Glasses and Chicken Stock

To children, some decisions seem far more important than they really are.

I’m legendary in my house for how great my vision was as a small child. According to my mother, I used to be able to identify the different planes that flew over our house (we were lucky enough to be on the flight path for a major airport) by calling out the colors on the wings and tails. I could identify birds and squirrels in trees all the way across a gigantic field.

And then my father’s genes took over after my visual peak in kindergarten.

By third grade, I had become the child that had to sit in the very front of the room, or else I would have to walk up right next to the board to read the chalked instructions. My first vision test was right before my class was scheduled to take a standardized exam, and the start time for everyone was delayed for forty-five minutes while the school staff became aghast at how bad my vision was at the old age of 8.

You know the big letter “E” on the vision chart? The one that everyone assumes even a blind person can see? My eyes, it turns out, were worse than that (though it’s a good thing that, at my current age, my eyes don’t appear to be getting any worse).

I should probably take a moment to say that I was legendary in my family for another trait- it took me FOREVER to make a decision. It was though my entire life would be completely dependent on what I chose to bring for lunch that day or what I brought to show and tell.

Therefore, choosing my first pair of glasses was quite momentous. My mother had taken me out of school for the afternoon so I could have a proper eye appointment and then pick out a pair of glasses.

Eyeglass sales clerk: What kind of glasses would you like, my dear?

Young Megs: Should I get blue? Or green? Or pink? What should the sides look like? Do I need sunglasses too? What should I doooooooooooooooo?

I looked at my first pair of glasses at 3pm that day.

By 8:30pm, I had tried on every pair of glasses in the entire store. It had actually closed at 8pm, but the store employee took pity on me (or, perhaps, didn’t want me to return another day where she would then lose out on even more commissions). I tried on glasses right through dinner, and snacks, and practically through bedtime. My entire family wanted to rip their hair out. I practically cried when they told me I had to make a decision in the next five minutes. And I still managed to delay that decision until 9pm.

I finally picked a pair of glasses. Which, looking at the pictures from back then, where my blue and turquoise frames took up over a third of my face, were probably not the best decision.

And, if you must know, it still takes me at least an hour to pick out the perfect pair.

Take the Time Chicken Stock

chicken brothbecause good food is always worth waiting for

Ingredients

  • 1 carcass from a large roasted chicken (or from two roasted cornish hens)
  • 3 large carrots, chopped into large pieces
  • 1 head garlic, cut in half
  • 3 ribs celery, cut into large pieces
  • 1 large purple onion, quartered
  • 12 oz bottle beer (I used an Oktoberfest, but an IPA works well, too)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
  • Water

How-to

  1. In your largest stock pot available, place the chicken skin/bones, carrots, garlic, celery, and onion.
  2. Pour in the beer, then add in the bay leaf and peppercorns.
  3. Cover everything with water up to an inch below the top of your pot.
  4. Turn the burner onto high, and bring the water to a boil.
  5. Reduce to a simmer and let the stock bubble for at least 3-4 hours, until the liquid has reduced by at least 2 inches and the color of the stock is a nice golden brown.
  6. Using a large colander, pour out the broth and throw away the large pieces of the stock ingredients.
  7. Using your finest mesh sieve, remove the rest of the impurities from your stock. Place into containers and either freeze (you can keep it for up to 6 months) or refrigerate (it can keep for up to a week).
  8. Once the stock is cold, skim off the layer of fat that has solidified at the top (this is really easy to wash off the frozen stock).
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Emailers and Oven Pancakes

Persistence can be a virtue. Other times, not so much.

Remember the guy with the awkward voice? Yeah, the story didn’t end there.

When we had left off, I knew that I didn’t want to see said gentleman again for a variety of reasons…being late, the quick urge to settle down, and that whole voice that was higher than my niece’s.

It soon because obvious he did not feel the same way.

The next day, I had an email.

“Hi, I had a gr8 time last night! We had tonz in common and your super hot. Can’t wait to see you again! Here’s my phone number, what’s yours? Email back soon pls!”

Yes, the typos above are correct.

I then very politely responded back a few days later that I was busy with work (which I was), that I was not interest (also true) and thus unfortunately I did not think (my word choice as I was attempting to be polite) I would be able to see him again, but I wished him the very best in his continual search on online dating.

And then…

“Hey, R U any less busy with work? Would love to see you again! What’s your phone number?”

This time, I chose not to respond, as I had already said I wasn’t interested.

But the emails kept coming…for weeks.

“Hey, call me sometime!”

“Hey, I’m still interested, have you changed your mind?”

“Hey, just wanted to say hi again! Really would love to see you!”

Two months went by. The emails kept coming. I blocked his emails on the online dating website. I blocked his profile name. He changed his profile name and continued emailing. I blocked that but he just did it again.

Thankfully he continually made me a favorite and didn’t change his profile picture, so I at least was able to block him on a fairly quick basis and slightly decrease the annoyance.

I can’t imagine what he would have done if he had my phone number or last name.

Stay the Course Oven Pancake

002

this is one case where persistence and waiting are okay with me

Ingredients

  •  3 tbsp butter
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 c skim milk
  • 1/2 c flour (fluff up flour before measuring)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • Fresh fruit
  • Jam or Jelly
  • Powdered sugar

How-t0

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Place butter in 10-in oven-safe nonstick frying pan. Place in oven until butter melts (approximately 3-4 minutes).
  3. While butter is melting, beat eggs by hand until they just start to lighten (about 1 minute). Add in milk and beat again until combined.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix together flour, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon.
  5. While whisking eggs, add flour mixture until mixture is smooth.
  6. Once butter has melted, remove pan from oven. Pour batter into center. Place pan back in the oven.
  7. Bake for 25-30 minutes until pancake browns and grows up the side (see picture). DO NOT OPEN OVEN DOOR FOR FIRST 20 MINUTES (and preferably the first 25). Wait at least 20 minutes to open oven to check and see if the center is set and browning (if you open it earlier, the pancake won’t rise properly).
  8. While baking, heat jam or jelly 30 seconds-1 minute in the microwave until warm. Add in fruit.
  9. When brown, remove pancake from oven. Add fresh fruit and jam/jelly mixture to center. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Serves 2

Middle Children and Collard Greens

There’s telling stories about your family, and then there’s just excessive complaining to a complete stranger.

I was on yet another date from online dating. To start, I should have know that this date would be awkward, purely based on text messages. Most normal people don’t start complaining to a complete stranger, especially by text. However, the rest of them had seemed funny, so I wrote it off as maybe him just having a bad day.

I really should have listened to my gut.

I arrived at the date location a few minutes early (I can’t help myself- my dad is ALWAYS late, so I always arrive early. Always.). My date of course was a few minutes late (but not as late as a previous encounter).

And that is when the complaining started.

Over the next hour and a half (I literally darted out of there as soon as humanly possible), he complained about

  • that it was raining which of course made him late because someone MUST have stolen his umbrella and then put it back in the closet where he wouldn’t be able to find it
  • that he was sore because he ran earlier to train for a marathon, and he HAD to run a marathon since his little brother did, and of course he had to run faster than him to prove that he was the better brother (phrase actually used)
  • that the weather in Chicago was colder than the south
  • that he was the middle child and therefore his family would never love him as much as his older or younger brother (another phrase actually used)
  • that he liked the restaurant and came there often, but really he only liked one thing on the menu, and only if a particular cook had made it

He complained about more things, but to be totally honest I gave up really listening after the first 15 minutes and watched the baseball game above the bar instead, with occasionally throwing in comments I remember from my psych rotation (you know, when I wasn’t dealing with awkward psychiatrists one and two).

Date: Complain, complain, complain, complain.

Me: Sounds like that must be difficult for you.

Date: Yeah it definitely is because of complain complain complain…

Me: Have you tried talking to anyone about this?

Date: Well I saw a psychiatrist plenty of times but they just didn’t understand me because complain complain complain…

I’m almost convinced that someone else had written the amusing text messages or emails he had sent.

Low Maintenance Collard Greens

Crock Pot Collards

nothing to complain about here

Ingredients

  • 1 ham bone (perfect use of the leftovers from your holiday ham)
  • 2 bunches collard greens (I had approximately 2-3 lbs)
  • 1 tsp chicken bouillon
  • 3 c chicken broth
  • 1/2 c apple cider vinegar
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • Pepper jelly (optional)

How-to

  1. In a large crock pot, mix together chicken bouillon, chicken broth, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Add in ham bone.
  2. Wash collard greens very well in cold water. Remove tough stems. Cut into small pieces (or tear by hand, which I did).
  3. Place greens into broth in crock pot.
  4. Cook on low for 8-9 hours, stirring occasionally, until at desired doneness.
  5. Top with pepper jelly or pepper sauce, if desired.

Holiday Music and Mojito Jelly

I don’t care if you think someone is old- you never say it to their face.

It was last year and I was doing some holiday shopping in my favorite shoe department. Now, I’m a big fan of holiday music. And the holidays in genera. I do at least wait to start playing holiday music until after Thanksgiving, but my tree might go up beforehand (but my excuse is that I work too much and sometimes that’s the only time I have to set everything up).

So here I was, waiting in line, when one of my favorite Christmas songs came on- “This Christmas” by 98 degrees.

In front of me in line were a preteen girl and her mother.

Preteen: Who is this?

Me (attempting to be helpful): It’s 98 Degrees. I remember buying this album when it came out.

Preteen(in a shocked voice): God, you must be OLD.

I stood there looking dumbfounded. I should probably also tell you that I’m 26 now and definitely not old, not even to a preteen. At least, I didn’t think I was.

Preteen’s Mother (appalled): Honey, you NEVER tell anyone that they’re old! Especially a woman! She’s younger than me!! Never! Apologise now!

Preteen (in a blase voice): Sorry, I guess.

Let me tell you, that was an awkward wait in line until we finally all checked out.

P.S. My grandfather has a rule that you can never call someone old unless they are at least 5 years older than his current age, and since he’s currently in his mid 80s, that means you’re not old until you’re in your 90s. Otherwise, you’re just “older.”

Respect Your Elders Mojito Jelly

Mojito Jelly

I may not be old, but I’m old enough to drink legally

Ingredients

  • 2 c mint
  • 7 c water
  • 1 c light rum
  • 1 box powdered pectin
  • 4 c white sugar
  • 1 c lime juice
  • Green food coloring

How-to

  1. Prep water bath canner and 8 pint jars with lids and rings (you might not need this many, but it’s always best to be prepared!).
  2. Crush mint leaves to release juices (bring out your mixed drink supplies or just use the end of a wooden spoon).
  3. Add mint leaves, water, and light rum to large pot. Bring to a boil and let cook until liquid has reduced to four cups (so half).
  4. Turn off heat. Using a skimmer, remove the mint leaves from the liquid. Add 2-3 drops green food coloring if desired.
  5. Add pectin and stir until dissolved.
  6. Add sugar and lime juice. Bring back to a boil and cook for 1 minute.
  7. Ladle jelly into hot jars. Wipe off tops and place on lids. Place into water bath canner and place in jars. Bring water back to a boil (make sure the bubbles are coming from the bottom of the pot and not from the jars themself releasing air). Process for 5 minutes.
  8. Let stand for 12-24 hours or until jelly sets.

This makes an excellent Christmas gift!

Voices and Pasta Salad

People  can be fairly attractive…until they start talking.

I had a first date with a guy that looked very good on paper and in pictures. (Yes people, I resorted to online dating. I work far too much to meet guys out in public.) He had a steady job, loved dogs, and worked out.

Then I met him in person.

I should probably take a moment to say that many people that I met while online dating were new to the city or worked too much to meet people in a bar, like me. (Plus meeting people in a bar is always a risk, since you never know how they’ll look the next morning…story about that to follow soon.)

So here I was, waiting for my date to show up. He was late…15 minutes late. On the other hand, I do live in a city, so you tend to be a bit more forgiving in case someone missed the bus or train or got stuck in traffic.  Granted, I had planned ahead of time not to be late, so I was 10 minutes early…which meant that I was waiting for almost 30 minutes. (Mom had a nice phone call there to pass the time.)

My date showed up, gave me a hug, and then started talking.

And that is when I was no longer attracted to him…

…he had the voice of a child. MY VOICE was deeper than his, if that tells you anything. My niece’s voice is actually probably deeper than his was, and my adorable munchkin is all of 20 months old.

For the next hour and a half, he went on and on in his really high pitched voice about how he needs to get married soon because his parents keep pressuring him, and it really needs to happen in the next year. He might have mentioned something else in this conversation, but that was the point he kept coming back to and making. Marriage in a year. Marriage in a year.

I really should have left when he didn’t show up in time.

Stuff It and Shut Up Pasta Salad

stuff your face and stop talking already

Ingredients

  • 1 lb tricolor rotini pasta
  • 1 bottle fat free italian dressing
  • 2-3 large tomatoes, diced (depends on how many tomatoes you like in your pasta salad)
  • 1 lb mushrooms, sliced thinly
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • Salt
  • Pepper

How-to

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions in well-salted water. Drain and rinse once with cold water.
  2. Place pasta in a large bowl. Add half the container of italian dressing. Refridgerate overnight (this allows the warm pasta to absorb some of the dressing).
  3. Before serving, add the rest of the italian dressing, tomatoes, green peppers, and mushrooms. Salt and pepper to taste.

Feel free to add any other vegetables (olives, cucumbers, etc) that you may like! You can add the vegetables to the pasta before chilling, but you won’t have as much of a contrast in textures.

This also keeps well in the fridge in the off-chance you have leftovers!

Holiday Dinners and Hot Pepper Jam

Things that your family find normal may be weird to others.

My mom’s cousin has schizophrenia.  For those of you that don’t know, people with schizophrenia can have visual, auditory, and paranoid hallucinations.

In his case, he regularly had intellectual conversations with the devil.

Since he always had these chats, this wasn’t something that ever bothered us. (It’s not like the devil was ever telling him to do anything bad- they apparently just discussed politics and philosophy. And he never turned his head in normal conversation to ask the devil’s opinion.  I guess these were one-on-one chats.)

However, it’s a bit different for people who aren’t used to this.

My family had a bunch of our elderly neighbors over that year for some holiday dinner. Before we knew it, my very conservative neighbor from down the street had sat down next to my mother’s cousin in preparation for the meal.

He looked over at my normally very talkative neighbor and said, as he went to take his first bite of the meal,

“So I was talking to the devil about politics the other day. What did you talk about with the devil the last time you talked to him?”

I’m actually surprised my neighbor didn’t head home right then and there after he finished choking. He was, however, absolutely silent for the rest of the meal and dragged his wife home the second the pie was served.

Devilish Hot Pepper Jam

feel free to discuss with Satan

Ingredients

  • 12 oz jalapenos, halved and seeded
  • 12 oz red and jelly peppers, halved and seeded
  • 2 c cider vinegar
  • 6 c granulated sugar
  • 2 pouches liquid pectin

How-to

  1. Prep water bath, cans, and lids. (Place clean, empty jars into the largest pot you have. Add enough water so that the water comes over the top of the empty jars at least 1 inch. Bring water to a boil using a lid.)
  2. In a food processor, chop peppers finely with 1 c cider vinegar. (Don’t process all the way until smooth- small pieces look better!)
  3. In a large pot, add peppers slurry with the rest of the vinegar and the sugar. Bring to a boil for 10 minutes, stirring often.
  4. Add liquid pectin quickly.
  5. Bring back to a boil and cook for 1 additional minute.
  6. Remove from heat and skim foam.
  7. Ladle jam into hot jars (this makes about 5-6 half-pint jars, but always prep an extra in case you need it!) leaving 1/4 in headspace.
  8. Wipe rims, place on lids, and secure with bands.
  9. Place jars in the canner. Bring water back to a boil and process (boil) for 10 minutes. Turn off heat and remove lid. Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars.
  10. Let jam jars cool 1 hour, test to make sure seal has happened (it might take longer than 1 hour!), and don’t move until the next day so it sets properly.

This is delicious on crackers or bagels with cream cheese or in brie en croute.

If you want this spicier, use only jalapenos and none of the regular peppers. You can also make this clear and strain out the peppers.

Graveyards and Cheese Spreads

No one can scream louder than a preteen girl.

I was in fourth grade at a slumber party for a friend’s birthday. Now, as I said in my last post, I’m not the biggest fan of scary movies since I get far too involved in the stories. Unfortunately for me, my friend’s dad had rented only Twilight Zone episodes (and of course, only the terrifying ones- I vaguely remember something about ants and evil rabbits) for us to watch.

Therefore, by about midnight, we were all quite terrified, but attempted to act like we were brave.

I should take a brief moment to say that my friend’s house was located next to a cemetery, and you could very easily enter it from a back through a gate in her backyard (I have no idea why they had a gate to the cemetery in their backyard- they just did and it was never something we questioned as kids).

Therefore, what do preteen girls attempting to be brave do? Challenge everyone to a graveyard walk, of course.

We quickly bundled up into sweatshirts (April in Michigan can be a bit chilly at night) and ventured outside, holding onto each other as we made our way into the cemetery, accompanied by my friend’s mom. We were just starting to feel like we were all brave when a huge creature in a horrific mask popped out from behind one of the gravestones and came running at us while yelling.

Twelve preteen girls then shrieked at the top of their lungs (it truly is a wonder we didn’t wake the dead) and disappeared in all directions of the cemetery.

I at least ran towards the house, where we discovered my friend’s mom and younger brother laughing hysterically. Turns out my friend’s dad decided to play a prank on us during our graveyard walk, and had managed to run around to a separate entrance with mask in hand so he could be ready and waiting by the time we ran outside.

Granted, her parents then had to spend the next hour tracking down the girls still hiding terrified in the cemetery and stay up with us until daylight as we were far too afraid to sleep.

Ghoulishly Good Cheese Spread

worth shrieking for

Ingredients

  • 10 oz goat cheese, softened
  • 8 oz fat free cream cheese, softened
  • 8 oz feta (I used whole feta and cut it into chunks, but feel free to use pre-crumbled feta)
  • 1/4 c pesto
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 3 shallots, sliced thinly
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • Black sesame seeds
  • Crackers (I prefer pita crackers) and peppers

How-to

  1. In a mixing bowl of a stand mixer (though feel free to just whip this up in a bowl, but you’ll need some strong arms!), cream together goat cheese, cream cheese, feta, and pesto.
  2. In a small saute pan, melt butter over medium heat. Add shallots and allow them to sweat, stirring fairly regularly, until they just because translucent.
  3. Add shallots and butter to cheese mixture and mix on medium for 1 minute.
  4. Now is your time to get creative. Line whatever container you’d like to use for shaping your cheese spread with plastic wrap. Add in the cheese spread and cover. As an alternative for a free-form shape, place into a bowl and cover.
  5. Let cheese spread chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour to firm up and let the flavors mingle.
  6. Invert container onto a plate and top with freshly cracked black pepper and sesame seeds (this adds a nice crunchiness). Or, to make the spider I made above, make a spider “body” and “head” on a plate, then pat on the sesame seed/black pepper mixture. Add in sliced peppers for “legs” and “eyes”.
  7. Serve with crackers and veggies!

As an alternative, you can also stuff this mixture into mini sweet peppers for another delicious appetizer. Feel free to spread leftovers onto sandwiches or melt onto paninis!