Whatever your opinion may be about the Brian Berger melodrama being played out in the news, you can’t deny that he has singlehandedly done more than any other county commissioner to increase ratings on the local cable access channel.
Because, you know, usually those county commissioner meetings are so boring without someone being accused of drooling on the governor.
Excuse me while I go add an item to my list of life goals/potential gravestone epitaphs.
The other night I was having this dream about food. We were at a restaurant, or maybe I was cooking at home. There was a meatloaf terrine-thing—basically a rectangular block of meat with a layer of potatoes all around it, which was then rolled in panko or maybe cornflake crumbs, and then there was a question as to whether or not it should be deep-fried or simply baked. I think we were leaning towards deep-frying, if only we could work out the logistics of the potential mess it would make, and how best to go about it without the whole thing falling apart.
And then I looked down and I was holding a Corn Pop in my hand. Just one. It was light and airy and, for some reason, a bit marshmallow-y in texture. Oh gosh, I thought. What should I do with this one Corn Pop?
So I ate it. I popped it in my mouth and began chewing and it was really rather chewier than I thought a Corn Pop ought to be, and rather unpleasant-tasting to boot.
And then I woke up and I was eating an ear plug.
An ear plug that had previously been in my ear for most of the night.
Have you ever tasted ear wax? It is pretty disgusting. No, actually, it is really disgusting, and kind of bitter.
So I spat it out and then I licked my sheets (um, and maybe also the pillowcase since we are doing ‘true confessionals’ here) to get the taste out of my mouth, and then I went back to sleep.
And now I have another addition to the list of ‘Thank-You Notes I’d Like to Write But Probably Shouldn’t:’ “Thank you for the sheet set. I have already licked them and they taste so much better than an earplug.”
You know what else tastes better than an earplug?
This orzo with zucchini and fresh tomatoes.
Andy and I cobbled this dish together using the ‘what do we have on hand’ method. If you’ve ever looked in my pantry you’ll know that what we always have on hand is pasta.
What we also had were sale-priced zucchini, vine-ripe tomatoes, and—most importantly—an open bottle of white wine.
This dish comes together quickly; it’s light and vibrant; filling but not heavy. While we have a tendency to add cheese to all of our pasta dishes (at the very least Parmesan, if not also mozzarella or ricotta) this one was bright and flavorful and didn’t need any at all.
I think this recipe will be in heavy rotation this summer (especially if my vegetable garden performs half as well as I’m hoping it will) to make good use of those squash and tomatoes.
If you want to add some sort of protein source to this and make it a one-bowl meal, you could add chickpeas, walnuts or pine nuts, tofu, cooked chicken or salty cubes of feta.
Summer Vegetable Orzo with Zucchini and Fresh Tomatoes
1 lb. orzo pasta
~2 T. olive oil
1 onion, diced
4-5 medium zucchini, cut into bite-sized chunks
6-8 medium tomatoes (we used the ‘on-the-vine’ ones that are about the size of tangerines)
3-4 cloves garlic, crushed
salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste
several healthy glugs of white wine (probably about a cup, maybe more)
dried herbs, to taste (a few dashes each of oregano, basil, and Italian seasoning)
Optional: Chickpeas, walnuts/pine nuts, tofu, cooked chicken, or cubes of feta
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent. Add zucchini and tomatoes and stir. Cook over medium heat until tomatoes have pretty much disintegrated and turned into a sauce. Add herbs, garlic, salt and pepper to taste. Add the white wine and cook until reduced. Lower heat and continue to stir occasionally. If it becomes too dry, add more white wine or some of the water the orzo is cooking in.
Meanwhile, cook your orzo in boiling salted water according to package directions.
If you’re adding chicken or feta or chickpeas to your dish, add them to the skillet and stir until heated through.
Drain the orzo and stir together with the vegetable mixture. There should be enough ‘sauce’ to keep the orzo from sticking, but not so much that it’s visible. If the pasta is sticking, add a drizzle or two of olive oil.
Here are some of the thank-you notes that I wanted to write, but didn’t:
“Thank you for the sheets. We will be having a lot of sex on them.”
“Thank you for this thing. Andy says it looks like an inflamed labia and now I can’t look at it anymore without thinking of an STD.”
“Thank you for the sausage stuffer attachment. There are so many inappropriate jokes we can make about it, and we can’t wait to start leaving it out on the kitchen counter whenever company comes.”
“Thank you for the booze. We are going to get really drunk off it and then stumble around for a while. Then we might even take off our clothes.”
“Thank you for all the baking equipment. We are going to get really fat and bloated and just totally let ourselves go.”
“Thank you for this thing. I am wondering if, when I try to return it to the store, I will get full price for it or if it was maybe on clearance or perhaps, discontinued?”
“Thank you for this thing. Sometimes when Andy’s friends are over and they’ve been drinking he will wear it like a helmet. It makes him look like Shredder from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”
“Thank you for this thing. It is going to stay in its box in the closet until we reorganize or remodel the kitchen, or until we perhaps move. So, thank you for the attractive and sturdy cardboard box that I will be staring at for the foreseeable future, maybe even the rest of my life!”
“Thank you for this thing. How much do you think I’ll be able to get for it at a yard sale, if anything?”
“Thank you for the money. I will be using it to pay the electric bill, or perhaps the water bill. If there’s any left over after that, we might buy beer.”
“Thank you for the gift card. I will use it to buy something ridiculous and unneccessary that I will probably use only once, like a popcorn maker or a snow-cone machine.”
On a completely unrelated note, I don’t know why we aren’t invited to more parties.
Several years ago, Andy’s workday looked like this: Teach from 8 to 3:30. Bring a turkey sandwich (2 slices turkey, mustard, whole-wheat bread) and an apple for lunch. Get home by 4. Walk the dog. Prep for next class. Eat something, but not too much that it will make you full and sleepy and dragging. Leave at 5:30. Teach from 6 to 9 pm. Get home by 9:30. Eat whatever’s in sight because you are starving.
It wasn’t ideal, as far as ‘eating a normal dinner at a normal hour’ was concerned.
And it left him with a dilemma: What can you eat at 5 p.m. that will tide you over for 4 hours so you are not starving, but that won’t induce a food coma or sugar crash since you need to be alert and engaging for 3 hours while you supervise a classroom of people who are using power tools, including sometimes saws?
The answer is: Breakfast Cookies.
Though maybe we should call them just Healthy Cookies, since we mainly eat them in the afternoon? No matter.
Andy made this recipe up himself. Really. I’d like to take credit for it, but it was before I met him and, to be honest, I hadn’t even seen the recipe until several months ago. (I will, however, take credit for a) finding the recipe amongst the stacks of kitchen clutter and b) adding chocolate chips to it.)
It’s scrawled on a sheet of notebook paper, with several scratchings-out and re-writing. From this I can tell that since the first batch he has: increased the amount of oats; omitted the baking powder; increased the amount of apple sauce; added ground flax; and, for some reason, replaced the salt with cinnamon (I’ve added the salt back).
These cookies taste very similar to Andy’s No-Cook Oats and, if you add the chocolate chips (which I highly recommend that you do), also to the Best-Ever Trail Mix.
They’re higher in protein than either one due to the egg whites, and also easier to eat, especially if you need something to grab-and-go.
We’ve found ourselves eating them in the late afternoon, the perfect thing-that-is-not-potato-chips for the 5 p.m.-ish post work snack, that time of day when you want to eat something but don’t want to ruin your dinner.
[And, speaking from experience here, even if you do eat *ahem* several of them and ruin your dinner, you at least won't feel as guilty about it as you do after inhaling half a bag of potato chips].
Possibly useful tip for those of you who hate separating eggs: You can freeze egg whites that are leftover from making custardy/yolky things like pudding or chocolate cream pie and then thaw and use as needed. I put them in tiny containers (2 egg whites per container) and label them, because if you don’t label them you’ll come across them later and be like, wtf? and probably throw them out.
Andy’s Healthy Breakfast-or-Anytime Cookies
½ cup ground flaxseed
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups rolled oats
¾ cup brown sugar
½ t. baking soda
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup dried cranberries(or a mix of craisins/dried cherries)
2 cups walnuts
2 egg whites
¾ cup apple sauce
1 t. vanilla extract
½ cup milk (can use almond- or soy- or whatever-milk)
1 ½-2 cups chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Mix together all dry ingredients (except chocolate chips). Add egg whites, apple sauce, vanilla and milk and mix until well combined (you can use a handheld/stand mixer for this, or just stir with a spoon).
Add the chocolate chips, if desired (yes, I think you will desire them).
Drop by Tablespoons onto a cookie sheet, and—this is important—flatten them with the back of a spatula until they are thin enough for your liking. (These cookies don’t flatten out during baking like regular cookies do (due to no added fat) so whatever shape they are when the go in is the same shape they’ll be coming out).
Bake for 12-15 minutes.
These make for a ’soft & chewy’ cookie rather than a crisp one; you can always try baking them longer (as long as they aren’t browning too much) or cutting back a bit on the milk for a ‘crispier’ cookie.
Me: [Talking to the dog as she curls up adorably beside me on the couch, in that voice some dog owners use and that I swore I wouldn't ever but it turns out I just can't help myself.] Aww, are you a little lamb? Look, she’s such a little lamb.
My Guy: She’s the Lamb of Dog.
I bet you were worried that this was going to turn into a wedding-planning blog, weren’t you?
Well lucky for us all, a) I am not that kind of person and b) even if I was it’s too late because I’m already married!
I learned a lot during these past months of wedding-planning (or as my mom would call it: non-planning and phone-call-avoiding), but most importantly I learned that I will never be a wedding planner because holy hell it is just the worst. (Other items that have also been crossed off of my ‘potential careers list’ include: astrophysicist; computer programmer; dog groomer [this last one because you must deal with something called an ‘anal gland.’ I will not share with you what, exactly, must be done with it in case you happen to be eating]).
One day when I was newly engaged I was making small talk with a lady at the doctor’s office and I mentioned something about ‘my fiancé and the lady goes, “Oh! Congratulations! What are your colors?” and I was like, “What are my what?” And then after she explained it to me I replied, “Oh, I don’t think I’ll be doing that. We’ll just use whatever’s in bloom, and people will wear whatever’s in their closet.”
And this is reason #1 why I will never be a wedding planner: because the only things I care about at a wedding are: Is there food? Is the food not disgusting and/or rancid? And is there alcohol? If you can answer yes to all three, then I’d say you have the makings for a pretty great wedding.
Back when I lived in Hickory, my job duties occasionally included helping plan for events (usually lunches) for our volunteers and donors. These usually took place at the jobsite and also usually involved some church ladies cooking a meal or me begging for a donated platter of sandwiches from whichever sandwich chain I hadn’t begged from most recently (I kept a list of them with dates beside each one because apparently some of them get rather testy if you beg more often than once every 6 weeks or so.)
The rest of my ‘event planning’ checklist went approximately like this:
- Put out a few plastic tablecloths on the serving tables. Because these tablecloths are leftover from the last event and the event before that, likely they will be torn and/or dirty, stained with various foodstuffs including, but not limited to: generic cola; pepperoni pizza grease; baked beans; potato salad; hot-dog chili; and/or mustard. Make a halfhearted effort to wipe some of the most offensive stains off, especially if they are attracting flies.
- Set out a stack of plates. These will also be leftover from the last event, and the event before that and the one before that. For this reason they will all be of various sizes, patterns and shapes and will not stack neatly. Put the most attractive (read: non-styrofoam) plates on top and assume that no one will notice that the rest of them do not match or that, if they do, they will be too hungry to care.
- Set out the giant box of plastic cutlery that was purchased at Sam’s Club and is leftover from the last event, and the event before that. Prop open the lid to the box with a bowl of potato chips or a stack of napkins. Try not to notice that the box is filled mainly with spoons and knives but very few forks. Reassure yourself that if someone is really hungry, they will eat potato salad and coleslaw with a spoon.
- Fill up the water cooler with a hose. If you’ve remembered to pick some up, also dump in some ice.
- Set out a stack of cups beside the water cooler. When the wind knocks them over onto the ground the first thing you should do is find out if anyone is looking. If no one is looking pick them up, wipe the dirt off, and set them back on the table—a little further from the edge this time. If someone is looking, walk over towards the trash can as if you are going to throw them away and then wait until the person is distracted and put them back on the table.
- Hope that the church ladies show up on time and, if/when they do, help them remove tinfoil from the food and try to lay out the plastic baggies of pimento cheese sandwiches ‘attractively.’ Please note that due to the nature of a pimento cheese sandwich in a plastic bag, this is impossible to do.
Now, I’m telling you all of this to show you that even though I was getting paid to do it, event planning was just not my thing, and so you will nod in agreement when I say “They couldn’t pay me to do it.” In this case, it is not just a saying.
After about a year and a half or so of me ‘event planning,’ we hired a lady to work in the development office. It turned out that she was actually kind of into event planning, so we let her help out with the next one we did.
It was the usual—church ladies bringing food out to the worksite.
That morning, my new coworker drove over to the site and began unloading her car.
First there were balloons to tie to the tent and chairs.
Then there were new red-checked tablecloths for every table.
And then there was a radio flyer wagon which she filled with ice and arranged (attractively) with cans of soda.
And then there were pewter cups that she filled with plastic silverware.
And then—then!—she pulled out a basket heaped with freshly-cut peonies and began arranging them in vases.
Peonies, I’m telling you!
In retrospect I should have hired her to plan my wedding.
And so as she was arranging the peonies and straightening tablecloths and making everything look, in general, like a magazine photo-shoot called ‘Picnic in the Countryside,’ I was making a mental note for what to do when I got back in the office and that note read: ‘Re-write job description so that it no longer includes event planning.’
It was possibly one of the happiest days at work that I ever had because: free lunch, and no more event planning.
Every spring a sparrow nests in the eaves of the porch.
She arrives at the end of April, like clockwork.
She uses whatever’s left of last year’s nest, fluffing it up with a little more grass, a bit of moss, a tuft of something-or-other scavenged from the yard.
And then she sits. And waits.
In the mornings I take my coffee and stand at the window to watch her. Huddled down in her nest she is just a head, barely discernible against the soft brown of twigs and stems, two perfectly round black eyes, her tail feathers raised like an awkward oar where she must wedge them against the corner of the roof.
She is always there when I look and I can’t say why, but it is comforting to see her there.
I feel protective of her, wondering, When will she eat? Where is her mate?
I feel guilty if she flies away after I stare at her too long, or when the dog barks, or when I go out to water the plants—a guilt tinged with slight annoyance because the time that Mama Bird is here also happens to coincide with the perfect time for front-porch-sitting and front-garden-planting. I try to weigh my wants against her needs, the needs of her clutch of thumb-sized eggs.
How long can she be away from her nest? Am I making her too nervous?
Last summer I grew quite fond of her and then, as June slid into July and an unbearable heat settled over us, concerned for her. Sometimes I could see her breathing through her open beak—panting, if birds can do that sort of thing—and standing up in the nest with her wings fanned out from her body, the way I will sometimes do in the summer if no one is watching and my armpits begin to sweat.
It was too hot to sit on eggs. Too hot for them to hatch.
Last year, though we waited patiently, there never were any chirrups of baby chicks, no hungry antics of feeding time or awkward first flights.
Maybe it was the heat, or something else entirely.
We had grown fond of her, had begun to depend on her presence and then one day in July she flew away and did not come back.
And I thought for sure that was the last we had seen of her, that she had given up on this spot with its intrusions—the dog, the UPS man, the prying eyes behind the window.
I had all but forgotten her, though her nest still sat there, wilted and forlorn.
But then last week she returned. She fluffed it up.
She readied herself for another spring.
Mama Bird is back, tethered by instinct to this place and season.
And so now we wait.
Whenever you are doing something that makes you feel totally ordinary and boring like, say, buying eggs and milk at the grocery store on a Saturday afternoon and lamenting maybe a little now that the cashiers all refer to you as ‘ma’am,’ it helps to add a few curses to your interior monologue.
As in: “I’m at the store to buy mother-effing milk and mother-effing eggs and the bagboy better not forget my mother-effing cloth grocery bags.”
See? Boring to badass in only 3 mother-effs.
[Driving to the jewelry store to redeem my 'one free watch battery' coupon because you know, why not, it's free and I needed a watch battery]
Andy: Are you going to wear that?
Andy: That sweatshirt.
Me: Ummm….yes? Why?
Andy: Oh god, you look like a bag lady.
Me: Why? What’s wrong with it?
Andy: What’s wrong with it? There’s stains all over it. It looks like something a homeless person threw away.
Me: What stains? [examining sweatshirt] There’s no…oh. Well…there aren’t that many stains on it. Anyway, who cares? It’s not like I’m ever going to see these people again.
Andy: Oh, god, that’s it. My life is over. We aren’t even married yet and you’ve already let yourself go. I’m marrying a bag lady.
Me: It’s not that bad.
Andy: Don’t you have, like, a sweater or something you can put on over it?
Me: I dunno, probably there’s something in the backseat. Here, I’ll wear a raincoat.
Andy: A raincoat? It’s not even raining. You’re going to wear a raincoat into the jewelry store and not take it off inside?
Me: Um…yes? Anyway it’s sort of raining. So what? Aren’t you coming in with me?
Andy: [Blank stare]. I’ll wait in the car.
This is, apparently, a thing—the engagement roast chicken.
I first read about it years and years ago in, of all places, Cosmo magazine. The jist of it is, “Hey, make this roast chicken for your boyfriend. It is so delicious that he will want to marry you.”
My first reaction to the article was something along the lines of “That is such bullshit. [Insert long feminist rant here].”
But in the back of my head I was thinking, Hmm, maybe someday.
Fast-forward a few years and I started dating Andy (otherwise known as ‘My Guy’ in the ‘Shit My Guy Says’ posts).
Things got serious pretty quickly, I guess, though I never would have thought to describe them as ‘serious’ since that sounds so, well, serious. We had fun. Lots of it. And less than a month after our first date we took a road trip down to Florida to meet his mom and his brother, which made my mother very nervous.
But we had fun and we swam in a pool, and Snooki dug a hole under the fence and ran away; when I finally caught up with her two blocks away she had very willingly gotten into a stranger’s car and was about to be driven…somewhere. To a better place, probably, seeing as it was Palm Beach and the woman abducting her was driving a Lexus.
So we saved Snooki from a life of luxury while doing the ‘serious’ relationship things like going on our first road trip and meeting his mother. She made gin and tonics, so that was all right.
At some point between then and now we talked about getting married. It made sense. We had fun together, except for the time I did his taxes and that was Not Fun because I was like, “Why do you have a million receipts and all of them are crumpled and faded so badly I can’t read them GAAAHH MY EYES!” and then I had to leave the house for a while and remember what it felt like to breathe.
But between talking about getting married and actually getting engaged…well, that took a while.
So I decided to make engagement roast chicken, especially once I saw that whole birds were on sale for 69 cents/lb that week.
I don’t think I followed the exact ‘Engagement Roast Chicken Recipe’ because I’m pretty certain it calls for a lot of lemons, which I did not have and also I have a thing against lemon-roasted chickens ever since that one time I bought a lemon-pepper rotisserie chicken from the grocery store and it both smelled and tasted of Lysol and it made me gag a little. So, that wasn’t going to happen.
I did, however, stuff it with lots of garlic and possibly an onion, and who knows what else I may have put in there, there was so much room. Maybe some old tax returns? Maybe junk mail? Probably just some sad, limp celery, perhaps a carrot.
So I roasted the chicken.
It turned out delicious, nestled atop a bed of quartered potatoes and nubs of carrots that slow-simmered in the chicken drippings.
We ate with gusto, with our fingers. The skin was delightfully crisp.
And then I waited for him to ask me to marry him.
And I waited, and then I did his taxes again and then I was like “GAAHH!” again.
And then I made another roast chicken the next time they went on sale.
And then…he didn’t ask me to marry him.
For a while.
Eventually he did, though, otherwise I wouldn’t be telling this story, now would I?
It went a little something like this: We were in the kitchen early one morning getting ready to go to work and I was like, “Hey, do you want to get engaged this morning?” and he was like, “Okay.” And then he asked me and I said yes and then I left for work.
You are totally swooning right now, aren’t you?
It’s okay. I’ll give you a moment to recover from how overwhelmingly romantic we are.
Anyway, he didn’t ask me to marry him because I made a roast chicken.
But the roast chicken—and the many other things I cooked—are, perhaps, a part of it: The point is not what you cook, or that you cook at all—the point is that cooking is an act of love. The point is that you give of yourself—your time and your effort and your (however questionable they may be) skills—and you create something for someone. Something to comfort and nourish and sustain.
“Here,” you say, “I made this. For you.”
There is an M.F.K. Fisher quote that sums it up better:
“I still think that one of the pleasantest of all emotions is to know that I, I with my brain and my hands, have nourished my beloved few, that I have concocted a stew or a story, a rarity or a plain dish, to sustain them truly against the hungers of the world.”
The point is not to roast a chicken.
The point is to cook, to sustain your beloved few.
Engagement or Otherwise Roast Chicken Recipe
You can go in a hundred different directions with a roast chicken, but basically all you need to know is this: 20 minutes per pound at 375° or until the thigh reaches 165°. You can flavor your chicken with just about any seasonings or spices you can think of—but I’d recommend keeping it simple the first few times you make it, partly for ease but mainly for when you make chicken salad with the leftovers. Likewise, you can brine it overnight for added moistness & flavor or not—I usually go with not brining. To me the difference isn’t noticeable enough to be worth the extra step.
1 chicken, ~3-4 lbs.
salt & pepper
3-4 fresh sprigs of rosemary, optional but highly recommended
10-20 cloves garlic
3-4 stalks celery, chopped in half
lemons, if you feel like it, 1 or 2 cut in quarters
potatoes, 2-3 per person depending on size, peeled if desired and cut into 1-2 inch pieces
carrots, 2-3 per person depending on size, peeled and cut into 2-inch lengths
3 onions, quartered
Preheat oven to 375°.
In a large pan, arrange the potatoes, carrots, 2 of the onions, and 5-10 peeled cloves of garlic (optional) evenly.
Reach into the chicken cavity and remove giblets, if any. Save for later to fry up and feed to the dog, if you have one. Stuff the cavity with the remaining garlic cloves, rosemary, celery, the remaining onion, and the lemons, if using.
Place the chicken breast-side up on top of the vegetables. Drizzle the skin with olive oil, rubbing it in evenly if you feel up for it. Sprinkle heavily with salt and pepper, and lightly with thyme.
Roast in the oven for 20 minutes per pound of meat, or until the interior of the thigh registers 165°.
Let rest 10-15 minutes before serving to your beloved few.