Monday, September 27, 2010

For My Birthday, A Good Nap. And Happiness.

I am 48. Have been now for over a week.

Truly, truly, truly – I don’t mind getting older. Truly. (It won’t bother me when Cougar Bait turns 48 next month, either. I’m just saying.)

I don’t yearn to be 18. Or 28. Or 38. Well, I wouldn’t mind having my 38-year-old body back. All those eyelashes. All that naturally-colored hair. All that naturally-occurring collagen. On the other hand, at 38, I had a 7-year-old, a 5-year-old and couldn't run two blocks without getting a stitch in my side. In the words of Roseanne Roseannadanna,* “Never mind.”

Despite my petty hair and skin complaints, September 17, 2010 was the best birthday I can remember. It was fun, it was surprising, it was decadent, it was comforting, and it was also -- restful.

I know. “Sleep” shouldn’t a fabulous birthday make, but after 48 years, I'm now enamored with naps.

That’s how old I am. More sophisticated people may grow to love fine wine, or appreciate opera, or treasure literary works. I’ve become discerning about sleep. I prize it. I revel in it. Given the opportunity, I might marry it.

I had an even better birthday gift, though. One of Darling Daughter’s 13-year-old friends said this to her mom, who then repeated it to me, “Ms. Wiles smiles all the time. She’s so happy, she should get married.”

Don't you love it? “She’s so happy.” C’mon. Think about it: Isn't that exactly what we parents always insist? “I just want my child to be happy."

We all know the drill: “They don’t have to get soccer scholarships, and they don’t have to be valedictorians, and they don’t have to be the most popular. I just want them to be happy.”

I do want my kids to be happy. True, I have no worries that I’m doing laundry for budding Ronaldinhos or Zuckerbergs or Kardashians. But even if I were, bottom line, I'd still want them to be happy. And if I get to be happy too, all the better. Even without eyelashes. Or collagen. Or shiny, bountiful, brunette hair.

Sigh. I do miss the hair of my youth. But I’m happy.

I’m 48, I’m happy, and Cougar Bait will be 48 in 13 days.

Life is good.

*Gilda Radner, SNL, 1978-79. Yes. I am indeed that old. And happy.

Ginger Spice Cookies
An incredibly dear and thoughtful friend -- who's kept a special eye on me since my divorce -- delivered these cookies on my birthday. I haven’t made them myself yet (although I’ll be stirring up a batch tomorrow), but they are crazy and intensely good. The crystallized ginger packs quite a snap. I may just double the batch.

2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger
1 cup (packed) dark or light brown sugar

1/2 cup vegetable shortening, room temperature

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 large egg

1/4 cup mild-flavored (light) molasses


 (for rolling)

Combine first 6 ingredients in medium bowl; whisk to blend. Mix in crystallized ginger. Using electric mixer, beat brown sugar, shortening and butter in large bowl until fluffy. Add egg and molasses and beat until blended. Add flour mixture and mix just until blended. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour. 

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter 2 baking sheets. Spoon sugar in thick layer onto small plate. Using wet hands, form dough into 1 1/4-inch balls; roll in sugar to coat completely. Place balls on prepared sheets, spacing 2 inches apart. 
Bake cookies until cracked on top but still soft to touch, about 12 minutes. Cool on sheets 1 minute. Carefully transfer to racks and cool. (Can be made 5 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Return To Femininity, Blogging and Chicken.

Son and Darling Daughter returned to school a month ago, and I don’t believe I’ve ever blogged so much.

In my own little head, of course.

No joke.  These past few weeks, I’ve been teeming with what I hoped were carefully-composed sentences, clever turns-of-phrase, and tidy little anecdotes.  Nonetheless, my last Feminine Wiles post was over a month ago.

My own fault, really.  Way back at the end of August, surveying the month ahead, I honestly thought, finally, some time to myself.

At least, I hope I “thought” it.  I hope I didn’t actually say it out loud, because even the bats in my attic could see that September was booked before it began.  It is, after all, September, and not January, marking the beginning of a student’s “new” year.   Thirty days hath September, and each of ours was packed – with middle school and varsity cross country meets, Scout meetings, school dances, Homecoming, school football games, daily cross country practices, a return to Sunday School, the obligatory back-to-school meetings, orientations, and shopping – not to mention my own school commitments and the usual, unusual rounds of Charlotte medical professionals.  (Son’s early season injuries have prompted countless appointments.  The only medical advice we haven’t yet sought is from voodoo practitioners.  But that’s because none have yet recommended by name.)

So September has been crammed with scheduling, scheduling, scheduling, meeting, meeting, meeting, transporting, transporting, transporting,.  Then, my trusty and beloved iMac crashed.  (I know, I know.  “Every hard drive will fail.”  Use me as your case study.)  One morning, after the kids boarded the bus, with the click, click, click of a darkened screen, all my scheduling and meeting and transporting vanished.  Poof.

As Darling Darling would say, “WTF?”  (“Why the face?”  Don’t you love it?)  Gone were financial records, photos, iTunes purchases, my freshly compiled book fair list, and then, more cash than I care to confess just to get us back on our computing feet.

Perfect.  (Sarcasm.)  I could've used that extra cash, because anyone knows that all these back-to-school activities also mean “back-to-Chick-Fil-A.”  And Bojangles.  And, on occasion, KFC.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love chicken.  But I don’t know that I can face another “no-butter-extra-pickles-Chick-Fil-A-sandwich.”

In the midst of all the “busy-ness,” though, I’m reminded of another, easily prepared and easily adored chicken dish – one that can be cooked up in a snap and fits in some vegetables.  Or -- between you and me -- lots.

Son and Darling Daughter have long been fans of chicken lettuce wraps, and one harried evening around Labor Day, I had to wonder, why don’t we just make some?

Finally, in these 30 days of September – success.  Chicken lettuce wraps are now a weekly fixture Chez Wiles – inspiring me, perhaps, to finish working out my recipe for East-Meets-West Mu Shu Pork.

In October. 

You know, when I have some time to myself.

Chicken Lettuce Wraps

1 teaspoon toasted (or dark) sesame oil

2 ribs celery, finely chopped
10-12 baby carrots, finely chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, grated or finely chopped
2 tablespooons freshly grated ginger
1 pound ground chicken 
1 can whole water chestnuts, drained, finely chopped
2 tablespoons prepared Chinese plum sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon chili oil (or hot pepper oil)

Large leaf lettuce, Bibb lettuce or iceberg lettuce leaves

In very large, nonstick skillet, heat sesame oil over medium high heat until smoking.  Stir in celery, carrots and bell pepper.  Sauté 5-6 minutes, or until vegetables are softened and slightly browned.  Stir in garlic, ginger and chicken, and cook, stirring, until chicken is cooked and slightly browned.  Stir in water chestnuts, plum sauce, soy sauce, rice vinegar and chili oil until well combined and heated through.  Serve hot, a few tablespoons at a time, rolled up in lettuce leaves.  Holy cow.  Or chicken.  This stuff is good.