Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Projects.

I have a confession. I have issues with knowing my own limits. The whole idea that I HAVE limits annoys me, so I just push forward. I say things like, "But I want to!" as a reason for taking on 68 things at the same time. Sometimes it works out, sometimes not.

I also love fall. [I love it more when it's not 97 degrees outside, but that's a different topic.] The colors, the air, the food, the clothes -- other than Christmas, it's the one season I actually change the decor of my house.

When fall hits, I get inspired to take on projects of all types, and usually all at the same time. This past weekend, I was in the mood to bake something, so I promised the kid cupcakes (Project#1).


Snickerdoodle cupcakes!
I knew I wanted to get the dining room table decorated for fall (P#2)...
Not quite finished yet

but then I noticed how bad the chair fabric looked after 8 years. So let's recover the dining chairs (P#3)!
Eight chairs in one day!
And I still had the rest of the pantry to organize after installing the lovely door spice rack my guy made me (P#4).

Chalkboard contact paper! My new favorite thing!

There was a housewarming party on Sunday, and I really wanted to make a particular gift (P#5). This was the one that actually dropped off the list, sadly.
Gonna manage to do this one eventually

What's the downside, you ask? Let's see...
1. My house is a wreck. Scraps, tools, messes everywhere...
2. "Normal" things don't get done -- like laundry.
3. Sunday comes and I wonder where the heck the weekend went.
4. My house is still a wreck.

Yesterday I looked at my master planner (of course I have one, don't you?) and realized that my grand plans from the beginning of the month are almost exactly where they were then. It's time to reevaluate the plan! Maybe I'll start a new life analysis project... 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Anniversaries.

Anniversaries are weird.

As a kid, an anniversary was that one meal/night/weekend your parents never allowed you to spend with them, and that made sense. Like a birthday, you had one of these a year marking a specific event.

Then you got older. Friends in high school talked about the "one-month anniversary" of their first date/kiss/whatever, and ushered in the era of those other date remembrances. It seemed like everyone was having an anniversary of something every other day. I'm sure I jumped on that bandwagon, too, I just don't remember any of those dates anymore!

Then comes the first "bad" anniversary -- the breakup, the divorce, and eventually, the anniversary of a death. It's hard to use a word associated with celebrations with those sorts of events. The point is to mark them, I suppose, more than celebrate -- maybe to remember happy times, or how things have changed. And somewhere in your mind is the question, "Does this ever get easier?"

I've been a mess for a few days coming up to this weekend. I didn't know why - there's a lot going on and I've been not feeling or sleeping well, so maybe that's it. But all the 9/11 memories have kept me on the verge of tears -- okay, actually IN tears -- every few hours. It's been fun for the fam, I'm sure.

I didn't lose anyone personally in the attacks on September 11. Friends of friends and work associates were affected, and that was close enough. Like most of the country, the thought of "HERE?" made it unbearable. The changes to daily life -- layers of security, suspicion, assumptions based on nationality -- serve as constant reminders that life as we knew it will never come back. Our children and grandchildren will never experience life in America any other way.

Like everyone else, I remember where I was: driving to work, Ron Chapman on KVIL saying something about a plane hitting a tower, then Kristi Scales saying a second plane hit..."This wasn't an accident." Going to work in downtown Fort Worth and not having the slightest clue what to do next. I remember trying to have a call with clients in Phoenix before we all gave it up as a complete waste of time.

More than anything else, I think about the families who lost loved ones that day--mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, children whose parents didn't come home. It's true that they will forever remember 9/11, but I can't help but hope they will remember 9/10 just as clearly. On that day, maybe they were just having a normal day, doing normal things. I'd like to think that they can remember that day with joy -- conversations, activities, doing nothing special. For those on the planes, the mundane activities of packing and checking schedules, taking a few minutes to be together because they were going to be apart for a while. Maybe a parent going to a child's ball game or practice. Maybe going to dinner with friends, or just running errands on a Monday. For those families whose lives have never and will never be the same, my heart hurts, and I hope that these TV specials and the constant coverage doesn't make it harder.

I can't make September 11 political; that's for others to do. I can't make it about personal loss; that's disrespectful to those who knew someone personally who died. But as an American, as a human being, I can make September 11 a moment to reflect on what this country means to me, and to thank those who stand as the first line of protection for me and my family. To every service man and woman: Thank you for your willingness to sacrifice everything to keep us safe. To every police officer and firefighter: Thank you for your bravery, putting yourself between my family and that which would do us harm. YOU are the heroes, not the politicians. YOU are why we sleep soundly at night, and YOU deserve every thank you we can give.

You have mine.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Cooking: Lasagna Rolls

I've posted notes on making this particular dish before, but it's so easy (and popular) that I thought I'd put a how-to here. Most recently I made this for some new parents - it's great for make-and-take events, because it's easy, and stays warm for a long time.

Credit goes to the Neely's at Food Network for the sauce - I started with their tomato sauce recipe and made a few adjustments. I first saw lasagna rolls on the blogchef.net site, but there are many out there if you google it.

I think all good pasta sauces start the same way -- olive oil, chopped onion and garlic. Saute the onion until it is tender. I usually add a little salt and some black pepper at this point, too.

Depending on how much sauce you need, add one 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes. I prefer the Contadina brand -- I've tried the generic brands and they just don't taste right. Add some basil - dried is fine, just be sure to rub it in your hands first to release the flavor -- and a little bit of cayenne pepper. I'd go easy on the salt at this stage, even though it's pretty certain you'll want more. It's just hard to take it out once you've added it.

Lower the heat, put the lid on, and walk away for at least 30 minutes. Taste the sauce and add salt if it seems bland. If you do add more salt, give it another 15 minutes to simmer on low and absorb that flavor.

Here's where the variations start. I've made this several times as a vegetarian lasagna/sauce just by leaving the sauce alone. But if you absolutely want a meat sauce, just brown about 1/2 pound of lean ground beef or turkey or whatever you like. Be sure you flavor the meat separately - salt, pepper, garlic if you want -- so that it adds to the flavor of the tomato sauce instead of diluting it. The finished sauce can stay on low heat while you prep the other parts of the lasagna rolls. [By the way, you could absolutely use jarred sauce with this recipe - rev it up by putting a little oil and garlic in the pan first, then add the sauce. It'll disguise a little of the processed taste.]

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Heat water for the lasagna noodles according to package directions. The filling recipe here will use approximately 10 noodles. I cook a couple extra just in case one tears. You need full-size lasagna noodles to make the rolls.

Filling -- combine all in a bowl:
1 12 oz container ricotta cheese
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp onion powder
1 Tbsp fresh parsley, minced (optional, but it's pretty)

Cook noodles to al dente - even if you usually like your noodles soft, don't let them cook too long or you won't be able to roll them without tearing. I promise they won't be tough when you're done.
I drain the noodles and lay them out side by side on pieces of foil -- this allows them to cool a little so I can handle them. Spread the cheese mixture over each noodle -- it doesn't have to be very thick, as the noodle will roll and make layers. Vary the amount when you do this the first time so you'll get a feel for how much cheese you like in yours.
In the baking dish, cover the bottom with your tomato (or meat) sauce. Roll each noodle and place seam side down in rows in the dish. Top with the remaining sauce.

Bake at 375 for about 30 minutes, then top with about 1/2 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese, or a blend of mozzarella and parmesan. Put it back in the oven for about 5 minutes to melt the cheese. Makes great leftovers and reheats well.

Other variations for the filling:
  • chopped cooked chicken
  • spinach (fresh chopped or thawed from frozen)
  • mushrooms
  • tofu
Full disclosure: I cannot use cottage cheese in recipes - I like the stuff, but it doesn't belong in lasagna in my opinion. BUT many people swear by it and I've seen variations of this recipe that use it instead of ricotta.

So there you have it -- a pretty foolproof pasta sauce and one way to use it with lasagna rolls. Serve it with some crusty bread and a salad, and you'll have a go-to or take-with meal whenever you need it. Enjoy.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Bring the funny.

I was reading a popular blog the other day and the topic was TV shows that the writer rated as most consistently funny. I was surprised at the ones I completely agreed with, as well as the couple that just didn't do it for me. So I wondered what my list would look like. Here, in no particular order, are the four shows that most often bring me to the bust-a-gut, can't-breathe-for-laughing state.

1. Friends

Thursdays have never been the same since the friends moved on. Who can forget:
  • "PIVOTTTTT!!"
  • Smelly Cat
  • Chick and Duck
  • "Nipular area"
  • "That's not even a WORD!"
  • "Damn the jellyfish!"
  • Janice
  • "We were on a break!"
  • Joey and the turkey
  • Ross and the leather pants
  • The Holiday Armadillo
  • "How YOU doin'?"
And the guest stars: George Clooney, Noah Wiley, Tom Selleck, Jill Goodacre, Jon Lovitz, Charlie Sheen, Teri Garr, Bruce Willis, Kathleen Turner, Reese Witherspoon, Christina Applegate, and on and on. [I always wondered if those guys paid to be on the show.]

I had nothing in common with these characters. I was already married for several years, had kids in the house, a mortgage, and had never even been to New York. The lifestyle was completely foreign and didn't bear any resemblance to my life. But the quick repartee and character development was exceptional and I will watch reruns forever.

2. Frasier

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eTdD_dVyteA -- just go watch it. One of the most hilarious scenes ever shown on TV. Virtually no dialog, one character (two if you count the dog), and perfect timing.

Pompous, overbearing, know-it-all -- nope, had nothing in common with this show either. The supporting cast completely made this one work. David Hyde Pierce as Niles stole nearly every scene he was in, whether obsessing about Daphne, or talking about his never-seen wife, Maris, or being the "real" psychiatrist. Martin, with his hideously ugly chair and dog Eddy, was perfectly cast as the father who did NOT understand how these two were his sons, but decided to make the best of it. Daphne and Roz provided the female viewpoint, skewed though it was. I've never had a dinner party like the ones Frasier planned (even though they never turned out quite like he intended), but I think it got me started working on it.

3. The Carol Burnett Show
Oh, this show! I have my own favorite moments, but the main one isn't the show at all -- it's remembering my father sitting in his recliner, slapping his knee while he tries to catch his breath from laughing at Harvey Korman and Tim Conway. Saturday nights in the 70s were reserved for this show [and Bob Newhart and Mary Tyler Moore!], and Sunday morning your stomach and cheeks would hurt from laughing.
  • Mr. Tudbull and Mrs. Wiggins -- I had a (male) friend who could walk exactly like Mrs. Wiggins. "Uh, Misses-uh Whhhhiggins, could-ah you come in here puh-lease?" and you'd just wait -- for her to put down the nail polish or the nail file and find her pad and pencil or the button on the intercom. Then the walk. The same every time, and hilarious every time.
  • Went with the Wind -"I saw it in the window and I just couldn't resist it." And Vicki Lawrence is priceless -- "I'm fine, and you?"
  • The Queen  -- Tim Conway plays the palace guard who swallowed a grenade and is now hollow. The queen offers him anything he wants as a reward for his service; however, [say it with a British accent} "They got chocolate, they got vanilla, they even got coconut-papaya, but there is no such thing as a buffalo-flavored popsicle, you hollowed-out little twit!"
  • Any scene with Korman and Conway where one and then both of them loses it. I didn't know at the time that even though the show was taped, they did not do more than one retake as a general rule, except for musical numbers. If the 2nd take was broken up for some reason, they went with it anyway. That's how those of us at home had the privilege of seeing in real time what would be sent to a bloopers reel these days.
I think I've just convinced myself to get the DVD set for us.


4. The Cosby Show
This show started the year I went away to college. Back in the dark ages, we didn't have TVs in our dorm rooms, so Thursday night would find a huge percentage of the girls in Nelson Dorm huddled around the console TV in the common room. I don't know if it was being away from home or just the spectacularly real depiction of a family that meant so much. I think the first seasons were the best, when the kids were at home driving Cliff and Claire nuts. Not every show was non-stop laughs, nor was it intended to be, but I don't remember a single show that didn't make me laugh at something. The relationship between Cliff and Claire is one I think I strive for to this day.
  • "I brought you into this world, and I'll take you out!"
  • The various birthday and anniversary celebrations [lip-synching and all!]
  • Young Rudy - and that smile
  • Cliff trying to dance
  • Bud and Kenny
  • Cliff stealing/sneaking/hiding food

So that's MY list. What's on YOUR list?