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The Ghetto Barista September 8, 2012

Posted by J. in Domesticity, Genius, Other People's Genius.
Tags: , , , , ,
4 comments

Iced coffee, man.

I love this stuff.

I could drink it all day, and don’t think I haven’t.

My friend, the inimitable and inestimable Yorkie posted a link to my Facebook wall from the Pioneer Woman blog about the making of cold brewed coffee. Cold brewed, you say? What is this sorcery? Yorkie shares my love of this crack in a glass and was wondering my opinion of it. I decided to give it a try.

All I know is that from the gorgeous, slick photos, I was sure it was easy and mess-free to do and I’d have iced coffee in no time.

It was kinda easy. It was far from mess-free. And it took so long to make that I got a caffeine headache waiting for it. It was also the best goddamned iced coffee I’ve ever had that didn’t come from the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru.

I tweaked a few things, and you can be sure there will be no high-glossy photos of a pristine kitchen, a large glass dispenser with a brass spigot, or special tubs purchased from the restaurant supply store. Cheesecloth? I’m not buying cheesecloth. We roll a little differently here in the Upper Village, so I used what I had on hand. You can, too.

Here in an honest summary is how I make the Pioneer Woman’s best iced coffee in the world. Trust me, I’m not luring you in with any false sense of marthastewartness here. It gets messy and it takes awhile. Know that. But it’s worth it.

The first thing you do is simple. You dump a pound of coffee in a big container and pour two gallons of cold water over it. Right here is where I digress. That is the ratio. I use a 12-oz. bag of coffee, so I add 1 1/2 gallons of cold water. Half a pound? One-gallon. You get the idea.  Some folks don’t need two gallons of iced coffee in the fridge. Sitting there. Tempting them. Luring them in with its dark, rich, beauty…

I’m sorry. Where was I?

I do this step before I go to bed. I also do this before I’m out of coffee. I mean this part. If you rely on coffee to get your brain and heart going in the morning, don’t wait to do this until you’re out of coffee. Don’t use you last bag of coffee to “give this a shot.” It’s dreadful. Trust me. Don’t starve the monkey.

I use my biggest mixing bowl, dump the coffee in and stir in the water. My bowl only holds 1.5 gallons of water, so it’s like it was meant to be. Cover it and put it in the fridge overnight. Or for 8 hours. A long time. This is not a quick project.

In the morning, you will have a lovely, thick, gritty, sludge.

Thick, gritty, coffee sludge. Steeped and ready to be strained.

Now, it needs to be strained. Gotta get all those coffee grounds out of there. There are many methods. Basically, you need something to act as a fine filter and something to hold that filter. After I posted this to my wall, people told me all the ways they do it. Cheesecloth in a strainer. Paper towels in a strainer. A doubled bed sheet put right in the container before mixing, then lifted out after steeping.

Me, I found the fastest way (because it’s all about shaving time off this step) is coffee filters. I have two tall pitchers and I set my coffee filter basket with a filter in it on top of the pitcher. I used to use my fine mesh sieve for this other pitcher but it didn’t work as well for some reason. However, just yesterday my old coffee maker went tits up so I kept the basket and now I have two. Sweet!

Picture me behind the camera tapping my foot impatiently during this step.

I use my measuring cup to scoop out a bunch of coffee making sure to get lots of grounds. I don’t know why, but the coffee strains faster if there are lots of grounds in the filter. I scoop up from the bottom so the filter is full of coffee grounds. This is also where you want to be careful. Make sure the steeped coffee with the grounds doesn’t go into the strained stuff.

Oh, the strained stuff. Black gold. Pure, strong coffee, already chilled and ready-to-drink. I don’t have a fancy decanter. I have an empty milk jug.  It’s not fancy, but it does the job.

Black, liquid gold in my “special coffee decanter”.

Now, to prepare it. You make it any old way you like your coffee. In lieu of having a central line put in just for my caffeine intake, I use a mason jar. Yes, it goes from a used milk jug to a canning jar for a glass. I told you, we’re not fancy folks here. I use what I have. And it’s genius. Here’s why.

Put ice in the mason jar. Add sugar. Pour in coffee. Add cream. PUT THE LID ON AND SHAKE THE FUCK OUT OF IT. Yeah, there you go. Your sugar gets mixed in completely. You can stir it in a glass until the cows come home, but you know you still get some gritty sugar through the straw at first. Tell you what, though. You shake it in a glass jar and you get the frothiest, creamiest, coldest iced coffee that has ever been though up.

Take the lid of and stick a straw in.

It’s heaven.

Getting to heaven is messy bidness.

And once your coffee has been consumed, you can tackle the mess. I deal with sloshed over  coffee, and grounds stuck to everydamnedthing. I’ve dirtied two pitchers, a measuring cup, a bowl, two coffee filter baskets and a mixing spoon.  But don’t worry. I will pay my husband the dishwasher off with a cold jar of coffee.

Cheers!

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Ye Are the Salt of the Earth, and Sainted July 22, 2011

Posted by J. in Domesticity, Other People's Genius.
3 comments

Did you ever see the episode of the Vicar of Dibley where a TV show comes to Dibley to film Geraldine’s Sunday service and the verger Alice butchers the reading?  She practices her reading diligently, but when Sunday comes around and she’s reading from the gigantic King James Bible with the old printing where all the s’s look like f’s, she gets confused.  Here, see for yourself.  It’s at about 11:45 in…

Alice:  “The lesson is taken from the sixth chapter of the Song of Solomon, beginning at the second verse.  [reading]  Ye are the fault of the earth and fainted… sainted. God shall feel… seal your endeavours until ye fit on his right hand. Therefore fight the good fight, for his… fake, and he shall be thy fu…

Geraldine:  “SUCCOR!  He shall be thy succour.”

Alice Tinker: “…thy succour.”

Cracks me up every time.  And when we’re being gripped by a heat wave of Biblical proportions, not much makes me chortle.

I have, however, been having a great deal of fun taking screen caps of the weather from Channel 9's website and making them more accurate in both content and sentiment.

So, because it’s been so bloody hot here the past few days, we decided last night to screw the whole thing and go out to supper.  It put us a tad over budget for the week but you know what?  I ate a meal without wanting to puke.

Mostly.

It was cold as a meat locker in Chili’s which was fantastic.  They brought us endless cold drinks, all the chips and salsa we could gag down, and even the kids seemed quite content to sit and enjoy the cool air.

The honey-chipotle chicken crispers were good.  Very spicy and very sweet at the same time–too much for the kiddos to stand, but that was about the only thing on the plate I wanted to eat.  I love salty food, but really Chili’s?  I ate two fries before I couldn’t take the saltiness anymore, and I didn’t even try the corn because I could actually see the salt sparkling on it.

Lest you think I’m singling out Chili’s, this happened at the 99 the last time we ate there.  I had steak tips which really didn’t need to be salty at all, and fries that were caked with salt.

It was off-putting.

What’s the deal with that?  What happened to preparing a meal and letting the customer decide how much salt it needs?  I’m really just sick of chain restaurants.  I think all the food tastes the same, and I’ve pinpointed it to what must be a gigantic container of seasoned salt in the kitchen.

At least I know now to tell the server that I don’t want any extra salt or other seasoning applied to my food when I order.  You watch: next time we go out it will the blandest meal ever.

Eh, I suppose it’s no big deal.  God knows my feet appreciate the lack of salt these days.  Man, when it’s hot and humid my feet swell up like two…swollen things.  They never used to that, then I had Dave and WHAM.  I’m Captain Edema.

Somewhere in the world there’s an 80-year-old woman walking around with my ankles.  Probably eating salt with no repercussions, too.  Fucker.

But, in the category of Salt of the Earth, there are great kindnesses abounding.  Did I mention how fucktastically hot it’s been here for the past couple of days?   When I got up this morning it was 91 degrees in my living room.  I shit you not.  You can have all the fans a’turnin’ you want, but when it’s 90 degrees by mid-morning, it’s like living in a convection oven.  So, I broke down and hauled the AC unit out of the shed, even though I’d been advised against excessive exertion in this kind of weather.

I wonder if the weather department at WMUR would find these funny or not. I bet Mike Haddad would laugh.

I have a love/hate relationship with the air conditioner.  Air conditioning gives me a headache.  I don’t know why.  And luckily I live in a place where the heat comes in during the day but then is chased away at night most of the time.  You can leave the house open with fans going all night, get the  house nice and cool, and when it starts warming up outside during the afternoon, close the house up tight and be good to go until it cools off again.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

But not this week.  And on days like this I like having the AC on full blast and making it cold enough to keep milk fresh on the kitchen counter.  And if I have to pop Advil like I’m eating M&M’s, so be it.  Which is also adding to my giant feet issues, in case you were wondering.

So I hauled the AC out, washed it up and out and got it all shined up nice and wrestled it into the window.  I cranked it on and collapsed, dripping with sweat and basting in my own stank, into my chair.  A few minutes later the phone rings.

“Hey.”  It’s Fr. Albert.  He’s in Lochmere and wants to know if we have any use for a “whomp-ass” air conditioner.  If so, he’ll be backing into my driveway in about ten minutes.

Is a bear Catholic?  Does the Pope shit in the woods?

Not only did he haul in the gigantic AC unit, he put it together, installed it, and even cut a couple of pieces of wood to make sure it wouldn’t budge an inch in the window frame.  It seems one of our summer parishoners decided to stop dicking around with a window unit and had central air installed in her cottage and gave the old one to Father.    And from there it came to us.

And he wasn’t kidding about whomp-ass, either.  It went from 91 degrees to 71 in less than two hours.  It hasn’t gone over 70 in the living room all day even when it got to 110 on the porch this afternoon.

Did I bitch about it being five below zero six months ago? Yeah, probably. Shut up.

And now the smaller unit is in our bedroom so until the nighttime temps drop back down later this weekend, we’ll be cooler upstairs too.  And if you listen real carefully, you can hear the sound of the meter jumping off the side of the house.  I’m trying not to think about what my PSNH bill is going to be next month.

This must be what it’s like to be Paris Hilton.

Stop and Smell the Bacon June 19, 2011

Posted by J. in Domesticity, Genius.
2 comments

June is just an absolute clusterfuck of a month around here.

Mary and Dave have birthdays.  Dad has a birthday.  Father’s Day, last day of school, end of year concerts, awards ceremonies, retirements, graduations, and to top it all off, it’s the very height of the summer social season.  It seems like everyone’s schedules sound just like my family’s, so I know you probably know exactly what I mean when I tell you that quite frankly, I’m exhausted.

I’m sitting here waiting for the bacon in the oven to get nicely crisp so I can add it to the gigantic pasta salad in the fridge and a big pan of onions is caramelizing nicely on the stove in preparation for cooking out later tonight.  It’s magically quiet here;  no TV, no kids, just the drone of someone’s ever-running lawnmower, the sizzle of bacon and onions, and the clackity-clack of the keyboard.  Larry took the kids over to his Dad’s for a visit and in these couple hours of calm and quiet with no kids underfoot and no one needing me for anything, I’m alone with the thoughts in my head.

I’m hoping this quiet productivity is a precursor of the school year to come.  Both girls will be in school all day come August and Dave will be gone for a few hours in the morning every day, so the ability to be productive should increase tenfold.   As it is, as soon as the onions are done and this post is wrapped up, I’m going to run outside to the sunshine and take a bunch of pictures of some more things I have to list.   Craft fair season is coming up quickly!  Old Home Day is the first Saturday of August this year (mark your calendars!) and I’ve already got my sign-up sheet for the BHS fair in November.  I’m hoping to do at least six fairs this year, so I know I have to get busy and stay busy.

But then June as a month has been so busy all on its own, it seems I haven’t had a lot of time to just sit and process all the things going on.  It’s such a time of flux.  Things are ending, things are beginning, time is marching steadily on and I look out the windows at the overgrown greenery in the backyard and realize I’m getting old because it seems like the view out the window was cold and snowy just yesterday.  And I know that the time between in being cold and snowy again is shorter than I think, and I sigh.  Not because I love summer and I’ll miss it, but because the change of seasons seems to speed up when I’m not paying attention.  And I’m not in any rush.

Today, I’m going to finish up these few little projects while the getting is good, and then I’m going to sit back, take stock of a life in flux, and try to remember to smell the flowers while they bloom.

Or the bacon, as the case may be.

If They Could Just Stay Little May 2, 2011

Posted by J. in Domesticity.
4 comments

Today I have to throw away Emmy-Bo’s favorite skort.  For starters, it’s a size 6 and she is an 8.  It’s getting fairly ratty and it’s reached the point of hoochiness on her, even though it has the built in shorts and she wears it with tights.

She had the damn thing on for church yesterday (I didn’t dress her!) and that was the last straw. Here’s hoping she doesn’t miss it, though “I don’t know where it is, Emma” will probably take care of it.  She’ll pick a new favorite to glom onto, I’m sure.

Dressing kids is harder than I thought it would be.  Dressing my dolls was so simple.  Why aren’t babies the same way?  It starts out easily enough.  Then one day you go to put a sleeper on your baby and you realize his toes are curled and he can’t straighten his legs.  Which is weird, since you put that same sleeper on him a few nights earlier and it fit just fine.

How does that happen?  How do they grow out of their clothes overnight?  And why is there no advanced warning?  “Gee, this sleeper is getting to be a bit short on you…”  Nope.  None of that.  One minute it fits fine, the next time he wears it he looks like an overripe tick about to burst.   One day his diapers are fitting fine, the next day there’s a serious amount of cheek hanging out.  One morning his shirts look cute on him, the next day he’s Baby Huey.

*sigh*

It gets harder as they get bigger.  Not the fitting into and growing out of aspect of it, but the refusing to part with something they loooooove because it no longer fits.  “Emma!  That’s my sweatshirt!  Take it off!”

(Me):  “Mary!  The sleeves are three inches too short on you!  It’s hers now!”

Then the foot-stomping, eye-rolling, and exasperated, put-upon, dramatic exhalations ensue.  Good times, good times.

Emma is the queen of re-wearing.  She would wear the same outfit every day if I let her, and will wear said item until it is in tatters.  At least twice a week I have to order her back to the bathroom to pick a different pair of pants because “We’ve been over it a hundred times–you CANNOT wear jeans with holes in both knees to school!  You just CAN’T!”  Maybe she thinks I’m that stupid I won’t notice.  Wouldn’t surprise me.

I think the greatest invention of the 20th century has to be the adjustable elastic-button waistband.   If you’re handy with a sewing machine you can do it yourself, but I don’t have the patience for that.  Basically, the waistband of the pants has a length of buttonhole elastic threaded through it, with a button on the inside of the band.  You pull the elastic as tight as you need it and hook it over the button and you’ve snugged in a too-big waist.  The kid gets bigger, you let it out some.  Pass it on to a younger sibling and snug it in again.

Genius, man.

However, I’m with Jenn in RI in my agreement that fly buttons do not belong on pants designed for children under 6.  Sure, lots of kids have the manual dexterity to work a button.  But that’s an age where getting out of your pants in a timely fashion is key, and when your kindergartener is doing the pee-pee dance and can’t get his button open, well that’s just an accident looking for a place to happen.  Is it so hard to put a snap there?

And why is it that the ugliest clothes my kids own are also their favorites?  Trust me: if Nana found a shirt on clearance that’s a size too small and ugly as sin, the child will adore it and wear it at every opportunity.  It never fails.  Not the sweet top from OshKosh that goes with everything.  Not the hand-knit sweater.  Nope.  Not my kids.

I used to have the energy to get upset at some of the clothing I saw marketed to kids.   One year I tried to school shop for Mary at Kohl’s and I swear it was like shopping for a hooker convention.  I vowed I’d never buy clothes in their girls’ section again, and I haven’t though it’s less a principle thing and more that I personally just don’t like their clothes.

Hindsight being 20/20, I realize that a lot of the pieces they had on display that looked so whore-y only seemed that way because of how they were arranged.  If someone with a lick of taste and/or common sense had paired them in different ways it would have made a huge difference, so I’m forced to wonder if the person putting the displays together was even aware that these were supposed to be for kids. Maybe he/she was confused about who was going to be wearing said ensembles.

I figured out the problem with the clothing choices they were offering a couple of years later.  I guess I was looking at the clothing as individual pieces, or grouped the way the store displayed them, and not thinking outside the box on how to make them work in an age-appropriate way.  Then one day I was watching iCarly and I saw Miranda Cosgrove’s character wearing a camisole over a fitted long-sleeved shirt, and a short pleated skirt over a pair of leggings with high-top sneakers.

If I saw the camisole and the leggings and the skirt featured separately, I’d wonder who’d put those on a child.  But the way they were assembled was a little quirky but fun and certainly appropriate, even for younger girls who want to have the “iCarly look”.

They should hire those stylists to do the displays at Kohls.  Seriously.

I’m really getting to the point that if they’re more or less clean and there’s not too much skin hanging out, I don’t care if they look like rigs.  Is it wrong that I feel like I’m fighting yet another losing battle?  One does get tired of fighting after awhile, and there are so many battles to wage daily.  It’s exhausting.  Honestly, I don’t have the time or the energy or the patience to debate the morality of putting my kids in Disney brand clothing and allowing them to be “walking billboards for corporate America.”

Fuck that.  Dave’s Buzz Lightyear t-shirt is more or less clean and his gut isn’t hanging out of it.  That’s a goddamn WIN in my book.  Advertise away, little man.  I don’t give a sweet shit.

The Insider’s Guide to the 603: Part 2–How’s Your Grinder? April 18, 2011

Posted by J. in Domesticity, FYI, Genius.
7 comments

I’ve been a lot of places and seen a lot of things.  I’ve eaten in truck stops and five-star gourmet restaurants, roadside clam shacks and artisan bakeries.  When you ask me what I remember about the places I’ve been, I might not recall names and faces or where I saw the world’s largest ball of string, but I can tell you what the place tasted like.

I’ve tangled with Louisiana po’boys and dished the hot dish in Minnesota.  I’ve handled handmade tamales in Arizona and licked Kansas City barbeque off my elbows.  I’ve kissed Flo’s grits in Alabama, but when it comes to Rocky Mountain oysters, Poops does have limits to what she’ll put in her mouth.

Of course we live in a fantastic time when I can have Memphis barbeque delivered to my house by lunchtime tomorrow if I really want it.  The local is less “exotic” than it once was, for sure.  I mean, I’m sitting here noshing on a couple of digestive biscuits with my Dunkin’ Donuts coffee because I fell in love with the damn things in Hong Kong.  Now I can get them in my local grocery store, which is a pretty damned awesome development, if you ask me.

Still and all, there are things that will always taste like home, no matter where home is for you.  In fact, even more than familiar sights and sounds, I’d go so far as to say that food is the number one thing that makes me feel like I’m really home.

New Hampshire cuisine is really New England’s cuisine.  We’re a coastal state so fresh Atlantic seafood is easy to come by.  We’re also a colder climate with a short growing season, so root veggies rule the day most of the year and perishables like strawberries and fresh tomatoes are brief, seasonal luxuries.  Real NH maple syrup is expensive but it’s worth every penny to have it dripping down a stack of pancakes on a cold Spring day like this one, and there’s nothing quite like the taste of that first, crisp apple picked right off the tree in the Fall.

So get yourself a nice seat by the window and take a menu.  Your waitress will be right with you.

New England hot dog rolls. Accept no substitutes.

Clam Roll

Fried clam rolls are a northern New England tradition, and we have a very specific way of making them.  The first thing is the clam.  Not clam strips, but whole belly clams are lightly breaded and deep fried until they’re just golden.   Personally, I don’t even need the roll at this point.  Just throw those bad boys into a paper dish and let me at them.

But the roll is important.  First, it has to be a proper New England hot dog roll, without which you’re already off the rails.  Buttered and grilled until crispy and brown on both sides, the roll is spread as wide as a Fall River prostitute and filled to overflowing with the hot, crispy fried clams.

You may go into an establishment offering clam rolls with a piece of lettuce in the roll.  They are probably flatlandahs who opened a restaurant up here and don’t know any better.  Shun them. 

Chowdah

Let’s get this out of the way right now, shall we?

New England Clam Chowder is thick, white and creamy and has clams, chunks of potato, and onions in it.

It doesn’t matter what Manhattan Clam Chowder has in it because it is just stupid.  There.  I’ve said it.  It’s fucking soup.  Or stew.  Or something.  Whatever it is, it’s most decidedly NOT chowder.

Chowdah is always milk and/or cream-based.  If you see a dairy-free chowder on the menu, you’ve stumbled into yet another flatlandah establishment and again, you should make with the shunning.  Maybe throw rocks.

And while clam is far and away the most popular chowder, around here corn chowder is also really popular.  It’s also milk and cream based, as chowder must be, but it’s made with smoky bacon and sweet corn in place of the clams.

Seriously.  Corn and bacon.  What’s not to like?

They may look like something from a nightmare, but if you can get past their scrotal qualities, they are quite good.

Steamahs

Steamers are simply steamed littleneck clams.  Well, I say littleneck, but some places use other varieties of clam.  Up here we tend to prefer the littleneck because they’re sweet and tender.

There are few things easier to cook with such a decadent end result.  You just soak the live clams in fresh water, scrub the shells to get any sand off of them, toss out any that are broken or open and then put them in the clam pot.  Add a bit of water (or liquid…some use wine and I like mine steamed in beer, but to each his own) and bring it to a boil.  When the clams open up, they’re done.  Dump them into a big bowl and serve them with an empty bowl on the side for shells, a small dish of the liquid you steamed them in to rinse them, a small dish of melted butter to dip, and a shitload of napkins.  They pull right out of the shells and then you use your fingernail to grab the bit of skin at the neck and peel it off.  Swish it in the hot water for a rinse and then plop it in the butter.  Slurp them down. 

American Chop Suey

If you’re not from around he-ah, you might call this something else.  But I have no idea what. I posted the recipe the way I make it here, but it’s one of those combinations of ingredients that everyone puts their own spin on.  But the basics are the same: elbow macaroni, cheap ground beef, and canned tomatoes.

Here’s an interesting side note for you: we will often refer to ground beef not as hamburger, but just hamburg.  As in “Pick up a pound of hamburg at the store.”  I have no idea why.

ACS was made famous during one of the Presidential primaries when a reporter ordered American Chop Suey from a diner in Manchester and loved it so much he had to have the recipe. He wrote about it and sang its praises.  Then Guy “I’m a Total Tool” Fieri from The Food Network did a bit for his show “Diners, Drive-In’s and Dives” from Manchester and featured this “famous” American Chop Suey as a New England delicacy.

And we all laughed because it’s just poor people food.  Fucking flatlandahs.

Boiled Dinner

Speaking of poor people food, if you’re a person of Irish-American descent, you’ve probably had this and called it Corned Beef and Cabbage.  All of New England smells like someone wiped his ass with a sweaty gym sock the day after St. Patrick’s Day, and this dish is why.

You put a corned beef or a smoked ham shoulder in a big pot of water and you boil it for hours and hours.  You toss in some cabbage, carrots, turnips, potatoes, and onions and when it’s all soft and falling apart, you eat it.   It’s salty, earthy, hearty, funky, and just generally delicious.  Put a crusty loaf of bread on the side and it’s a wee bit o’ heaven.

Your farts, on the other hand, will smell like someone is burning garbage inside a manure-filled tire for a minimum of 12 hours after consumption.

I could eat the hell out of a grindah right now. With a frappe. Damn.

Grinder

A grindah is very simply a sandwich made on a long, soft Italian roll. It’s called a “sub” or a “hoagie” in other places.

You usually get the best grinders in NH in a pizza place.  You can get just about anything on them and they’re served either hot or cold.

Soda

A soft drink. You’ll never hear a native call any soft drink “pop” or “tonic”. If it’s not a soda, it’s called by the brand name.

Tourtiere

French meat pie.  Like so many of those French-Canadian words, how it’s pronounced varies from family to family and region to region. We say it like “tood-care” in my family. It’s made from ground beef and pork, fried and seasoned with salt, pepper, poultry seasoning, and cloves, and then mashed together with boiled potatoes and baked in a pie crust. It’s kickass served with gravy, but everyone who eats it has their own preferred method of dressing it.

One thing we all agree on is that if you don’t taste it every time you burp for two days afterward, you didn’t get a good one.

Fried dough like you get it at the fair, served piping hot as to guarantee a third-degree burn to the roof of your mouth on the first bite, and on a flimsy paper plate that lets the grease and sugary butter get all over your hands. And of course the napkins must be thin and inadequate as well for the true experience.

Fried Dough

Fried dough is one of those things you eat at The Fair, after you’ve had your mandatory Italian sausage grindah with grilled peppahs and onions and some of those big-ass beer-battered onion rings.

It’s just a piece of bread dough stretched out flat and deep fried so that it’s crispy on the outside and soft and chewy inside.  We don’t “do” funnel cakes as a rule, so this is our version of the fried bread treat.

There’s lots of ways to eat it.  They’ll slather it with melted butter for you when you order it and you can sprinkle it with your choice of cinnamon sugar or powdered sugar, and I’ve seen some places that offer maple syrup as well.  Then there’s this new trend at some of your high-falutin’ “festivals” where you can get all kinds of toppings for it like *gasp* fruit or Nutella, but we all know that’s the flatlandah’s at work again, don’t we?

Jimmies

Jimmies are those little tiny candy pieces you sprinkle on ice cream or sundaes or a frosted donut.  They used to just come in chocolate or rainbow varieties, but now you can buy them in all kinds of color combinations to suit your needs.  Outside New Hampshire they’re sometimes called “sprinkles” or “shots”, but up here they’re jimmies and always will be.

Admit it: you just licked your monitor.

Whoopie Pies

Maine is currently trying to get the whoopie pie named the official state snack, which is cheesing off the folks in Pennsylvania who say it started in the Amish community and should be the official Pennsylvania state snack.  I think they call them “gobs” down there, but I can’t find an official source to confirm this.  Go figure.  Turns out there’s a whole big Whoopie War going on right under my nose.

I’m not entirely sure why states even need official snacks, but leave it to Massafuckingchusetts to take the Boston Creme Pie, the Boston Creme Donut, the Toll House Cookie and corn fucking muffins just for good measure.

So while the whoopie will certainly never be the official NH state snack by any stretch, it’s one of those things that is famous all over the region.  It’s just two soft chocolate cake-like cookies with a big dollop of frosting-type cream filling, but they’re hard to get just exactly right.  The cakes should be soft and moist but need to be firm and cookie-ish enough to hold together.  The frosting has to be light and fluffy with just the right amount of stickiness to hold the cakes together but without making them crumble or split.

Yes, I could give you my recipe for them, but then I’d have to kill you.

Frappe

First, it rhymes with “map.”   It’s not a “frap-pay.”

It is a delicious concoction of milk, ice cream, and syrup blended and sucked through a straw.   If that sounds like what you call a milkshake or a thick shake (which are both different than frappes in NH), you’d have the right idea.  If you think that sounds like a “cabinet”, please give my regards to your fellow Rhode Islanders, won’t you?

Well hells bells, that’s been a fun morning of culinary excitement.  Now I’m hungry.  Who wants grindahs?

Be sure to tune in on June 6 for my third and final installment in The Insider’s Guide when our round-table topic will be “You know you’re from New Hampshire when…”

My Whole Week Is Off By a Half-Step April 14, 2011

Posted by J. in Domesticity, FYI.
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Madhouse Wednesday came and went with no input from me. It wasn’t that I didn’t have anything to say about “Eye Contact” so much as I spent the morning making eye contact with the inside of my toilet bowl and the better part of the rest of the day making full-body contact with my sofa.

Jesus, Mary and all the Saints, don’t I hate being sick. I’m not a good puker. Some people can just hurl up the contents of their guts, swish and spit, and go on about their day.

I feel like I’m going to die.

I don’t know what caused it. I do know that I’m better today but my guts are still a bit tender. And Bug hurled a few times last night, but she’s a good puker and just goes right back to sleep with no trouble. She stayed home today as a just-in-case.

And tomorrow Sister and I are heading off to Newport to see BFF Bob’s production of Two Gentlemen of Verona at Salve. I expect it will be a spectacular night in the theater and the idea of having two whole days off is making me downright intoxicated. Though it could be my lack of food over the last two days causing the lightheadedness. Hard to tell.

So Wednesday was a wash, and as much as I love y’all, WTF Friday is going to be a rain-out too as I’ll be having too much fun having a life to write about it.  Unless I encounter something truly what-the-fucky in Newport.  You never know, really.

Which will bring us back ’round to Monday again and part two of my Insider’s Guide to Life in the 603 in which I moderate a spirited roundtable discussion of the things we eat up hee-ah.

Ayuh.

WTF Friday: It’s Complicated April 8, 2011

Posted by J. in Domesticity, Genius.
6 comments

I’ve mentioned that Dave has issues.  My perfect blue-eyed boy has had significant delays in gross and fine motor skills and has been late to hit all the major milestones that kids are supposed to get to.

I wasn’t surprised.  For example if there’s a time span for reaching a specific milestone in which a kid’s development is considered normal, the girls worked both ends of it.  Mary reached all her milestones early, where Emma waited until the last day minute possible to give it a go.  By the third go-round, I knew enough about parenting to know that he was going to do his own thing too.

Dave was around a year old when the pediatrician realized that he’d missed quite a few windows altogether.  He was evaluated by the Early Childhood Intervention folks and they officially evaluated him as delayed across the board.  Some low muscle tone, lack of development in fine and gross motor skills, and speech.  He started working right away with an Occupational Therapist named Deb who’s been with us now for almost two years.  She comes once a week and does targeted activities with him to help him develop.

At first we focused on gross motor skills, building up his core and getting him up and walking.  It seems like our one short-term goal was “to have Dave up and walking” for the longest time, but eventually and very slowly and gradually he got there.  Then the focus shifted more to his fine motor skills and the new goal was getting him to feed himself and gradually he’s been eventually getting more and more dexterous.  His sole goal now for a long time has been “to have Dave say SOMETHING.”

Dave’s never said a word, or even an approximation of a word.  The thinking all along has been that because speaking is a complicated fine motor skill, once his manual dexterity improved, his vocal abilities would come along as well.  It hasn’t happened.

So at his last checkup, his pediatrician recommended that he see a developmental pediatrician–a specialized specialist.  Yesterday was that day.  And I think I can say with some degree of certainty that it was more stressful for me than for him.

Dave was to be evaluated in great depth by a panel of experts in their respective fields.  The developmental pediatrician, a child psychologist, a speech therapist, and an occupational therapist.  We also had two students observing the process, the director of the therapy services center was there to grease the wheels, and our own Deb was there to put our little man through his paces and be moral support and an advocate for us.

Dave’s part was the easiest.  Deb took him over to another little part of the room and handed him a bunch of toys while they watched him do his thing, each with an eye on their own area of expertise.  The psychologist had him do a few short tests to see how well he can follow commands, and then while he played, the questions started.

Family history.  Do you or your husband have any problems with any of these skills or tasks?  Have your other children ever x, y, or been late doing z?  Did you look into the eyes of a cat while you were pregnant?  When did he do this?  Does he ever do that?  How would you describe this, that, and the other thing?

They asked me a million questions, and then asked ten more for good measure.

Finally, Deb took Dave up to the big play area/therapy room so that they doctors could really watch him do his tricks.  I stayed downstairs and answered still more questions about his current therapies.  And at the end of nearly two hours, they all came back downstairs and while Dave played with the toys, they gave me their evaluation.  Of sorts.

Dave still has significant delays across the board.  (Sound familiar?)  And they’re not a whole lot closer to knowing why, specifically why he’s not made any progress in the speech area.  Acknowledging that his current speech pathologist is one of the best in the state, they’re eager to find out the cause of the delay to see if knowing the cause might help the treatment of it.

Here’s where Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center comes in.  They think Dave needs to see a neurologist and a geneticist.  The good news is that he’s bright and intelligent and his mind seems to gather and process information appropriately.  His receptive language skills are good, and despite not being able to speak, his communicative speech through signing is also okay.  They look, I guess, at whether a kid can understand and execute commands appropriate to his age level, and can he make his own thought, needs, and wants understood.  The psychologist said his language abilities are a strength, so that’s a good thing.

But they both think that his problem may be a neurological one.  His brain knows what it needs to do, but his body doesn’t get the message.  And I guess there must be some neurological disorders that can cause that gap.  And they might be genetic.  Oh, and while you’re up there, we want his hearing checked by pediatric audiologists who work specifically with kids like Dave, and the same goes for a pediatric opthamologist, just to make sure he can see perfectly.  Not that they think either is a contributing factor, it’s more of a ruling-out thing.  Same with the barium swallow test they want to do as well to make sure that structurally he’s sound in the vocal apparatus.

So we’re looking at a day of blood work and questions and more tests, and God knows what up in Hanover. I can’t imagine any parent takes “we want to run a bunch of tests on your two-year-old” in great stride.  It’s jarring.  Not in any dramatic, oh-my-God-I’m-so-distraught kind of way because that’s just not how I roll.  Just a feeling inside that is less-than-peaceful because something is a little off.  Not quite right.  Unsettled.

As I sat in the car and tried to process the information, wondering what neurological disorder my boy could have and what does this mean for his future, the only thing I could do was be grateful that we’re not traveling to Dartmouth to see a pediatric oncologist.  I was relieved that we’re looking for the reason why he is delayed in speaking and not why he used to speak and has suddenly stopped, or why he’s uncoordinated and not why he can no longer walk.  It could be so much worse, and I’m grateful it’s not.

But the fear of the unknown is still in the back of my head.  A specialists’ specialist thinks something’s not stirring the Kool-Aid.  Is it fixable?  What does it mean?  Is he going to catch up eventually and someday we’ll never know he had these delays, or is he going to be Stephen Hawking?  And should we have done all this sooner?  Should we have been more aggressive in looking for the cause a year ago instead of hoping he’d show some progress eventually?

It’s complicated.

WTF Friday: Still Not Charo April 1, 2011

Posted by J. in Domesticity.
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I wanted to extol the virtues of Charo today.  I really, really did.  I love her with the fiery passion that fuels a Latin sun.

But it’s fucking snowing today and even though I know it won’t last, it’s just sugar snow, it’s good for the garden…*sigh*  I just don’t care.  I’m sick of it.  I know.  I live in NH.  It snows.  It snows in the spring.  Having snow on the ground at the beginning of May isn’t unheard of.

Still, it gets to a point where it’s just not pretty anymore.  This kind of a snowstorm would have thrilled all of us right to our very marrow in December.  If Christmas was a couple of days away, I’d be dancing around the kitchen baking cookies and singing to myself.  The kids would be making snowmen and laughing and I’d be so happy at how fresh and frosted the world looks.

But it’s April.  The kids don’t want to go out and play in it anymore…they want to run around on the grass.  They’re sick of getting geared up to go outside and were liking that they only had to toss on a sweatshirt to go outside.  I’m sick of boots and snowpants and hats and mittens and mud and slush and…*sigh*  I’m just so sick of winter.  God help me, as much as I look forward to it coming every year, by this time it’s starting to wear me down .

I want to open my windows.

Yesterday I smiled at the tiny green buds on my lilac bushes.  This is what they look like today.

Yesterday I had an expanse of lawn that stretched from in front of the weeping willow all the way up the hill past the swingset.  Not today, I don’t.

Yesterday Buggy was rollerblading up High Street.  She won’t be strapping them on today.I feel as gray on the inside as these pictures.

It’s like the world heard the alarm and decided to wake up from it’s winter’s rest, but then hit the snooze button and rolled over.

I know it’s stupid to let a little April snow get to me.  But Spring was so close I could smell it.  I know it’ll be back up into the 50’s in a couple of days or so.  But for today, I’m cold and I’m gray on the inside and I’m just sick to fucking death of winter.

 

Welcome to the Jungle, Baby. March 28, 2011

Posted by J. in Domesticity, Genius.
5 comments

If you have kids, you already know what I’m talking about.  The second you decide to spawn, you’ve put your feet on the battleground.  You’re fighting a war, make no mistake about it, and it’s not against diaper rash, sleeplessness, or stretchmarks.  You’re fighting the most formidable opponent the universe has ever known.  You’re fighting The Mommy Wars.

There’s no use in denying that Mommies everywhere are at war against each other, or to blithely deny that you would never be part of such ridiculous divisions and arguments about the best way to rear children.  We are at war, and like it or not, you’re part of it.  You don’t choose war, it chooses you.

From the moment sperm meets egg, you are forced to find your allies early and choose them carefully.  You will seek out like-minded women who share your ideals and plans, but to do that, you’re going to have to outline your parenting philosophy from your stance on circumcision through who should pay for the wedding.  Your entire parenting philosophy is going to determine where your battle lines are and help you plan your defenses and mount your own counter-attacks.

There are factions within cadres.  Militant Mommies wage war from both sides of the barbed wire, and they have millions of minions in countless sub-batallions who are united on some fronts while in-fighting at the same time.  From the moment you throw down (or up, as the case may be), propagandists will be out to win your for their army.  You will have to sort the lies from the half-truths and the opinions from the unsubstantiated rumors and decide who to trust a when it comes to your child’s well-being.  Know that whatever Mommy Manifesto you support, whichever gospel rings true to you, you’ve made enemies before that infant has even drawn breath.

Unfortunately, as it happens in war, you will believe things that aren’t true because you like the person that said them.  You might find yourself getting swept up in a cause or intrigued by a lifestyle that is foreign to what you’ve always known and understood and were comfortable with.  Whichever way your parenting proclivities lie, you will adopt philosophies in pregnancy that no longer fit when the baby is on the outside, and you will be branded a traitor by those whose opinions you once held dear back when the baby was merely hypothetical.

You will have divided loyalties.  Motherhood pits sister against sister, mother against child, and best friends will find themselves staring across hostile enemy territory.   The ground is littered with landmines, and one misstep in any direction can blow alliances apart.

You won’t know it at first, though, because the battles are, for the most part, fought quietly and with great civility.  Advice is offered with a smile, and interrogations come under the pretense of being interested in your new baby.  You will ignore it at first, perhaps dismiss it as casual conversation, but you’ll soon enough come to recognize when you’ve encountered a volley of hostile fire.

“Are you going to {insert parenting choice}?  We only ever {insert parenting choice} because studies show that kids who are {insert parenting choice}-ed wind up {insert list of mostly imagined positive traits bordering on superpowers}.”

“In my day we never/always {insert parenting choice} and our kids turned out so much {insert superlative}.  I don’t know what’s going to become of this new generation…”

“I read that {insert parenting choice} can cause {insert list of mostly imagined maladies, ailments, illnesses, and crippling physical and/or emotional disorders}.”

“I can’t believe you don’t {insert parenting choice}.  I’ve never been more happier or more fulfilled as a Mommy as when I {insert parenting choice}.”

“Oh, well you know those Mommies who {insert parenting choice}.  They’re all batshit crazy anyway.”

Maybe you’ll only realize how involved in the battle you are when somewhere down the road you stumble across a “debate” on a Mommy Blog about some parenting choice or other and you realize that the fairly innocuous pointing out of your differences in parenting style is all part of a huge battle being waged across a huge field.  In point of fact, seeing parenting choices argued over on the Internet is like watching a Civil War battle unfold from a distant hilltop.

The Mommy War is a close-contact battle, but the biggest damage is done by the snipers, long-range bombers, and WMD’s.  In hand-to-hand combat, the hostility is subtle, perhaps implied, or encased in a warm womb of goodwill.  But when you step back you can see the organizational structure better: the large groups that crop up to provide support for {insert parenting choice} and the vocal and visible gurus who espouse the {insert parenting choice} lifestyle.  They encourage the foot soldiers, directing the ground battle and providing ammunition.  There are politicians on both sides, currying favor with governments to adopt public policies to support {insert parenting choice} and using all manner of dirty tricks, deceit, and downright lies to do it.  History shows that the popular parenting tide turns time and time again as the decades unfold, and today’s favorite {insert parenting choice} is tomorrow’s misguided folly.

In the midst of it all, there are the Mommy Peaceniks.  They hold signs and hands and beg and plead for the end to the war.  “It doesn’t matter if you {insert parenting choice} or {insert parenting choice}.  It’s all good!  We need to support each other!  We have to stick together!”  It’s a lovely sentiment, and God bless their naive hearts for thinking that we can or will ever support what our fellow parents are doing, but the truth is, in as much as we may pay lip service to the idea that “it doesn’t matter what you do as long as it works for your family,” we all think on some level that the other side is foolish and deluded for doing whatever it is they do.  And we sit around imaginary campfires with our Mommy cronies and pity them in their ignorance.

I believe that no matter what happens, there will always be Mommies that piss us off for some reason or another.  It doesn’t matter if they are blindly devoted to their cause or just blindly devoted to their child, there’s a legion of underground guerrilla Mommies who are violently opposed to being blindly devoted to anything and will tell you so in the most polite way they know how, then go on their {insert parenting choice} message board and rail against the enemy with their Mommy fist raised high in righteous indignation.

Welcome to the jungle, baby.  No one wins the Mommy wars.

I’m Glad That’s Over February 16, 2011

Posted by J. in Domesticity, Genius.
6 comments

It is a point of fact that I’d be a much better cook if, at every meal, I didn’t have to deal with the soul-grinding task of cooking for my children.  Granted I’m no Ina Garten, but I could be, friends, I could be.  I know the basics of cookery and enough of the beyond-the-basics to really take flight in the kitchen if I put my mind to it.  While there are foods that I loathe and would never willingly prepare or even allow into my home (I’m looking at you, broccoli), I have a fairly accepting palate and a broader range of likes than I do dislikes.

Would that I could say the same about my children.

One night, after listening to yet another litany of “I hate this…” and “Do I have to eat it all?” and “Ohhh, gross…” I got my mother on the phone.

“Ma,” says I, “I wish to apologize for my criticism of any meal you put before me as a kid.  I was out of line.  Even if what you were cooking wasn’t my favorite, I was ungrateful and rude and I’m sorry.”

She laughed like hell, and here’s why.

Oh, to have been raised by a mother with more money than brains...*sigh*

I suspect my mother knew all along that she was capable of putting better meals on the table, and would have except for three serious limitations that she had to work around.  First, every member of the family has their own ideas of what’s tasty and what isn’t and you can’t please them all every day.  Second, she knew what made a balanced meal and knew that we had to have those be healthy, so frozen pizza and cheese doodles five nights a week was out of the question, even if we could have afforded it.  Which bring me to her third and biggest limitation: a very small grocery budget.

She managed, despite the constraints put on her, to provide at almost every meal, some meat, a starch, and a vegetable.   The meat was inexpensive: chicken parts, chuck steak, hamburger, or pork chops; the vegetables were from a can and the starch was from a package unless it was some form of potato.  We never ate instant potatoes, but Rice-a-Roni and its counterpart Noodle-Roni were on the table all the time.  The only time we ate bread with a meal was when Ma’d throw a chuck steak under the broiler, and when the last bit of fat and gristle was devoured from the plate, Sister was allowed to soak up the blood with a slice of store-brand white bread and eat that as well.

There wasn’t a lot of it either, but there were still some nights (for me, pork chop or chicken-with-the-bone-in nights) the most praise one could muster is “I’m glad that’s over.”  My father, who shared my dislike of Shake-n-Baked chicken parts, coined that particular bit of gastronomical punctuation.  It never occurred to me that it was rude to echo his opinion, no matter how much I agreed, and why my mother didn’t move out earlier than she did remains a mystery.  Kudos to her for not telling us all to go fuck ourselves and let us eat cold cereal until we developed rickets and scurvy.  It would have served us right.

I never really grasped the idea that we ate like poor people, because I didn’t realize that other families ate better or that we were, in fact, poor at all.  It’s not until we were much older that her menu choices started to make sense to us, and in a sad way at that.  But it’s testimony to her that she didn’t throw it back in our faces that she’d be a better cook if she had better food to work with and if she had kids that wouldn’t turn their nose up at anything different.

Pure canned evil. Still, better than broccoli.

She did sometimes try to branch out, poor thing, and I have to say that there were some Mommie Dearest moments at the dinner table because of it.  I can recall sitting by myself at the dining room table after everyone else had finished and all the other plates had been cleared because I refused to eat the vegetable on my plate.  I could swallow a forkful of nasty-ass canned peas pretty easily without chewing or tasting them, but I could not choke down the glazed carrots in front of me.  I know I didn’t eat them and I remember my mother letting me go–thank God she didn’t save them for breakfast and try to make me eat them then–and how MAD she was that I wouldn’t eat them.

She was trying to do something different and I’m sure my stubborn refusal to even take one bite was more than her mother-nerves could take.  I can still see the defeated look on her face to this day.

Because my dad wasn’t the most adventurous eater either, her more exotic culinary exploits were usually reserved for Thursday night.  Dad worked until 8, so my mother’s sister Bunny and her husband came down the street to join us for supper and Ma would serve things she liked but Dad wouldn’t eat.  Sister and I, I should point out, were never consulted about the menu and we pretty much hated Thursday nights.

Oh, and I know that in some families forgoing what is on the menu and just having a bowl of cereal or some toast instead is the last resort of parents who feel the need to get some nourishment into their child.  In our house it was never an option.  You see, dad ate toast for breakfast and the bread and peanut butter had to go the week.  We ate cereal for breakfast and that box of cereal and the gallon of milk had to last the whole week as well.  If you ate breakfast food at dinner, you wouldn’t have any breakfast come Friday, and there was no money until the eagle shat again to go to the store and just get some more.

Speaking of that, remember how cereal commercials when we were kids used the phrase “…part of a complete breakfast of toast, juice, milk, and cereal”?  Not in our house.  Cereal was breakfast.  Period.  You had milk on your cereal, but not in a cup beside it.  Sister remembers how she’d wake up so thirsty she’d want to die, and all she wanted was a cup of milk in addition to what was on the cereal and Ma saying no.  “You have milk on your cereal.”  We never had orange juice, and we loved it so much.  Toast was also breakfast, but you have a choice between toast or cereal…not both.  And a piece of fruit?  We weren’t Rockefellers, people.

Anyway, Thursday nights were when Ma could cut loose, with mixed results.  On the one hand, American chop suey* was always a hit.  On the other hand, she once unleashed La Choy chicken chow mein from the can on us.  When it was good, it was very good, but when it was bad it was nauseating.

Ironically, now I’m grown and living in the same house where my mother had our evening meal on the table at 5:30 on the dot every night, and I find myself facing the same struggles she did, hampered by the same set of limitations.  What goes around has come around.  We have a cheap piece of meat: chicken parts and hamburger are staples in my house too, as are easy to prepare packaged side dishes and canned vegetables.  And there are nights that Larry and I will finish eating, look at each other and declare, “I’m glad that’s over.”

I hope my kids don’t know that we’re poor.

Now, once a week we have casserole night at my mother’s house.  If you’d have told us when we were kids that someday we’d be thrilled to the core to have Ma set a meal in front of us, we’d have told you to shut the front door.  I chalk it up to a mother’s innate ability to forgive that she makes us our favorite meals.  The menu doesn’t have a lot of variety, but what it lacks in inventiveness it makes up for in both deliciousness and volume. “What are we having?” we’ll ask her when she calls on Monday and she’ll tell us.  Macaroni and cheese.  American chop suey.  Pot roast.  Boiled dinner.  Pork chops in gravy.  Chicken fricassee.  Meat loaf.  Shepherd’s pie.  Spaghetti with meat sauce.  And we swoon with delight.  We think about it all day long.  Sister and I call each other and talk about it on the phone.

“Did Ma tell you what she’s making?”

“Macaroni and cheese, and Shake-n-Baked chicken-with-the-bone in.”

“Oh my God, I can’t wait.  I can taste it right now.”

“I know.  I might skip lunch so I have room for more at dinner.”

“I know, right?”

Not for nothing, but it’s pretty much the same food she gave us as kids and we know that.  We’ve embraced that particular irony.  Of course now she can afford better cuts of meat and higher quality ingredients, and she can afford to make a lot more of it as well.  Then there’s the added bonus that we’re now grownups and our palates have expanded considerably, so she can follow a whim and make something like glazed carrots that won’t leave us gagging.  We no longer sit there staring at the food on our plate under threat of sitting there until it’s gone.  We eat until we can’t pack in one more bite, and then take some home for lunch the next day.

I wonder how it makes her feel to hear us say “Thank you for dinner, Ma.  It was awesome” as we go out the door.  Better, no doubt, than “I’m glad that’s over.”

Macaroni and cheese and Shake-n-Baked chicken parts. This is what the dinner table in heaven looks like.

Occasionally I whip up a meal that I know everyone will like because I know how it felt to face a plate full of food that made a bowl of Cheerios look inviting.  But in truth, some of the meals I recall most vividly are the ones that I remember as being the best.  Like French toast night.  Is there anything better than breakfast for dinner?  The best part of French toast for dinner was Dad cutting our toast on the diagonal saying it was “the French cut” and putting spoonfuls of his hot, sweet coffee into our milk to make coffee milk.

I want my kids to have some favorite meals to look back on fondly when they think of family dinners.  I like to picture them someday calling each other the day before they come over for supper for some shared anticipatory salivation.

“What’s Ma making?”

“Volcanoes*.”

“Ohhhh, I can’t wait.  I’m going to eat until I feel sick.”

“Yeah, I always do.”

Family Recipes

American Chop Suey

1.  In a large skillet, saute together in a bit of oil one large onion and one large green pepper, diced.  When they are softened, add a pound of hamburger and cook until brown.  Drain off the fat and add 2 cans of stewed tomatoes with the juice.  Cook over low heat.

2.  Boil a pound of elbow macaroni in a big pot of salted water according to package directions.  Drain, and pour into a big bowl.

3.  Add the hamburger and tomato mixture and stir well.  Serve hot.  (Platinum version: double the ingredients, serve with grated parmesan cheese from the green can and some squishy white bread with butter.)

Volcanoes

1.  In a large skillet, brown a diced medium onion in a bit of oil or butter and cook until translucent.  Add a pound of hamburger and cook it until it’s brown.

2.  Make a roux:  sprinkle 2 or 3 tablespoons of flour over the meat and cook it for about three minutes.  If you use leaner meat, you’ll need less flour, and if you use very fatty meat you’ll need more.  Go for a thick, pasty texture.

3.  Add two cups of beef broth, beef stock, beef bouillon, or beefy onion soup prepared from a package and whisk it into the roux.  As it cooks, it will thicken.  If it gets too thick, add a bit more liquid.  Add some milk for a creamier gravy.

4.  Serve over mashed potatoes with the center hollowed out like little volcanoes.