Season Of the Pumpkin

(Photo Credit: wikipedia.com)

Guys! Today, I sliced into my pumpkins, and it was glorious! This is my first official Fall recipes post; so I’m devoting it to one of my favorite Fall ingredients: pumpkin! I love making my pumpkin puree fresh, because the flavor is far superior to anything you’ll find in a can. Also, it’s actually pretty easy (if a bit tedious) to do this yourself! Ya’ll can freeze the puree for up to six months. This particular batch of puree will be used for pumpkin cheesecake later this week.

Pumpkin Puree

  •  2 pie pumpkins (these are the smaller ones; don’t use the large jack’o’lantern pumpkins–these are too tough and stringy for eating!)
  • olive oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon salt
  • garlic
  • optional: other favorite seasonings (cajun, yuuuuum.)
  • tin foil
  • baking sheet

Set your oven to 400 degrees.

First thing’s first, you’ll want to cut the stem parts out of the pumpkins. Do so by “carving”, much as you would if you were carving a face into a jack’o’lantern. Once the stems are out, cut the pumpkins in half and pull out the seeds. Set the seeds aside for roasting. Using a metal spoon, scrape the stringy pulpy stuff out of the pumpkin. This can be a little tedious, especially when your hands start to cramp. D: By the time you’re done, you should have nice, clean pumpkin halves:

Line your baking sheet with tin foil and grease lightly. Now, some people opt to brush the inside of their pumpkins with olive oil at this point. I don’t. I like my puree to be in its absolute purest form, so I can use it for whatever without having to worry about any funky flavor mishaps. Place your pumpkins on the baking sheet. I find they bake faster face-down.

Cover these guys with foil. Bake for about an hour to an hour and a half. The skins will be dark and shiny. The “meat” will be tender. A fork should push into it with no effort.

I skim off the toasted parts, because I don’t want any discoloration in my puree. Now, the skin will peel away very easily. Scoop all the meat into a bowl and discard the skins. What you have left is your puree! You can either mash it up with a spoon, or stick it in the blender and give it a few good whirls. I had to make tomato soup for dinner after I baked these guys, and I didn’t feel like washing my blender twice, so I just mashed and stirred my puree with a spoon. There will be plenty of time to whirl it in the blender later when I’m ready to use it in a recipe.

My camera phone makes it look yellow; but the puree is actually a pleasant orange color. It’s perfect!

But we aren’t done yet! Remember those seeds you set aside? Well, backtracking a little–you can get those seeds ready for roasting while your pumpkins are baking. You DO have an hour to kill, after all!

So, at this point, our pumpkins are baking, and we have a bowl of seeds. Your seeds might be attached to some stringy, pulpy stuff. I put my seeds in a strainer and run water over them to wash them and pull away the pulpy stuff. You want as little pulp in there as possible.

Pour your cleaned seeds into a pot with water. Add your salt. Bring the seeds to a full, rolling boil. As soon as it reaches this point, you’ll want to turn the heat down and simmer the seeds for exactly ten minutes. As soon as time is up, take the seeds off the heat and drain them.

Pat the seeds just a bit. They don’t have to be completely dry. They’ll actually get kind of sticky now. Line a pan with tin foil and pour the seeds on top.

Give the seeds another half hour or so to air dry. Again, they don’t really need to be totally dry (otherwise they’ll just burn). After that half hour, drizzle the seeds with olive oil. I don’t use extra-virgin because it burns too quickly. Throw some garlic powder and salt over them (or just salt, if you don’t like garlic). You can experiment with different seasonings, too. Boyfriend is fond of just the garlic-and-salt combination though, so I don’t sprinkle mine with Cajun seasoning until after they’re roasted.

Turn the oven down to 375 and roast the seeds for ten to fifteen minutes. Stir. Stick them back in for another ten to fifteen minutes, or until they are as brown as you like them.

Scrape them into a bowl, let them cool, and enjoy! There are so many methods to roasting these seeds, and I’ve tried most of them. This is my favorite, by far. These seeds come out nice and crunchy. I eat them whole. Boyfriend likes to shuck them with his teeth. Weirdo.

And that’s how you make your own pumpkin puree from fresh pumpkins! You can use this puree in any recipe that calls for canned pumpkins, and when you take your pumpkin muffins to work, your coworkers will be so impressed by your mad skills.

Next: Tomato soup and maybe cheesecake if I don’t get lazy! Oh, and I almost forgot to show you guys what I made for dinner the other night. Enchiladas! I had to work that day, and I needed something quick and easy to throw together, so I decided to go with beef enchiladas. I got the box kit, and ended up not following the directions at all and making my own filling. They turned out sooooo yummy. Picky McPickyster Boyfriend loved them. They were so pretty, I had to take a picture!

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Why I Went MIA.

So a lot of you none of you have wondered why I haven’t updated in a while. Well, I went into panic mode. Here’s why.

One night, shortly after the last blog post, I hopped on Word to work on The Book that I never talk about. Something devastating happened: I realized that I had written myself into a corner. And not only had I written myself into a corner, but as soon as I’d done so, a bunch of new walls popped up all around me and boxed me in. I freaked. I panicked. I shut Word immediately and vowed not to open it again until I could get myself OUT of the corner.

So I have been busying myself doing things the old school way: pen, paper, and a notebook. I am not allowing myself to open up a single Book document until I have a finished and coherent outline done in my notebook. But not just a quick blurby outline—but AN EPIC OUTLINE. I’m tearing apart and putting back together all of my characters. I am developing intense and rich backstories  that will probably never ever make it into any of the final manuscripts. I’m interviewing the characters and letting them interview me. I’m writing down as many What If This Happened statements as possible, even if most of them don’t ever pan out. I’m tearing apart The Book to its most barest essentials: motivations and goals, desires and conflicts, frustrations and surprises.

You might say: but that sounds horrible! Where’s the surprise? Where’s the discovery? Boo-ooring!

Well, you’re wrong. After a night of reflection, trying to figure out What My Problem Was, I realized that my problem lied in the fact that I knew EXACTLY what kind of story I wanted to tell. I knew the struggles I wanted for my characters, and I knew the themes I wanted to weave into my words. But, I knew too much. And everything I knew about my book was flying around unchecked in my head, like all those winged keys in the first Harry Potter book. And every time I needed a specific key, I had to wade through a whole bunch of them to find The One. And then…sometimes I would just forget what The One looked like. Sometimes, I had too many nearly identical keys floating around that I couldn’t determine which one belonged in which lock.

Okay, enough of that.

I also realized that because I knew exactly what I wanted, I was limiting myself to possibilities. Not only that, but I was afraid to expand my possibilities because I was afraid of having too many random What Ifs in my head. I needed ORGANIZATION very badly. Hence, the Outline.

I’ve been working on this Outline for about two weeks, and so far, it has made a huge difference. I’m recording everything, so that I can go back and reference all my ideas, themes, conflicts, whatever easily. I’m writing everything freehand, so I’m able to have conversations with myself on the page instead of out loud, and now that makes me feel slightly less crazy. These conversations have opened doors to new paths that I can take to get myself out of the corner. And the best part? I’m patching up plot holes left and right like A CHAMP.

So, that’s where I have been. That, and working. And sleeping.

But, it is officially my favorite season of the year! Fall! Pumpkin EVERYTHING! I am so excited. I’ve bought two pie pumpkins that I plan on slicing into this Sunday. If I can manage it, I always make my pumpkin treats out of actual pumpkin instead of canned puree. The only time I use canned is after the horribly short pumpkin season is over.

I’m going to freeze my puree and set my seeds out to dry, and then on Tuesday, I’m going to share with you all my recipe for my Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie! Yuuuuum. And a little ditty on roasting pumpkin seeds.

But making your own puree is super easy. I recommend that you do it yourself whenever you can, instead of buying canned. Also, I have some soups and pot roasts to share, and homemade pasta sauce.

Sadly, today was the last day of the Farmer’s Market. Pickings were scarce. I was able to snatch up some fresh eggs, a fresh loaf of Italian bread, and a half pound of fresh honey. I lingered over the veggies for a few minutes, but there was nothing really that I needed. So sad.

Ooooh well. The fact that it’s Fall really makes up for the lack of abundant fresh veggies. I try to experiment with a new Fall-fav every season, so last season it was pumpkin. This season, I might try my hand at ciders. =D

So, I’ll have recipes coming very soon. In the meantime, I really want to start enjoying my pumpkin coffee in this:

That is all.

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Goodbye Summer, Hello Fall. Our Day in Pictures.

Fall.

Everything about this season is wonderful. Warm, rich apple cider. Toasty pumpkin spice lattes. Hot and creamy cocoa. Pumpkin cheesecakes. Pumpkin bread. Pumpkin seeds. Soups. Stews. Crusty bread. Crisp air, and aromatic leaves of all kinds of colors. Maize mazes and state fairs. Pumpkin patches. Halloween!

But I’m not gonna lie, ya’ll–summer will be missed. I’m a Southern girl, and I love a white snowfall as much as the next guy, but I am used to my balmy winters and my light cardigans. Winter in the North is going to be a whole new beast. So Boyfriend and I are trying to enjoy our beautiful days while we still have them, and today was no exception.

Here’s what we did:

Leashed up the dog, and we’re ready to go.

Admire the view (of New Haven). All that water!

Remembering fallen soldiers.

Discovering little snatches of beauty on the trail. We were so high up!

Stairway down the mountain.

Standing on the edge.

Going down was the easy part. Going back up…

Basically the most perfect sky ever.

These are the days I am going to miss. Perfectly warm weather, a cool breeze, and a bright, impossibly blue sky. Fresh veggies and corn on the cob. Plums and peaches. Farmer’s markets and the smell of charcoal. Summer in Connecticut has been absolutely beautiful; I couldn’t have asked for a better one.

But ya’ll, I can’t wait. Soups and stews abound! My crock pot is going to be cooking twenty-four seven. I’ve got some yummy recipes to share: chicken noodle soup, my original pot roast, and homemade marinara sauce. I’m going to be experimenting with food too–the easier the better–because I’m sure we will be spending most of the winter holed up inside.

Yes, I am going to be that person who buys ten gallons of water the day before the storm.

But at least the snow in Connecticut is legit, so I won’t feel as ridiculous like in Charlotte–where people buy out entire grocery stores in preparation for three inch snowfalls.

Yes that happens.

A lot. 

Oh, what have I gotten myself into?

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Ohmgee Pulled Pork With Coke.

First and foremost, my sister is getting married! Yay! I’m so excited for my big sister Jessica and her awesome honey boo-boo Nick. I love them, and it’s about freakin’ time!! I posted this grand news on FB, but I think some confusion occurred in that people thought I was talking about myself. Ha ha. My life. Anyways, congrats to my big sister and WE GOTS A WEDDING TO PLAN YA’LL! More importantly, a wedding menu to plan!!!

I’m sick. Ugh. Which is why I don’t have a really interesting post planned or anything, so I thought I’d go ahead and slap this recipe down, since it is one of my absolute favorite pulled pork recipes (and I’ve tried a couple).

I love Coke. Not Sprite. Not Dr. Pepper. And DEFINITELY NOT Diet Coke.

Just Coke.

I’ve known about the trick of slow cooking with Coke, but surprisingly, I never tried it up until now. I don’t know why. I am actually extremely ashamed of myself that, out of all the times I’ve thrown a pot roast into the crock,  I never once thought to dump a can of Coke over it. Seriously…

What the hell is wrong with me?

So I found this recipe, and decided that I needed to amend my non-Coke cooking ways STAT. Because what better way than to fuel your soft drink obsession than incorporating it into your food? 

(Yes, I know soda is bad for you, but it’s oh…so…good) 

Coke and I basically have a love-love relationship, and we took that relationship to a whole new level in this recipe that I yanked from here. I hope you all dust off your crock pots and make this:

ALL THE JUICES. INDULGE!

Super Duper Coke Pork

  • Pork shoulder–I used bone-in, and it was so tender!
  • 2-3 small cans of fire roasted green chiles (I love these chiles, so I always put a little extra)
  • 1 can of tomato paste 60z
  • ground cumin
  • garlic powder
  • ancho-chile powder
  • as much freshly minced garlic as you’d like
  • 1/3 cup of brown sugar
  • 1-1/2 cup cola
  • kosher salt to taste, about a teaspoon

I didn’t use the same exact measurements that the original recipe called for. I like to season to taste, so I used just as much cumin, garlic powder, and chile powder as I wanted.

Mix together the green chiles, the tomato paste, the cumin, garlic powder, ancho-chile powder, garlic, and brown sugar into a thick paste. I did this part at two in the morning. I couldn’t sleep, and so I did this instead.

At two in the morning.

It was very therapeutic.

And I did end up going to sleep afterwards.

I really wanted to just eat it like this.

Smear this all over your pork shoulder. You can stick your shoulder in the fridge and let it sit in this paste over night, too. Lightly grease your crock pot, and put this baby in. Add the coke, put on the lid, and let it go for about 7 hours on low, give or take an hour depending on how fast your slow cooker cooks. The pork should be easy to shred with a fork–that’s how you know it’s done. I served this with potatoes, corn on the cob, and biscuits.

This smells delish when its cooking! And don’t worry–it doesn’t taste like coke. The soda adds sugar, and the sugar also helps tenderize the meat. In the end, you have a great sweet flavor. ALSO IT’S MADE FROM COKE AND THAT JUST MAKES EVERYTHING BETTER AUTOMATICALLY OKAY?

So excuse me while I go bury myself in more tissues.

Oh hay Tylenol…sweet relief! 

The Orca, aka the Killer Whale is perhaps the most recognizable whale in the ocean with that striking black and white coloration. Except that it isn’t.

A whale, that is.

This is a dolphin. On steroids.

The Orca belongs to the family Delphinidae, and it is actually more of a really, REALLY big dolphin than a whale. A really big dolphin that sometimes eats other whales.

And other dolphins.

Think about that.

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A Fish Out of Water: Northern Men Fear No Ring Edition

A few weeks ago, I went to one of the three grocery stores two minutes from my apartment (I see a trend starting–me and grocery stores result in endless shenanigans). This particular store is a rough stone; that is, sometimes it gives you what you want, sometimes it doesn’t. But it always gives you low prices. So when I need a few things here and there, I’ll drive the extra minute down the road to this particular mecca of savings. Sure, sometimes the produce can be a little…

squishy.

And sure, sometimes all they have is their own brand of shredded cheese, which tastes suspiciously like salty fun foam (not that I would know what salty fun foam tastes like or anything). And sometimes they have Oreos, and sometimes they don’t. And sometimes, they run out of packs of bottled water…

and bacon…

Local grocery store runs out of bacon. The apocalypse is upon us. (Photo credit: wikipedia.com)

But when I need five heads of garlic for a dollar, or a pack of chicken breasts for five dollars, or slightly over ripe bell peppers for a buck each, or canned biscuits for fifty cents, I know that my local Price Rite may just have what I want. And if not–well–such is the life of the frugal and thrifty.

For the most part, the trips are  uneventful, save for the time when I had the very LAST PACK OF BACON IN MY CART. I actually had it sitting front and center as I passed a man complaining to an employee about the lack of bacon, and then I began to feel the stares of hatred being thrown my way. I had to hide the bacon for the remainder of the shopping trip, while bearing my claws and hissing at anyone who happened to step too near my cart–which, at that point, was caring the porky equivalent of a bag of unmarked bills .

Anyways…

So, the trip should have been uneventful. I just needed some peppers and things. But as soon as I swept through the door–all freshly showered, groomed, dressed, and even (gasp) wearing MAKE UP–I picked up an immediate and devoted shadow. He was a large, bulky meat-head of an Italian man, dressed neatly in his Price Rite uniform and green apron. He greeted me enthusiastically at the door, and his eyes lingered. He helpfully asked if I needed assistance in searching for anything, which I politely declined. I had tunnel-vision and a mission: jalapenos, stat. I bid the man good day and breezed by him, intent on my quest, with no more thought in my head than the images of the items I needed.

Ah, the jalapenos! And just my luck! There were so many of them! All shiny green, and oh-so tender! I inhaled happily, and began turning them over in my fingers, feeling for the best of the bunch, dropping each into my bag like I was on an Easter egg hunt.

“Those are –unintelligible muttering–,” said a voice almost directly behind my shoulder.

I squeezed the pepper in my hand in surprise and turned around to see the Guido Greeter seriously up in my personal bubble. “Excuse me?”

“Two dollars a pound,” Guido Greeter repeated. “The jalapenos.”

To be honest, I only needed three, but Guido Greeter was smiling as if he had just accomplished a life goal. As if telling people the cost of produce was all that he had ever wanted to do in his life. So I hastily scooped up a handful of the peppers and dumped them into my bag.

How much is that jalapeno in the window? The one with the waggly stem? (Photo credit: wikipedia.com)

“Oh, thanks so much!” I said, my voice a little too high, my smile a little too big. Guido Greeter nodded, still pleased with himself, and moved away.

With too many jalapenos now hitching a ride in my basket, I walked briskly away from the produce and towards the center of the store, stopping only once to examine the soda display by the onions. Guido Greeter’s lingering gaze was temporarily replaced by dreamy visions of cans of coke dancing in flowery skirts around a pink maypole, happily popping themselves open and pouring themselves into my mouth while birds sang nearby.

Ahhhhhhh.

It was with great effort that I tore myself away from my red-coated addiction and wandered to the meat section. Now, I have to say that I don’t mind people. I don’t mind it when people go out of their way to help me, and I don’t ever think that every dude who ever speaks to me is hitting on me. But I had a feeling about Guido Greeter. And sure enough, after I had finished browsing through the chicken, I turned around and there he was, now quite a distance from his post by the front door, talking to another employee.

I brushed it off as coincidence and moved on.

Except every aisle I went into, Guido Greeter was not far behind. He made no move to speak to me again, and I slowed down my pace a little, and eventually I lost him. Surely, he had to go back to his post. And finally, after a full five minutes passed without a sign of Guido Greeter, I was confident I had gotten rid of my shadow for good. I got in line, rewarded myself with a soda from one of the small coolers near the register, and waited patiently until my stuff was paid for and bagged.

And then, I was in the parlor–that in-between space between the doors to the outside and the doors to the store. I was home free. Technically no longer in the store, and no longer the object of Guido Greeter’s advances. And I had a Mountain Dew Code Red–my favorite drink from my high school days. I was living life.

“Um, excuse me? I noticed you had an accent–where are you from?”

I recognized the voice. I turned around, my cart so close to the door to freedom and escape, that the sliding mechanism had been activated and I could feel the cool summer breeze on my legs. There was Guido Greeter, a look of relief on his face that he had caught me before I had left him forever.

By this point, he had been checking me out long enough to notice the ring on my finger–I’m sure of it. know that the ring isn’t a wedding ring or heck–even an engagement ring. It’s something Boyfriend gave me a few years ago–a little diamond-y reminder of the strength of our relationship and a promise of good things to come in our future.

But other men don’t know what I know. And certainly, Guido Greeter was well aware of the ring’s implications, and for all he knew, I was happily married or engaged. But did that stop our determined hero of Stalkerlot? Nope! After a few minutes of awkward banter and overly friendly smiles, I was bid good day by Guido Greeter in the form of, “I’m sure I will see you again!”

I have to be honest, I haven’t got hit on in a long time. And that is why this story is so amusing to me. In fact, the instant Boyfriend’s ring hit my finger, all advances stopped. I think, in the almost the five years I wore this ring in North Carolina, I was hit on twice. The first time can just barely count, because I was working at the bank at the time as a drive-through teller, and the guy hitting on me understandably could not see the ring. The second time was when I was serving tables. And this is when I got my first taste of what to expect when I moved to Connecticut.

The table was distinctly New Jerseyian in nature. The largest male of the three was buff, tanned, and laundered, with slicked back hair. I was half expecting Snookie to be sitting beside him. It was this man who left me a generous tip and his cell phone number. He saw my ring. He knew I was taken.

And he didn’t care.

Southern men respect and fear the ring. They see it, and they back off. They recognize the mark of another man. They aren’t going to move in on someone else’s territory. They won’t even try. 

He put a ring on it ya’ll. (Image credit: wikipedia.com)

Northern men see the ring. They see challenge. I have been hit on more times up here in two months than my last four-ish years in North Carolina. Aggressively hit on! It’s nice to know that I am still somewhat attractive looking, so I definitely won’t complain. In fact, I find the whole thing incredibly amusing. It is one of the more interesting differences I have noticed since moving to Yankeeville.

It’s like Northern men have so much confidence in themselves, that they see the ring as nothing more than just a bump in the road–something to over come. But then again, if all of them are as buff as the ones I’ve come across, they’ve good reason to be cocky. Still, the attitudes of these guys compared to the guys at home is noticeable. So noticeable, that I even bothered to spend a day writing this blog post about it. Then again, it could just be a figment of my imagination. Or I could just be more shallow and self-centered and not even know it.

As for Guido Greeter, I went back to the Price Rite a week or so after that (with Boyfriend in tow). Guido Greeter was nowhere to be found. Not even when I lingered by the jalapeno bin. To be honest, I was disappointed. I kind of missed my jalapeno-knight.

But I sleep easy, knowing that out there, somewhere, is a girl looking and failing to find the price for the jalapeno peppers, and a man–all sinew and muscle and apron–will be ready to swoop in and save her from what is certain disaster.

For Guido Greeter’s sake, I hope the next girl doesn’t have a ring.

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A Simple Post: Country Club Chicken and Veggies

Look ya’ll! I got instagram! It makes my sad little phone-photos slightly less sad. But only slightly.

In case you can’t already tell, I scored four huge ears of corn, a pound of green beans, a huge bag of red potatoes, and a bundle of onions (five heads) from the farmer’s market on Friday. The potatoes are native and I can’t wait to eat them. The onions are so taaaangy! I am doubling up on them next week.

I guess my obsession with vegetables started when I was young. My dad loved–and still loves–veggies, and it rubbed off on me. If he ate asparagus,  I ate asparagus. If he ate broccoli, I was going to eat broccoli. And green beans (sautéed with butter and garlic). And bean sprouts. And bell peppers. In fact, there were very few things my dad enjoyed that I would not eat–fish, sardines, and anchovies are the only things that come to mind (basically, if it has fins and gills and if you can line it up in little rows in a tin can, I’m not touching it). And some things he ate, I had to develop the taste buds for over time.

I’ve never been a big egg eater, but my dad loved his eggs over easy. So I started eating my eggs that way (and I still do). My dad ate a lot of crab. I hated fish, but I decided to try crab and absolutely fell in love with it. My dad even introduced me to something that I never thought I would ever ever ever eat, but I did–and I still do–and man is it an experience!

Raw. Oysters.

Yes, I won’t eat salmon, but I’ll eat squishy looking blobs of grey matter. It makes perfect sense. Totally.

….

Sometimes I find pearls! Pleasestopjudgingme.

I like to think that it was because of my parents that I grew up to be a natural veggie-eater. I like to think that because I really really hope that if I ever do have kids, they will love veggies as much as I do. I can’t imagine anything greater than the crunch of snow peas, the burst of sweetness in corn, the simplicity of steamed asparagus with salt and pepper…

Anyways. I didn’t have much planned for this post, other than a recipe. And if you couldn’t tell, I’m playing around with the look of the blog too. We’ll see where that goes.

Country Club Chicken

Word on the street is that this recipe is the blog world’s bicycle. Everybody’s been gettin’ a ride.

When I found this recipe here, I was sold at “white wine.” Nothing I love more than using wine in a recipe. Also, it looked really good from the pictures, and I decided I’d just try it out for fun and see what happened. Both Boyfriend and I really enjoyed it, so I am passing it along to you good people. I’ve adapted it quite a bit, however.

  • 2-4 chicken breasts
  • 1-2 bell peppers of any color
  • 4-5 slices of bacon
  • 1/4 cup dry wine (exceptiusedmorethanthat)
  • 2/3 cup sharp cheddar
  • butter or oil
  • salt and pepper
  • “cream of” soup
  • and maybe some garlic….

….

  • yes, definitely some garlic

First and foremost, the original recipe called for onion. Though Boyfriend is content with eating around onion, I opted to leave it out because I just plain didn’t have an onion on hand. Nor did I have red bell peppers. So I used my green bell peppers, and they tasted pretty awesome. Just sayin’

Also, the original calls for a cream of mushroom soup. I HATE “cream of” canned soups WITH A FIERY PASSION. They are DISGUSTING. Sorry, but they just are. The little bits of “stuff” gross me out. I had a horrible experience with canned cream of chicken soup, in which the “chicken” was merely bits of red and pink flesh, and I never recovered. Hence, I make my own cream of soup.

My Cream Of Soup Which Is Far Better Than Canned And Contains No Fleshy Bits

  • as much chopped garlic as you want
  • 1 tsp parsley flakes
  • 1 tsp poultry seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • a pinch of salt, just to taste
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup low sodium chicken broth
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 6 tbsp flour

Melt the butter in saucepan, reduce heat, slowly mix in flower and stir. Add chicken broth and milk. Add all spices except salt. Simmer until the soup thickens, and then reduce to low heat. Taste. If it needs salt, add it. If not, don’t. Between the poultry seasoning and the chicken broth (especially if you don’t use low sodium), this soup can get really salty REALLY fast. So salt is the very last thing I add, and sometimes, I don’t add it at all, especially if I am using this soup in a recipe.

Okay. Now back to the Country Club Chicken:

Season the chicken breasts well with salt and pepper. Cook the bacon, set aside to drain on paper towels. Add a pat of butter to the bacon pan and brown your chicken in the butter-and-bacon-grease goodness. Remove chicken and place in your casserole dish.

Now cook the bell peppers and garlic in the same pan for no more than six minutes, seasoning with a bit of salt and pepper. Pour in white wine and deglaze the pan (scrape it with a spatula). Add your homemade cream of chicken soup and your cheese. Mix well, and pour over chicken breasts.

Crumble your bacon and sprinkle over the chicken. Bake in 350 degree oven for 30-25 minutes. Remove, sprinkle with fresh parsley. Perhaps a little handful of scallions if you were like me and opted not to use onion. I paired this with mashed potatoes and fresh corn on the cob so I wouldn’t feel guilty about the grease  for a well-rounded and filling dinner. 

Okay…

Yes, this was a gravy born of bacon grease.

But it was yummy and I don’t regret it.

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A Fish Out of Water: Southerner In The North Is More Clueless Than A Toddler

Call me naive, but I never realized that such a thing as deli counter kiosks existed until just this week. Seriously? Kiosks. For the Deli. In the grocery store? Is the drive to obtain freshly sliced sandwich meats and perfectly tossed yellow potato salad so strong within the people of the North that they must contain their urges to bum rush the deli counter by using electronic kiosks? Evidently, this is so, because the grocery store I go to the most has such a thing. I guess this system is in place to keep your experience at the deli counter civilized. Because apparently, without the kiosk, chaos and terror would surely run rampant as crazed housewives claw over the bodies of their peers in want of that perfect pound of salami.

This cold cut is capable of bringing grocery store deli counters everywhere to their knees. (Photo credit: bbc.com)

I mean, who knew?

And this is why I sometimes feel out of place here. In the South–or at least, in every grocery store I’ve ever been to in North Carolina–there are no kiosks. There is just the counter, where you stand. Patiently. Quietly. Waiting until the people ahead of you are done. And then you slowly move up, browsing the display of meats and prepared side plates, until some little old lady from behind the counter politely, quietly, asks you what is it can they do for you. And then you politely, quietly, order your meats. And the process continues. It’s a cycle of politeness that works because the people have enough self-control to wait their turn.

But one thing I’ve learned about the North since moving up here is that people are damn serious about their fresh deli meat. Damn serious. Like, you don’t get in-between a woman and her thin-sliced ham and oven-roasted turkey breast OR ELSE SHE WILL CUT YOU. Except I did just that. Oops.

“You’re lucky she was nice,” said the little old lady behind the counter. My skin prickled with uncomfortable-ness, because this hobbling deli counter lady was fixing me with a stare of sympathy. I could just hear her thinking poor, simple creature as she handed me my cold cuts and asked what I’d like next.

I had waited my turn like I assumed everyone else had done before me. When the counter cleared, I stepped up, pretending to be interested in the turkeys and chickens behind the glass. The store wasn’t that busy; it was still kind of early. I had showered, but I was in track shorts and a shirt, and I hadn’t bothered with make-up. I just wanted my deli meats so I could finish shopping and go back home.

When I began rattling off my order to the Counter Lady who acknowledged me, I knew something was wrong. She was giving me a strange look. And she seemed hesitant. So I thought maybe I was going too fast for her. I immediately slowed myself down. “I’d like…half…a pound of…baked…ham…and white…American…cheese. Half…a pound.”

She still seemed stuck. Like I was speaking a foreign language. As I was debating whether to repeat myself or just write it down on a piece of paper, she finally shook herself out of her trance. “We have Virginia baked ham on sale,” she said.

Virginia baked ham is a bit on the sweet side, but I was desperate to get something out of this impossibly slow woman, so I said sure. At this point, I’d pretty much given up on my cheese. It would be a miracle, I thought, if I could even get my turkey or salami. Meanwhile, my fingers and hands started to shake. They do this when I get uncomfortable. I became aware of a shopping cart squeaking behind me.

“Excuse me? Um, excuse me? You don’t have a number?” It took me a second to realize that the woman with the squeaky shopping cart was talking to me, and that it was not her shopping cart squeaking, but the two year-old sitting inside of it. This girl looked to be in her twenty’s, like me. She had long, curly black hair, pale skin, and tattoos all up and down her arms.

I stared at her. A number?

“She doesn’t have a number,” Tattoo Mom said to Counter Lady. “You’re supposed to get a number. Do you have a number? She skipped us in line.”

No no no! I thought to myself. I don’t skip! I wait my turn like everyone else! 

“Did you get a number?” She was like a broken record, but every repeat of the refrain became more frantic than the last.

I think by this time we had established that no I did not have a freakin’ number. But when I tried to say this, it came out kind of like a grunt. So I shook my head, mumbled no, and stared wildly around the store hoping that this mystical, magical number would ascend from the heavens and into my hands.

Tattoo Mom nodded to the little baskets on the deli counter, and insisted that I needed a number. I had no idea what to do. But I got the gist that these magical numbers maybe resided in the little baskets, so I plucked one out and clutched it to my chest like it was a life raft and I was a double-amputee afloat in the middle of the ocean without my contacts.

Tattoo Mom looked at me with sympathy. “It’s okay, really,” she said. The aggression with which she had approached me melted away. She backed off. I sighed with relief. I still had very little idea what was going on, but my heart was pounding, my cheeks were burning, and I was certain that I had just scarred myself for life. I would be too terrified to ever come back to the deli counter, because apparently there was a well-oiled system in place to which I was not savvy.

I had just condemned myself to an existence of pre-packaged cold cuts, and the future became bleak.

Go water and filler and salt! (Photo credit: about.com)

Once the fact was out that I had ordered my meat without having a number, Counter Lady seemed to feel sorry for me as well. After that, she was on point. She handed me my ham and promptly said, “how much of the American cheese?” I was even able to order my turkey and salami too!

But, I was well aware of Tattoo Mom watching me. Judging me. And so was the two-year old. As if things just couldn’t be left well enough alone! After the whole awkward encounter, THE TWO YEAR OLD HAD TO ASK WHY WAS I GETTING MY COLD CUTS BEFORE THEM.

“Because we were skipped in line,” Tattoo Mom told her. And Judgmental Toddler regarded me with that same look of pity, BECAUSE EVEN SHE KNEW ABOUT THE KIOSK SYSTEM.

A TWO YEAR OLD.

Thankfully, another Counter Person became available to help out Tattoo Mom. All Tattoo Mom needed was some cheese, and after she got her damn cheese, she left. I felt weak at the knees, as if I had just gone through a police interrogation. I was so happy that Tattoo Mom and Judgmental Toddler were gone. I can handle the scorn and pity of a woman my age, but Judgmental Toddler was just too much. At that point, I just wanted to cut my losses and run. I wanted to go home. I wanted to curl up in a ball on the couch and wonder what had gone so wrong with my life that I was getting the pity of a two year-old.

But then Counter Lady asked me what I’d like next, and I decided that I had made it this far, and that–number or no–I was going to get my freakin’ meat. I ordered my half pound of salami with a sigh of relief. I was done. I was free. I would grab this last pack of meat and run away like baby Simba after the stampede.

The look says it all. (Photo credit: Inmagine stock)

And that is when Counter Lady looked at me with her eyebrows raised and told me how lucky I was that Tattoo Mom was nice. “Most people here aren’t that nice,” she added with a grave sigh. I could only squeak out an agreement as I clutched my basket to my side in an attempt to hide the shaking. Surely my face was the color of a ripe tomato. But Counter Lady smiled kindly, and then pointed to the kiosk at the end of the counter.

“You get your number from there,” she said. “And when you hear it called, that is when you come up and place your order.”

Oh. Oh. Ooooooh. I finally saw it. After almost two months of going to this grocery store, I never noticed it before. The Kiosk. The Kiosk. The King of the Deli Counter. The All-Mighty Number.

I glanced at the slip of paper in my hand and everything clicked. You go to the kiosk. You get your number. You wait for it to be called. And when you are done, you put your slip of paper in the basket on the counter.

So now I knew. In my panic, I had grabbed a slip of paper from the basket for discarded and used numbers. No wonder Tattoo Mom had looked at me with such sympathy and pain in her eyes. No wonder she had backed away. She didn’t think I was just a rude and impatient customer. She thought–nay! She knew that I was just dumb. Plain. Dumb. And she felt so bad for my simple-mindedness, that she couldn’t even bring herself to be belligerent about the fact that I had skipped her in line.

Counter Lady knew. And so did Judgmental Toddler. I was dumb.

In a desperate, last-ditch attempt to redeem myself–at least in Counter Lady’s eyes–I hastily and awkwardly explained that I had just moved here. That it was my first time at this store (a lie, but at this point, I was not above lying). I thanked her for letting me in on the customs of the locals. I bid her good day, and I ran for the safety of the spice aisle. My last shred of dignity nearly abandoned me at the check out line, where I saw Tattoo Lady appear from the aisle beside mine, heading for the registers. I immediately pretended like I needed bread and went in the opposite direction. But still.

One good thing resulted from this encounter. Well, two really. I got my cold cuts, and I figured out how to appropriately approach the deli counter for next time. I just managed to avoid a life of pre-packaged sandwich meats. That deli counter almost beat me down, but somehow, I escaped with just enough of my dignity in tact to keep shopping. I filed the experience away as just one of the many that had showed me exactly how out of place I really am in this whole new world of Yankee-dom.

And the sad part is, I didn’t think I was that out of place. Yet, I am evidently so out of place, that a two year-old is more capable of ordering at the deli counter than I am. Guys, can my life really get any more pathetic than this?

I’m more than a fish out of water. I’m a beluga whale in Sea World–not in my natural habitat, but home nonetheless. Stay tuned ya’ll. Maybe this Yankee state will rub off on me yet.

Deli counters be damned.

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