Showing posts with label Divorce. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Divorce. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Kindness of Friends, Family, Strangers -- And Eggs

Last week was wretched.  Miserable, horrible, terrible.  So very bad that, if it hadn't had been so very awful, it would been comical.  But not very.

I don't want to re-live all the details, but suffice to say that divorce is devastating.  Being a single mom is gut-wrenching.  And being kids of divorce is worst of all.  At some point last week, everyone Chez Wiles was enraged or tearful or both.

Then, Cougar Bait (my 200-mile-away lifeline), who was recovering from the flu, came down with pneumonia. I ran out of shampoo. Son's Eagle project got tanked two days just before he finished the proposal.  The dog peed on the rug.  A dear 87-year-old friend passed away.  I left a raw chuck roast on the counter overnight.  A much-needed therapist was hospitalized.  And although all these things were true, I plainly couldn't even prioritize which things were worth grieving.

I was wretched.  At one point, I called in "wretched" to work.  Some people call in sick.  I call in sobbing.

To clear my head, I decided to go for a walk-run on a 5K trail in another part of town.  Historically, this doesn't always work in my favor.  A few months back, I made a similar choice and ended up with a fractured elbow. (See "Worst Mom Ever Falls Down And Goes Boom.")  This time, though, I finished with a more peaceful attitude, a fresh perspective and tear-free eyes -- that is, until I got to the parking lot and found my rear passenger window shattered and my purse gone.

Shap.  Shap, shap, shap, shap, sh*%!

I couldn't even think what to do next.  Who to call?  After initially dialing CB, I hung up to call the police.  Shap.  Then CB.  Then "All-Knowing Neighbors."

And suddenly, things began falling back into place.  When the officer arrived, and I glumly said, "Tomorrow will be a better day," he smiled and said, "C'mon now.  Tonight will be a better day."  (To my credit, I didn't even point out the difference between "night" and "day.")

Before the policeman had even finished his report, CB had already ordered a new window and made arrangements -- with Jordan, my new friend, who has no problem with crying women --  for repairs.

"All-Knowing-Neighbors" brought gracious plenty cash.  And the sandwich bags and bread I needed to pack lunches the next day.  And the number to the DMV, so I could get my license replaced.  And wine.  A whole bottle.  It's hard to say which was more needed.

"Beloved Family" called and sympathized, saying to me what I'd been preaching to the kids all week, "Not to worry.  You're strong.  You're smart.  You can handle this.  It'll be OK."

So I cancelled the credit cards, notified my bank, and tried to think of what else had been in my purse.  (Duh.  Health insurance cards.  Two prescriptions -- one filled and one not.  An unreasonably large check made out to me.  And -- my Costco and Starbucks cards.  Sigh.)

Then, no kidding, some young kid in a button-down and tie shows up in my driveway.  He works for Enterprise Rent-A-Car, and when he stopped for a Big Gulp on his way home from work, he found some of my cards -- including my license -- strewn through the parking lot.  I could've cried.  And I probably did.  I'd already cancelled the credit cards, but still, it just felt good to get some of my stuff back.  And even better to know that someone would be kind enough to bring them back.  Even if I didn't have any cash to give him as a reward.

Turns out the police officer was right.  With the love and support and bank accounts and wine cellars of friends and family -- not to mention the kindness of strangers -- "tonight was a better day."

We're going to be just fine.

Shrimpy Eggs
Tough times call for comfort food.  Wretched times call for comfort food in a hurry -- and nothing's quicker or more satisfying than eggs.  In Charleston, we'd have variations of this dish for breakfast -- based on leftover shrimp from the night before -- but it's also a terrific dinner dish all on its own.

For every two eggs, you'll need ...

1 teaspoon butter or olive oil
4-5 raw shrimp, peeled and cut into bitesize pieces
2 tablespoons chopped red bell pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
fresh ground pepper
1 tablespoon crumbled goat cheese (optional)

Heat butter over medium heat in a medium-sized nonstick skillet.  In hot butter, saute shrimp and bell pepper until shrimp is pink.  Whisk eggs together with salt, pepper and a small splash of water.  Stir into skillet, with chives and goat cheese (if using).  Cook, scrambling, until eggs are done to your likeness.  Count your blessings.  And savor.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Losing It In 2011

It’s Day Two of 2011 --  a.k.a. the “Year of Loss” Chez Wiles --  in which I’ve resolved to lose weight, bad habits, and mental stressors.

I lost it, all right.

My wallet, that is.  Along with my cool, sleep and patience.  (You might think the stress would also cause me to lose my appetite, but that would make it the “Year of Wishful Thinking,” not the “Year Of Loss,” much less the “Year Of Lose Five Pounds By Skipping Dinner And Sharing A Pitcher Of Beer.”)

I don’t mean to whine.  But "shap."*  It’s not that my wallet held much cash.  $40 altogether -- although it was all in $10 bills, which are my very favorite.  (Think about it.  How often do you see a $10 bill? $5s and $20s are much more common.  It somehow feels unfair to spend the under-circulated $10s.)

It’s not even that I’m now without a driver’s license, which can’t be replaced online because the NC-DMV site is down.  It’s not that I’m so distressed about losing my American Express and MasterCard.  I’ve checked online (obsessively) and it doesn’t appear that anyone is partying down on Four Lokos, Slim Jims and Funyuns at my expense.

What’s keeping me up at night and causing me to lose my train of thought before I can key in a complete sentence is all the “extras” that were in the wallet.  My insurance cards.  My Costco card.  My well-worn Starbucks card.  My Taco Mac Brewniversity card.  Christmas receipts.  Doctor’s appointment cards.  And my ex’s Visa card.

Cheri, you’ve got some ‘splaining to do.

It’s one thing, of course, to tell friends and family of my foibles.  It’s another thing altogether to have to ‘splain them to my ex.  Particularly when the credit limit on that single card is likely higher than all of mine together.  Plus a year’s worth of mortgage payments.  And a weekend’s spending at Costco.

Of course, it is the “Year Of Loss,” so it’s entirely apropos that – along with everything else, including my mental faculties -- I should be losing face.

To be fair, he took it well.  He even offered a replacement card.  Which makes me feel like, well, a loser.  Which, considering that I have no idea where my wallet is, I guess I am.


So it probably goes without saying that I’m not including a recipe today.  Yes, I had a great photo of a surprising Sauteed Brussels Sprouts.  And I’m very happy with my new Bison Chili Recipe.  And I just know folks will love my Cranberry Spinach Salad  Recipe.  But at this moment in time, I can’t lay my hands on any of them.

You win some, you lose some.  Welcome to 2011 Chez Wiles.

*"Shap."  "Crap" with an "sh."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I Love To Write. And Cook. And Write.

Son was incredulous right from the start.

When I began writing Feminine Wiles – and at that point, it was more of a daily addiction than a habit – Son asked, without a hint of sarcasm, “Do you get money for this?”

Fair enough. I was a newly divorced, stay-at-home mom. Extra cash would’ve had encountered no speed bumps traversing our welcome mat. I think, though, what Son was asking was, “Why write when you have no teachers, no deadlines and no nosy parent incessantly asking, ‘Is your paper done? Is your paper done?’”

Fair enough. Still, Feminine Wiles served a purpose for me. Any PSYCH-101 student would correctly recognize that writing was an outlet. I was struggling to identify myself and re-define my family. Just as important, writing a blog was a sneaky way to let my family know that I was, indeed, OK. True, I just wasn’t so good about speaking to them. Still, I was “writing” to them.

Look. I love my family. Nevertheless, I’ve never been one to share my inner-psyche workings. And navigating the divorce sucked away every random bit of my MC-squared. It took everything I could muster to take care of Son and Darling Daughter and me. I had no energy left to bear the kindness of strangers – much less that of family. Feminine Wiles was a way to assure my family that I was, indeed, “OK.”

Every now and again, I’d get a bit of recognition– a kind comment on my blog, a mention in the newspaper, some new subscribers. And again, Son have to ask, “Are you getting paid for this now?”

Nope. Still not. I’ve worked through the divorce. I’ve re-defined my family. I’m back to talking to my family (although not as often as I should). Turns out I just like to write. And I’m not alone.

Yesterday was “I Love To Write” Day. No kidding.  And hoo boy, I do love to write. I love to write emails on behalf of clients. I love to write text messages to my kids. I love to write Feminine Wiles. I even like writing recipes. The second edition of Feminine Wiles: The Cookbook is sufficient evidence of that. Still, I’m always somewhat inhibited at the start.

Take this recipe for Herbed Cream Cheese. I’ve made it for years. Loved it for years. Shared it for years. But even now, as I key it in, I wonder: Is it clear? Does it sound overwhelming? Is it sufficiently descriptive?  Is it easy to follow?

And I hear Son asking, “Do you get paid for this?”

I guess, in a way, the answer is, “Absolutely.”

Just not in dollars.

Herbed Cream Cheese (Mock Boursin)

I make quarts of this every holiday season, because it keeps so well and is always so welcomed. One year, I even packed it in crocks and gave it out as gifts with small serving knives and baguettes. I don’t know that a holiday gift has ever been so well-received! 

1 lb. cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 lb. unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon each dried basil, marjoram, dillweed and thyme
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper and ground cayenne pepper
2 large cloves of garlic, minced or grated

Beat together all ingredients until well combined. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Bring to room temperature before serving with sliced bread or crackers. (Keeps well – a week or longer!)

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.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Another New Year. Another New Year's Resolution. Bring On The Potatoes Au Gratin.

Yes.  I have a calendar.  An up-to-date one, at that.  But like so many stay-at-home-moms, my “New Year’ didn’t begin until today – the day the kids returned to school.  And holy educational system, Batman – this was one rocky day.  Cranky, tired, disorganized and unfocused.  And I’m guessing the kids’ day wasn’t much better.

I’m sheerly overwhelmed by the “things to be done” – the undecorating, the clutter-clearing, the return-to-schedule.  Not to mention, of course, the “New Year’s Resolutions.”  (Seriously, am I the only one who imagines that bellowed in a deep, echoing, theatrical voice?)

According to (whose slogan, “Government Made Easy” makes them a wee bit suspect), the most popular New Year’s resolutions are:

Lose weight
Manage debt
Save money
Get a better job
Get fit
Get a better education
Drink less alcohol

Hmm.  Plainly, I don’t need to draft my own list, because that one is pretty much on target.  Check, check, check, check, check, check and -- sigh --  check (except for sangria, natch).

Post-holiday time is already rife with “things to do.”  Do we really need to add to that list just because yet another 12-month period has begun?

Besides, in some ways, I began my own “new” year several months back when I became divorced.  I’ve got plenty on my plate – plenty that no one would ever want to see itemized.  Like, “call school to explain change in marital status.”  Or, “find reasonable health insurance as unemployed homemaker.”  Or how about, “learn to recognize when you’re being hit on.  And not."

Honest.  It’s harder than you'd think.

Nevertheless, I do have my own list of “good intentions” for 2010, and perversely, most of them coincide with the items listed on  Turns out, I’m just another common citizen.

But given the rocky start to my own New Year, I’m going to ease in.  I did go to the Y today (check, “get fit”) and I did not drink sangria tonight (check, “drink less alcohol”), and I even considered spending the next month as a vegetarian.

The following recipe, however, probably won’t help me accomplish that top goal, “lose weight.”  But holy potato, Batman, it is so very good and easy – and makes for a much easier return home from that first day back to school.

Simply Sublime (and Sublimely Simple) Potatoes Au Gratin
It's hard to believe that something so decadent is so simple to make.  You can dress these up, I suppose, using fresh thyme or minced garlic or half gruyere and half parmigiano-reggiano.  A little zip of cayenne wouldn't be out of place either, but basically, all you need is butter, potatoes, cheese and cream.  Yum.

2 tablespoons butter
3 medium sized baking potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly
1 cup (about ¼ lb.) gruyere cheese, grated
1 cup cream
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper
½ teaspoon ground thyme

Preheat oven to 350.  Use 1 tablespoon butter to grease bottom of medium sized baking dish.  Place one layer of potatoes (not overlapping) on bottom of dish.  Top with 1/3 cup cheese.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, thyme (and, if you’re feeling fancy, 1 minced clove garlic).  Repeat layering (except for thyme and garlic) two more times.  Pour cream over all, and bake for 1 hour, until browned and bubbling.  Remove from oven and let rest 15-20 minutes before serving.  Eat extravagantly.  No need for meat.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Love and Warmth From The Wiles. Kind Of.

Dear Friends and Family,

Depending on how you look at it, mea culpa (“my bad”) or pulvis vos felicis  (“aren’t you lucky?”).  I haven’t sent a holiday letter since 2006 – mostly because I was caught up in the complications and cussings of divorce.  Truthfully, ours was as amicable as a divorce could be.  No courtrooms.  No surprise witnesses.  No machetes.  It was final last April, and as one of the kids put it, “Divorce sucks, but we’re better than we ever thought we could be a year ago.”  Truly, we’re all fine – every one.  However, there have been plenty of goings-on Chez Wiles, so I’ll try to catch you up.

The kids are great.  Snarky Son's now in high school, which he has embraced like some kind of prickly brick wall.  Turns out, ninth grade’s a lot tougher than eighth.  Shocking.  Over Christmas break, he’s taking drivers’ ed.  I’m not worried a bit and you shouldn’t be, either.  Well, not until March, I guess.  That’s when he actually turns 15.  Now that SS is a teenager, I’m also pleased to report that he and Darling Daughter (DD) have grown a lot closer.  At one point this fall, he told her, “You’re not unattractive, you know.”  Sigh.  Just about brings tears to your eyes, right?

DD's in seventh grade and is playing basketball.  Despite being one of the (very) tallest girls on the team, she’s spending a lot of time at point guard.  Either her previous coaches have overlooked an undeniable talent, or this current team is a wee bit short on ballhandlers.  Hard to tell.  She went to summer camp this past year for four weeks.  Surprising how quickly her letters turned from, “I want to come home” to “can I stay another four weeks?”  Again, just about brings tears to your eyes, right?

DD had to come home, though, because there’s some sort of “no felines” rule at her camp, and although she might get over me, there was no getting over her 12-pound-cat, Lionel, who likely believes his name to be, “you’re an indoor cat, you’re an indoor cat, you’re an indoor cat,” which is what I say to him, over and over.  Every.  Single.  Day.

We have a new addition to our household.  (C’mon, now.  Don't even go there.  Remember that I’m 47 and single.)  In February, Josie-the-rescue-dog came to live with us.  She’d had parvo and been starved nearly to death, so mostly what she wants from us is to be fed and loved.  Here’s what we want from her:  To leave the #%$@* cat alone.  Every.  Single.  Day.

I’m still a stay-at-home-mom (I told you the divorce was amicable), so my life as cook-driver-sock-finder-poop-picker-upper continues.  I have, however, been keeping a blog, Feminine Wiles, which I hope you’ll read sometime after the holiday rush slows down.  I try to include a recipe in every post, as well as a funny story.  Or, at least, a story that is funny to me.  To find it, just Google “Cheri Wiles blog” or “Cheri Feminine Wiles.”  Or, try, “master stir fry in peru keep cats in basement.”  No kidding.  Someone once landed on my blog by Googling these very words.  I can't even imagine.

The response to Feminine Wiles has been mixed here at home.  DD says the word “blog” (which actually is short for “web log”) sounds disgusting – like some sort of bodily function.  Nice.  SS's friends actually read it, but what he wants to know is, “Does this mean you’re finally getting paid to write?”  Uh.  No.  But thanks for asking.

Which is all to say that 2009 has treated us just fine, and we all hope it’s treated you just as well -- or in some instances (poop-scooping comes to mind) even better.

Much love and happy holidays,


P.S.  If you need a great coffeecake for Christmas morning, I've got an idea that's a snap. Note that you've got to assemble it the night before and pop it in the oven the next morning.  As unlikely as it sounds, it always turns out perfect.

Butterscotch Monkey Bread

1 bag frozen parkerhouse style rolls
1 (small) box butterscotch pudding (not instant)
1 cup pecans, chopped
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup butter

The night before, spray bundt pan with nonstick coating.  Place frozen rolls in pan.  Pour dry pudding mix over rolls and sprinkle with pecans.  Combine brown sugar and butter in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Drizzle hot mixture over frozen rolls and cover pan loosely with plastic wrap.  Leave pan out on counter overnight.

The next morning, preheat oven to 350.  Rolls will have risen, doubling or tripling in size.  Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes.  Let cool slightly and pass the napkins!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Name Game -- Fun For Kids And Adults Alike!

They call me “Mrs. Wiles.” 

Or “Ms. Wiles.”  Or “Cheri.”  And sometimes, “Miss Cheri.”

Turns out, the name game is pretty complicated -- and as I get older, increasingly so.

Expectant parents can spend three entire trimesters debating the merits of family names versus uncommon names, versus distinctive names versus flat-out convoluted, how-do-you-pronounce-that, how-did-you-come-up-with-that names.  Even after you narrow it down, you still have to take into account the “playground factor.”  Sorry, mommies- and daddies-to-be, but you should be aware that there are unflattering words that rhyme with “Bart.”  And “Rick.”  And “Belle.”  And “Cam.”  And although those words may not leap to the mind of a 36-year-old, they certainly do to a six-year-old.  Trust me.

Even pet names are controversial.  Local radio personality Sheri Lynch last week told the story of a dog with the unfortunate moniker, “Mommy.”  Really, I’ve got nowhere to go with that.  But I think my kids would agree that one “Mommy” per household ought to be the legal limit.  And there are days when even that seems excessive. 

Currently, the pet names Chez Wiles have musical roots.  Our rescue dog, Josie, is named for a blink-182 song.  Our cat Lionel, with the Mike Tyson personality, is actually the namesake of Lionel Richie, formerly of the Commodores.  Funny, too, that we’d choose tuneful names, when not one of us could carry a tune if it were handed to us in a gift-wrapped box.  In a shopping bag.  With a handle.

Post-divorce, the name game has only grown trickier.  Previously, the rules were pretty straightforward.  My children know to address adults by the appropriate title and the appropriate last name, e.g., Mr. and Mrs. Pitt.  The only exception would be for close family friends, whom the kids could call by their first name, as long as it was preceded by the appropriate title, e.g., Mr. Brad and Miss Angelina.

Problems crop up, though, as a single parent considers dating.  You’ve got to think short-term and long-term.  Several years after her divorce, my own mom was lucky enough to marry a wonderful man whom we’d known for years and I’d called “Uncle.”  But as my stepfather, could I call him “Uncle”?  Ewww.

And how should my own kids refer to someone I date?  "Mr. Damon"?  (Ahem.  It's my blog isn't it?)  If we married, they’d be stuck calling their stepfather by a needlessly formal name.  But "Mr. Matt" seems silly, too, right?  On the other, other hand, saying, “Hey Matt, where are y’all going tonight?” the first time they meet a Hollywood movie star seems presumptuous.  (Again, don’t judge me.  I’m just saying...)

And what about me?  Am I Cheri?  Am I Ms. Wiles?  I’ve been told I should be offended when someone calls me Mrs. Wiles, but I was Mrs. Wiles for so long that I don’t even notice it.  But to be called that by the kids of someone I’m dating?  Umm.  Awkward.

Maybe it would be best to go with the “call me whatever you want, but don’t call me late for dinner” approach.  As long as dinner is something as satisfying as this Chicken Chili.  Or is it White Chili?  Well, you can’t really call it “White,” because there are tomatoes in it.  Maybe “White Bean Chili" ...

Whatever.  Just call it dinner.

Chicken Chili With White Beans
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, chopped
4 large cloves of garlic, minced

4-6 cups chicken broth (hold aside 2 cups to be used as needed)
1 14-oz. can diced tomatoes (I prefer the “petite” dice)
1 12-ounce bottle beer (optional)

2 tablespoons chili powder (or more to taste)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
¼ cup chopped fresh basil

6 grilled chicken breasts, chopped (could also use thighs)

3 14-oz. cans cannellini beans

In a large pot (with lid) sauté onions over medium heat with olive oil.  When onions are translucent, stir in garlic and continue sautéing for about five minutes.

Stir in liquids, spices and chicken.  Don't taste it at this point.  It will taste like an culinary experiment gone bad.  You've got to be patient.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer (with lid) for 1-2 hours, stirring occasionally.  (It takes this long for flavors to meld.)  Stir in undrained cans of beans, and simmer another 30-40 minutes.  Add additional broth if needed.  Before serving, check seasoning.  Depending on the freshness of your spices and how “hot” you like it, you may need more of everything – including salt.  Serve hot.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

I'm OK, But Could Someone Tell Me What To Do About This Bathroom Paint?

Crap.  (Sorry, Mom.)

When I pulled into the driveway a few days ago, a 20-foot tree limb blocked my usual parking spot.  Again.  Only a few weeks ago another sizable branch had plunged to the lawn, just a few feet from this one, leaving a significant divot.

Even though an arborist trimmed the deadwood last fall, these things happen -– particularly with the recent blustery, wet weather we’ve had here in Charlotte.  It doesn’t take a seventh grader to know that a spongy, dry, dead branch soaks up a LOT more weighty water than a healthy, impervious, well-attached branch.

Big whoop.  I know where the pruning saw is.  I’ll hack the thing into somewhat more manageable pieces, drag them to the street and pray to God no one witnesses my ineptitude.  That sawing business, I learned last time, is a lot easier, not too mention a lot more fun, when done by other people.  Try though I may, I’ll never achieve that hopped-up, blurry sawing technique demonstrated so effortlessly by the likes of Wile E. Coyote, Foghorn Leghorn, Jerry the Cat and other Saturday morning friends.

The downed branch is a reminder though, that since I’m no longer married, I'm the one in charge.  Of everything.

When the gutters overflow, when the cat mounts a successful escape, when the basement freezer holding 10 meals worth of Folly Beach shrimp defrosts while we’re out of town, when a baby possum dies (disintegrates and practically dissolves) under the house in 90 degree heat, when the master bathroom paint puckers and peels off in name-that-state-shaped latex sheets, it’s all on me. 

I’m "da man."

When you’re married, there’s a certain division of labor.  There’s also a division of knowledge (you know when the car needs new tires, I know when to schedule teacher conferences) and even a division of worry (you worry about saving for college, I’ll worry about our 14-year-old staying out until midnight).   But for nearly two years now, there's been no division.  More like multiplication.

True, I’ve always been fairly independent.  OK, when I was little, I don't think my teachers used the word "independent."  But "bossy" rings a bell.   And perhaps, "doesn't play well with others."  But what I can’t get used to is that I no longer have someone to run my ideas and decisions by.  (“Does this make me look fat?”  “What do you think of this paint color?”)  

On the upside, I guess, I don’t have anyone to run my ideas and decisions by.  ("Hmm.  I want a cat.  Oh looky there.  I got a cat.")

Like dinner tonight.  I like chicken.  But we had chicken last night.  (Panko-Crusted Chicken With Lemon and Dill, recipe to come).  Still, as I said, I like chicken.  And it's my decision.  So guess what’s cooking Chez Wiles tonight?

Yep.  I'm just fine.  But could someone else take a look at this bathroom paint?

Chicken Roll-Ups with Proscuitto & Sage 
My kids love this dish.  It looks special and fun, but is very easy to make, using very few ingredients.  Feel free to substitute herbs (maybe basil or rosemary) or try Virginia ham or pepperoni in place of the proscuitto.  I often serve it with Thyme-Scented Lemon Rice.)

Three boneless chicken breasts, pounded to 1/2 thickness
three fresh sage leaves
three very thin slices proscuitto
zest of one lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
1-2 tablespoons butter
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper
1/4 cup chicken stock
1/4 dry white wine (or 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice)
1 tablespoon capers

Sprinkle each flattened chicken breast with salt, pepper and lemon zest.  Center one sage leaf on each chicken breast (smooth side down).  Lay proscuitto on top. Roll up, fairly tightly from narrow end up.  Secure with toothpicks.

Heat oil and butter in a large skillet (with a lid) over medium high heat.  Brown chicken roll-ups, until browned fairly evenly on all sides.  Reduce heat to low, place lid on skillet, and cook until juices run clear when pricked with a toothpick (about 10 minutes).  

Remove chicken from skillet and deglaze pan with stock and wine.  Stir in capers.  

Slice roll-ups in 1/2 inch slices and pour sauce over.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Cancel The Pity Party. Start The Stir Fry.

I’m a terrible procrastinator.  In the evening, when I’m trying to dodge mundane responsibilities -- like fixing dinner --– my postponement tool of choice is my Mac.  I’ll check e-mail, the school website, Facebook, Twitter, ESPN,  Whatever. (Hard to believe, but I still have the gall to wonder where my kids get it.)

As I postponed the inevitable a few nights ago, I scanned the screen for new messages, cringing as I read the e-mail subject line: Click Here To View Your Evite.  I didn’t need to “click here.”  I knew what it was.  And frankly, party invitations don’t hold the appeal they once did.

In this case, it was one of the grade level "socials" held for parents at my kids' school.  And although benignly labeled as “socials,” there’s one sentence that appears on every invitation, every year, betraying the actual event: This is not a school-sponsored event.

That’s right, folks.  They won't be serving lime sherbet punch and Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies. So you know I'm gonna be there.  With bells on.  And a wine glass.

Honest. I know the food will be great and the company better.  It’s always a fun night  -- entertaining, relaxing and best of all, wildly informative.  I"ll get to hear about classmate crushes, classroom hijinks, and if I'm really lucky, stuff about my own kid –- which is all the more valuable when your son or daughter is going through a tight-lipped phase.  Or a tight-lipped lifetime.

A couple of times, I’ve even been responsible for planning these soirees, so I’ve also got a good idea of what the crowd will look like.  Couples.  Couples.  Couples.  And me.

Hey – it’s not their fault I’m divorced.  And the God’s honest truth is that for the past two years, my friends have been supportive in ways I never could’ve anticipated or requested.  Awesome and awe-inspiring, really.  But still, things like these social are now suddenly awkward.  For me and for them.  I feel it the instant I step over the threshold.  Solo.

Sigh.  I decide not to "click here" to view my Evite.  It can wait.  Besides, while I was busy slipping into a funk, another e-mail popped up – this one from a Wry Mom Friend who’s funny, observant, irreverent and always click-worthy.

I click away.  Turns out, WMF wants to know if I’d like to ride with her and her hubbie to the Social.  Dang.  So much for my pity party.  It's hard to feel sorry for yourself when you’ve got such thoughtful friends.  

Constantly and consistently, during my separation, divorce and the aftermath, my friends are always somehow, invisibly, right beside me, showing themselves when I need them most – with a surprise birthday lunch, a Valentine treat, a supportive card, a carpool offer, an encouraging e-mail, dinner when the kids are with their dad, and when the occasion calls for it (and really, what occasion doesn’t?) -- a lovely bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

I don’t yet know what I’m going to do about the Social.  But I do know that that one thoughtful e-mail propelled me out of my computer chair and over to the stove to get dinner done – a super quick, super easy and nutritious stir-fry – thanks to my friends, visible and not.

Beef And Vegetable Stir-Fry

You can do this with chicken, shrimp or pork.  I used beef because I had a single steak in the freezer that needed to be used.  When you use pre-cut, cleaned vegetables, the dish comes together very quickly.

1 12-oz bag raw, stir-fry vegetables (the brand I use, Eat Smart, includes broccoli, snow peas and carrots)
¼ cup water
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 large filet mignon steak, sliced very thinly, into bite-sized pieces
1 clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon grated fresh ginger (or ginger paste)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon cornstarch
½ cup water
3 cups freshly cooked, hot rice

In a large, heavy-duty lidded skillet, steam vegetables with ¼ cup water, until colors become bright, but vegetables are still crisp.  Drain and keep on a separate platter.

Heat oil in skillet over very high heat.  Quickly sauté steak and garlic, until steak is no longer completely pink.  Stir in steamed vegetables and stir fry another minute or so.

In a measuring cup, combine ½ cup water, soy sauce, cornstarch and ginger.  Pour over meat and vegetables, stirring until sauce is clear and thickened.

Serve over hot rice.  Pass additional soy sauce to taste.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Memory Game. (Curried Couscous with Cranberries and Pinenuts)

If I were still married, today would be my 24th wedding anniversary.

But I’m not, and it isn’t.
Not that today is particularly difficult or regretful for me. (Truly, there’s no pity partying Chez Wiles. I don’t need Kleenexes – or even sangria.) Today is just ... different.

I’m 46 years old, which means that for over half my life August 24 has held special significance. True, I’m now divorced, but none of those fiercely-contested -- or more nicely put, "not-coolly-discussed" -- court documents can spackle that particular groove in my memory.

Part of what I’m dealing with, of course, is simple emotion. Today's date evokes memories of both failure and success. The failure is obvious -- the demise of my marriage; however, severing that tie didn't obliterate the success came from it -- most notably my two remarkable children.

I won't ever be able to think of August 24 as just another day. Consequential dates aside, though, I believe other numbers can take on special significance, too, sometimes clogging and slowing the synapses of our minds.

How else to explain that I still remember the number of my PO box at the University of South Carolina in 1980? (81355, in case you wondered.) I also recall my college checking account number – 1107 4820 – at C&S Bank (which begat NationsBank which begat Bank of America.) I’m now a BoA customer, but when face-to-face with the teller at my neighborhood branch, I struggle to recall my current account number. More than once, I’ve proffered my outdated number. Why does this ancient information continue to occupy valuable brain space a quarter of a century later?

Smokey, my childhood cat, succumbed to feline leukemia before I went to college, but I remember her birthday still -- July 13. To be precise, Friday the 13th. (It was also my next door neighbor Dow’s birthday.) From high school, I remember Karen’s, Kellie’s, Lisa’s and Sharon’s birthdates. And Greg’s and Thomas’s. I feel badly that I can't dredge up Joan’s.

I can also name every single one of my grade school teachers. Unless you’re willing to pay up, don’t test me, because I’m not the slightest bit shaky. My first phone number was 795-2074. The last four digits of my current phone number are 4278, which I first learned by memorizing that four times two isn’t seven, it’s eight. I know. Whatever.

Wouldn’t my mind be better served by being able to recall useful information? Every August, I need to supply the kids’ social security numbers to their school. And every year, I have to look them up. And what about health insurance numbers? Wouldn’t I be better stashing those in my mind? Perhaps replacing the measurements for a perfectly proportioned quiche? After all, who eats quiche anymore? (Other than me.)

We can’t “pick” our memories, of course. Who knows what will stay and what will wash away with tomorrow’s wave of events? And who’s to say that, 20 years from now, one of the kids won’t say, remember that night we had lamb and couscous right before school started? Remember that stupid thing you said?

Time to get started on some new memories, I suppose. But first, I need to get the lamb on the grill. And put together a batch of cranberry-pinenut-couscous, which may be the quickest sidedish known to mankind. Or, at least, to me. So far as I can remember.

Curried Couscous with Cranberries and Pinenuts
1 cup uncooked couscous
1 ¼ cup chicken broth
¼ teaspoon curry powder
1 handful dried cranberries (Craisins), coarsely chopped
1 handful pinenuts, lightly toasted
handful of fresh parsley, minced

In a medium saucepan, bring chicken broth and curry powder to a boil. Stir in couscous, cover, and remove from heat. Let stand about five minutes (until broth is absorbed). Fluff with a fork, and lightly stir in cranberries, pinenuts and parsley. Ta-dah. You’re done!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Looks As If I Need To Make My Own Luck

I am, without a doubt, a see-a-penny-pick-it-up, jinx-you-owe-me-a-Coke, lift-your-feet-over-the-railroad-tracks kind of girl.  (I still raise my feet at the railroad crossing by South Windermere in Charleston -- even though those tracks were extricated years ago.)

I have limits, of course.  Despite having a baseball player in the house, I've never indulged in the lucky-unwashed-socks, inside-out-dorky-looking-rally-cap, jockstrap-over-the-head approach to altering life's courses.  Given my age and gender, that's better for all of us.

Still, for much of my life I've felt "luck" was on my side.  I'm somewhat embarrassed to consider how many times I've said, verbatim, I am the luckiest person I know.

I have been lucky -- particularly when it comes to lovable, quick-minded, fun-to-be-with, thought-provoking kids  Before them, I had a career where people paid me -- really good money -- to do what I loved.  Even my recent divorce wasn't as dreadful as it could have been.  We never showed our faces in court.  And I was never arrested for slashing his tires with a machete.  (Just a fantasy.  No reason.)

Still, I can't say I've felt terribly lucky as of late.  Maybe part of luck has to do with perspective.  So here's the question:  Do we make our own luck?

I used to think I was lucky.  And I was.  Then, I didn't think I was lucky, and well, tah-dah -- that's what the inside of the crapper looks like.

Then again, maybe I am.  That Rembrandts' song I adored, but no one else ever listened to 15 years ago (Just The Way It Is, Baby)?  It was playing in a neighborhood shop recently.  Carole King's You've Got A Friend popped up on the radio a few days later.  A vacationing friend asked me to keep an eye on her pool this weekend, and sure enough, it's 78 and sunny.  And get this -- the dill I planted a month ago, with zero expectation of it surviving?  It's thriving.  (See my post, "Hope Springs".)

In the novel I'm currently reading, American Wife (ironic, I know), the main character, apropos of nothing, makes lentil salad.  Although I've never tasted such a thing, I couldn't get it out of my mind.  I determined to make it today.  How hard could it be?  Lentils, some seasoning, fresh veggies and a piquant vinaigrette.

I can't get enough of lentils.  I wasn't looking forward to cooking them, though.  It's already hot and sticky outside, and I didn't want to make the house hotter and stickier still.  Nevertheless, preparing lentils is pretty basic.  Simmer gently in a simple broth including a rib of celery, a carrot and a bay leaf.  Don't season until they're done.  I could handle that.

I headed to my beloved Trader Joe's for ingredients.  Cuke and tomatoes?  Check.  Feta cheese (in brine)?  Natch.  But look at this -- right there on the bottom shelf, where no one would ever think to look -- pre-cooked beluga black lentils. Are you kidding?  Serendipity!

The tiny, tender lentils look like little black pearls.  And there are only two bags.  Sold.  Looks as if I will, indeed, be having lentil salad tonight.  The salad would be great, too, with a slab of grilled salmon.  But I won't press my luck.  I'm doing just fine as it is.

Lentil Salad

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon (maybe more, depending on the saltiness of the feta) kosher salt
1 tablespoon fresh chopped dill
fresh ground pepper

3 cups gently cooked lentils (preferably black beluga or French green)
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 of an English cucumber, peeled and diced
20 grape tomatoes, halved

In a large bowl, whisk together vinaigrette ingredients -- oil, lemon juice, salt, dill and pepper.

Gently stir in remaining ingredients.  Serve at room temperature.  Omigosh.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

It's Over When It's Over.

I found out today.  I am divorced.

Not a shocker, I know.  My (now) ex-husband and I separated over a year ago.  We submitted ourselves to three excruciating days of mediation seven months ago.  We (and by "we," I mean the royal "we" -- our lawyers) finalized and stamped the necessary reams of paperwork a few weeks back.

Then, the way it works (at least here in NC), you can send everything to a judge.  You don't have to show up in court.  Bizarre to think that marriage, which begins with so much fanfare and publicity and adulation, can, after 23 years, end with nothing more than the quiet scratching of a 79-cent Bic pen by a grown man wearing a robe.   A week or so later, you get a notice in the mail.  The end.

Better, of course, than pointing fingers, pulling hair and gnashing teeth in a courtroom.  But still.

Frankly, I'm not sure how to feel.  My friends don't know what to say either.  "Congratulations" doesn't sound right.  Ending a marriage -- particularly one that includes two amazing, beautiful, articulate children -- is hardly the occasion for a party.  Even if that party includes sangria.

But my friends and family know that, after enduring and supporting me these past many months, "I'm sorry" isn't appropriate either.

Maybe the one thing I most want to hear is, "I'm still here."  True, the need is no longer urgent.  The kids and I have adjusted and acclimated and agree that we're much better now than we ever could've imagined a year ago.  We have routines.  We have friends.  We have fun.

As one similarly divorced friend put it, "It's OK.  Just different."

Still, our emotions seem to have the flickering consistency of a candle on a windowsill.  But how much of that is this and how much of that is that?  After all, we're all hormonal in this household.  The kids, in their pubescent ways.  And me, in my, well, hormonal way.  It's just life as we know it.

This week, as I awaited the news, has been unexpectedly difficult.  I've not been my best self.  Fortunately, there were few opportunities for me to act on the emotions I was trying to wrestle.  Had circumstances been presented differently, I could've been that mom -- you know, the one who is told by the ump to leave the baseball game for bad behavior or the one who backends the other mom in the carpool line.  Lucky for me, I made it through.  I don't know how I could've explained jailtime to my kids.

And although I'd never want to go through it again, I learned a lot this past year.  I honestly never realized how many remarkable friends I have -- or how strong and supportive and intuitive they are.  I'm somewhat embarrassed that it took a crisis for me to recognize their depth and perceptiveness.

I learned that my kids are more fragile and vulnerable than you'd ever imagine.  And they learned that they are more resilient and resourceful and capable than anyone ever knew.

I learned a couple of new words, "malaka" and "skatouli" -- both very handy when you need to express yourself explosively, without offending bystanders (as long as those bystanders are not Greek).

And I learned, not necessarily proudly, that I can drink an entire bottle of wine on my own in a single evening.  No problem.  (Or no problem that Advil can't help solve.)

In the end, though, we're OK.

There's no recipe tonight.  The kids are with their dad, and after the revelations of the day, I'm craving something I learned to make when I was eight years old -- tuna salad.  Lots of lemon, lots of pickle and chopped celery, some minced onion, barely any mayo, and absolutely no boiled eggs.  Don't forget the salt.

I also put a bottle of champagne in the fridge.   Not that I'm celebrating the divorce.  I'm celebrating that I'm still here.  And doing just fine.

And if you're reading this, then I thank you.  I couldn't have done it without you.

xxx ooo

Monday, February 23, 2009

Comfort Food (Sausage Pasta)

Although I'd been a copywriter for years, as recently as one year ago I could not have written a blog. Not that I didn't want to. I daydreamed, even fantasized, about it. My husband of 22+ years had moved out. Our children felt eviscerated and humiliated, our family was stunned, and our friends didn't know which way to turn. I had to hire a lawyer and got to hire a therapist.

I wanted to write -- even felt it would be cathartic -- but my thoughts were tainted. The topics that came to mind were either piteous or vitriolic or both. My fingertips on a keyboard would have been venomous. Satisfying in one way, perhaps, but not my style.

What I could do, of course, was cook. And luckily for me, the kids wanted me to cook. Despite earlier claims, they couldn't live by Chick Fil A alone (at least not more than once a day). Not surprisingly, they wanted comfort food.

"Comfort food" varies from person to person and family to family, of course. Neither meatloaf nor mac 'n' cheese nor lasagna makes the top 10, or even top 25, cut for my son or daughter. Nope. They want "sausage pasta." Although not imaginatively named, it's the one dish they regularly request. It's the one that they'll always choose -- knocking the beloved Chick Fil A out of the ring. Even when they have friends for sleepovers, where pepperoni pizza is de rigueur and "real" food disdained, "sausage pasta" is allowed. It transcends teen and pre-teen dining requirements.

My son recently had a school assignment requiring him to write about a food that evokes powerful memories for him. I was honored that he wrote about my "sausage pasta," which I'll serve again tonight. Here's the recipe he included in his essay:

Sausage Pasta

3 links sweet Italian sausage, grilled and sliced
3/4 pounds penne pasta
3 cups broccoli flowerettes
1 lemon, zested
1 can chicken broth
1/2 cup cream
red pepper flakes
sea salt and pepper

Cook penne pasta according to package directions. About one minute before pasta is done, add broccoli. Cook additional minute, then drain well and return to pot. Gently stir in cream and lemon zest. Stir in sliced sausage and broth as needed. Season to taste with oregano, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper and juice from zested lemon. Eat. Enjoy.