“Tsk, tsk.”

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of traveling with rising juniors and seniors to several college campuses as a part of a program supporting families whose first generation will go to college.  It was an enormous undertaking for the administrators in charge, and I was pleased to go along for the ride.  (Read about my interview for this job here.)  We took 60 kids, 11 adults, and 2 tour buses, and we visited 3 schools, staying overnight in the dorms of a real university.  I packed shower shoes, of course.

It was a fantastic trip.  As I finished packing the night before, my husband put me in the college spirit by playing the soundtrack of our college years (listed in reverse alphabetical order): Warren G and Nate Dogg, UB40, Stone Temple Pilots, Soundgarden, Salt-N-Pepa, Pearl Jam, Boyz II Men, Beck, Ace of Base … all the early 90s music that transports me back to those glorious, carefree days a generation ago.

I zipped up my 25-year-old floral Laura Ashley duffle, stuffed with four days worth of clothes, towels, sheets, and my Hoos blanket.  I was ready.

I’m not going to try to summarize the trip, because I couldn’t do it justice.  Suffice it to say that we all learned, grew, and changed, and I’m enormously thankful to have been a part of such a powerful experience for these students.

We did have our Griswold situations, however.  Like when the power went out in the campus library right before our college essay work session. Or when one school tour took two hours (100% longer than anticipated) and was immediately followed by a financial aid information session in which the speaker consistently referred to FAFSA as “fassfa” and many of our kids nodded off to sleep.  My favorite choice moments of the trip involved eating in the cafeteria, however.

I’m gonna lay it out there: the food was as disappointing as it was back when I was in school.  This was a different college, and many years later, but I guess some things are universal.  Anyway, I ended up subsisting on salad and dessert, for the most part.  The second night on campus, following the aforementioned info session, I decided to try my hand at the soft serve machine.  (Back in the day, I made perfect spirals with curlicue tips due to my substantial ice cream / frozen yogurt shop experience.)

“Tsk, tsk!  You sure you wanna do that?”

I turned around to see a tall, dark, and in no way handsome man smiling at me, displaying his seven or eight teeth.

“Oh, I love soft ice cream.  Why?  Is it not good?”  I inquired.

“Naw it’s good, but what will your HUHHHHZband say?”  he chuckled and winked disconcertingly.

What?!?  Wait.  What is happening?  Did that guy just insult my size?  And why is my husband involved here?  Did I time travel or something?  Permission for dessert?  My head is exploding…

I looked at him sideways, and as I proceeded to dispense the ice cream, he continued to describe a detailed vignette he had imagined:

“He gon’ be all, ‘you promised me you wouldn’t eat snacks and junk!’  So are you sure you really want that?…”  I walked away.

I returned to my seat, shared the story with other staff members on the trip, and we’ve all been laughing ever since.  Because no way that happened.

Also, I decided to keep a mental log of my food choices to share with my husband. Surprisingly, he had very little interest in what I ate on the trip.

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Three stores, a quattuordecillion dishes, and one fabulous summer dinner

As I was leaving to procure ingredients for tonight’s dinner, it occurred to my husband that I might not find turkey cutlets.  “I can make the same dish with chicken,” I advised.

“Yeah, but don’t,” he replied.

“Shrimp?”

“It’s all or nothing on this one, Annie.  I’ve gotta have me some turkey.  If you can’t get turkey cutlets, let’s have something else.”

And so began my hunting and gathering.  I went to my neighborhood grocery store, and went straight to the poultry section.  No cutlets.  I bought the ingredients for the back-up dinner: Zatarain’s red beans & rice mix and andouille sausage.  (You know that’ll be delicious tomorrow.)

Then I drove across town to the specialty grocery store (with the cheerful staff sporting tropical shirts) and bought everything I needed.

Except for a lemon.  “We’re out!” chirped the smiling young lady restocking produce.  Dag.

I drove back toward my house and stopped into a third store.  Lemons.  Yesssss.

My husband and I cooked together like we were newlyweds, using all the fun tools like the microplane, the juicer, the copper skillet, and pretty much all of our knives and bowls.  (Lots of hand washing tonight, but worth it.)

Cheers!

Creamy Lemon-Basil Turkey Cutlets

Creamy Lemon-Basil Turkey Cutlets

Summer Turkey Cutlets (with Creamy Lemon-Basil Sauce)

Serves 4, uses a whole mess of utensils and dishes, involves lots of “setting aside,” and really satisfies summer creamy lemon-basil cravings

1 tablespoon butter
1 sweet yellow onion, sliced
2 cups mushrooms, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
½ cup flour
8 turkey cutlets
1 lemon
½ cup white wine
6-7 large fresh basil leaves, or more to taste
2 tablespoons cream

1 pot of mashed potatoes (however you prepare yours – I make mine with Yukon golds, butter, and cream while I’m cooking this dish.)

1. Salt and pepper the cutlets to taste, then dredge through flour and set aside on a plate.
2. Zest the lemon into a small bowl. Chiffonade the basil and add to the zest. Set aside.
3. Juice the lemon into a separate bowl and add the wine. Save for a couple of minutes.
4. Melt the butter in a skillet over medium high heat. Brown the mushrooms, onions, and garlic, about 3-4 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.
5. Brown the cutlets in the hot pan, 1-2 minutes per side. Remove the cutlets from the pan. Wait for it…set aside!
6. Deglaze the pan with the lemon – wine sauce. Add back the cutlets and vegetables, reduce to low, and cover. Simmer for 10 minutes, or until turkey is cooked through and veggies are tender.
7. Plate the mashed potatoes. Place the servings of cutlets and veggies onto the potatoes.
8. Add the cream, zest, and basil to the sauce. Whisk for a skinny minute, and then drizzle over the plates.  Serve.

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Yar Sale

yar sale

Eye patches? Peg legs? Doubloons? Jolly Rogers?

Arrrrr, I’m saaarrrry I missed it.

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5 of the Things that Delighted Me on this Summer Saturday

My family has convened for the weekend at my parents’ house, and I am filled with gratitude and joy.  Among the huge and tiny moments of inspiration are these:

1. Creamy Sriracha sauce at Subway  Y’all know I love me some sriracha.  Somehow, I didn’t know about this sauce’s existence, and it provided the perfect biting balance against the crisp cucumbers and warm, tender roasted chicken.  Awesome.

2. Free form building with Nanoblocks  We chose the Big Ben kit because it had the most variety in colors and bricks, and we built what we wanted.  These things are so tiny, it’s a bit like building with grains of rice.  Challenging, but satisfying.  And really, I got to spend some special time with my sweet, creative little guy.  I heart him so much!

Cool tower, bro

Cool tower, bro

3. Watching the pool action  My sister and my father competed in cannonballs and canoe racing.  My older son took a pool chair and a noodle to fashion an aquatic battle tank.  That child slays me.  Dag, I love my family.

4. Soccer trash talking  “I’m an impenetrable wall!  I’m titanium!  Your balls can’t get past my body!”  and “That was a good place you put your beer, Uncle Mark.  Our balls haven’t knocked it over!”

They played with two balls.

They played with two balls.

5. Beef Wellington  Yessssssss.

Update:  6. Forty year old port  Amazing.

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“It’s in the ‘freezes beautifully’ section of my cookbook” – Cheesy Chicken and Broccoli Casserole

I might have to watch Steel Magnolias again, now that I think about it.  Anyway, my husband has been fighting off a bug, and he requested this dish tonight, which never fails to comfort.  It’s old-school, not so much healthy, and definitely not gourmet.  Super satisfying, though, so cheers.

cheesy chicken

 

  • 1 pound of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed and cubed
  • 2 crowns of broccoli, trimmed into very small bits
  • 1 cup of uncooked rice (which you will cook, but I’ve never measured the rice afterward…)
  • 1 6-ounce container of plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 cans of cream of chicken soup
  • about 2 cups of shredded cheddar
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 3/4 cup of breadcrumbs (I used whole wheat, so the crust looks super-brown here)
  • salt, pepper, and paprika to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and butter a 9×13 casserole dish.
  2. Cook the rice, then spread it in the bottom of the dish.  Throw some salt and pepper on that layer.
  3. Steam the broccoli for about 2 minutes in the microwave.  It should still be firm.  Place the florets across the rice so every bite will have broccoli.
  4. Mix the soup and yogurt together, then spread a moderately thin layer over the broccoli.  Season with paprika.
  5. Boil or sauté the chicken, strain, and place evenly across the layer of sauce.
  6. Melt the butter in a small skillet and brown the breadcrumbs, making sure they’re totally moist. Set aside for a second.
  7. Spread a layer of cheese on the casserole, then top with the breadcrumbs.
  8. Bake for 45 minutes.  “Freezes beautifully.”
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Situations Indicating that You Have Chosen the Wrong Check-out Line

I got in the wrong line again yesterday.  I was taking my kids to stay with my parents for a few days, and we stopped at a grocery mega-store to pick up a bottle of sauvignon blanc to bring.  Like a rookie, I had promised the jaunt would be fast, even though keeping such a promise would not be within my control.  Since the wine selection was organized neither by varietal nor by region of origin, it took us a few minutes to find the particular bottle.

Then we headed to the check-out lines.  The first three were congested two-deep with folks buying full carts-worth of groceries, so we proceeded on to find a quicker option.  I settled on a line I thought would move quickly: two men in front with just three items, followed by a lady riding a mobility device who had five items on the belt.

Wrong.  One of the men pulled out a CHECKBOOK to pay for the groceries.  My younger son asked me what was happening, and I was almost too stunned to explain the anachronism.  Fortunately, the lady’s transaction did proceed quickly, and despite being carded (with my grey hair and fairly big children) so did mine.

The checkbook got me thinking: how can the savvy shopper know if he’s chosen the wrong line?  And so I shall describe the following situations indicating that you have chosen the wrong check-out line

  • You’re behind someone who is sick.  You cruise behind the one person in a line and smile as you put your items down.  Then you notice he’s buying anti-diarrheal medication and Gatorade.  Or she’s wearing pajama bottoms, buying tissues, and coughing.  Of course, the cashier will have to scan these germ-riddled items, then he will handle your items.  So wash your hands, take a vitamin, and pray, because a storm of misery is headed your way.
  • Your cashier is in training.  Invariably, you, or the person in front of you, has a bounty of gorgeous, unusual produce, and the new cashier is frantically spinning the laminated cylinder of codes and calling out to the veteran cashier for help.  And the folks behind you are sighing, shifting from one hip to the other, and jostling their carts dismay. Patience, people – everyone has to start somewhere.  Still, you might want to choose another line with your jillion non-barcoded items.
  • Your cashier is 15 years old.  I see this often when a thoughtful man rushes into line with a bouquet of flowers, a card, and a bottle of champagne.  (Or when it’s Tuesday, so I’ll need to pick up a bottle of white.)  Anyway, because the cashier isn’t legal to vote, much less consume alcohol, an override must be summoned.  It’s no one’s fault, but it’s time-consuming, and best to avoid if possible.
  • The patron next to you is nosey and judgmental.  “Don’t you know that Yoo-hoo is not even real milk?”  Look, thanks for your concern (unsolicited judgment) and I’ll keep that in mind (nope) as I shop in the future.  But even though our groceries are positioned on the belt for everyone to see, it’s still disconcerting to acknowledge that people are looking at them.  And, lest I start quoting Ludacris about my bisnazz, I’d advise you to keep your thoughts about my groceries to yourself.  I’ll make my own choices about food, politics, religion, and how I hang the toilet paper.  I love America.
  • There’s only one person in front of you, but there are three divider bars with separate groupings of items.  For a variety of reasons, folks sometimes need to make separate transactions.  But if you’re hoping for a speedy check-out, it’s best to look out for the lone shopper who’s about to scan her bonus card, slide her credit card, and sign a receipt several times in a row.

Of course, noticing these situations doesn’t necessarily prevent you from experiencing them.  Sometimes you get stuck behind a person who’s counting pennies.  Sometimes the register tape runs out, or the extreme couponer in front of you has a glitch on a sale item.  Sometimes, though, you get in a fast-moving line with a cheerful, adept cashier and a dedicated bagger.  And then you’re golden.

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Valuable student feedback

I am looking forward to summer break.

highlights from course evaluation surveys

Highlights from course evaluation surveys

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Long roots, fat cheeks, and a vanilla Frosty

ImageMy sweet baby is resting after having endured a gnarly tooth extraction.  Our dentist is amazing, gentle, and patient, and she managed to remove the tooth without breaking the long, slender roots. (As far as I understand it, that’s wicked hard to do.)

As I sat watching the procedure, I was unpleasantly reminded of the Steve Martin movie Novocaine, which my husband and I rented on VHS back when we were first married.  We had to keep pausing the movie out of frustration and disappointment as Steve’s character continued to make ruinous decisions, none of which resulted in the uproarious laughter we were promised by the acne-riddled clerk at the video store.

I shuddered and shifted in my seat, anxious for all the pulling, wrenching, and straining to end.  Mercifully, my son’s tooth finally gave up after almost ten minutes.  While the dental hygienist was cleaning up the aftermath, the dentist reviewed the care instructions.  William and I walked out to the car, and as he rubbed his numb face, he announced resignedly, “No food for two weeks.”

“Oh, honey, no.  She said no food for two hours, and we’re coming back here in two weeks.”

“Two hours?! I can handle two hours.  I hardly ever eat, anyway.”  (This fact is a post for another day.)

“Yeah.  I’m sorry you thought it was two weeks.  Two weeks without eating would be a really big deal.”

We drove home by way of a Wendy’s and picked up a large vanilla Frosty, which is soft, cold, and perfect for dulling the pain and reducing the swelling.  (Or maybe it’s not; I get a lot of my information from Dr. Internet, who is not board certified.)

While he’s resting, I’d better start making the Jello.

“I want a sailboat and a trip to Austria.”  Thank you, The Price Is Right.  You never fail to entertain.

 

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Moderately-sized but ridiculously delicious bites of the Big Apple

Let me start by acknowledging: my husband ran the ship this weekend. My dear friend from my first year of teaching invited me to visit her in NYC at least 16 years ago, and I finally made good on the trip this weekend.

But the stars began to misalign earlier this week. My friend got food poisoning. Then my husband needed to work on a paper for grad school. Then the kids were invited to a birthday party. And then one of the boys started declining the night before the trip, slight fever, moaning, the whole bit.  Could I really abandon my team under these circumstances?

I texted my friend, whom I’ll call A. She assured me that she was feeling better; the antibiotics were doing the trick. My husband rose to the occasion with a song and dance of, “you should totally go; I’ll get and wrap the present, take the kids, and handle things; and you never do this so just enjoy.”

I was worried that I would worry. But I decided to trust in my guys and believe that my recovering friend was actually recovering. I plugged A’s address into my GPS.

And let me say, I had the greatest weekend of joy and adventure I’d had in a long time. What an amazing treat!  I took a mess of photos.  (I’ve been experimenting with selfies, although A took a bunch of these because she was sick of my vain incompetence.)

 

A took my picture in front of Madison Square Garden, right before we ate our weight in cheese at Eataly.

So A took my picture in front of Madison Square Garden, right before we ate our weight in cheese at Eataly.

The Highline -beautiful weather.

The Highline -beautiful weather.

I definitely wanted the boys to see these parking towers - ingenious.

I definitely wanted the boys to see these parking towers – ingenious.

Slaking our thirsts after all that walking - cheers!

Slaking our thirsts after all that walking – cheers!

Sign about my favorite varietal on a store at Chelsea market.

Sign about my favorite varietal on a store at Chelsea market.

We had dinner at Sea in Brooklyn.

We had dinner at Sea in Brooklyn.  Duck salad appetizer, Bangkok panang curry, drunken noodles, and something with crispy pork bellies – amazing.

Sunday brunch at Sarabeth's on Central Park - yummy

Sunday brunch at Sarabeth’s on Central Park – perfect croissant with marmalade and jalapeño cheddar omelette.

After brunch, we encountered the Puerto Rican pride parade.  What fun!

After brunch, we encountered the Puerto Rican pride parade. Fun!

Certainly, it's important to wear your reptiles to the parade.

Certainly, it’s important to wear your reptiles to the parade.

We strolled through Central Park before I geared up for the drive home.

We strolled through Central Park before I geared up for the drive home.

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This mouth is on fire

Recently, I’ve been craving spicy foods.  I’m not expecting or anything, but over the years I’ve learned not to deny myself the one food I really want lest I eat everything in sight only to remain disappointingly unsatisfied.  And so, I’ve been making, ordering, and eating a lot of spicy foods in the past month.  Still, though, my craving has yet to subside.  I think it’s time for a trip to Maharaja in Charlottesville, Va.

I went to college in Charlottesville, and on several occasions went with my visiting family to this amazing Indian restaurant.  I usually ordered the Murgh Tikka, and it’s beautifully seasoned, tender, and enormously satisfying.  Man, I wish I lived in Charlottesville, ‘cuz I’d go get me some right now.  Maybe I’ll fire up a road trip this summer.  (Yeah, that’s the ticket.)

Anyway, my Dad and brother like the spice.  A whole LOT of spice.  So at Maharaja, they always ordered the Lamb Vindaloo, and when the server inquired about the level of heat, they selected “India hot.”  For about the first three seconds of the meal, everyone would make the usual “I’m eating something amazing right now” sounds.  Then we’d notice Dad and Mark’s searingly red faces, watering eyes, and involuntary but partially stifled coughs.  Each would take a sip of his Kingfisher beer, one or both would decree that it is, in fact, “most thrilling chilled,” and they’d usually try to share some with Mom, my sister, or me.  (I tried a bite once.  It was delicious until my mouth caught fire.)

It’s interesting to me that some people actually enjoy the masochism of eating seriously spicy food.  Personally, I’m more of a medium-hot fan.  I’ll throw a little wasabi into the soy for my sushi (even if I’ve ordered a spicy salmon roll,) I love Tabasco on my eggs, and I’m usually disappointed if the salsa I’m eating is mild (or if there’s fruit in it.)  But watching a person eat something so spicy that the body physically reacts, rejecting the heat and attempting to heal itself through coughing, sweat, and tears, I have to wonder – how can that be pleasant?  It’s kind of like watching someone who’s been hit with pepper spray, but without the incriminating orange dye.

I’m definitely going to start investigating a family convergence in Charlottesville this summer, because I gotta have me some Murgh Tikka soon.  And naan.  And Kingfisher beer.

 

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