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Freddy the Hitchhiker

22 Jul

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Considering the world is on Royal Baby Watch (and I am, too), the daily doldrums of putting a house together is nothing news worthy.  Yesterday, for example, Rob and I didn’t see each other until dinnertime, even though we never left the house (he constructed wood shelving in the garage, I made drapes for the dining room).  After a trip to Ikea, I put together two large bookcases, ALL BY MYSELF, finishing only a little worse for wear (a sore hand, a premature blister on my thumb, and a small cut on my forehead – not sure how that happened).  Our conversations have danced around topics of bookshelves, overhead lighting, paint colors, and hanging pictures.  Not exactly the tête-à-têtes of romance.

However, there is one thing – one sound, I should say – that brings us together with a smile, and helps us forget for a moment about our task at hand.  And that’s Freddy.

Before the boxes, before the enthralling home improvement conversations, Rob, my mom, and I basically camped in our house for a few days.  We ate meals off of our green, plastic camping plates, drank wine out of plastic wine glasses, and slept on air mattresses.  We used folding chairs in the living room and would get up, walk around to the back of the chair, put a hand on each folding side, 1-2-3 lift, and carry the chair to the kitchen for dinner, or the backyard for some time on the patio.  Musical folding chairs became quite standard.

One evening when sitting on the patio, we heard a noise.  It was loud.  Too loud to be far away which meant, whatever it was, its proximity to us was unnerving.  It sounded like a combination between a squeezy dog toy and a sheep in labor, and it literally halted conversation.  Finally, I got up – yes, me, not the boy who sees anything slippery and slimy and runs away like a little girl (sorry, Rob, but you know it’s true).  Perfectly smushed between the upper corner tracks of the sliding glass door was the smallest, greenest, frankly coolest looking frog I’ve ever seen.  Such a loud noise out of such a little being, but that little green tree frog was making his presence known, and clearly wanted to be a part of the party.  Mom put a rock in the door tracks to prevent any accidental casualties (imagine the noise then!).

Almost immediately he was named Freddy, which then started a debate with my dad about whether he should actually be named Teddy, as he was probably a toad.  I do think he’s a Florida tree frog, Dad.  Google told me so.

Freddy has been making appearances on our glass door, hopping and jumping and leaving little froggy foot prints as a reminder of his presence (as if the croak wasn’t enough).  Freddy must have liked us, as he called over some friends and started a little frog fraternity on our outdoor ceiling.  He found his way to work with Rob one day, clinging on to the side mirror long enough to give a little frog thanks-for-the-ride “thumbs up” when he decided to jump off.  Freddy has clearly become a household name.

So, as Rob and I have been spending our days getting all of our honey-dos done, trying to make specific efforts to enjoy this beautiful summertime, and truthfully just get accustomed to Florida’s flora and fauna, we needed to take a trip.  To Ikea.  Why is going to Ikea a trip, you ask?  Well, it’s actually a step up in the Rob ‘N’ Jill Travel World, as when we lived in Oregon, it was a 4-hour trip to Ikea and a 2-hour trip to Target.  Now in Florida, we’ve upgraded to a 2 ½ -hour trip to Ikea (and yes, we would drive to these places, because Target and Ikea are just that awesome).

Like most of our driving trips, I slept most of the ride, and woke up just in time to exit the freeway.  As I yawned and stretched and took a sip of my lukewarm tea, Rob generally stated that it wasn’t that bad of a drive.  We had made it to the-land-with-Ikea (aka Orlando) with no problems whatsoever.  Until we stopped.

Rob made a noise unlike any noise I’ve ever heard come out of his mouth.  Generally, Rob has a pretty deep voice, very masculine, and a surprisingly nice bass intonation when singing.  That is, until Freddy arrived.

I guess if it were between hitchhiking while clinging for life on the side mirror, or hitchhiking in the comfort of the Explorer, I’d choose the Explorer as well; plush seats, air-conditioned, Sirius radio.  But I definitely would not like the driver screaming at me in a high-pitched voice, and I’m sure Freddy was just as putout.  After all, we make a nice home for this little guy, let him bring over his friends, encouraged him to make loud noises way late into the night, and obviously he was comfortable with us.  So comfortable, in fact, that he silently drove all the way to Orlando with us, and then at his stop he rang the bell to get off the bus – doing so by jumping onto Rob’s arm, then his leg (and as the uncontrollable shaking and dog-hearing-only-pitched noises started out of Rob), then onto the window.  Rob rolled down the window (still making noises) and Freddy hopped directly onto his original hitchhiking spot on the side mirror (probably thinking that may have been the better option in the first place), and off to his new digs in Orlando.

Ah, I’ll miss that little guy.

On the way home, then the rest of the night, and a few times yesterday, Rob would randomly get heebie-jeebie shivers and mention Freddy.  Of course, I’ve joked about making frog-legs for dinner and such, but it just doesn’t seem to be as funny to Rob as it is to me.  Oh well.

However, we have been eating some comfort foods that can only satisfy one while they are working hard and building things, namely pizza.  Is there anything better than pizza and a cold beer after a day of home improvements (and frog attacks)?  For a moment – just a moment – we deliberated over which pizza place to call, but then I remembered I had some of my favorite ingredients in the fridge, ready to make a pizza almost anyone would love.  We indulged that night on a BLT pizza, giving all the bacony, tomatoey, mayo-y goodness of a BLT sandwich, but the comfort that only a pizza can bring.  Rob brought up Freddy.  I laughed.

Hitchhiking frog or not, you must try this pizza – it’s a winner.  On to the next improvement, and maybe even more pizza!

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BLT Pizza

  • 2 beefsteak tomatoes, sliced into rounds
  • 4 slices thick-cut applewood smoked (my favorite) bacon, diced
  • 2 loose cups roughly chopped lettuce – we use a tender red oak lettuce, but whatever you like will work
  • 3 tbsp good mayo
  • zest and juice of 1 small lemon
  • ¼ c shredded parmesan cheese
  • pizza dough – make your own or store bought
  • cracked pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

First make the sauce – mix the mayo, lemon zest and juice, and cheese until smooth.  Set aside.

In a saucepan, render the diced bacon until just before crispy.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the bacon and place on a plate lined with a towel, to soak up the extra grease.  Set aside.

To assemble the pizza, stretch out the dough to your favorite size (I like the traditional round), and use flour or cornmeal on your sheet tray or stone so the dough does not stick.  Lather the top of the dough with the mayo mixture.  Lay the tomato slices on top of the mayo, and sprinkle the bacon on top.  At this point, crack some good black pepper on top, to taste (the mayo, cheese, and bacon has quite a bit of salt, so I did not add extra salt).  Place in the oven, and remove when the dough is super crusty and the house smells like fresh pizza, about 12-15 minutes. 

Let cool for just a minute, and then sprinkle with the fresh cold lettuce on top. 

Slice, serve, and enjoy!

Yeah, I’m Crafty

19 Sep

“Oh my gosh, I’m so not crafty!”  Sitting at the kitchen table, glue gun webs of melted plastic draped from my fingers, I exclaimed my pretty obvious observation.  My good friend, Caroline, and I took the night to make crafts out of bags of saved wine corks, something we have both wanted to do for a while.  It seemed like a productive and rewarding way to use the evidence of years of wine drinking – I mean “tasting” (no, I really mean drinking).

Caroline was fashioning cork trivets out of antique picture frames, and I, to much avail was trying to make a wine cork wreath, uber fitting for the upcoming entertaining holidays.  The glue guns were smoking, the four-letter words were flying, and the martinis were flowing.  Needless to say, we weren’t near the perfectly imperfect Martha Stewart excellence.  However, in the end, I think Ms. Martha would have been proud.

There’s something so unique about a girl’s night; they can be simple or extravagant, gossipy or humble, over-emotional or relatively quiet.  Whatever the circumstance, day of the week, or excuse it takes for girls to get together, something memorable usually occurs.  While I know I’m not speaking to a large, albeit less numbered, half of our population, I think it’s important for every man out there to know that girls nights are 1) needed so we don’t yell at you about not wringing out the sponge, 2) not about pillow fights in negligée (sorry to burst some lingering pubescent floating bubbles of desire), and 3) a great excuse for you to watch that Pawn Stars episode with that man trying to sell the Days-of-Yore-this-is-worth-at-least-10,000-dollars-ok-maybe-$75.50 musket.

(Side note: as I literally finished writing that, Rob came upstairs and said, “Hey babe, I’m watching this really cool show about guns!”  No joke.)

After three hours of chatting, glue-gun burns, ignoring Sig (he learned to give up early), and, “Are you sure this looks ok?” reassurances, we had finished our little projects with sore hands and a sense of accomplishment.  By golly, we actually were crafty.  Caroline had created her trivets, and I had made my wreath.  Aside from feeling like we had actually done something worthwhile with our Saturday night, the process of cutting each cork perfectly to fit its puzzle-piece spot left us sighingly remembering each bottle of wine we loved, and just liked, and enjoyed with friends and family over laughs and good food.  Needless to say, the projects resulted in more than just our finished products.

To celebrate (and to secretly make Martha proud), dinner was in order, and a good one at that.  Our CSA basket is still giving us beautiful, bounteous baskets full of harvest summer fruit and veg, including lots of sweet corn.   I stuffed Poblano peppers with a colorful corn sauté, and eating this rustic Pacific Northwest meal gave us a different sense of accomplishment – like we had done something good for our community (and our stomachs).

The next morning, the leftovers were calling my name.  With a mixture of sautéed corn, cabbage, bacon, cranberries, and Manchego cheese, a breakfast burrito with a fried egg built itself in my mind putting my hands and sauté pan to work.  The foggy-morning dance of frying an egg until it is just cooked through has become second nature to me.  Using the benchwarmer microwave to cheatingly heat up my tortilla, I layered a little hot sauce, my harvest summer sauté, and the fried egg; breakfast was served.  And on the becoming increasingly rare occasion, breakfast was slow and savored.

With fall just around the corner, I can’t think of a humble breakfast that says goodbye to summer, and hello to autumn, better than this one.  Maybe it’s just because the memory of discovering my inner craftiness pairs as well as a mimosa would, or maybe it’s because it really is that good.  You be the judge.

Happy almost fall!

Harvest Summer Breakfast Burrito
(this recipe will give you enough filling for about 4 burritos, or extra to stuff roasted Poblano peppers!)

  • 1 ear sweet corn, kernels cut off cob (raw)
  • ½ head green cabbage, sliced thinly
  • 3 strips bacon, diced
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 1 jalapeño, seeded and diced 
  • 1 large carrot, shaved in strips with a vegetable peeler
  • ¼ c dried cranberries
  • ½ c + ¼ c beer (light ale)
  • juice from 1 lime
  • ½ c Manchego cheese, grated
  • 4 flour tortillas
  • 4 eggs
  • a dash of olive oil
  • basil for garnish
  • s&p
  • hot sauce optional

Brown the bacon in a large sauté pan over med-high heat until crispy.  Remove bacon and set aside on a paper towel to drain off the excess grease. 

Pour out all but 1 tbsp of bacon fat, and add the diced onion.  Season with s&p and sauté until softened and translucent.  Add the jalapeño and deglaze with the ½ c of beer.  Let simmer until the beer is almost completely reduced, and add the cabbage and corn.  Season with a pinch of s&p again.  Add the extra ¼ c beer and cook down, until no extra liquid is in the pan and the cabbage has wilted. 

Turn off the heat and mix in the carrot shreds, cranberries, and crispy bacon.  Sprinkle over lime juice, and taste for seasoning. 

At this point, heat up the tortillas, and either mix in the grated Manchego cheese, or layer it within the burrito (I like to layer it in rather than mix together – it keeps different textures alive within the burrito). 

To fry the egg, pour a dash of olive oil into a non-stick pan, and crack in the egg.  Season with s&p, and leave be to cook over high heat, and then flip when the edges start to brown.  Cook to preferred doneness (runny yolk, medium, or hard cooked), and put on top of sauté in the burrito. 

Pour over some hot sauce, if you like it spicy in the morning, garnish with basil, and fold like, well, a burrito.

Enjoy!  

I Smell Like a Man Today

10 Feb

Before I explain, I must first ask: any Grey’s Anatomy fans out there? 

So I’m sitting here listening to my Pandora’s Norah Jones station, with a bit of writers block as to what I can write.  Not what to write (since the last month has surely brought about many normal wavelength peak and trough events, and many good meals), but what I can write without getting myself in a whole taco-added-combo-pack of trouble.  This is the World Wide Web, after all. 

Then, Anna Nalick’s song, “Breathe” came on the virtual radio.  Remember that Grey’s scene– where Meredith has her hand inside a body cavity with a living bomb and it’s literally in her hands to lift it out and give it to the bomb squad?  (Trust me, it was a good one!)  Well, surprisingly enough, the only person who dies is the mean bomb squad guy, and the episode ends with Meredith and McDreamy recounting their last kiss, and the lavender smell of her hair.  It was adequately mundane following a nail-biting brouhaha. 

I’m about at the stage of taking the time to remember the lavender smell, after the craziness. To trace the pattern in a doily after coffee has spilled on it.  To close my eyes and watch the sparkly pattern of excess light make strange shapes on my eyelids.  Too artsy-fartsy?  Ok, then just to breathe. 

My dad has this un-comeback-able phrase that he utters whenever my sister or I belly-ache about working life: “You know, they don’t call it work for nothing!” and he’s right.  Work is work. Although, I’d like to add that work is not as bad work with an IV drip of espresso (yes, my doctor-ordered-to-quit habit is back. Like a good caffeine addict I have many justifications and blames: I’m tired, I focus better with it, it’s my ADHD drug, the rain made me do it).  Meanwhile, even though every night our little Siglet still happily tries so hard to climb onto the coffee table to drink our wine, he is costing us hundreds of dollars in vet bills, and nonmonetary amounts of worry at the moment.  (Maybe because he keeps trying to drink our wine??)  Finally, as nothing is as sure as death and taxes, Rob and I have been getting all the loose ends tied up for his deployment, including our taxes.  For his 6-week deployment, Rob will be on a big-ol’ boat that will spend some time in Australia.  Come to think of it, the Vegas-Australian Thunder from Down Under show will be at our little Coos Bay casino during the time he is gone – since he’ll be in Aussie country, I think it’s only fitting that I attend. 🙂  

With an effort to create a better balancing act, I have been trying to take some time to just breathe a bit. But in my just-breathing, the provisions that every household needs have either 1) caused me to go to Walmart at an ungodly time wearing a winter coat and Ugg boots over sweatpants hoping no former students, nor parents, nor co-workers, nor anyone with eyes, will see me, OR 2) forgotten about all together.  For example: we have no eggs, and haven’t for days (this is a big deal considering we go through about two dozen a week).  I did the oh-so-frowned-upon-request of asking Rob to pick up girly firming lotion on his way home yesterday.  And finally, I went to get dressed today and remembered I have no deodorant.  Not even the half-used little travel sized that gets stuffed in the back of the cabinet.

Now I know we live on the Oregon Coast and all, but I don’t think I could take my natural ways that far. So, in our haste of life, combined with the effort to reduce the haste of life, the result is that I smell like a man today – Old Spice, “Swagger” to be exact.

So what does this call for?  More coffee – absolutely.  But something we can all enjoy?  A recipe!  Last week, Rob and I took some time to try and slow down a bit an enjoy one of his favorite meals: Shepherd’s Pie. 

Lift your chin off the table – I know I don’t tend to cook many meat-and-potatoes meals.  There was no quinoa, there was no soy, and there were definitely more than just a few ingredients.  But the result was absolutely amazing.  I even had seconds. 

While our first choice was to use ground lamb, it was unavailable at our butcher, so we went with the next best thing (in Rob’s eyes), ground beef.  Actually, he did a great job finding a 90-10 organic local Oregon brand, which made me feel a bit better about scarfing down the beef.  It happened to be a cold and rainy night (imagine!), so the meal hit even another nerve of comfort.  I used a version of my mother-in-law’s recipe for mashed potatoes, and baked that pot of tasty meat and carbs until it was thick, rich, and browned. 

During the meal, Rob recalled his days at the academy when he would eat multiple plate-fulls of Shepherd’s Pie, and I made a playful-squeamish face while piling that second helping onto my own plate. We just-breathed, and just-ate, and just-had-a-good-time.  That is until Sig tried to jump up on the table again and drink our wine.

Ladies, make this for your men (just make sure you smell like a girl when you do)!

Shepherd’s Pie 

  • 1 lb. organic ground beef (or lamb)
  • 2 strips applewood smoked bacon, diced
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 3 large carrots, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 c frozen peas
  • 1 large tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 ¼ c chicken stock
  • 1 tsp minced thyme
  • 1-2 lbs Yukon gold potatoes, chopped (skins on), and boiled until fork tender
  • 2 tbsp mascarpone cheese
  • ¾ c skim milk
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter, plus 1 tsp more for topping. 
  • ¼ tsp hot paprika
  • s&p

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

First, make the mashed potatoes: using a hand-mixer, beat the cooked potatoes, mascarpone cheese, milk, and butter together until desired creaminess (I prefer a bit more lumpy mashed potatoes, for texture).  Season with paprika, s&p to taste.  Set aside. 

Then, in a small (2 qt) dutch oven or pot, brown the bacon until crispy over medium/high heat.  Remove from pot, and place on paper towel.  Sauté the onions in the bacon fat until they start to soften.  Lightly season.  Add the carrots, sauté for about 5 minutes, then add the garlic.  Lightly season.  Sauté until the garlic just starts to become fragrant.  Add in the peas, and the ground meat.  Lightly start to brown the meat in the pot (it doesn’t have to be completely browned because it will finish cooking in the oven).  Finally, add in the thyme, the cooked bacon, the tomato paste, and chicken stock.  At this point, taste the mixture for seasoning – will probably need s, and especially p.

Top the pot with the mashed potatoes.  Try to make it fairly even, but it doesn’t have to be smooth (actually, having peaks and valleys of potatoes browns beautifully in the oven).  Dab the last tsp of butter in pieces on the top of the potatoes.

Place pot on a sheet tray (some liquid may boil over) in the oven.  Bake for about 45-50 minutes, until top is golden and crisp.

Let set and cool for a few minutes before serving.  The liquid cooks down and becomes a lovely gravy for the meal… try to get a bite of everything on one fork!

Enjoy!


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