Monday, November 23, 2015

10 Things That Really Bug Me A Lot More Than They Probably Should

1. People who talk about their sports team in terms of "we;" as in "WE really tore them up this week;" as if the speaker him- or her-self had been out on the field instead of parked on the sofa eating tortilla chips.

2. Using Facebook to say "Happy Birthday, "Happy Anniversary," "I love you," etc. to someone you live someone you live with. For pete's sake, turn your head! There he or she is! Now speak the words. That's how we used to do it in the olden days.

3. (while we're on the subject of Facebook) Postings threatening me that if I don't "share" them, I don't love the poster, I don't love 'Murica, I don't respect veterans, I want people to die of cancer, will have something horrible happen to me.

4. Not just stinkbugs, but dive-bombing stinkbugs; dive-bombing stinkbugs IN THE DARK. They turn me into Tippi Hedren in The Birds when she for some inexplicable reason goes to the upstairs room, opens the door, sees big honkin' birds all over the place and then enters the room anyway.

5. When people write "Walla!" instead of "Voila!"

6. Owen Wilson. I don't know why -- might be his lips. He has Donald Trump lips (and I DO know why HE bugs me).

7. The fact that, in 28 years of marriage, Dirtman has not finished a single container of anything. He leaves approximately a tablespoon of product in any container -- whether it's shampoo, a box of cereal only he eats, or milk -- and then opens a new container. I guarantee, if I go into the kitchen right now, there is a bag of wheat squares on top of the fridge with precisely two squares in it. And, actually -- I think this bugs me precisely as much as it should.

...and yes, I've told him. I've gone on 10-minute rants about finding one freakin' cracker wrapped up in a big saltine box in a cabinet already crammed with a jar of Jif with a teaspoon of  peanut butter and a bottle of Log Cabin with a tiny pool of syrup at the bottom, along with almost-full opened versions of each product. I mean, how is that one freakin' cracker too much?

8. That there are people who will think I am overreacting to #7.

9. When my computer refuses to download something with the phrase "You are not connected." I take this personally and get really sad.

10. That every article you read these days is in the form of lists. It's a cheap trick to get people to read something absolutely inane.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Boneless Pork Frankenloin
How to make so many substitutions to a recipe it no longer resembles the recipe you started with

So I had this portion of a pork loin sitting in my freezer; this hunk of meat that I had to commit ahead of time to make because one doesn't defrost a loin of pork and then put off roasting it because one got home late and only had the energy to make a martini OR make dinner and, the way things have been going lately, the martini always wins so long as the Tanqueray holds out.

This particular pork loin was a cute little end piece I surreptitiously snipped off the end of a larger roast I'd made earlier this summer for the family at large. It was the perfect size for two people to have dinner and a few pork sandwiches.1

A boneless pork loin is basically a big hunk of solid meat, a sort of blank canvas for flavor and, paired with a morning spent watching Food Network, it was destined for a more creative treatment than my usual rub-n-roast.

At first I thought I'd cut it into individual boneless chops, butterfly the chops and stuff them. But, in seeking inspiration from the internet, I happened upon a video of stuffing a pork loin roast.

Now here's the thing about recipes off the internet: they're written by people who actually make meal plans; people who go grocery shopping on a regular basis -- people who have money to go grocery shopping on a regular basis. Here in Linguiniland, grocery shopping is done as a last resort -- when even the ramen is gone and you can see straight through the top shelf to the bottom of the crisper drawer.

The guy on the video had thought out his meal so far ahead that he had figs on hand for the stuffing and time to hunt down something with the unfortunate name of "fat caul.2" He was so organized, he had butcher's twine and so wealthy, he had a Le Creuset roaster.

So, basically, this is the same recipe, in so much as there is a pork loin that it's stuffed, but all similarities end there. My stuffing is significantly more humble: the only bread on hand was stale hot dog buns in the freezer and from that I just threw together the standard stuffing I use at Thanksgiving in a much smaller quantity.

I substituted the "fat caul" with bacon because I figure you can substitute just about anything with bacon. (Couldn't they come up with a better name than "fat caul?")

My butcher's twine is the end of a skein of cotton yarn I used to knit dishcloths. Just call me the MacGyver of the kitchen.

I did have to learn to butterfly a pork loin, not easy when it's a teeny tiny pork loin end. But, just as you can use bacon as a substitute for everything, you can also use bacon to camouflage ugly knife skills. And it doesn't have a depressing name like "smoked pig stomach lining."

I roasted the whole thing on a bed of onions and made a sort of jus/gravy (I like jus, Dirtman likes to drown things in gravy -- so I compromise).

The recipe was a success, but will work infinitely better with a full roast. Next time, I'll plan ahead and put apples and pecans in the stuffing.

The bacon could barely contain the stuffing in my tiny butterflied roast and I doubt that...Thing That Shall Not Be Named... would do much better. I'm sticking with the bacon anyway; the flavor was out of this world! I doubt anything called "caul" could do much better.

...And then I don't have to explain to anyone that I wrapped their dinner in a caul.

1. The perfect size for a couple that never hears from their sons for whom they sacrificed and slaved, obtaining gray hair and probably an ulcer, yet are never bitter or expectant of any gratitude for the 70 hours of labor she put into bringing said sons to life or the ENDLESS MONTHS OF HOMESCHOOLING SHE SPENT EXPLAINING THE DIFFERENCE AMONG "TO, TOO AND TWO" AND "THERE, THEIR AND THEY'RE;" but a couple that does not want to confine their pork loin consumption to times when said ingrates deign to drop by expecting to be fed.

2. The only other reference I can think of to a "caul" is in the book David Copperfield -- apparently David is born with a "caul," which is eventually sold because people were evidently less squeamish and more superstitious. Since a "caul" is, basically, the afterbirth over the head of a baby that hadn't been pierced in the birth process, it hardly conjures culinary visions in my brain but, instead, sort makes me throw up a little in my mouth.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The (not anything like Campbell's) Cream of Tomato Soup recipe

Let's face it. I could write prose until I'm blue in the face and most people who know me would just say, "Knock it off and cook something."

While writing is an aspiration, cooking I do okay -- save for a few pathetic stabs at vegetarianism in the 90s and some extremely frugal recipes requiring the addition of something called "texturized vegetable protein."* It was a sad, sad time in Linguiniland.

And so...the Tomato Soup recipe. This is the one I made for the cafe. Notes follow.

7 cups crushed tomatoes
1 cup shredded carrots
3/4 cup finely chopped onions
1 (13.7-oz.) can chicken broth
1 T. sugar
2 tsp. salt
3 T butter
3 T. flour
1 cup heavy cream (have used half-n-half successfully)
2 tsp. dry basil or 2 T. chopped fresh basil
1/2 tsp. celery salt
1/2 tsp. pepper]
1/4 tsp. garlic powder

Sweat carrots and onions in olive oil. Add tomatoes, chicken broth, sugar and salt. Simmer for 30 minutes.
Cream mixture with immersible  blender (or food processor or regular blender1).

Add cream.
In a separate pot, melt butter and blend in flour. Add to soup and stir until thickened.
Add herbs and spices and simmer 1 hour. Taste to adjust seasonings.

Just a few caveats:
Since canned tomatoes differ so much between brands and I can't afford to choose one over the other, I don't always use the flour and butter to thicken the soup. If the tomatoes are thick enough, I just splash in the cream (you can use half-n-half too -- which I usually do, since that's what I have around).

Also, the basil is going to vary widely, especially if it's fresh. The 2 T. is based on basil I grew. This last time I used fresh basil from the store and it took the whole package to get it to where I was happy. Just remember that, if you add more, let it simmer at least 10 minutes before tasting again.

So there it is. Too much trouble for soup? After a while it become second nature and goes very quickly. Especially if you do it twice a week for a year or 8 o'clock in the morning before the double shot espresso kicks in. 

*Back in the day, Texturized Vegetable Protein (TVP) was a staple in Linguiniland. TVP could replace meat in a myriad of re.cipes, but we only used it to reduce our meat bill as much as possible. By pairing TVP with deer meat( given to us by a member of our church who loved to hunt but whose wife could not bring herself to "eat Bambi"), I was able to slash our food bill to next to nothing ($75 a month for a family of 4). However, the TVP experience is a frequent subject of many nostalgic conversations between the Heirs, usually involving the frequency of bathroom use or as a gauge of how nauseous something made them; as in, "the food poisoning made me run for the bathroom more than TVP;" or "the flu made me throw up more than TVP." Through it all, I insist, I was a good mother.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

On Being an Introvert

I am so glad that being an introvert has become fashionable. At least, I assume it has -- one can never tell whether what you are interested in has become popular, or if it's just showing up a lot on your Facebook feed because of your interest. 

At any rate, it turns out that being an introvert is okay now. 

Image result for introvert people

"But, Sisiggy," you say, "Here you are blathering on about being an introvert -- but you are blathering in a very public place -- the internet."

Yes, but my original blather is as I sit at my computer alone (but for Topper-get-down on the bed spewing noxious fumes and Dirtman  a few yards off muttering sport statistics that have no basis in my reality).

This isn't about the obvious attributes of introversion, but the most common is that introverts find large gatherings draining -- which sounds to me like I'm being accused of snobbishness ("I find these people so tedious, Dah-ling!"). It is actually the opposite of that. I think, when faced with a large gathering, we introverts become extrovert-wanna-bes.

What? You think we want to huddle in the back, pretending to be talking on our cell phones? (Prior to cell phones, the most we could do is dive into the bathroom.)

I manage a teeny, tiny remote portion of a very large non-profit and, therefore, have to attend meetings where I know, if I'm lucky, only one or two people out of hundreds. I am there with my boss's directive to "network."

Networking -- the person who invented this activity should have a flat tire on I-395 outside of Arlington at 5:30 p.m. on a Tuesday; they should encounter a locked bathroom a half hour after having consumed bad guacamole; they should get in a checkout line at the grocery store behind someone with a fistful of coupons, only some of which have not expired, requiring further examination on behalf of the clerk and the supervisor, called to pass judgement on the wording on several of the coupons.

My boss is a networking superstar. She works a room like Auntie Mame and makes small talk sound like the Gettysburg Address. I am in awe of her as I follow her around, smiling politely as she introduces me, while the entire time I'm just thinking up an excuse to go home or, perhaps, go help out the caterers (thereby at least accomplishing something).

This actually came in handy recently. I escaped during a break in a meeting where we were told to "introduce ourselves" to at least one other person from outside our department (since I'm a department of one, this meant everybody). I would argue, as an introvert, that this was not actually, then, a break, but a continuance of the tortuous interactive meeting. So I headed to my car with my phone plastered to my ear. Blessed silence! To fill out the time, I decide to clean out my glove compartment and noticed that I needed to print out a new insurance card.

See? Introversion has it's purpose.

Usually, though, when faced with such a meeting, I scan the room for someone like me -- usually sitting at the back row or table, pretending to be texting someone. This is where I will sit. We introverts have an understanding with each other. We will exchange names and, if asked, we will both have someone to refer to as "a connection" we made. Then we sit in silence and pray for the event to be over.

Later, though, I always swear that next time I will enter the room with a, "Hello everybody!" And everyone will give an exclamation of delight as I enter the room, my arms outstretched to encompass all these people I consider friends -- because what extrovert doesn't consider as a friend every person with whom they've made eye contact?

I will not have to introduce myself to anyone because everyone will be coming up to me, unable to resist the gravitational pull of my charm and folksy eloquence.

And there I'll be, in the center of all those people...those people whose names I, of course, remember*...who expect me to...what? What do they expect of me? Read their expressions, right? That 's how you tell what they want from you. But they're all smiling. That's it. Smiling. And talking about...what? I can't understand what they are saying, they're all talking at once...saying things and smiling...

It requires focus and listening. But it's always someone who talks too quietly and you lean in and still can't hear and ask, "What?" and still can't hear, then give up and just smile and nod until you notice a look of horror on their face and you realize that they've just related to you about their recently-deceased grandmother who raised them.

Or they ask me a question. Oh no!

I make a noise, nothing like speech. Like any good Italian, my mouth doesn't work without the aid of my hands. And I'm off, babbling and gesticulating like an idiot, running out of air at the end of sentences and laughing at my own stupid jokes. I go on and on because I don't know how to end it, so I say (and I'm not exaggerating; this is honestly how I've ended some of my more inane diatribes), "I'm done now."

Then I chuckle, pretend to suddenly notice the refreshment table and say, "Oh! Water!" and hurry away.

And speaking of the refreshment table, what demon of Satan's thought up the idea of having to eat, drink, stand up and talk, all at the same time? (I suspect it's the same person who came up with sing-alongs, high school gym class and those silly games they make you play at Tupperware parties -- all, ironically, activities at which extroverts excel.)

So, you see, in a way, it's a blessing I'm an introvert. No one, not even the most annoying extrovert, should have to witness that embarrassment.

So, Extroverts of the World, I have a deal for you: If you will just leave me alone when you see me sitting placidly off to the side at some event, next time I'm completing some mundane transaction like gassing up my car or buying a pizza, I won't punch you in the head when you command me to, "Smile!"

*I have, under pressure of speaking to someone I didn't know, forgotten the name of my husband. Recently. We've been married 27 years. And the question, "Is it 'Jean' or 'Jeanne'?" confused me because I didn't know who they were talking about.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Return of the Native

Let's face it -- I wasn't ready to return to New Jersey.

I've known this for a long time and, out of respect for the citizens of that state, I've kept my distance. They don't need me timidly attempting to pull out onto freeway or holding up the line at the coffee kiosk asking the lady how she was today.

But there comes a time where the longing to see loved ones trumps courtesy and, in this case, the gathering was a wedding.

John Boy did all the driving, thus preventing traffic snarls as I white-knuckle my way in front of an 18-wheeler. And my early morning exuberance at the coffee counter resulted in a confused stare on the face of the barista. I realized I had this simpering smile on my face that is the requisite "you must like me" prelude to any public discourse in the south. But to her, I probably looked like I'd already downed way too many venti lattes along with half a bottle of Dexedrine.

In spite of my insistence that I would never be assimilated by southern customs, I've slowed down considerably over the past 34 years. I've lost my edge.

After walking the halls of my hotel looking for the ice machine, I finally gave up and called down to the front desk. The clerk gave me directions, yet I still could not find the machine, in spite of checking all three floors. So I called again and got a different clerk who told me they'd taken out the one ice machine in my area of the hotel to have it repaired. Oops! She forgot to tell the other clerk, she said anxiously, anticipating the anger that was sure to be coming her way.

I apologized and thanked her. Even as I said it, I hated myself -- that cloying, "thaaank youuuuuu!" that ends every southern conversation ensuring that, had there been any misunderstanding during the previous discussion, it was unintentional and that all is well between the participants. It's a good way to keep the atmosphere laid back and friendly.

But it doesn't get you ice at 10 o'clock at night in Morristown, NJ.

Then there was the matter of my wardrobe. I'm afraid I've gotten a little behind in the wardrobe area. And I share the late Gilda Radner's idea of clothing: "I base my fashion taste on what doesn't itch." This has so far served me well because of my rural Virginia surroundings and complete lack of a social life.

Now, though, I was facing a weekend in New Jersey. There was talk of dinner at a real restaurant where people come to your table and serve you. Plus we would be seeing my Aunt Marie, who at 94 makes my wardrobe resemble that of Gladys Ormphby.

...and a wedding.

A wedding.

I could pull together something for most of the weekend, but a wedding requires grown up clothing. A wedding was going to require...

A Dress.

One of those dresses that require panty hose and nice shoes and nice shoes means...

Heels. Remember Heels?

I have not worn any of those for over a decade. I used to brag about that fact and now it was biting me in the butt. Normal, responsible grownup women have at least one dress. They have dress shoes and do not groan at a 1-inch heel.

Now here's the thing about buying a dress at my age and figure: you balance a very, very, very...I cannot exaggerate how very...fine line between going too far and not going far enough. Let me illustrate.

Too far:

Not far enough:

Because either extreme is rather disrespectful to the bride. Too loud and it's like you're trying to draw attention to yourself (I emphasize the word "trying," because nobody can really do that; but we pathological people-pleasers are very focused on making sure no one thinks we think that we think we can). Too low-key and it's as if you just didn't care or, worse, have gone into mourning for the event.

At this point, I can tell you, I know what you are thinking. How? Because it was at this point in my thought process, which manifests itself in my stalking about and muttering to myself, that Dirtman summed it all up with the phrase, "You may be over-thinking this."

And so I bought a dress that wasn't black and didn't itch.

And I brought along a back up pair of flat sandals to slip on at the reception. 

And my Aunt Marie and I were too happy to see each other to even consider anybody's apparel.

And I was too busy stuffing my face with really, really, really...I cannot exaggerate how really...good Indian food and enjoying my cousins' and brother's company to even think about my ensemble.

And the second morning when I visited the coffee kiosk, the same barista greeted me with a big smile and said, "How are you this morning?"

Never did fill the ice bucket, though.

And I'm still not ready to return to New Jersey. And I won't be ready when I go back.