Monday, November 19, 2012

Three days before Thanksgiving,
and we are counting our blessings.

First things first.  Everyone’s fine.  Okey dokey.  Hunky dory.  No worries.  Move on, dot com.

OK.  Second things second.  My teenaged children, Carter and Julia, were in an accident today.  Someone turned out in front of them, crossing two lanes of traffic, and there they were – both my eggs in one little white 5-speed Volvo basket, cruising at 30 mph into the side of a Toyota SUV whatever-the-hell, because to be honest, although I later had the opportunity to stare at it for a good 40 minutes and can recall the color of it, I can’t recall the model.

Fifteen-year-old Julia is the one who called.  “Mom?”

“What’s wrong?”

And then, I just listened.  Um, maybe not, because if I’d been listening, I’d remember at least 20% of what she said, right?

So I suppose I just talked.  Um, right.  Maybe not.  I know I tried to sound calm.  I know I made a real effort to sound as if I knew what was going on.  I know I tried to project confidence.

But in hindsight, it’s possible I just vomited questions.  Seriously.  It's entirely possible I just spewed hot, sloppy, verbal projectiles à la Linda Blair.  “Are you OK?  What happened?  Where are you?  What happened?  Where’s your brother?  What happened?  Did you call the police?   What happened?  OK.  It’s OK to be scared.  I’m getting in the car right now.  Talk me in.”

And as I regurgitated questions, I snatched up a key, my license, some shoes, and went to find my children.

Remember.  They were fine. No harm, no blood, no air bags, no foul.

Still, I can’t help thinking of what “could have” been.  As the driver, 17-year-old Carter inevitably thinks about how the accident wouldn't have occurred if only they’d stayed an extra 30 seconds at school or if only they’d stopped to get gas or if only he'd gone to the gym to workout, and I, well, I can’t help thinking … just thinking.

But everyone’s fine.  Not exactly able to focus on tomorrow’s World History and AP Euro tests, but fine.  We’re just a couple of days before Thanksgiving, and we are already counting our blessings.

Of which, as we have been well-reminded Chez Wiles, we have plenty.

Sausage Scramble
In the aftermath of the accident, we had "brinner" -- breakfast for dinner -- which was quick, easy and comforting for all of us!

1/2 pound bulk breakfast sausage (we prefer Neese's)
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
6 eggs
2 tablespoons water
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives

In a large skillet over medium heat, brown sausage and onion until crumbly.  Meanwhile, whisk eggs together with water in a medium bowl, season with salt and pepper.  Drain excess fat from skillet, and then, pour beaten eggs on top of sausage mixture.  Reduce heat to low, and cook, stirring, until eggs are set.  Sprinkle with chives and serve with toast and grits.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

An Adventure At Age 50.
An Adventure At Any Age.

I choose to refer to it as an "adventure."

True, I turned 50 two weeks ago.  I turned 50, sold my house and put a contract on a house on the Lake.  And yes, it is Carter's senior year of high school, which means we're pretty busy here with the whole college and graduating "business" (and it is a "business," but that's a topic for another post), and yes, it will be just me and Julia at home next year, and yes, I fully intend to make DB live up to his promise to marry me when Julia graduates.  Which means, yes, I'll  be moving to Charleston in three years.

Still, moving to the Lake in the interim doesn't necessarily signal a mid-life crisis.  Nor is it "insanity," or "impetuous" or "rash."

"Adventure," remember?  "Adventure" is the word I'm looking for.  Or, in a pinch, "carpe diem."

Julia and I are keenly aware of the gaping hole we'll face when Carter heads to college next fall, so listmakers that we are, we maintain a "When Carter's Gone" list.  For example, "When Carter's gone, we'll eat more salad."  "When Carter's gone, we'll take yoga."  "When Carter's gone, we'll get an exchange student," which sounds just like getting a kitten, in that we'll be dealing with language neither of us speaks, but better, because there's no litter box.

A few months back, Julia tacked something new on the list, "When Carter's gone, we'll live at the Lake."

To which, Carter, who was entirely in favoring of dodging salad and yoga and exchange students, responded, in essence, "What the aitch? I wanna live at the Lake."

The way I see it, I only have a couple more years -- or in the case of Carter, months -- of full-time, hands-on parenting.  I'll always be their mom, of course, but God willing, they won't always be under my roof.  They won't always be my funny, thoughtful, insightful dinner companions.  They're already slipping away, moving on, spending less and less time with me.  It's not that I want to cling to this time.   I want to cherish it.

So yes, we're moving to the Lake.  Yes, I understand the transaction costs.  Yes, I understand the longer commute.  Yes, I understand that I'll no longer be able to walk to Starbucks.  And yes, moving is a colossal, miserable, unremitting pain.

But it's also an adventure.  I'm 50 years old, and I'm heading out on an adventure.  With my kids.

Carpe diem.

Three-Way Caesar Dinner
I don't have any regrets about relocating to the Lake, but I do need to watch my budget to make everything work.  Using a single ingredient as a marinade/sauce/dressing is tasty and budget-friendly, to boot!

Caesar Dressing/Marinade/Sauce
1 clove garlic
2 teaspoons anchovy paste
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

3 boneless chicken breasts

12 oz medium chicken noodles

1 bag romaine "salad"

Make dressing/marinade/sauce but combining garlic, anchovy paste, oil, lemon juice, hot sauce salt and pepper in a blender.  (Or, even easier, combine using an immersion blender until smooth.)

Place raw chicken breasts in a zippered plastic bag with one third of the caesar dressing.  Allow to marinate at room temperature for about 30 minutes.

Grill chicken until done.

As chicken grills, boil noodles in a large pot of very well salted water until done.  Drain and toss with one third of the caesar dressing.

When chicken is done, allow to rest for 10 minutes, before slicing on the diagonal and tossing with hot noodles.  Toss salad with remaining dressing, and serve alongside chicken and noodles.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Soap -- It's Not
Just For Washing Any More

I sleep with a bar of soap.

It's not what you think.  Unless you think that a white cake of Dial or Irish Spring (but not Ivory or Dove) has magical, medicinal powers, fending off muscle cramps, back spasms, migraine headaches, and perhaps, even the common cold, in which case, it is exactly what you think.

This past August, in the wake of my questionable decision to sign up for the Cooper River Bridge Run, I threw out my back.  It was a kind of routine injury for me, but this time, I really did it good -- teary-eyed and crumpled on the floor, before being driven to the doctor by my teenaged son.

Few things bring on unsolicited advice -- both medical and not -- like a doctor's visit.  Well-meaning friends and family suggested all kinds of cures -- heating pads and ice  packs, exercise and bedrest, hot tea and Scotch, massages and chiropractic treatment all made the list.  As did soap.

No kidding.  A close family member suggested that I tuck a bar between my mattress and box spring.  She even went so far as to suggest that I get some of those little hotel soaps and keep them in my pocket.  And since the "advisor" was my mom -- with 20 years actual medical experience -- I did.

And wouldn't you know it?  About eight weeks later, my back issue was resolved.  Of course, it could've been the months of physical therapy.  Or, it could've been the prescription drugs, which, at the very least, altered my thinking sufficiently so I found it entirely reasonable to order $300 worth of "Steals and Deals" from The Today Show website one Thursday morning.  While I was at home.  Not at work.  In other words, squandering money while not making money.

Or, it could've been that little white cake of Dial.

In any event, I got back on my feet, and in January, got back into training.  Now, tomorrow morning, I aim to complete a 10K run across the Cooper River Bridge.

And, yes, tonight I'll be sleeping with a bar of soap.  Just in case. 

Sadly I haven't lost a single pound (what the aitch?) while preparing for the run, even though I've been eating pretty healthily.  One of our current favorites is this simple Caesar Salad with Parmesan Crisps.  I'll post the recipe soon -- but for now, I've got to run!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Darling Daughter At Age 15

Yesterday, Darling Daughter turned 15.

Today, she got her driver’s permit.

She’s stretching her wings, while I’d prefer to snugly swaddle her once again in the sweet pink jersey blanket her grandmother bought when she was born and which is, even now, tucked under the pillow on her queen-sized bed.  She’s ready to take flight, while I’m reminiscing about her very first self-assured steps across the hardwood floor of our family room.

As the two of us leave the surprisingly uncrowded and pleasant DMV office, I’m worried – near frantic.  I realize I’m not done with her yet.  There’s still so much I want her to know – so much I want to teach, so much I want to share.

But Darling Daughter is already a teenager.  I know less and less about the daily details of her life. Does she have a French test this week?  Does she like her English teacher?  Did she eat all of her lunch today?  Does her backpack need to be cleaned out?  Is she out of deodorant?  Are her socks too small?

Beats me.  She handles all that on her own – quietly, gracefully, uneventfully.

She’s taller than me, she’s stronger than me, she bristles at my parenting style.  But I’m not done.

I haven’t yet taught her to shake a little cayenne pepper into chocolate cake batter and a little salt into chocolate frosting.

I haven’t yet revealed that guys are impressed with a girl who knows how to drive a boat.  And that it doesn’t matter what guys think.

She doesn’t yet know that she’s smarter than she thinks and more capable that she realizes.    I haven’t made it clear that she can do oh-so-much more; but that she doesn’t have to do anything more for me.  She's funny, she's insightful, she's wise.  She is control of her own happiness, her own joy.

As we drive back to school, freshly-minted driver’s permit on the backseat, I know she has no idea of the blessings and pride she brings into my life.  And then, abruptly, she asks, “Are those chickens?”  I squint at the 18-wheeler five or six car lengths ahead of us.  “I don’t think so.  I think they are turkeys.”

And sure enough, we find ourselves at 50 miles an hour, trailing a truckload of turkeys, headed to the next, um, “exit.”  “OMG.  What is he doing?,” Darling Daughter squeals,  “Is he peeing?”

And sure enough, one of the turkeys empties out enough urine to make a racehorse prance with pride.  But not on our Honda Pilot. We smoothly change lanes, as the Jeep Cherokee beside us is christened with poultry urine.

Always look ahead.  Lesson number one for Darling Daughter’s 15th year. 

Assuming I can share a lesson-a-day with her this year, that’s three hundred and sixty-four to go.

Happy birthday, Julia Wiles.  I hope you can bear with me.  I still have a lot to share.  And from you, I still have a lot to learn.

No new recipe today, as we celebrated the birthday girl's special day with dinner out and her favorite Chocolate-Chocolate-Chocolate Cake.  Just click to find the recipe.  And be sure to sprinkle a little cayenne in the batter and salt in the frosting.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Mom On The (Bridge) Run

What was I thinking?

Or really, when I signed up for the 35th Cooper River Bridge Run, was I thinking at all?

Apparently not, because my registration packet has now arrived via USPS and even though I haven’t yet “been there and done that,” I do have the t-shirt, along with a race bib with “Cheryl” imprinted on it and a computer timing chip built-in.

Let me be clear:  I am not a runner.  I'm a 49-year-old mom who would never be confused for a runner.  A single glance tells all:  I am not built for speed.  If anything, I’m built for sauvignon blanc.  Or, in the right company, single-malt scotch.   I didn’t run track in high school.  I’ve never run away.  I’d never consider running for office.  I’ve never even run out of gas.

OK.  I have had my share of runs, but that was back in the days of pantyhose, and I can assure you that a silver "egg" of Suntan Sheer Energy L’Eggs did nothing to prepare me to run 10 kilometers in a pack of 43,999 athletes from Mt. Pleasant over the (new) Cooper River Bridge and into downtown Charleston.

I am, however, making an effort.  I have a training schedule.  An eye-popping neon yellow top so Cougar Bait can rescue me after race.  And new shoes.  I know.  In most situations, "new shoes" would cure all ills.  But when it comes to running shoes, maybe not so much.  My 17-year-old son's response to my recent "mile-time" stat was, “Gawd, Mom.  Were you even trying?”

Was I trying?  Did my hunched-over hobble to the sofa not give it away?  Where are crutches when you need them?

With the run now two weeks away, I am verging on panic.  Yesterday, I pushed to prove that I can go the distance.  The good news is that it turns out that I can.  The bad news is that the weather must be perfect, that I’m on a course I know like the back of my hand, and that 43,999 other people aren’t running with me.

Maybe I just need to eat better.  Something like this Seared Ginger-Lime Salmon with Slaw.

Nah.  What am I thinking?  It can’t be that easy.  It can however, be pretty darn tasty!

Seared Ginger-Lime Salmon with Slaw
I use the same, super-flavorful mix for both the marinade and the dressing.  This amount will work with up to four salmon fillets.  

Pieces of salmon fillet
Napa cabbage, sliced in ribbons (1 heaping cup per serving)
Red bell pepper, sliced in thin ribbons (1 quarter pepper per serving)
Feta cheese, crumbled (2 tablespoons per serving)
Pignoli nuts, toasted (1 tablespoon per serving) 

Juice of two limes
1 large clove of garlic, chopped
2 inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon toasted (dark) sesame oil
1/4 cup vegetable oil

Combine marinade/dressing ingredients in a blender and blend until very smooth.  Pour about half (1/4 cup) into a zipper-sealed plastic bag with salmon pieces.  Marinate, at room temperature for 15 minutes.  Drain and remove salmon pieces.  Sear in a nonstick skillet over medium heat, until done and flakes easily.  Set aside, covering loosely with aluminum foil while you assemble the slaw.

In a medium-sized bowl, combine remaining "marinade/dressing" with napa cabbage and red bell pepper (for four servings, use one small head of napa cabbage, plus, one bell pepper).  Toss well, serve with salmon, garnishing with feta cheese and pignoli nuts.  

Saturday, March 10, 2012

What's So Special About 17?

Carter celebrated his 17th birthday this week, but according to him, 17 is nothing special.  No big deal.  It’s not 16, it’s not 18, it’s just kinda whatever.

I disagree.  Vigorously.  For me, 17 is momentous.

First of all, as Carter himself said to me few months ago, “Look, Mom, I’m not smart yet, but my stupidity is on the decline.”

Thank you, Jesus.  And please don't take offense, because that’s not blasphemy.  That’s genuine gratitude.  Maybe not every mom would consider herself blessed to have a child with “declining stupidity,” but since I live with two – count ‘em, two – hormonal, impulsive, illogical, unpredictable teenagers, “declining stupidity” sounds pretty darn good.   Particularly in the face of my own hormonal, impulsive, illogical and unpredictable behavior.

Mostly though, Carter’s 17th birthday reminds me marvel at the man he is becoming.

When he was just a toddler, and I was pregnant with Julia, a friend remarked, “I am SO glad you’re having another baby!”  Then, she shared this insight, “Now you’ll realize that you don’t get to take all the credit for what your child is or does.  And you don’t have to take all the blame, either.  They are who they are.  They just come out that way.”

They do.  For 17 years, I’ve tried to guide and shape and nurture.  I’ve tried to teach and encourage and motivate.  And I’ve tried to predict.  Lord knows how I’ve tried to predict.  Carter used to devour books:  English would be his favorite subject!  Until he was four, he wouldn’t poke a toe out of bed until I came to get him:  He would never be a risktaker!  He loved whole fruits and vegetables:  He’d never succumb to fast food!

Riiiigggghhhtt.  Or actually, wrong.  Wrong, wrong and wrong.

He's not crazy about English, he's well-acquainted with risk-taking, and more often than not, he'll drive through, rather than drive by, a Chick Fil A.  But I'm awestruck as he makes his way toward becoming the man he chooses to be.  He’s bright and funny and irreverent and opinionated.  He’s mellow and outrageous, devil-may-care and fiercely devoted.  

He just came out that way.  Or, he just chooses to be that way.

Either way, I don’t get to take the credit.  I simply get to appreciate the person he is.

Happy birthday, son.  Being a parent to you at age 17 is something special, indeed.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year's Traditions: Dick Clark, Hoppin' John And A Plunging Pickle

I'm a fan of holiday traditions.

I always watch Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve – although I’m not entirely averse to channel-surfing now that I recognize so few of the featured performers. (Sorry, Nicki Mirage, er, Bling-Blaj, um, Minaj. Does your mother know you left the house wearing that outfit?)

I always have Hoppin’ John (for luck), collards (for money) and ham for New Year’s dinner.

I always bet on the bowl games. (However, given that I make my picks based on teams in towns I’d to visit, or teams at schools I wish my kids would attend, or teams wearing any color other than orange – take that, Clemson -- I can’t claim much success. Although all that would change if I just ate enough collards.)

Indeed, I’m so bound to holiday traditions that the kids often use it against me.

     You never make us listen to Christmas music until after Thanksgiving!
     You always let us open at least one gift on Christmas Eve!
     You can’t go to bed early! We have to go to the 10:30 p.m. service – it’s tradition!
     But we always have sausage bread Christmas morning!

With 49 years of tradition behind me, it’s hard to consider embracing another, but for “The Pickle Drop,” I just might. That’s right, “The Pickle Drop.”

Don’t know how I hadn’t heard about this before, but it turns out that for the past 13 years, Mt. Olive, North Carolina has hosted the New Year’s Eve Pickle Drop at the corner of, no kidding, Cucumber and Vine. Partygoers feast on hot chocolate and pickles (provided by the Mt. Olive Pickle Company, natch), before watching the lighted, three-foot pickle descend a flagpole. Again, just to be clear, no kidding.

And did I mention that big event occurs at 7 p.m.? That’s right. Seven-oh-clock in the evening, which means that, provided you don't over-indulge in pickles, you get a decent-night’s sleep -- on New Year's Eve.  I’m thinking Mt. Olivians are my kind of crowd.

Maybe my rigid, tradition-based mind could be a bit more flexible. In fact, I’m thinking I’ll add one more item to my New Year’s menu – this comforting corn chowder, crusted with bacon crumbles. But no pickles. At least, not until next year.

Jalapeno-Lime Corn Chowder

Four slices bacon, chopped

1 medium Vidalia onion, chopped
1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and ribbed, minced
1 large clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoons flour
1 large baking potato, peeled and cubed
1 quart chicken stock
Juice of ½ lime
Corn cut from three cobs (or one 10-ounce frozen package)

1 cup heavy cream

In a large, heavy, lidded skillet, sauté bacon over medium-low heat until crispy.   Remove browned bacon bits, to be used as a garnish later.  In remaining bacon grease, sauté onion until translucent, stir in jalapeno and garlic.  When vegetables are tender and fragrant, sprinkle with flour.  Continue stirring until flour is well-combined and slightly browned.  Stir in chicken broth, potato, lime juice and corn.  Bring to boil, then, reduce heat to low, and simmer, lidded until potato is very tender -- about 20 minutes.  Stir in cream, season to taste and serve hot, garnished with reserved bacon bits.