Tuesday, January 31, 2012

THE GIANTS, BUFFALO CHICKEN DIP, AND ME

I can’t help but break out into a maniacal grin, when rereading this particularly forlorn passage from Cooking With Jeanne, circa February 4, 2011:

“As a New York football fan, I could not give a Chinese New Year rabbit’s foot about this Sunday's game. Packers or Steelers. Who cares? All I know is that 2010 marked the second year in which the Giants spectacularly imploded in the late season.”

Not this year, baby. New York Giants’ fans rejoice. We are going to the Super Bowl.

I really love football. It’s a passion I inherited through matrilineal decent; My grandmother taught my mother who taught me. I used to think this knowledge of first conversions and 3-4 defense formation was kind of a cool quirk. Then I started going to Giants games and met other female fans. Oh Lord! They are a collective vision of Farah Fawcett hairdos, outrageously oversized jerseys, and really coarse language. How are these ladies my people?

Yet the Giants played a supporting role in some of my life’s bigger moments. Back in the 1980s, Bill Parcell’s New York Giants provided an early taste of celebrity when they practiced at a college in my hometown. The local kids (and Mom) would hang outside of practice all day hoping to catch a glimpse of Phil Simms or Mark Bavaro. One day, Lawrence Taylor actually emerged from practice. The kids swarmed him, shouting “LT! LT! LT!”, as they begged him for an autograph. According to the Jeanne, LT was none too enthusiastic. Taylor muttered, “Just stop saying my name. Just stop saying my name,” then looked for the quietest kid in the crowd –aka my brother—and quickly signed his book. The only autograph granted for the day.

I remember watching the Giants play San Francisco in the NFC playoffs from my grandmother, Gert’s hospital room. She had just been diagnosed with cancer and was recovering from surgery. The game gave us something to focus on other than her illness. We were soothed by the regimen of plays, time-outs and commercials. When the Giants won the Super Bowl the following, my grandmother was no longer with us. However, to me, she is forever linked to that championship team.

Perhaps memories like these also sustain those other female fans, whose hair and clothes I am so quick to judge. Maybe they remember the thrill of watching games with their Dad or uncles; slowly piecing together how this bizarre military-style game works. I could probably discuss the miracle of Eli Manning’s pass to David Tyree in Super Bowl XLII with anyone of these ladies regardless of our different fashion sense. We share the strange, inexplicable bond of fandom.

So, this Sunday, I too shall don an incredibly unflattering NY Giants jersey. I shall shout obscenities at the referee when he –inevitably—makes the wrong call against Big Blue. It’s what my mother and Gert would have wanted. It’s who I am.

Are you a fan? Why does your team matter to you?

As I watch, we will be eating this high-fallutin’ dip. My cousin served it at Christmas, and I have been dying to make it ever since. There is no better holiday to bust out a Buffalo Chicken Dip than Super Bowl Sunday.


Buffalo Chicken Dip

3-4 cooked chicken breasts (i use a roasted chicken for ease)
8 oz cream cheese
6-8 oz cheddar cheese
4 oz blue cheese dressing
6 oz hot sauce

Chop shredded chicken. Combine with other ingredients. Bake at 350 for 25-30 min. Enjoy!!!!

Monday, January 23, 2012

LOSING THE GUILT GAME

Roughly five times a day, I screw up as a parent. However this morning’s antics may have earned me a spot in the Mommy Hall of Shame. At 10:00am, I had just settled down to work and a coffee, when my cell phone cheerily announced: “Chaperone Field Trip.” A pit instantly formed in my stomach. I was supposed to be heading to a demonstration of the New York City Ballet with my daughter's class that very moment.

In a panic, I bolted for the door, sprinting the six blocks to her school. Just as I breathlessly rounded the corner, my daughter’s class was lining up to board the bus. “STELLA!!!! STELLA!!!!” I hollered (not my daughter’s name but you get the allusion). “STOP!!! I’M THE CHAPERONE. I’M THE MOTHER!!! THE MOTHER!!!” Mercifully, my daughter was already on the bus and missed her mother's theatrical display.

Since I do guilt particularly well, I apologized profusely to my daughter. But she could not have care less. Instead, her eyes widened with delight at the prospect of spending school time with me. I had failed myself, not her. As a lovely morning unfolded, I managed to keep my guilt at bay. Self-flagellation would do nothing more than destroy my daughter's day at the ballet.

Oddly enough, one of Jeanne’s most dramatic “failures” revolved around City Ballet too. We were enjoying a pre-Nutracker dinner, when Mom realized the show began at 6pm, not 8pm. Since we arrived in the middle of the first act, we sat in the aisles. I saw it as an adventure. But what I remember most vividly was the fragile tone of my mother’s voice when she discovered her error. It was simultaneously heart-breaking and unnerving.

We make mistakes. Sometimes, they are of the logistical nature. Other times, I am, well, kind of a bitch. Instead of delivering sing-song homilies like Marmee in Little Women, I bark orders to “Put your shoes on!” I beg my daughter to “Just stop whining. No whining," or snap at my son for sneaking off with iPad to play Angry Birds…again.

These things happen. Yet I’ve found that when I eliminate the guilt, and simply admit that “Mommy can get grumpy,” my kids recover much better. They’ve also learned that when you push someone too far, they get annoyed, even angry. This is why I found Issa Waters’ BlogHer post No Excuses: Parenting Is Not Hard particularly unhelpful.

In an effort to argue that the refrain “Parenting Is Hard” cannot justify parents' bad behavior, she writes:

“Sometimes I participate in a discussion about someone in public being mean to their child. By “being mean” I mean spanking, slapping, grabbing, yanking, dragging, yelling, name-calling, belittling, punishing and so forth. And there’s always someone in these discussions ready to declare that “parenting is hard” and we should therefore cut the parent some slack. And I just reject this wholeheartedly. It is not hard to not treat people like shit. Children are small, dependent people, and we should be doubly sure not to treat them like shit.”

For starters, when did “slapping, yanking…and belittling” fall into the same category as “yelling” and “punishing?” By this definition, most parents I know are unfit to raise their children. We all stand accused, and are therefore…guilty. Waters’ argument turns a na├»ve eye to how dangerous such guilt can be to both parent and child.

Perhaps “Parenting Is Not Hard,” but being human can be excruciating. To me, these two roles are inextricably intertwined. I want my children to understand that I am not perfect. I am just a flawed person –one who forgets things and loses her patience-- but who also loves her children enough to chase after a bus to make things right.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

CURRIED BUTTERNUT SQUASH LENTIL CAULIFLOWER SOUP –TAKING IT SLOW


I love the idea of coming home to a ready-made dinner. So when I received a slow cooker from for Christmas last year, I was delighted with the prospects. For a month or two, I tried to slow cook everything – perhaps even cold cereal and turkey sandwiches. Sadly, I only hit upon a handful of winners before petering out. Then last weekend, I hit the trifecta of recipes: Spicy Brisket with Texas Caviar from Food & Wine. This dinner took minimal time to prepare, my kids gobbled it up, and I was able transform its leftovers into killer Sloppy Joe’s the next night. (Simply reheat the beef and black-eyed peas --aka “caviar”-- with tomato sauce, mustard and molasses)

Emboldened by my success, I decided to translate one of last year’s CWJ recipes, Curried Butternut Cauliflower and Lentils Soup (Or It’s in the Soup soup) for a weeknight slow cooked dinner. Since I am not completely confident in my crock pot skills, I asked Gale, my yoga instructor and fellow blogger. Gale had offered up a lovely looking butternut soup via slow cooker on Open Mouth Insert Foods. Here’s what she said:

“As long as you let the lentils soak before putting them in the slow cooker that should be fine. I'd also still sautee the garlic and shallots/veggies together too before tossing them in the cooker. It will enrich the overall flavor. But the lentils should absolutely be fine. Since the lentils aren't cooked I'd set the crock pot for at least 6 hours. That should do the trick.”

Good advice. However, I did not soak lentils because I had no time (slow cooking is supposed to be fast cooking, right?). For a partial solution, I added the beans to the sauce pan used for the veggies, and poured water to cover them. After about five minutes, I threw those suckers into the slow cooker.

Then –here’s the best part—I left! After picking the kids up from school and delivering them to their various afterschool engagements, I returned home to smells of curry wafting through my door. Twas bliss. When the crock pot had put in its full six hours, I pureed the soup with an immersion blender. Pouring piping hot soup into my blender did not seem like a wise move.

The results were very pleasing. Even without soaking, the lentils were tender enough to puree easily. While the texture was slightly chunkier on account of the immersion blender, the flavors remained intact from my original recipe. That pungent spicy combination was exactly what I needed at the conclusion of cold, busy weekday.

IT’S IN THE SOUP –SLOW COOKIN’ STYLE

· 2 Tbsp, olive oil

· 1 ½ tsp minced shallots

· 1 tsp minced garlic

· 1 cup red lentils, dry

· 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock

· 1 small head of cauliflower, cut into small pieces

· ½ butternut squash, peeled and cubed

· 1 tsp curry

· 1 tsp cumin

· ¼ tsp cinnamon (optional)

· ¼ tsp red chili peppers

· 2 1/2 tsp salt, added gradually

· 1 tsp pepper

· ½ can of lite coconut milk


DIRECTIONS:

Using a large frying pan, sautee shallots and garlic in 1 Tbsp of oil over medium high heat, until soft.

Add butternut squash and let cook covered for about 15 minutes. As squash begins to soften, add cauliflower and additional oil.

Transfer ingredients from frying pan into slow cooker, set at high heat.

Place lentils in frying pan (same one used to sautee veggies) and cover with water. Add spices. Let sit five minutes.

Pour in lentils and water, adding chicken stock and additional water, if necessary (enough to cover lentils)

Let cook for 6 hours on high heat.

Once complete, puree with immersion blender (or you can transfer soup into traditional blender using a ladle).

Mix in coconut milk. Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve immediate with croutons and parsley.

NOTE: Apparently, I’m not the only one with slow-cooking/no-cooking on the brain. Melissa Marks-Shih of Everyone Into the Kitchen just divulged she too is a slow cooker convert. Better yet, MMS posted this recipe for Short Ribs with Red Wine Sauce. My Giants-Niners menu is complete...

Friday, January 13, 2012

A BITTERSWEET HISTORY OF CURLY HAIR

In addition to a box full of recipes, Mom also bestowed upon me a crown of curls. Yes, I have been blessed (and cursed) with hair that has a mind of its own.

As a teenager in the early 1960s, Mom wanted nothing to do with those curls. She coveted the silky coifs of Gidget and Jackie O. To get the desired look, she and her best friend would take turns ironing each other’s hair with an old-fashioned iron. I can just imagine the scene: Mom chatting incessantly with her cheek pressed against the ironing board, her hair heating precariously beneath a hot press.

Luckily, I came of age in the era of Big Hair. In high school, my girlfriends got perms to add the height to their 80s-style bouffant. In college, I worshipped at the altar of Elaine Benes on Seinfeld, allowing my hair to grow super long and wild. During those years, I learned to love my hair. The crazier it grew, the more a part of my identity it became. I was The Girl With the Super Curly Hair.

I had planned to ride that look into the nursing home, but –alas— straight tresses are once again the rage. I don’t see the resurrection of Big Hair coming any time soon. While many of my curly-haired sisters have embraced Japanese or Brazilian straightening techniques, I’ve clung to my “naturally curly hair.” I’m too lazy, too cheap, and too proud to make any type of permanent change.

When I do go for the occasional blow out, I am stunned –and frankly hurt— by the rave reviews. Compliments like “Your hair looks great!” or “It’s so different” feel like backhanded insults. And God help the soul who tells me: “You look a lot better like this.” That’s an automatic entry into my Shit List forever. When Judith Newman published her seminal piece In Defense Of Curly Hair in the New York Times, I almost wept with recognition. (OK, maybe it was only seminal to me.)

However, as we settle into winter, going Seasonally Straight sounded awfully appealing. Curly hair is a pain when the temperature drops because you are often stuck going outside with a wet head. (Anyone with curly hair knows that air drying is the only way to go). Such a health crisis could be easily solved with straight (shower cap-protected) hair. I would also no longer have to spend precious minutes each morning applying gels, conditioners, and serums.

On Tuesday, I shelled out $40 to have my hair blown straight. I spent another $20 on some magic potion that would keep it straight for days on end. I ran my fingers through my tangle-free hair. Sweet Freedom!

Instead, I spent the entire week worrying about my hair. Predictions for rain sent me into frenzy. “Omigod! Perhaps I should cancel my plans.” Rather than trying to maximize my heart rate in spinning class, I tried to will my head to stop sweating. Finally, after four incredibly stressful days, I hopped in the shower, letting the hot water return me to my natural state. It was the most liberating moment I had all week.

Last night, I was brushing my daughter’s straight hair, when I told her: “You know I didn’t get my curls until junior high. You probably will too.” She smiled at me and confessed to me: “I don’t think I’m ready yet, Mommy.”

And though I love my hair, I couldn’t help but think: “I understand, baby. I understand.”

Speak up, Curly Tops! How do you feel about your curly hair?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

BRINGING THE SEA TO MOHAMMED

My kids are not big seafood fans. Not that I can blame them. Fish revolted me until I reached my teens. In fact, I have yet to forgive my mother for telling me fried clams were French Fries. The rubbery texture haunts me to this day.

I have opted for a slightly less boorish approach. Considering that macaroni is the only food sure to please in my house, I simply transformed the seafood into a pasta dish.The kids were so enamored with the spaghetti and sauce that they happily sampled scallops and clams in the process. My son ate two or three scallops before declaring he didn’t like them.

In the meantime, I devoured the whole plate, thoroughly enjoying the fact that I had cooked one meal for the whole family. A rare occurrence and small victory.



Seafood Medley with Pernod

¼ lb of scallops

¼ lb of clams

¼ cup Pernod

½ cup white wine

1 tsp red pepper flakes

1 cup of canned crushed tomatoes

One bunch of kale

1 lb of Fettucine or spaghetti


Directions:

1. Wash scallops, dry, and season with salt and pepper.

2. Heat deep skillet until hot, add 1 Tbsp olive oil. Sear scallops until brown on each side (roughly 2 minutes each). Remove from skillet. Set aside on plate lined with paper towel.

3. Add garlic and leeks. Cook until soft.

4. Deglaze pan with ½ of wine (Pernod and white wine). Mix in crushed tomatoes to form a sauce.

5. Add kale. Cook until softened.

6. Add remaining wine. Then put in clams, cook covered for 10 minutes until opened.

7. Serve over pasta.

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