Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Reliving childhood

Before I dive in, I had thought that this post would be delayed a day as I had planned on cooking yesterday. Then my mother called and invited me over for ribs. With greens, cornbread, and fresh corn on the cob. How could I resist? And I got to take home leftovers. While there I told her that I better get a job soon because I have toyed with the idea of making mole from scratch. My mother thought that was ridiculous and gave me this item.

I have yet to see this line of Knorr sauces in the U.S. Wish they were here because they're great.

Just like Tang comes in interesting flavors in Mexico.

Now onto the real post since I was suddenly inspired to cook at 9:00 this morning. Don't ask.

Aubergine. I always loved that word as a kid. Almost as much as periwinkle, my favorite color in the 64-pack of Crayolas.

Last week I did a new take, for me, on the trusty eggplant. Now it's back to an old favorite.


I must admit that I usually avoid this recipe because of the prep. In order for it to be fairly firm, it is key to remove the excess water from the eggplant before cooking. Not a lot of fun if you ask me. Everything else seems like a piece of cake.

You layer eggplant (This hasn't been fried yet.)...

With a tomato meat sauce that is seasoned with cinnamon, allspice, and parsley ...

And a bechamel sauce that has parmesan and nutmeg.

Usually I leave it there but I wanted extra cheesiness so in the middle are a couple of layers of grated mozzarella as well. 45 minutes or so of baking.

The finished dish.

And now here's the strange thing about me and food. I don't really like tomatoes. But if you've been keep track, there have been a great number of tomatoes appearing in my cooking as of late. But this dish and the other eggplant dish didn't really taste like tomato. I'll even put tomatoes in salads, but of course, they are the first part of the salad to disappear. Why do I do this to myself? Probably because I know that I could benefit from the vitamins and other nutrients they contain. Other than my fruit juice obsession, one could argue that I do not consume nearly enough fruits and vegetables.

Don't even get me going on my feelings about nuts. Let me just say that someone once told me, "Oh. You just don't believe in eating your own kind." And that's true with a few exceptions.

Monday, September 24, 2007

No more fruitflies

My apartment has been plagued by fruit flies at various times this summer. Not just mine. Everyone on the first floor. Perhaps the other floors as well but I don't really have conversations with those folks. Their arrival was not really a surprise. They show up every summer. So I have learned to move quickly when it comes to fruit sitting out.

Over the last week, I have been enjoying fried plantains a couple of times. Two of the ones I had bought were green at the time but by Monday they were a lovely yellow. They needed to be eaten soon if I didn't want another reappearance of the pesky fruit flies. But one can only eat fried plantains so many times in a week.

Quite ripe plantains. They were green when I bought them.

Last Monday, while I was perusing my three Indian cookbooks, I came across the solution. (Yes, I own three Indian cookbooks. Are you surprised given the number of cookbooks I own?) I had originally planned to have these along with the vindaloo and the eggplant-tomato curry but then I got busy.

Stuffed plantains.

You cut the plantains into pieces about three inches long. Then cut a slit in one side, but not all the way through. In the slit, put a mixture of ground cumin, ground coriander, salt, sugar, turmeric, chili powder and a little oil. (The mixture was also supposed to contain cilantro but I was out.) Then warm up some oil in a pan -- around medium high, of course. Put some cumin seeds -- and black mustard seeds, if you have them (I didn't.) -- in the oil. Let them sizzle about 30 seconds or so. Then add the plantains, cover, and reduce heat to low. Let cook for about 10 to 15 minutes. Spicy sweet goodness.

And they went wonderfully with the mahi-mahi with salsa. I completed the plate with some romaine tossed with olive oil, cherry balsamic (Often I use raspberry balsamic but I figured that I needed something a little tart to counteract the other sweetness on the plate.), and a little black pepper.

I love the mahi-mahi and will probably serve it to guests in the future. Now I'm just playing with side dishes that would complement it. I welcome any suggestions.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


My freshman year of college, I had the most fantastic roommate. At first I thought that she was a stick in the mud because she never wanted to go out and just napped a lot. But we found a common bond in our dislike of the other two women in our apartment. And then halfway through the school year, my roommate finally explained her fatigue to me. Her ovarian cancer (She was first diagnosed with it at age 16.) was out of remission. One of the things we discussed was how she was about to lose her remaining ovary. And the thing that stays with me to this day is how she was really meant to be someone's mother. At the end of our freshman year, she transferred to UC Santa Cruz so that she could be closer to home -- and to her doctor at Stanford. We'll never know if my belief in her parenting skills was true because she died by the time we were 21.

So what made her such a great mother in my eyes? Her cooking. Some mornings I would roll out of bed to be greeted by the smell of pancakes, eggs, and bacon. She would poke her head in and say, "Breakfast is ready. You should have time to eat before you go to class." And then there were the evenings I would come home to find dinner ready. Dinner was usually some sort of casserole. She was also a huge fan of Hamburger Helper. The meat that she served me was about the only meat I ate during freshman year. Meat just wasn't in my budget.

My favorite though was a casserole she made that she said came from a family recipe. I watched her make it numerous times and could kind of guess at the ingredients. After years of searching, I finally found a recipe that comes close. Although it could have just as easily been the Chilaquiles. Because now that I think about it more, I think hers involved stewed tomatoes. *sigh* Either way, I will think of her when I make both dishes now. Because I will be making both again.

Pastel Cuauhtemoc from Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Library: Mexican Favorites

Lots of chicken, tortilla, cheesy goodness topped with crema.

I probably thought this recipe was the closest because the stale tortillas are left whole before frying, save the dry edges that you trim off. The fried tortillas are then layered with a puree of beans with ancho chili and cumin, shredded chicken, pasilla chili strips and cheese. I like chilaquiles, but I love this dish. Almost as much as I love bacon.

* Sobrante means "leftover" in English.

Friday, September 21, 2007

You go back, Jack ...

Sometimes one has to experience a mistake a second time in order to understand fully that it is indeed a mistake. Such was the case yesterday.

Last night I had to pick my mom up from the airport. (Yes, we are speaking again.) After we arrived at the house, she asked about our sit-down with my dad. I told her that I think that he was waiting for her to return before scheduling it. Knowing my dad, he'll decide that since my mother and I are speaking again, the sit-down is unnecessary. Not. My mother also tried to talk me into spending the night at her house since it was late. It wouldn't have been so late if her flight had been on time but it was an hour late. I desperately wanted to get home though so I left. Besides I knew it was that magical hour during which there are actually parking choices in my neighborhood.

The drive home started off pretty well. I thought about some of the things I wanted to discuss with my mother when my father is present. Like how I have finally and truly embraced happiness. It took the mention of moving to make me realize it all. And the fact that come March I will have lived in this place for three years. That's a true record for me. Usually after a year in one place, I have wanted to move. But not now. Because after all these years, I have finally found a place that feels like home to me. I just can't imagine living anywhere else. It's a strange feeling since it's so foreign to me. And now knowing this has made me realize that I am truly happy.

And then I got that text message on the drive home. Retail Boy was in town. I sent him a message explaining that I was rather tired. So he called. Wanting to know what I had saved up on the DVR. And then I remembered that there had been the season finale of "Burn Notice." Suddenly I was wide awake. And I, like a fool, decided that it would be OK to have some company with whom I could watch TV. Just watch TV. Guess I should have made that clear.

He showed up shortly after I got home and proceeded to irritate the hell out of me. Like talking in an outside voice. Over me. He did most of the talking. Every time I tried to say something, he would try to interrupt in a much louder voice than mine. And I thought to myself, "What an ass." Every now and then he would make these stupid proclamations. I would correct him. He would respond with, "I knew that." And I thought to myself, "What an ass."

And did I get to see "Burn Notice?" Noooo. Because the ass wanted to see "Rock of Love." But the last episode was rather hilarious so I was willing to watch it again. And then he was at a loss as to why I noticed more in the show than he did. Perhaps I know how to listen while I'm talking. So maybe he should just shut the fuck up.

My favorite part of the evening was while he was watching Lacey's crazy ass dad, he kept saying, "I want to be a really good dad." OK. That part is kind of sane. Then he followed it up with, "Everyone keeps telling me I would be a really good dad." Didn't we have a conversation about "everyone" last summer? And this of course was after watching the end of Friday that made him say that the movie made him want to do drugs again. I guess he never caught that Robin Williams bit about parents who do drugs.

So he ended up getting his panties in a wad when I called him out over the talking over me shit. "I can't believe that you're saying that. I've been a perfect gentleman." Ummm. Gentlemen, in my book, do not try to interrupt you. "But I've listened to everything you said." Well, then act like it, you ass.

In the future if I say that I have answered his text or call, could someone please come along and slap me? Thank you.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Breaking it up

I figured that y'all deserved a break from food today. So let's talk about other stuff. Besides, I haven't had time to cook anything since Monday.

A few weeks ago, or something like that, I had an email exchange with Stacy over the route I take when showing tourists around San Francisco. I like to think that my tour is fairly comprehensive. It mostly depends on what time we start and the stamina of the tourist. Somehow my cousin forgot her camera so I took pictures for her.

What every tourist wants to see.

On Tuesday, I got the chance to put my skills to the test once more after one of my younger cousins (first cousin once removed) arrived in town for the first time. It's basically a driving tour with a some stops. In my younger days (high school) when I did not have access to a car, the tour was much more abbreviated as it was done via walking and public transportation.

Jack London's cabin at Jack London Square.

Waiting for the freight train to get moving again so that we could cross the street.

Wednesday we did the East Bay thing. She had no interest in suburbia so we stuck to Oakland and Berkeley. I would have liked to have included some Marin County in the whole thing besides the drive through on Tuesday evening but she returned home today. Perhaps on her next trip. Because there will be more trips.

One of our last stops on Wednesday was at the B&N in Emeryville and look at what I found there. Laurie, my cousin and I did chuckle at the photo of you wearing all of your knitted goodies.

And there was a challenge to it all. When I spoke to her on the phone Monday night about her current California experience, there were no happy, glowing words. Because for the last year she has lived in the L.A. area -- Hollywood to be exact. There is something about L.A. that is off-putting to folks from outside of California. When I lived in Virginia, I heard, way too many times, folks say, "I've been to California before and I didn't like it." Always upon further examination, I have found that these folks have only visited L.A. And when I later convince them to visit the San Francisco area, they change their mind about the state. Same thing happened with my cousin.

And the weirdest part is that in my mind, in some ways my cousin will always be the two-year-old girl who woke me up bright and early by banging on the side of the bed when I stayed with her family. It's hard to believe that she's now a psychologist. Neil, I'd give you her number but she prefers to work with the criminally insane. Of course, this means that she just might be able to help the family...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Happiness on a plate

If I had to select one cuisine that I absolutely love, it would be Indian. While reading SFist yesterday, I saw that I was not alone in my love. (And yes, I have been to Taste of the Himalayas -- last summer on a date. I keep meaning to go back.) As I wrote previously, in recent years I had stopped cooking Indian food and instead, chose to go out. Right now I can't really afford to go out so I'm back to cooking. And I love cooking things that will yield enough to put away containers in the freezer for that day that I don't feel like cooking. (Or that I have enough to give some to my aunts, neither of whom really cooks, as I did in this case. Silly generation-skipping culinary gene.) This time I got ambitious and made two main dishes.

Vindaloo, Eggplant-Tomato Curry, and Carmelized Basmati Rice

I had originally planned on cooking this on Sunday but the meat for the vindaloo had to marinate. By the time the minimum time for this had passed, it was starting to get a bit late so I decided to let it marinate further. In fact I often let it marinate overnight when I make this particular dish.

An Everyday Vindaloo
from Curries Without Worries

I used a small pork roast (around 3 pounds) for this dish. The best part? There was a small bone and some pieces that were a bit too fatty to go into the dish. So I saved all that stuff up in a freezer bag for future seasoning usage.

I have read that this dish is traditionally made with pork but I have also made it with lamb in the past. Also, it came to India via Portugal. As with the Chicken Curry recipe, I find it helpful to measure everything before I start cooking.

Left: Ingredients waiting to be pureed. Right: Spice mixtures.

2-1/2 pounds boneless pork
6 tablespoons vinegar
2 large onions, sliced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup chopped fresh coriander
4 dry hot peppers
1 tablespoon whole cumin seeds
2-inch cinnamon stick, coarsely crushed
6 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 hot green peppers
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
2 cups water

1. Marinate the meat in 2 tablespoons of vinegar for 4 yours in the refrigerator.

2. Blend the onions, ginger, garlic, coriander, hot peppers, cumin, and cinnamon with the remaining vinegar to make a paste. You may have to add a tablespoon or two of water to facilitate blending.

3. When ready to cook, heat the oil in a 6-quart saucepan on high heat. Add the puree, and reduce the heat to medium high. Fry briskly for a couple of minutes.

4. Add the turmeric, ground black pepper, meat, and the marinade. Fry well for 10 minutes, taking care not to burn the meat. Stir briskly, constantly.

5. Add the green peppers, salt, sugar, cloves, and 2 cups of water. Stir, cover, reduce heat to medium, and cook for about 45 minutes, until the gravy thickens and the meat is completely tender.

6. Serve hot.


Eggplant-Tomato Curry

This is a little tricky because I ended up combining elements from a couple of different recipes but I'll give it a try. Although I have given measurements, many are just estimates. Close, but estimates nonetheless. Also if you like extra spicy, one of the recipes included adding green peppers at step 5. I didn't because I figured that I had enough extra-spiciness going on my plate with the vindaloo.

1 eggplant, about 1-1/2 pounds, cut into wedges 1-1/2 - 2 inches long
3/4 lb. ripe tomatoes (I estimated and used three medium tomatoes on the vine)
1 inch piece of ginger, minced
6 garlic cloves, crushed
About 1/2 cup oil
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1-1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt

Left: Eggplant draining. Right: Seed mixture and spice mixture.

1. Put the eggplant pieces in a colander, sprinkle them with salt and leave them for 30 minutes to allow any bitter juices to run out. Rinse, squeeze out any excess water, then pat dry with paper towels.

2. Score a cross in the top of each tomato and plunge into boiling water for 20 seconds. Drain and peel away from the cross. Roughly chop the tomatoes, discarding the cores and seeds and reserving any juices.

3. Puree the ginger and garlic with a third of the tomatoes in a blender or food processor.

4. Heat oil in a large, deep, heavy-bottomed frying pan, and when hot, add as many eggplant pieces as you can fit in a single layer. Cook over medium heat until brown on both sides, then transfer to paper towels so that the excess oil can drain off. Add more oil to the pan as needed and cook the rest of the eggplant in batches. (That's how I did it. One of the recipes suggests using a colander to let it drain.)

5. Reheat the oil that's left in the pan and add the fennel seeds and the cumin seeds. Cover and allow to pop for a few seconds. Add the tomato and ginger mixture and the remaining ingredients, except the eggplant. Cook, stirring regularly for 5-6 minutes until the mixture becomes thick and fairly smooth. Carefully add the cooked eggplant so that the pieces stay whole, cover the pan, and cook gently for 10 minutes.


Carmelized Basmati Rice
from Best-Ever Curry Cookbook

Jill, you start drooling, I own the paperback edition of this book that is priced substantially less. They just didn't have an image of the cover on the paperback edition.

This is the real reason why I turned the other pot of rice into rice pudding. I wanted to give this recipe a try to use as a side dish instead.

1 cup basmati rice
3 tbsp vegetable oil
4 tsp granulated sugar
4 - 5 green cardamom pods, bruised
1 in piece cinnamon stick
4 cloves
1 bay leaf, crumpled
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups hot water

1. Put the basmati rice in a colander and leave to drain.

2. In a large pan, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the granulated sugar and wait until it is carmelized.

3. Reduce the heat to low and add the spices and bay leaf. Let sizzle for about 15 - 20 seconds, then add the rice and salt. Fry gently, stirring, for about 2 - 3 minutes.

4. Pour in the water and bring to a boil. Let it boil steadily for 2 minutes, then reduce the heat to very low. Cover the pan and cook for 8 minutes.

5. Remove the rice from the heat and let stand for 6-8 minutes. Gently fluff up the rice with a fork and transfer to a warmed dish to serve.

The reason why I used cardamom in the rice pudding was because I was trying to imitate the flavor of kheer -- a perfect dessert to follow this meal.

As I wrapped up the cooking, I ventured into the living room to discover this sight.

I think I am going to have to relinquish this blanket to Natasha.

And Boris has a way of taking over my spot the minute I leave the room.

They were apparently waiting for the sound of a can opening.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Driving Miss Sweet Tooth

So much for trying to make plans. All last week I was looking forward to going to the chili cook-off in Rodeo. But then I got a phone call from my father Friday evening. He wanted not one but two favors. The first was that I would need to drive my aunt to Sacramento for my stepmother's surprise party on Saturday. The other was to act as tour guide for a cousin who will be arriving in town later today. I agreed to both and he said, "Don't worry. I'll take care of you."

Now I had been planning to attend the party for my stepmother all along. The plan was to hit the chili cook-off and then head to Sacramento. A nice straight path. But my aunt is staying with my other aunt in Oakland -- opposite direction of travel. I figured it would add about 45 minutes or so to my drive. I was wrong. What should have been about a 20 minute drive became a 45 minute drive. Friggin' football season. Now I remember why I don't try to stray too far from home on Saturdays this time of year. Luckily when we arrived at the party, I realized that another guest lives near that area of Oakland. She kindly returned my aunt home so that I would be saved that additional driving. Just as well. I didn't get home from Sacramento until midnight. The thought of extra driving probably would have put me over the edge.

And now back to my father's comment. I had kind of assumed that I would get some cash to help defray the costs of carting around relatives. I guess I was mistaken because I only left Sacramento with some birthday cake. Hello people. I don't have a job currently. Funds are kind of limited.

Speaking of jobs, I had my final interview on Friday. I am supposed to hear back from them today. I really need the cash so I'll probably accept it if offered. Which meant that I had to spend yesterday playing with my old budget worksheet, just in case, since the job pays much less than I have received in many years. One can only hopes that something else comes along quickly.

But onto the really important stuff. My aunt purposefully did not eat much at dinner on Saturday. Why? Because she wanted dessert and she's diabetic, as many folks in my family are. And lately I've been having lots of sweet cravings. I thought the yogurt would take care of it but it hasn't. So I set to work yesterday.

I had some leftover rice in the fridge. I'm not a huge fan of rice and eat it sparingly. But there's one way that I will wolf it down.

Rice pudding

In the past I have always done the baked version. This time around I did a little research and did a stovetop version instead. The rice was cooked up with milk, sugar, and cardamom. Many of the recipes I read said to add the spices right before serving. I'm used to the baked puddings in which the spices are added before cooking and so I did it the same way this time. When it was almost done I added more milk, an egg, and some golden raisins. Once cooked, I stirred in some butter and vanilla. I think I'll be using this method more often in the future since I like the consistency.

And there was a reason why I wanted to try the stovetop version. The oven was otherwise occupied.

Pear apple cobbler

The filling is simply pears and apples cooked in butter. Then add sugar, a little flour, cinnamon, half and half, and apple juice. The crust is a drop dough with loads of sharp cheddar cheese.

I think I've finally satisfied my sweet tooth.

After all of this I remembered that I had completely forgotten about dinner. Just fried calamari rings and fried plantain. And a cocktail. Thank you, Buzzgirl. And then I thought about taking a photo of the cocktail but there were some technical difficulties.

The reason why I always have 409 with Bleach on hand. Because I don't want to worry about getting cat butt on my food and utensils.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

A surprise

Yes, I know that having a quiz on a Saturday is a perfectly normal thing around here. Scroll down for the surprise.

You Should Date A Swede!

You're a romantic, albeit an understated and practical one.
It's more about a steady partnership for you, not unrestrained falling
Your Swede will give you the unwavering love you crave
While making up some mean pancakes and meatballs on the side!

Hmmm. I think I know where my next vacation will be.

I had had no intention of posting more food porn today. But then I made dinner last night. And it's all because I stopped at the grocery store following my interview yesterday. (The interview went very well by the way. I should hear back from them on Monday.) I went into the store with a list in hand, as I usually do. But as I passed the fish, I suddenly remembered a recipe that I had come across during this past week. And I just had to try it.

Mahi-mahi with salsa, Basmati rice, and fried plantains.

The mahi-mahi was pan fried with a little olive oil. The salsa is a mixture of Minneola tangelos, avocado, red onion, and jalapeno. With a little lime juice, cilantro, salt, and pepper. The recipe called for blood oranges but those aren't in season right now. I had picked up the plantains earlier in the week and figured they could go with because the plate had a kind of tropical feel to it. (And yes, the plantains had actually been on my shopping list. Because I was getting crema. And the two go together so well.) Well, it did to me. Now I realize it's probably because I ate a lot of mahi-mahi when I was in Barbados years ago. But it's called dolphinfish there.

Enjoy the weekend. I know I'm going to try to enjoy mine. If all else fails, I have yummy fish leftovers.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Using it all up

I must admit that when I was working, I was a bit wasteful when it comes to food. Since being laid off, I have tried to be more economical. That means that when I make a large amount of something, I freeze some for later consumption. But what to do about the stuff that starts to go bad before you have a chance to use it all? I was hit with this question earlier this week when I noticed that the large bag of tortilla chips was starting to get a little stale. Fortunately this was something for which I knew I had an answer.

Chilaquiles con pollo
adapted from the recipe in Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Library: Mexican Cooking.

This is traditionally a breakfast/brunch dish. You are supposed to use leftover (stale) tortillas which you then fry up. I have usually done it in this way but I figured that using stale chips would work just as well. And would save me the time of frying up the tortillas.

Finally, the recipe calls for "thick sour cream." In the glossary of the book, they compare it to creme fraiche and say that you can make your own by adding sour cream to heavy cream and then letting it sit unrefrigerated. I just bought some crema since we have easy access to that ingredient here in California. Oh, and if you happen to find this dish on a menu in a restaurant, more than likely it will not contain meat.

1 whole chicken breast of 2 breast halves
2 dried ancho chili peppers
corn oil of other vegetable oil for frying
12 corn tortillas, each cut into 6 wedges
2 ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 cup beer
3 eggs
1 cup thick sour cream
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 2/3 cups grated Cheddar cheese

Place the chicken in a saucepan with water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until tender, about 25 minutes. Drain well and let cool completely. Bone and skin the chicken, then, using your fingers or 2 forks, shred the meat. Set aside.

Meanwhile, slit the chilies lengthwise along one side and remove the ribs and stems. In a deep, heavy frying pan over low heat, toast the chilies until they deepen in color and smell quite pungent, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and add lukewarm water to cover; let stand for 5 minutes, then drain. Set aside.

Preheat an oven to 400 F.

In a large frying pan over high heat, pour in oil to a depth of 1-1/2 inches. When the oil is hot, working in batches, add the tortilla wedges and fry until slightly golden but not too crisp, about 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain.

Spread the fried tortilla wedges in a 9-by-12-by-3-inch baking dish. Top evenly with the shredded chicken.

Drain the chilies well and place in a food processor fitted with the metal blade or in a blender. Add the tomatoes, beer, eggs, cream, and salt and pepper to taste. Process until smooth.

Pour the chili mixture evenly over the tortillas and chicken. Top with the cheese. Bake until the cheese melts and is bubbling, about 30 minutes. Serve immediately.

I haven't made this recipe in years but you can bet it's back on my list of things to do with leftover chicken.

Oh, and a word of warning. There will probably be quite a bit of food next week. If you haven't guessed, I'm feeling more like myself once more.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Scary thought

This is why I haven't been sharing too many food photos as of late.

Chili with nachos.

Now I know that for many this is not that scary a thought. Basically most meals for me consist of the thought, "How can I incorporate a dairy product? What? You mean I can have more than one at a time?"

This all started because I like to top chili with sour cream to cut the heat of the peppers I am so fond of including. This would be after I stirred in a little grated cheese. And the tortilla chips quickly became a substitute for cornbread. Because you don't need to cook tortilla chips. After some time the idea evolved. Why not take the cheese out of the chili and put it on the chips? Then you have cheese-covered chips to dip into the chili.

So I've had this combo a couple of times this week -- for breakfast. I am a firm believer that it doesn't matter what you eat for breakfast as long as you eat something. That's how I used to justify eating a pint of Ben & Jerry's for breakfast in the past.

Oh, the gasps and screams can start now...

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Waiting for the positive

I purposefully did not post yesterday. I never know quite what to say. It was an extremely painful time period for me and I'm trying to put it all behind me. Sometimes that is easier said than done.

Last week I learned that a guy who had grown up in the house across the street from my mom's house was gunned down and killed. Around the corner from my mom's house. I remember the sweet smiling little boy and want to cry.

Monday evening my stepmother called. My father is in the hospital once more. Supposedly he is out now. Not sure what was going on but he was in a lot of pain and his white blood cell count was up.

I called my mother (Yes, we are speaking again.) at my grandmother's house to tell her about the former neighbor and my dad. My mother asked why I hadn't been in contact with a certain cousin. Somehow I lost her number. Now I have it. She's back living with her mom. Because she has MS and is not in good shape. She's one of my "older sisters." I will call later today.

So 2007 continues to bite.

Oh, and I had my third interview for a job yesterday. One that would be OK if they actually paid a decent amount. If they still like me, then I'll have to go in for a fourth interview. Not too many other prospects out there so I might just end up having to take the job with the so-so salary. *sigh*

I think that I'll just spend some more quality time with the cats.

Monday, September 10, 2007

We have all survived ... for now

Let's just get things straight. There will be circuitous mentions of food but there will be no photos of food. If you are looking for photos, then you need to move on. If you are looking for what is going on in the mind of someone who is at times in turmoil, then you are at the right place.

Right now I'm in the middle of my aunt's birthday season. This would be the one fighting cancer. This would also be the same one who introduced the concept of the birthday season to our family many years ago.

All of her siblings were in town this weekend with the exception of one brother. He is currently teaching at a college and did not think it would be fair to his students to ditch out on them. Because after one year of teaching at this college, his classes are packed. Like I knew they would be. He had given up teaching many years ago and I kept pleading with him to return to it. He is the reason why I survived physics and calculus -- two of his favorite subjects -- in high school. He has this inner peace that I have yet to see in anyone else. Perhaps I should talk to him more often so that one day I too can achieve that kind of peace. Because nothing ruffles him.

And here we go. The weekend started off OK. Saturday morning was brunch at Lois the Pie Queen. (By the way, the portions at Lois's? Huge! And the review is so right about the charm. The attentiveness of the staff made me feel like I was in someone's home down South. I was late arriving and eventually felt a hand on my shoulder. "Hon, have you had a chance to order yet?" Once I did, they checked in several times to let me know that my food was on the way.) Then we all hung out at my aunt's house. Sunday morning my dad called to ask me to join them at Cornerstone Cafe for breakfast. I have no job and money is low. Of course, I showed up for the free meal. And then back to my aunt's house. Then back home to get ready for dinner -- the real party. And that's where I knew I would be in trouble.

I could probably take my dad's family on their own. But their friends? There are certain women who have a way of making really catty remarks. Like the main speaker who acknowledged all of the family except for me. And yes, she knew I was there. Everyone else would excuse her behavior but deep in my heart I know the bitch did it on purpose. Because that's the kind of bitch that she is. Why my cousins over me? Because I just don't fit their mold of what is acceptable. And at this point in my life, I don't want to. Their lives, while being stable, bore the shit out of me. They are so Stepford. I have given my closest friends instructions that if I ever become like that, they should take me out.

I have had numerous conversations with my dad on this topic over the years. (I'm hoping that the upcoming conversation with both of my parents will get rid of all of this. That if they add up all of the parts of me that they each know individually, they will come close to the real me. That's the real problem of compartmentalization. Unless you are willing to let someone add up all of the parts, s/he will never really truly know you.) I have tried to explain to him how after so many years of trying to gain acceptance from these kind of people and then realizing that I never would, I would just not like to be around them. The whole thing is rather painful for me. And my father just doesn't get it all. I think that this is what my dad meant when he was talking about compromise -- the idea of being happy with something even if you are not happy to be there. Although the event was really positive overall, there were those moments in there. Compromise? Fuck them all.

And while driving home, I started to replay those moments in my mind and felt tears forming in my eyes. And I had thoughts about this underlying belief of my parents' -- that of keeping up appearances. Some days with them, I feel like I'm on the campaign trail. Not me. Them. Because my dad's friends have tried to convince him into running for some sort of office. And then it will come down to whose skeletons in the closet are bigger -- his or mine. Probably mine. Because the positive things my dad has been able to do for his community far outweigh his negative points. Of course, I have another year to go before I reach the age at which my dad "stopped drinking."

But before I start getting deeper into the bad stuff, let me recount the happier moments. I was about to erase that when I realized that I really meant one moment. My uncle was standing around when the DJ played Rose Royce's "Wishing on a Star." I told him that he should ask his wife to dance. His response was that she was in conversation. So I walked over and tapped her on her shoulder.

"My friend over there would like to dance with you on this song."

"Well if he really wants to dance with me, he would ask me himself."

I sped across the dance floor.

"My friend says that if you ask her, she'd probably dance with you."

Next thing I know the two of them were dancing. And this is part of the reason why I put up with all of the crap from my family. The moments like this that will live on in my memory for the rest of my life. Of course, this particular aunt is the same one who realized that I was severely depressed at age 12. Might have something to do with the fact that she is a child psychologist. And now she's not alone in the family. The daughter of one of my first cousin's (That would be my first cousin once removed for those of you keeping track.) is now a forensic psychologist. A part of me still remembers her as the two-year-old who patted on the side of the bed until I awoke the day I had flown cross-country. But then at my grandmother's funeral, I changed my mind. She was openly sporting a tattoo and I thought to myself that perhaps there was yet another rebel child in the family. Word has it that she will be making an appearance in town in the next couple of weeks. I hope so.

My mom used to be really close to my dad's sister -- the one celebrating the birthday. But that all fell apart over the last few years. First my mom realized that my aunt was talking smack about my mom behind her back. Then my aunt said some rather malicious -- and untrue -- things about me. When my aunt was first diagnosed with cancer four years ago, my mother set all this stuff aside. And then in the last year, my mother found out that once more my aunt was saying mean things about me. My mother cannot understand how knowing this I can still speak to her. I do but it's hard. We both agree that my aunt is a fun person to be around. And if you are strong enough person, then you can walk away from her smack-talking. And know that one day it will all catch up with her. I hate to say it but, in my mind, her cancer is karmic payback. Because even though she has sent out a lot of positive energy into the world, she has sent just as much, perhaps even more so, hateful energy. And then sits around and chuckles and gloats about the misfortune of others.

When my mother returns, the two of us are supposed to sit down with my father and talk. I know that one of my mother's main concerns is that she thinks that I drink too much. (By the way, if I have failed to mention it previously, my mother thinks that anyone who has more than one to two drinks at a time drinks too much.) And that all my problems stem from that. Hopefully her younger sister, the former social worker, will set her straight on that one during their time together currently. Because I know that my aunt strongly believes that if someone is having a few too many drinks that it is a symptom of something else. (Yes, I have had these kind of discussions with her in the past. About my father.) After this weekend I realized why my dad does not have much to say on the subject.

He stopped drinking when I was 18 but this weekend I saw him sipping on Cabernet. Because my stepmother was not around at the time. A year and a half ago she shared with me her suspicions that he was drinking again. Shortly thereafter I discovered a bottle in his desk drawer along with a bottle of mouthwash. I was doing some work for him and had been left alone in his office. I was looking for some paperwork and stumbled across the secret stash. I deluded myself into believing that it was a temporary thing. Obviously not. And I guess he thinks that after 20 plus years, folks have forgotten how he used to be. My stepmother hasn't. She said that if he went back to being that person again, she wouldn't be sticking around. Of course, her memory is so shot from the cancer who knows if she even remembers this proclamation. She remembers who I am consistently but she is lucky to remember the names of longtime friends.

All I know is that I am going to need to pull it all together quickly, given the state of mind in which I have been in recent weeks. Because next weekend is a surprise birthday for my stepmother. And all the catty bitches will be there once more. Funny thing now that I think about it. It's only the women who give me problems. I get along perfectly fine with the men. And it's always been that way since I was in high school. Might have something to do with why for many years I had more male friends than I did female. And people wonder why I have difficulty in making long-term relationships.

Oh, and the beauty of the evening. One of my dad's cousins has a thing for one of his best friends. Everyone else in the family seems to accept this. I thought that I was alone in my dissent until they made the mistake of saying something in front of my aunt, the psychologist; she's my aunt by marriage. She said everything that I have thought over the last year or so. "Isn't he married? Why would you encourage this?" I warned you that my aunts, the blood-related ones at least, were not kind. They are two of the biggest bitches to walk this planet. Once they have you in their sight, it's hard to escape. Because they're real good at words but if you're willing to throw down? Oh, the biggest pair of girly girls. When I was six, I could take them. And I know that my father's older sister is probably afraid of me on many levels. Because as a part of one her classes for her master's, she had to give a number of IQ tests over various age groups. I happened to be around that summer so I was one of her test subjects. When she finished, she seemed rather surprised. While working in the office in high school, I finally saw my test results and put it all together. She had thought that I was kind of stupid all of those years. But I kick ass at standardized tests. Yes, I know that I am an anomaly being a person of color. And it prepared me for college. Because most of my classes from elementary school on had very few people of color. Kind of like college.

And you're wondering why we're going down this road. I told you. Stream of consciousness. Because there was a lot of talk last night about the influence of my grandparents. So my aunt? She's known for years that I could kick her ass -- physically and intellectually. While my other aunt unwrapped gifts last night, there was a look of shock when I totaled up the gift cards. My cousin, who is like an older sister to me, reminded her mother and our aunt that I have a near photographic memory. Especially when numbers are concerned. I don't know why they are so surprised. The family liked to think of one of my uncles who passed away a few years ago as being a savant. Yeah, some days he was brilliant but most days he was just plain nuts. So through the gift opening, I kept a running total of the gift cards. My last count was $250 for Macy's and $130 for Nordstrom. Of course, I could be wrong because as soon as I left, I tried to wipe the numbers from my head. And my non-recipient aunt? Well-deluded soul that she is, she thinks that her son should be reinstated to the Bar. Ummm. Hello. He stole from clients' escrow accounts. I wouldn't trust him right now. Or ever.

The good news is that I have another job interview tomorrow. Not that I really want the job. My dad (and BWB) understand why I don't want the job. It would be like settling for second best without finding out if you could have first. My aunt (Not the one with cancer; my dad's older sister. The queen of bitches.) and my mother seem to have this twisted belief. They are of the mind that a job is a job and that having one is better than not being employed. When I explained my decision making process to my dad, he got it. As did BWB. And BWB made the perfect analogy. Choosing the right job is like choosing the right boyfriend. It's bad to settle in either case.

So I am going through with the interview because I like to think of it as practice. But in my mind to accept the job would be the same as settling. And that's just not me.

And finally for some entertainment. I have previously mentioned that when I am around family, we discuss race and politics. My favorite from the weekend? When my father mentioned his chagrin in saying that Condalezza was nothing but Bush's ho in some of his white friends. I decided to top it all by giving an analogy. Condalezza is to Bush as Sally Hemings is to Jefferson. (This was a result of a discussion of Rumsfeld being appointed to the Hoover Commission and the outrage expressed by the other faculty of Stanford. "Refuge of right-wing Republicans?" Then he should fit right in.) And so there was that nervous pause from my relatives but then they chuckled. And this is what I will choose to remember along with that other happy moment (besides grooving to Sly and the Family Stone). For once I did not say anything so offensive (to them) that they could not chuckle.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Back at it

As you can guess, I haven't been doing much cooking lately. Well, nothing of note that is. I've been eating a lot of nachos and quesadillas. And the occasional salad. But Tuesday I found myself in the grocery store (Somehow I had managed to run out of toilet paper. Don't ask me how. It never happens.) and I was inspired. Foster Farms whole chickens were a mere $0.79 per pound. Well, I simply had to buy one even though I had planned on buying my usual chicken thighs. Because I had more inspiration from Zoomie.

I have always loved Indian food. In the past it wasn't all that convenient to me as it is to me now. And perhaps that's why I haven't cooked any Indian food in years. There's a plethora of choices within a few blocks. Did I mention that at the new place on Shattuck that carries Khana Peena's wonderful food, you can get a combo plate -- rice, one veggie, one meat -- for around $6? It's not really a new place. It's more like a corner store that has added a food counter. And some tables.In the days when I didn't have these choices, I swore by Curries Without Worries. It's not my mom's kind of cookbook because there are no pictures.

Before I could start cooking, there was one small matter to deal with.

Yes, Boris still thinks that the top of the cabinets is an acceptable nap spot.

Chicken Curry a la Mussoorie
from Curries Without Worries by Sudha Koul

I had all the ingredients on hand with the exception of the sour cream that was on my shopping list anyway. Because it's just me and I like lots of sauce, I only use one chicken. Oh, and I use about a half teaspoon of ground cardamom instead of the crushed pods even though I have pods on hand. I don't like almonds so I never add those. And who are these six people? Seems like a very large serving to me.

2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger
2 tablespoons water
3/4 cup ghee (Clarified butter.)
1 tablespoon whole cumin seeds
2 small frying chickens, cut up
(The elimination of pieces with bone reduces the flavor of a curry considerably. You could substitute thighs and drumsticks if you like, but avoid using boned breast of chicken. Remove skin, and clean chicken with dry paper towels before cooking.)
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin seeds
6 crushed cardamoms
1 medium cinnamon stick, crushed
2 bay leaves
Salt to taste
A pinch of nutmeg
1 pint sour cream
2 tablespoons blanched slivered almonds
1 cup chopped fresh coriander

1. Puree the onions, garlic, ginger, and 2 tablespoons of water in a blender.

2. In an 8-quart saucepan, heat the ghee on medium high heat. When the ghee is hot, add the whole cumin, stirring briskly until the seeds sizzle. Add the puree and continue to stir. Regulate the heat to prevent the puree from sticking to the bottom of the pan, which it has a tendency to do. Continue stirring till the puree is golden, has been fried well, and most of the moisture in the puree has evaporated. This will take about 10 minutes on medium high heat.

3. Add the chicken. Stir fry on high heat till the chicken starts turning golden brown. This should take about 5 minutes. Stir briskly to prevent burning the chicken. Add the turmeric, cayenne pepper, cumin, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaves, salt, and nutmeg, stirring well until they give off a fragrance; i.e., for a minute or so. Add the sour cream, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to lowest point possible, cover tightly, and cook for 30 minutes or until the chicken is absolutely tender.

4. Just before serving, sprinkle almonds, and then fresh coriander, on the curry.

Serves 6

Because it is cooked at a pretty high heat, I measure everything out in advance.

And I was out of ground cumin as was the grocery store.

The finished dish.

And how to follow this up? Well, while shopping on Tuesday, I remembered that I had not had one of my favorite summer desserts.

Vanilla yogurt with white nectarine, plum, and granola.

Later in the evening, there was sangria courtesy of one of my neighbors. Because I could hear voices through my front window so I finally gave in and went outside. Eventually the whole first floor, my floor, was out on the front steps drinking and talking. And one of my neighbors came up with the idea that we should all have a Halloween party. Talking to my father earlier this week, I told him that over this past weekend I realized that except for the job situation, I was actually pretty happy with my life. All of my reactions? A result of the thought of losing the life that I've grown to love. Sitting on the front steps reminded me of this. So I need to find a job soon. Because I love where I am too much.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Getting out

I tried to call my mother yesterday. I realized that she is going to see her family tomorrow and might actually still need a ride to the airport. I also planned to apologize for cursing at her.

Back in eighth grade, I was almost suspended for a letter that I wrote to the school librarian. I called her a racist in the letter. But that's not what almost got me suspended. I included a line that said something about that she should watch how she treats people. The folks at my junior high took it as a threat. I tried to explain to them that I was not saying that I was going to do anything to her. Instead, I was merely pointing out that others, in the future, may not choose to use the same method for expressing themselves. My favorite part of the whole ordeal was when they asked me who helped me to write the letter. Huh? Apparently my mother explained to them, after she showed up, that I was too intelligent to sign my name to a letter alone if someone else had helped to write it. And why was my mother there? Well, when I first showed up in the counselor's office, the counselor kept asking who else had been with me in the library that day. I felt that it was immaterial and refused to answer, firmly stating that I had written the letter alone. She finally said that if I didn't give her the names that she would call my mother so I did. And then she picked up the phone and called my mother. Bitch! When my mother arrived, the counselor was busy so I was able to give her my side of it all. I found out later that my mother ripped the counselor a new one for how she had treated me. They also decided that I needed to apologize to the counselor. After discussing it all with my mother, she told me that I had to apologize to the woman for making her upset but that I didn't need to apologize for what I said since I sincerely believed it.

Yep, there's that stream of consciousness at work. Because what I now realize is that I am not sorry for what I said to my mother but I am sorry for the words I chose to use to express my displeasure. Most folks who have not known me since childhood do not realize that I have a short fuse. Over the years, I have learned to bite my tongue and to take a breath. The problem with my mother is that I bite my tongue but then never get around to expressing how I really feel. So with her I end up being a walking time bomb. What came out last Monday was months, possibly years, of pent up anger. I have learned how to tell most other folks in a rational way that I am angry and why I am but somehow telling my mother these things is something that I still cannot do.

Enough about that though. I actually got out of the house yesterday. To a hair appointment. Originally I had planned to cancel the appointment because cash is kind of tight right now. But then I got paid more for the dog-sitting gig than I had expected to. About the same amount that my hair appointment would cost. I took it as a sign.

Back in April when my regular stylist was laid up with a broken foot, I went to my mother's stylist for a trim. She cut my hair. As in inches. My hair was no longer shoulder length and was now more like a bob. So I've been trying to let it grow back out but it's been completely frustrating. Summer has been hell because there is nothing worse than being a black woman with non-chemically straightened hair that is too short to pin up when the temperature rises. My solution in the past has been to slick it back and to clip on a ponytail. The only problem is that my current hair color no longer matches the ponytails I own. So after leaving the salon, I headed to the beauty supply. I used to be a plain old #4. (That's a hair color.) The lady in the shop and I decided that the best match for me now is a blend of three colors -- 4, 27, and 30. We thought about the 33 but then decided that it was too dark. And she had ponytails in two different lengths in the colors I needed. And since they were half the price of what I have previously spent on ponytails, I bought both. One is what I like to think of as an everyday look -- just past the shoulders. The other is the length I like to call "party hair." This is the one that hits about mid-back. As soon as I got home, I tried on the everyday length one. (Especially since I now have to adjust to the drawstring versus the clip.) It looked great. Nothing like new hair to make a girl feel good.

And now I have to get ready for my interview. I haven't heard anything from the "dream job." Their possible loss. Today's interview is a second interview. And tomorrow I have a meeting scheduled with someone from a recruiting firm. I'm hoping that I'll be employed within the next couple of weeks. When I shared this news with my dad, he said, "I wasn't that worried about you because you always make things happen." And I should probably thank my mother. Because my anger with her was probably a huge motivating factor. Because in the past whenever I've felt the need to make a job change, I first have to get really angry.

And for those of you who have stuck around this long, a treat.

Inspired by Zoomie. Chicken salad on English muffin topped with avocado and medium cheddar cheese. Delicious.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Cue the spaghetti guitar

The Good ...

I'm feeling a lot better after the weekend. The dogs didn't bark that much. I got to read some cool books. Yes, I am back to reading young adult stuff again. I've run out of unread grown-up stuff at home. And I haven't finished reading everything in the various series yet. I started off with the first book in each series. Then I continued with the Charlie Bone stuff when I went to check on Boris & Natasha on Sunday. That reminds me. I probably should re-read The Golden Compass soon. And I checked out a couple of movies as well.

And it's always fun to check out what other folks have hanging on their fridges. I absolutely adore this postcard.

The caption reads, "Here he is! He destroyed my environment, squandered my savings, started a war ... and, ate my porridge."

Oh, and I had something I haven't had in years...

Canned soup.

The Bad ...

Hmmm. Can't really think of anything here right now. Well, except for the old stuff. Still no job but I still have some prospects out there.

And The Ugly

The worst part of the weekend? Bug bites. Painful ones on my right hand. One is on the joint of my thumb. The other is on the tip of my pinkie. So not pleasant.

And that reminds me. I should see about adding some Clint Eastwood to my DVD collection one of these days. Before my dad and my uncles consider disowning me. That and The Godfather Trilogy and maybe some George Carlin.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

A change of scenery

I think that watching Dumb and Dumber may have been the best thing for me. Already after two nights, I am feeling more like my old self. Maybe it's the lack of cable TV. Maybe it's the tea and cookies. While going through cupboards before leaving home, I discovered an unopened package of Pepperidge Farm cookies. Veronas to be exact.

And fortunately it has cooled down some, but not too much. It's still warm enough that I can sit in the backyard sipping on juice or tea, reading, and smoking cigs. All this while the dogs frolic and occasionally stop by to lick my toes.

The phone interview went OK. I should hear back by the middle of next week. One of my goals this weekend is to get more resumes out. Because I need to be working in the next couple of weeks. Oh, why didn't I take that other job last March? Oh well. Hindsight as they say.

And hey! It's Saturday. I think we all deserve a quiz or two this week. This first one is brought to you courtesy of my new obsession with my toes.

You are Flat Sandals

Casual yet flirty
You look great in a simple top and jeans
Your look is approachable and cute!

And this one? Well, I just couldn't resist it.

You Are a Carousel

You are young at heart and a truly playful person. No one would ever accuse you of taking life too seriously.
You are definitely in things for the fun. You find joy easily, and you are often building up anticipation for your next adventure.
In relationships, you tend to want to be babied and taken care of.
And while you may be a bit high maintenance, you are incredibly loyal.

Your life is simple and satisfying. Each day you treat yourself to something you enjoy.
You have a lot of emotional attachments, and experiences are extra vivid to you.
You tend to be nostalgic and sentimental. The past is important to you.
Comfortable around all living things, you have a special connection to animals and children.

At your best, you are whimsical, free spirited, and creative.
Even if your schemes seem a bit strange, they usually work out wonderfully.
At your worst, you are spoiled, demanding, and impossible to satisfy.
You've been known to act like a brat if you aren't getting your way!

Now I think I know what the issue has been over this past week -- everyone else's need for seriousness. So now I'm going to spend the rest of the weekend trying to remember who I really am. I was just thinking that if it was raining, I'd go outside and jump in some puddles. But it isn't. Perhaps a run through the sprinklers...

Have a safe and fun holiday!