Thursday, June 15, 2017

Rambling

Wow, it's been more than three weeks? Lots has gone on, some of which I'll backtrack on at a later date.

Meanwhile, how do you tell someone that their contribution is valuable, appreciated and well worth what they are asking in consideration - but there is no way in hell they will get it? It's not that the desire isn't there, but the resources are in short supply and will be for some time to come. Life isn't fair, and this particular situation certainly isn't, but there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. This is going to be a difficult conversation with a very, very nice person.

This summer is racing by. It's less than three weeks until the fourth of July, which most consider the "middle" of summer. Around these parts, that's about when Lake Michigan warms up enough to consider actually swimming in it. We stretch our summer out as far as we can on both ends, with patio heaters, lots of layers of clothes (you need them in the morning, and peel them off through the day) and a dedication to enjoying every possible second of even moderately summer-like weather.

This is my slower season at work, or it should be, at any rate. Staffing issues, combined with an utter disregard for written procedures on the part of the staff who is the issue, will make the summer a bit more challenging than I'd like. I'm trying hard to revamp my own processes and timetables so I don't end up the kind of crazy I was this spring (through someone else's love for "fire drill" style of management, not my own fault). It's difficult to do when you are trying to figure out someone else's job on top of your own.

Annual increases came out last week. Have I mentioned I work for a nonprofit? My life seems to be nonprofit (I'd say "lol", but it is nothing to laugh about). Thanks to changes in insurance coverage, I think my salary has actually gone backwards, though due to changes in out-of-pocket limits and drug program things, not premium increases.

I am oh-so-slowly eating my way through the contents of the freezer, cooking many more meals at home. The sad reality of my single life is that I really don't want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen on weeknights. I'm hoping, through the aforementioned changes in processes at work, to not arrive home in the evening too emotionally drained to put on a pot of pasta. I tend to pick things up for dinner on the way home; I realized after my most recent vacation(where I cooked almost every meal) that I feel much better when I eat my own cooking regularly.

And then there is the financial savings, as well.

The advantage of cooking more often is the gain in speed. It's not so much that I'm a pokey cook, but more that I'm one who enjoys the process. I'm learning that there is great value in just speeding along to get the #@%$% food on the table. Making a large side dish (a potato gratin this week) near the start of the week cuts down on weeknight prep time. All the little things people who have to feed families daily (they do rather whine if not fed on a regular basis - sheesh) probably already know.

Trying to quilt on a regular basis as well. Not getting in there as quickly as I'd like.

Waiting for people to come and pick up the doggone furniture they've said they want. The twin bedroom set is in my way, and I'm tired of looking at the four drawer file cabinet. I've other furniture to move around, once those things are gone. The file cabinet is going to a family member, but needs to wait until either they find a place of their own, or until after their wedding in October. The bedroom set is going to the daughter of a friend, and I thought they would pick it up when they moved apartments several weeks ago, but I've heard...nothing.

Bah. Anyway, that's some of where I am right now. Now I need to have that difficult meeting...

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Kitchen Duty part II

I've spent so much time in the kitchen the last two days, I've actually almost forgotten what I had for dinner last night. After some thought (and putting away the rest of the box of pasta), I realized it was whole wheat spaghetti with butter and Parmesan as aside to a wonderful piece of skin-on salmon. The salmon got a bit of lemon pepper on the flesh side, then was put skin side down in a very hot pan coated with olive oil. Let it sit for five minutes until the skin is crisp, then turn it over for a few seconds. The skin should be crisp, the inside still pink (unless you are one of those people who likes your fish really well done).

It was annoying me that I couldn't remember at first what I ate.

Today, I don't have that problem.

Prep for several dishes began shortly after breakfast (toasted pieces of yesterday's English muffin bread topped with peanut butter). It always seems most efficient, when I'm doing several dishes, to do all the prep work for everything all at once (and it usually keeps me from saying to heck with it and stopping halfway through the plan). Dice an onion. Chop up the rest of the bread. Shred two different types of cheeses (really, it takes only a minute or two to shred cheese from a block, and then it has none of the cornstarch coating that keeps preshredded cheese from sticking together - and makes it gummy when it melts). Peel and slice potatoes. Boil the huge pot of water for the brine.

Once the water cooled, all sorts of good stuff was added to it, and the pork tenderloin (two smaller ones, I found when I opened the package) were put in it to soak for half a day. The linked recipe is the brine I used; if you make pork chops rather than tenderloin, a half hour is all they need. Soak too long, and the meat starts to deteriorate.

A potato gratin was meant to accompany the pork (this was all planned for dinner). Last grocery order, I bought half a dozen russets. They must have been "baking" potatoes, as each was pretty darn big. The two that were left filled up my regular size gratin dish. My standard is a variant of this dish. No leeks, but some shallots in with the cream. Not Gruyere (at least not if I have to make a special trip), but lots of Swiss. It's easy to make, especially if you have a mandolin to help slice the potatoes thinly.

The bread, if you will recall from yesterday, was made to be the basis for a new-to-me breakfast casserole. The other ingredients are sauteed pork sausage, cheddar cheese, eggs and milk.

Naturally, I didn't have any pork sausage, but I did have a pound of ground turkey, as well as a magic ingredient: Penzey's breakfast sausage seasoning. Used that with the turkey, and it was delicious. It is this recipe, though I also added sauteed onion...I had a couple of corner nibbles when it first came out of the oven (it's meant to be cut up and frozen for future breakfasts) and it is really good.

In the end, dinner was some of the potato gratin, some of the pork, green beans and a rather sizeable glass of Stag's Leap Aveta Sauvignon Blanc. There are leftovers of everything. There are two tiny lamp chops in the freezer that may be dinner tomorrow, with the potatoes. The pork can be sliced for sandwiches, or, if I do a bit of grocery shopping later for spinach and berries, my favorite salad.

tomorrow will be spent deep cleaning the kitchen. The A/C annual service is Tuesday, and part of what he has to check is attached to the furnace...which is in the closet in the kitchen. Eh, it's supposed to rain off and on all day, anyway.

My legs and feet ache from all the standing. The kitchen is so small, you sort of stand in one place and pivot, or take just one step from side to side. No chance to really stretch your legs. Must remember to take an Advil before bed so I can move in the morning.

In between things, I've been reading and sewing. I'm machine quilting a baby quilt for a coworker. The batting I'm using is wool - very soft and fluffy, but I think I underestimated the warmth factor. Good thing this baby is due in late September.

On that, I'm off to bed. Trying hard to maintain regular bed/rise times over this vacation. I did get up at the usual time this morning, but after half an hour of wandering around online, went back to bed for an hour. Don't want to do that tomorrow.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Kitchen Duty

I am on vacation this upcoming week - finally. To say I've been looking forward to this is an understatement. The one fear I have, though, is that I'll spend it just lazing around, not actually getting any needed chores done, nor actually having any fun.

As with other vacations, I have a "list". Haven't looked at it yet, though I know what the highlights are. One of those things is a two-part goal of 1) Cooking more of my meals, rather than grabbing some sort of takeout/fast food, and 2) Cooking through the stuff in the freezer. Notice how those two things dovetail so nicely?

When I went grocery shopping a week ago, lemons were on sale three-for-something. Since then, those poor lemons have been languishing in the refrigerator, until I remembered a lemon/chicken/orzo soup I've done before. A quick look at the ingredient list showed I was only lacking the boneless thighs and the orzo. I have plenty of bone-in thighs in the freezer, but thawing and taking them off the bone seemed like a bit too much work for the first afternoon of vacation (when I went to put the orzo away after making the soup yesterday, I discovered I did, indeed, have half a box of orzo in the cupboard...I really do need to cook more often, so I can remember what I do and don't have on hand).

While today the sun came out and the temperature hit the low seventies, it will not stay that way. The soup is actually pretty light, particularly with the lemon and rosemary flavors. Do not use chicken breast; thighs have more flavor and are much juicier.

Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup

2 T olive oil, divided
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1" chunks
salt and pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1/2 t dried thyme
5 cups chicken stock
1 cup water
2 bay leaves
3/4 cup uncooked orzo pasta
1 sprig rosemary
Juice of one lemon
2 T chopped fresh parsley

Heat 1 T oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Add chicken to the pot and cook until golden, about 2 - 3 minutes; remove from pot and set aside (chicken will not be cooked through).

Add remaining T of oil to pot. Add garlic, onion, carrots and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 3 - 4 minutes. Stir in thyme until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Whisk in chicken stock, water and bay leaves and bring to a boil. Stir in orzo, rosemary and chicken; reduce heat and simmer until orzo is tender, about 1-0 - 12 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and parsley; season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.


Another thing on the vacation list is to cook some breakfast-type things for the freezer. I have the supplies to make homemade Egg Muffins; they taste almost like the fast food ones, in addition to freezing/reheating well. But the easier way to make breakfast ahead is to make a big old egg casserole, cool it, cut it into portions and freeze them. I'd uncovered a recipe I'd saved for "Sausage Muffin Egg Casserole" that sounded like the right blend of carbs, protein and fat.

However, the English muffins I have on hand are earmarked for the sandwiches. I'm not about to make a special trip to the store for more.

My extensive recipe collection came to the rescue. I've never made English muffins - too much standing over the skillet watching them cook. I have, however, made English muffin bread. It bakes in a traditonal loaf pan, and putting it together is as easy as putting together a quick bread (in other words, no kneading). The muffins form the base of the casserole, on which you put pork sausage and sauteed onion (more on the pork sausage adventure/solution another time).

As I told a friend with whom I shared this, toast a slice of the bread, top with peanut butter and/or Nutella, along with (maybe) a sliced banana, and you have an excellent breakfast.

I use a nonstick spray to coat the loaf pan, before dusting it with cornmeal like you would dust a cake pan with flour, and the finished loaf slides right out.

English Muffin Bread

1 pkg. yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons, or 7 grams)
1 Tbsp Granulated Sugar
1/2 cup Warm water
1-1/2 cup All-purpose flour
1 cup Whole Wheat Flour
1 tsp Salt
1/4 tsp Baking Soda
7/8 cup Milk, nonfat, warmed

Combine yeast, sugar and warm water; stir until dissolved.

Combine flour, salt and soda and add to yeast mixture. Add warm milk (not too hot or you'll kill the yeast). Mix well.

Cover and let rise until double in size, 1 to 1-1/2 hours.

Stir down and put in greased bread pan sprinkled with cornmeal. Sprinkle top with cornmeal. Cover and let rise 40 to 45 more minutes.

Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes, or until lightly browned on top and toothpick comes out clean. Remove from pan and cool on cooling rack. Makes 12 servings.


Not that I want to spend the entire week cooking, but...I have Italian sausage in the freezer and had a vague idea of making brioche hot dog rolls to have them on, along with homemade tomato sauce and parmesan. It's been a while since I've made brioche, so I pulled out Julia Child's The Way to Cook, and flipped to the bread section. Since I'm making sauce, I'd like to make pizza from scratch later this week, so I flipped to her section on pizza doughs. Be still my heart, she has a recipe there for an onion and anchovy pizza! I grew up begging for anchovies out of the can, and in fact, have three cans in my pantry right now. I cannot wait to try this.

Anchovies and onions...well, at least I can be pretty well assured I won't have to share.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

SWAT teams of academia

Seen on Instapundit this morning: U Chicago Students Demand Race-Specific Housing and Requiring ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ to Graduate.

It's staggering to think these students believe they can demand major changes to university programs and facilities, based on racial preferences (so they want segregated housing...isn't that one of the things the Civil Rights movement moved to abolish?).

Yet that is not what caused me to spit out my coffee. This did it: they are also advocating for "revitalization of the Bias Response Team".

//blink//

Do you see what I see? It seems as if the University of Chicago already has a "Bias Response Team" - they would have to, if this group of students wants to see it revitalized, right?

What, pray tell, does this Bias Response Team do?

Do they rush around campus in a big van, carefully painted in equal sized patches of rainbow colors, to provide the interior of the van as a "safe space" for students who feel marginalized because of perceived bias?

Do they rush to the side of the minority student who has received a failing grade on a test, ready to check the exam questions for cultural bias that would make it impossible for the student to earn a passing grade?

Does the team carry smart phones and tablets, set to immediately social media-shame anyone they judge has exercised "white privilege" or "cultural appropriation", or heaven forbid, a conservative viewpoint?

To my knowledge, nothing this ridiculous has yet invaded my own campus. But it is coming. In our staff meeting this week, we watched a video of a forum with the university president and faculty members. Questions had been submitted in advance, and one of them asked when/if/how upper administration would become more diverse. The president pretty much apologized that the three highest university positions - president, provost and the executive vice president for operations - are all white males.

Really?

It is no longer enough to be the best person for the job, if your skin color/sexual orientation/gender fluidity/religion/politics are not "correct".

What the heck is the world coming to?

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Devil Chicken

While I certainly haven't been blogging this last two weeks plus, I have been doing a bit of cooking. I've a backlog of "recipes to try" that would keep a small country fed for a year. Tonight's recipe is courtesy of Jacques Pepin, chicken thighs in a spicy tomato/vinegar sauce.

Chicken Diablo

6 large, bone-in, skinned chicken thighs (if you insist, you can use breasts, or even boneless, skinless breasts, but honestly, learn to eat dark meat - it is so much more flavorful, and thighs are actually easy to eat with a knife and fork off the bone)

3/4 teaspoon salt, divided

3/4 teaspoon pepper, divided

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 garlic cloves, crushed and finely chopped

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar (or 1/4 cup vinegar and no wine)

2 tablespoons dry white wine

8 ounces tomato sauce (or 3/4 cup tomato puree)

1/4 cup water

1 teaspoon Tobasco sauce

1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon

Cook chicken:

Sprinkle both sides of chicken with 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper. Heat butter and oil in a large, heavy, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add thighs, cover and cook five minutes. Turn, cover and cook an additional 10 - 15 minutes, reducing heat and turning as needed, until done (check near the bone - for more even cooking, before putting them in the pan, make a 1/2" cut on the backside of the thigh on each side of the bone, not going all the way through). Remove from pan and put somewhere to keep warm.

Make sauce:

Add garlic to pan drippings and cook, stirring, about 30 seconds, without browning. Deglaze pan with vinegar and wine, stirring to melt the solidified juices. Cook 1 to 2 minutes; most of the liquid should have evaporated. Add water and tomato sauce and bring to boil over high heat. Cover and boil 1 minute. Stir in remaining 1⁄4 teaspoon salt and 1⁄4 teaspoon pepper, Tabasco and tarragon. Spoon sauce over the chicken and serve.

Serves 4

Diane's take: The tang from the vinegar and the heat of the Tabasco combine to give you spicy, but not overly so (maybe my Tobasco is old - I put in closer to two teaspoons). Don't skip the fresh tarragon - it adds needed depth.

I wasn't sure I'd like bone-in chicken with a sauce on it, but as I said above, chicken thighs, having pretty much just the one, round bone, are very easy to eat with a knife and fork. They also cook up very juicy and flavorful. There was rather a lot of chicken juice/rendered chicken fat in my pan when I took the thighs out; though I left it in the pan, the sauce wasn't unduly greasy. My one change would be to serve this with something to soak up more of the sauce - rice, couscous or some other grain. While I made oven baked fries, they didn't soak up as much of the sauce as I'd have liked.

This is a keeper.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

It's not Friday

Yet here I am. Sort of.

Every so often I feel like shuttering this place, but I live in hopes that I'll come out of this slump and get back to making sense and decent posts...still hoping.

I realized this past weekend that it's really been a difficult 2017 so far. So many people were anxious for 2016 to end, mostly because of the slew of celebrity deaths in that year (news flash: everyone dies eventually). This year, though, at least for me, has stunk on a more personal level.

Much of the stink doesn't actually emanate from me, so to speak, but is clouding the lives of people I hold dear. Serious health issues. Parents passing away. Long term unemployment and the associated financial troubles. Serious relationship difficulties. Much, if not most, of it beyond anything I can do other than pray.

Add to this generalized anxiety about society. Since the election, already acrimonious public discourse has taken a turn for the worse. Any position but your own is not only unsound, but by default makes you a racist, homophobe, uncompassionate ass who doesn't deserve to breathe. Our college campuses, especially, have in large part begun indoctrinating students in a particular world view rather than teaching anything like free thought and free speech.

That last bit makes life at work a bit...interesting. It's hard to listen to our student workers parrot back what has been force fed them in class, knowing that for the most part, they've not thought through the actual issue, much less what defenses there are for their position. Isn't the job of the university to teach young people to think for themselves, not hand them conclusions on a silver (or platinum, given today's tuition rates) platter?

Eh.

Personally, it's been a season of discontent. I'm not entirely sure I've felt well since before Christmas. Head colds, the knee issue, headaches, another cold, stomach issues. There is a fair chance some of this is stress-related.

Not feeling well makes me cranky (ok, crankier) and makes small inconveniences and idiocies loom much larger than usual. In short, the craziness gets to me more than it should. That, in turn, makes me wonder why I'm doing what I'm doing, not only professionally, but in all areas of my life. I want to make some changes, but a combination of inertia and not-sure-I-give-a-darn keeps me from actually starting anything.

Over the top of this is a layer of grieving. Stay with me on this - a lot of people just don't or won't understand. When I reached forty, I started a year or two of grieving over the biological kids I'd never have. It didn't matter that I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I would be a lousy mother (I love kids, and am great with them, as long as I can give them back within about four hours, and no, I would not feel any different if they were my own - deal with it), and God is absolutely right in not putting that in my life; still, I grieved.

And that's ok. It really is ok to need to work through the fact you will never have something you never really wanted in the first place. (it's my life, it only has to make sense to me).

Anyway, here we are almost twenty years later, and all sorts of "grandkid" posts start popping into my Facebook feed. I'm genuinely happy for my friends, but...it's started a new season of mourning. This round, for the lack of continuation that kids and grandkids bring.

Again, it's ok to mourn. And again, I am perfectly content with the lot God's given me in this regard. But it's still difficult in some ways.

So there's that.

The sun is finally out today, after what seems to be weeks of grey and rain. Hoping that the extra light helps to brighten my mood as well. At five this morning, as I walked from the desk in the loft to the bathroom, I could see plenty of light through the giant, east-facing windows. Spring, in spite of the thirty degree temperature, is well on its way.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Obligatory Friday brain dump

It's been a rough week. I'm exhausted, and want nothing more than to go home and go to bed. The irony is that I'm at that stage of tired where I most likely would not be able to sleep.

Anyway, it's supposed to be a decent (by my standards; your mileage may vary) weekend, with highs in the mid fifties with sunshine. It's a bit too cold yet to do things like powerwash the patio, but I will putz with the little stuff. Hook up the hose, fix the flag mount, put in the solar powered spot for the flag. Anything that doesn't require putting on gardening clothes and actually getting dirty. In other words, the little stuff I was going to do last weekend, when it was seventy degrees.

Eh. It will (mostly, and eventually) get done.

I've not done much sewing at all this month. On Good Friday, I finished putting borders on the Galaxy quilt. Cut out the binding. Still need to press the top, press the binding and piece the back. Then it will all go on skirt hangers in the closet until I can afford to have someone else quilt it. Yes, for the first time ever, I'm sending something to someone else for quilting.

There may be some organizing in the studio this weekend. A while ago, I picked up a box of vacuum bags - the plastic zipper bags that have a valve on them through which you can suck out the air inside the bag. Well, not you, but your vacuum does the sucking. My winter linens/quilts are stored this way.

Someone on a quilt message board mentioned she puts all the fabric and bits for her quilts-in-progress into these sorts of bags, as they tend store in much less space than otherwise. I cannot see doing this with things that are already started, as the wrinkling is rather pronounced once you open the bags, but I happen to have a number of quilty things that are in the "large hunks of fabric" stage. The fabric needs to stay together, but I certainly don't have to have it loose in a bin.

While I have rather a lot of these bins of projects and potential projects (//cough//four or five//cough,cough//), I do have an inventory list. Somewhere. More specifically, in one of the three spiral notebooks of various sizes and shapes that live in the drawer of the sewing machine cabinet. The last time the list was updated, though, is at least two years ago.

Other than those couple of things, I intend to laze around all weekend. How about you?