Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What Darling Daughter Missed More Than Me.

She’s baaaaacccck!

Yep.  After four weeks at her shoreline Shangri-La (Camp Seafarer), Darling Daughter is Chez Wiles. 

And hoo boy, she’s an entirely different creature.

As you’d expect, she’s an altogether different shade – more tobacco than tan.  But that’ll happen to even the most diligent 50+SPF sunscreen appliers (of which, she’s one) who spend four weeks at the beach.  And yes, she’s taller – practically my height – but that’s to be expected of a girl her age.

Nope. It’s not physical.  It’s harder to recognize than that. Maybe she’s more composed.  Maybe more confident.  Maybe that most prized of all Chez Wiles’ attributes -- maybe she’s funnier.  Hard to say.  I just know that I’m happy to be around her.

While at camp, DD wrote diligently – for which I owe her at least $14, given my promise to pay her $1 for every “well-written” letter.  I hungrily read and re-read everything she wrote, but my favorites were, without question, the ones where she wrote of missing my cooking.  (She also missed her bed and hot showers, but truly, she mentioned my cooking the most.)

Oh, honey.  You missed my cooking?  Those words are more magical than "abracadabra," "alakazzam," and "I need to see your ID, ma'am"  combined.

I knew exactly what DD would want:  Chicken Cavatappi, Beer Butt Chicken, Caesar Salad with Chicken and Uncle Nick’s Grilled Greek Wings.  In anticipation, I crammed the basement freezer with poultry.  I was ready.

But then, a heckuva storm knocked out that freezer.  All those chicken wings and boneless breasts and thighs defrosted and had to be tossed.  (Puh-leeze.  I can’t bear to come up with a more graphic description than “lukewarm, squishy, funky and leaky.”  Get the picture?)

Which, although a huge waste of money, turned out to be OK, because upon her return from camp, DD declared she’d had more than her fill of chicken – not to mention potatoes and salad.

As I said, she’d changed.  Out with the leaky, sticky chicken, and in with other comfort foods – Tuna Sandwiches, Sausage Pasta – and for the first dinner home, Buttermilk Pancakes.

Of course, I’d worked on a new – and easy – grilled chicken tender with peanut sauce recipe while she was gone and had been eager to make it once she got home  But that can wait.  Until then, I can handle one more round of Pork Fried Rice.  And simply be grateful for that oft-repeated line in her letters, “I miss your cooking” – now my four most favorite words.

Grilled Chicken Tenders With Peanut Sauce

Wooden skewers, soaked in water for at least one hour

1 pound boneless, raw chicken tenders
4 tablespoons ponzu sauce (a citrus-soy sauce)
1 tablespoon toasted (or dark) sesame oil
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger

Combine all ingredients (except skewers, of course) and allow to marinate about 30 minutes (or several hours in the refrigerator).

Thread marinated chicken on skewers and grill over indirect heat.  Should take only a few minutes on each side.  Do not overcook, or chicken will dry out.  Serve with peanut sauce.

Peanut Sauce
¼ cup ponzu sauce
¼ cup water
¼ cup rice vinegar
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
fresh ground pepper
¼ cup smooth peanut butter

In large, microwavable cup, combine all ingredients except peanut butter, and heat to boiling.  Gradually stir hot liquid into peanut butter.  At first, peanut butter will “melt,” and then will thicken the sauce.  When well combined, serve with grilled chicken.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Read All About It! Worst Mom Ever Falls Down And Goes Boom.

I never flinch when one of my beloved offspring declares me the “Worst Mom Ever,” because to be honest, they don’t know the half of it.

C’mon. It’s not that I’m deliberately “bad.” Indeed, the tears I’ve shed, the books I’ve read, and the committees I head, I think, all give testimony to my devotion to “good” parenting.

There are times, though, with seemingly little effort -- ba-dow! – I squarely reclaim the title.

Take, for example, when the kids are sick or hurt. Let me be clear, in instances like those, I’d always gladly, desperately, prefer to take their places and bear their pains. Still, there’s something perversely satisfying, after deciding the situation calls for a professional, in hearing a doctor announce, “It’s strep.” Or, “Yes, Ms. Wiles, it looks like he needs stitches.” Or, “Hmm. I think we need to see a specialist.”

At moments like those, it’s all I can do to suppress my true feelings, which run along the lines of, “Yes! I knew it! I knew we needed to go to the doctor! I knew this was a real medical situation! I was right!”

Not exactly banner parenting. Far from it. Still it’s not just the kids who are subject to this “I was right!” behavior. I do it to myself.

Yesterday, Son and I went for a run. (OK. His was a “run,” and let’s just say that mine was something less.) At the last minute, we decided to take Josie, the high-strung rescue dog, so she could “unstring” a bit.

She loved it. Loved, loved, loved it. Son ran (far) ahead of us. As I trudged – and Josie cantored -- through our first mile (have I mentioned that my 30th high school reunion is in fewer than four weeks?), a bicyclist pedaled up behind us. Josie (have I mentioned that she’s high-strung?) got spooked. Mid-stride, I tripped, and then, flipped over her, landing on my palms, my knees, my top lip and my left elbow.

As my nephew would say, “Crap! With an S-H.”

I reckon that would be “shap.”

I finished the run, er, trudge, with a split lip, blackened and blued palms, bloodied and gravel-embedded knees, and a keen pain in my elbow.

Returning from his three-mile sprint, Son hardly noticed. “You need a towel,” he noted. “You’re sweating a lot.”

When we returned home, Son played video games, I began dinner (grilled sausage and grits, asparagus in lemon and butter sauce), and Josie? She ran away.

Three hours later, Son recovered her, and by then, my elbow was really bothering me. I tossed and turned all night. Should I go to the doctor? Won’t he just tell me I’m old? What if he says it’s just a bruise? Still, after a sleepless night, I made the call.

Doc found nothing broken. Yes, I was injured, but there was nothing to garner real sympathy. All I could really tell people was that I fell down and went boom.  Still, Doc sent me on to the orthopedist, just to be sure, who, praise the Lord, took x-rays from a slightly different angle, allowing me to now triumphantly say, “I have a fractured elbow! I knew it!”

Shap. I'm still a mom, though, which means someone's about to pose the dreaded "What's for dinner" question.  Time for Plan B.

So tonight, instead of grilled salmon, it’s delivery pizza. Well, that, Celebrex, hydrocodone and this light little radish salad.

Of course the kids don't like radishes.  Yet another way for me to regain the title, "Worst Mom Ever."

Radish & Chive Salad
This refreshing and crisp salad is super simple -- no real measuring required!

One bunch of radishes, cleaned and sliced as thinly as possible
One small bunch of chives (bunch should be no heftier than your pinkie finger), minced
2-3 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar
Generous sprinkling (about 1/2 teaspoon) of kosher salt

Toss all ingredients together.  Chill about 30 minutes and serve.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

What Makes A Man. (One Woman's Opinion.)

Looks like we made it.

Last year, Charlotte NC came home a bridesmaid, but just last week, our hometown finally snagged the coveted, and surely comical, title, “America’s Manliest City.”  (Am I the only one who sees the irony of "The Queen City" being crowned?)

No kidding.  The criteria, as you might imagine, were testosterone intense, including:

•  Number of professional sports teams
•  Number of steakhouses
•  Number of construction workers and pickup trucks
•  Number of home improvement stores and popularity of power tools
•  Frequency of monster truck rallies.

Again, no kidding.  Plainly, someone overlooked, as I noted in Feminine Wiles last year, that we’ve also got that bastion of metrosexuality – IKEA – as well as a Crate and Barrel, and three Trader Joe’s.

If anyone had asked – and believe me, they didn’t – my own criteria would’ve been somewhat different.  In fairness, though, my own criteria at age 47 is likely far different than what I would’ve listed at age 17 – or even 27.

Nowadays, I’d say, among other things, that a “real man” can:

•  Say “I’m sorry.”  And just to be clear, that’s “I’m sorry” without the preamble, “I don’t know exactly what you’re mad about, but …” or "I don't know what I did, but ..."  Indeed, no manly apology includes the word "but."

•  Make a three-year-old smile.  From across a room.  Before even meeting the three-year-old.  Without any words.  Or candy.  A trick eyebrow, wink or animal noise often does the trick.

•  Sing along – enthusiastically -- with The BeeGeesAnd Duran Duran.

•  "Teach," as well as "do."  It's almost always easier to do something yourself, than to teach someone else to do it. Giving instruction -- patiently, calmly, kindly and repeatedly -- is a gift.  Teaching someone to drive a boat comes to mind.

•  Let someone else drive.  Again, driving a boat comes to mind.

•  Wipe away tears without embarrassment.  Including those of children and grown women.  And his own.

•  Buy cat litter.  And tampons.  Are details necessary?

•  Let someone else be right.  Even if they are wrong.

The list goes on, of course, but you get the gist.  And please, don’t think I’m encouraging 15-year-old Son to buy feminine hygiene products.  Yet.  On the other hand, we’re not exactly monster truck rally aficionados, either.

However, we do both enjoy a good steak, including this terrific one using a cut I'd never tried before a friend sent me the recipe.  Thank you, Callie!  (Ooh!  Add that one to the list, too.  A real man is totally fine giving someone else the credit.  And always has the good manners to say, "thanks.")

Skillet Sirloin Burgundy

2 USDA Choice (or Prime) Sirloin Steaks or Filets (I chose filets)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper
1 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup beef stock (low sodium)
1 shallot finely chopped
1 clove garlic finely minced
1 tbsp fresh parsley finely cut
1 tbsp fresh rosemary finely cut
Optional -- 8 ounces sliced mushrooms, sauteed in 2 tablespoons of butter

Heat skillet to medium-high heat. Rub steaks with EVOO and season with salt and pepper. Add steaks to hot skillet and cook 3-4 minutes on each side for medium rare doneness. Transfer steaks from skillet to plate and loosely top with foil to keep warm. Add the chopped shallot and garlic to the pan and cook until tender (about 2 min). Add the rosemary and cook for another minute. Add the wine and beef stock and turn heat to high. Bring liquid to a boil scraping the bottom of the skillet to remove browned bits. Once the liquid is reduced to desired thickness, add the parsley and, if using, sauteed mushrooms. Slice steak into 1/4 inch strips (fajita style) and serve with Burgundy sauce drizzled on top.  Pound yourself on the chest.  Very manly, right?

Friday, July 2, 2010

An Ode To Cream Cheese.

Do you know how many calories are in an 8-ounce brick of cream cheese?  I do.


The fact of the matter is that, I can, without any provocation, consume all eight ounces.  And then some.  I love cream cheese.  I could pen an ode to cream cheese.  I kneel at the very altar of cream cheese.  On its own.  Mashed with chopped olives.  Sweetened for cheesecake.  (For the very Best Cheesecake Recipe ever, click here.)

When we were kids, and we were very good (i.e., “silent”), and Daddy was feeling very generous (i.e., “distracted”), we got to sit down (i.e., “sneak in”) as he watched ABC’s Wild World of Sports (from one of the four – count ‘em, four -- channels we received Chez Fountain 1975), and indulge in Coke served in frozen mugs and chips and Dip.


There was only one Dip in our household.  Not “The Dip.”  Just “Dip” – cream cheese, garlic salt, onion salt, all mashed up and thinned out with a bit of water.  Ooh – and if you’ve got ‘em, some minced up pickled banana peppers.  Ta.  Dah.  “Dip.”

As you might imagine, last week, when Daddy came to visit (to buy an RV – which in itself is an RV-sized story), I automatically reached into the fridge for the Philadelphia Cream Cheese.  For Dip.  With chips.  (Ruffles.  Duh.)

A few days later, though, I pulled a second package from the fridge and examined the nutrition facts.  One brick of that salty, bland, creamy, heavenly cheese has 800 calories.  And let's not talk about portion size.  That single, none-too-slim, silvery packet is a “serving,” is it not?

Which brings me to another “dammit.”

My upcoming 30th high school reunion.

I need to lose 10 pounds.  OK.  If you insist.  Twelve.  In five weeks.

Like that will happen.  A dear friend recently told me that he lost 9 pounds in 21 days just by counting calories.  Really?  ‘Cause I don’t think I can count that high.  But I reckon I do need to start skipping the cream cheese.  And pork chops.  And bacon.  Maybe.

Tell you what, though.  There’s a perfectly fine – no, divine  -- substitute for cream cheese.  Plain Greek Yogurt.

No kidding.  A tub of plain, thick, creamy tangy Greek yogurt is the perfect dip base.  So perfect, in fact, very little seasoning is required.  A little garlic, a few fresh herbs, a squeeze of lemon juice.  Just like ranch dip.  But not.  Ta.  Dah.

And no.  I’m not at all optimistic I can lose those 10 (OK, 12) pounds pre-Reunion.  But I do now know how many calories are an 8-ounce brick of cream cheese.  800.  And in 8 ounces of plain, nonfat Greek yogurt?  120.

Even I can count that high.

Ranch-Style Yogurt Dip
It's important that "Greek" yogurt -- which is very thick and creamy -- be used.
1 16-ounce tub of plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh parsley
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh chives
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 clove garlic

Mince garlic, as finely as possible.  Now, using knife "cut in" salt, until garlic is so finely minced that the salt becomes part of it -- like a paste.  Combine salty garlic paste with remaining ingredients.  Chill and serve with fresh cut vegetables or crackers.