where, upon crossing the threshold, you have to wade through the masses to track down the blue-shirted master-list-keeper, so you can get on the proper waiting list to have one of the blue-shirted product-keepers help you buy something – anything – which in this case, was a 4G.

Still, the next day, as we drove down to the lake, I told the kids and Cougar Bait that it hadn't been all that bad. I’d qualified for the “upgrade,” so I didn’t have to pay full ticket. All my emails, text messages, contacts, songs, games and photos were synced to my Mac, so no problem there. My only real concern was that I’d lost my lists.

Over the years, I explained, I’ve kept all kinds of lists on my phones. To-do’s. Gift ideas. (A ceiling fan? Really?) Bumper stickers. (“Unlike the hellbound demon spawn in your car, my children are saved.”) Unexpected sightings (an African-American man wearing a t-shirt reading, I’m the white man who’s been keeping you down.) Stuff my kids say, which I can post on my “Overheard At My House” page on Facebook. (Son, describing one of his sister’s textbooks,If the Devil wrote a bible, this would be it.”)

Oh – and let’s not forget my list of words that can be typed using every single finger, but each only once.

Cripes. Should’ve stopped with the “Overheard At My House” list. But maybe I didn’t mention that last list out loud. The car, after all, was oddly quiet. But wait for it.  Thirty seconds later, the three of them, in unison, said, “You do WHAT?”

Whatever. I’m Cheri and I’m a listmaker. A few years ago, I realized that typing the word “pleasing” requires using every finger once.  So it became a personal little quest. And to keep track, I keep a list.  So what?

C’mon. It could be worse. Way worse. Just think of the things that other people write in emails. Or put in text messages (Tiger Woods). Or say on tape (Mel Gibson). ‘Nuff said.

My little list, albeit quirky, is fairly harmless. Besides, thanks to MobileMe, my list was restored later that day – which allows me to boast that my current list includes 15 words – if you include proper nouns and the occasional oddity.  Which I do.

Is “replanks” a word?  On my list, yes.  Yes indeed.

Speaking of quirky and harmless, you’ve got to try these sautéed chickpeas. They’re not a side dish, really (although I guess they could be). And as far as hors d’oeuvres go, they’re a bit messy – kind of like olives. Plus, you can change the seasoning up any way you like. I’m showing them here with cumin and chili powder, but you can also try them with fresh minced rosemary and lemon zest. And, oh my, are they tasty.

“Pleasing,” in fact, is the word that comes to mind. P-L-E-A-S-I-N-G.

Sautéed Chickpeas

1 can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained, rinsed, patted dry
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When oil begins to ripple, stir in remaining ingredients, shaking and stirring occasionally, until chickpeas begin to brown slightly (about 10 minutes). Drain on a paper towel, check for seasonings (salt), and munch away.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Even A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day Can Get Worse.

Yesterday, in the words of one of my favorite children’s books*, was a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.” 

I was unsettled.  Out of kilter.  Overwhelmed.  Under-able.  I was so awash in pity that the lyrics to Jimmy Buffet’s song, “My Head Hurts, My Feet Stink, and I Don’t Love Jesus” kept running through my mind.

The house needs painting, the laundry needs washing, the kids need to be more helpful, the bills need to be paid, I need to be do more volunteer work, the cat needs to go to the vet, the plants need to be watered, I’m not sure how to manage a few financial hurdles, I have no sangria, and I’m struggling with subject-verb agreement.

I wasn’t awash in pity.  I was wallowing in it.  Bathing in it.

In my head, I was chanting the lyrics to an old childhood song, “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, I’m gonna eat some worms.”  And then, sure enough, things got worse.

A few days earlier, when the kids and I returned from Reunion Weekend, we’d noticed an “off” smell in the house.  So “off,” in fact, that the kids refused to hang out downstairs.  It was foul.  It was pervasive.  It was an “unwelcome” mat.  After a good bit of head-scratching, cautious-tiptoeing, hesitant-door-opening and reluctant pantry-sniffing.  I found the culprit – a decomposed, liquefied potato.

I tossed it immediately.  The smell, however, lingered.  Indeed, it worsened.

For the next couple of days, I burned candles, sprayed Febreze, ran the fans, and “aired” out the house – in 97 degree heat.

The funk remained.

Combined with my own foul mood, that stench made misery for everyone.  I typically turn to cooking to lift my mood, so I began making up a batch of Darling Daughter’s favorite macaroni and cheese for supper and chopping the ingredients needed to re-stock the basement freezer with marinara sauce.

Um.  Did I say “freezer”?

Dammit.  (Sorry, Mom.)   My super-sleuthing and super-sniffing hadn’t extended to the basement.  Dammit.  So now, cracking the basement door was akin to opening the gates of Hell.  Poets write of hell reeking of sulfur and brimstone, but I’d say Hell is a personal matter.  For me, Hell smells like 30 pounds of putrefied, decomposing chicken, oozing out a freezer door.


Trust me, I could be far more graphic – describing, for example, how the various plastic zippered bags holding far-from-frozen poultry were either inflated like balloons, or had already burst, releasing foul, black used-to-be-chicken sludge – but really, who wants to hear about that?

So just like that, my pity party was over.  I had to get to work.  No time for self-indulgent navel gazing.  Time to put on those big girl panties.  I had to scoop poultry residue from a fridge.

And then, come up with something decidedly “not poultry” for lunch.  Something like this cool, refreshing cucumber salad.

Hold the worms.

Creamy Cucumber Salad

¼ cup sour cream
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1 very small clove of garlic, minced, then mashed to a paste with 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 seedless (hothouse) cucumber, peeled, cut in quarters lengthwise, then sliced

Combine first five ingredients, to make a dressing.  Toss in cucumber slices.  Chill slightly and serve.

*Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, Judith Viorst

** That’s “crap.”  With an “s-h.”

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

We're The Class of 1980, Part II

Oh what a night.*

My 30th high school reunion was this past weekend and I am exhausted.  Exhilarated.  And as event coordinator, exonerated.

It was a great evening.  Most everybody showed up.  Most everybody paid.  And most everybody repeated the same lie, I mean, line, all night long.

“You haven’t changed a bit!”

Indeed, the Fort Johnson High School Class of 1980 looked great.  Had fun.  Took full advantage of the open bar.  And in the end, had to be swept out the door by weary, broom-wielding caterers.  It’s unclear whether the bartenders were more eager to be relieved of us or our 1970s playlist (think The Village People, The Commodores and The Bee Gees).

Just as fun was the chance to meet spouses and dates and hear their perspectives.  My favorite line came from a wife who said, regarding her successful and loving husband, “If I had known him in high school, I never would’ve gone out with him.  Much less married him.”

In fact, after all the memory-sharing and memory-making and merrymaking, that’s what I took away from this weekend.  A direction taken as a teenager does not a lifelong journey make.

Parents worry.  Trust me.  I’m a worrying champ.  I want my kids to be happy in life.  I want them to be successful adults.  I want them to be contributing citizens.  So I’m always wondering:   Are they working hard enough now?  Are they well-rounded?  Are they taking the best courses in school?  Are they generous?  Are they musical?  Are they athletic?  Are they scholarly?  Do they have any heretofore undiscovered and scholarship-worthy talents that I have yet to unmine – perhaps an unnatural gift for Russian literature or bungee-jumping or harmonica playing?  Are they always doing their best?

Heck, no.  No one can.  Least of all me.  However, the moral of my reunion story is that, even if kids aren’t always doing their best, they can still become happy, contributing, successful adults.

The route to “happiness” depends upon the individual.  I know plenty of people, who, as kids, never missed a summer school opportunity.  People who “took an extra lap” in high school.   Teens who may have “skirted” the law.  Kids who made college choices based on nothing more than whims, hormones and the state drinking age.

And despite it all, they're now happy, contributing, successful adults.  Many, in fact, said they’ve never been happier.

Oh what a night.

Just don’t tell my kids.

*The Four Season, 1975

Of course I've got a recipe. It's what we had for dinner tonight, but had nothing to do with the story.  Despite that, it was a huge hit and prompted Darling Daughter to ask, "How do you come up with these recipes?"  Hmm.  Maybe she'll be a chef one day.  A happy, successful, well-rounded, well-paid, altruistic chef.  Could happen.

Rice and Chicken with Proscuitto, Basil and Parsley

4 oz minced or finely cubed proscuitto
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large garlic clove, peeled and impaled on a toothpick
1 cup raw rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
sprinkle of red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 cups chopped cooked chicken
1/4 cup fresh basil, minced
1/2 cup fresh parsley, minced

In a large, lidded saucepan, saute proscuitto in olive oil over medium high heat.  When lightly browned, increase heat to high, and stir in garlic, rice, wine, chicken broth, salt, red pepper flakes and lemon juice.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and cook, lidded, for 10 minutes.  Gently stir in chicken and fresh herbs.  Replace lid and continue cooking for 4-5 minutes, or until rice is done.  Let rest 4-5 minutes, fluff with fork and serve hot.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

We're The Class of 1980

We’re the best, ain’t no maybe.  We’re the Class of 1980.

My 30th high school reunion is this weekend.

Do you suppose it would be possible, in the next three days, for me to:

•  Lose 15 pounds?  10?  Nine?  Truth be told, I’d be happy with one.  And a half.
•  Run a marathon?  A half marathon?  A wildly successful and innovative computing empire known as “Apple”?
•  Find in my driveway, free of monthly payments, the Jaguar (eight-cylinder) I always swore I’d have when I grew up?  (Forty-seven is "grown up," is it not?)
•  Publish a novel?  My memoirs?  A three-paragraph post on momswhodrinkandswear.com?  (Who am I kidding?  As instructed by my high school English teacher, Mrs. Evelyn Hall, I can’t write anything in fewer than five paragraphs.  I can, however, drink and swear, something I did not learn from Mrs. Hall.  I swear.)

But wait.  Surely my former classmates --  the Mighty, Mighty Trojans of Fort Johnson High School -- aren't so shallow and competitive.  Besides, I’m a Mom!  I'm not limited to bragging about my own accomplishments!  Perhaps I can:

•  Arrange Son’s early admission to Harvard.  (Yes, he’s only 15 and admittedly unmotivated, but wouldn’t that qualify him as “unique” and therefore, “desirable” to the selection committee?)
•  Persuade 13-year-old and admittedly squeamish Darling Daughter to donate a kidney.  To a newborn.  In a third world country.
•  Train Josie, our highstrung rescue dog who won't fetch so much as a tennis ball, to retrieve meals for an elderly person.  Who’s visually impaired.  And in any other circumstance, suffers from life-threatening canine allergies.
•  Persuade Lionel, the 13-pound feline of the house to ...  What?  Snub us?  Really, what other skill does he possess?

Sigh.  The truth is, there are only two days before I head to home to Charleston, and like Popeye, “I yam what I yam.”  And despite it all, what I “yam” is pretty “yam” happy.

As much as I’ve dreaded the upcoming reunion, in many ways, I’m actually looking forward to it.  Cougar Bait (again, only 23 days younger than me) has agreed to be my arm candy.  He's also agreed to, as the need arises, serve as parking attendant and bouncer/strong arm for those beloved classmates who haven’t yet submitted their reunion checks to me.  (Have I not mentioned that I’m the one organizing the Reunion?  How uncharacteristically non-bitchy of me!)

Moreover, my former classmates -- those who have paid their $55 fee and even those who have not --have been incredibly appreciative and supportive.  They've also been forthcoming with their stories and “scoop.”  (Hoo boy.  I do love me some “scoop.”)

And as a bonus, dear friends have retrieved their not-altogether accurate memories of me.  In some ways, it’s ridiculously flattering.  One friend, in fact, remembered that I often made “Lemon Chicken” back in middle school. 

The recipe, at that time, wasn’t truly my favorite.  I like the idea, but the skin was woefully soggy.  The seasoning came largely from lemon-pepper seasoning.  And overcooked?  Well, considering that the recipe called for it to be cooked FOREVER, why yes,  it may have been.

This version, I think, is much more simple, flavorful and juicy -- with crispy skin, to boot.

If only it could help me lose 15 pounds before Saturday.  Or even one.  And a half.

Go Trojans!

Pan Roasted Lemon Chicken

1 chicken, cut up
Zest and juice of two lemons
1 lemon, quartered
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
3 strips bacon,  finely diced (optional)

Toss all ingredients – except bacon, salt and pepper -- together in a large roasting or broiler pan.  Allow to rest 15-20 minutes (taking the "chill" off the chicken before cooking). Preheat oven to 450.  (If you have a convection oven, now’s the time to use it.)  Arrange chicken in pan, so pieces are not touching, skin side up.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Scatter raw bacon (if using) over top.  Roast for 20 minutes or until slightly browned.  Check, and, using tongs, squeeze roasted lemon chunks over chicken.  (Don't turn chicken.)  Return to oven and continue roasting until crispy brown and done (about 20-25 minutes).  Allow to rest 10-15 minutes before serving.